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And over at the SBP? September 2, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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More on the SBP during the week, but the arrival of their new star columnist is worth noting. That would be one P. Rabbitte whose contribution this weekend is to complain that the media, which almost needless to say he argues should be free to say what it wants, should also be less negative about the government, government policy and the economic future of the state. That’s right, no hint of unrelenting negativity from him in the run-up to the last election, or any complaint that the media was likewise.

Then there’s a profile of Alex Salmond of the SNP which while not bad has this:

Salmond has proven a deft operator over four decades in politics. Within minutes of his election as SNP leader in Perth in 1990, opponents in the party were talking to the media about his overthrow. Almost 25 years later, he is still at the helm.

But not uninterrupted, for it’s only later that there’s a passing mention in the article that this would be the same Alex Salmond who had to resign as leader in 2000 to be replaced by John Swinney and did not return to the leadership until 2004. It’s not a major issue, but… perhaps worth noting even if only to point to how central he has been that his absence saw him sought after to return.

Meanwhile we have David McWilliams giving the public sector a lash, not least for its temerity in arguing that wage disparities between it and the private sector are driven by more of the former holding degrees and other educational qualifications and age.

To which McWilliams asks;

If you link pay to levels of education or age or the number of degrees, then of course older people with more degrees will get paid most. But what if such a system of rewards sets up a bizarre incentive system?

But instead of seeing what the situation is as regards those who hold degrees in the PS and whether there is some ‘bizarre incentive system’ in place to generate rewards for those with them he opines:

If this is the case, there will always be more degrees in the public sector. This educational inflation will be particularly attractive if there is generous study leave and courses are paid for by other taxpayers. Sure who wouldn’t do an extra degree? But does having a degree in itself qualify you for higher wages? Why should a public servant who decides to do a degree that only has a tangential impact on their actual job as part of a further education programme, be entitled to more wages?

But given that he offers no proof at all that such a ‘reward system’ exists as such across the PS it’s hard to take his argument seriously. Whereas it’s not quite so difficult to see how it would be that holding a qualification of one sort or another in a structure like the public sector would be in many cases useful and in others a necessity. Teaching springs to mind, but so does, for example, areas like forestry, or finance or…

Indeed his argument reaches its nadir with the following which, surely, is one of the most remarkably unconsidered things he’s ever written:

However, if this reward system becomes embedded, it is easy to justify higher wages because you have the reason and the reason is enough. It also helps that the other institutions that give out the degrees are also public sector outfits. It kind of keeps things in the family.

The PS is an undifferentiated whole…really? Well, no, I suspect that’s not quite the experience of those of us who have encountered it at first hand in various incarnations.

Of course McWilliams main point isn’t the issue of qualifications at all… it’s really about how unions have worked, as he sees it, their malign magic…

In truth, the real reason the public sector is a much better place to work than the private sector has nothing to do with degrees and the like. It has everything to do with unions.

And from there we’re into boilerplate stuff about how there are ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in the economy – true, but not necessarily in the sense that he suggests. And he misses one basic point. Unfortunately, and this is one thing this site has argued against for years, the unions missed a trick in the 1990s and 2000s in relation to extending membership across the private sector. They should have done that.

But more to the point if union membership is key to improved pay and conditions in the private sector (and who would argue it wasn’t a factor in same) then logically he should be arguing that all workers in all areas should join them – instead of his ending the piece…

When you talk to your kids, what will you advise them: to be an insider or an outsider?

Indeed, one last thought, it’s notable how he doesn’t actually offer any serious alternative, other than implicitly seeming to suggest that the pay and conditions of PS workers should be altered to ‘bring them into line’, as it were, with the private sector. Which of course is, if he’s in the slightest bit sincere about his complaints, no alternative at all.

Commemoration Wars – and what of Unionism? September 2, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History, Irish Politics.
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The Phoenix makes a most interesting point in regard to the Commemoration Wars that hadn’t struck me fully. It notes that far from John Bruton’s herculean efforts to see Redmond and the 1914 Home Rule Act ‘commemorated’ being welcomed by Unionists, it is – naturally enough, once one considers it – entirely anathema to them.

Or as the Phoenix puts it:

Did no one tell him Ulster Unionists were agin Home Rule?

