Posted by Jason O on Oct 1, 2014 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
Last year I wrote “Sovereignty”, a radio play about a female Irish Taoiseach. You can read it here.
Posted by Jason O on Sep 24, 2014 in Irish Politics
Fair play to Kildare FF Councillor James Lawless putting his position on Local Property Tax on the record. Makes some good points. There’s something bizarre about watching the hard left doing a Newt Gingrich over taxes whilst centrists are asking how public services will actually be paid for. Weren’t the People’s Front of Killiney et al only bitching recently about local services being cut? Yet now they can afford to cut LPT? Don’t get me wrong: I’m a tax cutter by instinct. But I want to see the sums first and I want to see what spending is being cut, not watching the rainy day fund get pissed away. It’s typical of the populists pretending to be lefties: All demanding Keynesian spending in a recession, but unwilling to save money for the long term and the next recession.
Check out James’ points here. By the way: He’s also to be credited for being one of the few FF people who uses the web well to put across his views.
Defence minister Simon Coveney TD has confirmed that Cork harbour will be the new home of Britain’s trident missile fleet if Scotland votes to expel them from Faslane naval base. “There’s nearly three thousand jobs associated with the servicing of the four Vanguard class submarines, and Cork is ideal. It’s a deep water port with straight access to the north Atlantic and did I mention it just happened to be in a certain parliamentary constituency?”
Modger Mole of the We’re-All-Going-To-Die Alliance has attacked the plan as a breach of neutrality. “Will somebody please think of the children!” Mole said in a 72 page press statement.
The minister clarified the neutrality position later in the day: “We’re observing what we call the Shannon protocol, which is where the country’s policy of neutrality is vigorously observed as long as it doesn’t cost us money. As we discovered in Shannon, many US troops liked buying duty free whiskey, Foster and Allen CDs and the odd Aran sweater, which activated the protocol. In this case we’re thinking of designating the new base as one of the old treaty ports, so that the submarines won’t be in Irish territory, but the paypackets will be. An Irish solution to an Irish problem.”
When asked as to whether it could result in Cork being laid waste by nuclear devastation, the minister replied “Yes, but how would you know?”
Posted by Jason O on Sep 7, 2014 in European Union
, Irish Politics
An excellent piece by Michael McLoughlin here on Ireland’s refusal to confront the reality of defence policy in Europe.
Posted by Jason O on Aug 31, 2014 in Irish Politics
There’s an enormous elephant standing on the back of another elephant playing a trumpet loudly at the heart of the European defence debate, and nobody wants to admit that it’s there.
The truth is, nobody wants to die for Europe.
If Russia invades Estonia, or Poland, or Finland, there’ll be no shortage of young and not-so-young men and women in those countries who will rush to take up arms to defend their homelands and their families. The problem is that by that stage, it’s just too late. Deterrence has failed. Europe will be at war, and yes, at that stage, it is Europe. An armed incursion into any of those countries will have a huge economic impact on the rest of the European Union (and the Euro), and so defending them is not only honourable but selfishly vital.
Yet, up to that moment, it isn’t, and that’s the problem. We end up in a surreal situation where a Europe that is bigger, richer and spends more money on defence (Britain and France combined spend more on defence than Russia) is still cowed by Russia. Why? Because there is a Russian army. There’s no European army. Instead there are 28 national armies frittering away Europe’s defence spend into a very unimpressive bang for our buck.
Nor is there any reason to believe that a combined European army could come about as a result of the merging of existing European armies. For all sorts of reasons of history, national pride, etc, that isn’t going to happen. However, the problem still remains, and the chancelleries of Berlin, Paris and Warsaw know it. Europe has to have a defence capability that it is willing to deploy into harm’s way, and effectively a force of men and women who are emotionally separate from national identities.
To put it another way: consider two imaginary headlines in a future Irish newspaper:
“200 Irish soldiers die in fighting on Estonian border.”
“200 European Defence Force soldiers die in fighting on Estonian border.”
The first headline will cause outrage in Ireland, with screams about neutrality and why are we fighting in a country so far away, etc. The second will be met with a shrug of shoulders, even if some of those soldiers are Irish.
