Eoghan meeting with the Minister for the Interior this morning at government buildings. Eoghan will later meet with the Bulgarian Head of State, President Rosen Plevneliev.
Bulgarian Election – Eoghan Murphy TD leads International team
Recently I was appointed by the Chairman of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to lead the short term observation mission to Bulgaria for their parliamentary elections this Sunday. This is an important moment in Bulgaria’s political history and I am honoured to be invited to Bulgaria to lead this mission.
It is a very different political environment to the one at home with 29 political parties, 7 coalitions, and 2 independent candidates contesting the elections; in all 8200 candidates will contest 240 seats. The logistics of the operation are impressive to say the least.
It is interesting to note that Bulgaria has never returned the same government to power since it chose democracy as its political system. As a committed member of the European Union, Bulgaria faces the same challenges and opportunities that every EU member faces at present, together with its own internal dynamics and political history.
Below is an opinion piece that was published in the Bulgarian media today explaining the reasons for the OSCE’s presence and outlining what the international team is here to do.
Eoghan Murphy, Special Co-ordinator, Short Term OSCE Observer Mission, Bulgarian Parliamentary Elections
OSCE Observers Looking Forward to Bulgaria’s Election
When more than 200 international observers descend on Bulgaria to witness the parliamentary elections this week, it will be the first time since 1997 that the country has hosted such a full-fledged observation from the OSCE and its Parliamentary Assembly.
So, after 16 years, why are we returning?
Let me begin by pointing out that, as the political figure appointed to head this mission on behalf of the OSCE, our presence here is independent from some of the topical items that may appear in the news.
Bulgaria has moved a great distance in political, social and economic terms in two decades, since those times when the path to Brussels was considered as something unconceivable. It is 16 years since the last electoral observation mission here and the OSCE is returning to a very different political landscape.
From our own pre-election visits, observations and briefings, we have seen election officials functioning with a new level of openness during this campaign, and I hope those same officials are proud to welcome the international observers this month. At our best, observation missions help keep trust and integrity in a system in which we are all invested.
No one in Sofia should view the presence of observers this year as any sort of a step back. On the contrary, Sofia’s decision to welcome OSCE observers – as enshrined in national law and Bulgaria’s international commitments – is recognition of Bulgaria’s stature within Europe and dedication to multilateral cooperation on our shared democratic goals. While we cannot be in every OSCE country to observe every election, we always strive for a geographic balance – observing electoral contests throughout our diverse region from Vancouver to Vladivostok, including EU countries, like Bulgaria.
With every election, no matter the present day political challenges, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to reaffirm our democratic principles. People’s dissatisfaction with the political class (a notion hardly unique to Bulgaria during the current global recession), the polarised political debate (not uncommon either), and intense competition between the parties are just some of the ingredients that make the 12 May elections a defining moment in Bulgaria’s history.
As an elected parliamentarian myself, with many elected colleagues and friends in the OSCE region, I have been in a position to witness first-hand, significant changes that have been brought about by people of different nationalities in different countries exercising their democratic rights. And whatever the outcome on election day, it is fundamentally important that people have trust in the election itself for these rights to maintain and to thrive. This is particularly true in challenging times.
We are not coming to Sofia to question Bulgarians’ ability to hold free and democratic elections, but rather to send a signal that the OSCE stands ready to actively support this country just like any other participating State. We come to proclaim our shared commitments to fundamental freedoms so necessary to our collective security community.
Throughout the country on Sunday we will be present with open eyes, and come Monday, we will share our observations with the public. And should actions on election day impact the level of trust in this country’s democratic institutions, we will report them accurately and without bias to the international community.
For elections, as thrilling as they can be, in the end, are always about more than the personalities on the ballot. Every election is a test, not so much about the strength of parties but the strength of processes, a nation’s chance to affirm its own commitment to democratic governance. It is up to all those who participate in this process to ensure the will of the people is not only expressed but accepted and respected as well.
