Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Time for a Fairness League Table?

Posted by Jason O on Dec 31, 2010 in Irish Politics

“Fairness” is bandied about in every debate about our current predicament. The problem with that is that we don’t have an actual means of measuring what is fair. Perhaps it’s time we did.

How would we go about such a thing? Hmm. Supposing we could construct a point system, allocating each citizen points based on their current situation, and use that to determine who is at the very bottom, and then shield the bottom 15-20% from the worst of the cuts, passing the additional burden onto the top 80%.

What would you get points for?

Having a job. The security of that job. Having a defined benefit pension. Having a pension above a certain value. Not having children. Not having a disability. Not having a mortgage. Owing less than 20% on your mortgage. Having the option to retire before 67. Having an income above the average industrial wage.

We could then allocate minus points based on the number of children one has, and additional points for having special needs children, or indeed have special needs onself.

Would be an interesting exercise, no? 

Of course, we would end up with the usual Irish rules-are-great-until-they-apply-to-me scenario, where people just over the 20% would demand “flexibility” be shown, and TDs would lobby to adjust it upwards, until 97% of the country would be deemed vulnerable.

Still, would be fun.   

 
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An old classic: One Foot in the Grave.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 31, 2010 in Movies/TV/DVDs

It will come as no surprise to many that I am a huge Victor Meldrew fan, and to be honest, I regard One Foot in the Grave as being one of the greatest sitcoms ever written. Having seen a repeat of it over Christmas, I was reminded that I had the complete series on DVD, and so watched most of it over the holidays. The writing is excellent, and the ensemble cast are just plain brilliant, in particular Doreen Mantle as their loopy friend Mrs Warboys. Most importantly, the plots are engagingly surreal.

It’s not to everybody’s taste. Most people see it as just a show about a moany old man, which misses the point entirely  and  misses the subtlty of creator David Renwick’s writing. What other sitcom has so many murders and suicides, or makes use of ominous and creepy settings, a tone that Renwick returned to in the equally brilliant Jonathan Creek? What sitcom ends by violently killing its main star?

I remember the first time I saw it, when it was first broadcast twenty years ago, and thought it was just a Terry and June knockoff until Victor discovered a cat frozen to death in the freezer. That was the moment I realised that this was something special.

The brilliance of Victor Meldrew was that he wasn’t just a grumpy old bastard. He was a contrary old curmudgeon (Well, he voted SDP, didn’t he?) but with a deep sense of compassion, risking his life to save a neighbour he hated from being killed, righting a shocking injustice in an old folks home by extreme measures, and sneaking food out to a vagrant living in his garden shed. We could do with more Victor Meldrews.

 
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Great movies you should see no.1: The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Posted by Jason O on Dec 30, 2010 in Just stuff

Oooh! Big Shiny Robot! We're in trouble now! The 1951 version I’m talking about, not the 2008 version where Keanu Reeves stares blankly (for a change) at people. The movie tells the story of an alien vistor and his giant robot who land in Washington DC  to deliver a message to humanity. Michael Rennie (Who has a touch of Ryan Tubridy As Elder Statesman about him) plays Klaatu, the alien messenger.

What is most interesting about the movie is that it was written when the anti-communist scare was just beginning to take off in the US, and yet dismisses rabid anti-communism as just a parochial human concern which is missing the big picture. The film is best remembered for Klaatu’s final speech to a collection of world scientists (The world’s leaders refused to meet him!) where he clarifies humanity’s options in stark terms. It sounds almost like an anti-Neocon polemic, or curiously like George Bush Senior’s Gulf war policy. Basically, you can do what you want, but interfere with other countries and you’re toast! I’ve posted it below if you don’t mind me ruining the ending of the movie.

 

Klaatu’s speech:

 ” I am leaving soon and you’ll forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day and the threat of aggression by any group anywhere can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all or no one is secure. Now this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them.

We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority is, of course, the police force that supports it. For our policemen we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first signs of violence they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk.

The result is we live in peace without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war, free to pursue more profitable enterprises. Now, we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.

Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”

 
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A task for the new government: Reassure us over our natural resources.

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

I recently posted comments about the Corrib Gas controversy, and got some very useful remarks back from readers. The reason I raised the issue was because I’ve noticed in recent times people raising the issue, and not just the usual suspects either. It seems to me that there is a uneasy disquiet about how our natural resources are being handled.

What I would suggest as a way of settling the matter would be for the government to appoint an individual of integrity, possibly from outside the country and the energy industry, to commission a short, straightforward report outlining what the actual situation is, how the decisions were made that got us here, and who made them, and the comparisons to other countries. I’m not looking for a multi-million euro report or tribunal, just a straight, believable text that  explains the situation.

