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Do we need a new Troika to keep tabs on Shatter?

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com.

The most surprising turn-up for the books of 2014 is that a full quarter of the year has gone by and I haven’t written the words ‘troika’ or ‘bailout’ or ‘conditionality’ more than a dozen times.

At the beginning of April last year, we would all have been girding our loins for yet another quarterly visit from the Government’s ‘cigirí scoile’, with the delegation, the meetings and all the palaver that might surround it: the box-ticking exercises; the arguments over what State assets should and shouldn’t be sold; fights with Joan Burton over job activation; the internal European Commission staff reports that were always more critical of the Government than the public pronouncements.

That had always struck me as strange. In public the Troika praised the Government for meeting its targets. But in private they would criticise the fact that the Coalition always wanted to opt for the soft option.

I remember speaking to one of the senior officials from the outside agencies who explained that their presence in Ireland gave the Government political cover to take hard and unpopular decisions (to mete out tough medicine in other words) and succeed in achieving real reform.  When the citizens complained, explained the official, the Coalition could easily have deflected blame by saying: ‘we didn’t want to do this but the Troika effectively twisted our arms and left us with no choice’.

But perhaps what the Troika official missed is that people see through that. Or at least, they will blame the devil they known rather than the devil they don’t.

And politicians know that too. So this Government, like all Governments do, found that its room for manoeuvre was restricted by the Troika. Still, there was some wiggle room. And so they invariably chose the path of least resistance where possible.

Having said that, it was still a programme and they still had to comply with the conditions to ensure the trio of international bodies – the EU Commission; the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – released the €67 billion in loans they gave to us over four years.

Ironically, last weekend, Minister for State at the Department of Finance Brian Hayes generated an awful lot of controversy when seeming to hanker nostalgically for the troika years. Hayes said two things: the people “like the idea of surveillance” from outside agencies and that there was “grudging support in the country for the Troika”.

While his opponents in the EU parliament election contest in Dublin went bananas, I’d guess that there is more than marginal support for what he said.

What he meant with surveillance, I guess, is that people liked the very transparent memorandums of understanding with their quarterly targets for all to see. For a lot of people this was a very effective, a very tangible, and a very democratic, means of the Governments showing what it was setting out to do – and us, as citizens, being in a position to evaluate whether they achieved those targets or not.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

Ireland must examine new alternatives to lockdowns

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Professor Martin Cormican....social distancing the key.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

As of this week, Ireland had the lowest 14-day rate of Covid-19 in the EU. Our rate of 88.5 cases per 100,000 people beats the next lowest, Finland, which is at 96 cases. Iceland, which is not in the EU, is lower but there are extenuating circumstances there, given that it’s a little like New Zealand and Australia – literally places apart.

Being an island nation is certainly a help to us. But being a small mixed economy, and a huge base for global pharma, agriculture and technology, we had some of the busiest sea and air routes in Europe.

A lot of people come in and leave the country each day in normal times, tens of millions of journeys in and out each year.

Of course, that traffic has subsided greatly. We still have flights and sailings, but the great bulk is freight or essential journeys.

The air industry has claimed there is little connection between travel and Covid-19, as most of the transmission was community. But community transmission must start somewhere.

The first cases in Ireland came mainly from people coming back from skiing holidays in Austria and northern Italy. Many thousands of Irish people went on holidays to the Continent during the Summer – including a substantial number who went to countries like Spain, which were not on the ill-fated green list.

Some of the cases identified here in the Autumn came from a particular Spanish strain of the virus.

It remains to be seen if the new EU traffic light system works and if people take the (relatively expensive) tests before flying – or just ignore it, knowing there will be little chance of being sanctioned.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Best laid plans and programmes can fall foul of political reality

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Debate snub...Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

If architects’ plans were like the Programme of Government,

  1. the country would be full of unfinished buildings
  2. that would look nothing like the plans.

Prospective governments spend weeks – and sleepless nights – working out the programme that will be the blueprint for their term of office.

Some even produce a glossy self-congratulatory report each year, showing how many of its targets have been achieved.

Two things need to be said about that:

  1. They are subjective.
  2. Nobody outside the bubble pays any attention to them.

Some set out ambitious targets for the first 100 days of government. That idea has been around since the 1930s and is designed to show a signal of intent, that the new Government is going to put its money where its mouth is.

More often than not the new regime learns to its cost that it has bitten off more than it can chew. Achieving something in the world of politics within 100 days is like reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace during a lunch break.

  1. Not exactly impossible
  2. But not exactly possible

And do governments learn from these mistakes? Do they realise that it is a bit of a ridiculous concept?

  1. No
  2. No

There is a political problem here. You might achieve the big things in politics, you might get a wobbly economy back on to an even keel, you might create a historic record for employment, you might push through the six referendums you promised to liberalise society.

But it’s a bit like the guy who earns a reputation for not buying a round. No matter if he has devoted his life to the service of others, and has sacrificed everything for the personal good.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Politics and law have been entwined through the ages

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Seamus Woulfe...at the centre of latest storm.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

I remember when I was a kid there was an Irish rugby tour to apartheid South Africa which caused a huge furore, including a (if I remember correctly) a shouty row on The Late Late Show. One of the arguments used by those favouring the tour was: “Sports and politics should not mix.”

It went down well as a sound bite but was a nonsense; the reality is that politics mixes with everything, including sports. Nothing occurs in a vacuum.

Politicians make decisions over how sport is funded, how it is governed and regulated (look at the recent row over John Delaney’s tenure), and sometimes when it can be played.

All sports organisations have their own internal politics which can be more vicious than the stuff that goes on in Leinster House. And political parties have long ago discovered the benefits of putting a high profile former sportsperson up as a candidate.

Which brings us onto the bigger issue: the separation of powers in the State. Our Constitution draws out a relationship between the three arms of State – the Executive (government), Judiciary and Parliament (the Oireachtas). The impression that has been handed down to us is they are three goldfish in different bowls, all swimming, but in different waters.

It just doesn’t work out like that in real life. For one, for most of the history of the State, parliament has essentially been a chattel of government, with no real separate powers of its own.

In recent years, with less stable majorities for government than in the past, that relationship has changed – but parliament is still very much subservient to central Government.

It’s not just lip service when it comes to relationships with the legal establishment. There is an effort to assert that they operate in separate spheres but real life often intrudes – it’s more or less impossible to maintain the divide, unless you do it artificially.

For one, it is politicians who appoint judges, not other judges. Now, of course, judges have a say in it. There is the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) which assesses the merits of lawyers who are not yet judges.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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