Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Beware the Japanese Long-Range Knicker Grabber.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 19, 2011 in Just stuff, Not quite serious.

My brother recently recounted to me a story of a girl he knows who lives in Japan. She was awoken one night by a tapping on the window of her second floor apartment, and a strange shadow being cast into her bedroom. Rising from her bed, she cautiously stepped out onto her balcony, where a collection of her laundry, including underwear, was drying, hanging over the balcony. Much to her shock, she noticed a steel claw attempting to reach over the balcony and snag a pair of her knickers. Looking over the edge, she saw on the street below a young man with very thick glasses operating, with great difficulty, a long steel rod, over two stories high, with which he was attempting to steal an item of underwear. She shouted at him, he shouted out an embarrassed apology, and proceeded to race down the street, holding his two-storey pole out in front of him.

Of course, I was fascinated by the pole. Did he make it? Or is there someone manufacturing them? And are the Japanese so respectful of each other that everyone minds their own business when they pass an ordinary fella out for a late night stroll with his two-storey high knicker grabber?

 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Secret Fianna Fail TD.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 16, 2011 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

Such was the landslide, it was bound to happen. It was inevitable, given the “whatever it takes” nature of constituency politics in Ireland, where parish trumps policy and ideology is something to do with horoscopes, like. He kept his mouth shut, grafted away on the council, then got stuck on the ticket for ballast, and took the last seat without reaching the quota, for Fine Gael or Labour. Which is grand, except for the fact that he is actually a Fianna Failer.

Now ssssh, don’t be shoutin’ that around the place! He’s not like a spy or anything, nothing like that. He’s just a constituency grafter who has never had a political thought in his life, and now he’s sitting on the government benches. When he saw “change” on his leaflets, he thought they were talking about the €11.30 left in his current account. Now he’s in the Dail, the Dail! Around him, some of his colleagues seem a bit upset that they are all voting for stuff they said they were against in opposition, but it doesn’t bother him in the slightest. He’s in favour of whatever the whip tells him he’s in favour of, and can’t see what some fellas are getting upset about.

Of course, like so many Irish people do in their places of work everyday, he’s terrified that he’ll be found out. So he looks around him at the fellas who seem to have been around here for years, and does what they do. He keeps his mouth shut, does his constituency work, does what he’s told, knowing full well that it will be a miracle if he’s reelected. But maybe if he’s a good boy he’ll be looked after when he loses his seat. Now, where’s that manifesto: It’s just the right size to stop his table wobbling.

 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Non-Political Presidential Candidate.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 15, 2011 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

The President: Making speeches about nothing is harder than you think. Community. The Vulnerable. Nodding his head solemnly. These are all things he wants to be identified with. Most importantly, he wants everyone to know that he is not “political”. He’s not like those candidates from the parties. He wants to put the ordinary people first.

Then he’s asked about what he would do as president. More stuff about being a voice for the disposessed (being a voice for the posessed would surely be much more interesting) and being a guardian of the constitution, whatever that means. Yes, yes, that’s all lovely, says the questioner. But would you sign, say, a bill which cut spending on children?

No, he says. It’s at that moment that his campaign becomes interesting, because at that moment he commits himself to open warfare with the elected government. Even more importantly, it opens the door to trickier questions. If as president you’re going to veto bills, then we’re entitled to ask your political positions on all sorts of things. Will you sign a bill on, say, gay adoption?

The panic flashes across the eyes. He signed up for guff about the diaspora, not for this. I’m not political! He protests. But if you are going to veto political bills you don’t like, aren’t people entitled to know where you stand politically before they vote?

The mouth goes dry. Do you feel that people who disagree with your vetoing bills should protest outside the Aras? The questioner asks. Protests? A drip of sweat trickles down his forehead.

Do you have anything to say? The questioner asks.

Community? The Vulnerable? The candidate suggests hopefully.

 
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Nine things we should consider in the quest to make Ireland a “fair” country.

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

1. The most important thing. Decide what fair actually means. In a media/NGO sense, fair seems to mean equality of outcome, in short, that average incomes, regardless of output, are broadly similar for every citizen, or at least, that their is a nominal minimum acceptable income.

2. Using that basis, it is possible to calculate, on an income basis, who is being treated fairly (by the above definition). It will be skewed slightly by some citizens who have such a huge requirement of state assistance that their income (ie, the level of taxpayer support they get) will have to be substantially higher than even the designated fair level.

