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Olivia O’Leary

Olivia O’Leary In her radio column for RTÉ One’s Drivetime last night tackled taxation, ‘toilers’ and ‘dossers’. With even a dig at Denis.

Count the number of times, even in the last week, when you’ve heard the phrase, “the burden of taxation”, somebody said to me on Saturday. He’s right. Journalists use it, politicians use it, the Taoiseach himself used the same phrase in Brussels only on Saturday. The language we use is full of conscious or unconscious values.

Is taxation to be seen merely as a burden or is it something we pay proudly: our declaration that we want to have a decent society because you can’t, on one hand for instance, protest at the level of homelessness and, on the other, lobby for a reduction in your taxes.

There are thousands of people in the housing list in Dun Laoghaire and yet the council representing one of the most prosperous areas in the country opted to reduce local property tax by 15% for this year. Dublin City Council did the same – despite warnings from the county manager that it could hit services for the homeless.

There is a link between the two. The question of taxation and our attitude to it was a central theme, raised by participants on Saturday, at an Áras an Uachtaran seminar to mark the culmination of the President’s year-long initiative.

He is a thinker himself and he’s asked the rest of us to think whether it’s possible to live ethically in a contemporary world. There were community groups, NGOs and academics there. The academics addressed some of the philosophical questions: why can’t we be happy with what we need rather than what we want?

Needs can be satisfied but wants are insatiable and they discussed whether you can have a more ethical society when multi-national companies that are more powerful than democratically-elected governments and where the need to lobby for commercial research funding skews the independence of our leading universities.

But the more general discussion kept coming around to taxation as the most effective way of showing our solidarity with one another, of choosing a decent society.

One speaker criticised the fact that people who were tax exiles from this country were lauded here as being generous and charitable. She would be much more impressed if they stayed here and paid their taxes, she said.

She’s right. I mean you mightn’t be Michael O’Leary’s biggest fan but at least he lives here and pays his taxes here. And that brought me to thinking about our taxation arrangements with multi-nationals which are at the very core of our industrial investment strategy.

We are able to charge only 12.5% corporate tax because we never had the big industrial base that other countries had – a base on whose tax their exchequers became dependent.

We didn’t become dependent on it because we never had it. Our low corporate tax rate which brings so many companies and jobs here is one of the advantages perhaps of having been poor and I’m not going to apologise for that.

But we have been accused of facilitating multi-nationals in paying pretty well no tax at all. We have to decide ethically where we draw the line between using a fair advantage which history gives us and where we allow companies to dodge their taxes almost completely, robbing not only our own coffers but other countries’ coffers of their revenue which supports necessary public services.

And going back to how important language is, I got a magazine, called Business Plus, free with my Sunday newspaper this weekend. The editorial made the point that social democracy meant taking money from people who have it and handing it out to people who have less.

‘It only became possible when universal suffrage was rolled out in the 20th century,’ went the editorial, ‘thereby granting the same political clout to the dosser as the toiler’.

Well now, who are the dossers? If the writer means the unemployed, isn’t it interesting that, during the boom when jobs were freely available, people took them to the point that we had effective full employment, not too many dossers there.

And now that jobs are coming back into the economy, the jobless rate is going down again – most people want to work and pay their taxes and provide a proper safety net in case they, or anybody else, becomes jobless or homeless.

If they become jobless they get some income and an Intreo service which tries to get them back to work again – those are the services our taxes pay for. All that, it would seem to me, is at the centre of an ethical society. That’s why tax is not a dirty word.

Listen back here

 

Olivia+O+Leary1-1Olivia O’Leary’s radio column for RTE R1’s Drivetime on the Seanad referendum.

It is all so crude, that’s what strikes me about the message on those lurid blue posters. Save 20 million, fewer politicians, abolish the Seanad. It’s crude and it’s wrong. Quite apart from the fact that of course you won’t be saving 20 million Euros, because among other things you’ll have to pension them all off, there’s a bigger issue.

My big worry is that we’re choking off voices, closing down an arena for debate and free and open debate is the stuff of democracy. Governments like silence; democracy is noisy. Of course the Government wants rid of the Seanad- scrutinising legislation, it can hold things up; it takes up Ministers’ time. OK, the Seanad as it stands urgently needs reform.

“It doesn’t work” says the Government. “And it didn’t do much barking as a watchdog during our boom and bust”, it says. Well, neither did the Financial Services Regulator, you know, and yet the Government didn’t decide to abolish the Financial Services Office, it set about reforming it.

This country, more than most, needs debating arenas, it needs the breathing space in which proper debate can be held.

People think the Irish are argumentative. We’re anything but argumentative. We have a very weak sense of civic society, our rights and influence. And that’s partly the influence of a once all-dominant church. But it’s also because government here is centralised more than any other country in Europe. And time and again we accept without question what our government masters lay down.

