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Okay, it’s a trend… Labour on 22%, Fianna Fáil on 23% and… Sinn Féin on 11% in the latest RedC poll. February 28, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
72 comments

Who would be Brian Cowen this evening? Who indeed? For as he put the final touches on his latest – or is it his first, in the sense of actually talking more or less directly to us – address to the nation at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis the news for him and his party approached the apocalyptic.

For that Sunday Business Post poll is out now and here are the results.

FG 30 -3
FF 23 -5
LAB 22 +8
GRN 6 -2
SF 11 +2
Ind 8

So, is this Armageddon for Fianna Fáil… well, probably not. That party is a resilient entity well able to claw back some percentage points. How many will provide a fascinating study in political tactics and strategy between now and the local and European elections. But that is not to dismiss the idea that psychologically this sort of body blow to its psyche, its sense of itself as the ‘national movement’, the ‘Republican party’ can be ignored. This is a profoundly serious process which is occurring here, one that is bleeding it of credibility and authority.

And growing is the sense that at the next election Fianna Fáil does not have a whisper of returning as a party with the sort of raw power that we saw last time out and the strength in the political context to determine the parameters within which governments would be formed. Now, counterintuitively, this may mean, if FF is seriously weakened that their place in government is actually strengthened, since a resurgent Labour would be more likely to plump for a government in which it had a greater number of Cabinet seats (and let’s remember that unless some smoking gun turns up as regards the banking crisis Fianna Fáil under Cowen, or perhaps a certain Mr. Martin, will remain a rather more palatable proposition than his illustrious predecessors).

What is most interesting is that Fine Gael are only a little ahead of their 2007 Election vote whereas Labour has essentially doubled. Glum news for Fine Gael. By any measure they should be doing better. Consider that in February 1982 under Garret FitzGerald they won 37.3% of votes. The November election of that year saw them win 39.2% of votes. The figure today is a long long way off that number. And why should we be surprised. Unlike the 1980s Fine Gael now has a host of competitors. But also, and again I’ve mentioned this, it is difficult to see how FG can offer a serious alternative to Fianna Fáil. The article by Enda Kenny in Friday’s Irish Times essentially offered much the same centre right prescription as that already being implemented by Fianna Fáil. Not quite the heady stuff a nation desperately keen for an alternative to the failed nostrums of the past decade and a half is looking for.

Finally we see some evidence that the Green Party is beginning to suffer with a dip of 2% from 8% to 6%. It’s not a huge dip, but it indicates at least some degree of upset at the current situation.

And most importantly the three most recent polls broadly agree that the political parties sit within bands of support. Granted the Irish Times had Labour ahead of Fianna Fáil, but in general terms the parties remain there or thereabouts.

Incidentally, whatever about putative political alliances the broad left vote (I include the GP) is now at 39%, while FG and FF are at 53%. Still some way to go then. But, a clearly articulated left position, even a mildly social democratic one would be crucial to government formation. It would be nice to think that precisely such a position might be seen to develop in the future. And part of that process might be some sort of conversation developing on the left, even between those who have been exceedingly antagonistic in the past. Because when push comes to shove we will be fortunate if our larger left parties do attempt to implement mildly social democratic policies in power and the more of them on board, or at least talking to one another perhaps allows for such a development.

I’ve noted it before, but it is clear that Fianna Fáil has seen a significant portion of its vote decamp to Labour. In a country like this where the media, economists and politicians have cleaved to a right of centre approach it must come as quite a shock to realise that a left of centre or at least public sector friendly vote exists and is strong enough to cause significant damage (or give assistance) to our leading political parties.

Good.

International Herald Tribune on the New Ireland February 28, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Capitalism, Economics, Ireland.
8 comments

To add to the tensions, some East European nations are eager to speed up entry into the euro zone, which has provided a shield for weaker economies like Greece and Ireland.

Enough said

U2 and tax… hypocritical? Maybe not. Solipsistic and missing the point. Sure are! February 28, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
32 comments

It’s the weekend, and at the weekend it’s always good to talk about music. But before we do let’s talk about U2… because for a masterclass in missing the point and evasion, conscious or otherwise, can I direct people to the interview§ in the Irish Times yesterday with Bono and The Edge (incidentally, writing the last name irks me no end…). It’s a typical sort of piece resting on the good old days…

“When we were young and broke and didn’t even have our bus fare, Adam used to ride the buses for free,” says Bono. “When the conductor would ask him for his fare, he’d just say in his west Brit accent [adopts accent]: ‘Can I sign you a cheque?’.” They laugh like a drain…

Hilarious stuff, I think you’ll agree.

And what of this?

The young, broke U2 who managed to get a few gigs in dingy Dublin venues regularly had their shows broken up by a skinhead gang of the time called The Black Catholics. “There was this gang called The Black Catholics in (late 1970s) Dublin,” says Bono. “They would try to break up our gigs. But I dealt with it. I knew which bus stop one of them got off at on his way home. I waited for him. It ended after that, that’s all I’ll say.”

Ooops… Not sure I like what that seems to imply. And neither, in truth, do they…

The study goes quite for a moment.

Hmmm…

Then there’s this:

“It’s all to do with how you can play outdoors without using a proscenium stage with a big bank of speakers on the left and right. Every outdoor show you’ve ever seen has that. So at the moment we’re just trying to get the design architecture right – and the financial architecture. If we can get away with what we want to do, it will mean more people in the venue, better sightlines and everyone will be closer to the action. We want to have a significant percentage of cheap tickets. In this climate you have to give better value.”

Sheesh, that’s big of them… after all these years…

And a statement which rings true, at least to me…

“When I hear a U2 song I wince,” says Bono. “I wince because of what I think is an unfinished lyric or a vocal moment I don’t like.

Ah no, Bono. No need to explain further.

Anyhow, enough fluff. What about tax. Let’s talk about it. Yeah!

As the Irish Times, suddenly in less cheery mode, notes:

In 2006, U2 moved part of their business from Ireland to The Netherlands where the tax rate on royalty earnings is far lower than in this country. This followed an Irish Government decision to limit tax-free earnings for artists. Prior to this, all artistic earnings had been tax-free. Now artists would have to pay tax on earnings over €250,000.

