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Greek Referendum Coverage in Irish Times

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Letter sent to Irish Times on 5th July 2015 and, unsurprisingly, never published:

On Saturday last (5th July), you published four opinion pieces about the Greek referendum by Stephen Collins, John Bruton, Alan Ahearne and Diarmaid Ferriter. Only the latter appeared to obliquely offer some support for a No vote. So, that's 3 to 1 in favour of a Yes vote.

The same issue contained a news report from Athens by Damian Mac Con Uladh entitled "Media accused of extreme bias in favour of Yes vote".  It looks as thought this accusation also applies to the Irish Times.

Saving the Seanad

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So, we have learnt that the actual saving to be made by abolishing the Seanad might be only half the €20 million claimed by the government. In the light of this, the total vote in favour of abolishing the Seanad could also be halved given the huge importance attributed by government to their estimate of potential savings.

The realisable annual saving amounts to less than ten percent of the cost of running Leinster House and to an almost invisible 0.02% of total annual State expenditure. Holding a referendum to secure these minor savings is hardly significant in the current scheme of things, so I assume that there are other more pressing reasons which may not have been fully disclosed to the electorate.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 28th September 2013.

Inquire and Take Action

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Through greed, incompetence and negligence a few hundred people have set this country back decades in economic and social terms, and have sullied its international reputation. In the few cases where "sanctions" have been applied, they have amounted to big pensions and fat payoffs instead of sanctions and reparation.

Notwithstanding the magnitude and duration of the crisis, we still have no clear plans for a proper public banking inquiry. As in other countries, a comprehensive, lawyer-free and apolitical inquiry could expose systemic failures and serve as a pathfinder for possible prosecutions. To progress this, last years's referendum on Oireachtas inquiries should be rerun in lieu of the planned Seanad referendum.

Because white collar crime can be extremely difficult to prove due to its complexity, wriggle room and "memory lapses", civil actions, as an alternative to criminal prosecutions, could be initiated against the key individuals against whom adverse inquiry findings are made. This route could reduce the burden of proof, speed up collection and presentation of evidence and reduce the duration and complexity of legal actions.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 27th June 2013.

SOS - Save Our Seanad

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The Taoiseach woke up one morning and proclaimed that he would abolish the Seanad to the complete surprise of everyone, including his party colleagues. He and Eamon Gilmore have no mandate whatsoever to proceed with this as they will find out in the referendum.

The Dail is in far more urgent need of reform than the Seanad. So too is our entire system of local government. Abolition of the Seanad will not save a claimed €20 million a year as a cost of €10 million was indicated by Oireachtas officials last year. Even €20 million is a trivial amount if it helps prevent the erosion of democracy.

The Taoiseach has stated that 'Ireland had too many politicians for its size', so let him cut the number of costly and numerous TDs and speed up rationalisation of local government.

Instead of abolition, give the Seanad a real role in the political process as has been proposed by some Seanad members; introduce a list-based electoral system based on vocational, regional, emigrant and Northern Ireland constituencies to elect all members; and ban the use of the whip so that the senators can operate with complete independence.

Letter published in Irish Times on 7th June 2013.

Future of the Seanad

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The Taoiseach's decision to proceed with a referendum on abolishing the Seanad in four months time leaves little time for discussion on this hugely significant proposal either inside or outside Leinster House.

With the political holidays looming and many other more pressing economic and social matters to be addressed, it is hard to believe that his timetable can be adhered to. However, if he does proceed then the likelihood of rejection must be very high given that voters  have clearly demonstrated in past referendums that they want to be fully informed on all issues and options and don't like being taken for granted or fools.

Letter published in the Irish Times on Friday, 17th May 2013.

I wrote the following unpublished letter to the Irish Times on 27th May (two days before the referendum).

To assist decision-making in an uncertain situation, such as a referendum, there is a technique called mini-max which entails selecting the option that minimises the maximum post-event regret, i.e. to minimise the force with which you'll kick yourself for having made in retrospect the wrong decision.

If 'yes' voters win, I believe that many of them will kick themselves as they will realise they have locked themselves into a bad deal from which they cannot escape as further austerity bites and stability proves elusive.

They will regret their 'yes' votes and realise that 'no' would have kept options open, created space during a time of great uncertainty, and bolstered Ireland's negotiating position on bank debt write offs, growth and austerity strategies, and future funding.

But, by then it will be too late as whatever chance they might have had of a second referendum if 'no' wins, they'll regret having no such opportunity if 'yes' wins.

