Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Can Ireland sustain an openly conservative party?

Posted by Jason O on Nov 3, 2020 in Irish Politics

Previously published in The Irish Independent.

I was chatting with someone recently, and mentioned that I was going to write a column questioning whether there was room in Ireland for a conservative party. He made a joke about an Irish Tory party, which of course is the key point: is it possible to have a conservative party that isn’t immediately compared to the auld enemy?

If anything, the question demonstrates how much Ireland has changed. Up to the mid 1980s all we really had were conservative parties, with FF very socially conservative (in public but not in Haugheyite practice), FG slightly less conservative (but still with its Alice Glenns. Remember her?), and Labour looking over its shoulder every time it used the phrase “rubber johnnies”. 

Economically, it wasn’t much different, although with an Irish twist: all three parties were pretty comfortable with state involvement in the economy, social spending and high taxation, but God forbid you interfere in any economic way with The Land in a nation of Bull McCabes. 

It wasn’t really until the arrival of the Progressive Democrats in 1985 that free enterprise and low taxation became options worth considering, and even the PDs were very cautious about going too far. Indeed, the PD economic record in terms of tax and spending turned out to be pretty centrist: nothing that would be keeping Joe Biden too much awake. 

The awkward fact is that we’re a great people for setting up things before we decide what they’re actually for. It’s all well and good wanting a conservative party but first you have to decide what Irish conservatism is. After all, the old Fianna Fail tried and tested Whatever You’re Having Yourself/I Knew Your Father Well approach just isn’t working anymore.   

Is it peering through curtains worrying about The Gays? Is it repealing the eight amendment? Is it bringing back the ban on abortion and restricting contraception again?

Probably not. One thing about Irish conservatism is that it has nearly always accepted change when it happens, and starts instead worrying about the next thing coming over the hill.

The solution is probably, as American republicans did, to build a coalition around issues that you either feel very passionate about, or don’t care about. The US Republicans built an alliance of free enterprise tax cutters, gun rights activists and cultural conservatives, all willing to turn a blind eye if they didn’t like what the others were looking for in order to achieve their own objectives, and it has been electorally very successful. 

Could Irish conservatives do that? What issues would unite them?

That’s the tricky bit: putting, say, Keith Redmond and Eamon O’Cuiv into the same party would certainly be interesting. Both are pro-life to differing degrees, although you’d wonder what’s to be done on that issue. Both are also euro-critical, and could probably ally on a Thus Far And No Further approach to European integration. But on tax and public spending, Redmond would be closer to American conservatives whereas O’Cuiv would be closer to continental Christian Democrats who are quite comfortable with high public spending. 

Overall, the problem is that Irish conservatives are not particularly comfortable debating openly what it is they want. Even on issues like transgender rights or immigration many conservatives are reluctant to openly debate not only for fear of labelling but because both those issues attract a very nasty (and often Nazi) element that many Irish conservatives want nothing to do with. 

But it remains the core issue: you can’t create a conservative party if you can’t agree what the distinctive aims of that movement are. 

One you decide what you want to achieve, next is the how. The obvious answer is that rotting twisted hulk that once enforced the will of a thousand judgemental clergy, Fianna Fail. There are many on the right who argue, possibly with some truth, that Fianna Fail, in chasing the votes of social liberals pursued those who who never vote for them at the cost of insulting and abandoning those who actually did. 

There may be some truth to that, but it should be remembered that there was no shortage of Fianna Fail TDs happy to come out and oppose repealing the eight amendment, and you’d have to wonder if that helped the party much. You could argue that it helped many of them keep their seats in the following election. But you’d have to be sceptical: look at Renua, where three deputies resigned from Fine Gael over the abortion issue. Despite the 66% yes for repeal in the 2018 referendum the No vote in nearly every single constuituency, including their previous constituencies, should have easily elected a pro-life TD, especially one who made a principled stand on the abortion issue itself.  Yet where were those voters when they were needed at the previous election?  

That’s the question: is there enough of an electorate willing to put their first preference vote beside a party based on its ideology? There are some, who vote Green or Sinn Fein based purely on the party values rather than candidate, but are there enough of those voters to back an openly conservative party? 

Could Fianna Fail be seized by Irish conservatives as their vehicle? It certainly makes sense, and it has happened to parties elsewhere. The US Republicans were once the party of black Americans. The Tories were once the party of Europe. European socialist parties were once the parties of the poor.  

But there’ll almost certainly be a fight, with many in Fianna Fail being very comfortable sitting with other centrist and liberal parties in the European Parliament.

It’ll be bloody and distracting for FF. But for the country, an open punchup in the party would be both healthy for the country and the party itself  and, let’s face it, fairly entertaining too.      

 
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Property Tax reveals the con at the heart of Irish politics.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 22, 2020 in Irish Politics

Previously published in The Irish Independent.

I was watching that fine Wizard of Oz performance last week that is Dublin City Council debating its Local Property Tax rate, and as ever, it never fails to both illuminate and entertain. You’ve got to love the the showmanship, as parties of the self-declared left fall over themselves to avoid doing that central kernel of the left, transferring wealth openly from the Haves to the Would Like To Haves.

