Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
0

Coming soon to HBO*: “Threadneedle Street”

bank-england-logoWhen the governor of the Bank of England dies suddenly, and his obvious successor Sir Guy Acheson (Rowan Atkinson, in a surprising straight role) is ruled out because of a shares scandal, brilliant but maverick economist Steve Darblay (Episodes’ Stephen Mangan) finds himself appointed Governor of the Bank of England, in the middle of a currency crisis, by the ruthlessly ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer Tom Parrish (Hugh Laurie.)

For Darblay, his appointment not only places him in the driving seat in dealing with everything from interest rates to the future of the euro to who goes on the new £5 note, but also a target for Acheson who feels bitterly wronged but also that the new governor is not exactly from the right side of the tracks.

With his former Cambridge tutor Bill Burke (Roger Allam-The Thick of It) and even more brilliant economist (and former girlfriend) Yves Cassidy (Lenora Crichlow-Sugar Rush) at his side, Darblay gets ready to take his seat at the most elite of the world’s councils.

Guest starring Delaney Williams (The Wire) as US Fed Chairman Matt O’Malley and Sidse Babette Knudsen (Borgen) as ECB President Martina Delacroix.

Special appearance by Stephen Fry as the Prime Minister.

*I wrote this as a joke, but as I wrote it I thought “Jesus, I’d watch this!”

 
0

The Immigration Police

blakes sevenRepost.

England, 2023. Five years after Brexit.

The roaring and shouting after England and Wales left the EU was loud and colourful. A generation of politicians who had supported British membership found themselves demonised as Quislings and traitors, and quietly retired from public life, and every ministerial speech was peppered with Eurosceptic hyperbole as the new regime took office.

Over time, however, the EUphoria died away, as the government and the tabloids turned to the issue that had carried the Brexiteers over the line: Immigration.

The new government moved quickly to deliver on the issue. Tough new visa requirements were in place, and whilst existing legal residents were permitted to stay, they could not be joined by relatives, and so as many returned to their home countries they were not replaced. The teary-eyed right-wingers who had choked back stories of Commonwealth citizens (“our kith and kin”), every one of whom seemed to be related to a spitfire pilot, being put behind queues of stony faced Poles, suddenly and bizarrely seemed to go cool on Pakistani and Indian and African immigrants having easier access. The number of people legally entering the UK dropped significantly.

The tabloids, robbed of the EU pinata to mercilessly beat, but knowing that immigration was still the story that stirred the loins, turned their attention to the government. the new line was that the government was full of mealy-mouthed liberals letting people sneakily in. That and the EU was actively conspiring to flood England with immigrants through Ireland, Scotland and Calais, of course.

The government, like all populist governments, was as concerned about how to be seen to be doing something as actually doing something. The truth was that the immigration controls were not delivering the rewards the tabloids had promised. Housing was not cheaper, as fewer immigrants had only freed up the very lowest in housing quality, which in turn had forced landlords to improve the quality but raise rents to pay for it. The vast numbers of manual workers needed to fund large scale building of houses didn’t exist, resulting in builders struggling to find the skilled labourers to do the job. The Irish workers that they could source, due to a common deal with Ireland, expected top dollar, and all that contributed to higher costs and thus higher prices. The NHS and other public services were struggling under staff shortages as it emerged that many of the hard-pressed English white working class didn’t actually have the skills to fill the jobs. But the government was too scared to issue too many working visas to fill those jobs, as the tabloids, bereft of the EU to blame, had now doubled down on ANY immigrant “depriving” Brits of a job. Politically, it was better to leave those jobs empty.

With the labour shortage feeding into wage rises, inflation, public service waiting lists and rental rises, the Government decided to go fully for immigrants as the problem.

The launch of the Immigration Police was a huge media managed affair. The logo of the new force, a union flag in the shape of a shield, was emblazoned on the fleet of shiny new vehicles and officers unveiled by Prime Minister Johnson. The helmeted, combat trousered police, who vaguely resembled the baddies from “Blake’s Seven” but with huge union flags on their shoulders, grinned at the prime minister’s jokes about them “scaring the hell out of him”.

As with everything in post-Thatcher Britain, the Immigration Police was a private for-profit tendered service, the contract held by a huge security company with a very mixed record.

Within months of commencing operations, the IP was the new source of fury for the right-wing tabloids. The fact that a significant number of IP officers were themselves illegal immigrants who had gotten through the cut-price vetting process resulted in the resignation of the Home Secretary, and the tender holder announcing that it could no longer fulfill the contract under such arduous “red tape”. The subsequent taking of the company to court by the Home Office resulted in even more embarrassing revelations including the fact that some immigrant IP officers from some countries seemed to be using their very considerable IP powers to pursue vendettas against people from other tribal areas or religious groups.

The Government was forced to introduce emergency legislation to nationalise the whole IP organisation, making it a state agency. This, as it always seems to do, then sent costs through the roof as the new IP management, made up of Home Office staff, were more than happy to spend millions on vetting.

Three years after its initial launch the IP had been “purged” of illegal immigrants. It was also running hugely over-budget, requiring cuts elsewhere to feed its huge fiscal maw, and led by a very media savvy chief executive who fended off any attempt to trim the rapidly expanding budget with tales of hordes of terrorists and illegal workers sweeping towards virginal England. The IP’s media budget was very substantial.

Aside from its internal chaos, the daily operations of the IP became problematic. Although initially popular, with black cab drivers beeping their horns at speeding IP vehicles, sirens flashing, off to defend England, the reality of the organisation’s nebulous task began to take the shine off rapidly. The new Home Secretary, of Asian extraction and from the hard-right of the party, was adamant that the IP must be visibly active which led to huge poster campaigns asking the public to cooperate. One stand-up comedian likened the posters to the “Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!” posters of the 200oAD comic character Thomas De Torquemada. The IP also started setting up random street checkpoints, which began to jar even with the most right-wing of blazer-wearing golf club Mosleys. Camera footage of IP officers singling out dark-skinned pedestrians alone caused a row, and in one case a riot where a number of black and East Asian youths proceeded to beat up the aggressive IP officers. This resulted in the local police having to intervene.

