Posted by Jason O on Jan 31, 2014 in Irish Politics
I wrote the following in October 2010. Is it still valid?
If it does collapse because of an inability to assemble a untainted jury, the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice should both resign, because they could have legislated to move the trial to the SCC, but chose not to.
“The Guards are saying that a decision will be made soon on possible Anglo Irish prosecutions. Anyone considered a flutter on the almost guaranteed collapse of the trial on the basis that such is the demonisation of the bank that its employees can not get a fair trial?
Of course, if the trial were moved to the Special Criminal Court… after all, isn’t that where we normally try people who attempt to bring down the state?”
A new year, same old nonsense. My “party running mate” (there’s an oxymoron, if there ever was one. Especially the moron bit) Senator Michael “The Gimp” Mahaffy has been putting it about the constituency that I’m pro-abortion. He’s always been one for the Rosary crowd, but since he went off on that junket to America he’s been unbearable. The yanks saw his “senator” title and no doubt got all excited, and now some crowd of gun-toting bible bashers have recruited him to head up their war to bring Jesus back to Europe, starting with Holy Ireland.
Last week he accused the county manager of pursuing a “radical homosexual agenda” because he had the Village People on the council’s call waiting. Funnily enough, I’ve known him since he was in Young Fine Gael, and have never seen him as much as look at a woman. He hangs around with that young one from Youth Attack! who looks like she’s sucking the goodness out of a lemon, but I doubt there’s anything happening there. She strikes me as the type that goes around tippexing the word “sex” out of dictionaries in public libraries.
Abortion’s a desperate issue, especially considering that we’re so reluctant to actually ask the public a straight question. Every referendum seems to ask “Are you against abortion, or are you REALLY against abortion?” Everyone seems to forget that in 1992 we did ask people a straight question: Are you okay with people having abortions, just not here? 65% of them said yes and looked the other way. A very Irish solution.
Is it me or is Seanad Reform becoming the new draining the Shannon? There’s more people going around the place banging on about it. Of course, during the referendum, it was all very entertaining watching fellas who never gave a shite about what they were voting for now getting all high and mighty about checks (as opposed to cheques) and balances and parliamentary scrutiny. I recall one particular character up on his hind legs in the chamber talking about the need for the upper house to be “rigorous” in its surveillance of the government. Funnily enough, I hear he was very rigorous with at least three widowed county councillors during the last Seanad election. And him on the John Charles McQuaid Sub Committee for the Saving of Souls too.
Arthur Henchy TD was first elected for Kildare East in 1981. He has been known to enjoy reading the odd book, and regards himself as a Garret man. He will be publishing his diary entries here every week.
“Good riddance to them and their greedy Thatcherite ways!” she declared over a gin and tonic, when the Progressive Democrats closed up shop. Her leftie credentials are solid, as you can tell from her attendance at the Ivana Bacik fundraiser and the “Remember Savita” sticker placed elegantly on the back of her 5 series coupe.
The language rolls easily of the tongue, about “social justice”, “investment in communities”, “Social capital”, in fact almost anything with the word “social” in it. She’s secretary of the Labour Women’s Group in Dublin South East. The West Wing Box set holds pride of place on her DVD shelf, and The Guardian is always placed face up on the coffee table, under a box of fairtrade organic cookies. She is left wing and proud.
Not that her accountant would know, of course. Remember those filthy PDs and their tax cuts? They were quickly trousered, and a “little getaway place for Gavin and I” in Southern Portugal emerged. When the PDs and Fianna Fail cut Capital Gains Tax, her socialist conscience seemed to play second fiddle to the opportunity to flip those investment properties in Lucan and Ballymun.
For some reason, she seems unaware of the fact that the Revenue Commissioners will happily accept back any undesired taxcuts gratefully. Even filthy PD ones. Watch her reaction to funding social spending by taxing unearned profits on private residential properties: it’s like watching Newt Gingrich in high heels.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 21, 2014 in Movies/TV/DVDs
Firstly, let me put a big giant SPOILER ALERT at the head of this piece. If you haven’t watched the BBC’s “Sherlock” up to “His Last Vow” then don’t read this!
