Posted by Jason O on Mar 10, 2014 in Irish Politics
To quite grasp what sort of Taoiseach Enda Kenny is, cast your mind back to the last chaotic weeks of the last Fianna Fail government. Remember cabinet ministers not actually knowing if the country was about to surrender its economic sovereignty. Remember members of the parliamentary party actually hiding in toilets or turning off their phones to avoid being appointed to the cabinet weeks before polling day. Remember the questions about drink in the middle of the greatest economic crisis we had ever faced?
Then we got Enda, and calmness, and a bit of dignity restored, and, it has to be said, a sense that the new crowd at least had a plan. That the bailout and the budget deficit would be rationally worked through, and that employment would be the number one priority.
And it was, and is, and slowly there’s a sense that things are picking up and the dust is clearing.
If Enda stepped down tomorrow, he’d step down as the most successful leader of Fine Gael ever (Enda!) and a Taoiseach who quietly surprised us all in steering us through the worst of the storm.
And yet he could be so much more.
Remember when political reform was bandied around in 2011? The New Politics, all that? Say that to people inside the bubble and you get the sneer. “Political reform? Yeah, that’s all they talk about on the canvass in Ringsend or Athenry.” It’s true, they don’t. Nobody talks about getting serious about electoral reform or separating the executive from the legislature on the doorstep. But here’s the thing. In 2007 I’ll bet they didn’t talk about banking regulation either, and the same class of fella in the bubble did nothing about that either, and crippled our country as a result. They may not be talking about political reform in the pubs across the country. They’re not talking about medical device safety standards either, or air traffic control, or the proper control on the sale of pharmaceuticals. But let a pacemaker fail because of shoddy standards and you’ll discover that the public assumed that the minister for health was doing his job. Just because it’s not being talked about on Joe Duffy doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.
He’s giving the economic issues plenty of attention, and they have to be his priority. These are people lives, and they are the things he’ll be measured on, and rightly so. But the big picture, the political infrastructure that makes it all work, or in the case of the last government, takes us to the brink? All that stuff matters, yet it seems to have nothing to do with him, as if someone else will think the big thoughts. Well, there is no one else. There’s Enda, and this is the difference between a legacy as that nice fella from Mayo who tidied up after that crowd, and the Taoiseach who actually grasped the big picture and the importance of not just fixing the problems, but making sure they don’t happen again.
We’re looking for the next Lemass, and people sometimes forget that Lemass is revered today not for his day to day, but for the two big ideas that radically changed the status quo: industrialisation and Europe. It’s time for Enda to think big.
The local elections continue to cause mayhem in the constituency, which always makes me laugh when one considers the relative powerlessness of county councillors. They have the power to call for, urge, and yearn for things. All very Danielle Steele. Of course, let’s be honest: for the parties, the local elections are basically a taxpayer funded run out for the general election, and a chance to separate the doers, the talkers, the poseurs, and the actually insane.
In the Feckerstown ward convention last night, Cllr. William Jennings Hanrahan, a henchman for my constituency colleague, arch-enemy, all-round devious bastard and throbbing verucca on my political big toe, Senator Maurice The Gimp Mahaffy, was waxing lyrical about his devotion to the party. For 48 eight long laws-of-physics breaking minutes he went on about his devotion to Fine Gael, and how as a young man he’d fallen to his knees to remove chewing gum from Liam Cosgrave’s shoe during the 1976 Ballyfermot by-election, and how his wish, when The Lord Our God called him, that perhaps someone would sprinkle a handful of soil from Beal na Blath over his casket, so that he may rest if only slightly close to greatness.
When the ballots were counted, he missed the last place by 5 votes. He was out of his seat, big red pudding face on him, accusing all and sundry of conspiracies and agendas, jabbing a finger at the young woman who had won the nomination of “dangling her female wiles”, before announcing that the party could f**k itself, and storming out. He could be heard on the corridor screaming at a young crony for Lucinda Creighton’s mobile number.
