Posted by Jason O on Jun 18, 2013 in Irish Politics
Will Big Phil deliver?
One of the odder developments within this government has been the performance of Environment minister Phil Hogan, and I say this in a positive way.
From his building-in of tax varying powers in the Local Property Tax (which has the potential to transform local democracy if utilised by councillors) to abolishing town councils and increasing ward sizes, to now announcing a referendum on an elected mayor for Dublin, Hogan’s becoming one of the most reforming and radical local government ministers we’ve ever had.
Who’d have thought it? The devil is, of course, in the detail. An elected mayor with no actual powers over city managers or taxes is of little use, but he’s certainly taking things in an interesting direction. To their credit, both Noel Dempsey and John Gormley have tried before, but neither had the political clout of The Enforcer. Watch this space, I think.
Look at them plotting against us. Bastards.
It’s the potatoes, and you can see it when there’s a public demo in favour of a nominally disgraced public figure. Many of the people who march in favour of disgraced TDs or businesspeople are decent, good and honest people. Moreover, they believe in that great social glue that has made this country not the worst place in the world to live: loyalty. They do not see the cold hard facts of someone else’s money, in amounts incalculable to the ordinary individual, being misappropriated, but instead the very human story of a person who has shown them kindness or assisted them in a time of need being persecuted by faceless powerful figures who aren’t from the area. It is the classic Irish story, and it draws from the deepest well of our culture, the one with the sign labelled “dem fellas who are out to get us”.
From the Vikings to the cursed Brits to our own potato betraying us, ours is a story of forces beyond our control putting the boot in. Michael McDowell commented recently about a country that is very big on demanding rights from our institutions, yet also believes it is perfectly acceptable to decide which taxes and laws one will choose to honour. Many of the same people, without any malice, who defend those businesspeople and politicians from globally-accepted standards of law enforcement also demand that the banking system which holds their savings be protected to globally-accepted standards, and see no contradiction.
Why is this? The answer is straightforward enough. From British Rule to today, the Irish people have conspired with their elected leaders to create a society where we are all victims and thus not responsible for our actions. We elect nearly 2000 public officials paid from money taken from our wages, and yet have no problem with nearly all those same elected officials all blaming other publicly funded (but non-elected) officials for decisions that affect our daily lives. Other more logic-centred societies would ask what do we need 2000 powerless public officials for, but not us. We are quite happy with the publicly funded wailer, the Whinger-In-Office, to confirm our hard-wired DNA level paranoia that “You’re damn right! It IS those fellas in Dublin or the EU or the Financial Regulator who is screwing you over!” rather than distill measured options about the choices facing our country into options for debate.
Bitterness and betrayal is much easier to savour than the examining of sacrifice. What do you expect from a country that holds a grudge against a vegetable.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 15, 2013 in British Politics
, European Union
One of the more valid arguments put forward by British eurosceptics is the fact that Britain can happily trade with the United States without having to join the US. This is, of course, true. The truth is, it is not in Britain or the remaining EU’s interest not to maintain a healthy and cooperative relationship post British exit.
However, let’s be clear about one thing: whereas the US and Britain are friends and allies, they are not equal partners. Britain is Robin to the US’s Batman, and whereas Batman cared about Robin, we had no doubt who was in charge: 320 million people to 63 million will do that.
Likewise, we will be trusted allies, 440 million Tintins to their 63 million Snowys. But sheer size will decide who decides what, and who goes “woah! woah!”
Posted by Jason O on Jun 14, 2013 in Irish Politics
Purely by coincidence, and unbeknownst to each other, two members of a certain political party recently pointed out to me the fact that the Progressive Democrats no longer existed was, to them, a sign of failure. It was an interesting observation, because it revealed to me the unfamiliar idea that, to them, the permanent existence of a political party was an end objective in itself, even if that party had outlived its usefulness.
It’s an idea I’ve written about before, primarily because I’m intrigued at the idea of people in politics with little interest in the politics of ideas as opposed to winning elections.
For example, it recently occurred to me that there are only two real political issues that still hold my attention in an exciting way, in terms of being areas where action is actually possible. The first is the future of the Seanad, and the second is gay marriage, both of which will probably be resolved with the next three years.
Now, it’s true there are other issues, like the economy, political reform and the EU which also interest me. But the difference with those issues is that, barring a radical change within the political system itself, nothing much will happen with them. Economically, FF, FG and Labour are the same party. Barring some minor tinkering, the Fianna Fail/Fine Gael/Labour political establishment will work together to keep the political system primarily what it is today, a source of employment for a certain personality type, and the future of the EU will be decided in more serious countries.
Don’t believe me? Just watch how Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour bury the Constitutional Convention’s most radical proposal to ban TDs being ministers. Just watch.
In short, save for the odd referendum, the average middle of the road voter probably no longer actually needs to vote, because the proportions of Fianna Failers or Fine Gaelers or Labourites making up the majority of the Dail won’t really effect the price of eggs in any real sense.