 See also:

Constitution and Fiscal Compact

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The constitutional amendment for the Lisbon Treaty made numerous references to our membership of the EU. It also referred to the EU's authority to pass laws alongside other competent bodies under the Lisbon and related treaties.

The proposed amendment for the Fiscal Compact makes no mention of EU or prior treaties and indicates that  unspecified "bodies competent" can pass laws or measures for Ireland. This begs questions as to whether the Fiscal Compact should be viewed as an EU or international  treaty and whether these bodies competent might be same ones that are driving the EU into a depression by insisting that austerity is the only way forward.

It is extraordinary that Ireland eventually agreed to the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum partly because we were promised a permanent Irish Commissioner. Yet today, the entire Commission seems to have been pushed aside by banking and political forces and we are being urged in the current referendum to deliver key aspects of our Constitution and lawmaking not to the EU but into the hands of an international treaty led by so called bodies competent where our influence is likely to be minimal by comparison with the Commission.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 10th May 2012.

See also:

I sent the following message about the ESM to all TDs on 4th May 2012:

In case you missed it, I had a letter about possible outcomes to the referendum published in the Irish Times on 2nd May [see a copy in entry immediately below].

I call on all TDs, irrespective of their party, to respect the wishes of the electorate in the event of a NO vote in the referendum by refusing to ratify the closely related ESM treaty.

To do otherwise would be a flagrant breech of democratic principles and an insult to voters.

If the referendum is rejected and Ireland has difficulty securing a second bailout, it will be forced to batten down all hatches to preserve cash and reduce outflows. Once in this type of of sovereign examinership, it would be legitimate to suspend all unnecessary payments to creditors including those related to the promissory notes and to defer bond repayments even if these actions might trigger a default. As this would have major adverse consequences for the euro, the EU/ECB/IMF would be forced to provide a second bailout, even if the ESM is closed off to Ireland, to prevent contagion, if for no other reason. This bailout will have to include a stimulation package as well as massive relief on debt linked to the bank bailouts as without these the EU/ECB/IMF might as well pour their support down the drain.

If, on the other hand, Ireland ratifies the ESM, it will have to make a contribution of €11 billion. As this money will have to be borrowed, the ESM will effectively return the €11 billion as part of a second bailout. This will push Ireland's debt/GNP ratio to well in excess of 150 per cent - a level which is absolutely unsustainable and unmanageable in the absence of massive debt write offs and stimulation measures.

Thanks for reading this. Hopefully it will generate the response being requested.

In the event of a Yes vote [in the forthcoming referendum on the Fiscal Compact], the Government would be entitled to proceed with ratification of the ESM treaty as this would reflect the democratic will of the majority of voters.

However, in the event of a No result, Ireland would be cut off from ESM funding because of a condition within the Fiscal Compact. Whilst Ireland doesn't have a veto on the Fiscal Compact, the Government could easily defer ratification of the critical ESM treaty over which Ireland would have a blocking vote if supported by other States who together contribute at least 8.5% of the ESM's capital. This would force the EU and ECB to offer meaningful proposals to ease Ireland's unfair and unsustainable bank debt burden which, to date, has been effectively ignored by them.

Arguably, this could lead to a second referendum on the Fiscal Compact which might also lead to ratification of the ESM treaty.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 2nd May 2012.

Follow either Greece or Iceland

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Greece has now signed up for a second bailout accompanied by massive haircuts for bondholders, Given that its projected Debt/GDP ratio might decline - with luck - from 160 percent to 129 percent by 2020, a third bailout or even deeper crisis seems inevitable.

Many commentators expect that Ireland, in the absence of a general economic upturn, will also require a second bailout given that our Debt/GNP ratio, which excludes multi-national profits, currently exceeds140 percent.

It is high time to start thinking outside the box and to do a deal with the Devil, i.e. get the more realistic and enlightened IMF to underwrite fully any possible second bailout, instead of relying on the restrictive European Stability Mechanism.

On the foot of this, new terms should be imposed on bondholders and promissory notes, thereby easing the task of sorting out the self-inflicted domestic deficit.

Based on Iceland's rapid recovery from its crisis, we could transform that derogatory phrase -  "The difference between Iceland and Ireland is one letter and six months" - into something much more positive. The alternative seems to be death by a thousand cuts, like Greece, with no certainty of recovery.

Letter published in the Sunday Business Post on 5th March 2012.

