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Proposals to reform UK voting system are complex

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Date Published: {J}

Did you hear they’re making a movie of Monopoly? It’s just a loop of film that keeps playing until the last person leaves the cinema.

In other unlikely news, it seems the British are finally going to get PR. Except . . . no. Even if the referendum is passed, what they’ll actually have is something called ‘Alternative Vote’, which makes it sound like you get a second choice if the party you want is out of stock. What does it really mean?

Actually, it’s easier to say what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean Proportional Representation – or anything like it. To understand why, it’s necessary to see how some systems are more proportional than others. The worst one of all is what they have of course – First Past The Post. As I’ve said before, simply picking the candidate who gets most votes is the best known way to elect a representative most people actually despise.

So what then is the most proportional? Some think it’s the one we use – Single Transferrable Vote – but actually the ideal system is to have a single national constituency. That way it is automatically proportional. If ten percent of the population vote for the Purple Party, ten per cent of the seats naturally go to the Purple Party. Simple.

Why don’t we all do that? Well the drawback is that it lacks the element of local representation. This is an ancient and seemingly natural concept in politics. People all around the country send their representatives to the capital where they make the laws. Does it still make sense in the modern world? I would argue no, it is complete and utter nonsense in the modern world, but that can wait until another day. Assuming we do still want it, about the fairest compromise is the system we use – Single Transferable Vote in Multi-seat Constituencies. Do you see the trick? It breaks the country up into areas small enough to still feel reasonably local, but big enough to share out seats in proportion to votes.

Being a compromise, the system has to be fine-tuned. This is done by setting the constituency size; the more seats it has, the more proportionally – but less local – the representation. This can be easily seen by imaging one big constituency with all the seats in it. That would be just the same as the ideal system; perfectly proportional but perfectly non-local.

So what happens if you go to the opposite extreme, and have very many constituencies with only one seat each? That way you get a version that might be highly local, but it would be so badly proportional as to be unworthy of the name of PR.

So I guess that’s why they call it Alternative Vote. It’s really just FPTP with the corners knocked off, its only difference being that voters order their candidates like we do rather than put it all on one. This will help a little, but it is still a very long way from actually being, you know, accurate. Yet that’s all the LibDems won. (Or will win, if they can defeat both Labour and their own government partners in a referendum campaign.) I can only imagine that they look on it as freedom to win freedom.

We’ll see how that works out for them.

You can comment on this by logging on to www.galwaynews.ie

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

Teenage Kicks hard to beat Ð unless youÕre Eden Hazard

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Date Published: 28-Jan-2013

A receiver has been appointed to Greenstar, which operates Kilconnell dump near Ballinasloe with a staff of approximately 15

The company has a workforce of 800 across the country in collecting waste from 80 thousand households and 12 thousand businesses

It is part of the NTR group which last month (july) published a report stating its subsidiary Greenstar will close its nationwide landfills over the next three years unless prices improve

However in a statement today the board of Greenstar said it wanted to express its disappointment at what it called the ‘unexpected’ move of the appointment of a receiver

The company said it was regrettable that its lenders have chosen to take this action – as the company has not missed any scheduled repayments and is in a strong cash position to continue trading for the foreseeable future

Business Analyst Ian Guider says Greenstar feels there was no need for the banks to take this drastic measure

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Archive News

Galway loses a vibrant voice with the passing of Tony Small

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Date Published: 31-Jan-2013

With the passing of Tony Small, Galway has lost a truly vibrant voice. Growing up the son of a tailor in Corrandulla, Tony was reared in a musical house. His brother Jackie was the host of RTÉ 1’s The Long Note, and is also a piper and accordion player of some repute.

Over 30 years ago, Mick Crehan, who runs The Crane Bar, struck up a friendship with Tony Small.

“The first time I met Tony I was playing with an outfit, we were touring around Germany,” he recalls. “Tony was playing with The Wild Geese. They were huge in Germany at that time. There was Tony, Peadar Howley, Norman White, Christy Delaney, Mick Ryan and later Eoin Duignan. They were wild in every way! Tony was a great frontman, a tremendous voice.”

At the time, De Dannan and The Bothy Band were also touring Germany, but as Mick says, ‘The Geese were always top of the bill.’ Tony had a deep affinity with Irish traditional music, but he also put his own spin on it.

“Tony had an extra quality that I find hard to put into words,” says Mick. “He had a vast repertoire of traditional songs and ballads, plus he was writing his own. He had great respect for tradition, but he always added something extra. He bred new life into old songs; he was very innovative.”

“I’d put Tony in the same league as Andy Irvine, who I have tremendous respect for. Andy did things with traditional music that I don’t think have been improved upon. Tony had that type of approach to the songs as well.

Tony Small and Gerry Carthy played the very first gig in The Crane back over 33 years ago. The occasion was re-lived at the beginning of January, when Tony and Gerry played together once more.

“Luckily for Tony, shortly before he died, Gerry was over from the States,” says Mick . “We had a gig here with Gerry, Tony, Jackie, and Sean Tyrell was here, and Johnny Mulhern, and Eugene Lamb, the piper. A fantastic gathering of old buddies.”

Last year, Tony Small released Mandolin Mountain. Recorded in Dingle by Donogh Hennessy from Lunasa, it saw Tony at the peak of his powers.

“It’s definitely his best work,” says Mick. “Nearly all the songs are written by Tony – or re-written. I had the privilege of launching it and writing the notes. There’s a huge variety of stuff on it, there’s philosophical songs, travellers’ songs, rakish songs, very deep songs. I think it gives you a picture of Tony and what he liked, and a very good picture of himself.”

Tony Small took a delight in music that was infectious. In an interview with the Connacht Tribune last November, he reflected on a lifetime’s playing.

“I’m able to sing and I’m able to play a bit,” Tony said. “I’m no virtuoso, but I love doing it. And I love sharing it. I do the best I can. What more can I do?”

Tony Small loved playing music, and had an effect that will endure beyond his lifetime. The Galway music scene has lost a truly gifted player. As Mick Crehan says, “he’ll be really missed.”

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