Saturday, October 29, 2011

Political parties scarred by presidential election

Summer time ends in Ireland At 2.00 AM tomorrow morning and I will be en route to Moscow at 5.45 AM, an jour earlier than usual.  But the dark winter evenings should provide Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael with ample time to reflect on the presidential election results.

Fianna Fáil, battered by the general election, did not even contest the election and the party lost the only Dáil seat it held in Dublin in the by-election following the death of the Brian Lenihan.

However, Seán Gallagher, a political novice, who maintained that he was an Independent candidate and having consistently shown a 40% rating in the polls, saw his prospects collapse when it became clear that he was a fund raiser for Fianna Fáil but was not always entirely certain what the source of the funds raised was.

When he mentioned that ‘I may have picked up an envelope’ he sent a shudder through Irish society which reminded them of the venal record of Fianna Fáil and the fact that not all funds raised actually reached their intended target. Despite all of that Gallagher won 504,964 first preference votes which represented a 12% dip on his polling trend.

Fine Gael, now in Government, chose a candidate, Gay Mitchell, who garnered only 113,321 first preference votes – 6.4% of the poll while the party itself is trending in the mid thirties.  This was a diabolical result notwithstanding that one member of the party aristocracy, Leo Varadker, stated that “Gay Mitchell was a good candidate” and another blue blood, Phil Hogan stated that the outcome ‘was not a disaster for the Party’.  What defines a disaster for Hogan? A capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?  They insulted the electorate by choosing a non-viable candidate and then abandoning him.  The electorate will not forget that!

Mary Banotti contested the last presidential election in 1997 for Fine Gael and secured 372,002 first preference votes – 29.2% of the poll .

The Fine Gael candidate in the 1990 presidential election was Austin Currie.  He secured 267,902 first preference votes – 17% of the poll.

The drama queen, Dana Rosemary Scallon, won 51,220 first preference votes in this week’s election and this compares to 175,458 first preference votes when she inflicted herself on the electorate in the last presidential election in 1997.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Former Irish attorneys general lobby as a pack against constitutional referendums

Eight former attorneys general, two of whom have been chairman of AIB, have lobbied that the two referendums that will take place on Thursday will seriously weaken the right of individuals to protect their reputation and that their right to fair procedure to be decided by an independent judiciary will be impaired. While they support the principle of a reduction in judicial remuneration they contend that there is insufficient protection for the independence of the Irish judiciary.  But there wasn’t a whimper out of them when judicial pay was escalating to obscene and unsustainable levels.

This is a blatant and audacious stunt to feather the vested interest of the two legal professions. Justice Minister, Alan Shatter has described it ‘as nonsense’. How right he is. Nobody who observes the rule of law has anything to be remotely concerned about.  Polling trends suggest both referendums will pass.

Many voters will be pleased to end the gravy train that tribunals of inquiry proved to be to lawyers – one of whom had the thick, brazen neck to look for a further €30,000 on top of cumulative payments ranging from €7 million to €9.5 million.

The passage of the referendum on Oireachtas Inquiries will ensure no recurrence of greedy parasites’ milking that State in the manner seen in the last Oireachtas.

Oireachtas Inquiries

One referendum proposes to give the Houses of the Oireachtas (the Dáil and Seanad) express power to conduct inquiries into matters of general public importance and, in doing so, to make findings of fact about any person’s conduct. If the proposed amendment is approved, the consequences would be that:

The Dáil and the Seanad, either separately or together, would have the power power to inquire into the conduct of any person, whether a member of either House or not, and the power to make relevant findings about that person’s conduct. The conduct of any person, whether a public servant or not, could be the subject of inquiry and findings about that conduct could be made if relevant to the matter to which the inquiry relates.

When conducting any such inquiry, either or both Houses would have both the power to inquire into the conduct of any person, whether a member of either House or not, and the power to make relevant findings about that person’s conduct. The conduct of any person, whether a public servant or not, could be the subject of inquiry and findings about that conduct could be made if relevant to the matter to which the inquiry relates.

