Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

A Fantasy Cabinet?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 29, 2009 in Irish Politics

It is a time for leaders and thinkers.

It is a time for leaders and thinkers.

Wouldn’t it be a novelty if we could actually base a cabinet on talent as opposed to whatever rotting cadavers the electoral cat dragged in, that is, the ability to play hurling or download social welfare leaflets for constituents impressed by indoor plumbing. The arguments against having non-elected members of the cabinet are completely spurious in this country. Its opponents say that it is “undemocratic.” Yet these same people (Nearly all FF TDs, funnily enough) had no problem giving the non-elected Brendan Drumm control over a bigger budget than most cabinet ministers have. The truth is that politicians against appointed cabinet ministers are against the notion for purely selfish reasons: There are far more talented and capable people outside the Dail than inside, because that’s the way our electoral system works. (For a very interesting overview of that, read Elaine Byrne’s excellent piece here in yesterday’s Irish Times.) The US and many other EU states have mechanisms to bring talented people into government. We actually do as well, but we never use it because Fianna Fail TDs in particular regard ministerial appointment as primarily a source of reward as opposed to public service.

Anyway, here’s my thoughts on a fantasy “Government of All The Talents”:

Minister for Finance: George Lee

Getting public consent for the hard times ahead will involve being able to communicate the problems to the public, something Lee has proven adept at.

Minister for Public Sector Reform: Richard Bruton

We need a good solid details man with the ability to think strategically. Richie might be the man. 

Minister for Justice: Fintan O’Toole

Again, in order to stomach the pain, the public will want to see a man of integrity go after the toerags. Like him or loathe him, is there anyone who doubts his integrity?

Minister for Foriegn Affairs: Pat Cox

He knows the material and has got the political heft (Great word, that.) on the European stage to repair the damage done by Lisbon.

Minister for the Environment: John Gormley

Still the best chance we have of taking the environment seriously. A true believer.

Minister for Local Government: Dermot Lacey

Former Labour Lord Mayor of Dublin and one of the few local authority members who actually believes in local government as an noble end in itself as opposed to a resting post on the way to the Dail.

Minister for Enterprise and Employment: Ruairi Quinn

Again, a man of integrity with an appreciation for long term thinking.

Minister for Health: Mary Harney

Will surprise people with this choice, but most who oppose her have no fresh ideas other than to reverse her policies, and take us back to a health service actually worse than it is today. Just look at the stats. She looked for the job and has taken on some of the sacred cows.

Minister for Energy: Ed Walsh

Time to think the unthinkable about nuclear power, and Prof. Ed Walsh is the man to lead the debate.

Minister for Education: Noel Dempsey

Has shown himself to have the guts to think outside the box on third level fees and electoral reform.

And Taoiseach? We need someone the public feels isn’t part of the same old politcal boys club, but has the brains too, as well as a proven ability to communicate well. I give you, An Taoiseach:

The time has come.

The time has come.

Olivia O’Leary




Fine Gael has an interesting policy (Yes, I’m surprised too.)

Posted by Jason O on Apr 28, 2009 in Irish Politics

Jaysus! A good idea from FG! We should have it stuffed!

Jaysus! A good idea from FG! We should have it stuffed!

A few thoughts on Fine Gael’s new health policy which you can get here and read their summary below.  Some interesting stuff. My thoughts in red.

” Fine Gael’s FairCare proposals, by contrast, represent the most fundamental reform of the health system since the formation of the State. We will abolish long-term waits on trolleys in A&E, slash waiting lists in hospitals, and eliminate the unfair and inefficient public/private divide by introducing Universal Health Insurance (UHI). We will also reform the Primary Care system to ensure that more patients are treated safely outside hospitals by their GPs. (Ok, so we start with a set of reasonable principles. Fair enough.)

Primary Care Reform is Crucial

Since it was first announced in 2001, the Government has consistently failed to meet the key targets in its Primary Care strategy. (God love them, but FG just have to get the boot into FF. They can’t help it. A bit like a monkey eating lice from another monkey’s hair. It’s genetic)

Fine Gael will give Primary Care the priority it deserves. By the end of our first term in Government, we will have a comprehensive network of new Primary Care centres to serve our communities. The community they serve will determine the size and scale of the centre. Depending on population coverage, their services will include X-Ray, Ultrasound, Endoscopy, Physio, CT and MRI scanning, etc. The centres will also include rooms for visiting specialists and will accommodate a robust community mental health service. (And the funds for these will be found where exactly?)

