Posted by Jason O on Jun 9, 2013 in Irish Politics
Let me first make an admission. The Constitutional Convention has not been the absolute disaster I thought it would be. I’ve watched some of its debates online, and have been impressed by the level of debate, and the contribution of experts. It is also a shocking mark of shame on the Labour Party and Fine Gael that they refused to let it discuss the Seanad.
But what really struck me, whilst watching on issues of political reform, is the sheer paralysis of both citizen and professional politicians alike. We all accept some terrible failure happened within our system, culminating in 2008-2011. Yet the convention has basically advocated that we should change the order of candidates on ballot papers as a solution.
In short, the convention decided, after looking at different political systems, that none would work in Ireland because Irish people would only screw them up. They voted to keep the political system almost exactly as is not because they deny there’s a problem, which in fairness to them they don’t, but because they can’t find anything better that was Irish-proof.
In short, the convention has pretty much decided, sincerely, and perhaps accurately, that the political system that nearly destroyed us is actually the best we can do.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 7, 2013 in Irish Politics
For the first time in my political life, I find that I’m on the opposite side of an issue from the great majority of my (political) friends, because let’s be clear about one thing: the political establishment is AGAINST Seanad abolition. Yes, Enda is in favour, because he sees it as a personal commitment, but even his ministers see this as all a load of unnecessary hassle. Just ask a load of Seanad retainers (Sorry, “reformers”) how many of them who have not already been Oireachtas members would not rule out being Senators in the future? Cue more interest in shoes than at a Clarks sales conference.
Still, it’s all great fun, being involved in a political bunfight about something, unlike, say, an EU treaty, that doesn’t really matter. In particular, I’m really enjoying the arguments being used by the No side about what’ll happen if the Seanad is abolished. These include:
1. Possible dictatorship caused by the government having control over things in the Oireachtas it doesn’t control at present, like, eh…control over the Time-Space Continuum?
2. The inherent evil within the Dail will be unleashed. All of a sudden, the Dail is now a threat to democracy. All this from people who had no problem with the Dail their entire political lives. What did they find? Rows of undead zombie TDs buried under the chamber, ready to rise up? “I’m calling on the minister for…human flesh!” as they shuffle mindlessly through the chamber…wait a minute…
3. The current bang-up job being done in terms of legislative review, with its Gladstonian/Disraeli level of debate, will cease. Cue coughing, wheezing fit. Who knows, Sean Fleming might even be forced to read legislation before telling us what’s wrong with it. It’s an outrage.
4. David Norris, John Crown, Gillian Van Turnhout et all will be forced to take an oath of silence with regard to commenting on Irish society. Like Vincent “Never says a word” Browne does. Or Fintan O’Toole. as a non-senator, we never get to hear from him on anything.
5. Fidelma Healy-Eames will no longer be a senator, thus harming Youtube’s future growth opportunities.
Whatever will we do?
Posted by Jason O on Jun 6, 2013 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
The 1st Irish Free State division wades ashore on Omaha beach, June 6, 1944.
They buried Eamonn De Valera on the 1st October 1943, nearly two weeks after the car crash on the Rock road, Blackrock, which had claimed the life of both the Taoiseach and his Garda driver. Given his iconic status in the political pantheon of the Free State, the Minister for Supplies and de facto successor, Sean Lemass, had delayed the traditional swift burial to allow for a ceremony more befitting “the chief.”
Over a quarter of a million people turned up to pay their respects as the procession made its way from the Pro-Cathedral to Glasnevin, and two days later, the Fianna Fail parliamentary party met and anointed the young 44 year old minister as Taoiseach.
A week after his election as Taoiseach, Lemass was visited by the US ambassador. The visit was perfunctory, the diplomat visiting to pass on the respects of President Roosevelt. As they spoke, the ambassador, who was well briefed as to the differences in outlook between De Valera and his young protégé, decided to take a gamble. By pure coincidence, he had on his person copies of OSS briefing documents outlining allied intelligence on the concentration camps. Lemass read them, asked questions about their veracity, and then opened a discussion with the ambassador about the post-war situation. The world was waiting for the invasion of France, and that, in tandem with the German reversals on the Eastern front, meant that the war was going to end, and Nazi Germany was going to be defeated. On top of that, it was becoming very clear that the United States was going to be the dominant power in the world. Lemass then changed the subject entirely, and spoke about the challenges facing a tiny, newly independent nation like Ireland, and its place in the world.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 4, 2013 in Irish Politics
I was reminded recently of a conversation with a member of a successful Irish political party, where I had pointed out that I had rarely been on the losing side in politics. He looked surprised, and pointed out that I’d been a Progressive Democrat, and had, as such, lost far more elections than I had ever won.
