Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

Abortion Free vote is best FF choice, but Martin misses another chance

One of the secrets to political success is the ability to learn. Mistakes and errors are unavoidable but once you learn from them they make you stronger and more capable. Fianna Fail should take heed and learn a lesson from the Abortion dispute within its ranks over recent weeks.

Micheál Martin has not been a bad leader, he held a pretty empty hand and now the party is edging back up in the polls. That could be seen as success. The problem is that the pace of the FF climb is not exactly staggering and it is quite likely it is as much down to the strength of the FF organisation on the ground and the over promising of the current government as it is to any real action on Martin’s part.

FF is trying to recover and the size of that task should not be underestimated. It is phenomenal that we are even discussing it really, so give credit where it’s due. The problem is that FF needs to show a new side of itself to the public, it needs to show how it has learned. It talks a lot about ‘new politics’ but in reality it doesn’t look or act a whole lot differently.

During the presidential fiasco Martin almost made a complete mess of things by assuming that as leader he had absolute authority to formulate the position. What ‘new politics’ would have been was a leader who was willing to hold a debate within his party and to convince rather than coerce those around him of the merits of his position. He then proceeded to tell Gay Byrne he could have the nomination without reference to anyone. Now in the end FF got out of the mess but they should never have gotten into it.

Micheal Martin is safe as leader. There is nobody interested or capable of really challenging him. O’Cuiv might like the job but TDs know that they would be completely pigeon holed under such a leader and they are not going to do that. Nobody else has any hope. Martin can do a lot of things well and that is why he is safe. However, he is struggling to learn and that is a problem.

One can’t help but feel that sometimes in FF too many people watch too many old Haughey documentaries and talk about the shafting, the tough leadership, the loyalty demands and how he got his way. There seems to be a feeling that this outdated form of leadership is still the right way even though it’s utterly irrelevant in a modern context.

Like any big party Fianna Fail was divided on the Abortion issue. For the first time in years they at least had the luxury of not being in government. People across the country are moaning about the whip and party politics and so on. Equally people are much divided on the abortion issue. Many simply don’t see it as a political issue but something that is deeply personal. Many are conflicted and can see both sides of the argument equally well both in terms of the mother and the unborn child.

The idea of allowing a free vote was floated early. In fact it was floated in government circles first. Obviously this created an issue for the government and they said no and at that moment FF had a chance to make a virtue of their new politics. Instead they staggered and stalled again.

Let’s deal with some issues surrounding the free vote. First it was claimed this would mean FF could not make up its mind. Well we know they can’t, there is nothing wrong in that, why be so afraid of it, admit it and say ‘Of course we cant, this isn’t a normal everyday issue it’s a deeply moral issue’.

Then they claim that there will be other moral issues. No, let’s face it we know why abortion is such a big issue the world over. It’s not like divorce where people can say; just leave it up to others. When talking to people on abortion you rarely get anywhere because it’s about life and death, no just money, economics, or personal choice. One side accuses you of condemning women to death; the other side accuses you of condemning children to death. In any party you agree to sign up to a certain amount of majority rule. You fight your case on a policy initiative and sometimes you lose and have to go against what you want, but it’s worth it because you know you will win on something else and politics is negotiation. However, nobody ever signs up to be forced to vote life or death over another human being. You simply cannot make anyone do that. The pro life wing of FF might have seen a gap in the market but to force TDs who believe that women might actually die as a result of this to vote that way would be ridiculous. Equally the pro choice element of the party has no right to coerce any individual who believes a foetus to be a human being to vote against that belief and allow for it to be killed.

Micheal Martin should have spotted this a mile off. There was no way he was going to force people against their will. He might have had some hope if they were in government and there was a threat of it falling, he might have had some hope if the party felt the onus was on them to do something. In opposition you do not have that onus and sometimes its right to simply let debate flow.

Would there be other issues? Would there be a precedent for free votes? That’s all nonsense. TDs know the value of the whip and the value of sticking together they are not going to seek free votes on everything and anything.

A free vote was the sensible option for FF. TDs must go with their own conscience and indeed with their own constituency on this matter, it is a luxury opposition affords them. The problem now is that if they had had the foresight to realise it then this could have been turned into a positive argument, a stance of new politics. Jim Gibbons an FF junior minister once voted against the government on a family planning bill, no action was taken, no sacking and no loss of the whip. It happens; it’s the leader’s reaction that makes the whip so fearsome.

Instead of seeing the inevitable divide and accepting it and trying to make a positive out of it, FF now finds it must face questions of why the leader lost this argument. Micheal Martin should never have been so foolish as to get himself cornered like that. His attempts to brand the new legislation as ‘pro life’ were simply disastrous. He and FF put enormous work into the 2002 referendum, now he was changing position. Suddenly taking suicide out of the equation didn’t matter. This led to two questions, firstly, why did it matter in 2002 then? Why did FF campaign almost as a lone voice on that issue?

We know the referendum was narrowly defeated. Was this why FF took a different stance now? If so is that not just populism? We believed something very strongly then but as it wont get sufficient public support we now no longer believe it. Maybe it was to be spun as acceptance of the peoples will even if it wasn’t what FF had wanted? That can’t work either, for if that was the case why did they not legislate after the referendum failed, why wait a decade until someone else did it?

