Thursday, April 29, 2010

Women, women everywhere

Sometimes you have to wonder what planet people are living on. Take for example Fiona O'Malley's contribution to the Seanad debate on women's participation in politics. She proposed two ballot papers in each of 60 constituencies, one with men's names and one with women's. Yes it guarantees equality of the sexes in the parliament but it also pretty much guarantees a landslide victory for one party over the rest - it is most likely that both candidates returned from each constituency will be from the same party. It also throws out any idea of proportionality which is one of the major benefits of our current electoral system.

The concept of quotas also brings up the under-representation of lots of other groups in the Dáil. Why isn't there a requirement for the age profile of TDs to be in line with the results of the most recent census? Why don't we have to have a number of TDs representing the unemployed, the sick, atheists, left-handed people? Sure women as a group have gotten the short end of the stick since the dawn of time, but I don't think that stuffing the parliament with them for the sake of appearance will fix it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pied Piper of Dun Laoghaire

The phrase "rats deserting a sinking ship" is often used to describe the death throes of an organisation. Having gone through the startup phase, then the bandwagon phase where everyone jumps on board, then the plateau and finally the slow descent, there comes a point where those who are left realize that the game is up and bail from the grouping. But where do these rats go?

Well in the political space it appears that the Labour party is becoming the broad church, attracted the disaffected and disillusioned of other parties. Over the last year or so, there have been defections and recruitments from various sources to the party most notably Jerry Cowley in Mayo and Killian Forde on the northside of Dublin. However, the two most recent signups are, to my mind, more difficult to square with the socialist/social democratic ethos of Labour.

Firstly Paddy Harte was announced as the new signing in Donegal North-East. This part of the world has always been poor for left wing parties. The traditional civil war parties (all three) have had this part of the world locked up since the foundation of the state. In 2007, the Labour candidate, Siobhan McLaughlin polled less than 2% of the vote. She then polled second lowest in Letterkenny in the 2009 locals. In the same election Jimmy Harte pulled in over twice her vote and was elected to the council as an independent. This is after he left FG in a huff over the promotion of Joe McHugh to the Dail seat that Harte's father Paddy held from 1961 to 1997.

Then today, Mae Sexton, former Progressive Democrat has been unveiled as Willie Penrose's running mate in the Westmeath/Longford constituency. This is the same Sexton who fully supported Mary Harney's privatisation and co-location, the same woman who came 8th in the 2007 election with barely a fifth of a quota. Somehow she is expected to push FG for the second seat at FF's expense while espousing full support of public service and equality for all. Seems like a long way from the Thatcherite leanings of the PDs.

Maybe there have been a few Pauline conversions to the socialist way of thinking in Ireland over the last few months but I'm not overly sure that either of the above two occurred on the road to Damascus. I look forward to being proven wrong. Perhaps Gilmore as the pied piper has been able to win the rats over to his side.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Old park, new name?

Dublin City Council have been taking submissions on the proposal to rename the park in Merrion Square to something other than Archbishop Ryan park. Way back when, the Catholic Church had hoped to build a new cathedral in the square but when that failed to come about, the then Archbishop of Dublin donated the land to the city and they named it after him. To most Dubliners the place is just known as Merrion Square and I would say very few know the official name of the park. I only learned of its title in 2007 when I was reading the report of a Dublin City Council meeting where it was mentioned and I had resort to Google to find out what they were talking about.

However, after the recent revelations about Archbishop Ryan's action (or inaction) in the child abuse scandals there has been a groundswell of support for changing the name of the park. Of course the usual knee-jerk suggestions of "Abuse Park" and "Child Rape Memorial Park" have been bandied about. More useful suggestions such as "The Children's Park", "James Joyce Park" and "Oscar Wilde Park" have also been proposed.

To my mind too much emphasis is placed on the literary and artistic in Ireland and not enough on our scientific achievements. Therefore my short submission to the Council is to name the park after either Ernest Walton, the first man to split the atom and Ireland's only Physics Nobel Laureate, or William Rowan Hamilton who invented Quaternions and what we now call Hamiltonian Mechanics. While I doubt my suggestion will be the one eventually chosen, someone has to stick up for the nerds and geeks.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Odd election outcome imminent

Since last week's three-way leaders debate, the polls in the upcoming UK general election have put the three main parties all within a few points of each other. Depending on the source, all of them score between 25% and 35% of the popular vote at the moment. In a proportional system that would result in two of the parties sitting down as equals and thrashing out an agreed programme for government. However, with the FPP system in operation in the UK a far stranger result may be about to occur.

