BACK IN 1987, the UCC sociologist, JP O’Carroll published a piece in Irish Political Studies with the iconoclastic title Strokes, Cute Hoors and Sneaking Regarders: The Influence of Local Culture on Irish Political Style. In this article O’Carroll posited the view that the notion of community in Ireland was best seen as a set of locally shared attitudes to place, territory, property, time and language.
He went on to argue that Irish politics was more an exercise in expressiveness than an expression of choice and that such expressiveness was manifested in the assertion of inherited loyalties and partisanship where Ireland was full of politicians, or cute hoors, able to pull strokes on behalf of a grateful public full of sneaking regarders. By its tendency to limit choice, political culture Irish style contravened the first two characteristics of modern democracy, the possibility of open discussion and the exercise of individual will and consent. Ireland wasn’t really a democracy at all. It was a country in which you were for Fianna Fáil or you weren’t
The great genius of Eamon de Valera lay in his recognition of what was needed by the body politic at the time of independence: identity-building, and in the use of the most appropriate tool, the rhetoric of community, to achieve it. De Valera’s rhetoric not only created a national political community by using an image of Ireland as a parish at large, he also built a most effective political machine for the creation and expansion of political power. This political machine, once the most successful in Western Europe, now lies in ruins but is not dead yet and in fact is threatening a comeback. Historically Fianna Fáil saw itself as more of a political monument than a political party and through this monument had created a strong moral sense of community for itself. Coalition was an anathema. ‘Moral Community’, the term coined by John Healy in 1983, highlighted the exceptionally strong pull of Fianna Fáil for its members – with Healy even suggesting that it substituted for sex in the case of many of Fianna Fáil’s celibate supporters. Those who defected from Fianna Fáil in the 1980s were apostates as outside the party there was no salvation.
The trouble was that the chief of this tribe, Charles J Haughey, did not seem to view the national monument in much the same way as the members of his tribe. Single-party government was jettisoned on the altar of maintaining Fianna Fáil government. That Fianna Fáil’s first experiment with coalition government should be in partnership with the apostates from the PDs suggests that for the elected members of the national monument, political survival meant much more than membership of a moral, pure community; a community that was now infected from outside by those who had once been part of the said same community. Fianna Fáil had been able to penetrate very deep into the Irish bureaucracy precisely because it had practically a near monopoly on public office for close to 70 years and had by its own success, to use Tom Garvin’s words, ‘generated social categories in its own image’.
This then allowed them to pull strokes on behalf of the sneaking regarders who subsequently and continually rewarded them at the ballot box. Going into coalition fundamentally changed the nature of Irish politics but Fianna Fáil as the largest party in coalitions with first the PDs, then Labour, back to the PDs, and lastly the Greens was as the dominant party still able to claim the allegiance of the 40 per cent who always voted for it. Moreover Fianna Fáil’s embrace of coalition politics also promised for them the possibility of permanent government. After all they had received the most votes in every election they had ever fought.
Then came the economic crash. There has long been a view held by practically all sections of Irish society that Fianna Fáil had an especially close relationship with property developers and the construction industry. This was particularly important in relation to planning decisions where county councillors charged with deciding on land rezoning were continuously and vigorously lobbied by property developers. The political consequence of the economic mayhem in Ireland caused by the reckless lending of the banks to property developers was the collapse of Fianna Fáil’s popularity. The sneaking regarders took a heavy revenge at the ballot box, reducing Fianna Fáil to 20 seats and 17 per cent of the vote. The electorate was promised a new style of politics. Political reform became a dominant theme of the 2011 general election. The era of stroke politics was over.
But it hasn’t worked out that way. Political reform is but a chimera. The farce that has become the Constitutional Convention is but a singular example of this. A third of the convention are to be elected politicians, and of the remaining 66 we now found that these citizens can remain anonymous so as not to be influenced by lobbying groups. Moreover their itinerary is disappointingly small. And over and above all this stroke politics has re-entered the lexicon of Irish politics once more, as Minister for Health Dr James Reilly cannot adequately explain how he came to add extra towns including two in his own constituency to the list of areas being considered for a new primary care centre.
