Archive for Fine Gael

In for the Count

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on February 9, 2020 by telescoper

I voted in the 2020 General Election yesterday morning before Storm Cíara arrived in Maynooth, which it did in the early afternoon.I don’t know if the weather or the switch to a Saturday polling day affected the turnout, but it looks to have been about 60% nationally*. One factor in the Dublin area was that a couple of big sporting fixtures took place in the city on Saturday, the Six Nations Rugby between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium and a Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Monaghan at Croke Park.

Whatever the effect of these things on the overall turnout I’d imagine that a larger fraction of voters turned out earlier in the day than in other elections as few people would want to interrupt their Saturday night pleasures by visiting a polling station!

The worst of Storm Cíara seems to have passed, but it’s still rather windy with the odd heavy rain shower, which is enough to keep me indoors for the count. As the meteorological storm subsides, an electoral storm seems to be brewing – last night’s exit polls the three largest parties tied on about 22% of the vote (with a margin of error around 1.5%).

Taking a look at the preceding opinion polls you will see that outcome is well within the ±3% uncertainty of the last few:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%
  • Sunday Times/Panelbase: FF 23%; SF 21%; FG 19%
  • Business Post/Red C: FF 24%; SF 24%: FG 21%.
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 23%; FG 20%; SF 25%

If this pattern is borne out it will be a bitter disappointment for Fianna Fáil who have had four years in opposition to make inroads but have apparently failed to do so.

The main story however is the remarkable rise of Sinn Féin, which looks likely to shatter the two-party dominance that has held sway in Ireland more or less since its inception as an independent state. Early indications are that they will do very well and return TDs in constituencies where they have never previously won a seat.

My constituency is Kildare North which elected 1 Social democrat, 1 Fine Gael and 2 Fianna Fáil TDs last time. based on early tallies it seems that Catherine Murphy (the Social Democrat), who is a very good candidate with a strong local following, will get re-elected on the first round but the Sinn Féin candidate Réada Cronin looks likely to win a seat too. That is remarkable because she only polled 6.55% of the votes in the last General Election and also lost her County Council seat in the Local Elections last year. It’s been a remarkable turnaround for her and for Sinn Féin generally. If SF do win a seat that means at least one of the incumbents will lose theirs. But who? We’ll have to wait and see!

Counting has really only just started so I won’t comment much until the real results are available, except to say that it is very difficult to see what kind of Government will emerge from all this, which looks essentially like a three-way tie in terms of popular vote, because that will not translate directly into seats owing to the way the Single Transferable Vote works.

For example, take Dublin Central, the constituency of Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald. The STV system involves a quota for automatic election which is N/(m+1) votes, where N is the number of valid ballots cast and m is the number of seats in the constituency. Dublin Central is a four-seater and it seems that Mary Lou got about 36% of the first-preference votes, which is way past the quota of 20%. This surplus (16% of the valid ballots) will be re-distributed among the 2nd preference votes of those who put her first which could make a huge difference to the fortunes of those lower-ranked candidates. But where will they go?

One might imagine that Sinn Féin voters would rank other leftish parties, but there is a fraction who don’t use the whole ballot paper, but just put a 1 next to the SF candidate. Some of the SF surplus may be wasted in this way. Moreover, during the European Elections last summer I noticed some very strange transfers that went from SF to right-wing rather than left-wing alternatives. It’s all very hard to predict, but we’ll know soon enough.

It took several days to get the full results of the European Parliament Elections last year, but in that case the constituencies were much larger (both geographically and in terms of number of voters). There were also many more candidates on each ballot paper. Hopefully there will be a clear picture of the outcome of this General Election later this evening…

*the official turnout figure is 62.9%

Irish Election Update

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on February 3, 2020 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist one more update before Saturday’s General Election because there has been another opinion poll (Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI), which I’ve added to the previous ones here:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%
  • Sunday Times/Panelbase: FF 23%; SF 21%; FG 19%
  • Business Post/Red C: FF 24%; SF 24%: FG 21%.
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 23%; FG 20%; SF 25%

This last one is the first to put Sinn Féin in the lead, although to be honest the margin of error is 3% again so there’s really no evidence for a significant change on the last poll by the same outfit.

