The Good, the Bad… and the Tragic.


Plus:  Councillor Mike Cubbard



Originally written for the Chicago ‘Irish American News’ in mid-June, when there still seemed some hope of a Summer.

Anything appearing in this column today will seem hideously irrelevant, as it is being written just two days after the deaths of six Irish students in Berkeley, California.  For an entire group of parents, their worst fears – the fears of any parent when their child travels away – have now been realised.

All that I can do is to add my condolences to the rest of the Irish American News contributors; and hope that our thoughts and prayers help in some small way all of those touched by this terrible tragedy.  May they find the strength they need to get through this dreadful time.


I came in contact this past week with two very different people.  One was the chairman of a relatively new Irish political party. The other was a representative of the ludicrously incompetent Irish Water company.  One I took a liking to; the other I could tolerate simply because it was fascinating to eventually see one of these creatures up close and in the flesh.

I’m not going to rehash the continuing debacle that is the Irish Water Saga.  Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that I think that it has been a completely bad joke on the Irish people from the start; and isn’t shaping up to get much better in the way of a privatized punchline, either.

This past week they decided — completely out of the wide blue yonder — to basically close down the village of Oranmore (where I live) in Co. Galway.  They would be working on the pipes, they eventually condescended to tell us when a meeting was demanded.  They had given not a single thought to the fact that at this time their half-assed, half-baked plans would definitely mean the loss of jobs in this area.  There are too many other villages close to us for many of the businesses here to survive the shutting of the main road for the summer.   As for the children’s cancer charity shop where I put in a few hours a week, it might as well close down.

Tired of listening to the engineers (and it’s not their fault; they’re just doing what they’re contracted to do) we asked for whoever was representing Irish Water to step forward and let us know what was happening.  Sure enough, he was pretty much what I’d expected.  Straight out of Central Casting he stood there, without the manners to introduce himself; legs wide apart, hands thrust ignorantly into his pockets and with chin aggressively stuck out.  This guy didn’t give a toss about winning hearts and minds, that’s for certain.

I’ll get back to these beauties in a moment, though.

The bad taste that Irish Water leaves in the mouth these days – and yes, the pun is intended – was washed out a little over a coffee and chat with a gent by the name of Ken Smollen, of whom I’ve been hearing good things for some time now.

Living in Clara, Co.  Offaly with his wife and two daughters, Ken is one of the founders of the Irish Democratic Party, which is less than two years old.  He’s a retired member of An Garda Siochana after thirty years’ service; and it only takes a few moments in conversation with him to realise that this is a man with a strong sense of justice, both legal and social.  I can also sense a deep anger in him at the breathtaking levels of corruption and ineptitude that now seem to run unchecked throughout this small country.

As I say, I’ve been hearing very positive stuff – not only about Ken but about other members of the party – for months now.  They deserve credit at the very least for the many hours that they put in driving around the country at their own expense, now that they feel the time has come to make people aware that there is a genuine alternative – not just the Fine Gael Lite choice of the Renua Party with Lucinda Creighton and Snake Oil Salesman, ‘Honest’ Eddie Hobbs.

You’ll gather that I was impressed.  Don’t worry, though; I’m not going to drop two shocks on you in a two-month period.  Some people are still recovering from my return to the Church; so, be assured that my actually joining a political party isn’t on the cards at all.  I never was very good at team sports.

Having said that, I’ve interviewed — and listened to the lies of — too many politicians over the years not to find Ken Smollen a breath of fresh air.  One particularly incendiary topic with him is that of the many repossessions in Ireland today:

“I couldn’t overstate the hellishness of these; and I would be at the courts on a regular basis.  The sheer, total and utter despair that they leave families in is awful.  We’re doing our best to make people aware of just how bad it is.

“At the moment all we can really do is tell them to contact a group called The Hub, who have had some success in delaying the process and giving the families the time to perhaps find a solution.  Every single one of us is repaying these damned bank debts.  Would it not be better in the interests of fairness to postpone or adjourn until legislation comes in concerning evictions?

“There are so many people in distress it is unbelievable.  They’re terrified, not knowing where to look for help; and all we can do is engage with them.  Yet with a little reorganizing it would bring people back into the system, get them back to a normal life. 

“And political appointments have to stop.  The police aren’t independent.  The judiciary isn’t independent. It’s ridiculous.”

He also, like myself, can’t see the sense in being unable to sack outright politicians who have reneged on their promises – are you listening, Enda?  Of course you’re not.  With the IDP at least the electorate will be able to do just that.

With the passion that Ken speaks of this, he seems like a million miles removed from the Dail chancers that we are so used to — and sick of — hearing.  Yet how does the Irish Democratic Party propose to be any different?   What solutions will it put forward?

For reasons of space that’s something I’ll be leaving until the next column.  I will say that it’s a lot more interesting than the same regurgitated ideas that are being trotted out by the Usual Suspects, complete with phony promises as the next election nears.  And you can find out more about them on

And meanwhile, how did Oranmore get on with the Irish Water invasion?  Well, as I started writing this it was with some satisfaction on our side that they had agreed to put the main work back until September – a date that suited everyone and which should have been the one picked at the beginning.  A result for People Power, I thought in my innocence.

Then, as I was finishing this up I was made aware that all hell had broke loose, with Irish Water suddenly ‘forgetting’ their agreement of a week ago and causing major traffic disruption from early morning as ROAD CLOSED signs went up and even school kids found it hard to get to exams.

Where does that leave us now?  Well, there will be another meeting and no doubt more promises.  For myself, if this lot told me that Hell was black at Midnight I’d still not believe them.  


Councillor Mike Cubbard

And that was some weeks ago.  Businesses have been affected, of course; but enough for one day.  I find that even thinking of Irish Water irritates my ulcer – and I don’t even have one yet!

Instead, I’ve been meaning to mention Councillor Mike Cubbard for some time.  I don’t know the man personally but I tend to watch out for what he’s saying.  Here he was yesterday:

A&E Overcrowding – with doctors !

I have the utmost of respect for frontline workers in the hospital, those who deal with patients day in day out under extreme pressure. If you had the misfortune of passing through the A&E department today, you can be forgiven for believing we have one of the best in the country, one adequately staffed and one running like a tap.

The fact is Leo was in town.

The highest paid pen pushers in the HSE ensured extra staff were drafted onto the A&E department and created an image for Leo that all is well here. I’ve spoken to some patients and two nurses who claimed they have not seen as many doctors available than there was today. They also cancelled outpatient appointments to free up staff.

It begs the question about the HSE. Is it under funded?

I don’t believe funding is the main reason we have longer waiting lists and more people on trollies. Mis-management and negligence on behalf of those in higher places than the fantastic staff on the floor are the problem but eh, Leo was in town so it’s a day to smarten up.

Finally, as well as failing to respond to my queries on a department to address the rise in suicide, Leo also chose not to visit the Psychiatric Unit on his visit today. Improvements in the Mental Health services are clearly off the agenda with this Government.


Yes, I think that it’s fair to say that Councillor Cubbard is not afraid to speak his mind rather than talk in empty platitudes and sound bites.

It’ll never catch on.