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Brexit Open Thread - the count continues...

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jun 24th, 2016 at 01:37:21 AM EST

Please use this open thread to discuss the referendum results. The Guardian live results are here.

At the time of writing, 3.30am CET, the leave camp appears to be building up a slight overall lead, with large leads in areas of England outside London, and with central London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voting decisively to remain.

Sterling has just had its largest fall since the 2008 financial crisis, and the bookies have switched their odds from predicting a remain victory to backing a leave victory. The turnout appears to have been quite high, about 70%, and that is with over a million new voters registering to vote since the general election.

Will this result in new referenda in Scotland and Northern Ireland? Is Cameron toast? Let the games begin...

Comments >> (72 comments)

Brexit Open Thread - the count continues...

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jun 24th, 2016 at 01:35:05 AM EST

Please use this open thread to discuss the referendum results.

At the time of writing, 3.30am CET, the leave camp appears to be building up a slight overall lead, with large leads in areas of England outside London, and with central London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voting decisively to remain.  Sterling has just had its largest fall since the 2008 financial crisis, and the bookies have switched their odds from predicting a remain victory to backing a leave victory.

Let the games begin...

The UK and the EU democratic deficit

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jun 23rd, 2016 at 12:43:24 PM EST

The Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum have employed two main arguments in their campaign: The fear of uncontrolled immigration into the UK and the need to take back control from "faceless bureaucrats in Brussels". Little matter that 60% of foreign born residents of the UK are not from the EU and that the total foreign born population comes in at 13% of the total -- the same as US and Germany -- and lower than both Norway and Switzerland, which are not in the EU.

But it is to the second meme that I want to turn my attention, one conceded by many on both left and right of the Remain side: the alleged domination by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels.  Let us leave aside, for the moment, the oddity that the charges of a lack of democratic accountability are coming from the only major EU member with an entirely unelected upper chamber of parliament.

Is it true that nations joining the EU have to shed a lot of democracy in the process? A lot is made, for instance, of the three occasions on which a referendum on essentially the same Treaty was run twice "until the electorate gave the right answer"... as if this somehow undermined the democratic legitimacy of the EU. However the UK also voted, in a Referendum in 1975, on the question of EU membership.  So why is the current referendum any more legitimate?  

In fact the EU membership is the only question on which voters have been given a direct say by way of  a UK wide referendum:  all other questions having been decided by way of the "Sovereign" Westminster Parliament including the unelected House of Lords. It seems to me that membership of the EU has more democratic accountability than any other decisions made by the UK.

Read more... (45 comments, 1791 words in story)

The Killing of Jo Cox

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jun 17th, 2016 at 07:04:40 AM EST

Nigel Farage gesticulates in front of an anti-immigration poster entitled Breaking Point. Well, Thomas Mair broke all right. The question is, was he incited?

Jo Cox: an attack on humanity, idealism and democracy

The slide from civilisation to barbarism is shorter than we might like to imagine. Every violent crime taints the ideal of an orderly society, but when that crime is committed against the people who are peacefully selected to write the rules, then the affront is that much more profound.

The killing, by stabbing and repeated shooting in the street, of Jo Cox is, in the first instance, an exceptionally heinous villainy. She was the mother of two very young children, who will now have to grow up without her. It is also, however, in a very real sense, an attack on democracy.

Read more... (34 comments, 813 words in story)

The consequences of Brexit

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jun 13th, 2016 at 09:30:42 PM EST

The Pollster average of polls has just put the Brexit side ahead for the first time, which given the trend those polls have been taking, means we now have to talk about the probability of the Brexit process starting in 10 days time. In To Brexit or not to Brexit: That is the question I examined the ramification of Brexit for the UK, and in A Tale of Two States I looked at the implications for Northern Ireland in particular.  In this piece I will embark on a speculative journey envisaging how a post Brexit Europe might evolve.

