Tuesday, February 28, 2006

1916 Commemoration

Rather than a military parade down O’Connell St, the 1916 commemoration would be better marked by the formulation of a new “New Proclamation" for 21st Century Ireland.

The Government constantly reminds us of the success of the economy, but seems incapable of setting out any vision of what might constitute a successful society. The middle-classes are pre-occupied with property values, while the super-rich have declared themselves non-resident, at least for tax purposes. We are increasingly becoming an economy rather than a society.

The process of drafting a new proclamation would require a broad and robust discussion on the shape and needs of a modern Irish society, with the objective of creating a document which enjoys wide national acceptance and which can function as a “moral compass” to guide our elected politicians and ourselves in years to come.

Such a proclamation would include our aspirations for dealing with the national question in the much changed political and economic circumstances in which we now live, in the process "decommissioning" the more emotive language and violent solutions of the 1916 version.

A new proclamation should also set out the vision for the role of the Republic in the wider world, dealing with such thorny issues as immigration, neutrality, Third World role etc..

It’s highly likely that such an exercise would end in failure, with a consensus vision proving impossible to agree. But it would be far from wasted effort if it opened a wide-ranging debate on where, if anywhere, we are going as a society, rather than an economy.

Footnote: Published as a letter by the Irish Times and the Irish Independent.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Dublin Riot

Sinn Fein may not have been officially involved, but were they provisionally represented?

We had a riot in Dublin on Saturday to prevent a couple of hundred unionists/loyalists from parading from Parnell Square across the city centre to Leinster House.

It’s ironic then that up to 10,000 unionists were in Dublin the following day and there wasn’t a hint of trouble. Most of the Northern rugby fans down for the international against Wales would be of the unionist political persuasion. They come down for every international and shout as loudly for Ireland as their southern counterparts. I'm not sure that they join in "The Fields of Athenry". There's never a sign of a row.

It’ll be interesting to see what impact, if any, the use of Croke Park has on northern ticket demand next year, when our 6 Nations home matches will be played there. The GAA has long been regarded up North as “the sporting wing of the IRA”.

It’ll also be interesting to see what impact Croke Park has on their view of the GAA. Gaelic football is referred to in some unionist circles as “bog ball”. Will the ultra-modern stadium with its fantastic facilities cause them to reconsider some of these long-held prejudices?

I’m not holding my breath, particularly if the Northeners get mugged by the Northsiders and their cars are stolen or torched. Jones Road is a long way from leafy, middle-class, cosmopolitan Ballsbridge.

McDowell and control of the media

In his column in today's Irish Times - a strong response to Michael McDowell’s recent lecture on the role ofthe media - John Waters states that “there is no duty imposed on the media to educate public opinion; no duty to uphold the constitutional rights of the citizen to protection of privacy andreputation; no duty to protect freedom of expression.”

If this statement applies to RTE, what is the function of Public Service Broadcasting in Ireland, for which every household in the country is levied with an arbitrary tax, known as the licence fee?

Later in the column, Waters differentiates between the BBC and RTE on the basis that RTE supplements its licence fee income with advertising revenue“garnered from a marketplace in which the national broadcaster competes with privately-owned media.”

Is this intended to justify RTE participating in a “race to the bottom” in pursuit of ratings and the advertising revenues which such ratings attract?

The reality is that RTE is the “broadcaster of record” in this country. We, the public who fund it through our licence fees, have a right to expect very high standards from RTE e.g. no hidden agendas, no political bias, well researched analysis and balanced presentation. If RTE doesn’t believe that this is its role, can I have my licence fee back, please?

In his farewell address, US President Eisenhower warned that“we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence,whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

That warning might well apply to the media today.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Democracy - still the best game in town.

Today there are reports of a foiled army coup in the Philippines.

In the West, we tend to take our democracy for granted and it’s almost unthinkable for us to contemplate a European democracy falling to military or other interests.

