News Picks: Ireland prepares for a very important election

Ireland

Over the last few weeks, a general election campaign has taken centre stage in Ireland where I have been working for news website TheJournal.ie (hence the lack of regular updates).

It is often said of elections in countries that they are the most important in many years or even in the history of the country. In Ireland’s case this may actually be true.

The state itself has been in existence for less than a hundred years yet at the end of last year it reached a pivotal moment in its short existence when it was forced to accept an EU/IMF bailout after a disasterous financial splurge in previous years that effectively bankrupted the country.

The government that oversaw much of the economic success that eventually turned into an economic disaster, Fianna Fail, now face an electoral wipeout like no other in the party’s history.

There’s been the usual campaign promises and high rhetoric that will count for little once whoever is elected gets into government.

Here’s a selection of stories that have emerged over the past few weeks:

Public want Kenny as Taoiseach in a single party government – The opposition Fine Gael party could be on the verge of being elected as a single party government.

They have portrayed themselves as a very competent alternative that has a plan to sort the country out. There is a lot of rhetoric that many would be sceptical of in these times but Ireland is desperate for an inspirational figure in the mould of Barack Obama, perhaps.

Ireland has Enda Kenny, he is no Obama, he is no David Cameron. He is dour, at times anonymous and sometimes gaffe prone but he gives the air of a statesman in many ways and having accepted that it’s unlikely any other person will be the next Taoiseach (Prime Minister), the public seem prepared to accept him.

Independents could play a big part as FG make approaches – Kenny and Fine Gael will most likely need the backing of independent candidates to form a government and they recognise this.

Earlier this week I summarised those running and likely to be elected with over a dozen independents set to be elected to the 166 seat parliament, underlining the anger many people feel towards the political mainstream.

There are some bizarre candidates in amongst some very intelligent and smart people who would be a welcome addition to the next government.

Some are so disillusioned they predict military intervention – This was one of the most bizarre stories I’ve worked on since being in Ireland.

Ned O’Keeffe has been a TD (MP) for Cork East for nearly 30 years but is stepping down at this election, one of many from the governing Fianna Fail party. He has become so disillusioned with the actions of his party colleagues in government that he suspects the army could be about to takeover.

This is most unlikely. Ireland’s army, the Irish Defence Force, is not nearly strong enough to overthrow a government and what’s more the democracy currently in place will see those responsible for the economic collapse be made suffer at the ballot box which will satisfy most people.

But O’Keeffe later bemoaned the lack of intellectuals in government, a statement many in the country might not necessarily agree with, being more of the view that there weren’t nearly enough to avert the financial collapse.

But at least we’ve retained our pride…and sense of humour – Amidst the arrival of the men in suits from EU and IMF late last year, a brand spanking new terminal was opened at the country’s main airport in Dublin.

Terminal 2 was planned during the boom and built during the bust, it opened with many predicting rather cynically that it would be the perfect facilitator of the many people who would be leaving the country because of the bleak employment and economic prospects.

The Dublin Airport Authority sought to portray their new building as something to be truly proud of, just like being Irish:

Others were perhaps a bit more honest in their assessment of the terminal:

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News Picks: Egypt and America’s duplicity, Obama and Reagan, Torres

Just a quick one this weekend…

Egypt

America’s duplicity in Egyptian crisis – Events in Egypt are moving very fast indeed. Last week we were being told that what had happened in Tunisia was unlikely to unfold in a similar way in Egypt. Yet here we are with thousands taking to the streets in defiance of curfews and President Hosni Mubarak’s regime looking decidely shaky.

Amidst it all America is playing a fine line between encouraging reform but not explicitly calling for the overthrowing of Mubarak. This is demonstrated beautifully by two stories that have come out this weekend.

One is about tear gas canisters, bearing the label “Made in U.S.A” being fired at protestors in Cairo whilst on the other hand the Daily Telegraph reports that the American government has secretly backed leading figures in the current uprising.

They speak for themselves.

US Politics

What Obama can learn from Reagan – President Barack Obama is learning a lot from an unlikely source, former two-term President Ronald Reagan. He took a biography of Reagan on holiday over Christmas and in trying to set the tone for the second half of his term in office, Obama sees “the Gipper” as a “point of reference.”

Torres

Sale won’t be popular but could be best for Liverpool – Liverpool fans are generally quite angry at the news of Fernando Torres handing in a transfer request following Chelsea’s rather cheeky bid for him last week. Liverpool rejected the bid and rejected the transfer request, being perfectly within their rights to do so.

However Sam Wallace in The Independent argues that the sale of the Spaniard may be in the best interests of the club as well as the player. He argues the tipping point has been reached in much the same way it had been with Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United and Thierry Henry at Arsenal.

Arguably, Torres can justify the decision. He has won nothing since moving to Anfield three years ago having left his hometown club to do exactly that. But the timing is awful and Chelsea, perhaps still laden with money, are an ageing team in need of a big restructuring whereas Liverpool’s has already begun with the impending arrival of Luis Suarez.

