Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Is it time to dismantle the EU as we know it?

Posted by Jason O on Oct 30, 2012 in European Union, Irish Politics
The EU: Evolve to survive?

The EU: Evolve to survive?

There are beliefs that come from the gut. Religion is the most obvious one, but even that can be grounded in the reasoning that organised religion, and a set of organised religious values, can provide social stability. The same can be said for supporting the concept of monarchy.  For me, it’s always been the concept of a united Europe. I didn’t always feel this way. When I was in my teens I was a precocious Thatcherite eurosceptic (oh, was I ever that young?), and gradually had to accept that I was wrong. The more I visited the continent of Europe, and especially my visit to the former Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, the closer I came to the position that for both historical reasons  and for the pragmatic needs of the future, it made sense for Europe to integrate.

Nationalism is not, in itself, evil. But fidelity to it alone is an obstacle to progress, because we live in a world where borders are, at best, nominal. What convinced me of the need to support European integration was the fact that it recognised that the problems faced by one people are often either caused or resolved by the actions of another people. That is the fact of life on Earth in the 21st century, and European integration recognises that reality. 

However, that does not mean that European unity can be an ideology set in stone. There comes a time when we have to accept that if we are to have an integrated Europe, it must be on the basis of the consent of the majority of Europeans. It is, especially in recent times, where taxpayers in some parts of Europe are being asked to transfer billions to other parts, becoming at least arguable that such consent is not available. I say arguable: I don’t accept the argument put forward by some eurosceptics that most Europeans are against the EU. I don’t think most Europeans give the EU much thought at all. Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the EU in its current form does not have wide and enthusiastic consent. Nor is the EU delivering on many of its more ambitious objectives. In this context, I believe that it is time to imagine a new built-for-purpose structure to deliver the differing objectives of the peoples of Europe. Read more…

 
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Why can’t election manifestos be legally binding?

Posted by Jason O on Oct 28, 2012 in Irish Politics
They broke an election promise.

They broke an election promise.

Seriously, I’m not being smart here. Why not? Sure, I know why the parties don’t want them to be, but consider this:

1. Parties would have to be very careful about only putting in specific measures they are sure they can deliver on. If they can’t do that, are they really fit to be control of the country?

2. They already have the capacity to prepare them. FG/Labour had over 75 taxpayer funded researchers working for them in opposition (although apparently did not know that the number of TDs is decided by the constitution). They can’t research what is actually deliverable?

3. What about the coalition issue? Easy enough. Each party can issue a statement of intent, the usual guff about what they would like to do, and then the actual manifesto as to what they legally cannot give in on during coalition negotiations. Yeah, parties will probably have to discuss things before they legally unveil their manifestos? So what?

The only people to lose from this will be candidates who want to be able to make vague, broad and ultimately disappointing promises that breed cynicism about politicians. Why should we be accomodating to them? Wouldn’t we rather our elected leaders gave us a choice of small pledges that we know they’ll actually have to implement? 

 
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Great TV you should be watching: Borgen.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 27, 2012 in European Union, Movies/TV/DVDs
Something is right in the state of Denmark.

Something is right in the state of Denmark.

I’m not quite finished the first season of Danish political drama “Borgen” (meaning castle or government, apparently) but I can already give it two thumbs up if you’re a political drama fan. When I first heard people rave about its run on BBC 4, I’ll admit to being very sceptical, and suspected that it was being endorsed by people suffering from severe “The West Wing” withdrawal mixed with that certain snootiness reserved for people who rave about Danish drama and “Mad Men”.

Even after I watched the first episode, I was still curious but underwhelmed, especially in the frankly laughable way the main protagonist, Moderate Party leader Birgitte Nyborg Christensen’s party makes its election breakthrough.

Having said that, I kept watching, at the recommendation of the  Northern Irish political commentator  Gerry Lynch (Ulster’s Peter Snow) who suggested that it just gets better, and he was right. Now I’m hooked.

So what is it that makes ”Borgen” good? From an Irish perspective, telling the story of multi-party coalition politics in a small EU country, it rings true, right down to local MPs wanting roads in their constituency. Having said that, there are marked differences. In “Borgen”, the politicans actually have policies unique to their political beliefs that they wish to pursue, a concept pretty much alien in Irish governments.

The acting is good, and the show also does a very good job covering the actual pressures of modern government, and how the prime minister’s marriage comes under huge pressure from trying to run a country and be a mother at the same time. Another character breaks up with her boyfriend because he doesn’t know who the justice minister is, which certainly reflects a reality I’ve seen with some people who become addicted to the Leinster House bubble and forget that most people don’t actually care that much about politics.

