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Independent Ministers… May 25, 2016

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Now we’ve the full set of Ministers and Junior Ministers and Super-Juniors it’s time to reflect upon the problems those from the Independent side of the field are facing from the off.

It is almost absurdly obvious, but most significant is the fact that they are independent. Bar one or two of them they have no reference group or structure around them on which to draw resources or even information as regards their Departmental responsibilities. Policy formation for independents is limited – how could it be otherwise, given that they are political sole traders. This becomes even more important in regard to how they interact both at Cabinet, surrounded by members of a long established and well resourced party and in the Departments themselves. What particular vision or expertise can they bring to the latter, or the former? How do they prevent themselves becoming captive to Fine Gael or the civil service or advisors, or whatever?

That may seem like a bleak outline, but it is one of the most fundamental challenges they face. It’s not absolutely insurmountable, but it is a difficulty. Smaller parties, one thinks of the GP, have always found it difficult when entering government, but they have had the advantage of a cohesive ideology, a broad range of contacts and resources to call upon and so on. In political terms it may have made little electoral difference, but in terms of getting even a sliver of their policies implemented it hasn’t been unuseful.

Then there’s the possibility that there will be a switch-over of Junior Ministers during the lifetime of the government. That’s well and good, but most with any experience of Departments will say that it takes about two years to get up to speed in that context. Granted this is a problem that we see whether Ministers or Junior Ministers are party or none party, but nonetheless continuity of approach, experience and so forth are not unimportant.

Note how the economic areas have been kept well away from the Independents. There was no way that FG would allow them to have those Departments.

A warning from this week… May 25, 2016

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Thought this was telling, from the Irish Times this week in an editorial. Writing about Austria and the nearly but not quite bid by the FPO candidate for President, Norbert Hofer:

Cheered by Hofer’s vote, and the likely size of the Brexit vote – whether successful or not – like-minded parties such as France’s Front National will look forward with new confidence to looming electoral contests. Like Hofer, Marine Le Pen is likely to make it to the second round in France’s presidentials in April 2017 and will take considerable comfort from the reality, increasingly echoed elsewhere, that neither of Austria’s mainstream democratic parties was prepared to throw their weight behind the “democratic” candidate when the choice was that or a shamelessly xenophobic party that flirts with fascism.

I wonder though if that’s a flawed analysis. Not so much in terms of the far-right taking heart from this. But more in relation to the other issues addressed.

On the one hand, yes, if the ‘mainstream democratic’ parties threw their weight – or worked together, then perhaps they might copperfasten the victory of a ‘democratic’ candidate, presumably Van der Bellen in this instance. But isn’t it as plausible to suggest that given the clear divisions in Austrian politics with the far-right winning near enough 50% (albeit in a non-executive contest) that the participation of the ‘mainstream’ might undercut a candidate like Van der Bellen.

Because surely part of the problem is the lack of legitimacy of the ‘mainstream’, a lack that the FPO has used to its advantage. I find it intriguing that Van der Bellen is a GP member but ran as an Independent. It will be fascinating, if possible, to parse the vote and see where his support came from. But in being an Independent he too presented, even if only cosmetically, a sense of being outside, to some degree, that mainstream. We’re not unfamiliar with this dynamic in this polity either. Isn’t it telling too that the FPO’s brushes with governance, particularly in the 1980s, saw it suffer badly. I’ve noted it elsewhere this week, that one problem is that far-right programmes are so inchoate. Of course, that is fine if they’re in a minor party position, but quite different if they are the majority party.

Forming governments… May 25, 2016

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…seems to have become a lot more complicated on this island in recent times.

What you want to say – 25th May 2016 May 25, 2016

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

IBEC and its critics May 24, 2016

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The news that IBEC won’t be ‘responding to claims by new Transport Minister Shane Ross that it lacks transparency and is being “bankrolled”‘ is entertaining. But no less so than the column that sparked this minor furore.

You’ll find that here.

Fear of an election? May 24, 2016

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Stephen Collins makes an interesting point re the selection of Brendan Howlin as leader of the Labour Party last week when he suggests that:

One of the reasons TDs wanted Howlin to take over without a long internal debate is the belief among many of them that the Government is not going to last more than a few months and they need to be ready for an election at any time.

