Friday, May 30, 2008

SIPTU refuses to back Treaty

In a major blow to the Government's "Yes" campaign, SIPTU, the country's largest trade-union, has come out against backing the Lisbon Treaty in next month's referendum unless they are given assurances that the Government will legislate for the right to collective-bargaining. The news follows hot on the heels of a spate of bad news for supporters of the Treaty, including the failure as of yet of the Irish Farmers Association to come out for the Treaty (owing to concerns over EU Trade Commissioner Mandelson's handling of the WTO talks in Doha), the decision of the Roscommon health action group to call for a "no" vote, and the narrowing gap between the 2 sides in the latest Red C poll. The latter found the "No" side gaining ground to within 8 points of Lisbon's supporters at 41-33. Most worrying of all for Cowen, Gormless, Kenny and Gilmore, 5/8's of the former undecideds have gone into the "no" camp, a sure sign that the arguments of "No" campaigners such as Libertas, the Peoples Movement, Sinn Fein and elements of the Green party about the lack of democracy in the Treaty are increasingly finding currency with the wider electorate.

The poll also provides food for thought for the Opposition parties in particular. While Fine Gael and Labour are officially supporting the Treaty, the same cannot be said for their supporters. FG voters are divided exactly 36-36 against, while a majority of decided Labour voters are actually opposed. The supporters of these parties could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved at the refusal of their parties to act like a real Opposition and hold Fianna Fáil accountable for the ruinous terms Bertie negotiated at Lisbon. 55%+ of Sinn Fein voters are against, as are a majority of PD voters. Fianna Fáil voters, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly in favour (40-10 in the previous Red C poll). What this serves to show is, once more, how divorced are the Irish elites from the people the claim to represent. Irish parliamentary democracy encompasses a curious anomaly also found in Denmark and France - namely that the main parties are unanimous or almost unanimous in support for further European political integration, while vast swathes of their supporters are not. What can explain this anomaly? In the case of Ireland, I put it down in part to the fact that the knowledge that most EU treaties have to be put to referendum in Ireland under the 1987 Crotty Judgement has made Irish voters less vigilante and even sometimes disinterested in where their parties stand on Europe. Consequently, domestic issues are more high profile in their concerns. Fair enough.

But increasingly, Europe is interfering in our national lives in ways that would have shocked the men and women of 1916 and of the War of Independence. The Water Framework Directive has imposed unjust and retrograde water-charges on our schools. The bureaucrats in Brussels are trying to harmonise our taxes with the rest of Europe, and while the Government wants us to believe the veto will save the day, the reality is that we cannot trust politicians who promised us that the vast influx of cheap-labour predicted by "no" campaigners like Anthony Coughlan (of the National Platform) if we voted for the Nice Treaty in 2002 would not materialise. We are now expected to accept the reassurances of these very same Irish politicians who prophesised that things would not happen when in fact they did. Today fishermen from Co.Wexford are protesting in Dublin over the plight of the Irish fishing industry, which has been devastated by meddling from the Brussels bureaucrats and their cowtowing to the latter-day Spanish and Portuguese Armada's that ravage our waters and empty them of fish. For all the good that our main parties will attest has sprung from EU membership, for many it has been a two-way street. The fishermen know this more than most, as do the 13,000 Irish workers displaced in 2008 so far as a result of the Government's policies of mass-migration from the 12 new EU member states in Eastern Europe. It is not those immigrants whom I blame for this, but rather the anarchic policies that allowed this to happen. Today I had the notion to converse with my mother on the question of the upcoming referendum, and it was with interest that she informed me that her sister in law, long a fan of all things EU, was going to vote "no" on this occasion, in large part because of a growing concern over the absence of border controls by the Government. I think that when the history-books are written, they will record that the Government loss of the Lisbon campaign was in large part the reaping of the harvest they had sown in previous campaigns when they made promises they could not keep, and lost their credibility in the process.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lisbon means higher taxes

The Yes side want you to believe that our low corporate-tax rate of 12.5% is safe from further encroachment by Brussels should the Lisbon treaty pass in the referendum of June 12th. Even the Referendum Commission wants us to believe that our national veto will be maintained. But the credibility of their arguments is open to debate. I for one am far from convinced. My reasoning is twofold. Firstly, the Eurocrats, unlike the Government and the "Yes" parties, have no reticence about openly calling Ireland's 12.5% rate a 'distortion of competition' and calling for tax-harmonisation. And secondly, the contents of the Treaty in relation to taxation, combined with the stated intentions of the European Commission to harmonise the corporate-tax base, give serious cause for doubt as to how credible the reassurances of the yes side and their hangers on in the state-agencies and Eurofederalist media are.

For a start, I would draw my readers attention to the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty on tax-harmonisation and a mechanism called Enhanced-Cooperation. While the Commission is correct that technically, Ireland retains the national-veto on our participation in tax-harmonisation at the Council of Ministers, Commission President Barroso and EU Tax Commissioner Laslo Kovacs have openly stated that Ireland will be unable to stop other member states from using a mechanism called Enhanced Cooperation to forge ahead with harmonisation on their own. Under Enhanced-Cooperation, 9 or more member states, with the consent of the Commission, may press ahead with harmonisation on their own, including in the field of taxation. Commissioner Kovacs, the Hungarian representative on the Commission, has openly stated that two-thirds of member states support his plans for a "Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base", and that if necessarily he will invoke Enhanced Cooperation to get around a national veto by a member state like Ireland.

It is important in that respect to refer to the provisions of the Treaty both on Enhanced-Cooperation and on taxation. Article 113 of the Treaty states that the Council may harmonise indirect and turnover taxes to combat "distortions of competition". While the "yes" side may have a point in arguing that this would not lead to the harmonisation of the corporate-tax rate, it could have the effect of neutering its relevance and our ability to use it to attract multinational investment in Ireland. This is because of the form Commissioner Kovac's plans will take. The plans include a proposal that companies will be taxed on the basis not of where they are based, but rather on the basis of where the sales take place. As such, because 90% of what the Irish economy produces is exported, this could force Irish companies to pay most of their taxation to the governments of our export-markets, such as France, Spain, Italy, and the UK. Ireland's attractiveness to multinational-investors is based largely on our ability to provide a low-tax-base as a springboard to export competitively to the EU market. Were multinationals required to pay the punitive Franco-German rates of taxation despite operating out of Ireland, then our low corporate-tax rate would lose its relevance, and to all intents and purposes we would be powerless to retain their investments in our economy.

The text of the new Article 113 is as follows:

The Council shall, acting unanimously in accordance with a special legislative procedure and after consulting the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee, adopt provisions for the harmonisation of legislation concerning turnover taxes, excise duties and other forms of indirect taxation to the extent that such harmonisation is necessary to ensure the establishment and the functioning of the internal market and to avoid distortion of competition.