Why? Because if the European Defence Force was a voluntary organisation that Irishmen and women just happened to join (there’d be no shortage of volunteers) that would be seen as sad if they died, but not on the same level as Irish army soldiers being ordered into battle. It would almost be seen as a business arrangement. A de facto European Foreign Legion.
That’s the key.
The EU could allocate part of the defence budget of each member state to tender a separate private military contractor operated force for deployment on EU sanctioned operations. The member states could lease to the contractors equipment not usually available to private sector operatives (e.g. fighter aircraft) and the contractor could be bound by certain conditions in terms of human rights, sourcing supplies and employees from contributing EU member state suppliers. The force could also be required to have a rapid reaction disaster relief capacity for use both within and outside the EU.
The benefit is that the EU a) gets a military capacity, and b) recognises that there is sometimes a European interest which needs to be physically defended by a European asset. Such a force could also be used to replace EU national forces in places like Afghanistan.
Is it a fanciful proposition? Possibly. It’s a very radical idea to tender out elements of defence. But it does recognise a reality that Europe is an entity with common interests that need to be defended, yet there does not exist, at national defence level, a psychological buy-in to that. The US is leading the way, with mixed results, in private sector involvement with combat capacity in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is where we are today, and we shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.
Posted by Jason O on Aug 25, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Jason's Diary
Thought I’d repost this again after a conversation I had with someone this weekend.
I’m one of those people who regards same-sex marriage as a litmus test for politicians. That doesn’t mean that every candidate I support or votes for has to be pro-gay marriage, but I certainly could not vote for one who actively campaigns against.
I wasn’t always like this. When I was younger, I was certainly homophobic, as many of my now openly-gay friends will tell you. What made me change my mind?
Well, for a start, I was never homphobic in that weird animalistic way that some guys are, wanting to physically confront gays as some sort of affront to their very being. I’ve always found that sort of homophobia bizarre, indeed suspected that there is a hint of “doth protest too much” about it. I never subscribed to jailing gays or seeking out their lifestyle to destroy it, instead believing in the concept of the comfortable, well-lit tidy closet. How generous I was.
But I did take offense at the idea of homosexuals “forcing” their lifestyles upon the rest of us, of the open public displays of affectation as an affront to mainstream values.
Then two close friends of mine came out within a year of each other. Both were good friends who had never given an inkling of being gay, and it came, to me at least, as a surprise, especially as both had been recipients of many of my gay-unfriendly “witticisms”.
The fact that two of my friends were gay made me confront my own beliefs. Was I “offended” by their life choices? Was I repulsed?
Actually, I was ashamed of my own behaviour, when I examined how I had behaved around these two guys. But what surprised me was how non-threatened I felt. Many straight men have a curious belief that gay men have an agenda to “turn” them. I was reminded of this when a relative of mine questioned how I could feel comfortable having gay friends. He reckoned he couldn’t do it, because he would be constantly afraid of them “moving” on him. When I pointed out that he was probably not good looking enough for most of the gay men I knew he was quite put out, funnily enough.
After that, I then had a girlfriend who had a gay business partner and a gay roomate, and with that a gay circle of friends, and that was that. Whatever about fearing homosexuality as a concept, it’s nigh impossible to fear people whom you actually care about.
Some time after that, Liz O’Donnell expressed surprise that I was straight, and I surprised myself by not actually minding that someone thought I was gay, a suggestion that would have troubled me deeply previously.
On the flipside, it is worth remembering that not everybody who is uncomfortable with homosexuality is automatically a hate-filled homophobe. For the Irish in particular, we do hate in a curious way. We’re great at hating a race or group, but not so good at hating a person.
When the same-sex marriage referendum comes around, if it is fought over giving rights to “the gays” it’ll lose. But if it is about giving rights to “you know, Maura’s youngest, Sean,” it’ll pass.
