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.

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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  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

Read more about: Law, Media, Progressive Democrats, Seanad, Tribunals     Print This Post

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.

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Who fears to speak of 1998

Read more about: Fianna Fail, Nationalism, Northern Ireland, Republicanism, Sinn Féin, Unionism     Print This Post

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.

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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

Read more about: Europe, Fianna Fail, Foreign Affairs     Print This Post

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

Read more about: Fianna Fail, Referenda, Social Policy, Women's Rights     Print This Post

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?

Don’t type controversial opinions

Read more about: Communication, Democracy, Oireachtas, Referenda, Social Policy     Print This Post

On 12 October 2012, a process by which an opinion column written by opinion columnist Kevin Myers on the opinion pages of the Irish Independent newspaper had been hauled before Ireland’s statutory Press Ombudsman came to an end. The Press Ombudsman ruled that opinion columnist Kevin Myers had used his opinion column on the opinion pages of the Irish Independent newspaper to express opinions not supported by “facts.” Specifically Myers had made various disparaging remarks about the links between the legalisation of homosexual activity and gay marriage and various societal ills to which Myers was of the opinion that these measures had contributed –

The ombudsman found the newspaper had failed to “distinguish adequately between fact and comment”, and the breaches were “capable of causing grave offence”.

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The politicians’ ‘gutless’ failure to legislate on abortion is no longer acceptable

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The political message of protestors on Kildare Street on Wednesday night last was clear: Irish abortion policy is a shambles, and the blame for that shambles rests at the gates of Leinster House.

Whatever the outcome of investigations into the circumstances that led to the death of Savita Halappanavar in University College Hospital Galway, the failure of successive governments since 1983 to legislate on abortion is no longer acceptable. The problem is not just that all parties, and party leaders, shied away from legislating following the 1992 X case ruling. As highlighted by the judge in that case, nine years after the constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to life of the unborn, there was no legislative framework to provide it with meaning or effect. So it’s not twenty years of inaction we have to complain of. More like, thirty years on, as a result of political cowardice, appaling uncertainty persists. Inevitably, and tragically, a case would arise which would light a fire under the pusillanimity of our political elite. Continue reading ‘The politicians’ ‘gutless’ failure to legislate on abortion is no longer acceptable’ »

A casualty in the War on Reilly

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Content gone from the Irish Times digital front page on Tuesday. The link is busted too. The not-quite-a-correction looks out of context without the original material. Sometimes a feeding frenzy leads to indigestion.

Shortall Resignation: The Government needs a Doctor? Oh God no, not James Reilly!

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 “This government is sick”, writes Miriam Lord in today’s Irish Times.

Does it need a doctor? Not James Reilly, surely, who’s continuing his stint as lightning rod for the daily litany of woes besetting the government, of which Roisin Shortall’s shock resignation as Junior Minister in his Department is just the latest twist?

Roisin Shortall’s resignation is a matter of regret, and not just for Joan Burton who, taking Leader’s Questions in the Dail today, expressed that sentiment. It’s regrettable to all of us that a junior minister with responsibility for establishing primary care centres felt she was left with no option but to resign her position. Continue reading ‘Shortall Resignation: The Government needs a Doctor? Oh God no, not James Reilly!’ »

Personal insolvency, the ECB, and the shallowness of much political debate

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If you had tried to follow the debate on the bill reforming personal bankruptcy in Ireland, what would you have learned over the last few weeks? From the opposition you’d have learned that awful Alan Shatter wants to take away people’s wedding rings, and from Alan Shatter you’d have learned that we had a massive problem of bling weddings in the boom and by God they’re not keeping those rings. The whole thing was ready made for Liveline, and no doubt whoever got the last chance to Talk to Joe would have a major influence on the eventual public attitude to the bill. That may be par for the course in Ireland, but in this case the departure of the popular understanding of the bill from its substantive effect is striking. For while the bill is well on its way to being viewed as an essentially Dickensian framework in the popular media, according to the just released opinion of the ECB on the bill, it risks being a disaster for the financial sector and the mother of all loopholes for medium-sized property speculators.

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Politburo or Poltroons? It’s hard to characterise what the government strategy signifies for the lives of citizens any more

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Finally back to the Dail this week, the government is under pressure on a number of fronts, and not just in terms of the inevitable power wrangling between the big spending departments over the contents of next December’s budget. This post takes a brief look at a couple of those areas and question the approach taken by the Ministers directly responsible, and by extension their colleagues in the Cabinet who ostensibly endorse their actions.

Is it a sort of Politburo that we’re dealing with, or a collection of poltroons who, devoid of any imagination or strategic direction, are ineffectually muddling their way through in hope that it will all work out alright in the end?

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We need to talk about Brian

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The Irish Times is building on the foundation work of Gavin Sheridan and Karl Whelan and has determined that there are three letters from the ECB to Ireland in the critical October-November 2010 period. The odd thing is that none of them correspond to the date cited by Brian Lenihan in his BBC Radio 4 interview with Dan O’Brien, as coming on 12 November. The IT conjectures a bit:

The decisive conversation with Mr Trichet followed on November 12th, and it is possible that this arose following a fax or email reinforcing the points made on November 4th. In an interview with Irish Times economics editor Dan O’Brien, conducted after Fianna Fáil had lost power, Mr Lenihan was adamant that a communication from Mr Trichet had arrived on November 12th.

There is an obvious further conjecture: that Lenihan never read the November 4th letter, and the ECB became aware of this and felt the need to follow up a week later. Amongst the speculation that missing week was the possibility that Lenihan was considering a Fianna Fail leadership coup against Brian Cowen.

It probably didn’t affect the ultimate outcome, but the notion that internal party matters were distracting Ireland’s government from dealing with the financial crisis remains an uncomfortable backdrop to the How Did We Get Here question.

Filling a blank

Read more about: Corruption, Fine Gael, Progressive Democrats, Scandal, Tribunals     Print This Post

Credit to Vincent Browne: on what would otherwise be the silly season, and apparently on his holliers, he has been stirring the pot in his feud with Denis O’Brien via his column in the Irish Times (also on Today’s salvo is mostly devoted to DOB’s role at Independent Newspapers, but VB leaves out a tantalizing detail. One incident in his account relates to events discussed on Prime Time  on 26 October 2010 (one has to figure out this date from a couple of sentences in VB’s article). The event in question — not explained by VB — was the Moriarty Tribunal’s decision to retain a certain eminent Senior Counsel to question exactly one witness (see about 25 minutes in). That eminent Senior Counsel was Michael McDowell, who wrote recently about an unnamed friend who had been threatened with legal action over statements made about Denis O’Brien — that friend being Vincent Browne.  So anyway, enjoy the look back at the Prime Time episode (an unrelated poignant detail from the same episode being the focus on Brian Lenihan RIP). There’s lots left in this story!