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

The smearing of Bernie Sanders by US corporate media reaches an all-time low. #Democrats2020

If this wasn’t so serious it would almost be funny.

Morning Joe is great when it comes to going after Trump but then they go and spoil it with ridiculous hit pieces like this one. You have to watch the clip to believe it. And by ‘believe it’ I mean the lengths to which they will go to cast any kind of doubt they can about Bernie.

To paraphrase : “Bernie Sanders has said several times that he voted against the Iraq War – well, we did some digging and it turns out that what REALLY happened was…blah, blah, blah, blah….and he voted against the Iraq War.”

Of course the key is in the ‘blah blah blah’ and I’ll let you watch the clip yourself to make up your own mind. To my ear it’s just a series of words put together so they could throw in the phrase “just like Joe Biden” several times.

Say they both went on a cooking show and Sanders used all the right ingredients for a chocolate cake while Biden used everything but the actual chocolate, which he substituted with dog shit. Then Bernie says “I made a chocolate cake while Biden didn’t”, only for MSNBC to come along and say “Well, Bernie says he’s the opposite of Biden, when our reporting shows that he used flour, so did Biden. He used eggs, so did Biden. He used frosting, so did Biden….”

You get the idea. JLP

RTÉ inadvertently explains how PR:STV should be, not how it is #GE2020

FOREWORD : In this post I give my reservations of the PR:STV method of holding elections. Please don’t take them as my discouraging you from voting!!!! It’s the most important thing you can do!!!!! However flawed the method any vote is better than no vote!!!!

Ahead of today’s General Election vote, RTÉ did one of their “Montrose-splain” videos, using schoolchildren to illustrate how the PR:STV system works. Production-wise, it is excellent. Information-wise, I feel it is misleading.

First, just in case there is any doubt, I am entirely in favour of proportional representation voting. The “first past the post” system the UK insists on using isn’t just archaic, nor is it just mathematically flawed; it is downright unethical.

But PR is far from a single entity in itself. And the one used in Ireland, the “single transferable vote”, is so complicated that I reckon as many adults would need the above refresher course as much as children would. Unfortunately, to create their simplified example in the video, RTÉ have both left out and glossed over some of the method’s most undemocratic aspects.

First and foremost, in the example above, there are only two seats on offer, and the “parties” are each running just the one candidate. This means that you cannot have the practices we see today, where the bigger parties run two or more candidates in a constituency and “manage” their voters in an effort to get more than one over the line.

I remember watching some RTÉ election day punditry in years gone by when Willie O’Dea was being interviewed from his Limerick constituency. He topped the poll by a whopping majority, yet rather than be congratulated by his fellow party member Dermot Ahern who was in the studio, the former Foreign Minister gave out to him for not manipulating his loyal voters to make sure a second FF candidate also got a seat.

People should be able to vote for the candidate they want – it’s not rocket science, although as far as election methods go, PR:STV does a decent enough impression and it is totally unnecessary.

For me, the practise of parties running multiple candidates in the same constituency is almost as undemocratic as first past the post. The principal benefit of PR is meant to derive from the fact that voters choose an alternative ideology to their first one, yet with our brand of STV, most of those who vote FF or FG with their first pick will tend to also use it for their second. And to those who say “What if a they don’t like any of the other candidates?” I give this simple answer : “You are free not to offer a second preference”.

All of which means that RTÉ’s truncated scenario is actually more ideal. Two, possibly three, seats should be the maximum in any area. So rather than having 39 constituencies many with 4 or 5 to produce 155 TDs, why not have all 2- and 3- seat ones in around 50 (with a stipulation that no party may run more than one member in each) to produce around 150 TDs or less?

Well it’s not as though my post is going to change the process, but I do believe it should be up for debate. I sense a degree of smugness from general opinion that our system is democratic while the British one is not and if that’s the consensus, and I reckon it should be challenged for two reasons : 1) Do we have to judge everything we do by comparing it to what they do?, and 2) while no method of voting is 100% ideal, I think we can do better than our current brand of PR:STV.

One final point – I really, really want someone to explain to me why I’m wrong, and no doubt someone can. I thought someone was going to make a cogent defense in a twitter thread yesterday but they stopped replying. JLP

#IrishMediaWatch #GE20 : RTE 9oc News Wed 15.01.20

Mr Varadkar said he was very concerned about the case of a man who was seriously injured after the tent he was sleeping in was removed from the banks of the Grand Canal by an industrial vehicle. 

