tag: Fine Gael



25
Jun 2013

Where’s Hell when you need it?

I almost wish the religious fundamentalists were right. I almost wish there was a hell in which the evil burn for eternity.

The reason I (almost) wish this, of course, is because we have created a society where the evil face no retribution so long as they have money or political influence. A society where people like John Bowe and David Drumm can giggle, sing and sneer while they rip the heart out of the country. The most vulnerable people in Ireland are being subjected to a death by a thousand cuts. And yet the Agents of Mammon who brought us to this precipice simply jet off around the world to find the country with the most lax bankruptcy laws so that they may emerge from the disaster they created relatively unscathed.

Hell, many of them don’t even need to do that. John Bowe, head of capital markets at Anglo Irish Bank, was made a director of the IBRC. This is the man who can be heard laughing and singing Deutschland Uber Allies on the recently released Anglo Tapes. The man who can be clearly heard conspiring to defraud the Irish people of yet more money even after he’d helped sink the economy (or in the words of Simon Carswell in The Times, “[seeking] to hoodwink the State into getting [Anglo Irish Bank] a bigger bailout than it let on it needed”). Yet he’s one of the guys our government paid to deal with the mess.

HilariousAnd the politicians who appointed this man to help deal with the mess? They are no better. One Labour TD has resigned from the party in disgust as they inflict yet more pain on those least able to bear it. The rest of them should just apply to join Fine Gael and be done with the tasteless charade that they are somehow a party of the ordinary people. Just like Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the Irish Labour Party represents the rich and powerful. It is one leaf in our trinity of Bankers’ Parties.

The religious fundamentalists are wrong about the evil burning in hell. But I almost wish they were right. Because the vile excuses for human beings that inhabit the upper echelons of our political and financial institutions will never be held accountable for the damage they inflict on the rest of us. Bankers and politicians worked hand-in-glove-puppet to bleed Ireland dry. Then, when they’d done as much damage as they possibly could, they appointed one another to well-paid positions in the clean-up operation. And, as the Anglo Tapes reveal, this clean-up operation was simply viewed as yet another opportunity to unleash their bottomless greed.

I don’t know who our next government should be. But let me say this now, as loud and clear as I can… if at the next election, dear reader, you vote for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Irish Labour, then you are also complicit in the destruction of this country. There can be no more excuses. I only hope that none of them dare knock on my door when canvassing for votes, because frankly I’m at the final straw stage – and I could do without having to face an assault charge in the courts. Our politicians and bankers need to be replaced immediately. And most of them should be imprisoned for their complicity in the subversion of the Irish constitution.

6 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


31
Mar 2013

All fools

Tomorrow is April 1st. The day when, traditionally, we’re encouraged to play practical jokes on one another. Over in the UK, the Tory government (note: just because the Lib Dems are part of the coalition doesn’t stop it from being a Tory government… Clegg’s All-Star Sell-Outs are merely craven enablers) has got a truly hilarious jape up their collective sleeve. Because that’s the date when the new tax and welfare reforms come into force. “Hilarious?” Well, historically speaking, heaping misery upon the poor and vulnerable has generally provided an endless source of amusement for those in power.

Iain Duncan-Smith (the face of evil)Make no mistake, what’s happening in the UK tomorrow is not an honest attempt to reduce the deficit or “balance the books”. Rather, it’s the introduction of yet another series of policies aimed at transferring wealth from the bottom to the top. Tax cuts for the wealthy coupled with benefit cuts for the poor can’t be honestly interpreted otherwise. Especially when occurring in tandem with the wholesale dismantling of the National Health Service. It’s my contention that the UK is currently witnessing an extreme example of class warfare. One wonders when the poor will consider fighting back.

Certainly, social media is buzzing with exhortations to “rise up”. But in our digitally mediated world, that seems to translate to little more than adding one’s name to an online petition. And I’m sorry to say it, but I just don’t see the Tories changing their policies because lots of people type their email address into a website.

What’s more, the last polls I read suggested that a snap General Election would result in an overall majority for the Tories (with the Lib Dems facing complete meltdown, coming in fourth behind Labour and UKIP). This is not because the majority of voters are being made better off by these “reforms”; it’s because people are apparently easily persuaded to vote against their own best interests.

… under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

Albert Einstein | Why Socialism?

Michael Noonan (the face of evil)Of course, it’s not just the British people who are guilty of this kind of self-harming behaviour. Here in Ireland the public have been reduced to a flock of turkeys consistently voting for Christmas. The heart was ripped out of the country by more than a decade of Fianna Fáil government. In response, we voted for Fine Gael – a slightly more right wing party whose policies were essentially identical to those of Fianna Fáil. And then we acted all surprised when nothing changed. Current polls suggest that Ireland is angry at this lack of change… and that as a result, Fianna Fáil are making huge gains once again. Seriously.

A Word About Cyprus

Meanwhile, on an island in the Mediterranean Sea something strange is happening. In an attempt to save their economy, the government of Cyprus (under extreme pressure from Germany and the ECB) is imposing a windfall tax on bank deposits above €100,000. The right wing see it as an outrageous attack on private wealth (though when they learn that the money will be used to prop up the banking system, some of them reluctantly accept it as a necessary evil). The left wing, meanwhile, find themselves backed into a contrarian naysayer corner. They oppose the policy because the ECB are in favour of it. And they warn that Cyprus is just the test-case, and that this policy will spread.

To which I reply… “Great!” I mean, isn’t this essentially a wealth tax? Isn’t that what the left have been calling for since this financial crisis began?

Personally I’d have set the limit a little higher than 100k (so that pensioners wouldn’t be hit quite so hard), but even at 100k this is a policy I would support not only for Cyprus, but for Ireland and on a pan-European basis. Of course, the extremely wealthy tend not to leave most of their wealth lying around in banks, so the policy should be introduced in tandem with a tax on stock-holdings and other investment devices. The fact is, Cyprus is the first nation to genuinely force the wealthy to bear some of the burden of austerity. Despite claims that “we’re all in this together” or “the burden must be shared”, European austerity measures have hit the poor and vulnerable hard while actively protecting the wealthy and powerful. Cyprus has turned that on its head and should be loudly applauded for it.

Meanwhile, here in Ireland (and across the water in Britain) our corporate media continues to push the market-capitalist, neoliberal agenda on the people. And we lap it up willingly despite the fact that it’s demonstrably against our own interests. April Fools… the lot of us.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


22
Feb 2013

The UK Bedroom Tax

Here in Ireland the government is waging low-level war on the poor and vulnerable. Hiding behind the utterly false claim that their “hands are tied” by the conditions of the bailout, they inflict death by a thousand cuts on those least able to sustain those cuts. A few million off disability allowance here, a tax on child benefit there… a property tax here, a reduction in the rent allowance cap there… pretty soon the poor are even poorer and even those on middle incomes find themselves bled dry. Which in turn, of course, means the vast majority of people are spending less, with inevitable negative consequences for the local economy.

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny and Fine Gael along with the traitorous Labour sycophants who toe the right-wing neoliberal line (in return for a few years with their snouts in the trough) steadfastly refuse to impose any meaningful austerity on those who can actually afford to shoulder a greater share of the burden. Profitable corporations and high income individuals remain untouched by the vicious cuts imposed elsewhere. Ireland remains a wealthy country, but the wealth is all concentrated in the hands of a small minority who are not expected to contribute to the well-being of the rest. As much as I’d like to see genuine socialist policies enacted in Ireland, I don’t expect it to happen given how much the political spectrum has narrowed over the past few decades. I do expect a modicum of basic fairness though… but it seems even such a humble expectation is thwarted by craven politicians without an ounce of decency or honour among them.

And yet, despite this betrayal of the vulnerable by those entrusted with representing their interests, we Irish merely have to look to our nearest neighbour to see what happens when a low-level war on the poor turns into an outright assault. I genuinely don’t understand anyone who votes for the British Tory party. Seriously, I just don’t get it. Those who defend the Conservatives generally mutter something about “sound economic policies” or how “business friendly” they are. Or maybe they’ll use the phrase “the party of law and order” or mention “family values”. But all of this ignores the fact that choosing a Conservative government is choosing to be ruled (and the way they run the government definitely merits the word “ruled”) by a bunch of vicious bastards without a shred of compassion who appear to genuinely enjoy inflicting suffering upon those they consider “less deserving” than themselves (a category that includes damn near everyone in the country).

