Senate on the brink
A few days from now, voters in Ireland, though not Irish voters outside the Republic, will be asked to cast votes on whether or not the Irish Senate, Seanad Éireann will continue to exist.
This is no small question in a democracy where, it is to be assumed, parliamentary chambers are established at the outset with serious purpose in mind.
As it turned out, and though it bore a name that would bring to mind the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., the 60-seat Irish Senate, has not exactly blazed a trail across the political heavens since it came into being, initially as a legislative body of the Irish Free State in 1922, and later as one for the Irish Republic based on a revised model written into the 1937 Constitution.
Unlike Dáil Éireann, the Senate is not directly elected, but rather consists of members sitting in various panels who are chosen by various methods. Its powers are much weaker than those of the Dáil, and it can only delay laws with which it disagrees, rather than block them by means of veto.
There have been calls for reform, and efforts to actually reform the Senate for virtually as long as it has existed.
The current government, in its 2011 general election manifesto, promised a referendum in which the government would advocate abolition of the Senate.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been to the fore in advocating the required majority “yes” vote that would result in the Senate passing into history.
Labour, led by Eamon Gilmore, has been more muted in its advocacy.
Sinn Féin, somewhat late in the day, decided to back abolition while Fianna Fáil, much diminished since the general election, stands alone as the primary force advocating a “no vote” with retention and reform.
If the vote goes in proportion to the position of the main political parties then, the Seanad will ride off into the sunset.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has attempted to formally debate the issue with Mr. Kenny, but, as this went to press, the Taoiseach had thus far demurred.
There is little doubt that there is a lot of scope for reform.
Martin has argued for a revamped Senate directly elected by voters and one in which there would be minority representation for various groups, including emigrants.
As a plum for voters, meanwhile, the Fine Gael/Labour government has outlined a series of Dáil reforms that would come into being after the Seanad is abolished.
It’s difficult not to argue that the Dáil has been in need of reform anyway, regardless of whether or not it has to sit in a bicameral legislature alongside an “upper house.”
Fine Gael has additionally placed a strong emphasis on the economics surrounding the Senate’s abolition or survival.
An end to the Senate would mean, for one thing, fewer paid politicians and all told, so the government argument goes, the Irish taxpayer would save €20 million annually if the Oireachtas became unicameral.
In a hard economic time, this is no small bore argument.
Still, the right kind of reform could include cost cutting. And it’s this idea, “the right kind of reform,” that makes us hesitate as opposed to simply rowing in behind the Irish government on this one.
The fact that Irish citizens overseas still have no voting rights in referenda dealing with the very political essence of the Republic they were born into, such as this referendum, is another cause for hesitation.
Seanad Éireann as it was, and as it is, might be an imperfect institution in need of a radical makeover, but it’s puzzling as to why government leaders haven’t spent a little more time crafting a vision for such a makeover.
Voters are being asked a simple question in the referendum with a yes or no answer. If the Senate survives it is difficult not to imagine that it will be overhauled. But if it doesn’t we will never know what form any change would have taken.
As it now stands, the Senate could be scrapped on October 4 without the Irish people ever experiencing a reformed model that could potentially bring benefit to the political life of the Irish in Ireland, and indeed the much vaunted diaspora.
So the choice on referendum day is indeed a simple one. But is it overly simplistic?
By Irish Echo Staff
Boston’s next mayor will be Irish American, that much is certain
But whether it’s State Representative Marty Walsh or City Councilor John Connolly will be up to voters who will go to the polls in the mayoral general election on November 5.
Walsh and Connolly came tops of a record-sized field of candidates in Tuesday’s primary vote.
Walsh edged Connolly by 1,400 votes so the final sprint for City Hall looks like being a very close one.
The winner will succeed outgoing mayor of twenty years, Thomas Menino.
By Ray O’Hanlon firstname.lastname@example.org
The gathering naval force in the eastern Mediterranean has an Irish name in its line of ships.
