Another milestone reached and passed. Sinn Féin and policing under the new dispensation. May 31, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Ulster.
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An interesting reflection on what franklittle has been saying about Sinn Féin and the election is perhaps demonstrated by the relative lack of attention given to what, under any other circumstances, would be regarded as a significant event, that being Sinn Féin representatives taking up their seats on the Policing Board.
To be honest I’ve not been terribly exercised by it one way or another since reading the O’Loan Report on collusion and noting tha she said the vast majority of her recommendations had been implemented by the PSNI. That’s progress, albeit slow progress. But that’s not to underestimate the significance of such a move, and the power it holds in all political party constituencies in the North. Nor is it to underestimate the necessity for policing in the North to be clearly accountable, now and in the future. That’s a continuing project.
Alex Maskey noted that:
“We have set ourselves a number of objectives which we intend to deliver through our membership of the Policing Board and the local District Policing Partnerships. These are to ensure a civic policing service, accountable and representative of the community, is delivered as quickly as possible; that the Chief Constable and the PSNI are publicly held to account; that policing with the community is achieved as the core function of the PSNI; that political policing, collusion and ‘the force within a force’ is a thing of the past and to oppose any involvement by the British Security Service/MI5 in civic policing; that the issue of plastic bullets is properly addressed.”
All highly commendable, although cynics might enquire as to the delay. But returning to my original point one presumes that the choreography of this was established so that these events would run parallel to a successful election outcome in the South – perhaps to avoid or minimise the inevitable noises off regarding ‘sell-out’.
With the Southern strategy now in something like ruins such a choreography was moot. But in a way the lack of overt public disagreement with the move seems to indicate that the situation genuinely has changed.
It does raise the question as to whether the dynamic in the South, which might in some respects be put down to an indifference now that the Assembly is running with Sinn Féin participation is also reflected within the six counties by a similar indifference or lack of interest to such events.
Of course one alternative explanation is that even with some of the gloss taken off the SF project by the General Election it seems that in its core endeavours it retains authority.
But that it can come and go with hardly any comment, for or against, is remarkable.
A mad world, my masters May 30, 2007Posted by franklittle in Bioethics, Culture, European Politics, Film and Television, Freedom of speech, media, Media and Journalism, Medical Issues, Television Shows.
I have stolen the title for this post from the BBC’s John Simpson who used it for one of the volumes of his auto-biography though in fairness, he stole it from the playwright Thomas Middleton. Note also, the absence of ellipses.
It was the phrase that popped into my head when I heard about the new Dutch TV show to air on the first of June where a terminally ill 37 year old woman will choose from one of three candidates for a kidney transplant with the aid of text messages from the viewing public.
Entitled ‘The Big Donor Show’ it has justifiably drawn harsh criticism from Dutch political parties, the medical community, donor organisations and even the EU Commission has thrown it’s two cents into the pot.
Bizarrely, the defence from the programme makers at BNN that it will stimulate discussion about the problems of organ donation where 40,000 people are on waiting lists across the EU with 15-30% of them expected to die while waiting, can claim to have some validity.
In what is either a gigantic coincidence or a direct response to the show, the EU Observer reports that the EU Health Commissioner has unveiled a set of proposals to ‘promote donations from living donors’ and to crate an EU-wide organ donor card.
All very worthy, but the programme still leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.
In further EU related news, there might be some interest in the latest wheeze from the boys and girls in the EU Commission to tighten their grip and extend their propaganda for a neo-liberal federal European state. The Commission is next month to announce plans to fund political foundations on an EU level that will be attached to European Parliament groupings. This is, they say, to ‘spice up’ political discourse.
While I’m all for more debate, and better informed at that, about European issues, I’ve generally seen the EU Commission more as the source of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Worth noting as well that since the funding will be based on the number of MEPs in each Group, it means the EU Commission has found a way to channel yet more money to the slavishly pro-EU Constitution Groups like the Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the ‘Socialists’.
As Tobey Maguire might have observed, my Spidey sense is tingling.
