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Blair’s Ghost, Bush’s future… Robert Harris offers a roman á clef about power January 31, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Culture, US Politics.

Funny watching Marine One, or not since it was renamed on the moment of Obama’s inaugural oath (version one), lifting away with Bush. Amazing to see power almost visibly wash away leaving him physically deflated as he climbed the steps into the helicopter, do his usual thing of greeting the pilots, and then move to the passenger cabin. What next for him? What next for the former most powerful man on the planet? And that brought to mind Robert Harris’s novel The Ghost.

Harris is the man who brought us the fascinating Fatherland, set in an alternative history where the Nazi’s had… wait for it… yes, they’d won World War 2 (sadly, as smiffy will agree, this was rather less good than Brad Lineaweavers similarly themed libertarian take on such matters Moon of Ice… or perhaps not). But no purveyor of scientifiction is Mr. Harris. That his big break had a sniff of that was perhaps unfortunate in literary circles, although its popularity clearly less so. Subsequent to that he wrote a not terribly interesting thriller about the Enigma cipher machines, then the rather better Archangel which dealt with Stalinism in contemporary Russia in perhaps the most concrete form possible, and eventually a series of rather fine novels set in Classical Rome, Pompeii and then Imperium. You want to know about Cicero without the pain of reading the original? Set your sights on the latter volume.

Anyhow, on to The Ghost. A solid, but strangely unsatisfying, take on the Blair years which depicts a ghost writer who is given the task of completing the autobiography of former Prime Minister Adam Lang who is now in Martha’s Vineyard at the home of a billionaire trying to finish the project. The ghost writer is a replacement for another writer who dies in ‘mysterious circumstances’. Once in the US the writer discovers that there is more than mere political dysfunction at work in the former PMs entourage.

Of course the real core of the novel is the strange dissonance between the engagement with the character of the former PM and his wife in the text and our knowledge that Harris actually knew and – by some accounts – was quiet close to Blair’s, Tony and Cherie.

And while intensely critical of Lang particularly since he has supported an Iraq war that has been both unsuccessful and politically deeply the sense creeps through that Harris actually is rather fond of Blair/Lang . Some remarkable liberties are taken, particularly a somewhat icky sex scene (icky in the sense of hugely unconvincing) between two significant characters. But even that lese-majesté – read it and you’ll know what I mean – seems a bit opportunistic. It doesn’t add anything to the plot other than the hardly unstartling proposition that middle aged people have affairs or one night stands.

And the plot is troublesome. It is organised like a thriller and is a surprisingly short read. But the problem is that it’s not really a very good thriller. The twists and turns are perhaps a little too obvious, and as ever with a first person narrative, too much is heaped on the narrator’s shoulders and yet too much happens off screen as it were. So it feels in some respects as if – despite considerable tooing and froing – the narrator never goes very far at all from the isolated billionaires refuge. In another book that might lead to an atmosphere that was utterly claustrophobic. But not this one. Although I will hand it to Harris, the final twist is pretty good. If not great.

In a way the fundamental issue with the book is that we already know the reality, know that the Iraq adventure was utterly misconceived, that Blair was instrumental in cheerleading it and that the consequences have been abysmal. In order to make that reality worse in the book one must try to throw something else into the mix. But really, when faced with that reality, what could be worse than it already is? And although Harris strives hard to introduce a certain something it seems forced. Not so much a great revelation as a rather dowdy, and hugely unlikely, side issue.

Oddly where the book succeeds is not so much in offering us a portrait of the Blair/ character but in depicting what it is like for those whose hour has passed. There’s a fine scene where the narrator during an interview with Lang has to do something else for an hour or two. When he returns Lang is still sitting in precisely the same spot and the narrator realises that it is because he has absolutely nothing else to be doing with himself.

And the outline of his now much reduced retinue is interesting as well. Those who out of a residual loyalty, or even love, remain at hand despite the fact that the spotlight has moved on.

