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That apology over the UKIP song… October 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
1 comment so far

Got to admire this particular sentence from the Guardian about the news that Mike Reid wants his pro-UKIP song withdrawn…

Read said he was sorry for “unintentionally causing offence” with the tune sung in a fake Caribbean accent, featuring lyrics about “open borders” and “illegal immigrants in every town”.

A spot of bother over the Technical Group and some apparently unwelcome new arrivals October 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
22 comments

…no end of fun and games this afternoon as the Technical Group took umbrage at the Ceann Comhairle’s insistence that two refugee’s – that would be Creighton and Mathews – from the Reform Alliance (or perhaps not) should be given speaking time by the TG. That his insistence that they be allowed to join the TG goes against previous precedent where the understanding was that those elected under one banner could leave a party or formation but could not join a Technical Group – a de facto barrier to defection. And, almost needless to say, it means that TG speaking time is diminished by the extra numbers – in the absence of any concomitant agreement (or willingness) on his part to increase the overall amount. The CC pitches it as a democratic issue, that Creighton and Mathews should be given the time by the TG. The TG sees it as a case of them being forced to accept new members against all precedent and losing out in the process.

Three TDs, count ‘em, three, thrown out, including Catherine Murphy, John Halligan and Thomas Pringle. Given that they’re hardly the awkward squad on the TG benches it indicates the depth of anger over this issue. I’m told one F. McGrath was limbering up to contribute to the discussion when the CC decided to close down debate for the day with the Dáil resuming tomorrow at 9.30.

I’m not sure how this will play out. It is supremely, well… technical in a sense. And there’s no particular love for the TG abroad (though no particular antipathy either it has to be said). Creighton et al get a remarkably uncritical ride from the media, though more than a few of us no doubt suspect that’s due to the entertainment value rather than any particular political aspect of their approach (interesting to contrast the RTÉ and IT takes on the subject, for the former it’s all about the Reform Alliance, the latter is a fair bit more nuanced).

Tellingly neither Deputies Flanagan or Timmins have joined Creighton and Mathews on this unusual voyage to the TG. You can come to your own conclusions as to what that may auger for the future. And it’s odd, is it not, that Creighton would be quite so dedicated to joining a body of people that – to put it mildly – appears unenthusiastic about her and her compadre (by the way she took last week to sitting in amongst TG TDs, in the chamber). But it is said that she’s very keen, given the wreckage of the RA to associate herself with something more credible. There are those who would suggest that it is a sign of just how far her star has fallen that now the obvious solution to her is to join the TG, but them’s the times that are in it.

It could well be that given she’s no prospect of a return to FG that anything is better than being entirely on the outside and any political vehicle will do. Got to admit that the breathless response that the news she was intending to join the TG was given in some quarters and the actuality of the response from the TG shows the absolute gulf between rhetoric and reality in a lot of political reporting. The idea that she would join and in some way arrange a ‘takeover’ was always risible, but never more so than this afternoon.

A government called hope? October 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
1 comment so far

A fascinating insight into the thinking of the government is offered by Pat Rabbitte in his weekly column in the SBP. Noting that on the campaign trail in the constituency that dare not be named he was interrogated by people about the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council he notes that one very good question was put his way, why is it that when growth is 2% or 5% the IFAC’s advice is always the same, that is to further deepen expenditure cuts and so forth.

He’s sanguine about the Budget:

Therefore, in Budget 2015, I think the government has demonstrated sound judgment. To completely ignore the groundswell for some alleviation of the burden on ordinary people would not have been sustainable. No survey of attitudes, however scientific, compares to an election or a by-election. Allowing for our national talent for exaggeration, the bald truth is that a very great many families have taken as much as they can bear.
True, the alleviation is modest. And it is a strategy not without risk. But it will go some small way to reinstate hope that things are getting better.