Watching the various “campaigns” for the European Parliament, I pretty much reckon that most Irish candidates could happily be running for a seat in Hell: “Fianna Fail candidate Cian Browley has pledged that he intends to secure as much funding as possible from Hell and the various Satanic Development Programmes. “I’m confident that there is funding available for local projects including new changing rooms for St. Jude’s. Will we have to pledge allegiance to Satan and all his evil works? Ah, here, I’ve no interest in all that high falutin’ nonsense. All I know is that the young lads of St. Jude’s won’t be getting poison ivy from the bushes around their Careful Nows, and that’s all I’m interested in. Does it bother me that Hitler and Jimmy Saville are in the same parliamentary group as me? Sure, that’s a typical Irish Times question, that is. Typical. I can tell ye this: Hitler voted for the new interpretative centre in Feckerstown which will have all the tourists in the town, and that’s the main thing. No, I don’t remember if I voted for his motion supporting the extermination of Untermenschen. Mind your own feckin’ business!”
Hanrahan announced that due to the radical feminists and homosexuals who have seized control of the party of Michael Collins and Liam “Keep ‘em rollin’ in the aisles” Cosgrave, he has launched his campaign to put himself before the people as an Independent Cumman ns nGaedheal/League of Youth candidate. He announced this, from the basket of a hot air balloon he had borrowed from his brother in law, under a giant rubber balloon (he’s not short a few quid, Hanrahan) in the shape of his face. Although he hadn’t planned on becoming airborne, a gust of wind caught the balloon, lifting it up with the Cllr and his crony in the basket, leading to an string of expletives through the megaphone as the basket was repeatedly lifted and bounced off the main street as the wind dragged it along. The balloon proceeded to break free, and as it slowly deflated it continued down the street, the cllr’s giant facsimile twisting and buckling. Children, animals and senior citizens were sent screaming. A young child holding a puppy with a sore leg was snatched out of harm’s way by Lucinda Creighton who had turned up to watch the proceedings, and I’m pretty sure when she started running towards the child I could hear that de-de-de noise the Six Million Dollar Man used to make.
Anyway, the marauding orb was only stopped when a passing Garda Armed Response Unit skidded to a halt and deflated it with 48 rounds from a Heckler and Koch submachine gun. That’ll be a fun day in GSOC.
Arthur Henchy TD has represented Kildare East since 1981. He has occasionally turned up at Oireachtas committees having actually read the legislation. He also borrowed the odd book off Garrett, and read it too.
With the locals hurtling towards us, the tension between the candidates is becoming palpable. Two candidates in the constituency got into a punch up recently, accusing each other of plagiarism. One was running as “A Fresh New Voice for the Local Area”, and got his nose out of joint with the other fella who was running as “The Local Area’s New Fresh Voice.” Apparently the fracas was only broken up when a member of the public, watching the spectacle, asked them a question about how they’d specifically cut the Local Property Tax. The two of them immediately hared it down the street, one of them shouting to her that “that’s a very interesting question” just as he turned the corner and ran away.
Sitting in the parliamentary party meeting last week I wondered was I the only person alarmed at the fact the Leo Varadkar’s ringtone is the theme from “Dexter”?
GSOC shenanigans continue, and as usual, nobody wants to admit what we’re all thinking. We’re all afraid of the Guards, and don’t want to poke at this too closely. What’s the big message coming from this affair? Don’t be a Garda whistleblower, because there’s a a fair to middlin’ chance you’ll end up being painted as the baddie of the piece. The reality is that the culture within the force needs to be shook up, and the only way to do that, as it is with everything in Ireland, is to bring in someone from outside the country, that is, someone who isn’t someone’s cousin or brother in law. In short, we need a Finnish or Canadian Commissioner. But that takes guts. Does J Edgar Shatter have the stones? We’ll see.
Watching the European Elections candidates emerging. God forbid a European issue should rear its ugly head. I bumped into a candidate recently, and asked him about Ukraine. He looked at me painfully for a second, then relaxed. “Oh, I know this one. That’s a country, isn’t it? Is that the one at war with Kiev?”.
As usual, the Most Sophisticated Electorate In The World approaches the issue as to who we send to Brussels with their usual Wizard of Oz mindset, that is, it doesn’t really matter who we send as some clever bucko is behind a curtain somewhere making all the real decisions anyway. And so, we’ll send our usual Liquorice Allsorts selection: one or two who actually know something about the EU, one or two who are basically Super TDs and are going out to speak on behalf of either fish or cattle, one certified nut case, one who will run on issues that have nothing to do with the EU at all, one who will promise to send for all his constituents once he’s settled in, and at least one who we’re giving a job to out of pure sympathy. Grand little country.