I get Fianna Fail and Fine Gael opposing tax rises. That’s what they’re for. 

But Sinn Fein and the Alphabet Left are taking the mickey. Credit to Labour and the Greens who put their money where their proverbial mouths are, although it should be remembered that Labour refused to push through radical local government reform in government (actually blocking it) and the Greens in government have agreed to a possible endless delaying of meaningful local government reform.

We can’t really be surprised. Sinn Fein operates, both north and south, on the argument that someone else will always pay for things. In the north it’s the Brits: in the south it’s more subtle. They tell every county that every other county should pay for their stuff, but not this county. In the county next door, Sinn Fein are telling those good people the exact same except pointing at the other county. Same in the one beside it. 

The wizard behind the curtain will pay for everything. 

The Alphabet Left aren’t even that subtle. They just claim that everything will be paid by evil wax moustachioed silk-lined cloak-wearing wealthsters (I’m thinking The Hooded Claw from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop) once they can be caught and pried away from deflowering the virginal young Rosa Luxembourgs of the working class, the rotters. 

Then, two months from now, the council will meet to draw up the 2021 budget and how they voted not to increase council revenues will be dismissed as they launch into a Shakespearen defence of every increase in public spending ever yearned for by even the most casual of passing advocates. The finger will point at FF, FG and the Greens as the keepers of the national couch and what yokes they are not to reach down the back and pull out a few quid for the hungry children.     

Every bloody year we go through this nonsense, and you have to ask yourself why. The answer is very simple: most of our councillors (and variations of this time wasting happens in most councils) are not that interested in changing this. 

Some are the real deal, but they’re at best a modest minority. Most councillors see the council as a pre-Dail vote winning proving ground with a chance of getting a year wearing a chain like the pampered poodle of some divorced Manhattan socialite and with similar levels of responsibility and cholesterol. 

It’s political theatre: we have councils that don’t have identifiable political leadership and so are never held to account. Nobody knows who to blame because nobody elected is in charge, and more importantly, nobody wants to be. A political shell game. 

Looking at this system, you realise that the British missed a trick in Ireland. If they’d brought in home rule but kept the executive power in the hands of the appointed Chief Secretary, we’d probably still be in the UK today, with Irish politicians puffing out their chests and denouncing the administration and never having to be on the unpopular side of an argument by making decisions. 

This is pretty much how we run all our counties. 

It’s the weirdness at the heart of Irish politics: so many people who seek elected office in Ireland merely want to win elections and hold office with curious little desire to shape the future of the place they represent. 

Sure, they’ll read this and get indignant and say different, but most councillors are members of parties that have actually governed or are governing the country in the last ten years, so if they’d wanted to reform the system, they could have. 

Did they? No. If anything, they blocked change. We’ve the only political class that effectively campaigns on the slogan “What do we want? Less power!” “When do we want it? Now’s fine, if it’s no trouble?”

The current FF/FG/Green programme for government promises an citizen assembly on an elected mayor for Dublin for next year. Remember the assembly on the Local Property Tax? Or Water Charges? No. Apparently we didn’t need them. This is a delaying tactic, to push back the decision on elected mayors. Wait and see: the assembly will probably be delayed, then eventually produce a report too late to implement for the next local elections in 2024, so that’s the elected mayor pushed back again, possibly to 2029. You know when we first put an elected 

mayor in Irish legislation (and took it out again at the request of councillors)? 1999. Does this sound to you like an issue our political leaders are pursuing with urgency?

I voted to abolish the Seanad in the October 2013 referendum (Three Taoisigh ago) because I believed meaningful wide-scale reform of the Seanad would be perennially blocked by politicians. I’ve yet to be proven wrong. If you asked me to vote now to abolish the elected councils and just have the local authorities as branches of the Department of the Environment, I’d struggle to find a reason to vote No. Dublin City Council did nothing last week to convince me otherwise.  

 
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Into the crystal ball. Our cities in 2030.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 17, 2020 in Irish Politics


Previously published in The Irish Independent.

One of the more counter-intuitive aspects of human progress is that times of great disruption often contribute to increasing innovation and the speed of change. The Second World War started with the French army spending more on hay for horses than fuel for tanks, and ended with the atomic bomb and the beginning of the space race. Covid-19 has the potential to be a similar catalyst for change, in particular speeding up changes that have already begun. We are, for example, now a society in which wearing facemasks is considered perfectly normal.

What could Ireland look like a decade from now? 

Let’s take a step through a rip in the time-space continuum and take a peek at a possible Ireland 2030.  

Welcome to the future. 

The single biggest change in the post-Covid era has been the re-balancing of the urban-rural divide. Working from home, combined with the expansion of business-grade broadband, the flight of the white-collar middle class accelerated as they realised that it was now possible to have a higher standard of living outside the traffic-choked cities. The road network, improved by governments in the past, has continued to expand and has reduced travel time so that rural living no longer means, in urban eyes, isolation. 

Young well-educated (and paid) families began to grasp the quality of life available outside of the major cities without sacrificing living standards. 

After all, Amazon delivers to Rhode just as easily as Rialto.

