Irish innovation on TV Licensing

The end of the 'big box'. Pic from James Good on Flickr

It is possible that one of the more innovative early suggestions from the new Irish government, albeit one ‘borrowed’ from the Green Party will be in relation to the scrapping of theTV licensing regime.

Around two thirds of European countries, less elsewhere and hardly at all in the Americas, impose a form of media license to fully or part fund state broadcasting.  In Ireland the fee is €160, roughly equivalent to that in the UK, but which only funds 50 per cent of state broadcaster RTE.

In many countries there is a separate license for radio and in some, quaintly, there remains a monochrome or black and white option that is cheaper.

The Irish government is considering scrapping this charge in recognition of the fact that an increasing number of households are watching TV online or through their phones and other devices.  The role of the big box in the corner of the room is diminishing.

When nations have scrapped the license regime before, in Australia and the Netherlands for example, it was generally because of increased commercial activity and a payment for the state service through grants from general taxation.

Ireland though is considering the idea of introducing a new location charge to cover the reception of any media signals.  Naturally there is plenty of work to be done on defining this legislative idea.  How do you charge for a laptop? or an iPhone? If it is a desktop in a call centre will it require a license if it has a modem?

Lots of questions then, but in principle it is an idea that can be considered as the equivalent of moving to the stable door as the horse is getting restless, and for that it should at least be given some support.

Obama 2012 is under way

It’s a measure of how fast life goes by, and also of what little time politicians have to make a difference.  Obama is back on the campaign trail.  Stirring memories of 2008, President Barack Obama has launched his presidential re election campaign in a way which once more hits just the right note.

Four years ago he was an underdog, one with some recognition but an outsider in the polls.  Now he is the President.  By normal standards he will be judged by what he has achieved rather than what he says he will achieve but the mood music already is that we are only part way on our journey.  In leadership substance is important but style is vital.

There was no address to the nation, no brass band on the White House lawn.  Just an understated tweet, an email to his supporters and a video that is so slickly produced that it resembles one you or I could put together with our friends, and is stronger for exactly that reason.

No sign of the man himself but as we are told by Alice from Michigan mid way through the 2 minute production, ‘He’s got a job.’

The video is all about making us, or at least those who can vote, feel good, feel right about getting back on the trail and rekindling the love affair between a politician and his electorate that was consummated in November ’08.

Katherine from Colorado tells us that at the grassroots level politics is about individuals talking to other individuals and making a difference.

Yes it’s a bit hokey and sure all the different ethnic and demographic checkboxes are ticked but you know when something is done so well and touches a chord, is it wrong that it was well planned.

Obama and his team are the consummate politicians, but in a good way.  His Republican rivals are a colourful crew and it should be another entertaining ride.  Whether it hits the highs of three years ago is open to question but in terms of a start to an incumbent’s campaign, he has already started to rewrite the book.

A small island off the coast of Europe

Sometimes the sublime and the ridiculous come together to put Ireland’s place in the world in fairly stark relief.

This past weekend in the German state of Baden Wurtemburg, the ruling Christian Democratic Union has been ousted from power after 58 years of government.  This is the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the election result may yet conspire to damage her national and indeed European leadership authority.  They are likely to be replaced by the Green Party who benefitted from the two main policy issues that dominated the election.


The first of these was the attitude towards nuclear power following the Japanese tsunami and the subsequent and ongoing problems at the Fukushima power plant.  Germany is heavily reliant on nuclear power and a hasty decision to shut down local plants cast their safety into question.

Crisis in Libya

The second was the decision at national level to abstain from the United Nations decision on miltary involvement in Libya.  This proved a very sensitive issue for the german electorate who felt that their government was not strong enough in supporting the popular uprising while others did nail their colours and their arsenals to the mast.

Neither of these major global issues was of more than passing interest to our body politic.  We have instead been wrapped up in ever tighter knots over the repercussions of a 14 year investigation into alleged wrongdoing in the granting of a government contract, albeit a large one in our terms.

Michael Lowry

Today the debate has raged over whether TD Michael Lowry should have 20, 30 or 50 minutes to defend himself from allegations in the Moriarty Report.  As a speechwriter I appreciate this difference means a lot to someone whose lifetime of public service has been questioned as wholly corrupt.  The logic of an argument needs time to be developed and what pain is their really in allowing the additional time requested?  There is also the sense of a gallows being erected around his career and if only for the sport of seeing who he might tarnish on his way down, the public interest is surely best served by allowing as much time as is needed.  After all we have waited a long time.

We are a nation that prides itself on the influence and reach of our diaspora and our culture.  We feel that we are an important part of the global community.  Perhaps it is that inflated sense of our national self that makes the difference between what Germans vote on in a state election and what we devote the time of our national parliament point to us as being somewhat irrelevant and perhaps just a little tawdry.

Stoking up the mob in opposition to civil servants

The country, ot at least elements of the media, are very exercised today by the decision of the Civil Service Arbitration Board yesterday not to recommend the unilateral cutting of annual leave days from civil service workers.  That though is not how the story is being told.

The naming of these entitlements as privilege days, and referencing them to an English Monarch’s birthday and Empire Day, have encouraged people to jump so quickly onto their high moral horse that they have gone clean over the other side.

It is the case that the days should have been relinquished or renamed in 1922, or technically in 1949 when Ireland became a Republic, but the reality is that they were simply absorbed into the regular leave entitlement of civil servants, whether in name or not.