The half-life that global figures descend into after their careers are over is drawn perceptively. Days whiling away time thinking back on the great events of their lives. Or regretting the choices made and the roads not taken. And when, as more often these days, those who have been such figures retire at relatively young ages the shock must be the more difficult to bear.

One wonders how Blair regards the more youthful Obama as he bestrides the globe able to change and amend many of the worst aspects of the last eight years, even if unable to remove the stain of the Iraq War. Blair’s clear impotence in the Middle East, cruelly but accurately made visible in the past month, tells its own story.

Perhaps had Harris written it before the Iraq war it might have given at least one person pause for thought. Perhaps two.

This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Roni Size and Reprazent, In the Mode January 31, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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From 2000, In the Mode from Roni Size and Reprazent, vastly superior to the Mercury Prize Winning New Forms. One of the more interesting expressions of drum’n’bass, at least to my ears. I was a fairly assiduous listener to jungle, or at least its more mainstream manifestations, around the mid 1990s, but it’s odd, I tried recently to give Goldie’s first magnum opus a spin and found it saccharine beyond belief. LTJ Bukem is another matter entirely. I’m willing to bet I’ll still be listening to Logical Progression Level 1 in twenty years. Thirty even. Assuming the ears last that long.

And then there is Roni Size and Reprazent – drum’n’bass ‘collective’ no less – albeit one with a fairly rapidly shifting membership. Now, don’t get me wrong, New Forms was grand in a chin stroking way. But to me, and perhaps it was the Mercury Prize issue, there was something ineffably coffee table about it. There’s a heap of stuff like that and its usually in dance or dance related music. Portishead is another example that springs to mind. Nice. Inoffensive. Next.

Whereas… In the Mode, a good three years later had a ragged urgency – and crucially much shorter tracks – that to my ears was much more intense. Dare I say it was almost punk-like?

So here from the more polite New Forms is Brown Paper Bag which in fairness is pretty darn good…

And here from In The Mode is the opening track Railing Part 2

Here’s Dirty Beats

And this is Ghetto Celebrity (which sadly doesn’t have an accompanying video). This track which has a brilliant fusion of melody, beats and Method Man from Wu-Tang who heroically freestyles… extolling Bristol no less…

And here is Who Told You

Nice and minimalist…

While finally Zach De La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine collaborated on Centre of the Storm which surely must be one of the few examples of musical popular culture to namecheck Salman Rushdie…

The aggravator, two chips bidder, mob life goody while my hoody hide my eyes
The critics rush me like Salman Rushdie, as I
Enter the center of the storm, with Size
Enter the center of the storm, with Size
Enter the center of the storm

Apparently there is a new Reprazent album out this year. Worth looking out for.

They’ll take what they can get… January 30, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.

At the Central Bank bulletin launch, [assistant director of the bank] Mr O’Connell also said the Government should consider charging the public for services such as water, third-level education and free travel for pensioners.

Neither Truth nor Reconciliation January 29, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Commemoration, Northern Ireland.

Remarkable scenes at yesterday’s launch of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past report. And, it must be said, depressing ones. (The above link to the BBC has lots of relevant material, including interviews with some families of victims, and see Nuzhound for January 29th for lots more, including editorials from several British and Irish dailies. Also this report from The Times for a video of an angry confrontation between unionist and nationalist relatives, and there was also jostling between Gerry Adams’ security team and the protestors targetting him.) The issue of victims, and dealing with the past, was never going to be anything but highly sensitive and controversial, especially given that the victims were ignored nearly altogether in the process that led to the Good Friday Agreement and the establishment of devolution.