The assessment today from the independent Fiscal Advisory Council of an improved budgetary outlook is welcome news. However in my opinion the improved assessment should not be used as an excuse for deviating from the planned budgetary correction for 2014 and 2015.
The government is performing better than expected in reducing the deficit. Certainly the promissory note deal has increased confidence in external assessments of the country’s fiscal position as well as internal developments underway in reducing the deficit. But we must be vigilant in seeing our budgetary plans through to the end.
The external environment in the Eurozone is still uncertain, as developments around Cyprus show. The most important thing for Ireland is to secure its own fiscal position by reducing its annual deficit as quickly as possible. If we come in better than expected in 2015, with a deficit closer to 2% of GDP, we will be in a very strong position then, but only then.
We are still borrowing far too much money to fund the state – we spend more than 1 billion euro a month in addition to what we are generating through taxation and other revenue streams, and this money has to be borrowed, which costs even more. There is a big difference between having to borrow less money (or being able to borrow for less) as a result of an improved situation and actually generating additional resources through growth in the economy.
We must take caution against returning to the give-away mentality of the past, the idea of spending what we have when we have it, because we don’t. And what might be thought to be a needed easing of budget cuts in certain parts of our economy, could be interpreted as a weakening of our resolve at the macro level to stabilize our financial position and exit the bailout.
Of course people are experiencing difficulties in the current climate but a stable and sustainable domestic economic outlook is in everybody’s best interests in the medium to long term.
MEP Gay Mitchell has announced that he will not be contesting the European Parliament elections next year. The parliament loses one of its best members and Ireland’s hardest working MEP.
Gay has served in public life with distinction for the past 34 years, since his first election to Dublin City Council in 1979. Gay’s vast experience includes serving as the Lord Mayor of Dublin, a TD for Dublin South-Central for 26 years, and Minister of State for European Affairs. He has represented Dublin in the European Parliament since his election in 2004 where he has focused on development, economic and monetary issues.
Gay has made an immense contribution to public life in every role he has undertaken from founding the Dublin International IMPAC Literary Award, to reforming the Public Accounts Committee as its chairman – something I have benefitted from directly as a member of the PAC. As an MEP Gay has been strong advocate for Ireland’s position within the European Union and for putting our city of Dublin at the heart of Europe.
I thank Gay for his many years of service to his constituents in Dublin and to the country and I wish him and his family well for the future. His dedication and integrity are an example to other representatives and he will be a hard act to follow.
With 80% of property taxes to be spent locally people need greater transparency and control over how this money will be spentPosted March 13th, 2013
People who read the website will already know my position on the design of the new property tax and that I have been working to make changes to the implementation of this tax where possible. (Read more here).
There was a positive development in relation to the property tax yesterday, with the government agreeing that local authorities will retain 80% of the taxes raised in their functional area. This is something that I and others had called for when the proposal to retain only 65% was first mentioned.
It is good news because it means that people will now know that the majority of their property taxes will be spent locally on the services they use every day, so they will benefit directly from the tax.
But I think we should take it a step further.
I think we should give proper transparency as to how that money will be used in the local area so that people can follow their taxes to the area of spend and get involved in the debate with their locally elected Councillors about how their taxes are being spent and the areas that should receive priority.
Last year I introduced the Tax Transparency Bill 2012 to provide greater transparency around how our national taxes are spent (read more here). This proposal received all party support and is awaiting committee stage. I think it’s important that we bring Tax Transparency to our local taxes too.
Read more here.
The following opinion piece appeared in today’s Irish Times. You can read it on the IT website here, or just scroll down.
Opinion: The purpose of the Department of Education’s report published on Tuesday – Fee Charging Schools: Analysis of Fee Income – is to inform future policy decisions about the nature and extent of exchequer funding provided to fee-charging schools in the context of the current financial correction.
In other words, given that we have less money, with at least three more years of cuts coming, what should our policy in relation to fee-paying schools be from a financial point of view? The report does not address anything else in the wider debate on education.
In that context, the figure the report provides as the potential saving to the State from parents paying for their children to attend fee-paying schools is key.
