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

Out: 10 years after Britain has left the European Union.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 28, 2015 in British Politics, European Union

For a short period, they were almost vilified as traitors. In that period after Britain voted to leave the EU, those politicians who had campaigned to remain found inside themselves being demonised as not quite British. Many quietly retired at the next election, indeed some forced to after being told firmly that their constituency parties would not be renominating them as they sided with “a foreign power”. Everybody was a eurosceptic now.

The populist eurosceptic press weren’t sure what to do with themselves. Having spent 30 years blaming a city in Belgium for all Britain’s woes, the sudden departure caused quite a psychological blow. The departure negotiations had been a source of great material, of course, but even they turned out to be less dramatic than expected. Despite some very nasty speeches in the French National Assembly, cooler heads prevailed, and an amicable trading relationship was found between Britain and the EU.

To great irony, it was the Irish, led by Sinn Fein’s minister for foreign affairs MaryLou McDonald, who put up the stoutest defence of a good deal for Britain, the Irish well aware of the importance of British trade. Indeed, the quiet but nevertheless public decision to beef up Britain’s Dublin embassy with a special EU affairs unit, to allow for the Irish to keep the British in the loop on issues of common interest, was noted by many. Opposition wags in the Dail were quick to remark that it wasn’t the first time Sinn Fein kept British intelligence in the picture.

The great liberation caused by British exit never happened. There were some savings from now defunct contributions to the EU budget, but when marked against EU regional spending in Britain, and the British contribution for access to the single market, as per Norway, the savings were modest, and certainly not the windfall eurosceptics had hinted at.

Likewise with the much ballyhooed end to Brussels redtape. When British civil servants attempted to strip out all the “unnecessary” EU regulation, they kept stumbling across laws on labelling poisons in the workplace or maternity rights that were too politically awkward to start abolishing. In short, many of the EU regulations were in fact the regulations the population of a modern industrialised state demanded of their politicians anyway. The horse, as they say, had bolted on that issue.

When British companies started finding themselves being targetted, particularly by the Irish enterprise development agencies, Whitehall got quite upset. The fact that there was now an Irish cabinet minister who made it her business to sit down with British business leaders to discuss upcoming Commission legislation within the single market, provided those companies invested in Ireland, raised hackles. It was the same with the City of London. In a joint press conference between Prime Minister Cooper and President Lagarde of France, the Frenchwoman delicately but firmly pointed out that the EU proposal to tax European pension and investment funds that went to London was, “with all due respect, none of Britain’s business. How we regulate EU capital flows is the business of EUmembers. If those decisions happen to impact non-members…”

A Gallic shrug sealed the comment.

Likewise with the inflow of immigrants which had done so much to aggravate the Tory right and its UKIP offshoot. With Britain out, the logistics of ending the freedom to work and travel proved to be much more challenging. The City of London was adamant about not loosing the cream of continental talent it attracted. Likewise, France, Spain and Ireland all had significant British populations that needed to be accomodated, and the Poles and rest of central Europe were willing to play hardball over the issue, refusing to tolerate the mass expulsion of large numbers of their citizens working in the UK. The possibility of large numbers of ex-pats living for years in France and Spain (Britain and Ireland worked out a side deal) suddenly being required to pay hefty residency and visa fees because they were no longer EU citizens became a front page issue in The Daily Mail, with that paper demanding some form of “special European passport for ex-pats”.

The Foreign Secretary, Mr Milliband, ordered by parliament to seek Britain’s fortune away from “decaying” Europe and instead in the glistening cities of Asia, found certain realities. Britain did still matter in the world, even outside the EU, but certainly not as an equal partner. Both India and China were of course eager to do business, but insisted upon the right of their citizens to travel to Britain to study, work and sell. The Chinese in particular were very firm, and so just as Britain moved to deny the Polish plumber entry, young Chinese and Indian men and women began to arrive in their hundreds of thousands to conduct business, study, inter-marry, pay taxes, require housing and healthcare and begin familes. Just as the Poles had. Within a few years, the Chinese government had begun to decry the unfairness of her citizens contributing to the UK’s coffers but not being able to vote on how they were spent. Mr Milliband vowed to give the issue serious consideration.

The fear campaign that suggested that Britain was economically doomed outside the EU proved to be nonsense. But British ministers found themselves outside the room constantly at major economic events. The EU/US Free Trade Area, and the EU/China trade pact both were conducted without British representation, but with British companies already bound to meet EU regulations with the single market now having to comply with more joint EU/US regulations for access to the Atlantic Free Trade Area. Indeed, when footage leaked from the EU/US talks of the Irish Taoiseach, Ms Power, briefing (and noting concerns from) a half dozen major British industrial and business leaders, all of whose firms had recently announced major job investments in Ireland, the British media was quick to cry foul. The Irish Department of Enterprise, on the other hand, reported a sharp spike in enquiries from major UK and US businesses to discuss the perceived Access-For-Jobs scheme.

