My #af14 analysis: @fiannafailparty’s future depends on delivering a coherent alternative

21 Mar

This is an article I have written for the March 2014 Árd Fheis issue of Fianna Fáil’s members’ magazine Cuisle

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BjNAsq0IcAAMTFkA few months before the 2011 election, Michael Gallagher (the TCD Professor of Politics, not the Donegal postman and amateur weather forecaster) posted a blog where he asking how long Fianna Fáil could expect to spend in opposition. In it he wrote:

“Fianna Fáil is not a party accustomed to spending time there. Its longest spell on the opposition benches is still the nearly six years between its foundation in May 1926 and its entry into government in March 1932. Since then, the party has never spent more than one consecutive Dáil term in opposition and the longest spell it has been out of power remains the 4 years and 4 months of the Cosgrave coalition in the mid-1970s.”

Underpinning Gallagher’s 2010 comments is the idea that Fianna Fáil has never been that good at opposition. It is a fair point.

Not only have we not spent much time in opposition, as Gallagher points out, it is almost 30 years since we last spent a full Dáil term there.

We thought our world had ended in Nov 1982 when we ended up a mere 5 seats ahead of Fine Gael, though it is worth recalling that its vote then, 39.2%, is still the biggest percentage vote Fine Gael has ever won.

Not only was Fine Gael on 70 seats, it was ensconced in Government with its most popular leader to date. Faced with those realities we could not be blithely sure that we would spend just one term in opposition. The prospect of two successive terms was a stark possibility.

That is why we should look to that period for lessons and insight.

We quickly grasped that we needed to perform strongly in opposition – we needed to hold the Government to account. To that end the party established a series of policy committees, manned by party members with demonstrable abilities or expertise in specific areas.

These committees worked with the spokespeople but were not run by them. Neither were they mere talking shops, members were assigned very specific tasks, there were no passengers in this process.

While these committees did not “make policy”, that remained the prerogative of the parliamentary party, their work and inputs helped underpin the policy platform that emerged in the run up to the 1987 election.

Back in the 1980s the party looked to the membership to take up the slack on the policy side – and it is what we must do again today.

While the party’s membership, its structures, its needs and demands are as great as they ever where, the truth is that we do not have the resources we had.

Actually, that is the point: even the pre-2011 manpower levels in both party HQ and Leinster House would not be sufficient to meet today’s demands. Not only have the staff numbers been halved, the Programme Managers and Ministerial Advisers, of whom I was one, that once supplemented those teams are also gone.

These reductions have hit us particularly hard on the policy side. We are now making ever more demands on fewer people, people who have no sense memory of how a party operates in opposition

Yet, conversely, there appears to be some unexpressed reluctance to properly harness the real expertise we possess within the party.

This is not a demand to allow individual members to start writing the next manifesto – far from it. Neither is it a call for everyone to email in their two-line pet idea: we need considered analysis, not random suggestions.

Rather, is it is a plea for us to recognise that we need, in this area, to take a leaf out of our 1982-87 playbook and structure expert membership inputs.

Our party’s research people have come up with some important and innovative proposals, not least our Family Home Protection and Debt Resolution Bills. They have done some serious work: but you would be hard pushed to know that from the press coverage.

In the absence of any over arching narrative or analysis our individual statements can come across as micro policy responses rather than as co-ordinated parts of a coherent alternative.

Fine Gael could get away with that flannel during its time in opposition, but Fianna Fáil does not have the luxury they had: a Government unable to communicate with its own supporters.

To borrow a phrase from the 1980’s: the next phase of our recovery will be dependent on policies and substance. While the headline numbers in recent published polls have brought us little comfort, the high level of voter dissatisfaction with the current Government demonstrates that there is demand for a realistic viable alternative.

That alternative must be based on sound analysis and presented by a purposeful opposition that utilizes all the tools, skills and talents available to it.

