Saturday, December 20, 2008
Which returns me to the matter of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill itself. Despite some reservations on my part on a number of matters (including empowering the Justice Minister to introduce yet another amnesty of illegal-immigrants), I am of the view that in the final analysis, this legislation should be supported. With a staggering 60% of judicial-reviews granted in 2007 (1,100 overall) relating to the asylum and immigration-process (compared to approximately 2% of the population having been in the asylum-process at one time or another since 1994), there is an unanswerable case for streamlining the appeals-process to weed out the antics of what Integration Minister Conor Lenihan described last January as a "voracious group of barristers" in the Law Library who are clogging up the system and who are primarily responsible for the endless delays in the execution of deportation-orders. The Bill would allow for the immediate deportation without notice of failed asylum-seekers, including those in the process of judicial-review applications (unless the judge grants an injunction preventing deportations - a weakness in my view), as well as substantially increasing the powers of immigration-officers to refuse entry to the state at ports-of-entry to the State. The refusal of what is termed "permission-to-land" since former Minister McDowell has been no small part of the reasons for the massive decline in the numbers claiming asylum here since the peak of 2002 it reached when asylum-seekers were granted the right to work in this country (another factor was the removal of that questionable right, which undermined the integrity of the asylum process as a source of refuge rather than of economic-migration). Likewise the end (finally) of the absurd 'fair procedures' that dictated the State had to forewarn would-be deportees of their deportation-dates is eminently sensible to all but the most gullible of observers. The Irish people can - and no doubt will - continue to wonder why on earth the legislation has taken 2 years to get this far - and when it will pass into law. Which is where I return to the questionable role being played by the two Opposition parties in objection to some of its provisions. Fine Gael in particular would do well to remember its notorious tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, while Labour would do well to recall Irish Ferries and where unregulated and unrestricted immigration policies ultimately lead. None of this is intended on my part as a scapegoating of newcomers to our court. On the contrary, I recognise the valuable contribution many legal-migrants to our country have made. But they of all people should - and I believe do - recognise that a system that rewards illegal-immigration to this country with leave to remain and the right to work on par with those who came here through lawful channels and in conformity with the rules is unfair to the latter. True equality demands that all are equally accountable to the law, and that is why this legislation must be passed presently.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
But we shouldn't even be having a second campaign without substantial changes to the text of this Treaty. It is by far the most dangerous document ever to be presented to an Irish electorate or parliament since the Act of Union, and represents the funeral march of democracy within the European Union. A Union founded on democracy would become one founded on dictatorship of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels and Luxembourg (the seat of the European Court of Justice), and one in which Ireland and other small member states revert to the colonial status they spent centuries fighting and shedding blood to extract themselves from. What would De Valera think of placing a document like the Charter of Fundamental Rights supersede the Constitution he founded and passed in 1937? Or about a voting system that weighted the vote of Ireland on the Council of Ministers according to population by removing the overepresentation of small countries, as if we were a mere constituency of a superstate like in when we were part of the British Empire (except we had 20% of the MPs in the House of Commons compared to 2% in the European Parliament). As the architect of Irish neutrality, what would he think of our participation in the EU Battlegroups and the European Defence Agency, as well as the requirement in the Lisbon treaty that we "progressively increase" our military-capability? Of of the prospect, plain to see in the Referendum Bill 2008 that the Government may cede its veto on Justice and Home Affairs without recourse to a referendum? This is just my opinion but I firmly believe he would turn in his grave. The answer is still no, and will remain so until the elite comes back with a document that respects not only our no vote to the substantive issue last June, but also those of France and the Netherlands, whose democratic-voices are being trampled upon by the jackboots of Brussels and its faceless bureaucrats.
For 20 years 30-54% of voters turning out have been voting no and no publication has been representing them in the press. In that context the entry of the Sunday Times, Irish Mail/MoS and the Irish Sun has been a breath of fresh air and it isn't simply a case of being inducted into some purely British-ideology. Most Irish eurocritics are, unlike the UK Eurosceptics, pro-EU membership and even the Euro currency but oppose this Treaty. We differ from the pro-Lisbon folks in that we don't confuse being a good European with being a compliant one. Ultimately, we are the real pro-Europeans because we are standing up for Europe's traditional democratic foundations upon which the EU was built. Lisbon is an attempt by Brussels at sabotaging those foundations (unwitting or intentional) and if it succeeds will collapse the project in the longterm. The French and Dutch voted no, and their wishes are not being respected either by their own parliaments/govts or by ours. I believe that there is more to Europe than the politicians and their grand-designs. The 500 million EU citizens are the real Europe, and the cowardly way that their politicians ran away from promises of referenda when the French and Dutch voted no in 2005 demonstrates a fear of and resistance to allowing the peoples of Europe a direct say by referenda in matters concerning institutional reform in and transfer of sovereignty to the EU institutions. I am pro-EU, but I don't think this Treaty is consistent with maintaining popular support for the European project in the longterm. The EU will only survive with popular consent, and steamrolling something through against the democratically-expressed wishes of its nations (at citizen-level not just the elite) will only bring a Bastille moment closer. I don't want that to happen, and welcome a no vote as an opportunity for the EU to undergo the exercise in soulsearching and democratic-reforms that it failed to engage in following the French and Dutch no votes. Voting no is a positive, pro-EU step - not an anti-EU one.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
But there are broader implications for this country beyond what I have outlined above. As the economy teeters on the brink of a recession becoming a depression, the maintenance of American Foreign Direct Investment in this country becomes all the more critical to our eventual emergence from this dark economic-tunnel into which Fianna Fáil incompetence has forced us. The Obama manifesto sets out policies that would make it much more difficult for US corporations to shelter their overseas income from the US tax authorities while incentivising them to create more jobs at home. Faced with a budget deficit that could yet reach $1 trillion, the intent is obviously to increase government revenues while stimulating economic activity on the ground. This is in keeping with policies designed to reverse the downside in the US from globalisation, where many multinationals have outsourced operations to cheaper locations overseas at a cost of millions of jobs.With US stock markets in dire condition and many companies struggling for survival, Obama will have to measure the desirability of a higher tax take against the risk of endangering company viability or competitiveness in the global market. After all, his most urgent immediate task in the White House will to be to arrest the rapid decline of the US economy, which is in the maw of a crisis comparable with the Great Depression of the 1930s.Tax policy - a fundamental economic lever for any government - will be crucial to that effort. Obama was co-sponsor of a Senate bill last year that aimed to bring some $30 billion of business profits into the US tax net by curtailing the use of secretive offshore tax havens.Such jurisdictions offer zero or very low tax rates, a lack of transparency and the absence of any requirement to carry out real business. While Ireland was not specifically named, his manifesto includes a pledge to significantly modify the rules on the "deferral" of US taxation on business profits earned overseas. Deferral means means corporations don't pay US tax on foreign profit from active business until the money in question is returned to the US. A reform of the rule could see a greater portion of foreign profits taxed in the year they are booked, increasing a corporation's upfront tax bill and potentially acting as a disincentive to foreign direct investment unless there is a compelling reason to be in a market. In theory at least, an outright elimination of the system could seriously threaten US investment in Ireland."Unless you have a real reason to be in that market you probably might think twice about investing," said Leonard Levin, a tax attorney at New York accounting firm Weiser.
