Monday, September 26, 2011

Nomination confusion

I'm slightly confused about this whole County/City Council nomination process for the Presidential Election. Today in Carlow motions to nominate David Norris and Dana Rosemary Scallon were tabled. From the reports it seems as though the Norris motion was tied 5-5 and then rejected by the chair using the casting vote. Then Dana's nomination was passed. So far, so good.

But here's where my confusion comes in. What would have happened if the chair had voted in favour of Norris? Would Dana's motion then have been voted upon? The constitution is very clear that each nominating body or oireachtas member can support only one candidacy. Would they have nominated the candidate whose motion received the most support? Or the first one that was passed? If the latter, then how is the order of hearing motions decided - is it first come, first served or are lots drawn?

I'm sure that somewhere in the County Manager's rule book all this is made clear but I haven't been able to find a clear answer on this. Anyone got any pointers?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bashing McGuinness

Since Martin McGuinness joined the race to the Áras, most of the commentary has surrounded his less than squeaky clean past. This has come from the media, bloggers and also the political arena itself. The latest is Fintan O'Toole's piece in today's Irish Times where he suggests McGuinness could be liable for war crimes.

I'm no fan of McGuinness and certainly won't be voting for him. The farce that is Northern politics has shown him to be fairly inept in an executive role. The actions of Sinn Féin in government up North have shown them to be a fairly right-wing, conservative party, quite at odds with the image they try to portray down here. His following Gerry Adams into southern politics also shows either a contempt for people who have worked hard for SF in the Republic or an effective evacuation of Stormont by the heavy hitters.

However, I strongly object to people relentlessly harping back to McGuinness' past involvement in the IRA from the 70s onwards. Sure, he carried out some pretty awful acts and refused to recognise the authority of the Irish Courts. But when we down south voted 94% in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, we effectively said that we accept that there was a war being fought, but that now we were entering the peace and that we were drawing a line in the sand. Therefore we have to live with our decision and allow those combatants to re-enter normal society and that includes electoral politics.

Friday, September 16, 2011

And then there were four, no five, no six, no seven

The presidential election has certainly sparked to life again in the last few days. Firstly Davis and Gallagher rustled up the requisite number of councils. Then Norris started playing the Lanigan's Ball game - in then out then in again. Next Fianna Fáil get back in the game with rumours of Lamhrás Ó Murchú planning a run. The just this afternoon news is leaked that Martin McGuinness will be the Sinn Féin candidate. Phew! Lets look at each of these bits one at a time.

Early on in the week both Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher managed to secure nominations from at least four county or city councils, making them the third and fourth official candidates on the ballot paper after Gay Mitchell and Michael D Higgins. Not content with four nominations, Davis continued to have motions of support passed ending up with around 10. To my mind this was a bit of a risky move. While supporters will argue that it shows she has the backing of people from around the country, I think that it will be more played as a blocking move, using up nominations so that other candidates can't enter the race. This is certainly the line that Gallagher took, requesting that motions to support him be removed from the agenda at other council meetings once he had his four secured.

The David Norris re-appeared. We all know how his previous exit from the race went (here and here) so I am hugely surprised that he is trying to come back. True, he finished his speech with the phrase "fail better" but I wasn't really expecting him to prove it so quickly. The issues surrounding his withdrawal haven't changed or gone away. I am also pretty sure that a good number of his previous Oireachtas supporters have left him, not to mention his campaign staff. He also returned all his campaign finances and so is starting from scratch. I don't expect to see his name on the ballot paper come polling day.

Micheal Martin really can't win on this one. Having decided to not put forward an official Fianna Fáil candidate, he should have issued an edict that TDs and Senators were to not get involved in the nomination game. However, he left the door open and talk started about FF members nominating someone who wouldn't be an FF candidate. Then to top it all off, Lamhrás Ó Murchú, the FF Senator who lost the whip over the civil partnership bill last year, has indicated a desire and willingness to stand. Of all the people FF could put up, Ó Cuív and Crowley being the obvious choices, Ó Murchú is pretty much near the bottom of the list. FF should be just concentrating on the Dublin West by election and scoring points against the government in the run up to the budget.