Even when we knew what the disastrous consequences of the property bubble could be because we’d seen it all in the UK in the 80s, we bought into our own bubble and we didn’t question the Government’s decision to inflate it with tax breaks. i mean, I realised only when I read Anton Murphy and Donal Donovan’s book “The Fall of the Celtic Tiger” this summer, that our government gave tax breaks for people buying property to rent outside this country, so Irish tax payers were asked to subsidise borrowings for apartments in Bulgaria and Croatia. How did that happen to the Irish economy? Why didn’t we debate and challenge it? And later, even when the blanket bank guarantee was given with the massive debt implications we face now, only a few TDs, including the Labour Party, challenged it.

You’ll say quite rightly that the Seanad didn’t challenge these things either. No it didn’t. Because as now elected, it is dominated by two main political parties. Reformed, a range of vocational bodies could nominate candidates and then they could be democratically elected on the same day and with the same electorate as the Dail. that way you get a range of people from across Irish life; even more of the WB Yeatses, the Douglas de hIdes, the Mary Robinsons, the Catherine McGuinnesses, the Mary Hanrys, the Gordon Wilsons, the Brid Rogers, the John A Murphys, the David Norrises, the John Crowns that we have had already, because these were the people who made the Seanad worthwhile.

I will never forget Gordon Wilson’s Enniskillen voice bringing into the Senate his own brand of wisdom and of generosity, Mary Robinson in the Seanad arguing passionately for family planning rights for Irish people, for the human right to divorce and warning of the dangers of putting a ban on abortion into the Constitution, Catherine McGuinness pointing out that she was perfectly happy to see the Adelaide Hospital become less Protestant as long as Catholic hospitals became less Catholic, Michael D Higgins reminding us that our consciences had to extend to South and Central America too.

These are people of ideas and there is nothing in the world more powerful than ideas. That’s why the Seanad often seemed a bigger place than the Dail. It spent more time concentrating on legislation and the ideas behind legislation than the point scoring we see at Leader’s Questions in the Dail. And the Seanad seemed more representative of Irish life, including particularly the dissenter tradition of Trinity senators, many of whom counted Northern Irelanders among their electors and who were fearless in challenging the status quo. We will be much poorer without that dissenter debating tradition, we will be much poorer without that debating chamber.

I am not surprised that Sinn Fein, with their record on democracy, want to get rid of the Seanad, but I am saddened to see Richard Bruton from Fine Gael’s Social Democratic wing leading the posse. I don’t think Garret Fitzgerald would have done that, or Liam Cosgrave. And as for Enda Kenny, doesn’t it strike you as a bit sinister that as well as closing down this debating chamber he is refusing to come out on the public airwaves and debate the issue with the opposition leader?

 

 Listen here

Earlier: Three Days To Save Democracy

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On RTÉ’s Drivetime on Tuesday evening, Olivia O’Leary, above, spoke about Ireland’s abortion laws. During her radio column she called on the Irish government to ‘kick the Taliban out of the Constitution‘.

Some took that personally.

Fine Gael Junior Minister Lucinda Creighton writes on her website today:

“The debate on abortion became a bit surreal this week. Olivia O Leary in a radio piece on Tuesday urged that we “kick the Taliban out of our constitution” while proclaiming that “Ireland is no country for young women.”

“I beg to disagree. I am a relatively young woman and I consider Ireland to be a fantastic, safe, free and open country in which to live. I am proud of my country and I will defend Ireland to the last. We are extremely fortunate to live in a country where human rights are protected by a constitutional and legislative system which is second to none.”

“To compare Ireland or our Constitution to the Taliban is grossly misleading. Olivia O’Leary should, and I’m fairly sure does, know better. Could she really believe that the Shia women of Mazar-e-Sharif, whose husbands were executed and had their throats slit before their eyes and those of their children, would agree that Ireland is a terrible, oppressive place to live? Many of those same women saw their children stuffed into containers and sent to unknown destinations, left to suffocate in a slow and painful death. Would those women, I wonder, condemn the Irish legal system which strives to protect the lives of all children?”

“Does Olivia also wish to compare Ireland and our treatment of women with the Taliban leaders who routinely abduct women and sell them into sex slavery like animals?

“I would kindly ask Olivia O’Leary and the many other people who have been using this Taliban analogy in recent days, to take the trouble to inform themselves.”

“Perhaps read the chilling report ‘The Taliban’s War on Women’ which was published by the organisation Physicians for Human Rights. It graphically outlined the total oppression of women in Afghanistan by the Taliban, with over 50% effectively under house arrest, with no freedom to travel, to drive a car, to wear what they choose, marry whom they wish, with no sexual freedom or economic freedom or any real freedom.”

“She should reflect on just how lucky we are – how privileged we are to live in the free, open, caring, tolerant society that is Ireland. And perhaps reflect on how much we take this for granted.”

“I respect the views of the many people who disagree with me on the question of how we should handle the issue of abortion. But I cannot respect the sort of hysteria and incitement which poured forth from Ms. O’Leary on RTE radio the other day. You may want abortion to be brought in Olivia, but please do not suggest that ours is a country comparable with one ruled by an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist movement. Get a grip.”