One thing is for certain is that Torres will probably get his way either by Monday or in the summer. Having being adored by all Liverpool fans since his arrival he has chosen a rather undignified way to end it all.

New Year, fresh blog and good intentions

Like many of us, I hold good intentions for the year ahead.

One of these is to blog more which is why starting today/tonight and happening (hopefully) regularly I intend to bring you the best of the web or at least what I consider to be the best from the web.

Those who follow me on Twitter will know that I post a lot of links to various articles that I have read online. They range from quirky stories from Ireland to sometimes obscure political matters in the US, with a bit of UK, world and Liverpool FC related news in between.

The intention of the ‘News Picks’, as I have decided to call them, will be to bring all these links together under one blogging roof. It will consist of stories you may have missed or that you may not have heard about. It may be an alternative view on a story you’re familiar with or it may be totally useless.

In any case I hope it is a fun, quick read that enlightens your day.

Wikileaks diplomatic files not as shocking as we’re being told

We may have been shocked by the revelations of the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs and the brutality of war that was laid before us in a way we’ve never seen before.

But the initial revelations of Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables are not as shocking as many in the media are having us believe. Embarrassing for sure but not shocking.

Channeled through those doyens of investigative journalism The Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times the leaks reveal a lot of honest and forthright views of mainly US diplomats about their foreign counterparts.

But looking at the BBC’s useful breakdown of the main “revelations” there’s nothing truly groundbreaking. Instead much of the releases so far confirm what any of us who have an interest in international affairs probably already expected was going on.

The US has many concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear activity and the level to which they may be exposed to nuclear terrorism. Whilst on the other side Pakistan is reluctant to allow the US to establish any more interest in their domestic affairs than it already holds for fear of a backlash from their own people. This has been widely reported for many years.

The Chinese government engages in computer hacking…as if we haven’t heard that before.

The US looks to tap the sensitive biometric details of those within the UN. Not specifically something reported before but allies spying on allies and involving the Americans is nothing new.

There are also a selection of strong and honest views about various world leaders.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described as “Hitler” by one diplomat. Given Ahmadinejad’s views on Judaism it is hardly an extraordinary leap to associate the two.

Italian president Silvio Berlusconi described as a “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader”. As if we didn’t know that already given the string of embarrassing revelations in recent years.

Russian president Dmirty Medvedev a “Robin” to Vladimir Putin’s “Batman”. Many analysts said as much when Medvedev was “elected” in 2008.

And Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe,  a “crazy old man”. It would be funny if it wasn’t for the plight of the Zimbabwean people.

So there is little that shocks as much as Wikileaks most explosive leak to date – Collateral Murder

But needless to say it’s embarrassing for the US and all the other countries implicated. And the news coverage over the next few days will remind us of that as well as discussing the wrongs and rights of Wikileaks releasing such material. Simon Jenkins in The Guardian puts that argument to bed in my view.

Perhaps the real story here is not the sheer quantity and seriousness of some of the information released but the extraordinary story of a 22-year-old US army private from Oklahoma, Bradley Manning, who has changed forever the way in which wars and diplomatic relations are conducted.

Sarah Palin – President of the United States?

If the above scares you then you’re not alone.

One the many reasons why the majority of Europeans have had such favourable view of Barack Obama is likely to be because the alternative involved Sarah Palin being a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Right from the moment she literally came from nowhere to be Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008 stories have emerged that have been laughable, disturbing and downright scary.

Any politician subject to as much ridicule as she has been should surely be kept well away from the White House.

If Sarah Palin can’t even tell you what newspapers or magazines she reads, would you really trust her with the nuclear launch codes?

But the US is a strange and wonderful place and Palin commands a strong support base aided by the influential but disjointed Tea Party movement.

Much of it and Palin’s supports stems from the growing and in some cases justifiable disillusionment with President Obama two years into his presidency.

The hope and rhetoric that catapulted him into the White House after a historic election has drained away as Obama has found himself immersed in the same old Washington game he promised to change.

The result is that next week Republicans are likely to have taken control of the House of Representatives. They could even take the Senate although this is unlikely.

In the same way that the Democrats taking control of both houses in 2006 turned George W. Bush’s final two years into a “lame duck” presidency next week’s changes could harm Obama’s next two years as well as his re-election chances.

This is where Palin enters the overcrowded field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates. Some argue she won’t run but she has taken the steps normally associated with a presidential bid such as forming a political action committee, meaning its worth considering the possibility she might.

In this week’s New York magazine, political author John Heilemann, does just that as well going further and outlining the way in which Palin becomes president.

It relies heavily on the idea that Michael Bloomberg, the independent but fabulously wealthy mayor of New York, makes a run as an independent in 2012, splitting the vote three ways, meaning no candidate takes the magic 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidential election.

