Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the tag “Labour”

Jo Cox and hatred in politics

Certain events always stand out in people’s minds.  The murder of Jo Cox MP is going to be one of those for me.  I never met her nor was I overly familiar with her work before yesterday.  However, any human being would find such an event shocking.  If you have ever been involved in politics you will feel it even more.

Politicians often have to dismiss their fears to appear in control.  Nobody wants to hear a politician saying they were afraid or scared.  There is little sympathy for them.  When bad things happen to a politician there is a defence of ‘Oh they deserved it’…’they will get over it’ or the ever popular ‘it’s no worse than their policies.’

All of this stems from an extreme feeling of self righteousness.  That we are the only ones who can be right and if someone disagrees with us it cannot be just a different way of doing things it has to be because they are stupid, they are corrupt, they are ignorant, they are personally liable and they are less human.

Politics is about debate.  Robust and tough debate.  It must always be rooted in policy.  The slide into personal attacks is a slippery slope.  No party is free from it.  All public representatives get abuse.  Some like to blame some parties over another but the truth is different representatives get it from different sectors.  The problem is when people who should know better fail to see the start of the slide.  Once you move away from debating a policy to attacking the person you have begun that slide.  Once you stop accepting that a person’s disagreement with you does not make them any less smart or honourable than you, you are in trouble.

We go from personal abuse to jostling.  Jostling to something being thrown.  Something being thrown to a punch.  From there where does it go?  Where is the line?  I’ve known many politicians down the years from various backgrounds and parties who, while they never would admit it publicly, had times when they felt very worried for themselves or their families.

Hate is indeed at the root of this as Jo Cox’s husband said.  If you want to win a debate you can stick to facts but that will require a lot of talent, strategy and ability.  There is an easier lazier way.   Forget the actual argument.  De-humanise the opponent.  They can be political opponents, other nationalities, ethnic groups, other social classes.  Make them out to be genetically different.  Not like us.  Make out that they have cultural differences that are somehow more than just human creations.  The same rules don’t apply to them as everyone else.  They are stupid, incompetent, foolish, corrupt, vile, and odious.  Once you establish that you can start to say and do what you like.  That’s how hatred works.  It’s not a way of dealing with problems it’s a way of getting a pass to get around your conscience.

The shooting in Orlando, the shooting of Jo Cox and modern terrorism all fed off this hate.  A view that somehow it’s alright.  Jo Cox was elected.  If anyone disagreed with her there was a ballot box to change things.  If you disagree with any community or view then the ballot box is there to deal with all of these things.  To put anything ahead of that ballot box is to say that just because your view is not shared widely enough you have a right to circumvent it.  This can never be allowed to happen.

Nothing can change the fact that two little children will have to grow up without the mother who loved them. Absolutely nothing can ever make up for that.  No retribution, no change, no nice words can ever make it better.  It is final and permanent.  That’s what hate does.  The only thing each of us can do is to try being better people.  Stop looking around and blaming.  Stop looking for others to make the change.  You and I, we would never do anything like shoot someone.  We would never hurl vile abuse at someone in the street.  But where exactly do we draw a line, how much are we ok with?  Do we sometimes ignore a debate because we just dislike the person making the point?  Do we make throwaway remarks?  Do we say things like ‘They should be shot’?  You see each little bit of hatred we give in to allows someone further along the line to push their hatred a bit further too.

Labour – What to do next?

The Labour leadership contest has not been ideal. If ever a party needed quick and decisive action it was Labour at this juncture. However, their own rules and voting procedures have conspired to give a long and drawn out contest that will appear more like indecision and navel gazing to the public.

That said I can’t see Labour looking further than Joan Burton for leader. Alex white is her only competition and to be honest that can’t really work no matter how unpopular people say Burton is among certain TD’s.

Camp Burton only has to mention the Alex White replaced Roisin Shortall and by doing so helped back James Reilly and it will leave many people queasy. Obviously if Labour hoped to attract the likes of Shortall back, then White is not the man. If they want to put distance between themselves and FG then White will not appear like the right choice given his support and ability to work closely with Reilly and many in Labour see their problems often originating in the Health department.

Then there is the medical card fiasco. White has tried to extend blame for this across the cabinet but in the end the buck stops with Reilly and himself. If camp Burton is not afraid to raise these matters quietly then the leadership is already theirs.

That’s only the start. Bigger problems are to come for the new leader after that. If its Burton, she must show a completely different tack to what people have seen thus far in cabinet.

