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Interview with Raymond O'Malley, Libertas candidate for the Ireland East Constituency

by Frank Schnittger Sat May 9th, 2009 at 08:07:41 AM EST


Cross-posted from the TH!NK ABOUT IT Euroblogging site.

I got my first canvassing phone call for the European Elections today and spoke to the canvasser, who introduced herself as a friend of Raymond O'Malley and spoke of his fine personal qualities and suitability for the Parliament.  She wasn't able to answer many of the policy questions I asked, so she promised that someone would get back to me.

Shortly afterwards I got a call from Pat Coogan of Libertas who undertook to answer my questions.  I mentioned I was blogging about the EP elections, and requested an interview with his candidate.  To my shock and surprise Raymond O'Malley gave me a ring shortly afterwards. Libertas appear to be well ahead of their rivals when it comes to organising and canvassing for the EP Election.

Raymond O'Malley is a 57 year old full time farmer and former Irish framer's Association official in Brussels - he was President of the Beef Advisory Group at the time of the BSE emergency.  What follows has been composed from my notes of what was very much an off-the-cuff telephone interview as I hadn't had time to prepare any questions or an interview plan.  So here goes...

I began by asking him what had attracted him to Libertas and why he had decided to run in the European Parliament Elections.  He said that he had been introduced to Declan Ganley through a mutual friend and had found him clear and coherent at a time when he found it very difficult to get clear and easy to understand answers on Europe from anyone else.

Raymond felt that Ireland had been bullied during the Lisbon Referendum campaign by politicians who hadn't even bothered to read the Treaty themselves and who were claiming that Ireland would lose its place at the heart of Europe with consequent negative impacts on our prosperity and employment levels.

He himself had attempted to read the Treaty but lost track after a few pages, it was so complex and convoluted to follow.  He argued that you wouldn't sign a contract you couldn't understand, so why vote for such a Treaty?  He was offended by politicians who had failed to explain the merits of the Treaty and who resorted to resorted to unsubstantiated propaganda instead.  He conceded that the NO campaign had also resorted to unsubstantiated claims about the Treaty but claimed that Libertas had sought to stick to the facts.

Having railed against the system of lobbyists in Brussels, I said I found it ironic that Libertas should now nominate a former lobbyist as their candidate.  Raymond argued that it was essential for farmers to be represented in Brussels because of the increasing level of bureaucratic red tape being drafted by Eurocrats "who wouldn't know one end of a cow from another".

As an example of their idiotic regulations he cited a requirement that cattle trucks could only be loaded half full - which greatly increased the risk of injury to the animals as a truck drove around a corner.  "Farmers were being demoralised by all the red tape, and as a consequence agricultural production was declining, increasing our dependence on imports".

From his own experience of Lobbying in Brussels he stated that he had never once lobbied an MEP.  "They were seen as totally irrelevant to what was going on, and that if you wanted to influence policy you had to talk to the Commission.  The European Parliament doesn't even have the power to initiate legislation, so why talk to them?"

I noted that the Lisbon Treaty increased the competency and powers of the Parliament in this regard, so why was he opposed to Lisbon?  "Lisbon doesn't go far enough.  There should be direct elections for Commissioners and for the President of the European Commission to increase transparency and accountability.  At the moment if you lobby Irish Civil Servants you know that their Minister is ultimately accountable to the electorate whereas the Commissioners weren't elected by anyone".

I noted that the Commission had to be approved by the EP and that the EP could also dismiss the Commission and recalled that it had refused to approve an Italian nominee to the Commission.   Raymond felt that the interest in the EP elections was so low throughout Europe because people didn't know what the EP did and didn't know what difference their vote would make.  There would be a lot more participation and buy-in by the public if Commissioners were directly elected.

I pointed out that the current indirect system was in line with European traditions of indirect democracy and that smaller and less populous members such as Ireland would be disadvantaged by a switch to direct democracy.  Candidates for the Presidency might not even visit Ireland as it represented less than 1% of the European Electorate.  He argued that he wouldn't ignore a part of his constituency just because it was small, so why would candidates for a directly elected Presidency?

