Whatever happens in the French presidential election, there is a reality that will need to be confronted. It’s a phenomenon we have seen in the last two US presidential elections, in the Brexit referendum, and will no doubt be a feature in future elections. It is the huge danger caused by reckless voters. Now, let me be clear: this is not your standard Metropolitan Globalist Liberal (of which I am all three) complaining about how disappointed I am about people who don’t share my views, or their level of intelligence or prejudice. I accept that there are many decent people who voted for Trump, Brexit and yes, even Marine Le Pen. People who in many cases did not share the more extreme views of those candidates. I even accept that there are people, particularly non-urban, low-income and low-educational achievers who vote for candidates I would regard as extremist because they simply feel they are being ignored by the mainstream parties. I get that too., and it may surprise you that I don’t blame them. Continue reading →
The most worn-out phrase of any debate about a United Ireland is the old reliable “Sure, we can’t afford it!” The reality is that it simply isn’t true. Whatever the cost of replacing the UK exchequer subsidy of the north, which will probably be north of €4-6billion annually at a minimum, we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
Whatever the figure (and you’d think we’d want to get a grip on that) we can probably afford it.
What I find striking though, are those who suggest that we can afford it but then proceed to list out the various sections of society who should not be expected to bear any additional tax burden, as if those sections of society are not as committed to the common republican sacrifice required to ensure living standards in the north are maintained at current or higher levels.
I simply refuse to believe that low income groups or pensioners who vote for a United Ireland are not willing to take their fair share of the increased tax burden or reductions in social welfare to ensure that people living in Derry or the Shankill have their incomes protected or improved to reach our level of pension provision or unemployment assistance. There are no shortage of patriotic public sector workers, civil servants and nurses willing to take pay reductions to assist in bringing northern public servants, who are paid less than ours, up to our level. This is, after all, the completion of the great national project and no section of society can claim greater patriotism.
We should confront many of the questions for our own benefit:
What is the actual subsidy amount, the difference between public service provision and taxes raised in the north?
Will we increase VAT in the north from current 20% to meet our 23% to raise revenue for those services?
Will NHS spending be guaranteed to UK levels as a bare legal minimum going forward, with spending increases decided by the British treasury legally matched through Irish taxation?
What NI welfare/public sector pay will be brought up to ROI levels, how much will it cost, and when?
Will northern public employees working for UK wide services have their employment, pensions and T&Cs guaranteed?
How will we decouple NI’s share of UK national debt, UK owned assets (Buildings, hospitals, roads, council housing etc) and future pension liabilities? It’s not enough to say Not Our Problem as someone has to pay pensions the following week, and UK could decide, pending failure to agree, to simple deduct asset value from pension liability.
NI, being markedly poorer than ROI, will be eligible for EU funding. What level EU funding are we talking about? Can we get this agreed before the referendum? Same with any US funding, which is looking less likely.
What spending reductions/tax increases in the ROI will be required to close the gap? Should we levy a unity tax NOW on incomes, pensions and welfare payments for a locked Unity Fund to act as a cushion for the future? Would certainly provide reassurance for the people of West Belfast or Ballymena.
NATO troops will not fright Russian troops in Ukraine. But that does not mean Russia would not face western weapons.
Let’s be very clear: despite all the noise from NATO and western capitals, we know damn well that if the Russians advance into the rest of Ukraine neither Europe nor the US will send troops to fight them.
There is simply not enough popular support at home to allow that. But Putin also knows that Ukraine, with a population of 40 plus million, can put soldiers into the field and the west will be a lot more comfortable about arming and training those troops. Indeed, many in the west could see an armed conflict as an opportunity to see the new revitalised and equipped post-Soviet Russian army in action, and see how western weapons and tactics play out against it.
It also allows the west a free “pop” at the Russian armed forces, indirectly contributing to the actual destruction of Russian armour and aircraft with no danger of retaliation against NATO forces. Sure, Putin will know exactly what the west is doing and may protest, but it counts for little when you’ve just invaded a sovereign democracy. He knows that a retaliatory strike against NATO forces outside Ukraine is a whole different kettle of fish.
