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

Should Fianna Fail openly consult the public about its future?

Posted by Jason O on Feb 28, 2012 in Irish Politics

It's our party and we'll cry if we want to.

It's our party and we'll cry if we want to.

Talking to Fianna Fail people, it’s clear that there is a lot of internal discussion going on within that party as to its future. Within that context, I reckon one of Fianna Fail’s greatest obstacles is its in-built nervousness about openly discussing options, which is an historical hangover from when it was once the most powerful party in the country. I write quite a lot about Fianna Fail, because I find it the most interesting non-left party in the country at the moment, but I’m always surprised at the reaction to comments I make about the party, on this blog or Facebook/Twitter. Many FFers engage, a little nervously, and usually through private channels, but some almost get a twitch at the idea of an outsider like me passing comment. I can even recall one pretty much telling me to mind my own business, whilst then waxing lyrically about how the party was a National Movement!

It has to be said, however, that Fianna Fail needs to talk to non-Fianna Failers (perhaps through an app that the public has to pay a nominal amount for? It would stop a whole load of anti-FF baiters from downloading if they thought they were giving FF money!) if it wishes to recover, because in its current state, there is a danger that it could just spend its time looking into itself, and that would not be a good thing. A TD recently told me that what surprised him most about Fianna Fail in its current climate is how rural it is becoming in its thinking. This is not a bad thing in itself, as rural voters are entitled to representation like everyone else, but if Fianna Fail is happy to primarily become a party of rural interests, it should get used to being a small party.

I mentioned this point to someone recently, and contrasted it with Fianna Fail’s liberal bill on gay rights, and my surprise that a predominantly rural party didn’t kick up about it. His answer was very telling: “It’s worse than that. They’re not just rural conservatives. They actually don’t care about the gay rights bill because they don’t care about all that legislation stuff!”


Job creation schemes? You’d be better off handing out €10 notes on O’Connell Bridge.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 27, 2012 in Irish Politics

I’m always dubious about the phrase “job creation” when uttered by someone in government. The latest appearance of the dreaded remark is with regard to proceeds from privatisation. I have no problem with some of the money going to assist in job creation, I just have no faith that most of it won’t be squandered on civil servants administering it. At this stage, it would make better sense to take the money and pass it on to taxpayers as time limited vouchers to be spent on labour intensive services like tourism and catering in Ireland or home improvement (disclosure: I work in the industry). At least it could act as a domestic stimulus package for the private sector, which is where it is needed, and whilst some of the money will leak on imports, I still reckon more will end up in the job creating/maintaining part of the economy. Given our increase in savings, if it goes on civil service pay, a large proportion of it will be sensibly squirreled away, which is not what we need. We need that money in the domestic retail economy, where the biggest job creation bang for our buck is most likely.


Sunday Times poll puts Sinn Fein on 25%?

Posted by Jason O on Feb 26, 2012 in Irish Politics

The recent Sunday Times poll giving Sinn Fein second place to Fine Gael, on 25% to 32%, is a very exciting result if it is anyway near to how people would actually vote. The truth is, if there was a serious chance of Sinn Fein-led government emerging, our first ever left wing government, that would be the most important election I would ever have voted in. There are a number of reasons why:

1. It would force Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to seriously consider coalition. As I have written in the past, I genuinely believe that once FF and FG enter government together, they will be locked together, CDU/CSU or Australian Liberal/National party style, forever, and quite happily too.

2. Labour will eventually give serious consideration to coalition with Sinn Fein, if only because, as The Worker’s Party proved in the 1980s/1990s, Labour does not do well when there is a strong non-government left wing option on the ballot when Labour is in government.

3. Sinn Fein is moving towards the French Socialist left. Just read their 2012 budget submission. It’s left wing, but it ain’t Richard Boyd Barrett. This is a party getting ready to disappoint its “true believers” wing, as the PDs, Greens and Labour all discovered was unavoidable when the It-Will-Be-Glorious! rhetoric of Opposition meets the Where’s-All-The-Money? reality of Government.

