Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
Here’s a quiz to get your brain cogs whirring this morning. Aside from being (or having been) semi-state bodies, what do Aer Lingus, Eircom, Dublin Bus, RTE and the National Car Test all have in common? The answer is that all improved their services after encountering direct competition and the idea that their performance might actually affect their existence.
This occurred to me whilst watching last week’s formal opening of the Annual Shall We Sack The Garda Commissioner festival. We’re all familiar with the format. Something involving the guards explodes into the public consciousness, and we do the traditional Irish thing of either blaming The System as if we have no control over it, or we point to the current incumbent and make them Baddie of the Week.
It’ll rumble on a bit, and then we might get the old “personal health/family reasons” letter, she heads off with her pension, the next one steps up, and we all agree to meet around this cauldron same time next year to kick it off again. We should probably make Garda scandal day a bank holiday. At least that way we’d all get a weekend out of it.
At its heart is an issue about the Garda Siochana. Now, before I kick off, let me say that for various professional and personal reasons I’ve had a not unreasonable amount of dealings with the Gardai. I’ve got to be honest: I found them professional, courteous and diligent. But one thing that struck me in all my dealings with them is that really good Gardai, and there are really good Gardai, are good despite their organisation, not because of it.
I’ve had encounters with young guards who are incredibly frustrated by the fact that their own technology, their personal phones and laptops, are vastly superior to the equipment they are supposed to use. I’ve seen them handwriting reams of statements which then have to be typed up. I’ve participated in a line-up where the victim was expected to enter the room, walk up to the alleged person who’d beat seven bells out of them earlier that day, and place his hand on the suspects’ shoulder.
I wasn’t the suspect, just in case you’re wondering.
We have a force that is physically courageous and clean by international standards. When I say that, people snort, but it’s true. We don’t have a culture of street cops shaking us down for cash, which is common enough in some countries: I know of one person who was robbed on the street by police offers in St Petersburg. But it is also a force that is not fit for 21st century purpose, and we have to ask ourselves why.
In the old Tom & Jerry cartoons of the 1940s, and in the old “Batman” TV show in the 1960s, it was taken as read that large numbers of police in Boston, Chicago and New York were actual Irish immigrants or of Irish descent. Why was that? Was it because as a people we were drawn to law and order? If you knew us as a people, you’d think that highly unlikely. No, the Irish joined the police because it was a good pensionable job. It offered security, and that is a culture which permeates most Irish public bodies. The terms and conditions of the body’s employees are often, unofficially, the primary concern of the organisation.
As I mentioned earlier, this culture has been forced to change when public bodies actually start to lose business to competition, and questions about their actual necessity start to get asked. That forced Dublin Bus to start providing a dedicated service to Dublin airport, or Eircom and Aer Lingus to lower their prices.
Almost uniquely, the Garda Siochana have, by the nature of its mission, being exempt from those same pressures, and it shows. It’s not that the force hasn’t changed or improved, but not at the same noticeable pace as the rest of the semi-state sector. Look at the forces record on dealing with white collar crime and especially political corruption. Or try and report a case of internet fraud to a Garda station (which Paypal require you to do in such cases) and watch the blank face on an older Garda. Again, I have a relative who was lectured by a desk sergeant about staying away from “that internet thing”. Is that official Garda policy in a country with notions about being the digital hub of Europe?
The Garda need competition, and here’s how we do it. We outsource those areas where the Gardai are failing, like political corruption, white collar and internet crime. Let’s put it out to tender, for a fixed contract period, and see if we can get some large US or UK private security or law firm interested. The successful applicant will have the same Garda powers and legal restraints in those areas, and be paid a bonus on conviction in an Irish court. They’ll be answerable to GSOC.
What do we have to lose? The Gardai are not doing much in those areas anyway, so any increase in activity is to the good, and might force the Gardai to modernise out of sheer fear of that greatest of all Irish motivators, the fear of being shown up.