3. In order to fund this on a long term basis, the great majority of the population would have to take a substantial fall in their standards of living to fund, through higher taxation, the reaching of the fairness level by others.

4. The social effects will be mixed. Entrepeneurs will be discouraged. On the other hand, extreme poverty will be eliminated.

5. Overall, the average Irish resident will have less disposal income and a lower (but tolerable) standard of living.

6. It’s reasonable, I think, to assume that crime levels would be lower, as poverty and drug dependence would be presumably reduced by higher spending, and the value of potential goods to be stolen from the average citizen would be less. Older cars absent of now less affordable iPads are less likely to be broken into.

7. This was tried in Britain in the 1970s. The gap between rich and poor was at its narrowest. But it also resulted in the mass exodus of wealth creators and a reliance on higher taxation (and reduced disposable income) on ordinary workers. Eventually 65% of the country rebelled, ousting Labour.

8. There is a danger of a country that follows such a path getting into a stagnating circle of decreasing wealth output resulting in higher taxation which causes the exit of wealth creators which decreases wealth output and so on. On the other hand, if the majority of the populace are willing to tolerate an ever increasing burden of taxation, they will reap the statistical and presumably social benefits of a narrower gap between rich and poor.

9. Essentially, the entire scheme hinges on the willingness of a majority of Irish society to exempt itself from interacting with much western consumer culture in return for social cohesion. An iPads for butter strategy. Many will say “yes” to such a proposition. Getting them to vote for it will be another thing altogether.

 
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A European Union Foreign Legion?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 10, 2011 in European Union

Outgoing US defence secretary Robert Gates has told European audiences some harsh but true realities about Europe’s failure to take its defence committments seriously here. After reading his remarks, I decided to repost below some thoughts I posted last year about how Europe could get more military bang for its buck.

Europe, for historical reasons, doesn’t do military well. Even the two most militarist countries, France and Britain, with populations willing to spend a significant portion of public spending on defence, are only marginally impressive by global standards, and that image is added to by their  impressive but essentially useless nuclear weapons programmes. There is not a single European country that could fight a major long-term war or policing action outside its borders without US assistance (Note: This was written before the Libyan intervention. I see no reason to amend it).

Now, that’s not a major issue. The fact is, Europe tends to use its economic power as a means of strong-arming others, and as the US has shown, the ability to use overwhelming military force tends to make the US constantly underestimate her military opponents. Her opponents know that whilst the US can bring overwhelming force down upon pretty much any point on the globe, the US does not have long-term staying power. The Taliban know the truth about its own propaganda: The US is not in the long term empire business, because the American people will not tolerate an open-ended ongoing stream of casualties. American wars must have a spectacular beginning and a tidy Our Boys Are Home ending. Read more…

 
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Jason’s Diary.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 10, 2011 in Irish Politics, Jason's Diary

I used to believe in censorship. I supported section 31, and was eventually convinced that I was wrong. The truth was that section 31 prevented Sinn Fein from having to become just another political party, which they pretty much are now. As a result, I’ve tended to go the other way. I think, on balance, that censorship is not really in anyone’s long term interest. That doesn’t mean that the state can’t protect children from violent or pornographic images, but that adults should be at least able to make the call themselves. 

That’s why I find the actions of this crowd here so objectionable. There’s a curious type of hybrid leftwing fascist (Yes, I know) beginning to emerge in recent times, who believe that they are entitled to decide what arguments other people should be permitted to hear. What’s more interesting is their willingness to ally with people opposed to their core beliefs, like watching LGBT activists marching with Taliban supporters, and their ability to be filled with actual hatred for their opponents. Actual hatred. I disagree with Richard Boyd Barrett, but I don’t hate him. When did irrational anger become so acceptable on the hard left? What happened to reason before passion? 

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Speaking of porn, I recently purchased a copy of RTE’s A Week In Politics Guide to Election 2011 and the 31st Dail. Note the title, because it’s important. When you flick through it, it’s very coffee table, full of info-nuggets and pictures and interesting articles, especially Sean Donnelly’s stuff. But see that title? Apparently, we live in a unicameral political system, and there was no Seanad Election 2011. Of course, maybe they were just in a rush to beat the Irish Times’s traditionally posher version. Or maybe they just decided that even political anoraks don’t give that much of a damn about the Seanad. I think they’re wrong, especially as it could be the last Seanad election under the current system. And it’s a bit pricey at €17.99, although the Irish Times version tends to be much steeper. And you practically have to ask the IMF for a dig out if you want to buy a copy of the uber-academic “Ireland Votes 2011″.  

