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, Palestine Papers, Egypt, Sexy Anchors

Ireland

New Fianna Fail leader says sorry – Maybe it’s all too late but it was nice to hear a change from the usual bluster and arrogance of Fianna Fail leaders as Michael Martin apologised for his and his party’s actions over the last 14 years in power that have led to the country’s economic collapse.

“I am sorry for the mistakes we made as a party and that I’ve made as a minister — very sorry for those mistakes that we made,” Martin said after being elected leader of the party following the political suicide mission conducted by Taoiseach (still!) Brian Cowen last week.

Martin’s task will be to rebuild the party as a credible opposition to the likely Fine Gael/Labour coalition that will be formed in the aftermath of the election due late next month. In one sense he’s already started, challenging the leaders of these two parties to a three-way debate (much in the way Cameron, Brown and Clegg battled it out last year). This has already been rejected by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny who wants to include more parties in the debates perhaps wary of not looking so good in alongside Martin and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.

Palestine Papers

Saeb Erekat hits back – At first he described the revelations in the Palestine Papers as “a pack of lies” but in an article for The Guardian, chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat has said that the coverage of the release of the documents has distracted from the real issue: “That Palestinian negotiators have consistently come to the table in complete seriousness and in good faith, and that we have only been met by rejection at the other end.”

This is something I alluded to in my previous post on the subject, that really we should not be criticising the actions of the Palestinian negotiators (although they are questionable in many ways) but examining the reasons as to why, when they were being offered so much, Israel, supported by the United States, were continually rejecting what was on the table.

If Israel cannot in any way consider the offers so far put forward by the Palestinians, then what hopes for a two state solution or at least a peaceful solution?

Egypt

A Manifesto for Change in Egypt – Could this be the tipping point that sends Egypt the way of Tunisia? Mohammed El Baradei, the former head of the European Atomic Energy Agency, is returning to the country ahead of presidential elections due to take place in September. But in the midst of heavy protests on the streets of Egypt’s cities, he has warned in an article for The Daily Beast that “the Egyptian people broke the barrier of fear, and once that is broken, there is no stopping them.”

Protestors across the country are demanding change taking inspiration from Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution”. Toppling president Hosni Mubarak will not be as easy as Bin Ali in Tunisia. For a start Mubarak still holds considerable clout within the country and has the armed forces on his side, something Bin Ali could not really say in the dying days of his regime.

As always, Brian Whitaker’s blog, Al-Bab is an excellent resource of news and comment on what’s happening in the Middle East.

Sexy Anchors

Sexy News Anchors Distract Male Viewers – Of the many revelations that have emerged from Sky Sports over the past week in which their leading lights Richard Keys and Andy Gray have been unceremoniously consigned to the dustbin has been that they only ever hired good-looking women to anchor their programmes, particularly Sky Sports News. Anyone who watches Sky Sports News will know that there are a plethora of  blonde and attractive women delivering the latest sports news.

Now, new research in the US has found that when a female news anchor’s sexual attractiveness is played up (more make-up, tight-fitting tops), male viewers retain less information. Conversely, the researchers at Indiana University found that the men who took part in the study recalled significantly more information watching the unsexualised anchor deliver news than her sexualised version.