The Dáil and/or the Seanad would have the power to determine the appropriate balance between the rights of people involved in any such inquiry and the requirements of the public interest for the purpose of ensuring an effective inquiry. When doing so, they would be obliged to have “due regard” to the principles of fair procedures. These principles have been established by the Constitution and by the Courts over many years.

Judicial Pay

At present, judges pay tax and the Universal Social Charge in the same way as everyone else. Judges are not legally obliged to pay the “Public Service Pension Levy” although they may voluntarily choose to make an equivalent contribution.

The proposal would also allow for a law to be passed making judges subject to the Public Service Pension Levy and to any other future similar charge, or charges

Proposed amendment – judges’ pay

At present, Article 35.5 of the Constitution states:
“The remuneration of a judge shall not be reduced during his continuance in office.”.  This is intended to ensure that an individual judge is neither scapegoated or blackguarded by the Government.

It is proposed to replace this with the following wording:

5 1° The remuneration of judges shall not be reduced during their continuance in office save in accordance with this section.

2° The remuneration of judges is subject to the imposition of taxes, levies or other charges that are imposed by law on persons generally or persons belonging to a particular class.

3° Where, before or after the enactment of this section, reductions have been or are made by law to the remuneration of persons belonging to classes of persons whose remuneration is paid out of public money and such law states that those reductions are in the public interest, provision may also be made by law to make proportionate reductions to the remuneration of judges.

The judiciary is one of three branches of government in Ireland: the Oireachtas, the President and the judiciary. Judges are mandated to make their decisions independently and without interference from the Government or the legislature – who are responsible for the pay of judges.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Will Ireland elect a straw-man or straw-woman as President?

Puerto BanusI observed the ebb and flow of the Irish presidential election over the past 10 days, or so, in Puerto Banus  on the Costa de Sol. It has been a turgid campaign not made any easier for voters by a naive and very amateurish approach and a reluctance by candidates to disclose very much about themselves.

Take Seán Gallagher for instance.  I received a leaflet from him by mail when I returned yesterday.  He states ‘Ireland is a great country.  We are a strong and proud people.  We have an entrepreneurial spirit.  We have bright and well educated young people.  We are creative, loved and respected internationally.’  He goes on to say ‘What we need now is to believe in ourselves’.  The only information conveyed about himself is his surname and one Christian name.

Dana Rosemary Scallon in a similar leaflet explains that ‘I will be President for all the people’.  Really? Is that not the purpose of the office? ‘I will always protect Irelands sovereignty’ but as a ‘truly independent’ she says ‘I have no agenda’.  Mrs Scallon discloses no personal details about herself and neither do any of the other candidates.

Someone seeking to work as a chambermaid in the presidential mansion would be required to provide more biographical information than these people.

Why should voters give any consideration to candidates who are essentially strangers?  Apart from winning enough votes the incoming President also needs to win the trust of the nation and the legitimacy to be an effective President with the potential to become a statesman of consequence in the global arena.

A curriculum vitae would have been an appropriate starting point.  Voters ought to know who the potential President really and details such as educational attainment; proficiency in languages; leadership experience; ability to scrutinise legislation; personal values and whether they are tax compliant, solvent or legal transgressions.  They could elaborate on how they have coped with crisis in their lives.

All of this could form the backdrop to an explanation of how they might conduct the presidency; the priorities and concrete goals they intend to set.

What has transpired instead is a campaign driven by the news media who investigated facets of candidates’ background leaving the candidate floundering with peripheral issues that become full-blown controversies.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Opinion poll heralds seismic shift in Irish presidential election campaign

The latest MRBI poll results in The Irish Times are not surprising but there are 21 days campaigning days left and much can change to influence the outcome.

People are deeply and passionately interested in who is the head of state because that person becomes the bearer of a part of the ego of each and every citizen that defines our nation. The public want to know who these candidates really are and not to be merely presented with a sanitized caricature of who the candidates would like the public to perceive them to be wrapped in an enigma that is no more than a stream of vacuous consciousness of the candidate’s concept of utopia.

