The 2020 Programme for Government

This is a good agreement for getting people from a broad range of parties and political backgrounds to temporarily suspend their critical faculties and to support it. 

This is a bad agreement for a government to deliver on, to bring the public through is likely to be very tough times over the next few years and demonstrate that it has been successful at the end of its lifetime.

There were plenty of people who still believe we were better off in 2011 than in early 2020. Creating jobs, increasing social welfare payments, employing more people in the public service, extending benefits and services to people means nothing to those individuals who consistently believe that they should have gotten more and that they should be asked to contribute less to the public purse. Giving them the club of an unrealistic Programme for Government to beat around the government’s collective heads is politically clueless.

The programme, like people who are good at being agreeable and in trying to be all things to all people, is highly aspirational, even it’s woollier in places than an Aran jumper and that’s reflected in the language used in the document.

Examine” is there 68 times, “review” is there 127 times but “legislate” only makes an appearance 15 times. Is this a Programme for Government or a Nightlight prayer for Reflection?

support” in various forms is there 413 times! while “introduce” (57) and “change” (78) are well behind – for comparison “support” was there 70 times in the 2011 Programme for government.

The massive red flag is that “Deficit” appears just three times. and there’s only 6 references to a specific amount of money in the document. That illustrates the lack of content in the Programme, despite its excessive length. It’s political Vaporware, full of civil servantesse and management speak yet avoiding detail that might show us how its lofty goals will be achieved.

This is not about nitpicking the programme. 

We could all find items or measures in the agreement that either we strongly disagree with or which we very much like. Indeed, I’m fine with many of the proposals, having them as goals is five by five as far as I’m concerned. Yet there’s a sustained lack of “How” in the document when it comes to the delivery of those goals, the messy and necessary nuts and bolts of governing. “How” is policy, it’s what politics and political choices is all about. Everyone can agree on the goal of more employment, better paying jobs and more affordable housing. It’s in the detail of how you plan to arrive at those goals that our democracy is rooted, offering the electorate a choice not along in the destination but in how we should get there. That what parties are for, offering a choice.

The problem with the Programme is with what’s underpinning it, or not there to underpin it. The foundations of this Programme are terribly, terribly weak. We need to be much clearer with people that there is not going to be a default increase in public spending, i.e. salaries over the next few years for restoration or time served or bench marking or whatever non-productive methodologies people might like to conjured up. Being clear and upfront with people in 2011 is what served Fine Gael best in getting the country through the worst of the consequences of the crash. That it was going to be hard but it would work out. The Labour approach that somehow ordinary people would be spared ultimately did for them. This Programme smacks too much of the latter approach.

This is not a plan. It is not a plan for future success. 

The poison pill in the agreement is that it is completely ambiguous about where the money will come from to underpin the commitments to increased and new public spending in the agreement. 

There are measures in the agreement that require state funding that we might support but it’s not possible to make a case for them when we don’t know what public money they’re competing for. 

There is nothing about where the money to cover future budget deficits will come from, what will be the breakdown between new or increased taxes, reductions in spending or borrowing? We had the much vaunted 2:1 breakdown for spending:tax cuts over the lifetime of the last government. Yet there’s nothing similar for likely spending reductions: tax increases:borrowing.

Knowing this, being honest about this is critical for public support for future measures. And it’s vital to prevent any government from coming apart at the first budget.

The document reads like it will be entirely borrowing to cover the deficits, that’s fine in the short term for one or two years but not longer.

Finally, from a party political viewpoint the failure to address the retirement age for the state pension will mean that like water charges, medical cards reviews in 2014. Fine Gael will go into the next local, European and general election once again being blamed for a FF policy (and it is was and will still be a sensible change that we need to make to ensure state pensions are sustainable into the future). Even if the government lasts long enough for the change in Taoiseach in Dec 2022 (what date exactly) then it will be a Fine Gael leader who takes over as just as that retirement age is back in the political picture. 

