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  irisheconomy.ie, irishelection.com or gavinsblog.com but I'd like to think I can contribute something at the lower level without making a complete fool of myself with every post.