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

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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!

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Fine Gael decision making process on government formation

Were Fine Gael to make a decision on participation in government with FF – a process in which FF members would have a direct involvement, while we’ll have none - it will stuck in the craw of our members for far longer than the likely political careers of those who making such a decision on our behalf.


While it is not explicitly required by the party rules, if FF members (by means of a special Ard Fheis) are included when our members are excluded, it puts we, the ordinary members of supposedly the likely senior government party, in the ha’penny place.


It is those voiceless members who have spent many hours and days speaking to voters, those vote-less members who selected most of ye as candidates at conventions. and it is those same powerless members whose continuing support is vital to any campaigning to have the party returned to government in future.


To have FF members participate directly in the decision to go into government with us while our own FG members are outside the window looking in, will send a clear message that we’re to be the poor relations in the arrangement. Any suggestion based on some “informal consultation process” while FF members get to cast a ballot will be unlikely to salve the wound such a process will inflict on party cohesion.


Be well aware that if we were to form a government with FF, their backbenchers and members locally will spend every moment of that time making pretence to be the local and vocal opposition to any potentially unpopular government decisions while also being the first to claim credit for anything positive. e..g each increase in the old age pension will be hailed as sign of what compassionate FF were able to do against those heartless people in FG. Ignoring the cold reality that it was their bankrupt policies that might there was no money for increases the last few years. It’ll make the relationship between the late Jackie Healy Rae and former minister John O’Donoghue appear a model of cordiality.


Above all, we should be mindful of the fable of the scorpion and the frog. If this decision is to be made, then it would be best made by all of the party or not at all.
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Dublin Bay North 1st Count Prediction

Below is my personal predictions for Dublin Bay North.

2011 Votes for DNC and DNE collected together

2011 Candidate Votes
FG Terence Flanagan 12332 15.30%
Lab Tommy P Broughan 10006 12.41%
FG Richard Bruton 9685 12.01%
Lab Aodhan O Riordain 8731 10.83%
Ind Finian McGrath 5986 7.43%
SF Larry O’Toole 5032 6.24%
FF Seán Haughey 5017 6.22%
FG Naoise O Muiri 4959 6.15%
FF Averil Power 4794 5.95%
Lab Seán Kenny 4365 5.41%
SF Helen McCormack 2140 2.65%
Ind Eamonn Blaney 1773 2.20%
PBP John Lyons 1424 1.77%
Ind Jimmy Guerin 1283 1.59%
AAA Brian Greene 869 1.08%
GP David Healy 792 0.98%
GP Donna Cooney 501 0.62%
Ind Raymond Sexton 351 0.44%
Ind Paul Clarke 331 0.41%
Ind Robert Eastwood 242 0.30%
FG vote 26976 33.46%
Lab 23102 28.66%
FF 9811 12.17%
SF 7172 8.90%
GP 1293 1.60%
PBP+AAA 2293 2.84%
Renua
SocDems
Ind 9,966 12.36%

 

2016 Projections

2016 Candidate Votes Percentage
Ind Finian McGrath 8500 11.44%
FG Richard Bruton 7231 9.74%
FF Seán Haughey 7006 9.43%
SF McDonnacha 5396 7.27%
SocDems O’Callaghan 4978 6.70%
FF Heney 4875 6.56%
Lab Aodhan O Riordain 4752 6.40%
SF Mitchell 4688 6.31%
Lab Tommy P Broughan 4239 5.71%
FG Naoise O Muiri 3819 5.14%
Renua Terence Flanagan 3789 5.10%
Ind Averil Power 3351 4.51%
PBP John Lyons 2781 3.74%
Ind Jimmy Guerin 1894 2.55%
AAA Michael O’Brien 1843 2.48%
FG Stephanie Regan 1792 2.41%
GP Donna Cooney 1298 1.75%
Ind Peter O’Neill 1244 1.67%
Ind Paul Clarke 458 0.62%
Ind Prionias O’Conarain 337 0.45%
FG vote 12893 17.36%
Lab 4688 6.31%
FF 11881 16.00%
SF 9217 12.41%
GP 1244 1.67%
PBP+AAA 4573 6.16%
Renua 3789 5.10%
SocDems 4752 6.40%
Ind 27,576 37.13%

 

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That Sunday Times BandA poll

For those that are interested the full poll pdf is here.

