Election 2011 »

  • Kenny’s move on Irish

    February 7, 2011 @ 3:53 pm | by Éanna Ó Caollaí

    Is Enda Kenny’s latest move, the dropping of Irish from the list of subjects that are compulsory for the Leaving Cert, an evidence-based initiative or is it merely a populist move aimed at maximising his party’s vote?

    Who, after all, likes sitting examinations? Ask any leaving certificate student – many would be happy to drop out of anything, whether maths, science, English or Irish, if given the chance.

    Mr Kenny told Radio na Gaeltachta this morning that he was very much in favour of the Irish language, but as a compulsory subject it had clearly failed.

    Just a few minutes spent perusing comments under the ‘#gaeilge’ hashtag on twitter made it clear the Fine Gael leader’s comments had not landed on deaf ears.

    One tweeter wondered how it was that “Mr Kenny wants to make Irish non-compulsory for the Leaving yet a few weeks ago argued that the #dail should debate more as Gaeilge”.

    Another said “Enda Kenny has absolutely NO RIGHT to decide the future of the Irish Language. This is a national disgrace!”

    “Well if Enda Kenny is still planning on removing Irish as a compulsory language, sorry Fine Gael but you may well have lost my vote!!” tweeted yet another.

    Interestingly enough, the closest tweet I could find to anyone supporting Mr Kenny’s initiative was from a student who was annoyed that Mr Kenny’s measure would come into effect the year after she sits the Leaving Cert.

    Mr Kenny has been making  noises about the subject since 2005 when he announced that he had decided that Fine Gael in government would make the study of Irish entirely voluntary in the last two years of second level.

    His plan was criticised then by activists and educationalists alike.

    The then Conradh na Gaeilge president Daithi MacCarthaigh who described the move “as very odd” and said it “doesn’t bear up well to scrutiny”.

    Mr Kenny’s rationale for reducing the status of Irish was that students would be freed up to love the language and that  most of them would be motivated to continue learning it up to and including the Leaving Certificate examination.

    The Fine Gael leader might do well then to examine a similar initiative that the Labour Party introduced in Britain back in 2004 when Tony Blair’s government ended compulsory language study for 14 to 16 year olds.

    The radical move was intended to facilitate a new approach to learning where students would be “encouraged” to learn a foreign language through the attainment of grades much in the same way as music is taught.

    “We have taken a sensible approach to what will make language learning thrive. It is not about forcing young people to study a language; it is about starting in primary schools, finding new and exciting ways of teaching languages and better supporting those who show an aptitude for the subject”, said the then education secretary Mr Alan Johnson.

    “The early signs are encouraging and I am confident that these changes will deliver a new generation of linguists”, he added.

    However laudable the goal, the move led directly to a language crisis in Britain’s schools with French slipping out of the top 10 of the most popular subjects at GCSE level last year.

    The British government’s move led to the extraordinary intervention of the German ambassador who issued an appeal to the British government, calling on it to consider not implementing the plan.

    His fears were recently borne out when Belfast’s Queen’s University  closed the German Department citing “unsustainable student numbers” as one of the reasons for the move.

    Educationalists and businesses alike warned that the 2004 loss of the statutory language provision would lead to far fewer people studying the subjects.

    They were vindicated some years later when Alan Johnson ordered a review of the policy after he said the government was “wondering” whether it had made the right decision when it scrapped compulsory language classes.

    If implemented, Enda Kenny’s move would also be likely to weaken teaching provision at both schools and universities as was the experience in Britain. The related fall in numbers taking Irish until the Leaving Cert would also be likely to result in a fall in the number of teachers capable of teaching  Irish, in turn limiting the possibility of taking Irish for those who wish to study it for the Leaving Cert.

    Thousands of languages are at this moment in the process of being driven to extinction by higher status languages and a move to lower the status of Irish, for whatever reason, will more than likely result in harm to the language than not.

    If he believes the move to make Irish non-compulsory would support and encourage Irish for all,  perhaps using the same rationale, a move towards making maths or English optional should also be on the cards?

  • Politics flying high

    February 5, 2011 @ 10:16 am | by Éanna Ó Caollaí

    Keep an eye out this weekend for flustered politicians and their tormented canvassers as they shift their focus from chasing down votes to hunting down valuable election posters that have been dislocated by the wind.

    With some rumoured to have spent up to €10 per poster you could easily imagine their despair as they observe their precious posters fly overhead. While the high cost includes printing, installation and removal, its not clear if it also includes retrieval from ditches, roads and canals.

    Once the election campaign (finally) got underway Met Éireann issued a warning and high winds were duly unleashed upon these tortured souls and their airbrushed posters.