Patient flows to hospital will be further reduced by the availability of a National Body Test (NBT) to pick up illness early, and by the existence of chronic illness programmes for diseases such as high blood pressure, asthma, etc. to prevent the complications that land people in hospital. (This is a very good idea, but it will be paid for how?) 

We believe that the capital costs of this programme can largely be borne by the private sector, if appropriate long-term contracts are put in place. If additional incentives are required, such as Accelerated Capital Depreciation, this requirement will be addressed. (Hmm. Private sector, eh? Will some be built on public land to make it attractive to the private sector? Isn’t there a phrase for this?….oh yes, co-location. The policy FG has opposed since Mary Harney introduced it. Oh well. Maybe they’ll call it something else, like lo-cocation?)

A 3-Phase Programme

Reforming the Irish health system will not be easy. The last thing Ireland needs is another ill-conceived experiment like the formation of the Health Service Executive (HSE). (Because the health boards really worked so well!) In addition, any reform must be undertaken within Fine Gael’s overall budgetary framework. We have, therefore, divided our FairCare programme into three distinct, but over-lapping phases that will allow us to gradually introduce reforms in a way that is both carefully planned and affordable. (I liked this. Sounds reasonable, to give it its due.) 

Phase 1: Maximise what we have
(Implemented from Year 1)

In the first phase of FairCare, we will change the way hospitals work and, as indicated above, will also significantly strengthen Ireland’s Primary Care system.

As part of our hospital reform programme, we will make the Minister of Health directly responsible for hitting key targets. Progress will be measured daily by real time information systems (This won’t be cheap. remember PULSE and PPARS?) , and a Special Delivery Unit will be established to assist the Minister. A similar unit was successfully used in Northern Ireland to help slash waiting lists, e.g., inpatient waiting lists for those waiting more than 3 months fell by 80% from 2004 to 2008. Crucially, this was done without significantly increasing spending. (But in a political system where politicians take sides as opposed to sitting on the fence and calling for someone else to hold “a full scale review”.)

Fine Gael recognises that significant bed capacity in hospitals could also be freed-up if patients facing delayed discharge or requiring rehabilitation could be treated in the Community. We will publish specific proposals on this issue over the next few months to address the current deficits in long-term care and rehabilitation. (Fair enough as long as they are costed and fund mandated, i.e. whose pocket they’re coming out of.)

Fine Gael will also ensure that resources arising from the sale of psychiatric institutions and lands, will be ring-fenced to mental health. Psychiatric illness must be treated like any other illness, and resourced accordingly. (A fair suggestion, but does it not mean that current services will be funded out of the disposal of capital assets, which means that the following year there’ll be no revenue available to continue the services?)

Phase 2: Introduce “Money follows the patient” (Implemented in Year 5)

Under the current system of fixed budgets, each additional patient is effectively a “cost” to the health service. This system provides no incentives for efficiency or productivity. Under MFTP, health providers will be paid for how many patients they treat. Patients will be a source of “income” rather than a “cost”, just as they are in private hospitals today.

MFTP will mean that decision-making is increasingly devolved to the hospitals themselves. Once MFTP is introduced, the National Treatment Purchase Fund will be closed, saving around €100 mn a year. Long term, we expect MFTP to increase efficiency by as much as 10%. (This is very similar to what the Tories implemented in the UK, and might work as long as the money keeps flowing. But what happens to the underperforming hospitals? Will we really let them wither and close, or bale them out as well under pressure from backbenchers, thus actually spending MORE money than we spent before?)

Phase 3: “Universal Health Insurance” (Implemented in Year 5)

Once the first and second phases of FairCare have been successfully implemented, Fine Gael will introduce Universal Health Insurance (UHI), a system that is widely used in Europe and in Canada. UHI will only be introduced once waiting lists have been significantly reduced in Phases 1 and 2. In the interim, the current system of voluntary insurance in Ireland will remain in place.

