Saturday, December 30, 2006

Political decision-making

The National Interest.
Politicians are supposed to generally act “in the national interest”, though how that is defined can depend on whether you take a long or short term view of national and international politics. But more likely on your own political outlook - so one man‘s “national interest“ can be another man‘s “unconscionable betrayal“.

The gift of 20:20 hindsight is granted by the Gods to those “hurlers on the ditch” who don’t actually have to make difficult decisions, which must often be taken in moments of crisis and on the basis of imperfect information (ref Rumsfeld‘s famous quote). The media, pubs and taxis are full of such “hurlers” who generally claim “I told you so”, regardless of how many changing opinions they may have offered on the topic under discussion.

So, what would happen if you could give politicians the benefit of hindsight as they take momentous decisions?

"Britain's national interest" was Neville Chamberlain’s justification for signing the 1938 Munich Agreement which betrayed Czechoslovakia to the Germans. Yet the same man declared war on Germany in September 1939 when the Germans ignored the Anglo-French ultimatum to withdraw their troops from Poland.

If our “20:20 hindsight man” could have taken Chamberlain aside and shown him the outcome of WWII, how then would he have acted?

He’d have seen that
(a) Britain and it’s allies would eventually win the war
(b) that it would develop into a worldwide conflict, with over 50m killed and many millions more injured, wounded, displaced
(c) that Hitler's domination of eastern Europe would be exchanged for Stalin's domination of the same territory
(d) that a financially bankrupt and militarily exhausted Britain would be unable to retain control of her worldwide Empire, which would disintegrate over the following 20 years, starting in 1947 with India, “the jewel in the crown”.

Would Chamberlain’s government have made the same decision in 1939 in light of this information? What would have best served Britain’s “national interest”?

Presumably if Hitler had been offered the same hindsight, he'd have promptly withdrawn from Poland and been satisfied, at least for a while, with his empire of Germany, Austria & Czechoslovakia. With fellow fascists still in power, Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain, how would European politics have developed over the past seven decades?

Would there now be a statue of Oswald Mosley, 1st Duke of Oxbridge and former prime minister, adorning Westminster's College Green?

Taking the michael

Not content with taking the michael out of Michael McDowell in blog, I've emailed the following to several newspapers and a variety of radio current affairs shows. While they may not air it, hopefully it will be the subject of a laugh down in the pub and, in Dublin's tight media/politics circle, it will eventually get back to the great man himself.

All year-end reviews of politics in 2006 include Justice Minister Michael McDowell’s extraordinary “Dr Goebbels” outburst, which was itself quite ironic, coming as it did from the most prolific propagandist seen for many decades in Irish politics.

I was amused to discover that the real Dr Goebbels was the author of a semi-autobiographical novel titled “Michael”, which was first published in 1929. The English translation of “Michael” is currently available from Amazon, surely the perfect gift for the man who has almost everything?

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

Friday, December 29, 2006

Batting for the batless

This is largely a rehash of some earlier blogs but I've reproduced it here as it's published today in the Irish Times. I wasn't expecting them to publish such a long letter so I'm pleased to see it in print.


Madam, - During the recent Traveller Focus Week The Irish Times carried a number of challenging items regarding travellers. Since then, the outcome of the Padraig Nally case has, perhaps, served to obscure the fundamental issues which still require resolution.

Felim O'Rourke (Opinion & Analysis, December 4th) presented a cogent argument that nomadism is a major contributory factor to Travellers' social exclusion and criminality.
Brid O'Brien, policy officer with Pavee Point, responded by pointing out that there are countless examples of Travellers living in standard and mixed housing for generations who were excluded from local jobs, education, training and social activities. Meanwhile, Lorna Siggins reported on a Galway Traveller Movement study which found that Travellers were so used to discrimination that they rarely complained.

The 1995 Task Force on the Travelling Community recommended the provision of 3,100 units of additional Traveller accommodation. This was to include 2,200 Traveller-specific units of accommodation (halting sites and group housing units). The Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act, 1998 was subsequently enacted in order to ensure provision of Traveller-specific accommodation by local authorities. The 1998 Act also specifies that provision should be made by local authorities for Travellers' annual patterns of movement.

In its January 2005 submission to the UN's Committee for Eradication of Racial Discrimination, the Geneva-based NGO Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions reported that progress in the provision of the traveller-specific housing was wholly inadequate. Together with a very significant number of evictions of travellers by gardaí, under Section 10 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 and Section 24 of the 2002 "Trespass Act", this had resulted in an intolerable situation for travellers and one where the Government of Ireland was in breach of its obligation under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

It is difficult to make any compelling case in support of nomadism, in terms of providing appropriate quality of life opportunities for Travellers, but I believe that Felim O'Rourke failed to address the current nature of that nomadism and the impact it might have on issues such as criminality. Much traveller nomadism is now involuntary - travellers are moved on by gardaí at 24 hours' notice, evicted under Section 10 of the 1992 Housing Act or Section 24 of the 2002 "Trespass Act". These evictions occur despite the fact that often there is nowhere for these families to go. Surely such evictions must severely disrupt any prospect of children receiving an education, diminish family access to services such as health and social welfare and mar any prospect of employment in the legal economy?

It would be very hard to argue with Brid O'Brien's contention that settled travellers are still treated as pariahs in Irish society, or with the inference of the Galway Traveller Movement finding regarding discrimination: it is routine and ubiquitous. In such circumstances, which of us would be model citizens or ideal neighbours?

All members of society have both rights and obligations. We, the settled community, have clearly failed in our obligations to provide appropriate accommodation, as identified by the 1995 Task Force on The Travelling Community. Yet we demand that Travellers meet their obligations to a society that treats them as pariahs.

Surely natural justice places the greater onus on the strong to first deliver on their obligations, before making demands on the weak? Only then can we justly adopt anything like a zero tolerance approach.

I, too, would like to see an end to nomadism and a concerted effort to normalise the life outcomes for travellers, but blaming the patient for being ill isn't going to achieve much.
National and local government has failed to provide the necessary leadership and NIMBYism has meant that accommodation needs identified over 10 years ago have still not been provided, despite our much-vaunted economic prosperity. The current situation is not only grossly unjust to Travellers; it is not working for the settled community either.

Where is the political leadership on this important issue? - Yours, etc,

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Traveller Ping-Pong with Brenda

Ping (Incoming)

Peter, We definitely are listening to different travellers spokesmen - I've yet to hear any of them come out, proactively, to condemn bad traveller behaviour, like that wedding in Kildare last month where the table cloths and floors ended up splattered with blood after a savage battle - all you will hear are complaints and prosecutions against hoteliers who will refuse to accept such celebrations in future. Let's see if we can figure out why that restaurant might be reluctant to roll out the red carpet for a traveller hooley next time? And I was reported to the Equality Authority by Pavee Point for having the temerity to ask them for a comment on the disgusting state in which a gang of travellers left the Sugar Loaf a few years back - all I did was ask whether, if it did indeed turn out to be the work of travellers, they'd be prepared to condemn it!! And I don't know why you conclude that only 'involuntary sterilisation' will stop them producing large families in inadequate accomodation - none of the rest of us need to be sterilised to stop us having 15 children we can't afford, or is it the case that travellers haven't yet figured out where all these kids are coming from? It's called personal responsibility, Peter, and it's time somebody started expecting it from the travelling community.

And I don't believe for a second that there are 1000 traveller families without accomodation - there are only around 1000 traveller families in the whole country, and certainly I know that any I have ever spoken to, or heard interviewed, will tell you, as one father of 11 told me on the radio recently, that they were given houses but, for one reason or another, left them - either because they had trashed the place or else they couldn't get on with the neighbours. And it doesn't seem to matter whether these neighbours are settled or travellers - in the latter case, in fact, they're more likely to get involved in feuding with other families. I don't believe that there is any need for positive discrimination in a workplace that has needed to import a quarter of a million workers - the travellers and their apologists really need to start asking themselves why they are viewed as they are by the settled community, and they need to start addressing it themselves, rather than lecturing the rest of us. That course of action is clearly not working. Regards, Brenda

Pong (Outgoing)

A January 2005 submission by the Centre On Housing Rights & Evictions (a Geneva-based NGO) to the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, quotes “the Department of Environment estimates that 700 Traveller families currently live by the roadside, while another 350 are sharing accommodation with relatives to avoid eviction from the roadside.” Try visiting which provides an extensive breakdown of Dept of Environment data regarding total number of travellers and where they are accommodated. It claims approx 25,000 travellers in Ireland, while the Dept of Environment identifies 6,453 families and a detailed breakdown of their accomodation status - it seems they may not all be breeding at the rate you promote.

As for Pavee Point reporting you to the Equality Authority, is it just possible that your inquiry regarding the Sugarloaf may have been expressed in a tone similar to your Sunday Times article and your emails - hardly an example of disinterested journalistic impartiality. Regards etc

What's McDowell reading?

Could it be true that bedside reading for Michael McDowell is "Michael" a semi-autobiographical novel written by Joseph Goebbels and published in 1929?

Or is it just a foul rumour spread by the judiciary?

This books is real. Anyone wishing to send him a copy should note that he’s highly sensitive and the English translation “Michael: A Novel” is available from Amazon for $45.