One episode, about Nyborg negotiating with a shady foriegn president, is interesting from an English speaking perspective because large amounts of it involve the lead characters all speaking through English with the president, which added a touch of realism and also revealed, by the way, that Nyborg has quite a sexy British accent when she speaks English. It’s also full of (and I’m being my good old chauvinst pig self here) very good looking Danish women, and good looking in a real way, not American television way. Any heterosexual man who has ever walked through Copenhagen will know exactly what I mean.

“Borgen” has been renewed for a third and final season next year. Don’t miss it.

 
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Imagine tax was voluntary.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 26, 2012 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

Here’s a mad idea. Absolutely loopy. Crazy. See, there is an air of  The Emperor’s New Clothes about a lot of what is debated in this country. Many demand that the government fund additional spending on various worthy causes, yet there is little debate about who should fund these expenditures, save for a vague wave of the hand at the rich. On top of that, we have the odd declaration that if only the ordinary people were listened to, everything would be okay.

Imagine we took those arguments to their logical conclusion. Imagine we announced that from Jan 1st, 2014, VAT and income tax would be abolished, and instead, people would have to make a voluntary single annual payment, US style, with the amount decided by themselves, as to what they feel they are willing to contribute to society. They’d be free to donate nothing. All we’d require is that people announce in advance what they were donating (or not) so that we could draft the national budget accordingly, allowing the government to know how much money it had to play with. To assist people, the government would advise a recommended donation level required to keep services where they are.

What would be the effect? Many people would, I suspect, donate the recommended level, although not before giving themselves maybe a 20% tax cut. Some would donate even more so, feeling that they have done well, and so want to contribute to the less well off. But what would most Irish people do?

Curiously, a lot would depend as to whether the donations would be public or not. Imagine the sweating brows amongst senior trades union officials, NGOcrats and Irish Times columnists as that was debated.

Many people would say that although they could afford it, they aren’t going to be a mug and donate if others aren’t. Many more would declare that they cannot afford the recommended donation, and give less, as would be their right, and so the government would have to cut government pay and spending accordingly.

The government would accept that it would have to make do with what the Irish people have given it.

Then the trouble would start.

The unions and the farmers would take the lead, but they wouldn’t be alone. “These cutbacks are a disgrace!” They’d declare.

“Then pay more tax.” The Government will tell them.

“Don’t be smart!” They’d reply.

“I suppose we could bring back compulsory taxes,” the government would say.

“Now, hold on a minute!” comes the reply from the demonstrators.

The outcome?

They’d take to the streets, under a banner which will sum up the most honest  political belief ever stated in Ireland:

“Someone else should pay! Someone else should pay!”

 
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“Borgen” and Irish politics.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 24, 2012 in Irish Politics

I’m currently watching a box set of Danish political drama “Borgen”, which tells the story of fictional Danish PM Birgitte Nyborg Christensen. It lacks the charm of “The West Wing” but is curiously watchable, especially from the perspective of a small European country well used to coalition politics.

Watching it made me wonder about how RTE could do such a show. It is not an impossible proposition, but there would be considerable barriers against it. The biggest single one I feel would be the tendency of Irish dramatists to always paint powerful people as inherently corrupt or evil. I’m not sure I would want to watch a show like that, about a crowd of bastards being bastards.

That means that such a show would instead have to be about good leaders doing good things, which would mean a show that actually debated real politics and real political choices. Would the Irish people watch a show like that?

Rather than “The West Wing”, would an Irish political drama not focus instead on some crowd of victims being f**ked over by some powerful bloke in a Louis Copeland suit?

 

 
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Irish Politics Today: A thumbnail guide to the parties.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 22, 2012 in Irish Politics

Fine Gael: It is hard to grasp how quickly Fine Gael turned into Fianna Fail in government, turning from a party advocating political reform to a party now blocking any meaningful sharing of power with the little people who pay for it all. Should  we be surprised, having replaced one middle of the road minimum change possible party with another one?  These guys want to be in government but have little idea about what to actually do with it, having the same lack of imagination as the last crowd, and a bigger menu of things they fibbed about pre-election to fling at them. They will tell you that fixing the economy is their big priority, as it should be, but you can’t help thinking that they spend just as much time avoiding decisions. The problem is that FG believe that them being in government is a great achievement of the Irish nation itself. Pro-Croke Park, and happy to tax people to fund it.