Posted by Jason O on Aug 16, 2014 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
But for Deputy Martin Faraday, it could all have been so different. The Irish government, pressurised by a politically active Pro Life Campaign (PLC), would still have held a referendum in 1983 to insert an anti-abortion clause into Ireland’s constitution. The 8th amendment to the constitution would still have overwhelmingly passed, declaring that the state would vindicate and defend the right to life of the unborn. Then Ireland would have continued on its “Do as I say, not as I do” way, turning a blind eye to its women leaving the jurisdiction to seek abortions in the UK. The PLC would celebrate their surreal victory as the one pro-life organisation in the world which celebrates not what happens to a foetus, but where it happens. An Irish solution, as it were, to an Irish problem.
The problem, however, was that Martin Faraday was that rare beast in Irish politics, a politician who actually believed what he said. A devout Catholic, the young deputy from Kilkenny was tall, handsome, charismatic, and had led his native county to victory in the GAA hurling championship in 1979. Although socially conservative, Faraday nevertheless had respect on the liberal left for his consistency, speaking out just as strongly on issues of poverty and on opposition to the death penalty. Many spoke of him as a future cabinet minister, perhaps even party leader.
The problem, political correspondents muttered to each other over a pint in the Dail bar, was that Faraday wouldn’t play ball. He wouldn’t keep quiet when it was wise to do so. He had been a key player in forcing the government to hold the referendum, and now he was going to take the outcome of the referendum to its logical conclusion.
The Protection of Life (Border Controls) bill of 1984, prepared by Faraday with a group of pro-life barristers, was placed before the Dail formally by him in a private capacity. The purpose, he told the house, was to implement the imperative in article 40.3 of the constitution. The state was committed to “defending and vindicating the right to life of the unborn, as far as practicable”.
This bill is, he declared, the practicable means of doing so. To the horror of both his own party and the opposition parties, all nominally pro-life and supporting the new amendment in its intent, the young deputy outlined a proposed system of border controls for pregnant women. All doctors would be required to place newly pregnant women on a national register, allowing the state to track each pregnancy to its completion. Any pregnant woman would require a special exit visa from the state, and would be examined upon her return to the jurisdiction to ensure that an abortion had not been procured. Aborting a foetus whilst abroad would result in a criminal conviction and a life imprisonment for both the woman and any individual who knowingly assisted her.
“If you oppose this bill,” he summed up, “you are not pro-life. By opposing abortion in Ireland but supporting the right to seek abortion abroad, you are just slightly less pro-choice. But you are not pro-life.”
The bill received major international media coverage, with many speculating that it would never pass. Both government and opposition spokespeople, speaking off the record, dismissed it as totally impracticable. But they hadn’t counted on Faraday, who mobilised the PLC once again, bringing to bear even greater pressure than had been brought on individual TDs and senators to enact the original amendment. First, politicians were publicly lobbied, harassed and cajoled into supporting “the Faraday bill” at least being put to a vote in both houses. What could be more reasonable, the PLC asked, than at least having parliament debate the deputy’s proposals?
Once that hurdle had been passed, and the bill was allowed be put to the floor, the campaign really started. The PLC publicly identified who was voting for and against. Parish priests singled out local politicians who failed to commit. TDs’ houses and family members were picketed, and the Catholic hierarchy, deeply wary of the bill, nevertheless came out in favour after threats from the laity.
Charles J. Haughey, who found the bill to be deeply objectionable, did what he usually did, and threw his support fully behind it on the basis that it was causing chaos for the Taoiseach, Garrett Fitzgerald, within his own party, and that was grounds enough. A number of Fianna Fail TDs refused to support the bill and were expelled for “conduct unbecoming a member of Fianna Fail”.
With the governing coalition, pro-lifers in Fine Gael and Labour held the majority, and demanded support. Fitzgerald kept his cards close, until the day of the vote, when he stood and announced that such a law went completely against the republican principles to which he subscribed, and he would therefore “stand by the republic” and vote against the bill, announcing a free vote and his resignation as Taoiseach.
