Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Quinns’, the GAA and politics

Back at what must seem like the dawn of time around 350 B.C. the Greek philosopher Aristotle, from the age of 28, developed an approach to philosophy based on observations of the natural world and his publication On Rhetoric had a major influence on public discourse to this day.

Aristotle identified three pillars of persuasion, ethos, pathos and logos.

Ethos refers to ethical appeal - the credibility of the speaker and the potential scope for identity with an audience; Concepts such as character, respect, identity, trustworthiness come into play.

Pathos, standing for suffering or experience,  refers to the emotional connection with an audience; the emotions and tone of a speaker conveys the essence of the message or what the topic evokes; the emotional chord struck within an audience stirred by, for example language, imagery, sympathy, empathy and appeals to the imagination. Pathos is the foundation for rapport when an audience identifies with the author or speaker’s perspective.

Logos concerns the logical, internal consistency or factual foundation of an argument; the logical appeal and whether it is coherent and makes sense; is it supported with data, facts or evidence. Each of these pillars can be deployed to underpin a dialogue.

In summary ethos establishes credibility; pathos fosters the bond of a relationship through shared experiences, common outlook and mutual interests; while logos appeals to reason and logic.

Last Sunday night, 29 July there was a street protest to support the Quinn family in Ballyconnell Co Cavan which attracted almost 4,000 participants with a platform headed by prominent GAA supporters and personalities. The following day the former President of the GAA, Seán Kelly now a Fine Gael MEP for Munster was interviewed on Radio Kerry and extended his support to the protestors, who displayed banners proclaiming ‘Anglo Steals a Business; Seán Quinn Gets Jail. Why?’, ‘Cowardly Kenny Supports Illegality’ and ‘Let the Quinn Case for to Brussels. There Is No Justice Here’

Are the prominent personalities of the GAA and most particularly Kelly, confusing ethos with pathos in their desire to demonstrate tribal loyalty to the Quinn family and hawking the reputation of the GAA and the State in the process?

While this saga is undoubtedly painful for the family it is also a matter of phenomenal national significance to the economic wellbeing of each taxpayer in the country who is faced with the prospect of bearing a massive personal financial burden as a consequence of grossly dysfunctional investment decisions that are the subject of litigation.

Kelly argues that his demonstration of ‘moral support’ from a GAA perspective is a case of showing support for our own’ and ‘standing behind those in trouble is what the association is about’. That gesture amounts to attaching the ethos and credibility of the GAA to an issue which is before the courts of the State and which involves a massive conflict of interests with the electorate.

This platform of support is based on pathos rather than ethos – an effort to trigger an emotional response from a bewildered community. But the price of this approach is for an officer of the State, a member of the Oireachtas, is to imply that the independence, authority and integrity of the judicial system, as enshrined in the Constitution, may not deserve public confidence.

It surely cannot be possible for Seán Kelly to be partly loyal to the electorate of Munster as their MEP, partly loyal to the Constitution, party respectful of judicial due process and partly loyal to the Quinn family whose interests conflict with those that Kelly is supposed to represent in Europe.

This is not an issue for the forked politician’s tongue, no matter how aggrieved the vested interests concerned may feel. Neither Mr Kelly, nor any elected politician, or political party has any right to bring the judicial process of the State into question.

The reputation and stature of the GAA might be better preserved were its leading lights not to become a spontaneous cheerleader, stooge or pain-bearer at the head of public expressions of sympathy by neighbours and friends of a vested interest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Should Seanad Éireann be mothballed?

The chattering classes have declared that Seanad Éireann, the Irish Senate is unfit for purpose but are divided as to whether its should be reformed or abolished.  Taoiseach Enda Kenny declared in 2009, 16 months before he succeeded to his current role that he proposed to save the State €150 million by abolishing the Senate; reducing the number of TDs by 20 to 146 and cutting the salaries of Taoiseach and ministers to achieve greater parity with other jurisdictions.  A decision to reduce the number of TDs by 8 has been taken, as has a decision to reduce the number of town councils from 75 to 50.

The Irish Times, in its editorial on 24 July, states that no compelling case has been made so far for abolition and that the issue should be considered by the Constitutional Convention which is due to convene in September. The Times maintains that ‘reform should be radical’ but that the Upper House should not compete with the Dáil.  Its role should be to ‘influence’ and provide ‘medium to longer term perspectives’.  It could, for example,  become a voice for Irish emigrants, provide gender balance and fair representation for third-level institutions, along with facilitating among its membership subject matter or sector experts. In other words, an institution that should be maintained but which requires an excuse to survive.

The fundamental choice is whether Ireland should continue to have a bicameral parliamentary structure, like the 13 larger members of the European Union or a unicameral structure like the remaining 14 members (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden) and countries of comparable size and scale, such as Norway, Israel and New Zealand.

Federal state typically have two houses of parliament while unitary states have one, and this is also the case in certain regional administrations such as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Where there is no second house to act as a revising chamber providing a second review of legislation other provisions are made.  Luxembourg maintains a Council of State for this purpose.

