Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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The Right to Housing might not be as straightforward as you would think.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 9, 2017 in Irish Politics

container housingPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition. 

There’s a standard dance to be performed when a left-wing activist wishes to promote the idea of a constitutional right to housing, which reared its head once again for discussion last week.

He or she will tell tales of the legitimate hardship of many, wrapped up in the cloak of outrage of What Sort of Country Are We? Then lob in Will Somebody Please Think Of The Children, and then, just for good measure, it’ll all be drizzled with a good dose of The Men of 1916 and Was It For This? There’ll be plenty of emotion and finger-pointing, all with the suggestion that once it is a right, that’s it: problem solved.

As it happens, I agree with a right to housing. As with healthcare, the reality is that a capitalist free-market society can only exist with broad consent, and you won’t get that consent without people having decent homes to live in. A shortage of affordable housing of an acceptable standard is a serious threat to confidence in the capitalist system, and smart centre-right politicians including Fianna Fail and the Tories, from World War Two onwards recognised this. That recognition helped keep those parties in power for a generation. Shelter isn’t a privilege; it’s both a right and a necessity. If capitalism isn’t capable of providing shelter for all, then we should all be socialists.

What annoys me isn’t the actual goal of a right to housing, but the fact that the commitment to delivery is so wafer thin by the alphabet left. Many on the left who do the right to housing dance are similar to those who protest against nuclear power and in favour of renewable energy.

Right up to the moment some company tries to build a wind farm.

Then they’ll either vanish or else do the usual support for the concept but object to the actual details of the practice. They’ll be first up to wax lyrical about housing, but any sort of local opposition, even to publicly-built housing, and they’ll find some reason to join the crowd outside shouting at the county chief executive who wants to actually build it. The alphabet left don’t do spine. They’re terrified of the mob turning on them, and so pretend to lead it, a trickle of tell-tale nervous sweat running down their backs as they keep a wary eye on its direction.

They don’t do courage of conviction.  

There’s an old and beautifully-named concept in Marxism called the “transitional demand”. It’s the idea of a far left group issuing a demand for something which they know can’t be achieved, or privately don’t really want to be achieved. A right to housing is an old classic, suitably big but vague enough to be kicked about without going into the specifics of where to build, what to build, and how to pay for it. If they’d been around in 1916, they’d have been in the mob screaming at the volunteers being led out, not for rising up against the British, but for not implementing a universal healthcare and building programme whilst being the provisional government for a week.

Even if we could get the proverbial bricks and mortar details together as to how to build all this needed housing, what specific right would we put before the people in a constitutional referendum? What would be the wording?

Every citizen shall have a right to housing?

Every citizen? So this doesn’t apply to refugees or EU citizens or non-Irish? Is that a hate-crime?

OK. Every resident of Ireland shall have a right to housing. 

But what do we mean by housing? Is a hotel room housing? A Bed & Breakfast?

I suspect the housing rights people would disagree.

Every resident of Ireland shall have a right to non-temporary housing.

Now we’re getting somewhere. But a question. What’s to stop, say, a Times columnist tootling down to the High Court and demanding a free house?

Ah, but you fancy-pants columnists wouldn’t accept what was offered to you, and the danger you could be miles away from your nearest smashed avocado toast depot, says you.

So a person would have to accept what was offered to fulfil their right to housing? Isn’t that actually a reduction in one’s current rights, where one can refuse a number of offers of council housing?

Of course, the High Court would say that I could exercise my right to housing without state intervention, which would be true. But wouldn’t that then recognise, constitutionally, the concept of a means test? That the state had not only a right, but perhaps even an obligation to ensure that by giving a limited resource, a home, to an individual who may well be able to contribute to housing themselves that it was in fact depriving another lower income individual of the exercise of their right to housing?

Does that not mean that the state would actually be obliged to set variable rents based on an individual’s income, be it salary or social welfare? Couldn’t that oblige the state, therefore, to even increase rents on existing state tenants by court order, to free up revenue to build more housing to vindicate other unhoused people’s right to housing?

A constitutional obligation on the state to means test? Not on Paul Murphy’s watch, God damn it! Out comes the red pen again:

Every resident of Ireland shall have a right to non-temporary housing without regard to their income.

