I wrote about Ireland’s 2011 Presidential election at the time. The roster of candidates was uninspiring and the least bad candidate won.
Michael D Higgins after his inauguration – 2011
Michael D Higgins was, and is, too fond of the authoritarian left for my comfort but he’s been sufficiently ineffectual over the decades not to be scary. And he’s been in politics long enough to have a decent understanding of the potentially important constitutional role of the Presidency.
I’ve been banging on for a couple of decades by now about the housing situation in Ireland and why it is so bad. The reason it’s so bad is that affordable housing in Ireland is not politically popular.
Photo from Independent.ie This is a child’s home for the night.
People with houses like them to be valuable. So they vote for parties that support that idea. And they object to new housing near them. etc. So housing is expensive in a country and in a city mostly made up of empty space. And so kids sleeping in Garda stations is on that large chunk of the Irish electorate which likes their house to be worth a lot of money.
Yeah, the govt are the ones with the actual “blood on their hands”, but it’s important to understand why they do it. They do it because people care more about the value of their own house than they do about this.
All the petty corruption of a Burke or a Haughey is of minimal impact compared to the social and economic damage caused by the Irish electorate’s belief that their house should get more expensive every year. It’s a widely shared guilt. So next time you hear someone gleefully telling you how much their house is worth, think about how you should respond.
Looks like there’s a debate on abortion in Ireland again, and it looks as if it’ll be as messy and unpleasant as all the previous times.
Now abortion can’t be taken as a “pleasant” subject at the best of times, but we could at least talk about it calmly and logically and discuss what the goals of policy ought to be. But we won’t .
As for me? I find abortion a difficult and unpleasant subject but that doesn’t give me a free pass from trying to have an opinion on it. Some women might say that I shouldn’t have an opinion. Whatever about the philosophical angles of that discussion, I’ll have a vote in any referendum so it seems important that I try.
Bas-relief of an abortion in Ankgor Wat, from 1150AD
Anyway, all I’d like to do is touch on what policy ought to aim for, and then very briefly on one of the more awkward discussions, i.e. Down Syndrome, on why that discussion is largely a distraction from the main issues and therefore why Down Syndrome need not and should not be brought into the discussion at all.
I might even come to a personal conclusion, like it or not. You might like my reasoning, or at least tell me where you think I’m wrong. Politely, please, on twitter.
Foreigners sometimes ask me to explain Ireland’s political parties, which seem mysterious to them.
It’s actually pretty easy. While many people in Ireland start to talk about the civil war, that’s really beside the point by now.
My usual short summary is “Ireland’s parties don’t have ideologies, they represent interests.” That’s pretty much it. In some cases the interests are often the members of the parliamentary party themselves. But that’s still a fairly rare case, though the parties’ ability to live with the cases is still sad to see.
Here’s my overall take. It may seem somewhat cynical. By now I’m actually inclined to think I’m being generous. I’ve written some of this before, but it deserves its own space.
- Fianna Fail is the party with the best nominal vision. And therefore the one that lets itself down most. Supposedly interested in the rights of “the common man”, it’s actually full of petty local potholers and greasy con-men. Fianna Fail is the party of populism, of “whatever it takes to get elected” and of “the money was just resting in my account” venality. You can trust them to say things that sound good, and to do nothing much unless there’s a buck in it. Also, hand-in-glove with the church for way too long.
- Fine Gael is the party of social and fiscal conservatism. It ought to be a decent slightly right wing party but it’s ruined by an inability to see past the interests of its core constituencies. “The right thing to do” is defined in FG as “whatever makes our kind of people richer”. FG doesn’t do corruption, but doing something that benefits the right kind of people is perfectly ok. While socially on the progressive side, it’s often been too careful about upsetting the church until it was SURE it could get away with it.
- Labour is what should be Ireland’s social democrats. It can rightly claim to have driven much of the positive socio-legal changes in Ireland over the decades, but it’s waaaay too tied to the unions, way too protective of unreasonable social welfare and unable to see that markets and socialism are not antithetical. Labour is like a deeply ethical and religious person who has somehow ended up being a recruiter for Scientology.
- Social Democrats. A decent, slightly confused left-of-center party. Hopefully they’ll learn some economics and stay decent.
