Michael McDowell told Tony Gregory Garda station phone calls are private

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Story over at one of our other outposts.

People vote to retain Seanad: Action on reform is warranted

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The people have spoken,as the old cliché goes. Of the 1,026,374 valid cotes in the Seanad Referendum, 591, 937 voted in favour of Seanad abolition, and 634, 437 voted against. Every constituency in Dublin voted against Enda Kenny’s personal crusade to abolish the Upper House, thereby concentrating more power in the Executive, with a flimsy promise to reform the Dail by way of compensation for driving a coach and four through our political institutions. The margin of defeat for Kenny’s personal demolition project was small – 51/7% against to 48.3% in favour – but the message to his government should be clear:  Either reform the system, as faithfully promised by the two government parties during Election 2011, and do so in a way that brings all other political factions on board with you, or squander the remainder of whatever political capital you have left in this vital area and reap the consequences of your negligence.

Continue reading ‘People vote to retain Seanad: Action on reform is warranted’ »

Irish Politics Forum – Post-mortem on the Seanad Referendum, 10 October 2013

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By Jane Suiter

On Friday October 4th voters will have decided whether or not to abolish Seanad Éireann. Voters Parties and Elections are delighted to invite you to an open debate on the campaign and result. It has been a colourful campaign with allegations of populism and power grabbing levelled at the government by political parties and campaign groups on the No side. The Yes side have focused on the cost of the Upper House and have tapped into public hostility towards politicians and the political system. However, the campaign has been dominated by elites and seems to have largely passed the public by. Concerns about apathy and a possible low turnout are moving to the fore in the closing days of the campaign.

Come along to hear from all sides on Thursday 10 October 5.30pm

  • The debate will be chaired by Dr Jane Suiter (DCU)

Our expert panel includes:

Campaign Participants
Regina Doherty, TD (Leading the Fine Gael campaign for the abolition of the Seanad)

Prof Gary Murphy, DCU (Chair- Democracy Matters)

And campaign experts

Prof Michael Marsh (TCD

Prof David Farrell (UCD)

Dr Theresa Reidy (UCC)

Places are limited, so please email us on voterspartieselections@gmail.comto reserve a seat:

Date: 10th October
Time: 5:30 – 7:30pm
Venue: European Parliament Offices, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2

Myopic focus on Seanad costs does no service to democracy

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 Last evening I attended a public meeting on next Friday’s referendums, organised by our local Fine Gael TD, Leo Varadkar. The poster on the pole at the entrance to our housing estate advertised economist Colm McCarthy as the ‘guest speaker’. I went along, not out of any prospect of being enlightened about anything by the venerable Mr.McCarthy, but mainly because I felt ill-informed about the proposal to establish a new Court of Appeal and assumed there’d have to be something said about that.

Continue reading ‘Myopic focus on Seanad costs does no service to democracy’ »

Democracy be damned! Abolishing the Seanad a further step towards de-democratizing our society

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Right now all the indications are that Enda Kenny’s personal pet project to eliminate  one of  key institutions of Irish democracy, the Seanad, will be endorsed by the public in the forthcoming referendum.

The micro-politics of the debate on the referendum and some of its more substantive arguments include variously–:

  • that the proposal emerged from Kenny’s personal pique, back in 2009, at being overshadowed in political performance by the Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore;
  • that a ‘yes’ vote will enhance his reputation as an effective leader, whilst a ‘no’ vote may undermine his personal credibility, and by extension, reduce Fine Gael’s prospects of securing a second term in office after the next election (a hoped-for ‘first’ in that party’s history);
  • that the claims of saving 20 million euro a year by abolishing the Seanad are a deliberate and demonstrable falsehood, and in any case it’s anti-democratic to put a ‘price’ on a key political institution in that way, as if democracy were a mere commodity that you can buy in a shop;
  • that an elitist Seanad, in the nomination and election of whose members the public have no direct ‘voice’, is unreformable and surplus to requirements to run the state efficiently, (even though only the ‘government of the day’ has the power to reform the Seanad or any other part of the system);
  • that if the Taoiseach was serious about making our dysfunctional political institutions work, he would have reformed the Dail first to lessen the stranglehood of his own government’s power over it, before decreeing that the Seanad is no longer required;
  • that Ireland, as a small country, is somehow out of line in having a bicameral system, with two chambers of the Oireachtas (even though where we’re really out of line is in having such an appallingly deficient and dysfunctional powerless system of local government);

