Brief personal political manifesto

This is a brief (well, compared to writing an article on each issue) summary of my political views, as an Irish citizen, as of January 2019. Not all have the same weight, and just being in a minority on some one issue would not preclude me from working with a political force. And I am not some prophet; my mind can change. But this is where I stand right now.

Some issues are not covered, I am one person, not a political party. I can’t think of everything and I don’t experience everything.

Critical: foreign policy

This is one issue on which an *actively* different point of view (notably on the neutrality/war points) might be a deal breaker.

I oppose all Western military involvement in the Middle East. I opposed the wars in Iraq and especially Libya. I oppose any support for Syrian “rebels”.

I support Ireland keeping its neutrality and, moreover, normalizing diplomatic relations with the Syrian Arab Republic. I am strongly critical of Saudi Arabia and oppose any arms shipments to the country.

I oppose the use of Shannon for NATO military flights.

I oppose “Russia-baiting” and have strong doubts about Russian involvement in the Skripal case. I am sympathetic to Russian action in Syria including liberation of Aleppo. I admit, however, that Russia’s record on internal democracy and on several human rights areas, notably free speech and LGBT rights, is very blemished and well worthy of strong criticism.

I believe that the Ukraine situation must be settled peacefully in accordance with the Minsk agreements. I believe, on the evidence I have, that Ukraine is no better than Russia on free speech, and quite possibly still worse. (It was definitely worse in 2014 but Russia has adopted new laws limiting speech since then).

(Regarding Israel and Palestine, I support a two state solution, oppose settlements on territory Israel does not even claim as its own, and do not like the BDS movement, but this one is far less important – as long as no Western troops are on the ground and no Western bombs hit anywhere).

“National question”, Irish unity, Irish history, and Europe

I am firmly in the Fine Gael/”free stater” camp on interpreting the Irish Civil War. (I did consider joining Fine Gael back in 2013 after I was naturalized, but their foreign policy and later their housing policies put an end to the idea).

I believe that membership in the European Union has been an unblemished positive for Ireland, *including* the matter of immigration. EU immigration has largely been harmonious with Irish culture.

I have some sympathy with those supporters of Unionism and of Partition in the 1910s who were afraid of “Rome Rule”, implementation of Roman Catholic social policy. While independent Ireland never had organized persecution of Protestants, it had, for decades, a regressive record on civil liberties, largely under Roman Catholic Church influence. I highly value W.B.Yeats and think that his statements on the matter, while not without problems, have generally been wise and to a degree even prophetic.

However I believe that the issue of “Rome Rule” died in 2015 and was buried in 2018, with two Referendums leaving that social policy definitively in the past. Therefore the arrangement of two jurisdictions on one small island no longer makes any sense.

Moreover, bizarrely, strong Unionists are now also strong social conservatives – and this stuff just never made any sense. Starting with Ian Paisley, who managed to do battle against “Sodomy” and against the biggest anti-“Sodomy” organization in the world, the Roman Catholic Church at the very same time! The macabre spectacle continues as the same Northern party now fights for “British as Finchley” and against same-sex marriage. The current MP for Finchley, Mike Freer, a member of the Conservative Party, is *in* a same-sex marriage!

I believe that attacks on civilians related to the troubles were never justified and that the Provisional split, followed by a rapid descent into attacks on civilians, has put an end to any hope of success of traditional Republicanism by destroying any moral high ground it held previously. But the present arrangement makes no sense anyway.

It would be ideal to see the European Union make the border gradually irrelevant until the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland. Scotland, Wales, and England are close together in a European confederation (with the Euro and, possibly, metric system to boot). Unfortunately, the scourge of Brexit has put the border firmly back on the map. I believe that the only solution that would let Britain have a clean Brexit involves a united or federal Ireland, all of it still in the EU, or even a Celtic Federation (all Ireland and Scotland) in the EU; the latter might be more acceptable to Ulster Scottish Protestants.