 

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Stability + Plus

The campaign run by Fine Gael is coming in for some criticism, some of it justified, some

Pakoras 2

Pakoras 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of it not, some of it just barking. It was always going to be necessary for an incumbent government party to run a a campaign referencing their period in Government but as they say eaten bread is quickly forgotten and people tend to vote more for the future and not based on the past. Fine Gael was quite clear in 2011 that the job they wanted to do was a multi-term effort, unlike their partners in government they were emphatic that it could not be done without causing pain and would most certainly take more than one term to deliver on the changes the were advocating.

So my thinking was that the campaign should be one that references the 1st term s a foundation period, one that acknowledged that it had involved a lot of unpleasant, unpopular, dirty and disruptive work. It was messy and brutal and hard for many, many people but also we’re through that point now. Yet it was work that needed to be completed quickly, by getting a roof on our economic problems and sealing the national house from the elements, while the economic weather held. This is the obvious Stability element.

You would call out those opposed to the actions of the first term by a twin track of highlighting those who kept saying there were fairer alternatives to the actions taken for their failure to present those magical fairer options in detail beyond catch phrases and indeed to implement them while in government and those who said that the approach of what was once term fiscal rectitude or living within your means would never, never work, for the fact that clear it has worked. Even if the effects, much like the early days of the Celtic Tiger, aren’t yet being felt everywhere.

The 2nd term would naturally be very different in focus, as it built on the foundations but concentrated on the next phase, the work of fitting out the house when you decide what to do with the rooms and what to put in them and how much you can afford to spend on different items and where you have to prioritise your spending.

The 2nd term would be where you removed emergency measures such the USC and where previous public spending capacity was restored but with a greater focus on service delivery, rather than simply increased pay for doing existing work, and where newer services could be rolled out, given the broadening of the tax base that has taken place. This is the first Plus, and it’s the Vision element that was in captured in a previous manifesto entitled Vision with Purpose.

Then you highlight the fact that despite being called in 3/4 times in the last 50 years to stablise the state after the actions of FF led governments, that the people had never tried the option of seeing just what a FG lead 2nd term might offer. Indeed you could say that it would be frankly bizarre that anyone would give credence to putting the folks who burnt the last house down in charge of the next stage when they did so much damage and then claimed some bad boys (the Lehman gang) did it and ran away. Or that we’d look at putting in charge those folks from next door who’ve never seemed to be able to get on with the others in their house and who’ve demolished their own residence multiple times over and had to ask us and others to fund their reconstruction again and again. That for me is the 2nd Plus.

The people clearly want, and indeed I would say need, a different style of government from this point on, and let’s face it that’s what’s on offer from everyone next week.  Yet it’s also true that the previous 5 years could only have delivered us the progress we’ve made with a government of the type we’ve just had. There was no other realistic, sensible alternative on offer.

The question then when you could to vote is do you go with the option of trusting those who’ve previously landed us in the messes of the past, or those who want to dig up the foundations and start all over again (SF, AAA-PBP, SP,WP etc), or take the option, never taken before, of seeing what the 2nd term of the current coalition might actually look like – in reality and not inside of the minds of those who claim without any evidence that Fine Gael are unduly wedded to the Right. Good governance isn’t about showtime or spectaculars; it’s typically mundane, dull, even prosaic. There’s still time to ante up on the PlusPlus side of things.

*I had intended writing this up back in October but a of lack of time and a combination of a presumption that surely someone else with more influence has thought of this already and an awareness that next to no one was likely to take it on-board given its source meant it never got done.

** There’s a rather lazy C++ joke in the title. Please forgive me.

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Lessons for the General Election from the 2011 NUI Seanad

In 2011 there was a large field of candidates for the NUI Seanad panel, with a considerable spread of support across the entire field. 3 candidates who got just 46% of the votes got 100% of the seats. 54% of votes went to candidates who were simply never in with a shout of getting a seat or of altering the outcome.

English: Independent's Day, an event for indep...