All of this underlines the fallacy of the government's growing obsession with the rejected ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. Mary Harney was right in 2000 to describe Ireland as "closer to Boston than Berlin", and the no vote was in part a reflection of that. Since the birth of the Celtic Tiger (which was conceived by the reforms of 1987 and 1989-92), our political elite in the cocoon on Kildare St has been feeding us a false narrative that seeks to attribute the boom to the European Union. This is a false narrative and now more than ever deserves to be challenged. Where was Brussels when we needed them over the Government's deposit-account guarantee scheme? The reality is that at a time when their judgement is being tested more than ever over the economy, Fianna Fáil and the Greens need a distraction, and their 'jihad' to foist Lisbon on the Irish people looks as good as any in terms of attempting to keep the recession (or as increasingly looks likely a Depression) off the frontpages. In this, they have been unsuccessful, but with Fianna Fáil on 25% in the latest TNS-MRBI Irish Times opinion-poll, a kitchen-sink strategy has obviously been decided upon. The incessant smear-campaign against Libertas founder and anti-Lisbon campaigner Declan Ganley has been the hallmark of a Government campaign against the wishes of its own people. Devoid of understanding and in some cases even of readership of the contents of the Treaty, they have resorted to playing the man and not the ball. As the recent visit to Ireland by the Czech President has shown, they are prepared to stretch legality to its very limits by restricting access for the Irish media to the dinner attended with members of the Government. The Czech media, on the other hand, were allowed in. Is this the kind of freedom the media and the Irish people can expect under the Charter of Fundamental Rights which would be enshrined into European law under the Lisbon Treaty, should it be ratified? Was it for this our forefathers died in 1916 and the War of Independence? Did they die so that a foreign-dominated European Court of Justice could overrule the Irish Supreme Court on all matters of fundamental human-rights (through the Charter) ranging from capital-punishment for rebellion against the EU, free-legal aid to illegal-immigrants appealing against their deportations (Article 47), the right to remain illegally in a member state (Article 21), the potential reopening of the Irish-born child loophole closed in the 2004 Citizenship referendum (Article 24), the prevention of criminals being tried again after acquittal even if new evidence as to their guilt comes to light (Article 50), the right to strike (Article 28)? I think not. Keep Ireland free and in control of its destiny. Welcome those - like President Klaus, who would stand with the Irish people against imperial encroachments by the Big States, and stand up to those, like Sarkozy and Merkel, who want us to 'vote again' until we give them the 'right answer' that even President Sarkozy's own people wouldn't give him in the 2005 referendum on the EU Constitution. The answer is still no.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
In West Virginia the vote-flipping scandal, initially seemingly confined to one county, is now spreading to other counties and states. Having started in Jackson county, and is now spreading to Puttnam and Martinsburg counties, and even South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee: In West Virginia, voter Nancy Roe said she clicked on all her choices --- including two candidates for Bluffton Town Council. But when she reviewed her selections before actually casting the ballot, she noticed that her two picks for the Bluffton Town Council did not register. Her husband had the same problem.With the assistance of a Hilton Head employee, the two attempted to re-cast their ballots. Again, it didn't work.They resolved the problem by casting paper ballots for the council race, Nancy Roe said."I'm real political, so I checked the ballot," she said. "If I had only given it a quick glance and punched 'vote,' I never would've known." The Charleston Gazette is reporting “Some early W.Va. voters angry over switched votes....three West Virginia voters complained that touch-screen machines in one county clerk’s office kept switching their votes from Democratic to Republican candidates.On Thursday, the Gazette reported that despite the problems in her state, Republican West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland, who selected the Omaha, Neb.-based ES&S machines, issued a response that she has confidence “the machines will provide West Virginia with a fair, accurate and clean election.”. ES&S spokesperson Ken Fields told the Mineral Wells Index by phone Thursday.“In each case, when they notified a poll worker, the poll worker was able to help voters select and ultimately cast their vote,” he added.“Every voter is required to review their selection. Voters have to review and confirm that the machine is highlighting the selection they intended,” he added, calling the machine’s ballot review process, “an important element and one more assurance that every voter can have.”“There was no indication there was any problem with the machines,” Fields concluded about the West Virginia machines. He further pointed out that the iVotronic machines have a paper backup and said each machine is “rigorously tested by independent testing experts” before leaving the company and calibrated and tested before each election. Jones said she spoke with Smith about the problems with the machine she used at the Palo Pinto County Courthouse.“Bobbie was upset at the situation when she called back,” said Jones. “She told me, ‘We had all kinds of trouble the last time we used these machines.’ She said she would call the vendor right away and they will come fix it.”“I said, ‘You need to stop using that machine right now,’” Jones added."
