Sinn Fein backs pre-unification Unity Tax.

Mary Lou McDonald TD

The leader of Sinn Fein, Mary Lou McDonald TD (Dublin Central), has announced that Sinn Fein will support the creation of a significant levy on all incomes, pensions and social welfare payments ahead of a border poll to create a unification fund.

“It makes sense that given the fact that the north of Ireland will require a significant subsidy from taxpayers in the south, at least in the short to medium term, that we start preparing for this now. By putting aside the funds now, with a gradually increasing Unity Levy we will avoid the sharp tax raises that a sudden British departure would require,” Ms McDonald said in an interview with RTE yesterday.

“I’m confident that in the long-term the economic growth generated by unity will allow the north to pay its way. Sinn Fein in government will introduce this levy to allow us to smooth the way without disrupting public services in the north. When East Germany was integrated into the EU there was some EU support, but the vast majority of funding came from west German taxpayers through a solidarity tax they just stopped paying recently. We need to study that model.”

When asked would all adults be required to contribute, she said that she had no doubt that regardless of income, every patriot would want to play their part and make their contribution.

Questioned about the British taxpayer continuing to meet the financial obligations of the north of Ireland after unification, she pointed out that “we can’t even get the Tories to fund the north when they actually own it, so I wouldn’t be relying on them.”

Beware of nuclear blackmail.

With rational people talking of the possibility of President Putin utilising a chemical or nuclear  weapon in Ukraine, it’s worth having a discussion about how we in Europe and the west generally shall respond to such an event.

First, we have to recognise that it has to be possible to have a discussion about nuclear weapons without falling into Armageddonesque hysterics or into cold Strangeloveian normalisation of what would be a major event in human history.

Consider the following image: the impact of a B61 nuclear bomb (the smallest in the US arsenal) on Dublin if exploded over the GPO.

Would it cause massive devastation, panic, evacuation, economic damage and kill thousands? Yes. Would it end Dublin as a city? The answer is quite simply no. Even with fallout, and a sealed off central zone for decades, Dublin would recover eventually.

If Russia dropped a Tsar Bomba on Ireland, the biggest single bomb ever detonated by Russia, on the middle of the country (Sorry Tullamore) most of Cork, Limerick and Galway city would escape undamaged. The devastation would be immense, and millions would die from the blast and the radiation poisoning, and the presumable collapse of the country as a functioning nation.

The point is that there are different types of nuclear weapons, and a B61 being detonated is different from a Tsar Bomba.

What isn’t different is the psychological effect: the the Russians (or anyone else) have suddenly used a nuclear weapon for the first time since 1945. It becomes the most important story in the world. It is bigger than anything else. People will stop what they are doing in work. Planes will immediately land. Some people will commit suicide.

That’s also what Putin is counting on: the idea that populations in European democracies will be swept up in hysteria and demand their governments immediately acquiesce to whatever he wants to avoid “the end of the world” as he pretends to be (we assume) a madman with nothing to lose. In the only countries that matter in this scenario, the US, UK and France, furious debates will be held as to how to respond. Responding by detonating a comparable weapon against Russian forces in Ukraine is not an option. Nor is detonating a weapon over Russian territory. Therefore, the most likely option would be a massive conventional attack using non-nuclear weapons (Aircraft and cruise missiles) against Russian forces in Ukraine to inflict a high price on Russia for crossing the nuclear threshold without escalation it.

The problem with that is that such a response could, ironically, push Putin further into a corner by a) being attacked directly by NATO forces, and b) by devastating his forces in Ukraine making defeat there far more likely.

This is also against a background where, almost certainly, possibly millions of Europeans will protest demanding their governments abandon Ukraine so as not to provoke further use of nuclear weapons by Putin, the very thing he is hoping.

What if he detonates a second weapon in Ukraine, again of very small yield but nuclear nevertheless? How does NATO respond then? Let us not forget: Putin believes the west is weak. That our people are spineless and obsessed by gender identities and race and celebrity and will buckle when a real man puts his thumb on our collective jugular. That when he shows that he is willing to go further than we are, we will beg him to stop and give him everything he wants.