First of all, I am working off the assumption that the result will be tight, with Scotland and N. Ireland voting to remain in the EU but being swamped by the Brexit vote in England.  There is therefore a strong probability that Scottish nationalists will seek a new referendum on Scottish independence in order to remain within the EU, and Sinn Fein will call for a new referendum on a united Ireland to enable N. Ireland to remain within the EU.

Whether either referendum will be carried is open to conjecture, and much will depend on the timing and circumstances of the vote, but there is no doubt that the UK itself will be destabilized as a result. (The position of Wales is more ambiguous with many blaming the EU for the failure to support the Tata steel works in Port Talbot, as if any Tory led Government outside the EU would have done any different...)

Read more... (62 comments, 1952 words in story)

A Tale of Two States

by Frank Schnittger Thu May 26th, 2016 at 07:02:20 AM EST

The relative performance of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland economies since independence provides a stark case study in how political decisions can have a dramatic impact on the relative economic performance and social progress of two neighbouring states. The Republic of Ireland has prospered, whilst Northern Ireland was stagnating before and during the "Troubles", and has not recovered since.

Now Brexit threatens to put that sharp divergence into even starker contrast, re-igniting the political tensions that led to the Troubles, and putting a United Ireland back on the agenda. It may even be good news for almost all in the longer term, but at what cost in the short and medium turn? Follow me below the fold for an exploration of the chain of events that Brexit might unleash on the island of Ireland.

Read more... (20 comments, 1874 words in story)

Can Trump really win the White House?

by Frank Schnittger Wed May 11th, 2016 at 05:20:43 AM EST

People who know I am interested in politics often ask me things like "Can Trump really win the Presidency?" while at the same time shaking their heads in disbelief that such a thing might be possible. To those accustomed to European sensibilities, he seems more like a cross between Berlusconi and Le Pen, with none of the "charisma" or political experience of either. Are things really that bad in the USA that wanton ignorance, rampant misogyny, crass narcissism, racist demagoguery and an authoritarian complex are what turns people on?

Trump keeps breaking through the ceilings that the political commentariat seek to place over his head. His appeal was said to be limited to 30% of the most committed Republican Primary voters. Then that became 40%, then 50%+. It was said that the Republican establishment would never allow his nomination at their convention in Cleveland. Except that now they have effectively thrown in the towel and conceded he will be their nominee. Most have made their peace with him and now seek influence within his inner circle. House Speaker Ryan and the Bush family are some of the few remaining hold-outs.

Read more... (269 comments, 1438 words in story)

The Confidence Fairy Strikes Again

by Frank Schnittger Mon May 9th, 2016 at 06:09:48 AM EST

David Folkerts-Landau, Chief Economist at the Deutsche Bank, has a screed in the Financial Times which is wrong on just about every level that can be imagined. Arguing that the ECB's policy of negative interest rates is undermining public and business confidence, Folkerts-Landau asks:

What should be done? The priority is breaking the negative spiral of lower confidence engendered by ever-looser money. The ECB needs to begin reversing its policy of negative interest rates. Moving back into the black would raise confidence across the eurozone.

Apparently lower interest rates cause people to save more and invest less. Recovery will only come when governments implement "reforms" which involve reducing investment and spending  (and employment) still further. The ECB is causing further stagnation and deflation in the Eurozone by reducing interest rates and buying Sovereign and Corporate debt, not responding to it with the main tools at its disposal.  The problem is that there are rising debt levels - not the excess savings identified by Draghi as a cause of the crisis.

Has it not occurred to Folkerts-Landau that excessive savings and debt might in fact be two sides of the same coin?

Read more... (12 comments, 379 words in story)

Northern Ireland Assembly Elections

by Frank Schnittger Sat May 7th, 2016 at 08:38:08 AM EST

On the surface the Northern Ireland assembly elections have resulted in a return of the status quo with the larger parties winning broadly the same number of seats. However there has been a generational change in many of the personnel involved, and in some ways the election marks a further milestone on the road towards the normalisation of Northern Ireland politics post the Good Friday Agreement.