The USS Barry, named after Commodore John Barry, father and first flag officer of the United States Navy, is one of five Arleigh Burke class destroyers in the force that could launch a strike against Bashar Assad’s Syria in a matter of days. The Barry, designated DDG-52, is a guided missile destroyer that was commissioned in 1992 and named after Wexford-born Commodore John Barry (1745-1803). In its years of service, the Barry has received many awards, including the Battenberg Cup for the years 1994, 1996, and 1998. The ship has also been awarded the navy’s Battle E award four times, and received the Golden Anchor and Silver Anchor Awards. In 2004, the Barry was awarded the Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy for being the most improved ship in the Atlantic Fleet. Commodore John Barry was initially an officer in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War. He was the first captain of a U.S. warship commissioned for service under the Continental flag. After the war, Barry became America’s first commissioned naval officer, at the rank of Commodore, receiving his commission from President George Washington in 1797. Down the years Barry was widely seen as the “father” of the United States Navy, but his historical position was made fully official when President George W. Bush confirmed him as “first flag officer.”
In recent years the Ancient Order of Hibernians has been working to complete the “Barry Gate” memorial at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
So what would the late John B. Keane make of this particular field?
For sure, the author of “The Field,” would be familiar with it because it once made his native county the center of the communications world.
“The Telegraph Field,” from which the first successful transatlantic cable was laid in 1866, is up for sale at a guide price of €160,000.
The 1.01 acre (0.41 hectare) site is located on Valentia Island with views of Foilhommerum Bay and the Skellig rocks, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
According to the sales pitch, it includes the ruin of the 150-year-old Cable House “making it an ideal site for a cultural center with global significance.”
The property is being sold by international real estate advisor Savills, on behalf of a private Irish investor.
Peter O’Meara, investment director of Savills Ireland, said: “The Telegraph Field is the birthplace of global communications, one of history’s game-changing moments equivalent to the invention of the internet.
“The site would be ideal as a tourist destination and the island is a one-hour drive from Kerry Airport, linked to the mainland by both bridge and ferry.”
Junior Browne, who owns the property and researched the site’s history with his son over the last ten years, said: “We bought the site intending to build a holiday home in a stunning setting but as we uncovered the historic significance of the site we abandoned these plans.
“We have since funded a documentary and progressed plans for a visitor’s center, a museum and a global IT learning center. We have had support from the national tourist agency, global corporations like Morgan Stanley, and even the Smithsonian Museum, which has long recognized the importance of the transatlantic cable, but we have taken the project as far as we can.”
By Irish Echo Staff
It might sound like a political oxymoron but Congressman Peter King laughed at that definition Thursday before telling the Irish Echo that he was “looking at it,” – it being a White House run in 2016.
King was reacting to an online report in the magazine Newsmax in which named and unnamed conservative and Republican Party members and supporters pointed to King as a potential Republican presidential candidate three years from now.
Such is the state of flux in the Republican Party at this juncture that a 2016 presidential bid by New York Congressman King would be anything but an unthinkable development.
And King himself was embracing the Newsmax report saying that he had been contacted a couple of weeks ago by the publication, was flattered by its running the story, and was especially flattered by the endorsement in it of his possible candidacy by Michael Mukasey, former federal judge and U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush.
“I think it would be a great thing if Peter King ran for president,” Mukasey told Newsmax.
“When you get a compliment like that from the likes of Michael Mukasey, you have to listen,” King said.
“It’s a great honor. I’m looking at it. I’m not ruling it out,” he said of a White House bid.
“I will be listening to people and it’s certainly an opportunity to speak out on different things,” he added.
A King GOP nomination bid would be boosted by his solid conservative credentials on a range of issues and his high national profile on national security which in part stems from King’s time as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
King is an 11-term member of the House of Representatives who draws considerable support from registered Democrats and independent voters in his Long Island district.
A Catholic, King is a graduate of Notre Dame University and turned 69 in April. This would put him at the higher end of the political age spectrum but he looks younger than his age and presents a robust image when in front of a camera or microphone.
He is long familiar in Ireland for his track record as a supporter of Sinn Féin going back to the 1980s.
When still a locally elected official for Long Island’s Nassau County, King was a frequent visitor to Belfast, at one pointing bringing with him a sitting U.S. Senator, Alfonse D’Amato.
And while his connections to Sinn Féin have long been a prominent part of King’s Irish resumé, he was also one of the first Irish American politicians to meet with loyalist leaders in the early 1980s.
In the Newsmax report, Mark Kennedy, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, and himself a former Republican U.S. Congressman from Minnesota, said of a King presidential bid: “Any House member attempting a presidential run faces several obstacles: low name ID nationwide, a large database of recorded votes from which opponents can cherry-pick for negative advertising, and the overall unpopularity of the current Congress.”