And:

Criticism rained down on the band, and on Bono in particular, from politicians, journalists and lobby groups.

Their response?

“We haven’t commented on it,” says Bono.

Okay… so nothing to see here then… er… not quite…

“And we don’t comment on it for a very good reason,” adds The Edge,

Go on…

“and that’s because it’s our own private thing. We do business all over the world, we pay taxes all over the world and we are totally tax compliant.”

Totally compliant – eh? Sort of missing the point Edge old son. Of course you’re tax compliant, otherwise you’d be in breach of some code or another somewhere or another and open to prosecution. I’m thinking more of the correctness of shifting from this state – which one would hope they might have some passing affection – to another in order to minimise exposure to taxation.

And our own private thing? Hmmm… I beg to differ. I actually think tax is a crucial element of the relationship between citizen and state/society. I think it’s particularly important to those who make great claims in other areas.

“We pay millions and millions of dollars in tax,” says Bono.

No, no. I get that. I really do. And with all due respect they have to. Again, it’s a little issue of compliance. The point is where they pay said millions.

“The thing that stung us was the accusation of hypocrisy for my work as an activist.

What ingrates could possibly begrudge them shifting their income from one jurisdiction to another for assessment at the best possible rates?

In a 2007 report entitled Death and Taxes: The True Toll of Tax Dodging , the development agency Christian Aid examined the impact of tax avoidance on the developing world and mentioned Bono as one of the people responsible. When a group such as Christian Aid (with whom Bono would have some common cause) criticise the move, that must hurt?

Common cause? Hurt? You might think… but… previously he gives a peculiar and extended apologia for his own actions by suggesting that:

“I can understand how people outside the country wouldn’t understand how Ireland got to its prosperity, but everybody in Ireland knows that there are some very clever people in the Government and in the Revenue who created a financial architecture that prospered the entire nation – it was a way of attracting people to this country who wouldn’t normally do business here. And the financial services brought billions of dollars every year directly to the Exchequer.

Er… yes. But that’s not really addressing the issue. They live in Ireland, as soon as the tax environment became less… favourable… they shunted ‘millions and millions’ (perhaps) abroad to an easier tax environment, thereby decreasing the amount of money to this state.

“What’s actually hypocritical is the idea that then you couldn’t use a financial services centre in Holland.

Erm… nope. The idea is that as a citizen of this state who had benefited directly from previous tax regimes he and they might see their way, in view of the very large sums earned, to supporting this state rather than the Dutch state.

The real question people need to ask about Ireland’s tax policy is: ‘Was the nation a net gain benefactor?’ and of course it was – hugely so.

Was… Past tense. Was.

And as for gains…obviously not, in the sense that they shifted their financial doings abroad. That surely constitutes a net loss.

So there was no hypocrisy for me – we’re just part of a system that has benefited the nation greatly and that’s a system that will be closed down in time. Ireland will have to find other ways of being competitive and attractive.”

Lovely lovely stuff. It’s not him, it’s them (or us in a sense)… Bono ain’t gonna pay any more than he can get away with to the Republic of Ireland until it suits him.

Except as always it is him… for the apologia takes a most curious turn…

“It hurts when the criticism comes in internationally,” says Bono. “But I can’t speak up without betraying my relationship with the band – so you take the shit.”

Okay…

People who don’t know our music – it’s very easy for them to take a position on us – they run with the stereotypes and caricature of us.

The preferring to pay as little tax to this state as is humanly possible one… hardly a caricature…or a stereotype. And not sure what not ‘knowing the music’ bit is about…

People who know the music know that the music reveals the people, not the edifice around it. That’s why we’ve decided to draw a ring around our audience and ourselves. Outside that there’s no point trying to explain ourselves. Without the musical part it’s all irrelevant.”

WTF? W…T…F…?

What a convenient way to step neatly aside from any serious investigation of such matters.

A masterclass, as I said.

Polls and rumours of polls… February 27, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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So, what to make of the report in the Irish Times this morning that ‘hopes fade for all-party deal on tax’? What hopes? Whose?

…Opposition sources expressed disappointment at the response of Fianna Fáil to suggestions that there could be an all-party approach to the introduction of an early budget to raise taxes.

Oh, their hopes… and…

Former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald had called for cross-party agreement on the issue, saying the Government needed the support of the Opposition to get the courage it needed to increase tax revenues.

C’mon now. This isn’t serious stuff. It’s wish-fulfillment of the highest order…

MeanwhileI love the way polls are presented in newspapers. Well, particularly the Irish Independent. For in yesterdays edition
announcing a further confirmation that Fianna Fáil are in trouble – deep, deep trouble – on a mere 25% (down 17% on their election rating, and Fine Gael are on 30%:

And with Eamon Gilmore’s Labour hot on their heels with 22pc of the vote, they could be relegated to third unless Mr Cowen can stem the rising tide of public dissatisfaction with the Government.

Never!

And yet I seem to recall and Irish Times poll within this very month that appeared to
suggest they were in third place… Remarkable. The Independent obviously arrives from a parallel universe. Actually, on reflection, that doesn’t seem entirely unlikely.

But it continues…

According to the poll, Fianna Fail are no longer the biggest party in the country.

Nah… heard that in the IT poll… indeed if memory serves me right hadn’t Fianna Fáil slipped into second place behind Fine Gael in an earlier IT poll?

But for the Independent this day is freshly minted and therefore…

This doomsday scenario will loom large over Mr Cowen’s disgruntled backbench TDs as he prepares to address them at his first ard fheis as party leader tomorrow night.

Or alternatively they’ll count their lucky stars that in this poll they’re still ahead of Labour. They’ll take comfort where they can find it.

Still, parsing through the figures they may be searching quite some time:

[Fianna Fáil] is backed by just 18pc of the electorate — behind both Fine Gael and Labour.

Now that is a problem. As is…

Mr Cowen’s own personal satisfaction rating being down at 21pc

But on a personal level perhaps the most difficult pill to swallow will be the news that:

…he also scores poorly on economic competence where he is ranked below Mr Gilmore —

Although a glimmer of hope…

…but above Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny.

Cruelly dashed away…

…when it come to the main party leader who people trust least on the economy, Mr Cowen tops the poll.

