Ring’s new engagement
Posted in Connect on June 22, 2017.
Interview by Edwin McGreal, The Mayo News
It’s Thursday morning and Westport’s first member of cabinet in over 60 years is hitting the ground running.
Minister for Community and Rural Affairs Michael Ring has a lot of work in front of him before he can even get to work on his brief.
It’s a new ministry which means a new department and when we spoke, Minister Ring was between meetings about the establishment of the Department of Community and Rural Affairs which he will head up.
There’s a new Secretary General needed, civil servants moved from other departments and offices to be organised. However, it’s not a task the new minister seems too worried about. As headaches go, it is one he can live with after promotion to cabinet and Minister Ring is clearly on cloud nine.
“It is a great feeling. I’m really happy and delighted with the portfolio and it is great for the county and particularly for Westport and I’m delighted to have the honour and I was delighted for the people of Mayo. I’m only representing them and I’m delighted to be accepting the responsibility on their behalf,” the Minister told The Mayo News.
As we spoke, he was getting well wishes from passers-by. We’re not sure if they were from Mayo but something they said prompted the reply from the Minister ‘up Mayo!’.
He said he had been ‘inundated’ with good wishes from calls, texts and emails since the news broke the previous evening. He’s in no doubt that the appointment as a full minister – Ring was a junior minister since 2011 – represents his career highlight, even usurping his dramatic by-election success in 1994.
“It is (the highlight), there’s no doubt about it. The by-election win (in 1994) was probably the greatest day of my life at the time but this is such a great achievement to get to the top, get to the cabinet and I’m very proud,” he added.
He also reflects on many friends and supporters who were not alive to see him reach such office. Two particular Fine Gael stalwarts sprung to mind. “Yesterday (Wednesday) evening I thought about Tony Moore in Westport and James Coyle in Geesala and people like that who were with me from the beginning. They were with me in spirit yesterday and they’d be smiling down today,” acknowledged Minister Ring.
He becomes the first Westport person to be in cabinet since Thomas Derrig was Minister for Lands from 1951-54, though elected in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency.
It was widely expected that Ring would be one of those promoted to the cabinet under new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar but it was 6pm on Wednesday before the Westport-based TD got the good news personally.
“About an hour before the Dáil came back last night I was called in, the Taoiseach offered me the responsibility if I wanted to take it … and I was delighted to accept it. It’s a great honour,” he said.
Confident of a strong budget
While specifics have yet to be ironed out in terms of a confirmed budget and remit for his ministry, Minister Ring is confident his department will be properly resourced.
“The Taoiseach has given me a strong commitment that I will have funding and he wants to do anything he can to try to regenerate rural Ireland again and he wants to send out a strong message that he is supportive of rural Ireland, that’s why he has created this department, that’s why he has put me into it.
“It’s not all about funding and I’m not going to be able to resolve every single problem, I know that, but I will do my best. I will have the commitment of the Taoiseach and the Government to support me in every way. I’ve been told I’m going to get a very strong budget and that’s all being worked out now,” he added.
He’s clear on what he sees as the biggest challenge facing rural Ireland.
“The biggest problem facing rural Ireland is the whole population decline and people leaving and the closing of shops. The target is to try to regenerate it and get as many people back working as is possible and to try and get as many businesses up and running. It is all about jobs, creating jobs and trying to get people back living in the towns as well.
“We have everything going into the east coast and we need to try again and that’s why I have set up and I am chairing it, the Atlantic Economic Corridor to try to see can that economic corridor compete with the east coast and try to get them into rural Ireland and into the north west, the west and try to get these companies to come in. They all want to be in Dublin but we have to try to encourage them and do things to try to get them into rural Ireland.
“I love rural Ireland and I’ll do everything I can, everything in my power [for it].”
Reflections on a Mayo Taoiseach
Minister Ring’s promotion means Mayo will retain a voice at cabinet after Enda Kenny’s tenure as Taoiseach came to a conclusion. Minister Ring praised his constituency colleague’s contribution as Taoiseach.
“I thought he was an excellent Taoiseach, he did an excellent job for the country, he did an excellent job in very difficult conditions and very difficult times and he steered this country out of economic disaster and now the recovery is taking place and what we all have to do now is make sure that recovery goes to every corner of the country.”
He said it ‘is of benefit to Mayo’ to have someone at cabinet and is determined that the N5 improvements will be completed on his watch.
“I’ve been working on that now for the last six years and done a lot of work on it and to be fair, even the money we got last year, the €13 million we got last year, you can see the land being bought. Even if we got money tomorrow morning they couldn’t start it. It has to go to tender and I need to make sure now that continues. When we left Government in 1994 that was ready to go off and it didn’t happen. I don’t want to see that happening, I want to see that project up and running as quick as possible and I will be doing everything in my power to make sure it happens.”
His own personal road has been a long and winding one from being elected to Westport UDC in 1979, Mayo County Council in 1991, a surprise by-election victory in 1994, extraordinary voting returns since and now sitting at cabinet.
“I certainly have come a long way,” admitted Minister Ring.