And here’s the beauty: if it doesn’t work, we can sack all of them.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 1, 2017 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, has proposed that a means be devised of ensuring that the voice of the unborn be recognised in general elections. Speaking at a Fine Gael constituency fundraiser in Dublin Bay East, the FG leader surprised party members by announcing that he had instructed the attorney general to determine if such an approach was constitutional.
“Given that we recognise the unborn as a legal entity in the 8th amendment, it begs the question: why don’t they have full parliamentary representation alongside their fellow citizens? If we calculate from the passing of the amendment in 1983, we can put a reasonable estimate on the number of aborted unborn who, had they been born, would now be voters. I’m proposing that we can make a reasonable assumption that they would vote in their own self interest, and would therefore give a first preference vote to pro-life candidates. Therefore I propose that at the next election we add those first preferences to the vote totals of openly pro-life candidates.”
Sinn Fein Cllr April Amadan (Dublin Bay East) has called on the proposal to be amended to extend the franchise to the millions who died in the Famine, and whose descendants would “almost certainly vote Sinn Fein”.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 24, 2017 in European Union
We all know how we feel about the attack on London. Like Nice, Paris, London, Madrid, Brussels, Ankara, there’s the temptation to lash out. Bomb them into the stone age. Wipe ‘em out. Kill ‘em all. #stopislam.
But we also know that’s not the solution, because it won’t work and it isn’t who we are.
We can scrap Schengen, close our borders, tag Muslims, waterboard suspects, drone strike suspects in the Middle East. It might make us feel better, but even just for a little while. Then we watch Muslim children on our streets, fear in their eyes, their parents telling them that they’re hated, other children not wanting to play with them.
That’s not the Europe I want to live in, nor do I want these bastards to decide what sort of continent Europe will be.
This fascist death cult that attacks our cities is small, flexible, and yes, has some support amongst Muslim communities. But the way to fight it is through intelligence, surveillance, cross-border cooperation, rapid response and hand-in-hand with moderate European Muslims who regard these guys with as much disdain as non-Muslims. Well-resourced, targeted, nuanced. We could start by ensuring that there are EU resources available to EU countries like Belgium who are struggling to contain the internal threat. Maybe it is time for Europol to get teeth, to become not Europe’s FBI but its MI5.
I remember being in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s when many didn’t see a difference between being Irish and being a terrorist. Treating me as a potential terrorist would not have made me more anti-terrorist, but would have pushed me towards the terrorists. The British discovered this in Northern Ireland. Having said that, it’s time to take a hardline on Europeans who go to fight for radical Islam and also on (particularly) Saudi funding of conservative Madrassas in Europe. Neither should be welcome in Europe.
Finally, and this sounds counter-intuitive, but Europe should shake off these attacks as mere pinpricks on an elephant. We’re 500 million people. They’re never going to defeat us, no matter how many attacks they carry out. Instead, they want to provoke us into overreacting against Islam. That’s their aim. They want us to be less tolerant, less open, less European.
Let them go to hell. To quote Father Damo from “Father Ted”, perhaps unusually in these dark days, but relevant all the same: They’re not the boss of us.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 22, 2017 in European Union
There are events that one wants to write about but finds that one has said what one wanted to say before. Because these things keep f**king happening.
We’re living in scary times, with what feels like almost daily attacks across Europe. Let’s just take a breath and consider a few things:
1. IS “claiming” ownership of attacks is like one of those countries (you know who I’m talking about) which claims a successful actor/athlete as one of theirs, and then when he/she flops suddenly disowns them. Most of these attacks are franchise attacks, often claimed after the attacker has been killed. Most are not part of a conspiracy.
2. Beware of politicians who are as much obsessed with being seeing to do something as actually doing something. If Sarko, for example, had to choose between putting troops on the streets, or spending those funds on a less public but more effective method of dealing with terrorism, I suspect he’d go with the former. It’s funny, by the way, how politicians who bang on about the niceties of human rights laws suddenly get very legalistic when being investigated themselves on corruption charges.