However Kennedy added: “But Congressman Peter King does have several assets that could help him in a possible run: impeccable cultural conservative credentials, expert knowledge of terrorism and homeland security, and an independent streak that could appeal to general election voters.
King enjoys a relatively high media profile for an occupant of the 435-member house, this in large part because of his prominence on national security matters.
He is also a Republican in a Democratic-dominated state based just outside New York City. As such, he enjoys the advantage of being the closest and highest ranking Republican when the press in America’s media capital needs to talk to a member of that party.
Though 2016 seems like a long time away, it is not a long stretch in political terms.
If King takes the idea of his candidacy to its logical next step he will very soon have to start putting a national organization in place. That he is already in election mode anyway is a given. House members face the voters every two years, and King must do so again in November, 2014.
Being mentioned in terms of the presidency will spur King’s House re-election bid, and his campaign for a 12th congressional term will, in turn, add energy to any presidential bid.
King was linked in recent years to a possible Senate run in New York. In key respects, a presidential candidacy might be a better option not least because it would allow King to break out of the political corral surrounding what is a solidly blue state and appeal to Republican voters throughout the country.
By Ray O’Hanlon
Pigs aren’t quite flying yet but temperatures in Ireland these past few days are sky high and climbing higher with the possibility of hitting 90 degrees.
And as if times weren’t strange enough, Dublin hurlers won the Leinster championship to match the county’s footballers. The teams, famous for their sky blue uniforms, last accomplished this double in 1942. And it was not just hurlers and the weather that were making big headlines these past few days. Irish sports stars were turning up the heat on their rivals, most notably in France where golfer Graeme McDowell won the French open in Paris, his third title of the season. Down south in the Pyrenees, meanwhile, cyclist Dan Martin captured Sunday’s stage in the Tour de France for the U.S. Garmin-Sharp team. As for the weather, the sunshine looks set to continue for a few days yet. Monday was the hottest day in Ireland since 2006 and even higher temperatures are expected by week’s end.
Met Éireann confirmed a temperature of 28.7 degrees at Oakpark, County Carlow on Monday. That’s 83.6 Fahrenheit. The weather has been good news for farmers, as well as those who simply want to soak up the sun and pretend for a few days that Ireland is Spain, or some other Mediterranean hotspot.
Competitive Edge By Maura Kelly
It has been called “the ultimate mind meld for business leaders” by those involved.
For seven days in June, 110 Irish entrepreneurs had the opportunity to engage with top U.S. CEOs, economists, political advisors and change agents in Chicago, the University of Notre Dame, and New York, this while attending the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year CEO Retreat.
All of the participants embarked on the supercharger retreat with one goal in mind – to return to Ireland reinvigorated and expand their businesses on a domestic and international level.
The journey for twenty-four of the CEOs started when their companies were short-listed for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY) 2014 Award.
EOY is a global recognition program for entrepreneurs run in 140 cities in over 50 countries.
The Irish EOY program, now in its sixteenth year, was created to recognize talent and innovation across the island of Ireland and it includes finance, technology, agriculture and manufacturing sectors.
All of the finalists and seasoned entrepreneurs on the retreat have created new jobs and opportunities, both in Ireland’s tough economy and abroad.
I had a chance to meet and talk with several CEOs at the residence of Consul General Noel Kilkenny during the New York leg of the trip.
Fresh off the plane from South Bend, Indiana, the group was truly energized by the panoramic views of Manhattan and the Empire State Building from the Consul General’s 52nd floor residence.
“”The aim of this year’s CEO Retreat is to challenge and inspire Ireland’s entrepreneurs to think in new ways and unlock their success and strategy on a global level” explained Frank O’Keeffe, Partner-in-Charge of the EOY program.
“We want Ireland, north and south, to become one of the best places in the world to do business. We’ve just arrived from Notre Dame and we have a strong connection there. They are known as the fighting Irish in sports and the individuals here have a fighting Irish spirit and it’s played out in business.”
Several of the group commented on the inspirational talk football coach Lou Holtz gave the previous night about living life to the best of one’s ability. They expressed deep admiration for the football legend and said it was a highlight of the trip.