Anyway, I thought I’d do a bit of a speculation on my current favourite TV show, and also a bit of cheering as to how much I enjoyed season 3. All three feature length episodes were entertaining, yet each episode was markedly different from the others.
“The Empty Hearse” had a big task, and filled it, whilst winking at the fans and pulling off a wonderful piece of misdirection in the opening. It almost caused a “For f**k’s sake!” to erupt but didn’t, with Rupert Graves’s Lestrade crisply reacting just as the viewers would.
By the way, if there’s one complaint I have, it’s that Lestrade didn’t get enough screen time. His eye-rolling double act with Watson is always fun, and check out his touching performance in the mini-episode “Many Happy Returns”. Did we see how Holmes actually survived? Who knows, other than the solution provided was pretty plausible.
“The Sign of Three” was played for laughs, with the stag scenes almost like a Mitchell and Webb sketch. The wedding itself was touching, and the mystery a bit so-so. The dagger through the belt? Hmmm? Really? The speech was also fun, although if I were Moffatt & Gatiss I’d resist the urge to turn Lestrade into a comic buffoon. Some clever clues about what was to come, all the same (listen to the telegram from “Cam”!)
“His Last Vow” was thrilling. Lars Mikkelsen as Charles Augustus Magnussen is just brilliant, and I hope we see him again. That’s impossible, you cry? We saw him shot. Is it impossible to think he’s in a coma in some Mycroft controlled facility? This is Sherlock, after all, and he’s so good. The eye flicking scene was wonderful, although I just didn’t buy that Mycroft couldn’t have gotten someone into the house, figured out the truth, and then just had him die from a polonium cocktail. The twist at the end, and the tip of the cap to the Rathbone movies was nice.
Other highlights: Amanda Abbington is a fabulous addition to the cast, turning the twosome into a very watchable threesome. Keep her! Actually, if Cumberbatch and Freeman can’t do more, how about an Avengers style spinoff: Mary and Irene Adler doing spy stuff for Mycroft. I’d watch that.
Watson in the drug den, when he gets physical with a junkie is a great touch. Before David Burke and Edward Hardwicke swung back towards the original stories in the Jeremy Brett TV series, Watson tended to be played as a bit of a clown. He isn’t in the Conan Doyle stories, having a separate skill set to Holmes, and a willingness to start throwing punches if necessary. He is, after all, a trained and competent soldier, something which is also nicely alluded to in Sherlock.
And finally: The Return of Moriarty. They just had to, Andrew Scott is just too good to let go to waste. I particularly love the way Moriarty is now known nationally in the show as a super villain of sorts, a Voldemort-style threat to authority from the shadows. This’ll be fun.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 13, 2014 in Politics
Reading Deborah Mattinson’s excellent “Talking to a brick wall” about her time as a British Labour focus group manager. It’s one of the most readable books on the Blair/Brown period from an unusual angle, and is full of interesting nuggets. A common theme that runs through it is the gap that has emerged between the professional political class (and I include the media in that) and voters, with stories of issues that the Westminster Village regard as huge having little or no impact with ordinary voters.
Mattinson gives an example of the disconnect by explaining the awkward moment when she has to tell a politician who wants to observe a focus group that he doesn’t have to sneak in because none of the focus group have any idea who he is.
She also gives a very interesting example of the “Bigotgate” affair during the 2010 British general election, when Gordon Brown called a woman who asked him a question about immigration a bigot. Mattinson points out, quite rightly, that politicians, political advisors and journalists tip toe around immigration from a lofty almost academic height because they don’t actually encounter it in their daily lives in a negative sense. It’s a fair observation: no Guardian columnist is afraid of losing her job to a Romanian immigrant who will produce more column for less money.