3. The public need to be wary of putting too much emphasis on visible forms of fighting terrorism. Consider this: if France wanted to put two armed soldiers within running distance of every 150 of its’ citizens, say on every village main street or every two urban streets, on a three shift basis, that’s 2.6m soldiers. That’s not including logistical support, extra guards for public places, synagogues, churches (and soon mosques, wait and see) or indeed the army actually defending France from external threats. Of course, France has large police forces too, but the figures and costs are huge and would means cuts in other public services. In short, you’re letting a few hundred nuts radically transform your society.
4. Terrorism comes in two forms, random and planned. Planned is defeated by intelligence, and random by quick response. We need small, fast and smart responses. Europe needs an MI5/GCHQ, a well-resourced clearing house and surveillance support to assist the smaller countries like Belgium.
5. Is mental illness playing as significant a role in some of these attacks as ideology? Either way, the public must be protected. But let’s not see a conspiracy where it isn’t.
6. Having said that, is it time for a defined set of European values, offending against which is a criminal offence in itself? It would be a big step against freedom of speech, although not that big on the continent where Holocaust denial is a criminal offence. People say there is no such thing as a European demos. I suspect these attacks are helping create one. When Paris or Brussels was attacked, most of us don’t see it as an attack on France or Belgium, as an attack on THEM. It’s an attack on us.
7. There is an issue about minority exclusion. Surely recruiting police and security agents from the suburbs of Paris makes more sense than randomly bombing things in Iraq/Syria?
8. Muslims have died both fighting these terrorists and being killed by them. This continent knows all about pointing at one faith and saying “get rid of them and our problems go away.” No. just, no.
9. If you were IS, turning the majority of Europeans against ordinary Muslims must be amongst your highest priorities. Ask the Catholics of the north of Ireland how internment helped recruit IRA sympathisers.
10. What the hell are we doing letting the Saudis fund mosques and schools in Europe for?
11. I remain convinced that Europe needs to create a safe off-shore buffer zone where refugees can be processed and where those refugees who show an unwillingness to conform to European values be prevented from reaching the EU itself. I’m not talking about an Australian style detention centre though: I’m talking about building a little piece of Europe away from Europe. Given the disastrous impact terrorism has had on tourism in North Africa, it might not be impossible for the EU to lease a chunk of land for such a purpose.
12. We need to keep an eye on the far-right too. Far-right terrorism will make an appearance soon, and is as much a threat to European values as religious extremism.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 18, 2017 in Irish Politics
, The Times Ireland Edition
Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
Some years ago, I had to collect a relative from Dublin airport. The flight had been delayed, and it was quite late, and as I stood in arrivals I noticed a former Taoiseach standing in the small waiting crowd. Watching him for a while, it was striking that he got none of the double-taking that even well-known politicians get. He’d been the most powerful man in the country, and now was hardly noticed.
He hadn’t been a bad Taoiseach. It felt like he’d just, for the most part, physically been there. Like Enda.
Whilst it’s fair to say that Enda Kenny had achievements as Taoiseach, overall, as he prepares to leave office, you can’t help feeling that the phrase “squandered opportunities” will be the one that hangs most around the Kenny era. Here was a man whose government came to power with the greatest majority ever, and with a momentum in the country willing to toss aside the old ways of doing politics. He leaves office with the political system, in terms of where actual decision making power lies, in almost the exact shape that he found it.
His successor, whomever it is, needs to ponder that. The refusal to radically change the system didn’t help Enda in the long run. He’s not leaving office of his own volition, but just one step ahead of a political posse.
The next Taoiseach has to decide whether that is what he wants to be too? Another placeholder holding on by his fingernails until he too gets turfed out? Or a man with a body of work that will be his legacy. If he’s the latter, he needs to get cracking from day one.
I have, much to your surprise, dear reader, I’m sure, a few suggestions for our new Taoiseach.
