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

When the FF wall comes down.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 21, 2011 in Irish Politics

There must have been, at some moment, a realisation in Stasi headquarters in Berlin, in 1989, that their power was suddenly gone. A single fragment of time where the most feared men in Germany, working in the most feared building in Berlin, suddenly felt fear themselves as the mob stormed their headquarters. Watching Fianna Fail collapse into chaos yesterday was like that moment, when one realised that this dominant force not just in politics but in society itself was actually imploding. Where the phrase “He’s very high up and well got in Fianna Fail” no longer is worthy of a head tilt of note but a “Yeah? Well f**k him!” Years from now, when people are asked “Weren’t you a card carrying member of Fianna Fail?” they’ll reply “Yes, but everybody was back then. You had to be to get on. But I never really believed in it.”

But what’s more interesting is watching Brian Cowen act like a member of the Irish parliamentary party of the Home Rule era, trying to negotiate with the old rule book when it has actually been not just amended but blown away. He’s still haggling over the details of a Parliament of Southern Ireland when the real power is now in the first Dail. Nearly every mistake the Taoiseach has made has been because of an inability to recognise that things have changed, and that the old Fianna Fail ways just don’t work anymore. Dev and Haughey brazened things out. They didn’t have to deal with a media and public that could be whipped into a frenzy by a tweet. Sadly, Brian Cowen didn’t seem to have to either, at least, not in his own mind. Brian Lenihan and Mary Hanafin have fared little better, Lenihan managing to transform himself from Mr. Integrity into Mr. Sneaky, and Mary Hanafin from being possibly the government’s best communicator into a “Cake and Eat It” merchant who needs an electronic microscope to explain her position, such is the atomic level hair splitting.

Personally, I have to say, I do get a little bit of pleasure about all this. I remember Cowen as a young buck getting a roar of applause when he told the FF Ard Fheis that when one was dealing with one’s junior coalition partner, “When in doubt, leave them out!”

Once again, a resigning (ex) PD minister bags an FF Taoiseach. How’s that for a hand from the grave? All we need to make this complete are a load of Ewoks dancing around a funeral pyre made up of FF posters.


Mary Harney steps off the stage.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 20, 2011 in Irish Politics

When I heard that Mary Harney had announced her resignation, I immediately logged onto Politics.ie to watch the usual carry-on of the bravely anonymous passing snide remarks about her. She will, of course, never return the favour. After all, why would she, the youngest senator in 1977, first and only female party leader, banisher of smog from Dublin, and the first person in a generation to actually seek out the Health portfolio to want to actually do something with it, want to pass remarks about people whose achievements in life don’t even stretch to having a name they aren’t afraid to use in public?

She has made mistakes, and she was never as radical as I had hoped she would be. But the fact is, Mary Harney has done what people always claim they want Irish politicians to do. Be straight about what they believe in, and attempt to deliver it. As for saying that she was a Thatcherite, I suggest they actually read a bit about Thatcherism. I knew her reasonably well when I was chairperson of the Young PDs, and one thing Mary Harney is not is an ideologue. Just ask the private health insurers. Her opponents nearly always are, but she isn’t. She was always about solutions.

Irish politics has been better for her participation, and I wish her well in the next stage of her life.


The Fianna Fail fightback starts on the day of the count.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 19, 2011 in Irish Politics

The coming election is interesting for many reasons, but one of the main ones must be the certainty of one thing: Fianna Fail will not be in government. What’s interesting about this is the opportunity for bluesky thinking this gives FF. Think about it: Unlike the other parties, who have expectations to beat, FF is in Dunkirk mood, trying to get as many guys safely off the beach as possible. FF should avoid government after the election to get its act together. Now, here’s a little scenario I’d like you all to ponder:

It’s 7:30pm on the day of the count, and the results are shaping up nicely. There are still seats to be decided, but we’re in ball park territory. The picture looks something like this: FG 63, Labour 50, FF 29, Sinn Fein 12, ULA 2, and Independents 10. A dozen seats going different ways won’t make huge difference. FG are cockahoop. They are the largest party, and they have vanquished the old enemy. Inda is going to be Taoiseach. Labour are also happy, but only relatively, still with the lost promise of the Gilmore Gale in their ears. They are the second party at last. But they are also watching the FGers dancing about, and thinking that despite all the change, they are still going to be second bananas to this crowd.

Then the Taoiseach resigns, accepting that FF have been comprehensively defeated. But, as agreed with his PP, he announces that he will remain as leader for six months, to allow FF to consider its position, but also to ensure that FF has a leadership position in place for the next step.