Michael D Higgins is the only one of the 7 that passed the biographical-details test and who introduced himself and his wife to the wider public via the Miriam Meets programme on RTE 1 Radio when he disclosed some personal minutiae about both of them.

The public also need to have some robust conviction what the election of any candidate is likely to signal about Ireland to the wider world and what impact that candidate will have on the presidential office – especially the capacity to safeguard the dignity of the office and the nation. The president is the mirror of the nation.

The potential implications of these poll trends are considerable. Fianna Fáil has demonstrated that it is so marginalised and reviled that it could not even put forward a candidate from the mainstream of Irish society to begin to inspire public confidence.

The Fine Gael party has some grounds for the deepest introspective reflection and soul-searching if their best offer to the Irish public is a candidate who is trailing second last seven – 35 points lower than the party itself. Enda Kenny has won the trust of the public and presents as a Taoiseach comfortable in that role.

I have seen first-hand in locations far away from Erin’s shore over the past 10 days that he and Eamon Gilmore have managed to salvage the credibility and stature of the country because Ireland is seen overseas as being led by a competent, stable and responsible government by power brokers whose vigilant gimlet eye defines sentiment.

Sinn Féin must think beyond the boundaries of their traditional narrow, conservative regional enclave if they are to make the stunning breakthrough they believe to be their right. They need turn up for the work they are handsomely paid to do in Westminster and scrutinise the legislation that is impacting the lives of tens of thousands of citizens in the single-seat parliamentary constituencies that they were elected to represent. Laggards in any walk of life are ultimately a useless, irrelevant carbuncle on the arse of spineless society. If Sinn Féin is to be acknowledged as a serious party of national leadership then it is time to start leading, not posturing as neighbourhood activists and playing to the whims of a narrow gallery .

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Norris disability allowance claim highlights a very loose system with scant oversight

It has been reported that Senator David Norris was the recipient of a disability allowance from the Department of Social Protection for a period of 16 years from the time he retired in 1994.  The payment was apparently equivalent to about a quarter of his salary.

The Norris episode highlights some underlying and far-reaching issues with respect to disability allowances. Total payments of disability allowances has increased from €332,208 in 2001 to €1,109,549 last year – an increase of 234%. The number of recipients during this period increased from 57,655 to 101,111 – an increase of 75%

During 2001, 9,663 recipients (just 17% of the total number of recipients) were scheduled for medical examination. Of these, 3,577 qualified for disability allowance; 3,016 did not qualify and 3,010 did not attend for medical evaluation.  It seems like a ‘suck it and see’ practice is prevalent with respect to disability allowances.

During 2010, only 512 medical examinations were scheduled. 107 persons qualified for disability allowance; 201 persons examined did not qualify and 204 persons did not attend for evaluation. An unascertainable number of recipients were ‘desk assessed’ rather than examined last year.

This trend would suggest that Senator Norris is not the only recipient of a disability allowance over a protracted period who could perhaps ‘not specify how much it was worth’.  This week I heard of a person who obtained a disability allowance when her wrist was fractured 15 years ago and continues to receive this allowance – no questions asked!  Her husband, I was told, is a very high earner whose income is derived outside Ireland and who pays no tax in Ireland.

That’s how to spend over €20 billion on welfare without even blinking.

Martin McGuinness needs the vision and enterprise of Sam Walton, not Denis Guiney

There are times when an onlooker would wonder if some of the candidates in the presidential election could survive the election campaign, never mind the 7-year term of the presidency.

They continue to shadow box without disclosing anything positive and inspiring  that could genuinely supportive that has a wow factor. Each of them must appeal beyond the narrow core of support, or is it tolerance, that is reflected in their favour in the opinion polls.