Referendum on European treaty

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For me, a decision to vote yes in the forthcoming referendum will hinge on the willingness of the EU and ECB to assume responsibility for the cost of bailing out Anglo. I appreciate that if Ireland votes No, we will be denied access to the restrictive European Stability Mechanism in the highly likely event that a second bailout  is needed.

To address this, the country should turn directly to the more realistic and enlightened IMF and, with its support, impose tough new conditions on the promissory notes and get on with the task of sorting out the self-inflicted domestic deficit.

Letter published in the Irish Times on Friday 3rd March 2012.

Bank Inquiry Snookered?

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May I congratulate the "establishment" on its scare-mongering, self-serving campaign to ensure that the banking crisis which brought the country to its knees is unlikely to ever be the subject of an in depth public inquiry by our elected representatives.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 2nd November 2011.

White Collar Crime and Inquiries

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Following on from John McManus's piece (12th September) would someone explain why civil actions cannot  be initiated against the key individuals that grossly mismanaged the economy, the banks and their borrowings over the past decade? This legal route would speed up the collection and presentation of evidence and reduce the duration and complexity of any possible trials.

It is worth noting that the Quinn family has gone to court claiming grounds for suing Anglo for alleged negligence, breach of duty and intentional and/or negligent infliction of economic damage and, separately, that the High Court has ruled that the chief executive and director of a leading bank (NIB) was grossly negligent and that his conduct had fallen below the required standard and constituted a fundamental failure of governance.

Surely, grounds for pursuing politicians, regulators, senior civil servants, bank directors and major property developers might include possible breach of trust, dereliction of duty, failure to manage, incompetence, negligence, fraudulent or reckless trading, dodgy tax activities, misrepresentation, failure to disclose, lying, falsifying documentation, breach of fiduciary duty, abdication of duty of care and so on.

Maybe, passing the referendum on Dail committees will (at last) facilitate the establishment of a proper investigation, with the assistance of whistleblowers, into what went wrong and who were primarily responsible and thus opening up the scope for civil actions.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 16th September 2011.

Nominating a President

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I am minded to spoil my vote in the presidential election by writing "David Norris" on the ballot paper as a protest against the domination of the nomination process by politicians. If enough voters do the same, the pressure will be on for a referendum to alter article 12.4.2 of the Constitution to allow the electorate to directly nominate candidates by collecting, say, fifty thousand signatures of support. The same referendum should also propose a five-year term.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 5th August 2011.

Saving Ireland

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David McWilliams in the Irish Independent on 8th January 2011 had an excellent piece on how he would save Ireland if he ever became Taoiseach. Here is a summary of his ten-step plan:

    1. Hold a referendum to confirm that the people wish to renounce the debts of Irish banks.
    2. Convert Ireland's bank debt problem into a euroland problem.
    3. Rescind the bank guarantee.
    4. Close Nama.
    5. Impose debt-for-equity swaps onto bank bondholders.
    6. Get the ECB to accept that it is unlikely to be ever repaid the €97 billion injected into the Irish banking system.
    7. In due course, convert the funds owing to the ECB into bank equity.
    8. Make domestic mortgages "non-recourse" and simplify the bankruptcy laws.
    9. Extend the vote to all Irish citizens no matter where they live.
    10. Draw on some of the $800 billion deposited in the IFSC to help rebuild a New Ireland. 

These proposals co-incide with views expressed here, for example, close Nama, reject the bailout, terminate the bank guarantee and use debt-equity swaps to recapitalise the banks.

IMF/ECB/EU Bailout

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If any new EU treaties are planned for the next decade, it is increasingly likely they will be blocked by Irish referenda and there will be no reruns to reverse decisions.

Our debt crisis cannot be solved by increasing debt, and a deep recession cannot be reversed by reducing economic activity.

And can we stop talking about a €85 billion rescue package as €17.5 billion is our own money and up to €35 billion could end up being used to "rescue" major continental banks and the ECB.

Letter published in the Sunday Business Post on 12th December 2010.

Changing the Irish Constitution

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As indicated in my posting Your Country Your Call, I submitted an idea entitled New Republic - New Constitution proposing that a Citizens' Assembly be established to help prepare a new Constitution to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising. You can vote for my entry here.

In this posting, I elaborate on the proposal by suggesting some possible changes to the 1937 Constitution, I cannot be too specific as I don't have all the answers and don't even know all the right questions!  Purposefully, I have steered clear of some potentially controversial issues like the status of Irish, religion and the family. Constitutional law can be very technical and it would be important to consult widely via the proposed Citizens' Assembly and to secure the help of experts and other interested parties.