My @beerg article on recent #eudatap developments and important comments by @seankellymep

21 Mar

 

This is a piece I wrote for the March 14th issue of the BEERG global labour newsletter. It examines the consequences of the EU Parliament’s overwhelming vote on the General Data Protection Regulation and acknowledges the hard work and valid concerns raised by the Irish MEP Sean Kelly (EPP & Fine Gael)

BEERG Newsletter March 14th 2014

BEERG Newsletter March 14th 2014

Though it is now accepted across the EU that the Data Protection Regulation is not likely to be approved until 2015 at the earliest, the European Parliament has scheduled a debate on the legislation on Tuesday (11 March) with a full First Reading vote on it on Wednesday.

The vote comes just 10 weeks before voters across Europe go to the polls to elect the next European Parliament.

The plenary vote on Wednesday is no mere gesture, however. It is the outgoing Parliament setting out its position so that the incoming one can start negotiations with the Council of Ministers, as soon as they have adopted their position, though the timetable for the Council’s part of the process remains uncertain

It is not the European Parliament’s only debate on Data Protection this week as it is also set to approve the final report of its own inquiry into alleged mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency.

That report not only demands that the US/EU trade talks not lead to a softening of data protection standards, it also calls for the suspension of a programme to share bank transfer data with the US, and calls on member states to strengthen oversight of their intelligence services.

As mentioned earlier, the ball now lies with the member states governments via the EU’s Council of Ministers. The Justice Ministers met last week and held a policy debate on outstanding issues relating to the data protection regulation framework.

ASs the communique issued after the meeting said: “Ministers broadly supported the draft provisions as regards the territorial scope of the regulation and confirmed the understanding that international transfers of personal data to third countries should take place on the basis of key principles contained in chapter V of the draft regulation.”

It then went on to diplomatically express the ongoing delays and problems saying:

“Ministers agreed that more technical work will need to be done on important aspects of this chapter and that the question of alternative models for international data transfer will need to be studied in depth.”

“The Council confirmed that the work will continue at a technical level on the basis of the progress achieved so far on: pseudonymisation as an element of the risk-based approach, portability of personal data for the private sector and obligations of controllers and processors.”

“Whilst a majority of delegations appeared to be of the opinion that the scope of the profiling provision in the future regulation should, like the current Directive 95/46/EC, limit itself to regulating automated decision-making that has legal effects or significantly affects individuals, some other delegations pleaded in favour of specific provisions on profiling. Work at a technical level should therefore continue on that basis.”

Others involved in the process expressed their frustrations with the Council’s difficulties in reaching a consensus less delicately. Ralf Bendrath, the Green Party’s data protection expert and an adviser to the German Green MEP who is the Rapporteur who has steered the Regulation through Parliament thus far said on Twitter: “Germany again – embarrassingly – less supportive than all other member states on progress”. He went on to dismiss Germany’s observations that the issue will “need more debate” and chided them for not specifically stating their objections.

While Ministers are still a long way off reaching agreement on their draft of the Regulation, that is not to say that a great deal of technical work and progress is going on behind the scenes.

The Greek EU Presidency has been working away very assiduously in recent months with a series of DAPIX and other Data Protection officials meerting. The Greeks have also been engaging with the Italian government (it is the the next country to hold the 6 month rotating Presidency of the EU) to work out a road map for agreeing on the data protection reform swiftly.

While their original objective of agreeing on a mandate for negotiation with the European Parliament before the end of the Greek Presidency looks unlikely to be achieved, they are busily dotting all the “i”s and crossing all the “t”s they reasonably can awaiting some direction from the member states.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Junior Minister at the Justice Ministry, Simon Hughes MP, has announced a review of the criminal sanctions available for breaches of the UK’s Data Protection Act. He said the review would help the UK government “decide whether to increase the penalties as the law permits”.

Feeding into this process Pinsent Masons’ specialist in data protection law Kathryn Wynn has suggested that the government should go further than reviewing the criminal sanctions and should also consider strengthening the civil monetary penalty regime too, arguing that a previous increase in the maximum level of fine in 2010 had prompted organisations to take the issue of data protection seriously.

Using the draft EU’s General Data Protection Regulation as an example she suggests that the review take the approach envisaged there, where the level of penalty for a data breach is calculated on the basis of a percentage of their annual turnover.

So, even before it is passed, we could see the draft EU’s General Data Protection Regulation is influencing domestic legislation across Europe.

LBJ’s great rule of life: “Don’t tell a man to go to Hell unless you can send him there.”

