Archive for the ‘Fine Gael’ Category

Future of the Church in Ireland

22/04/2013

As part of a series on the Church in Ireland, the Irish Times has written a number of articles on the subject.

The first article discusses the notions of belief in Ireland. The piece begins “Despite the fallout from clerical sex abuse scandals, a significant proportion of the country – including non-Catholics – believe the church has had a broadly positive influence on Ireland. The national survey was undertaken last month among a representative sample of 1,000 voters aged 18 and over. A total of 89 per cent of respondents were Catholic. The remainder were either not religious (6 per cent), Protestant (3 per cent) or from other faiths. Fianna Fáil supporters were most likely to be Catholic (95 per cent), followed by Sinn Féin (89 per cent), Fine Gael (88 per cent), Labour (85 per cent) and Greens (58 per cent). Overall, just under a third (31 per cent) of Catholics said they attended Mass at least once a week. More than two-thirds attended services far less frequently. Some 39 per cent said they either never or very occasionally went to Mass. A further 20 per cent said they attended every two to three months, while 8 per cent went once a fortnight. Those who attend Mass regularly are twice as likely to live in rural rather than urban areas. They are also more likely to be older and support Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. When it comes to the church’s teachings, many Catholics do not subscribe to key tenets such as transubstantiation. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) believe the blessing of bread and wine during Mass only represents the body and blood of Christ. Just over a quarter believe it is transformed (26 per cent)”.

It is heartening to see that many still think of the benefits of the Church in Ireland however, these people are normally too afraid to speak up and defend the Church when it comes under attack from those who preach nihilism and relativism. Either unaware of unconcerned by its consequences.  Thankfully there are some who do defend the Church. To be welcomed is the number of people still attending Mass, which is probably among the highest in Europe. Obviously what the survey does not highlight is the age profile of these people and it can be safely assumed that the vast majority are over 60 with only a small fraction under 30.

In a related article in the series notes “Nearly two-thirds of the over-65s attend Mass once a week or more, compared to 13 per cent of those aged 18-24. Interestingly, while women have always been perceived as the stereotypical daily Mass attenders, the gap between male and female attendance is not as wide as might be expected. Four per cent of women attend daily, while 3 per cent of men do. The gap widens to 8 per cent in the once-a-week or more category: 35 per cent of women versus 27 per cent of men. Overall, the gap between the two is about 10 per cent – substantial but still probably narrower than expected”.

The piece adds “Amid increasingly vocal proponents of rationality and science over belief in gods and supernatural explanations for the meaning of life and death, it is interesting to note that over 80 per cent continue to believe in heaven, a belief shared fairly equally across regions, party and class, and rising to 90 per cent among the over-65s and women” but worryingly for the supposed tolerance of society “Do people think the country would be better off without it? The question was asked of all respondents, not only Catholics, and the remarkable fact is only 9 per cent said yes. Nearly 40 per cent said the country would be a worse place without it, a figure that includes 29 per cent of Protestants. It also includes a third of those under 34, rising to nearly half of the over-65s”.

Again this obvious lack of tolerance is seen when another article notes “On one of his first visits to Poland, Scally almost laughed out loud when a Polish friend mentioned that he was a member of the Club of Catholic Intellectuals. The idea of Catholic intellectuals seemed hilarious. But when Polish people needed a bulwark against the communist authorities, the Catholic Church offered people a place to meet and an alternative space to think. It remains the case today: one of Poland’s leading weekly publications is a Catholic newspaper”. The fact that the Solidarity movement worked with the Church to overthrow Communist tyranny and have free speech, the rule of law and a free press after its downfall and the fact that Scally should be so narrowminded and dismissive of the Church speaks volumes.

Predictably reform is mentioned, “Fr Crombie distances himself from themes closely associated with the Association of Catholic Priests, such as the call for national assemblies and dialogue on the looming dearth of priests, on compulsory celibacy and on the ordination of women. Priesthood and celibacy are indivisible for him”. Indeed the ACP, far from being a canonical organisation is totally opposed to any thoughful (liturgical) reform as envisioned by Pope Benedict dismissing it out of hand. As for the question of celibacy it is not practiced in the Eastern Catholic Churches or the Orthodox Church so it should not be ruled out completely. The article goes on “A question that preoccupies the Association of Catholic Priests – the second Vatican Council’s unfulfilled decision that every parish would have a lay-dominated council, linked to a diocesan council, feeding into a national assembly – seems to puzzle him. He has never heard of it”. There is also the issue of what such a proposed assembly would be for.

Lastly, a piece notes the admittedly depressing figures, “In 1970 Ireland had almost 4,000 diocesan priests. Today that figure is 2,160, with 687 others retired, ill, on study leave or working elsewhere. Their average age is 64. In 1970 164 men entered Irish seminaries. Last year the figure was 22. The Amárach survey also found weekly Mass attendance in Ireland was 35 per cent. Last December [2011] Archbishop Martin disclosed that weekly Mass attendance in Dublin is down to 14 per cent and said that within eight years just 235 priests will be available to serve full time in Dublin’s 199 parishes. Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese was facing its biggest crisis since Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the archbishop said”.

Finally a piece calls for “new thinking”. The article mentions that “By 2020, the number of priests in Dublin will drop by about 36 per cent, from 456 to about 294. Just 235 will be available to serve full-time in Dublin’s 199 parishes, he said, with the remainder serving as chaplains or at central services. Meanwhile priests’ income in Dublin has fallen 15 per cent in the past two years to an average of €24,079 per annum, as weekly Mass attendance hovers at 14 per cent. What has been happening in Dublin is reflected in each of the 26 Catholic dioceses on the island. In each, too, as the priests get older and their income drops, their workload increases. This is due to parish clustering, whereby priests who would normally serve in just one parish must now also take care of the needs of the faithful in nearby parishes as well. This, itself, is due to the growing shortage of priests. No wonder morale is low among Irish Catholic priests”. However he adds that this is not the only story, “Of the 1,965 priests currently in parish ministry in Ireland, 838 are 54 years and under. Even the 54-year-olds will not have reached retirement age by 2032. And between now and 2032 more priests will be ordained on an annual basis, though nobody should get too excited about that”.

He adds ” in 2032 there will also be additional permanent deacons. Eight such men were ordained in Dublin’s pro-cathedral last Monday, with other such ordinations to take place in seven more Catholic dioceses in Ireland. It is highly likely this pattern will be followed in the church’s remaining dioceses on the island also. These permanent deacons will be able to officiate at baptisms, weddings and funerals. In so doing, they will greatly lessen the workload of priests. Another way of freeing up, indeed liberating, priests to exclusively exercise their essential spiritual function is for the laity to take over parish administrative duties. This is happening already and is a source of immense satisfaction to the great majority of priests”. Indeed this does make some sense. There is little reason for a priest to spend his time filling in forms when it could be far better spent elsewhere.