Ukraine forces will have access to NATO intelligence and satellites and perhaps even NATO air defences. After all, if anyone knows how easily advanced air defence systems can slip into the hands of undesirables it’s Vladimir Putin.
What starts as Putin flexing his muscles could turn into a nasty proxy war with NATO, and one NATO can afford fiscally far more than a Russia under post-invasion sanctions.
What are the coalition options following the next election, assuming that Sinn Fein is clearly the largest party?
Fine Gael/Fianna Fail/Green plus others. This seems unlikely as it would mean the current government had been defeated and it’s hard to see Labour or the Social Democrats rushing to prop up a defeated government. This could also lead to some civil disorder, as many SF supporters don’t seem to understand proportional representation and think they are living in the UK with its Hulk Smash! voting system.
Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail: this seems to be the most likely, and assumes FF as very much the junior partner to SF. FF seem to be giving little thought to how they would handle this, and how SF would not end up SDLPing FF and turning it into a feeble adjunct. It should also be remembered that FF is very susceptible to being infected by the ideology of its coalition partner. It went to the economic right with the PDs, and the liberal left with Labour. Don’t discount it going all shinner with SF.
Sinn Fein/Labour/Soc Dems/Independents: this would be an interesting one, being the first actual left of centre government in the history of the country. The question would be for the “third wheel” in the coalition, and maintaining an identity. Having said that, it could allow Labour to reinvent itself as the Watchdog party in government, with Labour justice and defence ministers.
A Sinn Fein minority government. This is not impossible, and would put as much pressure on the opposition as Sinn Fein. It allows SF to appoint judges, dismiss and reappoint state boards like the RTE authority (or even just attempt to), senior Gardai etc but not pass legislation or budgets without opposition support. I have to say I think this is the most unlikely option, as it would allow SF to propose a goodie-filled budget, and force the opposition to either endorse it by voting for it, or block it and give SF an excuse for not delivering. It would be, effectively, the Stormontisation of Southern politics.
Sinn Fein/Fine Gael: Don’t rule it out. Neither party would really want it as it would cause internal bedlam and also destroy the concept of Them Over There. But if FF, Greens, Labour and Soc Dems decided that SF and FG had won the election and it was up to them to figure it out, it would suit those parties to sit on the opposition and wait for voter disgruntlement to kick off. FF waiting for pissed off FG voters, Lab and the rest waiting for pissed off shinner voters.
*Note: I’m assuming the Alphabet Left will just vote against everything and everybody.
It’s not impossible that the next general election, in 2024 or 2025, will be up there with 1918 or 1932 as a gamechanger election in Irish history, our version of 1945 or 1979 in the UK. It’s not impossible that for the first time in our 100 year history as a state we could end up with a Taoiseach not from FF or FG, and a governing party that up until the early 1980s denied the very legitimacy of the state itself.
It is fair to say that the election outcome will be described as a change election, proof that Nothing Ever Changes In Irish Politics ™ is simply not true. Will we see a government of radical change elected?
It depends on what we, the Irish, call change. The 1932 de Valera government did radically change the country, bringing in an entirely new constitution. The 1948 FG government took us out of the Commonwealth and symbolically declared a republic. Both parties and their various coalition partners slowly built up a modern welfare state.
What will a Sinn Fein government do that will be a radical change from its predecessors? If you read SF activists online, the declarations of radicalism peter out in the detail: yes, they talk about housing and healthcare and senior care and childcare and mental healthcare but the language is just about more of what FF/FG are already giving.
Ask them how an “Irish NHS” will differ from the HSE for those already with medical cards, and they blank. Promising to spend more money without a detailed guarantee of specific delivered objectives is not only not radical, it is the same policy that EVERY SINGLE Irish government has followed.
This is not radicalism, and SF’s leadership know it, because they know that the Irish electorate as a whole are not enthused about radical change. Sinn Fein are far more enthusiastic about taking people out of the tax base (Another FF/FG/PD/Labour favourite) than adding tax revenue to the state. Their wealth tax proposal expects to raise shy of €100m a year, which sounds like a lot until you realise our national budget is €88,000,000,000.
In other words, their wealth tax will raise 0.11% of our national budget. There are other proposals on employers PRSI, etc, that will raise more, but Sinn Fein are very cautious not to increase tax on most workers.