The truth is FF is split. It is split three ways. There are those who are pro-life and strongly so and have a serious issue with this bill. There are those who are pro-choice who think this matter must be dealt with now and cannot be hidden from. Then there are those who are only concerned with how it looks for the party, what image it conveys, what will make us look hip, cool and popular? Which grouping could we side with for most effect?

Agreement was never going to be forthcoming; a free vote was the only real option open to FF. It wasn’t ideal but if they had the foresight it could be seen as somewhat virtuous. Unfortunately the stalling and attempts to be seen as strong and in command have just tied their shoelaces together and made them appear to be staggering about.


The strange case of the government TD and the employment dispute

Writing on politics you often get accused of bias. Whoever does not agree with what you say immediately finds a reason to say you are just against them. I get accused of defending FF, being a secret Labour lover, a respecter of shinners, a shinner hater, and once even of wanting to be selected as an FG candidate! Anyway one passes no heed and tries instead to focus on telling a story as fairly and as honestly as one can. Opinions are nothing unless you have reason to believe that they are correct and have a firm basis.

However, sometimes you get accused of protecting people, because you know them or like them. I always say that I am willing to hear any story and cover any story but you need information to do so. Sometimes the people who want something covered don’t give you much to go on.

I recently received an email from a source not wishing to be identified. It concerned a government TD, James Bannon. Now, Mr. Bannon and I are well known to each other and despite what many think I have always found him a decent man and a good sort. However it appears he recently came into conflict with his own parliamentary assistant.

The assistant felt rather badly treated and decided to bring their case to an employment rights commissioner. The source then says that while awaiting this ruling the worker was suspended. The assistant had worked in the office for a decade and felt that very little support was given.

The source goes on to say that the rights commissioner made a ruling on April 12th and found in favour of the worker but a matter of days after this was dismissed from their post.

That seems a rather striking story and begs some serious questions about workers rights and the treatment of staff within the Oireachtas and how parties deal with these issues.

Unfortunately as the source did not want to be named it hampered further investigation on my side. I did however want to get a fair view of the story and decided to ask Mr Bannon directly to see if the facts stacked up and I laid out the story as I had heard it to him. Unfortunately Mr. Bannon said that he would not comment on the matter as there could be further issues and he told me that any query should be directed to the FG press office.

This was disappointing as I would have liked to hear Mr Bannon’s side of things but I contacted the FG press office who asked me to leave the matter with them for 24 hours. I did so only to be told that they had looked into the matter and the position was that ‘no comment’ would be made.

It seems strange that suspensions, dismissals and rights commissioners would be involved in a matter within the Oireachtas and a government party where one might expect that such issues to be of deep concern. However I do not know what position or details FG may have on the matter and cannot verify if there is more to the story. Talk of a lack of rights for Oireachtas workers is not new, there is no HR department and there are very few protections afforded them. The TD tends to have control. There have been dismissals in the past but the problem is that those affected by it are rarely willing to speak out as if this is your career then to do so would see it effectively ruined.

So next time you blame the media for not covering something just try to remember any journalist, blogger or writer can only work with what you give them and we must try to be fair, but can only do that if you are open with it and share your side of things.

Government plays same games as predecessors and has lost trust

Many people will remember the politics of the 1980’s. It was a turbulent time and one of the key issues was that of trust. Charles Haughey led the largest party but there was always a question mark over whether people could trust him or not. There was a theory that Haughey was the problem, he was what Garret Fitzgerald described as a ‘flawed pedigree’ and what Dick Spring viewed as a ‘cancer’ on the body politic.

The problem was much deeper than just Haughey though. The reason his party remained so strong was that his opponents were not trusted either. Whether that was economic trust to handle the issues or whether it was the fact that once in government people saw no real difference is a matter for debate. Des O’Malley was expelled from Fianna Fail and went on to set up the Progressive Democrats. The mood suggested the time was right for a new party. Of course like many such endeavours it had profile but no roots or organisation so its expansion, after the first wave of enthusiasm, was stunted.

Charles Haughey departed the scene and Albert Reynolds took over, but he, Alan Dukes, John Bruton and Des O’Malley all failed to capture the public imagination and all failed to win the trust of the people for different reasons.

Then came the era of Ahern, Bruton, Harney and Spring. There was a feeling that perhaps Ireland had moved on and we could trust people at the helm again. One can only wonder now if that is just symptomatic of a country when it starts to get more prosperous rather than one in recession.

Ireland has a problem. We desperately need leadership but we are struggling to trust anyone enough to follow them. We are not a belligerent people. Ireland has demonstrated a desire to be led, a willingness to take pain and tough economic measures if we can just be assured that people know what they are doing. So why is it so difficult to find that true leader?

People were burned badly by Bertie Ahern. He was a nice guy, a very ordinary unassuming chap. He was also a highly skilled politician, acknowledged by friend and foe. He did not seem into money or trappings of power, he just seemed to love what he did. In recent years that shroud of comfort has been torn away from us. A man we trusted turned out to have the most inexplicable personal finances possible and worse was to come. While we trusted him to have the measure of everyone, it seems he was really just gambling on what the guys at the top of the banks told him.

