Will Sinn Fein actually be quite economically conservative in government?

It’s not impossible that the next general election, in 2024 or 2025, will be up there with 1918 or 1932 as a gamechanger election in Irish history, our version of 1945 or 1979 in the UK. It’s not impossible that for the first time in our 100 year history as a state we could end up with a Taoiseach not from FF or FG, and a governing party that up until the early 1980s denied the very legitimacy of the state itself.

It is fair to say that the election outcome will be described as a change election, proof that Nothing Ever Changes In Irish Politics ™ is simply not true. Will we see a government of radical change elected?

It depends on what we, the Irish, call change. The 1932 de Valera government did radically change the country, bringing in an entirely new constitution. The 1948 FG government took us out of the Commonwealth and symbolically declared a republic. Both parties and their various coalition partners slowly built up a modern welfare state.

What will a Sinn Fein government do that will be a radical change from its predecessors? If you read SF activists online, the declarations of radicalism peter out in the detail: yes, they talk about housing and healthcare and senior care and childcare and mental healthcare but the language is just about more of what FF/FG are already giving.

Ask them how an “Irish NHS” will differ from the HSE for those already with medical cards, and they blank. Promising to spend more money without a detailed guarantee of specific delivered objectives is not only not radical, it is the same policy that EVERY SINGLE Irish government has followed.

This is not radicalism, and SF’s leadership know it, because they know that the Irish electorate as a whole are not enthused about radical change. Sinn Fein are far more enthusiastic about taking people out of the tax base (Another FF/FG/PD/Labour favourite) than adding tax revenue to the state. Their wealth tax proposal expects to raise shy of €100m a year, which sounds like a lot until you realise our national budget is €88,000,000,000.

In other words, their wealth tax will raise 0.11% of our national budget. There are other proposals on employers PRSI, etc, that will raise more, but Sinn Fein are very cautious not to increase tax on most workers.

Why not? Because, one would assume, that they share the same reason FF/FG don’t make a loud public argument as to why we ALL should pay higher taxes for the common good. Because they don’t believe that the Irish voters will believe that higher taxes automatically mean better services. Why would they? They haven’t in the past. SF are no more radical on cutting bad public spending that FF/FG.

Economically, SF in government look like being very similar to FF in the late 1970s, early 1980s. Some tax tinkering, loudly throwing money with little regard to actual impact, and primarily borrowing until that moment when the bond markets simply refuse to provide more.

Even at that point will SF be different? Maybe some of the left in SF will start roaring and shouting about “who elects the bond markets” but it doesn’t matter: if you want more of their money you have to do what they say. At this point they could then do an Argentina and simply default, which admittedly would be incredibly radical.

But I don’t buy it. Far more likely we end up seeing minister for finance Pearse Doherty on US business news talking solemnly about how no previous Irish (FF/FG) government ever squelched on its debts to the global lenders, and he’s not going to start now. One can almost picturing the howling anguish of the Sinn Fein left with denunciations of the betrayal of Pearse, Connolly and the assorted Men/Women/Other of 1916.

That’s all well and good, but Doherty will have to make sure grannies get their pensions.

32: a fictional history of the reunification of Ireland.

I don’t claim this to be a comprehensive or academic study. It’s purely a work of fiction designed by me to stir the debate about the details of a future agreed Ireland. I believe in a united Ireland: but my biggest fear is that we end up with a West Brexit scenario, voting through a concept without knowing what we have in reality actually voted for in detail. Details matter, and this fictional account does not claim to cover all the angles nor offer all the solutions, but merely to stir the constitutional creative juices of those of use who believe in this project.

Attitudes to litter tell you a lot about our national psyche.

As with so many things in Irish politics, certain events trigger an almost identical response every time.

Take some public event which leaves a load of litter lying about. The response from different quarters is always the same, and highlights the competing psyches in the country.

First up are the Civic Spacers, the people who take offense at public spaces being violated by people dumping their property (Yes, when you buy a Big Mac you own the box too) and what it says about us as a country. I’m unashamedly one of them.