Arthur Henchy TD was first elected for Kildare East in 1981. A solid Garret man, he’s been known to read the odd draft bill before voting on it.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 23, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
“Of course,” They blurt out, like a verbal innoculation, “I’m not racist. I don’t care whether someone is red, yellow, black, brown or blue. But we need to look after our own first!” They then expand on their deep, deep concern about the homeless, poverty, and how, of course, we must help the Third World, but only after we have solved ALL our own problems first. Poverty, disease, cellulite, the length of time it takes to get a sandwich in O’Briens, once we have fixed all those problems, then we can worry about the rest. Curiously, the compassionate racist doesn’t have any time to actually donate to charities helping “our own.”
In fact, he, or more recently, she, tends to have had no problem stepping over the homeless until there were different coloured faces appearing on the streets, and now she’s concerned. She goes to mass, of course, and is a good Catholic, although not happy with rumours about the new parish priest being black. She’s no problem with that, just that she doesn’t think it would be “appropriate” for the area. If she’d ever met Jesus she’d almost certainly be onto the Garda National Immigration Bureau to report a scruffy looking Palestinian Jew who is certainly up to no good. I mean, look at all that bread and fishes he’s giving out? Who’s paying for that, hmm?
Posted by Jason O on Feb 19, 2014 in Irish Politics
I’m always interested in the effect new technology has on the political system. What’s particularly interesting is the fact that much of this technology, especially social media, has increased the potential of politics to be so much more personal. It’s so much easier, for example, to connect on a one to one basis with politicians.
Yet Irish candidates are still conservative creatures, who put door-to-door canvassing at the top of the campaigning pyramid, the Golden Calf of electioneering. Most still believe, almost certainly correctly, that canvassing is the most effective way of securing first preference votes.
Perhaps voters need to take advantage of that? Imagine if you asked a candidate a specific question, and filmed his/her response on your phone? Wouldn’t that be a fine way to hold them to account?
Of course, they would have a right to refuse to be filmed, and that must be respected.
But a candidate who refuses to go on the record with his/her pledges? Well, as a voter, you can come to your own conclusions about their integrity.
As to the questions? I can think of two which would be great fun to ask on the record:
1. Are you going to run for the Dail?
2. Will you vote to cut local spending to fund a property tax cut, as you will have the power to do? If yes, what local service will you vote to cut?
Just a thought.
Not sure about this GSOC thing at all. As usual, of course, the kernel of the issue, the possibility that the state’s premier security agency has been spying on its own watchdog has been lost in the usual Irish hoohah of pointing fingers. As for the attitude of J. Edgar Shatter, you have to wonder is it really that wise that both the Gardaí and Army intelligence report into the same fella? I’m not sure it is. Even the Brits keep MI5, MI6 and Scotland Yard all separate. Why is it that every justice minister seems to become the Garda Commissioner’s man in cabinet?
The Gimp reaches a new low this week, marching in a demo in the parish against cutbacks. He actually starts bawling his eyes out on the stage as he talks about the suffering of those at the frontline. He then hotfoots it up to the Seanad to vote in favour of the cuts, then back down to the constituency to attend another march. He once (very publicly) offered a dying man his kidney, having first sought a medical opinion on the sly as to how quickly the man would die first.
If he was any more of a sociopath he’d be on an episode of “Criminal Minds”.
Was watching Boyd Barrett from the People’s Front of Killiney giving out yards about inequality in the chamber. Apparently we can pay for everything by magic oil and gas which will be brought ashore not by evil oil company drills (and certainly not in Dublin Bay. The horror!) but environmentally conscious fairies carrying it in gossamer (reusable, of course) thimbles. Only in Ireland do we get angry when we discover oil. Of course, if the Brits figure out a way of tunnelling from Wales and sucking oil or gas up to a facility there we’ll go ballistic.
