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.
It’s a hard wired genetic response, whether it is to exploiting natural resources offshore or fracking or even postcodes. A section of the country just can’t help itself, and comes out in opposition to everything. There is even a standard pattern:
1. A proposal is made by a company or body. The benefits in terms of revenue or employment tend to be so over-hyped as to trigger scepticism everywhere, even amongst people in favour of the project. Why do we have to oversell everything?
2. In the area concerned, muttering starts, normally led by a local nut who votes No in every referendum and disconcertingly mentions the Bilderberg Group and fluoride in every conversation. But he’s retired with time on his hands and is a wiz with mail merge, having the database from previous local campaigns such as “Stop Dublin stealing our clouds!” and “No to WiFi near St. Enda’s. There are children there for God’s sake!”
3. The usual malcontents, Sebastian from South Dublin, furious with Daddy for running away with Olga from Olgastan and making Mummy cry and tell them that “they have to be the man of the house now” after a bottle of Tia Maria during Murder She Wrote, arrive to “smash capitalism” (Daddy was a capitalist) and stand up for the “ordinary people” in the area.
4. The local opposition TDs and councillors start calling for an independent public inquiry because that’s what they always call for, and it’s not like they have to fund it out of their expenses, is it?
5. The planning process gets bogged down in court injunctions and walkouts and demands for a tribunal into the planning process. Vague allegations of corruption are applauded by the usual paranoid mob. The integrity of the process hinges entirely on whether it agrees with the No side.
6. Planning permission is granted. It is appealed to An Bord Plenala. They approve it. It is appealed to the High Court, then the Supreme Court, then the European Court. Judicial corruption is alleged every step of the way. Huge legal bills are run up by the protesters who then complain of being economically ruined by huge legal bills they ran up travelling through a legal system they “knew” to be corrupt in the first place.
7. The opposition wins the general election, and sets up a public inquiry because it has nothing better to do. The opponents of the project do not contest the election declaring the political process corrupt and “exclusionary to ordinary people”. You know, like voters. On polling day a group of young protesters meet to beam positive energy at the ballot boxes as they are carried out by the Guards.
8. The public inquiry approves the project. The protesters accuse it of being corrupt, and announce a campaign of civil disobedience, which seems to involve a lot of interpretive dance and giant Macnas style heads. One protester sprains his wrist when a giant Che Guevara head falls on him. He sues the state for not banning giant heads of South American communists.
9. The project starts with much civil disobedience, delaying the project’s completion by years. When it is completed, and starts providing tax revenue to the state much later than planned because of the delays, the people who delayed it are first in the queue with demands as to how the money should be spent.
10. 20 years later, when the project is no longer viable, the people who originally opposed it demand it be subsidised by the state as a vital contribution to the local economy.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 23, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Bullying is a terrible thing.
Poor Micheal has been bullied by girls named Mary, given a wedgie by a group of older boys who call themselves The Senators, and a boy in a wheelchair recently threatened to roll over his foot. For 50c a week, we can save up and buy a good sturdy broom handle that we can put up the back of Micheal’s jumper. It’s not as good as a real spine, but sure, it’s better than nothing. I mean, just look at that sad little face. Ah Jesus.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 23, 2014 in European Union
, Irish Politics
Check out Dr Kevin Byrne’s “Now or Soon” blog here, where he looks at some interesting issues of public policy. And no, that’s not an oxymoron.
Kevin comes from the book-readin’ wing of Fianna Fail, and so is watched carefully at all times by his party peers.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 19, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Joan Burton winning is essential to the public good – and we are proud to endorse her.
It might seem unusual for us, as former Progressive Democrats, used to being roundly castigated by Joan Burton, to take the step of supporting her bid for the leadership of her party. In truth, it is not a step we are taking because we love Joan Burton – rather, because we love our country.
The nation is at a crossroads, and it would take very little for those in the Government parties who are more concerned with their own seats than the future of Ireland to be blown by the political breeze away from the path of sober austerity and onto the road to reckless populism. There are those who now seriously argue that the nation should abandon its projected €2billion in budgetary cuts this October, and instead return to the bad old days of handouts, grants, and goodies for the preferred children of Ireland’s chattering quangocracy.