Some might be tempted, from ideological bias or complacency, to believe that this problem is localised and not representative of what will happen nationally, but I beg to differ. —At least two Palo Pinto County, Texas residents say they too experienced early voting problems when the touch-screen voting machines they used kept switching their straight-party vote from Democratic to Republican.“When I cast an early vote Wednesday at Palo Pinto County Courthouse, my vote was switched from Democrat to Republican right in front of my face — twice,” reported Lona Jones, a Precinct 1 county resident.Intending to vote straight party on the Democratic ticket, Jones said she was surprised Wednesday when the electronic voting machine “on the left as you face the machines” in the courthouse basement asked her if she wanted to cast her vote for a straight Republican ticket.Thinking she had pushed the wrong button the first time the machine “came up Republican,” Jones said she repeated her intended straight-party vote.“The second time I was sure to just touch the Democratic button,” she said, further reporting that the machine responded to her selection, “’Do you want to change your Republican straight ticket vote to a Democratic vote?’ I pressed, ‘Yes,’ then it came back up and it was a total Republican ticket again.”One election judge helped her cancel her vote and switch her to the machine on the right side, where she was able to cast her vote as she intended.“One of the ladies told me, ‘These machines don’t work well’ and, ‘These machines give us problems.’ I told her I not only didn’t want to use that machine, indicating the problematic first machine, I didn’t want anyone using that machine.”When Jones returned home, she made calls — first to County Clerk Bobbie Smith who was out of the office conducting early voting in Mineral Wells — then to other elected officials. In Tennessee some voters even claimed that the ES+S DREs even switched their votes the other way around - from McCain to Obama. But there's no escaping the fact that 99% of the time with these e-voting glitches, it's the Democrats who are suffering, and that can only give rise to understandible, and probably justified, suspicions that once more, the GOP are stealing an election.
In my personal opinion, as a former enthusiast for electronic-voting here in Ireland, these revelations should not be used - as many inevitably will - to bash the principle of introducing e-voting here in Ireland. If there are lessons to be learned from this debacle for us in Ireland, it is surely that the counting of the votes, and the management of the elections themselves, needs to be divorced from partisan political-figures, something that is manifestly not the case in the US. The rigging of American elections arguably handed the presidency to 3 Republicans (Rutherford B Hayes, Benjamin Harrison and probably George W Bush too). As the former two elections, in 1876 and 1886 obviously precede electronic-voting, it cannot, on its own, be blamed for the unhappy tradition of voter disenfranchisement and suppression in the United States. But it certainly proves Lenin's maxim that what matters is who counts, rather than who votes, in an election. The number of counties in the swing states using the ES+S DRE voting-machines are as follows: Colorado: 2, Indiana: 16 (10 as backups), Ohio: 9 (1 as backups), Pennsylvania: 23 (1 backup), West Virginia: 41 (9 backups), Virginia: 5, Wisconsin: 2 as backups, North Carolina: 37. And this doesn't even include the innumerable number counties using ES+S optical-scanners that 'count' paper-ballots. Of course voter-fraud is not confined to countries using e-voting. But it certainly becomes much easier without an audit-trail, and in Pennsylvania, much of Virginia and Indiana, there will be none in this election. The election could be stolen and the probability of it being proven in court is infinitessimal. The American electoral-system is dominated by elected Secretaries of State in 49 of the 50 states, who are normally elected. In the case of West Virginia, Texas and South Carolina, the 3 states referred to in paragraph one, the holders of that position, Betty Ireland, Hope Andrade and Mark Hammond respectively, are all Republicans, just like Katharine Harris in the scandalous 2000 US Presidential Election in Florida. The Help America Vote (Republican?) Act 2002, puts these kinds of officials more in the driving-seat of elections at state-level by requiring them to centralise electoral-registers at state level. In Ohio, which no Republican has been elected president without winning, the Republicans are trying to bully the Democratic Secretary of State to throw 200,000 supposedly 'potentially fraudulent' voters off the register. The House Minority Leader, John Boehner, has written a leader calling for the US Justice Department to investigate the 200,000 registrations. So we shouldn't be too surprised if Bush intervenes to try to force Secretary Brunner to submit to the GOP's demands. Anecdotal evidence suggests many of the registrants that do not match federal records are not fraudulent by a result of misspellings. In Montana, a state GOP official challenged nearly 6,000 voters living in Democratic strongholds who filed change of address forms with the U.S. Postal Service. Registrations must contain current addresses. After the Montana Democratic Party filed a federal lawsuit challenging the request, the state party backed down. In Michigan, the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign sued the Michigan and Macomb County Republican parties after learning of an alleged Republican plan to use foreclosure addresses to keep some residents who've failed to update their address from voting. The suit was settled last week and the information will not be used. But clearly the GOP is going back to its old tricks of trying to disenfranchise minority-voters - especially African-Americans - 90% of whom vote Democratic in presidential elections. Given the disaster of Iraq and impending war with Iran, the Republicans disdain for the fight against global-warming, and the importance to the survival of Western democracy of a fair election in the United States, the world can but hope this time they are not successful.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
After the humiliation of seeing our politicians cowtow to Europe following our no vote by largely refusing to rule out either a rerun of a referendum on an identical text to the rejected Lisbon Treaty, or (Enda Kenny and Fine Gael being an honorable exception to this rule) parliamentary ratification of parts of Lisbon in the Houses of the Oireachtas, we can at least say that in the matter of Libertas funding, that the fact that not all our elected representatives have associated themselves with this latter-day Inquisition directed at dissent towards the Lisbon-model of European integration will be a source of relief, but the parties here are certainly not united in such a stance. Hardly a day goes by without Europe Minister Dick Roche muttering menacingly about the 'shadowy' origins of Libertas and its supposed links to the US military, most recently with respect to contracts in Alaska. The controversy surrounding Ganley's company, Rivada Networks, began during the Lisbon campaign, with vague accusations from the pro-Treaty side about links to neocons and the US military. What was not mentioned was the nature of these links, which pertained to emergency-disaster relief such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - hardly relevant to the foreign policy of George W Bush. Despite an almost one-dimensional fixation with the finances and activities of Declan Ganley's company and Libertas, Roche and the yes side have failed to make anything stick where he is concerned. The latest from Roche's website refers to what is described as a "loophole" in American Federal Procurement legislation "that allows military contractor's such as Rivada Networks Ltd to get contracts without any form of public competitive tendering, hardly an advertising and for either accountability or transparency. ". Someone should perhaps tell Minister Roche that if something is not illegal then it is not a crime, and that given SIPO has revealed his party to have only disclosed where 13% of its money is coming from, that perhaps his party should cease inhabiting an ethical-glass house before throwing stones. For the disclosure threshold beyond which donations to political-parties must be revealed is itself a loophole, and as such going by Roche's standards is also " hardly an advertising and for either accountability or transparency.". If you're going to talk the talk Minister, then your party should also walk the walk or Dún do bhéal.
