Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Taxpayers should have buses named after them.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 12, 2012 in Irish Politics

Leo Varadkar announced yesterday that Dublin Bus was to receive 80 new buses. Here’s a thought: given that those buses have been purchased by the taxpayer, why not identify some taxpayers who have paid a sum of tax equal to, say, the purchase cost of a bus over their lifetime, and invite them to a formal ceremony where a plaque can be unveiled on the bus honouring them and thanking them for paying for a bus for the People of Ireland?

It’s important that people see a link between taxes paid and the stuff they get. Of course, there’d be war if anyone wealthy is recognised for paying taxes, but that’s tough. A taxpayer is a taxpayer.

Personally, I’d like a Luas carriage please.

 
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Rewatching The West Wing.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 11, 2012 in Irish Politics, Movies/TV/DVDs, US Politics

On a whim, last weekend I put on the second to last season of The West Wing, which as the wing nuts among you will know was the season about the Republican and Democratic primaries. I had forgotten how good that actual season is, primarily because it introduced the character of GOP senator Arnie Vinick, played by Alan Alda. The character of Vinick, as a moderate, thoughtful conservative was by far one of  the most interesting characters to have appeared in the entire series, and to me it was always a pity that the series never got another season where he would have played a major role in the new administration.

What was really interesting about Vinick was that he was not a RINO, that is, a Democrat who just happened to wear a GOP label which is the norm in Hollywood political drama. In the debate against Matt Santos, the two have a genuine ideological difference, but it is fought out with civility and respect, a sad juxtaposition compared to the reality of US politics.

Finally, though, a comment about the show itself. Denmark, a country of similar size to Ireland, is about to broadcast its third and final season of political drama “Borgen”. Why is it that we can’t do political television drama here? I suspect that one reason, aside from cost, is that a show that was realistic about Irish politics would involve most of the characters sitting around trying to avoid making decisions whilst demanding other people take “tough” decisions. I’m not sure if even a politics junkie like me would watch that.

 
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New constitutional rights? Sure. Just put new taxes in too.

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

There have been some calls recently for socio-economic rights, like the right to housing or education to be inserted into the constitution. As it happens, that doesn’t actually bother me that much, save for the fact that the same people who tend to demand those rights tend to be the people who are currently opposing every cut in spending and every new tax. In other words, they want a new right to government spending, but don’t want to be identified with the new taxes needed to fund it. It’s low cynical dirty politics, and debases what should be a noble aim. If there are those who wish to insert actionable new high cost rights into Bunreacht ns hEireann, let them also put a new constitutionally mandated tax to the people too, and we’ll see what the Irish people really think.

 
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Is Amazon good for books?

Posted by Jason O on Oct 9, 2012 in eNovels & Writing

Anyone with an interest in the publishing world and books generally will be aware of the battle going on between publishers and Amazon over the setting of prices. The publishers argue that if book prices are set too low, it will wipe out the ability of writers (and publishers) to earn a living. Amazon, and the self-published community disagree, for obvious reasons. I thought I’d throw in my tuppence.

Let’s be honest: the internet will probably wipe out bookshops, or at least turn them into niche businesses, because they just cannot compete with the vast range and buying power of Amazon. Having said that, Amazon can’t really replicate that moment of browsing in a bookshop when you come across a book you have never heard of. The problem is that you are more likely to use the bookshop as a showroom, and seek the book more cheaply online.

The other side of Amazon is the part which affects me not as a customer but as someone who has written a book. I hawked it around literary agents, was rejected, and in the old days would have had to just return my script to a bottom drawer and let a dream die. Yet Amazon allowed me to commission a cover design, get it edited and eformatted, and publish it. It has sold very modestly, but it is out there, and I have met people I didn’t know who have read it. Some enjoyed it, some didn’t, but I got to fulfill a lifelong dream because of Amazon which the traditional publishing industry denied me.

Now, I say denied me, but don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those people who feels embittered by the rejection, because as I read more about the economics of the traditional publishing industry, they had no choice. They just haven’t the money to take risks anymore on unknowns like me, which is fair enough. But that doesn’t mean they should be allowed stop me going direct to the market with my offering, something which Amazon permits me to do.

Is it fair that I help crowd the market with what is essentially my hobby, selling a novel for €2.99 and dragging down prices? I have bought two ebooks from Amazon, priced far more than €2.99, and whilst I am enjoying reading them I do feel a bit hard done by at the price (€12.99) for what is essentially very modest post-print work. What they seem to be missing is that if the books had been cheaper, I probably would buy more, a fact they are going to have to wake up to sooner or later.

