Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Retrospective Legislation

As the statutory rape debacle rumbles on, we are constantly reminded by the legal eagles that any new legislation cannot be made effective retrospectively.

Yet in 1994, then Minister for Finance Bertie Ahern introduced an amendment in the Finance Act which eliminated a benefit-in-kind tax liability for Ken Rohan* and made that tax change effective retrospectively to 1983!

So Mr Ahern can create retrospective legislation to facilitate an important party supporter but he can’t do it to protect young girls from sexual predators?

I’ll bet that if a constitutional referendum was held in the morning to reverse both those positions, it would be passed by an overwhelming majority of the public.

* Rohan's palatial home, Charleville in Enniskerry, was furnished with expensive antique furniture and objets d'art which were owned by his company.
The Revenue Commissioners had assessed him as having incurred a benefit-in-kind liability, reported at £1m+, for the private use of these company assets. Rohan was disputing the liability.
It was reported in the media that Rohan's accountants actually drafted the relevant section of the 1994 Finance Act which relieved him of any possible liability and backdated the relief to 1983. At a later date, it was confirmed by Govt that Rohan was the only individual in the country to claim relief under this special and unique provision.

Footnote: The first two paragraphs, without Ken Rohan's name, were published as a letter in the Irish Independent. Presumably Rohan and the rest of the text were rejected by the legal eagles.
However, I also sent this to Matt Cooper of TodayFM who wrote about the tax break in the Sunday Tribune over 10 years ago and he advises that he'll be writing about this in the Sunday Times. Also, Diarmuid Doyle, current editor of the Sunday Tribune has responded to say he'll use the topic this coming sunday.

The Wind that shook the Barley

Congratulations to all involved in the making of The Wind that shook the Barley, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and well done Minister John O'Donoghgue for his concern for the feelings of Fine Gael.

However any Fine Gael misgivings will probably be nothing compared to the feelings of the men and women who fought on the anti-treaty side if they could see endemic corruption and unbridled arrogance that were to become the hallmarks of the party which was the political inheritor of their principled struggle.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Industrial School Scandal

In her Irish Times Opinion piece of 27th May, Breda O'Brien has raised an important aspect of the child abuse scandal. She writes: "I feel shame that Irish society dumped so many children in industrial schools and could not have cared less what happened to them."

The abject failure of governments, State agencies and the extended families of inmates to monitor and protect those inmates should be opened up for discussion. The power of the church is used as a cloak of invisibility for all the secular bodies and private citizens who failed in their duty to these children. These include the media - what exactly were Radio √Čireann and the newspapers doing?

Tonight with Vincent Browne on RTE Radio 1, apart from demonstrating the risk involved in seeking to defend or mitigate the role of the Christian Brothers, last week illustrated the unusual form of false memory syndrome suffered by most commentators and many of the public.

A former inmate of an industrial school described being fed "goody", a mix of warm milk, bread and sugar. His interviewer expressed horrified disbelief that such a mixture could be fed to a child. Yet in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, this same dish was well known in ordinary households throughout the country. It was fed to children who were ill and perhaps had difficulty in keeping food down or, indeed, as an occasional treat. In our nouveau riche society, we seem to be living in denial of just how shallow are the roots of our prosperity and how differently ordinary people lived in earlier, less affluent decades.

This type of interview, by commentators who look through the prism of 21st-century experience without any apparent knowledge of the wider societal norms of the time, serves only to increase the sense of injustice of people who were indeed victims of a system which lacked humanity - but in a country which was poor and also had very different attitudes to how children should be reared and disciplined. It wasn't always so rosy beyond the industrial school wall either.

The sexual abuse of children was totally inexcusable. But the automatic categorisation as "abuse" of spartan living conditions, tough disciplinary regimes and an absence of affection might benefit from a comparison with conditions outside the institutions at that time.

We might also follow Breda O'Brien's example and accept our share of the collective shame for what was done and what was not done, rather than dumping all the blame on the convenient whipping-boy that is the Catholic Church.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Statutory Rape 2

Following the Supreme Court's decision that a plea of "reasonable mistake" is now a possible defence in cases of statutory rape, it opens up the whole area to widespread abuse of teenage girls.

If a boy/man meets a girl who's having a drink in a bar, disco or night club, surely he now has a prima facie defence against any charge of statutory rape that might subsequently arise.