First, decide in your head that less is more. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, advised that rather than overpromise, politicians should under-promise and over-deliver, and not make a big hullabaloo about a policy until it is actually up and running. Don’t make vague and unmeasurable promises about “tackling” the housing crisis and A&E. Decide what you can actually do, do it, then declare it.
There are a number of things you can do quite easily. One, for example, involves a simple clear statement as Taoiseach stating that anyone who paid their water charges will get their money back. These are your heartland, and it’s time they got some respect for obeying the law you passed.
Secondly, explain in a straightforward way, face to camera, why the national children’s hospital has to be built in a congested urban area and not on the M50: there may be very good reasons, but no one in government seems capable of communicating them so far.
Reconsider the whole free GP visits for all proposal. It looks great on paper, but all it will really do is create waiting lists to see GPs. Like it or not, charging for GPs forces patients to perform their own triage. However, do recognise that the squeezed middle without medical cards are paying for everything: give them vouchers for a few free GP visits a year. It eases the burden without flooding GP surgeries.
Next, recognise that voter education, or rather, the lack of it, is the issue that is poisoning politics across the west and could easily do so here. Just look at the number of people on Obamacare who voted to abolish Obamacare and are now shocked to be losing their Obamacare. Government, the matching of finite taxes to infinite public service demand, is going to more and more require the public understanding why choices are being made. As it happens, the last Dail has done a lot of work on this. There is a proposed electoral commission, and minister Eoghan Murphy’s Tax Transparency bill is sitting in the bowels of the Oireachtas somewhere. Let these both be fast-tracked through as the beginning of an active campaign to educate voters as to why decisions are made.
Then move onto making the opposition work for their salaries. For years we’ve been promised an Oireachtas Budget Office that would take opposition proposals through the ringers and make sure the sums were right. Not only should you set it up, you should task it to automatically cost every opposition spending proposal. The opposition work for the taxpayers too: we’re entitled to value off them as well.
While you’re at it, push through elected mayors and that Seanad reform bill. A Seanad elected on a non-geographical basis will focus on national policy, as government has to. And elected mayors are the antidote to reckless opposition: let a load of Alphabet Left and Sinn Fein mayors have to legally choose between increased property taxes and local public services. Make them make decisions.
Finally, invite every EU member state with a population of less than 6m, all twelve of them, to a Summit of the Small. We’re forever complaining when Germany, France and the big six have their summits. Let’s have ours, and send out a clear message that we will defend the free-movement free-trade single market Europe and the sovereignty of small nations.
From day one as Taoiseach, you have a choice. You can just physically be Taoiseach, or you can set out to change the direction of society.
No prizes for guessing which one gets remembered.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 11, 2017 in Cult TV
, Not quite serious.
On tonight’s episode of “The West Wing”, President Bartlet becomes greatly concerned that poor people have too much access to healthcare, and worries that not being terrified of one of your children getting sick might weaken their moral fibre.
Toby and Leo have a blazing row over the administration’s policy on Israeli settlements, with Toby worried that Palestinian homes aren’t being bulldozed fast enough. The meeting breaks up in acrimony as Leo objects to being in the same room as “one of those people” and makes some sort of hook nose gesture.
Sam is spurned into action after meeting a lonely old billionaire whose heart is broken when he discovers that he pays more tax than his gardener.
The episode ends with a touching scene where a sobbing orphan thanks President Bartlet for making sure her mother didn’t get the treatment she needed, because if she had she might have thought life was fair and would have become a socialist. Or even worse, French.
Hilarious hi-jinks ensue when Fox News reveals that CJ isn’t blonde.
The White House is put on lock down after a young black man is seen.
Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
When I was a kid in the 1980s, becoming aware of politics, Sunday morning seemed to me to be an important time. Just before the Sunday dinner the opening credits of “Weekend World” would erupt from the television. The show about British politics, presented by former Labour MP Brian Walden, was nearly always too heavy for me to watch, but I always came away with two impressions.
