Saturday 24 September 2016

We need more regional balance on state boards

Downing on politics

Published 27/07/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten
Minister for Communications Denis Naughten

The eerie sense of quiet in Leinster House this week reminded us we are in a two-month political ceasefire. That probably is a mercy for the entire nation, which has been bombarded with political news for a year now.

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By mid-September we will be back at it, and again we will have more questions than answers. There is intense domestic instability in Ireland, as we face into an even more chaotic scenario in the EU following the Brexit vote on June 23.

Everyone agrees that, one way or another, there will be a Budget agreed in October. After that the key questions will continue as before: How long can this shaky hybrid minority Coalition last?

I cannot see this Government going beyond next summer as there are just too many things playing against it. But we shall see.

The other question is when and how will Enda Kenny depart the scene? In sporting parlance he is in "added time" - few expect him to be in situ beyond the end of this year.

Meanwhile, there is too much doom and gloom about. So, let's try to find some positives from the period since the general election on February 26 last.

One positive feature is that Leinster House now has a greater rural flavour about it. Five TDs from the Rural Alliance were returned in the election: Denis Naughten, Dr Michael Harty, Mattie McGrath, Noel Grealish and Michael Collins.

Their voices are augmented by the Healy Rae brothers, Michael Fitzmaurice, and others who have a pronounced rural appeal. We have to see how much in any practical way this can help people in the countryside which has been too long neglected. Having a voice is, however, not a bad start.

But there are other measures of how rural Ireland is making inroads in the corridors of power. One of these is state board membership - an area which has huge influence in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people in town and country.

Earlier this month, Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cúiv published the results of a long series of Dáil questions about the composition of state boards. In essence he found these boards' composition to be hugely Dublin-centred, having a quarter of the population - but accounting for over half the appointees to state boards.

Specifically, Dublin has 28pc of the country's population. But once you look at who is appointed to what state board, you see that 52pc of board seats go to the capital.

If you take the "rest of Leinster" (minus Dublin), you find it has 27pc of the population - pretty much the same as the capital. But it only gets 18pc of the state board seats. Let's not forget that this region includes the rapidly-growing "dormitory counties" of Louth, Meath, Kildare, and Wicklow among others.

Drilling a little further into the detail we find that things are a little more encouraging in the realms of agriculture. Out of 44 farm-related board seats - 12 went to people based in Dublin. Munster did best with 16 seats; rest of Leinster 16 and Connacht-Ulster get seven.

Ó Cúiv's point is that we must have a regional balance in state board selection. We already take the insistence on gender balance for granted - so why not a similar regional weighting?

It is well worth debating. Just this past week, Communications Minister Denis Naughten, from the Rural Alliance, reminded people that they can apply directly on the web for state board membership.

Now, that is well worth thinking about.

Indo Farming

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