Given the reference above to unanimity, things may seem fine. But they are not, as the provisions contained in Article 10 on Enhanced Cooperation make clear:

1. Member States which wish to establish enhanced cooperation between themselves within the framework of the Union's non-exclusive competences may make use of its institutions and exercise those competences by applying the relevant provisions of the Treaties, subject to the limits and in accordance with the detailed arrangements laid down in this Article and in Articles 280 A to 280 I of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.Enhanced cooperation shall aim to further the objectives of the Union, protect its interests and reinforce its integration process. Such cooperation shall be open at any time to all Member States, in accordance with Article 280 C of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

2. The decision authorising enhanced cooperation shall be adopted by the Council as a last resort, when it has established that the objectives of such cooperation cannot be attained within a reasonable period by the Union as a whole, and provided that at least nine Member States participate in it. The Council shall act in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 280 D of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

3. All members of the Council may participate in its deliberations, but only members of the Council representing the Member States participating in enhanced cooperation shall take part in the vote. The voting rules are set out in Article 280 E of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.4. Acts adopted in the framework of enhanced cooperation shall bind only participating Member States. They shall not be regarded as part of the acquis which has to be accepted by candidate States for accession to the Union.

Now obviously, these issues are open to interpretation, but given the feeling of many Nice referendum yes voters that we were had by subsequent events which disproved reassurances from our political-elites prior to that vote, I think we are entitled to hasten slowly before rushing into further largescale European integration. My central concern is not the risk that a harmonised corporate-tax rate could be imposed on Ireland - while not impossible I think this is fairly unlikely. The main danger, as already mentioned, is that in the context of Enhanced Cooperation, 9 or more countries may proceed with plans for a harmonised corporate-tax base amongst themselves, which would force companies based within and outside the CCCTB area to pay their taxes proportionately to the governments of the states in which their sales tax place. In all likelihood, this would lead to a struggle culminating in an Irish government challenge to CCCTB in the European Court of Justice. My suspicion is that the ECJ could well find against Ireland in this circumstance, invoking Article 113 provisions on harmonisation of turnover-taxes to combat "distortions of competition". In this scenario, our corporate-tax rate of 12.5% would constitute the "distortion", and CCCTB/destination-taxes would constitute harmonisation of turnover taxes to rectify the situation by providing a more 'even playing field' in terms of competition for multinational investment. This is my personal belief on where Lisbon will take us. It provides the weapons to the armoury of our longtime critics and supporters of the CCCTB plan including President Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany, longtime critics of Ireland's low-tax policy that has attracted massive FDI to our economy that they and many other EU member states are casting envious green eyes upon.

Protect Ireland's right to decide our own rates of personal and corporate-taxation. Say no to Lisbon - while you still can say yes or no to EU measures at all.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Make judges stand for election

The extent of leniency in the Irish judicial system was brought home a few days ago when a convicted rapist, Billy Keogh, received a 5 yr sentence with 3 of those years suspended. Judge Barry White justified the suspension by refernece to the supposed 'good character' of the accused: "Sentencing Keogh, Mr Justice White told the defendant: “It is quite clear to me that you are a man of good character and that you have brought shame and disgrace on yourself and shame and disgrace on your wife and children.” He added that he was impressed by how Keogh re-established himself after losing his business in 2004 and that he also had an elderly dependent mother and seven employees to support."

This is hardly unique in the Irish justice system, as official sentencing statistics for Circuit Criminal Courts for 2006 demonstrate. 29.9% of road traffic offences, 45.9% of drugs offences, 36.8% of sexual offences, 40.9% of firearms offences, 32% of larceny offences, 46.6% of assaults, 25% of child-abuse offences, 80% of manslaughter cases and 36.4% of "other" offences resulted in suspended-sentences. According to the CSO figures released on 28th January 2008, fraud rose from 4,133 incidents in 2006 to 5,713 in 2007 (up 38%). In Quarter 4, 2007, Forgery/False Instrument Offences rose to 568 (up 73%) when compared to Quarter 4, 2006. And while incidents classified as Assaults declined slightly (by 0.4%), burglaries (5.1%) and Robberies rose by 5.1% and 12.4% in 2007 when compared to 2006. Offences categorised as Arson, Thefts and Other Headline Offences rose by 22.2%, 1% and 6.9% respectively.

Looking at the findings more closely, a number of underlying trends become apparent:

In Quarter 4, 2007, recorded homicide incidents rose by 31% from 48 to 63 since Quarter 4, 2006. Murder/manslaughter incidents rose from 19 in Quarter 4, 2006 to 22 in Quarter 4, 2007. In 2007, murder attempts/threats rose from 103 in 2006 to 166 that year - a 61% increase.

There was actually a fall in incidents of Assault causing harm for 2007 by 179 (4.5%) compared to 2006. But the 2007 figure for Harassment and Endangerment was 601, an increase of 141(30.7%) on the 460 recorded in 2006.

Sexual Offences
Comparing figures for Quarter 4, 2007 with the same period in 2006, Sexual offences
fell by 58 (16.2%) from Quarter 4 2006 to Quarter 4 2007. Rape Section 4 and Rape of a Female rose by 12.5% and 6.3% respectively.

There were 559 recorded incidents of Arson, an increase of 121 (27.6%) in Q4 2007 on the same quarter in 2006. In Quarter 4, 2007, there were 1,998 incidents of Arson, compared with 1,635 in 2006, a rise of 22.2%.

Unsurprisingly given recent high profile events, all drugs offences in this category increased over the year. Headline drug offences in 2007 rose by 791 (21.8%). Possession of drugs for sale or supply, increased by 595 (19.7%), and recorded Cultivation, manufacture or importation of drugs offences increased by 79 (58.5 %) over the year.

Offences in this category accounted for 55.9% (58,657) of all headline offences in 2007. Recorded Thefts from person were down by 18.3% (from 3,611 to 2,950) in 2007, compared to 2006.

Burglary offences accounted for just over 25% of the total 27,017 headline offences recorded in the fourth quarter of 2007. There was an increase in Quarter 4 for all offence types in the category when compared with Quarter 4, 2006. However, in the whole of 2007, there were reductions of 5.4% and 10.6% for incidents of Burglary and Aggravated Burglary respectively, when compared to 2006.

Both the quarterly and annual recorded figures for Robbery decreased in 2007. The number of Robbery incidents was 2,090 – a decrease of 296 (12.4%) from 2006. In 2007, recorded offences of Robbery of an establishment/institution fell by 293 (26.5%) when compared with 2006.

In this context, it is clear that there exists a vast gulf between the Irish public and the judiciary on the questioning of sentencing. When whole or a large part of sentences are suspended on this scale, it becomes clear that the system risks turning the sentencing system from a deterrent to crime to an incentive to commit more. It's high time to challenge the liberal culture of the Irish judiciary, and to my mind the best way to acheive that is to force them to stand for election as in the United States. I have a feeling they will change their tune then, especially as they will have to account before the Irish electorate for light-sentencing in a time when violent crime is spiralling out of control. The age of secretive appointments to the bench and disregard for public opinion must end.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Abortion law reform long overdue

Ireland is a constitutional parliamentary democracy, one of the cornerstones of which is the supremacy of the Irish Supreme Court in interpretation of our written Constitution (Bunreacht na hEireann). While it is the role of the Dáil and Seanad to legislate on our behalf, they are legally constrained by the requirement that legislation must be in keeping with the Constitution. Should legislation violate the Constitution, the Supreme Court can strike it down. That is the theory, and it is one upon which the rights of our citizenry depends. The Constitution provides us with certain rights, such as the right to freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the right to public assembly, the right to vote etc. We rely on the Supreme Court to defend our freedoms. At a time when we are the only country in the EU to be granted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, we are reminded of how fortunate we are to enjoy the protections of the 1937 constitution as amended by referenda since.