Let’s start with her appointments. Unfortunately Labour don’t have many full cabinet seats. They cannot make the ‘Cowen mistake’ (2009) of safe bets and old experienced heads. That error was made in 2011 too. If Labour is to have any chance they need new faces. Burton has to keep herself there further limiting choice. Gilmore has to be gone, as does Rabbitte. She may decide between Howlin and Quinn but can only keep one maximum. Anything less and it will all just appear more of the same. She will need to have new energetic voices that will be committed to back her and her new approach. There is no room for the older heads.

Then comes managing Labour expectations. The party must realise that it is not going to recover dramatically. This is now about saving seats. The poll figures will at best improve by a few points but more importantly the party may become more transfer friendly with the right strategy and that could save several TDs. That is the target. This must be made clear.

The relationship with FG cannot continue as it has. Burton will need to put distance between herself and Enda Kenny. The same would apply to White if he became Leader. They cannot afford to be seen as too close. The relationship can be professional and pragmatic but never best mates. A healthy tension must be visible to the public. Labour must be a party of stability willing to see out the term of government but not stability at all costs. Major redlines must be introduced and the party must be willing to walk away if needs be. Enda Kenny will always give in rather than face the government collapsing. You can bet the house on that. There are others in FG who will be angered at this but that’s not a Labour problem for now.

Rows need to happen at government and more importantly they need to be seen happening. Even of it is political theatre at times. This is the only way to attract those vital transfers. The new Leader must then set up a strategic emergency group with responsibility for Dublin. Their purpose has to be the organisation on the ground and getting it in shape for the coming battle. They need Dublin. SF is biting at their heels. They need new policies for the city and they need to get involved in communities and find projects they can advance quickly over the next 18 months. This committee has to oversee all of this, the identification, the people, the response and the communications. Labour will stand or fall in Dublin.

Finally, Labour needs to examine government policy. The priority has to be economic. They must find the areas they can win on. This may be simply finding token measures for taxing wealthier individuals and it will upset FG greatly, but they must do it. At the end of the day it probably won’t even affect that many people. The message is important though. Labour must identify what the difference between themselves and FG is on economic matters and push this. Right now people cannot see any difference between Labour and FG on these issues.

Labour has done its job for its voters on some social issues but it needs to pick its battles here. There are several issues that people will broadly support and find modernising. These should be pushed in the interest of fairness and equality. However, radical changes to schools, hospitals, and other areas of society are not seen as urgent and while Labour can make progress they might be well advised to prioritise their battles. If it cannot be finished or done in 18 months there is not much point getting stuck into the war now.

The party must realise that they are set for huge losses. This is a damage limitation exercise. They are now in the trenches and need to fight hard. They need every one of their members to be fully informed, briefed and out and about fighting their cause and looking for projects to influence. The new leader must set aside someone to focus on this task and spend the next 18 months on the road continually energising the organisation and preparing it. It will be too hard to fight for media space but your supporters can do a lot on the ground and must face the challenge of other parties. To do this the must have a direct link and contact with those at the top. Find your internal leader and put them on the road. The party leader has enough to be doing.

After that they can only hold back the flood for so long and will have to eventually let it wash over them. They cannot save all but if they give a few some firmer footing then they have a fighting chance of holding on to enough to recover in time.

Resignations – A question of leadership

The word ‘resignation’ has been floating about a lot in recent times. For weeks now it has followed Alan Shatter around like a shadow. The Garda Commissioner has already retired and now Angela Kerins has retired from Rehab. Of course retiring is the new resigning.

We need to look at this issue though from a leadership perspective. A resignation is not always about a legal issue. It is more often a matter of policy and a matter of perception. The Rehab situation is a case in point. It was patently obvious once the major story broke about salaries and perks that it was doing untold damage to Rehab as a charity. The longer it dragged on and the more defences that were attempted, the more damage it did. The inevitable finally happened today but is that good enough? Is that Leadership or decisiveness? Even when faced with the obvious facts it was allowed drag on until it was left in a position from which there may be no recovery.

Enda Kenny might want to take note. First of all let me make a point about people who resign. If it is obviously forced or demanded then it leaves leaders and those around them trying to distance themselves from the individual who has been effectively fired. Remember Ray Burke? Remember how Bertie Ahern said he was ‘a good man hounded from office’? You see in politics you can always blame the opposition.