I suggested that many states in the USA (and constituencies in the UK) are all but ignored during campaigns unless they were "Swing States" or "Marginal Constituencies" and that direct elections would focus all attention on only a few major populous states. Raymond felt that it was essential to reform the EU to make it more accountable and that Ireland, too, would benefit from a more dynamic EU with a greater level of public participation and buy-in.

I noted that Libertas was campaigning on the basis of cutting the EU budget €by 10 Billion which was bound to effect Ireland adversely, as Ireland is still a net beneficiary from EU funds, chiefly through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which was by far the largest Budget item within the EU and which greatly benefited his fellow farmers.

Raymond argued that many of the savings could be achieved by cutting out waste and inefficiency in areas such as travel, the bi-location of the EP (cost €500M), and PR which he claimed had a current budget of €2.4 billion. (I had to declare an interest that the Th!nkaboutit blogging campaign probably benefited from that fund - although I doubted that a few laptops and iPhones would make serious inroads into such a budget!).

Raymond also noted that the EU auditors had expressed serious reservations about the spending of the €4.9 Billion Cohesion fund and there needed to be much greater transparency and accountability in the way EU funds are spent.  Nevertheless, Libertas has not itemised precisely where those €10 Billion savings would be made.

Changing tack, I suggested that many of Libertas' new allies throughout Europe would be surprised by the strongly pro-EU, even Federalist, approach he was taking to the EU, given that many of the parties and individuals Libertas was aligning itself with came from extremely right wing or nationalist backgrounds with a history of Eurosceptism, not to say outright opposition to the EU.

Raymond said he had missed their recent Party Conference in Rome (which had been addressed by Lech Walesa) but that he was assured that that was not the case.  There were people of all stripes joining Libertas, and that you get people coming from the fringes in any political party.

I asked Raymond about suggestions that Declan Ganley's current business interests were virtually all in the USA and that he was closely associated with the defence industry there and with neo-conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation which might not wish to see a strong EU competing effectively with the USA.

Raymond said he had spoken to Declan about this, and that it was ridiculous to read such political implications into what were normal business relationships.  Most of the Rivada Networks contracts were with 17 separate US states to provide communications technology for disaster situations to their National guards.  It was natural, in that context, to have retired Generals and Admirals on its board.

Finally I asked Raymond what difference he could make in the European Parliament, given that he had previously criticised it for its ineffectiveness.  He said that Libertas was the first truly pan-European party to be set up as part of the EU and as such they had an exciting opportunity to reform the EU, to make it more accountable, and to increase the degree of identification and buy in that ordinary Europeans had with its institutions and policies.  He stood for a reformed, more efficient and effective EU, and would have no truck with anybody who sought to make the EU less open, transparent, or accountable

Unfortunately, at that point I had to cut the interview short as I had a prior engagement.  It would have been interesting to pursue some of the lines of enquiry above in more detail.  If there is much interest in this interview here, I will try and find an opportunity to do so.

My Analysis:

Current opinion polls put Libertas at 2% nationally, and thus with very little chance of being elected, although I would expect this figure to rise at the campaign progresses.   A candidate has to receive almost 25% of the vote in order to be elected in the 3 seat constituency single transferable vote proportional representation system used in Ireland.  Raymond acknowledges they have a lot of work to do, but that an internal poll puts them at much higher than that.

Undoubtedly the third and last seat in Ireland East is up for grabs  between the smaller Irish political parties and more prominent independent candidates.  Fianna Fail and Fianna Gael will almost certainly win the first two.  The third seat is probably a close call between fine Gael and Labour with transfers of lower preference votes from Sinn Fein, the Greens and smaller political parties like Libertas crucial to the outcome.

Raymond's farming and Brussels background will be a huge asset to him amongst the large farming and rural vote in the constituency, but it remains to be seen whether the Libertas brand in Ireland can overcome its association with Eurosceptic forces such as Vaclav Klaus in Europe - and with the sense that at a time of unprecedented economic turmoil, Ireland needs to be on good terms with its European Partners now more than ever.

Campaigning on the basis of increased accountability and democracy in the EU is always a good populist line to take, but it remains to be seen if Irish voters will buy into a reduced EU and CAP budget and a platform of more direct democracy when that would disadvantage smaller, less populous member states.

One thing can be said, however.  Libertas have a simple message to sell and is currently making a much better fist of selling it than all the other traditional parties combined.

