Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Star Trek is basically about Communism, isn’t it?

Posted by Jason O on Feb 28, 2014 in Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious.

A time traveller from the 20th Century wouldn’t initially notice it. Arriving on 24th Century Earth, capital of the United Federation of Planets, they’d find a society at peace, where poverty and material want had been banished at least a hundred years ago, and where self improvement would be the stated driving goal of humanity.

They’d see passionate political debate on the web, and and would vote in free elections to elect both Earth’s various federal and national governments (Earth still would be nominally divided into nations and regional unions, but really just for local administrative and cultural purposes) and also the President and Council of the United Federation of Planets. They’d also notice the pervasive presence of Starfleet personnel pretty much everywhere, with its nebulous duty of interstellar exploration but also defence of the UFP member states. They’d find it rare to encounter a family that did not have someone serving in “the fleet”, and it would be a source of pride to the family. Then there’s the presence of the great commanders of Starfleet history, from Archer to Kirk to Picard to Janeway, heroes used by the UFP and Earth’s government to unite the people in a multicultural bond of respect and tolerance.

Finally, they’d notice the economy, or rather, the lack of it: The fact that energy supply, which powers the molecule manipulating replicators in every home and workplace that creates everything from starship components to breakfast to new shoes, decides everything, and that energy supply is 100% controlled by the state.

There is no poverty. Everybody gets a comfortable home. Everyone is entitled to a de facto career of their choice. Choose to enroll in Starfleet, or just be a sculptor. Want to try running a restaurant? Sure, just apply at your local council for a space (the state owns all the property) and they’ll find you somewhere to set up, and off you go. It doesn’t have to make any money, obviously, because what would you need money for anyway? The state doesn’t mind what you do, yet this is the open secret that never gets discussed.

What happens to the bums, to the people who don’t want to be Starfleet ensigns or run restaurants or write holodeck dramas? What do they do? The answer is: nothing. They get allocated their home same as everybody else and can while their days away looking at the window if they wish. The state doesn’t care. Who gets the nice apartment overlooking San Francisco Bay? Whomever wins the lottery when an apartment becomes free, that’s who. Want to live on the upper east side of Manhattan? Put your name on the list, and good luck.

But try to become rich, and it’s a different ballgame. First of all, it’s impossible on Earth. How can you be rich if you can’t own anything. That’s not to say that people don’t regard this house or that apartment as “their” homes or businesses, and they are as long as you need them. But you don’t own them, and so you can’t acquire them as an asset. Set up a business? Sure. Just don’t have prices. After all, you don’t have costs. Why would you do it, so? Why do people like being praised for a play they wrote, or a painting they painted, or a fabulous cake they baked. Because of pride, and that is what drives economic activity on post-scarcity Earth. The great inventors, writers, chefs of Earth live in nice homes, but no nicer than anyone else’s. But they are lauded in the media for their efforts, and that’s their reward. Robots can keep the sewers clean.

But try to advocate a return to private property, and watch the walls close in. The United Earth Party, which wins every election on Earth, keeps an eye on these things. Start advocating private property or the accumulation of wealth and find that you’re just not invited onto the major news shows. Remarks will be made about how perhaps you’d be happy with the Ferengis. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of humans in particular live and thrive in that ultra-capitalist society. But don’t think you can push that nonsense here in paradise.

It’s when you look closer at the political structure on Earth you can see the dark corners. The United Earth Party, which seized control of the war scarred Earth after the Third World War, is all about tolerance and benevolence, but only by its definition. It’s the only party permitted, although its primary elections are open to all. Turnout in elections, however, tends to be around the 20% threshold, but it would be inaccurate to call it repression. The truth is, most humans have better things to do with their time. Then there’s the debates. Within the party, debate on the local issues (should we build a new bridge/transporter station/metro?) is vigorously debated. Interstellar policy is also a source of great exchanges. Should Bajor be permitted to join the Federation? Perhaps a defence treaty with the Klingon Empire? Are our defences strong enough facing the Romulans? Should Starfleet be building actually warships? And of course, the ever present threat of the Borg. Primary debates within the UEP will be open and passionate. But do not dare raise the issue of Earth’s economic settlement, because settlement denial is instant political poison. Support private property and wealth acquisition? Do you want another civil war on Earth? Do you like the idea of little children dying from radiation poisoning? Well, do you?

