Posted by Jason O on Oct 8, 2015 in Irish Politics
I was listening to a podcast about political reform recently (I know, I know) and what struck was how utterly depressing it was. It had the standard format: a load of non-politicians had one of those summer school discussions about electoral reform et al. It then finished with the reality: our political class of whatever party just don’t want to change it or themselves.
The truth is, political reform in a meaningful sense is never going to happen through conventional politics. There are literally too many vested interests within the system.
So what’s an ordinary citizen to do?
There is one power left, that politicians haven’t control over.
The power to not vote.
The what, says you?
When you are faced with a political system that is incapable of offering real change, the next logical step is to remove its legitimacy. At the moment, the Dail, as a body, can say with genuine conviction that it is the forum of the Irish people, and that the laws it passes are legitimate. It would be right, because in 2011 70% of registered voters cast their ballots for it. Likewise, it can legitimately claim that even unpopular water policies are legitimate, as are the Gardai enforcing those policies as the public order wing of the Irish people.
But what happens if less than 50% of registered voters vote?
Then you’re in a different ball game. Then the Dail is no longer the moral voice of the Irish people, just another vested interest, albeit one with the power to actually take money from your pocket and with an army of uniform enforcers at its disposal.
Suddenly, a demonstration of 100,000 marching on the Dail is no longer a challenge to “the country” because a Dail elected on a turnout under 50% doesn’t speak for the country. Suddenly, the Gardai are no longer fellow citizens we have given special powers to, but just the organised heavy mob of a section of the country. Legitimacy matters.
That’s outrageous, says you. The Dail would still have legal authority, regardless if what percentage of the Irish people vote.
That’s true. That was also the argument the British used in 1916. But Dublin Castle and the Royal Irish Constabulary went from being the legitimate legal order in the country to a force ordinary people were willing to shoot dead in the streets because they lacked legitimacy. Suddenly a crowd breaking through the gates of Leinster House and beating up Gardai or dragging the Ceann Comhairle or cabinet from the chamber are not a mob. If a Dail gets less than 50% turnout, that mob becomes just another vested interest competing with the vested interest Dail.
When you make the point about turnout to people in the political class they sneer and say it doesn’t matter what the turnout is. That’s what the British thought. That’s what Ceausescu thought. That’s what the Stasi thought right up to the moment a Stasi card went from being a tool of power and privilege to a piece of evidence. But when a crowd believes it has moral legitimacy it also believes that the prevailing order doesn’t, and suddenly a Garda uniform means much less.
Does this amount to a hill of beans? Probably not. A majority of the Irish electorate will vote legitimacy in the Dail at the election, and therefore it is legitimate.
But that tool always remains available to us all, the power to withhold legitimacy.
Posted by Jason O on Oct 4, 2015 in US Politics
It will surprise some to hear it, but if I were an American I don’t think I’d be against gun ownership. Guns are part of the American tradition, and they’re not going away anytime soon. We Europeans struggle to understand one fundamental point that doesn’t exist here or in the rest of the industrialised west, and it’s this: a huge number of Americans believe that other Americans will try to murder them. Imagine living in a society where fear permeates to that level. It’s akin, say, to life under the Soviets, where ordinary citizens feared the KGB appearing in the dead of night at your home. Only in the US, it’s been privatized. It’s not the state, it’s other citizens.
We struggle to grasp that. We’re naïve because our children don’t have lockdown drills but, you know, just go to school. We can’t buy child-sized flak jackets easily. Just go onto the NRA’s excellent website and watch their videos. The worried father, who loves his family, fears for their safety and wants to protect them. What’s more decent than that? We can’t understand that. Not the desire to protect family, but his fear. He lives in one of those countries, like Colombia or Brazil or Pakistan, where life is cheap. We just can’t understand that, and that’s why we roll our eyes when we watch the video. His brain actually works differently from ours, and you can’t blame him. Your brain would work differently if you lived in a country where you believed your fellow citizens are trying to murder you on a daily basis. Yes, we do have gun crime and tiger kidnapping and home invasions, but even with all those there is not a single serious Irish politician who advocates US gun policies.
The response of the NRA is always the same: President Obama is “politicising” gun shootings, as if he was blaming a typhoon or an earthquake on the Republicans. They then follow it up with a call for more guns. Always. In short, the logical NRA outcome is that every person over 18 years old (I assume: even they don’t want to arm children, right?) should be armed all the time and permitted to bring whatever weapons wherever they want. It’s an interesting concept, in that it would address the NRA argument that unarmed people can’t defend themselves. If the entire adult population is armed, it almost certainly would reduce the number of people killed by some lone nut. But it would also increase the number of emotional episodes that turn into gun incidents. Funnily enough, I’ve never seen the NRA apply the “more guns” argument to 9/11. Have I missed that? You know, the NRA suggesting that if every passenger on a plane was carrying a gun, planes would be safer from hijackers. They don’t seem to make that argument.
