An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Mouth Breathing Tweeter.

The first time you encounter his racist or sexist or generally offensive tweets you think you have his measure. He’s an arsehole, and you’re tempted to take him on, tweet for tweet. But as you read down his timeline, you realise that it isn’t that simple, because, for want of a better word, he is.

His timeline is one of threats and insults to celebrities and politicians, just barely structured in something vaguely resembling English. Such is his challenged mental faculty that he has rows with his public utilities not through customer service or by email, but by Twitter, revealing to all of us his struggle to deal with day to day life.

Your offence and anger at his obnoxious comments dissipates as you realise that Twitter is all he has, his excited just barely fingertip touch at people he sees on the telly, the only thing that resembles anything close to equality with all those people around him everyday with their newspapers and big words.

Were it not for Twitter, he’d be the village idiot in some small town, the young man “known to Gardai” not as a bad one but as a source of head shaking and sympathy for his poor parents, who are such good people. Were it not for Twitter, he could be dead in a ditch, frozen to death having been incapacitated by alcoholic poisoning, or hanging by his own belt from a door, trousers around his ankles after reading about sexual misadventure on the internet.

So cut him some slack. Twitter is all he has.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: How to Vote.

Ireland uses a voting system called the Single Transferable Vote (STV). It’s very simple to use, yet has had a number of myths built up about it, so I thought I’d do a simple guide.

1. Put a number 1 beside the person you definitely want to win, a number 2 beside your second choice, and continue all down in order of your choice. Don’t worry if you think they haven’t got a chance, because the system takes care of that. It’s asking you “If your favourite isn’t strong enough to be elected, who is your second choice? And if they’re not strong enough?” and so on.

2. Don’t try to second guess how other people will vote. VOTE FOR WHO YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO WIN!

3. STV is almost unique as a voting system in letting you actively vote AGAINST someone. If there is a candidate in, say, the Blackrock ward in Dun Laoghaire, for argument’s sake, that you definitely DON’T want to win, you should give a preference to EVERY single other candidate. This is important. By doing so, you are making your vote available to the strongest candidate availble to beat your hated candidate. If you don’t want to give preferences to other candidates, that’s fair enough, but imagine how you will feel if your candidate is narrowly elected because your vote didn’t transfer to the person who almost beat them?

4. The big myth: your preferences (2,3,4, etc) have absolutely NO EFFECT on the previous preference. That means that if you are, say, a Fine Gael voter, and you vote 1,2,3 for the FG candidates, and then give your 4th preference to a Fianna Fail candidate, that will not harm the chances of the three FG candidates in ANY WAY.

5. Unlike the actual voting, the system of counting votes can be a bit technical, and for someone like me who did “sums” in the Leaving, I’ll leave it to others to explain. Suffice to say, if there are five seats, if you get just over one-sixth of the vote you’ll be elected, and sometimes with less. It’s a pretty fair system.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Local Election Candidate’s Leaflet

They started appearing through letterboxes about a year ago, and the clever ones boast all the tricks of the trade. Firstly, those from the three main parties will hardly mention politics at all. They’ll be from “Local area representatives”, which is basically a makey up title parties now use for people who haven’t been selected yet. But regardless of the party, keep an eye out for the common features:

1. You can play bingo with them. Look out for “Community”, “Working with”, “Local services”, “Committed to”, “Passionate about”, “Delivering solutions”, “Delighted”, “Resource”, “A strong voice”, “A fresh voice”, “A new voice for…”. They will also tell you how opposed they are to things they have no control over, but will avoid committing to anything over which they have any power.

2. The leaflet will have a slight air of  “what the f**k can I put on this leaflet to fill space without offending absolutely anybody about anything?”. Truth is, if they could just post a giant picture of themselves through your letter box without coming across as an awful prick, they would.

3. They’ll talk an awful lot about spending other people’s money, whilst assuring you that it isn’t your money they’re spending.