Not great news there for Fine Gael. Sure, they’re leading the poll. But arguably they should be doing considerably better. Is this a function of Kenny’s leadership or of Gilmore and Labour’s approach, or some mix of both. Either way it skewers Fine Gael on an awful dilemma. They might do better under Bruton, but it is far far too late to subject themselves to the sort of bloodshed that a leadership change would entail, particularly with a resurgent Labour Party waiting in the wings.

For Fianna Fáil this must be nightmarish. Because their vote hasn’t just walked away as it tended to do traditionally to the Independents, but instead appears in the main to have gone to Labour. That narrows the range of options as regards the political attacks they can deploy and may explain the softening of their stance and rhetoric on the public sector and the unions. In other words they’ve just been faced with a practical demonstration of the fact that a considerable portion of their vote is willing to tilt left when push comes to shove. For far too long I suspect FF has basked in the idea that they had that side covered, or perhaps deluded themselves that it simply didn’t matter. Behold the limits of populism.

The Green Party is at 5 per cent, it’s election poll rating. The lesson being that the GP simply needs to keep its head down. Whether such a tactic would work in the long term remains to be seen. Be interesting though to see some detail on the figures. Sinn Féin, despite David Adams worries, is at 7%, a figure the Independent takes some delight in, particularly since they suggest there was no bounce from the Ard Fhéis. But here’s an interesting aside in the Independent…

…Mr Adams proposed a left alliance “alternative” to a Fianna Fail or Fine Gael-led coalition.

According to the poll, his three-party “left” grouping consisting of an alliance with Labour, the Greens and various community groups would attract just 34pc support of the electorate, far short of the clear 52pc majority a Fine Gael-Labour coalition enjoys.

Why mention it? Although I could add that since neither option is on the table it’s all just so much hot air.

Returning to Labour, in light of the previous poll it does seem as if there has been a substantial movement towards it. Now to sustain that… tricky.

Someone said to me that there might be RedC poll this weekend in the Sunday Business Post. I’m dubious about that, but if so, wow, are they keen to get the boot into the government.

Amazing, amazing stuff. And what with the Fianna Fáil Ard Fhéis this very weekend, note that at Citywest Hotel (and isn’t that a location redolent of the Tiger years?) ‘Security has been beefed up to contain a series of protests’.

That sounds about right.

The Irish Right and an Economy at War February 27, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Economy, Irish Politics.
17 comments

There has already been some mention here of the remarkable ten minute televisual feast that was Junior Finance Minister Martin Mansergh and Margaret Ward of the Irish Times debating the southern economy on Hearts and Minds last night. Available to us all thanks to Pete Baker at Sluggerotoole. Without him some of us may have been denied the opportunity to see Mansergh demonstrating that he is not cut out for the cut and thrust of frontline politics by nearly losing it. Noel Thompson’s introduction pulled no punches, describing the Celtic Tiger as “toothless tabby” and the south set to be the worst performing developed economy in the EU, as well as raising the issue of a European bailout. Margaret Ward has offered her account of the debate, and I want to pick up on some of what she said, and how it relates to the emerging discourse of crisis we discussed here.

So what was Ward saying? She accused the government of fiddling while Rome burned, arguing that its inaction was itself a form of action. Here is her own paraphrase of what she said

Paraphrasing it I basically said this was an emergency and that we were at war for our economic survial. It was
time for unity. The time for party politics is over. We all need to come together, start talking to the social partners and make cuts
across the board. Why isn’t the Financial Regulator organisation in the dustbin? All senior bank management still not gone?
People are frightened – they’re losing their jobs, emigrating, huge numbers of small businesses are failing with banks refusing to
make loans…They need some hope.” I asked him loads of questions and asked him what they were doing about it. Why weren’t
they asking for help from the extraordinarily intelligent experts we have in this country? Why weren’t they communicating a plan to
the people?

As with Eoghan Harris, John Gormley and others, Margaret Ward is convinced that there is something rotten in the state of the Irish economy, and that we are now fighting for our very life. Engaged in a war no less. I’ll come back to the implications of this argument at the end. However, unlike them she believes that the corruption scandals have hurt the Irish economy in the eyes of the world.

If you are not extremely angry about what is going on then you should be. Ireland will be bankrupt in about 12 months. We are burning through about €1 billion or so a week. Internationally, Ireland Inc. is viewed as corrupt country where cronyism is rife and that’s accurate. Are you happy with that reputation? I’m not. It’s embarrassing. We ALL have to inform ourselves about the FACTS and then take action – quickly.

She was more explicit on Sluggerotoole

No one wants to lend to us because we are seen as corrupt fraudsters. As a result, we pay more to borrow money than other countries.

The other half of her argument was that the government was not ensuring that enough money was getting to private enterprise from the banks, and that a new bank should be created by the state to loan to small business. No arguments from me about the need for a new bank, about the need to ensure that businesses do not go to the wall where possible, but of course we also need to expand this to individuals, and especially to their mortgages.

It’s fair to say that Mansergh was not best pleased with her attitude and arguments. It’s also fair to say that I find myself in the unpleasant and unexpected position of being on his side of the argument. Mansergh made the point that the government was not going to clobber the people all at once. Ward’s response was an outraged and repeated “Why not?” The implications of her question are remarkable. While trying to appear as the voice of the man on the street, alone, abandoned and ignored by government, the actual consequences of her policies being adopted are simple. She said the government needed to talk to the people, to communicate with it. That is all well and good. But what does it seem she thinks the government should actually be saying? We are cutting your wages, your benefits, your public services, your schools, your hospitals, and our commitments to you and to social welfare. Instead we are going to concentrate on ensuring that we give money to business so that if you are lucky some of this will trickle down to you (because there was no mention of helping individuals out, just businesses). This is her version of offering the people hope. Spare us.

As I’ve noted already, this argument is being made by a range of government and media figures in the language of war. Ward in fact argued that there was a danger of being “economically colonised” by Europe. Yet it never seems to dawn on any of them to ask what governments do during times of war. Do they cut public spending? Do they reduce their activity? Do they downsize their role in the economy and in the lives of the citizens? Of course not. In order to win a war, the government takes into its own hands the direction of the entire economy. It creates new factories and new jobs. It suspends political ideology in favour of the efficiency offered by the collective energies of the people harnessed by the state. Perhaps when they meditate a little more on that, Ward and co might rethink their use of the terminology, or even the supposed solutions they are offering to the crisis.

