Has there really been no progress in treatment of those with a disability?

Tom Clonan writes with passion and directness about the challenges his son and his family face yet his central premise that it is the state that has disabled his son is one that cannot go unchallenged. There are clearly instances where those working for state or state funded agencies have caused the disabilities of some people, most often during childbirth, yet that is not what is being written about here. He writes that the insufficiency of supports is solely why his son is disabled, that the state has labelled him as such and placed him in his situation. It may seem cold to say this but that is not true. It needs to be said that it’s not true if we’re to have a debate about how we fund and provide proper resources to those who have disabilities so that they can live as full a life as possible.

The state and Irish society can and should do more to assist those with disabilities. It has done so, significantly moreso over the last number of decades. It was to his credit that as minister for Finance that Brian Cowen made increasing spending for disability a focus in his early budgets. This followed on from a number of decades where the funding and range and availability of services had been transformed, from a point in the late 60s/early 70s where the likely outcome was either languishing at home depending almost exclusively on your family or living out your live in some large state institution day after day, the situation in the early 00s was much, much improved. Still not where it should be but still enormously changed. There was a recognition that there was still a considerable distance to travel but it was a broad societal commitment to do so. Something that wasn’t as widespread a generation before.

There are reasonable points to be made about whether those resources were most effectively utlised but increased resources were provided. We have as a society and through the state as our agent recognised and changed the approach to those with disabilities of all types, the resources available have increased. The numbers being provided with a service have increased. Longevity, living in and participating in the community has all increased. People have been able to access more and more services closer to home. I’ve seen that first hand with my own sister who initially had to be placed nearly 300km away from us cos that was all that was available and who over the course of time – a bit over a decade -, and yes lots of pushing, lobbying and chasing, progressively was able to get services closer to home. That’s the changes that have happened, and are still happening. Too slowly, yes.

Yes, there has been a retrenchment during the period of the recession and it’s not a choice I’d personally have made. Yet I see and have seen no alternatives put forward by those who would have continued to increase spending of what other spending they would chosen to reduce and what taxes they would have increased for themselves to fund that spending. Personally, I’d have argued to reduce salaries over the average industry wage for those in the public sector sufficient to cover the necessary resources. I’d have supported and still do charging people who use water for the provision of that service to free up resources for other areas such as disability services. Of course, I’d never have been elected if I’d suggested that.

Services for those with disability tend to be highly specialised and labour intensive and you can’t reasonably expect to provide either on the cheap in the long term. Many of the services being provided now were once provided by volunteers. Service providers who were staffed by the religious orders and others who were not paid very well and who while well meaning were not always that well trained, if trained at all, have been replaced by both public and private sector services with better pay and conditions and considerably higher expectations of training. That has all required considerable increases in funding from the state. The costs per person can easily run into six figures per year, that can easily be the entire tax take for dozen or more people. I believe that it is entirely reasonable that a proper and just society would underwrite those costs, yet I’m also conscious that it’s not the only sector requiring funding and that the case has to be repeatedly made to the public at large as to why their money needs to be spent in this area and when necessary why it needs even more of their money.

However, it is a complete disservice to those working in the sector to claim that they and the system they work for is what is disabling his son. To those who fund the state services and those working in them to straight out say that they’re at fault for someone’s disability is incredibly dismissive of their efforts. Nobody working in this area nor no one seeking election is going to win friends by pointing improvements, you get elected by highlighting what’s still wrong, what there is yet to do, not by calling out progress made.

There are still many problems with the way in which spending is controlled, with who gets to make the decisions – it being too much the state agency rather than the individual who decides what service they should get -, the siting of services, the availability of services outside of 9-5 mode, the timely assessment of people for services, the continuity of staff, the supports for families and carers and the long term funding for the individual so that we remove the disconnect and disjointed transition from the services available to someone under 18 and those deemed to be adults. the list is long and grows every year. The approach being taken needs to be constantly reviewed and revised, yet if it is not possible to acknowledge that any progress that has been made up to now with the increased resources how can we justify further increases?

