Posted by Jason O on May 30, 2011 in Irish Politics
Every now and again I ponder giving up blogging. It can be quite time consuming, and repetitive, especially when writing about the Here-we-go-again nature of Irish politics. Then I see something in a paper that outrages me so much that I have to vent my outrage on my keyboard. Two items in the Irish Times today:
This one, about the Claiming Our Future meeting in Galway, fascinated me. The idea of a minimum income has always fascinated me, but I’ve yet to come across Irish advocates of such a scheme who A) openly advocate the massive rise in general taxation on all to fund it, B) know how to prevent it becoming a taxpayer funded hammock for the idle, and C) honestly point out that such a scheme would probably require the abolition of the rest of the social welfare budget. But what really caught my eye was the suggestion that we can have a constitutional right to income equality. In short, we can make it illegal to be poor! I wonder, would such an amendment end up being like the abortion amendment, being twisted by the courts to create surreal outcomes? Who knows, maybe a future government could use such a constitutional imperative to, say, sterilise people from poor backgrounds. Wouldn’t that narrow the income gap? Alright, so it’s from the Heinrich Himmler school of eugenic economics, but still! It’s in the constitution! I was also impressed by the suggestions to “limit” very high incomes. I’m always fascinated by the non-wealth producing sector’s curious view of humanity, where they seem to believe that people who create wealth will just quietly sit, passing over their money to confiscatory taxation. They won’t, they’ll just leave. Which leaves the even more intriguing nugget at the heart of the far left’s thinking: That if Michael O’Leary et al do leave, then suddenly some guy living under a bridge in the dead of winter is richer? I suppose he would be, at least statistically. Good for him. Bet he’d prefer a few quid, all the same.
The other story which had me gnashing at the teeth was Kathleen O’Meara’s proposal here, as part of her bid for the Labour presidential nomination, for a new 1916-style Proclamation. What is it about us as a country that we just love waffle and guff? After all, it’s not like we have “used up” the last one. Anyway, if I was to put money on anything, it would be on the Constitutional Convention spending most of its time on this nonsense once it finishes deciding that there’s nothing wrong with our actual political system save for Fine Gael’s bizarre belief (or classic act of misdirection. You decide) that the country lies awake at night worrying about the length of the president’s term of office.
Ah, it’s a great little country.
Posted by Jason O on May 29, 2011 in Irish Politics
The government’s proposals on female candidates, announced by Phil Hogan here, are to be welcomed. They seem practical, clear to understand, and with just enough carrot and stick in them to be viable. Of course,the devil, as always, will be in the detail. Take the European elections, for example. Fianna Fail will surely be tempted just to run a single candidate in each constituency (espc if today’s poll giving them 16% is reflective of where the party is now situated) but that means that, to be not in breech, Fianna Fail will have to run two female candidates. Or will the formula be calculated as an ongoing cumulative figure? If a party runs a female candidate in a byelection (100% female candidates) can this be used to offset a lesser figure in other elections? The 2014 local and European elections will be the key as to whether the parties (and the government, who will be enforcing it) are serious.
Of course, they’ll be subject to the usual anti-quota arguments, that they’re undemocratic and a sledgehammer to deal with a complex problem. What always irks me about the anti-quota argument is that the people who make it never actually have a concrete proposal which will have the same clear result. Under Phil Hogan’s proposals, if a party does not make at least 30% of its candidates female, it will be clobbered in state funding. Show me a non-quota alternative that will give us 30% female candidates for definite. I’m more than willing to listen.
Finally, we are all assuming that low female representation in politics is a bad thing. I think it is, but I’m always surprised by how many young women I meet who do not regard it as an issue at all. I wonder, will it peter out as an issue when the generation of women now in senior political positions leave politics?
Amendment: My apologies, but I read the original article in error. Apparently, the quota is proposed to only apply to general election candidates. If it’s implemented that way, then it’s a far less impressive reform. Apologies.
Posted by Jason O on May 27, 2011 in Irish Politics
How's he doing?
So, how is the new government doing?
Enda’s Seanad nominations were very creative, it has to be said. The British Queen’s visit was handled very well, and President Obama’s day-trip didn’t do us any harm either. On domestic policy, the government is sounding very reforming on the public sector, and Phil Hogan’s clear statement that water charges will not be flat-rated is a solid win, provided they mean it. They also seem to remain committed to Seanad abolition and some other worthwhile political reforms.
The actions of the government is very different from its tone during the election. Within days of taking office they abandoned a promise to give the Dail real power over semi-state appointments, and pretty much said that they’d appoint people to state boards in the same way that Fianna Fail did. We also witnessed the novelty of a Labour government appointing fewer female cabinet ministers than a Fianna Fail one. As for the bailout: Enda has said that the banking debt will be paid in full and on time. Pity he wasn’t that clear in the run up to the election. Fine Gael’s old southern “Jim Crow” attempt to prevent voters from being able to vote for certain political opponents in the presidential election is not, in fairness, a broken promise, just shoddy. It’s not Fine Gael’s job to nominate its enemies, but to actually conspire to prevent them getting onto the ballot? It’s the sort of thing old Fianna Fail would do with relish. If that’s the yardstick Fine Gael want to be measured by, then fair enough.
