The Gist: 2021, only moreso?
2021 has passed but almost every story and issue we faced has continued into 2022. Let's take a peep over the horizon to see what might finally resolve itself in the next 12 months. This is the Gist.
We might as well get this out of the way first.
Look, who knows? What we do know is that the government have taken great pains to learn nothing across two years from either their mistakes or other people’s successes. Regrettably, we also now have the additional problem that the people we’re relying on to make decisions have two years of their own past decisions to justify to themselves and others.
So, whether it is antigen tests being called snakeoil, or the inexplicable refusal to accept that an airborne virus requires schools to be fitted with air filters so they can stay open, the errors of the past are now haunting the present.
It is possible that someone might try taking actions to make schools safe (because they really must stay open), as opposed to asserting they are safe as an alternative to making them so. But that really would be a new approach.
A secure place to live is critical for a person’s wellbeing. Without it they won’t have a moment’s peace. Secondarily, they will burn with a deep intention to ensure that the people who have done this to them will pay.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael simply refuse to take any steps which would reduce the value of houses or the rate of rent. As a result, they are converting their estwhile voters into their diehard, rabid opponents.
Micheál Martin was quoted in an interview this week attempting to make a political issue of Sinn Féin’s silence on the topic of Ukrainian border integrity. This suggests that this may be literally amongst the last topics where FF’s approach comes out in polls ahead of an imagined Sinn Féin government’s.
On that basis, it cannot surely be long before the Government starts asserting that SF aren’t sound on the One China question, or that they’re avoiding admitting their position on Neutron Stars. All of which might make the Government parties feel better, but none of which will address the chasm waiting under them on the issue that voters care about- houses, houses, houses.
At this stage, it doesn’t really matter what Sinn Féin’s housing strategy is like. What matters is that it isn’t FF’s or FG’s.
Mother and Baby Homes
The Irish State has spent the last few years insisting on the importance of EU law in its dealings with the UK. At the same time, it has been acting as a scofflaw when it comes to respecting its own citizens’ rights under GDPR to their own data.
The collapse of the Department of Social Protection’s PSC card defence at the end of 2021 suggests that the Attorney General has been delivering some home truths to his clients as to how sustainable that will be.
The subsequent collapse of the defence of the Mother and Baby homes judicial reviews taken by survivors against the Commission’s report- an 11th hour surrender by the state after putting up a full defence- suggests that it will take action to be started and followed through before the State can be brought to admit it was wrong.
In the meantime, the Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman appears determined to continue to self-conflagrate in the service of his department. Why he does it is a political mystery.
Big Tech (and Ireland)
The Data Protection Commission was being kicked about internationally by the end of 2021. It has never been properly resourced, but this has become a crisis since the 2018 One-Stop-Shop provisions made it the lead regulator for all the big tech companies you care to mention. This year, we’ll see if the Government are happy with things to continue as they are, or may overhaul the system to add additional, international, Commissioners and allow the DPC to offer something approaching competitive salaries for their staff and legal experts.
But there was a second tech story building throughout 2021- the growing consumption of power by data centres, attracted to Ireland by the IDA but providing few enough jobs once they’re built.
The Indo summarised a report produced by the Data Centre industry itself;
Irish data centres will account for about 15pc of the country’s total electricity consumption in 2021, according to the report.
It revealed that on a medium-range projection, data centres will be consuming 24pc of all Ireland’s power availability by 2030.
One of the reasons given by Intel for not locating their new €80bn, 10,000 employee factory in Ireland was that they were worried about the reliablity of the power supply.
That is a bad trade off for Ireland.
RTÉ and other animals
The Government wanted an expert report on RTÉ. They got it, but it reportedly included a recommendation to scrap the licence fee and pay RTÉ directly from central government cash.
This is the glaringly obvious solution and is also political poison. Expect to see this can being kicked further down the road, while RTÉ withers.
Of course, there are problems with direct political control of RTÉ’s finances. I’ve proposed one solution myself.
Rotating the Taoiseach
Marking the end of Micheál Martin’s term as Taoiseach, and likely his time leading Fianna Fáil too, there is a scheduled swap of the top job due at the end of the year.
Expect this to gradually consume all political reporting as the time draws near, and as Martin’s aspirant successors set out the rag and bone shops of their hearts to try to replace him.
As the new FF leader will have to try to run from all of the existing Government’s decisions in order to save their party from oblivion, expect Leo Varadkar’s second term to be a brief one.
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