Tom’s article is clearly driven by frustrations and probable exhaustion which would be recognisable to anyone who has cared for someone with a disability. That can explain but it really shouldn’t excuse the rewriting of history and conflation of individual situations into a systemic abandonment. There is peculiar reference in his piece to his son not being capable of being a God in ancient times that is supposedly meant to negatively compare modern attitudes to those with disabilities to those of yore. I’m not sure what age Tom Clonan is but attitudes now are light years ahead of what they were in the long ago. It’s not the modern world that would have deemed his son unable to be a God; it would have been our ancestors. Tom writes about an incident with Aer Lingus that reflects more the failure of individuals to do their job properly rather than any systemic failure of the state. He writes of the need to contact a station a day in advance to ensure there is a ramp available to ensure access, I agree that’s too restrictive. What is Tom Clonan’s proposed solution?

Tom has stood for election to the Seanad in 2016. At the time he made little if any reference that can be found as to what taxes he would have increased to provide more resources or what other areas of spending he would reduce or eliminate to free up additional resources for the disability sector. There are many people and groups that advocate for more resources, that is as it should be. Yet if it is assumed by almost all concerned that providing those resources is simply a matter of asking strongly enough and they will be released from whatever vault they are being kept in then we’re not going to change the minds of the electorate from whom those resources need to come. We need to move away from the current model of funding that looks at supports for those with disabilities as being part of the health agenda. It’s not. Most health considerations are for the prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions that are “correctable” or “fixable” whether in the short, medium or longer term. There is a view that at some stage in the future their treatment can hopefully end, that they can exist the system. Almost of those with a disability will have for their entire lives, theirs are not needs to be treated, completed and discharged. While there is some overlap with those with chronic conditions, it is reasonable to look at taking management of this sector away from the Dept of Health into a new structure that may well be a client to use health services to provide specific supports but which is managed independently and funded differently. I don’t have the complete picture to answer to how all that should be done but it’s a debate we need to have.

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Towards a Just Society or Just virtue signaling

The column by Mark Fitzgerald invoking the Just Society suffers from the usual weaknesses of most writing about this document. The column is long on the supposed motivations and good intentions of those involved but short on the specifics of what the document proposed to do. It ignores entirely that the Ireland of the mid 1960s was a very different place to the one we live in now. The reality is that more people have read the terms and conditions associated with a recently purchased household appliance than have read the document “Towards a Just Society”.

Towards a Just Society championed price controls that would see the state fix prices; much as we had with air travel in the 80s, income controls that would protect the professions from competition and rapidly increase the pay of those working for the state while glossing over how any of this would be funded. It proposed the sale of local authority houses to their tenants: a policy now condemned by some quarters as Thatcherite, A policy of Universal Health Insurance to fund Healthcare: an idea that is cyclically lauded as ensuring people have equal access the health system but then run from by the electorate when it is noted that everyone would be required to contribute something. While popular with those affected, do we still need “a scheme of Arbitration for Sub-Postmasters”? , or to single out for “increase the pensions of C.I.E. pensioners,” or to “exempt completely from Rates all farmers who have a total P.L.V. of £25 or less.”? This might seem nitpicking but it shows the document was prone to just the sort of tainted pandering to special interests that many who now invoke the document will denounce with disdain.

Towards a Just Society was of its time and served its purpose but it is long past time that it was given a decent burial. Instead we should task ourselves with creating a new document one that addresses itself to the challenges we still face while acknowledging that we are faced with wholly new challenges too and that there are completely different options open to us.

Standing in front of a mirror or clicking your heels 3 times while saying ” There’s no place like Just Society” does nothing for nobody. The lazy invocation of “Towards A Just Society” is no more a useful contribution to political debate than asking us to “Remember the Alamo”.

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The three jobs of the next Fine Gael Leader

The next leader of Fine Gael, whoever that may be, will be expected to fulfill not one but three jobs in their new position.

From Totem Park, Victoria, BC. Precise locatio...

From Totem Park, Victoria, BC. Precise location: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&q=victoria,bc,canada&ie=UTF8&t=h&om=1&ll=48.425919,-123.375279&spn=0.001637,0.005407 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just what are these three jobs that the next leader of Fine Gael will need to be ready to undertake from the moment they are elected, you may ask. Well, even if you didn’t I’m going to tell you anyways.