But that should not let them off the hook. Having failed to defend Irish sovereignty either in the negotiations on the Lisbon treaty themselves, the subsequent referendum and in the case of most of the "Yes" parties their reaction to the brave Irish rejection of the Treaty on June 12th, they must now show themselves worthy not only in letter but also in spirit of the accolades of being the representatives of the people. For it is debatable whether the current complexion of Dail Éireann would be as now had last year's General Election been held in the aftermath of that no vote. Defenders of the thesis of representative as opposed to direct-democracy, including Irish Times writers Ruth Barrington and Stephen Collins argue that Oireachtas ratification of at least parts of the Treaty despite the rejection of the referendum by the Irish people is not undemocratic, as representative-democracy as embodied by national parliaments is an equally legitimate expression of democracy. But I beg to differ. Each EU member state has its own respective model of democracy. It is the norm across Europe that except in exceptional cases pertaining to national sovereignty and other areas, national parliaments can ratify treaties as they see fit - if in some cases - such as where national constitutions may be impinged on - this requires weighted rather than simple-majorities. But in the Irish context, direct-democracy has been an intrinsic and I believed highly-prized core principle of our democratic-model since 1937. It's detractors would do well to recall the fate of the Scottish Parliament of 1707, the Irish Parliament in 1800, and the French National Assembly in 1940, before recommending handing our politicians the constitutional blank-cheque such an absolutist adherance to "representative democracy" would give to them. For it was the 1937 Constitution that saved the liberties of the Irish people on scores of occasions over the past 71 years. As a constitution that was largely the workmanship of Fianna Fáil, it ill behoves Mary O'Rourke to be advocating circumvention of the result of the referendum that was ultimately a product of that Constitution. It's less surprising to hear such calls coming from Fine Gael figures like Senator Eugene Regan, who called for Oireachtas ratification with the intrument of a referendum being confined to issues such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Indeed it's ironic that it seems to be the leadership of Fianna Fáil, rather than Fine Gael, that seems the more inclined towards legislative ratification. It was, after all, Fine Gael that was the great defender of the 1922 Constitution, with its elitist proviso that constitutional amendments would be the prerogative of the Oireachtas to the exclusion of the prior requirement for binding referenda. In contrast, it is Enda Kenny, rather than Brian Cowen, that is courageously and stoutly defend the prerogative invested in the people by the 1937 Constitution that gives them a veto on constitutional changes or the transfer of sovereignty to supranational institutions. Can it be, following the Varadkar proposals on voluntary repatriation and the more positive proactive positioning of the party in support of the long-overdue reform of the public-sector, that Fine Gael is finally on the long road to making itself electable as a credible alternative party of government? I think so.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
The fault for the demise of the PDs can only partly be laid at their door. Entering govt in 2002 when FF didn't need them and when their ability to implement their economic agenda (especially the wideranging privatisation in the 2002 manifesto) was almost nonexistent was a terrible mistake. They chose non-economic portfolios which changed how they were identified by the public from being associated with economic growth to the failings in our justice system and health-service instead. They allowed themselves to become FF's mudguards. FF treated their proposals for cafe-bars with open contempt, and procrastination on Aer Lingus privatisation for four years. McDowell alienated 2 sources of transfers before the 2007 election - FG voters annoyed that they didn't pull out of govt over Bertiegate, and FF voters annoyed that they showed signs of being unsure of whether to remain in govt with FF. FF voters are historically reluctant to transfer to parties perceived as hostile to FF. Much - though by no means all - of their economic agenda has been poached by FF and FG e.g. income tax cuts, some privatisation (though nothing on the scale the PDs wanted). This combined with the other factors helped these parties ween some "soft" PD voters back to those parties who were usually their natural political-homes anyway. A hate campaign in most of the print media - notably the Star. Part of this was a vendetta against McDowell for defeating them in the Citizenship referendum, while part of it was that the anti-FF press saw the PDs as the weakest link, whose destruction would prevent FF remaining in govt. Many microparties had their moment of glory at around 10% before fizzling out over a 20 yr or so period. The end of the Northern conflict undermined their appeal to voters attracted to anti-Sinn Féin rhetoric, while the Good Friday Agreement, supported by all the Dail parties, meant that the PDs were no longer offering a unique stance on the Northern conflict. Ironically, in this respect the party was a victim of its own success. As someone who voted for Colm O'Gorman in 2007, I have to say that I was nonetheless disappointed with the party-manifesto that year. Where was the far-reaching programme of privatisation of the 2002 campaign (including ESB and Bord Gáis)? And why is Harney trying to push through Risk Equalisation payments by the VHI's competitors in the health-insurance industry - something that surely flies in the face of the competition that the party always claimed to stand for? After the surrender to Fianna Fáil over café-bars, it looked to many voters that the party no longer represented something distinct enough from Fianna Fáil to be worth supporting. To paraphrase Michael McDowell they lost their radicalism and so became redundant.