The very fact of her being served alcohol could credibly lead him to believe that she has passed the first test of age required by the state and that she must be at least 18 years of age.

No-one believes that there aren't thousands of under-age teenage girls drinking in such premises every weekend and clearly alcohol may well increase the likelihood of further excesses.

Footnote: Read by Pat Kenny on his RTE radio programme.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Statutory Rape Law Overturned

The Supreme Court decision striking down that part of the Statutory Rape Law which relates to girls aged under 15 years raises some interesting challenges for the lawmakers. While the court’s decision leaves unchanged those elements of the law relating to girls aged 15 & 16 years, it is inevitable that this whole legal area will need to be reviewed and reformed in its entirety.

In today’s Irish Times, legal affairs correspondent Carol Coulter reports that there have been 54 prosecutions for statutory rape “in the past few years”. In that same period (2-3 years?), there have been doubtless been several hundred babies (perhaps thousands) delivered in state-funded hospitals to young women who would have been under the age of 17 at the time of conception.

According to the current law, in each such case the girl has been the victim of statutory rape and a prosecution of the child’s father should have automatically followed. Quite apart from the fact that, according to all relevant surveys in recent years, thousands of teenage girls under the age of 17 are having sex, most without becoming pregnant, the disparity between the number of teenage births and prosecutions for statutory rape suggests that interpretation and enforcement of this law has, in the past, been flexible in the extreme.

While the current laws have primarily been aimed at protecting young girls from predatory, older males, the changes in society over the years, particularly with regard to sexual activity among teenagers, will make the framing of suitable legislation a very interesting and challenging exercise.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Corporate Bicycle?

It has been confirmed today that Babcock & Brown, an Australian investment house, have finally tabled their long-awaited €2.4bn takeover bid for Eircom.

If Eircom is taken out again by investment bankers, the company will surely deserve a reputation as a corporate bicycle.

Public Service Reform

Jack O’Connor, President of SIPTU, claims that the Government’s badly botched decentralisation scheme has now put at risk the union’s willingness to conclude a new social partnership agreement. However the damage is probably much worse than this.

There is widespread evidence of the urgent need for major reform of the public services. Whatever Government is elected next year needs to take on the outmoded work practices, absence of accountability, demarcation disputes, salary relativities etc which have ham-strung delivery of value for money service from a relatively well-paid and highly secure sector for far too long.

It is also clear that SIPTU, and other public service unions, regards that secure and well-paid employment of its members as the primary function of both the public service and the semi-state companies, rather than delivery of service and value for money to the public. While their members may not legally own the means of production, they certainly possess the next best thing - the means of disruption, and there’s no doubt about their willingness to use it, officially or unofficially, as witnessed by the recent train strike.

The serious damage caused to industrial relations in the public service by the crude political stroke of including decentralisation in the 2003 FF/PD budget will make the task of achieving meaningful reform all the more difficult.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner.

Replica Jersey Solution?

Good to hear that the real Munster supporters in Cardiff last weekend could be identified by the Bank of Ireland logo on their jerseys, while those wearing jerseys bearing the Toyota logo were clearly just blow-ins.

Unfair perhaps, and Toyota won't be pleased, but could this line work when little Johnny comes looking for the new Man Utd, Chelsea or Liverpool replica jersey?

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Spanish Civil War revisionism

The death last week of Michael O’Riordan (1917 - 2006), former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland and veteran of the Spanish Civil War has been widely reported in the media, with many tributes paid to his fight against fascism in Spain. The Republican side on which he fought included the powerful communist and anarchist factions and was supported militarily by Stalin’s Russia.

In the 1920's & 30's many idealistic young people in the West had joined the communist party, unaware of the repressive totalitarian reality of Russia and later communist states. It's worth remembering that in September 1939, 6 months after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the Germans and Russians carved up Poland between them - the Russians invading from the east, 2 weeks after the German invasion from the west. In November 1939 Russia followed this by launching an unprovoked invasion of Finland. In spring 1940, the Russia murdered approx. 25,000 Polish prisioners, mainly army officers, professionals and academics, in an effort to wipe out the Polish ruling classes. That was a full year before they themselves were attacked by the Germans in 1941.