The obvious first is Taoiseach, being Taoiseach in the modern political age is a 24/7 undertaking, the role spans party politics and quite apart from the title of head of government, it involves ensuring that the ministers of the day from all parties and none that are represented in cabinet and the concerns and motivations of those on whose support the government relies from day to day are taken into consideration.  The Taoiseach much like the British notion of a Prime Minister, on which most of our parliamentary infrastructure is modeled, is the chief arbiter of the competing interests of the cabinet members, the First among Equals. While in practice the holder of the office may be able to make their writ run long and quick, it is not so clear cut in legal terms and clearly not always so in reality when the Taoiseach of the day is not the leader of a single party government.

The second is that of leader of the Parliamentary party, this role is clearly much more party political and involves leading the most senior elected elements of the entire party. This role has some overlap and similarity with the role of Taoiseach, given as it does the requirement to balance the competition ambitions and skills of the members of the parliamentary whose long term goals and interests coincide much more than their short term interests might. The short term necessity of someone seeking high office to get elected first in order to contribute and realise any longer term achievement of party policies can never be far from the minds of the members of the parliamentary party. Their closest colleagues are also typically their closest competitors, those in their constituency they will want to do well so that the party as a whole has sufficient strength to be in government but not so well as to deprive them of their own elected positions. As for those within their generational band, they will want them to do well and contribute to the overall performance and standing of the party in the public mind but not so well as to supplant them in the league table that influences opportunities to serve in executive office. This role is quite often as demanding as the role of Taoiseach even if much more of the workload is taking place out of the public eye. A new party leader will have to assuage both the individuals who have lost in the contest just passed, including reaching out to their many backers and to maneuver those nearing the end of their careers towards a soft landing while also identifying those most suitable for promotion, at all levels within the parliamentary party.

The third job and the role of least likely interest to the wider public and the media is that Leader of the wider Fine Gael family as President of Fine Gael. This job is naturally seen as the poor relation to the other two roles. Yet it is one that needs particular attention as the party seeks to demonstrate that it can renew itself in vision and purpose while still being effective in government. Much like the manner in which the state is organised with a permanent government in the public service that provides continuity beyond the personnel who can change from Dail to Dail, there needs to be a strand in the party organisation that is neither directly beholding to the leader of the day nor a separate power base but which provides a longer term perspective on what the principles, and broad goals for the party are to be and how they are to be achieved.

The President of the party needs to have as their first focus the health and well being of the full party organisation, from the newly joined up members who is fired up wit enthusiasm and ideas, to the long standing members who may no longer be be able to contribute to the door to door canvasses at election time, from the person thinking about taking the first steps to being an elected public representative to the person who wants to play a role internally whether bringing organisational skills to bear or to contribute to areas of policy formulation that touch on areas of their own personal or professional experience. Frankly it is an area in which all Irish parties currently exhibit some varying degree of weakness, though none will dare admit so in public, as manifested by the increasing usage of focus groups and increased access granted to lobbying NGOs and think-tanks of various guises. Fine Gael’s structures and events are too staid and too stage managed, with the Ard Fheis no longer an event for members but rather a series of photo ops and set pieces with the members acting the role of hundreds of extras in a battle scene from Game of Thrones.  Indeed the smallfolk of FineGaelos are frequently deemed an inconvenience what some would see as a successful Ard Fheis, one that is absent of gaffes but also of incident. Much like the well run Hospital in Yes Minister that has no patients. Parties that can’t allow robust, rigour internal debate are doomed to neuter their own ability to generate ideas from within. Debate does not mean divisiveness, contests do not mean conflict, criticism is not failure.  And we have to consider if branches that are solely geographically based is the best fit for an age when people self organise around topics and ideas. Why not a virtual branch on the environment or overlapping memberships of campaign teams tasked with specific duties, such as leaflet drops or social media engagement?

