As the FG/Lab government heads into its last full year, a constant thought hangs around the dark cobwebs of my mind. I’ve written about it before, in an attempt to exorcise it, yet it remains. In my mind’s eye, I just can’t shake the image of Day of The Count 2016 (we really should have a formal name for it) where scores of young first-term Labour and Fine Gael TDs will look on stunned not only as they lose their seats to Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and others, but realise what it all actually means.
Many will have served originally as county councillors, frustrated at the lack of power, eager to get into the Dail and change the country. Now, five years later, they will be hated for making the decisions that saved the country, hounded out by many of the very people whose recklessness with public spending caused so many of the problems in the first place.
But even that’s not the worst bit: as they watch young Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail candidates take their seats off them, it’ll dawn on them that not only have they carried the burden of hate for making hard choices, but they have given FF and SF ALL THE POWER too. By not turning the Dail into a separate legislature with a chairperson answerable not to the government but the members, by not reforming the Seanad, by not creating proper elected mayors with tax raising powers, they have put themselves right back where they started, the exception being that the people who have just beaten them won’t be as hated as they were because they made all the hard decisions for them.
Wouldn’t you think they’d have the reforms in place if only to be able to use them if they found themselves outside government once again?
By failing to change the political system when they have the chance, by failing to stand up to the elderly Don’t-Change-Anything/Know-Your-Place-Boy people who lead their parties, the young FG and Lab TDs, all staring into political oblivion, have revealed themselves to be either the most nobly self-sacrificing group in Irish politics, laying down their political careers so that Enda and Joan can feel comfortable, or the most stupid group of people to ever collectively sit in Dail Eireann.
I’m one of those people who takes ages to finish a book because I’m reading a couple at a time, but I finished a few I enjoyed (and show my rather eclectic tastes).
Pat Leahy’s “Showtime”,about FF from the mid 1990s to the Cowen administration is a great read. I’d never read it before, and reading now, in the current context with the benefit of hindsight, it’s a shocking indictment of the short term amateurism of the 97-2007 FF/PD government. It’s a pacey read, and Leahy has that great ability to dig out those gems of personal elements (and laugh out loud moments) that pepper Irish politics. The detail would make one think that many a university will make a grab for “The Leahy Papers” when the time comes! Well worth a read.
Graham McCann’s “Bounder”,a biography of Terry-Thomas, on the other hand, is very much for the committed fan. Few people under 40 know who Terry-Thomas even was, but from a period starting in the 1950s right up to afternoon repeats of his movies in the 1980s, Terry-Thomas’ performance as an upper class cad and scoundrel was hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Both Basil Brush and Dick Dastardly (of Wacky Races fame, or as we know it, Catch The Pigeon) were based on him.
The book is a detailed record of his career as one of Britain’s first TV stars and through movies like “Those magnificent men in their flying machines”. Then there’s a sad and depressing fall into poverty caused by Parkinson’s Disease, eventually being rescued through trojan fundraising efforts by his cousin, fellow comedian Richard Briers. As I said, a good read but one for the fans.
What do you do when you have a political culture built almost entirely on not offending anybody and it comes up against a political question that can’t be fudged? The latest source of national angst on abortion, a brain dead woman being kept alive to support her foetus whilst judges decided whether the foetus was viable or not, defined the issue curiously clearly. On the one hand we had people (and possibly our constitution) who saw a foetus as an unborn legal entity with rights. On the other a group of people who see a woman’s body as inviolate, even if she is legally brain dead.
The reality is that there is no middle way with this issue. One side is always going to be pissed off, and we have to accept that. The best we can get is the country at least making a decision which we can all accept as the legitimate democratic will of most of the people who bother to vote.
Although it has never been done, it’s arguable that article 47 of the constitution permits the Dail to put a number of different options on the same ballot. There’s nothing to stop the Dail putting both the retention of the current pro-life article (effectively the status quo) and repeal of that article on the ballot, along with maybe three more options chosen by a free vote of the Dail, and then let the people decide.
There are problems with this approach, of course. It would be a very complicated referendum. Nor would our TDs fancy having to pick out which two or three other options should be on the ballot. It’s hard to have sympathy with them on that issue, by the way. Nobody forced them to run for the Dail.
But bear in mind that almost half the electorate, if turnout in the last referendum is indicative, don’t actually have that much of an interest in the subject one way or the other. The people who actually vote on the issue are the people who are most likely to read up on the different options anyway.
It’ll be nasty and divisive, but then, that’s what democracy is for. But most importantly, we’ll finally have a situation where pretty much every option will have been put before every citizen who cares, which will be a change, as we have never been asked do we want to make abortion available in this jurisdiction. Most importantly, we’ll get a decision, and that’s really the best we can hope for.
Folks: I’m hoping, in 2015, to start a podcast called “Right, Left & Centre”. The idea will be to have three guests and myself discussing a big political or social idea of Irish, European or international interest. Each guest will be asked to designate themselves as right, left or centre and I hope to have one of each on each panel.