But what really got me thinking was the fact that most Western democracies are going through the same thing, that is, a professional political class separate from the general population. In Britain it’s young Oxbridge graduates becoming union officials or working for PR firms, then special advisors, then a nice safe seat in parliament. In France its passage through the Ecole Nationale d’Administration. The US has a whole industry based on it. The political class is becoming a self perpetuating interest whose members, despite having nominal political differences, have far more in common as a class than they do with the general electorate.
Can this be healthy? It’s one thing having a class of technocrats running a country, people who recognise that modern society is now far more complex than even the voters understand. But a class that actually lives effectively in another world?
It’s an on-going debate, and the solutions aren’t new. More education for voters, more consultation, can we use social media, etc. Even the solutions come from the professional politicians.
Why not be more radical? Why not inject ordinary, randomly selected voters into the political system? Supposing, say, one-third of a house of parliament was made up of randomly selected adults who sit in parliament for a single year, alongside the normally elected?
Outrageous. Sure, it would cause chaos, wouldn’t it? What would they know about government anyway?
Let’s consider this:
1. Is it outrageous? If you are a professional politician, it is. I’ve suggested this to aspiring politicians, and they were everything from outraged to angry at the suggestion. You’d be surprised how many political people regard our political system as their private property.
2. It would cause chaos. Would it? Or would it force the other parties to either work together, or cooperate with the citizen members on an issue by issue basis.
3. What would ordinary people know about government? Given that they have to live with its decisions, I’d say quite a lot.
But there are other benefits too.
Suddenly, communities and families with no political interest whatsoever would suddenly find that their uncle Jack or best mate Steve is now a member of parliament to talk to. For many it’ll be the first time they’ve ever spoken to an MP. After a few years, there’s be hundreds of former one year MPs in pubs and sports clubs, just ordinary people living normal lives. Some of them will almost certainly, after a year in office, decide “Yes, I can do this better than those professional pols” and get her friends and family together and run for parliament properly.
But what if some racists or homophobes or religious fanatics get selected? They almost certainly will, if the random selection works properly. And they’ll have to voice their opinions not in the pub but in parliament, where other people will challenge them. What’s so bad about that? Don’t forget, the same random selection will also put more minorities and woman into the system than at present.
You could even start by trying it out at local level, with, say, a third of County Council seats being appointed at random.
Let’s not forget, we do something similar every day with juries, giving random citizens the power to deprive other citizens of that most precious of assets, their freedom (and in the US, sometimes their life). Asking them to discuss new laws is not such a radical leap after that.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 11, 2014 in Politics
In the late Iain Banks’s “The Business”, a multinational company is engaged in a plan to buy itself a seat at the United Nations. It’s a great book, with the idea that a seat at the UN actually being worth anything being one of the few flaws in the book. But the concept itself is sound: a company that could secretly control the appointment of friendly ministers or European commissioners or European Court judges would be a company with power, surely?
Could it be done? What would you need?
1. A European country, as it would give access to the EU institutions including the golden prize, a seat on one of the world’s most powerful regulatory bodies, the European Commission.
2. A stable country with a docile population, that is, one that won’t rise up and overthrow the government you’ve spent a fortune suborning. What’s the point buying off the politicians if the people then storm parliament?
3 A democracy. For the same reason as above, with parties and elections that will look, to all intents and purposes, like a country where differing political forces compete for power, even if in reality the outcome of every election seems to involve the same policies. Ideally with an electorate and media distracted by local pork barrel issues or minor but highly emotional social issues.
4. A political establishment that is either so parochial that it doesn’t grasp what is going on, or so self serving that it will go along with the plan for the “appropriate considerations”.
5. A civil society leadership made up of vested social, religious, professional and commercial interests willing to along with the political establishment, perhaps even when not in the interest of their members.
Get all five of these, and it’s game on. Of course, no such place actually exists. It couldn’t, could it?
The EU: like the water supply, taken for granted, but would be missed if it weren’t there.
1. Pro-Europeans believe in European unity for the same moral reasons you don’t.
2. If you succeed in dismantling the EU, you’ll have to find something/someone else to blame for your problems. Europe isn’t what bugs you. Modern life is.
