Posted by Jason O on Dec 29, 2013 in Irish Politics
Michael Healy-Rae: The People’s Tribune?
I get Michael Healy-Rae, and I respect what he does. See, there’s nothing inherently wrong with an elected representative acting as the broker between the citizen and the state. In ancient Rome, tribunes performed a similar role, standing up for the little guy in the face of the all-powerful state, so it’s hardly a novel Irish concept.
It’s true, of course, that Irish people should be able to interact with the state directly, and it’s also probably true that politicians don’t really want that, but there you have it. Irish people like the local fixer.
The problem is not with clientelism, with fixing stuff locally for people. I’ve seen the relief on people’s faces when a minister or TD is able to cut through red tape and get something done. You know what else? It actually strengthens the democratic system, because people go away thinking that at least there is someone in the system that gives a damn about me.
Clientelism isn’t the problem. The problem is that the job of local fixer and national legislator are two totally different jobs, and whilst the first is being done with great efficiency (Irish pols would eat most other country’s MPs for breakfast when it comes to local service) the second job isn’t. That’s the problem right there. The two jobs should not occupy the same position. They’re not the same job. We should have elected ombudsmen and elected legislators, and neither should really have much to do with each other.
Yet as a country we can’t even begin that debate. One of the failures of the Constitutional Convention (which has done far better work than I ever thought it would do) is that we never try to devise something that reflects our reality. We’re great at “Irish solutions to Irish problems” on abortion, neutrality, contraception, nuclear power and the right to die, and by solutions we mean ways of avoiding actually confronting an issue.
But devise a political system that resembles the country and culture it operates it? No thanks.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 23, 2013 in Irish Politics
1. Labour will lose all its MEPs. FF will win 3.
2. FF will perform modestly in the local elections, with the big winners being the independents. FG/Lab will not do as badly as expected. The fact that elected councillors will have the power to vary property tax rates will be almost completely ignored during the campaign, which will be treated as primary elections for the 2016 general election. The ugly truth is that local elections matter far more to the political parties than the voters.
3. Dublin councils will fail to pass the threshold for a referendum on an elected Mayor, with councillors failing to turn up for the vote but then protesting that they are in favour of an elected mayor. They will call for further study. As they did 14 years previously in 1999.
4. Government will propose referendums on all the non-contentious proposals from the Constitutional Convention, not one of which will transfer an iota of decision making power from the cabinet. The most radical proposal, to bar TDs from being ministers, will be “set aside for further study”. Like Seanad Reform, draining the Shannon, and Dublin hosting the Olympics.
5. As polls continue to show Sinn Fein performing strongly, Fianna Fail will start to distinguish between Gerry Adams serving in cabinet and an FF/SF coalition.
6. For the first time since 1979, turnout for the European Parliament elections will go up, sadly due to loads of crazies voting for the first time for various headbanger parties.
7. “Vote No for Seanad reform” will join “Vote Yes for Jobs” and “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way” as one of those slogans which gets more embarrassing the further one gets from the result.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 21, 2013 in Irish Politics
These were my predictions published in December 2012. 4.5 out of 6?
Here’s a few political predictions for 2013:
1. Enda Kenny will compromise with his and Labour senators and offer a Seanad Reform proposal before the referendum on Seanad abolition, pledging to legislate for it if there is a No vote in the referendum. He will still do a Liam Cosgrave and advocate an abolition vote in the referendum.
2. The Constitutional Convention will say that there is nothing wrong with the electoral system. It will, however, advocate changes to symbolic things like letting emigrants vote for a powerless president. It will also recommend a referendum on same sex marriage. It will not even debate any sort of transfer of power from the cabinet. In short, it will ensure that the political system that caused the collapse of our economy will remain almost entirely in place, defeating the stated purpose of FG and Labour in setting it up in the first place. Both parties will collude with this. Fianna Fáil will deserve an Oscar nomination for its mock outrage at the lack of significant reform.
3. Eamonn Gilmore will bend over backwards to avoid Labour Party members having to choose between him and Colm Keaveney in a vote.
