Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Fianna Fail need to hang a lantern on their problems.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 12, 2010 in Irish Politics

icebergYou know that scene in “Titanic” when the Belfast born engineer (Played by Victor Garber, by the way) is looking through the plans of the ship, and is shown where the hull has been ruptured, and he realises, way ahead of everyone else, that the ship is finished? You can’t help thinking that there are rational people in Fianna Fail who realise that too. The question is now, how many people can they safely get off the ship? More importantly, can they use the iceberg at all?

A Fianna Fail pal of mine summed up the situation well: The Taoiseach has basically given up on the next election, and is now taking an almost masochistic pleasure in making “the hard decisions” regardless of the political cost. This is all very noble, and in fairness, what we always say we want politicians to do, putting national ahead of political interest. But he can still ward off total disaster for FF. He won’t win the next election, in fact, if FF did win the next election there would almost be civil unrest and questions about the integrity of the voting system. But he can stop FF from suffering from an unrecoverable “below the waterline” breaching.

How? Our whole political landscape is based on FF and the Greens inflicting cruel pain upon the country, and FG/Labour  offering a less painful alternative. This is compounded by a shocking level of economic illiteracy amongst voters. I still, even in these days, meet people who want to know why the government won’t pay for X or Y, and don’t connect their taxes with government spending.

If I had the technical ability I’d set up a website where a voter could easily see what is spent on what, how much comes in in taxes and how much goes out. I think, for example, that the average voter would be surprised by how much of the budget is spent on public sector pay and pensions. Most importantly, I’d like the public to be able to “play around” with the budget. Let them click a box that gets rid of the government jet, and cuts politicians’ salaries in half, and let them see how little that actually does. And let them play with tax rates, and tax the rich, and scrap pension deductions, and see how you need to tax middle earners more before it really starts to have an impact. Let them tick a box that implements FG and Labour policy, including their spending promises and the effect on taxes that has. And let us have a means of devising the tax impact on ordinary voters on a weekly basis. We are talking about a form of easily accessible economic “SimCity” here, and most of all, it should be fun to use. 

I know, a website is not going to solve everything, but we need to be able to communicate the detail and the scale of the problem in a way digestible to a modern audience. Perhaps a project for Ogra Fianna Fail?

On a seperate note, I’ve been asked recently am I now pro-FF? It’s a fair question. I’ve never voted FF (no.1) in a general election. But what I see now is a party that is making the right economic decisions, and also, by facing down the anti-civil partnership people in its own ranks, and acting quickly on Ivor Callely, to have shown itself to be able to occasionally able to grasp modern reality. It’s still the party of Noel O’Flynn and Beverly Cooper Flynn, but every party has its own dark places. I remember one PD candidate demanding that the death penalty be restored and that Gardai be allowed resolve situations “with their fists”. The other side is that Labour, whilst being honest and socially reforming,  is openly hostile to people like me who work in the private sector, and Fine Gael with its “Up Mayo!” carry-on has shown itself to be a party that lacks seriousness. The fact that Fine Gael and Labour cannot agree now as to what their programme for government will be means that I’d have no idea what I would get by voting Labour or FG. FF is currently the devil I know, and I suspect I’m not alone in that.

 
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Why DOES the Taoiseach need to be a TD?

Posted by Jason O on Jul 11, 2010 in Irish Politics

John Carroll, in querying my post about term limits, has raised an interesting point. Why does the taoiseach need to be a member of the Dail? The gut instinct is to say that it is democratic, but that doesn’t make sense. How does the fact that 8,000 voters elect a fella to represent, say, Leitrim, give him a democratic mandate to run the country? It doesn’t. It is the Dail, made up of 164 other elected members that gives him a democratic mandate to be taoiseach, and it is the Dail that removes him. 

Imagine the possibilities for parties if they could just nominate a candidate before the general election who would be their candidate for taoiseach. The voters would know that voting for party X is a vote for Y as taoiseach, and there’s your democratic mandate there. If FG nominated a candidate for taoiseach that Labour would not accept, that’s fine. That just becomes an issue that people take into account when they vote. But it would allow parties to broaden their choice of leader, and prevent the FG 2002 “Enda because everyone else is (politically) dead” scenario.

Of course, why stop there? Maybe we should just cut to the chase of having a directly elected taoiseach, an appointed cabinet, and a seperate Oireachtas that legislates. Would we have a taoiseach who doesn’t have a majority in the Dail? Almost certainly. Where’s the harm in that? That the opposition would just block everything? Really? Including the budget? No they wouldn’t, because after a while the public would start to get irritated at 166 TDs just blocking everything. They’d negotiate with the executive, and give and trade, or have the taoiseach dissolve the Dail on the issue of its refusal to negotiate. Opposition TDs would have power, and the Dail would end up acting like a parliament, funnily enough. Is that really such a bad idea?   

