Monday, August 16, 2010

Short break

This blog is going on a short break for the next few weeks as I am off on my summer holidays. Firstly I've to go to a wedding in west Galway. Then  I am hitting  the Summer Breeze festival in Germany. Finally I'll be swinging up to Copenhagen to partake of the social activities at DrupalCon. Think I'll need a break to recover from it all. Doubt there'll be new post this side of September.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Large Constituencies

The Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution recently published the findings of its review of the electoral system. Running to 220 pages, it is quite the in-depth review and analysis of electoral systems in general, PR-STV in particular and various other matters relating to how we run elections in this country. Of particular interest to me were two sections towards the end - 5.62 about the boundaries of constituencies and 5.67 recommending at least 4 TDs per constituency.

Currently the constitution only puts a lower bound on the number of TDs per constituency at 3. Therefore all that is needed to have nice large, proportional constituencies is some legislation amending the schedule that describes the various Dáil constituencies. The report suggests that boundaries should respect natural and county boundaries as much as possible and also not artificially divide towns, like has happened to Swords in the last review. Putting these two rules together and you can come up with some entertaining constituencies.

Firstly I have based these divisions on the results of the 2006 census and keeping the number of TDs at 166. Secondly I have kept counties intact as opposed to the current method of moving odd electoral districts across county boundaries so the ratios are not as consistent as they should be.

Dublin1,187,17647Split into 6 constituencies
Cork481,292519Split into 3 constituencies
Galway231,6709Largest single county constituency
Wexford131,7495Largest current existing constituency
Louth111,2674Merge with Monaghan
Waterford107,9614Smallest single county constituency
Kilkenny87,5584Merge with Carlow
Westmeath79,3463Merge with Laois and Offaly
Offaly70,8683Merge with Westmeath and Laois
Laois67,0593Merge with Westmeath and Offaly
Cavan64,0033Merge with Longford and Leitrim
Sligo60,8942Merge with Roscommon
Roscommon58,7682Merge with Sligo
Monaghan55,8162Merge with Louth
Carlow50,3492Merge with Kilkenny
Longford34,3911Merge with Cavan and Leitrim
Leitrim28,9501Merge with Cavan and Longford

The Dublin split would need some re-jigging of existing constituencies but basically you could pair up North and West(8), North East and North Central(6), Central and North West(7), South East and South Central(9), Mid West and South West(8), South and Dún Laoghaire(9).

Cork is a bit more problematic - you would want a City constituency with 7 seats and then two county constituencies East and West each with 6. The current layout is not particularly amenable to this arrangement and so substantial changes would be required.

In this scheme all constituencies return at least 4 members (Clare and Waterford both having this size along with the new Sligo/Roscommon) and range up to 9 in Galway and the Midlands (Westmeath, Offaly and Laois). Kerry turns out to be the biggest winner by being over-represented by just over 0.5 of a TD with Sligo/Roscommon loosing out on 0.68 of a TD. I can already hear the "No taxation for under-representation" chants beginning.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Divided Ireland

To paraphrase Julius Caesar, Hibernia est omnis divisa in tres partes. There's the well known north/south divide that has split the island since 1922 or thereabouts. But another division also exists between the greater Dublin area and the rest of the Republic. While it's origins can be dated back to the 14th Century, it is a long standing division that is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

Having married a country lass (Tipperary to be exact) I'm occasionally on the receiving end of statements like "Dublin is no place to bring up a family" or "Dublin is grand when you're young but you couldn't settle there" to which I just nod and smile. I know that I like living in the city and in fact I'm pretty content with my choice of Dublin as a place to live. It's big enough that you can find new and interesting people but not so big that you end up living an anonymous life not knowing anyone. For all its flaws I wouldn't move anywhere else bar some remote cliff top in Kerry or Donegal that was still able to get a decent DSL link.

On a political stage this bias is even more pronounced. Every few weeks you see a story from a Jackie Healy Rae, Michael Lowry or General O'Dea about how they have delivered great services for their local area. This championing is never done on behalf of a constituency in Dublin. Perhaps it is because the areas are relatively compact and that large infrastructure like hospitals and bridges in Dublin benefit all 12 constituencies so for one TD to claim responsibility would be laughed at. In fact when projects such as Metro North and the Interconnector were announced there was more moaning from rural TDs about Dublin getting all the goodies than column inches given to Dublin TDs applauding the decision.

Most recently the proposal to take water from the Shannon to be used in the greater Dublin area has been met with the same sort of reaction. Local interest groups appeared out of the woodwork insisting that their water should not be given to Dublin. Instead the multi nationals should come to Offaly or Leitrim and set up shop there. In theory that's great, until you realize that large companies need the economies of scale and transport links that only come with a reasonable sized city and unfortunately there are only 2.5 of them on the island.

If the people outside the Pale want Dublin to keep it's paws off their natural and human resources then that is fine. They just have to accept that the flip side of that is no longer receiving tax transfers from the million or so people who choose to live and work in the capital. That ought to shut them up for at least a few weeks. And don't get me started on the sporting (GAA and rugby) bias - that post would end up as long as War and Peace.