Some of the companies vying for the EOY 2014 grand prize in the emerging category include Sugru, whose tag line states, “The future needs fixing.” This innovative self-setting rubber is used for fixing, modifying and improving things and sells in 138 countries.
On the entertainment front, Belfast based Sixteen South (Sesame Street Northern Ireland and Jim Henson’s Pajanimals) were in the running for two Daytime Emmy’s that same week. Datahug creates online collaboration tools and I happened to catch their pitch at a recent New York Digital Irish event.
The applications enhance lead generation and uncover relationships and connections within a company’s network of contacts. John Rice, CEO of Jam Media, recalled his early years in New York with MTV and talked about how his U.S. experience planted the seeds for opening his own animation company in Dublin, then Belfast, and now Canada in the near future.
The next day, World EOY 2013 winner, Hamdi Ulukaya, wowed the group when he shared how he started Chobani Greek Yogurt with nothing but a subway coupon and 25 cents in his pocket. Within five years he grew his company to $1 billion in sales and now employs over 3000 staff. Later that day, Jim McCann of 1-800-Flowers recounted his unique journey from start up to leader in the floral trade.
The EOY CEO Retreat doesn’t limit itself to seeking excellent in all things business, it also promotes giving back.
Michael Carey, chairman of Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, explained the genesis of “Soul of Haiti” to me.
“Soul of Haiti is a charity that started in 2007 after the EOY CEO Retreat visited Haiti. We were so moved by what we saw, we decided to set up the charity on our return to Ireland.”
Carey added: “We utilize the philosophy of social entrepreneurship and rather than focus just on relief work, we help stimulate business and employment in Haiti so that the people can start providing for themselves and build their own future.
I think the EOY Twitter feed sums up the week nicely: @EOYIreland “What a trip, we’re now bringing our 110 Irish entrepreneurs back home re-invigorated and ready to get back to business with a bang! @bubblebumukltd tweets – “An incredible fanfreakingbubbletastic week with @EOYIreland in Notre Dame and NYC. Thank you.”
Ireland’s 24 finalists will face off against each other for the grand prize at the EOY Gala Night in Dublin on October 24th. The overall winner will then go on to participate in the World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Monte Carlo in June 2014. Good luck to all.
You can follow Maura Kelly on Twitter @MauraKellyMedia
By Ray O’Hanlon
Reform backers fell two votes short of the “Magnificent 70,” but the margin of victory was nevertheless impressive.
The United States Senate voted 68-32 Thursday for S.744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.
The bill includes a provision that would allow 10,500 renewable E-3 visas for the Irish with no sunset.
Passage of the bill represented a big win for the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” the members of which crafted the measure, and a particular triumph for the bill’s lead Democratic sponsor, Senator Charles Schumer who penned the Irish E-3 provision.
The reform debate now shifts to the far more uncertain ground that is the U.S. House of Representatives.
President Obama and Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtin Ó Muilleoir chatted for several minutes Monday when they met in Belfast.
The mayoral chain had caught the president’s eye and he joked about how he might get his hands on a similar symbol of high office.
By Ray O’Hanlon
Maureen O’Hara surrounded by family and friends including (l-r – back row): John Nicoletti, (her biographer), Charles FitzSimons, her nephew, Conor FitzSimons, Maureen’s grandson. Front row has great grandchildren, Everest and Baylee, and Conor’s wife, Elga FitzSimons Photo by Barton B. MacLeod.
She kept her promise.
Screen star Maureen O’Hara traveled from Boise, Idaho, to Winterset, Iowa last weekend to honor fellow Hollywood legend John Wayne in his birthplace.
A John Wayne museum and learning center and museum is planned for the Iowa town, and the project now has the best possible blessing from O’Hara, who made five movies with the late actor, including the iconic “The Quiet Man.”
Wayne was born in Winterset on May 26, 1907.
It was O’Hara’s first ever visit to Winterset, and it was also billed as her last large scale public appearance.
O’Hara was greeted by fans during the weekend as the town featured O’Hara and Wayne films in its movie theater.
“I hope they don’t forget,” O’Hara said of the well wishers.
“If they forget me, I might get mad at them, because I am still here,” the 92-year-old actress said.
O’Hara lived in West Cork for a number of years, but is now settled in Idaho close to family members.
Fans the world over have been campaigning to have Hollywood award her a lifetime achievement Oscar at next year’s Academy Awards.