After all, do you really give a toss about which careerist wannabe TD gets to pass through a county council chamber, past the county manager who actually runs the county (and whom you can’t elect), on the way to the Dail? A Dail which our Save The Seanad political establishment tells us is a mixture of shite and potentially dictatorial anyway?
Remember, the right to vote is sacred. The right. Nobody said you have to use it.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 9, 2013 in Irish Politics
Let me first make an admission. The Constitutional Convention has not been the absolute disaster I thought it would be. I’ve watched some of its debates online, and have been impressed by the level of debate, and the contribution of experts. It is also a shocking mark of shame on the Labour Party and Fine Gael that they refused to let it discuss the Seanad.
But what really struck me, whilst watching on issues of political reform, is the sheer paralysis of both citizen and professional politicians alike. We all accept some terrible failure happened within our system, culminating in 2008-2011. Yet the convention has basically advocated that we should change the order of candidates on ballot papers as a solution.
In short, the convention decided, after looking at different political systems, that none would work in Ireland because Irish people would only screw them up. They voted to keep the political system almost exactly as is not because they deny there’s a problem, which in fairness to them they don’t, but because they can’t find anything better that was Irish-proof.
In short, the convention has pretty much decided, sincerely, and perhaps accurately, that the political system that nearly destroyed us is actually the best we can do.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 7, 2013 in Irish Politics
For the first time in my political life, I find that I’m on the opposite side of an issue from the great majority of my (political) friends, because let’s be clear about one thing: the political establishment is AGAINST Seanad abolition. Yes, Enda is in favour, because he sees it as a personal commitment, but even his ministers see this as all a load of unnecessary hassle. Just ask a load of Seanad retainers (Sorry, “reformers”) how many of them who have not already been Oireachtas members would not rule out being Senators in the future? Cue more interest in shoes than at a Clarks sales conference.
Still, it’s all great fun, being involved in a political bunfight about something, unlike, say, an EU treaty, that doesn’t really matter. In particular, I’m really enjoying the arguments being used by the No side about what’ll happen if the Seanad is abolished. These include:
1. Possible dictatorship caused by the government having control over things in the Oireachtas it doesn’t control at present, like, eh…control over the Time-Space Continuum?
2. The inherent evil within the Dail will be unleashed. All of a sudden, the Dail is now a threat to democracy. All this from people who had no problem with the Dail their entire political lives. What did they find? Rows of undead zombie TDs buried under the chamber, ready to rise up? “I’m calling on the minister for…human flesh!” as they shuffle mindlessly through the chamber…wait a minute…
3. The current bang-up job being done in terms of legislative review, with its Gladstonian/Disraeli level of debate, will cease. Cue coughing, wheezing fit. Who knows, Sean Fleming might even be forced to read legislation before telling us what’s wrong with it. It’s an outrage.
4. David Norris, John Crown, Gillian Van Turnhout et all will be forced to take an oath of silence with regard to commenting on Irish society. Like Vincent “Never says a word” Browne does. Or Fintan O’Toole. as a non-senator, we never get to hear from him on anything.
5. Fidelma Healy-Eames will no longer be a senator, thus harming Youtube’s future growth opportunities.
Whatever will we do?
Posted by Jason O on Jun 6, 2013 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
The 1st Irish Free State division wades ashore on Omaha beach, June 6, 1944.
They buried Eamonn De Valera on the 1st October 1943, nearly two weeks after the car crash on the Rock road, Blackrock, which had claimed the life of both the Taoiseach and his Garda driver. Given his iconic status in the political pantheon of the Free State, the Minister for Supplies and de facto successor, Sean Lemass, had delayed the traditional swift burial to allow for a ceremony more befitting “the chief.”
Over a quarter of a million people turned up to pay their respects as the procession made its way from the Pro-Cathedral to Glasnevin, and two days later, the Fianna Fail parliamentary party met and anointed the young 44 year old minister as Taoiseach.
A week after his election as Taoiseach, Lemass was visited by the US ambassador. The visit was perfunctory, the diplomat visiting to pass on the respects of President Roosevelt. As they spoke, the ambassador, who was well briefed as to the differences in outlook between De Valera and his young protégé, decided to take a gamble. By pure coincidence, he had on his person copies of OSS briefing documents outlining allied intelligence on the concentration camps. Lemass read them, asked questions about their veracity, and then opened a discussion with the ambassador about the post-war situation. The world was waiting for the invasion of France, and that, in tandem with the German reversals on the Eastern front, meant that the war was going to end, and Nazi Germany was going to be defeated. On top of that, it was becoming very clear that the United States was going to be the dominant power in the world. Lemass then changed the subject entirely, and spoke about the challenges facing a tiny, newly independent nation like Ireland, and its place in the world.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 4, 2013 in Irish Politics
I was reminded recently of a conversation with a member of a successful Irish political party, where I had pointed out that I had rarely been on the losing side in politics. He looked surprised, and pointed out that I’d been a Progressive Democrat, and had, as such, lost far more elections than I had ever won.
