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‘Lobby fodder’ can still shine despite the frustrations of being on back benches

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

A team wins the All Ireland and the captain goes up and says the cúpla focal and then thanks the sponsors and the doctor and the bagman and the back room team and, yerrah, the manager.

And then he goes on to say it’s not the fifteen fellows who took to the field but it was a squad thing. And in his blazingly original way he commends the opposition and, sure, we know what it was like for ye lads, and says hip, hip, hurray.

And when you’re listening to him and you are number 29 out of a squad of 30 and not in the team photograph and not on the pitch and not really remembered and sitting so long on the subs’ bench that your backside is getting numb you know deep down that that is not the way it is.

And if you have any grey matter you also know that your captain is talking a pile of phoney baloney. He can stand up there and say it’s all about the squad until he’s blue in the face.

But the simple undeniable uncomfortable reality is that if you don’t get game time – even for a few piddling moments – it is nothing and you are nothing.

And that is also the lot of your average backbench TD or Senator, especially for a Government party. The most you can hope for is to be told to run up and down the political sidelines to warm up and do a bit of stretching. But for the most part you will get as much involvement in the fray – the cut and thrust of Government – as the average Joe Punter sitting in the stands.

I can’t remember how often I’ve repeated former Fianna Fáil TD Barry Andrews pithy little phrase about the role of a backbench Government TD. I repeat it so often because it’s still the best description by a long shot.

“Lobby fodder” was how Andrews put it.

I was watching the Labour TD for Dublin Mid West Joanne Tuffy on Vincent Browne’s programme on TV3 on Monday night as she got attacked on all sides for her party’s performance in Government. Now, as a point of fact, Labour have actually done much better in the coalition this year than they did in the first two years when they were played by Fine Gael like a cat plays a mouse. That said, Browne and the other guests weren’t thrilled about the self-congratulatory tone of the Labour Party conference (sure, I’ve never been to a party conference that wasn’t self congratulatory).

Anyway Joan took some mild ribbing, particularly over her party’s failure to introduced a third higher rate of tax for high earners. Browne actually quoted a very interesting finding from a recent report from the left-leaning Nevin Institute which showed that the lowest ten per cent of earners in Irish society paid proportionately more of their income in taxes of one kind of another than the highest ten per cent. It was a fair point and Tuffy had no choice but to try to field it.

Her point was that she would have preferred a higher rate of tax but that no increase in tax had been a central plank of Fine Gael’s pre-election manifesto and, as such, she and her colleagues were powerless to get the larger party to shift from that position. Doubly powerless as a member of the smaller party and as a backbencher.

Like the substitute who never gets game time, it can be very frustrating for a backbench TD. Once you are in Government it’s the executive – the Ministers and junior Ministers – who get to call the shots. Some TDs will get a consolation prize – offered the chair of a committee. But for the rest it’s a hard old station. Many spend their parliamentary time making a speech on a Bill they have no feel for, reading from a script that is often written by a party researcher.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Greens set the bar high on seats for next local elections

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Eamon Ryan...brave ambitions.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

There we all were thinking the Greens were going to repeat what happened a decade ago and lose most, or all, of their seats in the next election. But then Eamon Ryan told the party’s annual convention last weekend that he wanted the party to grow and increase seats.

He even put a target on it – to double its number of council seats from 50 to 100 at the next local elections in 2024.

It’s a brave claim and there will be some that say the only target we see is the one on Eamon Ryan’s back.

We all know the fate of smaller parties in government in Ireland. And none should know it better than the Greens. They won six seats in 2007 and lost them all in 2011.

Of course, there were extenuating circumstances. They were unlucky enough to be tacked onto a Fianna Fáil party which had pumped up the economy to bulbous levels in the decade before they went into coalition together.

The only party to buck the trend for a smaller party coming out of coalition was the Progressive Democrats in 2002. However, that was only a reprieve; they were s annihilated in the following election in 2007.

Ryan’s argument is that there is always a percentage of the population who will back Green first and it is growing. That is true. But the reality is it’s not ten per cent of the population yet – it is closer to five. And that five per cent is concentrated in middle class urban areas.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Only sure thing in politics is nothing stays the same

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Galway in the 1950’s – how different is this to today.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

In less than a month’s time we will witness a first in Irish politics – the first instance of a Government which rotates its Taoiseach half way through the term.

It was due to happen on December 15, but it has been pushed back to allow Micheál Martin have his last hurrah – a final Summit in Brussels.

Then Leo Varakdar will come back for his second go – and if the Government lasts a full term, Varadkar’s two stints in the job will use about amount to one full term of five years.

It’s not the first time that a shared Taoiseach has been floated. Dick Spring suggested it to John Bruton in 1994. There was talk of Eamon Gilmore doing it with Enda Kenny before the 2011 general election. Enda Kenny suggested it to Micheál Martin in 2016.

Now it’s happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we will see it in the Irish political context – because the political landscape has altered irrevocably.

A majority of voters in Ireland identified with one tribe or another during most of the 20th century. Memories of the revolution and civil war were still fresh. The parties both represented different sections of society (although there were big swatches of common ground). Ireland was rural, isolated, Catholic, conservative. Even in the 1980s, the two big parties still pulled 80 per cent plus of the vote.

We have a WhatsApp group from my class in the Jes in the 1980s. One of the lads recently posted an aerial photography of Galway taken in the the late 1950s. The city of Galway was nothing more than small town.

Shantalla was a new estate on the far outskirts. There was no Cathedral. Taylor’s Hill was hitting open countryside once you got past St Mary’s Terrace. There were open fields leading from Sea Road down to the shore.

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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Connacht Tribune

Tackling shadowy spectre of gambling at long last

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Salthill's entertainment hot spot of the 1960s and 70s, Seapoint.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The Salthill seafront was about a ten-minute walk from where we lived in Glenard when I was growing up. I can’t remember exactly when I started going to the amusement arcades but I was probably about 14.

At the time there were three or four along the so-called Golden Mile – Salthill Amusements near Western House; Claude Tofts casino in the middle of the drag, and the Silver Dollar, which was just before you turned for the Sacre Coeur Hotel. And then there was Seapoint.

The main attractions for us initially were the snooker tables upstairs in Salthill amusements, the roller disco on the Silver Dollar, and the teenage discos in the Captain’s Deck in Leisureland.

Mostly it was playing the video games – Space Invaders; Asteroids and Pacman. Yet no matter how absorbed you were with the games  you could not help noticing the other half of the arcade.

On that side there were battalions of one-armed bandits and poker machines. This was the early 1980s and I think it was about 10p a go. I think if you got one cherry on the right you won about 20p, and the amount of winnings went up especially if you got three bars in a row.

I’m not saying I never gambled on those machines. I did, although not too often. I remember having one big payout – I think it might have been £20. I was able to buy a ticket for the Dexy’s Midnight Runners concert in Seapoint.

It was July. Gino was actually number one in the charts that very week and all the Northerners were down in Salthill to escape the Orange marches.

We hung around the amusements a bit as teenagers. After a while, you began to recognise the regulars, the daily penitents. They would come in every afternoon and evening and spend hours sitting on a high school with a bucket of coins beside them, playing either the one-armed bandits or the poker machines.

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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