A nostalgic look at the 2004 Local Elections in Old Athlone

Athlone man, Morgan Fagg was a Labour candidate when he was just 22 years old, at the time of the 2004 Local Elections.  In response to a recent irishmokefill story about that election, 10 years ago, Morgan has written of his own experiences of that period in his life.  irishsmokefill is pleased that Morgan has agreed to Guest Blog here today, with his story.

Morgan Fagg
Morgan Fagg

By Morgan Fagg

Gather around children, this is the tale of the 2004 local elections and the time I ran as a young man of 22 for Athlone Town Council. How the times have changed since I was a boy.

If a week is a long time in politics then what changes have we seen in the last 500 weeks?

Back in my day, you could have ran for the Green Party or the Progressive Democrats but your best chance of success was to run for Fianna Fail who nearly had an overall majority in the Dail and for a long time a complete majority in the Urban District Council and later Athlone Town Council.

Back in 2004, the council had moved into a new premises, which we used to call the new town hall after using the Fire Station for temporary meetings while the mighty new multi million pound building was built.

I still remember marching as a fresher on the old UDC building in 1999 as A.I.T. students demanded a pedestrian crossing on the Dublin Road. Within a few years I was running as a candidate from my student leader soapbox in A.I.T.´s Student Union.

In 2004, I had just graduated with a degree in Business Studies and Ireland was awash with money and we clearly weren´t used to it as we had only changed from old money called Punts a few years earlier.

Athlone had closed its library, ´The Father Mathew Hall´and moved to the state of the art Civic Office which is now apparently closing after about 100 monthly meetings of Athlone Town Council.

I used to attend the monthly meetings, and I’ve sat and listened from the public gallery, usually alone, sometimes with independent candidate Jim Behan and various others.

I’ve sat in the press box needlessly as the now defunct Athlone Voice went to print on a Monday evening, voiceless as my stories became old news by the end of week. Back then you got your local news from a friend on the phone or a local paper and not from a local paper on your smart phone.

It was a different time back then, Mark Zuckerberg had his face in a book and writing on someone´s wall was called graffiti and poking a friend was an irritation.

When all my Apple products were bought in Behan´s Fruit N´Veg and the only people with an I-pad, had a lazy eye.

Before selfies and Lady Gaga´s ´Paparazzi´, we were still shaking it like a Polaroid picture to OutKast´s ´Hey Yeah´

Nobody in Mullingar had ever heard of a band called One Direction and an unheard of an Irish-African-American called Barrack Obama was about to break onto the world stage.

10 years ago, an unknown Obama became famous for his speech supporting Senator John Kerry´s presidential campaign against incumbent George Bush.  A decade later and John Kerry is now Obama´s secretary.

George Bush was visiting Ireland in the run up to the election so we deployed everything to protect him from the Irish. Pretty sure they had more security here than when he went to Iraq.

I marched down Dublin´s streets with the rest of the country on the 15th of February which was the biggest Irish protest against war mongering since Willy Patrick Hitler internationally condemned his Austrian uncle.

In cinemas, we were watching the first Spiderman sequel, Spiderman 2, laughing at Anchorman, the legend of Ron Burgundy and we saw the first Saw film. Before prohibition we were smoking in pubs, clubs and restaurants and long before Love Hate, we watched in despair as an Irish horse was caught snorting coke at the Olympics, well that´s how I remember it all kids.

Nationally there was a man called Michael D who couldn’t get the Labour nomination to run in the 2004 Presidential Election and locally 22 candidates went knocking on your door looking for your vote. Enough interruptions at dinner time to make you want to tear up their manifestos in front of a litter warden.

Cllr. Nicky McFadden, later a Senator and Dail Deputy topped the poll with enough votes to almost win her a second seat and I bowed out in the second round, with a mere 46 votes.

Might seem strange to reflect on an old Town Council election but with the Council closing, we can no longer look forward to another one and looking back is sadly all we can do.

South Westmeath Election Forum this coming Wednesday

With the local elections fast approaching, the Westmeath Independent is hosting a public debate involving Athlone area candidates who are seeking election to Westmeath County Council on May 23.

With Athlone Town Council being abolished, this local election carries added significance in the town and its surrounding areas.

The public forum is taking place in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Athlone, on Wednesday next (May 14) at 7pm. All candidates for the Athlone Municipal District of Westmeath County Council have been invited to participate.

It is hoped the event will result in a lively and engaging debate on the issues that matter to people in Athlone and other parts of South Westmeath.

The format for the evening will allow each candidate to briefly outline their election priorities at the outset. This will be followed by a question and answer session.

There will also be opportunities for spontaneous questions from the floor.

Members of the public are being invited to attend the event and submit questions in advance, via the Westmeath Independent and website. Details can be found at: www.westmeathindependent.ie/electionforum


Unpredictable – But It’s All To Play For – Nobody Has Voted Yet!

There is little idea at the moment of what’s going to happen at these elections. Nobody trusts anyone. They don’t trust the politicians or the parties, or the Independents. Usually the polls are bang on by about 3% one way or the other. However they all got it wrong last October for the Seanad Referendum. There was barely a poll out of scores which suggested that Seanad Eireann would remain in situ. Yet that is what happened after Ireland had its say when a majority of more than 42,000 people extra voted for the Seanad to remain open.

At the moment, we have three elections coming in a fortnight’s time. The Council’s. The European. The by elections for Longford/Westmeath and Dublin West.

Three papers will go to people in some regions, but two papers will go to people in most parts of the country.

Nobody knows what’s going to happen, or what the general population is thinking.

Fine Gael have their entrenched voters for the most part, as has Sinn Fein despite the arrest by the PSNI of their President Gerry Adams. Fianna Fail voters have still not, almost four years later, returned home to the fold. Forget about Labour, they are mostly gone and mostly forgotten. Only the really impressive hard-working Labour candidates have a hope, but most of their members will be lost. Independents are there, and they are an alternative of sorts. However nobody knows what sort of alliances will be formed after the election, i.e. will Independents bring forward a new political party? Or will most of them stay on their own, and be limited in what they can achieve? But signs are good for most with an Independent tag.

It’s all to play for! The latest Red C poll, which is generally the one which the political people pay heed of goes something like this: Ind 25%, FG 25%, FF 21%, SF 18%, and Lab 11%.

The countdown begins, and the elections are on Friday, May23rd. In previous times you would have a fair idea what was happening. But austerity, broken promises, and a more questioning and assertive electorate has left them all having to work their fingers to the bone for votes.

All candidates are saying that they are getting on well on the doors, but we know for a fact that Labour are getting ate alive. One Labour candidate was followed and verbally abused in Dublin, and another had their literature torn up in front of them in the midlands. So it’s safe to say that it’s not looking well there. However this is the one which changes everything, maybe, or maybe it’ll be all back to the two and a half party system, in which Sinn Fein will be the half. But nobody has voted yet, so it’s still all to play for.