4. Fianna Fáil will be within 5% of Fine Gael in the polls by this time next year. The reforming agenda started at the last election will be replaced by FF TDs making the same types of undeliverable promises that FG and Labour made before Election 2011. FF will pledge to abolish the property tax and set up a commission to examine alternatives, to report AFTER the next election.
5. Fine Gael will narrowly win the Meath by election, with FF coming a very close second. Labour will come in fourth.
6. No credible non-religious new party will emerge on the right.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 20, 2013 in Books
, US Politics
Another one for the political junkies, “Alpha Dogs” details the rise and fall of Sawyer-Miller, one of the first political consultancy firms, and a firm that played a major role in bringing down both Marcos and Pinochet. Full of little nuggets of political wisdom, including their polling which told Listerine that as their consumers were the sort of people who obey instructions on products, they could increase their sales of Listerine by 25%, by increasing the cap size by 25%. They also proved, in getting Boston Mayor Kevin White reelected in the 1970s, that voters will vote for a candidate they don’t actually like if they can be convinced that he is a) competant, and b) will use competancy to pursue the interests of people like them.
It also highlighted for me how different Irish politics is from most other western countries, in that whilst politics is dominated by professional politicians everywhere, it is remarkable how in Ireland political issues play such a minor role in elections, something Frank Luntz talked about when he was in Ireland. Irish politicians are far more sophisticated in knowing what makes their constituents tick than any pollster can tell them, yet that knowledge seems to paralyse them into policy inactivity. It isn’t that issues like taxes or spending or immigration don’t exist in Ireland, it’s that an entire political class has managed to pull off the most brilliant political three card trick ever, and convinced voters voting to elect members of a national parliament that those issues have nothing to do with them!
A very entertaining read, and the sort of book that political anoraks will need to read with a pen in one hand for marking passages. Or is that just me?
Posted by Jason O on Dec 18, 2013 in Irish Politics
I was recently talking to someone who was pointing out the eye-watering cost of childcare in Ireland. She remarked that it was subsidised in other countries, and perhaps we should consider that here? I had no objection to the concept. Affordable childcare would help, for example, get many single parents out of the welfare trap. The problem, however, is that someone has to pay for the subsidy. Who? It would be at this point that conventional Irish politics breaks down.
See, we’ll have so shortage of candidates, especially opposition candidates, who will nod sagely and emphatically in agreement with the concept. But ask them to how to fund this (very expensive) policy and they’ll either waffle about the past (we were able to fund the bondholders!) or spoof about the future (we’ll reduce waste in buying staples, etc!).
Supposing instead we were to draft, say, three different taxes to fund it. An income levy, a rise in income tax, or a rise in VAT. And supposing we were to put the whole thing to the people in a preferendum. Outline exactly what people would get, to the euro, and ask them to vote, with STV, on either which tax should be introduced to fund it, or a fourth option of voting down the whole idea. Would it be complicated? Probably, but so what? We’re always being told how sharp Irish voters are, and when it comes to money I think they’ll educate themselves very quickly.
What would be the outcome? Well, first of all, a chunk of the public would be outraged that they were being asked to make a choice, and would have the useless gutless pandering “John Hurt in The Field” politicians grovelling beside them, promising that yes, you can have your cake for free.
As for the rest of the public? Hmmm. What would turnout be like? Would only those interested in childcare vote? Or would others vote to stop a new tax? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you one thing: it would be democracy in its rawest, confronting citizens with the reality that you can vote yourself all the stuff you’re willing to pay for, and that would surely be a good thing.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 18, 2013 in Books
- Roarin’, drinkin’ and shoutin’.
I know I raved about this book before, but was rereading it, and it is well worth the read. That and the fact that when I first blogged about it, there was only me and a cat actually reading the blog. Hellraisers is one of those books you read in a single holiday because it is a) quite short, and b) just so chock full of laugh out loud stories that you fly through them looking to get to the next one. The subject is Burton, O’Toole, Reed and Harris, back when men were men who went roarin’ shoutin’ and fightin’ and then delivered their lines perfectly on set.
Whether it was Harris demanding tea and toast in a police station or Reed announcing to crowded pubs that one of his friends had a bigger cock than he did (When he wasn’t shooting at helicopters with his shotgun.) an absolute joy to read.