Young Patrick has put me on this Twitter thing. Don’t really understand it as it seems like a form of airborne graffiti, but must move with the times. Not surprisingly, there did not seem to be a huge market for my musings on the affairs of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the future of the basket weaving industry. Then young Murphy from Dublin South East sidles up to me in the restaurant and nudges me, congratulating me on “embracing” the technology, and points out that my “followers” (sounds like a cult.) are shooting up. I have no idea what he’s talking about, so he shows me on his phone. Young Patrick has been posting pictures of me at meetings, speaking at committee, things in the constituency. Nothing special about that, save that nearly every one has Irka in the background, draped like she’s launching the new Porsche.
Interesting remarks from Red Joan about making pensions compulsory. She’s right, of course, if being dangerously courageous. People say they can’t afford it, yet expect other people to afford the taxes to fund their pension when they reach retirement. Maybe we should mix the National Lottery and PRSI, as people don’t get seem to mind doing the lotto. Could throw in different pensions as prizes, maybe even the odd hip replacement, though I suspect An Post will give out blue murder about shipping titanium joints around the place. Of course, there are many that say the pensions in here are like Lottery prizes. They’re right. We have a ludicrous scenario where individual taxpayers who can’t afford private pensions are paying taxes to ensure that higher paid ministers and Oireachtas members get free and lucrative pensions. It’s actually obscene. I mentioned it once at a parliamentary party meeting and it was like declaring yourself a character witness for Jimmy Saville. So I wrote to the Department of Finance and told them that I’d only be taking a half pension, which is more than enough when I leave this place. Within a day some official (with a face like a downtrodden Easter Island statue) was around demanding that I withdraw the offer, or there would be “consequences”. “Like what? Take my pension off me?” I asked. He scowled, looking desperately through his notes for an answer. Apparently no one ever asks Finance what “consequences” means. He scuttled off, and I’ve heard nothing since. They’ll probably firebomb the house.
The Gimp has taken to carrying a jar around the place filled with a discoloured liquid and a plastic model of a foetus in it. He keeps leaving it down, and now Irka and Young Patrick have a competition as to who can sneak things into the jar like pickled eggs and the like. Of course, it all kicked off when one of them replaced the model with a plastic dinosaur, which started bobbing around the jar and upset the anti-evolutionists, who thought it was a slight. The Gimp ends up announcing to the Seanad that not only was he opposed to Darwin, but he didn’t even enjoy “Jurassic Park”.
Arthur Henchy TD was first elected for Kildare East in 1981. He can equally enjoy a day at the races or a nice mug of tea, a chocolate digestive, and The Economist. He regards himself as a Garret man.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 16, 2014 in Irish Politics
Reading of the new format for TV3′s “The People’s Debate” I have to admit that it is not a show I’ll be in a hurry to watch. Of course, it would be grossly unfair to pass judgement on a TV show I haven’t even seen, but I’m not hopeful. The problem is that the format seems to be yet another replication of the “all heat no light” format that permeates TV coverage of Irish politics. You know the form: open with a vague question. “Do the Irish people deserve a world class health service?” Cut to various heart rendering individual stories where the system didn’t work well, and then spend the rest of the debate tearing a stuttering junior minister apart for wilfully ordering the HSE to make Mary’s granny cry in the filth encrusted corridors of St. Verucca of the Gippy Knee.
Can we not try something new? Like what, asks you? Well, seeing as you asked..
1. When was the last time you saw a politician seriously put under pressure in an interview? I don’t mean the usual waffling to use up time, knowing it’s a short interview. Imagine, instead, we had a hour long panel format where a politician is questioned by, say, two pol corrs, and two experts in the field of whatever the live issue of the day is, or if it’s a minister, two experts in his or her field. I suggested such a format once to a political hack, and he said that no Irish politician would ever agree to go through such a vigorous process, but I’m not sure. I’ll tell you one thing: watching candidates for the European Parliament be grilled about European issues would be a public service.
2. Make the public accountable. I’m sick of watching TV shows where members of the public just whinge and demand easy solutions from politicians. Of course the public should contribute to political debate, but the public are as much a part of the political process as politicians, and should be held to account as individual voters. Given that politicians are always afraid to attack members of the public (One exception is Regina Doherty TD who gave as good as she got at a public meeting on Seanad abolition, and went up in my estimation as a result) why not have a Agent Provocateur panel in the studio, possibly of college debating types, whose job is to keep the audience honest, and challenge them on the usual “The government should give me everything I want, for free!” . After all, people are entitled to their opinions and the right to voice, but they also have an obligation to justify them. It would at least allow for debate on issues to develop beyond the usual “Politicians: are they all bastards, or are some of them just pricks?”
