Posted by Jason O on Feb 28, 2016 in Election 2016
, Irish Politics
So, as the final seats are filled, onto the next task. What are the options?
1. The Status Quo. Enda is Taoiseach until the first vote, then acting Taoiseach until replaced. Theoretically, he could remain indefinitely, although wouldn’t be able to replace all the cabinet ministers who lost their seats.
2. FF/FG coalition. The safe long haul option and hard to see happening, despite the logic of it. FF/FG means Sinn Fein as the opposition, which is exactly what Sinn Fein want as part of the long term plan to lead a government as the main party.
2. FG/Lab minority with FF support on Taoiseach. More likely, but immediately puts pressure on FF to take responsibility for anything the govt does, and will give Sinn Fein ammunition to use in the assumed early election in the next 18 months. Also raises the question of whether Lab will go back into govt, or may decide to return to opposition to rebuild.
3. The 1948 option. FF or FG could attempt to assemble a majority with all sorts from Inds, Social Democrats, Greens but would need SF support either inside or outside. Hard to see it happen, but this is Ireland.
4. Enda to make a extraordinary offer to FF, say Micheal as Taoiseach, with clear understanding that a failure to agree means a snap second election. Hoping that FF will take the rap for an unnecessary election.
There are also three factors which could come into play:
1. The president could get involved, continental style. Although he doesn’t have a formal role, it would be hard for party leaders to refuse an invitation from him to attend talks in the Park.
2. A leadership change in FG. This is a tricky one for FF. If Enda steps down quickly, perhaps even before a new Dail meets, would FF really want to face an election with a fresh Taoiseach? It’s true, FG has a convoluted leadership election system, but in the current crisis the FG PP could name a “parliamentary leader” as candidate for Taoiseach, after soundings with the grass roots.
3. Finally, a secret ballot elected Ceann Comhairle is going to play a big role in a parliament without a majority but also because he/she won’t be automatically loyal to the government, which will be new.
Not going to be boring….
Posted by Jason O on Feb 23, 2016 in Election 2016
, Irish Politics
It’s a curious thing that many Irish people don’t quite understand how to vote properly. By properly I mean getting the full use of your ballot paper to A) elect someone you prefer over someone else, and B) help keeping someone you really dislike out.
Our system, Proportional Representation-Single Transferable Vote in multi-seat constituencies, has two principles.
The first is to avoid “wasting votes”, and that means that if you vote for an unpopular candidate, unlike in the US or UK, your vote isn’t wasted. If you fill in preferences, your second, third choices, your vote will keep going until it either helps elect someone or your preferences or the number of seats to be filled run out.
The second principle is that, by having a minimum of three seats in every constituency, smaller parties have a chance of winning a seat. This is the proportional representation part of the system.
It’s possibly one of the fairest systems in the world.
The counting of the votes can get quite technical, but here’s what you as a voter need to know.
1. Your vote will only go where you tell it to go. If your preferences are all used up, and your vote hasn’t helped elect someone, it’s dead.
2. You are not hurting any candidate you have given a preference to by giving a later preference to someone else.
3. If you really want to stop someone, you MUST give a preference to every other candidate. That means that if your vote hasn’t already elected someone, it is available to be used by whatever candidates are still fighting the person you want to stop. But you have to give the returning officer that instruction by marking those preferences.
Fianna Fail in 2011 got a similar vote to Labour but only half the seats partially because people did this.
4. Vote for who you really want. Don’t second guess and assume that the person you really want will get in anyway. That’s how popular people lose their seats. It happens. In November 1982 John Ellis topped the poll in Sligo-Leitrim and still lost his seat.
5. Don’t write anything other than preferences on your ballot paper. It can be used by other parties you don’t like as an excuse to have your ballot spoiled on the grounds that you might have been intimidated into identifying how you voted! If you write “F**k Enda Kenny” on your ballot, that can be used by Fine Gael to have your ballot removed from the count. Think about that.
6. Finally, and I always say this: when you’re voting, note there’s a Garda normally in the polling station. In some other countries the police or army are at polling stations to make sure their candidates are elected. In this republic, it’s to ensure that nobody tells you how to vote. It’s been that way since 1923, and we should be very proud of that.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 21, 2016 in Election 2016
, Irish Politics
As we enter the last week of the election, you’d be forgiven for getting a certain picture of Ireland if you relied on what’s being said in the campaign.