The first was that its theme music, the prog rock group Mountain’s “Nantucket Sleighride” seemed to me as a kid a bit too mischievous for a political programme theme, in that, played over scenes off that week’s political events, it made politics look very exciting indeed.
The second was that this was a serious programme for serious people. The politicians who went on it, the Denis Healeys, the Nigel Lawsons, the Roy Jenkins, seemed to be very big beasts. They had to be, because Walden conducted what we now call a “forensic interview”. A minister or opposition spokesperson had to know their brief, not because the show got a large audience but because the guests knew that their colleagues and the press gallery would all be watching, and making a bags on “Weekend World” had an impact on your reputation as a serious player.
I was reminded of the show recently watching Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar teeing up to replace Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. How would all three men handle a serious-big-picture-with- details interview on their vision for Taoiseach? One challenge for all three is the tendency of Irish politicians to see an interview not as an opportunity to test an idea or communicate an objective, but as a chore to be endured. Usually with the presentation of a bingo card of safe inoffensive guff phrases like “world class health service” and “meeting the challenges” and listing out everything as a priority. Requests for detail will be met with declarations of support for “Comprehensive reviews”. In short, they try to ride out the clock and get the hell out of there without giving away too much.
We know for certain that the current Taoiseach does struggle with detailed interviews. Not because his government doesn’t have achievements, because it does. Indeed, he has been the victim of the simple churlishness of Irish voters who are willing to blame a government for every economic setback, but rarely give them any credit for creating an environment for economic progress. But then, get a vague Taoiseach, get vague voters.
If there is one lesson Coveney and Varadkar should heed, it’s the importance of being able to communicate a clear metric of what success looks like. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition actually did the opposite, running on a platform of opposition to many of the measures such as water charges and property taxes that they would actually be forced to implement. More importantly, they knew well before polling day that they’d have no choice given the state of the public finances.
But by 2016, the metric to measure them was what they said in 2011 and what they had lied about. What seemed like clever in 2011 to Labour nearly destroyed them as a party in 2016, with the spectacle of Labour activists cringing at the media actually using their own 2011 appearances against them.
It’s not good enough to spew guff about “tackling” the A&E or housing crisis. It’s about either man being able to stand alone in a room with a blank flip chart and a felt tip pen and write out the three or four specific objectives they will have pledged to deliver by the end of this Dail in 2021.
How long should a person reasonably have to wait in A&E before an actual doctor is treating them?
What is the reasonable percentage of gross income someone in Dublin should expect to pay in rent for a two bedroom flat?
There’s a whole raft of questions like those above, but here’s the thing. If either man looks at either of those questions and says “How the hell am I supposed to know?”, then I’d suggest they ring the other guy and tell him they’re withdrawing. They’re two simple questions about ordinary life, and if a prospective Taoiseach can’t either see that, or doesn’t want to answer them, or simply don’t think about things like that, they’re not the man for the job.
We have had, in Enda Kenny, and I’d suggest Brian Cowen too, Taoisigh who came into the job because it was the next rung on the ladder. Is there anyone who really believes either man came back from the park having met the president and rubbed their hands thinking “Finally! A chance to do something on policy X!” Noel Browne came into office determined to do bloody war upon tuberculosis. Labour in 1992 came in and immediately launched a swathe of liberal reforms, leaving a legacy in 1997 of the single most socially liberalising government in the history of the state. Dev from 1932, cumulating in a new constitution in 1937, had a plan.
In 1979 Ted Kennedy famously damaged his campaign for president by being unable to answer why he wanted to be president.
Simon and Leo have a question to answer: why do you want power?
Posted by Jason O on Feb 2, 2017 in Irish Politics
Previously published in The Times Ireland edition.
Let’s move the capital out of Dublin. Sounds mad, right? If you’re thinking that, well, you’re in good company because my illustrious editor thought the same when I suggested the idea. But hear me out.