Now, literally, everybody can demand a free house. Air BnB will be delighted, and the housing waiting lists will soar as every South Dublin rugby-playing kid stands in the queue of the housing rights agency waiting for the keys to their free gaff, as Dad shouts at Matt Cooper inside the Seven Series outside. The official will peer out the window and grind his teeth, knowing that Sebastian in front of him here has as much constitutional right to a free house as the next fella, despite his father bringing in the big bucks as Chairman of Anglo-Ukrainian Bank. Dad’s solicitor at Countem, Foldem and Trouserem, or rather, his junior Arabella whom Sebastian quite fancies, has filled in the paperwork immaculately, unlike the poor fella who is in the queue before him who was never great at the old reading and writing and so has been sent home to try to fill the forms in, moving to the bottom of the housing list once again.

Once again, the Irish alphabet left will have put another nice tasty taxpayer funded number into the pockets of the educated Irish upper middle classes. In the words of the late Claude Rains: I’m shocked! Shocked!

All a load of nonsense, right? Yeah, you’re probably right. After all, this country, to be fair, has absolutely no experience whatsoever of what was thought to be a relatively simple constitutional amendment being inserted into Bunreacht na hEireann and for the thing to go haywire, being interpreted to mean something completely different by the courts.

Nope. That’s never happened before.

I look forward to an elderly Paul Murphy coming out of retirement to campaign to repeal the right to housing after it makes the government fund a chateau in Provence for Michael O’Leary after he goes to court to vindicate his right to housing.

Because we never said that right had to be exercised in Ireland, did we?

This thing could just run and run.  

 

 
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Should Fianna Fail go north?

Posted by Jason O on Aug 6, 2017 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition
Former Westminster MP Eamonn DeValera

Former Westminster MP Eamonn DeValera

Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition

Crossing the border must be a very strange experience for the SDLP. North of it, they’re a dying party, a party of the past, a party that one looks at and thinks one good cold snap in the winter and half their membership are off to that great count centre in the sky. It’s probably an unfair image, but that’s the image. Images of the SDLP on the telly are those of John Hume in the 1970s and maybe with David Trimble and Bono from 19 years ago. Go on, I dare you: name the last three leaders of the SDLP. There was Gerry Fitt, John Hume, then Mark Durkan, then…that woman? Your man with the head? Was there another woman? No? I had to look them up. If you want to know how far they’ve fallen, consider that in the Northern Assembly elections in 1998 the SDLP came first in first preference over every other party.  

Now there’s talk of perhaps a merger with Fianna Fail, and when they come south, you could hardly blame them. Down here they’re welcomed onto the platform of a Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour ard fheis, and the response is crackling. Standing ovations. Smiles. People nodding approvingly at each other. Because the SDLP are the good guys. When those other fellas were taking up guns and balaclavas the SDLP stood firm and by the ballot. As we did down here. They’re our sort of people.

Could Fianna Fail assimilate them as the opening bid for the party’s entry into the politics of the north? It’s a high stakes gamble. Don’t forget, it won’t be going up against the DUP or UUP looking for their votes, at least, not initially. What is Fianna Fail’s pitch to nationalist or republican voters? In short, unlike the SDLP, it can tell nationalists in the north that it has been, along with Fine Gael, the legitimate leading voice of the Irish people in totality. Sinn Fein just can’t claim that, and northern voters know that too. Quite simply, Fianna Fail has more power than Sinn Fein, in Dublin, in London, in Brussels, in Washington. What’s the Sinn Fein argument against Fianna Fail candidates? No to Dublin rule? Go home to where you came from? Get back across the border and mind your own business? Don’t forget, in the North Sinn Fein are the establishment party who seem to have been in government forever.

Fianna Fail is a populist catch-all party. In its heyday it was almost unique in western democracy as the party that won a plurality of the vote in every single socio-economic group and geographical region. The idea that Fianna Fail could look at half the electorate of Northern Ireland and just write them off goes against the party’s driving credo, There Be Voters In Them Thar Hills!

Could Fianna Fail even pick up soft unionist transfers? Short term, probably not, but picture the long term. Fianna Fail back in government in the south and Prince Charles or even King William and Queen Kate visiting the republic and suddenly nice respectable unionist businessmen and their wives getting invites from the local Fianna Fail candidate to come to the Aras and meet their wonderful majesties. A lovely day is had by all and she looked so beautiful and the President of Eire was there too and it was all just lovely and we met Mr Martin of Fianna Fail who introduced us to his majesty and it was all very tasteful and he seems like a very nice man.