David Cameron’s party consists of a bunch of small-minded, nasty little shits. Every single one of them. And even if they did have “sound economic policies” (which incidentally… they don’t!) it wouldn’t compensate for them being small-minded, nasty little shits.
Small-minded nasty little shits
The latest wheeze being introduced by the Tories is the “bedroom tax”. Leastways, that’s how it’s now known. Essentially this slice of undisguised cruelty applies to anyone in designated social housing, or receiving rent allowance. If they have an unoccupied bedroom in their house, their social security is reduced by 14%. Two spare rooms results in a 25% reduction. These are people right on the very edge of poverty (hell, many of them are already over that edge). Cutting their social security benefits is likely to leave them either cold or hungry (probably both). It is quite deliberately inflicting extreme hardship on people whose lives are already pretty damn hard. Meanwhile the British government continues to spend more on their military than all but three other nations. They continue to allow large corporations evade tax and they reduce taxation on the wealthiest individuals… they even go so far as to heavily subsidise some of the most profitable companies in the country by offering them a large, free workforce (an utterly self-defeating strategy, incidentally, and one that’s about as far from “sound economic policies” as it’s possible to get).

Bedroom taxOf course, the bedroom tax will hit certain people disproportionately. People who require carers (i.e. those with disabilities or health issues) are likely to get the most vicious kicking. I guess the Tory Party (along with their obnoxious enablers, the Lib Dems) can at least claim to be an Equal Opportunity Bully. And while it’s completely understandable that organisations who represent carers and those with disabilities will campaign on behalf of their interests, it seems to me that this is a much wider issue of social justice. Of course it’ll be a good thing if the most vulnerable manage to win themselves an exemption, but it won’t be cause for celebration. It will merely be a further example of a right wing government successfully pitting one group of vulnerable people against another. Everyone in the UK should be angry about this tax being imposed on even one person; carer, disabled, ill, healthy, able-bodied, it doesn’t matter… this is a fundamentally evil policy and its imposition will make the UK a fundamentally less just place.

For a party that claims to be all about “small government”, it’s difficult to imagine anything more intrusive than a policy aimed at stipulating the number of rooms a person may have in their house based upon their economic circumstances. People who have perhaps lived for years in a house or flat with an extra room will now find themselves forced out of their homes (or go hungry… can’t say they don’t have a choice I suppose) by a government that insists it hates interfering in the lives of people. What they really mean, is they hate interfering in the lives of people who matter. In other words, the rich.

But if you’re poor; they’ll tell you what house you can live in, they’ll tell you what job you must do, they’ll take away your healthcare and force you into debt if you want an education. Small-minded, nasty little shits. And I’m sorry to say this… but if you vote for them, then so are you. There are no longer any excuses.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


8
May 2012

Austerity

Synonyms for austerity: harshness, strictness, asceticism, rigour (source: dictionary.com).

CapitalismA little over three weeks from now the people of Ireland will vote in a referendum. At stake is Irish participation in the European Fiscal Compact, a pan-European treaty that attempts to lay down strict budgetary rules for those nations who sign up. The ‘Yes’ campaign is referring to it as “The Stability Treaty”. The ‘No’ campaign calls it the “Austerity Treaty”. While it’s true that I am ideologically opposed to the treaty, I contend that my position is grounded in reality. That is; you can demonstrate – using “facts” and everything* – that the treaty will result in austerity for Ireland, while its characterisation as a “stability” treaty is extremely dubious to say the least.

Incidentally, does anyone remember the Lisbon Treaty? At the second time of asking, we endorsed it in October 2009. The ‘Yes’ camp – the very same people urging ‘Yes’ later this month remember – characterised it as the “Jobs Treaty”. Hmmm, we’ve not had an apology from them on that one yet. But I guess we shouldn’t expect politicians to apologise for completely misleading the citizenry and promising things they’re unable to deliver. Indeed, most of them seem to think that’s actually part of their job description.

What I find really remarkable about modern politicians is their ability to maintain such a breath-taking lack of self-awareness despite living their lives in a media spotlight. They never admit to mistakes; presumably believing they never make any. In other words, believing they are fundamentally better than the rest of us (because god knows we all make mistakes). Moreover, politicians appear so completely unaware of their own limitations as to give the impression that they don’t feel they have any. The vast majority of us over-estimate our own abilities… it’s part of being human… but politicians, whether they are the Left or the Right, do so to such a degree it’s almost beyond parody. Personally I believe I’d do a better job running the country than the current lot we’ve got in the job. But – and it’s a crucial “but” – I don’t think I’d do a great job at it. Just a better one. And given the incredible importance of that job, I’d need to be a self-interested, power-hungry careerist to put myself forward for it unless I thought I could do a great job.

So either the people running the country are just a bunch of self-interested, power-hungry careerists; willing to place their own personal desires and ambitions above the collective good… or they are supremely unaware of their own limitations. Because, let’s face it, it’s hardly a secret that the job they’re doing ain’t that great.

But back to the Treaty

Yes indeed. The posters have started to go up. Far more ‘Yes’ posters than ‘No’ based on a trip into Dublin City today. But that’s to be expected given the financial muscle behind the ‘Yes’ campaign. All three major political parties support the treaty. No surprise there… any suggestion that the Labour Party might take a more nuanced position (especially given the position of the bulk of the Unions) were fanciful in the extreme. Labour donned the neoliberal uniform the moment they sold their principles to Fine Gael in return for a taste of power. Their protestations that they’ve managed to ameliorate some of the more savage cuts proposed by Fine Gael possess but the thinnest shred of truth.

Against the treaty stands Sinn Féin, the Unions (well, most of them) and the leftist parties. Oh, and Éamon Ó’Cuiv. Fair play to Éamon. He may well be the exception to my characterisation of mainstream politicians that proves the rule. And rumours abound that he’ll soon be expelled from Fianna Fáil for his stance. Remarkable really… you can run the country into the ground, you can endorse a Bank Guarantee that transfers massive private debts onto the shoulders of generations yet unborn, you can break a thousand promises to the electorate. All of these things are par for the course in modern politics – commendable even. But to stand by your principles? Apparently that’s grounds for expulsion.

Seriously, you can’t actually be cynical enough about politics any more. It has passed beyond that realm. All we are left with is disbelief, despair and contempt. And hopefully the stirrings of a genuine anger… though I see little enough of that right now in Ireland more’s the pity.

The latest polls seem to suggest the ‘Yes’ majority is being eroded slowly. Unfortunately it seems too slow at the moment to turn the tide come May 31st (though with a bit of luck the election results in France and Greece, along with the failure of the Dutch government to push through the policies of austerity, will inspire us here in Ireland). Personally I ascribe this ‘Yes’ majority to two factors… one: a shamelessly biased media (the Irish Times has been little short of disgraceful on this matter, and RTÉ not much better – once again, we should be thankful for Vincent Browne**… long may he continue to be a thorn in the side of the establishment); and two: the success of the scare-mongering tactics employed by the ‘Yes’ campaign. As I mentioned here before, the campaign was kicked off by a Fine Gael minister insisting that a ‘No’ vote would be “like a bomb going off in Dublin”. That’s the very definition of scare-mongering… comparing my ‘No’ vote to an act of terrorism; suggesting that when I place my ‘X’ in the ‘No’ box, I am metaphorically carrying out an act of extreme violence. Such undiluted nonsense from a government minister should be shameful, but these people know no shame.

On top of that we’ve had government spokespeople assuring us that a ‘No’ vote will “cut Ireland off from external funding”. It took those opposing the treaty over a week to finally wrest a statement from the “impartial” Referendum Commission that this was – in fact – a lie. Plain and simple. A lie. But the Commission’s declaration hasn’t had nearly the same media exposure as the lie it exposes.

We need Austerity

See, this is the weird thing. Europe – like the rest of western civilisation – actually needs to radically reduce its consumption. We have created an unsustainable society that we should be scaling back right now (because if we don’t do it, then resource depletion will do it for us pretty soon anyway… and chances are it’ll involve less suffering if we take matters into our own hands on this issue). But, to jump back to the synonyms which opened this post, we need the austerity of ‘rigour’. And what’s being foisted upon us is ‘harshness’. That’s how it is, no matter what the ‘Yes’ campaign might claim (and each time they claim otherwise, remember the same people also claimed Lisbon was the “Jobs Treaty”).

The policies being adopted by our government; the policies that will be enshrined in the Irish Constitution if we pass this dangerous treaty; the policies that Angela Merkel has announced are “non-negotiable” (can someone please tell me who the hell gave the German government the right to tell the rest of Europe what we may or may not negotiate?); these are policies that will be unnecessarily harsh on the vast majority of Europe’s citizens, precisely so that the financial institutions of Europe don’t need to adopt a rigorous approach to their affairs.

