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Connacht Tribune

President Michael D returns to campaign in Galway

Denise McNamara

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He might be facing a barrage of criticism over the lack of transparency over how he spends a €317,000 Áras allowance, but Michael D Higgins is anything but contrite in defence of his presidency.

The presidential incumbent campaigned on home turf this week amid claims by fellow candidate Peter Casey that the only memorable encounter during his seven-year term was with the British Queen and he was guilty of a 42% fall-off in engagements since his first year in office.

Dressed impeccably in a black three-piece suit and paisley tie, Michael D dismisses the Dragons’ Den businessman with a wry smile and a perfectly controlled lashing of the tongue when asked his reaction to such a harsh assessment.

“It isn’t only harsh, but I don’t really get involved in that kind of stuff . . . I’ve made an appeal for respect and for a positive campaign,” he starts off, before launching into a counter attack.

In the first two years of his term, Ireland was a very broken country, he recalls. He was out and about meeting with communities where all the young people were emigrating.

“Each year of the seven years was a different . . . context. For the return visit to the United Kingdom, I spent a lot of time preparing, not just the speech that I gave in reply to Her Majesty, but also the ones I gave in several different parts. One of the most moving was the one I gave in Coventry.

“That figure he’s using is one that is in the printed diary to which the Press are invited, but I wasn’t inviting the Press to come and see me going to Richmond Park and St Pats or to go to Dalymont Park to see Bohs, but even more importantly, then there were people producing important books and then they would come and visit with seven or eight people.

“There were special groups that would come, people with achievement in the voluntary sector, and we wouldn’t have put that in. It was really we became more informal in relation to the more we were doing.”

In relation to what he calls “the famous €317,000 fund”, he has promised to release details of the spending in November when his term is officially up – and when the October 26 election has passed.

He insists that he has spent it in the same way as his predecessors.

“If I was to make any change to suit the electoral purposes in my view it would not be proper. I have said I’m going to put the presidency above everything else. That’s why I don’t change the president’s commitments in the diary to facilitate me to do more campaigning,” he argues, referring to his non-attendance at some of the campaign debates.

When asked whether he has followed the debate about Galway 2020 and the schism that has developed between organisers and the arts community, Ireland’s first Minister for the Arts recalls how in the European Parliament, he used to sit beside the Greek Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri, who first conceived the European Capital of Culture programme.

“In running something like the city of culture in Europe . . . you have to try and achieve an integration with what is local in the city and you have to be conscious that people will be looking for legacy when it’s over.

“It’s a wire that’s very high in the air in relation to choosing between satisfying those issues and also having an event that would be of international standing. If you in fact would fall on the event side to a greater extent, you might lose capacity in relation to some of the others. I want to wish Galway well. It is possible to solve it – these high-wire balancing acts. I appreciate it’s a very particular kind of management skill. And people should realise that every euro spent will come back tenfold when it’s cultural spend, that’s how it is.”

International investment and employment is something his three Dragons’ Den opponents constantly talk about wooing if they took up office.

But the 77-year-old – who has spent a lifetime in politics and academia – is adamant his lack of business experience does nothing to detract from the role of president.

He cites examples of leading delegations to Vietnam, Australia and China, where hundreds of contracts were signed.

“The reason I did a trip to China at the request of the Irish Government was they had been waiting three years for an appointment. President Xi Jinping had visited the Áras as Vice President from China and he said he wanted to meet this President, we changed it around and I took off to China and there Bord Bia made 200 food companies get projects.”

He believes that over the next seven years, when the president will be dealing with the consequences of Brexit, personal contacts will prove crucial.

He recalls a private lunch he had with the presidents of Italy, Portugal and Greece following an academic conference.

“These folk – we were all about the same age – we were there, we discussed what was happening in Europe, both in terms of racism and migration and social Europe and was there a disconnect between the institutions and the people and how could it be repaired. How did we see Brexit? These contacts are invaluable and contacts abroad in relation to Asia are very, very valuable.

“You don’t turn yourself into the IDA or Enterprise Ireland. You help them in opening doors and you help them by making the contacts that are valuable. And you help them by putting on a good performance.