Read more... (6 comments, 375 words in story)

New Irish Government formed

by Frank Schnittger Fri May 6th, 2016 at 02:41:36 PM EST

After 70 days of Political paralysis in Ireland, Enda Kenny has become the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to be re-elected to that role, and also the first leader of a country that underwent a Troika bail-out programme to be re-elected to government.  However his election today, by 59 votes to 49 with 50 abstentions, underlines the weakness of his political position.  His government will be made up of 50 Fine Gael TDs (Members of Parliament) and a rag bag of independents who can rarely agree on anything and it is anyone's guess how long his new Government can survive.

Read more... (1 comment, 407 words in story)

Edging closer to a new Government in Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Wed May 4th, 2016 at 01:30:38 PM EST

The two major parties in Ireland, Fine Gael (25% support at last election) and Fianna Fail (24%) have finally, after over two months, come to an agreement which will allow Fine Gael to form a minority government with the support of a handful of independent or small party members of parliament. The agreement stipulates that Fianna Fail will abstain on major confidence and financial votes in the Dail (Irish Parliament) for roughly the next three years but retains the right to vote down or introduce legislation on other matters. Such an arrangement became unavoidable when Sinn Fein, Labour and the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People before profit parties all refused to coalesce with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

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Restorative Justice in Ireland - an effective way of dealing with crime

by Frank Schnittger Wed May 4th, 2016 at 06:59:26 AM EST

NB This post does not seek to represent the official views of RJS Limited.

One of my few remaining active responsibilities post retirement is to act as a voluntary director and community representative on the Board of Restorative Justice Services Ltd., a charity funded by the Probation Service of Department of Justice.  As such, I am somewhat constrained in what I can say on the subject, and in particular, must avoid using confidential or privileged information. However one of our roles is to act as an advocacy group for restorative justice in Ireland, and it is in that spirit that I offer the following summary (based largely on internal documents) of what is being done in the area of restorative justice in Ireland, and particularly in the greater Dublin area.

Restorative justice is defined in National Commission on Restorative Justice Final Report (2009) (PDF) "as a victim-sensitive response to criminal offending, which, through engagement with those affected by a crime, aims to make amends for the harm that has been caused to victims and communities and which facilitates offender rehabilitation and integration into society".

We see restorative justice as complementary to the punitive or retributive criminal justice system and we manage the process entirely under the supervision of the Courts service and the Department of justice. There is in Ireland, at present, no statutory basis for our service and as such participation is entirely at the discretion of the relevant Judge, the offender and the victim. The service generally intervenes pre-sentencing and is focused on offender rehabilitation and harm reduction with a view to reducing re-offending and the impact of crime on victims and the wider community.

Diary rescue - Frank Schnittger

Read more... (6 comments, 1717 words in story)

LTE: The witterings of old farts

by Frank Schnittger Sat Apr 30th, 2016 at 12:46:07 PM EST

Dear Sir,
Your correspondent, Donald Clarke, (My 10 cents on newspaper comments sections, Fri. 22nd. April) takes advantage of a suspension of readers comments on Irishtimes.com to have a whinge at, yes, you guessed it, reader comments on newspapers.

He has discovered, apparently to his shock and horror, that many reader comments are rude, abusive, or ill-informed.  He wants to read the views of expert  columnists, under the supervision of wise editors, and not the drivellings of the great unwashed.

Fair enough, but no one is forcing him to scroll down the page to the comments section.

Strangely enough, my experience has been almost the exact opposite. Formal newspaper columnists tend to dish out the same ideas, again and again, in a number of different guises on different topics.

You can generally predict what the writer is going to say on any given topic if you are familiar with his or her previous work. Sometimes their articles amount to little more than the witterings of old farts...

Readers comments, on the other hand, are often a joy to behold: witty, informed, controversial, outspoken - without the "both siderism" , equivocation, and faux objectivity  so often characteristic of their supposed betters on staff.

Of course there are also those comments which cross the line into unacceptable personal abuse, but most commenting systems have functionality to report those comments and exclude them from the discourse.

Some commenting systems even become largely self-regulating by enabling fellow readers to downrate and exclude a comment where a number of readers have found it to be offensive.

