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

A letter to our British friends about Brexit.

Posted by Jason O on May 31, 2016 in Brexit Referendum, European Union, The Times Ireland Edition

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition on the 30th May 2016. 

Dear British friends,

It’s us, the Irish. You know us. The people next door you don’t quite regard as foreigners yet aren’t sure who we are. We do have that language thing and use strange words for prime minister and there was all that unpleasantness where we were killing each other.

But look, that’s all gone save for the real nutters. Now we both support the same Premiership players, and laugh at “Father Ted”, although we reckon you don’t get half the jokes.

But things are pretty grand now. The Queen came and spoke what we call the Cúpla Focal, and we got her safely out of the country without one of the aforementioned nutters blowing her up. In short, the relationship we have now is the best relationship our two peoples have had since one of our lads asked one of your lads to come over and put manners on some other lads 800 years ago. It’s fair to say that we are friends.

That’s why I’m writing about this Brexit thing. Now, we know how you feel about the Germans. I mean, you’ve been watching “Dad’s Army” for over 48 years now, so that’s bound to have had an effect. Our own attitude to herself in Berlin is mixed too: on the one hand they did build our roads (and are mentioned in our sacred Proclamation) but we also feel not a little aggrieved over the whole baling out of the Franco-German banking system. But let’s cut to the chase: we really don’t want you to leave the EU. It’ll be terribly disruptive along the border, and with regard to the hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens we have in each other’s countries. Life is hard enough without this.

Don’t get us wrong. We get your complaints about the EU, and they irritate us too. There seems to be blokes in Brussels with nothing to do all day but think up new forms for us to fill in to ensure transgender badgers get their high heel allowance. We get that. But that’s modern life. If you weren’t in the EU your own civil servants would be dreaming up this stuff. The public say they don’t want red tape or regulation until someone finds a bit of Shergar in their sausages then it’s “who’s the Sausage Czar?”

But aside from all the red tape, real or imagined, there’s the fear factor, and this is where the two of us differ. See, you seem genuinely afraid of Brussels. We’re not, and we’re only a fraction of the size of you. I reckon it’s because your politicians aren’t very good at negotiating, whereas ours, like the rest of Europe, are used to coalitions and haggling every day over everything from policies to who’s brother-in-law gets put onto a state board. Yours are a bit shouty, finger-pointy, just a little bit too “Get Carson to bring the car around”, whereas ours are more “I can get you a nice Ford Cortina, easy on the clock. For cash, like. In the hand.”

We engage, because like all small countries we have to be acutely aware of what’s going on around us as we tend to get marched on by chaps in pointy hats and big moustaches. The Nazis, that is. Not the Village People. Us, the Belgians, the Danes, the Dutch, we want to be at the table because we know the table is where it will happen even if we’re not there. That’s what so perplexing for us watching you putting on your raincoat and ambling towards the door with your plastic Co-Op bag. You’re giving in. You’re basically saying that the rest of us play too rough and you think you’ll find the Russians or the Chinese or the Americans easier on you.

But that’s not you, and we know it. You didn’t get off the fishing boats after Dunkirk and ring that Austrian corporal to say that you give up. You dusted yourselves off, took a breather, and came up the beaches in Normandy and put Nazis in the ground. Do you think those poor wizened souls you liberated from Belsen were disappointed that you hadn’t decided Europe was just too hard and walked off the pitch? You helped save Europe. Yes, because you recognised that what happened on the continent affected you but also because it was the right thing to do. You’re not the nation of quitters the Brexiteers say you are.

This referendum is an opportunity for future British prime ministers to say “We live here too, and here’s our plan to make it better.” You’re not without friends. You’re not without allies who agree with you on many of the problems of the EU.

But we can only stand with you if you’re willing to fight, not run for the door because the fight is just too hard.

You’re the second largest country in the European Union. This continent cradles the bodies of thousands of your sons and daughters who helped liberate seven countries from one of the most evil regimes in human history. You don’t lack courage. But you have to use it, and that means staying in the EU and fighting to change it.

In short, fighting them in the commission, fighting them in the council, fighting them in the parliament, and never surrendering.

Because you see that never surrender bit? On that, you’ve got form.


Beware the fetish of 1916.

Posted by Jason O on May 28, 2016 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published on the 20th March 2016 in The Times Ireland Edition.