The Left are already toasting the death of the party they love to hate. Fergus Finlay, who coined the phrase about talks with Sinn Féin not being "worth a penny candle", told George Hook on Newstalk that it was "good riddance" to the PDs, despite his admiration for some of its figures like Des O'Malley. SF Cavan-Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said "We may be witnessing the dying days of the Progressive Democrats and truly progressive people in Ireland will shed no tears over their demise.". But maybe they are celebrating too soon. It is arguable that what was rejected in 2007 was not neo-liberal economics per se, but rather the failure of PD ministers to implement them in their portfolios at Justice and Health. An Irish Independent poll published shortly before the election found a small plurality in favour of hospital-colocation. But Harney's laudible plan has taken an eternity to get off the ground, and still has not really done so in a major way. She will probably be remembered as the woman who sacrificed her party for the overriding goal of health-service reform, but there are questions to be asked as to why it took four years to negotiate a new consultants' contract, and whether it would have been delivered quicker in Coalition with a weaker Fianna Fáil that actually depended on the PD's for survival in government. No. What was rejected in 2007 was not neo-liberal economics, of which the only real element in the party manifesto was cuts in the bottom and marginal-rates of income-tax. to 38% and 19%. The reasons for the rejection of the PDs had nothing to do with economics, and everything to do with the poaching of their ideology on taxation, the lack of health-service reform, the inheritance of the mistakes of previous Fianna Fáil health-ministers in that department (including nursing-home charges) but which were blamed on Harney, notably by the vicious cartoon in the Irish Star portraying Harney as digging up a graveyard to make the dead pay for their nursing-home charges. The reality is that no party was really offering a neo-liberal platform to the electorate last year. McDowell seemed to vacillate between supporting the re-election of the Coalition with Fianna Fáil on the one hand, and supporting withdrawl on the other hand, and voters do not like feeling that their differing motives for voting for or transferring to a party are being manipulated for party-advantage. They saw through McDowell's spin, and while the party did not deserve what happened to it perhaps the leadership did. But there is still, I believe, a gap in the Irish electoral-market for an economically liberal party, and I trust in time it will arrive, whether in the form of a continuing shift to the Right in Fine Gael (signs of which include Richard Bruton's plan for a quango cull), along with support for an immigration policy that is fair but firm. The question is whether Labour would play a similar role to that of the Fianna Fáil statists since 2004 by stymying an attempt Thatcherisation of the Irish economy? In that context, I think the future of Libertas, with its support for economic freedom and the defence of democracy in the European Union, may be crucial in determining the future electoral-landscape in a state and electoral-system in which the politically-small is sometimes the beautiful. At a time when the public-finances are €6 billion in debt, the cost and inefficiency of the bloated public-sector, with monopolies spanning the electricity, to the gas, and bus-sectors, are again coming under the media-radar, notably in the Irish Independent which recently called for a large privatisation programme that could raise €8 billion euros. As we approach October's emergency-budget, it is imperative that Minister Lenihan remove this albatross from around the necks of the private-sector taxpayer. If he fails to do so, then others may have to offer the country the transition from Big to Small Government that it desperately needs in these choppy economic-waters.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Sadly, the early signs point to the Establishment continuing to demonise those who attempt to quite legitimately debate the question of immigration-control and measures to protect the Irish labour-market in the context of skyrocketing unemployment - something that certainly calls into question the prospects for the survival of freedom of speech in this country. Integration Minister Conor Lenihan has accused Fine Gael TDs of attempting to create a “climate of resentment” against people who have come to Ireland to work.Mr Lenihan’s comments follow a call by Fine Gael TD Leo Varadkar for the Government to consider paying immigrant workers a lump sum payment of up to six months' worth of unemployment benefit if they agree to return home. “Leo Varadkar’s comments about migrants before a Dáil Committee are designed to create a climate of resentment against people who have come to Ireland to work,” Mr Lenihan said. He said statements had been issued by Fine Gael deputies in recent months that were of “huge concern” to him and that were “inflammatory and aimed at boosting their own profile at the expense of often vulnerable immigrants”. “The comments by Deputy Varadkar as a member of the Opposition front bench mark a new low in Irish politics and all the more so given that it appears to be a co-ordinated effort on migrant issues by Fine Gael,” the Minister said. Labour TD Sean Sherlock said Mr Varadkar's remarks were "nothing short of outrageous" and an "unwelcome lurch towards the far right" by Fine Gael. "Immigration has increased the population of Ireland, and in so doing, has increased demand for goods and services in this country, contributing in no small way to generating the economic prosperity we enjoyed in recent years," he said. Mr Varadkar asked the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment whether there was an opportunity to give three to six months' unemployment benefit to unemployed foreign nationals to encourage them to return to their own countries. In Spain, unemployed foreign nationals from 20 countries have been offered €18,000 to go home on condition they do not come back for three years. The Fine Gael TD’s remarks were described during the meeting as "very, very dangerous" by Fianna Fáil Meath TD Thomas Byrne, who said "voluntary repatriation is a new low by Fine Gael". Later, Mr Byrne said: "This comes in the dishonourable tradition of the British National Party. They are the only other party supporting voluntary repatriation." The number of such workers in Ireland is now 16 per cent of the total on the Live Register - exactly proportional to the numbers in the workforce.