The big questions will be something like “Is Ireland about to get its first left wing government?” or “Is it time to scrap the European Union?” or “Fianna Fail/Fine Gael: is it time?” or “Are the robots going to take all our jobs?”. I’m hoping to avoid the usual Irish “The Week In Politics” party political bunfight, and have no interest in having guests who can’t see beyond the party political, if only because it’s tediously boring.
We’ll be recording over a two hour period on weekday evening or on a weekend as scheduling permits. Assuming the thing works: the first thing could end up a disaster or in the high court.
So, if you’re interested, get in touch on Twitter or on the site here, and yet me know. And don’t forget to class yourself as right, left or centre. And please: there’s a tendency of every Irish person to call themselves centrist, so bear in mind that I only want one per show, unless we have a show where it’s unavoidable!
Most importantly: I want this to be fun and to prove the point that you can disagree with people politically but like them personally.
One more thing: if you’re interested in libelling people or espousing corruption theories about certain millionaires, feck off and do it on your own podcast. I haven’t got the pockets.
1. You, and everybody else, has a right to offend and be offended. Too much freedom of speech always trumps too little.
2. Everybody has the right to keep their money as much as you have the right to keep yours.
3. Before demanding someone have more power over someone else, imagine giving that power to your worst enemy, and see if you’re comfortable with that.
4. The validity of an argument is not increased by how strongly you feel about it.
5. It is possible to disagree with someone’s politics but like them personally.
6. Everybody minding their own business is the solution to far more problems than you think.
7. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a compassionate welfare system. There is something wrong with thinking that basic maths has nothing to do with it. Every euro spent has to be taken or borrowed off someone else.
If there’s one show I will never forgive the TV Gods for cancelling, it’s “Dark Skies”. Broadcast to a single season in 1996 as a challenge to “The X Files”, the show basically took every major conspiracy theory from Roswell onwards and put them into in a single alien conspiracy. Starring Eric Close and Megan Ward , the real star of the show was the legendary scenery chewing character actor J.T. Walsh, who played Captain Frank Bach, the head of the secretive Majestic 12 organisation tasked with fighting the aliens at whatever dubious moral cost it took. Later episodes saw a pre-Voyager Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) Play Juliet, their liaison with the Soviet version of Majestic.
What made the show work was the history twisting, and the populating of stories with real historical figures including Bobby Kennedy, George Bush senior, Truman, Kissinger, Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Charles Manson and The Beatles to name a few. Key events in history from the Kennedy assassination (the aliens did it) to Vietnam (started to allow MJ12 access to a huge military budget) to the shooting down of Gary Power’s U2 (he was chasing a UFO) are all touched on.
The show was cancelled as it failed to get significant viewers, which is a terrible pity as the creators of the show Brent V. Friedman and Bryce Zabel had the whole plot sketched out right up to 1999, with takes on everything from Watergate to the moon landing. The show assumed that its viewers knew something about modern American history, and it didn’t have an over abundance of moody pouting teenagers. No wonder it got cancelled.
Definitely one for the sci-fi/history nerds, it’s available on DVD.
Berlusconi. Putin. Erdogan. Farage. Le Pen. Wilders. What do all these names have in common? All have built a cult of personality on a platform of authoritarian nationalist populism. But another factor is that each one of them has built a movement which will suffer a serious, possibly even fatal blow, if one of the above were to die suddenly.
It’s a curious feature of the hard right, the centralising of power around a key figure. As Franco, Mussolini and others proved, pull the keystone figure away and the whole structure could collapse in a way that democratic centrist parties just don’t.
If Farage, Berlusconi or Putin in particular suddenly passed away in the night there’d be a actual chaos in their organisations, a genuine vacuum and lack of clear succession that could destroy the whole enterprise in a vicious struggle for power.
If recent polls are to be believed, and they certainly should be taken as indicative, the next Dail will have a possible majority of populist TDs. Whilst they probably won’t want to agree on anything unpopular like passing a budget, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a majority could be found to abolish water charges relatively quickly.
If you read through our lovely constitution, you’ll discover that even a majority of Dail Eireann may not have the power to do so.
I refer learned colleagues to article 18: “Dáil Éireann shall not pass any vote or resolution, and no law shall be enacted, for the appropriation of revenue or other public moneys unless the purpose of the appropriation shall have been recommended to Dáil Éireann by a message from the Government signed by the Taoiseach.“
Sure that’s grand, says you. Sure Enda will be long gone anyway. Except he (or his successor) may not be, because until the Dail assembles a majority to elect a new Taoiseach, the sitting Taoiseach stays in office as acting Taoiseach, and, thanks to Dev, has a de facto veto over spending bills despite not having a majority.
On the other hand, having gotten hammered in the general election, do we really think Fine Gael will want to keep defending a policy for which, though right, has modest public support? Probably not.
