There is major sadness around Waterford at the loss of a local man, Martin Cullen, from the Cabinet table. While in the past year he may have been appearing less at public events due to his back and health problems, he did manage to hold his position in Cabinet and keep an eye on Waterford and the South east’E best interest. His loss will be of strong concerna for an area that has suffered so hard in this recession.
We have lost many industries in the past few years and the construction sector is on its knees although there is some consolation in that we have the infrastructure for the future. Having Minister Cullen in the Cabinet secured many advantages for Waterford and the region. The new bridge/bypass will stand as one of his achievements. This was a long campaign, going back to the City Manager, Michael Doody, who sought a high level bridge only to be rebuffed by various Environment Ministers. Now we have it and the soon to be opened motorway to Dublin will be another great advance for the city. The Waterford- Knocktopher motorway section will be opened the Monday after St Patrick’s Day, this will shorten journey times to Dublin. When we look back at the Celtic Tiger era at least we can point to these advances, along with the excellent Waterford Ring Road. The Airport has also made a number of advances so, as a city, Waterford has many positives as we grapple with a very deep recession.
Martin Cullen fought hard and was not afraid to speak his mind. He did not look like your average provincial Minister and maybe some of the national media did not like his approach. His media treatment was very unfair and was part of the new era of tabloid journalism where character assassination through untrue allegations seemed ok as new ways to attract readers with UK papers vying with Irish ones for new angles.
The Standard in Public Office cleared him over expenses and costs related to work carried out by Monica Leech. Subsequently, costs involving other public figures well exceeded those applied to Martin Cullen. The voting machine controversy saw him take too much of the blame when it was the previous Minister for the Environment, Noel Dempsey, who sanctioned it. The old fashioned paper voting system suited too many vested interests from the media election reporting to the staff manning the polling stations. Many would lose out and they sought holes in the system. In hindsight, an all party grouping was the way forward but Minister Cullen was only acting under orders and did not get great support from his colleagues. From that point on, the labeling began of his ‘arrogance’ which was really unfair. He worked hard, read his briefs, spoke his mind and was not a ‘Yes Minister’ type administrator who let the senior civil servants do all the work.
The former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, appreciated this attitude towards a brief and supported him when necessary. His current boss Brian Cowen must grapple with the McCarthy Report that may see two Ministries abolished, Arts and Tourism and also the Gaeltacht. The long term injury to Martin Cullen gives the Taoiseach a chance to make more change to the Cabinet after the Defence Minister Willie O’Dea’s resignation.
The Government is struggling with numbers in the Dail after a number of TD resignations from the party and an Alliance with the Greens that becomes more difficult as the economy implodes.
How long more can they last? The resignation of Cullen opens up a by election for the autumn and makes Fine Gael’s Portlaw based Senator Paudi Coffey a hot tip for the seat. Martin Cullen served Waterford well even if he did not get the University due to Ministerial opposition from Mary O Rourke and Mary Hannafin, neither of whom wanted to upset the universities. Maybe, Fine Gael will some day seal that one.