Wagging the Dog




For the meantime, Wagger will be posting almost exclusively at IrishElection. This should save people having multiple RSS feeds getting the same blog.


Poll Position?

Rumour abounds in Leinster House (apparently sourced from Radio Kerry, although nothing on their website about it for now) that Fine Gael will be releasing their polling results for all 43 consituencies at lunchtime today.
Presumably this means that they have polls showing a clear lead for the "Alternative Government", and are hoping to build a little momentum. Fianna Fáil will surely be quick out of the traps to publish their own polling showing the exact opposite. After all, you can poll to show absolutely anything you want (as Yes, Prime Minister showed us [audio from www.yes-minister.com]).


Dublin North Central - The Raiders of the Lost Seat

Following the last Boundary Review, several constituencies were redrawn or lost seats. Dublin North Central was one of those dropped from four seats to three.
With two sitting Fianna Fáil TDs, one Fine Gael TD and an Independent, it's not quite representative of Dublin as a whole (missing, as it is, a Labour or Green TD, which one would expect in a four seater).
Last time out, in 2002, Fianna Fáil's Sean Haughey and Ivor Callely were first and second in the poll with 19% and 17.2% respectively. Significantly further back, in third place on first preferences, was Deirdre Heney, with 13.82%. This gave Fianna Fáil a whopping (for FF in Dublin) 50.05% of the first preferences.
In fourth place, just behind Heney, was Fine Gael's Richard Bruton, and another thousand and fifteen hundred votes behind him were, respectively, Labour's Derek McDowell and the Independent Hospital Alliance candidate, Finian McGrath.
In the end, the elimination of Derek McDowell pushed Richard Bruton into second place and also elected Finian McGrath just ahead of Deirdre Heney (who had led him in every round until the last).
Anyway, enough of the history lesson.

With Dublin North Central being reduced to just three seats, and no retirements expected, an interesting fight is on our hands. Had the last election been for a three seater, Wagger predicts that Ivor Callely would have been the casualty. At the end of counting in 2002, Richard Bruton had a surplus of just over 1,000 votes, which could have been expected to transfer at least the required 390 to Finian McGrath (coming, as they had, from Derek McDowell, rather than another Fine Gael candidate) ahead of either of the remaining Fianna Fáilers. The distribution of those 1,000 votes would have finished the contest without needing to eliminate Heney and transfer her substantial bundle of votes (which would have almost all gone to Callely, in likelihood).
So, we can extrapolate a likely incumbency-by-votes of Haughey, Bruton and McGrath. Add in the two other strong candidates, Callely and McDowell (Heney having moved on to pastures new at this stage, or at least exhausted these pastures in the eyes of FF HQ), and there's going to be a very tight race here - five strong candidates, four incumbents, and only three seats.
The recent demise of Squire Hockey, Fianna Fáil's talisman around Donnycarney for the past half century, shouldn't hurt son Seán's vote (indeed, some would argue it will actually help him - both with sympathy votes and the removal of an historical impediment for potential voters), and he is likely to top the poll again.
Bruton, now with a strong national profile (not hindered by Michael McDowell's outburst earlier this year) and a shoo-in for virtually any Cabinet post he wants if the putative Rainbow wins the election, should also be elected without too many problems.
This leaves one seat, and three fighting for it.
Callely's resignation, while damaging at the time, will probably have been forgotten (as Mary Harney is reputed to have said, the public will forget anything if you can just keep your head down for six months) once the election rolls around. It will also have given him plenty of time to work the doorsteps and clinics at a rate others can't match.
Finian McGrath's legislative and parliamentary duties as an Independent are minimal enough, and can be pretty much abandoned once he decides to switch to election mode - something party spokespersons and Committee Chairs can't do. He should increase his first preferences on 2002, but he won the last election on transfers, and it remains to be seen whether he'll be as attractive a transfer target (he's no Green Party), and if he'll even stay in the race long enough for someone useful to transfer to him.
Derek McDowell was elected as a Labour Senator after losing his Dáil seat in 2002, which means that, although not an incumbent, he has the same Leinster House office (although only one staffer, rather than the two given to the incumbent TDs) as his main opponents. A professional campaign based on the Rainbow Coalition/Mullingar Accord could see him pick up votes alongside Bruton, but he will want to keep his eye on any disaffected Fianna Fáil votes that might be floating around.

