An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Fairweather Revolutionary

Repost: “We’re not taking it any more! It’s time the country be taken back by the ordinary people! Feck the bankers and the political parties!

It’s time for a country based on social justice and equality and housing and health and education as rights! Yes to free healthcare! Yes to free education! Yes to…sorry, say that again…you want to pay for free healthcare by doing what?…means testing children’s allowance….now, hold on a minute there…putting Capital Gains Tax on private residences…wait there one minute now…the rich should pay higher taxes, but not ordinary people like me, yes, I know I bought my house for €300k and it’s now worth €500k, but that’s MY MONEY….tax MY profit???….to fund free healthcare and social justice?…….get away from MY money, d’ya hear, that €200k profit is MY money, not yours! Get your stinking thieving hands off my filthy lucre!”

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.

State of the parties.

kirk lizardSo, a quick snapshot on where the parties stand after the election:

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail: both need to tread carefully (or should that be thread, given the complexity?) Fine Gael need to ease off on the We Won The Election, because this election was about them and they were clearly rejected. Having said that, FF want to cool off on the We Doubled Our Seats So We Obviously Won thing too. Don’t forget, FG got a kicking, but are less unpopular than FF because they got more votes than they did. That’s how we tell.

The first party to start showing a bit of humility will gain.

Both parties are like Captain Kirk and that Giant Lizard (readers can decide who is who), circling each other looking for the advantage. Both are also aware that all options come booby-trapped. A grand coalition will help the Shinners, a minority government may end up being responsibility without power for either party, and another election is really the nuclear option.

This still all feels like we haven’t started yet.

Sinn Fein: have nicely extracted themselves from responsibility for government and with new voices like Eoin O’Broin and Donnchadh O’ Laoghaire are set for the long haul. The future of Gerry is the next big issue for SF: they know he’s the obstacle to breakthrough.

Labour: a nice lie-down in a dark room will do Labour the world of good. Staying out of government is a good idea.

The Social Democrats and the Greens: both parties have the same problem. As Catherine Martin’s extraordinary performance in Dublin Rathdown showed, the Greens have managed to claw back their transfer friendliness. Both parties should be very weary of getting involved in government if another election is on the way, as it’s not unreasonable that both parties could pick up votes from a bad tempered electorate in another poll.

The Independents: the Mala of the Dail, to be moulded as needed? What’s interesting is that the Independents fortune can change so rapidly. If you are needed for government formation, you’re valuable. If you aren’t, and other Inds are seen to be bringing back the pork, it’s time to sweat. Let’s not forget that the country is littered with former one-term  Independent TDs going all the way back to Sean Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus.

The speech Enda should give.

An-Taoiseach-Enda-KennyGood evening.

As you are aware, it has been some weeks since you the Irish people elected the 32nd Dail. In that time, with the existing government clearly rejected but with no obvious alternative government endorsed, it has proven very difficult to form a new and stable government to do the people’s work and ensure that the recovery experienced in some parts of the country is now spread out nationwide.

Towards that goal, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain to you the options I believe that we as a country face.

The first option is a coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. This would be a partnership of equals, with equal seats and the rotating of the office of Taoiseach and Tanaiste. In addition, it would be my intention to introduce a system whereby, as in the North of Ireland, the deputy has access to all the papers and decisions of the Taoiseach before they are made. I have no doubt that both parties could agree a worthwhile and ambitious programme of work for the next five years.

If coalition is not an option for Fianna Fail, we should consider minority support by Fianna Fail from outside the government. As part of that, and in return for a guarantee of fixed support for five years, we would agree a programme of legislation and a liaison committee so that Fianna Fail can play a part in every major decision the government makes and share in the responsibility of those decisions. I would stress, however, that such a government would need a clear and fixed period of support from Fianna Fail to be viable, and that there should be a formal written agreement as such.

Finally, if neither of those options suit Fianna Fail, then I shall have no choice but to advise the president that he should dissolve the Dail and call fresh elections.

I sincerely hope Fianna fail can see their way to finding agreement with us. This country faces serious challenges and needs a stable government, and I believe our two parties can deliver that government.

Remember, if the UK votes to leave the European Union in June’s Brexit referendum there will be no Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, only Ireland. I have no doubt that Micheal Martin and I can step into the European Council as one with the same goal, to do what’s best for our country.  Despite our political differences, I have no doubt as to the patriotism of Michael or his party.

