Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Why the Fine Gael/Labour government embodies the values of 1916.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 16, 2014 in Irish Politics

Nobody but nobody does guff like the Irish. Meaningless symbolic blather totally free of any concrete action? We’re your people. As the centenary of the 1916 Rising approaches (Always with a capital R!) we’ll see our national guff production spike off the charts, and a collection of academics and “community workers” share with us what The Rising (great name for a restaurant that specialises in soufflés, by the way) means to them.

Of course, there will be a common area of agreement, and that’ll be that as a country we have not lived up to the values and hopes and aspirations of 1916.

The Proclamation (cue another capital) will be closely read, as will that far more interesting document, the Democratic Programme of the First Dail. Actually, the DP is by far the more interesting of the two documents, because it almost hints at what sort of country an independent Ireland was supposed to look like. Have a read of it here. If it were an actual programme of government, it could almost be a bit spicy, given its left-wing nature. Instead, as with most Irish declarations, which in later years were demoted to “calls” and “urges”, it was put out into the public domain with absolutely no intention of ever been carried out. In short, it was the very first use of the “It’s Sinn Fein’s way, or it’s the conservative Catholic Happy-With-The-Brits-Until-Five-Minutes-Ago establishment’s way”, and we know how that worked out.

People forget this, wilfully. As soon as we waved goodbye to the last British squaddie, and finished off putting down De Valera’s attempt at a military coup and overthrow of the Dail, we elected a crowd of bastards who then got off their knees in front of the King, turned around, unbuckled their trousers, and offered themselves to the Archbishop of Dublin. These were the men and women of 1916, ladies and gentlemen.

Ah, cry the misty eyed patriots, but the real men of 1916 died at the hands of the hated English and their perfidious ways. Really? What makes you think that they would have been any better? We had plenty of 1916ers left over, in fact, more who came out of the GPO that entered, in some cases), who didn’t die, and they gave us to get a very clear picture post-1922 of what they would have been like in power. What we got was a theocratic backwater which thought it radical to elect a man in 1932 who wanted most Irishwomen knocked up and shoeless. And let’s not forget, we chose these people in free and fair elections. Don’t believe me? Consider, say, something as simple as women’s rights: we brag that we appointed the first female cabinet minister, Countess Markievicz, in 1919. We did.

Know when we appointed the second one? 1979. Because the first one had been so mouthy and sure didn’t make a mug of tea or a sandwich for anyone.

When people talk of the betrayal of the ideals of 1916, more often than not they mean a radical, probably socialist ideal. Yet the Irish people never voted for that in serious numbers in any free election, instead voting for wave after wave of lying guff merchants who promised one thing and then did another, knowing full well that was what the Irish people really wanted.

How do I know that? That’s easy. Look at the opinion polls, and tell me which two parties continue to dominate politics in this country. Fianna Fail are neck and neck with Fine Gael despite have gotten drunk, taken the country out and wrapped it around a lamppost. What’s the country do? Stand in the driveway with keys to a brand new motor.

What is the key value of 1916? How about high-minded guff in opposition followed by conservative inertia and feather-bedding in government? Which is exactly what we have today. Get today’s cabinet to spend a day in a biscuit factory as we all take pot shots at them, and you won’t be able to tell the difference between them and the Men of 1916.

 
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Why I support quotas for Women. And Men.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 12, 2014 in Irish Politics
Majority Rights.

Majority Rights.

Repost: It may surprise some of you, but I’m not the most politically correct of people. However, there is one issue where I am quite lefty, and that is on the issue of requiring, by law, that 40% of all seats in the Dail be reserved for men, and 40% for women.

Oh sure, I’ve heard the opposing arguments before. Seats should be filled on merit! It doesn’t matter if 100% of TDs are women, provided they are all good! But why is it that we’ve never had 100% women. Or 75%. or 50%, or even 25%?  Opponents of quotas say that it will leave us with poor quality TDs. Why? Is it that we don’t have 83 talented women in the country? Or is it that Fianna Fail or Fine Gael do not have 44 really talented women? As it happens, I’ve tended to find FF and FG women to be, on balance, smarter than FF or FG men, but terrified of showing it. As for the argument that it will make some women TDs feel like second class TDs, we can solve that by having a quota for men too. And by the way, I don’t think the current Dail is in any position to be lecturing people about quality.

