Category Archives: Ireland

Why haven’t we rioted in the streets?

Every now and then I ask myself why the Irish people haven’t been in greater uproar over the devastating cutbacks in public services, teaching, and welfare benefits that have had to be made over the past few years. There have been some mass protests, but not the sort of turmoil one might find in Greece. Tom O’Connor, in today’s Irish Examiner, has a good take that’s worth reading:

What else stirs the Irish indifference to protest and uprising? The historical evidence argues that the ‘gombeen’-type ‘cute hoorism’ of Irish people has become part of the cultural makeup of many. During the Famine, the emerging middle class were more than happy to have three million starve or perish by 1870; it left more land for them.

They, along with the merchants and food producers, were not going to share during the Famine. This same class of people, the erstwhile Irish rural-landed class were and are the Irish movers and shakers.

They moved in to government and in Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil were never going to allow the class-based politics of the ‘haves and have-nots’ break out..

The sayings ‘cover your ass’ and ‘don’t rock the boat’ became national mantras.! That this is anathema to protest is obvious.

Orange madness

Cedar Lounge Revolution has some good comments on how the latest issue of The Orange Standard could be a sign of how paranoid the Orange Order has become. It’s “Roman Catholic IRA” comments are just out of order. Along with that, I would say that the Order seems to be attempting to instigate trouble more than anything else, even if it’s petty, niggling trouble of an outdated kind.

Read the Belfast Telegraph article here.

Labour plans a clear-out

Although it’s not something they’ve come up with on their own, to be fair the party is embracing the zeitgeist of an electorate bitter and bruised by Fianna Fáil activities and the recession. The key points of Labour’s agenda for “a merit society, where those in public life take responsibility for their actions; where transparency is the norm, not the exception; and where the public interest is at the heart of decision-making” are:

  • Cleaning out the boards of the banks
  • Controlling land and property speculation
  • Ending the link between big money and politics
  • Legislating to regulate the practice of political lobbying
  • Introducing Whistleblowers Protection legislation
  • Extending Oireachtas powers of oversight and investigation
  • Restoring the Freedom of Information Act

The party has actually managed to skip a whole point from its summary: making good corporate governance a requirement, not an option. *sigh* Purely looking at the point list above, one and two are extremely vague and very much children of our times. Point three has been around as long as big business and shouldn’t surprise anyone, given Labour’s socialist origins (even if it would be great for Irish politicis). The last point should be supported as widely as possible.

Digging in to the document itself, I found the plan for cleaning out the bank boards to be short on substance. It’s basically fire everyone on the boards of banks covered by the Government’s savings guarantee. Not original, and not necessarily right either as it would gut the banks of expertise and punish people who may not have had a guiding role in the bad practice of recent years. Following the indiscriminant firings, the party wants a banking commission to “oversee the rebuilding of the banking sector according to much stricter criteria”. The body would have to approve banks’ business plans and oversee all board and executive appointments.

And that’s it as far as cleaning up the banks is concerned. Some might say it’s enough, but I’d like to know a lot more about who appoints the commission and what its precise legal standing and powers would be. There’s no mention of what sanctions it can take against a bank it sees as stepping out of line.

When it comes to making good corporate governance the law, I think it’s hard to dispute that that might be necessary. However, I take issue with the plan to prevent non-executive directors to sit on a board for more than seven consecutive years. Where would it end? The precedent could quite easily trail out into other sectors (I am aware that there is already a limit to presidential terms, but that’s a public office voted for and supported by taxpayer money). I don’t know how many people would like to be told they can only do a job for seven years at a go (unless they hate it).

Some slight alarm bells when it comes to property:

“To ensure that Ireland is never again devastated by a property bubble, Labour in government would:

  • Legislate for the purchase of land by the State at current use value plus 25 per cent.
  • Immediately end all tax incentives and shelters related to property development, with immediate effect. For example, Section 23-type reliefs which allow individuals to write off their investment against all other income.”

While ending tax incentives is fine, I was slightly alarmed at the first point. Does the strategy mean “current” as in 2009, or will it be applied to land values whenever the purchase (this only applies for buying land for public works such as schools, etc) takes place? Bear in mind that the report it cites was written in 1973 — unless Labour wants 1970s land prices to apply.