“For my part, I am genuinely trying to have a reasoned and rational debate on this issue.”

“I hope that, notwithstanding the strong and genuinely held views on both sides of the debate, we can respect the right of everyone to speak freely and honestly about their hopes and their concerns.”

“I fully support steps (regulatory or legislative) to give certainty to pregnant mothers and doctors in cases where there are medical complications and a woman’s life is at risk. That makes absolute sense. Why would I, or anybody else, want to see a woman’s life endangered in any circumstance?”

“I do have concerns about the proposal to legislate to for suicide as a ground for abortion. Legislating for suicidality worries me, because as 113 consultant psychiatrists said clearly today, such a step has “no basis in medical evidence”. Surely we should legislate on the basis of medical facts, and be guided by the experts who know their patients and their conditions better than anyone else.”

“The statement of the 113 consultant psychiatrists reads:

“As practising Psychiatrists we are deeply concerned at the Government’s stated plan to legislate along the lines of the X-Case, as this will mean legislating for suicidality. We believe that legislation that includes a proposal that an abortion should form part of the treatment for suicidal ideation has no basis in the medical evidence available.”

“I have been accused repeatedly of being some sort of a fanatic or fundamentalist. Anyone who knows me – my friends, my family, my colleagues – knows that is simply nonsense. For the record, I do not come to this debate with any religious or idealogical ‘hang-up’. Like 85% of the population I have been brought up as, and describe myself as a Catholic. I am not a particularly devout one and I am not diligent in attending religious ceremonies. So I suppose I am like most Irish Catholics in that respect.”

“My support for human life is not based on any blinkered ideology. When I was a student, I would have regarded myself as liberal on the issue, being in favour of abortion. I suppose I simply bought into the accepted notion that a foetus is simply an extension of a woman and not a person.”

“However, I have come to believe that I was wrong. And I don’t change my view lightly. My opinion is, I suppose, shaped by a number of factors, personal experience with family members and friends, a more objective analysis of the arguments on both sides and of course the facts, which are all important. The clear view of those practising psychiatrists is most convincing. I cannot ignore either, the very compelling experience of having dealt with so many parents going through adoption procedures, who have been through IVF and are doing everything they can to support human life. Life is precious. We cannot change that.”

“I personally consider this debate, on a very basic level, to be a human rights issue. It is about the human rights of women and of their unborn babies. The fact that a baby is not born does not mean that it is not a life and therefore worth defending. There is a great irony in the fact that we throw all the resources in the world (and rightly so) at saving the life of a premature baby born at 23 or 24 weeks, and yet some may consider the abortion of that baby, at the same stage to be right and just. I don’t.”

“I oppose all intentional taking of human life. I consider the use of the death penalty to be barbaric because essentially it bestows on certain human beings a higher power to determine the right to life of other human beings. I think most of us agree that no person has the right to end the life of anyone else. If we somehow modify that basic core value of humanity, then we start to calculate human life in terms of worth. Is your life worth more than mine? If you are “unwanted” are you fair game? Is one life somehow ranked higher than another? If so who decides? And where does this ranking of human beings end?”

“For me this is a very important core question – whether we choose to protect the fundamental rights of all people, men and women, young and old, babies and adults. Whether we do or not very much informs how we view abortion.”

“I am so glad that I live in a country which does defend life with the full rigour of the law. I accept that there is a need to provide clarity for doctors so that they can ensure that they legitimately defend the lives of pregnant women without fear of legal or criminal sanction. I believe that the medical profession has done this admirably for a long time, within the parameters of the existing Medical Council guidelines. I have no fear of the Oireachtas giving legal underpinning to this. It is of course, also in full alignment with our clear constitutional obligation under Article 40.3.3 to defend and vindicate the rights of the mother and unborn child equally.”

“Unlike Olivia O’Leary, I believe that the Ireland of today is a great country for young women. Thankfully it is also a great country for all people, including young babies.”

Previously: Dr Peter Boylan and Breda O’Brien: The Transcript

Anything Good On BBC News 24?

Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland and Trail Kilkenny

The Household Charge, blustering arrogance and Environment Minister Phil Hogan’s fumbling.

A transcript of Olivia O’Leary’s radio ‘column‘ on last night’s Drivetime:

“I paid my household charge early last week. Just as well I did, because if I’d been listening to Big Phil blustering on the radio on Sunday, I might have been tempted not to. Almost all on his own, Hogan is fast generating for this Government what destroyed the last one – an air of bullying incompetence. It’s a crying shame because there was a really important job of political work to be done here – a widened tax base, which includes annual property taxes, is an essential reform and might have played an important part in dampening the property boom. The problem with introducing that reform is that Irish people have resisted property taxes fiercely for decades. They were bound to resist this one. So they needed to be firmly encouraged, exhorted, guided, given no excuse. Hogan has managed to give them every excuse.

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