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By-elections win is crucial for Fianna Fail’s revival

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On the canvass….Cllr. Ivan Connaughton, FF Leader Michael Martin, Senator Terry Leyden and former Roscommon Mayor Martin Connaughton, father of Ivan. Photo: David Flynn.

Political World with Harry McGee

It may have slipped under the political radar but there are two by-elections going on right now – and neither have anything to do with John McNulty or the Seanad or the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

In the normal scheme of things, both should be more important. But because of the strange turns of events we sometimes get in politics, both have been inverted in importance and are playing second fiddle to what should be a nonevent.

The one that is of most interest down this part of the world is the by-election in Roscommon-South Leitrim to fill the vacancy left by the election of Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan to the European Parliament.

It’s a strange by-election because, in 18 months, the constituency won’t exist anymore. South Leitrim is being moved in with the rest of Leitrim and Sligo in a new constituency.

And as for Roscommon –Charles Haughey once said of a bottle of wine that there was too much in it for one person drinking but not enough for two.

And the same can be said of Roscommon. It’s too big to be tacked onto some other county to form a natural constituency. And it’s too small to be a constituency of its own these days.

As a result, there have been some very unsuitable marriages of convenience over the years for Roscommon. It was yoked with Longford (across the Shannon in Leinster). As Albert Reynold’s right-hand man Mickey Doherty wryly noted when it came to transferring votes from Roscommon to Longford: “Votes Don’t Swim”.

In more recent years, Leitrim has been split in half to accommodate Roscommon. And now the latest solution is to sacrifice half of East Galway to make a three-seater called Roscommon-Galway.

But the by-election is being fought in the old constituency and it will make for a fascinating – and telling – contest. Interest isn’t particularly high (there’s going to be a low turnout) and there’s a big field of ten. And over the next few days I think they are going to get whittled down to two or three.

For nearly 30 years there was a tradition of the government of the day not winning by-elections. There have been four so far in this Government’s term and it has won three of them (all three were caused by the death of a sitting Fine Gael TD who was succeeded by a close relative).

Two of the by-elections were held in Dublin West. The first was following the death of Brian Lenihan and was won by Labour’s Patrick Nulty. He then stood down (over inappropriate social messages) and the vacancy was won by a left-wing candidate, Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist Party.

By-elections are a kind of crude weathervane, a bit like an opinion poll. They’re more important to parties that are struggling or rebuilding. A by-election victory can be a real shot in the arm. Lately they have been telling about the rise of Sinn Féin and the so-so performances of Fianna Fáil.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

 

Connacht Tribune

Schools plan overshadowed by row over Ministerial pay

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Education Minister Norma Foley...busy week on road to recovery.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

The good; the bad; the clever; the stupid – we’re going to get the full mixed bag during this Government’s term. But the past week was a cocktail of sublime and ridiculous.  First up was the dog’s dinner – otherwise known as the row over ministerial pay. There’s nothing that irks people more about politicians than stories about them earning more money. The perception is they are feathering their own nests.

The trigger was the presence of three super junior ministers in the Government, one from each of the three parties – all of them at the Cabinet table but with one crucial difference; they don’t have the right to vote.

The last Government also had three super juniors. But the legislation only allowed for two of them to have the salary of a senior minister – a difference of just over €16,300 from a junior.

When Leo Varadkar was appointed Taoiseach in 2017, he dropped Mary Mitchell-O’Connor as a senior minister. As compensation, a new super junior ministry was created.

But when it came to trying to bump her salary up by €16,000 to the same as the other two super juniors, Fianna Fáil just wouldn’t buy it. Mitchell-O’Connor got an extra stripe on the uniform, but no extra pay.

This time around, there was no such problem. The three government parties have a majority and agreed unanimously to right that injustice, so the third minister would get the extra €16,000.

The problem was that it needed to be legislated. It was tacked on as an amendment to the legislation setting up the new senior ministry of Higher Education – except the Government didn’t bother to tell anyone.

So, when the press found out about it, they unsportingly went to town on it.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Odds already lengthening on Coalition lasting full course

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Euro money...Micheal Martin in Brussels this week.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Barry Cowen’s departure is proof yet again that, when a politician is under the cosh, what often does for them is the original transgression – aided by new information. When they are hanging on by a knife-edge, even the slightest new controversy will topple them.

Most of the time, when people look at it afterwards, they realise the new information did not stand up to scrutiny. But it doesn’t matter about the substance. It’s all about timing.

In a few months’ time, the Garda internal inquiry might vindicate him (to some extent) in his claim he did not try to avoid a Garda checkpoint. But by that time, politically, it will be water under the bridge. Everything will have moved on.

What’s clear already is it’s going to be a rough ride. By the time you read this, the Green Party leadership contest will be in its final throes.

In a way it’s a replay of the debate about going into government and the vast majority of those who voted NO will vote for Catherine Martin. But the contest won’t be as lopsided as that.

Few people believe she can oust Ryan. But on a lowish turnout, she could possibly run him close. A win is a win – but if the margin is narrow, it might plant the seed of doubts as to whether or not Ryan can survive the entire term in government.

Is the Government going to last five years? That’s very difficult to know.

It has a majority of only four in the Dáil and three of the Greens voted against going into government. We have seen it already – Opposition parties tabling motions or amendments (last week it was on maternity leave, and on rights for low-paid workers) designed to embarrass the Green and put pressure on their TDs.

With Sinn Féin as main Opposition, you can bet the house that they will continuously pummel the smallest of the three Government parties on issues close to its soul, but which they had to sacrifice to the other two parties.

And while some aspects of the economy are ramping up again, everybody knows that everything is just stuttering about.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Cowen claming up left so little room for manoeuvre

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Brian Cowen...too many unanswered questions.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Just when things were beginning to settle down. The Government had been formed. The Ministers had been appointed, followed by a bit of commotion in the backbenches. Only speed-bump on the potential horizon was the Green Party’s leadership contest.

And then new Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen was outed over a three-month ban he received in 2016.

He was coming home from the All-Ireland, driving with a provisional licence. If he had had a full licence he would not have been banned. But because it was a learner permit, he got his three months.

It was administrative, he did not have to go to court. He also paid a fine of €200.

Cowen made a profuse apology in the Dáil where he said he viewed the incident with profound regret and shame and should have mentioned it to his leader Micheál Martin at the time.

That seemed to be that, more or less. There was some complaints he had not explained why he was on a learner’s permit after so many year’s driving. But those could be ironed out.

Then the story took on a different complexion when the Sunday Times reported that Cowen had tried to evade the Garda checkpoint by doing a u-turn and there had been a pursuit. The report was based on the Pulse record of the incident.

Cowen strongly disputed this, asking for the record to be corrected – which is why it has ended up that the Garda Ombudsman opened an investigation.

The information was personal and should not have been leaked. But it was. And once out, the political reality was that Cowen now needed to deal with ‘the facts on the ground’ – that an official Garda report alleged he tried to avoid a Garda checkpoint.

The implications of this were, naturally, serious. Contravening an order by a Garda to stop your vehicle is an offence under the Road Traffic Acts and is arguably as serious an offence – if not more serious – than being slightly over the blood alcohol limit.

The Opposition called for him to make a second statement and answer questions in the Dáil. There were calls too from the Greens for more clarity. Cowen took a decision on Monday, under legal advice, not to say anymore and he cleaved to it.

It seemed that that particular ploy might work. In a Morning Ireland interview on Tuesday, the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar seemed to accept that it was now being investigated by the Garda Ombudsman and they would have to await the outcome of that before any further action was taken.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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