Ten years out, it wasn’t the end of the world. Britain was still trading with the rest of Europe and the world. But the much suggested radical departure into a new British “Golden Age” just didn’t happen. Britain still had to pay attention to what commissioners and the European Parliament did, because that was the world Britain lived in. Globalisation was irreversible, and whether it was Brussels or Beijing, it wasn’t a matter of not letting other countries affect you. It was a question of shaping that effect, and that was going to happen whether inside the EU or not. Britain chose to go it alone.


The blue line holds.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 16, 2015 in Irish Politics

17253603411_08e7fa2fb2_cI have been very critical of the Garda Siochana in the past. It is a force about which there is a lot to criticise. But as we as a nation laid Garda Tony Golden to rest, even a critic like me must always make one observation about the Gardai as a force and as individual police officers:

Courage has never been in short supply.

Every year, we hear stories of unarmed Gardai facing down armed criminals or diving into rivers to rescue people. They don’t carry out health and safety assessments. They do the job, and people live as a result.

When we set up the Garda Siochana the decision to have an unarmed police force was exceptionally risky in a country littered with weapons from a civil war. Many officers paid the ultimate penalty. But it worked. When you look at some US police forces, they seem to be de facto occupying armies. Our police force, despite scandals of recent years, is still a force of, for the most part unarmed civilians, fellow citizens we have given special powers to maintain order not by force as much as by moral authority. The decision to have an unarmed police force worked, and still works.

Watching the despair and heartbreak on the faces of Garda Golden’s family conveys the reality that few of us can comprehend the pain they must be going through. The Golden family has paid a huge price so that the rest of us can live in a safe and peaceful country.

This is a country where the murder of a single police officer is a national event, an event so appalling that the whole nation grieves, from the President down.

The fact that it is such a rare event is testament itself to the courage and dedication of Gardai like Tony Golden.


View – The Arts And Politics Weekend in Temple Bar 19-22 November

Posted by Jason O on Oct 13, 2015 in Irish Politics

Some interesting news from The Temple Bar Company who are organising “View – The Arts And Politics Weekend in Temple Bar” on the weekend of 19-22 November.

” The festival will be in celebration of the 25 year anniversary of the redevelopment of Temple Bar and will celebrate the arts and politics in the area. There will be art exhibitions, tours, workshops and more, as well as political seminars and debates in various venues in and around Temple Bar. The subjects of the debates and seminars are relevant to today’s affairs, such as the gender quota and the future of the city.

 If you want to see more of the festival, please visit our website (www.viewtemplebar.com)”


Jason’s Diary

Posted by Jason O on Oct 12, 2015 in Jason's Diary

Had a surreal dream last night. I dreamt I lost my car down by the Poolbeg power station, found an old but useful bike, and then stumbled across a busy beautiful Cotswold-style village full of artisan shops, small restaurants and English people hidden down there. In the dream, my first reaction on going through the village was a sense of irritation that The Irish Times hadn’t told anybody the village was here. Bizarre.


Just finished “Narcos” on Netflix, a 10 part drama about Pablo Escobar. Excellent stuff. Delighted to see Netflix have ordered a second season.



How to reform Irish politics? Storm the Dail. It worked in 1916.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 8, 2015 in Irish Politics

I was listening to a podcast about political reform recently (I know, I know) and what struck was how utterly depressing it was. It had the standard format: a load of non-politicians had one of those summer school discussions about electoral reform et al. It then finished with the reality: our political class of whatever party just don’t want to change it or themselves.

The truth is, political reform in a meaningful sense is never going to happen through conventional politics. There are literally too many vested interests within the system.

So what’s an ordinary citizen to do?

There is one power left, that politicians haven’t control over.

The power to not vote.

The what, says you?

When you are faced with a political system that is incapable of offering real change, the next logical step is to remove its legitimacy. At the moment, the Dail, as a body, can say with genuine conviction that it is the forum of the Irish people, and that the laws it passes are legitimate. It would be right, because in 2011 70% of registered voters cast their ballots for it. Likewise, it can legitimately claim that even unpopular water policies are legitimate, as are the Gardai enforcing those policies as the public order wing of the Irish people.

But what happens if less than 50% of registered voters vote?

Then you’re in a different ball game. Then the Dail is no longer the moral voice of the Irish people, just another vested interest, albeit one with the power to actually take money from your pocket and with an army of uniform enforcers at its disposal.

Suddenly, a demonstration of 100,000 marching on the Dail is no longer a challenge to “the country” because a Dail elected on a turnout under 50% doesn’t speak for the country. Suddenly, the Gardai are no longer fellow citizens we have given special powers to, but just the organised heavy mob of a section of the country. Legitimacy matters.

