Irish Government Reaps Reward for Exiting the EU/IMF/ECB ‘Bailout’

Calling it a bailout was never a good idea as it was anything but a bailout.

Loans to Ireland

The loans provided by the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the Irish Government had two main purposes: to keep the Euro currency alive and to allow Ireland to repay French and German banks and bond-holders who were owed billions by the bankrupt Irish banks. The fact that the Irish Government needed the cash to meet the wage-bill of the ridiculous numbers of public and civil servants employed by this tiny country was very much incidental. The EU/EBC/IMF had their own agenda.

But now they are gone.

Ireland has again taken control of raising its own finances and regained its ‘economic sovereignty’ amid much fanfare and self-congratulation. Ratings Agency Moody’s has added to the positive tone in Ireland by upgrading Irish 10-year debt bonds to ‘investment grade’ and as a result the cost of borrowing by the Irish Government has dropped dramatically from over 12% at the depth of the financial crisis to a much healthier 3.3% today. By comparison the US and UK borrow at about 2.8% while Germany borrows at 1.65%, Portugal at 5% and Greece at 8.5%.

Should the Irish economy recover and unemployment fall then this will be seen as a very significant turning point in recent Irish history. Fine Gael will claim the credit for steering the country through its darkest ever economic moments having implemented the Fianna Fail plan for recovery that they inherited, despite lambasting that same plan in the run up to the last General Election.

With the economy pointed in the right direction Fine Gael will expect to be rewarded by the Irish people with a second term in office. Despite being not quite half way through its five year term with the next General Election not due until 2016, the analysts in Fine Gael will surely be eyeing up the very best moment to ‘go to the people’, likely next year in 2015.

Of course a year is an eternity in politics and it is not out of the question that a fickle Irish electorate could yet punish Fine Gael for its failures, perceived or otherwise. Lack of political reform, controversial social policies and the never-ending implementation of the economics of austerity may yet come back to haunt the party.

For the time being Fine Gael are enjoying their time in office with the latest numbers from the opinion polls supporting their optimism:

Fine Gael: 30%
Fianna Fail: 26%
Sinn Fein: 16%
Labour: 12%
Others/Independents: 16%

This survey suggests a return by vast groups of voters to the more mainstream political parties and away from independents and fringe groups. Even the Labour Party managed to increase its support although it is still in a very poor position. Looking at the numbers above, surely a grand coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is only a matter of time?

by Michael Green
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Opinion Polls driving Fianna Fail and Fine Gael together – Doom for Labour Party

The prospect of Fianna Fail entering a coalition with Fine Gael after the next General Election is looking ever more possible. A recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll certainly points toward such a possibility and also makes very, very bad reading for the Labour Party.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Labour are currently in Government with Fine Gael whom they joined in coalition after the 2011 General Election. Fine Gael took the bulk of the Fianna Fail vote with Labour also soaring to new highs in the hope that the party would see off the money-men of the EU/IMF/ECB troika who were/are hated by large sections of the Irish population.

‘Burn the bondholders’
‘Let the banks fail’,
‘Gilmore for Taoiseach’ were the rallying cries.

The reality has been very different for the Labour Party. Nurses, Labourers, Teachers, Public and Civil Servants, lower-paid workers and even the unemployed all voted for Labour in their droves at the last election. Now they are looking elsewhere.

Irish Nurses proitest against Government policies

By continuing the policies of the previous Fianna Fail government both Labour and Fine Gael chose to play a long game. Fine Gael could make the case that they have no choice but to implement the policies they inherited while alternately blaming Fianna Fail and then claiming the credit for the economy stabilizing. Labour however, have no such luxury.

It was the Labour Party that was supposed to represent the working classes. Instead they implemented cuts to services and installed the hated Property Tax, threatening and bullying the Irish citizenry into submission.

Eamon Gilmore is the Labour Party leader

Just 6% of voters now say they would now vote for Labour (down from 19%) while 23% say they would vote for Sinn Fein and 22% for Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein and the Labour Party occupy much of the same left-wing space on the political spectrum yet it is Gerry Adam’s party that now seems to represent the working classes. Historically though Sinn Fein have always done better in opinion polls than at the ballot box. This is probably because their support comes largely from a younger population who are in fact less likely to actually vote.

With 26% support Fine Gael cannot afford to be too smug either. Both they and Fianna Fail have repeatedly said that they would not go into a coalition Government with Sinn Fein. Logically then, if an election were held tomorrow the obvious new Government would be a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail!

In the US this would be the equivalent of John Boehner cozying up with Barack Obama in a Democrat-Republican national government to run the country.

