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

Is Labour allergic to government?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 29, 2013 in Irish Politics

Why is that every time Labour enters government it not just loses support, as is normal for many parties in government, but actually haemorrhages support? Why is it that in 1977, 1987, 1997, and probably 2016 Labour has received, and probably will receive, an almighty political kicking? One possibility is that Labour has the poor luck to enter government nearly always at times of economic hardship. Yet the party’s loss of half its seats in 1997 occurred in a period of economic expansion. So what it that causes Labour voters to turn on the party in government?

One possibility is Labour’s inability, most apparent during the run up to the 2011 general election, to shape and manage the expectations of its voters. Labour seems incapable of thinking beyond polling day, and as a result puts out a pre-election narrative that is guaranteed to disappoint almost from day one.

This is Labour’s problem: as a party, it can’t seem to match its left wing opposition theatrics to the pragmatic requirements of government.

On top of that, there is also the old chestnut that Labour, by refusing to play hardball with the conservative parties (normally because of the personal ambitions of its leadership) and instead propping each of them up as junior partner, allows itself to become their mudguard in government. This also gives its left wing competition, first The Workers Party and Democratic Left, and now Sinn Fein, room to expand.

In the 1960s and 70s, the Labour left wing used to campaign in the party against coalition, claiming that it prevented a genuine right-left divide from developing in Irish politics, which is hurting the party.

There’s a strong argument to be made that this point needs to at least be seriously debated.


An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Senator who now believes in reform.

Repost: He has spent years in the Seanad blocking even the slightest of changes. What’s worse, he has pretended that he hasn’t, participating in every debate and report on Seanad reform and slowed up every reform with the “need for consensus” and “all-party agreement”. The truth is, the little people, the PAYE drones who pay his generous salary, expenses and pension should shut up and know their place, which is existing to fund him, not elect him.

On the other hand, just watch him with his councillor electorate, whom he treats like members of the Court of the Sun King, grovelling and forelock-tugging like an extra on Downton Abbey. If he had to carry a bottle of Listerine in the car for use after ensuring that the lonely farmer councillors had been satisfied, he would.

And now, abolition is on the cards, and suddenly, he’s calling for reform, proposing passionately the same tinkering minor changes that he stalled years ago. Calling for a third of the Seanad to be elected, or the Institutes of Technology to have votes, or some other gracious concession, he can feel his heart racing as he sees the ground possibly go out from under him. He knows it won’t be enough. Either the Seanad will be elected 100%, by real vocational voters, farmers and teachers and workers and artists, or it will be abolished, neither of which fills him with cheer. The Seanad has always been the preserve, for the most part, of the politician’s politician, and now the rabble are going to have a say?


Banking inquiry? I’d rather an almighty kick in the goolies.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 25, 2013 in Irish Politics

May the saints preserve us from a f**king parliamentary banking inquiry. Why? Let me give you two reasons:

1. Hours and hours of politicians pontificating, striking poses, crawling over each other trying to prostrate themselves in front of the Irish people, each one trying to distance himself or herself further from bankers (both morally, and in some cases, probably geographically. I can imagine a few dramatic “I will not breath the same air as these people who have inflicted so much pain on the Irish people, like a family I met in Fethard recently who told me…” walkouts) and their ilk.

It’ll be unbearable, and all on the clock. They’ll be paid for hamming it up, each one trying to look more indignant than the fella before, one horrible “A Few Good Men” re-enactment after another.

And acres and acres of media coverage and Vincent Browne sighing and “today, at the banking inquiry…” and basically a repeat of all the same shite we have been listening to since 2008. For the love of God, please, NO!

2. And for what? What do we actually do with the report the day after it is published. It can’t be used in any criminal prosecution, so what is it actually for? Are we basically holding this so that the government can say that it did something? To attempt to distract from the fact that hardly anybody will go to jail? That this is basically “something”?