Yet is obvious from these reports is the the Church in Ireland faces organisational, financial, “personnel” and credibility problems. However,  the common thread that runs through these reports is that the Church is treated as some political actor rather than a divine institution run by flawed human beings who are trying to achieve some beyond the transitory existence of this life and at the same time aim for something more than just material possessions and whatever else this world offers.

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Success for Ireland?

20/02/2013

In what was seen as a “great success” by the Irish government in lengthening the amount of time to pay back the debt, and in effect, pay back more money over time. The not unreasonable hope from the government is that inflation will eat away at the capital sum, leaving only the interest to be paid back, over a longer period.

Media reports note that “A bank debt deal that will reduce the country’s borrowing needs by €20 billion in the coming decade and ease budget pressures over the next two years was unveiled by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil yesterday. There was sustained applause from Fine Gael and Labour TDs for the Taoiseach when he sat down after outlining the agreement with the European Central Bank (ECB) to the chamber. The announcement came after 24 hours of political drama which saw emergency legislation to liquidate the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), formerly Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society, being rushed through the Oireachtas early yesterday morning”.

The same piece goes on to add that “Kenny said the first payment of principal under the new deal will not now be made until 2038 and the last payment will be made in 2053. The average maturity of the Government bonds will be over 34 years as opposed to the seven to eight year average maturity on the promissory notes. ‘In effect, we have replaced a short-term, high interest rate overdraft that had to be paid down quickly through more expensive borrowings, with long-term, cheap, interest-only loans,’ said Mr Kenny. He said that as a result of the deal there would be a €20 billion reduction in the National Treasury Management Agency’s market borrowing requirements in the next decade with a very large reduction in the debt servicing costs of the State over the next generation. The Taoiseach said the agreement would bring the country €1 billion closer to attaining our 3 per cent deficit target by 2015. ‘This means that the expenditure reductions and tax increases will be of the order of €1 billion less to meet the 3 per cent deficit target,’ he said”.

Yet, it was Fianna Fail that tied bank debt to sovereign debt, under pressure from the ECB, and so made Ireland drown in debt when it could have been Iceland which let the banks go bankrupt, and started again, albeit with siginificant pain to people.

Another article notes that “deal happened only because the ECB agreed to bend rules Being able to manage one’s debts depends to a very great extent on their repayment terms. A small sum borrowed from a loan shark at a usurious interest rate can quickly balloon into an unpayable debt. An open-ended interest-free loan from a friend or relative can, by contrast, be easily managed and cause little worry. The new Government IOUs, unveiled with great fanfare yesterday to replace the promissory notes – the three-year-old IOUs issued to pay off depositors and creditors in Anglo and Irish Nationwide – appear at first analysis to be much closer to the latter kind of loan. While a deal on restructuring the promissory notes has been inevitable since the EU-IMF troika agreed to discuss the matter more than one year ago, the range of potential outcomes of those tortuous negotiations was wide. If the European Central Bank had really put its foot down, the deal reached might have been little more than symbolic.”

Now however, the Germans are attacking the plan, with typical tact. Reports indicate that “Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann has voiced concern that Ireland’s promissory notes deal came perilously close to illegal monetary financing. Last week the ECB “unanimously took note” of a plan to swap Anglo Irish promissory notes for sovereign bonds, easing Irish borrowing requirements by €20 billion. Mr Weidmann, a prominent member of the ECB governing council, has now hinted the deal set a dangerous precedent by blurring the ECB’s “clear line between monetary and fiscal issues”. “The transaction in Ireland demonstrates how difficult it is for monetary policy to free itself from the embrace of fiscal policy once you’re engaged,” he said to Bloomberg. The Bundesbank is unhappy with what it sees as indiscreet statements by Irish politicians on the role played by various officials in reaching the agreement.”

Ultimately the deal is little more than cosmetic with little significance for Ireland or any of the “bailout” countries in the troika programme and domestic Irish politics with the governing coalition gaining from it, though for how long is the most interesting question.

Making progress?

17/01/2013

An article from the Economist discusses the economic situation of Ireland, the “best behaved  of all the euro zone countries that have been given a “bailout”.

The piece notes that “By the end of 2013 Ireland could leave its bail-out programme and stand on its own feet again”. The article goes on to mention “An Irish recovery would provide a boost for Europe and its de facto leader, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, as much as for Ireland and its prime minister, Enda Kenny. It would show that the controversial treatment of austerity and structural reforms imposed as the price of bail-outs can work”.

The article continues “It would reassure the electorates of core Europe, especially German voters who go to the polls in the autumn, that rescues do not condemn them to a never-ending call upon their taxes, as seems to be the case with Greece. And a sustained return by Ireland to the bond markets would boost confidence more generally, helping other bailed-out economies such as Portugal and Spain”. Yet, to equate Greece, to Ireland, Spain or Portugal is unfair as these nations are not sliding into the abyss as Greece seems to be doing with lots of help from Frau Merkel. What should also not come as a surprise, but is still worth noting, that (German) domestic politics seem to be key. How can EU “leaders” expect EU “citizens” will look to them and not their own national leaders when making decisions all the while hoping to create some kind of legitimacy for a body that is either loathed or treated with total indifference?

The writer goes on to say in an optimistic manner “Last year it dodged the euro zone’s wretched recession. Unit labour costs in the country have come down sharply, making the economy more competitive. That has enhanced Ireland’s allure for foreign companies, which continue to favour the country as a manufacturing and services hub for international markets, not least because of its low corporate-tax rate. These are useful advantages. If things go well in 2013, Ireland might be able to leave its programme without any further assistance”.

Thankfully he injects some realism into the picture ” Ireland’s very reliance on foreign firms creates both economic and fiscal vulnerabilities. If global growth falters this year, for example, Ireland will be hit hard because its exports are bigger than the economy. Any economic setback will make it more difficult to get the deficit down, as planned in yet another austerity budget (the sixth) late last year. Even if things go to plan, public debt, which amounted to only 25% of Ireland’s GDP in 2007, will exceed 120% in 2013; and once the large slice of GDP which goes to low-taxed foreign multinationals is taken into account, it will reach almost 140% (see article)”.

The discussion of recovery that is taking place is laughable, Ireland’s debt is actually rising, not falling and it will continue to rise for many years to come. The piece adds, “About a third of its public debt has been incurred bailing out its banks, an imposition which Irish taxpayers resent bitterly. The Irish government is largely to blame for that, because it issued blanket guarantees to bank creditors at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. But European leaders, scared about the repercussions of a default in the bond markets, later forced the Irish government to protect the banks’ senior bondholders”. Yet for all their resentment the Irish seem to do nothing about it being as passive as ever in the face of their country being, yet again humiliated but corrupt and incompetent politicians.