Could it happen in Ireland? This possibility has recently been floated by former members of both of these political parties. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have their genesis in the 1922 Irish Civil War. Over the last two decades any lingering differences have rapidly dissipated. Socially Fine Gael is viewed as being more conservative than Fianna Fail but there seems to be little to choose between their economic approach.

Is a grand union possible?

In Ireland after the economic crash, anything is possible.

OPINION: Irish Media Bias in Seanad Abolition Referendum

The upcoming referendum to decide if the upper house of the Irish Parliament (known as the Seanad) should be abolished is having a number of interesting side-effects. The poll will be held on October 4th.

Irish Seanad House may be abolished

On the one hand it is both a tragicomedy and a farce to observe those who are members of the Seanad desperately try to convince a near bankrupt electorate that they should be kept in their privileged positions. Rarely in the history of Ireland have the ‘working classes’ been afforded an opportunity such as this to remind the elite of exactly who rules.

The real irony of this situation is that if there is a low turnout at the polling stations (which is typically the case with referenda in Ireland) then it is this very apathy of ‘the working classes’ that may play into the hands of the elite, the professional classes, the legal professions, academics, business interests and politicians.

Simply put, those most motivated to lose something are those most likely to act. The combined sudden and surprising action of the Senators over the past few months has quite possibly exceeded the previous activity of all previous Seanads since the foundation of the State! It is just appalling to witness these privileged cosseted people debase themselves as they attempt to save their utterly useless and parasitic jobs.

The attitude of some sections of the Irish media has also been very interesting to observe. A series of Opinion Polls run by the Sunday Independent newspaper have been reported and re-reported by RTE (Irish National Television) and several other media outlets. The question ‘Should the Seanad be abolished’ or ‘Should the Seanad be reformed’ was asked in a survey with media outlets gleefully reporting that voters in favour of keeping the Seanad (either in its current format or in a reformed format) are rapidly closing the gap on those in favour of abolition of the Seanad. Trouble ahead for the Government! Jobs may be saved for those in the clique!

Very interesting.

Until you realise that the question being put to the Irish people in the referendum is NOT ‘Should the Seanad be reformed?’ but is in fact ‘Should the Seanad be abolished? – yes or no’.

When asked about this apparent manipulation Richard Bruton, the director of elections for the Fine Gael campaign to abolish the Seanad agreed that the question in the Sunday Independent poll was not the same as that which will appear on the actual Referendum ballot paper:

‘The Sunday Independent is not your usual Newspaper!’ he remarked.



With the regular newspapers apparently having their own agenda it was left to Irish bookmaker Paddy Power to commission a survey that found support for abolition of the Seanad running at 58% compared to support for keeping it at 42% (ignoring those who replied ‘dont know’). This is quite some difference from the poll by the Sunday Independent, breathlessly revealing that only 39% of those questioned said that they wanted the Seanad scrapped while those supporting its reform or retention actually amount to 40%!

Of course opinion polls are all in the phrasing. It was Dan Rather the former News Anchor of the US CBS Evening News who famously said:
‘Journalists should denounce government by public opinion polls.’
Some of his Irish counter-parts clearly agree.

Perhaps the last word should go to the bookies. Paddy Power bookmakers are currently offering odds of 1/2 for the Seanad to be abolished, 6/4 for it to be retained.

Maybe the ‘working classes’ will have a punt on the 5/4 odds with the intention of staying at home on polling day!

Vested Interests Attempt To Scupper Alcohol Advertising Ban

The ongoing attempts to reduce the amount of alcohol consumption in Ireland have been met with predictable opposition from those with most to lose.

Irish sporting associations receive alcohol sponsorhip

The head of Diageo in Ireland, who own the Guinness brand, has warned that a ban on sports sponsorship in Ireland could lead to a reduction in its future investment in the country. The thinly veiled threat is aimed squarely at the Government who are attempting to ban sponsorship by alcohol companies at all Irish sporting events. The plan is to phase out all sponsorship links between high-profile sporting events and alcohol brands by the year 2020.

The Gaelic Athletic Association and Irish Rugby benefit greatly from sponsorship by Guinness and Heineken respectively. It is inevitable that the ban of this sponsorship will mean less money for these huge sports. Nevertheless the Government seem determined to press ahead with the ban, realizing the devastating effect that alcohol consumption can have on young lives. The cost to the Irish taxpayer in dealing with health-care and crime issues from those abusing alcohol costs the State at least 3.7 Billion Euro annually. (* note 1)

A recent report by the Health Research Board has found that 58% of Irish people believe the Government is not doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption while 85% of Irish people believe that the current level of alcohol consumption in Ireland is far too high. Average alcohol consumption in the year 2010 was 145% higher than the average amount consumed in the year 1960, a startling increase.

