Archive for May, 2008

May 20 2008

I’m Sad…

Published by under Blog,Movies

Oh woe is me. Instead of going home to watch the Eurovision Semi-Finals, I have just been invited to the Indiana Jones Premiere in the Savoy instead.

Poor me! 🙂

9 responses so far

May 20 2008

Lisbon And Me – Roche’s Reactionary Rant

Published by under Blog

Dick RocheI’m not the biggest fan of Minister Dick Roche at the best of times. Fianna Fáil hid him away during the General Election, so why on earth they would allow him to run their Lisbon Treaty Campaign is beyond me.

Today, he writes in the Independent. It is a response piece to an article by Bruce Arnold. Arnold’s assertion was that we should vote No as giving control of our corporation tax over to the EU will reduce our competitiveness and place the fate of our jobs in the arms of the Government of Europe. Looking at the facts, as laid out by Roche, he refutes Arnold’s claim and I must give credit where it is due, he definitely cleared up a few questions I had on Europe’s responsibility for our tax rates if the Treaty were to be ratified. It is very clear that our corporation tax rates cannot be touched by the EU, but they have more or less carte blanche with our indirect taxes.

He goes on to berate Arnold for his errors and misgivings, pointing out that the Institute of Chartered Accountants have endorsed the Treaty, the American Chamber of Commerce and IBEC have all endorsed the Treaty and they would not do this if there was any issues over competitiveness and the corporation tax.

He criticises Arnold for having not read the Treaty correctly or fully. But here, Minister Roche further nails home the entire problem with this Treaty. It is virtually impossible to understand; it is near unintelligible at times; and is someone like Bruce Arnold, an intelligent, educated, political journalist, cannot fully comprehend what it is saying, then how on earth can the rest of us be expected to make an informed judgement? I suspect Dick Roche may be one of the very few people in this country who can truly claim to have an understanding of the Treaty. This is not good enough.

Previous Posts

4. Lisbon and Me – Consequences

3. Political Apathy and a Yearning for Change

2. Lisbon and Me – Deciding The Future

1. Lisbon and Me

4 responses so far

May 20 2008

Eurovision And Politics

Published by under Blog,Music

Dustin the TurkeyI have seriously had enough of Europolitics. I have immersed myself in it far too much over the past few days, more so than I would have expected or intended.

So, this evening, I am going to switch off my brain, open a few cans of beer and settle in to watch the semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest.

I truly love it. It’s stupid, it’s over the top, the music is generally poor and the presenters are invariable an embarrassment. What’s not to love?

Linda Kavanagh in PantoDustin will be up 11th and I may have to go for a bathroom break at that point. Needless to say, sending Dervish, Brian Kennedy, the small odd brother and sister who were clearly a little too close, that awful Chris Doran (remember that?) have not worked for us in recent years, but sending a loudmouth bird (not Linda Kavanagh) to represent us can only end in disaster. My prediction is that we won’t even get to the final, which will, admittedly, be a pity. Watching the painfully inevitable voting at the end of the night is (I say unashamedly) very exciting.

This year, I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to all the songs prior to the event, so I will be making my mind up at the same time as everyone else. Bookies have Russia as favourite to win, so rather than cause us further misery by posting up Dustin’s video, here’s Dima Bilan with Believing.

4 responses so far

May 20 2008

Lisbon And Me – Consequences

Published by under Blog,Politics

I’ve detailed the meaning of the extensive language in the Lisbon Treaty, I’ve given my opinion regarding the poor campaigning on both sides of the argument. Now, I plan on doing something neither side seem willing to do. I want to discuss the consequences and repercussions of saying Yes or No to this treaty.

So, what happens if we say Yes?

So, what happens if we say Yes? Initially, not very much apparently. Most of the changes proposed won’t come into effect until 2014 and, as suggested before, much of what will change will be bureaucratic in nature: name changes and voting numbers. So, why do we need a time consuming referendum?

Something I neglected to discuss in my article explaining the Treaty was the immediate change that would occur to our own Constitution. The changes include the deletion of Article 24.4.9, which states:

The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defense pursuant to Article 1.2 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 7° of this section where that common defense would include the State.

Now, that sounds to me like they are paving the way for a joint defense force for Europe, of which Ireland will be a part, except for the fact they are inserting a whole new Article (29.4.15) with virtually the same wording. Further evidence of the stupid bureaucracy surrounding this entire endeavour.

The problems begin in the rather long winded and confusing insertion of Articles 29.4.11, 29.4.12, 29.4.13 and 29.4.14 which says the state agrees to a whole bunch of stuff, none of which is detailed in the changed Constitution, merely referred to by Article numbers.

Here’s the wording of the articles – feel free to skip down to the explanations:

Article 29.4.11

No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by the obligations of membership of the European Union referred to in subsection 10° of this section, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the said European Union or by institutions thereof, or by bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section, from having the force of law in the State.

