Archive for the ‘Political reform’ Category

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Blunt on Baku

In Political reform,Uncategorized on May 8, 2012 by shaneheneghan Tagged: , , , ,

One of my favourite little anecdotes from the history of the Eurovision Song Contest has to be the story of Karl Pihelgas. Piheglas risked imprisonment and loss of employment in the former Soviet Union due to his fanaticism for Eurovision. In the 1970s and 1980s he was President of Estonia’s Eurovision fan club. It says a lot about the sheer paranoia of the communist régime at the time that such organisations were officially listed as illegal and treasonous. For Karl and his friends gathering to watch the contest every year on a homemade satellite dish was a little bit more than an annual fete of glitter and key changes, it was a glimpse of the democratic world and a beacon of hope. Heaven knows it’s probably un healthy how much I love this contest, but I think I might draw the line at risking prison time for it. When the contest was first held in a democratic Estonia ten years ago, Karl was given special recognition in the audience shortly before transmission and rightly so.

So what can be said for that same beacon of hope now in 2012 as the contest is yet again held in a former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan? Already, we have heard how the EBU seems to avoid criticism of the country’s less than glowing record on freedom of expression and, perhaps yet more worryingly given the demographic that Eurovsion appeals to, on LGBT rights. It would appear to those who seek democratic reform in Baku that Eurovision and perhaps by extension Europe itself is endorsing repressive government policy by refusing to comment upon it. Armenia, a traditional foe of Azerbaijan has withdrawn as they say they simple cannot trust Azeri assertions on their delegation’s security.

There were warning signs that this was not a good idea many months ago. There is provision in the rules of the contest for the EBU to withdraw the offer of hosting the contest should preparations be less than satisfactory- in my opinion this should have been invoked due to the situations as outlined in the links above and the offer given to the country that came 2nd last year (Italy). Calls from fans and others for this to happen largely fell on deaf ears.

It is just another example of the control-freakery we’ve seen from the EBU around the contest in general in the past few years. The host broadcaster, for example, is more restricted than ever before in terms of what they can and cannot do. It is widely believed a few years ago for example, that when Norwegian television wanted to use the services of the world reknowned NRK Kirekskastingorkestriet to provide backing to entries that the EBU rejected the idea immediately. But I digress – don’t get me started on the live music question!

What’s to be done? Fans attending the contest from Europe should co-opearte with Azeri dissidents and gay rights activists as best they can. There is precedence for this from Moscow 2009. The media attending this year would do us all a service if they reported on what life is like there in general as well as the state of the Swedish singers frock. The media can shine a light on what the Baku government would like to be kept in darkness and who knows what may happen.

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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.

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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.