But you know what the most depressing thing about this whole affair is? It’s not that we live in a country full of corrupt politicians, because we don’t. At least if we did we could choose to vote them out.

No, this is worse. See, I have no doubt that Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour would love to be able to convict a few of these guys, because it would take the pressure off them and prove that the system works.

The sad thing is that Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour just haven’t got the abilities, the skills, the brains, to have crafted the laws and equipped the Guards to deal with white collar crime at this level.

We are run by people we elected who can just about run a country in the 1950s, but are out of their depth running a hyper-complex 21st century €150 billion economy. In an age of brain surgeons and software engineers and bio-technicians, we elect well meaning used-car salesmen who first heard of Facebook last year, and call the internet a fad.

Every member of the Chinese cabinet is a university graduate. We elect people to write detailed legislation to govern everything from the ethics of bio-technology to the protection of personal identity in a global network because they’re good at hurling, and we think it’s a good idea.

That’s why nobody will go to jail.


An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The White Collar Trial.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 25, 2013 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.
Still, at least we get to see some state funded transvestitism.

Still, at least we get to see some state funded transvestitism.

Repost: The central issue, that wealthy powerful people abuse their positon to enrich themselves, gets pushed to the back of the line very quickly. The issue becomes one of “due process” and people’s right to “their good names”. Isn’t it funny how the bigger the crime, the greater the concern about people’s “good name”? If we had tried Hitler here, learned counsel would have tried to hold back the testimony of camp survivors, instead speaking of Hitler as a pillar of the community and a member of the local Toastmasters chapter. “And as for his alleged hatred of people of the Jewish faith, m’lud, I challenge anyone to prove that these lists are not in fact to ensure that all of his Jewish friends get a nice card at Hanukkah, and anyone who says different will find a writ heading in their direction!”

Next stage is the fact that our legislators spend so much time fiddling expenses and corrupting the planning process that they have little time to pass modern corporate governance or anti-corruption legislation, so we end up prosecuting people under archaic laws like the Corrupt Practices (Cattle Rustling and Chastity Belt Tampering) Act 1889. This leads to the alleged having to be found guilty by providing documentation signed in the blood of twelve virgins and true confirming the fact.

Finally, if we are even lucky to reach that stage, the jewel in the crown of Irish judicial tomfoolery: The inability to get a fair trial. Marvel as the accused claim that they cannot get a fair trial because the media has turned the country against them, and the jury did not arrive in a sealed pod from Venus having never heard of, well, anything.

Cue collapse of trial, public outrage, questions as to why the government didn’t just pass legislation ages ago to move this stuff to the Special Criminal Court (After all, these guys have nearly brought down the state in a way the Provos could only have dreamed of) and promises of a public inquiry to investigate. Now press Reset for next trial.


Labour’s Conundrum.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 21, 2013 in Irish Politics

The current debate about how to spend the few extra shekels the government finds itself with says something about the pickle the Labour Party finds itself in. Consider this: the automatic position of many in Labour, at least if the media is to be believed, is to spend the money on social welfare, either on reversing cuts on increasing rates.

But will that actually help Labour politically? When I speak to Labour activists, I’m struck by the bitterness many of them have towards what they regard as their core constituency, people reliant upon the welfare system. What they find most frustrating is that despite the fact that Labour has prevented many of the potential cuts to social spending, and protected a lot of jobs in the public sector, it is these two sectors that are most vicious towards Labour, bellowing “betrayal!”

Which brings us to the question of what to do with the extra money? Politically, one has to wonder will Labour gain by directing that money towards its bitter core, or is that core just permanently insatiable? Were these not the people who were voting Labour in the Celtic Tiger years, because they weren’t getting enough even then? And that’s all assuming, as one Labour activist pointed out to me, “that the fuckers even bother their arses to go out and vote”.