This article gives constitutional backing to the supremacy of EU law which has been laid down by the European Court of Justice. Surely, this is the most significant of changes. While it may not state it in definitive terms, this section seems to be conceding that EU Law overrides the Irish Constitution. I am not a legal mind, but that if that is even inferred here, then here is a conclusive argument for the No campaign. The Irish Constitution must come first. If it is not the supreme and final point of law in our state, then it is not worth the paper it is written on. This is my new reason for calling for a No vote.

Article 29.4.12

The State may exercise the options or discretions provided by or under Articles 1.22, 2.64, 2.65, 2.66, 2.67, 2.68 and 2.278 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 10° of this section and Articles 1.18 and 1.20 of Protocol No. 1 annexed to that Treaty, but any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Articles 1.22 and 2.278 of the treaty provides for Enhanced Cooperation among groups of Member States. This is not huge on the detail but it could be argued as a good thing by the Yes side – it may help reduce friction between nations and nationalities. It could lead to harmony between different ethnicities, religions and other groups. The No side could see this as a small step towards that Common Defense thing that we are so strenuously trying to avoid.

Article 2.64 deals with a myriad of issues mainly Security, Discrimination, Enhanced Cooperation and the role of National Parliaments. Article 2.65 deals Policing, border checks and Asylum. Articles 2.66 and 2.67 deal with Judicial Cooperation in Civil and Criminal Matters. Article 2.68 deals with Police Cooperation, and seeing as there is enough difficulty getting our police force to cooperate with our neighbours up North, I don’t see this Article being anything other than a publicity stunt.

This amendment will basically allow Ireland to participate in schemes in these areas, when it so wishes, and opt out when it does not suit. This, on the whole, may seem positive, but with the two major political parties in this State trumpeting a pro-Europe stance, I can’t see us opting out very often, can you?

Article 29.4.13

The State may exercise the option to secure that the Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (formerly known as the Treaty establishing the European Community) shall, in whole or in part, cease to apply to the State, but any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

This allows us to opt out (which has the same flaw as the Article above) in the areas of freedom, security and justice, but if our Constitution is being overridden by EU Law, I can already hear the debates in the European Courts.

Article 29.4.14

The State may agree to the decisions, regulations or other acts under:

  1. Article 1.34(b)(iv)
  2. Article 1.56 (in so far as it relates to Articles 48.7 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 4 of this section)
  3. Article 2.66 (in so far as it relates to the second subparagraph of Article 65.3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), Are you lost yet, because there’s seven in total?
  4. Article 2.67 (in so far as it relates to subparagraph (d) of Article 69A.2, the third subparagraph of Article 69B.1 and paragraphs 1 and 4 of Article 69E of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union),
  5. Article 2.144(a),
  6. Article 2.261 (in so far as it relates to the second subparagraph of Article 270a.2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), and
  7. Article 2.278 (in so far as it relates to Article 280H of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union),

of the Treaty referred to in subsection 10 of this section, and may also agree to the decision under the second sentence of the second subparagraph of Article 137.2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (as amended by Article 2.116(a) of the Treaty referred to in the said subsection 10), but the agreement to any such decision, regulation or act shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Article 1.34(b)(iv) deals with the European Council should decide that the Council should use Qualified Majority Voting in areas not specified by the Treaty. This is only an issue if you have a problem with the changes to the QMV. Personally, I am fine with it – it gives smaller states a higher weighting than the larger states, so their voices will not be lost in the din.

Article 1.56 deals with further revisions to the Treaties. This is a little grey for me as it seems to be saying that this Treaty cannot be revised without a referendum (in Ireland’s case), but from my reading of the Lisbon Treaty itself, Europe will (if ratified) have the power to make changes to any Treaty without the need to go back to the people. They will simply need agreement from each member state’s government. I would like this clarified, but I have not been able to find clarification.

Articles 2.66 and 2.67 are mentioned above and relate to Judicial Cooperation. Article 2.144(a) changing the Legislative procedure to “ordinary legislative procedure” by decesion of the European Council. is similar to the change to the QMV – it is down to personal reservations about changes to decision making procedures. Article 2.261, 2.278 and 2.116(a) deal with procedures and rules regarding the allocation of budgetary powers and are more clerical issues.

Constitutional Consequences

So, this is why it is clearly more than a simple Eurocratic exercise. The consequences of our changing the Constitution may not be immediately apparent, but our constitution is one of the strongest and most envied across the world. We should be very careful and well informed about every single change we make to it. We are, each of us, guaranteed so many rights and freedoms by our Constitution. The Americans have such pride in theirs and it’s odd that we do not have similar feelings towards ours.

And a No vote?