Sinn Féin and Labour… February 27, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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A provocative piece by David Adams in the Irish Times under the heading “Alliance with SF would be devastating for Labour” certainly caught my eye yesterday morning. In it Adams asks:

How stupid is the Labour Party? The question arises following last weekend’s call by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams for Labour to do its “duty” and form a left-leaning alliance with Sinn Féin “and others” in opposition to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

He continues:

If Labour responds positively to Adams’s suggestion, then the answer is, very stupid indeed. As its name suggests, the Ourselves Alone Party does not do friendly, reciprocal relationships with anyone, most especially rivals for votes. Doubtless, there are Labour members who have been courted relentlessly by Sinn Féin prior to last weekend, and as a result may be tempted by what Adams is proposing.

Good stuff – eh?

There are a number of aspects to this which I think are instructive. Firstly Adams appears to know very little about the recent history and make-up of the Labour Party. The idea that they would be enticed by the blandishments of Sinn Féin, particularly given their composition following the merger with Democratic Left, but also given the fact that they already have within them a strong strain which is averse to Republicanism (no doubt infused by earlier mergers with the Democratic Socialist Party and indeed the long shadow of Conor Cruise O’Brien), is an unusual proposition. Indeed as someone who has watched the parties jostle and vie for attention and political advantage over the years it has always seemed to me to be a big ask, given the varying cultures and the history, that they could work together with anything other than gritted teeth. That Seanad deal two Summers ago although good to see in itself hardly heralded a massive change in relations.

That said time changes everything. Eventually. But whether there has been sufficient eventually is the question.

For him the clinching argument is that they… the Labour Party…

…would be well advised to study the recent history of their sister party in the North (not to mention that of the Ulster Unionist Party) before making any rash decisions.

Before trotting out the rather tired formulation that:

Although it remains debatable whether the SDLP was sacrificed to the peace process or to John Hume’s ego, what is not in question is the nature of the sacrifice itself. The SDLP got too close to Sinn Féin (who, if nothing else, are masters of media manipulation), and was almost destroyed as a result.

Let’s stop there for a second. This John Hume ‘ego’ trope (second time I’ve used the word in a week – ah well) only takes us so far. What I find intriguing is that it appears to be forgotten that he was the leader of the SDLP and that that party demurred only slightly as the process continued.

But Adams has a different view…

Its policies were hijacked and presented by Sinn Féin as its own. Every setback for nationalism, both inside and outside political negotiations, was attributed to the SDLP; and every victory claimed by Sinn Féin.

There is an element of truth in this. And yet, it’s not the whole truth. As the situation changed Sinn Féin took full advantage of the opportunities that opened up. Dominant voice in nationalism and Republicanism? That will do nicely, thank you. Work power-sharing institutions based within Northern Ireland? Ditto. Eventually accept the PSNI. Ditto squared.

But it is only if one considers these events in isolation that it seems like Sinn Féin simply supplanted the SDLP and assumed its positions. When one looks at this as a process it is evident that they occurred across a decade and more, that each came grudgingly slow and that the process was never quite as inevitable as its most avid proponents suggested. And such a viewpoint ignores fundamental changes that occurred during the process from the eventual demise of PIRA to the acceptance by Republicanism and Nationalism of “an Orange Green state” as Martin McGuinness said as recently this weekend. Is David Adams seriously arguing that the constitutional dispensation in the North in 1990 was identical to that in 1998? That nothing had fundamentally changed? Because that appears to be the logic of his argument.

But if the context and dispensation had changed then it follows on that the likelihood was that all else within that context would change.

And even if it were true that what Sinn Féin settled for was ultimately a version of a solution that was available in 1972 to 1973, that is to ignore that in 1972/3 large tranches of Unionism and all of Republicanism were simply unwilling (and psychologically unable) to give their assent to what was proposed. That did not materially change for decades afterwards, and more pertinently the SDLP alone was unable to sell that solution until eventually Republicanism joined it.

But let’s look at it a bit more deeply. One could ask David Adams what the point of the SDLP was? Was it just to continue as a political formation or was its purpose to deliver something approaching peace to the North? The answer is of course a blend of both, but in a global sense it has to weigh more to the latter than the former – unless we’ve lost all moral compass.

And it’s not that Adams has his lost moral compass, but merely that he looks at this in a party political zero-sum game. What is good for Sinn Féin is consequently bad for the SDLP and what is bad for the SDLP is consequently bad for everyone.

The reality is that the SDLP was not ‘sacrificed’ to the peace process, although such a sacrifice would – in my view – be well worth making by any democratic party worth its salt.

He continues:

In a classic divide and conquer tactic, employed recently against the Rev Ian Paisley and First Minister Peter Robinson in an unsuccessful attempt to split the DUP, care was taken to separate in the public mind “good” SDLP members from “bad”. Good constituted those who wholeheartedly supported the alliance, whereas bad would have been those like Séamus Mallon, who never hid his contempt for Sinn Féin or his suspicions about the party’s true intentions.

At the finish, the once largest and by far the most capable nationalist party in the North was almost completely hollowed out.

This too is an odd argument. Are parties meant to be near eternal formations, gifted their position by right? That’s an argument we often hear, again implicitly, but it simply doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny. And Adams, who surely cannot be that very much older than myself must himself have experienced such, not least since he was once a member of the relatively short-lived Ulster Democratic Party (it lasted 20 years), the loyalist party close to the UDA. Did he consider when a member of that party that he should not attempt to supplant the bigger battalions of the UUP and the DUP? Did he ponder the changes in that party’s programme from support initially for independence for Northern Ireland in the EU to eventual support for devolution.

But of this not a whisper… instead we are treated to:

It [the SDLP] was left not so much with a crisis of identity, but with the task of trying to convince a by then former electorate that it still had any identity (and purpose) of its own left.

Still, there’s something profoundly contradictory about the following:

Long outdated revolutionary rhetoric [really? He can't have been watching the same reports I did] and a portfolio of policies which constitute little more than clichés and soundbites, has the party stuck on low percentage points in the polls [that's incorrect too - their poll ratings are actually quite healthy in the South]. Moreover, it is incapable of moving beyond that position without help.