This relates to the issue of what has come to be termed a hierarchy of victims. Naturally enough, the families of dead paramilitaries have been adamant that the sense of loss felt by them be recognised as no different from that of anyone else. Allied to this has been the determination of certain political groupings, the most influential of which is by far PSF, that dead paramilitaries be treated as the equal of dead soldiers and policemen. This difficult issue has been complicated by a great deal of hypocrisy and inconsistency on all sides. Wille Fraser, of FAIR, was prominent among the protestors yesterday. Yet he is on record as saying that loyalist paramilitaries should not have been in gaol. Similarly, while members of nationalist paramilitary groups portray their dead as fallen soldiers, they dismiss loyalist paramilitaries as members of death squads (part of a wider failing to understand that unionists have agency, but that’s another story for another time). The fact that all sides can point to the others and accuse them of hypocrisy helps sustain the bitterness and anger that was displayed yesterday.

Brian Feeney, in his Irish News column yesterday, spoke of the need to “flatten” this hierachy which he claimed had been developing over the last 15 years or so. I confess that I cannot understand this chronology – from day one, all sides have not regarded all victims as equal. There are many who would agree with Feeney, and with the argument that the suffering occasioned by the loss of a loved one violently taken before their time is the same for all. I would certainly agree that there is no hierarchy of suffering among the families of the dead. Whether, however, that is the same thing as no hierarchy of victims is a different matter. Patrick McKenna, an ordinary Catholic man murdered standing outside some shops by the UVF is not a victim of the same type as his murderer, killed by an undercover British army unit moments afterwards. In that context, one was guilty and one was innocent. This is the feeling that motivated Michelle Williamson, who lost her parents in the Shankill bombing that also killed their murderer, to protest yesterday. And yet the gunman and bomber can be portrayed as a victim also, a victim of a set of abnormal and violent political circumstances into which he was born, and which caused him to join a paramilitary group. My own feeling is that we have free will, we bear responsibility for our choices, and their consequences, and that in any story of the Troubles and commemoration of the victims we must take account of that simple fact.

The example of South Africa has loomed large in all the discussions of the need to find a way of coming to terms with our past. Certainly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission there proved a tremendously positive experience, healing many wounds, and bringing a sense of closure to the society. Yet that was possible only because the era of Apartheid had come to a definitive end. There was a clear winner and a clear loser in that struggle, and a basic acceptance even among those responsible that Apartheid and the brutality that supported it had been unjust. Clearly, that is not the situation in Northern Ireland. No side will admit that its basic position was the wrong, and no group involved in violence has declared its campaign illegitimate. Nor will any do so, whatever about individual “mistakes”. As we saw yesterday, such a process would only tear the old wounds open, and raise a great deal of animosity. Given the public denials of many players from all sides of things they are responsible for, nor would the same type of honesty be possible without risking wrecking the entire political settlement.

In the context of our deeply-divided and bigotted society, where political divisions continue to run deep, the Eames-Bradley group was never going to be able to produce a report that would come even remotely close to pleasing everybody. I do feel though that the proposal to offer a payment to the relatives of all those killed in the Troubles was destined to unleash fury, and we would have been better off had it not been made. In the way it was leaked to prepare opinion in advance, it all too easily came across as an equivalence of victimhood, and not of family grief, alienating many people – and not just unionists, though maninly them – from the entire report. The whole thing was very ham-fisted.

What then was the alternative? The report was designed to deal not only with victims’ suffering, but also commemoration. Commemoration is both a private and a public act. Look around Northern Ireland, and we can see public acts of commemoration everywhere. Murals and commemorative gardens erected by the paramilitaries on both sides, the plaques and windows dedicated to the RUC and military personnel, and the mounuments to innocent civilians, commemorating events like Kingsmill and McGurk’s Bar. My own sense is that instead of the payment to the families of those who died during the Troubles, the report would have been better off recommending extensive funding of victims’ groups or committees at a local level, which then would have the funds to organise the whatever forms of support mechanisms and commemorations they considered best. This would have been I feel more responsive to the needs of the families, and less controversial, being less suggestive of an equivalence of responsibility as opposed to suffering. I speak though from the privileged position of never having lost a family member due to the Troubles.

