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

Europe needs to be an elephant.

Posted by Jason O on Mar 24, 2017 in European Union

LondonWe all know how we feel about the attack on London. Like Nice, Paris, London, Madrid, Brussels, Ankara, there’s the temptation to lash out. Bomb them into the stone age. Wipe ’em out. Kill ’em all. #stopislam.

But we also know that’s not the solution, because it won’t work and it isn’t who we are.

We can scrap Schengen, close our borders, tag Muslims, waterboard suspects, drone strike suspects in the Middle East. It might make us feel better, but even just for a little while. Then we watch Muslim children on our streets, fear in their eyes, their parents telling them that they’re hated, other children not wanting to play with them.

That’s not the Europe I want to live in, nor do I want these bastards to decide what sort of continent Europe will be.

This fascist death cult that attacks our cities is small, flexible, and yes, has some support amongst Muslim communities. But the way to fight it is through intelligence, surveillance, cross-border cooperation, rapid response and hand-in-hand with moderate European Muslims who regard these guys with as much disdain as non-Muslims. Well-resourced, targeted, nuanced. We could start by ensuring that there are EU resources available to EU countries like Belgium who are struggling to contain the internal threat. Maybe it is time for Europol to get teeth, to become not Europe’s FBI but its MI5.

I remember being in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s when many didn’t see a difference between being Irish and being a terrorist. Treating me as a potential terrorist would not have made me more anti-terrorist, but would have pushed me towards the terrorists. The British discovered this in Northern Ireland. Having said that, it’s time to take a hardline on Europeans who go to fight for radical Islam and also on (particularly) Saudi funding of conservative Madrassas in Europe. Neither should be welcome in Europe.

Finally, and this sounds counter-intuitive, but Europe should shake off these attacks as mere pinpricks on an elephant. We’re 500 million people. They’re never going to defeat us, no matter how many attacks they carry out. Instead, they want to provoke us into overreacting against Islam. That’s their aim. They want us to be less tolerant, less open, less European.

Let them go to hell. To quote Father Damo from “Father Ted”, perhaps unusually in these dark days, but relevant all the same: They’re not the boss of us.


A few awkward points about fighting terrorism.

Posted by Jason O on Mar 22, 2017 in European Union

France_antisemitism_150629_900_LT-810x539There are events that one wants to write about but finds that one has said what one wanted to say before. Because these things keep f**king happening.


We’re living in scary times, with what feels like almost daily attacks across Europe. Let’s just take a breath and consider a few things:

1. IS “claiming” ownership of attacks is like one of those countries (you know who I’m talking about) which claims a successful actor/athlete as one of theirs, and then when he/she flops suddenly disowns them. Most of these attacks are franchise attacks, often claimed after the attacker has been killed. Most are not part of a conspiracy.

2. Beware of politicians who are as much obsessed with being seeing to do something as actually doing something. If Sarko, for example, had to choose between putting troops on the streets, or spending those funds on a less public but more effective method of dealing with terrorism, I suspect he’d go with the former. It’s funny, by the way, how politicians who bang on about the niceties of human rights laws suddenly get very legalistic when being investigated themselves on corruption charges.

3. The public need to be wary of putting too much emphasis on visible forms of fighting terrorism. Consider this: if France wanted to put two armed soldiers within running distance of every 150 of its’ citizens, say on every village main street or every two urban streets, on a three shift basis, that’s 2.6m soldiers. That’s not including logistical support, extra guards for public places, synagogues, churches (and soon mosques, wait and see) or indeed the army actually defending France from external threats. Of course, France has large police forces too, but the figures and costs are huge and would means cuts in other public services. In short, you’re letting a few hundred nuts radically transform your society.

4. Terrorism comes in two forms, random and planned. Planned is defeated by intelligence, and random by quick response. We need small, fast and smart responses. Europe needs an MI5/GCHQ, a well-resourced clearing house and surveillance support to assist the smaller countries like Belgium.

5. Is mental illness playing as significant a role in some of these attacks as ideology? Either way, the public must be protected. But let’s not see a conspiracy where it isn’t.

6. Having said that, is it time for a defined set of European values, offending against which is a criminal offence in itself? It would be a big step against freedom of speech, although not that big on the continent where Holocaust denial is a criminal offence. People say there is no such thing as a European demos. I suspect these attacks are helping create one. When Paris or Brussels was attacked, most of us don’t see it as an attack on France or Belgium, as an attack on THEM. It’s an attack on us.

7. There is an issue about minority exclusion. Surely recruiting police and security agents from the suburbs of Paris makes more sense than randomly bombing things in Iraq/Syria?