Indeed, relations between the IP and the regular police were strained at best. In London, where the Metropolitan Police had made a serious effort to diversify its membership, the jarring approach of the IP did not go down well. The commissioner complained that the IP was stirring up racial tension in areas where painstaking work by community police officers had finally started to show results. One incident in particular, where two Metropolitan Police officers challenged an overly aggressive IP checkpoint resulted in the IP officer in charge demanding that one of the officers, who was black, prove his legal status in the country and then attempted to arrest him. The situation, again all over the web, was only contained when the Met officers called in an armed SO19 unit and arrested the entire IP patrol to loud cheering and applause from local youths of mixed races.

The Home Secretary was furious. The commissioner backed her men, and when the Home Secretary threatened to fire the commissioner, the commissioner revealed that she had a special investigation unit looking into penetration by the far-right of the IP. She revealed taped footage from an undercover officer of IP officers, who were revealed to be members of various white supremacist organisations, joking and laughing at how they were paid “by one **** to fit up other ****** and ****”.

The Home Secretary was gone by teatime.

Another source of problems for the new Home Secretary was how to verify someone was legally resident in the UK. His officials excitedly dusted off an old file: a National Identity Card. Not surprisingly, he balked at the idea, but the issue was unavoidable. In order to avoid charges of racial profiling, IP checkpoints were now stopping and demanding identification from every person, regardless of age, colour or gender. Many people were now carrying their passports with them everywhere, and the grumbling was beginning. In time honoured fashion, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, having demanded a “get tough crackdown” on immigration, now did a u-turn and started banging on daily about the IP being a version of the Gestapo harassing ordinary Brits going about their business.

The Home Secretary stared blankly at his officials. Polls showed that middle England was vehemently against having to carry “papers”. Is this what we fought a war for? On the other hand, without some form of verified state backed ID, his officials said, there was no way for the IP to check on-the-spot. Unless, we created a national biometric database, one junior official mused. Then we wouldn’t have to carry ID, just be scanned. Of course, we’d have to scan the entire population.

The Home Secretary died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. The coroner said it was a massive heart attack.

The huge camp near Dover (christened Camp Boris by the media) was also the problem of the new Home Secretary. Since Brexit, the EU had decided that illegal immigration into the UK was not its concern, and so turned a blind eye to migrants making their way across the channel. France had announced that the UK could do its own border control in Dover, and closed its facilities in Calais, the infamous “jungle”. French, Belgian and Dutch police and coastguards were told that preventing “outflows” were not a priority, to the extent that many boat owners on the continent were taking a few quid for carrying illegals to the edge of the UK’s territorial waters and letting their passengers take their chance in a rubber dinghy. All to huge protests from the British ambassador to the EU who was embarrassingly filmed being kept back by security personnel as he tried to lobby ministers attending an EU council meeting.

Huge resources were being deployed along beaches in the south east to capture illegals, and send them to the camp, which now had over 9,000 residents. The decision as to who should run the camp had turned into one of the finest games of bureaucratic pass-the-parcel in years. The Prison Service had said that they were a criminal rehabilitation service, and weren’t suited. The NHS said they weren’t a prison service. The local police said they would have to take “Bobbies off the beat”, and the chief of staff of the army had threatened to publicly resign if the army were told to run the camp. So, it had ended up with the Immigration Police, whose CEO had happily accepted the task then submitted a huge budget supplement request which took the IP’s annual funding clear of the Metropolitan Police’s £3.7 billion.

With scandals within the IP, the ongoing battle to secure the coast (most of the Royal Navy, including the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, were on coastal patrol), the growing unhappiness with the overt and hostile street presence of IP officers demanding “papers” on street corners, the outbreak of riots in Camp Boris was not welcomed by the Government. The IP officers, even with riot gear, struggled to maintain order in two days of rioting. On the third day a large group of young Syrian refugees charged the perimeter, panicking a member of one of the IP armed response units. Without authorisation he emptied his full clip into the crowd, killing nine refugees and wounding another four. Three children were killed in the stampede from the fence. The image went worldwide, and resulted in massive demonstrations against UK embassies.

The Home Secretary, who had only authorised the creation of armed units of the IP three months earlier, in response to stories of some refugees being armed with knives, handed in his resignation to the Prime Minister later that day. The PM was harangued in the house, and in a fit of pique that was typical but would come to haunt him, announced that he would be his own home secretary.

He arrived down to the camp bearing his name just as another riot was getting into its own. Outside the camp, hundreds of young and middle-aged white men, members of the self-appointed United Kingdom Defence Force gathered with baseball bats and crowbars, telling the gathered media they were there to back up the IP and “back Boris”. Another crowd, larger than the UKDF, were made up of anti-fascist protesters who roared abuse at the first crowd.

When the PM arrived, the UKDF cheered and chanted his name, prompting him to wave just as another surge broke through the IP line and charged towards the main gates. The UKDF surged forward before breaking into a Braveheart-style run at the main gate of the camp. The two groups met. The UKDF, unlike the refugees, were armed with a variety of weapons and ploughed into the refugees.

The PM’s bodyguards shoved him into his car, screaming at the driver to get them out of there, all live on TV as a huge fight broke out around them. The IP commander, totally overwhelmed, ordered the use of rubber bullets and water cannon, all aimed at securing the main gate. Some of the baton rounds hit UKDF members, who, seeing the IP firing at them, were overcome with the fury that can only come from experiencing treachery, and attacked the IP vehicles.

The news of the surge at the gate of the camp swept through the camp, encouraging thousands more to rush the entrance, overwhelming the IP officers at the door.

On his way back to Downing street, the PM gave the order for the army to be sent in with more baton rounds.

By evening, order had been restored, but half of the residents of the camp had fled. 39 people were dead, a mixture of refugees, children, IP officers and UKDF members.