And that, of course, is where the Labour Party would come in useful.

Leaving aside for a moment the obvious dangers to Labour, one is at a loss to imagine how such an alliance would hold any attraction for the electorate.

Well, if such an alliance held no attraction to the electorate surely it is unlikely that Labour and SF would pursue it?

Yet, he glances off the substance of the situation when he mentions ‘It [the SDLP] was left not so much with a crisis of identity, but with the task of trying to convince a by then former electorate that it still had any identity (and purpose) of its own left’ but he doesn’t follow it up. The reality was, just as Sinn Féin supplanted the Irish Parliamentary Party following the 1916 Rising, so a later incarnation supplanted the SDLP as the dominant voice of Nationalism and Republicanism in the North. The key word is ‘purpose’. What purpose did the SDLP have in a context where SF had leveraged its way to the centre of the discourse, where it was dealt with as something near to an equal (at least in functional terms, if only briefly) by the governments involved, when it presented a much younger and more dynamic image. And as with that earlier Sinn Féin it also presented both an image of opposition to that which had come before, and in and of itself was a manifestation of change and difference. Where, more importantly, the SDLP had had twenty years to reach a solution and had failed given the configuration of forces extant at that point.

The Irish Parliamentary Party became a husk, hollowed out, to use Adams term, by long decades of engagement and conciliation. The situation wasn’t quite identical for the SDLP, but its very longevity counted against it, and it’s clear lack of ability to progress what had by the early 1980s become essentially a stalemate (and let’s not even get into class aspects of all this).

That this change and difference – ironically – elided to some degree with formulations previously championed by the SDLP is, and this I entirely understand, a bitter pill for some. Yet the crucial aspect of this is that it was centred within the North. That polity has its own very distinctive features.

But equally it is the nature of the dynamic of the Southern polity which is crucial in understanding what the future may hold for SF.

Firstly, I think it is inconceivable that Sinn Féin could supplant the Labour Party in the way that he implicitly suggests. This isn’t a case, as in the North, that Sinn Féin can become a clearly dominant voice on a particular ideological axis. The Labour Party has been out of power for well over a decade. It doesn’t ‘represent’ the left in quite the same way as the SDLP represented Northern nationalism or that it itself represents Republicanism. It can’t be superseded in quite the same way as the SDLP was on that ground. And that’s before we get to political contexts on the ground and the distinction between Parliamentary elections under FPTP and Dáil and Seanad elections under PR (granted the institutions of the GFA operate under PR, but they came relatively late in the political rise of SF and perhaps represent a consolidation of their support). My own sense is that SF might capture 6 seats, perhaps on a very very good day 8, at an election. On a bad day? They might be down to 2 or less. But even taking the higher figure this is still considerably below the number of seats captured by Labour even during their worst election results.

Secondly they’re almost but not quite fishing in the same pond. Similar, absolutely and with considerable cross over, but not absolutely identical. As we saw with the Workers’ Party in the 1980s and early 1990s – and Democratic Left after, even when those parties which had a much more explicitly left wing platform (although arguably a greater appeal than SF) – they didn’t damage Labour hugely, indeed Labour in 1992 was able to gain 33 seats while four DL seats and one WP seat remained.

Thirdly, and in a sense this follows on from the previous point, the culture of Sinn Féin in the South is one that is positioned within a more clearly left wing approach than that which seems to be evident in the North. Part of that is the opportunity to be more oppositional, part of it distinctions which were arguably pre-existing long before the ceasefires. But this makes it difficult for SF to present itself as being as entirely pragmatic as it can do in the North (and incidentally, fascinating to reflect on the very slightly divergent tone on the EU from their two MEPs… one based in the North the other in the South). But this culture means that a broad-based appeal – like that that Sinn Féín could lock into in the North – is much more limited, if it exists at all. Here SF is hobbled by the existence of too many first movers… Fianna Fáil for constitutional nationalism with a very slight edge (and granted we don’t hear much of that these days, but again its a matter of tone), Labour and a plethora of other groups on the left and so on.

Add to that the not exactly small matter of the public perception of Sinn Féin, perhaps fading somewhat but still inevitably linked with the previous decades, and it is clear that for them to establish a break-out from the mid single digit figures in terms of representation would be quite some achievement.

Indeed the fascinating aspect is that Sinn Féin has managed to carve out any political representation at all in the Dáil given these circumstances which on the face of it seem to stack up in a manner profoundly negative to their project.

All this simply seems to point to the idea that the rise and rise of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland was a function of very specific circumstances just as its apparent stalling in the South is the result of very specific circumstances.

And that is why I doubt that even should such an alliance come into being, and there’s simply no evidence of any appetite for same, that Sinn Féin would in some sort of hegemonising fashion sweep the Labour Party aside. A much more likely outcome would see Sinn Féin remaining a junior partner for quite some time to come, if not indeed indefinitely. And, let’s get some perspective here, we’re talking about smaller parties here, parties with – so far, although this may be changing – limited appeal in a polity dominated by two larger centre right formations.

All that said I think such an alliance would be a useful step forward, even if it were on a very limited basis initially, and could benefit both parties. And if David Adams, fine fellow though he is, says it shouldn’t be so… well, I’m more than ever convinced of the opposite… ;)

More from the Irish Times editorial… Meanwhile Quentin Fottrell tries light on Saturday’s March but ends up… February 26, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics.
26 comments

I might have mentioned earlier in the week that the Irish Times had modified its stance on matters budgetary, but boy, I had no idea that this would be the start of a continuing series… for its editorial today argues that:

This society enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and growth for close on 20 years. During that time the better-off sections of society benefited most. It is therefore only equitable that those who gained most in the good years should contribute proportionately now.

And it calls on an unlikely example…

That was the approach taken by the Swedish government in the early 1990s when it was confronted by a similar crisis. Nobody liked the harsh measures that were imposed. They were seen to affect high earners and the owners of wealth in a progressive fashion, however, and they were accepted by society as a whole. It took three years to turn the economy around.

Still keen on the old ‘harsh measures’, and you can almost hear the glee in the phrase ‘nobody liked…’. Still what of this?