Brian Cowen was a man people felt was trustworthy too. A man who at least seemed to have none of the weight of dodgy personal finances or political funding hanging over him. He was strong and determined. Yet we then found out that he too was just going with what the bankers said, and he displayed an alarming lack of anger at where they led him. Then he crumpled up in the job of Taoiseach and lost all the vigour and ability to speak that people had liked him for.

It’s hard to keep trusting. Yet, in 2011 we gave our trust to a new government. It was seen as a final acceptance that FF and the PDs and all that was said about them was true. The Greens were collateral damage for having been seen as naive. The new government was given the greatest mandate of public trust that any government has ever held. Two years later and they would not be re-elected in the morning according to Opinion polls. This no doubt will be blamed on the ‘hard decisions’. No doubt that plays a part but the real issue is that hard decisions have double the impact when accompanied by a lack of leadership. A tax on your home is due by tomorrow, yet again people have shown they are willing to pay, but nothing in the approach of Phil Hogan has suggested to the people that they should trust him. Nothing in the approach of James Reilly has suggested that people should trust him in health and nothing in the approach of Alan Shatter will convince people that he is to be trusted either.

These were Enda Kenny’s closest aides when he was faced with a leadership challenge. Yet these are the ones letting the government down the most. There is nothing in the approach of this government to suggest that it treats issues of trust any differently to its predecessors. The same old rules are at play. The opposition do not cover themselves in glory either with FF stumbling around on the Abortion issue due to an outdated view of leadership and SF still determined to say everyone else is wrong on absolutely everything. Previous governments eroded public confidence in the system, they appeared arrogant, dismissive and concerned only with survival. Previous governments seemed obsessed with keeping their job and their colleagues in a job rather than facing up to the rights and wrongs of an issue. That is a major reason that previous governments were led to electoral Armageddon. This government had a chance to observe and learn and react differently. So what answer did they give us? Pat Rabbitte.

The government has proven itself less about leadership and more about playing the game. Less about considering the issues and more about bragging rights and forms of words. It is every bit as much about retaining power as its predecessor and in the public eye it seems remarkably similar to its predecessor in being peopled by Ministers that have no intention of having to return to their job after the next election and instead are already focussed on what legacy they might like to include in their memoirs. Trust is key. Whoever can win public trust will win big, but that will not be achieved by standing over the same old point scoring and the same lack of honesty that we have always seen. This week the government will tell us the debate on Alan Shatter is a distraction, which has always been a great defence. Like a sword of Damocles over the people, warning them that if they keep asking questions they will suffer more because the work they need done wont be done. It seems Ministers are incapable of answering questions and doing their job at the same time, they have a very limited ability and attention span. They are easily distracted and upset and we are to blame. Maybe gender quotas will be the best thing to ever happen politics here, because god knows, we really seem to lack the ability to multi task.

Seanad abolition, nothing more than a cheap stunt

We do well to always question the reason and motives behind any proposal especially in matters of state. It is important to always ask ‘Why?’ and to find out who benefits from any proposal. That is not solely because of corruption or bad mindedness but often simply because there can be unintended consequences to any action at some stage in the future.

I have never been a big fan of our Seanad. Part of me even admired that De Valera abolished it, but of course even he saw reasons to bring it back. The hardened decisive part of me liked the idea of getting on with things without needless extra chatter that Senators loved. However, the more rational part of me could always recognise that this was never about my views for today or how I might trust my own morals or those of a politician. It was about the longer term, what if I didn’t trust someone, what about the need for questions, debates and platforms for opinions? Much as the Seanad might not be my cup of tea, I am never going to be in favour of removing any layers of democracy that could make the task of silencing debate or reducing democracy easier for someone in the future.

Of course I am also a bit of a begrudger. I am one of those unfortunate people that is not allowed vote in a Seanad election. A chamber that was elected and created by putting some sections of society above others is one that I could never like. Councillors have a vote but then the Seanad has nothing to do with local government. I have long argued before that, in my ideal world, the Seanad would be reformed as part of a major overhaul of local government and its new responsibilities would lie in this sphere.

There is also the fact that I, or the likes of me, would never get elected or proposed by anyone to be a senator. So the bitter part of my soul would say let that elitist shower take what’s coming to them.

I am aware though, that when I calm down, I can see that my problem is not with the idea of a Seanad but rather the idea of the type of chamber it currently is. Abolishing it is doing exactly what De Valera did in a fit of pique because it just doesn’t suit us right now.

However, all of that is still a bit of an academic argument. The real point I am writing is to ask why? Why are we abolishing the Seanad? To save money? Lets be honest none of us believe that. TDs will jump on the work that Senators do right now and the letters and correspondence will simply increase and there will be more committees of TDs established to allow more voices etc etc etc until the cost of what comes out of Leinster house will not be reduced but simply redistributed. Lets also face facts, whatever is saved will not enhance our lives at all, but it will reduce the options of people to raise issues on our behalf.

The country is in a right old state. Ministers tell us that answering questions of media and scandals is a ‘distraction’ from the real issues. There are several areas awaiting important legislation, that we are told are very complex and will take time. We hear on an almost daily basis of how issues in banks, in public sector reform, in the EU, Dail reform, and in our health service are delicate matters where we are tied into certain rules and obligations. Our hands seem tied at almost every turn.