“It means you stay attuned to what is happening economically both in Ireland and in Europe so you can talk with authenticity and what the people want in this election frankly is authenticity.”

There’s no doubt that Michael D can put on a formidable performance. And with the aid of regular yoga teaching and a right knee much improved from the last time he was on the campaign trail, it’s hard to see anything stopping him.

“Truthfully, I’m in much better shape than in 2011,” he says, flashing a very authentic smile at the mention of yoga.

Connacht Tribune

Student nurses face all the risk – for no reward

Dara Bradley

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Working on the children’s ward of a busy hospital during a global pandemic is no joke; less funny still when you’re not getting paid for your toil.

All the risk and none of the rewards of qualified staff – that’s the lot of Edel Moore, a student nurse who is currently on placement at University Hospital Galway.

Edel, and hundreds of student nurses like her on placement in UHG and Portiuncula in Ballinasloe, want more than a round of applause and platitudes from Government.

“None of us want a pat on the back for struggling. We’d just like to be recognised,” she said.

“The Government are full-time talking about front-line workers, and they want to give them a ‘clap hands’. Then you see Junior Ministers getting massive raises. For what? What have they done for us, the student nurses, that they’re getting a €16,000 wage increase?

“We’ve put ourselves through a four year degree but all I’m worth is a clap? Thanks! It’s ridiculous. They say that front-line workers deserve all the help they can get but it just seems that the ones who are able to give us the help we need are not going to give us the help that we deserve.”

Edel Moore is a mature student originally from Westmeath but living in Leitir Mealláin in Connemara with her husband and three children.

A third year student nurse of NUIG, she is currently on placement at the paediatric ward at UHG.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Island museum gets the green light

Declan Tierney

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An artist's impression of the proposed Inishbofin museum.

Work is expected to begin shortly on the construction of a museum on Inishbofin after planners gave the green light to the project.

The museum at Middlequarter is being developed by local historian and photographer Marie Coyne – and when completed, it will be home to items of historical significance from both Inishbofin and Inishark.

There is an existing museum on the island but it is too small to house the amount of artefacts, photographs and family histories that have been assembled over the years.

The new building will also include a photographic exhibition room, restoration workshop along with a gift shop and coffee dock. It is proposed that the new 3,400 square feet museum will be built on a site at the rear of Ms Coyne’s home.

Eamon Gavin of Eamon Gavin Architects based in Cornamona told the Connacht Tribune that this was an important project for the island and it was a welcome decision.

And he said that the green light would kickstart the process of conserving the vast and unique artefacts and archives built up over the years.

“As a practice, we have a long history of dealing with planning consultancy on unique rural sites in Connemara and the islands, therefore we fully understood how sensitive the proposed location of the project would be – the site is located in a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and National Heritage Area,” he said.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Tuam woman a picture of health a year after Covid crisis

Declan Tierney

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Tuam's Kitty Farrell with her dog Lulu a year after her Covid diagnosis.

Last year was a Mother’s Day like no other for Kitty Farrell who spent it in the back of an ambulance being rushed to hospital with Covid – but the 80 year old Tuam woman can look forward to a more sedate celebration this time out….thankfully restored back to full health.

Kitty, from Ballygaddy Road, had developed a debilitating cough the previous week – and when she was admitted to UHG on Mother’s Day, she tested positive for the coronavirus despite a lack of symptoms.

The retired businesswoman spent the next nine days seriously ill in isolation – and all alone as her four children could not visit her.

“To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to come through it but I was so sick that at times, it didn’t really matter. But the thought of passing away in isolation made a bad situation even worse,” Kitty said at the time.

A year on, she is back to full health, and while she restricts her movements, Kitty told The Connacht Tribune that she is just happy to be alive and she spends her days ‘pottering about’ and looking forward to the arrival of family members.

“Even though I don’t particularly agree with the current lockdown because everyone should be responsible for their own behaviour, I am living a life of relative isolation at the moment,” she said.

Read Kitty’s full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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