Fine Gael are suggesting tax cuts. Whilst it is economically dubious, because tax cuts tend to leak out in imports, Fine Gael have a point about tax cuts at least being a tip of the hat towards the embattled middle who are too well off for medical cards, but not rich enough to get a good tax avoiding accountant.

If I were Labour, I’d perhaps suggest a slight change. Not a tax cut, which cuts future revenue, but a tax rebate. A cheque sent to every taxpayer actually giving them money. Most Irish people don’t know how much income tax they pay anyway, but nobody will get angry if Labour puts a cheque for a few bob through their letter box.


Want to tax multinationals? How about privatising their tax liabilities?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 19, 2013 in Irish Politics

One of the challenges of taxing large multinationals is the fact that corporate taxation is like a war at sea. The fronts keeping changing, and you’re fighting on many different fronts at once. On top of that, the fact is that multinationals, because of the huge sums involved, pay huge money to their tax advisors, and so tend to attract the best. Tax authorities, on the other hand, get quietly competent but under resourced  people. So here’s a mad thought:

Auction off their tax liabilities to the highest bidder, as a legally recoverable asset, in the same way banks are selling off distressed, toxic assets. If company X owes state Y a nominal €100 million, auction it off. The state gets a chunk of money with ease, and the asset, the tax debt, becomes a private liability.

Sure that’s mad, says you. Sure, who’d buy that debt? Some entrepreneur would, at a knock down price, and would pay hotshot young lawyers out of the finest universities in the world big fat bonuses for figuring out ways of recovering the debt. In short, we’d fight rogue tax dodging capitalists with the most innovative, hungry force on Earth: other capitalists.

But, scream lefties, the state would be losing some of that tax revenue to these mercenary taxmen. True, but so what? Are we not  complaining that we’re not getting anywhere near as much money  as we’re owed? This way, we get more, at very little enforcement cost. And don’t forget, every year we’d auction off new tax liabilities. If the government were to decide that it was not getting  enough  value, it could pursue the liabilities itself. Alternatively, multinationals could get mightily pissed off with companies hunting them, and just come to quick settlements with governments.

There’s a precedent for this, by the way. Back in the day, governments used to issue letters of marque to ships, permitting them to engage in legal piracy against the vessels of other  specified countries. Privatising sea war. Hence the phrase “Privateers”.

Hoist the Jolly Roger, and set sail for Starbucks!




Phil Hogan: secret radical?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 18, 2013 in Irish Politics
Will Big Phil deliver?

Will Big Phil deliver?

One of the odder developments within this government has been the performance of Environment minister Phil Hogan, and I say this in a positive way.

From his building-in of tax varying powers in the Local Property Tax (which has the potential to transform local democracy if utilised by councillors) to abolishing town councils and increasing ward sizes, to now announcing a referendum on an elected mayor for Dublin, Hogan’s becoming one of the most reforming and radical local government ministers we’ve ever had.

Who’d have thought it? The devil is, of course, in the detail. An elected mayor with no actual powers over city managers or taxes is of little use, but he’s certainly taking things in an interesting direction. To their credit, both Noel Dempsey and John Gormley have tried before, but neither had the political clout of The Enforcer. Watch this space, I think.


An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: Treasonous Potato Syndrome.

Look at them plotting against us. Bastards.

Look at them plotting against us. Bastards.

It’s the potatoes, and you can see it when there’s a public demo in favour of a nominally disgraced public figure. Many of the people who march in favour of disgraced TDs or businesspeople are decent, good and honest people. Moreover, they believe in that great social glue that has made this country not the worst place in the world to live: loyalty. They do not see the cold hard facts of someone else’s money, in amounts incalculable to the ordinary individual, being misappropriated, but instead the very human story of a person who has shown them kindness or assisted them in a time of need being persecuted by faceless powerful figures who aren’t from the area. It is the classic Irish story, and it draws from the deepest well of our culture, the one with the sign labelled “dem fellas who are out to get us”.

