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Cumbersome but system has great transparency



Date Published: 25-May-2007

The inexorable process of picking a new government is well under way. All those weeks of literature being pushed through letterboxes, campaigning on the doorsteps, anger and cross talk on the radio, seemingly endless hours of what passes for debate on the television. The ‘great debates’ are, in fact anything but . . . since the days of Garret FitzGerald and Charlie Haughey they have been a ritual of two people setting out their stalls and following instructions to avoid any major disasters.

Interestingly, the ‘face-off’between Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny last week came as close as any yet to a debate. Both had started with their agenda as to precisely what they had to say and a great determination by their ‘backroom boys’ that they should make sure to say it.

But there was a degree of cross-talk, contradiction, demands for setting out of answers to certain policy points, and even one or two ‘hard questions’. All that said, it would be interesting to know precisely how many stayed to the end of the TV discussion. Really, it was too long for all but the political anoraks.

There is a great finality about the process of voting and then the ritual of counting those votes. We don’t have ‘hanging chads’ such as in the United States, when the courts found themselves ruling on whether papers were properly perforated by the official stamps of polling booths. But we have our own version of the suspense in the fact that our electoral system is somewhat cumbersome to administer when it comes to counting the votes. For instance, a surplus can take maybe five hours to transfer . . . given that the second preference marked on every paper has to be examined and counted.

What our system has also is a remarkable transparency. The votes are emptied out of the boxes in front of hundreds of witnesses, be they political hacks, reporters, or just hangers-on who want to be at the centre of some drama which can go on for a number of days. The process of electronic voting could never hold the same drama, transparency and ritual which is manifested by the count. In e-voting, one presses a series of buttons, you hope that the software is up to the process of recording your vote, you hope that no one can hack into that software, and then, when you demand the result, it spits out that result in a matter of seconds. Then, once more, you hope that the answer is correct, there being no ‘paper trail’ which might be followed, as there is with our present somewhat cumbersome and possibly quaint system.

Part of the attraction of our system may well be subjective – it may be coloured by the experiences of more than 30 years as a ‘hack’ at election counts. But I will take a lot of convincing that e-voting can be as fair or as transparent.

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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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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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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