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Press freedom comes carrying a very high price

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: {J}

There was a rich irony that Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy was at NUI Galway last Thursday night to talk about freedom of the press, at the end of a day when defending that right – and being vindicated by five judgements to nil in the Supreme Court – cost her newspaper €600,000 in costs.

Because, as in any other business, there is nothing quite like major financial risk to force those who push the barriers to rein in their targets.Geraldine Kennedy and journalist Colm Keena had won a Supreme Court case against a High Court order requiring them to reveal the source of an article on payments to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

However, in what was described as ‘exceptional circumstances’, the Supreme Court ruled against them on costs.The Supreme Court held that their behaviour in destroying documents at the centre of the case did not entitle them to an order for costs in their favour.

The reality is that if they didn’t destroy those documents, the focus would have switched from the former Taoiseach’s money trail to an investigation into who spilt the beans.

Despite her disappointment, Geraldine Kennedy said the decision of the Supreme Court in July was a landmark one that enshrined the principal of journalistic privilege and the protection of sources into Irish law for the first time.

She’s right in theory but there are very few papers who would risk exposure to this sort of punitive ruling at a time when revenues generally are in decline. It was admirable then that she braved the floods and her disappointment to head west to NUIG later on Thursday to fulfil a longstanding engagement and address what she saw as challenges to press freedom in the 21st century.

She told the gathering of academics, students and guests that her only concern on the case was the public’s right to know and in doing so to protect journalistic sources.

If the person who leaked the information to the Irish Times on Mr Ahern’s unorthodox financial affairs were found, he or she would have served a minimum of six months in prison.

Because in addition to trampling all over the notion of press freedom, the state is equally keen to stamp out whistleblowing – despite all of the noise it makes to the contrary.

Indeed the dissemination of information generally is a problem for the powers that be – why else would they pass a Freedom of Information Act and then put every obstacle they can think of in the way of making that process work?

Geraldine Kennedy pointed out that freedom of the press wasn’t some carte blanche for journalists to do whatever they wanted – it was about journalists serving the public’s right to know as citizens what was going on around them.

Detractors will argue that the sins of the tabloids – intrusion, invasion of privacy, sensationalism, a race to the bottom – have cost those who behave in a more responsible way, but that’s just an easy excuse for not embracing the notion of a free press in the first place.

The problem, as always, comes back to money; are papers prepared to pay for investigative journalism, which by its nature cannot be churned out in 20 minutes – and if they do, are they willing to bear the financial consequences.

To be truly independent, Geraldine Kennedy said, the press had to be financially secure. Accepting that very few in any walk of life can claim that in the current climate, the problems are exacerbated for newspapers who, in some cases, have to deal with advertisers making demands on editorial coverage – or even worse, who have an owner determined to push through a personal agenda.

But the biggest threat to freedom of the press still comes from Government and state authorities who treat media with suspicion at best and distain at worst.

When the Supreme Court backs that by ruling that a newspaper – one vindicated in its actions through the highest court in the land – should then pay all of the costs of both sides as though they had in reality lost, you can see that it’s not just the Government which places minimal importance on freedom of the press.

Thankfully the big hit hasn’t dampened the determination of the Irish Times to fight the good fight, but in a country where corruption was the norm for three decades, that’s an uphill battle.

The Supreme Court verdict on costs at least lets us know where we stand. But the state should remember that this isn’t just about freedom for the press – it’s about the public’s right to know. And that’s a price still worth paying.

Read more on page 15 of this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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Moment of truth for Galway U21s

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 01-May-2013

 Dara Bradley

FOUR matches, four victories, one after extra-time, a Connacht title, four goals and 56 points scored, four goals and 30 points conceded, a heap of wides from their opponents, sinews strained, buckets of sweat and blood spilled.

It’s been one hell of a roller coaster campaign for the Galway U21 footballers but all that will be forgotten come 7pm on Saturday evening at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick when they cross swords with Cork for the honour of being crowned Cadbury’s All-Ireland champions.

