Category Archives: politics

Europe – Where now? Part III

Part II – The Green Fields of France | Part III – The Weight of History | Part IV – Shifting Sands

The Weight of History

Like Robert Schuman, the politicians who formed the Governments of Europe from the 1950s to the 1980s didn’t need to visit northeastern France to be reminded of the role of war in European history. They lived through it. They had seen the armies, the tragedy, the destruction: unity, if it did nothing else than prevent people shooting each other, was an easy sell.

The European Coal and Steel Community is born is the ashes of war

The European Coal and Steel Community is born is the ashes of war

The politicians who came after them, between the 1980s and the turn of the century, may not have been as haunted by the ghosts of war as their predecessors, but they understood the context in which European unity was born, and the necessity of ensuring that living standards in Europe remained at a level that would prevent European voters from again dabbling with aggressive nationalism, or the new threat of Communism.

The free trade and structural cohesion provided by the various treaties of the European Economic Community was the bedrock on which those living standards were built. Funds flowed out of industrial economies like Germany into the peripheries, and free trade ensured that consumers in those peripheries could transfer those funds back to Germany by buying German goods and services. A virtuous circle was formed, and everybody, more of less, seemed to better off.

In the early 1990s, a new challenge arose. The former Communist states of Eastern Europe became capitalist democracies virtually overnight. Hungarians, Poles, Slovaks and East Germans, who for decades had contented themselves with living in grey apartment blocks, driving Trabants and watching black and white televisions, suddenly wanted to be consumers.

The Iron Curtain, which has been a political barrier from 1945 to 1992, had now become a line of economic demarcation. Those who lived on the west of the line were the sons and daughters of 50 years of free markets and political freedom, who wore sunglasses, drove BMWs and went on holiday to the Costa Del Sol; those on the east of the line were the sons and daughters of 50 years of economic planning and political repression, who had never been on holiday in the Costa Del Sol but who now desperately wanted to go on holiday in the Costa Del Sol.

The model of European unity, based as it was then on a set of loosely enforced economic rules, which had worked quite well for the people of western Europe, was suddenly confronted with 200m new consumers on its eastern borders, who for the moment were content with their newly discovered political freedom, but who sooner or later would start demanding their share of Europe’s riches.

Europe had to act. European economic unity was based the free movement of goods, services, capital and people, but the model was still imperfect in many ways. Enforcement of rules was patchy, and left open to interpretation in a way that could easily be manipulated by member states, causing tensions and trade distortions. Monetary policy was also hampering trade, in that fluctuating currencies and interest rates in both member states and regions was causing distortions in the flow of capital.

These deficiencies could be tolerated in the 12 member European Community that existed in 1989, but if that Community was to expand to incorporate the nation states of Eastern Europe, the number of which was increasing all the time, more structure, more enforcement and more commonality would be required.

In short, Europe would have to become both a political and economic union, because the level of economic unity required to prevent east and west getting annoyed with each other could only be achieved on the basis of pooled political sovereignty.

The Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam followed and by the turn of the century, Europe had itself and fully fledged political Union, with a common currency controlled by a pan-national Central Bank.

By 2004, the Treaty of Nice had permitted the accession of 10 of the former communist states of Eastern Europe to join the European Union. Further states joined in the years that followed, and in 2009 the Treaty of Lisbon made the final adjustments to the structures and institutions of the European Union to allow for collaboration between a greatly expanded number of nations states.

The challenge of the early nineties had been dealt with, painfully at times, but dealt with nonetheless.

Eastern Europeans moved west into jobs and houses in France, Germany and the UK, and went on holidays in Spain. Western companies opened offices in Krackow and Budapest, and started hiring engineering graduates from universities in Prague and Riga.

Economic unity was real. It was happening and visible on every street in every town and city. It was another miracle of European history, in a place where farmers were still ploughing up shrapnel form previous wars.

And then the debt crisis hit, and another junction had been reached.

Except this time it was different.

Europe – Where now? Part II

Part I – Schuman’s Epihany | Part II – The Green Fields of France | Part III – The Weight of History

The Green Fields of France

There are very few hedgerows in the north east of France. The landscape is characterised by gently undulating ridges, swathed in a vast patchwork of wheat, corn and barley, with nothing to break the line of the horizon other than the odd church spire, wind farm or random clutch of woodland.

Picardy - a place of graves

Picardy – a place of graves

Looking out across the land from the crest of any ridge, from where the panorama extends if every direction, you can see for miles. It’s a humbling and serene experience, which is apt, given the much of the land is a vast, unmarked grave.

Between 1914 and 1917, the armies of Germany, France and Britain rolled back and forth across this area multiple times, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake that is unimaginable to most people alive today.

In 1914, the juggernaut of the German Imperial Army rolled up to the valley of the river Marne, threatening the outskirts of Paris, before being stopped by their own incompetence and a desperate rearguard action on the part of the French.

During 1915, the Allied and German forces tried desperately to outflank each other, gradually extending their field of conflict out towards the English Channel and the Swiss border.

With nowhere left to fight, the front settled into place, and the pursuit of the elusive breakthrough became all consuming. The Germans tried first, at Verdun, and were pushed back. The British tried next, at the Somme, and lost 20,000 men in a single day July 1st 2016.

Thirty miles of front changed hands twice over the next 12 months, at a price of tens of thousands of young, vigorous lives. There was scarcely a community in Britain, France of Germany who was not affected by the deaths of sons, brothers and husbands. The nation state had literally started eating itself from the inside out, and worse was to follow 30 years later.

I visited northeastern France in June 2014, 100 years after the fighting of the Great War first broke out. The various sites of battles have become tourist attractions, but it would be wrong to think of them as bustling, vibrant places with rows of buses parked outside.

Cemeteries are dotted all over the landscape. Their distribution seems random, but most were started during the war, at locations close to where fighting was taking place. A cemetery in the middle of a field of wheat may seem a bit odd, but 100 years previously there was no wheat in that field. If was cratered morass of death and destruction, bordered on each side by a network of trenches. The armies didn’t have the time or resources to remove bodies to cemeteries in tranquil locations in the rear. They buried their comrades where they fell, and those cemeteries persist today.

Inside the gate of each cemetery, there is a strong box, which holds a directory of the graves in the cemetery, and a visitors book.