Sinn Féin, for example, are engaged in this contest from a background of subverting the interests, stability and institutions of the State – slaughtering Gardaí, not recognising the legitimacy of the courts despite familiarity with courtrooms. It is as if a proverbial sow’s ear has become a silk purse with candidate McGuinness proposing to salute, as commander-and-chief, the honour guards of the nation’s military while aspiring to become a 32-county president ‘without offending unionists’.

Why would Sinn Féin be seeking to incubate the Irish presidency, feigning acknowledgment of the institutions of the ‘Free State’ while continuing to draw the salaries and expenses derivable from the seats they won at Westminster but not turning up for work? The Westminster seats are based on single-seat constituencies so the archaic stunt of not turning up for work means that all constituents of Sinn Féin MP’s are deprived of effective parliamentary representation. Is there not something absurdly pathetic about standing in front of an Irish electorate seeking to become their head of state at a cut price while taking the Queen’s shilling but not deliberating on the legislative programme that impacts the lives, welfare and prospects of thousands of people in Northern Ireland of all and no political persuasion?  Is parliamentary representation not the most fundamental civil right in a democracy?

The strategy of Martin McGuinness to the presidential election is reminiscent to that of retailer Denis Guiney in the 1950’s ‘pile them high but sell them cheap’. But Guiney’s approach has become obsolete and his retail enterprise never expanded.  McGuinness, perhaps, needs to think like Sam Walton, founder of WalMart.

If he is so much in favour of change and of air brushing history why does his party not propose something more radical – such as taking their seats in Westminster and doing the peoples business and if McGuinness won the election and he were to continue to reside in the North he could imbue the rest of the population with a flavour of what a post united Ireland might be like!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Irish presidential election is becoming chaotic, desultory, pathetic farce!

Gay Mitchell is telling us that how reluctant he is to smile but that his priorities are combatting suicide and child mortality in the third world? The people of Ireland are looking for a head of state, not a drag-queen resembling Mary Magdalene parading his vanity around the globe attaching himself to issues that are beyond the scope of the mandate of the President of Ireland.  If Mitchell wants to become a missionary he needs to pursue a different path.

Is this guy really telling the Irish public that his capacity for public office is so limited and constrained that he cannot even manage to smile at them? If Mitchell performs as chaotically in this election as he is in the campaign that outcome will inflict greater damage on the party that sponsored him than it will on the candidate. What considerations entered the calculus of the Fine Gael party in July when they were choosing a candidate for the presidential election?

The vacuous, evangelical, bullshit that has been proffered about the ‘suitability’ of McGuinness without any concurrent description of what makes Gay Mitchell a compelling candidate for presidential office must bear its own message – and that, too, must be something that does not evoke a smile.

Perhaps it is better for the electorate realise before the election, rather than afterwards, that the disposition of a prospective president to smile graciously is a potential stumbling block to his capacity to relate to them as President. Mr Mitchell there is some substance in the adage – ‘smile and the world smiles with you; scowl and you scowl alone’.

The presidential election campaign by all candidates is degenerating into a pathetic and desultory chaotic farce being acted out by a posse of candidates no more qualified to be head of state that a random selection of hassled commuters at a bus stop in rush hour.

Do these people consider the electorate to be gullible buffoons as they narrate their inane stream of consciousness that is supposed to pass as a compelling case to elect them President of Ireland? The esteem of the nation is at stake and the people deserves better.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A mandate to become President of Ireland or a camouflage for congenital laziness and inertia?

The Irish people are about to be asked to make a 7-year commitment on the 27th October when they choose they next President.  They are entitled to be provided with an intelligent insight into the qualities, qualifications and limitations of the panel of candidates and how each of them intends to conduct that office. 

The Irish Times in its edition of 3rd October has given the candidates in the Irish presidential election a platform to set out their stall under the banner ‘Why I should be President’. Each of them manages to convey absolutely nothing to answer this question.

