Posts By Eoin O'Broin

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Micheál Martin – Opportunism and Cynicism of the Very Worst Kind

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The award for opportunist of the week must surely go to Micheál Martin. His hastily written opinion piece in Wednesdays Irish News was a timely reminder of Fianna Fáil’s cynical approach to both the peace process and to politics.

For weeks Belfast city centre has been brought to a standstill by illegal loyalist blockades. Night after night the same protestors have returned to their own neighborhoods and engaged in running battles with the PSNI causing real disruption to their own communities.

In more recent nights these riots have turned into organised attacks on nationalist homes in the Short Strand.

The situation is very serious. If it continues, many fear that someone will be killed.

So what is Micheál Martin’s response to this escalating crisis? Does his article give the impression of a political leader trying to understand the causes of the problem in order to play a constructive role in helping resolve it? Unfortunately not.

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Winning Back the Public’s Trust

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The public outpouring of self-pity by politicians during the holidays would make you think that it’s a hard life being a TD and even harder being a Minister.

Yes the hours are long and the work load heavy. But with a start off salary of €92,000 per year for TDs, a Ministerial salary of €169,000 per year and a lavish system of expenses even after the reductions announced in December’s budget, clearly the financial rewards are good.

In fact they are amongst the best in the entire world.

Nobody is forced to be a politician. We do it out of choice. Many of us do it out of conviction. And we enjoy our work.

Yet, following the debate through December and January it seemed as though our politicians, particularly those in Government, were the victims of a massive smear campaign by a motley crew of anti-political journalists and abusive social media trolls.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte went so far as to say that all of this negativity was undermining politics itself. What rubbish!

There is no doubt that public trust in politicians and the political process is at a low ebb. But to suggest that this is down to media criticism or negative tweeting is not just nonsense, it is a cynical attempt by some politicians to shift the blame for the problem on to others.

So what is the cause of the growing public mistrust of our political class and the political process?

Back in 2010 public anger was focused on Fianna Fáil. People had come to realise that the governments of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen were driven by political corruption and economic incompetence.

In the 2011 general election they voted overwhelming for change.

While nobody expected the problems created by politicians such as Michael Martin, Willie O’Dea, Billy Kelleher and Michael McGrath to be fixed overnight, they did believe that the cause of the problem –Fianna Fáil- had been surgically removed from the body politic and a long slow recovery could now begin.

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In Defense of Populism

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In his end of year review Sunday Business Post political editor Pat Leahy described Sinn Féin’s opposition to austerity in 2012 as ‘aggressive and populist’.

His description is one that has a broad currency among political commentators.

The charge of populism is rarely complimentary. It suggests a politics of pandering to the people irrespective of the costs. It pits popularity against wisdom and short-term political gain against long-term social and economic sustainability.

When used in this sense populism is viewed as a cynical and dishonest style of politics. It seeks to manipulate public opinion by playing to its desires and emotions. In doing so it reveals a less than full commitment to democratic norms.

Populism is, according to this account, about the pursuit of power for powers sake. At best it is foolish. At worst it is reckless.

Given that populism has such a negative connotation you would expect the rest of this column to argue against Pat’s description of Sinn Féin.

But no, he is right.

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Labour’s Magic Numbers

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Eamon Gilmore claims that Budget 2013 is fair. He told RTE that, “This Budget… will produce over €500m in additional taxes on wealth…It’s the largest package of tax measures on wealth in this country that I have seen in my 23 years in the Dáil.”

During the Dáil debate on the Financial Resolutions on budget night Gilmore claimed that these measures “would raise €646 million in a full year”.

Unfortunately the Labour leader has produced no figures to support his claim.

Will individuals or households earning over €100,000 per year pay €500 million to €646 million in extra taxes as Gilmore claims? The answer for 2013 is a straight no. The answer for 2014 is far from clear.

Of course taxing wealth and taxing the wealthy are not the same thing. To know how fair the tax proposals in the budget really are we need to know how much will be paid by the wealthy.

Very few of the tax proposals in Budget 2013 specifically target high earners or those with significant levels of wealth

The 3% USC increase on pension incomes and the ending of top splicing relief will clearly impact on those whose wealth is above average, including some very wealthy people.

The changes to capital gains, capital acquisitions and deposit retention taxes again would impact a range of income groups, though one can reasonably assume the bulk of additional revenue under these headings will come from those whose wealth is above average, again including some very wealthy people.

But let’s give Eamon Gilmore the benefit of the doubt and say that all of the projected income under these measures will come from the wealthy. For good measure let’s also throw in the €1 million to be raised from the benefits in kind on preferential loans.

In 2013 these measures are projected to bring in an additional €156 million and in 2014 a total of €179 million (see Table 1).

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Corruption and Dishonesty at the Heart of Government

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The James Reilly Affair is nowhere near from over. Róisín Shortall may have gone, but big questions remain. How they are answered will have significant consequences for the Government, the two men at its helm and the parties they lead.

James Reilly has yet to provide a credible explanation for the addition of locations in his own constituency to the primary care centre priority list. Paul Cullen’s article in last Saturday’s Irish Times clearly demonstrates that Minister Reilly’s explanations to date simply don’t stack up.

Róisín Shortall’s matter of fact description of the decision as ‘stroke politics’ on RTE radio last Saturday demands a response from Minister Reilly. Ministers Varadkar and Creighton clearly concur, as do Labour party backbenchers such as Arthur Spring.

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