Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

A Challenge to government on Seanad Referendum and Getting My Vote

According to reports we are to be bombarded by the government telling us how the abolition of the Seanad will save €20 million per annum. That’s a cool €200 million over the next 10 years. The campaign is to be about one thing, money.

Now as followers of this blog know, I am no fan of the Seanad. It is elitist and an institution that I have never had a vote in or much interest in. However, I am strongly opposed to its abolition. Why? Because doing that is in my opinion an even greater waste of time. The Seanad does not work because the Dail has never wanted it to work and prevents it at every opportunity. Now the Dail has decided to get rid of this thorn in its side altogether. Once it’s abolished the Dail can set up some nice new committees and think tanks and allocate some more expenses to TDs for extra work and so on over the next decade. Any idea of reform will start and end with the abolition of the Seanad; it will not progress from there.

I don’t like the Seanad as it stands, but it is hardly the organ of state that should be prioritised to such an extent for any failings. We should be focussing on Dail and banks and several areas of society before we come to the hapless Seanad.

However, Richard Bruton take note! I am not an unreasonable man. I’m a middle of the road Joe blogs who just wants to be able to pay my bills and get some decent level of services. A major concern for me has been the cuts to the care of the elderly in our society. Each year we reduce the services available to them, there are large funding gaps, respite care and Carer services which actually save the state money are being cut and reaching breaking point. But who cares about old people in the middle of a crisis?

I know what a difficult job it is to try take care of an elderly relative, I know the lack of dignity and respect that exists within our system and while it hurts me now to watch, it leaves be terrified of growing old later.

So I have a simple request. The Troika has not asked us to abolish the Upper House; there is no budget provision that can be made for savings to be put against debt repayments in advance of a referendum. Put simply, any savings will be accounted for by the government after the people make a decision.

€200 million over the next ten years could help an awful lot toward elderly care in this country. The question is do you believe the government? Is this figure real? Is there any prospect of anything like such savings? Before we vote in a referendum we have a right to know this.

While I intend to vote No, I will change that vote if the government is willing to put its money where its mouth is and prove to me that savings can actually be made. The answer is simple. The €20 million the government claim they will save, should be ring fenced and accounted for on an annual basis, if they promise to allocate this toward services for Carers and the elderly, then I will change my vote and back them.

IT is a simple choice. The government has stated that it wishes to make these savings in order to protect proper services to the public, that we must make this saving to avoid cuts elsewhere. That’s fine then, prove it to me. Show me your confidence in the figure of €20 million because I don’t believe you will save anything like that. Commit to this money being spent and accounted for each year and I will start to believe you.

I must admit that I do not expect the government to respond. They will probably say that it can’t be done or would be unique, but then so too is their move to abolish the Seanad for good and make so many changes to the constitution in the process. They will say that it will be part of general budget etc etc, but that’s not impossible to get around it’s merely a decision, and these are great decisive reformers right?. I suspect that not even the bondholders will see this so called 20 million saving; I doubt it will even go off our debt; the figure will be smaller and probably swallowed up by the Dail as it sets up new committees and jobs for the TDs.

I am happy to be proved wrong however. The government if it’s brave enough and cares enough can have my vote by making this simple commitment. If they don’t then we should all ask why they don’t. And we should demand to know where this fantastic 20 million will actually be spent.

Before you make up your mind on abolishing the Seanad in order to get that money, be sure to ask that question. If the government does make that commitment I will be happy to tell you all that I am changing my vote. Don’t hold your breath though.

Summer 2013…Where our parties stand

It has been another long political season yet again. All the parties must take their summer to reflect and rebuild. With a budget coming hard and fast in October they are going to have to hit the ground running fairly soon, then there is a Seanad campaign that might not be the cakewalk everyone predicted and that will be followed closely by the local and European elections, which will be the first real test of all parties strength.

It is time then, perhaps to take stock of where each party now finds itself.

FINE GAEL. The main government party will be feeling relatively happy. They are continuing to work through their economic programme and see more right wing policies protected which is vital to the FG vote base. There may be plenty of accusations of broken promises and the like but the fact remains that a lot of the people who currently support FG are happy enough with government policy. These voters seek stability most of all and are willing to accept the idea of cuts or spending controls in the firm belief that its better than tax hikes and will see the country through. Most of these voters still have something to lose and therefore they don’t want any big risks. FG will also be pleased that they avoided large numbers of lost TDs on the abortion issue. They will hope to move on quickly and there is no doubt that if Labour ever come knocking with demands FG will remind them very quickly that they delivered on the X legislation. FG remain convinced that the economy will start to turn and that people will reward them for it. It’s not all rosy though. FG has had government all its own way and it cant expect that to continue with Labour hurting badly in the polls. On current polls FG may still struggle at the local elections to hold what it has. Too many personalities within FG have lacked any real empathy with the public and a number of Ministers have become nothing short of despised. They cannot afford to ignore this. FG will watch FF closely, it is here that the greatest threat to their dominance lies. The next 12 months will seriously test the leadership of Enda Kenny, there has been a sense among many commentators that Enda has been ‘handled’ well and is ‘getting away with it’, the next year will decide that one way or another. Either Enda can silence his critics or he my yet face the door.