Why not? Because, one would assume, that they share the same reason FF/FG don’t make a loud public argument as to why we ALL should pay higher taxes for the common good. Because they don’t believe that the Irish voters will believe that higher taxes automatically mean better services. Why would they? They haven’t in the past. SF are no more radical on cutting bad public spending that FF/FG.
Economically, SF in government look like being very similar to FF in the late 1970s, early 1980s. Some tax tinkering, loudly throwing money with little regard to actual impact, and primarily borrowing until that moment when the bond markets simply refuse to provide more.
Even at that point will SF be different? Maybe some of the left in SF will start roaring and shouting about “who elects the bond markets” but it doesn’t matter: if you want more of their money you have to do what they say. At this point they could then do an Argentina and simply default, which admittedly would be incredibly radical.
But I don’t buy it. Far more likely we end up seeing minister for finance Pearse Doherty on US business news talking solemnly about how no previous Irish (FF/FG) government ever squelched on its debts to the global lenders, and he’s not going to start now. One can almost picturing the howling anguish of the Sinn Fein left with denunciations of the betrayal of Pearse, Connolly and the assorted Men/Women/Other of 1916.
That’s all well and good, but Doherty will have to make sure grannies get their pensions.
I don’t claim this to be a comprehensive or academic study. It’s purely a work of fiction designed by me to stir the debate about the details of a future agreed Ireland. I believe in a united Ireland: but my biggest fear is that we end up with a West Brexit scenario, voting through a concept without knowing what we have in reality actually voted for in detail. Details matter, and this fictional account does not claim to cover all the angles nor offer all the solutions, but merely to stir the constitutional creative juices of those of use who believe in this project.
As with so many things in Irish politics, certain events trigger an almost identical response every time.
Take some public event which leaves a load of litter lying about. The response from different quarters is always the same, and highlights the competing psyches in the country.
First up are the Civic Spacers, the people who take offense at public spaces being violated by people dumping their property (Yes, when you buy a Big Mac you own the box too) and what it says about us as a country. I’m unashamedly one of them.
Then there’s the Not My Faulters. They accept that litter is undesirable but that disposing of THEIR unwanted property is not their responsibility, but that of “the government” or the business that sold them the product and its container, as if coffee should be poured into your hands. Their valid point, often about either a lack of bins or bins overflowing due to bad government is swept away by their refusal to take responsibility for their own actions.
“Wait, I have to carry this Magnum wrapper around in my pocket until I find a bin??? Why. Is. My. Life. So. Hard???”
Next up: the Have We Not Got Bigger Problems crowd. These lads are an off-shoot of the Sell The Government Jet To Solve All Our Problems gang, who believe government can only focus on one issue at a time (their issue, naturally).
“I can’t believe some people are worried about a little bit of litter whilst Palestine/Direct Provision/Housing/The Great Replacement is going on!”
Finally, there’s the F**k Yous. Not only do they not care, they are not even aware of litter. You can see them come out of McDonalds, pull off a wrapper, walk by a bin and toss the litter. There’s no point trying to shame them with TV ads: the only thing they respect is the physical force of the state stopping them, and that’s the issue. What is the most likely outcome of you littering right in front of a Garda? You know the answer. If you brass it out, probably nothing.
That particular statement should be our national motto.
Let’s be very clear: we are not talking about IF Sinn Fein enter government, but WHEN.
In that context, the decision facing many real republicans in that election will be which party can be trusted to ensure that the republican and democratic values that this country is founded on be defended in a Sinn Fein dominated cabinet?
I believe there is a serious opportunity for Labour here. As a party it is not without criticism, and I have never been short of ammunition to criticise Labour, but I’ll tell you one thing. Within my lifetime memory, from Dick Spring on, Labour’s patriotic credentials have never been in doubt. Nor its commitment to true republican values and a United Ireland where all religions and creeds can claim a home. It has been the party that delivered social liberalism when it wasn’t the mainstream value. It can trace a line right back to 1916 (unlike some) but it has, since independence, always stood firm to the idea that the national question will not be resolved by violence. In the 1970s and 1980s Labour was not found wanting in standing up to the Provos.