 
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Would term limits help?

Posted by Jason O on Jul 10, 2010 in Irish Politics

In other countries new situations bring change. In the US, Barack Obama was elected. In the UK, a coalition is in power. In Ireland…sigh. Here we have an bitterly unpopular government, yet the lead opposition party still fails to raise any excitement. Why is that?

There are a wide range of factors why, but one key issue I feel is the fact that politics in Ireland has become primarily, for many, a way of having a career and paying the mortgage. As a result, we have a large number of our politicians who are just there, taking up mass but actually doing little with the job other than what is needed to get reelected. They’re involved in “politics” but not that interested in politics. Imagine you applied that practice to, say, football, where someone was very good at getting on the national side, but not much good at,  or even interested that much in, actual football? 

In fairness to them, it’s as much the voters fault for electing them on that basis, but that does not mean we should not change it. Why should someone be a TD, for example, for longer than, say, three terms? Is our system really being served well by people who are becoming a permanent political class? 

The negative side is what, that we lose “experienced” people like Enda? The argument that someone should “wait their turn” to become a minister is a false construct, put up by primarily by timeservers. Term limits would churn up the system, and get the clock ticking as far as getting things done in politics counts. What’s wrong with limiting a Taoiseach to two five year terms? Show me a Taoiseach who was doing great work after 10 years anyway? Dev was useless after 1937 (we’re very sorry to hear that Herr Hitler is feeling poorly. I’ll bet even the German ambassador’s jaw clunked on the table when he heard that one) and Bertie’s third term is something we’d all like to forget about.

Lemass did 7 years and we’re still talking about him. Noel Browne was minister for 3 years. What’s the difference? Both men went into politics to actually do stuff, as opposed to be there. We really need to have a nice sit down and a think about this.    

 
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Interesting idea from Mary Harney.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 9, 2010 in Irish Politics

MH’s new proposals about the medical card here.  Will be savaged by the usual “everything should be free” crowd, but the tiered approach makes sense. I pay €60 to see a GP, and with a prescription you could be struggling to see change out of a €100. Good to see she’s recognising that PAYE workers should pay, as we do now, but get a bit of a dig out.  I know it sounds Victorian, but giving stuff away for free, in my opinion, actually lessens people’s value of it. I’d rather people pay a nominal €5 for a GP visit than nothing. My own experience as a student president in IT Tallaght confirmed that view. Of course the chronically ill will have to be treated differently, but as a broad social rule it’s sound.  

 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Users.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 9, 2010 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

Is this a dagger I see before me?

Is this a dagger I see before me?

In fairness, they’re not unique to Irish politics, but they’re there, nevertheless. The first time you meet them, they’re charming and open with you, whilst subtly seeing if you can be of any use to them. If you are, they’ll be quick to help you out and do you a favour, sometimes even doing it for you pro-actively because they’ll want something from you later.

They realised early in life that compliments are free, and are quick to want to bring you into their personal circle, or at least make you feel that way.  Subtlety is the key: Work you have done somehow gets attributed to them, although if there is any chance they’ll get caught they turn it on its ear, lavishing you publicly with praise (and showing what a generous person they are, in public, of course). Awkward emails or texts get ignored. They’ll “get back to you” on this or “have something in the pipeline” on that. When you have outlived your usefulness to them, they quietly step away, and onto the next target, unless you suddenly surprise them by doing something new and potentially useful once again, and they’re back with a “we haven’t hung out in ages!”

Eventually, they read something like this, and in a Carly Simon moment, ponder: Is he talking about me?

 
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A Great DVD: The Thick of it.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 9, 2010 in Movies/TV/DVDs

Tucker's Law.
Tucker’s Law.

It is now standard practice to proclaim that “The Thick Of It” is the Yes, Minister of the noughties, and that’s a fair assessment, but it’s more than that.

For a start, the exceptionally strong language in it has to be mentioned as a a) warning to fans of the more genteel humour of Yes, Minister, but also b) because its use is so creative that it has become a defnitive creative comedy feature in its own right.

The basis is that it is set in the minister’s office at the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship (DoSAC) and follows the attempts by two emotionally shattered nervous wreck New Labour ministers and their staff to craft and communicate “initatives” under the watchful eye and vicious tongue of Downing Street enforcer, Malcolm Tucker, who becomes the de facto star of the show with his vitriol, menace and extraordinary turn of phrase (“Working hard? I’m working so hard I’m sweating spinal fluid here!”)