The cities themselves, especially city centres, find the pace of de-retailification caused initially by internet shopping has accelerated in unexpected ways. Non-food retail declines sharply, but this also allows for some of the more foresighted chief executives of local authorities to just ignore the elected grandstanding buffoons that make up most of their councils and instead seize an opportunity. They buy up cheap former shopping centres for a mixture of conversion to affordable housing and council-rented micro-business premises for small or artisan startups. The availability of affordable urban housing makes those owner-occupied businesses more viable, and soon city centres are filled with thousands of tiny splashes of colour and independent free enterprise. The skies above have drones delivering food and other products from those businesses and other “dark kitchens” in repurposed commercial areas to suburban residential areas and beyond. 

The Garda finally signs on to technology, with high-visibility drones with infrared cameras and speakers hovering over busy areas and providing air support to ground officers. Areas no longer demand their own Garda stations, but rather their permanent stationary hovering and always watching Garda sentinel. 

If anything, some areas start to complain of too much Garda presence.

Urban regeneration is also accelerated by, as the middle class moves rural, low-income immigrants (The single group most likely to start a new business) establishing communities and with them shops and restaurants reflecting their ethnic background. This in turn attracts young and metropolitan employees and those high-tech businesses eager to employ them spend nearly as much ensuring their employees have affordable housing in these thriving and vibrant areas as they do on their now much reduced headquarters buildings. 

Indeed, the quality as much as availability of housing becomes a major issue, as those employees, whilst happy to work from home, require larger homes to allow that their residences don’t become battery hen-like factories. 

Many repurposed commercial buildings boast a mix of one bedroom studio apartments and large communal areas and environmentally sustainable roof gardens to permit people to work from their own buildings, again supported by small micro food and drink retailers. 

The devolution of drinking time regulation to local level permits some parts of the cities to develop a separate and distinct all-night nightlife, with some daytime cafes and restaurants handing over their premises to a separate hospitality business that utilises the premises at night, effectively dual-purposing to reduce overhead costs.  

Cars become less welcome in the cities, with cycling on the verge of becoming, alongside public transport, the dominant method of transport.  

Open-air markets on formerly car-filled streets, often with deployable street covering to defend against the unreliable weather, allow those businesses to expand into the street for those customers still with a latent desire to social distance. City and town centres reverse the doughnutting effect of the mid-20th century. 

The final arrival of the much bally-hooed electric driverless car also happens, driven primarily by soaring driver insurance, with many signing up to reliable Manhattan-style “town cars” where needed, reliably being available outside their door when needed yet elsewhere when not, and finally ridding many of one of the most wasteful 20th century uses of personal capital for an asset that spends most of its time sitting quietly parked and depreciating in value. The use of electric vehicles by both public transport and state services results in a curiously quieter city.  

Indeed, the variety of driverless and competitively priced subscription services becomes a growth industry, as the middle classes who have moved to their rural idylls make use of them when needed, transforming the stop-start frustrated commute of old into a period of solace, work, rest or binge watching. The Department of Transport has to issue ads warning the public to ensure that if they are going to engage in adult activity in their driverless cars, they at least should have tinted windows or curtains to avoid distracting other passengers.

Will it all happen? There’s nothing I’ve outlined that’s too fantastic. 

Of course I can’t say for certain. But one thing I can say: if you don’t have plans for the future, the future has plans for you. 

 
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Personal safety matters.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 9, 2020 in Irish Independent, Irish Politics, Politics

Previously published in the Irish Independent.

It’s very easy to understand the recent calls for hate crime legislation that came from many decent people, rightly outraged at the racist attack on a Chinese woman near Dublin’s Royal Canal. 

But would it have helped her if such a law was already on the statute book? 

Would those who attacked her have paused because they would have feared crossing some legal rubicon? 

It’s all well and good having laws in statute books, but what anyone under physical criminal attack needs is help, primarily from either police capable of delivering a speedy and robust defence, or the attackers fearing that continuing the attack will reduce their chance of escape. 

What comes after, how society deals with the crime through its judicial system, is a different matter. 

But for now, we need to focus on rapid response to the crime-in-progress, and it’s simply not logical to expect the Garda to be everywhere. 

Even if we doubled the number of Guards it would have only a limited impact and almost less in public perception than the cost of doing it. 

But I can’t help thinking technology and some imagination might give a better return.

Perhaps highly visible Garda drones should be commonplace, hovering over high-risk areas and connected to a command centre that can automatically feed images into facial recognition software. They can be used to rush quickly to reported incidents, and whilst they can’t physically intervene they can assist in the apprehension of criminal suspects by ground units. 

Indeed, a group of criminals engaged in, say, a mugging, have an incentive to desist and flee because the drone can only track a few of them at a time.

Would putting more Garda on motorbikes (guided by Drone Central) allow for a more rapid deployment?

Should those convicted be required to register their mobile phones with the Garda, and carrying an unregistered device be made a criminal offence for convicted criminals? A sort of digital ASBO?

I can’t claim to have any expertise in law enforcement of course, and there will almost certainly be problems with the above suggestions, but surely some experimentation might help. 

