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

Fine Gael: The Charlie Brown of Irish Politics.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 30, 2010 in Irish Politics

Enda Kenny dealing with the Coughlan pairing issue.

Enda Kenny dealing with the Coughlan pairing issue.

God love them, but put a ball right in front of the blues and they’ll fall on their arse. Level-pegging with the most unpopular govt in the history of the state? WTF? The thing about FG is that I should be a die-hard blue. I’m on the centre-right, I think FF needs to be put out of government, I’m pro-EU, I’m anti-Provo, I don’t trust Labour with my money, I should be a solid Fine Gaeler. Yet not only can I not bring myself to join FG, I get an almost girlish giggling pleasure in seeing FG do badly? Why is that?

The problem for me is that FG refuse to change. They refuse to debate what they are for other than not being Fianna Fail. As a party, they are shockingly insular, seemingly listening only to each other, and getting to the stage where the parliamentary party are actually beginning to breed with each other. We’re almost heading into political “You got a purty mouth for a blue!” banjo country. All they talk about is Fianna Fail. Even their policies are based on the opposite of what FF are doing. If FF decided to wholesale implement FG’s policies, they’d still complain. The country needs a functioning values based centre-right party, and instead we get Michael Ring and Enda Kenny making promises about public spending that are just not possible. At least under Garrett they were actually a socially liberal party to FF’s conservatism.

FG have got to get it into their heads that being the Not Fianna Fail party is not enough, because it assumes that FG have some sort of right to form a government, as opposed to an obligation to convince the Irish people of their merits. The fact that they did not think to consult Labour about the pairing arrangement, or the fact that Enda announces major constitutional changes or front bench pay cuts without consulting his own parliamentary party, shows an amateurism bordering on recklessness. These people want to be the government, for Christ’s sake. This is not good enough. But what’s even more worrying is that they can’t seem to grasp that the reason they have been leading FF in the polls is not because of their own efforts, but because of anger with FF. If FF manage to reinvent themselves (and FF is nothing if not adaptable) FG could find themselves heading for their seventh electoral kicking, the most extraordinary thing being that they will actually be surprised if it happens.


An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Amateur Opinion Poll Spinner.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 29, 2010 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

He’s the bore to beat all bores, the one who extrapolates election results down to the last seat in the Feckerstown ward even though the election is 17 years away.

But it gets worse. Not only is he a moron, he’s a partisan moron. If his party is up a fraction of a percent, he declares as fact that his party could run a rotting headless corpse in a given seat and still have a surplus quota. But if the party drops an iota, the poll is immediately dismissed as an abberation, not comparing like with like, obviously rigged by the pollsters who are of course in the pockets of the other crowd.

He’s on Politics.ie at the sniff of a poll, cheerleading for his crowd and fingerpointing at the others, racking up posts the way, well, proper political activists rack up first preferences for their candidate.

Still, could be worse. At least he’s at home out of harm’s way, rather than sitting on the bus beside you and overwhelming you with a toxic wave of body odour and Monster Munch as he flicks through Nealon’s Guide to the 1987 general election, sweating inside his orange lined snorkel coat and muttering to himself about the last effective count.


Do Fine Gael own shares in a banana plantation?

Posted by Jason O on Sep 28, 2010 in Irish Politics

I ask because it would explain how they’ve managed to walk on yet another banana skin of their own manufacture over this pairing arrangement. As usual, it has all the hallmarks of a classic Fine Gael 5 minutes to closing time wheeze: A germ of a good idea completely ballsed up by a lack of planning or consultation with the people needed to make it work, their nominal future coalition partners. It’s a peculiar thing to Fine Gael, like the time they decided not to use election posters or turn down corporate donations. They get a half day of publicity,  it falls apart, and then put themselves at a disadvantage for months afterwards. They just don’t seem to talk to anyone about this stuff.

Curiously, it was always my experience when I was involved in youth politics that young Fine Gaelers socialised primarily with other FGers. We used to meet with people from Labour and FF, yet almost none of us knew (FF and Labour included), in an active social sense, people from FG. It was as in they wanted to avoid contamination. The problem was, when you did meet them, their views were so uncontaminated by contact with other political ideas that they sounded like a teenager who got all his opinions from his dad, who in his eyes could do no wrong.