Don’t forget, that’s what Fianna Fail does. It’s like Al Pacino in that film where he plays the devil. They figure out what you want, and unlike the other fellas, it’s been absolutely ages since Fianna Fail shot anybody. That’s not to say there won’t be challenges. What should Fianna Fail do if it wins a seat in the Westminster parliament? Not taking the seat seems, well, silly. But it also puts the party in an awkward position if it’s in government in the Dail and facing the British government in the Commons. But, as Dev discovered with the oath in 1927, Fianna Fail is nothing if not very bendy on these issues. They can respectfully renounce the oath before taking it, and follow the Scottish Parliament tradition of pledging allegiance to the people who sent them there. Fianna Fail can also announce, to avoid causing friction between Dublin and London, that they will only vote on issues affecting Northern Ireland. Which will allow Fianna Fail to not have a policy on NATO or Trident, which would be handy.  

There’s also the other issue about the DUP vs Fianna Fail in Westminster. The DUP are in serious danger, as the dominant party of Ulster unionism, of equating Northern Irish unionism with keeping the hated Tories in power. Juxtapose that with a few nice gay-friendly charming young male and female Fianna Fail MPs being all nice and respectful. That’s the thing about the DUP: they may finally convince a large section of England that if it’s unionism in Northern Ireland that keeps the Tories in, maybe that Jeremy Corbyn is right about getting out of Ireland all together. The sheer comedy value of the more the English see Ulster unionism through a DUP prism, they less they feel committed to it would be, let’s be honest, delicious.

Ideally, Fianna Fail MPs would be at their most comfortable sitting with the SNP, who’d probably be delighted to have them, but that would rub the Dublin-London relationship just a little too much the wrong way. But after getting using to pronouncing Fianna Fail, and the inevitable Tory MPs rhyming it with sail and thinking they’re the first guy to come up with that, the DUP might find having Fianna Fail there to be deeply troubling. A Fianna Fail presence would kill the idea that a united Ireland is handing over good decent Brits to some backward land. If anything, I suspect quite a few Brits listening to Fianna Fail MPs espousing the party’s moderate conservative but let’s not get weird about it pragmatism might even think they’d like to vote for them.     

To cap it all, wouldn’t it be funny if the UK introduced a Kevin O’Higgins style law, as occurred in the Free State after the murder of the justice minister, saying that you have to take your seat or lose it. That if Sinn Fein don’t take the seats, they could be awarded to the runner up. The Tories won’t do it now, for obvious reasons, but at some stage in the future you could imagine a Fianna Fail foreign minister whispering it into the ear of his British counterpart. It could put Sinn Fein in a pickle. Yes, they could go to Westminster and do a “Paisley and the Pope” and make a big song and dance. But let’s not forget: Sinn Fein have two audiences. That carry-on will go down well with their core support in the north.

But in the south, that goes against Sinn Fein’s pitch as the not-Anglophobic party of the progressive future. In short, Fianna Fail heading north will be a game of three dimensional chess, with every move having the potential to have unforeseen consequences on one of the other boards.

 

 
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Traditional Neutrality doesn’t work when you’re fighting Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 18, 2017 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

blofeldPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition. 

I was speaking this week to the managing director of a small Irish software company who was just back from the states. He was telling me that he had been attending a technology conference where one speaker had announced that the Third World War was currently being waged. What had struck him, the Irish businessman told me, was that there was a murmur of agreement about the statement. That this was not a shocker to the delegates. It wasn’t even news.

Every day, across the world there are battles going on, between hackers, private companies, state players, criminals and terrorists, with the battlefield being the online systems that run modern life.

You say this to people of a certain vintage and there’s eye-rolling and some remark about watching too much James Bond. But consider that only last month NATO’s Cyber Defence Centre held a gathering in Talinn, Estonia, of nearly 600 experts in the field to discuss the securing of vital infrastructure from cyberattack. If NATO, the world’s preeminent defence organisation is taking the issue seriously, then it needs to be taken seriously by us too.

There’s still a feeling amongst many ordinary people that the threat is somehow otherworldly, something that doesn’t affect real life or if it does is of nuisance value more than anything else.  But consider someone accessing air traffic control, or the national electricity grid, or wiping electronically stored medical files, or the ATM system. Picture having no food in the house for your children, and having no cash and your cards not working, things that seem minor until suddenly you can’t get diesel for your car or feed a hungry child.

What’s more worrying is the source of the threat. James Comey, the former director of the FBI, told the United States Congress last week that Russia did interfere by a variety of methods in the 2016 US presidential election. That’s one level. An active attempt to shut down, for example, our nation’s electrical grid would paralyse the country and possibly cost lives.