In Munich that night a far-right group held a rally, holding aloft images of the British prime minister as they sieg heiled in support.

Watching this on TV, the PM had the good grace to vomit.

 
0

Don’t think we’re immune to Brexitism.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 21, 2019 in European Union, Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

Marine-LePenPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition.

You’ve probably seen that clip recently of over three thousand new Irish citizens being sworn in at the Gleneagles centre in Killarney. Those citizenship ceremonies, an initiative of Alan Shatter when he was justice minister may well turn out to be his greatest ministerial legacy. They’re a huge improvement on the old system, where people turned up at an old drafty courthouse and took an oath with little pomp or ceremony and I have to admit bring a certain moistening to my eyes every time I see the happiness on the faces of the people becoming citizens of our great country.

It’s a big deal, and a big contrast to the UK. Whereas our taoiseach lauded them and their contribution to our country, next door Theresa May was unveiling her stripping of British and EU citizens rights to live and work across the EU and UK with disturbing salivation. Gavin Esler, the former BBC journalist and now novelist remarked on the juxtaposition, pointing out Leo’s welcome marked the country as “a place where new arrivals enrich a country and are not referred to as “queue jumpers.”

 

As a progressive liberal, one could easily drown in one’s sense of smug satisfaction, living in a country which, by eurobarometer standards, is the most pro-EU in Europe, has just elected an intellectual lefty poet as president by a landslide, became the first country in the world to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote, and finally resolved the unpleasantness that was the 8th amendment.

 

One could easily think Ireland is bulletproof from a liberal standpoint.

 

Think again. It would not take a lot to move this country into a Hungarian-style populist fury, burning EU flags and where non-whites  live in terror.

 

We must never forget that as a people we are terribly susceptible to group-think. We desperately want to fit in, not be the outlier with the awkward opinion. Our political class is stuffed with mob panderers pretending to stand up for some innocuous principle and “not caring who knows it”, all the while making sure they’re on the least unpopular side of an issue.

 

One of the biggest dangers in the western democracies, including ourselves, is complacency and the belief that human rights only ratchet in one direction. The death penalty was illegal in the United States from 1972 to 1976. For most of the 1980s and 1990s the idea of Britain leaving the European Community was the argument mostly of marginal cranks.

 

It’s simply not that incredible to imagine a scenario where 35%-40% of Irish voters could support withdrawal from a future EU. Polls currently showing support for Irish membership of the EU at 92% suggest to me widespread but not very deep support for the EU, which could turn given the right conditions.

The first condition for Irexit (Or EireGo! as I call it) would be a credible party advocating it. No major party in Ireland currently supports it, but let’s not forget that Sinn Fein is only relatively new to supporting EU membership. Indeed, the party has spent more of my adult life supporting withdrawal than membership. It also can’t be ignored that the DUP’s hysterical opposition and paranoia about the EU contributed to Sinn Fein’s ability to support the EU on the “If themmuns are agin’ it, it must be doing something right” platform.

In 1972 Labour, now one of our most pro-European parties, campaigned against us joining. DeValera himself, ensconced at the Áras at the time, was reputedly against us joining the EEC and apparently voted against.

At the same time the Tories were very much the European party in the UK, with Labour the little Englander party. Now it’s hard to imagine a new openly pro-EU prospective candidate getting through a Conservative selection convention. Parties change.

It’s not hard to imagine a future Fianna Fail, frustrated with opposition, opening the door to moderate euro-criticism and then getting hooked on the support from latent eurosceptics who do indeed exist in the country.

The next condition would be economic.

A recession, cuts to public services, and suddenly the fact that we have been nett contributors to the EU since 2014 and will pay the EU €2.7 billion this year (although we will get back about €1.8 billion in EU funding) suddenly becomes a public debating point. Never forget the curious pride the Irish have in seeing ourselves as a poor downtrodden nation. The argument, for which we are the actual living embodiment, that investing in EU funds in poorer EU countries creates future markets for your products won’t carry much water against tax rises or cuts in public spending.

Don’t think that we’re immune to the anti-immigrant thing either.

We’ve just been fortunate that so far it has been pitched by dopes.  

Imagine a clean-cut Mammy’s Favourite Lovely Young Man Micheál Martin-style (not him personally, obviously. He’s solid on Europe and will have no truck with racism) candidate, an articulate Peter Casey talking about housing shortages and waiting lists and how “we must put our own first” without coming across as a neo-nazi.

Imagine such a party leader standing up to Brussels a la Viktor Orban, trying to disperse refugees across Europe, talking about elites. It wouldn’t take long, in an Ireland still racked by obscene housing costs and shortages, for refugees and the EU to be identified as the source of our woes.

The desire of the rest of Europe to actually defend itself, a concept that is regarded as alien to most of the Irish population, could be another source of Irexiteer growth. It’s not impossible to imagine a future EU insisting that a substantial part of the EU budget be directed at defence. An Irexit party could make, I suspect, plenty of hay wanting to know why Irish taxpayer money is funding tanks protecting Estonia and not building houses in Ringsend?  

That’s all assuming there is a credible Irexit party in Ireland with credible candidates, something which I suspect is much harder to achieve than it appears. I also suspect that the sort of people agitated by Irexit and asylum seekers and abortion are less likely to be willing to do the constituency graft that in Ireland builds critical voting mass.

But here’s a different scenario: what about a Irexit supported by the current mainstream parties?

Impossible?

What if the EU were to fundamentally change?

Picture a future Europe with Marine Le Pen in the Elysee, Alternativ fur Deutschland in coalition in Germany, Salvini in Italy, Orban in Hungary, all planning to “do something” about the Muslims in Europe. Imagine if Putin offered to “host” a vast refugee camp in occupied Ukraine in return for Europe turning a blind eye to the tightening Russian stranglehold on that country.

