10 things Irish politicians will never admit.

1. Pensioners are the single most financially comfortable group in Irish society.

2. Short of a suspension of democracy and the press ganging of unemployed workers into construction it is now impossible for Ireland to build enough housing to meet the level of housing we require.

3. Foreign workers make a far more significant contribution to the tax revenue that funds our public services than a large segment of the indigenous population who disproportionately benefit from them.

4. The modest drop in income tax revenue during the Covid lockdown confirmed that a minority of taxpayers carry the majority of the country’s tax burden.

5. The appetite for public spending is endless: there’s hardly a single group of Irish public service users who believe THEIR services are adequately funded.

6. There is relatively little political corruption in Ireland because most Irish politicians are simply not worth bribing because they have no direct power. Most corruption in Ireland is carried out by unelected officials in the public and state funded NGO sector and much of it is not actually legally defined as corruption not by intent but by political inertia.

7. There are no votes in long term planning. In fact, it may cost you votes.

8. Likewise, there are no votes in questioning how well current expenditure is spent. Again, it may cost you votes asking too many questions.

9. It is possible to have a very well-remunerated career in Irish politics without ever having to make an unpopular decision.

10. The “real Ireland” no longer lives in rural areas but overwhelmingly in urban areas in the big towns and cities.


What if…terrorists targeted the mega wealthy?

The assassination of The Richest Man In The World™ (TRM) was the biggest story in the world. The clip of a bullet passing through his skull, caught on a bystander’s phone as he exited a building in San Francisco, instantly became one of the defining images of the 21st century. He was dead before he hit the ground. Interestingly, it was not even to be the most startling event of the day.

That came exactly two hours later, when a handsome AI generated man in a video took credit for the murder. He informed the rapidly increasing number of viewers that an email containing information about the murder had been sent directly to the FBI and would confirm his claim to be the voice of the assassins.

He then introduced himself as George, after “another great revolutionary” and said that he spoke for The 99, an organization dedicated to addressing the wealth imbalance between the mega wealthy and everyone else. He stressed that he was neither on the far right or far left, and that this was not an ideological matter. This was a simple matter of wealth transfer. The murder of TRM, he said, was a statement of intent, a proof of concept as to their seriousness. But no one else need die.

He then published a list of the world’s 200 richest individuals, and offered a deal. If they transferred 10% of their wealth to a stated list of popular banks and micro finance charities across the world, and ordered that the money be distributed equally among every account holder with less than $1000 in their account, they would be safe for one year. As would their families.

George finished by saying that they would act again soon if the individuals did not respond within 72 hours.

Continue reading

America through a cop show.

I have recently been watching the TV show “The Rookie” on Now TV. Now entering its sixth season, the show is about officer John Nolan (Nathan Fillion), a 45 year old construction contractor from Pennsylvania who becomes the oldest rookie in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department. 

It’s a very entertaining police procedural with a light sprinkling of humour, and also, as one binge watches, an interesting insight into how America sees itself on TV.

One of the constant themes of the show is the need for people to be “held accountable”, or the attribution of blame, a theme which the show is very self aware about.

Episode after episode is about working people who end up breaking laws which they simply do not have the financial capacity to obey. Whether it is affording motor tax, or leaving an elderly relative unattended so that you can attend the job interview that will help pay for her care, the show often focusses on how Americans set themselves levels of rigidity and personal responsibility that their social and economic model conspires to prevent them reaching.

Another constant theme which will strike an Irish viewer is the lack of pragmatic approaches by the police officers in the show to problems compared to say, how an Irish Garda would approach it.

One episode sees a single father who has recently lost his wife commit an opportunistic crime (he steals money from bank robbers) to help alleviate his son’s situation. The episode ends with the father being arrested, and the son handed over to social services, an outcome which satisfies no one and results in huge taxpayer cost and the breakup of a struggling family with the social costs that will entail. Yet the officers have no choice: everything is measured by arrest and conviction, with a sprinkling of puritan judgementalism.

I’m aware, in writing this, that I’m an advocate of more robust policing in Ireland. But I still support the need for police officers, as members of society, to be able to exercise judgement and pursue the path of least harm, a policy that the characters of “The Rookie” often yearn for in their daily policing.

The other striking aspect, and I’ve no idea how realistic this is, or whether it is just Hollywood hype, is how nearly every episode has a normalised gun battle on public streets involving the use of military grade fully automatic weapons, with civilians fleeing streets as thousands of rounds of ammunition are expended.  

Have a look: it’s a good show.  



Secret Hitler: Boardgame Review

“Secret Hitler” sounds like boardgame you’d see in an episode of “Family Guy” or “South Park”, calculated to cause offense. It’s not unreasonable to suspect its creators, one of whom created the equally offensive (and entertaining) “Cards Against Humanity” set out with the title to wind-up the easily offended.