However good Leadership is about ensuring a process is understood and matters are dealt with. A government has a lot of work to carry out. It must have the confidence of the public to do this. You cannot afford to have any individual damaging the reputation and work of that government. In the latest opinion poll Fine Gael has fallen back to its November levels of support. In other words, all the hard work and good news that was derived out of positive economic indicators and the exit of the bailout programme was undone by Alan Shatter. Good news is hard to come by and too many people put in too much effort for any party to see it cast aside in such a glib fashion.

Cohesion in a government is vital. Ensuring that it remains above distraction and deals with the issues on the table, that is the priority. Enda Kenny might look back at another Fine Gael Leader, John Bruton. Over the course of his tenure Bruton dealt with 3 resignations from his team. In each case the matter was dealt with in 24/36 hours. While those who resigned might not have been eager to do so, they knew the rules. Nothing could or should destabilise the government or distract it. If matters are allowed to fester they give fuel to the opposition, they anger the public and they delay proper investigation. If someone resigns there is nothing stopping them clearing their name, making their case and returning to office at a later date. That has happened before. The advantage for the Bruton government was that such matters never got as far as creating tension or upset for Labour or Democratic Left. They avoided political footballs that dragged on damaging the ratings and they avoided any contamination of the Leader or the rest of the cabinet because no rearguard defence had to be mounted, resulting in people saying things they might regret later.

Sometimes you have to think of others. Any situation must be weighed up. What damage will be done by remaining in a post? Will it lead to distraction, does it harm confidence and is it simply selfish to think that you are the only person who can do the job? Leadership is about tough decisions. Sometimes those decisions affect those closest to you. However, when you are head of a team then the good of that team must come before everything and ahead of any individual. If you don’t isolate the problem then it will surely spread.

Callinan, Shatter and bad political choices

The resignation of Martin Callinan had become inevitable. The focus now moves to Alan Shatter who backed Callinan at every opportunity and in every action. The real irony of all this is that it’s a political crisis that should have been avoided by anyone with a modicum of political foresight.

Firstly, Alan Shatter never had any need to take the side of Martin Callinan so stringently. He could easily have been the democratically elected honest broker listening to the whistleblower concerns and ensuring they were heard while also ensuring that the views of the Garda hierarchy were known and proper procedures followed. Instead he opted to take sides and fight shoulder to shoulder with the Commissioner. Even after the Commissioner made his ‘disgusting’ comment. This now draws Shatter into a political mess he could and should have avoided.

As the issues rumbled on it became clear that people were not happy with Callinan and his remarks. The evidence did not back him up. Ministers know that eventually everything comes back to them. Leo Varadkar saw this. He was having none of it. If the Commissioner had mucked up then he was not going to taint Leo’s reputation by association. Leo did the right thing, he said straight out what needed to happen. By doing so he was saving not only himself but the public perception of the government. This in turn created a problem for the Labour party. If an FG minister was saying this then surely they, as a party seen as holding FG to account, should also be doing something. Joan Burton was quick to lead Labour through the gap. At this stage they recognised that the time for being cosy with FG was not right now. Eamon Gilmore followed too, even though he prides himself on his good relationship with Enda.

Then came the next inexplicable miscalculation. Enda Kenny had a choice. He could simply say that ‘Ministers’ have a view that will be taken into account, but that all matters would be dealt with by the Cabinet at the next meeting’. Instead Enda chose to admonish the Ministers. He said that they should only air their views at the cabinet table. That was a direct slap on the wrist. He was effectively telling them he was the boss and they were naughty children. Now, this would not bother Leo as he is playing a longer game. He can afford to smile and pass it off. However, Enda Kenny might be Taoiseach but he is not the Leader of the Labour party. In that instant he treated ministers and the Tánaiste like mere FG backbenchers to be told what to do. It was striking that within a couple of hours an experienced Minister like Quinn went out and spoke in direct defiance of Enda Kenny’s edict. The message was clear, ‘you are not the boss of us’.

While Labour Ministers may wish to spend as long as possible around the cabinet table they will not witness the disintegration of their party. Such an event will happen if backbenchers and grassroots feel an utter capitulation on their hands. Economic matters are one thing where little choice might be argued to exist, but this is another matter entirely.

Once this occurred it became impossible for Callinan not to be forced to act either in apologising or resigning. Labour now holds all the cards. Enda, through his own poor choice, has landed himself here. He now has another decision. If he wants to keep Shatter then he must assure Labour that it is worth their while. This means Labour can exact a price for their support. Whether it is reforms, legislation or budgetary measures, they have a chance now.