Then there’s the Not My Faulters. They accept that litter is undesirable but that disposing of THEIR unwanted property is not their responsibility, but that of “the government” or the business that sold them the product and its container, as if coffee should be poured into your hands. Their valid point, often about either a lack of bins or bins overflowing due to bad government is swept away by their refusal to take responsibility for their own actions.

“Wait, I have to carry this Magnum wrapper around in my pocket until I find a bin??? Why. Is. My. Life. So. Hard???”

Next up: the Have We Not Got Bigger Problems crowd. These lads are an off-shoot of the Sell The Government Jet To Solve All Our Problems gang, who believe government can only focus on one issue at a time (their issue, naturally).

“I can’t believe some people are worried about a little bit of litter whilst Palestine/Direct Provision/Housing/The Great Replacement is going on!”

Finally, there’s the F**k Yous. Not only do they not care, they are not even aware of litter. You can see them come out of McDonalds, pull off a wrapper, walk by a bin and toss the litter. There’s no point trying to shame them with TV ads: the only thing they respect is the physical force of the state stopping them, and that’s the issue. What is the most likely outcome of you littering right in front of a Garda? You know the answer. If you brass it out, probably nothing.

That particular statement should be our national motto.

Labour: a proper republican party?

Alan Kelly: defending the republic?

Let’s be very clear: we are not talking about IF Sinn Fein enter government, but WHEN.

In that context, the decision facing many real republicans in that election will be which party can be trusted to ensure that the republican and democratic values that this country is founded on be defended in a Sinn Fein dominated cabinet?

I believe there is a serious opportunity for Labour here. As a party it is not without criticism, and I have never been short of ammunition to criticise Labour, but I’ll tell you one thing. Within my lifetime memory, from Dick Spring on, Labour’s patriotic credentials have never been in doubt. Nor its commitment to true republican values and a United Ireland where all religions and creeds can claim a home. It has been the party that delivered social liberalism when it wasn’t the mainstream value. It can trace a line right back to 1916 (unlike some) but it has, since independence, always stood firm to the idea that the national question will not be resolved by violence. In the 1970s and 1980s Labour was not found wanting in standing up to the Provos.

So ask yourself this: in your gut, can you trust Alan Kelly to be a minister for justice and defence in a Sinn fein led government, making sure that reforms of the Guards or the judiciary or the Special Criminal Court will be for the benefit of the nation as a whole, and not part of a sinister Erdogan style agenda by a single party?

I think it’s time Alan Kelly start thinking about this, because it could Labour’s defining platform in the next election.

Why the EU should build a refugee safezone in North Africa.

ceuta“Everything,” Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is reputed to have said, “is connected to everything else.” Watching the rise of right wing populism in Europe, one could easily confirm the validity of that statement. It is hard to argue that Europe’s inability to control its own borders, who enters our union, is not the catalyst for so much of the ugliness that is threatening to engulf our continent. That failure triggers a loss of faith in European integration as a means of delivering for ordinary Europeans, and with that growing electoral support for the sort of parties we had hoped would never again be significant in our public life.

Illegal uncontrolled immigration is not the cause of all our problems. But it is such a huge factor that it cannot be ignored. We cannot fix Europe without fixing the issue of securing our borders.

Having said that, most Europeans, I believe, accept that we have a moral obligation to provide shelter and safety for those fleeing oppression, war and death.

With these two objectives in mind, I have long believed that the most logical means of delivering both is the creation of an EU-run refugee safezone, ideally somewhere in Northern Africa.

I do not rule out the sheer ambition, scale or cost of such a project. It would be the biggest operation ever engaged upon by European countries since the Second World War. We would have to find a nation in North Africa that would lease us a huge tranche of land, probably in the interior. We would have to build a port, roads, and then at its heart a de facto city state. A place where every illegal entrant into Europe from Italy, Greece or elsewhere could be transported for processing and housing, and then gradually, after screening, we could drip feed prepared refugees into the EU at our pace and according to our plans.

