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Reporting elections fifty years ago

Leinster Leader 22 February 2007

Reporting elections fifty years ago

by

LIAM KENNY


As the country is animated by General Election fervour it is valuable to recall the Kildare dimension to a previous General Election, that of 1957.   In an era before televised party political broadcasts and the sophisticated spin-doctoring characteristic of modern campaigning the local paper was the main conduit for politicians trying to win the hearts and minds of the county electorate.  And 1957 was no exception with  the big names of the day,  Ger Sweetman of Fine Gael and Labour’s Billy Norton  (both Ministers in the outgoing 1954-57 interparty government) and Tom Harris of Fianna Fail, making their pitches  to the Kildare voters.  The Leinster Leader of 23 February 1957 carried reports of campaign speeches made by the three.

Showing great ecumenism the Editor of the day  printed the statements in parallel columns on the same page.

Speaking deep in  Kildare tillage country at Ballymount (south of Kilcullen).  Tom Harris TD of Fianna Fail said that ‘ whatever faults people might find with Fianna Fail they realised that it was the only party that could give the people an assurance of a united Cabinet’. He aimed to discredit the coalition arrangement which had governed for the previous three years. He said that the ‘splinter parties forgot their supporters when the political bargaining began’. Targeting the farming vote he said that in 1954 the coalition parties had promised the wheat farmers guaranteed prices. However, according to Harris, the coalition had not told the farmers that guaranteed prices would also mean lower prices. In an echo of the modern controversy over public service benchmarking payments, he said that money destined for farmer subsidies had been taken for increases in Civil Service wages promised on the eve of the previous 1954 election.


The difference between entering an election in government and in opposition was highlighted in the content of a speech made by Gerard Sweetman TD, Minister for Finance in the 1954-57 government. His statement, delivered in Celbridge, contained little rhetoric but concentrated on tangible achievement.  He pointed out that Backweston Farm near Celbridge had been purchased by the Government for the establishment of a seed trials farm. He outlined that its main function would be the propagating and testing of new crop varieties. (In modern times Backweston has been further developed as the impressive new home of the State Laboratories).  Continuing with an appeal to farmers he added that over 200 Kildare farmers had benefited from a land reclamation scheme for which he took some credit ‘ of the moneys so spent half of it was found by me since I became Minister for Finance in June, 1954’.

Speaking at a meeting in Naas,  Bill Norton TD, Tanaiste and  Minister for Industry & Commerce, concentrated on jobs and prices.  He said that there was no shortage of public works to be done yet there was also considerable unemployment.  He said it was ‘simply absurd’ that they could not marry up the two things.  He also pointed to success for Labour policy in holding down the prices of household necessities. The price of bread, flour and sugar had been held stable for over two years while butter had come down by 5d per pound and the price of tea was also scheduled to be cut back the following week.

We will return to the General Election of 50 years ago in a forthcoming column.

 

 


Compiled by Liam Kenny from the rich resources of the Leinster Leader files, Local Studies Dept., Kildare County Library & Arts Service, Newbridge.


First published in Leinster Leader 22 February 2007



The last instalment for February from Liam Kenny's regular column 'Nothing New Under the Sun.' Our thanks to Liam. 


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