English: Independent's Day, an event for independent presidential candidates in the 2008 US Presidential election. Shown is one independent presidential candidate, speaking to a very small audience in a theatre at the University of Cincinnati. The Independent's Day website is now inactive. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The upcoming general election is also likely to be quite similar with the large % of people voting for Independents or new smaller parties and others but with those votes not altering the outcome of who gets the seats. Naturally where there are existing independents or new party incumbents they could see their support rise and if there is a singular new party or independent representative who is well ahead of the pack on the first count then they might stand a slight chance but if they’re more than a few percentage points outside the band of the number of the seats then it is very unlikely that the large non-main party vote will coalesce on this leader. This doesn’t mean their votes are wasted but rather that the high opinion poll rating will not result in the level of seats that many are predicting or expecting.

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Some thoughts in the upcoming Ard Fheis

 

1656 Sanson Map of Guiana, Venezuela, and El D...

1656 Sanson Map of Guiana, Venezuela, and El Dorado - Geographicus - Guiane-sanson-1656 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d thought I’d open up the below efforts to some sort of coverage in advance of the Ard Fheis especially considering some recent press attention on the goings on internally.

There are a number motions submitted for the FG Ard Fheis which were done in advance of the Perry case being heard but which are intended to recalibrate what many members see as the over centralisation of power within the organisation. Both in policy making and in the day to day running of the party. This isn’t about individuals and if I’m honest HQ makes a too easy punch bag for too many people in the local organisation when seeking to deflect attention from their own actions. Rather it’s about the structures that are in place and some of the practices that have grown up around what was an emergency period after 2002 and which at this stage have outlived their usefulness and which a much larger party and one that’s in government no longer requires.

The motions submitted have a focus more on the organisational side. The intention is to rebalance the relationship between the very top of the organisation and the ordinary members. We think it’s time to renew the organisation side and bring ordinary members back into more active participation aside from being election shock troops.

It is possible that the motions won’t make it to the Ard Fheis as the national exec has final say on all motions that get onto the Clár. If that’s the case then we’re going to make that publicly known and seek to confront any efforts that the national exec might take to stymie debate and the efforts of members who are attempting to demonstrate that we can both govern and evolve and reform the party structures for a new age at the same time. I’m not saying for sure that there should be an alternative event organised either on the day of the Ard Fheis or at another time for members rather than elected reps but it’s something to be considered. Being a member has to be about more than filling seats for the telly, dropping leaflets and buying SuperDraw and then being ignored the rest of the time.

One of the simplest but also possibly most significant measures is to separate the role of party leader and party president. The intention is that the party president elected by the members at the Ard Fheis would be more directly responsible to the members and in time it may make sense for the paid party officials including the General Secretary to report to the holder of this position and not the party leader in the Oireachtas The thinking is that the party officials would find it easier to not get caught up too much with the party leader but more to the wider party. Think in terms of the Chair of the DNC or RNC in the US.

Below are some of the motions in more detail

·        Election of national Exec Members by ordinary members to be changed from 12 to 16 via 4 separate contests in 3 seater panels for each of the current 4 old Euro constituencies, with the remaining 4 positions filled from the 4 highest ranking candidates from those same panels prior to their elimination.

o   This would allow for candidates to be elected who might garner support across the country along with regional candidates,

o   it would encourage more competition,

o   lessen the value of incumbency

o   ensure a higher turnout for all elections at the Ard Fheis at times when the organisation wants people to be around and active.

  • National Executive members may serve for only 2 consecutive terms before standing down for a minimum of one term. The one term absence to be a minimum of 18 months.

At present a 3 term/year limit applies to all other positions in the local organisation (branch or Constituency chairs etc. but not at the national level, even though their terms run for 2 or so years at time!)

  • The position of party leader and party president to be mutually exclusive.

Being the leader of the party, and Taoiseach and party president are demanding positions, one of those is being to be neglected in comparison to the other roles and party president is the one most likely. Hence we believe it should be occupied by someone else.

·        The role of the Ard Fheis should be much more about ordinary members having their say and the party reps listening to them, and not reps or prospective candidates getting some time to practice their public speaking technique.

·        Deadline of submission of motions to be a defined period, say 8 weeks, before the holding of the Ard Fheis. At present it’s not known or publicised until quite late.