Oh wait… it is an enormous crisis… and there truly is no alternative… at least not from our main opposition party January 29, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics.

Yesterday one might be forgiven for getting the distinct impression that John Gormley was understating the crisis, particularly when he said…

…speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland , Mr Gormley, whose Green Party is in Government with Fianna Fáil, appeared to signal he was against [a public address to the nation by the Taoiseach] saying “a state of the nation address has echoes of Charles J Haughey”.

Yet curiously I read today that in the Dáil yesterday:

Mr Gormley said that Ireland faced a challenge equal to the greatest the State had faced since its foundation some 90 years ago.

Isn’t it time they made their minds up?

Meanwhile should one hope that our beloved opposition would be willing to step up to the plate and offer an alternative analysis… well, I fear that that hope would be short-lived;

“Some €20 billion per year [on public sector wages] is not affordable and there is simply no getting away from that fact,’’ he said.

“We have either to cut jobs or cut pay. There is no ducking this issue, despite the understandable anger of many good public servants, who did not cause the crisis.’’ Mr Coveney said that the market was already forcing salary reductions and had forced 120,000 redundancies in the private sector in the past year.

All the Christmases for the economic right are coming together this month… January 29, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.

Why bother doing any sort of analysis on this mornings offering in the Irish Times on the economy?

For another adds their voice to the chorus on public sector pay cuts. Mind you, this person can’t but admit that in his glee to eviscerate our public services and sector…

…The salient task is to show international investors that the monthly bleeding in public finances has been stemmed through measurable savings, even if small in the context of an annual deficit that would otherwise exceed €20 billion.

Think about it. The public finances can only contribute ‘small’ savings. And yet the energy in our media and amongst economic commentators directed towards this topic would make one think that they were the overwhelming component in the overall crisis.

But for him it’s not just the public sector that is there to operate as the sacrificial lamb to placate a ‘bond market [that] now wants… firm action from the Irish Government’.


…even a further 10 per cent cut on average from that level will not quite deliver the €2 billion as a result of payroll and consumption tax revenue forgone.

And who else should pay?

Not increasing social welfare rates will cover the remainder immediately. Those subsisting on welfare would still enjoy a substantial real hike in income if rates stayed at the 2008 level, because the Consumer Price Index will drop sharply this year.

That’s right. Not only can they take cuts, but due to the CPI they’ll live like princes! More or less. Less I think. Less. And the use of the word ‘enjoy’ – presumably entirely unconsciously – sends its own message about his appreciation of such matters.

And who is Rossa White to be dispensing such advice?

…chief economist at Davy Research, a division of Davy, the Dublin-based stockbroking, wealth management and financial advisory firm

Such chutzpah. Such shamelessness. Such callous indifference to the actual impact of the measures suggested on those who had no hand or part in generating the current circumstances.

One might think that in the context of a financial sector that has proven its innate uselessness over the past year and its utter dependence upon the state when it all goes sour, which let’s remember is you and me and our taxes, that people like Mr. White might soften their cough. Or remain quiet entirely.

Some hope.

That great Liberal hope… the Canadian opposition coalition crumbles January 29, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, Uncategorized.
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How telling that the three party coalition that signed an agreement just barely a month ago has collapsed. As reported in the Irish Times yesterday:

The main opposition Liberal Party announced its conditional support for the government’s 2009 budget and economic stimulus plan, allowing the Conservatives to survive, and killing off the opposition parties’ plan to install a coalition government.

And step forward the architect of this new idea…

“Canadians don’t want another election, and they’re tired of political games,” the new Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, told a news conference. He said the government’s deficit-laden budget, released yesterday, responded to the needs of the present.

“What (Canadians) want from me is political action that shows a sense of responsibility and I’m trying to do that,” Mr Ignatieff said.

Those of us from polities where minority governments tend to fall almost immediately and where coalition government is de rigeur might take the view that the political action from a party that in tandem with others would be in a position to take state power is best represented by… er… taking state power. It’s called… political action.