    Our much criticised politicians might be forgiven for feeling a little bit paranoid. Haven’t they been getting it from every quarter over the last few years. Indeed one tweeter yesterday blamed the inclement conditions squarely upon their shoulders.  “The sooner #ge11 is over, the sooner these huge gusts of wind will stop”, he tweeted.

    Dublin City Council has received complaints from the public over the matter and is removing any posters that have fallen down.

    Indeed, those seeking our votes might do worse than monitor the social platform. Things got so bad that one tweeter pledged his vote to the candidate whose poster “doesn’t end up flying into my face” and another blamed the weather entirely on the politicians’ shoulders.

    Of all the parties, Labour (which ironically is throwing its weight behind “the Gilmore gale”), was the first to react.  @labour tweeted early on Thursday that the party was sending teams of workers to retrieve and fix any torn posters.

    It would be interesting to see if the courtesy is being extended to other parties whose posters may have also been torn down?

    Here’s one way of finding out I suppose – one tweeter (@louiseber) reported at least 30 election posters in the bird sanctuary in Booterstown so @labour, please take note.

    Tweeted by @vainmann: 'Incredible pic of the very first poster going up within minutes of election being called.'

    General elections always bring interesting political analyses but a choice pick this week was a piece in the Wicklow News that reported local Fianna Fáil candidate Pat Fitzgerald as saying his party should have never entered government with the Greens, claiming they “destroyed” his party.

    Fitzgerald told a gathering of supporters in Wicklow that he was glad “to see the back of the Green Party”. “They have destroyed Fianna Fáil and we should never have gone into government with them”, he was quoted as saying.

    Interestingly enough, Fitzgerald said Fianna Fáil would come up with the goods but would need an opportunity to do so. One might be forgiven for thinking that being actually being in government, not to mention leading it, would provide opportunities galore.

    But no.

    “They haven’t come up with anything new,” he said of Fine Gael and Labour. “If given the chance, Fianna Fáil will show what we can really achieve.”

    Of course, while inter-party spats are the norm it’s the party infighting that really whets the appetite.

    Comments made by former Fine Gael minister Gemma Hussey on television prompted Enda Kenny on Thursday to advise her to “stay out of politics” and to keep her counsel.

    Ms Hussey’s crime was to say that the party should have changed leader and that Mr Kenny tends to “freeze”.
    In reply yesterday, Mr Kenny said that his former Government colleague was out of politics and “she should stay out of politics” and keep her counsel.

    Ms Hussey had had her day and should remember the difficulties she had when she was Minister for Education and the help he had given her at that time, he said.

    With only a couple of days gone in the election campaign the knives are out already…

  • Don’t give up on us baby

    February 4, 2011 @ 9:40 am | by Eoin Burke Kennedy
    YouTube Preview Image

    Slick Fáilte Ireland video shows not everyone’s trapped in a cycle of negative thinking.

    Pics from the campaign trail

    Easy single left for unsuspecting canvasser

    When it rains, it pours. Courtesy of Siobhan Hargis

    Sinn Féin anti-emigration leaflet

  • Vanity Fair article paints grim picture of Ireland

    February 3, 2011 @ 1:19 pm | by Eoin Burke Kennedy

    Under the headline ‘When Irish Eyes Are Crying’, a man sits with his coffee and paper in Hogan’s pub, Dublin.

    Outside on a rain-soaked George’s Street, a bearded man in a cap and heavy overcoat passes, carrying a plastic shopping bag.

    If the barfly wasn’t instantly recognisable as economist Morgan Kelly, the scene might have neatly slotted into a bleak photomontage of 1950s Dublin.

    And no doubt, that’s the point.

    The photograph, in the latest edition of Vanity Fair, sits on top of a story on Ireland’s well-publicised slide from boom to bust.

    It’s penned by renowned financial journalist Michael Lewis, author of bestselling book on the financial crisis, The Big Short.

    The 14-page article, replete with moody shots of our new celebrity economists – Kelly and McWilliams, is bound to cause a stir.

    Lewis claims the crisis was caused “by the sort of men who ignore their wives’ suggestions that maybe they should stop and ask for directions”.

    But unlike Iceland, who used their cheap credit to go out and conquer the world, Ireland had more modest ambitions, he says.

    “Left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, the Irish decided what they really wanted to do with it was to buy Ireland. From one another.”

    Perhaps, the most interesting explanation for the boom is the claim that it was linked to the country’s decision to legalise the pill in 1979, which brought about a crash in the Irish birthrate and a dramatic increase in the ratio of working-age workers to non-working-age people.

    In general, the article paints a pretty grim picture of the place and the kind of monoculture that laid it low.

    It quotes liberally from various commentators, and even has a defiant Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan denying suggestions the country was no more than a “hedge fund populated by farmers and fishermen”.

    Near the end of the article, a former Anglo executive admits: “Yes, we were out of control”. However, the  sentiment is quickly undercut by his reference to guys in other banks as “fucking nuts”.