Our latest entry to the field is the Deputy First Minister from the North, Martin McGuinness. He is the best choice they have since Pearse Doherty doesn't meet the age requirement. Of course, SF only have 17 Oireachtas members so there are three others signing his papers. I'm guessing they'll be from the ranks of the ULA. Of course the announcement had to be delayed until today so McGuinness can apply for the 6 week sabbatical from being DFM, much as Peter Robinson did during the UK General Election. It will be very interesting to see how both the media and the other parties treat the entry of SF into the race. Given the absolute destruction that was rained down on Norris I'm looking forward to seeing a similar level of investigation into McGuinness. I don't expect him to win, but they will poll a respectable 12%-15% which may put them third on the first count. I think they would count that as a victory, especially given the lack of an official FF candidate.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Yet another September 11th post

Yeah I know, there's nothing original in writing about September 11th. But as the defining event of the last decade, much the way the fall of the Berlin Wall defined the 90s, it would be a bit churlish to ignore the 10 year anniversary. There have been reams of articles written about the appropriateness of the Bush regime's response. The initial Afghan campaign was probably justified. The follow on shenanigans in Iraq definitely not.

To most people, the biggest impact of 9/11 has been the increase in the security farce surrounding air travel. In 2001 I happened to be in at a conference in Edinburgh where I watched events unfold. The chance in airport security from the flight over on the Saturday and the return home on the Wednesday evening were stark. This "increase" in security, not only in airports, but throughout our daily lives, has come at a cost.

Obviously in the immediate aftermath of such an event there is going to be an over-reaction. But the fact that the security industry has been able to keep the fear levels high and use it to remove hard earned civil liberties, especially in the US and UK, is depressing. Increased powers of stop and search, massive rollouts of CCTV and the use of financial and online profiling have all been introduced in order to "protect" us. Add to that the use of torture and rendition, especially the use of Shannon Airport, and you have to start asking yourself has it all been worthwhile.

The short answer from the hawks is to point out that, despite London, Madrid and Bali, by and large there hasn't been another 9/11 and so the measures are justified. The response from the doves is that between 100,000 and 1,000,000 people have been killed directly as a result of the 9/11 fallout in Iraq and Afghanistan and so the response has failed. Personally I'm more in the latter camp.

I have nothing new to say on this issue. The events of 9/11 were awful, a tragedy. But the response has been just as bad. We have moved from a peaceful, positive world in 2001 to a more violent, negative one in 2011. Does that mean the terrorists have won? Probably not. But they've advanced their agenda a whole lot with some unexpected allies in the governments of the West. You can't declare war on an abstract noun and expect to win.

Finally, in true lefty form, September 11th is the anniversary of a whole load of other world events which also deserve recognition. Here are some of them.

  • 1649 - Cromwell loots Drogheda and massacres the inhabitants
  • 1919 - The US invades Honduras to prop up the original banana republic
  • 1973 - Pinochet takes over in Chile following a CIA backed coup
  • 1977 - Stephen Biko arrested and killed in South Africa

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kite flying at Iarnrod Eireann

The last week has seen a flurry of short newspaper articles about rail services in Ireland. On Monday, Tuesday and Friday we were treated to regurgitated press releases about investments in intercity lines to reduce travel times and a spur to Dublin Airport from the northern commuter line. Then to top it all off on Saturday we were treated to an editorial summing up the week's propaganda.

Now as regular readers will know, I'm all in favour of rail as a mode of transport. In an ideal world I would have most commuting, much freight and a substantial amount of inter-urban travel done by train. However, these announcements are not realistic proposals to improve the rail service in Ireland. They are kite flying exercises by Iarnród Éireann in the hopes that some scraps of funding will be sent their way if sufficient projects are proposed.

With regard to the Inter City improvements, the logic here seems to be that
  1. Trains used to be faster than cars
  2. We spent loads of money on motorways
  3. Road trips between cities are now faster than the train
  4. We should spend loads of money on trains to match (or beat) road travel times
While I would advocate investment in our heavy rail infrastructure it has to be for the right reasons and losing market share to buses and cars is not a valid reason. Colm McCarthy, of Bord Snip fame, also had a go at this plan recently. Written for the Farmers' Journal it has to get in swipes at the jackeens living in Dublin, and he makes some unfair comparisons to make his points. Comparing a road trip from the Red Cow to Dunkettle is not the same as one from Heuston to Kent stations. He needs to add at least 30 minutes to his trip time, and during rush hour you could easily make that over an hour. All of a sudden the train starts being competitive again.