Po-Face of the Week Award goes to MJ Nolan TD for “demanding” an apology from Jay Leno over the Brian Cowen picture. You can’t have it both ways, You can’t pose for photos to show you’re one of the lads, and then complain when someone says you’re one of the lads. 


Fine Gael: A threat to real democratic choice?

Posted by Jason O on Sep 25, 2010 in Irish Politics

FG: Heinz or Bachelors, they're still just offering beans.

FG: Heinz or Bachelors, they're still just offering beans.

The theory behind electoral politics is that a group of candidates, with different visions of society, each offer the voters a choice. The voters weigh up the options on offer, and then choose the candidate who most closely mirrors their values. That’s how a democracy is supposed to work.

That system is challenged when you have a political party that seems to take up space (and seats) for no good reason. Listening to Alan Shatter on Saturday View claim that FG’s policies are “diametrically different” from Fianna Fail’s is particularly telling because there is no doubt that Shatter, and others in FG, actually believe this. It’s a bit like the way Pepsi executives and Coca Cola executives are adamant that they are selling a different product from one another. In actual detail, they are different products. Their ingredients are different, but the truth is, if you are sick of drinking Pepsi all night in a bar, you don’t switch to Coke.

The values that shape the policies of FF and FG are pretty much identical. There are almost no voters outside of FG diehards and members who believe that FG would have handled the last 10 years differently from FF. This is the reality for the great majority of Irish voters. Does anyone really believe that if FF had announced a plan to abolish the Seanad, FG would not have opposed it?

As a result, we find ourselves in an odd position. Fianna Fail, through necessity rather than conviction, has been forced to become a conventional centre-right Christian Democrat party of economic orthodoxy. Labour, although more economically right-wing now than at any time  in its history (and ironically, more right-wing than the PDs were at their inception in 1985) is still offering, through its trades union and public sector links, a centre-left option. What is FG actually offering? Fianna Fail values  with different faces? Surely FG is just polluting the electoral pool, and contaminating what should be a clean choice without offering anything new? Put it another way: If FG suddenly vanished, what exact choice would Irish voters be deprived off? Is FG, by muddying the political waters, not actually reducing the effective democratic choice?  

Of course, it isn’t really fair of me to say that FG has not changed at all, because that is not true. Having spent decades being defeated by Fianna Fail in election after election, it now looks like FG can seriously look at the (slim) possibility of getting beaten by Labour. That’s change of a sort, I suppose.

By the way, I know I’ve quite a few FG supporters reading, so if one of you wish to post a reply as to the values FG has which are different, I’m happy to post it. But one rule: No mention of FF and no policy hair splitting. I mean the actual values that exist in FG that don’t exist anywhere else.


Labour’s gamechanging moment?

Posted by Jason O on Sep 24, 2010 in Irish Politics

An Taoiseach?

An Taoiseach?

Even someone as jaded about Irish politics as me has to admit to being fascinated by the possibility of Labour emerging as the largest party, as recent polls continue to suggest. The possibility throws up an absolute rake of questions:

1. Given that Labour is disliked by a large number of centre-right voters, could a consistent lead in the polls start to drive worried centre-right voters to the most effective centre-right party in the country, Fianna Fail? After all, a vote for FG may merely be a vote for a Labour Taoiseach. What would happen to FG as a junior partner in a majority left govt? Its centre-right voters would surely start shifting to FF, leading to a genuine right-left divide in Irish politics as FG disintegrates.

2. If FG comes second, and FF third, will FF negotiate with both FG and Labour? Wouldn’t it be milk-out-your-nose funny if FG ended up having to do a deal with FF?

3. Better still, wouldn’t it just plain wet-your-pants funny if FG lost its SEVENTH election in a row, this time to Labour?