As usual any recs or ratings on Th!nkaboutit very welcome.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat May 9th, 2009 at 08:12:11 AM EST
He comes across as a bit of a tool. I would much prefer a candidate who would look into matters for himself, rather than blindly taking personal assurances on everything. He doubts the sincerity of all the politicians who backed the Lisbon treaty, but accepts Ganley's word as gospel.

As for this:

As an example of their idiotic regulations he cited a requirement that cattle trucks could only be loaded half full - which greatly increased the risk of injury to the animals as a truck drove around a corner.

I'd like to see the exact legislation, but off-hand I suspect it is aimed at preventing overloading (the "half full" smells of colourful misrepresentation). The implicit assertion that "we have to cram them in to prevent them hurt themselves, the poor dears" is a joke. There is not a farmer or truck-driver who would not happily drive around with a half empty truck if that is all they needed to transport at the time.

by det on Sat May 9th, 2009 at 12:56:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Any farmers I know are very concerned for the welfare of their animals - their livelihood depends on it.  They are concerned that they are being driven out of business by costly regulations, and that Europe is replacing their output with imports from third countries where no such regulations apply.  

I don't know anyone else who is prepared to work 12 hours a day 6.5 days per week, 51 weeks of the year for subsistence pay, but many still do it because they love the job.  The problem is their children wouldn't touch it with a barge poll, because it's a lonely life and you don't get the girls/boys if you work those hours.

I think we will soon reach the point where Europe becomes increasingly dependent on imports from half way around the world for its food supply - something which is not necessarily energy efficient or conducive to traceability and quality assurance.

I'm not saying we should take such complaints (about red tape) at face value, but I don't see anything wrong with farmers making their case and having their point of view represented in the EP.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat May 9th, 2009 at 06:27:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All true about farmers, but a great deal of animal transport is down to merchants and, in general, the meat industry. The single market opened up a lot of long-distance transport, and the more animals in a truck the lower the cost per head. At this stage, the farmer is nowhere near.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun May 10th, 2009 at 04:54:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect that - as is usually the case - there is a distinction to be made between small and large businesses. While I don't wish to imply that small family business is universally good and large publicly traded businesses are uniformly bad, it is true that the rules that make sense in the context of small businesses are not the same as the rules that make sense in the context of large businesses.

In particular, "red tape" is a serious problem for small businesses, because of their limited manpower. Large businesses, OTOH, can afford to have dedicated bureaucrats to handle their interaction with the government (because the complexity of interacting with the government usually scales slower than linearly with the number of employees after the first).

So when a small business complains about red tape, I'm inclined to listen. When a large conglomerate complains about red tape, I'm inclined to tell them to STFU.

I also suspect that the social and political dynamics inside small businesses (where everyone knows everyone else, and everyone knows the actual, physical production) are radically different from the social and political dynamics of large businesses (in which you only know your colleagues in your production unit, and whatever liaisons you have with other units, and where the more political clout you have, the further you are - as a rule - removed from the physical production). All else being equal, I would expect large companies to have a greater share of misanthropic assholes in positions of political power than small companies, because in a large company the political movers and shakers can make a little bubble-world for themselves, and never face the real-world consequences of their decisions.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun May 10th, 2009 at 05:39:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All very true (from personal experience) and excellently put.  (In the large and rapidly expanding business where I used to work, getting your hands dirty and actually doing real work became a liability.  The movers and shakers were good at "relationship management" and Powerpoint presentations and look down on people who actually produced stuff.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun May 10th, 2009 at 01:39:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When you add to this the fact that th4e skills of being a good farmer - fixing tractors, welding stuff, feeding animals, physical lifting and carrying, animal husbandry, birthing calves, transporting silage etc. - are very diverse but often diametrically opposed to the skills of being a good bureaucrat you will understand that the hatred and complex forms - often without any rationality or utility at farm level - is sometimes of itself enough to drive farmers out of the business.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for farmers keeping good records and maintaining good controls where animal disease, feeding, fertilisation, infection control etc. is concerned - farming has become a very skilled business in many ways.  But there are only so many skills and time that any one person can have.  And most farmers work on their own.