Nor, and here is the curiosity, is there any specific reason why there would have to be another election. I can’t find one when reading up on this topic, but what appears to be ingrained in the Canadian political psyche is a notion that the political victor, even when only holding an overall minority of votes, is the party which gained the largest number of seats. Not so much first past the post as closest to the post. That this is both mathematically and functionally a politically incoherent position doesn’t appear to impinge upon them.

And hence Ignatieff can take a position that his approach of ceding power to the Conservatives, even in a context where he could with his former opposition coalition partners take power, is somehow the correct – even proper – course of action.

Those of us who have endured Fianna Fáil led coalitions and Fine Gael led coalitions may well be bemused by all this.

Still, one might be more bemused at the fact that Ignatieff has decided to assume responsibility without power.

He said he would present an amendment to the main budget motion this afternoon requiring the government to report back on its budget implementation in March, June and December.

“We are putting this government on probation,” Ignatieff said. “Each of these reports will be an opportunity to withdraw our confidence should the government fail Canadians…We will be watching like hawks to make sure the investments Canadians need actually reach them.”

And the implicit threat there is, that should the Conservatives not live up to his expectations, well then he presumably will call upon his former opposition coalition partners to… pull the plug.

They might have something to say about that…

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton bitterly criticised Mr Ignatieff for what he said was the creation of a new coalition – one with Harper.

“Far from holding (Harper’s) feet to the fire, he’s given him a ‘get out of jail’ card for free,” Mr Layton said.

Sounds about right. Those of us who have read Ignatieff’s writings on democracy and nationalism in the past might well be forgiven by being puzzled at his current stance. Surely a liberal party unwilling to forge alliances and to effectively prop up a conservative party is doing some disservice both to progressive positions and to democracy if the option is open for a change of government. And if there is a lack of clarity in the mechanisms for such a change without an election then it is doubly beholden on a ‘liberal’ party to clarify matters.

Marx? Not as we know him… or, why bother quoting from Das Kapital when you can make up any old rubbish? January 28, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Marxism, Society, Uncategorized.

I was at a meeting last week when someone asked me had I received the email doing the rounds with the quote from Marx that prophesied the current financial crisis. No was my response, what was in it? The person was a bit vague, but apparently Marx had foreseen all the details including the collapse of banks, their nationalisation and ultimately how communism would be the only answer.

Now, I could have been cheered, but somehow I didn’t recall anything about ‘nationalisation of the banks’ as an aspect of Marx’s thesis, or at least not in that precise formulation. Or indeed the idea that banks would collapse. That level of detail, or rather that oddity, didn’t strike me as ringing entirely true.

So I asked them to forward me it…

Here it is in all its glory…

“Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalized, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism.”

Karl Marx, 1867

Got to love the date… but curiously no reference to the original text is given. Which is hardly surprising since it’s a construct in every detail. It’s all over the internet if you google it, but this post at least recognises it for what it is…

I guess I could still be cheered that a broad non-Marxist, or non-Marxist influenced, swathe of the population is at least being exposed to his name, if not his actual thinking, but I’m not really. It just seems to me that whoever ‘composed’ the piece threw it in because it was the only oppositional handle they could think of.

And I haven’t found the energy to say anything about it to my colleague.

Don’t tell the children… that public address to the nation… and… joy in heaven for ever sinner who repents (even just a little). January 28, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics.

I like John Gormley, I genuinely do. He’s one of our more thoughtful and sensible politicians. That he sits at the Cabinet table, even in the current circumstances, is no bad thing, whatever about the lack of clear positive outcomes or influence on issues close to our hearts. But one has cause to wonder… like yesterday… for reading his thoughts on the calls for a television address to the nation by the Taoiseach there’s something a little odd about his response…

…speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland , Mr Gormley, whose Green Party is in Government with Fianna Fáil, appeared to signal he was against such a move, saying “a state of the nation address has echoes of Charles J Haughey”.