Still, as a lobbying organisation, you have to give it to the NRA. They are the masters. They have actually managed to create a political environment where the government even trying to gather data on gun crime has been politicised. What’s incredible is that they have created a scenario where the right to own weapons, up to the moment you go on a killing spree, is regarded as sacrosanct, whereas the right to not be shot is regarded as an aspiration that is nice, but come on, we have to be pragmatic about these things.
It is true, guns don’t kill people. People do. So at least exercise care in who you give them to. Yes, gun owners should be required to pass a psychological evaluation. Start there: at least we’ll get the entertainment of watching the NRA having to defend why crazy people should be given automatic weapons. Of course, the NRA would probably steer the debate towards “what’s crazy?”. Are people who think Donald Trump is 100% right about everything crazy? People who think President Obama is not an American, or is a Muslim? What about people who think the Holocaust didn’t happen? Or that the world is secretly run by Jews? That’ll be a fun day out.
A well-known right wing Irish commentator recently pointed out that the only thing that’ll really work will be to actually confiscate guns, and that’ll start a near civil war. As indeed the abolition of slavery actually did, and the abolition of segregation nearly did. But is there anyone who really thinks America is not a better country today for having endured both those massively disruptive periods?
(Edited 4th October 2015)
Posted by Jason O on Sep 27, 2015 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Sources in Fianna Fail have revealed that party leader Micheal Martin TD has decided that in the event of the party failing to meet the 30% gender quota and putting at risk key state funding, some Fianna Fail TDs will legally change their self-identifying status to female.
Lawyers for the party have pointed out that legally registering as female would not require the candidate in question to change his name or “dress up in women’s frocks” as some candidates feared. This issue had to be addressed after some candidates were seen browsing through Marks & Spencer’s summer collection for women, and the benefits of the kitten heel over the flat. Some candidates seemed slightly disappointed at the news, as they had been willing to “do anything” for the party. Willie O’Dea has been reassured that he can keep his moustache.
Another source in party headquarters is quoted as saying that the matter is not a big deal, given that “the parliamentary party is full of f**king aul wans anyway. Sure look, when Mary Hanafin gets back in and challenges Micheal for the leadership we’ll know all about who has the biggest balls in the PP. Better we fill in a few legal documents than actually have, you know, women around the place. At the moment we all hold our summer PP meetings in our underpants if it’s very warm: why should we cut that out for political correctness?”
Posted by Jason O on Sep 25, 2015 in European Union
There’s a scene in “Yes, Minister” where Sir Humphrey outlines why Britain supports the expansion of the (then) EEC. It’s very simple, he says. The more countries that are in it, the more arguments that can be stirred up. The EEC can be turned into a complete pig’s breakfast.
As ever with “Yes, Minister”, there’s more than a grain of truth. It is becoming more and more difficult, if not actually impossible, for the EU to agree on meaningful, effective actions on any of the issues that actually matter.
On top of it all, we have the exasperating British who have developed a nervous tic every time they see something with a blue flag on it. We now have the surreal situation where any sincere attempt to make something work within the European Union involves the British government desperately trying to sound unhappy about it, for the benefit of the editor of The Daily Mail. Something perfectly reasonable to the Brits suddenly becomes a problem if it’s associated with the EU. Almost every statement by a British minister about the EU is apologetic, or talking about restrictions, or blocking.
We can’t go on like this. Nor do we need to. Despite their differences of recent years, both the French and the Germans still recognise that Franco-German cooperation is the key to European unity. Without it, nothing else happens.
We must also recognise that together, France and Germany have a population of 145 million people, a seat on the United Nations, a nuclear submarine fleet, and would be the de facto second richest country in the world.
Rather than constantly try to maneuver the herd of cats that the EU has become, is it time for France and Germany to go back to basics? To draft a new treaty creating a Franco-German Federation within the EU? I’m not talking about the abolition of the two states, which is not a realistic or desirable proposition. But instead a confederation with pooled defence spending, common borders (and border police) and refuge policies, and a shared Federal council with two co-presidents?
Such an arrangement, free from the Tower of Endless Babble, would at least allow joint policies to once again have the backing of the overwhelming major force in the region, and could act as an engine to restart integration, but without the slowest-ship-in-the-convoy approach that has dominated European Union politics. The rest of Europe initially wouldn’t be happy, but the deal would be clear: the federation is open to anybody who wishes to join, under its rules, and anyway France and Germany would still be members of the EU, only working as one and therefore vastly bigger than any other member state.