It’s not a secret, but it’s not openly discussed that New Zealand houses Earth’s largest prison. Most of the inmates are violent criminals, but one section holds those citizens who just would not accept the economic settlement. Those convicted of the violent advocacy of Capitalism. It’ll get you 20 years in an admittedly very comfortable prison, but a prison all the same.

Then there’s the class structure on Earth, which does get talked about, but really only in the chattering classes and academic journals. Firstly, bear in mind that classes on Earth are not based on creed or wealth or race. Racism of any form will get you banged up faster than you can say “Vulcans go home!”. The class structure is based on meritocratic ability. Really smart people end up as Federation scientists, or diplomats, or Starfleet officers. Indeed, pretty much every Starfleet officer is an accomplished scientist in their own right. The intellectual cream of Earth rises to the top, and effectively runs human society (and the United Federation of Planets. The human domination of the UFP is a source of muttering in member states off world, although most planets marvel at the human capacity for diplomacy). One former Klingon Ambassador to Earth referred to Starfleet Academy as a “studfarm where Earth’s high achieving cream meet, procreate, and their high achieving genes create the next self-replicating generation of high achievers.” It’s no surprise that the number of Starfleet recruits whose parents were also officers in rising every year.

As for the other 97% of humans, they just get on with their daily lives. Some work, some spend a lifetime studying, some just watch holodeck dramas all day, or just enjoy the view.

Just another day in paradise.

 
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The Diary of Arthur Henchy TD Part 5

Posted by Jason O on Feb 24, 2014 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious., The Diary of Arthur Henchy TD

With the locals hurtling towards us, the tension between the candidates is becoming palpable. Two candidates in the constituency got into a punch up recently, accusing each other of plagiarism. One was running as “A Fresh New Voice for the Local Area”, and got his nose out of joint with the other fella who was running as “The Local Area’s New Fresh Voice.” Apparently the fracas was only broken up when a member of the public, watching the spectacle, asked them a question about how they’d specifically cut the Local Property Tax. The two of them immediately hared it down the street, one of them shouting to her that “that’s a very interesting question” just as he turned the corner and ran away.

*****

Sitting in the parliamentary party meeting last week I wondered was I the only person alarmed at the fact the Leo Varadkar’s ringtone is the theme from “Dexter”?

*****

GSOC shenanigans continue, and as usual, nobody wants to admit what we’re all thinking. We’re all afraid of the Guards, and don’t want to poke at this too closely. What’s the big message coming from this affair? Don’t be a Garda whistleblower, because there’s a a fair to middlin’ chance you’ll end up being painted as the baddie of the piece. The reality is that the culture within the force needs to be shook up, and the only way to do that, as it is with everything in Ireland, is to bring in someone from outside the country, that is, someone who isn’t someone’s cousin or brother in law. In short, we need a Finnish or Canadian Commissioner. But that takes guts. Does J Edgar Shatter have the stones? We’ll see.

*****

Watching the European Elections candidates emerging. God forbid a European issue should rear its ugly head. I bumped into a candidate recently, and asked him about Ukraine. He looked at me painfully for a second, then relaxed. “Oh, I know this one. That’s a country, isn’t it? Is that the one at war with Kiev?”.

As usual, the Most Sophisticated Electorate In The World approaches the issue as to who we send to Brussels with their usual Wizard of Oz mindset, that is, it doesn’t really matter who we send as some clever bucko is behind a curtain somewhere making all the real decisions anyway. And so, we’ll send our usual Liquorice Allsorts selection: one or two who actually know something about the EU, one or two who are basically Super TDs and are going out to speak on behalf of either fish or cattle, one certified nut case, one who will run on issues that have nothing to do with the EU at all, one who will promise to send for all his constituents once he’s settled in, and at least one who we’re giving a job to out of pure sympathy. Grand little country.