Three thoughts strike me. First that they may be right in that respect – it certainly would be sensible to treat this Dáil term as an extended pre-election period. Though, whether anyone is going to go very soon is more open to question giving the state of the polls. Secondly that they’re remarkably optimistic for a party who did so poorly last time out that matters would change in the interim – particularly given their polling numbers are decreasing yet further. Thirdly, that oddly enough a contest with Kelly and Howlin going head to head might actually have been useful for them in terms of redefining the LP. Of course, it might not, but one thing that seems to me reasonably certain is that for the LP the issue is to change the narrative in relation to the party. Part of that process is making the last government seem like then, rather than a little before now – and that is a distinction with meaning.

The problem is that Alan Kelly seems even more wedded to the record of that government than might be expected. So perhaps an Alan Kelly LP would be all about the then. Not that a Howlin LP is going to be much different. It was genuinely remarkable to see Kevin Humphrey’s being so loyal to Jobbridge. When the SBP amongst others is saying that the scheme is tilted too much towards employers who are exploiting those on it, well, these things are clues.

One interesting aspect of the Kelly debacle was the sense of entitlement that came from that quarter. Another was the rather entertaining fact that others had been elected under precisely the same system and no complaint had been raised by him, or his colleagues, as regards the way it worked. I tend to the view that if an organisation has a structure and processes that are broadly agreed by its members then it is near pointless to complain if they are worked as they can be. A more useful question is to ask why the supposed of alternative of Kelly appears to be no alternative at all and what that tells us about the situation of the LP today.

I don’t know if this will hobble Howlin in the future, is it too much like inside baseball to resonate negatively further afield? But it is telling perhaps that long before last week a narrative regarding his wish to be elected without a contest had already been established (Phoenix, if I recall correctly, had something on this). But in a way, and this is another aspect that is important to keep in mind, it doesn’t matter. The LP is largely irrelevant in this Dáil. What Howlin can do to alter that state of affairs remains difficult to discern.

Water wars… May 24, 2016

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The political conflict around water continues. That FF is waxing and waning on the issue isn’t unimportant.

But this is also useful, one suspects, for the government in forcing its new and potentially more recalcitrant members into line on the matter. For examples, consider John Halligan’s plight:

Independent Minister of State John Halligan will vote with the Government in a Dáil debate calling for the abolition of water charges this week, after initially indicating he would support a Sinn Féin motion on the issue.

So there was a chat:

The Waterford TD clarified his position after speaking to Simon Coveney, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, who also has responsibility for water charges and Irish Water.
It is understood that Mr Coveney and Mr Halligan, who is the Minister of State for Training and Skills, discussed a counter-motion to be tabled by the Government.

And all is changed:

Mr Halligan’s initial statement that he could back the Sinn Féin motion on abolishing Irish Water and water charges came before he had read the actual motion. Voting against the Government would in effect have meant he would lose his ministerial job.

And so no one will be half in and out of the government. Not if FG can help it.

Greece… again. May 24, 2016

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The Observer Business Leader has some pertinent points about the latest phase of the Greek crisis. It notes that:

Greece’s predicament is simple. It has debt repayments to make this summer and it doesn’t have the money to pay the bills. The European Union can solve this acute cashflow problem by unlocking the funds pledged to Greece under the terms of last summer’s bailout agreement, but it will only do so if Athens demonstrates that it is serious about sorting out its budget. Austerity today will lead to generosity from EU finance ministers when they meet on Tuesday.

So that’s something to watch out for today. But it suggests that something has changed:

Here’s where things get interesting. The difference between this Sunday and all the other tension-packed Sundays that have studded the Greek crisis over the past six and a half years is that, this time, the battle is not between Greece and the “troika” of the European commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Instead, there is a face-off between Europe and the IMF.

And:

The Europeans badly want the fund to be part of Greece’s bailout and to contribute money to it. But Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, says her support is conditional on two things: a credible deficit reduction plan and a decent slug of debt relief.
Hardline EU governments, led by Germany, have resisted this idea, fearing the Greeks will interpret any writedown of its debts as a sign of weakness that Athens will exploit to avoid meeting its budgetary commitments.

What’s astounding about this is that this is the same discussion that has been going on now for years. Greece is unable to make repayments, Europe demands more. The IMF plays a curious role both supportive of the latter and making a case for the former. Good cop and bad cop to the EU’s bad cop.

Is the situation genuinely as serious as follows?

EU finance ministers have sought to bridge the gap with the IMF by saying debt relief will be provided “if necessary” at the end of the bailout in 2018. This has the advantage, as far as Berlin is concerned, of deferring a decision until after German elections next year.
The IMF is not going to swallow this classic piece of Brussels fudge. It wants debt relief for Greece and it wants it now. If not, the fund will walk away. This has been made abundantly clear by Lagarde and her officials.