Being capital of a country is a prestigious thing. It means hosting parliaments, supreme courts, government buildings, the executive. It brings with it a certain degree of what could best be described as economic welly, with the salaries of members of parliament and their advisors and all their support staff and families, all on good money, being spent locally. It draws in foreign leaders, embassies, lobbyists, demonstrations, and the odd summit. All who need to be housed and fed, and quite a few not too fussy about value because someone else is picking up the tab.
In short, being a national capital is a money spinner.
But here’s the thing: Dublin, like New York, Sydney, Toronto and Johannesburg doesn’t need that sort of money, because it is big enough and economically attractive enough to lure what we really want. Foreign money. Foreign investment. And in that regard, being a capital is almost a hindrance, with many of those people associated with government using up precious space and housing in Dublin but not adding to Dublin by generating new money. Instead, they’re spending our own money which we had in the country in the first place anyway. Dublin wants value added money.
Supposing, instead, we decided to move the capital. Where? That’s up for debate, but I’d suggest building a new town somewhere in the midlands, planned, as Canberra and Brasilia were, for the purpose of being a capital city. A huge project to create a new economic hub, funded by taxpayer money we spend anyway, in a region that actually would feel the benefit from millions in new spending.
A new parliament, supreme court, Department of the Taoiseach, Aras an Uachtaran, a new airport and rail link, new schools, hospitals, embassies, all planned because we would know almost exactly who would move there.
Would it be expensive to build initially? Yes, of course. But consider again the buildings we could free up in Dublin. Indeed, if we were really ambitious, we could move most of RTE out there too, and free up that prime development land in Donnybrook. Leinster House would make a fine hotel, and it’s not like we’re proud of much that has happened in there since independence anyway. After all, the first few Dails didn’t even meet there.
Is it ambitious? Yes, it is, and not without controversy. We’d need a referendum, and it is quite possible that we’d never get it passed not because the country loves Dublin (as every All Ireland proves) but because there’d be war over what county would get it.
Then there’d be another war once the lucky county is designated and the local Down With This Sort Of Thing brigade do a Shell-to-Sea and wail that it’ll bring terrorist attacks and transsexuals or even transsexual terrorists. But it’ll allow us to kill a load of birds with one giant stone made of money. As part of the design, we can put in a state of the art refugee camp, traveller halting site, wind farm, prison, waste incinerator and (if we can get the water) maybe even a nuclear power plant, all as part of the package. No cherry picking. The county gets all this lovely spending or none, take it or leave it.
We bang on about how much we pay our politicians and how much lobbyists are paid to influence them, so let’s make them all spend their money in a region that needs it. Same with demonstrations. If people want to march on parliament, rather than have them block up the streets of Dublin, let them go to the new capital, where they can march along streets specially designed for demonstrations and buy their cans of Coke and Twixs and sandwiches from local shops glad of the business.
We could even designate a libel-free speakers corner near parliament where you can shout your head off without fear of legal retribution. There’d be a whole stream of axe grinding head-the-balls dying to shout abusive things at passersby and inform their fellow citizens of conspiracies involving the EU and giant lizards. Some people will make the trip just for that.
Yes, it is a very radical proposition, I get that. It would take years to plan, and there is the slightest hint of decentralisation (remember that?) about it. But would it be that bad for our leaders to get away from Dublin with its centre of the universe views? True, the politicians won’t like it. It’s a bit like a political version of the Shannon Stopover, kidnapping them and making them live in Portlaoise. Still, that’ll learn ‘em.
Not convinced? Fair enough. How about we start with a pilot scheme? We could move the Seanad. Sure they’re all just a bunch of jumped up county councillors anyway.
Or we could go for an even more radical proposition. We could move the Seanad around the country like a circus, every week meeting in a different county. The locals would be glad of the business, local schoolkids could be brought down to see the majesty of parliamentary democracy in action, senators could get to wine and dine their county councillor electors, and we could lease the existing Seanad chamber out to turn into something useful.