From Amazon Website re "Michael" by Joseph Goebbels
Editorial Reviews
From Publishers Weekly

This poorly written "novel" in diary form by Hitler's calculating and sinister propaganda minister is, not surprisingly, a compilation of vicious Nazi doctrine. First published in 1929, four years before the Nazis seized power in Germany, it was so widely read that it went through 17 editions and appears here in English for the first time. The story concerns a former soldier who finds his university studies hold little meaning in Weimar Germany, which is beset by economic hardship and revolutionary stirrings. Michael abandons his education to help rebuild Germany for the Volk, and his romantic desire to die for the cause becomes reality when he perishes in a coal mine where he works as a labourer. This book is filled with vituperations against Jews, intellectuals, liberals, utopias and Leninism. Its educational value for students of Nazism is debatable since it contains no introduction placing Goebbels or his times in its historical and social context.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Still Travelling

Following my email to Brenda Power regarding her opinion piece in the Sunday Times and their subsequent publication of a heavily abridged version of that email on their letters page, I followed this up with another email to her - basically my blog of 18th Dec 2006 titled “We were travellers too”.
Brenda has responded today - her email is reproduced below. I thought her original article was repellent and her email merely confirms her prejudices. Nevertheless, I’ve responded in a way I think appropriate.

Hello Peter, thanks for your very thoughtful email - I take your point entirely about the Irish who emigrated to Britain in tougher times, and the fact that they were travellers, too, but the distinction I would make is that those people went there prepared to work and work damn hard to make a living - they didn't arrive and start making demands and enquiries about their rights and entitlements, getting involved in crime and laying waste to public amenities and then blaming it all on their culture. I am sure that there are settled travellers who experience discrimination, but the question is whose fault is that, exactly? I really do believe that the travellers spokespeople began to condemn the bad, criminal behaviour, and to isolate those responsible from the very many law-abiding travellers who are willing to work hard and get on with their neighbours, those same people wouldn't encounter nearly as much prejudice and suspicion as they do. Until they start isolating the bad apples, rather than championing their case and claiming the behaviour is part of their culture, they can hardly be surprised if they all get tarred with the same brush. Thanks again, and happy new year, Brenda Power

My response, emailed to her today:

I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” which is much favoured by politicians. They’re generally much better at the first bit than the second, where they're usually hopeless as solutions are invariably complex, multi-faceted, intergenerational and expensive. And frequently fail.

We’ve obviously been listening to different traveller spokespeople - the ones I hear do condemn the criminal elements, but they try in vain to have the “tough on the causes of crime” agenda discussed at the same time. Is this perhaps what you interpret as “ claiming the behaviour is part of their culture”?

Have you ever considered why nationalist communities in Northern Ireland didn’t hand over IRA killers to the RUC? Because they hated the RUC and they rightly feared the IRA. The gardai are the people who routinely “move on” travellers under threat of confiscation of
their homes and vehicles, knowing full well that they’re simply moving the problem down the road to someone else’s patch but causing maximum disruption to a traveller family. How likely is it that this activity will foster a culture where non-criminal travellers will co-operate with the gardai?

Until we start offering them better choices than “f*** off and die” or perhaps involuntary sterilisation to stop them breeding large families in their caravans, we condemn them to live in squalor and largely outside legal society.

The purpose of my email was to illustrate that it took a couple of generations to “socialise” many of us, the settled community. It can be done, but not by some quick-fix solution or simply getting the gardai to crack down on travellers.

Until prominent commentators like yourself start balancing your condemnations with proposed solutions e.g. calling on National & Local Govt to meet agreed obligations to provide them with
accommodation (there are still approx 1,000 families with none) and calling on employers to actively recruit members of the travelling community, and recognising that this will be a long haul, there will be no solution. There’s a challenge for you!

And finally, remember the pre-Christmas concern for travellers from Heathrow delayed by fog, which dominated the airwaves last week? How ironic that concern must have sounded to the permanent traveller listening to the radio in a caravan while keeping an eye out for the
garda car and the warning to "move on"? Happy Christmas, me arse.

Regards, etc..

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Revenge of the knee-high men.

Michael McDowell has just learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to mix it with the judges or with small men.

Earlier this year he got away with his “knee-high” jibe at Richard Bruton which was deliberately double-edged. Though purporting to be a dig at the Fine Gael man’s lack of political achievement, it also hit home at the target’s very small physical stature. It was typical of the bully in McDowell, essentially a political boot-boy who enjoys street-fighting.

On RTE’s Drivetime on Friday, retired High Court Judge Feargus Flood, another man of diminutive physical stature, was interviewed by Mary Wilson. He expressed his very high regard for Mr McDowell's brilliance in the most glowing terms. However, he then added that the one fault Mr McDowell had in life was that he "speaks first and thinks second".

Although Friday was only one away from the shortest day of the year, the early evening skies around Dublin 6 were lit up by the orange glow from the incandescent rage of the Minister on hearing the broadcast.

For this was no dig from a political opponent which could be discounted as the normal cut and thrust of party politics. This was a considered opinion from a man who once sat on the second highest court in the land, presided over the tribunal which bears his name and has probably never uttered a nakedly political comment in public in his life.

Allied to this is Justice Flood’s professional and personal acquaintance with Mr McDowell in both the Law Library and the courts, which adds significant weight to the credibility of the comment.

This is a damning intellectual indictment of a serving Government minister, particularly one in a the very sensitive Ministry of Justice. It won’t do much either for Michael’s credibility as leader of a political party.

McDowell has been long overdue his come-uppence, though I’m sure he wasn’t expecting it from this particular knee-high quarter.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Txt Smrtns

I was surprised to hear on the morning news that the Samaritans now have a text-based counselling service which is aimed at younger people. It was launched some months ago and they claim that it’s quite popular, with thousands of text messages received each week.

You can see the attraction for the Samaritans - you could easily devise intelligent software to automate the responses, eliminating the need for round-the-clock volunteers. They will be able to provide a more extensive service at lower cost.

But I find it hard to imagine someone who needs the help of the Samaritans choosing to communicate via something as impersonal as text when they need someone to talk them down off a tall building or bridge.

Personally, I hate the abbreviated txt msgs favoured by youthful texters and those silly hieroglyphics :-) which often accompany them.

I can see myself manning the phones some evening and trying, in vain, to decipher a call for help written in this gibberish. In my dream I finally snap and, in frustration, text back “Jump, you worthless turd”.

The Godfather speaks

As Don Corleone will readily confirm, being a godfather can be a bit of a curate’s egg. News that my godson recently attained 1st class honours and was awarded a gold medal was somewhat offset by the ongoing concern about his paternity and maternity. I’m convinced that someone, somewhere is rearing an idiot amid a clutch of genius siblings.

Enough of that - imagine my pride when I heard that my godson had chosen to follow in my cranky footsteps and his first letter had been published in yesterday’s Irish Times. Until I read the actual letter in question, which sucks up to the liberal, feminist, lesbian bias of the Irish Times - where letters must be addressed to “Madam”!

I haven't read the contribution from Susan Philips which his letter refers to, but she sounds like my type of gal. One can only suppose that he was trying to impress the mot with his liberal stance, rather than seeking to out himself.

However, getting liberal views published on such topics in the Irish Times is, frankly, far too easy. The real challenge is to get something right-wing, illiberal, conservative, homophobic, pro-Bush, pro-war, pro-catholic church etc etc. . I’ll have to select a suitable topic and set him a challenge for the new year.

Michael's maiden Irish Times effort is reproduced below:

Madam, - Susan Philips asserts that the authors of Bunreacht na hÉireann did not have same-sex couples in mind when penning the phrase "to guard with special care the institution of marriage". This may in fact be true, but is entirely beside the point.
The Constitution is a living document and must therefore adapt to reflect the changes experienced in Irish society over the past 70 years.
It would be wrong to hold sacred the ill-informed and clumsy phrasing of de Valera et al and to allow it to have a negative bearing on the human rights of today's citizens.
If this week's revelations have taught us nothing else, it is that the Irish political giants of yesteryear were far from infallible.- Yours, etc,

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Not all travellers are equal

How ironic does the concern for travellers delayed by fog, which currently dominates the news, sound to the permanent traveller listening to the radio in a caravan while keeping an eye out for the garda car and the warning to "move on"?

Happy Christmas, me arse.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Battleground for the next election

PD leader Michael McDowell continues with his effort to frighten the electorate by branding the opposition as “the slump coalition”. However, the next election is likely be fought out on a somewhat different battleground than that chosen by McDowell and his coalition partners.

In reality, there will be little difference in the broad economic and taxation policies of either coalition team put before the electorate, or indeed, in practice after the election. Also, there appear to be few fears among the electorate that any mainstream party will adopt a “tax & spend” approach. The fact that a majority of the electorate seem to prefer Labour rather than the PDs in Government with Fianna Fail, suggests that there is little fear of an economic slump as an outcome of the election.

Where the election battle should be fought is on the ability of either side to get the public services to work effectively and efficiently, making them accountable for delivering value for the enormous sums of public money being spent annually.

In this regard, the contest will be between the proven inability of the current coalition to achieve this objective against the unproven ability of the rainbow coalition to deliver the necessary leadership and change.

Will it be the devil you know or the devil you don’t know?

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent.

