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In Dublin

I've been quiet this weekend because of a last-minute decision to run away to Dublin for eating, drinking, and catching up with friends at P-Con VIII. That, and ploughing through the page proofs of "Rule 34" in search of typos while jet-lagged fried my brain and I needed a break.

However ...

There has been a general election over here, and a huge upset in which the major incumbent party was nearly wiped out and a couple of rivals are forming a coalition government to deal with the fallout from the banking crisis and push through an austerity and cuts agenda.

I'd be saying it's deja vu all over again, except that I haven't got a clue about the difference (if any) between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and a hole in the road. Politics hereabouts is as opaque to an outsider as that of the Scottish Assembly.

Do any of you hae a roadmap or secret [election] agent decoder ring?



There's a entertaining site over at where he tends to comment on all manner of this sort of fun.

He's also involved in the site that contains which may give you a beermat summary of what you want.


Fianna Fail are the centre-right party whose grandfathers shot Michael Collins*.

Fine Gael are the centre-right party whose grandfathers were quite cross that the other lot shot Michael Collins.

And that's pretty much it.

FF have historically been in power more often than FG, and therefore became concomitantly more fantastically corrupted by power (cf Haughey, Charles J.; Ahern, Bertie, among others).

FG, as supporters of the Treaty and the Free State were marginally better disposed to Britain. Also some members flirted with fascism during the 30s - hence the pejorative nickname "blueshirts".

So - Ireland's political landscape is shaped by the marching step of the Irish Civil War - (centre)right, (centre)right, left.

(*For signing the Treaty with Britain that partitioned Ireland, likely saving us from a full-on British military intervention, rather than the repressive paramilitary police actions of the Black and Tans we'd, er, enjoyed thereto).


Basically, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are the same party, except when it comes to who won the Civil War.

In an extreme Pyrrhic victory style occasion, Fine Gael won the Civil War, and the country has never forgiven them for it, meaning that Fianna Fail have been in charge for nearly all of the country's life.

They don't tend to have significantly different policies, especially socially, but note that centre-right, Irish-style, isn't quite the same as centre-right, UK style, because the left have claimed the nationalism banner. Thus, centre-right means pro-europe, pro-austerity, anti-gay marriage.


Ah, thanks. Where do Labour stand? And Sinn Fein (in the South)?


As a decoder ring: All four major parties can be identified given the role they (or their forebears) played during the war of Independence and the Treaty that was signed to end it in the 1920's by partitioning the Island.

Fine Gael: Originally the pro treaty side in that debate.

Fianna Fail: Originally the anti treaty side in that debate.

Labour: More interested in the rise of the broader European Labour movement at the time but was basically Pro-Treaty at the time.

Sinn Fein: The die hard descendants of the splinter group that opposed Fianna Fail's acceptance of the Treaty and the Irish State in the 1930's.

Broadly Sinn Fein are quite left wing, Labour are sort of lefty, FF like to think of themselves as sort of lefty but are mostly not and FG would like to think of themselves as the sensible slightly right of centre. In practice, apart from SF, it can often be hard to tell them apart.


Woesinger During WWI UK voting privileges were extended 300% as part of the compromise that allowed conscription. This gave Labor more votes in Parliament. Meanwhile, the Irish Act of Union gave Ireland MPs in proportion to it's prefamine and preimmigration population, and thus far more than their fair share of MPs in the UK parliament. Labor and the Irish combined were more of a threat to the Conservatives than Labor, and that provided the UK Conservative leadership with motive to boot Ireland out. Which they did.


Just to comment on what Helvick said about Sinn Fein. While they would present themselves as a left wing party, they are in power in Northern Ireland and funnily enough there the policies they follow tend to be the usual centrist stuff.

Not being in power in the south (and not likely to be any time soon) they have the liberty of putting forward a more populist leftist agenda.


From what I understand, Irish politics is more about patronage than ideology.


When the Irish war of independence ended, they signed a treaty with the British. The revolutionary party (Sinn Féin) split on whether to accept the treaty - basically over two issues; accepting the King as Head of State (like Canada) and accepting the partition and the six counties of the North staying with the UK.

The two halves of Sinn Féin/IRA fought a civil war; the pro-treaty side won, but split off from Sinn Féin as Cumann na nGaedheal. Sinn Féin refused to enter the parliament as that would constitute an acceptance of the treaty. De Valera tried to change that policy of abstention, failed, and walked out to form Fianna Fáil. He soon got practically all of the former Sinn Féin vote, formed the government, and in 1948, proclaimed a Republic, getting rid of the King and so one of the two main objections.

Sinn Féin, with no influence and most of its leaders now in either Cumann na nGaedheal or Fianna Fáil, pretty much fell apart after that; the modern Sinn Féin does have a connection to the party that collapsed in the thirties, but it's very tenuous - weaker than the connection between the Lib Dems and Lloyd George's Liberals.

Cumann na nGaedheal combined with the Irish fascists (blueshirts) to form Fine Gael in the thirties.