On the other hand Enda may decide that FG should not get compromised like that. This means that if Labour doesn’t wish to support Shatter then Enda will see him resign. This will create tension with some but it also means the crisis would be over and can move on with no baggage carrying forward to the next negotiation.

This government has a good relationship. Enda and Eamon get along very well indeed. Perhaps too well for some of their grassroots support. However, it is a salutary lesson; you can never take a good relationship for granted. Events overtake things and it’s very easy for a simple issue to spiral. Labour knows now, that at times they are taken for granted and they also know the strength the can hold if they desire to use it. It’s a small shift; the government can and should overcome it. The question is will they learn the lesson or repeat the mistake out of blindness?

Shatter-point – The Government and the Gardaí

The controversy surrounding Alan Shatter as Minister for Justice is growing. The GSOC bugging allegations were just a start. The government hoped that granting an investigation would buy time and take some of the political heat out of the matter allowing for calm and fair reflection on the issue. It was followed quickly by the controversy over the file Micheál Martin gave to Enda Kenny and Shatter’s sacking of the confidential recipient.

The problem here is that Minister Shatter could, and should, have avoided most of this trouble. As a Minister he is elected by the people, selected by the Taoiseach and paid by the Taxpayer to be the voice of the country and ensure all matters are dealt with in the best interest of the citizens. Acting as a counterweight to group think is one of the most valuable tasks a Minister can perform. However, like a lot of Ministers in the past, Alan Shatter quickly went native.

Mr Connolly, the confidential recipient who was recently sacked has assured the Whistleblowers that their evidence of corruption had been passed on to the government. If so then Minister Shatter was aware of the allegations contained in the file but no progress was made. Throughout this crisis and the GSOC affair, the minister has displayed a very close affinity with the Garda top brass. He could have been the concerned honest broker, seeking answers but wishing to be fair to all sides. Instead he chose to be very much in the corner of the Garda Commissioner and to take a very definite side. That is what has caused his current problem. There can be no doubt that no matter what he says, any Garda with information of wrongdoing will not believe that Alan Shatter wants to hear it. That means the democratic balance in the running of state security has been completely lost.

This crisis places the Labour party in a difficult position. As of now they need information and don’t want to call for Alan Shatters head unnecessarily. That means that they must express confidence in him despite doubts. Yesterday, Joan Burton complained during question time that the opposition was introducing new documents like a ‘snowstorm’. She said that the documents needed to be handed over and considered and she saw this as a matter of respect. Just consider this for a moment. Joan Burton believes that the opposition should, as a matter of respect, provide all documents they have to the government, which is correct. Yet, she went on to express confidence in a colleague who is believed to have been in possession of those same documents for 2 years and yet never shared them with her or the rest of the cabinet. You can’t have it both ways; if the right thing for the opposition to do is to hand over the files for consideration then surely it was the right thing for Minister Shatter to have done?

Enda Kenny has expressed grave concern about the contents of the file he received from Micheál Martin. Watching him speaking I could not doubt the Taoiseach’s sincerity; he looked to me like a man who was indeed worried by what he had read. The Labour party now needs to know exactly what it is dealing with before this matter goes any further. If Minister Shatter has done nothing wrong then they need to be assured of this and see the evidence. If they are to defend him then they need to know exactly what the accusations are.

Some of you might remember the ‘passports for sale’ issue in the early ’90s. Without getting into the nuts and bolts, Albert Reynolds business had availed of a government scheme at the time whereby if somebody invested over £1 million in an Irish firm resulting in jobs etc then that person could apply for a passport. Reynolds maintained that his firm acted appropriately, followed the rules and there was no wrongdoing. The matter did cause huge controversy though and led to the end of the scheme. The Labour party at that time was placed in a very difficult position. In the midst of the media storm Albert Reynolds met with Dick Spring. He assured Spring that everything was above board. Then, to underline his point Reynolds told Spring he could have full access to the files and see for himself that everything was handled as it should be. To Reynolds shock, Spring replied that he had already sought and got the file and he was satisfied that there was no impropriety. Reynolds was pleased but he learned that Dick Spring was not a man to hang about. When Spring and the Labour party were under pressure they did not wait for invitations or explanations. Eamon Gilmore and his cabinet colleagues need to assure the wider Labour party that they know exactly what’s going on and that they are fully aware of all the contents of the file before the talk again.