Then consider the culprits. The Russians? Of course? Terrorists? Possibly. But even more so, even, yes, private criminal enterprises with the power not just to commit identity theft or online banking fraud. But using ransomware on major corporate or national systems goes from being a heist to an attack on national infrastructure. Sounds far-fetched, but we’re not talking some guy sitting in an underground lair stroking a cat. We’re talking exceptionally bright hackers in an apartment somewhere, in Moscow, in Lisbon, in Bristol, in Oranmore with the power to inflict damage on vital systems as disruptive as if they’d bombed it.

In recent weeks we’ve talked about the possible need for an Irish intelligence service. It has been raised in the light of the Manchester and London attacks, but the threat spectrum is so much wider, and we need to consider do we have the capacity and the expertise to deal with threats to our national security and economic stability from Islamists to Russian aggression to freelance operators.

Our traditional response, that sure aren’t we grand lads altogether and sure why would anyone have a beef with us is complacent and ends the day a half dozen bodies lie bleeding in the street outside a US multinational, or a commercial drone bought for a grand explodes a homemade IED with ball bearings over Croke Park during the All-Ireland. We are goalkeepers, and they are strikers. We have to be lucky always, they only have to be lucky once.

The old Irish neutrality works on the basis that all players are rational nation states, and no one would be interested in us. That’s no longer true. A future referendum in Ireland on an EU treaty would be of huge interest to the Putin regime who regard weakening the EU as a policy objective. Of course they’d interfere in our campaign. Putting the Putin regime aside, as with so many things in the age of globalisation, even terrorism has been outsourced and made cheaper and accessible to all. The fear of losing all your laptop files is terrorism, albeit at a nuisance level. Shutting down the approach lights to Dublin Airport is a different scale. The difference is that the latter no longer needs a nation state’s resources to carry out. Look at the recent terror attacks: they’re more the act of a terrorist franchise than part of a wide and coordinated conspiracy.

If you believe that traditional neutrality will keep us safe from those attacks, you are mistaken, because many of these attacks may not even be ideological but pure and simple criminal extortion: give us X or Y happens.

We have a fetish in Ireland about military neutrality, and it seems to come in two forms. The first is the sheer terror that we’ll be conscripted to fight in someone else’s reckless foreign adventure, something which doesn’t just happen unless the national political system wants it to happen. The French and Germans, key members of NATO, refused to send troops to engage in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and guess what? Nothing happened to them. Bottom line is that the only people who decide where Irish troops go are the Irish.

The second fetish is about spending money on military equipment. This is by far the more surreal view, mixed in with a weird analysis that we would never apply to any other item of public expenditure. Ask the Irish to spend taxes on an MRI machine, they’ll have no problem, even if we don’t need it. It could sit unused for weeks at a time in the corner of a regional hospital, a hulking totem to what a compassionate people we are. But spend money on tanks or God forbid armed aircraft and it’s the foreign policy equivalent of saying “Candyman” five times into a mirror.

Having said that, spending money on national security, from terrorism to infrastructure security from  cyber-attack is something an Irish government could justify. Of course, we would have to go through the usual carry-on such as finding an Irish name for the agency that nobody will remember, a huge debate over the terms, conditions and pensions of its employees, another row over where the first director should be a guard or some ex FBI guy, and then finally the Healy-Raes will kick up blue bloody murder unless it’s based in Kerry.

Yes, we’ll go through all that rigmarole, but here’s the big deal. Such is the task of monitoring and acting quickly on intelligence against threats that we’re going to need help from whomever is the best at this, and that means the Americans, the Brits, the French, the Germans, NATO, basically all the people we say we have nothing to do with because we’re neutral. We need the National Security Agency and GCHQ to be listening in to our phones and reading our messages and teaching us how to do it. We’ll need our own well-staffed and equipped GCHQ.

See, that’s the issue. There is no neutrality anymore, at least, not as we know it.  We are under attack now. The HSE was attacked two weeks ago. We are a target rich environment as an EU member, the backdoor to the UK and a major recipient of US investment.

It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when. We need to start spending the money.

If we succeed the public will probably never know. But if we fail it’s all we will ever talk about.

 
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News from the Future: President Gonzalez survives assassination attempt by Secret Service Drone: Hackers suspected.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 17, 2017 in Fiction, News from The Future!, Not quite serious.

News Future logoDateline: Washington DC, 2042.