As a totem for the changes that need to be investigated and implemented I would strongly recommend that it is time to consider if this role of Party President is really best served by being undertaken by the same person who is Taoiseach and leader of the parliamentary party. Before the last Ard Fheis I proposed that consideration be given  to the role of Party President being mutually exclusive to being :Leader of the Parliamentary Party. I would still commend that as a significant first step in the internal reforms that are long overdue. We have for too long always had some reason to hold off on anything too contentious: in case it got in the way of an upcoming local, European or General Election, or there was an upcoming referendum. We need to be able to reform and remake the party while in government, otherwise we could well find ourselves with all the time in the world to look at reform alone while others govern and take the country back on the same merry go round of easy answers and saying yes to everyone that has twice led the country to economic collapse.

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From anti-clericalism to anti Catholicism

There are many good and well founded reasons for people to question the transfer of a state funded asset to a private religious organisation. There are many people doing that at the moment with respect to the proposed move of the National Maternity Hospital to the

English: Anti-Catholic cartoon depicting the C...

English: Anti-Catholic cartoon depicting the Church and the Pope as a malevolent octopus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

lands at St. Vincents University Hospital.. Yet there is also an creeping element of anti-Catholicism in some of the commentary on this issue. This is as distinct from anti-Clericalism as noted by the Irish Times today.

The French state has had a long history since the revolution of anti-clericalism. This was for the sensible justification that the clergy were largely complicit in the exploitation of the ordinary people, living as they did on a mandatory tithe that diminished their materiel well being without necessarily enhancing their spiritual well being. However, Ireland despite our claimed republican origins was much more pro-clericalism in the manner in which the state behaved when dealing with the Catholic church. Much more handy for our elected reps to deal with the clergy than with the people directly on matters of social policy, it gave them both cover when they didn’t want to confront uncomfortable problems. It is a good thing for the state to throw off those shackles of bending the knee to the unelected representatives of one faith. That does not mean that the state or those representing it can also decide to treat differently with individual members of the Catholic faith who are not acting in any capacity as its representatives.

I’ve noted people (sadly one a member of my own party) practically screaming on social media to know if the Master of the Holles street was a Catholic or not. The clear implication is that the Master of the National Maternity Hospital is incapable of being trusted to discharge her duties if she is a member of the Catholic faith. Imagine for a moment that the NMH was refusing to move to the site at SVUH and the Master was of some other faith, so the word Catholic was replaced with Muslim or Jewish…what would be the impression that someone outside of Ireland get of the mindset of such people? that we only see people through the prism of their faith, that this facet alone defines them, not their education, work or life experience? I’ve no idea what faith the Master follows and quite bluntly it is as she said not relevant.

The strong hint of sectarianism in such comments is quite disturbing. Frankly it’s the stuff of an anti-Catholic witch hunt. It’s what southern Baptists claimed about President Kennedy, that anyone Catholic is unable to do their job without referral to the hierarchy and eventually the Vatican. It was a prejudicial slur then and it remains one still.

The whole point of a more secular state and all the anti discrimination legislation we have passed is that someones’s faith or gender or whatever should not be an issue, only their ability and competence. Yet for some the goal is not to end discrimination on such grounds but in fact to reverse the direction of it. To borrow a phrase from the 1997 election for them, it’s Payback time.

There are many reasonable questions to be asked regarding this issue and much yet to be resolved. However there is an appropriate way to do that and demanding to know if the Master of Holles streeet or someone else who comments on this issue is a Catholic or not is not it.

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What type of party should a new Fine Gael leader be asked to lead?

The by now weekly calls from various people that the talk about the leadership race is a distraction remind me of a driver in their car bemoaning all the traffic around them. It’s those very calls that keep the talk going and it seems to be forgotten by the many people making those calls that what kicked off the talk in the first place was the deadline or precondition of not leading the party into the next election that An Taoiseach himself created.

The party is lucky in my view to have a number of individuals who can take on the role of leader but all the talk about who the leader should be, when the contest should be and so on is entirely the wrong discussion for Fine Gael to be having.

