An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The man who never experienced the Celtic Tiger.

Celtic Tiger? Maybe up in Dublin Four, but not around here, he announces. No, we went from the recession in the 1980s to now, and nothing has changed around here. Nothing! You point at the new motorways sweeping past him and off into the horizon. Sure that would have happened anyway! He declares, believing that motorways are some sort of natural phenomenon like turf or dandelions sprouting in a field.

What about your state pension? €253 a week. Sure it’s only €160 in the UK. Exactly! He shouts. Only €253! How am I supposed to afford SkyPlus on that sort of money? And look at the car I’m driving! That’s over four years old! It’s like living in the dark hole of Calcutta!  No one around here got anything off the government or the so-called Celtic Tiger.

And the health service? I know a fella who did his back in picking up his cheque from the Department of Aghriculture. Bet he gets no compensation for that. No, the rich get richer and the poor working man struggles for a bare crust. Now, have to go and pick up me rent from them students I rented me section 23 flat to.

Be seeing you!

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Party Loyalist.

Repost: You can hear him in a quiet room, mouth hanging open, air rushing in and out as his dull eyes stare blankly into an imaginary distance. Occasionally, the waft of stale urine will emanate from him. For him, the party is everything, and the affixation or removal of party membership decides his opinion on a person. A party man can do no wrong, and a non-party man can do no right.

The truth is that the party, with its open-to-all-with-a-pulse policy, has provided a social structure to him that exists nowhere else in his life. A two line notice of a cumann meeting is carefully scrutinised a dozen times and then placed on the carefully dusted mantelpiece over the fire where his mother knows not to touch it. Everyday, he takes it down to read again, to just make sure that he has the date and time and location correct, even though all three are the same every month.

He will be at the meeting at least 45 minutes early, with a Club Orange in front of him bought with the €10 his mother gave him, and will twist in the seat every time the door opens to see if a party member is coming in. Continue reading

The (Revised) Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Inoffensive Dynasty TD.

Handsome in a bland kind of way, he resembles a male model wearing drip dry shirts in a safety wear catalogue. He was never interested in politics, but everyone knew the old man and it was just assumed, and sure enough, when the father moved on, the party moved in. It was the wife who made the decision, and runs the campaign, and, let’s be honest, has the political brain, and should really be the candidate, but she didn’t have the pedigree, and in this party, pedigree is everything.

He was comfortably elected first time out, and the wife and his father’s old secretary keep the constituency ticking and a life in his father’s shadow allows his brain to pump out trite, harmless nonsense at the drop of a microphone. He has earnestly declared that he passionately believes in a “world class health service” and “protecting the weakest in our society.” as well as, one assumes, gravity, the North Atlantic, and the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun.

He was asked once as to whether he was ideologically more disposed towards higher taxation or alternatively, spending cuts, and he’d had to lie down in a dark room for a week.

Given his absolute blandness, one wonders as to whether there actually is any real passion behind those dull eyes. It is, of course, quite possible that he pays to be dressed up in tights, suspenders and a bra, tied to a rocking horse and spanked by a woman dressed as an SS Gauleiter, but it’s very unlikely. He’d need an imagination to do that.

In recent times he’s got all sorts of people roaring at him about cutbacks and the like, and he doesn’t know why they’re all shouting at him? He’s just trying to run a small family business. But he’s sure of one thing: There should be some sort of elected body to run the country and represent people and make rational decisions about this stuff. He might even write a letter to the papers about it.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Unknown Senator.

The Seanad: A deeply respected institution, especially by those in it or aspiring to be in it.It’s the title that gets him first, especially when he sees it on his passport for the first time. Senator! He can’t help but see himself in the great senatorial pantheon. Hello Senator Kennedy! Good to see you Senator McCain! That and the fact that he’s just fought the scruffiest, dirtiest, filthiest election this side of Palermo City Council, and somehow managed to scrape through on the 47th count with 1/47 of a preference electing him. For just one moment, he imagines himself going into oratorical battle on the floor of the house, in defence of The Republic.

Of course, once the elation dies down, reality comes roaring back in. Joe Public not only hasn’t a clue, but thinks he’s trying to sell him double glazing. And the party expects him to run for the Dail next time, which all looked great when they were talking nominations but now seems a bit stressful.

He thinks that after driving up and down every boreen in the country speaking to the greatest assembly of pathological liars ever assembled by Man he can now take it easy. Then he tries to have his tea in the members restaurant, and watches as the old hands practically stampede the door every time a county councillor darkens the door. Three weeks in he’s throwing his chocolate digestive over his shoulder as he runs for the restaurant door. He’s pretty sure that he’s just recognised a county councillor for Borris-in-Ossory. Either that or your man is just a fella delivering photocopying paper, but he can’t take the risk. His nerves won’t let him.

What if…Ireland became a fascist state?

The shots which rang out had been expected. The sound of the execution of the leaders of Sinn Fein, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Labour Party echoed out across the courtyard of Dublin Castle, a confirmation that the National Order government was serious. The firing squad had been made up of members of the Celtic Guard, the party’s uniformed paramilitary wing, as they had not trusted the remnants of the Garda and the Defence Forces to carry out what was a political act.