Arthur Henchy TD was first elected for Kildare East in 1981. A solid Garret man, he’s been known to read the odd draft bill before voting on it. 

 
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Maybe we should record candidates on the doorstep?

Posted by Jason O on Feb 19, 2014 in Irish Politics

I’m always interested in the effect new technology has on the political system. What’s particularly interesting is the fact that much of this technology, especially social media, has increased the potential of politics to be so much more personal. It’s so much easier, for example, to connect on a one to one basis with politicians.

Yet Irish candidates are still conservative creatures, who put door-to-door canvassing at the top of the campaigning pyramid, the Golden Calf of electioneering. Most still believe, almost certainly correctly, that canvassing is the most effective way of securing first preference votes.

Perhaps voters need to take advantage of that? Imagine if you asked a candidate a specific question, and filmed his/her response on your phone? Wouldn’t that be a fine way to hold them to account?

Of course, they would have a right to refuse to be filmed, and that must be respected.

But a candidate who refuses to go on the record with his/her pledges? Well, as a voter, you can come to your own conclusions about their integrity.

As to the questions? I can think of two which would be great fun to ask on the record:

1. Are you going to run for the Dail?

2. Will you vote to cut local spending to fund a property tax cut, as you will have the power to do? If yes, what local service will you vote to cut?

Just a thought.

 
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The Diary of Arthur Henchy TD Part 4

Posted by Jason O on Feb 18, 2014 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious., The Diary of Arthur Henchy TD

Not sure about this GSOC thing at all. As usual, of course, the kernel of the issue, the possibility that the state’s premier security agency has been spying on its own watchdog has been lost in the usual Irish hoohah of pointing fingers. As for the attitude of J. Edgar Shatter, you have to wonder is it really that wise that both the Gardaí and Army intelligence report into the same fella? I’m not sure it is. Even the Brits keep MI5, MI6 and Scotland Yard all separate. Why is it that every justice minister seems to become the Garda Commissioner’s man in cabinet?

*****

The Gimp reaches a new low this week, marching in a demo in the parish against cutbacks. He actually starts bawling his eyes out on the stage as he talks about the suffering of those at the frontline. He then hotfoots it up to the Seanad to vote in favour of the cuts, then back down to the constituency to attend another march. He once (very publicly) offered a dying man his kidney, having first sought a medical opinion on the sly as to how quickly the man would die first.

If he was any more of a sociopath he’d be on an episode of “Criminal Minds”.

*****

Was watching Boyd Barrett from the People’s Front of Killiney giving out yards about inequality in the chamber. Apparently we can pay for everything by magic oil and gas which will be brought ashore not by evil oil company drills (and certainly not in Dublin Bay. The horror!) but environmentally conscious fairies carrying it in gossamer (reusable, of course) thimbles. Only in Ireland do we get angry when we discover oil. Of course, if the Brits figure out a way of tunnelling from Wales and sucking oil or gas up to a facility there we’ll go ballistic.

*****

Young Patrick has put me on this Twitter thing. Don’t really understand it as it seems like a form of airborne graffiti, but must move with the times. Not surprisingly, there did not seem to be a huge market for my musings on the affairs of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the future of the basket weaving industry. Then young Murphy from Dublin South East sidles up to me in the restaurant and nudges me, congratulating me on “embracing” the technology, and points out that my “followers” (sounds like a cult.) are shooting up. I have no idea what he’s talking about, so he shows me on his phone. Young Patrick has been posting pictures of me at meetings, speaking at committee, things in the constituency. Nothing special about that, save that nearly every one has Irka in the background, draped like she’s launching the new Porsche.

