Monday, April 28, 2008

Fall in support for Lisbon Treaty

The latest poll on the Lisbon Treaty suggests growing opposition and falling support for the document. The Red C poll of 1,010 registered Irish voters showed support at 35% (a fall of 8 points), opposition at 31% (up 7%) and 34% undecided. It seems clear that the more the electorate find out about the Lisbon Treaty and its plan for domination of the EU by the Big States, the less they like it. Bertie as usual tells us according to today's Irish Independent, that a no vote will be a "disaster", but we've heard all this before Bertie. After the 2 "no" votes in France and Holland in 2005 to the EU Constitution, Lisbon's evil twin, we are not going to be so easy to fool this time. We know that Bertie is being hotly-tipped for a job in the Eurocracy - likely the new post specifically created by Lisbon (the President of the Council). So when the electorate hears these kinds of warnings, I hope we can be forgiven for feeling cynical.

As already explained on this blog, the Lisbon Treaty fatally erodes Irish sovereignty and neutrality. It puts on a Treaty-basis a European Defence Agency with wide powers to coordinate European defence policy. It removes Ireland's veto on the Council of Ministers in 68 areas, including energy-policy, aspects of foreign policy, the role of the EDA, and the statutes of the European Central Bank, European Investment Bank, and aspects of the statute of the European Court of Justice. This could lead to Ireland being forced to allow the powerful EU nuclear-power lobby to expand into Ireland. The provisions for QMV (Qualified Majority Voting) for the statutes of EU institutions could conceivably lead in the future to the loss of Irish representation on these bodies. So where the ECB is debating Irish interest rates, the Irish voice would be gone, or made rotational. After all if they want to bring in a rotating-commission why not also a rotating ECB or ECJ? It also more than halves our QMV vote from 2% to 0.9%, while allowing 4 Big States to block EU laws they do not like. Meanwhile, 11 small states banding together will still be unable to block EU laws under the QMV system. Clearly, this treaty creates a Europe dominated by Big States, like Britain once dominated Ireland. We owe it to the men and women of 1916 to say no to this Treaty on June 12th.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

How Fine Gael can win - and why it doesn't.

Last year, the Irish people again rejected Fine Gael for the sixth election in a row. But you wouldn't know it from the phoney triumphalism of the party. 'We won 20 seats' they say. They did, but it was only winning back those lost in 2002 - and even then not quite. The party scored 27.9% in 1997, 22.5% in 2002 and 27.1% in 2007. It is evident, in retrospect, that the vote lost by FG to the PDs in 2002 was a loan to that party, grounded among other things in a belief that the party would act as a watchdog on FF sleaze, as well as a general belief by the traditional Blueshirt electorate that a FF overall majority was likely and voting PD was the only way to avoid this appalling vista. In that context, this vote returned to FG in 2007 when the polls made clear this was not a likely scenario on that occasion. Seen in those terms, the increase in seats/votes between the 2 elections, while at first sight rather impressive, becomes decidedly less so when all is considered. This is all the more so considering the fact that 25% of those who voted FG in 1982 did not do so in 1987, and have overwhelmingly not returned since. While most of that vote defected to the PDs in that year, the decline in the PD vote since 1989 did not translate into the Blueshirt Prodigal Sons' returning to the fold. Why is that and what are its implications for the party's fortunes in the future?

One lesson is that people are no longer prepared to elect a government merely on the basis of "not being FF/FG". They want some meat on the bone. They want policies. They want to vote for a party that is actually "for" something, not merely "against" it. The electorate are not dumb - they know there is sleaze in all the parties, and following Lowrygate, are not prepared to accept some notion that any party is on what Dick Spring once referred to as "high moral ground". Pompous claims of moral purity by Fine Gael, especially with regard to the Tribunals, did not benefit FG in the election - this was a natural, inherited FG vote that was always going to return to the party once an election arrived where clearly the prospect of a Fianna Fáil overall-majority no longer applied. The party remains stuck under 30% in actual elections. It briefly polled 30%+ during the election campaign, just as it has in recent polls. But unfortunately for Fine Gael, it is performance on election-day that counts. The final national opinion-poll of the 2007 General Election campaign was from Red C, which had FF on just 38% - 3.5% lower than their actual showing on polling-day. So if anything it is conceivably that however unintentional, their polls are against understating the Fianna Fail vote. Like the Fine Gael vote, the Fianna Fáil vote is largely an inherited vote, based on traditional family voting-patterns, especially since both of the parties have lost most of the swing-vote since 1987, which has since migrated between the PDs (1987), Labour (1992), and the Independents, SF and Greens from 2002 afterwards. What remains is largely the core vote of FF and FG, and is unlikely - barring a 2002 style scenario - to repeat itself based on the current electoral demographic. We are an electorate with a far smaller swing-vote than in most democratic countries.