At 9pm Eamonn Gilmore receives a document which carefully goes line-by-line through the Labour manifesto, identifying what FF can support, what it can’t, and what it can negotiate on. In the covering letter, it stresses that FF has no desire to remain in government or enter a coalition with Labour. But it is willing to vote for Gilmore as Taoiseach, and give an assurance that it will vote confidence in his government for two and a half years, and is willing to consider legislation on a case-by-case basis. The document and letter are released to the media.

At the same time, reelected FF TDs voice support for the arrangement, and FF’s willingness to support Labour for that period of time in the national interest. And, incidentally, avoiding another election before FF has a chance to rebuild.

Suddenly, Eamonn Gilmore’s people are seeing a South Dublin dinner party fantasy look seriously real. An Taoiseach, Eamonn Gilmore TD? Don’t discount the appeal of that to Labour people when it starts to look actually real. FG respond in an outraged manner, with some newly elected FG deputies practically ordering Labour to join them in government. At the count, a few scuffles break out.

Of course, why would FF do such a thing? There are a number of reasons: If FG have any brains at all, they’ll have a joint Oireachtas committee dragging former FF ministers in front of them to investigate FF’s handling of the banking crisis for months, preventing FF from ever putting the IMF behind them as former ministers have to relive the past in excruciating detail live on television. But if a quiet word in Labour’s ear kept that off the table, FF can start to rebuild in oppoition. Secondly, for FG to find themselves inexplicably on the opposition benches after the election would kick off the civil war to end all civil wars in the party. It’s not totally off the wall to imagine FG deputies, as in FF in the 1980s, actually boxing the heads of each other in the car park, given the trauma of losing the unlosable election. Thirdly, FF need to recognise that they may be stuck in third position for quite a while, maybe a couple of elections, and so breaking up the FG-Labour alliance is in their future coalition making interest.

Finally, let’s be honest: If FG think for a minute that Labour are seriously considering this, they’ll have their knickers off faster than Britney in front of a nightclub. It’ll be a government with a nominal FG head, but with a Labour finance minister implementing a Labour manifesto with all the Varadkar bits of the FG manifesto neatly trimmed out. Whereas Inda will be nominal taoiseach, Jack O’Connor will be in reality, and just imagine how that will go down with FG voters. Especially after FF remind them. Just a thought.


Dealing with Hate: Nick Clegg and Brian Cowen.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 18, 2011 in British Politics, Irish Politics

Nick Clegg: The Brian Cowen of British politics.

Nick Clegg: The Brian Cowen of British politics.

It’s becoming standard practice to affix the label “The most hated politician in Britain” to Nick Clegg. That doesn’t necessarily make it true, but certainly, as the polls are showing, he has a significant body of people in Britain who actively regard him not just as someone they disagree with, but a figure of loathing. Brian Cowen, his fellow European Liberal counterpart, is in a similar position in Ireland.

What must that be like? After all, neither man is evil. Neither man arrives into his office every morning and begins plotting to inflict needless suffering upon a section of society. Both men must feel a heavy heart when they review their options for cutting public services, as they study the impact those decisions will have on people at the bottom of society.

Both men face electoral oblivion. Yet both men could end the hate. They could have resigned, left public life, disappeared from the public view for a few years and emerged no longer hated, just forgotten. Brian Cowen could have walked off the pitch a year ago. But they didn’t? Why not? The money? At that level of politics, I just don’t believe that honest politicians remain just for the money. The power? There’s that, and that is probably the answer. The ability to do things, even if it means managing painful decisions in the belief that you have the ability to make them less painful. Does that warrant hate? In Brian Cowen’s case, he was there from the beginning, and many of his decisions as a minister have led us partially to where we are today. In Clegg’s case, he’s guilty (Like John Gormley) of being a proponent of Proportional Representation who never thought through what making wide-ranging promises in opposition actually meant under a PR-style system of coalition. But does that deserve hate? Or is the manufacture of hate just yet another product of the over-emotional psycholgically manipulated bawl-your-eyes-out-on-national-TV society that we now live in?


Why is Shane Ross not standing in Kerry South?

Posted by Jason O on Jan 17, 2011 in Irish Politics

Shane Ross: Dealing with fancy stuff like banking regulation.

Shane Ross: Dealing with fancy stuff like banking regulation.

“Because he wouldn’t be elected!” is the obvious answer, and it’s a telling one. After all, everyone knows that Kerry South hasn’t been affected by the failure of banking regulation, and the subsequent inpact on public spending, unemployment or emigration. Nor has Mayo, or Sligo-North Leitrim or Meath East. Those things only affect Dublin South, Dun Laoghaire and Dublin South East.