Mary Davis wants ‘to make a contribution to Ireland’s recovery; restoration of pride at home and reputation across the world’. She does not indicate how she intends to accomplish this. But, like an observer on the upper deck of a double-deck bus she has seen others overcome adversity. As a member of the Council of State she has observed the protection of the Constitution. She advises that “the presidency is about ‘influence’ – using your voice as president to speak for all the people of Ireland, especially those for whom Ireland has not been a welcoming place; about using the office to promote fairness, equality and respect for every person in the country and playing a more expansive international role”.  How has this candidate obtained influence and used it throughout her career?

To whom will her voice be directed to achieve these desirable objectives? What is fairness? How can a President inculcate respect for every person? Where will the more expansive international role be conducted and who on the international will make a difference? She doesn’t indicate which languages she is proficient in so as to expand the international footprint.  The electorate need to understand the precise scope and nature of the intended contribution.

Sean Gallagher wants to put enterprise at the heart of the next presidency. How will his concept of enterprise be juxtaposed with the dynamics of a free marketplace? He wants to become involved in trade missions. Where would he travel to and who would he meet? What would he say when met the target audience? How would he select his targets?

But it is not the function of the President of Ireland to lead trade missions. Dialogue with business people is a components of a President’s international mandate but the responsibility for execution and delivery rests with a Government minister. Gallagher fails to indicate an understanding of the function. Other people are paid handsomely to accomplish what he thinks he could achieve. The nation needs an inspiring statesman in the role of President, not a technician with modest accomplishments.

Michael D Higgins wants inclusive citizenship in a creative society. He does not elaborate on what barriers need to be removed to progress this and how he, as President, can remove them. What is inclusive citizenship? How might I feel if I were included in this process? He is almost 70 years old. Will his health and stamina be robust enough to be an effective President?

David Norris continues to wander around his own personal hall of fame. He wants to put the welfare of people at the centre of political culture. Is that not a role for the leaders of political parties? He believes the role of President needs to be reinvented so that the image of Ireland evokes a smile but fails to elucidate in what direction he would reinvent it.

Gay Mitchell is concerned about the number of suicides and elsewhere I read that he is proposing that the Irish President should become joint head of state in Northern Ireland. Mitchell has been in politics for decades. Why has he had no influence on suicide trends and what exactly does he believe the President can do about this trend? The election is being fought on the basis of the Constitution. How does he propose to effect his proposal with respect to Northern Ireland? Perhaps he might emulate President Obama if he were to seek to also become the joint President of Russia. Credibility rather than hallucinogenic thinking might offer more grounded leadership.

Martin McGuinness wants to construct a new republic in which he would be President of people in the 32 counties of Ireland – whether they want this or not. He wants to make employment the cornerstone of his presidency – but in which part of his kingdom will the jobs become available and who will be the employers? He wants to overhaul what he describes as the archaic mode of selecting candidates but he does not elaborate on what the nature of his implied change might be.  How will he deal with conflicts of interest between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?

Dana presents herself as an entertainer and a business woman. We know she sings hymns but the electorate has no idea as to what her business experience is or how successful she has been in this field. She wants to be an ardent protector of the Constitution. Her presidency will be a catalyst to overcome intolerance and eliminate barriers. How does she intend to do that?

If each of these candidates were to set out what accomplishments they aim to achieve in the second year of the 7-year term the electorate might have some idea as to where their compass is pitched. These vignettes lack candour, conviction or credibility. But this opinion piece is merely a trawl of a stream of consciousness that contains no analysis; an unfocused immature internal monologue. The tragedy is that this pathetic posturing could shroud the egotistical ambitions of lazy, incompetent people unfit for the role of head of state who would become a massive reputational time bomb as President of Ireland.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Gay Mitchell’s Áras campaign must be in lamentable trouble

Under a front page headline ‘Phil Hogan warns No terrorist in the Áras’ today’s edition of The Sunday Independent report today that Ireland would be left looking like a banana republic and denuded of serious levels of corporate investment within 24 months’ if Martin McGuinness is elected President. Not one syllable of explanation is reported as to how Gay Mitchell, the Fine Gael candidate is ‘suitable’ in Hogan’s opinion.

