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

Irish politics needs to go negative.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 17, 2010 in Irish Politics

There is a discussion held every now and then between Irish political hacks that goes like this:

“We should do an attack ad. A youtube piece, or a leaflet pointing out what so-and-so did on the council!”

“No. Irish voters wouldn’t like that. Polls in the US show that voters hate negative campaigning. Let’s do a leaflet almost exactly like our opponents, but with our name on it instead!”

Some years ago, a PD councillor told me of how he was accosted on a street by an FF councillor, for the crime of handing out a leaflet listing out how every councillor had voted on a certain issue. The FF man accused him of “blackening his name”. In last year’s local elections, I know of at least one reelected councillor who had been named and shamed at a tribunal. In one Dublin constituency, there’s an FF TD who regularly signs up to campaigns on issues he votes the exact opposite way in the Dail.

Why do their opponents let them away with it? In the US, your record is nailed to you by your opponent, and rightly so. Why do we not do it here?

The reasons given tend to be:

1. It’s not democratic. This is the most bizarre answer. Giving the voters ALL the information before they vote is undemocratic?

2. Voters don’t like it. There’s a hint of truth to this one, but not enough to heed it. Don’t forget: Voters say that election posters don’t effect how they vote either. Is there anyone actually involved in politics who believes that? If you put out a leaflet attack X, they’ll probably not feel too good about Y either, for being nasty. So why don’t parties have parallel swift boat campaigns targeting weak opposition candidates. Remember, the objective is not to get your vote up, but his vote down.

3. We’d rather spend our effort on getting our guy in. It’s not a winner take all race, after all. This is the most valid point, and it’s true. In US elections it’s mostly two candidates for one seat. But the next Irish election will be a two horse race, with FF versus the Rainbow. It has always amazed me the way FG/Labour candidates let FF candidates practically run as independents when the party is unpopular, hoovering up transfers. Now is their chance to wipe ‘em out. Having said that, the same can be said for FF. They’ve nothing to lose. Why not attach tax rises and anti-private sector worker labels to individual Labour candidates?


The Politics of Disappointment.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 14, 2010 in Irish Politics

Campaign in Poetry; Now, govern in prose.

Campaign in Poetry; Now, govern in prose.

Is it reasonable to assume that there has been no major effort within Fine Gael or Labour to actually plan how they are going to run the country if they win the next general election? I don’t mean policies, I accept that they have a heap of policy documents. What I mean is, do they have a plan to manage, in any way, the huge expectations of the first elected non-FF government since November 1982?

Have they given any thought as to how to manage the huge expectations of every group and parish in the country for whom they have promised reverses in cutbacks and new policies? Enda Kenny, for example, has promised a radical new approach to politics: What will we get? A referendum on the Seanad (which I personally doubt will happen) and some tinkering with parliamentary procedure. Radical? Or consider it another way: 18 months in, will the govt’s satisfaction rating have plummeted from a mixture of FG business as usual (FGers still don’t grasp that the public do not regard them personally being ministers as change in itself. Half of them seem to have been around longer than the cabinet) and the hyperbole of the campaign just not being able to be lived up to.

Can they do anything about it? Possibly. Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America (the concept of which FG completely failed to grasp in the last election) offers an interesting idea, in that it asked voted to literally pinit to their fridges and tick off specific pledges as they enacted them, many of which theydid. The problem for FG is that they just can’t control themselves: Rather than pledge, say, “A guaranteed maximum 2 hour wait in A&E before treatment, or €50 compensation”, something measurable by the public, theyjust have to over-egg it with something like “The best health service in the world” which is not only hard to believe, but impossible for a punter to measure.

For their own good, FG need to start thinking about how they are going to run this thing.   


Joe Duffy Show reinforces smug Irish sense of deliberate helplessness.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 13, 2010 in Irish Politics

Because of my job, I don’t get to listen to Joe Duffy often, although I got an opportunity yesterday. It confirmed pretty much every prejudice I have about it. First up was a guy who made a legitimate complaint about the banks not lending. Fair enough. Then another guy who complained about how he could not get a loan to pay off his credit card and credit union loans. What was interesting was that he announced that the country was finished, and that he was leaving, presumably to go to a country where you can get a loan to pay off other loans. Then a woman who wanted a new party, that would be “for the people” and “in favour of reform” of pretty much everything. Joe announced that her declaration that everyone should be equal (Does that include Larry Murphy the rapist? Seanie Fitz? Ivor Callely?) was practically a manifesto. Then a guy who announced that he wasn’t paying any taxes anymore. When Joe challenged him, in fairness, about public services, he announced that they were all being cut back, so therefore he wasn’t paying anything.

