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So much for transparency Ð because this Coalition may be the most secretive of all

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 28-Nov-2012

It’s been a strange November from a politics perspective. Usually, even during the good years, political discourse was dominated by budget speculation during November. Arguments abounded about taxes and cuts or whether or not the Minister for Finance would apply the scalpel to the "auld reliables" of alcohol and tobacco.

But this year, the run-up has been very subdued compared to other years, especially last year. This has to do, partly, with the manner in which the Savita Hapallanavar case has predominiated. But it also stems from the decision of those at the top of the Cabinet to stop a repeat of last year’s leak-fest. That decision to keep things tight seems, to me at least, to be intrinsically anti-democratic in its nature.

Let’s cast our eyes back to last year. From late October, first leaks, and then deluges, of pre-Budget information started to seep out of Government departments, mostly Health and Social Protection. It seemed like every social gain and welfare stance of the past fifty years was going to be ditched from child benefit to pensions to medical cards.

But in the last few days the flotilla of kites were hauled in and the Budget that materialised seemed very reasonable indeed compared to the scary stuff. Having said that, the Coalition shipped a lot of collateral damage for this serial leaking.

And the solution this year? Well, obviously no leaking.

And how does that happen? Well one of the tactics has been to make sure that none of the Ministers have anything to leak to the wider world.

So how did they do that?

Well, a Cabinet meeting is not exactly a beacon of openness to begin with. The principle of Cabinet confidentiality means you hear less verbiage after the meetings on Tuesday than you will hear in a Poor Clare convent.

Every week in Leinster House, political correspondents are ‘briefed’ on what happened at that week’s meeting of Ministers. Briefed is a very generous term in that context. For besides being told what army officers or Gardaí have been promoted and what ambassador has presented his or her credentials, you will get maybe one line – two if you are lucky – about what happened during the remaining two or three hours.

Often, a matter of national importance has been decided at Cabinet but a decision has been taken not to let people know. That information may come to light weeks later. Reporters tend to speak to individual ministers or those close to them to find out what is really going on.

So what has happened this year that’s different? Well, it seems the decision about drafting the Budget has been taken out of the Cabinet and given to the Government’s own star chamber, that is its economic management council. That is made up of the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and their senior officials and political advisers.

Increasingly, when it comes to the country’s finances it is this group of four which is deciding everything. And increasingly, the role of the wider Cabinet is to rubber-stamp what has already been decided.

And so this year, it seems that most Ministers have been kept in the dark about what the Budget will hold until the very last moment, besides the bilateral meetings they hold on an individual basis with the Minister for Public Expenditure.

For more, read 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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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

images/files/images/x3_Courthouse.jpg

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Archive News

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

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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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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