An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Anatomy of an Irish Issue.

An issue arises that catches the attention of the nation. Reviews are ordered. Followed by other reviews of the reviews. NGOs demand resources*. The relevant minister, or even the Taoiseach, pledges that the issue will be addressed, and that the govt will work towards ensuring that the issue never occurs again.

No one wishes to address the core issue: That an issue needs resources to resolve, that resources cost money, that money means taxes, and that no one (including the NGO involved, which does not wish to muddy itself with the reality of actually paying for what it wants) is willing to advocate either a specific tax to pay for these resources, or direct the funds for these resources from other areas of spending, thus affecting other NGOs and interest groups.

Instead, the issue is made a priority. Alongside the other priorities helping the old, those with disabilities, the unemployed, the farmers, low paid workers, the mentally ill, the GAA, the banks, the car dealers, the inner cities, the west of Ireland, rural areas, publicans, unemployment blackspots, any constituency with an Independent TD, and anyone who can get organised enough to get a delegation together to visit their TD. All these groups are deemed to be priorities worthy of extra resources*.

There is talk amongst government backbenchers of appointing a minister of state for priorities to take responsibility for making priorities a priority. Backbenchers call for the decision to appoint a minister of state for priorities to be made a priority.

Due to legal reasons, the Attorney General advises that no one can be blamed for the issue. However, early retirement or reassignment to another well remunerated state position would be “appropriate”. Tasty pensions all around for everyone concerned.

The country sits back, to prepare itself for the next issue to erupt.

*Resources: Money raised by taxing other people (certainly not the recipient of the additional resources) more.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Sincere Local Election Candidate.

She secretly reads EPA reports in the toilet, and ponders elderly care provision whilst on the bus, but never tells anyone ‘lest she be thought some sort of dangerous intellectual, into the books and all that. In the party, she’s regarded as quiet but solid, and loyal to a fault. She’ll always be willing to help out at election time, and when the party is in trouble, she defends the line so calmly that one might think she actually believes it.                  Deep down, her conscience keeps kicking, battling with her political nous which tells her to shut up, go with the flow, and when you’re in you can do all the stuff you really believe. Then she sees Noel Dempsey who finally reached the cabinet and decided to try to do the radical stuff and suddenly realised that he was in the wrong party for doing, well, anything other than existing in three dimensions.

But there’s always a chance that just maybe she might make a difference, and lobby to get that extra €100k into the budget that stops some kid going to bed hungry or puts an extra bed into a refuge for some wife getting the tar beaten out of her by a drunken thug of a husband. It’s those tiny victories, those tiny beams of light in the darkness that make her keep pushing against it all, which is lucky, because she is all we have.

An occasional guide to Irish Politics: The Amateur Opinion Poll Spinner.

He’s the bore to beat all bores, the one who extrapolates election results down to the last seat in the Feckerstown ward even though the election is 17 years away.

But it gets worse. Not only is he a moron, he’s a partisan moron. If his party is up a fraction of a percent, he declares as fact that his party could run a rotting headless corpse in a given seat and still have a surplus quota.

But if the party drops an iota, the poll is immediately dismissed as an aberration, not comparing like with like, obviously rigged by the pollsters who are of course in the pockets of the other crowd.

He’s on Twitter at the sniff of a poll, cheerleading for his crowd and finger-pointing at the others, racking up posts the way, well, proper political activists rack up first preferences for their candidate.

Still, could be worse. At least he’s at home out of harm’s way, rather than sitting on the bus beside you and overwhelming you with a toxic wave of body odour and Monster Munch as he flicks through Nealon’s Guide to the 1987 general election and sweats.

An Occasional guide to Irish Politics: The Deputy “whose seat is gone.”

Sure, the politically astute dogs in the street know it!You’ll see him about 18 months before the expected election, fidgeting and wild-eyed. Questions about poster quantities to be ordered trigger a manic response: “ Posters? Sure why bother? The dogs in the streets know it. The. Seat. Is. Gone.”

“Everybody” knows that your man, that Shinner, is a dead cert to take the seat.

“A dead cert. Why are we even bothering to have the election? We might as well just award him the seat. Sure, I’m surprised he hasn’t got a running mate for a run at the last seat.”

The deputy can be seen slinking slope-shouldered into old folks homes, sighing and pondering as to how the constituency, whom he has loyally served for twenty years, could vote for a fella who used to blow up people. And what about his running mate? Sure what does he need two quotas for anyway? The old dears console him with a chocolate digestive and a nice sit-down.   

Of course, he runs a full campaign, but not to win, perish the thought, sure that’s impossible. He’s just running to keep the party flag flying, really. Only in Ireland does a candidate brag about how badly he’s doing, but not too badly.

He grudgingly accepts, without anyone actually asking him the question, that he supposes it could be possible that he might squeeze into the fifth seat on the nineteenth count without reaching the quota if it were a nice day, and all the people he’s helped through the years turned out, but that the Shinner probably “ has it all locked up, with military precision,” he says ominously.

The day after polling day, the deputy comfortably takes the second seat on the third count, but assures everyone that it is a dead cert that this is the last time he’ll hold the seat, no doubt about it. His “safe as houses” running mate’s vote collapses and he loses his seat.


An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Handwringer.

handwringing“What…about…the…children???” She will bellow, head rubbernecking around the studio audience, making eye contact with all to ensure that no one cares more about the issue than her, and that everyone knows it, too.

Everything is a simple equation: If we can afford to bale out the banks, then surely we can afford to fund absolutely every single request for spending from every other NGO too? If you even question it, you hate children/animals/basket weavers from North West Kilkenny, and wish they were dead, don’t you? Don’t You!