Moriarty musings

God be with the days when we thought we were joking when we talked about a "banana republic". Now the Moriarty Tribunal estimates that, in current day values, Charles Haughey took about €45m which the tribunal can identify. I suspect that there's more they couldn't find offshore. That sum would have kept the president of any small african or central american republic happy to do business, and you could be sure he'd have something salted away in Switzerland, just in case of a rainy day coup d'etat.

Moriarty has given Bertie Ahern a fool’s pardon for signing books of blank cheques for CJH on the leaders account, at a time when Bertie was treasurer of Fianna Fail. It explains how the party has been so loose about funds intended for party use sticking to the fingers of prominent members like Padraig Flynn and Ray Burke. Flynn still hasn't even been asked about the £50k donation he got from Tom Gilmartin, who is adamant it was a contribution to Fianna fail, not to Flynn personally.

Bertie was Charlie’s most trusted lieutenant so it came as no surprise that when he himself was stuck for few bob, someone organised a whip-round among selected political supporters in the early 90’s to bail him out. Given his willingness to follow in his mentor’s footsteps with regard to this type of funding, it must place a large question-mark over the amount actually disclosed, which was only a pittance compared to the amount accepted by CJH. Why would he stop there?

Before CJH’s demise, can’t you just imagine him laughing to himself as he watched his old nemesis Vincent Browne heading down the driveway with, by his own admission, tears in Vincent's eyes. Or regularly sharing an expensive bottle of chardonnay with that scourge of developers, Frank McDonald. Both men subsequently told of their meetings with CJH and spoke warmly about him. I can't help wondering how close he came to completing his ultimate Machiavellian goal, the elusive and exclusive Irish Times hat-trick - by enticing Fintan O’Toole into his web? Perhaps CJH made it but Fintan hasn't blabbed yet like his peers, or should that be blubbed?

On RTE’s Prime Time, Des Peelo, declared long-time personal friend of CJH, described himself as Mr Haughey’s "forensic accountant". So presumably he should know where all the financial bodies are buried or else he's useless. Which is it to be?

Monday, December 18, 2006

We were travellers too.

My elderly mother comes from the small Mayo town of Crossmolina. She recently told me a story, originally related to her by her sister, about a school-friend who worked as a nurse in post-war Newcastle, England. Sometime in the 1940’s the nurse was dating a young English doctor who asked her to marry him, but she turned him down. She confided to my aunt that she couldn’t marry him because she couldn’t bring him home to meet her parents. They had no toilet in the house and, although she loved the young doctor, she was too embarrassed to let him see her home place.

The nurse was from a reasonably well-off farming family, at least by Mayo standards. All the children had received a secondary education, even though it was neither compulsory or free. Only the eldest would inherit the farm, but all the rest were educated to enable them to pursue other trades and careers.

This story caused me to reflect on the stories of prejudice in post-war UK, with “No Irish” signs in the windows of boarding houses in the 1940’s & 50’s.

This nurse’s background was significantly more comfortable and enlightened than many poor small-holdings in the west of Ireland, where twenty acres of rushy land , part bog, part rock, didn’t provide much of a living for any family. Most farmhouses had no electricity until the rural electrification scheme, no running water and certainly nothing like an indoor toilet, never mind a bathroom. You’d have to wonder what exactly were the personal hygiene standards of the occupants of such households.

Many children in such households received no secondary education or training for some trade, but only the eldest would inherit the farm. In such poor surroundings, it would not be surprising if social skills were very limited indeed.

Once the 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc sons reached maturity, they were no longer welcome to support at home and were expected to find employment elsewhere. How many thousand of these ill-prepared young men took the mail boat to England every year?

So, to the landladies of England, these coarse, red-haired young men, with poor personal hygiene, rough clothing, thick accents and little or no social skills were the equivalent of our travellers now. Would we want to let them into our own homes?

Some of these emigrants got on well, some didn’t. Some eventually came back to Ireland, many didn’t. Many of the emigrants were related to people who have prospered in later years in Ireland but who now have no recollection of just how poor and backward were their own forbears, going back only a couple of generations.

Some of these descendants now look down on travellers, just as the English landladies looked down of their grandfathers, granduncles, fathers etc..

We’ve come a long way in the past 50-odd years. We have achieved a national confidence and relative level of sophistication that is our due. But, when we write off the tinkers, we should never be allowed to forget that, for many of us, our relatively recent ancestors were travellers too.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday Times Traveller

On Sunday 10th December, Brenda Power published an incendiary piece in the Sunday Times under the headline ”Travellers ludicrous and selfish lifestyle”. She more or less accused them of breeding like rats and you could take the inference from her article that some sort of involuntary contraception/sterilisation programme might be part of the solution. She basically wants them to f*** off, but to where she didn’t say.

That day, I sent her a long email, mainly a slightly modified version of my Dec 5th blog “Travellers - Moving on?”, prefaced by the following intro paragraph:

"Brenda, I thought your piece in today’s Sunday Times was provocative to the point of being bad tempered rabble-rousing, which surprised me because I‘ve always found you thoughtful and balanced on radio & tv. The question I’m left asking is this: who is Felim O’Rourke and what are his credentials on this sensitive topic and, frankly, what are yours to justify production of such an inflammatory piece? "

Subsequently I was contacted by the Sunday Times to know would I be willing to allow a heavily abridged version (space constraints on the letters page etc) be published. I agreed and the following letter is published today under the heading “Help Them First”.

Power attacks the “ludicrous and selfish lifestyle” of travellers, despite the fact that much traveller nomadism is now involuntary. They are moved on at 24 hours notice by the gardai, evicted (under Section 10 of the 1992 Housing Act or Section 24 of the 2002 “trespass act”) despite the fact that there is often nowhere for them to go. Such evictions must also severely disrupt education, access to services such as health and social welfare, or employment.

We, the settled community, have clearly failed in our obligations to provide appropriate accommodation, identified by the 1995 Task Force on The Travelling Community. Yet Power demands that travellers meet their obligations to a society that treats them as pariahs. Surely natural justice places the greater onus on the strong to deliver on their obligations first, before making demands on the weak? Only then can we justly adopt anything like a zero tolerance approach.

I, too, would like to see an end to nomadism and a concerted effort to normalise the life outcomes for travellers, but blaming the patient for being ill isn’t going to achieve much.

Xmas Cracker Puzzle for grown-ups

Here’s today’s problem:

You are the Building Manager of a 100-storey office block. The block is occupied by about 120 different companies of various sizes who, between them, have 12,000 employees in your building. All these companies officially start their working day at either 9.00 or 9.30am and finish at 5.30 or 6.00pm respectively.

On top of the building there is a viewing platform, open to the general public, which is very popular because of the panoramic views of the city it provides. The 100th floor is occupied by a restaurant and a couple of cafes and bars which are very popular with both locals and visitors alike.

Somewhat bizarrely, floors 36 to 39 are occupied by the Anlar School, the most exclusive in the city, whose remote sports campus is state of the art. The school has 800 pupils.

Your building is serviced by 40 lifts, each of which has a capacity of 20 people. When full, each lift makes an average of 10 stops, each of 30 seconds duration which contribute to an average “round-trip” time of 7 minutes. In other words, the maximum lift capacity is 800 people every 7 minutes or 6,860 per hour.

Every working day begins and ends with large numbers of workers milling around the various banks of lifts. Younger employees on the first 6-7 floors tend to use the stairs in the morning rather than endure the delay of getting a lift. Departing in the evening, some people from as high as 10-12 will use the stairs, descending being less physically arduous than ascending.

In addition, the Anlar School day starts at 9.00am and many parents, particularly of younger students, insist on accompanying their progeny in the lifts and delivering them personally to the school door. School day ends at 4.00pm, resulting in a relatively minor hold-up of lifts at that time.

Employers are becoming increasingly anxious about the stress faced by their employees in arriving for and departing from work. Some workers have taken to coming in early or leaving late to avoid the crush, but the majority are still working their normal day.
As Building Manager, you are doubly concerned by the increasing incidence of “lift-rage”, arguments and the odd scuffle have become an almost daily occurrence as someone tries to skip the queue. It will only be a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt and the police become involved.

This issue has been top of the agenda at recent tenant meetings and your proposed options/solutions are scheduled for delivery to the next meeting.

In the evening and at weekends, the lobby is a haven of peace and tranquillity, with only visitors to the viewing platform and 100th floor restaurant, cafes and bars using the building.

In considering your solutions, there are a number of constraints which may limit your options:
(1) Because of surrounding buildings and public walkways, it will not be possible to add additional lift capacity to the external frame of the building.
(2) Your architect advises that installation of additional lift capacity internally will cause huge disruption over an extended period to existing users of the building and is likely to be prohibitively expensive, in terms of actual construction costs and payment of compensation to existing tenants, both for disruption of their business and the need to buy back a portion of their leasehold interest.
(3) It will also involve taking some of the existing lift capacity out of service, temporarily compounding the problem while that particular solution is pursued.

Proposed solutions to - if you crack this one you’ll possibly have gone some way towards solving Dublin’s traffic problem.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Politics and Gun & Drug Crime

When Nora Owen was Minister for Justice, "The Bull" O'Donoghue attacked her if a sweet shop was burgled, though he wasn’t so hot himself in the same role, his “Zero Tolerance” waffle proved to be a bad joke.

“The Bull” must sometimes feel sorry he’s not sitting across the floor of the Dail from the present justice minister, Michael McDowell, he’d have a field day with a man who's great at the media sound-bites but not so good at solving the gun and drug problems.