8. Muslims have died both fighting these terrorists and being killed by them. This continent knows all about pointing at one faith and saying “get rid of them and our problems go away.” No. just, no.

9. If you were IS, turning the majority of Europeans against ordinary Muslims must be amongst your highest priorities. Ask the Catholics of the north of Ireland how internment helped recruit IRA sympathisers.

10. What the hell are we doing letting the Saudis fund mosques and schools in Europe for?

11. I remain convinced that Europe needs to create a safe off-shore buffer zone where refugees can be processed and where those refugees who show an unwillingness to conform to European values be prevented from reaching the EU itself. I’m not talking about an Australian style detention centre though: I’m talking about building a little piece of Europe away from Europe. Given the disastrous impact terrorism has had on tourism in North Africa, it might not be impossible for the EU to lease a chunk of land for such a purpose.

12. We need to keep an eye on the far-right too. Far-right terrorism will make an appearance soon, and is as much a threat to European values as religious extremism.


Memo to the new Taoiseach.

Posted by Jason O on Mar 18, 2017 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

An-Taoiseach-Enda-Kenny3Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.

Some years ago, I had to collect a relative from Dublin airport. The flight had been delayed, and it was quite late, and as I stood in arrivals I noticed a former Taoiseach standing in the small waiting crowd. Watching him for a while, it was striking that he got none of the double-taking that even well-known politicians get. He’d been the most powerful man in the country, and now was hardly noticed. 

He hadn’t been a bad Taoiseach. It felt like he’d just, for the most part, physically been there. Like Enda.

Whilst it’s fair to say that Enda Kenny had achievements as Taoiseach, overall, as he prepares to leave office, you can’t help feeling that the phrase “squandered opportunities” will be the one that hangs most around the Kenny era. Here was a man whose government came to power with the greatest majority ever, and with a momentum in the country willing to toss aside the old ways of doing politics. He leaves office with the political system, in terms of where actual decision making power lies, in almost the exact shape that he found it.

His successor, whomever it is, needs to ponder that. The refusal to radically change the system didn’t help Enda in the long run. He’s not leaving office of his own volition, but just one step ahead of a political posse.

The next Taoiseach has to decide whether that is what he wants to be too? Another placeholder holding on by his fingernails until he too gets turfed out? Or a man with a body of work that will be his legacy. If he’s the latter, he needs to get cracking from day one.

I have, much to your surprise, dear reader, I’m sure, a few suggestions for our new Taoiseach.

First, decide in your head that less is more. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, advised that rather than overpromise, politicians should under-promise and over-deliver, and not make a big hullabaloo about a policy until it is actually up and running. Don’t make vague and unmeasurable promises about “tackling” the housing crisis and A&E. Decide what you can actually do, do it, then declare it.

There are a number of things you can do quite easily. One, for example, involves a simple clear statement as Taoiseach stating that anyone who paid their water charges will get their money back. These are your heartland, and it’s time they got some respect for obeying the law you passed.

Secondly, explain in a straightforward way, face to camera, why the national children’s hospital has to be built in a congested urban area and not on the M50: there may be very good reasons, but no one in government seems capable of communicating them so far.

Reconsider the whole free GP visits for all proposal. It looks great on paper, but all it will really do is create waiting lists to see GPs. Like it or not, charging for GPs forces patients to perform their own triage. However, do recognise that the squeezed middle without medical cards are paying for everything: give them vouchers for a few free GP visits a year. It eases the burden without flooding GP surgeries.

Next, recognise that voter education, or rather, the lack of it, is the issue that is poisoning politics across the west and could easily do so here. Just look at the number of people on Obamacare who voted to abolish Obamacare and are now shocked to be losing their Obamacare. Government, the matching of finite taxes to infinite public service demand, is going to more and more require the public understanding why choices are being made. As it happens, the last Dail has done a lot of work on this. There is a proposed electoral commission, and minister Eoghan Murphy’s Tax Transparency bill is sitting in the bowels of the Oireachtas somewhere. Let these both be fast-tracked through as the beginning of an active campaign to educate voters as to why decisions are made.

Then move onto making the opposition work for their salaries. For years we’ve been promised an Oireachtas Budget Office that would take opposition proposals through the ringers and make sure the sums were right. Not only should you set it up, you should task it to automatically cost every opposition spending proposal. The opposition work for the taxpayers too: we’re entitled to value off them as well.

While you’re at it, push through elected mayors and that Seanad reform bill. A Seanad elected on a non-geographical basis will focus on national policy, as government has to. And elected mayors are the antidote to reckless opposition: let a load of Alphabet Left and Sinn Fein mayors have to legally choose between increased property taxes and local public services. Make them make decisions.