4. The size of the party logo will depend on how long they’ve been in power. Some Labour people seem to have run out of red ink. When FF were in power, their logo resembled a high speed daddy long legs impact.

5. The date on the leaflet will be vague, or non-existent,  to allow the candidates to use if for months. Yet it’ll be written in a style to give an impression that it’s put out regularly, with phrases like Community Noticeboard or Keeping You Informed or Update on it.

6. It’ll have details on something bizarre that you have never considered, which will make the candidate sound like he/she has got some form of political OCD: “I’m very excited at the news that Fecker Road is to get a new solar powered stop sign. I’ve had to loosen my trousers since I heard the news.”

7. Don’t forget the standard candidate pic: smart casual in front of a local landmark, to remind you that he’s actually been in a place you might recognise. Folded arms are meant to convey business, as if to say “See that sky? I made that.” A pose in front of something bad, like potholes or graffiti will be accompanied by a grimace or frown, to show he’s unhappy, and does not approve of bad things. If he really cared he’d fling his own body into the pothole so that people could step on his back as they pass. If he really cared.

8. He’ll namecheck local areas in a way that makes him sound like Rain Man: “I think what the people of Blackrock, Stillorgan, Deansgrange, Foxrock and Lower Earth Orbit are really concerned about is…”. He’ll do the same in his Ard Fheis speech, claiming ownership of his potential people like King Joffrey.

9. Just once, you’d love to see the phrase “I’m running for the council because I quite fancy being a TD, and this is the first hoop I have to jump through. If I’m lucky, I’ll be out of the council faster than Jimmy Saville at a Daily Mail readers convention.”

10. Candidates will very rarely mention other candidates’ records. Unlike in the US, where your record in office is examined, in Ireland we actually have people running against crooks condemned by tribunals who will refuse to mention it. Primarily because there’s an unwritten gentleman’s agreement amongst the parties to play nice. Sure we’re all trying to just get elected, aren’t we?

11. See on the leaflet the other party candidates? “The Local Team”? Normally at the bottom of the leaflet in smaller writing than anything else? That’s who they’re actually running against.

By the way, if you happen to come across one that actually tells you what the candidate will do with the Local Property Tax powers THEY ACTUALLY HAVE, frame it! Councillors have the power to reduce the LPT rate, but keep it quiet because it involves making spending choices. Most candidates prefer banging will on about stuff they can’t control, like abolishing the LPT. Stuff they have as much control over as your cat/dog/SkyPlus remote.

Hmmm. How to work SkyPlus? Now there’s something useful for a leaflet.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Two-Faced Councillor.

She’s all in favour of an elected mayor of Dublin, and will talk about Boris Johnson and Rudy Giuliani all night long. She’s been in favour since it was first suggested by Noel Dempsey and Bobby Molloy in 1999. Yeah, she’s been talking about it for 15 years. During which London has held a referendum, created a mayor, and held four mayoral elections. She’s all in favour.

Until she actually has to vote to let the people of Dublin decide in a referendum as to whether THEY want an elected mayor for THEIR city. Then the mask slips: the proposals aren’t radical enough, the mayor won’t have enough powers, there’s no consensus, any aul nonsense to prevent the little people from voting, because what’s it’s got to do with them? They’re not members of Dublin City Council, or South Dublin, or Dublin Fingal! They’re just the rabble who pay the Local Property Tax and councillors expenses. What’s it go to do with THEM? They should mind their own business, the nosy bastards.

The truth is, she doesn’t really want an elected mayor because she wants the one year rotating taxpayer funded jolly that is the current mayor of Dublin, and if there’s an elected Super Mayor people will start asking questions. But she can’t say that in public, so instead she’s try the “not radical enough” guff. So she can vote to block the riff-raff voting on it until her and the political elite can spend another 15 years discussing it. Funnily enough, she was in favour of keeping the Seanad and reforming that yoke too.

How’s that “Vote No for Reform” working out for you , by the way?