Recent initiatives (and the recession) have helped to curb some of these excesses. A CSO report indicates that alcohol consumption in Ireland is actually down 19% since 2001.

Speaking at the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) Committee on Transport and Communications Pat Hickey, the President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, lambasted the drinks industry:

I thought it was an absolute disgrace to read a report of an international company, Diageo, making an attack on the Irish Government and the Irish State about how they should conduct their business and investment. This is a multinational that has no interest whatsoever in Ireland except they happen to have a product beginning with ‘G’ and they promote that in Irish pubs just to get bigger profits around the world.

John Treacy is Chief Executive of the Irish Sports Council and won a Silver medal in the Marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. He offered a different angle, suggesting that any ban would force the very best of Irish rugby players to ply their trade abroad, in much the same way that the best Irish soccer players work in England.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland also had their say to the Committee arguing that any ban would not address alcohol misuse. A spokesperson remarking:

Evidence shows that the principal influencers on youth drinking are parents and peers.
Alcohol consumption in Ireland has a huge cost
It should not be a real surprise then that those sporting bodies who receive sponsorship from alcohol companies would oppose any ban. It would mean that they would have to find new sponsors.

But perhaps the real question that is not being asked is just why the alcohol companies engage in such advertising? The answer is obvious if unspoken. It is clear that they hugely benefit from their sponsorship and especially benefit in attracting younger people to their brands, since it is to a large degree the younger generation who are most passionate about sport.

Younger people. The next generation of drinkers.

It is ironic that sporting agencies that are supposed to help further the health and well-being of young people are arguing for their efforts to be associated with Ireland’s biggest killer, alcohol. Of course they are most concerned about the next five years and about promoting sport in Ireland, which is admirable. But it is the next twenty-five years and the next fifty years that really should be the focus.

The links between pub-owners and politicians, especially in rural locations is hard to break. The financial contribution of the multi-national drinks companies is impossible to ignore. The Irish sports bodies are even arguing against a sponsorship ban.

Is it any wonder that there is such a huge alcohol problem in Ireland?

Meanwhile the Irish drinking binge goes on.

* note 1: See http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/alcohol-related-harm-facts-and-statistics/

by Michael Green
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Gay Marriage Referendum Recommended For Ireland

The ‘Convention on the Constitution’ Committee that is meeting to recommend changes to the Irish Constitution has voted in favour of legalizing Gay Marriage in Ireland.



The Committee is comprised of 66 members of the Irish public, who were chosen by random, with 33 politicians from the various political parties and a chairman making up the 100 strong group. The Committee voted by a margin of 79 to 19 in favour of recommending the Constitution be changed to allow Gay Marriage. The Government is now obliged to have a Parliamentary debate on the subject within four months and to then set out a timescale for a Referendum.

The timing of this decision will certainly cause problems for Fine Gael. The main Party in Government is regarded as being more conservative than their rivals Fianna Fail and certainly more conservative than the left-wing Labour Party who are in Government coalition with Fine Gael. They are now faced with being perceived as the Party that quickly brought both the abortion issue and the Gay Marriage issue to the Irish public, many of whom would prefer to just leave these issues alone.

The decision to legislate for the X-Case on foot of the tragic death of Savita Halapanavar has put the abortion issue front and centre. Not all Fine Gael T.D’s (members of parliament) are at all happy with the proposed abortion legislation with many set to oppose the provision allowing for abortion in Ireland where there is a risk of suicide by the person seeking the abortion. Many Fine Gael T.D’s are concerned that this will amount to ‘abortion on demand’ and are not assuaged by the assurances that any such provision would be strictly policed.

By also putting the question of Gay Marriage to the Irish people there is a fear within Fine Gael that the Party may be seen to be acting too radically or liberally, and too quickly. Of course asking the question about Gay Marriage of the Irish citizenry does not automatically mean the Referendum will be passed. The Irish public has in the past demonstrated itself to be liberal in the opinion polls and conservative at the ballot box.

An example of his occurred in the 1995 Referendum to allow Divorce in Ireland. The measure was enacted by a margin of 50.28% to 49.73%, and this despite the fact that it looked as if the measure would easily pass in the opinion polls prior to the actual vote. A previous Referendum on the same subject in 1986 was rejected by the Irish people by 63% to 37%, thus preventing the introduction of divorce in the country and again when opinion polls indicated that the Referendum would be easily passed. (note 1)

Consequently those who are in favour of Gay Marriage in Ireland will certainly not be taking the result of any future Referendum for granted.