Our system is essentially family unfriendly, which means women unfriendly, and that’ll only change when enough women are in the Dail to make the issue matter.

As for the argument that we need to change other things first, like childcare and the culture, my problem with that point is that we have been making it for 30 years and it hasn’t worked, whereas quotas, over night, will. A new Dail elected with a gender quota will have at least 40% of its membership being women, whilst the culture argument could go on for years without actually getting results. That’s where the anti-quota people always fall: they can’t guarantee a better result. Quotas can. Just ask the PSNI. Are there some rubbish Catholic coppers in the North? Probably. Does the PSNI have more cross community support than the RUC? Definitely.

Here’s my final point: where’s the harm in trying quotas? What’s the worst that can happen? We end up with some rubbish female TDs? So what? We already have plenty of rubbish male TDs and no one in the political establishment is trying to get them out.

 
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Tip-toeing around the Travellers.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 11, 2014 in Irish Politics

I, like most Irish settled people, have an inbuilt prejudice against Travellers. From a revulsion to my perception of what their lifestyle is, to their rejection of that most sacred of Irish sacred cows, owning property, it’s hard-wired in me. I can be appalled at how the Republicans in the US treat minorities, or the Israelis the Palestinians, yet if I hear that a brother is dating a Traveller, there’ll be that knowing look exchanged between family members without a word needing to be said. I suspect I’m not that different from most settled Irish people.

Having said that, I rarely see my point of view reflected in the Traveller debate. Instead, I see two points of view expressed: the first is that anyone who speaks about Travellers in anything other than glowing or pitying terms is a racist, and the second is sweeping generalisations about Travellers that if you replaced “Travellers” with “Jews” would sound like Hitler’s warm-up guy getting the crowd going at Nuremburg.

As I said, I’m prejudiced in my gut, but my head says differently. My head says that there are some lousy Travellers out there, and I’ve had dealings with them, but that there are also Travellers who are all just as decent as anyone else. As there are Catholics, Protestants, Immigrants, and people from Leitrim. You can no more say every Traveller is anti-social than you can say every Catholic priest or English TV presenter is a paedophile, or every Irish Catholic is a Terrorist, or every German is a Nazi. You can’t just lump people together, because Dr. King was right: you have to judge every individual on the content of their individual character, and the real racists are the people who decide to go with their gut rather than their rational heads.

Of course, that doesn’t address the elephant in the room, which some county councillors have got into trouble for. Take the issue of Traveller accommodation. Would I welcome one beside my house? Of course not, and here’s why:

1. Because regardless of how I feel about it, its presence will affect the value of my home, and that matters, and some may sneer at the middle class obsessiveness of that, but it’s a reality for me and hundreds of thousands of others. Even if you don’t care, prospective buyers of your house will.

2. Secondly, there is a perception that anti-social behaviour is associated with Traveller sites. Again, some is true, but then there are some sites where locals admit they’ve never had an issue. But one thing is agreed upon: a feeling that if there is anti-social behaviour, both the Guards and the Local Authority will wash their hands of it.

Fix those two issues and we might get progress. If you designate residences around Traveller sites as income tax free zones up to a certain level, you’ll protect the value of the homes and give the local settled community a quid pro quo. But that’s racist! some will cry. That’s suggesting that having a Traveller site is some sort of social burden! Whether it is true or not, that’s the perception, and we have to deal with it.

Finally, let’s remember one thing: you know that emotional unease we get around Travellers? That feeling that they are different and maybe slightly beneath us? Don’t forget that’s pretty much the same feeling many Brits get around the Irish. To many Brits, Paddies, Travellers, they’re all the same thing. Think about that. 

 
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Would the Irish vote for an income tax cap in the constitution?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 10, 2014 in Irish Politics

Everybody (save for a few ideologues) is in favour of lower taxes and value-for-money spending. Until, of course, it comes to a bit of public spending they actually approve of or benefit from. It’s this argument which has prevented most modern governments from seriously reducing the share of national wealth that is spent on public spending.

The problem is that there are still large sections of society who do not recognise the connection between taxation and spending. This is hardly surprising, as we lived through a whole political generation of politicians from all parties telling us that we can have both low taxes and high spending.

