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

Property Tax reveals the con at the heart of Irish politics.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 22, 2020 in Irish Politics

Previously published in The Irish Independent.

I was watching that fine Wizard of Oz performance last week that is Dublin City Council debating its Local Property Tax rate, and as ever, it never fails to both illuminate and entertain. You’ve got to love the the showmanship, as parties of the self-declared left fall over themselves to avoid doing that central kernel of the left, transferring wealth openly from the Haves to the Would Like To Haves.

I get Fianna Fail and Fine Gael opposing tax rises. That’s what they’re for. 

But Sinn Fein and the Alphabet Left are taking the mickey. Credit to Labour and the Greens who put their money where their proverbial mouths are, although it should be remembered that Labour refused to push through radical local government reform in government (actually blocking it) and the Greens in government have agreed to a possible endless delaying of meaningful local government reform.

We can’t really be surprised. Sinn Fein operates, both north and south, on the argument that someone else will always pay for things. In the north it’s the Brits: in the south it’s more subtle. They tell every county that every other county should pay for their stuff, but not this county. In the county next door, Sinn Fein are telling those good people the exact same except pointing at the other county. Same in the one beside it. 

The wizard behind the curtain will pay for everything. 

The Alphabet Left aren’t even that subtle. They just claim that everything will be paid by evil wax moustachioed silk-lined cloak-wearing wealthsters (I’m thinking The Hooded Claw from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop) once they can be caught and pried away from deflowering the virginal young Rosa Luxembourgs of the working class, the rotters. 

Then, two months from now, the council will meet to draw up the 2021 budget and how they voted not to increase council revenues will be dismissed as they launch into a Shakespearen defence of every increase in public spending ever yearned for by even the most casual of passing advocates. The finger will point at FF, FG and the Greens as the keepers of the national couch and what yokes they are not to reach down the back and pull out a few quid for the hungry children.     

Every bloody year we go through this nonsense, and you have to ask yourself why. The answer is very simple: most of our councillors (and variations of this time wasting happens in most councils) are not that interested in changing this. 

Some are the real deal, but they’re at best a modest minority. Most councillors see the council as a pre-Dail vote winning proving ground with a chance of getting a year wearing a chain like the pampered poodle of some divorced Manhattan socialite and with similar levels of responsibility and cholesterol. 

It’s political theatre: we have councils that don’t have identifiable political leadership and so are never held to account. Nobody knows who to blame because nobody elected is in charge, and more importantly, nobody wants to be. A political shell game. 

Looking at this system, you realise that the British missed a trick in Ireland. If they’d brought in home rule but kept the executive power in the hands of the appointed Chief Secretary, we’d probably still be in the UK today, with Irish politicians puffing out their chests and denouncing the administration and never having to be on the unpopular side of an argument by making decisions. 

This is pretty much how we run all our counties. 

It’s the weirdness at the heart of Irish politics: so many people who seek elected office in Ireland merely want to win elections and hold office with curious little desire to shape the future of the place they represent. 

Sure, they’ll read this and get indignant and say different, but most councillors are members of parties that have actually governed or are governing the country in the last ten years, so if they’d wanted to reform the system, they could have. 

Did they? No. If anything, they blocked change. We’ve the only political class that effectively campaigns on the slogan “What do we want? Less power!” “When do we want it? Now’s fine, if it’s no trouble?”

The current FF/FG/Green programme for government promises an citizen assembly on an elected mayor for Dublin for next year. Remember the assembly on the Local Property Tax? Or Water Charges? No. Apparently we didn’t need them. This is a delaying tactic, to push back the decision on elected mayors. Wait and see: the assembly will probably be delayed, then eventually produce a report too late to implement for the next local elections in 2024, so that’s the elected mayor pushed back again, possibly to 2029. You know when we first put an elected 

mayor in Irish legislation (and took it out again at the request of councillors)? 1999. Does this sound to you like an issue our political leaders are pursuing with urgency?

I voted to abolish the Seanad in the October 2013 referendum (Three Taoisigh ago) because I believed meaningful wide-scale reform of the Seanad would be perennially blocked by politicians. I’ve yet to be proven wrong. If you asked me to vote now to abolish the elected councils and just have the local authorities as branches of the Department of the Environment, I’d struggle to find a reason to vote No. Dublin City Council did nothing last week to convince me otherwise.  


Into the crystal ball. Our cities in 2030.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 17, 2020 in Irish Politics

Previously published in The Irish Independent.