From those final three fighting for the last seat, it is likely that either McGrath or McDowell will take it. The elimination of one would almost certainly elect the other ahead of Callely. The fight now is to have the other guy eliminated first.

Other links:
An interesting discussion on DNC (albeit almost all participants are biased!) is currently raging at politics.ie


Agriculture's share of GNP has been declining continuously for the last decade (ESRI). Is there still a case for a full Government Department for Agriculture?
In 2004, Agriculture (when combined with Forestry and Fishing) accounted for just 2.4% of the total added value in the Irish economy. For comparison's sake, Manufacturing was 26.9%, real estate rental was 12.5% and financial intermediation (international financial services and banking) and distribution each accounted for 10% of added value in the Irish economy. Agriculture has become less and less economically relevant in the last few decades (indeed, arguably since the industrial revolution first reached Ireland).

Fianna Fáil, reaching out to their rural grassroots, established a seperate Department of Rural Affairs (as the Minister likes to title it), which also encompasses Gaeltacht and Community issues, after the 2002 General Election. This, apparently the first Cabinet post for Rural Affairs anywhere in Europe, effectively gives farmers and those dependent on farming two full cabinet posts. Manufacturing has just one (Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment). That one has to represent a very wide range of interests - from IBEC to ICTU to Enterprise Ireland. Why the imbalance?

There is more to it than the simple economics, of course. Value added to the chain in purely economic terms can be easily quantified. However, what of the value of having a local food source? What of the value of having these "groundskeepers" of the countryside? Modern farming is not just about food production. Walking tourism is an increasingly popular draw for foreign travellers to Ireland. Well managed access routes and rights to roam (not currently in place in Ireland) must run through agricultural land. As fuel prices rise, the need for more localised food production becomes more intense. Today, new potatoes can be shipped in from Cyprus each Spring. If oil hits US$100/barrel, that may not be so economically sound anymore. It certainly isn't ecologically sound. The reasoning behind the foundation of Europe's Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) was a desire for Europe to be self sufficient in food (the problem was that CAP didn't stop when we became self sufficient, hence the butter mountains, etc).

The need to have a properly managed countryside, and the need to have a local supply of food, are both compelling arguments for a Department of Agriculture & Rural Development. But is it argument enough for two Departments? One could argue that a Department of Agriculture is there to deal with the interests of farmers, and therefore will not necessarily deal with the wider interests of "Rural Affairs". However, as noted above, the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment can deal with, and advocate on behalf of, both employers and unions, as well as industry as a whole. A Department of Agriculture & Rural Affairs can and should be able to take a far- and wide-sighted view of its brief.

Fianna Fáil have already started to make this an election issue, with several statements targetted at Labour and the Green Party. They are likely, and wise, to try to put a seed of doubt in the minds of those rural voters who might normally vote Fine Gael over how Labour or the Greens might deal with the future of Irish agriculture. A switch by those voters to Fianna Fáil, or their mere failure to turn out on election day, could prevent a Rainbow Coalition Government.


Something Rotten in the State of Cuba?

The BBC are reporting that President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, has "temporarily" handed power over to his brother, Raul, while he undergoes intestinal surgery to repair internal bleeding.

There are two main possibilities for what's going on here. The third, that this is a normal, pedestrian, event, can be ruled out immediately - Castro has undergone surgery before without relinquishing power, however temporarily, to anyone.
The first possibility is that this is a "test run" at a power transition. Even the mighty Castro must know that at some stage he will die. His love for Cuba is such that he won't want it descending in to a bloody civil war due to a lack of a clear succession. Temporarily handing power to Raul may allow the groundwork to be laid so that, when the inevitable happens, there isn't a question over who was the annointed successor.

The other possibility is that the inevitable has already happened - Castro is dead. In that case, the smartest political move would be to make it look like he is still alive and was clearly indicating whom should be the next President. After a few days, perhaps even weeks, it would be announced that President Castro had unfortunately died from complications during surgery and that, following his last wishes, Raul Castro would continue as President until the next election (yes, they do have elections in Cuba - Fidel Castro is an MP and got 99.1% of the vote in the 2003 General Election in his constituency; per the Cuban system, there was no opponent, just a plebiscite vote).

Either possibility would be politically sound (at least from Wag's point of view, looking in from the outside without any particular knowledge of the systems), but Wag has to wonder whether the Cuban system could handle the complexity of the second plot without Fidel there to run it. What's really going on will, Wag is sure, be revealed over the coming weeks.