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The RDS on Saturday…. October 18, 2017

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Did an exhibition at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis in the RDS at the weekend. As ever I really enjoyed it. It’s lovely to get to show off some of my collection to an appreciative audience. It’s good for making connections with the person who has a few posters up in the outhouse or in the attic, a stack of leaflets somewhere and so on. Given it’s nostalgia it got it’s usual great reception.
Many more stands than the previous time in the RDS (in 2015), some party ones, others quite interesting like the UNHCR stand which had a typical tent used by refugee families. Conradh na Gaeilge, Irish Heart Foundation, The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, National Women’s Council and various books and Souvenirs . There were also stands from USIT, The National Lottery and others. The increase in size seemed reflected in the number of delegates too.
My daughter and nephew were helping out for the day and enjoyed the whole experience. It’s a unique thing that most of us will never get to see. My daughter remarked that it was like a mix of a wedding and All Ireland. You’re dressed up to the nines, meeting and greeting people you may not have seen in years. How FF for its members was a lot more than a party. It was a lifestyle choice. People at the Ard Fheis with their parents, their grandparents and so on. Having a party heritage being very well thought of. Their social lives being partly the party.
Nobody thrilled with the current arrangement with FG, but surprisingly nobody jumping for the plug to be pulled either. Seems there’s no rush and well there will be plenty of time for something to arise that would be worth pulling the plug for. Danger too is that they won’t come back as the largest party and well they’d be in the same position again!
Saw Colum Eastwood and some other SDLP people there, although upon observing their presence and the rumoured merger, I was told that they are regulars at the Ard Fheis.
Given that there was an abortion debate , I was hoping that there would be some unofficial material distributed, alas there wasn’t and talked to a few people who went to the debate and they confirmed that there was nothing. The outcome I found depressing but it also showed how Conservative The FF membership actually are. There could be 50 Savitas a year and it wouldn’t change anything. Rather than a young/old split it seemed more like a Dublin+London/ Rest of the Ireland split on the 8th. It also shows what a challenge the whole Referendum debate will be with despite everything we know it coming down to “murdering babies” for a large portion of voters.
*I see the Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment has recommended that the 8th go, despite all the victim hood and play acting out of Mullen and Co.

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Catalonia and other matters. October 18, 2017

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Many thanks to the person who sent this, written by Archon of the Southern Star.

PERHAPS if our esteemed Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, had spent some time reading the history of Catalonia, he wouldn’t have made such a contemptuous assessment of that country’s recent independence referendum.

Parroting the EU and Spanish Government line, Vlad declared that the Irish Government would not acknowledge the result of the Catalan referendum, despite the fact that 90% of voters backed independence. He loftily declared the referendum illegal because it did not respect the laws, constitution and ‘territorial unity of Spain.’

That was his opinion but the fact that he saw fit to lecture us on the need to support the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy in his constitutional battle with Catalonia was grotesque, if for no other reason than because in 2016 an EU report labelled Spain’s government to be the most corrupt in Europe!

Of course, Fine Gael’s endorsement of the right-wing Rajoy was par for the course. After all, Eoin O’Duffy, a self-proclaimed fascist and the first president of Fine Gael, took 700 Blueshirts to Spain in 1936 to help destroy a sovereign, democratic state under attack from General Franco’s fascistic armies.

Yet, one might have assumed that, before making his pronouncement, Vlad would have rummaged through a book about Catalonia and read something relating to the huge sense of injustice that underpins the Catalan independence movement. He could have started with Lluís Companys, the president of Catalonia until 1940. Franco murdered him.

But the historical grievances of Catalans do not interest Varadkar. Injustices such as Spain’s abolition of Catalonia’s political institutions, laws that prohibited speaking Catalan in public or using it in official business, the summary executions of some 3,400 anti-Franco opponents between 1938 and 1957, the disappeared, the arrests, the torture, and the fact that one of Franco’s last political acts was to order in 1974 the death by strangulation of a 26-year old political activist, Salvador Puig Antich.

With such political horrors embedded in the collective memory, it was inevitable Catalans would seek political independence. And it also was inevitable that Varadkar and his government – who are no friends of nationalism, Irish or Catalan – should mount a bone-headed defence of Spain’s controversial prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.

At the heart of the matter was Rajoy’s use of the Guardia Civil to disrupt the Catalan referendum through violent means, a tactic that made little sense by reason of the fact that the pro-independence movement could have lost the referendum because of lack of support.

