Saturday, December 20, 2008

Opposition should tread carefully on asylum bill.

Frequentors of the blogosphere and will know of my concerns in relation to abuses of the Irish asylum and immigration system that has lead to a derisory 25% of deportation-orders actually leading to the removal of the affected-persons from this country. Sometimes I feel that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are talking out of both sides of their mouths on the issue. The same cannot be said for Labour, whose stance on the Government's Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 (now set to drag on into 2009 and a second year since the beginning of its legislative-passage), has leaned consistently towards seeking to have the legislation watered-down. The Bill is currently in Committee Stage and here is what has transpired from the proceedings there. Pat Rabbitte has insisted that provisions in the Bill for the granting of six-month visas to trafficked persons who cooperate with the Gardai in the prosecuting of their traffickers must also apply to persons claiming to have been trafficked who refuse to so cooperate. Indeed he goes as far as to call it 'the only humanitarian position this State can take'. Meanwhile Fine Gael Immigration and Integration Spokesman Dennis Naughten, while far less strident, seemed uncomfortable with the Bill's removal of the requirement of the Gardai to forewarn those issued with deportation-orders of their respective dates of deportation. This is despite the fact that just 43 people were deported from Ireland as of the end of June this year - a staggering five-sixth's reduction in the number of deportations from 599 in 2004. In broad terms, I favour the Government's proposed legislation and call on my readers and all concerned about abuse of our asylum system to contact their local TDs to push for its timely passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas. In these recessionary times, the old adage that charity begins at home has seldom been more apt than at present. With a budget-deficit of €8 billion this year - expected to rise to at least €11 billion next year - the cupboard is simply bare and it makes little sense to make the plain people of Ireland pay for the upkeep of those (in terms of accommodation, education, health and social-welfare) whose safety did not and does not require their presence in Ireland. The case of failed Nigerian asylum-seeker Pamela Izevbekhai has become a cause-celebre in liberal and Opposition circles, with Sligo Lord Mayor Veronica Cawley and the Fine Gael party hosting receptions in support of her wish to remain in Ireland. The European Court of Human Rights was due to rule on her case on 12th December, but has deferred its judgement. Predictable slogans about the spirit of Christmas et al have dominated the liberal media's relentless pressure on Minister Ahern but I now call on him to show leadership with an asylum-system that is fair to the Irish citizens of this country, rather than exclusively to failed asylum-seekers. She has been through the asylum-appeals system for years since her arrival here (she claims via Amsterdam though the Sunday Times reports Dept. of Justice officials believe she arrived on a UK tourist visa), and has been refused asylum. In the light of the absence of direct flights between Ireland and Nigeria, and the Dublin Convention which gives EU member states the legal right to return an asylum-seeker to a previous EU country of entry, the case for allowing her to remain in this country is weak. Don't get me wrong - I am appalled and outraged at the crime of Female Genital Mutilation - but the fact remains that her claims have been investigated and her claim for asylum refused. Even assuming her claims are accurate (and desperate people will say desperate things whether they be true or not for economic motives), she does not have a legal right to remain in Ireland, and in any case, FGM is simply not prevalent in most of the African continent, as this map shows. Had her motives been purely to obtain safe-refuge she could have found it in Africa. The judiciary have played the role of useful idiots in seeking to transfer to the Irish taxpayer the burden that is rightfully that of the former colonial powers in Africa at most, or neighbouring safe African countries at least. Ireland has not been stained with the blood of the native peoples of the former European colonial empires. We ourselves were an empire. And to those who persist in lauding the qualifications of failed asylum-seekers and their potential to contribute to Irish society, might I remind you of the humanitarian case for not exacerbating the terrible scourge of emigration from the Third World, which is greatly contributing to the keeping of Africa in particular in a perpetual state of poverty. Who are the real humanitarians here?

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

Lisbon pressure threatens our democracy.