This treaty places the interests of European banks above the interests of European people (and those who say those interests are synonymous need to cop on to themselves). It imposes austerity without addressing sustainability. Europe needs a sustainable alternative. It needs a radical alternative. An alternative based on social justice (a radical proposal in itself in these days of neoliberal greed and casino capitalism)… an alternative based on human decency and human dignity. I believe that alternative can be found in a flight away from capitalism. I believe that we should be looking towards the ideas of Bertrand Russell, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Lucy Parsons, Gregory Bateson, Albert Einstein and so many others. People who realised that capitalist society has been shaped by the few, for the few. And that this has to change if we are to create a world worthy and capable of long-term survival.

A ‘No’ vote on May 31st won’t bring the words of those wise few to life. It won’t bring about a Golden Age of social progress. It carries risks and will certainly be met with a punitive reaction from the financial institutions that currently run Europe. A ‘No’ vote will not bring back the Celtic Tiger, because the Celtic Tiger is never coming back. But it will strike a blow against the forces of injustice and inequality. It will halt our own government’s headlong rush into the abyss. And it will demonstrate that – just like the French and the Greeks – we in Ireland are fed up taking orders from the very bankers who destroyed the global economy. Vote ‘No’.

* Michael Taft supplies some of those facts in this article on Politico.ie. You can find plenty more if you click around that site.

** Out of interest, could a non-Irish-resident reader click on this link and tell me whether it’s possible to watch the Vincent Browne show online from outside Ireland? You don’t need to watch a whole show (unless you really want to), just click one of the recent episodes and let me know if it is viewable… I occasionally want to link to a particular episode from this blog, but don’t know whether – like the BBC iPlayer – it’s inaccessible overseas.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


27
Jan 2012

Enda does Davos

World Economic ForumIt’s difficult to summon any enthusiasm to write about Irish politics at the moment. Over the past few months I’ve pretty much worn out all the words required to do the subject justice. There’s only so many times you can use words like “incompetent”, “craven”, “absurd” or “destructive” before they start to lose their impact. On top of that, the realisation that the fools and charlatans that comprise our political class have no intention of listening to reason, and are determined to persevere with ineffective policies, like punch-drunk bluebottles convinced they’ll somehow pass through the window if they just keep flying into the glass for long enough… well, it’s just disheartening.

Sometimes I look at a politician on the TV and my heart goes out to them with the same kind of melancholy sympathy that I feel when I see a clumsy child desperately trying to impress those around them with a plucky, if badly executed, attempt at sports. And then I remember that unlike the child in the local park, these men and women are in positions of power thanks to their ruthless ambition and willingness to deceive those around them. And they are being paid huge salaries to completely destroy this country. At that point my sympathy turns to anger and contempt. In Irish politics, as with the Hollywood film industry, people seem to fail upwards.

That “willingness to deceive” was on show again this week. Our Inglorious Leader, Enda Kenny, spent a few days at the World Economic Forum in Davos. I found myself calling to mind Stewart Lee’s stand-up routine in which he viciously skewers Top Gear and its presenters. In that splendid diatribe, he compares Richard Hammond to the obnoxious little kid we all knew from school who would hang out with the bullies, egging them on and squealing with laughter at their cruel jokes. It’s the sycophantic survival strategy of a coward. This week in Davos, Enda Kenny adopted that strategy. And just like the little coward at school, as soon as Kenny thinks he’s out of earshot of the bullying cabal he want so desperately to impress, he contradicts everything he’s said in their presence and pretends to be our best friend.

For those who have forgotten, let’s step back a couple of months to the weekend prior to our last budget. Enda Kenny appeared on our TV screens like a low budget horror film and gave his State of the Nation address. There’s an oft-quoted line from that speech…

Let me say this to you all: You are not responsible for the crisis.

He looked us straight in the eye when he told us that. It was almost as if he was being sincere. And let’s be clear; it’s the truth; the people of Ireland are not responsible for the current crisis (except in the sense that they voted for the gombeens who brought it upon us, and continue to do so… for that much they must bear responsibility). But whether Kenny believes it or not is open to interpretation. Because this week in Davos, to a rather different audience, he contradicted this position when he announced that the Irish people “went mad borrowing”. It was, he insisted, a collaboration “between people and banks” which created…

a system that spawned greed to a point where it just went out of control completely with a spectacular crash.

Once again, let’s be clear; throughout that dark period when this country was being ravaged by The Tiger, Enda Kenny and his Fine Gael cohort were the biggest cheerleaders of that greed. They weren’t on the opposition benches urging caution. They weren’t denouncing financial deregulation or tax cuts for the wealthy. Far from it! They were on their feet baying for more of the same. The tax cuts and the deregulation didn’t go far enough for Kenny and his ideologically blinded party. He wasn’t calling for The Tiger to be tamed, he was demanding we throw more meat into it’s gaping maw.

Enda Kenny Poster - Thanks, SuckersCertainly there was a culture of greed spawned in Ireland during those years, but it was spawned at the top and rampaged downwards doing more damage the further it got from those who unleashed it. And the evidence of this is that most of those at the top are not being badly affected by the crisis that is plunging the bottom tier into poverty. And the evidence that this injustice is still being supported by Kenny and his ilk can be seen in the budgetary policy that cuts disability benefit, the winter fuel allowance, child benefit and back-to-school allowances; money that helps keep poorer heads just above water; while drawing a high ring-fence around the wealth of those at the top. All the while his party fills the media with stories that blame the public service and try to make villains of the unemployed rather than those who landed them there.

When Kenny speaks to a gathering of international financiers and political leaders, he immediately falls back on blaming the Irish people for his woes. As though they are his woes in the first place. As though he’s feeling any of the financial pain he and the rest of the political class are inflicting upon the people – not just in Ireland, but elsewhere around the world. It’s the riff-raff that are the problem, he insists. If only they’d have the good grace to go away and keep quiet, then decent people like you and me – here he raises his champagne flute in acknowledgement of his well-fed dinner companions – could get on with the serious work of consuming our lobster salad.

And it goes without saying that once he’d blamed the financial crisis on the reckless greed of the Irish people, he immediately backtracked when confronted by the Irish media. “Our people have been the victims of this situation”, he told an interviewer. So are we the victims? Or are we the mad borrowers, Enda? Are we responsible for the crisis or not? It seems he needs to know what the questioner wants to hear before he can answer those questions.

Let’s get one thing straight. Many Irish people did borrow too much during the boom. In fact, as The Guardian pointed out earlier this week, 15 individuals alone owe Anglo-Irish Bank over half a billion euro each. I guess they’re Irish people all right. But it’s hardly fair to describe them as The Irish People. Certainly I don’t recall borrowing €500 million, and none of my friends or family did. And I doubt any of my neighbours did either, though I suppose they could be keeping it to themselves.

The reality is; it was a small number of politicians, bankers and property developers who created the Irish crisis. And they were eagerly encouraged by European banks and other international financial institutions who bought into the bizarre fiction that the Celtic Tiger could somehow live forever. It was they who destroyed this country and not the unemployed, the disabled or the poor families living in negative equity who are now being hammered by a government determined to make anyone at all pay, other than those who morally should do.

It’s a travesty; an absolute nightmare of a problem. And Enda Kenny’s two-faced attitude tells you all you need to know about the people who are supposed to be fixing it.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


10
Jan 2012

One point two five billion euro

And so 2011 slips behind us and into the pages of history. While ahead looms 2012. And it looms ominously I’m sorry to say. Not because of Mayan prophecies or the mutating neutrinos of Roland Emmerich, but because the problems of 2011 – despite seemingly endless summits and photo-ops attended by our political class – have not been solved. In fact, the problems of 2011 were often little more than the ones we failed to address in 2010. As for the problems of 2010? By and large they were unfinished business from 2009. And the problems of 2009? Well, I’m sure you can see the emerging pattern.

In South Africa the governments of the world met for a few days and cobbled together a strategy for dealing with Climate Change. In Belgium (and elsewhere) the governments of Europe met for longer periods of time and cobbled together a strategy for dealing with the debt crisis. What unites both strategies is the bizarrely transparent manner in which they fail to achieve their stated aims. I’d always heard that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well, but apparently that’s not a philosophy shared by those in power. Had the Durban conference concluded with a joint statement from participants to the effect that they would insist upon compulsory piano lessons for all giraffes, it would have had roughly the same chance of halting Climate Change.

