The Irish government is halfway through its Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Presidency Programme targets “stability, jobs and growth” and picks a round of “fights”, namely: the fight against poverty, the fight against hunger, the fight against the effects of climate change, and the fight against tax evasion and tax fraud.
The fight against poverty
In the ‘fight against poverty’, the programme makes reference to the Europe 2020 Strategy, which aims to lift 20 million people out of the risk of poverty or social exclusion by 2020. No mention is made of the fact that, last year, the Irish government reduced its target from eliminating consistent poverty by 2016, to reducing it to 4% by 2016. The European Anti-Poverty Network expressed alarm at this reduction. In its key message on the overall target, the organisation said: “Austerity policies are generating poverty and undermining an inclusive recovery.” Far from reducing poverty, European and Irish policy, through austerity, is concentrating wealth and thereby increasing poverty. Ireland, at the helm of the EU, is presiding over poverty.
The EU, which often praises its own role in international development, need not look beyond its own borders to see widespread poverty. 24% of the EU27 population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion (approximately 120 million people) and up from 23% the previous year. At 38%, Ireland has the highest rate of children at risk in Western Europe and the fifth highest of the EU27. The Irish League of Credit Unions ‘What’s Left’ surveys are important indicators in the Irish media and have been ‘noted’ by the Troika. The latest of these, based on December 2012, showed that 61% of people have less than €100 left at the end of the month once essential bills are paid, 36% have less than €50 and 20% have nothing at all. Another survey showed that 56% of Irish homes have been forced into debt to pay household bills.
The CSO’s Survey in Income and Living Conditions demonstrates that almost one quarter of the population, over one million people, experienced two or more types of deprivation in 2011. These types of deprivation include: unable to afford to replace any worn out items of furniture, without heating at some stage in the last year, and unable to afford a roast one a week. This poverty has manifested itself in hunger as 10% of the population or 450,000 people are in food poverty. One cannot deny that there are a significant amount of people that are struggling to get by in modern Ireland.
‘One law for the rich, one for the poor’
Despite these levels of poverty, we remain a very wealthy as a society. But this wealth is concentrated in very few hands. According to the CSO and Credit Suisse, the total wealth in Ireland is €468 billion. Half of this is owned by the richest 5%. The top 1% (36,000 adults), where the true extent of the concentration of wealth is seen, own a startling €131.5 billion or 28% of all wealth in Ireland. This is same amount as owned by the poorest 80%, 2.9 million adults! The chart below indicates the distribution of wealth across the population deciles (10%). The concentration of wealth can clearly be seen as the richest 1% towers over the other deciles. The first five deciles, the poorest 50% of the population, between them own €4.8 billion and barely register on the chart.
The application of austerity in the last six budgets, far from closing these gaps or protecting the vulnerable, has seen the rich get richer. According to the CSO, between 2009 and 2010 the disposable household income of each decile fell, except that of the richest 10% – which increased. In the year following two austerity budgets, the poorest 10% of people got 26% poorer while the richest 10% got 8% richer. This scenario was acknowledged by the European Commission last year: “Italy recorded a particularly sharp rise in financial distress followed by Greece, Ireland, Cyprus, Portugal and Spain, with the upper quartile seeing the greatest impact of the rise in all except Cyprus and Ireland where the lower quartiles bore the brunt”.
The proponents of austerity, the Troika, cannot even agree over whether the policy is working, with recent exchanges between the EU and IMF. An IMF working paper in January found that “stronger planned fiscal consolidation has been associated with weaker growth than expected” and that “fiscal multipliers were substantially higher than implicitly assumed by forecasters,” particularly in the short term. Fiscal multipliers, though only one factor to consider for fiscal policy, are an indication of the effect of changes in government spending on economic output (GDP). The IMF has found that fiscal multipliers due to fiscal consolidation (austerity) are far higher than originally assumed and are of the order 0.9 to 1.7. This means that every €1 cut from government spending will reduce economic output by between €0.90 and €1.70. Far from improving the situation, austerity is making things much worse and, in fact, both Ireland and the Eurozone are officially back in recession.Despite the government rhetoric, employment is not rising and emigration is. Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, has described austerity as: “an unethical experimentation on human beings going on across the world right now”.
Austerity may not be working for most of us, but it certainly is for the super-rich. The richest 300 people in Ireland make up the richest 1% of the richest 1% of adults. These 300 people in Ireland own €66bn. That’s more than that of half the population and almost as much as the entire bailout package. The era of austerity has been very good to these people as their take has risen from €50 bn (2010), €57 bn (2011), €62 bn (2012) to €66 bn (2013), according to the Sunday Independent. That’s an increase of one third in just three years!
The ideology of austerity has become EU and Irish law through the Fiscal Compact Treaty, the ‘Six Pack’ and the ‘Two Pack’. Therefore, if one agrees that this austerity law has benefitted the rich while the poor get poorer then we certainly have a case of, as Christy Moore puts it, ‘one law for the rich, one for the poor’.
Debt, investment and demand
It is in this context that at least €64 billion (or 40% GDP) of private banking debt has been taken on by the Irish State. According to economist Michael Taft, Ireland has borne the brunt of European banking debt, 42% of the total cost of the European banking crisis. The recent promissory notes ‘deal’ does not represent any success for the Irish Presidency of the EU. The liquidation of IBRC and conversion of the promissory notes to 25-40 year government bonds completes the transfer of private banking debt to sovereign debt liable to be paid by the Irish public. According to Prof. Terrence McDonough of NUI Galway, the deal represents little to no saving, will not reduce austerity, and is really a “scam”.
The application of austerity in Ireland cannot therefore be separated from the private banking crisis. The socialisation and subsequent repayment of these private banking debts has been an effective transfer of wealth from across Irish society to investors in major international banks (the bondholders), i.e. from the side of labour to the side of capital, from poor to rich. Such a transfer (particularly in the context of austerity) is making the crisis worse as it reduces consumer spending , i.e. aggregate demand. Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, describes this process as follows: “In effect, we have been transferring money from the poor to the rich, from people who would spend the money to people who do not need to spend the money, and the result of that is weaker aggregate demand”.
As austerity continues, and as the property tax and the Croke Park 2 cuts are coming down the line), domestic demand (personal consumption + government expenditure) has fallen each year. The latest Quarterly National Accounts show that personal consumption has fallen by €7bn government expenditure by €5bn since 2007, however the big loser has been gross fixed capital formation (investment) which has fallen by over €20bn and is now the lowest in the EU27 as a percentage of GDP. Economist Michael Burke has outlined the investment strike taking place in Ireland since 2007. Put simply, business is not investing for production, and this is holding back employment and economic growth.
To overcome the private investment strike, the state should invest to kick start the economy through large-scale job-creation schemes and should reverse public sector cuts. However, the austerity doctrine holds that the debt must be repaid and the deficit must be reduced. Overcoming the investment strike by investing billions of Euro, say in social housing construction or food production, is effectively illegal. The true fight against poverty is a fight against austerity. It is a fight for public investment to overcome unemployment and a fight to put the needs of the vast majority in society above those of the super-rich.