Varadkar, however, chose to ignore the arrest of officials, the seizure of ballot boxes and the firing of plastic bullets to try to prevent the referendum from happening. Nor did it concern our Taoiseach that some years ago this same police force narrowly failed in an attempt to seize power.

Worse still, Madrid’s heavy handed reaction compromised the success of any future moves to negotiate an agreement that would end the crisis.

Indeed, Varadkar with his ‘hard man’ approach to a problem that had nothing to do with this country sounded as extreme as Rajoy. What a pity that, before sounding-off like a foghorn, the Taoiseach did not seek the advice of someone like the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop.

She said, in relation to Catalan independence, that ‘all peoples have the right to self-determination and to choose the form of government best suited to their needs, a principle which is enshrined in the UN Charter.’

And, then, there’s this question: if, according to the Varadkar logic, the Catalans acted illegally, did Sinn Fein in 1919 also act illegally when its newly-elected MPs chose to establish a national parliament in Dublin rather than attend the one in London? Indeed the first step towards independence was the Dáil’s rejection of British law, Britain’s unwritten Constitution and Britain’s ‘territorial unity.’

Just like Catalonia in regards to Spain!

Here’s an interesting one: Three of Ireland’s premier food producers in the dairy sector are up to their oxters in bovine ordure. They’ve been listed in the national media as among the country’s worst polluters when it comes to environmental compliance.

Companies that breach environmental regulations are subject to increased inspections and monitoring by the environmental regulator. They also have to endure some rather bad publicity.

All very embarrassing for the country’s premier agri-business, particularly when the response to the news was swift and controversial. For instance, the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) came straight out and demanded that the government should abolish its ongoing Origin Green campaign.

Created by An Bord Bia as the world’s first national food sustainability programme, Origin Green’s purpose is to bring together the entire food industry – farmers, food producers, retailers and foodservice operators – in pursuit of a common goal.

And that goal is the production of safe, nutritious food within a viable industry that –as the blurb puts it – simultaneously ‘protects and enhances the natural environment and the local community.’

But, now, concerned by the distressing EPA report, the Irish Wildlife Trust has described the Bord Bia marketing initiative as ‘a sham.’ It said Origin Green created the false impression that all was well in the countryside, when it wasn’t.

Birdwatch Ireland also dived into to the controversy, commenting that the revelations didn’t come as a surprise. It made the important point that the government’s agricultural policies were not compatible with environmental protection, and that polluting companies should not get Origin Green certification.

In the meantime, residents and community organisations in East Cork – Cobh, East Ferry and Aghada – are following the ongoing controversy with great interest. They’ve already objected to Dairygold’s plan to build a 14-kilometre pipeline from Mogeely to East Ferry in Cork Harbour. The pipeline will be used to discharge three million litres of waste water every day from a new cheese production facility at Mogeely.

The East Cork objectors are awaiting a planning appeal decision on the matter, but Dairygold says the new plant will not cause a deterioration in water quality.

However, studies undertaken by NUI Galway contradict the co-op’s assertion that waste dumped in the inner harbour from the proposed factory would be carried safely away on outgoing tides.

And, to add to Dairygold woes, locals living in Mogeely are concerned at proposals for a new factory. In a submission to the planning appeals authority they say their lives have been damaged by ‘highly-offensive odours and extremely loud noise’ from the factory that already exists in their town.

But, intriguingly, whatever the outcome of appeals to An Bord Pleanála, one thing is certain: the current travails of some of Ireland’s largest farmer-owned agri-businesses have created a rumpus of considerable proportions.

The government abides… October 18, 2017

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Some have been quietly suggesting here for a while now that the current government isn’t going anywhere soon. The idea Varadkar et al would rush after the Summer or even after the Budget to the country was unlikely. He, I suspect, is hoping to build an image as a safe pair of hands. And in a way he is – in the limited sense that the Budget, so long trailed as being a point of contention between FF and FG has passed almost…unnoticed, in comparison with previous ones.

In a way it has been very cleverly handled by him and Donohoe, nothing to scare the horses, some shapes thrown to seem to engage with issues (though as we know and as 6/5against wrote here nothing of any real substance). And continuity above all else.

Noel Whelan writes in the IT:

It will take a year to assess the economic success of this budget but what is already clear is that politically Budget 2018 has enhanced the Government’s position and its sustainability.
It is significant that this makeshift minority Government, while weak in many other respects, has comfortably delivered a budget for the second time. In this budget Donohoe managed give something small to everyone in the electorate. He also managed to feed the Fine Gael grassroots and to keep his Independent colleagues in Cabinet happy. He did so while at the same time reinforcing rather than straining the confidence-and-supply agreement with Fianna Fáil.

