Posted by Jason O on Jan 22, 2015 in Irish Politics
It’s a political stereotype to paint conservatives as rugged and liberals as effete. The reality, at least in Ireland, is somewhat different. When Irish liberals lost the 1986 divorce referendum, they didn’t accept it as a settled matter, but came back again in 1995 and got what they wanted.
I sometimes wonder why Irish conservatives just accept that ratchet effect, that once another liberal victory is achieved they accept it and retreat? Take abortion. In 1992 conservatives fought against the right to information and the right to travel. They lost both, by margins similar to the liberal defeat in 1986. Why do they not put reversing the right to travel in particular on their agenda? Is it no longer what they claimed it was at the time? SPUC was amongst one of the most powerful and feared political movements in the country. What happened? Did they all become liberal? Or just die?
It’s the same with marriage equality. If there’s a No vote in May, I know that liberals won’t give up, but will come back and fight again. If there’s a Yes vote, will conservatives just accept another defeat and roll over? Probably.
I’m writing this as a liberal who is just plain curious as to why Irish conservatives give up so easy. Even the Irish conservatives I know would run screaming from a political grouping that advocated reopening the divorce or decriminalisation of homosexuality issues. Is it because they accept that a society can only go one way, that is, more liberal?
Supposing, after the terrible events of 9/11, the United States had acted differently. Imagine if it had worked to improve its intelligence and internal security capacity, but not launched the War on Terror. Instead, it deployed special forces discreetly throughout the world to destroy Al Qaeda and hunt down Bin Laden.
Imagine now we lived in a world where the US and her allies had not invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Afganistan is still a medieval backwater where women are treated appallingly, and Saddam Hussein or his odious sons are still in power in Iraq.
It’s not a pretty sight, save for the fact that The West has not turned two invasions into a recruiting bonanza for Islamic extremists. Thousands of allied soldiers have not died. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are not dead. Billions have not been spent on wars that have at worst not delivered what we hoped, and at best created new problems.
Are we actually that worse off? ISIS is not fighting in Iraq. The Arab Spring probably hasn’t happened. George Bush and Tony Blair have both left office in quite high esteem, two safe pairs of hands who steered The West through one of its’ darkest days.
It couldn’t have happened, of course, for the simple reason that the American people and its media would never have settled for anything short of a spectacular act of revenge. And I write that in a non-judgemental way, because it was a very human reaction to rise up and want to wreak vengeance upon those who inflicted such a terrible blow on the US.
But that’s the point. It was a hard blow, but a gnat’s blow in terms of the strength of the United States. Over 3000 people were killed, which is a savage figure. But when you consider that over 30,000 Americans die every year from gun-related deaths, without much panic by US politicians, you realise that the US, and the rest of the western world, can absorb quite a lot of pain.
America could have dismissed 9/11 with a wave of the hand and carried on if it had chosen to. That’s not to say it can dismiss threats to national security. It can’t. The next attack could be a biological weapon, and The West has to act to protect itself. But the US, and The West in general, should perhaps start considering that massive spectacular and visible retaliation does not make the US safer but creates a new generation of enemy recruits.
Imagine if Israel didn’t respond to every attack from Hamas. Imagine if Israel just stood firm and brushed off attack after attack, without bombing the Palestinians in retaliation. Yes, it would be hard, and counter-intuitive, and there would be those on Fox News screaming hysterically and quoting the bible and calling leaders wimps and cowards. But also imagine as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, of rockets being intercepted or landing, but the counter attack never coming. Imagine the anger in Hamas and Al Quaeda, as the US and Israel don’t play their part in the cycle, but instead openly mock the terrorists for their feebleness, for the fact that The West is so strong that their best efforts are as an ant to an elephant.
In short, imagine we told them that they’re just not important enough to invade or bomb. Yes, it would be hard, turning the other cheek. It would also mean turning a blind eye to terrible things done in Nigeria and Mali and Iraq and Syria. It would probably mean we’d need a more enlightened immigration policy to provide refuge for those fleeing those awful regimes, perhaps even paying another country to act as our surrogate reception area.
Would we really be worse off?
Posted by Jason O on Jan 2, 2015 in Irish Politics
Despite being on the centre-right on most issues, I’m not an ideologue. There are issues where the left are right, and one of those issues, I believe, is housing.