Is he Irish Healthcare system in a state of terminal decline? What can Dr. James Reilly do about.
Both questions are easily answered – The system as we know it is in Terminal decline. As for Minister Reilly rising to the occasion to save our healthcare system the answer is of course no chance
We will fix that Stalinist body” … Comment by the late Brian Lenihan TD on the then Referendum Commission, Autumn 2001, in the lead-up to the second Nice Treaty referendum.
Comment from Misebogland: Unfortunately as it transpired he got the wrong body
And How They Fixed It:
In December 2001 the Fianna Fail Government then in office put a Bill through the Oireachtas (Legislature) amending the 1998 Referendum Act so as to remove from the statutory Referendum Commission its function of setting out in a fair and neutral manner the relevant arguments for and against any proposed constitutional amendment. This was done on the last day before the Oireachtas rose for the Christmas holidays that year, when all stages of the relevant Bill were pushed through the Dail and Seanad in one day, with two days notice to the Opposition. Because of these circumstances this move went virtually unnoticed by the Irish media at the time.
1. Irish Citizens as Legislators:
Irish constitutional referendums are a form of direct legislation in which citizens are voting either to accept or to reject a Bill to amend the Constitution which has been put before them by the Government of the day. Citizens voting on a Referendum Bill are in an analogous position to TDs and Senators voting on Bills put before the Oireachtas by the Government.
Once the Government has put a Bill before the People by instituting a referendum it is clearly illogical, unfair and undemocratic for that same Government to use public money, which comes from citizens on both sides on any referendum issue, to advance the point of view of one side. International best practice in referendums recognizes this.
For Governments to act otherwise is like using public money to induce parliamentarians to vote in a particular way, or offering a metaphorical box of chocolates to each voter at general election time in return for their votes. It is constitutionally quite legitimate of Governments to spend public money on the independent Referendum Commission to enable it ensure that citizens are properly informed of the referendum issues, as was the case before the Commission was emasculated by the Fianna Fail Government in 2001 when its function of setting out the pros and cons of proposed constitutional changes was taken from it.
2. No Publically Funded Government “Information Campaigns” in the 11 Referendums Held Between 1937 and 1987:
In the 11 constitutional referendums which the Irish State held between the adoption of the Constitution by popular referendum in 1937 and the Single European Act referendum in 1987, no Irish Government spent public money advocating a particular result.
Government Ministers and TDs were and are entitled to campaign individually in referendums and to spend their personal and party funds in support of the constitutional change which the Government they belong to wishes to bring about. But that is quite different from spending taxpayers’ money for that purpose. Most people will agree that it would be quite undemocratic and unconstitutional of a government to use public money, in principle without limit, to try to persuade citizens in a referendum to vote to restore the death penalty, to extend its own lifetime indefinitely or to abolish the judiciary.
Yet if public money can be spent in pursuit of a Government desire to change the Constitution, such spending would in principle be valid. Clearly once a constitutional amendment has been put before the People for decision the Government which does that should be scrupulous in respecting the rights of citizens in their legislative role and not try metaphorically to twist their arms, or to confuse or mislead them regarding the implications of the constitutional change which it is within the People’s absolute right to accept or reject.
3. The Haughey Government Was the First to Act Unconstitutionally in Referendums:
The first time that an Irish Government spent public money in a one-sided fashion in a referendum was in the Single European Act(SEA) referendum in May 1987. This came about as a result of the Crotty judgement of the Supreme Court. The FitzGerald-Spring Government of the time had attempted to ratify the SEA without a referendum.
The Supreme Court forbade that and laid down the any EU treaty which provides for a significant further surrender of sovereignty to the EU had to be put to referendum, for the Irish people are the repositories of State sovereignty and only they can therefore surrender it.
The constitutional amendment to permit the ratification of the SEA would quite probably have gone through without difficulty at the time, but to make assurance doubly sure the then Haughey Government spent large sums of public money on newspaper and billboard advertisements setting out “Ten Reasons for Voting Yes”. These were placed by the Government Information Bureau.
4. The McKenna Case 1995… Citizens’ Rights to Fairness, Equality and Democracy in Referendums:
In the 1992 Maastricht Treaty referendum on the adoption of the euro-currency and related matters the Albert Reynolds-led Fianna Fail Government of the time farmed out its “Vote Yes” campaign to a private advertising agency. This plastered the country with publicly financed billboards urging a Yes vote, among them one which proclaimed: “A Vote No Disempowers Women” !
Patricia McKenna, who had supported Raymond Crotty in his case on the SEA Treaty, challenged the constitutionality of this one-sided taxpayer-financed expenditure. Her case was dismissed by Mr Justice Declan Costello in the High Court. As this judgement came virtually on the eve of the Maastricht referendum, she did not appeal it.
With remarkable public-spiritedness Ms McKenna revived her case on the unconstitutionality of spending public money in a one-sided fashion in referendums when it came to the Divorce Referendum three years later, even though she personally and her then party, the Greens, were on the same Yes-side on the divorce issue as the then Bruton-Spring Government.
Again she lost in the High Court before Mr Justice Ronan Keane, who declined to overthrow Justice Costello’s High Court judgement of 1992. On appeal to the Supreme Court however Patricia McKenna won her case and that Court laid down the “McKenna principles” setting out clearly the rights of Irish citizens to fairness, equality and democracy in constitutional referendums.
5. The Coughlan Case on Referendum Broadcasts:
The Supreme Court judgement in McKenna was given just one week before the 1995 Divorce poll and the Government had to pull its extensive taxpayer-financed Yes-side advertisements on the weekend prior to the voting.
This made political party broadcasts on radio and TV all the more important for the Yes-side in the last days of that referendum campaign. As all the Oireachtas political parties were on the Yes-side on divorce, this led to a situation in which 42 minutes of free broadcasting time on RTE were given to the Yes-side in the five days leading up to the poll, as against 10 minutes to non-party groups on the No-side. A similar imbalance had occurred in previous EU and other referendums when all or most Dail political parties were on the Yes side in these.
Although Anthony Coughlan was not involved in the Divorce referendum, he believed that this imbalance in free broadcasting time was in breach of the statutory obligation on RTE and other broadcasters under the Broadcasting Acts to be objective, balanced and “fair to all interests concerned” in their coverage of all issues of public controversy and debate at all times. In a referendum every citizen is naturally an “interest concerned”.
Accordingly he complained to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission that RTE was in breach of its statutory obligations by permitting this 42-minute/10-minute imbalance of time in the days leading up to the Divorce poll. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission rejected his complaint. He sought judicial review of this rejection on the grounds that the Complaints Commission had erred in law. Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness granted him this in the High Court.
In the subsequent trial of the action in that Court Mr Justice Paul Carney found that RTE had indeed breached its obligations under both the Broadcasting Acts and the Constitution and ruled that there should be broad equality in the broadcast treatment of both sides in referendums so far as free or uncontested broadcasts were concerned.