And then there’s next year where we may see a repeat.

The smooth changeover in the leadership of this Government from Enda Kenny to Leo Varadkar last summer and the calm politics around the budget this autumn all serve to lengthen the life span of this Government. There is now no substantial difference in economic or budgetary policy which should threaten the survival of the Coalition or their confidence and supply arrangements over the next year. There is every reason to believe that the parties involved in keeping this Government in power including Fianna Fáil will be able repeat this smooth budget process again next year.

And very likely the year after. Welcome to the new politics.

What is – of course – essential, is that the left in all its forms takes advantage of this seeming calm.

Northern Ireland as a Special Economic Zone? October 18, 2017

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Meant to look at this in greater detail. Pat Leahy notes a newish idea in relation to the North…

One idea for the North that has been floated in recent months – including by Fianna Fáil – is the creation of a special economic zone (SEZ). It means that special tax and regulatory arrangements can be put in place for a region to take account of the special circumstances there.

But how would customs be organised? Not a lot of flesh on those bones.

Actually, the proposals seem have been floated originally by Michael McDowell about the North and Irish unity from May. And then of course by a certain M. Martin of FF.

McDowell said on the first:

“Irish unity, I think, is far more likely to happen by stages than by a once-off movement of the north from being part of Britain into a unitary Irish state.”
He claims a German-style unification scenario is unlikely but an “intermediate” possibility is the creation of an Irish confederation in which the two parts of Ireland would agree to share a single membership of the EU.
“The Republic and a Northern Irish state would be partners in an EU state membership,” he said.
“The northern partner might even retain a linkage with the crown of some type – perhaps along the Canadian model.”
I wonder how that would work? And what would the Northern state look like?

Meanwhile that idea of a SEZ, McDowell suggested that…

“That is why the real possibility of seeking special economic zone status for Northern Ireland should be explored by Dublin in the context of the Brexit process,” he said.
“If the north-south trading relationship and the north’s agricultural economy were preserved in a post-Brexit arrangement, the putlook for the northern economy may look a lot less bleak.”

What you want to say – 18th October, 2017 October 18, 2017

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

After the storm… October 17, 2017

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Hugh Linehan doesn’t appear to have a great handle on hurricanes. He asks in a colour piece in the IT…

Outside Brown Thomas an Italian family stop suddenly and point in amazement at a perfect rainbow in the clear blue sky above. I’m confused. Rainbows. Bright sunshine. Balmy temperatures. Is this the way hurricanes (or even ex-hurricanes) are supposed to be?

Where exactly does he think most hurricanes manifest? And what sort of temperatures does he think are extant at those locations?

Still he does put his finger on one very real danger and why it was sensible to keep people indoors yesterday…

…then, at St Stephen’s Green, a powerful gust hits. The trees around Fusiliers’ Arch are shaking wildly. The overhead wires screech in protest. People scurry for the shelter of the side streets. Suddenly you become painfully aware that a slate or a branch or a piece of signage could come flying at you from anywhere. This is why you’re not supposed to be outside.

I’ve never seen so many trees blown over in Fairview Park and talking to people up at Phoenix Park it was the same story and presumably all over the island.

Bombs, Bullets and the Border: Policing Ireland’s Frontier: Irish Security Policy, 1969 − 1978 October 17, 2017

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Speaking of the Border… I’ve mentioned Patrick Mulroe’s recent book, Bombs, Bullets and the Border: Policing Ireland’s Frontier: Irish Security Policy, 1969 − 1978 before, and it is a fascinating book and a timely one too given the renewed interest and significance of the Border on this island. Reading it one has a real sense of the Border as something that waxes and wanes in terms of that significance and its permeability. Moreover the centrality to the history of this island and this state in particular is very clear.

There are some intriguing paradoxes. For example, in the early part of the conflict in the early 1970s South Armagh was one of the quieter places – and it seems likely that efforts to disrupt crossing points, minor roads and so on contributed to a change there. But Mulroe seems to dismiss the idea that the South was an easy refuge which republicans could cross into with impunity. There was an element of that, but the reception from the state was likely to be hard edged. But what is also clear is how frosty were relations between the security forces on either side of the Border – though in the case of the RUC rather less so than the British Army which operated in near incomprehensible ways at times, and seemingly had little regard as to the ramifications of its actions and how they might be perceived by others. An amazing number of shootings by British forces across the Border took place.