According to various models, on a constituency by constituency basis, an election result where Labour with the smallest share of the vote end up with the largest number of seats. This is a result of the concentration of the Labour vote in a smaller number of constituencies. The Liberal Democrat vote is more evenly spread throughout the UK and so in many areas is out polled by one of the other two parties thereby losing the seat. This effect is similar to the gerrymander I discussed a while back.

With all polls now pointing to a hung parliament, this may just be the result the LibDems need to be able to swing public support in favour of a proportional voting system. Whether that is single seat with top up list, PR-STV like we have here or some other system, the days of FPP must be numbered if the results of the election on 6th May are as described above.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Conference review

The Labour Party annual conference was held over the weekend in NUI Galway. Since I had planned on being away I didn't actually attend but thanks to the excellent online coverage I was able to keep up with the goings on in the west.

In terms of speeches, both Michael D Higgins and Eamon Gilmore gave masterclasses in oration. Michael D's speech on Friday (youtube clip) in particular is worth several viewings. Even if you don't agree with a word he is saying, the style, tempo and especially the Irish sections are a pleasure to the ear.

The arrival of Jerry Cowley to the party came as a slight surprise - he is certainly more welcome in my view than the alleged imminent arrival of Mae Sexton (ex PD). Mayo is a difficult place for Labour. Beverley Flynn and Dara Calleary will poll well for FF and Enda Kenny will be looking to return with three for FG, if not a 4th were they to gain an additional 7% or so from FF. In the last election the left vote (including Cowley) was about 12% and so there is a lot of work to be done before a seat comes into play, but at least there is now a strong candidate around which to focus the effort.

On more local matters, the Rathmines Branch motion was proposed by Cllr Mary Freehill and was adopted by the conference. Unfortunately there is no audio on the youtube clip so I can't actually hear what she said but based on the extremely brief notes I gave her she must have done alright. Dick Barrett also spoke on the composite education motion, reaffirming our socialist beliefs in communal education rather than segregated, religion based teaching.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Travel Frustration

Not a politics post this time - just a brain dump of what's happened over the last 48 hours or so.

Having booked flights in January for around &euro400, the missus and I were all set to fly out to San Francisco, through Heathrow this morning to hit Drupalcon and then have a week cruising around visiting various people and places in California. Sounds like a pretty nice break from work and dreary old Ireland.

Then Thursday morning news started coming out about the ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano that was drifting towards the Europe. Within hours all flights in UK airspace had been grounded, followed by Ireland and several countries in Northern Europe. I phoned United, our carrier for the long haul flight and they informed me that the Friday flight from LHR to SFO was canceled. However, having booked through an online agency, eBookers, I would have to go through them to make alternative arrangements.

After 30 minutes on hold, if finally got through to an eBookers agent on the phone. After some investigation, it turned out that the earliest we could be re-scheduled for was 26th April, by which time the conference would be well over. The alternative was a full refund of the fares paid in January which was the only realistic option for us to take. Going online to see what travel plans could be facilitated by other carriers, it turned out that return flights leaving today and returning at the bank holiday weekend would set us back between €1500 and €2000 per head - not exactly good value for money.

So that's it. California is canceled. No Drupalcon, no Monterey, no visiting Casey and Eric. All because of a stupid volcano. Sometimes the planet has a knack of getting in the way of life. Thank you Earth!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A striking we will go

I should come as no surprise to people that, one by one, the union executives are recommending rejection of the Croke Park deal. The deal is not sellable in its current form where in return for guaranteeing industrial peace for a period of time, the government has carte blanche in redefining the terms and conditions of employment of the entire public sector.

The issue about re-paying the cuts to lower paid is a red herring. Yes, those under €30k or so should not have been targeted in the last round of pay cuts. However, after the back tracking on the senior civil servants and the uproar on Joe Duffy et al, turning back the clock on the lower paid is not an option.

The sooner this deal is rejected and industrial action starts up again with a view to forcing an election the better. Piecemeal action that just aggravates the public is pointless - a general downing of tools is required. We could do worse than take our lead from Thailand. I'm ready to do my part!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rail transport policy

To put all my cards straight on the table, I'm a massive train nut. Now not to the level of standing on wet and windy platforms writing down engine and carriage numbers - I'll leave that for others. However, I love the idea, history, engineering and potential of rail (heavy rail in particular) as a mode of transport for the future. So it has piqued my interest to see a couple of rail stories in the news recently.