He may well be right.

Ukraine showing how militarily useless the EU and UK are in reality.

Picture an alternate scenario: a Russian invasion of Ukraine where the US just washes its hands, refusing to get involved or even supply weapons. Where the Ukrainians have nowhere near the amount of Stingers and Javelins they have been supplied with. Would EU/UK still contribute? Probably, but almost certainly only at a token level and secretly hoping that the Russians triumph quickly and put us all out of our embarrassment, so that we can go back to solemnly saying “Never again” at WW2 memorials without being called out about it.

It’s not a question of wealth. Europe and the UK have money, with economies that dwarf Russia. They also have military technology, although not on the level of the US.
What is lacking is will power, and I’m acutely aware as someone coming from Ireland that I’m in no position to be lecturing anybody on defence willpower.

But the reality is that the British (and now possibly the Poles and the Baltic republics) are the only people possibly willing to commit actual troops into harm’s way. Germany is convulsed (despite Scholz’s U-Turn) with indecision by its history, and France is genuinely divided by wanting to lead Europe without ACTUALLY leading it.

An Anglo-Polish led force would almost certainly give the Russians a bloody nose, but could it actually hold and push them back? Such a force certainly wouldn’t lack courage or determination or skill, but it is doubtful it would have the huge logistical and supply reserves that seem to be the vital ingredient of modern warfare, and that possibly only the US and China truly has?

The uncomfortable truth is this: despite all the talk of strategic autonomy, European and British security remains at the mercy and whim of increasingly erratic policy makers in Washington DC. It’s getting to the stage we’d be better off paying the Ukrainians protection money: after all, they’re fighting the Russians so that we don’t have to.  

What if…Ireland changed its voting system?

There are perennials of Irish political debate, and none more perennial than “We need to get rid of multi-seat constituencies” as the solution to all our political woes. If only we got rid of the “parish pump” competition at local level, we’d get a better standard of TD.

There’s also a growing body in the country who have latched on to the “nobody voted for this coalition government” argument, and are yearning for a British-style election result, where one party (usually) clearly wins regardless of how the actual people of that country actually vote. Nobody may have voted for this government, but they didn’t vote for any other one either.

It’ll never happen, of course. The Irish people have been asked twice before to change the voting system, and have refused for clear reason. PR-STV isn’t going anywhere: in fact, I suspect it would be next to impossible to even get the referendum bill past the Oireachtas, never mind win a referendum. The most a government might get away with is reducing the constituency seats to three seaters, which would hurt small parties and give larger parties a seat bonus.

But even that’s risky: FG/Lab tried the infamous “Tullymander” in the 1977 general election, and it rebounded on them spectacularly giving FF the biggest majority in Irish history.

But if it were to happen, what would be the outcome? It depends on the alternative system. The most popular system on the continent, a list system, where people vote for a party and it fills seats based on the share of the vote it gets from a list of candidates, is unlikely to be accepted here. Most Irish voters wants to vote for an individual.

As a result, the most likely options are First Past The Post (FPTP) or STV in single seat constituencies (also known as the Alternative Vote). Either would be a radical change, but both would have side effects which I suspect would not please advocates of change.

First Past the Post (FPTP) is the simplest voting system on Earth, a point its British advocates make a lot of noise about. Indeed, during the AV referendum in 2011, one of the main arguments used against the Irish electoral system was that it was too complicated for British voters. FPTP involves making a mark against a single candidate, and the most marks win. It allows a party to win a majority of the seats with a minority of the vote and is most likely to deliver a clear single party government even if a majority of the voters didn’t vote for it.  In 2005 it got Tony Blair a 60 seat majority despite 65% of voters not voting for him. Justin Trudeau got the most seats in the last two Canadian elections despite coming second to the Tories in votes. If you like your voting system to just vomit out results with occasionally a tangential link to how actual voters vote, FPTP is the one for you. It’s used in the UK, India, Canada, parts of the US and within some PR systems.

