Kevin Moran is an Irish politician and TD from Longford-Westmeath. He usually and oddly is referred to as “Kevin “Boxer” Moran” and it seems that the “Boxer” nickname – which he personally seems to love – is based on a story from when he was 8 years of age and punched another child on the football field. It is quite odd that a grown up would use a nickname he got as a child (even worse that it is about punching another child) and with his website constantly referring to him as “Boxer”, you definitely get the impression that this guy is – let’s say “different”! From his website: “Boxer lives in Cornamagh, Athlone, is married to…… Boxer has been a keen angler all his life…” Boxer this and Boxer that!

But back to his role in society! He is a politician and once was a Fianna Fail member until 2011, when he left the party NOT in a disagreement over some relevant party principle, but because he was unhappy that his party didn’t want to chose him as a candidate. IN 2016 he got elected to the Dail as an independent candidate and when Fine Gael needed to strike a deal with the Independent Alliance to get into government, Sean Canney and Kevin Moran were offered a shared role as the junior minister for the Office of Public Works (OPW).

As you would expect it from responsible politicians working in the interest of the Irish public, the two decided to toss a coin to decide who will take on the role first. :-O

Sean Canney won and took over the first term (he really lost, as you will see in the next sentence). One year later, in May 2017 then Kevin Moran took over the role and this week it has been confirmed that unfortunately he will remain as junior minister for the OPW as long as the Fine Gael government is in place and will not swap the role again with Sean Canney.

You might wonder why that affects us. So let me tell you what the OPW does. The Office of Public Works is responsible for all properties in state ownership. This includes all buildings that are owned or rented by the state, for example for offices for departments or semi-state agencies and it also includes historical and cultural sites like Newgrange, Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol, Phoenix Park, all National Museums, Farmleigh House etc

We have a great situation in Ireland with free admission to the National Museums and the National Gallery, but other historic buildings usually charge admission charges. There is nothing wrong with that, after all the maintenance of these buildings and staff costs etc are very expensive and money either needs to come from the visitors OR from tax payers.

But in 2011 a great idea was implemented that brought the historic sites so much closer to the population in Ireland and not just visitors: While Brian Hayes was Junior Minister for the OPW and Clare McGrath was Chairman of the OPW the “First Free Wednesday” scheme was introduced. Every first Wednesday of the month all OPW properties were free to visit for everyone and it was a HUGE success. People in Dublin visited Kilmainham Gaol or Dublin Castle or the Casino in Marino often for the first time and there was a great buzz every first Wednesday.

But as soon as Sean Canney became Junior Minister and Maurice Buckley became OPW chairman in 2016 things changed. First Kilmainham Gaol was removed from the First Wednesday scheme, then Dublin Castle and recently Newgrange also is not free anymore on that one day every month.

But this April things even went one step further. For as long as I can remember, the guided tours in Farmleigh House were free, but in April when Farmleigh House re-opened after a long winter closure suddenly and completely quietly an admission charge was introduced for the guided tours there. The tour is just about 45 minutes long but the charge is bigger than you might expect: EUR 8 is the price of this tour that last year was completely free.

There is no doubt that “free programmes” cost money and in the end we all pay for it, but the justification for offering it for free (at least one day per month) is to bring the local touristic sites attractive and appealing to non-tourists in Dublin. We travel around the world and wherever we go we go to museums and visit monuments, but back on our home patch we seem to think that museums and historic buildings are only for visitors. The free programmes can – as we have seen from 2011 until 2015 – change that around and it is a big mistake to cancel this programme.

I can’t say for certain if the Junior Minister is the person responsible for cancelling the free programmes or if it is the OPW Chairman, but ultimately the responsibility lies with the Junior Minister and Kevin Moran (or Sean Canney) certainly hasn’t impressed with ANY great initiatives. So it is bad news that he will stay in the job for another while!