6. Dr. Garret Fitzgerald and Mr. Bob Collins… No “Stop-Watch Principle” Required:
RTE had no particular love of party political broadcasts and RTE management under its then Director-General Mr Bob Collins had no desire to appeal Mr Justice Carney’s judgement in the Coughlan case.
However Dr Garret FitzGerald, supported by Mr Billy Attley and Mr Desmond Geraghty, who were members of the RTE Authority at the time and old political opponents of Anthony Coughlan’s on EU matters, persuaded the Authority to insist that RTE Management should lodge an appeal. Their reasons are described by Mr Bob Quinn, who was also on the RTE Authority, in his book “Maverick: A Dissident View of Broadcasting Today” (Brandon Press, 2001). In the event RTE’s appeal failed and the Supreme Court upheld Justice Carney’s High Court judgement in favour of Coughlan.
Commentators sometimes misrepresent the Coughlan judgement as requiring RTE and other broadcasters to allocate exactly equal time as if by stop-watch between Yes-side and No-side proponents in referendums. This is a misunderstanding of what the judgement requires. The Coughlan case related to free or uncontested broadcasts – “party political” broadcasts as they are often called. Broadcasters are statutorily required to be balanced and fair as between all interests concerned in all their current affairs programming at all times, and not just in referendums.
Since the Coughlan case RTE has carried no free broadcasts in referendums, thus ensuring equality of treatment for both sides, although there is nothing legally to prevent it allocating such broadcasts equally between leading proponents of each side on these occasions or to umbrella groups on each side if such should exist.
7. The Original Referendum Commission… The 1998 Referendum Act:
The establishment of the Referendum Commission under the 1998 Referendum Act was not a necessary consequence of the McKenna judgement. Strictly speaking all that that judgement required was a return to the 1937-1987 situation when political parties, non-party groups and individual citizens did their own referendum campaigning and spent their own money without the Government using public money for the side which Ministers supported.
The Referendum Commission was however a piece of creative institutional engineering which had the potential of making Ireland an international pioneer in the democratic political education of its citizens in referendums. Section 3(1) of the 1998 Referendum Act gave the Commission three principal functions:
(a) to prepare and publicise a statement or statements informing citizens what the proposal to change the Constitution entailed;
(b) to prepare and publicise a statement or statements setting out the arguments for and against the proposal, based on submissions solicited from members of the public; and
(c) to foster and facilitate public debate and discussion on the proposal.
The Act laid down that these three functions should be carried out by the Commission in a manner which was “fair to all interests concerned”.
For the Referendum Commission to do a proper job in carrying out these statutory functions it needed to be given enough time to do its work properly and to be set up well in advance of any particular referendum. It needed sufficient public resources to finance that work, and common sense suggests that it should not be overloaded with different unrelated referendum propositions which it had to publicise at the same time. However the politicians in the then Fianna Fail Government, having put through the 1998 Referendum Act, had second thoughts about the Commission’s remit when it came to its first outing, for they set the Commission an impossible task from the start.
8. The Referendum Commission’s First Outing… The Amsterdam Treaty and Good Friday Agreement Rerendums 1998:
The first Referendum Commission was called into being with retired Chief Justice T. A. Finlay as its chairman to publicise the Amsterdam Treaty referendum in May 1998. The secretary of the Commission informed A.Coughlan some years later that Mr Justice Finlay had in mind to fulfil the Commission’s task of fostering debate and discussion by holding a grand national debate on the Amsterdam Treaty in Dublin Castle between leading proponents of the Yes and No sides and using clips from that debate for subsequent TV adverts illustrating the two points of view. This would have made the adverts realistic and might have engaged citizens’ attention.
But then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s Government gave the Referendum Commission the Good Friday Agreement referendum – a wholly different issue – to publicise on the same day and such imaginative plans had to be scrapped. Similarly in the first Nice Treaty referendum in June 2001 the proposal to amend the Constitution to permit the ratification of that treaty was coupled with two other proposed amendments, one on the death penalty and one on the International Criminal Court.
Former Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald remarked in one of his Saturday Irish Times columns at the time: “Is not the Government looking for another constitutional amendment to give to the Referendum Commission?” This idea of a fourth proposition was dropped as the Labour Party would not support it.
There is little doubt that the Government’s motivation in having multiple referendum propositions was to hamper the Commission in carrying out its functions as laid down in the 1998 Act, for the Commission had to explain to citizens what each of these three different constitutional amendments entailed and to put forward the main arguments for and against in each case. Its task was virtually impossible when there was insufficient time and multiple referendums, sometimes on contentious issues.
In their reports following each referendum Mr Justice Finlay and his fellow Referendum Commissioners expressed their frustration at the conditions in which Governments expected them to carry out their statutory functions.
9. Removing the Referendum Commission’s Function of Setting Out the Relevant Pros and Cons of Constitutional Change … The 2001 Referendum Act:
Following the victory of the No-side in the first Nice Treaty referendum in June 2001 Mr Bertie Ahern’s Fianna Fail Government decided to remove altogether the Yes/No function from the Referendum Commission and to remove also the Commission’s function of fostering and facilitating public discussion of the issues. They saw the Commission’s Yes/No function as an obstacle to reversing the People’s vote on the Nice Treaty.
Taoiseach Ahern gave a commitment to do this to the other EU Governments at the European Council meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden, in the week following the referendum when he urged them to continue with ratifying the treaty – for most EU countries had not yet done that – despite Irish voters’ No.
“We will fix that Stalinist body,” said Brian Lenihan TD to Anthony Coughlan following a debate on the Nice Treaty in Athlone College of Technology in autumn 2001. The “Stalinism” seemingly consisted in the Referendum Commission having to be satisfied that the arguments for and against in referendums had to be validly rooted in the actual amendment proposed.
To minimize public attention to their assault on the Referendum Commission the Government chose the last day before the Oireachtas rose for the Christmas holidays in December 2001 on which to do this. On that day, 14 December, with just two days notice to the Opposition, it put all stages of the Referendum Bill 2001 through the Dail and Seanad in a couple of hours.
This removed from the Commission its function of preparing and publicizing a statement setting out the relevant Yes-side and No-side arguments in referendums. It left the Commission with its original function of publicizing a statement on what the referendum was about. And it substituted for the function of facilitating debate on the issues a new function of promoting public awareness of the referendum and encouraging citizens to vote at the poll. These are the two functions the Referendum Commission still has.
The Referendum Bill 2001 was passed by 58 votes to 40 on its second reading. Fine Gael, Labour, the Green Party and Sinn Fein voted against the Fianna Fail Government’s proposal. Those voting against included 10 deputies who became Ministers in the Fine Gael-Labour Government which assumed office in 2011.
10. The Democratic Value of the Referendum Commission’s Yes/No Function:
The democratic value of the Referendum Commission having to set out the main pros and cons of any proposed constitutional change fairly and impartially was that false, irrelevant or extraneous arguments on the pros and cons of the referendum proposition had necessarily to be excluded from the Commission’s information material.