Let me also stress that my position as Taoiseach should not be seen as an obstacle for the formation of a stable government. I have been honoured to have served as your Taoiseach for the last five years. But I am also aware that no one man is more important than this office, and if my replacement is the price of five years of stable government than so be it. The country comes first.

Finally, let us not forget that 100 years ago future members of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael did serve together in the first provisional governments. De Valera, Collins, Lemass and Cosgrave fought together and achieved the almost impossible, defeating the British Empire and creating a free nation. We then fought a bloody and pointless civil war that scars our politics even today.

It’s time. The country comes first. Great sacrifices were made in 2016. Asking Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to make mere political sacrifices today in 2016 is but a very minor thing in the shadows of those great men and women.

Good night.

Election 2016: So, what’s next?

pol books2So, as the final seats are filled, onto the next task. What are the options?

1. The Status Quo. Enda is Taoiseach until the first vote, then acting Taoiseach until replaced. Theoretically, he could remain indefinitely, although wouldn’t be able to replace all the cabinet ministers who lost their seats.

2. FF/FG coalition. The safe long haul option and hard to see happening, despite the logic of it. FF/FG means Sinn Fein as the opposition, which is exactly what Sinn Fein want as part of the long term plan to lead a government as the main party.

2. FG/Lab minority with FF support on Taoiseach. More likely, but immediately puts pressure on FF to take responsibility for anything the govt does, and will give Sinn Fein ammunition to use in the assumed early election in the next 18 months. Also raises the question of whether Lab will go back into govt, or may decide to return to opposition to rebuild.

3. The 1948 option. FF or FG could attempt to assemble a majority with all sorts from Inds, Social Democrats, Greens but would need SF support either inside or outside. Hard to see it happen, but this is Ireland.

4. Enda to make a extraordinary offer to FF, say Micheal as Taoiseach, with clear understanding that a failure to agree means a snap second election. Hoping that FF will take the rap for an unnecessary election.

There are also three factors which could come into play:

1. The president could get involved, continental style. Although he doesn’t have a formal role, it would be hard for party leaders to refuse an invitation from him to attend talks in the Park.

2. A leadership change in FG. This is a tricky one for FF. If Enda steps down quickly, perhaps even before a new Dail meets, would FF really want to face an election with a fresh Taoiseach? It’s true, FG has a convoluted leadership election system, but in the current crisis the FG PP could name a “parliamentary leader” as candidate for Taoiseach, after soundings with the grass roots.

3. Finally, a secret ballot elected Ceann Comhairle is going to play a big role in a parliament without a majority but also because he/she won’t be automatically loyal to the government, which will be new.

Not going to be boring….


How to vote properly.

It’s a curious thing that many Irish people don’t quite understand how to vote properly. By properly I mean getting the full use of your ballot paper to A) elect someone you prefer over someone else, and B) help keeping someone you really dislike out.

Our system, Proportional Representation-Single Transferable Vote in multi-seat constituencies, has two principles.

The first is to avoid “wasting votes”, and that means that if you vote for an unpopular candidate, unlike in the US or UK, your vote isn’t wasted. If you fill in preferences, your second, third choices, your vote will keep going until it either helps elect someone or your preferences or the number of seats to be filled run out.

The second principle is that, by having a minimum of three seats in every constituency, smaller parties have a chance of winning a seat. This is the proportional representation part of the system.

It’s possibly one of the fairest systems in the world.

The counting of the votes can get quite technical, but here’s what you as a voter need to know.

1. Your vote will only go where you tell it to go. If your preferences are all used up, and your vote hasn’t helped elect someone, it’s dead.

2. You are not hurting any candidate you have given a preference to by giving a later preference to someone else.

3. If you really want to stop someone, you MUST give a preference to every other candidate. That means that if your vote hasn’t already elected someone, it is available to be used by whatever candidates are still fighting the person you want to stop. But you have to give the returning officer that instruction by marking those preferences.

Fianna Fail in 2011 got a similar vote to Labour but only half the seats partially because people did this.

4. Vote for who you really want. Don’t second guess and assume that the person you really want will get in anyway. That’s how popular people lose their seats. It happens. In November 1982 John Ellis topped the poll in Sligo-Leitrim and still lost his seat.

