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

Time for an American Brexit?

Posted by Jason O on Aug 26, 2017 in US Politics

president-trumpPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition.

It’s a cold, crisp morning on the 20th of January, 2021. A huge crowd, a genuinely huge one this time, has gathered at the US Capitol for that perennial fixture of American politics, the swearing-in of the president. Sean Spicer, as one of the guest co-anchors for Fox News, good naturedly confirms that yes, the crowd might even be “a tad bigger” than four years ago.

The ceremony itself is delayed by a wave of boos and jeers as the president arrives, his lower lip jutting out in defiance, his eyes clearly betraying his lack of enthusiasm for the occasion. He has aged more than a man should in four years. Melania hasn’t.

The crowd settles eventually, and then Martin O’Malley, President-elect, Democrat and former governor of Maryland, steps forward to take the oath of office, his wife to his side. Near him Kamala Harris, former US Senator of California, the first black female vice president, smiles at the incoming first lady.    

Governor O’Malley takes the oath, and then turns to face the crowd as a euphoric, almost orgasmic cheer erupts. The long national nightmare is over. The nuclear codes are once again in safe hands. Everything is going to be OK. People joke that we’ll all look back and look at it not as much as the Trump administration, but the Donald Divergence, a weird moment in history when a great nation temporarily took leave of its senses. But it’s all OK now.

Except it’s not: despite years of truly awful poll ratings President Trump managed to actually increase his share of the vote. Not as much as the Democratic nominee, but he wasn’t humiliated. The electoral college restored the blue wall and Florida and Ohio put the O’Malley-Harris ticket over the top, but it was no landslide. A few hundred thousand votes the other way and it would have been another four years of shenanigans. Millions and millions of people voted once again for him, this time knowing exactly what he’d be like in the White House. None of your The Office Maketh the Man rubbish. They knew exactly what they were getting.

Am I being a bit fanciful for a Tuesday morning column? Perhaps. I love a bit of future speculation and the odd “What if”. But the fundamentals are sound. Maybe the majority of Americans are turning resolutely against President Trump, as opposed to the They’re As Bad as Each Other tone of the 2016 election campaign. Millions still support the man.

The fear is not that he won’t be beaten in 2020, assuming he stays in office that long. The real worry should be that even if he is ousted by the voters, the country will remain bitterly divided.

It’s not fair or accurate to say that every Trump voter is represented by the central casting rejects who marched under confederate and nazi flags in Charlottesville last week. But it is fair to say that nearly all of them are not really alarmed, but indeed even comfortable with a president who is not seemingly bothered by what they represent. I don’t think he’s a nazi. I think he may actually be worse than that, a man so vulnerable to flattery that if it comes from a white supremacist he’ll lap it up and give them what he calls a fair hearing.

The question is not getting him out in 2020. The question is what is left behind. A sizeable portion of the country, millions of people, who voted for Trump and post-Trump will be looking for a new political berth. Supposing he or she comes? A new paragon for the hard or even far right but without Trump’s weaknesses. Who does read his briefings, and retains facts, and knows when to keep his mouth shut and not alienate people for no actual gain. But still believes in that hard right agenda? Many call Trump a buffoon. What if the next one isn’t?

That’s the question many moderate Americans will be asking themselves. Supposing they do dodge a bullet and elect a moderate candidate in 2020. What happens next?

Will Trump voters even accept the result? Will he? Or will his ego refuse to be tamed, and let him tell maybe 60 million voters that their votes were stolen from them. What about all those combat cosplay militia clowns who turn up at these events, taking up tactical positions and jutting their jaws as if they have some sort of mission that “civilians” don’t understand. We may laugh at them, but we can’t laugh at their assault rifles.

For millions of his voters, a 2020 Trump defeat will not be a fair sportman’s go. It won’t be better luck next time. For many it’ll be like an invasion, the nation’s capital once again in the hands of alien values.

Can a country keep going on like this, every election a punch in the gut for half the country? With the exception of maybe Belgium, you’d be hard pressed to find a modern democracy where half the country is so deeply suspicious about the other half. Spain, with Catalonia, has it too, but both countries are in the EU, and so devolution and maybe even separation, as Czechoslovakia proved, isn’t too bad if there’s an agreed framework for after.

Is it time for an ironic US style Brexit out of the US and into a looser EU model?

