Leo should remain as Taoiseach for now but not without strong Opposition and challenging media #COVID19Ireland

These are unprecedented times.  Our worlds have been turned upside down and we have absolutely no idea what comes next.

I have been periodically blogging on this site for almost four years, and I have never made a secret of the fact that I believe in a Progressive government for Ireland.  This of course means the parties which have always represented the status quo such as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have never gotten my vote. I also have little faith in other parties purporting to be “left” such as Sinn Féin and Labour.

Yet when faced with a situation like COVID-19, I do not believe that a radical change to the face of our government is what is needed, even when it comes as it did right after a general election.  Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael were in power when it was time to lock the country down and particularly in the most relevant departments like those of An Taoiseach and Health, we need continuity and stability so regardless of political hue I think the correct course would be for them to remain for now.

Now I’m hoping that my established premise will be remembered as I voice some concerns over the current situation.  In his address to the nation on St Patrick’s Day, Leo Varadkar literally referenced Winston Churchill.

“This is the calm before the storm – before the surge.  And when it comes – and it will come – never will so many ask so much of so few.”

Address by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar 17th March

For the life of me I cannot fathom why there was not more of a backlash to this.  I am absolutely no fan of Sinn Féin but am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that they would be lambasted for any kind of Nationalist references at this time yet our Taoiseach, one who has often expressed a liking for the leadership of one conservative UK leader in Thatcher, gets a free pass after throwing a nod to another?

This point is one of semantics and cosmetics I know, but I make it first because of the levels of reaction I have seen on social media ever since.  Of course we need to stick together as much as possible during these times, and given the original nature of the crisis there should be much leeway afforded to our government, yet the levels of praise for his leadership have been, in many, many cases, “Churchillian”, and this concerns, nay frightens me.  

Strong opposition and challenging media are important ingredients to any democracy.  If a day ever came when Ireland had Progressives seated around the Cabinet table, I would expect nothing less than for them to have their feet held to the fire where possible, and we all know that would be the case.

And while the Green Party did not get my vote at the last election either, I cannot understand why they are being vilified for not unconditionally joining FF and FG in government.  They claim to have offered three options to the “Civil War” parties, all of which have been rejected…

“I think the idea that FG and FF would present this narrow option to the people of the two of them in power with one of the smaller parties propping them up is very self-serving. It has the coincidental effect of giving them the most amount of power, for the most amount of time with the least amount of oversight.” 

Green TD Neasa Hourigan

Why are politicians so reluctant to form a government?
Justin McCarthy – RTÉ.ie

…and the backlash appears to be “shut up and get on board”. Whatever your levels of respect were for them before, surely they would be lowered should they accept those terms.  But this post is not just about the Green Party. It’s for the type of representative body we want the Dáil to be when it comes to acting as a check on our Government.

Then there is the Irish mainstream media, one that already had a reputation for being more stenographers than challengers.  And that was even before this particular Taoiseach came to power, one who sought in virtually his first act to set up a media arm with the sinister title of the “Strategic Communications Unit“.

Below are just some areas where I would like to ask questions of Leo Varadkar and his government, in no particular order:

  1. What exactly happened with those orders from China which arrived with inadequate supplies?
  2. If Opposition parties should feel shame for insisting that the Dáil convenes due to risk of social distancing among civil servants, have any measures been discussed to allow for some kind of COVID-19 friendly Dáil sittings until the crisis is over?
  3. COVID-19 tests – they are in limited supply.  Is there any transparency as to how they are allocated?  And I have heard stories that the testing itself can take over two weeks to produce results – why is that, is anything being done to speed up the process and is this fact reflected in the numbers we are being given?
  4. We have all has been adversely affected by this crisis, but that does not mean we will all be struggling by its end.  When everyone’s assets have been reduced, the priority of Government care should be those who are left with little or nothing.  So what exactly do you mean by “tough decisions” that have to be made once this crisis is over? Is there to be a period of austerity similar to that affected by the banking crisis or will the burden at very least shared regardless of wealth if not borne by the 1% at the top?  