Other commenting systems allow readers to promote other readers' comments they have found to particularly incisive or informative to a more prominent position at the top of the comments section.

The Guardian recently did a study which found that of their ten most abused authors, 8 were women,  6 were non-white, three were gay and two were of a non Christian religion.  (Note to arithmetic nitpickers:  an author can belong to several categories!)

Of course this is unacceptable. In total, 2% of their 140 million comments to date were deemed to violate their community standards and were eliminated from the discourse.

Adding commenting and blogging functionality to irishtimes.com has, in my view, been one of the great enhancements of your digital offering. I often find the comments more enlightening than the lead article.  Frequently they correct errors that the lead author has made, hopefully, before the article has made it to print.

The Irishtimes.com thus gets free content, free fact checking, free marketing feedback on what its readers like, read, and think, and more readers as a wider community engages with the Irish Times and with each other.

What's not to "like"?

Comments >> (4 comments)

Ireland to get a Government at last?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 27th, 2016 at 08:54:50 AM EST

In Political Paralysis in Ireland? I wrote about the inconclusive outcome to the Irish general election of February 2016 and predicted that we were in for a prolonged period of Kabuki theatre where the major parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, would be dancing around each other without holding hands and with everyone else trying to force the unwilling couple to mate.

It is now over two months since that election, and I have revisited that diary on occasion to see if an update was required and concluded that no, nothing much new was really happening. Fianna Fail have been anxious to avoid the fate of minority partners in previous Irish coalition Governments which traditionally get hammered at the next election. So a straightforward coalition which would have provided a large working majority was out of the question.

Read more... (13 comments, 1670 words in story)

To Brexit or not to Brexit: That is the question

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 27th, 2016 at 08:50:23 AM EST

Given that it is the great Bard's 400th. Anniversary, a Shakespearean soliloquy seems apposite. What are the arguments for and against a British exit from the EU, and what are the views of European Tribune contributors on the subject?

President Obama has just swung by on his way back from being snubbed in Saudi Arabia, before giving Merkel some much needed succour on the refugee problem. His emphatic endorsement of Britain staying within the EU inspired Brexit lead campaigner Boris Johnson to the heights of Trumpian abuse.

Basically Obama said Britain should stay in the EU to maximise its global influence, and suggested that the UK would have to go to the back of the queue if it wanted bi-lateral trade deals post Brexit. And in case anyone should think that Obama is on the way out and therefor cannot speak for the USA on this issue, it should be noted that Eight former Republican and Democratic Treasury Secretaries have just written a letter endorsing his point of view.

This struck at the heart of the Brexit case - which has always maintained that Britain could have all the benefits of EU market access, without the costs of EU membership.  Britain, the argument goes, is so important in its own right, that other countries including the rump EU Block would be falling over themselves to cut bilateral trade deals with a newly independent UK.

Read more... (29 comments, 1472 words in story)

Frank's Story Index

by Frank Schnittger Tue Apr 26th, 2016 at 01:33:43 PM EST

The 360 articles I have posted on the European Tribune since Wed Nov 28th. 2007 are grouped somewhat arbitrarily under the 13 headings below with the latest listed first.

1. Human Rights (30)
2. Energy, Climate Change, Transport and the Environment (14)
3. Irish Economy (31)
4. Irish Politics (57)
5. Irish European Referenda and Elections (43)
6. Brexit and the UK(19)
7. The EU and the Eurozone (42)
8. US Politics (59)
9. Global economics, politics, foreign policy and war. (15)
10. Sport (11)
11. Personal Topics (20)
12. The European Tribune, Blogging and the Internet (13)
13. Just having a laugh (5)

Stories are listed only once even though many could have been listed under several headings. For direct access to a story please click on the titles in blue below.