It is disturbing then, that 16 years after the X-Case ruling, none of the Dáil parties are prepared to implement it. Costello J. granted an injunction in the High Court preventing a pregnant 14-year-old rape victim from leaving Ireland to have an abortion in England. Amid the furore that followed, the Supreme Court overturned his decision two weeks later to allow her to go, ruling that "if it is established . . . that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, which can only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy, such termination is permissible."Here, the Court held that there was a real and substantial risk of suicide if the pregnancy continued; thus the termination was permissible, even in Ireland. However, where no such risk existed, both information and possibly travel could be prevented in the interest of safeguarding the right to life of the 'unborn'. The Government then entered a Declaration to the Protocol, saying that they would not use it to restrict travel or information. Amid divisions within the Fianna Fáil-Labour Coalition, three referenda were held in November 1992, allowing for the right to travel, information, and the closing of the allowance for abortion in cases where there was a risk of suicide. The first 2 referenda were passed, amending Article 40.3.3 to safeguard the rights to travel ("Subsection 3 of this section [Article 40.3.3] shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state") and to information ("Subsection 3 of this section shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state"). The removal of the contingency on the risk of suicide was, however, defeated by the electorate. It would have limited the effect of the X case, by restricting the test to cases where the risk to the pregnant woman's life was due to an illness or disorder, and not to a risk of suicide. ("It shall be unlawful to terminate the life of an unborn unless such termination is necessary to save the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother where there is an illness or disorder of the mother giving rise to a real and substantial risk to her life, not being a risk of self-destruction.").

The 2 successful amendments were welcome to those of us who believe that our current abortion-regime is draconian and unfair to women. The electorate in 1992 clearly demonstrated a preference for a more liberal regime when they passed the information and travel amendments while rejecting the closing of what Fianna Fáil regarded as the 'suicide loophole'. I will set out my own stall on this controversial topic in this post. My views have changed greatly over the years because of the highlighting of the plight of rape-victims who are forced by our current regime to choose between travel to Britain for an abortion, carrying the rapists child to term, or acquiring the services of unqualified, illegal "backstreet abortions", possibly culmnating in death or infertility as a result. As an adopted child, and from a fairly religious family background, I had - until around 6 years ago, held the perspective that I had in some ways the abortion ban in this country to thank for my existence, as otherwise I may have been aborted. But I have since seen the bigger picture following years of debate among my social group, and observing this issue being ventilated through media coverage and dicussions on internet fora, blogs and in the 2002 Abortion referendum campaign. There is something cruel about forcing a rape-victim - especially a child - being forced to carry to term a foetus that she had played no part in creating. The Catholic Church hierarchy, as on so many other issues from contraception to women priests to divorce, are - in opposing abortion without exception, hopelessly out of touch with the reality and complexity of peoples lives in modern Ireland. They would force these poor people to carry the foetus created by the rapist to term, and insist on an unscientific perspective that views "life" as beginning at conception. This reflects a cruelty and aloofness that will be familiar to many victims of the Church, for example when abuse-victims were ignored when they tried to report what was happening to them. The thesis that life begins at conception is not even agreed by scientists, as it remains unclear when the foetus begins to feel pain, and at what point it is self-aware. In the same way that a family, in consultation with a doctor, may switch off the life-support machine of a brain-dead patient in a hospital, so too then, in my opinion, is there an analogy with the foetus prior to the development of the brain to the point of self-awareness. Why should one be considered dead but the other alive in these situations? There is a case then, not merely for the legalisation of abortion in cases of rape, but arguably too early on in the pregnancy where the foetus has not yet reached self-awareness, and is in a position analogous to the "life-support" machine situation I have described. We depend on the Supreme Court to interpret our rights. In that context, it is high time for the Government to legislate for the X-case. Further delay cannot be justified, and reflects a lack of leadership from our political-class.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Govt website and the McKenna judgement

Since the 1995 McKenna Supreme Court ruling, the State has not been permitted to preferentially use taxpayers' money to fund one side or the other in a referendum campaign. Under the Coughlan ruling, equal airtime must be allotted by the State broadcaster (RTE) to both sides in a referendum campaign. The basis for these rulings was the Constitution's protection of 'equal treatment before the law'. It is arguable that this has led to more of a tendency for the Irish electorate to reject proposed Constitutional amendments in recent years - for example the 2002 Abortion amendment that aimed to close what Fianna Fáil regarded as the "loophole" whereby the risk of suicide was interpreted by the Supreme Court in the 1992 X Case as constituting grounds for an abortion. Whatever ones views on the individual no votes in referenda passed, few would seriously question the necessity of such constitutional protections to ensure a richly funded government could exploit its considerable resources to drown out opposition to its preferred Constitutional amendments in referenda.

It is with alarm then, to discover that the Department of Foreign Affairs is running a blatently biased website - ostensibly to inform the public of the contents of the Lisbon Treaty - which is in fact responsible for promoting blatent "yes" campaign propaganda - paid for with our taxpayers' money of course. The site is loaded with positive reviews of the Treaty. For example. listen to a few of these gems:

"The Reform Treaty is designed to make the European Union function more effectively and democratically so that it can better serve the interests of the people of Europe. It responds to the needs of today’s European Union with its increased membership....The Treaty does not fundamentally alter the relationship between Member States and the Union. It strikes a good balance between the need for sustainable economic growth and competitiveness on the one hand, and the need for social justice and inclusion on the other."

"The Union’s institutions are overhauled to enable it to meet the challenges of the future. Changes include:
a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who will bring greater coherence to the Union’s approach to foreign policy;
a full-time President to the European Council to coordinate and chair EU summit meetings;
a greater role for national Parliaments in the Union’s activities;
a new voting system in the Council of Ministers to make decision-making more efficient. "

"The Reform Treaty is designed to revitalise the European Union. The current structures of the EU were designed for a Union with much fewer Member States. Like any organisation that has grown in size, its arrangements need to be updated so as to allow it function more effectively and more democratically.
There is also a need to give the EU a clearer voice in world affairs so that it can address such issues as climate change and the fight against poverty and injustice."

This is simply not true. The current institutional arrangements that govern the EU derive largely from the Nice Treaty, which abolished 38 national vetoes, changed the voting-system, and abolished the second Commissioner of the Big States. The arguments about more effective decisionmaking we are hearing now are little more than rehash of those used to justify the Nice Treaty's ratification. I, for one, voted for Nice on the basis that it was intended to "streamline" the EU's institutions with a view to making a 27-member EU function more effectively. So it is then with astonishment that I hear the same arguments being rolled out again, and the myth repeated that the present EU structures have been set in stone from the days of just 6 member states in 1957. This is just straining credulity and insulting the intelligence of the electorate, since we have had 6 referenda on EU treaties and ratified the treaties of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and the Single European Act. The EU's institutions have repeatedly evolved as new members joined, so don't fall for this hogwash about greater 'efficiency' to 'meet the needs of a larger EU'. They are ludicrous assertions.