The right discussion to have is about what type of party Fine Gael should be and what course it should be trying to travel in and what its destination is to be and only after that has happened can we talk about what person is best suited to leading that party. Deciding on a leader whether based on personality or legislative achievements while not being clear in our own heads about what the party stands for and what it aims to achieve is the proverbial cart horse scenario of yore. In the last 12 months, there have been references to the Just Society document that one would believe it was a holy tract. Others have made references to key phrases like the individual or enterprise that are intended to serve as shorthand for something or other, yet none of those invocations of well worn phrases should take the place of a proper debate, a really robust examination of what the party should stand for the next part of the 21st century.  We’ve moved past bare bones austerity (cos it worked though most are loath to admit it) but we now need to move into a different phase when new goals can be seen as achievable if we’re realistic and honest about what’s need to achieve them e.g. we can have a better more equitable health service but only if we change how it is funded, and run and what is believes it is trying to do. There are many other areas to be explored too and that exploration needs to tackle place before a new leader is chosen.

Party Members are not mere passengers in the good ship Fine Gael, they’re the crew and the energy behind the party.They are the ones who literally bail out the party when the going gets too stormy. It is they that should come together to decide the future destination and to chart the course that the party needs to go on before deciding on the type of captain to take us there.

And in order to do that members need to be talking about that in the coming months in advance of their branch and constituency AGMs, and this discussion should be well advanced before whatever Ard Fheis or National Conference gathering may be planned for later on in the year.

My interest is in ensuring that both the current and any future leadership of the party reflects the thinking, views and experience of the party membership. Many of whom believe that the problems they pointed out both before and after the 2014 elections (the pig’s ear of reviewing medical cards without some basic common sense ground rules for those with life long conditions or terminal illnesses or the decidedly unsilk purse like mess made of Irish Water and many other issues) were not listened to in the planning for the 2016 election. Those members still feel that they were proved correct in their analysis of where the problems were and the mistakes made but that months after the two reports (Coy and the Parlimentary Party one) into the election were published that progress is not moving at the pace it should be.

With that in mind I believe the party members should start to organise their own regional gatherings over the next few months around the country. Events that are primarily focused on members talking to one another and not the usual top table lead events that serve as public speaking practice for some of the lesser lights of the parliamentary party. And to bring the ideas from those gatherings together, to collaborate on developing a common agreed direction for the party to go in, and to make the next Ard Fheis or national gathering a place of debate and discussion, even dissension and division (by voting) instead of a glorified and highly costly photo op.

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Equal pay for equal work – really?

The slogan in use by the ASTI is “Equal pay for equal work.”

Yet we all know that teachers teach a variety of class sizes, of students with different abilities and challenges, in a variety of scholastic and social environments, and across a range of subjects. There are teachers in disadvantaged areas doing Trojan work in the most difficult of circumstances who are not paid as they should be compared to their colleagues in more comfortable surroundings. Teachers doing very different work, yet they are all being paid the same. That is not equal pay for equal work.

Experience should make a teacher better but it’s not guaranteed to do so; and surely talent, aptitude and flair must be factors too. The automatic assumption that someone with 10 years experience is better than someone with 5 years experience. That is not equal pay for equal work.
We all remember the names of the teachers who inspired us, who helped us be better at subjects we found hard and excel at those we were capable at, and if we remember their names at all, we shrug our eyes and roll our shoulders at those who went through the motions. This is true whether you’re 70 plus, 40 odd, just out of school or still in it. Yet the ones reading from the Cliff notes or their equivalent, or told you to read ahead in silence while they stepped out for a smoke or a chat were and are paid the same as the ones who follow you into the Pass class to encourage you back into Hons. cos they knew and said it before the class that you had the ability to master it, or who customises how they teach to suit the weaker and stronger students. That is not equal pay for equal work.

Benchmarking was supposed to eliminate differences between people doing the same type of work whether in the public or private sphere. In the private sector the more in demand and more rare your skills the higher your pay will be. Not in teaching. All teachers received the same increases from benchmarking regardless of what actual competition there was for their skills; whether they taught Irish or Maths, German or Geography. That is not equal pay for equal work.