Maybe it’s time to confront the voters with a choice. Supposing we proposed a constitutional amendment that barred the government from taking more than 40% of anyone’s gross income in tax. Would the Irish vote for that? There’d certainly be a huge debate, about what constitutes “Tax” (does it include VAT, waste and water charges? I’d say Yes, No and No) and there certainly would be opposition from the People’s Front of Judea. They’d almost certainly want to put a threshold into the constitution, which would not be practical.

But the core question would remain: would the Irish vote for it? On the one hand, they’d twig pretty quickly that they were voting to cut taxes on the rich. But on the other hand, many people would see that they were also voting to cut their own taxes, and I think that would win out.

But the real effect would be the reality that it would immediately limit the amount of money the state could raise in revenue, forcing either cuts in spending, or (less likely in Ireland, I know) the state trying to get better value out of what it had.

After a few years, as the revenue cap would feed through into services, a debate would almost certainly start again about changing or scrapping the Tax Bar. This in itself would be a very healthy thing, because it would force our slippery pols to take sides, either for or against. It would be one of the first honest debates we’d every have in the country, based on real choices.

 
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Given a choice between fake Fianna Fail and the real one, why are we surprised that voters turn to the genuine article?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 4, 2014 in Irish Politics

Fianna Fail are back, at least if today’s Irish Times opinion poll (here) is to be believed. I can’t claim to be surprised, because within mere weeks of Fine Gael and Labour taking power they started doing an poor impression of Fianna Fail anyway. It’s incredible when you think about it: here’s a party that actually had to beg foreigners to take over the wheel because they couldn’t hack it, and now we’re digging them up and declaring them lost treasure.

Yet Fine Gael and Labour can blame no one but themselves. Having failed to win an election together for 29 years, wouldn’t you think they’d have put some thought into how they were going to manage expectations, especially as 2011 was the Unlosable election?

Both parties have failed to learn the lessons of the 1994-97 Rainbow government, which went into the election with a competent economic record (Ruairi Quinn having been one of the best finance ministers we ever had) and yet still lost, primarily because Labour voters abandoned the party in droves. Why? Because, once again, Labour had failed to  manage expectations, throwing every promise short of free liposuction at voters and then wondering why they were disappointed afterwards?

Does it mean people have forgiven Fianna Fail? Probably not. The party is just the handiest frying pan at hand to fling at the coalition. Ironically, Fianna Fail with a bit of courage and restraining its worst “say anything!” demons could probably soar ahead, but like the coalition, they’re building an electoral base on vague promises (hands up who can sum up FF’s costed alternative to the property tax, water tax and UHI? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) and will sure enough disappoint when they return to government.

Sinn Fein are now where the Greens were pre-2007. Unsoiled by government and with a voter base that has never been disappointed by the realities of government. The difference with Sinn Fein is that they seem aware of the opportunity, by refusing to join a coalition as junior partner, to become at least the main opposition party in the republic, something Labour’s conscience used to wrestle with constantly before losing every time to the smack of warm Merc leather on Labour minister arse.

Finally, there’s the 20% “Feck yiz all” independent vote, with the Joe Higgins/People’s Front of Killiney vote thrown in. The fact that the Irish Left are still struggling to get any sort of significant electoral purchase tells us both a lot of about their inability, but also the reality that most Irish people are happy with how our society as its structured. Even a vote for Independents is less a vote for radical change and more a vote for the status quo but with more money taken from someone else and spent “in the parish.”

In Greece, when they want change they vote for Communists. We vote for fellas who were loyal members of Fianna Fail or Fine Gael just before the selection convention went sour.

As ever, a great little country.

 
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Shock as politicians discover link between election promises and being in government.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 1, 2014 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

Chaos broke out in Leinster House this morning as deputies and senators collectively realised that they were actually expected to implement stuff promised before the general election. “It came as a shock to me,” one unnamed deputy said, “when a constituent just happened to point out that they expected me to actually carry out the stuff I’d promised before polling day. To be honest, I’d never looked at it that way before. Do you think that’s why people are always so angry with us?”

The Taoiseach has announced an emergency cabinet meeting to consider this stunning new development, and was last seen going through bins in government buildings asking as to whether anyone had a copy of “that manifesto yoke” he held up a lot during the election campaign.