I’m going to cheer myself up a bit. And how will I do that? By the usual leftist tactic of considering the plight of our rivals…
That being Fine Gael, and for the craic I’ll throw in the Progressive Democrats as well (Labour can wait – oh there’s a post brewing there, that you can bet).
Let us consider the Progressive Democrats first. Surely no one can have been entirely surprised that they faced electoral oblivion, nor that they managed to duck the final two bullets. With two TDs returned they are clearly at their lowest ebb in their history. But what does this tell us about Irish politics in 2007?
The Progressive Democrats became every ones favourite whipping boy. Their policies were excoriated, their TDs lambasted. They had been in with Fianna Fáil too long. They were the tail wagging the dog. They were Thatcherites. Free-marketeers. Conservatives. Really, if one thinks about it they were almost as reviled as Sinn Féin back in the day.
But, for all the sound and fury, they really were a very ordinary right of centre part – economically ‘liberal’ in the classical sense, socially reasonably liberal – albeit in a rather middle class way. That they would work with Fianna Fáil rather than Fine Gael tells us something about the anomalies in the structure of the political system, a similar process which sees Labour, lemming like leap across cliffs to be with Fine Gael.
But the Progressive Democrats had it’s own lemmings. Not least the man who would be king, Michael McDowell. Personally a charming and intelligent man. Politically, well, a little strange to be honest. There’s much to be said for being frank and outspoken, but conversely there are times when it’s best just to keep ones mouth firmly shut. He never quite mastered the latter ability. His tenure as Minister of Justice was so erratic as to leave former members of the PDs that I know aghast as regards his – ahem – interesting approach to civil liberties and the rights of the individual. His somewhat briefer tenure as Tanaiste hardly memorable. His political instincts clearly subject to some process of attrition (although the Dáil will be a considerably poorer place without him). Indeed, one wonders whether the PDs would not have been far more clever to go with either Parlon or O’Donnell either of who would have presented a more ameliorative face to the world. And in fairness, the PDs were always a little bit more eccentric than was often appreciated, think Fiona O’Malley, she of the semi-gothic dress sense…
Whether they can, or will particularly want to, recover from the present mess is open to question. There is a section of the Irish upper middle and middle class which is uncomfortable with the Civil War nostrums of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which regards both of them as essentially ‘unmodern’ and prey to atavistic appetites, Ahern too much of the inner city, Kenny too much of the market town. Something with a bit more sheen, a bit more consideration is their style, although they rarely make the mistake Labour have of dismissing Fianna Fáil as a tool for their ideology of choice – hence their current eagerness to embrace that which has almost destroyed them. McDowell misjudged this section when he spoke about ‘equality’. They’d rarely like to hear such thoughts articulated so bluntly. But…they wouldn’t necessarily entirely disagree. And if Fianna Fáil does a deal with Labour, well who is to say their day will not come again?
And Fine Gael? Well this is more difficult, because at least the Progressive Democrats have a clear option for Government, should they choose to take it.
Fine Gael by contrast see victory directly behind them. Who could begrudge them a gain of 20 odd seats. But defeat lies directly ahead. Five more years. In a fine piece in the Sunday Business Post it notes that for Fine Gael the prospect of power is remote, and the prospect of being opposition – their historical niche – very real. And that has human implications. TDs who – enticed by the thought of Fine Gael actually being in government – dropped retirement plans and put their shoulders to the wheel one last time, and now find themselves, like Dinny McGinley of Donegal South having been a TD for 25 years, facing:
five more years, in his mid 60s, of driving himself the 370 miles round trip from Bunbeg to the Dail each week. Not a glittering prospect [as an opposition TD].
Now before we take out the violins and weep, anyone who has the slightest familiarity with our TDs will know that being a TD is generally a lot better than not, opposition or not. And those who have seen the fallen from last Thursday will know that however deep the sorrow at leaving Leinster House, well, at least they made it in the door. Yet, here is failure piled upon failure. Fine Gael has spent 2 and a half years in power in the last twenty. Consider what that means in real terms. The store of knowledge, and experience, from previous Fine Gael led administrations is slowly decreasing. In five years it will have been out of power for fifteen years (assuming they doesn’t make it this time, and short of dealing with Sinn Féin – arguably a replacement for the PDs as the new whipping boys in our wonderful polity, I don’t think they will) and held power for 2 and half years in a quarter of a century.