The bill passed the Dail with a clear majority. The minority of deputies from across the political spectrum who had voted against the bill emerged from Leinster House to a large crowd of pro-life demonstrators. A small, unrepresentative number proceeded to rush the deputies, and there was a prolonged fight in the car park until baton wielding Gardaí managed to rescue them.
The new Taoiseach immediately appointed Martin Faraday as minister for justice with a clear responsibility for implementing his bill.
In the weeks that followed, abortion clinics in the UK reported a large upturn in Irish women seeking abortion. International TV crews gathered in Irish ports and airports to watch crowds of pro-life vigilantes carry out impromptu “inspections” of women leaving the country whom the suspected of being with child. BBC TV news rang footage, which was repeated worldwide, of a pregnant woman being called a “whore” by a group of self-appointed sash-wearing “Unborn Protection Officer” middle-aged men in Dublin airport, before being hit with a bottle. She later died that evening. The child was not saved. Faraday, to the surprise of many, publicly condemned the attack and the vigilantism, and demanded the prosecution of the individuals concerned.
The bill came into law within weeks, and soon large numbers of women were being denied exit permission on the grounds of suspicion that they may be seeking to terminate their pregnancies. The PLC celebrated (with non-alcoholic sparkling wine and orange juice) a sharp fall, in the first six months of the bill’s operation, in the number of Irish women registering for terminations in the UK. Faraday applauded the result as proof of the will of the Irish people, as expressed in the amendment, being carried out.
In the north of Ireland, the unionist parties, both strongly pro-life, attacked the law anyway, as proof of Rome Rule, in that wonderfully first principle gymnastic way at which Northern Irish politicians excel.
Then Marie-Louise Dufour, a young French 21 year old woman living as an au-pair for a middle class family in north Dublin, got pregnant by the family’s 19 year old son.
Dufour, on visiting a doctor and discovering her predicament, had decided to return to France and seek a termination. Oblivious of the Faraday law, she was stunned to find herself arrested at Dublin Airport and charged under the Faraday act.
Within half a day, the French foreign minister was on the phone to his colleague, demanding her release. The story was the lead item on French television news.
The Attorney General advised the cabinet that the Faraday act was correctly applied. The 8th amendment did not distinguish between the nationality of the mother or the unborn child, even if the foetus was half Irish.
The cabinet decided to instruct the AG to approach the Director of Public Prosecutions to see if the case could be dropped. The DPP, who had opposed the Faraday law, nevertheless was committed to enforcing the law, and this, he told the AG, was a clear cut case.
The Taoiseach received a phone call from President Mitterand. It was not a pleasant conversation. The French President left the Taoiseach in no doubt that France would not permit one of its citizens to be treated this way.
On returning to the cabinet, the AG suggested a last ditch appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the act. At this point, Faraday resigned, questioning his fellow cabinet members’ commitment to the unborn, including that “beautiful creature inside Marie-Louise Dufour. That is whom we are fighting for.” Faraday was met by a huge crowd from the PLC who hung on his every word.
That afternoon, to massive media coverage, the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau, accompanied by support ships, became visible off Dublin Bay. The boom of patrolling Super Etendard fighters could be heard in the city. The Irish Naval Service ship LE Aoife was despatched to “escort” the French ships, but proceeded to have an engine failure and had to be towed back to port by one of the French escorts.
The Taoiseach quickly contacted President Reagan, asking for assistance and perhaps even US protection. Reagan, although sympathetic, pointed out that the US had been alarmed at Mitterand’s election in 1981 and was threading very carefully to keep France in NATO, and so didn’t really want to cause waves. He also pointed out that the story was getting awful coverage in the US.
President Mitterand then called the Taoiseach again, and suggested that as it seemed a legal resolution was impossible, France had a suggestion. Initially appalled, the Taoiseach consented.
Marie-Louise Dufour was moved to Garda headquarters, and at 3am on Sunday morning a helicopter carrying French commandos from the Clemenceau carried out a lightening raid. Gardaí on duty had been warned 10 minutes previously by the commissioner that they were not to offer resistance, and the French commandos, as agreed with the Taoiseach, were carrying unloaded machine guns. Nominally under duress (but after offering tea and coffee, which was politely refused, although a few chocolate digestives were received gratefully), the duty officer led the commandos to Dufour’s cell, where she was handed over to the French soldiers, and they departed.