My money is on a Starbucks.
In the United States cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Northern France, the bodies of over 9000 US servicemen rest. Over 9000 Americans who gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy and elsewhere to free Europe from the shackles of Nazism. It is not an exaggeration to say that without their sacrifice, Western Europe would not know the 71 years of freedom it has enjoyed since the war.
The United States is not our enemy, nor should it ever be. The common values and the common history of the Atlantic, of Europe and America, mean too much.
But the election of the current President of the United States puts unique challenges in the path of Europe. From the defence of our Eastern most nations, to the securing of our southern borders, to our relations with Islam, to the defence of free trade and the prosperity it generates, these challenges throw a gauntlet down before this generation of Europeans and our leaders.
We are not some feeble minor nation. We are 450 million of the richest people on Earth, with some of the most powerful industries on the planet. We own one of the greatest common markets in human history. We build ships and cars and planes and aircraft carriers and yes, even nuclear weapons. We grow the finest foods on the planet, in vast quantities. We have the most beautiful cities in the world.
We are, in terms of spending, the second great military power on the planet if but we choose to recognize it.
And we are the greatest home on the planet to freedom, to tolerance, to diversity. We do not recognize torture. We do not execute our people. We do not boast of how many of our people we jail. We believe healthcare is a human right, not a privilege.
We are not perfect. Among us are extremists, both religious and political, including those who seek to deny the hateful crimes of the past against the Jewish people and others. But there is a majority across our continent which stands fast against those demons of both our past and our present, ready to fight, at the polling booth, on the streets.
Those demons, they shall not pass.
There are those who say there is no such thing as a European demos. That you can not build a united Europe because Europeans do not share a common history or common values.
The current incumbents of the Kremlin and the White House have disproved that. Europeans of the right and left have looked on in recent times and agreed that there is an alternative to a nationalism built on suspicion and fear. That love of one’s homeland does not automatically indicate fear of another.
Look at the response of Europeans to the attacks in Paris and Brussels and Madrid and Berlin. We did not treat those attacks as outrages in strange distant lands. They were attacks on us all, on our ways.
That is what unites Europeans. That I can walk the beautiful streets of Barcelona or Paris or Milano and know that an attack on them is an attack on my values too.
This is not a call for an identikit single nation called Europe. We are sovereign proud nations, proud of our flags and our history.
History has thought us that the defence of that sovereignty will come from the sharing of tasks and resources to magnify the power of all.
It’s time for us to recognize that the great nation to our east only respects strength, and that the great nation to our west is in a time of great insular strain. Given those realities, Europe must act decisively to secure its own interest and speak with strength in defence of our values.
We must build a European Defence Force, made up of volunteers, with the clear objective of pooling enough existing resources to get the increased capability we need to secure our borders east and south.
We must establish, in Northern Africa or elsewhere, an EU run refugee safezone to provide shelter for anyone fleeing oppression, and allowing us to restore full control of our continental borders. No more can we let our despotic neighbours use refugees as a boot with which to press on our throat.
We, as one of the three great economic powers, should enter immediate negotiations to create an Atlantic free trade area. Unlike others, we can negotiate with the United States as an economic equal, because we are. We should do so, but only as an equal.
These great projects are as much an act of self interest of the nations of free Europe as a pursuit of noble ideals. But both roads lead to the same destination. A strong Europe as the tool of its sovereign nations, putting our values at the table of nations.
In the words of that great European, Winston Churchill: Let Europe arise.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 28, 2017 in Irish Politics
Previously published in the The Times Ireland Edition.
There must be, in the Department of Health, a particular well-thumbed file. Let’s call it The Groundhog Day File, given that it must be reached for, with a heavy sigh, by some senior health official every time a new health minister approaches his or her first winter.
“We must do something!” the panicking politician will cry.
