A green day.. (Time of their lives?)

Moving swiftly on..

The Greens’ demands for their new deal are carried in the Irish Times today. Personally I hope both parties can broker a deal as I would like the current government to continue. The nightmare scenario as I see it (from an admittedly political perspective) is where the greens present impossible demands and the government falls because FF can’t grant them. Then FG / Lab proceed to do almost identical things to the last administration but with greater public support and when the inevitable recovery comes in 2012 or 13 claim all the credit. Meanwhile FF are forever the bad guys who caused the recesssion and wouldn’t even give the greens their wooly but worthy demands. In that case it really would be a case of good riddance even if they (GP) did have the time of their lives.

Quickly reviewing each point of the wishlist.

1.A reversal of recent education cuts
This is fine in theory but may just be mathematically impossible. It’s not FF policy to cut education, it’s a matter of financial survival of the state.

2. A reduction in the number of TDs
Perhaps but along with a reform of the function. Representatives (which institutionalises clientelism) or legislators?

3. Major changes in the electoral system
More power to local authorities? Agree. Shorter terms of government and councils. Agree. Greater powers? Good idea but within reason. The Californian state has nearly gone bust because when they granted people free choice they chose to be taxed liked libertarians whilst enjoying communist levels of public services..

4. A commitment to a single-tier universal health system
Agree with existing commercial insurers providing a private compliment to public provision but without the overlap. Bit like what Obama is trying to do in the States.

5. A new third rate of income tax
Probably makes sense. There are already three levels of levy. We should consider an advanced model like the Canadian system. It’s like a tax ladder with gradual incrememnts in tax when your earnings increase.

6. The abolition of the PRSI ceiling
Makes total sense.

7. The integration of the income levies with the tax rates
it’s a no brainer. It’s happening anyway. The Minister always said the levies were only a blunt instrument until the next budget could regularise things. But it allows greens claim a ‘win’ from the off.

8. A clampdown on tax exiles.
Agree. But isn’t this what we are doing already? We need clarity on what the Greens consider a tax exile.

9. An animal welfare Bill that would ban hare coursing, stag hunting, fur farming and the importation of wild animals to be used in circuses
Agreed on most the above. Definitely a lot to be done on animal welfare, controls, rehousing, kill rates, regulations and monitoring. It’s not all black and white though. Devil in the detail. I’m not a hunter but I like to cast a fly as well as the next man. And I’ve been known to grace the odd point to point. Lets balance the traditions of rural Ireland with the need for protections.

10. Basic social welfare entitlements should not be cut
Well it depends. Who are the ‘vulnerable’ these days? Employers get no ‘stamps’ allowance. What about the one who can’t pay his staff or the loan on his warehouse? Or the employee with a mortgage and bills on the table but no benefits. Better or worse off than those with gauraunteed tax free income (which has risen despite deflation). Or the millionaire with a medical card and / or child benefit. I know who’s going to be first in the queue for the doctors when the child gets sick and who will hesitate until its desperate.
We need safety nets sure but the current system needs fairness and reform on all sides.

11. Overseas development aid should not be cut
Worthy principle but needs must. We can only send what we can afford. Also, we send the Irish army abroad every year who protect hundreds of thousands of refugees. That’s worth millions in development aid.

12. A massive shift of emphasis from investment in road building to public transport initiatives
We need both. Ireland has seen vast improvements with the road building program of recent years. As a public transport activist I have many views on the railway and bus program also. If at all possible, capital investment on the T21 and other projects must be maintained.

8 Replies to “A green day.. (Time of their lives?)”

  1. C

    That’s exactly what I was going to say… 😛

    Points 2 and 3 may require a referendum. I agree that the current political system needs reform – we need our own Lisbon Treaty for Ireland.

    For instance, all Dáil constituencies should be the same size. It’s not fair that someone living in a 3 seater doesn’t get the same flavour of representation that someone in a 5 seater gets. We should maintain the same TD/population ratio across the country, but we should have equal size constituencies.

    Also, we should reduce the terms of government and local office from 5 years to 4 years. This allows the democratic and parliamentairan processes to move quicker. We might see laws that we need pushed through faster.