I am happy for Leo and Simon to remain in their jobs.  I am delighted that Leo is rolling up his sleeves to pitch in as a GP.  That’s all great. But if a republic values its democratic principles, no government should go unchecked, and we certainly shouldn’t assume everything is rosy on these shores based on a comparison to the leadership of the blond buffoons either side of us.  All I’m asking is that we be mindful of this. JLP

What’s “left” in Dublin South Central?

Personally, I don’t see Sinn Féin as ‘left’ at all, but they are considered as such, apparently. So given that, then all four candidates in my constituency are now left, which is an amazing feat. Congrats in particular to Bríd Smith of SOL-PBP, Patrick Costello of the Greens and especially Joan Collins of I4C, who benefitted greatly from transfers to leap from both of the FG and FF candidates after the first count.

A powerful statement for change in priorities has been made by the Irish electorate. I hope the government we end up with reflects that.

“Housing crisis? What housing crisis?” asks Irish mainstream

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“We continue to expand our macroprudential framework to ensure we have the right tools to manage potential risks to financial stability and the addition of the Systemic Risk Buffer will be an important tool for us in building a resilient banking system with sufficient capital buffers to absorb these structural shocks.”

[translation : “We want you to forget this mess is partly our fault by pointing to Brexit and using intentionally complicated economic jargon”]

Article in Journal.ie by Cormac Fitzgerald : “Hard Brexit could cause house prices to fall, Central Bank warns

Brid Smith TD addresses Drimnagh residents on the proposed ‘carbon tax’

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I could have been at home watching Manchester United v Barcelona.  But I made myself a promise that I would make an effort to get more involved in local politics, and given the amount of signs I have seen around the area for this meeting in St John Bosco Youth Club, a mere ten minute walk from my front door, to not go would be to break that pledge.

The meeting was held by local councillor Hazel De Nortúin.  Now when I say ‘local’, she hails from Ballyfermot, yet she represents me as Drimnagh has been curiously cut in two and my house falls in the ‘Ballyfermot/Drimnagh’ zone.  Still, the very holding of this meeting shows that the councillor is willing to be involved throughout the ward.

Her party is People Before Profit.  I confess to knowing little about them, save for assorted Facebook posts, but I do know that their name itself is closely aligned to my politics so it was a safe bet that I would feel at home in this company.

The principal speaker was Brid Smith TD and the theme was ‘Why Carbon Tax Won’t Stop Climate Change’.  She began by highlighting the protest by schoolchildren all over the country, but particularly outside the Dáil. where over 15,000 were reported.

Deputy Smith also pointed to a poll which found that 39% of Irish people saw climate change as one of the most important issues of today, adding that while some might think that was a low percentage, she was actually encouraged by it.

She has recently been sitting on a Special Oirechteas Action Committee which followed on from a Citizens Assembly.  She referred to it as more of an ‘Inaction’ committee because it appeared that the decision to level the carbon tax on ordinary citizens was already made.

She claimed that the supposed thinking behind the tax was that if people’s habits could be changed, ie if we can move away from carbon-intensive forms of energy, then supposedly this would influence (‘by osmosis’ as she ironically called it) the large corporations.

An interesting plan if true…especially given that when it comes to distributing wealth, corporations tend to favour things going in the opposite direction.  When it comes to the carbon tax, should we call their plan “Trickle up?”

She also pointed out that even if carbon taxes did have some positive effect, they would never be enough to tackle climate change on their own, yet once implemented the government could well consider them to be a ‘catch all’ of sorts.  ‘The one tool becomes the only tool’.

Next the TD covered the whole area of ‘Just Transition’ – when she explained it I knew what she meant though I had never heard it called that before.  Basically when a society moves from one form of energy to another, care must be taken that the existing workers in the old service are offered the opportunity to move into the new field.  Seemingly People Before Profit have been working with Bord Na Mona workers in this area.

