Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

Inspireland Podcast.

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

I recently appeared on Dave Curran’s eclectic “Inspireland” podcast to talk about politics, writing, blogging et al. Was very enjoyable to do, and worth a listen here.


Should we abolish the European Parliament?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 5, 2014 in European Parliament Elections 2014, European Union

The sad thing is, the European Parliament behaves, in a lot of ways, exactly the way people would like their national parliaments to act. Many MEPs take their legislative duties seriously, carefully studying proposed regulations and directives. Furthermore, many MEPs show more independence from the party whip than national MPs. Finally, and this is a big one: unlike in many national parliaments, the executive is genuinely afraid of parliament.

Those are the good points. The bad, however…sadly there’s plenty. For every hardworking MEP, it feels like there’s some party hack sent off to Strasbourg. For every serious legislator, there seems to be one fiddling his or her expenses, and let’s be honest: the parliament has been its own worst enemy when it comes to expenses fiddles. After all, it took a courageous Irish lawyer, Ciaran Toland, to take the parliament to the European Court of Justice to reveal it’s own report into expenses abuse. One top of that, the parliament also gets abuse for something which isn’t its actual fault: the ridiculous moving of the parliament every month up and down the road between Brussels and Strasbourg: it would surely be cheaper just to send a single MEP to walk around the streets of that lovely French city handing out  a few million in €50 notes to its citizens.

But the situation is even worse than that. One could argue that parliament does a reasonable job as a parliament, but one thing is unarguable: as a house constructed to speak for the people of Europe, it has failed. Six out of ten European voters don’t bother voting for it, and those that do use it as an excuse to kick the crap out of their national governments. Most Europeans would struggle to pick their MEPs out of a line up. As for making the parliament elections a de facto election for the President of the Commission? It looks great on paper, it feels real in Brussels, but the truth is, most Europeans felt more of a connect with the bearded Austrian cross-dresser who won the Eurovision than Jean-Claude Juncker.

So what’s to be done? How do we make European democracy look more like what Europeans expect democracy to look like? It won’t be easy. In national elections there are winners and losers, something by its nature doesn’t happen in European elections, as we’re not voting in or out a government.

Let’s consider the ultimate option: should we abolish the parliament altogether? Certainly, it’s hard to imagine there’ll be huge crowds taking to Europe’s streets in protest, and secondly, the member state governments would hardly shed a tear. But is it really in Europe’s interest to just let the European Commission off on its own, watched over by a Council of Ministers preoccupied with domestic politics? I’m not sure that’s a better solution.

Pre-1979, the parliament was made up of national MPs. Could we return to that? It’s possible, but would that create a parliament that holds the Commission to account as it does now, or would it be populated by loyal national backbenchers given a little reward for being good boys and girls at home? Again, it’s hard to say it would be a better parliament. More likely a political doss house.

We could do something really radical, like replace parliament with a senate of say, three directly elected senators from each member state, and with a senate that votes with a double majority of states and population. The senators would at least be well known in their respective member states, but would such a senate be big enough to do the work?

Or we could be more creative: We could start by reducing the size of the current 750 members. Would any non-MEP seriously object to a parliament of 300-400 members, and the savings made?

Then we could consider how they’re elected. Some member states (Ireland, part of the UK, Belgium, Finland and Malta) let voters vote directly for individual candidates, but most don’t, and as a result most MEPs aren’t really known, never mind accountable. In Ireland, however, the ultra-personalised STV voting system requires candidates to put themselves forward. Would it be the worst thing if MEPs had to be elected in their own right? At least they could be held accountable for their expenses and attendance.

Finally, there’s an outside the box option to boost turnout and stop voters using the European Parliament as a dumping ground for mid-term weirdoes. Instead of holding a European election every five years, there’s always the option of letting each member state elect its MEPs on the same day it has its general election. This would instead create a parliament with a rolling, changing majority, not dissimilar to the German Bundesrat, and allow parliament to change as the national political landscapes changed. But it would also, most likely, result in voters voting for the parties that THEY themselves regard as sensible enough to elect to national office, as opposed to the mid-term tantrum brigade. It wouldn’t be a perfect solution by any stretch, but it would be hard, having been elected by the same voters on the same day as national parliaments, not to claim the same legitimacy, and that’s got to count for something.


