tag: Election2007



23
Sep 2008

The bloody greens

Over at Bristling Badger, Merrick has been publishing his correspondence with the UK Green Party on the question of whether hydrogen should be pursued as the vehicle fuel of the future (hint: it shouldn’t be).

Needless to say, he’s not made a great deal of headway as yet.

The problem is as simple as it is age-old… namely that the first job of any politician is to take and maintain a position of power. All else is secondary (and that goes for Greens, Reds, Blues and every other colour). No one will get elected if they admit, for example, that part of the only guaranteed solution to our current problems is the abandonment of the private car. Even if it is true. So instead they promise pipe dreams.

In a way this is made even worse when the politician in question claims to have lofty ideals… the nonsense and obfuscation they come out with in order to avoid admitting that their ideals are secondary to their search for power can be stomach-churning to watch.

What is true is that the idea of power corrupts. Power corrupts most rapidly those who believe in it, and it is they who will want it most. Obviously, our democratic system tends to give power to those who hunger for it and gives every opportunity to those who don’t want power to avoid getting it. Not a very satisfactory arrangement if power corrupts those who believe in it and want it.

Perhaps there is no such thing as unilateral power. After all, the man ‘in power’ depends on receiving information all the time from outside. He responds to that information just as much as he ’causes’ things to happen… it is an interaction, and not a lineal situation. But the myth of power is, of course, a very powerful myth, and probably most people in this world more or less believe in it. It is a myth, which, if everybody believes in it, becomes to that extent self-validating. But it is still epistemological lunacy and leads inevitably to various sorts of disaster.

- Gregory Bateson | Steps To An Ecology of Mind

Here in Ireland we have the Green Party in coalition. The rate at which they have abandoned every single one of their principles is beyond satire and has guaranteed them at least one less vote at the next election. The final nail in their coffin, however, was hammered-in over the weekend when John Gormley, party leader and Minister for the Environment, appeared on the main evening news.

Before I report what he said, let me take you back a year to the Green decision to join the coalition government. By voting for the Greens, which — much to my regret — I did, I believed that I was voting for the manifesto they campaigned on. I realise this was naive of me, but I didn’t really expect them to help prop up the incumbent Fianna Fáil government (whose economic irresponsibility has resulted in a criminal waste of resources). I believed I was helping to propel the Green Manifesto onto the opposition benches where it would be heard but not diluted.

Sure, you’d have to strain to hear it, but it would be there.

Instead the manifesto was abandoned almost wholesale as the Greens rushed into government. In exchange for two ministries and six votes, Fianna Fáil persuaded the Greens to ditch all but one of their commitments. Gormley even justified this decision by claiming that the single-most important issue facing Ireland — facing the world — is Climate Change. Therefore, the Greens would support Fianna Fáil in return for a Programme of Government that included a cast-iron commitment to reduce Ireland’s carbon emissions by a minimum of 3% per year during the lifetime of the government.

That was the deal that was made. I disagreed with it at the time for a bunch of reasons, but mostly because anyone with half a brain (i.e. not someone addled by the desire for power) could tell that the Greens were being bought off with a cheque guaranteed to bounce.

And now it has done. At the end of last week, a report was leaked that demonstrated clearly that not only was this commitment not going to be met, but that Irish carbon emissions had previously been significantly understated and furthermore were actually still rising. So a year after taking power, on their one clear commitment; that single thing we were asked to judge their performance on; the Greens have unequivocably failed.

Gormley, though, appeared on the news to answer this point. His response was predictable and pathetic in almost equal measure. He passed the buck.

I’m not the minister for finance, and I’m not the minister for transport, nor am I the minister for agriculture… so I’m very much dependent on other ministers coming forward.

Amazing stuff. He sold out his manifesto for a seat in government which would enable him to push through emission cuts. It’s only now he’s woken up to the fact that he doesn’t have the power to do a sodding thing about it. I’ve seen him speak; he doesn’t strike me as a stupid man; so how could he have failed to see that one coming? Damn near everyone else did.

The Taoiseach is well-aware of my concerns, as are other ministers, says John. Well that makes it all OK then. He is concerned and everyone is aware of it. All that’s needed now is to develop the technology to convert Mr. Gormley’s concern into clean, zero-emission energy.

Even worse; Mr. Gormley admitted in April this year (in a speech entitled… wait for it… “Putting Vision Into Action”) that he believed we have a “10-year window” to address Climate Change. On the news last weekend he stated that not only would it “be premature” to speculate on the solutions to our emissions growth, but that none of the emission-reduction measures that have so far been put in place in the transport sector would have any significant effect before 2020.

While only a couple of months ago, the Deputy Leader of the Greens, Mary White, was attacking the opposition for their temerity to criticise the environmental record of the government. “Both [opposition] parties”, she insisted, “seem to have forgotten the major steps that the Government has made in tackling the causes of climate change.”

It’s difficult to forget something that never actually happened, Mary.

At the time the Greens entered government I wrote that what concerned me most was not that they’d be ineffective — which was self-evident. My biggest concern would be that they’d deal a significant blow to the environmental movement in Ireland. By allowing people the opportunity of a “fire-and-forget” option, they would severely curtail environmental activism. Those who were concerned about Climate Change could cast their vote and unburden themselves of the responsibility to take further action.

So well done to the Irish Green Party. You have joined a government that is implementing policies guaranteed to raise total emissions. But at least everyone knows how concerned you are.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


30
Sep 2007

Vote Green. Get a random colour.

The Irish Green Party have lost any shred of whatever credibility they once had. It’s possible they could still emerge with a political future if they pulled out of the coalition right now and admitted they’d made a huge mistake for which they would work ceaselessly in opposition to atone for. The longer they remain as part of this government, the less likely is that political future.

But that’s not what concerns me. The moment they gave their tacit support to the destruction of the Tara valley (a scheme they’d previously described as “an act of cultural and historic vandalism“) in clear defiance of their pre-election promises, was the moment they ceased being worthy of the electorate’s trust. It’s unlikely this Green Party will ever get my vote again (back to spoilt papers for me it appears), and frankly I hope they fade into bitter memory… as I hope does every politician who trades their principles and promises for a brief stint at the top table.

No, what worries me is that they will tarnish the entire environmental movement. By sending out the clear message that they’re just another bunch of career politicians willing to do almost anything for power, so they send out the message that the environment is just another political issue. It’s not life and death. It’s not something we urgently need to get right or we’ll end up damning future generations. It’s just another issue. Which means it’s negotiable. If there are more votes in addressing the crime problem, or building more schools, then that’s what will be done.

