Posted by Jason O on May 5, 2015 in British Politics
, Irish Politics
As someone who left Northern Ireland to go to university nearly 19 years ago, I can neither vote nor can I contribute, nor am I directly affected by decisions of the Assembly, and so I have avoided commenting on or getting involved in its politics. But like many others who love the province in which I was born and raised, I hope that at this election its people continue to tell the world that Northern Ireland chooses for itself a shared future for all its people.
Amidst all the parties, all the candidates and all the issues, elections sometimes boil down to a straight choice between two futures.
In Northern Ireland, this 7th May, 17 races are either pre-determined, or of so little consequence it hardly matters.
Only one battle counts, and only 2 candidates do. They are Alliance’s Naomi Long, the outgoing MP for East Belfast, and her UUP-supported DUP challenger Gavin Robinson.
Make no mistake about it: the people of East Belfast are being offered a clear choice about the future of Northern Ireland.
Their choice will send a message to the province, and to the world, about how Northern Ireland sees itself in 2015.
Is it a province riddled by parties uniting to perpetuate a dated and bigoted sectarian divide, obsessed with imposing the paraphernalia of tribal division upon others, and whose most senior politicians embrace and pander to homophobia?
Or is it a people which have moved on from decades of distrust and division, who wish to elect parties which are committed to a shared Northern Ireland not just for both sides of the divided community, but for all in Northern Ireland, irrespective of nationality, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Northern Ireland’s peace is a peace unlike others. In no other part of these isles has a political party had its offices and the homes of its representatives petrol-bombed. In no other part of these isles have elected representatives been the subject of regular and serious death threats. Other parties in Northern Ireland have suffered this in the past, and to some extent all still do.
But the choice for the people of East Belfast in this election is whether they stand behind Long, a leader who has been the subject of death threats simply because her party adopted a position on the flying of flags from public buildings which didn’t entirely support one community. Or do they support the DUP, a party who led the political assault on Alliance’s policy, and failed at every turn to stand up to those who attacked Alliance, and Naomi?
This is a stark choice. It isn’t enough simply to admire Naomi Long, and either stay at home or continue to vote for your own party because you always have done. In a binary choice between only two realistic outcomes, everything other than a vote for Naomi is to stand against her. Nor is it sufficient to cavil that Alliance’s position on flags was provocative, or their policy on flags wrong or poorly executed. The world doesn’t know, and doesn’t care.
The Alliance Party won’t thank me for throwing this issue into the mix, but for me, the choice is simple. Are the people of East Belfast a people who will vote for a leader who has (with David Ford) bravely led a party under seige, a party struggling to reach accommodation on identity between two divided groups? Or will they support the political representatives of her opponents?
Moreover, these last few weeks have refocused the wider world’s attention on another nasty element in Northern Ireland’s society: the misuse of religion to justify unequal treatment of minorities. This time, the DUP has gained worldwide coverage for its views on and proposed treatment of homosexuals: leaving aside Jim Wells, the First Minister publicly rationalised criminalisation of homosexual acts as a legitimate position for his own public representatives, and even invoked God in the Assembly to justify not allowing homosexuals to marry. That the DUP merrily abused the Assembly’s procedures to designate equal marriage an issue of cross-community concern showed the extent to which the DUP is hell-bent on continuing to manipulate to narrow political advantage the twin levers of Northern Ireland’s historic political and religious divide.
When world leaders, when investors and when potential tourists ask about Northern Ireland, they ask whether it has moved on. That question is not just about political violence. It is a question about whether Northern Ireland is an inclusive society. A good place for multinational companies to recruit. A good place for foreign nationals – and in particular the executives of those multinationals – to come to and work. A good place to visit, whatever your background or sexual preference.
Every time they are given the opportunity, the people of Northern Ireland must seize the moment to say they have moved on. Only by repetition of that message can the investment successes of the last few years be built on, and embedded, and Northern Ireland made a genuinely attractive place to do business and travel to.
Despite the polls, and the predictions of the media, the people of East Belfast have not yet been offered the opportunity to deliver that message: they have it on Thursday.
The choice they have is not about parties’ individual policies. It is not a choice about the candidate best versed in national and provincial policy. It is not a choice about which candidate is the better constituency worker. It is not even a choice about which candidate is the more articulate and impressive leader for East Belfast and Northern Ireland in Westminster and on the world stage.
A UK general election in Northern Ireland is not about jobs, nor taxes, nor policies devolved to the Assembly. It is much more than that. Like all elections, it is about hope.
It is a symbol. It is a stand. It is, beyond all else, a message to the world. And let that message be that – when offered a clear choice – the people of Northern Ireland will resolutely hold to the shared future they have dreamed for their children, and which was denied their parents.