And a No vote? What will happen if we vote no? Will the rest of Europe wage war upon our defection? Or will they breathe a sigh of relief that the one and only stopgap (the Irish Referendum) remaining between the safe and sturdy status quo and the untried and untested Eurostate, has stood up to the seemingly inevitable?

It’s not that simple. The reason this treaty is so confusing and divisive is that no body can sufficiently explain the repercussions of either outcome. The consequences of ratification may not be seen for many years from now. By 2014 the political landscape of Europe could look very different. The current downturn in the economy and the rise of a number of new political leaders throughout Europe (our own Brian Cowen, Britain’s Gordon Brown, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and even Germany’s Angela Merkel (elected Nov 2005)) make the future impossible to predict.

A No vote will invoke the political ire of many though. This is clear. Internally, Fianna Fáil will look very egg-faced if they fail to return a Yes. Indeed, Fine Gael lead figures, with their 5 MEP’s having a significant interest in a Yes verdict, will try their best to make it look at though they were not the ones who failed, and instead blame the Government. And with a Government in place pushing so hard for a Yes vote, in a country that votes No, tensions, mistrusts and paranoias will abound. An article about the bias evident in the Referendum Commission suggests that there is pressure coming from on high to push the Yes vote. How worrying it will be for the current government if we say No.

And externally too, this Treaty has already cost a lot of time and money Europe wide. 13 of the 27 European governments have already accepted the Treaty, seeing as no other country requires a referendum allowing the people to choose for themselves. Remember, we are the only people who have the opportunity to vote on this – we should be proud of our democracy. So, the political repercussions of a No vote on the European front is much harder to predict. Again, there may be relief from countries such as the UK, who are controversially not holding a referendum, and the Czech Republic, who are still trying to decide if the Treaty abides by Czech law.

Too Much, Too Quickly

The Treaty is too much too quickly. I would like someone to explain to me why so much has to be pumped into this one (exceedingly long) document. Surely, a phased introduction of many of the measures (many of which would not require a referendum) would make more sense and would allow people time to understand a smaller, more manageable proposal down the line. Enda Kenny was very fond of saying something didn’t smell right when Bertie’s Mahon problems came to light, but with this Treaty, Enda, something does not smell right. To use two wonderful words that are often bandied about by politicians trying to sound important – there is far too much manipulation and obfuscation here. There is nothing straightforward about this and if we are being asked to make changes to our Constitution, then we need to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that we are doing the right thing. Well I, for one, still have doubts. My No stance is still in place. I am still awaiting a decent argument from the Yes side.

Previous Posts

3. Political Apathy and a Yearning for Change
2. Lisbon and Me – Deciding Our Future
1. Lisbon and Me

11 responses so far

May 18 2008

Political Apathy And A Yearning For Change

Published by under Blog,Politics

In my hours and days of infiltration into the quagmire of Europe’s Lisbon Treaty, I, very early on, found myself asking, “Why should I bother?” Why should I bother spending hour upon hour of precious drinking time trying to educate myself in the ways of the force farce EU. The political landscape of Ireland and Europe was never a vista I cared to gaze upon. In fact, at 26 years of age, the general election of 2007 was the first time I exercised my franchise. I don’t think I was even registered to vote until last Summer.

I am the last generation who will live to remember the recession of the eighties – having to wear clothing that was stitched and sewn back together so much that there were more patches that original material; that one chocolate bar a week I would get after Mass every Sunday with my 20 pence pocket money; the depression on the face of my father when he lost his job in the factory. And if I’m completely honest, most of what I remember from that time is from the beginning of the recovery, the birth of the Celtic Tiger – my mother would scrimp and save hard so not be seen to have poorly dressed children; that one chocolate bar a was supplemented by the three hundred more my Granny would give me during the week; and one of my strongest memories from the late eighties was the relief and joy on the face of my father when he got his factory job back.

My generation and the generation running behind me in their Gucci runners and BT2 retro range of attire, really only know the good times. We didn’t need to know about the politics behind our money for mobile phones and holidays in Torremolinos. There was no reason for us to understand why our clothes cost more than our parents’ first house – there was always more money available. And why should we care what that funny little man, Bertie Ahern, did with a few grand back in the nineties?

The photo of Bill Clinton bringing the hands of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat together is the first recollection I have of politics. We had to do a report on it for school (I was probably in sixth class, maybe 12 years old). The only reason I remember it is because I got a prize for it for my own illustration of the historic moment declaring peace in the middle east. I’m glad that all went so well.

After that, I have fleeting recollections of discussing abortion around the time of one of the referenda, I’m sure I made some flippant comment on the second Mary in the presidency, I may have paid brief attention to the Good Friday Agreement, but overall, looking back across my life, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a far greater feature.

