Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Could we see anti-bailout terrorism?

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

Given the Irish experience with terrorism, and the perception amongst many that the bailing out of banks is having an actual detrimental personal effect on so many individual lives and quality of life, how far fetched is it to imagine that extremist elements of the anti EU/IMF movement could engage in acts of violence in opposition?

There’s certainly no shortage of young politically engaged activists, but what could they actually do? Would acts of violence actually forward their agenda, or at least, do they believe they would? Would engaging in IRA-style terrorist attacks, bombing say the Department of Finance or AIB headquarters actually encourage the government to take steps such as burning the bondholders, or increase the public mood for more radical action by the government to supress them? 

What about, for example, the kidnapping of prominent figures associated with banking or business, and a demand that their families distribute money to the public or declare previously undeclared income to the Revenue Commissioners? How would the public react to that, provided the victims were not physically harmed? That would be a different kettle of fish altogether, and a much more difficult campaign for the government to handle, especially if there was a public perception that the individuals in question were not in jail anyway because of government incompetence or compliance.

 
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One of the most depressing weeks in Irish politics.

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

Although I’m no longer a member of a political party, I have considered myself a politically engaged citizen. After this week, I’m not so sure. Just look at the political vista spread out before us: A government made up of two parties which, through either incompetence or just bare faced deception is now reduced to actually having to listen to their own speeches, their own speeches, being read back to them in opposition to their policies in government.

Or what about Fianna Fail, having recklessly run the economy into the ground, now pretending that nothing has happened and advocating the exact populist “these cutbacks are a disgrace, this county deserves that new road” positions that allowed them to thrash the country in the first place, effectively making the speeches made against Fianna Fail when they were in government.

Then we have Sinn Fein and the United Left both pushing a line that all the cutbacks can be reversed and paid for by somebody else other than the majority of voters, neither party of the alleged left willing to advocate the reasonable left wing concept of common sacrifice through higher taxation for all as the price for the common good.

In short, save for constitutional referenda, why would I bother voting? Is it that unreasonable to want a party of the centre that does not overpromise and undeliver, that recognises that every euro spent must be earned and accounted for, and that does not sign up to the Fianna Fail/Fine Gael/Labour “Omerta” code of silence when it comes to making politicians pensions and severance packages reflect the reality of the lives of their voters? Is it madness to want a party that resists the Irish political urge to say whatever it takes to get elected, on the basis that getting elected is the goal and everything else, like actually running the country, will be sorted out on the day?

Of course, I’m assuming that the Irish voters would actually vote for such a party, but given the old-style “F**K everyone else!” demands of the voters of Roscommon and Mullingar, I won’t be holding my breath.  

 
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A Great Book Worth Reading: When The Lights Went Out.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 18, 2011 in Books, British Politics

when-the-lights-went-out“When the lights went out” by Andy Beckett is an absolute must-read if you’re interested in British politics in the 1970s, and let’s be honest, the 1970s is where so many of the political movements that affect us even now were born. The Green movement started, as did the recognition that there were economic forces in the world even more powerful than national governments. The 1970s was also the period of time when the post-war liberal consensus started to break down, and the New Right of Thatcher and Reagan began to win over socially conservative working class voters to a new type of conservative thinking.

What particularly sells this book is the writing style of the author, who along with giving a picture of the time, describes his own attempts to visit some of the key places and people of the era, including the proposed site of the airport in the North Sea  that Ted Heath wanted to build, or the TUC “Worker’s Hotel” in Bournemouth, or the fact that one of the famous IMF meetings bizarrely took place in the back of a tailor’s shop.

The book addresses many of the myths of the 1970s (1976 was the year where the gap between rich and poor was the narrowest in British history, something that has been airbrushed out of modern British politics) and paints a broader picture of the era than just strikes and the far left.

Well worth a read.  

 
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The Berlin leak.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 18, 2011 in Irish Politics

Haha! Fooled them!

Haha! Fooled them!

When I first heard about a Bundestag committee casually giving out our budget details, I was outraged. Here we were, cooperating with a friendly power, and this is how they treat us? But the more I read about it, my opinion changed. Consider this:

The German Finance Ministry is obliged to report to its democratic masters, the Bundestag, details of where German workers money is going. That’s what they did, and it raises two questions in my mind.

