Saturday 17 March 2018

Eight 'country' ministers - but the cities are now in trouble

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
John Downing

John Downing

Life's like that sometimes. The one message that apparently screamed out of the February General Election was that rural Ireland was neglected.

And the answer to that? Well, a total of eight ministers - four senior and four junior - variously treating matters rural.

There's Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed; Rural Affairs and Regional Development Minister, Heather Humphreys; Communications, Natural Resources and Energy Minister, Denis Naughten; Housing, Planning and Local Government Minister, Simon Coveney.

That's the four country "seniors".

The country junior team is led by Andrew Doyle, responsible for Food, Forestry and Horticulture.

Seán Canney is responsible for the Office of Public Works, with a flood defence role, Michael Ring takes over regional development and Seán Kyne of Galway West takes on the Gaeltacht, with a role in natural resources.

They are all decent people with ability, though the jury is out on how effective they can be. We have voiced doubt in the past about how effective any junior minister can be. And this new Government faces a huge basket of obstacles.

But that said, Taoiseach Enda Kenny cannot be accused of neglecting to address rural issues, which have been moved from the periphery to the centre of the political stage.

But the aftermath of the General Election has been dominated by the struggling war against crime. People are decrying how slow official Ireland has been in asking why the problems facing Dublin's north inner city have been neglected for such a long time.

For some people, the Tony Gregory deal of 1982 was the last real initiative directed at that stricken area of the capital, now suffering a plague of drug-dealing, murder and lawlessness apparently being directed from overseas.

The timing of it all has led many to ask: what has been done for larger urban areas generally, and Dublin's north inner city specifically?

The only one of 33 ministers, senior and junior, with a discernibly urban brief has been the hard-working Damien English, who is charged with urban renewal and housing. For urbanites, that could read as a score of eight to one. Rural dwellers will counter that a huge chunk of government is Dublin-based and orientated.

But it is clear that Dublin's problems, especially in less well-off areas, often risk falling down the cracks. There are four local authorities. Plans for a directly elected Mayor in Dublin, something that proved successful in leading developments in cities such as London, Paris and Barcelona, were scuppered on two occasions in the past 15 years.

A big policing operation has now been promised for inner city Dublin. But the root causes require serious thought.

Irish Independent

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