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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Take me! Take me! To the Riot!


Election fever is in full swing, and I've decided to start with a brief primer on the Irish Political system before I get to the Riot.

Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote System for their elections; and in Ireland there are 166 seats for 43 constituencies (with each constituency having between 3-5 seats).

Parliament is know as the Dáil (dall) and TD's are elected to the Dáil. The President then nominates a Taoiseach (t-shik) to run the Dáil (like a Prime Minister). Fun and confusing for outsiders! Basically the Taoiseach is the head of the winning party... which is why the Taoiseach is a Prime Minister; whereas, the President is the elected head of State. The also have a Senate equivalent called the Seanad.

Now to the Parties

Finna Fail (feena fall): A conservative party that has been in power throughout the recent boom and bust of Ireland. Not likely to succeed so well this time 'round.

Fine Gael (feena gw-ale): very confusing for me when I first arrived to keep the two Finna's straight. Also conservative and generally in the opposition.

Labour: I'm sure you can guess what the Labour Party is about. Set to do rather well in the elections... except they have a few platforms that don't mix well with the Catholics (...One Ireland... includes homosexuals)

The Greens: Exactly as you imagine... and thanks to the Single Transferable Vote system they actually a coalition with Finna Fail in recent years. Unfortunately... they were rather useless at using their influence to push their agenda, and thus, they probably wont do so well this time around.

Sinn Féin: (Shin Fain) The political partners of the IRA. Of note, some of the Sinn Féin MP's elected to the British Parliament (from Northern Ireland) are running for seats in the Republic of Ireland. And they can do this because Sinn Féin representatives refuse to sit in Westminster in protest over swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

Now on to the Riot! (and it's linkage to the Irish Political System).

The Riot isn't for real yet... however, it is humming in the background... as the Irish banks are reassessing their losses... again... and potentially... most likely... will require upwards of an additional €75 billion of bailout money. Now, it is nowhere in the interest of the Irish population to bailout the banks. It is in the interest of the German, British, Japanese, etc. for the Irish to bail out the banks. Which causes one to wonder why the EU (as a whole) is giving Ireland such a raw deal on the bailout conditions (even the IMF gave Ireland a lower interest rate on bailout loans).

The sticking point; however, is regarding whether the bondholders should suffer some of the banks losses. The IMF (and all economists interviewed on Irish radio stations) feel that the bondholders must be held accountable too. (Bad luck that the investment failed... but it DID fail... and the Irish population shouldn't be required to mortgage their future for the bondholders.) However, according to the EU, holding the bondholders accountable should not even be in consideration... well maybe in a few years... if you're still bailing out your banks in 2013. (Perhaps because most of the bonds are held by the Germans and the British?)

Anyways, the elections have postponed the riot for now... but I think it's only temporary... as nearly everyone is angry... I'm not sure what particular event will precipitate the Riot, but the feeling is palpable, and much is riding on the outcome of the elections.

Now, (according to my entirely unqualified view point) there are two factors in the electoral system that may have precipitated in the current financial/cultural crisis.

1. National politics is very much focused on local issues. This is likely because there are 166 seats for a voting population of just over 3 million (only Irish residents are allowed to vote, and those residents must have Irish citizenship, or, interestingly enough, British citizenship.) For example, everyone knows John McGinley (Labour)... he's friends with everyone, and is the go-to person if you want something done in Maynooth. This emphasis on LOCAL politics means that parties and their TDs aren't as worried about what is best for the whole of Ireland... as much as working towards what is best for their local constituents. Helping to develop a public swimming pool, and Scouts Hall in Maynooth is great; but working on the Irish economy is a bit more vital at the moment.

2. The Single Transferable Vote system results in a very diverse Dáil. This is generally a good thing, as it means that "all viewpoints are represented" and this would naturally leads to a more Centrist political system. However, in order to deal with the current financial/cultural crisis, Ireland needs a Dáil with a single and powerful mandate (a slightly crazy Taoiseach wouldn't hurt either), which is generally not achieved through a consensus of parties, but rather from a majority of seats being held by one party. (The Dáil needs to either totally anger the voters by taking more draconian cuts to the social services; or anger the EU by refusing to bailout the banks without bondholders sharing part of the burden. The currently centrist response is only delaying the inevitable... besides it seem like most everyone really wants to Burn the Bondholders)

And with that, I leave you with another photo from on trip to London. (Claire's visiting us next weekend, so I'd better finish off our London photos!)

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