This is, of course, all assuming that FF and SF don’t come to an arrangement. If a Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail coalition came to power, it will be almost impossible to tell the difference from the current crowd, save for a few hundred million being squandered on Irish language boondoggles and Forums on a United Ireland, etc.


Averil Power, Fianna Fail radical?

Posted by Jason O on Feb 23, 2012 in Irish Politics

Sen. Averil Power

Sen. Averil Power

Fianna Fail senator Averil Power’s bill to protect gay teachers is an interesting snapshot into Fianna Fail thinking. Some people are surprised that it is Power who is pushing the bill, having bought into the incorrect view that her mentoring by (and friendship with) Mary Hanafin means that she shares Hanafin’s conservative views. It will surprise many that Power is actually quite left wing on social and economic issues whilst being, shall we say, very firm on law and order. Having said that, the bill itself raises interesting questions about where Fianna Fail sees itself going. Whereas it is unlikely that Fianna Fail will repudiate its conservative voters ( and would be foolish to do so) it looks very likely that Fianna Fail has now accepted that a strong and visible socially liberal wing will be part of its recovery. It will also be influenced by its membership of the European Liberals in the European Parliament. This can be over-hyped, of course, but as FF members attend ELDR/ALDE events, new ways of thinking about issues do emerge. In my own experience, as a Young PD in the ELDR, the social liberalism that grew in the YPDs was a partial side effect of engaging with our European partners.
What will also be interesting will be Fine Gael’s reaction, and whether FG will become the conservative party on social issues, finally trading places with FF and dealing the death knell to the last vestiges of Garrett? Could we see FF finally go the Des O’Malley route of allowing votes of conscience on designated issues? I wouldn’t rule it out.


And they could not tell which was which.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 20, 2012 in Irish Politics


Fair play to Clare Daly.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 18, 2012 in Irish Politics

I’m not a fan of Clare Daly or her politics, and I’m very much on the fence about abortion, but well done the deputy for Dublin North for putting down a private member’s bill on abortion, as mentioned here. This needs to be debated, and I’m looking forward to the gutless bastards who make up a sizable proportion of our Dail scurrying for cover and trying to avoid having to, you know, take a legislative position on a piece of legislation, which will be a novelty. I’m also looking forward to the stance of Labour and Sinn Fein deputies. Labour will try to pull the “we’re voting no because the government will be introducing its own legislation” card, but they should have their cards marked on this, because I doubt FG will ever allow a government bill, and so for most Labour TDs, it will be a fact that the only time they ever voted on abortion, it was against. As for the shinners, it will be fascinating to watch their left wing urban consciences battling against their rural conservative consciences.

By the way, pro-lifers should welcome this bill, if only because it’ll allow them to see who their real friends are. I don’t agree with conservative Catholics on a lot, but they are as entitled to have their voices in the Dail as anyone else. It’s all well and good FF and FG deputies and  senators waving their pro-life credentials around in private, let’ s see them do it in public.

Will it be divisive? Of course it will be, and it should be. That’s what parliaments are for. They don’t call a vote in a parliament a “division” for nothing, you know. 


Greece, the day after tomorrow: Athens burns as Ireland watches.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 16, 2012 in European Union

The Trojan Horse contained a Pandora's Box.
The Trojan Horse contained a Pandora’s Box.

All across Europe, a collection of left-wingers, eurosceptics, Occupy activists and anti-globalisation protesters took to the streets as the election results from Greece came in. The PASOK and the New Democracy parties, the old parties of corruption and clientelism that had led Greece to its knees, had been annihilated by a hard left alliance of small parties on a platform of resistance to austerity. Thousands of students danced in the streets of the Greek capital, and the people voiced their opinion. In Ireland, Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit spoke excitedly of a Irish “Greek Revolution”, whilst Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party spoke ominously of a military coup.