In opposition Alan Shatter supported the formation of the Morris Tribunal into allegations of Garda impropriety in Donegal. At the time he said the ‘matters should not be left festering’. Yet there is little doubt the current allegations have festered and been dismissed by those in power. Shatter also maintained that without his work in opposition the Minister would never have held an investigation and the terms of reference would have been ‘deficient’. Yet the Minister is open to the same allegations in this regard today. At the report of the Morris Tribunal Shatter said that the delay in establishing it had ‘contributed personally to the damage done to the reputation of the Garda Síochána, to the public perception of that force and to the difficulties that continue to be experienced by individuals to whom this State has already had to pay compensation and to some of whom compensation payments remain to be made.’ The same accusation stands today.

Opposition parties call for resignations with ease. There is no doubt that if Labour was in Opposition they too would say Alan Shatter must resign. Equally if FF or SF were in power they would be desperately trying to establish the facts before throwing a colleague overboard. Nonetheless, the situation is a grave one. The Gardai as a force are being tarnished and damaged and it is a force that contains a huge number of great and brave men and women. Those who are doing their job well need to be protected and defended. Those who besmirch the name of the force should not be tolerated. The reaction to allegations thus far is simply not good enough. It stinks of an attitude where the powers that be wish people would just shut up rather than being grateful for the chance to root out malpractice.

The political storm will continue. The cabinet, and in particular the Labour party, must be full sure that they know everything before they are asked to leap from the trenches again.

How to spin the budget – a difficult political problem

The government has announced that the upcoming budget will see €2.5 billion taken out of the economy rather that the €3.1 billion that was originally targeted. They say the difference will be made up by resurgence in the Irish economy. That should sound like good news to us all.

For many weeks the figure mentioned around Leinster house was 2.8 billion so the extra reduction might signal some kind of victory for those proposing a somewhat easier budget. It allows a good news story today but it has some problems beneath the surface.

Firstly, the figure of €2.5 billion is certainly as low as the government can go without getting the troika and markets completely spooked. This means that the government is taking a bit of a political gamble. They had some options here. It could be argued that they should either cut or raise that little bit extra in order to give them a cushion in next year’s figures. It is very important that the budget figures do not go off track in the coming year and fail to meet targets as happened the last time we were in the markets. If this happens our so called return to the markets may be a short lived one.

Ireland is undoubtedly at the very limit of the austerity it can take and the government seems to have decided that it must ease this as much as it can right now and it could not afford banking anything for next year. It does mean that there is no wriggle room in these figures. Everything has to work out exactly as we predict. Unfortunately fate has not always been kind in that regard. Ireland is still at the mercy of the world economy. If things pick up there then Ireland can accelerate quickly, however if they don’t or if the world situation dips, Ireland suffers more than most.

So, a political decision has been taken and it may represent the government efforts to restore its image. Surely this is also good news for Labour? On the surface it is. There is another problem though. €2.5 billion still represents a lot of harsh cuts and taxes. The €600 million difference can look paltry by comparison. Then there is the problem of presentation. Today, labour and others can praise the fact that they eased the austerity. However, we don’t know what that easing represents. It is impossible to state now what cuts are off the table as a result of this change.

Once the budget is delivered people will be annoyed at how it affects them. Telling them it could have been even worse will not really appease that. Without being able to put extra services on, or reinstate services, then this €600 million becomes nothing more than an illusion to the voter. How does a government make a good news story on budget day? Picture the quote being ‘Yes we cut the number of teachers and will close some hospital services, but on the upside we could have been closing entire hospitals’. Doesn’t really work does it? In fact it makes you feel even worse and probably angrier.

Now the government has one short term advantage. In the modern age, Budget day itself is never as bad as we expect. We live in terror of it then we hear the headline figures and it doesn’t seem too bad. The implementation of those figures and the detail behind them only becomes apparent as the year progresses so we don’t feel the pain or anger until the budget is long over and we then start paying the price. This gives some breathing room to a government. Their main task must be to avoid a big ‘headline’ issue. Like the medical cards were for FF in the past. It must stop any single cut or tax raise causing consternation on the day. That is achieved by keeping them all a bit vague or else highly complex.

The problem with the upcoming budget is that Ireland is at its limit and the difference between €2.5 billion and €3.1 billion will be lost on many that the budget affects. The economy has been cut to the bone, services are threadbare, those on welfare are in danger of going under completely, those with mortgages are just hanging in there, those on low to middle income jobs have been squeezed so much they are ready to pop. Any move, however slight is going to hurt deep now. It wont be forgotten either.