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Secretly Right-Wing Leftie

“Good riddance to them and their greedy Thatcherite ways!” she declared over a gin and tonic, when the Progressive Democrats closed up shop. Her leftie credentials are solid, as you can tell from her attendance at the Ivana Bacik fundraiser and the “Remember Savita” sticker placed elegantly on the back of her 5 series coupe.

The language rolls easily of the tongue, about “social justice”, “investment in communities”, “Social capital”, in fact almost anything with the word “social” in it. She’s secretary of the Labour Women’s Group in Dublin South East. The West Wing Box set holds pride of place on her DVD shelf, and The Guardian is always placed face up on the coffee table, under a box of fairtrade organic cookies. She is left wing and proud.

Not that her accountant would know, of course. Remember those filthy PDs and their tax cuts? They were quickly trousered, and a “little getaway place for Gavin and I” in Southern Portugal emerged. When the PDs and Fianna Fail cut Capital Gains Tax, her socialist conscience seemed to play second fiddle to the opportunity to flip those investment properties in Lucan and Ballymun.

For some reason, she seems unaware of the fact that the Revenue Commissioners will happily accept back any undesired taxcuts gratefully. Even filthy PD ones. Watch her reaction to funding social spending by taxing unearned profits on private residential properties: it’s like watching Newt Gingrich in high heels.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Pretend Political Reformer.

Hiding behind a mask.

Hiding behind a mask.

You’ll see her at summer schools, academic fora, the odd Irish Times drinkie. Anything with the words electoral, political, seanad, reform, she’ll be there, ready to speak at the drop of a canapé.

“Of course,” she’ll nod earnestly, “nobody is arguing in favour of the status quo!”

Except she is. Not in public, of course, no, she’ll happily discuss the Danish European Affairs Committee or the New Zealand electoral system until the political cows come home, as long as that’s all we do. Talk about it. The truth is, she’s a fraud. She’s a party hack who is smart enough not to wave it around, and will happily participate in panels with people from other parties, but when it comes down to it, she wants to be a senator or a substitute MEP or the head of a quango, and will keep her nose clean and not upset the political establishment.

You have to look closely to see it. She’ll be the member of every reform group going, and will nod sagely as they release yet another report to join the National Political Reform Report Archive, but she’ll never get stuck into her potential future appointers-to-jobs. She’ll always support reviews, and committee, and conventions, and anything that will push reform off into the distance.

Deep down, she’ll sneer at the real reformers as amateurs, who don’t know the rules of the game, outsiders, people who should really mind their own business. Or as we know them: Citizens.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: Them fellas up in Dublin and their “rules”.

“How are you Tom, are you well? Yeah, good, good, no, can’t complain…well, didn’t I get pulled over by the Guards this morning…yeah…breathalysed…wouldn’t you think with all the murders and paedophiles on every street corner they’d have better things to do with their time…sure I’d been at the Bourke removal, you know the young fella, yeah, that’s right, him and six other young lads went into a ditch at the weekend. Stone dead. Jaysus, them roads are terrible, lethal they are, taking young lives like that, and them only out for the few jars, it’s very sad…did you hear the news, by the way? The brother got off that medical disciplinary thing…yeah, that’s right, some other doctor, some foreign fella, objected to him operating because he’d had a few scoops the night before…did you ever hear the like of it…sure as the brother says, a few porters help him do his job better, you know, calms the nerves…anyway, apparently he picked up a scalpel rather than a syringe and this English fella went bananas and ratted on him. Disgraceful carry on. Your young one’s going in for her operation this week, isn’t she? I’ll be saying a prayer to St Anthony for her. Did you hear Maura’s Sean, you know, her eldest, got the Air Traffic Control job…yeah…you want to see the pension!…yeah, he failed a few of the tests, crashed two jumbo jets into each other over Mullingar on the computer stimulator! But doesn’t Maura know the minister and a word was had in the right ear, apparently the computer thing got deleted, if you know what I mean! I’d stay away from the airport for a few weeks, all the same, until he gets the hang of the ropes, and that. Anyway, see you over the Christmas!”

