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All bright and shiny – Enda brings his Cabinet-in-Waiting on a national tour

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Date Published: 11-Nov-2009

A hunk of the ‘alternative government’ was in Galway on Monday as FG Leader Enda Kenny and his finance team brought west their determinedly upbeat outlook – the government may well be preoccupied with NAMA, but they had chosen a message built around getting people back to work.

Their new superstar George Lee TD – and the word is that they might be looking for someone like him to adorn the ticket in Galway West in a bid to win a second seat – spelled out the state we were in all right, as did Deputy Leader Richard Bruton.

Finance Spokesman Bruton said we had blown our competitiveness in a series of ruinous years when the government felt its role was not to govern, but to appease and buy out problems. He said a real opportunity for reform in the public service had been lost.

‘Working Together’ is the theme of this FG session going around the country meeting business people and asking them about problems and solutions. In other words, while NAMA and talks on cuts in Child Allowance and public sector wages grind onwards, Fine Gael has occupied the ‘recovery ground’ – which centres on getting some of those 400,000-plus unemployed people back to work as the means of firing the recovery and getting the tax revenues back on course.

For instance, at the weekend, Enda Kenny was on RTE Radio One with Marian Finucane and very firmly stitched into the record that FG would not support one of the government’s apparent prime targets, a cut in child welfare.

He saw it as a vital source of income to many families …… perhaps some of them on the brink. Maybe he is right in thinking that the days may be gone when ‘Children’s Allowance’ was used for incidentals like buying shoes for the First Communion. It could now be bridging the new gap that has arisen in many households in paying the mortgage – because of ‘short time’ on a job, or a spouse losing a job in a family that two years ago thought they would never see a hard day again.

It could also be paying for child-minding. And it is hardly a coincidence that Minister Mary Hanafin, two days after Kenny’s radio unequivocal commitment on Child Welfare, is talking of a less ‘blunt instrument’ than Child Welfare cuts across the board, with mechanisms such as ‘banding’ among income groups, being discussed in interviews.

But, if this is a clever Fine Gael campaign to get a chunk of the ‘Alternative Cabinet’ out and around the country, and concentrate on anything but spending cuts and tax increases, there were moments on Monday when it genuinely struck a chord – like the plea from small businesses which are ‘on the floor’ because the backside has fallen out of the demand and the consumer confidence which drove the retail trade before the economy ‘fell off the cliff.’

The small shops in trouble and hurting badly aren’t the huge closures with hundreds of people laid-off and television cameras all about …. these are the quiet, desperate little closures of shops and family businesses in Galway towns. Many have less than a handful working in them.

These are the jobs that might never be replaced and are marked only by a notice in the family shop window saying bleakly ‘closing down sale,’ and a name over a door disappearing out of the history of a town’s main street.

There was palpable empathy when some of the businesses told the Galway FG conference about how they are hurting, how they are having to let people go, how they have lost out since those euro millions fled over the border in shopping trips, how rents keep on increasing, how Rates keep on increasing. Leo Varadkar TD and Kieran O’Donnell TD had a promise for them of Commercial Rates being frozen for three years …. but sooner or later the issue of financing these concessions will also come to bear.

Enda Kenny himself had examples, he said, of nine or ten business people who had come to him to say they were being ‘screwed to the wall by the banks.’

A farmers’ representative told of banks simply refusing finance for re-stocking, a move which effectively means a family farm cannot function because it is being refused working capital that was always provided. In the case of the faltering and barely surviving retail trade, the basic plea at the FG conference was for someone to come up a means of injecting enough confidence into the country for people to ‘open their purses or wallets’ and begin to spend again. These are the ones who are hoping that the Christmas trade might tide them over, but who fear a bleak New Year.

Another major theme of the session, which was attended by about 200 people, was reform in whole areas of the economy and a regaining of our competitive position. Some were bitter that ‘social partnership’ had led to unreal wages because in many cases, private industry and business just weren’t represented as deals were being struck and benchmarking was being conceded.

From the education area, we were told that there had been no investment programme in the IT sector since IT 2000, and there was palpable anger at millions spent over long years, on renting and erecting prefab classrooms.

But the mood was determinedly upbeat – perhaps most so when it came to the issue of health services, where Enda Kenny has firmly linked the party to a solution based on the Dutch health system where, he said, services were delivered and there was value for money and hospital queues didn’t exist. He said he had been in a 450-bed hospital in The Hague where queues of patients simply did not exist. Once there were more than five or six people waiting, an extra triage nurse came on and people were dealt with. It was unusual, he said, to wait more than ten minutes.

Kenny told a representative of patients that for an average of €3,500 per year per head of population, the Dutch were able to deliver a health system that worked and was efficient. We could not match it with expenditure of €5,000 per annum, but the Dutch could provide a system which worked for a population of 17millions.