I believe that the Republic of Ireland should seek to learn from “our gallant allies” in Germany how to prepare for, and pay for, a reunification. It should also ensure it can show itself as welcoming to all communities of the North. For this end, the Dubln & Wicklow Loyal Orange Lodge should be permitted to march in Dublin, without any paramilitary banners or paraphernalia; I would suggest a Dawson Street (historical HQ) to St. Patrick’s Cathedral route, firmly away from the GPO (being on the “leafy” South side helps too).

The economy

I believe that the Celtic Tiger was very far from “for nothing”. By welcoming foreign investment, creating a liberal tax regime, and using its position as a gateway to the EU, Ireland has transformed itself, and this transformation remains there even after the burst bubble. (But I would say this, woulnd’t I? I came here to work for multinationals, and am doing so still).

I do think the bank guarantee to bondholders was a critical mistake if not worse. Ireland should not have taken on sovereign debt and instead should have allowed some banks to fail, guaranteeing the accounts, but not the bonds.

Ireland needs to continue and improve as a high-value, high-tech, high-finance hub. The corporation tax rate must be maintained, but this rate must be collected. Companies relocating EU services from the UK must be welcomed. They should be offered strong incentives to locate in cities other than Dublin, including Limerick. Local related services will thrive as a result.

This does not mean neglecting agriculture, tourism, and other “native” industries, of course. I am simply incompetent to say much about them, as I only ever worked in IT. (Boosting public transport, as I describe lower, would also boost tourism in more rural locations – look at the Netherlands!)

A comprehensive welfare system, a reasonable minimum wage, and a managed system of requirements on contracts and labour rights do help, and not hinder, a civilized labour market. Ireland should keep and strengthen its system and never comprehend disastrous changes similar to the UK’s “universal credit”. The ban on zero hour contracts was long overdue. However, crackdowns on high-value contracting (a common staple of IT) and other similar issues, where poverty is not a concern, should be avoided. Let the market take care of itself where it can do so without crushing people.

Housing

The issue of housing has become a major problem in Ireland, and the government is evidently failing to make a dent in rising homelessness and increasing problems that people face.

However, from Soviet experience, I honestly do not believe in the state itself running a major building programme. The cost numbers from Limerick regeneration schemes were also not inspiring; they were similar to house prices in fairly different areas of Limerick at that time. The state is fit to govern, to manage, not to produce.

And so it should govern and manage, using the tools at its disposal, which are planing and taxation. Urgent measures must be taken to force an increase of supply and to protect people from becoming homeless. On top of what is already being done with the rental market, and of the obvious measures like a set percentage of social housing in new developments, I would suggest the following steps:

  • A punitive tax on vacant land zoned residential. This is probably the most important measure in the medium to long term.
  • A punitive tax on unfinished dwellings (after 2 years), aimed at “ghost estates” that are not sold on even now; should not apply to one-offs when the family owns only one such dwelling, probably.
  • A punitive tax on vacant homes. Equal to about 25% of market rent, it would apply only in housing pressure areas, so no worries about that holiday home in Cahersiveen or that derelict cottage at the edge of the farm. All owners of vacant houses in such areas should be sent a letter that the tax kicks in after three months; the letter should include offers of a HAP tenant and, if necessary, refurbishment trust (see below). If a HAP tenant can not be provided the tax does not apply.
  • A refurbishment trust programme – I think this already exists, where the trust refurbished the house then rents it out to recoup the cost.
  • A surrender-and-rent programme for homeowners in deep mortgage arrears. A bank should not be allowed to evict before offering that programme.
  • Tax incentives for rent-to-buy programmes, which are a much safer way of “getting onto the ladder” for younger people than 100% mortgages were. I would suggest that if a part of the rent goes into a deposit saving, the tax on this part should be refundable in the event that the purchase takes place.

Social liberty, including free speech and LGBTQ

Suppression of people’s identities and of people’s speech are two sides of the same coin, as we can well see from Section 28, from the recent abuse of obscenity laws against LGBTQ works, and from the present “propaganda law” in Russia.