Having said that, it is a very enjoyable boardgame. It’s a social deduction game, which means that it’s most about lying. Set in the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s, no knowledge of German politics is needed. Indeed, the game could easily be retooled as “Secret Voldemort” or “Secret Trump”.

One player becomes (secretly) Hitler, and with another (secret) fascist henchman/woman, both with the objective of getting Hitler into the position of chancellor. The other players, who make up the majority of players (you need a five player minimum), are all liberals battling to keep Hitler out.

Each player takes a turn as the rotating president of the republic, selecting which laws (liberal or fascist) to pass and appointing a chancellor at each turn, whilst trying to deduce which player is not really a declared liberal but actually a secret fascist.

It sounds complicated, but once up and running it’s actually quite straightforward. As it progresses players get access to more tools to identify members of the fascist party (or definitely rule non-fascists out), and even attempt to assassinate Hitler before he gets to power (or accidentally kill a fellow liberal). The real devilment is when the fascists, if they’re smart, start making false accusations about others, or even riskily voting for liberal policies to throw others off the scent. I was assassinated by a fascist who pretended I was a fascist. I wasn’t.

Playing it, I was reminded of something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and then it dawned on me. It was like the John Le Carré thriller “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, an investigation gradually building up the evidence but still having to make a guess based on probability as to who the baddy is. Once you’re familiar with the gameplay, it becomes possible to spot the clues and determine to a certain degree who the filthy Austrian corporal bastard is.

The packaging, board and game pieces are also very tastefully put together.

I heartily recommend it.

When even I am considering not paying my TV licence, RTE should realise they are in big big trouble.

€1280 worth of licence fees. That’s about 91 in flip flops.

Take a look at that picture. That’s all my recent licences, with one recent one missing for some reason but which I paid. But the point is that I pay my licence fee. Although I’m not a socialist, I do my socialist duty when it is required. I paid the water tax. I pay my Local Property Tax. And yes, I paid my TV licence because I genuinely believe in the Public Service Broadcasting model.

But I’m not so sure I’ll pay this year for the simple reason that if I do, I think people in RTE might laugh at me, and think I’m that classic thing in Ireland.

The gullible mug. The dope who obeys the rules. The fella who seperates his cardboard and general waste, and pays the bin tax, and obeys the law, and sees lads tipping bags of rubbish into ditches or gurriers with 150 previous convictions walking out of court because a judge on a salary and pension package equivalent to a lotto win thinks he deserves yet another chance.

Unlike so much stuff which leaves the Diligent Obeyer of Prosecutions and Edicts (DOPE) in Ireland frustrated, this is one way I can make my feelings heard.

I can deny RTE my €160 (That’s just over 11 pairs of flip flops, to put it in RTE speak). If I and others like me don’t pay in our thousands, we could cripple RTE. We have actual power.

As I said, I’m pro-RTE. I don’t want to live in a Fox News/MSNBC poisoned society where commercial interests realise (as Rupert did) that there’s money to be made in making half the country hate the other half. I want a broadcaster we all watch to some degree and bitch about equally. I like John Drennan and Cheap Irish Homes and election night.

But I also want RTE to prove to me that €5k in flip flops can’t be ordered when the spotlight is off RTE. No Kevin Bakhurst, it’s not enough to talk about new personnel and new structures. They can become infected by the same culture over time.

Transparency is the solution. Announce that from January 1 2024, RTE will publish online every single invoice it pays within 30 days of paying it, for the public to see and scrutinise. The time line will allow you to drop suppliers who refuse, and name and shame them in an Oireachtas committee if they threaten to sue. No minister will try to stop you, even if they’re appalled at the idea, for fear you tell the public they tried to stop you. You can set a beacon for the whole public service and every taxpayer-funded NGO, challenging them to follow RTE’s lead of spending the taxpayer’s money behind a pane of very clear glass.

Do that, and I’ll happily pay my €160.

RTE is not the problem. The attitude to public money is the problem.

We’ve been here before. Remember FAS and the trips to Florida? Remember the FAI and the birthday party and the board flying business class with the players in economy? There is one thing that unites all these shenanigans, and it is that it is A) people casually spending

taxpayers money, and B) assuming no one will ever see the details.

We know it’s going on now in some taxpayer funded agency or NGO that isn’t on the radar, and we all know we’ll be back here again in the future unless we confront the fact that it is not bad personalities that make this happen, but a culture of imperviousness, and the idea that no one will ever be held personally accountable. Look at the faces of some of those RTE staff in front of the Oireachtas committee: it’s a look of disbelief that they have to explain this stuff in broad daylight to ordinary people on ordinary wages. And I don’t mean that in a bad way: I’m not saying they are bad or arrogant people. I’m saying it is the culture in the tax-funded sector, what seems attractive and normal behind closed doors suddenly looks awful, even to them, in the glare of daylight.