Not to mention that after those first two budgets when any low hanging fruit of new measures or spending reductions are gone, it will Fine Gael that will be tagged as the ones on the hook again for any more drastic measures. Just watch as FF and Green reps complain that it’s the bad Fine Gael that are making the deepest cuts. And they won’t be waiting until them to paint themselves as the good ones at Fine Gael’s expense.

Our prospective partners are actively gearing up to permanently stand as both government and opposition. Already about a quarter of FF cllrs are opposed and will remain opposed for the next 4 years if FF members accept the Programme . The Greens won’t hold together beyond the first tough decision, whether it’s just some cllrs or a few TDs they will lose first time out is uncertain. They may not even hold through the next few weeks.

As intended the weighting of the electoral college will mean that the parliamentary party vote will drive the decision. So as members we can voice an opinion but we’re not really deciding the result.  In fact members of the Parliamentary Party who are on the Executive Council can vote with that body, and thus the Parliamentary Party has more than 50% of the vote.

However those who do have votes have a duty to reflect the very real concerns that members have. I would hope they do so.

We would all hope to be proved wrong here and that any administration will be successful, that it lasts five years and is rewarded by the public for its work.   That is something we all really hope for, it’s just not credible that it will be.

I realise that I, like most of us, don’t have a vote in this process but if I did my vote would be No.

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Social Democrats and longing for the long ago.


Nostalgia appears to be all the rage, especially political nostalgia. The latest proponent is the new leader of the Social Democrats. The SocDems are a party for whom Irish history only began in 2015 when they were formed. Everything before that is viewed with misty eyed longing and blurry understanding.

The new Social Democrats leader said in her first speech as leader that “I am a member of the first ever generation that will be worse off than our parents.” Her parents would have come of age in Ireland in the 1980s. A time when the chances of getting any job were much lower than now with close to 20% unemployment, of getting a middle class type job that requires a third level qualification and pays accordingly even lower again, most women didn’t work outside the home, divorce wasn’t legal, interest rates were multiples of what they are now and income taxes on average wages significantly higher than now. Taxes that paid for an underperforming public service where it took 18 months to get a telephone. When you did get a phone and rang a public service number no one at all might answer or if they did you had to tell them everything about your enquiry all over again, and again, and again. While we did have more hospitals, they were often more places for your loved ones to go to be cared for while they died than to be treated and cured.

True, we had more available housing, only as a result of a decades-long pattern of emigration. Few double income households meant that a good single income between a couple could get a basic first home, but not a forever home and very few single people were buying homes in their 20s. High unemployment meant that labourers were paid comparatively little to build what new housing stock there was. It was built to a standard the current generation would consider rudimentary and environmentally unsound. Finally, unlike today, previous generations didn’t spend their time bemoaning the lack of housing in their area while also objecting to new housing developments in that same area.

The SocDem leader really thinks the 80s in Ireland were better? If so then whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, the Social Democrats are not the least bit interested in solving it. They’re interested in two things and two things only: making you think it was better long ago and lying to you that those currently in charge are solely to blame for things being worse and for nefarious reasons.

This nostalgia, which the Guardian has termed “Binmenmisn“, was a driving force behind Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. We could well do without it here in our political discourse. There are all sorts of reasons to criticise the government of the day, that things in Ireland were much better long ago is not one of them.

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Decency is only for decent people


Your columnist Una Mullaly’s piece on why we should be concerned about abuse driving people from public life has a peculiar qualification. That “Politicians themselves can only expect decency when they are decent” begs the question of who gets to decide what’s decent: is that decided by an individual voter or this columnist, a Twitter poll or the editor of the Irish Times?

If your views run counter to the prevailing winds, are you fair game? Is it ok to abuse holders of minority opinions or office holders that the loudest, most woke, most right-on voices deem to be not decent? Is hounding the wrong type of person from office fine, even when that person has been elected, if a loud enough minority of the right sort disapproves of them?