For Home Rule was, from their perspective, the wedge from which all else follows. Their implacable antagonism wasn’t to Republicanism in 1913 onwards, because that was so utterly far-fetched as an outcome as to be near enough pointless to rail against. It was instead against the rather insipid level of home rule that London was prepared to acquiesce to for the island (and even then only grudgingly).

Home Rule, then, as it were, is the original sin, and while all else from then on compounds it, it does not overshadow it.

But in a way this is a perfect example of how the complexities of the history, then and now, serve to undercut assumptions. Bruton has often implicitly appeared to suggest that somehow recognising the parliamentary struggle of Redmond and the IPP would be a good thing because that struggle had it borne fruit would have allowed for a more pacific outcome on the island and ultimately the scope for a greater degree of reconciliation North and South. But as the Phoenix notes, that is to almost entirely misunderstand the socio-political dynamic at work.For Unionists Home Rule wasn’t simply an alternative political approach, it was an existential threat.

That Bruton cannot see this, so bound up he seems to be in the process of British democracy, such as it was (and see other posts on this topic on this site for more on that), and the parliamentary area in particular, is telling.

Even that must seem a mockery to Unionism, because after all Redmond’s explicit purpose was to shift much of the focus from Westminster to Dublin, even within Empire, and in so doing use Westminster to undermine the Union.

Small wonder Unionists would want nothing to do with any such commemoration. Fascinating that that fairly significant problem wouldn’t be appreciated.

Though that’s not the totality of the issue, because much of this, as we know is about more contemporary concerns, that being Republicanism. As the Phoenix also notes, there are other reasons why one might seek to point to that particular aspect of the history, and on the part of the government…

Including the British and Ulster Unionists in all commemorations and discomfiting Sinn Féin seems to be the objective.

But that may not be quite as discomfiting as it may at first appear. After all, SF has leapfrogged into a position where it is the primary voice of nationalism in the North and has significant representation in the South. They too are invited to these feasts, as it were – discomfited or not, and that is token too as to how matters have changed.

But then – returning to Bruton – this seems to me to be of a piece with many of a similar ilk to Bruton who simply do not appear to grasp what Unionism is and is not. They seem to believe that because Unionists were – in many respects ironically – to accept a form of Home Rule in Northern Ireland with Stormont that they therefore somehow are closer as a political tradition to Home Rule, the IIP, etc. Anything but. They were mortal enemies of same, and were willing to countenance an open rupture with the British state to forestall the eventuality that it might succeed.

That they did accept Stormont, and indeed come to more than tolerate it was as much due to necessity within circumstances as anything else. But it’s worth noting that armed confrontation of sorts on the island in the 1910s long pre-existed 1916 and even in the absence of 1916 and the push towards advanced nationalism would have continued to exist.

A sort of 1970’s quiz 4 September 1, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
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The fourth, and for now final, quiz from Brian Hanley on the 1970s. Again, many thanks to Brian and with a bit of luck we’ll have a few more before the year is out.

1) What was the membership of the following trade unions organised in Ireland during 1970:

A) Irish Women Workers Union
B) Federation of Rural Workers
C) Bakers, Confectioners and Allied Workers Amalgamated Union
D) Shoe and Leather Workers Union
E) Irish National Union of Woodworkers
F) Electrotypers and Stereotypers Society
G) National Union of Gold, Silver and Allied Trades

2) Tomas MacGiolla walked off an RTE TV discussion on internment in December 1970 because of the exclusion of what person from the programme?

3) Which left-wing paper described the Kingsmills killings of January 1976 as ‘inevitable and neccesary’?

4) 50,000 people marched in Dublin during August 1976 in support of who?

5) Which legendary republican claimed that he ‘wouldn’t have done the Birmingham job (the 1974 pub bombings) if it was going to set Ireland free and flowing with milk and honey.’

6) Which 1916 veteran and author of two books on the Rising and its aftermath (both currently in print) was chairman of the neo-Nazi National Movement in the early 1970s? (Bonus: Name the books)

7) What did Irish Press columinst Tom O’Dea blame for incidents of crowd trouble at both League of Ireland and GAA games during 1975?

8) What book did Belfast’s Republican News describe as ‘little short of infuriating (with an) appalling stream of factual errors and inaccuracies, misprints and mis-spellings…it bears the hall marks of so many present-day ‘instant historians’ (and) gives the impression of being beamed at an American market, judging by some remarks about Irish life-particularly in rural areas, which would be puerile if addressed to an Irish audience.’

