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

We are being run by monkeys.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 9, 2012 in Irish Politics

Enda would be more afraid of a chimp in the Dail chamber than one of his own backbenchers. And he'd work for peanuts.

Enda would be more afraid of a chimp in the Dail chamber than one of his own backbenchers. And he'd work for peanuts.

What happens to young first term deputies, when they enter Leinster House on their first day? They go in, in many cases, with sincere hopes about changing the way things are done, and within weeks they’ve been changed into “Same as it ever was” Stepford candidates. Are they replacing them with alien replicants? Are they sticking mind control beetles into their ears like “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”?

Alas, there isn’t a conspiracy. Like communism and fascism before it, it tends not to be individuals but the system itself which moulds the individual.

Remember the story of the three monkeys in the lab? A banana is offered through a hatch, but when a monkey touches the banana, all three get an electric shock, so the monkeys learn not to touch the banana. Then one monkey is replaced by another monkey, who knows nothing of the electric shocks. When he tries to take the banana, the other two monkeys, aware of the consequences, beat the crap out of him. Then a second monkey is replaced. When he tries to take a banana, the other two monkeys beat him up. Then the last shocked monkey is replaced, and you have a social system that does things for no other reason than that’s been the way it’s always been done. That’s the Irish political system right there. Monkeys staring at a banana.

Just look at the watery faux political reforms FG and Labour are pushing: all nonsense which avoids the fundamental question: will it transfer power from the political elite around the cabinet to individual citizens? In every single proposal put by FG and Labour, the answer is no. We can’t be that surprised with FG, after all, they’re just Fianna Failers who shop in Marks and Spencer rather than Dunnes, but Labour? Labour are the real sellout party, the traitors of reform. After all, we always suspected that FG were full of shit anyway. In the PDs we used to refer to ourselves as the party that does the things that FG always talked about but never did. After all, the PDs cut taxes more in their short life than FG did over its entire existance.

But Labour, the people’s party? The real source of disgust with Labour doesn’t come from the economic decisions they are making because they don’t really have a choice, and haven’t been a left wing party since the late 1980s anyway. The real source of disgust is their abandoning of real political change for selfish reasons. Did any of the new Labour TDs really think when they thought about political reform they were taking about reducing the president’s term from seven to five years? Seriously? The only reason Labour is not pushing radical stuff at the convention is because Labour is now in power, and doesn’t want to share it, which is exactly the way FG and FF think. If FG are FF with posher accents, Labour are now FG with gay friends.

If we had a None Of The Above option on our ballot papers, declaring that if it got 50% of the vote in any constituency, a second vote must be held but with all new candidates, I wonder how it would do? I doubt it would ever pass, because the Irish are essentially content with their political system (how else do the three parties that have run the state since the 1920s still get 65% of the vote in opinion polls?) but at least it would be somewhere for the frustrated to formally lodge their protest.    


A Good Movie: W.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 8, 2012 in Movies/TV/DVDs

W: A life misunderestimated.

W: A life misunderestimated.

Oliver Stone’s “W.”, ths story of George W. Bush’s life and time in the White House, is far more workmanlike than his other movies. It’s not as memorable as “JFK” or “Nixon”, but I suspect that is as much a product of the times it was made in as much as the movie itself, especially as it was released in 2008 when Bush was still president.

It was a controversial film at the time, although I personally found it to be nowhere near as anti-Bush as some either said or expected it to be. The central premise is not of Bush as an evil or stupid man, but as a plain man out of his depth who nevertheless, through sheer force of will, pulled himself out from under his father’s enormous shadow and becomes an incredibly successful politician.

Josh Brolin gets the Bush swagger down to a tee, although he doesn’t quite manage to pull off Bush’s awkwardness in interviews, playing him slightly dopier than is deserved. Having said that, he does manage to convey the struggle Bush has with communicating his vision, and there is one, whether one likes it or not. Thandie Newton plays Condi Rice as almost odd, and Toby Jones makes Karl Rove almost likable, but the two scene stealers for me were James Cromwell, as Bush senior, and Richard Dreyfuss who becomes Dick Cheney.

Finally, there’s a scene in the movie that fascinated me, because of its honesty. In the scene, Cheney outlines a grand plan where Iraq is just the beginning, to allow a staging post for an invasion of Iran, and US control of the world’s oil supply. He argues the point in a calm and rational way, pointing out that the world oil supply is dwindling, and their job is to secure it for the American people, and that Russia and China will be doing the same. It’s the sort of scene that will send far-left people nuts, but it was a rational analysis of the American interest.