The government will gamble that it can do this budget and the next 12 months will see a significant change in the economy and a glorious return to the markets. If it works then they can be well pleased. However, since this crisis began, every government decision has been hoping for a change in the next year. A few more stable figures and markets making demands, as opposed to the troika, might sound good to the politicians but it won’t make a jot of difference to the people. Unless it’s going to put money in their pocket they will find this hard to accept and it’s difficult to see any money arriving in pockets anytime soon.

In 1989 FF faced the country having spent the previous 2 years stabilising the economy. That government was widely regarded as having done a good job with a little help from FG in opposition. The figures were improving. FF however, lost seats, not many, but it still hurt. Despite their work, nobody cared because people were still suffering the pain. In 1992 the outgoing government was pointing to a big improvement in figures and economic growth. That election was decided by the question of trust, ethics, honesty and a desire for change. The slowly improving economy was still not putting enough money in pockets for people to forgive the government the things they held against them. In 1997, the outgoing government faced the people with the economy improving steadily, complete budgetary stability, ongoing improving growth and increased spending. They too were pushed aside as the debate raged about tax decreases and how to spend money now. In fact the only government to benefit from an economic boost was in 2002 and this was because it came at the very height of the boom when pain was a distant memory and good times were rolling. We are a long way from that point.

Anglo Tapes – Ireland, Banks, Politics, Has anything really changed?

The summer break can’t come quick enough for many politicians. It has been another long year. No doubt some will point to progress but the public are unlikely to be too convinced. When Brian Lenihan set out his four year plan many people were fuming and quite understandably so. The Lenihan plan set out four years of hardship and sacrifice and even at the end of that 4 years we were only to be looking at things stabilising. As it turns out that’s exactly the picture that’s emerging.

Now, that is not necessarily praiseworthy. The Irish people have suffered immensely for years now and the EU has been paralysed in acting. The EU that does hold the answers and can fix the problem whenever it gets around to sorting out its own petty differences and growing up enough to actually face the problem. In the meantime hapless governments in bailed out states are just trying to bob along like victims of a sunken ship desperately scanning the horizon for a rescue boat.

The Anglo Tapes will increase the fury of even the most level headed citizen. The attitude displayed on the tapes is appalling. While you and I and so many families, fall behind in our mortgages, struggle to pay the food bill and continue to sacrifice we are reminded, by these tapes, that some guys thought it would be ok to fool the state and have them pick up the tab. We are paying the price for a society that at its top level believed lying was ok, that it’s normal and that sharp practice is a victimless crime so long as the victim is only an ordinary punter. We are paying the price for a system that lauded such disregard of people. Perhaps we should not be surprised. A casual glance at TV programmes like the Apprentice seemed to show us that an attitude of being an obnoxious asshole was a pre-requisite to work in business.

We are paying the price for a regulatory system that was run on the cheap and believed that the people who know best about a business are those who run it. Don’t interfere. We are paying the price for a culture where the ‘providing of jobs’ was paramount and an excuse to allow a business free rein to do as it pleased, to breach rules or avoid paying simply because …well…think of the jobs.

Finally, we are paying the price for a political system that lacked courage or conviction. A system that accepted any information it was fed, that failed to question for years before the crisis. Politicians and government ministers stood in awe of the great captains of industry. A fool’s trust was exercised on golf courses and dinner functions where if someone says it’s ok then it must be ok. As David McWilliams continually points out we were suffering from extreme groupthink and nobody wanted to appear the fool in front of the group.

The problem is that I am not so sure that much has changed. The EU seems no closer to facing its issues, in fact the EU still seems to carry a candle of hope that the problems will go away themselves if the US and China sort it out and the bailed out states can eventually grow in their own time. The EU still does not want to lead and still procrastinates on any action while an option exists to stay put. The suffering of ordinary people does not matter, that is but a fleeting page in a history book that will instead focus on legacies and long term plans.
What about our banks? Have they learned? Definitely not. Their approach to their business remains the same as ever. Humility or regret is not part of their make up. The salaries at the top just prove that all believe that the world can and should continue as normal for them. This week thousands of mortgage holders are in distress. The banks have failed utterly and completely to engage, their plans for dealing with mortgage debt are hopelessly inadequate and the offer little or no real solutions that would allow the borrower to pay off arrears and get back on their feet. They are swamped in paperwork and hike up the interest and charges on the borrower while taking months to come to basic decisions on interest only payments etc which are in themselves pretty ineffective. Why is this? It’s because the banks want stronger rules on repossession and they are getting their way. That’s because it might take work to meet and discuss with mortgage holders and arrive at a solution. They don’t want that, they want a form filled in and put into a computer and rejected then move on. Mortgage holders are ordinary people, the banks are professionals, therefore when it comes to government policy, the banks get their way. Nothing has changed.

