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Technology casts a tangled web – but there’s no substitute for shoe leather!

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 08-May-2013

There was a short space of time during the Democratic Party primaries for the US Presidential election in 2004 that technology had finally come into its own. Howard Dean was a medical doctor and a politician, a relatively obscure one in the US context, governor of the small liberal north-eastern state of Vermont. And in 2003, he made an explosive speech in California becoming the first high-ranking Democrat to openly oppose the invasion of Iraq.

"What I want to know is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting the President’s unilateral intervention in Iraq?" was the rhetorical question he asked that caught him such attention.

His campaign to become his party’s candidate for the Presidency grew quickly on the back of that speech. He was championed by younger and more radical democrats, students and those leaning to the left.

When Dean started out he was perhaps tenth or eleventh favourite to win the nomination. His cause was helped by a lot of media coverage which identified him as the figurehead for the anti-war movement in the party.

What really catapulted his campaign, though, was another development entirely. His campaign team used the internet in a way that no other candidate had used it before. Specifically they used a site called meetup.com to recruit supporters and raise funds.

As anybody who has ever followed American politics knows, elections there are a costly business.

Correction – expensive to the point of mind-bogglingly gargantuan proportions; multimillionaires only need apply.

But Dean’s team used the internet as a tool for getting anti-war activists to raise funds for campaign. They raised millions. Within a matter of months, he had gone from back-marker to front-runner.

Of course, by the time primary season opened, he was beginning to lose some traction as his opponents began to ask searching questions about his suitability and winability. He lost all momentum when he disconcertingly gave an over-the-top speech after finishing third in the Iowa caucus, finishing off with an elongated ‘yeah’ that became known as the ‘Dean Scream’. His opponents made great play of it. Clearly he had lost the plot. Sadly for him, he had also lost the election.

A lot of the coverage of Dean in 2003 wasn’t so much about him or his issues but about the nature of his campaign. The web had arrived, we were told. This was a game-changer, which would forever change the way in which elections were run… and won.

Well, not quite. Sure, what worked for Dean worked for others later, mainly Barack Obama. But the notion that elections would be fought on the web in the future didn’t add up. What the internet was best for, was raising funds and Obama raised millions of dollars that way.

But as a way of influencing the way people voted, technology was (and still is) found wanting.

The impact of the Dean campaign was not lost on this side of the Atlantic. By the time the 2007 general election came around, there were cartloads of articles – writen by people like me – dutifully intoning to everybody how the internet would win and lose elections.

Many politicians and putative politicians took it up, especially from the younger generation. Neither Facebook nor Twitter had taken off at that stage so what we got were lots of new home pages, blogs to beat the band, and some video stuff.

And its impact? Minimal, I’m afraid to say. Candidates spent hours and hours writing blogs documenting every move in their campaigns and highlighting all their issues. But just because there was a huge vogue for them in the media didn’t mean that anybody was reading them.

When you looked at the metrics, a miniscule amount of people were linking to the stuff. For all the effort that was expended, the return was minimal.

Later, a few innovative internet salespeople got politicians and political parties to set up gee-whiz home pages, complete with links to Twitter and Facebook as well as facilities for online donations.

But this wasn’t American and there was just not the critical mass (ie a population of a quarter of a billion) to raise decent money.

Of course, that never meant politicians could turn their back and have no online presence. They need to be on the web and it also helps to be on twitter or on facebook. But the purpose behind it has changed. It’s required as part of the overall service rather than as a tool for winning elections.

The web presence allows people to find out about clinics, what the politician is up to, what their views and causes are. It helps people form their opinions but is passive rather than active.

As I write this I’m looking at Paul Connaughton’s excellent home page. As a young professional politician, he’s made sure to include all his speeches, the link to his social media account, plus a ‘connect with Paul’ link giving information on his clinics, phone contacts, and a direct messaging facility. I just picked him at random, but it’s more or less the same for all his fellow TDs and Senators in Galway City and county.

So an online presence has become essential but not decisive. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the social media domain. Twitter has come to play a very important part in political dialogue.

Many TDs (especially the younger ones) have Twitter accounts.

The medium is an informal one and for a politician it can serve as a very useful political safety valve. Less formal than the Dáil and less onerous than having to nail your colours to the mast with an on-the-record quote to the media, Twitter has allowed politicians to do a bit of venting in a very direct way.

Because they are so short (140 characters), the message can often be open to interpretation. Which can suit the politician who is challenged by his superiors and can say: ‘Well, I can’t interpret the way in which other folk have interpreted my innocent little tweet!”.

For some, no such obfuscation was necessary.

When Dan Boyle was a senator and chairman of the Green Party when it was in coalition with Fianna Fail, he used Twitter to make critical comments of the major party, its Ministers and its policies. In other words, he used the medium to fulfil his role which he regarded as the moral conscience of his party.

More recently, Colm Keaveney showed off how attentive a student of classics he had been in school when he tweeted “Alea iacta est” (the die is cast) on the night before he voted against the Government on the Budget vote.

He followed it up the next day with “acta non verba” (deeds not words) before actually casting the vote that would cast himself into the wilderness.

But the classic new media (twitter) can only work effectively when the old media (newspapers, radio and television) pick up and run with it.

Keaveney has about 4,000 followers on Twitter which is a small enough audience. But a lot of those are media people. So the medium only really works when those media people broadcast it or write about it.