The Commission had to be satisfied that the arguments put forward on each side were validly grounded in the actual constitutional amendment being proposed and in legitimate hopes or fears which citizens might have with regard to it. Obvious fallacies, irrelevancies or “ad hominem” arguments such as urging a Yes or No vote because some allegedly obnoxious person or party was on the other side could not be publicized by the Referendum Commission, although these are commonplace among private contestants in referendums and elections.
In Irish referendums the Government and Yes-side forces are seeking to change the Constitution, while the No-side elements are seeking to conserve it, to prevent change. From a democratic standpoint it is presumptuous to seek to prejudge the referendum result and predetermine the outcome by effectively taking money from one side for the benefit of the other.
There are always valid pros and cons to any proposal for constitutional change. At the extreme, even if opinion polls show a change to be desired by an overwhelming majority of citizens, there will always be some who will oppose any referendum on such grounds as cost.
A further consequence of the Referendum Commission having the function of setting out the relevant pros and cons of proposed constitutional amendments was that when private interests on each side were aware that the main arguments for and against would be put fairly and honestly before the public through the Commission’s advertisements, big-league private money had no incentive to intervene. At the same time the political parties and civic interests on each side continued to spend their own money as they had done in all Irish referendums since 1937.
The first referendum to be held following the removal of the Referendum Commission’s function of setting out the pros and cons was the second Nice Treaty referendum in October 2002. The Irish Government held this second referendum to reverse the result of the first, for the Nice Treaty itself remained unchanged. On this second occasion private funders, including private and public companies, weighed in in a big way, such that it has been reliably estimated that the cost of advertising by the Yes-side outweighed that on the No-side by a factor of ten to one.
On this second time round, moreover, the amendment to permit the ratification of the Nice Treaty was coupled with an amendment precluding the State from joining an EU common defence – both issues being put forward as one consolidated proposition to which citizens had to vote either Yes or No, for they could not vote on each of its elements separately. If citizens wished to prevent the State joining an EU defence pact, they had to vote Yes to ratify the Nice Treaty. If they wished to vote No to the Nice Treaty they also had to vote No to the amendment preventing the State joining an EU defence pact. The Referendum Commission then had to inform citizens how this dual proposition would affect the Constitution.
Quite possibly this two-propositions-in-one amendment was itself unconstitutional, but no one came forward to challenge it. The Commission carried out its new functions fairly, but the dual character of its explanations necessarily helped pile up votes for the Yes side. This was how the No vote of Nice One in 2001 was turned into the Yes vote of Nice Two in 2002.
11. Tax-payer Financed Government “Information Campaigns” Separate from the Referendum Commission’s … The 2008 and 2009 Lisbon Treaty Referendums:
In the 11 constitutional referendums which were held between the Supreme Court’s 1995 judgement on one-sided Government expenditure in McKenna and the 2008 and 2009 Lisbon Treaty referendums, no Irish Government attempted to run information campaigns parallel to the independent Referendum Commission’s statutory-based campaigns to inform citizens what the referendums were about.
The first breach of the McKenna principles by an Irish Government occurred in the 2008 Lisbon Treaty referendum. On that occasion the then Fianna Fail Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a booklet with the title “EU Reform Treaty”. The ”Reform Treaty” was the Department’s name for the Lisbon Treaty which the booklet purported to describe. This was a highly selective and tendentious document which carried the following slogans on its cover that clearly amounted to implicit advocacy: “effective democratic union”, “progress and prosperity”, “peace and justice in the wider world”, “a union of values”.
Inside it summarised the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty under such headings as “increased democratic controls” and “equality between Member States”. The Foreign Affairs Department also placed newspaper advertisements featuring the booklet’s cover. These possibly had more influence on voters than the booklet itself. There was also a Foreign Affairs web-site which like the booklet implicitly pointed to the desirability of a Yes vote in the referendum even if neither booklet nor web-site urged explicitly “Vote Yes”.
Similar material was produced for Lisbon Two in 2009. Presumably the then Attorney General, Mr Paul Gallagher SC, advised the Fianna Fail Government of the time that these actions did not breach the McKenna principles. Presumably too its Fine Gael-Labour successor decided to follow the Fianna Fail Government’s partisan “information campaign” when it came to the next Irish referendums. And presumably its Attorney-General, Ms Maire Whelan, decided to follow her predecessor Mr Gallagher’s advice in relation to the taxpayer-financed information booklet, brochure and web-site which sought to influence the “Fiscal Treaty/Fiscal Compact.” referendum in May 2012 and the Children’s referendum in November that same year.
The booklet issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Fiscal Treaty/Fiscal Compact referendum in May 2012, which was posted at public expense to all households in the State, was tendentiously selective like its Lisbon Treaty predecessor. It purported to describe the so-called “Stability Treaty”, even though the Treaty in question was generally referred to across the EU as the “Fiscal Treaty” or the “Fiscal Compact”, its full title being the “Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union”.
The first page of this booklet was titled “What is the Stability Treaty?”. Inside it was described as a Treaty which aimed “to support growth and employment…to protect the public’s money… and to be part of a toolkit to avoid another economic crisis”. Again these were tendentious phrases which clearly amounted to advocacy rather than objective information and were legitimately open to being questioned by No-side proponents who took a different view to the Government’s on the content and effects of that treaty.
12. Re-Affirmation of the McKenna Principles as Best International Practice … The 2012 McCrystal Case:
These partisan Government “information campaigns” using public money unconstitutionally were not challenged in the Courts at the time of the 2008 and 2009 Lisbon Treaty and the 2012 “Fiscal Treaty” referendums. They were successfully challenged by Mr Mark McCrystal in the 2012 Children’s referendum.
On the eve of that referendum the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the booklet, advertisements and web-site issued by the Government on that occasion were in breach of the Court’s 1995 judgement in McKenna. In setting out their reasons the Supreme Court judges strongly reaffirmed the McKenna principles. Irish Governments could certainly spend public money in informing citizens of the main arguments for and against particular referendum propositions, but any partisan presentation was a violation of citizens’ rights to fairness, equality, and democracy on these occasions.
The Referendum Commission was clearly the most competent body to provide citizens with neutral information which accorded with the McKenna principles. As Chief Justice Mrs Susan Denham put it:
“It is questionable whether it is wise to ask a Minister, who is promoting a referendum on behalf of the Government, to publish neutral information on the referendum. It may be that it is itself inherently unfair to ask a Minister, and indeed her Department, which are promoting a referendum, and who clearly believe in its merit, and wish for a ‘Yes’ vote, to draft and publish neutral information. This role may be best performed by a body not invested in the referendum.”
The Chief Justice noted favourably the recommendation of previous Referendum Commissions for the establishment of “a permanent and ongoing body which would have ample time to prepare and promote public awareness of important constitutional amendments.”
The Supreme Court made clear in the McCrystal case that the McKenna principles accorded with best international practice regarding referendums. In their judgements the Chief Justice and Mr Justice John Murray referred to the “Code of Good Practice in Referendums” which was adopted by the Venice Commission for Democracy through Law, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, and the Council for Democratic Elections in 2006 and 2007.
