Posted by Jason O on Mar 31, 2014 in Irish Politics
The decision by Phil Hogan to put a bizarre obstacle in front of a referendum for Dublin Mayor shows us that Fine Gael and Labour are no longer the second-class masters of the political side-step. It’s a savvy move, which will allow Hogan to pretend to be in favour of reform having made sure to stall it. This type of carry-on is becoming very much the motif of the two coalition parties: big talk on reform of politics, the Seanad, local government, followed by inaction or, in this case, actual sabotage. Tonight there are good people in both parties looking at the creature they helped elect, and like the farm animals in Orwell’s novel, looking in the window of the house and not sure what they can see anymore.
Hogan will say that it was the democratic decision of a local authority. He may even oil the hypocrisy with a little brass neck lubricant, and claim that he personally would have voted in favour of a referendum. But the reality is the reality: like Seanad reform, he made sure that the actual decision was denied ordinary voters, who may well have voted against the position but at least would have been offered a chance to vote on it.
Some years ago, I would have been livid at this decision. Today, I’m not that bothered because I never really thought it would happen, the same way I never thought a No vote in the Seanad referendum would lead to radical reform.
I mean, how can you not feel cynical after reading this, from 2010:
“FG to oppose Gormley’s half-baked Dublin Lord Mayor plan: Undeveloped mayoral plan a smokescreen to hide complete absence of local govt reform.
Dublin needs a directly-elected Mayor but the role must have clearly defined, ‘real’ responsibilities and be part of an overall reform of Local Government, Fine Gael Environment & Local Government Spokesman Phil Hogan said today.
Deputy Hogan made his comments as he announced that Fine Gael will oppose John Gormley’s ill-thought out, half-baked plan to hold a mayoral election in the New Year.
“Minister Gormley’s plan is just providing another layer of local government bureaucracy and perceived authority at a time when the country can ill afford it. We have enough organisations and quangos established over the years by Fianna Fail which need to abolished rather than establishing another super-bureaucratic political layer as a vanity project for Minister Gormley.
“I want Dublin to have a Lord Mayor with real responsibilities, a real agenda and a real budget. Instead of giving Dublin this, John Gormley has put forward proposals for a Dublin Lord Mayor that are little more than half-baked and will fail miserably as:
The Mayor will have no clearly defined responsibilities and questions about which decisions lie with the Mayor, which lie with the Council and which lie with the Central Government are still up in the air;
Holding the election in 2010, out of line with the regular local and European elections, makes absolutely no sense. The election for the Mayor should coincide with local elections, to do otherwise is farcical and will, at the very least, only depress turnout;
The Minister still has not outlined any reform of Local Government. His determination to plough on with his ill-thought out plan for a Dublin Mayor must be viewed as a smokescreen to hide his complete absence of action in this area.
“Meanwhile the people of Dublin still suffer from a lack of services from Local Government. In contrast to John Gormley’s spin, Fine Gael set out a comprehensive reform package for Local Government in our document, ‘Power to the People’, that included plans for a directly-elected Dublin Mayor with real powers from 2014. Between now and then, it needs to be planned out which powers reside with the Mayor, which with the Council and which with the Dáil.
“Fine Gael will oppose Minister Gormley’s ridiculous attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes and demand that Dublin gets what it needs – a mayor with real power and responsibility.”
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Posted by Jason O on Mar 30, 2014 in Jason's Diary
, Not quite serious.
There’s a small but committed group of people who when they hear the name “Benedict Cumberbatch” don’t automatically think of “Sherlock Holmes” but instead think of “Captain Martin Crieff”.
Cumberbatch plays Crieff in the BBC radio comedy “Cabin Pressure”, which tells the misadventures of MJN Airlines, a single plane charter airline struggling to keep going. MJN is owned by Carolyn Knapp-Shappey, played by the excellent Stephanie Cole (who starred in the underrated 1990s sitcom Waiting for God as the sharp tongued retirement home resident Diana), assisted by her over-enthusiastic son Arthur (John Finnemore, who also created and wrote the show). Cumberbatch plays Crieff, who is chief pilot merely because he agrees to work without pay, such is his love of flying. Finally, there’s the excellent Roger Allam (Peter Mannion in The Thick of It) who pretty much steals the show as the dry-witted fixer co-pilot Douglas Richardson.