The classic example of that was Fine Gael during the 2011 election. The party took down its website and replaced it with a simple video of Enda Kenny having a ‘conversation’ inviting people to give their views.

The party promised to take them all on board on its rebuilt website. It was an election stunt dreamed up by a clever consultant.

It achieved what it set out to do; it attracted massive media attention and thousands of replies. Of course when the election was over, it was all dropped. Most of the twitter accounts created for candidates withered on the vine.

Technology is important – vital even – and it’s a game changer….but not in the way that most people imagined.

To win elections, shoe leather remains the most important asset… by far.

hmcgee@irishtimes.com

twitter: @harrymcgee

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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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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Moment of truth for Galway U21s

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 01-May-2013

 Dara Bradley

FOUR matches, four victories, one after extra-time, a Connacht title, four goals and 56 points scored, four goals and 30 points conceded, a heap of wides from their opponents, sinews strained, buckets of sweat and blood spilled.

It’s been one hell of a roller coaster campaign for the Galway U21 footballers but all that will be forgotten come 7pm on Saturday evening at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick when they cross swords with Cork for the honour of being crowned Cadbury’s All-Ireland champions.

Six weeks ago as Galway set out on their 2013 U21 journey against Sligo in Tuam, the May Bank Holiday weekend final was always the target. They took each game as it came and now it has come down to this – 60 minutes of football to decide who the best U21 team in the land is.

And while there were times along the way when Alan Flynn’s charges looked like they’d fall off the wagon, against Mayo, against Roscommon and again against Kildare, Galway showed resilience and mental strength to time and again bounce back and defy the odds. Often down, never out. It is that perseverance that will stand to Galway in the heat of battle this weekend.

Cork has won an All-Ireland at this grade more times than any other county since the competition’s inception in the 1960s. The most recent of their 11 titles was won in 2009, and they’ve claimed a three-in-a-row of Munster titles with a defeat of Tipperary last month.

Interestingly, five players – Alan Cronin, Jamie Wall, John O’Rourke, Tom Clancy and Damien Cahalene, the son of former inter-county player Niall – that are expected to start this Saturday lined out in each of the last three Munster finals, so they have experience of playing in the pressure cauldrons.

Galway aren’t as experienced. True, a couple of players already have a All-Ireland medal from 2011 – a year Galway beat Cork in the semi-final – but there are a lot of young guns in the panel. Of the squad of 33, about 19 of them are young enough to play U21 next year as well, while eight or nine of the starting 15 will be eligible next year, although you wouldn’t think it given the levelheadedness they’ve displayed throughout the past six weeks.

Galway had plenty to spare over a hapless Sligo outfit in Tuam the first day out, winning by 16 points, which didn’t flatter them, but old rivals Mayo in the following game at the same venue was a different story. After a tense and tight hour of fare, Galway took the spoils after showing immense character to dig it out by two points in a dogfight, 0-9 to 0-7.

Fighting qualities were needed again in the Connacht final in Hyde Park against Roscommon – Galway were minutes from being knocked out of the championship when a heroic comeback, three points in as many minutes from Kilkerrin/Clonberne’s Shane Walsh, rescued extra-time, a period which Galway never looked like losing.

The Tribesmen took their chances when they presented themselves, a trait that also saw them knock-out Kieran McGeeney’s highly rated and much fancied Kildare outfit in a thriller at Tullamore a fortnight ago.

The Lilywhites were wasteful, true, but that’s their problem, and Galway just had too much natural footballing class to take their chances and emerge with a deserved five points, 2-10 to 2-5 victory, despite 19 wides from the vanquished.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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GalwayÕs U-13 and U-16 sides both through to national finals

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 14-May-2013

Mike Rafferty

It proved to be a very successful weekend for Galway Schoolboy soccer as two representative sides qualified for national finals at the end of the month.

It was drama all the way in Eamonn Deacy Park on Saturday afternoon as the U-13 side drew 1-1 with the Midlands League, but came through the dreaded penalty shootout to prevail by 5-4.

 

Meanwhile the U-16 side had to travel to Cork, where they emerged 2-1 winners following a very impressive performance. For the second game in succession, it was the goals of the Connolly brothers that proved crucial to both team’s success.

Andrew lines out with the U-16 side and he notched both their scores in terrific away win, while younger brother Aaron was on target for the U-13 side and also converted the winning spot kick.

Mervue United captured a third consecutive Connacht Youth Cup with an impressive 4-1 win over Castlebar Celtic in Milebush on Saturday.

SFAI U-13 INTER LEAGUE SEMI FINAL

Galway League 1

Midlands League 1

(AET-Galway won 5-4 on pens)

A low scoring contest might indicate few chances, but one has to credit two outstanding defences whose splendid covering and marshalling of the front men was a joy to watch.

Galway’s Oisin McDonagh and Adam Rooney never put a foot wrong in central defence, while full-backs Byron Lydon and Matthew Tierney were equally efficient in defence, and getting forward with regular forays.

Further afield, they matched the visitors in terms of intensity and creativity and in the second half in particular should have pulled away from a Midlands side that won the U-12 national title last year.

The visitors certainly offered the greater attacking threat in the opening half, but found home custodian Mark Greaney in top form. Galway’s best chance fell to Joshua Quinlivan, but he pulled an effort wide of the target.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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