As an event, the Easter Rising and the mythos that has gathered around the events of 1916 are a bit like an impressionistic painting. From a distance it’s a striking story. A band of courageous patriots took their lives in their hands in a blow for national independence, and many of them paid the final price. Their sacrifice ignited a flame in a nation which resulted, six years later, in the withdrawal of the British from Dublin. Many who participated knew the odds and the likelihood of defeat and indeed death, yet still stepped forward into a story of simple human courage that is hard to beat.

Looking back from 2016, it has transformed from an impressionistic event to a piece of modern art which is open to interpretation from all. How many times this year will we be subjected to the use of the centenary to justify a call for more taxpayer spending for one interest group or another? As if the Easter Rising somehow suspended the laws of mathematics and made the issue of revenue versus expenditure a question which should no longer apply here?

Let’s confront a few awkward realities about 1916 and its aftermath.

Firstly, the country we are living in is pretty much the country the men of 1916 envisaged. You know how we know? Because a huge number of them ended up in the Dail, running the country. Throwing the King out and then twisting in one smooth pivot and falling down to kiss the Archbishop’s foot? That was the men of 1916, that was. Not all of them, but enough to matter. WT Cosgrave, Eamon De Valera, Sean Lemass, from 1921 to 1966, with the exception of John A Costello, this country was led by 1916 veterans.

As for the women of 1916, here’s the really awkward bit. It’s arguable they’d have gotten more rights if we’d stayed in the UK, and yes, I appreciate how mortifying it is to admit that. See Constance Markiwicz? The fabled first female cabinet minister? Her successor came in 1979. The Brits were appointing female ministers in every decade from the 1920s. The first birth control clinic opened in Britain in 1921. They had access to legal abortion from 1968. Britain elected its first female prime minister in the same year we appointed only our second female cabinet minister.

Did we build a republic more progressive than the kingdom we left? That’s where the impressionistic images of Easter get all ragged. Yes, we got rid of the monarchy, and good for us. But we replaced the monarchy with the hierarchy. On nearly every social justice issue we were behind the Brits for most of our history, not ahead of them.

So much so that it led to the awkward reality that hundreds of thousands of Irish chose to flee a sovereign government elected by their own votes in Ireland to live voluntarily under British rule. In Britain. From our first days of independence Irish people continued to take the boat to England. You didn’t see many East Germans hopping back over the wall to do some overtime.

The Ireland we built from 1922 wasn’t a betrayal of the men of 1916. That was an active choice by Irish electors in free elections. If 1916 stood for anything it stood for the right to national self-determination, and we as a people determined to remain economically and socially backward as the rest of Europe moved ahead. Indeed, economic progress only began in earnest when we started to once again share sovereignty, this time with the rest of Europe.

You cannot dismiss the sheer physical courage of those who raised rifles on that crisp, clear morning. But we are doing them a disservice by using their sacrifice as a lazy bookmark for highlighting modern day grievances and our reluctance to actually confront our problems with a sense of rationality. It’s just not good enough to utter the stock “Was it for this?” and then saunter away in indignation.

To put it in context: imagine the sneering any Irish politician would get if he raised taxes for a specific social purpose under the banner of John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you.”

The men and women of 1916 asked what they could do for their country. The men and women of 2016 seem to always have an excuse why someone else should be making a greater sacrifice.


Voters don’t see opposing corruption as their job.

Posted by Jason O on May 25, 2016 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition, US Politics

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition on 13th December 2015.

Last week, Preet Bharara, The US Attorney (Director of Public Prosecutions) for the southern district of New York sent out a tweet welcoming the conviction of a man named Dean Skelos. Skelos was New York State’s senate majority leader, and had been known as one of the “three men in a room” along with state assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and governor Andrew Cuomo who actually ran the state of New York. Skelos was convicted of bribery and extortion charges, accused of trying to enrich his son. In November, state assembly speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted on corruption charges too. Both men look like getting about 130 years each.

These were important men. For many years, in New York state politics, these were The Men. Between them, they controlled the New York state legislature and a state budget of $150 billion dollars, nearly three times the national budget of Ireland. What was interesting was that the US attorney saw fit to publicise widely his role in putting these men behind bars. Political showboating? Almost certainly. The office of New York’s US Attorney has already proven to be a political launching pad for one Rudolph W. Giuliani, who’s jailing of dodgy Wall Street types won him a lot of votes with ordinary working people who wanted to see that the law applied to the mucky-mucks as well.