Which isn’t to say that we don’t need more and better schools. And it’s not to say that crime should be ignored. Simply that the environment is a different category of problem. If we don’t safeguard the environment, then zero crime and wonderful schools for every child are irrelevant. “Little Timmy got such a great education before he was killed in the water riots. Thank heavens for the Greens, eh?”

But it’s not just Tara. I gave the Greens my vote this time round because I read their manifesto and it was filled with positions that I felt desperately needed representation in The Dáil. But I was lied to. And those positions have no representation. When I voted for them, it was partly because they promised “When in government, the Green Party will introduce legislation to end blood sports” (paragraph 7.1). I mean, there’s very little room for interpretation on that one, right?

Wrong. As Minister for the Environment, Green Party leader John Gormley is responsible for issuing hunting licences. And he has gone ahead and issued a number of hare-coursing licences for this year. I can’t be the only person who sees this as a clear betrayal. Not only is a man who pledged to end blood-sports in Ireland issuing licences to those who organise blood-sports rather than taking a stand on an unambiguous manifesto promise, but by doing so he — and the other Greens — are ensuring that the anti-blood-sports position simply isn’t represented in The Dáil. No other party, or independent, made the same pledge. So a large number of people will have voted for the Greens on that issue.

They — like those who felt that the preservation of the Tara valley needed a voice in The Dáil — have been royally screwed over. When I vote, I vote for the policies and not the person. I vote because I want those policies represented at the highest possible level, even if that means the opposition benches. Paul Gogarty, my local Green TD, is supposed to be representing me. I voted for him based upon the beliefs he claimed to subscribe to in the manifesto. Abandoning those beliefs in exchange for a government job is sticking two fingers up to me and everyone else who gave him their voice. When the history of this age is told, I hope Paul Gogarty’s name — along with the other five Green TDs — is forever linked to that act of “cultural and historic vandalism” he is now party to.

Climate Change

The excuse. According to some in the media who claim to know about these things, John Gormley — as leader of the Greens — made a decision when Bertie approached him to be part of the coalition. Every Green policy was up for negotiation, for abandonment even, in return for a chance to shape policy on Climate Change.

Now, when I first heard that rumour it gave me pause for thought. Climate change may well be the most important single issue facing the planet, and it clearly requires urgent action. So perhaps there’s method to the Green madness. Perhaps all of these compromises can be justified. Perhaps Gormley’s decision to focus all of his party’s effort and expend all of their political capital on this single, vital issue, is a shrewd political move.

Except it isn’t.

Per capita, Ireland’s carbon emissions are extremely high. We’re up there at number 17 in the world and in Europe’s top five. And there’s no question that needs to be addressed.

But when it comes to overall total carbon emissions, we’re way down the list. We’re number 56. Between Serbia & Montenegro and Libya. That’s not to say that Ireland’s carbon emissions are irrelevant. That’s not the point I’m making. I’m just highlighting the cold, hard fact that no Irish Environment Minister can make a significant impact on solving this global problem, when the very best he or she could do would be to eliminate less than one fifth of one percent of global emissions.

That would be a great thing, don’t get me wrong, and we in Ireland should indeed be working towards that goal. But even if we succeed, we just don’t produce enough of the problematic carbon dioxide to make a significant impact on a global scale.

And that’s the reason Gormley’s decision isn’t a shrewd one. The Irish Green Party — even in opposition — have a degree of control over whether or not the Tara valley is vandalised in the name of the private car (looks like Peak Oil is going to be a half-decade too late for Ireland’s most important heritage site). They have a degree of control over blood-sports policy in Ireland. They have a degree of control over a number of significant issues… whether we expand Dublin airport, whether we invest more in public transport or road-building, how much we tax waste, how much we tax flights, and plenty more.

But the Greens have relinquished their control over these issues (not a single voice in Dáil Éireann opposed the granting of the hare-coursing licences) in return for a chance to shape policy on an issue they — realistically speaking — have no control over. Still, if nothing else, we can expect to see Ireland slide down those nationmaster lists. This year we are 17th in per capita carbon emissions and 56th overall. Let’s see how we stand next year, and the year after. I hope the Tara valley was worth it.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


11
Jul 2007

Tom Parlon: No hard evidence of corruption

The Progressive Democrats look like a bit of a spent force in Irish politics. As mentioned previously though, the fall of this ultra-capitalist right-wing Party of Business is not a result of people turning their backs on the short-termist unsustainable philosophy they espouse. Rather it’s a result of a shift in the mainstream centre-ground. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have both been willing to put short-term economic growth before the long-term good of the country. “Wealth Before Wisdom” would have been a far more accurate slogan than anything either party came up with during the recent election.

And because of this shift to the right, the PDs are simply no longer required. There’s no act of capitalist extremism, no policy that places profit before people, no position of meek subjugation to market forces, that Bertie Ahern isn’t already willing to adopt. Irish politics no longer needs a small ultra-right party when it’s got two large ultra-right parties to choose from.

This is why it doesn’t surprise me to see the PDs fragment and dissolve. When party leader Michael McDowell lost his seat and threw his toys out of his pram (walking away from politics on the very day his party most needed leadership), the writing was on the wall for the Progressive Democrats. Today the writing was no longer just on the wall, it appeared in 20-foot-high neon letters above the few remaining party members. Because today Tom Parlon, party president and favourite to take over the leadership, quit the party and followed McDowell out of public life. Up until a few weeks ago, Parlon had been TD for the Laois-Offaly constituency. More than that, he’d been Minister in charge of the Office of Public Works.

This last fact is of particular interest, as Parlon is quitting politics to take up a very high-paying position as director general of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF). It should be pointed out that there’s absolutely no hard evidence that Parlon is a vile, corrupt scumbag who treated public service as nothing more than a step in his career… a rung on his own ladder towards personal riches. Nor that his close relationship with the CIF might have extended back before the job offer; when he was in charge of a publicly-funded multi-billion euro building programme. So anyone who suggests that rather than acting in the interest of the Irish public while a government minister, Parlon instead took his lead from a particular business organisation which was later to offer him a salary of a quarter-million euro per year, should be aware that — given the lack of hard evidence — such suggestions may well be libellous.