The government protested formally, and a large PLC demonstration had to be beaten back by a large Garda force at the French embassy.
The cabinet then discussed repealing the Faraday act to prevent a future occurrence. The AG grimaced. It won’t make a difference, he said. The act, by its operation, has proven that it is actually practicable to detain pregnant women. It has actually reduced the number of Irish women seeking abortions. Even without a law, the state still has an onus to act to defend the unborn. It’s arguably illegal to dismantle the Faraday system. There is only one real option.
A week later, the Taoiseach went on TV to announce that the 8th amendment as currently structured was causing the country serious harm. He announced a referendum to repeal it.
The PLC, led by Faraday, mobilised a massive campaign of opposition. Polls showed overwhelming opposition to repeal.
Three weeks later, 62% of voters voted to repeal. In the exit poll conducted on the same day, 62% of people actually speaking to pollsters said they were against repeal, and had voted against.
Envelope? What envelope?
He’s not personally corrupt. Oh, he’s sat down with developers and followed up their queries with planners, but he does that for ordinary punters too. Nothing wrong with asking a legitimate question for a constituent, as long as you don’t try to get the planner to do anything wrong, and he doesn’t.
Elected to the council after the carry-on of the 1980s and 1990s, he doesn’t get approached for “favours”. He’s the new breed of the party’s councillor who wrinkles his nose at reading about yet another former party elected rep being done for corruption.
Yet don’t ask him to fight corruption. Don’t ask him to report anything he thinks is dodgy, and he sees enough of it, to the Guards or anyone else, because that’s just not done. He’s been known to turn on his heel walking into a toilet at the the council, when he sees a colleague receiving “papers” from a developer just before a vote.
In fact, that’s the thing. He actually spends time trying to avoid learning about corruption, because he can’t report what he doesn’t know.
“Trains to where, judge? Auschwitz? I just set the timetables. Couldn’t tell you what was in them. Was it strange that they were coming back empty? Do you know, I never thought to ask.”
Sometimes it’s the little things. In 1989, after failing to win a majority in the Irish general election, Charles J. Haughey was forced to formally resign as Taoiseach. People forget this now, because Haughey remained as acting Taoiseach until Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats did the business and assembled a Dail majority to re-elect him as Taoiseach proper.
But it set an interesting precedent, because it means that in 2016 Enda Kenny could return to the Dail with a mere 40-50 TDs, and remain indefinitely as head of a Fine Gael minority government if there is not an agreed majority to replace him. It’s not enough to lose the election: the Dail has to agree on who actually won, and looking at the recent RED C poll, that could be anybody’s guess.
All because of the Haughey precedent of 27 years previously.
The little things matter, and the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission is going to be another one of those things that will snowball into something much bigger in the future.
Juncker was nominated in Dublin last March by the European People’s Party, the largest centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, and the party of both Angela Merkel and Enda Kenny. The Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the Left in the European Parliament also nominated candidates. All with the same understanding: that whichever party won the most seats would supply the next President of the Commission.
It’s this which large elements of the media (and, it would seem, David Cameron) missed. Even now, when you ask people about the European Parliament (you know, the way you do, down the pub) you get back the “powerless talking shop” quip.
Except it isn’t true. It used to be. But now the EP can hire and fire the Commission, block or amend almost any EU law, including the EU budget, and now, as David Cameron has discovered, threaten to veto any European Council nominee for President. The European Parliament just took on Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and beat it. Powerless talking shop? They’ll be wearing “Our Parliament can beat up your prime minister” tee shirts in the Espace Leopold this week.
For years, Europe’s leaders kept getting stick every time they negotiated a new treaty. Europe, they were told, isn’t democratic. Their response was to throw a few bones down the stairs into the basement where they kept their pretend parliament. But nobody seemed to notice that the parliament was gobbling up everything it was given, and growing, and suddenly there’s a banging on the basement door and Europe’s leaders discover there’s a fully grown parliament standing in front of them, and it’s not happy living in the basement anymore.