Consider the spectacle of Irish naval ships pulling migrants out of the Mediterranean as they do now, and then handing them over to an EU border force which loads them at machine gun point onto trains to the Ukraine, no longer our problem? Would that be an EU we’d wish to be part of?

 

I sometimes get accused of pushing out the fantasy i bit too much in these columns. In response, I always remind people of one simple fact.

 

In the May 1928 Reichstag elections the Nazi party got 2.6% and 12 seats out of 491.

Just over five years later, they got all the seats.

Every single one.

Freedom is fragile, and what we cherish has to be fought for every single day.    

 
0

The Jupiter Decision: A short story.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 17, 2019 in eNovels & Writing, European Union, Fiction, Politics, Short stories, Writing

FRANCE-POLITICS-DEFENCEThe Airbus A380 started moving as soon as the door was closed, before the cars in the motorcade even had time to get fully clear of the massive thrust of the engines. The pilot, a colonel in the French air force, slammed the engines into full throttle to execute what was called a hard take-off, the plane getting into the air quickly and immediately into a sharp incline to gain as much height as possible. A number of Elysee officials who had been busy securing the president of the French Republic before getting back to their seats were knocked off their feet by the angle, both being grabbed by burly bodyguards and pulled into seats as the plane reached its cruising height.

The military cabin crew, briefed as to the situation, had immediately lowered all the blinds on the windows, so that the passengers on-board could not see the military airbase and Paris speed away into the distance.

It actually meant they would not be blinded by the detonation of a nuclear warhead over the French capital as was one possibility they were expecting at this very moment. Nor could they see the four heavily fuelled and armed Rafale fighters escorting the plane on its pre-planned flight plan, designed to avoid major urban areas and military targets (for spotting purposes and also because they were likely nuclear targets) and take the plane out over the Atlantic.

Read more…

 
0

British politics needs a bit of Irish in it.

Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.

I came across an intriguing opinion poll by YouGov last week which gave an insight into the difference as to how Irish and British voters approach voting. The poll was questioning British voters as to how they would vote in the event of a second referendum on brexit. It offered voters three choices: remain, a “soft brexit” deal and “hard brexit”, what we call “no deal”.   

The poll addressed the issue of a remain win by splitting the brexit vote: the idea that if remain voters stay together and brexit voters split between the two brexit options remain would win a first past the post contest even though a majority of voters actually voted for brexit. It proposed a preferential voting system to ensure that the final result would have the support of over 50% of voters. What we in Ireland know as the single transferable vote.

For the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with preferential voting, quite simply it works like this: if you are faced with a number of choices you place the number one beside your favourite candidate, number two beside your second favourite candidate and so on.

By doing so you are essentially telling vote counters that “This is my first choice. If he/she/it cannot win,  I would like my vote to go to my second choice and so on until someone is elected. The idea being that your vote may not get your favourite candidate elected, but it will at least help elect someone less objectionable to you.

As a voting system it has been very successful in Ireland, as determined by the fact that both attempts to change it to first past the post, in 1959 and 1968 in referendums were both rejected by voters, in 1968 by a 20% margin.

What was interesting about the poll, however, was that it first asked voters to choose amongst the three options, and to make a second preference choice in the event the first choice was eliminated.

41% of those polled refused to offer a second preference.

Think about that for a minute. Think about it in the context of going into a restaurant and asking the waiter to bring you a steak. He says “I’m sorry sir, we’re out of steak, would you care to look at the menu for something else?”. Now, normally people would be disappointed that they couldn’t have the first choice but nevertheless look through the menu for something that they would be satisfied with. The 41% are essentially saying they’d like steak and if they can’t have steak they don’t want anything else and would rather go hungry.

From an Irish perspective, this is downright peculiar. The number of people in Irish elections who fail to transfer after their first preference is actually quite small because Irish voters recognise that even if one does not get the one’s first choice, you can still use your ballot to try and stop the option you detest the most. This matters because the brexit vote was the single most democratic act in British history since 1935: at no other time has any party or proposition won a majority of the vote on a turnout like that of June 2016.

I find it hard to believe, therefore, that there are large numbers on either side of the debate in Britain who have no view as to what would be the least worst option if they could not get brexit or remain. The idea that someone who voted for remain, if they knew that remain was going to lose would not prefer a soft brexit rather than the hard brexit seems to me to be quite bizarre.

In the same way I would assume that people who wish a hard brexit would prefer a soft brexit rather than to remain in the European Union.

There are those who could make the argument that if they thought that the choice was between remain and a soft brexit and they supported a full brexit they might actually prefer to remain in the European Union on the basis that soft brexit, as Tony Blair argues, is the worst of both worlds.

But 41% having no second opinion? Really? Unless it’s a case of “I’ve voted for what I want and I’ll burn down the place rather than consider a second slightly less attractive option” which is always possible, I suppose.  

Britain is not a complete stranger to the single transferable vote or as it is known in Britain, AV. They know the alternative vote having rejected it overwhelmingly in a referendum in 2011.

But things change. The reality is that a preferential voting system whether used in a single decision such as this or used in multi seat constituencies as in Dail elections and in Northern Ireland would resolve not just the issue of a final decision by the British people as to whether brexit should go ahead.

STV also offers British voters a solution to a problem which is currently poisoning their political system.

Take the current talk of a general election to settle the issue. It wouldn’t, because it can’t. The current first past the post electoral system is malfunctioning so badly that it could easily result in a majority of remain voters or a majority of leave voters winning the popular vote but being deprived of a fair voice in the parliament that resulted.

Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are so split that a general election just reveals that there are people who are trapped in political parties with people with whom they fundamentally disagree with on this issue and others, and the electoral system is forcing them to remain in that party and is forcing voters then to make false choices.

What does voting Tory mean in the next election if you vote for John Redwood or Ian Duncan Smith or Anna Soubry or Ken Clarke?

If you are a solid remain voter and decide to go the whole hog and vote Liberal Democrat you may in fact be splitting in the remain vote and helping brexiteers win. The same applies to UKIP voters wanting to vote pure brexit. They’ll drain brexit votes away from more viable brexit candidates.  