In one particularly remote cemetery, close to what was known as the Munich Trench, I found that the last signature in the book was from a week before, and the one previous to that from another week before that. In fact, there were only about 10 signatures during the year 2014.

It was not a surprise to me that some of these cemeteries are so infrequently visited, but in 2014, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, and in June, it was more of a disappointment than I had anticipated.

The shadow of war, which for decades had stretched across the European consciousness, seemed to have receded entirely. This terrible conflict, which happened when my grandparents were children, seemed almost prehistoric, having no more relevance to the lives and politics of Europeans today than that the diet of the Tyranasaurus Rex.

Walking along the rough farm tracks around Beaumont-Hamel, or Serre, of Fricourt, which thousands upon thousands of so-called “citizen” soldiers, many of whom had never experienced combat before, died on the first day of the Somme offensive, it is not uncommon to come across a shard of rusting metal, dug up at some time over the last hundred years by a plough.

This Iron Harvest – of shrapnel, shell fragments and general detritus of war – is everywhere in the area of the Somme offensive. A special unit of the French Army is permanently stationed nearby, to diffuse unexploded shells, and farmers receive instructions regarding how to handle ordnance that is unearthed by their machines.

Turning a corner here and there, it is not uncommon to find a small pile of spent shells, and local cafes and bars display battlefield curios in the same way that Irish pubs display whiskey jugs and vintage Guinness posters.

It’s a vivid, tactile and ominous reminder that war in Europe is still a huge part of our most recent history, and that the political, social and economic forces that conspired to bring about both the Great War and World War II, although abated, still exist today.

Europe – Where now? Part I

Part I – Schuman’s Epihany | Part II – The Green Fields of France

Schuman’s Epihany

“The European spirit signifies being conscious of belonging to a cultural family and to have a willingness to serve that community in the spirit of total mutuality, without any hidden motives of hegemony or the selfish exploitation of others. The 19th century saw feudal ideas being opposed and, with the rise of a national spirit, nationalities asserting themselves. Our century, that has witnessed the catastrophes resulting in the unending clash of nationalities and nationalisms, must attempt and succeed in reconciling nations in a supranational association. This would safeguard the diversities and aspirations of each nation while coordinating them in the same manner as the regions are coordinated within the unity of the nation.”

Robert Schuman, 1949

Robert Schuman - father of the EU

Robert Schuman – father of the EU

It isn’t easily done, but in this extract from a speech given in Strasbourg in 1949, the then French president, Robert Schuman, considered by many to be the father of the European Union, managed to sum up the breadth of 200 years of European history in a single thought.

The extent of Schuman’s vision is considerable. Even prior to the end of the war, after 4 years of Nazi occupation of northeastern France, and the further invasion of the “free” French zone in 1944, Schuman was already speaking about the need for structured unity in Europe, which would include Germany.

His analysis of recent European history is strikingly accurate.

In 19th century Europe, the age of divinely invested empires was beginning to crumble away, as subjected peoples began to organise around the concept of a the nation state, in which they found the necessary resilience to endure the painful transition from imperial repression to political freedom.

Having invested so much sacrifice in their infant nations, the peoples of Europe would thereafter defend them with their lives, which provided the necessary foundation for a string of totalitarian regimes to plunge Europe into successive wars between 1914 and 1945.

Nationalism, which had once been the key to unlock so many chains, had become a poison, which Europeans couldn’t get enough of, even when they were dying in their millions.

In was in this context that Schuman’s epiphany occurred.

Put simply, Schuman, who had witnessed German, French, British and American armies roll forward and back across his country 4 times in less than 30 years, conceived that the only way to prevent further war between Europeans was to unlock the “fortress” of the nation state, and replace it with the concept of “supranational” collaboration, the mutual benefits of which would always outweigh lure of aggressive nationalism.

Schuman’s powers of persuasion were such that his ideas began to take hold, and Europe began to unite, through the gradual transition from the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 to the European Union that we know today.

In that time, no armed conflict has occurred within the borders of the nations who have adopted Schuman’s vision, despite the ever destabilizing threat of the Soviet Union, various economic ups and downs and a terrible war in the Balkans on the very periphery of the European Union’s borders.

Moreover, the political ideology of the European Union has become the gold standard for peoples in other parts of the world who continue to suffer the sort of oppression that Europeans have long since forgotten.

Political, cultural, economic and religious freedom are the hallmarks of European governance, taken for granted by Europeans in a way that would have been imaginable to their immediate ancestors, many of whom lived in fear of being shot on the basis of their ethnicity, nationality or religion of their parents.

By the end of the 20th centruy, the future of Europe appeared to have become uncomplicated. The formula, so painfully unearthed, was beautifully simple: stick together and nobody gets hurt. Or at least, that’s how it should have been.

The complication is economics, in that the economic profile of Europe in the post-war era is very different to that of today.

While Europeans of late 19th and early 20th centuries discovered their love of the nation state, nationalism alone was never enough to plunge Europeans into war. Had everyone had a job, a roof over their head and food on the table, Europeans would have been happy to indulge their nationalistic impulses by waving flags, singing national anthems and following their national football teams.

In the 1930s, in the teeth of the Great Depression, that wasn’t the case, and having successively used their nation states to resist the dynastic oppressors of the 1900s, Europe’s impoverished millions now turned their guns on their neighbours, encouraged at every step of the way by popular dictators who convinced them that their various problems were the fault of people who lived on the other side of random lines drawn on a map.

Hundreds of millions of deaths later, Europe had been destroyed to the point that their was simply no one left to blame, and the US, having realised that if it would continue to suffer by proxy if it continued to ignore Europe’s proclivity to war and dictatorship, decided to rebuild Europe in such a way that economics and nationalism would never again achieve the high-octane mix of the 1930s.

The Marshall Plan pumped billions into rebuild the European continent. Europeans would have the economic security they required to lure them away from handing power to demagogues, particularly ones who sought to convince that joining the Soviet Union was a good bet.

It was in this economic context that Schuman’s vision was able to take hold. In 1949, after a decade of privation, the Marshall billions were giving Europeans a reborn sense of security, and the idea of pooling sovereignty with their former enemies was at least palatable, particularly among political leaders who had seen the horrors of 2 European wars at first hand.