Six weeks ago as Galway set out on their 2013 U21 journey against Sligo in Tuam, the May Bank Holiday weekend final was always the target. They took each game as it came and now it has come down to this – 60 minutes of football to decide who the best U21 team in the land is.

And while there were times along the way when Alan Flynn’s charges looked like they’d fall off the wagon, against Mayo, against Roscommon and again against Kildare, Galway showed resilience and mental strength to time and again bounce back and defy the odds. Often down, never out. It is that perseverance that will stand to Galway in the heat of battle this weekend.

Cork has won an All-Ireland at this grade more times than any other county since the competition’s inception in the 1960s. The most recent of their 11 titles was won in 2009, and they’ve claimed a three-in-a-row of Munster titles with a defeat of Tipperary last month.

Interestingly, five players – Alan Cronin, Jamie Wall, John O’Rourke, Tom Clancy and Damien Cahalene, the son of former inter-county player Niall – that are expected to start this Saturday lined out in each of the last three Munster finals, so they have experience of playing in the pressure cauldrons.

Galway aren’t as experienced. True, a couple of players already have a All-Ireland medal from 2011 – a year Galway beat Cork in the semi-final – but there are a lot of young guns in the panel. Of the squad of 33, about 19 of them are young enough to play U21 next year as well, while eight or nine of the starting 15 will be eligible next year, although you wouldn’t think it given the levelheadedness they’ve displayed throughout the past six weeks.

Galway had plenty to spare over a hapless Sligo outfit in Tuam the first day out, winning by 16 points, which didn’t flatter them, but old rivals Mayo in the following game at the same venue was a different story. After a tense and tight hour of fare, Galway took the spoils after showing immense character to dig it out by two points in a dogfight, 0-9 to 0-7.

Fighting qualities were needed again in the Connacht final in Hyde Park against Roscommon – Galway were minutes from being knocked out of the championship when a heroic comeback, three points in as many minutes from Kilkerrin/Clonberne’s Shane Walsh, rescued extra-time, a period which Galway never looked like losing.

The Tribesmen took their chances when they presented themselves, a trait that also saw them knock-out Kieran McGeeney’s highly rated and much fancied Kildare outfit in a thriller at Tullamore a fortnight ago.

The Lilywhites were wasteful, true, but that’s their problem, and Galway just had too much natural footballing class to take their chances and emerge with a deserved five points, 2-10 to 2-5 victory, despite 19 wides from the vanquished.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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GalwayÕs U-13 and U-16 sides both through to national finals

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 14-May-2013

Mike Rafferty

It proved to be a very successful weekend for Galway Schoolboy soccer as two representative sides qualified for national finals at the end of the month.

It was drama all the way in Eamonn Deacy Park on Saturday afternoon as the U-13 side drew 1-1 with the Midlands League, but came through the dreaded penalty shootout to prevail by 5-4.

 

Meanwhile the U-16 side had to travel to Cork, where they emerged 2-1 winners following a very impressive performance. For the second game in succession, it was the goals of the Connolly brothers that proved crucial to both team’s success.

Andrew lines out with the U-16 side and he notched both their scores in terrific away win, while younger brother Aaron was on target for the U-13 side and also converted the winning spot kick.

Mervue United captured a third consecutive Connacht Youth Cup with an impressive 4-1 win over Castlebar Celtic in Milebush on Saturday.

SFAI U-13 INTER LEAGUE SEMI FINAL

Galway League 1

Midlands League 1

(AET-Galway won 5-4 on pens)

A low scoring contest might indicate few chances, but one has to credit two outstanding defences whose splendid covering and marshalling of the front men was a joy to watch.

Galway’s Oisin McDonagh and Adam Rooney never put a foot wrong in central defence, while full-backs Byron Lydon and Matthew Tierney were equally efficient in defence, and getting forward with regular forays.

Further afield, they matched the visitors in terms of intensity and creativity and in the second half in particular should have pulled away from a Midlands side that won the U-12 national title last year.

The visitors certainly offered the greater attacking threat in the opening half, but found home custodian Mark Greaney in top form. Galway’s best chance fell to Joshua Quinlivan, but he pulled an effort wide of the target.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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