STV solves all this: there’s no such thing as a wasted vote. You can transfer your preferences from your first choice to other remain or brexit candidates as you see fit without hurting their chance of being elected. STV is the voter’s friend.  

The irony is that the single transferable vote is a British invention, devised by a British lawyer named Thomas Hare. Britain imposed it as part of the Anglo Irish treaty in an attempt to ensure that in Northern Ireland catholics will get fair representation, and the same in Southern Ireland for protestants.  It worked. So much so that the unionists abolished STV for Stormont elections as soon as they could.

A fair-minded citizen of the republic would have to admit that the single transferable vote was one of the greatest gifts the British actually gave the Irish people. It’s fair, transparent, and highly  entertaining to watch on the day of an election count.

It’s a system that has served us well, as it has the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Malta and India. As a means of healing the tension that has arisen between the UK and Ireland since June 2016 we could do a lot worse than offer to help Britain adopt the election system they gifted us nearly 100 years ago. Go on: it really is as easy as one two three.

 
0

Would you die for Estonia?

Posted by Jason O on Nov 1, 2018 in European Union, Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

estonian-troopsPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition. 

The story of the Choctaw nation of Native Americans donating $170 towards Irish famine relief in 1847 is not a new one. As a country, we’re well aware of this act of generosity by a community which had its own hardships and painful history. The donation always for me holds a special place as an extraordinary act of nobility and honour, a generous gesture towards a people of whom they knew little. Indeed any Irish that they encountered were more than likely members of the United States Army who are forcing Native Americans to leave their tribal lands as the United States expanded westwards.

I’m bringing up the Choctaw nation within the context of our ongoing national debate about neutrality. We’re not the first neutral country in these times to reexamine existing policies: Finland and Sweden have both opened formal communication lines with NATO, whereas Austria’s Freedom Party foreign policy leadership seems to be setting itself up as some form of Kremlin dance partner.

In looking at our own position, the example of the Choctaw should play a role. What would we do if a small nation like Estonia, on the Russian border, like us a nation with a shared history of brutal imperial oppression were to find its democratic sovereignty threatened once again by Russian force?

Is it our business?

If the Russians were a direct military threat from the air to us it means that NATO forces have probably collapsed right across Europe and we will be very much at the mercy of far more serious military outcomes than the odd Russian plane flying over Mayo or Donegal.

The army will be be far busier burning uniforms and burying arms to fight the occupation.

Therefore if we are to have a debate about neutrality it has to be one about morality and indeed about a sense of national honour. We have to decide what sort of nation we are, an exercise every thing from industrial schools to abortion proves we’re not great at.

Supposing the Kremlin provoked civil unrest in the Baltic states among the minority Russian communities and then used those public disturbances as a pretext to send Russian forces across the border to supposedly to protect their minority.

What would be the response of Ireland as a nation?

If Estonian or Lithuanian or Latvian governments pleaded with other free democracies to please send military aid to assist in the defence of their countries what would we as a nation say?

A cold-hearted analysis of national interest will probably come to the conclusion that in the short term this is not our problem. It’s true that we wouldn’t be found wanting in terms of grandstanding and demanding that the United Nations take some sort of action to prevent this. But we know full well that the United Nations is merely the sum of its parts and in a conflict between the Atlantic and the Kremlin the United Nations would be completely powerless.

Other than providing us with a platform from which to do some absolutely top class hand wringing, the people of Estonia watching their sons and daughters in combat gear on their streets, fighting Russian tanks door to door with machine guns and shoulder launched anti-armour missiles would take little comfort in our declarations of woe.

Nor would the rest of Europe, I suspect, as their soldiers fought and died in the Baltics to try and liberate those three countries.  

Let’s be clear: the contribution of our permanent defence forces to fighting in the Baltics would be very very limited indeed. As a result of PESCO and other cooperation within the EU and also recent expenditure by both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael governments our military are far more compatible now with the militaries of the rest of Europe in terms of capability, compatibility and equipment. But our contribution would still be fairly limited, probably to no more than a few hundred troops and aside from special forces probably more in terms of support, explosive ordnance and battlefield medical aid.

But that doesn’t mean that an Irish contribution does not matter.

1000 professional and well equipped troops from Europe’s 10 smallest countries is suddenly 10,000 troops which is not an insignificant number in the highly mobile fighting that will almost certainly occur in such a conflict. That’s why our troops need to train with other EU troops to maintain tactical compatibility so that at least we as every other country in Europe has will have the capability to contribute towards of the defence of our continent if we so choose.

That still leaves us with the fundamental question: would we contribute troops, knowing full well that it is almost guaranteed that many will not come back alive.

Should our soldiers be allowed be allowed refuse to go?

I’ve no doubt that the debate would be furious, widespread, emotional and above all incredibly divisive with the default position being not to send troops and that it is none of our business.

The problem with that position is that it will not be in isolation. Not only will Ireland be watched by the rest of Europe as to where it stands, but also let us not forget the thousands of Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians who live in our country, work beside us, who we are married to and have children with.

We suddenly turn to to them and tell them to their faces that your family dying from Russian invasion is not our problem? We just don’t care?

Nor will we be able to turn our backs on the refugees from the Baltic states, many of whom presumably will flee to Ireland as possibly one of the safest places in Europe.

Refugees who are EU citizens and have as much a right to come here as anywhere else and many of whom will have family here ready to provide shelter and refuge from the war.

Maybe we will try to say that providing refuge is our contribution to the war effort, that we can be like the Choctaw and perhaps those countries will be grateful not for the prowess of our fighting men and women but for the fact that whilst their fighting men and women fight the Russians we will make sure that their families will be safe and sheltered and cared for.

Perhaps that will be the Irish contribution and it would not be an insignificant one.

