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Challenging days ahead for political parties in UK

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Date Published: {J}

By the time you read this all the voting will be over, but I’m willing to bet that a new UK government will still be a long way off. As it looks impossible for anyone to get an outright majority, the crucial thing will be to finish as the single biggest party.

If they’re sufficiently audacious that party could achieve a sort of ‘technical coup’, governing as a minority and simply just daring the others to bring them down. If a government loses a vote of no confidence there has to be a fresh election, and anyone seen as forcing people to trudge back to the ballot box again would likely be punished at the polls.

(Well strictly speaking there doesn’t have to be an election; in theory the Queen has the right to refuse a dissolution of parliament and ask one of the party leaders to form a new administration. But the monarch would be reluctant to be seen as a powerbroker, and any party that benefitted by it would surely be accused of everything from being undemocratic to bothering old ladies.)

It’s going to be all about such knavish tricks. To use the chess metaphor, the election is just the opening game, the part where positions are taken for the real battle. The endgame – and indeed pretty much all the middle – will be fought not at the polls but in non-smoky backrooms as parties hammer out deals. Less about popular will than personal willpower. At the moment an unstable, short-lived and basically pointless Tory minority administration actually seems the most likely outcome. Second of course is a coalition – but of whom and whom?

This really depends on the exact proportions of ingredients in the Commons cake. If neither Labour nor Tories come close, the Lib Dems look like potential partners for either side. But when you think about it, what they ask in return is a pretty tall order: Essentially, permanent power. With three major parties, an overall majority will be next to impossible under PR. And as a Labour-Tory coalition will be unthinkable for a long time to come, the Lib Dems will be transformed from the party that could never get into government to the party they can never get out.

If the seat gap is smaller, one or more of the regional parties might make up the weight. They too though will be asking a lot. Scottish and Welsh nationalists could hardly settle for anything short of a timetable for full independence; the DUP, precisely the opposite. The next PM therefore may face a choice between the dissolution of the UK and the destruction of the peace process. I think I know which would be more palatable.

But the worst-case scenario is where the gap is even smaller. There’s a weird inverse power law in politics which says that the fewer people you need, the more the bastards can squeeze out of you. If one party falls only just short there will be a huge temptation to grant three wishes to some weird independent – or even worse, one of the slightly mad English nationalist parties like UKIP. And I note in passing, there’s a chance this time out that the fascist BNP will win a seat or two.

Don’t have nightmares.

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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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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