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“Peak unravelling”… September 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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I heard a great phrase on an Australian politics podcast recently where someone said ‘had we reached peak unravelling for this government?’. I wonder have we seen that with our own government? Or is it a case of further serious trouble ahead or a slow decline as we roll towards the election?

Killing the story is apparently the name of the game this afternoon and evening with the news that John McNulty has withdrawn from the Seanad by-election and with the resignation of Hilary Quinlan from the board of Irish Water. A shame the appropriateness or otherwise of a board member of a semi-state utility working with a Minister of State wasn’t seen as a problem from the off.

A most illuminating insight in the space of a week – and no wonder they did resign given that the McNulty story had traction across and over a week and was given added impetus by the latest revelations – into the attitudes of our government party to matters of administration.

By the way, I’m a bit surprised at how many have spoken of this beyond those of us involved, active or interested in politics. Just in passing – perhaps, but it does seem to have impinged on the broader consciousness. That can’t be good for FG.

Prospects for the further left… September 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
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As mentioned earlier in the week, there’s a profile in the Phoenix of Paul Murphy. But as I saw that advertised on the front cover when I purchased it I realised that it would more than likely be an overview of the SP. And imagine my lack of surprise when on reading the piece it turned out to be an overview of the SP, the SWP and so on – though with a curious drive through of SF’s candidate strategy in Dublin South-West, that latter due to the somewhat tenuous linkage that Murphy will run as the SP candidate at the Dublin South-West by-election.

The Phoenix argues that since DSW is about to go up from four to five seats it’s the GE that he and the SP are looking for as they seek to retain two seats for the SP in the Dáil with the imminent retirement from that institution by Joe Higgins.

It notes that back in the early days of the ULA things were happier, at least on the surface. 2011 saw five TDs, Higgins, Daly, Boyd Barrett, Joan Collins and Seamus Healy elected broadly speaking under that banner, though in actual fact they were elected under their individual party designations i.e. SP, PBP, etc.
As we know, the ULA disintegrated in the subsequent two or so years, with consequent, and in some instances, understandable frustration and upset on the part of many involved. And since then we’ve seen some depressing examples of political manoeuvring – most notably at the European Elections where the prospects for retention of a further left seat faded when both the SP and PBP contested it. The Phoenix argues that in relation to that: ‘Smith’s real goal is a Dáil seat in Dublin South-Central in the knowledge that this is only attainable by replacing ‘Comrade’ Collins’.

The Phoenix suggests that ‘despite modest gains in the local elections, the prospects for growth for both the far-left groups is bleak, and in fact they may struggle to hold on to any of their Dáil seats’. It is true that the locals didn’t bring massive breakthroughs, but, in truth both did build on pre-existing numbers of councillors in their respective alliances – AAA and PBP. One could argue that those will provide a core of activity around which Dáil campaigns can be supported. And, as or more importantly, vice versa.

In any event the Phoenix lists the constituencies. It’s all pessimism about Dun Laoghaire, which surprised me, but it makes a very solid point – ‘two of RBB’s comrades won council seats but with only a combined total of just over half what the TD secured in 2009’ and that in addition to the fact that due to the Ceann Comhairle being returned unelected the constituency will effectively drop to a three seater. The Phoenix thinks FF and FG will take a seat each leaving the rest to FG, the LP or RBB.

Dublin Mid-West (sic), well it argues that there are only two seats up for grabs after FG and FF, with SF, LP and the SP fighting for them. I’d think the LP might be the loser here, but it is Burton so that could alter things. SF is solidly in contention. But there’s a strong legacy from Higgins and I’m unconvinced that in any event, legacy or not, Coppinger won’t take the seat on her own strengths.

Dublin South-Central is a mess. Collins should on the face of it win. But Smith’s presence throws predictions, and SF is in contention too for a second seat (the Phoenix notes that Daithí Doolan did particularly well).

The Phoenix puts forward the case that in a way only Collins and Daly seem more rather than less likely to be re-elected, and it suggests rather tenuously that it is because they slipped the ‘straitjacket’ of ‘narrowly ideological parties’. Perhaps so. Perhaps so. But it seems to me that it’s more likely that specific circumstance in constituencies is shaping this contest. RBB is unfortunate that it’s the Ceann Comhairle. Collins unlucky that her erstwhile comrades would be so provocative. It’s far too soon to write off Coppinger.