Jean Claude Juncker can see the new reality. For the first time ever, we have a European Commission President who didn’t get his job purely from the gift of the EU’s presidents and prime ministers, sitting around a dining table and holding an Election by After Eight. His name was one the table early, picked by the EPP, and the Parliament was adamant. The Council has the power to nominate whomever it wants, but Parliament was only going to accept one name.
Juncker is Parliament’s man. He knows it, they know it, and if he wants a second term, he’ll have to remember it too, and being the savvy old operator he is, there’s no doubt he will. He is the prime minister of a majority of the members of the European Parliament. They are the hand that feeds, not the member states.
After all, do you know who (and only who) has the power to sack Juncker? The Parliament. Not the member states. Yet another bone the member states threw down the steps without thinking, hoping it would keep the shouting from the basement down. Now look what they’ve done.
The whole affair can be looked at two ways. One, the British way, is of an old Euro Federalist playing the game much better than Britain’s poor outclassed prime minister. Britain outsmarted once again by devious backroom continental dealers with their compromises and Everybody Must win A Prize ways.
Or there’s another way.
How was Juncker’s outgoing predecessor, Jose Manual Barroso picked ten years ago? The answer: out of the blue days before the vote, pretty much unknown to anyone who wasn’t Portuguese.
Yet those of us who actually care about this stuff (the Trekkies of international democratic politics) have known that Juncker, the Socialists’ Martin Schulz and the Liberals’ Guy Verhofstadt were the names on the table. In a debate before the European elections, transmitted on telly (with an RTE host, by the way) and hardly watched by anybody, Schulz said very clearly, with Juncker to his side, that the next President of the European Commission would come from one of the candidates on the stage.
This wasn’t some secret backroom deal. This was the most transparent process for we have ever had for choosing a Commission President ever, and whilst it’s true that most Europeans didn’t even vote in the European Elections, that’s a choice in itself. The whole point of being a democracy is that you can’t make people participate in it, only have the right to participate.
But this all matters. In 2019, when the next European Elections come around, will the media and the member states pay closer attention to the nominees of the European parties? You’re damn right they will. This is a game changer.
Posted by Jason O on Jul 5, 2014 in Irish Politics
I’ve written about it before, that moment in 2016 when around 50 Fine Gael and Labour TDs will go through one of the most emotionally devastating moments of their lives as they are ejected by the voters at the count. Many will never hold political office again. Some will take years for both they and their families to recover from that day. A small number never will.
What’s even more revealing is that, having fixed the economy and received public anger for it, they will then hand over the fixed economy, the increasing tax revenues, and ALL political power to their opponents in Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.
What fascinates me is the sheer inability, through capture by institutional inertia, of those FG and Labour TDs to do anything about it. They are just going to wait for the kicking because they’re so paralysed by “The way things have always been done” that they will literally let their own personal lives be devastated by it.
People like me have the luxury of banging on about political reform, and political hacks will always tell you, correctly, that nobody ever got elected because they were going to reform the Seanad. That’s true. But what never ceases to amaze me is how this government in particular has been unable to grasp how political reform could actually be used as a weapon to help them get re-elected.
They don’t seem to understand that by centralising all power, they have turned the rest of the non-cabinet political system, from Oireachtas through the councils, into a blame-free no-responsibility taxpayer-subsidised platform for the people who want to take their seats off them. It’s hard to imagine how they could help their political opponents any more than they are now. Why can’t they see this?
If Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein had to elect a load of directly elected mayors with specific responsibility to set the property tax and local budgets, and who in office were barred from running for the Oireachtas, the property tax would be their problem. It would also deprive FF and SF of many of their best candidates for the Dail. Property tax bills, with the photo, signature and party affiliation of the mayor could be arriving through letterboxes all over the country, reminding voters that these guys have to live in the real world of spending and taxing choices too.
Instead, the stultifying inability of Fine Gael and Labour to do anything new is going to sleepwalk them into electoral annihilation, and they seem incapable of anything else.