How can Fine Gael address this? They are unlikely to listen to me - others on the forum know I am no fan of theirs. But it seems clear that possible solutions are:

Tell the electorate what they are for, rather than just what they are against.

Break the alliance with Labour, which has long been the party's Achilles Heel. When voters know you will enter Coalition with Labour, your credibility becomes undermined when your policies conflict with theirs. When you come out supporting Aer Lingus privatisation and they come out against it, Fianna Fáil can rightly say that these 2 parties are too divided to govern the country, and that there is no credible alternative government. This is also so when you come out calling for an end to compulsory Irish in the schools while Labour opposes it, or when Labour calls for an age of consent of 16 while Fine Gael opposes this and so on. By breaking the umbilical-cord with Labour and ruling out electoral-pacts, the party can run as an independent party, ruling out noone as a coalition partner but ruling noone in either. In this way, the party will no longer be undermined in the way that cost them the election last year by announcing a policy that is then shot down by the Labour party.

Another solution might be for Fine Gael and Labour to merge. The reality is that a government involving Labour is likely to be left-leaning anyway, so why pretend Fine Gael can deliver centre -right policies like public-sector reform or greater efficiency by merging state-agencies, as suggested recently by Leo Varadkar? The reality is that Labour, a party bankrolled by the unions, is not going to cross them - it would be like turkeys voting for christmas. There remains a strong Social Democratic wing in the Blueshirt party, and they agree on most issues with Labour, so why not band together to form one party? At least that way, the Opposition is not plagued by fundamental policy-disagreements such that an announcement from one party leads, as night follows day, to a rebuttal by the other. This was one of the reasons the would-be Rainbow lost the election last year.

Thirdly, they could replace Enda Kenny as leader. The outgoing govt of FF-PD outpolled the Rainbow, scoring 44% to 42.%. Exit-polls showed the electorate wanted a government led by Bertie Ahern. They rejected Enda Kenny, who was seen in polls not to have fared well in the debate against Bertie. Bertie caught him out on FG's unfair tax plans, and on the lack of clarity over Kenny's plans to 'reprioritise' spending within the National Development plan. So competency was a factor too. Maybe they ought to consider replacing their leader in that context, so that someone the electorate has more faith in with regard to the framing of detailed and credible policies, and who has less to say about the Tribunals and somewhat more about policies, can take over.

Lastly, a move to a more Eurosceptic position would be a wise decision. It is risible that FG, supposedly a party of Opposition, is giving Fianna Fáil a 'get out of jail free card' on the Lisbon Treaty. The near unanimity of consensus on Eurofederalism inside the Dail is not matched within the general public outside it - 30-54% of them have voted to reject EU treaties consistently since 1987. We elect Irish politicians to govern us. The men and women of 1916 and the War of Independence were not fighting to trade rule by Britain with rule by Brussels. To hand over precious and hardwon national sovereignty is to dishonor their sacrifice and betray the principles for which they died - national independence. While generally pro-EU and the euro in particular, and accepting of the need for greater international cooperation and some common policies with our European partners to meet the challenges of globalisation, the Lisbon Treaty is a step too far, for reasons I have explained in an earlier post. By opposing Eurofederalism, FG could present a positive model of a Europe of nation states, and perhaps attract some of the swing-voters for whom national sovereignty is something worth defending.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Time to abandon religion