It is true that other seats around the country don’t seem to herald any great breakthrough. But while I think there will be losses from the original five I think on a good day it might just be one or two. So not quite the wipe-out of the further left that the Phoenix would seem to make out. Indeed there’s a sense that perhaps that argument is overdone. I doubt anyone at this point expects runaway electoral and/or other success any time soon, perhaps not for decades, perhaps never. But matters staying more or less the same is far from matters going into reverse.

Referencing Adrian Kavanagh’s projections, while they’re obviously broad brush stroke they seem to point to holds, if not quite gains, for many or most further left TDs in the Dáil.

Dun Laoghaire: Jennifer Cuffe FF, Sean Barrett FG, Mary Mitchell O’Connor FG, Richard Boyd Barrett PBP

Dublin South Central: Catherine Byrne FG, Eric Byrne LAB, Aengus O Snodaigh SF, Joan Collins UL

Dublin South West: John Lahart FF, Cait Keane FG, Pat Rabbitte LAB, Sean Crowe SF, Cathal King SF

Dublin West: David McGuinness FF, Leo Varadkar FG, Joan Burton LAB, Ruth Coppinger SP

Dublin Fingal: Darragh O’Brien FF, James Reilly FG, Brendan Ryan LAB, David Healy GP, Clare Daly UL

Tipperary: Michael Smith FF, Tom Hayes FG, Michael Lowry IND, Mattie McGrath IND, Seamus Healy WUAG

So, ironically, it’s more a question of much the same as 2011: UL 2, PBP 1, SP 1, and WUAG 1. All that has happened has been a repositioning within that original 5. And of course this is only one projection and only based on the current situation.

In fairness the profile is quite complimentary to Murphy, noting his hard work on the ground and in Europe over the years. But there’s a lot of questionable stuff. Is Murphy being groomed to be the public face of the SP? Does that even make sense in the context of the sort of party the SP is? Are the SP’s and the SWP’s attitude to the North really so similar? Is the latter ‘effectively abstentionist on the national question and hostile to Irish nationalism’?

I think it probably is true that SF will roll forward yet again, picking up seats here and there that were entirely unexpected, and in a way that may be deeply problematic to the further left blocking gains here and there. There’s also the point that the demise of the ULA was a profoundly demoralising experience with ramifications that are still reverberating around the left to this day. And there’s the clear problem of having similar organisations contesting much the same electoral ground, or in some instances, as noted above exactly the same electoral ground.

In a way, though, surely another way of looking at it is that the further left has planted a flag on electoral terrain, taken and is in the process of holding seats. This despite all the problems that the Phoenix has listed, and one or two it hasn’t! In other words, despite everything the further left party least likely to return a TD next time out is not the SP, but the SWP/PBP. That most or all of the other TDs elected in 2011 will be returned. There’s an outside chance of one or two more. Sure, not exactly a ringing endorsement and unlikely to alter the overall balance of power in the next Dáil or all that much outside it if economic conditions continue to strengthen, but not entirely discreditable.

Actually a much more interesting question presents itself, and that is what, if anything, can be done with these resources, that likely 5 TDs and those three groups/parties, in relation to a broader consolidation of the Irish left.

Jobseekers allowance? September 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment has hired a director of Irish Water – the semi-State company his department oversees – as his personal driver, The Irish Times has learned.

Check this out:

Mr Quinlan [the director] added: “You tell me one party out there who doesn’t look after their own. I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s politics.” He asked why there isn’t more of a focus on the economy. “We were all nearly eating out of bins three years ago.”

After Scotland, some implications for this island. September 29, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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A very readable edition of the Phoenix this week, including an analysis of the left of Sinn Féin TDs currently in situ disguised as a profile of Paul Murphy of the SP – of which more later in the week. But one thing that caught my eye was a piece on Unionism in the North in the wake of the Scottish referendum. It may have offered a No in Scotland, but the Phoenix makes one very pertinent point in relation to Northern Ireland.

By linking changes for the rest of the UK to the Scottish timetable Cameron seems determined to legislate to take away voting powers from non-English MPS before next May’s general election.

It continues by noting that should that take effect then a Labour government despite having an overall majority in the UK would then be likely unable to implement policy for England unless they get a majority of MPs there. Tough for Labour, but as the Phoenix notes, there are ramifications for Unionism.

It’s worse for the DUP: their hopes of holding the balance of power were dashed last Friday. Cameron had been assiduously courting them so that their eight MPs would enable him to continue to govern as a minority government if there is a hung parliament next May. Not any more. The DUP will be surplus to requirements.