As Kurt Vonnegut pointed out, “We could have saved it but we were too damned cheap.”

Three Stooges (Merkel, Kenny, Sarkozy)Never forget that the reason the big issues facing the world are not being addressed is because the people in charge don’t believe we’re willing to put in the necessary money and effort. And never forget that we put them in charge precisely because that’s what they believe. They promise us easy solutions to problems we know are difficult, and in return we elect them.

Even our more manageable problems, such as the European debt crisis, are left to fester until they threaten to visit catastrophic social collapse upon entire nations. And why is this? Well part of it, and this is really quite depressing, is because our political leaders are completely incapable of admitting that they might be wrong about anything. I really do think it’s a psychological disorder. I’m not sure if it’s something they succumb to as a result of a proximity to power, or whether something about politics attracts those who already suffer from the condition. Either way, it is one of the greatest obstacles to progress.

The austerity policies in place around Europe are just plain wrong. We have created a society that imposes poverty and suffering on the general population unless it is experiencing economic growth. And at the same time we are implementing policies that are guaranteed to prevent growth. Personally I think we need to restructure society so that it no longer relies on growth, but until we do that, economic policies that prevent growth are nothing less than deliberate, calculated attacks on the citizenry by those in power.

The trouble is; even as this becomes clear, even as the failure of austerity slowly sinks in, those in power are pathologically incapable of admitting it. The very fact they supported a policy must mean the policy is the right one. The alternative is unthinkable… that they publicly accept they are fallible. These people should not be running countries, banks or large institutions. They should be heavily medicated, under supervision and kept away from sharp objects let alone the levers of power. They are mid-level bureaucrats of modest ability who have been accidentally elevated to positions of power by a runaway ambition-gland. And it’s broken them; made them delusional. We should not permit them to inflict their delusion on the rest of us.

Ireland, January 25th 2012

CapitalismIn two weeks time, assuming Europe lasts that long, that delusion will once again be inflicted upon the people of Ireland. In what is the ultimate ongoing demonstration that our government represents the interests of casino-capitalism above that of the citizenry, the next of the Anglo-Irish Bank payments will be made. On that day, the Fine Gael / Labour coalition will hand over €1.25 billion of public money to unsecured, unguaranteed bond-holders. It’s mind-blowing really. There is no legal requirement for the government to do this. It is not a condition of the IMF/EU “bail-out”. The payment is not part of the disastrous 2008 Bank Guarantee. Let me repeat; there is no legal requirement to pay this money. Indeed I would argue there is a moral imperative to not pay it.

So why are we paying this money, despite there being no requirement? Because our leaders don’t want to upset the markets. Oh, they’re happy to upset the people they were elected to represent. Happy to cut child benefit and disability benefit. Happy to slash the incomes of the already poverty-stricken. But they don’t want to upset the markets. Markets, remember, that Ireland has been effectively excluded from by crippling interest rates (hence our need for the IMF/EU “bail-out”). The markets will screw us alright, but heaven forbid we Irish upset them.

To a nation the size of Ireland, a payment of €1.25 billion is massive. It represents more than half the spending cuts made in our recent budget. As a letter to the Irish Times recently put it, “the proposed payment is equivalent to the salaries of 5,000 extra nurses for five years”. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg. By the end of this year, the Irish people will have paid roughly €2 billion of unsecured, unguaranteed bonds. On top of that, we’ll also be paying more than €3.7 billion of bonds covered by our insane Bank Guarantee. And that’s for Anglo-Irish Bank alone. Yes, that’s right, more than €5.7 billion of public money is being handed over to investors in a single (now defunct) bank in a single year. It’s beyond nonsense and into the realm of criminally insane.

We’re constantly being told that we must live within our means, while those doing the preaching are throwing our money away. It’s time we put an end to this idiocy.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


13
Dec 2011

Brian Hayes and Budget 2011

Here in Ireland we have just been subjected to the latest in a line of “austerity budgets”. I thought I was beyond being astonished at how craven our government – in their willing complicity with the diktats of The Market – could be. How wrong I was. The brutal cynicism of the Fine Gael / Labour coalition has dropped even my jaw (personally I think the Labour Party should be forced to change their name under trades description legislation). It was a budget bordering on the wilfully evil.

There were savage cuts to disability benefits, child benefit, the winter fuel allowance, community employment schemes, the back-to-school allowance and much more… some of which will save a few million at most while making life unbearable for those already at breaking point. Despite the steadfast refusal to even discuss raising taxes on the wealthiest and the highest earners, we saw an enthusiastic embrace of VAT increases, a flat-tax household charge and other indirect taxes that will hit the most vulnerable hardest. And to add insult to injury, we were forced to endure the obscene spectacle of ministers earning a small fortune appearing on TV to tell us just how difficult it was for them to inflict such pain on the nation. How they’d done all they could do in order to ensure that the burden of austerity was being shared equally. Orwell’s observation that “some are more equal than others” may as well be the slogan for this government. Poor dears, in their ministerial cars, with their gilt-edged pensions, generous expense accounts and salaries of over 5 times the national average.

Brian Hayes (Fine Gael TD)Vincent Browne, one of the few remaining voices of sanity in Irish public life, perfectly illustrated this rank hypocrisy when he cornered Brian Hayes – a Fine Gael minister – on his show. The politician bristled with indignation when Browne suggested he was on a salary of €150,000… it was only €130,000 he protested. That’s still a “mega-salary” insisted Browne (quite rightly) and went on to wonder… “compared with the people you have afflicted in this budget, isn’t there something grotesque about you people sitting around and commiserating with yourselves about the hard decisions you have to take when all the pain of those hard decisions is on somebody else?” The blustering arrogance as Hayes tried to wriggle out of the question was cringe-inducing. “The pain is throughout our society”, he stated (almost as though he believed it). Browne rounded on him… “No it’s not! How is it on you? You get away scot-free!” Hayes eventually resorted to plaintively pointing out that the VAT increase would affect him too. He then tried to make the issue about just how sincere Vincent Browne’s outrage was… this contempt for the public is gut-churning, and I desperately hope that the people of Dublin South West consign him to the dustbin of history at the next election.

You can see the exchange here:

Alternatively you can watch the entire programme, for a limited time here, though that may not be available outside Ireland.

The assertion that a 2% VAT increase will affect someone on 130 grand in anything like the same way it will affect someone on welfare, or even someone on the average national wage… that “the pain” is truly being felt “throughout society”… indicates one of the following; (a) that Brian Hayes is an idiot, (b) that he’s utterly out of touch with reality, or (c) that he’s a bare-faced liar of the worst kind. I won’t say which one I think it is, but I will say that all of those are terrible traits for someone in a position of power. That he then tried to change the subject and discuss the attitude of the interviewer, the day on which such a devastating budget had been announced, just made him seem even more pathetic. I know I lambaste politicians on a regular basis, but Brian Hayes managed to plumb new depths last week. Though I suspect it won’t be long before someone from Labour or Fine Gael discovers yet deeper waters of iniquity in which to swim.

Photo courtesy of Politico.ie

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


26
Oct 2011

(Who’d want to be) Head of the state we’re in

In a couple of days time, on Thursday October 27th, the citizens of Ireland will make their way back to the polling stations. This time around, however, we won’t vote for a new government (more’s the pity) but for a new Head of State. A new president.

The presidency of Ireland lasts for a term of seven years and can only be held for two terms. Traditionally a president is unopposed should they choose to serve the second term, and historically most presidents have taken that option, remaining in office for the full 14 years. Health permitting, that is… Ireland’s first president, Douglas Hyde, was unable to serve his second term as a result of ill health and the fourth president, Erskine Childers, died a year into his first term. Childers was succeeded by Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh who resigned after two years as a result of a series of clashes with the government of the day (it was the beginning of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and Ó Dálaigh was far more militantly republican than the government). Mary Robinson, of course, was offered the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the end of her first term and did not, as a result, take up the option of a second term. All of the others served the maximum 14 years. And our current president, Mary McAleese, has reached the end of her second term, so the post must once again be filled.

Irish Presidential flag

But does it really matter who holds the presidency? Despite being democratically elected, the position is more akin to that of – for example – the Queen of England than it is to that of the President of the United States. It’s a largely ceremonial role and one that offers little room for influencing national policy. Despite the strident claims of one candidate in particular, the president will not be able to prevent a further expansion of European control over Irish social and economic policy… no matter how often the candidate might appear on TV brandishing the Irish constitution like a sword. But more about the individuals in a bit.