A gun battle between US Secret Service drones and another USSS drone believed hacked by as yet unknown sources narrowly avoided the assassination of President Gonzalez as he spoke in the Rose Garden in the White House earlier this morning. The president had been making remarks to a delegation from the European Parliament when a protocol detected an attempted hack of one of his BodyGuard, and ordered other drones to secure the president. Seconds later, the rogue drone drew its sub-machine gun but was hit dozens of times by other drones as two human Secret Service offices rushed the president away from the scene and into the secure bunker in the building.

The rogue drone was completely incapacitated by gunfire. The Secret Service moved quickly to reassure both the public and elected leaders that the service’s firewall had worked exactly as planned, detecting the hacking attempt and on determining it could not block it, delaying it long enough to mobilize other drones to eliminate the threat. The USSS also pointed out that the BodyGuard, built by McDonnell-Douglas Robotics, are designed specifically to prevent a mass hacking.

Secret serviceThe director of the FBI, the Comey-Mueller 3000 AI Entity, has announced a full investigation. This is the second time a protective drone has been hacked to attack its principal. In 2035 former President George W. Bush was attacked by his own drone on his ranch in Midland, Texas. The drone was neutralized with a chainsaw by the president after been beaten with a frying pan by Mrs Bush. The FBI later arrested a neo-Nazi cell angry with the former president over his condemnation on racial attacks.

 
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All hail our new robot Taoiseach.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 15, 2017 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

robotPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition.

“Colossus: The Forbin Project”, is a great science fiction movie from the late 1960s which is a favourite of mine. It tells the story of a scientist, Charles Forbin, who builds a supercomputer for the president of the United States. The computer, Colossus, will control America’s nuclear arsenal under the thinking that if every country knows that the US can’t be psychologically bluffed anymore, they won’t dare attack it. Nobody thinks to test the damn thing before they turn it on, and when they do, Colossus announces that things would be much better if it ran everything, and it means everything. It then suggests that anyone who disagrees with it might like to discuss the matter with the business end of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Much hijinks ensue.

I’m reminded of the movie every time I read or hear a discussion about technology and robots replacing human jobs,  which is beginning to happen so often that I suspect it’s the robots writing the pieces.  But every time I see it, I always think an Irish Colossus would work quite well, if only because it would blow the whistle on so much of the spoofery of our elected leaders.

Take the latest observation from the Healy-Rae Party on the matter of the impairing effect or not of three pints of Guinness. To his credit, Danny Healy-Rae is not much different from many other backbenchers in both houses, shooting their mouths off looking for attention. The country looks over in their direction, rolls its eyes, hopes that the BBC or the late night US comedians don’t notice, and we all carry on about our business.

We’re missing a trick here.

See, if we had our very own automated Colossus-like RoboTaoiseach, it could approach the whole situation differently. First of all, it would recognise that Deputy Healy-Rae has been sent to the Dail by the people of Kerry, and those good people have a right to be heard.

Then it could maybe rapidly telephone poll the good deputy’s flock. Do they actually want to be able to get behind the wheel of their cars with a few jars on-board? If half of them back up their elected representative, RoboTaoiseach could then announce a pilot scheme, where drink driving thresholds in Kerry could be reduced for six months to see what happens. Finally, RoboTaoiseach could organise checkpoints along the Kerry border to ensure that the experiment doesn’t accidentally spill, pardon the pun, into the rest of the country.

We then sit back and watch. Maybe it works fine. Maybe he’s right, and the issue of late night rural transport is resolved with only minor issues. Or maybe late night Kerry turns in “Mad Max in Killarney” and we’re stacking up the bodies, all victims of The Healy-Rae Law, which of course RoboTaoiseach will naturally call it. Credit where it’s due.

Either way, we learn a valuable lesson.  Firstly, that the people of a county and the person they send to Dublin will be listened to.

Secondly, imagine the wave of sheer terror that would sweep across our politicos if they thought that RoboTaoiseach would actually attempt to at least test drive every attention seeking utterance they made. Even worse, making sure the voters knew that the latest wheeze was the initiative of senator X or deputy Y.

Ah, but they’re a wily bunch, you say. They’ll just keep calling for more spending on things.

A demand for more money for Bus Eireann workers from Deputy X? Sure. No problem.

When RoboTaoiseach deducts an extra €1.50 a week from every PAYE workers’ payslip, and deducts €1.50 from every pensioner’s weekly payment, and proudly declares it the Deputy X Bus Eireann Tax to build up the fund to deliver on his demand, we might see a change of heart.