Yet we can move heaven and earth when it comes to the Seanad. When difficulties are pointed out about how many areas abolition will affect and the risk of errors and oversights they are brushed aside as being easily handled. The bill to abolish the Seanad will take no small amount of drafting and thought. One wonders that a government would be so determined when its ministers find answering basic questions a distraction from their ‘more important’ work.

Endless hours are spent telling us how we need to concentrate on the ‘real’ issues. Yet, we will spend a small fortune just to have this referendum; we will take up the time of innumerable civil servants to come up with a satisfactory bill. We will argue the case for weeks and then even if the people agree we will spend a fortune on transitional arrangements, putting policies in place making changes to accommodate it. The amount of time that will be spent by civil servants and committees and various meetings on this will make almost every other issue seem trivial. Why?

Is this really the main concern of the people? Oh would that such effort were put into the myriad of economic, social and other legislative reforms that could actually make a real difference. Abolishing the Seanad would be fine if we had nothing better to be doing, maybe Bertie should have considered it back in the good old days but right now we need legislative minds concentrated elsewhere. The answer is of course very simple and nothing to do with money, savings or real reform. It’s a great headline. The government might break a multitude of promises but it’s determined to keep this one. Small reforms can have a big impact but you only get remembered for doing something major, forget the impact it has. This can be sold as doing something big, this will be remembered in history and what politician does not want that? Its populist and it gives the illusion of real and meaningful activity. Meanwhile a host of reforms that might actually make a difference to peoples lives and to the economy will be put off.

The people might back the proposal, I won’t exactly be crying if they do. I may ruefully shake my head and hope it doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass someday. It is for me nothing more than a cheap stunt. We all know plenty of countries don’t have a second chamber, but plenty of other countries do. We know life will continue with or without a Seanad. But life goes on no matter what system of government you have, it goes on no matter if democracy is gone or power seized, it goes on whether we have committees or not, whether we have tribunals or not, hell it even goes on whether we have laws or not. None of that is an argument to say that just because you can survive without something it must a bad thing.

The politicians guide to handling a crisis

Lets face it we all love a good political crisis. Ever since the Romans stopped having gladiatorial combats, the public has had to satisfy a blood-lust somehow. As a result there is always something highly engaging about the murky world of political drama. While those involved do their utmost to avoid it, it still ends up being the kind of thing that gets their adrenalin going. Those who advise and work with politicians know that when you finally are out of the game it’s not the safe days you remember, no, it’s the crisis, the day the heat was turned up to the max. In years to come people will buy your book or listen to your stories in the pub due to those crisis moments.

Despite that it’s not pretty at the time. So how does a politician deal with such a problem? What happens when you put your foot in your mouth and they start calling for your head? Here are some of the steps that follow on this well trodden path:

1. Laugh it off. Yes, that’s it laugh, scoff at the reporter when she asks that question, smile broadly to show you are not in the least bit concerned. A gentle shake of the head and an exasperated slow blink, to underscore what a waste of yours and everyone elses time this is. Your colleagues fears will be calmed. The reporters will hopefully feel foolish and leave it at that.

2. The reasonable explanation. Alright, Ok, you don’t want to let this go. So I will get serious. Lets stay calm now lads, I’ll lay out the facts, raise my eyebrows as I speak, hold out the palms of my hands showing I’m open and honest. I’ll tell you it’s a storm in a teacup but accept you had some concerns, but now really, its time to move on.

3. Injured pride. Really? You are going to keep this up? Right, now I’m getting angry. I mean look at the state of the country, the amount of work we have to do and all you can ask me about is this! I am horrified and quite frankly insulted that anyone would suggest my motives were anything other than good. If you keep this up I’m going to be forced to do something about it.

4. Blame the media. It’s a circus, you are just filling column inches looking for a story where there is none. I have dealt with this and everyone is absolutely satisfied, only certain quarters of the media have their own agenda and want to discredit me. There is nothing to see here now move on, I’m banking on another problem for someone else taking the heat off me soon enough.

5. Share the blame. The problem still isn’t going away, questions continue. We may have a serious problem here. Its time to extend the blame circle, mention who else said and did what. Remind colleagues that my demise will damage the party, the leader, the brand. Ensure that everyone knows that if I go down anyone remotely connected to the issue is in trouble too and that there will be more questions asked. Be sure that the party knows it’s too late to stop backing me now without causing problems as to why they supported me in the first place.

6. Circle the wagons. They keep coming and most likely led now by a coalition partners backbenchers. Now it must become them and us an eye for an eye, a negotiation for support, what is their price? Play hardball roll out you strongest partisans to show you will not go quietly.

7. Deal with it. Right so, you want answers here it is. Another statement, but a better one, a longer one. A one that accepts some blame. I acknowledge the difficulties of my colleagues, I regret my actions and any errors. Is that enough? Are you happy now? Can we please move on? I need to tell you about all the difficult work I am doing and the tasks ahead for my colleagues, we do not need this distraction. Lets put it to rest. Oh and did I mention what a difficult time this has all been for me personally?