Fine Gael are generally the more right-wing of the two; I would describe Fianna Fáil as more like the Dutch Christian Democrats, and Fine Gael as more like the German Christian Democrats - which is a pretty fine distinction. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil tend to do about equally well in rural areas (until this election), but Fianna Fáil traditionally have more urban voters.

Labour are originally the Irish part of the UK Labour Party, which split off in 1922. They're pretty much like the UK Labour Party would have been if it hadn't had Militant and then New Labour; not as hostile to their far left as Labour are here, but they've still moved much more to the centre than the 1960s version. They're also traditionally the third party, so they're much more amenable to coalition and compromise.

Sinn Féin are a traditionally revolutionary party; they only started taking seats they won in the Dáil in 1986. Being revolutionary for that long, they absorbed a lot of Marxist-Leninist thinking; while they never actually became Communist, they certainly have a lot of socialist thought in there, and they're firmly to the left of Labour.

In 1970, Sinn Féin split over whether to be a revolutionary republican party or a revolutionary communist Party. The communist half formed the Workers' Party, which itself split later; one part of that split (Democratic Left) merged into Labour, so there are a lot of ex-communists in Labour (but, like the ex-communists in New Labour, they're usually on the right of the party), the other part is one of the bits of the United Left Alliance (ULA) which just won five seats in the Dáil.

Irish governments have usually been Fianna Fáil governments, alternating with Fine Gael-Labour coalitions. Since the seventies, Fianna Fáil has not won a majority and has had to build coalitions with smaller parties - the PDs (rightwing liberals, like the Dutch VVD or the German FDP; close to US libertarian ideas), Labour (once, and they regretted it) or most recently the Greens.

In all sorts of ways, the natural coalition would be Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil; they're both centre-right parties, their approaches to the banks and the deficit are similar. But they've been the two largest parties in the State for a long time, and are so used to hating each other that it's inconceivable.


They are ALL a shower of shites. Don't trust em. try for a fictitious (but accurate) idea of what getting elected in Ireland is all about "dog opportunity on the left Terry!"


That should of course read:


Very cool - I had no clue that Irish politics was so, um, incestuous.


An excellent summary. Significantly less flippant than mine. :)


They are ALL a shower of shites. Don't trust em. Sure and that goes without saying; they are all still politicians after all!


I found this article somewhat understandable, being written by an American expat who lives in Ireland:


I'm British, but have lived in Dublin for 20 years, so I'm here just long enough to have a vague idea of how it all works.

Others above have described the nature of the political parties pretty well – I think the biggest difference between Ireland and (say) the UK is the parochial nature of politics here. And I mean parochial in a literal sense. For decades the Catholic Church and government were very much hand-in-hand, no matter the party in power. The state itself was 95% Catholic, hugely homogenous and populated by people who did what they were told. The populace were used to Important Men (mainly, with few exceptions till recently) telling them How To Live Their Lives. The corollary of this is that they also knew that to get something done, you go talk to an Important Man in the locality.

Now, factor in an electoral system that has between 3 and 5 seats per constituency, and you have the capacity for the sort of electoral career longevity that one usually only sees in 100% Labour Glaswegian Council Wards. No matter the party (FF, FG), it was feasible to set up electoral dynasties that not only encompassed careers but crossed generations, creating true political dynasties. And because an established TD will rarely lose a seat, they can take the time to build up a local power-base. Having Daddy, Uncle Brian or Auntie Mary to go knocking on doors on your behalf doesn’t hurt either.

Mash the two together and you get an environment where good old-fashioned pork-barrel politics are very much the order of the day. Traditionally, a County is disappointed if they don’t get a resident TD as a Minister in cabinet, due to the inflated largesse that invariably seems to flow back to the county. The role of the Church has been massively reduced, but there are still voting generations who see this as the only way the world can work, particularly in the more rural parts of the country.

All politics is local, but especially so in Ireland. And the shadow of the Civil War (in 1922!) is long indeed…

Oh, and Republican Sinn Fein, as the UUP likes to call them, are a bit of an anomaly – kind of if the SNP and the Socialist Worker’s Party had a love-child. Trotskyist trappings, big support in poor working-class areas, and a very Irish idea of manifest destiny (“history will prove us right in the end”). They also have issues with regard to the legitimacy of the existing Irish Republic, which can be fun to watch in interview, and explains their ambivalence in failing to condemn the IRA’s illegal antics south of the Border until very recently, activities which included some very unpleasant bank robberies.


One of my favourite stories of Irish politics is that of legendary chancer (aka politician) Ray Burke, who in order to try and win a marginal seat for FF ensured the planting of scenic trees and shrubs in a housing estate. After the election (and FF failed to win the seat) they were all dug back up...

This about sums it all up (not safe for work unless you've got headphones in!)


I am in a pub, three pints down.

I have just been informed that the difference between Fine Garl, Fianna Fail, and a hole in the road is that you can fix the hole in the road.

That is all.