The fact they have been there so long as part of the terms and conditions of employment means they were part of the attraction for every single civil servant in taking the job in the first place.

Why stop there? Why not just tell everybody they cannot have days off any more because of the state we are in. We would be much more productive if everybody worked on Saturdays, only took ten days off a year and just simply gave up their right to fair pay and fair treatment.  Sure our quality of life would be less but think of the productivity gains.

Public service reform is an important issue but using this in isolation as a stick to beat civil servants is just stoking up a mob mentality.

Why must we cling to 12.5 per cent?

Today’s Irish Times reports on French advertising to promote foreign direct investment.  It  quotes an effective corporate tax rate of 8.2 per cent, despite the headline rate being 33.3 per cent.

France is the main protagonist in pressing Ireland to raise its corporate tax rate from the existing 12.5 per cent.

Irish politicians are talking tough on this matter suggesting that the 12.5 per cent rate is ‘untouchable’ and ‘non-negotiable’.  Would that they were so gung ho about arguing for the bailout terms being ‘unsustainable’ and ‘killing any hope of growth.’

Vision and imagination

Why oh why are such strong positions taken on such simple headlines when so much more can be achieved through vision and imagination.

No country has proved more adept at building in breaks, incentives and bonuses as part of the tax system than Ireland.

The decision makers who determine the location of a multinational are well versed and well advised on tax loopholes and manoeuvres.  They are not some gullible giants that are only blinded by a headline rate.

Diaspora dividend

Ireland sells itself on a number of points.  These include political stability and international credibility as an ideologically ‘neutral’ location as well as the use of English as the primary language. We benefit from  the diaspora dividend that comes from our global network of emigrants and those touched by Irish influences.

The headline rate is a marketing exercise, but one which can easily be redrawn with greater vigour.

The incentives could then be used to affect social policy as well as economic.  Advantages can be given to companies who undertake research, who employ particular groups or in specific geographic areas; who use local suppliers and who support local and community initiatives.  There are any number of different imaginative schemes that can be put in place if we let go of 12.5 per cent.

The new government promised real reform and a new way of doing politics.  This is a way in which it can be achieved effectively and with real benefit for the country. Sadly it appears that the lowest common denominator of political intellect is still the benchmark.

Politics at the Crossroads

Thank you to the near 2,000 visitors who came upon this site during the course of the general election.  Hopefully my ramblings on the electoral system, the betting markets, the candidates and what was being written around the best of the blogs did somethin to amuse, enlighten or even inspire.

Now fully bitten by the bug I have decided to maintain the blog, restating in full next week under the new name of  ‘Politics at the Crossroads’  I hope you will drop by on occasion and that we will maintain a greater level of engagement between the electors and the elected than was the case in the last Dáil.

The 31st Dáil is new and shiny in its early days.  It is filled with politicians that we elected and have given a mandate to.  The deserve support but also the closest scrutiny.  Hopefully that is what we will contribute to in some small way.


Labour, which side are you on?

The dust is settling on #GE11.  The negotiation continues on who will form the next government.

This is a copy of the letter sent by the UNITE trade union urging Labour to forego government coalition and instead lead an opposition of the Left.  This would of course be Fianna Fáil’s worst nightmare as it would starve them of the oxygen of publicity, as Margaret Thatcher put it when imposing a ban on the voices of  Northern Irish organisations between 1988 and 1994.

There are compelling arguments for Labour to stay out of another partnership with Fine Gael, and a substantial voice within the grassroots of Labour in support of the idea.  Will it come to pass?

Dear Labour TD (by name),

Congratulations on your election to the 31st Dáil.  This election has delivered a greater number of Labour and other left wing representatives than any other in our history.

The decisions made in the coming days have the potential to transform the Irish political landscape, and to realign the political divide to one of left against right, progressive against neo liberal, socially inclusive against market driven.

In many areas the decisions which are most important can at best be influenced rather than determined by our own judgement but in this case the decision on the future of Irish politics lies solely with the Labour Party.

We appreciate it is not an easy choice.  It is tempting to move to the government side of Dail Eireann, to bring influence to bear on the policies adopted by Fine Gael and to try to bring in elements of the progressive agenda.

We would urge you though, together with your colleagues to hold your nerve, to avoid becoming a cover for austerity measures that hurt the most vulnerable and the poorest in society, and instead to lead a coalition of the left in opposition.

A cobbled together Fine Gael minority government, or even a coalition between them and their ‘soul mates’ in Fianna Fáil would not last under the strong sustained and coherent opposition that the left would bring.

Labour must lead that coalition.  Some short months ago the party stood on approval ratings of over 30 per cent.  A government of the left looked likely then and will be even more so in a few short years.

To choose coalition with Fine Gael would be to step back into the outdated alignment of civil war politics based on the colour of a shirt rather than the policies that both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael hold dear.  Fianna Fáil would lead the opposition and take on the oxygen of relevance they need to have any hope of recovery.

That would mean a chance for genuine change foregone and would be very harshly judged by the electorate in three, four or five years time.

It is difficult to choose the greater long term good of the country over short term political expediency but you have put yourself in a position now to make that genuine tough choice, and condemn the wrong choices which Fianna Fáil made and which Fine Gael will meekly follow.

Yours sincerely,

Jimmy Kelly
Regional Secretary, UNITE