Within its first 30 days in office, a Fine Gael Government will establish a UHI COMMISSION, which will include representatives from all of the major stakeholders in the health service. Its primary task will be to build a consensus (A consensus? From the people who have the health service the way it is today. Wasn’t that what we paid benchmarking for?) around the practical measures that need to be taken to prepare the health system for UHI. One of the keys to success for any insurance system is strong regulation. The Regulator will be answerable to the Minister and the Oireachtas.

Fine Gael proposes to introduce the Dutch model of UHI in Ireland, with mandatory health insurance for everyone, to be chosen from a selection of providers. The Netherlands spends only slightly more than us on health on a per capita basis, but is ranked number 1 in Europe for quality and Number 2 for value for money (Source: European Health Consumer Index 2008).

The Dutch system of UHI has strict community rating and an obligation to cover, which means that insurance companies will not be able to discriminate against anybody on the basis of age, sex, medical history, etc. This will be underpinned by a system of Risk Equalisation, which will compensate insurers for covering higher risk, higher cost patients. The insurance model will also address mental health. (Just wait until you try to get 18 year olds to pay for compulsory health insurance. The Stealth Health Tax?) 

Under UHI, everyone will receive a package of free GP care, paid for by some rebalancing of the tax system (Whoa there Bessy! “Rebalancing?” That sure sounds like a good ole fashioned tax increase right there!), and significant savings (Ah, the magic that is “significant savings”, the magic bullet of every manifesto, up there with “efficiencies” and “cutting waste”) as the insurance companies bring down costs. There will, in addition, be significant savings in administration. At the moment, Ireland has two administrative systems for health – one public (the HSE) and one private (the insurance companies) – resulting in enormous duplication and waste. Over time, these two systems will become one, run by the insurance companies. As a result, the number of administrative staff employed in the HSE will likely fall by at least 5,000, as its role becomes more focused on long term care, public health, etc. (Wow. That’s gutsy. 5000 job cuts. If Labour let them.)

UHI will require the insurance industry in Ireland to play a much greater role in negotiating contracts with hospitals and other providers, and in driving innovation, than has been the case to date. Fine Gael will not introduce UHI until it is certain that the insurance companies are capable of taking on the expanded role required of them. A Fine Gael Government will encourage insurance companies from other European countries, who have experience of implementing social insurance models, to enter the Irish market.”

There’s some good stuff here, it has to be said. But it relies an awful lot of FG facing down its own backbenchers, the vested interests with the health service and the Labour party. Maybe I’m being unfair, but backbone has never been an FG thing.


What is a Libertas vote actually for?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 27, 2009 in Irish Politics, Lisbon Treaty

Declan Ganley: A Catholic iceberg beneath a Lisbon tip?

Declan Ganley: A Catholic iceberg beneath a Lisbon tip?

Here’s the thing. Libertas is identified as being essentially an anti Lisbon treaty party. But if the treaty is ratified in October, which is quite possible, it means that Libertas’s core objective will be off the table. So what will Libertas MEPs actually do?

Nobody is quite sure. Libertas has been quite sketchy other than to campaign on a vague “Clean up Brussels” platform. This is unusual when one considers that the Standards in Public Office Commission on March 12th said that Libertas, “despite a number of written and telephone reminders…has failed to provide the required information” with regard to campaign spending. Hmm. A question of kettles pointing fingers at pots with regard to pigment, I wonder?

Seven weeks to polling day and there’s still so sign of a Libertas manifesto. No sign of anyone else’s manifesto either, true, but this is a new party, so one would think they would be eager to communicate what it is they are actually running for. I guess voters will have to go on the public statements of Libertas candidates. Caroline Simons, their Dublin candidate, has appeared as a representative of the Pro Life Campaign (See here), and Declan Ganley is on record as opposing same-sex marriage, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia and abortion. In fact, Ganley has spoken about how his Catholic faith is very important to him. Is it unreasonable to presume it would affect his decisions as a party leader? (Here

To be fair, there is nothing particularly radical about these positions, most of which are probably held by FF and FG candidates too. What’s disturbing is that Libertas without Lisbon is a de facto conservative Catholic right wing party. Are there votes in that position? Almost certainly, as the SPUC/Youth Defence crowd have no current political home. My fear is that post Lisbon Libertas will become the effective home of the John Charles McQuaid Bring Back The 19th Century crowd.