Does this suggest that those sponsoring corporate investment in Ireland are likely to reject the democratic mandate of the Irish people as Hogan warns us of their jackboot influence?

The implication of the Phil Hogan remark would therefore presumably mean that Northern Ireland is a dead duck as far as its economic development is concerned because a terrorist has become a Government leader and business decision makers might ‘whisper’ that they are ‘appalled’. That fragile economy, which already has an overweening dependency on State intervention and money, will therefore never achieve the vitality, independence and prosperity that can only be derived from the private sector if that is the case.

The Fine Gael party has responded to the Mitchell nomination with the sense of excitement, shock and awe more typically associated with a monastery of Trappist monks’ or an enclosed order of nuns.

Gay Mitchell was chosen 83 days ago as the Fine Gael candidate but he is badly trailing the popularity of his own party in the opinion polls. Why are the plain people of Ireland not recognising his ‘suitability’ to become the next President and reflecting in the polls? Why is Mitchell not colonising the public imagination with excitement and exhilaration at the prospect of him becoming President? Poll ratings of 10% in favour and 90% not in favour of his candidacy are not trends that inspire confidence in a public that is about to make a 7-year commitment in choosing of candidate to become our President.

If Ireland is threatened with being associated with the reputation of a banana republic the source of this lies with unprosecuted bankers rather than with presidential candidates. If the Fine Gael Party do not demonstrate even mild conviction that Mitchell is a desirable candidate how can they expect the electorate to respond otherwise? Mr Hogan, your starting point is to say something, anything positive about the candidacy of Mr Mitchell before treating the electorate as if they are undiscriminating buffoons. 

Mr Hogan, if Fine Gael have chosen a dud candidate for this election that is their problem and that is a reflection of their judgement – not the judgement of the electorate.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Irish presidential election campaign marches to a dull morbid tramp

I have been watching the progress of the Irish presidential election campaign from Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Buenos Aires is a city full of vitality and verve while the major Brazilian cities are focused on preparations for the Olympic Games and the World Cup. The population of Sao Paulo, at 20 million, is almost greater than that of Australia.

President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner holds a commanding lead of 60% as she faces a presidential election in Argentina this month.

Her former Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Ignácio Lula de Silva, left office last December but raised 30 million of his citizens from dire poverty in the seven years that he was President of Brazil.

The fact that none of the Irish candidates for President has successfully captured the public imagination to the extent that materially overshadows rivals is an indication of how utterly boring, weak and unconvincing each of the campaigns is. It is an ample demonstration of an inability to connect.

Frankly, if these candidates are as insipid at promoting their own credentials to become a global statesman of some consequence to the general public, how on earth could they possibly have any impact across the world as President and be fit-for-purpose to a public that hardly know where Ireland is?

From a candidate’s perspective, this phase of a campaign is not about being validated by those who are already convinced. It is about moving out of their comfort zone and converting the agnostics – be they ‘West-Brits, D-4 snobs, those who warmly welcomed Queen Elizabeth as well as those who did not’ etc. etc. The contest is for head of state, not head of enclave and that means reaching out to all components of society, even those who will never love or admire you.

None of them have yet demonstrated a credible understanding of the role they are seeking to occupy.

The campaign to date is based on reacting to adversarial shadows – some factually grounded, others less so. Why have none of them published sufficiently comprehensive curriculum vitae to inform strangers who they are? How many languages, for example, are each of them proficient in? What is the educational attainment of each candidate? How literate are each of them in economics? What are there hobbies and personal interests?

How can they honestly expect the electorate to become stimulated and passionate about vacuous slogans and meaningless shibboleths? The public will also quickly weary of any President whose tenure requires endless explanation of the mitigating reasons why he, or she, is the office holder.

The moral is to start showing some flair, energy, relevance and focus – even if most of them are north of 60 years of age seeking to establish stature with a nation, half of whose population is under the age of 35.

This is a presidential election campaign in a sophisticated sovereign State, not a mid-winter Grand National for paraplegic snails at Leopardstown Race Course intended to stimulate insomniacs.