25 Feb
LBJ pulling yet another beagle's ears (His own dog was named Little Beagle Johnson (LBJ)

LBJ pulling yet another beagle’s ears.  His own dog was named Little Beagle Johnson (LBJ)

While surfing the internet tonight I dam across this little nugget, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “Rules of Life”. The ebullient LBJ was a larger than life character who contemporaries descibed as highly driven, ambitious and devoid of any interests or past-times outside politics.

Though mainly remembered now ad the President who even further embroiled the US in the Viet Nam war (a policy he inherited from JFK) too many forget his personal campaign for massive social reform, entitled: The Great Society. You can find the text of LBJ’s first Great Society speech here

While some of these rules encapsulate his own very earthy style, not to mention  and his cynical approach to the apparatus of government and office, others – especially number 7 – are worth noting by anyone considering a life in politics.

1. “Never trust a man whose eyes are too close to his nose.”

2. “Always be sure to have 25% cotton in your undershirts; otherwise your titties will itch.”

3. “Remember the CIA is made up of boys whose families sent them to Princeton but wouldn’t let them into the family brokerage business.”

4. “The fact that a man is a newspaper reporter is evidence of some flaw of character.”

5. “When you are handshaking on the campaign trail, never let the other fellow grab your hand first—grab his hand and elbow and throw him past.”

6. “Before getting into a motorcade, always go to the bathroom and pee.”

7. “Don’t tell a man to go to Hell unless you can send him there.”

8. “When things haven’t gone well for you, call in a secretary or a staff man and chew him out. You will sleep better and they will appreciate the attention.”

Are @AlanShatterTD and @EndaKennyTD out-Nixoning Nixon on #gsoc ?

18 Feb
Nixon in Oval Office with Haldeman and Ehrlichman

Nixon in Oval Office with Haldeman and Ehrlichman

In asking a High Court Judge to re-examine and review the documentation and material already available the Cabinet, and in particular the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and the Minister for Justice and Defence, Alan Shatter are attempting to out-Nixon Nixon.

Back in early 1973, as the scandal of the Watergate Break In and Cover Up began to break, the then US President Richard M Nixon, in conjunction with his advisers John Ehrlichman and Bob Haldeman, devised a plan to get Nixon’s White House Counsel John Dean to write a report for the President on Watergate that “basically clears the President and White House staff of involvement”. Their plan was that they could cite Dean’s Report as what they had relied upon and that they could blame Dean for deceiving them.

While Dean did initially agree to go to Camp David at the President’s request to write such a report, but he soon came to realise that he was being lined up as the scapegoat and decided not to complete the report. Nixon sacked him shortly afterwards, on the same day as he announced the resignations of Ehrlichman and Haldeman.

While the Government is not asking a retired High Court Judge to become is scapegoat, it does seem to be looking to get a supposedly independent review that it determines will verify its own jaundiced version of events.

How else can we interpret the fact that while the Justice Minister was indicating how the review would operate he announced that he had decided on the review as he had received a review of the Verrimus report from RITS, a Dublin based IT security firm, that concluded that there was “no evidence at all”.

So, even as the Minister announces the review he sets out his view on what it should, if not must, conclude.

This, as with Nixon’s Dean Report, is all about attempting to draw a line under a growing political scandal rather than getting to the core of what caused it: allegations of bugging at GSOC’s premises?

Why opt for such a limited review, reporting to the Justice Minister and with Terms of Reference set by the Minister instead of an inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry legislation?

Today’s Cabinet decision, albeit deeply flawed, runs counter to last week’s comments by both An Taoiseach and the Justice Minister and suggests either 1). A realization that the government’s spinning on the subject is not having the same impact now as it had at the start, and/or 2). Pressure from Labour members of the Cabinet growing tired of defending the Justice Minister.

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Background material on the Nixon/Dean Watergate Report

The timeline for Dean’s Watergate Report

March 20, 1973: In his conversation with chief of staff H. R. Haldeman about White House counsel John Dean’s phony “Dean Report,” which will say that no one in the White House was involved in the Watergate conspiracy, President Nixon says: “[The report] should lay a few things to rest. I didn’t do this, I didn’t do that, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da. Haldeman didn’t do this. Ehrlichman didn’t do that. Colson didn’t do that. See?”