We need a minority government.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 22, 2010 in Irish Politics

With rumours swirling about the place of an early general election in Febuary/March 2011, caused by desperate backbench TDs breaking ranks over local issues to try to save their seats, I’m quite surprised how underwhelmed I am at the prospect. I’m a political junkie, elections fascinate me, yet I find myself not enthused at all by the prospect.

One of the reasons, of course, is that unlike other countries, we don’t get as much political change as a change of personalities in general elections. A new government will have only a marginally different economic approach. In social policy, on things like drugs, abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia or prostitution it will have the same Don’t Ask Don’t Act policy as this government. On political reform, FG’s reforms, including abolishing the Seanad (which they will bottle out of. Just watch.) are tepid and will leave us with pretty much the same political system we have now. Labour’s proposals for a constitutional convention are interesting, but I suspect that the government will spend years dragging its feet over yet another report from another body.

In short, this is an election that a committed citizen could, in good conscience, not bother to vote in. Unless, of course, your motive is for pure and simple revenge against Fianna Fail. Then it’s worth your while.

The problem is that huge tranches of Irish politics are filled by highly paid elected officials telling us all the wonderful things they would do, if they were in power. Even the ones in power say that they’d do more if thay personally had more power. What’s particularly galling are the ones who say that, secretly delighted that they do not have to act, and have a viable excuse.

One possible solution is that we elect a single party minority government. We have the same hang-up that the Brits have that a government must be “strong” with a majority. Why? The Irish government does not need a majority in the Dail to deal with a major natural disaster or terrorist crisis, it just acts within its powers. Plenty of European countries have minority governments, and they are better run than we are. Look at the banking crisis. If FF had not had a majority during the whole banking guarantee crisis, they would have been forced to bring Labour and FG in to meet with the banks and question them too. What would have been the problem with that?

A single party minority government would have to debate and amend legislation on the floor of the house. It would have to agree to let some opposition legislation through, empowering all TDs, not just government ministers. And it would help ensure that we have a Ceann Comhairle whose loyalty is to the house, not protecting the government. These are not bad things. And let’s not forget the mischievous aspect: Imagine the fun of a defeated FF going into opposition after first electing a minority Labour government. I suspect the moral indignation and outrage on the FG benches would actually kill some of them stone dead.     


The Updated Guide to Irish Politics: The Heave

Posted by Jason O on Sep 20, 2010 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

A slash of blood in the water and that's it.

A slash of blood in the water and that's it.

There was a time when a good heave was all the rage, particularly in Fianna Fail. Half the parliamentary party hated the party leader’s guts, and every now and again, a motion of no-confidence would be put down, followed by a swordfight (I’m not joking. Alright, there was only ever one sword used. But still. A sword!) and good old fashioned punch up in the Dail carpark.

Fine Gael heaves were just not of the same category, being far more genteel affairs where eyebrows were raised because someone put their teacup too loudly onto their saucer and a word would be had in the ear, leading, for example, to Alan Dukes being turfed out for “only” winning 55 seats. Back in the day when that was regarded as a bad result for FG. Fine Gael heaves were more like schoolyard fights, involving headlocks, knuckles to the scalp, the odd wedgie and people’s jerseys being pulled out of shape so that one arm was three feet longer than the other, but no one really got hurt. Even the last Kenny/Bruton scrap had a hint of monocles and Queensbury rules about it.

Meanwhile, however, in Fianna Fail they were kicking each other in the kidneys. Are FF up for a rumble now? Depends. This particular generation of FF TDs, lacking Haugheys and Colleys and McCreevys and O’Malleys has been, up until now anyway, too much of the wet-their-own-knickers variety to actually instigate it. But don’t rule it out. If some mischievous newspaper puts out a poll showing that some marginal FF TDs may keep their seats under Michael Martin or the saintly Lenihan, then it might just be game on. If a handful of rats go for Biffo, the rest of the nest won’t be too far behind. More than any other party, FF is the party of the pack.


The Perils of Self Publishing.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 20, 2010 in Books

It’s hard to get published. Out there somewhere are twelve people who were offered and turned down Harry Potter, a decision which must occasionally come to them in the night. But it also means that there are many prospective authors out there with good books that will never see print.

