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'If someone breaks into your house you should do whatever you have to to take them on'

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice talks rural crime, drink-driving and hits out against the Independent Alliance
Jan 7th 2018, 10:02 PM 53,559 93

INDEPENDENT TD MICHAEL Fitzmaurice has said homeowners should be allowed to use whatever means necessary to protect their home.

The Galway-Roscommon TD has long been regarded as a voice for those living in rural Ireland.

He has spoken out frequently about rural crime and the fears of elderly people living in isolated areas, and has argued that householders should be allowed to keep pepper spray and taser guns in their bedrooms.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie in an interview, Fitzmaurice said:

I am a firm believer that if someone comes into your house in the middle of the night, they are not coming in for a cup of tea, and whatever you have to take them on with, I wouldn’t have any sympathy for them.
You will have civil liberty groups shouting, but I don’t care about that.

But he insisted calls for more action were falling on deaf ears.

“People are trying to do things themselves,” said Fitzmaurice.

I see people, when it gets dark at night, locking the doors, locking, locking, locking – they are afraid to let anyone in. It is a big issue around the country.

Fitzmaurice said Dublin and rural Ireland could not be policed in the same way.

Nothing would ever compete with a heavy presence of gardaí driving around an area, he said – but he believes more innovative solutions need to be looked at too.

Community alert systems and CCTV in strategic areas were important, he said – but voluntary groups are finding it too complicated to access the CCTV grant scheme.

The red tape that is in it is unbelievable. You have to go through Hell on Earth to get it.
This is what is going on, we are making it tough… There should be a one stop shop in councils where you can get everything, people are baffled.

He also thinks Ireland should be looking further afield for solutions to rural crime. Giving one example, Fitzmaurice said drones were being used in certain parts of the US.

“They can programme a drone to fly over a building if everyone signs up to it at night and if it sees anything suspicious it will zoom in on it and take a photo of it,” he said.

The decline in numbers of community-based gardaí is also a factor when tackling rural crime.

The gardaí are doing their best but we have lost one thing… in a lot of areas they don’t know the guards – guards [used to be] able to pick up information.

They were able to pick up a gurrier or they might have a chat with a youngster that might be starting to go wrong and get them to turn a new leaf.

Going into government

In a wide-ranging interview with TheJournal.ie, Fitzmaurice spoke about the circumstances that led to him not being one of the independent TDs who joined government – and how he is glad he things worked out as they did.

Rural issues ultimately held up progress in the final hours of the 70 day talks to form a government in 2016 – something Fitzmaurice was involved in.

Fine Gael found itself in a minority government situation, and the party badly needed to make up the numbers in order to cobble together a government.

In the end, it all came down to a turf war.

Enda Kenny began to lose support from Fitzmaurice, who had one sticking point that just wouldn’t allow him to enter into government.

Irish bogs.

Fitzmaurice, who is chairman of the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association and also a turf contractor, said he was representing turf cutters who oppose environmentally protecting raised bogs, and was trying to strike a deal on alternative locations where turf cutters could continue to harvest bogs.

There was no budging him on the issue, and Fitzmaurice later announced he was leaving the Independent Alliance and the government formation talks when there was no movement on the issue.

Once Kenny lost the support of Fitzmaurice, there were fears the Independent Alliance might follow.

But in the end, Fitzmaurice decided he couldn’t compromise on his principles, he stepped aside and the independents entered government with Fine Gael.

File Photo The tuff situation has become an issue for Michael Fitzmaurice in forming a government. The turf situation became an issue for Michael Fitzmaurice in forming a government. Source: RollingNews.ie

Does he regret not entering government when he had the chance?

God, no. No. It was the best thing I’ve done, sticking by my principles. Because I would be gone now anyway. I wouldn’t be able to stick some of the stuff that has gone on. I would be fiery. I wouldn’t tolerate bullshit.

The independents [Independent Alliance] haven’t blessed themselves in glory by any means to be honest about it. I would be either in or out and some of the stuff that has gone on…

Fitzmaurice has some harsh criticism for his former independent colleagues, stating that they have taken a “back seat” on many issues.

“I think they handled the whole Frances Fitzgerald scenario very bad. They were in the back seat. It wasn’t good policy to hear that the likes of Stepaside was opening when a person wrote about cronyism all their life,” he said.

While turf was Fitzmaurice’s local issue in the government formation talks, Stepaside Garda Station, which was closed during the recession, was Shane Ross’s constituency issue.

Following the Independent Alliance entering government it was announced that the garda station was to re-open. Ross has denied the prioritisation of Stepaside in south Dublin was a case of “stroke politics”.

The Independent Alliance in government haven’t “put their mark” on their briefs in government, though he admitted it can’t always be easy to be the minority group in government.

Okay, it may be tough. It is not easy on them because there is a big party and a small party, but you have deliver. When I was in talking about the programme for government, and I don’t regret being in there, it was a great experience. Were there things you would do different, yeah…

National Broadband Plan is a ‘fiasco’

Hitting out at one minister, and one that happens to be a constituency rival of his, Fitzmaurice dubbed the rollout of broadband in rural Ireland (the responsibility of Denis Naughten) as “a fiasco”.

“I am actually embarrassed by the broadband, and again, you have the independents looking after that. We are jumping from one thing to the other with broadband… I am sick listening to it.

“We are going to pump money into a private operation that is going to dictate the price themselves, we are not going to be able to handle it instead of seeing the bigger picture of saying well we own the infrastructure and renting it out to them.