There can be little doubt that more people have died in the name of religion than for any other cause. From the Colisseum to the Crusades to the Inquisition to the Penal Laws to the Jihadist terrorism of 911, Bali, London and Madrid, it is difficult to make a case that religion is not a force for death, destruction, prejudice and persecution in the world. Here in Ireland, many of us know it well. Since the Reformation many thousands lost their lives for not conforming to the State Religion of our occupiers. Tens of thousands of Ulster Catholics were dispossessed for the same reason in the 17th century under the Stuarts and Cromwell, to make way for colonisation that paved the way for the partition of our island centuries later. And while the Provo campaign in the North only started in the late 60's, the poison of sectarianism was hardly new, and segregation continues to ensure the two communities live largely separate lives, helping to enshrine sectarian tribalism into the fabric of Northern society, in a way which threatens to happen down here if we don't learn from the mistakes of multiculturalism across Europe, which arguably includes religious-based segregation in Northern schools. Catholic parents send their children to Catholic Church-run schools, while Protestants send theirs to state (effectively Protestant in composition) schools. This is harmful to mutual understanding and integration. The first step mutual understanding and the dispelling of tribal myths about "the other side" is to mix with them socially, preferably from childhood. As the failings of multicultural-segregation become increasingly apparent across Western Europe, it is imperative that religion and education be kept separate. It is encouraging that some voices in the Catholic Church seem to recognise this, acknowledging that a new form of multidenomination patronage in the South may be inevitable. This is all the more true as the country experiences a level of mass-immigration unseen since the Plantations. Let us hope the segregation that unleashed is not recreated in the South in terms of segregating Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews etc. in the classrooms.

But it is not enough to integrate the schools. The underlying problem with religion is that even if we tear down the physical walls between the differing denominations, we don't entirely tear down the psychological barriers. In particular I am referring to the growth of radical Islam, with a radically differing value-system from ours in the Judeo-Christian-Agnostic-Atheist Western value-systems. The growth of social-liberalism in the West has eroded much of the power of the Christian value-systems that constitute 'victimless-sins' - especially in Spain and Germany (legalisation of gay marriages), France (since the Revolution but recently in terms of civil-partnerships) and similar moves seem likely albeit long-overdue in Ireland. In particular this offers a golden opportunity to confront some of the remaining holdouts on separating Church and State - abortion and stemcell research. To argue that a frozen-embryo is a living person whose destruction in the course of stemcell-research is "murder" is superstitious prattle. It certainly has the potential to become life when implanted in the womb, but that no more makes it life than a seed constitutes a plant. Likewise recent research calls into question when "life" as we know it really begins. If you are a rightwing fundamentalist Christian, you will say it begins at conception. This - to me - is not a credible or scientific position. If the parts of the brain pertinant to self-awareness and consciousness are not yet in place, then how can we consistently call that life while also allowing for the life-support machine to be switched-off when someone is declared braindead? Surely these 2 situations are analogous?

If the authorities do not advance the secular-agenda, then by the time they realise the wisdom of doing so, it may be too late. There are 44,000 Muslims living in Ireland. If Turkey joins the EU, which our government supports, then we can expect Polish-levels of migration to Ireland. A recent poll in the UK found that 41% of British Muslims want to introduce Sharia Law. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand what that would mean for our Western freedoms - Middle Eastern-style adultery laws carrying the death-penalty, possibly by stoning. Homosexuality outlawed as a capital offence. Women forbidden to drive cars as in Iran and forced under the oppression of the veil. Rape-victims executed because they could not produce 4 male witnesses to attest that the rape indeed occurred. Female testimony in courts counting for only 50% of the credibility of male witnesses. We would have traded a Catholic theocracy on social-issues for a far worse Islamist one. Those who would scoff at such predictions would do well to examine the Islamist violence in other countries that once were cheerleaders for "multicultualism" - the riots in French cities in 2005, the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, the Madrid and London Bombings (involving British born Muslims of Pakistani origins). We have enough problems in Ireland without importing this kinds of problems. While I would not tar all Muslims with the one brush, it is difficult to deny that the Islamic world is experiencing a period of militant theocratic ideology that Europe likewise experienced for much of our past. Europe had an Enlightenment where we began to shake off some of this - though the task is not yet complete. Likewise, the Muslim world needs to experience one too. Until then, the answer to Turkey must be a polite no, and immigration-controls must be tightened on the Muslim world. The government of Ireland, first and foremost, is responsible for the safety of the people of Ireland. Ultimately, religion per se is the root cause of these dangers however, and the sooner the world learns to move beyond it like it moved beyond believing the world is flat, the better.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