A country so poor that hardly anybody can afford to make even a token contribution towards a GP visit.
A country that has practically no functioning A&E system, or at least one that is in “absolute chaos”.
A country where there has been no increase in employment numbers, no pay rises, no new businesses, and no returning emigrants.
A country where a majority of people can barely feed, clothe or house themselves.
A country where hardly any public money is spent on those with disabilities or the elderly.
An awful place which then chooses to measure itself against a mythical vision of a country advocated by revolutionaries 100 years ago whilst ignoring that large numbers of those revolutionaries actually took part in the running of the country for over half a century, making it the country it is today.
Then there is another vision of a country.
One of the longest functioning democracies in Europe.
A country that never surrendered to the temptation of fascism or communism.
A country that has one of the highest standards of living in the world, and yes, has a health service that is superior to huge numbers of other countries.
A country that will spend €19.8 billion on social welfare in 2016. €12.9 billion on health. €8.4 billion on education.
A country that Greece would look at and wish it were doing as well.
Why the discrepancy? Because there is a conflict at the heart of the Irish psyche, an anger that we struggle to contain.
We still can’t accept that this is our country, and that what happens here is mostly to do with us. Sure, we live in a world of international finance and globalisation and yes, we did save the euro and yes, we are owed for it.
But how our hospitals run, what we pay for water, or pay our nurses, how we treat women with crisis pregnancies, or refugees, how we tax ourselves, how many homes we build, that’s all us. All that is our responsibility as a sovereign people and therefore our fault.
Yet we refuse to accept that. Many of us believe that “fairness” is some sort of natural occurring phenomenon that costs nothing. That it’s just there to be grasped but wicked politicians won’t give it to us.
That’s what stops us being a great nation. The refusal to accept that yes, everything has a price, whether in taxes or work practices or other policies.
To do one thing, you have to sacrifice something else.
When we vote on Friday, at least half of us will vote for a candidate who has been good “for the local area”.
That’s your problem right there.
We’re not looking at the ballot paper and asking ourselves whether this candidate or that candidate has a plan for Ireland as a whole.
We have constantly voted local, and it hasn’t worked, not even locally. We elect, for example, local TDs who are more interested, because they believe that’s what their voters want, in keeping small badly equipped local hospitals open than creating an effective national air ambulance service that works. Given a choice between that service getting you quickly to a proper hospital with a dedicated and experienced trauma unit, or keeping a local pre-morgue with “hospital” over the door, we choose the latter.
It’s the same with Garda stations. Getting a Garda patrol to your home quickly has almost nothing to do with Garda stations, yet we’re obsessed with putting resources into manning buildings over putting more patrols on the streets and roads.
Sure, there are those who will argue, perfectly fairly, that if they don’t elect a local champion the county or parish will be ignored. It’s a fair point, but never followed to its logical conclusion. If we feel that Dublin won’t do what’s needed in the county, then stop begging Dublin for attention and take the power locally. Yet how many local champions will be demanding local government reform, and for local decisions and taxes to be decided locally?
We choose the way this country is to work in free and fair elections.
We are a great nation. We can be greater. But to get there we have to vote on Friday not for the parish but for Ireland.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 19, 2016 in Election 2016
, Irish Politics
A few thoughts on the campaign:
1. The reset to 2007 is frightening. We’re back to parties lobbing high costing promises at the voters once again, and the voters being fine with it. People are angry about the outcome of the crash, but are wilfully forgetting the causes.
2. Voters complain that their constituency isn’t getting its “fair share” yet continue to elect the same type of constituency grafter that has failed to deliver balanced regional development.
3. Political reform is off the agenda, once again. Turns out there is nothing wrong with our system at all.
4. In a way, you have to admire the fact that behind our negative exteriors, we as a people are optimists, in that we believe no matter who we elect it’ll all be OK in the end. The dole will be paid, the pensions will be paid, the money for A&E will be found. It’s a testament to either an incredibly reckless country, or an incredibly robust one.
5. The ability of the Irish to hold conflicting views at the same time continues to be a testament to our mental suppleness. After all, aren’t the people most likely to vote for Tax The Rich parties the same people most cynical about the state’s ability to make the rich keep paying high taxes?