The NYPD cracking down on illegal street windscreen cleaners resulted in loads of warrant jumpers being accidentally located. Many old-guard cops in New York City sneered when the ComStat crime tracking system was first mooted, but it became an important aid in identifying crime patterns and allowing for the better targeting of resources. It played a significant role in the reduction of crime in New York  in the 1990s. 

One interesting point would be that such use of technology would possibly lead to an increase in reported crime, as citizens who currently may not bother to report crime because they have no faith in it being investigated might then do so. Imagine an app where one could report “low level” crime like graffiti or vandalism or flytipping, knowing that every report adds to a better picture of where crime is or more importantly might occur, and allow for better deployment of resources. 

The suggested use of much greater surveillance, through recognition software, data collection and eyes-in-the-sky certainly warrants a debate about what sort of society do we want? 

Do we want to live in a country like that?

What if the choice is between the nominal freedom of less surveillance, where some gang of gurriers can kick your teeth in with both your and their privacy being respected, or a Garda drone either frightening them into stopping or guiding Gardai to your location?

What would you prefer? It probably depends on whether your mouth is filled with the slight metallic taste of your own blood. 

To paraphrase one of fiction’s most hardline lawmen, who do you want to see arriving when you’re being mugged? A policeman or your attacker’s human rights advocate?

Of course we must have human rights. 

We have to be very careful about not accidentally stumbling into a police state. 

I’m also very much a sceptic about throwing anyone in prison and throwing away the key. 

It’s incredibly expensive and for the most part it doesn’t work. 

Nor am I certain what the alternative is.

But I do know one thing for certain. 

My personal safety, my liberty and right to walk this country without fear of assault is at least as equal as the rights of the people who might assault me, and if the defence of those rights involves living in a society with a greater level of public surveillance, I can live with that.

I get that putting young people into a brutal prison system is almost guaranteed to make them criminals. 

We should not see prison as primarily some sort of old testament form of revenge. We should also recognise that the likes of Norway has had great success in reducing juvenile crime by taking a more liberal and enlightened approach to incarceration. 

I’m willing to look at all that and yes, if necessary, fund it with my taxes.

But what I’m not willing to tolerate is that I have to sacrifice my physical safety to reach that point. 

Yes, prison should be about rehabilitation, but primarily it should be about keeping violent people physically away from the rest of us, and yes, that should be its primary function. 

As part of that debate, there’s much talk in recent times about the phrase Defund the Police. 

As slogans go, it’s hard to imagine one which is so damaging to the cause it purports to advance. In fairness, for many of its advocates, Defund the Police isn’t about abandoning our law enforcement-free streets to thugs, but proactively spending on things that might prevent crime in the first place.

It’s a perfectly noble aim. 

I just prefer the slogan in its original form: Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.   

 
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Does the United States need to emulate the European Union?

Posted by Jason O on Sep 6, 2020 in European Union, US Politics

Previously published in the Irish Independent.

America is an exceptional nation. I know it’s not fashionable to say so, given how the phrase has been hijacked by the huckster ruling family of that country, but it is true. The next human to step foot on the lunar surface will do so not less than 60 years after an American first did it. 

Imagine it had been left up to the EU to put a man on the moon? We’d still be talking about it, although the European Mission Control building would be a massive money spinner for whatever country got it. The French would build the rocket, the Germans the lander, the Italians the spacesuits. 

We’d get The Corrs to write the theme song. Well, until Jim put his hand up to ask a question…

But we still wouldn’t actually be there.    

To me and many of my generation the United States was an inspiration, the country where the future came from. Growing up, watching sheets of rain coming down in Ireland amid the sideburns and crumbling quays of Dublin, one could watch Jon and Ponch on “Chips” patrol the highways (not dual carriageways, highways!) of California, a place so perfect that you could leave the house without a duffel coat or fear of getting soaked and the same coat doubling in weight as it absorbed the rain. 

Farrah Fawcett and her giant beautiful hair made me feel things as a young boy that even Thelma Mansfield didn’t, and don’t get me started on Colonel Deering from “Buck Rogers” bet into her white shiny lycra. Bet in.  

America was where hope and promise came from.

Which is what makes today’s America so heartbreaking. I’m a liberal, so I’m biased, but watching the Republican National Committee teeming with people who seem to really hate half their country, you have to ask yourself. 

Not only if the US can survive, but why should it?

Don’t get me wrong: I find some on the American left insufferable too, and yes, there is a difference between rioting and looting and protesting. 

The first two should get you arrested. 

A whole heap of them hate the other side of America so much they’re effectively campaigning for Trump. 

But how does a country survive when every election isn’t like a baseball game, where passions are strong but both sides accept the other side wins occasionally? How does it survive when every election leads to half the country believing that they are being run by an alien culture?

Where election results are no longer the absolute decider, but merely another “fact” to be disputed.  

Is it time for the United States to disband, or at least, to reform into a new form of union?

Enter Europe!

There’s a lot of things we don’t do well. But building a robust continental-size model for political consensus? We invented that.

At the heart of the American discourse is a fear, on both sides, that the other side will impose their values on them. 

We know something about that fear, and designed a union that is the sum of its parts without dissolving those diverse parts. 

Is it time for an American Union which recognises that many American values have now diverged and perhaps states should be allowed recognise that. 