But opposition is in some respects different for the centre and the centre right. For the left it comes with the territory. We know they hate us and we don’t care – much. Government is as much a curse as a blessing for us because that’s often where our ideological purity is besmirched, our high ideals cast low and our more committed comrades start to lob rocks at us for selling out. For the centre and centre right that’s where they want to be. That’s the point of the exercise.
Of course it’s true. There are new, young, fresh vibrant and ambitious people coming up through the ranks of Fine Gael. I need not mention their names, the media has done that job for me over the past five or six days. But these are new, young, fresh untested people, who will contrast most interestingly with the new young fresh tested people that Fianna Fáil will introduce over the next five years. Who will be lovingly nurtured in junior positions. Road tested before a grateful public, and if they’re lucky surround the next leader with a phalanx of unlined but seasoned soldiers of destiny.
And, nightmare piled upon nightmare, if Fianna Fáil and Labour do the business perhaps we might see Fianna Fáil in power for a good decade. That would then be 2 and half years of Fine Gael government in 30 years.
Circumstances might intervene. But they might not, particularly for a party, Fianna Fáil, which converted what was seen as a possible historic defeat at this election into one of it’s most famous victories.
And all the time, there will be Fine Gael champing as they sit on the opposition benches. Tantalisingly close to power, but always one step removed. Articulate, able, impotent. That begins to tell. Look at what happened to the Labour Party in England over twenty years. Consider how it changed in terms of ideology, policy, approach. But Fine Gael can’t quite pull of that trick, because while populist it can never be quite populist enough. Moreover, where are the next twenty seats that it needs to draw level with Fianna Fáil going to come from? Take them from Labour, weak but embedded in it’s own niche of the urban working class and parts of the middle class? Unlikely, perhaps five or six. The Greens? More likely, but that’s only one or two. Sinn Féin? Very, very unlikely.
And, for this to happen it needs a leader like Garrett FitzGerald, someone who brought the Fine Gael seat numbers up to 70 in November 1982. But FitzGerald had form as a Minister for Foreign Affairs in the 1973 coalition. And it needs to tilt – not right – but towards the populist centre, as FitzGerald did. But who in the current crop has the experience FitzGerald had, or the personal charisma? And worth adding this version of Fine Gael is, in it’s own way as joemomma has pointed out, fairly conservative – in an environment where most of the big socially liberal battles that Garrett made his own (although not to the point of y’know, actually winning any of them) have been fought and won some time now.
So 70 seats. That’s quite a tall order. But that’s the mountain it has to climb, even in the absence of a Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition taking power on the 14th of June.
There, somehow I feel just a bit better now.
Well…..that was certainly fun May 28, 2007Posted by franklittle in Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Labour Party, Sinn Féin, The Left.
Two little soundbites from activists on the frontline on Friday. The Shinner who compared what he was seeing in the RDS and hearing from Tallaght, where they were about to lose the seat, to ‘…being repeatedly kicked in the balls by people you’d thought you’d beaten.’ A Labour comrade, asked where her friends in Labour Youth were, told me they’d all gone out of the RDS to sit in the pub and ‘stare vacantly into space, shell-shocked and numb.’
Since Friday I have been unable to open a newspaper and I have yet to check out politics.ie, I’m simply not up to it. It’s difficult to pick yourself up from the floor after seeing some of the most corrupt and incompetent political leaders our generation has ever seen, be swept back to power.
But before we descend into a morass of depression, a bit of perspective. This wasn’t a great election for the Left in Ireland. But it wasn’t a disaster. This wasn’t a Fine Gael style 2002 meltdown. Labour and the Shinners both dropped a seat each. The Greens held firm even though they lost Dan Boyle. The loss of fine working class representatives like Seamus Healy, Catherine Murphy and Joe Higgins are deeply regrettable, but the world has not stopped turning. The left vote broadly held up, in part because more candidates were run by the Greens and Sinn Féin, but the percentage share of the Left vote didn’t collapse.