    As for the PR-STV system, I think it is a good system and we should leave it alone. The list system and first-past-the-post system produce much greater anomalies in representation.

    And I might also reiterate Ireland’s republic – that’s what we are, a republic, not some wishy-washy anarchistic democracy. We should use our heads at the ballot box and vote in the best candidates. Then, we should let them serve their term without day-to-day lobbying and petitioning. California is a great example of what we do not want.

  2. David W

    Well, at the risk of stating the obvious: at this stage one would expect both FF and the Greens to fare badly at the next election. For FF that would mean a spell in the wilderness, but they could expect to be back in government at some time in the future. (A party as well-established as FF is surely unlikely to disappear totally, or become a minority party with just a handful of TDs, though it is not out of the question that it could share the fate of the Liberal Party in Britain in the early twentieth century, or of the Irish Parliamentary Party.) But it is surely far more likely that the Greens would share the fate of the PDs. So there must be some prospect of them emerging from this period in government with credibility, and with concrete achievements. Otherwise they would do better to walk out of government tomorrow. Therefore it is surely in the interests of both parties for FF to be seen to be accommodating towards the Greens, unless the well-being of the country is threatened, or such accommodation offends deeply-held core FF values.

    Whether the government survives would depend, it seems to me, on whether the cabinet ministers have a good working relationship, and on whether they can sell any revised programme for government to the grassroots of the respective parties. As I understand it, ministers from different parties can establish a close working relationship, based on mutual respect, when working together in government. By contrast, ministers from the same party can be at loggerheads with one another, to the extent that their ambitions, mutual jealousies and suspicions poison the working of the government. So John Gormley and Eamonn Ryan need to have a good and collaborative working relationship with key FF ministers if the government is to survive. That in itself does not guarantee that a revised programme for government can be formulated that is acceptable to both parties. But it would help ensure that the leadership of both parties can work in good faith to formulate proposals with some prospect of being adopted, and that the respective leaderships would do their best to sell such proposals to the grassroots of their parties.

  3. David W

    Addressing specifics, I must admit that proposal 2. does put me in mind of turkeys voting for Christmas! Fewer TDs surely implies fewer seats per constituency. And, for parties with the size and support of the Greens, the successful candidates would tend to be elected on the final rounds, and may well just squeeze into the final seat. If, say, all constituencies were 3-seaters, of if the sizes of city constituencies were enlarged, could the Greens expect to gain Dáil seats. Though, on the other hand, they seem to have had somewhat surprising success in European elections…

  4. Jason O'Mahony

    We could actually introduce a list system WITHOUT a referendum. Check out how Australia elects its senate using STV in a different way from us. People can vote as we do, or tick a box and the preferences are distributed according to party choice. If we were to create a national constituency of 40/50 TDs that would save the Greens.

  5. David W

    Returning to the wish list…

    Item 12 (investment in transport)

    How many more motorways and fast roads does Ireland really need? By the end of next year Dublin (or, more accurately Naas and Leixlip) should be connected by motorway with Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway. Can one really justify the building of significantly many more motorways?

    It looks to me as though the M3 only serves the populations of parts of Meath and Cavan. Do these counties really have the population that justifies a motorway connection to Dublin? Traffic to and from Dublin from the remaining counties of Ulster will presumably go via Newry, or funnel down the road joining Aughnacloy to Ardee in order to meet up with the M1. No doubt the next Taoiseach will press for a fast road across Co. Roscommon, but do we really need a motorway from Dublin to Castlebar? Or to Sligo?

    And the south-east. Do the towns of Wexford, Enniscorthy and Gorey have sufficient population to justify continuous motorway from Dublin down to Wexford?

    It seems to me that Ireland should by the end of next year have a motorway network more than commensurate with its population. Ireland does not have the population density of, say, Holland.

    The railway network by comparison is a disgrace!