Not Stone’s greatest movie, but worth watching.


The reasons Irish politics are so boring.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 8, 2012 in Irish Politics

1. Our electorate are policy averse, leading to politicians who also avoid stating positions that involve taking a side in a political argument. I have canvassed thousands (I’m not exaggerating) of houses over my political life. The vast, vast majority of doorstep queries were on local matters, which are important, but if we’re not going to discuss policy in a general election, then when? What is particularly extraordinary in the Irish psyche is that there is no connection between the level of taxation and government spending. Every single party, from the former PDs to People Before Profit all run (or ran) on the same fundamental platform, that your taxes can be low, but the level of public services can be high, and let’s not talk about the fiscal Bermuda Triangle in the middle.

2. Most of the 1000 elected officials in this country have little actual power. Curiously, this has been a deliberate policy of FF, FG and Labour in government, as it has created a class of politicians who treat the decisions of government as some sort of natural phenomena over which they have no control: Witness local councillors “calling on/condemning” the county council they are members of. In Saudi Arabia, the king is regularly petitioned by nomadic bedouins for action on different issues. The difference between the feudal desert kingdom and Ireland is that the king doesn’t shrug his shoulders and say “Sure, you know what them fellas up in Riyadh are like!”

3. It is nearly impossible to point a finger at anyone in government and say “This is your fault and I’m going to vote you out because of it.” Someone recently pointed out to me an injustice inflicted upon them by clampers, and asked me who would be politically responsible: The Dept of Transport? Dublin City Council? The Ombudsman? The Dublin Transport Office? The Clamping Company? Who do you GET at election time for this? A TD will say that it is not his fault. A councillor will say it is not her fault. So who carries the political can?

4. The closer Irish candidates get to power, the less willing they are to use it. I’ve known a fair few people who have gone into politics, and what is almost universal is the way the system grinds them down. They don’t become corrupted, they just become inert. It’s one of the reasons why I think term limits might be a good idea, to at least keep churning the talent. Don’t get me wrong, they work hard, especially with their constituents, but the reason they have to work so hard with their constituents is because in many cases the fundamental systems don’t work properly, and if politicians aren’t going to change that, who will?

I’m not engaged in an abstract, theoretical political wandering here. When I was a candidate, many moons ago, I too got a sense of satisfaction out of resolving an issue for a voter. But I came away with the sense, and it applies now, that aside from the material benefit to the candidate of actually winning an election, most electoral political activism is a pointless waste of time. I know that many of my readers are candidates, and will protest, pointing out the good work they do in their communities helping real people with real problems, and that’s true, but they could do the same amount of good work working for a community group. But trying to get someone elected to a powerless office? What’s the point? It’s just not a good use of someone’s time.

Having said that, don’t discount personal loyalty. I’ve helped a candidate whose party I found objectionable, but did so out of friendship, and I’ll probably do so again in the future. But what a system? Where a candidate has to rely almost entirely on the loyalty of friends and family because (as so many do) the political ties are so loose or just plain unattractive?   

The one sliver of hope that I’m curious about is the proposed office of Dublin Mayor. This will be unique in Irish politics, a directly elected executive office. Will it turn out to be a dud? Quite possibly, especially as it seems to have no budget and modest powers to begin with. However, what could be very interesting will be how the first holder of the office handles himself/herself. They will become the focus point for every whinge and complaint about daily life in the city, and will have to respond to it, and saying that “Sorry, I’ve no power” will only trigger the response “Well, piss off then!” It has the potential to either, through sheer force of will, make the city and county managers pay attention, or else get into a public fight with them over who runs Dublin, which would be a debate worth having.

Note: this was originally posted in 2010, hence the optimistic comments about a Dublin Mayor. The bastards just break your heart, so they do. 


A glimpse into the Irish psyche this week.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 7, 2012 in Irish Politics, Jason's Diary

Four stories this week, nominally unconnected at first, gave an interesting look into how the Irish psyche works. The first was the news that the FAI pay John Delaney €400k a year (AFTER a pay-cut, still more than President Obama) whilst cutting grants to encourage football by €377k. The second story was about a Dun Laohaire restaurateur complaining that parking fines were being enforced too toughly. The third was that Joe Higgins was spending political expenses to do political things. And the fourth was that Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone who goes on about how everyone should take their holidays in Ireland is on holidays. In France.