Responding to my email on Pat Kenny's radio programme today, BUPA MD Martin O’Rourke claimed that the average age of BUPA subscribers is 38 v. 44 for VHI, which doesn’t sound like a major gap. However, when you set this out in an age band table, you can see very quickly what it might actually mean in terms of premium income v. potential claims.

I don’t know the actual age profiles, for either company, but today’s Irish Times states that over one-thirds of VHI subscribers are over 50. In the table below I’ve assumed that 36% of VHI subscribers are 50+.

The following table is illustrative only - but it clearly shows a dramatically different risk profile even with an average age gap of only 6 years.

Age Bands
VHI Base
20-30 (ave 25) 22%
30-40 (ave 35) 21%
40-50 (ave 45) 21%
50-60 (ave 55) 20%
60-70 (ave 65) 11%
70+ (ave 75) 5%

20-30 (ave 25) 31%
30-40 (ave 35) 27%
40-50 (ave 45) 26%
50-60 (ave 55) 12%
60-70 (ave 65) 3%
70+ (ave 75) 1%

Average Subscriber Age from tables above
VHI - 44.2
BUPA - 38.2

BUPA Ireland Financial Performance

Mr O’Rourke also implied that the company was unprofitable until very recently. BUPA’s website shows reported operating profits of

Year BUPA Operating Profit
2004 €24.3m
2005 €19.7m

In a submission to The Health Insurance Authority dated 26th March 2004, VHI quote underwriting profit figures for BUPA as

Year BUPA Underwriting Profit
2000 €7.5m
2001 €13.8m
2002 €15.3m

I rarely agree with Bertie Ahern, but I think BUPA have taken us for mugs with their “beal bocht ”. BUPA need to be pressed very hard to disclose actual numbers!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Breaking News - Solheim Cup for Ireland

RTE News must be rooting for the present government, because they made a big news item today of the announcement by the Minister for Sport, John "the Bull" O’Donoghue, that the Solheim Cup is to be played in Ireland in 2011.

We were told that this is the ladies golf equivalent of the Ryder Cup, but it’s to be played at a course that hasn’t yet been built - the Killeen Castle course in Co Meath, which has been designed by Jack Nicklaus.

The fact that it’s to be played on a course that isn’t even open yet should be a bit of a giveaway that this is a non-news story.

In addition, ladies professional golf must be one of the least well supported professional games in existence, so comparisons with the Ryder Cup are complete nonsense. If it achieves even 1% of the television viewership figures enjoyed by the Ryder Cup it will qualify as a broadcasting miracle.

Bye Bye BUPA

BUPA has announced that it is leaving the Irish market and, with immediate effect, will write no new business or renew any existing business as current 1-year contracts expire. The company claims that the exit costs will amount to €20m (Stg£13m).

BUPA has operated in Ireland for 10 years, since 1997, and claims to have 475,000 customers. They claim the Risk Equalisation will cost €161m over the next 3 years, compared with projected profits of €64m under the current system of operation.

That’s approx. €21m per annum profit, which is generated through the surplus of premium income over costs, principally staff, marketing and medical claims. This is a reflection of their relatively young customer base whose age profile would automatically mean a lower incidence of medical and hospital claims.

While BUPA is willing to recruit older customers, and has undoubtedly recruited a modest number of them, the reality is that
(a) BUPA's marketing effort has been focused on recruiting company schemes in well paid employments, where typically the average age of employees is probably as low as 30 and
(b) older people are far less likely to move from an insurer they’ve been with all their working lives in case the newcomer proves unreliable - as has turned out to be the case with BUPA.

If BUPA is currently making profits of c. €20m per annum, then presumably it has long ago recouped its set-up costs and has accumulated a healthy surplus over the past 5-6 years. These surplus funds should be invested for future claims, as inevitably an ageing membership base will make increasing claims while, in theory, the premium levels will remain relatively stable in real terms.

By cutting and running now, BUPA is able to pocket the accumulated surplus which should considerably exceed the winding-up costs estimated at €20m.

Meanwhile, VHI & Vivas are obliged to take on these abandoned BUPA subscribers without penalty, but without the cushion of the profit the subscriptions of these customers have generated in their earlier years of cover.

We should be grateful that BUPA has been forced to show their hand now, rather than in 10 years time when they really would have milked the market before folding their corporate tent and dumping their unfortunate members on VHI, with all the increased cost implications for VHI members at that time.

Footnote: Pat Kenny interviewed Martin O'Rourke, MD of BUPA, on 15th Dec and read this email to him in its entirety. Some bits denied e.g. share of corporate market and average age of BUPA subscriber 38 v. VHI 46. Actuarially, that could be quite a significant gap in terms of numbers of claims etc..
Also published as a letter in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

In praise of the frying pan

Heston Blumenthal is the wunderkind of British cooking - his Fat Duck restaurant in Bray (England) has 3 Michelin Stars so he's a seriously good chef. However, he’s particularly famous for the application of scientific methods and chemical analysis in the creation of his dishes. Snail Porridge is, perhaps, his best known signature dish.

He’s now got a weekly TV show on BBC and tonight he was cooking up the perfect Spaghetti Bolognese, a standard, quick, one-pot (ok, 2) meal for many families.

Except Heston’s version requires the meat to be cooked for 8 hours. That leaves you plenty of time to prepare and cook a couple of other elements which are added in during the cooking process. All in all, a long and fairly involved process. What he seems to have missed is that Spaghetti Bolognese is popular for 2 main reasons - (i) it’s simple to make and (ii) it’s relatively quick. His version is neither.

I’ve only seen a few bits of the show over recent weeks but I suspect that there’s little to be learned that would be of use to the home cook/entertainer.

A couple of weeks back he was making some sort of dessert for which he used liquid nitrogen to keep the temperature very cold in a food mixer while combining ingredients. He then acknowledged that this wouldn’t be practical at home. “Thank God”, I thought, until his alternative solution for home use turned out to be “dry-ice” instead. I’ll just pop out to Tesco for some!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Age of Consent

RTE's Tonight with Vincent Browne discussed the all-party recommendations on changing the age of consent. Vincent's panel consisted of Nell McCafferty, some legal eagles and one of the TDs from the all-party committee.

Nell sounded like she'd spent several hours in Madigan's before the programme, taunting the other participants about their sexual conservatism, generally having a laugh and trying to shock us. Vincent was his usual mix of lawyerly analysis, sudden rage and incredulity - he couldn't get his head around the fact that it is legally possible to get married, with a special license, before reaching the current age of consent.

Then the subject of "grooming" was mentioned and Vincent asked what that meant - subsequently admitting that he had never heard the term before.

If that's the level of insight, preparation etc that he does for his shows, you can only wonder how much credence to give to any of the output in his multiplicity of media organs - the Irish Times, Village magazine, the Sunday Business Post and, of course, nightly on RTE.

Thankfull, if somewhat belatedly, Nell realised the import of Vincent's ignorance re grooming and pointed it out on air - thus saving me having to send a second email.


The debate on lowering the Age of Consent is coloured by a concern that the law will be seen as sending a signal that sex at 16 is quite acceptable to society.

The reality is that this law is about Statutory Rape, words which transmit quite a different signal.

Perhaps if, in future debate, the topic was referred to as “The Rape Age Law” rather than “The Age of Consent”, it might allow for a little more light and a little less heat.

Footnote: Section in italics published as a letter in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner. Also aired on Tonight with Vincent Browne (RTE) referred to above.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The First Time Buyer as Investor

In olden times, when a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, First Time Buyers (FTBs) were almost always young couples who were getting married and buying their first home.

Nowadays a high proportion of FTBs are actually young investors who are “getting their foot on the first rung of the property ladder”, rather than buying a home. In other words, they’re actually behaving as investors.

The presence of these FTB-Investors, combined with the traditional investor who is building a property portfolio, has significantly increased demand for new houses which has, in turn, served to push up the rate of increase in housing prices.

This growth in prices, in turn, increases the pressure on such FTB-Investors to get on the housing gravy train - it’s been a safe and “guaranteed” way to make serious money. What differentiates the housing market from all other forms of investment is the ability to borrow almost all of the purchase price. So, even though you only invest 10% of the original purchase price from your own funds, you get to keep all the gain on the 100% of the purchase price.

E.g. You buy a house for €300k, putting up only €30k yourself. After 1 year, the house has increased in value by, say, 15% so it’s now valued at €345k. That’s actually a 150% return on your own €30k in one year - where else would you get it?

The other factor has been the very low cost of Mortgage finance in the past 8 years, since we effectively entered the Eurozone. Prior to that, Irish interest rates were typically at least double those of Germany, indeed they were often 3 or 4 times German rates.

The availability of housing finance at rates as low as 3% - 4%, when house price inflation has been running at 10%-20% per annum, means that borrowing to invest has been a very attractive proposition. In addition, these low interest rates have meant that borrowers can avail of larger mortgages as the bulk of the monthly repayment is actually dictated by the interest rate rather than repayment of the capital sum.

However, the downside is that all this speculative investment in property, fuelled by the easy availability of cheap money, has been to push demand and prices even higher, leaving the unfortunate “Traditional FTB“, who only wants to buy a home, struggling to compete against the tide of these rapacious investors, many of whom are masquerading as FTBs.