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What a load of old nonsense about David Norris. Basically, he’s getting clobbered for having expressed opinions when he was a senator. We’re all stunned, especially as, with many of the candidates, you will struggle to find them having ever expressed an opinion on a political issue. As for the garbage being hinted at about older gay men with younger gay men, what a load of hypocritical guff. There isn’t a pub in Ireland where straight men don’t gather to talk about younger women. This is dressed-up homophobia.

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Tony Blair believes here that we should have an elected EU President. He’s right, and as I said to him (the only time in my life I get to say that) I’d vote for him.

 
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If Galway Airport is vital, surely the people of Galway will fund it?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 8, 2011 in Irish Politics

Leo Varadkar’s courageous decision to cut subsidies to Galway Airport here is the sort of decision ministers doing their jobs properly take. His primary function as a minister is to ensure that our taxes are spent with the best return possible. But there is a bigger issue at stake here. The gut instinct, when a minister cuts funds to a local project, is for local opposition to declare that the project is “vital” for local economic or social development. Well, if it is vital, then local people won’t mind paying a Galway Airport Tax to keep open such a vital service. Why not ask them in a vote in Galway City and County?

What will happen, of course, and I stress that Dublin would be no different in its reaction to this than Galway, is that people will be outraged that they have to pay for a service that they benefit from. They will demand that it be subsidised by someone else. Hardly the response of a people who believe the service to be vital, is it? After all, people dig deep to save the things they really value, like local soccer or GAA clubs, so why not the vital service that is Galway Airport. Could it be that when they’re asked to pay for it themselves, it suddenly isn’t as vital as they first thought?

Of course, you could argue the same for Dublin Bus. It gets a national subvention, and only serves the people in the Dublin region. It’s a fair point. Surely the people of the Dublin region should subsidise Dublin Bus? It would certainly make Dublin’s politicians look more closely at whether Dublin Bus actually provides value for money. 

 
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Ciaran Toland Vs. The European Parliament.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 7, 2011 in European Union

In February 2008, a closed meeting was held by the budget committee of the European Parliament. No media were permitted to attend, and members of the committee were not permitted to record any part or take any notes from a report they were given. The report, drafted by the Parliament’s own Internal Auditor Robert Galvin, is called the Parliamentary Assistance Allowance Report 2006, and details a litany of corrupt expenses practices in the European Parliament, in detail.

On hearing of the report, a young Irish barrister called Ciaran Toland wrote to the Secretary-General of the European Parliament requesting a copy of the report. Let me put something on the record about Ciaran Toland. Ciaran is a close friend of mine, and is well known in Irish pro-European circles. When the Nice Treaty was rejected in June 2001, Ciaran was a founder member of Ireland for Europe, and played an active role in the Yes campaign in the second Nice vote. He then became a member of the board of the European Movement, a member of the youth convention on the European Constitution, a member of the Forum on Europe, and was active in the Lisbon 2 campaign. Ciaran Toland believes in the European Union, and European unity. Yet he was outraged to receive a letter from Diana Wallis MEP (Liberal Democrat), on behalf of the European Parliament Bureau of Presidents, representing the European Parliament, and stating that “The use Members make of the allowances available to them is a sensitive matter followed with great interest by the media. Elements of the report could be used to derail the debate on the reform of the system and compromise rapid reform. Therefore, disclosure of the Report would, at present, seriously undermine the decision-making of the European Parliament”.

In other words, the European Parliament has said that the taxpayers of Europe who fund the parliament cannot be trusted to know how their money is being spent by that parliament. Now, this all sounds a bit technical, but just imagine if Enda Kenny said the same thing about Oireachtas expenses: that there is a report outlining abuse, but “to grant access to this document, even partially, would compromise the effective use of its contents and the early introduction of reforms to the parliamentary assistance allowance system”. Would it be quietly accepted, or would he now be fighting for his political life? 

But parliament had spoken. That was that, wasn’t it? For most people, myself included, would have shrugged their shoulders and walked away. I mean, this is the European Parliament. You’re not going to fight the European Parliament, are you?

Except, that’s what he did. Ciaran took the European Parliament to the European Court, where they gave judgment today, after a hearing on December 7th 2010. He did so with great reluctance, knowing full well the danger of being labelled a eurosceptic, which he is not.  