But such complacency is a danger and Spain should act as a warning.
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the short-lived 1981 coup attempt in Spain, notable for the public performance of King Juan Carlos in ensuring its failure.
However, as recently as 7th January 2006, the Spanish army chief-of-staff, Lt Gen Jose Mena Aguado was placed under house arrest and subsequently dismissed from the army, following a warning he issued that the Spanish army might have to intervene if the Catalan Government went too far in its search for greater autonomy from Madrid. How quickly we forget that Franco remained in power until his death in 1975 - the most successful fascist regime in Europe because Spain stayed neutral in WWII. Just imagine what life might be like today if Hitler hadn't invaded Poland?

For all the failings of “the democratic system”, which are many and varied, and the quality of some of elected politicians, democracy remains the only political system worth having and fighting for.

It can and does throw up many anomalies: e.g.
The Nazi party was democratically elected in 1933, but once Hitler got control of the levers of power he proceeded to subvert the democratic process.
Ultra-right winger Jean Marie Le Pen finished 2nd in the 2002 French presidential election, ahead of the mainstream Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin. Thankfully, this didn’t translate into wider success in other French elections.
In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein and the DUP lead respective sides of their polarised communities. Neither would qualify as paragons of democracy, though both are quick to remind everyone else that they have a “democratic mandate”.

However, provided the political system isn’t subverted, democracies usually have built in protections for the population. For example, George Bush can only serve a maximum of two terms - 8 years in total, and can never run for the Presidency again.

Bush may be a good example of a major internal threat to a democracy - significant polarisation within a society when a victor has little or no desire to "be gracious in victory" and reach out to the losing voters. "Winner takes all" politicians with a radical agenda, as exemplified by Bush and the Neo-Cons in the US and previously by Maggie Thatcher in the UK, really do risk polarising their national populations. On the other hand, coalition administrations, often seen as politically unstable, have the merit of forcing participants to compromise and probably have a greater tendency towards concensus and reduced risk of polarisation.

The role of the Media
Paradoxically, the media may provide both the greatest protection and the greatest threat to democracy.

On the one hand, the media have a key role in questioning and clarifying government policy and activities, acting as a spotlight to discourage or expose any dodgy dealings by politicians. An ethical and even-handed media is a key player in a successful democracy.

On the other hand, the political influence of the media is often far too significant, when measured against the standards of ethics and behaviour which a largely self-regulated media applies to itself.

In the USA, the candidate with the most campaign dollars to buy media space, combined with the ability to appear empathetic, particularly via television, is likely to win - almost regardless of policies.
In Italy, ownership of media was clearly a major electoral advantage to Berlusconi. And once in power he, at least in theory, gained control of the state-owned media networks.
In the UK, support of the Rupert Murdoch media (Sky, The Times, The Sun) is seen as very important for electoral success.
And in Ireland, Tony O’Reilly’s Independent News & Media group has demonstrated a willingness to flex their political muscles e.g. their 1997 eve of election front-page editorial entitled “Payback Time” which called on voters to throw out the rainbow government.

You can find a media source to support your own position and prejudices, no matter how off the wall you are. Fox News is clearly gung-ho, pro-Bush, pro-war. The BBC, on the other hand, is almost as biased in the opposite direction, and clearly anti-Blair on any topic. Overly simplistic "black & white" analysis of highly complex, multi-faceted situations has become the media order of the day. Demonisation of those holding opposing or alternative views is now an accepted norm in political debate. The result is that real debate is often stifled, while ad hominem arguments and personalised insults are considered an appropriate response to an opponent's position.

In the chase for 24-hour content and BIG HEADLINES, the media has become increasingly "tabloid". There’s never been more information available in the public domain, but we’ve never had less confidence in what we’re being told - by media or politicians.
Conspiracy theories have never had it so good and are a godsend to the insatiable appetite of the 24-hour media monster. Media people speculating with other media people fills hours of transmission time. Every one of them has an opinion, regardless of their level of background knowledge, you'll never hear them answering with an honest "I don't know".