8. Stop reading NOW. Step 8 is never to be considered, everything possible must be employed to stop it. Ok…I’ll whisper it……Resign…..shhhhhh don’t say it too loud.

9. Write the book. Fine you got me. I’ll bide my time and in a few years it will be my turn to sell my side of the story, to tell what really went on and who exactly betrayed me. It will be serialised in a newspaper and I’ll emerge from hiding to put it all on the record. You may not like it , but hey it’s another part of the pension plan.

Alan Shatter – Why it’s wrong and the unanswered questions

There is a story told of a man who heard a knock on his door late one night. He opened it to find the devil standing outside. The Devil proceeded to tell him that there had been an accident and someone needed his help. The man thought about this and while he did not trust the devil he still went to help and saved his friends life. The moral of the story is that the truth is the truth, no matter who utters it, and the source should not be our only consideration when deciding if what is said is right or wrong.

Mick Wallace has already had his fair share of problems since entering the Dail only two years ago. His record and his position do not make him the kind of figure that many will particularly want to side with. However, this must be cast aside. Mick Wallace was making an argument that there should be no room for letting people off when Gardai are dealing with certain incidents. Now perhaps Mick Wallace is a hypocrite. Some of the best arguments and decisions in history have been hypocritical ones. Nobody is prevented from doing or saying the right thing by virtue of the fact that they once said or did the wrong thing.

Democracy is about making arguments; it is about electing people to represent those arguments on our behalf. Debate cannot be silenced or else we become something very different. Minister Shatter was also making a very reasonable argument against what Mick Wallace was saying. However, he decided to stray from the merits of the argument, he decided to use information he had received confidentially as a result of his position, in an attempt to end the argument and silence the debate. In that moment he stopped making his case and decided to try show the world that they just shouldn’t listen to Mick Wallace no matter what he said. Wallace was the devil at the door and should be ignored in all circumstances. A dangerous path.

Over the years I have attended many meetings with government figures and many briefings on different issues. They are no different to any meeting you will have attended elsewhere. There may be a report and points made within that which form the central part of the meeting and what is reported, but there is always a discussion around it, questions must be asked, answers given, examples provided and explanations that are not put in writing. That is the purpose of a briefing rather than just sending a file. It is also expected however, that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and understands confidentiality. A policeman discussing matters with the Minister for Justice is entitled to believe that this man, his boss, knows and understands the rules and necessity of confidentiality the same as anyone else in the force. There would have been no expectation that the Minister was about to go on TV and use this information.

Here we come to the nub of the issue and the questions facing Alan Shatter. Firstly, was there a public need to know? Was he doing a service? Well let’s face it we all know how this works. The media has a role and it is their role to find out and uncover such information. It cannot be the role of government to selectively release information through a minister. If Minister Shatter is so concerned that the public should know, then is he equally committed to revealing all information on all public figures, especially all TDs, held by the Gardai? Will he reveal details of all warnings, conversations and points issued by Gardai to such figures? After all that’s surely of just as much interest?
Is the Minister aware if any TD has ever made representations to a Garda in order to have a traffic offence overlooked on behalf of a constituent? Given that a Garda has this power and given that TDs have made representations on far more serious issues does he really expect us to believe that no TD has tried this?

During the briefing did the Gardai mention any other examples aside from Mr Wallace to illustrate the point? Shatter says that he was right to reveal the information because it was about a public figure, but would he have done so if the example was an FG backbencher? Would he have done so if the Gardai jokingly admitted that the once let Enda Kenny off with a warning? This is what makes a lie of the Shatter’s defence. There is no doubt that he would not have revealed the information in the absence of it helping to silence an argument. The message is simple, keep to the rules, be agreeable and no one needs to hear anything. Cause me a problem, speak out and people will hear all about any misdemeanours.

Alan Shatter could have admitted that perhaps the timing and placement of his use of this information was inappropriate. He could have been honest about that and left his fate in the hands of Enda Kenny and his colleagues and indeed, the court of public opinion. He did not. He did what all Irish politicians do. He defended it to the last and says it was the right thing to do. Enda Kenny quickly backed him 100% as a warning that ‘we are all in this together’ and it was time for everyone to get behind the Minister.

So that raises even more questions. If Shatter thinks this is right and proper then is he saying clearly and without any equivocation that he would do the same again? If he had it over would he still do it and should he find himself in a similar position next week on TV would he do the same to someone else? Is he saying that it is his modus operandii and that if he comes across information on any other TD or individual then he would see no difficulty in using that information in the debate?

A minister is a representative of the state, bound by its laws and its protections. The role carries duties and responsibilities that are not to be taken lightly. If we expect the Gardai to treat matters confidentially then we must expect the same from the man in charge of the gardaí. Alan Shatter does not see what was wrong here, many of his colleagues don’t get it either. However, it is not just about him or one incident, it is about freedoms and rights and whether these can be eroded in certain circumstances or not. Minister Shatter is like a bold child that has wandered a little way down a slippery slope, the parents are calling him back and he laughs at them, fixes them with a bold stare and says ‘Its fine, stop worrying, its ok this far down.’ The parents know sometimes you get away with it but if you don’t……..

Do we just not do resignations?