Within days, the new Greek government had expelled the EU and IMF monitors, and announced plans to nationalise the major Greek businesses. Of course, the fact that nearly every commercially owned Greek vessel had left Greek ports in the days leading up to the election had not been missed by the media, nor had the streams of expensive Porsches and  Mercedes and haulage trucks that had choked up the border posts leading into Turkey or up into Europe. Some border guards had attempted to delay them, but bundles of euronotes had eased the bureaucracy in a way the old Greece would have been proud of. The new prime minister’s exchange controls on banks were merely symbolic, given the billions that had fled the country in the previous weeks. 

 Angela Merkel was quick to welcome the new government, stating very clearly that the EU would not force Greece to take any more of its bailout funding. The will of the Greek people must be respected, she said.

Within a month, the Greek government defaulted on all of Greece’s debt, and announced that it was leaving the eurozone. Greek banks began to collapse, the ECB providing assistance to other eurozone banks to assist them with their Greek losses. Greek banks began issuing euronotes with “New Drachma” stamped on them, at an exchange rate of one half of their euro value. As a result, food prices soared in shops, and Greeks continued to haggle using unstamped euronotes, until the government announced that hoarding unstamped euronotes was a criminal offence. Then the government announced that it could no longer pay pensions or public sector workers in notes, but would issue scrip until the New Drachma could be printed, which must be honoured in shops. Despite this law, many shop-owners refused to accept scrip, or gave preference to customers with euronotes.

There was a sense of excitement when the New Drachma finally reached the banks. Although the central bank attempted to restrict the amount printed, the new government, eager to restore public order, continued to print notes to pay public sector workers and restore cuts to wages and pensions. Prices in shops began to rise sharply, fuelled by internal inflation and the collapse in the New Drachma against other currencies. Tourists did begin to return, but were surprised to find themselves pestered by tour operators to be paid in euro. Given the almost daily price rises, tour operators going to Greece found themselves forced to admit that they could not guarantee prices, especially as imported fuel, food and consumer goods were soaring in price.

Trades unions demanded price rises to keep place with inflation, which the government agreed to, funding with more printed notes, which fuelled higher inflation. The daily demonstrations, a regular feature during the IMF programme, returned to protest outside parliament, complaining of the soaring prices. The government attempted to instigate price controls, forcing business to sell products at prices below import cost. Not surprisingly, this plan did not resolve the issue. Far right protesters started marching, suggesting that the problem was caused by an alliance of Turkey and Jews, and demanded that Greece must make a military gesture to restore her national dignity. President Obama quickly dispatched secretary Clinton to Europe to London, Paris, Berlin and Ankara to make sure that Athens got the message that the rest of NATO would not tolerate such action.

By now, rioting was a daily occurence, with empty supermarkets being torched, and the government struggling to find a solution. The much hoped boost to tourism fuelled by the much devalued New Drachma didn’t arise, possibly due to the unattractive nature of rioting and tear gas dispersal on European television screens.

Then the army moved, seizing parliament and announcing a National Salvation Council to restore order. Martial law was imposed, and demonstrators were shot dead. Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett, who had been curiously quiet in recent months, immediately appeared, demanding that this “fascist putsch” be countered. When asked would they be going to Greece to lead an international brigade against the fascists, journalists were told “eh, we’ll get back to you on that”. The EU immediately imposed sanctions on Greece, freezing bank accounts and military imports. NATO suspended Greek membership within days.

Within two weeks of the coup, even the army were beginning to protest, with the shortage of food and fuel causing massive army desertions as soldiers returned to their families. A group of younger officers then staged a counter coup, overthrowing their superiors in a lightening operation, and returning power to the government, provided the prime minister agreed to one policy, which he assented to.

Two days after being restored to power, the Greek prime minister addressed the Greek people, and announced that his government would put the EU bailout package to a national referendum. 


Sarkozy stuns nation by actually doing something.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 15, 2012 in Not quite serious.

The ballcock must yield, through me, to the will of the French People!

The ballcock must yield, through me, to the will of the French People!