Interestingly, Parlon’s appointment to the CIF demonstrates once again the ridiculously compromised nature of the Irish Green Party. I would bet everything I own that — had the Greens not been members of the same government as the PDs — they would have been the first to publicly condemn this doubtlessly-perfectly-above-board-despite-appearing-corrupt-as-hell move. Instead that’s left to the Labour Party who describe Parlon’s decision as representing a “serious potential conflict of interest”. The Greens merely issued a rather tame statement calling for a Code of Conduct in political life. The Green statement is careful not to mention their political ally specifically of course and suggests “a buffer period of twelve months, during which time politicians could not take up private sector employment relating to their previous area of responsibility”.

Such a code would be a great idea and I’m only surprised it doesn’t already exist. However, while the Greens are getting that together (it’ll be very interesting to see how much influence they actually have in government… will this “call” for a Code of Conduct get acted upon by Fianna Fáil or will it be ignored like every other Green policy?) could I suggest that they also start work on another — perhaps far more important — code of conduct. It could be called “The Contract With The Electorate” or something similar, and it would prevent parties deceptively campaigning on a manifesto which they later abandon wholesale in favour of a ministerial salary and a little bit of power.

Just an idea.

Update (12-07-07): The Labour Party have described Parlon’s move as positively “unethical” (not merely as being “potentially” a conflict of interest). More than that (via The Dossing Times), the Irish branch of Transparency International — the global anti-corruption group — have questioned the decision by the ex-president of the PDs. Although they make it clear that the group does not comment on individual cases, they nonetheless point out that it’s hardly a good idea for ministers to “make decisions with one eye on future employment prospects”.

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2
Jul 2007

Election 2007: Was that it?

Election 2007

So we’ve got a new government. Kind of. In truth it looks suspiciously like the old one. Like someone you know who suddenly looks different, and it takes you a few moments to realise they’ve got a new pair of glasses.

Bertie’s still in charge. Fianna Fáil are still the party of power. And the Progressive Democrats are still ruining the health service. Did I say “ruining”? I’m sorry; I meant “running” of course.

So no change there then.

But that’s not the whole story. There’s the new pair of glasses… Bertie invited The Greens to the cabinet table and after a week of negotiations (which seems like a long time to insert the words “and Green Party” into the Fianna Fáil manifesto) they accepted. However, despite having voted Green myself (at the very least implying I wanted them to be part of a governing coalition), I’m fairly worried about this development. My own analysis of the election result is that the electorate essentially voted with its wallet. It voted for the continuation of the economic boom of the past decade (I know, I know, don’t get me started). Fianna Fáil were returned to power because people didn’t want to upset the economic applecart. And what frustrations they did have with the government; they took out on the coalition partners — the PDs — who were given a serious kicking.

If the Greens aren’t careful, they’ll end up as little more than Fianna Fáil’s new scapegoat. And that has the potential not only to discredit them as a political party, but to do serious damage to the wider environmental movement in Ireland. Careful now.

The Results

The first word that sprung to mind when the counts started to come in was “unimaginative”. Fianna Fáil’s share of the vote remained almost steady, losing only 4 seats; remarkable for a party that’s held power for the past ten years. Meanwhile the other large centre-right party — Fine Gael — recovered from its disastrous showing last time and gained 20 seats. A significant comeback that not only secures Enda Kenny as party leader for the foreseeable future, but also demolished the smaller parties. Labour, meanwhile, were down one seat against all media predictions which had suggested they’d pick up seats as part of Fine Gael’s Alliance For Change. In the event, their static performance probably means it will be Pat Rabbitte’s last election as party leader. Look for them to change leadership within a year.

In the run up to the election it had been the smaller parties who had been predicted to do well. I believe that this expectation ended up driving support away from them. The people got freaked out by the possibility that they might actually change something… challenge the established system… and they voted safe instead. So the genuinely popular leader of the Irish Socialist Party lost his seat in one of the shocks of the election, leaving the Dáil without any traditional hammer’n’anvil old-style Socialist TDs. This will be to the detriment of Irish political life in my view.

Sinn Féin had been predicted to make serious inroads, to become a real force in Irish politics. Instead they lost one of their five seats. People have been asking whether it was their politics or their history that put the voters off. I don’t think it was either. I just think they suffered, along with every other alternative to the Big Two, in the headlong rush to the centre-right.

The PDs though. That was an odd one. From 8 seats down to 2, and party leader and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell losing his. That was the closest we came this election to a “Portillo moment”… McDowell resigning from public life and buggering off home leaving the PDs leaderless on what was already a dire night for them. Oh how I grinned. Though I suspect my grin wasn’t half as wide as the one on the face of Gerry Adams. His party may not have been doing so well, but he could at least console himself with the knowledge that his bitterest political rival south of the border was doing so much worse.

The trouble is, of course, that just like the original Portillo moment, the demise of the PDs isn’t about The Fall of The Right. Sadly it’s merely the result of someone else successfully occupying that territory. Back in the 80s when the PDs emerged, they were all about pushing Ireland away from thoughts of socialism and towards the beckoning Celtic Tiger. They like to take credit for that, but that’s because they misunderstand the complexities of social and cultural evolution. The PDs were merely a symptom of a global change. Teenage spots, or menopausal hot-flushes. And now that the change has occurred, they’re pretty much cleared up. Sorry, irrelevant.

But, as Mary Harney reminds us, even adults get the occasional pimple once in a while.

Despite the resurgence of Fine Gael, the decimation of the PDs and the loss of four Fianna Fáil seats wasn’t enough to push Bertie’s Team out (thanks in no small part to the underwhelming performance by Labour). He was only six short of an overall majority. The two PDs could be counted on, which left him only needing four. Of the five remaining independents (down from 13), four of them were either ex-Fianna Fáil or known to be broadly in support of the party. So he had his government, and he let everyone know it. He didn’t need another coalition partner, but because it was such a slender majority, he acknowledged that another partner would certainly make the government more stable.

Enter: The Greens

The Green Party had — like Sinn Féin — been expected to gain a bunch of seats. They had 6 seats and conservative predictions saw them picking up at least four more. Some even suggested they could end up with as many as 14 or 15 TDs in the new Dáil. In the end they stayed steady; lost a couple of seats, but picked up a couple elsewhere (it was a Green who pushed McDowell out in Dublin South-East). All the same, despite the (against predictions) poor showing, they had enough seats to turn Bertie’s slender majority into a workable one.

For Fianna Fáil it meant they didn’t have to contemplate getting into bed with Sinn Féin — for Bertie to invite Sinn Féin to form part of the Irish government would be an incredibly controversial, and very risky, move. He’s happy to leave that particular nettle to be grasped by some future leader of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. And talking to The Greens also meant that Fianna Fáil didn’t need to engage with Labour. Pat Rabbitte’s 20 TDs would have demanded far more influence at the cabinet table than the 6 Greens could realistically expect.