Apparently three of the main political parties, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour, along with the Green Party, are in favour of pushing ahead with this tax, which probably means it is likely to go through.

In the interest of fairness I took some time to go over the websites of various parties to see how they presented their policy (if any) on carbon tax and/or climate change in general…

FINE GAEL – banner on homepage #TogetherOnClimate Climate Action – when you click it you see 16 links under heading of ‘progress’ none of which refer to carbon tax.

‘carbon tax’ search produced links on Special Oireachtas Committee

FIANNA FAIL – No search facility. No mention of carbon tax under section ‘tackling climate change’

LABOUR – ‘Labour’s clear preference is for ring-fencing funds from carbon taxes to pay for home retrofitting, including in local authority housing, and other ways of reducing energy poverty’

SINN FEIN – ‘Imelda Munster has criticised the agreement…to increase carbon tax four fold’

GREEN – Cuffe : ‘The aim of the carbon dividend, or carbon cheque, is to change behaviour. By placing carbon taxes and giving back what is taken to households it provides direct incentives for people to move to low carbon heating.’

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS – can’t find policy on carbon tax but policy section shows they are keen to reduce emissions
RIGHT2CHANGE 10-Point policy programme – ‘A Progressive Government will make protection of the rights of Mother Earth a Constitutional Imperative’

‘The IFA is up in arms over suggestions that people should eat less meat and drink less milk. No doubt carbon taxes will be pushed also as a key part of this debate.’

‘Women make up 70% of farmers world-wide yet only own 2% of land…they are responsible for 90% of the caloric intake of the average family’

SOLIDARITY – nothing on climate change on ‘what we stand for’ page

…just to be clear, my research for the above information was not exactly extensive.  There are so many parties in the jurisdiction that it isn’t easy to keep up with them all.

As you can see my attention was drawn most to the Right2Change platform – the quotes above were taken from the Facebook page of Joan Collins TD.  I like the way they constantly use phrases like “Under a Progressive Government Ireland can…” because while that may be extremely aspirational right now, if we don’t discuss and use such terminology regularly, it could remain so.

But that’s not to say I was completely turned off the PBP folks just yet.  They passed around a page for names and addresses – I offered my information though I fell short of ticking the ‘Join’ box for now.

When the meeting was over a chatted for a few minutes and then left.  I was first to head for the door and Deputy Smith thanked me for attending.

I’m glad I did, and I look forward to following the progress of the PBP’s resistance to the introduction of the tax.

Next on this site I’d like to start covering the various candidates standing for election to the council in May.

#IANWAE

 

Shortage of water but no shortage of blame in Irish discourse

THE ISSUE

As the Irish heat wave continues, arguably the most contentious ‘establishment v majority’ issues in recent memory is anything but water under the bridge.

THE MEDIA

Article by Sarah Burns, Vivienne Clarke in Irish Times on July 3, 2018

Irish Water warns ‘nightmare scenario’ if no big rainfall in autumn

“We need sustained rain. Unless there is torrential rain we’re looking at a very dry autumn,” Irish Water managing director Jerry Grant said on Tuesday.

Article by The Green Party in GreenParty.ie on June 30, 2018

Greens: Heat-wave exposes the short-sightedness of Water Charge abolition

“Government capitulated to populism and now communities are paying the price…The reality is that as our climate changes, these water shocks will continue and we don’t have a plan to conserve, harvest or levy for the use of our most precious resource.”

Article by The Workers Party in WorkersParty.ie on July 2, 2018

Dublin water restrictions show up failure of Irish Water to tackle infrastructure

“The government wanted to use water charges to squeeze yet more money out of the same group of people – low- and middle-income workers. Once it became clear that was not going to be possible, the issue of upgrading our water infrastructure was conveniently dropped from the table.”