So has Fine Gael simply replaced Fianna Fáil in the Strokes, Cute Hoors and Sneaking Regarders stakes? Has anything really changed in Ireland over the course of our country’s independence? Have we as a country simply accepted that this is the way politics always has worked and always will work? Notwithstanding the kicking given to Fianna Fáil in 2011, is Irish politics doomed to repeat its mistakes as the electorate seeks to reward those who give it favours? We were promised that this wouldn’t be the case during the general election – but the evidence of the Reilly case suggests otherwise.
Gary Murphy is Associate Professor of Politics and Head of the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University.
The Budget will contain revenue raising measures amounting to €1.25bn, and cuts in spending amounting to €2.25bn.
It is the second budget of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and the fifth austerity budget in a row.
Mr Noonan will begin at 2.30pm and his speech, expected to last around 45 minutes, will focus on revenue raising measures.
It will be followed by a similar contribution from Labour’s Brendan Howlin who will outline spending cuts.
Throughout the afternoon there will be briefing sessions at which individual ministers will outline the implications for their departments.
The first vote is due just after tea time.
It has published comparative figures on staffing levels in Ireland compared to their UK counterparts, and say they have also drawn together international evidence that confirms a reduction in nurse staffing levels “negatively affects patient care in terms of higher mortality rates, increased adverse events such as patient falls, medication and transfusion errors, and delays in treatment.”
It also found that inadequate staffing is associated with longer lengths of stay and increased rates of readmission, both of which lead to increased healthcare costs. It says that this research “showed that poor staffing levels increase the risk of burnout amongst nurses which in turn increases the risk of poorer patient care”.
The figures show that in elderly care wards in Ireland, there were 121.87 less total care hours available on the ward per week, compared to the UK. On medical wards, there was 131.25 less hours per week in comparison, while in surgical wards there was a deficit of 225 total care hours compared to the UK.
Admissions and assessment units had two less staff on at every part of the day compared to their equivalent in the UK.
Speaking today, INMO General Secretary, Liam Doran said that all of this evidence, coupled with the inquiry into deaths at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust which found that the period investigated was characterised by cuts in staff and changes in skills ratios, “cannot be left unchallenged”.
Our members, without exception, are under unbearable pressure striving to provide safe practice and safe care to their patients/clients.
It is now time for the Minister for Health and the Government to take stock, look at the evidence which confirms our staffing levels are unacceptably low and to acknowledge that where there are poor staffing levels, patients suffer. They must, once and for all, lift the recruitment ban on frontline staff and put the ‘health’ back into the health service.
Doran said that the INMO will now be seeking an early meeting with the Oireachtas Committee on Health to present to them the results of this comparative study, together with the international research findings of the value of a registered nurse.
It will call upon them to initiate a process leading to safe nurse patient ratios in all areas of the Irish health care system.
One of the more substantial achievements of this government has been to burnish the reputation of Fianna Fáil which, we had believed, had been consigned to well-deserved oblivion by the outcome of the 2011 election. By Vincent Browne.
As the coalition resolutely persists in its ineptitude, Fianna Fáil doesn’t seem that bad in retrospect.
A disapproval rating of 73% for the Government is fairly decisive. A rating (voting intentions) of 21% for Fianna Fáil is not at all decisive, but it is a significant improvement on the party’s election showing (17%).
But Fianna Fáil will struggle to improve, not because of the calibre of its Dáil representation, or even the memory of the damage it did in government (although that will be hard to live down for a decade or more), but because it doesn’t have enough credible candidates to win seats. The next local elections won’t rectify that.
Fianna Fáil back in office might be, next time round, a little more competent than the present crowd, but essentially no different – as the present crowd are essentially no different to their predecessors.
Much of the damage to the government is self-inflicted, beginning with reckless election promises when Fine Gael feared that Labour might overtake it, and Labour thought there was a prospect of Eamon Gilmore becoming Taoiseach. Fine Gael promised there would be no increases in income tax. Labour promised it would be “Labour’s way”, not “Frankfurt’s way”, and that social welfare payments and the Croke Park deal would be left untouched.
More harm was self-inflicted by wild claims of success, such as Enda Kenny and Gilmore on the supposed deal on the bank debt in June and both of them, along with Michael Noonan and others, about growth returning to the economy.
It remains in the deep doldrums, with falling employment and, alarmingly, rising emigration. More appalling still have been the cuts seemingly targeted at the worst-off, the most egregious of the pending ones being to home help.
And then, of course, there is the James Reilly debacle.