And so the negotiations began. A friend of mine insisted that “Shannon will be the sticking point”. By this she meant that the Greens couldn’t possibly be part of a government that allowed the US military to use Shannon airport. Then the newspapers revealed that they’d caved on Shannon. They were prepared to be part of a government that actively supported the US military. My friend was disgusted. “That’s the last time they get my vote. What was the fucking point of their manifesto anyway?” Elsewhere… “Tara will be the sticking point”. In other words, the Greens couldn’t possibly be part of a government that drove a motorway through the Tara Valley. That would be just silly, right?

Well… it turns out the final act of the outgoing Fianna Fáil Environment and Heritage Minister, Dick Roche, was to sign the go-ahead for the M3. I guess at least it lifts the burden of responsibility from the incoming Green Environment and Heritage Minister, John Gormley. He’ll merely have to oversee this “act of cultural and historic vandalism” (Green Party Environment spokesperson, Ciarán Cuffe TD, 31st March 2005) rather than approve it. Just imagine if the Greens are not part of the next government. Just imagine if this turns out to be their one shot at power for a generation. What a legacy, eh?

TV Quiz Show Host, 2019: When The Green Party enjoyed their one period in office during the troubled government of 2007-10, what is acknowledged to have been their primary achievement?
Contestant: Was it supervising the destruction of Ireland’s most important Heritage Site, the Tara Valley, Alan?
TV Quiz Show Host (Alan): Yes it was Joan! And that brings your total up to… a staggering… 14.75 litres of fuel oil!!!
[Wild applause]
Contestant (Joan): Thankyou.

Also, when the Green Party asked the question (as they did), with respect to the M3, “How much of Ireland’s history is this Government prepared to sacrifice on the altar of economic growth?” I wonder did they imagine they’d be in a position to answer it too?

The party I voted for has been given two seats at the new cabinet table. John Gormley (expected to be the new party leader after Trevor Sargent stepped down post-election in order to keep his promise of not leading them into government with Fianna Fáil) gets Environment and Heritage, while Eamon Ryan was given the Ministry of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. These are clearly key departments from the perspective of implementing more sustainable national policies. So why am I so unhappy?

Well, because I didn’t actually vote for the people. I voted for their damn policies. I voted for a party that pledged to end US military flights in and out of Shannon. I voted for a party that called the routing of the M3 an “act of cultural and historic vandalism”. I voted for a manifesto that pledged to stop that vandalism. Instead we have Greens in government and US military aircraft still fly in and out. And I can’t even say “Well, at least I wouldn’t vote for a party that would allow such a thing.” Wrong! Turns out the people I voted for are happy to allow it — in my name, no less — in return for the chance to influence policy at some unspecified point in the future. And who knows when that point will be? After all, those two ministers are going to have their hands full implementing Bertie’s vision for the next while.

I don’t know… I do hear the arguments… yes Bertie would still have been Taoiseach if the Greens hadn’t jumped on board. Maybe he’d have done a deal with Labour. Maybe he’d have tried to go it alone with the PDs and independents. But by staying out of government, The Greens would not have been preventing Bush refuelling his planes here or stopping the M3 from being built. And that’s a fact. These things would happen with or without Green involvement, and maybe — just maybe — they’ll have a chance to influence things for the better from the inside.

The trouble is, I just don’t believe it. I’d have preferred they stuck to the policies they campaigned on, even if that meant opposing from without rather than influencing from within. Because when all’s said and done, you have to take responsibility for what you do and not what you promised to do. Right now the Greens are helping to govern this country, so every time a CIA plane lands in Shannon it is doing so with Green Party approval… and thanks to representative democracy… with my approval. There’s a line in the TV show Angel… Fred insists “we’re not evil, we’re changing the system from within”. Gunn replies wearily, “y’know, it sounds really naive when you actually say it out loud”.

5 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


23
May 2007

Election 2007: A crash course in Irish politics

Election 2007

So the election is tomorrow. I had intended writing more about the whole thing, but life got in the way. I had other things to do, and getting enthusiastic about this turgid mess of a campaign would have taken a lot of time and effort. But I tell you something; if politicians could run our public services with the same level of efficiency they erect campaign posters, I’d vote for all of them! Within moments of Bertie and The President signing the document dissolving the Dáil, every lamp-post in the nation became a temporary billboard with three or four awkwardly smiling mugshots on each. Suddenly it’s impossible to walk to the village without being stared-at by a half-dozen unlikeable buffoons demanding my vote.

But who are those buffoons? And what do they stand for? Well, after a bit of googling, a bit of manifesto-reading and a handful of encounters with my local candidates, I think I’m in a position to summarise the choice on offer to the Irish people this coming Thursday. And it’s a grim choice indeed. I should point out that — having lived overseas for most of my life — I have very little knowledge of recent Irish politics. This has drawbacks: I can’t, for example, place a manifesto commitment into an historical context… is it a U-Turn or a long-standing policy? All I know is that it’s what they claim to stand for now. But there are benefits to a fresh perspective too, and I take no political baggage or long-standing party loyalty to my analysis.

The Big Two

As with many multi-party democracies, there are two big parties that dominate the political landscape. They are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Unlike most multi-party democracies though, these two parties don’t represent a neat right:left opposition. In fact, both occupy almost identical centre-right positions on economic and social policy issues. The real difference is history.

The birth of the Irish Republic was no simple affair. It was complicated, it was messy, it was violent and it took decades to happen. But there’s one date to which you can anchor the narrative… Easter 1916. It was then that The Proclamation of The Republic was read from the steps of the General Post Office on O’Connell Street. The Irish people had attempted to gain independence on many previous occasions, but Easter 1916 signifies the start of the final attempt. By 1920 Britain had been dealing with an ever-escalating insurgency for four long years, and decided to cut their losses. In early 1921 the Irish Free State was born.

But the story didn’t end there. The movement that coordinated the rebellion split into two factions. And the Irish Civil War began. The political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are the modern remnants of those two revolutionary groups. But their reasons for opposing one another are long gone. They haven’t had a genuine ideological difference since Fianna Fáil dropped their commitment to a united Ireland (the Good Friday Agreement — and subsequent referendum — saw that commitment removed from the Irish constitution). They’re like feuding families who’ve long since forgotten the source of the original dispute and now spend their time inventing new reasons to hate each other.