What we often get is a "dialogue of the deaf" between ideologues, who paint competing but equally distorted views of the world, but constitute what is now routinely presented by media as "balance" in a debate. It usually generates far more heat than light, but is then replicated among bar-room experts throughout the country.

What we need from media, on the major topics, is much more balanced analysis and considered debate. Contributors who can spell out the pros & cons, identify the often competing considerations in a highly complex situation and seek to educate the audience rather than beat them into submission. Personally I'd start by banning phone-in programmes on any topic other than sex, and I'd definitely make it a criminal offence to be Michael Moore.

Then, and only then, we might all be able to make up our own minds on important topics on an informed basis, individually.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

So you think you're being screwed by your Bank?

I notice on the latest statement for our joint current account 2 x €15 charges for our ATM/Debit Cards. This is annual Government Stamp Duty.

Ditto on our credit cards - we pay 2 x €40 Government Stamp Duty charges annually.

We also pay €3.75 Government stamp duty for each cheque book we receive - that's about €10 - €15 per annum extra.

So we pay approximately €120 per annum in "bank charges" to the Government.

By way of contrast, we pay no charges to our bank!

Who's screwing you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Having the last word

In last Saturday's Irish Times, Hugh Linehan’s opinion piece on Michael McDowell’s recent UCD lecture - in which he assertively questioned the role and behaviour of some public service broadcasters - began in a reasonably balanced fashion but ended with Linehan exercising that enduring prerogative of the journalist, the last word. And there he fails to resist a cheap parting shot.

Most of his analysis is focused on Minister McDowell’s heavy-handed reaction to a Prime Time exposé on the new prison site at Thornton Hall. Mr. Linehan suggests that the appropriate ministerial response would have been to make a complaint to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. This, in due course, might have led to a brief recital of the BCC’s findings by RTE, by way of retraction.

However, the reality is that the reputational damage would have been done, as any BCC finding in the Minister’s favour, several weeks later, would have received nothing like the coverage of the original “revelations”. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Linehan fails to suggest that the national broadcaster might have offered “the defendant” an opportunity to rebut the allegations as part of the original broadcast, thus allowing the viewer to decide the case.

His defence of RTE is weakened by the fact that Prime Time is the only current affairs programme he chooses to cite. Prime Time has produced a number of excellent investigative pieces over the past year but, with only 1.5 hours of output per week, much of it devoted to routine day-to-day politics etc, rather than grand exposés, Prime Time constitutes only a small fraction of RTE’s radio & tv current affairs output.

RTE Radio 1 alone can have up to 8.75 hours per day! (see below)

In the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, the BBC’s Andrew Neill said, on an ITV politics programme hosted byJonathan Dimbleby, that the role of the BBC was “to hold the Government to account”. There seems to be little doubt that this attitude is common to many RTE broadcasters. That, of course, is supposed to be the role of the elected parliamentary opposition.

Minister McDowell is also right to identify the existence of a “self-perpetuating commentariat”. There are journalists and commentators who appear several times a week, on a variety of programmes on different stations. This is a tidy little earner in appearance fees and, coupled with the public recognition and credibility it gives the contributor, there is little risk that these talking heads will seriously question their own role or that of the media. Hugh Linehan is one of these "talking heads". For example, he's the "holiday cover" host for Sam Smith's "Sunday Supplement" show on TodayFM.

Now it seems that RTE believes that its role also extends to holding the judiciary to account. Two recent high-profile cases illustrate the point. The morning after Tim Allen was sentenced for possessing child pornography, Marian Finucane held a phone-in poll on whether he should have received a custodial sentence. Most recently, the Wayne O’Donoghue case has effectively been re-tried on several RTE programmes, over an extended period. Pat Kenny has re-hashed the case on both his radio and tv programmes.

Doubtless the DPP’s decision to appeal the sentence will mean a further RTE re-trial process.

I am certainly no apologist for this arrogant administration, but neither am I enamoured of the smug cynicism and self-satisfaction that permeates so much of RTE’s so-called current affairs output.

