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State must care for those who won’t be home for Christmas

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Date Published: {J}

Two weeks from Christmas and there are hundreds of Galway families who will be forced to spend the festive season dependent on the charity of family or friends after their homes were destroyed by the recent floods. There are dozens of businesses too who are not alone desperately trying to get their premises back into working order, but they’re at the same time missing out on the most lucrative few weeks of the economic year.

And still the Government pays lip service to their suffering, announcing a paltry aid package which is rigidly means tested and forcing them to depend on charity to get them through this nightmare. Yesterday’s Budget was always going to be the main focus for Government over the past month, but its mealy-mouthed response to the flooding crisis across the South and West showed how out of touch this Cabinet has become from the people.

There was no real cognisance of the human suffering of so many; no acceptance of the nightmare they were dealing with in towns, villages and on underwater farms up and down the county.

Even now, there is a lack of real commitment to, firstly, getting people back into their homes and, secondly, to addressing how it will work to prevent a re-occurrence of this scale of disaster again.

There have been many suggestions, ranging from dredging the main rivers – the Shannon in particular – to remove the build-up of silt over the years to coming up with a comprehensive flood prevention programme. Most of the focus must be on preventing this happening in the future, but attention also needs to be given as to how and why it happened in the first place.

Why was planning permission given to build so many housing estates on traditional flood plains? Did the construction of the new M6 play any part in forcing displaced water to higher levels? Was the response all that it should have been?

The emergency services are certainly not to blame because they – and local authority workers – pulled out all the stops. So too did communities who proved that the fastest way to resolving a crisis is to bypass bureaucracy altogether.

But why wasn’t the fire service officially deployed in relief work from the start? Why wasn’t the army called out to help with flood relief or at the very least to fill and place sandbags as a barrier in vulnerable areas? Why was so much left to the heroism of ordinary people who risked life and limb through the night to ease the flow of water through their neighbours’ homes?

Why did it take the Taoiseach so long to even visit the flooded areas – and even then he seemed to be travelling with one hand as long as the other; offering a mere €10 million or €12 million as though this was the cure-all compensation package when it reality it wouldn’t suffice to repair one village?

Yes, this was an unprecedented event and it would have been impossible for any Government anywhere to have a plan of action that would have ensured no damage at all.

But unfortunately it probably won’t be too long before we see a nightmare like this unfurling again – and what initiatives will the Government have announced by then to make sure we minimise the impact of the floods next time?

Average compensation pay-outs of €300 are just adding insult to injury and, while no one wants to substitute State pay-outs for domestic insurance, there is a critical need to acknowledge the scale if the crisis as well.

This is a nightmare for families whose homes have been destroyed; even if they get them habitable for Christmas, so much has been lost. Many won’t even manage that and for them the nightmare goes on.

Every taxpayer in the land is worse off after yesterday’s Budget, but those of us still in our homes and looking forward to Christmas it two weeks time can take relative comfort from that.

For the rest, the State has a duty to alleviate the suffering of those who won’t be home for Christmas, who won’t be able to farm their land for a few months yet, who won’t be back in business before the end of 2009. We may be broke but we’re not so broke that we can turn our backs on our neighbours in their time of greatest need.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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