    The real advantage of railways is that they connect city centre to city centre, avoiding the traffic jams that make driving in and out cities at peak times such a nightmare. This presumably the reason why travellers from Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford are dumped at Heuston, along with commuters from Kildare, Sallins, etc., and forced to fight for standing room on the Luas with the local commuters from Tallaght and the rest of south-west Dublin. All the trains from the West and the South (and Co. Kildare) should pass though the Phoenix Park tunnel to terminate at Dublin Central – a station comparable to the Hauptbahnhof of any respectable-sized German city – located on the site of Connolly station and its associated sidings and train shelters. As I understand it there have been all sorts of pathetic excuses over the years as to why this is all impossible. The rolling stock is apparently too wide to pass though the tunnel – though special trains full of GAA supporters have apparently passed that way – and there are pictures on the web of quite broad carriages in the act of passing through the tunnel. Then there is the claim that the signalling system around Connolly cannot cope with more than 12 trains per hour in each direction – could they not invest in a signalling system that is fit for purpose? Then there is the business of trains routed through Drumcondra having to cross the traffic north out of Connolly – could they not build a bridge or viadact to take trains to and from the west over or under the other trains. C.I.E. surely own enough land around Connolly to allow for a respectably-sized station. And the infamous developers that have done their level best to bankrupt the country as well as themselves would surely have been more gainfully employed in the construction of such a station than in erecting blocks of unneeded office space all around Dublin, or in building ghost estates on the edge of every midland town and village. Maybe they could in future be gainfully employed in such a fashion in order to earn the necessary to keep up the payments on their NAMA debt?

    And the public transport infrastructure in Dublin? Twenty-three years ago, I was living in Cologne. At that time it had a dense network of mainland rail, light rail, underground, trams and local buses that connected every district of the city with every other, and made it easy to get down to places like Bonn, or out to the Siebengebirge for hikes in the wooded hills bordering the Rhine. I moved from there to Dublin, which was served by Dublin Bus, and by the DART, apparently recently established in the teeth of opposition from economists who regarded any money spent on public transport as money down the drain. At least with the LUAS, Dublin has made a small start on acquiring public transport infrastructure commensurate with its size and standing.

  6. C

    RE: Transport Policy

    The reason we are a car dependent society is because our planning policies are poor. And as a result, our public transport is rubbish and will always remain that way until we change our planning policy.

    Rural planning – bungalow blight. All rural development needs to stop now. Then we should persue a policy of relocating people from the country back to the towns and cities. Give our selves 20 years to reduce bungalow blight by half. Subsidise people to move back to the towns. Buldoze vacated bungalows. (I grew up in a bungalow, if the family home had to be buldozed to the ground, then so be it).

    Look at the Co. Kildare countryside, it looks like it rained bungalows. Bungalows are bad, they mean more roads that have to be maintained, greater car useage, and greater demand on provision of power, water, sewage and refuse services.

    Urban planning – low density sprawl. All future urban development should be concentrated within existing boundaries. All undeveloped zoned land should be dezoned until such time as urban population densities reach the levels seen in Holland and Germany.

    Look at Sallins, it has a population of about 3,500 but covers an area the size of Manhattan.

    It’s all about economies of scale. Sweat the assets we have.

    As James knows, I’m half nuts anyhow – but I’m 100% right :D.

  7. Arthur

    Agree about one off houses, but if people could buy a large house close to or in a town for a reasonable sum they wouldn’t build mac mansions in the middle of no where.

    Regarding your comments on manhatten v sallins.

    Manhatten island is 21 km long at its longest point and 3.5 km wide. Manhatten has an area of 60 square km. It has a population of 1.6 million persons.

    Sallins is a little over one km long and one km wide. Therefore sallins is approx 60 times smaller. If sallins had a population density the same as manhatten its population would be 26,000. Therefore we could basically fit everyone in naas, kill and sallins in the footprint of sallins, (maybe with some 80 storey skyscrapers…it would be easier to canvass for elections).

    If the south of ireland had the same population density as manhatten its population would be 1.8 billion…..think of all the medals at the olympics!!!

    If the south of Ireland had the same density as the rest of the EU it would have a population of 7.8 million

  8. David W

    (Coming back for another bite of the cherry. A lot seems to have happened over the past week.)

