Min­is­ter gives pa­pers the slip in Bal­ly­mote

The Sligo Champion - - OPINION - With Sorcha Crow­ley

It used to be that you’d know an elec­tion was in the air when the Min­is­ters started rolling into town.

I re­mem­ber the heady days of 2003 - 2007 when Ber­tie Ah­ern could do no wrong. Lo­cal news di­aries prac­ti­cally bulged with min­is­te­rial mark­ings. Those were not to be missed oc­ca­sions. A chance to doorstep the par­tic­u­lar min­is­ter on what­ever the big news story of the day might be.

You got plenty of no­tice in those days too - all the bet­ter for the Min­is­ter to have a scrum of jour­nal­ists and pho­tog­ra­phers wait­ing as they alighted smil­ing from their black mercs ready to bask in the glory of what­ever new cen­tre was open­ing.

I can re­call fight­ing my way through scrums to see the likes of Health Min­is­ter Mary Har­ney at Sum­merville Nurs­ing Home in Strand­hill, res­o­lutely ig­nor­ing her snarling press of­fi­cer. Oh how things have changed.

Last Mon­day, there were raised eye­brows all round in Sligo County Coun­cil cham­ber when news emerged that ‘ the min­is­ter’ was in Bal­ly­mote to of­fi­cially open the new Pri­mary and Men­tal Health Care Cen­tre. Not just any old ju­nior min­is­ter ei­ther, the ‘ac­tual’ Health Min­is­ter, Si­mon Har­ris.

“As Chair of the Coun­cil I only got word on Fri­day evening and I had plans I couldn’t change. A num­ber of Coun­cil­lors haven’t even been con­tacted. It’s not good enough,” said Cathaoir­leach Martin Baker.

He was lucky. They only told the news­rooms an hour ear­lier.

Coun­cil­lor De­clan Bree was quick to lam­bast the HSE and the Gov­ern­ment for their lack of no­tice to Sligo’s First Cit­i­zen.

“This is un­ac­cept­able. These peo­ple seem to have re­spect for no one and are an­swer­able to no one. It doesn’t re­flect well on the HSE,” he thun­dered.

Coun­cil­lor Seamus Kil­gan­non agreed it was wrong and “should be con­veyed very clearly to them.”

The Bal­ly­mote Pri­mary and Men­tal Health Care Cen­tre was a pub­lic build­ing and the lack of no­tice to lo­cal pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives was an at­tack on the pub­lic, he said.

The Coun­cil­lors scram­bled out to Bal­ly­mote, some of them al­most achiev­ing the art of bi-lo­ca­tion in the process. For most lo­cal news­rooms, it was too short no­tice how­ever to cover the visit of the es­teemed min­is­ter to Bal­ly­mote.

A query from this news­room to the HSE af­ter­wards re­sulted in a one line apol­ogy.

The Depart­ment of Health didn’t even bother their blar­ney to re­ply.

The min­ster ducked in and out of Bal­ly­mote (and Sligo Hospi­tal!) cos­seted from any awk­ward ques­tions from pesky jour­nal­ists. These min­is­te­rial stage-man­aged events with­out giv­ing lo­cal pa­pers enough no­tice are be­com­ing more and more com­mon over the past 18 months.

What are they so afraid of ?

There was such fear of Gov­ern­ment spin from the con­tro­ver­sial Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Unit (headed up by Sligo’s own John Con­can­non) that it had to be dis­banded. And this in the same week it emerged Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar ‘floated’ the idea of creat­ing anony­mous on­line in­ter­net ac­counts to make pos­i­tive com­ments about news (it didn’t hap­pen).

The SCU may be dis­banded but the spin doc­tors are still there. And very busy.


FG Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris is greeted only by politi­cians to Bal­ly­mote - but where are the news­pa­per re­porters? James Con­nolly.

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