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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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ItÕs time for my Organic Galway Ramble #4,365!

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

As regular colyoomistas will know, I’m a strangely conflicted type of bloke. The lucky owner of a full range of social skills hewn, sanded-down and polished-up during years spent hitch-hiking around the planet, I can talk to and get on with anybody from any country, social stratum and culture.

Thing is, I don’t really like to. Essentially, I’m a reformed loner. Living on my own in west Connemara and north Mayo for several years, I settled into a silent life of walking, work and talking to animals. If it wasn’t for my need to watch Chelsea games, I’d never have left the house.

Thankfully I was blessed in both houses with good friends to visit nearby, God love ‘em, preservers of my sanity, but inasmuch as I loved that life, I knew that it wasn’t good for me.

Whether you call it OCD or control freakery or just another scribbler going stir crazy, I started to behave obsessively.

My plate.

My knife and fork.

This goes there and nowhere else.

Not healthy at all, but thankfully from the inside I was able to recognise that it was a bit of a dark one-way street, so I returned to the city and engaged the human race once more.

Now I have the best of both worlds, with rural solitude during my working walking day and the Snapper for company in the evening. Her presence encourages me to behave as an almost fully-formed human, but truth be told, I get away with murder. Maybe it’s one of the benefits of married life: as mutual comfort levels increase and personal standards plunge into decline, I regress into slobdom.

Social skills are like all others; they require practice. So in an effort to polish-up my personality, I head into town for one of my Organic Galway Rambles.

Unlike sane and sensible people, the two ingredients required for my ideal night-out are a lack of people around town and, as a self-appointed honorary Galwegian, an absolute absence of firm arrangements.

Heading across Wolfe Tone Bridge, chin down into the freezing north-easterly wind, I head up onto Quay Street. The blackened glistening cobbles echo the utter emptiness of Galway’s social heart. The early night air is sodden with sideways rain, while the wind is whipping around my gonads like spaghetti around a spoon.

Lovely! Perfect! A freezing cold lashing-down Tuesday evening in January. It has been too long. Welcome home, Charlie Adley!

My anti-social ingredients increase the likelihood that there will be barstools available everywhere. Nothing worse than having to sit at a table on your own. Let me stare at the optics and space out.

But first, as ever, a feast of fish and peas in McDonagh’s. Nothing else better sets me on my way mentally, physically, spiritually prepared for anything.

Belly warm and lined, I slip onto a barstool in the front bar of the Quays, where three others are sat, having a chat. A basket of hot sausages and goujons appears. The craic is quiet and mighty all at once. A late Christmas whiskey arrives in front of me, which tastes all the sweeter, because somehow the barman knew my name.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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Ballinasloe dig deep to book date in Croker

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

Ballinasloe 2-7

An Port Mor (Armagh) 0-10

CIARAN TIERNEY AT KINGSPAN BREFFNI PARK

The men of Ballinasloe are on their way to Croke Park after overcoming a spirited second half fight-back from 14-man An Port Mor of Armagh in a keenly contested All-Ireland Junior Football semi-final at Breffni Park, Cavan, on Sunday.

Seven points up against a team who had corner forward Christopher Lennon sent off late in the first half, Ballinasloe looked to be cruising to victory at the break – but ultimately they had to dig deep to see off a defiant late challenge from the Ulster champions.

Ultimately, the damage was done in the first half. St Grellan’s produced some fine football in that opening period, two goals from central attackers Padraic Cunningham and Michael Colohan giving them the seven point cushion which made all the difference in the end.

Ballinasloe will have to analyse why they lost their way somewhat in the second period but, led by Man of the Match Darragh McCormack, Paul Whelehan, Liam Lynch, Gary Canavan, and Keith Kelly, they produced some delightful football to cause all sorts of bother in the An Port Mor defence throughout the opening period.

Backed by a huge travelling support from the East Galway town, Sean Riddell’s side enjoyed a dream start as rampant corner forwards McCormack and Whelehan combined to win a free which was comfortably slotted over the bar by Kelly after two minutes.

Even better was to come three minutes later when McCormack brilliantly rounded his man before providing a perfect pass for Whelehan, who was hauled down in the penalty area. Centre forward Padraic Cunningham calmly slotted the spot kick to the bottom left hand corner and they were 1-1 to no score up with five minutes gone.

 

McCormack and Whelehan combined well again before Canavan set up a good score for midfielder Lynch, but An Port Mor looked to be right back in the game when corner forward Shane Nugent was fouled in the Ballinasloe penalty area with 11 minutes on the clock.

Centre forward David Curran blasted the penalty over the crossbar, however, to the relief of the large Ballinasloe following. Curran provided the next score from a short-range free, following another foul on Nugent, but the Armagh men had to wait until the 30th minute before registering their first point from open play.

Ballinasloe enjoyed a purple patch at this stage, hitting 1-3 without reply, including a brace of points from Whelehan and a well-taken score on the run from Lynch, who dominated the midfield sector.

The Connacht champions produced some sublime moves in the third quarter and could have added a second goal when the superb McCormack had a shot blocked down, after his initial effort was deflected back into his path, following good work by Lynch.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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