The Local and European elections that are due to be held in 2014 also complicate the matter for Fine Gael. They will certainly not want these mid-term elections to become a de-facto vote on their decision to hold a Referendum on Gay Marriage. They have enough to be concerned about with Fianna Fail surging in the opinion polls and their austerity policies attracting ever-increasing criticism.



The battle-lines are being drawn up already with the Labour Party delighted to have a policy that they can promote as one of their own. Party Leader Eamon Gilmore:

I believe myself that same-sex couples have the right to marry, I’m glad the Constitutional Convention has recommended that

It is possible that Fine Gael may delay any actual Referendum until the next term of Government, making it a General Election issue or they could reject the recommendation altogether which, for a somewhat conservative Party would be quite a radical move.

note 1: http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1277&context=djcil

by Michael Green
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Further Fianna Fail Poll Surge Is The Low-Mark Of Irish Despondency

The ruling Fianna Fail Party was trounced in the 2011 election. At 17% of the vote they seemed to be on the very edge of oblivion. Fine Gael and Labour had brushed them aside, bolted into power on a wave of optimism about ‘real change’ and ‘burning the bond-holders’ (a reference to not paying back bank loans to unsecured bond-holders in Europe).

For a while it seemed that there might actually be some a change in direction. But alas it is now clear that the current Government has merely assimilated the trappings of power worn with such gusto by Fianna Fail, and in fact is implementing much of the previous Government’s policies.

It is difficult now to see any real difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael from a policy standing. The historical civil-war divide between the two parties is now all but irrelevant. Fine Gael have made very few changes to the deal struck with the EU/IMF/ECB troika who are lending Ireland huge sums of money in order to pay back German and French banks (and at a nice interest rate). Even the renegotiation of the Irish Promissory Note Deal is but a scratch on the surface of the mountain of debt facing the country. Heralded as a triumph it actually increases the amount of debt Ireland owes!

The Irish electorate is facing a scenario where there are two big Parties occupying the moderate central section of the Irish political landscape (Fine Gael, Fianna Fail) while the Labour Party vainly attempts to brand itself as the party of the left wing, a space now dominated by Sinn Fein and the Socialist Party. Rumours abound that the vacancy for a more right-of-centre Party may about to be filled with the establishment of a new ‘Progressive Democrats’ style of Party, but it has not happened yet.

The most recent opinion poll shows that Fianna Fail are now the best supported Party in the country at 27% compared to Fine Gael on 25%, 20% for Sinn Fein and Labour at 13%.

How could this happen?

How could the Party that was in Government while the Irish economy imploded be a mere two years later regarded as the best bet to lead Ireland to recovery?

Perhaps it is a sign that the current Government has failed or that the prospect of Sinn Fein in power is just too much for some people. Perhaps it is the disgust with the Labour Party being expressed so openly now by even some of its own membership. Perhaps it is the now five years of austerity and hardship that has been imposed on a relatively docile Irish citizenry by its masters in Government.

Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above – or is it that such are the depths of Irish despondency and cynicism with the Irish body politic that people will now vote for anyone just to get some real change.

Anyone.

Even Fianna Fail.

by Michael Green
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Opinion Polls Confirm Labour Party Slide and Fianna Fail Gain

Two separate opinion polls have confirmed the recent rise in support for Fianna Fail and the continuing decline in the popularity of the Labour Party.

The left-wing Labour Party has been widely criticized by both its rank and file membership and by some of its own Parliamentary members for its conduct while in Government. The primary purpose of the Labour Party was to protect the most vulnerable and poorest sections of Irish society. Their association with the policies of the ruling Fine Gael Party is making a lie of that philosophy.

Already they have signed up to budget cuts and tax increases including the new Property Tax that the Party claims it had no choice but to agree to. Their difficulties are reflected in two recent polls that show the Party now trailing Sinn Fein in several key Dublin constituencies. The results of the two polls are shown below:

Labour Party 11% and 11% (19% in 2011 General Election)
Fianna Fail 24% and 21% (17% in 2011)
Fine Gael 26% and 28% (36% in 2011)
Sinn Fein 13% and 19% (10% in 2011)

The trend is very clear with Labour in decline, Fianna Fail improving, Sinn Fein improving but volatile and a big increase in the ‘worry factor’ for Fine Gael.

by Michael Green
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Irish Constitution to be Changed in Radical Shake-Up

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.

by Michael Green
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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.

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.