Monday 16 December 2019

Voter beware! You will now be told what they think you want to hear

James Reilly
James Reilly
'The Taoiseach has explicitly promised, if he is returned to Government Buildings, a large chunk of Co Roscommon around Athlone will not be reassigned from Co Roscommon to Co Westmeath. The denizens of Roscommon have grounds for scepticism here.' Photo: Sam Boal / 
John Downing

John Downing

Voters in Roscommon have a fearsome reputation for being contrary and never returning the same set of TDs to the Dáil. So, is it an omen that Taoiseach Enda Kenny ended his final Leaders' Questions with a very explicit guarantee to the people of Roscommon?

Does anyone remember another explicit promise to Roscommon early in the last election campaign? Do you recall how that one ended?

It may be a parable for all as we embark on another General Election campaign today. This will be just one of dozens of promises from all sides on taxation, storm drains, welfare, pedestrian lights, health, bingo buses, education, multi-channel television and a vast variety of other topics. We are entering a season when we will be told what some politicians think we want to hear.

This time the Taoiseach has explicitly promised, if he is returned to Government Buildings, a large chunk of Co Roscommon around Athlone will not be reassigned from Co Roscommon to Co Westmeath in the interests of better administration to support development at the area known as Monklands.

The denizens of Roscommon have grounds for scepticism here. In February 2011, Mr Kenny stood in the centre of Roscommon town and pledged that their local hospital would not be downgraded. A fortnight earlier, the then opposition health spokesman, Dr James Reilly, had rather cheekily written to the Health Service Executive warning them not to downgrade Roscommon Hospital pending the appointment of a new Health Minister.

All hell broke loose just 16 weeks after polling day, in late June 2011, when it emerged that Roscommon Hospital would not be retaining its 24-hour A&E among other changes. Then Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten promptly quit the party and has remained an Independent since then. Fine Gael's second local deputy, Frank Feighan, fought with some success for another role for the hospital but has more recently decided to quit politics.

Yesterday, on his final day answering, Mr Kenny told another Independent Roscommon-Galway deputy, Michael Fitzmaurice, that he did not back a proposal to shift 38 square kilometres from Roscommon to Westmeath. The proposal is being examined by an expert group to possibly facilitate more efficient administration of Athlone, which is rapidly expanding westward on the Roscommon bank of the River Shannon.

The expert group is due to report on February 29 - three days after polling day. Michael Fitzmaurice urged the Taoiseach to pledge that, if he was re-elected, Roscommon would not be divided.

The Taoiseach said the expert group would produce a non-binding administrative report which would go to politicians for their consideration. He said the issue arose because of a fear that infrastructural development of the area may not be getting the best possible council service.

"I agree with you - people would be very upset if they were to see that area shifted to another district. And I'm very much a supporter of developing Roscommon as an entity. Why wouldn't I be?" Mr Kenny said.

"I'll answer your question in the affirmative - if I have anything to do with it - that's my belief," Mr Kenny said.

A number of points scream out here: There were good arguments in favour of change at Roscommon Hospital in 2011 and there may be arguments for a rethink on borders close to Athlone.

The point is telling people what they want to hear to secure votes. Deputy Naughten argues that Roscommon voters will not readily accept this latest promise. We should extend that principle writ large.

Irish Independent

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