Another intriguing aspect is how the Irish state at all times sought to present itself as implementing security measures for its own sake, not that of the North. Calls for cross-border cooperation were publicly largely ignored since politically they were counter-productive in the South. Whatever about fairly negative views of the conflict and the IRA(s) open cooperation between RoI governments and the British was not an option.

But a further point is that often Irish security forces would, as the conflict developed, point to the paucity of RUC or BA forces on the northern side of the border – often they were deployed well back – indeed as Mulroe says the respective weight of police at the Border was ‘very much in the Garda’s favour with the RUC holding back’. The calls from the British to have increased forces on the southern side were consequently met with some irritation.

Mulroe also touches on further paradoxes, not least the absolute horror that was expressed by RoI governments at the thought of British withdrawal during this period – borne of a fear of civil war in the six counties and a consequent destabilisation of the island. Though one also wonders was there a fear that in the context of a withdrawal was there also a fear that this might be a gift politically to Republicans. That said as Mulroe notes, the IRA was also aware of the constraints of its operations.

For example, mention is made of a Saor Éire plot to kidnap leading government politicians and how the government subsequently placed pressure on PIRA through threats of internment in order that the larger formation would similarly place pressure on the smaller one. Apparently Seán Mac Stíofáin told them that ‘if your people get internment introduced down here you’re dead’. And the bombing of British Ambassador Christopher Ewart Biggs was contrary to PIRA rules of engagement which banned armed actions in the south.

Politically matters spoke of almost an aversion to engaging with the situation in the North. Mulroe notes that at the 1973 election despite the very very heated aftermath of Bloody Sunday and so forth no ‘traditional militant republican voting bloc emerged’.

A lot of other points in the text – in 1970 there were 11 armed robberies in the RoI, in 1977 there were 298 (IIRC) and according to the Garda 70% had no political context.

Anyhow, a very good read.

Border (reality) check October 17, 2017

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The Border. It is always with us. And this from last week… well it’s difficult to take a piece by Newton Emerson in the IT very seriously. In it he does his not uncharacteristic trick of attempting to dismiss any problems relating to Brexit – in this instance the leaked report from the Revenue Commissioners which argued that Brexit necessitated significant customs and other checks on the Border whether that Brexit is hard or soft.

So he argues that:

The BBC and RTÉ zeroed in on a threat to the National Ploughing Championships, which will need a temporary importation procedure for agricultural equipment.
While this is true, an event like the ploughing championship would unquestionably be covered by the EU’s general procedure for oral declarations – the Sharia divorce of customs exemptions, where saying “nothing to declare” not even three times but once is enough to make it official.
Alternatively, a special procedure could be established for the event, perhaps consisting of a windscreen sticker – that is how the EU permits other non-car vehicles to temporarily cross its frontier.

But what he is ignoring is that even a sticker – assuming that such an approach was feasible – would have to be monitored by some sort of monitoring process. There’s simply no getting around that – that the frontier will suddenly take on a manifest quality it does not currently have.

Indeed what he seems to ignore completely is that as Richard North continually notes, the UK will become from the perspective of the EU a ‘third country’ with all that that entails. And that will – short of some remarkable deal in respect to this island and the Border – be particularly evident here.

He continues:

It was strange that nobody cited horses, given their prominence in the ploughing championships. Britain, Ireland and France have a trilateral agreement for free movement of horses but the EU still insists on an equine passport between all three countries.
No doubt this requirement is religiously observed. One of its consequences is that it is easier to ship horses out of the EU than around it, providing a permanent solution for the ploughing championships. After Brexit, the contest should be moved to Northern Ireland. Protestants have all the best land anyway.

Hmmmm. The problem with that (and as an aside and I know I’m always complaining about this but as someone from a half Protestant background I’m never hugely keen on caricatures being thrown around in this way, even by those who share that background), is that Britain will be outside the EU. That whatever pre-existing arrangements are there will be superseded or have to be reworked for the future. And that the situation pertaining to horses is not readily applicable to all others.

His panglossian tilt is ever more evident in the following:

The leaked report is a year old and has not been published in full but other reports and testimony since the UK’s Brexit vote show the Revenue Commissioners always taking a practical, big picture approach.
Their initial comments last year emphasised an electronic Border was possible. Figures for minimal physical inspections were given to the Oireachtas in May. When asked to consider a worst-case hard Brexit scenario, the leaked report reveals the same pragmatic mindset – an invisible Border would not be possible but managing the consequences would be, through a large up-front expense and a continuing administrative overhead.

