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Referendum less a ringing endorsement and more indicative of apathy for change



Date Published: 14-Nov-2012

Ihad to take a double-take when I read a statement that the Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, put out on Sunday following the result of the referendum.

I won’t burden readers with too much of the turgid stuff like it being a vindication of all the values that we hold and how much we value children and childhood – the rather grand adjective axiomatic was made to describe that.

In fact all I’ll repeat is a sentence that stuck out, for me, like a sore thumb: “Today, the people made a strong and unequivocal statement on the values they attach to children and childhood.”

When I read that I wondered had the two of us witnessed the same spectacle or were we occupying different planets? If any statement were made in the children’s referendum, it was neither strong nor unequivocal.

The miserly turnout of 33.5 per cent was compounded by a result of about 57 per cent to 43 per cent that was much, much closer than anybody had anticipated.

If you look at how the sides ranged up against each other. On one side you have virtually every political party, every church, every NGO, every trade union and civic society group.

On the other you had a ragbag of, not even groups, but individuals, the most prominent of whom were journalist John Waters and former MEP Kathy Sinnott. And yet, despite all the money, all the information, all the airtime, the gap was only 14 per cent.

In fairness to Gilmore, the statement he issued might have been pre-cooked, prepared beforehand, primed to be released once the results were announced. But even so, the sentiments expressed are an affront to reality.

I’m not going to dwell on the ins and outs of the referendum – like many other people I took a view that its effect would be marginal but perhaps a little beneficial – but look at what the result may mean for the Government’s big ambitious for Constitutional reform and change.

On December 1, the long-delayed new vehicle for delivering this change, the Constitutional Convention, will hold its first meeting in Dublin Castle. It has been asked to examine a number of issues (about seven in all) in the Constitution and then make recommendations.

A few of the issues are relatively weighty but most are Mickey Mouse in the context of the all-encompassing document drawn up for Eamon de Valera 75 years ago – such as reducing the voting age to 17; reducing the term of the presidency from seven years to five.

The one massive Constitutional change – the abolition of the Seanad – will not be discussed by the Convention but will be put to referendum sometime during the lifetime of this Coalition. And given what happened last weekend, I would say it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

So what are the lessons from last weekend? Well number one is that if you really want the citizens of Ireland to engage and come out in big numbers to vote in a referendum you need to be a bit engaged yourself.

It was unusual that all the parties were voting Yes but the evidence was that while they dutifully put up the posters and wheeled their spokespeople onto radio and TV, there was no ground war – or hard-graft knocking on doors. Part of that was to do with the fact that there was no real No campaign (with the exception of the last week of the campaign).

The lack of an opposition meant a lack of debate, which meant a lack of scrutiny or criticism of the amendment. It was like looking at a football game where only one team turned up and it ended up having a practice game. There was no engagement. Everybody thought it was a walkover and didn’t bother to vote.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



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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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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



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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