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Honeymoon period well over as Cabinet bedfellows re-examine their promises



Date Published: 12-Dec-2012

Conventional wisdom has it that a new Government’s honeymoon period lasts for three months – or the First 100 Days as political journalists dramatically portray it.

There was a cocktail of reasons why that rule did not apply to the Fine Gael and Labour coalition that came into place in February 2011.

For one, the previous Government had left a political landscape that had been torched and scorched. In quick succession, the construction industry collapsed, the banks collapsed, the economy collapsed, and the Government collapsed.

In between, the dreaded International Monetary Fund was called into town and set Ireland the kind of ‘challenging’ austere and punitive targets that the scriptwriters of the Bourne series would baulk at.

Fianna Fáil and the Greens had imploded and both were going to make spectacular losses. For the other big two all they had to do was to make no promises and no commitments whatsoever and they would go into government in the perfect political conditions – things could get no worse and there were few expectations among the population that things could get any better. "We are all fighting over the carcass of Fianna Fáil," was Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes memorable description.

But things never go according to script of plan. In the last week, Fine Gael’s internal polls began to tell it that it was a whisker away from an overall majority.

Conversely Labour, which only six months previously had been touting Gilmore for Taoiseach, was now confronted with the scenario that it might have its best ever election but would still be left languishing in the opposition benches – 14 years after last being in power.

And so both parties did what political parties do in that situation. They started upping the ante and making promises and commitment that they knew deep down they would never be able to keep.

And the auction politics that marked that last election are coming back to roost – but we’ll return to that theme in a moment.

The honeymoon period, it could be argued, lasted for well over a year. In spite of the rash of unwise promises, there was a general acceptance from the population that the new Government had been dealt a lousy hand. In addition, the intervention of the Troika and the existence of the bailout plan had left them in a straitjacket.

They still had no choice but to remove billions of euro from the economy each year. The only choice they had was how they would go about achieving it – and the Troika had its own strong views on that, too, so you could not say the Coalition had anything like complete agreement.

What also helped was that in the first year there was very strong cohesion in the Coalition. Sure, some four Labour Party TDs have gone overboard but the vast majority of the 33 remaining are strong loyalists and enthusiasts.

Fine Gael has been very dominant in Government and besides Croke Park there are very few issues on which its TDs could go out on a limb.

It’s not the most democratic institution but the very core and centralised Economic Management Council, which essentially decides everything, has allowed its four participants – Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin – to conduct the business of Government without reference to anybody else.

That means no leaks, especially to Cabinet colleagues. Kenny has surprised everybody with the ease he assumed the role of Taoiseach and he has had – on the whole – a very strong first 18 months.

Compare him to the dour, uncommunicative and indecisive Brian Cowen and he looks even better. There was also an understanding disposition in the population that the Government had a tough job to do.

For more, read 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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