Well, the leader notes that Brussels won’t accept a write-off. But… and here is where the duplicity of the process becomes most evident, instead:

… so as an alternative to a “haircut”, the fund has proposed exceptionally soft terms: nothing until 2040, a 40-year repayment period thereafter lasting until 2080, and a 1.5% cap on interest rates. The fund believes this sort of package is necessary because Greece is expected to do the impossible – run a budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP excluding debt interest payments for two decades.

Nothing can be done. Something must be done. Some formula will be found so that something is done… The Observer believes that ultimately some form of the above will be implemented. Haven’t we been here before. Won’t we be again?

Statement from Work Must Pay Campaign May 23, 2016

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PRESS STATEMENT FROM THE WORK MUST PAY CAMPAIGN RE: MINISTER OF STATE
HALLIGAN’S AND MINISTER VARADKAR’S REMARKS ON JOBBRIDGE

The struggle continues…

The Work Must Pay campaign notes the recent remarks of Minister of State
for Training and Skills, John Halligan TD and Minister of Social
Protection, Leo Varadkar, where both outline their commitments to ending
JobBridge, the National Internship Scheme, launched by Joan Burton TD as
Minister of Social Protection in the previous Government.

The Work Must Pay campaign, a group of young political activists and trade
unionists which was launched in late 2014, welcomes the remarks. We have
little doubt, however, that huge forces will oppose their sentiments,
including IBEC, ISME and the State itself.

The purpose of JobBridge has been flagged consistently by others and the
Work Must Pay campaign in particular: to exploit valuable, talented young
people by making them work for a third of the minimum wage, that is, for
those under 23 years of age, €100 a week in Jobseekers’ Allowance plus a
€50 top-up from the Department of Social Protection for 40 hours’ work. The
employer does not hand over a cent. It is a form of modern indentured
labour, pure and simple.

Many will argue that JobBridge had or still has a use, to integrate young,
unskilled people into the labour market, etc. We would say that the
recently published data in the Sunday Business Post, which showed that the
scheme grew ten-fold over five years since its inception to an eye-watering
50,000 interns, puts paid to this mistaken view. If employers, be they
Google or the local hardware store, are offered the opportunity to hire
somebody at no expense, they will seize the opportunity. It was not
uncommon for PhD graduates to be sought under the scheme, for instance. The
State has been a rampant user of JobBridge, with the HSE and every
third-level institution in the country exploiting it numerous times, partly
due to the recruitment embargo in the public service.

The Work Must Pay campaign notes the growing opposition to the scheme among
trade unionists, politicians and the wider community, from the current USI
President to IMPACT, the largest public-sector union, which ran a motion
opposing JobBridge very recently. Many were appalled at the open abuses of
the scheme reported in the Irish Examiner recently, where full-time jobs
were clearly replaced by unpaid interns, with interns suffering verbal
abuse and mental health issues due to poor treatment by management and
colleagues.

The Work Must Pay campaign notes the outstanding success of our vocal,
noisy, effective protests placed outside numerous small businesses who have
in turn agreed to remove their JobBridge ads.

We call on Minister of Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, to abolish
JobBridge, as well as the recently-launched, insidious, “JobPath”
programme, modelled on JobBridge, but where private contractors will take
responsibility, and payment, for finding suitable private and State
companies willing to hire more unpaid interns. We demand legislation to
ensure that no employer can subvert the State’s minimum wage by lawful
means, including the abolition of all unpaid work schemes.

Refer to our Facebook page for information on our recent protests, and note
our petition calling for JobBridge abolition as well.


On behalf of the Work Must Pay campaign.

Our petition to be sent to the Minister for Social Protection calling for
immediate JobBridge abolition:

https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/work-must-pay-abolish-jobbridge-every-worker-deserves-a-wage

Phew… dodged a bullet this time… May 23, 2016

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…in Austria.

Austria narrowly avoided becoming the first EU country to elect a far-right candidate as head of state, as postal ballots decided a knife-edge presidential run-off vote in favour of his environmentalist rival.

After an election that had been too close to call last night, a count of the absentee votes this morning pushed 72-year-old Alexander van der Bellen past anti-immigration Freedom Party rival Norbert Hofer and into the largely ceremonial post of president.

The FPO is no stranger in all these issues (though I wasn’t aware, or I forgot, that it was in government with the SPO in 1983 in a somewhat less hard-edged right wing iteration).

But there’s a deeper question here. At some point we will see a far right candidate take a non-executive Presidency, or worse again a PM position, in some European state – perhaps Austria next time around (though interesting what the winning candidate represented). What is to be done, as the question goes, in that situation?

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