 
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Notes from the frontline: a report from the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael presidential dinners.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 7, 2012 in Irish Politics

In the last two weeks, I have attended, as a guest, both the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael presidential dinners, both held, incidentally, in the same room in the Burlington hotel. I took the opportunity to talk to quite a few members and thought I’d jot down a few notes and observations.

1. The age profile was quite markedly different, I thought, with the attendance at FF both smaller and older. I don’t think that necessarily reflects the attractiveness of either party, but the fact that parties in government tend to hire younger members for parliamentary assistant jobs, etc. Certainly, the FG profile was younger from when I last attended an FG dinner some years ago.

2. Interestingly, in both parties, I felt a genuine inter-generational tension. This always exists in parties, and did in my time in the Progressive Democrats, but not to this extent. The younger people in FG seemed to feel that their betters felt that getting into government was achievement enough, and are surprisingly bitter at having to carry the can for the policy u-turns and slight of hand stunts. In FF, one young member summed up the older generation as “They wrecked the party, and now they want to stay as if nothing happened.” Others voiced similar opinions.

3. Whereas I still believe FF and FG are effectively the same party, there was a bit more social diversity at the FF dinner. I did ask members at both about a coalition with the other after the next election if there was no alternative, and found much greater resistance at the FG dinner, although for quite po-faced reasons (in my opinion anyway) of FF paying penance. Certainly no one at either dinner, and I asked a lot of people at both about it because I wanted it as a “control” question, could come up with a policy reason why not. Most expressed the opinion that if the two parties did enter coalition, it would become almost a permanent relationship even in opposition, like the Australian Liberal National coalition.

4. The FF dinner had a slight Star Trek convention thing to it (yes, I have and yes, I know) in that people kept walking past me who I looked at and thought “Didn’t he/she used to be someone?”

5. Both parties have a different perspective on Sinn Fein. FG are afraid of their economic policy, whereas FF people believe that SF are economic spoofers. However, FF people specifically raised the danger of SF interfering with the Guards to ensure that more politically sensitive senior officers be appointed. FF people also raised the idea of SF wanting to change how the history of the troubles is taught, with the troubles been given the same moral status as the War of Independence, which is a chilling thought.

6. Two things struck me about the FF dinner. Firstly, Michael Martin visited and shook hands with every single person at every table, and that Senator Averil Power takes two hours to cross a room given the amount of old dears who queue up to meet her. I know, I saw it with my own eyes. One other thing about Marin’s speech. It was curiously free of  actual politics, focused more on FF winning elections again and serving the Irish people, but not how. The only political remark in his speech was a go at what he termed “the far left”. When I pointed this out at the table I was at, I was told “sure only a PD would notice that”.

7. At both dinners, there is an interesting consensus that Phil Hogan will go to Brussels in 2014, and that the next leader of FG will be either Leo or (this always makes me scratch my head) Simon Coveney. Really? Also at both dinners, comparisons were made between now and the early 1980s, with SF playing the role of the Worker’s Party to Labour and FG very nervous about the emergence of a new party to their right.

8. Finally, someone told me a story about Charles J Haughey describing his cabinet as having “four people of talent, and ten imbeciles for the other ten seats”. Ah Charlie.

9. Couldn’t move for bumping into ex-PDs. Turns out we haven’t gone away, you know.

 
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Want to change the country? Don’t get involved in Irish politics, so.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 6, 2012 in Irish Politics

Thought I’d repost this, as it still stands.

A friend of mine discussed with me recently the need to get more women into Irish politics. We discussed how women could get nominated, what bodies they’d run for, what sort of campaigns they should run, and all the other stuff. Thinking about it, I realised I had forgotten to mention the most obvious thing. Don’t do it if you have something better to do.

Think about it for a minute: Running for the county council, the Seanad, the Dail, all are worth doing if you are an ambitious person who wants to win. But not if you actually want to do things. “But you can change things if you’re elected!” the committed will say. Mostly, you can’t. If you reach the cabinet, ten or fifteen years after entering politics, and most politicians don’t ever reach the cabinet, you might, but if you are one of the 99% of elected officials not in the cabinet, you are wasting your time. “But you have influence!” they say. Hmmm. Influence. Compare ten years of “having influence” with ten years of working within a charity as a volunteer. See, our politicians do actually work hard, both physically and for long hours. But most of the work is pointless. Imagine if you took that work rate and used it for volunteering. You would actually get more done.

