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Election campaign is still stuck on starting blocks

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Podium finish...party leaders (from left) Ricard Boyd Barrett, Gerry Adams, Micheal Martin, Enda Kenny, Joan Burton, Stephen Donnelly and Lucinda Creighton during RTE's election debate.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

For some reason the election campaign has not ignited so far.  We are a week away from polling and it’s all a bit like the Prom in November – not much happening; only a few prepared to dip their toes in the water.

Both debates have been interesting in their own ways – but neither set this general election alight. Perhaps that will come with the final four-way debate on Tuesday on RTE. Then again, given the experience of the other two debates I doubt it.

How influential are these televised events? Leaders’ debates live on television are strange animals. It’s good to win but the priority is not to lose. If you make one big gaffe, or get caught out on detail, or flunk on specifics (especially on the economy) the outcome can be catastrophic.

So in a strange way, winning in these debates can sometimes be as simple as surviving.

Enda Kenny lost the 2007 head-to-head with Bertie Ahern in the last half hour of a 90-minute encounter. It came when he stumbled over questions on the economy allowing Ahern in to best him.

Equally Sean Gallagher’s presidential campaign came to a halt in 2011 when he was back-footed badly on a live TV debate.

Ahern won but a little bit by default; in reality this was that Kenny lost.

Yet, during the British general election last year, the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party Nicola Sturgeon emerged as a real star after a virtuoso performance on a crowded platform.

The first two debates were big contrasts in style. The first four-hander on TV3 ended up being interesting but very messy, as the leaders constantly interrupted and talked over each other.

Claire Byrne allowed no such leeway on Monday this week, firmly controlling proceedings from the start and asking robust questions of all the leaders.

I felt that she was not being as assertive with the three leaders from the smaller parties with her line of questioning. But she more than made up for it in the second half when she hit Stephen Donnelly with a haymaker with the gibe he used “management consultant speak” and all his solutions seemed to be about “talking with people”. Richard Boyd Barrett also got a bit of a going over on the question of the fairness of mortgage forgiveness.

Lucinda Creighton was also confident and composed but surprisingly did not attack her opponents as much as the others. She focused almost wholly on setting out Renua’s positions and policies. It was a straight – and effective – pitch at her base although she could have engaged more.

As with TV3 Micheál Martin was possibly marginally the strongest, not least for his combative dogged style and his command of detail.

Enda Kenny again never raised his voice, although he did launch a few attacks on Fianna Fail. Generally he held his own and made no mistakes.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

Will ‘vaccine bounce’ prove crucial to by-election victory?

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Noel Treacy...a rare by-election win for the ruling party.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

By-elections sometimes mean everything – and sometimes they mean nothing at all. Because often, by the time a general election takes place, they have faded away into the past. They have no impact at all on the national level.

That doesn’t mean that we haven’t seen some memorable and crucial by-elections.

Like way back in 1982, when Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, who had a minority government, engineered a coup by nominating a Fine Gael TD, Richard Burke, to be Ireland’s European Commissioner.

Burke was a TD for Dublin West which was a Fianna Fáil stronghold at the time. The idea was the party’s candidate would win the subsequent by-election to give Fianna Fáil a majority in the Dáil.

But things did not go to script. Fine Gael’s candidate was a local businessman named Liam Skelly who bucked the trend by taking the seat in an audacious victory for Fine Gael.

Another significant by-election was in 2010 in Donegal South West. Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher had won a seat in the European Parliament in 2009 and the Fianna Fáil-led government had dilly-dallied over holding an election to fill the vacant seat.

The long-fingering eventually resulted in a court case taken by Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty – which he won, amid huge publicity.

The narrative, of course, was that Fianna Fáil were trying to shut him out. By that stage they probably were. Doherty won a massive victory for his party, getting elected in the first count.

I have always believed that this victory alone provided much of the momentum for the big gains Sinn Féin made in the following election.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Vaccine programme shows we’ve turned Covid corner

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Success story…Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking with peer vacinator Anne Kennedy and clinical lead Sharon Fahy on his visit the Ballybrit Vaccination Centre in Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Are we near the end? Have we finally got on top of Covid-19 for good?  Certainly, the news coming from the vaccination programme is good. More than good – it’s brilliant. The whole thing has been run so efficiently that we did a double-take at the signage in the centre to make sure they were in English and Irish, and not in German.

In Ireland, governments get very rare victories – but this has been one. More than one million jabs – between 250,000 to 300,000 each week – will have been given out during May alone.

That looks set to continue apace in June – despite the huge disruption caused to the Health Services Executive by the cyberattack from Russian hackers – with well over a million administered then.

At this moment, those in the age range of 40 upwards are getting vaccines or are getting appointments. Of course, there is always uncertainty over supplies (AstraZeneca and Janssen supplies have had periods of being sporadic). But the workhorse of the system, Pfizer BioNTech, has continued to deliver, and at scale.

So it now looks like the Government will meet its target of giving at least one vaccination shot to 82 per cent of the eligible population by the end of June.

Given the challenges involved with a nationwide programme, it is some achievement.

Being over the age of 50, I got my shot last week. It was all done seamlessly: I registered online, got a text a few days later telling me to go to the Aviva two days later.

It was strange lining up with people the same age as you, to see how kind or otherwise age had been to them. It took about two hours and the queuing was a bit like the rigmarole you go through when boarding an aircraft. But it was grand. It was all very smooth.

At this moment, about 18 to 20 percent of the population is fully vaccinated (having got two shots). Most of those are in the older cohort.

You can see the impact that has had. While daily case numbers have stayed stubbornly around the 400 mark, the number of deaths and hospitalisations has fallen.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Johnson once again shows his disdain for Irish matters

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Boris Johnson: anger over his apology to families.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

After half a century, almost a lifetime, a thin beam of justice seemed finally to appear for the families of the 10 people shot dead by British Army paratroopers in Ballymurphy, Belfast in August 1971.

The Belfast Coroner found that all 10 were innocent and that nine had been shot by British Army paratroopers, at a time when internment had been introduced. There was uncertainty about who shot the tenth person, with the possibility of a loyalist paramilitary not being totally excluded.

Among those who had been killed were a mother of eight, and a parish priest. The Coroner said she was convinced the priest was a peacemaker who was shot in the back.

Last week his brother, Patsy, now in his 80s said: “It was nice to hear that. He was a peacemaker. For 50 years, my brother was accused of being a gunman, which was all untrue. I knew it was untrue, but people didn’t know it.”

It’s terrible to think of the legacy of such acts, how people have to carry that sense of injustice with them for a lifetime. We have seen it with the victims of the Stardust Fire, or the various State institutions that incarcerated children (and expectant mothers); of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; and indeed, of the 1971 Arms Plot trail.

The response of political parties in this State to the Ballymurphy verdict was uniform. The Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he hoped it would bring some solace to the family survivors who have spent so many fruitless years campaigning for justice. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney referred to it shining a light of justice on a particularly dark era in Northern history.

The response from Sinn Féin was more flinty. Michelle O’Neill spoke about it being murder. The party leader Mary Lou McDonald pointed to the imminent move by the British Government to give amnesty to those accused of criminal acts in the period before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Unfortunately, the response of the British Government was also uniform. It was not surprising that there was an angry reaction to Boris Johnson’s apology to the families.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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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