The first is why did our Department of Foriegn Affairs not know this would happen, and secondly, if the government knows that VAT is to be raised to 23%, why do we keep it a secret anyway? The answer I heard, as to why tax rises like VAT and customs and excise duties are kept secret is because if people knew in advance, they may rush out to buy more stuff before the rise comes into force. But so what? The purpose of the Department of Finance is to order our fiscal affairs, not attempt to snatch extra money off the Irish people by tricking them with sudden tax rises. 

 
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An Oireachtas “Vetting Committee” In action.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 18, 2011 in Irish Politics

Transport minister Leo Varadkar recently announced that the newly appointed heads of the CIE companies had been “vetted” by an Oireachtas committee. Andrea Pappin, the Miss Marple of political fact finding, writes about it here and dug up the relevent committee hearing here.

I suggest you read it, if only for the bitching at each other from the members of the committee about who came late, who is not being “respected”, and whose phone is ringing during the hearing. Hilarious.

Who vetted the vetting committee?

 
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The Change-o-meter.

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

Fine Gael and Labour were elected on a platform of change. Let’s see how they’re doing:

Restored the Minimum Wage +1

Held a referendum on Judges’s Pay +1

Held a referndum on Oireachtas Investigations +1 (I know, I know, but they did hold one)

Made some interesting Seanad appointments +1

Made progress on debt interest reduction +1

Not being a government engaged in chaotic reshuffles or being actually drunk +1

That gives them a pro-change score of +6

Now:

U-turned on Mullingar barracks -1

U-turned on Roscommon hospital -1

Went Franfurt’s way rather than Labour’s way -1

Gave an obscene Fianna Fail-style severence package to Willie Penrose -1

U-turned on Leo’s previous position on Metro North -1

U-turned on parliamentary scrutiny of semi-state appointments -1

U-turned on appointments of henchmen to state boards -1

U-turned on third level tuition fees -1

Giving an anti-change score of -8

Which overall gives a score of -2. 

 
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TV I’m enjoying: Burn Notice

Posted by Jason O on Nov 17, 2011 in Movies/TV/DVDs

We can get a bit snooty about what we watch. Sometimes television isn’t groundbreaking or thought provoking, but just plain entertaining. Burn Notice is one of those shows. Jeffrey Donovan, owner of the biggest s**t eating grin in current television, plays Michael Westen, a top special operative who has been “burned” by his superiors and exiled to Miami. Working alongside a psychotic ex-girlfriend and former IRA terrorist (They fortunately dropped her dodgy accent after the pilot episode) played by the ridiculously skinny Gabrielle Anwar, and backed up by cult favourite Bruce Campbell (You’ll know him when you see him), Westen tries to discover why he was burned, whilst making ends meet working as a security consultant or sorting out problems sent to him by his nagging mother (Cagney and Lacey’s Sharon Gless).

The show is great fun. It’s funny, has plenty of action, and is crammed with guest stars of the That’s-that-guy-from variety. Filmed on location in Miami (For once, Vancouver wouldn’t do) it’s also packed with great shots of the city and gratutitous boob and bum shots from the beaches. Miami Tourism must be delighted. I’m looking forward to season 3 already.  

 
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Fianna Fail should have a read of Sinn Fein’s surprising budget submission.

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

SF put away the crayons, and take out the grown up pens.
SF put away the crayons, and take out the grown up pens.

If you can, take a goo at Sinn Fein’s budget 2011 submission here. It’s well worth reading, and I say that not because it’s the usual far left Utopian stuff I rail against, but because it isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s a left wing document, and it advocates higher taxes on those earning over €75k (A rate of 48%), hikes in capital taxes, the closing of generous pension write-offs and a 1% wealth tax on non-working assets. But it’s not the usual Richard Boyd Barrett “Corrib Gas will pay for everything” guff. It’s thoughtful, costed (I can’t comment how well) and here’s the thing: It would look very comfortable in the hands of a French Socialist.

