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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

FF is stuck between a rock and a hard place

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Crunch time...FF leader Micheal Martin.

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

Anyone who has ever run a marathon knows that, somewhere around the 35km mark, you hit hell – and even when you finish it, the first reaction is ‘never again’…until a few months later they convince themselves it was not that bad, and sure, they might even go again.

And as it is with marathons in the sporting sense, so too in the political sphere – as we’re once again discovering.

Back in 2016, government formation took 70 days – and here we are with another marathon to a tortuous haul over the line.

And to be honest, we’re a long way from resolution.

Fianna Fáil says it will not go into government with Sinn Féin. Fine Gael says it will not go into government with either Sinn Féin or Fianna Fáil. Sinn Féin is exploring a government with the left but the name of the game for the party is some kind of arrangement with Fianna Fáil.

That’s not what Fianna Fáil wants. It wants a grand coalition (even though the two formerly biggest parties are considerably less grand after the election) involving Fine Gael, plus the Greens or Social Democrats or both.

Fine Gael does not want any arrangement. It wants to lead the opposition. But if every other combination bites the dirt, it might be reluctantly willing to talk to Fianna Fáil in terms of some form of coalition arrangement.

Every single suggested arrangement involves a massive fundamental shock to all the parties – but particularly to Fianna Fáil.

The party was the biggest loser in the election. It was expected to make gains, but it ended up losing seven seats, plus some of its brightest TDs, including Lisa Chambers, Fiona O’Loughlin and Declan Breathnach.

Now it faces stark choices on all fronts.

It’s been nearly a decade out of power and needs to go back in – but it has been much weakened and if it goes into government it will not go in as the dominant partner.

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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Connacht Tribune

Fall-out from election that turned politics on its head

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Sinn Féin's joy...Cllr Dermot Connolly with the party's new Dáil reps Claire Kerrane and Mairead Farrell.

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

How many had heard of Louis O’Hara before last week? No disrespect to the post-grad NUIG student from Casla, near Athenry who is, I hear, a very credible person – but in political terms, he was a complete unknown. Until a month ago, anyone doing the arithmetic for Galway East would see one definite Fianna Fáil seat and one definite Fine Gael – which meant that the Independent seat, held by Seán Canney, would be the one that came under pressure.

And then we got the Sinn Féin surge – and a guy nobody had heard of got over 7,000 first preferences to almost turn political wisdom on its head.

Which sums up why this general election has been one of the most disruptive in the history of the State.

It’s more dramatic since 2011, when Fianna Fáil saw its support quartered from almost 80 to 20 and faced questions about its future.

But this has been more far-reaching. Back then, Fianna Fáíl was replaced by essentially a centrist government – comprised of Fine Gael and Labour – that did what it was told by the Troika (up to a point) and imposed some very tough medicine for a few years.

People have different perspective on the austerity years. But the truth of the matter is that it did take us out of the bailout and then delivered seven years of continuous growth that saw unemployment fall from a high of 15 per cent to below five per cent.

That said, the fruits of economic growth are always unevenly distributed. While the money was coming in, there were deeper problem and they were associated with underinvestment in housing over a long period of time, as well as health.

Health is like a cuckoo chick in a sparrow’s nest. It is always hungry and the sparrow – thinking it is its own – drives itself to exhaustion trying to feed its inexhaustible appetite.

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

Sinn Fein the big winners before a vote is even cast

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Five-year-old Danny Brady presents a Brigid's Cross to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during his trip to the Shearwater Hotel in Ballinasloe to meet Cllr. Aisling Dolan.

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

Saturday’s vote will tell, of course – but Monday may well become the day when we saw the real manifestation of Sinn Féin’s political rise in southern politics. The Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll showed that, five days out from polling day, Sinn Féin was the most popular party in the State – and at 25 per cent, clearly ahead of Fianna Fáíl at 23, Fine Gael at 20, the Greens at 8, Labour at 4, Social Democrats at 2, and Others – including small parties with one per cent support – at 20.

That was buttressed by the TG4 poll for Kerry on Tuesday which showed Pa Daly of Sinn Féin topping the poll, ahead of the Healy Raes. A month ago even Sinn Féín was writing off his chances.

If Mary Lou McDonald had an uneasy interview with Bryan Dobson on Monday it was more than compensated for by other events.

Fine Gael meanwhile had a different trajectory, putting in its worst showing since December 2014 when it scored only 19 per cent and May 2008 when it scored 20 per cent.

Its general election strategy is now in tatters and it has launched a big attack on its rivals in a desperate attempt to recover ground.

Fianna Fáíl is treading water but believes it has a latent support out there who have yet to show their hands.

But for Sinn Féin, the graph has risen dramatically the other way, an eleven point gain since October.

Only twice has it come so close, getting 24 points twice, once in May 2012 and again in October 2018 – and there has been no sign of a slide so far in this campaign.

Conventional wisdom might dictate a levelling off and a drop for SF in the last days – but then it might even maintain the momentum and have the problem Labour had in 1992…loads of support but not enough candidates.

And that is the proof that even Sinn Féin did not see it coming. It thought the election would see it lose seats so it slimmed down its slate of candidates to respond to that.

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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