But there has been nothing like the harm that is about to be inflicted with the introduction of the property tax. There will be outrage, some of it justified (such as in the case of those who paid massive stamp duty when buying property immediately before the collapse, and where it affects poorer people).
Most of this outrage is unjustified, because of the culture of low tax that was engendered – by Fianna Fáil in its 14 years in office, and by Fine Gael and Labour during their 14 years in opposition, during which time they berated Fianna Fáil for not indulging this culture even more.
The primary difficulty faced by this government, and by Labour in particular, is the settled conviction of much of the electorate, which Fine Gael would not wish to disturb, but Labour should want to disturb.
That conviction is manifest in part by the “certainties” that we already pay too much tax; that a large part of public expenditure is squandered on extensive social welfare fraud; that significant savings can be achieved through cutting back the number of public representatives, abolishing the Senate and slashing the pay of overpaid public servants; and that an equal society is effectively unworkable.
Nobody in politics challenges these “certainties”. In particular, nobody argues for a radical redistribution of wealth and income, bar the left, which presents redistribution in terms of retribution – which, to most people, is just off-putting.
Part of the reason for this settled conviction is that our political system is driven by greed for office.
The political establishment and the media see the attainment of office as the point of politics, even though holding office does not bring the power to change much, because office-holders are constrained by the prevailing mindset of the electorate. It is through challenging and changing mindsets that power is attained, and that change happens.
It is not that politicians are universally venal, for almost all want to act in what they perceive as the national interest. But there is almost always a happy coincidence between their perception of the national interest and what it takes to gain and retain office. Throughout the boom years, nobody was going to gain office by challenging the driving force of the Celtic tiger, as people’s mindsets had bought into a culture of indulgent self-interest. That mindset is now settled. Without a prolonged counter-assault on the prevailing conviction, little can be achieved or changed.
Those impatient for power have little interest in prolonging anything that will keep them from office. But in gaining office, they find that, fatally, they are constrained by that prevailing conviction and forced to do as before. Just as Fianna Fáil did – and would do now, if they were back in office.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny donned a leprechaun outfit and shiny brogues in an effort to affect the outcome of a meeting with Angela Merkel where he outlined the desperate and pathetic state of the country which he believed had a “Fiscalholic” financing problem, “basically a disease” that was “genetic, so not really our fault, technically”.
In a move described as “Economic Trick or Treating”, Kenny approached Merkel with the hypothetical situation that if a retroactive bank bailout – or “treat” – was not forthcoming, a chronic and grinding European financial meltdown – or “trick” – would take place thanks to the jaw-droppingly large amounts of debt amassed by the state and the bone-headed repeat-performances of unwise investment and fiscal eejitry shown by the government and Irish citizens since the initial bust.
“We’re lost – we’re still all desperately buying small houses in the middle of nowhere for €400k. I see it as being like an abusive relationship, with the Irish people representing the battered wife, but also the abusive husband who – in a way – batters himself to punish himself for cheating on himself with himself – on himself but, also, TO himself WITH himself…if you get me.”
“BY himself, as well” he added.
An exciting new venture in Westmeath’s bustling Zombie District
“I just laid it all out for Angela and the Leprechun outfit really hammered my point home. I told her about our “Fiscalholic” nature and that our problems with money were down to a “disease” and that it wasn’t our fault, and to leave us off. I said that we were basically sound and just wanted to have the craic and that the weather was bad here all the time and all our kids are going to Australia and we’ll probably have another bad winter and that the roads needed mending. I told her about Mick Wallace, who doesn’t pay tax because he doesn’t want to, and nothing happens. I then told her about how it was Fianna Fáil‘s fault and the unions were at me and that the hospital consultants all laughed at me for driving an ’09 car.”
“I said that, really, if Europe wants to stay viable, she should make an effort to stem Irish emigration. We just show up and puke everywhere. That really made her think”.
Kenny did a series of forward-flips to round out his presentation to the German Chancellor who then clapped and whooped as the Taoiseach threw out chocolate Euros from a plastic “pot o’ gold” in a display of extreme irony
SOME 30,000 printed copies of the children’s rights referendum Bill will have to be pulped after a misprint suggested the proposed constitutional amendment related to the article protecting the right to life.
The copies erroneously stating an amendment to article 40 of the Constitution was proposed were sent to post offices across the country so they could be made available to members of the public.
Article 40 is of particular concern to anti-abortion campaigners because it contains a statement that the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn.
