A minister’s memoir: In Bed With the Blueshirts

Shane Ross tells Gráinne McGuinness why he decided to write about his time in government, and if he sees a future in politics
A minister’s memoir: In Bed With the Blueshirts

 Shane Ross, former Minister for Transport, Sport and Tourism. Picture: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

FORMER cabinet minister and Independent TD Shane Ross has never been one to shirk the limelight, as his latest book, a behind the scenes look at the workings of the last Government, proves.

Calling it In Bed With The Blueshirts and offering a backstage view of many of the events that dominated Irish politics between 2016 and 2020, guarantees plenty of attention.

In the book, Mr Ross shares the story of The Independent Alliance, the political grouping he founded in 2015 which became part of a minority government with Fine Gael from 2016 to earlier this year.

He tells me it is not meant to be a definitive account of the Government, rather ‘a bit of serious stuff about how things work but also lots of funny stories’.

The new book by Shane Ross ‘In Bed With The Blueshirts’.
The new book by Shane Ross ‘In Bed With The Blueshirts’.

As a journalist for many years and author of several previous works, we should not be surprised his journey into Cabinet became the basis of a book.

“I’d written a few books before and suddenly I ended up in Government,” he says. “People said you must keep a diary and write a book at the end of it, people generally don’t do that.

“So it was always in the back of my head to write a book, there’s a good story here.”

He laughingly insists the title, which references the Fine Gael nickname Blueshirts, was not meant to be provocative, or indicate a particular critique of that party.

“There was no real angle, it was meant to be a narrative of how the last Government worked, with a lot of entertaining stories,” he says.

But of course many of the most compelling stories of those years involve controversies that Fine Gael, as the lead party of Government, bore the brunt of.

Mr Ross doesn’t hold back from describing how unhappy he sensed the party were to be sharing power with a loose alliance of Independents.

‘They would tolerate us but would have to hold their noses’ was how he described the sense he got on his first day in Cabinet.

Former Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross TD.
Former Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross TD.

What follows is an entertaining trip through the following four years in Irish politics, taking in everything from sports stories like Pat Hickey and the Olympics to battles over judicial vacancies. Football fans will appreciate a detailed chapter on John Delaney and the FAI.

Mr Ross isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself and highlight his own issues, giving us his view of the many moments he was in the spotlight over the years. There were a number of high-profile gaffes involving Irish sport, including a mortifying social media mistake while congratulating Cork rowing star Sanita Puspure.

In one of the biggest issues he faced as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, he incurred the wrath of many rural politicians, including Cork Independent Michael Collins.

While Mr Collins hit the headlines for remarks made about Mr Ross during the aftermath of February’s election, which saw Mr Ross lose his seat, the former Dublin TD says relations with the West Cork man were not as fraught as the public might think.

“I was surprised when I saw that clip because that wasn’t the animosity I was dealing with,” he says. 

“We all play to the gallery and we will often get together afterwards and understand why so-and-so said such a thing and realise they don’t mean it in any personal way but have to play to their constituency.

“I was the bogeyman for him, which is fine, I don’t worry about it at all, I would be quite happy to meet Michael. That’s politics.”

The issue which had exercised Mr Collins and other rural politicians was a bill on Ireland’s drink-driving laws. Mr Ross believes the power of the vintners lobby was instrumental in the opposition it faced.

“The vintners are completely out of touch with the people of rural Ireland, in my view,” he says. “We did research on it, with the RSA, and found the drink driving bill was more popular in rural Ireland than urban Ireland.

“They fought so strongly about the drink driving bill, they contacted every TD and they were ahead, a lot of the rural TDs were strongly against it.”

Mr Ross credits the work of campaigners for getting the bill over the line.

“It wasn’t me or the Government who beat them, it was the victims’ groups,” he says.

 “They were a very measured but very powerful group of people who confronted them [politicians].

“They confronted the people who were against the drink driving bill and eventually the vintners were beaten, due to the power of these people who were grieving.”

Mr Ross is keen to highlight work he did for tourism during his tenure. As a man with strong Cork family connections, to Nat Ross and the well-known removals company, he is proud of the benefits he believes his work brought to tourism hot spots like West Cork.

He is also strongly of the belief that there is a place for groupings like the Independent Alliance in Irish politics.

“Independents are enterprising and determined, we had a ‘motto radical but responsible’” he says, pointing out that the coalition they formed in 2016, which many thought would not see out the year, ended up lasting four years.

“We never brought the Government down,” he says. “We had our fights but we were responsible at the end of the day.

“We got things that we had put in the programme for Government implemented. It was difficult but coalitions often are.”

He believes some Independents are more inclined than others to work together in order to get results.

“The circumstances have to be right, there have to be enough like-minded people. There are some Independents who don’t ever want to be in Government, the Independent Alliance did want to be in Government. We wanted to get things done and we did. It worked.”

So is there a future for Mr Ross in politics?

“I’ve got an awful lot of energy and want to get involved in campaigns and getting things achieved,” he said.

“I’m not suffering from any great trauma at the loss of my seat, sometimes it is a great blessing because you don’t have the same pressures of work.

“On the other hand, I do feel there are still things I would like to do. I would still like to be involved in politics in some form or another but whether that involves the Dáil or the Senate I don’t know. I don’t have any targeted ambitions but I’m not ruling anything out.”

So we may see Mr Ross back in politics. In the meantime, politics watchers can enjoy his birds-eye view of the workings of Government during a particularly tumultuous time.

In Bed With The Blueshirts by Shane Ross, published by Atlantic Books. Available now in all good bookshops.

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