Western Rail Corridor

At the end of March the Western Rail Corridor finally opened its doors to paying passengers. This is a project that I have been in two minds about since it started. The idea of connecting Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo with regular train service is a good one. However, investing in rail while at the same time building a HQDC or motorway in parallel to the route seems somewhat daft. For a fraction of the cost of the road the rail route could have been straightened and double tracked. With that investment, travel times would drop drastically, the timetable would be more reliable. This would push the train substantially ahead of the car along the route length and promote modal shift.

Unfortunately in this country we tend to not spend money in the most beneficial way. In 20-30 years time when petrol costs €10 per litre and personal, non-electric cars are a distant memory investment in rail will still be paying back. Consider the investments made in the 19th Century in rail - we're still using the same mainline alignment on all our major routes. Now consider how many times sections of the road between Dublin and Cork say have been re-jigged in the intervening period.


With the opening of the WRC it should almost be expected that there would be a closure elsewhere. The Waterford-Rosslare line, while never terribly popular, has had a terrible service on it over the last number of years. A couple of trains a day that don't match demand periods but rather the drivers' and conductors' personal schedules is not the way to manage a line. Instead with a small amount of investment, a commuter line servicing the south coast and then up to Wexford town. Re-opening the line to New Ross would also be of great benefit but the old alignment is now covered by the main road in parts. A spur from Campile to the town side of the river could be considered.

There are lots of other things that could be done to improve rail transport in Ireland. Everyone keeps going on about Dart Underground and Metro as the only things that count and while they are vital, smaller projects in rural and other urban areas can achieve a lot of good with small, targeted investments. More on this anon.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Rise of Quanglo

This country and specifically the inbred circle at the top of the financial world gets worse by the day. After years with effectively no supervision, the first time the new financial regulator steps up to the plate and actually does his job by protecting the interests of the public he is asked to back down. The anger of the Quinn employees is wrongly directed - the regulator isn't their enemy, the man at the top of the firm who led them over the edge of the cliff is.

I am at a complete loss understanding why the tax payer, through Anglo Irish, the bank we already own and have pumped billions into, is to underwrite any outstanding debts that might be incurred by the Quinn group. This is a private company that made bad decisions and should not be protected from itself. Live by the market, die by the market should be the motto, not privatizing profits and socialising losses. I'm sure that Quinn is a wonderful employer up in the Cavan area, but the future of a few FF TDs in the region should not saddle the rest of the tax payers in the state with another massive debt.

How can an institution that has just been bailed out by the tax payer now turn around and use that money to bail out yet another corporation? Of course the links between Anglo and Quinn are well known with the magic 10 who were given unsecured loans to buy out Quinn's CFDs a while back. Any surprise that the FF gombeenarchy is rowing in behind these shenanigans to protect the Galway tenters? Makes me sick.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

UK election

Gordon Brown went to the Áras Palace today, getting the general election in the UK on the road. The Queen gave him permission to dissolve parliament next Monday and the ensuing election will be held on 6th May. As someone who doesn't really follow British politics much I'm not sure what else to say. However, it is going to be pretty much the only story for the next month so I'd best get learning fast.

Labour, after 13 years in office have been looking tired since Tony Blair's retirement. The Conservatives under David Cameron are trying to position themselves as young and trendy, a difficult line to swallow. And the poor old Liberals are stuck as the bridesmaid yet again thanks to the awful first-past-the-post voting system. All roads seem to be pointing to a hung parliament at the moment but a few swings in key constituencies could get either of the large parties over the magic finishing line.

The most interesting thing that I've seen so far about the election is that there will be three debates between all three party leaders, one on ITV, one on Sky and one for the BBC. This is quite like the American system of each of the major networks hosting a debate. I hope that they are not as scripted and formulaic as the American ones though. The leaders should be able to address each other and ask specific questions in order to tease out the issues. Having a debate like the Santos-Vinick one in the West Wing would be awesome.

In the North it will be interesting to see if the more moderate SDLP and UUP are able to make up lost ground on their more radical opponents SF and the DUP. The internal nationalist and unionist fighting is actually far more entertaining than the fighting between those in green and those in orange. I guess that most southern parties will be sending canvassers and leaflet teams up to help the SDLP.