Also: Are Labour struggling to define themselves? Both Ruairi Quinn and Brendan Howlin seem to be making the running for Labour, both sounding like members of a newly reinvigorated Garret wing of Fine Gael rather than Labour. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying.
Having said all that, it has to be recognised that it is still very early days for the government, and I’m still giving them the benefit of the doubt, especially as there are clear markers which will tell us if they have delivered as a government.
1. Unemployment will be down.
2. Individual citizens will have more actual power over politicians.
3. The Dail will be able to openly defy the government on issues.
4. The Seanad will have been abolished, or be unrecognizable in a new form.
5. Finally, our combined national debt will cost us less.
There’s the five markers. If they can tick those five boxes, they’ll deserve a second term.
Posted by Jason O on May 26, 2011 in Irish Politics
The Danes ban Marmite here. At least the EU isn’t being blamed. (Hat tip Simon O’Connor)
What a load of nonsense going on about Enda supposedly plagarising President Obama’s speech. It was obviously a homage, sure Obama even started smiling as he recognised the words.
This story fascinated me, about Galway politicians being called on to act to ensure funding of Galway Airport. Imagine the outrage in Galway if they responded by bringing in a county airport tax to subsidise the airport. “No! We meant get other people to pay for our airport! Not us!”
I see Mary Davis is running for President. I wonder, should candidates “out” councillors or Oireachtas members who refuse to help them get onto the ballot paper. Take someone like Ivana Bacik, for example. Is she honestly going to attempt to prevent the Irish people from voting for the first openly gay presidential candidate? Because refusing to sign his papers, if she indeed does refuse (and I don’t know that she has), would surely be a question of putting party before principle.
The IFA protesting at the Competition Authority here. I heard someone pro-IFA on the radio yesterday claim that what the country needed now was “more” political control over regulators, and that lack of political control was what caused the banking crisis! That’s certainly the most novel excuse I’ve heard, that poor old Bertie and Brian were desperately trying to get the regulators to get tough on the banks, but they refused because they were too independent. Hmmm. I wonder, did selling off their own supply chain (many of the the Co-ops) for a quick buck not have anything to do with the problem of poor retailer prices?
Posted by Jason O on May 25, 2011 in US Politics
Danger lives one inch outside the ring of steel.
Are the days of US Presidential visits numbered? I ask, because watching the enormous security surrounding President Obama’s visit, I couldn’t help thinking that there’s a danger that it may actually end up being counter-productive. I waited for two hours on Lord Edward Street to get into the Dame Street security zone, during which I managed to travel from the Christchurch car park past Leo Burdock’s to the Bull and Castle pub, and as I stood there, it dawned on me that I was in fact in the single most dangerous place in Dublin.
Just think about it for a moment: If some suicide bombing nut wants to do the most harm, where will he or she do it? They can’t get into the security zone, so instead they quietly queue with thousands of ordinary people until they reach the Secret Service checks, and then explode the bomb, killing a few dozen US Secret Servicemen and Gardai and hundreds of civilians. If they were to simultaneously explode other bombs on the closed-off streets leading onto College Green, they would have caused a panicked stampede in College Green that could have killed hundreds more. The Ring of Steel insures the safety of the President, as it should. But it also has a side-effect, by creating a single access point leading into a very enclosed area, of creating an abnormally target rich environment just outside it, in the waiting area. It would, in short, have been the worst terrorist atrocity in post-war European history.
Now, before the usual nutters start ranting that I am helping Al Quaeda by putting these ideas in their heads, let me point out that the reason I’m pointing this out is that it seems such an obvious flaw in the security planning that if a simple amateur like me can see it, one would assume that professional terrorists can see it too. Maybe I’m wrong: Perhaps the US Secret Service and the Gardai had a plan to deal with such a situation. Perhaps they had undercover people in the crowd. Maybe they had snipers watching us as we waited, and speaking as a single bearded man standing in the crowd constantly checking the time you can imagine how that makes me feel. But I certainly hope they saw it too, because as I stood there two days ago I could easily have seen myself become a victim, along with hundreds of others, of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Posted by Jason O on May 23, 2011 in Irish Politics
Well done to Fine Gael and Labour on their Taoisach’s appointees to the Seanad. Nice mix of interesting appointments. Martin McAleese in particular was an inspired appointment. Nice one, Enda.
More good trade figures here underline the fact that a key problem with restoring a decent level of economic growth is the fact that the domestic retail economy is so weak, and will stay that way, I suspect, until people start to see unemployment figures start to come down. Yet unemployment will struggle to come down as long as the domestic retail economy remains weak. Breaking that cycle is the greatest challenge facing the government.