The British would go hysterical, of course, but since the Fiscal Treaty we now know that Britain can be sidetracked with little consequence, given they’re so poisoned by their own insecurity and doubts about their national identity.
Is it time for France and Germany to move on?
Posted by Jason O on Sep 23, 2015 in Books
Would-be Irish Senator Frederick Forsyth’s 1984 political thriller “The Fourth Protocol” is curiously topical again. Those people who remember the moderately entertaining movie, starring Michael Caine and a pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan will remember the main plot, about a KGB plan to detonate a nuclear weapon near a US Airbase in Britain. What they won’t know is that particular storyline was only half the plot, with the other half of the plot being the plan to put a Trotskyite unilateralist into Downing street. See where I’m going here?
The book essentially talks about repeating the story, on a national scale, of how the Labour party in 1981 pledged to elect a moderate leader of the GLC, and then having won the election, deposed him with a hardline leftwinger. His name? Ken Livingstone.
As with every Forsyth book, there’s a lot of good background in it, although Forsyth’s right-wing politics comes out in this book more than most of his previous novels. But it’s a good yarn that keep you going to the end. Well worth a read.
Bertie Ahern had sat down with a mug of tea and a small plate of chocolate digestives, just as “Murder, she wrote” was starting, when his mobile rang. It was lashing down outside, real cats and dogs with extra dogs weather.
He frowned at the number. He didn’t recognise it, and had problems in the past with smart alecs getting his number and giving him abuse over the phone. The gas thing was that every one of them thought he was the first fella to do it. Bertie rarely hung up, just put the phone in the breadbin in the kitchen and went about his business, letting them tire themselves out. He’d occasionally pick up the phone to see if they were still there, catch a “Galway tent” or the like, and just carry on. They’d normally hang up in frustration, although one got quite distressed at the fact that Bertie had neither replied not hung up, and started asking was he OK. The former Taoiseach had ended up talking to that one, and they spent twenty minutes talking about the upcoming Premiership season. Your man hung up with a cheerful goodbye, having completely forgotten why he’d rung in the first place.
Bertie answered the phone.
“Mr Ahern? This is the Federal Chancellor’s office: can you take a call from Chancellor Merkel?”
Half of his chocolate digestive fell into his tea with the shock. He hadn’t spoken to her in a few years.
“Oh, eh, yeah. Of course.” His brain was racing. Could this be some smartarse radio DJ?
When the voice came on it sure sounded like her. Her English was better than people thought, but she didn’t really feel at ease using it. She always struggled to sound happy to be talking to someone, even when she was.
Posted by Jason O on Sep 12, 2015 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Celtic Tiger? Around here? The only tiger around here sells Frosties.
Celtic Tiger? Maybe up in Dublin Four, but not around here, he announces. No, we went from the recession in the 1980s to now, and nothing has changed around here. Nothing! You point at the new motorways sweeping past him and off into the horizon. Sure that would have happened anyway! He declares, believing that motorways are some sort of natural phenomenon like turf or dandelions sprouting in a field. What about your state pension? €200 a week. Sure it’s only £59 in the UK. Exactly! He shouts. Only €200! How am I supposed to afford SkyPlus on that sort of money? And look at the car I’m driving! That’s over four years old! It’s like living in the dark hole of Calcutta! No one around here got anything off the government or the so-called Celtic Tiger. And the health service? I know a fella who did his back in picking up his cheque from the Department of Aghriculture. Bet he gets no compensation for that. No, the rich get richer and the poor working man struggles for a bare crust. Now, have to go and pick up me rent from them students I rented me section 23 flat to. Be seeing you!
It has to be done. It is next to impossible to get elected to anything in Ireland unless the voters get a look at you like a prize nag at a mart, or at least get asked for a vote by one of your team. Personally. Having said that, there’s still a fair chance you’ll get the following on the doorstep:
1. I’m watching the rugby/hurling/soccer!
2. Not interested! *Door slams revealing pig ignorance of person in house*
3. I’m putting the child to bed!
4. Comes out of house two doors after missing you, and tries to make a big show of tearing up your leaflet and putting it in the recycling bin. The sharp canvasser his turns back before tearing starts, pretending not to see, turning back just as bin lid closes and issues a cheery “Hello!” to the grumpy amateur dramatist.
5. Says they won’t be voting for you, but is polite about it. You’d almost vote for them. One of the great mysteries to non-politicians: meeting a person who politely disagrees with you is not a bad thing.
6. Appoints themselves spokesperson for the entire street/estate and informs you that there are no votes for you here. Tell them that you’ve gotten a great response so far, and that maybe it’s “your fella” who should be worried, as they’re invariably a hack for the Shinners or the Alphabet Left who are great men altogether for the self-appointing.