*****

Interesting remarks from Red Joan about making pensions compulsory. She’s right, of course, if being dangerously courageous. People say they can’t afford it, yet expect other people to afford the taxes to fund their pension when they reach retirement. Maybe we should mix the National Lottery and PRSI, as people don’t get seem to mind doing the lotto. Could throw in different pensions as prizes, maybe even the odd hip replacement, though I suspect An Post will give out blue murder about shipping titanium joints around the place. Of course, there are many that say the pensions in here are like Lottery prizes. They’re right. We have a ludicrous scenario where individual taxpayers who can’t afford private pensions are paying taxes to ensure that higher paid ministers and Oireachtas members get free and lucrative pensions. It’s actually obscene. I mentioned it once at a parliamentary party meeting and it was like declaring yourself a character witness for Jimmy Saville. So I wrote to the Department of Finance and told them that I’d only be taking a half pension, which is more than enough when I leave this place. Within a day some official (with a face like a downtrodden Easter Island statue) was around demanding that I withdraw the offer, or there would be “consequences”. “Like what? Take my pension off me?” I asked. He scowled, looking desperately through his notes for an answer. Apparently no one ever asks Finance what “consequences” means. He scuttled off, and I’ve heard nothing since. They’ll probably firebomb the house.

*****

The Gimp has taken to carrying a jar around the place filled with a discoloured liquid and a plastic model of a foetus in it. He keeps leaving it down, and now Irka and Young Patrick have a competition as to who can sneak things into the jar like pickled eggs and the like. Of course, it all kicked off when one of them replaced the model with a plastic dinosaur, which started bobbing around the jar and upset the anti-evolutionists, who thought it was a slight. The Gimp ends up announcing to the Seanad that not only was he opposed to Darwin, but he didn’t even enjoy “Jurassic Park”.

Arthur Henchy TD was first elected for Kildare East in 1981. He can equally enjoy a day at the races or a nice mug of tea, a chocolate digestive, and The Economist. He regards himself as a Garret man. 

 
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Do we need a new approach to Irish politics on TV?

Posted by Jason O on Feb 16, 2014 in Irish Politics

Reading of the new format for TV3′s “The People’s Debate” I have to admit that it is not a show I’ll be in a hurry to watch. Of course, it would be grossly unfair to pass judgement on a TV show I haven’t even seen, but I’m not hopeful. The problem is that the format seems to be yet another replication of the “all heat no light” format that permeates TV coverage of Irish politics. You know the form: open with a vague question. “Do the Irish people deserve a world class health service?” Cut to various heart rendering individual stories where the system didn’t work well, and then spend the rest of the debate tearing a stuttering junior minister apart for wilfully ordering the HSE to make Mary’s granny cry in the filth encrusted corridors of St. Verucca of the Gippy Knee.

Can we not try something new? Like what, asks you? Well, seeing as you asked..

1. When was the last time you saw a politician seriously put under pressure in an interview? I don’t mean the usual waffling to use up time, knowing it’s a short interview. Imagine, instead, we had a hour long panel format where a politician is questioned by, say, two pol corrs, and two experts in the field of whatever the live issue of the day is, or if it’s a minister, two experts in his or her field. I suggested such a format once to a political hack, and he said that no Irish politician would ever agree to go through such a vigorous process, but I’m not sure. I’ll tell you one thing: watching candidates for the European Parliament be grilled about European issues would be a public service.

2. Make the public accountable. I’m sick of watching TV shows where members of the public just whinge and demand easy solutions from politicians. Of course the public should contribute to political debate, but the public are as much a part of the political process as politicians, and should be held to account as individual voters. Given that politicians are always afraid to attack members of the public (One exception is Regina Doherty TD who gave as good as she got at a public meeting on Seanad abolition, and went up in my estimation as a result) why not have a Agent Provocateur panel in the studio, possibly of college debating types, whose job is to keep the audience honest, and challenge them on the usual “The government should give me everything I want, for free!” . After all, people are entitled to their opinions and the right to voice, but they also have an obligation to justify them. It would at least allow for debate on issues to develop beyond the usual “Politicians: are they all bastards, or are some of them just pricks?”