Which is bad how?

Mr Gormley said he was mindful of public anxiety concerning the economy but insisted Government and the social partners were engaged in a process to take corrective measures.

Well, that doesn’t answer the question.

He said: “The situation will be dealt with. There will be €2 billion in cuts. The political class will lead and we will have to take cuts ourselves.”

And nor does that. What’s particularly odd is that he comes from a political background which elevates discussion and consensus to an almost infeasible level. Look at the discussions prior to the entry of the Green Party to the current Coalition. And, let it be said, that can be a good thing.

So it’s curious to see him taking the opposite tack here. Although of course to suggest that an address to the nation is quite the same as a consensus drive approach is – of course – not entirely correct.

But, consensus led decision making does require one basic ingredient, that being information. And it is clear that Gormley recognises this when he makes mention of the ‘public anxiety’.

Let’s also be clear… it’s not just ‘anxiety’, it’s profound concern. And to me this points to the scale of the problems that the political class faces. As I noted on the comments to a previous thread, it seems more like the incomprehension of the political class rather than an incomprehension by the public – and incidentally isn’t that an unlovable little notion that is doing the rounds, that somehow we ‘don’t get it’. Problem is that we do, and what we appear to be being served with is reheated neo-liberalism dressed up in the glad rags of the economic crisis. In other words, let’s cut the state because there is simply no sense of an alternative path.

I’m not suggesting that that is the view of John Gormley, but I am suggesting that the narrow focus by the Green Party in this government on very specific ambitions, and an equally narrow conception of a broader public good (to the point that the noises on the Dublin Bus issue have been simply lamentable) has left them terribly exposed to the depredations of their larger Coalition partner.

And think about it. On the one hand this isn’t 1979, and yet on the other we are continually told by our media that this is the worst and most intractable crisis that we’ve faced in a generation, in two generations, since the foundation of the state… take your choice. Nor has the government been coy about making such claims.

Note yesterday’s utterances from the Taoiseach:

During the debate, Mr Cowen warned the country is facing a “huge economic challenge” that would require major expenditure savings and taxation changes.

Mr Cowen said the scale of the challenge is such that we cannot say with any certainty that any constituency or cohort of people will stay immune from impact of the adjustment.

Mr Cowen last night told the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party that cuts of up to €15 billion would be needed over the next five years.

Now either this is serious serious stuff, whatever our views on the best way to tackle it… or it’s not. And if it is the former then the very least we as a citizenry are entitled to is a basic outline of the facts as the government sees them. Not mediated through the Dáil but in clear and concise terms.

But, we’re not hearing that. Instead we’ve been given the opportunity to listen to various proxies whinge about the public sector and bemoan our feckless and ignorant populace.

Still… what’s this? The Irish Times series on the economy, the equally unlovably titled “What’s To Be Done?”… such jokers… actually had something worth reading in it.

Alan Ahearne of NUI Galway made some half-decent points, and a couple of not so decent ones. But let’s consider the former.

For here is a man willing to state the bleeding obvious

One issue is the difficulties that wage reductions may create for households with large mortgages and personal debts. International evidence shows that the main cause of debt defaults is unemployment. Keeping as many people in employment as possible through wage reductions will minimise financial distress. Reducing average public sector pay will go some way towards addressing the situation in the public finances.

So far so typical of our econometariat.



…an often overlooked point is that even large-scale public sector pay cuts would only have a moderate effect on the fiscal deficit.

Well, overlooked by some. Pray do continue Mr. Ahearne.

A 10 per cent reduction in public sector pay and pensions, for example, would reduce Government spending by €2 billion. But when account is taken of the associated loss of tax revenues (both direct and indirect), the net reduction in the budget deficit would be a little more than €1 billion.