With the government telling everyone but us that it intends to call a second referendum on the rejected Lisbon Treaty, the time has come to call the EU and the Irish political, media and other elites to account for the threat to democracy that is inherent in their refusal to comply with the decision of the people last June. The referendum turnout, at 53%, was higher than that of Nice 2, when the number of no voters remained largely the same numerically but the "yes" vote rose by 400,000. After the first Nice treaty referendum, the Government and the Eurocrats argued that the low turnout of just 34% justified holding a second referendum, and it was held, resulting in a turnout that had risen by 17% to 51%. However in the Lisbon referendum, the no vote soared from 534,000 to 840,000 - a huge rise of over 300,000 - compared to the second Nice treaty referendum. As such, the elite find their arguments for a second vote confined to baseless scaremongering - including in the recent report of the Oireachtas Committee on Ireland's Future in Europe - such as attempting to create imagined links between the recession and the no vote (a marked insult to the people), implying that a no vote would mean expulsion from the European Union ('effectively voting ourselves out of Europe' as Gerald Barry put it on RTE's "This Week" radio show), or other vague contentions that we are 'isolated' in Europe, invoking (as Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin did today on that latter programme) the history of European integration since 1957 as if to imply that European integration has always benefitted Ireland (a view that displaced Irish workers have reason to question). However, the more we hear from these people, the more deja vu it seems. It is likely a second referendum would mean in practice a rehash of the failed arguments of the Lisbon I campaign, but with a dose of McCarthyism added in with respect to anti-Treaty thinktank Libertas and particularly its founder Declan Ganley. As usual these consist largely of European Affairs Minister Dick Roche appearing on Prime Time and the weekend current affairs shows digging for dirt about Ganley's business dealings in the States, while finding - as usual - no evidence of illegality. And even if it were otherwise (which it wasn't), what suddenly makes Fianna Fáil the paragons of virtue in terms of political and corporate-ethics? Has Minister Roche forgotten the circumstances surrounding the departure of his former leader already? Can't he remember the 11 years of Tribunal revelations from Dublin Castle that has rightly caused masses of the Irish people - including up to 40% of Fianna Fáil voters - to take Fianna Fáil's promises and claims with a grain of salt? That is why none of this stuck in the first campaign and in all likelihood, will backfire in the second campaign.

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

Obama victory brings hope and fear

One would have to have had a heart of stone to have not been inspired by the historic milestone America and the West has reached in America electing Senator Barack Obama its first African-American president and head of state. In chronological-terms it is not long since such a landmark event would have seemed implausible if not impossible - and all the more so Obama's victory in 3 former states of the Confederate South (Virginia, North Carolina and Florida). It was personally moving to see tears rolling down the faces of icons of the Civil Rights movement such as Rev.Jesse Jackson and African-American celebrities like the talkshow-queen Oprah Winfrey. As a formerly oppressed nation ourselves, the Irish people are well aware of what it is like to be discriminated against because of the ethnic-group or religion we are born into. We endured it for 400 years under a litany of repressive legislation that began with the Statutes of Kilkenny barring the native Irish from adoption and intermarriage, and then progressed to wholesale confiscation of land under the Plantations and later on the Penal Laws. We eventually righted those wrongs, culminating in the independence of 85% of our island, and likewise the African-American community were eventually able - with the support of Progressive and tolerant Whites and Hispanics - to right the wrongs done to them. In the process they have encouraged other beleaguered minorities such as the international gay-community to press on for their rights in terms of gay rights, including marriage, and the fight against hate-crimes and discrimination in the workplace and in terms of access to goods and services. This is especially relevant as the Irish gay community await the fulfillment of the Programme for Government with respect to same-sex civil-partnerships. It is just as essential that the Government and Opposition are as vociferous in standing up to the Irish Catholic hierarchy in pressing for this measure as it was for the overcoming of the glass-ceiling on ethnic-minorities aspiring to high office in the United States.

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

Republicans preparing to steal election?

