A ‘Convention on the Constitution’ Committee is meeting to make several recommendations to the Government so that the Irish Constitution can be changed.
The Committee is made up of 66 members of the Irish public, chosen by random, with 33 politicians from various political parties and a chairman making up the 100 strong group. The first order of business they faced was whether to leave the voting age at 18 years or to lower it to 17 or 16 years. They may also vote on reducing the term of the Presidential office from 7 years to 5 years. As many as 8 constitutional amendments will be considered by the Convention including:
A review of the Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) voting system
Giving Irish residents outside of Ireland the right to vote in Presidential elections
An amendment relating to same-sex marriage
An amendment regarding the role of women in the home
An amendment increasing the participation of women in politics
An amendment to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution
Any actual changes to the Irish Constitution must be approved in a national referendum.
The work of the group represents a unique opportunity for the citizens of Ireland to have a real say in the most important of Irish legal documents. Unionist parties in Ulster were invited by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to participate in the work but declined. Sinn Fein and several other Ulster parties are represented however.
Recent opinion polls suggest that the Irish people are in favour of the abolition of the Seanad (lower house of Parliament), legalising same-sex marriage, and allowing Irish citizens abroad the right to vote in Presidential elections.
The ‘Save No 16 Moore Street’ Committee has called on the Irish Government to provide funding for the restoration of a building in Dublin City Centre that is central to the story of the Easter 1916 Rising.
The unassuming building that is just yards from Henry Street and the GPO was the location where the leaders of the Easter 1916 Rebellion decided to surrender their arms to the overwhelming British forces that were stacked against them. The Committee hopes that the building will be restored and turned into a museum in time for the 1916 centenary commemoration in three years time.
The new museum would display the famous ‘Proclamation of Independence’ and the original letter of surrender. Plans to demolish the building were uncovered by the Committee in 1999 who launched their successful campaign to have the demolition plans scrapped.
“We have saved a lot of what’s left of the 1916 Rising” a spokesperson said.
The Easter 1916 Rising was a pivotal moment in Irish history. Although a military disaster for the rebels the execution of the leaders including Padraig Pearse and James Connolly radically swept public opinion against the British. The remaining rebels then instigated a War of Independence under the guidance of Michael Collins and Eamon deValera. The Anglo-Irish Treaty, the resulting Civil War and the Declaration of Independence in 1948 all trace their origin to the Easter RIsing.
You can find our more about the plans for the museum in this video:
The amount of genuine ‘Euro-skepticism’ that really exists in the United Kingdom is about to be put to the test.
The UK has always had a vocal faction who are very unhappy with the EU. This skepticism ranges from those who want to have their London parliament retain more of its power rather than ceding ever-more to Brussels, to those who want the UK out of the European Union altogether.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that, should his Conservative party be re-elected, a referendum will be held in the UK by 2017. The vote will likely include a number of options and will include an option for the country to completely leave the Union. Britain previously decided to remain outside the Eurozone and retain its own Sterling currency. This proved to be a very wise decision in retrospect, given the financial devastation that the single currency has left in its wake.
Had Ireland retained its own ‘Irish Punt’ currency and thus control of its own Central Bank then there is no way the property bubble that has wrecked the Irish economy would ever have been allowed to grow to the proportions it did. Since interest rates were set by the European Central Bank Ireland was lumbered with low interest rates, cheap loans and a voracious appetite for buying property at precisely the moment it needed it least. Ireland had 1 and 2% interest rates when it should have had 5, 6, and 7% to cool the property market.
While these events are history now, it is with a sense of foreboding that the Irish public and politicians view the vista of our nearest neighbour and largest trading partner actually leaving the European Union completely.
The effects of such a move for Ireland would be wide-reaching. Britain is the export economy upon which Ireland relies most. If trade becomes more difficult or is taxed at a higher rate then the effect on the Irish economy would be severe.
It remains to be seen what the overall response will be from the British public. As David Cameron himself put it:
“The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy. In its long history Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point.”
Ireland is certainly feeling the pain for having ignored its own heretics who predicted doom when the country joined the Euro currency.
Kerry County Councillor Danny Healy-Rae has called for a special permit to be given to rural people to allow them to visit their local pub, have a few drinks and then drive home without fear of prosecution.
Successive Irish Governments have enabled a big crackdown on the ‘drink and drive’ culture over the last decade. The blood-alcohol limit has been reduced significantly on a number of occasions and there is now much greater enforcement of the laws. An Garda Siochana (Irish Police) can now breathalyse any driver in any situation – no ‘please walk a straight line’ test is needed.
