Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Lenihan story

Being out of the loop over the Christmas break I only heard the details of the Brian Lehihan story on the radio in the car yesterday. Over the course of a couple of interviews and reports I pieced together the story that TV3 broke a gentleman's agreement to not break the story of Lenihan's illness over the Christmas period. To be honest the only thing I find strange about this is the fact that FF and Lenihan hoped that commercial interests would take a back seat and that the media would sit on this story until they had the spin machine sorted.

While on a personal level, one can only feel bad for Brian Lehihan and wish him well, politics keeps on rolling and the pressure of being the most powerful person in the country will not help him on the road to recovery once treatment begins. There needs to be an orderly transition to a new regime in the Dept of Finance but unfortunately the range of options is extremely limited.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

City Council plays Scrooge

Twas the week before Christmas and all throughout the city, those on lower incomes were exempt from paying for waste collection. But the nasty grinches up in the Council Chamber were about to put an end to that. Ok I think that's about all I can do in that style so plain English from here.

Last night, Dublin City Council voted to remove the waiver for waste collection or at least that's how certain parts of the media (right) and protest voters (left) would like it to be reported. The elites in their ivory tower stealing yet more from the poorest in society is a good headline and a good rallying call for political support. However, it appears that the truth is somewhat less exciting as what was actually passed is as follows
  • Retention of the waiver for the standing charge
  • A number of free bin collections for households with a waiver
  • Payment for collections in excess of this free number
Doesn't seem so draconian now does it? According to research, households with the waiver were generating almost twice as much waste as compared to those that had to pay. Under the new regime there will be an incentive for those on the waiver to reduce their waste levels to save money.

In my house, we put out the brown bin once per month and the black bin maybe every 2 months. The frequency goes up in the summer to avoid smells but that comes to about €50 per annum, ignoring the standing charge. Now to my mind that seems like a fairly reasonable sum to pay to get rid of your rubbish even if you are pensioned, unemployed or on a low income.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Recession is over

According to the CSO, GDP grew by 0.3% in Q3 this year so technically Brian Lenihan was correct when he said we had turned the corner and were on the road to recovery again. Of course, if we're on a double dip, then come April we could be back in recession if Q4 09 and Q1 2010 report further contraction of GDP.

As someone who knows next to nothing about economics, I've often wondered if GDP is a useful figure to determine recessions, depressions and booms. It seems like a very unwieldy stick in a field where a certain amount of finesse is required. Also in a small, open economy *DRINK* like ours, GNP might actually be a better measure of the state of play as it would ignore the impact of companies like Microsoft or Intel who could decide to book a lot of business in a quarter which would have a large impact on Irish GDP.

Either which way, this news won't be much comfort to those who are out of work and facing benefit cuts in January. They're still going to find it tough going even if the economic indicators are showing a recovery.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New representative in the Rotten Borough

This morning they counted the votes in the Seanad byelection caused by the election of Labour's Alan Kelly to the European Parliament in June. Under the rules, even though Councillors, TDs and outgoing Senators can vote for the various panels immediately after a general election, only sitting members of the houses of the Oireachtas can vote for casual vacancies. Talk about making a closed shop even more closed. Of course this happens to work in favour of the government at the moment as had all Councillors had been allowed to vote, the seat would have been retained by the opposition - probably swinging from Lab to FG unless a deal was struck.

In the end the Green's Niall Ó'Brolcháin, former Galway City Councillor and Mayor, was elected by taking 119 of the 205 valid votes cast. This is the same person who after losing his seat in Galway City Council in the local elections in June announced his retirement from public life and who also suggested that the Greens should leave their current coalition if FG and Lab made them an offer. It will be interesting to see if he continues in his maverick (but not Gogarty-esque) ways or will he have to toe the line now that he is part of the establishment.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

True Irish Wit

Ah Deputy Paul Gogarty, you've really raised the level of esteem in which politics is held in this country. With a simple 6 word refrain, you've joined the ranks of great Irish orators such as Emmet, Davitt, Parnell, Larkin. Now if only you could direct your anger at the right section of the Dáil, your bedfellows from FF.

With all due respect, you're a muppet.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Budget 2010

I'm going to tackle the budget under a few different headings as there is lots to get through. I'm not going to hit everything, just the bits that jumped out at me while watching the speech yesterday afternoon. Also this is mainly based on the text of the Minister's speech and not on any in depth analysis of the details which I'll leave to cleverer people like Constantin Gurdgiev and Karl Whelan.


The first thing that struck me was the tone of the Minister's language. He was really working hard to sell the idea that his policies were working and that Ireland is on the cusp of another economic upswing. Of course, in explaining how we had come to such a state of chassis, no mention was made of the pro-cyclic policies that had been followed for the previous 10 years by various FF ministers for finance. The presentation was also a far more somber affair than previous budgets with no call to patriotic duty or standing ovation. From the other side of the house, there was little in the way of heckling and considering that most of the details had been leaked over the previous week there was ample time to think up some good Statler and Waldorf routines.

Social Welfare

The minister opened the section on Social Welfare with this gem: "The Government is proud of its unrivalled record in increasing the level of social welfare payments." In other words, we're happy that we've gotten you all addicted to free money that we threw away in a completely unsustainable fashion. Making that statement on the floor of the house takes some balls. He then went on to stiff those who were never going to vote for FF (the under 25s) and protect at all costs those who do (pensioners).

While I accept that the cost of welfare has grown to unmanageable proportions, it is hard to reconcile cutting unemployment for the young to €100 while leaving the OAP and specifically public sector pensions untouched. In fact, public sector pensioners might think they are getting a great deal but now that the link to existing pay rates has been broken, at some point in the future this will come back to haunt them. I would also be interested to see what legal and logistical obstacles there are to means testing or taxing child benefit. This government has no problem in discriminating between young adults with regard to unemployment, 3rd level grants and various other categories so why should child benefit be such a sacred cow?

Public Sector

The wage bill in the public sector has been under sustained attack in the media for the last year, even after the so-called pension levy was introduced. So to see across the board cuts is not entirely unexpected. After the fiasco of the unpaid leave deal last week the cuts became inevitable. But what was not expected was that even the lowest paid in the public sector were going to be hit. Another €1500 from someone on €30k is a huge hit since they will see pretty much all of it disappear from their net pay. For someone paying at the higher rate, being down gross about €5000 will come back to about €2700 after taxes, levies etc. Now where is the equity and protection of the vulnerable?

VAT and Excise

The other main talking point is the reduction in Excise on alcohol and the general reduction in VAT. The first is a handout to the vintners as you can be sure that the price of a pint in central Dublin is not 12c cheaper today. Perhaps it will persuade people to cut down slightly on the Newry exodus but only if they were primarily going up there on a booze trip. If clothing and food was also on the shopping list then the excise reduction will have very little impact.

The VAT decrease will make no difference at all. This time last year retailers absorbed the 0.5% increase and so it is probable that the reduction will not be passed on as it is really a return to the status quo ante. Finally, the increase in excise on fuel, or Carbon Tax as they are spinning it, is again going to hit the less well off most as irrespective of the size of your income, you still have to heat your house in the winter and keep a car on the road.