·        All motions submitted for the Ard Fheis to be published on the party website the day after the deadline for submission of motions.

·        A facility to allow party members directly select, in advance, a percentage say 30% of motions to be debated per session by use of PR STV (online).

·        The Finalised Motions for the Ard Fheis to be circulated a minimum of 1 week in advance of the Ard Fheis.

At present the Clar is often only circulated on the Thursday evening before the Ard Fheis starts.

  • Party delegates allowed to vote at the Ard Fheis on a percentage of policy motions say 33% which would be fully binding on the party until the next Ard Fheis.

·        Time must be allocated for genuine debate on party motions, with opposing speakers allocated equal time to those proposing motions.

·        Time should be allocated for contributions from the floor on party motions, with speakers who may be oppose to motions allocated time fairly by the Chair.

Too often no time is allowed or no one is even invited to make an opposing contribution, and people are told there’s no time. Plan for it. this is the only opportunity members have to make their contribution.

  • The person from a branch who submits a motion should have first refusal on speaking on the motion. Only if they are agreeable or unavailable should a public rep or other party member speak proposing this motion.

Too often, an elected rep is invited to speak on a motion they didn’t submit or have minimal interest in, just so they can get some practice speaking. This is not the forum for that.

·        External people should not be allowed make speeches at a Ard Fheis without an opportunity for party members to question them. A minimum of equal time should be scheduled for such questions. i.e. a speech of 15 minutes should have a minimum of 15 time for contributions from the floor. This is separate from reps who may be sharing a panel with the guest speaker.

In some recent Ard Fheiseanna speakers from outside the party were invited to make contributions that were then unchallengeable because there was “no time”.

  • Public reps who act (voting on councils elsewhere) against motions to be lose the party whip automatically. - specifically I’m thinking of those cllrs who voted against the referendum on a directly elected Mayor for Dublin. It was party policy proposed and endorsed at an Ard Fheis that the people of Dublin would get the referendum and our own cllrs in Fingal denied them that chance. With no consequences for them at all.
  • Suggestion for recognition for the motion of the Ard Fheis/Best speech/ best floor contribution.
  • To examine more opportunities for fringe type events that don’t involve motions but which would act to allow ordinary members to express their views as feedback to the party’s reps.
  • Opportunity for unconferencing techniques to develop policy ideas or future areas of focus.

o   These could be Friday night events that feed into the Saturday agenda.

Anyway, it’s just a few ideas, and sure who’s afraid of those.

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Uncomfortable with the image of two men and a toddler – Homophobia or plain old sexism?

Seeing a back and forth on twitter last night about the softness of support for the upcoming marriage referendum, I saw a comment that illustrates a problem for the YES Campaign. A problem that if dealt with incorrectly will do considerable harm to the YES campaign because it will miss the root cause and misfire badly. As part of that exchange, John McGuirk, who while I wouldn’t be on the same side as him in most things is also no fool when it comes to judging the public mood, said this.

You know what, he’s right but not for the homophobic reasons that too many Yes campaigners will unfairly attribute to it. It’s because even if you remove the word gay from that scenario, there are lots of people, women as much if not more so than men, who would not be comfortable with two men or one man with a toddler.

Picture a scene at a park with two men walking with a toddler and running about playing, and then having to stop to change said toddler’s undergarments. Even more so if said toddler is female.  There are quite a few people who while not unduly homophobic on the individual or societal level will somehow pause at the appropriateness of that scene.

Replace the men with women and most of those same folks wouldn’t bat an eye. So for those people the problem clearly would not be about sexual orientation, cos we’re not even sure in the scene if the two men or two women are couples or merely a friend out with their friend and their friend’s child. The problem at the root of that lack of comfortableness is plain old sexism; that there’s something wrong with men looking after children without a woman around. That’s why surrogacy and not artificial insemination, why the lack of a mother’s influence and not so much a father’s,  will be the first port of call in the “it’s about children” argument.

