Leaving the stage, but watching with interest from the wings!

In an Election Week column, FRANK FEIGHAN says the bookies have got it right in Roscommon/Galway…and foresees an FG/Labour/Social Democrats Coalition
ELECTION 2016 – Frank Feighan

So…Election 2016 is upon us.

  People say it has been a dull and uninspiring General Election campaign. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is so. But I do have a theory.

  I remember when I started out in politics, running in the 1999 local elections, you’d call to a house and you’d leave your manifesto details and ask them to have a read of it and call you if they had any queries. Then you might start chatting to them about their dog or the weather or football or something! Actually what I used to notice was that people from the UK – who had re-located to North Roscommon – would ask you lots of questions about policy. They’d almost interview you! In the 2011 election I noticed that Irish people began to do the same. This approach has continued into this campaign – people actually want to engage on manifestos and policies and so on. So perhaps where we see a deficit of colour or drama or excitement or so-called entertaining campaign clashes, they’ve been replaced by forensic examination of policies. The discourse now is much more towards manifestos and policies and I see that as a good development.

  While I’m not running in this Friday’s election, I have been involved in the campaign outside of Roscommon. I am Director of Elections for the three Fine Gael candidates in Sligo/Leitrim. My job is to keep the peace! It’s actually been a very united campaign and we are aiming for two seats.

  As for the campaign in Roscommon, I feel the bookies are getting it right. Michael Fitzmaurice is something like 1/50 and Denis Naughten 1/25. I recognise the popularity of Fitzmaurice and Naughten, but I don’t think Independents will be part of the next Government.

  I know Michael Fitzmaurice personally; certainly he has impressed since being elected. Mind you, Fitzmaurice never talks about the money which I helped secure for the turfcutters! I went to Brussels and helped achieve a deal on this, which the Irish Government is funding. Now, over 1,000 people in Roscommon/East Galway are in receipt of compensation. In fact over €1.5m is being paid annually to Roscommon/East Galway turfcutters over a 15-year period, and many more have been relocated. But I agree with Michael Fitzmaurice that more needs to be done.

  Denis Naughten? Denis and I obviously go back a long way. I felt Denis could have helped deliver more for the people of Roscommon by staying in Government back in 2011.

  Fine Gael are running Cllr. Maura Hopkins. She’s a great candidate…young and articulate and a person who I feel represents the future for Fine Gael, Roscommon and this constituency. She has my full support. She has impressed on the doorsteps and appears to be doing very well. I believe Maura is the right person at the right time. If she is elected to Government she will be an excellent TD who has the vision and energy to address the challenges we face in the future on our behalf.

  It hasn’t been a dramatic campaign in Roscommon. There was a lot of publicity about Fianna Fáil’s decision to add Shane Curran on. Shane’s a nice guy, just as Eugene Murphy is. So I would certainly respect the Fianna Fáil candidates, but ultimately I feel Maura Hopkins will win the third seat. I am calling on Fine Gael supporters to vote for Maura Hopkins and to remember that there really is only one Fine Gael candidate in the field in Roscommon/Galway.

  I also note that during the course of the campaign John McDermott has resigned as chairperson of the HAC. I suppose you could say we had a rollercoaster of a relationship. ‘Elbowgate’ is well and truly over and done with…John and I had a number of meetings in Dublin after that episode and we are the best of friends now! I did go on Shannonside recently to take issue with the HAC. I found it incredible that restoration of Roscommon A&E wasn’t an issue for the HAC this time; they knew five years ago what they know now. It’s a cynical u-turn. Having said all of that, I wish John well.

  What I would say now on the health services in Roscommon is that I am delighted with the introduction of the air ambulance, something which has saved lives and which shows what you can do in Government.

  The Endoscopy Unit is complete and will be ready to open in a few weeks. €9m has been ringfenced for a Rehab Unit – which is currently at the planning stage – while  plans are also in place for the provision of a palliative care unit for Roscommon/Mayo Hospice. It will be financed by the Hospice, while the Government has arranged for the HSE to staff it. After four years of intensive activity, I feel Roscommon Hospital, on completion of these projects, will be unrecognisable.

  I think there’s a great future for Roscommon Hospital and I’d like to think I played a huge role in its transformation. I believe history will be kinder to me than some elements of the public have been. But that’s not what motivates you; it’s the public interest that motivates you and I had the stability of Government foremost in my mind back in 2011 too. The country was in great peril at the time, but we have now stabilised the economy. If Fine Gael leads the next Government, I’d like to see the social dividend move west. Small towns and villages in Roscommon need more attention. SMEs need more support and we have to focus on creating employment for our young people so that we can regenerate rural Ireland and build a better future for everyone.  

  I don’t wish to digress! We are on the cusp of an important election. I’m not a candidate, and I won’t be canvassing for a Seanad seat either. I have absolutely no regrets about not running in the General Election. I took the decision not to run over three years ago. I knew it would be very difficult to get re-elected. I have never been as happy and relaxed as I am now.

  I was honoured to serve the people over seventeen years in local and national politics. It was a privilege. I look back with particular pride on the development of Lough Key Forest Park. I was chairperson of the Lough Key Forest Park Action Group when we secured €12m in funding for the facility which is now a wonderful amenity once again. As a Government TD I secured over €200m for infrastructural developments, including €20m to address serious water quality issues, as well as funding for the new Primary Care Centre in Boyle, local schools, Ballaghaderreen Bypass and other projects. I would have loved to have seen a hotel being constructed in Boyle.

  A really important part of my work has been my role as Chair of the British/Irish Parliamentary Assembly and Good Friday Agreement Committee. I believe there is enormous potential in developing North/South and UK/Irish relations further and building on the excellent work that has been done in recent years.   Obviously during the last five years I suffered a lot of abuse over the Roscommon Hospital issue. I’d had a nice passage in politics before 2011, and I felt I was liked. I found it hard not to be liked! However I bear no malice.

  I had a difficult decision to make and I have no regrets about that decision. I can honestly say that I never lay awake in bed a single night regretting what I did. I took the decision in the public interest.

  I have no bitterness and feel the decisions I made were vindicated by public statements by Consultants Liam McMullen and Gerry O’Meara, the former in a letter to the Roscommon People. 

  Mind you, when I look back, I do accept that I over-reacted in some situations. I allowed the pressure to get to me; I became too emotional in my engagement with some people and for that, I apologise.

  That era is over now. You put everything in the past. I want to thank the people of Roscommon and South Leitrim and also the people who have worked for and with me.

  I’ll call into the count centre in Roscommon at the weekend – I always enjoyed the buzz of the count. As to the outcome, I am expecting two Independents (Fitzmaurice and Naughten) to be elected, along with Maura Hopkins of Fine Gael. And I think the next Government will be Fine Gael-led – a Coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and the Social Democrats.

  As for me personally, it’s time to start a new chapter in my life. There’s a time to leave the stage and a time for others to step on to the stage. The time is right now. 

 * Outgoing Fine Gael TD Frank Feighan was in conversation with Paul Healy