The second proposal, linking Dublin Airport to Connolly via the existing rail line from Clongriffin is daft. It has already been rejected several times by commentators, planners and even Iarnród Éireann themselves as unworkable. If just the spur was built, the journey would take approximately 40 minutes, already longer than bus journeys via the Port Tunnel and would run at most once every 15-20 minutes due to existing congestion on the mainline. The way round this bottleneck is to quad-track the line from Clongriffin to Clontarf but that would involve substantial engineering works, not to mention CPOing swathes of back gardens through Clontarf, Killester and Raheny.

As always with Dublin transport it boils down to two issues - Interconnector and Metro North. At this stage I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record but, despite the recession, they are no brainers. Just do it! When the economy picks up again in the future, McCarthy will be the very one giving out about Dublin traffic and how it is killing the economy.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Summer Reading

Before we get stuck into the Presidential Election I thought I might round out the summer silly season by revealing what has been keeping me entertained over the summer.

The First Law Trilogy - Joe Abercrombie

Normally I try to go for slightly more high-brow stuff in reading Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I know, oxymoron if ever there was. But in this case it was exactly what I was looking for. Cheesy, sprawling epic with so much fighting you start to get bored. But with all the humour and self-referential moments I couldn't put the books down.

Triumph of the City - Edward Glaeser

An interesting read on why and how cities are economically and environmentally superior to other forms of living. This is a the books I picked up after seeing the author interviewed on The Daily Show (Jon Stewart, not RTE). While I tend to agree with his overall premise, he does seem a bit too lax on planning and zoning, with a strong belief in the market's ability to solve everything. I wonder if it could be put on a reading list for city and county councillors?

The Information - James Gleick

As a teenager, James Gleick's Chaos was the book that probably pushed me to study maths in college. Based on how that career ended up, that may not be a glowing reference but it was certainly a seminal book. So I was quite excited to see that after a long break, Gleick was back writing again. And what a book. Covering the history of computing, communication and coding with lots of entertaining anecdotes. All the usual heroes of the story are covered as are many names that I didn't recognize but whose contributions to technology are huge.

A Kingdom Besieged - Raymond E Feist

So I claimed my fantasy was usually a bit more high brow. Well this isn't it. Feist is my guilty please. He hasn't written a really good book in years (Shadow of a Dark Queen?) but I can't help but get sucked in every time a new book is published. And he's done it again with the start of another series in the Riftwar cycle. I couldn't actually tell you what happened in this book except the Kingdom gets invaded by Kesh. The rest is the same as in every other series but I'll keep reading them nonetheless.

Dave Gorman vs The Rest of the World

A highly entertaining read as Dave Gorman challenges the world to games of anything from ping pong, to laser-based boardgames of the 80s. Read this straight through in one day.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life - Bill Bryson

A room by room history of everything that happens in the home. As with all Bryson books, full of quirky little bits of information. But a hefty tome - you wouldn't want to be reading it while standing on the bus or train. Definitely one for the comfort of the couch.

A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin

Amazing. Well worth the wait. Not going to say anything else for fear of spoilers!

Transition - Iain Banks

This on the other hand was pretty poor. Daft premise, irritating characters and disjointed story. Probably should have given up about half way through but fell for sunk cost fallacy.

The Ripple Effect - Alex Prud'homme

Another Daily Show suggestion. With all the recent talk about Dublin's water issues, both mains and sewage, along with the Shannon scheme, this was an interesting perspective on how the water issue plays out in the US. While it was a bit of a slog to read at times, there was a lot of information and useful lessons that could be learned. Another one for the politicians' reading list.

Surface Detail - Iain M. Banks

Still reading this, but it really shows that The Culture novels are where Banks really shines. Having the point-of-view characters die in both of the first two chapters is an interesting way to start a book. Can't help but love it.