 
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Europe without the EU: beware of what piece you move on the board.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 12, 2014 in European Union

Mr Spock, the USS Enterprise’s science officer in “Star Trek”, used to play 3D chess, a game which always looked challenging because a move on one board could have unforeseen effects on another board. This popped into my head in recent days as I was taking in the general air of complaint and grievance about the European Union that seems to permeate the member states of late. In short, everybody seems to be bitching about something, and it’s all them fellas in Brussels fault.

Take the Swiss vote on restricting EU immigration into Switzerland. The Swiss people have every right to say, for example, that only 20,000 new EU citizens can live in their country every year. Fine. It’s their country. But what happens when the EU, which has to stand up for its citizens, says “OK. Well, we’ll apply the same rule too. Only 20,000 Swiss can move to the EU every year.”

Suddenly, the Swiss are outraged, complaining that the EU can easily take more than 20,000 Swiss students and businesspeople and retired people every year, but that’s not the point. The Swiss moved their piece on the board. They can’t be shocked that it effects other pieces, and whilst they can decide what to do in Switzerland, they can ignore the EU moving its (much bigger) pieces at their peril. Remember: you can only move your own pieces.

But let’s go further: Eurosceptics like Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders have welcomed the Swiss decision, perhaps believing that their own respective countries should attempt the same move. But again, there’s the issue. The British and the Dutch have a sovereign right to move their pieces, but so do the Poles and the Germans and the French. Supposing a future British government does present a watering down of free movement at a future summit. And supposing, say, the French grudgingly agree. Delight in the British camp. Then the French president clears his throat: “As we are looking at core competences here, France would like to discuss the possibility of tariffs to protect key strategic industries…” Cue shock in the British and Dutch delegations. “Absolutely not. Free movement is one thing, but free trade is sacrosanct…” The French president shrugs. “Perhaps to you, but as we are now discussing one core principle we can discuss another…” he says, as he moves his queen across the board.

This is the most curious aspect of modern European integration, the belief that the benefits of the European Union are now some sort of natural phenomenon which will remain and flower without the EU. But they are not. Marine Le Pen agrees with many in Britain on the need for immigration controls. But not on free trade. The Poles agree with Britain on free trade, but not on immigration.

What happens, then, if you remove the EU framework. What if the Berlaymont stands empty, the blue flags long gone?

It’s not the end of the world, as some of the more hysterical federalists will tell you. European countries will learn to get on. But the temptation of national governments in a post-EU Europe to give into the short-term orgasmic pleasure of populism and ignore the long-term costs will be almost unavoidable. With the euro gone, the temptation of Italy, Greece and Spain to devalue would be almost irresistible. Spain devaluing beside France would force France to either devalue itself, which would cause Germany problems, or introduce tariffs on Spanish and Italian goods to protect home producers, causing retaliation from Madrid and Rome. I’m old enough to remember French farmers attacking trucks carrying British and Irish lamb to the French market, so this isn’t fantasy stuff.

How would Britain or Spain or Poland be better off kicking each others citizens out in populist retaliation? How is that a better Europe than what we have now, where the single market would once again become a hotch-potch of currencies and vested interests demanding import levies on X or Y. Does anyone imagine that Irish consumers would be better served if ALDI or LIDL were sent packing, so we can “look after our own” or protect them from “unfair competition”, the argument that was used for decades to keep RTE, Eircom and Aer Lingus monopolies?  Would Irish passengers be better off if only Aer Lingus could operate in Ireland, or not be legally undercut? What about roaming charges? Could the Portuguese government force Vodafone to give its citizens cheaper calls when they’re in Poland? This isn’t fantasy. We have been here before.