So yet again, the opportunity to have a rational debate on the challenges of immigration is cast aside in favour of the failed mantra of "multiculturalism" and the portrayal of all foreign-nationals as victims (especially through their being termed "vulnerable") by the windbags of Leinster House. It is a sad situation that we are being denied a debate on the biggest societal change on this island for 400 years. Most of us are opposed to racism, and certainly that includes myself. But surely experience in other parts of Western Europe underlines the fact that racism tends to increase in a context where debate on the issue is closed down via self-censorship and the blind adherance to failed mantras and political-correctness. For example, I bring your attention to recent race-riots and gang warfare in the UK. Multiculturalism's defenders claim it will create a progressive society where the tolerance of cultural identity provides equality and opportunity for all. Positive discrimination within public institutions is supposed to engineer a change in attitudes, and result in a society comfortable with diversity. But in the UK, these practices have become divisive, creating animosity within the indigenous population. Former Tory politician, Matthew Parris of The Times has questioned the wisdom of culturally divided communities living side by side, and the natural inequalities and conflict this will naturally create. Divided ethnic communities where economic prosperity is in short supply, are always going to compete for wealth, and this competition will on occasion spill over into violence. The evidence from the UK disproves the Left's contention that multiculturalism reduces racism. Socially liberal multiculturalists will argue that inherent racism in society limits the opportunities of ethnic minorities, but surely multiculturalism “ by encouraging cultural division“ cements such attitudes. So if we are to make immigration a success it is right we should question the ethos of multiculturalism, which it could be argued is failing to create equality and social harmony. Many ethnic minority children are being failed by multiculturalism which undermines the social cohesion and productivity. Why are Indian children 20% more likely to succeed at school than Pakistani or Black children? Why is such inequality so evident after decades of the multicultural experiment? Holding up the richness and value of a culture is all well and good, but not when it's at the cost of unity and collective prosperity. Dianne Ravitch, the conservative US scholar and author, has argued that the celebration of Multiculturalism masks liberal/intellectual hostility towards the mainstream. While it took 50 years for the ethnic-minority populations of the UK and Germany to reach what I call critical-mass (10%+), it has happened in Ireland in a mere 10 years. In that context, it is important for the political-elites to wake up and recognise that if we are not to repeat the mistakes of previous countries of mass-immigration with respect to the labour market, multiculturalism, integration and unsustainable pressure on public-services, we must act now, rather than marching blindly into the abyss seen in France and the UK in the streets of Paris and Brixton. Those of us who oppose racism must ensure that our immigration policy reflects the needs of the Irish people and economy - not the leftist ideology that seeks to replace nations with "citizens of the world", or the fatcats for whom anti-racism is merely a flag of convenience behind which to hide an agenda that is actually racist because it exploits cheap foreign labour through a race to the bottom in pay and conditions, undermining both workers' rights and race-relations. We have hard realities we have to face, and the longer it takes for us to do so, the greater the risk that we repeat the mistakes of history.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Abkhazia seems undeserving of independence, given that its pro-independence demographic is a creation of ethnic-cleansing of Georgians - before the 1992-4 war 46% of the population and a majority in the capital Sukhumi - resulting in the Abkhaz, who were never a majority in the region, becoming the largest ethnic-group. The 1989 census said that the Abkhaz were 18% of the population, whereas now they are closer to 40% according to the 2003 census. Around 190,000 ethnic-Georgians were expelled and 15,000 massacred by Abkhaz, pro-Moscow militias and probably Russian troops too. The Sukhumi massacre was a gruesome attocity against the ethnic-Georgians. The late Russian journalist Dmitry Kholodov, later assassinated on a suspected contract-killijng for investigating corruption in the Russian military, witnessed the massacre and reported seeing the following: "They captured a young girl. She was hiding in the bushes near the house where they killed her parents. She was raped several times. One of the soldiers killed her and mutilated her. She was cut in half. Near her body they left a message: as this corpse will never be as one piece, Abkhazia and Georgia will never be united either." They could not have driven the Georgians out without massive military-aid from Moscow, which connived to help the separatists. It treacherously negotiated ceasefires in Sukhumi and Gagra in 1992 in which Georgian troops were promised the shelling of these cities would end if they left these cities. In fact they were stormed by the separatists and massacres ensued in which thousands of Georgians were butchered - some of them, ironically, by Chechen militia led by Shamil Basayev - the later mastermind of the Beslan massacre and prominent Chechen separatist rebel in the wars that began in Chechnya in 1994. So to grant Abkhazia international recognition as an independent state would be to reward ethnic-cleansing and should be unacceptable to the international community. The Georgian refugees expelled in the 1990's must be allowed return and then perhaps take part in a referendum on independence. But the existing yes votes cannot stand, considering their basis in ethnic-cleansing and their non-recognition by the international community, and their defiance of UNSC resolutions respecting Georgia's territorial integrity. Abkhazia's place in Georgia goes back to the ancient kingdom of Colchis, with a break during the independent kingdom of Abkhazia, which nonetheless may have been a primarily ethnic-Georgian kingdom, judging by the names of its kings. It was reunited with Georgia by marriage.
On South Ossetia, the Ossetians have been a majority since at least 1926, with a 26% Georgian minority prior to this conflict. But the Georgian claim on the territory is legitimate in moral terms because they were there first and the Ossetians migrated to SO in the 1300's following expulsion from parts of European Russia by the Mongols. In any case, North Ossetia, a Russian republic, has 10 times the Ossetian population, and as such the Ossetians already have a homeland (considering they don't want independence and have always been remarkably loyal to Russia). There is evidence that pro-Russian militia are ethnic-cleansing Georgian villages according to Human Rights Watch. I do not agree with the Georgian military-intervention here, and regard it as them falling into Russia's carefully laid trap. Russian troops have poured into the region since the NATO summit in Bucharest that refused to give Georgia and Ukraine a date for admission to the alliance. Furthermore, the Russians have been intermittently bombing parts of Georgia in a previously unsuccessfull attempt to provoke Tbilisi. Now Russia has the excuse it needs to meddle in Georgian affairs with something approaching an occupation. As with Abkhazia, the old pattern of ethnic-cleansing, destruction and looting of ethnic-Georgian villages in South Ossetia seems to be repeating itself. Human Rights Watch claims that it witnessed the destruction of the four Georgian villages of Kekhvi, Nizhnie Achaveti, Verkhnie Achaveti and Tamarasheni. In the village of Nizhnie Achaveti, Human Rights Watch researchers spoke to an elderly man who was desperately trying to rescue his smoldering house using two half-empty buckets of dirty water brought from a spring. He told Human Rights Watch that the vast majority of the residents, including his family, fled the village when active fighting between Georgian forces and South Ossetian militias broke out on August 8, but he decided to stay to look after the cattle. He said members of the South Ossetian militia came to his house on August 11, and tried to take away some household items. When he protested, they set the house on fire and left. The man said he had no food or drinking water; his hands were burned and hair was singed – apparently as he was unsuccessfully trying to extinguish the fire – and he appeared to be in a state of shock. He said that there were about five to ten elderly and sick people left in the village, all in a similar desperate condition, and many of the houses were burned.