RTE's unbalanced coverage of Lisbon

Those of us that hoped that the broadcaster funded entirely by our hard-earned graft would accordingly demonstrate a balanced approach to coverage of the Lisbon Treaty would have reason for disappointment last Monday night. In spite of the spirit and perhaps the letter of the McKenna and Coughlan judgements, requiring equal funding and airtime of referenda yes and no campaigns, RTE continues to stack its panels overwhelmingly in favour of the yes sides. The panel on Questions and Answers last Monday consisted of Colm McCarthy, John McGuirk, Colm McEochaidh, Martin Cullen, and Joan Burton - that's 4 yeses, 1 no and 1 sceptical but on-the-fence (McCarthy). This is in spite of the consistent 30-54% no vote in European referenda since the 1980's. Those of us who have voted no down the years have reason for resentment at how your hard-earned money is funding arguments with which you do not agree.

RTE would probably argue that the referendum having not yet been called, that it's behaviour is in keeping with the letter of Coughlan and McKenna. Perhaps. But one has to doubt this was the case in referendum campaigns even proceeding from these historic Supreme Court rulings. The second Nice Referendum 2002 certainly springs to mind in that respect. In the final episode of the Late Late Show before that referendum, a similar panel configuration was on the show - 1 no (Justin Barrett - hardly representative) and 2 yeses (Adrian Langan of Labour and Lucinda Creighton of Young Fine Gael). The show then proceeded to show video of a Far Right conference allegedly attended by Barrett. The subliminal message the viewers were intended to get from this can only be speculated upon, but it seems rational to conclude it was not intended to do the no side any good - perhaps even to smear it with a "fascist" label that is an insult to the 4 in ten who have consistenly voted no since the 80's. That almost 4 out of ten saw through it and were not taken in by this partisan propaganda (which sadly did not include me), I salute you. You are a credit to the ability of the Irish people - shown again in last year's election - to see through a concerted media con-job intended to subvert democracy by using our hard-earned cash to promote one side over the other. Many of us - myself included - have had a strong case of "buyers' remorse" since then, and do not intend to be fooled this time.

Why Israel must talk to Hamas

For a country that likes to present itself as the "only democracy in the Middle East", Israel sure has a funny attitude to those elected representatives of which it does not approve. In January 2006, the Palestinian people overwhelmingly elected Hamas in the legislative elections, giving the party 76 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian Authority. Shortly afterwards, the group announced a unilateral ceasefire with Israel. On February 13, 2006, in an interview in Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta,[40] the same Khaled Mashal declared that Hamas would stop armed struggle against Israel if it recognized the 1967 borders, withdrew itself from all Palestinian occupied territories (including the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and recognized Palestinian rights that would include the "right of return". Mashal would not acknowledge the Road map for peace, adopted by the Quartet in June 2003, because "The problem is not Hamas' stance, but Israel's stance. It is in fact not honoring the Road Map".[41] The Road map projected the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in 2005.[42] Despite these hopeful signs, the Olmert government and its surrogates in the US administration, as well as the EU closed ranks against the organisation. Economic sanctions were imposed that have further crippled an already impoverished economy.