We have, and not just in Ireland, a fundamental problem with providing housing, and it’s this:
There are two types of housing. The first is the simple provision of a home, something which must surely be close to a human right in the modern age. Everybody needs a roof over their heads. The problem is that the supply and demand of that form of housing is being perverted by the second form of housing. That is, the use of a dwelling as a store of wealth and appreciable asset.
That’s the problem right there. Now, before readers get upset, let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not against private property ownership nor the right to speculate on the value of that property.
However, I do believe that they are a separate activity from the provision of a home, and should be treated as such.
The truth is that we cannot rely on the market to provide enough high quality supply of housing if the end goals of wealth storage and housing provision are intertwined. The former is making the latter unaffordable by dragging prices up. We see in New York, San Francisco and London formerly affordable working class districts becoming no-go zones to all but the very wealthy.
This is not good, and undermines confidence in the capitalist system. There is a near endless supply of capital available to price the great majority of the population out of formerly affordable parts of our cities, because that capital is seeking a different objective than those pursuing mere housing on a limited budget.
So what’s my proposed solution? Rent control? No. It doesn’t work, and ultimately leads to a reduction in available rental property.
One possible solution is the “middle-classisation” of public housing. That is, the provision, by the taxpayer, of huge amounts of high quality and affordable housing to all classes based on a percentage of income. We need to firmly declare, as a society, that public housing provision is not just for the low income sectors in our society but for anyone who wishes to have it.
It will mean, of course, that society will have to deal with the disgraceful neglect that exists in current public housing provision, and in particular the failure to address anti-social behaviour by neighbours. It means anti-social behaviour contracts that will allow the speedy removal by force of anti-social neighbours. It will mean each housing cluster having a full-time live-in US style supervisor with the ability to enforce the social orders, with security support if necessary. It’ll also probably mean higher public spending and therefore taxes to pay for it.
It doesn’t mean, by the way, that there would be no room for private sector involvement. Whilst the housing stock would be owned by the taxpayer, there’s no reason why its management shouldn’t be regularly tendered out to competitive private bids. In fact, a rental holding on this scale would almost certainly attract professional landlord companies into the Irish market, as opposed to the thousands of tiny amateurs currently in place. Large private rental unit holders may even be willing to be bound by the state rental agencies rules (and prices) and could probably participate too.
The overall objective would be to allow citizens the widest possible choice. Those who wish to own private property could still do so, in a free market made up of solely of others who share their goals, and let the market decide.
But more importantly, those who wish merely to have a home will find that goal decided by a housing supply driven purely by a desire for housing as opposed to investing in an asset, and that is essentially a good thing, surely?
Posted by Jason O on Dec 29, 2014 in Irish Politics
As the FG/Lab government heads into its last full year, a constant thought hangs around the dark cobwebs of my mind. I’ve written about it before, in an attempt to exorcise it, yet it remains. In my mind’s eye, I just can’t shake the image of Day of The Count 2016 (we really should have a formal name for it) where scores of young first-term Labour and Fine Gael TDs will look on stunned not only as they lose their seats to Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and others, but realise what it all actually means.
Many will have served originally as county councillors, frustrated at the lack of power, eager to get into the Dail and change the country. Now, five years later, they will be hated for making the decisions that saved the country, hounded out by many of the very people whose recklessness with public spending caused so many of the problems in the first place.
But even that’s not the worst bit: as they watch young Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail candidates take their seats off them, it’ll dawn on them that not only have they carried the burden of hate for making hard choices, but they have given FF and SF ALL THE POWER too. By not turning the Dail into a separate legislature with a chairperson answerable not to the government but the members, by not reforming the Seanad, by not creating proper elected mayors with tax raising powers, they have put themselves right back where they started, the exception being that the people who have just beaten them won’t be as hated as they were because they made all the hard decisions for them.
Wouldn’t you think they’d have the reforms in place if only to be able to use them if they found themselves outside government once again?
By failing to change the political system when they have the chance, by failing to stand up to the elderly Don’t-Change-Anything/Know-Your-Place-Boy people who lead their parties, the young FG and Lab TDs, all staring into political oblivion, have revealed themselves to be either the most nobly self-sacrificing group in Irish politics, laying down their political careers so that Enda and Joan can feel comfortable, or the most stupid group of people to ever collectively sit in Dail Eireann.