For now, let me dig a little deeper into that phrase, “a largely ceremonial role”. Because “largely” does not mean “completely” and the president does have a tiny bit of real power as well as – potentially at least – a fair amount of cultural influence, and therefore indirectly, political influence. The “real” power comes from the fact that the president is required to sign any Bill passed by parliament before it becomes Law. And Article 26 of the Irish Constitution states that the President may – with the exception of national budgets and bills enacting the results of a referendum – refer any bill to the Supreme Court should they feel the Bill “is … repugnant to this Constitution or to any provision thereof.”

Now, while this power has been very rarely exercised, there is a school of thought which suggests that the various laws that led up to the ECB/IMF bailout (including the infamous and disastrous bank guarantee of September 2008) effectively undermined Irish sovereignty and could, therefore, have been interpreted as anti-constitutional. Whether or not the Supreme Court would have agreed with that interpretation is, of course, another thing entirely. But President McAleese could certainly have thrown a spanner in the works back in September 2008 by delaying the bank guarantee. This could have had a massive impact on our recent history (for better or for worse, we’ll obviously never know). That said, there’s another school of thought which suggests that the bank guarantee and subsequent bailout legislation were “Money bills” and were – as a result – immune from presidential referral. However, I believe there is enough room for interpretation on that question to have at least provoked a constitutional crisis should President McAleese have chosen to do so.

Let me stress; all of that is hypothetical. President McAleese has been a fine president and I’m not criticising her here. The social, political and economic landscape was radically different when she was elected 14 years ago and she was certainly not elected to be a political firebrand. Her ambassadorial / ceremonial role was implicit in her presidency and this almost certainly aided her quietly effective social campaigning on issues such as gender equality and sectarianism. As much as I personally would have liked her to do so; had she suddenly decided to attack government economic policy 12 years into her presidency, it would have been with a questionable mandate.

This time around, however, there is at least one candidate openly campaigning with a view to testing just how far a president can go to obstruct government policy. And while I do not – for reasons I will get on to soon – endorse that particular candidate, there’s little doubt that people have the option to cast their vote for a much more “active” president this time round (or not… there are several “won’t rock the boat” candidates in the running too). The Irish Presidency is an office with limited power, yes, but will the people vote for someone who promises to push those limits?

There is another sort of power inherent in the presidency. The power of symbolism. To anyone sceptical of the power of symbols, I suggest you walk into a packed synagogue wearing a swastika armband and see how quickly a symbol can inspire robust action. The effective use of symbols can bring about social change just as quickly as any law. In 1990 Mary Robinson was elected as Ireland’s first female president. Robinson was a woman with the backing of Irish socialists, a woman who as a campaigner had previously spearheaded the law that saw contraception legalised in Ireland and the law that saw women sitting on juries for the first time. It would be naive to suggest that modern Ireland is gender neutral; that women enjoy an equal status within the institutions of power. However, let’s not belittle the progress that has been made, and Mary Robinson’s election as president was a powerful message of just how far the equality agenda had come by 1990. Furthermore, it helped consolidate that agenda and there are two candidates in this coming election whose election could send an equally powerful message on other issues.

The candidates

David NorrisThe first of the two candidates whose election would be powerfully symbolic is independent Senator, David Norris. Norris is openly gay. Now, it’s possible for public figures to be openly gay without that fact playing any part in their public statements or – if a politician – their policy decisions. Norris, however, has championed gay rights in Ireland for most of his life. He was the first openly gay person elected to public office in the country. He founded the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, and his 14 year campaign to overthrow the Irish anti-homosexuality law was finally successful in 1988. The election of David Norris to the presidency would be – whatever else it might be – a triumph for gay rights on this island. Just as the election of Mary Robinson in 1990 didn’t make Ireland gender neutral overnight, so the election of Norris wouldn’t signal the end of homophobia. However, it would be a massive symbolic act by the citizenry of this country. And while there is far more to Norris than just his sexual orientation, we should not underestimate the importance of that symbolic act.

Symbols matter. They’re not all that matters. But they do matter.

But of course Norris is far more than just a gay rights campaigner. He’s an academic and Joycean scholar (very much a point in his favour in my eyes). As an independent senator, he was one of the few politicians to vote against the bank guarantee and has steadfastly and consistently criticised the economic policies of the current and last governments. Within the ranks of the political establishment he’s been a lone voice in the wilderness on a whole bunch of issues. He is outspoken, and he’s erudite and humorous with it. At the same time, his ebullient manner and rarified accent does paint him as a bit of an eccentric in the eyes of some.

Norris started the campaign way out in front in the polls. A couple of months ago the media were almost painting him as a sure thing. Since then, however, he’s been hit by a succession of scandals and – if we’re to believe the polls – his support has plummeted. It’s hard to escape the feeling that the negative stories were – in large part – a tabloid campaign to undermine him. Maybe it was just the inherent anti-intellectualism of the tabloid press rather than homophobia. Or maybe it was a bit of both.

That said, he really dug himself into a hole with the “letters for clemency” scandal. It filled the newspapers for a week, yet the sum-total of the factual information that the average Irish person knows about the issue could fit into a single paragraph. It was outright character assassination, and yet another in a long line of new lows for the mainstream media. But it’s also true that Norris handled it far worse than he might have done and managed to spectacularly shoot himself in the foot on the Vincent Browne debate. I’m not going to rake over those old coals, but my take on it is simple enough… just because some members of the public might well be interested in reading the letters, does not make their publication “in The Public Interest”.

Anyway, Norris will be getting my first preference vote. Yes I think he handled the “letters” scandal badly, but it won’t stop me voting for him. He’s the best person for the job.

Michael D. HigginsMy second preference vote will go to Michael D. Higgins. Up until the last few days that wasn’t the case, but recent polls have made up my mind. If Norris isn’t going to be President, then I want my support to transfer to the person most likely to beat Seán Gallagher (about whom, more later).

Higgins is the official candidate of the Irish Labour Party and I’m desperately trying not to hold that against him. Like Norris, he’s also a scholar and an intellectual. A poet on the left fringe of his (rightward-marching) party… kind of like Tony Benn in the years following the establishment of “New” Labour. Higgins voted against the bank guarantee and has, I suspect, been nominated by the Labour Party partly in the hope that he won’t be a thorn in their side as they implement public sector cuts over the next few years. A president who spoke publicly against government policy would be pushing the limits of their office.

And one thing that Michael D. Higgins won’t be, you see, is a president who pushes the limits of the office. He has called for an overhaul of the Irish constitution and has made it very clear that he does not believe the current government (in which his party is a coalition partner) is a force for social justice. He has decried the values of the Celtic Tiger and lambasted the rampant capitalism it brought to Ireland. But he has a very conservative view of the role of the president and seeks to use the office to initiate a “national conversation” on our social and economic values rather than to directly challenge or obstruct the government in any way. A part of him might secretly daydream of using the position of president to overtly forward a socialist agenda, but it’s not something he’d actually do. A Michael D. Higgins presidency will not be remembered as a revolutionary one. Whether or not any president could effectively act upon a revolutionary agenda is highly questionable of course, but Michael D. Higgins won’t be asking that question. And I worry that he may well be an easy man for the government to ignore once they’ve got him safely ensconced in the big house in Phoenix Park.

Still, by and large he’s a man of honour and integrity and if we are to have a “national conversation” about our values, I can’t think of many better men to chair it. Also, if the polls are to be believed, Higgins is currently the only candidate with any chance of beating Seán Gallagher, automatically earning him my transfer.

Martin McGuinnessI considered giving my second preference to the other “highly symbolic” candidate I mentioned. Martin McGuinness. Let me pause to allow some of you a moment to seethe. Even more divisive than the scandal-hit Norris, Martin McGuinness (yes, that Martin McGuinness) is by far and away the most controversial candidate in this presidential campaign. He has come under fire from many in the media, and the entire campaign by the official Fine Gael candidate seems based around McGuinness-bashing. In fact, the reaction he provoked from many quarters in the establishment was – almost as much as any personal or symbolic qualities of the man – partly the reason I considered voting for him. I don’t subscribe to the maxim that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but for me it’s definitely an endorsement to have the voices of conservativism raised so stridently against you.