I still find it very hard to predict what kind of Government Ireland will end up with, but it seems even less likely than before that Leo Varadkar will be leading it.

British friends keep asking me whether all this change is a result of Brexit. I have to say that the answer to that is ‘no’ and neither is it driven entirely by thoughts of a United Ireland. The focus of campaigning is largely on domestic political issues, chiefly housing and health. Most people tend to think Varadkar has handled Brexit pretty well, but his party had failed badly in these other areas.

Irish Election Update

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , on February 1, 2020 by telescoper

Well. Life goes on, and so does the Irish General Election campaign. A week today I’ll be casting my vote. Sinn Féin seem the most energized by the events of the last week, even to the extent that their posters have been going up around Maynooth. The one above, showing leader Mary Lou McDonald, is on my way into work (the North Campus of Maynooth University is on the other side of the road, beyond the trees).

Since last week’s update there have been other opinion polls (by the Sunday Times/Panel base and Red C), which I’ve added to the previous ones here:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%
  • Sunday Times/Panelbase: FF 23%; SF 21%; FG 19%
  • Business Post/Red C: FF 24%; SF 24%: FG 21%.

The latest polls (like the others) are based on a small sample (1000) so has a large marging of error (around 3%) and is based on online responses and an uncertain methodology which may create a systematic bias. Those caveats aside, however, they seems to be telling the same story as the others: decline for Fine Gael and a relatively strong showing for Sinn Féin who are up 7% and 5% on the previous Panelbase and Red C numbers, respectively.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Sinn Féin end up with a share of the first preference votes around 25%. If that is the case they’ll probably wish they had stood more candidates, which they will probably do next time if they perform strongly in the actual election. They did poorly in the European Elections last year, which probably explains their rather defensive strategy. On the other hand if Fianna Fáil really are polling in the low twenties they may regret standing so many candidates, as their vote may end up splitting so that none reach the quota.

It will be very interesting to see how this all pans out. I find it very hard to predict what kind of Government Ireland will end up with, but I’m willing to bet that Leo Varadkar won’t be leading it.

Taxing Figures

Posted in Bad Statistics, Politics with tags , , , on January 29, 2020 by telescoper

Following the campaign for the forthcoming General Election in Ireland has confirmed (not entirely unexpectedly) that politicians over here are not averse to peddling demonstrable untruths.

One particular example came up in recent televised debate during which Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar talked about his party’s plans for tax cuts achieved by raising the salary at which workers start paying the higher rate of income tax. Here’s a summary of the proposal from the Irish Times:

Fine Gael wants to increase the threshold at which people hit the higher rate of income tax from €35,300 to €50,000, which it says will be worth €3,000 to the average earner if the policy is fully implemented.

Three thousand (per year) to the average earner! Sounds great!

But let’s look at the figures. There are two tax rates in Ireland. The first part of your income up to a certain amount is taxed at 20% – this is known as the Standard Rate. The remainder of your income is taxed at 40% which is known as the Higher Rate. The cut-off point for the standard rate depends on circumstances, but for a single person it is currently €35,300.

According to official statistics the average salary is €38,893 per year, as has been widely reported. Let’s call that €38,900 for round figures. Note that figure includes overtime and other earnings, not just basic wages.

It’s worth pointing out that in Ireland (as practically everywhere else) the distribution of earnings is very skewed. here is an example showing weekly earnings in Ireland a few years ago to demonstrate the point.

 

This means that there are more people earning less than the average salary (also known as the mean)  than above it. In Ireland over 60% of people earn less than the average.  Using the mean in examples like this* is rather misleading – the median would be less influenced by a few very high salaries –  but let’s continue with it for the sake of argument.