What really irritated me was not giving these people airtime, but not challenging their basically stupid notions. A party “for the people”? What the f**k is that exactly? What’s the point having public service radio if we are not going to use it to vigourously debate ideas people put forward? She’s entitled to suggest it. But we’re entitled to have the idea tested. Instead we get broadcast whinging, where every day people go on the radio and just bitch and complain that every problem is someone else’s fault and can usually be resolved with someone else’s money.

This is not public service broadcasting. You can get this sh*t in any pub in the country. 


Whalesong revealed to be inane mindless chatter.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 10, 2010 in Not quite serious.

A whale yesterday. Plankton was his favourite.

A whale yesterday. Plankton was his favourite.

Marine scientists admitted to being bitterly disappointed at new evidence that whalesong, once heralded as being an example of the intelligence of whales, has been revealed to be nothing but bland,  boring conversations between the giant seagoing mammals.

“We’re very disappointed.” A scientist said. “We’ve devised a means of translating whalesong, using a stunning cryptological logarithm and a computer mainframe we borrowed from NASA. We were hoping for a real insight into their culture, only it turns out that they haven’t got one. It’s all “I’m a whale. Are you a whale? I like plankton. My favourite colour is grey. Mine too. Did I mention I like plankton” and this goes on for hours. They seem to have very limited attention spans. In short, they’re idiots.”

The project did admit that the software was yielding interesting insights into other species. “For example, we’ve discovered that every single male penguin is called Steve, and they spend hours huddled together calling out each others names, and then arguing that “You’re not Steve!”


Fine Gael calls on govt to “restrict oxygen” on govt jet.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 9, 2010 in Not quite serious.

The Govt jet: An extraordinary source of ongoing political discussion in Ireland.Fine Gael has promised that it will tackle abuse of the government jet by restricting oxygen to flights of one hours duration, if elected to government. An FG backbencher said: “We need a government jet, to get to London and Brussels. But this using it for jaunting around the country has to stop. Therefore we’ll be putting a timer on the oxygen supply, so that any flight less than a hour long comes with it the risk of massive brain damage to the passengers, leaving them drooling vegetables incapable of running a sweetshop, let alone a country.”

Fianna Fail replied that such a policy was unfairly biased towards Fine Gael TDs.


The European Parliament: Not fit for purpose?

Posted by Jason O on Aug 9, 2010 in European Union

The voice of the people? Seriously?

The voice of the people? Seriously?

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an MEP. I had been an ardent eurosceptic until I went to Dachau, and then started to read about Adenauer and Monnet and something clicked with me. This European unity thing made sense. When I discovered the European Parliament, I was blown away at the idea of a parliament elected by millions of Europeans, all working together towards a common noble goal. It was absolutely breathtaking, and I desperately wanted to be part of it. At one stage, as a member of the European Youth Parliament, I got to speak in the chamber, and for years afterwards that moment stayed with me, with the thought: “I’ll be back!”

Then I got involved in politics, and the more times I went to Brussels or Strasbourg, the less enthused I got about it and the EU. A post I put up recently about a directly elected president for Europe raised an interesting debate, and many interesting contributions, about how to reform the European democratic disconnect. One factor which emerged, which caught my eye, was the attitude of pro-Europeans to the European Parliament. It caught my attention because it centred around the fact that burst my parliamentary bubble. You see, the EP does a good job as a legislature and a scrutiniser of the Commission. I don’t doubt that. But where my jaw drops is when I hear MEPs and supporters of the EP proclaim it to be, collectively, the voice of the people of Europe.

No it isn’t. Yes, it is directly elected (by a dwindling 43% of voters, a level that if occurred in a national election would become a major issue in most member states) but that does not give it a collective mandate. Show me the European citizens who say that the EP has the same legitimacy as their national parliaments. Show me the citizens who will nod sagely if the EP were to overrule their national parliament, and side with the EP. When one listens to Brussels insiders talk about the manouverings between the PES, EPP and ALDE it’s like listening to a furious row going on inside the world of late 19th century Hungarian basket collectors. It is so distant from even national politics, let alone the citizens, that its democratic legitimacy is nominal at best.

Put it another way: If it emerged that the European Parliament was about to wrest control of something that really matters to voters, like setting income tax, from the national parliaments, how would ordinary Europeans react?


Why we should have political ads on television.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 7, 2010 in Irish Politics

televisionIn the US, political ads have been accused of dumbing down politics, turning every election into a nasty barrage of attack ads trying to besmirch the other guy.  Yet I think that if we were to scrap party politicals, and instead allocate each party a certain amount of regular ad time for ads to be run during prime time television viewing, we would actually improve the level of debate in the country.

Now, before people get all excited, let me stress that I’m not advocating the US model of letting candidates or parties or NGOs buy ad time. I’m against that. A party’s coffers should not be the determining factor to television access. But if parties were instead allowed to run 30/45 second ads during prime time, what would be the effect?