Just as the election of Norris would not eliminate homophobia, the election of McGuinness as President of Ireland would not draw a line under ‘The Troubles’. However, it would be another step away from that dark period of history. There’s no question that the peace process in Northern Ireland was the work of many parties and individuals. It was probably Tony Blair’s finest hour. The same can be said for Bertie Ahern. And the unionists in the north also played a huge part. But I genuinely believe that nobody took a bigger risk (both politically and in a very real “bullet in the head if this doesn’t work” sense) than Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams. It was they who convinced the IRA to put down their weapons. They who walked into darkened rooms filled with men carrying guns and told them they were going to make compromises on their behalf. Blair didn’t have to do that. Ahern didn’t have to do that. I seriously doubt any prominent unionist politician had to do that.

So despite the attempts of Fine Gael to belittle his role in making a success of the Good Friday Agreement, I believe that Martin McGuinness is a peace-maker. That he was a man of violence before that…? Yes he was. Peace-makers sometimes are. I abhor what the IRA did and I abhor the actions of McGuinness so far as they were a part of that. The IRA took a legitimate social grievance and turned it into a campaign of violence that lasted a quarter century. I am not someone who claims that violence can never be justified. But bombs in shopping precincts? Fighting tyranny with those tactics is just another form of tyranny.

However, when a man of violence renounces violence. When he goes further and risks his own life to compel others to renounce it. When he goes further still and sits at a table with his sworn enemy and negotiates a truce to bring peace after more than 25 years of shootings and bombings. Then he is no longer a man of violence. And let’s not forget that the mainstream political parties that now attack McGuinness for his IRA membership are themselves a legacy of organisations that today would be defined as terrorists. Éamon de Valera, president between 1959 and 1973, was himself a “man of violence” once. And compared with Martin McGuinness, de Valera did a damn sight less renunciation and peace-making.

Not that McGuinness is the ideal candidate of course. I understand that political campaigns are all about self-promotion, but if I hear him dropping Nelson Mandela’s name once more I think I’ll scream. And while he has every right to campaign on his track record as a peace-maker, he needs to come up with some different sound-bites. Everyone in Ireland has heard McGuinness say “I was able to build a relationship with loyalist leaders Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson” at least 15 times in the past few weeks. It’s an impressive achievement Martin, and it might have secured a vote from me if it wasn’t for Gallagher, but at least vary the wording now and then.

At no stage did I consider voting for any of the other four candidates In fact, I’d happily write a negative number alongside a couple of their names if such a thing were possible. And at the top of that negative list is the official Fine Gael candidate, Gay Mitchell. Thankfully he’s nowhere in the polls so I don’t have to worry about having Mr. Narky as Head of State.

Gay MitchellLet me start by saying that Gay Mitchell really rubs me up the wrong way. On television he comes across as smug, patronising and frankly unlikeable… he may be nothing like that in the flesh, but most of us are only ever going to encounter him in the media. If he had some good ideas or a positive agenda, I could probably overlook his abrasive media personality. But he doesn’t, so I can’t. His outburst at the end of the Pat Kenny debate was bewildering though strangely appropriate.

Not only could the country not expect any substantial action from a Mitchell presidency, I doubt he’d even carry out the ceremonial aspect of the role very well. In parliamentary campaigns where policy issues can create friction between candidates, negative campaigning is generally unedifying but tolerated. But to have such a relentlessly negative campaign for an office like the Irish presidency suggests that Gay Mitchell and Fine Gael have seriously misjudged the mood of the Irish people. At times during the TV debates it honestly felt like Mitchell was in the campaign for no other reason than to attack Martin McGuinness. It was embarrassing.

Mitchell represents the forces of Irish conservatism more than perhaps anyone else in the race. He is the official candidate of the centre-right government currently pandering to the demands of The Market in such a spineless fashion. A government whose robust promises during the general election campaign have evaporated with remarkable speed… and who have dedicated themselves to continuing the disastrous job of the previous administration. A job that involves asset-stripping this nation for the benefit of an international financial system that’s completely out of control. A job that, when complete, will have plunged future generations into a debt they never asked for and from which they have derived little or no benefit.

On top of that though, Mitchell is an Old School Catholic of a kind this country no longer needs. Of course, realising that hardcore Catholicism isn’t a vote-winner any more, he’s played down his links with Rome. In a radio interview he denied he had any connection with the fundamentalist Catholic, anti-abortion organisation, “Dignitatis Humanae Institute”. Yet a spokesman for the organisation appears to contradict this, suggesting that Mitchell co-authored the Institute’s manifesto (the “Universal Declaration of Human Dignity”). Mitchell’s stance on issues like abortion and homosexuality (including gay marriage) are straight out of The Vatican and are not, in my view, worthy of the Head of State of a modern nation.

Sean GallagherAnother candidate to whom I’d give a negative vote if such a thing were possible, is independent candidate Seán Gallagher. Unlike Gay Mitchell, who represents Ireland as it was a few decades ago – caught in the terrible grip of a Church that had long since lost its soul – Gallagher represents the Ireland of the Celtic Tiger. And I’m genuinely not sure which is worse. Certainly neither would gain my vote.

Gallagher is that ultimate symbol of modern consumer capitalism, the “celebrity entrepreneur”. Young, over-confident to the point of arrogance, and constantly insisting that his track-record of financial success somehow automatically translates to success as a president, Gallagher is a product of an unholy union between Fianna Fáil and The Dragon’s Den. Until a few months ago Gallagher was a member of a political party that spectacularly misused their decade of power and left this country stricken for generations to come. He wisely severed all official ties with that party before announcing his candidacy, so that he could run as an independent. But frankly I’ve yet to hear a single thing from Gallagher that suggests independence of thought.

Instead he regularly trots out the clichés of the modern capitalist. As a “dragon” on the Irish version of Dragon’s Den, Gallagher has sat, week after week, and dangled his piles of cash in front of desperate people before cruelly yanking it away in the name of televisual entertainment. He talks about business and entrepreneurship in the same way a priest talks about God. It’s the reason for living. It’s the salvation of the nation. It is unquestionably a good thing. It will save us all.

It was the mantra of modern capitalism that got Ireland into the mess it’s currently in, and Gallagher hopes to carry that mantra with him as Head of this damaged State. The man marries reality television with a grasping free-market ideology. He pays lip-service to social justice while revelling in the inequities of market capitalism. Were he to become our next president, it would be almost as depressing a decision by the Irish electorate as their selection of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. More than that, I honestly feel it would haunt us over the next 7 years. The Celtic Tiger is dead. It was never more than a sick joke in the first place. But now the corpse is starting to stink. The Celtic Tiger is never coming back and although people may agree with you when you say that to them, I’m not sure it has really sunk in yet. But it will do. And when it does, having a Tiger Cub like Gallagher as president could end up being a national embarrassment.

Yet he’s way out in front in the polls. Perhaps the implosion on the Pat Kenny debate a couple of nights ago will affect his turnout… are people really already prepared to forgive Fianna Fáil? More than that, to once again embrace the brown envelope culture that pervaded them? Dear God, I hope not.

Mary DavisAlso running as an independent candidate is Mary Davis. I don’t have much to say about her. Mostly because she’s kept rigidly to a rather limited script during the campaign, and relatively speaking the tabloids haven’t had a massive go at her. Despite being an “independent”, Mary Davis is almost as much an establishment insider as Mitchell, Gallagher or Michael D. Her main claim to fame is the fact that she headed the Special Olympics committee during what’s been acknowledged as a very successful Special Olympics held in Ireland a few years back. She insists – perhaps with some justification – that this experience would be invaluable for an international ambassadorial role like the presidency.

However I was mystified by her apparent eagerness early in the campaign to constantly remind the media about the various “boards” she has been appointed to over the past few years; earning large amounts of money for a handful of meetings. Over the past 6 years she earned €150,000 sitting on the board of a bank and a building society. Given the disastrous track-record of Irish banks and building societies during that period, her only defence seems to be that the position she occupied involved no actual power or responsibility. Either she was part of the banking establishment during the run up to the crash, or else she was drawing a handsome salary from the banks for doing very little. This was bound to alienate a hell of a lot of people, and I don’t think her campaign ever recovered.

During that same period of time she earned over €85k for sitting on the board of the Dublin Airport Authority (but presumably bears no responsibility for the various screw-ups during the design and construction of Terminal 2). She earned over €35k for sitting on the board of the Broadcast Commission of Ireland (BCI), and while her working relationship with Irish media-magnate Denis O’Brien has generated a few column inches in the papers, it’s never erupted into a full-blown scandal. O’Brien is chairman of the Special Olympics Ireland Council of Patrons and worked with Davis on the Special Olympics in 2004. He is a contributor to her campaign. And whenever the BCI was voting on whether or not it was appropriate for O’Brien to expand his ownership of Irish media, Mary Davis always voted in his favour. Another case of the mutual back-scratching of the establishment. Nobody seems surprised, let alone outraged.