The Alternative Vote is used in Australia and is basically the same system we use in Ireland in presidential elections and  by-elections. It tends to create a de facto two-party system, as small parties rarely win seats, although their preferences do often decide the outcome, unlike FPTP.

Either system would be far less proportional than PRSTV, but it’s worth bearing in mind the role political culture would play hand in hand with either system. In the 1990s, hoping create a new more decisive political culture, Italy introduced FPTP for 75% of the seats in the lower house, with a 25% party list top-up. Whilst it did lead to some consolidation of parties, it also led to parties doing deals to stand down against each other in specific constituencies.

If Ireland switched to a single-seat system under either FPTP or AV, the number of constituencies would jump from 43 large ones currently to 168 much smaller ones (many the size of council wards), most with a nominal sitting deputy. But it would also open up a huge swathe of constituencies for parties that have no seat in them. For Sinn Fein and (probably) Fine Gael this would suit them, assuming they’d lead in many constituencies and would hope for transfers to get to the very high 50%+1 quota (under AV) or just the most votes under FPTP. For smaller parties, and I’m assuming FF in this (rightly or wrongly) there’d be a choice, be also-rans under FPTP or transfer fodder under AV. But there’d be alternatives too.

Under FPTP, FF, Labour, the Greens and the Social Democrats, all with sitting TDs, could form a pact and run a single “Alliance” candidate in each constituency, giving them a chance at least. It wouldn’t be easy: all four parties would have members with problems, but FPTP is unforgiving. Get your shit together or see your votes just be ignored, especially as SF and FG would both be telling those parties voters that they were wasting their votes or helping the other big party by voting for the alliance.

AV would offer a similar challenge, although without the vote wastage of FPTP. Given the need to reach 50% of the vote, it’s not impossible that the two big parties might be willing to do a deal with smaller parties, even standing down in some constituencies or promising Seanad seats in return for transfer endorsements. Both would actively need transfers unlike under FPTP. One issue with AV would be the challenge for SF to get transfers even if it has an impressive first preference lead nationally. It’s not impossible that, as happened to FF in the 2011 election, preferences keeping going against SF to the extent (and angry frustration of SF supporters) that SF loses seats narrowly to other parties despite having, in their eyes, clearly “won” the election in terms of having come first in votes.

Interestingly, both systems could seriously hurt the Alphabet Left who would struggle to reach the vote levels requires to come first or meet the quota.

Either system would make a single party government more likely, although AV would require much greater voter consent. Having said that, the backroom dealing that permeates Irish politics could still result in a tiny number of TDs holding even more power than they do now. After all, even if Kerry or Tipp were transformed into multiple single-seat constituencies, would you absolutely rule out Michael Lowry or the Healy-Raes taking some of them?

What if….the United States left NATO?

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s a common trope of the political thriller was a devious plot by the KGB to break up the western alliance, normally through the dismantling of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). In Alfred Coppel’s “The Hastings Conspiracy”, for example, a plot involved the KGB revealing to the leftwing British government that there existed a secret US plan to invade the UK (landing at Hastings, in case you’re interested) Colin Forbes’ “The Stone Leopard” involved a group of French, British and German agents racing to stop Moscow putting a Soviet agent into the Elysee Palace and pulling French forces out of Germany ahead of a Soviet invasion through the Fulda Gap. Chris Mullin’s “A Very British Coup” hinged on a plot by the CIA to stop Jeremy Corbyn Harry Perkins pulling Britain out of NATO. Both “The Fourth Protocol” and, eh, “Octopussy” had key plot points hinging on something very similar.

There were some books that speculated at a US withdrawal back into isolation, but relatively few: it was taken as read that the US was the anchor of western defence both out of value belief and in its own naked self-interest.