Alex White is amongst them. Joan Burton, so far as we can tell, is not.
Minister Burton has a proud record at cabinet. Since her election and subsequent appointment to cabinet office, she has largely cast aside the populist bleating that defined her term in opposition, and dedicated herself to the task of rationalising and reducing the state’s bloated and obscene welfare budget. She has done so quietly and efficiently, coming to media prominence only in defence of those necessary and judicious reductions in spending that have provoked scorn in those who judge every policy on its emotional, rather than economic appeal.
There are those in her party whose reaction to welfare cuts, the reduction in our outrageous levels of child benefit, or the long-overdue slashing of funding to spurious agencies and activist groups would have been to abandon their post, as we saw with Roisin Shorthall. There are those today who would challenge Minister Burton whose reaction and rhetoric poses the same threat – instability driven by base emotion.
The temptation to be perceived as “compassionate” instead of competent, or to bow to the taunts of those who exist to denounce basic mathematics as a form of cruelty, is growing in the Labour Party, many of who yet cling to the notion that the numbers on the national balance sheet will improve if it is simply wished for hard enough. Minister Burton is the one candidate who has shown the ability to put her head ahead of her heart, and though we do not share all of her views, we commend her for that.
Then there is the matter of stability. The nation needs sound and stable Government – a trusting and enduring partnership between the two parties that have been entreated to serve. Minister Burton has shown that she can work around the cabinet table, and that when called upon, she can enact the policy preferences of her senior partners with as much enthusiasm and energy as those that are dearest to her own heart. She has shown herself a servant to the nation first, and the narrow demands of partisan bickering a distant second.
We live in a time when mature and sober politics are under threat as never before. Leaders face a daily barrage of hysterical tweets and emotional emails and withering whines from the opinion pages of newspapers. There are those who would redevote Labour to what they see as the deserving classes – a sector of society whose relative poverty and pleaded helplessness is seen as a reason to cast aside the austerity programme that has rescued the nation in the cause of more demeaning and expensive handouts. That would be an error for the country.
We trust Minister Burton to pursue the liberal agenda that we agree with her on. We trust her to be sober, judicious, and responsible with the public purse. We trust her to subordinate the emotive demands of the online horde to the inescapable demands of the national ledger. We trust her, in short, to become the historic figure she was born to be, and not the partisan player she might be tempted to become.
Of her opponent, little need be said. When given a choice between a putative Tánaiste who has delivered for her nation, made the toughest choices, defended and embraced economic reality, and a man who was a student Marxist-Leninist, the choice is clear.
As proud former Progressive Democrats, we stand with Mrs. Burton. We ask all right-thinking people to do the same.
The author has requested anonymity.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 18, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
A house in Dublin 4.
Stephen: Mum, Dad, can you both sit down for a minute? Mum, can you put down that Irish Times crossword. I have to tell you something.
Mum: Is it important Stephen, I really have to meet Susan about that Ivana Bacik fundraiser.
Stephen: Please, it won’t take a moment, it’s very important.
Dad: Go ahead son.
Stephen: Mum, Dad, I’ve wanted to tell you this for so long, but I…
Dad: Take your time son.
Mum: Stephen, you’re frightening us, are you ill?
Stephen: I’m…well, I’m not gay.
Dad: Oh God, not us.
Stephen: I’m sorry, I’ve thought long and hard, I thought I might have been, but I’m not.
Mum: I think I’m going to be sick! What will the neighbours say? I was only talking to David Norris at that Abbey fundraiser last week. How can you do this to us?
Dad: Sophie, please…are you sure, son, are you sure you’re not confused, I mean you’re only nineteen, you’re still experiencing new things. I mean, what about Robert, you both seemed so happy together.
Stephen: Yeah, I know, I really tried, but then Rebecca and I…
Mum: Rebecca, that girl who you brought home last Easter? I thought she was just a friend?