Israel is ultimately the loser from such decisions. In May 2006, the outgoing US Envoy to the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN), James Wolfensohn, issued a report criticising the sanctions. He pointed out that the Palestinian Authority was on the verge of collapse, and the $1 billion in aid to assist them in preparing their institutions for statehood was consequently going to waste. His report predicted that by 2008, unemployment would rise to 47% and poverty 74%. Palestinian analyst Bassam Eid agreed with Wolfensohn's assessment that sanctions against Hamas are counterproductive. "Such kind of, let us call it a boycott, I believe that that will push the region for more and more violence," he said. Meanwhile the Bush administration and its Israeli allies continue, ostrich-like, to remain wedded to the strategy of isolation. In fact the American political-establishment persists in defending the indefensible. Even Obama, who was booed at an AIPAC event when sympathising with the "suffering of the Palestinians", has long since been forced to the Right, stating in response to the criminal Israeli bombardment of Lebanon "I don't think there is any nation that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched. I support Israel's response to take some action in protecting themselves.". I would have thought that considering the Lebanese-Israeli 10-1 fatality-ratio, the use of the term "self-defence" can only be viewed as an obscen euphemism in such circumstances. In March 2008 in a speech to Iowa Democrats, Obama said "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people. ...if we could get some movement among Palestinian leadership, what I'd like to see is a loosening up of some of the restrictions on providing aid directly to the Palestinian people.". Hopes this might herald a new dawn in US Middle Easte policy in an Obama administration have since been dealt a blow, with Obama criticising former president Jimmy Carter's talks with Hamas, stating "Hamas is not a state, Hamas is a terrorist organization.". While noone can defend Hamas' long history of targeting Israeli civilians, the precedent of Northern Ireland, together with the democratic mandate Hamas enjoys, cannot be tenably ignored, if Israel is serious in its stated goal of reaching a two-state solution, of Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace.

Why Democrats should choose Clinton

Conventional wisdom in the media is that Obama has the nomination sewn-up. Even rightwingers like Sean Hannity - while agreeing that Clinton has a case with the superdelegates that Wrightgate and Bittergate make him unelectable - believe that in the end the Obama will be the one to face John McCain in November. Dick Morris, a Republican who worked on Bill Clinton's re-election campaign in 1996, considers Clinton the stronger candidate but shares the cosy consensus that the 795 superdelegates (party bosses) would not dare alienate their most loyal support-base (African-Americans) for fear of tearing the party-apart as in 1968. At the same time, the superdelegates are largely elected politicians including governors, senators, mayors, former presidents and vice-presidents, some of whom will be conscious that voting against their states or local support-base could prove costly to their political ambitions. The backing of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, whose state voted narrowly for Hillary, might call this into question. But if you ask me, he has probably been offered the VP slot. Otherwise it just doesn't make sense - the Clintons made his political career. He served as Ambassador to the UN and Energy Secretary in the Bill Clinton administration of 1993-2001. Why else would he have crossed over to Obama?

So Obama will be the nominee. But it will just prove how addicted the Democratic Party is to opposition - sortof like Fine Gael here. He is fatally damaged by his associations with Rev.Wright, the 1960's terrorist Bill Ayers (who bombed the Pentagon), and to a lesser extent by his participation in the Nation of Islam rally organised by his controversia leader Louis Farrakhan. While I do not believe his treatment by Fox over Michelle Obama's comments that this was 'the first time in my adult life I am proud of America', to the farmers of Kansas and Oklahoma,the Evangelicals of the South, and the gun-owners of Pennsylvania, this merely confirms a stereotype of the Democrats that is widespread in these places. It is places like this that the Democrats need to win to have a chance of taking back the White House. All the Republicans and their 527 group surrogates need to do in November is replay those Bitter/Wright/Ayers videos again and again to both galvanise redstaters against Obama in a way they would already be galvanised against Hillary. The last six weeks have been the bells tolling for Obama's presidential ambitions in November. He does not lead in the average of the polls in any of the states that voted for Bush in 2004 other than Iowa, Nevada and Colorado - with 21 Electoral Votes between them. Meanwhile he is behind McCain in Pennsylvania, a must-win state for the Democrats that was carried by Clinton, Gore and even the hapless Kerry - albeit only 51-49. If Obama cannot even win here, then how can he possibly win in the rural, conservative states that decide the presidency? No Democrat has won the White House without carrying a Southern state, and since 1904 (other than 1952), every president has won Missouri. Obama is behind here 9% while Clinton runs McCain within 1%. She leads in West Virginia and in some polls in Arkansas, and is more competitive in Tennessee and Kentucky. Obama by contrast, is crushed 63-29 to McCain in Kentucky. It seems that the Democrats, yet again, are set to choose ideology over electability, a mistake the Republicans have surprisingly not made this year.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lenihan to make 200 changes to Bill

