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: Ireland’s political crisis, Phone hacking, China, Palestine Papers

Ireland

The worst Taoiseach in the State’s history – Events in Irish politics have taken an almighty turn since my last post and have, frankly, descended into utter chaos and farce.

After seemingly his finest hour Taoiseach Brian Cowen reversed all his good work with a politically suicidal attempt to parachute six new people into his cabinet after resignations across the board by Ministers who would be retiring at the election.

He then resigned as leader of Fianna Fail but retained his role as leader of the country prompting the junior coalition partner, the Green Party to withdraw from government. Ireland’s cabinet now consists of just seven people, some with three portfolios and the longest job titles in the world.

There will be final effort to push through a finance bill this week but the desire for change has grown even stronger than it already has been over the weekend and a general election is just weeks away.

Phone hacking/BSkyB takeover

Cameron and Murdoch’s son attended private dinner – Aside from the implications of Andy Coulsen’s resignation last week on David Cameron’s judgement there is also the issue of News Corporation’s attempts to takeover BSkyB, a move feared by many in the UK media, not least because of the phone hacking allegations surrounding the Murdoch owned News of the World, which are unlikely to go away.

The Independent today reports that that Cameron met with James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son and chairman of News Corp. in Europe and Asia, late last year. However the PM’s spokesman today said any discussion about News Corp’s proposed takeover of BSkyB would have no bearing on the decision of the Culture Secretary on whether or not to allow the move.

The PM’s spokesman would also not comment on whether the Cameron has any plans to meet with Rupert Murdoch when he comes to London this week in what many see as his attempts to get a hold a crisis that is engulfing his media empire.

China

China grooming Hu’s successor – Much was made of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the White House last week where he was given a full state banquet by President Obama. But it’s unlikely Hu will return to the US with his successor already being groomed to takeover, probably next year.

Profiled in the New York Times, Xi Jinping, the current vice president, is unlikely to alter China’s direction in the world although he could be more popular amongst Communist Party members. How much influence he will wield in an increasingly peripheral position as president of the world’s second-largest economy and fastest-modernising military power is unclear.

Palestine Papers

Leaks show there is no peace process – The leaking of documents relating to discussions about the Middle East peace process show just how much of a gulf there is between what is said in public by political leaders and what is offered and argued in private. This could be said of any political discourse in any country in any part of the world, but it’s all the more crucial here because of the volatility of the region.

As Channel 4 News’ Lindsay Hilsum points out, there is much concentration on the perceived weakness of the Palestinian negotiators, but she asks why did the US not push Israel into more concessions?Why did Middle East envoy Tony Blair not offer more praise for what the Palestinians were prepared to offer?

Truth is, in my view, that this merely confirms the status quo of US-Israeli relations that have been this way for decades. Whilst some may point to an increasing appreciation of the plight of Palestinians in recent years, namely George W. Bush becoming the first US president  to call for a two state solution, the reality is that the US nor Israel really don’t want this to happen.

The up shot of this latest leak (which has nothing to do with Wikileaks by the way), is the certain death of the two state solution and, worse still, possibly further violence and war in the region.

News Picks: Wikileaks, UK election?, Election 2012, Wikipedia, Israel

Wikileaks

US journalists back away from Assange The Miami Herald reports that more and more US journalists are shunning the Wikilkeaks founder Julian Assange amid concern about the organisation’s methods of dumping documents “willy-nilly” as investigative journalist Bob Woodward put it. There are also questions as to whether Assange is actually a journalist. An interesting read.

Election 2011?

Cameron considering a snap election? – Labour MP Tom Watson speculates (some would say wildly) that the Prime Minister may call a snap election in May. Watson cites a weary Nick Clegg, an unfulfilled David Cameron and the belief by some that the Tories could win an outright majority if they called an election given the Lib Dems’ appalling poll numbers. It’s all gossip but it’s well written and thought provoking. It also hints that embattled No. 10 communications director Andy Coulsen will be gone by the end of the month.

Election 2012

The activist Republican candidates court – An interesting piece in the LA Times about the Iowa based activist whom Republicans running for the party’s presidential nomination will all court in the build up to that state’s all important caucuses that kick off the nominee race at the beginning of next year. Joni Scotter is 69, and, it seems, very important to the likes of Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich but she has voted Democrat before.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia at 10, a pioneer of global civility – Timothy Garton Ash has some words of praise for Wikipedia which turns 10-years-old this weekend. Unlike Facebook, this internet success story is not worth billions but is a fine example of a non profit organisation that “still breathes the utopian idealism of the internet’s heroic early days.”

Israel

The rise of fanatical ‘Israeli ayatollahs’ – We all know about fanaticism in the Muslim world but what of the ultra orthodox Jewish rabbis who are becoming increasingly controversial and divise in Israel. They were even involved in the recent tragic death of ex-Liverpool defender Avi Cohen.

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.

Circus Clegg comes to Liverpool

So the choice was clear, a day doing dissertation in the library or a sunny afternoon in Penny Lane stalking Nick Clegg as he met locals, and did countless interviews, including taking a brief question from yours truly.

There was a certain thrill and excitement in the air as the nations media descended on the Penny Lane Development Trust Centre for the visit of the Liberal Democrat leader.

He’d spent the morning and early afternoon branding Gordon Brown and David Cameron as “corrupt” amongst many other things before descending on Liverpool Wavertree, where he’s hoping his party’s candidate Colin Eldridge can win the seat from Labour.

The media surround Nick Clegg in Penny Lane, Wavertree on 7 April 2010

There was my first exposure to a proper media scrum as TV cameras, photographers and the journalists all crammed for a shot of Clegg speaking to youngsters at the community centre. I even got my ugly mug on Granada last night. (After about 30 seconds in if you’re interested!)

Clegg was smooth as you like, he knew how to work the community centre people and then work the media as he was dragged left, right and centre for various interviews. Sky News even made him wait three minutes while they finished interviewing Yvette Cooper. The cheek!

And when it was all over, he jumped back on his bus, adorned with his face and that of the party’s much lauded Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, and departed Wavertree.

It was sunny, it was brief but my word, it was all very exciting for this political journalism novice!