Read more here.
The following opinion piece appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique on 14th February 2013.
North Korea: the real threat
The real threat now is that of proliferation: the worrying possibility that North Korea could spread its nuclear knowledge to other countries as it has in the past; or that countries in the region whom do not have a nuclear weapon, like Japan and South Korea, might develop the bomb out of fear for their security. The former is a serious threat, the latter more existential, undermining as it would well-established norms in the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation effort. A further, slightly less direct, threat is the continued legitimisation (in their own eyes at least) of the United States’s quest for a missile shield, a dangerous idea that has already become a source of much tension between the US and Russia.
Is there any practical way of deterring North Korea from its nuclear ambitions? History suggests there is not. The only suspected case of a nuclear rollback — where a country has built an arsenal and then unilaterally dismantled it — is South Africa. And even if that suspicion is to be believed, the theory tells us that the decision to disarm was based on internal calculations of the security dynamic, and not because of external threats or pressures directed at its clandestine programme.
Countless sanctions against North Korea have not prevented it from exploding three nuclear devices to date, as well as testing a number of ballistic missiles (mostly unsuccessfully); both are activities that the international community, through the UN Security Council, has forbidden it from pursuing.
North Korea has broken every international agreement it has ever entered in to in this area, over a period of 28 years, transgressing far beyond Iraq and Iran. Yet war is not an option. North Korea could destroy Seoul with conventional missiles overnight, killing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying the Asian economies in the process. And special diplomacy between the main players in the region, including Russia and the US as brokers, has demonstrably failed.
Can we incentivise North Korea away from its nuclear ambitions? Unlikely. Generous incentives in the past were quickly abused and proved pointless.
North Korea seems to be from a different era, viewing the world through Cold War lenses where the possession of a nuclear deterrent is both the ultimate defence and the ultimate legitimacy. No country with a nuclear weapon has ever been invaded. And those countries with the bomb either sit at the international top table (the UN Security Council etc) or are courted avidly by the main global powers.
As with Iran, you cannot look at the nuclear issue in isolation. But then you have to ask yourself if there is any point in looking at this issue at all. Despite our best and worst efforts, North Korea has gone nuclear. The imperative now must surely be to keep it on side, to keep it from spreading its knowledge and technology to others. We must attempt to slowly draw the reclusive state into the fold, into the normalcy of international relations in the 21st century — ignoring if we must its nuclear transgressions. We have to include it if we are to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Huffing and puffing has got us nowhere.
China will condemn the test and the US will seek the strongest possible response. But both countries have failed to ratify the one international treaty that bans all nuclear weapon testing — the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty — and because of this the Treaty is not yet in force.
These countries should really recognise their own responsibility (and hypocrisy) here. Ultimately we will never be able to include North Korea in international efforts if it is eternally treated as a pariah. It will not give up the bomb when its people are starving, paranoid and desperate. And it will not give up the bomb while others continue to keep it. But it might give it away. And that is the greatest threat.
Eoghan Murphy is an Irish MP and previously worked at the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation.
Events surrounding Budget 2013 confirm the need to move to a new, more open and more scrutinised budgetary process. We are repeating the mistakes of the past by sticking to the old ways of doing business.
The Programme for Government promises to open up the budget to greater public scrutiny. Positive steps in this direction were taken this year. But the public reaction and the political uncertainty in the days leading up to and following the budget confirm the need to establish a more open system, with a greater role for Dail deputies so that they (and the public) can scrutinise in detail what is being considered before anything is actually agreed.
On budget day we heard from the government that this may be “the last December budget in this country”. We know from Minister Howlin’s comments before the Public Accounts Committee last year that his change agenda includes a more open and public debate about the budgetary choices facing the government.
The government should expand now on plans to improve the budgetary process in the coming year to remove the uncertainty that the country has faced in this area over the past number of months – and continues to face even though the budget has been agreed.