So how much will a person earning €38,900 actually benefit from raising the higher rate tax threshold to €50,000? For clarity I’ll consider this question in isolation from other proposed changes.

Currently such a person pays tax at 40% on the portion of their salary exceeding the threshold which is €38,900 – €35,300 = €3600. Forty per cent of that figure is €1440. If the higher rate threshold is raised above their earnings level this €3600 would instead be taxed at the Standard rate of 20%, which means that €720 would be paid instead of €1440. The net saving is therefore €720 per annum. This is a saving, but it’s nowhere near €3000. Fine Gael’s claim is therefore demonstrably false.

If you look at the way the tax bands work it is clear that a person earning over €50,000 would save an amount which is equivalent to 20% of the difference between €35,300 and €50,000 which is a sum close to €3000, but that only applies to people earning well over the average salary. For anyone earning less than €50,000 the saving is much less.

The untruth lies therefore in the misleading use of the term `average salary’.

Notice furthermore that anyone earning less than the higher rate tax threshold will not benefit in any way from the proposed change, so it favours the better off. That’s not unexpected for Fine Gael. A fairer change (in my view) would involve increasing the higher rate threshold and also the higher rate itself.

All this presupposes of course that you think cutting tax is a good idea at this time. Personally I don’t. Ireland is crying out for greater investment in public services and infrastructure so I think it’s inadvisable to make less money available for these purposes, which is what cutting tax would do.

 

*Another example is provided by the citation numbers for papers in the Open Journal of Astrophysics. The average number of citations for the 12 papers published in 2019 was around 34 but eleven of the twelve had fewer citations than this: the average is dragged up by one paper with >300 citations.

 

Irish Election Update

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , on January 26, 2020 by telescoper

I’ve not really got the energy for an long post today but I couldn’t resist a quick update on more opinion polls that must make uncomfortable reading for the incumbent Taioseach Leo Varadkar and his Fine Gael party. Last week I reported on the results with breakdown of first-preference votes for Fine Gael (FG), Fianna Fáil (FF) and Sinn Féin (SF) from two polls, to which I now add a third and a fourth:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%

All are based on quite small samples (923, 1200 and 1000 for the first three respectively; I don’t know the sample size for the 4th) and consequently have quite large margins of error (around 3%) but in broad terms they seem to be telling the same story.

The remarkable thing about the Red C poll however is that Sinn Féin are up 8% on the last poll from the same outfit while Fine Gael are down 7%. I sense quite a lot of momentum for the Shinners, actually, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they end up with a share of the vote around 25%. If that is the case they’ll probably wish they had stood more candidates, which they will probably do next time if they perform strongly in the actual election.

There’s a lot of talk in Ireland about the need for change, especially in respect of housing and healthcare. Real change will not come via the two establishment parties FF and FG, and I think the best chance in practice to create a better Ireland is through voting for Sinn Féin (although in my own constituency of Kildare North they don’t seem to have much of a chance).

There is a chance that FF+FG will form a sort of grand coalition to cling on to power. That might work in the short term, but I doubt it will form a stable government for long. We live in interesting times…

Signs of the Times

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2020 by telescoper

I’ve spent most of today on a secret mission so I’ve just going to do a brief post before I go home.

Since there’s a General Election campaign going on in Ireland, I thought I’d share the above picture I took on the Kilcock Road. Posters like this are a bit of a tradition at election time in Ireland. I’ve never seen anything like them in England or Wales. I’m told posters like this started going up in Dublin the day the election was announced, but it took a day or two for them to appear in Maynooth. There has been talk of banning this sort of display on environmental grounds, but they’re still here.

