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Sport and politics will always be a heady mix

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Pat Hickey...when sport and politics collide.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

There are a couple of default positions adopted by political types when they are under the cosh – a bad opinion poll, for example, is invariably followed by a line saying the only poll that matters is the upcoming election. And an incendiary statement? They were quoted out of context.  Then when all else fails, they will cast aspersions on the bona fides of the entire media profession by coming out with a classic like “a newspaper never refused ink”.

One of the most common is the blanket dismissal: “Sports and politics should never be mixed.”

My first recollection of the expression was in 1981 when an Irish rugby team went to South Africa. It created a huge stir in Ireland at the time with ferocious debates between the pro-tour rugby fraternity and the anti-apartheid movement.

Some players pulled out but a lot of the prominent internationals went on the tour, including the likes of Ollie Campbell, Fergus Slattery and Willie Duggan.

The sop the IRFU gave was that there would be seven games and the opposition would be multiracial. Essentially, that meant a token black player for the bigger matches.

A lot of the rugby types came out with the blunderbuss argument that these were just sportsmen going to play rugby. They didn’t care about politics – so cue the inevitable clincher: “Sports and politics should never be mixed together.”

But sport is political – and nothing was more political than the South African team during the apartheid era. It was a symbol of white supremacy and a regime that essentially treated black people as non-persons, or non-existent. Every international team that agreed to play the Springboks back then was giving another piece of legitimacy to the rotten set-up they had there.

So nothing is as political as sport – and the examples are legion.

Scroll back to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Hitler used it to stoke up ultra-nationalist pride and backing for his Nazi regime. He was reportedly furious when the black American sprinter Jesse Owens won the blue riband 100 metre sprint.

During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the basketball game between the US and the USSR during the Olympics became a proxy for the Cold War. Indeed, both super-powers boycotted each other’s Olympic Games over wider political issues.

In 1969, a disputed soccer match was the spark that led to a 100-hour full-blown war between Honduras and El Salvador.

During the Cold War, small countries like East Germany embarked on systematic doping programmes to falsely boost performance levels and make its athletes seem invincible. All of that was part of a complex political endeavour to demonstrate that its political system was superior to all others.

To read Harry’s column in full, please see this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Hard to separate big guns – but small parties hold the key

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Micheal Martin....battle for every last seat.

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

AS unpalatable as some will find an election in early February, the reality is that all of the choices Leo Varadkar still possessed were fully spent by the time it came to early January. The chances of making it to May fell on simple arithmetic.

Since Dara Murphy’s departure, Fine Gael’s strength had been reduced to 47 TDs. With the Independence Alliance’s four TDs, and two Independent Deputies, Katherine Zappone and Sean Canney, that brought the numbers to 53.

If Fianna Fáil’s 44 Deputies all abstained that brought the number to 98. Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl bought the number to 99.

At present there are 157 Deputies in Leinster House. There were three Independent TDs who supported the Government in crucial votes – Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish and Denis Naughten. That brought its strength to 56. And the combined opposition strength was then 55. That is how tight it was.

However, even that was not certain. The Government could no longer rely on Grealish or Naughten for every vote. Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness, an awkward and negative politician, was threatening to vote against the Government in a no confidence vote.

Even if the Coalition survived a vote of no confidence in Simon Harris on February 5, the Dáil would be reduced to a parliamentary farce between now and Easter as Opposition parties and groups tabled as many no confidence motions as possible.

And so the writing was on the wall – and now that the starting gun has sounded, people will be thinking about policies and priorities and what parties or personalities closest to their own world view.

Fine Gael has been marginally ahead in most opinion polls for the past year but that means little. It’s only if one of the big parties opens a large gap, of if there is a measurable surge from a smaller party, that we sit up and taken notice.

What distinguished Ireland from other countries is our multi-seat constituencies and our transferable votes. That means a more even spread for parties but will always make it difficult for any one party, or small combination of parties, to form a government.

There will be 160 TDs in the new Dáíl, an increase of two, and one less constituency, with Laois and Offaly combined into one five-seater.