This inequality exists because of a pay system based almost entirely on scales that give the most weight to what qualifications they had when starting out and how long they’ve been in the position. Nothing about the nuanced nature of the work being done this year compared to last. It is a system that suits a union leadership wedded to 19th century concepts of labour and collective thinking. That what matters least is what you as an individual contribute but rather what group you can be most easily fitted into.

For the ASTI it’s clear that the slogan “Equal pay for equal work” is superficial at best and misleading at worst. It ill serves the teachers who are working the hardest and doing the most to the benefit of the majority. We should pay brilliant teachers magnificently and the more moderate ones adequately, the less that moderate should be ushered into other professions. That would be unequal pay for unequalled work.

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The Muddled Majority

Recent opinion polls in the Irish Times and elsewhere have highlighted a curious mismatch in the public discourse on the 8th amendment. The majority of people (55% according to the Irish times) seem to be of the view that sometimes, just sometimes, the least worst. most medically appropriate, decent, compassionate and realistic option is to allow for the termination of a pregnancy; even where that pregnancy had been very much wanted. That this should be available safely, legally and within Ireland. That the circumstances that would give rise to a recourse to this action should be, if at all possible, minimised or eliminated, whether through the further development of medical science or the rigorous enforcement and vigilance of the criminal justice system where crimes are the cause of the pregnancy. In other words that the need would be as rare as possible and that we as a society should be doing all that we can to make it so.

Yet, listen to our airwaves, read our papers, and consider the views most commonly voiced in our politics and you’ll see that these are dominated by the views of the extreme ends of the debate which are supported by just 19% and 18% of people. So long as those are allowed to dictate the discourse and shape how this issue is dealt with then, so it would seem we are doomed to fail to deal sensibly and decently with the messy reality of being human beings.

We see that modern medicine can prolong life long beyond when a person can’t make use or enjoyment of it especially when disease has debilitated them or left them in constant pain and so we’re kind of but not entirely comfortable with the notion that the individual should be able to choice when to depart this life. Yet we’re scared what that might mean for ourselves one day. We see that sometimes a much wanted pregnancy is not going to end as hoped for and that a couple may feel unable to endure a long slow agony of letting gone, and prefer instead to bring that to a more sudden perhaps more manageable stop. Yet we see that others may prefer to endure and indeed enjoy every moment that they’ve given however short that might be. And we’re unsure which we’d be if it came right down to it, and we’re conscious that it may, just may, represent a slippery slope to the avoidance of progressive wider and wider forms of what might be termed less optimal outcomes. That it might lead to the elimination of many forms of what some term imperfection, that others would call a core part of a rich human diversity.

So we’re unsure and we’re confused and we’re not neat or hard or fast in our opinions and the 18 and the 19% shout us down, and dismiss us and our muddle as unworthy of consideration. Yet without us they can’t change anything, and if it’s change that’s needed then the tidy mess needs to be acknowledged and listened to and taken on board otherwise change will not happen and the status quo will remain in effect. Isn’t that also a large part of the problem of modern life and the politics of it that many of the issues we’re grappling with are too untidy and too messy to fit neatly into any particular predefined boxes. We want to support others who are less fortunate than others and are willing to do so through our taxes but we’ve also got a lot of things we’d like to do ourselves with the money we’ve earned and so we’re constantly caught in two minds between want to ensure others are ok but that we’re ok too. We make compromises with ourselves and then try and find ways to break them. We want to be free to do what we want without the interference of others, while retaining the right to interfere in the choices of others.

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A test post for new site.

 

Shock-absorbing pads fall away from the surfac...

Shock-absorbing pads fall away from the surface of an MGM-118A Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile as it emerges from its launch canister. This is the first test launch of the Peacekeeper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Open Letter to Michael McDowell re: use of data in Seanad campaign

Dear Michael,

I had supplied my email address to Democracy Matters in order to be kept informed on matters pertinent to its ongoing campaign to retain and reform Seanad Éireann. I did not sign up to participate in or endorse your personal campaign to be elected to the Seanad.

That broader campaign to retain and reform the Seanad and your own personal campaign are not one and the same thing.