Let me be clear that I am not talking about some sort of Australian offshore prison, nor just a giant refugee camp. I’m talking about a functioning city with businesses, schools, hospitals, the sort of place that many refugees would be able to start a new life, under the protection of European security forces and run by an EU governor. A place where the children of refugees will attend EU schools, and learn our languages and values, be raised to be young Europeans with the opportunity to study and work in Europe. It could be party of the single market and the Eurozone. It would also allow us to screen for extremists.

Is it colonialist? Probably. But bear in mind that no one will ever be forced to stay there against their will. They may leave any time they wish. What they will not be able to do is enter Europe proper without permission. All those in the safezone will have been on their way to Europe: they can then hardly object to being in a safezone run by the EU to European values.

It would be incredibly expensive, and would probably need the creation of Eurobonds to fund it. It would need an EU security force to run it, an EU Navy to intercept and ship asylum seekers to it, and thousands of EU teachers, doctors, engineers, judges, administrators and others. But it would also become a focal point for other non-EU countries. I would be very surprised if Norway, Switzerland, Britain and others would not contribute, as would the UN and global charities.

Would it become a magnet for Africans. Almost certainly, and probably a target for Islamist terrorists too. But you know what? We live in the biggest magnet for both already.

Aside from its primary purpose providing shelter and safety, such a safezone would send a powerful message. To those who attempt to enter Europe illegally, they will know that all roads will lead to the safezone, even if they successfully make it illegally to Europe. It will also send a message to Europeans that we have secured control of our frontier, and that Europeans will decide who enters Europe.

*Note: I wrote a short novella, “A Little Piece of Europe” a few years ago. The reason I chose fiction was because it gave me scope to write about the concept in-depth, and its possible effect on individuals living there. You can download it for free here

Ten Rules of Irish Politics (Updated)

  1. With certain exceptions (in particular Sinn Fein), the personal vote of a candidate is more important to election victory than their party vote.
  2. Voters decide what matters in elections, not candidates or party activists.
  3. There are always far more votes to be won opposing a specific proposal to build new housing in an area than supporting it.
  4. Being an Irish legislator is like being a brain surgeon who is employed to carry out brain surgery but whose employment review is decided on how well he maintains a garden on the other side of the country.
  5. You cannot be lazy and be a successful Irish politician. You can be corrupt, deceitful or stupid but you cannot be lazy.
  6. Irish voters are perfectly happy holding two or more completely contradictory beliefs.
  7. There are no votes in proposing long-term solutions.
  8. There is a large number of people involved in Irish politics who have almost no interest in the shaping or direction of Irish society.
  9. It is possible to have a successful career in Irish politics and never ever have to make an unpopular decision.
  10. Being an Irish citizen gives you more rights than the citizens of any other nation on Earth.

Review: “No time to die” and the future of James Bond.

Farewell, Commander Craig.

*SPOILER ALERT: YOU KNOW THE DRILL. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN “NO TIME TO DIE” STOP READING NOW!

OK? Right, we’ll continue.

I really enjoyed “No time to die”, despite some things that annoyed me. But first, the positives:

  1. This is Craig’s best performance as Bond. He comes across as a human being, and the realization that he is a father affects him. It’s also the movie where Bond has actual friends who genuinely care about him. When he and Moneypenny turn up at Q’s house, their comfort with each other (and Q casually outing himself to the audience) has a hint of Scooby Doo to it. Even M’s response on hearing they’ve been secretly working with Bond “Oh for fuck’s sake!” is more “I knew it!” than anger.
  2. There’s genuine humour in the movie of the non-clunky variety. I can’t help thinking Phoebe Waller-Bridge played a role in that. In particular the “I have something to show you.” “Is it another child?”
  3. The nods to previous movies were beautifully done. The portrait of Judy Dench evoked an “aww!” in the cinema I was in. Lesser noticed, but equally relevant, was the portrait of Robert Brown who had played M in the 1980s. The use of music from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a nice touch, as well as speeding on a road in homage to the final tragic scene in OHMSS (where Blofeld murders Bond’s wife Tracy). Portentous, as we all realize later. One other thing: the scene when Bond kills Felix Leiter’s murderer Ash by crushing him with a car harks back to a scene in Roger Moore’s 007 days in “For your eyes only” where he cold bloodily kills an assassin by kicking his precariously balanced car off a cliff.
  4. Lashana Lynch does a solid job as the new 007, even getting the prized Use The Movie Title In The Movie scene, but the real and unexpected breakout star is Ana de Armas as Paloma, Bond’s CIA contact in Cuba, who deftly mixes dizzy almost goofball comedy (“I did three weeks training!”) with superb action scenes. The producers should use both characters again.
  5. The scenery and the stunts are superb. I personally find car chases quite boring but the ones in this are genuinely thrilling, especially the one with a bike Bond steals and pretty much drives up a wall. I almost puked.

