Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Ireland is a great country. Why do so many of us get upset when someone says so?

Posted by Jason O on Dec 9, 2017 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

Previous published in The Sunday Times Ireland. 

If you’re ever sitting in the snug of your tavern of choice, two pints in and of a disposition to start a good all-cannons-roaring row, I’ve just the trigger phrase for you. Never mind your religion or football, that’s amateur hour. For the full finger-jabbed-in-chest and threat of jerseys being pulled out of shape in the car park later, just lob out the following:

“I think we’ve got an world-class health service.”

Make it nice and loud. Not shouty, just nice and clear. That’s all you need, because somewhere in the pub a pair of ears will prick up and a spike in blood pressure will occur. Because there is no shortage of people in this country willing not only to argue the point, but regard it as an act of heresy.

Now, I’m not talking a disagreement of HSE priorities. I’m not talking a debate about small and local versus regional and specialist. These are all legitimate points of policy debate.

I’m talking “Health service? We don’t have a health service!” The words third-world and medieval will be bellowed out like political shibboleths. There will be anger at you for questioning the popular myth that the health service is not in absolute chaos, incapable of delivering even basic services.

Yet here’s the thing: we have a good health service. By global standards, our life expectancy and access to high quality healthcare is very good. There are plenty of countries that look at us and aspire to be us.

And not just in health. I’ll go further. I’ll argue that we are a contender to be the greatest country in the world to live in. I’ll not guarantee it, but I’ll certainly place our name in contention.

You would be hard pressed to find a country with our level of political freedom, our standard of living, our social safety net, and our rights.

Yes, we have problems. Our hospital waiting lists or the number of people sleeping on our streets will tell you that. Our national debate over abortion is a battle about rights too.

But altogether, being an Irish citizen is, amongst the seven billion people on this planet, a winning lottery ticket.

You will live longer than most Africans. You don’t fear the secret police thugs of Erdogan or Kim Jong Un. You don’t fear the legal state executions of the United States. You don’t have the rigged elections of Russia, nor the toilet paper shortages of Venezuela. Any one of us Irish citizens, without even being born on this island, can be elected head of state. That’s not true elsewhere. There’s a four year old wandering around Windsor Castle who is head of state designate of Canada, Australia and New Zealand without even knowing what they are, never mind where they are. Unlike any Canadian, Australian or Kiwi.

Yet have someone tell you that, have an international agency or publication remark as to the great achievement this nation is and watch the anger. Read the comments under any good news story about Ireland, and the vitriol flows. It’s like it’s hardwired into us. If an Irish government told us that we’d get a full weeks’ pay but only have to work on Tuesdays, you know what the response would be. What? Every Tuesday?

What is it that makes us have such an irrational attitude to our national successes? That doesn’t see them as building blocks from which to turn a good country into a great country? I often wonder is it the Dublin Castle hangover, that hundreds of years of foreign rule has almost genetically programmed us to believe that we just aren’t really in charge of ourselves as a people.

That Them in Power are, and with that a permanent sense of victimhood and grievance to go with it, sub-consciously refusing to accept that we are the controllers of our own destiny? After all, who’s fault is it that we keep voting for the political equivalent of the rhythm method and then are shocked to find ourselves once again up disappointment duff?

We spent the first seventy years of our independence accusing each other of betrayal whilst thousands went off to look for a country run by someone else other than us to live in and give us opportunity. Bear in mind the ultimate indignity we never talk about: that from day one of our independence, our people were leaving voluntarily to go live under the people we’d just thrown out. There’s a country with victim hard-baked in.

You see it with Irish emigrants, who give out yards about our health service and employers and paying for water, then move to that paradise of socialized medicine and workers rights, the US, or that damp, waterlogged bog that is Australia. For some reason, having someone non-Irish demanding you pay for your healthcare or water is acceptable in a way we’d never accept at home. It’s as if the ultimate crime in Ireland is that of “having notions”. Look at your man, thinking he’s like the now-departed Brits, with his water meters and “rules”.

And yet: here’s a country that held onto democracy when fascists and communists looked like being the coming thing. A country that kept its culture whilst also using the world’s dominant language. A country that saw, and sees in European integration not sheer terror and inferiority but a playing pitch that we can not only compete on but compete on well. A country that dismisses the ideological strait jacket of right or left as the over-thumbed missives of fanatics. We have built a centrist homeland based on a mixture of freedom and Whatever Works.