Does Attorney Bharara have ambitions for elected office? Who knows. But if he does, it’s not unreasonable for him to think that going after corrupt politicians might win him votes.

It’s a good job he’s not running in Ireland.

Watching the RTE Investigates report into our home-grown breed, you see the differences. First of all, it’s not the Garda or Department of Justice hunting these guys down. It’s a television station. If you google “FBI public corruption”, you get the page of the FBI that deals specifically with it, and lists out all the recent public officials convicted in recent months of corruption. In the US, if you’re a councilman or a state senator, there’s always the chance when some guy offers you a brown envelope that he’s actually an FBI agent wearing a wire.

Think Irish councillors have ever worried that the Gardai were out to get them? Put “public corruption” into the search engine on the Garda website. You get the following “You Searched for ‘corruption’ filtered by ‘all’ Pages returned ‘0’ results.”

The truth is that there is no one in the Irish state, unlike in the US, who gets up in the morning and says “today I’m going to nail some corrupt so-and-so to a cross.” As with so many things in Ireland, it’s nobody’s job. Why not?

Why doesn’t Garda Commissioner O’Sullivan announce that she is setting up a dedicated unit to pursue and actively attempt to bribe Irish public officials, as the FBI (and RTE) do? Who’ll stop her? The minister? The Taoiseach? As it happens, they probably don’t have the power to stop her. But more importantly, they wouldn’t have the stones. Yeah, all across the country county councillors would be up in arms, talking about their “good names” being dragged into disrepute by the mere existence of such a unit, but so what? Would it be the worst thing in the world if every grasping sticky-fingered “what’s in it for me?” councillor had just the lightest film of sweat on their brow every time he sat down with a developer? Or when he picked up his phone?  

By the way, on that note, why haven’t RTE named the councillors who refused to meet them because they felt it was inappropriate? The fact that there are councillors who actually aren’t on the make is as big a story as those who are.

Of course, it’s unlikely the Garda will take such dramatic action. The organisation is notoriously reactive. After all, according to last week’s Garda Inspectorate report they seem to be only getting around to the fact that there’s a thing called “the internet”. The one thing that would make the Garda take corruption seriously is the one thing that made the late Telecom Eireann and Dublin Bus up their game: competition. If the government outsourced the pursuit of corruption to, say, a private security company or legal firm which got paid by the number of its privately investigated cases the DPP felt able to bring to trial, then suddenly the Garda might sit up. Now there’s an idea as to how to spend Atlantic Philanthropies money.  

That’s the unwritten truth we all avoid: the Garda don’t take corruption seriously because the Irish people don’t, and they work for them. Voters, as a general rule, don’t see dismissing corrupt politicians as being their job. In fact, it’s even worse. A politician who spends his time trying to clean up politics is almost seen as a time waster not doing proper local graft work. There’s also the reality, which the commissioner will be well aware of, that the Irish people are far more likely to dismiss a politician who fights corruption than one actually being corrupt. Just ask Pat O’Malley (remember him?), Joe Higgins, Jim Mitchell or Dick Spring.

Fighting corruption in Ireland is going to be like bringing in divorce, equality for women or decriminalising gay rights. One of those issues where the majority of people either have no interest or are mildly opposed to it, but is pushed by a tiny well-organised, dedicated group. Then one day you reach a tipping point and it becomes the cultural norm, and everybody wonders why we didn’t always do it this way? It’s be the tiny Social Democrats or Renua or a plucky independent who forces the big parties to finally take action. That’s the Irish way.    



Time for Brexit with a capital I?

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published on the 24th January 2016 in The Times Ireland Edition.

Watching our British, and specifically English neighbours having their ongoing nervous breakdown over their relationship with the rest of Europe, we have to be concerned. To us, it’s sort of like watching Mammy and Daddy fighting, and knowing with that awareness even the youngest of children have that if the outcome is bad it’ll affect us badly too.

Having said that, it also raises an awkward question for us. As a country that is Olympic gold medal standard in ignoring awkward questions, we have to confront this one. If the Brits go, should we consider leaving the European Union too?

Put that question to the spin-the-bottle FF/FG/Labour political establishment and they’ll blurt out an automatic no. But this is done without thinking, and not because of any commitment to the cause of European integration but to a hardwired revulsion of anything that sounds like change.

As it happens, European unity is not just about World War II but about a group of small countries with similar values magnifying their power to shape the global forces that affect us, from mass migration to terrorism to international trade. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t take a dispassionate eye to what is in our national interest.