And let’s not forget the giant big unspoken German elephant in the room. Should we fear Germany? Of course not. Germany is a democracy, solid as any. But for all those people who shriek about German domination of the EU, ask them what Germany does in an EU free Europe? The answer is, quite simply, nothing. It just sits there, and its sheer economic heft becomes the gravitational centre of Europe. Standards don’t get set in Brussels by Finns and Czechs and Croats and yes, Germans, in respectful committees. They get set in Berlin by Germans for 82 million Germans, and the rest of us just sign up if we want to sell them stuff. Eurosceptics think this is progress?

And don’t think Google or Microsoft or Facebook will want to set up in a country of 4.5 million people which is outside the tariff barriers of the larger countries. Ireland won’t have to worry about the morality of levying low taxes on companies that won’t be there.

Europe is a free continent, and European countries can move their pieces whatever way their people demand. But don’t think that other people can’t, or won’t move their pieces too. Europe only works if everybody pretty much has a say over how every piece moves.

 
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The Diary of Arthur Henchy TD Part 3

Posted by Jason O on Feb 10, 2014 in Fiction, Irish Politics, The Diary of Arthur Henchy TD

There are a lot of Poles moving into the constituency, and I’m having to thread carefully. Brogan, the editor of the County Bugle, is getting chummy with The Gimp, and has started running articles talking about floods of Poles, no jobs for the Irish, etc. I don’t like it one bit. Too no blacks, no dogs, no Irish for my liking.

It’s getting traction, all the same. Was buying tobacco for the pipe in Murphy’s and all I could hear was “Senator Mahaffy, this, Senator Mahaffy that.” Since Murphy got elected to the county council he’s been looking around for an issue, and I think this could be it. Doesn’t stop him taking money of Polish lads when they’re buying sandwiches in his deli for their lunch. Deli, that’s a laugh. Young Maurice asked for a bit of mustard on his ham sandwich, and Mahaffy reacted as if he’d asked for broiled lobster. Have to put my thinking cap on about this one. Went up to see Connie today. Miss her.

*****

Put Murphy in his box today. Young Maurice came running in with a new parcel from the Department of the Environment, and pointed out a salient detail to me. It took me a moment to twig it, but sure enough, I was back down to Murphy later that afternoon.

Says I to him:  “ I see you’re getting very excited about the Polish issue, Ernie.”

Says he to me:  “ I am, Arthur. Our culture is under threat. Did we fight the tans so that a bunch of Godless communists could overrun the land of the blessed virgin?” The last I’d heard, his grandfather hadn’t as much fought the tans as sold them porter and rasher sandwiches, but that wasn’t the issue. He was sounding like Mahaffy. It was worse than I thought, and so I sprung it on him.

“Ernie, you’re a brave man, a braver man than me. To be putting your principles ahead of your seat on the council, with all those Polish citizens eligible to vote in the next local elections……”

“What was that?” He asked, putting down the lump of ham he was cutting into translucently thin slices for pre-made sandwiches. I thrust the dagger in. “The local elections. All EU citizens can vote in them. All them Poles can vote. Sure, if it were me, I’d be trying to reach out to them, but I’m not the man you are, Ernie.” His brow furrowed, and I bade him a farewell, quietly confident that I won’t be hearing much more on that issue.

Still, the politics of campaigning in a multi-cultural Ireland. Will have to give that some thought. I wonder what the Polish is for “I knew your father well.” Must remember to ask Irka.

*****

You’re never too old to learn, I discovered today. Irka had been listening to young Maurice and myself discuss the problem of Brogan and the anti immigrant line he was taking in his paper. Later that evening, I took the two of them to a fundraiser for St. Mark’s in Hartigan’s pub. When I pointed out Brogan to her, standing in the corner drinking with the two knuckle draggers who put the paper out with him, she headed straight for him, high heels clicking on the timber floor like a Wehrmacht Colonel. When she reached him, she flicked her long blonde hair in that way that makes young Maurice shiver, and had the three scribblers with their jaws hanging open. “ You are Mr. Brogan of the newspaper?” she asked, in an English that was far more basic and uneasy than her normal pronunciation. He nodded, eyes wide. “Since I come from Poland, I read your newspaper. My English not good, I not understand everything, but I wish to thank you on part of my girlfriends and I, for making me,  I am sorry, us, so welcome in your country and in your newspaper.” She then gave him a hug that lingered slightly longer than necessary, and a kiss on the cheek that left him in a sweat.