Read more... (14 comments, 5038 words in story)

Political Paralysis in Ireland?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Mar 10th, 2016 at 07:36:13 PM EST

The recent Irish general election resulted in an outcome that is unlikely to lead to the formation of a stable government. Ireland thus joins a number of countries such as Spain and Slovakia which have had inconclusive elections in response to the austerity policies of recent times. Governments have not been re-elected, but neither have coherent alternative governments been formed. Fine Gael, the main Government party, got 25% of the first preference vote (-11% compared to 2011), and won just 50 seats (-26 since 2011). They are still the largest party but fell far short of the 79 seats required for an overall majority. Their erstwhile coalition partners, Labour, were close to being annihilated gaining just 7% of the vote (- 13%) and 7 seats (- 30).

Fianna Fail, the previous ruling party unceremoniously booted out of power at the 2011 general election for presiding over the bank bail-out and economic collapse made something of a comback, gaining 24% of the first preference vote (+7%) and 44 seats (+20). However they have ruled out forming a grand coalition with Fine Gael, the only combination of parties capable of forming a stable government with an overall majority in parliament. Part of the problem is that minority partners in Irish Governments have tended to be severely punished by the electorate at the next election - witness the permanent demise of the the Progressive Democrats in 2009, the temporary demise of the Greens at the last election, and Labour's latest implosion this time around.

The other big winners in the election were Sinn Fein with 14% of the vote (+4%) and 23 seats (+9) and a wide variety of smaller parties - People before Profit/Anti-Austerity Alliance (6 seats, +4), Social Democrats (3, +0), Greens (2, +2) and independents from both the left and right of the political spectrum (23, +9). Most are protest or local candidates with no interest in helping to form a national Government.  Collectively most share the traditional wet dream of the left - forcing the two (1922) civil war parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail into a grand coalition in order to expose the lack of ideological distinction between them in anticipation of seeing them decimated at the next general election. The expectation is that this would lead to a more "European" left right divide in Irish politics and the prospect of the left attaining majority power at some stage in the not too distant future.

Read more... (15 comments, 1837 words in story)

Political Prognostications for 2016.

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jan 20th, 2016 at 08:00:53 PM EST

I've long held the somewhat controversial view that political analysis is only as good as its ability to make verifiable or falsifiable predictions about the future course of events and thus have tended to be impatient with those sorts of "on the one hand, and on the other" analyses which can allow the analyst to claim vindication regardless of the outcome.  If nothing else, clear predictions can allow a better understanding of underlying assumptions and a gauging of ones own ignorance.

So here goes, my predictions for 2016, which I am happy to see disputed, and ultimately proved wrong if only to improve my understanding of underlying trends.

  1. Fine Gael will score a resounding victory in the Irish general election compared to current polls which will nevertheless see them some way short of an overall majority and thus requiring Labour or perhaps some independent/small party support to form the next Government. Labour will do badly, Sinn Fein will fail to make a decisive breakthrough, and Fianna Fail will tread water.

  2. David Cameron will succeed in avoiding Brexit despite the increasing unpopularity of the EU and a failure, on his part, to secure dramatic concessions from the EU as part of his renegotiation strategy.  However the result will be close and test his marketing skills to the limit.  Paradoxically, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn will come out of the campaign with his reputation and standing in the polls  enhanced.

  3. A combination of low oil prices, low interest rates, and low Euro valuations will allow the EU economy to slowly recover despite quite a few external shocks in the shape of the refugee crisis, terrorist atrocities, and a slowdown in China and emerging markets.  Even peripheral countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal will recover somewhat off a low base, and Ireland will experience another year of near Celtic Tiger like growth.

  4. Donald Trump will win a resounding victory in the Republican Primary elections and probably nominate someone like Ohio Governor John Kasich as his VP pick in order to re-unify the party ahead of the General Election. Somewhat ironically, given the much lower media profile of the Democratic primary elections, Hillary Clinton will struggle to shake off the Vermont Socialist, Bernie Sanders, in the Democratic primary and struggle, initially, to ignite her campaign against Trump. She will end up winning the Presidency resoundingly, however, with an increasingly popular President Obama's support, and probably lead the Democrats to victory in the Senate (and currently implausibly) in the Congressional elections as well.