There you have it, hope…

But to add to some straws in the wind we’ve already seen, some intriguing stuff here…

There still remain issues that will test the resolve of government. The construction of a refurbished network to conserve and supply quality water to households and businesses is one such challenge. The acute housing shortage, particularly in Dublin, is another challenge. It was critical that the budget would help create an improved environment that facilitates government delivering on such important issues. Up to now the government has been losing the public debate on both water and housing, and no government can surrender to the “don’t pay” water campaign and retain credibility.

And yet, and yet, Rabbitte knows as well as you or I that the government has – at most – fifteen or so months to go. No great task to push the water charge to the margins in one way or another and hand it over to their successor (less so, of course, for FG than the LP given that the former is more likely to be in government come what may). And this would, surely, only be an extension of the strategy that Rabbitte himself so wholeheartedly bought into in relation to election promises not that long back, would it not?

He’s yet another who seems to believe it is the structural composition of Irish Water that enrages citizens rather than the charges themselves. For example:

Everyone in government knew a new utility with a capacity to borrow off the state’s balance sheet could not be established without outside contractors. The experience in Britain bears this out. However, ever since these contractors were described by the company as “consultants” the government has been playing catch-up. Notwithstanding the asset created or the sophistication of the systems put in place or the number of jobs created, words like “consultants” and “bonus” are contaminated.

This is a remarkably expedient analysis, and I can’t help but think that it does the government and its cheerleaders no good at all. Indeed, it must make for quite some effort of will to misinterpret what is obvious to any of us outside Leinster House what the dynamic powering opposition to those charges actually is.
And what of those sixteen months?

Water aside, the conduct of budget making on this occasion augurs well for the longevity of this government. The tension that existed between the two parties in the previous three budgets was noticeably absent. On this occasion there was no solo or even competitive leaking. What emerged late in the day was clearly authorised. Previous criticism of the Economic Management Council has been replaced by a recognition of the inherent sagacity behind its creation. A year is a long time in politics, but the smart money now must be on this government bringing in another and better budget in October 2015.

That’s another oddity? Does Rabbitte think that longevity alone, i.e. more or less completing its full term is a mark of success? Hard not to believe that he does. And is this the slender strand of hope that the LP looks to to secure its fortunes? That a better budget in 2015 will do the trick for the subsequent, and all to soon to arrive election?

It would appear so. I’m always leery about projections into the future, but given the government has had an awful couple of weeks, that the support for the opposition in all its myriad forms has held constant across years now I wonder just how much this is the political equivalent of whistling past the graveyard?

This being Rabbitte there’s the customary lash against the opposition… the implicitly ‘non-serious’ opposition:

This would be more likely than not to benefit government, provide serious parliamentary opponents with a route to test their proposals and expose those interested in opposition only for the sake of opposition. It should be tried.

Well, we’ve seen a ‘serious’ party go into government and we’ve seen the outcome. The trashing of pre-election promises, the buckling – almost the welcoming – of the orthodoxy… small wonder that many many seek to place their trust in other quarters.

A small antidote to this is provided by, of all people – though not uncharacteristically – Cliff Taylor, now apparently writing in the Irish Times who suggests ‘another and better budget in October 2015’ is unlikely to be much cop…

The Government can’t buy the next general election. It hasn’t got the money. Though, of course, it still can’t help itself trying – just a bit anyway.
At best it might be able to afford to trim income tax next October by something similar to this year and add a bit more to spending.

Though his definition of ‘hike’ and mine are obviously a little different…

The budget was a strange mix between old-style populism and these new-era realities. The hike in child benefit and the tax relief on water charges harked back to earlier times. The troika – opponents of universal benefits such as child benefit and supporters of the water charge – won’t like either of these. And they are right.

And what of the actual impact of the Budgetary measures?

In overall terms the ESRI analysis later in the week told the story. When you counted in water charges the overall impact on people’s incomes was small, between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent at most. The message that the days of big cutbacks are over may affect people’s psychology but the extra cash in our pockets won’t go too far.