Criticism of party or government policy has long since been replaced by commentators criticising the motives or humanity of the proposer of the policy. The commentary doesn’t work from the premise that policy X is ineffective for reasons A, B or C. Instead it’s that the party and people proposing it don’t care or aren’t in touch with ordinary people enough to know what’s really needed or the effect it will have on their lives. This criticism is despite the fact that politicians in Ireland, of all parties and none, have far more contact with ordinary people than most columnists. It should also be kept in mind that columnists are entirely relying on their own clairvoyance to discern the level of caring on the part of people they don’t actually know.

So why is that so many people feel disconnected from and such anger at those who have been elected? Could it be because that same commentariat have spent years telling the public that those who are elected are out of touch. Meanwhile those who aren’t elected – but have a public profile in lobbying organisations, whether an NGO or some self named instititute, whether public or privately funded – are the real representatives of public opinion. That marches matter more than votes, that vehemence is a better guide to the right solution than any objective measurement of effectiveness. As this is the new approved model for reflecting the public mood, should it be any surprise that others have adopted and adapted that model of street protests in recent weeks?

If your columnist is genuinely concerned about the background to this situation and its consequences they could start by looking at their own part in this. Sadly, it seems the adage of “I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it” is out of fashion.

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TCD Vote Predictions – Final

Warning: Below is a current assessment as of March 29th 2022 of where it appears the candidates are likely to finish up on the first count. The entrails used to make this determination were all organically fed and lived free range until their timely demise in service of a greater good.

All wagers made on the basis of this projection is at the reader’s own risk. Your mileage may vary.

At this point, it seems like the gap to Clonan might be too large to bridge but it still remains in the lap of the transfers and Gaffney and Quill moreso than MacNeill stands to benefit most from those.

Tom Clonan237120.51%
Hugo MacNeill197417.01%
Maureen Gaffney185215.96%
Ursula Quill118910.25%
Patricia McKenna8267.12%
Ray Bassett6895.94%
Hazel Chu6245.38%
Catherine Stocker5674.89%
Sadhbh O’Neill3653.15%
Gisèle Scanlon2281.97%
Michael McDermott1751.51%
Ade Oluborode1601.38%
Eoin Barry1491.28%
Aubrey McCarthy1461.26%
Abbas Ali O’Shea1150.99%
Paula Roseingrave740.64%
Ryan Alberto Ó Giobiúin540.47%

The projection from 3 weeks ago is available here and the rationale for these projections is here. Your view may well differ but at least I’m putting my potential mistakes out there.

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TCD Seanad Race – Vote % Projections

Warning: Below is a current assessment as of March 9th 2022 of where it appears the candidates are likely to finish up on the first count. The entrails used to make this determination were all organically fed and lived free range until their timely demise in service of a greater good.

All wagers made on the basis of this projection is at the reader’s own risk. Your mileage may vary.

Tom Clonan245121.12%
Hugo MacNeill207417.87%
Maureen Gaffney196316.92%
Patricia McKenna9948.57%
Ursula Quill7076.09%
Ray Bassett6895.94%
Hazel Chu6245.38%
Catherine Stocker5674.89%
Sadhbh O’Neill4133.56%
Gisèle Scanlon2281.97%
Ade Oluborode1601.38%
Eoin Barry1491.28%
Aubrey McCarthy1461.26%
Abbas Ali O’Shea1150.99%
Michael McDermott880.76%
Paula Roseingrave740.64%
Ryan Alberto Ó Giobiúin540.47%

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University of Dublin – By-election

Warning: Any assessment of the likely votes that candidates may garner is completely unrelated to their qualities as human beings or how nice or hard working they are. Lots of people contest elections who are wonderful human beings and very likable, it doesn’t change the laws of political gravity that they’re subject to.