Okay, I’m being flippant with the last sentence. But who will determine “current use value”? And why would the State be willing to add a 25% premium? Certainly, it would encourage people to sell land to the State over private developers, but at what cost to the exchequer? Ireland is already swimming in debt and the school building programme is being knifed. Also, there is nothing in that point that would stop land prices from spiralling out of control in the future. Nixing tax incentives will help, but considering that Labour wants to prevent a property bubble from happening again the party doesn’t seem to have addressed all the issues.

I can happily state that I’m in favour of the party’s aim that “no one individual should be able to use his or her personal wealth to decide the content of our Constitution”. However, while I accept that limiting political donations and introducing spending limits on elections from local to European and general is a good way to go, there’s nothing in the document about what actions can or might be taken in the event that the law is abused. Limiting a donation does not necessarily limit access, even if point five, regulation of political lobbying, makes some strides in this regard. Hopefully the party will make a concrete definition of “a lobbyist” if it gets into power and can bring the legislation forward. Generally speaking though, the party’s attitude toward political funding and lobbying is a good way of levelling the playing field and contributing toward transparency.

The plan to extend Oireachtas oversight of the Government is weak. Yes, ministers would be obliged to give full answers. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Dáil is responsible for monitoring the government. A majority of TDs in favour of one party isn’t going to vote in favour of that government’s decisions being scrutinised. Why should politicians be watching over themselves, if Labour wants to ensure that banks and business can’t regulate themselves?

The Freedom of Information Act needs an absolute overhaul and Labour’s strategy on this is worth reproducing in full:

  • Restore the Freedom of Information Act so that it is as comprehensive as was originally intended.
  • Reform the fee structure for Freedom of Information requests so that cost does not discourage individuals and organisations from seeking information.
  • Extend the remit of the Freedom of Information Act, and the remit of the Ombudsman Act, to the Garda Síochána, the Central Bank and many other statutory bodies, and bodies significantly funded from the public purse, that are currently excluded.

The high charges for information are an affront to transparency (I accept that a certain level is necessary for merely handling the requests, getting the information, and dissuading time wasters) and the fact that many State agencies are exempt from the Act is absurd. Do I speak here with a journalist’s bias in favour of information? Possibly. But it is difficult to argue that the Act as it stands is crippled and limits access to the material necessary for transparency.

Overall, it’s a mediocre but sincere effort from the Labour Party. As a broad plan it’s decent enough, and some of the plans are well enough advanced that they might even come to something. However, and while I appreciate that the document was likely written with clarity in mind, because that would just switch off readers, it has a long way to go.

Councillors avoid contact with voters


Councillors running in the upcoming local elections are putting flyers through letterboxes marked “sorry I missed you” — but aren’t actually calling to the door. The notes are handwritten in biro, but the doorbell is left unrung and nobody knocks. This happened to me yesterday while I and two other people were in the house (there were two cars outside), and similar stories have been discussed on local radio. I got one from Councillor Tim Lombard of Fine Gael, although I categorically stress that I don’t know which parties the other runaways belong to. Regardless, it’s not very good form from a man whose slogan is “keeping in touch”.

I can understand a Fianna Fáil candidate doing this — that party is likely to suffer greatly in the elections due to economic mismanagement and the emergency budget — but surely Fine Gael would want to do its utmost to capitalise on this. Do they not want to answer questions? Do they want to avoid being caught up in an “all politicians are shits” rant at the doorstep? Or are they not handing out their own flyers and writing the little notes as a way to hide this? I couldn’t see who dropped the leaflet through, just a flicker of shadow at the door.

Has this happened to you? What do you think of it?

RTÉ's apology

Photo: from The Guardian website, which in turn got it from RTÉ

By apologising for broadcasting a report on the nude portrait hung in the National Gallery by a “guerrilla artist” (a fun, quirky story if ever there was one), our national broadcaster has shown it has no resolve and is at the whim of the government. It’s a story that deserved to be covered, purely on the question of how somebody got into the galleries and hung the painting without being stopped. Stories offend the people involved frequently, largely because they don’t want the world knowing about what’s going on related to them. That’s perfectly understandable. However, to give in and issue an apology for what on the face of it seems to be political reasons is just journalistic cowardice.

To quote Gavin Sheridan (who has the original story and apology here): 

Last time I checked, Brian Cowen was a servant of the people, not their master… RTÉ are now officially lapdogs of the Government. 

RTÉ should be ashamed of itself.