President of the French Republic Nicolas Sarkozy has stunned the French political establishment by stepping out from his hectic schedule of media appearences and making grand vague speeches full of intangible undeliverable promises to fix a broken toilet in a school he was visiting in Nantes yesterday.

The talented son of a Hungarian immigrant who had a meteoric rise to the Elysee Palace had just finished delivering a speech promising that France would have a man on Mars by Christmas when the headmistress of the school casually made a remark about her toilet being broken.

” This will not do! Let us examine the situation!” The president declared, where he then proceeded to lead a delgation into the bathroom, and removed the cover of the cistern. After a quick examination, he removed his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to readjust the ballcock which had become loose. A quick test flush revealed that the toilet was now fixed, and after a round of applause during which the president washed his hands, he departed, announcing his hope to bring peace to the Middle East before dinner.


The Irish love of powerlessness.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 11, 2012 in Irish Politics

Let Nucky do it!

Let Nucky do it!

I have started watching the much acclaimed “Boardwalk Empire” and have been enjoying it.
One aspect of it which struck me was the fact that the main character, Nucky Thompson, a local
county politician, actually has power. He has to intereact with other politicians, senators, governors, mayors, etc, but it is all about men (it is set in 1920) with power doing deals.
It reminded me of that curious aspect of Irish society, how powerlessness is wallowed in by Irish people, almost taking a masochistic pleasure in our helplessness. Just think about how the people of Scotland are debating power, or how the Basques or Catalonia regard taking control of their countries as being the first step in shaping their lives.Watch any US political drama and see politicians at all levels of office with the power to order things.

Now look at the Irish. In recent times we have had people complain about septic tanks, local hospitals, property taxes, water taxes, and cuts in local services. Yet hardly ever during this debate, despite whinging about the EU, IMF, and “dem up in Dublin”, has there ever been a serious political drive by counties or regions to take control of their own affairs.

Take county councils. Most county councillors complain vocally about having no power. Most county councillors are members of Fine Gael. Which party is leading the government, and has the most seats in parliament? Yet Fine Gael councillors aren’t rebelling in huge numbers at their alleged powerlessness. The truth is, self empowerment is not a big issue in Ireland because large numbers of Irish people don’t like taking responsibility, and it manifests itself in weird ways.
Witness the ding dong that happens about how tough enforcement of drink driving laws discriminates against rural areas. Maybe it does. But where are the local TDs and councillors in Fine Gael (and FF before them.) actually demanding legislation to allow for local councils to decide their own drinking arrangements, their own closing times and own enforcement regimes?
If the people of Mattie McGrath’s constituency do not regard septic tank polluted water as being a big issue, let them vote to permit faeces in their drinking water, with the national government merely ensuring that outsiders (like tourists) know that water in Tipperary is similar to that in say, Somalia, and that if Tipperary poisons another county’s water then Tipperary taxpayers get fined to clean it. Give them that power. It’s their county, and their water, shit free or not.


Great books you should read: The White House Mess

Posted by Jason O on Feb 10, 2012 in Books, US Politics

A laugh out loud book.If you liked The West Wing, you might like this.  I must however point out that when it comes to the books of Christopher Buckley, I’m giving rigged results here as I just buy the guy’s books on spec.  I read this in 1987, reread it a few times,  and only discovered years later that he had actually written quite a few novels (This was in the days before Amazon.)  The joy! The joy! It was like discovering a secret Beatles album.

Buckley’s a US political satirist most famous for being A) the son of  US Conservative Ayatollah William F. Buckley, and B.) writing the novel Thank You For Smoking, which was made into a very enjoyable movie with the criminally underrated Aaron Eckhart.

It’s 1988, and Democratic President Elect Thomas Nelson Tucker is being sworn into office. What happens is a diary of his deputy chief of staff’s musings on the noble but chaotic Tucker Presidency, and it was, for many years, my favourite book. It’s both funny and touching, and will be really appreciated by those of us who take our politics with a bit of hope bit of hope on the side.

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