LABOUR. The Labour party are in a sorry state. Their poll ratings are abysmal and they look to be on the road for an apocalyptic local and European elections. Labour seem bewildered by the fact that they are taking more blame than FG for austerity policies and broken promises. Time and time again they try to remind people that they can be no more than a brake on FG and what would it be like if they were not there? That argument is pointless though. There is an idea that somehow these TDs will sacrifice themselves for the good of the country (an old line thrown out by FF in the dark days of the IMF arrival and the December Budget). They genuinely believe this, so did FF. The reality is very different. The problem for Labour is that the policies the government is pursuing are mainly FG policies; FG voters know and expect that. Labour voters expect something very different. If you are left wing then its better not to be in government than to be there doing right wing stuff, as you are essentially just killing your raison d’etre. For the general public they are a bit mystified. FG somehow mange to look younger and more energetic than labour and that’s saying something. The one high point for the party has been the X legislation. It has carried through on this promise and will keep a number of voters happy by doing so. The fact remains though that it is unlikely to be enough. Most voters are still far more concerned about the money in their pockets and their families’ economic survival than anything else right now. Labour needs change badly but they are not going to get it. Too many do not want to upset each other and hope that power can be transferred harmoniously. It doesn’t work like that and when it does its not always good, (ask Brian Cowen). Power is seized when the moment is right. Labour will wait until after the local elections and by then they will be facing a gargantuan task.

FIANNA FAIL. Although there are many who would call them much worse, FF is the Rocky of Irish politics. ‘It’s not how hard you hit but how hard you can get hit’ that counts. FF has shown us one thing; this party can take a punch and keep fighting like no other. The party is on course to at least hold the council seats it won in 2009 but only if it manages to keep going. It’s been a strange time. On several occasions Micheal Martin has been very poorly advised in his approach to party matters and discipline. That should be a serious concern for FF. The party has recovered somewhat in the polls but this remains very soft, it may be nothing more than the ebb and flow of the tide rather than resurgence in the party. It is desperate for new faces and voices and it knows it may have to wait until after the local elections for this to happen. With only 19 TDs the party also struggles to remain the broad church that was its strength for so long. The approach from the top of the party remains cautious and avoids risk, that’s not what is needed if it is to return to its former strength or anything like it. The party still hasn’t dealt with its economic errors and still has no real narrative about what the future should hold. Its communications is at best disjointed. Perhaps that’s as a result of its 2011 loss, but if FF is Rocky then they are not back on their feet yet, they are at that dubious stage where the sound and vision goes blurry as he is stumbling up to the ropes, desperately looking for a sign to get focus back.

SINN FEIN. Sinn Fein will be very content that they have solidified their base and seem to be holding firm in the high teens in opinion polls. This should not be underestimated in terms of achievement. If people have stuck with them that long then they may remain with them. They are the one party that does not have the stain of government attaching to them; this is a blessing and a curse. It’s a positive when comparing to other parties promises, but for many others it means they are a risk and potentially worse promise breakers than the others. They can’t win on that score. If SF remains where they are in the polls they can be quite content as regards the long term. However, SF is a highly ambitious party and will want more. They are perplexed by the lack of movement in the polls and the fact that FF receives more of a bounce than they have recently. Many in SF blame the voters’ ignorance for this. That is a mistake. They need to step back and look at it far more coldly. Gerry Adams is not and will never be a leader to inspire the confidence of the majority of Irish voters. The best gift he could give would be to step aside and continue his work in a different role, he would make a solid front bench member and there are several potential leaders in SF. Then they need to accept that all parties have a choice in politics. You can be driven by ideological policy of left or right and immediately exclude voters of the opposite opinion or you can move toward the centre and try bringing more people with you. Finally SF needs to give up its splendid isolation. There are policy matters where it agrees with Independents, FF, FG and Labour but they never admit this. SF does not want friends. But if you want to climb in the polls you need them. If an FF or Labour voter for instance feels they can give SF a no.2 vote then its possible they can be convinced to vote 1 in the near future. However, if every other party voter puts your candidates at the bottom of their transfer list then you have no hope of ever wooing them to you. SF is still very much in the game, they just need the courage to take it.

INDEPENDENTS. One of the statistics that often goes unmentioned is the consistently high showing of Independents in polls. They remain extremely popular with a public that is less concerned about ideological positions and policies than it is with trust. Voters are desperate to feel they can trust the decisions that are being taken; they have given up on trying to understand them. Independents are perfectly placed for this. You don’t have to put faith in a brand or in others, you can just pick the man or woman you like and know. When you want to question them you can ask them directly, and they won’t come back telling you they had to give in to another person or lost a vote in the party. The problem will be how you integrate Independents into government. Democracy of any shape or size has always ended up in parties of some sort or another; this is because if you do that you manage to get more of what you want through than if everyone remains on their own. 2,000 years ago Caesar, Pompey and Crassus came together to effectively end the power of the Roman senate by understanding that no matter how much they disliked each other, if they joined and compromised then they could achieve more of what they want than they could separately. The public will be placing a lot of trust in the Independents in upcoming elections, there will be a lot more of them, that much is for sure.