On the other side of the equation is General Franco and his fascist regime, which ruled Spain till his death in 1975. The Nationalist side was supported by Germany, whose Condor Legion was responsible for the bombing of Guernica, immortalised in Picasso's painting.

People routinely talk of fascism and Franco in the same breath as Nazi Germany. Yet this is quite misleading as Mussolini was not anywhere near the Hitler league and nor was Franco. The extreme form of fascism which emerged in Germany under the Nazis was off the scale for most supporters of fascist philosophy, which was enjoying wide support throughout Europe at that time. Sadly, anti-semitism had been rife in Europe for centuries and was not at all confined to supporters of facsism. For example, UK fascist leader Oswald Mosley could have successfully run for mayor of Limerick.

When France surrendered to Germany in June 1940, 15 months after the end of the Spanish Civil War, Franco did not join the Axis powers even though, at that point in time, it would have seemed like an ideal opportunity to join the winning side without having to engage in any actual fighting.

The Spanish Civil War was a bloody affair with atrocities routinely committed by both sides. The revenge killing of prisoners was a regular practice on both sides, many old scores were settled when towns and cities fell to either side. Liberals now attribute all the blame to Franco's Nationalist side, but the Republican's were not far behind. Almost 7,000 catholic clergy, including 283 nuns, are recorded* as being murdered by the Republican side. This anti-clerical pogrom, mainly the work of the marxist POUM and the Anarchists, began with the election of the "Popular Front" centre/left government in February 1936. Indeed, the failure of that government to stop the looting and burning of catholic churches and monasteries and the murder of clerics was one of the major factors which triggered the civil war. The former "establishment" became fearful that they were seeing the emergence of a full-scale revolution and the tumbrils would be coming for them too unless they took pre-emptive action.

All of which leads me an obvious question: from the end of the civil war in 1939 to Franco’s death in 1975, how did the lives and liberties of ordinary Spanish citizens compare with those enjoyed by their counterparts in the Soviet Union in the same period?

Could it just possible that, for the Spanish people, the right side actually won?

This "musing" should be provocative but isn't intended to promote fascism as an acceptable political ideology. There is no certainty that the communists would have attained a political ascendancy in Spain, but Poland and Finland provide proof that aggressive expansionism was on the Soviet agenda even before the outbreak of WWII. There are far too many liberal commentators who look back at the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War through rose-tinted spectacles and whose own musings on the topic go unchallenged.

* Source: Historia de la Persecución Religiosa en Espana (1936-1939) by Antonio Montero Moreno

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Weapons on Maths Instruction

At New York's Kennedy airport yesterday, an individual later discovered to be a public school teacher was arrested trying to board an American Airlines flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a setsquare, a slide rule, and a calculator.

At a press conference this morning, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he believes the man is a member of the notorious al-Gebra movement. He is to be charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of maths instruction.

"al-Gebra is a dangerous cult with square roots in our communities," Gonzales said, "who seek solutions by means, medians and averages, while sometimes going off on tangents in a search of absolute value. They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' while their leadership is referred to as the 'unknowns'. The FBI have determined that they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval, with coordinates in every country."

The Gonzales press release added that "there are 3 sides to every triangle, as the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say. But with right on our side and an acute awareness of the danger, no lead will be too obtuse to escape our notice as we cover all angles in this investigation.”.

Commenting on the arrest, President Bush congratulated the FBI and added "If God had wanted us to have better weapons of maths instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes."

Arsene Whinger

Is Arsene Whinger trying to win the coveted 2006 “sorest loser” title? Jose Mourinho will be getting worried.

Following his ill-judged and bad-tempered verbal assault on Tottenham’s Martin Jol, Whinger’s post-match comments after defeat by Barcelona last night have earned him bonus points which may well clinch the title.

Not for him a gracious acceptance of the outcome, but rather an accusation that Barcelona had the added assistance of the referee in achieving their victory. His main complaint against the referee was that Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o was offside when he scored the equaliser.

Let’s examine the main turning points in the game and assess who was the main beneficiary of material refereeing decisions (trivial mistakes like wrongly booking Thierry Henry for a perfectly legitimate tackle may be irritating, but it had no real impact on the outcome of the match).
(1) Jens Lehmann was correctly sent off for tripping Eto‘o in the 17th minute, but the goal scored by Giuly for Barcelona was disallowed and a free-kick outside the box awarded. The sending off was correct but the referee should have allowed the goal to stand.