March 22, 1973:  President Nixon tells his aides to ensure that the nation never learns of the political and financial machinations that surround the Watergate burglary from his aides under investigation: “And, uh, for that reason, I am perfectly willing to—I don’t give a sh_t what happens, I want you all to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover-up or anything else.” But he wants something on paper that he can point to and say he knew nothing about the Watergate conspiracy, and that he had ordered an internal investigation of the matter. He sends counsel John Dean to Camp David for the weekend to write the document

March 27, 1973: President Nixon orders senior aide John Ehrlichman to conduct his own “independent investigation” of the conspiracy, since White House counsel John Dean has not yet produced the results of his own “investigation”

High Stakes and possible troubles Irn-Bru-ing as #ep2014 approach

31 Jan

Here is my article from this week’s BEERG Newsletter looking at mounting tensions in the race to take the EU Commission Presidency

ib_cansYou call tell that there’s an election approaching by how targeted, populist and political the press releases from MEPs become. Take the Scottish Nationalist (SNP) MEP Alyn Smith, who has suggested that Scotland consider banning Canadian-born singers Justin Bieber and Celine Dion in retaliation for Canadian authorities prohibiting several Canadian stores from selling the popular Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru. Smith justified his call, albeit tongue in cheek, by saying that between them, Bieber and Dion have produced “more sugary schmaltz” than Irn-Bru ever has.

While Smith’s demand has the virtue of humour and creativity, the same cannot be said for the political attack made by the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) on German Socialist MEP, Martin Schulz (photo) on Wednesday as reported by the EurActiv website http://www.euractiv.com.

Schulz is the outgoing President European Parliament and the likely Socialist candidate to be President of the next EU Commission

The attack centres on allegations made by the EPP that a €60,000 European Parliament contract was awarded to the wife of Sergei Stanishev, the president of the PES: Party of European Socialists. The €60,000 contract was for an information project promoting the European elections in Bulgaria.

Leading the attack for the EPP, German MEP Ingeborg Grässle claims the situation has alarm bells ringing over an “obvious” conflict of interest involving some of the most prominent figures in the European socialist family, saying “European Parliament staff under the direction of Socialist President Martin Schulz handing out a contract worth €60,000 to the wife of the European Socialist Party President – this smacks of political favours… Is Mr. Schulz using parliament funds to help his political friends?”

EurActiv reports that its sources say that Schulz is concentrating on his campaign to succeed to José Manuel Barroso as Commission President and shudders at any piece of news which could upset his plan.

The fact that the attack was led by a German MEP is significant as Grässle and Schulz’s own parties the CDU and SPD are now in a grand coalition partnership government in Germany. Expect to see and hear more political skulduggery as the May parliamentary elections approach. The stakes are high with more than just the political balance in the European Parliament to consider. As the BEERG Newsletter has reported reforms made under the EU’s Lisbon Treaty means that heads of government must take the results of the European elections “into account” when selecting the next EU Commission President.

With polls suggesting a swing to the Socialists in the May election, possible sufficient to make it the largest single group in Parliament, Schulz is well placed to become the next Commission President, however the centre right EPP group is not likely to allow this prized post slip from its grasp.

12 of the 28 heads of Government are members of the EPP, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy and Poland’s Donald Tusk. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tory Party quit the EPP in 2009.

The EPP is planning to select its candidate for the EU Commission Presidency at its Congress in Dublin on March 6th & 7th. There are four possible contenders: the Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, the Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, the current commissioner for the internal market Michel Barnier and the former Luxembourg Prime Minister and EU veteran Jean-Claude Juncker.

The PES, whose European Parliamentary group is called the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) will hold it pre-election congress in Rome on 1 March.

ENDS

#ep2014 will bring new @Europarl_EN and new @EU_Commission

11 Jan

This is a piece on the 2014 EU Parliament elections and the appointment of a new EU Commission I wrote for the Jan 10th issue of BEERG‘s Global Labor Relations Newsletter

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BEERGEuropean Union: 2014 to bring a new Parliament and new Commission

Derek Mooney writes: Next May citizens across the 28 EU states will go to the polls to elect the 751 members of the next European Parliament.