Decades of economic stability followed. Germany, France and Italy became industrial super powers. People bought houses, cars, electrical appliances and went on holidays. Communism, which policy makers had feared would spread organically through western Europe, receded to the east, sustained by the military muscle of the Red Army rather than the consent of voters.

Europe’s leaders, and peoples, for whom the memory of war was fresh and ever present, had done something remarkable. They had created peace in the world’s most dangerous place.

Unfortunately, no one lives forever, and all memory eventually fades.

 

The No Promises Movement

nopromises

I’d like to create a structured political organisation for people who want to be involved in politics and government but who don’t want to pander to the electorate.

The purpose of this is two fold.

Firstly, I think there is a large community of people in Ireland who have political experience and who recognise the importance of politics but who have become disillusioned with the boom and bust cycle of electoral politics.

These people have no political home as the only political organisations that exist are those who want to perpetuate that cycle. I think its a shame that their political experience is lost to the system. They still have a lot to offer.

Secondly, I’m concerned that as the electorate move through the parties looking for one that finally keeps its promises, and inevitably doesn’t find one, a vacuum will develop, which will be filled by some form of extremism.

This deterioration in the integrity of mainstream politics seems to be gathering pace. The “last man standing” at this point is Sinn Fein, and when they have to deal with the reality of Government, after building expectations for nearly 20 years, the backlash will be enormous.

The organisation I have in mind would be a political party, but would refer to itself as a movement, and would seek to preserve the integrity of electoral politics, rather than establish power.

It would do this by offering candidates at elections who agree to be “anti-populist”.

Candidates would be free to offer their political views on the issues of the day, and offer their ideas as to how challenges are dealt with, but they would not be able to make commitments on behalf of the movement. The movement as a whole would be policy neutral and not issue manifestos.

When challenged on how a candidate would deal with a particular issue, the candidate would refer to their personal political philosophy, and include the stock response that if they were in a position to make such decisions, they would review the evidence available and circumstances of the time, and make the best decision possible in support of the greater good.

This would obviously be challenged, and even ridiculed, but this is precisely how every decision of Government and the Oireachtas has been made over the last 20 years.

Decisions of governing political parties are always made based on circumstance (coalition, budget, economic indicators, EU Law etc), and never on foot of electoral commitments. The candidate would offer this response.

Clearly, this would offer very limited chance of electoral success, but again, that would not be the purpose of the movement. The movement would instead form a bedrock under the current process, so that an “option of last resort” exists after the mainstream parties have exhausted their credibility.

To put it more simply, if the movement can remove the ability of the average voter to say that “they’re all the same”, even if it never receives any votes, the movement will have served its purpose.

I would also hope that the movement could fulfil another more academic role, where it would promote the idea that we should continue to question the validity of the methods we have established to govern ourselves.

I think it is dangerous to accept the consensus that electoral democracy is the final chapter in political history. A movement such as I’ve described could organise talks and seminars on this basis, and promote such debate in the media.

And finally, if nothing else, it would be an interesting experiment. Given what has happened to the Green Party and Labour over recent years, the timing is also good in terms of obtaining media interest.

I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and written up a full constitution that describes how the movement would be established and regulated, which is key, given the discipline would be crucial to the the goals of the movement.

The constitution also deals with what would happen should one or more candidates get elected, and provides for communication mechanisms that would allow voters understand the current political outlook of the movement and its individual members.

The Constitution can be viewed by clicking here.

Ming’s voting record on water quality in Co. Roscommon

In the clip above, Luke “Ming” Flanagan TD holds aloft a jar of water, which he describes as “glorified piss”, before walking across the chamber of Dail Eireann and placing in front of Minister Fergus O’Dowd.

Over recent months, Flanagan has made water quality in Co. Roscommon one of his key campaign platforms, regularly posting pictures of dirty water sent to him by his constituents on his Facebook page.

It’s a good issue to be associated with. Water quality in Co. Roscommon is particularly poor, and has been for several decades. Boil notices are persistently in effect, to a far greater degree than any other county in the region.

Prior to being elected to Dail Eireann in 2011, Flanagan was an elected member of Roscommon County County, the body responsible for water quality in County Roscommon. He was first elected to the Council in 2004, and was re-elected in 2009.

In 2005, controversy erupted over the proposed development of a tourism resort at Lough Key, an area of pristine environmental quality in the north of County Roscommon. A consortium of Irish and Canadian investors applied for planning permission to build a 100-bedroom hotel, over 300 holiday homes and a golf course, all within the confines of Lough Key.

The planning application for the project was broken into 3 parts. In August 2005, Roscommon County Council granted permission for the first 2 parts, but postponed its decision on the third part, which dealt with 199 of the holiday homes and the golf course.

The grant of planning for the third part of the project was postponed in order to allow the applicant respond to observations that had been lodged in respect of the application.

Specifically, one of the prescribed bodies who reviews such applications, The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board, made reference to the potential impact of the golf course on the Rockingham Springs, a ground water source that supplies drinking water to hundreds of homes in the North Roscommon area.

“The Board is concerned about the chemicals and processes used in the operation of a golf course, fertilisers, pesticides, etc. Having regard to the high levels of oxidised nitrogen already found in the Rockingham Spring, the Board has serious concerns about the possible effects of fertilisers on nutrient levels within the water bodies.”

That there was concern about the potential impact of the golf course on the Rockingham Springs is also evidenced by the fact that in postponing the grant of planning permission, the Council asked the application to address the concerns raised about this impact. Specifically, they asked the applicant to:

“Indicate the various types of fungicides, herbicides and pesticides proposed to be used and a strategy to prevent them contaminating ground water

When approval was granted for the first 2 parts of the project, the grant was appealed to An Bord Pleanala by 3 parties: the Department of the Environment, An Taisce, and the Cavan Leitrim Environmental Awareness Network (CLEAN).

The content of the appeals was broadly similar: the development was contrary to the aims of the Lough Key Study 2002, which was part of the Roscommon County Development Plan 2002-2009.

Shortly after these appeals were lodged with An Bord Pleanala, Roscommon County Council announced its intention to propose a Material Contravention (in other words, a variation) of the Roscommon County Development Plan 2002-2009.