From the Vikings to the cursed Brits to our own potato betraying us, ours is a story of forces beyond our control putting the boot in. Michael McDowell commented recently about a country that is very big on demanding rights from our institutions, yet also believes it is perfectly acceptable to decide which taxes and laws one will choose to honour. Many of the same people, without any malice, who defend those businesspeople and politicians from globally-accepted standards of law enforcement also demand that the banking system which holds their savings be protected to globally-accepted standards, and see no contradiction.

Why is this? The answer is straightforward enough. From British Rule to today, the Irish people have conspired with their elected leaders to create a society where we are all victims and thus not responsible for our actions. We elect nearly 2000 public officials paid from money taken from our wages, and yet have no problem with nearly all those same elected officials all blaming other publicly funded (but non-elected) officials for decisions that affect our daily lives. Other more logic-centred societies would ask what do we need 2000 powerless public officials for, but not us. We are quite happy with the publicly funded wailer, the Whinger-In-Office, to confirm our hard-wired DNA level paranoia that “You’re damn right! It IS those fellas in Dublin or the EU or the Financial Regulator who is screwing you over!” rather than distill measured options about the choices facing our country into options for debate.

Bitterness and betrayal is much easier to savour than the examining of sacrifice. What do you expect from a country that holds a grudge against a vegetable.


Will Britain be Snowy/Milou to the EU’s Tintin?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 15, 2013 in British Politics, European Union

One of the more valid arguments put forward by British eurosceptics is the fact that Britain can happily trade with the United States without having to join the US. This is, of course, true. The truth is, it is not in Britain or the remaining EU’s interest not to maintain a healthy and cooperative relationship post British exit.

However, let’s be clear about one thing: whereas the US and Britain are friends and allies, they are not equal partners. Britain is Robin to the US’s Batman, and whereas Batman cared about Robin, we had no doubt who was in charge: 320 million people to 63 million will do that.

Likewise, we will be trusted allies, 440 million Tintins to their 63 million Snowys. But sheer size will decide who decides what, and who goes “woah! woah!”


When you don’t need to vote anymore.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 14, 2013 in Irish Politics

Purely by coincidence, and unbeknownst to each other, two members of a certain political party recently pointed out to me the fact that the Progressive Democrats no longer existed was, to them, a sign of failure. It was an interesting observation, because it revealed to me the unfamiliar idea that, to them, the permanent existence of a political party was an end objective in itself, even if that party had outlived its usefulness.

It’s an idea I’ve written about before, primarily because I’m intrigued at the idea of people in politics with little interest in the politics of ideas as opposed to winning elections.

For example, it recently occurred to me that there are only two real political issues that still hold my attention in an exciting way, in terms of being areas where action is actually possible. The first is the future of the Seanad, and the second is gay marriage, both of which will probably be resolved with the next three years.

Now, it’s true there are other issues, like the economy, political reform and the EU which also interest me. But the difference with those issues is that, barring a radical change within the political system itself, nothing much will happen with them. Economically, FF, FG and Labour are the same party. Barring some minor tinkering, the Fianna Fail/Fine Gael/Labour political establishment will work together to keep the political system primarily what it is today, a source of employment for a certain personality type, and the future of the EU will be decided in more serious countries.

Don’t believe me? Just watch how Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour bury the Constitutional Convention’s most radical proposal to ban TDs being ministers. Just watch.

In short, save for the odd referendum, the average middle of the road voter probably no longer actually needs to vote, because the proportions of Fianna Failers or Fine Gaelers or Labourites making up the majority of the Dail won’t really effect the price of eggs in any real sense.

After all, do you really give a toss about which careerist wannabe TD gets to pass through a county council chamber, past the county manager who actually runs the county (and whom you can’t elect), on the way to the Dail? A Dail which our Save The Seanad political establishment tells us is a mixture of shite and potentially dictatorial anyway?

Remember, the right to vote is sacred. The right. Nobody said you have to use it.

Copyright © 2021 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.