6. I have no faith in that “Are you feeling the recovery?” question because I keep meeting people who say there was no Celtic Tiger either.
7. Our health service is not Third World or in absolute chaos. I’m sorry, but it isn’t.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 17, 2016 in Election 2016
, Irish Politics
With the general election sauntering towards us (could it come any slower?) I thought I’d put together a rough guide for people outside Ireland as to our party system.
Fine Gael: the largest party and main government party. Broadly speaking, centre-right and small “C” conservative, although anchored to the centre. Think Ken Clarke Tories or German Christian Democrats. Pro-Business, pro-farmer, but not anti-welfare. Traditionally the default party when Irish voters get sick of Fianna Fail. Divided on abortion. 30% in polls.
Fianna Fail: Nationalist, anchored to the centre but swings from left to right depending on the political wind. Traditionally the dominant party in Irish politics until 2011 when it suffered its worst defeat ever. Think Gaullists or even New Labour in terms of flexibility. Whatever works. Pretends to be divided on abortion but essentially pro-life. 18%.
Sinn Fein: former political wing of the Provisional IRA, which is still a source of awkwardness for the party. Left wing populist in opposition, but not particularly radical in government for last 10 years in Northern Ireland. Pro-Choice. 18%.
Labour: Social Democrats. Suffering the same problem of social democratic parties across Europe as it loses its working class base to other more radical parties. Traditionally the most socially liberal party in Ireland and responsible for nearly all the great liberal reforms from marriage equality to divorce to contraception. Pro-Choice. 8%.
Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit: A collection of the left, Socialist Workers Party, Trotskyites and populists. In favour of funding everything. Curiously for the left, only in favour of high taxation if paid for by nobody you know. Otherwise almost Ted Cruzian in opposition to tax. Pro-Choice. 3%
The Social Democrats: The nice lefties. Only party to openly support keeping an unpopular tax (The Universal Social Charge) to, you know, fund services. Pro-Choice. 3%.
Renua: Flat Tax, three strikes and you’re out. If not Thatcherite, no.1 with Thatcherites. Pro-life in practice if not in theory. 2%.
Greens: Still trying to recover from the horror of government and get back into parliament. Pro-Choice. 2%.
Independents: whatever you’re having yourself. Some left, some right, some whatever you said to them. A lucky dip. 25%.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 14, 2016 in Election 2016
, Irish Politics
My eye has been caught in recent days by a number of seat projections which have raised an intriguing possibility that isn’t getting as much attention as it should. That is, the possibility of Sinn Fein narrowly beating Fianna Fail in seats and becoming the leading opposition party even if FF don’t participate in government.
It’s unlikely, admittedly, even if SF narrowly beat FF on first preferences because FF will pick up more transfers, but it isn’t impossible, and it would be very very bad news for FF if it happened.
We can easily forget that the SDLP were once the overwhelmingly dominant party in nationalist politics in the north of Ireland, and their party leader was a household name both north and south of the border. But Sinn Fein diligently whittled away, catching up to them, overtaking them, and leaving them in the dust. No one, no one at all, believes that the SDLP are going to retake pole position ever again.
A scenario where Sinn Fein become the lead opposition party, even with Fianna Fail avoiding coalition with Fine Gael, would have a major psychological impact on Irish politics, especially given the demographics of SF and Fine Gael voters.
Yes, it’s unlikely, but not impossible, and such an outcome would be a much more significant event than the election of 2011 where we just replaced Fianna Fail with a Fianna Fail who went to posher schools.
This would be a game changer, because it would be the first time a left-led government would become a genuine and credible proposition on a future ballot.
Transfers are overhyped in every election, but in this case it really matters. Your final preferences could decide not just who runs the country, but who runs it in future too.
From Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to Gerry Adams in Ireland to Marine Le Pen in France and Nigel Farage in the UK, there’s a common theme emerging across modern Europe.
After 50 years of European integration and globalisation, it has started once again to become fashionable to believe that nationalism has the answers. That if a country could just retreat behind its borders everything would be fine.