I had my questions in the past, but at present I fully and enthusiastically support sex-neutral marriage in Ireland and legal self-identification of gender. Transgender health care in Ireland must be improved to catch up with Western standards. Many people notice that Ireland’s tolerance towards gender-diverse people is remarkably high; this should be celebrated and built upon.

The government must not follow in the footsteps of Russia and China by regulating (blocking) website/social media content, nor in the footsteps of the suggested measure in the UK requiring identification when accessing adult websites.

Current law must be clarified so that LGBTQ and sex education materials distributed to adolescents electronically (which do not meet the definition of obscenity or pornography) are clearly legal. The present formula at http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2017/act/2/section/8/enacted/en/html makes sending such material arguably illegal.

I actually support changing the age of consent to the UK (and Canadian, and Russian) value of 16 but this is not a high priority.

I have no personal opinion on the debate about the Nordic Model. I do have reasons to distrust Rachel Moran as a political activist, though. She suddenly got “worried” about the effects of gender self-identification, three years after it was introduced, but coinciding with the attempts of the far right to establish itself in Ireland.

I support legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use; driving under its influence should of course be illegal.

Female genital mutilation (or vaginal mutilation) must be suppressed, with measures including mandatory removal of children from families where a child was found to be mutilated, unless the parents cooperate with prosecution of the mutilators. I would suggest that the children’s rights amendment makes this lawful.

While a ban on male circumcision at present would be overkill, male circumcision performed outside a proper medical facility must be effectively banned – and when it leads to harm or death, must be prosecuted with the full force of the law. The acquittal of Osajie Ighinedion https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/jury-clears-nigerian-man-involved-in-circumcision-death-case-25960678.html was unacceptable and must be clearly rejected, with legislation if necessary. There is a new case going through the system and should be prosecuted vigorously: https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/man-54-charged-with-endangerment-of-life-after-crude-circumcision-on-baby-37703414.html

Abortion

I am no fan of abortion but I do not believe in prohibition, and (reluctantly) voted Yes to repeal. I believe that an unborn human is human and that at some point (later than conception or implantation but earlier than birth) the fetus becomes a person. I would however not permit the state to force any person to share their very body with another person, which is why abortion must be safe, legal, and rare. I broadly agree with the Irish legal regime as adopted.

While I was sympathetic to the pro-life movement in the past, its modus operandi in Ireland in recent years has convinced me that it is fully counterproductive and does not have the interests of the unborn human at heart. The gory images, for example, only ever made things worse. Moreover, except for Renua, no pro-lifers in Ireland have noticed the link between social deprivation (notably the recent homelessness crisis) and abortion. One could argue that a balance existed in pre-2014 Ireland with an abortion ban and a reliable safety net for single mothers; the safety net was unraveled and abortion had to come in next. I am not saying this is necessarily right – I am saying the pro-lifers seem not to notice the issue!

And even now all they do is seek out abortion providers for noisy small-crowd protests. If they were, instead, to disperse, standing one person at a place with leaflets offering exhortation and material help to pregnant people in a bid to change their minds about abortion, they would actually save more unborn lives but make less of a media impact!

I do believe the state needs to take some measures to reduce abortion, but none of them punitive:

  • Offer subsidized, if not free, contraception, including voluntary use of long-term implants/injections (they are already available in Ireland but should be free or nearly free)
  • Ideally add a one-off social welfare payment on delivery of a child, including a stillbirth.

In the long term, the only solution to the quagmire of rights involvd in abortion is development of “extracorporeal gestation”, the artificial womb into which an unborn human could be evacuated at an early stage of pregnancy. This is not unimaginable and some animal tests were successful. If the pro-life movement cared about unborn lives, they would have put money into THAT instead of propaganda and lobbying!

Such technology, when proven and established, would lower the gestational age of viability and thus automatically restrict traditional abortion under existing law, as evacuation of the fetus becomes offered instead. A win-win, pro-life AND pro-choice.