Finally there is always the option that the Irish have always exercised, from the days of the Wild Geese through to World War II, Vietnam and even today in the modern French Foreign Legion.  That Ireland as a nation does not fight, but that many of its young men and women go off and fight under a different flag, perhaps the flags of the Baltic states or Finland or Britain or France or Poland?

Perhaps the minister for defence should quietly ask the chief of staff to put in place a procedure where Irish soldiers who wished to fight alongside their continental colleagues could be quietly put on indefinite sabbatical and discreetly transported, with their equipment but without Irish flags on their uniforms to fight alongside whichever armed forces they would join.

I have no doubt in my mind that there will be no shortage of Irish volunteers to play the part of the defence of our continent.

In short, perhaps Ireland will not go to war but the Irish will?

 
0

No-Deal Brexit won’t be a catastrophe. For their own sake, remainers should stop saying it will.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 21, 2018 in Brexit Referendum, British Politics, European Union

political-map-of-europe-lgPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition. 

If one was fortunate enough to own a hyperbole mine, you’d do no better than be exporting into the no deal brexit debate, where your commodity would find good prices and healthy demand. If you were then to rely solely on the partisans, you’d be left with two clear impressions. The first is that a no deal brexit will be such a “Shaun of the Dead” dystopian apocalypse that you should not be surprised if you encounter, on the streets of London, a zombified Jacob Rees-Mogg shuffling towards you demanding to “eat your brains, assuming it is of course a convenient time for you”. Alternatively, you could also come away with the idea that a no deal Brexit will be the equivalent of either Idris Elba or Jennifer Lawrence (your choice) ringing you up to inform you that they need you around their place to help them try on all the new ridiculously tight swimwear they’ve just bought.

I say this as a convinced remainer and believer in the European project. My “own side” has been guilty from day one of flinging a tsunami of hysteria, promising such terrible consequences upon Britain that when those consequences did not immediately occur it did if anything call into question the very credibility of the remain side.

Only last week employment statistics released in the UK showed that unemployment in Britain has dropped to its lowest level in 40 years,  something which if the brexit campaign had promised during the referendum would have been absolutely dispatched by the remain campaign as fantasy.

Now, with no deal hurtling towards us, remainers continue to paint a picture of a post-brexit Britain on the edge of the breakdown of civilisation.

Let’s address a simple fact: even if there is a no deal brexit in March of next year, Britain will recover. It’s true that in the immediate short-term there could be huge difficulties with food and medicine shipments and customs control and clearance, and the recognition of British and EU drivers legal qualifications and credentials as they bring goods to and fro from Britain. It’s very reasonable to suspect that there will be difficulties.

But guess what: Britain can take it.

What’s more is that in the weeks and months after brexit, the European Union having made its point will then do what it always does. It will find a calm and rational solution to accommodate to some degree the needs of both sides because the reality is that both sides do want to trade. Both sides will also have citizens trapped behind “enemy lines” in the others’ jurisdiction and as a result both sides will want to address their needs.

Remainers need to stop painting a picture of economic and social collapse because it will reflect badly upon them when it doesn’t happen. Six months after brexit the situation will be running relatively smoothly, but the images of chaos painted by some remainers will be forever a matter of historical record and used against them for years to come, and that is not in their interest nor is it in Britain’s long-term interests.

This is not, by the way, a suggestion to remainers that they surrender, or indeed cease attempting to bring about a second referendum or as reasonable a version of brexit as is possible.

Instead I’d ask remainers to consider the overall reality of what is about to occur.  Whilst it is true that remainers have not used restraint in painting a picture of post-brexit Britain, neither have the brexiteers and in the long term it is the brexiteers who are going to be most disappointed for one simple reason.  

With the exception of China which by its sheer size occupies an almost unique position in terms of global trade the reality is that most prosperous countries prosper because they trade with the most prosperous markets closest to them. Brexiteers throughout the campaign have consistently presented the idea that Britain’s natural market is now on the other side of the planet and that somehow the European Union is a vague passing fancy that is bound to disappear into the mists of history any day now, taking with it its vast single market.  

Well it’s not.

At its heart, despite the rigidity of Michel Barnier’s negotiating stance, the reality is that the great success that is the European Union has been powered primarily by a pragmatic approach to resolving its challenges.

By logic the euro should not exist. By logic the EU should be disintegrating, less popular across the union than it has ever been. By logic brexit, one could argue, should have triggered a domino effect across Europe. But it didn’t, because the European Union has proven itself to be one of the most supple gymnasts of modern political history. You know the baddy Terminator robot that keeps changing shape as it needs? That’s the EU, that is.

And so, my fellow remainers, cut it out. You don’t have to overhype, because the laws of reality are on your side. The future of Britain as a country is one of a country still hard wired into the region of Europe despite the desires of brexiteers to sail away like Elizabethan buccaneers.

Reality will lead to certain conclusions.

The first is that even outside the European Union Britain is going to be trapped in the economic and regulatory gravitational field of our much vaster planetary body. This is a fact.  

Through sheer economic size British exporters will continue to lobby within a post-brexit Britain for British products to be regulatory compatible with whatever the European Union decides to apply to its products.

Just look at GDPR, a clear example of that legal force which applies to economic actors far removed from the physical European Union because they wish to have access to the single market.

Finally, here’s a reason why you shouldn’t overhype the consequences of brexit.

Brexit will allow a future British government made up of former remainers and those who see the benefit of Britain remaining close to its European partners greater opportunities now to integrate Britain into the European legal and regulatory framework.

Say what?

Think about it. How many Brits can name the director-general of the World Trade Organisation?  Essentially the EU is being downgraded from a visible force in daily British life to just another one of those international organisations.

No more UKIP MEPS. No more “Look what some Belgian said in the European Parliament!”

Will the BBC even report from Brussels as much?

Brexit Britain in the future will be a Britain paying hardly any media attention to decisions made in the European Commission or European Council. Yet the British embassy in Brussels will possibly be the largest UK embassy in the world, crammed full of diplomats quietly negotiating very long very tedious and very boring under-the-table technical agreements with the European Union which will effectively bind Britain to the EU, just in a far less transparent way than it currently is.