As I said, Ciaran is a friend of mine, and so I’m biased. He’s not doing this because of he wants to damage the EU, or the European Parliament. He believes in both. He is standing up because he is outraged that a democratic institution believes it has a right to deny information to the very people who elect and fund it. That is damaging to both the European Union and the Parliament, and someone has to stand up and say so.

One man just did, and this morning the European Court agreed with him. You can read about his victory in the European Court of Justice here.

 
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Let the Greek people decide?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 6, 2011 in European Union

Someone has to pay for that wooden horse, you know.

Someone has to pay for that wooden horse, you know.

The recent proposals doing the rounds in European Union circles seem to involve the EU actually appointing officials to Greece to take direct control of collecting of taxes and privatisation that the Greek government has committed to but seems incapable or unwilling of actually carrying through.

Let’s be clear about this. Such a proposal is a form of colonialism. That’s how it will be seen by the Greek people and indeed others in Europe. But we should also recognise that the EU has been forced to consider this extraordinary option because of the inability or unwillingness of the Greek people through their government to take measures which would be regarded as normal in any other eurozone state.

One of the very dangerous concepts that is gaining credibility across both Europe and the US is that elected governments (and the decisions they made, or failed to make)  have nothing to do with their people. The common line is that “austerity” is being forced upon the people.

The reality, on the other hand, is that across the western world large sections of society are outraged at the concept that other people will not fund their unaffordable lifestyles.

That is what the Greek people need to confront.   

The Greek people, perhaps in a referendum, need to make the decision to either reach the standards (including paying taxes and matching spending to revenue) expected of a modern European state, or seize their own sovereignty (including leaving the Euro) and sort out their own problems without bailouts from British, Dutch, Finnish or German taxpayers, possibly through default, and with the subsequent fall in their unaffordable standard of living that would entail. Certainly, German taxpayers would feel more comfortable bailing out their own banks as a result, rather than handing over wads of cash to a country struggling to accept reality. 

The decision must be made by the Greeks as a sovereign people. It is their right. But they must realise that they can’t have it both ways. Either way, the concept of one euro in/one euro out has to apply, regardless of how much of an affront that is to so many used to permanently having their hands out.

 
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The debates in Fianna Fail.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 4, 2011 in Irish Politics

Fianna Fail: The way ahead?

Fianna Fail: The way ahead?

Over the last two weeks, I have been speaking to a number of Fianna Fail activists about the future of the party. A number of interesting points, or at least points I think are interesting, arose.

1. There actually is an ongoing debate. Traditionally, I have found Fianna Fail activists to be very hesitant about expressing strong opinions on the party not to me, but in front of other Fianna Failers. This is changing, and I witnessed very robust exchanges. If Fianna Fail learns just one thing from this entire process, it’s that internal dissent and criticism is not the same as disloyalty to the party. I never cease to be amazed at how weak Fianna Failers seem to believe their party is, that it will shatter if different voices are heard. One of the reasons for this is the tendency of the modern media to regard every differing voice as some sort of massive bust up or challenge to the leadership. Curiously, I don’t think the public think that way. Perhaps Fianna Fail need to stop letting the media decide how they will run their party, rather than let the media transform the Ard Fheis into a bland boring setpiece devoid of any real debate?

2. I was really surprised at the wide spectrum of opinions being offered. Indeed some people are suggesting Fianna Fail move in directions that stunned me, not in disgust, but in delight. It would seem that intimate long-term contact with the Progressive Democrats has had a certain effect on Fianna Fail. If one considers the planned same-sex marriage referendum, for example, would it be that far fetched for Martin to allow a free vote on the issue as a matter of personal conscience? The public certainly would not object, and it would put Enda Kenny in a bind with his own social conservatives.

3. The most interesting aspect of the debate is the challenge of matching  the party’s traditional strengths to future needs. One young member astutely pointed out the fact that discipline within the party has been one of the party’s greatest strengths, yet accepted that it could lead to abuse (Haughey) or paralysis (Cowen). It would seem to me that it will be very hard, out of government and devoid of the patronage that bestows, for the party to reestablish its traditional top-down leadership. I would not be surprised, for example, if Martin decides to give ordinary members a say in electing the party leader, perhaps as part of an electoral college with the parliamentary party. After all, if the members are good enough to sell the party on the doorstep, surely they’re good enough to choose the party leader?

Copyright © 2018 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.