When investors, world leaders and opinion-formers point to the DUP’s homophobia, and to Belfast’s past violence over flags, let those who argue the case for economic investment in and political support of Northern Ireland respond: the people of East Belfast chose inclusion. They chose Naomi Long.
Ciaran Toland is a barrister and former member of Alliance.
Posted by Jason O on May 3, 2015 in British Politics
A few thoughts on next Thursday’s vote in the UK:
1. Unless they can deliver on PR, the Lib Dems should stay out of the next coalition. Coalition is a maturing process that scares off fairweather friends and utopians. The Lib Dem party going into opposition, seasoned with former minister, can rebuild as a pragmatic party of the rational centre.
2. Having said that, the Lib Dems public spending promises this time out have been decidedly left-wing. It needs to be careful about becoming Labour-lite, and not apologise for doing so.
3. It will be an absolute scandal that UKIP, the third party nationally in terms of votes cast by ordinary Brits, will come behind the Lib Dems, SNP, DUP, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru and possibly even the SDLP in terms of seats. Like them or not, they are the legitimate voice of a substantial section of British voters.
4. British politicians need to get over themselves in terms of “firm government” and banging on about the chaos of coalition or minority government negotiations. Britain is a stable country that will tip along just grand even if its pols take a while to hammer out a deal. Just as the Israelis, Kiwis, Irish, Dutch, Belgians, Swedes, Germans, Italians, Danes, Finns, Norwegians, Portuguese and Poles do. Get over yourselves.
5. British politics will be worse off if Naomi Long and Nick Clegg lose their seats, and more boring if Nigel Farage doesn’t win one.
6. (additional point added later) Interesting that of the 10 parties with seats in the Commons, only 4 are led by people with seats actually in Parliament. Shows the impact of regional and European Parliaments in providing voices/platforms. Especially, ironically, for UKIP, which has been given much more assistance representing its voters by the European Parliament than Westminster ever did.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 28, 2015 in US Politics
Posted by Jason O on Apr 27, 2015 in Irish Politics
1. I’ll be shocked if the No vote is less than 40%.
2. Don’t discount the ability of Irish people to tell pollsters what they think they want to hear. I really hope there is an exit poll.
3. Nobody does mental reservation like we do. It’s quite possible that the phrase “I’m not racist, I just hate blacks” was first uttered by an Irishman.
4. The vile and downright evil (not a word I use lightly) slur that there is a link between paedophilia and homosexuality is having a bigger effect than we like to admit.
5. Both sides have extremist wings. The No extremists want the same thing as the No moderates. The Yes extremists can’t make up their mind whether they want a Yes vote more than a crack at humiliating David Quinn et al.
6. If you think that all the No side are extremists then you’re part of the problem.
7. Some people involved in the campaign are not the gold-plated asset others think they are.
8. The social media campaign seems to be primarily made up of people agreeing with each other, or else having arguments with people who are actively opposed. It seems like there is little converting going on.
9. Yes campaigners who are out knocking on doors will play a disproportionate role in winning this.
10. A Yes pass with a low turnout will have its legitimacy questioned.
11. A No vote will not be a source of international humiliation. California voted No. California.
12. People are more likely to stay silent than admit they’re voting No.
13. Finally, even a No vote will have a positive effect, as people in rural nominally conservative constituencies discover that thousands of their neighbours voted Yes. This is an idea whose time has come. It’s no longer a question of if, but when.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 26, 2015 in European Union
, Not quite serious.
Europe: not as much a place as a way of life.
For some reason, this is one of my most popular posts. Have no idea why.
As debate currently rages (why do debates always rage, and never, say, saunter?) over Britain’s future in the EU, some UK eurosceptics are quick to point to the Commonwealth as a potential alternative. This got me thinking: never mind the Brits, why are we in the EU not trying to get Australia, New Zealand and Canada to join up? Now, before you go off shouting, hear me out.
There are good reasons:
1. Firstly, it’s true, None of them are actually in Europe. Meh. A minor detail at best. French Guyana is in the EU, and it’s not even in the same hemisphere. That’s the thing about Europeans: we’re very bendy. All three have European histories, and large sections of their population have direct links to the Old Continent. So we might have to change the name from the European Union to, say, the Democratic Union. Big deal.
2. Their head of state is half-German (and lives in Europe), and her husband is Greek. Australia’s prime minister was actually born in England. The previous one but one was Welsh. Seriously? They’re probably entitled to an EU passport already.
3. Admittedly, it would mean being in a political union with France, who exploded the odd atomic bomb near two of them. But the Brits exploded them IN Australia, and they were forgiven. And don’t say the Brits didn’t know what they were doing at the time. They didn’t explode them in Scotland, and hardly anyone lives there. Anyway, it’s not like Canada has no experience in dealing with stroppy French people anyway. Might even calm Quebec down.