Hardline brexiteers will twig this, of course, and will probably give out blue bloody murder. But what will they be able to do about it? Try and get a referendum on the Agreement on Furniture Parts (Ball-bearings and castors) mutual standards recognition? Really?

The default of no deal is Britain surrendering its rule-making status and becoming, GDPR style, a rule-taker. Brexit means takes-it.

As an Irish remainer remaining in the EU, I can live with that.

 
1

A President for Europe: The Boardgame.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 19, 2018 in Boardgame A President for Europe, European Union, Not quite serious.

APFE BoardV2When I’m not writing columns and shaking my fist at the sky (same thing, some say) I’ve been designing a boardgame.

“A President for Europe” is a slightly tongue-in-cheek game where players are party leaders in a future European Union battling it out to be elected President of Europe.

Who will win, and can they stay in power? Or will the Russians rig the whole thing? This is a game of high politics and low tactics, doing deals, carving up votes and trying to stop the other leaders stabbing you in the back…if it wasn’t illegal, I’d insist it be played in a smoke-filled backroom.

APFE vote cards sampleDesign and testing is still going on, with a provisional plan for it to go on sale at the end of the year. Watch this space.

Drop me an email (see link above) if you want to be kept informed.

 
1

We need to take the lead on tax harmonisation.

Previously published in The Sunday Times Ireland Edition

Who would have thought that Brexit was going to be so boring? It’s going on and on and on and aside from the odd entertaining scene provided by Brexiteers united in a bond of trust akin to that of your average New Jersey gangster, it feels like nothing is actually happening.

As if that isn’t bad enough, our political parties know that despite the mind-numbing tedium of the process, they have to be seen to be constantly talking about it because it is, of course, very important to our open island economy. That would be fine if Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and Labour and even (whisper it) the shinners all had differing opinions on what our response to Brexit should be. But they don’t. Each one is an interpretative dance saying the same thing: no border, keep the UK market open, and keep the rights our citizens currently enjoy both here and in the UK. Even an election won’t change it, regardless of whether FF or FG end up propping up the other, the Schrodinger’s Cat of Irish politics, both in and out of power simultaneously.

The funny thing is that there is a huge issue looming towards us which is going to require a huge national debate. It has the potential to tear us apart, destroy our European policy, indeed call into question if not our membership of the European Union itself but at least the Eurozone. Whilst Micheal and Leo are down in steerage, drawing each other like “one of your French girls”, there’s a wall of pain looming out of the night towards us and we may not have anyone in the crow’s nest with binoculars.

It is, of course, our old friend, tax harmonisation. It’s back on the table, it isn’t going away, and more to the point, we should be willing to engage. It’s time we start the national debate. Should we support a European corporation tax regime?

We all know the arguments against. Our sovereign right to set corporate tax is the closest thing we have in Ireland to the Americans right to bear arms. Whereas in the US middle-aged men dress up in combat gear and take up positions on streets with ridiculously unnecessary firepower, in Ireland corporate lawyers stand menacing with copies of the Maastricht treaty tucked in underarm holsters. We’re on a rock in the north Atlantic, and without the power to help giant corporations fiddle their taxes (sorry, achieve optimum tax efficiency) we have bugger all to offer them compared to other countries within the single market. That and we’re a bleeding island too, that doesn’t help either.

True, we do speak English. The Americans regard us as less objectionable than the French and not as scary as the Germans, and in any case they’re related to half of us. Also it helps that our nearest neighbours seem determined to win the Olympic gold in self-face punching, but the tax issue is a big deal to us.

But things are changing on the continent. Emmanuel Macron is busy trying to push through reforms to French labour law to, you know, let businesses hire people without the MD having to surrender a kidney as a hostage. But as his plummeting poll numbers show, he’ll need to do something to shore up the centre-left vote that put him in. What better way than kicking the crap out of mega-companies? Nobody likes them anyway, so make them pay more than the current somewhat modest contribution they make to our corporate tax coffers? Hence our problem.

We could panic, and try to hold the line. It would at least save us the hassle of having to think up a new policy. Lord knows, our politicians sure hate having to think up anything other than new ways to spend other people’s money. Didn’t we get through the first fifty years of independence on a single idea? That everything was the dirty Brits fault and if they cleared off out of the north we’d be in clover? That was quickly followed up by Jaysus, Look at the Size Of The Wallet On That German Fella! Now we’re like a non-violent Pablo Escobar, helping all sorts dig holes to bury whatever it is they’re burying, of which we’d be shocked, shocked I tells ye, to discover was money.

Now that era is coming to a close, and rather than roar and shout and play the victim, let’s confront a few harsh realities.

Yes, Macron needs the tax revenue. But so do we. Just go into McDonalds and see the stationary robot you type your order into. We’re entering a new period of human existence, where labour surplus (what we used to call unemployment) mixed with longer life expectancy will require huge wealth redistribution. Everything from more health spending to a basic income will require more tax revenue, and Ireland alone can’t raise that money if it is engaged in tax competition with other members of the single market.

The argument has always been made that we will be screwed by a consolidated tax base (CCCTB) because we lose a very attractive tool and get little in return as many of those companies, hit by taxes wherever they are in the EU, decide to move to the continent where the main marketplace is.

It’s a fair point. It’s also why Ireland can’t just drag our heels but have to leap forward with a proposal. That yes, we are willing to drop our veto to tax harmonisation. But only if it goes the whole way by creating a central European Corporate Tax Treasury. A central fund where all Europe’s corporate tax revenue will go, and where a country like Ireland, at a serious disadvantage being both on the Atlantic rim and an island, will be guaranteed a compensatory share. A share we can use to openly bribe companies to stay here, whilst enlarging the corporate tax take for all of Europe.

It’s a big deal. It might even need a referendum, given the fact that we would be effectively ceding some tax-raising powers to Brussels. This is high stakes, because the Brits have proven that they can’t stop European integration and we can’t either.