Is it time for the US to look once again at the issue of states rights and to relieve the fear of another Trump imposing his will on states like California or New York or Massachusetts?  Is it time for issues like same sex marriage and religious freedom and gun control and campaign finance to be devolved to the states to be decided by the prevailing culture in each one?

Yes, there’s that term. States rights. We all know historically what it was code for. But maybe it’s time to confront that there might now be two Americas. Maybe it is time to accept that most of the former Confederacy is effectively, culturally, a different country. Maybe they should go.

Would the north fight to keep them? With their statues and Dixie flags and obsession with who is using what bathroom and the freedom to hate through baked confectionary? With heavily-armed plump middle-aged guys searching the aisles of Walmart for a transgender Muslim Prius-driving Ellen Degeneres watching IS cell? Fight them? I suspect the two coasts would hold the door open for them.  

Sure, you’d have migration on a huge scale as those with conflicting values fled. But that would just take a few years to sort out, along with a European Economic Area style trade area. They could even keep the same currency, and have a common customs union.

Sound familiar?

Would it be sad to see the United States break up, even peacefully? Of course. But if that was the price for the north to never have to fear another Trump, and for the confederacy to be free to return to the 1950s where so many of its white people seem to desire to go?

Hell, it may not be the price of peace. But it could sure as well be the price of peace of mind.


The Right to Housing might not be as straightforward as you would think.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 9, 2017 in Irish Politics

container housingPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition. 

There’s a standard dance to be performed when a left-wing activist wishes to promote the idea of a constitutional right to housing, which reared its head once again for discussion last week.

He or she will tell tales of the legitimate hardship of many, wrapped up in the cloak of outrage of What Sort of Country Are We? Then lob in Will Somebody Please Think Of The Children, and then, just for good measure, it’ll all be drizzled with a good dose of The Men of 1916 and Was It For This? There’ll be plenty of emotion and finger-pointing, all with the suggestion that once it is a right, that’s it: problem solved.

As it happens, I agree with a right to housing. As with healthcare, the reality is that a capitalist free-market society can only exist with broad consent, and you won’t get that consent without people having decent homes to live in. A shortage of affordable housing of an acceptable standard is a serious threat to confidence in the capitalist system, and smart centre-right politicians including Fianna Fail and the Tories, from World War Two onwards recognised this. That recognition helped keep those parties in power for a generation. Shelter isn’t a privilege; it’s both a right and a necessity. If capitalism isn’t capable of providing shelter for all, then we should all be socialists.

What annoys me isn’t the actual goal of a right to housing, but the fact that the commitment to delivery is so wafer thin by the alphabet left. Many on the left who do the right to housing dance are similar to those who protest against nuclear power and in favour of renewable energy.

Right up to the moment some company tries to build a wind farm.

Then they’ll either vanish or else do the usual support for the concept but object to the actual details of the practice. They’ll be first up to wax lyrical about housing, but any sort of local opposition, even to publicly-built housing, and they’ll find some reason to join the crowd outside shouting at the county chief executive who wants to actually build it. The alphabet left don’t do spine. They’re terrified of the mob turning on them, and so pretend to lead it, a trickle of tell-tale nervous sweat running down their backs as they keep a wary eye on its direction.

They don’t do courage of conviction.  

There’s an old and beautifully-named concept in Marxism called the “transitional demand”. It’s the idea of a far left group issuing a demand for something which they know can’t be achieved, or privately don’t really want to be achieved. A right to housing is an old classic, suitably big but vague enough to be kicked about without going into the specifics of where to build, what to build, and how to pay for it. If they’d been around in 1916, they’d have been in the mob screaming at the volunteers being led out, not for rising up against the British, but for not implementing a universal healthcare and building programme whilst being the provisional government for a week.

Even if we could get the proverbial bricks and mortar details together as to how to build all this needed housing, what specific right would we put before the people in a constitutional referendum? What would be the wording?

Every citizen shall have a right to housing?

Every citizen? So this doesn’t apply to refugees or EU citizens or non-Irish? Is that a hate-crime?

OK. Every resident of Ireland shall have a right to housing. 

But what do we mean by housing? Is a hotel room housing? A Bed & Breakfast?

I suspect the housing rights people would disagree.

Every resident of Ireland shall have a right to non-temporary housing.

Now we’re getting somewhere. But a question. What’s to stop, say, a Times columnist tootling down to the High Court and demanding a free house?