Stephen: And she was, but we got closer, and, actually, last easter…
Mum: That hussy seduced you, that’s what she did. Don’t tell me that hussy seduced you in this house! This house, where Mary Robinson held her very first fundraiser! You have brought nothing but shame…
Dad: Sophie, please! You’re not without blame here! Who bought him that 24 boxset when he was eleven? You wouldn’t let me buy him that Barbara Streisand collection. And you kept that Bette Midler CD collection for yourself! Look son, what ever happens, we both love you, no matter what way you want to live your life.
Stephen: Thanks Dad. There is one other thing.
Dad: What is it, son?
Stephen: I’ve joined Fianna Fail.
Dad: Sophie, where’s my shotgun?
Posted by Jason O on Jun 16, 2014 in Irish Politics
Michael Martin felt more than a little uneasy as the final results of the general election of 2016 became known. It was true that Fianna Fail was still a handful of seats behind Fine Gael which had just lost 30 of its 76 seats won in 2011, but given the wipeout in 2011, the FF leader had reason to be happy. The reality, however, was that the party now faced a conundrum.
As soon as the shape of the new Dail had become known, both FF and FG had opened lines to the 30 odd (in some cases, very odd) independent TDs, and were quickly determining that keeping a government in place with such a volatile grouping would be almost impossible. Labour had staggered back into the house just barely in double digits, shell-shocked and with half the parliamentary party on Xanax, and in no place to be taking initiatives on anything. The party leader had just narrowly kept her seat after a 4 day recount and the generosity of 3 voters and their 12th preferences.
All eyes were on Sinn Fein, with its 28 new deputies, and the party moved quickly. Martin, knowing full well the impossibility of getting a Fianna Fail/Fine Gael coalition agreed to by his members, and certainly not with FF as the junior partner, had at least to sit down with Sinn Fein. His delegation, let by Willie O’Dea and Michael McGrath were shocked to discover that not only had Sinn Fein prepared a fully detailed programme for government, but they had actually carefully gone line by line through Fianna Fail’s manifesto, “Whatever it takes!”, to find areas of common agreement.
The FF delegation were disturbed by the sheer detail of the programme. This wasn’t a fig leaf to get everybody into Merc and Perks, but a detailed, costed and timed grid of actions for the next government. Taking away the Sinn Fein document, FF had to scrape together a team of experts given that most if its appointed parliamentary “policy advisors” were basically people’s relatives. The experts, including one celebrity economist came back. This programme will reward Sinn Fein voters and basically screw everybody else.
Martin, under pressure, then suddenly found himself receiving another political blow. The acting Taoiseach had invited Fianna Fail for talks, and despite FF protests about the incompatibility of an FG/FF arrangement, the media were getting more and more hysterical about FF’s refusal to meet with the government. On top of that, Martin knew that he needed to at least have a possible FG/FF deal as leverage against the Shinners, and so sat down at a neutral location with Kenny.
As expected, Kenny broadsided him. The Taoiseach, despite his massive setback in the election, was still far more in control of his party than Martin was of his. Martin, in fact, had had to keep the location of both the SF and FG meetings secret to prevent Mary Hanafin turning up to negotiate on behalf of the party whether Martin liked it or not. Retiring to a private room to read the document Kenny had presented, Martin, sipping his herbal tea, was horrified to find nothing policy wise he could object to publicly as unacceptable. Even in the areas of water and property tax, which FF had made big running on during the election campaign, Kenny proposed that an independent commission examine both areas, and that both parties be bound by the outcome. Exactly the sort of thing we would have suggested, Martin thought. He decided to play his big gun.
Returning to the room with the Taoiseach, the FF leader demanded equal cabinet seats and a rotating Taoiseach. Kenny said he’d get back to him. Both men knew they were moving into a game of Political Chicken.
The FF/SF negotiations were now moving at a quick pace, with SF leaking to the media its willingness to take fewer ministerial seats than its share of the Dail suggested in return for policy commitments. FF TDs were beginning to lean on Martin, who was also under huge pressure from the media for even considering coalition. The Corkman decided to gain the initiative, publishing a list of carefully constructed demands of SF. No SF ministers in Justice or Defence. No to Sinn Fein’s demand of the abolition of the Special Criminal Court, and most of all, no Gerry Adams in cabinet.