Ireland had not been the only country that descended into extremism after the great economic collapse of 2030, triggered by the electromagnetic pulse terrorist attacks in New York, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Hong Kong which had crippled the global economy and brought such chaos. The Second American Civil War was in its third stalemated year. Great England’s Lord Protector ruled over that nation and its dominions with an iron fist. The communist regimes in France and Italy squared up against the AfD government in Germany. China continued to struggle after Taiwan’s surprise nuclear attack just when it looked like the invasion of Taiwan was about to succeed after months of fighting.

As with so many other places, it had been a well-resourced and charismatic figure, Sean Connolly, who had led the far right to victory. The collapse of the global trade system had overnight turned the Irish economy into a pale shadow of itself, with the establishment parties rotating in a series of elections leading to rapid collapse as each new government failed to confront the reality that the Ireland of the early 21st century was gone.

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What if Ireland hadn’t been partitioned in 1921?

This is one of those counterfactuals that doesn’t hinge on a simple what-if-X-hadn’t-died. The truth is, it’s almost impossible to imagine Ireland not being partitioned without A) the British turning a blind eye (and that includes elements of the British Army which might have mutinied) and B) a civil war between, effectively, Catholic and Protestant that would have been far more vicious than the actual Irish Civil War of 1921-23. It would probably have ended with a mass exodus by thousands of Protestants from the north, pretty high loss of life (especially amongst areas with one group living amongst a predominantly larger one, such as Catholic areas in Belfast) and an historical legacy that we would be thoroughly ashamed of today.

Putting that aside, the question I ask is what sort of Ireland would have developed if the country had not been partitioned, nor fought a bloody and sectarian civil war?

Would we have still had the civil war we had? Given that the treaty did not bring about a republic in name and still required an oath of loyalty to the British monarch, it’s quite possible. But what if the unionist majority in the north (those who decided to stay) regarded the treaty as the best of a bad lot, and decided to fight to defend it given its recognition of their religious freedoms? We forget that the same elections that elected the second Dail in 1921 also elected 40 unionists who would presumably have taken their seats in the Dail, and so would have passed the treaty by an overwhelming majority.

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eNovella: A Little Piece of Europe.

The very near future. Welcome to the European Union Safezone in North Africa.

2 million refugees trying to make a life in a city-state on the edge of Europe.

For the disgraced former British prime minister and his Irish deputy put in charge of running it, a chance at redemption.

For the refugee Syrian businessman, it’s a chance at a new life for his family.

For the young Somali woman fleeing terror, it’s a chance to perhaps no longer be afraid.

For the young Islamic State operative, it’s a chance to strike at the west… 

Now available as an eBook on Amazon here.

ALPOE cover

 

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The salary scandal.

A bank employee counts Euro notes at Kasikornbank in Bangkok

1. An individual in a public/NGO organisation is discovered to be on a Lotto style pay package.

2. Organisation initially tries to deem this a “private matter”. Is shouted down by public, stampeding backbench TDs and grassroots members.

3. Organisation admits truth. Suggests that no one in organisation can explain how salary came about. Suggestion that it was made by someone conveniently dead is a popular favourite.

4. Basic investigative techniques like inquiring from the bank who authorised the payments, and working backwards, are deemed “inappropriate”, which is one of the great Irish words.

5. The public get cranky over the idea that anyone can earn over €100k, on the basis that “if you pay peanuts you get monkeys rule” obviously does not apply in Ireland. (See Irish financial regulation, 1997-2011)

6. The story goes around and round in circles with the actual answer, who authorised this, never emerging. Public hearings seem to involve more windy grandstanding than actual specific questions.

7. Someone resigns on a Lotto style severance package.

8. The phrase “for legal reasons” (the other great Irish phrase) is bandied about to blur the situation. In a shock outcome, Learned Colleagues make a nice little earner on whole affair.

9. The organisation promises a new “robust” structure for salary/remuneration.

10. Rinse and repeat.

What do we actually mean by neutrality?

What does Irish “Neutrality” actually mean? It’s a phrase that gets thrown around with a common assumption that we all agree on the meaning, but I doubt that’s the case. For example, are we neutral between Israel and Palestine, or Russia and Ukraine? I would say no, and I would say that the majority of the Irish are comfortable (as much as they give it any thought, which is another issue) with our state’s heavy leaning towards one side in those conflicts.

Being a constitutional republic, we have a written (as opposed to hearsay) constitution which allows us to declare specifically as to what values we identify with. With that in mind, I’ve attempted to write a rough draft of what a constitutional amendment on neutrality would actually attempt to say.

One interesting thing: when you put this stuff down in black and white, it has sometimes unforeseen consequences. For example, if we recognised Palestine as a sovereign state, wouldn’t it mean we’d have to stop funding the Palestinian state as that would be a breach of neutrality as we would have defined?

Maybe it’s better just to stick with the “Whatever you’re having yourself” model we currently have.

Anyway: here’s the draft for divilment.

1. Ireland is a neutral country. We shall not assist any country, including other EU members, in their defence from attack in any way.

2. No Irish government shall seek or accept any military or any form of other assistance in the event of any form of military or other security attack upon Ireland.

3. Ireland shall not source any military or security related material from abroad but shall manufacture those required domestically.

4. Ireland shall not contribute or supply resources of any kind to any state involved in any form of military conflict with another state.

5. Ireland shall primarily place her security in the hands of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, namely the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, the United States, and the French Republic.

The Right to Housing might not be as straightforward as you would think.

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.