Good News

The one item of good news was the Irish domicile levy for the super rich who have moved their wealth offshore to avoid taxes. One wonders if that was a last minute addition in response to Newstalk's pontificating on the day before the budget. It does strike me as a bit of a two finger salute to Denis O'Brien and Bono in particular but one to be welcomed if it hits the pair of them in the pocket a little.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Calm before the Storm

Tomorrow afternoon Brian Lenihan will give his budget address to the Dáil for 2010. At this stage a lot of the potential cutbacks have been leaked in one form or another but there is still scope for surprise. Remember back a few years when Charlie McCreevy stood up in the chamber and announced the decentralisation plan without having discussed it with Cabinet, without costings and with no regard for the spatial strategy that had been announced only a few months previous? I doubt that Lenihan will have a trick that big up his sleeve but it will be interesting to see what unleaked measures there are.

The main thing that I'm going to be looking out for is the reaction from FF back benchers during the speech and in the immediate aftermath. The early budget in October 08 was greeted with a standing ovation from the government benches after Lenihan's call to patriotic duty, yet within days TDs were scrambling to distance themselves from the medical card cuts. Having learned that lesson, the FF crew kept to their seats in the supplementary budgets in early 2009 where the increased income and pension levies were introduced.

It will also be interesting to watch the responses of the other parties. Richard Bruton's speeches have always been a bit disjointed compared to those of Joan Burton and even Arthur Morgan. Perhaps the others have the benefit of the time that Bruton is on his feet to plan out their thoughts a bit more carefully. However, it always seems as though Burton is the one landing the punches on the government both through cutting wit and hard facts and figures. Needless to say, RTE and the other media outlets will cut away from the Dáil before the opposition speeches are complete to allow the talking heads get in their tuppence worth. There are times you wish there was a CSPAN type broadcaster in the state. Luckily I'll have the whole "debate" streaming to the laptop so I won't miss a thing. Twitter won't know what hit it either.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Minority Government

As previously discussed the government has been leaking support like a sieve over the last few months. Just when I thought that they'd survive until after the budget before any further defections. But yesterday, Galway West's Noel Grealish, withdrew his support for the government. That reduces Cowen's support to 81 with 76 against and 7 floating votes so we're now in minority government territory.

So why has Grealish bailed now? Well firstly it is clear to see that there is no hope of three govt TDs being returned at the next election and with O'Cuiv and Fahey still in the Dail and O'Brolchain about the join them in the upper chamber Grealish has to make his move. It is also likely that he is going to demand a special Gregory-like deal for Galway before voting with the government again. With the recent flooding around the Claregalway area, it could be quite an expensive path for Cowen to have to take.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mandatory Unpaid Leave

I think I give up at this stage. The government committed to permanently reduce costs on public sector pay by €1.3B in 2010 and the trade unions committed to not letting the wages of their members be reduced. That seems like a fairly solid impasse to me, at which point some leadership could have been shown by government by holding its ground and letting the unions call for strikes and then wait to see who blinked first. Each day of striking was saving around €50M according to reports so it wouldn't take long to come to a resolution.

Instead the partnership fiasco seems to be coming back from the dead with the introduction of the unpaid leave scheme that is being touted at the moment. While the details are sketchy, it seems as though all public sector workers will have to take 12 days of unpaid leave next year.

The first question to ask is how much of a percentage pay cut is that equivalent to. Is it 12 days out of 365 (about 3.3%) or is it 12 days out of 365-104-24-9 = 228 (about 5.3%)? Depending on the specific contract, public servants are employed on an annual basis or on an hourly rate. In the former case it is likely that workers will loose 3.3% of pay, the latter getting stuck with 5.3% and of course it is the lowest paid who tend to be on the hourly rates. Score one for the fat cats over the cleaners and security staff.

Secondly, you have to ask will there be an impact on service given? In my section there is always a backlog after returning from holidays so I would think there will be some impact. If it is the case that this leave will not affect service in some areas then you have to ask why isn't the fat cut from the system first. Also in frontline services such as nursing temporary staff will end up being hired as cover which will end up costing more to the tax payer in the long term.

Thirdly, there are rumours already doing the rounds that while the cost will be cut in 2010, the leave will be spread over 2011-2013 to reduce impact. That to me sounds very much like this is a once off event that will be reversed in the 2011 budget. So much for the permanent reduction in costs. And if the scheme is continued we'll just end up with more and more deferred days so that by 2020 or so, most staff in the public service will have a serious backlog of days off that they have already had taken from their pay.

Finally, who gave the unions the mandate to agree to such a hairbrained scheme? I certainly don't remember it being on the table before. If the deal is announced in the budget next week is that it or do the union's have to have another ballot? I'm sorely tempted to bail from SIPTU if this is the sort of carry on they get up to.

This entire process is a sop to the retired and about to retire section of the community. After last year's bad press with the medical cards, the govt will try to do anything to avoid a repeat scenario even if it means dumping even further on the lower paid and junior workers in the public sector. The lump sums and final wages must be protected at all costs and to hell with everyone else.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sophistry in Language

Something that has really started to annoy me in politics is the relentless sophistry and weaseling out of a previously held position through alternative definitions. When will the spirit of the statement and not the word of the statement be what drives people. Examples include
Green Party entering government
Trevor Sargent says he will not lead the Greens into government with FF. So immediately after negotiating a programme for government he resigns to let John Gormley lead them in.
Unions agreeing to mandatory unpaid leave
Union leaders were mandated to stick to a no reduction in wages line in the recent talks. So instead they agree to mandatory unpaid leave which to all intents and purposes is exactly the same thing.
Various statements on no more taxes
A few months ago on The Last Word, Brian Lenihan had a bit of a George HW Bush moment when he promised that no additional taxes would be raised in the upcoming budget. Watch out for all sorts of increased levies, contributions and deductions that are totally different to taxes.
Enough is enough. When will these people ever have the courage to stick to a position or if they change come out and say that either they were wrong or have had their opinion modified through new information or debate. Do they really thing that they are fooling anyone?

Government majority shrinks again

Yesterday, Jim McDaid, loudmouthed TD for Donegal North East, announced that he was no longer going to automatically support the government. While the reason for the withdrawl of support seems to be the result of a spat in the local Cumann of FF, it doesn't come as a great surprise since in August/September McDaid suggested the government call an early election once NAMA and the budget are done.

This leaves the Dail arithmetic finely balanced, which considering the efforts El Berto went to only 30 months ago to ensure a substantial majority, is a big turn around for the books. By my reckoning the state of play is as follows
  • FF - 74 (78 less Ceann Comhairle, Brennan, Behan, Gallagher, McDaid plus Flynn)
  • FG - 52 (51 plus Lee)
  • Lab - 20
  • PD - 2
  • Green - 6
  • SF - 4
  • Other - 6 (5 less Flynn plus 2 FF defectors)

While Devins and Scanlon are not under the whip directly it is extremely unlikely that they will vote against the government under any circumstances short of a straight vote in favour of nuking Sligo.

With 164 voting members (Gallagher's seat still empty and the CC) the government have 82 votes with the opposition parties on 76. Even if all the independants vote with the opposition, the CC will have a casting vote and will support the government side. Small wonder that the Taoiseach is in no hurry to call the by-election for Pat the Cope Gallagher's seat in Donegal SW as the mé féin demands from JHR, Lowry and the FF defectors will become greater and greater.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Murphy Report

I wanted to write about the Murphy Report on child abuse in the Dublin diocese but I can't. It's just terrible and shows how little regard the Catholic hierarchy had for the protection of children over the years.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Strike Aftermath

Tuesday was the first national public sector strike day. I picketed from 8am until 11am outside the building site at the back of campus thereby avoiding most of the hassle of interacting with people I know who wanted to cross the picket. Luckily it stayed dry for my stint and it was all fairly good natured. The guys on the building site, while working, were positive and joking with the strikers. Only one passer-by made negative comments, most were just getting on with their lives.