Alan Shatter is in the news this week as the latest in a line of government ministers to stick their foot in their mouth. Immediately this raises questions as to whether he should resign. Rather unsurprisingly he does not think he should. That leads to the debate about accountability and the idea that in Ireland we are not accountable and we ‘don’t do’ resignations. The example of the UK is often cited. I am no expert on UK politics but while I follow the stories over there I’m not exactly overwhelmed by the numbers resigning or the very strict demands of Prime Ministers. Yet many tell me that it would all be different if we were like the UK. Apart from the current crisis surrounding Alan Shatter and I will write more on his predicament and wrongdoing soon, I thought first id take a look at this question of us and the UK. Not least because some of my friends in the UK do not agree that their politicians are any more accountable and they too feel that resignations are avoided at all costs.

Lets start by saying there are two broad types of resignation, that done on principle or personal choice and those due to accountability issues. I am only concerned with the latter. A minister resigning over a policy difference, over supporting a different leader or just wanting to leave politics is a very different matter.

So in terms of scandals and wrong doing what have we got in Ireland. Well let’s start in 1996; Michael Lowry is forced to resign due to financial questions. The resignation took some time to happen and when it did the Taoiseach John Bruton was not happy to accept it, he was tearful as he shook Lowry’s hand calling him his ‘Best friend’.

A couple of years later and it was Ray Burke who was forced to resign due to financial impropriety. Yet again the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern this time, was reluctant to accept the resignation saying a ‘good man’ was hounded from office.

You see Irish governments take resignations personally, it’s seen as a failure not just for the individual but for the whole government, it’s like giving away a goal to the opposition in football.

A few years further on and Ivor Callely had to resign amid financial question marks surrounding the decorating of his house. This too was reluctant but was inevitable. A later government saw Trevor Sargent receive much public sympathy when he resigned over an ill advised representation on behalf of a client, yet people seemed to accept he made an error and liked that he got on with it and resigned without trying to cling on.

Bertie Ahern could hold back the tide no longer and resigned in 2008 amid ever increasing difficulty from the tribunal. His colleagues were no doubt reluctant but it is also clear that they were tiring of supporting him and Ahern knew the end was coming. He might like to have said it was a time of his choosing but it wasn’t, Cowen had visited him at home and a push was clearly on.

John o’donaghue wa also forced to resign as ceann comhairle due to a high level of expenses while he was a minister. He fought it but the fate was a forgone conclusion.

Willie O’Dea was forced to resign after making a mess of comments to a journalist containing spurious allegations about a political opponent that he had heard in the rumour mill. While an initial fight was put up, it evaporated quickly before the Green Party ever had to stamp their foot as it was clear that O’Dea could not hope to survive without seriously damaging everyone in government.

So what was happening in the UK while we were doing all that? Well they were quite busy. In 1997 Ron Davies was resigning over mysterious meeting in Clapham common. In 1998 Peter Mandelson resigned over receiving a dodgy home loan. In 2001 Stephen Byers had to resign and Henry McLeish resigned in Scotland due to financial irregularities.

Mandelson returned and soon enough had to resign again over a donation to the Labour party in return for a passport. Two others Mike O’Brien and Keith Vaz were also caught up in that particular mess. Mandelson went on to become EU Commissioner.

In 2004 David Blunkett had to resign after speeding up a visa for his Nanny, but he was brought back quickly enough only to resign again in 2005 thanks to a breach of rules regarding his private apartment.

That same year Beverly Hughes resigned over misleading the public about a visa scam, but she too returned to government a year later.

Estelle Morris resigned because she felt she was failing at her job and not meeting her own standards. This unusual stance shocked many and more than a few felt huge sympathy for her as a result. She went on to join the House of Lords.

In 2008 Peter Hain resigned over political funding and 2010 saw David laws resign over an affair here he was channelling money to his partner.

The latest (I think) was Andrew Mitchell in 2010, who threw abuse at police guarding the prime ministers residence. That resignation took a month of pressure and David Cameron did not seem all that sure about it.

So what does all that tell us? Well at a basic level the UK has had more resignations. That said the scandals that many in the UK were involved in were pretty serious and I don’t think any politician would have survived them over here. Callely certainly showed that the expenses thing can be fought but you will resign. Ahern pushed financial stuff to its limits but it did catch up. Had Ahern not been in the top job and been Taoiseach I think he would have had to resign even earlier.

The cases of Blunkett and Mandelson are interesting as both had to resign twice and Mandelson still ended up an EU commissioner. Morris and Hughes also found life after resignation. In Ireland that is rarer. Resignation is fought tooth and nail because it is seen as the ultimate failure, the chances of coming back with in year or two of a resignation is pretty slim. It’s seen as a career ender. Whether that’s because they fight the resignation or not is a good question, perhaps it’s chicken and egg? Had the greens survived and stayed in government perhaps Trevor Sargent could have returned because he did not make such a fight?

One could argue that Willie O’Dea is certainly back. This however is more to do with what happened to FF in the last election than any real matter of choice. After all everyone in the FF parliamentary party is on the front bench!