The Irish model has its flaws. We see it everyday. 687,000 people on waiting lists is jaw-dropping stuff. But there are also hundreds of thousands of people who go through our health service every year, getting the treatment they need. There are dozens and dozens of nations who would look at us and say “We want that”. Our passports are cherished documents.

Most of all, we don’t have despair. We aren’t doomed. We know we can solve the waiting lists and build the homes if we have but the will to do so. But it will require us making choices about sacrifice, of time, effort and taxes.

That in itself is an achievement. A nation where its people face free choices about how we spend our finite resources is the ultimate demonstration of a successful sovereign independent nation.

Just ask anyone eating tree bark north of the 38th parallel, or sitting in a leaky boat in the Mediterranean. Or looking for a Twix in Caracas.

 
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Guest post: Amy Devlin on the Merkel/Schulz debate.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 9, 2017 in European Union

 

Angela Merkel: An Insight for Irish Students

Amy Devlin is attending NUI Galway, where she is studying English and German. 

As an Irish student who has lived in Germany and studies the language, I have a surprisingly limited awareness of the country’s politics. Recently German affairs have found their way into the Irish news, because of trouble forming their coalition government. A face which continues to appear at the mast of all these stories is that of Angela Merkel, a woman who I daresay all Europeans know, if not love. Yet Merkel’s legacy as German Chancellor, the equivalent of Prime Minister, is undoubtedly impressive; she has been in the position since 2005, winning four elections. Germany’s most recent federal elections took place on the 24th of September 2017, seeing the Christian Democratic Union, under the leadership of Merkel, win 33% of the votes, and obtaining the largest number of seats in the Bundestag again this year. The Social Democratic Party of Germany, led by Martin Schulz followed in second place, receiving 25% of votes. Following the election of parties to parliament, the decision of who would be German Chancellor remained. Despite a decrease in favour in public opinion polls, Merkel was re-elected, and her debate with candidate Martin Schulz, which took place on the 3rd of September, is indicative as to why.

The televised debate took place on the show ‘Das Tv-Duell 2017’ and revealed the candidates’ stances on key issues including the Refugee Crisis, migration and international relations. Claus Strunz and Sandra Maischberger served as moderators, and they wasted no time in setting the debate in motion. The first questions posed to the candidates were ones directed at their characters and public personas; these questions hint at how the debate will unfold. The candidates’ responses are contrasting and predict the course of the debate; Schulz was unable to grasp at his argument with convincing certainty, while Merkel gave assertive, composed answers, even managing a smile.

A major area where the candidates’ opinions differed was the topic of migration, and particularly the issue of refugees in Germany. Schulz criticised his opponent for her decisions in 2015, of course referring to Germany’s open borders policy, and quoted an earlier interview in which Merkel claimed she would repeat those actions. Schulz cleverly appealed to the working class majority of the population, where the most angst and uncertainty regarding the influx of refugees lies, leaving Merkel able to simply thank volunteers and point out the dramatic nature of the situation. This was one of the few instances in which Schulz gained the upper hand. However, Schulz was unable to hold onto that early advantage; the topic of integration provided Merkel with a chance to exercise her level-headed, reasonable perspective. She identified with the portion of the population who were ‘sceptical’ of Islam, and addressed the key question of whether Islam is a part of Germany, acknowledging the presence of the religion is indeed growing in the country. She finished her piece with the reassurance that Islam will be monitored, and mosques will be closed if unacceptable activity occurs. Jumping impulsively on the chance to disagree with Merkel, Schulz attempted to create an argument in favour of Islam, but failed to make a comprehensible sentence.

The tone of the debate was one of respect and appreciation; it is certain that the debate between German Chancellor candidates was much more amiable than any Trump-Hilton debate. The body language of the candidates was not defensive or offensive, simply professional and attentive, with straight shoulders and open arms and chest regions- a sign of the mutual respect and willingness to listen.

Despite both candidates managing valid, intelligent arguments, Merkel’s experience and capability clearly shone through. Her greater awareness of the international community and willingness to work with other world leaders backed up her arguments, particularly on the issue of North Korea and Turkey; she was an advocate for cooperation and teamwork, while contrastingly Schulz suggested cutting the American president out of North Korea negotiations and severing ties with Turkey. It is no surprise that Angela Merkel is serving her fourth term as German Chancellor, given her experience, confidence and collected nature which dominated this debate.

Copyright © 2018 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.