Once my slot was finished I wandered up town to meet some others who had been picketing at the City Council offices and we proceeded to support the private sector by propping up the bar in the Foggy Dew from midday until the Champions League started on the TV. Apart from not being paid, all in all it was quite a pleasant day. However, the sight of massive traffic jams heading into Newry didn't really help the cause and the letters in the Irish Times over the last few days have borne that out.

There is meant to be another strike on Thursday of next week in advance of the budget. It will be interesting to see if it actually happens and also to see if as many people join the picket line this time. It will also be interesting to see if our local union branch could be slightly more organised with rotas and covering the important places rather than locked gates.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Preparations for Tuesday

As a unionized worker in the public sector I'll be striking on Tuesday. It is a sign of how low the level of industrial action has been in the last decade or so that it will be the first time I've picketed (as opposed to protest marches). That seems to have been the main upside of the policy of appeasement and buy off in social partnership. It also seems like the first time that many on both the union and management side have been involved in this sort of situation.

Considering that the date has been fixed for over a month now, my union still hasn't sent around a rota for picketing duty. Several emails have been sent around asking those who will not be available (medical, childcare seem to be the main acceptable excuses) or who have a preference for where to picket. They also sent around an incomplete list of locations since several entrances to the campus have been changed since the SIPTU strike in 1996.

On the other hand, management seem to be intent on stoking up the flames and being as divisive as possible. While I accept that my striking should result in my not being paid for the day, the powers that be have made it very difficult for those who don't want to protest. Sick leave, work from home and holidays have been suspended so there is no option but to cross the picket line. A few of my colleagues would really rather not have to cross the picket but cannot afford to loose a days pay. In our line of work it is very easy to work remotely and this would ease tensions substantially.

I'm also still unsure as to how this strike is going to play with the public in general. I still believe that the premise is indefensible given the state of the public finances and media outlets like the Independent and Newstalk are going to have a field day driving further wedges between the private and public sector. At least emergency response units in Cork, Clare and Galway have postponed their actions due to the flooding so we can't all be accused of being totally self-centred and selfish.

Finally there is the small question of how I'm going to get to the protest if there is no public transport and I can't cross the picket line to park my car on campus. Guess it'll be shanks mare into town unless I get an afternoon slot in which case I can park for free on street thanks to Dublin City Council and their efforts to get people into the city centre for Christmas shopping. Must also remember to bring the rain poncho and my boots as being wet and protesting would suck.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

At the end of the day ...

Ahh football, the game for gentlemen played by thugs. It appears that football fever has taken over the political system in Ireland in the aftermath of last night's match between France and Ireland and the "hand of frog" incident. Dermot Ahern has been on the airwaves demanding a rematch and has made if as far as CNN World Sport. Dara Calleary has also signed an open letter to Sepp Blatter demanding a winner takes all replay in a neutral venue.

Now I'm all for a bit of national pride, even when it comes to the game of two halves, but does it really need to get political? Surely our elected representatives might have something better to do with their time than get involved in this fiasco. Yes the ball was handled, yes we now aren't going to South Africa next summer but we're still 20B in the red this year and maybe keeping holiday makers at home next summer would actually be a good idea.

But the highlight of this whole situation is this tweet from Dara O'Briain showing how a story just loves to grow and grow

"Now I've been asked to go on Newsnight to discuss this Ireland France thing. Newsnight! Might get carried away and declare war or something."

The media are almost as bad as the politicians - they want a comedian to appear on a current affairs show to talk about sport. I'm sure he'll give 110%

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

AIB shenanigans

The row about pay levels for bank executives has raised its head in the last few days with AIB's appointment of a managing director. As part of the re-capitalization earlier on in the year, Brian Lenihan capped the pay for top bankers at €500,000. However it appears that AIB was unable to attract anyone from outside the organisation to run the place for such a paltry sum of money.

Therefore, AIB decided that they would have to appoint from within and came up with Colm Doherty as the man to do it. The problem was that Mr Doherty was already earning in excess of the €500,000 cap. After various back and forths it was announced this morning that he will take the job at the reduced rate. Of course it is unclear as to whether bonuses, options and other perks will be extended to Mr Doherty to bring his total package back up.

Of course the real problem with the whole exercise is that we now have AIB being run by an insider - one of the very people who ran the bank into the ground over the last few years and forced the government to step in and prop it up. Is it really that difficult to attract someone half competent to run the company for less than a half million? Half competent would be infinitely better than the current group at the top table since they have shown themselves to be completely incompetent.

To my mind the thing that stinks here the most is the timing. With NAMA jst around the corner, AIB released an interim statement today which has been completely ignored as people focus on the pay dispute. In the section called Asset Quality there is an interesting table showing the breakdown of the €24B of property loans that will be transferred to NAMA. It reckons that €10.5B of those will be impaired by the end of the year. That is almost 44% of their NAMAbound loans in trouble which is hard to reconcile with Lenihan's continued insistance that NAMA will end up making a profit for the Irish taxpayer.

Monday, November 16, 2009

PR-STV making gains

According to reports, the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific, which up until now has been an sovereign monarchy is considering changing to a parliamentary system. A Constitutional and Electoral Commission has been working on the 131-page report for almost a year and have recommended substantial changes to the way in which Tonga is governed.

From an Irish perspective, the most interesting proposal is using the Single Transferable Vote as the method for electing members to parliament. If this happens then Tonga will join us and Malta as the only countries to use this method for parliamentary elections. PR-STV is also employed in various places in the UK, Australia and New Zealand for local and city elections.

The worrying trend here is the population sizes (Ireland 4M, Malta 500k, Tonga 100k). At this rate of decline the next country to adopt the beloved PR-STV system will have ~30k citizens so Monaco or San Marino here we go!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Motions for debate

The Rathmines branch is semi-famous for proposing motions to annual conference that get ignored by the DSE constituency council under some section of standing orders. To be absolutely sure that the CC have to at least consider our proposed motion this year we have started the ball rolling already. At the branch meeting on Monday the following three topics were put forward
  1. Implementation of the Kenny report
  2. Lowering voting age to 16 and extending franchise in General Elections
  3. Secularisation of the education system
The first refers to the report written by Justice Kenny in the early 70s which proposed limits on speculation on land. This report has been ignored by every government since its publication. Had it been implemented in full it can be argued that the property bubble of 1999-2007 would never have happened. While it is still good policy, I'm of the opinion that it is a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. I also think that implementing Kenny is already party policy and so a motion on it might be a bit of a waste.

The second motion is in two parts. Firstly it proposes that we follow Austria and parts of Germany in lowering the voting age to 16 and secondly to allow all EU citizens normally resident in the state to vote in General Elections. I have blogged on this before so no need to go into much detail here except to say no taxation without representation and no representation without taxation.