What about politics? Well I doubt anyone is shocked to find it’s the same old story. Fianna Fail took a hammering and we were told it was a sea change. It was a sea change for us political nerds. It was a sea change in terms of names of political movements. That was all. Brian Lenihan famously said ‘We all partied’, the quote, often taken out of context, was referring to all political parties whom he was accusing of making rash promises about the economy in order to get votes and he claimed all were guilty. All parties were. Fianna Fail were the ones at the wheel though and they must take the blame, they cannot look at the opposition or others and say ‘you made me do it’, they lacked courage to question, the lacked conviction and they were not brave enough to accept losing in order to do the right thing.

The current government must now accept its share of blame. It cannot continue saying ‘FF made us do it’. This government has also lacked conviction and belief, we know that there may not be much scope in terms of many policies, voters even accept that, but what has shocked them is the fact that the personality of the government is no different. In fact at times it has been even more arrogant, tied closer to business interests and displayed the same awe of those at the top as any of its predecessors. If politicians cannot look at the last government and see where that led what hope is there for us? Surely it’s now evident that long term governments are not naturally correct? That staying in power is not always the brave thing to do? That voting against what you believe does not automatically mean you are putting the country first?

According to the polls Labour will suffer most. It’s hardly surprising. What is surprising is that this party which showed such strength and conviction in opposition, being the only ones to vote against the bank guarantee, is now a party utterly lacking in belief or direction. No doubt some supporters will point to me of several things they are trying to achieve, the latest of which will be the ‘X’ legislation. I am unconvinced that the hard pressed voter will feel a labour capitulation on economic matters was worth it for ‘X’ legislation, but perhaps I’m wrong. It seems however that courage has deserted their ranks and instead they will await a good opportunity to change. No new leader will emerge to rock the boat until awkward elections are out of the way or difficult budgets are made. A strategy that’s nothing to do with what you actually think, nothing to do with bravery and nothing to do with the people, but everything to do with supposedly being politically smart. They should ring Bertie he might tell them where that leads.

Irish Politics, It’s like booking a holiday…

Ah yes, its summer. That time of year when we all start to head off on a holiday somewhere nice and sunny. Ireland is a country that’s badly in need of a holiday but if our political parties are the tour operators then that is where we start to have a problem.

You see we used to go on holiday with one tour operator for many years. This operator, Fianna Fail, gave us some very good holidays. They also gave us some bad experiences but in the main we were feeling ok, especially in recent times when we went to some lovely destinations. They normally partnered with a smaller local operator for tours and they often had to change these and told us that any problems were down to them. These smaller local operators (PDs and Greens) did not fill us with confidence but we went along with them as part of the package.

It was all fine until a few holidays ago. We wanted a real break and felt we deserved it. We decided to treat ourselves and go to Barbados. It wasn’t cheap but Fianna Fail told us it was well within our reach so what the hell? We work hard, now it was time to relax and enjoy it. The problem was when we got off the plane we were not in Barbados we were in….Bratislava. We quickly mentioned that there must be a mistake, but to our surprise, instead of sorting it out and finding us another flight out, the tour reps smiled and shrugged saying ‘We are where we are, you might as well try to enjoy it’. Well, we now felt like right tools walking around in our floral shirts and Bermuda shorts in Bratislava. There wasn’t even a pool. When we asked the local operator, the Greens, if there was anything for us to do or see here, they looked at us blankly and said ‘We never intended to end up here either’. It was the most miserable holiday of our lives and we swore never, ever again. Fianna Fail had broken our trust and no matter what went before, this was a disaster too far. On the flight home, FF ditched the guys who sold us the holiday and put up an ‘under new management’ sign, but it was too little too late. We marched into them and told them we were taking our business away for good. That felt great at the time, but it’s almost a little scary that as we plan this year’s holiday we are starting to feel like we may have no option but to go back to them. Why? Oh well that’s because of last years holiday.