Though of course, her position in the polls has never been good and it’ll be a small miracle if she gets 10% of first preference votes. So while Ireland does look willing to elect one business-as-usual insider claiming to be independent; it’s not this one.

Dana Rosemary ScallonAnd last but by no means least is Dana Rosemary Scallon. While I shan’t be voting for Dana, unlike either Gallagher or Davis, she at least merits the label of “independent” candidate. Well, in a political sense anyway; her ties to the Catholic Church rob her of total independence. But as far as party politics go, Dana is equally dismissive of the lot of them, and while she has been an independent MEP, there’s no way she could be described as an establishment insider.

Originally coming to prominence when she won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1970 (with the massive worldwide hit, All Kinds of Everything) Dana subsequently went on to have a relatively – if mystifyingly – successful career in music. In the early 80s she broke into the American Christian Music market in a big way, which as it turns out, is a big market.

She ran for president 14 years ago and has also served as an MEP so is not a complete novice to campaigning, though there were times she gave that impression. She had a meltdown on the Prime Time debate and her early campaign appearances in which she constantly brandished a copy of the Constitution made her easy to caricature. Like Mitchell, her ties to the Church make her a somewhat “unfashionable” candidate in a country that is not quite done with its anti-Catholic backlash.

Her TV meltdown related to yet another tabloid scandal (a story about someone in her family) which again revealed the Stygian depths to which the media will stoop to package and sell sensation. The case is something that should be handled by the family and by the legal system; the glare of the media helps absolutely nobody and risks making the situation even worse for everyone. And there is absolutely no public interest served by running the story unless Dana was implicated in any wrong-doing (which she wasn’t). But hey, if it helps sell copies of The Irish Sun who cares if it’s poisoning our culture? Right?

Anyway, Dana is polling in last place and has been for some time. The tabloids didn’t rob her of support as she never really seemed to have much… but they did make it more difficult for her gain any. Still, she didn’t do herself many favours either. Her strident claims that she would single-handedly wrest our sovereignty back from Europe – at least that was the message she appeared to be conveying – mostly had the effect of demonstrating that she didn’t actually understand the role of the President. McGuinness and Norris might be willing to test the limits of the office, but Dana gave the impression that she didn’t know there were any. On top of that, her calm insistence that the Seal of the Confessional trumps national law and is enshrined by the freedom of religion clauses in the constitution, made her sound like a religious extremist in the Vincent Browne debate.

And there you have it

So those are the seven choices we’re faced with on Thursday. Norris would be by far the best president in my view, but seems unlikely to win. Gallagher looks like he’s heading for a victory, which would surely demonstrate – in the words of David Norris – that the Irish people “haven’t learnt much” from the recent economic disaster. We can only hope that Michael D. Higgins will gain enough second preference votes to pip Gallagher to the post.

Also on Thursday we have a couple of referenda (I’ll be voting ‘No’ on each*) and a by-election, though not in my constituency. There’s definitely a strangeness about the fact that at a time when momentous choices need to be made about the path our society takes into the future, we’re being offered a vote on a largely ceremonial position. Then again, we recently had a general election and the public voted for the current government…

… maybe it’s not such a good idea for us to be making important decisions.

* While I support the notion of Dáil Inquries in principle, constitutional experts have stated that the amendment is badly worded and ill-thought out. And regarding judges pay… yes, they probably get paid too much. But there’s actually a small number of them so the total economic impact is small, whereas there are potential problems with turning their salaries into a future political football… if it undermines the separation of judiciary and legislature even a little bit, it’s not worth the money saved.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


27
Feb 2011

The contempt in politics

With 154 of the 166 seats filled and only three constituencies still counting, the results are pretty much in at this stage. Based on the the exclusions that have already happened in those three constituencies it now seems certain that Fine Gael will end up with 75 or 76 seats. This means they’ll be at least 7 seats short of an overall majority. Fianna Fáil will likely finish with 19 seats (though have an outside chance of 20), which represents the most dramatic collapse in their support in Irish history. The party of De Valera — the party of the Irish establishment — has been effectively wiped out in Dublin (retaining a single seat in the commuter belt) and beaten into a very distant third place nationally, with Labour returning perhaps twice as many TDs (they’re neck-and-neck with independent candidates in a couple of counts as I write this, but they’ll end up with between 36 and 38). The Greens have been entirely removed from national politics in Ireland. They failed to secure election for a single candidate and my prediction – soon after they joined the last government – that they’d “end up as little more than Fianna Fáil’s new scapegoat” seems to have been reasonably correct. Certainly, Fianna Fáil didn’t escape damage by using them as a scapegoat, but the Greens have clearly suffered a similar fate to the PDs, who were the last party to get savaged by the electorate as a result of joining FF at the top table.

Enda Kenny Poster - Thanks, Suckers

It’s worth making the point that I’m far from happy at what’s happened to the Green Party. On the one hand, the individuals who helped prop up such a disastrous Fianna Fáil administration certainly did not deserve to be returned to the Dáil. On the other hand, the wider environmental movement in Ireland can’t help but be harmed by what’s happened.

With regards to the other parties and groupings, there’s part of me that acknowledges that Sinn Féin and the other genuinely left wing candidates have done well relative to their position prior to the election. But there’s also a (probably bigger) part of me that wonders why they didn’t do even better. Given the current situation Ireland finds itself in, the left should arguably have been able to carve out a much bigger place for itself. Sinn Féin will probably end up with 15 seats, a trebling of their current representation. While at the same time, there will probably be at least 8 or 9 other left TDs in the guise of 2 from The Socialist Party, 2 from the People Before Profit Alliance plus a handful of left wing independents. It’s questionable whether they’d be able to work harmoniously enough with Sinn Féin to form a strong alliance, but if they managed it, they could end up as the the official opposition. Which would be a good thing for the country.

Of course, it’s still not absolutely certain that the next government will be a Fine Gael / Labour coalition. There may be enough independents willing to prop up a minority Fine Gael government to save Enda Kenny from having to give away precious cabinet seats to Labour and ensure he doesn’t have to compromise in any policy areas. On the other hand, Fine Gael may well want the security of a large majority (it would be the largest majority in the history of the state were they to form a coalition). Though given the possibility of economic disaster and the internal strains that might create, Kenny could also be concerned about Labour pulling their support when the going got tough, rather than risk the fate of the Greens. I wouldn’t like to predict how that’ll turn out; and neither a minority Fine Gael government nor a FG/Lab coalition would surprise me.

Such contempt

Now that the campaign is over, however, and before we know the final outcome one way or the other, I’d like to make a couple of observations about the last few weeks. About the way the media dealt with the situation, and the way the political parties dealt with the public. While I’ll be making specific reference to Irish politicians and issues, be very clear that these are general and widespread problems that affect modern politics the world over (or at least, in countries that are ostensibly “democracies”).

From my perspective, one of the most frustrating things about the recent election campaign was the ham-fisted media management engaged in by the political parties. This was far and away most prevalent in the Fine Gael camp where their party leader was wrapped in cotton-wool and effectively insulated from potentially antagonistic interviewers.

The most famous example, of course, was his point-blank refusal to take place in the first leaders debate because it was to be chaired by Vincent Browne. In September of last year Browne suggested that the best thing Kenny could do for Ireland would be to “go into a dark room with a revolver and a bottle of whiskey”. A week later, after an outraged reaction from Fine Gael and suicide victim support groups, Browne issued a comprehensive on-air apology. Five months later, in the midst of arguably the most important election campaign in the history of the nation, Enda Kenny seized on that grudge to avoid being questioned before the Irish public.

It was political cowardice. And it demonstrated a contempt for the Irish electorate that he would compound time and again over the next few weeks. It also suggests that Kenny just doesn’t have what it takes to lead a nation in a time of crisis. If he petulantly refuses to talk to someone for a 5-month old slight that’s been apologised for, will he be on speaking terms with anyone outside his party in a couple of years? Because frankly, he’s going to have much worse said about him in the months to come.

Kenny’s strategy appeared to be “say as little as possible and try to look superior”. Bizarrely, when questioned on his policies in the midst of the campaign, he consistently refused to elaborate and instead referred the interviewer (and by extension, the Irish people) to the Fine Gael website. This became so prevalent that it became a point of satire. Opposition politicians (including the Fianna Fáil leader) would often refer to Fine Gael policy by intoning “double-yew double-yew double-yew dot fine gael dot i e”.