And that means they have much less leverage at Westminster. Will this come to pass? Well, I’d think we’ve a way to go yet. But Cameron will most certainly be in a hurry to do all he can to stymie Labour and it may well be that a sort of functional part/near federalisation of the UK would be precisely what he wanted.

Of course it raises difficult issues and contradictions more broadly if Scotland and Wales (and England too!) are gaining increased powers just at the point NI is trying to hand them back and refuse any further ones.

Just in the context of debates about Home Rule still circulating in the RoI, the Phoenix makes an excellent point:

Unionists do not want anything which might increase their separation from Westminster. In effect they are still opposing Home Rule.

Speaking of which… sharp elbows! September 28, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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…this is a revealing insight into the attitude of some…

Fine Gael TD Frank Feighan has apologised for his actions during an altercation with protesters who approached the Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s car during a visit to Roscommon on Friday.

And:

He said that assessing “the situation when he arrived, I formed the opinion that the Taoiseach was going to be confronted in an aggressive and physical manner.

“In hindsight, I misread the situation and overreacted in a tense situation.

“As a Fine Gael TD and a member of the Government, the public expects the highest standards.”

In the video, Mr Feighan can be seen elbowing a protester out of the way

And who, pray, were protesting? Presumably it could only have been the most dangerous hardened activists, only waiting to get the digs in to the hapless FG contingent?

Erm…

The Roscommon Hospital Action Committee candidate in the forthcoming Roscommon/South Leitrim by-election, John McDermott, has said he has lodged a formal complaint with the gardai concerning the incident.

The trials of FG… September 28, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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Reading Stephen Collins in the IT this weekend in relation to the McNulty/IMMA story I was struck, in between his sympathy for our ‘working every available hour and surviving on as little sleep as possible’ Taoiseach, by the following:

The spectacle of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin taking the high moral ground over a minor political stroke is laughable but that doesn’t mitigate the damage suffered by Fine Gael, particularly in the light of the promise it made that things would be done differently.

To me that sums up in a nutshell, unintentionally of course, so much that is wrong in relation to such matters.

The time for comparing and contrasting with what others might or might not do – or whether they would do worse again – is long gone. It’s the acts themselves and the processes that are important – and in that context this isn’t ‘minor’ because it exemplifies an attitude to appointments to public institutions for individual party political gain. One could go further and argue that this in some ways also exemplifies a delusion held jointly by FG and some of the LP that they are in some sense more moral than others…

“a new form of Irish politics may be breaking out” September 27, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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Or so suggests Michael Clifford in this post on the Examiner about Phil Hogan’s travail’s in Europe…

Big Phil is going before the European Parliament’s Agriculture committee next Thursday to explain why he should be given the ‘agri’ portfolio. Some of the MEPs are not best pleased with the big guy’s most recent efforts to bury any queries on how he conducted himself as a member of the Irish government.

And:

He’s being pursued by Nessa Childers, who is refusing to pull on the green jersey and get behind our man in Brussels. She apparently doesn’t understand that what happens in the banana republic should stay in the banana republic. Instead, she is intent on telling tales about the morally bankrupt political culture we endure here.

As well as…

Childers isn’t the only Irish MEP refusing to pull on the jersey. Five of the 11 MEPs elected last May in the Republic are objecting to Hogan’s appointment. This is unprecedented, but at least it’s a sign that some politicians are willing to break out of the cozy consensus around this kind of thing.

The three Sinn Féin members and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan have numerous objections to Hogan, which involve relatively routine political stuff, like questionable appointments to state boards, and his handling of the establishment of Irish Water. The members believe the issues they raise render Hogan unfit for commissionership.

I really hope this is true, in the sense that it does mark a step change in the way political appointments are regarded in this state – indeed there is obvious irony in the fact that closer to home FG is running into trouble over appointments. Clifford argues:

On the face of it, these matters would not be alien to politicians in general across the EU, but at least the objections signal that a new form of Irish politics may be breaking out, albeit in isolated patches. Quaint notions like suitability for a particular office were promised by the current government as part of their “democratic revolution” on election in 2011, and while that has turned out to be a joke, at least others in the body politic are signing up.

Which is true and all credit to them, but note that they’re not in government. And Clifford notes that ‘in all likelihood, the commissioner-elect will ride out the storm’. Though as he also notes… “once again, another member of that bright, new shining government of 2011 has been a major disappointment. Wherefore now the new politics of the “democratic revolution?”.

It was almost entirely a facade from start to finish.

Reinforcing the narrative… September 26, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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…is the thought that comes to mind reading this article in the IT today.