On the credit side, the Progressive Democrats are likely finished as a political party. Michael McDowell, a man I personally believed was one of the greatest threats to civil liberties in this country, has been kicked out of public life. The ideological core of our opponents has been gutted, and gutted far worse than us.
Our depression is so great not because we lost five seats, but because our hopes and expectations were so great. All of us expected Sinn Féin and the Greens to make breakthroughs. I thought the SP would pick up one and Labour hold it’s own. Instead we took a battering. There was a shift to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as the voters approached the election as a choice between two Taoiseachs. There was a swing against the left. In terms of specific political parties, Sinn Féin must rue a poor national campaign with a policy platform that seemed to change day by day and some disastrous media performances. Labour too must re-examine it’s strategy in the run-up to the election.
Broadly defined, the Left in the Dáil lost five seats. Bad day at the office? Cause for re-examination and debate? A few tears? A lot of booze to number the pain? Absolutely. But it’s not quite on a par with Thatcher’s re-election in ’92, Bush’s second term or even, in the Irish context, some of the dark days in the North. We’ve taken worse hits than this, a lot worse, and we’ve come back at them.
To paraphrase Joe Hill, don’t mourn — organise. We lost an election but resistance continues right across this country. From the comrades fighting in Rossport and elsewhere against multinational exploitation of our resources, to those at Tara fighting to protect our heritage, to the anti-war activists at Shannon, to newly founded Choice Ireland, to the willingness of the nurses to take on the Government, to anti-racists and communities fighting against incinerators or planning decisions.
Electoralism is only one front in our struggle. An important one, both in itself and because gains electorally can be used to strengthen our work in other areas through access to more resources and publicity, but not the only one.
So let’s sit down and analyse. Let’s see where we made mistakes, what went wrong, what went right. Let’s be honest and forthright, but above all, be comradely in our discussions. Make sure and remember, for those of you too young to maybe have experienced it before, what being beaten feels like. For those of us who’ve been throught it, open up some of the old wounds and lash the salt into them and remember why we hate to lose.
And then pick yourself up, dust yourself down, quit your whining and get back out there.
It’s easy to be wise after the event. But perhaps that’s the only way to be wise. Or maybe in politics there is no wisdom, just events which one deals with.
Certainly this election has brought some very difficult home truths for the left to the fore. Basically this remains a strongly centre, centre-right society. Fianna Fáil retains more than a residual core vote in the working class (perhaps one of the reasons pundits and others called it so badly wrong). Fine Gael retains a strong share of the electorate. The left, has for the past five years borrowed from both of these but has been almost entirely unable to hold onto them and all the talk of rising votes masks an inability to transform political success into political longevity.
In previous posts I’ve covered the rise of splinter factions such as Éirigí (now trading as a party, rather than a campaiging group). I wonder how this will impact upon them. While there was the prospect of continuing Sinn Féin gains in a sort of electoral determinism writ small the idea that others might also develop and grow may have seemed less incredible, even the idea that a Connollyite group might do so with a message of ideological purity allied with modish anti-globalism. The SWP projecting itself as People Before Profit might also have thought things could only get better.
Today that seems rather unlikely. If Sinn Féin, surely a serious political formation if ever we saw one, cannot make gains, is in fact largely dependent on hijacking elements of the FF and Labour vote, what possible chance is there for other much much smaller groups?
In a way, perhaps, my worry is that we will look back over the last five years and see that as something of a high point for the Irish left where indeed a thousand flowers bloomed albeit in a patchy and disconnected way.
Meanwhile the coalition behemoth rumbles through town. The combinations are alternately risible, disastrous or unlikely. Fine Gael is still arguing that it is in with a shot. Well, sure, if they bring SF into the fold. I wouldn’t place money on that combination. Fianna Fáil is being coy with various distinct and entirely contradictory messages being sent out. One rumour that was relayed to me from deep within the heart of the Green camp was the conviction on the part of some of them that Labour was already in ‘secret’ talks with Fianna Fáil. Maybe. Who knows? Meanwhile a raft of unlikely names are being tossed around as possible partners in an FF/PD/Independents coalition.