The first Dáil, which met in January 1919, was a unicameral body.  The 1922 Constitution provided for a senate.  Half of its membership was nominated by the head of government and half were elected by the Dáil.  This procedure was intended to ensure that Unionism was not politically overshadowed.

A change in 1928 resulted in senators being elected by the Oireachtas from a panel nominated by it.  This led to a conflict between Dáil and Seanad in 1936 prompting the establishment of a Commission under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice, Hugh Kennedy.

The 1937 Constitution, passed by a margin of 51/29 with a voter turnout of 75.8%, established the current Seanad – 60 members of whom 11 are nominated by the Taoiseach.  Six are elected by graduates of two universities while graduates of the University of Limerick and Dublin City University are disenfranchised, as are graduates of institutes of technology.  Apart from university graduates the electorate comprises members of the Oireachtas and county councillors.

Seanad Éireann is a deliberative body with limited powers to initiate  and review legislation but with the authority to be a forum for discussions on matters of public interest.  A Money Bill cannot be initiated in the Seanad nor delayed for more than 21 days before returning to the Dáil, which has the power to reject Seanad recommendations.  The Seanad has the power when combined with one-third of the membership of the Dáil to request the President not to sign a Bill into law on the grounds that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.  But that power has never been used.

The rationale for a bicameral parliamentary structure is based on a need to take account of interests that may not be adequately represented in the Dáil and the need to review legislative proposals before they are transposed into law.  A senate is intended to offer checks and balances on the legislative process – but how is this possible if the membership of a senate is elected from such a narrow franchise, as is the case currently and is a mirror image of the government?

The Irish Government derives its authority from the Dáil although up to two members of government can be appointed from the Seanad.  This occurred only twice when Garret FitzGerald appointed his buddy Senator James Dooge (1922-2010) as Foreign Minister in 1981 and Senator Seán Moylan (1888-1957) who was appointed Minister for Lands in 1943 by deValera.

The tenability of the Seanad has been considered on many occasions.  A Seanad Electoral Law Commission was convened in 1958 comprising 19 members under the chairmanship of a Circuit Court judge, Joseph McCarthy but it reached no concrete conclusions after nine months of deliberation.

The Committee on the Constitution which was inaugurated in 1967 at the prompting of Seán Lemass then considered the issue but more recent analysis has focused on the duplication of representation as between the Dáil and the Seanad as well as its relevance in contemporary political life.

Few items of legislation originate there although some technical matter have done so.  Senators cannot raise parliamentary questions and sittings, which typically take place on a Wednesday and Thursday, are determined by the need to consider Bills passed by the Dáil. But in the last analysis party politics impacts both the nomination and election of senators.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Irish Constitutional Convention set to become a Hall of Mirrors

Both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in their article in The Irish Times on 11 July advise that the Constitutional Convention is to be the vanguard of profound social reform.

The challenges of the 21st century they believe need to be met include curtailing the presidential term of office from seven to five years and giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote at embassies overseas.

The length of the presidential term was not an impediment to the distinguished and illustrious transformative presidencies of Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. The experience of the most recent presidential election highlighted concerns about the availability of a sufficient number of candidates with adequately compelling credentials to become President; whether they fully understood what the function of Head of State is and who could persuade the electorate that the presidential office would conducted with dignity, distinction and honour during their tenure.

The prospect of those outside the country being granted a vote begs the question of whether those who do not pay tax should have the privilege of voting. Perhaps the Convention may consider that there is some legitimacy between the presence of a tax evader in the membership of the Oireachtas making the laws of the nation and a constitutional entitlement for the wider Diaspora to determine who should be Head of State.

Another topic for the Convention is to be the greater participation of women in public life. If this is the urgent priority with the stature the political parties would like to convince us us it has, why did they only spend €76,896 of the €4,805,258 of taxpayers’ money granted to them in 2011 on the participation of women in public life? Surely some solid background effort on the ground is necessary before the electorate are asked to embrace profound social and institutional reform.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New 50% income tax rate could yield €490 million

The estimated income of the top-10,000 earners in Ireland this year is estimated to be €5,959 million, or an average of €595,900 per person. The amount of annual income tax payable in this is €1,715 million – an effective tax rate of 29%

The effective tax rate does not include additional liability in respect of social charges – PRSI and Universal Social Charge. A married couple may elect for joint assessment and counted as one tax payer.

The following details relate to the top 1% of income earners; the top 10% of income earners and the top 20% of income earners: €


  Top 1% Top 10% Top 20%
Number of earners 21,650 216,500 433,000
Gross income €8,742 million €29,600 million €43,300 million
Average earnings €403,760 €136,710 €100,000
Amount of tax €2,463 million €7,080 million €9,294 million
Effective tax rate 28% 24% 21%


The number of income earners earning more than €100,000 in 2012 is 113,500.  The top rate of income tax is 41% which applies to single individuals earning over €32,800, married couples – one earning in excess of €41,800 and married couples – both earning in excess of €65,600.

Other streams of income are taxed at different rates.  Deposit interest income is liable to tax at 30%.

If a 50% income tax rate was to be applied to incomes in excess of €100,000 the estimated yield in a full year would be €490 million.