According to today's Irish Times, the Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan, is preparing major changes to the forthcoming Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. The changes are said to include removing the requirement for non-EEA residents to obtain the consent of the Minister before marriage, multiple re-entry visas for 60,000 non-EEA nationals, and more liberal regulations for "family reunification" drawing on the Canadian model which allows an EEA national to "sponsor" one relative to become a permanent-resident.

However, the Government is reportedly less willing to amend provisions in the Bill relating to asylum-seekers. The original Bill was to include an end to compulsory tip-offs by the Gardai to would-be deportees of the dates of their deportation (which led to many asylum-seekers going underground to evade deportation), provisions for costs to be awarded against lawyers engaging in "frivolous or vexatious" appeals, provisions for detention of illegal-immigrants, and for the removal of failed asylum-seekers regardless of legal-proceedings relating to their cases.

In this post-911 world, and bearing in mind the pressure population-pressures are having on the health-service, school overcrowding, crime, job-displacement and traffic-congestion, it is imperative that the Minister stand his ground on the latter issues in particular. When one considers the 80% yes vote for the Citizenship Referendum, together with the persistant polling evidence that the public wants a tougher asylum-system, it becomes all the more important that this be so. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that small, unrepresentative, and unelected lobby-groups like the Irish Refugee Council have wielded disproportionate influence relative both to their size and the levels of societal agreement with their aims. By all means allow them to lobby, but not to dictate to the elected government of this country.

Close down the Mahon Tribunal

Originally intended to investigate planning-corruption, the Mahon Tribunal has instead turned into something some might feel is worthy of being called an Inquisition. An almost interminable stream of highly partial leaks to the press, encouraged by a system that distributes documents to an almost interminable list of participants in the Tribunal, would be viewed as prejudicing a fair trial were this a trial at all. Instead it has assumed the appearance, in the eyes of many, or a witch-hunt to rival Whitewater during the Clinton administration in the US.

Now don't get me wrong: I am not condoning what An Taoiseach did in a previous incarnation as Finance Minister in 1994. I believe that Ministers should not only not be beholden to vested interests, but that they should not even allow the appearance of such. But the Tribunal was established to investigate planning-corruption, and it seems when it doesn't find evidence of this, it roots around the business of politicians in the hope of either justifying its continuing existence, or continuing to make millionaires out of lawyers. A Tribunal expected in the beginning to last a few months has taken 10 years, and cost the taxpayer 1 billion euros. That is not to say that the Tribunal has not done the state some service: it exposed the corruption of former Minister Ray Burke, Liam Lawlor and George Redmond. But it has long since seemed to many people to have bordered on degenerating into a witch-hunt against Bertie Ahern in particular. To quote Cromwell (not my favourite person) I would say to the Tribunal: “you have been sat to long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, i say, and let us have done with you. In the name of god, go!.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fixing the health service

It seems a day doesn't go by without irate callers jamming Joe Duffy's Liveline with horror stories about the health-service. A+E clogged up by drunks at weekends, MRSA, the Winter vomiting-bug, nurses strikes, bed-closures, and most of all, corridors overflowing with often elderly patients on trollies. Yet amidst all the righteous indignation, the real culprit escapes blame from our politically-correct media.

By the real culprits, I do not mean the politicians. They are only accessories to the problem, which is that almost without exception, socialised medicine monopolised by the State has proven itself a disaster, and perhaps nowhere more so than in Ireland. Now, it may be a surprise for you to hear then, that of all the parties in the last election, I consider Labour's to have been closest to the mark in terms of repairing our moribund health service. Yet their plans were also fatally flawed. They have been calling for years for universal health-insurance, envisaging a health-insurance market of at least 4 main players. This is eminently sensible. The reason why uninsured patients have to wait far longer to be treated is obvious (except to the most blinkered on the Left) - the hospitals lack the incentive to treat public-patients, while having an incentive to treat the privately-insured. That is because they stand to gain revenues from the insurance companies that they do not with public patients. In that context, I agree that health-insurance should be universal and compulsory. I also agree with Labour's proposals that the State should help those who cannot afford it.