The claims that the new voting-arrangements are about making decision-making "more efficient" are disingenuous. They invoke a spectre of institutional gridlock in the present 27-member EU. But this spectre is a myth. A recent study by Helen Wallace at the London School of Economics found that "the evidence of practice since May 2004 suggests that the EU’s institutional processes and practice havestood up rather robustly to the impact of enlargement.” "In early 2007, a report by the Science-Po University in Paris showed that new rules have been adopted 25% faster than prior to enlargement and that the Nice voting arrangements were generally seen to be working well. So don't fall for the fine words of the elites who are pushing a Federal European superstate via Lisbon.

On the areas where Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) are extended, the Government's website states:

"The Treaty does not involve changes in areas of sensitivity to Ireland such as taxation and defence. Unanimity is preserved for all decisions in these areas. This means that all Member States must agree to any new proposals in these areas. There will be an increase in the number of areas in which decisions can be taken by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). Most of these are of a technical character or relate to areas where the union has only limited competence. Examples of new areas where QMV applies are: the procedure for entry into the euro; administrative cooperation; internal EU financial regulations; humanitarian aid operations; and police cooperation (where Ireland is not obliged to take part but has the right to participate in individual measures). "

Which conveniently excludes mention of other policy areas like energy, tourism and sport, culture and the statutes of the ECB/EIB/ECJ which are surrendered. The latter could lead to Ireland's automatic representation on some of these bodies being ended in the same way that we are losing out automatic right to a Commissioner under Lisbon. The former could lead to nuclear-power being forced on Ireland - there are powerful nuclear-industry lobbies in the UK, France, Germany and Sweden among other member states. We could even lose control of Irish language policy, tourism and sports policy under the extensions of QMV. Dail Eireann will be reduced to a mere county council of a Federal Europe with the Taoiseach being a mere Lord Mayor of Ireland. This stuff may merely constitute 'technicalities' to the Government but to the people of Ireland, they constitute a ceding of sovereignty which were hard fought for over hundreds of years, and consequently which should not be just handed over so slavishly without something substantial in return.

But there is nothing in return. Our voting-weight on the Council of Ministers is more than halved from 2% to 0.9%. We lose our automatic right to a Commissioner - so crucial at a time when Tax Commissioner Laslo Kovacs is pushing hard for destination-taxes (better known as CCCTB) that would force companies exporting from Ireland to pay most of their taxes to the countries of sales-destination of their exports. In the past the Commissionership of former Agriculture Commissioner Ray McSharry was crucial in obtaining structural funds and agricultural-subsidies for Ireland. Even now, Commissioner Charlie McCreevy is fighting the good fight against the tax-base harmonisation plans of Kovacs. If Lisbon passes, there won't be any Irish voice on the Commission 1/3rd of the time. Before you enter the polling-booth on June 12th, think carefully about whether all the above concessions are worth handing over in return for nothing. Because that is what is happening. And if I were in the "No" campaign, I would be talking to my lawyers about that website if I were them.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Irish Times/TNS-MRBI poll

The results of the latest Irish Times polls provide a mixed picture for new Taoiseach Brian Cowen. On the one hand, he is experiencing something of a honeymoon with the Irish electorate. On the other hand the outcome of the Lisbon referendum remains far from certain. Both the yes and no sides have taken a roughly equal number of the "Don't Knows", while a staggering 47% of the electorate remains in that category. As David McCullagh, RTE's political correspondant has just said on the 9 o'clock news, the "Yes" side were even further ahead at this stage of the first Nice referendum, and the "No's" still won. As you know by now, I am profoundly opposed to this Treaty on the grounds that I regard it as an appalling deal for Ireland which will consign Irish independence and European democracy to the dustbin of history, by centralising power in the hands of unelected, unaccountable, bureaucrats in Brussels. I believe it deserves rejection on June 12th, as it weakens Ireland's hand at the Council of Ministers, the Irish Supreme Court's independence from Brussels, Ireland's right to referenda on EU treaties and institutional changes, and Irish neutrality. It is a bad deal for Ireland, and I am counting on the 47% undecided and a high turnout of "No" voters to make up the numbers to defeat the document. To those on the "yes" side who dismiss my hopes as fantasy, I would remind you that almost all the undecideds in 2001 voted "No", and if it happened once, it could well happen again. I certainly hope so. The Irish people deserve better, and by voting no we will - I trust - bring that about.

On the party-political front, it's a much brighter picture. Fianna Fáil are up an incredible 8% to 42%, Fine Gael down a sizeable 5% to 26%, Labour up an unexpected (for me) 3% to 15%, the Greens down an unusual (since the election) 2% to 4% as are Sinn Fein to 6%, while the bells seem to be tolling all the louder for the Progressive Democrats on 1%. The latter was in spite of a new leader, which normally would be expected in our political-culture to engender a honeymoon period like that seen for Cowen. But it seems the warnings of those predicted the ineffectiveness and - in the media's eyes - relative invisibility of a party-leader in the Seanad without an electoral-mandate - are being proven correct. And with a year to go before local and European elections, the clock is already ticking. The party has had a rollercoaster existence, either triumphing or collapsing at each election. The party's seats since 1987 have ranged from 14 to 6 to 10 to 4 to 8 to 2. In that context, a revival by 2012 cannot be entirely ruled out. But with an unelected (in terms of Dail Eireann) leader of whom only 28% even have an opinion (72% haven't even heard of him), and with a mere 16% approval rating, it has to be said that the omens for the party surviving long-term - and even short-term - remain decidedly grim. In hindsight, I believe the decision to re-enter government in 2002 when FF could govern without them, proved to be the beginning of the end for them. Time after time, on issues ranging from bus-route privatisation, cafe-bars to a privacy law, they were forced to back down, and taken with so many of their policies being poached by the other parties (even Labour to some extent), the electorate came to regard them as surplus to requirements in the Irish political-process. Perhaps they are beyond repair. I certainly think so.

For Fianna Fáil, the outcome reflects not only new leadership, but also an end to being held hostage by the Tribunals. Prior to his resignation, I had wanted Bertie to stay on, regarding him as a persecuted victim of a latter day Salem. And while I still feel he was more wronged-against than otherwise, I welcome the fact that the media will now focus on something more than Tribunals and the "will he-won't he" rumourmill that was a terrible distraction from more important issues. Despite the huge fluctuations in FF support since the 2002 election apparent in polling, I think the reality is that in a country where party-allegiances are still largely inherited, the underlying FF support is around 40%, with around 25% for FG, and 10% for Labour. The rest constitutes the "swing-vote", and is a lot smaller than in countries like the UK. And that is one reason why attempts to compare the Cowen honeymoon with that of Gordon Brown may be mistaken - we are not a typical electorate, motivated by policy-differences like most other European countries. Rather we are one whose voting intentions are based primarily on traditional family-allegiances largely forged by the Civil War. As part of a minority that would prefer it were otherwise (but who leans towards FF-led governments), I guess that's the situation we have to work with unless and until it changes, which is unlikely in the short-term.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Scandal of public-sector waste

Despite a five-fold increase in the health-budget since 1997, Liveline remains deluged with angry callers complaining about our 'Third World' health-service. Old people forced onto trollies in corridors, often in undignified circumstances. In spite of the potential for rationalisation of costs with the abolition of the bureaucratic balkanised health-boards, the Health Service Executive is every bit as bureaucratic and wasteful, with 70,000 people employed directly and 30,000 indirectly. This is because former Health Minister Michael Martin caved into the unions when they - as always - demanded concessions in return for their going along with the amalgamation of the 13 health-boards - namely the retention of all the staff working for them. This is typical of the kind of sell-outs to the unions that have flourished under this Government, and produced a monumental tsunami of wasteful government-spending with the taxpayer footing the bill. Until Mary Harney took over, successive Fianna Fáil health-ministers have failed to reform the health-service to the point where the public can see proportionate returns of the staggering €13bn billion investment in the health-service. At least 60% of the HSE budget is spent on staff., and managers are ten-a-penny.

Transport is another area of government waste. Despite transport-spending having soared from €151m in 1997 to €2.8bn last year, we have two Luas lines that don't link up, a Dublin Port Tunnel which is intermittently closed because of safety-concerns, a second-terminal at dublin Airport costing €2 billion in spite of a delay in its opening from Autumn 2007 to April 2010 because of inter-Coalition wrangling and our typically inefficient and slow planning-process.Overall, Ireland's road construction projects have accrued cost-overruns of €3.2 billion since 1997. Other cost-overruns include €471m on the Luas and €150m on the Port Tunnel. The Minister who presided over most of this, Martin Cullen, should in my opinion have been removed from the Cabinet. But he is by no means the only one.

Education spending spiralled from from €2.9bn in 1997 to €8.3bn in 2007. In spite of this, children in towns like Laytown, Co.Meath and Maryboro national school in Portlaoise are forced to attend school in prefabs rented by the Dept. Gorey, Co.Wexford, with a population of 30,000 people, has just one school for 1,700 children. Our school-system is bursting at the seams because of a combination of appalling planning and population-pressures consequent on an incompetent policy of unregulated migration (notably since the EU Enlargement of 2004) and a failure to enforce our borders because of Political-Correctness and fears of accusations of 'racism'. The possibility of efficiencies in the work-practices in our schools was binned by the failure of Fianna Fáil, as usual, to face down the teaching unions on performance-related pay and school league-tables. Minister Mary Hanafin must take responsibility for this failures, which reflect the gombeen tendency for Fianna Fáil to be all things to all people and avoid tough decisions.

It is a good thing then, that all three Ministers are no longer in their present positions, though whether they should even remain in the Cabinet is debatable. I have already set out my stall on this - Martin Cullen should certainly have gotten the 'chop'. This blogger has decided to give Hanafin another chance to redeem herself and learn from her mistakes. For all Micheal Martin's failings, there is less-scope for waste of public-money in his new throne in Iveagh House. The most important changes are the removal of Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach and Cowen as Finance Minister. Brian Lenihan has already shown some promise in his former Justice portfolio. If he wants to do the same in his current post at Finance, he must crack down on endemic waste in the public sector. Among other things that means facing down the unions, (which Cowen failed to do) and linking benchmarking to changes to work-practices. The extent to which Cowen's uninspiring records in Health, Transport, Energy and Communications and Finance will impede his successor's capacity to bring about real value for taxpayers' money remains to be seen. But the Irish people, tired of good money being thrown after bad, will be watching closely.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cowen - 'support Lisbon or else'

In the latest disturbing sign of the undemocratic agenda pursued by the Lisbon treaty, Taoiseach Brian Cowen is to tell his backbenchers that unless they actively campaign for a "yes" vote they will "face consequences". It seems in the supposedly 'more democratic' Europe the Lisbonistas promise us, one casualty will be the right to free debate on behalf of the needs of the constituents where those interests are perceived as conflicting with the opinions of the party-bosses. This is the latest in a long list of disturbing undermining of the democratic values we are told the EU is supposed to be built on. In a debate in the European Parliament some months ago, Labour MEP Pronsius de Rossa was one of the 75% of that body that voted down a motion promising to respect the results of the referendum in Ireland. When questioned on this on Newstalk's Breakfast Show this morning, party leader Eamon Gilmore bizarrely explained it as a vote that the European Parliament has no say in the Irish referendum. Very clever Eamon, but unfortunately for you and the Treaty's supporters we did not come down in the last shower. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and it flies like a duck - then chances are it is a duck.

The 'more democratic' Europe we are told will come about if we ratify Lisbon has some curiously undemocratic elements. Firstly, it amounts to a trampling on the democratic rights of the peoples of France and the Netherlands, who have already said a firm "No" to 95% of the provisions in this Treaty that former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern already admitted are contained therein. Across Europe, governments elected on mandates that including holding referenda on the old EU Constitution suddenly had a change of heart after the rejections in France and Holland.

Some in the "yes" campaign have tried to pretend this is a different Treaty. But that carries no credibility considering the candour with which their counterparts across the European Union have said otherwise. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, former President of the Convention on the Future of Europe that drew up the EU Constitution, has said: "The difference between the original Constitution and the present Lisbon Treaty is one of approach, rather than content. The draft constitution resulted from a political desire to simplify European institutions, rendered inefficient by recent expansions. It was about creating more democracy and transparency within the European Union. It was about opening the way for a "Constitution for the people of Europe". And with a candour that is absent from our own political-leaders, he even admits why this is the case: "Otherwise, the proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged. They have simply been dispersed through old treaties in the form of amendments. Why this subtle change? Above all, to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary. The Brussels institutions have also cleverly reclaimed the process from the – to them – unwelcome intrusion of parliamentarians and politicians in the work of the original drafting Convention. The institutions have re-imposed their language and their procedures – taking us even further away from ordinary citizens." Czech President Vaclav Kalus has said ""Only cosmetic changes have been made and the basic document remains the same.". Giuliano Amato, former Italian Prime Minister has said "The good thing about not calling it a Constitution is that no one can ask for a referendum on it.". Nicolas Sarkozy has said "A referendum now would bring Europe into danger. There will be no Treaty if we had a referendum in France, which would again be followed by a referendum in the UK."

Even former Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald, now a leading figure in the "Irish Alliance for Europe", has admitted the same:

"As for the changes now proposed to be made to the constitutional treaty, most are presentational changes that have no practical effect. They have simply been designed to enable certain heads of government to sell to their people the idea of ratification by parliamentary action rather than by referendum."

So what do we have here? In sum, we have the central figure in the negotiation of the EU Constitution admitting that the content is no different, and that the reason for it now being called a Treaty is to head off referenda in other EU countries. We also have Irish politicians trampling on the wishes of the peoples of France and the Netherlands, and asking us to assist them and the other 26 governments in doing so. Even if you leave aside the merits or demerits you believe are contained in the contents of the Treaty, it cannot be credibly denied that if this treaty is ratified in Ireland, it will mark a serious erosion of wider European democracy. It will have set a precedent whereby nations can have sovereignty ceded to supranational EU institutions not merely without the expressed-consent - but against their expressed refusal of this consent. When taken against that background, the largely symbolic 'powers' of 9 national parliaments to give non-binding advice that proposed EU legislation be withdrawn, and the much-vaunted 'Citizens Initiative' of 1 million signatures to ask the same - again non-binding - are exposed for the pig-in-a-poke that they are. The only answer can be a firm "No".