3. Everything isn’t a conspiracy. I’ve met EU commissioners. They complain about how they’ve no power.
4. Every country in the EU complains that other countries are calling the shots. Even the Germans.
5. European countries have to choose between living in a world dominated by China or Russia, or standing together. Brits have more in common with Belgians than Beijing.
6. If we didn’t have the EU, we’d have to come up with something that pretty much does what it does anyway. The world is just too integrated to manage inside national borders. The EU is a tool for helping small countries manage a complicated world of 7 billion people.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 8, 2014 in European Union
, Irish Politics
TO THE BERLAYMONT!
Given that a new European Commission will take office later in 2014, I thought I’d throw out a few thoughts, some from far left field, as to who might be the next Irish commissioner.
Phil Hogan is the name being bandied about most. He’s been loyal to Enda, and word has it that he actually enjoyed the EU presidency and chairing the Environment Council. Downside is that Enda loses one of his closest henchmen, probably loses the by-election, and let us not forget that the new Commission President will almost certainly be telling all the national leaders that nominating a female commissioner will get them a better portfolio.
Simon Coveney had a good EU presidency, was apparently liked by his EU colleagues, and could be well suited to be Agriculture commissioner. The problem for him is that he has a fair chance of being the next leader of FG. If Enda is re-elected in 2016, and runs for the park soon after, thus completing the hat-trick of making FG the largest party, getting an FG govt re-elected, and being the first FG president, Coveney will not be in the Dail. And he has testicles. Actual testicles, as opposed to metaphorical ones.
Similar situation for Brian Hayes, whom the party may require on the ballot paper in May for the European Elections.
Ruairi Quinn would be a fine European Commissioner, and a fair chance as a political pal of likely President Martin Schulz, a fellow Social Democrat. Big plum for FG to give to Labour though, especially as Labour got the AG. It would allow for Gilmore to reshuffle and reward a backbencher or two for not going all Keaveney. However, surely FG would demand in the reshuffle that Labour take a lesser cabinet job in return, allowing for a FGer to be promoted?
The wild card…Lucinda. I know, the conventional rules say no way, but consider the benefits: she’s exceptionally capable, from the right party (an EPP vice president), a true believer, and as a young woman exactly what a new President will want to appoint. And imagine the effect her Dail departure would have on the Rebel Alliance. The who? Exactly. Would show Enda putting the country first too. If he announced her before the reshuffle, I suspect the whingers would keep their mouths shut, for fear of whinging themselves out of a junior minister job. Of course, Lucinda is expecting a baby. Will she take maternity leave, as is her right? Will that matter? Should it?
Finally, there’s Enda himself, as President. I don’t believe it for a minute. Every five years we get this story that the Irish Taoiseach is being begged to take over. It’s bull.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 6, 2014 in Irish Politics
With the new year just out of its shiny wrapper, I thought I’d go for a little bird’s eye view of the Irish political parties as they stand today.
Fine Gael: It’s a dead cert that FG will lose seats at the next election. This isn’t really a reflection on the party but on the extraordinary results of the 2011 general election. Having said that, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that FG has a very good chance of remaining the dominant party in Irish politics. It’s also proving to be quite adept at creating a clear identity for itself, as a standard moderate conservative European Christian Democrat party, the party of the haves, the aspiring like to haves, and the let it bes, a section of the Irish electorate who could keep the party in pole position if they remain loyal. Enda’s tough stance on abortion reform has signalled that there is a place in the party for liberals, and a quiet stance on gay marriage (without blocking it) will help keep the FG broad church together. It the economy continues to improve, or at least feel like it is, FG will take the credit.