What to do? Stop being obsessed with the personalities, and focus on systems.

For a start, every future invoice paid by a taxpayer funded organisation should be posted to a central publicly viewable website with the signature of the individual who authorised it. I suspect the cursor may yet waiver over a purchase order for €5000 in flipflops when you know it automatically will appear in front of the online voluntary PAC hordes, with your name attached. Hundreds of taxpayers will go through the invoices everyday looking for waste. And no, don’t give me GDPR or “commercial confidentiality”. We can legislate on them, and any way, no one is forced is do business with the taxpayer if they do not wish.

Secondly, it’s time to get a Comptroller & Auditor General who is asking these questions, and doing so publicly as they used to in the past. It is literally a constitutional office tasked with ensuring the sensible spending of public money. Would it really be that outrageous if the C&AG had asked RTE to prove that RTE on-air talent was in danger of being poached? By whom? The C&AG should be the new Dr John Harbison or Marie Cassidy: they should be a household name.

Perhaps it should even be a directly elected office…

The Government actually want you to vote against their Dublin Mayor proposals for the most cynical reasons possible.

Remember Vote No to Get Seanad Reform?

10 years ago, a very unusual alliance was assembled across the parties in Irish politics. The purpose of the alliance was to pretend they were passionately in favour of reforming Seanad Eireann to make it more democratic.

They issued leaflets, launched online campaigns, discussing ideas for reform at summer schools and debated people earnestly about the need for reform. What was most interesting about them was that up to the moment the Oireachtas passed Enda Kenny’s Seanad abolition bill many of them had spent decades, yes decades, opposing even minor reforms.

They opposed reform for very clear reasons. It was in their own own best interest to preserve the upper house in its current form, as an ejector seat for people who failed to be elected to Dail Eireann, or as a nursery for those aspiring to. But they also knew that  advocating for the status quo would simply not be popular. So overnight they became “reformers”. Sure enough when the referendum came about the proposal to abolish the Seanad was narrowly defeated and many reasonable people would say that it was probably on the basis that the majority of voters believed that they would rather retain the house but in a reformed way.

That was 10 years ago, and you have to ask yourself what happened to all those earnest reformers who promised that a No vote was a vote for reform? Some just laughed and went back to politics as usual. Some keep up the pretence, that reform is needed but there is no “consensus”, a rule which is never applied to Oireachtas salaries, funnily enough.

It was possibly the most cynical election campaign ever in Irish politics, where people who blatantly oppose something shouted for reform in public, despite the fact that they had absolutely no intention ever following through the reforms they advocated.

Until now, with the government’s proposal for a referendum to have an elected mayor for Dublin. Because there are two groups in particular who want to see the proposal defeated: opponents of Fianna Fail/Fine Gael, and…Fianna Fail/Fine Gael.

That’s the awkward reality: most of the people advocating an elected mayor IN PUBLIC are actually against it in private. Like the fake Seanad reformers, they are perfectly happy with the status quo, where councillors get €45k and a year in the spotlight without being held responsible for anything.

But they don’t want to admit it in public, and so spend years debating what would be the perfect form of elected mayor, and bouncing it between citizen assemblies and Oireachtas committees all with the intention of never genuinely pushing it.

Don’t believe me? Look at the half-assed campaigns FF/FG ran for the mayoral campaigns in Limerick, Cork and Waterford. Why did they even pick just those counties? Why not hold a vote in every county on the same day? Because that would have created a national debate, and we would have ended up with a dozen or so countries voting for elected mayors and it would then be a reality. Instead, the three county referendum was neither here nor there, a fig leaf to wave to see how committed they were to reform but not on a national scale.

But the greatest most cynical ploy of the proposed referendum will be that the people who oppose everything FF/FG do will be thinking they’re sticking it to the two parties by voting no, when they are actually voting for the status quo FF/FG and others want. They vote no thinking “fuck the politicians” and in reality voting to preserve the status quo the politicians really want.

Don’t believe me? Look how quickly Seanad reform was abandoned as soon as Seanad abolition was off the table.

Would the Irish elect a credible candidate who openly put parliamentary work ahead of constituency work?

In the 2002 general election the late Jim Mitchell TD was dismissed by the voters of Dublin Central. Mitchell had been first elected in 1977, and had gained a reputation as a solid constituency work, winning working class votes for a party more openly identified as middle class. In the run-up to the 2002 election, Mitchell had moved constituency and lost a lot of his base in a boundary change. It was also true that the election was a disaster for Fine Gael, being their worst electoral result since 1948.

But what was particularly noticeable was that Mitchell had been one of the most high profile politicians in the country as a result of chairing a very visible parliamentary investigation into tax evasion in the banks, which resulted in one bank making a settlement of €90 million with the Revenue.