That is surely not a lot to ask for to ensure national peace of mind over the matter? 

 
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Ireland needs a Statement of Entitlements and Responsibilities.

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

I can recall every general election from 1987, and I can recall a common factor about nearly every single outcome of those elections. Within two years of each election, an air of cynicism and betrayal, of being let down by the new government, tended to permeate the political environment. This tended to be caused by two driving forces: The first was incoming politicians campaigning on such a vague platform as to mean that it was emotionally and psychologically impossible for that government to satisfy the high expectation barriers it had set.

Fianna Fail in 1987 campaigned on the phrase “Heath cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped. There is a better way. ” which was, it has to be admitted, a shockingly barefaced de facto lie of a promise because it gave the impression that these were things that Fianna Fail were against. The truth is, when FF siad “there is a better way” they actually meant “there is a better way of hurting the old, the sick and the handicapped.” Even if Fianna Fail had been sincere in making the proposition, it would have been impossible with the best will in the world to deliver on the promise, a reversal of all health spending cuts. Hence the electorate’s bitterness and subsequent reduction in Fianna Fail seats and votes at the 1989 election.

The second factor tends to be an electorate that has no real idea how to measure success. The Labour Party, the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party have all been sucessful in delivering significant parts of their policy agendas, yet all have suffered at the hands of subsequent electorates who either were unaware of those achievements, or discounted them against a larger less tangible failure on the part of the parties.

A new incoming government needs to heed this lesson, especially in this time of finite resources. As part of that, a new government should commit to providing each citizen with a specific written declaration, each year, of what they will pay in direct taxes and VAT and local and car taxes, and what specific services they can expect to receive in return. And when I say specific, I mean specific. None of your “We pledge a world class health service” crap. I mean how long you will wait on a waiting list for an operation. How long you will have to wait to see a doctor in A&E. And who you call and how much you get compensated by if you don’t get what you are pledged. How much dole you will get if you lose your job, and for how long.

If we are to create a political system where there is trust between the governors and the governed, this country needs a period of clear promise delivery, where our leaders words actually mean something, and where a word given, if only to promise a very modest promise, is a word honoured. If this country is to recover, then honour has got to mean something.

 
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Berlusconi apologises for being seen with plain overweight woman.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 30, 2010 in Not quite serious.

Ciao bella!Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appealed to the Italian people for forgiveness after he was photographed on a date with a rather ordinary looking woman. Addressing a hastily convened press conference, the 82 year old Italian billionaire (Looking at least 20 years younger having undergone plastic surgery and other surgical enhancements of a more private nature)  pointed out that this was a error of judgement and that normally he was involved with stunningly beautiful women. To emphasise the point, he pointed out beautiful women in the press corps with whom he had slept with, including top Italian anchorwoman Carla Luennzi.

“ I did have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Luennzi.” Berlusconi insisted.

 
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There is little evidence that the Irish People want change.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 29, 2010 in Irish Politics

There is a common perception doing the rounds that Election 2011 is going to be the change election. Yet, do we actually know what people mean when they say that “they want change”? Is there anyone outside of Fine Gael, for example, who regard Fianna Fail’s vote dropping and Fine Gael’s rising as being a genuine act of change? Yes, they have nominally different policies, but the values of FF and FG are for the most part the same. Irish society will not be that radically different under five years of FG than it will under FF. If you doubt me, just imagine how embarrassed you would be to watch Jeremy Paxman, a disinterested observer, forensically question a representative from each party beside each other on live BBC television in front of a British audience. We’d be scarlet with mortification.  

But what is even more remarkable is that even in this extraordinary time for our republic, most people I meet have still not given the issue anything but the most superficial thought. Instead, they mumble something derogatory about politicians and about caring for “ordinary people” by which they mean people like them, whatever their situation. But surely if people wanted real change they  would not be voting for either FF or its pale imitator?

The standard response is that there is no choice, but this is just not true. Even aside from Sinn Fein, for which many Irish people refuse to vote for historical issues (A lead allergy, for example), there are parties on the ballot paper that advocate a radical departure from where we are today. A substantial United Left Alliance result on polling day would trigger a “Holy Sh*t!” moment, and possible radical economic change. Labour emerging as the largest party would be less radical, but still a significant departure and sign of modest change.