The humour is gentle but genuinely funny, and proof once again that good comedy doesn’t always have to be edgy, sarcastic or vicious. The final episode has actually been recorded, and will be broadcast in December, and the entire series is available on Audible.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 28, 2014 in Irish Politics
Repost from 2011:
Was very annoyed recently to hear a woman I know recounting her boyfriend’s glee at being rude to canvassers. He wasn’t against any particular party or candidate, just thought he had a right to abuse them. I always find this odd. Having canvassed thousands of doors (a sad, misspent youth) in a variety of elections and referendums I can tell you that being rude to canvassers is not only very much a minority activity, but it actually makes the voter look like far more of a tosser than the canvasser. The canvasser is a volunteer (I’ve never encountered a paid canvasser, although have heard rumours) who is giving up their evening for a higher purpose. They rarely get any direct benefit from the election of their candidate, and being rude to a socially unacceptable level to a complete stranger on your door (Who knows your name, by the way, thanks to the register, and lives in your area, and probably knows people who do know you) actually does you little favour. Canvassers talk about you, and tell other canvassers, sometimes in other parties, and your name can rapidly become shit. You wouldn’t behave like that in any other part of your life, so think about it.
That’s not to say that you can’t disagree with canvassers. By their nature, as political people, or friends of the candidate, they tend to be up for a bit of a debate, and it may surprise non-political people, but I have never encountered a canvasser who came away with a bad opinion of a voter because the voter did not agree with them, provided they were civil. I met people who were very articulate in their reasons for not voting for me, and I surprised even myself with how I felt emotionally about that. I felt alright, because it was obvious that they’d read my stuff and put some thought into it.
Of course, I did tell one voter to “f**k off”.., which may explain why I wasn’t elected. Also, laughing in the face of a voter who threatens to “report you to Mary Harney” isn’t a good idea.
Although very satisfying, funnily enough.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 27, 2014 in Irish Politics
1. At some point, a decision had to be made to install these recording tapes. Where are the minutes of the meeting, or who authorised the tender to buy the equipment? Did any of the previous ministers know about it? Will we ever find an actual name?
2. How will a Garda Authority have a better ability to break the Garda culture than GSOC or the Garda Inspectorate? Will it have the ability to appoint/dismiss senior Garda officers, including the Commissioner?
3. Are the Labour Party really so dim as to put protecting one of their appointees ahead of a genuine public outrage?
4. What are the arguments against appointing a Garda Commissioner from outside Ireland, other than the Guards won’t like it? The key argument for is a Commissioner who has not been house trained by internal Garda culture.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 27, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Note: this was originally written in 2010 about a different scandal. I recycle as appropriate. Curiously, I rarely have to rewrite or change it.
Given the moral failings of the Irish as a race, it is hardly surprising that there is a clear and tested timeline to every scandal which besets Irish society, whether it is moral, political, social or financial. The timeline is as such:
1. Issue emerges. Country particularly mortified at how the British media cover it.
2. Public gasps at details. Sunday papers revel in particularly gory details. Fintan O’Toole writes a pithy piece which explains the cogent details very succinctly, and then drizzles it in extra-virgin head shaking like a nice salad.
3. Opposition call for unspecified action (“Something must be done! We need action!”) or specific action outside the power of the government. (“Bishops must resign! The effect on water of gravity must be reversed! Board members must be frozen in carbonite like Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back!”)
4. Government shakes heads, and promises that said event (Clerical child abuse/flooding/banking corruption/Semi state squandering/asteroid crashing into the Earth) must never be permitted to happen again, and calls for commission to investigate report of commission which investigated incident. The Public Accounts Committee dances the traditional “Outraged! Outraged we are!” dance.
5. Media, political establishment, voters, realising that they actually play golf/went to school/are second cousin of individuals named in report, start calling for “due process” to be observed, and instead focus on details of events as if they were some abstract natural disaster.
