Election speculation…

I see our friends in the UK Parliament – which hasn’t been too dull lately – have voted in favour of a pre-Christmas general election.

  With a ‘No deal’ Brexit now seemingly off the proverbial table, with Fine Gael in confident mood and Fianna Fáil on the back foot, the sudden outbreak of some structure in British politics has revived speculation about an early election here.

  Fine Gael can very reasonably expect a Brexit deal election bounce – Leo Varadkar and his ministers have acquitted themselves very well – and the party has also been gifted an early Christmas present with Votegate, the ‘phantom voting’ controversy in which a handful of TDs were exposed as having voted for colleagues in the Dáil. (Votegate is largely a Fianna Fáil coloured controversy).

  Fine Gael is suddenly flying in the opinion polls, while Fianna Fáil – for now at least – is backpeddling.

  Will Leo take the plunge? His difficulty is that he will not want to be accused of opportunism, and he will also be conscious that many people traditionally frown at the idea of being visited by canvassers at this time of year. It’s bad enough to be dragged from Coronation Street/Dinner/quality family time in the summer, worse if it’s on a wet and cold late autumn/winter evening. And of course Leo is on the record as saying his preference is for a May poll.

  But…but, but…Leo has to be hugely tempted to go to the country before Christmas.

  ‘Fine Gael ministers pushing for snap election’ ran a headline in Monday’s Irish Independent. “Will there ever be a better time?” one minister was quoted as saying.

  For Fianna Fáil, this is a plot twist they did not see coming. I am not suggesting that Votegate puts paid to their chances of leading the next government, but Fianna Fáil would certainly prefer a few months to pass, in the hope that the controversy fades in people’s minds.

  Fianna Fáil TDs may be thinking that Halloween is scary enough – more phantoms around this year than usual – they do not want to see or hear Leo presenting them with an election version of  ‘Trick or Treat’.

  It’s game on for Fianna Fáil if the election isn’t until March-June next year – an election now is a scary prospect for Micheál Martin’s phantom voting battered troops.

* Just as we go to press on Wednesday, there are reports emerging that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ruled out a pre-Christmas election when addressing ministers at a Cabinet meeting. So, that may be that…although experience tells us to rule nothing out in the world of politics!


Singers’ Festival hits the right note

It’s probably fair to say (and I don’t wish to judge the celebrity judges) that Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh wouldn’t know what hit them if they landed in Knockcroghery for the South Roscommon Singers Festival.

  I enjoy the informal sessions that link the strands of this intimate festival Friday through to Saturday through to the early hours of Monday morning…an engaging, uplifting marathon of song and storytelling.

  A ‘selling point’ of the festival is its  informality, but there is structure too, and considerable organisation on the part of Declan Coyne and his committee.

  The sessions are enjoyable not least because we are in the relaxed world of singers’ circles. The audience applauds the singer…and the next singer emerges from the audience. There is no hesitancy, no airs and graces either. Some of the songs you will hear are famous, some are little known, or more accurately, at risk of being forgotten. But groups like the South Roscommon Singers Circle are keeping these songs alive, maintaining a great tradition, celebrating our culture. Not just Irish culture either; it’s usual for the festival to attract guests and visitors from Scotland, England, America too.

  The festival bubbled along from JJ Harlow’s to the pubs in Knockcroghery, with a session in Paddy Finn’s in Kilteevan as well.

  We went along to JJ’s on Friday, where the guests included the Strawberry Thieves group from London. The lively ‘Soapbox’ debate on climate change was thought-provoking. While some present did not agree with his no-nonsense contribution, a fired up Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice stole the show. Green Party and Extinction Rebellion representatives who were present made perfectly valid points in their passionate presentations, but Fitzmaurice was only prepared to meet them halfway – at most. In truth, he tore many of their assertions to shreds, and when he finally left the stage to a healthy chorus of cheers and ‘well dones’, he was metaphorically taking the soapbox with him. 

  On Sunday, we spent a couple of hours in Paddy Finn’s, where there was a lovely singing session. Amongst the singers present, and happily keeping a low profile, was Jimmy MacCarthy, the man who wrote ‘Ride On’.

  The Annie McNulty Award, which the Roscommon People sponsors, was presented to An Góilín Traditional Singers’ Club from Dublin. There were a number of singers from the Dublin club present in Paddy Finn’s, one of whom (Gerry O’Reilly) gratefully accepted the award. Chatting to Gerry and indeed to the London visitors, it was evident that the guests from Dublin and the UK all greatly enjoyed the weekend.

  The South Roscommon Singers Festival gets a few local tills chiming a little, but mostly it’s about love of singing, celebrating our culture, people having a good time. Personally, I think it’s wonderful to hear the ‘old songs’ being sung, revived, re-born, celebrated…in these small, intimate, passionate gatherings. Long may it continue.