There is a very interesting study to be done in this sphere and I’m sure some bright young academic will soon solve it. For now I think it’s hard to compare scandals but I think it is fair to say the UK has more resignations but perhaps politicians are more willing to step aside as it’s not seen as the final act for sure. In Ireland I think we will continue to have two big problems. The first is that politicians don’t resign because they themselves feel that their whole life’s work is over if they do. The second is the culture of circling the wagons. Privately TDs will quickly admit to you when they thing a colleague has done wrong, but the wont do it publicly. Why not? Because that would give the other shower something to crow about and at the end of the day politics is a football match, ignore the red card tackles, don’t mind if people hate you or say its boring, just don’t let the other crowd score. In a perfect world they would play fair and be open and at the end of the game shake hands and admit their faults, but that is not going to happen. If you avoid a resignation then it’s the opposition who lose and you never give in to an opponent. The problem is the crowd are watching…you may be thrilled that your man was not sent off today but the post match analysis will come eventually and you will be judged.

Eurovision – a review and why Ireland needs to grow up

Eurovision is over for another year and while Irelands result was disappointing, the reaction of people is even more so. The thing about Eurovision is that it has many actual fans who like it and follow it like any show, then it has people who only tune in out of some nationalistic pride and take insult if their country doesn’t do well and then it has people who hate it and never watch it but jump at any chance to say ‘Oh give up forget about it.’

The Eurovision was as successful as ever. Over the last 20 years the show has grown and attracted new countries and contestants. What people don’t seem to get however is why it’s possible to predict the top 5 or the top 10? This is possible because in any given year that is the number of songs that are actually in with a shout of winning. After that the others are all along for the ride.

If your song is not lets say top 5 material then it gets harder to say how it will fare on the night. If it’s not top 10 then you are entering a lottery where you are hoping to pick up votes but might not necessarily do so. Ireland was a perfect example of this. Ryan Dolan put in a great performance and there wasn’t much more that could have been done with the song. However, it was never really in with a chance of winning. Now, we all like to put on the green jersey and get behind our team but when things are over perhaps we can see things in a better light. In any of the respected predictions of Eurovision I saw from the many genuine blogs and comments that follow the contest, Ireland was well received but anything above the top 15 would be a surprise. This meant you are entering that ‘lottery territory’, where you are expecting 5 points here and there from countries, and the odd good score. But in reality it’s also quite possible to get squeezed by the bigger songs, the ones people actually want to see winning. There is always the chance you get forgotten about. Ireland got a good draw coming last based on statistics but having already sung in a semi final it was also possible people were tuning out by the time Ireland took to the stage with a song they had heard before.

Getting through the semi final was quite an achievement and Ryan Dolan should be proud of this, there was no shame in his position. Of course we are now into the myriad of people shouting about ‘bloc voting’ and this really gets my goat up. Ireland as part of the increasingly successful ‘Nordic/Viking bloc’ has been as much part of this as anyone down through the years. There are people in the Balkans and Azerbaijan who will claim to have been robbed by all of us here voting for Denmark. They too will ignore the facts. Eurovision has one objective, to find a winning song. No prizes for second or 26th. A winning song is not victorious because of bloc voting, it wins because it draws votes from far and wide. It wasn’t long before we could see that Denmark, Ukraine and Azerbaijan were the heavy hitters as they began to pick up consistently good scores from every bloc there is. Bloc voting can affect where you end up in the final table if you are among the also rans, but it wont be the decider for the winning song.

The idea that Ireland should pull out of Eurovision simply because we don’t like our scores or because we don’t win is the most infantile load of tosh I have ever heard. I have two kids that love winning but I spend my days convincing them not to get upset when they don’t, that you have to keep practising, competing and learning. I mean, lets face it I’m never going to play for Liverpool, I’ll never get to pull on the Longford Town jersey competitively, but that doesn’t mean I don’t show up to a five a side match when someone is stuck for numbers. It’s about enjoying something, taking part and trying.

However, there are lessons to learn. It is clear that countries like Sweden and Denmark, or like Ukraine and Azerbaijan are very consistent. Why is this? Well, for me it’s the same reason we used to be consistent. We used to take it seriously. These countries search for songs and enter a very high standard every single year. The Danish Song Contest was almost on a par with Eurovision itself. On the other hand we waste our time moaning about the competition, the voting and whether we should bother. Instead we need to start looking for better songs, encouraging young songwriters and broadening our national competition.

Our national contest lacks transparency. It does appear a cheap and good value way of getting a song but it may not find a winner. Jedward did well and had a decent performance; however it did fall short of really challenging, mainly because it was a lot to do with the image and the brand alone. The problem with Jedward was that Like Dustin, once their name was mentioned there was not much point in many songwriters really entering, better wait for another year. Dustin had the same effect. John Waters is a journalist I actually like but his consistency in getting songs to our national final has to be questioned.

Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s a closed shop. The ‘mentors’ who find the final 5 songs for the late late are not chosen out of any discernable set of criteria, how they come up with their song and how many songs they actually listen to is a bit of a mystery.

We do need an open and national contest that is far more transparent in selecting our final entry. It must offer much greater choice to the public than just 5 songs and it must focus on attracting new, young and even unknown songwriters to the contest rather than scaring them off. It must be bigger and yes, it will cost more.