Then Donald Trump was elected President, and the party of Ronald Reagan and Eisenhower became the party of Lindbergh. Under Trump it was mostly mouth, a man who was too chaotic to pursue a policy of withdrawal even if he really believed it, which probably depended as much as what day it was as any intellectual conviction. But Trump aside, isolationism, fueled by Fox News charlatans who see any sort of engagement with liberal elements abroad as grounds to whip up hysteria have seriously undermined American commitment to NATO, and the idea of the US withdrawal, whilst still unlikely, is no longer ludicrous. What if it happened…

The near future. The new administration had moved much faster than anyone had expected, given the relative closeness of the election result. This was primarily at the hands of a bevy of new National Security Council appointees who would never had seen the inside of the building under the Bush, Reagan or indeed any previous post-war administration. These were young men who had been born in the 80s and 90s and even later and were more familiar with The Turner Diaries and Ayn Rand and sarcastic put downs on cable news shows than strategic thinking. Withdrawal from NATO was more, to them, about sticking it to foreigners, effete socialist Europeans who had lived off the backs of hard working Joe Sixpack for decades. America didn’t need alliances. America was strong. And any way: China was the enemy that needed to be faced down and Europe was of little of any use in that regard.

In Europe, as ever, surprise was the first call of the day. Yes, the new president had been very clear about his intentions, but no one is capable of self-delusion as Europeans are. Even watching the president announce that, whilst Congress debated withdrawal, he was signing an executive order to pull out US forces over six months and disavow any US commitment to defend any NATO country. He signed the document live on air and held it up to the camera, his massive signature covering half the page. He liked signing pieces of paper on camera.

The news that the US was leaving NATO triggered the European response to everything: a summit in Brussels, attended by the remainder of NATO. To say it was chaotic was an understatement. The Canadians earnestly stated their commitment to NATO which was received with the grateful eyes of a mortgage defaulting parent being offered a child’s piggy-bank. The Turks glowered at everyone. The French and the Germans immediately flew to Moscow. The British looked pained and paralyzed and announced a defence pact with New Zealand. The Hungarians wrote down everything everybody said. In Russian.

The Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians had their own meeting, with the Finns and Swedes quietly sitting in. The Poles revealed a secret, to gasps.

The moment the last US plane lifted off, that very moment, Russian troops ploughed across the border and annexed another chunk of Ukraine. The Ukrainians, with limited support from the British, Poles and Baltic states, put up a noble, robust and doomed defence, surrendering after three weeks of vicious fighting. The EU made a very robust speech at the UN.

A new summit attempted to confront the reality: that for the first time in over 75 years, European nations were now solely responsible for their own defence. There was no Deus Ex America to save them from the Russians.

As with so many challenges facing Europe, the problem was not finding the right or even credible solution. A small group of nations proposed the creation of a Combined European Defence Force, putting into physical existence the reality that Europe was both big enough and wealthy enough to defend itself from almost any threat, if it had the will.

As ever, it was the will that was the problem for Europe. The new Le Pen government in France was only remaining in NATO, critics said, to wreck NATO from the inside, and was openly hostile to contributing to the defence of the Baltic states. Germany’s political system was dominated by Russian penetration and overly optimistic free traders concerned only really with German exports. The British were divided between a pro-Russian left and an anti-European right that couldn’t really believe the US had left, and openly discussed some sort of merger with the US and Canada to guffaws from even their ideological allies in the new administration in Washington.

Having said that, neither France nor Germany was dumb enough not to recognise that US withdrawal also presented a huge commercial opportunity. A European Army in whatever form it took would need to purchase fighters, drones, tanks and all the high tech infrastructure needed to operate them effectively. The problem was that those nations genuinely concerned for their safety, within striking distance of the Russian border, were out of patience. As they looked at the tent cities holding refugees from Ukraine dotted throughout their countries, they saw the threat for real, and decided that their foot-dragging neighbours, whilst free to join, would not be permitted to hold them back.