May, being the operative word in the above sentence. And here’s another thought:

The budget itself involved a €1 billion spend, but when you subtract the water charges bill and other costs such as university fees the net boost was only a few hundred million.

And I’d tend to agree with his closing thought:

As demands grow on the Government in the year ahead – for higher pay, more spending on services, more tax cuts and so on – this is what Ministers need to remember. The Government can’t buy the next election. So why even try?

Oh, but they’ll try to make it seem like a giveaway in twelve months time. For all the good it does them.

What you want to say – 22nd October October 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
14 comments

As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

SF, the IRA and another legacy of the conflict. October 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Uncategorized.
27 comments

It has to be said that the testimony of Maíria Cahill is extremely compelling. The specific issue is grim in the extreme, its implications for broader processes difficult to ascertain.

The question does arise as to where this can go? It’s difficult to see a legal route forward. But that doesn’t predicate against other processes where people voluntarily come forward to assist. There’s a political dimension to this, which is worth discussing further in a different post. But it’s important to untangle politicisation (from whatever quarter) from the core issue of a woman who felt that the experiences she described were marginalised or dismissed or the processes she was subjected to were incomplete and biased.

It is areas and issues like this which have proven so troubling as the armed conflict stage has slipped into the past, as against paramilitary activities as such – which is not to say the latter haven’t been troubling. The interface between internal codes of discipline and behaviour and an external society which where the broader legal framework was – for a significant number – simply invalid has thrown up some deeply difficult contradictions even before we arrive at these events.

It speaks of issues of democratic legitimation for processes that had no societal legal element, and the dangers of relying upon those processes that were internal to organisations. Simply put internal investigations were in and of themselves flawed from the off. It also points up the isolation of those who found themselves in situations like that Maíria Cahill has outlined where there were those who abused what authority there was and there was no alternative authority to appeal to.

A voice of orthodoxy and the Budget… October 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
7 comments

Some may have been surprised reading some thoughts on the Budget to hear the oft repeated line that the income tax system here is uniquely progressive. Stephen Collins, for it is he, in his ‘Inside Politics’ column was very critical of the opposition response to the Budget. Not entirely, but:,

Fianna Fбil finance spokesman Michael McGrath made one of the more sensible speeches, suggesting that the budget “is all about using borrowed money to buy votes” , but the main thrust of his criticism was that the budget was taking from the poor and giving to the well-off.

But, for there is a but…

Yet, as Michael Noonan pointed out in his speech, the top 1 per cent of income earners will pay 21 per cent of all income tax, while the bottom 76 per cent will pay 20 per cent of the total, following the changes he announced on Tuesday.

Now, Collins doesn’t see this as a function of low wages (more on that below). Indeed he misses the point completely.

The outstanding feature of the Irish income tax system that differentiates it from most others is that the lower paid are required to pay very little tax.

Then we are treated to the following:

Ireland actually has one of the most progressive income tax systems in the developed world. The wide pretence that this is not the case simply leads to a phoney political debate in which the public is misled about the real options facing government.

Michael Taft has takes an analytical eye to such analyses – by way of the Nevin Institute
:

Dr. Micheal Collins and Dara Turnbull investigated the issue in a working paper published by the Nevin Economic Research Institute, based on the CSO’s Household Budget Survey 2009/10. They found that, contrary to the received wisdom, the poorest 10 percent income group pays as much tax as the top 10 percent tax and that our tax system is far less progressive than some have claimed.

And why would that be? Because Collins only focuses on one aspect of tax, income tax and ignores all else. And that skews – to put it mildly, the results:

Collins and Turnbull estimated the impact of all taxation – income tax, USC, PRSI, and (and this is the key innovation of this study) indirect tax such as VAT and Excise, and levies such as TV licenses and vehicle taxes. Previously, claims about the tax contribution of high income groups narrowly focused on income tax and, sometimes, PRSI.