I have also been told, by an Irishman, that the first 60% of the name "Fianna Fail" is Gaelic, and the second 40% is English! ;-)


I understand "fail" means destiny in Gaelic, but I find it oddly satisfying that any party should be bold enough to accept "fail" as part of its name in a country where English is an official language. More so if it ultimately means the same in both languages, if you're in a dark mood.


I did a pre-election primer post at CT a few weeks ago, which talks to the differences between the parties and may be useful.


Well, given the startling success they've engineered, at least no one can accuse them of not being truthful in their advertising. If the name doesn't put you off, caveat elector.


@erald, poster from the previous election:


I can't work out how to do it on this German keyboard, but there should be a fada, that is a diacritical mark like the french accent greve, over the 'a' in 'Fail'. That changes the pronunciation so that instead of 'fail' it sounds more like 'foyle'.

As for the nature of FF and FG. Well, to expand on the parochial side of things above . . . imagine a provincial Irish town with some local government, some big commercial farms in its hinterland, and also some smaller (sometimes much smaller) family farms, and perhaps some light industry in the town itself - this would probably involve agricultural processing of some kind.

FG would be the party of local professionals, shopkeepers and big commercial farmers. FF would harvest the votes of small farmers, urban workers, some school teachers - and also the owners of manufacturing industry.

And this class difference would be reflected in policy. FF would have been more sympathetic to policies associated with social democracy in the rest of Europe (while being emphatically not 'left wing' in any sense of the word). It is improbable to imagine free second level education being brought in by Fine Gael. Fine Gael for their part, have been the party of middle class respectability and law and order (despite being founded by a very efficient assassin). During the 1970s, an FG led coalition presided over the 'heavy gang' affair, said gang being a group of police officers who specialised in the extraction of information from those politically involved on the revolutionary republican side.

It is ironic, meanwhile, that Labour have come close to a breakthrough just when they find themselves denuded of an ideological alternative of even the palest pink variety.

An ideological alternative of a deeper shade of red is represented by the United Left Alliance, who have overcome their distaste for each other's rival interpretations of the Prophet Trotsky's writings to campaign together and win five seats.

In much of Dublin and Cork (the two biggest cities) the ULA is in competition with SF. While SF in the six counties do administer a centre-right agenda, the class basis of their vote in the 26 counties should (hopefully) bring them more into opposition to the establishment.

Those of my acquaintance who have had dealings with SF report that remain as Machiavellian as you might expect.

Ireland's political peculiarities (such as having not one but two centre-right parties) are a relic of a time when the country was a relatively stable agrarian society that was able to export its social problems to other parts of the world. That safety valve no longer exists. What will happen next will bear watching.


I finally read the Orwell prize longlisted book ship of fools by Fintan o Toole isbn: 9780571252688. It should give you an idea of how the irish ended up in the state there in.


RandomPunter @23: "...poster..."



HTML seems to have been stripped from my last comment - the body of the post is below. Bear in mind that it is some weeks out of date - but the basic arguments hold, I think.

one. Some basic briefing notes below: commenters should feel free to add stuff/disagree as appropriate.

The Irish party system has long been an anomaly. The two largest parties – Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – are sociologically distinct (they have different relationships to the state, and different clienteles in the middle class) but are both right of center. A PR-STV voting system coexisted for a long time with a “two and a half party” system in which Fianna Fail faced off against an explicit or implicit coalition between Fine Gael and the Labour party. More recently, greater fragmentation and the rise of smaller parties (the Progressive Democrats, the Green Party) have made it nearly impossible for Fianna Fail to gain an overall majority of seats, leading to more fluid coalitional politics.

Fianna Fail is perhaps closest to French Gaullism in its combination of nationalist ideology and right-of-center populism – it has dominated Irish politics since the 1930s. Its rival (the original party of Irish government), Fine Gael has traditionally been more internationalist (in various ways, some more salutary than others), and has rarely been faulted for its populism (the party’s faults lie in the contrary direction). The Labour party has never really succeeded in challenging the two larger parties – it has however been in several coalition governments (only one of which was with Fianna Fail). There is a Green party, which was part of the government coalition until yesterday. The right-liberal (in the European sense – think Germany’s FDP) Progressive Democrats met with disaster in the last elections and are dead (Mary Harney, their former leader, has announced her retirement from politics). Sinn Fein – long associated with the IRA - hoped to make a breakthrough in the 2007 elections and failed to. It is not an attractive coalition partner for Fine Gael (which has a very strong attachment to the ‘law and order’ arm of the state), or Fianna Fail (which has rationally feared that Sinn Fein, if legitimated, could eat its lunch). The Green party will need to be very lucky not to be wiped out in the forthcoming elections.