Ah, but you fancy-pants columnists wouldn’t accept what was offered to you, and the danger you could be miles away from your nearest smashed avocado toast depot, says you.

So a person would have to accept what was offered to fulfil their right to housing? Isn’t that actually a reduction in one’s current rights, where one can refuse a number of offers of council housing?

Of course, the High Court would say that I could exercise my right to housing without state intervention, which would be true. But wouldn’t that then recognise, constitutionally, the concept of a means test? That the state had not only a right, but perhaps even an obligation to ensure that by giving a limited resource, a home, to an individual who may well be able to contribute to housing themselves that it was in fact depriving another lower income individual of the exercise of their right to housing?

Does that not mean that the state would actually be obliged to set variable rents based on an individual’s income, be it salary or social welfare? Couldn’t that oblige the state, therefore, to even increase rents on existing state tenants by court order, to free up revenue to build more housing to vindicate other unhoused people’s right to housing?

A constitutional obligation on the state to means test? Not on Paul Murphy’s watch, God damn it! Out comes the red pen again:

Every resident of Ireland shall have a right to non-temporary housing without regard to their income.

Now, literally, everybody can demand a free house. Air BnB will be delighted, and the housing waiting lists will soar as every South Dublin rugby-playing kid stands in the queue of the housing rights agency waiting for the keys to their free gaff, as Dad shouts at Matt Cooper inside the Seven Series outside. The official will peer out the window and grind his teeth, knowing that Sebastian in front of him here has as much constitutional right to a free house as the next fella, despite his father bringing in the big bucks as Chairman of Anglo-Ukrainian Bank. Dad’s solicitor at Countem, Foldem and Trouserem, or rather, his junior Arabella whom Sebastian quite fancies, has filled in the paperwork immaculately, unlike the poor fella who is in the queue before him who was never great at the old reading and writing and so has been sent home to try to fill the forms in, moving to the bottom of the housing list once again.

Once again, the Irish alphabet left will have put another nice tasty taxpayer funded number into the pockets of the educated Irish upper middle classes. In the words of the late Claude Rains: I’m shocked! Shocked!

All a load of nonsense, right? Yeah, you’re probably right. After all, this country, to be fair, has absolutely no experience whatsoever of what was thought to be a relatively simple constitutional amendment being inserted into Bunreacht na hEireann and for the thing to go haywire, being interpreted to mean something completely different by the courts.

Nope. That’s never happened before.

I look forward to an elderly Paul Murphy coming out of retirement to campaign to repeal the right to housing after it makes the government fund a chateau in Provence for Michael O’Leary after he goes to court to vindicate his right to housing.

Because we never said that right had to be exercised in Ireland, did we?

This thing could just run and run.  



Should Fianna Fail go north?

Posted by Jason O on Aug 6, 2017 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition
Former Westminster MP Eamonn DeValera

Former Westminster MP Eamonn DeValera

Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition

Crossing the border must be a very strange experience for the SDLP. North of it, they’re a dying party, a party of the past, a party that one looks at and thinks one good cold snap in the winter and half their membership are off to that great count centre in the sky. It’s probably an unfair image, but that’s the image. Images of the SDLP on the telly are those of John Hume in the 1970s and maybe with David Trimble and Bono from 19 years ago. Go on, I dare you: name the last three leaders of the SDLP. There was Gerry Fitt, John Hume, then Mark Durkan, then…that woman? Your man with the head? Was there another woman? No? I had to look them up. If you want to know how far they’ve fallen, consider that in the Northern Assembly elections in 1998 the SDLP came first in first preference over every other party.  

Now there’s talk of perhaps a merger with Fianna Fail, and when they come south, you could hardly blame them. Down here they’re welcomed onto the platform of a Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour ard fheis, and the response is crackling. Standing ovations. Smiles. People nodding approvingly at each other. Because the SDLP are the good guys. When those other fellas were taking up guns and balaclavas the SDLP stood firm and by the ballot. As we did down here. They’re our sort of people.

