Archive for the ‘Irish politics’ Category


Notes on a Treaty

In Euro,Irish politics,Media,Political reform,Uncategorized on April 26, 2012 by shaneheneghan Tagged: , , , ,

The following are a few notes on the upcoming referendum from a frustrated expat who shall be unable to vote due to the lack of provision for overseas citizens. To add insult to injury, it appears I shall be unable to register for Belgian elections, despite Belgium having manifold levels of government and despite still being expected to pay for this extravagance via my taxes. I am still waiting for confirmation on this. I digress.

The Irish republic will vote on the new stability agreement at the end of next month. A tumultuous and hard campaign is imminent.

All commentary on the treaty must occur in context. This treaty does NOT provide a new set of rules; it merely provides a means of enforcing rules that were agreed and ratified by the nations of Europe in the Maastricht treaty (TEU) over 20 years ago.

Where these rules have been strictly adhered to (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Luxembourg have consistently stayed within the parameters) unemployment remains low and growth is steady. In short, the rules work.

Many on the hard left say that this treaty outlaws expansionist Keynesian economics through stringent borrowing controls. This overlooks in a broad stroke of breath taking general ignorance the fact that a sovereign state might be able to earn its own capital as opposed to perpetually borrowing and deferring payment until a later date. There is plenty of room for Keynesianism if one can pay for it. Running amok with the national credit card is no longer an option. One need only look at what happened when Fianna Fail won the 1977 General election with a manifesto dripping with fiscal lunacy to see the folly of such policies. The national debt sky-rocketed and in the following decade unemployment hit 20% as the economy faltered.

In a perfect world, all governments would spend counter cyclically. That is to say they would save money when times are good and spend it when times are bad. Had the Irish state saved a couple of hundred million in the recent boom and spent it on the construction industry this year think how many people they could employ. Furthermore, given the fall in labour costs in this sector, think how much further this money would go.

Put simply, as any good home maker knows, it is always preferable to save for something then it is to buy on credit.

The hard left, it would seem, can see no way of growing a state’s economy other than borrowing. 20th century history shows where this extensive sovereign borrowing leads.

My former colleague, Brendan Halligan makes the very valid point that there shall be fiscal austerity in Ireland either way. Voting yes may not seem palatable in light of the above; it will allow smoother access to future bailouts and send a signal to the broader world that the republic still has a stable relationship with Brussels.

I dread what I fear may be an onslaught of jingoism and “them v us” rhetoric in this campaign. For reasons like the one I have outlined above I believe we should ratify this treaty. When I say “we” I of course mean we the people of Europe must put our shoulder to the wheel and protect our common currency.

I will end on a note of consensus. Unlike previous European agreements voted upon, this will be distributed to the populace in printed form, for free, and long in advance of the vote. It is essential that anyone wishing to make an informed decision read it in full.



Against the Senate

In Irish politics,Irish Senate,Political reform,Seanad on January 20, 2012 by shaneheneghan

At some time this year, voters in the Irish republic will be asked whether or not they wish to scrap the Senate and switch to a unicameral model of parliamentary democracy.

This has provoked outrage from many amongst the Irish political elite who have referred to the measure as knee jerk populism. There is a general consensus at the moment that the political system is broken. That it may have played a part to bringing the republic to the current economic crisis would seem to prove this. Cutting out an entire chamber from the political system seems rather crude on the surface, but should definitely be examined as an option.

The proposal’s detractors say the house should be reformed and not scrapped and that there is always value in a second chamber in a democracy.  I beg to differ. Allow me, for a moment, to indulge my Scandophilia. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland frequently finish in the world’s top ten list for lack of political corruption, transparency, female and minority representation and press freedom. All of them bar Iceland have a bigger population than Ireland and all of their polities function with a unicameral system – one chamber, no senate. To the best of my knowledge, there is no movement in any of these countries to bring in an upper house. In fact, Iceland got rid of theirs in the early 1990s and hasn’t looked back since.

The cry remains that the house can be made relevant by reform.  Every manner of suggestion has been made, from letting Irish expats have representation to representation for unions and other interest groups. How on earth could consensus be reached on reform in these circumstances?

Supporters of the senate say that unlike the Dáil, the focus of all the members of the house is on national issues and not local or “parish pump” issues.  There are simpler more effective and cheaper solutions to this this. Firstly, local government could be made more powerful. With no direct tax raising measures Irish local government is one of the weakest in Europe. Turning local councils into effective forums for local issues thus reducing the demand of local issues on national representatives is surely sensible.

The second idea is to introduce a list or partial list system for parliamentary elections. This would insure that a certain section of TDs would have been elected on a national mandate and would, presumably, be appointed by their respective parties to cabinet or frontbench. As they would not have a local constituency to deal with, this would allow the deputies in question to focus energy on their briefs.

There is also the belief that the Senate gives a platform to those in public life who would not normally be elected. The classic case in point is gay rights campaigner Senator David Norris. I see no reason why Norris would not be elected as part of an “independent” list as outlined above. But at the heart of this argument is a belief that broad ranging societal problems can be solved with tokenism. For example, the problem of the electorates supposed reluctance to elect a homo can easily be solved by putting one in the Senate. This is a band aid solution in the most Irish sense of the phrase.

The Senate costs the taxpayer about €60 million per annum and gives little benefit in return. It can do little more than hold up legislation by fourteen days or so.

I believe the Senate should be scrapped. I say this as a registered and active senate voter. I support the Government’s proposed referendum.