I was taken back by this remark for a moment, before realising that both he and I had a very different perspective of politics. His was a very tribal one, of loyalty to one party and one eye constantly on the score card of ”my crowd are up/in, the other crowd are down/out”. He genuinely believed that life would be different if his party were out and the others were in.
Mine, on the other hand, was of social direction. To me, parties are mere tools to allow us, the people, to shape society. As such, the PDs cut my taxes, Labour decriminalised homosexuality and legalised divorce and contraception, and reduced censorship, Fianna Fáil built infrastructure and negotiated the Good Friday Agreement, and all parties save for Sinn Fein brought Ireland closer to a federal Europe and into the single currency. A Fine Gael Taoiseach was the first Taoiseach to actually put the Catholic Church in their place. Even now, on issues like abortion, progress is being made, and the one party outside the mainstream with a serious chance of power, Sinn Fein, is hurtling towards the centre at the same speed that Tony Blair burnt his CND membership card.
In short, the Irish political system has broadly shaped this country in a direction that I’m happy with, and it got me thinking: what is it like to be a hard left socialist or a conservative Catholic, to every day see your social vision get further and further away? Don’t get me wrong: our political system is still terribly flawed and painfully slow, but on issues like abortion and gay marriage and euthanasia, I’m far more likely to get the society I want than the aforementioned.
Funnily enough, the retention of the current undemocratic Seanad, a prospect that is not exactly farfetched, would be the first time, barring EU treaty anomalies which were subsequently corrected, that I would actually be on the permanent “stuck with this” losing side of an issue.
I shall have to prepare myself.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 2, 2013 in Irish Politics
There are two constants of recent opinion polling of party support in Ireland today. The first is that Sinn Fein is holding firm in the late teens/early twenties, and the second is that Labour is facing the loss of between half and two thirds of their seats in the Dail. Given that political racegoer’s catnip that is the STV voting system, it does mean that we can only go so far in terms of seat predictions. However, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the current Fine Gael/Labour majority might find difficulty in reassembling after an election under these figures.
What catches the eye, all the same, is the Sinn Fein position. It’s not fantastical to suggest Sinn Fein could emerge with 20 seats or thereabouts, and be in a position, possibly with a small number of independents (of which polls suggest there may be no shortage) to put Fianna Fail or Fine Gael into power.
What’s interesting about this scenario is the assumption among many Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael supporters that Sinn Fein, on being offered cabinet seats in the mythical year of 2016 will automatically “do a Gilmore” and roll over for the two big parties, thus restoring the natural order of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael empowered by their junior mudguard parties, as the PDs, Greens and Labour have discovered before them.
I’m not convinced. Sinn Fein has shown a greater grasp of both patience and long-term strategic thinking than any other party on the island (with the exception of the DUP, who let David Trimble destroy himself and his party doing the heavy lifting, and then sold out their own alleged principles at the end when all the work was done). Before them is the golden calf of a Sinn Fein-led government in the republic, which could be seriously in reach if Sinn Fein sits out the next government and forces Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to enter power together.
Will Sinn Fein blink? A Fianna Fáil-Sinn Fein coalition lets Labour go after Sinn Fein’s disappointed (and they will be) left wing base, thus saving Labour. It also will complete Sinn Fein’s transformation, through the reality of decision making in government, into just another crowd of politicians blaming the senior partner for the broken promises of opposition. Or as we call it: The Labour Party in Government.
Will Sinn Fein learn the lessons of the PDs, Greens and Labour, or will they become just the latest version of Fianna Fail’s human shield?
Note: If any Sinn Fein or Fianna Fáil activist would like to write a guest blog on this issue, you can contact me on email@example.com
Posted by Jason O on May 31, 2013 in Not quite serious.
- She can buy her own Manolos, thank you very much.
It’s the sympathetic grimace and the tilt of the head to one side she can’t stand. The look from her (married) friends and older relatives, in response to her “No” to their “So, is there anyone special at the moment?”. That pained “Don’t worry, it’ll happen” look in their eyes. Followed by the “You’re sure you’re not being too fussy? After all, you’re not getting any younger” look.
What they can’t, indeed refuse to understand, is that she could possibly be happy on her own. At her age! Sure, she’s got her own place, a good job, and a career, and goes on holidays to places that they just can’t get to what with the kids and everything, but still, she can’t possibly be happy!
What they can’t understand is that she has actually crossed over the tipping point, from being one of those women who thought that maybe a man could give her what she wanted to being a woman who balks at the sacrifices she’d now have to make. She’d have to change, and maybe not go to the hotel she wants to go to in Manhattan and maybe not see what she wants to see, and for what? Well, there’s the obvious, but she can get that anyway.
But she also gets the Saturday morning in bed reading and sauntering around the house in her Bananarama tee-shirt and doing her thing. If only someone would invent an escort service that does interior decorating, DIY and a bit of plumbing on the side. Put up them shelves, a bit of a giggle in the afternoon, and you can go now, “Nurse Jackie” is starting. Is that so much to ask?