And I’m not alone. There are very few people of my age group who are avidly involved or even vaguely interested in politics. Why should we? We’re too wrapped up in our four nights out a week, our new apartments, our three week tours of Italy (taking in Sicily if we have time).

Well, we may have only known the good times, but the times they are a-changing.

In this last year, conversations around the table in the pub have ceased mentioning the huge increases in our parents’ house prices. No more do we drivel on about SSIA’s and new cars. Instead, the whisper of recession is heard. Job losses are no longer fun breaks before trying new careers and increasingly we hear of relief when a friend has found a job after looking for weeks or months. These are still lighthearted conversations – no one is truly worried (I say this as I shift nervously in my seat).

Maybe it is time our generation peaked out from under our sun beds and took note of what our elected officials are doing with our lives.

So, what have I to gain from being well informed on all things dull and dutiful (apart from material for a few lengthly blog posts)? I will gain focus and understanding of what is being done with my taxes. I will begin to see the true state of our health service. I will gain some comprehension of the anger that older generations have towards politicians who talk and talk, but don’t provide concrete answers.

Perhaps, one of us or some of us will gain enough interest to stand up and say “enough is enough”. Perhaps someone will ask questions of the government that have never been addressed before. Perhaps, a young person with fresh ideas will rise from the aged political ranks and give new direction to a country that is in need of more than a figure head. Perhaps someone will emerge as a leading light. We need a leader.

3 responses so far

May 17 2008

Lisbon And Me – Deciding The Future

Published by under Blog,Politics

Following on from yesterday’s post, I’ve heard a few arguments at this stage from both sides and I’m currently erring towards a ‘No’ vote for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons may seem on the face of it to be slightly invalid, but if you hear me out, I’d like to explain my current thinking.

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that there are reasons to vote ‘Yes’. Much of the Treaty is nothing more than a bureaucratic exercise to rename some judicial bodies and combine a bunch of already agreed upon charters and treaties. Much of the Treaty is about improving efficiencies of government and ease decision making. So, on the outset, a simple tick in the Yes box seems logical. In fact, it may be argued that Ireland is the only country required to hold a referendum because of our own bureaucracy and the need to reword our own bit of paper – the constitution.

But then remember, Ireland is the only country that is sending this Treaty to the people. We, as a nation, are the only people who have been given the opportunity to fully read, discuss, debate and either accept or decline this set of rules and systems, that is the closest thing to a Europe wide constitution that we are likely to see for the foreseeable future. Surely we owe it not just to ourselves but also to our European neighbours to, at least, make an informed decision.

So, my first reason for voting No is that the electorate is currently ill-informed and a better effort over a longer period of time should be made to make sure that every single person who ticks Yes or No truly understands what they are saying Yes or No to.

I can already hear the ‘Yessers’ condemn me. “It is up to the individual voter to inform themselves on what they are voting for” and “The only reason people don’t understand is that they are too lay to read and ask questions”. Well, I have made serious efforts to inform myself, I am neither stupid nor lazy, and yet I am still concerned and in need of some further clarifications.

And considering it is only a month to the referendum, why are we only receiving the Commissions pamphlets this week (the only unbiased piece of government literature and it doesn’t even give the date of the referendum!!!), why is the Rock the Vote campaign only kicking off now, why is there an endless barrage of posters and ad campaigns pushing us to say Yes, when there is so very little information regarding the consequences of the ratification of the Treaty. I can now happily say that I understand what changes will be made to both our Constitution and to the make up of the EU, but what influence will the Lisbon Treaty have on my life, if it is made law? I’m still not sure.

I consider myself an intelligent person, reasonably well-educated and informed on current affairs, but I, after many hours of research, am unable to ascertain what the big changes will mean to my daily life. Indeed, Mr Doyle asked a number of questions yesterday:

Nope, I still don’t get it, despite how well you’ve explained it Darren. I don’t see why we need it or how it will benefit us or indeed Europe.

Europe has undeniably been good to us and I hate the feeling that because of that we should vote yes.

What I’d like to know is:

Will it mean a better education system where schools are better funded, teachers better trained and more facilities provided?

Will it mean a better health service with shorter waiting lists, less bureaucracy and more availability to people of all financial situations?

Will it mean a better police force, helping to prevent random crimes, racist attacks and the like and to cut down on the amount of drugs in the country?

Will it mean social workers get more help, training and resource to deal with the problems in working class areas?

Will it mean higher levels of pensions for OAPs and people on invalidity pensions, and help unemployed people get training and skills that they need?

Will it improve the standard and quality of living?

Until I get an answer to those I’m not going to vote either way. I’ve read the literature and still can’t see the benefit.

As Elly then pointed out, these issues have nothing to do with the Treaty, they are our own government’s responsibility, not Europe’s. If someone as savvy and informed as Darragh is asking questions about areas that the Treaty has no influence on, then clearly the Referendum Commission has not sufficiently done its job.