The third motion proposed that the state finally takes control of all eduction that is funded by the tax payer. This arose from two different issues, firstly the additional grants given to minority religious schools, the second to stop the practice of rejecting children from local national schools because they haven't been baptised in the Catholic church in favour of those that have. The debate was fairly heated at times and no wording was agreed on but it looks likely that some motion on this topic will be forwarded to the CC for consideration as the Constituency motion to conference in April.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

RTE Frontline II

Due to being at a branch meeting last night I only got home in time to watch the 2nd half of The Frontline on RTE last night. The author of "The Lolita Effect", MG Durham, was the guest and she lead a debate on the sexualisation of children. While it wasn't cutting edge current affairs it was an interesting discussion with some very good contributions from the floor, especially from the younger members of the audience who brought into focus the unwillingness or inability of teachers and parents to talk to teens about sexual matters.

Unfortunately I seem to have missed the best bit of the show. During the first half, while talking to Mary Hanafin, an angry man in the audience started ripping into Pat Kenny. During his almost three minute rant he said everything that the public have been thinking about the hypocrisy of overpaid RTE presenters demanding cutbacks in welfare. Following Jack O'Connor's trophy house comments last week, Frontline might end being more focused on attacking Pat Kenny than debating the issues.

Friday, November 6, 2009

ICTU Protest today

This afternoon marks the first round of the ICTU protests against cutbacks in the public sector and social welfare. At 2:30 in various locations around the country, Congress hopes that thousands of workers and the unemployed will take to the streets to force the Government into backing down on the proposals to cut expenditure in the budget. At least that is how the unions will try to spin the event. Unfortunately, the main premise of the march is to try to force through a pay increase that was postponed last year for 11 months and now hasn't been delivered.

As a public sector worker, SIPTU member and Labour Party member I feel that I should be 100% behind this protest but the pragmatic side of my brain knows that the stance that Congress is taking is just going to divide the workers in the public and private sectors even further apart. At a time when the state is running a massive deficit it is totally unrealistic to demand more money. If ICTU had any balls they'd call for an all out strike, both public and private, until a general election is called. At least that is a protest that everyone could get behind.

With 90 minutes to go until kick off I'm still unsure if I'll wander up to Parnell Square. Maybe if I can round up a few co-workers to join me then we'll hit the streets.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bus gate changes

Last night Dublin City Council voted 35-11 in favour of removing the bus gate on College Green in the evenings from mid-November to mid-January. The proposal was brought before the Council after the Dublin City Business Association said they had lost over 30% of trade since the measure was introduced. Of course no evidence was provided showing that this loss was due to the bus gate as opposed to say the economic climate and the high prices being charged by city centre businesses for goods and services.

On the other hand, independant research from Deloitte has shown that bus journey times have been greatly reduced in the city centre and that the numbers of cyclists in the area has been increased, in part from the bus gate and also from the Dublin Bikes scheme.

Hard facts like these matter not a whit to the City Manager and the Councillors as DCBA represent the people who pay rates. With DCC almost completely reliant on rates and commercial water for income it is no surprise that when the piper starts playing the Council gets up to dance. Since the next local elections are over 4 years away the Councillors only have to keep business onside and can stick two fingers up at the voters.

The biggest worry about this development is that DCBA will use the upsurge in business brought about by the usual Christmas trade to argue that bus gate should not be re-introduced in January and that it should be phased out altogether. The Council should have stuck firm on the issue and kept the bus gate in place to make the city more accessible and safer for pedistrians, cyclists and users of public transport and left the gouging shopkeepers to wallow in their own misery.

As a Labour supporter it is especially galling to see that only four councillors (Gallagher, Kenny, Quinn and Upton) who voted to keep the bus gate as is. After all Cllr Montegue's efforts with the Dublin Bikes scheme you'd have thought at least he would have voted to keep it as well. Shame on the rest of them for caving into DCBA at the expense of the citizen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

RedC Poll this weekend

The next SBP RedC poll is due out on Sunday. Last time out the state of the parties was (if I remember correctly)
  • FG - 35%
  • FF - 24%
  • Lab - 20%
  • SF - 8%
  • G - 4%
  • Other - 11%
So what has happened in the meantime that might change people's political viewpoint?

Firstly, Lisbon was passed. The positive publicity from that should have helped end the rot in FF. But then the John O'Donoghue incident came to the fore and apart from in Kerry that can't have helped FF at all. Labour came out all guns blazing on that but then didn't deliver the killing blow by letting JO'D have his moment in the sun rather than forcing the motion of no confidence.

The Green Party love in a few weeks ago will have brought them back into focus. However, in the current political and economic climate keeping your head below the parapet is probably a safer course of action.

Enda Kenny's outburst on the Seanad last weekend will certainly have influenced opinion. People are looking for any easy way to make cuts and culling 60 overpaid, underworked politicians would be a popular choice. What will be interesting to see is whether this stunt has attracted voters due to the policy or driven them away due to the solo run nature of the announcement.

All the while the NAMA saga rumbles on as do the rumours about what cuts will be made in the budget in about 6 weeks time. Throw into the mix the drink driving ruckus and all in all it has been an interesting month in politics. So here are my predictions for Sunday's poll
  • FG - 34% (-1%)
  • FF - 20% (-4%)
  • Lab - 21% (+1%)
  • SF - 9% (+1%)
  • G - 6% (+2%)
  • Other - 12% (+1%)
No major changes - only FF to move more than the margin of error. I reckon the inertia of the Irish electorate is greater than people think.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Drink driving kills governments?

Is that the sound of the camel's back breaking? Can the straw of drink driving limits really signal an end to this government's reign? Seems like there was a fairly lively meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last night discussing Minister Dempsey's proposal to reduce the blood-alcohol limit to 50mg (and 20mg for newly qualified and professional drivers). According to the Irish Times, only Rory O'Hanlon and Michael Kennedy were in favour of the proposals with several rural TDs being extremely vocal in opposition to the measure.

What strikes me as strange is that elected representatives could object to bringing Ireland's drink driving laws more in line with the rest of Europe. Only the UK and Malta match our current level of 80mg. Most others are at 50mg with some at 20mg and a few with zero alcohol permissible. The only possible justification for opposing the reduction is the libertarian point of view that all such laws are unjust interference by the state in a person's right to do what they want. But in this case even that is dubious as driving while under the influence strongly impacts on those around you - pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists.

While I can't wait to see the end of Biffo's rule, it would actually disgust me that after signing up for NAMA and imposing harsh cuts on the poorest sections of society, that the government would fall because some TDs still think it should be ok to have a few jars and then drive home from the pub. It could only happen in Ireland - but it is unlikely to lead to an election.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Enda versus the Seanad

So Enda Kenny has put the cat amongst the pigeons with his speech last Saturday night where he proposed the abolition of Seanad Éireann and a reduction in the number of TDs elected to the Dáil. This seems to have come as quite a shock to even his on parliamentary party as FG representatives clogged up the airwaves over the last few days with protests.

The Seanad is made up of 60 members elected or appointed in the following manner
  • 11 appointed directly by the Taoiseach
  • 6 elected by university graduates (3 TCD, 3 NUI)
  • 43 from vocational panels as follows
    • 7 from administrative
    • 11 from agricultural
    • 5 from education and culture
    • 9 from industrial and commerce
    • 11 from labour
In theory this is meant to allow people from each of the respective groups in society influence policy through ammending legislation in the upper chamber. In practice, the Seanad has become a resting home for those who loose their seats in the Dáil, potential Dáil candidates of the future who could do with some experience or (worst of all) people to whom the Taoiseach of the day feels a certain obligation (eg Eoghan Harris).