Housing issue dominates first day of election campaign
Paul Cunningham RTÉ.ie

Now that #GE20 is underway I’m planning to keep an eye on the national media outlets to see how they are covering the campaign trail, just to see how balanced the coverage is. For this first installment I have to say things were better than I expected.

On RTÉ’s Nine O’clock news Wednesday, the election featured third in their running order although the piece was related to the second story, about a homeless man who was badly injured by an industrial vehicle which was cleaning a canal area and apparently didn’t know the man was still in his makeshift tent.

This provided a segué into their election coverage as Leo Varadkar was questioned about it on the campaign trail, and in his remarks he suggested a statement from the Lord Mayor of Dublin was appropriate. In response, Micheál Martin accused the Taoiseach of politicising the tragedy since the Mayor is currently from Fianna Fáil.

After watching the quotes from the two men I thought “this is typical – on a classic progressive issue here’s the two Civil War parties finding a way to argue over anything BUT the search for real solutions.”. But to be a little fair to our national broadcaster, for this topic they did at least broaden the scope of opinion.

We also heard from Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who outlined his party’s plans to allocate actual money to address the problem of homelessness by way of improved social housing. The problem with that, of course, is that it’s all very well saying what you;d do if your party held a majority in the Dáil, but the odds of that are slim and none.

Eamonn Ryan of the Greens also chimed in, saying that this was a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Finally Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin appeared more interested in having a pop at RTÉ (re exclusion from debates, something I’d agree with her on if that were the topic) rather than comment on the situation at hand, although it is very possible that the clip was selectively edited.

So no progressive opinion in this piece, although Independent Councillor Anthony Flynn was interviewed for his opinion on the unfortunate homeless man.

VERDICT

As far as I’m concerned, any kind of election coverage that looks for opinion beyond the “Big Two” parties is an achievement by the Irish corporate media. I’ll give them 6 out of 10 for this piece – I wonder will anyone score higher between now and February 8? JLP

What is meant by “People want to keep their healthcare plans” (video rant)

One thing I left out from the above rant was something that was pointed out by Bernie Sanders in a previous debate that’s worth noting…many of the ads during the breaks at these debates are FOR the health insurance companies, and they are specifically designed to malign Medicare For All. Slight conflict of interest for the likes of CNN, yes? JLP

The “discussions” about a date for #GE20 took longer than the campaign will

Saturday, February 8. Just a few weeks for the Republic to discuss the issues of the day and vote for representatives in what will be the 33rd Dáil. Absolutely shocking.

Traditionally it is the sitting Taoiseach who gets to set the date, and I have no problem with this. But let’s be clear on what has actually happened in recent weeks – Leo Varadkar was consulting heavily with the so-called leader of the opposition Micheál Martin over the timing of the election.

Why? Because they have been in a virtual coalition government, that’s why. The official terminology is “confidence and supply” but the reality is that by abstaining on votes for legislation, Fianna Fáil have effectively been supporting Varadkar’s agenda. Now we are suddenly expected to see them as rivals yet again, while those who are actually offering a real alternative to the electorate are left on the outside.

Then there’s our system of voting on these shores. In my opinion, the “PR:STV” method we employ, while it includes the words “proportional representation” in its title and thus creates the illusion of being inclusive, is actually anything but.

In my opinion, offering voters the opportunity to choose a second option* does appear democratic, UNTIL you realise that most constituencies have the leading parties running multiple candidates. If you voted Fianna Fáil number 1, chances are you will also vote them number 2 if you have the chance. So, much like the infamous “first past the post” system used in the UK, the non-establishment parties are generally shut out.

What I would prefer is for something like a merger between the two systems. Currently there are 158 seats. Rather than 3-, 4- and 5- seat constituencies, I would have 158 x 1 seat ones (actually I’d prefer fewer TDs, maybe 150 or less). THEN we can use a simple PR method of voting where there is infinitely less confusion over counts, surpluses and transfers, plus we know for sure that over 50% of voters chose the winner. And to be clear – although I favour progressive candidates, should we employ this method and the FF/FG duopoly still prevailed, I could hardly complain about it, could I.

Anyway, that is of course more of a technical matter – what lies ahead right now is a shortened election campaign, with the ridiculous posters already going up on lamp posts within 24 hours of the announcement being made.

I’m going to do my best to follow the “campaign trail” as best as I can over the coming weeks and see what kind of promises these people will be making (if any) plus how the Irish media is covering it all. JLP

* – yes I know we can also vote for 3,4 and 5 etc but seriously, how critical are those choices when it comes to your ballot being counted?