It is down to the person in my opinion. Either you are fit to be a minister or you are not. You either put a mark on it or you don’t. You either take on your department, because remember, a lot of department’s are institutionalised and you either taken them on and make the changes or you keep cutting the tapes, smiling at everyone and do nothing.

And unfortunately, a lot of ministers don’t kick ass like they should.

90414726_90414726 Independent Alliance ministers Kevin Boxer Moran and Shane Ross with Independent Michael Fitzmaurice, before he split from the group. Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Another issue the rural TD has spoken openly about is the new drink driving legislation introduced under Transport Minister and Independent Alliance member, Shane Ross, who he also has criticisms for.

New drink driving legislation means that those caught with 50mg-80mg blood-alcohol levels will face an automatic disqualification from driving, while previously, they walked away with penalty points and a fine.

Drink-driving

Fitzmaurice explains that he does not condone drink driving, but said Ross is taking the wrong approach on the drink-driving issue by giving out about rural TD’s who do not agree with him.

“There are elderly people that might be taking two glasses or three glasses and they are now, because they don’t know if they are in it or over it, them people are becoming prisoners in their own houses,” he said, adding:

“And fine, if we want to bring in something, let’s bring in a bus service to compensate for it – in Dublin here I can jump on a bus at 12 o’clock tonight, down the country you never see a bus.”

The proposal by Fine Gael TD Martin Heydon, backed by junior Transport Minister Brendan Griffin, is to roll out more buses to bring people home from the pub.

I heard Martin Heydon talking about it the other day – he was talking shite to be honest about 38 new buses – 38 buses wouldn’t do it, sure there is 5,000 kilometres of road in county Galway…

Fitzmaurice said the government are great at bringing in legislation but not so good at bringing in solutions that are realistic.

He argued that the new law “is not going mean one iota to saving lives”, adding:

“You know why, because the person who is two or three times over the limit is still going to be two or three times over the limit because the legislation is there to put them off. There is no excuse for it and no one condones it but legislation is there.

The only way to combat drink driving is feet on the street and obviously that costs money. So a government will bring in everything as a sideline issue but they won’t hit it where it needs hitting and that is garda on the street.

As a cattle and sheep farmer, Fitzmaurice is keen to protect Irish farmers.

He said the industry is facing a number of challenges, but those in financial difficulty are facing one of the biggest threats.

Farming families are losing their land as vulture funds move in on the indebted properties.

Those with loans acquired by vulture funds have come under mounting pressure in recent months as the foreign investment companies demand immediate payment of monies owed.

Unlike any other small or medium business, farmers use the equity in their land to invest in their farm – farms that have been in the family for decades.

Fitzmaurice said vulture funds are willing to sell out the farm over the heads of the farmer.

If we don’t protect the family farms, well we won’t be talking about rural Ireland in a few years time… we are fighting vulture funds. They are torturising families. It is unbelievable and Paschal Donohoe doesn’t give two shites being honest with you.

I spoke with him at the committee and he said he would meet me after the Finance Bill. The Finance Bill is gone. What has happened is Ireland has been bought up by a lot of places by foreign investments and for every euro that they bought they were getting two or three back and our people in this country are still being screwed paying back debt that was inflicted by them.

When asked for a response by the minister, the Finance Department said in a statement that those whose loans are sold to third parties, maintain the same regulatory protections they had prior to the sale.

The Department of Finance said it continues to keep this and all legislation under review in order to ensure that proper protections are in place.

In respect of the protection of rural Ireland, the department said the government has advanced a number of initiatives to address these problems, including utilising the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, to ensure that competitively priced finance is being made available to help farmers meet their investment and working capital requirements.

Young trained farmers are exempted from stamp duty on agricultural land transactions and the maintenance of consanguinity stamp duty relief at 1% for inter-family farm transfers extended for a further three years.

“What’s more, the Taoiseach established a new Department of Rural and Community Development last year, the aim of which is to create the conditions for sustainable rural development and to provide local level supports to support vibrant and sustainable communities across Ireland,” concluded the statement.

Fitzmaurice said he gets frustrated when he hears slogans from government like the ‘keeping the recovery going’ when workers, such as farmers, are still under immense pressure. He argues that the pushing of the ‘good news’ message by government is down to its new communications unit.

If you put €5 million into this PR unit, you are going to get spin, it is all fucking spin, it’s not substance. That is all I am hearing at the moment. They will keep that going for a while, but in the end, I see villages, with elderly people alone and younger people leaving.

And you know, it is the greatest place you ever will live, rural Ireland, the greatest place ever you will live. I would recommend it to anybody but the problem is if the opportunities disappear. You can’t drive to work in Dublin and physically drive home five days a week – there are some people doing it – but it is hellish for them.

The Galway-Roscommon TD is one of those commuters. He drives from his farm in Glenamaddy to Leinster House every day the Dáil sits, usually Tuesday to Thursday.

Fitzmaurice said he laughs when he hears government talk about making the national parliament more “family friendly”, asking why then some votes and debates go on until midnight.

“They talk about attracting more women to the Dáil. It would be very difficult for those that have kids,” he states.

I never had a problem with working long hours, but if you are talking about seeing your family… I remember I left three weeks ago on a Tuesday morning and I was at home every night in my bed at Glenamaddy, and I never saw any of them [his family and children] until Saturday.

“I am not complaining. I believe give it all while you are there, and get out if you don’t like it.”

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