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Let’s have by-elections now – and a General Election if we need it

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Date Published: 02-Jun-2010

The brass neck of this government to continue to deny full Dail representation to voters in three different constituencies is truly breathtaking. It was always unlikely that they’d be stirred into action by opposition efforts to force their hand, but their arrogance reached new heights during last week’s Fine Gael motion that would compel all future governments to hold a by-election within six months of a vacancy arising.

John Gormley’s contention that this didn’t take into account unforeseen events or emergencies such as swine flu or foot and mouth disease was perhaps his most cynical offering since his elevation into government – and that’s saying something.

There is an argument of course that we shouldn’t have anywhere near 166 Deputies in the first place but until such time as electoral reform stretches to a culling of TDs, the seats that are there should be filled. Thankfully this current democratic deficit doesn’t affect either of the Galway constituencies, but the people of Donegal South West, Waterford and Dublin South are being denied their right to a replacement TD because the government knows they have no chance of winning any of the three seats.

That’s not just because of the current economic climate; a sitting government hasn’t won a by-election since Noel Treacy was elected in Galway East to replace the late Johnny Callanan in July 1982. And Deputy Treacy’s place is the record books isn’t likely to be usurped any time soon. The TÁnaiste Mary Coughlan said the by-election in Donegal would be called in due course but the government is currently focusing energies on tackling economic issues. The Taoiseach was less diplomatic when he told RTE’s Sean O’Rourke not to even worry about it.

Both interventions smack of desperation, particularly when one of their own backbenchers Peter Power told last week’s Dail debate on the matter that he believed voters should not be deprived of their Dail representation in this way. Of course Fine Gael’s urgings for speedy by-elections are in marked contrast to their own efforts at electoral reform when they had their own hands on the tiller in the past, but that doesn’t undermine the validity of their argument now.

If the by-elections turn out to be three regional confidence votes on the current government, so be it – the essence of democracy is the right of the people to have their say. Equally there is no guarantee that the seats will automatically go to either of the two main opposition parties; the people of Dublin South, for example, might be a little more circumspect if they were presented with another celebrity broadcaster masquerading as a politician next time out.

That said, any scenario is almost certain to reduce the government’s majority in the house – and that has obvious repercussions as further cuts are brought to the table. We saw the ridiculous decision last year, in the midst of the biggest economic crisis ever experienced by the state, with existing hospital wards closing up and down the country, Independent TD Jackie Healy Rae was able to extract a commitment from government to the development of a 40-bed Community hospital in Kenmare.

No disrespect to the good people of Kerry, but surely the maintenance of existing facilities should be more of a priority than a promise of a new hospital in return for a Dail vote.

That’s the sort of parish pump politics the government will have to resort to more than ever as their majority is whittled away – and that’s why they want to avoid cutting their majority by anything up to three seats on foot of these by-elections. The classic ‘kick to touch’ in such circumstances is the establishment of a working committee – and lo and behold up steps John Gormley with a proposal for another electoral commission ‘to deal with referendums and all elections’.

Not surprisingly he described this as a major task – by which he probably means time consuming, so that in the end they’d be hardpressed to reach a consensus before the end of the current Dail anyway. The world won’t stop revolving because we’re three TDs down out of 166, but it is a slap in the face for democracy and an insult to the electorate of three constituencies. The government has filibustered and blustered long enough on this already – let’s have the by-elections and, if the figures don’t add up for government after that, then let’s have a General Election for good measure.

 

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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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

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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

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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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