6. The lawyers get involved. People’s right to “their good name”, passing of time, death of witnesses, gums up process of pursuit of actual criminals, drags investigations, trials, etc, in and out of high court for years.
7. Government takes money off people who did not commit these crimes (Taxes), and gives it to victims. The perpetrators contribution is eaten up in legal fees.
8. Some public officials take early retirement, on full pension. Which is pretty much the equivalent of a modest win in the National Lottery. Nobody goes to jail, except maybe a journalist who reveals how this thing is panning out, and is done for contempt of court.
9. In general election, Irish people vote for same people who allowed scandal to occur, on basis that although he/she failed to act to prevent sexual assault of children/building houses underwater, etc, he/she was always “very good for the area.” Irish people elect the crowd who used to do this sort of stuff before the current crowd got in by complaining that the last crowd who used to do this stuff did this stuff. They immediately start doing the stuff they complained the last crowd were always doing.
10. In 10 years, another commission reports on poor handling of this scandal. Reset to step 1.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 23, 2014 in British Politics
, European Union
The UK Tories quit the European People’s Party, and their allies in Irish Fine Gael, the German CDU, French UMP and most of the EU’s centre-right parties because they alleged they didn’t share their values.
Instead, they joined an alliance with the Polish “the gays are coming!” Law and Justice Party, and the Turkish “Twitter must be banned because it keeps revealing corruption in Turkey” AK party of Prime Minister Erdogan.
Seriously, Dave? You find Angela Merkel and Enda Kenny more objectionable than Erdogan? Really?
They started appearing through letterboxes about a year ago, and the clever ones boast all the tricks of the trade. Firstly, those from the three main parties will hardly mention politics at all. They’ll be from “Local area representatives”, which is basically a makey up title parties now use for people who haven’t been selected yet. But regardless of the party, keep an eye out for the common features:
1. You can play bingo with them. Look out for “Community”, “Working with”, “Local services”, “Committed to”, “Passionate about”, “Delivering solutions”, “Delighted”, “Resource”, “A strong voice”, “A fresh voice”, “A new voice for…”. They will also tell you how opposed they are to things they have no control over, but will avoid committing to anything over which they have any power.
2. The leaflet will have a slight air of “what the f**k can I put on this leaflet to fill space without offending absolutely anybody about anything?”. Truth is, if they could just post a giant picture of themselves through your letter box without coming across as an awful prick, they would.
3. They’ll talk an awful lot about spending other people’s money, whilst assuring you that it isn’t your money they’re spending.
4. The size of the party logo will depend on how long they’ve been in power. Some Labour people seem to have run out of red ink. When FF were in power, their logo resembled a high speed daddy long legs impact.
5. The date on the leaflet will be vague, or non-existent, to allow the candidates to use if for months. Yet it’ll be written in a style to give an impression that it’s put out regularly, with phrases like Community Noticeboard or Keeping You Informed or Update on it.
6. It’ll have details on something bizarre that you have never considered, which will make the candidate sound like he/she has got some form of political OCD: “I’m very excited at the news that Fecker Road is to get a new solar powered stop sign. I’ve had to loosen my trousers since I heard the news.”
7. Don’t forget the standard candidate pic: smart casual in front of a local landmark, to remind you that he’s actually been in a place you might recognise. Folded arms are meant to convey business, as if to say “See that sky? I made that.” A pose in front of something bad, like potholes or graffiti will be accompanied by a grimace or frown, to show he’s unhappy, and does not approve of bad things. If he really cared he’d fling his own body into the pothole so that people could step on his back as they pass. If he really cared.
8. He’ll namecheck local areas in a way that makes him sound like Rain Man: “I think what the people of Blackrock, Stillorgan, Deansgrange, Foxrock and Lower Earth Orbit are really concerned about is…”. He’ll do the same in his Ard Fheis speech, claiming ownership of his potential people like King Joffrey.
9. Just once, you’d love to see the phrase “I’m running for the council because I quite fancy being a TD, and this is the first hoop I have to jump through. If I’m lucky, I’ll be out of the council faster than Jimmy Saville at a Daily Mail readers convention.”