Let me give you an example… one of the “burning issues” of this campaign has been law and order. The official crime figures are down, but people report feeling more vulnerable to crime than ever before (note: there are very simple psychological reasons for this, but explaining to people why some of their fears may be unfounded never won votes, right?) As a result, both main parties have been talking tough. And that tends to translate to “putting more police on the streets”. Now, one of Fine Gael‘s Big Ideas is “2,000 more police on the streets”. The line is on half their posters and leaflets and is a mantra constantly being repeated in the mass-media. So during a televised debate between Enda Kenny (leader of Fine Gael) and Bertie Ahern (leader of Fianna Fáil and current Taoiseach), Bertie pressed the Fine Gael leader on the issue. Given that there were already almost a thousand new police in training, was Fine Gael promising an extra 2,000 on top of that? Or were those trainees already included in the number?

Fair enough. Fair question. And it turns out that the answer is that “the 2,000 more” does include current trainees. No big deal really, but Enda fluffed it a bit and didn’t give a straight answer. So the two leaders of the main parties — the two men seeking to become the next leader of the country — then spent ten minutes arguing the point ferociously and talking over one another. And since then I’ve seen three separate current affairs programmes become completely bogged down on this issue.

And that there. Right there. Whether or not Fine Gael are providing extra funding for one or two thousand police in their budget. That’s what they’ve decided to argue about. I accept that there are many who don’t view sustainability or climate change or peak oil as The Big Issues I believe them to be. But I think we can all agree that whether or not Fine Gael are providing extra funding for one or two thousand police in their budget, can’t possibly be one of the most significant issues facing our nation as we set out to choose our government for the next five years. It just can’t.

Both parties offer broadly centre-right economic policies and are socially conservative. Fine Gael have an image of being slightly more socially liberal, but in reality you couldn’t slide a cigarette-paper between them. They both set their moral compasses by the Catholic Church and rarely — if ever — take a stance that might be seen to be in opposition to it. This fact alone should focus the mind of any genuine social liberal. Abortion and gay rights are just two areas where this conservative religious tendency has had a major impact on policy.

They both take identical prohibitionist positions on drug policy; believing that criminal gangs are the best people to be producing and distributing often dangerous and addictive substances. And they’re both very serious about enforcing that prohibitionist policy; criminalising addicts in need of help while simultaneously maximising both the harm caused by the drugs and the profit being made by those selling them. Both main parties appear to honestly believe that filling our jails with pot-heads is a good idea.

Economically, as I mentioned, they’re both centre-right. Back in the early 90s Ireland’s economy began to flourish. A conducive international environment coupled with significant inward investment from the EU allowed the government to begin a period of market liberalisation and reap the inevitable short-term benefits. Privatisation, low corporate tax rates and a willingness to sell anything that wasn’t nailed down led to The Celtic Tiger… a period of extraordinary economic growth. The current government; in fact Bertie himself, has pretty much claimed responsibility for this. But in truth, there’s no real difference between the economic policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They might want to spend an additional 2% of GDP on this rather than that, and perhaps one wants to reduce taxation for first-time house-buyers while the other wants to increase the pension slightly. But essentially they both sing from the same hymn sheet…

“Economic growth is a good thing. It is desirable beyond pretty much all other things and we need to structure our society to this end”. This means the privatisation of state-owned assets: both parties believe that public transport should be sold to private investors and competition introduced. I have news for them both… nobody wants to compete for the Rathcoole bus route. There’s sod-all profit in it. I want a public transport system run for the benefit of the public, not the shareholders. Both main parties have as much as admitted that’s beyond their capabilities.

It’s a little indecent to watch the eagerness with which both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael prostrate themselves before the altar of Big Business. Indeed, The Market is the one institution they revere above The Church. I’m pretty certain if pro-Choice activists could just work out some way of making abortion profitable

But then again, I knew it was all over for this election when I saw Trevor Sargent — leader of The Irish Green Party — herald his party as “truly business-friendly”. It seems economic growth is king, whatever your political hue. Which brings us neatly to:

The Other Four

This — theoretically at least — is where Irish politics starts to get interesting. Although Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are the big two; barring a miracle, neither of them will get enough of the vote to command an overall majority. Right now Fianna Fáil look certain to be the largest single party, with perhaps as much as 40% of the seats. Fine Gael have been hovering at just below the 30% mark.

The next Dáil will feature TDs from a number of smaller parties, as well as a handful of independents. Of the smaller parties, the ones that should gain enough support to play a part in the post-election deal-making are:

Labour. Currently around 10% in the polls. The Irish Labour Party aren’t quite as far from their socialist roots as Tony Blair’s New Labour, but they’re pretty damn close. Led by the jovial, though somewhat blustering, Pat Rabbitte they have tied their colours fairly closely to the Fine Gael mast. So when the privatisation of Aer Lingus was discussed on a political TV show, the Labour TD could only object to “the manner” in which it was being done and seemed to have no objection to the principle of our transportation infrastructure being run according to the dictates of the free-market.

Indeed, if you look at Labour‘s 5 Commitments for Change, you’ll notice that three of them are just calls for “more” of something we’ve already got… hospital beds, police and people buying homes. Clearly Labour believe that Ireland is pretty much fine; it just needs ‘a bit more of the same’. Certainly they don’t have any radical proposals that would warrant more than two paragraphs of anyone’s time.

Sinn Féin. Currently around 8% in the polls. The dark horse of Irish politics. For years the party was synonymous with bombs and hunger-strikes. It had a leftist slant, but was essentially a single-issue Republican pressure group. And whether or not you like their policies, it’s a credit to Sinn Féin that they are being taken seriously as a multi-issue party in this election. Indeed, as the issue of “The North” begins — hopefully — to fade into history, Sinn Féin are likely to be taken more seriously in the Republic. Most Irish people have strong opinions about Northern Ireland, but it hasn’t traditionally been a major influence on voting patterns. So long as Sinn Féin remained first and foremost “the political wing of the provisional IRA”, they were never likely to gain significant electoral ground south of the border.

What has impressed people, however, is the way in which Sinn Féin has successfully (fingers crossed) made the transition away from armed struggle and brought almost the entire Republican movement with them. They demonstrated that they’re capable of strength of purpose but also of understanding when a new direction is required. And people admire Gerry Adams for that. Of course, despite being president of the party, Adams can’t stand for election here in the Republic what with being Deputy First Minister in The North. Nonetheless his face is on every second Sinn Féin election poster. He’s the one “character” in this election who can challenge Bertie in both face-recognition and political charisma.