The challenge for the YES campaign is to tackle that argument head on, and for what it is, not for what some in the YES campaign would prefer it to be. Indeed, some elements in the YES campaign suffer from that same blindness, that same tendency to want, at the one hand, men to take more responsibility for childcare but then on the other, some deep rooted feeling that only a woman can really care for a child properly. That men are fundamentally secondary to parenting and that’s why two men in particular can’t be equal to a man and woman as parents. That two uncles could never be as good as two aunts. Perhaps in the past they weren’t but that’s no reason why men can’t, when called upon, up their game and do as well in raising children.

Sure children should have a right to know their parents, but we also know well enough to place limits on that right. Most people would not be comfortable supporting the right of a rapist to know or have access to a child resulting from their rape of their mother. Or where a legal adoption has taken place for the birth mother to years later demand automatic restoration of custody  from the adoptive parents, man and woman who have spent years loving and raising that child. Yet if their logic is accepted then that’s where they lead us, that’s the situation the IONA Institute is pushing for; to overturn the legal adoption process and to enshrine the absolute right of rapists to have access to their children. Very loving, very Christian.

Many people are all fine and dandy with the world of Fried Green Tomatoes where a lesbian couple raise children post the murder of an abusive husband and not so much the Torch Song Trilogy, where a male couple adopt a child. That’s not due to homophobia, it’s down to plain old sexism.

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Collins Institute and the future role of Fine Gael members in policy development

The recent launch or relaunch of the Collins Institute is a development in Irish politics that should be broadly welcomed. Indeed it would make sense that such efforts would receive public funding though I’d suggest more through a reallocation of the funds given to parties rather than any additional funding being provided.

The full structure in that the board is yet to be made clear, a number of people have been mentioned as being on the board but it not clear if they are the entirety of it or if there are others who haven’t been revealed as yet. One would have expected the full current board to be mentioned at some point at launch time. That may be something that is rectified in due course. While it is admirable that the board members won’t be taking any salaries or expenses this also means that only those of independent means or those in receipt of incomes such as pensions, whether public or private, who are no longer required to work can be considered for involvement. Joanne Schmoes who have to put in their daily grind won’t find too many employers who will be willing to give them time off during the work week to attend meetings or participate in other events associated with being a board member. That I believe is unnecessary restrictive in the longer term and I would hope that it would be addressed.

The longer term is definitely where the Collins Institute sees itself, and that’s a good approach. Indeed it’s one that other parties or political should look to mirror. Since the Collins Institute lies without Fine Gael, it begs the question of how lies the development of policy within the party? Not well, would be my view.

The existence of Institute presents us with the gaps glaring in the short and medium term of policy development. In the short term it makes sense that a minister or party frontbencher should own, both in the developmental and responsibility sense, the tactical aspects of day to day policy in a political organisation. Though one would imagine that the presence of tends of thousands of party members from many walks of life would be a fruitful means to test the specifics of policy initiatives. Yet that appears not to be the case. In the medium term it should be not alone more feasible but also more advisable that members would have greater say over what policy is to be, both the creation of policy but also deciding between policy options or the finessing or road testing of same.

Where are the ordinary party member of Fine Gael when it comes to the development of policy? At this point it very much appears that regular members are pretty much outside the door when it comes to have any input to, or oversight of party policy as it would appear in the party manifesto or indeed as might result in government action.

Party members are naturally free to say (at meetings or Ard Fheiseanna) or write (as I or other might online) what they like when it comes to policy but there is at present no mechanism by which this might result in any influence for change in the party’s stance on any issue. You may be fortunate to catch the ear of a party spokesperson or the minister of the day at an event, and in doing so convince them to adopt an idea you have. That’s all to your good but it’s also wholly undemocratic and utterly lacking in transparency. There is no system and in the absence of a system, there is no quality control. There is more chance that good ideas will be lost and bad ideas will be promoted than the other way around.

That the current situation is entirely arbitrary is no longer acceptable for a party in government; this isn’t a problem for the Collins Institute to solve. It is one that the existence of the Collins Institute highlights, that ordinary active members of an organisation have considerable less say over the direction it goes in than those who are avowedly not members. There’s something really odd about that, that so few people comment on it anymore suggests that it is a very deep rooted problem. So deep rooted that it may be impossible for those most embedded in it from resolving. So it may be time to mirror the approach of the Collins Institute and go outside the current party structures in seeking a solution. The time remaining to do that may be shorter than most imagine it to be.

 

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