Labour: Once more the mudguard of Irish politics, the Labour party is by far the most interesting party to observe if one is interested in watching a group of people have a collective nervous breakdown. Finally becoming the second party in the state, it’s now dawning on Labour that there is no “nice” way of dealing with there being no arse in the national trousers. Its key constituents, middle class people who watch Nigella Lawson, public sector workers, and the Great National Hand Sticking Out Looking For Other People’s Money are the people who are going to bear the burden, and Labour are going to be blamed. As Labour always are. One day, Labour are going to tell their career minded front bench to hold their whist and sit out being in government during an economic crisis, and wait for the next boom when they can actually spend money on self esteem courses for gay badgers and the like. But this isn’t that time. Still, given the age profile, most of their ministers will probably retire at the next election, so it’s real decent of the young uns’ to give them a bit of a run out. Pro-Croke Park, and also quite happy to fund it by taxing people who work for a living. Especially in the private sector, which some people in the Labour party have heard of.

Sinn Fein: Like the Clann in 1948, or the PDs in 1987, the shinners are the exciting “what if” party, displaying the patience that Labour never had. Like the Worker’s Party during the 1980s. the party is calmly building up its support on the basis of  “just wait ’til we’re in” mixed with the hint of the odd cracked knee. With the exception of security issues (will a SF justice minister put the boot into those guards that actually fought them?) the irony is that the people most disappointed with SF in government will actually be their own voters. Sinn Fein’s economic policy, although left wing compared to FF/FG/Lab, is absolutely tip-toeing towards the centre, but in a clever way, with the lefty sounding Wealth Tax whilst reassuring pretty much everyone that they won’t be paying it. The key to SF is to look north, where they do actually run things, and where they complain about having to cut things because the people they don’t think should be in the country in the first place should be giving them more money, which is as much a demonstration of the theory of Schrodinger’s Cat as it is an economic policy. Pro-Croke Park, and happy to magically tax people to fund it in a fair and equitable way. Like getting kittens to lick the tax off people.

Fianna Fail: That FF cockiness is slowly worming its way back into the arena, whether it’s chanting “we’re back!” at byelections or feigning moral outrage at the government for carrying out the Troika arrangements they signed up to, the glint of the brassneck once more is appearing under the shirt collar. The respectful, soft spoken Fianna Fail of Michael Martin during the 2011 general election is gone. The old “say what you have to say, promise what you have to promise, whatever it takes” FF is back, especially when one looks at the opportunistic attacks on spending cuts and the proposed property tax, both agreed to by the Troika agreement signed by (you got it) Fianna Fail in government. The sad thing about FF is that it knows it has to change. Speak to individual FFers and they will admit that the populist stuff probably costs them as many votes as it wins, confirming the worst Used Car Dealer impression about the party. But collectively, it’s like they’re hooked on “pander” crack. Only this time, they’ll be nicer to the gays. Pro-Croke Park, having written the damned thing, although against funding it with new taxes. Fianna Fail, more than most, should be renamed the Theory of Relativity Party given their ability to pass themselves travelling the other direction in policy debates.

The United Left Alliance: Ah jaysus. Biggest crisis to face capitalism since Joe Stalin started looking at estate agent brochures for Le Havre, so why aren’t these guys at 10-20% in the polls? The answer is that, ironically for a group that turfed out a member for having emotional feelings for another deputy, they just can’t help pandering. Joe and Richard Boyd Barrett just can’t stop promising the sun, moon and (red) stars to be funded by magic money from under Galway Bay or by raiding Denis O’Brien’s Scrooge McDuck moneybin. Why don’t the public believe them? Could it be to do with the fact that with the exception of Joe they come across as the po-faced contestants of a lemon tasting competition? Croke Park doesn’t go far enough. It’s a disgrace that public sector workers are forced to turn up for work at all by their top-hatted moustache twirling bosses.

The Independents: We get two types of independent deputy in Ireland. The first is elected to represent certain political ideas, and the second are John Hurt from “The Field” types, sent to Dublin to steal everything that isn’t nailed down and bring it home to the local parish. If you want to know why our political system let our banking system collapse, this is the mentality, prevalent across the politcal landscape, which allowed it. Croke Park? Sure that’s in Dublin.