What’s that you say? Those things have affected those areas too? Really? Well, then, why is it that candidates who openly want to deal with national issues won’t run in those constituencies? Shane Ross is from Wicklow. Why has he chosen to run in Dublin South? Because the conventional wisdom is that Dublin South might elect a “national” politician, whereas most other constituencies, including most Dublin ones, won’t. Instead, they all want someone to stand up for the local area. Someone else in some other constituency can deal with all that national stuff. Like banking, employment, emigration, public services: Sure what’s that got to do with us ’round here? 


A good book worth reading: 1912.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 16, 2011 in Books, US Politics

James Chace’s “1912” tells the story, in a very fluid and readable style, of the 1912 US presidential election. For those of you not of the US political junkie variety, the 1912 election was fascinating because it had three serious contenders for the office, including a sitting president and a former president, and the most serious Socialist candidate for the presidency in the history of the US.

It’s also a very personal story, as President William Taft, the incumbent Republican, who was incredibly beaten into third place on polling day, had been the handpicked successor to President Theodore Roosevelt, and a reluctant one at that. He was then stunned to find himself running against the man who had put him into the White House, indeed a man he regarded as one of his closet friends. One of the most touching scenes in the book is when the two men meet years later, by accident, in a Chicago hotel dining room, and renew their friendship to cheers from other diners.

One of the interesting features of the book is its picture of the political climate of the time, where three of the four candidates ran effectively on centre/centre-left (for the time) platforms of progressivism, with Eugene Debs, the Socialist, running on the hard left. It’s a sharp contrast with US politics today, whereby even moderate social democratic policies are regarded with suspicion.

A short, entertaining read.


No to AV campaigners don’t seem to like different viewpoints.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 15, 2011 in British Politics

Reading the No to AV website reveals an interesting insight into how many of them seem to think about politics in general. Let’s be honest: There are some good reasons for voting for FPTP. It is simple, and gives a result. Not an accurate one representative of most voters, I feel, but there are many people who want an election above everything else to give a clear result, and FPTP does that most of the time. If AV is like a game of Risk, and needs thought, FPTP is Snakes and Ladders. It does eventually end with a clear winner no matter what you do (or indeed, how you actually vote).

But what is telling about the No to AV campaign is their disdain for the idea that other people may think differently about politics from them. Just consider the logic of their argument. If you are a Tory voter living in a constituency where, say, it’s Labour versus the BNP for the top slot, what they are saying is that you should not care who actually wins if your (Tory) candidate does not.

But that is not the way many ordinary people think. There are millions of Tory voters who would be appalled if they ended up with a local BNP MP, and if asked to give a second choice to Labour or the BNP will vote Labour no.2 to stop the BNP.  Yet the No campaign dismiss people like that. Why do they dismiss them? Because the No side is made up mostly of professional politicians who think only in narrow party political terms, My party or no one. That is not the way ordinary people think, or indeed vote. AV increases voter choice, and makes more politicians vulnerable in their seats. That is a good thing.


2016: What FG/Labour will actually be marked on?

Posted by Jason O on Jan 14, 2011 in Irish Politics

In the 1997 general election Labour lost half their seats, despite the fact that the economy was doing well and the government they were members of had delivered most of Labour’s specific manifesto promises. Yet Labour still got clobbered. Why? One argument is that people who vote for a party vote for many reasons, including local candidate, policies, party image but also because they have a gut instinct as to what they expect of a party. People in 1992 who voted Labour had not expected Labour to go in with Fianna Fail, nor to start appointing cronies to jobs within days of entering government. Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems are experiencing the same thing, despite their policy successes.

When the probable FG/Labour government seek reelection in 2016, what will be the gut achievements by which they will be judged on? I don’t mean their manifesto commitments, but the tone they ran for election on. For example, Listening to Joe Costello and James Reilly talk about trolleys in hospitals, it is not unreasonable to assume that by 2016 there will be hardly any patients on trolleys at all, and so that is a clear means of judging their success or failure.

As I see it, it looks something like this:

1. The Seanad will have been abolished.

2. The IMF deal will have been renegotiated in minor ways, with the exception that the 5.8% interest rate will be reduced.

3. Unemployment will be at least 25% less than it is today, in other words, less than 10%.

4. The number of people on trolleys in our hospitals will be in the dozens, rather than hundreds.

If the government can go to the Irish people having ticked all four of these, I think it stands a very good chance of being reelected.


The only poll that matters?