“How are you Tom, are you well? Yeah, good, good, no, can’t complain…well, didn’t I get pulled over by the Guards this morning…yeah…breathalysed…wouldn’t you think with all the murders and paedophiles on every street corner they’d have better things to do with their time…sure I’d been at the Bourke removal, you know the young fella, yeah, that’s right, him and six other young lads went into a ditch at the weekend. Stone dead. Jaysus, them roads are terrible, lethal they are, taking young lives like that, and them only out for the few jars, it’s very sad…did you hear the news, by the way? The brother got off that medical disciplinary thing…yeah, that’s right, some other doctor, some foreign fella, objected to him operating because he’d had a few scoops the night before…did you ever hear the like of it…sure as the brother says, a few porters help him do his job better, you know, calms the nerves…anyway, apparently he picked up a scalpel rather than a syringe and this English fella went bananas and ratted on him. Disgraceful carry on. Your young one’s going in for her operation this week, isn’t she? I’ll be saying a prayer to St Anthony for her. Did you hear Maura’s Sean, you know, her eldest, got the Air Traffic Control job…yeah…you want to see the pension!…yeah, he failed a few of the tests, crashed two jumbo jets into each other over Mullingar on the computer stimulator! But doesn’t Maura know the minister and a word was had in the right ear, apparently the computer thing got deleted, if you know what I mean! I’d stay away from the airport for a few weeks, all the same, until he gets the hang of the ropes, and that. Anyway, see you over the Christmas!”
Posted by Jason O on Dec 15, 2013 in Movies/TV/DVDs
, Not quite serious.
In late November 2005 (the actual date has been redacted), a building survey team entered a block of brownstone buildings in the lower east forties of New York City. Comprising of an architect, an engineer, and a number of experienced power tool operators, the group had been tasked by their employer, a well-known property developer, to carry out an invasive study into the unoccupied building to determine possible future commercial development uses.
After examining a number of floors, the architect and engineer were puzzled, because the design they had expected of the building, constructed in the early 20th century, was not what they were encountering. It seemed that most of the building’s inner space was actually taken up behind what seemed to be an inner cocoon comprised of thick concrete walls, the cocoon not being accessible from within the building itself.
Being used to unusual modifications, the team decided to penetrate the wall, and after many hours of drilling managed to break through into what seemed to be a metal lined corridor. The lead architect began to speculate as to whether they were in the correct location, and contacted their head office. Whilst awaiting confirmation, the engineer decided to explore the newly-accessed area.
Climbing through the hole, and the thin metal sheeting they had also penetrated, he found himself in a dusty corridor without any light save from his torch. On moving down the corridor, he entered a larger corridor, alongside which were a bank of computers and operator seats, all long abandoned. Loose papers were scattered about the floor.
Just after the corridor he found a room with a large circular table, and a map of the world. Before he could investigate further, a number of FBI agents entered the room, and escorted him back to his colleagues, who were all detained and questioned.
It emerged that the developer’s office had, in fact, made an error, sending the team to the wrong location. The team were released after some hours without charge, and informed merely that the building was an old United Nations office and as such was diplomatically protected.
In the confusion, the engineer forgot to reveal that he had taken one of the scraps of paper from the floor of the corridor. It seemed to be some sort of communications log, dated from 1985, and bore the symbol of a now forgotten organisation called UNCLE.
From the early 1950s until its hurried and ignoble closure in March 1985, the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement was one of the most curious international security organisations that ever existed.
UNCLE was originally devised after discussions between President Eisenhower and Secretary Khrushchev. Both men, living in a new atomic age, felt that whilst both the United States and the USSR were ideological enemies, it was vital that international order be maintained, particularly with regard to atomic, biological and chemical weapons. As a result, both countries, along with Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and Yugoslavia agreed to create a unified non-ideological organisation for sharing information and coordinating action to maintain political order.
UNCLE, with agents seconded from the participant nations military intelligence divisions, began operations in the mid-1950s, under the control of a council of five nominees, of which the US and USSR would always maintain two, and the remaining members (other countries joined later) would rotate.