Peruse the diagram to your left. The green/yellow states are those voting with DREs with a voter-verified paper-trail (VVPR) (except in Tennessee, Colorado and Maryland where the relevant legislation has been passed but doesn't come into force this year) and with/without (respectively) a paper audit-trail. The red-states are those requiring neither a paper-audit-trail nor a voter verified paper-trail. As with the other 3 GOP presidential election victories won by fraud, I firmly believe from my research that they are doing it again. The Help America Vote Act 2002 strongarms states into using e-voting machines that make voterigging easier and does not require a paper trail. Diebold, producers of the infamous touchscreens that they admit drop votes when uploaded to a database in highly populated areas i.e. Democrat areas, have cynically changed their name to Premier Election Solutions. The Ohio official responsible for running elections in the state, Democrat Jennifer Brunner, tried to get the GOP-controlled state legislature to agree to move from touchscreens to optical scanners that count paper ballots and a centralised state voter register, but they said no. My opinion of John McCain has worsened because of his negative campaign, and of the way his party is using George Wallace-tactics to disenfranchise democrats. It's hard to believe Lincoln would approve. At this stage I believe McCain would not win a fair election if US public opinion stays as indicated by polls, but I believe that he may win by fraud. On the Russia-Georgia issue and criticism of Putin's record on human-rights yes. But what has come to light regarding fraud and the negative personalised campaign has forced a rethink. Let him practice what he preaches, and decide whether he wants to be cmdr-in-chief or cmdr-in-cheat. Fraud is most likely to occur in states using DRE (touchscreen voting machines), especially those without VVPAT (Voter verified paper audit trail). From my research, the swing states most vulnerable to vote-flipping fraud are Virginia, Indiana and Pennsylvania, as most counties in these states use touchscreens without VVPAT. The diagram below (dark/green=paper-ballots/mixed paper-ballots/DREs with VVPAT, yellow = DREs with VVPAT, pink = mixed paper-ballots and DREs with and without VVPAT, orange = mixed paper-ballot systems with and DREs without VVPAT, red = DREs without VVPAT and light-blue =mechanical lever machines and accessible ballot marking devices), shows which states are using DREs, with and without paper-audit trails. Already reports are spreading in states using the ES+S DREs of votes for Obama being flipped to McCain, and of votes for Democrats flipping to Republicans further down the ticket.

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

EU seeks to silence Libertas

In a mixed couple of weeks for democrats in Ireland and Europe increasingly concerned by the decline of democracy in Europe, there was much to give rise for concern. On the one hand, the rejection by European Parliament of the original text of the Parliament's Education and Culture Committee that would have effectively set in motion regulation, registration and ultimately censorship of political-blogs gave one brief hope that Brussels was coming to its senses. Such hopes were dashed by the decision by the leaders of the main EP political-groups to tell an EP delegation to ask the US Congress to disclose rumoured-Libertas funding in the US. According to Judith Crosbie in the Irish Times, "The European Parliament is to ask the US Congress about US fundraising for anti-Lisbon Treaty lobby group Libertas and will set up links with the Irish watchdog on referendum spending. The leaders of the parliament's political groups decided to take the action after MEPs raised concerns during a parliament session over alleged US funding regarding Ireland's referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. MEPs are concerned about the prospect of Libertas launching a campaign across the EU for next year's European parliamentary elections, as suggested by the group's chairman, Declan Ganley. The parliament has yet to decide whether its delegation to the Congress should visit the US to discover any information it may have on US fundraising or exchange letters on the matter. Graham Watson, leader of the parliament's Liberal group, said he supported contacting Congress because such contacts had proved useful when discovering the source of IRA funding in the US. The European Parliament wants to tell Ireland's Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) of information it might have of a European nature on Libertas funding. "We will be establishing links with Sipo. Anything gleaned from Europe, we'll send over to them," said an official. The parliament's leaders would "regularly and closely monitor the situation and return to the issue, in any event, in the light of any conclusion by Sipo or other Irish authorities", said a statement". Brian Crowley, Fianna Fáil MEP for Munster, said he told the other group leaders that Sipo was the appropriate body to examine Libertas's funding. Kathy Sinnott, independent MEP for Munster and leader of the parliament's independence/ Democracy group, said the delegation to the US could do better things than inquire about Libertas funding."