Irish political commentators are getting very excited about the possibility of an epochal election. For once, they are probably right. Fianna Fail, over much of the last fifteen years, was lucky enough to reap the electoral benefits of the Irish economic miracle. It is now about to reap the whirlwind unleashed by the collapse of that miracle. The economic crisis of 2008 was escalated to calamity by fiscal imprudence (the Irish government relied heavily on revenues from property transactions), lackadaisical supervision of financial companies (which had been seen as a benefit in attracting international financial firms), and, most of all, by the government’s decision to guarantee all bank debts, and refusal to row back on this commitment when it became clear what that entailed (the state’s assumption of vast amounts of private debt). Ireland’s effective state of near-bankruptcy can be traced back in large part to feckless decisions made by the current government. The existence of strong political connections between Fianna Fail and the most profligate bits of the Irish banking sector has not helped the party’s image either.

Fianna Fail, and its coalition partners the Green Party, have been aware for some time that they faced a beating at the polls. They have been torn between trying to put this punishment off as long as possible, in the hope that things would change, and going to the polls earlier, in the hope that some of the blame would stick to the opposition parties when they entered into government and had to make unhappy choices (this helps explain the Irish government’s unwillingness to enter into negotiations on debt with the EU and IMF - the government parties had hoped that their successors would have to swallow that unpleasant pill).

However, the precise manner in which they are going to the country is likely to exacerbate their problems even further. A leadership ‘heave’ against Brian Cowen (then the leader of Fianna Fail and currently the Taoiseach (prime minister) petered out last week, when it became clear that a majority of Fianna Fail TDs (members of the Dail – the Irish Parliament) felt that a leadership change would not help avert the disaster.

However, shortly after winning the vote within his party, Cowen tried to ‘pull a stroke’ (in Irish parlance) by having a number of senior ministers, who were retiring from politics, resign their posts, so that some of their younger colleagues could be appointed ministers, improving their chances of re-election. The gambit misfired horribly. Fianna Fail up-and-comers did not see association with the government as a source of electoral advantage, while Cowen’s coalition partners, the Green Party, were furious. This led in short order to Cowen resigning his position as party leader (but not as Taoiseach), and the Green Party joining the opposition benches. The government, together with the main opposition parties, have agreed a short timetable for legislation associated with the IMF bailout to be passed, after which the Dail will be dissolved.

So Ireland’s main political party, Fianna Fail is heading into the polls leaderless, demoralized, disorganized, and deeply unpopular. It is effectively being forced to run a leadership contest simultaneously with an election campaign. Its funding machinery is in tatters (it has not been able to run events for large donors as in the past, and local party members have refused to raise money through the traditional means). No-one believes that the party has any chance of winning re-election to the government. People are instead debating the likely extent of the debacle, and its consequences for the Irish party system.

If – as seems plausible – Fianna Fail is beaten into third place, this will make Irish politics much less predictable than in the past. There will no longer be a ‘natural’ party of government around which coalitions are formed. Instead, even if Fianna Fail makes a significant recovery, it will be one of two or three parties that can plausibly play a substantial role. It is likely that Ireland will move closer to a continental system of coalition politics, of the kind that its voting system would seem to encourage.

It is also quite possible that under these circumstances, Fianna Fail would disintegrate, removing the anomaly from Irish party politics. A nearly permanent role in government is a wonderful glue to join together ideological tendencies that would otherwise be distinct; if that glue dissolves than the party itself may decohere. This is especially plausible given the major changes in Irish society over the last twenty years – tribal identities are not what they once were, and Fianna Fail, once out of government, is likely to find that the traditional loyalties it once relied on are wearing thin. One could easily see Fianna Fail’s working class and lower middle class support being split by Labour and Sinn Fein, with the upper middle class rump going over to Fine Gael. In some ways this would be surprising – Fine Gael has been the weaker of the two right of center parties for a very long time. Yet just because of its inability to broaden its appeal through a broadly-aimed populism, Fine Gael may have a stronger core identity in times of ideological crisis.

A third possibility is that Fianna Fail will be able to survive through temporarily reverting to being a coalition of TDs rather than a national party. One extremely safe prediction is that Fianna Fail TDs in risky seats (and few seats are not risky) will be doing as much as they possibly can to disassociate themselves from the government and the national party. This may work to limit the damage – Irish politics are strongly clientelistic, and it is perfectly possible that voters will be more swayed by the specific benefits that they have gotten from their local Fianna Fail TD than by outrage at the sins of the party at the national level. It is quite possible that opinion polls measuring support for the party in general may be substantially estimating voters’ willingness to vote for specific TDs.

I’m not close enough to Irish politics any more to speculate as to which of these scenarios (or other scenarios that I’ve left out) is more or less likely. Much of the devil will be in the detail of voting under a PR-STV system. I don’t know of anybody with much of an idea of how the current economic crisis is likely to change the ways in which Irish voters allot their second, third and fourth preferences. Yet these preferences are likely to have a very important role indeed in determining outcomes in this election and in future ones. I’ll blog more on this as more material presents itself.


I've heard similar in the States, though it's probably closer to true over in Eire.


I can't work out how to do it on this German keyboard, but there should be a fada, that is a diacritical mark like the french accent greve, over the 'a' in 'Fail'. That changes the pronunciation so that instead of 'fail' it sounds more like 'foyle'.