He said that, under a Fine Gael government, difficulties like access for all in a reasonable time, would be guaranteed. He drew laughter from the attendance in the Menlo Park Hotel when he said that, in the hospital in The Hague, there were even public relations people who invited you to come inside and see how well the health system was operating. He would not like to think of what visitors might think of some of the things which went on in Irish hospitals.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Olive helps people deal with cancer diagnosis

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

None of us wants to get cancer and nor do we want to see anybody we love suffer from it either. However, the fact is that one in every three of us will be diagnosed with the illness at some time in our lives. About 30,000 people a year get cancer in Ireland, but according to Olive Gallagher from the Irish Cancer Society, mostly it’s not serious and can be treated.

For anyone who has to deal with cancer, it’d be a blessing to have Olive on your side. She is the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Nurse at UHG, who supports and advises people who have been diagnosed with the illness and also supports their families.

It’s a role the former Oncology Sister sees as hugely important in patients’ lives.

The Daffodil Centre opened in 2009 at University Hospital Galway. The first in the Ireland, it is now one of seven countrywide. Olive has been at UHG Centre for the past 15 months. Before that she worked in oncology wards in St Luke’s in Dublin and in the Galway Clinic.

Olive describes the Daffodil Nurse’s role as bringing information to people at the point of diagnosis and treatment.

“It’s here and it’s free and you don’t need an appointment,” she says from her tiny office on the ground floor of the hospital.

“I don’t know what’s going to come in the door any day. It could be the patient, or it could be brothers, sisters, a parent or a child, looking for practical or emotional support.”

Her role is to help them, whatever is required.

“It’s very practical information sometimes, such as ‘what can I expect from chemo?’ because having knowledge takes a lot of the fear out of it. And it’s also saying to people ‘you are not alone’. When a person goes into a [cancer] clinic and gets information from a doctor or nurse there is only so much you can retain. For instance, a woman with a diagnosis is trying to protect her husband and her kids, so this is somewhere she can come to and acknowledge her fears and get psychological support.

“And if we don’t know the answer to something someone asks us, we’ll find out.”

People are sent to her by nurses or doctors and also hear about the service via word of mouth.

Olive doesn’t have access to patients’ case notes or have any information about them, except what a person chooses to tell her. She’s just there to help.

“When people need help to navigate their way through the system, it’s there. Sometimes it’s about helping them to verbalise questions for the doctor – to give them the language to discuss their illness, or to break down the language for them.”

She also helps with information on diet and complementary therapies, and says that “coming here is about people having a bit of control. Decisions are being made for them in the system and this is about giving them back a bit of power”.

Basically, it’s about patients having somebody there for them and also for family members who might want a coffee and a chat.

“Not to feel on your own is what a lot of it is about. If there is good news, great. But we are also there for the bad news and to support people. For me oncology nursing was always about the person and what you could do to make their journey easier. Sometimes it’s about holding a hand or sitting with somebody.

“We are there when people need us. And everybody’s needs are different. Some people want loads of information about what’s happening to their bodies and others want the bare minimum. Neither is right nor wrong.”

Some people can be angry and just want to vent, which is OK too.

“It’s about being where they are in their journey, giving them a safe place, where they can let stuff out in a confidential environment.”

 

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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Jazz, folk and rock-inspired Syd Arthur set to hit the road

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

Combining jazz, folk and rock influences, Syd Arthur play Róisín Dubh on Thursday, February 14. The Canterbury-based band are Liam Magill (vocals/guitar), Raven Bush (violin), Fred Rother (drums) and Joel Magill (bass). As he prepares to hit the road with the band, Joel recalls how they met.

“Me and Liam are brothers, so obviously we’ve known each other for a while,” he laughs. “We met Fred, our drummer, at school and started jamming together. Then we met Raven a bit later on, when I was 19 or 20. It went from there, basically.”

Some parents may be wary about their children going the rock ‘n’ route, but Joel and his friends met no such obstacles.

“We were always interested in it, and encouraged at school and by family,” he says. “Later on, the discovery of the Canterbury sound had a big influence on us.”

The ‘Canterbury sound’ refers to a scene that emerged in the late Sixties and early Seventies, spearheaded by groups with a taste for avant-garde and progressive rock music.

 

“I would always think of The Soft Machine and Caravan, and Hatfield and the North,” says Joel. “They’d be the big ones for us.”

In a previous incarnation, Joel and his bandmates went under the moniker of Grumpy Jumper. Why did they change their name?

“That was a long time ago, before Raven was in the band,” Joel explains. We were just playing locally and we made a CD under that name. When Raven joined, we felt like it was a new thing, so time to move on.”

Their new name comes from Siddhartha, a Buddhism-inspired novel written by Hermann Hesse.

“We all discovered that book around the same time,” says Joel. “It went round the whole band at the time we were trying to come up with a new name. We took a little bit of a play on it, made it a bit English. We used to pronounce the name of the book ‘Syd Arthur’.”

Last year, Syd Arthur released their debut album On And On, which was recorded in their own studio in Canterbury. Having their own space allowed the quartet to become familiar with recording, producing and mixing their music.

“Three or four years ago we got access to this space from Raven’s family,” says Joel. “It was an old dilapidated building that was on their property. We were often underwhelmed by going into the studio, spending a lot of money and generally not coming out with anything as good as one would hope.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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