The main problem with Enda Kenny's plan is that he needs to pass a referendum to abolish the Seanad. Articles 18 and 19 outline the requirements and role of the Seanad and both articles would have to be removed. After a succesful referendum, legislation would have to be passed to repeal the enabling legislation. Realistically the Seanad would cease to exist when the general election after the next one is called - sometime between 2015 and 2017 most likely.

The funniest part of this whole situation is that the most vocal opponents of this proposal are the very same FG senators who pretty much to a man will be elected to the Dail next time out. Perhaps they should just keep their heads down and stop drawing attention to the fact that Enda has gone off on yet another solo run.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Politics of Music

I watched the BBC's How A Choir Works programme last night which finished up with a piece on the power of massed groups singing. It focused on the use of Nkosi Sikeleli Africa by the ANC in its struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa with shots from various rallies in the 70s and 80s. It brought back to my mind standing outside the Mansion House in the mid 80s with my fist in the air, humming along since I didn't know the words. I don't remember what the exact event was - could have been Dunnes Stores workers or maybe a visit by Archbishop Tutu - but that feeling of unity and purpose brought about by thousands singing together has always stuck with me.

Of course music has been used for political purposes by all sides in disputes and debates. In Ireland we've had the Orange Order bands taking on Sean South from Garryowen. Songs like the Red Flag and The Internationale have been mainstays of the socialist movement for over a hundred years. The music of Orff and Wagner was used to great effect by the Nazi regime in building up national pride in Germany in the 1930s. The music of Mendelssohn had been very popular in Germany during the 20s and early 30s but was phased out of general circulation due to his Jewish ancestry.

Most people's exposue to political music is limited to national anthems being performed before or after sporting events. My personal favorites are the more martial tunes such as La Marseillaise,Fratelli d'Italia and our own Amhran na bhFiann. Compare these to the fairly lacklustre Advance Australia Fair or O Canada and it is easy to see why the former are always sung with more gusto at football matches.

Finally, to bring it back to where we started, the current anthem of South Africa is a tribute to a nation rebuilding itself. It uses lyrics from five different languages, tunes from both Nikosi Sikeleli and Die Stem and is unique in national anthems in that it doesn't finish in the same key as it started. Talk about making a bold statement for your country.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The right to vote

In the last few months the Irish public have gone to the polls on two occasions, to vote on three ballots. Each of these ballots has had different franchise rules governing eligibility to vote
  • Local elections - all permanent residents, irrespective of nationallity, are entitled to vote
  • European elections - all permanent residents who are citizens of an EU country are entitled to vote
  • Lisbon Treaty referendum - all permanent residents who are Irish citizens are entitled to vote.
For completeness I should note that there is a fourth category that covers General Elections which is all permanent residents who are Irish or British citizens. Then add in the potential for zero, one or two votes per person in the Seanad election and you end up with quite a mix of possibilities.

In the last few years the electoral register has come in for a lot of stick. Each time a vote has been arranged there are stories of entire families, or indeed streets, having been struck off and people arriving at polling stations to discover they have been disenfranchised. There are also stories of people recieving multiple polling cards and even a case of the family dog ending up on the register.

So what is the easiest way to solve these problems? I would suggest looking to the people who know everything about everyone - the Revenue Commissioners. They have an easy way of knowing who ever person in the country is - the PPS number. Everyone born since 1971 has one, everyone who works has one, everyone on social welfare has one, the first thing emigrants do on arrival is apply for one. The Revenue are also among the first to know when you die and so could easily remove the deceased from the electoral register.

On the issue of elegibility to vote in various ballots I would make the following suggestions
  1. Lower the voting age to 12 for local elections and 15 for all others. Engagement is key to get younger people interesting in politics. By age 18 they're already disillusioned with the system. Also, we are making decisions that will impact heavily on the world in which today's teenagers will live, both environmental and NAMA. They should have a voice.
  2. Extend voting rights in General Elections to be the same as for local elections. The current situation is a taxation without representation for the tens of thousands of emigrants in the country.
  3. Do not extend the voting rights for Presidential elections to the diaspora as is currently being suggested. Representation without taxation is almost as bad as the reverse. If you want a say in how the country is run you should have the decency to live here.
  4. Radically overhaul the method for electing members to the Seanad. This is a complex issue that deserves a post all to itself.
Item 1 would require a referendum to change Article 16.1.2 and it is more than likely that any Seanad reform would also require changes to the constitution. Item 2 on the otherhand can be done by legislation thanks to the amendment in 1984 that updated 16.1.2 to allow UK citizens to vote in Dáil elections.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

New Programme for Government

After Ciaran Cuffe's bluff being called, the Greens stayed at the table until just before last night's main evening news to agree the new programme for government. With the members' convention only 14 hours away you'd think that speedy dissemination would be key but instead nothing appeared over night. Tweets started appearing from party members who arrived at the RDS and still had no documentation to read. Eventually at 11:10 the document was released online and printed copies distributed to the masses shortly thereafter. Nice to see that an informed decision will be made having such a long period of time to digest the contents of the PfG.

The document itself is full of nice aspirations but short on detail. There are no costings anywhere and no indications of where the money might come from to implement any of the proposals. There are a lot of green agenda items ticked off - GM food, forestry, fur farming and public transport. Indeed it is interesting to note that one of the few firm deadlines in the document is 2016 completion of Metro North and the Dart Interconnector. However it is also worth noting that these have been key parts of PfGs and transport policies since the mid ninties so I won't be holding my breath on that.

The CIO role is a good idea, but some of the ideas are very wierd. For a country with some of the highest electricity costs in Europe, to set ourselves up as a Data Centre hub for cloud computing seems odd at best. Providing broadband to every house by 2012 (subject to EU funding) is also laughable. This should have been done at least 8 years ago if not longer. 100Mb to schools is great until you realise that the IT equipment in most schools is donated 4 year old computers that continually fail. Also the students will just use it to access Bebo and Facebook since there will be no investment in upskilling teachers to deal with the new medium.

Of course, all this is moot. The PfG will be accepted and NAMA will fail to be rejected. The NAMA legislation will then be pushed through and assets transferred from the banks before the budget. When the FF back benchers see the budget cuts that are announced the heave will begin and the government will fall. So all that will be achieved is putting the nation in hock for €50-€60B. Go on the Greens!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize

Wow! That's all I can say. Barack Obama has been announced as the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. For what exactly? Not being George Bush? Not starting random wars around the place? I guess being a shining light of hope and not being an ass is good enough for the Nobel committee these days.

But who else might have been in the running? Here are a few names I can think of or have seen bandied about
  • Mohandas Gandhi - probably the most famous person to still not have won the prize but the rules pretty much ban this
  • Morgan Tsvangirai - Zimbabwe's only hope against Mugabe's corrupt and evil regime
  • Ingrid Betancourt - the French reporter who spent about 5 years in captivity in Colombia
  • Médecins Sans Frontières - the group who have spent almost 40 years treating the sick and injured in war and famine ravaged parts of the world
The biggest joke about this whole announcement is that apparently nominations for the award had to be submitted by 1st February. This means Obama was 10 days in office when he was nominated. Now remind me again of where peace broke out and harmony flourished in late January.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

3rd Level Rankings

Good to see the Irish Universities moving further up the table in today's THES-QS rankings. With Trinity now at 43 and UCD at 89 the state now has two institutions in the top 100. These are followed up with another three colleges in the 200-300 range (UCC, NUIG, DCU). For 5 out of the top 300 to be in a country of this size is a great achievement especially when you consider the per capita drop in funding across the 3rd level sector since the introduction of the free fees scheme.