It’s a very attractive proposition in its simplicity. Close the borders, tell Brussels and whomever else to f**k off and we can all go about our business like we did in the nostalgic golden period that existed before the EU. When did it exist again? Before 1914? When we didn’t have obesity because the poor literally hadn’t enough food? The 1920s and 1930s when one after another European government fell under fascist control? That Golden Age?
But let’s set that nostalgia to one side, and face the reality of the nation-state as solution to our modern problems. Can we control multinationals and make sure they pay tax? Perhaps the US can, maybe China, but pretty much nobody else.
Immigration? Given the option of every country just quietly moving the refugees onto their wealthier neighbours, the answer is that border control would cost expenditure on a de facto warlike footing. That imaginary money you’d save by stopping immigrants, on housing and healthcare? Spend that now on border police and fences and holding centres and massively expanded navies.
Then there’s selling stuff. Regulation, tariffs, quotas, all the tools of the nation-state trying to keep various interests happy, and all with a price attached.
Want to buy a new imported car? Sure why would you need that when we make our own here? Why doesn’t it come with Bluetooth? Listen to you and your unpatriotic notions!
There is something of a gut appeal about the nation-state, being amongst “our own”, with our own culture and language and music. It feels safer for sure. And let’s be honest: it does work. As long as a country is willing to make its own hard choices about its own resources, and carry the appropriate burden, it can work. But as you expel young foreign workers and tax their imports and restore the national currency, be aware of the choices, as other countries send your aging ex-pats back to you.
The greatest source of unhappiness during the Great Recession has been the anger created by governments making hard choices. Every nationalist hardliner has tried to suggest that nationalism presents an easier path of less hardship and easing of burden.
A Europe without the euro and the EU is a Europe of sovereign nations standing up for their own interests. Sounds fine, and it will be right up to the moment the French government shields French farmers from Irish and British competition. Or Germany puts a tax on German pension funds investing in London. Or Britain taxes pharmaceuticals coming into the UK from Ireland. Or Spain devalues the Peseta Nuevo against the Franc Nouveau. All the acts of sovereign governments. All new problems.
The European Union was, and remains, a forum where like-minded nations can work together to resolve the problems of the modern world, which are bigger than modern nations. Syria isn’t a British or Danish problem, but it affects them, and their leaders know it too.
The leaders of modern countries know that so many problems from trade to disease to war to refugees to crime start outside our borders. You can either cooperate on them, or hide behind your borders and try to manage the consequences. But the idea that the problems themselves will vanish or get easier is nonsense.
This is the world we live in. It isn’t going away no matter had hard we wave our flags.
Two types of candidate dominate modern Irish politics. The first is the crook, who is actually in it for the cash. The money is good, and if he plays his cards right, there could be an opportunity for more.
Then there’s that curious creature: The politics free candidate. The enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in a ballot paper. The man or woman who goes into politics even though they aren’t actually that interested in politics in the first place? Surely the same as the first type, you say? Curiously, no. They get the good money, but often they spend much of it getting reelected. They aren’t particularly corrupt, so what are they in it for?
Sometimes it’s family. The father was a TD or councillor, and so they will be. It’s what they do. But ask them where they stand on elected mayors, or a carbon or property tax, or neutrality, and they’ll look at you with the face that says “Why are you asking me this? Why don’t you ask someone in authority?” In short, they tend to not actually have any opinion on the issue. Many of them become cabinet ministers, and still, on day one, arrive in their new departments not with the thought “Finally! Now I can do something about X!” but instead tell their secretary general to keep on doing “Whatever the last fella was doing.” The party tells them what they believe, they memorise the talking points, and you see them three weeks later on The Frontline blankly declaring that loading Jews up on to trucks for “evacuation” is a perfectly reasonable policy. Not because they are bigots or intolerant, but because that was what it said on the piece of paper.
But here’s the thing: Never mind them. To them, it’s a 9 to 5 job, a means of paying the bills. Ask yourself: Who are the f**kwits who vote for them? Who are the people so devoid of any idea as to what they would like their society to look like that they vote for these guys, the equivlent of a jug of tepid room tempeture water, because iced water would be leaning too much to one side of the water tempeture issue?
See them? We should be rounding them up on trucks.
