A (Brexit-free) A-Z of politics for 2019

A is for Amalgamation

There was much discussion throughout 2018 about a potential marriage between the SDLP and Fianna Fáil ahead of the 2019 local government elections. However a recent news article in the Sunday Business Post, drawing upon party sources, talked more about ‘co-operation’ than amalgamation. So will this be more along the lines of a UCUNF arrangement rather than a Labour- Democratic Left swallow-up?

More detail has emerged from Gerry Moriarty in the Irish Times this morning:

The parties, said one source, are expected to engage in a “narrative” of announcements, with details released on an incremental basis leading up to the Fianna Fáil ardfheis in Dublin on February 23rd, where Mr Eastwood and Ms Mallon “would get a big show”.

The SDLP are said to be considering a special conference in late January. Independent Omagh Councillor Sorcha McAnespy will be watching with interest as will South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna.

If a timeline is now being set out for a full integration between the parties with a lot of fanfare scheduled in for January and February it will seem a bit confusing if SDLP councillors are not running under a FF banner in May.

The SDLP won 66 seats at the last Local Government Elections compared to Sinn Féin’s 105. A number of these will be tough to defend if the 2017 election trend were to be repeated.

B is for Bolsonaro 

The Brazilian right-wing president-elect takes up office for 4 years from January 1st 2019. The former army paratrooper has already promised to loosen the country’s gun laws.

A fan of Donald Trump Bolsonaro has threatened to pull out of the Paris climate accord, open up the Amazon to mining and deforestation and scrap existing native reservations against the wishes of tribes.

Like Trump Bolsonaro is a climate sceptic. A well-known homophobe, members of the gay community are currently rushing to wed before he takes office.

Brazil is one country to watch with concern in 2019.

C is for Constitutional Referendums

The Dublin government is currently planning to hold two referendums at the same time as the Local and European elections in May on

(1) Extending the vote on Presidential elections to citizens outside the state (to those living in the north and around the world)

(2) To ease the waiting time for spouses who wish to divorce (The constitution currently requires spouses to live apart for four years out of five).

Expect the main parties in the Dáil to support a Yes vote in both these polls and unionist parties in the north to air concerns about northerners having the right to vote in 2025.

However also expect some interesting debate in the north as this debate comes at a time when many from a unionist background are thinking about their future and reflecting on their identity due to Brexit.

D is for Democratic challengers

In 2019 we will begin to get a sense of who will be the forerunners to take on Trump in the 2020 Presidential election with the first Democratic debates scheduled for June.

A recent poll shows that Texan Irish-American Beto O’Rourke is slightly ahead of former Vice-President Joe Biden among Democrats. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders would also be in the hunt should he choose to run.

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is leading a grassroots campaign to craft an FDR style ‘Green New Deal’ that would tackle carbon emissions and provide widespread employment. This looks likely to be a central plank of the policy platform of whoever emerges as the progressive candidate.

The Democrats could well go to the left for a candidate with a clear vision for the American populace but a number of deep pocketed billionaires also harbour ambitions for the Oval office including former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, hedge fund investor Tom Steyer and former Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz.

E is for Elections

On May 2nd voters will appoint representatives to the 11 local councils.

Going on recent results and electoral trends both the DUP and Sinn Féin will be targeting UUP and SDLP seats respectively, Alliance will be hopeful of gains and the Greens will be expectant of an extra seat or two in Belfast.

In England seats on 270 local authorities are up for grabs on the same day.

If Westminster decides to extend Article 50 by a few months we could still be heading to the polling stations in the north to vote for 3 MEPs. Don’t expect any change in the faces or parties returned if that happens.

Others to watch include the Belgian, Australian and Canadian Federal elections, the Danish and Greek General elections, the Spanish local elections and elections to the Israeli Knesset in April.

And snap Westminster and Dáil polls in 2019 would just be the cherries on top wouldn’t they?

F is for France

Emmanuel Macron has had a couple of difficult months and rightly so. His neoliberal approach to addressing climate change in the context of austerity was shot down in flames by the Gilets jaunes and has arguably done some damage to those who are arguing for a radical change to climate policy across Europe and indeed beyond.

There are clearly lessons to be learned from this for policymakers elsewhere. Climate policy needs to be fair and should be designed to ensure that it benefits those on lower incomes.

A Green New Deal approach that creates jobs for those on lower incomes rather than a tax increase that pushes them into further unmanageable poverty is just common sense.

G is for Greens

Whilst there has been a lot of focus on the ‘rise of the right’ in 2018 there has also been a ‘Green surge’.

In Germany they are currently polling a strong second to the Christian Democrats ahead of both the AfD and the once mighty Social Democrats. They are currently around 20% due in part to a clear pro-immigration position.

