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

Movies: Despicable Me.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 17, 2010 in Movies/TV/DVDs

Just saw the Steve Carrell voiced “Despicable Me” in 3D. About a super-villain and three kids he adopts whilst trying to steal the Moon. I found it hugely entertaining, gorgeous to actually look at and very funny. Not quite in the “Up” stakes in terms of the adult/child mix of humour but, curiously, actually more laugh out-loud. The behind-the-scenes antics of his minions are particularly good. And keep watching through the end-credits. There’s an ongoing gag about 3D. Well worth a look.  


You have to laugh.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 15, 2010 in Irish Politics

It is comical. Cowen, Gilmore and Kenny, none of whom really want to be in the talks process, but know that they have to look like they’re interested “in the national interest”. It’s like a load of teenage guys at their first party, with their first ever game of Spin The Bottle, when suddenly all the girls go to the loo and they don’t know what the game etiquette is. And so they sit, in awkward silence.  


Yesterday’s Politics Today.

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

Brian Cowen’s surly U-turn over meeting with the opposition is yet another example of how the Taoiseach is struggling to deal with the realities of the economic crisis. In his mind, he seems to be still set in the old ways: We have all the power, and you the opposition have none. As with his U-turns on the number of junior ministers and Oireachtas paycuts, he stonewalls and then backs down, gaining none of the kudos and looking like he has been forced to do something by public demand.

He’s probably right that seeking consensus is a waste of time, but a bit of imagination could actually help him. His government will have to make actual cutbacks anyway, so why not just get the opposition in to force them to suggest their alternatives? What is he afraid of? That they might steal a cutback they really like? Worst case scenario, they refuse to actually come up with real proposals and look unserious. Or they could suggest something actually worth doing. What’s the problem? The Taoiseach needs to understand that politics is changing, and just because “that’s not the way things are done” used to be the argument in the past, that does not mean it stands now. We’re through the looking glass, people.  


Taoiseach Joe.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 13, 2010 in Fiction, Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

Finally, Ireland had elected a Government of the Left. These were the real left, and they had won, despite the polls saying it wouldn’t happen and the media being universally against. True, the turnout had barely reached 40%, such was the disgust with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s politics-as-usual, but as the counting had progressed, it was clear that the Socialist Party/People Before Profit Alliance was going to scrape by the magic 83 seats.

The night of the count had set the tone. The media intercut images of Socialists getting elected with images of removal vans blocking up Ailesbury Road and Killiney and Foxrock. By the time the Dail convened and elected Higgins Taoiseach, the Central Bank was reporting that billions had beeen transferred from the country. Higgins’s finance minister, Richard Boyd Barrett TD, quickly imposed exchange controls, ordering the banks to cease transferring, but they ignored him, citing that he had no right to do so. When the bill giving him the power to do so was rushed through the Oireachtas in hours, it was appealed to the Supreme Court who ruled it a breech of EU law. By then it was too late anyway. Roger Cole TD, minister for foriegn affairs, was despatched to Brussels to demand change, and the government settled down to draft its emergency budget.

The most immediate cutbacks were reversed, and a massive hike in income tax, Capital Gains Tax and Corporation Tax was announced. The minister anounced that the help of the “vampires of the bond markets” would not be required. That was when the fun started. Read more…


Irish Politics in a paragraph.

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

A thumbnail sketch.

A thumbnail sketch.

Over the weekend, I set myself the target of writing a single paragraph to describe the values of each party. Not the policies, but the end-objective values that lead to a policy. I’ve had difficulty explaining this concept to Irish political activists, who are obsessed with the minutae of policy differences. What I mean is this: There’s a reason, for example, why FG would be very unlikely to propose nationalising the nation’s farms, because FG holds as a value a belief in the right to property.

To give you an idea, I started by writing a paragraph for the US Republican and Democratic parties, two parties with clear values, to clarify in my own mind my task.

Republicans: Low tax, pro-business, anti-union, pro-defence spending, anti-social spending, pro-gun, socially conservative, pro-death penalty, pro-certain religions.

Democrats: Low tax for most, moderately pro-business, pro-regulation, pro-union, pro-social spending, moderately anti-gun, moderately socially liberal, pro-death penalty, moderately secular.

You get the idea. Now for the Irish parties:

Fianna Fail: Moderately low tax, pro-business, moderately pro-union, pro-social spending, socially moderate, pro-European.

Fine Gael: Moderately low tax, pro-business, moderately pro-union, pro-social spending, socially moderate, pro-European.

Labour: Moderately low tax, pro-business tax, pro-union, pro-social spending, socially liberal, pro-European.

Greens: Moderately low tax except for resource taxes, pro-social spending, socially liberal, pro-European.

Sinn Fein: Pro-business tax, pro-tax on high earners, pro-social spending, anti-European, relaxed about law enforcement. Uncomfortable with current relationship with UK.

The Communists: Pro-business tax, pro-tax on high earners, pro-social spending, anti-European, relaxed about law enforcement, immigration controls.

What’s interesting, and hardly surprising, is the fact that FG and FF are almost identical in values. Both (despite protests) have pretty much the same vision of Ireland, an Ireland not that radically different from the one we live in. Having said that, those visions are pretty much the visions of the majority of the Irish. It’s the great ugly truth and the heart of Irish society: Despite all the flaws, the child abuse, the corruption and incompetence, most Irish people want things to stay the way they are if the alternative involves them making a sacrifice.  