There are a lot of Poles moving into the constituency, and I’m having to thread carefully. Brogan, the editor of the County Bugle, is getting chummy with The Gimp, and has started running articles talking about floods of Poles, no jobs for the Irish, etc. I don’t like it one bit. Too no blacks, no dogs, no Irish for my liking.
It’s getting traction, all the same. Was buying tobacco for the pipe in Murphy’s and all I could hear was “Senator Mahaffy, this, Senator Mahaffy that.” Since Murphy got elected to the county council he’s been looking around for an issue, and I think this could be it. Doesn’t stop him taking money of Polish lads when they’re buying sandwiches in his deli for their lunch. Deli, that’s a laugh. Young Maurice asked for a bit of mustard on his ham sandwich, and Mahaffy reacted as if he’d asked for broiled lobster. Have to put my thinking cap on about this one. Went up to see Connie today. Miss her.
Put Murphy in his box today. Young Maurice came running in with a new parcel from the Department of the Environment, and pointed out a salient detail to me. It took me a moment to twig it, but sure enough, I was back down to Murphy later that afternoon.
Says I to him: “ I see you’re getting very excited about the Polish issue, Ernie.”
Says he to me: “ I am, Arthur. Our culture is under threat. Did we fight the tans so that a bunch of Godless communists could overrun the land of the blessed virgin?” The last I’d heard, his grandfather hadn’t as much fought the tans as sold them porter and rasher sandwiches, but that wasn’t the issue. He was sounding like Mahaffy. It was worse than I thought, and so I sprung it on him.
“Ernie, you’re a brave man, a braver man than me. To be putting your principles ahead of your seat on the council, with all those Polish citizens eligible to vote in the next local elections……”
“What was that?” He asked, putting down the lump of ham he was cutting into translucently thin slices for pre-made sandwiches. I thrust the dagger in. “The local elections. All EU citizens can vote in them. All them Poles can vote. Sure, if it were me, I’d be trying to reach out to them, but I’m not the man you are, Ernie.” His brow furrowed, and I bade him a farewell, quietly confident that I won’t be hearing much more on that issue.
Still, the politics of campaigning in a multi-cultural Ireland. Will have to give that some thought. I wonder what the Polish is for “I knew your father well.” Must remember to ask Irka.
You’re never too old to learn, I discovered today. Irka had been listening to young Maurice and myself discuss the problem of Brogan and the anti immigrant line he was taking in his paper. Later that evening, I took the two of them to a fundraiser for St. Mark’s in Hartigan’s pub. When I pointed out Brogan to her, standing in the corner drinking with the two knuckle draggers who put the paper out with him, she headed straight for him, high heels clicking on the timber floor like a Wehrmacht Colonel. When she reached him, she flicked her long blonde hair in that way that makes young Maurice shiver, and had the three scribblers with their jaws hanging open. “ You are Mr. Brogan of the newspaper?” she asked, in an English that was far more basic and uneasy than her normal pronunciation. He nodded, eyes wide. “Since I come from Poland, I read your newspaper. My English not good, I not understand everything, but I wish to thank you on part of my girlfriends and I, for making me, I am sorry, us, so welcome in your country and in your newspaper.” She then gave him a hug that lingered slightly longer than necessary, and a kiss on the cheek that left him in a sweat.
The following issue of the paper carried an editorial attacking those who would stir up racial tension in the county, and praising the hard working New Irish. It even invited Polish newcomers, especially the women, to submit news items to the newspaper. And I thought I was the only political professional in the office?
Posted by Jason O on Feb 7, 2014 in Irish Politics
Despite the protests of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour, the reality is that the political system could be reformed quite radically without having to go through a cranky referendum process. Here’s a number of changes that could make a difference and don’t need a referendum.
1. Implement the Zappone-Quinn bill, which would radically transform the Seanad. Indeed, it’s possible that such a reformed Seanad would eclipse the Dail in terms of national debate.
