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Two Books Set in Ireland: Photography and Fiction

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Breakfast at Cannibal’s Joe, Jay Spencer Green

Joe runs a CIA office in Dublin and he’s having problems with his cover as the manager of a company that is expected to be making a profit just like any bona fide company. This is the starting point for a novel that never lets up on its humourous attitude to matters that in an alternative universe – like the one we live in – would be the cause of severe consternation.

Jokes come fast and furious, shooting across every page of the novel, and most of them are Joe’s. The reader may need reminding that this character is an American secret service operator because his brand of humour is black and so laden with irony as to make him sound like the quintessential stereotype of the smart-arsed Dubliner who finds it difficult to take anything seriously. Sometimes the jokes are funny in an informed kind of way, as when Joe describes an MI6 agent with whom he is having difficulties as ‘the sort of asshole you see in photos surrendering Singapore to the Japs’. At other times they are just funny in a cosmopolitan way, as when a bomb goes off in Connolly St station when it is not the rush hour but still busy because of train delays: ‘leaves on the line, a suicide in Raheny, commuters from Sligo sabotaging their train so they wouldn’t have to go home to Sligo for the weekend’.

More common are jokes of a purely gratuitous nature, as in a list of collective nouns (‘…an army of amputees, a shitload of nappies…) that has not the slightest relevance to the bizarre plot that is unfolding. Breakfast at Cannibal’s Joe is to be read as an antidote for humour-deprived states of mind or just anyone suffering from mirthlessness in a mirthless world. 

Beyond Maps and Atlases, Bertien van Manen (Mack)

Bertien van Manen came to Ireland with pain in her heart, recently widowed, and a simple camera in her hands. ’I was guided by a feeling and a search, a longing for some kind of meaning in a place of myths and legends’. Hmm… that’s worrying, smacking as it does of someone who might have recently completed a short course in the kind of Irish literature that only the non-Irish enjoy reading. It doesn’t help to learn that she loves the work of John Banville.

Such reservations soon evaporate in a Celtic twilight when looking at the photographs in Beyond Maps and Atlases for what you see is less a homage to Yeats and the fairies and more a bleak but not nihilistic documentation of a small island with its western seaboard facing the un-human Atlantic. I don’t know if all the photographs were taken in the west of Ireland but that’s the feeling they convey: scary seascapes, dark and forbidding foliage, a country road eerily lit in yellow by a car’s headlights, human shapes disfigured by bad lighting and a cheap camera and a truly repellent image of a dead and fox-ravaged lamb.

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After the Votes

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So what’s it going to be? Coalition? Minority Government? Extended stalemate?  What we do know is that support for the Government collapsed – by over half. Labour’s decline was anticipated, Fine Gael’s wasn’t – at least not in the pre-election polls.

We also witnessed Fianna Fail’s significant advance with a 40 percent increase in their first preference vote, winning an additional 25 seats.

In the new Dail Fine Gael and Fianna Fail look set to take 94 seats (at the time of this writing). In 2011 they won 95 seats. However, this is a smaller Dail. In percentage terms, the two conservative parties won 57.2 percent of seats in the 2011 Dail; now they won 59.5 percent. The conservative vote didn’t fall; it just swapped between the two parties. And this doesn’t count the increase in conservative and gene-pool TDs who look to increase from six to eleven seats.

Progressive parties and independents put in a credible performance. However, the breakthrough that many were hoping for (including me) didn’t come. Sinn Fein increased their popular vote by 3.9 percentage points with the AAA-PbP increasing by 1.5 percentage points. Combined, these two parties look set to gain 13 seats at the time of this writing – positive but about half the Fianna Fail increase. The Social Democrats took three percent but couldn’t increase on their outgoing total while the Greens are back in parliament with two seats. However, the number of progressive independent TDs doesn’t appear to be increasing of this writing.

So where next for progressives? Much will depend on the formation of government and potentially an election in the short-term. But for the medium-term here are a few suggestions.

1.    Start an Honest Conversation

In policy terms, wipe the slate clean. One of the messages coming out of the election was that people didn’t believe the promises to cut taxes, increase public spending and establish fiscal stability. Rightly so. There is little fiscal space – far less than parties claimed. The future is extremely uncertain: low Eurozone growth, interest rates, oil prices, currency movements, the stability or otherwise of the European banking system. Then there’s the question of the character of the recovery (how much real, how much statistical). And what about Ireland’s continuing and unsustainable reliance on a corporate tax regime which works at the expense of other countries. Start an honest conversation about the challenges we face over the next decade – and don’t be surprise how many people will thank us for it.

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Artist and Empire

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The subject of this exhibition is representations of the British Empire by artists over the past four hundred years. You might expect a bucket of blood to confront visitors in the first room at Tate Britain but the subject has to be approached more carefully given a recent poll indicating that 44% of British people look back to their empire with pride. So the first room of the exhibition, entitled Maps and Flags, plays it safe with examples of early cartography and some splendid Ghanaian asafo flags. Brian Friel’s Translations comes to mind as a more insightful probe into the role of maps in the making of the empire.

The second room, Trophies of Empire, looks at the variety of artefacts and art associated with Britain’s imperial project and, given the size and extent of the empire, it is not surprising to find an astonishing range of material on display. There is Stubb’s grand painting, ‘A Cheetah and Stag with Two Indian Attendants’, illustrations of plants and animals by amateur scientists and naturalists and no shortage of material resulting from looting, bartering and purchasing by traders and soldiers. Carved heads from Benin, a small part of the systematic plundering conducted by British forces in 1897, are the prize exhibits here but a visit to the British Museum is necessary to appreciate just how magnificent was the art practised in a corner of Nigeria centuries past.

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“The Recovery Has Nothing to Do With the Government”

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“The recovery has nothing to do with the government”. So says Ashok Mody, former head of mission to Ireland for the IMF, according to a report in the Sunday Business Post. He goes on to argue that the current composition of the recovery is unsustainable and that it is unfair. He warns that an export-led recovery cannot be relied on in a slowing world economy and that regressive taxes should be changed. A full interview with him is promised later.

The judgement is valid. In terms of growth the current government’s track record is unexceptional. Taking the 4 ½ years of economic data under the FG/Labour coalition, real GDP grew by 15%. This is an average annual rate of just under 3.2%. This is slightly slower that the growth rate in the last 4 quarters of the previous government of 3.6%. No-one, not even in Fianna Fáil pretends that the previous government had sound economic policies.  

The reason for the moderate average growth rate, very modest following an extremely sharp recession, is that the economy actually contracted in the first part of the FG/Labour term (as shown in Fig.1 below). In the first quarter of 2013 real GDP was 0.7% lower than FG/Labour had inherited almost 2 years earlier. The trend line in the graph shows where GDP would now be if it had continued at the same pace over the last 4 ½ years.

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But the former IMF chief is mistaken in one important respect. The recovery is not export-led.

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At the Bottom of the Table

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The election enters the last few days. So many issues that were barely mentioned. How much time was given over to the fact that over one million suffer multiple deprivation experiences? How much debate was devoted to the 100,000 households in arrears and the many more in negative equity? Remember that bank debt that we absorbed? But no mention of a Financial Transaction Tax to start clawing back a little of that socialised private debt.

And there was absolutely no time devoted to benefits for people in work (apart from tax cuts which workers will end up subsidising through reduced public services and income supports). There was no mention even after a report published last week from Glassdoor, an international recruitment, company. The Journal ran the headline:

Ireland is bottom of the EU pile for social benefits’

This accurately described the report. Still no debate.

Glassdoor compared a range of social benefits for people in work and Ireland did not fare well. Take for instance what happens if you become sick at work. In Ireland you have to wait six working days before you can draw down the benefit and you get a flat rate of €188 from the Department of Social Protection. That’s about 27 percent of your wage. What do workers get in other countries?

  • In the Netherlands, employers are required to pay 70 percent of pay for up to two years
  • In Germany, employers are required to 100 percent of the wage for the first six weeks. After that, the state pays 70 percent of the salary for up to 78 weeks.
  • In Austria, workers receive up to 50 percent of wage for up to a year.

The main benefit other European workers get (apart from the UK and ourselves) is sick-pay that is income linked (though in most there is an income ceiling; these ceilings are above the average wage). This cushions the fall in living standards for those who fall ill and maintains consumer spending in the economy.

What about family benefits for those in work? Ireland has a very high level of maternity leave at 42 works, considerably than most other countries. However, only 26 of those weeks are paid at a maximum flat-rate of €230 per week. This is 33 percent of the average wage.   What about other countries?

In Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain new mothers get 100 percent of previous earnings for the whole period of leave. Italy pays 80 percent of earnings while Belgium starts out at 82 percent, falling to 75 percent over time. Again, there are income ceilings above the average wage which, therefore, progressively benefits those on low-average pay.

In addition, many countries have paid paternity leave; not Ireland (though this has been promised in the general election campaign).

Another category where Ireland features at the bottom is unemployment benefit. It should be remembered that benefit is time limited in EU countries and is intended to bridge the gap between employment (what’s called frictional unemployment). In Ireland, you get €188 per week (27 percent of average wage) for 26 to 39 weeks. Other countries are much more generous:

Austria provides 55 percent of wage for up to 52 weeks. In Germany you get 60 percent of wage for up to two years. In Denmark, if you pay into an unemployment insurance fund (most do) you get 90 percent for up two years. The rules in many of these countries can be quite complicated but Ireland has the weakest set of benefits for people between jobs, apart from the UK.

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A Different Starting Point: Work, Enterprise and Homes

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In a previous post I suggested that the debate was getting out of hand. In actual fact, we have almost no fiscal space (not after inflation, demographic pressures and the sleight-of-hand regarding Irish Water investment). Then there are those external events: low-growth, volatility in the equity markets, asset bubbles which rarely end up other than a bust (and still no one talking about Brexit).

Yet we have a promise-land political debate: tax cuts, more public spending, more investment – honey and manna and wine flowing;  detached from domestic and global reality. Eerily enough, the debate is even detached from the economy (as if throwing about small bits of money at this or that will change the fundamentals).

But one should be slow to criticise unless there is some alternative at hand. So here’s my go. However, mine has a different starting point than tax cuts or divvying up a tiny fiscal space. I will address three issues– and none of them cost money (that is, impacts on our new friend, the fiscal space). But if pursued, they would make life a lot better for a lot of people.

1.    Quality Workplaces

In a recent report the OECD claimed that earnings quality, labour market security and a quality work environment go hand-in-hand with higher employment. Of course; you can’t build a modern sustainable economy on low-pay, job insecurity and poor working conditions.

Therefore, let’s have a Decent Work Act which can help build quality jobs, based on ICTU’s Charter for Fair Conditions at Work:

  • Start the process to a Living Wage
  • End precariousness – through certainty of hours at work
  • Give part-time workers the right to extra hours in the workplace when they become available (this is actually a EU Directive that has yet to be transposed into Irish law)
  • A progressive public procurement programme – so that we don’t get images like these from Government Ministers, parading the vests and names of race-to-the-bottom employers
  • Statutory Sunday premium and over-time pay
  • The right to collective bargaining and a significant extension of Joint Labour Committees to all low-paid sectors and occupations.

This will start to give certainty in the workplace, promote quality jobs, increase domestic demand and investment – and the great thing is that it would actually be a revenue raiser for the government, not a cost.

Lesson: change the power relationship between labour and capital to start favouring the former.

2.    Develop New Enterprise models

The debate assumes that we can build a modern market economy through tax cuts and eliminating red tape. If that was the key to success, we should have the largest indigenous enterprise sector in Europe. Instead, we have one of the smallest. So let’s get real.

I previously highlighted Davy Stockbrokers’ assessment of investment in productive activity prior to the crash – that the overwhelming majority of it came from public investment and public enterprise companies. So let’s learn and apply this lesson.

First, create new – and expand current – public enterprises; in such areas as advanced broadband, green technologies and alternative energy (e.g. ocean, etc.), public transport, etc. This can be through stand-alone activity, partnerships with private companies, whatever works.

From this we should enable local government (or create new regional institutions) to establish municipal enterprises – a standard feature in continental Europe and North America. These are essentially local public enterprises but they can be formed in partnership with local and private capital. This would facilitate areas where there are low-levels of enterprise activity (whether urban ghettoes, cities/towns outside Dublin, or depressed rural areas).

But we can go further, supporting alternative business models: community and neighbourhood enterprises, labour managed enterprises, new company models based on commercial non-profit activities (some may find this exposition of alternative business models – from the Democracy Collaborative).  And this could be funded – through equity – by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, with little impact on the Exchequer.

Lesson: once we get over the idea that jobs can only be created through private capital (and private capital alone) a number of alternatives can arise.

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The Collapse of Ireland’s Finances (again): A Reinterpretation

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As the election season reaches full swing, the inevitable claims of who did what and when, and what this means in the future intensifies. One oft-repeated tale beginning to reemerge is that an expansion in public spending during the 2000s is a, or perhaps the leading cause of the subsequent financial and debt crisis. After all, as seen below, the crisis manifested itself in an explosion of the public deficit and overall debt, which eventually culminated in an inability of the government to borrow from financial markets in 2010. While the topic has been much-discussed, it’s worth going over this again as there are several misunderstandings, and some questions which I think elements of the left have had difficulty answering too.

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Notes: The Fiscal Balance and Adjusted Balance are shown on the left-hand side, Expenditure and Debt are shown on the right-hand side. Adjusted Balance taken from IMF’s World Economic Outlook. All others are taken from Eurostat.

The most obvious counter to the argument that bloated public spending was at the centre of the crisis is to point out the actual trajectory of fiscal policy in the 2000s. As shown above, Ireland actually ran a surplus (blue line) in all but one year of the 2000s pre-crisis, and also had one of the lowest debt-to-GDP ratios in the developed world. As a proportion of national income, spending increased, but quite modestly considering the low base. Thus, if anything, it was a model of fiscal prudency.

The counter to this is that, yes, the headline deficit was actually a surplus, but this masks underlying structural weaknesses. As we all know by now, the surpluses arose because of transient taxes such as stamp duty and other bubble-related windfalls. There was an expansion in public spending and the headline surplus was in reality a deficit (or as economists would say there was a structural public deficit). This was hidden by a basket-case economy, which delayed the inevitable collapse. In reality, the state was spending money it didn’t have – government profligacy in the form of excess spending has been a root cause of our woes. This can be seen clearly by the evolution of the cyclically-adjusted government balance, which clearly shows a large deficit from 2001 on.

A not inconsiderable portion of the left have difficulty answering this, and as a result it weakens the case for greater public investment in services, infrastructure, and so on. One response is to point to the costs of the bank bailout. Another is to repeat the point that the public finances were in surpluses. Another criticism is that it is in practice impossible to measure a structural deficit: that is, one cannot disentangle structural versus cyclical components of the deficit. I think all of these answers are somewhat weak, and leave open the charge of denial.

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Time for an Honest Conversation

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Before this election gets out of control it’s time to have an honest conversation.

You know all that stuff about the ‘fiscal space’? Is it €8 billion or €10 billion or €3 billion? Here’s the bottom line. There is effectively no fiscal space. We’re having a surreal debate over what is the equivalent to pennies (or 20 cent pieces) behind the sofa – though it was amusing seeing Fine Gael caught out on double-counting part of their estimate.

We’re going to be spending €350 billion over the next five years. There will be nearly €400 billion revenue. The fiscal space of €8.6 billion (that’s the base-line number) represents less than 2.5 percent of total expenditure and even less of total revenue. We’re having a 2 percent debate.

But it’s even less than that. There’s this little thing called inflation.   You may have heard of it though apparently some political parties haven’t. The Government estimates general economic inflation (GDP deflator) to be over six percent over the next five years. For current spending just to keep pace with inflation would mean an increase of nearly €4 billion. So that’s about half of the fiscal space gone.

But it’s even less than that again. The Government has assumed demographic pressures costing the state €2 billion (this means it’s not part of the fiscal space). These are demand pressures that occur without any policy change – rising number of pensioners, more demand on hospital services, rising number pupils numbers, etc. However, that €2 billion represents only ‘certain’ demographic pressures, not all. How much more? The Government’s not saying. But subtract more.

Taking all this into account, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council estimated the fiscal space to be €3 billion and change. Even if it turns out be a little more, it’s not much.

But here’s something else to contemplate. The Government’s public investment programme is already factored into the base-line projections. So the increase in capital expenditure from the current €4.2 billion to €5.8 billion in 2021 is not part of the fiscal space (but this level of investment will still keep us at the bottom of the EU tables and well below our historical average).

However, the Government pulled a fast one in the capital programme. They claimed that over the next five years, there would be €3.2 billion in water investment – investment that would not be on the Government books since it will be carried out by a public enterprise company: our old friend Irish Water. However, the Government is in denial. Irish Water is on the books, thanks to the Eurostat ruling. Unless the government introduces charges based on use (fat chance), Irish Water will remain on the books. If there is to be any investment water and waste it will have to be on the books – about €3.2 billion between 2017 and 2021. That will come out of the fiscal space.

Let’s summarise: we have €8.6 billion in fiscal space

  • Subtract about half due to inflation
  • Subtract more (don’t know how much) for the full cost of demographic pressures
  • Subtract water/waste investment if we’re to have any

How much is left? Have a look behind the sofa cushions. (Note:  there is a little matter of an additional €1.5 billion from future recalculations of the fiscal space; good, we’ll need it).

Now let’s throw into this mix all manner of proposed tax cuts: USC, property, income, corporate, capital, whatever you’re having yourself (interesting that no one mentions cutting the most regressive tax – VAT).   And then there’s the other side of the fiscal coin expanding capacity in the health service, increasing resources for education, building tens of thousands of social housing, increasing investment, bringing people out of poverty.

Let’s be clear: the politics doesn’t work, the math doesn’t work.

And none of this counts the external environment.   The irony is that as Europe moves back to normalcy – higher interest rates, higher oil prices, higher exchange rate – Ireland will suffer. We’re benefiting from a situation that is risking another round of asset bubbles and busts.

Take one example: the Department of Finance projects the budgetary impact of higher interest rates. A one percent increase in interest rates will, over a five year period, lead to a fall of GDP of over two percent, a fall in tax revenue of nearly 2 percent, higher public spending due to increased unemployment benefits and an increase in the debt/GDP ratio of over seven percentage points. Now add on oil prices and a strengthening Euro; never mind the profound implications of Brexit.

Anyone talking about this? No.

Rory Hearne suggests that progressive parties and independents come together to present an alternative:

‘Imagine a press conference with Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams, Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett, Finian McGrath and Clare Daly – where they state that they have put aside their differences and have come together to offer the people of Ireland a real alternative government.’

It certainly is worth imagining. And the first thing they should do (and it would make an excellent photo-op) is to gather together all the party manifestos and policy documents and stick them in a bin. This would be the first step in having an honest conversation.  We could then talk about the real world and the difficult reality we are facing into.

Would that gather much support? I suspect it would. Poll after poll shows the majority of people don’t want tax cuts but, rather, investment and public services. There is a strong under-current of suspicion and even cynicism towards those who promise tax cuts and quality public services and fiscal stability, all to be delivered through numbers that don’t add up.

Is there an alternative? Yes. Is there a progressive fiscal space, combined with a spending policy, that forensically targets need and social repair? Yes. Are there policies that go beyond the fiscal space that can impact on people’s lives that do not require redistribution through Exchequer resources? Yes. My next blog will outline this.

But it all starts with an honest conversation.

I would imagine that people would welcome this – straight-talking from honest political forces. It certainly would mark a qualitative change from the usual election rhetoric. So let’s start that chat.

We have two weeks left.

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The Investment Deficit

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Continuing the recovery? Starting the recovery (for those who haven’t started feeling it yet)?   Protecting the recovery from outside events? What should we be doing? Voices from the fiscal orthodoxy insist we should use the additional resources to pay down debt – as if a few percentage points are going to protect us from external events. There are others that call for tax cuts but that’s a poor economic response whatever about its political appeal (which, if the Millward Brown poll is anything to go by, looks to have little popular appeal).

So how do we start, continue and protect recovery? One word: investment. Investment is the driving force behind enterprise success, economic growth and social prosperity. Investment drives growth, increases productivity, enhances skills, reduces costs and puts business and the economy in a stronger competitive position. You want to be competitive? Invest.

The problem is that Ireland has a poor investment record. And no one is talking about this in the election campaign; therefore, no one is talking about how to address it (if you’re not aware there is a problem, it is more difficult to solve it). The fundamental driving force behind economic growth and its nowhere on the agenda.

Historically, Irish investment has been below the EU average – even during the boom times. The following looks at Irish investment excluding dwellings and intellectual property/R&D. The latter – a new category under Eurostat’s recently introduced ESA 2010 – is excluded simply because it inflates investment numbers without necessarily contributing to growth. For instance, multi-nationals are re-locating IP activity into Ireland from tax haven locations. But to what extent this is making any real contribution to growth-generating activity is open to question. In 2013 70 percent of industrial R&D investment came from just three companies.

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As seen, Ireland has been a consistent under-performer.

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In Praise of Ungovernability

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With the general election now upon us, Fine Gael and Labour can be expected to highlight the need for a “strong government”, while attacks on the left parties have suggested that they are uninterested in governing and only interested in being “wreckers”. This can be a difficult argument on the doorsteps, against a long history of assuming that only parties in power can “deliver” (usually particular benefits for local groups). I want to suggest that ungovernability would not be such a bad thing, and that a “weak government” is in the interests of most people in the country.

What “strength” has meant over the past five years has been strength at imposing decisions made elsewhere – by the Troika collectively, by the EU or ECB individually, by “the markets” or in some sweetheart deal with multinationals – on a population which has been increasingly recalcitrant. Not strength in representing our interests, but strength in riding roughshod over our interests and our resistance. A strong government is not our friend if it is on the right (and there is no real chance of anything else in the next Dáil). 

Conversely, on all recent opinion polls a weak right-wing government is almost certainly the least bad outcome we can hope for, whether that be a coalition of FG, Lab, SDs and independents or – on different numbers and backroom deals – FG in some sort of arrangement with FF (minority government? government of national unity?) The reason for this is that a weak government is one which is less cohesive, and less effective at imposing other people’s interests in the face of our resistance.

I don’t want to overstate the case for this – even a weak government will pull together and ignore all possible popular resistance to, for example, the US military use of Shannon or Shell’s presence in Erris, and will continue to stand over whatever violence is required. However, not every issue will be so easy to handle. Water charges stand at the head of the list of a series of impositions by recent “strong governments” which may prove far more politically problematic for a “weak government”.

At its simplest, a “weak government” is one which will have to pay far more attention to social movements and popular pressure; it will have fewer rewards to offer for loyalty and will have less scope to threaten internal “dissidents” within what is likely to be a fairly thin majority. Indeed, the strategy of “ram the changes through and people will have forgotten in five years’ time” becomes less likely if the government’s lifetime may be considerably shorter.

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Book Launch: Margaretta D’Arcy’s Memoir, Ireland’s Guantanamo Granny

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Margaretta cordially invites you to the Launch of her book Ireland’s Guantanamo Granny

Paula Meehan poet and playwright will launch the book. Her commitment in her work “To give voice to the disenfranchised everywhere”

Connolly Books

East Essex St,

Temple Bar,

Dublin 2

Feb 13th Saturday 3pm

It is a book of both questions and answers: what is a peace-loving Irish granny to do when she finds that her supposedly neutral state is allowing her local airport to be used for war and torture by the Americans? What is she to do when the Irish state refuses to listen to her concerns about breaches of neutrality and international law? Margaretta D’Arcy’s answer is to open a conversation with the state by any means necessary.

Ireland’s Guantanamo Granny is a first-hand account of D’Arcy’s struggle to open a debate on the misuse of Shannon Airport. It takes the reader on an inspiring and often bitingly funny journey from the author’s roots in the peace movement, to discovering Ireland’s dirty little secrets, through to direct action, courtroom drama and imprisonment.

‘Irelands Guantanamo Granny’ published January 2016 is a first hand account of my struggle to open a debate with the Irish State on the misuse of Shannon Airport in the Ireland by the U.S. militarily. Thus breaking Ireland’s neutrality laws. This led to my imprisonment in two Irish jails as well as causing alot of international media attention.  I am 82 years old, a veteran of Greenham Common and an original member of the Committee of 100.

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A Costly Health Service?

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There are assertions that Ireland has a very costly health service; that we spend a lot but get little to show for it. This post will look at claims that we are high spenders when it comes to health. The fact is that we are not extremely high spenders but that shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning that our problems are automatically due to lack of resources.

The CSO has adopted a new methodology for categorising health expenditure: the System of Health Accounts. Since it was published in December of last year, a number of commentators have used the data to claim that we are one of the highest spenders in the OECD. In yesterday’s Sunday Business Post it was claimed:

‘We are spending considerably more than the vast majority of OECD countries and the wealthy European countries.’

Depending on the number used this is either true or not so true. That’s the problem with such statistics – it can tell you a whole number of different things at the same time.

We spend considerably more if we take the total level of spend – both public and private expenditure. The latter includes out-of-pocket expenses (GP visits, prescription medicine) and health insurance payments.

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The above measures spending on a per capita basis using PPPs (to better compare for living standards and currency movements). It does appear, using total public and private expenditure, that we spend a lot – the fourth highest in the EU-15, well above the average; nearly 20 percent higher.

However, when we isolate public spending, the situation looks a bit different.

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Ireland falls to mid-table, still above the EU-15 average. However, we are now 8.7 percent above average. Of course, if you squeeze public spending – especially in the context of an increasing population and a rising elderly demographic – you will get a rise in private spending. This is all the more the case with the rising costs of health insurance.

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February Issue of Socialist Voice is Out Now

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The February Issue of Socialist Voice is now online.

New challenges and new opportunities for working people

The current election campaign and the election of a new Dáil present new challenges and opportunities for the working people of Ireland.
Working people have experienced prolonged attacks on their living standards, on social welfare benefits, pensions, and public services, as well as the imposition of water charges.

When competition is king

Eoghan O’Neill

Within the European Union and the United States and other advanced capitalist regions they say competition is king. Competition is what gives the modern market economy its legitimacy. It’s taught in second-level and third-level educational institutions, in departments of economics, business, and law

Islamic State and crocodile tears

Alan Hanlon

Hillary Benn, the British Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, made a striking statement in the House of Commons in the debate on British intervention in the civil war now taking place in Syria. He compared the situation to that of the Spanish Civil War;

Bímis dílis d’idéil 1916!

Tomás Mac Síomóin

I mbliain seo chomóradh Éirí Amach 1916 cluinfear moltaí á dtabhairt go fuíoch ag boic na bunaíochta do laochra na Cásca. Ach tá ard-chuspóirí na laoch céanna tréigthe, is faoi their, ag na boic chéanna le fada an lá. Ní chluinfear teagasc sóisialach Shéamais Uí Chonaíle á mholadh óna mbéala siadsan, ar ndóigh. Bíodh spléachadh againn ar chuid de cháipéisí bunúsacha ghluaiseacht na saoirse le méid na feille seo a thomhas.

EU membership: a challenge for the serious left

Tommy McKearney

It is being reported that some Scots intend voting Yes in the British referendum dealing with Britain’s membership of the European Union. Apparently their decision is based on the rather shaky principle that if a significant number of English people wish to leave, they will vote to remain.

Rebel without a pause: Bob Doyle (1916–2009)

Jimmy Doran

The centenary of Bob Doyle’s birth occurs on 12 February. He was born into poverty in North King Street, Dublin, and the eventual break-up of his family led to a life of foster care and orphanages, where he suffered hunger and regular beatings.

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noelrock

Blackrock, Noel Rock

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The journal.ie reports (2nd February) that there are “premature poster erections all over Ireland”, many of them from government party candidates.

Three days before the official date for postering (23rd April 2014) for the European elections I was putting up posters for Paul Murphy in the Blackrock area, along with another supporter. (The Fianna Fáil candidate had already put posters up elsewhere.) About an hour into the postering a Garda van pulled up beside us. The Gardaí were obviously responding to a call from their base about the postering. They asked some questions, were we working for Paul, etc. The two Gardaí were polite and good humoured throughout. I inquired whether they wanted us to stop postering. The Garda who engaged with us said yes, that it was against the Litter Act. They departed and we decided to call it a day.

In the following days there were newspaper reports about Paul Murphy putting up posters too early (in various areas). Paul was ordered to take posters down and he was fined for 70 posters at €150 per poster. (I don’t know how many of these fines were eventually paid.)

Since early January, long before an election was even called, Fine Gael candidate for Dublin North West, Noel Rock, has festooned the lampposts of Drumcondra with large posters carrying his name, image and the exhortation to ‘keep the recovery going’. (The election or candidacy isn’t mentioned, but the slogan is one of Fine Gael’s election battle cries.) In recent weeks Fine Gael and Labour have been organising Potemkin public meetings as a way of getting their candidates up on posters legally. Noel Rock’s posters have no connections to a public meeting or event. (Even in these cases permission from Dublin City Council is usually required.)

So, did the litter wardens get on to Noel Rock? Did, as sometimes happens, Dublin City Council workers take down the posters (eh, no)? Will he be fined €150 per poster? Did the Gardaí drop by to tell him to desist from postering? I wonder. Were there raised-eyebrow pieces in the papers about early postering? Not so far. The journal.ie’s stern report on the new batch of “premature erections all over Ireland” may herald some now.

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