I have not asked that my contact details be deleted from Democracy Matters but rather why you are using Democracy Matters resources for your own supposedly independent campaign. For you to say that if I do not wish to be informed about your campaign for the Seanad that I am deemed to be no longer supportive of the retention and reform of the Seanad and would be deleted shows a conflation of the personal with Democracy Matters that is troubling.

This behaviour mirrors much of what is termed astro turfing in the US. It is a well stage managed campaign but one that now appears to be built on a false premise. Is Democracy Matters even still functionally in existence? The Website appears to be defunct http://www.democracymatters.ie/ , the email I sent it has bounced, there have been no recent public events or emails about same and the twitter account is only retweeting the comments of others.

I along with many hundreds of others campaigned to retain the Seanad and went door to door doing so, but I don’t recall any communication with those people before your candidacy was announced. Unlike you I don’t have a vote for the Seanad election, but that means I, like the millions of others disenfranchised, have some skin in the skin when it comes to Seanad reform. Why was there no communication to those doing the legwork when the prospect of an open Seanad seat became visible? Was there a convention, were people invited to participate in the process of selecting a candidate, was there a hustings, was Democracy Matters involved in that at all? If not then how are you in a position to use its resources to support your campaign?

It is clear now that Democracy Matters was a closed shop, open to all when it suited, to lend weight to events/meetings and to drop leaflets and canvass, but involving people on an invitation only basis to the inner circle when it came to dividing up the spoils. Hereditary and the passing on of Oireachtas seats within families is one of the worst aspects of Irish politics but it is little better when an Oireachtas seat is passed on from one insider to another via some Romanesque nepotism with a public laying on of hands.

This lax attitude to the separation of information you happen to have access to in one role from its use for the benefit of another role you are pursuing could almost be understood in some neophyte in their 20s stumbling into a national election fresh from a SU hustings. However in an former AG and Minister for Justice who lead the way on the introduction of extensive data retention laws that have been since found to be against EU law it is inexcusable.

That your instinct is to see no difference between this organisation and yourself personally and your access to and use of data provided to it is unnerving. Especially since you in your role as Minister for Justice introduced data retention laws that subsequently lead on to the European Data Retention Directive of 2006. Such a combination of a casual attitude to the use of data and the support of imposition of the state in the retention of data for long periods begs the question of where is the liberalism in this Seanad Race, where will be the defence of the individual against larger entities be they state. corporate or campaigning organisations such as Democracy Matters?

Yours sincerely,
Daniel Sullivan

Dear Daniel

I refer to your recent email.

I wrote to you on the understanding that you, like many others, had supplied your email address to Democracy Matters in order to be kept informed on matters pertinent to its ongoing campaign to retain and reform Seanad Éireann.

My email to you was written to convey to you the fact that Senator Feargal Quinn was not standing for election on this occasion and that he had invited me, as another of the co-founders of Democracy Matters, to contest the Seanad election to ensure that the Seanad reform programme of Democracy Matters would continue to be represented in the Oireachtas, and to seek your support in that endeavour.

If I am mistaken in believing that you supplied your email address for the purpose of being kept informed about matters concerned with the ongoing aims of the Democracy Matters campaign or if you no longer wish to receive any emails on such matters, I will of course delete your email address from any further circulation of information relating to the aims of Democracy Matters.

Yours sincerely,

Michael McDowell

Dear Michael,

I would appreciated it if you could you enlighten me as to how you come have this email address?

Is it from the Democracy Matters mailing list collected for the campaign to retain the Seanad?

If so then both your use of it for your own election campaign and the fact that Democracy Matters have made it available to you are matters of serious concern. I would appreciated a response on this issues as early as possible.

regards Daniel Sullivan

Dear friend,

In 2013, you and I and hundreds of others from across Irish society – such as Noel Whelan, Senator Katherine Zappone, Senator Joe O’Toole, and Senator Feargal Quinn – came together and campaigned to defeat the proposed abolition of Seanad Eireann, on the promise and in the belief that it could be reformed into a meaningful and effective organ of Irish democracy. Democracy Matters was singularly responsible for the retention of the Seanad and the campaign is one in which I am still proud to have been involved.