Unfortunately Sinn Féin‘s manifesto is a bit of a mish-mash. On the one hand they call for massive expansion of public transport, but on the other they seek to paint themselves as car-friendly (build more roads, reduce motoring costs, etc.) They talk about environmental responsibility and sustainability but also seek to abolish the bin tax (any erosion of the idea that individuals should bear responsibility for the waste they generate would be a disaster in my view). All the same, they are offering a genuine alternative to the centre-right corporatists and I applaud them for it. They are committed to retaining public ownership of those few assets we’ve still got left, and I tip my hat to this line from their manifesto (4MB PDF file)… “[We shall] Prohibit use of Irish airports, airspace, seaports, or territorial waters for preparation for war or other armed conflict by foreign powers or to facilitate any aspect of illegal acts such as the US Government’s programme of ‘extraordinary rendition’.”

The Greens. Currently around 6% in the polls. There’s no question that the Irish Green Party are compromised by the need to appear unwilling to rock the boat. If you are committed to a genuinely sustainable society, then you must accept an end to economic growth. Acknowledgement of this fact is still heresy in the mainstream, however, and consequently the Greens talk themselves up as a business-friendly party who offer a route to environmental protection that is sensitive to the needs of profit and industry.

Nonetheless, for anyone who genuinely feels that climate change and sustainability are Big Issues that require immediate action, The Greens are the only game in town. They would implement policies to reduce Irish carbon emissions by 3% annually. They talk about a “distributed energy grid” incorporating numerous small-scale renewable sources, and have a manifesto promise to “set a target for 5% of national acreage to be organically converted by 2012″ (seems low to me, but it’s 5% more than anyone else promises). They’re also very very quiet on the issue of drug policy, but I’m extremely happy to see it gets listed under “Health” rather than “Crime” in their manifesto. And I’m also glad to see a commitment to “remove all gender specific terms from current legislation and regulations governing the granting of marriages to allow same-sex couples enjoy the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage”.

Along with Sinn Féin, the Greens are positioned significantly to the left of the mainstream in Irish politics. In addition, they are by far the most socially liberal of the six big parties.

Progressive Democrats (the PDs). Currently around 3% in the polls. This is the smallest of the Big Six, but has punched above its weight for the past decade as coalition partners of Fianna Fáil, providing them with enough seats to form a majority government. They have two main campaign slogans. Firstly; “Left-Wing Government? NO THANKS!” and secondly “Don’t Throw it All Away”.

They are economically on the far right, essentially free-market corporatists who split from the mainstream of Irish politics in the 1980s because nobody was right wing enough for them. They see themselves as an essential factor in driving recent economic policy and the “Don’t Throw It All Away” line is clearly aimed at those who have benefited materially from the economic anarchy of the past ten years and would like to see it continue.

Because of the Single Transferable Vote system, it’s possible to vote for more than one candidate on election day, listing them in order of preference. Every candidate wants to be Number One on your ballot, but they can reveal a lot when asked who they recommend for second and third preference. When Gerry Adams was asked the question, he replied that he obviously wanted everyone to vote Sinn Féin Number One, and that he honestly didn’t mind who got the voter’s second preference. But then he added; “of course, no thinking person would ever vote for the PDs”.

Although Michael McDowell is the leader of the PDs, it’s Mary Harney that most people associate with the party. She’s been minister for health for the past few years and there are major differences in opinion as to her performance. Indeed, according to the media, health is possibly the single biggest issue for the electorate with Enda Kenny of Fine Gael going so far as to instruct voters to treat the election as “a referendum on the health service” (I do so hate it when politicians tell me what issues I should be voting on). Both the nurses and the medical consultants are involved in industrial disputes with the Health Service Executive (the public body through which the health service is managed) and half the country sees Mary Harney as a crusader pushing through vital but unpopular reforms, while the other half sees her as a free-market zealot more concerned with “extracting value” than with providing a service that actually works.

The Issues

Health. It tops every opinion poll when people are surveyed about the issues they’ll be voting on this year. There’s a perception that the health service has actually got worse despite the unprecedented prosperity of the times. We hear news stories of full hospitals and people spending days on trolleys until beds became free. Stories of people showing up injured at A&E and having to wait hours to see a doctor. And stories of MRSI and other hospital super-bugs claiming lives. Meanwhile the nurses are on strike (they’re on a work-to-rule action, combined with targeted stoppages) and the medical consultants organisation is refusing to cooperate with the government on new contract negotiations meaning that no new consultants can be hired by the state.

It seems to be one crisis after another, and while I have to say that my own experience of the Irish health system has been very positive, there’s nonetheless a lot of dissatisfaction about. Definitely an issue working against the present government, despite the opposition not offering any actual solutions.

The Economy & Taxation. This is the big one for the current government. Irish people — on average — have seen a significant rise in living standards over the past ten years. It’s debatable as to how much of that is due to Fianna Fáil / Progressive Democrat management and how much is due to a confluence of factors beyond their control. But that doesn’t matter. If the economy appears strong and taxes are relatively low, there’s a tendency for people to avoid voting for change. Obviously it’s just one tendency and it can be outweighed by other factors. All the same it’s a powerful one and so long as the housing bubble doesn’t burst over the next 48 hours, it’ll definitely work in the government’s favour.

Law & Order / Crime / Justice. This encompasses two separate but connected issues. Firstly there’s a debate going on in Ireland right now regarding substantial reform of the police service (An Garda Síochána). There’s a growing view that the organisation is too parochial… “too much of a boy’s club”… as well as more sinister allegations of corruption. All of the parties talk about introducing “much needed reform” but stop short of suggesting details, lest they upset anyone.

Secondly, there’s the ever-present spectre of crime that inhabits far more of our collective psyche than the statistics suggest it warrants. But as alluded to earlier, there are understandable psychological reasons for this. The solution, of course, would be to instigate a radical restructuring of society aimed at dismantling consumer culture. Needless to say, that’s not a phrase I encountered in any of the manifestos. Instead we have a “more of the same” approach from all of the major parties with the occasional soundbite about tackling the causes of crime in amongst the tough rhetoric. In truth, none of them have anything original to say on the subject. So just like with health and the economy, this may be an issue the Irish consider important but we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re being offered a genuine choice on it.

The Environment / Sustainability. Don’t even get me started. There should be a legal obligation, that every time a political candidate or corporate spokesperson uses the word “sustainable”, a big neon sign stating “I am a liar” flashes above their head. They. Just. Don’t. Get. It. “Sustainable” isn’t just a buzzword to bandy about; tagging it onto whatever you’re in favour of (growth, economic development, competitiveness strategy, whatever) in the hope that it’ll seem more wholesome to bothersome hippies. It actually means something.