What happens when Libertas MEPs start to vote against, say, EU funding of Parkinson’s Disease research because it conflicts with the (Perfectly legitimate) Catholic beliefs of its Irish leadership?

Or vote to block, as the US did under the Christian Right supported Bush Administration, the provision of condoms as an anti-AIDs measure in Africa, because it conflicts with Catholic thinking?

Is that what a vote for Libertas is for? The fact that Libertas don’t seem to be standing against Kathy Sinnott, whom they see as a fellow traveller and has opposed euthanasia (Ominously, and to be honest, bizarrely, linking debate on Euthanasia with budget cutbacks! Here), abortion, and embryonic stem cell research could be seen to indicate how important Catholic teaching is seen inside Libertas.  

Will these Catholic beliefs apply to Libertas candidates in the UK or the Netherlands? Are they expected to row in behind Ganley on them? Or will Libertas post-Lisbon just fall apart under the weight of its own internal contradictions? I’m only speculating, but until Libertas comes clear with a comprehensive statement of its policy positions, we can only go on the statements of its candidates.   



Buck Rogers. With EXTRA helpings of cheese.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 24, 2009 in Just stuff

Bid-dee bid-dee bloody hell Buck!

Bid-dee bid-dee bloody hell Buck!

In 1979, Gil Gerard starred in “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” Here‘s the intro we all now and love. And Erin Gray in a shiny white lycra jumpsuit that would surely make you go blind if you looked long enough. Also the South Park version, which is quite funny.

However, before the TV series was released, the pilot episode was released as a slightly more adult orientated movie. This was the James Bond style intro to the movie, with the original theme music, and loads and loads of cheese. Having said that, it did have Erin Gray and Pamela Hensley in it, two top examples of 1970s TV crumpet. Bid-dee bid-dee Bid-dee (Go on, say it out loud. Fast)


Farewell to the Forum.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 23, 2009 in Irish Politics, Lisbon Treaty

The National Forum on Europe: They tried, God love them.
The National Forum on Europe: They tried, God love them.

I was, for a short time, a substitute member of the National Forum on Europe for the PDs, and let us be honest: It never really achieved much of what it set out to do. Basically, it was organised along Dail lines, which involved a load of  nicely expensed county councillors telling each other how good the EU was, for the few bob, a nice lunch, and a pleasant chat with the Hungarian minister for Gout Relief.

When the eurosceptics did get to speak, their lines were as loopy as the pro-Europeans were trite. Real debate was not its thing, although I do remember the hairs on Joe Higgins’s neck stand up when John Bruton accused him of effectively (By opposing the EU) wanting to hand over the world to “the yanks”, which was fun.

And yet: Whenever I went abroad to other EU countries, they used to snap up the NFE’s publications because they were genuinely readable. I remember Dutch, French and Czech politicians queueing up at an ELDR conference to get copies of the NFE’s guide to the European Constitution, because it was written for actual human beings to read.

The truth is, it did actually make a genuine effort to communicate to the public about the EU, only the public didn’t care, preferring instead to bitch about how “there’s no information” when what they really meant was “I’m not reading that if Karry Katona’s not in it”.  and so the media didn’t bother. If only we’d figured out a way of delivering it in tablet form.

One interesting thing: For some reason or another, Fine Gael had had one of their hissy fits (Jupiter was in line with Venus, or somesuch) and did not sit at the forum when it first started, and it gave a picture of Irish politics without FG, with Labour as the main foil to FF. It worked. 


An interesting idea on changing Irish politics.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 22, 2009 in Irish Politics

Vote for the values, not the candidate.

Vote for the values, not the candidate.

This is the Working Families Party of New York state. Under New York electoral law, they have a mechanism called “fusion” whereby a candidate can be listed a number of different times on the ballot paper, and the total votes under the different party labels are added up. Barack Obama, for example, appeared on the NY ballot as a candidate of both the Democrats and the WFP.