NEW PARTY. The old chestnut, will we see a new party? Everyone says they want to see a new party but that does not mean they would vote for one. Thus far all suggestions for new parties follow the same line. A group of people searching out a niche that they believe is not served. This means they look to the extreme right or left and try to hollow out a host of complex new policies which some will love but a majority will inevitably oppose. If we are to have a new party then it must have more ambition than that. It must look at FF and FG and decide it wants to replace them. That is where the big vote lies, that is where real power lies and that is were the majority of Irish voters sit. Voters like the idea of a new party because they want to trust someone again, feel like they have a true leader again. A new party needs to be broad and pragmatic but most of all a new party needs to organise on the ground. Nobody can defeat FG or FF in Ireland because no party has anything like their organisation. That’s where it starts. You must be broad enough to gain trust of urban and rural, right and left, rich and poor, then you can organise people in every parish, woo them from other parties. It’s a long term game though and few have the patience for that.

Dear David Drumm, Man up and face the people…..

We have all heard it said of someone that ‘That fella doesn’t know when to shut up’. Most of the time it can be in jest or exasperation. Other times it is very wise advice. David Drumm knows when he wants to shut up, but then at times displays an inability to accept what he did and not make a bad situation worse.

Drumm could not shut up when he was on a phone. He was a big shot, a hot shot a tough guy. He could see no fault in himself, but he could identify where everyone else was wrong. Today David Drumm continues to give interviews and talk from the safety of the USA about what he wants to see happen and who he wants to answer questions.

We have news for you David. You are not a hotshot anymore. You took a cowards way out and with it went every iota of public sympathy for the position you find yourself in. Now, we know you think the Irish people are thick. You displayed that time and time again. We know that you believed all those dealing with you were slower than you or not quite as smart. We know you think the general public don’t deserve respect and don’t understand what’s going on. We know that, but the problem is, that in all of this, as in so much else, you are wrong.

The Irish public know exactly who they want answers from. Your list of 8 people is of no consequence. The Irish public know well that they want answers from the politicians who served at the time. Their names will never be worth anything until they face those questions. We are well capable of identifying the failures of the Central bank and the Regulator and we know full well that they have a serious case to answer. That is a matter for us, the Irish people.

You, David Drumm, have only one concern in our mind. That is to answer the questions we have of you. Not to pick and choose your interviews and spout about who else you think is to blame, but to answer the hard questions about what you did. A man who values his name, a man who respects his country and its people, is never afraid to face the consequences. You, David Drumm, are certainly no man at all. You hide from questions and consequences, you want to tell your side of the story but you don’t want to face what you did. Until you do that, you should leave the questioning of everyone else to the Irish people and start focussing on yourself.

In the end, we know you are afraid of the legal issues, afraid of being a scapegoat, afraid of public anger, afraid of losing what you have, afraid, afraid, afraid. Aside from all the legal questions that you fear so much, most of us have a very simple question. Do you sleep at night? Do you feel proud of your career or are you curled up and consumed with the kind of shame that would befit someone in your position? You ran a bank, you played hard and fast with the rules, you were, it must be said, incompetent. You accepted plaudits and awards but were genuinely incapable of seeing where it could go wrong. You still are. You still think it was all just a crisis of confidence and markets without accepting that the bank had no clothes and you couldn’t see that.

You picked ‘Figures out of your arse’ when it was plain to see that the situation was becoming terminal. You approached other banks and secured other loans to try hide the hole and to get through another few days. You tried to flog your bank; you tried to get anybody and everybody on the hook for the errors you made. Anglo never attempted to come clean, to face up to the problem and admit they had made a huge error and were now gone. They never attempted to get to the bottom of what the owed and it took months after a takeover by the state to even find a figure.

Irish Banks have a lot to answer for. AIB and BOI and Irish Nationwide, Irish Permanent and EBS all had to be saved by the Irish taxpayer. They all landed us where we are, but Anglo was the cherry on top. Lauded for years by those in business and in politics it was a house built on sand. Anglo caused the single biggest piece of damage to the state that we have ever witnessed from a single institution. What we want to know, David Drumm, is how you feel. What do you say to the elderly people who are having care workers taken from them? To the children who will have special needs education cut, to the parents who have income slashed and face an empty fridge? To those who lost jobs and line the dole queues while your mates who still work in the banks threaten to repossess their homes? That is the legacy your career at Anglo left us. Deep down we know you think that’s not your fault, well, it’s not solely your fault that’s true. But whatever decisions are taken had to be done because you ran up a debt and couldn’t see the flaws in your own bank and couldn’t face them. Therefore you must accept the blame.

It is not good enough to sit in America, billing yourself out as a financial consultant, feeling hard done by. You do not have that right, nor does anyone in banks, government or politics who walked away from this crash without having to suffer what ordinary people have suffered. That is the price you pay. That is the price you should pay, but you won’t. You will feel victimised and say none of it was your fault. So to be honest, David Drumm, either come home and face the people, show your humility and your shame, or shut up until the day we somehow catch up with you and get those answers.

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