Wednesday 26 July 2017

Ross tries to be the last Jedi but for many in rural Ireland he's a phantom menace

Transport, Sport and Tourism Minister Shane Ross Picture: Damien Eagers
Transport, Sport and Tourism Minister Shane Ross Picture: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Cabinet ministers tend to keep their heads down over the Easter break. Some take refuge in their constituencies; others find a foreign hideaway.

And there's always a couple of unfortunates like Richard Bruton, who has to go to union conferences, and Simon Harris, who is having a 'crisis as usual' week.

But Shane Ross decided to take the novel approach of getting down to the Ring of Kerry, ahead of the summer influx of visitors looking for 'Star Wars Island'.

Naturally with the risk of strike action he didn't get the Bus Éireann tour, instead getting the most qualified local guides possible: the Healy-Raes.

It comes after weeks of barbs in Leinster House suggesting Mr Ross knows little about what happens outside the M50. In recent months he has been accused of bringing rural Ireland "to a complete standstill" and putting in place policies that ensure "local businesses are being starved of customers".

There is a widely held belief the Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister is out of his depth when it comes to rural affairs. He lacks the common touch that communities who elect people like the Healy-Raes expect, and that can lead to resentment - whether justified or not.

"What I'm finding here is a very, very strong feeling that Dublin is getting too much," he told Jerry O'Sullivan on Radio Kerry, sounding like he had been dropped from outer space. Mr Ross said that while he heard what TDs say in the Dáil, "we're not out and about in the areas that feel neglected".

"We are sometimes a little bit too distant in Dublin," he added.

Over the course of his two days, Mr Ross took part in a raft of meetings including with vintners who are opposing his plans to strengthen drink-driving laws. He took a spin on the wild country roads and even dropped in on hotelier Frances Brennan in Kenmare because he's "a hero of the tourism industry".

But commendable as his tour was, isn't it worrying that almost a year into his ministry Mr Ross needed an education in rural Ireland?

Issues such as broadband and Brexit are now high on the Government agenda, but many towns are equally concerned about the closure of banks and post offices. Each shop front that remains shuttered is another nail in the coffin of a small village.

Michael Healy-Rae told the Irish Independent he still had no doubt that if the recent bus strike was in Dublin there would "be more of an anxiety about it".

"The attitude was 'that's a problem for the rest of the country'," he said.

But the poll-topper reckoned it was good for the minister "to see the situation first hand". "He was left with an appreciation of how vast the constituency is."

Ireland has about 100,000km of road though, so Mr Ross will have to come down from his Ivory Tower a bit more often if he's to get a full understanding for the life outside the capital.

He might think he's the last of the Jedi - but for many in rural Ireland he's still a phantom menace.

Irish Independent

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