 

 Beyond these arguments, it’s worth giving a few moments’ thought to what Kenny’s objective of abolition actually says about what’s happening in our democracy at this time and what it signifies for the integrity of our democracy into the future. In all that’s been said, and written, and read, about the referendum question, to date, that’s the core issue. Or it would be, except that it barely gets a mention.

The year before he died, the great American social scientist, Charles Tilly,  wrote an essay ‘Grudging Consent’ in which he pondered the fate of democracy and what happens when the ‘voice’ of the public is no longer vigilant enough in, or capable of,  holding its elected leaders in check

  Continue reading ‘Democracy be damned! Abolishing the Seanad a further step towards de-democratizing our society’ »

Nessa Childers resigns from Labour Party: will contest European Elections in 2014 as an Independent

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The Labour MEP for Ireland East, Nessa Childers, has announced her resignation from the party and her intention to contest the European Elections in 2014 as an Independent.

Continue reading ‘Nessa Childers resigns from Labour Party: will contest European Elections in 2014 as an Independent’ »

Defeat of Seanad Referendum may be only hope of achieving real political reform

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The  Seanad is a ‘luxury we can no longer afford’ and its abolition offers the Irish people an opportunity to ‘make a radical difference to our political system’.

So say, respectively, Minister Richard Bruton, Fine Gael’s Director of Elections for the forthcoming referendum and his Deputy Director of Elections, Meath TD, Regina Doherty. The great delight of such vacuous spin is that it’s so easily turned on its perpetrators. For example: this government is ‘luxury we can no longer afford’ and its removal would ‘make a radical difference to our political system.’ Or the Dail; or the Fine Gael Party; or even Mayo, God help us! – there’s no end to the uses to which such phraseology may be put.

Continue reading ‘Defeat of Seanad Referendum may be only hope of achieving real political reform’ »

Regulation not Prohibition

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The interminable debate over proposals to criminalise purchasers of sex took another turn this week with the publication of the report by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Predictably it recommends the so-called “Swedish model” but it also includes draconian proposals to treat visitors to prostitution websites as sex offenders and ban the provision of premises for prostitution. Senator David Norris yesterday condemned the proposal to criminalise purchasers as “horribly sanctimonious”.

The provisions criminalising the grooming of children for sexual purposes are welcome. But the other provisions concerning only consenting adults are fatally flawed. Experience has shown that the Swedish model endangers women and drives the trade underground. It also contrasts sharply with the more liberal direction of many EU member states.

In 2009, the EU-funded Daphne II study found Sweden had the highest per capita incidence of rape in the EU, and that statistical reporting differences do not account for it.

In Sweden, 46 incidents of rape are reported per 100,000 residents.

This figure is double as many as in the UK which reports 23 cases, and four times that of the other Nordic countries, Germany and France. The figure is up to 20 times the figure for certain countries in southern and eastern Europe.

The study, which is financed by the Brussels-based EU fund Daphne II, compared how the respective judicial systems managed rape cases across eleven EU countries. Sweden is shown in an unfavourable light, according to the study.

The high figures in Sweden can not it seems be explained purely by an increased tendency to report rapes and other more minor sexual offences.

Rape simply appears to be a more common occurrence in Sweden than in the other EU countries studied, the researchers argue.

Over 5,000 rapes are reported in Sweden per annum while reports in other countries of a comparable size amounted to only a few hundred.

As with abortion, the Swedish model is an Irish solution to an Irish problem. The trade would be driven underground or abroad. After an initial drop after Norway adopted the Swedish model, reports indicated that within 18 months, it had returned to its previous levels. A November 2010 report in Sweden also found an explosion in prostitution in neighbouring Nordic countries after the new laws came in there in 1998. In Sweden itself there was evidence that while street prostitution had declined, online prostitution had increased.