Then there’s the self published. There’s an undeserved air of desperation about self publishing which isn’t attached to those bands who pay to record their own tracks, or artists who paint pieces that will never sell. When one reads a self published work, one is extra critical because one can’t help thinking that this has probably been rejected by professional agents or publishers. Yet, as mentioned above, even they make mistakes.

Having said all that, they’re not wrong all the time. I’ve just abandoned reading a political thriller I bought which had been, from the look of it, self published. It’s professionally bound and printed, and I’m not going to name it, or its author, as I don’t want to belittle something that a lot of work was obviously put into. But it highlights the danger of self publication. The basic premise of the book was sound enough for me to warrant buying it. But as I read it, two things became apparent: The author has a (declared) fascination with both the occurrence of coincidence and the card game Bridge, and these fascinations are shoehorned into the story with such frequency as to cause the plot to move at a snail’s pace when not being completely sidelined. It is here that a professional agent would have said, I assume, that fascinating as they were, they’ve got to come out. Want to write a novel about coincidence? Fine. Want to write about Bridge? Again, no problem. But wanting to write about an Alien invasion of Earth and then trying to cram in intricate observations about one’s early Victorian doll collection every ten pages just isn’t going to happen. 


Tory bigotry about electoral reform.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 19, 2010 in British Politics

Bigotry. It’s a strong word, and not one I use lightly about the Cameron Tory party which has come a long way. But I use it in the context of the Tory attitude to electoral reform because their opposition is just so irrational and kneejerk as to be difficult to understand. Just before the last general election, I was savaged by a Tory blogger for suggesting that compromise in politics is no stranger than compromise in marriage. He refused to accept that it was better for the Tories to get some of the things they want in a coalition than nothing under a Labour Govt.  That attitude still seems to exist amongst Tory opponents to electoral reform, who seem to believe that the only alternative to the current coalition is a Tory majority government. Has it not occurred to them that as the Lib Dems are shedding their left wing voters to Labour, resulting in Labour now neck and neck with the Tories in recent polls, that the danger of an 1983 split vote is now on the centre right between Tories and centre-right Lib Dem voters?

As the govt gets more unpopular as a result of cuts in public spending, a bizarre situation could arise where, under first past the post, Labour gets considerably less votes than the combined coalition total, and yet wins a majority of the seats. In other words, a majority of British voters, or damn closer to it than any election since the 1950s, could vote to reelect the coalition parties, and yet first past the post lets Labour in?

Bizarrely, Tory anti-AV campaigners seem to prefer that result to the introduction of AV, which must be the most petulent act of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face ever seen in modern politics. 


What the hell happened to Bachelors Walk?

Posted by Jason O on Sep 18, 2010 in Movies/TV/DVDs

RTE does not have a great history with comedy. It’s not entirely their fault, in fairness, in that the best comedy involves risk taking and only then does a tiny proportion of it get enough commercial traction to be successful. US and British television, the two main sources of competition to RTE, have spent millions on failed comedy shows, millions that RTE just never could afford to waste on experimentation. Instead, we have tended to end up with more middle of the road (“A brown envelope? What are you? A politician?”) type stuff.

Despite all that, RTE did have one fabulous success with the comedy-drama Bachelors Walk, which came onto our screens in Oct 2001, ran for three years and a Christmas Special, and was excellent. It was funny, it boasted genuine comedy talent in the likes of Don Wycherley, Simon Delaney, Marcella Plunkett and Keith McErlean, and most of all, Dublin looked bright and breezy and cool and a city that looked like it was worth being proud of. This was also helped by the jazzy soundtrack.

Yet RTE have failed to release the complete series on DVD? They did release the first series, which is now quite hard to get (Although I have it), but never followed through. Rumour has it that there was a problem about music releases, which I struggle to believe because surely most TV series are planned with possible DVD release in mind as a revenue stream, especially a show as popular as this was?

Anyone know what happened? Given the dark times we live in, it really would do us no harm to see that wonderful Tiger Dublin again, if only on DVD. And I’m sure RTE could do with the few quid.

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