The article ends saying that Merkel could help Ireland and her own credibility by softening the “terms on the promissory notes—IOUs—which the Irish government used in 2010 to prop up its banks could be eased. A more effective measure would be to allow the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro area’s permanent rescue fund, to take stakes in the Irish banks that remain operational. That would help Ireland both by removing some of its sovereign debt and by insulating the government from any further calls on public funds as a result of more mishaps to Irish banks”.

The EU being as decisive as ever however are unsure about this option saying that “the ESM could be deployed in this way only in new rescues. It will be hard for Mrs Merkel to shift course again, especially in an election year”. It ends arguing that a successful Irish debt deal would not only be good for Ireland but also Germany and therefore the EU.

Europe’s failed state

04/12/2012

As the EU/IMF/ECB “bailout” package progresses and on the eve on another austerity budget that is about to be announced, some have noted the strange characteristics of Ireland and the Irish.  Indeed it has been commented here before that while riots occur in Greece and mass protests in Spain as the endless euro crisis grinds on the Irish remain passive in spite of all that has happened over the last years.

An article in the Irish Times, mentions that the Irish “lack self-esteem despite a veneer of ‘garrulous sociability and self-deprecating twaddle’, according to the latest edition of the Lonely Planet which has just been published. The best-selling guide book says Irish people’s reputation for having an ‘easygoing, affable nature is justified’, but our reputation for friendliness is mostly a manifestation of our desire to chat – and our lack of self-esteem is our ‘dark secret’. The piece goes on to note “the Irish are ‘fatalistic and pessimistic to the core’, which is why they have accepted their economic fate more readily than the Greeks, who have rioted in the streets”.

A different article writes published earlier this year notes that the institutions of the Irish State have little or no significance or respect for many, though obviously not all, of the country’s citizens. It notes “You forget how tenuous and fragile a thing is the Irish State, how little it means to so many of its citizens. By the State, I don’t mean the nation, the flag, pride in being Irish – all that visceral emotion. I mean, rather, two rational things, one tangible, the other abstract. The State is a set of institutions – the Government, the Oireachtas, the Civil Service, public services, the law, the courts. It is also a broad but crucial sense of mutual dependence – the idea that there’s a collective self that goes beyond the narrow realms of family and locality”. The writer goes on to make the point that “To function at all, we have to make the working assumption that those institutions and that idea are part of what we are, that, however vehemently we disagree with each other about however many things, there is this common ground on which we stand. Even when we rail against the institutions (for loyalty is not the same thing as passive obedience), we do so because we identify with them – they are ours to criticise”. He then argues that “Everyone knows, of course, that there are subgroups – criminals, subversives – who have no loyalty to the State at all, who have contempt for its institutions and who don’t recognise the notion of the common good. But the working assumption is that these groups are small, marginal and outside the mainstream of society”.

Indeed, this notion of the common good seems to have been all but obliterated as a result of Ireland’s bizarre history and culture coupled with the ravages of rabid individualism which is prevalent all over Europe and throughout much of the Western world. He depressingly, continues ” every so often, there’s a moment when those assumptions crumble. The idea that the vast majority of people are loyal to the State is suddenly exposed for what it is: a useful fiction. What happens is that very large numbers of people who would never think of themselves as criminals or subversives reveal the truth that they don’t really have much time for key State institutions such as the law and the courts and that they simply don’t believe that there is an over-arching common good that means anything when you set it against more potent local loyalties”. He gives a concrete example, “This is what we’ve seen over the last fortnight in the Quinn affair. Very significant numbers of decent, respectable Irish people – not a majority but not a tiny minority either – are in literal contempt of the courts. They really don’t give a damn what the courts find – if those findings come into conflict with their own deeper loyalties”. He ends his piece “Nor do these decent, respectable people believe that there is a common good that operates at the level of the State and that could possibly outweigh an almost feudal loyalty to a local hero. The State, for them, is a vague, hazy and distant thing – too nebulous to command any real fidelity. The idea that encouraging the Quinns to siphon off €455 million of public assets might harm their fellow citizens has no meaning for them because, deep down, they don’t actually believe that there are such creatures as fellow citizens”, concluding, “The entire political culture of clientilism encourages people to think about the good of the locality, not of the State as a collective entity. Large parts of the Irish elite have demonstrated, with impunity, their own contempt for the law and the common good by evading and avoiding taxes. And of course the State itself is now a sad and tattered thing, stripped of the sovereignty that gives it life”.

An Irish historian weighs in and says that Ireland is not only economically but morally bankrupt also. He argues cogently “the cumulative affect of the various tribunal reports, most recently Mahon, may require political scientists and historians to question or qualify some of their earlier assumptions about the achievements of independence. Taking the long view, perhaps the very impulses that created stability and consensus in the earlier decades of independence also facilitated a fundamental neglect of civic morality and citizenship. This neglect ultimately allowed the sort of ‘systemic and endemic’ corruption exposed by the Mahon report, and as revealed previously by the Moriarty report, what amounted to a devaluing of ‘the quality of democracy itself'”. He goes on to note “There was not enough debate about policy, ideology or the consequences of a ruthless centralisation and authoritarianism. As Garvin observed, in 1922, whatever about devotion to national politics, ‘these unenthusiastic democrats were qualified in their attachment to democratic ideas and were not prepared to trust people with the power to run local affairs'”. Indeed, the nascent Irish state was too homogeneous, being almost entirely Catholic, white and poor. There were no differences in the political parties, a problem that persists to this day, and when a civil war did occur, it was over an irrelevant matter that divided the country then but has no significance in modern times. The writer goes on to mention “This point about trust is vital: if people are not trusted to run their own affairs, they devise other ways of getting things done and with that the likelihood of corruption increases. While there were valiant attempts from the 1920s to clean up malpractice in local government, in the long run local authorities were stripped of most of their powers and the few that they were left with, including the power to rezone land, were abused. In terms of national politics, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were born of Civil War divisions, rather than having competing visions about how to shape society. After the laying of the State’s foundations, the practice of politics became about the spoils of the system rather than engagement with ideas about the nature of citizenship. It was about management rather than vision. It was also about, in a society so homogeneously Catholic, abrogating responsibility to the Catholic church in too many crucial areas, including education, with a resultant narrow focus on what constituted immorality”. He adds importantly “Political culture was male-dominated and a closed system in which those who had ideas about doing things differently were dismissed as maverick, or, worse still, intellectuals”. This anti-intellectualism is rife in Irish culture, he mentions “Bertie Ahern – one of that glorious class of Fianna Fáil politicians first elected in 1977, that included Albert Reynolds and Pádraig Flynn – recorded in his memoirs Bertie Ahern: The Autobiography, he had nothing but contempt for intellectuals challenging the ward boss conception of politics”.