Quite apart from the moral/religious element in this debate are the implications for the safety of the prostitutes themselves. By proposing to outlaw the provision of premises for the purposes of facilitating prostitution, and to criminalising the viewing of prostitution websites, the report risks driving prostitution back onto the streets, with all that implies for their safety.

By moving towards prohibition, Ireland sets itself at odds much of Europe, where liberalisation is the dominant approach.

- In the Netherlands, prostitution has been legal and regulated since 2000. The ban was lifted for two reasons: first, to improve the sector as a whole and the position of sex workers by introducing licences, and second, to tackle abuses by taking firmer action against businesses operating without licences. Article 273f of the penal code outlaws forced and child prostitution, profiting from it, and forcing prostitutes to surrender their earnings. Regulations on premises specify the minimum size of working areas and govern safety, fire precautions and hygiene. For instance, every working area must be equipped with a panic button, and hot and cold running water. Condoms must be provided.

- In Italy prostitution is legal, but organized prostitution (indoors in brothels or controlled by third parties) is prohibited. Brothels became illegal in 1958, but single sex workers working from apartments are ‘tolerated’. A 2010 court decision created a new precedent, that clients who did not pay the worker would be considered guilty of rape. This was considered a major breakthrough for sex workers’ rights. Of 558 workers attending a STD clinic in Bologna between 1995 and 1999, only 1.6% tested positive for HIV.

- Prostitution is legal in Germany. Prostitutes may work as regular employees with contract, though the vast majority work independently. Brothels are registered businesses that do not need a special brothel licence; if food and alcoholic drinks are offered, the standard restaurant licence is required. Every city has the right to zone off certain areas where prostitution is not allowed. In Bavaria, law mandates the use of condoms for sexual intercourse with prostitutes, including oral contact. Pimping, admitting prostitutes under the age of eighteen to a brothel, and influencing persons under the age of twenty-one to take up or continue work in prostitution, are illegal. It is also illegal to contract sex services from any person younger than 18. In 2006 Cologne took in 828,000 euros through taxing prostitution.

- Spain decriminalised prostitution in 1995, while pimping remains illegal. Owning an establishment where prostitution takes place is in itself legal, but the owner cannot derive financial gain from the prostitute or hire a person to sell sex because prostitution is not considered a job and thus has no legal recognition. The Catalan government licenses brothels as “clubs”, though in some areas street prostitution is fined.

The correct approach is a legalised, regulated and taxed sex industry. Regulations can reduce STDs by enforcing the use of condoms and the rights of sex-workers to adequate pay and conditions and to non-violence.No such recourse exists when the trade is driven underground as in this country.

It will be for the Government to decide whether to proceed with the report. The supporters of prohibition range from the Catholic Right to the Feminist Left. Biblical denuniciations of prostitutes as “fallen women” do not fit comfortably with feminist conceptions of gender equality and agency. Feminist arguments that the trade exploits women fail to account for male prostitution.

This debate has followed a depressing pattern familiar to observers of Irish politics – namely the forced consensus. The forced consensus has done this country great harm in the past. Forced consensus once silenced the victims of the Church in the industrial schools and the Magdalene Launderies (once managed among others by present Ruhama trustees the Sisters of Charity). Wexford TD Mick Wallace and Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White had the courage to question the prohibitionist consensus in the past but were browbeaten into silence by what the latter called “extreme leftwingers and those on the high moral ground”. If our democracy is to survive it is imperative that there be diversity of opinion on matters of conscience such as this.

Labour’s problem is lack of substance, not communications

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Somebody needs to tell the Labour Party that their problem with the voters in Meath East, or anywhere else in the country, has nothing to do with ‘communications’. By the time a quarter of the boxes were opened in the count centre in Ashbourne, and the extent of the collapse in Labour’s vote was becoming apparent, it was obvious the main story emerging from the Meath East byelection was going to be about a leadership crisis within Labour.

Continue reading ‘Labour’s problem is lack of substance, not communications’ »

Complicated polling questions generate muddled results…. Damn Lies and Statistics

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This post is written by Eoin O’Malley, political scientist at DCU, and appeared on 21 February on www.politicalreform.ie.  It provides an excellent guide to polling questions in general as well as a valuable critique of why the findings of the recently published poll on behalf of the Pro-Life campaign, which asked what action people want taken on abortion legislation in Ireland, should be approached with caution.

 A poll released today by the Pro-Life Campaign seeks to ‘challenge the notion that there is broad middle ground support for abortion in Ireland.’ This polls claims to show that two-thirds of Irish people want ‘legal protection of the unborn’ and suggests that this means Irish people are against legalised abortions. This should surprise some as it follows on from a IpsosMRBI poll in the Irish Times recently which showed a substantial majority in favour of legalised abortions in a variety of circumstances. Continue reading ‘Complicated polling questions generate muddled results…. Damn Lies and Statistics’ »

Keeping the lawyers busy

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Denis O’Brien won his defamation case against the Irish Daily Mail’s Paul Drury yesterday because the Mail’s “honest opinion” defence of Drury’s column failed since they could not establish the truth of the facts which formed its basis. The honest opinion defence was introduced into Irish law by Michael McDowell in the Defamation Bill of 2006, which eventually became law in 2009.

Continue reading ‘Keeping the lawyers busy’ »

Who fears to speak of 1998

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Irish Times citing Martin Mansergh reacting to a comment of Gerry Adams (full Adams interview and exegesis at Slugger) –

Dr Martin Mansergh said Gerry Adams’s assertion on the RTÉ Radio programme This Week that the governments of that time refused to push or promote the repeal of the [Government of Ireland] Act, partitioning Ireland, was at complete variance with the record. Dr Mansergh said former taoiseach Albert Reynolds had always said the Government of Ireland Act would have to be on the table with Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. “The demand, which was acceded to, was maintained right up to the Good Friday agreement and was never taken off the agenda,” Dr Mansergh added.

Continue reading ‘Who fears to speak of 1998’ »

Back to the 1980s – Unemployment, Economic Doom & Gloom, and Abortion. What next? Northern Ireland!

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Government faces formidable challenges in 2013, and the Meath East by-election brings them all to a head

Sometimes it feels like we all woke up one morning and there we were – right back to the 1980s. Lost in a decade of rampant unemployment and emigration; where the only news on the economic front is the bad news of still burgeoning deficits and an unsustainably mounting sovereign debt burden; flaky banks and building societies teetering on the verge of collapse and looking to be bailed out by the state; and of course, the lingering socially corrosive impact of a bitter debate surrounding the ‘right to life’ amendment to the Constitution. Northern Ireland was a fine old mess in those days too – a completely failed political entity; which is much what it increasingly is beginning to resemble as the promise of the Peace Process is overtaken by unresolved political tensions. The stuff of nightmares, those old intractable issues. And they’re all back. Only this time it’s even worse. So pity the government.

Continue reading ‘Back to the 1980s – Unemployment, Economic Doom & Gloom, and Abortion. What next? Northern Ireland!’ »

Cuts in alarms security for elderly adds to cynicism about government commitment to ‘protect the most vulnerable in our society’.

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It’s all over the media this morning – how the government has targeted the most vulnerable in society in possibly the most mean-spirited of all the mean-spirited cuts in Budget 2013. From now on, social monitored personal alarms will only be made available to 65 year olds living alone, who qualify for the scheme, to a maximum cost of €230 per alarm. The budget for the scheme, administered by the Department of the Environment,  which over the past three years has benefitted some 7,000 elderly people annually, has been cut from €2.4m in 2012 to €1.15m this year. Over the past three years the scheme has cost the Exchequer €8.3m, which is less than the amount paid out in TDs’ allowances and expenses per annum. Continue reading ‘Cuts in alarms security for elderly adds to cynicism about government commitment to ‘protect the most vulnerable in our society’.’ »

We had good company

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The Irish Times has a nice set of articles on the papers released under the 30 year rule, which cover 1982 — quite a year in Irish politics. Among the points of interest is the strain in UK-Ireland relations caused by the Falklands War. Deaglán de Bréadún gets perhaps a tad ambitious though in seeking to make the position of the Haughey government on the war into an entry in what would be a short book entitled Good Things About Charlie Haughey. Now credit where it’s due, Haughey’s reported description of the evolution of Ireland’s position is excellent: he was an intelligent man who understood a foreign policy brief as well as any foreign minister:

According to the newly released record of the meeting, he continued: “Argentina was certainly responsible for starting the conflict in the first instance but we feel that after that the matter should have been dealt with in the United Nations – the Security Council – and through negotiations.” The issue had “caused us some difficulty” in Ireland, he said, adding: “The EEC/Ten had wished to impose sanctions. We were prepared to do so but only as long as they were in support of political and diplomatic action. “Once it became clear that the UK was not prepared to pursue this course but had switched to a military approach we felt we had no option but to withdraw from sanctions. “Our approach, therefore, is that Argentina was wrong in the first place and that it should withdraw. This would mean a general cessation of hostilities. “A solution should then be found through the United Nations, the UN secretary general and the Security Council,” Haughey is reported as saying.

As he recognized, Mrs Thatcher was determined to pursue a military solution, and Ireland’s reluctant position was causing major friction, with the radical idea being floated (privately) in the UK of withdrawing de facto citizenship rights for Irish citizens resident in the UK, which had existed since 1922. So, can it be as Deaglán de Bréadún says, “that it could be argued that, for all his well-publicised failings as a political leader, this was, in the Churchillian phrase, Charlie’s finest hour?”

The big problem is that Ireland was not actually alone in its lack of enthusiasm for the way the Falklands conflict was headed. Among the peripheral Atlantic countries with ancestral links to the UK that were not too keen was … the United States of America! The Daily Telegraph has a good account of the deep divisions within the US government about how to handle it, with President Reagan’s instinctive leaning to Maggie’s position running into a significant view in Washington that their longer-term interests lay with keeping Argentina and Latin America more generally onside; the USA’s western hemisphere roots were definitely showing. And as one reads through the full package of IT articles on the crisis, it becomes clear that there was a large group of unhappy countries looking to slow down the rush to war, including Italy and Spain. Certainly knowing in hindsight that GUBU was just months away puts a touch of class on Charlie’s positioning on this issue. But overall it’s a ledger still too deep in the red to be rescued by one stance that was well within the logic of Irish foreign policy.

A lot not done, a lot still to do

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Micheál Martin as Minister for Health & Children, in the Dail on 25 October 2001 to push through the legislation for the 25th Amendment to the Constitution –

The purpose of the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill is to provide a secure and effective constitutional basis for a legislative approach to the protection of human life in pregnancy. The proposals are designed to ensure that women can continue to receive all necessary medical treatment during pregnancy, while at the same time ensuring maximum protection of the unborn and maintaining a clear prohibition on abortion.

The mechanism proposed is that a referendum will be held to approve the insertion into Article 46 of the Constitution of the text of proposed amendments to Article 40.3 of the Constitution. These are (i) a new subsection 4º in Article 40.3 to provide that the life of the unborn in the womb will be protected in accordance with the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002; and (ii) a new subsection 5º in Article 40.3 to provide that any future proposal to amend or repeal the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002 will have to be approved by the people in a referendum … The new law will, therefore, define “abortion” in a way that clearly excludes such ethically legitimate procedures from being termed an abortion for the purposes of our criminal law. Doctors may provide any medical treatment which, in their opinion, is necessary to safeguard the life of a pregnant woman. The doctor’s opinion must be formed in good faith and there is an explicit requirement that regard be had to the need to preserve unborn human life, where practicable. It is important to emphasise that doctors, when treating a pregnant woman, make every effort to safeguard not only her life, but that of her baby. This will not change after the passage of the Act.

Questions for the current leader of Fianna Fail given the context of the Savita Halappanavar case: do you still believe that legislation to cover what doctors can do in the case of life-threatening pregnancies needs to be embedded in the Constitution, and do you believe that the formula you outlined in 2001 for guiding such treatment is still relevant?