10. Candidates will very rarely mention other candidates’ records. Unlike in the US, where your record in office is examined, in Ireland we actually have people running against crooks condemned by tribunals who will refuse to mention it. Primarily because there’s an unwritten gentleman’s agreement amongst the parties to play nice. Sure we’re all trying to just get elected, aren’t we?
11. See on the leaflet the other party candidates? “The Local Team”? Normally at the bottom of the leaflet in smaller writing than anything else? That’s who they’re actually running against.
By the way, if you happen to come across one that actually tells you what the candidate will do with the Local Property Tax powers THEY ACTUALLY HAVE, frame it! Councillors have the power to reduce the LPT rate, but keep it quiet because it involves making spending choices. Most candidates prefer banging will on about stuff they can’t control, like abolishing the LPT. Stuff they have as much control over as your cat/dog/SkyPlus remote.
Hmmm. How to work SkyPlus? Now there’s something useful for a leaflet.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 22, 2014 in Irish Politics
One of the things that always surprises me when I talk with Fianna Failers is that I tend to be much more upbeat about the party’s election prospects than they are. I have no doubt that Fianna Fail will at least double its seats at the next election, and possibly more. It won’t return, in the next 20 years anyway, to its dominant position as the single major party in the country. This is because, in my opinion anyway, FF now has its own Blueshirt albatross to hang around its neck. Whereas Fine Gael dabbled with fascism, and still has to carry a burden for it, Fianna Fail is the party that couldn’t hack it, and had to ask foreigners to take over and run the country for it. That is a legacy FF will not shake in my lifetime. There are people, including former Fianna Fail voters, who will never forgive FF for that.
Having said that, Fianna Fail can reasonably expect in the next 10 years to lead a government again. One action which would bring that day closer would be for the party to resist the temptation of turning to the Standard Operating Procedure of Irish oppositions and just throwing absolutely every promise at the voters in the hope something will stick. In particular, FF should resist the temptation to scramble to the moral high ground for pure electoral reasons.
I say this because sometimes FFers can’t quite grasp that such an act looks very different outside the party compared to inside. Take, for example, criticising the government of appointing cronies to state boards. Fianna Failers think it’s really clever to call the government on this. What they don’t see is floating voters hearing Fianna Failers do this, triggering memories of FF doing the exact same in government, and just confirming the belief that Fianna Fail is two-faced. To put it a different way, imagine how FF members would react to a speech by Eamonn Gilmore attacking Fianna Fail for not keeping election promises. Imagine how outraged you’d be at the brass neck of it. Would it make you more likely to vote Labour? See that feeling? That’s how floating voters feel when FF tries to get all moralistic.
Fianna Fail has strengths. Its centrist, pragmatic values are the default setting of most Irish people. What FF needs now is to establish credibility, by not making fantastic promises or creating an air of unachievable expectation. Fianna Fail needs, for example, to be very careful that it doesn’t given in to the easy option of promising a 1977 style abolition of the Local Property Tax, or leaves voters with an uncosted belief that they will magically pay less tax under FF.
Secondly, there will be a huge temptation in FF to u-turn on political reform, on the basis that the party might actually be in power and therefore expected to actually change things. Funnily enough, I happen, perhaps naively, to believe that Michael Martin is serious about the need for real political reform. What I have serious doubts about, having seen what happened to Noel Dempsey, is his ability, and perhaps even willingness, to drive them through. Martin should hang tough on this, because political reform is not just some sort of academic hobby. It’s the key, particularly through local government reform, to breaking many of the logjams in Irish society, and connecting voters to the reality of political choices.
Finally, there’s Martin himself, who I find constantly to be much more popular outside the party than in it. Despite his link to the last administration, he still is the most credible person to lead FF. However, if he lets the 2016 line up compromise a load of former FF TDs and ministers, all freshly back from a vastly taxpayer well-funded sabbatical to have another go, that’ll change very quickly.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 20, 2014 in Irish Politics
One of the features of blogging about Irish politics is that so little changes (No, replacing a load of FF TDs with FG TDs is not change) that you find that when you go to write about something, you have probably written about it before. So, here’s a post from 2011 which I think is still relevent.