Ok, maybe I'm the only one, but I did know that; it was a joke. You may note that he did not claim the first half of Fine Gael to be in English though!!

27 - Thanks; Do you happen to know if the Irish election is scheduled before the Scots Parliament election and UK PR referendum in early May?

D.J.P. @24: "...there should be a fada..."

I'm usually unscrupulous in suppressing diacritical marks, but if you are more inclined to use them:

Look up your character in this table and copy the numeric character entity in column 4 to your post.

This will work for any language and any character that has a unicode representation, which is, I would venture to say, all that can be displayed as a text anywhere in the world.


Ugh. Someone's not listening to Paul Krugman and is going to make their economy worse-er.


Damn your Vulcan logic, Spock.


Krugman's reasoning works best from a US perspective. Arguably having a reserve currency gives you much lower borrowing costs.

Ireland faces a not negligible risk that people may refuse to lend it money if it is seen to be being too careless with it.


RandomPunter @23: "...poster..."

Myself @26: " d'-' "

Sorry, I think this is not as clear as I first thought: Emoticon, not grade.


People will lend it money if they think it will be repaid; repayment depends on the countries fiscal strength more than anything else.

I'm certainly not an economist much less bond markets expert, nor is Krugman a bond expert per se, but the rates seem to indicate that the lenders aren't that afraid yet, and that they seem to agree with Krugman more than the austerity-ites.

I know there are counterarguments, and plenty of people that believe them, but they and Krugman seem to talk past each other to some degree, and if you assume both are mostly right but the market's the final determinant of who will buy what, Krugman seems like the better choice for the time being.


erald@30: ctrl+alt+vowel produces a fada under Windows. Whether that's a Microsoft localisation or not, I don't know. @34: I've had a discussion over the best "thumbs-up" emoticon before; I favour ' =b ', which tends to get misconstrued in the right direction, at least. ",)


Henry Farrel @27: Did I parse this correctly: Whatever happens, it's very likely to remain an all-you-can-eat buffet for the banking industry? (Not that it would be the only one around.)


@erald: not entirely, since they're getting financially shark-attacked at every opportunity by hedge funds and the like; they're in it for their lives. The previous government, however, has decided to bravely throw the country overboard to distract said sharks.


erald@30: ctrl+alt+vowel produces a fada under Windows. Whether that's a Microsoft localisation or not, I don't know.

That's a microsoftism. Paste it into this blog and you will see something rather different -- the server does not run any flavour of windows and windows uses a non-standard character set (i.e. not an ISO standard).


But the only way we commenters can paste things into the blog is through the comment boxes in our browsers, and I believe they generally handle the necessary conversions. (I'll admit I'm a bit rusty on the specifics of how forms get sent though.)

By the way, this table seems to cover all the characters you can get via alt-nnn combinations in Windows. Could be useful if people need some áéó for future politics threads. :-)


Don't use Microsoft character codes; instead, look up the CORRECT HTML entity code and write it ad conformant HTML; e.g. £ for a £ character. That way it'll work in ALL browsers. Grump.


Were the fadas in my comment earlier OK? Windows 7 should be using the correct Unicode character codes, but I'll use HTML entities if you need me to.


I haven't used Windows in a while so I can't be 100% sure that nothing's changed, but those Windows alt-codes shouldn't make it to the comment field, they're translated into single characters before the browser/whatever program sees them.

So Alt-160, for example, would give the same one character result as if I had hit dead-grave and "a", a compose sequence in X, or a separate "á" key.

(And the page source at least claims to send UTF-8, so no, I won't use £ – I'll just hit the "£" key.) :-)


Richard @42: "Were the fadas in my comment earlier OK?"

I wouldn't know if every character came out as it was supposed to. But you did produce characters with diacritical marks that looked right.

The safe way to go is still, as Charlie mentioned @41, to use the correct sgml entities. Come on, it's not that hard. If in doubt, look them up. The table I suggested earlier can provide you with even the most obscure ones. My link assumed that hex entities were preferred, but it does provide the decadic entities preferred like Charlie suggested in this table*. All of them.

Whatever you use, it's better than relying on your browser's capabilities to translate one encoding to another. Unicode, i.e. ISO-10646 is an integral part of the SGML and therefore XML and HTML specs. All others are most likely NOT charsets but encodings (which occasionally intersect with or even equate charsets). All charsets but ISO-10646 and except for UTF-8 and ACSII all encodings are all optional.

*) No need to disclose anything. I'm in no way dependent on, affiliated with or in any other non-inadvertent way connected to that project.


When I updated the design of the website, I also fixed it so that special characters will be rendered correctly. Of course, this only works if the browser sends the correct characters to begin with. Typing something in Notepad or Word then copying and pasting it into the comment box still has carries a high chance that your beautifully crafted words will be turned into gobbledegook.


Here are a couple of useful HTML Entities

£ = £

€ = €

There's a useful list here

And if you want to test your system, the annual Making Light Christmas post has an ample range of accents and unfamiliar characters.