As I have said in the past, I believe that a new Oireachtas committee should be established to deal exclusively with budgetary matters. This committee would meet all year round; it would provide a mechanism for any TD to have proposals costed and debated; and the government would be obliged to bring all of its proposals before the committee for full debate before including them in the budget. This committee could either complement the existing Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform committee, which has a much wider brief, or sit as a sub-committee of it.
Ultimately the decision as to the final contents and make-up of the budget would rest with the government but the new committee would afford the Dail the proper opportunity to scrutinise all possible budgetary options. This would reduce the surprise element to the process, and give TDs and the public greater clarity and greater certainty as to what is actually being considered.
There could be no more kite-flying and less cause for u-turns as every element would have been properly considered against other possible options. The main elements of the budget would be known well in advance of December, with final decisions being taken upon confirmation of the Exchequer figures at the end of November each year. Budget day itself would pass off with little fanfare and people would have greater confidence in the final choices made by the government.
To quote our Minister for Reform on this subject, “the notion of someone coming in to the Chamber to read out the secrets decided by Cabinet is crazy”. The current process does not serve the people or our political system well. It must be changed.
Irish Examiner, Monday September 24th 2012
Eoghan Murphy says Budget Day should be the most boring day in the year, writes political editor Paul O’Brien.
EOGHAN Murphy wants Budget Day to be a non-event.
“Budget Day should be the most boring day in the year,” the Fine Gael TD for Dublin South East says. He envisages a process where there would be “no surprises” on the day. Instead, all possible policy options would have been debated in full and in public by an Oireachtas committee for months beforehand.
The Cabinet would still have final say but, crucially, the decisions announced would not come out of the blue. This could serve a dual purpose, Mr Murphy says. It could see an end to the hasty U-turns. It could also prevent people being scared for months on end.
“It’s no good scaring the shit out of people for a month about a cut they think is coming only to reverse it, or scaring them for six months about potential cuts they don’t even know may or may not be coming down the line. Who does that serve?”
The same problem exists for businesses, he says, which, just like households, need certainty to plan ahead. The flipside, some politicians would argue, is that by flagging potential cuts months in advance, it allows lobby groups time to fight them. He acknowledges that possibility, but says under the model he envisages, TDs would be fully briefed and could “then stand up to that debate” and defend the Government properly.
There are other ways in which the public debate could be enhanced. After examining a British proposal to give taxpayers a detailed annual breakdown of how their taxes are spent, he has called for the introduction of a similar system here and prepared legislation on the issue. The Coalition says it is already changing the model in line with commitments in the Programme for Government. These changes include publishing three-year expenditure allocations for every department and broadly outlining what will — and won’t — be on the table in terms of spending cuts and tax hikes.
The background papers from last year’s comprehensive review of expenditure were all published, and the Government says it’s open to any TD to examine such documentation and make recommendations.
But Mr Murphy says publishing documents is insufficient. In his view, everything should be on the table and debated in full. This includes the Croke Park Agreement, with which many Fine Gael TDs have an issue. But it also includes income tax, even if he personally feels there isn’t scope to increase it.
In terms of lack of debate, he expresses particular disappointment that the recommendations of the Fiscal Advisory Council — the independent body set up to advise on budgetary policy — are being ignored. The council’s most recent advice could, in a nutshell, be summed up as cut more, cut quicker in order to get the deficit under control. “Closing the deficit is the most important thing, it’s a national security issue as far as I’m concerned,” says Mr Murphy.
“As long as the deficit remains in place to the extent that it is, we are too exposed to external events. So for our own independence, for what it’s worth — our own ability to control our own affairs and destiny — we need to bring that back in line.”