Education

I might differ from the Irish left-liberal mainstream on this one. Based on Soviet experience, I am deeply suspicious of single state-run education systems, and I see a lot of value in the Irish system because it is competitive.

However this value is only realized when it is actually competitive – for example, look at the excellent schools of Adare, where two systems exist in the same village. There is no competition when the Roman Catholic system holds effective monopolies over large swathes of territory where other schools don’t exists or are overbooked.

The state must ensure that at least two primary and two secondary schools cover every area: Roman Catholic and something else (whether Church of Ireland, Educate Together or VEC). Eligibility for school transport to the nearest non-RC school should no longer depend on religion, as even Catholics sometimes want a non-Catholic education for their children. (Similarly, in the rare case the nearest school is non-RC, eligibility for transport to the nearest RC school should not depend on religion).

A minimum curriculum including fact-based sex education should be maintained and enforced across all schools.

Church of Ireland secondary schools should be transitioned, in an organized way, into the free fees system, on the same basis as VEC secondary schools (where voluntary religious teacher labour is also not used).

I see no reason to object to establishment of Muslim schools where demand exists, subject to the same regulations, including sex ed curriculum, as other schools.

The student contribution to 3rd level fees should not be increased, and a decrease should be considered, especially for institutions that are not Universities.

Transportation

Having covered the “grand” issues that interest me, I come to the ones that actually matter in local politics, and of these, transportation is foremost.

Ireland’s public transport situation is critically bad compared to Western European standards and improvement must be rapid. No amount of electric cars can achieve an impact close to a decent public transport system.

All towns must be served with commuter-type buses to the nearest city. In county Limerick, significant improvement of bus service is needed in places like Kilfinane.

The M20 must still be built, as the absence of this road is quite painful and there is no workable fast rail link from Limerick to Cork anyway (the Limerick to Charleville line is gone for good as I understand). Once the M20 is built, adequate bus service must be ensured.

The bus routes in the city must be reviewed to ensure interconnection between city buses and the Bus Eireann buses that serve as county commuters. Right now, there can be quite a walk between these buses.

Serious consideration must be given to improving rail services for commuting, including reopening of the Kilmallock station, opening stations at Pallasgreen and Oola, and bringing the idea of Moyross Station back on the table. Reopening of the Limerick to Foynes railway should be considered not only for freight, but for tramway-type diesel railcar service. (I am aware that station buildings were sold off, but a tramway/railcar service does not require station buildings, the LUAS has none).

Equestrian issues

I am generally incompetent to judge the specific issues around the Travelling community; being a literal neighbour does not make me competent. However, there is one area that concerns that community primarily but not solely and is also of interest to me, and that is the treatment of and accommodation for horses.

I believe that all forms of equestrian activity and, indeed, many forms of equestrian transport are, when properly managed, beneficial for the economy, culture, and environment of Ireland.

I would legalize and regulate sulky racing to ensure both animal welfare and cultural expression. I would accommodate horses around social and other housing in a regulated way, ensuring that bylaws regarding microchipping and inspections can be fulfilled.  I would suggest introducing basic equestrian education in the school cycle, ideally in a Traveller-led approach, but with attendance certainly not limited to any group of children; I firmly believe that controlled interaction with horses is beneficial for most people.

I would moreover look at limited accommodation for actual equestrian transport, which is at present not illegal, and actually exists, but enjoys no facilities at all. Yes, I mean hitching posts. I have seen a trap (or cart, but not a sulky, it accommodated two people) stop at a petrol station in the city so the drivers could get some food; it was not pretty, and I do not think the drivers treated the horse right. Accommodate, legalize, regulate to maximize animal welfare – and to enable alternatives to cars.

A licensing scheme (with a test) to ride or drive equines on the public road unaccompanied could be considered, but should not impact accompanied riding, notably tourist “treks” that need to use stretches of public road to reach their destinations.

 

 

 

 

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