Misconceptions and mistakes

A couple of broad ground rules about running for the Seanad that take an axe to delusions that many have about the Seanad elections. It’s all about running a great campaign. If you don’t have a public profile before the election happens it is highly unlikely you’re going to manage to create one in the short few weeks that the campaign allows. The format of the campaign, the highly distributed voters who don’t commonly don’t live at their registered addresses (filled in when they still lived with mammy, or brought her home the washing at weekends even if they had moved away), the lack of mainstream media coverage of the full line up (other than the occasional name checking if the media profiles someone who has a profile already, “also contesting are…”) and the shockingly low turnout all conspire to render all the work conducted during the 6/8 weeks of a campaign almost utterly pointless.

This election is about young people, it’s not. Social media is replete with people who think that what is motivating the young people, or da yoof* was it was once termed, is going to decide where the votes go. The TCD register consists of almost 80% of people who graduated in 2009 or earlier. And those folks aren’t in their 20s. And over 50% graduated in the 20th century! *da yoof is a very out of touch term but it was current for most of those who are actually going to be voting.

The voters give this election a lot of thought, cos they’re graduates. Most voters in this election (like many other elections in truth but it’s rarely spoken about when reflecting on “the most sophisticated electorate in the world” © Republic of Ireland 2022) do not sit down with a glass of their favourite refreshing tipple and spend a few hours considering the relative merits of each candidate before finally voting in an order truly reflective of their considered assessment of all candidates. Rather they do an approximation of the following

Look at the ballot and see what if any names they might recognise, curse at those they have heard of and dislike, meh at those they recognise and are indifferent towards and finally do the half spoken “s’ppose” for those they’ll consider.

They then might, only might, flick through the various leaflets that might have arrived prior to them completing their ballot (many leaflets will arrive long after ballots have been returned. Not that An Post will tell you that).

They may start to fill in the various adjacent pieces of voting documentation (witness stuff) or more likely they’ll make a half mental/ partial written note of when is the last day that they have to send it all off and then put it aside until that day comes.

They then do a few moments of mental reflection before picking who they believe is their No.1 along with their not in a million years candidate(s) or No.15s to 17s on this occasion. They then look at the list and pick 4/5 that they are ok with getting elected and then do a quick sort, perhaps by putting 6 against the fifth of the not quite No. 1s and 2 against their actual second favourite and then 3/4/5 could be in any order.

After that it’s down to how conscientious they are or how much they absolutely can’t stand those at 15-17 as to whether they fill in the rest of the ballot. I tend to fill in my own election ballots all the way down but that’s cos there’s usually someone/some party I can’t stand. I’m generous that way. And into the inner envelope the ballot goes, and then that’s sealed and put into the outer enveloper along with your house insurance (yes really, saw this at the NUI Seanad count, 2007). And that’s the campaigning and voting done.

So who’s going to win?

There appear to be quite a few candidates who believe because the bye-election is for the seat previously held by Ivana Bacik that the person who is best placed to win the election is someone who is what the Americans would call a cookie cutter match for Sen. Bacik. As if somehow the only people voting were those who had previously voted for Sen. Bacik. That is clearly quite wrong: indeed with so many running in the Ivana Bacik lane, they have actually made it harder for someone very similar to Sen. Bacik to get elected this time around. And come the next general election I suspect the Bacik lane will have been freshly painted and sign posted in Ruane colours.

What matters far more is the actual candidate having an existing voter base from amongst the TCD electorate either from having run before or having a significant national profile from another walk of life. For that reason, two of the most likely winners have run for this panel before.

Who are the candidates and what are their chances?