2. Appoint non-TDs as ministers of state. This is perfectly constitutional, can be done by law, as is only stopped by TDs who feel entitled to the extra cash.
3. Create 10 seat Dail constituencies. It’s a fact that large constituencies in any country allow for wider diversity. Again, the maximum size of Dail constituencies is decided by law, not the constitution. The Dail could create a 158 seat constituency if it wanted.
4. Let politicians’ salaries, expenses, pensions and severance packages be decided openly by an Oireachtas committee made up purely of opposition TDs and senators. Give them a chance to show what they do with a little power before we give them the big stuff.
5. Let the public initiate legislation and referendums by petition, with the Dail legislating to respect the result.
6. Hold multi-choice preferendums rather than single Yes/No referendums. Again, nothing in the constitution says you can’t. Why could we not vote for Seanad retention, abolition, or reform on the ballot?
7. Let voters choose which constituency they’d like to register in, with the option to vote by post. Every voter will still only have one vote, and there’s a better chance they can vote for a candidate they actually like. So what if a Tipperary voter living in Terenure wants to vote for Michael Lowry? Let him. It’s his vote.
Of course, all of these require political will, so don’t hold your breath.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 5, 2014 in Irish Politics
I’ve been paying attention recently to Fianna Fail’s decision to use One Member One Vote (OMOV) to select candidates, as opposed to the old cumann delegate system where a small number of people decided the candidate. The system got its most vigorous run out recently in the contest to select Fianna Fail’s candidate for the Dublin European Parliament constituency between GLEN activist Tiernan Brady, former two term senator Geraldine Feeney, and Dublin City Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick.
A lot of FF people have spoken to me about the experience. Working from an electoral register of approximately 1400 voters (there are suggestions that there was more than one version of the register doing the rounds) the result ended up as Fitzpatrick 362 votes, Brady 208, and Feeney 140, with Fitzpatrick winning by six votes on the first count.
Did OMOV work? There are certainly complaints about busloads of voters being shipped in on the day, including one story told me of an elderly voter who obviously thought he was voting in the general election. But it is also recognised that the contest was much more vigorous than the old convention, the result much tighter, and also that the party members enjoyed the process. A number of local election candidates (and this is not unique to Fianna Fail) expressed irritation at the fact that they have to beg convention votes off people whom they will never expect to see again on the campaign trail.
Fianna Fail HQs got very mixed reviews on the process. One member suggested that the party leadership had not really given much thought when introducing OMOV and seemed to have panicked when it dawned on them that they could not control the convention, delaying releasing the register to candidates under spurious Data Protection reasons (as if party members would be shocked that their details would be used for canvassing their votes!). A constant theme mentioned to me by members across the board was the concept of “The Headquarters Candidate” amidst rumours of intense canvassing and leaflets being printed for a leadership favourite.
The campaign itself, especially candidates speaking at CDCs (constituency organisations) were apparently well received, although a number of members expressed surprise at the widespread desire of members to discuss the reform of the party. European issues were not prominent in the process, other than when raised by the candidates themselves, and even then they failed to take off.
If there was one thing that struck me it was that the party seemed very nervous about the process “getting out of control”, in terms of open debate and discussion. The city-wide hustings debate, for example, was very controlled with little opportunity for awkward questions from members, and a level of control from party officials which I found surprisingly tolerated by ordinary members, who seemed more likely to bitch about it in the bar afterwards than complain at the time.
The other observation, witnessed by me personally at the convention but also mentioned to me by others was the skewed age profile of the party members. College age members, and retired/elderly members were very prominent, with middle aged members quite noticeable by their absence.
On balance, I’m left with the impression, as an outsider, that the experience has been flawed but welcomed, with party HQs criticised for almost making it hard for the candidates to communicate with members. Why didn’t the party offer to send out a communication from each candidate with its notification of the convention, for example?
In short, OMOV is a transfer of power from the leadership to the members. It’s not perfect, but this is becoming the norm in most modern political parties, and Fianna Fail is no different. As ever, the battle between the desire for internal democracy and the fact that party memberships are increasingly divergent from party voters will continue to provide challenges to all parties.