John McGuirk: Why the “Sinn Fein will face Labour’s fate in government” analysis is wrong.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 3, 2014 in Irish Politics
John McGuirk

John McGuirk

There’s a lot of soul-searching and comforting of each other going on in what we’ll loosely call the political class at the moment. For Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the rise of Sinn Fein is either a transient revolt against the system, which will fade away when the time for the real voting comes, or a natural left wing cannibalisation of Labour, which will fade away once Sinn Fein get into Government and “make the hard choices”. For Labour, there is a dawning realisation that the game is up for the time being, but talk to them and you’ll hear it froth up bitterly in them, too – “The shinners” they say, “will face their own day like this too, once they actually have to do things”.

This attitude is fundamentally flawed, and it at once explains the rise of Sinn Fein, and why they’ll stick around.

For the political establishment, politics in this country is a cycle. In opposition, you rebuild – using any excuse to make yourself palatable. In Government, you “make the hard decisions”, and take the consequences. Its swings and roundabouts, with parties rising and falling on the basis of the political cycle alone – and the voters see it, and increasingly, see through it.

Sinn Fein are different – really different. They can and will take that as a compliment, but the rest of us should take it as a warning. What sets them apart from the other parties is something that’s really quite simple – they have a three step approach to growth. First, they make a promise to you. Second, they work as hard as they can to keep that promise, and even if they don’t succeed, it’s plain to see that they’ve really made the effort. Third, they come back and ask for an increased mandate, and usually get it.

Sinn Fein have a mission, and it is to grow – not rapidly and subject to the tidal forces other parties face, but incrementally. They do this by winning over one voter on the ground, and then another, and then another. It has made them largely immune to the forces that would destroy other parties (Consider, if you will, what would happen to Enda Kenny if it was reported by credible media that he assisted a family member to cover up child sex abuse) and supremely confident in their own numbers and support.

Last week, I asked a Sinn Fein candidate how he thought he would do. He not only predicted to within 50 votes his own final tally, but that of his two running mates. This is a party that knows who votes for them, down to the last person. It knows this, because it works tirelessly to keep those voters loyal.

And that is what it will do in Government. I hear my moderate, liberal, conservative and nonaligned friends from all parties comfort themselves with the idea that Sinn Fein’s programme cannot be implemented, and that they will be left with no choice but to renege on it. That’s a horrible mistake to make.

If in Government, Sinn Fein will keep its promises. It will tax you as hard as it says it will, and more if it needs to. It will borrow as much as it says it will, and more if it needs to. It will increase spending exactly as it promises to, and more as it needs to. It will do every last thing it needs to do to deliver for the people who voted for it – and if that means impoverishing everybody else, that will be of no consequence, for they will keep the votes of those that brought them to power.

Sinn Fein are a party in the mould of Hugo Chavez – again, something they will take as a compliment, but that should terrify the rest of us. They will serve those who elected them, whatever the cost, and let others worry about who it impacts upon. Don’t believe me? Just listen to them, and watch them, and look at their record. Look at who they compare themselves to, and who they invite to their conference.

The author of this blog is right about many things, but when I mooted this, his response was that they would need to convince FF or FG in Government to go along with them. He may be right – but Sinn Fein differ from Labour or the Greens in that it won’t cost them to walk right out of Government if they don’t get their way. They’re an election fighting machine, and they’ll fight as many as needed until they do get their way.

Besides, there were those who thought their ilk could be civilised before, in other countries, who might tell us different.

The point of this post is not to dramatise, or analyse, but to warn. Sinn Fein are not like the others – they’d agree. They can be trusted to do what they say they will – they’d agree. For FF or FG or Labour to ignore this, or to wish it away, is to fully embrace their own very cynicism about how politics operates that has given Sinn Fein the chance to make it this far.

The time is running out to stop these guys, and people need to wake up.

Copyright © 2020 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.