The metrics used by the THES-QS scheme are interesting
  • Peer review score
  • Employer review score
  • Staff/student ratio
  • Citations ratio
  • International staff
  • International students
The first two are completely subjective. It is impossible to remove bias from the sample set. If you interview an employer in Mexico they're not going to have an opinion on NUIG any more than a researcher in Cork will know much about the Yonsei University in South Korea.

The staff/student ratio is at least objective and highlights the low numbers of lecturers in Irish academia compared to other countries. Of course if the figure was academic pay costs per student it might show a different result but luckily we can park that issue for the moment.

The citations figure is the real damning one. It really shows that by and large the research being carried out in Irish universities is not leading edge. Considering the budgets that HEA and SFI in particular have pumped into 4th level and the efforts of IDA to engage the multinationals in joint R&D we have really dropped the ball on this one.

Luckily, we are a small open economy and so our scores in attracting international staff and students are high. One wonders however, if the student figures are boosted by the free fees scheme attracting undergrads from other EU countries who would end up paying for their education in their home country.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Next Ceann Comhairle

So with reports of John O'Donohue's imminent demise, thoughts turn to who will be his replacement in the chair. Brendan Howlin as Leas Ceann Comhairle is probably near the top of the list but lets examine the options in some detail.

Firstly will an opposition TD actually accept the job? Putting a non government TD in effectively increases the majority in the Dail by two votes. If the Greens are going to walk those two extra votes won't be enough to hold on. However, if they stick it out at the weekend then it makes the FF/G/PD alliance pretty much impervious to falling with 84 seats. The independents won't matter and so it would be in the opposition's best interests to force another government TD to take the job.

The best part of being Ceann Comhairle is that the outgoing CC is automatically returned in a general election. For FF the best bet would be to appoint a TD from a 4 seater where they currently have two seats. Returning 2 from 4 would require about 35% with 1 in 3 needing only 20% and transfers. To my mind that suggests Dublin South West where they are definitely not going to hold two seats but the idea of Conor Lenihan as CC is almost too much to handle. Alternatively we could end up with Cyprian Brady from Dublin Central as CC leaving Mary Fitzpatrick to pick up the seat. But two terms on 939 first preferences would be outrageous.

Alternatively, the CC role may be dangled in front of the Greens to sweeten the deal in the re-negotiation of the Programme for Government. Ciaran Cuffe might be the choice here as Dún Laoighre is shrinking from a 5 to a 4 seater. The ministers would want to hang on to their roles and should be somewhat hopeful of re-election in the next General Election.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lisbon Result

So its official - having voted yes in the referendum, the Dáil can now ratify the Lisbon Treaty. While a Yes vote was expected the 2-1 majority in favour of the treaty was greater that most expected. So what was the difference between the two votes?

In Lisbon 1, turnout was just over 53% whereas on Friday 59% came out to vote. This equates to almost 200,000 additional votes cast. If all these additional voters had turned out for the first ballot and voted yes, the treaty would have been passed by about 100,000 votes. In the 2nd running the yes vote went up over 450,000 and the no vote went down over 250,000 so it wasn't just a case of higher turnout to overturn the result as happened with the Nice Treaty. Instead people changed their minds and moved from the No camp into the Yes camp.

Across the country, the swing to Yes was pretty much even at 20% from working class constituencies which heavily voted No the last time, through to the leafy suburbs of Dublin that voted Yes the last time. The only outliers in the data are the two Donegal constituencies. In both referenda they recorded the lowest turnout and the Yes side only increased by about 13% to leave Donegal as the only county to vote against the amendment at the second time of asking.

The highest swing was in Limerick East (the city area) where almost 25% of the vote switched from No to Yes. As expected the highest Yes percentages were in Dublin South and Dún Laoghaire where both recorded in excess of 4-1 splits.

So who were the winners and losers politically here? Brian Cowen lives to fight another day. A defeat here would have made it impossible to continue as Taoiseach. Micheál Martin, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, performed well for FF and the Government in the weeks leading up to the vote. Thankfully, Dick Roche was not allowed on the national airwaves. Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore should be happy with the outcome also but in the back of their minds they must feel that this result will give heart to FF to limp on through NAMA and the budget.

Cóir, Declan Ganley, Sinn Féin and Mary Coughlan must be the big losers in all of this. Ganley came back to save the nation from itself but was unable to follow through. Sinn Féin as the only major party to oppose the Treaty did not make much headway and lost the media battle with Cóir and other fringe groups to be the spokespeople for the No campaign. In Lisbon 1 it was almost impossible to find a programme that didn't have Mary Lou McDonald on the panel but this time out they were much less visible.

Finally, Mary Coughlan's days must be numbered. As Táiniste she should have been able to deliver a Yes vote in her home county. Instead the people of the North West gave a two fingered sign to Dublin, Ireland and the rest Europe. Losing one referendum is misfortunate but losing two is careless. There is now no political reason to keep her in the number two spot. A reshuffule should happen as part of the re-negotiation of the PFG and Martin should be promoted and Sweary Mary sent to the back benches beside Bertie.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Voting Endorphin Rush

This will probably get me labeled a political junkie, but there's nothing quite like voting. As Blur once said, it gives me a sense of enormous well being and a slight buzz that lasts all day. Therefore I'm a great believer in half of the vote early, vote often phrase that apparently comes from a mayor of Chicago about 100 years ago and not Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin as might be thought in this country.

For the last number of votes I have made it to the polling station on the way to work, usually between 730 and 800. This morning I was the third person who voted in the Pastoral Centre in Harold's Cross at about 710. This polling station is small as the electoral area is right up against the edge of the constituency, (Dublin South Central is on the other side of the road), so there are only two ballot boxes. On my arrival, the presiding officer for my desk was actually outside, still setting up a sign and removing some campaign material from near the door. However, since I didn't have my polling card it took his assistant a minute or two to find me and check my drivers license. Then with a flourish of my HB pencil I stuck an X in the Yes box, dropped it in the ballot box and hit the road for work.

This time out, I'm not attending the tally and count as I'd feel a bit bad taking a ticket since I didn't really campaign at all. In fact apart from discussions in work and a bit of keyboard warrioring on Facebook and Twitter I've been pretty much useless this time out. Guess I'm keeping it all in reserve for the General Election in November after the Green's pull the plug on this disgraceful government.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

RTE Frontline

Last night Pat Kenny hosted the second edition of his new current affairs show called "The Frontline". After a strong first episode on the banking and financial turmoil we're now in, yesterday's show pitted the public sector versus the private sector.

As a public sector employee married to a self employed person I can see the impact the downturn has had on both sides of the divide. Since this time last year we have moved most of my partner's tax credits over to me due to her smaller number of contracts. Even with those extra credits, my net pay is now down about 13% compared to this time last year with the extra levies, taxes etc.