Regrettably, and despite efforts both from within and from outside the Seanad, there has been little progress or reform since. The Report of the Working Group on Seanad Reform, chaired by my friend Maurice Manning, was warmly welcomed but now appears consigned to gather dust.

In recent months, Senator Quinn informed me of his decision not to seek re-election to the Seanad on the NUI Panel in 2016, and invited me to run in his place. I have accepted his invitation, with the aim of being elected to the Seanad to lead a movement for reform from within the Oireachtas.

If you, or anyone you know, is a registered NUI graduate, I would be honoured and grateful for a Number 1 vote in the forthcoming election.

The voting process is quite straightforward but you need to be aware of it in order to play your part. Shortly after March 21st, you will receive by registered post:

A ballot paper
A declaration of identity form
Two envelopes
Ballot papers must reach NUI by 11am on April 26th.

The identity form must be signed by the voter and by a witness and returned with the ballot paper. If you are not at home when the ballot paper arrives, the postman will leave a docket informing you that the documents can be collected from the Post Office. If these are uncollected after three days, the envelope will be returned to NUI. On request to the NUI, the ballot paper will be re-sent to you – please email elections@nui.ie.

I enclose a PDF of my campaign leaflet which sets out my priorities if elected to the NUI Panel. If you have any queries or would like to assist us, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely,

Michael McDowell

Posted in GE11 | Leave a comment

Free advice to Seanad Candidates (NUI/TCD)

So you’ve gotten yourself nominated for the Seanad for either the NUI or TCD panels. Good for you!

Now the bad news. You won’t get much of a chance to build your profile during the campaign itself. The media don’t much care and even 10 minutes of national radio won’t get you much attention.

For those at the younger end of the spectrum they should note that most of those registered and by extrapolation voting are much older than people seem to think they should be. Sure there’s been an enormous increase in graduate numbers of the last 20 years but unfortunately up to 90% of many of those years aren’t registered at all. Even those that are will be more likely to have their parents address instead of their current address.

Pay for the electronic copy of Seanad register and look at who is registered on your local area, and go door to door! You’d be amazed at how effective it can be.

Use a search service that generates a map based on xls imports and you’re then going to be able to plan a nice walking route. Make sure it’s one that doesn‘t necessarily retain the data though, you don’t want to breach any data protection regulations.

Don’t go mad with glossy A4 leaflets or paying for mail outs to people, you’re not going to see the return on it that you’d be expecting.

Be aware that the penetration of the litir um thoghchán isn’t 100% effective, in some/many instances people will get it after the votes have been sent back and even in some cases after the deadline for sending the votes in has passed.

You might tell yourself and some voters may even tell you that they’ll research each of the candidates and weigh up all the pros and cons, the ins and outs before making their decision. However 90% won’t remotely do that. They will either not have the time or the inclination to invest 5 minutes per candidates, equating to over 3 hours of research, before deciding how to vote.

The process that most of the voters appear to use, especially when confronted by a large ballot paper is to scan down and perhaps across it if a butterfly ballot is used, and see which names they recognise. From those 5/8 names, they’ll make their decisions on who gets their first votes. After that it’s going to be pretty random.

The biggest factor you need to deal with before they look at the ballot at all is name recognition, if they’ve heard of you before now and have formed an opinion then you’re half way to getting elected. And here’s the rub even if 80% of people the electorate have a strongly negative perception while 5% think you’re the best thing since sliced bread, while the remaining 15% are middling indifferent, you could well get elected. Why? Cos the turnout is usually 35% of so, 35% of 103,000 is about 36,000 and that gives a quota of 9,000. However the vote is going to be heavily fractured so someone with 5% true believers amongst that 103,000 on the register is starting the first count on 5,150 votes.

The vote you’ll get compared to someone else is no reflection on who you are as a person compared to anyone else. Just because they got 900 votes compared to your 450 doesn’t mean they’re twice as capable as you or twice as kind or humane. Keep that in mind when consider the person on 225 votes too!

Posted in Seanad, seanad eireann, seanad reform | Leave a comment