The Treaty of Warsaw, creating a European Defence Community, was signed by Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Norway, Finland and Sweden. A request by Hungary to join was humiliatingly rejected as long as FIDESZ remained in office, and a robust method to expel rogue members was put in place. Unlike previous aspirational political compacts, the treaty clearly outlined what forces from each nation would be transferred to a combined Continental European Defence Command (CEDC) under a Supreme Commander, European Forces (SCEUR). The treaty dealt with wavering nations by formally transferring command of the assigned units for a fixed two year period with a 12 month period required for a nation to regain command early. A respected Polish general was appointed on the same day, with a Finnish deputy. The treaty also committed CEDC to purchasing specific numbers of fighters, tanks and other equipment and to raising a volunteer force in addition to existing transferred national troops by specific dates. Members that failed to reach their targets would be suspended from voting and possibly expelled. Finally, CEDC agreed to raise a €100 billion bond to fund the new force, with the money earmarked to be spend primarily in the member nations unless the equipment was unavailable. This particular clause caused ructions in the United States, where the new administration discovered that, having stepped away from Europe, it had far less leverage on getting its share of European defence procurement. Anti-NATO Republicans were shocked to see the big defence firms suddenly develop an interest in Democratic congressional candidates.

The response in Berlin and Paris was different. Le Pen flew into a rage on discovering, a week later, that the wily Swedish prime minister had secured British membership of the organisation by agreeing to English being the official working language, a proposal that had few objectors. He also agreed that the next supreme commander of the CEDC would be British. In return, the British contributed both physically and financially.  The French president found herself being lambasted in the National Assembly for allowing France be outmanouvered, especially given that huge defence contracts were about to be issued and France, having refused to join, was not eligible to seek them. In the Bundestag, a different state of affairs reigned, where those in the German parliament who had always supported a European army were now demanding of the government why Germany was not joining it? Again, German arms manufacturers were asking the same questions their French counterparts were: why was Germany not in line for its share?

The French government had to settle for an association with the CEDC where France could bid for contracts in return for a financial contribution to the organisation, as the Baltic states vetoed France joining as long as Le Pen was president because “we believe her” about not defending them. It was humiliating, so much so that her two-term centrist predecessor returned from his honeymoon to announce that he had changed his mind and would seek a third term on the pledge of France committing to the CEDC fully from day one. Looking fit and tanned in a crisp white open-necked shirt as he strolled through Charles De Gaulle holding hands with his beautiful new wife, he told the gathered media that it was obscene that Le Pen had created a situation where “Les Rosbifs” were taking a greater role in Europe’s defence than the republic. “An attack on Finland, an attack on Estonia is an attack on France!” he declared.

The German government agreed to the terms quietly and it went through the Bundestag with only the extremes of left and right objecting. The German Constitution was amended to permit the transfer of command of a section of the Bundesweher and Luftwaffe to SCEUR. Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands quickly joined. The Italian parliament erupted into a blazing row nominally over the European Defence Community treaty but in reality over a string of political corruption prosecutions. The Italian president and former ECB president rang the young Polish President to reassure her that despite the political drama, if Russia invades, “Italy will not be found wanting.” Ireland called for the United Nations to do something.

In Moscow, the aging Putin, seeing the lay of the land, decided to mobilize quickly, ordering a build up on the Estonian border before the CEDC could be organised. When his generals revealed that the actual ability of European forces was now that they could inflict serious damage on Russia’s forces, probably not enough to stop them but enough to turn the war into a long-running conflict that Russia could not afford, Putin let it be known that Russia would consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons if European forces did not capitulate quickly. He had never really believed in the concept of the NATO nuclear umbrella for one simple reason: the nations that needed it most had no nuclear weapons of their own, and Paris, London and Washington were simply not going to invite retaliation on their own soil despite all the bluster.

That night, the Polish president, accompanied by the Baltic and Finnish presidents put out an address in English. She announced that, on hearing the Russian threat to detonate tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, the five countries had been working on a Polish-led nuclear weapons programme, and that they had the ability to respond with short-range weapons in response to any Russian first use.

“We cannot destroy Russia,” she declared. “But we can respond in Kaliningrad, Belarus, and even in a city President Putin holds dear, so let the president understand us very clearly. We will never use nuclear weapons first. But we will respond in kind. We will, after this broadcast, communicate to you the size and yield of these weapons, and you will realise they can be carried by a single fighter, a drone, a fishing boat, a team of special forces with huskies over a border or even on the back of a truck sitting in St. Petersburg traffic. If we, the leaders of our respective countries dies in a first strike, the protocol is in place to retaliate. Do not test us on this, Mr President.”

