96 years ago it was day two of the Somme offensive. The Battle of the Somme was to last until November 18th and was one of the biggest battles of the first world war. At the end of almost five months the battle lines had shifted by a mere six miles but the cost in lives lost and damaged was enormous.
Day one had witnessed the British Army suffer nearly 60,000 casualties – the worst day in its history. 19,240 dead; 35,493 wounded and 2152 missing.
Day one had also seen the 36th Ulster Division, largely made up of members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, attack the Schwaben Redoubt. Unlike most other elements of the British Army on that first day the Ulster Division succeeded in capturing its initial objectives. The Redoubt itself did not fall until mid October.
By the end of Day two it had lost 5500 men killed, wounded or missing. By the end of the Battle five months later there were over one million casualties on all sides.
The impact on local, mainly protestant, communities across Ulster - from Antrim to Cavan, and from Down to Donegal was profound. Tens of thousands of families were touched by the colossal losses at the Somme. Local history tells of the three Donaldson brothers from Comber in county Down who were aged between 19 and 21 and who all died together on Day one at Thiepval, and the three Hobbs brothers – David, Andrew and Robert - from Union Street in Lurgan who all died on the Somme.
The Battle of the Somme is still remembered. Each year commemorations are held in towns and villages throughout the north.
The Orange Order, many of whose members fought and died at the Somme, plays a central part in these.
Tomorrow Drew Nelson the Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland leads a delegation from the Orange Order to address Seanad Éireann. It is a first and a historic occasion in its own right. Along with the meeting last week between Martin McGuinness and Elizabeth 11 it is a measure of how much the peace process is reshaping relationships on the island of Ireland.
It will also mark the first public occasion that a member of Sinn Féin, Senator David Cullinane, will address the Orange.
More on this tomorrow.
The great electronic voting machine scandal
There are countless irresponsible decisions from the Celtic Tiger days which expose the incompetence and corrupt practices of the political system. Fraudulent planning processes, bad policies, a failure to invest for the future in public services, and the greed of the golden circles of politicians, financiers and developers all pushed the state to the verge of bankruptcy.
One ill considered example of this was the decision by the Fianna Fail government in 2002 to spend €52 million on an electronic voting machine system.
The machines were used on a trial basis in 3 constituencies in the 2002 general election - Dublin North, Dublin West and Meath and in seven constituencies during the Nice referendum of the same year. The government planned to extend their use. However a 2002 report raised concerns about the security of the machines. The absence of a paper trail to verify conclusions also worried many.
In 2004 the government set up the Independent Commission on Electronic Voting and Counting at Elections (CEV) which produced a number of reports. In July 06 a report by CEV suggested that the machines were still usable but needed further modifications and a new software package.
However it emerged in tests that the ‘foolproof’ software wasn’t quite as foolproof as first claimed. In a tied election the machines could select the wrong candidate. There was also a suggestion that it might be possible to manipulate the vote data without detection, opening up the possibility of accusations of serious malpractice or corruption.
Sorting all of this out would have required an additional €10 million on to the original price tag. Fianna Fáil wanted to proceed but their partners in government the Progressive Democrats said no.
The then Minister for the Environment Dick Roche fell back on the much used, abused but frequently successful devise of establishing a committee, in this case a Cabinet Sub-committee, to consider the recommendations by the CEV. It pushed the decision back a few years.
In the meantime the machines were put into cold storage in 14 locations around the state where they have sat ever since gathering dust but at a huge continuing cost to the tax payer.
In 2004 the cost of storage was €658,000. In the subsequent four years it varied between €696,000, €706,000, €489,000 and €204,000. Finally in 2009 the proposal to use them in elections was scrapped.
It has taken the powers that be another three years since then to finally agree a contract with a recycling company to get rid of the machines.
This scandal has cost the Irish taxpayer somewhere in the region of €55 million. Imagine the hospital beds that could have paid for or the local schools it could have built. The great electronic voting machine scandal is an example of all that was wrong during the Celtic tiger years.