    Reversal of recent education cuts is ‘mathematically impossible’? Well, if you set out your hypotheses (preconditions) tightly enough, the conclusions will follow. But must one accept the preconditions.

    I note Garret taking Brian Lenihan to task in Saturday’s IT for allegedly ruling out tax increases, and proposing to make adjustments purely on the expenditure side.

    I also note an opinion piece by Seán Flynn in today’s IT noting that ‘Education cuts could be reversed at no great cost’.

    And, last week in the IT, Fintan O’Toole pointed out how effective the vested interests had been in scapegoating the ‘ordinary’ public-sector worker.

    And of course the matter of JO’D, and the renewed focus on FÁS dirty linen.

    As Colbert observed, the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing. (“L’art de l’imposition consiste en plumant ainsi l’oie quant à obtient la plus grande possible quantité de plumes avec la plus petite possible quantité de sifflement.”)
    There are a lot of angry hissing geese out there!

    It has become apparent that many of those at the top of the pile seem to receive excessive remuneration from the public purse. And that professional fees are exorbitantly high. This perception could be dismissed as the politics of greed and envy. But I note that the Central Bank, in its Quarterly Bulletin points out, inter alia, that “professional fees in a number of selected service sectors remain very high”. And, according to the IT this evening, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee is to write to the Minister of Finance to seek changes to the “generous” financial packages made available to the outgoing chief executives of State bodies.

    I suggest that if the pay cuts and/or expenditure cuts necessary to bring the public finances back into balance are to be endured by the general population without an awful lot more “hissing”, then those who benefit from very high salaries, generous expenses and generous pensions paid for out of the public purse should not escape the pain. Such people should not receive more than is their due, fully justified by the work that they do, and should not be paid significantly more than their peers in neighbouring countries. The same applies to professional fees for hospital consultants and lawyers. (As I understand it, costs awarded in court cases are determined by the Taxing Master of the High Court, and thus such fees are not a purely private matter between lawyer and client. And of course there are the fees paid by barristers working for the various tribunals of inquiry…)

    Suppose that the government sought to reduce the amount of public money paid to ‘high earners’ on the public payroll. What effect would this have? How many people are involved? I note, from an article in the Guardian, dated October 6, that Alistair Darling in the UK is proposing to apply a pay freeze to “the most senior civil servants, members of the judiciary, senior NHS managers, GPs and chief executives of quangos”. The number of such people in the UK is estimated to be around 750,000. Such people in the Republic of Ireland would presumably enjoy a salary well in excess of 100,000 euro. And scaling by relative population, their number would presumably be around 50,000. Suppose that the net pay of such people were reduced by an average of around 10,000 euro, by salary cuts, or by pay increases, or by a less lavish expenses regime, or by some combination of these. Then the money saved would be around 0,5 billion euro. And these are not all the sorts of people whose high salaries could be defended on the ground that they create ‘wealth’. Do judges create ‘wealth’? Do hospital consultants create ‘wealth’? Do senior university administrators create ‘wealth’? There was some fuss some months back over the remuneration of the VP of Research at UCD, who was (and maybe still is) apparently enjoying a salary somewhere in the region of 409,000 euro. In listing his achievements it was pointed out that several publicly-funded research institutes had established themselves in UCD on his watch. (It was not apparent to me that these institutes had made major breakthroughs in scientific research.) No doubt people at UCD were pleased that he had brought home the bacon for them. But bodies like SFI have a certain budget to spend on such institutes, and surely it must make little difference to the public purse whether such institutes are established at UCD, UCC, UL or TCD.

    Obviously reducing stratospheric salaries paid out of the public purse and/or taxing those enjoying lavish salaries is not in itself going to solve Ireland’s economic difficulties. But the effects of the reduction of public spending on the lives of more ordinary people will surely be more stoically borne if those who have been richly rewarded are seen to pay their whack. And when one considers that the “generous” severance payments for outgoing CEOs of state bodies, and of outgoing Cinn Comhairle, are paid for at the expense of special-needs pupils and others to whom the state owes a duty of care…

    Well, that is more than enough off my chest for now!

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