This Code included the statement that
“Equality of opportunity must be guaranteed for the supporters and opponents of the proposal being voted on. This entails a neutral attitude by administrative authorities, in particular with regard to … public funding of a campaign and its actors.”
“There must be no use of public funds by the authorities for campaigning purposes in order to guarantee equality of opportunity and the freedom of voters to form an opinion.”
The Chief Justice also referred to Australia, where pamphlets distributed to citizens by that country’s Electoral Commissioner set out the arguments for and against proposals to amend the Australian Constitution. And she referred to UK referendum practice where an Electoral Commission can provide equal sums of public money to umbrella groups on each side in referendums. By challenging the Government’s brazen flouting of the Supreme Court’s McKenna judgement Mark McCrystal, like Ms McKenna before him, has clearly struck a significant blow for Irish democracy.
Note on Author: Anthony Coughlan was a supporter of the late Raymond Crotty and Patricia McKenna in their constitutional actions on Irish referendums in 1987 and 1995 respectively. He was himself plaintiff in the 2000 Coughlan case on partisan referendum broadcasts. He has been involved on the No side in EU-related referendums but was not involved in the other referendums mentioned above. He is Director of the National Platform EU Research and Information Centre and is former Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, TCD.
The latest agreement between the Troika and the Government requires Irish authorities to remove a legal impediment which has stopped banks repossessing properties.
However, Ministers will not introduce the measure until borrowers homes are protected with the enactment of new personal insolvency legislation.
There has been a gap in legislation arising from a court judgment which has slowed the number of repossessions to a trickle.
Last year the High Court found banks cannot apply for a repossession if the mortgage was created before 2009 but demand for repayment was later than 2009.
The judgment exposed a loophole which will now have to be fixed, under the agreement with the Troika.
While an owner occupier‘s home will be protected under the new insolvency legislation, the change is likely to affect buy-to-let properties.
Almost one in three of these mortgages are now in arrears.
The Central Bank wants the banks to speed up their management of the problem.
The document also says that the Government will take steps to deal with the health spending overruns and keep health expenditure below €13.6bn next year.
It says the Commission for Energy Regulation will have responsibility for overseeing the price setting powers of Irish Water.
The Government will also have to set out its methodology for the next round of stress tests for Irish banks.
The agreement with the Troika also says the Irish Government will conduct a study to compare the cost of drugs, prescription practices and the usage of generics in Ireland comparable with EU jurisdictions.
This article looks at the failure of successive governments to make full use of the natural resources of Ireland leading to the current strategy of heaping more and more new taxation upon the Irish people to make up for their loss of income
Since the formation of the Irish State in 1922, financial sources for the maintenance and development of the state as an independent entity have been in decline. This has arisen through Ireland’s joining the EEC in 1973 and subsequent Treaties of the EU, to successive governments’ neo-liberal economic policies that gradually reduced the role and income of the state. Contributing to these problems was the loss of fiscal autonomy when Ireland joined the eurozone in 2002.
Sources of income such as customs duties and charges, fisheries, agriculture, oil and gas, and minerals were all affected in different ways, leaving the increasing taxation of the people as the main plank of the government’s policy to extricate itself from the economic crisis. Since the banking crisis of 2008, government borrowing  has increased the national debt  from € 50.4 billion to € 119.1 billion in 2011, more than doubling it in a few short years.
The establishment of a customs union (a free trade area with a common external tariff) was one of the main aims of the EEC. On joining the EEC in 1973, the Irish government lost import duties as a source of income from its main trading partners. Three years later, in 1976, the EEC extended its fishing waters from 12 miles to 200 miles under the Common Fisheries Policy  when it was agreed that fishermen from any state should have access to all waters. Thus, while Ireland owns 23% of the fishing waters  in Europe, it is only allowed 3% of the European fish trade quota. 
Since joining the EEC there has been ongoing change in Irish farming  but “with fewer and larger farms, less employment, more specialisation and concentration of production and growth in part-time farming” yet “agricultural output remains at about the level of 20 years ago”. As a source of employment farming has been in decline for a long time, about 24 per cent in the period from 1980 to 1991 and a further 17 per cent between 1991 and 2000. Recent demonstrations by farming families in Dublin have shown the negative effect of government cutbacks, increased costs and taxes. According to a recent Irish Times  article, “the protest was called to highlight concerns about planned reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy and the upcoming budget. It also highlighted the margins being taken by supermarket chains at the expense of farmers. Placard messages included ‘No Cap cuts; no farm cuts; no extra costs; regulate the retailers.’”
More short-sighted policies can be seen in reports  that the State is “also considering selling off some assets of the forestry body Coillte (The Irish Forestry Board)” to private investors. Coillte  was established under the Forestry Act 1988, and the company is a private limited company registered under and subject to the Companies Acts 1963-86. All of the shares in the company are held by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for Finance on behalf of the Irish State. Profits have increased from a loss of €438K (1989) to profits of €4.2 million (2009). Moreover, the company  employs approx 1,100 people and owns over 445,000 hectares of land, about 7% of the land cover of Ireland.
More state assets
In the same article,  plans to sell off other state assets such as parts of Bord Gáis (Gas Board) and ESB (Electricity Supply Board) and “its 25 per cent shareholding in Aer Lingus” were also being considered.
According to Sinn Féin’s deputy leader and spokesperson for public expenditure and reform, Mary Lou McDonald,  “Both the ESB and Bord Gáis are wealth generating self-financing companies that have invested heavily in first world energy infrastructure across the island and created thousands of good jobs benefiting hundreds of thousands of families over the decades”. She added, ““Fine Gael and Labour’s decision to treat the profitable elements of these companies as a cash cow for bank debt reduction makes no economic sense and reflects the kind of short term policy and political decision making that got us into this economic mess in the first place.”
The extent to which the Irish Government has bent over backwards to attract foreign investment in mining – and in the process delimit its share of potential income – can be seen in an extract from a Government Report  titled ‘Land of Mineral Opportunities’,  published in May 2006. “Tax incentives relevant to exploration and mining in Ireland include:
*No State Shareholding in the Project and No Royalties are Payable to the State.
*Immediate write-off of development and exploration expenditure
*Corporation Tax of 25 percent (reducing to 12.5% for downstream manufacturing)
*Capital Allowance of up to 120 percent
*Expenditure on rehabilitation of mine sites after closure is tax-deductible
*There are no restrictions on foreign investment in Ireland,
*There are no restrictions with capital repatriation from the State.”
Oil and Natural Gas
Over the past 15 years gas and oil  have been discovered under Irish waters in the Atlantic  Ocean. However, the government’s “Minister Ray Burke (later jailed for corruption) changed the law in 1987, reducing the State’s share in our offshore oil and gas from 50% to zero and abolishing royalties. In 1992, Minister Bertie Ahern reduced the tax rate for the profits made from the sale of these resources from 50% to 25%.” In May of this year , an article  by economist Colm Rapple stated that a committee that included 12 TDs [MPs] and senators from Government parties and nine from the opposition thought that “the terms at which we give away rights to potential offshore oil and gas reserves are far too generous. […] They want far tougher terms applied to all new licences.”