I'm working on converting some old text into something that works as HTML. I had to convert numeric representations of HTML entities (unicode) into such things as æ, likewise the "handed" quotemarks. The numeric form comes out OK in the browser, but not in the ebook reader.


It's nice to see that Michael Collins (1890-1922) isn't fogotten, buried under the fame of Michael Collins (1930- ) or the others.

On another note, are all the left-oriented parties now denouncing the raving "celtic tiger" business propaganda that was the rage in the 20 years preceding the recession?


@Alan: what do you mean, "now"? (",)


Sorry: Alain.


Very cool - I had no clue that Irish politics was so, um, incestuous.

For a brief moment it was starting to read like modern American politics...


Hey, the good guy is in white (or light grey) and the bad guy is in black!

That bell is nice touch for keeping order. Or maybe it's like in a boxing ring?


Austerity measures are already biting hard. I get paid by an Irish company and tax has increased by a hundred Euro a month, which is pretty substantial considering that most companies have already had a wage freeze for the last couple of years as well.


FF had the truly unspeakable and vile Eamonn de Valera as their leader for a long time .... Crawled to Adolf, crawled to the Catholic Church "bravely" defied the dreadful British, erm ....

acb @ 8 "patronage" - especially that of the Black Crows - hopefully now broken, by the paedophile scandals.

And everyone - yes. They are a shower of incestuous shites, who make our lot look good (sometimes)

I got a VERY SEVERE culture shock when I first went to Ireland (1965) - yes BEFORE the "troubles". Coming into Belfast, on a boat-service that I don't think exists any more, from Heysham, and after a very very rouch crossing (middle of March gales) the first thing I saw was a grotty set of quayside steps, gloriously decorated with painted graffiti: "Kick the Pope!" Later, in Dublin, going to Inchicore railway works, the first thing one noticed, as you approocahed the front, was an ornamental flowerbed (OK?) with, in the centre, a statue of the unmarried mother and her bastard brat. Yes, Ireland is strange.


Thank you; that is the nicest thing that anyone "said" to me all day!


Apropos that graffiti, a Scottish joke:

Q: Why does the graffiti on the back of the pub toilet door always read "fuck the pope"?

A: Because there's not enough space to write "fuck the moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland" ...


That could also work with what is elsewhere known as "rump steak".


@Greg: the Stranraer ferry to Belfast is still in operation. @Alain: the guy in white is Joe Higgins, possibly the only universally respected politician in Ireland. Even the people who think he's a roaring deluded idiot (he's a "seize the means of production" kinda guy; there's a lot of people who think this) quite like the man.


Stranraer to Belfast may still be in operation (and will be for a long time yet, I suspect), but Heysham is a long, long way away from either, and not even in the same country as Stranraer.

As far as I can see, you could get to Belfast by ferry from Heysham, but it would require changing boats in Douglas.

Since Greg appears to be in the London area, the easiest way to Belfast without flying for him may well be Euston to Holyhead, across the water to Dublin Ferry Port, and take a train from Connolly.


Greg: I was passing this ship - The Duke Of Lancaster - on the train yesterday, and it might be the one that you sailed on, since it used to serve the Heysham - Belfast route.


Para 1 - Heysham - Belfast I think stopped making sense when the M6 from Lancaster to Carlisle was completed, since trucks could drive Lancaster - Stranraer faster than they could be sailed from Heysham.

Para 3 - Or possibly Holyhead - Dun Laoraigh (sp) by HSS, since the DART is 5 min from the boat, and gives a service to Connolly every 15mins.


True - the Dun Laoghaire route is useful, just not so much so at this time of year, as the Stena HSS is currently moored up at Holyhead and will only start sailing again on 1st April.

The Irish Ferries Swift is about as fast - it and the HSS are both fast cats. That's what we came home on yesterday. We did consider Dun Laoghaire, but it lacked any sailings at the time of day we wanted.


Dún Laoghaire. (",)


No-one can spell in Gaelic, not even the Gaels! ;-)

Ok, I knew it was wrong, but couldn't be bothered digging to get it right.


Why would you write Dun Laoghaire if you actually mean Don Leary?


There's a missing diacritical on the u in "dun" IIRC. Even so, at least in Scots Gealic, the word still pronounces "dun", meaning fort, not "don", meaning "head of a Mafia family".


In Irish, it's either "dune," or something approximated by "thune" for those who can pronounce the language properly. I wasn't correcting you; we raced on the spelling and you won. And in Ireland, even the Gaels that can spell it can't speak it... (",)


And when I say you won, I am clearly not confusing you and bellingham AT ALL. Has anyone any tips on where to pick up a halfway decent brain cheap? I've got an old one I can trade in for the scrap value...


"Fianna Fáil" means either "Soldiers of Destiny" or "Warriors of Fál" (Fál being an old name for Ireland, according to FFers); 'Fianna' can also mean "wild animals"; "Fine Gael" means "The Tribe of the Gael," and "Sinn Féin" means "Ourselves Alone."

Hyperbole? Perish the thought!!!


