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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

New Taoiseach has to rescue the country – and Fianna Fáil

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Seal of office.... new Taoiseach Micheál Martin with President Michael D Higgins at Aras an Uachtarain.

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

New governments almost always step into the unknown – but the permutations have rarely been as polarized as they are for the three components in Ireland’s new regime, as they approach the end of their first week in office.

At one end of the spectrum, we could be in for the mother of all recessions – only this time one affecting everybody. We might need another bailout – only this time there might not be anybody willing to give it to us, or we will have to join a very long queue.

An infinitely more optimistic assessment could see Ireland exiting from the worst of the Covid-19 downturn by the end of the year, leaving the State with a challenge – but an achievable one.

In that scenario, by the end of 2021, we might be on a steep upward trajectory again. That would obviously also depend on Covid-19 not producing a big second wave – or alternatively a vaccine being found.

Truth is the reality probably lies somewhere between those two extremes.

The coming months should tell a lot about where coronavirus is at, and how countries are beginning to recover.

But history shows we have had such outbreaks before, and the world has managed to bounce back. The difference this time is that modern travel has made it all happen so much quicker and across a much wider area – and possibly cutting much deeper as well.

By the time it has made its way through Africa, the Middle East and South America will Covid-19 have claimed as many lives as the 50 million killed by the Spanish flu?

And now we have a new Government; an unusual new Government in keeping with a very unusual period in our history.

Micheál Martin has been waiting a long time to become Taoiseach. He certainly felt it could have happened in different circumstances, as a rotating Taoiseach in a coalition that was unimaginable up until the last decade – a merging of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The irony is that moment of triumph for Martin might also be the moment of the end for Fianna Fáil.

He inherited the party at its lowest ever ebb – having taken a drubbing for its responsibility in losing Ireland its sovereignty.

He seemed to be taking the party back on an upward trajectory with solid elections in 2016 (general) and again in the 2019 locals.

But the great catch-all party of de Valera and Lemass and Haughey and Ahern could no longer catch all.

 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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Chaos beckons if Coalition programme bites the dust

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Political trinity...moment of truth for Leo Varadkar, Eamon Ryan and Micheal Martin.

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

There was an ad that ran on telly for many years for a tinned fruit company. It showed a middle-aged chisel-jawed man in a linen suit and Panama hat arriving at a fruit planation somewhere in Latin America. This rich man tasted the fruit. The locals gathered and watched with bated breath for his verdict. When he nodded his head, the gleeful should went out ‘The Man from Del Monte Says Yes!’ Cue widespread celebration.

I remember coming across an article about the marginal lives of those who work on fruit plantations in the developing world, and their dependency on fickle harvests, and even more fickle world food prices. The headline was really clever: What happens when the man from Del Monte says NO.

So that’s the kind of quandary that faces us this weekend when we find out the fate of this new government, before it has been even fully formed.

If any of the three parties (in reality the Greens) vote down the programme for government, we are in for a very unpredictable and very turbulent moment in Irish politics.

The choices are unpalatable. But they will have to be made. And somehow the country will muddle through. But will the chance be lost to tackle the big environmental and climate change issues – or the equally daunting economic depression looming around us?

What happens if the Man from Del Monte says No.

In Fine Gael, the vote is weighted in favour of the parliamentary party, which has 50 per cent of the share. With TDs and Senators already unanimously backing the deal, it’s as near as you can get to a foregone conclusion.

Fianna Fáil’s 14,500 members will decide its position. There are some in the party who feel very uneasy about a coalition with Fine Gael, which they believe will result in a collapse of identity.

Others are suspicious of the Greens but some of their fears have been allayed by the strong commitments on REPS (Rural Environment Protection Scheme) money in the programme. Feedback from constituency meetings is that the 50 per cent threshold will be easily surpassed.

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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Real work starts now after Government deal is done

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Outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Simon Coveney announce details of the Programme for Government this week.

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

Programmes for Governments are ultimately only words on a page – albeit many, many words. The one produced by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens runs to over 170 pages of closely-spaced text – that’s the size of many airport novels.

It’s not fiction, though it’s not fact yet either; just hundreds and hundreds of aspirations – some big, some small, some befuddling.

If they all were to happen, it would have a transformative impact on society. If even half of it is achieved it will be a game-changer.

But that said, some measures are as real as a winning lottery ticket; there’s a chance it might happen. But we know what that chance is.

That said, there is no doubt that the programme has a strong green hue to it. As Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin said in her statement endorsing it on Monday night, it is not about the programme, but getting it implemented.

And nobody is under any illusion that it’s going to be tough.

Many of the measures are long-term and that just doesn’t suit short-term government. Getting carbon emissions down by seven per cent will really only begin to be seen – if it happens – towards the end of the decade.

Even though a massive €360 million a year has been earmarked for walking and cycling infrastructure, we are not going to see new pathways and cycle ways appear like mushrooms overnight.

The reality is the fruits of many of those policies will only be seen after this Government has ended. And given the absolute horror it faces, its chances of re-election look slim already.

That said, by any yardstick, the programme is a good one for the Greens. Many of the 17 demands they sent in April to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have been delivered – even if the language around a lot of them is a little bit woolly and aspirational.

However, the complexion of the party has changed. Some of its membership no longer accept the narrow environmental message but say that social justice and climate justice are intertwined.

In other words, they place the party very firmly to the left – even if they are still a minority within the party.

There have been dissenting voices in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – but the expectation has always been that their membership will follow the views of the leadership on the matter.

 

 

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