Scrap the water charges? Easy-peasy: here’s the Deputy Murphy General Taxation Water Levy as ordered.

Across the land politicians would start sweating every time a microphone was put under their nose for fear that RoboTaoiseach might hear them and try to implement whatever they spew out, consequences and all.

All that guff about reforming the Seanad and neutrality and a right to housing? Watch the looks of sheer horror on their faces as RoboTaoiseach starts reading through Fianna Fail and Fine Gael manifestos and actually implementing what’s in them.

Watch RoboTaoiseach, listening to a rural politician complain about poor mobile phone service in his parish start assembling a mast to resolve the issue, and then take the deputy to task l on the floor of the house when the same deputy objects to masts being built in the parish.

There’d be political trousers destroyed everywhere.

Eventually though you could see Irish politicians come to love RoboTaoiseach the same way they love the county manager system. They’d almost certainly end up being delighted at being able to go home to the parish and nod sagely at their disappointed constituents.

“Sure look it,” they’d say, eyes darting around to make sure there was no RoboTaoiseach drone hovering overhead listening out for rogue political promises.

“Of course I want to get the county billions without paying any taxes. This parish deserves nothing less,” he’d whisper.

“But that bloody robot up in Dublin…”

Just in case you’re wondering, this column was not written by a robot…was not written by a robot…was not written…

 
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We don’t really want a well-run country.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 1, 2017 in Irish Politics

Previously posted in The Times Irish Edition about 2 years ago. I’m reposting because I think it gets to the nub of many of our problems. 

Almost every week one of those head shaking fist clenching what-sort-of-country-are-we issues charges to the top of the national attention span. This week it was a homeless family sleeping on the streets of Dublin. Last week it was the size of apartments being built in Dublin. A few weeks ago it was people on trollies in A&E.

The response is always the same. Bloody politicians. If they’d only give a damn or stop counting their expenses for five minutes we could get this thing fixed. If they weren’t so out of touch. If they’d only care for five minutes about what The Ordinary People want, we’d all be grand.

Here’s the thing: Irish politicians are painfully in touch with what The Ordinary People want. Say what you will about TDs, they can be corrupt, two-faced, stupid, bigoted, but the one thing they can’t be is lazy. If you as a sitting deputy don’t pay constant attention, through regular contact with your constituents, you will lose your seat. There have been a handful of exceptions, nearly all in Dublin South. But the rule stands. Irish politicians as a bunch lie awake at night worrying about what their constituents are worrying about. Not just that. They’re a remarkably flexible bunch when it comes to winning votes too. If there is a thing that will make it more likely that you’ll give them your first preference vote, they’ll do it. Whether it’s a new policy or even possibly sexually pleasuring you, if, in their mind it seriously increases the chance of the scratch on the day, they’ll seriously consider it.

Which is why A&E and urban planning and homeless service provision is the way it is. Not only will those issues not win them votes when they fix them, but the actual act of fixing may cost them votes. It’s the product of the Irish silo mind, the inability to only see the issue you care about and none of the benefits or costs attached to that specific issue.

Take A&E for example. Supposing a plan is put in front of Leo which will ensure that every person who attends A&E will get a proper bed if needed, and get through the process in two hours or less. Great news, you’d think. But as our dashing, reforming minister reads the report he realises that the cost of making the plan work is to radically change the working conditions, hours, etc  of nurses, and not in a good Bertie Ahern There’s A Few Quid For Your Trouble kind of way either.

Now he has a political decision. If he implements it, he could cost his party the actual votes of furious nurses, their families, and those odd people in the country who believe nurses can never ever do wrong, possibly because they sub-consciously associate them with nuns. But, on the plus side of his political balance sheet, there’ll be the votes of the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of voters grateful that finally one of their elected leaders has shown the leadership to fix the perennial A&E trollies crisis.

Except there isn’t. If Leo fixed A&E there’d hardly be any votes in it at all, because that’s not how Irish voters vote. They vote, for the most part, in anger or for local bucko who got your granny up the list for her new knee after she had that fall and her in her 83rd year. Reward a party for a job well done? Not in this country because there’s always something to be furious about. Just listen to Joe.

It’s almost counterintuitive, but there are more votes to be had in not fixing problems. You don’t mobilise the vested interest against you, who will actually allocate preferences on the issue. Same with homelessness. Hardly anybody will vote on how a politician deals with this issue. But try and build a homeless shelter at the end of their street and see how quickly it affects your first preference vote. Proper urban planning? Same again. The number of people who vote on the issue will be in the dozens, and they all probably know Fintan O’Toole personally. Safer to do nothing.