9) Which Ard Fheis in May 1971 saw speeches from the floor calling for the party to ‘do everything possible to reunite this country within this generation, (because) the people had been misled by the present Government, which was not doing all it could to reunite the country. In August 1969 when there were riots in Derry, Mr. Lynch had said he would not stand idly by, but he allowed half of Derry to be burned…Mr. Lynch should have sent troops across the Border and created an international situation which would have the effect of enabling us to negotiate with Britain on partition.’

10) Which former Dublin Gaelic footballer and All-Ireland winner was jailed for Provisional IRA activities during the 1970s?

Latest edition of An Phoblacht out on Friday August 28, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left, Uncategorized.
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And as for that ‘universal service delivery’… August 27, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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Steve White a while back drew attention here to this most interesting document from the FG linked think tank, The Collins Institute. It’s well worth a read, if only to understand contemporary efforts to reshape the political narrative in the years to come on the right of centre. So, this new Just Republic offers gems like the following:

Ireland needs, in our view, a more proactive and Enabling State. One that rejects both the old centralised model of universal service delivery, built around a one size fits all approach, and the more recent public management approach which seeks to turn citizens into mere consumers. Public services should be judged, instead, by the extent to
which they help build the capabilities of its citizens.

Can’t help but think that whatever else this part of the island has seen it surely isn’t any serious ‘universal service delivery’ centralised or not, and as for a one size fits all approach. If only.

Meanwhile, at the SBP August 26, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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One suspects Cliff Taylor, former editor (though continuing columnist) of the Sunday Business Post, may have smiled at the news in that paper at the weekend that:

The Sunday Business Post has recorded audited circulation figures for the period January-June of 34,022. This figure, verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, shows a marginal decline on the July-December 2013 figure of 300 copies. Last week’s figures thus bring to an end a period of decline in sales at the newspaper.
This performance confirms the strength of the Post’s brand as Ireland’s leading quality business title on Sunday. The paper has maintained its popularity among key decisions makers in business and public life, and these figures reflect the growing strength of the Post’s recovery following the re-launch of the redesigned paper in late November last year.

It’s not bad way to go out on, and it was he who resigned his position – talking about pastures new. The SBP has – and this is perhaps an irony of sorts – suffered grievously in the crisis, though so have other newspapers. In 2009 it sold 57,783 copies in June of that year, in 2012 it sold on average 39,416. There are those of us who might argue that this is an object lesson in what the outcomes of austerity actually are.

The Phoenix argues in the last edition that there was a shift in editorial and content direction after the newspaper was rescued financially a while back. They suggest that there were more human interest stories, less financial and economic ones. And more of the former on the front page than in times past.
The new regime has seen cuts and The Phoenix suggests that ‘Key Capital has let it be known that the hacks can organise themselves within the NUJ as before; it’s just that management will not be sitting down with them to discuss anything like wages and conditions’. Nice. And slightly off topic, I’ve often noted here before that the nature of the media workplace probably informs a lot more of the right of centre commentary as regards public sector, state provision and so on than might be expected at first sight.

But, be all that as it may, a good word for Taylor, who despite being firmly of the orthodoxy has never shied away from pointing out when that orthodoxy is acting hypocritically. And while his proscriptions have again been of that orthodoxy they’ve always been stated openly – perhaps too openly and bluntly. But there’s a use in that away from the faux populism of other Sunday (and daily) media. So I’d think he’ll be missed, though I hope he continues to write that weekly column, and there are those of us who will wander at what sort of paper the SBP will be in the future. The Phoenix believes that it is being pitched between the SBP as was and the late and not necessarily lamented Sunday Tribune. That makes sense, there’s definitely a gap in the market there.

But the Tribune seems to me have been rhetorically less wedded to the orthodoxy, so that might prove a little more of a feat than first imagined.

Redmond squared… August 25, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
41 comments


John Bruton is given a second bite at the cherry in the Irish Times in relation to his wish to have the Home Rule Act of 1914 commemorated
, though it’s hard to view this latest missive as anything more than a restatement of what he has said already.