What can we learn from these four incidents?

1. Irish organisations exist primarily to serve the people in them, with the actual function they were set up to carry out a secondary function at best. Also, the rule “Pay the best to get the best” in Ireland translates as “Pay the best. Now shut up!”

2. As a nation, we agree with rules, provided they are not actually applied. “But I was only doing 10km over the speed limit!” or “but I only came back 10 minutes after the parking time ran out!” It never occurs to us to change rules we don’t like because politicians like calling for abstract rules (“we need to do something about parking!”) but instead want them bent for us.

3. Half our elected representatives seem to regard the idea of a legislator doing actual political things to be outrageous. As an aside, watching Joe Higgins in the mid-1980s on “Labour’s Way” (Well done RTE on the iPLayer, by the way. I’ll pay my TV licence with less anger this week) you realise that his mantra has not changed in the slightest in 25 years. Bless. Watching the former Democratic Left crowd, on the other hand, you can’t help thinking that they’ve got their Fine Gael application forms just ready in case.  

4. For some bizarre reason, many of our politicians seem to be incapable of thinking beyond “I’m going to shout really loudly about X!” without pondering “wait, what happens if I have to do X?”


Somewhere in a Downing Street safe…

Posted by Jason O on Jul 5, 2012 in British Politics, European Union



December 2006.


Dear Tony,

Further to our conversation of last Saturday (Lillian sends her regards, and simply must know where that artisan bakery you got that Focaccia from is!) a few notes and action points for your approval.

1. Political Operations Section confirms the viability of the plan. CREAMCAKE’s spouse is almost certain to win the Parti Socialiste nomination in 2007, assuming Chirac does not seek a third term.

2. Despite CREAMCAKE’s modest position in the PS, he is nevertheless a wily behind the scenes operator. If his spouse were to enter the Elysee, she would almost certainly take guidance from CREAMCAKE on policy issues.

3. The policy issues we have asked CREAMCAKE to pursue are as follows:

a) a high tax on incomes and wealth, which will have the effect of driving business out of France and in our direction, including the more entrepreneurial classes. See attached Treasury note on income tax gains and effect on London property market. CREAMCAKE believes that a rate of 75% is possible. I remain sceptical.

b) maintaining of retirement age at 60, putting the French exchequer under huge pressure.

c) introduction of a financial transaction tax, driving businesses out of the eurozone and into the city.

d) restrictive employment laws to reduce attractiveness of hiring.

4. CREAMCAKE points out that such a policy platform will actually help his spouse secure support on the left of the party!

5. If she were to lose the election to a conservative opponent (Chirac, Bayrou, Sarkozy) CREAMCAKE suggests that a candidate from the right of the party, like Strauss Kahn, would seize the nomination in 2012 and oppose such a platform. I’ve asked the 00 section to look at some creative approaches to this issue.

6. I should warn you that CREAMCAKE does have aspirations towards the Elysee himself, preposterous as that sounds.

I await your instructions. See you at the thing on the 14th. Peter tells me an olive shop has opened just around the corner, with over 90 different varieties, the lucky thing!



A bloke with a beard writes for Dow Jones Marketwatch.com

Posted by Jason O on Jul 4, 2012 in European Union, Marketwatch.com

My monthly column here.


Reminder: So, would you like to be a character in my next book? Deadline is July 7th.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 4, 2012 in eNovels & Writing, Jason's Diary, Writing

There is a plan.

There is a plan.

Although I greatly enjoy ranting about the world and its failings on this blog, regular visitors will know that my real passion is writing fiction. Someone described my first book, “The Ministry of Love”, (available as an eBook on Amazon below) as “What Terry Pratchett would have been like if he wrote 1970s airport thrillers”, which is a description I was very flattered by. I say first book, by the way, because I’m nearing completion of my second book, “The Gemini Agenda”.

“The Gemini Agenda” is a black comedy concerning a global conspiracy involving the US and the EU, along with what really happened to the Titanic, who really killed President Kennedy, and what happens when wooden legs become fashionable.

For one lucky reader there is also the opportunity to appear in the book as a named character. So, if you’d like to fling your trilby into the ring, email me at Omahony.jason@gmail.com with TGA in the subject line, giving me your name, where you’re from, and one (hopefully) colourful fact about you I’ll try to shoehorn clumsily into the text. You’ve got a week to get your entry in.