Even if one did desire change, but not of the left wing variety, the Green Party offers a serious non-ideological left reformist agenda. This suggestion may cause guffaws, but the fact is that the Greens can claim a greater distance from the overheated property market and the over indulged public sector than any of the three main parties, and a more serious approach to reform in government than either FF or FG. They have made mistakes, including buckling to FF on Tara, Shannon, and (bizarrely) blasphemy, but on balance the Green Party in government has tried to do the right thing, including imposing unpopular carbon taxes because they believe they are the right thing to do. For the rational, thoughtful non-left voter looking for honest change, electing as many Green Party TDs is arguably the best choice you can make in the polling booth. 

The fact that the party is struggling to get beyond the margin of error in opinion polls is telling us more about the Irish mindset than we realise.

Additional: TCD’s Michael Marsh makes some interesting (and very depressing) points in The Irish Times here.

 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Fine Gael Activist.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 29, 2010 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.
The smack of firm government!

She didn’t join Fine Gael. She is Fine Gael, since the foundation of the state and from when her grandfather would think nothing of taking out the hounds and shooting a few pheasants (She has to be careful pronouncing that word.) or the odd Sinn Fein irregular.  She can’t understand how Fianna Fail keep winning elections as she doesn’t know anyone who votes for them. Her cousin voted for the Progressive Democrats, but then she always was a bit, well, plain. Even her sons, Sebastian and Florence, didn’t vote for them, so it can’t be the young people, although she’s not sure they vote at all, too busy chasing those Alexandra College girls who seem a little too willing to open their Christmas boxes early, if you know what she means.

Not that she’s above using her own sexual appeal in the cause of the party. The hint of leather and the waft of Yardley from her cleavage always make sure the older men at the branch meeting dig deep for the raffle and put up the posters as instructed, nodding hypnotically as she barks instructions, and she was thrilled at the Ard Fheis when the dashing Simon Coveney couldn’t take his eyes off her vast expanse, even if it was less out of lust than out of fear that he might fall in.

She didn’t really like Garrett, he was a bit too metropolitan for her tastes, but Liam Cosgrave, who knew his way around a hunt meet and where he stood on law and order, now there was a leader. And that flat Dublin accent! She’s always had a hankering for a bit of Dublin rough.

 
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Enda: Bertie with a bank account and a Mayo accent.

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

If you believe that we might, at least, get some real political change out of the economic crisis, then you will find Enda Kenny’s remarks in the Irish Times today to be shockingly depressing. Regardless of your stance on abortion, the fact that the man who will most likely be our Taoiseach has expressed a view that despite having over 50 full-time taxpayer-funded researchers at his disposal, he has no policy other than to set up a committee with (seemingly) no deadline to actually produce a possible solution. Talk about gutless.

Then, on political reform, he advocates a bit of tinkering, marginally reducing the size of the Dail, abolishing the Seanad and setting up more committees for TDs. He opposes changing the voting system or appointing ministers. He actually claims, bizarrely, that TDs concentrate on constituency work “because they have no other role”. Our current batch of TDs are just itching to legislate and hold the government to account. If only we’d let them! In other words, Enda Kenny does not really believe that our current political system has any real responsibility for where the country is today. Instead, he seems to believe that same old Fine Gael adage: There is nothing wrong with the country except that we are not running it.

But what is really reach-for-the-revolver stuff is when you take all of the above together. A Taoiseach who wants to be in power, but avoids making decisions which might be right but unpopular with vested interests (Politicians and the anti-abortion crowd). This from a party leader who complains that his predecessors didn’t take “tough” decisions to dampen down the property market even though the decisions would have been unpopular. Didn’t we already have a fella from Drumcondra who kept his life savings in a sock under the bed and didn’t like making unpopular choices already?

It is becoming very clear that a vote for Fine Gael is not a vote for change.    

 
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Ryan Tubridy to “kick orphan from wheelchair” in ratings war.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 28, 2010 in Not quite serious.

He's so shiny!

Sources in RTE have confirmed that The Late Late Show is to follow an “edgier” strategy in the next season, in an effort to increase ratings. The source revealed that:

“ Ryan’s a lovely guy, and he has the nice-cup-of-tea-and-a-digestive segment in his pocket. It’s now time to start branching out, by being a bit more controversial and “out there.” We’re looking at stuff like Ryan beating up children live on air, that kind of thing. Less Burt Bacharach, more biting the head of a live bat and spitting it into the audience. We’re also thinking of fitting him out with a posse of  bihatches. How do you think he’d look in a full length white mink coat?”

RTE have admitted that they are treading cautiously on the issue, after the infamous incident when Michael Ryan on Nationwide referred to Mother Theresa as an “That Albanian ho.”

 

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