He ends his piece “Another problem was that Fianna Fáil was simply in power for far too long and the longer it held office and dispensed patronage the more perverted the definition of loyalty became, in order to justify cover-ups and lies. Lightweights were rewarded and promoted well beyond their capabilities, which resulted in a considerable devaluation of politics and the status of public office. Those who called for accountability within this culture experienced fear, menace and intimidation. As we edge towards the centenary of the events that comprised the revolution of the early 20th century, we face a stark conclusion: this is a State bereft of meaningful sovereignty due to its bankruptcy and a State whose governing culture has been exposed as rotten”.

Two pieces, published more recently, but on the same topic are also of interest and relevance. One of them reports on a conference that took place in Dublin recently. It mentions “The mistakes made in the Celtic Tiger era might be seen as Ireland’s adolescent stage but there is no guarantee that the country will grow up”. The article goes on to say “Counselling psychologist Elaine Martin said Irish society was trapped in a ‘narcissistic system’ as a result of its colonial past and would need to take active steps to move on to the next phase of development”, adding later that “The Irish tendency to devalue themselves as individuals and as a society and to idealise others were among the traits of a colonised people, she said. This is covert narcissism, which manifests itself in low self-esteem, as opposed to the grandiose narcissism more commonly associated with the term. Both types are characterised by self-obsession. The conference held a symposium on the Irish psyche in the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger in which it was claimed that we saw ourselves as a ‘deeply flawed people’. Ms Martin said Ireland needed to develop a sense of identity and self-confidence set apart from its colonial past. She said Queen Elizabeth II’s visit had helped the process, but there was a long way to go”. The piece goes on to note that “New Zealand had sought to move on from its colonial past by promoting traits such as excellence and integrity as values to develop as specific national traits. Ms Martin maintained the relationship between Ireland and its former colonisers was similar to that of a narcissistic family”. The piece ends “Dr Trisha McDonnell, a clinical psychologist, told the conference that Irish behaviour exhibited three postcolonial traits in particular: our deferential attitude to authority; our tendency to avoid the truth; and our communications strategy, which was manifested in a failure to speak plainly and assertively”.

Lastly, another opinion piece argues that no-one is held accountable in Ireland. It asks “What is it with ambitious public sector projects? It seems almost preordained that they end up with eye-watering cost overruns or getting long-fingered indefinitely after being bogged down in controversy. The National Children’s Hospital is the latest project to suffer from the dead hand of the public sector. It’s six years since reports by consultants McKinsey recommended a single, world-class paediatric centre which would amalgamate three children’s hospitals in the capital. Even though the location in the Mater was chosen shortly afterwards, political sniping and growing uncertainty over the location slowed progress. Two chairmen selected to oversee the process ended up resigning. As in excess of €30 million was poured into planning and design, it soon became clear the enormous scale of the development was a major issue. The plan rolled on regardless. It culminated in An Bord Pleanála refusing planning permission”.

He adds a further layer to this when he writes “After all the expensive consultants’ reports, expert groups and glossy plans, no one was accountable for the failure to deliver a project, while the taxpayer has been left to shoulder the burden of wasted expenditure. But perhaps it’s too simple to blame public servants. Is the Civil Service, for example, taking the flak for the failures of politicians or ministers, who have been all too keen to spend millions on half-baked schemes or ill-conceived vanity projects such as the so-called Bertie Bowl, e-voting or the Ppars computer project? For Bill Kingston, who lectures in business at Trinity College Dublin, the answer is simple: the lack of accountability in the public sector”. He goes on to add later in the article “There is also, Molloy says, a lack of expertise. The Civil Service and much of the public sector is based on “gifted generalists”. But it needs to be technically qualified and robust enough to place the public good ahead of the preferences of the incumbent government”.

While Ireland is not about to turn into Yemen or Pakistan, its utter failure to deal with these issues after more than 90 years of independence has effectively rendered it a failed state. Even worse nothing seems to have changed and so there will be another crisis in two decades or so that will set off the same pointless soul searching.

“Bold new step”

13/09/2012

The much hyped constitutional convention that will take place in Ireland has been commented on in The Irish Times by the head of the school of politics at University College Dublin, Dr David Farrell. The convention has been much criticised as too weak, and merely a talking shop discussing minor issues set up by the Fine Gael/Labour government.

Farrell however argues that “To say that this will be something new to Irish politics is an understatement”. He goes on to write that “Swiss political scientist Jürg Steiner distinguishes between traditional ‘election-centred’ democracies where, other than during elections, citizens are largely excluded from policy decisions, and ‘talk-centred’ democracies in which citizens get to deliberate on policy issues. Steiner’s attention for the most part is on how such approaches can inform policy decisions at the local level – determining the budget of the local council or perhaps influencing a planning decision. Ireland is about to join a small band of countries to use this sort of approach to consider bigger national questions over the design of our Constitution”.

Farrell goes on to note that “The Government’s model for a constitutional convention differs from the usual approach in three respects: by placing citizens at the heart of the process; by how those citizens are selected; and by how the convention will operate. This form of constitutional convention takes the reform process a further step away from the government in power. To date, only a few other places have gone down this route” he adds, interestingly later on that “In 1998 the Australian government established a constitutional convention that met over an intensive two-week period to consider the question of whether Australia should become a republic. Its membership comprised a mix of professional politicians and ordinary citizens. Then there were the citizens’ assemblies of British Columbia (2004) and Ontario (2007) that were tasked with reviewing the electoral systems of both Canadian provinces. Only ordinary citizens were involved in these assemblies, meeting at weekends over a number of months”.

He mentions that “A broadly similar approach was followed in our third case – the Dutch civic forum that met over a nine-month period in 2006 to discuss electoral reform, again only including ordinary citizens as members. The country most recently to go down this route was Iceland”. Strangely for Ireland Farrell notes “The Irish constitutional convention will be based on the Canadian and Dutch approaches of random selection and deliberation”. This is very rare for Ireland which is exceptionally close minded but the fact that the covention will be based on such open models does not bode well for the implementation of the convention when it finishes.

Farrell concludes “that these conventions can appear ‘toothless’ with the participants given limited power to advise rather than decide”. If the Irish government is willing to set up a convention as a smokescreen to do nothing greater cynicism will only follow. If however real change occurs, such as the voting system, then the convention will have been a great success and the government could be justly proud of its achievements.

A victory for some

02/06/2012

After the announcement was made that the Irish government was to hold a referendum on the fiscal compact there was more uncertainty when it was the last thing the EU wanted, or needed. The vote took place on 31 May and the sided backing the compact, as expected, won out with 60.3% of people voting Yes with 39.7% voting No. The turnout was 50.6%.