Following his defeat, Mitchell blamed his own poor health (which took his life later in the year) as a factor in his inability to campaign as hard as he felt was necessary to keep his seat, where he got just over 11% of the first preference vote.

Yet here was a man who had spent the previous two years working in parliament  (and therefore not in his constituency) to recover millions in unpaid taxes, money which could then be spent on public services in Dublin Central and elsewhere. Wouldn’t you think that at least 15%-20% of Dublin Central voters could have rewarded him with their first preference votes for that alone?

Indeed, Irish voters have a history of not only not rewarding politicians who openly challenge corruption (Pat O’Malley, Trevor Sargent) but lavishing votes on openly corrupt ones. We all know of deputies and cllrs who have been caught thieving who were then re-elected.

Which begs the question: is there a vote for a pol who openly pledges to spend their time engaged in parliamentary scrutiny, rather than being a bionic county councillor? The history says no. But on the other hand, has any credible well-known candidate actually run on that platform in recent years?

We have a multi-seat constituency electoral system. It’s not beyond the bounds of the possible that 15-25% of voters in a constituency may not actually want a serious person in the Dail alongside the other super social workers?

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Naysayers.

Repost: It’s a hard wired genetic response, whether it is to exploiting natural resources offshore or fracking or even postcodes. A section of the country just can’t help itself, and comes out in opposition to everything. There is even a standard pattern:

1. A proposal is made by a company or body. The benefits in terms of revenue or employment tend to be so over-hyped as to trigger scepticism everywhere, even amongst people in favour of the project. Why do we have to oversell everything?

2. In the area concerned, muttering starts, normally led by a local nut who votes No in every referendum and disconcertingly mentions the Bilderberg Group and fluoride in every conversation. But he’s retired with time on his hands and is a wiz with mail merge, having the database from previous local campaigns such as “Stop Dublin stealing our clouds!” and “No to WiFi near St. Enda’s. There are children there for God’s sake!”

3. The usual malcontents, Sebastian from South Dublin, furious with Daddy for running away with Olga from Olgastan and making Mummy cry and tell them that “they have to be the man of the house now” after a bottle of Tia Maria during Murder She Wrote, arrive to “smash capitalism” (Daddy was a capitalist) and stand up for the “ordinary people” in the area.

4. The local opposition TDs and councillors start calling for an independent public inquiry because that’s what they always call for, and it’s not like they have to fund it out of their expenses, is it?

5. The planning process gets bogged down in court injunctions and walkouts and demands for a tribunal into the planning process. Vague allegations of corruption are applauded by the usual paranoid mob. The integrity of the process hinges entirely on whether it agrees with the No side.

6. Planning permission is granted. It is appealed to An Bord Plenala. They approve it. It is appealed to the High Court, then the Supreme Court, then the European Court. Judicial corruption is alleged every step of the way. Huge legal bills are run up by the protesters who then complain of being economically ruined by huge legal bills they ran up travelling through a legal system they “knew” to be corrupt in the first place.

7. The opposition wins the general election, and sets up a public inquiry because it has nothing better to do. The opponents of the project do not contest the election declaring the political process corrupt and “exclusionary to ordinary people”. You know, like voters. On polling day a group of young protesters meet to beam positive energy at the ballot boxes as they are carried out by the Guards.

8. The public inquiry approves the project. The protesters accuse it of being corrupt, and announce a campaign of civil disobedience, which seems to involve a lot of interpretive dance and giant Macnas style heads. One protester sprains his wrist when a giant Che Guevara head falls on him. He sues the state for not banning giant heads of South American communists.

9. The project starts with much civil disobedience, delaying the project’s completion by years. When it is completed, and starts providing tax revenue to the state much later than planned because of the delays, the people who delayed it are first in the queue with demands as to how the money should be spent.

10. 20 years later, when the project is no longer viable, the people who originally opposed it demand it be subsidised by the state as a vital contribution to the local economy.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The See-Nothing Party Man.

He’s not personally corrupt. Oh, he’s sat down with developers and followed up their queries with planners, but he does that for ordinary punters too. Nothing wrong with asking a legitimate question for a constituent, as long as you don’t try to get the planner to do anything wrong, and he doesn’t.

Elected to the council after the carry-on of the 1980s and 1990s, he doesn’t get approached for “favours”. He’s the new breed of the party’s councillor who wrinkles his nose at reading about yet another former party elected rep being done for corruption.

Yet don’t ask him to fight corruption. Don’t ask him to report anything he thinks is dodgy, and he sees enough of it, to the Guards or anyone else, because that’s just not done. He’s been known to turn on his heel walking into a toilet at the the council, when he sees a colleague receiving “papers” from a developer just before a vote.

In fact, that’s the thing. He actually spends time trying to avoid learning about corruption, because he can’t report what he doesn’t know.