4. Every single Aussie, Kiwi and Canadian would be entitled to live, work, study and vote in the EU. No visas, no nothing. They’d also get free emergency healthcare, and of course, tariff free access to the single European market and the upcoming EU-US free trade area. Europe would get access to Canada’s oil, Australia’s uranium, and New Zealand’s dwarves.
5. Australia and Canada would be the seventh largest countries of the 27 countries of the EU. They’d be big cheeses. New Zealand would be like Ireland without kiddie fiddling priests and banker-terrorists.
6. They wouldn’t be negotiating with the Chinese, a couple of million to one billion, but over 500 million to one billion. And with the US one-to-one. When George Bush threatened to put a tariff on European steel before the 2004 election, the EU threatened a tariff on Florida oranges. He backed down. That’s what having a single market of 500 million gets you.
7. All three share our values on everything from gun control to the death penalty to gay rights to social healthcare to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, stability, and a solid economy. And they are not run by people who are mad. Or at least no more mad than our ones.
8. Every fourteen years, they’d get to run the whole of Europe for six months. Including Britain. Assuming they stay.
9. They’d be entitled to a European commissioner, seats on the European Council of Ministers and the European Court, and about 80 seats in the European Parliament between them. Think about that: they could make 80 of their pols live in Belgium for months at a time. Offer that up front and they start drawing up the list in their heads.
10. No reason why an Australian, Canadian or Kiwi could not end up as President of Europe. After all, Canada has cultural and liguistic links with Ireland, the UK, France and Belgium. Australia and New Zealand with Ireland and the UK. And here’s the thing: no natural enemies. Europe is full of countries with grudges going back years: No one has a grudge against Canada, New Zealand or Australia, which makes them ideal for appointment to the top jobs.
11. Finally, and this is the best reason of all: imagine the fury amongst British eurosceptics if the three started negotiating to join, against the wishes of their betters.
Is it plausible? Who knows? I’m just saying, don’t be too hasty. At least have a browse through the brochure.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 25, 2015 in Irish Politics
There are three purposes to the average Ard Fheis (that’s national party conference to my non-Irish readers). The first, and this tends to apply to the smaller parties, is to be a democratic/administrative forum for the party. The larger parties pretend that it is, but it isn’t. The whole thing is fiddled. The second purpose is as a social gathering for the party faithful, and an opportunity for the young bucks to contest a few show internal elections. This is by far the most interesting purpose, especially if you are into drinking (Fianna Fail), tugging the forelock at your betters (Fine Gael), rigidly obeying instructions from “the committee” (Sinn Fein) or feeling hard done by (Labour).
What’s noticeable about nearly all of them is how bloody awful they look on telly. RTE give each party time, and they fill it with aspiring TDs struggling to deliver speeches that sounded clever in 1978. It’s Awful Speech Bingo time, where they vomit out warmed up stuff about community and local services and our old friend the hard working family. You’re just itching for a sniper to loose off a volley of rounds at the stage to break the tedium. Why are Irish politicians so shockingly amateurish at delivering speeches anyway? Is it to do with our inherent unwillingness to express our real opinions in public as a people? What’s worse is that the standard is now so low that any speech that doesn’t go badly, that is, the speaker doesn’t mix up his or her words or accidentally say “fanny” is now regarded as well delivered. What’s even worse is that a speech where someone says something serious about children or 1916 without f**king up is now regarded as “powerful”. Please.
If the concept is so the councillor’s granny can see him on the telly on Saturday morning, that’s fair enough. But do you ever get the impression that each Ard Fheis is based on what they did the previous year. In fact, I’d lay money that you could give Micheal Martin Enda’s pre-govt speech from 2011 and he could use 85% of it. Because This Is The Way We’ve Always Done Things.
You can’t help thinking that no one has actually given much thought to what are the values or concepts they’d like communicated to the viewers watching.
There’s a weirdness to internal party elections, caused by the fact that it is wannabe politicians canvassing other wannabe politicians. That and the odd mix between inoffensive “I have to write something on the canvass card” blandness mixed with surreal claims of worthiness.
“I am passionately committed to this party (really?) and to serving the best interests of the party members. And my great grandfather shot an Englishman in 1919.”
The sheer terror of saying anything that might offend anyone who might not give you a 15th preference is palpable. If the canvass cards were scratch n’ sniff (remember them) it would be the odour of pure sweaty fear. It’s either stand by your cronies or your man is from the same county. Unless of course he’s contesting the same ward as you. Then he’s got “stories going around about him. You know. One of those fellas.” For the women it’s worse, trying to look attractive but not too attractive, putting up with the too-close talkers with porter on their breath and busy hands.
The younger candidates, desperately trying to look mature, turn up in suits and and constantly trying to get pictures of themselves with party luminaries to show they are moving in serious circles and are therefore serious themselves.