In this, they proposed to grant planning for the third part of the project by a vote of the Council, in the hope that An Bord Pleanala would be less inclined to uphold any appeal lodged in respect of the planning application on the basis that it contravened the Roscommon County Development Plan 2002-2009.

In the weeks prior to this vote, CLEAN wrote to the Chairperson of the Council highlighting their concerns about the impact of the development on the Rockingham Springs. They asked that this information be circulated to all Councillors before any vote the Material Contravention took place.

CLEAN also noted their concern about the impact on the Rockingham Springs in an observation submitted in respect of the planning application.

“The proposal represents a risk to Rockingham Springs and as such, is contrary to the EU Framework Directive which seeks the protection and enhancement of water quality. Rockingham Springs supplies the town of Boyle with its drinking water. The GSI have designated this area as highly or extremely vulnerable to contamination. The fast groundwater flow rates exacerbates the threat of contamination. Concern is expressed in relation to the possible effects of pesticides and fertiliser on the local water bodies. The underlying limestones are classified as regionally important aquifers. Bacteria regularly contaminate much of the water currently derived from this source.”

On Oct 24th 2005, the Material Contravention of the Roscommon County Development Plan 2002-2009 was put to the elected members of Roscommon County Council. 22 of the 26 members voted in favour, while 1 voted against. Flanagan was in attendance at the start of the meeting, but was recorded as absent for the key vote.

By law, Material Contraventions to a Development Plan require a three quarters majority to be carried, which in this case would have required 20 members to vote in favour. Given such strict criteria, all votes would have been vital.

Shortly afterwards, Roscommon County Council granted permission for third planning application, and the same bodies who had appealed the previous two grants appealed the third grant.

In January 2006, An Bord Pleanala upheld the appeals in respect of the first two grants, and in May 2006 upheld the appeals in respect of the third grant, at which stage the project was cancelled.

In its Directive in relation to the grant of planning for the third part of the project, which included 199 holiday homes and a golf course, An Bord Pleanala made specific reference to the threat to the Rockingham Springs water source:

“It is considered that, pending the completion of a hydrogeological study ascertaining the potential threat to the underlying groundwater which feeds the Rockingham Springs, a very important source of potable water for the surrounding area, the development of the proposed golf course would be premature and would give rise to a risk of environmental pollution. The proposed development would, therefore, be prejudicial to public health.

What is clear from all of this is that at the time when the elected members of Roscommon County Council were considering whether or not to approve a Material Contravention to the Roscommon County Development Plan 2002-2009, there was considerable disquiet about the potential impact of this development on the water supply in the area.

That the development was controversial, and widely publicised, is beyond doubt.

When the grants of planning permission for the first two part of the projects were overturned, a local radio station, Shannonside FM, held a special live debate in the town of Boyle in which several local politicians participated.

Such was the ferocity of the debate that the the Broadcasting Complaints Commission later upheld a complaint in relation to the host of the debate, Seamus Duke, who became involved in an verbal altercation with a member of the audience who declared his support for the decision of An Bord Pleanala.

At the same time, a local newspaper, the Leitrim Observer, ran a a headline on its front page “€150m tourism project lost”, in which its author, Donal O’Grady, claimed:

“A massive €150m flagship tourism development in Lough Key Forest Park has been lost to the region after An Bord Pleanala yesterday controversially refused two applications to create what would have been Ireland’s finest eco-tourism resort.”

Flanagan was elected from the Castlerea area of Co. Roscommon, while Lough Key is in a different area, Boyle, and did not offer any public commentary of note on the issue at the time.

However, given the controversy over the development, its scale (the developers repeatedly claimed it would create 500 permanent jobs, and opened a public information office in the town of Boyle to promote it), its potential impact, and that it concerned another of his campaign platforms, tourism, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of of the consequences of the vote for or against a Material Contravention of a development plan that put an important ground water source at risk.

If he was aware, the questions remains as to why he would not make a point of voting on the proposal. Councillors have limited powers, (Material Contraventions of this magnitude are rare), so when it comes to exercising the few that they have, it seems reasonable that they would exercise their vote.

Moreover, if water quality in Roscommon was of genuine concern to him, the question remains as to why he would not make a point of voting against this specific proposal.

Given Flanagan’s behaviour in this regard, where he absented himself from vote to facilitate a development where there was a known risk to a important source of drinking water, his antics in the Dail seem contrived at best.

Sources:

An Bord Pleanala case file in relation to appeal of grant of planning for 3rd part of the project, which provides detail in relation to the grant of planning, the observations made and the appeals made. http://www.pleanala.ie/casenum/215423.htm

Minutes of the meeting of Roscommon County Council Oct 24th 2005 http://www.garrethmcdaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/council-minutes-oct-2005.pdf

Leitrim Observer article covering the upholding of the appeal against the grant of planning for the third part of the project http://www.leitrimobserver.ie/news/local-news/end-of-the-road-for-lough-key-plans-1-2027384

Me:

In 2011, I was a candidate for the Green Party in Roscommon-South Leitrim, the constituency from which Luke Flanagan was elected to Dail Eireann.

 

Luke Ming’s Election disinformation 2014

Its election time in Ireland, so the air is thick with disinformation. Let’s try and cut through it.

(Note: the page is entirely dedicated to Luke Ming Flanagan at this point)

1. Luke Flanagan and the Common Fisheries Policy

1972396_621419694602017_336346359080855976_n

Luke Flanagan is featuring an image on his Facebook page which suggests that the Common Fisheries Policy has resulted in Ireland forfeiting fish to the value of €184bn to other EU member states.

Flanagan doesn’t give any source for this figure, but as with most things Flanagan comes up with, its barstool wisdom and has no basis in fact.

The only assessment of this net cost to Ireland of the Common Fisheries Policy is that carried out by the Canadian University of British Columbia as part of its The Sea Around Us project, in 2009.

The findings of this project are summarised at this link:

http://www.inshore-ireland.com/News/rhetoric-or-real-the-price-of-ireland-s-entry-to-the-eu.html

The were also referred to during the most recent Lisbon Treaty debate, when Ireland’s largest fisherman’s organisation, the Killybegs Fisherman’s Organisation, called for a Yes vote.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/yes-best-for-industry-in-long-term-says-fishermens-group-101833.html

To quote from the above article:

‘An independent study carried out by the Canadian University of British Columbia in Vancouver as part of the Sea Around Us project puts the total value of fish taken from Irish waters from 1974 to 2004 at €8.5bn. During this time, Irish ships took €3.9bn from the Irish waters and €3.16bn from British waters that Irish boats have access to because they are part of the EU.