Voters across the EU have tended to treat these contests as what political scientists call: “second order” elections. This usually means that voter turnout is lower than in national elections and the campaigns are often fought more on national issues rather than pan European ones. In many cases the results in each country reflect the current standing of the national government more than they do the manifestos of the European groupings.

While voting will take place during a 3 to 4 day period across the 28 member states, we can get a sense of the possible outcomes by looking at opinion polls in the eight largest EU countries (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom) as these account for around 77% of all the EU citizens entitled to vote and will elect around 64% of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

A policy paper presented to the Notre Europe: Jacques Delors’s Institute focussing on what the political balance of power in the next European Parliament might be suggests the possibility of some major changes.

The paper features an analysis of recent opinion polls in these eight countries. It suggests a swing to the Left and Centre Left as well as major gains for protest and fringe parties on both the far left and far right.

In the outgoing parliament the EPP (Centre Right group) holds 265 seats against 184 for the Social & Democrats (Centre Left). The analysis of the polls suggests a swing to the centre left that not just closes this gap, but even reverses it. Some analysts predict that the EPP group might win 209 seats in May, four less than the S&D’s predicted 213.

The predicted changes on the margins are no less dramatic. The domestic opinion polls in France suggest that the far right Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, could become the largest French party in the elections, possibly taking 21% of the vote and increasing its number of MEPs from 3 to 17. While on the other end of the spectrum far left parties such as the Spanish Izquierda Unida (United Left) may increase its number of MEPs from 1 to 8.

Political commentators are suggesting that these advances by parties on the far left and far right, plus gains by populist protest parties like Italy’s Five Star Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo could see them holding up to 40% of the seats in the incoming parliament.

The political zero sum gain dictates that the increased influence of these groups comes at the expense of the traditional dominance of big blocs: the EPP, the S&D and the Liberal ALDE group, leading to greater political uncertainty in the next Parliament.

This uncertainty comes at a time when the Lisbon Treaty has given an increased role and say to the European Parliament, not least in the appointment of the next European Commission especially the Commission President, which will follow the European Elections.

The Lisbon Treaty has changed the rules on the appointment of Commission President and these come into effect for the first time in 2014. Article 17 of the Treaty and the Declaration 11 annexed to it set out that the choice of the candidate for the Commission presidency will be made “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament”.

This was supposed to mean that the various pan-European EU groupings declare who their candidates for the Commission presidency will be in advance of the May parliamentary elections and set out their commission presidency manifestos. In each country candidates looking to become an MEP would indicate to which European political grouping they would affiliate indicate the Commission presidency candidate that grouping will back.

Names are being bandied about as to who might nominated by each of the main groups. The current EU Parliament President, Martin Shultz looks like being the likely nominee of the centre left S&D grouping, having already secured the backing of 20 or so centre left parties across Europe, most importantly his own German SPD and Francoise Hollande’s Socialist Party.

The EPP may opt to propose Jean Claude-Juncker, the recently defeated long serving Luxembourg Premier. Juncker’s gain maybe at the expense of his party colleague, Viviane Reding, who had previously harboured ambitions to become Commission President having served as a Vice President. Realising that that path is now closed there is some suggestion that she may step down as a Commissioner before her term expires to seek re-election as an MEP (she was previously an MEP) and seek the post of President of the Parliament. The same suggestion is being made about her French Commission colleague Michel Barnier.

But, being Europe, the practice looks like it will be very different. While MEPs want to see the power reside with them and the Commission Presidency go to the largest group (or coalition of groups) in the incoming European Parliament, national governments and leaders, most notably Angela Merkel and David Cameron, are deeply reluctant to surrender the final say to the parliament and are taking a very broad view of the phrase “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament”

While no one should be heading to the bookies to put bets on the results just yet, it is reasonable to assume that the incoming European Parliament and Commission with have a more leftish and presumably interventionist hue than the outgoing one. Given the difficulties posed to business by the outgoing centrist parliament, this cannot come as good news to business and employers across the EU.

The prospect of a more leftist Commission and parliament, coupled with the political uncertainty heralded by a phalanx of extremist parties of both left and right, could lead to some interesting and difficult times ahead.