In these enlightened times, and because we now live in an economy rather than a society, it is not possible to discriminate in favour of married couples (including allowance for future legal status for same sex couples) over singles. This principle doesn't necessarily apply in reverse - McCreevy's 1999 Tax Individualisation measures effectively discriminated against married couples where the woman chose to stay at home (let's not pretend they all work there!).

Nor is it possible to discriminate in favour of our “Traditional FTBs” and treat the FTB-Investor as a normal property investor. The FTB stamp duty concessions which already exist apply equally to both categories of FTB. The recent budget changes which increase the level of tax relief on mortgage interest will also apply equally to both.

Short of some politically-incorrect measures which favour families over singles, it's hard to see what might work to make life a bit easier for the Traditional FTB - the ones who merit support.

Redefining "The Family"

Proposals to redefine the family in the constitution should be approached with the utmost caution. We should not risk reducing the status of the family to the lowest common denominator, merely to satisfy the demands of an increasingly self-indulgent society.

The status of marriage has been significantly undermined in the past decade e.g. in over one-third of births in Ireland the child's parents are not married. But proponents of traditional family values can hardly look to the current Government with any optimism. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's own unfortunate marital situation has been widely publicised, mainly by his own actions, including the decision to bring his then partner as his official consort on Government trips abroad. (The impermanence of that relationship was retrospective proof, if any was needed, of just how inappropriate this was.) In this highly compromised situation, the Taoiseach would be in no position to credibly lead any public debate in defence of traditional marital values.

Much, though not all, of the pressure to make changes to the definition of family is driven by personal financial considerations. Charlie McCreevy’s Tax Individualisation confirmed the FF/PD Government view of the family as primarily an economic rather than a social unit. It is logical, therefore that normal business procedures should apply, where financial benefits generally flow from contractual arrangements, freely entered into.

There is no reason why it should be otherwise in considering what financial benefits may flow from family formation. Arrangements should, of course be put in place for to allow same-sex couples to make such a contract, as they are clearly precluded from forming current civil or church unions.

There may be many areas where non-standard unions can be granted some legal recognition e.g. in medical matters, but any areas involving exchequer considerations should be confined to couples who have made a formal, legally recognised commitment to one another.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Money talks - sometimes it makes sense.

Watching highlights of Leinster v Agen rugby match this evening, I was impressed by the number of advertiser's logos on the Agen shirts. It reminded me of the driver's suits in Formula One which are truly festooned with advertising badges.

This is big money territory, the top teams such as Real Madrid and Manchester United probably earn €5m+ per annum from sponsors for the privilege of putting their logo on the team shirts.

Which makes it all the more curious when you see Barcelona with only the Unicef logo on their shirts. Why, you ask yourself, would a charity pay to advertise in this way, wasting the money you’ve contributed? Except that it’s actually the other way around - Barcelona pay Unicef something like €2m per annum for the privilege.

In a money-driven world that has infected all sports, isn’t that a rare bit of sporting decency to gladden even the cynical heart?

Friday, December 08, 2006

First Time Buyer Mirage

Watching the self-pity of a couple of 20-somethings on tv, one a final-year nursing student, as they bemoaned their inability to get on the housing ladder in Dublin, I wondered if the country has been suffering from some form of national amnesia.

There seems to be a widely held belief that, “in those good old days when summers were just endless sunny days“, first-time buyers had no problem getting on the property ladder.

The reality is that in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, before the big banks became active in the mortgage market, the parents of today's tiger cubs had to have their 10% on deposit with a building society for 12 months before they would even entertain a mortgage application. Sometimes that stretched to 24 months when liquidity got a bit tight.

You either saved jointly for a mortgage deposit for several years before getting married, or else you rented for several years after you got married. (note the "married") It was a home you were buying, not an investment.

Then having bought your house, you lived in it with only the bare essential items of second-hand furniture, slowly completing the furnishing process over a period of several years.

Mobile phones didn't exist and you didn't have a landline phone for at least 3 years - a compulsory cost saving courtesy of P&T.

You probably didn’t own a car for several years and relied on public transport - mainly the bus. If you had a car it was several years old and almost no family, young or old, had a second car.

Your social life was limited to a trip to the pub, the cinema or the occasional play or show. You very rarely ate out or entertained at home. You didn't spend money on take-aways or pre-prepared meals - pizzas didn‘t even exist. You bought the raw materials and prepared and cooked your own meals - healthier but also a lot cheaper.

You had one holiday a year, if you could afford it. Usually to Courtown, Tramore or to the family homestead somewhere down the country. If you were lucky enough to be able to afford to "go foreign", you might have a two-week package holiday in somewhere exotic like Torremolinos or Benidorm.

Designer labels didn’t exist. Labels were something you found on the inside of your clothes and they often read “St Bernard”.

You didn’t have credit cards, overdrafts, multiple loans. You had a mortgage and you were often “to the pin of your collar” to make the monthly payment. Until the late 1990’s, mortgage interest rates were never less than double those which have prevailed since we joined the Euro. In fact, they were often 3, 4 or even 5 times that rate.

You scrimped and saved, if you didn’t have the money for something then you simply didn’t get it.

Somehow, all this pain has been airbrushed from the collective memory.

The current generation of young celtic tiger cubs have become used to enjoying instant gratification. They want it all and they want it now. Because they’re worth it, or so they think.

Perhaps they’d actually be better off if they accepted that the norm would be to buy a house in your 30’s, that it would probably entail some painful saving and cutting back on your social life for several years before and after you get the house.

Because what they have done, by all chasing the same property dream, is to create an artificial demand which has only served to push up the cost of houses, out of all proportion to the actual building cost. They have created the builder/developer multi-millionaire - several dozen of them.

The timing of such a move might just be about right as interest rates in the Eurozone have risen in the past year and are set to rise further in the coming year. The ultra-cheap mortgage finance, available since we moved to German-style rates in the late 90’s, simply served to increase the amount of money people could afford to borrow and, as if by market magic, the cost of houses expanded to meet the extra funds available.

All that’s needed is a significant slowing down in the rate of increase in house prices or, better still, some slight reversal. The immediate impact of this will be to slow demand through (a) reduced confidence in residential property as an investment vehicle and/or (b) a reduced sense of urgency in getting on the housing ladder if property values are not actually accelerating away from prospective buyers at a rate they can’t seem to keep up with.

It’s time we reminded ourselves, and them, that buying your first home was never that easy or painless.

Start working on New Year's Resolutions

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Paddy (abuse of) Power

On 17th September, I placed an €8 double with Paddy Power on Teofilo - @ 7/4 to win the National Stakes that day & 16/1 ante post to win the 2000 Guineas.

They’ve now advised that it’s a “Related Contingency Bet” and is invalid under their rules - emailed to me and quoted below:

"Related Contingencies: Multiple bets are not accepted where the outcome of one event contributes wholly or partly to the outcome of the other."

I don't see how the OUTCOME of the National Stakes contributes either wholly or partly to the OUTCOME of the 2000 Guineas. I do see how it changes the odds offered, but there's no mention of that in Paddy Power’s rule, as quoted by them.

Paddy Power say that the bet can either be voided and the stake returned to me, or the stake split into 2 separate win bets. Incidentally, they tell me that if the first leg had lost, the bet was forfeit!

If Teofilo wins the 2000 Guineas, my double would return €374. If the stake is split, then my return would reduce to €79 - a difference of €295.

I’m trying to get the At The Races TV channel to raise this with Paddy Power, hoping to embarrass them to reverse their position.

I’m not holding my breath.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Snowed Under by Iraq Study Group Report

No one would accuse Jon Snow of being anything other than a steadfast critic of Bush, Blair and the Iraq war. Nightly, Channel 4 News greets bad news from Iraq with a certain smug satisfaction. Another nail in the political coffins of Messrs Bush & Blair.

Today‘s publication of The Iraq Study Group report had Jon Snow all excited. It’s recommendations were a clear repudiation of White House policy and could only be seen as a sharp rebuff to Bush & Co (incl. Blair).

So Channel 4 News had lined up the experts to express their views.

First was the compulsory interview with the retired American general. He liked the political recommendations in the report but thought the military recommendations were dangerous. His advice was that the Baker Commission should have confined itself to setting out the political objectives and leave it to the US military to design the appropriate tactics.

Then came a joint interview with a US-based Iranian expert and a former British Governor of two provinces in Southern Iraq.

The Iranian expert rubbished all the political recommendations - primarily stating that Iran & Syria would do nothing to help, resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict was not a viable objective and the elected Iraqi Government was incapable of achieving any progress.
The former British Governor agreed that most of the political recommendations were undeliverable, except for being a bit more optimistic about what might be achieved by the Iraqi Government.

In summary, the military man rubbished the military proposals in the Iraq Study Group Report, while the political experts rubbished the political recommendations. In short, they thought it a crock of shit.

Poor Snow looked suitably bewildered - his new favourite anti-Bush weapon had been neatly decommissioned in about 10 minutes.

Living proof that it’s an awful lot easier to look intelligent while asking questions than it is when you have to answer them.

Ever been savaged by a dead sheep?

Attacked today in the Irish Times by the Director of Policy, Progressive Democrats. What an honour! See below for my response, sent today. Probably won’t get published, but fun to write.

