Thursday 9 August 2007

One more for the road...

From the International Herald Tribune:

"A labor (sic, bloody Americans) court on Wednesday barred German train drivers from striking on Thursday because of concerns the threatened walkout could damage the economy...The court based its ruling on concerns the strike could cause damage to the economy, coming at the height of Germany's tourist season".

As someone who plans to be in Berlin by the weekend, I'm proud to have played my part in ensuring that German workers are denied their right to strike. I don't know what the court was playing at, really; as the union said, the economy is hardly likely to more damaged during the holiday period, when many workers are on holiday and production is lessened, than at any other time. Anyway, all strikes will have economic reprecussions; that's why they work. Happy as I am not to be stranded in the Netherlands, I don't think much of a legal system that puts the convenience of tourists ahead of its own citizens' rights.

Wednesday 8 August 2007

Europe ho!

I'll be away 'til early September, so I'll be missing the heart and soul of silly season. Oh horror. I will try and post a few things from the continent; perhaps my travels will give me a wider, European perspective on the sordid goings-on of our mean little island. Or not. Ah well.

Friday 3 August 2007

Ciaran who? And other Taoiseach's nominees

The whole country to choose from to fill 11 seats in the Seanad, and who has Mr. Ahern gone for? Well, it's the usual story in terms of rewarding, compensating and back-scratching. Not that the opposition would have done it a different way, so Leo Varadkar may well want to watch out lest his words about "independent voices" come back to haunt him.

Four of Mr. Ahern's choices are a quid pro quo for the other government parties in return for their supporting his government. As predicted, Dan Boyle has been nominated for the Greens. As one of the Green's few genuine policy heavyweights- his economic manifesto was widely praised- his resurrection was always assured. He will be looking to keep up his profile in order to regain his seat in a competitive Cork South Central constituency. His party college, Deirdre De Burca, was tipped to win a seat in Wicklow at the last outing, but in the event was some 3,000 votes off. Her nomination means that the Greens are by no means abandoning this battleground in the hunt for future gains.

The PDs have opted, after consulting three wise men, to put former TD Fiona O'Malley and Galway East councillor Ciaran Cannon in the Seanad. Ms. O'Malley is seen a potential leader, for better or for worse, and this development may mean that she has the backing of Harney and other senior party figures. Phoenix reckons she may run in Limerick East, the ancient stronghold of the clan O'Malley, rather than her old seat of Dun Laoghaire. Mr. Cannon is a rising star in the PD firmament, or such of it as remains. My own sources in the PDs told me to bet on him for the last election at 20/1- "huge chance" was the phrase used. I lost my tenner, but he performed credibly enough for a first-timer, in a constituency that has never elected a PD, for a party that was in meltdown. He could conceivably make a big splash next time, since none of the sitting TDs have a major national profile, but only if the party at large gets its act together.

The Fianna Fail bunch are a mixed bag of what might charitably be descibed as youth and experience. John Downey in today's Indo reckons that Martin Brady "deserved something" after failing in both the Dail and Seanad elections. Quite why this is the case is unclear. In a similar but more depressing vein is Ivor Callely, who has proved himself utterly unworthy to hold office, elected or appointed. Having resigned his Mini Minister's post over the kind of petty corruption that perennially haunts Fianna Fail, he polled a risible 9 votes in the Seanad elections. Bertie, in acting as Jesus to Callely's Lazarus, has shown once again that he will happily overlook such behaviour in any individual that is deemed useful to the party (take a bow, Beverly Flynn). John Ellis of Leitrim has also known controversy, albeit of a more complex and rural nature, but his nomination ensures that Leitrim has Oireachtas representation, in keeping with the government's preference to dole out jobs of up to Ministerial status on a geographical basis.

Maria Corrigan ran in Dublin South in May and polled well- at one stage, the talk on the RTE election coverage was that she might steal a supremely unlikely third seat for Fianna Fail. She will walk into the Dail the moment Seamus Brennan retires, so her appointment is as reasonable as they come. Brian O Domhnaill is in roughly the same category up in Donegal; Stephen Collins reckons that his job will be to "mark fellow Donegal Senator Pearse Doherty, of Sinn Fein". Lisa McDonald, a Wexford-based solicitor, is being lined up to challenge for a third seat there. It's hard to see the numbers allowing for that, but legal brains in the Upper House are always welcome, given that its only role of even minor import is to check out legislation referred to it.

The sole independent replaces Dr. Maurice Hayes, a widely respected former civil servant in Northern Ireland. The Seanad's last report on reform proceeded on the assumption that the Taoiseach would continue with the convention of nominating a Senator from N.I., but this appears to have been a one-time thing. Instead we are presented with Eoghan Harris, whose credentials include a latter-day conversion to the One True Fianna Faith. Even Mr. Harris himself acknowledged that this may have had something to do with his appointment. Rumours had been previously circulating that he might be appointed to the RTE Authority as reward for services rendered.

The Seanad is however a safer place to put someone who could go off at any moment, and to be fair to Mr. Harris he has contributed significantly to the political life of the country over the course of a never-dull career. Over the last few years (see link for his earlier career) he has been a consistent critic of Sinn Fein, at times to the point of rubbishing the peace process. Younger readers might be forgiven for wondering why he keeps revisiting ideological battles fought in the 1970's, when he worked for RTE. Still, another feisty independent voice in the Seanad is to be welcomed, and the rest will need to work hard if they are to challenge for Dail seats in five years time. Now if only we had something for them to do in there...

Wednesday 1 August 2007

The joys of farming

The Irish Independent reported today that 98% of farmers' income now comes directly from the EU. The actual profit the average farmer makes from agricultural produce is 334 euro a year.

The response from farming bodies, as quoted in the Indo's report, is genuinely puzzling for one who has never before plumbed the murky depths of the agricultural economy. My dimly remembered Leaving Cert Economics, and indeed common sense, tells me that it makes absolutely no sense to produce something at a loss. Almost all Irish farmers are reliant on EU money to stay afloat. This means that producing agricultural goods in Ireland is the most chronically inefficient use of resources, on both an EU and state level, since the building of the pyramids. Since no farmer could survive on what they produce alone, surely they shouldn't be in business at all? I understand the rationale behind protecting industries- employment and export earnings- but if I was a farmer, I'd be positively embarrassed to be engaged in a career that relies entirely on handouts from Brussels.

Not a bit of it. The IFA said that this report proves that farming in Ireland gets too little government help. Make of that what you will. Well, one understands vested interests wanting to retain a system that guarantees them a livelihood. And this does explain why most issues of the Farmers' Journal put protests over Brazilian beef imports on the front page- can't have people buying cheaper stuff, so they make out that it's inferior. It is, however, a continuing act of supreme political cowardice- on the part of both EU and American governments- that none will consider a reduction in support to farmers as part of a free trade deal like the Doha round. The problem is not that protection coddles domestic farmers, but that it does so at the expense of the developing world. We send aid to Africa, and flatter ourselves for so doing, while simultaneously refusing to allow their agricultural produce on our market, which is one of only a few avenues that could begin to lift these nations out of poverty in the long run. Reform of this situation is not an economic issue- it is a moral one.