To be clear, the Treaty will not effect –

  • harmonisation of direct taxes
  • our neutrality
  • our stance on abortion
  • our childcare system
  • our healthcare system
  • our responsibilities to the elderly
  • our system of education

So my second reason, an extension of my first, even if everyone is given a detailed breakdown of the 294 page document, even if Dick Roche goes around to each voter in Ireland and explains which treaties will be amended, what Articles will be removed and what will be brought it, even if every single person knows what the wording is inside and out, how will anyone know what ultimate influence the EU Reform Treaty (it goes by that name too) will have on their lives and the lives of their children.

Truthfully, I wonder if any of the ministers know what effect it will have in the long term. Are the EU Ministers just putting together this document of reform in order to simplify their lives and remove many of the headaches and much of th paperwork they must endure by sticking to the rules which we currently have. If this were the truth and they admitted it, I’d be more inclined to vote Yes, because at least then I’d be making an informed decision.

The other side of the coin, however, is the No campaign is very poor. Sinn Fein and Libertas’ arguments are invalid and Europhobic. There is ample evidence that the EU has been a fantastic thing for our country (but that is not a sufficient ‘Yes’ argument) and saying No to Europe in its entirety is ignorant of the truth. So, I await a good argument from the No side as much as the Yes.

I expect that through my own research and discussions, I will ultimately be swayed towards ratification of Lisbon, but am I being naive in throwing down the gauntlet to both sides of the debate and asking them both…convince me.

I’ll keep you updated as to where my loyalties lie, as they undoubtedly seesaw from Yay to Nay. Today it’s a No; tomorrow, who knows?

Previous posts:

Lisbon and Me

7 responses so far

May 16 2008

Lisbon And Me

Published by under Politics

I admit it, I confess, I throw my hands up in the air and openly reveal that I do not understand a thing about this Lisbon Treaty vote. In recent days it is a topic that has come up in conversation quite a bit and when asked how I’ll vote, I’ve laughed, shrugged and said I’ll vote whatever way Lottie tells me to vote. I then quickly change the subject.

Funny and silly as it may sound, I realised that unless I made a conscious effort to find out more about this Lisbon thing, then I probably would just blindly follow my better half’s lead.

Little Lisbon Learning Day

So, today is my Little Lisbon Learning Day. I will find out what it’s all about and I will try to write about it in such a way that other complete political Luddites like myself can understand.

Where to begin? The Referendum Commission’s website? Fianna Fáil’s pro-Treaty site? The Libertas NO Site? The Wikipedia? Should I just go have coffee with someone who can explain it to me? Should I get Dick Roche on the phone?

Sarah Carey made a throw-away post a few days ago about not being around to vote on the treaty and I was all set to make a funny retort when I saw the comments ahead of me. Pete had asked what the Treaty was all about and Sarah gave a lengthly, informed and intelligent response, which I found quite helpful (further evidence that when you reply to a comment on your blog, you are not just replying to one person). A debate was sparked in the comments section of the post and I was quickly in over my head.

Sarah begins…

Here’s the deal: The EU is enlarging, so the old rules about decision making and some of the institutions don’t work so well any more. e.g vetos apply to practically everything; EVERY country is entitled to a commissioner; lots of people want to enable the EU to adopt a common position on criminal matters and foreign policy. There’s also more pressure to make the EU “more democratic” and really just work more efficiently.
SO the Lisbon Treaty is a series of amendments to various treaties and institutions.

Consulting other sources, such as the Treaty’s own website and the handbook that circulated, I found myself understanding the content, I could see what each bit meant and did, but I still found it baffling overall. And I doubt I’m the only one in this position.

It’s clear that the Treaty is about change. If ratified, our constitution will change; the powers that the EU have and can exert will change; the make up of the European Parliament will change; the way decisions are made will change; and there is emphasis on things that will not change. But to understand all these changes, we must first ask WHAT are we changing. I think here is where the problems begin for the layman and the Lisbon Treaty. The majority (I’m guessing) of people do not full understand what the EU is, what it does and what it already has the power to do. So, I’m first going to look at the current situation.

(As I raft through the Amazon river of information, I am already regretting taking this on)

The EU is governed at present by The European Commission, The Council of Ministers, The Parliament and the European council (which is made up of each of the European heads of State, led by a President). Laws are made by a process of co-decision, where the Commission proposes laws and policies, which are discussed by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament, before being decided upon jointly by the Parliament and the Council. The process differs for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which is decided upon solely by the Council.

So what will change? Firstly, there will be a nifty bureaucratic name change. The standard co-decision process will be called the “Ordinary Legislative Procedure” and the decision made by the Council alone will be made under a “Special Legislative Procedure“. But what’s in a name, right? The important part is in the changes and the extensions to powers proposed to the “Ordinary Legislative Procedure”, which I will come to shortly.