I know which one I think it is.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 26, 2014 in Irish Politics
What do you do when you have a political culture built almost entirely on not offending anybody and it comes up against a political question that can’t be fudged? The latest source of national angst on abortion, a brain dead woman being kept alive to support her foetus whilst judges decided whether the foetus was viable or not, defined the issue curiously clearly. On the one hand we had people (and possibly our constitution) who saw a foetus as an unborn legal entity with rights. On the other a group of people who see a woman’s body as inviolate, even if she is legally brain dead.
The reality is that there is no middle way with this issue. One side is always going to be pissed off, and we have to accept that. The best we can get is the country at least making a decision which we can all accept as the legitimate democratic will of most of the people who bother to vote.
Although it has never been done, it’s arguable that article 47 of the constitution permits the Dail to put a number of different options on the same ballot. There’s nothing to stop the Dail putting both the retention of the current pro-life article (effectively the status quo) and repeal of that article on the ballot, along with maybe three more options chosen by a free vote of the Dail, and then let the people decide.
There are problems with this approach, of course. It would be a very complicated referendum. Nor would our TDs fancy having to pick out which two or three other options should be on the ballot. It’s hard to have sympathy with them on that issue, by the way. Nobody forced them to run for the Dail.
But bear in mind that almost half the electorate, if turnout in the last referendum is indicative, don’t actually have that much of an interest in the subject one way or the other. The people who actually vote on the issue are the people who are most likely to read up on the different options anyway.
It’ll be nasty and divisive, but then, that’s what democracy is for. But most importantly, we’ll finally have a situation where pretty much every option will have been put before every citizen who cares, which will be a change, as we have never been asked do we want to make abortion available in this jurisdiction. Most importantly, we’ll get a decision, and that’s really the best we can hope for.
Folks: I’m hoping, in 2015, to start a podcast called “Right, Left & Centre”. The idea will be to have three guests and myself discussing a big political or social idea of Irish, European or international interest. Each guest will be asked to designate themselves as right, left or centre and I hope to have one of each on each panel.
The big questions will be something like “Is Ireland about to get its first left wing government?” or “Is it time to scrap the European Union?” or “Fianna Fail/Fine Gael: is it time?” or “Are the robots going to take all our jobs?”. I’m hoping to avoid the usual Irish “The Week In Politics” party political bunfight, and have no interest in having guests who can’t see beyond the party political, if only because it’s tediously boring.
We’ll be recording over a two hour period on weekday evening or on a weekend as scheduling permits. Assuming the thing works: the first thing could end up a disaster or in the high court.
So, if you’re interested, get in touch on Twitter or on the site here, and yet me know. And don’t forget to class yourself as right, left or centre. And please: there’s a tendency of every Irish person to call themselves centrist, so bear in mind that I only want one per show, unless we have a show where it’s unavoidable!
Most importantly: I want this to be fun and to prove the point that you can disagree with people politically but like them personally.
One more thing: if you’re interested in libelling people or espousing corruption theories about certain millionaires, feck off and do it on your own podcast. I haven’t got the pockets.
Berlusconi. Putin. Erdogan. Farage. Le Pen. Wilders. What do all these names have in common? All have built a cult of personality on a platform of authoritarian nationalist populism. But another factor is that each one of them has built a movement which will suffer a serious, possibly even fatal blow, if one of the above were to die suddenly.
It’s a curious feature of the hard right, the centralising of power around a key figure. As Franco, Mussolini and others proved, pull the keystone figure away and the whole structure could collapse in a way that democratic centrist parties just don’t.
If Farage, Berlusconi or Putin in particular suddenly passed away in the night there’d be a actual chaos in their organisations, a genuine vacuum and lack of clear succession that could destroy the whole enterprise in a vicious struggle for power.
Just a thought.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 11, 2014 in Irish Politics
If recent polls are to be believed, and they certainly should be taken as indicative, the next Dail will have a possible majority of populist TDs. Whilst they probably won’t want to agree on anything unpopular like passing a budget, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a majority could be found to abolish water charges relatively quickly.
If you read through our lovely constitution, you’ll discover that even a majority of Dail Eireann may not have the power to do so.