The BBC reports that “Just over 60% of voters taking part in the referendum backed the controversial pact, which is aimed at enforcing budget rules in the eurozone. Prime Minister Enda Kenny said Ireland had sent a “powerful signal” that it was committed to overcoming its economic challenges”. It adds that “A ‘No’ vote would not have blocked the pact, but it would have barred Ireland from emergency EU funding when its bailout package expires in 2013. In late 2010 Ireland received an EU-IMF bailout worth 85bn euros (£68bn; $105bn) after debts overwhelmed its banks. The treaty must be approved by 12 of 17 Eurozone countries, but Ireland was the only one putting the issue to a public vote”.

The result has been seen by some as a result of the “key element in the Yes argument was that access to future funding from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) would be cut off in the event of a No vote. That unambiguous fact helped to concentrate the minds of voters who might have been tempted to vote No in protest at Government policy or EU-wide austerity measures”. Others have noted that the choice was between fear and anger, with fear winning out.

Media reports in The Irish Times, have noted that “Kenny has told German chancellor Angela Merkel he wants a deal on the Irish bank debt following the decision of the Irish people to vote Yes to the fiscal treaty. Dr Merkel was one of a number of European leaders with whom the Taoiseach had a phone conversation yesterday when it became clear that the electorate had delivered a decisive Yes to the treaty. He said later that by voting Yes the Irish people, who understood the banking situation, had sent a message that the issue had to be dealt with by the political leaders of Europe. ‘Without going into technicalities, yes, I did raise directly the issue with the chancellor,’ Mr Kenny told journalists”. The article goes on to note that “Merkel said the referendum result was good news for Ireland and for Europe and deserved respect because of the hardship that Ireland had endured. ‘The referendum result strengthens the euro zone’s joint course toward the creation of a new, lasting stability union,’ she said in a statement. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said last night that the decisive Yes vote in the referendum had ‘significantly strengthened’ the Government’s hand in the negotiations about the bank debt”, yet the report adds that “A diplomatic source in Brussels warned that the Government still had big obstacles to surmount to secure a deal to reduce the debt. However, European officials said that the ultimate prospect of an agreement had improved a little. There was no sign, however, that Germany was willing to lift its opposition to any restructuring of the debts of the former Anglo Irish Bank. In addition, the diplomatic source said that any push to allow the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund to directly recapitalise Ireland’s banks was likely to face strong resistance”. The article concludes interestingly that “The strongest Yes vote in the country was in Dublin South where 75.8 per cent backed the treaty. The neighbouring constituencies of Dún Laoghaire and Dublin South East were the next most strongly in favour. Just five of the 43 constituencies voted against, with the highest No vote in Donegal North East, where 55.6 per cent voted No. There was also a No vote in neighbouring Donegal South East and in three Dublin constituencies”.

A separate piece on the domestic consequences notes that “The fiscal treaty has been passed but key elements on the No side are in many ways the real winners. For Sinn Féin and the parties and groups on the far left, EU referendums are the political equivalent of a lottery bonanza or a licence to print money. Once again they have benefited hugely in terms of access to the news media. This should pay off in increased votes in the local and European elections two years hence”. The writer adds that “Unless there is a major change in the political climate, Sinn Féin is likely to do very well in both contests and the United Left Alliance (ULA) should also increase support. Already Sinn Féin is planning its European and local campaigns”. As has been mentioned here before, if Fianna Fail are to have any hope of returning they need these local seats. The same article notes that on the right of the spectrum, that is after 90 years, finally beginning to emerge, Declan Ganley of Libertas, “is refusing to rule out a second run for Europe in two years’ time and he gave the three successful candidates a good run for their money in the North-West constituency last time around”. He concludes noting “by opening the door to Sinn Féin they may have damaged the future prospects of their own party. The same has been said of John Hume and the SDLP. In the North, Sinn Féin sounds more and more like a constitutional nationalist party; south of the Border it sounds more and more like the old Fianna Fáil: another outcome of the history-making events of Good Friday, 1998”.

A different piecemakes a similar point put it well saying “the treaty was largely backed by voters in rural and middle-class areas and the No vote did well in working-class areas”, adding that the result highlighted “a significant divide between poorer and more affluent areas. However, opinion is mixed over whether this represents a historic shift towards social class-based politics in Ireland, as is common in European countries”. He goes on to note that “The highest Yes votes were recorded in the most affluent urban constituencies of Dún Laoghaire (74 per cent voted in favour, 26 per cent against) and Dublin South East (72 per cent for and 28 per cent against). In contrast, the highest No votes were recorded in Donegal, which has a history of bucking the national trend, and Dublin constituencies with high concentrations of working-class voters. These included Dublin North West (47 per cent voted in favour, 53 per cent against), Dublin South Central (49 per cent in favour, 51 per cent against) and Dublin South West (49 per cent in favour, 51 per cent against). The social polarisation was most striking at local level. Tallymen recorded No votes of up to 85 and 90 per cent in traditionally disadvantaged areas such as Ballymun. This pattern was reversed in more privileged areas such as Sandymount, with some precincts reporting Yes votes of close to 80 per cent”.

The article ends noting that “Dr Donal Ó Drisceoil of UCC and co-editor of Politics and the Irish Working Class, 1830-1945, said the results appeared to form part of a historic shift in Irish politics. ‘The voting in this referendum confirms a pattern that has been emerging since the collapse of 2008, as evidenced in recent surveys, in the last general election, and in the mass resistance to the household charge,’ he said. ‘As the class divisions in Irish society become starker in the context of austerity, they are starting to be politically articulated. This marks a fundamental, historic shift in the Irish political landscape and suggests the beginnings of a move towards a system of class politics that has been absent in the State since independence – a so-called left/right divide.’ He said this shift may be the beginning of Irish politics being “normalised”, and it would be interesting to see how this would affect the existing party system”.

The biggest loser in this is the Irish Labour Party that have no ideological differences with the centre right Fine Gael with both parties targeting middle class, well educated voters. Now it seems that the historical remnants of Labour’s working class support is finally and justifiably, ebbing away. Maybe the Irish party system is beginning on the path to normality?

One more nail in the coffin Pt I

10/04/2012

So what began in 1997 has finally been completed. The final report by Judge Alan Mahon, chairman of the Tribunal of Inquiry Into Certain Planning Matters and Payments was released last month. The tribunal which is estimated to cost €250 million, heard the evidence of 400 witnesses, sat for 917 days with 3 barristers earning €5 million or more in costs.  The words “corrupt” or “corruption” are used 977 times throughout the report. The tribunal also found against Fine Gael and Labour Party councillors.

Media reports said that “Corruption affected every level of government from cabinet ministers to local councillors during two decades of political dominance by Fianna Fáil, according to the final report of the planning tribunal”. The report was particularly damning of former government minsiters and two former prime ministers, with the same media coverage proclaiming “accused former taoiseach Bertie Ahern of untruthfulness. It found former European commissioner Pádraig Flynn behaved corruptly, and said another former taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, had abused his power”, the coverage adds that, “Ahern last night strongly disputed the report’s conclusions, saying he was incredulous at what he described as “objectionable and inaccurate” findings. He said he would be looking to vindicate his name”. The report itself was rightly damning of the political culture of the time noting,” Corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of government, from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors, and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated”.

