Friday 26 February 2016

Vote early and vote often

I'm assuming that only Irish IP addresses get a change in the Google Banner today, so I'm capturing it for Russia and Ukraine here. In the run up the European elections two years ago, I had a certain amount of harmless fun at the expense of the minority parties who were fielding unlikely candidates. Such parties as Fís Nua (a sort of Nutty Green Party) and the ominously named Catholic Democrats (who burn protestants after a vote?).
In the current Dáil, there are Eight parties represented: Fine Gael | Labour | Fianna Fáil | Sinn Féin | Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit | Renua Ireland | Social Democrats | WUAG | . . .and a lot of Independents. Their hopes and expectations and those of the mad-dog parties and lonely Independents are shown in a beautiful series of constituency maps.

WUAG? Never 'eard of them? WUA is Workers and Unemployed Action or as gaeilge: Grúpa Gníomhaíochta na n-Oibrithe is iad atá Dífhostaithe which is a mouthful of soda-bread and cabbage. They are a single person party who secured the election of their leader because there were enough unemployed people who lived in his South Tipperary town to make him top the poll with more than 11,000 votes. It seems likely that Séamus Healy will get in again despite changes - Tipp South and Tipp North have become Tipperary - in the constituency boundaries. The same larger constituency houses the poster-boy for Irish politics - Michael Lowry - a former Fine Gael minister who was found to be a tax-evader, and lost a suit of defamation against a journalist who named him as such - as well as being central in a scandalously corrupt award of mobile phone licences in the 1990s. Denounced by tribunals, drummed out of his political party, hounded by the Revenue Commissioners he is land-slided into the Dáil every election by grateful constituents whose troubles have been 'fixed'. Two cheers for the democratic process.

But it's a long way to Tipperary and we have our own interesting candidate in Carlow-Kilkenny; an Independent who has more money for posters than most of the political parties: either that or he's blizzarding our liberal-left valley with plastic. It's Paddy Milo Manning, whom I've put decisively on the Right [R in pink shirt]. Those outside the county of the liberal persuasion call him "prick", "foghorn", "horrible, vile, bigoted excuse for a human" etc.  The Kilkenny People OTOH shows him in an old folks home and paints him as a populist teddy-bear.  He's interesting: the most articulate gay person who stood [called, worked] for a No vote in the Marriage Equality Referendum; he's Catholic and pro-life and conservative and, as I say, articulate. He has no time for the idea, put forward by Panti, that Ireland is systemically homophobic: his position is that some people are against gays but most couldn't care less. And he doesn't think that the ?4%? BLT minority, of which he is part, should have such a strident voice in Irish politics and media. Here he's putting the case for No.  All of us who voted Yes, should listen carefully.  His election flyer says inter alia: "Every single conviction must carry a sentence. Electronic tagging will monitor location: alcohol and drug use and make a cheap prison of a criminal's home". That's very Republican and rather incoherent: are there tags which have a blood alcohol canula which send the info back to the parole officer's computer?  Is he proposing that every speeding and parking conviction should result in custodial sentence . . . at home . . . with one of those blood-alcohol radio-tags? That will put a stop to the economy.

The AAA/PBP currently field four TDs who have come together on a 'leftist' down-with-everything platform. They are floating on a river of free water which they claim comes from the skies and/or is 'already paid for'.  It's a populist ploy which does not add up.  Literally doesn't add up because the government caved in on water charges to the extent of costing ad lib chlorinated drinking water at less than €0.50 a day; plus half as much again to deal with the stuff you flush down the toilet.  For folks on the dole or in negative equity, €240/yr sounds like a crippling amount but they get shafted far more by increasing the rate of VAT to 23%. But that's too complicated to address, so AAA/PBP demonise the rapacious government and promise primroses. One of the genuine objections to Water charges and to property taxes, both of which were implemented by the centre-right Christian-Democrat-ish Fine Gael party while in government is that they are neither of them progressive taxations. They are equally applied to the CEO and the tea-boy.  Anatole France said it more eloquently than me, partly because he said it in French:
"La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au 
riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, 
de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain."
In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.

The pundits predict that more than 50% of the next Dáil will never have been a parliamentary representative before, many of them will be Independents or from teeny-tiny parties that are effectively independent. The first Dáil was born in the midst of a revolution but over the nearly hundred years since the foundation of the [Free] State, the Dáil has become hidebound with convention and privilege. The political inner circle have decided that efficiency is better than democracy and our representatives vote in blocks stuck together like Lego bricks.  Fine Gael and the other large parties whip their boys [it's still mostly boys by a wide margin] into voting as the government decides is best. The boys take their whipping like smaller chaps from the school bully in the hope of preferment after a few years of pain and humiliation. Conscience, diversity, nuance have to take second place to ambition and a political programme.  Even if that ambition starts as a sincere wish to serve the people, any idealism is soon corrupted by compromise.  If a majority of the incoming TDs have never been whipped then maybe they will stand up and stand together and give privilege and certainty, convention and habitual thinking, a damned good shaking.

Finally we should reflect on Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall's view on elections: "It's not the voter who counts, but he who counts the votes."  It's nearly 7 AM, I'm off the the polling station.

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