  5. Climate change will continue to wreck havoc with extreme weather events causing ever greater economic and social dislocation. Oil and commodity dependent economies in the middle east, Africa and Russia will struggle and political instability will increase world wide with some regional conflicts re-igniting as elites seek to distract their polities from economic hardships. Netanyahu might do something seriously stupid to try and preempt Iran' rise as a regional power and Syria will continue to be an unresolved humanitarian disaster.

Discuss.  Perhaps you can add your own predictions.

Comments >> (102 comments)

Irish General Election 2016

by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 30th, 2015 at 08:56:48 AM EST

The Irish General Election is expected to be called shortly for the end of February with the Government Parties of Fine Gael (Christian Democrat) and Labour (Socialist) fighting for re-election against Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and a plethora of Independents and smaller parties who currently make up c. 20% of the seats in the Dail.

The election takes place against a backdrop of significant economic revival with growth for 2015 expected to come in at around 7% of GDP (by far the highest in Europe), unemployment declining from 15.2 to 8.8% since January 2012, the public sector deficit declining from 12% of GDP to a cash balance in 2015, and the Debt/GDP ratio declining from a peak of over 120% to less than 100%.

Ordinarily, such a rapid turnaround in Ireland's economic fortunes could be expected to result in a Government being returned to office, but there are also significant residues of resentment against the Government due to their policies of cutting public expenditure and introducing new taxes such as water charges, property taxes and universal social charges.

In addition, the recovery is still very Dublin centric with many of the more rural parts of the country feeling little benefit.  Many families have suffered from unemployment, emigration, depressed wages, higher taxes, homelessness, negative equity and the threat of mortgage foreclosure. Many have also been effected by cuts in social and health services for the sick and disabled.

Read more... (11 comments, 684 words in story)

Ireland 24 France 9

by Frank Schnittger Sun Oct 11th, 2015 at 02:11:18 PM EST

OK, I don't want to crow too much but Ireland were unfortunate to win by only 15 points and lose three of their best players to injury - Sexton, O'Connell and O'Mahoney - three of the main leaders of the team.  The match confirmed my  prior prognostications that Ireland are now a better team than that which won the last two 6 Nations titles.  Not only that, but all 8 substitutes played their part and added something positive to the team performance - something that would never have been the case in the past.

For France it is a demoralising defeat, the third time in a row that they have now lost to Ireland - and they have not beaten Ireland in their last five meetings.  Ireland had 70% possession and France never looked even close to winning the match never once threatening the Irish try line. Having said all of that, France are still a very good side, and could well embarrass the All Blacks in the quarter-final.

The Quarter final match-ups have now been decided:

South Africa vs. Wales
New Zealand vs. France
Ireland vs. Argentina
Australia versus Scotland

In other words, very much as I predicted with Wales replacing the home nation England. So much for my detractors Eurogreen, Melanchthon et al! That is part of the weakness of Rugby as a world sport: the international pecking order is fairly clearly established and is rarely upset.  For all their natural and numerical advantages, France still have some way to go to being a top power in World Rugby.

Having said all that, if O'Connell and Sexton are ruled out of the World Cup, the road ahead will become increasingly difficult for Ireland.  Argentina will offer a stern challenge in the quarter final and my prediction that Ireland will proceed to the semi-final is far from a done deal.  Nevertheless it has beeen a good week for Irish sport - beating world champions Germany in the European Cup qualifying was another highlight.  If things get much better than this, I can see Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, calling a snap general election in November rather than the expected date in early spring...

Comments >> (15 comments)
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News and Views

 24 - 30 October 2016

by Bjinse - Oct 24, 13 comments

Your take on today's news media

 17 - 23 October 2016

by Bjinse - Oct 18, 31 comments

Your take on today's news media

 Open Thread 24 - 31 October

by Bjinse - Oct 24, 12 comments

A thread expands in size the more you love

 Open Thread 17-23 October

by Bjinse - Oct 18, 5 comments

Keep your friends close, but your threads closer

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