Aside from Peter Capaldi’s masterclass as Tucker, the tone of the show is fascinating to political anoraks as an all-too-real parody of New Labour’s obsession with message control, whereby the minister and his/her staff are literally making policies up on the hoof to react to the whims of newspaper editors. It’s very funny, and not a little too close for comfort.

 
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Who are “the most vulnerable”?

Posted by Jason O on Jul 8, 2010 in Irish Politics

There was a woman interviewed yesterday whilst on a march protesting cuts in care for people with disabilities. She pointed out that she got one day a month respite care, and asked, genuine tears in her eyes, “was that too much to ask for?”

She’s right, of course. The couple of thousand euro it costs to provide that vital service to her isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things. Except there are, literally, over a million people in this country, from low paid public sector workers to low income pensioners to the choronocally ill who all need a couple of thousand (or more) euro spent on them every year. These people aren’t spongers or wasters, they’re the people that a civilised society should give a damn about.

But here’s the thing: The Taoiseach, responding to the march, pledged that the government would protect “the most vulnerable” in our society, and it’s there where the problem starts. Who are the vulnerable? The people above, certainly. What about people in mortgage arrears? The unemployed? Drug addicts? The mentally ill? Immigrant children with english language difficulties? Farmers struggling to make ends meet? Struggling artists?

The truth is, it’s easier to make a list of the least vulnerable. Members of the Oireachtas (at the moment, anyway) middle and higher ranking civil servants and public sector employees. Bank chiefs. The cash rich. But as long as our society, through the government, refuses to rationally list out who should be shielded, and therefore, who should carry the extra burden of reduced services and increased taxation, we end up with a muddle where the government is assailed every day by every well intentioned group. More importantly, from the government’s point of view, the opposition is allowed play Santa Claus to everyone of them.

The government should set up a commission to meet, in public, with opposition members, with the specific task of identifying the vulnerable and their costs to the exchequer, and shielding them by identifying other parts of the budget where the cuts can come from. This way, the opposition will have the actual power (which they say they want) to protect the vulnerable whilst also having to put their money where their mouths are in terms of matching cuts.   

 
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Head of Nail. Hammer. Clink!

Posted by Jason O on Jul 6, 2010 in Irish Politics

As usual, Ed Walsh of UL hits the nail on the head here. Most interesting point I thought was the fact that, unlike most countries, our political system point blank refuses to recruit talented people who have succeeded internationally. Our electoral system is geared against anyone but the long haul local slogger, as if this is a more noble pursuit even if they are not up to the needs of running a 21st century society.

 
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This looks like fun.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 5, 2010 in Movies/TV/DVDs

special-relationshipIt’s getting difficult to look at Michael Sheen without thinking of Tony Blair, and this won’t help. Written by Peter Morgan, and produced by HBO, it focusses on that “what could have been” period before 9/11 when Clinton and Blair were the liberal goliaths who had transformed progressive politics into a brand capable of winning elections.

It also is supposed to highlight the importance of relationships in politics, a factor that, as Mitterand/Kohl and Major/Reynolds proved, can be the clincher.

 
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Irish politics needs a system of Proportional Representation.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 5, 2010 in Irish Politics

Surely, you say, we have one already? No, we don’t. A proportional system would give the Green Party, on 5% (their current poll rating) 8 seats in the Dail. Hands up who believes the Greens will win eight seats if there was a general election, even if they won 4-5%? They would not, and here’s why: Sure, they may win 5% of the vote, but if that is made up of 300 extra votes in Leitrim and Mayo and Kerry South and Tipp North but also a drop of 1200 votes in Dublin South East, then they lose a seat. The PDs in 2007 won 56,000 first preferences, enough to elect at least five seats going on a quota on 10,000 a seat, but because their vote was dispersed across the country, they only got two.  So what happened?

Transfers happened, whereby PD voters (and Green voters in the last local elections) discovered that in order to get representation they had to rely on voters of other parties transferring to their candidates.

It means that we don’t get real Green TDs who deliver for Green voters, and stay true to them. We get Green TDs who know that they squeaked over the quota with the transfers of votes of people who are not committed Green voters, and so have to dilute their policies to keep them on board, thus pissing off real Green voters. We end up with TDs terrified of actually taking a firm position on anything other than Mom and apple pie.

This is why we need, alongside STV, a national list system which will elect “pure” party TDs on the basis of the votes for that party, regardless of where they happen to live. That’s what STV is for.

STV for the Local Man, National List for the Ideals Man.

Or woman, obviously. Just doesn’t rhyme as well. 

Copyright © 2018 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.