Of course, there are many who will say the US has been here before, and it was pretty ugly. 

States Rights became code for the Jim Crow laws of segregation and voter suppression. It’s a fair point. Popular and democratically elected (by white people) segregationist state politicians were overruled by the federal government and sometimes federal troops and US Marshals, and rightly.

Segregation was abolished at times by force, and a righteous use of force it was too.

But there was effectively a political consensus, between Republicans and Democrats, that segregation had to go. 

There’s no consensus between Trumpism and moderation.     

What if the November election descends into chaos or even violence? 

What if it doesn’t, but the country stuck remains divided and paralysed?

As Europe can always learn from the United States, perhaps the United States can learn from Europe? 

Imagine an agreement to devolve more power back to the states, with a transition period of a few years (another European innovation) to allow liberals in Texas or conservatives in California to basically move house. 

Yes, it’s all a bit Mountbatten in India, but gives states the powers to have their culture match their state. 

Let the south ban abortions. Better it be banned in Alabama than a republican Supreme Court ban it everywhere.   

Let New York and California ban guns and introduce an American State Health Service. 

Let governors, as in the EU, negotiate the federal budget with taxes raised in their states. 

Let states have proper borders, as EU or Australian states have, and let 

Americans have the four European freedoms: the right to live, work, study and vote in any state.  

As for federal decisions, copy the EU’s Qualified Majority Voting: no bill can pass the senate unless it has the support of 55% of states representing 65% of the population. That way neither side can ram stuff down the others throat.  

Finally, recognise that there are more than two political choices: use the Single Transferable Vote in elections. 

Would it be tricky? Yes. Would it be divisive? Oh yes. 

But if things get bad, it might be a choice between this and Fort Sumter.  

 
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A statue for all people.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 29, 2020 in Irish Politics

Previously published in The Irish Independent.

I think I have it. The solution to the problem of statues of individuals falling out of favour with people or becoming unfashionable. 

The ancient Romans, used to redesigning public monuments as previous emperors fell out of favour with the new regime came up with the concept of having interchangeable heads on statues. 

All hail whatsisname until he either drops dead from overindulging on pheasant stuffed butter-fried giraffe or until the senate accidentally repeatedly stabs him, and the new fella needs to be lauded. Off comes the head, always sitting on a flattering chiselled Love Island style physique, and on goes the head of the new guy. 

 
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Short story: All products available in-store.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 26, 2020 in Irish Politics


As it turned out, a Lidl joint of preserved Spanish Serrano ham was just the right size to bash your husband of ten years to death. 

It had been the affair that had finally  triggered it. The secret texts, the suspicious amount of time being spent in the shed “looking for that thing”. 

She hadn’t planned it, but there’d been the argument and the accusations and suddenly it was in her hands and one clean swing and contact at just the right part of his head and he was dead before his smug annoying face hit her tiles which she’d only had put down before the lockdown, having sourced them from Ireland’s leading independent builders providers and home improvement store at surprisingly competitive prices.

She sat and recomposed herself. 

The lockdown had certainly put them both in a frustrated state of mind, tipping them over into blazing rows, and the discovery of the affair ended it, although the marriage had been over for a number of years before.

Maybe if there had been children, she thought, but dismissed it just as quickly. 

Her friends who had kids just seemed to find different things to fight about, mostly about who was taking little Sebastian to his violin lesson on Saturday morning.

She surprised herself that she felt no remorse, her mind not swimming but calm. If anything she was surprised not just how calm she was, but how it was subsconsciously moving onto what she needed to do next. 

Years of “CSI” and “Midsomer Murders” were now rushing in, filling gaps in a plan. 

Right, first things first.

She put on a pair of laytex gloves (thank you Covid-19), and grabbed his phone, and used his cold thumb to unlock it. She then reset the password so that she could access it when she needed.

Then she brought down those giant vacuum storage bags she’d bought, and squeezed his body into one, zipping it up and sealing it with the vacuum cleaner, but not fully because she remembered from an episode of some murder show that the body gives off gases and expands post-mortem, so she left the bag loose to allow expansion. She then put that bag inside another bag, and sealed that loosely just to be sure.

She had thought about putting the body in the deep freeze, but that would show up on an autopsy, and anyway her plan meant she could dispose of him before he started to seriously decompose.

A look at her watch. 8pm. It was starting to get dark.

This could work, she thought. 

She got dressed, and took his phone, walking out of the estate and down towards the harbour. She made sure to dress warm, covering herself up and wearing that stupid bright red hat he wore when walking because he thought it made him look like a young hipster. 

The harbour was only ten minutes away on foot, and she as she walked she scrolled through various text and WhatsApp messages looking for the right one. 

She found it. His best mate. A quick look through previous texts to give her an idea of what sort of language he used, and she sent a message.

“Telling u mate, not sure how much more I can take of this crazy bitch.”

When she reached the hardbour, she looked around to make sure there were no cameras or other people, then smashed the phone against some rocks and tossed it in the water.

She walked back to the house, and it was now dark, and reentered. 

Wrapping the vacuumed packed body in a black plastic bag, she checked the way was all clear, opened the boot, and in a clean run got the body in and door down just as a bloke with a dog walked by. 