So how will the government square this dismal history of giveaways with the upcoming centenary of the 1916 Rising in 2016, an attempted revolution which was initiated with a proclamation  read out in the centre of Dublin declaring “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.”
This declaration was followed up in 1922 with The Constitution  of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) Act, 1922 which stated in Article 11 that “All the lands and waters, mines and minerals, within the territory of the Irish Free State hitherto vested in the State, or any department thereof, or held for the public use or benefit, and also all the natural resources of the same territory (including the air and all forms of potential energy), and also all royalties and franchises within that territory shall, from and after the date of the coming into operation of this constitution, belong to the Irish Free State”.
There seems to be no limit to the government’s sticky fingers. The National Pensions Reserve Fund  has seen its total value reduce from €24.4 billion in 2010  to € 15.1 billion in 2012 with €20.7 billion of the fund  spent on preference shares and ordinary shares in Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland since 2009. As the government props up the banks and pays off unsecured bondholders, it is likely that the forthcoming significant national commemorations will refocus the Irish people on past conceptions of national democracy. Chicken, anybody?
The lack of an emigrant representative among the 100 strong members is an unfortunate reality that will lead to a perception abroad that once again the Irish government is making clear that the emigrant voice is not important, even though the emigrant dollar clearly is.
The convention is taking place against a backdrop of harsh economic times and increased efforts to bring the Irish abroad back into the fold. The emigrant vote would be a perfect place to start.
One of the issues to be discussed is the emigrant vote, and there was good news in an Irish Times poll this week, with 68 percent of those surveyed believing that emigrants should be allowed to vote in Irish presidential elections.
Only 17 percent believed that emigrants should be denied a vote. The finding is clearly a green light for the government and the constitutional convention to grab this issue.
Clearly there is a mindset in Ireland that the emigrant vote, under limited conditions, is a good step for this government. It will now depend on government willpower and determination to make it happen.
Currently, 115 countries worldwide allow their citizens abroad to vote. Even high emigration countries such as Mexico and Poland have the provision.
Read more news on Irish immigration here
Ireland badly needs to get in line with international consensus and provide its emigrants with a means of taking part in elections in the country of their citizenship.
Of the 115 countries, many impose restrictions on their citizens abroad. That is fair and reasonable. A time limit, such as five years after an emigrant has left home, would be a fair compromise.
Equally, presidential elections are far less likely to be impacted by emigrant votes than small rural constituencies in Dail (Irish Parliament) elections, which can swing on a handful of votes.
It is the symbolic rather than the actual impact that emigrants seek, the acknowledgement so often given when investment and funding is required that the diaspora is a vital part of the Irish identity.
Successive Irish governments have always maintained a healthy distance from the diaspora, never fully comprehending its priorities, its perceived foibles or its intent.
The result has been many missed opportunities to build the links that are so vital to Ireland at a time of maximum distress in the old country.
The Constitutional Convention is about managed change to ensure that all aspects of Irish identity are given full expression.
There is arguably no more important part of that equation than the Irish abroad, especially at a time when thousands are once again voting with their feet and leaving.
Irish Golden Circle still shining despite massive recession — Still running the show despite bankrupting the country
Brian Goggin, formerly of the Bank of Ireland
They were called the golden circle, the people in the inside loop who made lots of money during the boom years here.
I’m not just talking about the property speculators and developers playing with their borrowed billions who were in an inner platinum circle all of their own. The golden circle was far wider than that.
It included bankers, lawyers, accountants, financial advisers, brokers, management consultants, IT experts, the top layer of professionals of all kinds — and it also included the senior levels in the civil service and state agencies, the guys and gals who actually run the country for the politicians.
So having comprehensively screwed up the country and plunged us into a financial catastrophe so bad that we had to be rescued by the IMF and the EU, all these guys and gals are now out of a job, right?
Not at all. This is Ireland, after all. The unbelievable, extraordinary truth is that almost all these experts and advisers have held on to their top jobs and are still doing very well, thank you very much.
While the ordinary folk here struggle in the darkness of lay-offs, welfare cutbacks and tax hikes, the sun is still shining brightly on our golden circle.
Of course there has been some token changes. At the very top of the Department of Finance, the Central Bank, the Financial Regulator‘s office and, of course the banks, a few people were shifted. A couple went to cozy positions in Europe with big salaries attached, and the others were put out to grass with pension pots worth millions and huge golden handshakes so they can continue to enjoy the privileged lifestyles they expect.
Only a very small number of people were moved from the leadership roles they had. In fact you could count on two hands the number of top dogs who were moved.
The majority of the top layer of people, who all played a part directly or indirectly in destroying our economy, are still there. The senior civil servants, the financial experts, the consultants, the lawyers, the accountants and auditors are all there and still being paid boom time salaries and fees.
The game has changed, of course. Instead of advising the government and businesses on the boom, they are now advising them on the bust.
The bankers and accountants and auditors and consultants who failed to see the developing bubble are now the ones making fortunes dealing with all the businesses that are going bust. Dozens of them have even been hired to play key roles in NAMA, the national bad bank where all the toxic property loans have been dumped.
So the very people who made the mess are now the ones making a very lucrative living out of trying to sort it out. Two or three of the biggest legal firms and accountancy firms here which were up to their necks in the boom are now “advising” on the bust.
This is enough to give you indigestion. But what is really sickening is that the members of this very large golden circle are still charging eye-watering fees for their services.
We’re talking hundreds of euros an hour here. And
they are getting away with this even though the country is broke — and it’s broke thanks to their incompetence.
It starts right at the top, of course, with our politicians, who are paid far more than their European counterparts. We all know the taoiseach (our prime minister) earns more than the U.S. President. But he also is paid more than the British prime minister and more than the heads of most European countries, which may be a less dramatic comparison but is more relevant.
The same applies to the civil servants who head up government departments here, and to many other areas of Irish government and professional life. Consultant doctors and top lawyers in Ireland earn far more than their counterparts in Europe.
Further down the ladder, senior teachers here earn at least 20 percent more than teachers in Britain, for example. And it goes on and on, increasingly dividing Irish society into those who are comfortable and those who are struggling to make ends meet.
The common factor among those who are doing okay — in case you haven’t spotted it already — is that they all work for the state or for semi-state organizations (except for the bank bosses, although you could say they also work for the state since the state now owns the banks).
This influences fees that are charged by others who provide professional services to the state (like lawyers and accountants) and so they keep their fees and charges high. Why should they bring them down when they see all the others in the golden circle hanging on to their high pay and status?
What all this means is that we are developing two Irelands. There are those who are paid by the state, directly or indirectly, and who see no reason to moderate their pay or pensions as long as the state can borrow enough to keep going; since it’s all paid for by borrowing, there’s no real limit.