Current Fine Gael Prime Minister Enda Kenny said that he would bring the “report to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Revenue Commissioners and the Standards in Public Office Commission”. Though, such is public disenchantment that little, if anything, is expected to come from these referrals.

The same media source says that the “tribunal found Mr Ahern had given untrue evidence about his personal finances, including lodgements to accounts that the tribunal found were large sterling and dollar cash lodgements. The tribunal found Mr Ahern knew the true source of some lodgements investigated by the tribunal, but chose not to disclose their origin. It also rejected the evidence of Mr Ahern and others to the effect that collections or ‘digouts’ occurred in 1993 and 1994 that resulted in Mr Ahern being given £22,500 and £16,500. The tribunal said it was satisfied a lodgement of £28,772.90 on December 5th, 1994, by Mr Ahern’s then partner, Celia Larkin, to an account in her name but to be held for Mr Ahern’s benefit, was not the proceeds of a payment by Manchester businessman Micheal Wall. The tribunal said it was satisfied it was in fact the result of the lodgement of $45,000 in cash”. It adds that “The report said because Mr Ahern did not give a true account as to the source of money lodged to his accounts, the tribunal had not been able to identify where the money came from. For that reason, it could not determine whether Mr Ahern had received corrupt payments from developer Owen O’Callaghan. The report also said while the tribunal was inquiring into matters relating to Mr Ahern in the 2007-2008 period, it ‘came under sustained and virulent attack from a number of senior government ministers who questioned, inter alia, the legality of its inquiries as well as the integrity of its members'”. The media article concludes that “The tribunal made more than 100 recommendations, including the appointment of a planning regulator, wider disclosure of interests by public officials, restrictions on political donations and a code for lobbyists”.

In response to the Mahon report, current leader of Fianna Fail, Michael Martin “proposed that former taoiseach Bertie Ahern be expelled from the party, saying he ‘betrayed the trust’ of the country and the political organisation. Mr Martin said the planning tribunal’s final report, which found Mr Ahern failed to “truthfully account” for the source of bank account lodgments, confirmed the former Fianna Fáil leader’s personal behaviour had fallen short of the standard expected of holders of high office. ‘In the manner in which he received this money while holding high office and in the giving of rejected evidence to a sworn tribunal Bertie Ahern betrayed the trust placed in him by this country and this party,’ Mr Martin said”. Yet, just days after this, Ahern resigned from the party. Martin’s actions are indeed ironic as he one just one of many Cabinet members who attempted to discredit and derail the tribunal.

In a statementin response to the findings of the tribunal Ahern said that the tribunal is “not the findings of a court of law”. The statement continues, ” I have never accepted a bribe or a corrupt payment”, adding, ” After spending over a decade of inquiries and countless millions of euros, the Tribunal has not made – nor could it make – a finding to support the scurrilous and untrue allegation that I had been given a corrupt payment by Mr Owen O’Callaghan”. Ahern adds amazingly, “I am disappointed that the Tribunal has said that I failed to give “a truthful account”.That statement is unfair and inaccurate having regard to the evidence. It is one that I cannot and I will never accept and I will continue to examine ways in which to vindicate my name”. This is in spite of the tribunal being unable to account for  IR£165,000.

The fact that such corruption and greed was so widespread is a damning indictment of the people of Ireland and the politics of that country that have, once again lead to to ruin. The irony of course is that the very party that set up the tribunal in November 1997, just months after their win in the 1997 General Election, came out worst as a result of the Mahon report. The future of the party hangs in the balance and will be dealt with in the final part.

Backing down

12/09/2011

After the Irish government’s outrageous attempt to stifle religious freedom, they finally saw sense, but only after humilating themselves.

Not so brave

10/08/2011

As more reaction to the Cloyne report and the Irish prime minister’s not so brave speech on the actions of the Church seeps out it is clear there needs to be change. The best way of going about it is another matter.

It has been reported that “Kenny accused the Vatican of undermining the work of an official inquiry into clerics’ sexual abuse of children in a Catholic diocese, Cloyne”. The article notes that “quite recently, any attack on the Vatican would have been political suicide. Yet his outspoken remarks won strong support both in parliament and from the public”.

Others in the public square have been more thoughtful in their commentary about what was said and what should have been said. John Waters writes that the speech Kenny gave “might have been brave 30 or 40 years ago, when the swishing soutanes and swinging thuribles did indeed rule the roost”. Indeed Waters is right, to attack the Church when it is at its lowest ebb is anything but heroic. He notes that this is not the case anymore “when the rulers are the secular-atheists and pseudo-rationalists who foist their nihilistic formulas on our children, while pretending that John Charles McQuaid is still breathing down their necks”. In fact the “secular” atheists have distorted secularism itself and become beacons of intolerance towards any who disavow their rigid dogmas.

Waters adds that they purport “to confront some immense power in the present while challenging only phantoms. Anyone with the slightest grasp of reality knows the Irish Catholic hierarchy is a sorry sight, terrified of standing up to the new ascendancy, and that the Vatican is all but irrelevant to the running of the Irish church”. Waters describes as “reprehensible” the “the attack on Pope Benedict, which indicated gross ignorance, perhaps even malice. It is a sad day when the Taoiseach seems to have been trawling the internet for quotes – any quotes, regardless of context – to undermine the spiritual leader of the vast majority of his own people”. He writes that when it comes to these “secularists”, he notes that “the truth is irrelevant”.

Waters notes that Kenny is now “is now ad idem with the atheist ayatollahs of the Labour Party, preparing not merely to remove the right of Irish Catholic children to a Catholic education, but, in proposing laws to override the confessional seal, to attack the confidentiality which is at the core of pastoral relationships”. He adds that “Sticking it to the Catholic Church is guaranteed to meet with the regime’s approval.” Waters cleverly knows that the same “secularists” who supoorted the speech will be aghast at the cuts Kenny will have to impose in an attempt to undo the Fianna Fail destruction and please the holders of Irish government bonds in German and French banks.

Finally Waters attacks the current malise in society and says that “there are many ways of abusing children. You can sit them in desks and subject them to the knowing nonsense of cynics who steal their hope and joy so as to demonstrate repugnance of some derelict or decomposed authority. You can sell them false versions of freedom to make yourself rich. You can fill their heads with nihilism and wonder why they attempt to obliterate themselves with chemicals”.

Regretabbly however Waters words will go unheeded and the “secularists” in Ireland will never be happy until the Catholic Church is banned and all its “evils” banished to history. So much for liberal tolerance.

Half baked intolerance

17/07/2011

In an speech made by the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Lord Sacks, warned of the dangers of a society becoming increasingly intolerant on any religious belief.