I was taken back by this remark for a moment, before realising that both he and I had a very different perspective of politics. His was a very tribal one, of loyalty to one party and one eye constantly on the score card of “my crowd are up/in, the other crowd are down/out”. He genuinely believed that life would be different if his party were out and the others were in.
Mine, on the other hand, was of social direction. To me, parties are mere tools to allow us, the people, to shape society. As such, the PDs cut my taxes, Labour decriminalised homosexuality and legalised divorce and contraception, and reduced censorship, Fianna Fáil built infrastructure and negotiated the Good Friday Agreement, and all parties save for Sinn Fein brought Ireland closer to a federal Europe and into the single currency. A Fine Gael Taoiseach was the first Taoiseach to actually put the Catholic Church in their place. Even now, on issues like abortion, progress is being made, and the one party outside the mainstream with a serious chance of power, Sinn Fein, is hurtling towards the centre at the same speed that Tony Blair burnt his CND membership card.
In short, the Irish political system has broadly shaped this country in a direction that I’m happy with, and it got me thinking: what is it like to be a hard left socialist or a conservative Catholic, to every day see your social vision get further and further away? Don’t get me wrong: our political system is still terribly flawed and painfully slow, but on issues like abortion and gay marriage and euthanasia, I’m far more likely to get the society I want than the aforementioned.
Funnily enough, the retention of the current undemocratic Seanad, a prospect that is not exactly farfetched, would be the first time, barring EU treaty anomalies which were subsequently corrected, that I would actually be on the permanent “stuck with this” losing side of an issue.
I shall have to prepare myself.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 2, 2013 in Irish Politics
There are two constants of recent opinion polling of party support in Ireland today. The first is that Sinn Fein is holding firm in the late teens/early twenties, and the second is that Labour is facing the loss of between half and two thirds of their seats in the Dail. Given that political racegoer’s catnip that is the STV voting system, it does mean that we can only go so far in terms of seat predictions. However, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the current Fine Gael/Labour majority might find difficulty in reassembling after an election under these figures.
What catches the eye, all the same, is the Sinn Fein position. It’s not fantastical to suggest Sinn Fein could emerge with 20 seats or thereabouts, and be in a position, possibly with a small number of independents (of which polls suggest there may be no shortage) to put Fianna Fail or Fine Gael into power.
What’s interesting about this scenario is the assumption among many Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael supporters that Sinn Fein, on being offered cabinet seats in the mythical year of 2016 will automatically “do a Gilmore” and roll over for the two big parties, thus restoring the natural order of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael empowered by their junior mudguard parties, as the PDs, Greens and Labour have discovered before them.
I’m not convinced. Sinn Fein has shown a greater grasp of both patience and long-term strategic thinking than any other party on the island (with the exception of the DUP, who let David Trimble destroy himself and his party doing the heavy lifting, and then sold out their own alleged principles at the end when all the work was done). Before them is the golden calf of a Sinn Fein-led government in the republic, which could be seriously in reach if Sinn Fein sits out the next government and forces Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to enter power together.
Will Sinn Fein blink? A Fianna Fáil-Sinn Fein coalition lets Labour go after Sinn Fein’s disappointed (and they will be) left wing base, thus saving Labour. It also will complete Sinn Fein’s transformation, through the reality of decision making in government, into just another crowd of politicians blaming the senior partner for the broken promises of opposition. Or as we call it: The Labour Party in Government.
Will Sinn Fein learn the lessons of the PDs, Greens and Labour, or will they become just the latest version of Fianna Fail’s human shield?
Note: If any Sinn Fein or Fianna Fáil activist would like to write a guest blog on this issue, you can contact me on email@example.com