The Greens: If there is any proof that there is no justice in Irish politics, it’s the sorry state of the Green Party. This was the party that opposed corruption and dodgy land rezoning, sometimes getting into physical fights in Dublin County Council over payments to councillors. In government, they attempted to investigate dodgy goings on in councils. So what did the Irish people do? Sacked them, and replaced them with people who stopped the investigations.  Having said that, the Greens were their own worst enemy, never quite understanding their own vote base and spending too much time on stuff like climate change (which should be done quietly) whilst not focusing on the populist things that got them elected, like being rude to Fianna Fáil. And why on Earth did they not tell FF to get stuffed over blasphemy? Hopefully they have learnt lessons for the future.  A funny thing about the Greens is that now having becoming more rational and pro-EU, they have widened their potential vote base. Now, if they were to rush into the vacant anti-Croke Park gap…

 
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We need to start negotiating with British eurosceptics.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 18, 2012 in British Politics, European Union, Irish Politics

Judging by the Tory annual conference, it seems fair to say that Britain is heading, one way or the other, towards a referendum on the European Union. Of course, there’s still a huge debate to be had over what exactly Brits will be voting for: a simple in/out, or to endorse a new form of membership negotiated by Cameron, or maybe even the biggest cop-out of all, a “mandate” to renegotiate. Whatever way it goes, Britain’s membership is up for a fundamental debate.

Pro-Europeans should not be afraid of this. In fact, we should welcome it, for two reasons. The first is that there is no universal agreement as to how this shapes up. Don’t forget, eurosceptics are terrified of losing a referendum in Britain. But more importantly, the future of the EU needs to be endorsed democratically by the people it effects. People say that issue should be decided in a general election, but that is nonsense, especially in a country that uses the monkey-throwing-faeces-at-a-wall voting system of first past the post. The people need to be consulted, and not just in Britain.

It’s time that the real options are put to the people in each country: a federal union based around the euro with mutualised debt and federal controls on overspending (including ceding the right to borrow), an outer “common market” ring which has single market access but no commissioners or access to EU funds like CAP, and exit from European integration itself. All voted on the same day in each member state, with the exception of Germany which, as the one vital nation, will have to vote earlier.

Such an idea tends to horrify my fellow pro-Europeans, especially those in Brussels, but the reality is that this union does not belong to the Berlaymont. It can only exist with the consent of the people, and that includes eurosceptics too.

 
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Once a week, let’s give a single taxpayer back her money.

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

Let’s be honest. In Ireland, if you obey the law, pay your household charge and road tax and TV licence, you are regarded by many as a bit of a mug. Yet without those people, this country would not function, so here’s a thought. Let’s recognise and reward those people who vote and pay their taxes and obey the law. Let’s pick one of them each week at random and give them back the previous year’s taxes, up to a limit of, say, €20,000, which will cover the vast majority of taxpayers. It’ll cost just over a million, which could take paid for by a price rise in the Dail bar. Let’s invite them to meet the Taoiseach and collect their cheque and be given a simple thanks for being a patriot and obeying the law. Sure, loads of people won’t be eligible because they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, and they’ll bitch about it, but so what? It’s time to tip the hat at the battlers and strivers who keep this country running.

 
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Fine Gael and Labour show us their real (and ugly) face on political reform.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 16, 2012 in Irish Politics

If I were a member of Fine Gael or Labour today I’d be resigning on hearing Phil Hogan local government “reforms”. Both Fine Gael and Labour in opposition called for an elected executive mayor for Dublin, yet now in power they have adopted the exact same policy as Fianna Fáil in government, yet another policy they criticised in opposition. What’s really grating is the excuse they are using, that an elected mayor will cost €8m a year, yet we can afford €16m a year to pay for county council seats which are effectively subsidised candidate platforms. Using that as an excuse pretty much demonstrates the dull, unimaginative and complete lack of strategic thinking that dominates this government. Such is the staid intellectual vacuum within the government, it has never occurred to them that an elected mayor of Dublin, held specifically responsible to the voters of Dublin for setting the rate at which they will pay the property tax will spend every waking hour trying to reduce waste in the local authority in order to cut that extremely unpopular tax. In short, this decision shows that not only are Fine Gael and Labour dishonest, but they’re not even that clever. God f**king help us.

 
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The Invisible Referendum.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 13, 2012 in Irish Politics

Am I the only political hack who just isn’t registering the Children’s Rights referendum? I keep forgetting that it is actually on, and to be honest, without checking, I have no idea when polling day is. Maybe it’s because it is so ho-hum as a subject, or that the opponents seem to be either non-existant or a little bit creepy. But it does raise another issue: are referendums on what are essentially technical issues the best way to deal with issues like this?

In other countries, the constitution can be amended by a super-majority of the national parliament, say, with the consent of two-thirds of the members. Why not do that, with the added safeguard of letting the public initiate a referendum themselves to be held at the next national contest, if they don’t like what pols do?

Of course, the problem is that such a change would require, you got it, a referendum. Would the Irish people agree to give that power to politicians? Would politicians agree to ceding the power to initiate changes to what they see as THEIR political system? Hmmm…

Copyright © 2014 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.