7. The aul fella who is delighted to be talking to anyone. Spend the time. There’s only a single vote in it, but if you think talking to a lonely man for a few minutes is a bad use of your time you’ve no business being in politics.
8. The householder who is obviously so wealthy that they should be kind of embarrassed complaining to you about anything.
9. And, for 1000 points, the voter who complains that they never see any politicians, as you’re standing on their door.
He’s a new type on the block, and governed very much by the credo of “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, and the Kremlin loves him.
Not because he’ll sing the praises of the Putin regime, because that would be just too weird, even for them. Instead, he’s big into drawing parallels between the Russians and the West. The Russians have a leader who is willing to stand up to the West, and the West doesn’t like it, that sort of thing. Putin is far more popular with his own people than Obama is, he’ll casually announce, which is certainly more achievable if you can actually ban your opponents from TV or purely coincidentally live in a country with a curiously high casualty rate amongst journalists critical of the state.
He’ll be quick to dismiss NATO as being as bad as Al Qaeda, or that there’s no difference between Russian and Western democracy. Well, that goes without saying. After all, we’ve all had to stay up late on election night in Russia to see who has won. I wonder what party will win the next, say, three Russian presidential elections?
And that’s just the lefty ones. Then there’s the ones on the right, who twenty five years ago would have been shouting at pro-Russians to “go home to Moscow!” Now, Russia is a country that isn’t afraid to be patriotic and “traditional” (i.e. beating up the odd poofter), and so what if they refuse to mollycoddle blacks or Muslims or Jews like we do in the West. At least he’s listening to his people, they’ll declare, using pretty much the same argument the old segregationists of the 1950s used to use.
And of course don’t get him started on the EU, or the EUSSR as he blurts out with a smile at his cleverness. Every time Putin has a go at the EU our friend feels a stirring in his nether regions. Of course, if the EU announced it wanted to show the same “strong leadership” over Europe that Putin has over Russia he’d be the first to the barricades banging on about democracy.
They’re easy enough to spot. Just watch them retweeting stuff from Russia Today. Which they say is Russia’s version of the BBC. Because, as we know, no British government has ever been criticised by the BBC, or indeed tried to stop the BBC doing things. Ever.
Polonium? Never heard of it.
Posted by Jason O on Aug 30, 2015 in European Union
The return of the LE Eithne from its duties in the Mediterranean rescuing over 3000 refugees as part of Operation Pontus is rightfully a source of pride for the Irish people. When we see images of children being lifted from leaking boats we should indeed be proud of our Naval Service and their ability to play our part in the European operation to deal with the Mediterranean crisis.
Despite those images, we must be careful to realise that getting them safely onto Irish vessels, or even into an Italian port is not the end of the problem. As UN special representative on migration Peter Sutherland has pointed out, it simply isn’t fair to let the so-called frontline states like Italy carry the burden for what is essentially a European problem. Indeed, by showing such little support to Italy, we can hardly be surprised if Italian police then show a blind eye to those same migrants attempting to leave Italy and travel further into the European Union. This is a European problem that needs a European solution.
This crisis is almost the perfect storm in terms of political problems. Letting refugees into Europe, and essentially telling European citizens that we cannot control our own borders is fuelling the rise of the extremist far right. Abandoning refugees to their fate is morally unacceptable. Is the third option a recognition, therefore, that we must confront the reasons why so many people seek a new life in Europe?
We cannot blame people for seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Indeed, it is an awkward compliment that despite all the self-criticism Europe goes through, it is still seen as a land of peace, new hope and promise to so many. Therefore, if we do not want them to die, and do not want them in continental Europe, does it not mean that Europe must play a more robust role in creating a stable space in North Africa? In the past both Tony Blair and various German ministers have suggested the setting up of refugee camps in North Africa. But is creating vast camps just another short term solution? Instead, should the EU, with the consent of legitimate powers in the region, consider going further in terms of creating a stability zone, enforced by European troops, to act as a de facto magnet and processing centre for would-be refugees, and to relieve pressure on Italy and Greece by having somewhere safe to send them?
It is true, such a proposal has a hint of 19th Century White Man’s Burden about it. But let us be honest: we are faced with a desire by hundreds of thousands of people who wish to live under European government in Europe. Would helping them build some of that stability in a tiny piece of North Africa be such a bad thing? It is a radical concept. But given the scale of the crisis and its repercussions for European politics, reasonable men and women should consider all reasonable options.
The LE Niamh has replaced the Eithne on station, to permit the Eithne’s crew a well-earned rest, and will no doubt play just as significant a role in this humanitarian crisis. But it is a misuse of our professional military personnel to expect them to deal with the problem in the middle of the sea whilst their political masters in Dublin and Brussels remain paralysed by indecision and refuse to craft a credible long-term response to this crisis.