Then there is everyone in the private sector, where pay and pensions depend directly on the ability of a company to make a profit and stay in business –and for more and more of them, the cost of keeping a job or continuing to get a pension means taking huge cuts in what they are getting.
The pension divide between the two Irelands is even more nauseating than the pay situation. Let’s start with two of the most infuriating examples from the top of the golden circle.
You may remember the name Brian Goggin, the boss of Bank of Ireland during the boom. You also may remember the name Eugene Sheehy, who was the boss of AIB during the boom and property bubble, which of course only happened because the two banks (the biggest in Ireland) made it possible through reckless lending.
Sheehy has a bit of extra notoriety because he was one of the senior bankers who had the late night meeting with the taoiseach and the minister for finance in September 2008 and pleaded for help to help them get through their “temporary liquidity problem.”
The result was the government guaranteed all bank debt, a decision that has bankrupted the country because the real level of the bank debts was many times greater than Sheehy and his buddies revealed to the government that night.
The banks did not just have a liquidity problem. They were insolvent. They were completely bust, owing tens of billions of euro with not a hope of ever being able to pay it back.
So Goggin and Sheehy were major players in destroying the Irish economy and losing us our economic sovereignty. Not only that, but we taxpayers have had to meet the cost of pouring billions into AIB and Bank of Ireland to keep them open.
Did the two boyos go to jail? Or even have to do some community service to atone for what they had done? Not at all. This is Ireland, after all.
They were both moved, given early retirement. And this is the best bit. Goggin is on a pension of €650,000 a year for the rest of his life. Sheehy’s pension is €450,000 a year for life.
Both are still relatively young. Sheehy has gone
back to college. Goggin is back at work, playing a leading role in a multi-billion U.S. investment group that is targeting distressed property loans in Ireland and buying baskets of insurance policies from finance institutions here that are under pressure.
These are extreme examples of the way golden circle members here get looked after. But the same stuff goes on all the way down the state food chain, with state employees getting very generous guaranteed pensions for life, typically between half and two thirds their final salary.
And it’s all funded by state borrowing, so there is no limit on what it costs. Contrast this with the private sector, where almost 80 percent of company pension funds are bust, thanks to the financial collapse.
Let’s take an example to illustrate what’s going on. The pension fund in Independent Newspapers, the biggest newspaper group in Ireland where this writer has worked, now has a black hole in it of some €160 million and is probably going to be closed down, leaving a lot of people with little or nothing.
Meanwhile out at Dublin Airport, the umbrella pension fund that looks after staff in Aer Lingus, the DAA company that runs Irish airports and a linked aircraft maintenance company, has a black hole in it of €750 million. Because Aer Lingus and the DAA are semi-state companies, the unions are trying to force the government to pump money into this pension fund so staff can get their full pensions.
And you are all going to know about this very soon because the unions are threatening a wave of strikes in the run up to Christmas that could disrupt trans-Atlantic flights.
The fact that the pension fund is bust — there’s no way back from a €750 million deficit — and the state is bust, makes no impression on these semi-state workers. As far as they are concerned the state must borrow to back fill their pension fund. It’s that simple.
In the real world of the private sector, such nonsense is not an option for workers because their companies cannot borrow like this and could go under if they tried. Independent Newspapers is already struggling for survival, quite apart from its pensions problem.
It’s a two Ireland scenario. Unfortunately the politicians and the civil servants who run the country are all part of the Ireland that is okay.
They talk a lot, but there is no action to reduce the problem for the private sector workers who are part of the other Ireland. Instead we get lectures from union leaders about avoiding a race to the bottom in wages and pensions.
Like I said, the golden circle is still shining, but the glow is making the rest of us feel like throwing up.
On Dec. 13, 1862, they came through the morning fog, wave after wave, some of the finest fighting troops in the Union army. After earning distinctions at Seven Pines, Malvern Hill and Antietam, the Irish Brigade was asked to carry the green flag where others could not go, to secure Marye’s Heights over the Virginian town of Fredericksburg.
Though glorified by the London Times, it was a hopeless charge that never should have been asked of any soldiers. The myth of the “fighting Irish” was sealed. But the reality was that the Irish were destroyed, suffering over 80% casualties on a field that had grown crops to relieve the earlier Irish famine.
The myth of Irish pluck continues today, even amid the financial crisis. Prime Minister Enda Kenny recently graced the cover of Time magazine. But according to data from the International Monetary Fund, Ireland has displaced Japan as the world’s most indebted economy. Government, household and nonfinancial company debt add up to 524% of Irish GDP. (The Central Bank of Ireland uses a different basis for calculating the debt of nonfinancial firms; its estimate for total debt would be lower than the IMF’s.) Funding this gargantuan load at an average cost of 4.5% would swallow nearly 24% of GDP—in other words, Ireland’s entire industrial output.
Yet still a Celtic comeback is prophesied. There are three huge problems with this myth:
• Irish taxpayers are still paying for the mistakes of Irish banks. Having started the crisis with a sovereign debt-to-GDP ratio approaching 20%, Ireland will have added another 100% before it’s over. And in a perverse reversal of democracy, two-thirds of this load was foisted on the Irish under pressure from the unelected board of the European Central Bank to save German, French and British banks—together with a panoply of other bank bondholders—from the consequences of their investment decisions.
Nowhere in the euro zone have so few citizens been asked to carry so much to save the union. But even today, with Ireland having met all the targets its creditors have set, there remains stiff resistance, especially from the ECB, to restructuring this part of Ireland’s national debt.
Relying on soft diplomacy, the Irish government seeks to sell its shareholdings in the functioning banks it saved to the new bailout fund, and to ease the punishing burden of repayments on the emergency liquidity provided to Anglo Irish Bank by extending the loan term to 40 years. The total plowed into banks is €64 billion, about 40% of Irish GDP.
Irish household debt is still unsustainable. According to the IMF, household debt, which currently is as large as Ireland’s national debt, will stand at 185% of disposable income in 2017. The Irish are expected to arrive at this level from a peak of 210% by saving 14% of their income, nearly half of which would have to be redirected into debt repayments. So a decade after the crisis began, Irish household debt will arrive at a level well above the starting point of other crisis economies.
One in five Irish mortgages is in arrears. Yet four years into the crisis the Irish government has failed to introduce a modern, balanced and dignified insolvency regime, relying instead on a mishmash of laws, many of them Victorian and one of them, the Sheriffs Act, dating back to the 13th century.
Modern insolvency legislation would at the very least provide timelines to work through distressed debt. But such reform is being stiffly resisted behind the scenes by the banking lobby and the ECB. The result is a fiasco for Irish families, as the great game of “extend and pretend” continues. The urgent introduction of a standardized insolvency process matched to the scale of bad debts must also be supported by the European Stability Mechanism if fresh capital buffers are required.
• Irish labor costs—especially in the public sector—are still too high. Since 1987, the Irish Parliament has callowly transferred wage-setting power to labor unions via the “social partnership” process. But a 2010 deal with public-sector unions, signed amid a brutal period of layoffs and pay cuts in the private sector, goes farther still by fixing pay and pensions for government workers at extraordinarily high levels through 2014. The agreement was named after Ireland’s largest secular temple: Croke Park, headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association, where the deal was struck.