“Well, we could increase the number of beds, hire and train three extra nurses for each bed to provide 24 hour coverage, hire extra support staff, hire extra doctors and build new buildings to store them all in,” the official will say, reading off the first page of the file as if they have to.
“How long will that take?”
“Oh, between five and twelve years?”
“What? Joe Duffy will string me up. I need an answer now!”
“We could probably scrape about 60 beds together? With some overtime, rejig rosters, blutack…”
The minister then slumps in his seat.
“How are we not prepared for this? This happens every bloody year! Why weren’t these plans put in place five to twelve years ago?” he asks.
The official will smile a smile that simply says “Ah, bless.”
“Because, minister, five to twelve years ago when we said this to the minister, he said he needed an answer right then. But if you were to start spending today’s money on future planning, you could avoid a minister twelve years from now having this problem.”
The minister explodes.
“What? Make decisions now so that that some fella twelve years from now gets all the credit? Screw him! Where’s that blutack?”
And that’s pretty much been the situation for as long as Simon Harris, minister for health has been actually alive. We’ve had Michael Martin, Michael Noonan, Mary Harney, Brendan Howlin, James Reilly and Leo Varadkar as minister, and the one thing that has united all has been the issue of A&E and beds, during good times and bad.
Every year we have the same story, the same individual stories of pensioners on trollies for x hours. The great Gordian Knot of Irish healthcare. The same questions by the public: why is it still a problem? And the same solution proposed by whichever party is in opposition: more resources.
Here’s the reality. Repeat it after me: There are no votes in fixing waiting lists. There are votes to be lost by fixing them.
Yes, I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. Surely the Irish people would shower with votes the minister who finally fixed a problem that had seized the popular imagination. That was debated and discussed and cursed in pubs up and down the country? That touched pretty much every family?
Nope. For some reason, modern Irish voters do not reward their politicians for solving national problems. Remember when driving tests were a saga? When you went months and months before you could get a driving test? Older readers will remember that. Then the late Seamus Brennan fixed it, and bugger all good it did for him. Mary Harney pretty much singlehandedly wiped out Dublin’s smog problem. Dublin had a smog problem? There you go. The late Jim Mitchell saved the taxpayer millions through the DIRT inquiry. Lost his seat in the following election.
The Irish electorate don’t do gratitude. So there are no votes in fixing the big problems. But there are votes to be lost. Investing now to ensure that a decade from now we have more bed capacity will cost money now, with little benefit today. But it will also mean taking money away from other spending commitments, and that becomes the story.
“More cuts from minister”. Not “Minister redirects limited resources for better long-term gain”.
There are no votes in long-term policies. That’s not unique to Ireland, it’s actually a cancer at the heart of modern western democracy, that voters want everything now. Almost every major social problem requires planning and spending of today’s taxes to avoid problems in the future. But you cannot get votes on that platform.
I’ve mentioned in this column before that my background is in the construction industry. As a result, I’ve had an opportunity to visit sawmills and forests in Sweden. What’s interesting is that many of the forests are relatively close to the sawmills because as the original forests were cut down, the sawmills replanted them knowing that they personally may never see the benefit. In fairness, Coillte does the same here. But as a general concept in Ireland, it’s a rare beast.
There’s some part of the Irish psyche that can’t comprehend long-term, and it is hurting us. As to the solution, consider this: maybe it is time to take things like housing and healthcare out of politics altogether. Supposing if the Dail decided to appoint a non-political health minister for a fixed ten year term, to implement an agreed long-term plan and budget. The problem with that is that it would strip the opposition of the issue and all the heat and emotion that goes with it. A minister who actually took on those whose salaries and pensions were paid from the heath budget, or “vested interests”, to give them their popular title, would become very unpopular very quickly too.
Politicians wouldn’t like it because their employers, the voters, wouldn’t like it. Nobody likes going to the dentist even though we know we have to.
That’s the thing about democracy: tomorrow is nearly always someone else’s problem.