- Sinn Fein….the refuse of the Irish political system. Hand-in-glove with murderers and thugs. Tempting to the young and the naive, but merely scum in suits.
- PBP and the rest of the left. All the problems they complain of are real. And all their solutions are bad. Wrong, even. Unable to think past slogans.
- The independents….well, they’re a varied bunch. Some of them are having a real and positive impact and deserve to be respected and listened to. Others are just as slimy as the main parties.
- Renua…don’t make me talk about the socially conservative rump of FG. Please, don’t.
Anyway…that’s about it. Irish political parties. Don’t expect much from them and you can’t be disappointed in them. But if you hope for good things for Ireland, this lot aren’t going to be bringing you good news either.
The apparent sudden realization among Brexiteers that the NI/ROI border is a problem is sad but not terribly surprising. NI didn’t feature as an issue in the Brexit campaign and any initial questions about the issue were waved away with dismissive comments. Now, in the run up to the December summit, the UK govt and various UKIP and Tory MEPs and MPs are out in force condemning Ireland’s view that there has not been “sufficient progress” on the NI/ROI border.
Of course when asked what the UK’s plan actually is, there are stupid statements like “well we don’t want a border there so if Ireland and the EU want one it’s their problem“. Plus there’s a strong and rather nasty undercurrent of indignation that the UK might not get its way because the Irish want something else – a real “who the f*ck do they think they are?” reaction.
Yeah, that red bit on Ireland is in the UK too!
Now whatever about the nastier UKIP and Tory Brexiteers, there’s still a real problem on both sides of the Irish sea and we’re seeing the impact of it in this context more than normally.
British people, and English people in particular, just don’t think about Ireland much. It’s their blind spot. If they ever do think about Ireland far too many people think of the “British Isles” and assume that the Irish are the same as the English, just stupider and with charmingly funny accents. Continue reading
Ok, first off, it’s not my place to have a view on whether Catalan independence is a good idea or not. Spain (including Catalunya) has a long, complex and often painful history and while I know a reasonable amount about it I hesitate to make judgements on such emotional and historical matters.
That being said, the recent events in Spain and Catalunya seem likely to result in a degradation of respect for the principles of democracy and human rights, and all in favour of mere administrative and bureaucratic convenience.
Mostly it seems to me that the PP in Madrid is the prime mover behind the sudden increase in desire for Catalan independence. Yes, there’s an element in Catalunya that has continuously pushed for independence, but their support was very low until the PP got going.
What’s hugely disappointing is that the Spanish govt, under PP leadership, has taken every possible step to make the situation worse, apparently playing to its own voter base, and that the EU has essentially preferred institutional and administrative convenience to supporting human rights and democracy.
A recent column by Joschka Fischer (https://goo.gl/QmbbpC) summarizes many of the views I see as being so backways.
Maybe worth reading the article first.
Here’s my response;
I’ve often said that writing letters to the paper is the lowest form of political expression, other than voting for Sinn Fein. Writing ironic letters to the paper brings letter writing one step closer to the bottom.
Ireland is getting a new Taoiseach, chosen from two candidates within the Fine Gael party. They were lionized by the press coverage, particularly the ultimate winner – Leo Varadkar.
Let’s say my view is less glowing.
The FG leadership election is finished and we’ll shortly have a new Taoiseach. It’s time to celebrate the uniquely high level of the two candidates.
Leo Varadkar, a lifelong politician, really cut his teeth in fixing Ireland’s broken Health System and brought us from the bottom of the international health league tables to a point where the Irish health system is the subject of both domestic and international admiration. No-one in long queues for orthopedic surgery or old people in pain on trolleys in corridors any more thanks to Leo. And not for Leo a strategy of merely surviving his time in Health. No, he focused on real change and achievement irrespective of any personal political risk. If he has the same positive attitude as Taoiseach we can expect a transformed nation.
And as for Simon, though he won’t immediately be Taoiseach his time as Minister with responsibility for Housing has seen Ireland finally eliminate the scourges of homelessness and high house prices, and has seen policy recommendations from as far back as the 1970’s finally implemented to the benefit of the whole nation rather than just a handful of landowners and developers. His ability in driving real change and not just in releasing aspirational soundbites in time for the 9 o’clock news marks him out as a man that Leo can depend on to held further transform Ireland.
We’re so lucky to have such inspirational leaders to depend on.