Support is also strong in Canada, Finland, Belgium and Australia ahead of elections there.

In the Netherlands the Greens are also polling at between 16-20%.

With the Left in general yet to respond effectively to right wing populism and younger voters more in tune with the threat of climate change to their generation this is providing fertile ground in parts of Europe for Green party growth.

H is for Hot Summer

Early predictions are that 2019 is going to be even hotter than 2018.

Professor Adam Scaife, head of long-range prediction at the UK Met Office said:

“Our forecasts suggest that, by the end of 2019, 19 of the 20 warmest years on record will have occurred since the year 2000.” 

The WWF has said that these new heatwaves could become the ‘new normal’ and a warning that climate change is now a growing threat to nature and people.

The clear message from 2018 and the IPCC report was that we have about 12 years to turn the carbon tanker and aim to decarbonise by 2050.

Perhaps 2019 will be the year that Irish politicians finally up their game when it comes to climate change?

I is for Inquiry

The Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry is due to report in 2019, perhaps between Easter and the summer.

There is unlikely to be any political deal to restore Stormont before it and its findings and recommendations may well feed into a deal to make Stormont operational again.

The findings in regard to the DUP leader Arlene Foster will be looked at closely and if there are others within the DUP with ambitions for the leadership (as rumoured) this may prove to be an ideal opportunity to make a political heave against the former First Minister. The Fermanagh MLA will also require a good showing at the Local Government elections to counter any challenge and indeed the election results and the inquiry publication may well fall within weeks of each other.

J is for Justin 

The Canadian PM Justin Trudeau faces his first general election as Prime Minister in 2019. In the year ahead Canada will also introduce a Carbon Tax but unlike in France, this will be revenue neutral as households will receive rebates to offset increased costs.

However on the other hand Trudeau is also investing in oilsands projects cranking up Canada’s emissions.

2018 wasn’t a great year for Trudeau, 2019 could be worse if he doesn’t manage to increase his Liberal party’s lead over the Conservatives in the opinion polls.

K is for Kramp-Karrenbauer

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer or AKK is the new leader of the German Christian Democrats and Angela Merkel’s potential successor as Chancellor.

A staunch Catholic that previously opposed same sex marriage she said in 2015 that :

“If we open up this definition [of marriage] to become a long-term responsible partnership between two adults, then other demands can’t be ruled out, such as a marriage between close relatives or between more than two people.”

We’ll learn more about AKK in 2019 but she hasn’t much time to make an impression with 4 state elections in the year ahead and strong challenges from other parties including a Green party polling around 20% and the far right AfD.

L is for Language Act

To put it simply, there can be no restoration of Stormont in 2019 without one.

M is for Mary-Lou

The Presidential election of 2018 wasn’t a great one for Sinn Féin but as its not a ‘proper election’ (you know what I mean) the first real test for Mary-Lou McDonald comes in May with council elections north and south as well as pressure to maintain all of their MEPs (except the northern seat if Brexit kicks in).

Dáil elections are a possibility in 2019 too though highly unlikely before April.

In 2018 opinion polls had Sinn Féin on a range between 13 to 24% and in a Dáil election a good result would be 18% and above.

In the May polls a marked improvement on the 2014 Local Government result of 15.2% will be expected and the holding of the party’s MEPs.

In the north I would be very surprised if the party does not increase its total number of councillors.

N is for No Stone Unturned

The arrests of journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney in 2018 were quite extraordinary and has resulted in a strong response from the National Union of Journalists, Amnesty International and journalists from right across the island and beyond.

Birney worked as a producer on the film No Stone Unturned about the Loughinisland massacre and McCaffrey as a journalist.

The case strikes at the heart of press freedom and will hopefully be stopped from proceeding any further in 2019.

O is for Opening of the First Dáil 

January 2019 marks 100 years from both the convening of the first Dáil in the Mansion House and the start of the Irish War for Independence. April 1919 saw the appointment of the first female Cabinet Minister Constance Markievicz.

Expect plenty of debate and commemoration over the year. The televised event from the Mansion House later in January should prove interesting.

P is for Palestine

2018 was another grim year for the Palestinians. 289 were killed while thousands more were wounded. 56 Palestinian children died. 538 housing units in the West Bank were demolished resulting in 1,300 Palestinians losing their homes. The US moved its embassy to Jerusalem. Israel introduced its racist nation-state law which further marginalises Palestinian citizens in Israel and strips Arabic of its status as an official language. It also defines establishing Jewish communities as being in the ‘national interest’.