So ask yourself this: in your gut, can you trust Alan Kelly to be a minister for justice and defence in a Sinn fein led government, making sure that reforms of the Guards or the judiciary or the Special Criminal Court will be for the benefit of the nation as a whole, and not part of a sinister Erdogan style agenda by a single party?
I think it’s time Alan Kelly start thinking about this, because it could Labour’s defining platform in the next election.
With certain exceptions (in particular Sinn Fein), the personal vote of a candidate is more important to election victory than their party vote.
Voters decide what matters in elections, not candidates or party activists.
There are always far more votes to be won opposing a specific proposal to build new housing in an area than supporting it.
Being an Irish legislator is like being a brain surgeon who is employed to carry out brain surgery but whose employment review is decided on how well he maintains a garden on the other side of the country.
You cannot be lazy and be a successful Irish politician. You can be corrupt, deceitful or stupid but you cannot be lazy.
Irish voters are perfectly happy holding two or more completely contradictory beliefs.
There are no votes in proposing long-term solutions.
There is a large number of people involved in Irish politics who have almost no interest in the shaping or direction of Irish society.
It is possible to have a successful career in Irish politics and never ever have to make an unpopular decision.
Being an Irish citizen gives you more rights than the citizens of any other nation on Earth.
It’s not true to say that nothing every changes in Irish politics. Those of us who grew up in Ireland in the 1980s are living in essentially a better country with more personal freedom and a greater standard of living.
But there are, nevertheless, some things that seem to go on forever.
Attitudes to taxes and public spending have not changed much. Every single party in the Dail has, as a core value, a hardwired belief among its candidates to go to voters in their parishes and tell them that they will get them better public services or facilities but that someone in another parish will pay for them. There is simply no major link between the taxes we pay and the services we get as a value to be communicated. Indeed, the two functions are so separated that pumping more money into public services (especially the HSE) has become almost a sort of religious mantra, not dissimilar to throwing a virgin into a volcano to assuage the volcano god.
In fairness, Ireland is not unique in this. Politicians promise. That’s what they do. “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the man behind the tree” was a famous political slogan from the 1930s in America, so it is not new. But what is more specific to Ireland is how Irish pols know that it isn’t sustainable. Taxes and borrowing are continuing to rise, and on top of that a new political concept seems to be sweeping the land where more and more voters seem to believe that not only should they get more services at no cost from the state, but they should not be part of the tax base either.
It’s hardly surprising that politicians are afraid to oppose that view. Certainly not opposition ones. But it is remarkable how government ministers and TDs are willing to take responsibility for squaring the impossible circle and with that the unpopularity for not delivering the impossible.
This govt, and govts before it, operates one of the most progressive tax systems in the world. We tax the rich, and to be sure, the not-so-rich and even the I’d-like-to-be-rich-one-day. We pay one of the most generous pensions in the world, including to people who did not contribute much. We pay one of the most generous dole payments in the world. We pay our doctors and nurses better salaries than most countries, all delivered by governments run by FF/FG/Labour/Greens/Democratic Left and the Progressive Democrats.
This government will spend, on health and social welfare alone, more in its five year term than the combined total wealth of Bernard Arnault, the richest man in Europe.
Yet you wouldn’t know much of this because our collective media and society focusses on stories of individual failure, of which there are many. We hear about the people on trollies on a daily basis (Pre-Covid) but very rarely hear how many people the HSE treats daily?
I blame successive governments for this, for not regarding the education of the voters in a democracy as a vital necessity, as opposed to something we just hope happens.
We’re setting up an Electoral Commission soon. It should be given a mandate and a budget to communicate fact.
I’m not talking propaganda, telling us all what a great job the govt is doing. I’m talking a rolling campaign of fact: who pays tax, and who doesn’t, rich and poor. How many homeless we have, and how homelessness is actually defined. How much we collect in tax, and what we spend it on. How it is spent. How much is spent on wages and pensions.
All fact. Of course, all this assumes that ministers and govt TDs have a) the imagination to do this, and b) can see it is in their interest to do so. A well-informed electorate who sees the connection between tax and spending is a good thing.