In the talks, Sinn Fein calmly accepted all three, but with provisos, and suddenly, the deal was done. Kenny tried to sweeten the deal, offering the rotating Taoiseach, but it was too late, and five weeks after polling day, the new Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein Government of National Unity was unveiled.
Many in the media (and Fianna Fail) speculated that the government would play out to a usual ending, with the junior partner getting demonised for the government’s failings, but that was without recognising that Sinn Fein was not a normal political party. Having paralysed the Government Information Service with its own nominees, Fianna Fail ministers protested when Sinn Fein started giving its own party briefings weekly in Sinn Fein headquarters, sometimes announcing measures before they had even been announced in the Dail.
Sinn Fein ministers stuck firmly to the programme for government, again catching out their FF counterparts by turning up on day one with draft legislation prepared in opposition as private members bills. A white paper on a United Ireland was prepared, and legislation which preserved the Special Criminal Court in name but removed the great majority of crimes covered by it was speedily put through the Oireachtas, despite the serious misgivings of some FF TDs.
Then came the budget. Sinn Fein’s wealth tax, new 48% upper rate of tax, increases in employer’s PRSI, and taxing of pension contributions were all rammed through despite FF trying their usual delaying tactics. Finance minister Michael McGrath found that he was department head in name only, as his Sinn Fein junior minister demanded and was given, by order of the Taoiseach, joint access to all papers and decisions. Sinn Fein, to the surprise of FF, didn’t do a Gilmore but actually had every intention on delivering their specific spending promises to their targeted voters, regardless of the effect on the people who didn’t vote for them.
The subtle behind-the-scenes operation of Sinn Fein continued. One Fianna Fail TD was shocked when his daughter showed him her new school history book, and a chapter on great peacemakers such as Ghandi, Mandela and Adams. A question in the Leaving Cert history ordinary paper asked students to identify the parallels between the 1916 Rising and the Armed Struggle of the Provisional IRA.
Then Willie O’Dea resigned from the cabinet when the Taoiseach refused to support him over Sinn Fein’s blocking in cabinet of the promotion of “certain” Gardai, whom they deemed “political” and whom O’Dea pointed out were all counter terrorism and organised crime specialists.
As the 2019 local and European elections approached, Fianna Fail candidates reported that local authorities, with large Sinn Fein membership, and with county managers answerable to the Sinn Fein minister for the environment, had started turning a blind eye to republican murals on local authority housing designating “Sinn Fein territory”. It was becoming harder and harder to canvass in these areas as SF activists dogged and abused other party canvassers, with the result that other parties started cutting their losses and abandoning the areas to Sinn Fein altogether.
Opinion polls showed that the Sinn Fein media operation was unequalled. SF was taking claim for pretty much every good story coming out of government, whilst Fianna Fail, which had embedded all its communications people in well paid government positions, were paralysed by Sinn Fein vetoes and interference over joint government communications. On top of that, business and middle class voters, especially in Dublin, being clobbered by new taxes, were swinging firmly to Fine Gael under its new returned prodigal daughter leader, Lucinda Creighton. Sinn Fein assiduously hovered up a good chunk of the working class and welfare vote with its delivery on welfare spending promises, whilst blaming Fianna Fail for failures elsewhere.
In the local elections, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein were the clear winners, with Fianna Fail taking a hammering from Sinn Fein in working class areas, and Fine Gael in middle class areas. For the first time in its history, Fianna Fail fell to third place in local government seats.
The following week in the Dail, Creighton took great pleasure in presenting the Taoiseach with a biography of German Chancellor Franz Von Papen. The Taoiseach did not appreciate the joke.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 7, 2014 in Irish Politics
I recently appeared on Dave Curran’s eclectic “Inspireland” podcast to talk about politics, writing, blogging et al. Was very enjoyable to do, and worth a listen here.