Other news on the election  is that two opinion polls have been published that must make uncomfortable reading for the incumbent Taioseach Leo Varadkar and his Fine Gael party. The results with breakdown of first-preference votes for Fine Gael (FG), Fianna Fáil (FF) and Sinn Féin (SF) are:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%

Both are based on quite small samples (923 and 1200 respectively) and consequently have quite large margins of error (3.3% and 2.8% respectively) so one shouldn’t get too excited by the fact that they differ by quite a bit. Moreover the transferable vote system adopted in Irish elections makes it difficult to translate the percentage of first-preference votes into seats in the Dáil because that depends a lot on transfers of lower-ranked preferences. I would however make the inference that it’s very unlikely that any party will get an overall majority on February 8th.

Another thing I’d say is that regardless of one’s voting preferences it seems to me quite wrong for the state broadcaster to pretend that this is a two-horse race and exclude Sinn Féin’s leader Mary Lou McDonald from its planned election debate. The Fine Gael leader seems very opposed to SF being represented in this debate and in my opinion it would serve him right if his party ended up in third place.

Oh, and I should point out that as a consequence of the referendum held in 2018, as of January 2020 blasphemy is no longer a criminal offence in Ireland.

 

Election Time in Ireland!

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , on January 15, 2020 by telescoper

Yesterday, in response to a request from the Taioseach Leo Varadkar, the Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D. Higgins dissolved the 32nd Dáil Éireann. There will be a General Election on 8th February (unusually, on a Saturday) to determine the composition of the 33rd Dáil. So we now have three and a half weeks of electioneering. Sigh.

The previous administration, headed by Mr Varadkar, was a minority Government led by his Fine Gael party supported in a `confidence-and-supply’ arrangement by Fianna Fáil. These two parties have more-or-less alternated in running Ireland since Independence, and both could be characterized as centre-right, Neoliberal parties. Fine Gael MEPs sit with the EPP group in the European Parliament while Fianna Fáil’s sit with RE (formerly ALDE). In terms of UK politics FG is closer to the Conservative Party (though not as far to the right) and FF to the Liberal Democrats. There’s therefore even less of a gap between FG and FF than their closest UK equivalents. Incidentally Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have their roots in the chaos of the Irish civil war in response to the Anglo-Irish Treaty: FG was pro-Treaty and FF anti-Treaty.

The real question to be answered in this election is whether anything might happen to break the right-wing hegemony that has held sway for so long in the Republic. I would to believe so but, frankly, I doubt it. Despite the Varadkar administration’s abject failures on housing and health (led by two spectacularly useless Ministers), and the fact that these two issues are likely to prove extremely important during the campaigns, I feel the innate conservatism of the Irish electorate will led yet again to another FG/FF combination. One of the worries that comes with that is a continuation of the present chronic underfunding of Irish universities.

I am not sure at this point who I’ll be voting for – I don’t yet know who’s standing in my constituency of Kildare North – but it won’t certainly be either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. The strongest left-wing party in Ireland is Sinn Féin and I like many of their progressive policies. My main reservation about voting for them is that I’m not a nationalist. Although I would love to see a United Ireland, I consider myself to be an internationalist and find some of the rhetoric of Irish nationalism very uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I believe it would be good for Ireland to have a strong representation from Sinn Féin in the 33rd Dáil Éireann. Other possible leftish parties include the Green Party, Labour and the Social Democrats.

Incidentally, the voting system for General Elections in Ireland is basically the same as that for the European Parliamentary Elections last year, but with a larger number of constituencies (40 instead of 3). Between them these constituencies elect 159 Teachtaí Dála (TDs) (the equivalent of MPs), an average of about 4 per constituency. There are actually 160 seats, but the Speaker is re-elected automatically. The Single Transferable Vote system is used, meaning that voters have a single ballot paper on which they rank the candidates in order of preference. The candidate with the lowest number of first-preference votes is eliminated and their second preference votes redistributed. Candidates are thus progressively eliminated until the requisite number of TDs is selected.

My constituency is Kildare North which elected 1 Social democrat, 1 Fine Gael and 2 Fianna Fáil TDs last time. This is a primarily rural constituency which is, on the whole, rather affluent, as is reflected in the above result.