The man who knows all about roads


I nearly missed this, but there was a nice little story in this week’s Turbine that illustrates a thing or two about our political system.

First, I want to go back several years, when I was listening to one of our leading intellectuals giving off about the state of politics in the Banana Republic. His theme was what a scandal it was that successive governments had to keep appointing Martin Mansergh, the cleverest man in the southern political class, to the Seanad in order to give him a role in government, due to Mansergh’s perennial difficulties in getting the peasantry of South Tipperary to vote for him. The interesting thing was that our intellectual was quite clear why this was. Mansergh, he pointed out correctly, was just your man if you wanted an elegantly phrased letter written to the Irish Times, but he was as useful as a chocolate teapot if you were a pensioner looking a medical card. I agreed, but our intellectual said this as if it was a bad thing. As further proof of the Irish peasantry’s moral delinquence, he cited the way ignorant culchies kept re-electing Jackie Healy-Rae.

This came to mind when scanning the Turbine, which had a story on how An Bord Snip has affected the national road-building programme. In fact, under the new conditions of austerity no new roads are to be built in the coming year. With one exception – a lonely rural bypass. Guess whose constituency it’s in?

A spokesman for the National Roads Authority (NRA) has confirmed that contractors are on site to construct a 5km bypass in Castleisland, Co Kerry, which is expected to be completed by the first half of 2011.

It is the only new national road scheme to go to construction this year, after a government decision requiring all new projects to obtain ‘sign off’ from the Department of Finance.

By comparison, a number of other planned projects, including the upgrade of the N11 and the reconstruction of Newlands Cross on the N7 in south Dublin, have not been given the go-ahead to date by the department.

Healy-Rae, who has previously claimed credit for securing the bypass for his constituency, is one of two independent TDs still supporting Brian Cowen’s government.

Yes, Jackie the Cap does it again, and the reader may suspect that those Kerry culchies aren’t all that ignorant. Whoso findeth an independent TD with a flair for negotiation, findeth a good thing.


  1. Mark P said,

    July 30, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Yes, it’s not hard to see the metropolitan distaste for the allegedly ignorant yokels who inhabit much of the country whenever certain subjects come up, the Healy Rae family being an obvious example. Healy Rae’s obnoxiousness to South Dublin sensibilities is at least as much a part of his appeal in his constituency as his apparent effectiveness at manning the parish pump.

    Similarly in North Tipperary, where the other independent TD still openly supporting the government is located, Lowry’s problems with the Dublin based media actually help him locally. It will be interesting to see if the locals tolerance for his colourful past is effected by any unfavourable Tribunal rulings which may possibly emerge in the near future.

    Speaking of Mansergh, South Tipperary will be of particular interest in the next general election in that there are currently two Fianna Fail TDs, at least one of whom will lose their seat, and those two TDs… well let’s just say that they appeal to somewhat distinct audiences. On the one hand we have the aforementioned bumbling Oxford don persona of Mansergh, on the other we have the know-nothing gombeenism of Mattie McGrath.

    McGrath, sort of a Healy Rae figure without the funny hair or the hat, has a press release out pretty much every day about local issues, his clientelist powers and the like which are targetted purely at the local media. On rare occasions he makes the national media, mostly because some bored journalist has picked up on some particularly outrageous stunt he’s pulled. Most recently it was calling for a Minister from his own party to be sacked for suggesting that the drink driving limit should be lowered. The time before that it was when he was up on assault charges (he was acquitted).

    My money is on McGrath to keep the FF seat over Mansergh, as you might have guessed.

    That said, you don’t have to be a patronising Irish Times journalist to find the likes of Lowry or Healy Rae or McGrath appalling. It’s just that it’s not strictly an urban-rural issue. Dublin has in recent years returned Burke, Bertie, Lawlor, Haughey, who are not exactly shining models of political high minded political virtue. Although, as they were all returned for North or West Dublin constituencies, they probably don’t count as far as the Irish Times or RTE are concerned.

    The trio of wealthy constituencies in South and South East Dublin don’t tend to elect parish pump politicians. As we all know the reason for this isn’t that they are wealthy and don’t need the parish pump. Nor is it that the country as a whole is run in the interests of the wealthy anyway. It’s actually because they are inhabited only by selfless sorts who do what’s best for the country as a whole rather than electing people who serve their own interests…

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 30, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Good points. I do recall that at some point Alan Shatter did the unthinkable for a TD and stopped having surgeries. But then, it didn’t hurt him having some of the wealthiest electors in the country.

    In days of old I used to spend a lot of time in Donegal and got to know the Blaney machine at close quarters. Jackie isn’t nearly as dour a character as Neil was, and doesn’t go in much for stentorian republicanism, but they’re very much of the same stable, and indeed were great mates in their FF days. It’s a style of politics that’s unusually well adapted to the southern Irish setup, much as this might pain our bien pensants.

  3. WorldbyStorm said,

    July 30, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I think Mark P is right too. Still, it does mean that the idea of the Independent in Irish politics, at least in the South, doesn’t look like it’s about to fade away anytime soon. I’d almost, but not quite, predict there will be a fair few more in the next Dáil, although of what sort is anybodies guess. A further interesting question is why the Noel Browne/Tony Gregory style of left independent is now significantly outnumbered by the center right independents of today.

  4. Mark P said,

    July 30, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    I’m not sure if Liz O’Donnell bothered much with constituency clinics either. Or McDowell. If they did it certainly wasn’t a key part of their electoral strategy. Ruairi Quinn does, but a part of his vote comes out of Ringsend and he has had to protect that against the likes of Daithi Doolin.

    Basically, that triangle in South and South East Dublin is a land apart in electoral terms, as different from the rest of urban Ireland as it is from the rural parts of the South. The Greens currently have TDs in all three constituencies there, which tells you quite a bit. Parish pump stuff simply isn’t as important as it is anywhere else. This is for reasons of money and power, although media types who tend to live there instead regard this situation as the natural order of things and blame the failure of the rest of the country to vote simililarly on the moral and intellectual degeneracy of the boggers and knackers.

    That’s why I’ve always had such mixed views about Jackie Healy Rae. Yes, he is a living indictment of our political culture. But then again, he’s a living indictment of our political culture! Also, he has phenomenal hair and, most importantly, he aggravates the living fuck out of many of the right people. I might not be entirely rational about this though – I voted for Dana for President, purely as a fuck you to the Irish Times cohort.

    By the way, I don’t want to give the impression that any of these areas are entirely homogenous. DL, DS and DSE contain within them areas like Ringsend which behave more like the rest of urban Ireland, while outposts of South Dublin bien pensantism exist in other parts of Dublin and Cork.

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 30, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    If I lived in South Kerry, I’d certainly vote for him. In the probable absence of anyone with decent politics, I’d at least want somebody who was good for the area. What would be ideal is if you could get a really good constituency rep who was also on the same page as you politically, but you can’t rely on that combination.

    I also understand the “fuck you” imperative. It’s the sort of reason why I’m glad we have Jim Allister, even though I don’t agree with a single thing he says.

  6. sonofstan said,

    August 2, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Actually, the only other place I know of in Ireland that really resembles the south Dublin triangle is North Down – perhaps the only place in NI where you’ll find Green party voters.

  7. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 2, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Theroux said of Bangor that it was the only place he’d been in the North with pretensions to being middle class. I used to work beside a woman who lived in Bangor, and she would get very irate if I asked her if she was from Kilcooley, or even lived near it.

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