The truth is that our electoral system, based on small geographical areas, is almost purpose built to prevent national or strategic issues from being discussed at election time. Maybe there are a few thousand people across the country who care passionately about proper planning of our cities, but under the current system their votes are dissipated across dozens of constituencies and rendered harmless. If we had some sort of national list system it might be a different story, but we haven’t nor will we ever.

Ireland is arguably one of the most effective democracies in the world, because our TDs do have a de facto window into the soul of the Irish people and often see what the people really want. They didn’t want to bail out the banks, comes the angry shout from the jutting chinned hipster at the back with the “Corbyn!” badge. No, but even behind that what the really wanted was stability, and that’s what they got.

Because that’s the real ability of a successful politician: not to listen to what they say they want, which is nearly always said for the consumption of their peers, but to know what they feel, what they really want.

Mouthing off about social justice whilst trousering tax cuts. That’s the real Irish voter soul on display.

 
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The left are now the status quo conservatives.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 25, 2017 in Irish Politics, Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

Harold Wilson TimePreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition

In 1963 Harold Wilson, then leader of the British Labour Party, made a famous speech where he contrasted the then governing Tories with Labour. He painted the government as a party of the past, and described a future Labour government shaping Britain in the “white heat” of a scientific and technological revolution. Wilson would later write about replacing the cloth cap with the laboratory coat as the uniform of the British working class.

As with many things about Harold Wilson, the hyperbole struggled to match the reality of him in government. But what was interesting was the fact that Labour, as in 1945, was the party of new ideas. The left stood for change, the right the party of the rotten status quo. Across Europe, with the SPD in Germany in the 1960s, or Mitterand’s election to the French presidency in 1981, the left were the parties of progress.

What’s striking today is how, from Ireland through the UK to France and elsewhere, the left are now the party of resistance to logical change.

Consider the attitude across Europe of left parties to raising the retirement age. Almost universally there is opposition, early retirement now seen as a totem that must be protected. This despite the fact that the current retirement band, from 50 to 65, takes no account of the increase in life expectancy. It’s not impossible now for someone who takes early retirement at 50 to live beyond 100 and therefore have spent most of their life retired.

That’s not to say there aren’t good reasons for early retirement. Brickies, firefighters and miners all lead working lives which could leave them physically in rag order in a way many office workers will never be. There have to be exceptions. But what’s striking is the refusal of many on the left to confront the reality. That being 65 now is not the same as being 65 in our grandfathers’ time.

Many of the parties of the left, who actively demand more public spending, then refuse to support pension reform which is needed to generate the very revenue required to fund the spending they call for.

It’s almost impossible to find a party of the left in Europe that has any new ideas about how to manage change. Instead, opposition to free trade, Uber and flexible employment laws is in danger of becoming the standard response, not because they think this will make things better but because they literally have no other ideas.

The left has now become the party of the blacksmith, the gas-lamp lighter, the town crier and the  guy who walks in front of cars with a red flag.

What’s most depressing is that now more than ever we need a strong left. Technological change is about to bring a huge challenge to the amount of adequately paid work available compared to the pool of jobseekers. Maybe public works programmes, or a universal basic income will be necessary. But from where I’m sitting, it looks like the left, paralysed by a dirth of new ideas and a Corbynist paranoia of betrayal towards those who do confront the old sacred cows isn’t up to it.

The refusal of the left to consider the inconsiderable could end up strangling the left through simple atrophy. In the UK and France the traditional left is running on the usual “free stuff” platforms and still losing elections. Because they’re just not credible.

Take the minimum wage. It’s not inconceivable that if a country were to introduce a universal basic income, it could make sense to then abolish the minimum wage to allow for the creation of the flexible “gig economy” type jobs that would top up UBI. But can anyone imagine the current left even countenancing that on principle? Even if the evidence emerged that it created more opportunities in a rapidly-automating economy with a labour surplus? To even consider it would lead to denunciations of being a political Judas.     

The problem with the European left is that it has gone from being a dynamic flexible force for change into a rigid defender of status quos and fetishes. It does not see the modern world and globalisation as a force to be harnessed and managed but something to be feared and hidden from, behind borders and tariff barriers. Even though these are very old ideas that barely worked in their day and simply don’t apply in an age where many products have no actual physical form.

There has got to be something learned from the fact that the left have actually gone backwards during the greatest crisis of capitalism in living history.