When the Home Rule Bill received the royal assent on September 18th, 1914, it was the first time that a Bill granting Ireland Home rule had ever passed into law. The struggle to achieve such an outcome had gone on since the 1830s. Daniel O’Connell, Isaac Butt and Charles Stewart Parnell had all failed to achieve what John Redmond and John Dillon achieved. O’Connell did not achieve Repeal, and Parnell did not get Home Rule passed. Yet they are, rightly, commemorated.

But, as is noted in comments below the piece, by positioning this ‘achievement’ in that historical context it demonstrates just how miserably inadequate it actually was. The Home Rule Act was only passed because of an amending act allowing for the exclusion of some Ulster Counties. In other words it did not reach the standards set by those worth predecessors Bruton names. Surely another word for that is… failure. But to Bruton this is quite different. He sees the commemoration of 1916 as…

[celebrating] a violent struggle and, by omission, underplay the value of a successful peaceful parliamentary struggle. That would be a distortion of history and could be used by some to weaken belief in parliamentary methods.

But the Home Rule parliamentary struggle wasn’t successful, even on its own terms. And he persists in overstating what the 1914 Act meant:

What is provable is that 100 years ago next month, against huge pressure and prejudice, Irish parliamentarians, a small minority in Westminster and far from home, by sheer persistence were able to force a British parliament to put Irish legislative independence on the statute book without firing a shot.

But, again, that legislative independence was curtailed by its essentially partitionist element, and also – and as importantly by the limited nature of the form of Home Rule that was on offer.

And there’s some curious and unconvincing thoughts as regards the future in a HR 28-county Ireland:

I believe Irish politics under Home Rule would have evolved quickly once the Great War was over. The Irish Labour party and Sinn Féin could have gained strength in the new Dublin Parliament. Although Home Rule fell short of dominion status, there would have been incessant pressure for more powers, and Ireland, with its own parliament, would inevitably have benefited from the loosening of ties to London as Canada, Australia and the rest did. A Home Rule Parliament that pressed for dominion status and greater independence would have had the support of the British Labour party and the Asquith Liberals, both of which had, I believe, favoured dominion status for Ireland in the 1918 election.

I’ve got to check if Labour and the Liberal’s supported ‘dominion status’ for Ireland in 1918, but if so his reading of that seems ahistorical – at least in the context of his piece, because that support came on foot of the events of 1916, not 1914. In other words, for better or worse, it was advanced nationalism and republicanism and the actions of same which pushed those parties towards support of lesser forms of limited self-government. Absent those actions where would the appetite have been for any such change – whatever about the idea of ‘incessant pressure for more powers’ – something that, in any event, London would have been unlikely to want to gift, and Dublin would have been in no real position to force London to do anything about.

As ever, he does not address the issue of the violence at state level during the War. It is strange and striking that that does not feature in his thinking. But what does is a remarkable and arguably undue focus on parliamentary politics to the exclusion of all else. I’ve noted before that he seems unable to quite grasp that what Redmond wanted was not independence but home rule. Here he seems to be unable to recognise that the parliamentary ‘achievements’ he lauds did not take place in an Irish parliament, that they were shaped by the frankly undemocratic structures that had been imposed – quite deliberately – to constrain any full expression of the Irish will on this island. It is a telling oversight, and all the more so because it is made by a former Taoiseach of this state and this Republic.

And I would hazard that it is that fact that ultimately drove the push for independence and the shift towards advanced nationalism and republicanism so rapidly in the 1916 period on (though let’s be clear, it wasn’t just 1916 that was driving this. The events of 1913 onwards in the North were in and of themselves radicalising nationalists – something else that Bruton simply ignores) was a function of a recognition of how limited the supposed achievements of 1914 actually were.

Home rule was not enough, not by a long way. In truth it probably never was.

Albert Reynolds… August 24, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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Not sure why, perhaps it’s age, but the death of Albert Reynolds really brings back that strange period of the early 1990s – not a time I ever thought I’d be that nostalgic about. Things were really beginning to change – for better and for worse, though definitely for the better in relation to the North. And I’d have to admit a certain admiration for the man. I was only very slightly surprised to realise he’d only been Taoiseach for three years. I’d have thought it was four or five, but there one has it.

This isn’t an unconflicted history – the legacy of the X case in particular remains with us and it remains chilling to think of a young woman being forced to stay in the country by the state, of which he was Taoiseach. There was the Beef Tribunal, and a curious lack of ability to keep his governments on the road at crucial junctures. But there were socially reforming aspects to his governments, not least as noted earlier, in relation to lgbt rights.