Here’s the awkward reality: yes, keeping the Brits in is in our interest. But if they leave, getting them a good deal is absolutely vital. We trade nearly €1 billion a week with them, and anything that interferes with that, from border control to tariffs to British access to the single market is a threat to our national interest. Any threat to that trade is the biggest and most likely single non-terrorist threat to our economy. In short, if our membership of the EU threatened our access to the British market, that would be a serious conundrum for us.

Then there’s our membership of the euro. There are some in the country who believe that returning to a national currency would allow us more flexibility in that we’d have nominal control over interest rates again. They’re right, of course. But we’d also have to balance our desire for appropriate domestic interest rates with the need to keep the currency shadowing both sterling and the euro. And that’s before you consider how lip-licking populist Irish politicians would look at political control of interest rates. It’s not hard to imagine them demanding that the central bank pay attention to “social justice” when setting interest rates and ending with politicians wondering why we can’t just “temporarily” print more of our new national currency.

Sorry, but I have more faith in a currency run by Mario than Mary Lou.      

The big question is whether it’s enough to justify our exit? The vast majority of our FDI must regard our membership of both the euro and the single market as a key factor for investing in Ireland. Obviously along with our “Hey, Apple, keep your hand in your pocket, this round is on us!” approach to corporate taxation, but access to the single market matters. It’s certainly not for our tiny domestic market that they’re here. We haven’t even got a proper Apple store. Likewise, leaving the Common Agricultural Policy would be a shocker too, as, post Irish exit, the IFA lads point that famous rattling bowl at the Irish taxpayer and ask “Well?”

I’ve no doubt we should stay. The deciding factor for us on staying will be the same thing that can be traced all the way back to Michael Collins. Small nations need a place at the table, to be inside the room. The Brits used to think that way until the eurosceptics came up with the surreal concept that either a) the EU, and therefore the room, was going to go away, or b) the room doesn’t matter. Or there’s the even more bizarre idea that you can have as much influence in the room by not being in it, like some form of geo-political séance. Sort of “Knock once if you want a change in banana curvature regulations.”

There’s also one reason why examining Irish exit might be dangerous. It might make the rest of Europe look at what they get out of us being in the EU, with our two-faced approaches to things like abortion and neutrality and our bloody referendums. It’s true, Angela wants to keep us on board because she can scold the Greeks and point at us. But that all hinges on Irish politicians not making a future balls of the public finances. I wouldn’t be brimming with confidence on that one. This is a political class, after all, whom I suspect now regard calling in the IMF as a form of political ctrl-alt-delete button.

If someone had told the lads on Easter Monday 1916 that 100 years from then a sovereign Irish government would be sitting in the councils of Europe demanding a better deal for the Brits they’d have choked on their figrolls.

Yet the truth is that it is in the interest of Ireland that we side with them against our gallant allies in Europe on this issue.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t stop trying to slap some sense into them before the referendum. Nor will we be alone: I suspect the run up to the referendum will have the Americans and the rest of Europe imitating that scene in “Airplane” where a queue of people line up to slap sense into an hysterical passenger trying to get off the plane in mid-flight.

Still, surely we’ve come a long way. 100 years ago we would have just shot them.  



A question from the Austrian election.

Posted by Jason O on May 22, 2016 in European Union

political-map-of-europe-lgI’m writing this before the final result of the Austrian presidential election is known. In truth, the result, whatever it is, doesn’t change my question: what do the anti-immigrant hard-right voters actually want?

At the heart of their demands is, I suspect, a fundamental paradox. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that hard-right national governments across Europe will take measures to prevent immigrants entering their countries. Increased border security, fencing, more actual physical barriers to entry into their respective countries. It’ll also have the added benefit of looking good for their voters, governments finally abandoning weak-minded “liberal” policies  amidst scenes of tough soldiers and border guards battling immigrants on their borders. Add to that the populist benefit of telling Brussels to f**k off. All good stuff.

But look at a map of modern Europe and see if you can spot a problem.

It doesn’t work. If every EU country decides to go its own way, and secure its border in the hope of redirecting immigrants on somewhere else, it means spending billions, yes billions, on border security. You know all that money people complain will go to housing refugees, educating them, integrating them? It all gets spent on trying to secure borders instead.