If that means abandoning commitments made by the coalition parties, so be it. The Programme for Government, he says, was based on economic forecasts such as growth rates which have proved inaccurate and thus are no longer valid. “I have found it frustrating because not only are we ignoring the independent body that we set up to advise us, we’re not even discussing the issues around it. There’s no debate there, because there’s no appetite for debate and there’s no forum for debate. And that’s a real problem, particularly I think for newer TDs, who just won’t accept the status quo. And the problem there is that when you don’t give people room to discuss things, it’s just going to bubble underneath the surface, until one day…”
In this regard, he risks being viewed as a troublemaker, saying things with which the Government is uncomfortable. In recent weeks, the label “five-a-side club” has been applied to Mr Murphy and a group of the first-term Fine Gael TDs which, the story goes, met under the cover of a game of soccer to discuss their concerns with Government direction. “I hate that name, but there is no group, as such. It was something that was a bit of a joke initially that took on a bit of a life of its own, but what it refers to really is the new TDs who are maybe younger, who have come in with, I suppose, no preconceptions and no history of doing things a certain way, and they’re more than prepared to challenge the status quo — everything from the standing orders [Dáil rules] and how we do our business to the decisions we make.
“And I think that’s really healthy, that’s what people wanted, that’s what they voted for. And I think that the Government should at the very least not try to stifle that.
“A big criticism I always have of previous TDs — and it’s one I don’t want ever levelled against me — is that they just stood there and let decisions be made and voted for them, without really scrutinising them, having robust debate over them. None of us have all the answers ourselves… It’s only through debate and engagement that we come to something better than each of us brought to the table. And that’s what politics is about.”
New allowance cuts must be directed towards existing public sector employees
In the context of current discussions surrounding the payment of allowances to the public sector, I believe that any new saving measures adopted must not target new entrants and must be focussed on existing high earners in the civil service. If we look at the long term impact, the current process is creating a structural problem that will undermine the public sector in the years to come.
The industrial peace that we think we are securing with the Croke Park Agreement is only temporary. If the current approach continues – that of directing cuts exclusively at new entrants – it could destroy the fabric of the public sector within ten years. If we are serious about making actual savings we need to tackle allowances for high earners in the public sector now.
The PAC has agreed to my suggestion that we invite in the heads of department to present the business cases for allowances directly to the Oireachtas. It would be very helpful for the Public Accounts Committee to have more than just the business cases made by Departments as to why certain allowances should be kept. To be effective we also need to have first-hand knowledge from inside the system as to how the allowances are used in practice, and whether they are necessary and/or appropriate.
As part of the PAC examination, I am asking the public, especially members of the public sector, to provide first-hand insight into how certain allowances are used. Since I raised the issue I have already been informed of a number of practices that are of concern to individuals within the public sector.
Of course, some allowances may prove to be objectively necessary and appropriate, and the direct knowledge of those working in the public sector will be helpful in identifying these also.
It’s time to end all the speculation and to have an open and honest debate about the choices facing government departments as we approach this most difficult of budgets. There is too much speculation in the public, because of the information vacuum, and it causing too much uncertainty.
This Government committed in the Programme for Government to opening up the budgetary process ‘to the full glare of public scrutiny’. Last December I asked Minister Howlin in the Public Accounts Committee about reforming the process, to which he replied that ‘the notion of someone coming into the Chamber to read out the secrets decided by Cabinet is crazy. We need to have much more public debate about the process.’ It is time now to honour these commitments.
The new committee could begin by meeting with the independent Fiscal Advisory Council, established by this government to independently help guide the budgetary process, and proceed from there, examining all issues: possible tax increases, reductions in social welfare, proposals for the property tax, the opportunity cost of the Croke Park agreement – there can be no more sacred cows in this debate. Choices being faced by Ministers should be considered, as well as possible alternatives that are seen to be ‘no-go’ areas.
Ministers Noonan and Howlin will make their decisions, but the Dail and the people should be allowed to see what the alternatives are. This should help the Government in its work, particularly when people see the stark choices facing us. Already this year the State has spent €11.3 billion more than it has earned and at the moment the proposed correction for next year is €3.5 billion. This is not going to be easy, but we can help guide everyone through the process.
The budget for 2013 and the measures to be contained therein will be too serious to simply announce on the day, as has happened before. No TD, on the Government benches or otherwise, can be expected to vote on budgetary measures that they have only seen that morning for the first time, or in the immediate run-up to the budget.