Mr O’Donoghue said that as a result of EU membership the Irish industry got aid that between 2000 and 2013 amounts to some €100 million. “The national government would not have been able to provide the aid to the same extent if we were not part of the EU,” he added.’

2. Luke Ming Flanagan and Ireland’s growth rates prior to joining the Euro

Flanagan has made the following claim on his election leaflet, and repeated during a television debate on Sunday night.

“The greatest period of real growth, averaging 8.6%, that this State has experienced was between 1993 and 1999. This was at a time when we had our own currency.”

See here:

http://irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/leaflet-from-luke-ming-flanagan-independent-midlands-northwest-2014-european-elections/

Ming wasn’t really involved in serious politics in the 1990s, so he’s probably never heard of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, or ERM.

The ERM was an agreement between EU member states to maintain their currency values as close as possible to a predetermined value, and was in effect between 1979 and 1999, when the Euro was finally introduced. The mechanism was put in place to achieve the necessary stability to introduce a common currency.

Each EU currency had a corresponding value in ECUs, the currency unit of the ERM. It was, in effect, the Euro without the notes and coins.

Its also worth noting that Ireland has never had any real currency independence, in that prior to joining the ERM in 1979, the Irish Punt was always pegged to the Pound Sterling.

3. Ming and the disappearing Prime Time broadcast

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 15.31.28

 

Ming went on Facebook in the week before the Election to claim that RTE had removed a Prime Time broadcast in which he featured from the RTE Player website, apparently because they are biased against him.

RTE hadn’t removed it. They had just changed the URL when they reposted a different version of the programme.

http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/10284573/

(He later admitted that he made a mistake, but didn’t acknowledge it in another Facebook post)

4. Luke Ming Flanagan on the use of liners on bogs

Ming has regularly claimed that its possible to protect the drainage systems in bogs, and therefore allow mechanical extraction, by placing a plastic liner between the parts that are cut and the parts that aren’t.

Anyone with even a basic knowledge of physics knows that this is nonsense, unless the water in bogs doesn’t obey the laws of the gravity, of you were able to place a liner on a bog all the way down to the bedrock below it.

More recently, Ming has claimed that the NPWS are actually using these liners to “prevent water leakage”.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 22.32.06

The NPWS have never used liners to “prevent leakage”. They have used a liner on one bog, Raheenmore, in conjunction with a dam system, to assist in the restoration of the bog, not to allow turf extraction.

When Ming was queried on Twitter about which bog the liner was used to “prevent leakage”, he told the respondent to “Ring the NPWS”.

5. Luke Ming Flanagan on the closure of rural Post Offices

Ming has made the following claim on Facebook

“Under the EU Postal Directive it is proposed that post offices are no longer necessary as they now stand.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 22.43.34

 

Ming is trying to suggest here that there is some new EU legislation about Postal Services in the offing. There isn’t. The last Directive was in 2008.

The thrust of EU legislation in relation to postal services is that State’s gradually reduce their monopolies on the services and open it up to competition. The latest date for full liberalisation of the market was 2012, 2 years ago.

Member states are perfectly free to continue to operate rural post offices (as evidenced by their continued existence) provided they don’t confer any advantage on State operated postal services that are not available to private companies.

You can read about the EU’s postal services legislation here:

http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/post/legislation/index_en.htm

The principle objective of the legislation is:

  • To define at Community level a universal postal service, conceived as a right of access to postal services for users, encompassing a minimum range of services of specified quality which must be provided in all Member States at affordable prices for the benefit of all users, irrespective of their geographical location

6. Luke Ming Flanagan on not breaking the law

According to this article, Ming was accosted in Galway by a man who wanted to bring him to a Garda station for breaking the law by extracting turf from an SAC, which Ming freely admits to doing.

In the article, the author explains that Ming argues with the man about whether he has broken the law or not.

Ming has broken the law in this regard, when he allows the cutting of turf on a bog where he used to have rights but which is now an SAC.

The law that he breaks is Section 35.1.b.2 of the EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES (BIRDS AND NATURAL HABITATS) REGULATIONS 2011, which available at this link (see Page 71 of the document).

In summary:

A person who, without lawful authority—

enters or occupies any European Site, or brings onto or places or uses
or releases in any European Site any animal or object, including but
not limited to—

machinery for the extraction or mining of natural resources
including, but not limited to trees, vegetation, minerals, rock, soil,
gravel, sand, turf or peat,

where such action or the use or presence on the European Site of such an animal or object is likely to have a significant effect on, or adversely affect the integrity of, a European Site, shall be guilty of an offence.

ie

If you contract someone to extract turf on an SAC, you are breaking the law.

7. Luke Ming Flanagan and the relationship between SIPTU and Labour

In a Facebook post from May 22, the day before the election, Ming has claimed that SIPTU are “trying to save Labour’s bacon” and suggests that canvassing on the part of SIPTU for Labour candidates is a misuse of SIPTU members subscriptions.

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 09.04.47

 

SIPTU have always campaigned for and endorsed the Labour Party during elections, because as a Union, SIPTU is affiliated to Labour. This involves SIPTU paying a subscription to Labour and SIPTU voting at Labour conferences. SIPTU make no secret of this fact:

http://www.siptu.ie/aboutsiptu/siptuatlarge/siptuandthecommunity/

“The Labour Party traces its origins to 1912 when the former ITGWU successfully sponsored a motion at the Annual Conference of the Irish Trade Union Congress to create a political voice for Irish workers. The affiliation of the Union and Labour party in pursuit of the joint goal of bringing about progressive change in Irish society remains today.”

Ming’s suggestion that SIPTU are doing this “behind the scenes” is yet another attempt to misinform voters.

8. Luke Ming Flanagan on Climate Change

Ming attended a hustings organised by the Irish Environmental Pillar in Carrick On Shannon in the run up to the EU Parliament Elections in 2014. While answering a question about Climate Change he acknowledged that action needed to be taken to reduce Co2 emissions. The audience were left in no doubt that Ming is on side when it comes to Climate Change.