Just look at a map of Austria. Or Switzerland, or France, or Germany. We’re not talking border posts. We’re talking East Germany, with East German levels of expenditure. We’re talking thousands and thousands of patrolled alarmed fences with massively increased security forces on both sides of friendly borders turning a blind eye if someone tries to get over your border into somewhere else. Think the Italians are going to just shrug their shoulders and carry the burden for the rest of Europe? Or Greece? Why would they? Would the rest of us? This is a European problem.

That’s all assuming, by the way, that the refugees just stop at a border. What if thousands of them try to rush the borders? Are Austrian police and soldiers going to mow down women and children with machine guns? Think the Waldheim years were bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

That’s before, by the way, that we even consider the economic cost of what sealing every continental border to a trickle will do for cross-border trade, the life blood of this continent.

This is certified madness. The only way Europeans can secure and manage immigration, as we have a right to do, is to spend a lot of money on an external border control force, and on a secure off-continent location where we can safely house and process refugees. That is the solution, not electing a bunch of pandering populist hucksters.


An awkward reality about corporate taxes.

Posted by Jason O on May 21, 2016 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition on 11th April 2016.

Here’s an interesting fact. In pretty much every recent EU treaty referendum we have had, the right to maintain low taxes for some of the biggest corporate names in the world was a key issue. All across Ireland, ordinary working people who pay nearly half their own income in taxes, went into polling stations to ensure those companies paid at most 12.5% in tax, and often only a fraction of that.

Why would they do that? Are we a nation of secret ideological Romneyites worried about the mega corporations and their right to keep their money?

The truth is, we’re smart and selfish. We recognise that those companies employ thousands of people in this country with very tasty pay packets which contribute to our taxes and get spent in our shops and restaurants. They rent and buy buildings and apartments and houses from very grateful Irish landlords, and take out mortgages from Irish banks that get giddy with excitement when employees from the world’s most famous companies come through their doors.

In short, this country is a company town. We know where and by whom our bread is buttered.

Of course, it means that we’re more conflicted than other countries are about the issue of those companies paying their proverbial “fair share” in taxation. We’re not France. We’re more Jersey or Isle of Man, a country that doesn’t want to rock the boat because they paid for the outboard motor.

And yet we still get angry, or at least pretend to when papers are leaked from Panama, or we’re told that giant companies are routing vast profits through various schemes to shield them from taxes. But is it a real affect-how-I-vote anger, or just an anger we copy from stuff we see online from the UK or US where it’s fashionable to be angry about these things?

Whether your anger is real or not, there’s a reason why you are going to have to care about this issue, and it’s this: public spending is going to continue increasing, because it has to. We live in an age where medical technology is advancing at an eye-watering rate, and with that, constantly higher public expectations. Thirty years ago a cataract or a bad hip was just a burden of old age, a cross one carried.

Now there is an expectation that the healthcare system must rectify the problem, yet another cost to the public purse which just didn’t exist in the past. If a man wasn’t cutting the mustard in the bedroom, that used to be his problem: now, with the invention of Viagra, it’s the minister for finance’s problem. All that additional medical capability prolongs life, which means that people are living longer and thus the cost of senior care is going to continue to rise too. Nursing homes aren’t cheap. State pensions are going to have to be paid for more people and for longer.

In short, it’s no longer a question of whether we want to collect higher taxes from multinationals, but having to.

It will not be politically sustainable, certainly across Europe, to tell voters that their healthcare expectations will have to be reduced because multinationals don’t want to pay taxes.

As with so many other issues, Irish politicians, like their continental counterparts, will eventually have to confront the reality that corporation tax competition, whilst a short term benefit, is reducing the tax base. Tax harmonisation across the EU, that dreaded concept, is going to have to be considered.

One can argue against a common EU corporation tax rate, and there are good arguments against, especially for countries like Ireland or Cyprus, on the outer edge of Europe. But you can also recognise that a common means of calculating corporate tax liability is going to be needed to crack down on avoidance. The Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), which Ireland opposed as the beginning of a move towards tax harmonisation, is the agreed set of rules by which each member state levies corporate taxes, regardless of what rate is set nationally. This is now back on the table with a vengeance from the European Commission, and it isn’t going away, especially not if the Brits take their coat and leave in June.

In fact, the issue is going to get even more complicated. After all, even if the EU were to agree a common corporate tax policy, there’s nothing to stop those same companies just basing themselves outside of Europe.

That must surely then open a whole new front in the debate. Is it acceptable that we give access to Europe’s greatest asset, our 500m consumers, and then let them give us the two fingers when it comes to contributing towards maintaining that market?