What bothers me politically is that big businesses piggy back on this natural "small man" aversion to "government interference" in order to further their own agenda od deregulation which has an entirely different context and motivation.  The success of the US Right (in particular) in getting the self employed to support (for emotional/ideological reasons) policies which may have a marginal bearing on small businesses, but which are really aimed at giving big businesses a free ride - is one of the main reasons why the Right has been in power for so long.

Small businesses should be the natural allies of the Left - because they are continually being screwed by big businesses in terms of their input costs and output prices.  But the left - out of sheer ignorance in many cases - has generally managed to antagonise the self-employed and thus forfeited a large potential reservoir of support and buffer against corporatist rule.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun May 10th, 2009 at 01:52:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
Small businesses should be the natural allies of the Left - because they are continually being screwed by big businesses in terms of their input costs and output prices.  But the left - out of sheer ignorance in many cases - has generally managed to antagonise the self-employed and thus forfeited a large potential reservoir of support and buffer against corporatist rule.

Excellent comment. That's a very natural wedge issue which any progressive party could devastate the right with, with a suitable media campaign.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun May 10th, 2009 at 01:59:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If only the media wasn't allied with the more corporate elements.....

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun May 10th, 2009 at 02:08:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's were the WWW becomes the key resource, but unfortunately many self-employed don't have the time/resources/skills to access it in any meaningful and effective way.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun May 10th, 2009 at 02:20:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Then the question becomes how to give the small businesses something material in a way that does not become a handout to large businesses.

One thing I've been bouncing around in my head is to offer to provide bureaucratic liaison free of charge. Suppose that all companies - large or small - get, say, 1/5 of a full-time position bureaucrat gratis to do official paperwork, if they want one. Of course, they need to be able to get rid of him in a pain free fashion, if the relationship doesn't work out.

Now, for the one- or two-man operation, this is a very sweet deal. The businesspeople get to do what they do well, and they have someone they trust (important point: The liaison has to be on their team!) whose job it is to be on top of the rules and handle the paperwork.

For larger companies, the deal is less sweet. Not only would the liaison represent a much smaller portion of their total labour costs, he would probably be more inclined to blow the whistle if they are doing something seriously illegal.

I know that some Danish fishing boats have informal arrangements with "embedded" marine biologists (because the marine biologist in question happened to be the son/daughter of one of the crew members). And that seems to have worked out to mutual satisfaction. Which is noteworthy because marine biologists are not the most popular kind of people in industrial fishing operations - they're usually on the other side of the table when it comes to negotiating quotas...

But I've not bounced the idea off any actual small-business people, so I may be just blowing steam.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun May 10th, 2009 at 02:22:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most farmers pay an accountant to do their paperwork/tax administration, which is another overhead they can't necessarilly write of against tax or any other source of income.

I'm all for the development of pro-active web applications to help people to do their admin chores, but they have to be tailored to the specific requirements of a job.  Thus a web application which allowed farmers to register their herds, documents innoculations/antiobiotic treatments etc., complete their statutory statistical returns for hear populations, complete their financial accounts, calculate and pay their taxes etc. could lift a huge worry/admin burden/overhead cost - without rquiring the state to provide other expensive resources/overheads.

However this would require the state to look at a farmers job in its totality and actively seek to facilitate him to do his job better - by prompting for innoculations when due, by forwarding stats to central stats office, by warning of cashflow bottlenecks, by documenting/recording treansactions with suppliers/customers, and by assisting in record keeping of all kinds.

The problem is that each Govt. dept works in isolation and couldn't give a damn if their form asks the same questions already asked by another dept.  And most bureaucrats treat the public (or private sector as they call them) as the enemy instead of realising they are their tax base, their ultimate source of income, and that anything they can do to make compliance easier helps everyone in the long run.

The problem is often not the taxers themselves, it is their complexity, capriciousness, imprecision, and ultimate the extreme difficulty of complying with regulations no one told you about in the first place.  Don't get me going on this.  I had a situation where a grant was stopped for non-compliance where the dept. in question had a policy of not disclosing the regulations in question...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun May 10th, 2009 at 03:01:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I love the way you seized the moment. Pity you hadn't a tape recorder on hand. Very well done.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire
by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sun May 10th, 2009 at 09:25:03 AM EST

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