Sunday 19 November 2017

Monday Interview: 'Lucky flood general' confident rural plan will deliver with time

Seán Canney. Photo: Tom Burke
Seán Canney. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Seán Canney has been something of a "lucky general" since he was appointed Junior Minister with Responsibility for Flood relief just over a year ago. But he wouldn't put it like that. Last winter was free of the major flood events that have blighted many parts of the country in recent years.

"I would say that the country was lucky," Mr Canney said, and warned against complacency.

"The reality is we will have floods. We may not have another flood for five or six years but that doesn't mean we shift our focus on what we're doing."

A first-time TD, it was a coin toss last year that saw him take on the Office of Public Works (OPW) brief rather that his Independent Alliance colleague Kevin 'Boxer' Moran. They switch places next month, a process he insists is happening smoothly.

Mr Canney lists a record €52m spend on flood defences, the signing of contracts for several flood relief schemes and the creation of a maintenance plan for the entire Shannon basin as his highlights of the year.

He said he has "no regrets" on his time at the OPW, a wide-brief which also included managing State lands and national heritage sites like the Skellig Islands - a 'Star Wars' filming location - and which Mr Canney announced the opening dates for last week.

The deal with 'Boxer' will see them swap back again this time next year, so the Galway East TD may well be around to set a few more of the 27 additional planned flood schemes in action, if the Government lasts that long.

Mr Canney was among a slew of rural Independents elected to the Dáil last year amid dissatisfaction at the previous government's record in the regions.

Is he confident the current Government is doing enough to avoid claims that it isn't giving rural areas enough attention the next time the country goes to the polls?

"I think so... If this Government gets the time it deserves, it will deliver," he said, pointing to the Action Plan for Rural Ireland, broadband roll-out, plans for town and village renewal, and Clár funding for small-scale capital projects among other measures.

He said such schemes are important as they create an incentive for communities in rural Ireland.

"People don't want everything. They just want enough to make sure they can put more with it themselves... so the communities are getting a fair crack at the whip," he added.

He thinks the Government could last two or three more years as there's "no appetite" for an election.

Mr Canney said the Independent Alliance can avoid the fate of smaller groups who have been wiped out by the electorate after serving in a coalition by maintaining its integrity and delivering on what it has promised.

Mr Canney denied the ongoing saga of the Fine Gael leadership is distracting from the work of the Government.

He said he attended a Cabinet sub-committee on rural Ireland chaired by Taoiseach Enda Kenny last week and "everyone is totally focussed".

"We've a job to do. We're getting on with it. That's an internal matter for Fine Gael. They'll deal with it whenever they deal with it."

He said that in his view Mr Kenny's legacy will be "the resilience he's shown" in leading the country out of the economic crisis.

Asked if he was disappointed that it appears the next taoiseach won't be from the West, he said that it has been "a source of pride", but points out President Michael D Higgins also hails from the region.

Mr Canney will assume Mr Moran's role as assistant government whip next month. One aspect of the OPW brief he has enjoyed has been developing a plan to promote the various castles and Stately homes it owns.

Kilkenny Castle got a boost in that regard last week when it was visited by Prince Charles. Mr Canney was there to witness star hurler Henry Shefflin tutor the heir to the British throne in the art of the puck out.

"He put the ball in the net but as I said to him, I don't know if it's beginner's luck, but he needs to practise a bit more before he'll be able for the Kilkenny team."

Irish Independent

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