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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

History in the making as we see our first Boris Budget!

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Budget buddies...Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson after talks in Dublin.

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

Whatever way this week’s budget went, it had already guaranteed its place in Irish political history – as the first Budget shaped by Boris Johnson. Every so often a larger-than-life figure emerge in political life that is distinctive because he or she tends to dominate discourse.

For some they are magnetic. For others they are repellent. For many, they can be both, or variously, attractive and repellent.

If Boris wasn’t Boris, his political career would be long over by now. He is a habitual liar, has had a string of affairs, and is as trustworthy as a snake oil salesman, living his silver-spooned life in a privileged bubble.

But something about him gives him a huge appeal to what pollsters like calling the ‘base’. That’s diehard Tories and diehard Brexiteers.

And most of them are on the opposite side of the social spectrum – working class, unemployed, undereducated.

Boris Johnson is the leader of his party, principally because his MPs believe he represents their best chance of winning the next election. It’s certainly not on his track record, or on his performance levels.

Since becoming prime minister he has stumbled and reeled from one blunder to another.

His prorogation of parliament backfired spectacularly. He had his comeuppance on that when the English Supreme Court ruled it was not lawful. His plan (or non-plans) on Brexit invited ridicule because for all his claims that he was working tirelessly on a deal, Brussels was reporting there were no active or meaningful negotiations taking place.

And then when he finally came up with a proposal it was for Northern Ireland to be taken out of the EU customs union but to stay in the single market for four years.

The Northern institutions would then have a say in deciding if that single-market status would remain after four years. But, given that any party can veto change in the North, that would have allowed the DUP to veto any continuance of the North staying in the single market.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Budget won’t hold much by way of good news or drama

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No great drama...Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

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

A few years ago I came across an archive copy of the Irish Independent from December 1984 – the day after the Budget. There was one word that was unfamiliar to me. That was ‘billfold’, a quaint word that means wallet. The Budget was going to be hard on the billfold, said the report. Well, blow me away with a feather.

What I found extraordinary about it was that just about everything else was the kind of stuff we read when we open up our newspapers, or iPads, after the Budget has been announced.

Increases in the old reliables like tobacco and alcohol. More duty on petrol and diesel. Income tax cuts and rises. Changes to welfare, small increases in the pension, little adjustments in transaction taxes like capital acquisition tax and capital gains tax. And then the capital stuff.

The reality is since we have become part of the single currency, and bound by EU budget rules, the Budget is one of the least dramatic days of the years.

Allied to that is the Confidence & Supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which means that it’s all agreed weeks in advance with few surprises in the bag.

Indeed, if there are no surprises it’s usually an okay thing. We had some very exciting Budgets between October 2010 and October 2014. There were loads of things to report but none of them translated happily into people’s ‘billfolds’.

The severity of those Budgets guaranteed the electoral collapse of the Labour Party electorally. It had gone into government promising no cuts and ended up implementing the very cuts in the areas it had promised to protect.

Unfortunately for it, it had set those promises out in a graphic Tesco-type billboards on the eve of the 2011 election.

A coalition government fell in 1982 after Minister for Finance John Bruton introduced VAT on children’s shoes.

In 1987, another Fine Gael and Labour coalition fell over an austerity budget. Fianna Fáil huffed and puffed about the severity of it. However, the moment he got into office, Charlie Haughey went ahead and imposed exactly the same budget on the Irish people.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

 

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Oughterard protest deeper and different to previous campaigns

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The blocked entrance to the former Connemara Gateway Hotel at the weekend. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

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

It was a weekend back home and a tale of a rescue mission after the in-laws suffered two punctures that saw us end up last weekend on the N59 coming back into Galway. And so we passed through Oughterard, which has never looked anything other than pretty, even when it got a big frayed during the recession. It was after 9pm and the village was almost deserted.

“It’s all died down,” I said in reference to the furore over the proposed direct provision centre; how wrong I was.

As we approached the graveyard, it looked like there was a late, late funeral. Cars were parked on either side of the road. And as we turned the corner, we were greeted by what looked like a lit-up stadium.

There were flaming braziers, security tape and about 40 to 50 people in hi-viz vests pacing up and down outside the hotel.

I was astounded. This was after 9pm on a Sunday night, a full week and a half after the whole controversy had exploded. It was less a protest, more a vigil.

And the bottom line is that these protests in Oughterard are of a different order to those in Ballaghaderreen or in Ennistymon, where centres eventually went ahead.

The intensity of opposition in Oughterard, plus the obvious commitment, means that it’s going to be problematic.

There are rights on both sides – and wrongs on both sides too.

For example, I think the placards being carried by the protesters are hypocritical, with their opposition to ‘inhumane’ deportation centres.

That would suggest their primary concerns lie with the people who will be placed in the centre, when it is really about the impact the centre will have on Oughterard and their lives.

There is validity to that concern. But they need to be honest about it.

The Department of Justice hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory on the communications front. Its manner of engagement just defies logic.

It tenders for centres and then a shroud of secrecy descends. The first anybody learns of it is when it’s a done deal.

Only then, the Department begins its communications campaign with the local community – too late in the day.

Looking at the big picture, there are over 6.082 people living in 39 direct provision centres scattered across the State. This is different to other countries where they tend to be housed in giant national centres – which is far more unsuitable.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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