David Cameron’s referendum conundrum.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 3, 2012 in British Politics, European Union

Suddenly, the tiger looked at David and licked its lips.

Suddenly, the tiger looked at David and licked its lips.

David Cameron has a problem. On the one hand, he has an idea as to what he thinks Britain’s relationship with the European Union should look like. Ideally he’d like to negotiate that package with the rest of Europe before putting it to the British people in a referendum. As a plan it’s perfectly reasonable.

The problem is that no matter what deal he negotiates, the hard-line eurosceptics will never accept anything short of complete withdrawal, because the rest of the EU will never concede enough to make them happy. Instead, the hardliners will demand a straight In/Out referendum which, coincidentally, they may lose because they cannot tell the British electorate what actually happens if Britain does in fact vote No. Funnily enough, the use of the Alternative Vote would be ideal in this regard, giving the British people a number of options to vote on, but of course, Tory eurosceptics (But not UKIP ones, who supported AV) have a problem with requiring voters to be able to count.

Alternatively, Cameron may be tempted to go for the faux referendum: vote on a would-be package of changes that Britain would like to get from her EU partners, and then, with that mandate, go off to Brussels to seek them. The issue there is that the British, like the Irish, are sometimes prone to believing that they live in the only democracy in Europe, and so how they vote should be accepted without question by the rest of the EU. The rest of the EU will almost certainly beg to differ, in that whilst some concessions could almost certainly be conceded by the rest of the union, on the big stuff, like being bound by EU law, there will be no concessions. Especially not when one considers that non-EU states like Norway are required to adopt nearly 75% of EU regulations, despite not even being a member of the EU.

The reality of the problem facing Cameron is this: since Maastricht almost the entire mainstream of British politics has spoken of Europe as a problem to be contained and managed, to such an extent that the British media for the most part believes that if Britain does not have 100% zero sum victories in her dealings with the rest of Europe it’s either a humiliating defeat or an act of treachery. It is almost impossible to find a British political leader who does not make British membership of the EU sound like a chore, and so it is hardly surprising pro-remainers like Cameron can’t drum up support in the country to remain inside.

Cameron rode the eurosceptic tiger all the way to the leadership of the Tory party. He can hardly be surprised now if there is a serious danger of him ending up inside.


A piece in the Global Policy Journal.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 3, 2012 in European Union

Some thoughts on the future of the EU by me here in the Global Policy Journal.


Sorry, but “Democracy” is not a code word for “Give us whatever we want”.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 1, 2012 in European Union, Irish Politics

I recently had lunch with a number of people, one of whom was a Chinese citizen. During the discussion, we compared the western system of government with the one party state in China, and I was interested to hear my Irish compatriots lambast democracy and suggest that the Chinese system was the best way of “getting things done”. When I suggested that that included murdering millions of your own citizens, the answer given in reply, by both the Irish and Chinese, was that such a thing would not happen if “the right person” was in charge. I then asked my Irish friends to name which Irish citizen they would happily give total power to, including the power to confiscate property and order executions. They couldn’t name one, although they were vehemently opposed to any of the prominent Irish name I suggested.

I mention this conversation because it is becoming fashionable to dismiss democracy as a failed concept in recent times, indeed for people to suggest that we don’t actually live in a democracy anyway. Curiously, when you press people on this, it nearly always comes down to a vague observation based on their own personal circumstances: “The government is raising taxes and cutting spending, so it’s not democratic!” There is also a tendency to dismiss the EU, and other EU countries, as undemocratic because they won’t bend the will of their 500 million citizens to suit the demands of our 4.2 million.

It’s not helped by the fact that the Irish in particular have a permanent victim status affixed at birth, a national feeling that we are never in control of our destiny but the unwitting victim of the Vikings, the Brits, the EU, the bond markets, always some other power. Even within our own country there is a constant belief that a golden circle or clique actually runs the country for its own benefit. “But it’s true!” come the protests, the same people who then go into the polling booth and vote for the same parties that supposedly prop up this scenario. Bear in mind that since independence in 1921, the Irish people have never EVER given the largest number of seats to the most radical (by Irish standards) of the three main parties, the Labour Party, never mind Sinn Fein or the assorted non-sectarian, non-violent left wing parties that have been on the ballot since the 1970s.

The problem is not that Ireland is not a democracy. The problem is that the Irish people keep electing a parliament that actually looks like them, and they don’t like what they see.

Note: this post was originally posted in 2011.

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