However, in a previous parliamentary question put to Brian Hayes, Ming had the following to say:

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If someone believes that carbon dioxide emissions need to be reduced, why would they be questioning the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by carbon dioxide emissions?

The failure of protest

With enemies like these, who needs friends

With enemies like these, who needs friends?

I’m loath to criticise any individual who is energised enough about perceived injustices to take to the streets with a placard or a chant, but given the innumerable protests we’ve had about social, environmental and economic issues over the last few years, and the minimal impact they’ve had on policy making, it probably worth taking a cold hard look at the nature of protest as it exists today.

Let’s set the context first.

We live with something called a “24 hour news cycle”, or in other words, news is reported 24 hours a day, rather than just 4 times per day, like it used to be.

This unending stream of information has blunted people’s capacity to absorb information in anything larger than bite-size chunks. News outlets understand this, so now, rather than featuring longer pieces on fewer subjects, they feature shorter pieces on many subjects. The Journal and Summly are prime examples of this trend.

In addition to this, news outlets understand that as well as being short, their pieces also have to capture the reader or viewer’s attention, so they give prominence in the piece to whatever part of the story (a photo, a clip, a quote) is the most provocative, rather than the part that is most representative of the story as a whole.

Finally, news journalism is no longer governed by the strict code of impartiality that it used to me. Private ownership, fragmentation and the rapacious pursuit of a diminishing pool of subscribers have seen standards go out the window, which means that our news is rarely served without the thumbprints of the opinion stamped all over it.

All this is bad news for protest, the success of which is generally measured by the amount of media coverage a particular protest receives. The apparent logic is that if a protest makes the news, the target of that protest will be pressurized into acting differently.

Why? Because to make protest “newsworthy”, media outlets have to feature whatever it is about that protest that is most likely to stimulate interest in the most disinterested viewer or reader.

As such, a “protest” in which somebody drives a truck into the gates of Leinster House will always attract more media attention than if 300 people gather, march down a street and go home again.

The net effect of this is that the average viewer or reader of news is presented with a view of protest that inevitably involves extreme or outlandish behaviour, which discredits the general impression of protest, which makes it easier for politicians to ignore it.

The presents a considerable challenge for groups who rely on protest. On the one hand, they have do something that makes the news cycle, but equally they have to be careful that whatever that something is doesn’t present them as some sort of fruitcakes who nobody should take seriously.

This isn’t impossible. Large groups, like Greenpeace, who can avail of professional advice in this area, still manage to stage impactful and credible protests.

However, for smaller groups, or larger groups who don’t have the years of experience that Greenpeace has, the challenge is very real, and getting it wrong can shunt a campaign off the road before it even starts moving.

Smaller groups have additional problems when it comes to protest. Where media attention is obtained, through careful and thorough planning, and the protest doesn’t attract a critical mass of participants, the effect is probably even worse than if some member of the protest does something peculiar in front of the cameras.

A protest that was billed as a big deal, but which didn’t turn out to be a big deal, will only barely surface in the media, and the only impression the viewer or reader will be left with is that the issue can’t be that important, as nobody turned up at the protest.

A vicious circle therefore devekops. Protest loses its credibility, fewer people turn up at protests, protest loses more credibility, fewer people turn up at protests, etc etc

So what is the alternative?

The answer to resist the fragmentation of protest, and to aspire to larger groupings, who can engage the necessary level of public relations skill to make protest meaningful.

However, the opposite seems to be happening. Campaign groups tend to protect their territories like old time gold prospectors, and will resist the pooling of resources at ever turn.

The results are there for all to see. At anything other than pan-national level, protest isn’t making a difference to anything.

Tana French’s muddled revisionism

Author Tana French pictured in Dublin's Grafton St.KOB.3/4/8

Apparently we weren’t greedy at all, just a bit thick, according to Tana French.

Tana French’s opinion piece on the “Psychology of the Irish Meltdown“, published recently in both the New York Times and the Sunday Independent, presents an account of our recent history in which the fortunes of the entire nation have been determined by a small group of apparently powerful people. It is an analysis of�the Irish people, their government and the Irish State that is deeply flawed, and this is my response to it.

Since late 2008, when our economic reversal of fortune began, numerous commentators have attempted to distil our experience into a perfectly linear chain of events. The plot outline rarely deviates: the plucky, hard-working Irish, who cobbled together an economic miracle through sweat, toil and sacrifice, were robbed blind by banks, politicians, the EU, the ECB, the IMF and any other faceless bureaucracy in which people wear suits and earn six figure salaries.

While this analysis finds a ready audience amongst people who have experienced a fall in their living standards, it has no value in explaining the Irish situation. The idea that the fortunes of the Irish State are dependent on the whims of a cabal of banking executives and politicians (and their brood) is a fantasy, rolled out by an intellectual elite in response to stubborn voters who prefer to elect their next door neighbours rather than people who go to the theatre and quote Naomi Klein.

Yes, Ireland experienced a property bubble, and it exploded, and because we participate in a shared currency, the supply of which we do not control, our options in dealing with it were very limited.

But it takes more than just a few bankers and politicians to create a property bubble viagraindian.com. Its takes millions of people.

Ireland between 2002 and 2008 was a Temple of Vulgarity, in which shops maintained waiting lists for �5,000 Birkin handbags and more people per capita owned Mercedes cars than in Germany.

All of this was based on inflated property values, and while there were numerous individuals, politicians and organisations warning that a bubble was developing, the Irish people had no interest in such warnings; in our General Election of 2007, the composition of our parliament hardly changed. The previous Government was re-elected, narrowly defeating a slew of opposition parties, all of whom were offering the same heady mix of tax cuts, spending increases and ever-increasing property prices.

And contrary to Tana French’s claim that the people were being hypnotised into buying property by politicians, the exact opposite is true: the people were telling the politicians that if they didn’t let them buy or build houses, they wouldn’t vote for them.

By the time the crash came, we had the welfare system of Sweden and the income tax regime of the Cayman Islands. No other combination was acceptable to the electorate. Inevitably, the public spending and wage increases that were made possible by private banks lending billions of euro into the economy had to stop, and the blame game began. It was the banks fault. It was the politicians fault. It was the EU’s fault. If was everybody’s fault except ours.