Some 120,000 public servants protested on the streets of Dublin last Saturday over what they perceived as an unfair pension levy. They were brought there by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) to show what could happen if trade unions were forced to defend the interests of their members by traditional means.

And then emollient words:

Ictu general secretary David Begg is making every effort to prevent the dam bursting. He has offered to negotiate a three-year agreement that would address spending cuts, tax increases and measures to reform the financial and economic systems.

It continues:

The public service pension levy must remain but there is a crying need to demonstrate a fair sharing of the pain.Time is wasting and it is reflecting negatively on the Taoiseach and the Government.

Still, here’s a point we can all agree with:

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan sought to reassure the public yesterday that the public finances are under control. There is a thin line between competency and complacency. And she crossed it. People do not want, and certainly do not deserve, political bromides at this time. They want the truth. They want to be told what it will cost them in levies and taxes to have a realistic economic recovery plan, not a vague framework document that the European Commission criticised.

Although for all those kind words the paper also has a fairly pointless article
by Quentin Fottrell on the march at the weekend. And in his usual flip and almost entirely solipsistic way he decides to criticise rather than critique…

IT WAS an ill-conceived and potentially dangerous misadventure. Normally, when you see 120,000 people swarming into a city centre, stopping traffic, it either means aliens have landed, all hell has broken loose or, more likely, we ordinary folk have got up off our backsides, turned off our high-definition flat-screen televisions, bought americanos-to-go and let our voices be heard.

But to what end? The pension levy/pay cut for public sector workers was a convenient starting point, but there was not one common reason among the crowd last Saturday except unhappiness.

There was a consensus that life isn’t fair, that the vulnerable – old people, young people, working people, unemployed people – shouldn’t have to pay, and that something has got to give . . . just not in our backyard.

Is any of that true? People didn’t have a common reason for being in the crowd? It all devolved to ‘unhappiness’. If so then why bring in the more accurate point of the ‘vulnerable’?

But one suspects Fottrell has rarely seen a march he liked…

Marches usually celebrate the power of the little people standing up against a rusting political machine, just like the march of the elderly last year scared the living daylights out of the Government and shocked it into doing a U-turn on medical cards for the over-70s. Not this one. Behind the placards, there was obviously anger and camaraderie, but there was not a small amount of divilment too.

And so he treats us to…

The Government was right to stand firm on pay cuts for public sector workers, who earn about €10,000 a year on average more than private sector workers.

Before hastily throwing in the latest mantra of ‘reasonableness’…

However, it should have tackled higher earners first. It should spread the tough love around, taking a bigger cut of political salaries, but it would be fatal to miss the bigger picture. Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary David Begg was right about one thing: we need to wake up and smell the coffee.

I’d love, as an aside, if he could reference the €10,000 a year figure. Did he go to the ESRI report? He doesn’t say. Doesn he know? I’m dubious. But I’m happy to contest it and say he’s wrong.

He continues:

Call for the heads of senior bankers, who cowardly disappear from public view, refusing to give answers or closure. Cry out for Fianna Fáil to take political responsibility for creating this mess, but be prepared to take personal responsibility and look at the role we played in it too. Look in the reflection of those shop windows on O’Connell Street as you march by and, for once, ask yourself what you see.

Ah yes, I see where this is going…

Did we march against the Government for offering extravagant SSIAs with 25 per cent bonuses . . . in return for votes? No, we didn’t. We marched to our banks, dreaming of new cars and kitchen units. We knew well the difference between MDF and the IMF. The latter is far less attractive. Did we march against round after round of a jammy public sector pay deal, which helped erode our competitiveness? What do you think? Don’t be fooled by Ictu, the pied piper of Liberty Hall. This was not an act of brotherly love to bring public and private sectors together. It was an act of vengeance to fan the flames of fear and fury. Yes, there should be more equitable cuts but, unlike the haemorrhage of jobs in the private sector, not to mention those working part-time to keep small businesses afloat, at least most public sector workers still have their jobs.

Well now. Perhaps Quentin marched to the bank. But then perhaps Quentin might like to consider that who benefitted from SSIA’s were those who put more money in. As a means of assisting small savers the scheme was a joke – for the simple reason that the lower your income the less savings you have.

As for ‘the jammy public sector pay deal’… we have one of the lowest funded public sectors in Europe. The OECD figures are quite clear on that. Throughout the late 1990s while I was in the private sector it was clear that private sector pay rates were in general far ahead of those in the public sector. So much so that there was a bleed of personnel away from that to the private sector. The successive pay deals were in part about evening out that balance and in part about bringing up low wages.

And it’s not jobs at any cost either. Already we’ve seen this state abrogate terms of employment in relation to wages. There are few in the public sector sanguine about what faces them tomorrow or next month or next year as regards their employment security. As with Bryan Dobson one wonders at the logic. Does he expect public sector workers to arrive voluntarily at dole offices in order to sacrifice themselves on the alter of some sort of equitable sharing of ‘pain’?

But for Quentin Saturday amounts to ‘soap box theatrics’, and ‘Fighting words’. He argues without presenting any justification for that argument that when “David Begg said adopting Ictu’s three-year plan would send a “very powerful signal internationally” to say Ireland was dealing with the crisis. No, it would do the exact opposite”.

That’s it. No explanation as to why it would do the opposite. None whatsoever.

And then he continues:

Saturday’s march involved just 5 per cent of the working population, consisting of public sector workers still in employment and many unionised workers from the private sector, some of whom have lost their jobs. With frozen or dwindling salaries, many others in the private sector are also struggling to pay huge mortgages (again, our choice).

For him this ‘choice’ issue is at the heart of his analysis, as if that provides some sort of inverse exculpation… we drank latte’s and therefore we’re all guilty and so must all share the pain. Again, it’s a solipsistic approach. Speak for yourself Quentin. And only for yourself.

So, all that said, what does he approve of?

There was a much smaller crowd gathering on the street this week. On Tuesday, members of the public and the media waited outside Anglo Irish Bank’s headquarters on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, hoping for a glimpse of gardaí and officers from the Director of Corporate Enforcement hot-footing their way out with boxes of files. That’s the kind of march we need right now, one that might finally encourage us all to pull together.