The following issue of the paper carried an editorial attacking those who would stir up racial tension in the county, and praising the hard working New Irish. It even invited Polish newcomers, especially the women, to submit news items to the newspaper. And I thought I was the only political professional in the office?

 
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7 Irish political reforms that would not need a referendum.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 7, 2014 in Irish Politics

Despite the protests of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour, the reality is that the political system could be reformed quite radically without having to go through a cranky referendum process. Here’s a number of changes that could make a difference and don’t need a referendum.

1. Implement the Zappone-Quinn bill, which would radically transform the Seanad. Indeed, it’s possible that such a reformed Seanad would eclipse the Dail in terms of national debate.

2. Appoint non-TDs as ministers of state. This is perfectly constitutional, can be done by law, as is only stopped by TDs who feel entitled to the extra cash.

3. Create 10 seat Dail constituencies. It’s a fact that large constituencies in any country allow for wider diversity. Again, the maximum size of Dail constituencies is decided by law, not the constitution. The Dail could create a 158 seat constituency if it wanted.

4. Let politicians’ salaries, expenses, pensions and severance packages be decided openly by an Oireachtas committee made up purely of opposition TDs and senators. Give them a chance to show what they do with a little power before we give them the big stuff.

5. Let the public initiate legislation and referendums by petition, with the Dail legislating to respect the result.

6. Hold multi-choice preferendums rather than single Yes/No referendums. Again, nothing in the constitution says you can’t. Why could we not vote for Seanad retention, abolition, or reform on the ballot?

7. Let voters choose which constituency they’d like to register in, with the option to vote by post. Every voter will still only have one vote, and there’s a better chance they can vote for a candidate they actually like. So what if a Tipperary voter living in Terenure wants to vote for Michael Lowry? Let him. It’s his vote.

Of course, all of these require political will, so don’t hold your breath.

 
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Fianna Fail and the Adventure of the One Member One Vote.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 5, 2014 in Irish Politics

I’ve been paying attention recently to Fianna Fail’s decision to use One Member One Vote (OMOV) to select candidates, as opposed to the old cumann delegate system where a small number of people decided the candidate. The system got its most vigorous run out recently in the contest to select Fianna Fail’s candidate for the Dublin European Parliament constituency between GLEN activist Tiernan Brady, former two term senator Geraldine Feeney, and Dublin City Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick.

A lot of FF people have spoken to me about the experience. Working from an electoral register of approximately 1400 voters (there are suggestions that there was more than one version of the register doing the rounds) the result ended up as Fitzpatrick 362 votes, Brady 208, and Feeney 140, with Fitzpatrick winning by six votes on the first count.

Did OMOV work? There are certainly complaints about busloads of voters being shipped in on the day, including one story told me of an elderly voter who obviously thought he was voting in the general election. But it is also recognised that the contest was much more vigorous than the old convention, the result much tighter, and also that the party members enjoyed the process. A number of local election candidates (and this is not unique to Fianna Fail) expressed irritation at the fact that they have to beg convention votes off people whom they will never expect to see again on the campaign trail.

Fianna Fail HQs got very mixed reviews on the process. One member suggested that the party leadership had not really given much thought when introducing OMOV and seemed to have panicked when it dawned on them that they could not control the convention, delaying releasing the register to candidates under spurious Data Protection reasons (as if party members would be shocked that their details would be used for canvassing their votes!). A constant theme mentioned to me by members across the board was the concept of “The Headquarters Candidate” amidst rumours of intense canvassing and leaflets being printed for a leadership favourite.

The campaign itself, especially candidates speaking at CDCs (constituency organisations) were apparently well received, although a number of members expressed surprise at the widespread desire of members to discuss the reform of the party. European issues were not prominent in the process, other than when raised by the candidates themselves, and even then they failed to take off.