The 1960s was UNCLE’s heyday, with the rapid development of technology combined with the US in particular still being open to international cooperation. UNCLE played a major role in foiling a significant number of attempts by political and wealthy groups to interfere in global affairs, including a number of hijacked weapons of mass destruction.
In the 1970s UNCLE’s effectiveness began to be questioned, as blatant attempts to steal nuclear weapons diminished in the face of aircraft hijackings and embassy sieges. In addition, hardliners in both the Kremlin and the United States Senate began to voice suspicions about UNCLE, both believing the organisation was being used by the other side for espionage (the organisation maintained HQs in both the US and USSR), and restrictions started to be imposed on what sort of operations it could engage in. This was ironic given that UNCLE’s most effective enforcement team actually comprised of an American CIA operative and a Russian Naval Intelligence officer.
The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan sharply increased tensions to the extent that President Carter was forced to temporarily ban UNCLE from operating in the United States to placate conservatives, who were now openly demanding US withdrawal.
The election of President Reagan in 1980 did little to help restore UNCLE, despite the organisation’s success in preventing a stolen nuclear weapon from being used in a plot to destroy a nuclear power plant and discredit US energy policy. Following his landslide re-election in 1984, as a bone to conservatives who were actually demanding US withdrawal from the United Nations, Reagan announced in March 1985 the immediate withdrawal of the United States from UNCLE.
This triggered the immediate disbanding of the organisation as the Soviets followed suit, and the rapid closure of its New York headquarters.
The European branches of UNCLE were quickly folded into the organisation which eventually became Europol, and UNCLE was forgotten.
What is surprising is how quickly it faded. UNCLE, despite the secrecy about its internal operations, was actually a publicly known organisation, often mistaken as the enforcement arm of the United Nations Secretary General, with whom it had a strong relationship and did occasionally act on behalf of. Both military and police organisations across the world were enthusiastic supporters of the organisation as both a source of information but also for seconding promising officers.
Sir John Raleigh, UNCLE’s last controller (1983-1985) remarked, before his death in 2012, that in an age of globalisation and companies often more powerful than sovereign states, an organisation like UNCLE was actually more necessary now. He also suggested that the people it would most restrict, the very wealthy and powerful, were aware of that, and had used politics to destroy it. “In the late 1960s a group of powerful people attempted to put their patsy in the White House. UNCLE agents stopped them. These days, that seems to be par for the course.”
Nothing to do with me, Guv.
He is almost single-handedly responsible for the state of Irish politics. Mostly because he suffers from that endemic self delusion that seems to be hard wired into Irish DNA. Put him in front of a pollster or an academic and he’ll give textbook answers about the need for democratic accountability and check and balances and proper scrutiny of legislation. He’s a model citizen.
Until he votes, because when he does, none of those lofty criteria apply. When he votes, it’s for the local fella who delivers for the local parish. Legislator? Scrutiniser of executives? The local fella could be chopping up people (in another parish, of course) and eating them with a fine Chianti and some Lima beans and he’d still vote for him, as long as he got the pension for the brother in law who’s only 27.
When it comes down to it, he wants someone else to vote for proper economic management and world class health standards and a professionally run country.
And by the way, the irony isn’t that he doesn’t vote for it himself. The irony is that he actually gets angry when other people won’t vote for it.
Who do those people think they are, coming down to his level? Just look at the state they have the country in, the bastards.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 3, 2013 in Books
“Dominion” by CJ Sansom is set in a 1952 Britain which, following Lord Halifax’s accession to the premiership in 1940, has become a “finlandised” satellite state of Nazi Germany.
The plot, about resistance agents trying to get an important person out of the country, is particularly engaging on how fascism and anti-Semitism can creep into a society. It’s very easy now, with the benefit of hindsight, to see how the choices made in 1940 were correct, and accuse those who wished to sue for peace as collaborators or fools. Yet at the time, the horrors of the Great War were still fresh in the minds of many, and essentially decent men like Chamberlain desperately wanted to avoid war. Not everybody who opposed war with Germany was a Nazi sympathiser.
The book is a bit overlong and meanders anxiously too much, but really gets going in the final third. Sansom paints what I think is a very accurate picture of what the road not taken could have looked like. He’s no fan on nationalism, and certainly no fan of the SNP judging by this novel!