(Sorry about the thread necromancy, it seems my connection went down yesterday when this was more current and interesting. At least I got some reading done!)

The safe way to go is still, as Charlie mentioned @41, to use the correct sgml entities.

I respectfully disagree with you both. It is 2011, we live in the future now, and any browser in common use should be expected to handle the conversion between the system's internal representation and Unicode/UTF-8.[1] Those entities are just a hack for transporting the occasional "special" (urgh) character over a link that can't carry them, not a real solution for languages that are not English.[2] I don't mind having a workaround for "it's not on my keyboard!" though.

From a user's perspective, if I type an "a" in the comment box I'll expect an "a" to be there in my comment when I hit "Submit", without needing to know about the details; and the same if it's "á" or "ä" or "ð". They're not "special" characters, they're just characters, and languages are written with them.

Character entities may be "safe", but to me, today, it seems like a ridiculous version of safety where you'd have a man walking twenty paces in front of your non-8-bit-clean automobile waving a flag to warn bystanders that their input will be mangled.

Note 1: AFAIK, some Unicode variation is going to be what modern systems use internally anyway, modulo perhaps substitute pairs. (Windows uses UCS2 strings, right? The common Unix GUI toolkits use UTF-8, and I'll just assume OSX does the same.)

Note 2: But I have to admit I'm impressed with the consistency of sticking with character entities for the German and Japanese text in the "buy my books" section.


I see you get a mention on "The Bookseller" website... congratulations.


magetoo @70:

"It is 2011, we live in the future now, and any browser in common use should be expected to handle the conversion between the system's internal representation and Unicode/UTF-8.[1] Those entities are just a hack for transporting the occasional "special" (urgh) character over a link that can't carry them,.."

I did say it was the safe way. Not the elegant way. You're right about the fact that it's 2011, but I'm afraid that while some of us may live in the future, some others don't. And even those that do don't always have the luxury of using up-to-date systems and protocols.

I'm the OO for unix/linux systems in a small company, and even under my supervision we operate 4 debian sarge systems with apache 1.3 webservers. This is not by choice, they are just insignificant enough to never have warranted a budget for upgrades. I'm not talking about the boxes, either (they are now run as VMs anyway), but about the software that was written to run on these systems and that would required quite a bit of tinkering to port to newer versions with little apparent benefit. Sarge uses 8-bit characters for all software and filesystems.

I personally know several people using WinXP as desktop systems all of them younger than me. Again, XP is 8-bit.

Now ten years old IE6 is still in use, especially in large corporations that had custom made software written specifically for IE6. At the time all browsers sucked, hard, and it looked as if that were never going to change, so choosing the most widely adopted browser as a platform for your webapps didn't look quite as imbecile as it does in retrospect. IE6 is well known for its strange handling of almost everything including encoding.

The HTTP protocol doesn't directly concern itself with encoding. It'll just pass along what the server and client systems say they can handle and lets them decide which encoding to use. This encoding may very well be one that doesn't contain all unicode characters depending on the server's and client's configuration of encoding priorities, even if they both support encodings that can handle unicode. Even worse, your characters can even get corrupted by badly written html forms where one encoding is declared but another used. Now I don't know if you know any html coders or page designers, but traditionally they were not known for rigorous adherence to standards. I don't think any of this is the case on this site, just saying.

You can't even rely on programming languages to reliably detect the correct encoding for their strings, because they use locales to determine what they get. Java uses UTF-16 for strings internally, but again for reliable serialization across platforms you are better off using XML files than plain text files because they actually declare what kind of encoding they are using.

Don't even get me started on string handling in databases. Books have been written about that topic.

So no, I don't think using entities is an ugly hack. It's a reliable and universal way to ensure that whatever software you encounter at whatever layer, none of your characters will get mangled. In an ideal world[1] that wouldn't be necessary, but as much as I wish you were right that is still way in the future.

[1] Even in an ideal world, there could be endless debate about which encoding to use for Unicode. Should it be UTF-8 (Americans and Europeans would probably support this) or should it be UTF-16 (Asians would probably go for this) or should it be pure 4-byte Unicode?


This probably has very, very little to do with the thread topic, but thought you Eurofolk might find it amusing:


Seems like I'm not the only, but actually one of two people in the world who cares about character sets and encodings. My apologies to every one else for the derail, you might want to hit the "Page Down" key now.

Again, XP is 8-bit.

That doesn't seem right at all. IIRC, Windows has had 16-bit strings internally since at least NT (though perhaps not as the default everywhere – I'm not a Windows guy), so how could XP possibly be called "8-bit"? I know that various encodings pop up here and there due to the DOS heritage, but claiming "can't do it" seems crazy. And that's before we get to the part where I was reading and posting on Japanese message boards on XP (in IE 6!).

So no, I don't think using entities is an ugly hack.

I can't seem to come up with a polite way to say I think you're dead wrong, so I'll ask you to imagine that I'm cleverer than I am, and did. But if a workaround that, for many languages, requires every single character to be escaped isn't an ugly hack, then what could possibly be?