The referendum actually proposes to insert article 42A, entitled Children, into the Constitution, aiming to protect children at risk and make it easier for the children of married parents to be adopted.
A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment confirmed that about 30,000 copies of the Bill containing the misprint had been distributed after a “limited” print run took place.
“There was an issue and the printers will rectify the situation as soon as possible. The correct version of the Bill will be circulated to all post offices in the coming days,” she said.
The spokeswoman insisted there would be no cost to the taxpayer and said new versions would be produced “at the printer’s expense”.
She said the error was in the title page and the text of the Bill was correct, while the correct version was available to view on the Oireachtas website.
Fianna Fáil Senator Jim Walsh, a long-time “pro-life” campaigner, said he had been contacted by people who spotted the error. “It certainly caused alarm, particularly among people who would be concerned about amendments being made to article 40,” said Mr Walsh.
However, he accepted the error was an “honest mistake”.
She said that the figures were “staggering” and “pretty incredible” – as she defended her plans to get employers to contribute more to the sick pay bill.
Ms Burton said that there were now 300,000 people in total receiving either illness benefit or disability allowance – which represents 16 per cent of the working age population. And she said that this number had increased by 100,000 people over the past decade when the country was at the most prosperous point in its history.
“How did Fianna Fail manage to put an extra 100,000 people on some sort of illness or disability payment? Because these are staggering figures,” she said.
She was speaking in the Dail as Fianna Fail brought a motion calling on her to halt her “job-destroying statutory sick pay scheme”. Currently, the state pays the cost of sick leave for workers who are absent for more than three days. But Ms Burton is now planning to get employers to cover the cost of up to month’s sick leave taken by their workers to save up to €89m from the annual €847m illness bill. She told the Dail that Ireland required employers to contribute far less to sick pay than in other European countries.
Fianna Fail enterprise spokesman Dara Calleary said his party was going to warn businesses about this new “Burton Burden”.
“This new cost burden will be seen as a tax on jobs and will have most effect on smaller, more vulnerable employers, operating in low-margin businesses,” he said.
Mr Calleary said that even a member of Ms Burton’s own party, Labour Senator John Whelan, had warned that her changes could push many small and medium enterprises “over the edge”.
Ms Burton had to withdraw her plan to change the sick pay system before last year’s Budget after strong opposition from Jobs Minister Richard Bruton. Several Fine Gael TDs have again warned that it will lead to increased costs for businesses and job losses.
Laughing all the way to the bank
TWENTY-SIX former politicians who are earning pensions of more than €100,000 a year are escaping a super tax because of a legal loophole.
Former Fianna Fail ministers Charlie McCreevy, Dermot Ahern, Noel Dempsey, John O’Donoghue, Joe Walsh, Michael Woods and Martin Cullen — and former Progressive Democrats leader Mary Harney — are among those not having to pay the 20pc tax.
Another is former Fianna Fail minister Ray Burke, who was convicted of tax evasion.
The loophole arises because the higher rate applies only if a single pension is worth more than €100,000 but not if the politician is getting a number of pensions with a combined value above that level.
“It’s obviously unfair otherwise on the people who are paying it. The impression was given last year that it would be all office holders,” she said.
Ms Tuffy said she was in favour of a higher income tax on people earning over €100,000 in the forthcoming Budget rather than singling out former ministers again for heavier taxes.
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has introduced an amendment to close the loophole by the end of the year.
It will allow the pension levy to be applied to all the combined pensions of a former office holder. A department spokeswoman said that all public bodies would be requested to supply the PPS numbers and pension payments of those with multiple pensions.
She said the department would then calculate the new higher pension levy and apply it.
Mr Howlin has said that the estimated savings for the new rate already was €400,000 per year — when the impact on retired judges, former semi-state chief executives and former secretaries-general is taken into account.
Mr Ahern and Mr Cowen are paying a total pension levy of around €11,000 each on their TDs‘ and ministerial pensions, leaving them with pensions of €111,235 each. But if their TDs’ pensions and ministers pensions were combined together, their pension levy bill would rise by up to €7,000 extra.
This is because they will only be able to claim one exemption from the public sector pension levy — rather than the present arrangement of one for each pension.
It means just six senior politicians are paying the super levy this year — which is in stark contrast to what was expected when it was announced by the Government last November.
At the time, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said that “everyone had to burden-share” at a time of financial emergency.