He smiled the Covid smile and walked on. 

Just before she got into the car she stopped to think.

Had she missed anything?

Her own phone would stay in the house, his phone showed him clearly leaving and going for a walk down by the harbour. On impulse, she ran back inside and filled a small paper bag with a carton of milk, bread, and a swiss roll. She then got into the car, and slowly drove out of the estate, and straight into a Garda checkpoint. 

Where the hell had that come from?

The young Garda was accompanied by two plain clothesed officers wearing “Armed Garda” flak jackets. He raised his hand. 

“Good evening, can I ask you where you are going?”

“I’m just dropping some stuff down to a friend near the harbour. Cocooning. She’s nearly 80.” 

The Garda looked at the bag on the passenger seat, and nodded, waving her on. 

As it happened, she did actually drop groceries down to an elderly woman she knew regularly, so she headed down, rang the doorbell, and presented the unexpected bounty to the confused but grateful senior citizen, having a vague alibi if the young Garda recalled her being out.

She chatted with her for a few minutes, then got into her car, and headed to the rocks near the harbour. When it was all clear, she opened the boot, lifted out the vacuum bag and dragged it to the edge, muttering under her breath about her departed husband’s love of “Fucking Swiss Rolls”.

She used a Stanley blade to careful cut him out of the bags, put his red hat on his head, and tipped the body into the water, where the waves started hitting it against the jagged rocks before it sank.

She hoped that would mask the original head injury.

She took the empty plastic bag and stopped at a random house with a recycling bin outside waiting for morning collection, and dumped the material. 

Fifteen minutes later she was home. 

They’d had a row, she’d tell the Garda tomorrow, when she reported him missing. She’d ring his phone later, frantically, repeatedly, leaving hysterical messages after she’d “calmed down and was worried he’d not returned”, leaving plenty of concerned wife evidence. 

She’d ring his best mate looking for him too. More evidence. 

But first, she’d ring her lover.  He liked Serrano ham, she recalled. 

 
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How can small parties protect themselves in government?

Posted by Jason O on Jul 15, 2020 in Irish Independent, Irish Politics


Previously published in The Irish Independent.

As a former Progressive Democrat I’m familiar with the propensity of Irish voters to give smaller government parties an almighty kicking. As a result, I must admit to having a certain sympathy for the reluctance of the Greens and Labour Party to act as the left testicle of the spectacle that is the mating act between the two bull elephants of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. 

I’ve somewhat less sympathy for the Social Democrats who give the impression of becoming the fresh pesto and ciabatta wing of the Alphabet Left, happy to adopt many political yoga positions but not so hot on getting into the mucking in and compromise of actually making governing decisions. 

All three parties face a reality that must be acknowledged. 

Small parties tend to have more ideological voters with much more elaborate expectations and are therefore more prone to disappointment. It’s not unique to Ireland: the Liberal Democrats suffered the same in the UK after five years of coalition, with actual achievements counting for nothing when a section of your electorate who bizarrely support proportional representation nevertheless get miffed when you enter coalition. 

The big mistake small parties often make is to assume that their voters will reward them for solid policy delivery, a lesson Labour learnt to its cost in 1997. Despite having delivered a balanced budget, a growing economy, lower unemployment, increases in public spending and welfare, tax reductions for the low paid and nearly the entire social liberal agenda, half their voters deserted them and with that half their seats evaporated. The Greens in 2011 and Labour again in 2016 suffered repeat fates, this time both parties being taken to the edge of annihilation.

The awkward fact is that losing votes is inevitable for small parties in government, and instead those parties should start thinking about minimising those losses.

One of the big secrets about our Single Transferable Voting system is that it can magnify how voters feel about your party. If you are popular, you can often end up with a seat bonus in excess of what your first preference merits as your party is transfer friendly and allows your candidates hold on until final counts, scraping in without reaching the quota.

That’s if you’re popular.

If the feeling of the country is agin’ you, STV can be like giving the average voter a roll of pennies to hold in their hand before they start giving you digs, giving their blows extra weight. Not only is your first preference down, but other parties’ preferences are flying around to add to your opponents and keep you out. As the Greens experienced in 2011, you can lose every seat despite being proportionately entitled to some.

With that horrific experience in mind, and aware that they have the two bigger parties in a position of leverage, the small party entering government should be demanding certain things to give them a better chance of surviving the inevitable drop in vote support.

For a start, they should insist on making Dail constituencies more proportional, which means making them bigger than five seaters. We’ve had nine seaters in the past, and it would give them a better chance of survival if their polls collapse by at least ensuring their party vote isn’t dissipated between constituencies but corralled into larger constituencies where they might just help save a seat. The enlargement of local council wards for the 2014 local elections saved a load of Labour seats when the party’s vote fell sharply. 

Or they could do something really radical. The constitution means that we must have STV in geographical constituencies, and that really can’t be changed. But what about moving the voters instead? What about giving voters the option of registering to vote by post in whatever constituency they wish? That way, small parties could have a small number of target constituencies and basically ask their voters to come to them.