(Full disclosure, I was born in Cork but like the A-Team I promptly escaped to the Dublin underground)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anglo Irish bailout equivalents

Brian Lucey (Professor of Finance in TCD) posted a Anglo Irish challenge on Twitter this afternoon. He is looking for things that we could have spent the €25B that Anglo has cost the tax payer. These items might be useful or might be ridiculous. Here are some of my suggestions (some of these are a bit back of the envelope)
  • A Maglev rail system from Belfast to Cork via Dublin. Based on the costs for the Shanghai one it would cost about €11B but lets assume Ireland is twice as expensive as Shanghai.
  • The Porto metro system that has been built in the last decade or so cost about €4B and has about 70 stations over 60km of track. Therefore we could have a 400 station system with about 250km of track
  • A round the world plane ticket costs about €1,500. So we could send every man, woman and child on three trips and still have money for some duty free on the way home.
  • Canada is in the process of purchasing 65 F35 fighter jets for about €7B. Our Anglo money could get us 250 allowing for some bulk purchase discounting.
  • The 200km long proposed Japan-Korea tunnel is estimated to cost about €60B. Dublin to Holyhead is about 100km so the Anglo money could almost bankroll a tunnel joining Ireland to the UK.
  • We could buy for full cost all the external debt of Bangladesh. This is all the money owed by the country and its residents to outsiders.
  • Pigs cost about €1.50 per kilo and weigh on average say 100kg. So that's €150 per pig or about 160 million pigs per Anglo which is about 5% of the world's total pig population.
  • Gold currently trades at about €1000 per oz. One Anglo turns into 25M oz or around 700 tonnes of shiny metal.
  • The construction of nuclear power plants comes in at around €1Bn per GW. Eirgrid's website suggests that Ireland's peak consumption is about 5GW in winter. This means we could power Ireland 5 times over for the cost of the Anglo bail out.
  • It costs about €100k per annum to employ an academic between wages, PRSI, pensions etc. and there are about 2000 of them employed in TCD. Anglo's lump sum would cover TCD's academic staff costs for 125 years assuming no inflation. Given inflation that might come down to 40 years.
  • My mortgage (not with Anglo) could be paid off about 100,000 times over. Instead it'll take me another 20 years to do it just once.
There is almost an infinite number of possibilities. I look forward to seeing Lucey's final list.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dempsey's grand tour

Seems like Minister Dempsey has gotten himself into a spot of bother. You'd think after eVoting and going to Malta during the snow that he'd keep a low profile. But no, instead he clocked up either €13,000 or €100,000, depending on the source, in the government jet in a way that was completely unnecessary.

The Minister had a speaking slot at the MacGill summer school in Donegal mid afternoon. So he took the government jet up to Derry and then had his Garda driver take him the rest of the way to Glenties. After speaking he hightailed it back to Derry and flew to London. The following morning he had a top secret meeting in London and then came home again on the jet.

This jaunt raises some interesting questions about his routing
  • Since the Garda driver had to go from Dublin to Derry anyway, why didn't the Minister just take the car directly from Dublin/Navan to Glenties?
  • If he had to fly, why not take Aer Arann to Donegal? There is an early afternoon flight most days of the week and I'm sure that there would have been no shortage of FF volunteers to drive him down to Glenties.
  • Why not travel back to Dublin and get the last commercial flight to Heathrow or Gatwick instead of flying from Derry to London?
  • Why was the meeting the next morning arranged so early? If it had been delay by about 90 minutes he could have taken the early morning flight to Heathrow and made it?
It's not like the Minister's speech in Glenties said anything new. Dempsey has gone on record many times about his love of electoral list systems. Also was his participation in MacGill part of official government business or in a personal capacity? It's not like he is a member of the committee that has been looking into electoral reform or the minister with responsibility for the matter. Why wasn't Sean Ardagh the government representative?

This entire escapade just heaps more fuel on the FF funeral pyre. The sooner these chancers are out of office the better at this stage.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Probability of women TDs

Part of the reform agenda of the last year or so has been the promotion of women in politics and lengthy debates about the introduction of quotas of female TDs or at least quotas of female candidates for election. Those in favour of the status quo usually state that there is nothing wrong with the current system as it elects the best candidates. But does it really?

The Law of Large Numbers describes the result of repeated performance of an experiment. It is the thing that suggests if you flip a coin 100 times about 50 of them should turn up heads. If your sample size is too small, say 10, then the law doesn't hold and results of 2/8 or 3/7 should be expected on a fairly regular basis. Using the binomial distribution you can actually calculate these probabilities. In the 10 flip case a 3/7 split comes up about 12% (120/1024) of the time. This can be figured out on paper using Pascal's Triangle and some basic arithmetic. For larger experiments use of a computer program such as R or using WolframAlpha is recommended.

So back to the Dáil. We start with the assumption that men and women are equally likely to be the best candidate. If the system is fair then each seat should have an equal change of being filled by a female as a male. With 166 seats to be filled, there should be on average 83 of each. However, the sums show that this exact solution will occur only about 6% of the time. So what is the distribution of the rest of the results? Well a 80/86 split is about 5.5%, a 75/91 split is 3%. At a 95% confidence level the result should be between 70 and 96 deputies of each gender. This means that if the result is outside this range there is only a 5% chance of it being due to random factors.

As you reduce the number of female deputies the odds become even longer. 60 or fewer females should only occur 0.02% of the time. 50 or fewer and you are at 1.6x10-7 or about 1 in six million elections. So where does our measly 23 female TDs come in on the scale? Crunching the numbers reveals a figure of 1.1x10-22 which is so far beyond random chance that it isn't funny. So the figures indicate a rejection of the hypotheses and we must conclude that either the system is unfair between the sexes or that women are not up to the task of being politicians. Somehow I'm putting my money on the former.