So when all of the parties aside from the Greens promise “sustainable growth and economic development”, you realise that none of them actually get it. They don’t realise the importance of dealing with the fact that we live in an absurdly unsustainable society and this presents problems that require immediate action. The Greens at least seem to grasp the problem but fall short of proposing the sort of radical solutions required for fear of scaring away voters.

Immigration, Multi-Culturalism and Race. I bring these up simply to point out that they are not major electoral issues in 2007. Ireland’s booming economy has seen the demand for labour skyrocket and there’s been a massive influx of East Europeans to meet that demand. So far this has been a rather smooth process. Infrastructure planning has struggled to keep up with the population rise, but that’s been the worst of it. Any significant economic slowdown could change all that however. How long do you spend at the unemployment office before the Polish worker stops “fulfilling a need” and begins “stealing your job”? Sadly I believe this will be a far bigger issue in 2012 than it is this time around, and I don’t believe that whoever gets into power this week will be handling it very well.

Fingers crossed I’m proven wrong on this one.

Foreign Policy. I took an active interest in both British and American politics when I lived in those countries and they differ significantly from Irish politics in one way in particular. They both have foreign policies worthy of interest (and usually condemnation). In general Ireland doesn’t. We’re officially neutral, and are not a member of any military organisations such as NATO. We even have all manner of complicated get-out clauses with regards to any future European fighting force. That said, Ireland sends a disproportionate (to population) number of soldiers on United Nations peace-keeping operations. Historically we have been very pro-UN, pro-EU, indeed in favour of multilateralism in general.

On the other hand, Ireland is very clearly part of “The West” and we provide facilities for the United States military to refuel and restock. We don’t make the same offer to anyone else who might fancy using us as an aircraft carrier, so while we may not be a member of NATO there’s an obvious “nod and a wink” thing going on. The Greens and Sinn Féin want to do something about that. The others are happy to introduce “grey areas” into our neutrality. Ultimately though, foreign policy isn’t a big electoral issue.

The “personalities”

There aren’t many. People talk nostalgically about a time when Irish politics was full of interesting characters. Politicians with Great Ideals but without the resources — or often the competence — to follow through on them. These days we’ve got a bunch of empty suits who view politics as a lucrative career rather than a stint in public service. People without a Great Ideal between them and whose competence is largely irrelevant as they spend their time working out the best way to do nothing, at great expense.

Nonetheless, a handful do stand out. Towering above them all is Bertie of course. Leader of the nation for the past ten years, Bertie has managed to project an image that amounts to a bizarre blend of “international statesman” and “bloke on the street”. Despite Ireland’s limited unilateral foreign policy, we play a very active role in the EU. Bertie used Ireland’s presidency of that organisation to host a bunch of high-profile conferences which saw him rub shoulders with just about every major world leader you care to mention, and look at ease doing so. Then there’s also his genuinely praiseworthy contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. I believe that when the history of The Troubles is finally written, Gerry Adams will emerge as the man who played the most crucial role (simply because it was thrust upon him to make the single largest concession, and to convince his followers that it needed to be made). But Bertie will be more than just a footnote. If the government of the Republic hadn’t struck exactly the right note throughout the process, it would have been scuppered.

(And credit where it’s due, the same can be said of Tony Blair. Monkeys and typewriters and what have you).

And yet Bertie Ahern appears to retain his home-spun charm. For all his photo-ops with Clinton and Bush and Blair and Koizumi and Annan, he can still press the flesh with his constituents and give the impression of being just another one of the lads. One of us. His face appears on more election posters than any other, while every Fianna Fáil candidate has the party slogan emblazoned across their ads… “Bertie’s Team”. He’s the dominating personality in modern Irish politics and — paradoxically — he’ll almost certainly be the primary factor in how Fianna Fáil fare in the election. Whatever the outcome.

In marked contrast, there’s Enda Kenny. Let’s just say that if neither were politicians, you’d definitely gravitate towards Bertie at a party and hope you didn’t get stuck with that Enda Kenny bloke who keeps wanting to talk about mortgages. The Fine Gael leader seems to personify The Bureaucrat. He’s serious and sober — and would insist, quite rightly, that politics is a serious and sober business. But he gives the impression that he might just enjoy that about it, rather than see it as a necessary evil. So although he seems to be a competent guy (you’d have no trouble trusting him to take care of your dog while you were on holiday for instance), he doesn’t have the ability to connect with people through the media that can make or break a politician.

There’s an old saw about success being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. The difference between Bertie and Enda Kenny isn’t that they’re proposing anything different; simply that Bertie manages to focus your attention on the 1% while Kenny keeps emphasising the other 99.

I don’t know if that image quite works, but it’s close enough.

I also think Enda Kenny has suffered significantly from “the Blair factor”. A few days ago Bertie gave a speech to the combined Houses of Parliament in the UK. The first time an Irish leader has done so. The occasion was the return to power-sharing in Northern Ireland and it proved to be yet another great photo-op for Bertie. The statesman with a twinkle in his eye. Everyone in Ireland saw the news footage of his historic speech in Westminster. The news item included mention that Enda Kenny was a guest at the occasion, and the cameras deftly picked him out sitting a few rows back. Where Bertie looked completely at ease while commanding the attention of all present, Kenny looked strangely out of place. Like a member of the press corps who’d much rather be somewhere else.

And of course, as already mentioned, there’s also Gerry Adams. Sinn Féin are an all-Ireland political party with Gerry Adams as president of that party. So even though legally — if not, in his eyes at least, rightfully — he’s a resident and elected politician in a separate nation, Adams has nonetheless played a significant role in the Sinn Féin campaign here in the Republic. He’s admired by a hell of a lot of people (many of them grudgingly, but that’s sometimes the best kind of admiration), and although his party is significantly to the left of the mainstream in Ireland, and although The North hasn’t traditionally played a significant role in Republic politics, the Gerry Adams factor will doubtlessly boost the Sinn Féin vote.

Coalition shenanigans… The Next Irish Government

So them’s the parties… either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael (both centre-right conservative) will form the core of the next government. The question is all about which of them can attract coalition partners to give them an overall majority.