This particular idea seems to send FF and FG supporters into apoplexy, but not for any real reason. Every voter would still have a single vote, and so what if you as a voter decide that a TD on the far side of the country represents your values more? It’s your vote, and if someone in leafy (we only have leaves in nice areas, apparently) south Dublin decides that Mattie McGrath is the man for them, so be it. It’s their vote. 

Secondly, they need to get real about local government reform, Aside from elected mayors, which could help deplete the opposition of leading candidates by banning sitting mayors from running for the Oireachtas, they could take advantage of the fact that the electoral system for local government is not outlined in the constitution, and go for something more radical. 

Instead of electing them by STV wards, you could elect say 25 of them in single seat wards as full-time full-paid “super councillors” to ensure local area voices, and the balance by a proportional list system, which would allow for the smaller parties to pool their citywide vote together and hopefully take some seats. It would also allow for city-wide issues like cycling and homelessness to come to the fore as the cyclist/homeless vote would be able to vote as a bloc as opposed to being dissipated across wards.

This isn’t pie-in-the-sky stuff. 

This can be all done by legislation, and could be part of the price for coalition, with the small party insisting on the cabinet responsibility to implement it. It’s happened before: small parties have managed to impose reform on bigger parties, as the PDs did on Fianna Fail by banning the dual mandate. 

It requires small parties to be as ruthless in protecting their own interests as FF and FG are in defending the status quo to suit themselves. 

In short, Eamonn Ryan needs to find his inner Frank Underwood. 

I suspect Alan Kelly might have less difficulty.

 
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Do voters expectations now exceed what a democratic government can reasonably deliver?

Posted by Jason O on Jul 12, 2020 in Irish Independent, Irish Politics, Politics

Previously published in The Irish Independent:

Congratulations. You’ve just been whizzed back to Leinster House accompanied by speeding Garda outriders. You were just in Arás an Uachtaran where the wealthiest communist sympathiser in the country gave you your seal of office as the new minister for finance. Within hours you’ll be sitting at your desk in the Department of Finance, looking at a list.
Go on, try it. 
Put the following groups in order of who is most deserving of more resources (what we used to call taxpayer cash), with you saying that the ones near the top are more deserving, and the ones further down less deserving. 

Nurses.

Other HSE staff.

The rest of the public service.

Mental health services.

Cancer support services.

Capital expenditure.

University funding.

Childcare.

Jobseekers benefits.

Pandemic payments.

Children’s Allowance.

Care home services.

Social housing.

Homeless services.

Reform of Direct Provision.

Defence Forces pay.

Garda numbers.

Flood relief.

Water services.

Pandemic preparation.

Overseas Aid.

Arts funding.

RTE funding.

Irish language funding.

EU budget contribution (CAP).

Rainy day fund.

United Ireland fund.

SME support.

Regional and rural development support.

IDA grants.

Old Age pensions.

Servicing the national debt.

Public service pensions.

It’s some list, and I’m sure I’ve missed lots of worthy causes and sectors. 

But imagine being the minister looking at that list with a finite amount of money and every single vested interest behind each one of those areas not just demanding existing funds but looking for more. 
Not just demanding more but not giving the slightest toss about all the other competing groups. Their message is that they want less than the total budget as a whole and you don’t want to give it to them because you are one of history’s most uncaring monsters. And the next one will say the exact same. And the next one. 
That’s not even counting the people (often from the exact same groups demanding more cash) demanding that income tax, VAT, property tax or commercial rates be reduced, each one reducing your revenue and ability to meet the above demands.  
What would you do? The sensible thing to do is to prioritise on some, but even that is full of dangers. Favour business in the hope of generating more tax revenue from economic growth and you’ll be told you’re favouring the rich. Favour welfare and you will never ever hear its lobby group say “Actually, that’s enough, thanks very much.” 
Every one you favour will result in howls of anguish from every other group that they The Vulnerable are being neglected and you just don’t care. A good section of the country will say you’re hurting them deliberately. 
You’ll probably end up doing what every Irish finance minister does: try and spread the money as thinly as possible in a nearly always failed attempt to pacify as many as possible and instead unite a huge chunk of the country against you. Each group pretends that it is operating in a vacuum. No problem ever gets enough resources to close the file, if that is even possible. 
What you almost certainly won’t do is start an honest debate about the nature of public spending in Ireland. That we now live in a society where a majority of the population expect far more from their government than it can actually hope to deliver, and resent having to pay taxes for what they are currently getting. 
That our political culture is permeated by politicians who make vague promises that cannot even be measured, never mind delivered, and voters who essentially ask to be lied to. 
Even Irish governments that do quite well, which is most of them by international standards, become rapidly loathed by their voters because they can’t meet the overhyped expectations that got them elected in the first place. 
We’re currently reduced to the spectacle of Willie O’Dea and Mary Lou McDonald furiously competing to see who can ram more free money down the throats of voters with little regard for the long-time financing of our public finances. Compassion, wellness, solidarity and social justice are deemed valued assets in public finance debates, although not when actual public spending is being decided. Tell an NGO they’re getting a 10% increase in solidarity and they’ll tell you to shove it, hands grabbing for the greasy till just like the rest of us. 
Politicians promising the moon on a stick is not surprising. It’s been going on since Willicus Odeaicus Publicus Spendicus promised more free bread and bloodier Circus Maximuses (“You’ve seen humans eaten by lions! Well, I promise lions trampled by elephants!”). The complete unwillingness of politicians to even attempt to educate the public as to the rod they’ve made for their own backs is surreal. They literally keep secret the huge and undeliverable pressure they put themselves under from the public for no good reason I can muster, instead letting nonsense about how the rich or business pay no taxes ferment and help their populist opponents promise yet more and bigger elephants.
Here’s a thought: if it’s impossible for Irish centrist politicians to educate their voters, is it time someone else do it? Is it time for ISME, IBEC and the SFA to take on the task of running a public campaign to confront voters not with a campaign to convince but the simple realities about public spending and taxation. Given our reluctance to cut the €5 billion a year that goes to NGOs and charities in Ireland to lobby government, would it be the worst thing in the world to set up an NGO to put simple economic facts in front of voters? 