As for the negatives:

  1. The Billie Eilish song did nothing for me. Overall, whilst I really liked Adele’s “Skyfall”, my favourite Craig song remains the late Chris Cornell’s brassy “You know my name”.
  2. Rami Malek is a fabulous actor, but his character is just a McGuffin here. Even the bio superweapon is under-utilised as to what it could do. How or why he’s doing what he’s doing is very much of the “Will that do?” variety. I was always waiting for him to look into the camera. Also, his character is given that awful thing that appears in many modern thrillers of having these long ponderous scenes where he just talks meaningless psychobabble to make the character seem deep? The film to too long, and you could edit a lot of this out without ruining anything plot-wise.

And finally, we have to address the Octopussy in the room…

There were people crying in the cinema at Bond dying, and even I got something in my eye at that exact moment. The audience was in shock, keeping waiting for him to return, to pop out of the water, to do a Sherlock and peer from behind a tree, but he didn’t. He’s dead, and the closing scene of Madeleine driving and telling her daughter about her father to Louis Armstrong’s “we have all the time in the world” left rubbing my eyes. A beautiful ending.

There’s a lovely option here for the next Comic Relief of M welcoming Bond to Heaven with a “For fuck’s sake Bond. It’s all drama with you. We could have put you in a space suit and used an electromagnetic pulse to kill the nanobots.” And Felix having a Martini ready for him…

And the future for 007? You can’t just ignore that ending and reset at the next movie, ignoring Bond’s death. It’s true that “No time to die” is mostly set five years after “Spectre”, so there is a window to set a film there, although it would be a bit weird having a different Bond chronologically (although not for the first time). Alternatively, the producers could either reboot back to the 1960s with a new actor. Check out the French OSS-117 comedies starring Jean Dujardin to see what that could look like. Or go for the old fan theory favourite and have M decide that Britain needs a James Bond (as a sort of one-man Trident deterrent) and so recruits a replacement to literally take his place. It’s not as preposterous an idea as it seems, in fact, it was sort of the plot of the 1967 comedy Bond “Casino Royale”. Personally, I think it is an interesting idea. Especially if “James Bond” is essentially a distraction to allow other agents work in the background.

Of course, then you’re into the plot for….eh…”Remington Steele”…

Why are Irish Govts so bad at educating voters?

It’s not true to say that nothing every changes in Irish politics. Those of us who grew up in Ireland in the 1980s are living in essentially a better country with more personal freedom and a greater standard of living.

But there are, nevertheless, some things that seem to go on forever.

Attitudes to taxes and public spending have not changed much. Every single party in the Dail has, as a core value, a hardwired belief among its candidates to go to voters in their parishes and tell them that they will get them better public services or facilities but that someone in another parish will pay for them. There is simply no major link between the taxes we pay and the services we get as a value to be communicated. Indeed, the two functions are so separated that pumping more money into public services (especially the HSE) has become almost a sort of religious mantra, not dissimilar to throwing a virgin into a volcano to assuage the volcano god.

In fairness, Ireland is not unique in this. Politicians promise. That’s what they do. “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the man behind the tree” was a famous political slogan from the 1930s in America, so it is not new. But what is more specific to Ireland is how Irish pols know that it isn’t sustainable. Taxes and borrowing are continuing to rise, and on top of that a new political concept seems to be sweeping the land where more and more voters seem to believe that not only should they get more services at no cost from the state, but they should not be part of the tax base either.