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

Demise of PDs an opportunity for Fine Gael/Libertas

The death of the Progressive Democrats, long envisaged for 23 years, has finally arrived. Last night's by all accounts emotional PD meeting to discuss the future of the party merely gave a stay of execution until October. It would seem that the party's four Oireactas members (Harney, Grealish, O'Malley and Cannon) were more at one on winding down the party than its councillors. But the party has lost prominent councillors in just over a year since the General Election, during which the party sailed rudderless for most of that time. With Mary Harney rejecting the poison-chalice of returning to the leadership she vacated in 2006 in favour of McDowell, and with such a long interregnum in a party none of its elected members wanted to lead, it is evidence that the viability of the party was gone, as was the stomach for the fight needed to soldier on in the context of a party-system that has. since 1921, frustrated all attempts by microparties to survive the tribal-pulls of the Civil War parties and, to a lesser extent, Labour. Indeed Labour itself came quite close to extinction in 1987, scoring only 5% of the FPV, but managed to hold only 12 seats, but which left it the fourth largest party in Dail Eireann until the PD's disasterous performance in the 1989 General Election, when its 14 seats were reduced to 6. It was always ironic that except in 2002, the PDs entered government when they lost seats, while departing it when they gained seats. And yet, given what has transpired last year and since, it is perhaps reasonable to assume that there are a lot of "what ifs" now echoeing in the minds of PD activists. What if Mary Harney had not re-entered government with Fianna Fáil in 2002? What if Des O'Malley had not announced his support for Mary Harney while Pat Cox was in Vienna? What if Liz O'Donnell had succeeded her, rather than the polarising Michael McDowell? What if they hadn't botched the 1997 manifesto launch on downsizing the public-sector and helping single-mothers who wanted to remain in the home? These questions are of course academic at one level, but they may also contain important lessons for other microparties that emerge, as they occasionally do (like Clann na Poblachta/Talamhan, Farmers Party etc.) about the balance to be struck between principle and power.

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

66% want immigration clampdown - poll

The Irish Examiner leads today with a poll on immigration, which it says shows conflicting atttitudes by the Irish people to immigration and integration. The poll, by Amarach Research,was conducted last week among a sample of 1,000 adults in the Republic. The poll finds that 66% believe we need tighter controls on immigration. Despite the call for a clampdown, 54% believe the country’s decade-long experience of mass migration has been good for the republic, with one in three saying it has had a negative impact. Almost six in 10 people, 59%, think the Government is not doing enough to integrate the new Irish, while 72% are worried about the impact immigration is having on the health service. A further 65% expressed similar concerns regarding education. 38% of respondents believe a future taoiseach or president of the republic will emerge from the descendents of immigrants, with 33% disagreeing. according to the survey of 1,000 people, conducted by Amárach Research. In it's editorial entitled "Integration of immigrants - A positive experience", the Examiner argues that "This period of immigration coincided with a period of unprecedented wealth, opportunity and nearly full employment. As everyone knows, those circumstances no longer apply and as unemployment levels rise there is a potential for tension. Our attitude towards immigrants may be about to face a sterner test than before.". The poll also shows a significant class, gender and age divide on the issue. Dubliners, higher earners and the middle-aged were more likely to suggest immigrants were integrated. 42 per cent were "a little worried" about immigration's effect on the education system compared to 35 per cent being "not at all worried", and 23 per cent "extremely worried". Asked about the health service, 39 per cent said they were"a little worried", 28 per cent not worried and 33 per cent "extremely worried". 48% of females said immigration was a good thing and 37 per cent a bad thing, with 58 per cent of men saying it is a good thing, and 30 per cent a bad thing. Women are less positive about the effect of immigration than men. Coincidentally, the Irish Examiner quotes more of the artificial hysteria of Fianna Fáil in condemning the proposals of FG Enterprise Spokesman and Dublin West TD that the State should fund the return of foreign-nationals to their home countries because of the economic recession. While the proposal was condemned by Thomas Byrne (FF) TD, who called it a "new low" and called for it to be withdrawn, it marks the beginning of what I hope will be a trend which, together with recent proposals on reform of the public-sector will make FG a viable alternative to a FF-led govt. Being more in touch with public-opinion on issues like this is an important part of being taken seriously as a viable alternative-govt party. Varadkar should stand his ground, and FG should back him up. It is not a racist proposal, but rather one that recognises that charity begins at home, and that a recession is not the right time to be exacerbating the difficulties Irish people face in finding work. For those of us - myself included - who oppose racism, it is recognised that the current free-for-all of unregulated mass-immigration are in fact risking strengthening it. Let us oppose racism through tighter controls, so as to avoid the circumstances such as job displacement which fuel it.