Fianna Fail: The fact that I’m writing FF in second place on this list says a lot about how FF is recovering. Despite whinging within the party, Martin still remains the least toxic of FF leaders available, and the polls show the party is de-toxifying. The local and European elections next year will show a modest recovery for the party, but nothing spectacular, although it will provide a slate of new young faces. As a general observation, the younger candidates I’ve met are the closest I’ve met in modern Irish politics to British Liberal Democrats, both socially and economically. FF still has to identify what it stands for: some in the party seem to believe that 2011 was a mere anomaly and the party should revert to promising whatever it needs to promise to win votes, regardless of the ability to deliver afterwards. Others see a New Fianna Fail that is humble, rigorous in its analysis and unwilling to do a Gilmore overreach in the run up to polling day. One other issue FF will have to confront is the coalition question: Is a vote or preference for FF candidates like (insert name here*) a vote for Sinn Fein cabinet ministers on the BBC justifying the murder of RUC officers on behalf of the Irish people?
Labour: I remain convinced that Labour cannot secure support from sections of the Irish people if it does not know who those people are itself. Is Labour the public sector party? Why should someone vote Labour over FF, FG or SF? I have no idea. Also, Labour’s refusal (in lockstep with FG) to take political reform seriously is going to cost it. Not in votes, because reform just is not that kind of issue, but by refusing to reform local government to make opposition parties make decisions, or implementing the convention proposal on larger Dail constituencies, Labour is not doing itself any favours. Labour should continue to fear a Shortall led Continuity Labour in the locals and Europeans.
Sinn Fein: If Sinn Fein ditches Adams before 2016 it has a serious chance of becoming the second party in terms of first preferences (but not seats). SF has big issues to decide upon: If it props up FG or FF after 2016 it will suffer the PD/Lab/Green curse. Force FG/FF together and it could be the lead opposition party. It also has to prepare its members for government better. Prediction: when SF enter govt eventually, you’ll see serious membership loss. Irish parties in govt seem incapable of managing their own member expectations, especially as SF is pretending to be far more economically left wing than it will be in government. These guys hang around with Coca-Cola executives, for God’s sake!
The Left Allsorts: One of the great disgraces of Irish politics has been the shocking inability of the Irish Left, in the face of the crisis of capitalism, to build up a serious alternative government. The truth is that the failure of the United Left Alliance, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (insert today’s cover name as required) is an indictment of either incompetence or a genuine unwillingness to build a realistic platform. The Irish Left is the sort of self indulgent political self-pleasuring act that General Pinochet would have funded in the dark days, to create the impression that there was a serious democratic contest available.
The Independents: There’s going to come a moment when Irish voters realise, if many haven’t already, that the Independent label is no guarantee of anything different. From people who were loyal party hacks a minute before a convention ballot box opened, to simple chancers, the idea that the Independent label affixes a greater purity than a party label has little to confirm it. There are good, decent independents out there, that’s true. But as a group, they’re no better than any party.
*Note: I put an asterisk beside the insert name here to make a point. When I return to this issue in 24 months time, when it’s live, and start putting aspiring TDs names in there, watch the outrage. That’s why I’m giving them a heads up now.
Hiding behind a mask.
You’ll see her at summer schools, academic fora, the odd Irish Times drinkie. Anything with the words electoral, political, seanad, reform, she’ll be there, ready to speak at the drop of a canapé.
“Of course,” she’ll nod earnestly, “nobody is arguing in favour of the status quo!”
Except she is. Not in public, of course, no, she’ll happily discuss the Danish European Affairs Committee or the New Zealand electoral system until the political cows come home, as long as that’s all we do. Talk about it. The truth is, she’s a fraud. She’s a party hack who is smart enough not to wave it around, and will happily participate in panels with people from other parties, but when it comes down to it, she wants to be a senator or a substitute MEP or the head of a quango, and will keep her nose clean and not upset the political establishment.
You have to look closely to see it. She’ll be the member of every reform group going, and will nod sagely as they release yet another report to join the National Political Reform Report Archive, but she’ll never get stuck into her potential future appointers-to-jobs. She’ll always support reviews, and committee, and conventions, and anything that will push reform off into the distance.
Deep down, she’ll sneer at the real reformers as amateurs, who don’t know the rules of the game, outsiders, people who should really mind their own business. Or as we know them: Citizens.