Could Fianna Fail assimilate them as the opening bid for the party’s entry into the politics of the north? It’s a high stakes gamble. Don’t forget, it won’t be going up against the DUP or UUP looking for their votes, at least, not initially. What is Fianna Fail’s pitch to nationalist or republican voters? In short, unlike the SDLP, it can tell nationalists in the north that it has been, along with Fine Gael, the legitimate leading voice of the Irish people in totality. Sinn Fein just can’t claim that, and northern voters know that too. Quite simply, Fianna Fail has more power than Sinn Fein, in Dublin, in London, in Brussels, in Washington. What’s the Sinn Fein argument against Fianna Fail candidates? No to Dublin rule? Go home to where you came from? Get back across the border and mind your own business? Don’t forget, in the North Sinn Fein are the establishment party who seem to have been in government forever.

Fianna Fail is a populist catch-all party. In its heyday it was almost unique in western democracy as the party that won a plurality of the vote in every single socio-economic group and geographical region. The idea that Fianna Fail could look at half the electorate of Northern Ireland and just write them off goes against the party’s driving credo, There Be Voters In Them Thar Hills!

Could Fianna Fail even pick up soft unionist transfers? Short term, probably not, but picture the long term. Fianna Fail back in government in the south and Prince Charles or even King William and Queen Kate visiting the republic and suddenly nice respectable unionist businessmen and their wives getting invites from the local Fianna Fail candidate to come to the Aras and meet their wonderful majesties. A lovely day is had by all and she looked so beautiful and the President of Eire was there too and it was all just lovely and we met Mr Martin of Fianna Fail who introduced us to his majesty and it was all very tasteful and he seems like a very nice man.

Don’t forget, that’s what Fianna Fail does. It’s like Al Pacino in that film where he plays the devil. They figure out what you want, and unlike the other fellas, it’s been absolutely ages since Fianna Fail shot anybody. That’s not to say there won’t be challenges. What should Fianna Fail do if it wins a seat in the Westminster parliament? Not taking the seat seems, well, silly. But it also puts the party in an awkward position if it’s in government in the Dail and facing the British government in the Commons. But, as Dev discovered with the oath in 1927, Fianna Fail is nothing if not very bendy on these issues. They can respectfully renounce the oath before taking it, and follow the Scottish Parliament tradition of pledging allegiance to the people who sent them there. Fianna Fail can also announce, to avoid causing friction between Dublin and London, that they will only vote on issues affecting Northern Ireland. Which will allow Fianna Fail to not have a policy on NATO or Trident, which would be handy.  

There’s also the other issue about the DUP vs Fianna Fail in Westminster. The DUP are in serious danger, as the dominant party of Ulster unionism, of equating Northern Irish unionism with keeping the hated Tories in power. Juxtapose that with a few nice gay-friendly charming young male and female Fianna Fail MPs being all nice and respectful. That’s the thing about the DUP: they may finally convince a large section of England that if it’s unionism in Northern Ireland that keeps the Tories in, maybe that Jeremy Corbyn is right about getting out of Ireland all together. The sheer comedy value of the more the English see Ulster unionism through a DUP prism, they less they feel committed to it would be, let’s be honest, delicious.

Ideally, Fianna Fail MPs would be at their most comfortable sitting with the SNP, who’d probably be delighted to have them, but that would rub the Dublin-London relationship just a little too much the wrong way. But after getting using to pronouncing Fianna Fail, and the inevitable Tory MPs rhyming it with sail and thinking they’re the first guy to come up with that, the DUP might find having Fianna Fail there to be deeply troubling. A Fianna Fail presence would kill the idea that a united Ireland is handing over good decent Brits to some backward land. If anything, I suspect quite a few Brits listening to Fianna Fail MPs espousing the party’s moderate conservative but let’s not get weird about it pragmatism might even think they’d like to vote for them.     

To cap it all, wouldn’t it be funny if the UK introduced a Kevin O’Higgins style law, as occurred in the Free State after the murder of the justice minister, saying that you have to take your seat or lose it. That if Sinn Fein don’t take the seats, they could be awarded to the runner up. The Tories won’t do it now, for obvious reasons, but at some stage in the future you could imagine a Fianna Fail foreign minister whispering it into the ear of his British counterpart. It could put Sinn Fein in a pickle. Yes, they could go to Westminster and do a “Paisley and the Pope” and make a big song and dance. But let’s not forget: Sinn Fein have two audiences. That carry-on will go down well with their core support in the north.

But in the south, that goes against Sinn Fein’s pitch as the not-Anglophobic party of the progressive future. In short, Fianna Fail heading north will be a game of three dimensional chess, with every move having the potential to have unforeseen consequences on one of the other boards.


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