The headline is…

Fraud and error in jobseeker’s allowance cost State €100m last year

It may well have, but not in that order, for:

A total of 1,000 jobseeker’s allowance recipient cases were surveyed, with 85 per cent being deemed satisfactory. Customer error was found in 119 cases, departmental error in nine cases and fraud in 21 cases. The payment is made to some 295,000 people weekly.

So that means 128 cases of error (whether customer or departmental) and 21 cases of fraud.

Error and fraud, as distinct from fraud and error, anyone?

Oddly enough, the piece does use ‘error and fraud’ here and there. And worth noting that:

In a survey of 1,000 cases, the report found a net fraud or error rate of 5 per cent, compared to 5.8 per cent in the UK.

When the Minister ‘explained’… September 26, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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As noted in the IT:

On Monday, Today FM and others spotted and reported the story of McNulty’s recent appointment to the Imma board. On Tuesday, Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne raised the issue on the Seanad order of business and called a vote requiring the Minister to come to the House to explain. The Government doesn’t have a Seanad majority, so Humphreys had to appear.

And:

She came to deliver a prepared script. It bulked up McNulty’s membership of a culture subcommittee of the Kilcar parish council and his enthusiasm for the GAA and the Irish language as qualifying him for the Imma board.

Humphreys was then asked a series of questions by Senators, including whether she aware he was to be the Seanad nominee when she appointed him. In response she merely read most of the prepared text again. It sounded even more ridiculous the second time around.


Here’s her opening statement:

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Heather Humphreys):
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.
I welcome this opportunity to address the issues which Senator Thomas Byrne has raised in his speech in the Seanad today. The Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA, is Ireland’s leading national institution for the collection and presentation of modern and contemporary art. The museum presents a wide variety of art in a dynamic programme of exhibitions, which regularly includes bodies of work from its own extensive collection. Its award-winning education and community programme increases awareness and understanding of the visual arts by creating innovative and inclusive opportunities for people to engage with the museum’s exhibitions and programmes, both as audience members and participants.
IMMA is a major part of our cultural offering and, as such, is extremely important to the tourism industry. Its beautiful setting in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, coupled with its diverse and innovative exhibition programme, enable it to attract very significant numbers of visitors each year.
The year 2011 was the last time at which IMMA operated for the full 12-month period at the Royal Hospital site with visitor numbers of 363,000. Following a €4 million refurbishment programme, I see no reason the 2014 figures will not match, if not exceed, this number.
IMMA was established in 1991 as a company limited by guarantee and not having a share capital. The number of directors shall not exceed 15 and they shall hold office for a period of five years. There is no remuneration payable to IMMA board members and on the record of this House I would like to thank them for their commitment and hard work on a pro bono basis.
Following a recent visit to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, as Minister, I took a decision to make two appointments to its board to allow for better regional representation on the board of such a significant institution with a national remit. From time to time, my Department has invited, and will continue to invite, expressions of interest in vacancies on bodies under its aegis. As Minister, I am not confined in making appointments to those who make expressions of interest. It is open to me as Minister to make appointments outside of this invitation process once I am satisfied that the ultimate appointees have the relevant experience.
In considering potential IMMA board members, I was and am conscious of the balance of talent, experience and skills among existing board members, the skills need of an institution such as IMMA – one of our premier national cultural institutions, which also has a commercial dimension – as well as age, gender and regional balance.
Taking cognisance of all of the above, I appointed both Mr. John McNulty from Kilcar, County Donegal, and Ms Sheila O’Regan from Ardagh, County Limerick, to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art on 12 September last. Mr. McNulty is a self-employed businessman who brings 15 years’ business experience to the IMMA board. He is involved in the local tourism and cultural committee in Kilcar and has a track record in promoting culture, heritage, the GAA and the Irish language. He has been actively involved in local heritage events and heritage restoration projects in south Donegal, as well as festivals such as the Fleadh Ceol and is currently driving a three-year Irish language development plan for the area.
Ms O’Regan was the curator of the Palatine Museum in Rathkeale, County Limerick, for nine years. She has an M.A. in local history from the University of Limerick. She is a member of a number of local community and voluntary groups, and her previous experience includes time as a research librarian and a field survey representative with the ESRI. She was a founder of the local community radio station, West Limerick 102FM, and is currently a producer and presenter for that station. Her experience includes service on the boards of Rural Bus and West Limerick Resources.
I am satisfied that both Mr. McNulty and Ms O’Regan possess the appropriate balance of skills and expertise to effectively serve on the IMMA board. I wish them every success in their tenure.

