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Will Sinn Féin overcome effect of bad publicity?

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Gerry Adams....moment of truth.

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

It was the American showman Phineas T Barnum who was supposed to have coined the phrase there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Anyone following poll data for Sinn Féin in recent months might believe it has a ring to truth in it. No matter what past scandal and outrage has cropped up, the party still seems to be forging ahead.

Last year, Gerry Adams was arrested in connection with the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville over 40 years ago. The arrest happened just before the local elections. The result was a huge bounce in the polls for Sinn Féin.

Then in the autumn, Maíria Cahill came forward with her story about kangaroo trials following her allegations of being raped by an IRA member. What she said was damaging to Adams in particular but there was no evidence Sinn Féin suffered in the polls.

But is Sinn Féin really undamaged by the slew of allegations? Sometimes, reactions in opinion polls lag a little behind the news curve. And sometimes it takes some time for a particular trend to manifest itself.

The language of the Barnum quote is alluring and memorable but it’s not really an iron law of reality.

In the past few months, there have been numerous reminders of the Republican movement’s less savoury side over the past thirty years.

Most Sinn Féin spokespeople – sorry, all Sinn Féin spokespeople – have said that some of the attacks are politically motivated, or are being manipulated for cynical political purposes.

And of course, some are. There is no doubt about it.

But it’s hard to see the point that Sinn Féin is making. It is no slouch itself when it comes to making opportunistic and cynical political attacks on its opponents. Indeed, this is one areas where Irish politics affords equal opportunities to everybody.

When controversies erupt in the political sphere, the initial allegation can seem manageable. The real damage is done, however, when more allegations emerge or when the controversy does not look like reaching its conclusion.

In other words, it gets to a stage where it is not what is written in the headlines that causes political damage but the very fact that the adverse headlines continue.

We often hear the concept of death by a thousand cuts. Charlie Haughey survived a lot of scandals and three heaves against him. In the end what did for him was an old allegation, easily defended, reheated. But it seemed that a tipping point had been reached.

It was the same for Bertie Ahern. The biggest allegation against him, of all this extra money and ‘dig out’ donations, was made in September of 2007 and yet he seemed to weather the storm. But the headlines just kept coming and in the end the accumulation of a lot of small controversies just became too much.

Are we seeing the same thing with Sinn Féin now? Are we going to see the party, and its leader, facing dozens of allegations about the most egregious behaviour of republicans during the height of the Troubles.

This week RTE PrimeTime Investigates did a fine documentary, Above the Law, about punishment shootings and beatings during the conflict.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

City’s cycling plans must get out of the slow lane

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Days like this...the Galway Community Cycle making its way along Grattan Road.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

From about the age of ten I began cycling to school every day, from Glenard into Sea Road – not alone in and out in the morning and afternoon, but also home and back at lunch-time – because everybody had dinner in the middle of the day in the 1980s.

The concept of separate facilities for cycling back then were as alien as having parking for spaceships. Traffic was much lighter though; only a third, maybe a quarter, of the cars on the road today.

I can remember accidents involving bikes – fatal and serious ones – during my youth. I’d say up to half the pupils in my school cycled every day.

That picture has changed over the years. The Galway Transport Strategy quotes a figure from the 2011 Census which says that five per cent of people cycle to work, school or college.

The city is compact and relatively small. The strategy recommends “high quality facilities for walking and cycling” to encourage more people to walk and cycle to school, to work, to the shops, or for leisure.

So what’s happened in the 30 years since I left Galway?

Traffic volumes have increased and the number of people using bikes for the daily commute has decreased. There are some bicycle lanes in the city but the percentage is very small compared to other Irish cities.

I spent a few hours cycling around Galway last week and wrote a piece on it for The Irish Times. I might have cycled in and out to school when I was a kid but I would not put my eleven-year-old daughter on a bike in Galway. It’s just not safe enough.

I put in a number of queries to Galway City Council last week and they told me there was a total of 20.45 kilometres in the city – that excludes off-road and park cycle tracks such as NUIG.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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

Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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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