All workers are being hit and the mud slinging that was encouraged last night on The Frontline didn't help one bit. Polarizing the community rather than galvanizing it together to find a solution to the current situation might make for good TV but it doesn't contribute to the debate.

While I agree with Colm McCarthy's central arguement that the state can't continue to borrow €20Bn per anumm, his slash and burn to the bottom line doesn't take into account that the jobs lost will end up increasing the social welfare budget. Also his smartass and somewhat condescending delivery definitely rub people up the wrong way.

The public sector workers on the programme didn't exactly cover themselves with glory either. Sob stories about losing benefits and making additional contributions to pensions from people in fairly secure employment won't engender support from the private sector. The public sector need to come up with a line of argument that doesn't make us seem like whiny kids. Hard facts and an acceptance that those on over €50k are actually doing alright and can afford to pay a bit more. On the other hand, the private sector need to dial down the witch-hunt mentality.

The whole political system is busted but the infighting amongst the workers is the equivalent to fiddling while Rome burns. At the moment all we're doing is throwing more petrol on the fire

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Role reversal

The most startling result of today's MRBI poll in the Irish Times is the breakdown by class. The class system used by polling companies has six categories
  • A - higher professionals, management
  • B - middle professionals
  • C1 - clerical and lower administrative
  • C2 - skilled manual labour
  • D - semi and unskilled labour
  • E - welfare and casual workers
Historically in Ireland, FG has been the party of the AB groups while Labour are meant to represent the views and causes of the DE groupings. However, today's poll shows Labour as the best supported party amongst AB and FG as the party of choice for DE.

I would guess that the DE move is from the traditional working class vote that was staunchly FF that are now fleeing the sinking ship. Seeing as Enda Kenny is most likely to be the next taoiseach the DE group don't want to be seen as aligned against his party.

Luckily the poll in the Farmer's Journal shows that it is business as usual in rural Ireland. In the RedC poll published during the week for the ploughing championships FF were down 21% to 25% and FG up 22% to 68% leaving a huge 7% to be divided between all the other parties and independents. Luckily for the left, the number of people in the farming community is small and diminishing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

RedC Poll

Yesterday evening about 630 I got called by RedC, the company who do the opinion polls for the Sunday Business Post. It's the first time I was polled since the mid 90s when we regularly had MRBI call to the door. The first thing I noticed was that the young lady asking the questions had an English accent and added to the background noise from whereever she was phoning from it made understanding some of the questions difficult.

First up was the important stuff - Lisbon and a general election. Fairly straight forward will you vote, what way will you vote and if there was a GE tomorrow which party would you vote for. The also asked about how I voted in the previous referendum and GE so I guess they're trying to judge how big the swing is from last time.

After that came a raft of questions about the GAA. Initially it was questions about recognition of sponsors of the hurling (I knew Guinness and Etihad) and football championship (Ulster Bank). Now anyone who knows me will know that I wouldn't be much into GAA so all the questions about the role of the GAA and if it was good/bad were lost. Next was an even more useless set of questions to ask me about coffee and fair trade. Since I don't drink the stuff every single one of them was a don't know.

Finally she got back to a more interesting topic - the pay differences between public and private sector and a set of provocative statements to agree or disagree with. There were also some rank the level of service provided by the public sector in education, health etc.

It'll be interesting to see the results in Sunday's paper to see how (non) conformist my answers were. The only down side was the interview took longer than I thought and my pizza was burned in the oven by the time it was completed!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dublin Bikes

It was a long time coming, I remember discussing the scheme with Mary Freehill in 2007, but the Dublin Bikes scheme was finally launched on 13th September. For 10 euro a year I now have the freedom to scoot around town at lunchtime and get a small amount of exercise in the process. Sounds almost too good to be true.

Well unfortunately it is. In getting the scheme operational, Dublin City Council have sold their soul to the devil in the form of JC Decaux. DCC granted almost twice as much advertising per bike to JCD as was awarded in Paris. Also it appears as though the scheme was not tendered for publicly. Now, with only slightly more than a week gone, JCD have got a court order against a free iPhone app that would let you find in real-time the location of the nearest station and show the number of bikes and free stands at it.

Now don't get me wrong, I think the scheme is a wonderful idea. I've already clocked up over an hour of biking which is probably more than the total I've done in the last few years. I look forward to the scheme being extended to places like Fairview, Rathmines and out to Heuston and the Phoenix Park but it seems as though DCC will have to do that at their own cost as the JCD sweetheart deal won't cover it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Meandering articles in the Constitution

Recently someone I know posted a bit of an anti-Lisbon rant on Facebook. It seems that he was quite upset at the concept of the Irish Constitution being chucked in the bin.

The 28th Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland Bill, 2009, Article 29.4.6. Translated: No European law can EVER AGAIN be challenged on the basis of IRISH CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS! A vote for Lisbon will effectively destroy the ONLY document that can... protect US ALL from corrupt government at home or in Europe.

Sounds pretty serious, until you realize for a second that this clause has been in all EU referendums since we joined the EEC or whatever it was called way back in early 1970s. Initially it was part of a larger clause 29.4.3 which was added. Then in 1992, as part of ratifying the Maastricht treaty the words were moved into their own clause 29.4.5. With more clauses added for Amsterdam and then Nice the clause was renumbered first to 29.4.7 and then to 29.4.10.

With Lisbon effectively replacing all the other treaties, all of 29.4.4 to 29.4.11 are to be deleted and this phrasing is to be slightly amended and end up in the new clause 29.4.6. Now I'm no constitutional lawyer but if we vote no, the old 29.4.10 stays and the offending words will still be in Bunreacht na hÉireann so I'm failing to see what all the fuss is about.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dublin South East predictions

There may be an election next month, or maybe not for the next 30 months but it is always fun to examine the state of the parties in your local constituency and guess what might happen at the next election. Luckily since the local elections happened not so long ago there is some very useful data as to which parties polled well and where from the tally that was carried out on the morning of the count.

At some stage in the future I might have a go at breaking down the various boxes in the two wards (Pembroke-Rathmines and South East Inner City) but for the moment I'm just going to work from totals for parties.

Firstly let's look at the potential candidates for each party

Fianna Fáil have one sitting TD, Chris Andrews who was joined in the last general election by Jim O'Callaghan as the party ticket. In the locals the three candidates in PR just managed to poll a quota between them with O'Callaghan and Donnelly polling well ahead of Tubridy. In SEIC, FF polled less than half a quota between three candidates. With Donnelly retired from public life it seems as though the most likely lineup is the same as before. The only alternative is that with FF polling so poorly in the Dublin region they decide to run a single candidate in which case it will surely be the sitting TD rather than his arch-rival the Councillor.

Fine Gael's Lucinda Creighton easily won back a seat for FG in the 2007 general election as the sole candidate for the party. In the locals FG's Catherine Noone polled just over 13% in SEIC and managed to hang on to beat Daithi Doolin for the last seat. In PR, the more traditional FG heartland, the party polled just over 34% with young tyro Eoghan Murphy pulling ahead of the pack to be elected on the first count. The remaining two candidates duked it out for the final seat with Edie Wynne being elected in the early hours of the morning. One has to assume that DSE is on the FG target list as somewhere to pick up a second seat if they are serious about leading the next government. However, will Creighton want a younger, brasher candidate alongside her, or will she want to put forward an older, more experienced running mate? I would guess that Murphy will be chosen by the local organisation as the second name.