That’s not to say I agree with it. I’d love Sinn Fein, indeed every party, to be able to submit their proposed documents to the Fiscal Advisory Council to at least publicly verify that the sums are correct. There’s no reason why Sinn Fein should not make the request, on the basis that such an endorsement, provided their figures are indeed correct, would be worth its weight in gold.

Secondly, SF, like most political parties on the left, don’t seem to understand that taxes themselves have an effect on economic activity. For example, SF assume that a rise in Capital Gains Tax will bring in a certain amount of extra money. What they don’t understand is that a rise in CGT will often make property owners decide not to sell, and wait for a future government to cut the rate in the future. Waiting a few years to save a couple of hundred grand can be worth it.

Thirdly, I’ll be fascinated to see the effect the higher income tax rate will have on SF support amongst better paid public sector workers. Having said that, it could attract  lower paid private sector workers for the exact same reason.

I remain sceptical, because the plans still hinge on most problems being solved by the well-off and business being willing to sit every year and be milked, tax wise. That rarely happens, and if anything governments that try it can attract lesser returns each year as ambitious and talented people go elsewhere in search of lower taxes. SF, like Labour and the ULA, still takes the Progressive Democrat approach to the overall tax take, that it is possible to have high public spending and low taxation for the great majority. It just isn’t true.

Having said all that, the Fianna Fail response to all this will be interesting, because this is the sort of document that a Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail coalition negotiation would be based initially upon, and it’s not cloud cuckoo stuff.

In fact, it’ll be pretty hard for FF to claim that it is trying to recover its working class base without embracing policies like these. Assuming SF does not get to those voters first, that is. One thing it will do is open a conversation point in FF, between those willing to go left with Sinn Fein, and those willing to look at Fine Gael as a possible alternative.  

 
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The Constitutional Convention will be the last straw.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 16, 2011 in Irish Politics

We get one chance at this.

We get one chance at this.

Apparently, next year the government will create a constitutional convention to review the Irish constitution, look at the issue of political reform amongst other things, and then put its proposed changes to the people. Now, for political reformers like me, this can go a number of ways. The first is that the government will try to pack the convention in such a way as to ensure that it never gets near serious reform. The second is that it comprises a fair representation of the country, does consider serious reform, but decides against it. The third is that it considers reform, proposes it, and the people reject it. The fourth is that the proposals are adopted.

Where would that leave reformers? Options 1-3, the most likely outcome, will leave us with politics pretty much the way we found it, the system that got Ireland to where she is today. Option 4 gives the country a chance. I could certainly see myself, after options 1-3, deciding to turn my back on Irish politics, not as much in a huff as recognising that political reform would probably be off the table for a generation, and so I should do something more productive with my time.

But it also raises the point as to how important it is that the right convention be assembled, with at least 51% of its members random members of the public. If we want that, we have to act on it. So, dear readers, let’s do it. If you are interested in putting together an email campaign to government TDs to make them realise that voters do actually care about this stuff, drop me an email, and let’s start talking about this. 

 
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Why doesn’t Herman Cain waterboard himself to prove his innocence?

Posted by Jason O on Nov 15, 2011 in US Politics

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain, who, along with other GOP candidates, has defended  the use of waterboarding as a means of gathering intelligence, should agree to be waterboarded to clear his own name of allegations of sexual harrassment of former employees or work colleagues. It would show a man of courage who practices what he preaches, and open the door to using waterboarding on other GOP candidates who support the practice as a means of proving their integrity and commitment to their beliefs.

I’m opposed to waterboarding, and the death penalty. However, if I had to live in a country where both were accepted by the political majority, then I’d support expanding their use into the investigation and punishment of white collar crime. I wonder would the GOP candidates? If the option to execute some of the Enron people, or indeed to waterboard Karl Rove during the Valerie Plame affair to get to the truth had been on the table, would the GOP still be as comfortable, or is it just OK as long as it doesn’t happen to people like them? If a captured US soldier, or one of the candidate’s children was kidnapped and waterboarded, are they honestly saying that they are not being tortured? Seriously?

The president is right. Waterboarding is unAmerican. 

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