1. As a people, the Irish are far more comfortable with a substantial minority living in poverty than they will admit to outside of the privacy of the polling booth.
2. Our political establishment, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail, have an unspoken understanding not to radically change the political system nor the benefits which accrue to its members. Don’t believe me? Consider the keeping open of teachers jobs when they are elected to the Dail, or even the concept of well paid politicians having state pensions at all.
3. The real political divide in Ireland is between parties that will only change the barest minimum (FG/Lab/FF) and those who claim to believe in modest short-term wealth redistribution (SF/ULA) but refuse to think beyond that.
4. There is no party in Ireland willing to advocate the high tax/high spend model most likely to deliver the level of social services we claim to aspire to, primarily because a substantial number of the Irish electorate believe in “Pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow” economics.
5. Local TDs know that a “Get our area everything, and f**k everybody else” attitude is responsible for the great proportion of their votes. Would a county vote to keep a local hospital open, even if it knew that the decision would almost certainly lead to people dying in the next county? You tell me.
6. Accountability and “checks and balances” are an alien concept to the Irish psyche. The greatest compliment an Irish politician can get is that he “gets things done”. The worst is that she sticks to the rules, and treats everyone the same, without fear or favour. Guess which one gets reelected?
7. Self regulation in Ireland means allowing a profession to put its members interests ahead of everything else.
8. Most Irish people believe that they have a right to receive more from the government than they ever contributed in taxes.
9. Like the Wizard of Oz, there is a sub-conscious belief in Ireland that somewhere there is a responsible powerful individual who will make the correct sensible decisions, and so, even going to cabinet minister level, we can be short sighted and reckless, because he/she/it will sort it all out in the end. However, we get very upset when the curtain is pulled back to reveal who it actually is.
10. The Irish language lobby are like the Israeli lobby in the states. Many people don’t share their views, but are afraid of being called anti-Irish, and so we let them have a position of power and influence in our society out of all proportion to their numbers.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 19, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
The Strip, Leitrim.
Dateline June 2020. Leitrim. Counting is continuing in the county plebiscite to legalise prostitution and gambling in the county, following a turnout of 72% in the vote yesterday. Opinion polls have shown the result will be very close, but Mayor of Leitrim Billy Murtagh (Independent) has expressed confidence that the people of the county will endorse the proposals of his administration. The Mayor told reporters “When I was directly elected Mayor of this county by the people last year, I told them that Leitrim, like every county under the new devolution and local government laws, has an opportunity to make its own economic way, and it is my belief that this county can be the Las Vegas of Ireland. We’ll even take a more relaxed approach to drink driving, although I understand the Sligo Police Department will have checkpoints on the county border, as is their right. We will of course have proper regulation, but this is going to be the entertainment capital of this whole island, and remember, what happens in Leitrim stays in Leitrim!”
Opponents of the plan include both of Mayor Murtagh’s opponents in the mayoral election. Angela Hartigan, the Fine Gael candidate, has savaged the idea saying that “it will turn Leitrim into the gutter of Ireland”. She has proposed that Leitrim, because of its important place in the heritage of Ireland, should have its economic growth subsidised by other more prosperous counties. “Leitrim is entitled! It just is!”
Although Leitrim is the first county to exercise its powers under the new legislation, other counties and their mayors are looking on with interest. Mayor Tom Morray (Sinn Fein) of Louth has said that he is considering copying the Leitrim proposals. “It would be a shame not to use our position so close to Belfast for economic advantage. The north of Ireland is absolutely crawling with perverts willing to pay good money. Of course, we’d probably have to put in a few gay knocking shops as well, you know, for the DUP lads, but sure, a euro is a euro.”
Interestingly, not all counties intend to use their new devolution powers to liberalise. Some members of Roscommon County Council are discussing designating North Roscommon as a “family values area” with a ban on the sale of pornography, restrictions on drinking, off licences and nightclubs and a tough zero-tolerance approach to law and order to attract Leitrim residents with young families.
“Not everyone wants to live surrounded by hos and bitches jiving like it’s New Jack City,” Thomas Hartigan, a local farmer and undertaker, remarked.