And here’s her closing one.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Heather Humphreys): I thank all speakers for their contributions. I have absolutely no role in selecting candidates for the Seanad by-election, as this is a matter for Fine Gael and its executive council. However, it is my responsibility to ensure that people appointed to the boards which fall within the remit of my Department are capable of doing the job, have the relevant experience and are capable of making a valuable contribution to the running of the relevant organisation.

As I have previously outlined, Mr. McNulty brings considerable business experience to the IMMA board. I value the fact that he is a person with a background in business. He has also been involved in a range of local cultural and heritage projects and he is committed to the promotion of the Irish language. As I have outlined, I made two appointments to the IMMA board on Friday, 12 September. Ms Sheila O’Regan has served as the curator of a museum in Limerick for nine years and she also brings a wealth of other experience to the board. I wish to point out that vacancies existed on the board of IMMA. Legislation is required in order to reduce the number of members of the board, and this legislation is pending.

I reiterate that these individuals will not receive any payment for their role on the board.

Senator Thomas Byrne: On a point of order, it is not appropriate for the Minister simply to restate her statement. She should answer the questions that have been raised—–

An Cathaoirleach: knows that the Chair has no control over that. I call an tAire.

Deputy Heather Humphreys:
It is important to restate that I believe in ensuring that boards include representatives from the regions. This is in keeping with my policy and desire to make the arts more accessible to communities throughout the country. I am confident that both Mr. McNulty and Ms O’Regan have the right skill sets to serve the board of IMMA well. I take this opportunity to acknowledge that all our cultural institutions have gone through a very challenging time due to severe budget cutbacks necessitated, unfortunately, by the economic collapse.

I will be arguing on behalf of the cultural institutions in the budget negotiations in the coming weeks. I intend to push ahead with various reforms of our cultural institutions. Access to the arts, culture and Ireland’s rich heritage is vital for preserving our society and national identity and for helping to promote Ireland’s image abroad. The arts, cultural heritage and creative industries make a major contribution to our economy and to sustaining and creating jobs. Cultural tourism, to which these sectors bring so much value, has a significant contribution to make to Ireland’s economic recovery and the rebuilding of Ireland’s reputation on the international stage.

I will be happy to come before this House to discuss these reforms in detail and to discuss the arts and cultural policy. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: On a point of information, will the Minister be answering the questions posed to her?

The none too subtle art of deflection… or Fine Gael’s woes increase… September 25, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
23 comments

…serious? Yep, this is serious. Granted not in an ideological way, but one might have thought that Fine Gael would be a tad more adept at concealing how the sausage is made in the factory, even if they went right on making the sausage.

The following surely isn’t the response anticipated when this cunning wheeze was thought up, was it?

One backbencher said people in the party were becoming digusted at the way Fine Gael was being run.

And who could blame that unnamed backbencher. It’s not being run very competently, that’s for sure. For example:

Fine Gael’s candidate in next month’s Seanad byelection John McNulty announced yesterday that he was stepping down from the board of Imma, 13 days after he was appointed to it on September 12th.
The reason for his resignation is that Imma’s rules preclude him from being a board member and contesting an election at the same time.

And:

No board meeting has taken place during that time.

Mr McNulty did not visit the Imma campus in Kilmainham in an official capacity, nor meet any of its staff or board members, during that time.

The Irish Times displays remarkable delicacy in the following, doesn’t it?

The extraordinarily brief period of his directorship – less than a fortnight – was seen as giving substance to the assertions of critics that his appointment was designed solely to give him sufficient qualifications to stand for the culture and education panel in the Seanad byelection.

Surely not?

And where is the Minister for Arts?

In her first public appearance since the row erupted, Ms Humphreys, who appointed Mr McNulty to the Imma board, again deflected questions on whether she was aware he was to be the party’s Seanad candidate at the time of the appointment.

Good stuff. There’s a sense that none of this can hold, that sooner or later there’s going to be a reckoning of sorts. And perhaps that will be this week, or next week, in the Oireachtas, or outside it. At the next election? Perhaps it will have some very slight impact – some small number will remember, or will be reminded. And rightly so. Or perhaps it will be a case of the details not being regarded as important, but the thrust of it, something that might apparently ‘give substance to the assertion of critics that appointments were made for electoral reasons’ will not slip entirely from the public mind.

The curious thing is that in the effective run-up to an election this was waved through? No one thought this might be a cleverness too far? No one considered the potential for reputational damage to FG? Odd. It seems on the face of it to be entirely avoidable. And what does that tell us about the current administration?

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