Finally, invite every EU member state with a population of less than 6m, all twelve of them, to a Summit of the Small. We’re forever complaining when Germany, France and the big six have their summits. Let’s have ours, and send out a clear message that we will defend the free-movement free-trade single market Europe and the sovereignty of small nations.

From day one as Taoiseach, you have a choice. You can just physically be Taoiseach, or you can set out to change the direction of society.

No prizes for guessing which one gets remembered.


Yes, but WHY do you want to be Taoiseach?

Posted by Jason O on Mar 4, 2017 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

CPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition.

When I was a kid in the 1980s, becoming aware of politics, Sunday morning seemed to me to be an important time. Just before the Sunday dinner the opening credits of “Weekend World” would erupt from the television. The show about British politics, presented by former Labour MP Brian Walden, was nearly always too heavy for me to watch, but I always came away with two impressions.

The first was that its theme music, the prog rock group Mountain’s “Nantucket Sleighride” seemed to me as a kid a bit too mischievous for a political programme theme, in that, played over scenes off that week’s political events, it made politics look very exciting indeed.

The second was that this was a serious programme for serious people. The politicians who went on it, the Denis Healeys, the Nigel Lawsons, the Roy Jenkins, seemed to be very big beasts. They had to be, because Walden conducted what we now call a “forensic interview”. A minister or opposition spokesperson had to know their brief, not because the show got a large audience but because the guests knew that their colleagues and the press gallery would all be watching, and making a bags on “Weekend World” had an impact on your reputation as a serious player.

I was reminded of the show recently watching Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar teeing up to replace Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. How would all three men handle a serious-big-picture-with- details interview on their vision for Taoiseach? One challenge for all three is the tendency of Irish politicians to see an interview not as an opportunity to test an idea or communicate an objective, but as a chore to be endured. Usually with the presentation of a bingo card of safe inoffensive guff phrases like “world class health service” and “meeting the challenges” and listing out everything as a priority. Requests for detail will be met with declarations of support for “Comprehensive reviews”. In short, they try to ride out the clock and get the hell out of there without giving away too much.

We know for certain that the current Taoiseach does struggle with detailed interviews. Not because his government doesn’t have achievements, because it does. Indeed, he has been the victim of the simple churlishness of Irish voters who are willing to blame a government for every economic setback, but rarely give them any credit for creating an environment for economic progress. But then, get a vague Taoiseach, get vague voters.  

If there is one lesson Coveney and Varadkar should heed, it’s the importance of being able to communicate a clear metric of what success looks like. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition actually did the opposite, running on a platform of opposition to many of the measures such as water charges and property taxes that they would actually be forced to implement. More importantly, they knew well before polling day that they’d have no choice given the state of the public finances.

But by 2016, the metric to measure them was what they said in 2011 and what they had lied about. What seemed like clever in 2011 to Labour nearly destroyed them as a party in 2016, with the spectacle of Labour activists cringing at the media actually using their own 2011 appearances against them.

It’s not good enough to spew guff about “tackling” the A&E or housing crisis. It’s about either man being able to stand alone in a room with a blank flip chart and a felt tip pen and write out the three or four specific objectives they will have pledged to deliver by the end of this Dail in 2021.

How long should a person reasonably have to wait in A&E before an actual doctor is treating them?

What is the reasonable percentage of gross income someone in Dublin should expect to pay in rent for a two bedroom flat?

There’s a whole raft of questions like those above, but here’s the thing. If either man looks at either of those questions and says “How the hell am I supposed to know?”, then I’d suggest they ring the other guy and tell him they’re withdrawing.  They’re two simple questions about ordinary life, and if a prospective Taoiseach can’t either see that, or doesn’t want to answer them, or simply don’t think about things like that, they’re not the man for the job.

We have had, in Enda Kenny, and I’d suggest Brian Cowen too, Taoisigh who came into the job because it was the next rung on the ladder. Is there anyone who really believes either man came back from the park having met the president and rubbed their hands thinking “Finally! A chance to do something on policy X!” Noel Browne came into office determined to do bloody war upon tuberculosis. Labour in 1992 came in and immediately launched a swathe of liberal reforms, leaving a legacy in 1997 of the single most socially liberalising government in the history of the state. Dev from 1932, cumulating in a new constitution in 1937, had a plan.  

In 1979 Ted Kennedy famously damaged his campaign for president by being unable to answer why he wanted to be president.

Simon and Leo have a question to answer: why do you want power?    

Copyright © 2021 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.