Is he being entirely serious? That’s his solution? A sort of diffuse rubber-necking? That doesn’t constitute any sort of response to a financial crisis involving our elites. To term it a ‘march’ is an insult to those who do march and a massive, and one suspects entirely deliberate, evasion…

But why should we be surprised? He criticises those who take any sort of oppositional viewpoint, painting them implicitly as wreckers and hypocrites. He eschews references to any supporting material. He elides his perspective with that of others and he retreats into a cosy conservatism that may well give him comfort but is of little use to the rest of us, public and private sector who are being asked to take the pain.

And always with the bloody americanos-to-go. We deserve better. We really do.

Passing pickets… that CPSU strike is causing cognitive dissonance at the Seanad… February 26, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Trade Unions.
6 comments

Some might have noticed a short piece in the Irish Times reporting from the Seanad debates of the previous day on the Civil, Public and Services Union picket on government buildings, including Leinster House, today.

A wide range of opinions were on show according to the Seanad record, from Independent Senator Joe O’Toole who said:

I note the CPSU will engage in industrial action on Thursday which will mean there will be a picket at the gates of the House. Obviously, it will not prevent Members of the Oireachtas from conducting their business under the Constitution. However, Members of the Oireachtas should show solidarity with those people who oil the wheels of business in this House. I will certainly not pass the picket on Thursday and I would like to hear the Leader’s view on that. I understand there will be a picket outside the gates of the House from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday.

He was joined by Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin who noted that:

The sitting on Thursday does not deal with any legislation. It deals with statements on the Middle East, which is something we can do after 6 o’clock this evening. I am asking the Leader not to force people to have to make a choice to pass a public sector picket on the gates of this House. That should not be a choice asked of Members of the House or of members of unions in this House.

And step forward an unlikely tribune of a risen people…

Senator Jerry Buttimer [Fine Gael]: I will finish by confirming that I will not pass the picket next Thursday.

An Cathaoirleach: Please, Senator.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: I will stand in solidarity with the ordinary people of Ireland——

An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator MacSharry. I ask Senator Buttimer to resume his seat.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: ——who want leadership.

Bloody hell. Following on from that PJ Stone interview last night on Six One News there’s some strange alliances being formed.

More predictably, perhaps was the contribution of Ronan Mullen, Independent Senator with a very Christian Catholic tinge to his platform…. and perhaps (in the corporatist sense) to his comments…

While I acknowledge that Senator O’Toole and others feel a need to pay their union dues, so to speak————it would be a bad precedent if we were to refuse to pass some pickets while, every other day, we come in and leave other people picketing at the gate. We have a job to do and we sympathise with people in their concerns————but we do not think that striking is appropriate.

Hmmm…

While the usually dependable David Norris argued that although:

I respect my colleague, Senator O’Toole, and his decision not to pass the picket line… I will pass it. Last Saturday, I marched in solidarity with the ushers and other officials of the House, but I am paid by the taxpayer to attend and try to address subjects. God knows, we do not meet so often that we could afford to waste one day. I will be in attendance and, while I hope that I will not need to pass the picket line, it will be the first picket line that I will have ever passed. It is what I am paid to do. In this serious situation, it would not be proper for me in all good conscience to stay outside the House.

And from other Senators? Perhaps those of the left? Why not a word… at least not one I could see. Odd that…

Meanwhile I’m told on good authority that this ‘industrial action’ is causing a certain degree of heartache for government representatives whose very place of work will be picketed today. I’m also told that the unions onsite are experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance. For those unaware of such matters while there are CPSU members in Leinster House, SIPTU is also onsite (as well as a number of members of smaller unions) and since SIPTU and ICTU are not involved the line is that SIPTU members can ‘report to work as normal… but cannot do any work done normally by CPSU members’. I’m also told that word went out that IR legislation only covers those who have balloted and followed the necessary processes.

A big disincentive for any sort of supportive action (or inaction).

Oh dear, Bryan Dobson on Six-One News interviews PJ Stone of the Garda Representative Association… February 25, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics.
10 comments

Here’s something to view…regarding the protest by Gardai at Leinster House…

Bryan Dobson starts off by accusing PJ Stone of ‘inflaming the passions of his members’… then continues by suggesting when Stone retorts that there is ‘anger and disillusion’ on the part of members of the force in part because they are denied access to the Labour Court and the LRC, that ‘when you talk and point at Leinster House and specifically this Government and say we will remember this, we will not forget this…what that sounds like…is…the GRA getting involved in something you’re expressly forbidden to be involved in…and that’s party politics’.

And then with mounting emotion…

‘You talked about the government and their ideological objection to tax increases…’

It gets worse.

‘What are people to make…when they read on your website comments put up by your members saying there has been a concerted campaign against the public service and saying the following [puts on his glasses] and I quote…

…talking about an unrelenting campaign driven by radio presenters, journalists, politicians, economists, names we’ve grew to hate, names that we’ll never forget and names that provoke a seething anger…now do you stand over those remarks?’

Scraping the bottom of the barrel there Bryan methinks.

Not least when Stone notes that there is freedom of expression in Ireland Dobson responds that ‘that sails close to incitement to hatred… names we grew to hate… names that provoke a seething anger…’

Stone makes the entirely reasonable point that they haven’t named anyone in the statement…

Dobson continues relentlessly…

This at a time when people across the private sector are losing their jobs, 100s of jobs gone today, and your members where their jobs are guaranteed where their pensions are guaranteed

Stone responds entirely reasonably…

But wait now, we shouldn’t have a divide between public and private sector workers. Some of the people on that march today have family members who lost their jobs. And its very dangerous to create this position between public and private sectors, we’re all workers in this state and what we’re trying to do is ensure that the burden is carried by everyone…

But here’s the thing. The essential irrationality of a highly paid television newscaster on a state television service berating a trade unionist, which is of course what Stone is, and making some sort of vacuous point equating job losses with terms of employment, which is what he is doing is almost breath-taking. What does Dobson expect Stone, or indeed any other public employee to do (and let me stress again, I’m not a public employee and I derive none of the benefits, such as pension rights, from public employment)? Fall on their sword as the figures come in? Does that make economic sense by killing demand and consumption? Is there some formula Dobson can point to that demonstrates how one can equalise ‘pain’?