It was reported that Lord Sacks said “Orthodox Jewish leader claimed that anti-discrimination policies had fuelled an ‘erosion of religious liberty’ in Britain that was leading to a new ‘Mayflower'”. 

He added that “there was ‘no doubt” numbers of religious believers in Britain were ‘extraordinarily” low. He continued: ‘I share a real concern that the attempt to impose the current prevailing template of equality and discrimination on religious organisations is an erosion of religious liberty. We are beginning to move back to where we came in in the 17th century – a whole lot of people on the Mayflower leaving to find religious freedom elsewhere.'”

This is the danger that Pope Benedict has warned about during his excellent speech in Westminster Hall. The danger is that society is, to put it bluntly, shoot itself in the foot. With religious liberty being eroded, as Pope Benedict has warned, other liberties could also be under threat.

In a related note and amid the continued fallout from the Cloyne Report, the Fine Gael administration there, has come up with the ridiculous half baked plan to “force priests to disclose information on child sexual abuse obtained in the confessional”. Apparently, “priests could be jailed for up to five years for failing to disclose information on serious offences against a child even if this was obtained in Confession.”

While such a plan may seem sensible initially, even on the slightest examination reveals this to be intolerant garbage. Firstly, how would such a law be enforced, and what would the penalties be for those who broke it? How would such penalities be enforced? The government would need to bug every confessional box in Ireland. That is just one of the practicalities to consider.

There is of course the legal issue. Article 40 3. 1° of the Constitution of Ireland states that “The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen”, not to mention Article 40 2° which states that “Laws regulating the manner in which the right of forming associations and unions and the right of free assembly may be exercised shall contain no political, religious or class discrimination”.

Tensions between the Holy See and Ireland currently at their nadir with talk that Pope Benedict may not even go to Ireland for the close of the International Euchristic Congress to be held in Dublin next year.  It is likely however that Benedict will attend.

However regarding such ludicrous proposals, they should be, by force of argument, crushed.

To default, or not to default

30/05/2011

After a recent post commenting on the merits of a bailout  for Ireland, what will happen if such a senario does occur has been discussed by a recent Irish Times article.

Discussing the Argentina default, “After the default came the meltdown: a 70 per cent devaluation of the peso in six months, a rapidly shrinking economy, an avalanche of poverty and unemployment. Millions of middle managers, salaried factory workers and state employees lost their jobs in the sell-off of state-run industries and the collapse of local companies. Bank accounts were frozen in an attempt to stem a bank run. US and European bank subsidiaries converted customers’ dollar deposits into devalued pesos, virtually wiping out their nest eggs. The income of Argentinians went through the floor: in 1999 it was the equivalent of $8,909 per capita, double that of Mexico and three times that of Poland; by 2002 it had shrunk to €2,500 per capita, about the same as Belarus.”

Interestingly however the article notes that currently in Ireland it is not a desperate as it was in Argentina with “Six out of seven jobs are still in place, notes Seamus Coffey, an economics lecturer at University College Cork. More than nine out of 10 mortgage holders continue to pay up on their original contract terms. Out of every €100 of disposable income, €12 is being used to pay off debt or to build up savings.”

On the question of the damage done to Ireland’s reputation “would pariah status matter once we had decided to be proudly self-reliant? That depends on the value you place on reputation.   ‘We are one of the economies in the world most dependent on international business,’ says Eunan King, of King Research. ‘We cannot walk away from 50 years of the Whitaker philosophy that we compete and co-operate on an international platform. EEC entry and the encouragement of foreign investment helped Ireland step away from protectionism and dependence on our major trading partner, the UK.'”

Many question whether there would be any money in the ATMs, in essence a shorthand for the citizens to buy the basics to survive. The article says that “‘we would be international pariahs without a functioning banking system. But as our money, or what’s left of it, is still in the bank, couldn’t we use the ATMs? ‘With no functioning bank system there’s no guarantee that the ATMs would continue to work,’ says Fergal O’Brien. Coffey thinks the notion of empty ATMs is a bit ‘overblown . . . The ATMs wouldn’t close, but we’d have no money in the bank accounts anyway, and that wouldn’t be the ECB’s fault’.”

It has been posited that the euro is the rooted of much of the current problems that face Ireland, yet “‘The EU has no provision to kick anyone out of the euro, and there’s no legal provision for handing banks back to the ECB either, for that matter,’ says Stephen Kinsella. ‘But if we did leave the euro I’d like to see the new currency being called the Anglo, so we’d never forget . Of course, the first item would be a 50 per cent devaluation, so all outstanding debt doubles immediately. And you’ve just burned €160 billion, so what central banks are going to hold our money?'” Secondly it is noted that “deposits would flee the system because the government guarantee to depositors could not be honoured, as Ireland wouldn’t be able to borrow abroad. Exchange controls would have to be reimposed. The Central Bank of Ireland would have to print money to keep the banks afloat.” As a result of this many argue that bartering would return with a lack of a real currency.

The article questions would Ireland survive if Ireland did default, “’Property prices would fall further, as there’d be no banks or Nama to prop up the market,’ says Coffey. And food? ‘Well, we’re food exporters. We’d eat a lot of dairy, but we wouldn’t starve.’ And oil? ‘The question is: if the government had it, could we afford to buy it from them?'”

Finally, “the external money supply would have been abruptly disconnected, our deficit of €15 billion to €19 billion (depending on who you talk to) would have to be wiped out – immediately. The Department of Finance warns that this would entail cuts of 30 per cent in public-sector pay and social welfare. Fergal O’Brien of Ibec suggests that the figure would be about 40 per cent.” This in turn “would trigger what economists call feedbacks: a crash in tax revenues as a result of pay cuts, zero consumption, a stalled economy and so on.  So the amount to be made up could rise from €15 billion to €30 billion, according to Coffey, which is why some see the short, sharp shock not merely as an implement of terrible suffering but also as a futile gesture.”

Would it be worth it?

The only option

20/04/2011

Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Michael Cragg have recently argued that Ireland’s IMF and ECB backed economic plan is “doomed to failure”.

They argue that Ireland allowed itself to be duped by “false economic doctrines advocating unfettered markets”. They note that the new government can still save the Irish economy, and indeed Ireland itself, “but has failed thus far to address the underlying problems.” Yet it should be borne in mind that the new government’s economic policies are exactly the same as those of the hated Fianna Fail government with new faces delivering old policies.

They note that “in more optimistic scenarios, Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio is expected to soar to 125 per cent in 2013, up from 25 per cent in 2007”. This they say with stifle whatever little growth is in the Irish economy as it is. They pull no punches when they say that “the EU recipe for recovery is more of the same: to meet the deficit reduction targets, more austerity – which in turn means still lower growth and still higher unemployment.” They argue, correctly that “It is the system of incentives that underlies the success of a market economy” with the implication being that those that lose money are aware of this and should not be recompensated for the losses they make on their investments.

