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Coalition parties need to show signs of greenshoots to justify optimism



Date Published: 02-Jan-2013

We know this much from history – the recession won’t last forever.

But what history cannot really tell us is how long more it will last. There are too many variables. The Irish economy is dependent (hugely) on what’s happening elsewhere – in Britain; in Europe and throughout the world. Trying to figure it all out is like doing a 10,000 piece jigsaw depicting a cloudless blue sky.

However, it doesn’t take a Nobel Prize in economics to figure out that a lot of it depends on growth and recovery – in the EU and US economies – and no dramatic slow-down in China or in any of the other emerging economies. And the other factor is debt; that the world has enough collateral to cover the gargantuan pile of past, present and future debt that has been racked up.

I interviewed Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore just before Christmas. He was keen to share his parting shots at Labour’s last parliamentary party meeting earlier that week. He told the party’s (remaining) TDs and Senators that 2013 would be a signal year, that it would be when Labour Party TDs would need to start thinking about a post-recession Ireland.

The implications (and optimism) were clear – after six years of hardship 2014 would see all the metrics that were going up now start going down (unemployment; social welfare budget; mortgage distress cases, interest rates on sovereign debt) and all the metrics that were going down going up (growth, jobs, house purchases, retail and manufacturing sales).

It’s true that the portents are better now than they were a couple of years ago. If the Government’s confidence is well placed and it does get a deal on bank debt, that will certainly allow Ireland to cycle its own bike in 2014 (albeit with stabilisers supplied by the EU to prevent any dangerous wobbles in the initial phases).

There is always the uncertainty, though – is glas iad na cnoic i bhfad i gcéin. And so many things can go wrong between now and the beginning of 2014 that it would be foolhardy to predict a return to some kind of promised land.

What we are interested in is looking at it from the political perspective. And from the Labour Party point of view, Gilmore needs to be right; it will need to show real and tangible signs of a recovery from recession by the end of the year. And that makes this year so crucial.

Even a cursory trip through modern political history will tell you that successful coalition arrangements are rare and that, more often than not, they come at a price.

That price, at its most basic, is that both parties will suffer. The General Election that puts them into power normally represents the high water mark for a coalition, electorally. In the vast majority of cases, it is the smaller coalition partner which acts as the mudguard, taking all the dirt and weathering that comes with a somewhat unnatural alliance with another party with a different philosophy and different personalities. Look at the Greens and the PDs here and the Liberal Democrats in the UK.

When they came into power Labour portrayed this arrangement as a kind of national government to bring the country out of crisis. It also made a big play of the fact that it was a much larger smaller party than is normally the case and it held more sway.

But the fact of the matter is that Fine Gael still has ten ministries and Labour has five. And that two to one ratio of seats has so far been matched with the same ratio of influence. Fine Gael has been seen as the dominant party in the public perception… and that has been reflected in the opinion polls.

Nobody ever said it was going to be easy and the first two years in power for the new Government have been amongst the most difficulty in the history of the State. Both parties made grandiose and promises that couldn’t be fulfilled.

In addition to that, there is a element of Labour’s support, on the left of the party, which believes the party has undermined its own principles in government. And so both have suffered; the smaller party to a greater degree.

Read Harry McGee’s full column in this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



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



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

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



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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