I CROSSED paths with Shane Ross once in his capacity as the Minister for Sport.
It happened last October when I was in considerable pain and suddenly saw this smiling figure coming towards me.
I was in pain because after I’d finally made it to the top of my Heartbreak Hill — that Dublin Marathon trek up the back of University College Dublin where the gradient seems much more like Everest than the gentle drag it’s supposed to be before you reach Foster’s Avenue and start turning for home.
There was Ross at the top of the Hill which roughly equates with the 23-mile mark in the marathon — the infamous marathon wall with Ross standing sentry there, his arms outstretched, grinning and trying to shake hands with as many marathon passers-by as possible.
Shaking hands in his capacity as the Minister for Sport.
It’s over the last week or so that his capacity as the Minister for Sport has come to the front and centre stage — a capacity that knows no bounds, with Ross doing his very best to dominate the headlines along the way of proving that he’s Ireland’s answer to Boris Johnston.
They do belong to the parish of privilege, after all.
Ross did more than shake hands with Irish Rugby captain Rory Best when he doorstepped him with the Six Nations trophy after the Grand Slam victory over England — he grabbed the trophy and raised it aloft as if to declare that he was the great champion of Irish sport.
Of course, straight away there were comparisons made with Charlie Haughey, because of the way he famously appeared on the Champs Elysses in 1987 when Stephen Roche won the Tour de France, or three years later when he emerged out of the crowd in Rome’s Olympic Stadium to take the acclaim of the same crowd after Ireland World Cup adventure had been brought to an end by Toto Schillaci, Roberto Donadoni et al.
But whatever you say about Charlie, he had style and loads of it — and he also knew his sport. Let’s put it this way he wouldn’t have mistaken Rob Kearney for Dave Kearney — it would have been like going up to Jackie Charlton that balmy night in Rome and saying ‘well done Bobby’, or mixing up Stephen Roche with Sean Kelly on the Champs Elysses.
It just wouldn’t happen.
And, another thing that wouldn’t happen under Charlie’s watch would be the fiasco that has been the Sports Capital programme this past week under his watch in that capacity of being Minister for Sport.
Last week Ross took to twitter celebrating the fact that three organisations within his constituency had been awarded a combined total of €450,000 under his department’s Sports Capital Programme.
It was privilege looking after its own — new politics gone very wrong, with the best summation of the whole exercise being one member of the Twitterati out there simply quoting Ross’ name and saying ‘Neck like a……’
This comment related specifically to the €150,000 awarded to Wesley College, the fee paying private school, for the resurfacing of an all-weather hockey pitch, but the fact that the other two sums of €150,000 also went to the resurfacing of all-weather hockey pitches, all of which are only within a few poc fadas [whether it’s hockey balls or sliotars being pucked] from each other shows that there’s something rotten at the core of new politics.
Meanwhile, down in Clare the line being trumpeted is that new politics is great: “The Sports Capital Programme was re-instated by the last Fine Gael government in 2012, after it had been cut by Fianna Fáil in the wake of the economic crash,” said Joe Carey.
“It represents an excellent value for money investment. It is crucial we invest in sport and the health of our population, particularly with obesity on the rise. Investing in sport is good for the health of the nation, both literally and economically,” added Deputy Carey.
Everything that Deputy Carey says can’t be argued with, but the fact remains that so-called new politics equated with Shane Ross looking after his constituents and sports of privilege, with €450,000 for three hockey pitches in the same ‘parish’ reflecting very badly indeed when measured up against other constituencies — not just Clare which was in receipt of just €240,000 in the latest round of funding.
The biggest allocation went to Clare County Council, with €109,400 going to the local authority for the Active Kilrush Sports complex, while Killaloe/Ballina Tennis Club was allocated €63,000 for the development of two indoor tennis courts, Scariff Rugby Club got €40,600 for an indoor astro turf pitch, while the Newmarket Celtic Development Committee is in receipt of €26,300 for their all-weather pitch.
Maybe new politics when it comes to sport could only be there if there were more sportsmen of note in Dáil Éireann.
Of course, there have been some notable sportsmen in the Dáil down the years, with the greatest team of sportsmen probably being 50 years ago with the Fianna Fáil led government led by Jack Lynch.
That fact was brought home to me last week when penning an article marking the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Donogh O’Malley.
O’Malley played inter-provincial rugby for Connacht, Munster and Leinster, while at the time of his death was President of the Football Association of Ireland.
After he died, his coffin was shouldered by the who’s who of the government — among them Taoiseach Jack Lynch, Minister for Labour Dr Paddy Hillery, Minister for Agriculture Neil Blaney, Minister for Health Sean Flanagan and Minister for Finance Charlie Haughey.
But apart from being the who’s who, they were steeped in sport. Lynch had his six All-Ireland medals with Cork, Flanagan had two with Mayo, Hillery was a low single handicap golfer who played in the South of Ireland, Blaney succeeded O’Malley as President of the Football Association of Ireland, while Haughey, apart from the distinction of winning a Dublin county senior football championship with Parnells, was the man who donated the Haughey Cup for the promotion of soccer in Clare and went on to become an honorary president of the Clare Soccer League.
You sense that these men wouldn’t have given €150,000 to the fee-paying Wesley College this month while overlooking the grant claims of 30 public schools around the country.
More than that, it wouldn’t have been allowed happen, with O’Malley, who was Minister of Education probably leading the charge in that regard.
All because he wasn’t afraid of facing people down.
His famous clashes with the GAA in the 1960s over its infamous Ban proved this:
“Equal opportunity of education for all our children should also give them an opportunity of playing games of their own choice,” he said. “I want to emphasise that there are people playing games beside those who you support, who are quite entitled to tall themselves just as good Irishmen. Or do you suggest that we should not cherish all our children equally but continue to create a feeling among out children that they are ‘Shoneens’ because they play certain games?” he added.
O’Malley would be aghast of the elitism of this new politics as espoused by Shane Ross and his Sports Capital Grants scheme.
Shane Ross with the Six Nations Trophy having doorstepped the Irish captain Rory Best after Ireland Grand Slam victory.