ENDS

 

Shatter and @willieodealive were right: There is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann

8 Jan

Apologies for delay in posting this column which appeared in the Herald just before Christmas (on December 18th)

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THE people of Belfast were forced to endure a trip back in time to the bad old days last Friday – courtesy of yet another dissident republican group.

In placing a bomb in one of the city’s busiest areas, this latest dissident collective showed a terrifying disregard for lives of the people in whose name they claim to fight.

Ironically, they attempted their vicious deed just two days before the 20th anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration, the landmark joint statement from the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds and British Prime Minister John Major that set the course for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

This emergence of yet another reckless dissident grouping shows that some people on this island have still not grasped that terrorism and paramilitarism is doomed to fail.

Or maybe they do realise this. Maybe their attempted campaign of terrorism is not designed to achieve anything other than simply having a campaign of terrorism, masking their attachment to violence and intimidation with crude and inappropriate historical references.

Following last Friday’s incident Minister for Defence Alan Shatter warned of the dangers of historical references and the trap of inadvertently legitimising the claims of this latest dissident group, which seeks to refer to itself as ‘Óglaigh
na hÉireann’.

He reminded us that “Óglaigh na hÉireann” is the name of the Irish Defence Forces, a source of great prideto this State, saying: “No media outlet should facilitate it’s misappropriation by individuals intent on perpetrating murder and causing mayhem”.

I applaud Minister Shatter for echoing what one of his predecessors attempted to do in late 2005.

DEMANDING
Back then I was Special Adviser to then Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea. In early November 2005 O’Dea initiated a correspondence with Gerry Adams demanding that Sinn Féin stop misusing the name “Óglaigh na hÉireann” by associating it with the Provisional IRA on badges and t-shirts for sale online.

I say ‘correspondence’ though in reality it was a monologue. While Mr Adams and the then SF party leader in the Dáil Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin did acknowledge the letters sent to them in November and December 2005 and again in February 2006 they failed to make any substantive response to the issues raised.

As both O’Dea stated back in 2005 and Minister Shatter echoed this week: there is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann – it is the Irish Defence Forces.

Though some of the offending items were quietly removed from their website, not all were and the Shinners continue to cash in on our history to fill the party’s already bulging coffers.

Before any Shinner apologist pops up to remind me that they are more hated and loathed by dissidents than others, I readily acknowledge that. But that is no excuse. It is time for Mr Adams to now do what should have done in 1998, 2005 and 2008 – acknowledge there is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann and stop the waffling, even if it costs Sinn Fein some money.

Oglaigh article

ENDS

Some thoughts on the #LimerickCityofCulture debacle

6 Jan

Let’s get one thing clear at the outset: I have no in depth or insider knowledge of what has been going on with the Limerick City of Culture – or City of Vultures as some have christened it.

All I know is what I have read in the papers and on Twitter. In that regard, I suppose, I am very like the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan TD, who admitted on Radio last Sunday that he only knew what he had read in the papers. Doesn’t it make you feel good inside to know that the State’s money is being guarded so keenly?Limerick City of Culture

Looking at the whole debacle from the safe distance of South Dublin, it does appear to me to be an example of how resignation is not always the answer to a problem. An already bad situation has now been made considerably worse by not just one, but a whole series of resignations.

Contrary to the perceived wisdom of the past few years, if not decades, calling for someone’s head and demanding their resignation is not the solution to every problem.

As we are seeing in Limerick, instead of addressing a problem of governance, the whole debate surrounding who should and should not resign has moved the focus to a clash of personalities, even if the outworking of that clash has been entertaining to those of us outside Limerick.

While a resignation may offer a win to one side in a dispute, that victory is just Pyrrhic where the core issue is not addressed.

In the case of Limerick the sequence of resignations, starting with the Artistic Director’s and culminating with the Chief Executive’s (who I should declare is a highly regarded former colleague of mine) has only succeeded in having both sides in the dispute poking each other in the eye and undermining public confidence in what should have been an exciting time in Limerick.

Problems such as the lack of proper advanced planning and budgeting and transparency in the appointments have not been addressed. These issues persist, though not to such a degree that they are stopping the Limerick Year of Culture from proceeding, as it does have a publicised calendar of events for the coming months.

