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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

Schools plan overshadowed by row over Ministerial pay

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Education Minister Norma Foley...busy week on road to recovery.

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

The good; the bad; the clever; the stupid – we’re going to get the full mixed bag during this Government’s term. But the past week was a cocktail of sublime and ridiculous.  First up was the dog’s dinner – otherwise known as the row over ministerial pay. There’s nothing that irks people more about politicians than stories about them earning more money. The perception is they are feathering their own nests.

The trigger was the presence of three super junior ministers in the Government, one from each of the three parties – all of them at the Cabinet table but with one crucial difference; they don’t have the right to vote.

The last Government also had three super juniors. But the legislation only allowed for two of them to have the salary of a senior minister – a difference of just over €16,300 from a junior.

When Leo Varadkar was appointed Taoiseach in 2017, he dropped Mary Mitchell-O’Connor as a senior minister. As compensation, a new super junior ministry was created.

But when it came to trying to bump her salary up by €16,000 to the same as the other two super juniors, Fianna Fáil just wouldn’t buy it. Mitchell-O’Connor got an extra stripe on the uniform, but no extra pay.

This time around, there was no such problem. The three government parties have a majority and agreed unanimously to right that injustice, so the third minister would get the extra €16,000.

The problem was that it needed to be legislated. It was tacked on as an amendment to the legislation setting up the new senior ministry of Higher Education – except the Government didn’t bother to tell anyone.

So, when the press found out about it, they unsportingly went to town on it.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Odds already lengthening on Coalition lasting full course

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Euro money...Micheal Martin in Brussels this week.

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

Barry Cowen’s departure is proof yet again that, when a politician is under the cosh, what often does for them is the original transgression – aided by new information. When they are hanging on by a knife-edge, even the slightest new controversy will topple them.

Most of the time, when people look at it afterwards, they realise the new information did not stand up to scrutiny. But it doesn’t matter about the substance. It’s all about timing.

In a few months’ time, the Garda internal inquiry might vindicate him (to some extent) in his claim he did not try to avoid a Garda checkpoint. But by that time, politically, it will be water under the bridge. Everything will have moved on.

What’s clear already is it’s going to be a rough ride. By the time you read this, the Green Party leadership contest will be in its final throes.

In a way it’s a replay of the debate about going into government and the vast majority of those who voted NO will vote for Catherine Martin. But the contest won’t be as lopsided as that.

Few people believe she can oust Ryan. But on a lowish turnout, she could possibly run him close. A win is a win – but if the margin is narrow, it might plant the seed of doubts as to whether or not Ryan can survive the entire term in government.

Is the Government going to last five years? That’s very difficult to know.

It has a majority of only four in the Dáil and three of the Greens voted against going into government. We have seen it already – Opposition parties tabling motions or amendments (last week it was on maternity leave, and on rights for low-paid workers) designed to embarrass the Green and put pressure on their TDs.

With Sinn Féin as main Opposition, you can bet the house that they will continuously pummel the smallest of the three Government parties on issues close to its soul, but which they had to sacrifice to the other two parties.

And while some aspects of the economy are ramping up again, everybody knows that everything is just stuttering about.

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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Connacht Tribune

Cowen claming up left so little room for manoeuvre

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Brian Cowen...too many unanswered questions.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Just when things were beginning to settle down. The Government had been formed. The Ministers had been appointed, followed by a bit of commotion in the backbenches. Only speed-bump on the potential horizon was the Green Party’s leadership contest.

And then new Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen was outed over a three-month ban he received in 2016.

He was coming home from the All-Ireland, driving with a provisional licence. If he had had a full licence he would not have been banned. But because it was a learner permit, he got his three months.

It was administrative, he did not have to go to court. He also paid a fine of €200.

Cowen made a profuse apology in the Dáil where he said he viewed the incident with profound regret and shame and should have mentioned it to his leader Micheál Martin at the time.

That seemed to be that, more or less. There was some complaints he had not explained why he was on a learner’s permit after so many year’s driving. But those could be ironed out.

Then the story took on a different complexion when the Sunday Times reported that Cowen had tried to evade the Garda checkpoint by doing a u-turn and there had been a pursuit. The report was based on the Pulse record of the incident.

Cowen strongly disputed this, asking for the record to be corrected – which is why it has ended up that the Garda Ombudsman opened an investigation.

The information was personal and should not have been leaked. But it was. And once out, the political reality was that Cowen now needed to deal with ‘the facts on the ground’ – that an official Garda report alleged he tried to avoid a Garda checkpoint.

The implications of this were, naturally, serious. Contravening an order by a Garda to stop your vehicle is an offence under the Road Traffic Acts and is arguably as serious an offence – if not more serious – than being slightly over the blood alcohol limit.

The Opposition called for him to make a second statement and answer questions in the Dáil. There were calls too from the Greens for more clarity. Cowen took a decision on Monday, under legal advice, not to say anymore and he cleaved to it.

It seemed that that particular ploy might work. In a Morning Ireland interview on Tuesday, the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar seemed to accept that it was now being investigated by the Garda Ombudsman and they would have to await the outcome of that before any further action was taken.

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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