Madam, - Peter Molloy takes me to task (December 2nd) for not identifying myself as director of policy for the Progressive Democrats in my letter of December 1st, which was critical of Fr Sean Healy's recent opinion piece in your paper.
I must say that I am hurt and saddened, not by the explicit attack on my integrity but by the implicit attack on my political skills. If Mr Molloy seriously believes that I was engaged in some Machiavellian attempt to manipulate public opinion by concealing my identity, he must think me not only a knave, but a fool.
My name is somewhat unusual, to say the least (if you google "Seamus Mulconry" you will not find another one) and I am well known to my opposite numbers in the other parties, and to these who read the letter columns of The Irish Timesas being the Progressive Democrats' policy director.
The reason I did not write using my title is that I was writing to express my personal opinions and did not wish to convey the erroneous impression, that my criticism of Fr Healy had either the blessing or backing of the party. While I have no doubt that a robust defence of low taxation is as core to the Progressive Democrats as transubstantiation is to the Catholic Church, I did not consult my colleagues before sending the letter and thus felt I had not the right to associate the party with my personal views.
Having reread Fr Healy's article I remain convinced that his diagnosis of the condition of Irish society is seriously flawed and his policy prescriptions fatal to the prosperity and wellbeing of the Irish people.
An article by Dr Eamon Maher (Rite and Reason, December 4th) makes the statement that it is difficult for sincere voices within the church to make themselves heard. In this regard, he points to how the praiseworthy commitment of the Conference of Religious of Ireland to justice and equality can be safely sidelined, even ignored, by those in power.
However, sincerity does not mitigate the effects of unsound analysis, and the reason the advice of CORI is (largely) ignored by politicians is not that its commitment to justice and equality is not respected and indeed shared, but rather that the solutions it proposes will do more damage than good to the very people it seeks to help. CORI has been in existence for 25 years. Had we followed its advice 25 years ago, we would not now enjoy our current prosperity, nor the opportunity it gives us to help the marginalised in society. CORI was wrong then, and it is wrong now.
I might also point out to Mr Molloy that I am an honorary member of the Uzbekistan Komsomol. The experience of having seen at close quarters the suffering caused by state socialism probably has more of an impact on my views on CORI than the fact that I work for the Progressive Democrats. - Yours, etc,
SEAMUS MULCONRY, Ballinatone, Greenane, Co Wicklow.

My response emailed today:


Seamus Mulconry’s natural modesty, which caused him to omit his PD party title from his original attack on Fr Healy, may have failed him again. His expectation (Letters 6th Dec) that readers of the Irish Times letters page will be familiar with his PD role just might be a little misplaced. An Irish Times archive search reveals only three letters published, prior to this little spat. One of these (21/10/05) carried his current title, the other two (12/10/02 & 23/9/04) predated his PD appointment. However, I would like to congratulate him on being an honorary member of the Uzbekistan Komsomol. Every former Russian republic should have its own Borat. Regards etc.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The unknown unknowns of Donald Rumsfeld

There’s something weird about the media response to the leaked Rumsfeld memo regarding the need to change tactics in Iraq, written at a time when he was still Secretary of State and publicly maintaining confidence in the existing approach.

Every leader - in business, sport and politics - attempts to motivate “the troops” and keep them believing in what their doing and their ultimate success. This is often done at a time of crisis when the actions of the leader will determine the ultimate outcome. Many business successes emerge from holding the nerve when you’re in the s-bend, but when the leader throws in the towel then failure is almost a certainty.

Thus, a business leader will continue to exhort the sales team to bigger efforts, extolling the virtues of the team and the product, even in face of disappointing sales. This will happen even when he is actively considering firing half the sales team and replacing them - or even dropping the product altogether.

The coach will be giving the team a pep-talk at half-time, telling the boys to keep at it and the game will be turned around in the second half. This despite the fact that he’s considering a number of substitutions and may himself believe the game to be beyond recovery.

Similarly, in a war situation, a political leader must display a confidence he does not always feel and a determination to pursue the war aims, even in face of current difficulties. He will almost inevitably be considering alternative options/tactics at all times, but only a fool would risk demotivating his own troops and motivating his enemy by debating this in public.

So why has it come as a shock to the media (and his many detractors) that Rumsfeld’s inner thoughts may not have matched his public utterances? Probably because they all regard Bush & Co as two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, incapable of any level of sophisticated thinking and analysis.

Frankly, the reaction tells you more about the intelligence level of the detractors - most are a lot dumber than they think - and certainly dumber than the objects of their derision.

Travellers - Moving On?

On the first day of Traveller Focus Week, Monday’s Irish Times contained two interesting pieces regarding travellers:
Lorna Siggins reported a Galway Traveller Movement study which found that travellers are 8 times more likely to be unemployed, have a 1% chance of living past age 65 and are so used to discrimination that they rarely complain.
Then Felim O’Rourke, on the Opinion & Analysis page, reviewed government policy with regard to travellers over the past 40 years and presented a cogent argument as to how nomadism is itself a major contributory factor to social exclusion and criminality among travellers.
He agrees with the recommendations of the 1965 Commission on Itinerancy that, while no compulsion should be used to force travellers to settle, all efforts to improve their lot should have as their aim the eventual absorption of travellers into the general community. To this end, he concludes that nomadism should not be publicly funded, but rather that such funds should be channelled into other areas for the benefit of travellers.

However, the 1995 Task Force on the Travelling Community recommended the provision of 3,100 units of additional Traveller accommodation. This was to include 2,200 Traveller- specific units of accommodation (halting sites and group housing units). The Housing [Traveller Accommodation] Act, 1998 was subsequently enacted in order to ensure provision of Traveller-specific accommodation by Local Authorities. The 1998 Act also specifies that provision should be made by Local Authorities for the annual patterns of movement of Travellers.

In its January 2005 submission to the Commission for Eradication of Racial Discrimination, the Geneva-based NGO Centre on Housing Rights & Evictions (COHRE) reported that progress in the provision of the traveller-specific housing was wholly inadequate and, coupled with a very significant number of evictions of travellers by gardai, under Section 10 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 and Section 24 of the 2002 “Trespass Act”, had resulted in an intolerable situation for travellers and one where the Government of Ireland is in breach of its obligation under Article 5(e)(iii) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

While it is difficult to make any compelling case in support of nomadism, in terms of providing appropriate quality of life opportunities for travellers, Felim O’Rourke fails to address the current nature of that nomadism and the impact that might be having on issues such as criminality.

Much traveller nomadism is now involuntary - travellers are moved on at 24-hours notice by the Gardai, evicted under Section 10 of the 1992 Housing Act or Section 24 of the 2002 “Trespass Act”. These evictions occur despite the fact that often there is nowhere for these families to go. Such evictions must severely disrupt any prospect of children receiving an education, access to services such as health and social welfare or employment in the legal economy.

It would be hard to argue with the inference of the Galway Traveller Movement finding regarding discrimination - it is routine and ubiquitous. In such circumstances, which of us would be good citizens or ideal neighbours?

National and Local government has failed to provide the necessary leadership and NIMBYism has meant that accommodation needs identified over ten years ago has still not been provided, despite our much vaunted economic prosperity.

The current situation is not only grossly unjust to travellers, it’s not working for the settled community either.

For what worth, the following were the COHRE recommendations in 2005:

1. Declare a moratorium on evictions of Travellers and immediately halt current plans for eviction of Traveller families until safeguards, consistent with international human rights law, are in place.
2. Repeal the trespass provisions - Section 24 of the Public Order Act, as amended by the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act.
3. Issue clear guidelines to Gardaí and Local Authorities that ensure that any eviction carried out under Housing [Traveller Accommodation] Act, 1998 or other piece of legislation complies with international human rights standards. The guidelines should be monitored and Travellers should be given a system of appeal against breaches of such guidelines. In due course, such safeguards should be contained in legislation.
4. Establish a central government agency with the necessary powers to ensure the timely and effective provision of Traveller-specific accommodation under the Housing [Traveller Accommodation] Act, 1998.

Where is the political leadership on this important issue? There are clearly no votes in it!

Some key statistics from COHRE Jan 2005 submission to CERD

In the 4-year period 2000-2003 only 228 new halting sites and 192 new group housing units were made available to Traveller families. Significant progress only appears to have been made in providing standard housing for Travellers, with an increase of 665 units in the same period. In the interim, little progress has been achieved in bridging the shortfall in traveller-specific housing units.

There were 452 eviction notices served against Travellers under Section 10 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 , in the year ended 31 May 2003. In addition, there is anecdotal evidence that the number of evictions under the 2002 Trespass Act is quite high. The latter are verbally delivered by the gardai, no record is available unless an arrest is actually made, which would only be in a minority of cases. This suggests that the combined effect of Section 10 eviction notices and verbal warnings to move on under the 2002 Trespass Act impact on a very high proportion of traveller families, given Department of Environment estimates of approximately 700 Traveller families living by the roadside, with another 350 sharing accommodation with relatives to avoid eviction from the roadside.

The mental health of O'Malley's defence

When challenged on areas of non-performance, all FF/PD representatives resort to a standard mantra that “all Governments since the foundation of the State have neglected etc etc…”.

This ignores the fact that all previous governments were effectively broke. The current FF/PD coalition has been in office for 9 years now and has had more money, in real terms, to spend than all previous administrations combined.

Minister Tim O'Malley is just the latest Government representative to offer this lame excuse. Deficiencies in public services arise either because of Government choices on how they prioritise public spending or incompetence in delivery of those services. Either way, the current government must accept political responsibility for the outcomes.