THE COMMENT

We normally base these posts on one piece of content but this time we have three to compare and contrast, and it’s on that old chestnut of Water Charges which was bound to rear its head with the spell of hot weather we’ve been having.

Given the Irish establishment was committed to toeing the EU line of introducing water charges for regular citizens, you’d imagine a water shortage followed by a heatwave would be the perfect opportunity for them to point the finger at the #Right2Water campaign.

But why should the government and/or mainstream media do this when they’ve the Green Party to do it for them?

As you can see by the above quote in the IT, they chose to simply report on a statement from Irish Water.  No comment, no pushback, no challenging questions, just your basic stenography article.

Now in fairness, you can see why the Greens would be in favour of charges, though I’d suspect that if they were the ones setting up Irish Water it would look much different and would tend to levy more responsibility on business than private users.  That said, I can’t say I’m happy with their ‘giving in to populism’ angle.

The #Right2Water campaign, as far as I’m concerned anyway, was about way more than water.  It was a bridge (pun half-intended) too far in a continuing government policy of austerity, and in the end public pressure won the day.  For now.

If Irish Water wasn’t set up to benefit the people instead of simply being another corporation for the government to cash in on down the line, there would still have been opposition to it but I reckon it would have been much more difficult to get such widespread support.

Unfortunately it’s all too easy to spin the ‘well we tried to do something, and the lefty public said no’ narrative, but while I’m hardly a fervent follower of the Workers Party, their quote seems to be the most accurate depiction of the situation.

Yes we need better water infrastructure, yes it has to be paid for, but until it’s done in such a way that the majority of citizens pay the bare minimum while the tab is taken up by citizens and companies that waste this valuable resource, I’m afraid the stalemate will remain.  JLP

#IANWAE

#Right2Water campaign’s victory over charges should at least earn them a right to reply on further water issues

THE ISSUE

The Irish establishment / government took quite a heavy beating on Water Charges, and the way this week’s shortages are being spun, it certainly looks like they haven’t let it go.

THE MEDIA

Article by Killian Woods [with reporting by Cormac Fitzgerald] in Fora.ie on March 5, 2018

Ireland’s ‘fragile’ water supply could make firms think twice about investing here

“Dublin Chamber chief executive Mary Rose Burke has said the restriction of water supply in the capital could make some companies looking to invest in Ireland reconsider their options.”

THE COMMENT

For full disclosure, I took part in #RightToWater marches and did not pay my charges so it’s pretty clear where I stand on the issue.  But this particular post is more about media coverage than it is the water issue.

Check out the linked article on Fora.ie, a business site which is part of the Journal.ie network.

While I understand that the focus of this site is what is going on in the business community, does that mean it should only ever offer their point of view on particular issues?

This is an article in which the Dublin Chamber of Commerce is effectively being given free reign to offer it’s own take on the restrictions recently put in place by Irish Water.  Forgive us for assuming a like-minded approach among the Chamber, the Government which took such a bad beating over water, and the jobs-for-the-boys private company which it created.

While they don’t actually state that water charges need to be reinstated, it’s not exactly well hidden between the lines.  If there’s not enough money to fix the water infrastructure, they claim, then there won’t be investment which in turn means no more jobs.  The implication is very clear.

All I want to do in this article is present a viewpoint from the other side, which I believe Killian Woods could have done.  And he wouldn’t even need to ask for a quote either…he could have copy/pasted from the Facebook page of any anti-austerity TD such as Paul Murphy :

The water shortages we’re experiencing are a consequence of long-term under-investment in infrastructure. The predictable attempts to use them as a new argument for charges have to deal with fact that London, which has meters and charges, has the exact same problem. The solution is investment, which should be funded by progressive taxation of profits, high income and wealth.

No prizes for guessing which side I’m on, but at least I have presented you with more than one viewpoint in my article.  JLP

#IANWAE