Those of us who went to the River Island Hotel, on the recent ‘Meet the Candidates’ night, looking for a cure for all that ails the economy of our town, quite frankly, went to the goat’s house for wool.
There was advice in spades and as much encouragement as you could spread, knee deep across the wide street to Peg Breen’s.
Michael Healy Rae and Tom Fleming were first to arrive for the Castleisland Chamber Alliance organised ‘Meet the Candidates’ night as part of its stated objective of making Castleisland a better place to live and work in.
The night began in a mood of political harmony and leaflets from most of the candidates sat several deep on the 100 plus chairs which were arranged for the event.
Just as the attending politicians were being lined up for the pre-event photograph, Jimmy Deenihan advised that we wait a minute for Martin Ferris as he was just parking up as Mr. Deenihan was entering the hotel.
Radio Kerry’s Jerry O’Sullivan was the self labelled ‘moderator’ on the occasion and he kept a tight reign on proceedings throughout the night.
He gave each of the politicians and candidates a couple of minutes to introduce themselves and he imposed the limits to the second.
It was clear there is an election in the air as Fianna Fáil’s Norma Moriarty introduced herself, apologised and bolted for another meeting elsewhere.
There were comparisons made by Arthur Spring with recent set ups in Tralee and an implication of the rising tides lifting all boats philosophy. Jimmy Deenihan spoke of Castleisland using the power of its diaspora and Tom Fleming cited a case-in-point with the start-up of the New York Life / Nylerin plant on the Tralee Road Industrial Estate in 1998. That was set up in Castleisland by Mountcollins native John Foy in spite of pressure to have it sited in Abbeyfeale, said Tom Fleming.
The harmonious air continued when Arthur Spring praised Tom Fleming’s efforts on behalf of Castleisland.
“In fairness to Tom Fleming he has been banging the Castleisland drum since he was elected five years ago,” said Mr. Spring.
Tom Fleming was to take the political landscape here by surprise the following day with the announcement that he was stepping away from the forthcoming election.
The role of the IDA was severely criticised for its apparent lack of interest in Castleisland and this was epitomised by a burst from Michael Healy Rae: “The IDA doesn’t give a damn about anything beyond the Red Cow Roundabout,” he said and the audience of just over a hundred applauded and laughed.
A dodgy PA system dogged the proceedings and if there was a prize for innovation and thinking on your feet, Michael Healy Rae would have taken it. “If there was any young lad selling or repairing microphones here tonight wouldn’t he be making a job for himself,” he said in response to another break-down in the system.
The levity didn’t last too long and the moderator had to lean on his mic to restore order as the bubbling and thorny issue of The Kerry Flyer versus Private Bus Operators arose and threatened to spill over.
Accusations of muscling in on contracts were made by representatives of the private operators while the Kerry Flyer – which has gained charity status and substantial government funding since 2012 – also had its cheerleaders there in defence.
Both Dave Fitzgibbon and Pat Mitchell batted for the Limerick Road based company and pointed out that it had gone from two employees to 30 in a few years and that it was all done within a legal framework.
However, several of the politicians and candidates, while accepting the legalities involved, questioned the operation on grounds of fairness.
Arthur Spring said if it’s a matter of displacement of existing jobs and contracts then that’s not on. Brendan Griffin said that the Kerry Flyer had ‘elbowed in’ on the private bus operators’ business while Martin Ferris said “What Kerry Flyer is doing is legal – but is it morally right?
Noreen Long raised the issue of the ESB meter readers being cut loose and their entitlements decimated. She claimed that no one mentioned their plight until Joe Duffy raised the issue on his Liveline programme on RTÉ Radio One recently.
However, it fell to former Castleisland Community College Principal, Pat Tarrant to ask the question of the greatest pertinence.
Mr. Tarrant said that local people were disappointed to see young men and women heading off from Castleisland in so many directions every morning to work in places like Abbeyfeale, Tralee or Killarney or in Munster Joinery. He wondered why Castleisland had been abandoned.
“We’re disappointed here, we have a highly educated workforce but what about the ordinary achievers ? – they’re surely entitled to a job,” said Mr. Tarrant.
In the heel of the hunt, Jimmy Deenihan said that the meeting was a good start and he urged the organisers to keep it going. While Martin Ferris wondered what we can all do for the common good in spite of the fact that the IDA doesn’t give a damn about Kerry as a whole.