Because let’s not forget: yes, they can move their profits offshore, but they can’t move their consumers, our people. We’re the prize. Is it possible, for example, for the EU to devise a special sales tax specifically targeted at the products of companies that aren’t morally tax compliant in Europe? A tax on, say, a certain brand of coffee shop which then gives its’ morally tax compliant (often small business) competitors an actual price advantage?

In short, you can hide all you want in Grand Cayman, but when we start disrupting your relationship with the people who actually buys your product, maybe then you’ll want to talk with the European taxman?



So, how would Dáil Éireann deal with a post-apocalyptic scenario?

Posted by Jason O on May 19, 2016 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

World War Z zombie outbreak: Invariably, the government would hold off giving the order to shoot infected citizens for fear of huge compensation claims, until it was too late and society was overwhelmed. Also, the attorney general would probably rule that the undead are covered under the unborn protection clause in the constitution. Either way we’re screwed. In the middle of the crisis a significant number of TDs would continue lobbying for new roofs for local GAA clubs even as zombies were eating the faces off their constituents. Fianna Fail would point out that the world never ended when they were in office.

Armageddon Earth threatening meteor: The Irish government would almost certainly attempt to avoid making any financial contribution to the planet saving exercise. Curiously, we would be bitterly disappointed at the refusal of some other nation/entity to compensate us for the damage caused by the meteor, with large numbers of Irish people believing that Ireland suffered more harshly than any other nation. The Irish language lobby, pointing out that the giant tidal wave that destroyed Connaught also destroyed a large chunk of the Gaeltacht, would call for increased Irish language funding.

Independence Day alien invasion: As above, with the exception that Richard Boyd Barrett would protest at the US’s destruction of the alien invasion fleet as a racist and imperialist act against a misunderstood culture. Bord Failte would quickly prepare, just in case, proof that the aliens forefathers came from Belmullet.

Vampire outbreak: an outbreak of vampirism would be dealt with in one of two ways by the Irish state. The first would be to round them up, put them in institutions, sexually assault them and then apologise, paying compensation.

The second would depend on how well organised the vampires were. If they registered to vote, deputies would be afraid to challenge them for fear of losing the vampire vote, and before you know it we’d all be required to make compulsory blood donations, and the importation of garlic would be highly taxed (cough). A state board would be created to advance vampirism, and it would be made compulsory in schools, and although everybody would be required to become a vampire by the time they do their leaving, most people wouldn’t but we’d all pretend we were. Before long we’d be lobbying the EU for vampirism to be made compulsory across Europe, and bitching about the Germans when elite Bundeswehr vampire hunters arrive and wipe them out. Once again, we’d seek compensation.


Your money and other people’s sex lives.

Posted by Jason O on May 14, 2016 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

The Times Screenshot

Originally published in The Times Ireland Edition on the 18th April 2016.

There’s an old saying that the two most interesting subjects in the world are your own money, and other people’s sex lives. It’s a dated observation, because in the modern age, other people’s money, how much they have, and how they spend it or hide it, is just as fascinating. Amidst all the roaring and shouting about the Panama Papers and David Cameron’s tax affairs and the jaw dropping revelation that the leader of the Tories is quite comfortable there was a nugget of truth worth considering.

Politics would probably benefit if everybody’s, yes, everybody’s, income and tax paid was online for all to see.

I’ll just pause here to let you explode in anger, as the great majority of Irish people no doubt will on reading such a preposterous downright dirty red communist proposition.

Outrageous? Possibly. Infringement of privacy? Definitely. But think about the transformative effect it would have on politics. And not the way you think either. See, people assume that it would be the left that would benefit, revealing the vast bounties been taken home by the nation’s evil moustache-twirling boss class. Yeah, some businesspeople would be revealed to be making serious bread. But so would the heads of various NGOs and yes, poverty-focussed charities and trades unions too. Would getting that information clearly into the public domain, by law, really be such a terrible thing?

But the big reveal would be something that the centre-right have been saying for years and that nobody believes. That the rich actually pay large amounts of filthy lucre in tax, and it would be there, in black and white, for all to see.