Its effect, hardly sporting, is to privatize job losses from the recession and crowd out essential public services. In Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland, government employees already enjoy among the EU’s highest pay premia over workers in the private economy. But pay within the Irish public sector is also well above EU levels.
Pay for hospital consultants, teachers and nurses is singled out as especially high by the IMF. Local Irish county managers are paid more than most European prime ministers. Brendan Howlin, the minister in charge of reforming the public sector, is himself a former teacher and trade union activist. The inner cabinet of the Irish government—which comprises the prime minister, the deputy PM, the minister for finance and the minister for public reform—brings the intellectual firepower of three secondary-school teachers and a trade unionist to bear on Ireland’s crisis. All support the public-sector cartel.
The Irish government points to a reduction in public-sector numbers due to a recruitment freeze—as if those who take early retirement are abducted by aliens to a planet beyond the galaxy, and not into Ireland’s Ponzi pension scheme, which quadrupled its liabilities to €120 billion over the past decade while losing most of its assets to the bank bailout.
So while Time magazine and others eulogize the plucky leader of the Irish people, the truth is that Enda Kenny leads a Vichy government—captive externally to creditors that still insist on loading bank debt onto the sovereign, and internally to a tribe of insiders led by union godfathers in a deal that protects the government’s own excessive pay and pensions while bankers lean over its shoulders to rewrite insolvency laws.
This isn’t just crony capitalism. It’s crony democracy.
The great bog of Ireland, spoken of in song and story, could become the host to hundreds of wind farms which would generate electricity exclusively for the United Kingdom’s national grid.
According to the Guardian,the plan is already being considered by Irish government ministers. Element Power, the company behind the $8 billion dollar proposal, hopes to build more than 700 turbines and transport the power generated through two dedicated undersea cables across the Irish sea to the UK.
The plans have also been discussed among the UK coalition government and appear to have won their support.
To help finance the Irish project, the company would need access to the subsidies currently given to UK wind power, but that sets a potentially awkward precedent – which could imply that any foreign energy projects could request UK subsidies – presenting unusual challenges to the project.
Mike O’Neill, the president of Element Power, sees only a win for British government, however. “Our experience is that it is easier to get planning permission in the Republic of Ireland, if you do it in a sensible and sensitive way,” he told the Guardian.
O’Neill’s plan acknowledges that Britain’s electricity suppliers are obliged to provide an increasing percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, cutting the carbon emissions that drive climate change and meeting their own targets.
Element Power claims its project, entitled Greenwire, will provide electricity at two-thirds of the cost of building an offshore wind farm, which will reduce the amount that needs to be charged to the UK consumer by £7 billion over 15 years. It added that the project could provide 3GW of electricity capacity and employ thousands of workers.
O’Neill said the project could start generating power from 2018, if the subsidy obstacle could be overcome.
Currently there are more than 1,100 turbines in operation in Ireland, mostly located at 176 onshore windfarms with a further seven offshore.
AT A conference in Dublin on Monday, an academic from Iceland, , showed a chart contrasting the impact of the crisis measures adopted by governments in Iceland and Ireland on real disposable earnings of couples by income deciles (that is the poorest tenth of earners, the next poorest tenth, through to the richest tenth).
It showed that the poorest tenth of earners in Iceland suffered a drop of 9 per cent, whereas in Ireland the drop was 26 per cent (the data for Ireland was for the period 2008-2009 and for Iceland 2008-2010).
For the second-poorest 10 per cent of earners, the drop in Ireland was 14 per cent, in Iceland, 9 per cent. For the second-richest tenth in Iceland the drop was 17 per cent, in Ireland it was just 2 per cent. But, the most revealing figure of all, for the richest 10 per cent in both countries, in Iceland the richest had a drop in earnings of 38 per cent, in Ireland the top 10 per cent showed an increase of 8 per cent.
Quite simply, the left-leaning Icelandic government chose to focus the impact of the adjustments necessitated by the crisis on the richest sectors of Icelandic society. In Ireland, the right-leaning government did the opposite (it was a Fianna Fáil-Green government during the relevant period but its prescriptions have been followed by the right-leaning Fine Gael-Labour Government).
As in Iceland, there were and are clear choices for an Irish government in dealing with the crisis: whether to focus the impact on the adjustments on those best able to bear the pain, ie the richest sectors of society, or to focus the impact on those least able to bear the pain, ie the poorest.
Perhaps the cruellest measure introduced here has been the universal social charge. Initially, everyone being paid €4,004 and above had to pay the charge. Amid a flurry of self-congratulation, the current Government increased the threshold to €10,036, but with a vicious sting retained in the tail.
Anyone getting even a single euro over €10,036 has to pay the charge on their entire income. But not just that, whereas a levy of 2 per cent applied on earnings up to €10,036, those between €10,036 and €16,016 were levied at 4 per cent and everything above that attracted a levy of 7 per cent.
In other words, people living on slightly over the minimum wage (€8.65 per hour) were catapulted into the highest levy bracket (€8.65 multiplied by 38 hours a week, multiplied by 48 weeks, equals €15,777.60).
Since the crisis broke in 2008, there have been reductions in child benefit; carer’s allowance; disability payment and blind pension; jobseeker’s benefit; jobseeker’s allowance for those aged 18-21 years; supplementary allowance for those aged 22-24; one-parent family payment; and earnings disregard (by €16.50 to a weekly amount of €130).
THE PRACTICE of the Irish Government appointing senior judges must be ended if the public is to have any faith in a judiciary free from political or any other bias, Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has said.
“The sheer number of politically affiliated judges adds to an already embedded public perception of the judiciary is an elite to whom the law of the land does not apply equally,” the Sinn Féin deputy said.
The Donegal North-East TD said this view has been strengthened by perceived inconsistencies and poor sentencing decisions in a range of areas, including drug-related crime, domestic and sexual violence in particular. He said:
“Judicial independence requires that the judiciary must be independent of other branches of government. It is high time that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board should be required to publish an annual report to include information on candidates who are selected for appointment.
Sinn Féin is calling for the establishment of a fair and accountable appointment and removal process for the judiciary that involves meaningful lay participation representative of the public interest.
“Sinn Féin believes that judicial independence is undermined by the current appointment process in the 26 Counties,” Deputy Mac Lochlainn said.
“The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) was established in the wake of the controversial appointment of Harry Whelehan as President of the High Court in 1994 and was meant to have removed sole discretion for judicial appointments from Government.
“However, there is still political involvement in the appointment of the judiciary as the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board merely provides a list of seven qualified candidates to the Government who makes the appointments of judicial office holders.
“Sinn Féin believes that appointment procedures should be transparent to enhance public confidence in the process.
“This Fine Gael//Labour Government promised to be a reforming government and put an end to the ‘jobs for the boys’ culture but, looking at their judicial appointments so far, it is clear many of their political cronies have received jobs from them.”