Posted by Jason O on Jan 13, 2011 in Irish Politics

Listening to Drive Time last night, I heard a discussion between Mary Wilson, John McGuirk, Niall Crowley and Elaine Byrne about political reform. Aside from Elaine Byrne’s unintentional but funny sideswipe at Mary Wilson talking about the excitement around the formation of the PDs (“Actually Mary, I was only eight at the time”) what was interesting was the underlying assumption that the Irish people are actually looking for change. The constant refrain that polls show that 61% of voters want a new party is never examined in detail. No one seems to have polled what such a party would actually be for, and like the PDs, I suspect that if such a poll started to attach actual values to such a party (Pro Public Sector/Pro Private Sector) that party would plummet in the polls. As a people, the Irish are curiously repelled by all but the most vague political ideas.  

It reminded me that over the Christmas break I had been watching an episode of Diarmuid Ferriter’s “The Limits of Liberty”. I was struck by the tone of the programme, where the newly independent Irish government were painted as bastards but where the Irish people were not held accountable for actually electing them. Maybe I’m doing Ferriter a disservice, and I know it is a hobby horse of mine that I constantly harp on about on this blog and elsewhere, but it is a constant theme of Irish society. Even in voluntary organisations like the GAA, which have fairly transparent elections, people take comfort not in the fact that they cannot convince others of the merits of their case, but that there is some unseen clique (I much prefer the Dublin word “click”) manipulating everything in the background.

In this country, electing the Dail is how we as a society, in free elections, declare what sort of values we aspire to. Now just think, going on recent polls, what that says about us:

17% of us will vote Fianna Fail, of which there is no more conservative change avoidance party available on the ballot. So 17% of us do not want any change if possible.

35% of us will vote for Fine Gael, which means some change but mostly just in the faces of the people at the top. Certainly the second most anti-change party available. The broad values of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are the same, in the same way that Coke and Pepsi are. When a restaurant does not have Pepsi, they offer you Coke. They don’t offer you tomato juice.  

So already, that’s 52% of voters voting for minor change at best. We have been through the worst economic crisis of our history,  and a majority vote for minor change at best. At the moment, over half the Irish people, and that’s not counting people who will give a number two vote to FF or FG candidates, will vote for parties that pretty much defend how we got where we are today. I know my FG readers will go ballistic at me saying this, but the fact is, Ireland under FG will look 90% like Ireland under FF.

People often wonder what sort of Irish people, knowing what was going on in the industrial schools and the Catholic Church, could have voted to preserve the status quo in the 1950s and onwards. You can see your answer in the mirror. Dem’s the fellas right there.


Saving the Irish pub.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 12, 2011 in Irish Politics

Conor Pope has an interesting piece in the Irish Times here about the possible demise of the Irish pub. Now, those of you who know me will know that this would be be an area I don’t know a lot about: I don’t drink, and I am possibly the only man in Dublin who, when told “I’ll meet you in O’Malleys/Hartigans/Shaughnessys” I get looks of incredulity when I ask “Where’s that?” I don’t drink, and so I just don’t go to pubs anywhere near as much as my peers. On top of that, as I age my peers are having kids, getting married, buying homes, and so entertaining at home is becoming a much bigger feature of my social life.

Yet I’d be saddened to see the demise of the pub, because I have had great times in pubs. Upstairs in Neary’s in Chatham Street, a haunt introduced to me by one of the brothers (Who uses up my pub quota with gusto), with its little or no music and comfy seats is a great place for mates to go not to get trollied but to pontificate the great issues of the day (Politics, movies, books, music and Kelly Brook Vs Jessica Biel) and laugh the way you laughed when you were a teenager.

I find it depressing that the VFI’s response to the issue, and it is a serious issue, is to force people back into pubs by stopping them drinking cheaply elsewhere. In other words, a Shannon Stopover approach to drink. What is it about us as a people that our gut response is never to discuss how to make something more attractive, but to try and kill the thing that actually is more attractive? It’s the Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction approach.  And don’t get me started on the whining about drink driving enforcement. The VFI sound at times like the NRA after a shooting: It’s not drink that causes drunk people in cars to crash killing themselves or others, it’s the road surface/gravity/solar radiation.

What would it take to get me to go to a pub more? My tastes are different. I like a pub where you can have a conversation, where you can settle in a snug for the evening (or even book them?), where it isn’t the equivalent of a Tokyo train at rush hour when you are trying to get to the bar, and where you can get a bit of grub to the table that isn’t just deep-fried. And as for the smoking ban, it’s here and I think politicians would have a bigger fight getting rid of it than bringing it in. I’m glad not to stink leaving a pub, and I doubt I’d go into a pub again if it were scrapped, and I suspect there are even a lot of smokers who would agree. Having said that, smokers are people too, and some pubs do make a better effort to accommodate them than others.

The Irish pub is worth saving, but with love, not coercion.

Copyright © 2021 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.