Saturday, January 26, 2013

Constitutional Convention

This weekend sees the first working meeting of the Constitutional Convention taking place. There will be discussions on possible amendments to the Constitution including the lowering of the voting age, reducing the presidential term of ofice from seven to five years and holding Presidential elections at the same time as Euorpean elections.

Discussions on extending voting rights in Presidential elections to Irish citizens living abroad and citizens of the six counties will take place at a later date.

Irish citizens who would like to make a submission to allow citizens of all 32 counties to vote in Presidential elections or on other issues can do so here.

All these issues will be discussed at the Convention where a vote will be taken on whether or not to recommend these changes to the Oireachtas. If passed, the Oireachtas will debate on the recommendations . The Government is committed to having this debate within four months and setting a date for a referendum if it agrees with the recommendations.

The Convention itself is made up of of 66 citizens, who were selected by a polling company to be representative, as well as 33 politicians, including four from the Northern Ireland Assembly, and independent chairman Tom Arnold.

Listed as members of the Convention on the Constitution include four MLA's, Martin McGuinness (SF), Alban Maginness (SDLP), Steven Agnew (Green Party NI) and Stewart Dickson (Alliance). Sinn Fein also have TD's Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald listed. Not surprisingly Northern Unionists declined their invitation.

Sinn Fein will be represented this weekend by substitutes Senator David Cullinane, Senator Kathryn Reilly and MLA Cathríona Ruane. And with SDLP and numerous Fianna Fail representatives, Nationalism appears to be well represented.

The goal for Nationalists from this Convention is clear. The recommendations which will be put forward for debate to the Oireachtas before being put to the people in a referendum need to include changes that would allow citizens of all 32 counties to vote in Presidential elections. Lets see if they can deliver.

EditBreaking News has reported that "the Constitutional Convention has voted in favour of lowering the voting age, but has rejected reducing the presidential term.

At its meeting in Dublin, 52% of delegates voted in favour of lowering the voting age.
Of these, 48% were in favour of lowering the age to 16 with 39% selecting 17.
A reduction in the Presidential term from seven to five years was opposed by 57%".

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ireland's Renewable Energy


Today a Memorandum of Understanding has been singed between the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte and his British counterpart Ed Davy. The agreement paves to way to allow Irish wind farms to export directly to Britain.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Rabbitte described the memorandum as a "win win" development.
This will enable Britain to buy renewable energy from Ireland helping the country to meet mandatory EU targets on renewable energy and save British consumers £7bn. As well as providing 10% of it's 2020 renewable energy target, it will mean that the British countryside will not be blighted by wind turbines.
So what's in it for Ireland?
The Irish Times states "the industry generally has been arguing that a deal will provide the trigger for billions of euro in investment with the potential to create tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of jobs". Every unemployed person costs the state in the region of €20,000 directly, through lost money in income tax and social welfare costs. So if this scheme takes 50,000 off the unemployment register, it could be worth €1bn to the state annually.
An EU Directive (2009) requires all EU member states to reach a 20% share of energy from renewable sources by 2020. Currently Ireland's share stands at 18%. This memorandum should comfortably bring Ireland over this target (expected to increase to 40% by 2020) and avoid paying penalties for failing to meet the target.
Minister Rabbitte has stated that "Ireland has the potential to generate more wind energy than its population could consume". Basic economics tells us that a surplus in supply leads to a reduction in price. Reduced energy costs of course reduce the cost of doing business.
While this is obviously very good news for the Irish economy, there are some areas which have not been clarified under this agreement.
How much of this energy will be supplied to homes and business in Ireland? The value of oil imports to Ireland is staggering. In 2010 it was estimated that Ireland imported 166,000 bbl/day, costing a whoppong US$5.3bn. In 2008 this figure was US$7.2bn. Naturally the more green energy that is supplied to Irish homes and businesses, the less reliant they are on oil. The lower the reliance on oil, the greater the savings to the Irish economy. So this begs the question, why are we exporting to Britain when the benefits of keeping green energy at home are so great?

Only the state can own electricity networks, However the private developers will effectively be establsihing their own networks by connecting their windfarms to Britain. How much will be the benefit to the state if they are to transfer ownership of the networks on commercial terms?
The most fundamental issue with this agreement is Ireland's share of the revenue (or lack of revenue!) generated from the wind tubines. The export of goods and services is not subject to Vat. Therefore the benefit to the exchequer from the sale of Ireland's natural resources, is dependent on tax revenues generated from profits of the energy firms.
However, renewable energy firms are not subject to the same taxation measures as non renewable energy companies. So instead of paying the 25% (before tax write-offs) tax rate applied to the profits a company makes from the sale of Irish oil or gas, and an additional Profit Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) of between 5% and 15%, levied on post-tax profits of licences issued after 2007, these wind energy companies are only liable to the standard corporation tax rate of 12.5%.
Not only should all profits made on the expolitation of Ireland's natural resources of renewable energy be taxed at the same level as natural resources of finite energy, the
government then needs to legislate to increase this 25% rate to a level that is similar to our European neighbours and remove the scope for tax write offs, loopholes and accountancy tricks which yields some of the lowest government takes in the world according to a report by Indecon Economic Consultants.

Ireland has astounding wealth in natural resources which provides a means to solve our economic problems. But this would require a fundamental change in policy.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Census 2011 - Second Release

On 11 December the second phase of Census 2011 was published. The results included the breakdown of the 'religion or religion brought up in'. In March 2011 on the date of the census, there were 875,717 Protestants and other Christians (48%), 817,385 Catholics (45%) and 117,761 of Other Religion or No Religion (7%).

The 2001 census showed  there were 895,377 Protestants and other Christians (53%), 737,412 Catholics (44%) and 52,478 of Other Religion or No Religion (3%).

The gap between the two main blocks has decreased by 99,633 from 157,965 to 58,332 in ten years. This represents a reduction of nearly 10,000 per year. If current trends continue parity will be achieved at some point in 2016.

In relation to national identity 40% declared themselves to be British, 25% as Irish, and 21% as Northern Irish. Some Unionists argue that the 21% who declared as Northern Irish have made a political statement rather than stating a geographical fact. This is a comfort blanket. While there is a very strong correlation between religion and voting patterns in elections, we simply do not know how the 'Northern Irish' would vote.

Much has been written about this census from various newspaper articles, blogs and discussion forums. However the piece that struck me the most has come from an unlikely source. I am of the opinion that the Irish Independent is an anti-nationalist/republican newspaper. However it was this very newspaper article which has the cop on to know that the current trouble in greater Belfast is not really about the "fleg". No it is about rejecting democracy and changing demographics, change demonstrated in the 2011 census.