Naturally there isn’t. That’s not the way economies work. This unbelievable beggar my neighbour trope that’s abroad is absurd and illogical.That we should see it on our national broadcaster expressed in these terms tells us far too much about just how pervasive it has become.

Noel Dempsey? …he’ll talk about anything to do with government. Anything, I tell you! February 25, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics.
2 comments

One of the defences raised by those close to the Green Party over its seeming focus on its specific issues and its lack of interest in the broader picture has been the notion that due to the nature of Cabinet government their Ministers are unable to impact in any serious way beyond their own Departmental concerns. It’s a compelling argument in some respects. The Green Party representation at the Cabinet table is obviously very limited indeed and their ability to sway an argument is constrained by that fact.

And so excursions by those Ministers into other areas of Government policy have been remarkably limited and in the main restricted to generalisations or subdued suggestions as to future policy changes.

However, this doesn’t mean that opposing arguments should and cannot be put. For example, consider yet again the case of Noel Dempsey who remains, perhaps inexplicably, our Minister of Transport. If he were to follow the lead of his Green Party colleagues one might be forgiven for thinking that he would be unlikely to proffer the following:

…[he] has said he believes that the Government should engage with the social partners in a bid to reach agreement on proposals to reduce public spending.

Mr Dempsey said no changes to the public service pension levy are proposed, adding that a certain sum of money needs to be recovered and that will not change regardless of any alterations made to the levy.

He said if the plan to introduce the levy on 1 March is delayed the amount of money that needs to be recovered this year will be increased.

He said the levy is just one measure to help reduce public spending which has been put in place by Government

Or this:

He said he felt over the coming months there should be engagement with the social partners to see if a consensus on the way forward can be reached,

And howsabout this?

However, he said the difficult decisions that have been made have to stand.

He said the Government has no issue engaging with the social partners, but he said the luxury of time and the postponement of difficult decisions cannot be afforded.

For it is only after those sallies that he actually focusses on the core of his Ministerial responsibility – although as we are all aware now, he doesn’t really consider the situation down at Dublin Bus to be really his responsibility at all.

He notes:

The minister also said industrial action by Dublin Bus drivers will serve no useful purpose.

He pointed out that drivers have voted to take industrial action due to proposed cuts at the company.

Mr Dempsey said this morning that the Labour Court and Labour Relations Commission should be used to resolve the issues which Dublin bus drivers have.

Mr Dempsey said inconveniencing members of the public and customers of the service who need a good service serves no useful purpose.

What I find interesting about this is that Dempsey appears to have been given license to wax at length about the broader crisis more or less as he sees fit. His talk this week about ‘economic treason’ is clearly positioned to strike a chord with a public seething over the bank crisis. His words here are triangulated in such a way as to allow him to both agree and disagree with the unions – again, fascinating how the government is having to take them seriously after the march. They may not want to, they may do all they can to avoid dealing with them, but that volume of marchers was simply too great to ignore… hence his souped up rhetoric. That he belongs to the larger party and has the latitude implicit in that is significant, but not the only factor.

Now, it’s not that the Green Ministers have said nothing, that wouldn’t be accurate. But their utterances have been so cautious as to verge on the anodyne. It is true that Gormley, in particular, has been more assertive as of late, and broadly speaking the mood music out of the Green Party has been a little less wedded to remaining in government than it was even prior to Christmas.

The problem with all this, and I noted something yesterday that relates to it, is that it can appear remarkably detached while all around a political storm rages. No doubt concern about climate change can inspire people to take the long-view. But this?

And in a Cabinet where Dempsey is able to address every issue bar that which, by rights, the Green Party might be expected to take some ownership of, that being the Dublin Bus fiasco, it might be no harm for them to start expressing themselves a bit more volubly. After all, if they don’t see their way to doing so the question, quite reasonably, may arise, what precisely are they there for?

If that question deserves an answer, perhaps we shall find it in a truth spoken, possibly unconsciously, by Paul Gogarty in the interview out tomorrow where he explicitly notes the low level nature of some of the Green Party concerns where the concentration is on ‘bikes and light-bulbs’. Place that against an economy that to all intents and purposes has slammed on the brakes and one can see just how little relevance it appears to have to those who live and work in said economy. This is a real problem for the Green Party, and something they’d be as well to start addressing as soon as is possible. Because the concerns they do articulate on the global level are so crucial that some expression of them at state level is vital.

Meanwhile, someone who theoretically has more right to be discussing the global on behalf of the government is also using a much more emollient tone. And fair dues to Tánaiste Mary Coughlan. Her absence from the public eye these past number of months has been intriguing. As the going has got tougher she seems to have gone. But, she’s back. And in fine form.

Indeed if Brian’s Cowen and Lenihan have been gloomy cops she is positively bursting with an Obama like insouciance about the future… For her every day brings sunshine and rainbows and happiness all around (perhaps in no small way assisted by Paul Gogarty’s profession as to her fanciability…).

No matter that:

Shortly after the Government announced details of its recapitalisation plan, which will see the State contribute €3.5 billion to Bank of Ireland and AIB, both increased their bad debt forecasts.

AIB almost doubled its projections for loan losses to €1.8 billion, or 1.37 per cent of the overall loan book, while Bank of Ireland raised its three-year bad debt estimate to € 4.5 billion – and in a possible worst-case scenario of € 6 billion – from €3.8 billion.

For…

The Tánaiste has said the public finances are under control and ruled out further spending cuts or changes to the tax regime until next year’s budget.

And for those naysayers who would suggest that matters are otherwise and that a revised Budget should be rushed in post haste (and that glum group includes Peter Sutherland, who curiously seemed to tilt more towards the tax than cuts end of the spectrum in his latest broadside) she…

…cautioned against talking down the economy, saying Ireland had to “make sure that our international reputation is not damaged to such an extent that we will not have access to borrowing requirements, that we will not have access to money for our banking systems”.

There’s a plan as well… check this out:

She defended the Government’s response to the recession saying it has a three-fold plan to restore the public finances, manage the economy, sustain the banking system and sustain jobs.

Yep, that’s it. That’s the plan. Or more precisely all she told us. Now you and I might think that this sounds less like a plan than a set of aspirations. But what do we know?

I’m feeling safer already. I surely am.

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