You see we decided to get away from FF and went to another company we had holidayed with the odd time FG/Labour. Now we had some bad experiences with them 30 years ago but it was all changed now, they had proven themselves fairly solid. We also remembered the some good holidays we had spent in their company. At least they never had the utter disaster we experienced with the whole Bratislava business. FG/Labour were very eager for our business. That felt good too. They had special health insurance, a 5 point plan for a good holiday, handy checklists, and they told us we could start paying into a holiday fund month by month and then choose our destination when the time came. It was perfect. If we saved hard we could be on our way to Barbados soon. Finally after much saving in the holiday fund, they sent out the brochure with this years options. It was a rather flimsy affair. We had saved all our money with them and now they tell us there is only one destination this year…..Bratislava. We were very angry. We went into the office and demanded an explanation as to why they had told us so much was possible. They just smiled broadly and said ‘Oh but it is, its all still possible…just not yet….new destinations will be coming on stream in the next 5 to 10 years just stick with us’. We tried pointing out that they didn’t tell us this at the time but it was no use. We ask if at least the new health insurance is on offer……they smile ‘Oh it will be..it will be…eventually’. We point out that everything in the Bratislava holiday is exactly what FF had given us the last time but the soothe us as they walk us dejectedly out of the office by saying ‘Ah but yes, the difference is this time you are not travelling with FF, the last time you thought you were going to Barbados, at least this time we told you before you got on the plane? Isn’t that so much better?’

Perhaps we were being harsh. Maybe Bratislava would be fun. But it wasn’t, it was the same old thing as the year before and we felt even more cheated. We went to the local operator, Labour, to see if they had at least got some exciting day trips, only they told us no, apparently FG had not accounted for any of their things in the price and that they were not allowed bring us anywhere, it was a matter to take up with FG. Bloody marvellous. The only difference this year was we had a jumper on and that was about as much comfort as we could take. We began to idly wonder if FF had learned a lesson, but we seriously doubted it.

So where to next? Well there’s a few people endlessly talking about setting up a new tour operator but they just don’t seem to be able to organise themselves. There is another sizeable company Sinn Fein. The problem with these guys is that they do the extreme holidays. They are the company we went with when we finished the Leaving Cert or after first year exams in college. They are great for the under 25s. They do all the radical stuff. The problem is we don’t really want that kind of holiday anymore. Sure it was all great fun at the time but now we like something a bit more relaxed and stable. We didn’t care at 18 but now we have bills and responsibilities and we were never quite convinced that the Insurance policy SF offered, should something go wrong, was really adequate. There were stories from years ago about people that never came back but at least they appeared to have sorted all that out now. Still though, we are a bit long in the tooth to going extreme snowboarding in Tibet. Now maybe if SF partnered with FG or FF and we got a more normal destinations and a bit more relaxing but with better service then we might consider it. However SF told us they don’t do partnerships so it’s off the agenda for now.

We had friends who went with some independent operators. These were fairly ok but the problem is it’s a lot of work. Its like booking from Dublin to London with one operator, then he gives you a number of a fella to ring when you get there and he can get you from London to Paris, then he has a number for a guy that might put you up for a few nights before another guy can get you a connecting flight to somewhere else. Its all a bit disorganised and you don’t really get looked after the way we want. It’s a bit like backpacking around the world on your own steam. Its grand and you manage it and end up with great stories to tell, but in reality at this stage of life we don’t have time for that craic and have long thrown out our rucksacks.

So maybe we should forget holidays and just stay at home until the operators sort themselves out. Maybe we should return to FF crossing our fingers that they have learned and are not going to laugh heartily as the drop us in outer Mongolia, maybe we should stick with the guys we have now, FG/Lab, see if they come good on their word eventually? Even if they are about as much excitement as a sleepover at Danas house. Or maybe we cud risk the SF or Independent route and relive our youth? Ah who are we kidding? They all have the same governing body, the troika, and their idea of a holiday for us is a two night midweek in Tubbercurry.

Fiscal Compact Treaty debate far from enlightening

Today in the Irish Independent Online I take a look at the debate of the referendum on RTE’s ‘Frontline’ programme. Sad to say but for me the debate was very much a disappointment……….

http://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/johnny-fallon-frontline-debate-ill-find-out-more-about-the-treaty-watching-jedward-tonight-3116518.html

Labour, National Conference – a party deep in thought

Today in the Irish Independent online I look back at the Labour party conference at the weekend and the mood of delegates. No doubt Labour can see the need for tough decisions but they are not utterly convinced that all the decisions taken are the right ones

http://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/johnny-fallon-a-sense-at-the-labour-conference-of-a-party-wrestling-with-its-conscience-3081872.html

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