If there was one thing that struck me it was that the party seemed very nervous about the process “getting out of control”, in terms of open debate and discussion. The city-wide hustings debate, for example, was very controlled with little opportunity for awkward questions from members, and a level of control from party officials which I found surprisingly tolerated by ordinary members, who seemed more likely to bitch about it in the bar afterwards than complain at the time.

The other observation, witnessed by me personally at the convention but also mentioned to me by others was the skewed age profile of the party members. College age members, and retired/elderly members were very prominent, with middle aged members quite noticeable by their absence.

On balance, I’m left with the impression, as an outsider, that the experience has been flawed but welcomed, with party HQs criticised for almost making it hard for the candidates to communicate with members. Why didn’t the party offer to send out a communication from each candidate with its notification of the convention, for example?

In short, OMOV is a transfer of power from the leadership to the members. It’s not perfect, but this is becoming the norm in most modern political parties, and Fianna Fail is no different. As ever, the battle between the desire for internal democracy and the fact that party memberships are increasingly divergent from party voters will continue to provide challenges to all parties.

 
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The Diary of Arthur Henchy TD Part 2

So, we’re sending young Hayes to Brussels. Can’t see the logic of it myself, to be honest. Both him and The Iron Lucinda were two of the better performers as ministers, and it’s not like the government is awash with talent. He’s a true believer, young Hayes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up taking a liking to the European Parliament. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t end up doing a Cox and leading the EPP if he stays. He’s got the talent for it. The by-election will be fun, especially if my old pal Charlie Tallaght O’Connor runs in Tallaght for the Tallaght Party on a Save Tallaght ticket. Still, you have to wonder about Mayo Man: first Lucinda, now Hayes, it makes you wonder does he regard stubbornness as the defining trait of his administration? Sure, it has its strengths: he delivered on abortion and the Seanad referendum promise, but listening isn’t a sign of weakness. Look at Martin: he had a free vote and the voters didn’t give a toss.

If there’s one more service I can do for my country before the Good Lord calls me home , it’ll be to keep that bastard Mahaffy out of Dail Eireann. I barely scraped into the last seat, beating him by 178 votes on the 14th count, and he immediately challenged it, of course. Tried to get a batch of my votes eliminated on the grounds that “the writing looked foreign.” A week from polling, he was going around with Miss Hallorhan and the other simpletons from the John Charles McQuaid Sub Committee for the Saving of Souls, telling people I was in favour of compulsory abortion. Have to say, in his case, I would have been.

Young Maurice is a bit of a whiz with the computers. He’s got the office humming along, tallies, queries, everything and all in the computer. He’s a bright kid, and his mother has always been good to me and Connie. Of course, I suspect he stays to be around the ever fragrant Irka, the White Rose of Warsaw. Had to laugh when she arrived at the count center, in a skirt that could have passed as a thick belt. Mahaffy’s lot nearly dropped their rosaries. But between the two of them I couldn’t ask for a better office team.

*****

In the clinic this morning, the widow Tyrell from Fisherstown, the one with the funny eye, not with the leg, called in to see me with a problem with her rabbit. Apparently the poor thing wasn’t the best, or at least that was the jist of what I got until she pulled an enormous plastic device from a Dunnes bag, and complained that she couldn’t get it to work. Maurice and I nearly fell off the seat, and were unsure what to do, when Irka walked in with the tea and Kimberleys, saw it, and got into a conversation with the widow. She had the thing working in two minutes, and the widow left thrilled. “ Did ye see the size of that thing?” Maurice asked, when she’d gone. “Bet it just eats batteries. Or do you think it plugs into the mains?”

I kept my mouth shut. If it helps the widow get through the lonely winter nights, mores the better. God be the days when politicians were just expected to stimulate the economy.

Arthur Henchy TD was first elected for Kildare East in 1981. He’s been known to enjoy the odd book, and regards himself as a Garret man. His diary is published here every week.

Copyright © 2017 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.