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 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.

How to use your ballot most effectively.

One of the great mysteries of the age is that we have exported Aonghus McAnally’s “The Lyrics Board” (remember that?) to more countries than we have our electoral system, the Single Transferable Vote. 

It’s a funny one, because STV is probably the most empowering voting system on the planet. It’s fair in that it is reasonably proportional, it lets geographic areas have a clear representative, and it allows voters to personally choose their representatives. 

It also allows voters to vote the way human beings actually vote, as opposed to the weird “My party is perfect, your party should be executed for crimes against decency” approach many party hacks seem to sign up to. 

STV lets voters really like those guys, hate those other guys and meh the rest.

It also has a built-in feature that almost no other voting system has. It permits you to vote for your favorite candidate and stick the electoral knife Agatha Christie deep into the back of that one candidate you really really want to keep out.     

It is by far the best voting system in the world to watch as a spectator support. Indeed, I’m surprised RTE don’t release an election count highlight DVD after every election. 

The first count result is not always the absolute decider of all the winners, and transfers allow for last minute Millenium Falcon On Its Side Speeding Through Closing Blast Doors drama comebacks. If the CNN were covering our elections, we’d have theme music for everything from the first count to transfers to the final seat, and a Wolf Blitzer (Politics nerds will get this reference) hologram live from the count centre in Laois-Offaly. 

If you’re a sadist, it’s the political system designed to taunt and dangle false hope in front of politicians who thought their seat was safe/lost and are now mocked often down to the last count. If you asked Schrodinger to design a voting system, he’d come up with this.  

It’s a voting system Dante would have loved, save for the fact that Lucifer would probably look at Irish politics and thinks “Eh, no thanks lads, even I have to look at myself in the mirror occasionally. Also: is that RHI scheme thing still open? Actually, how did those DUP canvassers even find our front door?”    

I bring it up because every time there is an election I get a flurry of messages, online and personally, from friends, relatives and readers asking how to vote. 

Most political cronies I know are the same. 

It’s an indictment, by the way, as to how badly civics was taught (or not) in our schools, and also the failure of FG and Labour to deliver the much-promised electoral commission tasked with running and educating all things election. I never saw a copy of the constitution until I found one by accident in a local newsagent, and bought it, which is also an indictment of my sadly un-misspent youth.  

People do know how to vote, but it’s the subtleties of the Single Transferable Vote that give rise to all sorts of myths and questions. Here’s a few of them. 

  1. Cast your first preference for the person you really want. This sounds so obvious, but it’s true. Don’t try to second guess other voters. Yes, parties try to get people to vote tactically, and if your party winning an extra seat is your primary goal then vote tactically. But remember, in the great majority of constituencies the people who come first to fifth, depending on how many seats are in the constituency, tend to fill the seats in the end. First preferences matter the most, because they are the only vote that will definitely be counted.
  2. You decide where your vote goes, not the parties. A clear preference must be visible to the returning officer before he transfers a vote. Your ballot paper is written permission from you to the returning officer who to transfer to and who not to.  
  3. Your preferences cannot affect your later preferences. This is another perennial that seems to have emerged from the mists of psephology. When a lower preference has been reached (2,3,4 etc) it means that the candidate beforehand has been either elected or eliminated for having the least votes available, and so is out of competition for preferences. 
  4. Do not write anything other than numbers on your ballot paper, as anything else may be taken as a sign of political intimidation: that you have been bullied into voting for a certain candidate and have put a mark on the ballot to prove to count observers that you have done what you promised.  
  5. If you want to really try to stop an individual getting elected, give a preference to every other candidate. This means that your vote is available to help any candidate fighting your most hated candidate. The more preferences you leave blank means the less help your vote can potentially be to other candidates. If there is a group of candidates you hate equally, leave them all blank. It means that none of them can help stop any other of them.
  6. No, spoiled or blank ballots do not “automatically go to the government”. I hear this every year, and I have no idea where it comes from.    

We, the people of Malta, and Australia are the only people lucky enough to use STV in national elections. It has its flaws: it makes TDs get a version of the bends if they’re out of their constituency longer than 12 hours, and obsess about the effect of fairies on municipal road planning, but as voter choice goes, it’s hard to beat. 

A Thumbnail Guide to Election 2020: The See-Nothing Party Man.

Envelope? What envelope?

Envelope? What envelope?

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.

“Trains to where, judge? Auschwitz? I just set the timetables. Couldn’t tell you what was in them. Was it strange that they were coming back empty? Do you know, I never thought to ask.”

A Thumbnail Guide to Election 2020: The Unlistenable Politician.

pol books2Repost: Every time you see or hear him about to speak, you give him a chance. He’s an important senior politician, a leader in our country. His opinion matters.

Forty five seconds in, you’re flicking over to something else. Anything else. It’s not that you disagree with him or what he’s saying, after all, there’s some pleasure to be had screaming “You’re a f**king eejit!” at the telly or the radio. That would mean he’s actually said something.

No, it’s worse than that.

Every single time he says nothing. Every single time. He talks and talks and you can hear the cogs in the brain lining up the next trite offend-nobody vague platitude into the breech to be fired at us.

He’s like a football pundit who doesn’t really have any interest in football.

It’s not lies. It’s not offensive. It’s just nothing. It’s all a bit of a chore, one of those offshore gas drilling platforms that has to burn off the excess gas every while, only with him it’s words, all safe and harmless and meaningless.

We’d actually be better served if he just read out funny words he came across in the dictionary, or told us about an episode of  “Elementary” he watched recently, or rolled up a shirt sleeve and showed us a rash and asked us what caused that, do we think?

A Thumbnail Guide to Election 2020: The Curse of the Shoo-In Candidate.

pol books2It’s a uniquely Irish concept. In other countries, parties brag about how well their candidate is doing. Not in Ireland. In Ireland, candidates, especially ones defending a seat, play up how desperate things are, how bad the campaign is going, how “the seat is gone”. There is nothing a candidate hates more than people saying she’s a dead cert, because in Ireland that’s political death. More people have gone into an election as the dead cert and come out with less votes than Gary Glitter at a National Association of Creches AGM.

It’s all to do with the second guessing poker nature of the Single Transferable Vote system. STV is a logical, rational and fair voting system which gives voters a wider choice than almost any voting system in the world. It asks voters to select their candidates in order of preference. As a result, there’s little chance of wasting one’s vote on an unelectable candidate.

But it never expected that it would have to deal with the Irish psyche, and voters who don’t just consider who they’d like to elect, but who they think other people are going to elect too, and so discount their own vote and transfer their vote to their second choice in the hope of getting a second bite of the cherry. It’s hardly surprising, as this is exactly the same way Irish people choose their third level educational future through the Central Applications Office. They’re asked to pick what course they really want, and instead enter what course they think they’ll get, and are then disappointed when they miss the course they actually wanted in the first place. They then vote the same way.

As a result, you have party voters who decide that Party X’s candidate A is a definite, and so instead gives their first preference to candidate A’s running mate, to give her a chance at taking a second seat for the party. The problem is that large numbers of candidate A’s loyal voters are all thinking the same thing, and so the running mate gets elected and candidate A is surprisingly defeated to the shock of all, with voters looking blankly at each other with a “Jaysus, if I’d only known. Sure everybody I know said they wanted him in!”

How do you prevent it? Vote for your favourite candidate first. It really is that simple. Really.

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.