They’re quick enough to claim the credit for the health of the economy!

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Black humour lives!

I attended a funeral this morning, enduring a bitingly cold wind which cut into us as we stood at the graveside. It brought tears to my eyes.

I commented to my elderly mother that I too wanted to be buried on such a day, as even people who didn’t like me would have a tear in their eye.

Afterwards I shared the joke with the widow and son of the deceased. I think I got away with it.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rumsfeld's U-Turn?

The section in italics below is an extract from today's London Observer.

If the leaked Rumsfeld memo came as a shock to the White House, the clear inference that President Bush may actually be calling the shots on US policy will bewilder all those who have long believed him to be merely a glove puppet. A new theory will have to be developed quickly, but this should pose no problem to those who always know what's going on.

The Observer, Sunday 3rd Dec.

In a move that will send shockwaves through the White House a leaked memo from former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in which he admitted American failings in Iraq and called for a major change in policy, emerged yesterday.

The classified memo, obtained by the New York Times, revealed that the ultra-hawkish Rumsfeld believes that US forces in Iraq are not achieving their aims. He submitted the memo to the White House just two days before he resigned his post at the Pentagon.

In the memo Rumsfeld calls for a major change in US actions in Iraq. 'In my view it is time for a major adjustment,' he writes. 'Clearly, what US forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.'

Some of his ideas - such as troop reductions and the criticism of tactics for Baghdad - seem to fly directly in the face of both his public statements of policy and the advice of the US military. In fact, his proposals often seem to have more in common with the thoughts of some Democratic party critics of the war.

Rumsfeld's call for change will disturb White House officials on two levels. First, in public Rumsfeld has always been a strong advocate of the US commitment to Iraq and of staying the course. Second, it flies in the face of recent statements by President Bush that indicate he is unlikely to change strategy. That could mean Rumsfeld and Bush, formerly seen as close allies, are in fact starting to oppose each other.

Yesterday, news reports showed that few expect Bush to order dramatic changes in US policy even as Washington awaits the arrival of a policy report on Iraq. This week the Iraq Study Group, led by Bush family friend James Baker, will present its suggestions on how to end the war. The report has been widely leaked and is expected to contain a framework for a gradual withdrawal of US combat troops over a period of a year or more.

Pre-budget speculation

Next Wednesday is Budget Day, and the Government finances have never been in greater surplus. Everyone is expecting a generous pre-election budget, despite the protestations of fiscal rectitude emanating from the Taoiseach and his cabinet.

Today’s (Sunday) papers are full of front-page speculation on what rabbits will be pulled out of Minister Cowan’s hat. Income tax rates, stamp-duty, welfare and pension increases, mortgage interest relief etc are all speculated on.

RTE radio’s hour-long This Week programme devoted serious time to it, with their own George Lee and the Independent’s Business Editor Brendan Keenan pressed to speculate on what the main budget measures will be.

I’ve no doubt that we’ll have media speculation overload for the next 3 days, followed by media analysis overload for the following week

What I can’t understand is, other than filling media space, what function is fulfilled or benefit delivered from pre-budget speculation when the actual outcome will be known with absolute certainty in a couple of days time?

This is standard procedure for the media circus in the lead up to publication of judicial decisions, budget measures, the content of James Baker's Iraq Study Group etc.. Talking heads keeping each other in business (and appearance fees) but ultimately engaged in a pointless exercise, unless there is some likelihood that they will in fact influence the outcome. Which is rarely, if ever, the case.

Footnote: A couple of hours after posting this, I got a call from RTE's Questions & Answers wondering if I'd like to be in the audience on Monday night when one of the main topics under discussion would be the upcoming Budget. They thought I might be interested, based on the content of a couple of letters published. Needless to say, I declined the invitation but couldn't help smiling about the irony of it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Paying your way!

It’s impossible not to feel lucky when you wake up in the morning and find you
- are not living in Darfur, Baghdad, Palestine, Africa, South America and Asia
- don’t have a physically or mentally handicapped child or a parent suffering from alzhiemers
- have access to education, medication and a regular democratic proccess
- have enough money to meet your own and your family’s needs

It’s impossible to watch the daily news and not see that you live a life of safety and privilege which is denied to a majority of the world’s population.

Yet increasingly, with easier and cheaper transport, we really do live in a global village which sits comfortably beside the globalised economy we’re constantly told is essential to pay our way.

As we know that the poor will always trouble (perhaps mug or rob) their rich neighbours, then we must also, however unwillingly, acknowledge that until we achieve some sort of financial/ economic equilibrium within our own society and with our 3rd world neighbours, we ourselves will never achieve real long-term security.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Boot Camp for Young Offenders?

RTE’s Today show (today) highlighted how little has been achieved in some key areas of public need, despite the unprecedented Exchequer wealth generated over the past decade. Geriatric care and rehabilitation of young offenders were just two of many areas that might have featured.

Defence Minister O’Dea, as expected, rubbished the Fine Gael “Boot Camp” proposal and, when challenged by Pat Kenny re the poor performance of the current Government, resorted to their standard defence that “all Governments since the foundation of the State etc etc…”. This ignores the fact that all previous Govts were effectively broke - the current coalition has been in office for 9 years now and has probably had more money to spend than all previous administrations combined.

As for the boot camp proposal - I have no idea whether this would work or not. However, the image presented by the media and Govt commentators is some brutalising “sgt-major” regime which will turn out "super-thugs". Mary Raftery, in her Irish Times column last week, was fairly typical. She cited the objective of army training as teaching young men to kill. I doubt if anyone, inside or outside the Irish Army, would describe it as a “lean, mean killing machine”. Many of the other negative contributions appear to assume that most of these young offenders are beyond redemption.

What is clear from the debate is that some form of proactive rehabilitation and vocational training programme is required for young offenders. This might well be provided by army instructors, perhaps in a non-military environment, who might well get more respect from the offenders than the normal “screw” would.

If nothing else, this Fine Gael proposal might prompt the Govt into taking some action - at last. But not if the media keep ridiculing it as a “hang ’em & flog ’em” approach.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Al-Qaeda & Papal visit to Turkey

"Earlier, the Pope's efforts to emphasize common ground between Christians and Moslems were sharply rebuffed by Al Quaeda, which accused him of aiding what it called a crusade against Islam."

This is an extract from the RTE website and consistent with the tone and content of the station’s many news bulletins on both radio and tv today.

RTE have today given far greater prominence to Al-Qaeda's hostile comments on the Pope's visit to Turkey than any other aspect of that visit. Why report/publicise their comments at all?

Al-Qaeda are clearly anti-western, anti-christian and unlikely to welcome any visit by a non-muslim religious leader. Has Al-Qaeda become an accepted representative group for any branch of Islam, other than the terrorist one, whose comments are now deemed to carry weight on religious matters by RTE?

RTE chose a tabloid approach, using Al-Qaeda to spice up its reports on the papal visit. In doing so, it accords a weight and legitimacy to that terrorist organisation which it does not deserve. This runs the risk of further influencing young Muslims in Ireland to regard Al-Qaeda and other radical groups as credible spokesmen for some mainstream strand of Islam.

RTE will claim that they are only reporting the news and adopt a “don’t shoot the messenger” stance. But surely even Montrose is aware that the media is an integral part of the terrorist strategy - to spread the word to fellow-travellers across the world, to spread fear among their enemies and mobilise public opinion motivated by that fear. This has long been a recognised fact - the terrorists feed media with spectacular content and the media duly feeds it to a much wider audience than they terrorists themselves could ever reach.

Standard media defence is that it’s on the internet anyway and therefore accessible to all. That’s fine in theory, but putting it on all major news bulletins ensures that it reaches a far wider audience that the small number of adherents who would actually know where to find it on the internet and then take the trouble to access and read it.

This nonsense has been an excellent example of completely unbalanced reportage and should not be repeated. Needless to say, I’ve emailed a strongly-worded complaint to the RTE newsroom - which generated the response below. I'm not holding my breath that it will have any impact.

Thank you for your e-mail. Your comments in regard to RTÉ's reporting on Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey have been logged and circulated for information and discussion to senior RTÉ Management and members of the Editorial Boards.
I am also forwarding your e-mail to the Senior Press Officer for News and Current Affairs who will bring your comments to the attention of the RTÉ News Editors.
Your feedback is appreciated and thank you again for taking the time and trouble to contact us on this matter.

With best regards
Nina Ward
RTÉ Information Officer

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Multi-tasking woman

We hear a lot these days about the special ability of women to “multi-task”.

This is often mentioned in the context of women juggling jobs, housework and children, but is also put forward by female professionals as a rationale for employing women rather than men.
They tell us that Professional/Executive woman can handle more issues, simultaneously and effectively, than her male counterpart. It seems that men are universally hopeless at this multi-tasking lark.

Where then does it all go wrong when wonder woman gets to the supermarket checkout? Here women are required simply to sequentially pack and pay, while perhaps talking to the checkout operator at the same time. Not only do they generally fail hopelessly to perform these tasks with any acceptable level of efficiency, they also become completely oblivious to those waiting patiently (or in my case, impatiently) in the queue behind.

Is it possible that insufficient demand is made by the checkout experience on their multi-tasking capabilities and they simply fall into a state of bored lethargy as a consequence?

