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Former Minister flew to Galway on state helicopter to tell us to ‘tighten our belts’!

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 25-Apr-2012

A Minister flew to Galway by Government helicopter, at taxpayers’ expense, and then preached a sermon about the need for local authorities to ‘tighten their belts’ and to reduce spending through “efficiency reviews”.

Newly released State records show that former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Batt O’Keeffe, a cabinet Minister in the previous Fianna Fáil led administration, used the Government helicopter to fly from Phoenix Park in Dublin to Galway Airport.

The trip on the EC135 helicopter was made on September 1, 2010, and according to records it cost the taxpayer about €1,590 for the 50 minutes journey.

In a speech to a conference in Galway city later that day, Minister O’Keeffe made reference to how the country was experiencing a period of “constrained public spending”, and he talked about how his Government was working to “stabilise public finances”.

The then Minister had requested the aircraft from the Department of Defence and the request would have been cleared by An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen’s office.

Using one of the Government jets would have been far more expensive than helicopter, however, it is not known why Mr O’Keeffe didn’t travel to Galway by motorway in his Ministerial car.

The records show he did not return to Dublin by helicopter and it is understood his Ministerial driver would have travelled to Galway by road, as he travelled in the skies, and then chauffeured him on the return journey. “Helicopters have been used on occasion for Ministerial air transport in situations where, for operational reasons, fixed wing aircraft may not have been available or suitable for a particular mission,” said the current Justice and Defence Minister Alan Shatter.

Despite incurring costs of over €1,500, the then Minister O’Keeffe, who had been invited to open the 2010 Irish Manufacturing Council’s annual conference in Galway, told his audience how costs in local government should be pared back.

In his speech to business leaders at the conference, held at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), Minister O’Keeffe said Ireland needed to improve its competitiveness to attract more Foreign Direct Investment.

“We are already seeing a recovery in cost-competitiveness with lower business costs, particularly wages and energy. We are reducing the administrative burden by driving better regulation. Local authority charges remain a great concern of the business sector and we will progress the recommendations of the recent efficiency review of the local authority system to secure savings which will further reduce pressure on business and ensure we can sustain and create jobs,” he said.

Mr O’Keeffe, in his speech, added: “Creating and protecting employment is the driving force behind so much of our work in stabilising our public finances and getting our banking system working again.

“It is the reason why in a time of constrained public spending we are continuing to invest so heavily in our capital programme in building necessary infrastructure and investing so much in enterprise, research and development.”

A Cork TD for over 20 years, Mr O’Keeffe did not stand for Fianna Fáil in the 2011 General Election. According to the records of ministerial travel by Government jet or helicopter, he was the only Minister in the last three years who used a Government jet or helicopter at taxpayers’ expense to fly to Galway on official Government business.

 

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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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

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

images/files/images/x3_Courthouse.jpg

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Archive News

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

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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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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