One of the more counter-intuitive aspects of human progress is that times of great disruption often contribute to increasing innovation and the speed of change. The Second World War started with the French army spending more on hay for horses than fuel for tanks, and ended with the atomic bomb and the beginning of the space race. Covid-19 has the potential to be a similar catalyst for change, in particular speeding up changes that have already begun. We are, for example, now a society in which wearing facemasks is considered perfectly normal.

What could Ireland look like a decade from now? 

Let’s take a step through a rip in the time-space continuum and take a peek at a possible Ireland 2030.  

Welcome to the future. 

The single biggest change in the post-Covid era has been the re-balancing of the urban-rural divide. Working from home, combined with the expansion of business-grade broadband, the flight of the white-collar middle class accelerated as they realised that it was now possible to have a higher standard of living outside the traffic-choked cities. The road network, improved by governments in the past, has continued to expand and has reduced travel time so that rural living no longer means, in urban eyes, isolation. 

Young well-educated (and paid) families began to grasp the quality of life available outside of the major cities without sacrificing living standards. 

After all, Amazon delivers to Rhode just as easily as Rialto.

The cities themselves, especially city centres, find the pace of de-retailification caused initially by internet shopping has accelerated in unexpected ways. Non-food retail declines sharply, but this also allows for some of the more foresighted chief executives of local authorities to just ignore the elected grandstanding buffoons that make up most of their councils and instead seize an opportunity. They buy up cheap former shopping centres for a mixture of conversion to affordable housing and council-rented micro-business premises for small or artisan startups. The availability of affordable urban housing makes those owner-occupied businesses more viable, and soon city centres are filled with thousands of tiny splashes of colour and independent free enterprise. The skies above have drones delivering food and other products from those businesses and other “dark kitchens” in repurposed commercial areas to suburban residential areas and beyond. 

The Garda finally signs on to technology, with high-visibility drones with infrared cameras and speakers hovering over busy areas and providing air support to ground officers. Areas no longer demand their own Garda stations, but rather their permanent stationary hovering and always watching Garda sentinel. 

If anything, some areas start to complain of too much Garda presence.

Urban regeneration is also accelerated by, as the middle class moves rural, low-income immigrants (The single group most likely to start a new business) establishing communities and with them shops and restaurants reflecting their ethnic background. This in turn attracts young and metropolitan employees and those high-tech businesses eager to employ them spend nearly as much ensuring their employees have affordable housing in these thriving and vibrant areas as they do on their now much reduced headquarters buildings. 

Indeed, the quality as much as availability of housing becomes a major issue, as those employees, whilst happy to work from home, require larger homes to allow that their residences don’t become battery hen-like factories. 

Many repurposed commercial buildings boast a mix of one bedroom studio apartments and large communal areas and environmentally sustainable roof gardens to permit people to work from their own buildings, again supported by small micro food and drink retailers. 

The devolution of drinking time regulation to local level permits some parts of the cities to develop a separate and distinct all-night nightlife, with some daytime cafes and restaurants handing over their premises to a separate hospitality business that utilises the premises at night, effectively dual-purposing to reduce overhead costs.  

Cars become less welcome in the cities, with cycling on the verge of becoming, alongside public transport, the dominant method of transport.  

Open-air markets on formerly car-filled streets, often with deployable street covering to defend against the unreliable weather, allow those businesses to expand into the street for those customers still with a latent desire to social distance. City and town centres reverse the doughnutting effect of the mid-20th century. 

The final arrival of the much bally-hooed electric driverless car also happens, driven primarily by soaring driver insurance, with many signing up to reliable Manhattan-style “town cars” where needed, reliably being available outside their door when needed yet elsewhere when not, and finally ridding many of one of the most wasteful 20th century uses of personal capital for an asset that spends most of its time sitting quietly parked and depreciating in value. The use of electric vehicles by both public transport and state services results in a curiously quieter city.  

Indeed, the variety of driverless and competitively priced subscription services becomes a growth industry, as the middle classes who have moved to their rural idylls make use of them when needed, transforming the stop-start frustrated commute of old into a period of solace, work, rest or binge watching. The Department of Transport has to issue ads warning the public to ensure that if they are going to engage in adult activity in their driverless cars, they at least should have tinted windows or curtains to avoid distracting other passengers.

Will it all happen? There’s nothing I’ve outlined that’s too fantastic. 

Of course I can’t say for certain. But one thing I can say: if you don’t have plans for the future, the future has plans for you. 

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