Right now we have a Fianna Fáil / PD government. The polls suggest that Fianna Fáil will lose enough seats to rule out forming a coalition with the PDs. The main opposition is an “Alliance for Change” featuring Fine Gael and Labour. Should they secure an overall majority between them, then they’ll form the next government with Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

However, the polls also suggest that it won’t be quite that simple either. Right now neither of the centre blocs are attracting enough support to gain an overall majority. And that would make things very interesting indeed. There’s talk of a rainbow coalition; Fine Gael, Labour and The Greens. Meanwhile Bertie hasn’t ruled out an alliance with Sinn Féin (despite recent history, still a very controversial idea). This would certainly exclude the PDs from government and — I suspect — see them die out as a political force. On the other hand, it has been mooted that Labour might switch to the other side of the fence in a bid to prevent Sinn Féin becoming part of the government. This probably wouldn’t work if both parties maintain their current leadership (Bertie and Pat don’t like one another) so the question becomes whether or not Bertie’s team might ditch Bertie at the last minute in order to do a deal with Labour and prevent Sinn Féin having an influence on policy.

If either of the centre-right blocs gain support enough for an overall majority then nothing much will change. But the tantalising prospect of either Sinn Féin or The Greens holding the balance of power and tempering the inevitable centre-right corporatist government with something marginally less insane, is just enough to get me out to the polling booth tomorrow. My vote? 1- The Greens. 2- Sinn Féin. 3- The Workers Party (traditional unreconstructed socialists… they’ll get a tiny percentage of the vote, but I think there’s nothing wrong at all with having one or two old-style fire’n’brimstone lefties in the Dáil. They’re good at dissent.)

As for you? If you’ve got the vote and don’t plan on using it then I urge you to at least show up and spoil your ballot. A high turnout with a high spoilt-ballot count is a much better indication of general political dissatisfaction than a low turnout. And if you’re still undecided at this late stage, here’s my reluctant pitch for the Green vote. It’s a protest vote. It’s not saying that you believe the Green Party are the best people to run the country. Or that they have all the answers to global warming and peak oil and the death of our oceans. Instead your vote is saying that you want those issues addressed. Not talked about. Not stuck away in some underfunded minor department. But placed right at the centre of our agenda and informing policy in all areas.

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1
May 2007

Election 2007: And so it begins

Election 2007

Well, Bertie’s finally called the election. Speculation in the media began just after Christmas and had reached fever-pitch by Sunday morning when he paid a visit to Áras an Uachtaráin (the residence of the Irish President) in the Phoenix Park. With very little pomp or ceremony, himself and President Mary McAleese signed the document which legally dissolved the current Dáil. Thus did 166 politicians lose their jobs and a three week election campaign which will culminate in a national election on Thursday May 24th got underway.

I’ve never really paid close attention to Irish politics before. Which isn’t very surprising given that I haven’t lived here since I was a child. When I lived in the UK, I paid attention to UK politics… voting for Ken in the London mayoral elections and voting Green once and spoiling my ballot in two nationals. When I was living in the States, I followed the 1998 Congressional elections quite closely despite not having a vote (and enjoyed seeing several states pass medical marijuana propositions). I didn’t engage with Greek politics when I lived there; the fact that I didn’t speak the language was probably the biggest obstacle. But I recall being very impressed by the huge political rallies that still occur, and the willingness of Greeks to express their political will through massive demonstrations that occasionally look like they may involve storming parliament (few things warm the heart like a good storming of parliament). Then again, when I first moved to Greece the country had not long ago spent a spell as a military dictatorship. People who’ve recently seen tanks on the streets tend to be more actively engaged than those who haven’t. It’s just one of those things.

Anyways, the Irish elections promise to be genuinely quite intriguing as the outcome seems up in the air right now (unlike recent elections in the UK, for instance, which were always a foregone conclusion). The electoral system is proportional representation by means of the Single Transferable Vote. And no, I haven’t the faintest idea what that means. Well, I understand the principle. It’s designed to provide a parliament that as far as possible literally represents the voting intentions of the people. So if 10% of the people vote for Party X, roughly 10% of the TDs should be from Party X. Of course, because not every constituency has exactly the same population, you’ll never get a Dáil that perfectly represents the popular vote. Nonetheless, it achieves a far closer mirror of the intentions of the nation than First Past The Post systems (like the UK, where smaller parties can command 5% or 8% of the popular vote and not have any national representation whatsoever).

Of course, STV has plenty of downsides too. It rarely results in an overall majority for one single party. My own personal view is that this is actually a good thing. However, in practical terms, nations that wish to have an active foreign policy (such as the United States, Russia and the UK to name but three) would probably find such a policy difficult to navigate alongside the internal politics of a coalition government. In fact, this constitutes an excellent argument in favour of coalition governments… it makes starting wars a little more difficult.

That said, aggressive foreign policies aren’t the only argument in favour of stable and coherent government. Is it really helpful for the people running your public services to have different ideas about the best way to do it? Large projects can easily get bogged down if there’s not a single clear vision to guide them. On top of that, what do we want our politicians spending their time on…? Working on the best way to run public services, or working on the internal politics of a shaky coalition?

OK, fair enough, maybe public services would work a lot better if our dozy politicians just left them alone and dedicated themselves to spewing meaningless media sound-bites. Still, it’s simplistic to insist that PR systems are automatically “better” just because they closer reflect the popular vote. Indeed, if you’re like me and have serious problems with representative democracy in the first place, then just making it more representative isn’t necessarily making it any better.

See, on balance… I’d estimate that of all the people I’ve encountered in my life, I’d trust less than 50% of them to take care of a pet for a week. So I’m reluctant to live under a government they’ve chosen. Which isn’t to say that people are mad, bad or arseholes in general. Merely that most of us haven’t the faintest idea what’s in our best interest. It’s possible to prove this on an etch-a-sketch. And while I’m willing to re-evaluate this belief based upon any argument you may present, I’ll only consider it when almost 20% of all deaths in this country are no longer directly attributable to cigarette smoking. A fifth of us are committing slow painful suicide while simultaneously enriching those who got us hooked on cancer sticks in the first place. Let’s face it, as a group, we’re not demonstrating an ability to exercise good judgement there.

But whatever. This isn’t a post about my own preferred system of governance (modified anarcho-syndicalism with a dash of green and a generous dollop of whimsy). Just a warning that over the next three weeks I’ll probably write a post or two analysing the approaching election. I’ll do a bit of research on the STV system and explain how it works. I’ll discuss the various parties and what they have to offer (the phrase “rapacious capitalism” may well crop up). And I’ll tell you about the issues that — say the media — people are planning to vote on (the health system apparently tops the agenda). Think of it as a crash-course in Irish politics.

As much for me as you, dear reader.

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