  • Social media a challenge for parties

    February 2, 2011 @ 2:39 pm | by Éanna Ó Caollaí

    Long before the Taoiseach notified Leinster House of his intention to dissolve the Dáil it was clear the political parties would have their work cut out for them ahead of the election.

    If the opinion polls are to be believed, the State is about to witness a seismic shift in the makeup of Ireland’s political system. Fianna Fáil, once the country’s dominant party, is facing the possibility of being relegated to second, third, or – in its worst case scenario – fourth place in the overall party rankings.

    Of course, Fianna Fáil is not the only party facing considerable challenges this election. The others have problems too. Fine Gael has to contend with image problems associated with its leader, for example, as too does Sinn Féin. The Labour Party has had difficulties around marking out its own territory between left and right on an increasingly broad political spectrum.

    While each party will have their own difficulties, their problems point to a common challenge -  how to maximise their reach and get their message across to as many voters as is possible.

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    Election costs are high and each party will have had meticulously planned for this moment  months ago. The posters are printed, strategies are in place, itineraries will have been mostly agreed. The parties are old hands at manipulating the traditional media to get their message across (remember John Gormley’s 2007 spat in Ranelagh with Micheal McDowell?)  Television and radio interviews will of course be agreed and party leaders will doubtless engage in some form of head-to-head debate.

    But what many will find interesting will be how the parties engage with new media.

    Not only will they have to sell their policies on the country’s doorsteps but they will also have to contend with a media landscape that has changed considerably in the few years since the last election.

    There are over 1.58 million regular Facebook users in Ireland (including at least 467,000 mobile users) and with Twitter increasing in popularity all the time, social media participants are increasingly voicing their opinions online using new technology to publish commentaries, video, blogs, or podcasts.

    The timing of the general election may have generated acres of newsprint over recent weeks and months but the online world has long been deluged with a torrent of commentary, criticism and analysis of everything and anything political – be it the latest policy launch or the early-morning performance of party leaders on the country’s airwaves.YouTube Preview Image

    This is a politicised demographic and Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube have all featured in some way  or other in the run-up to the dissolution of the 30th Dáil.

    The ubiquity of mobile phones and other mobile devices has resulted in social media emerging as a new battleground where politics are discussed in a way that enables people to fully participate in the debate, regardless of individual or social background.

    Free of the constraints that traditionally prevented access to the political or media classes, young adults (aged 18-24) are far more likely than any other group to use blogs and social networking sites to engage in political discussion.

    The difficulty faced by the political parties is how to harness the undoubted power of social media and how to translate online political activism into actual votes and political participation.

    As we gear up for the most anticipated election in decades most parties are still concentrating on traditional media to get their message across. While traditional media still has pride of place, the political landscape is changing rapidly and with it the methods used not only to deliver political discourse but also – and perhaps more importantly – the methods used to digest it.

    Too few candidates engage with social networks. Others pay lip service – convinced perhaps that the inclusion of mere a Twitter or Facebook logo on their campaign literature is enough to capture the youth vote!

    This lack of engagement by politicians with the medium is notable. Particularly as its potential influence is real – the life term of the FF-Green coalition was punctuated by tweets that, in the end, helped destabilise relations between both parties.

    Note the case of Willie O’Dea who was the subject of one famous tweet – sent by Green Party Senator Dan Boyle – which contributed to the Fianna Fáil minister’s eventual resignation over an affidavit he had sworn after a row with a local Sinn Féin councillor.

    While the huge popularity enjoyed by social networking sites points to the medium’s validity as a means of communication, it is by no way a panacea to the deficit in our system that sees hundreds of thousands opt out of exercising their right to vote.

    It does have its critics – there is always the danger that the online debate can become the exclusive domain of a clique of commentators and media pundits who occupy the space and the medium is often criticised for generating debate around issues that may not have any grounding in reality.

    Another valid criticism is that those who comment online often engage in conversation with others who hold the same or similar views. There can be a related fragmentation of opinions where discussions are held in isolation – it is easy to find those who agree with you but the danger is that alternative voices remain ignored.

    That said, politicians need to realise that the medium works in both directions. Social media should be seen as an opportunity. It offers a platform for the public, certainly, but it also offers access by politicians to a demographic that has too-often been dismissed as disinterested in politics, apathetic, and irrelevant.

    The medium can be off-putting for those who may not be technically proficient. It need not be. Anyone who is capable of operating a mobile phone – not-to-mention running a constituency office – should be capable of opening and running a Twitter or Facebook account.

    One might be forgiven for thinking that such a means by which so many people can be reached at such a low cost and with such ease might feature in the arsenal of tools available to our election candidates.

    Whether social media has any role to play in generating extra votes remains to be seen but it certainly can have a role in influencing public opinion.

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