Yet this is not the whole story. If Labour is right on universal insurance, then they are dead wrong on another branch of their health policy - opposition to hospital co-location. Their opposition to this lacks joined-up thinking and reflects the Left's distaste for private-enterprise and the market. By comparing the Irish health-service unfavourably to those of the continental model while proposing a public-sector hospital monopoly, Labour are failing to see the wood for the trees. In France, 33% of the hospitals are privately-owned, providing 15% of bed-capacity. Things move much faster in the private-sector. It took 20 years to build Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, compared to 2 years to build the Beacon in Sandyford. We cannot afford to wait around just so Labour's bankrollers in the unions can continue sacrificing Irish patients on the alter of maintaining their power to hold us to ransom in return for ever more insatiable wage demands. Nor can we hope to reform the outdated work-practices if this monopoly persists. The Irish people deserve an alternative to a moribund, overpaid and inefficient public hospital system dominated by vested interests feathering their nests while patients suffer. For that reason Mary Harney must push on with her plans for co-location. While her party is on life-support, she can at least leave a respectable legacy if she finally exorcises the demons of socialised medicine from the Irish health service.

Reject the Lisbon Treaty

For the seventh time in a row, we are to be asked to ratify an EU treaty by popular vote, apparently on June 12th (or May 29th, depending on who you want to believe). The Daily Mail recently published explosive claims that the yes side was planning an early referendum to wrongfoot the no side as to the true date, as well as to leave us in the dark about the troubling plans of the French presidency later in the year. The hostile intentions of the French towards our generous corporate-tax regime is not exactly a state-secret. Christine Lagarde, the French Finance Minister, has openly called for tax-harmonisation and brusquely dismissed warnings of Irish opposition, stating 'I've never known any Irish person to be afraid of anything'. Perhaps she will in the near future.

As some of you will already know, I am a convinced "No" voter. The yes campaign's refusal to engage with the public on the contents of the Treaty is not surprising, given the indefensible provisions thereof. These provisions include the loss of the automatic right to a Commissioner, the plans for a mutual-defence pact, the erosion of the veto through extending Qualified Majority Voting to areas such as energy, administrative cooperation, the role of the European Defence Agency, and elements of the statutes of bodies such as the European Central Bank, the European Investment Bank, Europol, Eurojust among others. The arguments from the yes supporters is that the EU of 27 cannot function effectively with rules intended for an EU of six members. I agree - which is why I voted for Nice. To trot out such an argument 4 years later makes no sense, as the elites spent much of the 2002 campaign using precisely this argument to induce us to vote yes. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I for one have no intention of being fooled.

But even if you are aware of and agree with the contents of the Treaty, you should still vote no, in order to defend the right of nations to hold onto their sovereignty unless they give consent for its relinquishment. The French and Dutch electorates in 2005 rejected the institutional changes present in Lisbon by voting down the European Constitution - a document Taoiseach Bertie Ahern concedes is 95% the same as the Lisbon treaty. The French and Dutch parliaments, in defiance of their electorates, have decided to ratify the document via parliamentary process. Some might wonder about the irony of the French parliamentary session being held in the Palace of Versailles, a symbol of rule by unelected people. In similar vein, the Dutch govt threatened to tell Queen Beatrix to veto a bill ordering a referendum if it passed the Dutch parliament as it did with the original EU Constitution. Again, this is symbolic of an elitist disdain for public opinion. The govt tells us that these are matters for the countries concerned - but I disagree. It goes to the heart of whether we want a democratic Europe or not. If the ratification succeeds it will send a dangerous precedent in which popular opinion can be ignored and sovereignty handed over. Indeed the European Parliament's 75% vote against a resolution promising to respect the outcome of the Irish referendum suggests that this is the kind of Europe the Brussels elite want.