But it does raise an interesting point: Enda can’t be voted out. A replacement, with the support quite possibly of both Shane Ross and Richard Boyd Barrett, has to be voted in, with a majority. That’ll be fun.
A harmless inoffensive new John A. Costello who seems to agree with everybody whilst keeping his own opinions to himself. Now, I know this fella from Drumcondra…
The following is the transcript of a meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland, by the Grand Council of the SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terror, Revenge and Extortion.
Chairperson: …and with that in regard, let us turn to the December Proposal, prepared by our good friend Tony. We’ve all had time to digest it, and discuss it before this gathering. It is a radical departure from this organisation’s existing objectives. Yet I cannot deny that our friend has made a very cogent argument. Perhaps a short summary?
Tony: Thank you Ernst, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for inviting me today. To make a long story short, as my Irish friends would say, SPECTRE is about making money. The manipulation of power, law, politics and other extra-ordinary means to generate profit for this organisation and our shareholders. Now, what does an organisation need when it has all this money?
Mr. Stromberg: Henchmen? Underwater bases? Sharks?
Tony: Stability. The days of storing one’s wealth in gold or diamonds…
Mr. Goldfinger: (mutters)
Tony: …the days of storing one’s wealth in physical commodities or in cash or art are over. The sums of money are so vast as to make it an unviable proposition. Wealth is stored electronically, which makes it both safer but also more vulnerable. And not just hacking, but from terrorist threats to infrastructure too. After all, the Al Quaeda attack on our buildings in Manhattan seriously hurt our asset base.
Table: murmurs of approval.
Tony: The reality is that SPECTRE is now in the stability business. Our legitimate businesses generate more money than our off-the-book activities. Our late comrade Steve made us more money in five years than we had made in fifty. We need order. But what sort of order? The order that Putin brings in Russia, where your wealth can be confiscated by the whim of the FSB? China, where factions ignore the rule of law and confiscate private property? Then there is the threat of radical Islamic revolt, and the real threat of climate change which is endangering many of our prize real estate assets.
Dr. No: Please Tony, get to the point.
Tony: The point, my dear Dr. No, is that western democracy is the greatest defence available to us. You all saw what happened when we tried to rig the Russian elections. Putin rigged it better and confiscated every cent belonging to our allies. Xi is moving against our friends in Beijing. Only in the west…
Mr. Goldfinger: They’re trying to tax us!
Tony: Better taxes than dead, Auric. It’s an ugly world out there, and the west is our safe haven. That’s why I’m proposing that SPECTRE change its key objective from world domination to…
Mr. Stromberg: to what?
Tony: to defending western democracy. By improving our capacity to destroy the enemies of the west. The west’s enemies are now our enemies. We’ve started this already by taking over some key intelligence agencies.
Mr. Goldfinger: You’re not suggesting…
Mr. Stromberg: What are you talking about?
Tony: Your chairman Herr Blofeld knows that SPECTRE has been running British Intelligence since the late 1980s. Never you never wondered why MI6 hasn’t pursued SPECTRE since then?
Mr. Goldfinger: But that means..
Tony: Yes. Commander James Bond has been working for the people who murdered his wife Tracey for some years now, destroying our enemies, without ever knowing. James Bond is SPECTRE’s single greatest weapon.
There are those who love “the chase”, the pursuit and coy-eyes-across-a-room at a new lover. Indeed, some of them love the chase more than the actual relationship itself, getting bored after the initial high and finding themselves distracted by challenges new. There’s a many a book, movie and TV series about those people and their adventures. Many feature Sarah Jessica Parker.
Then there’s that lesser hailed creature: the person who wished they could just have their new partner arrive fully formed on their doorstep, and immediately launch into a life of box sets and Friday nights eating Marks & Spencer and maybe a browse in Avoca in Kilmacanogue for lunch on a bank holiday Sunday. Yes, they want an attractive partner and the sex but primarily they’re fed up with the stress of dating and Tinder. And your friends assuming that “Well, you’re single and have a pulse, and he’s single and has a pulse” so you’re both compatible. As he clears a six day old pizza box from his coffee table, or she recounts a detailed list of The Things She Won’t Put Up With.
Then there’s The Thing. The fact that someone is still single in their forties and hasn’t been married. For women it’s easier: they’ve just been working their way through Dublin’s Male Arsehole Carousel. And by arsehole, we mean not lacking Clooneyesque qualities but actually unpleasant at best and “Tonight, on Criminal Minds!” at worst. For men it’s the Something Wrong thing, that he must be gay or weird or “confirmed bachelor” which could be either of the former or “I’m caring for Mother”.
Ideally, some form of profiling and pre-vetting would suit. I mean, the FBI can work out who’s a serial killer. Why can’t they say “You should date her, and you him. You both love 1960s spy movies and share a predilection for spanking.” Is that so much to ask for?
My first ebook "The Ministry of Love" is now available from Amazon (Available to US/Ireland here, UK here)