Now granted this point was raised here on the CLR yesterday, but it bears repetition. As does his next thought…

Comparing that figure to the €16.5 billion in spending and tax revenue adjustments that are required to restore fiscal balance by 2013 underscores the enormity of the task facing the Government. Reducing public sector pay is a necessary part of the effort to improve Ireland’s cost competitiveness, but fiscal consolidation will require many other adjustments.

But if you like that, even in part, then you’ll love this…

I suspect that much of the rhetoric in the media about public sector pay and reform is an attempt by some of the least well-informed commentators to distract attention from the main source of our economic woes. The mess in which the Irish economy finds itself largely stems from the house price bubble, not from problems in the public sector. It is probably not a coincidence that some of the most vocal critics of the public sector today were among the most conspicuous cheerleaders for the housing boom.

Ahearne can’t resist lapsing a little…

That is not to say that major public sector reforms are unnecessary. During the boom, surging tax revenues from the property sector allowed the Government to meet the increased demand for public services without major improvements in productivity.

Or indeed this…

The meltdown in the public finances means that a more radical programme of reform is needed if spending cuts are not to translate into excruciatingly painful reductions in services. Parts of the public sector are wedded to archaic structures and systems that act as barriers to improvements in efficiency and sap employee morale. A more agile and entrepreneurial public sector is sorely needed.

An aside. What exactly would the shape be of an ‘agile and entrepreneurial’ public sector? HSE staff stepping across the midlands in tight formation selling pills and potions? Dole office employees leaping in one bound across counters to wrestle malefactors to the ground. How does it work? It sounds good… I’ll grant you that. But it is essentially meaningless.

There are good structural reasons why the public sector is not ‘entrepreneurial’. And a clue is in the name.

Aside over.

Anyhow, there’s not much different in Ahearne’s prescription, despite his nod towards the public sector than in McHale’s the previous day.

The international experience provides evidence about how best to approach fiscal consolidation. Studies suggest that consolidation is unlikely to be successful if it relies on reductions in productive capital spending. Cuts in current spending and transfer payments usually result in a faster escape from the fiscal doldrums.

Still, he has some thoughts on the presentation which are worth considering in light of the aversion to an address to the nation.

Second, the consolidation programme was designed as a comprehensive package. Presenting the consolidation measures in one package made it clear to all interest groups that they were not the only ones being asked to make sacrifices.

Third, the government communicated honestly with the public while the programme was running. As a result, the public knew that large sacrifices from everybody in society were required.

And he points also to another obvious issue…

There is a strong argument for broadening the tax base using a residential property tax, as recommended recently by the National Competitiveness Council. Income tax rates should not have been cut during the boom when the economy was overheating, and will now need to rise. The higher tax band will likely have to be increased to a level well beyond the 48 per cent rate favoured by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions if the current budget deficit is to be eliminated by 2013.

Yet he notes something that many of our more red-blooded commentators seem to willfully ignore as they urge us to soak up the ‘pain’.

Public acceptance of this painful medicine is critical if we are to avoid the social unrest that is occurring in Greece and Iceland. The public will presumably not be willing to put their shoulders to the wheel unless the burden-sharing associated with the fiscal consolidation is perceived as equitable. That means requiring those who benefited most from the property bubble to make the largest contribution.


Extraordinary gestures of sacrifice from our political leaders and other figures of authority who oversaw the bubble and whose misguided policies contributed to the current crisis would be helpful in securing social solidarity…Those who are responsible for the horrible economic morass in which we find ourselves must be held to account.

That’d be nice.

Odd this… that Dublin Bus report. January 27, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

Puzzling to read…

DUBLIN BUS has enough buses to meet demand even with the loss of a number of services through cutbacks, Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey insisted yesterday.


[A] Deloitte report concluded that the Bus Éireann network service was efficient and it identified no potential scope to achieve major savings without reducing services.

The Minister argued…

Mr Dempsey said the report showed Dublin Bus does not need more buses but needs to use its current fleet more efficiently.


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