The relevence to Irish politics is that the WFP doesn’t often run its own candidates, instead negotiating with and endorsing candidates who share its values.  Wouldn’t our electoral system be perfect for that? Imagine liberal activists running a candidate on pure liberal values, but endorsing a pre-agreed candidate for their second preferences. Sure, first time the parties would ignore the offer, but if a candidate was eliminated with 500 or 1000 votes, they’d pay attention next time. After all, we all know candidates who lie awake at night worrying about residents groups who speak for hardly anyone. Surely they’d be just as eager to accomodate a group who offered to endorse them, or threatened to specifically campaign to deny them preferences?





let’s waterboard Dick Cheney.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 21, 2009 in Just stuff

Fmr. VP Dick Cheney can help clear up the confusion about waterboarding.
Fmr. VP Dick Cheney can help clear up the confusion.

Here’s the thing, from the New York Times: President Obama has basically pardoned various CIA agents for torturing terrorist suspects, and he is right to do so. They did not set the policy. But various members of the Bush administration have said that waterboarding is not torture, rather an effective means of gathering intelligence. So let’s try it. Let’s waterboard them and tell them that we’ll stop when they admit to being gay atheist North Korean spies. If they don’t admit to it after being waterboarded 266 times, they’re right, and we will owe them an apology. 

But if they do, to stop us waterboarding them, let’s lock’em up for being the gay atheist pawns of Pyonyang.                             Everybody wins!


Enda writes in the Irish Times and says absolutely nothing.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 20, 2009 in Irish Politics

Enda: A man of integrity. He might even get involved in Irish politics someday.

Enda: A man of integrity. He might even get involved in Irish politics someday.

From Saturday’s Irish Times. Reading this, I was struck by just how empty it was as an article. Enda is a decent man, and one of integrity. But where are the new ideas? Fine Gael has over 50 full time parliamentary researchers paid by the taxpayer, so is it really so unreasonable to expect a swathe of well thought out alternatives, or at least have their party leader highlight them as opposed to making shockingly mediocre observations? 

I decided to analyse the article  by certain categories. They were:

1. % of article were Enda talks about Fianna Fail: 17%. (94 out of 565 words)

2. % of article where Enda gives the specific Fine Gael alternative:  3.5% (20 out of 565 words) 

3. The “Mary Lou” Test. % of article made up of statements that could easily have been made by Mary Lou McDonald: 59% (334 words out of 565)

Read it below yourself. Maybe I expect too much, and maybe these statements mean something to other people. After all, it’s a piece in the Saturday Irish Times, not a state of the union address. But I just found it appalling that when given an opportunity to write a general piece outlining the alternative platform of the alternate Taoiseach,  we get this?

(My comments in capitals.)  

 ” ON THIS day 60 years ago, a Fine Gael taoiseach, John A Costello, declared Ireland a republic.

The declaration was an emphatic vindication of Michael Collins’s claim that the 1921 Treaty gave Ireland not its ultimate freedom, “but the freedom to achieve it”.

Sixty years after this major event it is a matter of regret that the Fianna Fáil Government has no plans to commemorate it. We have seen previous narrow interpretations of our history from Fianna Fáil and it belittles them and our past.(THREE SENTENCES IN, AND ALREADY TALKING ABOUT FIANNA FAIL! IT’S LIKE THEY HAVE A TEENAGE CRUSH ON THEM.)

Today, however, we must ask ourselves one simple question: what kind of republic did Ireland become after this declaration made while on a State visit to Canada? Ireland in the 1950s and the 1960s became a republic of low growth and low ambition; a republic whose chief export was its own citizens. (OBVIOUS STATEMENT NO.1)

After a Fianna Fáil-inspired boom-and-bust cycle through the 1970s and 1980s, successive governments got our economy on track. (FIANNA FAIL INSPIRED? FROM 1973 TO 1977, 1981, AND 1982-1987 FINE GAEL RAN THE COUNTRY!) In doing so they started to deliver on the aspirations of our people. Three score years (THREE SCORE YEARS? WHAT YEAR IS THIS? 1861?) after Costello’s declaration, however, and our republic is in very serious trouble. Unemployment is heading towards 500,000; our economy will contract by at least 7 per cent this year, and a savage Budget has added €4,000 to the tax bill of an average family. Small and medium-sized businesses are struggling to survive, as we all pay a huge price for the Government’s bubble economy. Disastrously, the Government thinks it can tax our economy back to recovery.(OBVIOUS STATEMENT NO.2 FOLLOWING BY VAGUE GO AT FF)