But we can turn this to our strength. Google and Apple and the rest aren’t dummies. They can see the argument on corporate tax is changing globally. Now, with the Brits sailing off into the 19th century, the corporations still have a friend at the table that gets them. That will listen.

Us. The island between Boston and Berlin.

But only if we take the lead, work that seat, be the bridge between our FDI friends and the Macron-Merkel alliance.  

Scary? Yup. That’s life in bed with the giant Franco-German elephant.

But rather than complain about being squashed, better we get an early say as to who gets what side of the bed. 

 
0

British politics needs a bit of Irish in it.

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition

I came across an intriguing opinion poll by YouGov last week which gave an insight into the difference as to how Irish and British voters approach voting. The poll was questioning British voters as to how they would vote in the event of a second referendum on brexit. It offered voters three choices: remain, a “soft brexit” deal and “hard brexit”, what we call “no deal”.

The poll addressed the issue of a remain win by splitting the brexit vote: the idea that if remain voters stay together and brexit voters split between the two brexit options remain would win a first past the post contest even though a majority of voters actually voted for brexit. It proposed a preferential voting system to ensure that the final result would have the support of over 50% of voters. What we in Ireland know as the single transferable vote.

For the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with preferential voting, quite simply it works like this: if you are faced with a number of choices you place the number one beside your favourite candidate, number two beside your second favourite candidate and so on.

By doing so you are essentially telling vote counters that “This is my first choice. If he/she/it cannot win,  I would like my vote to go to my second choice and so on until someone is elected. The idea being that your vote may not get your favourite candidate elected, but it will at least help elect someone less objectionable to you.

As a voting system it has been very successful in Ireland, as determined by the fact that both attempts to change it to first past the post, in 1959 and 1968 in referendums were both rejected by voters, in 1968 by a 20% margin.

What was interesting about the poll, however, was that it first asked voters to choose amongst the three options, and to make a second preference choice in the event the first choice was eliminated.

41% of those polled refused to offer a second preference.

Think about that for a minute. Think about it in the context of going into a restaurant and asking the waiter to bring you a steak. He says “I’m sorry sir, we’re out of steak, would you care to look at the menu for something else?”. Now, normally people would be disappointed that they couldn’t have the first choice but nevertheless look through the menu for something that they would be satisfied with. The 41% are essentially saying they’d like steak and if they can’t have steak they don’t want anything else and would rather go hungry.

From an Irish perspective, this is downright peculiar. The number of people in Irish elections who fail to transfer after their first preference is actually quite small because Irish voters recognise that even if one does not get the one’s first choice, you can still use your ballot to try and stop the option you detest the most. This matters because the brexit vote was the single most democratic act in British history since 1935: at no other time has any party or proposition won a majority of the vote on a turnout like that of June 2016.

I find it hard to believe, therefore, that there are large numbers on either side of the debate in Britain who have no view as to what would be the least worst option if they could not get brexit or remain. The idea that someone who voted for remain, if they knew that remain was going to lose would not prefer a soft brexit rather than the hard brexit seems to me to be quite bizarre.

In the same way I would assume that people who wish a hard brexit would prefer a soft brexit rather than to remain in the European Union.

There are those who could make the argument that if they thought that the choice was between remain and a soft brexit and they supported a full brexit they might actually prefer to remain in the European Union on the basis that soft brexit, as Tony Blair argues, is the worst of both worlds.

But 41% having no second opinion? Really? Unless it’s a case of “I’ve voted for what I want and I’ll burn down the place rather than consider a second slightly less attractive option” which is always possible, I suppose.  

Britain is not a complete stranger to the single transferable vote or as it is known in Britain, AV. They know the alternative vote having rejected it overwhelmingly in a referendum in 2011.

But things change. The reality is that a preferential voting system whether used in a single decision such as this or used in multi seat constituencies as in Dail elections and in Northern Ireland would resolve not just the issue of a final decision by the British people as to whether brexit should go ahead.

STV also offers British voters a solution to a problem which is currently poisoning their political system.

Take the current talk of a general election to settle the issue. It wouldn’t, because it can’t. The current first past the post electoral system is malfunctioning so badly that it could easily result in a majority of remain voters or a majority of leave voters winning the popular vote but being deprived of a fair voice in the parliament that resulted.

Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are so split that a general election just reveals that there are people who are trapped in political parties with people with whom they fundamentally disagree with on this issue and others, and the electoral system is forcing them to remain in that party and is forcing voters then to make false choices.

What does voting Tory mean in the next election if you vote for John Redwood or Ian Duncan Smith or Anna Soubry or Ken Clarke?

If you are a solid remain voter and decide to go the whole hog and vote Liberal Democrat you may in fact be splitting in the remain vote and helping brexiteers win. The same applies to UKIP voters wanting to vote pure brexit. They’ll drain brexit votes away from more viable brexit candidates.  

STV solves all this: there’s no such thing as a wasted vote. You can transfer your preferences from your first choice to other remain or brexit candidates as you see fit without hurting their chance of being elected. STV is the voter’s friend.  

The irony is that the single transferable vote is a British invention, devised by a British lawyer named Thomas Hare. Britain imposed it as part of the Anglo Irish treaty in an attempt to ensure that in Northern Ireland catholics will get fair representation, and the same in Southern Ireland for protestants.  It worked. So much so that the unionists abolished STV for Stormont elections as soon as they could.

A fair-minded citizen of the republic would have to admit that the single transferable vote was one of the greatest gifts the British actually gave the Irish people. It’s fair, transparent, and highly  entertaining to watch on the day of an election count.

It’s a system that has served us well, as it has the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Malta and India. As a means of healing the tension that has arisen between the UK and Ireland since June 2016 we could do a lot worse than offer to help Britain adopt the election system they gifted us nearly 100 years ago. Go on: it really is as easy as one two three.

Copyright © 2019 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.