And how much of the overall tax take comes from non-income tax sources?

Over 40 percent of tax revenue comes from indirect taxation. The following shows the extent to which indirect taxation undermines the progressivity of the tax system.

And, crucially undermining Collins argument there is this:

Unsurprisingly, the lowest income groups pay substantially more of their income on VAT, excise and levies than higher income groups. So when this is combined with direct taxation – income tax, USC and PRSI – we get only an overall marginally progressive effect.

Michael notes that the study doesn’t cover all bases. For example, ‘it doesn’t include the benefit of public services’ but that does nothing to invalidate the proposition that the progressive nature that Collins ascribes to the system is very much in the eye of the beholder. One could even, I suspect, argue that any discussion of taxation that simply rests on income tax is… well… a phoney politica debate.

Collins also looks at the following:

The independent public policy think tank PublicPolicy.ie recently pointed to the progressive nature of the Irish tax system and looked at the argument that we should aspire to the “Nordic model” of high taxes and high public spending.
“To reach Nordic levels of income taxation (including PRSI), everybody in Ireland would have to pay more, but the increase would bear most heavily on the bottom half of the income distribution. For example, if the tax rates in Ireland were at the average of the five Nordic countries, a single person on half average earnings would pay an additional Ђ3,200 per year and a single individual on 2Ѕ times average earnings would pay about Ђ2,000 more.”

But hold on, what are the levels of wages in those economies?
As Michael notes here:

Hourly employee compensation is much, much higher in [Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Austria] We’re low paid and still our competitiveness, as assessed by business authorities, lags well behind.

And let’s not even begin to consider the range of services that higher taxation pays for in many of those states. That’d be a pretty good deal this side of the socialist transformation.
As it happens it’s not just genuine social democrats or socialists who broadly contradict Collins arguments, for as noted earlier today, Cliff Taylor writing in the IT has some oddly similar criticisms of the Budget. More on them tomorrow.

The end of austerity and the reception the Budget was given… October 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
3 comments

Pat Leahy and Michael Brennan, again in a long piece on the Budget in the SBP, note one basic point – for all the talk about the ‘end of austerity’ (a nonsense given that expenditure cuts aren’t being made up) and a ‘give-away’ budget, there’s this:

The picture wasn’t all rosy. Even before the budget was announced, government backbenchers knew what the opposition’s attack would be.
“They will say that all the tax cuts are being taken away in water charges,” said one Fine Gael TD.
And they did. Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and independents all highlighted the impact of water charges on voters’ pockets. They had to, because nothing in the budget seemed to be upsetting voters. Fine Gael and Labour TDs reported that the phones in their offices were eerily silent after budget day, with no deluge of emails either. One Fine Gael TD said there had been no reaction at all compared to the “venom” after the previous three budgets. A Labour TD also noted the difference, recalling how one voter shouted, “Shame on you” at him outside the local school, on the day after the respite care grant cut in Budget 2013. They all have similar tales.

I’ve heard similar tales of a quiet response to the Budget.

I think FG and LP would be making a very very serious error to believe that that indicates acceptance, as distinct from quiescence. And that’s no minor distinction. Hitherto we have seen how political anger has been manifested at the polling booth. That anger remains, as the proximate cases remain. Those water charges aren’t going away. Far from it. Nor is the cumulative effect of year after year of expenditure cutting budgets. And the marginal changes in taxation rates are indeed ‘taken away in water charges’.

The end of the age of austerity and the end of the left-wing independents and SF? They wish. October 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
7 comments

Pat Leahy and Michael Brennan, again writing in the SBP have the following provocative little suggestion:

The truth is that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin were horrified by the budget – just as Fine Gael and Labour used to be horrified by the Fianna Fáil giveaway budgets of the Showtime era.