Russian influence in the region has been the real winner here. The word has gone out that the US cannot be relied on to defend its non-NATO allies. This may well deter some from pursuing NATO membership and closer ties with the West, while in the case of the stronger Ukraine, it may cause them to push harder for it. Meanwhile the crucial Baku-Ceyhan-Tblisi oil pipeline, owned by BP and carrying 1 million barrels worth of oil a day from Azerbaijan to Turkey (before it was temporarily put out of action by a terrorist attack in Turkey) and on to the Mediterranean, risks falling into Russia's hands. A number of attempts were allegedly made by them to bomb it already. A crucial part of exerting leverage on Russia is to develop pipelines bypassing the country. Without Georgia, this strategy is dealt a crushing blow, as Armenia - occupying 20% of Azerbaijan in a war over the ethnic-Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabkah - is hardly going to help the Azeris sell their oil. One thing I would say to those naive enough to believe the Russians on their 'humanitarian' motives for intervention, is to remember the lack of concern by the Kremlin for Chechnya's right to self-determination and its destruction of Grozny and the litany of reports of genocide from the region since 1999, as well as the curious refusal in the Sarkozy peace-plan of Russia to agree to an amendment to Point 4 (on humanitarian agencies access to the region) that would have guaranteed the right of return of refugees to their homes. Today's Irish Independent carries a harrowing report of the ethnic-cleansing of Georgian villages in South Ossetia, where villagers were informed that Putin had ordered them to be expelled or killed. Does this tally with a Russia supposedly motivated in this crisis not by territorial ambition but rather by humanitarianism and concern for the self-determination of small nations? Not to me it doesn't, but judge for yourselves. The reality is that Russia has been deliberately stoking the separatist conflicts in its former Soviet republics in order to frustrate them from NATO membership and from forging closer links to the West.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
The premise of Collins' article is wrong. He states "Attempting to salvage Ireland's place in Europe and protect future generations from the disaster of the Lisbon defeat will be the supreme test of Taoiseach Brian Cowen. If a referendum cannot be won, the only solution is for the Dáil to find a way to ratify the essential nuts and bolts of the treaty, while allowing the electorate to vote again on the issues that caused such anxiety in the campaign. The Taoiseach will have to summon up the nerve and vision displayed by Seán Lemass when he dragged the country into the modern world in the early 1960s, against some of the most basic instincts of his own party and a large chunk of the electorate. History has vindicated Lemass's decision to abandon protectionism and embrace free trade and the wider world of Europe. Brian Cowen is now facing a challenge of similar proportions. The referendum defeat has launched Ireland down the slippery slope of a retreat from involvement in Europe and a return to the status of a being a client state of Britain. A second rejection of Lisbon would inevitably doom the country to that fate for generations to come...Of course the Government would also have political hell to pay for going the legislative route but it might not be nearly as bad as some Ministers think. After all the main reason given for voting No was that people didn't understand the treaty. In that case a good proportion of the electorate might be relieved if the Dáil took on the responsibility of dealing with it, rather than opting for another long drawn out and confused public debate about issues people cannot, or will not, understand."
The article trots out the usual "yes" mantra that the people "cannot..understand" issues put to them in referenda, and implies that we need an elite, who do "understand" these issues to make the decision for us - even if it runs counter to the peoples' decision. It is notable that Collins' seems to believe that it was only on the no side that there was misunderstanding or unawareness of the Treaty's contents. That this is not correct is confirmed by the recent Eurobarometer poll on the aftermath of the no vote, which confirmed that more than one-third of "yes" voters were motivated simply by the notion that 'EU membership has benefited Ireland', which self-evidently has nothing to do with the Treaty. The Treaty will determine our future, and the so-called Brussels "largesse", which was bought by the surrender of our fishing-industry to the vultures of the Common Fisheries Policy, is immaterial to the Lisbon debate. Further, Collins' claims that we will revert to "client" status vis a vis our relationship with the UK is ludicrous. Since 1972 the percentage of our exports going to the UK has fallen from 80% to around 21%. The thesis that were we outside of the EU that would reverse simply does not stand up to scrutiny. The Icelandic, Swiss and Norwegian economies are outside of the EU and have a free-trade agreement with it. The former has just 1% unemployment, while Norway's GDP per capita is similar to our own. Within a year of the French "no" vote to the European Constitution in 2005, FDI had doubled, while Dutch unemployment fell from 4% to 2% - the lowest in the EU. So while some may attempt to draw false causalities between the Irish "no" vote and the Irish recession, the reality is that this has been coming since the beginnings of the housing-slump in late 2006. Economist Moore McDowell has recently expressed the view on Newstalk106 that the recession began a year ago. Clearly, the reasons for the end of the Celtic Tiger stem primarily from domestic factors, such as the failure of the govt to take measures to cool down the overheating housing market e.g. allowing the developers an opt-out from Part V (on social and affordable housing), but I would also contend that the one-size-fits-all interest rate consequent on our membership of EMU, which kept interest-rates too low for too long, was also a factor. I am not advocating withdrawal from EMU. Indeed I strongly support the idea that we no longer have fluctuating exchange-rates between 15 different currencies - thus preventing a recurrence of the 1992 currency-crisis during which unemployment rose to 16% as exports were hammered. Nonetheless, we may need to revisit that aspect of EMU that imposes the strait-jacket of the single interest rate on us, and it ought to be a warning against what can happen when you blindly walk the constitutional-plank into the shark-infested waters of transferring too much power to the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels, Frankfurt and Luxembourg. Something I hope Collins and the Irish Times one day wakes up to. For Cowen to follow Collins' advice would be tantamount to a reversion to an 18th-19th century, Edmund Burke concept of Government, in which what the latter called "the swinish multitude" i.e. the common people, are increasingly kept at arms length by the "men of property", in terms of political-power. The men and women of 1916 surely did not die for this.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