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

Return of the evil empire

In a week when the news-networks have been dominated by harrowing scenes of civilian suffering in the ongoing Russian-Georgian conflict over the separatist region of South Ossetia. There are shades of the Sudetenland crisis in 1938, when Hitler, on the pretext of defending a 'persecuted' German minority in that region of Czechoslovakia, was appeased and allowed to annex it, followed by the conquest of the entire country 6 months later. Russia is seeking Anschluss with Russocentric regions in its former Soviet empire. As an Irish nationalist, I have mixed feelings on this matter. While anxious that Russia must not be appeased, I instinctively sympathise with nationalities seeking to go their own way in an historic homeland. Even so, I think the merits of their independence-bids are not universally clear to those with a knowledge of the history of the South Ossettian and Abkhazian conflicts which have led to 2 Russian puppet-states on internationally-recognised Georgian soil.

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

Irish Times: "Ratify Lisbon regardless"

It is with shock and concern that I read on August 2nd the Irish Times' political-correspondant Stephen Collins 'solution' to the Lisbon impasse. In a disturbing example of the elitism that dominates the Europhile perspective on how accountable the European project should be to the people it claims the right to govern, he calls for the government to ratify sections of the Treaty that might not contravene the Crotty judgement 1987, while putting the remaining issues to a referendum. That the same elite who derided the first no to Nice in 2001 on the grounds of its low turnout and used this to justify calls for a second referendum should now deride a no vote with a turnout of 53% - higher even than for Nice II - on the supposed basis that the people 'didn't understand it' - is a real and present irony in this debate. It also confirms the belief I have always held since I became aware of the contents of Lisbon and during my observations of the shocking reaction of the Brussels and Irish elite to the French and Dutch "no" votes to the EU Constitution - namely that the European project has lost its way, and is prepared to circumvent democracy and popular-consent in the name of "ever closer union". In this respect a parallel may perhaps be drawn with the Russian Duma elections of 1918 which Lenin refused to accept because his Bolsheviks only won 25% of the vote. Like Lenin, the Eurocrats and Irish elites believe that the people need to be guided by an oligarchy of constitutional revolutionaries towards "ever closer union" and should not have the final say on the evolution of the project of European integration. On the website, I found it disturbing to find that Fine Gaeler NotDevsSon believes that as one of the most clued-in political-correspondants in the country, Collins' views likely reflected the thinking in the corridors of power in this country. What has Fianna Fáil come to if - as a party that Dev stated was founded to further Irish sovereignty and independence is now prepared to flout a democratic referendum result to end that sovereignty and independence? And if it is to be surrendered with the stroke of a pen, then what were 700 years of struggle for independence for? What did those heros die for if we are just going to give it away without so much of a whimper? I do not believe that the Irish people wish to do so, but as for most of the Leinster House set - well...