The response of the State to the crisis fuelled the sense of outrage still further. Faced with the prospect of the financial system imploding, taking with it the deposits of pension funds and small businesses all over the country, and Money Supply in the economy virtually disappearing overnight, the Government had 2 choices: to leave the EU and stock the banks with an Irish currency, or use tax payers money to recapitalise the banking system.

The choice of the later option, which was later to be chosen by several other countries faced with the same crisis, was a field day for the media and general commentariat. Rather than present the actual choices faced by the State, the public were instead served up conspiracy theories, in which government operatives were holed up in the basement of Department of Finance, filling wheel barrows with �50 notes, which were then being wheeled out the back door into the waiting limos of banking executives.

Two year later, this caricature of the Irish financial crisis had become an article of faith. The cuts to Health Care, Education and Social Welfare did not apparently arise from the disappearance of tax revenue that had been sustained by private bank lending, but from the State’s decision to re-finance the banks.

That narrative continues to enjoy rude health today, in 2013, despite the fact that no payments have been made to the banks since 2011, and that the payments to the banks, which are finite, are still dwarfed by our massive, and perennial, public spending commitments.

All that said, Ireland is not the broken state depicted by Tana French. The “enormous cuts to essential services” she describes have still left us with one of the most generous welfare systems in the EU. The “flood of emigration” is not some throw back to the Irish famine of 1845, but the gradual process of 300,000 economic migrants returning to their home countries. Nor does Tana French mention the thousands of people who come to live and and work in Ireland every month, filling jobs in our flourishing IT and Bio-Scienses industries.

On the other side of the fiscal equation, tax collection,�independent analysis has shown that Ireland’s efforts to reduce our budget deficit are the most progressive of any of the EU countries who have recently been required to make dramatic adjustments to their public finances. Indeed , it is ironic that Tana French should state she wants answers for the “taxes piled on taxes” when as an author, she doesn’t pay any income tax in the first place.

Moreover, while every democracy experiences its share of political corruption and low standards, Ireland’s political system remains one of the most open and transparent in the developed world. Our Taoiseach (Head of Government) is a former school teacher, and most of our parliamentarians come from similar backgrounds. The idea that people of such limited ability should have their hands on the levers of power is anathema to our intellectual elite, but if a parliament is not representative of its people, it has no meaning or legitimacy.

Indeed, democracy may well be the real victim in the story of Ireland over the last ten years. The concept of democracy is not a single edged sword, in which the people get to make the decisions and someone else gets to clean up the mess. Democracy has to punish as well as reward, because without pain, the body politic does not learn from its mistakes, and inevitably repeats them.

What Ireland needs to do now is look forward, to be at ease with the notion that nations are as capable as individuals of making mistakes, and to understand that hard work is the only true ingredient of success.

If we continue to respond to every challenge with moral outrage, fuelled by the muddled revisionism of commentators like Tana French, we will have learned nothing from our experience, and that will be a true tragedy.

Deconstructing the emigration myth

Is this where we are again?

Is this where we are again?

Whilst campaigning the 2011 General Election in County Leitrim, what struck me most was the number of people who had family members who had either recently emigrated or were on the verge of emigration.

Had I being campaigning in Mayo, Donegal, Sligo or Galway, I’m quite sure the story would have been the same. Emigration is a permanent fixture in the west or Ireland; it is notable by its absence rather than its existence canada viagra.

Emigration is also a subject that features prominently is public discourse, and is frequently referred to by opposition politicians and media celebrities when constructing attacks on the sitting Government.

Take this article by Irish Central, entitled�Irish emigration at highest point since Famine — 3,000 leaving per month

In the article, Union of Students of Ireland President, Gary Redmond, makes the following apocalyptic prediction:

“Masses of highly skilled graduates are leaving for distant shores, taking with them the future prosperity of this island.�

Here another example of emigration being used as a political tool, this time from Sinn Fein Finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, who says:

�Michael Noonan�s comments are a disgrace. Six thousand people are leaving Ireland every month, the overwhelming majority seeking work in America, Australia, and elsewhere,� Doherty said.

�The overwhelming majority have been forced to leave because of the lack of employment and the belief they have no future in this country.�

Sobering stuff indeed.

Combined with personal experience of people who have emigrated, this sort of commentary has unsurprisingly led to a public narrative in which emigration had reached endemic levels and without which our unemployment rate would be significantly higher than it currently is.

The truth is, as always, slightly more nuanced.

Let’s refer to an actual scientific study rather than the musing of politicians and media celebrities.

Early this year, the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis produced a report entitled The Changing Landscape of Irish Migration, 2000-2012.

The purpose of this study was to give some definition to the manner in which migration to and from Ireland had changed, from a previous time in which economic migration from Ireland, by Irish people, dwarfed any level of inward migration, to more recent times, when Ireland, as a member of the European Union, was witness to significant levels of inward migration, both by Irish people and people of other nationalities.

The report contains the following graph, which gives the general picture of migration over the period:

Irish Migration 2000-2012

In understanding this graph, we should first explain Net Migration, which is the number of people who immigrate into a country less the number of people who emigrate from a country. If Net Migration is less than zero, it means the population of the country is falling.

The graph shows the following trend:

Between 2002 and 2007, there was a significant rise in the number of people entering Ireland, while the number of people leaving Ireland rose only slightly, leading to an increase in Net Migration.

Or in other words, the population of the country increased significantly, by 310,000 people through migration alone. According to the report, the vast majority of these inwards migrants were people of foreign nationality.

After 2007, the trend changes dramatically. Inward migration falls rapidly, while migration from Ireland increases, although not at the same rate as inward migration increased earlier in the decade.

As a result, Net Migration begins to fall, but only becomes negative after 2009.

The sharp divergence in trends continues through 2010, but then tapers off, leaving us with negative Net Migration of approximately -30k people at the end of 2012.

In broad terms, what this analysis tells us is that the current Irish experience of emigration is substantially different from before, in that our current emigration figures include significant numbers of economic migrants who entered the country between 2002 and 2007.

The table given below is telling in this regard. For instance, it shows that in 2009, only 26.7% of people who left Ireland were in fact Irish.

Migration to Ireland 2006 2012

 

For anyone faced with a decision about whether or not to emigrate, or for those they will be leaving behind, analysis of macro level statistics is meaningless. Their pain is real, and I would never suggest otherwise.