Labour have held a seat in DSE on and off since 1969, and continuously since 1982 with Ruairí Quinn. In the locals, Labour pulled off a remarkable result, netting five out of the ten seats, two in SEIC with 38% and three in PR with just 32%. DSE also has to be on Labour's hitlist for gains in the next general so a two candidate strategy is required. There will certainly be a Quinn on the ballot paper, either Ruairí or Oisín but surely not both. Kevin Humphreys polled exceedingly well in SEIC and must be regarded as likely to run as well. However, it remains to be seen if Ivana Bacik returns from her trip across the river. At the moment I would put the candidates as R Quinn and Humphreys.

John Gormley as leader of the Green Party will definitely be on the ballot paper despite the poor showing of Dave Robbins and Claire Wheeler in the locals. Sinn Fein had a disastrous local election with Daithi Doolan loosing his seat and somewhere around half of his vote - the boundaries of the wards changed substantially from 2004. In PR Sinn Fein hardly registered with less than 2% of the vote. Expect Doolin to be on the ballot. After that, Bryce Evans will probably be the PBP candidate and independent councillor, Mannix Flynn is also expected to throw his hat in the ring. There may also be additional single issue candidates who are unlikely to feature much in the end of the day. (In 2007 the bottom 6 candidates received fewer votes combined than the next lowest candidate.)

So based the above I'm predicting a 1st preference vote share something like
  • FF - 16.5%
  • FG - 27%
  • Lab - 31.5%
  • Green - 11%
  • SF - 3%
  • PBP - 3.5%
  • Flynn - 7%
  • Other - 0.5%
 The interesting transfer patterns to watch will be within FF (only about 50% at the locals) and whether the Greens become as transfer repellent as some are currently suggesting. There are certainly enough left leaning votes to take two seats, the question is will the second Labour candidate be ahead of Gormley at the time one of them is eliminated. Good vote management as shown by Labour in the locals should make this possible. Another possibility is that when the first FF candidate is eliminated, enough votes go to Gormley to push him ahead of the second FG candidate and the other FF. In that case it might be possible for Gormley to claim a third seat for the left at the expense of FF.

At the moment I am going to go for 2 Lab, 1 FG and a mighty battle between FF and G for the final seat with Andrews' name carrying him over the line, with Gormley's association with the incinerator and general anti-Green sentiment dragging him down.

Friday, September 18, 2009

UKIP and Lisbon

I thought that we had given up on using Ireland as a location for fighting proxy wars between European powers. Last time it happened, the Jacobites were repeatedly defeated up and down the length of the island and we all know how helpful that escapade has been in Irish politics over the last 300 years or so.

With the arrival of UKIP into the Lisbon debate we have now escalated from skirmishes between Europhiles in the Commission and assorted multinationals against the right wing press in the UK. Their presence will turn the current campfire into a huge conflagration by throwing all sorts of unsubstantiated, racist and homophobic vitriol into the debate.

Much and all as I detest Michael O'Leary and Ryanair (a topic that definitely will be returned to), he was right in his use of the word "headbanger" to describe some of the anti-Lisbon campaign. But at least Cóir are our headbangers. We don't need the intervention of foreign nutjobs, wrapping themselves up in the tri-colour, with a faux interest in our democracy, when they would actually much prefer a reforming of the grand old empire with the Paddies coming back into the fold. Thanks but no thanks!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Timewasting in the Dail

During the opening of the Dáil today, Arthur Morgan of Sinn Féin was asked to leave the house, refused and thereby caused the house to be suspended on several occasions. Following that, there was a lengthy to and fro on the order of business with a vote called on each part.

All these activities took time, and now at 15:45 we still haven't started the debate on NAMA. The order of business will be passed by the government and will state that the debate must wind up by 8pm. The very people who wasted the time at the start will be the ones complaining about the lack of debate time on NAMA. These sorts of shenanigans drive me and probably lots of the public nuts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NAMA and windfall taxes

During a discussion on zoning matters in the Pembroke-Rathmines ward at last night's branch meeting, two interesting issues came up with regard to the NAMA setup and one of the Green Party suggestions.

The first issue concerned how long planning permission last for. Say at the height of the boom I got planning permission for 100 units in three phases on a site. I started construction in 2006 and finished 25 units and then mothballed another 25 that were halfway there. Phase 3 of the final 50 units never started. How long do I have to turn the sod on phase 3 before my planning permission expires? And if NAMA have paid the long term economic value does that value include the completed houses on the site or just the lump of land?

Secondly we were disucssing the windfall tax on rezoned land. If such a tax were introduced, any profits on the sale of land rezoned by the council would be subject to an 80% tax, effectively implementing the Kenny Report of 1973. But what would happen the other way. Say the council rezone the land that phase 3 of my development back to Z9 to provide a local park, 20 years after I fail to build my houses. Can I now apply for an 80% rebate on taxes? Or would they have to purchase the land back off me at full market rate (whatever that is) before rezoning?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lisbon II

With slightly less than 3 weeks to go, the campaign for the 2nd Lisbon Treaty referendum has yet to kick off. Apart from the hilarious Coir posters, at times you'd be hard pressed to even know such an event was looming. However, now with the return of Declan Ganley things might be about to heat up.

As a yes voter the first time, I'm pretty sure I'll be voting yes again this time but I do have some reservations about the whole process and some of the arguements being put forward in favour and against the treaty.
  1. The "guarantees"  that Brian Cowen extracted from the other member states don't really add anything that wasn't already in the treaty.
  2. I'd rather have a useful commissioner from Ireland every few years over appointing a made up position just because we need 27 or more commissioners.
  3. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will not be fully implemented from day one. To my mind, that makes it an a-la-carte charter of aspirations which will be ignored if the economic or social agenda changes.
  4. The timing of the re-run is terrible. Before Nice 2 we had a general election during which all the parties ran on a platform of holding a second vote. This government has no such mandate.
 That said, I think it would be a disaster for us to vote no again. It would burn pretty much all of the political capital that we have built up over the years and while there would be no immediate repercussions, we will find ourselves more and more on the outside looking in.  Germany, Holland, Belgium etc aren't going to stop their closer integration just because we don't like it.

Finally, the main reason to vote yes is to look at the motley crew that has been assembled against it. What do SWP and Coir have in common? Or SF and UKIP? Libertas and Stormfront? Nothing except their dislike of Lisbon, but expect for the next three weeks each will be backslapping the other and re-iterating the lies and misinformation of the others.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


As is customary with blogs, one starts with an introduction to convince the reader that
  1. the author might have something interesting to say
  2. the author might have some level of knowledge on the topic
  3. the reader knows who to moan at if the content of the blog is not to their liking
With that in mind, here is the introductory post for Pass Level Politics, or PLP as I may refer to it in the future.

I am a thirty-something, male, Irish citizen. I work in the higher education sector in research. I am a member of the Labour Party and currently (for my sins), Secretary of my local branch. My political life started as a kid in the 1981 summer elections, dropping leaflets for Eithne Fitzgerald in Dublin South in exchange for ice cream. Since then I have followed the political environment in Ireland with varying degrees of interest. Since turning 18 the only vote I have missed was the election of Mary McAleese.

As to the name, Pass Level Politics, well I know that this blog will not reach the honours standard set by the likes of, or but I'd like to think I can contribute something at the lower level without making a complete fool of myself with every post.