In such situations, the decision falls to the House of Representatives as to who becomes the next president. With this likely to pass into the control of Republicans after the November 2 mid terms that would open the door to a President Sarah Palin.

And suddenly the fate of the world rests in the hands of a woman who cites an example of her foreign policy experience as having once governed a state that’s quite close to Russia.

A worrying thought.

Brian Cowen, the pint(s), and the shame

Cowen (left), not last week, but at some other session

You may have heard last week about the Prime Minister who got himself into a bit of bother by having one too many the night before a rather important morning radio interview. It was an interview in which he performed rather poorly, which didn’t go unnoticed across the world.

This is the kind of story you might hear in some far off land or it might be something that Silvio Berlusconi would get up to in Italy. It’s the kind of thing that gets reported in the “And finally…” section of the news bulletin. You listen to the interview and sure enough the leader of the country is a bit hoarse and not all that articulate.

But this was no foreign outpost, no latest cock up from Berlusconi this was in fact the Prime Minister or Taoiseach of Ireland, Brian Cowen who is supposed to be sorting out a country whose finances are in such dire straits, the International Monetary Fund is dangerously close to stepping in. But instead Cowen is partial to the odd pint or twenty the night before an interview with Morning Ireland, the Republic’s equivalent of the Today programme here in the UK.

Imagine if you will, David Cameron going on Today at 8.10am sounding a bit worse for wear after a heavy night during the party’s conference in Birmingham next month. His voice is hoarse, his words are stumbling out and he’s not altogether 100%. More than likely, this just wouldn’t happen.

In fact anyone going on the Today programme for a testing interview is unlikely to indulge too much the night before as they want to be at their best for an important, agenda setting ten minutes where they will be grilled by John Humphrys or in this case Morning Ireland presenter, Cathal Mac Coille.

Going on the lash the night before an early morning start where you have an important engagement is something you do as a student. It is not something you do when you are the Prime Minister of a country that is proposing to make £3bn worth of cuts that will place an extra burden on the already crippled tax payer.

The job of running a country that is in economic turmoil is one for serious people and yet Ireland has been lumbered with some cute hoor who enjoys a pint and a sing song and embarrassing the country in front of the world on national radio.

The most galling thing is that he wasn’t even elected, stepping in when Bertie Ahern stepped down as Taoiseach in 2008 in the manner of Gordon Brown replacing Tony Blair in the year before.

But at least Gordon Brown was a serious man, a little too serious for some people’s liking but Brown never took the piss out of the taxpayers by getting pissed and embarassing himself and his country. No, that’s been the job of Brian Cowen who remains in charge but by the skin of his teeth.

Talk of a heave is rife and the man who would replace him is Brian Lenihan, the finance minister, who continues to perform his role despite being stricken by pancreatic cancer. A serious man. That is exactly what Ireland needs right now. Not some cute hoor who has done enough damage as it is.

Anything is news at this time of year

In the ‘industry’ as journalists and those of us aspiring to be journalists the summer months and particularly August are generally considered a rotten time when it comes to news stories.

Parliament is in recess, everyone’s on their holidays and very little new is happening. So news organisations generally tend to fill newspapers, radio programmes, TV news bulletins and websites with just about anything they can eek out and dress up as ‘news’ when they’re running a few columns or a few minutes short.

In some cases they’ll send their presenter on a pointless exercise in a Spitfire. In others they’ll report the most trivial things as breaking news. Look, for example, at Sky News’ ever bright yellow ticking breaking news bar which yesterday reported: “AP news agency: The US recall of eggs amid a massive salmonella outbreak is expanded to half a billion eggs”.

Obviously, a salmonella outbreak isn’t good times, but egg-scuse me if I’m not really too bothered about how many eggs have been recalled, I certainly don’t need it interrupting my news bulletin.

And yet in their thirst for constant breaking news left, right and centre, Sky News know no boundaries when it comes to defining what exactly breaking news is. It used to be major events like 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq now it can be the England football squad getting on a bus. But that is for another blog…

In some cases, news outlets will just rehash old news like the proposed demolition of Ringo Starr’s old house on Madryn Street, Liverpool. This has been due for demolition for years now under the controversial Pathfinder initiative. But no harm in reminding us and finding someone whose outraged about it to fill some space.

I also find the coverage of the dreadful floods in Pakistan interesting. For example (and only because this is the news bulletin I catch most evenings) Channel 4 news have been reporting on an almost nightly basis on what’s been happening in the region and fair play to them for doing so. No doubt it is helping the appeal for aid, but the cynic in me wonders if we’d be hearing as much from the region were it another time of the year. We all forgot about Haiti pretty quickly didn’t we?

Of course this could all just be the major cynic in me but I have been part of putting together a programme at the BBC this week and that has been a struggle given the dearth of news and the dearth of people around to talk about any stories that are happening.

Unlike those who wish this relatively warm, if not sunny, weather would remain, journalists are wishing time away so as that parliament can return, politicians can say and do stupid things and elsewhere there’s news aplenty.

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