The Minister for the Environment has been rapidly rereading all of his pre-election promises about creating an elected Mayor for Dublin. “You mean, I’m supposed to do all this stuff? Jaykers! Who knew?”

Pat Rabbitte has been prescribed a sedative and a few days rest.

 
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Dublin Mayor: Fine Gael & Labour show their true colours.

Posted by Jason O on Mar 31, 2014 in Irish Politics

The decision by Phil Hogan to put a bizarre obstacle in front of a referendum for Dublin Mayor shows us that Fine Gael and Labour are no longer the second-class masters of the political side-step. It’s a savvy move, which will allow Hogan to pretend to be in favour of reform having made sure to stall it. This type of carry-on is becoming very much the motif of the two coalition parties: big talk on reform of politics, the Seanad, local government, followed by inaction or, in this case, actual sabotage. Tonight there are good people in both parties looking at the creature they helped elect, and like the farm animals in Orwell’s novel, looking in the window of the house and not sure what they can see anymore.

Hogan will say that it was the democratic decision of a local authority. He may even oil the hypocrisy with a little brass neck lubricant, and claim that he personally would have voted in favour of a referendum. But the reality is the reality: like Seanad reform, he made sure that the actual decision was denied ordinary voters, who may well have voted against the position but at least would have been offered a chance to vote on it.

Some years ago, I would have been livid at this decision. Today, I’m not that bothered because I never really thought it would happen, the same way I never thought a No vote in the Seanad referendum would lead to radical reform.

 I mean, how can you not feel cynical after reading this, from 2010:

“FG to oppose Gormley’s half-baked Dublin Lord Mayor plan: Undeveloped mayoral plan a smokescreen to hide complete absence of local govt reform.


Dublin needs a directly-elected Mayor but the role must have clearly defined, ‘real’ responsibilities and be part of an overall reform of Local Government, Fine Gael Environment & Local Government Spokesman Phil Hogan said today.
Deputy Hogan made his comments as he announced that Fine Gael will oppose John Gormley’s ill-thought out, half-baked plan to hold a mayoral election in the New Year.
“Minister Gormley’s plan is just providing another layer of local government bureaucracy and perceived authority at a time when the country can ill afford it. We have enough organisations and quangos established over the years by Fianna Fail which need to abolished rather than establishing another super-bureaucratic political layer as a vanity project for Minister Gormley.
“I want Dublin to have a Lord Mayor with real responsibilities, a real agenda and a real budget. Instead of giving Dublin this, John Gormley has put forward proposals for a Dublin Lord Mayor that are little more than half-baked and will fail miserably as:

  • The Mayor will have no clearly defined responsibilities and questions about which decisions lie with the Mayor, which lie with the Council and which lie with the Central Government are still up in the air;

  • Holding the election in 2010, out of line with the regular local and European elections, makes absolutely no sense. The election for the Mayor should coincide with local elections, to do otherwise is farcical and will, at the very least, only depress turnout;

  • The Minister still has not outlined any reform of Local Government. His determination to plough on with his ill-thought out plan for a Dublin Mayor must be viewed as a smokescreen to hide his complete absence of action in this area.

“Meanwhile the people of Dublin still suffer from a lack of services from Local Government. In contrast to John Gormley’s spin, Fine Gael set out a comprehensive reform package for Local Government in our document, ‘Power to the People’, that included plans for a directly-elected Dublin Mayor with real powers from 2014. Between now and then, it needs to be planned out which powers reside with the Mayor, which with the Council and which with the Dáil.
“Fine Gael will oppose Minister Gormley’s ridiculous attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes and demand that Dublin gets what it needs – a mayor with real power and responsibility.”

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”  

 

 
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Be nice to canvassers!

Posted by Jason O on Mar 28, 2014 in Irish Politics

Canvassers are people too! Repost from 2011:

Was very annoyed recently to hear a woman I know recounting her boyfriend’s glee at being rude to canvassers. He wasn’t against any particular party or candidate, just thought he had a right to abuse them. I always find this odd. Having canvassed thousands of doors (a sad, misspent youth) in a variety of elections and referendums I can tell you that being rude to canvassers is not only very much a minority activity, but it actually makes the voter look like far more of a tosser than the canvasser. The canvasser is a volunteer (I’ve never encountered a paid canvasser, although have heard rumours) who is giving up their evening for a higher purpose. They rarely get any direct benefit from the election of their candidate, and being rude to a socially unacceptable level to a complete stranger on your door (Who knows your name, by the way, thanks to the register, and lives in your area, and probably knows people who do know you) actually does you little favour. Canvassers talk about you, and tell other canvassers, sometimes in other parties, and your name can rapidly become shit. You wouldn’t behave like that in any other part of your life, so think about it.