(2) Puyol was incorrectly penalised for an Eboue dive and, from the resulting free kick by Henry, Cambpbell scored for Arsenal.

(3) Larsson deflected the ball into the path of Eto’o who scored the equaliser for Barcelona in the 77th minute. TV replays showed that Eto’o might have been very marginally offside. Opinion was divided on this, but all commentator’s agreed that no-one would blame the linesman for making such a marginal call.
Except, of course, Arsene Whinger.

National Rail Strike

Unofficial strike, my arse!

Two Cork-based train drivers refused to take out new trains last Monday morning, triggering a supposedly unofficial strike that closed down much of the national rail network for 2 days.

Yet the first contribution from the SIPTU spokesman was to lay the blame on Iarnrod Eireann for the problem, saying that the union had warned the company that feelings were running high in Cork about the introduction of the new trains while certain unrelated matters were still under negotiation between the unions (SIPTU & NBRU) and the company.

The 2-day strike is estimated to have cost the company in excess of €1m and disrupted the travel plans of over 70,000 passengers. Yet there hasn’t been a word of criticism of the drivers action from the union representatives, despite the fact that many other non-rail workers were severely inconvenienced by the disruption.

There is a huge ongoing investment in public transport - both rail and bus. Not just in new track, rolling stock and buses, but also in the creation of Priority Bus Corridors in Dublin and other cities. The impact of these bus corridors is to severely reduce the road capacity for private motorists as existing traffic lanes are commandeered for exclusive bus use.

Is this investment strategy wise if no enforceable guarantees are available that the public will not be held to ransom by wildcat strikes which are blatantly tolerated, even if not formally approved, by their unions?

Strong disciplinary penalties, up to and including sacking, should be the fate of those who take unofficial but highly disruptive industrial action. The unions need to endorse this approach.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A&E debate

Monday’s RTE’s Prime Time did a major undercover documentary on the state of A&E Departments in several hospitals. Some patients were featured who subsequently died, one within days, from their illness.

It was followed by a panel discussion on RTE’s Questions & Answers, which included representatives of the various medical groups, politicians and Professor David Drumm of the HSE.

Overall it was a fairly balanced and positive debate, but you could still detect the individual and powerful vested interests who work within the hospital system, notably the Consultants but the Nurses won’t be too far behind.

I detected a certain satisfied smugness among the consultants in the front row of the audience as the heat from the earlier Prime Time documentary was reflected onto Minister for Health Mary Harney and Professor Drumm. You get the sense that as more heat is generated by the media, the consultants (and the nurses) see the opportunity of catching more of the money that will be thrown at the problem. Professor Drumm revealed that the 4,000 Junior Hospital Doctor's earn, on average, €50k+ p.a. in overtime alone - so they have no financial interest in changing the system. They're not alone in being major financial beneficiaries from the additional money put into the Public Health System in recent years.

The reality is that none of the medical and nursing professional groups is willing to acknowledge that they themselves are a major part of the problem. Each tends to blame the other and/or the system. The internal politics in the hospitals would match anything you’d see on “Yes, Minister”. The inability of management to "hire & fire" allows individuals and groups to play silly games without fear of punishment. The wider public services must be riddled with and hamstrung by this type of nonsense.

It's also far too easy to blame hospital administrators for the problems in A&E. How can they reform a system where the various interest groups are so powerful and clearly refuse to co-operate or volunteer changes in their own work practices? If a succession of Government Ministers have failed to achieve movement with these powerful vested interests, how could we expect a lowly Hospital Manager to do so?

Footnote: An abbreviated version was read by Pat Kenny on his RTE radio programme.

Paisley & DUP Hypocrisy

The DUP is highly critical of the assembly link between the UUP and David Irvine of the Progressive Unionist Party, because of his association with loyalist paramilitaries.

I think it is worth recalling that, in 1981, Dr Ian Paisley was responsible for assembling 500 men in military formation and paramilitary dress, each holding aloft what was claimed to be a valid gun licence. This was clearly aimed at communicating to the world that he had at his command an organised group of armed men should the need arise for military action.