In fairness, there’s probably a grant available.     

 
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How can such a creative country lack imagination so much?

Posted by Jason O on May 6, 2020 in Irish Politics

Previously published in The Irish Independent.

In a way, the blandness of the proposed Fianna Fail/Fine Gael agreement is a credit to us as a nation. Whereas across the world political systems are riven by vicious disagreement (The US, UK) or or dissent is simply not tolerated (China, Russia) we still have a broadly centrist system based around the idea of not getting up anyone’s nose too much. 

It could be an awful lot worse, indeed if anything that should probably be our national motto, because it’s true.You’d be hard pressed to find a better country to live in than this one, whereas there is no shortage of countries where the quality of life is worse or maintained by things we regard with outrage, like paying for water usage or requiring people pay for compulsory health insurance or indeed, in some instances, tax. Or even to work. 

That doesn’t mean we don’t have problems we need to solve. Before the big C transformed our world into a landscape of yellow and black warnings and measuring everything in two metre units we had big problems with healthcare and housing, and those problems will return along with the biggest economic challenge since FDR took office.

But as the coronavirus has shown us, as a people we have a capacity for adaptation and innovation. Both our public and private sectors have been incredibly impressive in solving problems quickly and effectively.

Which raises the question: we obviously have the brains and the skills, so why is it so hard to innovate in this country to solve problems without a global pandemic to drive it on?

The answer is Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. 

Now, let me be clear. Both of these parties have done more good than harm in this country. I know, you say this and a section of the country gets hysterical. I can feel people reading this and spitting all over their screens. 

Both parties infuriate, but I’ll take them over the US Republicans or British Tories or Orban’s Fidesz or the headbangers in Venezuela anyday. It’s been years since either of them shot their political opponents. 

But that is also the problem and the biggest obstacle to us making the next jump forward from a good nation to a great one. Their longevity, I mean. Not shooting people. 

The problem is that FF and FG now have inertia hardwired into their collective DNA. If they could have no programme for government, and were just in government to be in government I suspect they’d be quite happy with that. 

They’re not parties of the extreme, but not innovation either, because innovation is held in suspicion in Ireland. As a country, we don’t like change and both parties built their reputations and indeed their values on the concept of the minimum level of change necessary. 

As an ideology, it’s perfectly valid, but you can’t help feeling that they’re missing the opportunity of using the crisis to try to address some running sores in our society.

The single biggest one, for a start, could be telling the truth about economics. 

There’s a blatant refusal of Irish politicians to confront the Irish people with the reality that everybody must pay higher taxes to provide the level of services Irish people say they want. Indeed, knowledge of public spending and taxation tends to be in the realms of fantasy in Ireland, with obsessions about tiny amounts of money like TDs expenses, or that the highly paid or business don’t pay their “fair share” of tax. Even our definition of “fair share” isn’t defined. SMEs in particular, in paying commercial rates, pay substantial shares of county council funding yet get no public thanks for it. I sometimes wonder should county councils, with the consent of businesses, actually publish a list of what every business pays just to demonstrate the huge contribution made. 

If we are going to have a debate about resetting the economy, could we not start by informing everyone of the facts? Would it really be that terrible if the govt followed the advice of Eoghan Murphy and gave every citizen an annual breakdown of how much they pay in taxes and how much they receive directly and indirectly from the state? Or tasking the Department of Finance with running an ongoing economics education ad campaign? How much it costs to pay a nurse. How much the state pension costs. Who pays tax, and by how much. How much of the national budget is spent on the Oireachtas. What would be the objection? 

That it is political to inform people of these things? 

The other thing the new government should try is pilot schemes. 

Put 1000 people on a Universal Basic Income scheme and see what happens. 

Give the Garda a few dozen high visibility drones for patrolling both urban and rural areas.

Open a few rural post offices and Garda stations in the same buildings and see if it works. 

Give a few counties an elected mayor with full control of property and other taxes.

In short, experiment and innovate. 

Try a load of things and yes, some will fail but admit that up front.

One of the biggest excuses we use in Ireland to block change is that there isn’t consensus on an issue. That we don’t have a perfect solution to a problem, therefore should do nothing. 

It’s time to take a few small leaps of faith.

Copyright © 2020 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.