I noted before how this could have been the election for Independents. And yet neither the media nor the Independents themselves played it that way. Cold comfort for those who fell on Thursday. But perhaps we will see the Lowry Deal, or the McGrath Deal or whatever. Somehow though I doubt it. That sort of gun to the head politics is something I suspect Ahern will eschew. A comment he made I think yesterday on the radio very much struck me, and that was the need for ‘stability’ particularly from those outside the country. Localised deals with non-FF gene pool Independents are neither stable nor particularly good politics.
Apologies to John Cooper Clarke for the title…
So, we’re almost at the end of the process. It looks as if Sinn Féin will take the final seat in Dublin South Central. Although, with this election who can tell? That’s a bittersweet moment because Aengus O’Snodaigh can only succeed by dashing Eric Byrne of Labour. Byrne is a phlegmatic guy, but really, it doesn’t seem entirely fair that he should be faced with this situation yet again (consider his track record over the past decade or two).
And this is so far from the dizzying castles in the sky that we were offered by these parties in the past months, and even years. Sinn Féin was generally acknowledged to be on course for 10 seats. The Greens for a similar number. Labour was expected to hold it’s own. All gone. Ciarán makes the reasonable point in response to the post below that the Greens, Sinn Féin and Labour have at least held their position. More or less would be the response. One seat down for Sinn Féin. One seat down for Labour. A loss for the Greens matched only by a win in Carl0w-Kilkenny.
It’s not exactly fantastic. Expectations met reality. Reality won.
And that’s not the totality of the left either. The Socialist Party was wounded grieviously with the loss of Joe Higgins from the Dáil and was unable to make a gain with Clare Daly. Catherine Murphy and Seamus Healy, both left Independents fell. Tony Gregory did well, but then he was always thought to hold his seat. Finian McGrath managed to somehow retain his seat in one of the most competitive constituencies in the country (Dublin North Central). So some small comfort there.
Other left candidates didn’t take off. Consider Joan Collins (first preference 2203, 4.6% in Dublin South Central), Brid Smith People Before Profit (2086/4.4%), Rory Hearne PBP (591/1.7%), look at John O’Neill of the ISN (first preference 505/1.6% in Dublin North West), granted Richard Boyd Barrett appeared to do well for PBP coming in at 5233/8.9% , and a little ahead of Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party, but local issues assisted his campaign. A local election seat beckons?
There are more. But you get the picture.
The loss of other Independents – albeit Independents who would broadly be centrist – is not to be dismissed either. They provided an oppositional voice in the Dáil and whatever their individual politics by association with the issues that were dominated by the oppositional left they added some substance.
Where ever one stood on the left on May 24th I think it’s fair to suggest that the expectation was that there would be further progress, perhaps ten or more new ‘left’ seats under a number of labels. Didn’t happen.
Donagh at Dublin Opinion (and Conor in conversation) has noted how this reversal, and indeed the FF surge, has brought back memories of a previous period of Irish politics. Wednesday has a strong critique from an SF perspective (and splintered sunrise makes some interesting points about Ahern). This left, in all it’s formations has stalled. Stalled badly because the shift has been to the centre, centre-right. This is a problem.
It looks as if one element or other of the left will coalesce in coalition with FF in the next number of weeks. That too poses problems.
Worth returning to.
It’s early days. But in some respects this is very strange. I’ve been listening to the radio for three or four hours now and it’s fascinating, in a sort of slow motion disaster way. It seems that Fianna Fáil are increasing their seats. How on earth can this happen?
I’ve criticised the spinning on the internet over the past but it’s not just the internet, it’s been the media, it’s been the opposition. Ridiculous and arrogant boosterism, cant about the inadequacy of the Irish people and their political choices (a big hi to the former residents of D’Olier Street). “Experts” rolled on to talk absolute nonsense.
And the reality…
Labour dipping. The Greens appear in some trouble. Sinn Féin are making no gains, may even lose a seat or two. The Independents are in dire straits.
I thought, and I articulated this before, that Fianna Fáil might be waiting in the long grass. But it’s not just FF, it’s Fine Gael as well. The big battallions are way ahead.