Perhaps it was that Reynolds was – even factoring in his being an FF politician, clearly a sensible, quite unassuming and in many respects decent person who achieved some really quite remarkable things in retrospect (SonofStan compares him to Major, another not dissimilar politician – and there’s definitely something in that, truth is either of them could quite happily have been in any party of the centre left with, one suspects, little real problem. That’s far from unproblematic, the term ‘pragmatism’ is far too often a short-hand for cleaving to the orthodoxy. But both were in some ways oddly unpragmatic and willing to bend that orthodoxy, at least in relation to the North).

Also noted in comments is the fact that he left a paid pensionable job to go into promotion and management in the show band scene (and as noted in comments and in this fairly sympathetic piece by Stephen Collins, interesting to reflect upon the sort of snobbery that sometimes evinced amongst the great and good in political commentary at the time and after, as well as his financial interests in petfood which appears to have been regarded as almost beyond belief – though there was also a similar enough sort of snobbery over his assertion he was a one-page man in meetings, to which perhaps a lot of us who’ve sat through interminable political and business meetings, more power to him). I find that particularly admirable. I wouldn’t want to overstate it, but that impulse to go in a radically different direction perhaps hints in a weird way that far from Reynolds being cut from, say, the same cloth as a Haughey (a man with an almost stratospheric level of pretension and old fashioned self-regard as well as a truly strange almost 19th century concept of himself as a political figure) he was by contrast perhaps representative of a somewhat more modern, if not necessarily contemporary, Ireland.

Well, that’s alright then… August 23, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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…reading the latest good news report on the economy – it’s all about consumer spending, or perhaps from their perspective more importantly consumer sentiment, this time from Investec, about how all is getting better I was struck in particular by the following:

The country’s unemployment rate of 11.5% is back in line with the euro zone average for the first time since October 2008 and the positive trends are set to continue, the stockbrokers added.

Fantastic… but hold on, we might be shuffling back to euro zone ‘averages’ but what is the level of those averages compared to 2008 – and all that before we even begin to unpack how that figure is arrived at and whether it actually masks significantly greater unemployment levels…

Wage disparities… August 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Culture, Economy, Irish Politics.
5 comments

The link to the Guardian below is no longer live, here’s more on the general topic.

The piece in the Guardian this week on high pay is very disturbing. Note that it makes the point that the bosses of the 100 biggest listed companies in the UK are making not, five, not ten, not twenty, not thirty, not forty, not fifty, not sixty, not seventy, not ninety times more than their workers, but on average 143 times as much. And the figures reveal not just a disparity in the UK but also globally that should be deeply thought-provoking – for example ‘The pay gap is widest at Rangold Resources, where boss Mark Bristow was paid £4.4m last year, nearly 1,500 times that of his average employee, many of whom work in the company’s African mines’.

Even within the UK the figures are stunning in terms of pointing to the disparities…

WPP founder, Sir Martin Sorrell, received nearly £30m last year, 780 times the £38,000 earned by his average worker. At Next, Lord Wolfson received £4.6m, while his staff, most of whom work on the shop floor, typically took home £10,000 – about 459 times less than their boss. The disparity at Next would have been greater had Wolfson not chosen to waive a £3.8m bonus and share the sum among the company’s 20,000 staff.

780 times? 459 times? This is quite insane. And to what purpose? Here is the emergence not of the super rich, but the hyper rich. As always the dangers of untrammelled wealth and power and their distorting effect upon polities are all too evident (and in a sense that Bruton speech in NYC last year pointed that up – how glibly dismissive about the lives of others those there were, both explicitly and implicitly). Though even in the context of reformism something can be done.

…campaigners are demanding more radical measures to tackle the widening gap between the UK’s select group of well rewarded executives and its 30 million-strong labour force.
Wilson called for worker representation on company boards and remuneration committees, a legally binding target for a reduction in inequality, and the introduction of a maximum pay ratio. At the retailer John Lewis, the ratio is capped at 75:1. At TSB bank, it is 65:1.

Even those ratio’s are madness. 75 times the average? 65 times? And worth reading the article for the evasive response from the British government. Though all that said, at least it appears to be an issue in Britain. What about here?

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