The Great Low Tax Shoutdown

It’s funny the way a phrase enters the political lexicon. From Garrett Fitzgerald’s “flawed pedigree” to Albert Reynolds’ “that’s women for you”, there’s no guarantee that the meaning of the phrase will remain attached to the original intention of the speaker. The response to Leo Varadkar’s remark about “people who get up early in the morning” was fascinating. People on the Consensus Left commentariat immediately described it as an attack on anyone not working for whatever reason, and Fine Gael basically backed away and if not exactly disowned the remark certainly didn’t nail it to the proverbial political mast.

The funny thing is that, in my experience, there were large sections of the country who agreed with it, and not just the wealthy or professional classes either. They saw it not as an attack on welfare (there’s hardly any anti-welfare vote in any class in this country) but an endorsement of the ordinary workers who pay the taxes that fund everything.

Yet they were basically shouted off the stage by the Consensus Left who are to current political debate what the Catholic lay fanatics were to the state in its first fifty years of existence. I mention the Catholic lay fanatics because I was reminded this week of the disruption of Sean O’Casey’s “The Plough and the Stars” by Catholic fundamentalists because there was reference to prostitution in the play, and its significance. The shouting down of social reality in a play not because it is a social issue but because the playwright dared to raise it in contravention of the then Catholic consensus.

We are, as a country, incredibly susceptible to groupthink, and the latest concept to be hoisted up before the people as a golden calf to be worshipped is the idea that “nobody wants tax cuts”. Wait and see when I post this on Twitter: I’ll be inundated with people telling me that I’m a Thatcherite neo-liberal (I’m actually more left wing than most of those who attack me. I support property taxes, for one) but more importantly, those attacking will trip over themselves to try to suggest that those advocating tax reduction are a tiny and unrepresentative minority out of step with the majority.

It’s bollocks. Don’t get me wrong: there is a very significant section of the country who will always support increased public spending over tax reduction, and many of them do not benefit from it directly, aside from the No Tax Cuts people who curiously insist upon talking in Take Home Pay terms. But talk to non-political people about politics, and time after time two issues do light up the eyes. The first is that sentences for violent crimes seem to be very light, and the second is that taxes are higher than is fair.

At this point in the debate, I normally get the “I would happily pay higher taxes for better services” people come galloping down the hill. And why not? It’s a very noble position, and perfectly reasonable. I’m not an ideological big government/small government person. Sometimes big government is needed: it wasn’t a sub-contracted private security firm that fought its way up Omaha beach. But the Happily Pay gang are very specific about what they’re against: “You can stick your €5 tax cut!”. But ask them what specifically giving the HSE the extra €100m extra instead of a €5 tax cut will get, in detail, in terms of specific service improvement, and suddenly the charging horde does a Holy Grail and runs away. They don’t like talking value for public spending.

It’s the strangest thing: once the concept of more money is agreed, they lose interest, with little interest in how its spent.

What’s more noticeable is how the centre-right in Ireland have bought the logic, almost apologizing for the idea that Irish workers might keep a little more of their own money. It’s simply wrong. There’s little reason to believe that visible tax reduction is an unpopular concept. After all, its chief opponents are people who will never not vote left anyway.

Having said that, let me bang on once again for the argument that FG should be advocating tax rebates rather than tax cuts. A bit of showmanship here is worth the effort: let the tax payers hold the lump sum cheque in their hands as a tangible example of tax reduction. Indeed, as the next general election approaches, it can be postdated for after the election, so that a new government would have the right to cancel the cheques. Let that be something worth debating in the next party leaders debate.

 

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Time to move the capital out of Dublin?

athlone

Previously published in The Times (Ireland Edition).