Their indictment of what had been happening in the world before the crash involved, “those who seemed to believe in markets, started to rewrite the rules in the midst of the crisis. They argued for the socialising of losses, while the gains had been privatised. Such a system of ersatz capitalism is doomed to failure, and is fundamentally corrupt and inequitable”.

As always part of the blame lies the the incompent and moronic government that “governed” during these years, who are now fittingly reduced to 20 seats in the 166 seat parliament.

They go on  to say that “the IMF, ECB and Government must come to terms with imposing losses on the international lenders whose loose lending policies played a central role in the current crisis.  Debt restructuring [default] is neither easy nor costless; but the costs are far less than the alternative”.

Ireland may not default first, it looks like Greece may beat Ireland to it.

Ireland vs EU

15/03/2011

Ireland vs EU showdown coming.

New government formed

10/03/2011

The new session of the Irish parliament began after the recent general election. As feared, Fine Gael and Labour joined together to form a government and have produced a coalition agreement. Gone is any hope for agonism, for now.

Fine Gael which holds 76 of the 166 seats is expected to receive ten ministries with their coalition partners getting the remaining five in addition to the attorney general’s post. Enda Kenny was elected prime minister by the newly assembled parliament by 117 votes to 27 and has received his seal of office from President McAleese.

His Cabinet consists of:

  • Taoiseach Enda Kenny
  • Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore (Labour)
  • Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Simon Coveney (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs Jimmy Deenihan (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte (Labour)
  • Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn (Labour)
  • Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation Richard Bruton (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Finance Michael Noonan (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Health James Reilly (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter (Fine Gael)
  • Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin (Labour)
  • Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton (Labour)
  • Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael)

Kenny has created a new ministry that of Children which previously been a secondary post under the Minister for Health. Notably, the Finance Ministry has been split into two with one being held by a Fine Gael while the other, Public Expenditure and Reform, being held by a Labour. Also notable is the merging of the Defence and Justice Ministries into one. What should be borne in mind is that of the fifteen Cabinet ministers, ten have prior experience in previous governments, albeit, quite some time ago.

Some in the media are arguing that the number of women is low and that they are not given better ministries – this is of no significance to the running of Ireland or fix its current crisis. Commendably at its first Cabinet meeting the government took a pay cut. Kenny’s first engagment will be to “travel to Brussels this afternoon for a meeting with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, ahead of meetings of the European Council and the euro zone heads of government”. This is notable as at the same time the EU changes its mind, not that is will alter Ireland’s inevitable default.

Any belief that Irish politics has changed is not to be believed. Fine Gael and Labour having a history of coalition government before, though admittedly not with this majority,  and Fianna Fail on the opposition benches.

Labour will be forced to make cuts, often to the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and it is possible that they too will face a Fianna Fail type moment at the next election with massive losses by being attacked by and ideologically much purer party. While any middle class support drifts away to another party, possibly Fine Gael.

What is certain is that Ireland’s politics is in flux with no outcome determined yet.

Irish election – Part II

02/03/2011

With the final results for the Irish election in, excluding the speaker, Seamus Kirk, the seat allocation is as follows: Fine Gael 76,  Labour Party 37,  Fianna Fáil 19, Sinn Féin 14, United Left Alliance 5 and an assortment of Independents getting 14 seats. After the last election the parties excluding the speaker were: Fianna Fáil 77, Fine Gael  51, Labour Party 20, Green Party 6, Sinn Féin 4, Progressive Democrats 2, Independents 5,

With the lower house due to meet on 9 March (Ash Wednesday), formal discussions to form a government will be extremely fast with any hope of an FG government backed by like minded independents fast fading. With this, any sort of agonism that was hoped for by having Fine Gael and a number of like minded independents join together is all but gone. The result of which would be to have Labour as the dominant opposition party instead of the disgraced and incompetent Fianna Fail, thereby relegating FF to a long deserved obscurity. Not that it is of any relevance, but FF only have males in the party after the election in addition to only having only one representative for the capital, Brian Lenihan with no MPs in counties Kerry Meath, Tipperary and Roscommon at all, with long time incumbent and prominent member Mary O’Rourke losing her seat also.

However, the 31st Dail should be an interesting one as a small number of Socialists were elected as well as the like minded Sinn Fein and ULA which will challenge the new coalition on every and every measure.

Now it is almost certain that there will be a Fine Gael/Labour coalition with talks already underway but not expected to take more than a few days due to a lack of any real ideological difference between them. FF are the majority opposition party but only just, however it will be interesting to see what FF do, as the manifesto of Fine Gael is so close to that of Fianna Fail that FF should wholeheartedly back whatever the coalition does in office if not FF will rightly be leveled as hypocritical.

Once the coalition talks are complete the ministries will be assigned.

Irish election – Part I

01/03/2011

And the results are in. The General Election that was held in Ireland recently has resulted in a decisive swing against the long time governing party, Fianna Fail, that were decimated, though not destroyed as was hoped for.

With only the last remaining seats to be counted it looks as if Fine Gael will have around 76 seats in the 166 seats in the lower house. It was reported that the “share of first preference votes was: Fine Gael 36.1 per cent, Labour 19.4 per cent, Fianna Fáil 17.4 per cent, Sinn Fein 9.9 per cent, Independents 15.2 per cent and Green Party 1.8 per cent.”. These will translate into “, Labour will take 36 and Fianna Fáil will get 25, including outgoing Ceann Comhairle [speaker] Seamus Kirk.  Sinn Féin looks set to take 12, Independents will win 13, the United Left Alliance will take four and the Green Party will lose all six of their seats”.  Turnout was higher than last time at around 70%.

What is extremely surprising is that the electorate carried through with the threat that the polls had been showing for months and decimated FF. Fine Gael won with “electoral meltdown for Fianna Fáil”. It is extremely doubtful that it was really a vote for Fine Gael as opposed to against FF.

Both Mary Hanafin and Barry Andrews lost in their shared constituency as well as Dick Roche and the disgraced John O’Donoghue not only that the Green Party returned no MPs at all.

Also eliminated was incompetent deputy prime minister, Mary Coughlan, who shared a constituency with “Pearse Doherty [who] was comfortably elected on the first count having won the seat in a byelection last November. He won 14,262 first preferences, almost a third of the vote”.

Unsurprisingly the population of greater Dublin did the most damage to FF with only former finance minister Brian Lenihan retaining his seat, with “Labour’s Pat Rabbitte stormed to victory, being elected on the first count” not only that but “Independent senator Shane Ross topped the poll in the five-seater Dublin South.  He was elected on the first count, having exceeded the 12,108 quota by almost 5,000 vote”, exceedingly rare in the PR-STV model that Ireland uses to elect its MPs.

Interesting times ahead.