The "yes" side are the last people with a right to lecture others on fundraising. The report of the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) for 2007 is instructive. They found that the State’s 14 registered Dáil political parties disclosed just 13 per cent of what they claimed they spent in their General Election campaigns. Sipo said political parties disclosed donations worth €266,485. Sinn Féin and the Greens received €187,223 and €29,750 respectively from their elected representatives. Fianna Fáil and Labour each disclosed three donations totalling €19,044 and €18,648 respectively. Both Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats furnished no donation statements. Fine Gael has filed no disclosures since 2001. Political-parties are only required to disclose political donations over €5,079. The report indicates that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin, the Greens and the PDs spent €10.2 million in last year's General Election - te vast majority of which is undeclared. Fine Gael’s representatives and unsuccessful candidates disclosed in donations just 7% (€191,095) of what was actually spent, compared to 18% for Fianna Fáil (€648,000) and 1.6% (€8,079) for the Progressive Democrats. People in glass-houses shouldn't throw stones. The right to fundraise should not be the preserve of elected officials, who all too often in world history have been shown to be prone to inducements to act and advocate against the public good, as the Act of Union and the French parliament's 1940 vote to establish the Vichy Regime show. We must never return to the dark says preceding the McKenna judgement which removed the ability of yes campaigns in referenda to crowd out dissenting voices by monopolising both fundraising and airtime to peddle propaganda for their causes.
Friday, July 25, 2008
The case was taken by four African men - who had been denied residency here - against the Department of Justice. One of the plaintfiffs was Cameroon national Blaise Metock, who came to Ireland in 2006 and married fellow Cameroonian Ngo Ikeng, who had residency in Ireland and UK citizenship. Another case concerned Roland Chinedu from Nigeria. In 2006, he married German national Marlene Babucke, who was living in Ireland but was refused residency rights. But the ruling is set to make the rights of member states on their immigration policies clearer.It states that the host member state "is, however, entitled to impose penalties, in compliance with the directive, for entry into and residence in its territory in breach of the national rules on immigration." In the light of persistent reports that the residency-rule is being abused for people-trafficking - such as reported by Jim Cusack in the Irish Independent - this ruling will be a cause of great concern for an Irish public already concerned by the stormclouds of recession and the huge rise in unemployment, which has already risen to 5.7% and which economists believe will spiral to 7% in 2009. Cusack reported on a scam involving the payment of thousands of euro to Latvian women by Pakistani nationals to attain residency in Ireland. After today's ruling, the word has gone out across the developing-world that the institution of marriage can be used to circumvent the immigration-controls of Western Europe. In this context, it becomes all the more essential that Justice Minister Dermot Ahern stand firm against pressure from leftwing elites to back down on his Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill which will tighten controls on marriage by non-EU nationals. Today's ruling evokes echoes of the Chen case, whereby a Chinese woman attained residency rights arising from her child being an EU citizen by virtue of being born on the island of Ireland. As in 2004, a loophole has emerged that must be closed, not merely to fulfill our responsibility to our own citizens, but also to fulfill it to our European partners not to allow Ireland to become a backdoor to circumvent their immigration and residency-controls. Cases like these also demonstrate the federalist agenda of the ECJ, and strengthen the case for impeding passage of the Lisbon Treaty which enshrines the Charter of Fundamental Rights into European law. This situation cannot be allowed to stand.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Some will argue we need to make allowances for such a bigoted party that played such a huge role in keeping the Troubles going through wrecking the Sunningdale Agreement and nearly wrecking the Good Friday Agreement aswell, but I beg to differ. In September 2004 the British government decided to postpone a vote in the House of Commons on the Civil Partnerships Bill to avoid a clash with talks aimed aimed restoring devolved rule in Northern Ireland. In November 2006 in the NI Assembly, the DUP voted in favour of a motion condemning British government plans for equality legislation for homosexuals, which resulted in a 39-39 tie and the consequent failure of the motion. Speaking against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, Jeffrey Donaldson claimed the regulations would punish people with deeply held religious convictions, saying "All six of the world`s major religions are opposed to homosexual practice. Judaism, Islam and Christianity all teach that homosexual practice is sinful..Not all Honourable Members may agree with that, but it is a sincerely held view by Christians and people of other faiths. The regulations will interfere with the freedom to manifest to one`s religion because these are new restrictions." In 2007 in a magazine interview, Ian Paisley Jnr. MP commented about homosexuality:"I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong... I think that those people harm themselves and - without caring about it - harm society. That doesn't mean to say that I hate them. I mean, I hate what they do". As persons constantly in the public eye and responsible for the well being of those they govern, the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland are entitled to be respected by their political leaders. Robinson's, Paisley's and sentiments, like the "Save Ulster from Sodomy" campaign of her former party leader Dr.Paisley, would not look astray in the Ireland of the 1950's - nor indeed of the Ireland of the early 1990's when such prejudices were not uncommon down here in the South. It is surely ironic that the party that once taunted the Republic as "priest-ridden" should now find itself in the position of being priest-ridden in its attitude to moral issues and more so than the South, which has transformed socially and in its attitudes to religion in the last 16 years in particular.