RTE Radio “current affairs” output.
Some of these programmes may well be categorised differently by RTE but, depending on the topic under discussion, it often become de facto “current affairs”.

Morning Ireland - 2 hours
Today with Pat Kenny - 2 hours
News at One - 45 minutes
Liveline - 1 hour
5-7 Live - 2 hours
Tonight with Vincent Browne - 1 hour

Power to the people

Paddy Power Bookmakers are famous for their irreverent advertising, the recent “Last Supper” scene portrayed as a poker game was an excellent example. When accused of blasphemy, their marketing director offered the defence that “at least we made Jesus the chip leader”. Let’s see them try this with an Islamic flavour!

They always have some quirky bets on their website - here’s a few of their current offerings:

The 2006 Oscars
100/1 - Any actress to walk on stage with her dress tucked into her knickers
100/1 - Best Actress to walk on stage with toilet paper stuck to her shoe

Who will design the “Best Actress” Dress?
3/1 Chanel
500/1 Dunnes Stores (beats them all)

Next Pope
1000/1 Fr Dougal Maguire CC, Craggy Island
1000/1 Bono

10/1 Bush not to finish his second term (phone me your bets, now!)
100/1 Gordon Brown expected baby to be named Tony or Cherie

2016 Olympics
250/1 - London 250/1 (they will host the 2012 Olympics)
500/1 - Ireland (we must fast-track the Bertie Bowl complex at Abbotstown)

FHM Sexiest Woman
500/1 Camilla Parker Bowles (cruel!)

Name of Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes baby
500/1 Iceman
500/1 Goose
No odds quoted for Elron (L.Ron Hubbard) - could be the smart bet!

RTE to re-try Wayne O'Donoghue

Following the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to appeal the leniency of the Wayne O’Donoghue sentence, it was clear that this would re-open the media feeding frenzy on this very traumatic case.

And, sure enough, it was the first item up for discussion on RTE’s Questions & Answers last night.

I sent the following email and was amazed when John Bowman actually read it out - though he looked distinctly uncomfortable and/or disapproving. No doubt his producer was calling the shots.

“Presumably the DPP's decision will allow every RTE current affairs and phone-in programme to re-try Wayne O'Donoghue - again.”

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Abominable Snowman

Rory Morrish, an Irishman working in Norway, was our first ever competitor in the 15km cross-country skiing event at the Winter Olympics in Italy this week.

I heard him interviewed on RTE during the week, where he said that he had competed in two 15km races already. When asked how he got on he was, to say the least, a bit coy. “Better the second time” he answered. When pressed gently about his actual placing, he merely offered that he’d finished ahead of the Moroccans and Tunisians. I had visions of them training on sand dunes while having to avoid camel pats.

So how did he get on in the Olympics? He finished 88th in a field of 99, of which 2 failed to finish. His time of 50mins 28secs was 12mins 27secs behind the Estonian gold medal winner.

And who actually finished behind him? Strangely, no Moroccans or Tunisians - they had no participants in the event. Competitors from Kenya, Brazil, Thailand, Costa Rica, Portugal, Armenia, Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nepal (who presumably should have been entered in the downhill).

My initial reaction was to wonder why we’re wasting money sending athletes to such events. But then I figured that if Kenya, Brazil and Thailand can waste it, why can’t we?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A New Pome

Why can't modern poetry rhyme? I simply can't read and enjoy it, so I no longer bother trying.

Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish that man would go away (Hughes Mearns 1875 - 1965)

I told my wife about the ghost
Over tea and breakfast toast
She looked at me the way they do
And then, as must, her gasket blew.

She shot back that “It’s not the ghost
Who’s now annoying me the most”
And thundered with red face aglow
“We’re living in a bungalow!”

Now all of you who take a drink
Before you speak, just stop and think
And only speak when spoken to
But never broach a topic new.

Footnote: I discovered last night (23rd Feb) that this "pome" was actually read on air by Pat Kenny last week. I didn't hear it myself but I'm sure he delivered it with the sensitivity it merits. I'll have to start writing to Rattle Bag. Does anyone have Seamus Heaney's number?