Let’s move the capital out of Dublin. Sounds mad, right? If you’re thinking that, well, you’re in good company because my illustrious editor thought the same when I suggested the idea. But hear me out.

Being capital of a country is a prestigious thing. It means hosting parliaments, supreme courts, government buildings, the executive. It brings with it a certain degree of what could best be described as economic welly, with the salaries of members of parliament and their advisors and all their support staff and families, all on good money, being spent locally. It draws in foreign leaders, embassies, lobbyists, demonstrations, and the odd summit. All who need to be housed and fed, and quite a few not too fussy about value because someone else is picking up the tab.

In short, being a national capital is a money spinner.

But here’s the thing: Dublin, like New York, Sydney, Toronto and Johannesburg doesn’t need that sort of money, because it is big enough and economically attractive enough to lure what we really want. Foreign money. Foreign investment. And in that regard, being a capital is almost a hindrance, with many of those people associated with government using up precious space and housing in Dublin but not adding to Dublin by generating new money. Instead, they’re spending our own money which we had in the country in the first place anyway. Dublin wants value added money.

Supposing, instead, we decided to move the capital. Where? That’s up for debate, but I’d suggest building a new town somewhere in the midlands, planned, as Canberra and Brasilia were, for the purpose of being a capital city. A huge project to create a new economic hub, funded by taxpayer money we spend anyway, in a region that actually would feel the benefit from millions in new spending.

A new parliament, supreme court, Department of the Taoiseach, Aras an Uachtaran, a new airport and rail link, new schools, hospitals, embassies, all planned because we would know almost exactly who would move there.

Would it be expensive to build initially? Yes, of course. But consider again the buildings we could free up in Dublin. Indeed, if we were really ambitious, we could move most of RTE out there too, and free up that prime development land in Donnybrook. Leinster House would make a fine hotel, and it’s not like we’re proud of much that has happened in there since independence anyway. After all, the first few Dails didn’t even meet there.

Is it ambitious? Yes, it is, and not without controversy. We’d need a referendum, and it is quite possible that we’d never get it passed not because the country loves Dublin (as every All Ireland proves) but because there’d be war over what county would get it.

Then there’d be another war once the lucky county is designated and the local Down With This Sort Of Thing brigade do a Shell-to-Sea and wail that it’ll bring terrorist attacks and transsexuals or even transsexual terrorists. But it’ll allow us to kill a load of birds with one giant stone made of money. As part of the design, we can put in a state of the art refugee camp, traveller halting site, wind farm, prison, waste incinerator and (if we can get the water) maybe even a nuclear power plant, all as part of the package. No cherry picking. The county gets all this lovely spending or none, take it or leave it.  

We bang on about how much we pay our politicians and how much lobbyists are paid to influence them, so let’s make them all spend their money in a region that needs it. Same with demonstrations. If people want to march on parliament, rather than have them block up the streets of Dublin, let them go to the new capital, where they can march along streets specially designed for demonstrations and buy their cans of Coke and Twixs and sandwiches from local shops glad of the business.

We could even designate a libel-free speakers corner near parliament where you can shout your head off without fear of legal retribution. There’d be a whole stream of axe grinding head-the-balls dying to shout abusive things at passersby and inform their fellow citizens of conspiracies involving the EU and giant lizards. Some people will make the trip just for that.

Yes, it is a very radical proposition, I get that. It would take years to plan, and there is the slightest hint of decentralisation (remember that?) about it. But would it be that bad for our leaders to get away from Dublin with its centre of the universe views? True, the politicians won’t like it. It’s a bit like a political version of the Shannon Stopover, kidnapping them and making them live in Portlaoise. Still, that’ll learn ‘em.

Not convinced? Fair enough. How about we start with a pilot scheme? We could move the Seanad. Sure they’re all just a bunch of jumped up county councillors anyway.

Or we could go for an even more radical proposition. We could move the Seanad around the country like a circus, every week meeting in a different county. The locals would be glad of the business, local schoolkids could be brought down to see the majesty of parliamentary democracy in action, senators could get to wine and dine their county councillor electors, and we could lease the existing Seanad chamber out to turn into something useful.