Could supermarkets provide leaflets, videos, in-house training etc for these ladies or, if necessary, find the necessary mechanisms to trigger those famed multi-tasking skills at this critical point in the shopping experience?

Christmas Crib - continued

My complaint about the banning of Christmas cribs, nativity plays etc has drawn a number of responses, including the following in today’s Irish Independent:
Peter Molloy questions why atheists should feel offended at the sight of nativity cribs in public places (Letters, November 23).
Perhaps, like the Angelus and the Constitutional prohibition on atheists becoming the President or judges, it is yet another reminder to them they are not accepted as full active citizens in Irish society.
Let's reverse roles and imagine if atheists insisted that every public place display a sign saying: "God does not exist, religion is make-believe, the nativity is a myth" as an expression of their non-faith. Would Christians be offended by such signs, and demand their removal?
With the season that is in it, maybe atheists and Christians could come together in a spirit of inclusivity and harmony to foster respect and tolerance for the diversity and difference in our increasingly multicultural, multiracial, multiethical, multidenominational, and multidimensional society by accompanying every public display of a nativity crib with a sign dismissing it as superstitious nonsense.
If this is done, then neither atheist nor Christian could complain about religious discrimination because each would be equally offended by the public display of the other.

This prompted the following response, published in the Indo on 30th November:

I was worried that the phrase “atheist bigots” in my original letter of Nov 23rd might be a bit over the top, but Jason Fitzharris (Letters Nov 28th) has put my mind at ease on that one.

He identifies the Angelus as a reminder that atheists “are not accepted as full active citizens in Irish society”, a situation which is confirmed to him by the sight of cribs in public places.

While offended by the sight of cribs in public places, he sees an equitable solution in sharing that offence by attaching a sign to each crib dismissing it as superstitious nonsense.

There is a world of difference between being offended and being oppressed. Mr Fitzharris's multi-everything world must be a very bland place to live if every word and action must first be held up to the light by him to see if it might just possibly offend anyone else.

Readers can draw their own conclusions as to which of us is most “off the wall“. Regards, etc.

Supersize Me!

The McKenna Supreme Court judgement of 1995 means that, for constitutional amendments, the Government must provide equal funding to the “for” and “against” sides of the debate, regardless of what might be the apparent levels of support from either the political establishment or the general public.

It strikes me that it wouldn’t take much effort to have the courts establish that a similar even-handedness must apply to all public service promotions or advertising. This would open the door to some novel messages in our multi-media world.

You can just imagine what the pro-smoking campaign would look like. Think of the fun you’d have promoting the pleasures of getting plastered and then driving home. The boy-racers would have a ball demonstrating advanced speeding techniques, while the unhealthy eating, pro-obesity campaign could well provide a cameo role for yours truly. The unsafe sex promotion doesn’t bear thinking about. Etc etc etc

The list is almost endless - it would surely spell the end of the nanny state.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Last week's N11 cock-up

Last Wednesday’s major cock-up on the N11 remains a major topic of debate.

The main culprits and various Government Ministers have all found the same hymn sheet to sing off. We are told that it was a major systems failure whereby Dublin City Council failed to notify all the other interested parties about the scale of the disruption planned and, consequently, remedial measures e.g. a contra flow system, were not put in place.

However, the most worrying systems failure on that day was the inability to alleviate matters once traffic had begun to back-up severely from early afternoon. I passed these particular roadworks at about 2.30pm, having been delayed by about 30 minutes. Returning from Wicklow at about 7.30pm, the traffic-jam had worsened to almost unimaginable proportions. In that 5-hour period, no effective remedial action had been taken.

A situation causing the closure of the hard shoulder and one lane of the road could just as easily have arisen through unplanned circumstances - a multiple vehicle pile-up, a truck shedding its load, a spillage of hazardous chemicals etc.. Indeed, it’s a much more likely scenario and one that would probably occur with far greater frequency that a burst main beside the road. One can easily envisage all the lanes on one side of the carriageway being closed by fire brigade, ambulance and garda vehicles in such a situation.

Would we - will we- be faced with similar traffic chaos when such an accident occurs? There was no evidence of any effective plan or capability to recover the situation last Wednesday.

Developing such a plan and rehearsing its effective implementation must become a top priority for Gardai and local authorities.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wasting public money on the Dail

Friday’s Irish Times reports that construction of a new state-of-the-art Dail chamber is to be considered as part of a major review of the Leinster House complex. This is because the chamber will not be able to accommodate an increased number of TDs, anticipated in the coming decades as the population grows.

This same Dail chamber is largely empty for the vast majority of Dail sessions, on those few days each year that the Dail is actually in session. Anyone who regularly follows the TV coverage will be aware that most debates are attended by only a handful of TDs. On those rare occasions when the chamber might be filled e.g. election of a Taoiseach, budget day etc., the new arrivals can sit on the steps or stand. The idea of wasting more public money on further cosseting our overpaid politicians is abhorrent nonsense.

The IT also reports that a decision is imminent on the construction of a two-storey underground car-park in Leinster House. This will allow the restoration of Leinster Lawn which has been used as a car-park by TDs for many years, an act of public vandalism which confirms the shameful belief in the political classes that normal rules do not apply to the lawmakers.

Politicians were outraged when Noel O’Gara sought to convert Dartmouth Square, his own property, into a public car-park. He can fairly claim that it’s a case of the kettle calling the pot black.

Politicians are supposed to lead by example. Is it any wonder that we’re becoming a “mé féin” society?

Footnote:Published as a letter in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

My Christmas Crib

My letter published in today's Irish Independent:

The case of the British Airways lady suspended because she insisted on wearing her cross (Irish Independent, November 21) reminds me, with a groan, that we're entering the season when the "politically correct police" will be seeking to ban Christian symbols in public places for Christmas. Cribs, nativity plays etc in hospitals, schools, public buildings and open spaces will be the subject of heated debate and charges of causing offence to non-Christian minorities.

Some will argue that we are a secular state and therefore no symbols of any religious group should be sponsored by public funds. For example, Christmas cards must be devoid of religious content and carry the "season's greetings" message, if they are to be sent at all.

I'm at a loss to know what offence could be caused by cribs, nativity plays and so on, other than to religious fundamentalists and atheist bigots who insist on being offended. Nothing in them denigrates other faith groups. Indeed, I suggest that it is quite offensive, in itself, to Christians to claim that such displays cause offence.

Such Christmas activities have been long established by custom and practice in our country. If individual communities decide, preferably by plebiscite, that they don't wish to have such activities in their own hospital, school, or whatever, then that is perfectly reasonable.

However, there should be no blanket ban or diktat from Government, religious fundamentalists or the "politically correct police."

Footnote: On 27th Nov I had a call from the Gerry Ryan Show on 2FM inquiring if I would take a call from Gerry on this topic. Sad to report, I chickened out.
Also published in the Irish Examiner - on Dec 18th, almost a month after I sent it.

Worst ever traffic chaos on M11/M50

I was delayed for about 30-40 minutes by those roadworks near Bray yesterday afternoon.

I finally passed the actual roadworks at about 2.45pm, at which time a large hole had been dug beside the hard shoulder, but did not actually encroach onto it. However, both the hard shoulder and the inner road lane had been coned-off and all traffic was funnelled through the “fast lane”.

Even at that stage the tailback was at least a couple of miles long.

What crossed my mind was that it should have been possible, with judicious management/policing, to allow traffic through two lanes, closing off just the hard shoulder.

Returning from Wicklow on the same road at about 7.30 pm last night, I couldn’t believe the tailbacks visible as ribbons of light on both the M11 & M50.

Perhaps the roadworks extended further out onto the road at a later stage and it would then have been necessary to block the inner lane anyway.

But I wondered where was the Garda Traffic Corps and what exactly is their function? Are they merely there to enforce traffic laws re speeding, drink driving etc or do they also have some responsibility for ensuring the free-flow of traffic?

If they don’t they should!

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Low Tax Regime

You earned €100 overtime and had €52 extra in your pay packet at the end of the week, after deduction of tax (42%) and PRSI (6%).

You had 2 pints (€8) with the lads after work on Friday. On the way home you stopped for petrol (€30) and bought a bottle of wine (€7.50) and 20 fags (€6.50) for the wife.

That's your €100 overtime fully accounted for.

Between PAYE, PRSI, VAT & excise duties the Government had taken almost €77** of it. Plus some small extra proportion of the other €23 by way of corporation tax on the profits of your pub and the garage. If you paid by Laser or Credit Card you'll have been screwed already by the Govt for €10 or €40 in annual stamp duty charges - probably both.

Lucky you live in a low-tax economy!

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

**Breakdown of above calculation:

PAYE/PRSI: €48 - PAYE @ 42%, PRSI & 6% of €100 Overtime

Beer: Govt take €2.32 of total sale price €8 (2 pints x €4)
Excise Duty €0.47 per pint + VAT @ 21%.

Petrol: Govt take €18.24 of total sale price of €30 (29.4 litres @ €1.02 per litre)
Excise Duty €0.44 per litre + VAT @ 21%.

Wine: Govt take €3.35 of total sale price of €7.50
Excise Duty €2.05 per bottle + VAT @ 21%

Cigarettes: Govt take €4.94 of total sale price of €6.50
Excise duty €3.81 per 20 pack + VAT @ 21%.

TOTAL Govt Take = €76.85

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