Unlike in other countries, where different factions fight it out based on their viewpoint of where they want society to go, this isn’t about direction of the party. This is about winning elections because they’re elections. The day after the election? Never you mind, that’s none of your business.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 20, 2015 in European Union
Let’s stop beating around the bush here: there are two massive forces at work with regard to Mediterranean immigration into the European Union. The first is that Europe offers a perceived better life than the poverty and chaos going on to our south and east. The second is that the average European does not want thousands of refugees becoming our problem, and is voting for parties advocating a hardline. Awkward? Yes. Racist? Possibly. But that’s the reality facing Europe’s leaders, and managing it means that we must confront that reality.
Europeans don’t want refugees dying in their thousands off our coasts. Nor do we want our navies opening fire on them to discourage them, even if such a thing were legal. But what is the option? Where do we put them? We can’t just let them drown. This is Europe, for Christ’s sake.
Many years ago, Tony Blair suggested the idea of paying a North African country to act as our control zone, where refugees could be landed, provided for, and processed. It would at least provide a safe zone, ideally run directly by the EU, probably with European troops and support staff, for refugees to be sent and receive shelter and care. Secondly, it would allow Europe breathing space, to work out how to manage the inflow without just dumping thousands on the Italians, French and Spanish.
There’d be huge resistance to such an idea. It wouldn’t be long before the phrase “concentration camp” or colony would be bandied about, and it would be a costly operation, and that assumes we can find a location.
There’s is also the reality that such a place would almost certainly not be a temporary location, but would become a society in its own right, with it’s own tensions and conflicts and our soldiers and police in the middle of it. But, if it were run well enough, with some integration into the European single market, many may choose to live there as a home, especially if entering the continental EU illegally will result in immediate deportation back to “the zone”. As well as all that, there’s no doubt that such a place will be come a magnet for immigrants in its own right.
It’s not an ideal solution, but seeing the death rate in the Mediterranean, it must surely now be considered.
He found one of those apps that tells you how much time you spend doing things, and it gave him a fright. Apparently he spends two-thirds of his day on Twitter trying to pick fights with people back home. What’s worse is that they’ve got the measure of him now, and just ignore him. He doesn’t get mentioned on the news, or in papers. He’s just gone. Like he’s dead.
He was going to show this crowd out here in Brussels, boy was he! But of course they’re well used to him and others like him coming out and shouting. Even Paisley tried it back in the day. Know what happened? Nothing. They ignored him. Anti-Christ this and Anti-Christ that and they just ignored him and went for lunch, and this guy ain’t no Big Ian.
He finds that he’s getting up later in the day, and watching a lot of boxsets in his apartment. The other MEPs from his country, the men and women from the parties he was going to make a holy show of when he got out, now just treat him like one of those fellas you buy a Club Orange and a pack of Tayto for down the pub on a Sunday afternoon. They don’t even argue with him now, just give him that “ah, bless, the poor creature” look. The women ask him is he OK? One even offered to sew a button that had fallen off his good jacket back on. He spent a whole day walking around not knowing that he was trailing a long piece of toilet paper on his shoe and nobody’d said anything. One of the Dutch MEPs thought he’d been trying to make some sort of avant-garde protest about waste.
He’s afraid to spend too long on the phone back home because he knows some bastard will FOI it, and he can’t even go home because it’ll effect his voting record, the one thing the public (or at least the media) seem to get stroppy about at election time.
What on Earth was he thinking coming out here?
Towns and cities across Ireland were brought to a halt yesterday as spontaneous crowds blocked roads cheering the release of the Working Group on Seanad Reform’s report. One woman, openly sobbing, told our cameras: “This is truly a great nation, and I’m so proud to be Irish. You can keep your Nobel prizes and your Olympic gold medals: who else in the world can generate so many reports on legislative upper house reform? Who? This is what the men and women of 1916 died for!”
Tee-shirt manufacturers reported a sharp increase in tee-shirts bearing Seanad reform slogans. “Indirect election by local authority members! That’s the big one! I can’t keep them on the shelves. That and Reserved Seats for Parliamentary Nominated Candidates! Jaysus they’re flying off the shelves! Flyin’!”
The 1916 Commemoration Committee has confirmed that as part of the celebration next year Galway based arts group Macnas have been commissioned to create giant papier mache versions of each of the 15 Seanad reports for the parade. The committee has also confirmed that toy and card versions of the reports will be available, so that schoolchildren can collect their favourites or play swapsies. “I can’t wait to get my hands on the O’Rourke report!” one excited ten year old said.
The Taoiseach was cheered as he took his morning stroll to Government Buildings on Merrion Square. Speaking to the media at the entrance, he said: “I’m very proud to be contributing to the long tradition in this country of endlessly guffing on about reforming things and then doing nothing. And can I just say this: I believe in the Irish people, and Irish democracy, and I believe that by working together, through a process of endless presentations and our old friend “consultation”, I am confident that we may see a 16th report on Seanad reform yet!”