That’s not to say that you can’t disagree with canvassers. By their nature, as political people, or friends of the candidate, they tend to be up for a bit of a debate, and it may surprise non-political people, but I have never encountered a canvasser who came away with a bad opinion of a voter because the voter did not agree with them, provided they were civil. I met people who were very articulate in their reasons for not voting for me, and I surprised even myself with how I felt emotionally about that. I felt alright, because it was obvious that they’d read my stuff and put some thought into it.

Of course, I did tell one voter to “f**k off”.., which may explain why I wasn’t elected. Also, laughing in the face of a voter who threatens to “report you to Mary Harney” isn’t a good idea.

Although very satisfying, funnily enough.

 
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Some questions about Gardagate.

Posted by Jason O on Mar 27, 2014 in Irish Politics

1. At some point, a decision had to be made to install these recording tapes. Where are the minutes of the meeting, or who authorised the tender to buy the equipment? Did any of the previous ministers know about it? Will we ever find an actual name?

2. How will a Garda Authority have a better ability to break the Garda culture than GSOC or the Garda Inspectorate? Will it have the ability to appoint/dismiss senior Garda officers, including the Commissioner?

3. Are the Labour Party really so dim as to put protecting one of their appointees ahead of a genuine public outrage?

4. What are the arguments against appointing a Garda Commissioner from outside Ireland, other than the Guards won’t like it? The key argument for is a Commissioner who has not been house trained by internal Garda culture.

 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Scandal.

Posted by Jason O on Mar 27, 2014 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

Note: this was originally written in 2010 about a different scandal. I recycle as appropriate. Curiously, I rarely have to rewrite or change it.

Given the moral failings of the Irish as a race, it is hardly surprising that there is a clear and tested timeline to every scandal which besets Irish society, whether it is moral, political, social or financial. The timeline is as such:

1. Issue emerges. Country particularly mortified at how the British media cover it.

2. Public gasps at details. Sunday papers revel in particularly gory details. Fintan O’Toole writes a pithy piece which explains the cogent details very succinctly, and then drizzles it in extra-virgin head shaking like a nice salad.

3. Opposition call for unspecified action (“Something must be done! We need action!”) or specific action outside the power of the government. (“Bishops must resign! The effect on water of gravity must be reversed! Board members must be frozen in carbonite like Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back!”)

4. Government shakes heads, and promises that said event (Clerical child abuse/flooding/banking corruption/Semi state squandering/asteroid crashing into the Earth) must never be permitted to happen again, and calls for commission to investigate report of commission which investigated incident. The Public Accounts Committee dances the traditional “Outraged! Outraged we are!” dance.

5. Media, political establishment, voters, realising that they actually play golf/went to school/are second cousin of individuals named in report, start calling for “due process” to be observed, and instead focus on details of events as if they were some abstract natural disaster.

6. The lawyers get involved. People’s right to “their good name”, passing of time, death of witnesses, gums up process of pursuit of actual criminals, drags investigations, trials, etc, in and out of high court for years.

7. Government takes money off people who did not commit these crimes (Taxes), and gives it to victims. The perpetrators contribution is eaten up in legal fees.

8. Some public officials take early retirement, on full pension. Which is pretty much the equivalent of a modest win in the National Lottery. Nobody goes to jail, except maybe a journalist who reveals how this thing is panning out, and is done for contempt of court.

9. In general election, Irish people vote for same people who allowed scandal to occur, on basis that although he/she failed to act to prevent sexual assault of children/building houses underwater, etc, he/she was always “very good for the area.” Irish people elect the crowd who used to do this sort of stuff before the current crowd got in by complaining that the last crowd who used to do this stuff did this stuff. They immediately start doing the stuff they complained the last crowd were always doing.

10. In 10 years, another commission reports on poor handling of this scandal. Reset to step 1.

Copyright © 2014 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.