European Commission

Charlie McCreevyThe Treaty will change how each governing body in the EU will operate. At present, each member state appoints a Commissioner to the European Commission (at present ours is Charlie McCreevy). The Treaty proposes to change this to allow just two-thirds of member states to nominate a Commissioner for each term (of 5 years) on a rotating basis. Simply put, this will mean that each member state will have a Commissioner for 10 of every 15 years. I can understand how this apparent reduction in individual state powers could be a point of controversy. A lot can happen in 5 years – think back to five years ago and look at the changes that have occurred both on the Irish stage and on the European and worldwide stages between then and now. In addition, one commissioner will hold the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Council of Ministers

The most significant proposed change to the Council of Ministers is in voting. At the moment, some decisions must be made unanimously while others are made by Qualified Majority Voting. According to QMV, each member state has a fixed number of votes. The number allocated to each country is roughly determined by its population, but progressively weighted in favour of smaller countries. When this voting system is used, no one country has a veto over the issue being debated. QMV is currently used when voting on issues relating to competition rules, consumer protection, environment and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. It is proposed to apply QMV to a number of new areas – these include energy, asylum, immigration, judicial co-operation in civil matters and sport.

At present, for a vote to pass under QMV, 74% of the total weighted votes are required. Under new proposals, this drops to 55%, i.e. 15 of the 27 member states, and those 15 states must represent 65% of the EU population. This may sound like the larger states can band together to overrule the QMV, but there is a provision which requires at least 4 member states to oppose the decision, preventing 3 of the largest states from blocking rulings of the QMV.

The new Treaty will make this system of qualified majority voting the norm when decisions are being taken, except where the EU Treaties require a different procedure (e.g. a unanimous vote). The literature is at pains to point out: Important policy areas for Ireland such as taxation and defense will continue to require a unanimous vote.

The Treaty also changes the arrangements for the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. At present the Presidency of the Council changes every six months. In the future, the Presidency will be provided by a team of three Member States working together over an 18-month period, except for the Foreign Affairs Council which will be chaired by the High Representative. This is designed to increase the coherence and efficiency of the Presidency.

European Council

At the moment, the European Council is chaired on a rotating basis by the head of Government of the Member State holding the six month Presidency of the EU. The Treaty would allow for a two and a half year EU Presidency, the holder being elected by QMV by the European Council. The President, who can hold the position for a maximum of two terms, would chair and co-ordinate the work of the European Council and will continue to be responsible for major policy decisions. In addition, all legislative meetings of the European Council must be open to public viewing.

European Parliament

Click for larger imageHere is where we return to the Ordinary Legislative Procedure. The Treaty proposes to extend the powers of the European Parliament into areas such as agriculture (which seems to be causing some consternation in Ireland), asylum, immigration and judicial co-operation. The number of MEPs would be permanently reduced to 750, in addition to the President of the Parliament. The Parliament also gains greater powers over the entirety of the EU budget, having joint decision with the Council rather than having to present it to the Council for approval.

(Are you still with me? It truly is a huge amount to wade through and I’m beginning to see how people could be frustrated by the lack of transparency in the 294 pages)

Individual National Parliaments

By today’s rules, the national governments have no direct involvement in decision making. Under Lisbon, the Governments will have 8 weeks after the publication of a legislative proposal to vet the proposal and offer an opinion.

Things get a bit foggy when looking for information on the Power to Change Treaties. There is so much divisiveness on the subject that it is hard to find an unbiased explanation other than that of the Referendum Commission’s booklet.

At present the Treaties governing the EU are amended only by the Member States agreeing to an amending treaty which must then be approved by the Member States in accordance with their own constitutional traditions…for example in Ireland, a referendum may be required.

The Lisbon Treaty now proposes to give the European Council (Heads of Government) the power to propose changes to certain parts of the governing Treaties. Any such changes cannot increase the competence of the EU. Any such proposals must be agreed unanimously by the European Council. This means that any national government may veto such a proposal. If the European Council does agree a proposed change, then in order for it to come into effect, it must be ratified by the Member States in accordance with their own constitutional traditions. This may require a referendum in Ireland as happens at present.

The EU has the competence to decide policies and make laws only in those areas which are set out in the treaties. The Lisbon Treaty would specify who has the power to do what by listing the areas in which:

  • the EU has exclusive competence – this means that the decisions must be made at EU level and not at national government level;
  • the EU and national governments have joint competence;
  • the national governments have exclusive competence but the EU may support and help to co-ordinate.

The Lisbon Treaty would give the EU joint competence with Member States in a number of new areas including energy and aspects of the environment and public health. It does not propose to give the EU any new exclusive competence.