  • Abbas Ali O’Shea, a Director AFA Consultancy and Representative of the Minority Communities in Ireland.
  • Eoin Barry, a Labour representative for Laois, who is also a social worker and family therapist.
  • Ray Bassett, a formerIrish Ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and Bahamas.
  • Hazel Chu, former Lord Mayor of Dublin
  • Tom Clonan, a whistleblower on sexual violence within the Defence Forces, a disability advocate, and columnist.
  • Maureen Gaffney, a psychologist, consultant, and public speaker.
  • Hugo MacNeill, a former Irish Rugby international player and chairman of the British-Irish Association.
  • Aubrey McCarthy, Kildare businessman and chairman of Tiglin, an organisation which operates mental health and addiction rehabilitation centres.
  • Michael McDermott, PhD candidate at Trinity.
  • Patricia McKenna, former MEP, political activist and barrister.
  • Ryan Alberto Ó Giobiúin, a PhD researcher in quantitative Sociology.
  • Ade Oluborode, a barrister and committee member of the Climate Bar Association.
  • Sadhbh O’Neill, an assistant professor in the DCU School of Law and Government.
  • Ursula Quill, PHD student in the Trinity School of Law
  • Paula Roseingrave, a chartered counselling psychologist and former Green Party candidate.
  • Gisèle Scanlon, Trinity Graduate Students’ Union President.
  • Catherine Stocker, a Social Democrat councillor in North Dublin.

Those most likely to get over 500 votes

  • Ray Bassett, – someone has to run as the Howard Beale candidate and he seems the most likely to garner that vote.
  • Hazel Chu, – has gained a huge media profile in just a short few years, some of what she’s done herself, some of what others have done either towards her or that she doesn’t approve of.
  • Tom Clonan, – has run a couple of times before and polled respectably. With the incumbents out of the picture is well placed to more easily pick up some of their voters.
  • Maureen Gaffney, – a long career and consequential a public profile with those who will make up the greater portion of the electorate. Her area of competence and social issues profile aligns well with the incumbents who aren’t present in the area so can appeal to their voters.
  • Hugo MacNeill, – has run once before and polled respectably, indeed better than many might have expected given his association with a party in government. With the incumbents out of the picture could pick up some of their voters but not as well placed as Clonan.
  • Patricia McKenna, – has decades of history in the Green movement, even if she left the Green party itself behind a good while ago.
  • Sadhbh O’Neill, – also has decades of history in the Green movement but has made more of a life effort in working in the making and doing side of things. Will have something of a profile for those who have been most actively but likely to be the poorest performer of this grouping
  • Catherine Stocker, – has the most pre-existing name recognition of any Labour, Social Democracy type candidate in the race. Has the clearest party alignment in the contest, which is somewhat surprising but will benefit her compared to how she might have done otherwise.

Those most likely to get in or around 1000 votes

Hazel Chu, – I suspect will find it hardest to get to the magic four figures of this shortlist.

Tom Clonan, – is coming into this election on the back of two outcomes of close to 10% and over 1,000 votes. Will well exceed both of those this time around.

Maureen Gaffney, will likely be the best performer of the first time candidates and in or around 2,000 votes.

Hugo MacNeill, – is likely to build on his previous outing of 13% and 2,000 votes though not enough to see him past Clonan on the first count (barring some blow up in Clonan’s campaign).

Patricia McKenna, – a well enough known name to get No.1s, sure she might only apply to a very small minority of voters say just 3% of the TCD electorate but that’s close to 2,000 votes given the low turnout. Personally, I think she’ll be closer to 1,500.

Those most likely to win

Tom Clonan, is most likely to top the poll but I suspect will come up short on transfers as they will trend more to Gaffney from those being eliminated.

Maureen Gaffney, quite likely to be 3rd on the first count though might be as low as 5th. Will prove very transfer friendly compared to Clonan and MacNeill.

Hugo MacNeill, reckon he is second on the first count though could surprise and top the poll, though my suspicion is he won’t. He won’t be a transfer friendly for those who will have voted for those who are going to be eliminated first. He might come back into things as those with more votes get eliminated but it will likely prove a bridge too far this time around though he may end up as the decisive elimination and might enable Clonan to overhaul Gaffney – though my inclination is that it won’t change the order as it will be too even a split.

So it’s going to come down to Clonan and Gaffney with my tuppence leaning towards Gaffney this time around.

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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:,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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