Met an intelligent woman this week who underlined for me the problems the Progressive Democrats had with their public image. She said that she could never vote for such a right-wing party, yet struggled to name a single policy of the party that would be deemed right-wing by modern standards. Interestingly, when we got on to social policy, she was conservative right-wing in her views. Just goes to show that one of the greatest flaws the PDs had was their inability to prevent their opponents shaping their image.
Reading about the anti-unemployment demonstrations in Spain here, one can’t help thinking that the demonstrators would be just as opposed to the means of creating jobs as to the problem itself. Spain’s redundancy packages seem very generous (see here, and bear in mind that in most of the Irish private sector you get two weeks for each year after two years worked). It means that an employer has to consider before hiring whether they can actually afford to pay redundancy. If such a rule existed in Ireland, many employers would find it cheaper to not hire new staff but pay existing staff overtime as needed.
Posted by Jason O on May 22, 2011 in Irish Politics
Some of us gathered at the Mansion House to pay our respects to Garret. A number of things struck me. First, the mix of people, in age and geographical mix. There were some who said that Garret was very much just a representative of Dublin Four, but looking through the names and addresses in the book of condolences, it was very apparent that the Irish were coming from far and wide to say goodbye. This was saying farewell to a man for the people.
Looking at him in that open casket, I was, and am always struck at funerals, at how an enormous life (and his was) is always reduced to an almost too small box. Garret was not a small man physically, but there was something very humbling about seeing him this way. One almost felt that he deserved something equal to the huge man he was. Certainly, I’ve seen lesser men laid to rest in far more grandiose caskets. But then, so vast was his contribution, perhaps the fact that we all know it is enough, and the true mark of greatness.
Finally, let me mention the laughter. We met outside the Mansion House, all of us political, none of us Fine Gael, and everyone of us had a Garret story, and we laughed. Even now, such a short time after his passing, he sounds like an almost mythical character. How could an intellectual and at times eccentric man like that, a man who believed in rules and ethics and all the things that we as a people regard as faintly odd have ended up not just a national figure but as the leader of the Irish people? Was it because we recognised in Garret, if just for a moment, the heights we could reach and the people we could be if only we’d let ourselves?
Posted by Jason O on May 21, 2011 in Not quite serious.
Andrew Moore’s surreal take on the visit of President Obama here.
Posted by Jason O on May 20, 2011 in Irish Politics
Farewell to a Man for the People.
When I sat down to write about the passing of Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, I wanted to avoid the usual Great Statesman/Patriot stuff. Yes, he was both those things, but on a personal level, to so many of us in politics, he was just Garret. I met him a few times, but only really had a conversation with him once, where we discussed the different aspects of electoral systems, and he told me that he, just for fun, had run the last Irish general election in his study at ward level using different electoral systems to see what would happen. If anyone else had said that to me, I would have thought they were crackers, but even as I write this I’m smiling and can feel the tears well up, because that was Garret.
I fought in elections against his party, but I never regarded myself as being against Garret, and I know that was a feeling shared by so many of us from parties other than FG. We all had a gut instinct for the values Garret stood for, a modern, progressive, forward-looking, tolerant, liberal and pro-European Ireland. Garret was the best in Irish politics, and those of us on the centre-right and centre-left of progressive politics were Generation Garret.
He wasn’t always right, and it’s fair to say that his time as Taoiseach was mixed. Yet he kept Haughey away from power for five years, and that alone merits his inclusion in the pantheon of great Irish leaders. But his values were ahead of their time and were vindicated to be right. From extremist Catholics to extremist nationalists, all telling him that his ideas were alien to Ireland: He was proven right. They were proven wrong. And Ireland is better for it.
I really hope we do something to remember him by, like maybe naming Dublin Airport after him, or erecting a statue of him in Terminal 2: I like the idea of Irish people rubbing one of his odd shoes (my Irish readers know what I mean by that) for luck before flying out into the world, taking with them just a little bit of Garret and what he meant to be Irish with them.
So farewell then. You have played your part, and left us better people for having known you. Onto a well earned rest, and no doubt an eternity of columns in the Saturday edition of The Heaven Times on interesting historical nuggets about harps and imaginative solutions to the pressing problems of cloud congestion. You actually have done the state some service.
Posted by Jason O on May 18, 2011 in Irish Politics
Gerry Lynch of the Alliance Party tipped me off to this little treasure. Love it. But remind me: wasn’t an Ireland inside the United Kingdom ruled by a home rule parliament the very thing that Northern unionists blocked for years? Or do they propose that Ireland inside the UK should have two parliaments? Why? And by the way, has anyone asked the rest of the Brits as to whether they suddenly want 100 Irish MPs arriving in the Commons in a centre bloc holding the country to ransom for more money? Still…Bless.
Well done, by the way, to RTE’s PrimeTime, which has once again done a better job here investigating the state’s failings over taxis and the NCT than the Oireachtas, and for considerably less money too. Given a choice between giving the Oireachtas more power and increasing PrimeTime’s budget, I know which one I would regard as giving better value to the citizen.
The future of extremist republicanism attempt to set fire to a union jack yesterday, but without much luck, God love them. Hat tip to Adrian Weckler for spotting this.