Irish Independent - Monday Jan 24th
Even by his standards, Dick Roche sounded remarkably pleased with himself. The environment minister was burbling away about the opening of the Indaver/Rehab Centre in Tallaght, a new facility equipped to recycle washing machines, fridges, microwaves, computers and other electronic appliances that have outlived their usefulness.
Speaking to Radio 1’s Pat Kenny, he explained that the centre would help to ensure that Ireland meets its recycling targets under European environmental law. As the interview progressed to other subjects, however, something strange happened.
Roche underwent a curious change in tone. His voice hardened and his speech pattern quickened. He gradually stopped talking like a minister and started to sound more like an opposition spokesman, or, indeed, an irate taxi driver.
Roche wasn’t happy with the state of the nation. He was especially angry about traffic regulation. He was incensed by the “illogical” speed limits which had proliferated throughout the country. He also criticised gardai for enforcing these nonsensical limits and harassing otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Warming to his theme, Roche even identified specific locations — such as a 30-mile zone on the N11 at Loughlinstown — where the speed limit was “ridiculous” but which was nonetheless used by gardai as a site for ambushing motorists.
Roche was speaking nothing less than the truth. However, the impact of his fearless diatribe was somewhat undermined by the fact that he is, well, the environment minister, a key member of the cabinet with considerable power and influence over the very issues about which he was complaining so bitterly.
Though a relative newcomer to the coalition’s front rank, Roche has quickly mastered the essential art of Bertie Ahern’s government: the ability to appear ministerial when there is good news to be dispensed and behave like an impotent opposition backbencher when there isn’t.
This, after all, is the minister who, only weeks after his elevation, told RTE’s Prime Time that he would oppose any attempt to locate a waste incinerator in his Wicklow constituency, even though his department was running a campaign promoting them as safe.
Ireland has not been fortunate in the calibre of politicians who have been appointed to the crucial environment ministry in recent years — hence the chaos that continues to reign in the areas of traffic, planning and waste management. Though not yet as notorious for his devotion to PR as his predecessor Martin Cullen, Roche is cut from similar cloth.
An instinctive populist, Roche expects kudos for appearing to be on the side of the average citizen but seems unwilling to take any of the flak for making the difficult decisions that might improve their lot.
This is not to dismiss the importance of initiatives such as the new recycling centre. Apart from anything else, it could provide the perfect resting place for all those useless electronic voting machines that are gathering dust in warehouses throughout the country at public expense.
The opposition politician within Dick Roche would no doubt love the idea.
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment