Archive for June 26, 2012

Reality bites for Kenny

The budget will not be drafted in public.
-Enda Kenny

In fairness, he’s not lying.

But it won’t be drafted in Kildare Street either. Nor will it ever again be drafted in Ireland.

This budget will be drafted in Brussels and rubber-stamped in Frankfurt.

Welcome to the post-Yes world. This is what we voted for.

Of course, given the abject failure of this government to address the country’s economic woes – principally caused by the bank debt, whatever the spin doctors might say – this one was a fait accompli long before we voted yes a few weeks ago.

There will be more savage cuts to services. There will be more tax rises.

Fine Gael has even instructed its TDs not to speculate on its contents and that they would be given an “opportunity to offer their thoughts” later – the notion that FG backbenchers will be asked what they think of any measures contained in it is utterly laughable.

For “speculate”, read “debate” or “question.” Neither will be tolerated, and we can expect several months of Brian Hayes spewing party-fed guff about economics, and why we should all beat the cost of his cowardice.

The job of Fine Gael’s backbenchers, as it was in the recent referendum, is to nod sagely at matters they don’t understand and cannot influence. It it the illusion of democracy as practiced in Ireland.

Anyone who questions the logic of the budget proposals will be once again asked where the money will come from, or who will pay the nurses and the gardaí and the teachers.

In a remarkably display of political stupidity, one TD has taken it upon himself to pay a teacher’s salary out of money paid to him by the state.

Some see this as a great act of altruism, when in fact it is one of the most craven acts of political cowardice in a country not lacking candidates.

The TD in question, Brendan Griffin, pledged to give half his salary back to the state as an election gimmick, saying ”we are not all in it for personal gain.”

Shortly afterwards he hired his wife to a job paid by the state without even bothering to create the illusion of fairness by interviewing anyone else.

As if that wasn’t enough, he is now clawing back the €46,000 he pledged to give back to the state – an election gimmick – to pay a teacher whose job would otherwise disappear thanks to cuts imposed by his government – another election gimmick.

This is no great altruistic act on his behalf – it is a simple, grubby, vote-buying exercise.

To make matters worse, he is essentially buying another election with the same €46,000, at the same time as he is admitting that the policies of his government are grievously wrong.

Instead of installing a teacher in his constituency, Griffin could have showed some courage and voted against the cutbacks and against the poor having to bear the brunt of losses not incurred by them.

He didn’t do so. Instead, he chose to insure his political future using your money.

I arrived back from Ukraine yesterday (I learned quickly not to call it “the Ukraine”, as apparently they take offence), where I walked past the tented village protesting at the continued imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko every day.

It is a beautiful place, full of tough, creative, resilient people, but if ever there was a country both defined and hampered by corruption, Ukraine seems to be it. ANd the higher up you go, the more corrupt it gets.

My good friend Pelle Blohm was there for a few days too, and he told me of an interesting conversation he had with a tour guide about the political situation.

“She siad there are five or six factions, and it’s all about picking the right one – wind up on the wrong side, and you’re screwed.”

With the likes of Griffin pulling strokeslike this, Ireland is going thew same way.

And with Spain going under and Cyprus asking for a bailout, Kenny will soon have to deliver another austerity budget. With his own backbenchers unwittingly showing their hand, his time will soon be up.

Luckily for him, events will overtake his gullible stupidity, and history will simply remember him as the mewling, cowardly fool who hitched Ireland to the listing ship of the Euro, just before it sank without a trace.

 

A death too many

Swedish fans drinking in the sunshine at Euro 2012.

Following the discovery of the body of James Nolan, the following piece was submitted to two Irish newspapers for publication. Both editors said they liked it a lot, but both rejected it. 

 

It was about 35 degrees in the Euro 2012 Fan Zone in Kiev when my phone rang, but the call still chilled me to the bone.

A journalist colleague rang to say that Polish police were sure that the body recovered from the river Brda in Poland was that of James Nolan, the young Irish soccer fan from Wicklow who went missing on Saturday night.

His wallet and phone had been found. All they were waiting for was a formal identification of his remains by a member of the family.

The sickening feeling brought me back to March 2008, when another young Wicklow man died in similar circumstances in Stockholm, where I have lived for 13 years.

It was a bitterly cold weekend in March and the entire Irish community was out celebrating St Patrick’s Day. John Aherne, who was visiting his friend Karl, left early, stopping off for another drink on the way home.

It was the last time he was seen alive.

On the Sunday we had our annual St Patrick’s Day parade, but later that evening we began to worry. Karl reported John missing, and the slow, agonising search began. It concluded abruptly when John’s body was recovered from the water near where he was last seen.

In truth, it could have been any of us who were out celebrating in Stockholm that weekend, just as any of the Irish fans who were drinking and celebrating in Poland could have met the same fate as James Nolan.

I didn’t know John personally, but because of his death I stopped drinking. I had two small children at home, and his passing made me realize how fragile our lives are..

I still go out, I still enjoy myself. I still go to Ireland games – I was in Estonia the night we beat them 4-0 to all but book our place at the Euros. When the partying gets out of hand, I leave the others to it.

But it seems to me that we no longer know when to stop, or even slow down. That fact has never been more apparent than when Ireland play away.

The joyous party that night in Tallinn slowly descended into drunken oblivion, and when I was leaving my hotel at half past six the next morning, the streets were awash with puke and piss and drunken Irish people. The locals were horrified.

I’ve been based with the Swedish team in Kiev and their fans have been putting away fairly large quantities of alcohol, but the stories that came out of the travelling Irish camp in Poland tell a tale of almost Olympic consumption.

It should come as no surprise then that John Delaney, CEO of the FAI and essentially the man who should be Ireland’s number one football supporter, is seen making tired and emotional speeches on Youtube.

Forget the “Drink Responsibly” campaign and the lip service paid to moderation – Delaney is leading by example, and it’s not a good one. We need to have a serious word with ourselves about our attitude to drink and sport and our national identity.

Go to the Croke Park museum this summer and you’ll see the trophy that we play for in the Nordic GAA championship. It is named after John Aherne, who died so needlessly when out having the craic in Stockholm.

Deeply loved and missed by his family and friends, it is one of the few traces of him that is left in this life. Now another young man from Wicklow – an outstanding soccer player, by all accounts – has gone the same way.

Without an autopsy report it’s too early to say definitively that it was alcohol that took James Nolan’s life.

But what we can say for sure is that drink didn’t help.

“Jailing former prime ministers is our national sport”

A poster in downtown Kiev in support of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Pascha has dodged the question twice.

It’s lunchtime, and there isn’t enough soup and fish and rice in the world to give him time to explain the minutiae of Ukrainian politics to me.

Or why Yulia Tymoshenko is still behind bars.

But I’m not giving up. If I’m going to write about it, I have to know.

We’re in an oasis of calm in what is eerily like Celtic Tiger Ireland. On the way to the cheapest and best restaurant I’ve been in since I landed on Monday, we passed an Aston Martin store.

Ukraine has come a long way in a short time.

I’m here to cover Euro 2012 for the world’s biggest news agency, and in the dead days of profiles and previews and pen pics, I took a walk down to the UEFA Fan Zone in the centre of the city.

In the midst of it all is a row of white tents, where activists protest against the jailing of ex-prime minister Tymoshenko on what they – and she – say are trumped-up politically-motivated charges.

Pascha looks exasperated.

“The best way to explain it is this- it’s our national sport. Others have hockey or football or table tennis, but here, we jail ex-prime ministers. It’s our national sport.”

From what I have seen, Kiev is a remarkable place in a remarkable country.

Fiercely nationalistic, they yearn to be part of Europe, but fear abandoning their culture.

They yearn to be independent, but fear cutting the ties with the old mother country, Russia.

It is not unlike Ireland of a hundred years ago. It is not unlike the Ireland of today.

But one thing is different. Here, the national sport seems to be jailing the opposition, whereas in Ireland, the people are the opposition.

Pascha’s explanation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I’m willing to buy it for now.

The activists protesting in the fan zone don’t make much sense either, but then English is very much a foreign tongue here.

What makes even less sense? We finish our lunch and return to the building where we have been spending the morning reporting on sport.

As we approach, the penny drops- this modern building of glass and steel is the Leonardo building. I recognise it, because I have written about it and its owner for an Irish Sunday newspaper.

It is not owned by some fat Russian oligarch, empowered and emboldened by the fall of communism.

It is owned by Seán Quinn, an Irish oligarch of an altogether different hue.

In a strange twist on Ukrainian reality, he is seemingly empowered and emboldened by the fall of capitalism in Ireland – much of its downfall due to him and his friends at Anglo Irish Bank, who are now trying to take this building off him.

Will they succeed? If they do, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for Irish taxpayers.

Because not only do we not jail former prime ministers in Ireland – we don’t jail anyone who isn’t poor.

EXIT POLL: Five reflections on Ireland’s Yes

In the absence of any definitive figures, I’m going to cave in and do what I always criticise others for doing- jump to a few conclusions, engage in a bit of hyperbole and speculation and all the rest.

1. Judging by reports from several areas, Labour has finally abandoned- and been abandoned by – Ireland’s working class.

The party of Connolly said “Yes”, those who still believe in his ideals said “No”. Soon to join the PDs, and not before time, they sold out their principles so that the old guard could have one last grab for power. History will not be kind to Europe’s most right-wing worker’s movement.

2. Enda Kenny is a pathetically inept politician – but that doesn’t matter now, as we’ve ceded everything to Europe. Political history will pass a harsh judgement on Kenny’s hide-and-seek act; holder of an office already gelded by the ineptitude of his predecessors, he gave the rest away without a fight.

3. Twitter is a terrible barometer of political sentiment. It failed to adequately reflect the fear and confusion experienced by most Irish voters as they went to the polls. The yes side mostly came across as braying idealists, the nos as merchants of doom.

But worst of all were the parties themselve, and the odious ógras that polluted the timelne of every broadcast debate with scripted, inane platitudes that contributed nothing.

The born-again fervour of those in charge of the official accounts of the political parties indicates that they  clearly have no understanding of social media, or of democracy in genreal – it’s a dialogue, not a broadcast medium. And shouting your opinion is bad manners, wherever you do it.

4. Markets continue to slide, indicating the irrelevance of a Yes vote. Whereas a no vote- similar to those in genreal and presidential elections in Greece and France respectively – would have given pause for thought, we have silently acquiesced. We were essentially voting on behalf of everyone who couldn’t, and there’s a good chance we disappointed a lot of them.

5. In voting yes, we have enshrined the ideology of small government in the constitution. This is the single most damning effect of the treaty, as it limits governments in the application of Keynesian solutions to economic problems.

Despite market reaction to austerity and debt, despite Bo Lundgren (architect of the solution during Sweden’s 90s crisis) saying stimulus is a necessary as austerity, despite Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s late statements,  we did what the neoliberal movement all over the world has envisaged, and voted to enshrine their ideology as part of our national laws.

Just as this treaty had no chance of bringing stability (check out the indifferent market reaction), the fiscal treaty itself cannot bring certainty. Different problems and different circumstances call for different  solutions- instead of having the freedom to choose from them, we have gone ahead and written the only ones proven not to work into law.