Wherever we come in the end should not be our main point of concern though, it should simply be to enjoy it. The best song does win (Don’t tell Cliff Richard I said that) and there are few who will argue that once you heard the Danish entry you knew you were listening to a potential winner, Ukraine, Russia, Norway and Azerbaijan were also in that category. Malta and Hungary surprised people, not me, I thought both songs deserved a great score and personally must admit would listen to both over our own entry (its safe to say that now!). However, Ireland tried something a bit different, we got out of the semi final and Ryan Dolan showed that you don’t need to be a big star to give a flawless performance. Unfortunately, the song just wasn’t strong or catchy enough for voters who are looking to tap their feet, nod their head or sway in time to the music on that very first time they hear it.

Eurovision Final – Prediction time…..

Well the Eurovision 2013 Final is almost upon us. After a second semi final we know all the songs and the final line up. Its now time to try and call the final. This year we have quite a serious contest. Adrian Kavanagh who I assisted in writing the 2013 Eurovision hand book (which you should have bought and you still can if you follow the links Ive posted on earlier blogs) has worked very hard on a predictions model. Adrians predictions are here

Adrian’s model is one I cannot find fault with and after some impressive semi-final predictions the model must remain the base for any other prediction. However, Adrian sometimes misses the value of a bloody great little tune! I will be shouting the names of Malta and Hungary at him all day today. In response I expect Adrian will hope both of these come last just so he can have his revenge.

So I have a duty to put my cards on the table also. When it comes to predicting I have to go with the Kavangh model, but the politician in me does what politicians do best, In James Reilly Fashion I take the model, tinker with it to suit my own ends and come up with some inexplicable results!

Essentially what I am doing here is taking Kavanagh’s figures and I adjust +/- up to 10 points to account for the ‘Fallon gut’. Some songs I would like to place higher but I cant simply because the voting history and records of the country as the Kavanagh model takes into account simply wont allow it. Other songs Id like lower but this also is unlikely due to their voting record.

So here it is, allow for the ‘Fallon Gut’ the Kavangh model total points adjusted would be as follows:

1 Denmark 175
2 Ukraine 157
3 Norway 155
4 Russia 154
5 Azerbaijan 154
6 Italy 120
7 Greece 116
8 Sweden 109
9 Georgia 108
10 Germany 99
11 Armenia 88
12 Ireland 80
13 Romania 78
14 Finland 77
15 Netherlands 76
16 Hungary 74
17 Malta 67
18 Spain 65
19 Belarus 63
20 Iceland 66
21 UK 59
22 Estonia 58
23 Moldova 55
24 Belgium 54
25 France 44
26 Lithuania 36

I should be noted that I expect Ireland to finish in top 15 but my heart could be ruling my head in an 12th spot, however I still think with a good performance top 10 is even possible.

I think Spain have a great song and it makes them very unpredictable, id like them to do much better but have to go with past voting records here. Still if you want really good odds and a very long shot bet with a tiny bit of hope well who knows?

My take confirms the bookies and I see Denmark with a greater margin of victory than Adrian does here. I also see Ukraine and Norway doing better than Russia which is a bit of a head on the block prediction alright. Those positioned from 5th to 9th represent potentially good odds bets if you fancy an each way flutter on a longer shot.

Eurovision Semi 1 – The voting…

Well we had our first Eurovision Semi Final last night and, as expected, Ireland qualified. So let the good times roll! Attracting votes in the final can be tough but at least its good to be there and all indications are that the performance and song is going down well. IT was the voting that interests me and is worth a look this morning. While the exact votes will not be revealed until after the final it is worth comparing with our 2013 Eurovision handbook (which you should all have bought by now in aid of the Irish Cancer Society )

Anyway, The predictions of Adrian Kavanagh were very accurate last night. While Kavanagh liked the Austrian entry I told him it was weak enough and he agreed they had no voting record so we knew they were goosed. Slovenia and Montenegro were also in serious trouble. Based on the bookies odds, draw position and past voting this was not to be a year for Croatia either. After that it gets very tight making predictions. Russia, Denmark and Ukraine were all certain of qualification based on the past, Ireland, Estonia and Belarus were very likely, but then only a few points could separate everyone else.

In Kavanagh’s prediction there was nothing to choose between Cyprus, Belgium, Netherlands and Moldova and the latter three won out on the night.

The only shock to buck the prediction was Serbia. Statistically, Serbia should have been a cert based largely on the fact that their draw position was a perfect one to qualify from and they have a good record. Serbia failed and this was the only surprise on the night (not bad eh?). Personally I am blaming whomever got their hands on the Serbian Stage production. When I last saw these girls they were quite appealing but last night the make up and dresses were ….well…nothing short of horrific and totally overshadowed the song.

There is another point to make though. Under new voting this year an act must score well in both the Jury and Public vote and one cant compensate for a very low score in the other (in lay mans terms) so this may also change the nature of the bloc voting somewhat. So perhaps this may have affected things slightly too, certainly a stage act could be prone to upsetting one or other group.

In any event if you haven’t bought your handbook do so now, before next Thursdays competition, esome very interesting songs are competing and we will see if the model holds up for further successful predictions. It is worth noting however that Kavanagh and myself disagree on two songs at the bottom of his list for qualification, Malta and Hungary…..Kavanagh hates these but I think they have potential to upset the predictions….keep a close eye and roll on Thursday!

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