Your share of the pot.

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

A Euro spent is a Euro taxed.

A Euro spent is a Euro taxed.

One of the greater challenges any government has during a fiscal crisis is connecting cutbacks  to people’s pockets and tax contribution. Anti-cutbacks activists tend to define cutbacks in a vaccuum, as if they are being pursued for their own sadistic pleasure as opposed to being linked to a shortage in available revenue.

As part of that, I’ve always felt that the Government has failed to inform the public as to the link between the taxes they pay and what it’s spent on, instead letting the media obsess with tiny (relative to the budget) sections of the budget such as the government jet and Oireachtas expenses.

Would it really be that difficult for the Revenue Commissioners to provide every taxpayer with a Personal Tax and Spending Statement? A single page outlining how much they pay personally in tax (with an estimated average for VAT), and what they get from the state in direct payments (welfare, children’s allowance), subsidies (health), and indirect Govt services (Gardai, etc)?

Yes, you’ll have the usual “Well, I’m not a farmer. Why do I pay for the CAP/I’ve never been hacked to death by a serial killer and served with a passable Italian wine, why do I pay for the Gardai ?” whinging, but people will also discover that most people get far more back from the state than they pay in taxes. You could also show where Govt spending really goes, that the Govt jet and Oireachtas expenses cost the public pennies whilst social welfare and the public sector payroll and pensions is where most of their money goes (I’m stating this as a fact, not as an attack on them). I think people would also get a fright as to how much of their taxes are starting to go on debt interest,    and also what proportion of Govt spending is funded through borrowing. Surely it would be a useful exercise?  


Why are British eurosceptics opposed to Proportional Representation?

Posted by Jason O on Oct 6, 2010 in British Politics, European Union

Why is it that Britain, possibly the most eurosceptic country in the EU, does not have a substantial “Leave the EU” party in the House of Commons? The answer, of course, is that the electoral system does not permit it. But what is truly baffling to this non-Brit is the way that hardline eurosceptics conspire with pro-European Tories to keep first past the post, and then complain when the pro-European Tories get elected and do pro-European things. Why are hardline eurosceptics not advocating changing the voting system to one where their votes actually matter?


Labour has to step up.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 2, 2010 in Irish Politics

Labour’s reaction to Mary Harney’s 50c prescription charge to GMS cardholders tells us a lot about how Labour thinks about the entitlement culture. Isn’t it extraordinary that a maximum charge of €2.50 per week is regarded as an outrage by Labour? Are they really so committed to a something for nothing culture that even as modest a proposal as this, in the current climate, is resisted?

I ask because I, like the majority of Irish people, pay far more than 50c for prescriptions. Ordinary non GMS families don’t like that fact, but accept that things cost money. We also pay the taxes that subsidise the GMS prescriptions. And now Labour want those working families to pay higher taxes (someone has to pay) so that a certain class of voters don’t have to pay even 50c? Sure, Labour will say that nobody should have to pay for prescriptions, but constantly extending the idea that government services can be magically paid by someone other than you is not in the national interest. It is not unreasonable to expect those who gain the most from our social welfare system to make a very modest contribution towards it, as the majority of Irish voters already do.

If Labour are really to form a government, then Labour neeed to decide are they going to be a government of the majority, or a government of the welfare clients and the public sector first. That decision will decide whether they are to become one of the two major parties of Irish politics, or whether Labour’s recent surge in public support is just a short term event.


Something nice about Fine Gael.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 1, 2010 in Irish Politics

A number of readers of the FG persuasion have accused me of just being anti-FG, which is ironic because I normally get emails from people accusing me of being anti-FF. Having said that, I have been laying it on a bit thick on the blues, so this morning I thought I’d say something nice about them.

1. They have a noble history, probably more so than FF. When Dev was willing to let people die in a civil war rather than take an unpopular position, FG stood up and did the business.

2. By forcing FF to take their seats in the Dail, they destroyed their own political dominance of the country in the national interest.

3. They took the country out of the British Commonwealth and made it a republic. Not the Republican Party, Fine Gael.

4. On the North, it was FG who took the lead with Sunningdale and the Anglo Irish Agreement. FF came late to the peace process.

5. They occasionally do honour, like resigning, such as when Phil Hogan as junior minister accidentally released budget details. FF only does honour when their coalition partners put a blade to their goolies.

6. They recognise that most Irish people (secretly) like the Brits.

There now.


An Enjoyable Book: Power Play

Posted by Jason O on Oct 1, 2010 in Books

“Power Play” by Newsnight’s Gavin Esler (I’ll bet he hates being described like that) is a thriller about a US Vice President vanishing whilst on a visit to Scotland, and the British Ambassador to the US’s struggle to help find him. There’s nothing fancy about it, in that it is a solid thriller with a good story that will keep you reading to the end. Most of the American characters are thinly veiled versions of existing politicians, and Esler does have  a tendency to use quotations or make observations which, although possibly fresh to non-political readers, would be old news to politicos.

It’s not Frederick Forsyth, but enjoyable, and I’d certainly read another. A holiday yarn.

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