The net result of the resignations is a slew of bad publicity and a hiatus in administration while new personnel are properly appointed – what did that achieve?

Without doubt the individuals resigning did so for what they felt were genuine reasons – whether those resignations where “elective” or “unavoidable”.

“Elective” is the “I just cannot tolerate this any longer” approach where the person believes that resignation is their only remaining response to a problem, having exhausted all other options. Such resignations are often gauged to focus public attention on a major issue of governance, or as a protest against some major malfeasance.

The other, is where the resignation is “unavoidable” because public comment or media attention on some major issue or dispute has made it impossible for the person to reasonably remain in a position, it usually features the line: “it is now in the best interests of the organisation that I move on”.

While noble, do the Limerick resignations fall under these headings? Was there an initial “active” resignation precipitated by frustration at how things were being run – or did someone just peg their toys out of the pram at not getting their way?

Similarly was unavoidable resignation really unavoidable, or was their position untenable from the outset by virtue of the particular nature of the appointment process?

From this distance and with such piecemeal information to go on, I have no idea.

What I do know is that none of the resignations have achieved anything and that there are now four people out of work, each of whom could have contributed further to making the year a success.

Meanwhile the people in government who should be answering questions and acting speedily to undo the damage caused by their delays in 2012 and 2013 continue to act as if they were mere bystanders.

Bold Santa Claus: Can he be investigated over illegal data collection? #eudatap

20 Dec

A light hearted piece, penned by a couple of us in BEERGon the employment data aspects of data protection from the festive/end of year edition of the BEERG Newsletter 

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reding (2)The BEERG Team write:According to usually unreliable sources in Brussels, Commissioner Reding is to ask the European Parliament to investigate allegations that the head of a global enterprise operating from an unspecified Artic territory just within EU borders has been holding and using data files on a range of individuals world-wide. There are also suspicions that the enterprise may have links to the US’s National Security Agency (NSA). The company concerned has been identified as Claws Enterprises, headed by the mysterious Sanity Claws.

Commission Reding is said to have been alerted to the operations of Claws after hearing a rhyming couplet broadcast on several EU and US radio stations in recent weeks.   According to the aforementioned sources the recording said that Claws has been

       “…making a list and checking it twice / he’s going to find out who’s naughty and nice…”

Leading data protection sources informed BEERG that no information commission or data protection authority anywhere in the EU can trace any records of any non-judicial or non-policing enterprise or individual registering with them for the purpose of checking who is “naughty or nice”.

The recording is causing understandable concern in the EU capital coming so soon as it does on the heels of the Snowden revelations. The suggestion that both this enterprise and Mr Snowden are based in neighbouring Polar Regions is also causing concern and raising questions of some collusion.

Commission Reding is said to be considering immediately raising this issue as part of the EU-US Trade talks given this enterprise’s seasonal global operations, particularly the suggestion that Claws (spelling of the name to be checked) is expected to be “coming to town” soon.  Tea Party sources in the US refused to confirm or deny rumours that they are hosting a reception for Mr Claws when he gets to DC. A Tea Party spokesperson said: “We will be having an end-of-year get together. Come all ye faithful”.

Questions are now being asked if this Mr Sanity Claws will be visiting the NSA offices near Washington DC during his impending visit and what is the nature of his relationship with the NSA given the rumours that he has a team of elves and minions strategically placed across the planet. French officials have questioned as to whether Claws Enterprises are operating in conformity with the Posting of Elves Directive.

One official commented: “We suspect that some of the elves posted by Claws to France may be below the minimum height requirement for elves in France. Further, we have suspicions that they may also be working on Sundays”.

The CGT union has called an emergency meeting of its Elves and Safety Committee and says it will oppose any moves to downsize French elves.  Meanwhile, a spokesperson for UNI Global said that while they had never heard of Claws Enterprises and had no idea what they did. Nevertheless, the spokesperson called on the company to open negotiations for an International Framework Agreement. The spokesperson added that they had commissioned a leading NGO to produce a report on “poverty pay” in Elf Land. We believe that the report is provisionally entitled: “Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho our wages are too low”.