Yes, you’d see that certain individuals are claiming the privilege of an Irish passport whilst paying little into the national coffers, but it’s a good thing to know that. For too often it’s been very easy for the alphabet left to paint the country with two super-broad strokes: the rich, and the rest of us. This would highlight a very awkward (for them) point: that a large tranche of the rich, the well-off and the comfortable are not jet-setting calendar-counting avoidance aficionados but people who do pay large amounts of money in tax. People who, and you don’t hear this often, despite being worth a few bob are just as irritated as Comrade Murphy TD at tax avoidance by their financial betters. They’re irritated because unlike the far left, they actually press the online banking send button every October which puts large amounts of their hard earned cash into the lip licking maw of the Revenue. After all, they never stop complaining that they pay ridiculous amounts in tax anyway, so why not let their fellow citizens verify for themselves, and see that it is the actual truth?

It’s true that you can point an accusing finger at a successful businessman who is paying himself a very tasty salary. But when, right beside that salary column will be the huge ball of cash he’s putting into the social welfare and health and education system, the pointed finger loses some of its accusatory power. And if he’s only paying a suspiciously low fraction in tax, then this becomes an annual media and public-led opportunity for the voters and opposition to savage the government on tax avoidance. Every single year.

It’s not just the tax-paying high earners who could benefit, or indeed the reveal of their contribution to society being something the hard left should worry about. Wait until the ordinary PAYE workers see not how much their neighbours pay, but more often the fact that many pay little or nothing. There’s nothing more likely to turn your ordinary working joe into a raving Thatcherite than the idea that he’s breaking his proverbial doing overtime to put dinner on the table whilst that mooching waster next door is wandering down to the shops in his pyjamas, on our hero’s dime. That’s what terrifies the People’s Front of Killiney: the possibility that Sean Citizen might look at Michael O’Leary’s enormous tax bill, then look at the wastrel next door, and decide he has more in common with O’Leary.

After all, don’t both of them get up out of bed in the morning and go out to pay their way in the world?  

Is it practical? Probably not. There’d be war and every spurious excuse from it being a charter for axe murderers to travel the country bashing wealthy grannies to indignant pleas for the nanny state to be told to shove off and mind its own business. There’s also the ultimate Irish fear that all across the land there are Lady Mucks going around putting on airs and graces about their family status that might not be justified. All are not bad reasons not to do it. But the benefits, the breaking down of the wall between class grievance and the reality of who pays what, that can only be for the good, surely?

Perhaps, for example, we could commit to do it in, say, three years time, with a promise that nothing before that date would be revealed, giving people time to get their affairs in order, even sell off assets and the rest before nosy neighbours (or more likely, relatives) get their excited fingers onto a keyboard.

Of course, all this assumes we’d ever get it past learned colleagues down the Supreme Court…


Western democracy enters its most dangerous 12 months in a generation.

Posted by Jason O on May 9, 2016 in British Politics, European Union, US Politics

StormThe 7th May 2017 is the final date in a 12 month perfect storm of political events that threaten western stability and indeed democracy like none since the 1970s. Between now and that date, the second round of the French presidential election, we will face  three major events that have the potential to upend key stability factors in our society.

The first is Brexit. As it happens, British withdrawal from the European Union itself can be managed. The European Community existed before the UK joined, and can function without it. The big fear, however, is that Brexit might trigger a domino effect of populist forces declaring exit from the EU as the Deux Ex Machina that solves all modern anxieties. Even then, it can be contained, provided that Italy, France or Germany don’t leave, with smaller countries leaving just becoming de facto non-voting satellite states of the EU.

The second is a Trump victory. As it happens, such a result would almost certainly result in the Republican party rushing to be forgiven by him in the hope of sharing in the patronage and spoils. But is it impossible for a man with an ego like Trump to decide that he is in fact above party politics and to appoint some popular Democrats to office too? That coupled with the very real difficulties of implementing the more extreme of his policies could trigger a sharp backlash in his hard-core base. Or mass rioting amongst Hispanics if he tries to implement them. Don’t forget, Hispanic-American citizens have the right to bear arms too. The sheer unpredictability of a Trump presidency, never a good thing when the control of nuclear weapons is involved, is a serious worry for us all.

The third and final is the possibility of Marine Le Pen becoming President of France. As with The Donald, “right thinking” people keep saying that it can’t or won’t happen. But we live in dangerous times, and the Le Pen plan, based on withdrawal from the euro and protectionism for French business, as well as mass deportation, would almost certainly destroy the European Union. There can be no EU with France and Germany in step.

Next month, we enter the maelstrom…


University of Chicago Institute of Politics Political TV Festival: The West Wing

Posted by Jason O on May 8, 2016 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs, US Politics

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