In 2019 illegal settlements look set to continue as does the Gaza blockade. On top of that Netanyahu and Likud look set to remain the biggest party after the Knesset elections in April. Grim indeed.

Q is for Queues

In 2018 long long queues added to flight anxiety for those due to depart from International Airport. Lets hope this problem doesn’t take off again in the new year.

R is for Reform

As we face into another year of suspension of the Assembly reform really needs to take centre stage at any talks to revive the institutions. Not just reform in response to the RHI Inquiry around SpAds, Ministers and Civil Servants but also concerning the Petition of Concern.

The biggest risk to the long term sustainability of the Assembly is a deal that horse-trades on a number of issues (important as they are) but fails to address the structural problems that gives rises to the gridlock in the first place.

Reform of the PoC that allows for progressive majorities to pass legislation concerning same-sex marriage, etc without one party vetoes is essential for politics and society to move forward.

It would be good to see parties give meaningful consideration to reform in 2019.

S is for Saudi Arabia

After the brutal killing of a journalist at its Turkish embassy in 2018 expect the UK, US and others to move smoothly back to business as usual with the regime in 2019 so they can sell them arms whilst turning a blind eye to what they do with their purchases.

T is for Tóibin

In January former Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibin will launch his new party. He will have 4 months to prepare it for local elections north and south.

At the moment he has around 7 councillors and members from not only a Sinn Féin background but also Fianna Fáil. An Ard Chomhairle of 40 members has been established.

The party will of course be opposed to abortion reform though there may well be room for pro-choice members such as Independent Councillor Seamie Morris in Tipperary.

Single issue parties don’t last very long and if Tóibin fails to distinguish this party from others it won’t last very long either.

After the party is named and headline policies are laid out in the next few weeks then we will begin to see whether or not there is any impact on the opinion polls.

U is for Unity Opinion Polls

..which there are sure to be more of in 2019. The last Lucidtalk poll found that 55% of people in the north would back a united Ireland if Britain left the EU without a deal.

However as some of the discussions on the Think 32 podcasts have flagged up there remains a need for those supporting a united Ireland to paint a clear picture of what it will look like, will it be federal in structure, etc. There is no government white paper on unity, no Irish version of Scotland’s ‘wee blue book’. Co-operation between pro-unity parties in this area lacks too.

In 2018 we seen that, faced with a Brexit outcome, many in the north from either a unionist background or who were agnostic on the issue, are willing to consider whether being part of a ‘new Ireland’ is in their best interests for the future. In the year ahead those selling a united Ireland need to start to move to a position where they can provide greater detail and clarity to those whose interest has now been aroused for the first time.

V is for Vox…

..AfD, Lega, Rassemblement national and other parties of the extreme right currently on the rise in Europe. Typically eurosceptic and anti-immigration these parties of the far right are increasingly competing for seats at government tables. Italy is a good example. Matteo Salvini’s Lega entered government there with a 17% polling in May and has been polling over 30% consistently from July to the end of 2018.

The right is on the rise and this will be reflected in the 2019 European Parliament elections.

The populist left on the other hand is struggling to make any impact and movements such as Podemos in Spain that had such momentum just a couple of years ago are now on the wane.

2019 looks set to be a good year for the Right but the Left needs to reflect on how it repositions itself on a changing political landscape.

W is for the Wall

The current US government shutdown come down to the issue of ‘the wall’ that Donald Trump wants to build on the Mexico border (that he originally said that Mexico would pay for).

If there is a compromise then it will come down to whether the wall is in fact a wall, a mixture of fencing and security or something else.

It is a ridiculous proposal and a pet project. Democrats will not give way easy on this without getting something in return and probably won’t agree to any billion dollar wall that is an actual wall!

X is for Xenophobia

See ‘V’

Y is for Yellow Ribbons

Catalan politicians remain imprisoned by the Spanish state as we enter 2019.

Carme Forcadell the 63 year old former speaker of the Catalan Parliament is one of those charged with ‘disobedience’ and ‘rebellion’ following the 2017 push for independence.

At the start of December a number embarked on a hunger strike which ended on the 20th after assurances were given in the form of a timeline for their appeals.

With Spanish politics in a state of flux and a rise in support for centre-right and far-right Francoist parties such as Citizens and Vox expect little progress on the Catalan prisoner issue in 2019. The independence issue is still very much a live one and the year ahead will be very unpredictable indeed.

Z is for Zero Carbon Policy

In 2018 the EU Commission set out its goal of being net zero carbon / carbon neutral by 2050.

Ireland is nowhere near being on course to reach its current targets for 2020 never mind this 2050 ambition. It therefore faces huge fines after 2020 until it gets its act together.

In 2019 the government needs to get a good kick up the arse on its climate policy.