My money is on a Starbucks.   

It’s time to debate national security. And yes, it SHOULD be a divisive debate.

Imagine we only had a minister of state running the Department of Health. Imagine the outrage. Yet minister for defence? We don’t give it a second thought. We are, on the subject of national safety, incredibly complacent, with “neutrality” the boiled 7UP solution to all ails. We don’t debate defence issues.
Oh, we claim we do: ask any TD and they’ll talk at length at the need to improve the terms and condition of Defence Forces personnel, and rightly so. They might also get very agitated at any suggestion of closing barracks in their constituencies, with all those paypackets appreciated locally. But ask them what the Defence Forces are actually for, what’s its specific mission, or how they should carry it out, and it becomes much more vague. Ask TDs about airspace or patrolling our waters and there’ll almost be a flippant answer, that stuff like that is for “the big boys” and not little countries like Ireland. Ask them about giving our personnel the proper equipment and they start getting cheap in a way they never would with any other public expenditure. As for actual weapons, like fighters or warships or missiles, suddenly, particularly on the left, they’re an indulgence, toys for the boys.

As with everything else in a country prone to groupthink, there’s a collective belief that defence is simply not an issue in the country, and an open hostility to anyone who suggests otherwise. Despite the fact that there is significant reason to believe that the Russians are active in our waters near transatlantic cables, and that we have suffered a very significant cyberattack by criminal elements on our national health service. 

Within our political system, complacency about national safety is what abortion used to be: the untouchable third rail of Irish politics. But even that is changing now. There’s certainly not anything close to majority support for joining NATO, but I believe there is significant support in the country to open the debate if not about NATO but identifying our defence needs and finally deciding to spend the money to meet them. 

If a party, presumably Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael were to join Independent Kildare TD Cathal Berry in saying that yes, this is a serious issue and yes, we are going to have to spend money on it, the usual suspects will kick off. But that’s what they always do.

I’m convinced there’s a less noisy but equally significant section of the country that wants this issue openly and honestly debated. It doesn’t mean we’re going to automatically make any decision, or even change what we are currently doing, but turning the subject into a normal political issue worthy of debate is a worthy exercise in itself. 

The EU can’t create an army. But it can buy fighters.

There’s a lot of talk in the current climate about that great Continental mirage, a European Army. It’ll never happen, not unless there’s a radical change in the European situation. Even a Russian invasion of Ukraine is unlikely to shake up the complacency of Europeans on defence issues.
However, with a bit of imagination Europe could help itself make a leap towards better self defence. One of the problems facing European defence is that the countries that are serious about defence (normally as a result of proximity to the Russian border) lack the financial resources to buy the high-cost tanks, fighters, drones and command and control systems and training needed to operate them. Poland and the Baltic States take their defence seriously, and with that the defence of Europe, but lack the cash of the less enthused.
So here’s a thought: what if the EU invested in the fighters and other equipment needed, buying them directly, and leased them to the frontline states? It would allow the frontline states to spend their limited resources on training and maintaining their service numbers. It would also allow the EU to ensure compatibility, and invest in military technology as the vast majority of the equipment would be bought and manufactured in Europe.                    I suspect it might be one defence issue where European consensus might be possible: European governments have traditionally been quite enthusiastic about selling weapons. 
Of course, there’d have to be safeguards to prevent countries using it as an excuse to cut their own defence budgets. But that’s the beauty of it: put in a minimum NATO style minimum defence spend and it’ll only be the enthusiastic countries that will be able to access it anyway.
And Ireland? Would we benefit from it? Not without increasing our defence spending. But it might allow us to spend more on paying our soldiers, sailors and airmen to actually stay in the Defence Forces. As for drawing down funds for capital defence big spends, one or two submarines wouldn’t go amiss for keeping an eye on our vital undersea cables, nor an A400M Airbus military transport for getting our citizens out of hotspots like Afghanistan. We could even share fighter pilot training costs with Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, and acquire that other novelty: sovereign Irish airspace.