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

Lisbon-parties' hypocrisy on funding

Even before the Irish people's democratic decision to reject the fatally-flawed Lisbon Treaty, (which would have deepened the democratic-deficit in Europe still further), the source of Libertas funding was a bane of "yes" campaigners. To the elite, the possibility of the 'mainstream' parties being so decisively outspent by this upstart pro-business group with financial interests abroad (like many FF/FG benefactors) with no elected representatives was tantamount to heresy. Note the observations of the 'Paper of Record' on the matter today: "Of the €11.8 million spent during the last general election campaign, less than €2 million could be publicly traced. This gap in legislation can encourage external meddling in our domestic affairs. Spending by the "No" campaign in the Lisbon referendum, and particularly by Libertas, exceeded that of all the major parties. But we will never know the source of the money." To be lectured on outside interference by a newspaper whose support for the Treaty, if realised, would have led to unprecedented outside interference in our internal affairs by Europe and by the European Court of Justice in particular (through the Charter of Fundamental Rights), is very ironic. But the gift of irony is not lost on the other mouthpieces of the European federalist project either. The eternal Dick Roche, Minister for European Affairs and arguably the face of Fianna Fáil's "yes" campaign, charges that statements by Libertas' about it's funding are "simply not truthful". According to figures compiled by the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI), which monitors advertising spend in the outdoor and print media, on the internet, on TV and in cinemas, the anti-Lisbon Treaty group spent €912,753 on advertisements in places such as newspapers, billboards and on buses. Throughout the campaign, the organisation, responding to different media, gave differing figures about its budget, before finally settling on a €1.3 million figure, insisting that the money had come in small donations." It is clear that if you add up the figures that the budget must have been above €2 million," Mr Roche claimed. "It comes back to the question, where did they get their money from?". Labour spokesman Joe Costello likewise slates the organisation as: "It is unacceptable that a single wealthy individual whose business interests are largely based outside this country should be able to use his wealth to influence the outcome of a constitutional referendum and at the same time not have to disclose the source of the funding.".

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

European Court rewards sham marriages

In yet another encroachment by European bureaucrats on internal Irish affairs, the European Court of Justice has ruled that Ireland must grant residency to the spouses of EU citizens. The case concerned four couples living in Ireland who appealed a decision by the Irish government to deport them because their spouses - the husband in each case - was not an EU citizen and had never lived lawfully in another EU member state.Under EU law, EU citizens can work, study and live in any of the 27 member states. Under Irish law a spouse from outside the European Union must have lived in another member state first in order to get residency rights. However the court ruled that this is in breach of EU law on the free movement of citizens. "The right of a national of a non-member country who is a family member of a Union citizen to accompany or join that citizen cannot be made conditional on prior lawful residence in another member state," said the court ruling. "The [EU law] applies to all Union citizens who move to or reside in a member state other than that of which they are a national, and to their family members who accompany them or join them in that member state." The court also said that a non-EU citizen can benefit from the law on rights of spouses "irrespective of when and where their marriage took place and of how that spouse entered the host member state." European law states that all EU citizens and their family members can work, study and live in any of the 27 member states, provided they have a residency permit in the member state.

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

Robinson's rants against homosexuality

In what has become routine from the DUP politician, Iris Robinson, wife of the Northern First Minister Peter Robinson, has - according to the House of Commons log Hansard - launched another tirade against the gay community. According to Hansard, the House of Commons record of debates, she stated "Hansard reported her as saying that "there can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality, than sexually abusing innocent children." Naturally the gay community are outraged at their adult relationships being demonised in this way. But it is hardly surprising considering the long legacy of bigotry emanating from that party over the last 36 years of its existence. The Catholic community in the North know only too well that this is the case. Iris Robinson, who just happens to be chairwoman of Northern Ireland’s health committee, caused uproar recently when she told a BBC Northern Ireland radio programme that homosexuality was an “abomination” and that she felt “nauseous” just thinking about it. Needless to say, the gay community did not take kindly to her remarks. Indeed, a complaint was made to the police on the grounds that Mrs Robinson’s comments constituted a crime in that she was fanning the flames of homophobic hatred in a part of the UK that is already a lot more homophobic than most. The province’s first lady was unrepentant and produced the following reply: “I am defending the word of God. I think at the moment there is a “witch-hunt” to curb or actually stop or prevent Christians speaking out and I make no apology for what I said because it is the word of God. But at the same time, I was very careful in saying I have nothing against any homosexual. I love them; that is what the Lord tells me – to love the sinner and not the sin. And, just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual.”

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.