I refer learned colleagues to article 18: “Dáil Éireann shall not pass any vote or resolution, and no law shall be enacted, for the appropriation of revenue or other public moneys unless the purpose of the appropriation shall have been recommended to Dáil Éireann by a message from the Government signed by the Taoiseach.“
Sure that’s grand, says you. Sure Enda will be long gone anyway. Except he (or his successor) may not be, because until the Dail assembles a majority to elect a new Taoiseach, the sitting Taoiseach stays in office as acting Taoiseach, and, thanks to Dev, has a de facto veto over spending bills despite not having a majority.
On the other hand, having gotten hammered in the general election, do we really think Fine Gael will want to keep defending a policy for which, though right, has modest public support? Probably not.
But it does raise an interesting point: Enda can’t be voted out. A replacement, with the support quite possibly of both Shane Ross and Richard Boyd Barrett, has to be voted in, with a majority. That’ll be fun.
A harmless inoffensive new John A. Costello who seems to agree with everybody whilst keeping his own opinions to himself. Now, I know this fella from Drumcondra…
“We’re not taking it any more! It’s time the country be taken back by the ordinary people! Feck the bankers and the political parties! It’s time for a country based on social justice and equality and housing and health and education as rights! Yes to free healthcare! Yes to free education! Yes to…sorry, say that again…you want to pay for free healthcare by doing what?…means testing children’s allowance….now, hold on a minute there…putting Capital Gains Tax on private residences…wait there one minute now…the rich should pay higher taxes, but not ordinary people like me, yes, I know I bought my house for €300k and it’s now worth €500k, but that’s MY MONEY….tax MY profit???….to fund free healthcare and social justice?…….get away from MY money, d’ya hear, that €200k profit is MY money, not yours! Get your stinking thieving hands off my filthy lucre!”
Posted by Jason O on Nov 28, 2014 in European Union
, Irish Politics
Some years ago, a number of Irish politicians knowingly sentenced some their constituents to death. A report by experts pointed out that small local hospitals did not have the experience, capacity and technology to provide specialist care in the case of heart attacks. In effect, the report said that a person who had a heart attack on the steps of the local hospital stood a better chance of survival if they were flown by air ambulance to a regional hospital with a dedicated experienced unit who dealt with heart attacks every day.
A rational analysis of the report would have led to a debate about how to ensure that such an efficient air ambulance unit could be provided. Instead, in Ireland, the local deputies argued that every small local hospital should have such a cardiac unit, a proposal that was not only impractical but if attempted to be implemented would suck resources from other parts of the health service, thus resulting in unnecessary deaths from non-cardiac related illness.
Why did they do it? Why did these elected representatives knowingly campaign for a policy they knew would actually kill some of their constituents? Primarily, one would suggest, because their constituents demanded it, and in a democracy, the voter is always right. Even when he or she doesn’t read the report or just plain refuses to accept its findings because he or she simply don’t like them. The voter rules.
When the voter is then standing over the grave of his or her wife or husband who died on an operating table from a heart attack, in the local hospital, it’s not their fault. It’s the health service’s fault for not providing a world class cardiac unit in a tiny town. The local deputy will attend the funeral and agree that the wife or husband has been let down, despite having known this would happen from the expert report. And so on it goes.
In a democracy, the pointed finger beats rational fact every time.
Francois Hollande ran for the Presidency of France promising to reverse Sarkozy’s very modest pension reforms. How could any intelligent rational man looking at the demographic and life expectancy statistics conclude that people should be permitted to retire earlier? Pensions and increasing care for the elderly cost money, and so more people must work longer and pay taxes to fund those services. Is Hollande a fool, in the real sense? Probably not. But he knew that the voters didn’t care about the statistics. They stamped their foot in the Free Stuff From The Government aisle and had a tantrum, and would only leave with him if he promised them a young pension. Even though he must have known that it was the wrong thing for France’s long-term viability as a self sustaining nation.
It’s an issue we don’t want to confront: modern life, with modern expectations, is incredibly complicated. If you want to build a world class cardiac capacity, it takes years of planning, to bring and train the right people together, in the right place, with the right equipment. It takes long term planning. But democratic politics is becoming less and less tolerant of long term planning. It’s attracting candidates who are thinking more and more short term, sometimes just to Friday afternoon or the following days newspapers, candidates who aren’t interested in anything that they can’t wave at their voters before the next election.
That’s not to say we should scrap democracy, of course. China does long term planning very well, but it also uses tanks against its own people. Democracy is still the most effective bulwark against tyranny and for that alone must be maintained. But as a guarantee of good, rational government it is becoming less and less effective.