Michael Clifford: Latest gaffe shows Shane Ross is out of his depth

Michael Clifford: Latest gaffe shows Shane Ross is out of his depth

On St Stephen’s Day, Shane Ross issued a tweet that encapsulated his career as a Government minister. It caused much offence and some anger.

Twitter is a repository of reflexive offence and buckets of anger but in this instance the emotions were entirely justified.

The tweet showed a photograph of the Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport in festive mood, holding what appeared to be a roasted bird. The caption read: “Guess who cooked my goose? The FAI? The Judges? The Vintners?”

The element that caused offence and anger concerned the FAI. Football — or soccer as some of us know it — in this country is on the floor in wake of the disaster that has been uncovered in the Football Association of Ireland. Debts in excess of €60m have been uncovered.

People who are entirely innocent, and who worked at the furthest remove from any wrongdoing, are in danger of losing their jobs. Many of these are low-paying jobs often occupied by those who harbour a love of working in the game. People who were frozen out or stayed out during the reign of John Delaney are trying desperately to save the association. And here was the Minister for Sport making a joke at their expense.

Mr Ross’s intention was surely not to inflict further pain on anybody but to bask in the reflected glow of a great welcome for himself. Yet many just saw a man with his head in the clouds.

Twitter lit up in high indignation. One responding tweet went: “I normally would not comment, but your post is crass, without feeling and not forward thinking.”

Another: “I wouldn’t joke about FAIreland at Christmas when people’s jobs are at risk!!”

An apparent FAI employee wrote: “200 of us uncertain that we’ll have jobs after Xmas and you post that!!!”

And on it went. The minister did not delete the offending tweet. Instead he responded three days later through the pages of the Sunday Independent, where he had made his name as a journalist.

“I was just highlighting three groups of insiders with vested interests who have resisted my proposed reforms to their protected citadels,” Mr Ross told the newspaper.

The judges who are still trying to retain their inner circle; the vintners who resisted my drink-driving bill, tooth and nail; and the old guard at the top in the FAI who haven’t all gone away, you know.

The statement encapsulates his self image. Mr Ross sees himself as an outsider, the people’s representative at a cabinet table of insiders. He is there to hold vested interests to account, to represent the man and woman in the street, to, well, drain the swamp.

For the benefit of those who may not know, Mr Ross is a wealthy former stockbroker who had a second career as the business editor of the Sunday Independent, and was repeatedly elected to the Seanad on the university panel before running for the Dáil. He is the unlikeliest outsider this side of Mr Trump.

Since being appointed to cabinet, Mr Ross has actually managed to oscillate between self-styled scourge of vested interests and bog-standard parish pump politician of old. His personal pilgrimage to reform judicial appointments has been a circus from which it is difficult to see how the legal system or citizens will benefit.

Meanwhile, An Garda Siochána had to revise plans for policing the Dublin metropolitan area in order to accommodate the minister’s demand to reopen the station in Mr Ross’s beloved Stepaside village. This was required because what most of us assumed to be a salubrious enclave in the Dublin mountains is apparently a crime ridden hellhole.

The minister managed to do something positive in office with the tightening of the drink driving laws. Portraying this as facing down the vintners is stretching it.

As a political force the vintners are a busted flush. What the minister did manage to do was alienate large tracts of rural Ireland because of how he went about the task, ignoring the fall-out, lecturing that everybody must just get on with it, failing to acknowledge that the necessary changes have a serious impact.

Michael Clifford: Latest gaffe shows Shane Ross is out of his depth

Then there was the recent awarding of sports grants. The farrago involving which TD got to “deliver the goods” by being first with the news of a grant was initiated in Mr Ross’s office. This was effectively wielding political power in a manner lifted straight from the pages of the gombeen playbook.

Mr Ross did not, as the cooked goose might infer, take on the vested interest of the FAI. The FAI disaster revolved around the stewardship of John Delaney.

Mr Ross had nothing to do with the unmasking of Delaney. In fact, when Delaney was in his pomp, he was elevated constantly by Mr Ross’s then employer, the Sunday Independent. The newspaper even produced an online documentary depicting Delaney as a cross between Mick O’Leary and Mother Teresa, entitled John The Baptist.

Even in the months before the Sunday Times’ Mark Tighe began exposing the FAI’s problems, the minister for sport was very supportive of Delaney. In November 2018, when elements in the media were attempting to probe John the Baptist, Mr Ross was perplexed.

“I don’t hear people giving out,” he said at the time. “I read about it in the press alright. There’s a lot of criticism about John Delaney, my own experience is that when I go to these local games in the constituency on the ground, is that I see John Delaney and representatives of the FAI all the time. They’re always on the ground doing things, relating to those really important things that young people are doing.”

And now Delaney is safely dispatched, the fearless tribune is showing what he’s made of.

In another life Mr Ross was a competent journalist, a fine polemicist, and a reporter who had a record of shining a light into dark corners of the State’s apparatus. During minor engagements with him in those days, this columnist found him to be courteous and very helpful.

A fair wind of luck blew him into the cabinet table as the putative leader of the raggle-taggle Independent Alliance. His tenure has been entertaining in some respects but the impression lingers that his sense of self has dwarfed all other considerations in the job.

Some of those who ascend to the cabinet table perform well, better the lives of citizens in some minor ways, make as much a difference as it is possible to do. Others struggle by and just keep the head down.

Mr Ross, to his credit, was never going to take the easy option. His exotic approach to the job, however, has simply left him looking out of his depth.

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