You can view the Constitution or buy a copy in bookshops for under €3. Relevant material on the Internet includes the following:

Of course, the political parties have their own views on possible constitutional changes as do many representative and special interest groups.

Here are my thoughts to get the ball rolling:

Your Country Your Call

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I have submitted a proposal entitled New Republic - New Constitution to the Your Country Your Call competition which was launched by the President of Ireland. You can see my entry and, hopefully vote for it, at http://tinyurl.com/y7en6rh.

It proposes that the Citizens' Assembly mechanism be used to undertake a comprehensive review of the 1937 Constitution with a view to a new Constitution being put to a referendum ahead of the centenary of the 1916 Rising. A New Republic with a New Constitution would be a much more appropriate way to celebrate this than the predictable parades, flags and monuments.

I had been kicking the idea around for some time but was unable to see how it be progressed without being high-jacked by politicians for their own ends. Several references to Citizens' Assemblies in the inspiring Renewing the Republic series (published by the Irish Times during March/April) were the keys to the door!

Here is my full proposal:

Lisbon Referendum & Citizens' Initiative

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The Government should introduce a measure for Ireland similar to the Lisbon Treaty's Citizens' Initiative whereby at least a million EU citizens from several member States could request the EU Commission to bring forward proposals on a particular issue.

Based on the Lisbon model, about ten thousand Irish citizens from, say, six counties could oblige the Cabinet or Dail to consider an issue, or the Government to hold a referendum. Apparently, such a proposal was included in a draft of the 1922 Constitution of the Free State. Citizens' initiatives operate in Switzerland, New Zealand, Estonia and the US. A measure along these lines might help bridge the yawning gap between our politicians and the electorate.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 6th October 2009.

Citizens' Initiative

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Given that the main political parties all supported the Lisbon Treaty, would they consider adopting a measure for Ireland similar to the Treaty's Citizens' Initiative whereby at least a million EU citizens from a significant number of member States could request the EU Commission to bring forward proposals on a particular issue?

Based on the Lisbon model, we could be talking about a minimum of eight thousand citizens from, say, six counties being able to oblige the Cabinet or Dail to consider an issue or for the Government to hold a referendum. Apparently, such a proposal was included in a draft of the 1922 Constitution of the Free State. Citizens' initiatives operate in Switzerland, New Zealand, Estonia and about half the States in the US. A measure along these lines might help bridge the yawning gap exposed by Lisbon between our politicians and the electorate. What issues would readers propose as citizens' initiatives?

Trust the Government?

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On Friday's Morning Ireland Senator Mansergh compared the Taoiseach's appearance at Mahon to an aircraft in turbulence coming in to safely land. Others would view it as a catastrophic crash landing happening in (very) slow motion.

In the light of their sustained attacks on Mahon, it is clear that Fianna Fail and its ministers are making a major error of political judgement and, as always, have placed their party ahead of the country. It is also evident that the Greens and PDs have no courage or convictions and lack any moral standard.

In the light of this, how can the electorate trust the Government's judgement on other matters such as the Lisbon Treaty or their competence to manage our slowing economy?

Letter published in the Irish Times on 23rd Febraury 2008.

Nice Referendum & e-Voting

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The forthcoming referendum should be rejected, irrespective of any possible merits, by the electorate for two principled reasons.

Firstly, as a protest against the use of an e-voting system that fails to contain paper-based voter verification, published source code and fully tested systems.

Secondly, to object to proposals for constitutional change being pushed past the Dail and electorate over a holiday period with minimal time for reflection and debate. Instead of Green Papers on both matters we have been offered whitewash and flannel.

Letter published in the Sunday Tribune and Sunday Business Post on 25th April 2004.

Nice Referendum

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I object to being threatened and blackmailed to vote "yes" in the forthcoming Nice referendum. I cannot believe that contingency plans or alternatives have not been prepared by the Commission to cover possible Irish rejection. If these plans don't exist then it is high time that they are prepared. One way or another, they should be presented to us as the alternative to "yes". Let's be clear, a "no" result will not lead to the suspension of progress towards enlargement.

I also object to having to vote twice on Nice while citizens in other EU States are not voting even once on this critical issue. In the interests of honesty, transparency, democracy and equality, why doesn't the Commission conduct and publish the results of quasi-referenda for each of the other EU States? This would help place the Irish result in context.

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