Ireland is quite exceptional in its refusal to give politicians actual executive power, not to influence, but to issue orders. As a result, we have a political life made up for the most part of people “urging” and “calling for” other people to take responsibility for things. In Ireland, it is regarded as a thoughtful policy for a fully-paid parliamentarian with legislative assistant and support to call for a “full-scale review”, in other words, “I’m calling on someone else to come up with an idea how to solve X”. Someone else.

Coach a soccer or GAA team. Work with the homeless or those with disabilities, or visit the old. If you have children, spend more time with them rather than dropping leaflets telling people things they can look up on the internet, because after ten years you may say “I wish I had spent more time with my kids” but you will NEVER say “I wish I’d copied and pasted more stuff from citizensinformation.ie to put in a leaflet and give to people too bone idle to look it up themselves”. It’ll take less time and you will, for the most part, do more good.

N.B: When I write a post like this, I always get three types of responses. The first, from young activists, are always full of “But if everybody thought that/the men and women of 1916″. (Ever notice, by the way, how the women of 1916 have been elevated to equal status in recent years? I always think it sounds like a dodgy Playboy special edition) Their protests are sincere, and I know this because it was how I felt 20 years ago.

Then there are the jaded former hacks who now content themselves watching “Borgen” on BBC Four who agree.

Finally, there are the professional candidates who come out with phrases like “Well, I actually relish constituency work!” I’m not kidding, I’ve actually heard one say that. To that response, all I can say is “ah, bless”.

 
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The government’s lack of imagination is actually hurting it.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 4, 2012 in Irish Politics

It’s the same old story. An Irish government gets elected promising to reform how politics is done in the country, and once in power decides that things are actually grand the way they are. This might have made sense in a self-interested way when the government had plenty of money and wanted to keep it to disperse itself, and the credit with it.

But now we live in a different time where there’s pretty much no credit to hog, and yet the government still wants to play by the old rules? Take the whole upcoming budget debate. Keeping the old budget system of everything remaining secret until budget day does not actually help the government. Instead, the government should lay out all the options for taxes and cuts on offer, and hand over a week of debate time to the opposition, with Dept of Finance support, to propose their alternatives, with all options commented on by the Fiscal Council. What is the worst that can happen? Fianna Fail’s bluff  gets called?

It’s the same with local government reform. Fine Gael and Labour think they’re being really clever centralising power. Instead all they are doing is providing a blame-free taxpayer-funded county councillor platform for aspiring opposition TDs to go after FG and Labour property-tax-rising sitting government TDs in the next general election. They are so trapped in old fashioned thinking that they are willingly keeping all the bad news and blame for hard decisions for themselves, rather than forcing opposition candidates to make and defend unpopular decisions locally. Why is Eamon Gilmore so eager to prevent Mayor Joe Higgins or Richard Boyd Barrett from having to defend which library or swimming pool he had to choose to close? Can they not actually see this?

Imagine if they did reform local government, and half of FF, SF and the ULA’s candidates were sitting mayors (assuming they obey their party leader demands that they resign their mayoralty) who had had to actually take personal responsibility for their county budgets, in other words, actually having records of decisions on tax and spending for FG and Labour TDs to run against?

Not only is FG and Labour’s opposition to political reform not good for the country: it’s not even good politics.

 
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If there is one book you read this year: The Party

Posted by Jason O on Oct 3, 2012 in Books

Robert McGregor’s “The Party”, about the inner working of the Chinese Communist Party, is an absolute must for political anoraks, and not just those with an interest in Chinese politics (come on, how many blogs get to use that phrase?). The book is a concise trip, packed with great anecdotes, through the party and how it runs China. But more than that, it is a fascinating insight into the development of a political management system riddled with contradictions, where ideology is hat-tipped towards as the party abandons communism whilst denying it, and attempts to maintain a one party state whilst also greatly fearing the masses and recognising the need to deliver for them, or where the all powerful centre fears the power of local officials.

What really struck me about the book was the parallels with our own Fianna Fail, and how a party in government over a long term becomes primarily about government itself. The other interesting factor in the book is the constant challenge of corruption affecting good government whilst also being necessary to keep party officials “interested” given their petty salaries.

The flexibility of the party is summed up in a great line (one of many) where a journalist is arguing with a party official about how they have obviously abandoned communism for capitalism. The party official raises his hand to object, and replies: “We are the communist party. We will say what communism is!”  

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