It’s a uniquely Irish concept. In other countries, parties brag about how well their candidate is doing. Not in Ireland. In Ireland, candidates, especially ones defending a seat, play up how desperate things are, how bad the campaign is going, how “the seat is gone”. There is nothing a candidate hates more than people saying she’s a dead cert, because in Ireland that’s political death. More people have gone into an election as the dead cert and come out with less votes than Gary Glitter at a National Association of Creches AGM.
It’s all to do with the second guessing poker nature of the Single Transferable Vote system. STV is a logical, rational and fair voting system which gives voters a wider choice than almost any voting system in the world. It asks voters to select their candidates in order of preference. As a result, there’s little chance of wasting one’s vote on an unelectable candidate.
But it never expected that it would have to deal with the Irish psyche, and voters who don’t just consider who they’d like to elect, but who they think other people are going to elect too, and so discount their own vote and transfer their vote to their second choice in the hope of getting a second bite of the cherry. It’s hardly surprising, as this is exactly the same way Irish people choose their third level educational future through the Central Applications Office. They’re asked to pick what course they really want, and instead enter what course they think they’ll get, and are then disappointed when they miss the course they actually wanted in the first place. They then vote the same way.
As a result, you have party voters who decide that Party X’s candidate A is a definite, and so instead gives their first preference to candidate A’s running mate, to give her a chance at taking a second seat for the party. The problem is that large numbers of candidate A’s loyal voters are all thinking the same thing, and so the running mate gets elected and candidate A is surprisingly defeated to the shock of all, with voters looking blankly at each other with a “Jaysus, if I’d only known. Sure everybody I know said they wanted him in!”
How do you prevent it? Vote for your favourite candidate first. It really is that simple. Really.
It’s a hard wired genetic response, whether it is to exploiting natural resources offshore or fracking or even postcodes. A section of the country just can’t help itself, and comes out in opposition to everything. There is even a standard pattern:
1. A proposal is made by a company or body. The benefits in terms of revenue or employment tend to be so over-hyped as to trigger scepticism everywhere, even amongst people in favour of the project. Why do we have to oversell everything?
2. In the area concerned, muttering starts, normally led by a local nut who votes No in every referendum and disconcertingly mentions the Bilderberg Group and fluoride in every conversation. But he’s retired with time on his hands and is a wiz with mail merge, having the database from previous local campaigns such as “Stop Dublin stealing our clouds!” and “No to WiFi near St. Enda’s. There are children there for God’s sake!”
3. The usual malcontents, Sebastian from South Dublin, furious with Daddy for running away with Olga from Olgastan and making Mummy cry and tell them that “they have to be the man of the house now” after a bottle of Tia Maria during Murder She Wrote, arrive to “smash capitalism” (Daddy was a capitalist) and stand up for the “ordinary people” in the area.
4. The local opposition TDs and councillors start calling for an independent public inquiry because that’s what they always call for, and it’s not like they have to fund it out of their expenses, is it?
5. The planning process gets bogged down in court injunctions and walkouts and demands for a tribunal into the planning process. Vague allegations of corruption are applauded by the usual paranoid mob. The integrity of the process hinges entirely on whether it agrees with the No side.
6. Planning permission is granted. It is appealed to An Bord Plenala. They approve it. It is appealed to the High Court, then the Supreme Court, then the European Court. Judicial corruption is alleged every step of the way. Huge legal bills are run up by the protesters who then complain of being economically ruined by huge legal bills they ran up travelling through a legal system they “knew” to be corrupt in the first place.
7. The opposition wins the general election, and sets up a public inquiry because it has nothing better to do. The opponents of the project do not contest the election declaring the political process corrupt and “exclusionary to ordinary people”. You know, like voters. On polling day a group of young protesters meet to beam positive energy at the ballot boxes as they are carried out by the Guards.
8. The public inquiry approves the project. The protesters accuse it of being corrupt, and announce a campaign of civil disobedience, which seems to involve a lot of interpretive dance and giant Macnas style heads. One protester sprains his wrist when a giant Che Guevara head falls on him. He sues the state for not banning giant heads of South American communists.
9. The project starts with much civil disobedience, delaying the project’s completion by years. When it is completed, and starts providing tax revenue to the state much later than planned because of the delays, the people who delayed it are first in the queue with demands as to how the money should be spent.
10. 20 years later, when the project is no longer viable, the people who originally opposed it demand it be subsidised by the state as a vital contribution to the local economy.