Having said that, there is a model for the modern left. Consider that the welfare state in both Ireland and Canada was not built as much by the left as the pragmatic centre and centre-right. Despite hysterical finger-pointing by the left, Theresa May, who is not seen as an extremist outside of Corbynista Labour, has that potential too. To make the Tories the British Fianna Fail, a party that trims and bends between aspiration on one side and support for social welfare on the other.

Outrageous to suggest that? Perhaps.

But remember: it’s the voters who decide where the mainstream is. 

 
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Short Fiction: This is Earth One.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 3, 2017 in eNovels & Writing, Fiction, News from The Future!, Not quite serious.

News Future logo

A short story.

When a tiny nation permits a giant software company to take over the running of the country with its new Artificial Intelligence system, there are global consequences.

Not all are predictable, either.

Download: https://issuu.com/omahonyjason/docs/this_is_earth_one_

 
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Why I love Moonraker.

Posted by Jason O on May 27, 2017 in Movies/TV/DVDs

Moonraker“Moonraker”, Roger Moore’s fourth 007 movie, has a bit of a reputation. Rushed into production after “Star Wars” became a massive hit (For Your Eyes Only had been announced at the end of the previous movie), it’s mocked as the movie that finally took Bond over the edge into full self parody.

As it happens, I hate all that self-parody crap that became a feature of the Roger Moore films. There’s one scene in Moonraker, where Bond escapes by driving a hovercraft gondola through the streets of Venice, which is possibly my most loathed scene of all Bond movies. It’s not funny, it’s just moronic. Slapstick, even.

Yet as a movie I love Moonraker. Why?

Because it has all the features that I love of the Bond movies.

It has Hugo Drax, arguably the best Bond villain of all time, with his dry delivery and his “Look after Mr Bond: see that some harm comes to him.”

His own fortune, based on a private space exploration programme, is a concept decades ahead of its time.

His plan is the ultimate in dastardly evil, plotting to murder billions of people.

There’s not one but two huge baddie bases. There are spaceships, and there’s the bit I think is missing from the Craig movies: the goodies arriving in force to blow the crap out of everything, in this case the US Marines with jetpacks and laser rifles.

Then there’s Roger Moore.

As a cynical teenager I came to despise Roger Moore’s Bond as a pisstake. But as I got older I got to see his performance for what it was. He wasn’t playing James Bond. He was playing Roger Moore, and Roger Moore is very watchable.

I’ve always thought there were two things you could do to Moonraker that would radically change the perception of it.

The first was to remove all references to James Bond and replace them with the actor Roger Moore doing a favour for MI6. It would suddenly be a great one-off action adventure.

The second was to edit out the silly stuff like the gondola and (yes) Jaws. The humour in Bond doesn’t come from the gimmicky jokes. It comes from Moore himself, right down to his “A woman?” on meeting a female astronaut. It doesn’t need flying gondolas.

There’s another reason why Moonraker has intrigued me as a movie…

How the hell did Drax convince anybody to go along with the plan?

“Right…I want all you nubile girls to put on these skimpy costumes and come into space with me as we murder all your families using nerve gas….don’t cry dear….oh, by the way, if any of you have ugly children we’ll be throwing them out the window….right…who’s on?”

Finally: bear in mind that Moonraker has probably the best and smuttiest line of the whole series.

Cue: disco version of Shirley Bassey’s theme song.

 
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Great TV you probably missed: Californication.

Posted by Jason O on May 20, 2017 in Great TV you have probably missed

CalifornicationAs you can imagine from the title, David Duchovny’s show “Californication” (Showtime 2007-2014) deals with some very adult themes, and so is chockablock full of strong language and occasional nudity. But it is also funny, telling the story of Hank Moody, a hip indie writer whose cult, edgy bestseller is turned into a romantic comedy starring Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, and how he’s trying to deal (with a mix of casual sex, drink and drugs) with being a sellout in LA. Natascha McElhone stars as his ex-girlfriend and mother of his daughter, but the real break out is Evan Handler, whom you’ll recognise from Sex and the City and The West Wing, as Hank’s agent Charlie and who provides some of the best laughs in the show.

As I said, it’s a bit bawdy, but fun. Sorry, did I say bawdy? OK, it’s actually filthy. But still very funny. Keep an eye out for a very funny cameo by Rob Lowe as nutcase actor Eddie Nero.

The full series is currently available on Netflix UK & Ireland.

 

Copyright © 2017 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.