People are talking now about an overall majority for FF. Can this be possible?
Has the opposition deluded itself for two years now? Or has it been ambushed by the voters?
Either way, those of us on the left can take no comfort from this. The project, in its broadest sense, is in retreat. The pieces are going to have to be picked up and reworked. Some hard thinking is going to have to be done here.
Well, this is strange. We’re in the eye of the hurricane, as it were, with one swirling mass of electoral chaos behind us, and another just ahead. Although the last person I pointed that out to was Cael on Politics.ie who was subsequently banned…so perhaps he hit the chaos a bit earlier than everyone else.
I’m a little frustrated by RTÉ’s insistence on having an Exit Poll on Morning Ireland…the next day, for the love of God! But then again, it would only generate excitement amongst the one or two superheated spinners on a few threads on Politics.ie, so perhaps it’s for the best.
Did my duty already, voted for the four progressive candidates in the constituency and threw in a surprise 5th preference which will do the lucky candidate no good at all…
It was sixish, so the voting was fairly brisk. A steady stream of voters into the converted hall where the Polling “Place” was. Didn’t they used to be stations?
And who should be hovering around outside but our Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, looking fairly dapper it has to be said in a grey pinstripe and being – I kid you not – accosted in a sort of low level way by well wishers. That this was taking place literally a stones throw from the Sinn Féin offices on North Strand added a certain poignancy to the occasion. Particularly in the form of SF party workers who were craning out the gate to see Bertie in the flesh. One wonders was he spending ten or fifteen minutes at every polling ‘place’? And in what order? How does that work?
Already the rumours are out…Labour will do this, or not do that. Fine Gael are up, down and about. The Progressive Democrats are bound for an electoral Valhalla. The Greens are…still there. And it’s great because at this moment absolutely anything could happen. There’s hours to go.
10.30 the Polling Places close. I know I’ve complained about the ludicrous spinning on P.ie (but it’s worth noting that there is excellent insightful discussion, as usual, on there as well, that many others from all points of the political compass have made their feelings very clear about such activities to the detriment of the parties concerned, and finally the huge effort put in by David and Andrew over the past month or so when hits have gone up exponentially) by certain new posters, but as the election has continued it’s almost become entertaining to see it. It’s so entirely shameless. I await with bated breath the first ‘leaks’ of the Exit Polls from those supposedly ‘in the know’.
Roll on tomorrow.
Just letting you know…again May 23, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
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Once more one of our number, who goes by the pseudonym of Dónal, has been invited to discuss the Sunday Newspapers on Taste on NewsTalk 106-108fm – hosted by Fionn Davenport. And Adam Maguire is going to be there as well.
What on earth will they all have to talk about in culture and politics?
Who knows what events will dominate the following mornings headlines come Saturday evening between 7 and 9?
Hmmmm…Yes indeed…who can tell?
While I’m at it, we’re hoping to blog the election, at least in part, on Friday, in tandem with Cian and Simon of Irish Election.
With luck it’ll be worth checking in for.
Incidentally I should apologise for not getting MP3s of the last NewsTalk session to people. Electoralism intervened. It will happen. Trust me.
Victory for unions in EU May 23, 2007Posted by franklittle in European Politics, Judiciary, Trade Unions.
Going along with the desire to back away from the elections for a bit, interesting story on RTE today. A preliminary judgment in the European Court of Justice has interesting implications for capital’s ‘race to the bottom’ in Europe, and the Bolkestein Directive.
The first case involves Latvian workers in Sweden being paid at the rate set in their own country, half the wage rate of Swedish workers. The judgment found that the Swedish union who brought the case was entitled to insist the Latvians be paid at Swedish rates when working in Sweden. Slightly suspiciously however, this right ‘had to be proportionate and in the public interest’
Since the EU traditionally defines ‘public interest’ as being synonymous with ‘corporate interest’, that’s not a caveat that’s without dangers.
More here from the EU Observer and here from RTE and a statement from the European Trade Union Congress here, which welcomes the ruling but wisely observes it still needs to be confirmed and that the details needs to be closely studied.