The smoking ban that was introduced in 2004 had the dual effect of curbing the use of tobacco in the workplace as well as impacting severely on the number of times Irish people would visit the pub. People chose to stay at home where they could smoke, if they wished, and also not risk a driving ban if they used their car.
The result has been widespread closures of pubs across Ireland, especially in rural locations. Combine these factors with the devastating effect the recent recession and major tax hikes have had on Irish disposable income and the vista is a very bleak one for the famous Irish pub.
Against this backdrop Councillor Healy-Rae has launched his campaign for the introduction of some kind of scheme to allow rural pub-goers to be allowed to have two or three pints and then drive home. He makes the case that the rural lifestyle is being decimated by the recently introduced regulations and that many country people who live on the periphery of small towns and villages, or perhaps live even more remotely, are existing in a kind of state-sponsored isolation, afraid as they are to drive to a pub and have even a single pint such is their fear of being caught and banned, or even imprisoned.
The chance of any success with Danny Healy-Rae’s campaign is just about zero. Irish roads are a lot safer now than they were even a decade ago, both in terms of the physical infrastructure and the fact that there is a vastly reduced amount of drinking and driving being risked by the Irish citizenry. There will be no turning back that particular clock.
Nevertheless the Kerry Councillor has highlighted a real problem that does exist for many rural and lonely people who are unserved by public transport and unable to afford private taxis or hired transport. Many will remain in an increasing isolation and seclusion, at least partly because of the laws designed to protect us all.
In a surprise development Democratic Unionist Minister Arlene Foster has suggested that her party may actually support Sinn Fein’s call for a vote on a United Ireland – the ‘border poll’.
Sinn Fein have recently begun a campaign to have a border poll held in Northern Ireland to decide if a majority still want to stay within the United Kingdom. The Republican party have been boosted by recent census statistics that have revealed a big reduction in the overall size of the majority of Protestants in Ulster. The party has repeatedly said that it wants a referendum held in advance of the 1916 Easter Rising centenary.
The DUP Economy Minister has stated that she held talks with First Minister Peter Robinson about calling the bluff of Sinn Fein and that any such referendum would produce an overwhelming mandate for remaining within the UK. She claims that Sinn Fein are engaged in ‘fantasy politics’.
This is certainly a very high stakes game. If a referendum were to be held it would doubtless be mirrored by an increase in violence, intimidation and tension within Ulster and would likely empower the more radical extremes of both Protestant and Catholic traditions.
The infamous Irish bushranger Ned Kelly has been buried in an unmarked Australian grave some 132 years after his death. Despite being hanged in 1880 it was not until 2011 when DNA evidence from one of his living relatives was matched against bones and remains found in a derelict Melbourne Jail that any funeral could take place.
For a time there was a legal wrangle over the ownership of the remains but in the end his descendants won the right to give him the Catholic burial he is said to have wanted. A crowd of over 500 people turned up to witness the final journey for the Australian legend, despite pleas for privacy from the Kelly family.
Opinion on the legacy of Ned Kelly has always been divided. His crimes in the 1800′s include various armed robberies and murders. He was eventually hanged after his gang was convicted of killing three police officers who were pursuing the renegades. While police authorities have always maintained that Ned Kelly was merely a criminal it is without question that he was also a symbol of rebellion by the poorer particularly Irish immigrants against the Anglo-Australian authorities who ruled in nineteenth century Australia.
The final showdown took place at Glenrowan on 28th June 1880. Kelly wore his home-made metal armour (an image that has become synonymous with him) but was captured and put on trial. He had earlier written an 8000 word letter explaining how circumstances had forced him into a life of crime by situations over which he had no control. The letter was later used against him in court. Ned Kelly was hanged in November 1880. His last words were ‘Such is life’.
Irish Government Finally Gets Tough on Public Service Pay
The ‘Croke Park Agreement’ is a deal between Public Service Unions and the Irish Government. It broadly states that there the Government will not implement any further cuts in pay for Public Servants in exchange for an increase in productivity and greater flexibility in respect of work practices.
The rates of pay and conditions enjoyed by Irish public servants have been the subject of severe criticism in Ireland in the last few years, especially given the appalling state of the public finances.