It’s hardly surprising that politicians are afraid to oppose that view. Certainly not opposition ones. But it is remarkable how government ministers and TDs are willing to take responsibility for squaring the impossible circle and with that the unpopularity for not delivering the impossible.

This govt, and govts before it, operates one of the most progressive tax systems in the world. We tax the rich, and to be sure, the not-so-rich and even the I’d-like-to-be-rich-one-day. We pay one of the most generous pensions in the world, including to people who did not contribute much. We pay one of the most generous dole payments in the world. We pay our doctors and nurses better salaries than most countries, all delivered by governments run by FF/FG/Labour/Greens/Democratic Left and the Progressive Democrats.

This government will spend, on health and social welfare alone, more in its five year term than the combined total wealth of Bernard Arnault, the richest man in Europe.

Yet you wouldn’t know much of this because our collective media and society focusses on stories of individual failure, of which there are many. We hear about the people on trollies on a daily basis (Pre-Covid) but very rarely hear how many people the HSE treats daily?

I blame successive governments for this, for not regarding the education of the voters in a democracy as a vital necessity, as opposed to something we just hope happens.

We’re setting up an Electoral Commission soon. It should be given a mandate and a budget to communicate fact.

I’m not talking propaganda, telling us all what a great job the govt is doing. I’m talking a rolling campaign of fact: who pays tax, and who doesn’t, rich and poor. How many homeless we have, and how homelessness is actually defined. How much we collect in tax, and what we spend it on. How it is spent. How much is spent on wages and pensions.

All fact. Of course, all this assumes that ministers and govt TDs have a) the imagination to do this, and b) can see it is in their interest to do so. A well-informed electorate who sees the connection between tax and spending is a good thing.

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TV Review: Motherland: Fort Salem

“Motherland: Fort Salem” (S1 Disney+/Star Ireland) is not a show I’d normally be interested in. The phrase “Supernatural teens” is, along with “ancient prophecy”, normally guaranteed to have me clicking on. So I approached the pilot episode with some trepidation.

I was wrong. I went through the entire 10 episodes of the first season over a few days, and am fuming that season two is not available, because I really enjoyed it.

M:FS is set in an alternative USA where the Salem witch trials ended in the Salem Accord where the leader of the witches, Sara Alder, agreed that in return for ending persecution against witches, witches would agree to defend the colonies and eventually the United States. 300 years later Alder (the same one. That’s explained later) is still leading the US Army as she has through a changed history and is now leading the fight against the Spree, a group of terrorist witches who….

I’ll better stop here, because it does sound ridiculous. But what really won me over was the level of detail in the witching world. The fact that it’s not all incantations (indeed, some rural witches get mocked by modern witches for using “spells” and the military training the witches go through is all focussed on the use of specific sounds, songs and tones. It’s also a female dominated world: the president is a black woman and all the senior military and frontline soldiers are women. There is an international council of witches based in (where else) The Hague which bans certain practices like mind control.

Although it is focused on the three young witches training in Fort Salem, there’s a very interesting undertone about whether the Spree are right. The non-magical majority accept the witches as the army, and many are grateful, but there is prejudice still on both sides. Many of the original great witching families see themselves as a superior caste.

The breakout character for me is Belgian actress Lyne Renee who plays General Alder. On the one hand, she is the witch that brought peace between humans and witches. On the other hand, she fears a return to the old times and sees the Spree stirring up old hatreds against the witches through some genuinely horrifying terrorist attacks using magic (which I won’t spoil). Her moral ambiguity is all the more powerful given, as she reminds other witches, the burning of witches is not ancient history to her. There’s a hint of the Golda Meir to her.

General Alder leads American forces across the Delaware…

Watching it, I’m reminded of the UK TV series “Ultraviolet”, which dealt with vampires not as supernatural but as a scientifically explainable phenomenon.

Having said that, the witches do nickname military helicopters “bats”. Give “Motherland: Fort Salem” a go.