She has “no problem” paying extra taxes to help the weak, she says. She tends to say that a lot when centre-right governments are in power. When Labour, her party of choice, do get into power, she curiously goes quiet on the issue, not resigning over the u-turn but telling anyone else also recently appointed to the National Bruised Knee Advisory Board that they must be “realistic” and support the party leadership.

She rails against low pay, and can’t understand how anyone can get by on less than €95k a year, or indeed pay their own pension. She has never worked in the private sector, save for her sister’s angels, tarots and power crystals shop which surprisingly went bust six weeks after opening.

Interestingly, when she lived in Britain, working with the National Council for Balloonist Vertigo Sufferers, she would give out yards about the council tax, and eventually moved to a Tory council where the tax was lower, even if she had to step over drug addicts outside Waitrose.

Sinn Fein can recover on immigration.

Mary Lou McDonald TD

Those delighting in Sinn Fein’s recent poll difficulties, generally linked to immigration, should hold off on the celebrations for two reasons.
1. SF has a history of taking decisive policy turns when politically needed. Look at its stance on the EU.
2. It would not take SF to go full Geert Wilders to reassure most voters on the issue. A “No one can say Ireland hasn’t done its bit on refugees. But we need to halt now and catch our breath” speech in plain language from Mary Lou would put SF in the driving seat on the issue, given the inability of the govt to be clear on its policy.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Political Conspiracy Theorist.

You see him on Twitter declaring that everything, everything, is a wily political chessboard move, and nothing happens that isn’t part of a conspiracy that would give Fox Mulder and Dana Scully a nosebleed.

God love him, but he gives our political masters way too much credit. The PDs, for example, were part of an international ideological conspiracy to destroy the welfare state. He’d never actually met anyone of any significance from the PDs, but then that would have hindered the purity of his beliefs.

Immigration is part of a plot to destroy Irish culture. Apparently there’s a tipping point (he can prove this on an Excel spreadsheet!) whereby one additional Pole tips the balance, and all of a sudden we’re setting fire to GAA clubs and eating cabbage flavoured ice cream.

The Sunday Indo and RTE are the tools of Fianna Fail. Or Fine Gael, depending on the balance of fluid in his brain at any given time.

Everything is part of a plan concocted by people far smarter than him but not smart enough to cover it up from him. He tends to smell of wee a lot, but that’s because every morning they sneak into his bedroom when he is in the toilet, and pour wee on his trousers to discredit him.

The well-organised bastards.

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.

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.

We are obsessed with holding people accountable, and it’s for the wrong reasons.

It’s the word that beats all words in the Rock Paper Scissors arguments within politics. Being “accountable” beats everything else, the “Will someone PLEASE think of the children!” argument that no one dares oppose or stand up to.

Take the scandal involving the Post Office in the UK. There COULD be grey areas in all of it: diligent PO senior executives taking their job of protecting public money from in-house fraud and theft very very seriously. And there probably are, in an organization that big, sub-postmasters who do have their fingers in the till. There’s also the confirmation bias of introducing a new IT system to combat fraud which from day one generates loads of evidence of fraud which confirms, in the eyes of those who commissioned it just how good their new system is.

But there’s also a moment where the same senior executives surely realized that the Horizon system was generating incorrect information that made accusations of theft at best unsound and at worse actually a threat to the individual freedom of SPMs if pursued for prosecution.

Likewise, surely those same executives must had been in a meeting during which someone revealed that yes, it was possible to literally move money around within a branch without leaving a trace and the SPM’s knowledge. Any fan of a TV courtroom drama could tell you that you were on very rocky natural justice grounds there, not just presumably the highly-paid legal advisers to the Post Office.

Surely someone must have raised the question, or is it the case, as it often is, that once the ball is rolling it becomes so much easier just to believe what you want to believe, and ignore the awkward bits?

Having said all that, there’s the danger that accountability is that at all, but the gut instinct to blame. Every now and again you see, particularly in the United States, a story where a mother is arrested for leaving a child unattended in a car, possibly on a hot day. Often, it’s a simple act of recklessness. But every now and again, it’s a single mother going to a job interview, trying to earn a living to provide for both herself and the child with neither the money nor the support network to provide child support, and then she gets judged as a bad mother for taking the risk.

If you want accountability ask yourself who is responsible for not allocating limited public funds to provide affordable childcare for that woman but happily allocating funding to put her in jail and her kid into social care? You want accountability? Answer that one. I suspect you won’t like the answer.

The reality is that we aren’t obsessed with accountability. Often we’re obsessed with allocating blame, finding a human face to link to the scandal or problem that we can then personalize. Like ministers who get blamed for not spending enough on X or cutting Y. Why did you do it, you bastard? It’s because you don’t care, isn’t it? Or because your personal ideology means you actually want to hurt a section of society. Not because the public are only willing to contribute a finite amount of tax revenue for an infinite amount of calls for more public spending.

The truth is that often the lack of accountability isn’t a moral failing but a failure of the culture in an organisation, and the sheer resistance to standing up against the flow. In the Zombie novel “World War Z” by Max Brooks, one country (Israel) manages to be ready for the coming zombie apocalypse by following the (fictional) Tenth Man Rule. This is a proposed policy-making method whereby in a meeting one person is designated to specifically and rigorously oppose the consensus and play Devil’s Advocate, challenging every agreed assumption. It doesn’t mean they’re right all the time: often the consensus is correct. But it means every argument is tested even if it is uncomfortable, and also it can be used to prove later on that every angle has been considered or stress-tested,

Of course holding people accountable is important. But doing that, and attributing blame, can often be two different things entirely.