In August 1986, Peter Robinson led a 500-strong loyalist cross-border incursion into the village of Clontibret. The clear objective of this exercise was to demonstrate to northern nationalists and the people of the Republic just how vulnerable were their communities, particularly in border areas, should large-scale sectarian fighting break out.

In November 1986, Rev Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Ivan Foster founded Ulster Resistance which, Dr Paisley warned, was not for "the faint or half-hearted", and pledged that the group would use "all means which may be found necessary to defeat the Anglo-Irish Agreement". At an Ulster Resistance rally in Belfast's Ulster Hall later that month, leading DUP members Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Sammy Wilson (now a DUP MLA & former Lord Mayor of Belfast) donned red berets while flanked by men in military style uniforms.

Yet Ian Paisley and the DUP have always denied any association with, or responsibility for the actions of the various Loyalist paramilitary organisations which have been responsible for some of the most savage murders in Northern Ireland over 30 years.

W.B. Yeats wondered if he carried any responsibility for the 1916 Rising when he wrote:
"Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot?"
Have Dr Paisley & co ever harboured any similar concerns about just how clean their own hands may be when it comes to the atrocities committed by loyalist paramilitaries?

Footnote: A slightly abbreviated version published as a letter in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

FCUK

The French Connection fashion group has issued its third profit warning in 18 months, following poor sales in the first 4 months of the current year which are actually running at a lower level than last year.

I suspect they're FCUKed.

Myers move to the Indo

We'll never forget you, Jimmy Myers.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times. Bitchy?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Sex Industry?

The alleged downloading of child pornography from the internet by a judge of the district court has caused a sustained political and legal furore in this country. There are no allegations, as far as I’m aware, that he was actually involved in other paedophile activities.

Contrast that with the lack of political reaction to recent reports about missing non-national children who may have gone into "the sex industry" and women trafficked illegally into the country for the same purposes.

The “Sex Industry” is the term coined by self-anointed liberals and the media to impose their new amoral orthodoxy on us. The term clearly seeks to sanitise and normalise activities such as prostitution, pornography, lap-dancing etc.. It is now presented as part of the entertainment industry.

But just what type of "work" would a child be doing in the sex industry? Surely this should be described as "molestation by paedophiles"? Similarly, trafficked women have usually been abducted or deceived and taken from another country to Ireland, where they are forced into prostitution through threats and violence. Surely that constitutes "kidnapping and rape"?

The term “Sex Industry” may be appropriate where these activities are engaged in between freely consenting adults. But let's call a spade a spade when it comes to the violent criminality of much of this sordid business. And let us demand immediate and robust legal action against those who profit from this shameful 21st century slavery.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner. Also read by Pat Kenny on his RTE Radio programme.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Heart of Darkness

I’m not always a big fan of Vincent Browne’s journalistic techniques which tend to demonise his targets, or of Mary Raftery who writes a weekly opinion column for the Irish Times and produced the “States of Fear” documentary for RTE, which dealt with alleged child abuse in state industrial schools run by religious orders.

On 3rd May Mary Raftery was a guest contributor on Vincent Browne’s nightly RTE radio programme. The topic under discussion was the current position with the state redress board set up to provide victims of abuse in these institutions with the opportunity to tell their stories in a non-confrontational forum and also to award compensation from the state for their suffering, partly funded through the overall settlement agreed a couple of years ago between the state and the religious institutions.

In the course of the discussion, a text message was received from a man who said he’d been in a Kilkenny institution where a four and a half-year old boy had been “sodomised to death”. Browne invited the message sender to contact the programme by phone or email and a short time later the man came on air by phone.

The man started to relate how this small boy had been sodomised so badly that his entrails were hanging out. As he spoke his firm voice dissolved into a tortured shriek of pain and anguish.

Then he would recover his self-control until the questions from Vincent would cause him to revisit the horrific memory of this small child, when he would once again dissolve into a searing shriek of pain.

It was truly shocking. I suspect it had more impact on listeners like myself than any number of tribunals or media reports could ever achieve. I couldn’t listen to it - I had to physically leave the room and listen from the hallway where at least the volume was somewhat reduced.

I hope that poor man has someone who's looking after him now.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

One in four

Why do people wrongly accuse the Government of inaction?

As soon as Colm O'Gorman was unveiled as a PD candidate for the next election, Environment Minister Dick Roche announced plans to challenge one-in-four voters at the polling booths.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner.

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