I’ve done a preliminary pass of all 39 constituencies and my initial calculation is it’s going to be very tight between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael with only one seat between them.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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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Battle lines begin to firm up as election looms on horizon

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Main players...Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin ahead of election battle.

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

The touted meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin this week was always going to disappoint given all of the hype that surrounded it in advance. It’s all a bit academic we have an ‘early’ election, or one later in the spring – because either way, we know we are in the end-game of this Dáil.

The only thing we don’t really know is how close. But in reality it’s only a matter of a few short months between early and late elections.

Some of my colleagues put a lot of emphasis on Leo Varadkar’s insistence over Christmas that Fianna Fáil guarantees his government would not fall on a confidence motion.

This addressed the delicate balance in the Dáil where Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil now have an identical number of seats.

If the awkward Fianna Fáil TD, John McGuinness, made good on his word and voted against the Fine Gael-led Coalition in a no-confidence motion, that would lead to the fall of the Government if Fianna Fáil did nothing to defend it.

Hence, Varadkar’s insistence on some guarantee. In his letter to Martin, he wrote: “I think it is reasonable of me to ask that you formally secure the support of all your TDs for this arrangement or agree to vote with the Government, where necessary, rather than abstain. This is the only way we can both be sure that it is sustainable.”

One interpretation of this was an insistence on Fianna Fáil voting for the government.  A number of commentators believed Varadkar was making Martin an offer he had no choice but to refuse, thus forcing a general election.

My own sense is that a more practical arrangement would be found. In other words, Martin would make sure McGuinness was whipped into line.

Besides, Varadkar had specified a number of priorities including negotiation a deal on a future relationship with the UK after Brexit; restoring power-sharing in the North; reforming the Local Property Tax; and reforming the way in which TDs and Senators claim for expenses and allowances.

All of that suggested to me that both leaders were content with an April or a May election. But until they actually state it, you always run the risk of being wrong.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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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Crunching the Galway numbers ahead of General Election 2020

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Last time out... Galway East TDs Sean Canney, Anne Rabbitte and Ciaran Cannon pictured at Kiltiernan NS shortly after their election.

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

Wasn’t it Tipp O’Neill, the US speaker of the House, who once said “All politics is loco”? Well, not quite. It was all politics is local. But there ain’t too much difference between them.

And now, with 2020 spreading out in front of us, I’m going both loco and local with predictions of how the Galway constituencies might pan out.

First to Galway West, the biggest constituency in the province. It was once Fianna Fáil heartland and a bit of a lonely outpost for Fine Gael. All that was reversed in 2011 and Fine Gael still holds an advantage here. I think that status quo will remain.

At the moment, there are two Fine Gael TDs, Sean Kyne and Hildegarde Naughton; one Fianna Fáil Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív; and two Independents, Catherine Connolly and Noel Grealish.

We can say a few things with near certainty. The first is that Éamon Ó Cuív will top the poll – and, of the five seats, one will go to Fianna Fáil, one will go to Fine Gael and there will be an Independent.

The irony in 2016 is that Fianna Fáil actually got a marginally higher share of the first preference vote than Fine Gael but ended up with only one seat. Both parties ran three candidates.

Fine Gael was helped by the fact that all three candidates were relatively even, where Fianna Fáil’s votes were very biased towards Ó Cuív rather than his colleagues, John Connolly and Mary Hoade.

Besides, Fianna Fáil picked up fewer transfers than any other party. If it has any hope of getting two elected, there will need to be a bit of levelling up, and Ollie Crowe will need to be much closer to Ó Cuív in first preferences.

I just don’t see that happening. The two Fine Gael TDs are strong and Naughton is one of those candidates who is a magnet for transfers.

As is Catherine Connolly, who more than doubled her votes during the fourteen counts to edge out Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. Given that she has performed solidly as a TD, she will be there or thereabouts again.

Sinn Féin came within a whisker of a seat in 2016, but it’s hard to see them in contention this time – but the Greens are coming into this in optimistic mood.

Pauline O’Reilly was elected to the west ward of Galway City Council on the first count, one of two Green councillors in the city.

And given the Green surge, she has a fair chance of a seat, but would need to gouge into the vote share of Connolly and Naughton if she were to be successful.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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