Thousands of young people(WILL SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!), crippled by negative equity and burdened by ever increasing tax hikes, are starting to leave our shores. Where is the sense of hope for these people? Who is speaking up for those paying the price for the mistakes of others? No one in Government is. We’re in this current mess not because Fianna Fáil’s policies failed, but because they succeeded. (STILL TALKING ABOUT FF)

I believe that the party that founded the State (SINN FEIN?) and declared a republic (FG, LABOUR, NATIONAL LABOUR, THE FARMERS PARTY, CLANN NA POBLACHTA, AND JAMES DILLON, WHO WAS KICKED OUT OF FINE GAEL FOR THE CRIME OF HAVING AN ORIGINAL IDEA. ) is the party to lead our country to its next stage of development. That party is Fine Gael. The idea of the republic is one that fills me with a sense of responsibility and hope(AND THE REST OF US QUEASINESS). The idea that the State belongs to no one, because it belongs to everyone, is key. That message has been lost as the Government has ruled for the few and ignored the many. (HAD TO PUT NEW BATTERIES IN MY CLICHE DETECTOR AFTER THIS PARAGRAPH.)

Today, more than ever, we need a reinvigorated republic. Ireland needs a government that is on the side of the people(I WOULD LIKE HIM TO DEFINE WHO ARE NOT THE PEOPLE. I SAY THE BASTARDS WHO WORK FOR NTL.); a government that will make the tough decisions to get our public finances in order, but knows that the most immediate priority is to get people to work. That is why Fine Gael has unveiled an €11 billion fiscal stimulus plan to get 100,000 people back to work. (FINALLY, HE MENTIONS AN FG POLICY, WHICH IS NICE.)

Ireland needs a government that is not afraid of new ideas, and is willing to embrace change. Fine Gael can and does embrace change. We will shortly unveil proposals for the most radical reform of the health system since the foundation of the State, reforms that will end a two-tier system of healthcare provision. (BUT NOT MENTION THEM HERE, BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY IMPORTANT THINGS ALREADY SAID IN THIS PIECE.)

I believe that our country’s best days are still ahead. (OH FOR F**K’S SAKE! ARE THEY PULLING THESE THINGS OUT OF A HAT?) Fine Gael doesn’t just offer optimism in our future, though. We offer new ideas(AGAIN, NOT HERE.), new ambition and a new vision. Led by the party that declared our republic, we can and will create a republic worthy of all our people.”


Legalising tapping now? So what were we doing in 1982?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 17, 2009 in Irish Politics

Sean Doherty authorised electronic surveillance in the 1980s. If not for tapping criminals, then who?

Sean Doherty authorised electronic surveillance in the 1980s. If not for tapping criminals, then who?

According to today’s Irish Times we are going to pass a law to allow covert tapping and submission of same in courts. Yet, as Geraldine Kennedy, Bruce Arnold and Vincent Browne proved, the Gardai had electronic surveillance equipment in the early 1980s. So what was it bought for, if it could not be used to gather evidence on criminals?

As a young activist in the PDs in the early 1990s, I was warned in PD head office never to discuss political issues on the phones, as it was taken as read that our phones were tapped by FF friendly Gardai. And we were in government at the time! Some country.  


Why don’t the “Anti-War” Crowd protest this?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 16, 2009 in Irish Politics

In Afghanistan, men have a right to rape?

In Afghanistan, men have a right to rape?

From today’s New York Times. Would it be a breech of Irish neutrality to send troops to help NATO protect women like these? Probably. Because the neutrality lobby believe, I presume, that women demanding the right not to be raped are, in the eyes of the lobby, morally equivalent to the men raping them.  After all, it’s none of our business, is it? The Afghan Government has a right to pass a law permitting the rape of Afghan women, right? Still, at least they’re not being raped by NATO soldiers, which would be an outrage and worthy of a demonstration outside the GPO.  

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