That’s outrageous, says you. The Dail would still have legal authority, regardless if what percentage of the Irish people vote.

That’s true. That was also the argument the British used in 1916. But Dublin Castle and the Royal Irish Constabulary went from being the legitimate legal order in the country to a force ordinary people were willing to shoot dead in the streets because they lacked legitimacy. Suddenly a crowd breaking through the gates of Leinster House and beating up Gardai or dragging the Ceann Comhairle or cabinet from the chamber are not a mob. If a Dail gets less than 50% turnout, that mob becomes just another vested interest competing with the vested interest Dail.

When you make the point about turnout to people in the political class they sneer and say it doesn’t matter what the turnout is. That’s what the British thought. That’s what Ceausescu thought. That’s what the Stasi thought right up to the moment a Stasi card went from being a tool of power and privilege to a piece of evidence. But when a crowd believes it has moral legitimacy it also believes that the prevailing order doesn’t, and suddenly a Garda uniform means much less.

Does this amount to a hill of beans? Probably not. A majority of the Irish electorate will vote legitimacy in the Dail at the election, and therefore it is legitimate.

But that tool always remains available to us all, the power to withhold legitimacy.


Where’s the right to not be shot?

Posted by Jason O on Oct 4, 2015 in US Politics

It will surprise some to hear it, but if I were an American I don’t think I’d be against gun ownership. Guns are part of the American tradition, and they’re not going away anytime soon. We Europeans struggle to understand one fundamental point that doesn’t exist here or in the rest of the industrialised west, and it’s this: a huge number of Americans believe that other Americans will try to murder them. Imagine living in a society where fear permeates to that level. It’s akin, say, to life under the Soviets, where ordinary citizens feared the KGB appearing in the dead of night at your home. Only in the US, it’s been privatized. It’s not the state, it’s other citizens.

We struggle to grasp that. We’re naïve because our children don’t have lockdown drills but, you know, just go to school. We can’t buy child-sized flak jackets easily. Just go onto the NRA’s excellent website and watch their videos. The worried father, who loves his family, fears for their safety and wants to protect them. What’s more decent than that? We can’t understand that. Not the desire to protect family, but his fear. He lives in one of those countries, like Colombia or Brazil  or Pakistan, where life is cheap. We just can’t understand that, and that’s why we roll our eyes when we watch the video. His brain actually works differently from ours, and you can’t blame him. Your brain would work differently if you lived in a country where you believed your fellow citizens are trying to murder you on a daily basis. Yes, we do have gun crime and tiger kidnapping and home invasions, but even with all those there is not a single serious Irish politician who advocates US gun policies.

The response of the NRA is always the same: President Obama is “politicising” gun shootings, as if he was blaming a typhoon or an earthquake on the Republicans. They then follow it up with a call for more guns. Always. In short, the logical NRA outcome is that every person over 18 years old (I assume: even they don’t want to arm children, right?) should be armed all the time and permitted to bring whatever weapons wherever they want. It’s an interesting concept, in that it would address the NRA argument that unarmed people can’t defend themselves. If the entire adult population is armed, it almost certainly would reduce the number of people killed by some lone nut. But it would also increase the number of emotional episodes that turn into gun incidents. Funnily enough, I’ve never seen the NRA apply the “more guns” argument to 9/11. Have I missed that? You know, the NRA suggesting that if every passenger on a plane was carrying a gun, planes would be safer from hijackers. They don’t seem to make that argument.

Still, as a lobbying organisation, you have to give it to the NRA. They are the masters. They have actually managed to create a political environment where the government even trying to gather data on gun crime has been politicised. What’s incredible is that they have created a scenario where the right to own weapons, up to the moment you go on a killing spree, is regarded as sacrosanct, whereas the right to not be shot is regarded as an aspiration that is nice, but come on, we have to be pragmatic about these things.

It is true, guns don’t kill people. People do. So at least exercise care in who you give them to. Yes, gun owners should be required to pass a psychological evaluation. Start there: at least we’ll get the entertainment of watching the NRA having to defend why crazy people should be given automatic weapons. Of course, the NRA would probably steer the debate towards “what’s crazy?”. Are people who think Donald Trump is 100% right about everything crazy? People who think President Obama is not an American, or is a Muslim? What about people who think the Holocaust didn’t happen? Or that the world is secretly run by Jews? That’ll be a fun day out.

A well-known right wing Irish commentator recently pointed out that the only thing that’ll really work will be to actually confiscate guns, and that’ll start a near civil war. As indeed the abolition of slavery actually did, and the abolition of segregation nearly did. But is there anyone who really thinks America is not a better country today for having endured both those massively disruptive periods?

(Edited 4th October 2015)


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