5. Don’t write anything other than preferences on your ballot paper. It can be used by other parties you don’t like as an excuse to have your ballot spoiled on the grounds that you might have been intimidated into identifying how you voted! If you write “F**k Enda Kenny” on your ballot, that can be used by Fine Gael to have your ballot removed from the count. Think about that.

6. Finally, and I always say this: when you’re voting, note there’s a Garda normally in the polling station. In some other countries the police or army are at polling stations to make sure their candidates are elected. In this republic, it’s to ensure that nobody tells you how to vote. It’s been that way since 1923, and we should be very proud of that.

Election 2016: This could be an even greater country.

As we enter the last week of the election, you’d be forgiven for getting a certain picture of Ireland if you relied on what’s being said in the campaign.

A country so poor that hardly anybody can afford to make even a token contribution towards a GP visit.

A country that has practically no functioning A&E system, or at least one that is in “absolute chaos”.

A country where there has been no increase in employment numbers, no pay rises, no new businesses, and no returning emigrants.

A country where a majority of people can barely feed, clothe or house themselves.

A country where hardly any public money is spent on those with disabilities or the elderly.

An awful place which then chooses to measure itself against a mythical vision of a country advocated by revolutionaries 100 years ago whilst ignoring that large numbers of those revolutionaries actually took part in the running of the country for over half a century, making it the country it is today.

Then there is another vision of a country.

One of the longest functioning democracies in Europe.

A country that never surrendered to the temptation of fascism or communism.

A country that has one of the highest standards of living in the world, and yes, has a health service that is superior to huge numbers of other countries.

A country that will spend €19.8 billion on social welfare in 2016. €12.9 billion on health. €8.4 billion on education.

A country that Greece would look at and wish it were doing as well.

Why the discrepancy? Because there is a conflict at the heart of the Irish psyche, an anger that we struggle to contain.

We still can’t accept that this is our country, and that what happens here is mostly to do with us. Sure, we live in a world of international finance and globalisation and yes, we did save the euro and yes, we are owed for it.

But how our hospitals run, what we pay for water, or pay our nurses, how we treat women with crisis pregnancies, or refugees, how we tax ourselves, how many homes we build, that’s all us. All that is our responsibility as a sovereign people and therefore our fault.

Yet we refuse to accept that. Many of us believe that “fairness” is some sort of natural occurring phenomenon that costs nothing. That it’s just there to be grasped but wicked politicians won’t give it to us.

That’s what stops us being a great nation. The refusal to accept that yes, everything has a price, whether in taxes or work practices or other policies.

To do one thing, you have to sacrifice something else.

When we vote on Friday, at least half of us will vote for a candidate who has been good “for the local area”.

That’s your problem right there.

We’re not looking at the ballot paper and asking ourselves whether this candidate or that candidate has a plan for Ireland as a whole.

We have constantly voted local, and it hasn’t worked, not even locally. We elect, for example, local TDs who are more interested, because they believe that’s what their voters want, in keeping small badly equipped local hospitals open than creating an effective national air ambulance service that works. Given a choice between that service getting you quickly to a proper hospital with a dedicated and experienced trauma unit, or keeping a local pre-morgue with “hospital” over the door, we choose the latter.

It’s the same with Garda stations. Getting a Garda patrol to your home quickly has almost nothing to do with Garda stations, yet we’re obsessed with putting resources into manning buildings over putting more patrols on the streets and roads.

Sure, there are those who will argue, perfectly fairly, that if they don’t elect a local champion the county or parish will be ignored. It’s a fair point, but never followed to its logical conclusion. If we feel that Dublin won’t do what’s needed in the county, then stop begging Dublin for attention and take the power locally. Yet how many local champions will be demanding local government reform, and for local decisions and taxes to be decided locally?

We choose the way this country is to work in free and fair elections.

We are a great nation. We can be greater. But to get there we have to vote on Friday not for the parish but for Ireland.

Election 2016 Snapshot.

A few thoughts on the campaign:

1. The reset to 2007 is frightening. We’re back to parties lobbing high costing promises at the voters once again, and the voters being fine with it. People are angry about the outcome of the crash, but are wilfully forgetting the causes.

2. Voters complain that their constituency isn’t getting its “fair share” yet continue to elect the same type of constituency grafter that has failed to deliver balanced regional development.

