Around the town with the Minister

BAT boxes, tales from the Congo, tree-planting and much more--Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and her entourage had an eventful time in Portlaoise last Wednesday (April 2).

Community scheme workers to prominent business people and others in between--the Minister met them all during her visit.

At one stage she even found herself in a shed--the Men’s Shed at the New Road, to be precise. It was there that she inspected bat boxes and bird boxes and water butts and other items made at the facility. It was there, too, that she planted a tree.

Apparently, the Minister is no stranger to Laois. She said she had friends in the county and was familiar with the Ballyhyland and Cremoran areas near Timahoe.

Tales from the Congo she heard at the Post 27 UN Veterans’ office, where old soldiers and some former Gardai and prison officers accorded her a warm welcome.

Among those accompanying Minister Burton were Senator John Whelan. He recalled that his late father, Paddy Whelan, a Portlaoise native who made his home in Monasterevin, had been a proud member of Post 27 and had served in the Congo.

The day began with a business breakfast in Mulhall’s restaurant. Downtown Portlaoise Chairman Ger Mulhall and his colleagues told of how 17 units were empty on the town’s once thriving Main Street.

From Muhall’s restaurant, to the Men’s Shed, then to the former Parochial House opposite SS Peter and Paul’s Church. Not a priest in sight. Offices are now located there, including those of the Alzheimer Society. Its Supervisor, Ann Munnelly, and Regional Manager, Kate Brennan, briefed Minister Burton.

As did Community Employment Scheme Supervisors Paddy Quinn and Mary Fennelly. The former, who’s a Labour party member and on the Impact trade union national executive, is in charge of the Durrow Community Services scheme, while the latter looks after Portlaoise Employment Group. “Anything you need?” asked the Minister. “A raise would not go amiss,” replied the intrepid Mary, quick as a flash.

replied the intrepid Mary, quick as a flash.

Earlier, in the Men’s Shed, those who greeted the Minister included Ray Hart, Joe Murphy, Joe Grant and John Hennessy, and Ronan Sheehan of KWS.

Post 27 President Archie Raeside is an “exile”--a Dubliner living in Mountrath. He has the distinction of having been in the first Irish army contingent to serve in the Congo. That was in 1960.

Many a tale he tells of those exciting, and tragic, times. Minister Burton also met Post 27 Chairman Frederick O’Reilly, a Newbridge man, and his comrade Tony Flanagan. They’ve known each other since 1971.

There, too, were retired Garda Superintendent Noel McCarthy and former prison officer James (“Jazz’) O’Reilly. A great Town man is the “Jazz.” He graced the football field with distinction.

Many Post 27 veterans may have served far away--but receptionist Michelle Kane travelled from an even greater distance. She’s a New Zealander. With her was Tus scheme Supervisor Adrian McDonald.

Hoping to get a boost from Minister Burton’s visit were Labour local election candidates Noel Tuohy (Portlaoise), Lisa Delaney (Mountmellick/Borris-in-Ossory) and Grainne Corcoran (Portarlington/Graiguecullen). Also campaigning was the pulchritudinous Lorraine Higgins, the party’s runner for a European Parliament seat in the sprawling North West/Midland constituency.

In addition to Portlaoise, the Minister’s sojourn took in Portarlington and Mountmellick.




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