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Voter Who Expects Other Voters To Be Morally Better Than Him.

Nothing to do with me, Guv.

Nothing to do with me, Guv.

He is almost single-handedly responsible for the state of Irish politics. Mostly because he suffers from that endemic self delusion that seems to be hard wired into Irish DNA. Put him in front of a pollster or an academic and he’ll give textbook answers about the need for democratic accountability and check and balances and proper scrutiny of legislation. He’s a model citizen.

Until he votes, because when he does, none of those lofty criteria apply. When he votes, it’s for the local fella who delivers for the local parish. Legislator? Scrutiniser of executives? The local fella could be chopping up people (in another parish, of course) and eating them with a fine Chianti and some Lima beans and he’d still vote for him, as long as he got the pension for the brother in law who’s only 27.

When it comes down to it, he wants someone else to vote for proper economic management and world class health standards and a professionally run country.

And by the way, the irony isn’t that he doesn’t vote for it himself. The irony is that he actually gets angry when other people won’t vote for it.

Who do those people think they are, coming down to his level? Just look at the state they have the country in, the bastards.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: Fake Indignation.

If one were to ask a scientist to come up with a device to measure false outrage in Irish politics, you would expect the needle to at least reach 50% most of the time. It’s hardly surprising, of course, in a system as centrally dictatorial as ours. When most elected officeholders either have no power or do not want to use it (something you don’t hear as much about) they resort to spewing out vast quantities of emotion-load guff about “dignity” and “esteem” of one group of vested interests or another.

Take almost any issue to do with old people. You can play bingo with the avalanche of grovelling pander that comes out of politicians when anyone suggests that senior citizens carry their fair share. “They have worked all their lives!” is a favourite. Some of them have. About the same proportion of non-senior citizens who have also worked their whole lives.

Then you get the “the measure of a civilised society is how it treats its old people.” Again, this is true. But if you squeeze “financially comfortable with mortgage paid off” into the gap between “old” and “people”, it doesn’t quite sound the same.

But let’s call the truth here. Dignity me eye. We all know why politicians are terrified of old people. They vote. And fair play to them, because at least old people are smart enough to scare the shite out of politicians and use the system to get what they want. For that they deserve admiration.

But please: spare us the puffed out political chests and the “look at my inflated social conscience as I parade it down the street” from politicians who start to believe their own speeches.

Because in this age of media accessibility, it’ll come back to haunt you. This is what happens:

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The legislator who does not like legislating.

Sure, this isn’t fair at all. Didn’t he do his bit in three county finals and two All-Irelands, and now here he is in Dail Eireann and fellas are asking him about abortion and laws and the like? What’s it got to do with him?

He was sent by the good people of the parish to get St. Handout’s grounds better drained, an extension for the Old Folk’s Home in Ballygrasping, and to get them fancy Dublin lads off the backs of the ordinary people going on about feces in the drinking water and other high falutin’ notions.

Now they’re asking him about laws about what now? Ladies private parts and what goes on it them? Sure what business is that of his, he said on the local radio, until Father Jude rang him up and told him that it is very much the state’s business what goes on in there and had he been reading dirty foreign muck like The Irish Times and Supreme Court judgements? So, you want me to vote for legislation, then, he asks, and your man in the collar goes ballistic telling him on no account should he darken the door of  Our Lady of Perpetual Curtain Twitching if he does.

He’s completely confused. There should be some sort of special body set up to look at legislation, debate and vote on it,  and stop troubling ordinary Dail Deputies like himself. Sure hasn’t he enough to be doing? There’s that poor woman in Feckerstown whose son keeps getting harassed by the guards just because they keep finding him, by pure coincidence, in the driving seat of stolen cars. Or that man in Goonyaboya who the county council are discriminating against because he keeps putting dead cattle out with the bins for collection. He’s more important things to be worrying about.