3. Political reform is off the agenda, once again. Turns out there is nothing wrong with our system at all.

4. In a way, you have to admire the fact that behind our negative exteriors, we as a people are optimists, in that we believe no matter who we elect it’ll all be OK in the end. The dole will be paid, the pensions will be paid, the money for A&E will be found. It’s a testament to either an incredibly reckless country, or an incredibly robust one.

5. The ability of the Irish to hold conflicting views at the same time continues to be a testament to our mental suppleness. After all, aren’t the people most likely to vote for Tax The Rich parties the same people most cynical about the state’s ability to make the rich keep paying high taxes?

6. I have no faith in that “Are you feeling the recovery?” question because I keep meeting people who say there was no Celtic Tiger either.

7. Our health service is not Third World or in absolute chaos. I’m sorry, but it isn’t.

A thumbnail guide to the Irish parties for those from yonder.

With the general election sauntering towards us (could it come any slower?) I thought I’d put together a rough guide for people outside Ireland as to our party system.

Fine Gael: the largest party and main government party. Broadly speaking, centre-right and small “C” conservative, although anchored to the centre. Think Ken Clarke Tories or German Christian Democrats. Pro-Business, pro-farmer, but not anti-welfare. Traditionally the default party when Irish voters get sick of Fianna Fail. Divided on abortion. 30% in polls.

Fianna Fail: Nationalist, anchored to the centre but swings from left to right depending on the political wind. Traditionally the dominant party in Irish politics until 2011 when it suffered its worst defeat ever. Think Gaullists or even New Labour in terms of flexibility. Whatever works. Pretends to be divided on abortion but essentially pro-life. 18%.

Sinn Fein: former political wing of the Provisional IRA, which is still a source of awkwardness for the party. Left wing populist in opposition, but not particularly radical in government for last 10 years in Northern Ireland. Pro-Choice. 18%.

Labour: Social Democrats. Suffering the same problem of social democratic parties across Europe as it loses its working class base to other more radical parties. Traditionally the most socially liberal party in Ireland and responsible for nearly all the great liberal reforms from marriage equality to divorce to contraception. Pro-Choice. 8%.

Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit: A collection of the left, Socialist Workers Party, Trotskyites and populists. In favour of funding everything. Curiously for the left, only in favour of high taxation if paid for by nobody you know. Otherwise almost Ted Cruzian in opposition to tax. Pro-Choice. 3%

The Social Democrats: The nice lefties. Only party to openly support keeping an unpopular tax (The Universal Social Charge) to, you know, fund services. Pro-Choice. 3%.

Renua: Flat Tax, three strikes and you’re out. If not Thatcherite, no.1 with Thatcherites. Pro-life in practice if not in theory. 2%.

Greens: Still trying to recover from the horror of government and get back into parliament. Pro-Choice. 2%.

Independents: whatever you’re having yourself. Some left, some right, some whatever you said to them. A lucky dip. 25%.

Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein: The Race For 2nd Place

pol books2My eye has been caught in recent days by a number of seat projections which have raised an intriguing possibility that isn’t getting as much attention as it should. That is, the possibility of  Sinn Fein narrowly beating Fianna Fail in seats and becoming the leading opposition party even if FF don’t participate in government.

It’s unlikely, admittedly, even if SF narrowly beat FF on first preferences because FF will pick up more transfers, but it isn’t impossible, and it would be very very bad news for FF if it happened.

We can easily forget that the SDLP were once the overwhelmingly dominant party in nationalist politics in the north of Ireland, and their party leader was a household name both north and south of the border. But Sinn Fein diligently whittled away, catching up to them, overtaking them, and leaving them in the dust. No one, no one at all, believes that the SDLP are going to retake pole position ever again.

A scenario where Sinn Fein become the lead opposition party, even with Fianna Fail avoiding coalition with Fine Gael, would have a major psychological impact on Irish politics, especially given the demographics of SF and Fine Gael voters.

Yes, it’s unlikely, but not impossible, and such an outcome would be a much more significant event than the election of 2011 where we just replaced Fianna Fail with a Fianna Fail who went to posher schools.

This would be a game changer, because it would be the first time a left-led government would become a genuine and credible proposition on a future ballot.

Transfers are overhyped in every election, but in this case it really matters. Your final preferences could decide not just who runs the country, but who runs it in future too.