Those paying the extra levy are former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen, Albert Reynolds and John Bruton, who all have ministerial pensions worth more than €100,000 even before their TD pensions are counted.
Former presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson are also paying the new super levy on their presidential pensions. But former health minister Mary Harney is escaping the super levy because she has a TD’s pension of around €50,000 and a ministerial pension of €79,000.
Another in this category is former finance minister Charlie McCreevy, who has a TD’s pension of around €50,000 and a ministerial pension of €69,000.
Others who are not being hit include former Fianna Fail Junior Minister Frank Fahey, former PD Junior Minister Bobby Molloy and former Labour leader Dick Spring.
These ministers do have to pay the public service pension levy, but not at the higher 20pc rate, which kicks in at €100,000.
The information on those being hit by the levy was supplied by the Department of Public Expenditure to Labour Dublin-Mid West TD Joanna Tuffy. She called for the closure of the loophole.
The survey puts Fianna Fáil as the second most popular party, a position it hasn’t held for more than two years.
Yet the Communications Minister says they cannot be taken seriously.
“I find it very difficult to take Fianna Fáil seriously, given that the major issue that confronts the country is economic recovery.
“I’d rather take advice on my tax returns from Mick Wallace than take advice from Fianna Fáil on the economy. I really don’t take it too seriously.”
[Shell to Sea] It’s a damning indictment of Irish media that most of the media referring to the Irish oil and gas give away recently is from across the water.
Discovery of oil off the southwest cost of Ireland has prompted talk of it being great news for the Irish economy. It could certainly do with some. But the announcement that known oil reserves are commercially recoverable is unlikely to offer any great boon to the economy as a whole. There may be a bonanza, but it will be only for a small coterie of Irish banking, property and oil tycoons who continue to benefit from the state’s largesse while most of the population struggles in the fifth consecutive year of economic slump.
There is a long history of pillage of Ireland’s natural resources, beginning with England’s deforestation of the country for its navy. More recently, domestic politicians have continued that trend. The disgraced former energy minister Ray Burkewas in office when Fianna Fáil granted extraordinarily favourable oil exploration licences to oil companies. The former head of Enterprise Energy Ireland, Brian O’Cathain, is reported to have said that some oil developers, such as Shell, will pay no royalties at all for the lucrative Corrib field, worth up to €10bn, and elected representatives have called on the current Fine Gael/Labour party coalition government to reverse the deal, so far without success.
The troika of EU, IMF and European Central Bank have insisted that Irish taxpayers bail out bondholders in failed Irish banks even while the domestic economy continues to contract. The domestic troika, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour, continue to insist there is no alternative.
Providence Resources, which made the recent announcement about the oil reserves, also benefits from exceptionally low tax rates and the facility to write any exploration costs against tax. It is like being reimbursed for buying lottery tickets until one or more is a winner. Except that finding oil in Ireland’s offshore has long been a certainty, and the elevated price of oil now makes exploration highly profitable.
The chief executive of Providence, Tony O’Reilly Jr, explicitly hopes to emulate the British experience. This seems unlikely for two reasons. The tax rates for North Sea oil at the time of commercial exploitation ranged from 50% to 75%, and the major oil companies in Britain, such as BP, also owned “downstream” businesses of refining and selling oil commercially, which protected them against fluctuations in the oil price. In contrast, without the necessary investment in refineries, the virtually untaxed developers in Irish waters may not even bring the oil onshore to Ireland.
But the North Sea oil boom under Thatcher is hardly a model of sustainable growth. Then, government oil revenues allowed an earlier version of austerity (then labelled “monetarism”) to be followed by tax cuts and the profligacy of the “Lawson boom“. Now that Britain is once more an oil importer, latter-day Thatcherites who imagine the Tory triumphs of the 1980s can be repeated are living in a fantasy. There is no positive legacy for Britain of the North Sea oil boom.
This week’s events show another model is possible. Hugo Chávez’s victory marks him as one of the few leaders anywhere to be re-elected since the global economic crisis began. Venezuela has had very large oil revenues for decades, but only since his government took control of the industry, away from foreign multinationals and local oligarchs, has the wealth it creates been distributed among the population. Unlike Ireland, and all the countries implementing “austerity”, poverty in Venezuela is declining, healthcare and education improving and the economy is growing. If Ireland is to benefit from an oil boom it needs to look to Chávez, not to Thatcher.