But in figuring out how we set the country on a even keel again, we should have a understanding of current situation, and the current “consensus” that we have returned to famine-era emigration levels is totally undermined by the statistics available to us.

Yes, large numbers of people are leaving Ireland every year as a result of the downturn in our economy, but, unlike before, many of these people are foreign nationals who migrated to the country in the previous 10 years, and, again unlike before, large numbers of people are still migrating to the country, to the extent that the negative Net Migration between 2009 and 2012 is still only about 20% of the positive Net Migration that occurred between 2002 and 2007.

The report itself comes to much the same conclusion:

“Migration from Ireland has clearly increased since the start of the prolonged
recession in 2008. Yet, changes in patterns of migration are less marked and less
significant than is suggested by banner headlines.”

The business of winning votes and selling newspapers is one that leaves little room for consideration of the national mood and public confidence in our economy. That has always been true and always will be true, but it is no less regrettable for it.

Going off the deep end over PRISM

Darth Vadar pulls up a PRISM developer on frequency of cat images pulled from Facebook

Darth Vadar pulls up a PRISM developer on frequency of cat images pulled from Facebook

The degree to which stories about governments mucking around with the Internet (eg SOPA) turn into forewarnings of an impending apocalypse really demonstrates how shallow our appreciation of the world around us has become.

On any given day, the US Military could fly an drone aircraft into northern Pakistan, a sovereign nation, ostensibly in search of terrorists, and kill 30-40 civilians. This would barely make the international news cycle, but as soon as a Government agency starts looking at pictures of people’s cats on Facebook, its the end of the world.

That is not to say that digital snooping on the part of a State agency is a trivial matter; it isn’t, but it needs to be presented in the correct context, rather than with the type of alarmist rhetoric that has accompanied recent reporting of PRISM.

To believe various organisations who specialise in State paranoia, and indeed certain news organisations, PRISM is a real-life version of Skynet, programmed and managed by Darth Vadar from a city-sized space ship somewhere in outer space.

On the other side of the coin, the agency that developed PRISM, the NSA, have claimed that PRISM is entirely innocuous (if you’re a US citizen) and of no more concern to your digital privacy than posting a Facebook update about what you had for lunch.

And who is telling the truth?

Well, that’s the thing, we just don’t know, but as in all these things, the truth is probably as far from either extreme as is mathematically possible.

What we do know is as follows:

1. US Law permits the NSA and FBI to obtain data about users from Internet companies whose networks are in the US. Information can be requested about individual users, groups and users and trends. For instance, if the NSA wants the personal details of any users who have used the phrase “bomb in my backpack”, they can legally obtain this from the likes of Google and Facebook.

2. To facilitate this (the transfer of data from the companies to the agencies), agencies like the NSA have hardware located on the premises of these companies. This was explicitly referred to in some of the documents leaked to the Washington Post and the Guardian.

3. Companies affected are legally prevented from disclosing the nature or existence of such systems (which is why they didn’t refer to the existence of such equipment in their statements about PRISM).

4. Companies like Google and Facebook, for whom privacy is a key selling point in the delivery of their services, are not required to allow any State agency connect directly to their servers. They are only required to provide data in accordance with specific legal requests, as indicated in their various responses to the PRISM story.

And that’s really about it.

What this paints a picture of is a permanent and sophisticated IT infrastructure that allows the likes of the NSA and FBI to quickly obtain specific data from private companies when those agencies have obtained legal permission to do so.

The payload of data, which is derived from parameters entered into the system, could include a large portion of information which is of no interest or value to those agencies (eg a picture of your cat), but it is gleaned none the less. Seemingly, only that information that is relevant to the particular investigation made by the agency is kept and used further.

What this doesn’t paint a picture of is a system which is sucking every single piece of data directly out of Facebook and storing it permanently in a State owned database which is then opened up to tax authorities, health insurance companies and private detective agencies.

So, is this something you should be worried about? Well, yes and no.

Yes, because it demonstrates yet again that the US citizens have no problem with their Government pushing the envelope on civil liberties to the absolute limit in terms protecting “National Security”; and no, because if you’re a regular, sane person, you’re not including highly sensitive personal information in Skype chats and Facebook status updates, let alone sharing plans for dirty bombs with your friends, and will therefore not be of any interest to anyone working for the NSA or FBI.

But isn’t there some sort of principle involved here, that should prevent the State looking into your inner most secrets, even if those secrets involve no more than pictures of your cat? Isn’t it the thin end of the wedge, that will ultimately result in CCTV in our living rooms?

Probably, yes, but these compromises arise all the time in our daily lives. A law enforcement officer can stop any motorist at any time and ask them to perform a breath test; you can be denied bail even if you have not been convicted of a crime; tax authorities can require you to  provide details of your income and assets.

All of these are infringements of civil liberties that we take for granted, partly because we recognise their value in preserving order in society, and partly because they have been around for a long time.

However, when it comes to the Internet, perspective seems to go out the window at even the slightest mention of State intrusion. The difference seems to be that the Internet is regarded as some sort of frontier territory which has been colonised by “good guy” activists and which the State now belatedly wants to control. The fact that the Internet is also a “hip” subject to offer your opinion on (unlike dead Pakistani peasants) and widely misunderstood in technical terms are also contributing factors.

And what of claims from EU leaders, that the NSA is infringing the rights of EU citizens by looking at their data?

There may be something in this, but how it can possibly be policed is beyond me. Are we going to have an EU-only Facebook, Google and Twitter, where nobody in the US can interact with anyone in the EU, and vice-versa, or is the EU Commission going to ban Google unless Google locates its entire data infrastructure (for the entire world) in the EU?

This would appear to be another case of politicians thinking that global data communication can be regulated in the same way as dog licenses.

Over the coming weeks, a lot more technical detail will probably emerge in relation to PRISM. The NSA will most likely review its use, and rebuild it in some other way, and the detail about the old system will lose its security value.

This will give us a better picture of what PRISM was/is capable of. It may be the case that Darth Vadar is in fact at the controls, but I’m guessing that probably isn’t true, so for now, just  follow the Golden Rule re. Internet Privacy and you’ll be fine:

Nothing on the Internet is private