Even in an ideal world, there could be endless debate about which encoding to use for Unicode.

Well, whatever is appropriate. On the web, the debate seems to have already been settled in favor of UTF-8 in most of the world (JISX-0208's various bizarre encodings notwithstanding).

The reality today is that I can go to most places on the web, from Aftenposten to Al-Jazeera, hit "view source", and see the text right there in front of me, even if I personally can't read it. I get that databases and internal systems can be a mess, but just about anywhere I look on the web, the whole issue with character sets and encodings seems to be a solved problem.

And the only time I personally had a serious encoding problem, a couple of years ago, it was because of an overenthusiastic web mail system that transformed my carefully crafted textbook exercise sentences into a – you guessed it – hexadecimal HTML entity soup before sending the whole unreadable mess on to its intended, and confused, recipient.

But this is getting way off the rails. Let's take it to email?


(Perhaps the "requires every single character to be escaped" was unfair, since this whole thing started with just accents for the occasional one. Oh well, I'll wish for peace on Earth and an edit button.)


@ 59 et seq I THINK it was "Duke of Rothesay", now I'm reminded. I am QUITE AWARE, THANK YOU of the existing routes to Ireland - all being ex-railway operations. At that time (1965/6) I was a student in Manchester, so Heysham-Belfast was a sensible option. PLEASE don't try to "educate" me about surface travel anywhere in the British Isles ....

@ 63-66 etc .. "Kingstown" (Dun Loughaire) erm .... Like the railway staions in Dublin: Amiens Street, Kingsbridge, Tara Street and Westland Row. (And the closed Harcourt Street - now on the Tram-route) So there!

Jack @ 69 Precisely. What a collection of self-important bollocks. And, Re. my earlier comment: - look up Eamonn de Valera. Short of Adolf or Stalin, they don't come much more unpleasant. His greasy crawling to the Nazis when they bombed Dublin - to "make sure Eire stayed neutral" was very characteristic, as was the meassage of sympathy to the IIIrd Reich after Adolf's suicide, but before 8th May 1945.


I don't take Gaelic (either version) that seriously. The justification (for some values of justification anyway) of Gaelic spelling that I've heard is that a lot of the apparently superfluous silent characters are used to tell you how to pronounce the ones that are pronounced. Also, I'd already admitted to knowing my spelling was wrong, so a simple posting of the corrected spelling would be taken as an offer of help.


The silent h's are séimhiús - the old uncial script used a diacritical mark. It was an awful hack when the alphabet was changed.

I was replying to bellingham with that comment, and just had a moment of confusion or something. Sorry.


My favourite comment on Gaelic: It's as though it was designed by two committees who didn't speak to one another, the first in charge of spelling and the second in charge of pronunciation.


Amiens Street, Kingsbridge, and Westland Row: you mean Connolly, Heuston and Pearse, right? (",)


PLEASE don't try to "educate" me about surface travel anywhere in the British Isles Not my intent anyway. I was suggesting why there are no present direct Heysham - Belfast ferry services, and that Holyhead - Dun Laoghaire then DART to Connolly avoided the near certain hassle (at least the last time I was in Dublin) of getting from Dublin port to Connolly.


Dublin Port to Connolly? Get on the transfer coach at the Ferry Port Terminal, first stop is Connolly.

(Stena's afternoon sailing last Friday. Irish Ferries may be another matter.)


Radndom Punter @ 79 Well: The termini of, respectively, and in that order .... the GNR(I), the GSW, and the DKR/D&SE Railways, yes! Harcourt Street was also D&SER.

We have always been at war with Eastasia.


The Dublin Port tunnel may have improved things, but the last time I was in Dublin it was quicker to walk from the port into town than it was to drive.


No; we have always been at war with Oceania. ;-)


It indeed has. The only time the coach really paused was at traffic lights. And the quays are, if not exactly quiet, less of a roaring horror than they used to be. On the way back, we caught a taxi from the Porterhouse, and it delivered us to the terminal in about fifteen minutes. That was at lunch time on a Monday.

Compare with the time some years ago when we were given a coach ride from the Dublin Registry Office to the Guinness Hop Store on a Friday afternoon. That trip took longer than the flight from Stansted to Dublin, and much longer than a straight walk would have done.

The economic downturn may have had some effect on traffic too.


magetoo @74: "Windows has had 16-bit strings internally..." Correct. But it uses 8-bit locales (I think exclusively) before vista (see CP-1252).

"Let's take it to email" Agreed. Find me at burnbasket (at) gmail dot com. (It's where I keep temporary mails.)


magetoo: If you wonder if I'm having you on, I'm not. It's just an address I only bother to check when I expect something relevant to arrive.


Errr...the Conservatives didn't boot Ireland out of the UK, at least not in this timeline.


That's pretty rich coming from someone whose primary language seems to be English - a language which effortlessly incorporates at least three distinct phonologies and two grammatical systems.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 7, 2011 10:38 AM.

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