The first thing to point out about Enda Kenny’s strategy is that the most recent statistics suggest that 34.2% of Irish people do not use / have access to the internet. That no interviewer challenged him on this fact is a disgrace (you can be bloody sure that Vincent Browne would have!) They were letting Kenny express open contempt for more than a third of the population without drawing any attention to it. The other point to make is that by allowing Kenny to effectively ignore questions about policy detail, the “friendly” media figures he’d allowed to interview him were actively helping Fine Gael be elected. It’s a travesty and RTÉ should be investigated for such craven complicity.

It’s also worth pointing out that Fine Gael’s website doesn’t actually carry the kind of policy detail that Kenny insisted was there. It just doesn’t. The much-vaunted 5-point-plan wasn’t a plan at all. It was five bloody aspirations. Nothing more. “Get Ireland working again” isn’t a plan! Dear God, do they think we’re fools?

Actually yes. They clearly do. And by awarding Fine Gael almost 50% of the seats in the Dáil, the Irish people appear eager to vindicate that opinion.

It should be noted that the majority of people in the media didn’t hold the other parties to much greater account, but the media strategy of the others didn’t involve quite so much overt evasion. Well, not this time. I suspect during the next election, the others will have learnt a lesson or two from Fine Gael and our national broadcaster will have played a large part in ushering in a glorious new era where politicians cherry-pick their media appearances so that they only ever get interviewed by people prepared to lob softballs in their direction and show them in a positive light. Which wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t leave so many people in the dark.

The ‘No Plan B’ issue

There’s another thing I really want to get off my chest, because it’s frustrated me ever since I started taking notice of politicians. It happens in every election campaign I’ve watched, whether in Ireland, the UK or elsewhere. It’s the point-blank refusal of political candidates to respond to “hypothetical questions”. Sometimes it reaches surreal proportions. A question is asked… “Candidate Joe Bloggs, if your party gets into power will you implement Policy A?” To which the response is… “Well, the election is still some weeks away and it’s up to the people to decide who is in power or not. I’m certainly not going to presume anything at this stage. In fact, I think it would be dreadfully wrong for anyone to be so presumptuous as to assume to know which way the people will vote!” A tenacious interviewer will object… “but Candidate Joe, I asked if you get into power” only to be interrupted… “I can’t answer hypothetical questions”.

Now, obviously that’s an exaggeration, but I suspect everyone reading this recognises the pattern.

In this recent campaign, it was used time and again (by all parties except those on the left, who were very up front indeed on the issue) regarding the IMF/EU “bail out” and the obscenity of the debt transfer. It was a very simple question, and probably the single most important one during this entire campaign. That anyone cast a vote in favour of a party that refused to answer it is utterly scandalous. Yet most of us did. The question goes something like this…

Right now, pretty much everyone accepts that, when combined, the bank debt and sovereign debt will simply bankrupt this country. Nobody sane believes we are capable of bearing such a massive burden. It will crush Ireland. Every party is determined to renegotiate the terms of the deal that saddled us with the bank debt, as well as the levels of interest we must pay on the funds made available to us in the “bail out”. However, if the negotiations do not reduce the burden to a sustainable level, what then? What is Plan B?

The left has a simple response… we default on the bank debt while honouring our sovereign debt and restructuring the economy in such a way as to repay it. At that point, you can argue back and forth about the merits of default, or the details of restructuring. You agree or disagree with the proposal.

But Fianna Fáil, Labour, Fine Gael and even the Greens all refused to answer the question. “The negotiations have not happened yet”, they tell us. “The stress tests on the banking system won’t be complete until the end of March”, they tell us. “it would be wrong to presume the outcome of the negotiations / stress tests”, they insist.

I wanted an interviewer — just one of them! — to bellow into their complacent faces “No it damn well wouldn’t be wrong! In fact, it’s your job to presume! We want a government that already has answers to the obvious hypothetical situations, not one just making it up as they go along. Any fricking idiot can do that! Is that what you are? A fricking idiot!!?”

In fact, I’d want the interviewer to use even more exclamation points and italics than that.

How are these fools and charlatans allowed to get away with either not having plans for critical potential situations, or else not telling the electorate what those plans are, so that we can vote in an informed manner? It’s not democracy if the agenda is hidden.


UPDATE: The Jim Bliss 5-Point Plan for Recovery

  1. Free jet-packs for everyone
  2. Top grades for every child in school
  3. A cure for cancer
  4. The winning lottery numbers mailed to every home the day before the draw
  5. Get Ireland Working!

Vote Jim Bliss in 2014. I guarantee nobody has a better 5-point plan.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


24
Feb 2011

Election 2011: Because real change is too much to expect

Tomorrow, the country goes to the polls. Finally! The election campaign feels like it’s been going on for about a year, which would have been draining even if the candidates had anything interesting or illuminating to say. But of course, they didn’t. They spent their time filling the airwaves with words aimed at obscuring their policies and the issues facing the country. The three main party leaders argued with apparent passion about policy differences so slight as to be essentially insignificant. And they joined forces to pour scorn on any alternative to their crony-capitalism whenever it raised its head. It speaks volumes that given a straight choice between the current government (who facilitated the capitalist smash-and-grab that has been perpetrated upon Ireland) and their likely successor, led by Enda Kenny — a man who whenever he’s questioned on policy in public tells the people to log onto their website (you can almost see the contempt dripping from his lips) — I’d probably leave the old lot in power.

Seriously. That’s how bad the situation is.

But of course, that’s not the choice facing the country. If opinion polls are to be believed (and they’ve all been remarkably consistent), Fianna Fáil will experience complete electoral meltdown. Remarkably, they are not running enough candidates to gain an overall majority even if every single one of them were elected. That’s pretty mind-boggling. Imagine a UK general election where the Labour party only fielded 290 candidates. Or a US congressional election where the Democrats fielded 194. It’s less an admission of defeat as it is an active refusal to be in power. De Valera must be turning in his grave. Though of course, Fianna Fáil exorcised the spirit of De Valera from their party the moment they placed the interests of private financial institutions above the interests of Irish citizens. Whatever his faults (and he had many) Dev would never have done that. In fact, he’d probably have had any finance minister who proposed such a move tried for treason.

In fairness to Fine Gael, they’ve always had more of a pro-capitalist outlook than Fianna Fáil, even before the Celtic Tiger got its claws into Bertie. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the Irish people seem to be turning to them to get us out of a crisis caused by the failure of international capitalism. Ultimately the story of this election will be the astonishing failure of the left wing parties to take advantage of this failure. A member of the United Left Alliance interviewed on Vincent Browne’s show last night appeared proud to predict his alliance would gain between 4 and 8 seats. Browne was incredulous. As, quite frankly, am I. When the vice-like grip of international capital begins choking the life out of a country, why aren’t the socialist left confidently predicting 40 to 80 seats!? How have they failed to capitalise (pun intended) on this situation? Even Sinn Féin, a left wing party hampered by the fact that half the country will never vote for them for historical reasons, appear likely to do better than the ULA.

The argument is that the Irish population is inherently conservative. That despite claiming they want change, they’re actually too scared of it to do anything other than prop up the existing establishment. It’s depressing, and frankly, if they elect a Fine Gael majority government, they are essentially stating — unambiguously — that they are happy with the way the country was governed during the past few years. It’s just bizarre. I have heard people say that they wouldn’t want to take a risk with the left… that the left might bankrupt the country. As though a nation of less than 5 million people can take on a hundred billion euro of private gambling debt and not already be bankrupt. It’s an insane perspective, but one that seems prevalent.

We can only hope that the opinion polls are wrong. That Fine Gael get nowhere near an overall majority and are consequently forced to water down their savage policies to appease a coalition partner. That the left parties gain far more seats than they expect. That whoever is in government realises that forcing the Irish people to pay off debts they didn’t run up is both morally wrong and logistically impossible. That come Saturday night, we have a government that will place the interests of the Irish people above the interests of financial institutions… a government for whom the phrase “we must all share the burden” doesn’t automatically have an unspoken “except the very wealthy” tagged on the end.

Anyway, it’ll all be over soon. The election’s tomorrow. The count’s on Saturday. If Fine Gael get an overall majority, we’ll know the outcome by Saturday night. If they need a coalition partner, it’ll be the middle of next week. After that, I’ll ease off on the rants about Irish politics and return to rants about sustainability and the occasional music review. I suspect my regular readers will be happy about that.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion