Posts Tagged ‘irish politics


The Unemployed Budget

Like everyone else, I was paying strict attention to the telly yesterday to see how we’d be affected by the budget. This was a funny one for the unemployed, as there was the possibility that Lenihan would listen to the likes of Goodbody Stockbrokers and actually cut social welfare payments to those of us on the dole (a line elegantly countered by Fintan O’Toole in yesterday’s IT). I recall a few articles in newspapers in the last few weeks that sought to highlight the burden each individual dole recipient places on the state, which read to me like the kind of line journalists pick up from PR people who are trying to condition public opinion. I got a real sense that we were being braced for something shocking.

So, people on social welfare might be tempted to breathe a sign of relief, as on the face of it at least we seem to have gotten away with it. After the medical card blunder of last “real” budget, Brian was a lot more nervous about been seen to attack social welfare recipients. There are no major cuts in social welfare, according to the three broadsheets this morning. This of course isn’t the full story, but more on that later. The most notable cut was the abolition of the double payment at Christmas time. This has lead to witty comparisons to Ebenezer Scrooge, but frankly, I find it hard to justify a difficulty with this. I for one was not entitled to the bonus last Christmas and I don’t think I would have been this year either, and I was expected to just get on with this. Of course it’s very easy for me to say this, considering I’m a singleton who doesn’t have to worry about paying for a family Christmas. And considering the as yet undisclosed impositions that are to be place on the children’s allowance, the oncoming holidays are sure to be a difficult one for families on social welfare. To this I can only say it was always going to hurt.

Far more unforgivable, in my opinion, is the halving of dole payments for people under 20 years of age, an incentive Brian says for people to take up training. This is a basic display of ageism in that it assumes universal parental support for young people, which is not always the case. Will extra Fas and PLC places be provided for every person under 20 on the dole? I very much think not. As far as I can see, the pain this will cause does not justify the money that’s likely to be saved, which according to the Irish Independent will be €300 million.

Also unfair is the cut in rent allowance. It’s not so much the cut that’s the problem but the reasoning for it. According to Lenihan’s speech this is merely in tune with the drop in rent prices, a remark quite similar to Goodbody’s Marie Antoinette-esque belief that a cut in social welfare is justified due to a drop in inflation. This supposed that those on social welfare noticed an corresponding drop in their expenses, conveniently forgetting that the inflation drop was fuelled by a general consumer race to the bottom. For people already at the bottom there is nowhere else to go. Well, the same is true for Brian and his perception of rent prices. Suzy has gone into more detail on this here.

Apart from cuts, there was another reason unemployed people were paying attention to this budget. We wanted to see what was being done to create jobs. I’m going to leave this for people more qualified than I to discuss in detail. However, I will say it seem there was precious little announced in this regard as far as I can tell. I suppose such measures were never a consideration for this “mini” budget. Nobody of course ever believed there would be anything about this budget that could be described as “mini”. The Indo had it right today with a supplement entitled “Crisis Budget”. It was just about plugging the hole in the public finances that FF created for themselves. Creating jobs will have to wait for another day.


Cowengate Debate on RTE, not yet

The discussion on The Late Late Show regarding the (artificially created) controversy for those paintings was a typically pathetic attempt by RTÉ to ‘address’ the issue, in that it completely missed the point. In case you missed it, Senator Ronan Mullen, Comedian Alan Shortt, Sunday Tribune editor Noirin Hegarty and Mammy O’Rourke TD were invited on to discuss the issue. And by ‘discuss’, I mean Shortt told some jokes that reminded us how awful Bull Island was (he even pulled out a wig, for fuck sake), Senator Ronan claimed the paintings didn’t count as satire as they didn’t say anything (or it might have been because they were funny enough. His argument was so inane that I couldn’t identify anything that might be described as a “point”), and Mammy displayed (not for the first time) an inability to distinguish between popular opinion and her own perception of events. After whining that we would have been up-in-arms had the subject of the paintings been one of our female politicians (or “Marys”, as she referred to them), she then claimed that the paintings were in particular bad taste as Cowen has two daughters. By that rational, any parent is entitled to a limit being placed on criticism or reproach, due to the impact it may have on their child. Even Joe O’Reilly wouldn’t have thought of that one.

So, the focus of the discussion stayed squarely on whether the paintings were satire or just a mean-spirited attack on Cowen’s physique. I would argue that they are satire as they depict the holder of the highest office in our land naked and vulnerable as the rest of us. You could also draw comparisons between The Emperor’s New Clothes and what happened to our economy, but I’m sidetracking myself by mentioning this as the purpose of the paintings is now irrelevant. Only Hegarty touched on the real significance of this story, by saying it should have died on Monday night rather that grow and become an international phenomenon. Pat did mention that RTÉ may be somewhat responsible for this, but he did this in a manner that was so limp-wristed and uncommitted that it doesn’t count. RTÉ is undoubtedly (though not solely) responsible for this. The reason this story has grown is not because it was an insult and not because somebody illicitly hung paintings in two of our state galleries. It’s because of the over-response of our government and our state bodies, and because of the implication that free speech is now limited in this country. None of this was addressed on the Late Late last night.

It also seemed odd to me that the discussion was never opened up the audience, as is typical for this kind of item. I’m not suggesting this was a deliberate attempt to restrict a discussion. It could have been just an oversight on the producer’s part. Either way, this was missed opportunity as audience participation might have invited some real insights on this. I mean, here is a scenario where the state broadcaster backs down so readily and cops are sent to the offices of a commercial radio station to look at e-mails even though nobody is convinced an actual crime has been committed (and this at a time when we can’t know the identities of the Anglo 10 because of “due process”). There is clearly something to say on this regarding our freedoms. Ireland’s reputation on the international stage has already been sullied by the meteoric collapse of our economy and the scandals that have emerged in our banking system. On top of this, we now look like a tin-pot dictatorship where criticism of our leader does not go unpunished. The fault for this does not lie with the media (RTÉ excepted) or bloggers (despite what John Waters would have us believe) and certainly does not lie with Conor Casby. Responsibility lies purely with the powers that be. Cowen may have been embarrassed by the pics, but we as a nation have (once again) been humiliated by our government. As for RTÉ, it is possible, I suppose, that they withdrew the story independent of pressure from the Taoiseach’s office, but this does nothing to make the station appear as any less of a weak-willed, unprofessional news body that refused to stand by a story. In fact it makes them seem a lot worse.

Hopefully we’ll get a proper debate on Questions & Answers on Monday.


I’m soooo, soooooo sorry

Last night’s nine o’clock news on RTÉ was one of the most craven displays of cowardice I’ve ever witnessed, even by this country’s standards. If you’re unfamiliar with the story (though there’s really no reason for you to be at this stage) RTÉ apologised for a story they ran the night before regarding two paintings for our glorious Taoiseach Biffo in the nip. As usual, Suzy was first out of the paddock on this one. Just to be clear, nobody in RTÉ was responsible for the painting, and their report merely highlighted that these works were somehow displayed in two state galleries. And this has apparently evoked enough anger in the Taoiseach’s office to get the state broadcaster, OUR broadcaster, to apologise.

There is just no defending this. It is simply not something happens in a free country. A commenter on Suzy’s post has argued that RTÉ was right to apologise as the paintings are personally offensive. It could also be argued that they were libellous, and as we all know repeat of libel is still libel (though from what I understand of precedent law RTÉ has automatically admitted liability by issuing an apology). Though I can respect this argument, I disagree with it strongly. By buckling under pressure from the government, RTÉ has effectively stated that limits are to be placed on to satire and, more importantly, free speech. What’s weird is that RTÉ wasn’t the only, or even the first, media outlet to report this. Even the Guardian had it today, reporting that the Gardaí are tracking down the anonymous artist. They even called into Today FM’s office because Ray D’arcy was reportedly in contact with him. If ever this country was made to look like more of a banana republic then I shudder to think what that might have been.

I don’t want to get any further into the ridiculousness of this as it’s already been well discussed by the blogosphere. Instead, in a spirit of public activism (I know we still have it in us), I want to propose what we should do about it. Many people have said they e-mailed the department of the Taoiseach and RTÉ to express their disgust over this. This is completely understandable, but I have a better idea. Instead of getting ourselves worked up with complaining, why not go the other way with mass apologies. Here’s what I’m proposing: we go through our old posts looking for anything that might be perceived as offensive to our leader or the government, and send a letter of apology to the Taoiseach’s office for everything we find. We highlight in these letters that were are doing this under the new restrictions that have been placed on public discourse in light of RTÉ’s cowardice. If you can afford to post rather than e-mail, I suggest you do that. Forcing them to deal with hard-copies of letters will ensure this is a nuisance for them. There’s no need to let RTÉ off the hook either. We can send them letters highlighting further instances where they might like to apologise. I realise this will be difficult without access to their archive, but I’m sure memory will serve. And theirs always stuff we can find on the internet.

I’m completely serious about this. I’m going to e-mail some of our better satirists to ask if they’re interested in participating. But I think the blogosphere is where most of the heat of this will come from, if I comes from anywhere. You might say this idea is childish and petty, but it’s no less childish and petty that what has given rise to it.


Da speech

There were a couple of things I noticed while watching Brian Cowan’s Ardfheis speech yesterday, and chief among these was the crowd. These were the party faithful, who I always thought of as ‘true believers’, and so as expected the clapped and cheered when the were supposed to clap and cheer. Yet there was a sense that they didn’t want to be there. They all, every one of them, looked miserable. The closest thing to a smile was on Dick Roche’s face when the second Lisbon treaty referendum was referred to, and even this was soured by Cowan’s typically patronising manner. With talk of having the “courage to take our place at the heart of this larger, more vibrant Europe”, it was as if he was saying We’ve gotten you a second chance at this thing. Don’t fuck it up again.

Of course a level of dejection was to be expected, especially from the counsellors who had been invited on stage. They’ll most likely find themselves out of work after the local elections in the summer. The morning’s opinion poll must have been a depressing read for any Fianna Fáiller. Still, the most that can be said about the Indo’s poll was that it confirmed what everyone already knew. There was in my opinion little reason for them to be as shocked as they appeared to be. I mean, Coughlan looked like something out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, all dolled up and fabulously dressed yet positively dead on the inside.

I have my own theory on this. What’s upsetting the true believers is not that they’re unpopular, but that there’s a general recognition that the broke their promise to us. During the last general election opinion polls were again unfavourable to Fianna Fáil. Of course the intense coverage of Bertie’s finances probably the greatest influencing factor on this, but there also was a general feeling that under the party public service were failing us. The health service was a shambles and justice system merely a school for criminality. The FF response to this was enforced frankness. Yes, services are bad, but if we are to have a hope of fixing these we need a strong economy to build on. Cowan himself said as much on a Questions & Answers appearance. The implication clearly was that only Fianna Fáil could be trusted with the economy.

It worked. They were returned to power. And only now to we realise that not only were they about to let the good times end, but that the whole that thing was based on unsustainable markets and false wealth to begin with. There were in the speech several timid references to the global recession, just to remind us that we should place our problems in this context. Yet there was no attempt, ala Gordon Brown, to directly blame our recession on an international economic downturn. They know we created this recession on our own, and that happened on their watch.

Even the strengths of the speech mocked them for their failures. The only thing that might be considered ‘meat’ to the speech was a promise to renew the regulation of banks.

I will create a new Central Banking Commission. This will incorporate both the responsibilities of the Central Bank and the supervision and regulatory functions of the Financial Regulator. This will build on best international practice similar to the Canadian model.

I can just imagine him writing that, face scruched up as the thought Must hammer in a reference to the Canadian model. Doesn’t matter where, just as long as it’s in the same paragraph to banking reform. The problem here is that, with the arguable exception of a promise to cap the salaries of Bank Chief Executives receiving government aid (which received the only applause of the night that could be described as rapturous), he said nothing that shouldn’t have been already in place. The Central Bank doesn’t need more structures in order to do its job, it just needs to do it. And avoid, say, repeating the from Anglo lawyers that Seanie Fitz acted improperly and immorally but not illegally (Come to think of it, that was probably what was eating Coughlan. If proof was needed that she’s out of her depth, then stating on national television that the Government was at most “disappointed” over the Anglo Irish Bank affair while repeating the not illegal mantra was surely it).

Anyway, prior to the speech there was much talk on what Brian needed to say to restore confidence in his party. I realise it’s far too late now, but I’d like to chime in on this. If he wanted someone like me, one of the non-mere statistics without a job, to get behind him, he should have put his hand up. He needed to say this:

Yes, we fucked up. We wasted public money in the good times and squandered the opportunity to fix service that weren’t working. We allowed a culture of blind faith in the banking industry to develop because we were distracted, as were you all, by how rich this made us feel. We now know what these mistakes were, and we know how to fix them.

Of course we were never going to hear this. It would have taken true strength and bravery and nobody in Dáil Éireann, including the opposition benches, has ever been able to convey this sense of leadership.


Freedom of Information: Know your rights

Earlier in the week I sent an FOI request to the Department of Justice, and this morning I received a letter informing me that my request has been acknowledged and is being handling. So far so what, one might say, this is all pretty much above board. There is, however, one interesting anomaly. The letter contains one sentence, in dramatic bold print no less, that states, “Non reply by us is deemed to be a refusal.”

Now I generally don’t have a problem with people taking the piss occasionally. It is after all a particularly Irish trait to test the boundaries of what we can get away with. If this had been just a once-off I wouldn’t have felt the need to write this post. However, this is the second time they’ve tried this shit with me, so now I’m going public.

If ever a facet of the public administration system tries to fool you into believing they may refuse a freedom of information request without informing you why, I advise you to immediately e-mail the relevant FOI officer (as I’m going to do as soon as I’ve finished this post) and direct their attention to Section 8 (1), paragraph c of the Freedom of Information Act. This states:

Subject to the provisions of this Act, a head shall, as soon as may be, but not later than 4 weeks, after the receipt of a request under section 7 cause notice, in writing or in such other form as may be determined, of the decision and determination to be given to the requester concerned.

Basically, if your request is refused, they’re required to inform you why. Yet the FOI officer in the Department of Justice is under the impression that she can simply say, “fuck that,” and throw out requests without giving them a further thought. Of course this is symptomatic of the general contempt for freedom of information displayed by our civil servants, addicted as they are to the culture of secrecy granted to them by Charlie Haughey’s Official Secrets Act of 1963. These guys personally resent examination of how they do their jobs and see the Freedom of Information Act as something that should at most be pacified and preferably ignored completely.

Proof of this came in 2003 when the Government disgracefully amended the original act. The same fuckers who as opposition in 1997 claimed the act was too weak and ineffectual did their utmost make it weaker. Let me say, however, that I don’t have a problem with many of the changes made. Introducing a €15 charge to eliminate nuisance requests was entirely justified. And as for increasing the protection period for cabinet documents from five to ten years, few would deny (at least in private) that 5 years was ridiculously short. The problem is that they didn’t stop there. They greatly expanded what was deemed to be a cabinet document, which in effect changed the meaning of the word “Government”. There are other examples too numerous to mention here. So let us merely look at Bertie Ahern’s defence of the amendments in the Dáil when he claimed:

Later today, I am dealing with Northern Ireland matters on the Good Friday Agreement, which was negotiated five years ago. If the papers were available about the same issues being negotiated today, there would be major difficulties. It is not possible to reduce the period to five years when one is dealing with the same people, process and issues.

Fair point, until you realise the original act contained this little tidbit:

A head may refuse to grant a request under section 7 in relation to a record if, in the opinion of the head, access to it could reasonably be expected to affect adversely-
(a) the security of the State
(b) the defence of the State
(c) the international relations of the State, or
(d) matters relating to Northern Ireland

But this is all water under the bridge. Having already undermined the act, one might expect them to at least comply with the bitty remains they left behind, but apparenty not. Well, the last time I got such a letter I sent them an e-mail demanding to be notified in writing if my request is denied. As it happens, my request was denied (for reasons I accept were justified, or at least legal), and sure enough, I got a very detailed letter explaining why. This is the lesson I’m trying to impart with this here fable. These fuckers will only get away with this shit if we let them.


Economists need to shut the fuck up

They’re at it again. Today’s Irish Times has a piece about how economists are predicting 10% jobless rates by the middle of the year. Fás economist Brian McCormick went even further, saying we’ll reach 12% by the end of 2009. He warned, “the immediate future for the jobs market depended on the impact of a weak sterling and the credit crunch on the retail sector, as well as the way in which migration trends respond to the changes in the economic environment,” which pulls the simultaneous trick of sounding suitably dire and blaming the immigrants for it. The Indo has a similar piece, which states, “Some economists secretly admitted that their official estimates could be conservative and jobless queues may reach levels not seen since the 1980s.” It’s enough to wonder why we bother getting out of bed.

Well, you know what? Fuck them! The one thing I’ve learn from this whole recession is that there’s nothing quite so useless as an economist. These are the swaggering dickheads who failed to see the recession coming, and let the government get away with wasting money on services that don’t work, giving tax breaks to the country’s super-rich, criminally inflating the housing market, and generally take us all of a fantastic voyage on the good ship “Celtic Tiger”, which sunk like a stone after the first strike of an ice-cube (explained here better than I ever could). If these economists advised banks to invest their (our) money in an online casino they’d have been laughed out of a job. This, on reflection, would have been a far safer option. At least online gambling doesn’t create massive – and quite unmistakable – market bubbles. Ok, there were some economists warning of a possible crisis, but the ease with which these few voices of sanity were ignored largely proves my point that all economists useless. Remember when Bertie suggested that people warning of an economic slowdown should kill themselves and be done with it? I’d love to know what the miserable tit-bag makes of that comment now.

So, now that we’re in the middle of a slump that these knobjockeys helped lead us to, they’re trying to make us feel worse by convincing us there’s no way out of it anytime soon. Well, they can shove their predictions up their holes, because it seems to me that their only talent is to tell us what’s currently happening, like a weatherman who operates by looking out the window and saying, “bit cloudy, might rain.” It also seems to me that reinforcing a constant message that “your job isn’t safe” will undermine consumer confidence further and make the whole thing worse. For all we know (and when I say “we” I’m including economists) the economy might turn around in a month’s time and we’ll wonder what the fuss was about.

Ok, that’s probably not going to happen. All the same, there’s not much use in worrying about it too much, which is what these dicksplashes seem to want, and they don’t expect to be questioned on this because they’re economists and that means they’re experts and know what they’re talking about. The media has given these cunts a free ride for their failures, but there’ll be none of that here. I’m not going to feel bad because they want me to (angry, maybe, but not bad).