And this as well…

Higgins had been an isolated figure on the backbenches after Clare Daly quit the party two years ago. But he is now flanked by Murphy and by Coppinger, who won the Dublin West by-election in May.
What about the prospects of getting Daly back? Murphy said he would like to see a new movement of the left. “It could be a broad party which encompasses different strands of the left, which includes potentially the likes of Clare Daly or Joan Collins or Richard Boyd Barrett,” he said.
We’ll see. If the age of austerity is over, then the age of anti-austerity – so politically profitable for Sinn Féin and the left-wing independents – might also be over.

Hmmm… Cliff Taylor had some thoughts on this in the Irish Times this week. More on that in the next day or so…

But Elaine Byrne in the same edition of the SBP writing about the lack of appetite for reform at this point, as against earlier in the life of the government, had this thought:

The rejection of the Oireachtas inquiries and Seanad referendums was a message in neon lights that the electorate did not trust this government with more power. The anti-establishment shift in voting patterns was corroborated in the recent by-elections.
The combined Fine Gael-Labour vote fell by 46.8 per cent in Dublin South-West and 25 per cent in Roscommon-South Leitrim when compared to their 2011 vote. The local elections saw Fine Gael’s vote drop by 12 per cent and Labour plummeting to a third of the vote it achieved in the 2011 general election. The Sunday Business Post/Red C Poll for September revealed that coalition support is down almost 20 points from the inauguration of the democratic revolution.

The next poll will be useful to assess the impact, if any, of the Budget, but with those water charges still in train it would require quite some degree of optimism to think things are changing substantially on foot of it.

Smart-alecky… October 20, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
2 comments

…this colour piece here by from the Irish Times really captures the tone of some of Leader’s Questions in the Dáil over the last week or two between Joan Burton and others, including Mary Lou McDonald. I think this last in relation to some of the back and forth over the water charges is spot on:

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald produced a copy of a letter Wicklow County Council sent to households on its rental accommodation scheme telling tenants that a failure to pay their water charges could result in their eviction.

And:

Joan, however, jumped right in.
She said Wicklow County Council was controlled by the Opposition. Warming to her theme, the Tánaiste suggested that when Mary Lou got time in her busy schedule “you might pick up the telephone and make a call to your own public representatives” and have a conversation with the management.
“I am shocked that they would permit a letter to issue like that,” she added.
“It’s a management issue,” shouted Sinn Féin’s Dessie Ellis. “They don’t have influence.”

And:

Funnily enough outside the Dáil Joan later clarified that she had asked her officials to contact Wicklow County Council to verify the facts of the letter.
In the Dáil bearpit she may have scored points against Sinn Féin but as to scoring votes … that’s another matter entirely.

Free movement of labour inside the EU and the Tories. October 20, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, European Politics.
1 comment so far


I’m no great fan of José Manuel Barroso to put it mildly, but he has a point here when he :

…dismissed possible Conservative plans to impose a cap on EU migrants as an “airy fairy” proposal that would never be accepted.

Britain signed up to agreement after agreement in relation to the free movement of labour inside the EU.

What’s compounds that, and is so palpably hypocritical about the Tory stance is the complete lack of interest as regards capital movement.

But it’s also interesting looking through comments BTL to see how indifferent they are to the one actual land border that Britain has, with the RoI and it’s intriguing, is it not, to wonder how this state would fit in with all these plans (though there are bilateral agreements IIRC since the 1920s).

Some see this as a typical bluff by the British government but I wonder? I don’t believe UKIP will have anywhere near the sort of influence some are suggesting it will have in the next parliament, or even the sort of numbers some are throwing around, but there’s little doubt in my mind from talking to people in the UK in recent times and having been there recently that there’s been a decisive shift in the broader mood. Where this takes them is a troubling question.

Speaking of troubling, what of this from those clowns in UKIP?

a new Ukip calypso theme tune sung [by former DJ Mike Read, FFS, and he has form here having sung songs for Tory conferences] in a fake-Caribbean accent that criticises political leaders for allowing “illegal immigrants in every town”.

Clowns… or..?

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