This is such a contentious issue that I’m not going to offer my own opinions on it just yet. I want to keep this piece an unbiased as possible, and truth be told, I am still making up my mind on the whole thing. It is, however, worth pointing out that if the Treaty is ratified, there are a number of areas in which Ireland will be able to opt out, such as judicial and policing issues (known as the “Area of Freedom, Security and Justice”) and there are a number of issue that will not be affected by the Treaty at all, such as Ireland’s neutrality.

Charter of Fundamental Rights

The Charter of Fundamental Rights lists citizens’ political, social and economic rights. It is intended to make sure that European Union regulations and directives do not contradict the European Convention on Human Rights which is ratified by all EU Member States (and to which the EU as a whole would accede under the Treaty of Lisbon). In the rejected EU Constitution it was integrated into the text of the treaty and was legally binding. The Lisbon Treaty refers to it and raises it to the same legal standing as the main treaties.

Lisbon and (a very tired) Me

So, there it is, there is the information. There is more in it, but I think I’ve covered the important parts. There are sections which talk about minor changes (e.g the renaming of the Court of First Instance to the General Court, and the declaration that the euro is the official currency of the EU) but the essence is laid out above. I’ve made no arguments in favour nor against the Treaty. I am close to deciding whether to go Yes or No, but am still reading and listening to arguments.

A ‘Yes’ vote will change the Irish Constitution, ratifying the Treaty. Assuming all other EU countries accept the Treaty, it could come into effect early 2009. A ‘No’ vote will keep everything exactly as it is, our constitution will remain unchanged and the EU will be unable to adopt the Treaty, as it required agreement from ALL member states.

I will follow up this post with my own opinions, decisions, questions and ideas on the Treaty and I look forward to hearing what other people have to say.

Thank you for bearing with me throughout.


32 responses so far

May 15 2008

Americans Like Reading About Britney Spears

Published by under Blog

Okay, so it’s probably the most obvious statement you’re likely to hear this week, but Alisa Miller has conclusive evidence of the fact that Americans are blind to world affairs, and at TED, she lays out her information in a very interesting way.

Is it any wonder the Bush administration found it so easy to instill fear and paranoia in the Americans?

One response so far

May 15 2008

We’re Going To The Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival

Published by under Blog,Night Out

Among the many things we talked drunkenly about in the bar last night, the Cat Laughs featured heavily. We were making plans as to what we should see:

Cat Laughs Planner

What should we aim to go see? I was thinking Neil Delamere, Maeve Higgins and Rich Hall for definite. After that, I’m easy.  A bit of improv will keep me happy.

We also spent much of last night putting the world to rights, but sadly, by morning, we forgot how to do it.

Here are our drunken poser pics:

Anthony McG


And at the end of the night, there were cranes. Well, one crane – one huge crane over Grafton Street.

Cranes over Grafton Street

I love cranes!

5 responses so far

May 15 2008

The Man Bag

Published by under Blog

I have a manbag! Yes, I am one of those metrosexual, fashion conscious, manbag-wearing men.

No, it does not contain make-up. It does not have compartments full of cleanser, moisturiser or foundation. I do not carry a spare pair of “comfortable” shoes around, nor do I have “overnight” clothes. My diary is not in there; my most recent birthday cards are not tucked away for safekeeping; my list of gifts for people who I might buy gifts for if there was an occassion for which I should by gifts for these people for for…is not in this bag.

It contains my Filofax. It has numerous pens. I have a multimedia card reader in one of the compartments. It houses my glasses (my sunglasses when I wear my regular glasses, my regular glasses when I wear my sunglasses). I have many cables – a standard USB cable, my phone charger, my camera charger, my iPod cable. It plays host to Darragh‘s external harddrive and cable (I should probably return that).

It is full of pages – printed blogs, because I didn’t have time to read them in work, so I read them on the train; a collection of post such as bills and statements which I should file away at home but keep forgetting to do; le craic’s Blog Awards book which I keep meaning to give to Lottie; and lots of random crap, much of which I’m not even sure where it came from.

I have a manbag. I need a manbag! How did the Irish male function pre-metrosexuality? Though I’m sure I’ve just landed myself on Grandad‘s list of “people I hate just because…”, I cannot give up on this vital tool. We spend 12 to 16 years or more carting around our school and college books, copies, lecture papers and notes – it’ hard to become pocket people.

My dad is a pocket person. He carries his keys, his wallet, his phone, his loose change, his lotto ticket, his tissue and his packet of chewing gum in two pockets. Young women say to him, “is that a phone in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” The answer is depressingly predictable.

In fact, my father only recenty invested in a wallet – an improvement on just throwing his cash, his ATM card and his change in the one pocket. How do these people cope?