A successor to the Cork Park Agreement is being negotiated between the Government and Union officials with both sides taking pot-shots at each other using the media as their weapon. The latest example of such public negotiating was by the Irish Taoiseach (leader, Prime Minister) Enda Kenny. His Fine Gael Party has been criticized for allowing the continuation of the Croke Park Agreement despite the fact that the country is effectively bankrupt. Fine Gael are to a certain extent hamstrung by the fact that they are in coalition with the Labour Party who are adamantly opposed to their core membership enduring any further pay cuts.
Enda Kenny has made it clear that if no agreement is forthcoming then the Irish Government will introduce legislation to enable it to reduce wages and automatic annual increments (pay rises), and to introduce a compulsory redundancy program.
Such a unilateral action would cause difficulties for the Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore who is already reeling from the criticism his Party has endured after the introduction of the annual Property Tax. He will be hoping that his Trade Union colleagues can strike a deal with his Government that will prevent such a necessity.
Both Fine Gael and Labour have suffered badly in recent Irish opinion polls and it is vital that they are seen to strike a deal that is good for the country.
The ‘Good Friday Agreement’ that saw an end to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland has a number of provisions including the possibility of a vote on the removal of the border with the Republic and thus a United Ireland. It has always been the express political aim of Sinn Fein to achieve a United Ireland and the party has clearly taken heart from recent census results of the population in the six Counties.
The census revealed that the once significant gap between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority has diminished significantly. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency published the results of the 2011 census showing that 45% of the population are now Catholic while 48% are Protestant. This compares to the 2001 census when the ratio was 53% Protestant to 44% Catholic – a very significant closing of the gap.
When asked to identify themselves as British, Northern Irish or Irish 48% identified as British with 29% identifying as Northern Irish and 28% as Irish. Respondents were allowed to choose a number of identities in the census. 40% identified as ‘British only’, 25% as ‘Irish only’ with 21% ‘Northern Irish only’.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has ramped up the pressure by calling for a referendum during the lifetime of the current Northern Assembly (parliament). In an attempt to sway moderates he has also suggested that there would be economic benefits on both sides of the border should a United Ireland come into effect after a ‘border poll’. Of course any such moves are going to be fiercely resisted by Ulster Unionists who claim Ulster as their own.
A new tax on the private use of tap water is to be introduced in Ireland in 2014. This is despite the fact that most Irish homes will not have an actual water meter installed until 2016 at the earliest. A flat-rate fee will be introduced initially and will be based on the size of a property as well as the number of occupants.
Irish businesses already pay for their water usage but private homes do not, the funding for which comes from general taxation revenue. The new plans to install a water meter in every house in the country have, like the property tax, been greeted with dismay by a population that is already groaning under the weight of a huge and increasing tax burden. It is expected that average annual usage per home would cost approximately 400 euro (approx US$530), with heavier users paying more.
It is broadly accepted that there is a case for charging for water usage. Estimates put the wastage of usable water at over 50% from the country’s creaking and in many cases Victorian water pipes network. Owners of rural houses usually have to sink their own well or else join a water scheme while urban houses do not have any such expense so there is a real urban/rural divide on the issue.
On the other hand Taxpayers can reasonably argue that they already pay for water in their income and sales taxes and are entitled to ask just why they are being told to pay again.
In the wake of the unexpected blossoming of the Irish whale-watching business the Irish tourist industry is today celebrating another notable boost.
In a surprising boost for Irish tourism the Chinese ‘Oriental Morning Post’ newspaper has declared that Ireland is the world’s best travel destination. A poll conducted by the newspaper was announced at the ‘World Travel Awards’ in Shanghai. The vote of confidence for the Irish tourist experience follows on from the 2012 ‘most charming destination’ award from the Beijing ‘Life Style’ magazine.
As many as two million Chinese tourists visit Europe every year but clearly Irish Tourist businesses want to attract more than the 10,000 Chinese visitors that arrived in 2011. Perhaps the fact that Ireland is located at the very edge of the continent has played some part in the relatively few Chinese visitors over the years. It is hoped that a new visa waiver scheme that has been introduced for Chinese visitors will greatly boost the numbers that visit the shores of the Emerald Isle.
Late last year the Chinese celebrity couple Zhao Ruo Hong and Zhao Yan from Shanghai made the headlines in their native land when they visited Ireland on their honeymoon. Zhao Ruo Hong is vice-president of China’s first wedding website. Zhao Yan is a famous detective writer. Their tour of the Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College, The Book of Kells and then the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry read like a travel brochure for Irish tourist chiefs who were clearly delighted to welcome such a high-profile celebrity endorsement.