Given the size of our constituencies, it would be a waste of resources for the larger parties to run candidate ads, instead running ads outlining their unique selling points, or attacking the other parties. What’s wrong with that? For the first time, parties would have to spend serious effort determining, in a tight message, what they are actually for, as opposed to relying entirely on the local “franchise” good-for-the-local-area candidate.

There are some who say that it will make no difference, that it’s the same as a party political, but it’s not. PPs are practically quarantined, and the public are almost warned about them before they start, whereas regular advertising is the wallpaper of modern life. Surely, if everything from banking services to Coke is advertised, then why not opposing options for government? This is the way we live our life.


How the Irish really think.

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

Some years ago, I attended a meeting of the owners of an apartment block that I lived in. The services in the block were funded by a charge raised by a property management company, and included refuse charges, insurance, landscaping, electric gate maintenance and a sinking fund to fund ongoing painting and repairs. The meeting was a fascinatingly raw insight into how the Irish see their society.

First up was a complaint by one owner about how the management charge was too high, and he demanded that it be reduced. The representative of the management company proceeded to go through the charge, explaining what was provided, until the sinking fund was reached, and a row broke out as to why we should be funding it, with nearly half the attendees wanting to abolish it to cut management fees. The Rep advised very strongly that to do so would damage the resale value of all the apartments, as it meant that ongoing maintenance would stop. The proposal was narrowly defeated, to cries of “ridiculous” and murmurings that the meeting was somehow “fixed”, even though this was the first ever meeting.

Next up was a suggestion by an engineer who lived in the block that a satellite dish could be erected on the roof of one of the blocks. He suggested that it could be hidden from view, and that residents who wished to benefit from it could pay for their own cabling. He recognised that the cabling would have to be done professionally, to ensure safety and the appearence of the building. Uproar. One owner, who pointed out that he “was a solicitor” pointed out that this was in contravention of the lease, and that “nobody wants the development to look like Ballymun”. The proposal was voted down.

Then one woman got up and told how her apartment had been broken into. Much sympathy, until she suggested that it was as a result of a “design flaw” in her apartment (apparently, her apartment had windows)  and she should be “compensated”. A few heads nodded. The Rep then pointed out that her own insurance (which she refused to claim on) should deal with the matter, as it wasn’t covered by block insurance, and that any compensation would have to be funded by the other owners. Silence. A few owners agreed with her being compensated but were against them actually paying for it. Someone then asked the solicitor for a legal opinion. He said that he couldn’t possibly give a “professional opinion” without studying the matter. “Didn’t stop you five minutes ago.” The embittered engineer quipped. The issue petered out, with the woman mumbling about it “not being fair” that she was out of pocket.

The meeting ended, with one group feeling bitter that an imaginary “click” was running everything, a man with a reasonable idea feeling dejected, a woman feeling hard done by because other people wouldn’t give her their money, and a general sense of dissatisfaction despite the fact that all the people in the room had 100% control over the property company. There was almost a sense of satisfaction at being dissatisfied.


Kathryn Thomas in leather?

Posted by Jason O on Aug 5, 2010 in Just stuff

I was reviewing some of the stats as to who visits the blog, etc, and came across some interesting stuff. Google leads people to me on the strangest of leads: 2 people found the blog after googling “Kathryn Thomas in leather”, 3 with “Jessica Fletcher serial killer” but my favourite was the 3 people who found my blog with the phrase “What is the gayest chocolate bar?” I take responsibility for the latter 2, but Kathryn Thomas in leather?

The other interesting thing (well, it was for me) was about the fictional stuff I have posted to the blog. I write the odd short story, mostly for my own enjoyment, and a novella about a maverick FF candidate called “Elected” of which I put up the first chapter. When I put it up, I asked people for feedback on it,  and have received mostly positive remarks about it. What I didn’t realise was that over 400 people had downloaded it, so here’s my question: Would people read it if I posted the whole story as a serial, with an episode every week? It needs to be updated (it was written during the Tiger years, and it shows) and rewritten in parts (one character mysteriously reappears from the dead. A zombie in FF! Boom boom.) but what I’m most concerned about is this just being a bit of self indulgence on my part, and the posting that everyone will skip over every week, murmuring about “not another failed f**king writer!” Thoughts?


Supposing it wasn’t Ground Zero we were talking about.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 4, 2010 in US Politics

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of a Jewish Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process.  Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of Tel Aviv would be better served if an alternative location could be found. In recommending that a different location be found for the Jewish Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.  These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming.  But regardless of how they respond, the issue at stake is a broader one.  Proponents of the Jewish Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Judaism.  The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong.  But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right.  In our judgment, building a Jewish Center in the shadow of the assasination spot of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.”
A “what if?” statement based on the Anti Defamation League’s statement opposing the building of a Muslim centre near Ground Zero. A question: What would delight Bin Laden more? Seeing American Muslims being treated as equals in America, or seeing them being treated as second class citizens? 

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