Yet again, he ignores salient details. The broad consensus at this point, over a year later, is that an electronic border is not possible. Minimal physical inspections are not the same as no physical inspections – an absolutely crucial further point. And administrative solutions are now regarded as not sufficient.

Try as he might he cannot get away from one basic truth – Brexit necessitates the Border on this island becoming once more something more extensive than a line on the map.

Further, and he just can’t resist the temptation, he uses this as a stick to beat Dublin with. In this instance the idea that Dublin is resistant to having a Plan B for the Border.

In truth his article descends into incomprehensibility at this point…

If Ireland had realistic goals from this high stakes move the gamble might be justified. But what it is seeking – a UK-EU customs arrangement that renders an Irish Border unnecessary – is so at variance with the trading freedom the UK wants that it must lie at the absolute limits of plausibility. Even if such a monumental compromise was forced on London, Ireland would have little to do with it. Westminster politics would be the critical factor.
Brexit was famously described by the The Economist as “an act of self-harm”. A deliberate strategy of unpreparedness looks like an Irish equivalent. It is as if Leo Varadkar is trying to turn the whole of Brexit into his very own Border dog.
Either he is doing this because he believes the dog will never bite, or he thinks the strategy is plausible because it will.

What does any of this mean in the broader context of the piece. Is Emerson saying yes, all the negative impacts he has dismissed previously are very possible and therefore Dublin must exert itself as best it can to prevent them (which entirely contradicts his own point in the above about ‘Ireland having little do with it’). And what of his seeming contradiction in relation to the idea of a UK-EU customs arrangement that renders an Irish border unnecessary being ‘at the limits of plausibility’.

Difficult to know, but perhaps given that contradiction he might be better to resist that temptation mentioned above.

More UK Polling October 17, 2017

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From UKPOLLINGREPORT this useful analysis of last weeks YouGov poll. The figures for the parties are in or around the area we have seen now consistently for months with Labour marginally ahead of the Tories – remember when Corbyn was supposedly unelectable and unable to gain traction? Interesting were an election held tomorrow. Of course it won’t be, but when it is it is difficult to think that the incredibly solid performance of the BLP won’t stand to it (and surely options are opening in terms of either single party government or some sort of arrangement with the SNP? Though no one will admit to that last).

One real oddity is how T May’s personal standing has held up, though May is now equal with Corbyn both at 33%.

And what of the issue that looms over all others?

Also notable was YouGov’s regular tracker on whether people think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the European Union. 42% of people now think that Brexit was the right decision, 47% think it was the wrong decision. The five point lead for “wrong” is the highest that YouGov have shown in this question since they started tracking it after the referendum. All the usual caveats apply – all polls have a margin of error, and it’s wrong to get too excited over small movements in a poll that may be no more than normal random variation. The important thing to do is the watch the trend, and while the country is still quite evenly divided over the merits of Brexit as I wrote last month, the regular trackers do appear to have started to show some small movement towards regret.

If that dynamic is real it is very possible that as the reality of Brexit and all that it entails comes into view people are booming a lot less sanguine about it.

One has to hope that that will feed into support for a so-called soft Brexit.

Talk talk October 17, 2017

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This piece in the Guardian about T. May’s efforts to schmooze EU leaders last night and how they may have been less than optimal from her perspective is very revealing I think. The consensus is that she failed and the Guardian frames it as follows:

British officials were keen to point to the stated hope by Juncker for accelerated talks. They made clear that the prime minister did not make any further offers from the UK around substantive issues such as the divorce bill.

But earlier in the day the latest leak of a draft statement from EU leaders, to be published at a European council summit in Brussels on Friday, made clear the desire among member states to continue to take a tough line with Britain.

A tough line? The reality is that the EU approach has been consistent from the off and it the rather delusionary rhetoric of the Tories that has sought to present it other way. Indeed it is the inability of the UK to craft a single coherent approach that has been most remarkable. There’s also, as Richard North has noted, a tendency to focus on side issues rather than the overall dynamic, something that the British media has been far too prone to do. But his analysis is that they are comfortable with what they know rather than (to them) the tedious details of inter-state trading and other links.

Which perhaps is why his pessimism, and recall he is a long time Brexit proponent (albeit one who cleaves to EEA/EFTA status as a long term transitional position), is growing daily. And his take is that all this is optics to cover the UK should as seems likely they want to walk out of negotiations.

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