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lisbon treaty on knife-edge

We have a new poll on the Lisbon Treaty today. The Sunday Business Post/Red C poll of over 1,000 voters suggests that the referendum is all to play for. The findings are:

Yes - 38%
No - 28%
Undecided - 34%

While this represents a slight increase for the "yes" campaign following the disaster of the previous Red C poll that had just a 4% gap between the 2 sides, it still does not repair the damage inflicted on them by the no side in the previous poll. They remain 5% down on the 43% of the first Red C poll of this campaign. Taken together with the MRBI polls of the first Nice Treaty referendum of 2001, in which the yes side had a 12% lead (compared to 10% here) but nevertheless went on to lose the referendum, this strongly suggests that the outcome of the contest - with 4 more weeks to go until polling-day - remains wide-open. Likewise, it was only this week that the yes campaign really started to get their act together in a high-profile way, with umbrella organisations like the Irish Alliance for Europe, the Labour Party and FG getting stuck in. In that context, a gain for the yes side was perhaps inevitable. But a victory for those pushing the ratification of this undemocratic treaty is still far from inevitable.

Looking at the demographics of the sample, a number of interesting statistics emerge about positions on the Treaty:

Among farmers, the gap between yes and no is just 4%, compared to 10% in the sample overall.

42% of Fine Gael supporters now say they will vote "yes".

Excluding don't knows, 54% of 18-44 year olds say they will vote no. This is intriguing given that the previous Red C poll suggested younger age-groups were more inclined to support the treaty.

The region that is most hostile to the treaty is Connaught-Ulster.

The don't knows are more likely to be middle-aged females, with 49% of this group stating they are undecided on how to vote.

With 4 weeks yet to go in the campaign, this should be a wake up call for both sides, who will need to mobilise their relevant bases of support if they are to win the day on June 12th. As you may know I am implacably opposed to the Treaty for reasons of loss of sovereignty, the weakening of the Irish voice on the Council of Ministers via the new voting-system, the loss of the Commissioner, the erosion of the veto, and the subordination of the Irish Supreme Court to the European Court of Justice. I trust that a properly-informed Irish electorate will have the courage to join the peoples of France and the Netherlands in opposing the elite's grand-designs for a country called Europe, ruled by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

Pakistani marriage-scam exposed

Cheers to Sunday Independent journalist Jim Cusack for reporting today about a marriage-scam involving illegal-immigrants to claim residency here. Apparently Latvian women are being offered up to €10,000 to travel to Ireland to marry illegal Pakistani immigrants living in Ireland. According to the report:

Poor, young Latvian women are being lured to Ireland with promises of up to €10,000 to "marry" illegal immigrants here, men mainly from Pakistan, most of whom are believed to have wives back in their home countries.Adverts have been placed in Latvia and, it is believed other Baltic states, seeking women to come to Ireland to marry illegal immigrants over the past two years. One advert in Latvia stated: "Young unmarried women wanted. Women who would agree to help Indian guys in Dublin with registering marriage on paper (fictitious marriage, popular in Dublin nowadays). "Everything will be covered, plus you get €1,000, plus room rent covered, plus work offered, plus pocket money, plus course (professional, language) plus other benefits. Also plane ticket costs will be covered. All this is legal!."Although the advert claimed that"Indian" men were involved, investigations into such marriages by the Garda National Bureau of Investigation (GNIB) found that those involved are all from Pakistan.

The article continues by citing an individual case:

A journalist from Latvian newspaper Diena who posed as a possible bride, replied by email to the advert and received a reply stating: "When arriving in Ireland this marriage is not registered right away but only after 3-6 months not earlier, because in Ireland all 'paper formalities' take very long time and after you have submitted an application you must wait for another 3-6 months until that marriage."A fictitious marriage is registered, it is a marriage on paper. With this the Indian guy may stay in the territory of Ireland legally because he has registered his marriage with EU citizen. This allows him to stay in Ireland permanently."It does not cost anything for the person who is helping, also stamps are not put in passports any more, passport stays clean. Then this marriage is registered in local Irish computer, not in Latvian register. Marriage agreement/ contract is signed and cancelled after a year. No obligations from both sides. This is just a formality. And it is legal process. At present it is a rather popular thing in Ireland (also in other countries eg England, Switzerland and others." the reply said.

Apparently, even the Latvian authorities themselves are shocked that such 'marriages' are not illegal in this country:

The Latvian authorities are apparently amazed at Ireland's lax controls over arranged or bogus marriages. Last month, Latvian police said that they have been informed by the garda that such "marriages" are "not a crime" in Ireland.
The Head of the
State Police Organised Crime Enforcement Department, Arturs Vaisla, told the Diena newspaper: "There are countries that treat such cases irresponsibly. If it had happened here we could have put them in prison."

This underlines that former Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan was wrong to cave-in to the so-called 'rights' groups on restrictions on marriages to non-EU nationals. The original form of the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill would have give the Minister a veto on such marriages. Prior to leaving office, he apparently agreed to 200 amendments including rolling back this restriction. The coming to office of his successor in this Department, Dermot Ahern, represents a golden opportunity to reactivate the original proposals. The elites have been out of touch with public-opinion for years on this issue - the Citizenship referendum was opposed by most Opposition parties and implicitly by some Fianna Fáil backbenchers who questioned its timing. But 80% still voted yes. And polls consistently show that 70%+ of the Irish people favour tighter immigration-controls. As such we now have a new loophole and I believe that the Irish people want this to be closed. In this, we have a responsibility not just to our own national interests and those of the law-abiding taxpayer, but also to our partners in the European Union, whose border and residency controls are being circumvented by loopholes like these. We're counting on you, Dermot.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cowen reshuffle a mixed bag

It would be churlish not to congratulate Taoiseach Cowen on his elevation to the Holy Grail of Irish politics. I heartily do so and wish him well. It's a shame I can't say the same about aspects of his speech, but I will address that later. The purpose of this thread is to highlight the plusses and minuses of the new Cabinet, about which my feelings are decidedly mixed. He certainly left us guessing till the last minute - in that regard he has already demonstrated a style of government and relationship to the media than his precessor Bertie. Perhaps this is symptomatic of a relationship that will be less about spin and more about substance that the previous 11 years of FF-PD and FF-PD-Green. That of itself would be most welcome. The Irish public are tired of seeing kites flown in the media simply to elicit a public response upon which to base certain decisions. And anyway even when these kites are flown, public opinion wasn't always listened to by the previous regime. This was notably the guess on issues like asylum and labour movement from the new EU member states of Eastern Europe that have joined since the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. But I won't dwell on these issues too much on this post. Like I said this is a thread primarily about the complexion of the new Cabinet, and its merits and demerits. Here are my thoughts on that matter:

Mary Coughlan: Tánaiste and Enterprise and Employment. In a still male-dominated Irish political-scene, in which male chauvinism has often pervaded the political-spectrum, it is welcome that finally Fianna Fáil has recognised what the women of Ireland have to offer to society from positions of political power. Sure we have already had a female Tánaiste in Mary Harney for 9 years, but as Mary O'Rourke's failure to win the FF leadership 14 years ago demonstrates, Fianna Fáil has traditionally been less receptive to the advancement of women in the party. Cowen's appointment of Coughlan is thus a welcome departure for Fianna Fáil, and reflects especially well on the man himself. Clearly he is indicating that he envisions Coughlan as leadership material after he has left the stage. She has also won much support in the farming community. A Farmer's Journal poll in May 2007 gave her a massive 71% approval-rating among farmers, and she played an effective role in the campaign for a "Yes" vote to the crucial Citizenship Referendum in 2004, which removed the "citizenship-tourism" loophole whereby the Irish born children of asylum-seekers received automatic Irish citizenship. My only problem with her relates to her record as Minister for Social and Family Affairs, a post in which she tried to change the law to require that the term "spouse" would only refer to a partner of the opposition gender. She also told a European Union forum on family policy that Ireland would never be ready for gay marriage or adoption. As such some in the "pink vote" - myself included - would have some concerns about her positions on some issues pertaining to gay rights. But I wouldn't judge her negatively overall because I do not believe she is a bigot. She is a Donegal woman, and these kinds of attitudes are more widespread in that socially conservative county, in which 70% voted for the 2002 Abortion Referendum and a majority voted against Divorce in 1995. If she one day graduates to become our first female Taoiseach, then Fianna Fáil will have turned to corner on a traditional bastion of male chauvinism. And I say that as a man.

Brian Lenihan: This is one of the real shocks. Just 1 year as Justice Minister and already he is being moved to Finance. It is also surprising that for the first time in many years, a Fianna Fáil Finance or Justice Minister will not be Tánaiste. It creates a certain muddle as to what Cowen's preferences for the succession after he leaves office are. I am a great fan of Brian for several reasons. I admire his work to reach an cross-party consensus on dealing with the mess following the 2006 Supreme Court ruling on the "honest mistake", as well as his recognition in the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill, of the need to crack down hard on illegal immigration and in particular, the abuses of our asylum system by vexatious legal-challenges by obstructionist solicitors. However I do sometimes wonder could he have done more in the area of deportations, even taking account of this. For sure, the courts are largely to blame, but was it really unavoidable that just 98 people were deported from Ireland in 2007, compared with 90% of asylum-seekers failing their applications for asylum? I do feel that he tarried a bit too long on that issue, but I had high hopes that with tougher legislation than under his predecessor, that he would finally be the man to take this issue seriously. His movement to Finance calls into question whether this matter will now get its long-overdue attention. But it is also an opportunity to crack down hard on my bete-noir - waste in the public-sector. I especially want to see him stand up to the unions on benchmarking. What began as a mechanism for bridging pay-differentials between the public and private-sectors has instead become a glorified ATM at the taxpayer's expense. The public-sector now far outpaces its private-sector counterpart in pay, yet still the public-sector unions demand the squeezing of every penny out of benchmarking as an excuse for increased pay. Lenihan needs to face them down, but as the man who coughed up to them under the Ahern years is now Taoiseach, it is debatable whether he will be let do so. For now, I am willing to give Brian the benefit of the doubt, and assume that Ahern's palliness with the unions was what led to the caving in on benchmarking. Perhaps freed from these restrains, Cowen and Lenihan will bring the spendthrift public-sector to heel. I will be watching closely.

Michael Martin: The Minister who failed to tackle reform in the Health portfolio is moved to the relative powerless of Iveagh House. This is welcome. He is a likeable enough man and that can't be a bad thing for our foreign-relations. But his failure to push the unions into reform in the health-service (other than establishing the HSE) might raise questions in the minds of some as to his suitability in future negotiations in the North, should things go pearshaped up there. While he did introduce the HSE, it was in the context of a sellout to the unions that promised there would be no redundancies. This has deprived the taxpayer of large savings that could have accrued from the abolition of the bureaucratic health boards, and bequeated us an equally wasteful HSE in which the duplication continues, with resources that could have gone to healthcare going to pen-pushers instead. By press reports, he was one of the favourites for promotion to Finance. I am on balance glad that he was not moved there. If he didn't have the bottle to reform the health-service, then why would he be any different in Finance, which also requires bottle to stand up to the avaricious greed of the public-sector unions and reform of the wasteful 'benchmarking' system which is draining the Exchequer's coffers dry? He is largely remembered for the fiasco over nursing-home charges. While the 2005 Travers Report cleared Martin of blame, arguing he had not been properly briefed on the illegal charges, it also points to a disagreement between 2 officials one of whom claimed to have seen the missing file outside the minister's office in early 2004. The controversy was widely seen as a major blow to Martin's prospects of taking over as party leader.

Martin Cullen: Remembered for the fiasco of e-voting, Cullen had been one of those tipped for demotion or removal from the Cabinet. His introduction of the Planning and Development(Amendment) Act, 2002 represented a cowardly cave-in the the Fianna Fáil builders, who were no longer required to provide social/affordable housing on 20% of their developments provided they paid a fee to the Council. This allowed the housing-bubble - for which the Irish economy and public are paying the price in the form of another 11,000 on the dole in March - to continue. His handling of e-voting is also dubious. He stood over a flawed plan to use electronic-voting in the 2004 Local and European elections, until forced to back down following a report in 2004 by the Independent Commission on Electronic Voting castigating the proposed system for its accuracy and lack of secrecy. As Minister for Transport from 2004-7, he presided over cost-overruns in the construction of the Dublin Port Tunnel, LUAS. The one bright stop in a failed tenure as Transport Minister was arguably the privatisation of Aer Lingus. But it should have happened years ago. At least in his new post at Tourism and Sport, he won't be responsible for so much government spending, but in my opinion he should have been relieved of ministerial office for these failings.

Mary Hanafin: The minister who presided over endless delays to construction of school-buildings, pre-fab classrooms, water-charges for schools and cave-ins to the unions on school league-tables gets a deserved demotion to Social and Family Affairs. I had high hopes for her in the beginning as she was a fresh face in a Cabinet that was starting to look a little tired. I am critical of her record on a number of levels. Firstly as a secularist I am disappointed that she failed to grasp the nettle of secularism in our education system - once even comparing the idea of nondenominational education to Henry VIII's policies on the monasteries. As Ireland continues to attract tens of thousands of immigrants of different faiths and none, the status-quo of schools segregated by religion is in my opinion tenable. There have been some hints of change, with even some Catholic clergy conceding they may have to take a backseat on school-management, but nothing concrete has happened as of yet. I firmly believe that it is not the role of government to promote religion, and that all schools in receipt of funding by the State should be secularised and non-denominational. If we do not proceed on this basis we will have an increasingly segregated, divided and ghettoised environment like in the UK. I do not want us to see the kinds of clashes on the streets of Ireland between different ethnic-groups that we have seen in the UK. We have enough problems on our hands without importing that here. Between 2000 and 2006, €80m has been spent by the government on the purchase of pre-fab schools, but since 2003, a decision was made to rent rather than purchase them - at a cost of €70 million in 2007 alone. This is a flagrant waste of public money. That in Celtic Tiger Ireland we are reduced to this is a damning indictment of the government and a failure by the minister to build enough schools. And while it is undoubtedly true that population-pressures accruing from immigration is playing a major role in all this, this should and could have been anticipated before Enlargement. I also have a bone to pick with her over Irish language policy. She was right to introduce changes to the Leaving-Cert to put more emphasis on the oral-aspect of the subject, but she was very wrong to keep the still too strong emphasis on poems, stories, grammar etc. When a language is not the vernacular of the country it needs to be taught as a foreign language is taught i.e. with an overwhelming emphasis on speaking the language. Her decision to force the Gaelscoileanna to teach English is a retrograde step when this part of the education-system has been the most successful in reviving the language by total immersion. On the positive side, I welcomed her plans to end the "straight A's" requirement for selecting medical students, which was in part responsible for the increasing reliance of the health-service of cheap labour from the Third World. A consequence of the latter in the First World has been the depletion of medical staff from the Third World - in some countries as much as 70% of nurses have emigrated. Morally, this is not something that can continue indefinitely. On balance, I agree with her demotion and the decision not to remove her completely from the Cabinet. She has her bad points but some good points too, and this blogger is prepared to give her a second chance.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ahern - "no dire consequence" from No to Lisbon

Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern has now given conflicting claims from his boss on the consequences of a no vote to the Lisbon Treaty. According to the Irish Times, he has said "There would be no dire consequence should the referendum go amiss, Ahern insisted, life will go on as it did after the French and Dutch rejected the European constitutional treaty in 2005.". This contrasts sharply with the increasingly hysterical rants of the yes campaign and the Taoiseach himself. For example:

"Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has told an audience in the United States that it would be an "act of lunacy" for Ireland to reject the Lisbon Treaty.Mr Ahern was speaking at Harvard University in Boston last night, where he said Ireland must choose whether to "whistle in the dark or be at the centre of things".His speech focused on the Lisbon Treaty and he appealed to the Irish people not to reject the treaty when they go to the polls next month."

Irish Examiner, May 5th 2008

"A NO vote in the upcoming referendum on the Lisbon Treaty would be a "disaster for the country", the Taoiseach said yesterday.
Bertie Ahern gave a stark warning yesterday against complacency among voters and politicians, and spelled out the difficulties the Yes side will face if there is a low turnout on June 12th. He said it would have "repercussions that would do immense damage to Ireland."

Irish Times, April 28th 2008

"The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has told an audience in the United States that it would be an "act of lunacy" for Ireland to reject the Lisbon Treaty.
Mr Ahern was speaking at Harvard University in Boston last night, where he said Ireland must choose whether to whistle in the dark or be at the centre of things.

Belfast Telegraph, May 5th 2008

While it is welcome for at least some on the "Yes" campaign to admit the reality that a no vote will not bring the skies falling down on top of us or the end of the world, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that this admission comes against the background of an abject failure by Bertie and the other yes outfits FG, Labour, PDs and the EU's other hangers-on in the media to convince the electorate that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will really descend on us when we reject this illegitimate, anti-democratic, federalist and centralising treaty. As such, it can be judged as an implicit admission that the yes side is losing ground - though no doubt they will continue to deny this in public. All of a sudden it is looking better and better for the "no" camp. The Irish people, having long fought hard for our hardwon independence, will not so easily sell it out so that our political-elites can hop aboard the Brussels' gravy-train. We want to be in Europe, but not a province of Europe.

An argument for voting Sinn Fein

As the Lisbon campaign rumbles on - or maybe that should be starts in the case of the yes campaign - one thing is as clear as always. Like in 2001, virtually the entire political and media Establishment is pushing us to vote yes. In an abberation in Irish politics also found in almost every EU country other than the UK and to some extent Poland, the party-spectrum in Dail Eireann is almost entirely on the Federalist side on the question of further European integration. Only Sinn Fein - a party I find it almost impossible to vote for in General Elections -stands against the cosy consensus. While there is much to lament about SF's policy and almost everything about its history in the last 40 years (other than the Peace Process), this steafast tendency to stand by Irish sovereignty is at least something to be admired. The culture of the cosy consensus - not merely on European issues but on other issues too e.g. immigration and asylum - has eroded Irish democracy by denying the electorate real choices on many policy areas. That is not to say that the parties are "all the same" - they are different for example on economic policy. But it is still bad for democracy when the choice of policies available to the electorate is so restricted. Who can I vote for if I want a tougher immigration policy? Noone other than a few Independents whose names are not widely known as our Politically-Correct media won't cover them. Who can I vote for if I want a more cautious approach to European integration? Only one party it seems - following the defection of the Green leadership to the Eurofederalist camp and of their party from Eurocritical to undecided following the decision of their party at their recent Ard Fheis to sit on the fence on the question of Lisbon. That party is Sinn Fein.

Yet I still can't bring myself to vote for them in a General Election. Few if any voters were convinced when in the 2007 General Election campaign, they suddenly started watering down their more hard-left tax-policies such as the 17% corporate-tax rate and the 50% top income-tax rate. While these were hardly policies that would appeal to Middle Ireland, they at least strengthened Irish democracy by increasing the plurality of ideological-choices available to the electorate increasingly bored of consensus-politics. I never had any intention of voting for them anyway. I was uncomfortable about a party linked to a terrorist organisation serving in my government (even allowing for the recent ceasefire and disarmament). I think the same position in local-elections, and it is unlikely I will vote for them then either. The one electoral-arena that I would seriously consider voting for them in - as well as calling on other Eurocritical voters to consider doing the same - is in the European Elections in 2009.

After all, voting for Sinn Fein in those elections is not going to bring terrorists or their associates into government - no MEP is allowed to become a Commissioner under EU law. And with only 16% of our MEPs in 2001/2 and 2008 being on the no side (MLM and Kathy Sinnott), there is unquestionably a strong case that our current cohort of Irish MEPs is woefully unrepresentative of public opinion. Even in the 80's and 90's it was unrepresentative, with 30% voting no to the Single European Act in 1987 and 39% against the Treaty of Amsterdam. Based on current polling-evidence, it is quite possible that we are in for a close referendum result in which the "No" side could well prevail. In that context, the current ideological breakdown among Irish MEPs, with all but 2 favouring the Eurofederalist position, becomes all the more an abberation and one that I think the Irish people need to rectify. This can happen by voting for Eurosceptic candidates in European elections. This should not be seen as a tacit acceptance of these parties/candidates e.g. Sinn Fein, as a party of government in the South, but rather as a rebalancing of the ideological playing-field among Ireland's cohort of MEPs. It is wrong that the Eurocritical position is so under-represented in the European Parliament as a whole, but we can only take responsibility for how we vote. We need to send a message to the Irish elite that there is a large segment of the Irish electorate that is opposed to substantial moves towards further European integration. Is voting for the same old Eurofederalist goons in FF, FG, Labour etc. going to force that message home? I think not. For that reason, I call on those of us opposed to Lisbon-type measures towards a European superstate to loan SF and other Eurosceptics our vote in 2009 in the Euro-elections. I intend at the time of writing to give them my vote in these elections, and these alone. I do not forsee myself voting for them in Dail or local elections. But with Ireland's representation in the European Parliament being just 13 (12 under Lisbon), we have less to lose in loaning them this vote than if it were national elections. It would simply be a warning to Irish politicians in the so-called 'mainstream parties' not to push the Irish people too far in the Eurointegrationist direction. The elites need to be made to think again, and this is one way of acheiving that.