German media sources quoted Chancellor Angela Merkel saying: “Thankfully, as part of the program for government with our SPD colleagues we have just agreed a national minimum height for elves in Germany”.

Sources totally disconnected with Commissioner Reding’s office have been expressing concerns that this Sanity Claws enterprise has been gathering personal data with neither implicit or explicit written consent – either on file or online.

“Where does this leave the right to be forgotten?” said one of the sources. “We believe that the right to be completely forgotten must be applied and that these lists being held by Mr Sanity Claws and the personal information held on them must be destroyed within the next 10 days. We know that the people of the EU and the US, especially younger people, will thank us for this before the end of the month if we have our way”, they continued.

When asked if the Commission position meant that Claws should destroy his lists and not deliver presents to children on December 25th our source responded that “austerity was for life and not just for Christmas” and the sooner that children realised this the better.

Another anonymous legal source, specialising in the area of contract law and service level agreements, has told BEERG over the phone that they do not believe the specified enterprise could legally or credibly offer a reward-based service determined solely on a subjective assessment of an individual’s niceness or naughtiness. “It sounds like madness to us lawyers” they said. “We have examined the text, the content and provisions of hundreds of contracts over the years and, based on this experience, we can state with near certainty that there is no sanity clause.”

PS… since writing this piece we are hearing reports that the Commission have also learned of another enterprise holding and using unapproved personal oral hygiene data trading under the name: The Tooth Fairy.

EU Justice Ministers “Move Backwards” on Data Protection Regulation? #EUDatap

12 Dec

BEERG coverBEERG’s Director of Public Affairs Derek Mooney writes: The ongoing problems in reaching agreement on the content and detail of the General Data Protection Regulation were highlighted yesterday (Friday Dec 6th) at the EU Council’s meeting of Justice & Home Affairs Ministers.

Despite months of discussions among officials and experts from the member states; Ministers were still unable to reach a consensus on the detailed operation of the “one stop shop” principle central to the Regulation. The issue, just one of several still to be resolved, is now pushed back into the forthcoming Greek EU Presidency, due to run for the first six months of 2014.

After the meeting Commission Vice President and Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding seemed unable to hide her frustration at this further delay, saying

“…we have moved backwards… Instead of seeing the wood for the trees Ministers got bogged down in details with the solution that even after three months of discussions on the one-stop-shop principle there is still no workable solution on the table.”

Her comments contrast with those of the current Chair of the Council of Justice Ministers, Lithuanian Minister of Justice, Juozas Bernatonis who said:

We prefer a strong agreement to a fast one, and must work to ensure a proper balance between business interests and fundamental rights of citizens.”

The EUObserver.com website later cited an EU diplomat as saying that Germany, with the support of Sweden and Belgium, was partly responsible for the delay adding that Berlin does not want the EU law to be any weaker than its domestic one. Other countries are said to have problems with the actual operation of the systems, believing it to be overcomplicated.

As currently drafted the “one stop shop” principle means that when activities of the undertaking in the EU takes place in more than one Member State, the obligation for cooperation with national data protection authority would be limited to the authority of the main establishment of that undertaking.

As we have previously reported here, Commissioner Reding has spent most of 2013 attempting to railroad the Data Protection Regulation through the EU with a minimum of discussion on the detail, particularly the unnecessary burdens and costs it will create for businesses, large and small, across the EU. Reding’s target was to get the Regulation passed before the current EU parliament and Commission mandates finish in mid-2014 – just in time to further her ambitions to become the next Commission President

While she had some success in speeding up its passage through the Justice & Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) in the European Parliament, her tactic has not worked with the member state governments. Both the Irish (Jan – June 2013) and Lithuanian (July – Dec 2103) Presidencies have focussed on the detailed operations of her proposal as worded.

Their insistence on fleshing out the implications of the draft Regulations many complex provisions have not only stymied her April 2014 timetable, but perhaps also her own personal ambitions? Could this account for her attack on those Ministers yesterday:

“I wonder how Ministers will face citizens back home, who are calling for stronger and uniform data protection rules in Europe? But fortunately this is not a question that I have to answer.”

With her Commissionership looking certain to end in 2014, it is likely a question she will soon not be around to answer.

 

ENDS 

 

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