Increase in Support for Fianna Fail as Government Parties Suffer

A recent opinion poll of Irish voters has shown a further increase in support for Fianna Fail. The party that has been blamed for the current economic downturn was pummeled in the last General Election but is now beginning to show signs of recovery.

Perhaps part of the reason for Fianna Fail’s rebound is the failure of Fine Gael to introduce a ‘new kind of politics’ as they promised. At the last General Election Enda Kenny’s party asked Fianna Fail supporters to ‘lend us your vote’ while they got the country back on track. Many voters did and it seems are now regretting their decision.

The poll showed Fine Gael at 29%, down 7% since the 2011 election. Fianna Fail are next at 21%, up 4% since election day. The vote for Sinn Fein is very volatile and they are currently at 16%, up by 6% from the last election. The biggest loser is the Labour Party who look certain to be severely punished for their collusion in introducing austerity budgets and a national property tax. They are currently on 13%, down by 6% since the election.

Of course it is difficult to say just how much of the Fianna Fail support is just a protest at the current government. What remains a real possibility though is that the party could at least hope to return to government in the next election, especially given the difficulties faced by the Labour Party.

A year ago that seemed like a fanciful thought.

Trouble Continues in Ulster Over Flag Restrictions

The decision by Belfast City Council to restrict the number of days that the British Union Jack flag can be flown above Belfast City Hall from 365 days to 17 has been greeted with an escalating amount of violent protest in Belfast and beyond.

At least 27 police officers have so far been injured in the violence that has followed several protests by loyalists who oppose the decision. Bricks and petrol bombs have been thrown at security forces, cars burned and death threats made to Councillors.

Despite appeals by the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson,himself a loyalist, for the violence to cease, it has been reported that loyalist paramilitary influence may be driving the protests.

The violence has coincided with the visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was warmly greeted by both Peter Robinson and his Sinn Fein counterpart Martin McGuinness. The former first-lady and her husband Bill Clinton were pivotal figures in the fledgling peace process and became the first US President and first-lady to visit the province in 1995.

Ireland Ranked 25th Most Corrupt Country in 2012

The Berlin based watchdog ‘Transparency International’ has released its latest report regarding national public sector corruption.

The new study uses metrics such as the independence and efficiency of the state judicial system as well as the effectiveness of oversight of public spending to compile the list. According to the latest results Ireland has fallen from 19th place last year to 25th place in 2012. The study measures the perception of corruption, given that most corrupt dealings are secret or never detected.

Of the 176 countries that were analyzed Greece ranked in 94th place, the worst of any EU country. Widescale corruption and tax evasion continue to compound the problems of this bankrupt country, already reeling from years of austerity and facing into perhaps decades more.

New Zealand, Denmark and Finland were ranked as the least corrupt countries. It is perhaps no coincidence that these three countries are also among the top countries to be born in according to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan were listed as the most corrupt countries.

The US was ranked in 19th place with Germany in 13th, Britain and Japan in 17th place, and France in 22nd. With China in 80th place and Russia in 133rd place the report clearly cites the need for sustained political action in order for a country to improve its perception of corruptness.

Italy in 72nd place, Bulgaria in 75th, and Romania in 66th place demonstrates the problems facing those EU countries and especially so in the light of the current plans to install a new European-wide banking supervisor.

Huge Public Support in Ireland for Abortion Legislation in X-Case

The X-case in Ireland refers to an Irish Supreme Court case that established that Irish women are entitled to an abortion if their life is in danger, including in danger from the risk of suicide. The 1992 ruling caused decades of controversy and although the decision was handed down by the Court successive Irish Governments have never provided legislation to specifically detail how the judgment may be used.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless the life of the mother is in peril. For the last two decades it has been left to medical staff to make individual judgements on a case-by-case basis. The recent death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital has brought this emotive issue to a head. Mrs. Halappanavar died after a complications due to a miscarriage and apparently after being refused an abortion to hasten that miscarriage. Her death prompted street rallies in Dublin and elsewhere.

A recent poll by the ‘Sunday Business Post’ newspaper has revealed that 85% of the Irish public now favours legislation in this area, allowing abortion where the mother’s life is in danger, including the risk of suicide. Some campaigners may hail this as a first step on the road to greater access to abortion in Ireland, while those opposed to abortion will likely attempt to block the legislation.

The issue will certainly cause real problems for the Irish Government that currently consists of two parties: Fine Gael and Labour. Several Fine Gael T.D.s (members of the Irish parliament) are much more conservative than their Labour Party colleagues and given the emotion attached to this issue it could potentially cause a real rift in the Government.

Controversial Sugar Tax to be introduced into Ireland

The Irish government looks set to follow the lead of several other countries and introduce a tax on sugary soft drinks such as lemonade and cola. It is expected that the tax will be a 10% hike in excise duty which would add about 20 cents to the cost of a 250 cents bottle of soda. The government is torn between wanting to reduce the intake of fattening foods and drinks in the general population while also not wanting to damage employment and add to household bills.

Efforts in Ireland to decrease the consumption of certain products by taxing them have had only limited success. Over the decades there have successive small increases in the price of cigarettes and alcohol. The tax hikes on cigarettes have very much outpaced those on alcohol and certainly do have an effect on consumption, especially when combined with the ban on smoking in the workplace and the current societal disapproval of tobacco. The overall momentum against smoking allowed successive governments to tax cigarettes heavily.

The same cannot be said about alcohol consumption. The policy of continually raising the tax on alcohol in small amounts has not had any great effect on consumption. Critics of the policy advocate for a single very large increase in tax on alcohol, perhaps even to increase the price by 50% or 100%, in order to have any kind of real shock impact. The revenue raised from this tax could be used for health education programs and even to fund hospital emergency departments that are inundated with alcohol-related patients every weekend.

The need for action in the food and drinks sector is now obvious. 60% of the Irish adult Irish population and nearly 25% of all 7-year-olds are classified as being either overweight or obese. By any measure this is a shocking statistic and is a recipe for a diabetes epidemic in the years to come, along with a whole other raft of health problems.

The introduction of a sugar tax on certain flattening products is likely a good idea, but unless it is of a sufficient amount then it seems certain that its impact will be minimal.