By Tom McGurk (for the Sunday Business Post)
Some tales from the Celtic Tiger, dear reader, as you consider your options and as the country winds itself up to go to the polls.
All the following tales on the state of the country were reported in the papers last week and all centre on issues that are being preached from every election platform. Shall we start with public transport then?
How’s this for a vignette of the Celtic Tiger? Passengers for the early morning Killarney to Dublin train last Tuesday had to indulge in a spot of criminal damage in order to make their train. When they arrived at the station, the entire place was locked up, gates, ticket office, the lot. But they are inventive folk these Iarnrod Eireann public service workers. As the train pulled into the station, the guard on board noticed the crisis and leapt off with his trusty crow-bar in hand.
With the help of some passengers, the lock on the gates was smashed. It was soon prised open to allow the passengers get onto the train. One passenger who helped was heard to murmur that he hoped he wouldn’t subsequently be charged with criminal damage. Later, Iarnrod Eireann explained that there had been a mix-up over working rosters but insisted that safety had not been compromised. Good to know, and that’s alright then, isn’t it? What about private transport and our roads network, another election issue?
Last Tuesday, while the passengers in Kerry were crow-barring their way onto the train, the Red Cow roundabout in Dublin, the largest traffic artery in the state, came to a complete standstill from6.30am until 11am. With repair and upgrading work under way, a new and complex traffic flow system was supposed to be introduced that morning at 6am.But, as motorists arrived, nobody could work out which way to go as all the original signs had been removed and a four-mile stationary tail-back in all directions occurred.
But good old Frank Coffey of South Dublin County Council was quickly into print with an explanation. Apparently, the contractors were supposed to have had all the new signs for the upgrade project in place by 6am but, I’m afraid, they turned up for work at 7am.Well, that’s all right then, isn’t it? I mean, that explains it. Later, Conor Faughnan of the AA was on the air to reassure motorists. Faughnan said motorists using the M50 over the next six months would be ‘‘terrifyingly vulnerable’’ to gridlock and long tailbacks.
Incidentally, the new diversion instructions - now that they are finally up - are fascinating. For example, if you wish to travel north from the N7 in future - since the western side of the roundabout is now gone - you will have to perform a U-turn at the new traffic lights at the Luas car park and travel east on the N7 to access the M50 northwards via a new ramp. Simple, isn’t it?
And what about crime, which, according to all the opinion polls, is a major election issue? Good to know that our criminal classes at least try to join the election debate. Last Monday, a convicted armed robber, John Daly, joined Joe Duffy on Liveline on RTE Radio 1.Daly was upset because crime reporter Paul Williams was at that moment on the radio telling Dublin crime figure, Alan ‘Fat Puss’ Bradley, who was also on air chatting to Duffy, that he had fallen out with Daly.
Daly was very upset with Williams and wanted us all and Bradley to know that they hadn’t fallen out. Good to know that then. The only problem was that John ‘armed robber’ Daly was talking to the programme on his mobile phone from his cell in the top security wing of the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. Now there’s a scoop for Joe.
Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, veteran of 1,000 new pieces of legislation to stop crime, later described the whole affair as ‘‘brazen and deliberate’’ and that’s right too, we say. You give it to them hot and heavy, Michael, we say.
And what now about the environment, another big election issue? Well, last Monday, Minister for Transport Martin Cullen had a wonderful photocall on the first day of the election. He was out cutting the first sod of turf for the newM3 motorway that will flow through Co Meath.
There had been a serious amount of unhappy folk, given that the new motorway was going to cut through the Hill of Tara, perhaps the most historic place of Irish antiquity. But the Department of the Environment had reassured us that extensive tests had been carried out on the route before work commenced and nothing of historical importance had turned up. That’s alright then, isn’t it?
However, only the next day, as theM3 bulldozers moved in, a site of major archaeological significance, the size apparently of three football fields, was discovered. It is probably a unique relic of the Bronze Age or Iron Age. Immediately Minister for the Environment Dick Roche ordered that work be stopped while he consulted the National Museum. So, that’s alright then, isn’t it?
Tourism, of course, is something all the parties want to encourage, and we had an important visitor last Monday in European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. He was in Belfast, but then we have an all-Ireland tourism industry. Among those meeting him were the North’s designated First Minister, Ian Paisley, who told our important visitor that the North ‘‘had the best food in the world’’.
As Barroso looked a trifle confused, Paisley added: ‘‘Some day when you come back, we’ll give you a feed of fadge - that’s bread made of potatoes. I think a Portuguese man would really enjoy that!” Great stuff, then: clearly the planes from Portugal will be full this summer with visitors seeking fadge.
Oh, and finally, for those of you who applied for a postal vote, keep your fingers crossed. Why? Well, apparently, the right to a postal vote, except for those covered by specified legislation, is completely down to the discretion of your local authority. Not one person, one vote then, but sort of one local authority, one vote.
And you think, dear reader, by voting that you can change anything in this country, even any of the above? Do you? Really?