In my wallet I have my ATM card, two credit cards, my Cineworld card, my annual Bus and Rail Card (and my stupid CIE card with a grinning fool on it), my student card, my loyalty card to Zumo, my loyalty card to SoBo, my Starbucks card, my Hughes and Hughes gift card, my (apparently out of date) HMV studen card, numerous random business cards, my own Moo cards, several receipts and a note reminding me of a dental appointment (21st August at 12.30).

I have manbag and I could not live without it. As I sit on the DART, attempting to clear out all the crap from it, I realise there is more stuff in it that I need to keep than there is junk I can afford to cast away.

I have a manbag – don’t judge me!

21 responses so far

May 14 2008

I’m In Love With The Summertime

Published by under Blog,Night Out

Well, I didn’t have my giant picnic in the green yesterday evening, but I did get to enjoy another amazing lunch today, listening to Divine Comedy on the iPod and watching the people go by.

Would anyone like to suggest a decent beer garden for this evening after work? I have no interest in hibernating for the evening – I want good company, a nice few cold pints and maybe a bit of decent music (or at least some good conversation).

Cyanide and Happiness

13 responses so far

May 14 2008

I Love My Girlfriend

Published by under Blog

If ever I needed a conclusive reason to love the amazing Lottie, here it is. Look what she gave me for dinner last night.

7 responses so far

May 13 2008

Rick O’Shea And His Big Fancy Radio Show

Published by under Blog,Music

Photo by RymusApparently Rick O’Shea is more than just an online entity and blog awards presenter (Photo by the amazing Rymus). He doesn’t just spend his days photoblogging and trawling the Interweb in search of interesting tidbits to share with us. It seems, in his spare time, he is also a DJ of sorts on 2FM.

So, to keep him from whinging, as soon as Ray Foley calls it a day, I switch over to hear what Mr Rick has got to say for himself. And it had better be good. My radio remote isn’t working – I’ve had to get up from my desk and walk over to change the radio station.

Being that I am an active listener, I am armed with Rick’s email address,, and the show’s text number, 51552. I intend on participating.


He’s been looking for suggestions from his listeners of things to do this evening. Some have suggested skinny dipping, some have suggested a few cold ones down the beach. I think we should all hit St Stephen’s Green en masse and have a giant picnic – I’ll pick up about 40 bottles of Fanta orange. Who’ll get the ham sambos? Maybe O’Brien’s will sponsor it if I agree to put their logo on the blog –>


After 3 o’clock, Rick is looking for dodgy business practices. We can only assume he’s going to set up the private sector’s equivalent of the Office of the Ombudsman. It began with the estate agent in the UK who put up his own For Sale signs on empty houses, to give the impression he was selling properties left, right and centre. There’s supermarkets who use out of date sweets in their pick and mix. And then there’s the employer that printed payslips on the back of the menus and put them in used envelopes before giving them to staff. Isn’t that just being environmentally aware?


The music on the show is chosen brilliantly. There’s a good mix of modern mainstream tracks with a bit of old fashioned cheese thrown in as well. It pains me to admit it, but I think I’ve been Rick rolled into becoming a 2FM listener (well, for three hours each day anyway).

Rick’s blog is here; his 2FM site is here; he does Bebo and MySpace; here‘s his FaceBook page. If you can’t catch the show each day, the PodCast is available here.

19 responses so far

May 13 2008

Dance Your Cares Away

Published by under Blog,TV

The Fraggles

Dance your cares away
Worries for another day
Let the music play
Down at Fraggle Rock!

The Fraggles are back! It seems Jim Henson and the Weinsteins are making a Fraggle movie in which the Fraggles venture out of their caves to visit the human world.

For those of you who don’t remember the Fraggles, they were Muppets that came in a wide variety of colors and had tails that bear a tuft of fur on the end. They lived in a system of caves called Fraggle Rock that were filled with all manner of creatures and features. Fraggles lived a very carefree life, spending most of their time playing, exploring, and generally enjoying themselves. They live primarily on a diet of radishes and “doozer sticks”.

Dance your cares away
Worries for another day
Let the music play
Down at Fraggle Rock!

Work you cares away!
Dancing’s for another day!
Let the Fraggles play!
We’re Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, Red!


Ooooh a Fwaggle! Hehe, hey look Ma, I caught a Fwaggle!
Wahhhhhhhhhhh! Woopee!

Dance your cares away
Worry’s for another day
Let the music play
Down at Fraggle Rock!
Down at Fraggle Rock!
Down at Fraggle Rock.

For more details see or check out the Wikipedia

9 responses so far

May 13 2008

Who Needs Garfield?

Published by under Blog

And post 101. Nothing lengthly or meandering, but it is thought provoking.

It’s just a taste of the great daily comic Garfield Minus Garfield. Travors removes Garfield from the daily strip to create a examination of single life, of living alone, of schizophrenia and the infinite sadness of having a dull life. I’m not joking. This strip is genius. Here’s yesterday’s taster:

3 responses so far

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