When former Kerry footballer Pat Spillane appeared on The Late Late Show on April 19, he informed the TV audience that his post as ambassador for rural Ireland had been terminated.
Mr Spillane was allowed by the host, Ryan Tubridy, to go on a rant, without being challenged on any single issue that he raised. Is this because Spillane is a paid RTÉ pundit?
There was no mention of the famous Action Plan for Rural Development, launched by the Government in January 2017, and which was headed by the ambassador himself, Pat Spillane.
This action plan contains five pillars of achievable actions, which include: support for the post office network; support for rural GPs; 135,000 new jobs by 2020; bring high speed broadband to every premises in Ireland (the cost for the roll-out of broadband has spiralled out of control, from €500m to €3bn).
These are stated, key deliverables, yet Tubridy failed to ask Ambassador Spillane what he has been doing over the past two years, while this plan for rural Ireland has failed miserably.
Where has Ambassador Spillane been while post offices have been closing all over rural Ireland and particularly in his native Kerry? Where was Ambassador Spillane when the broadband controversy was being played out in October 2018?
Spillane was a very silent ambassador indeed. However, he suddenly appears on The Late Late Show, criticising the Minister for Rural Affairs, Michael Ring, and the failed plans.
Why, at this time? Is it because he has been removed from the gravy train? Minister Ring was quick out of the traps to defend himself and his department, on Monday, April 21, publicly declaring that “Spillane has a high regard for himself”.
Furthermore, Mr Ring advises that Spillane received €30,000 in fees for the two years he worked as rural Ireland ambassador and was paid an additional €14,381 for expenses. He also received €27,000 in fees and expenses for his work with the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas — that’s a total of €71,381. It’s no wonder that Spillane has suddenly awakened.
The good days as ambassador for rural Ireland are over.
Spillane, by his own admission on The Late Late Show, is only now googling the various government reports and statements released over the past two years, with respect to Rural Ireland Development Plans. Suddenly, they are “gobbledegook and horse shit”, as stated on The Late Late Show.
While Mr Ring and Pat Spillane have engaged in a public spat, rural Ireland continues to experience the dissolution of the banks in towns; the erosion of the post office network; vanishing bus stops; a population and GAA club decline; struggling rural schools; poor broadband and pub closures.
As Spillane and Mr Ring have chosen to go to war in public, surely the Public Accounts Committee needs to ask for answers on behalf of the taxpayer. These should be asked in a proper forum — not on The Late Late Show. The taxpayers deserve answers from these two ‘champions of rural Ireland’.
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on May 7, 2019.