Tears for Sean Haughey?

Sean Haughey may well believe that there has to be more to politics than electoral advantage, but where was his anger when the lives of thousands of civil servants were thrown into confusion by the "McCreevy/Parlon Decentralisation Stroke"?

Nothing has more blatantly typified "politics for electoral advantage" on a more massive scale in recent years. Yet it was loudly cheered by Sean and his FF colleagues, who couldn't fail to recognise it for the "political stroke" it clearly was.

Sean can at least console himself that he doesn't have to uproot his family and move to Parlon Country.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Pension Time-bomb

The Government routinely warns us of the pensions time-bomb and many measures are under consideration to actively promote worker participation in pension schemes.

Yet the Pensions Ombudsman has recently warned that up to 130,000 workers in the Irish Construction Industry, up to 50% of all those employed in the sector, are ineligible for pensions, sick pay, unemployment benefits etc because their employers are failing to make PRSI contributions on their behalf.

The Construction Industry has been one of the largest, if not the largest, beneficiaries of the Celtic Tiger economy, as well as benefiting from most of the Government’s tax-based investment schemes. Coincidentally, it’s also the biggest contributor to Fianna Fail coffers.

In the Dail today, Deputy Joe Higgins (Socialist Workers Party) questioned the Taoiseach on apparent Government inaction on the findings of the Pensions Ombudsman. In response, the Taoiseach’s lack of outrage, or even interest, was palpable. This behaviour by construction firms was “inappropriate”, and only if they were deducting employee PRSI and failing to pass it on did he choose to deem it “illegal”.

In conclusion, he invited Deputy Higgins to pass on the names of offending firms, a similar invitation to that extended to the families of Stardust victims.

Many thousands of Irish building workers have found, to their cost, the long-term drawbacks of working “on the lump” in the UK in decades past. They were exploited by unscrupulous contractors, many of them Irish, who made their fortunes by cheating the system.

It looks like we’re set to relearn that lesson in future decades in Ireland unless this Taoiseach and his Government recognise that it’s their responsibility to find and punish the culprits.

Footnote: Published as a letter by the Irish Independent.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

St Valentine's Day Romance Massacre

I woke with (very) slight trepidation this morning, St Valentine’s Day, as I just hadn’t bothered buying flowers or a card for the wife.

Lying in bed, she gave me a quick kiss and wished me a “Happy Valentine’s”, adding that she hadn’t bought me a card or anything else. I confirmed that she was getting the same.

However, I thought I’d do the decent thing and told her I’d bring her breakfast in bed. “Don’t bother, I have to wash my hair” came the instant reply.

Who said romance was dead? Maybe I should have bought her a card.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Celtic Tigress

Tonight's Late Late Show on RTE had it all.

A couple of Irish girls working for Playboy, one supposedly as a PR executive, who goes topless when necessary, and the other a genuine bunny-girl with her own photo-spread, followed immediately by Brendan Shine (60+) playing his accordion and singing his 1950's hit "Do you want your auld lobby washed down". That's what constitutes balance on the national broadcaster.

Just when you thought that it doesn't get any worse, on comes Toireasa Ferris, daughter of Martin Ferris, the ex-IRA jailbird, former member of the IRA Army Council and current Sinn Fein TD for Kerry North. She should have been christened Marita Ann.

I didn't hear any of her political views but she was a good looking girl wearing a very short skirt that was split to the crotch. The only similarity with her old man was the beard! If she fails to get elected at the next General Election, she can always run for Playboy.

Economy or Society?

Does this “Goverment” have any coherent vision for Irish society? I don’t think so.

Their response to the recently published independent cost/benefit analysis of the multitude of tax-based investment schemes has been a repetition of their long-standing pre-election broadcast about the health of the economy, the levels of unemployment, never had it so good blah blah blah.

Whatever the questionable benefit to the economy of many of these uncapped tax breaks, they most certainly have made a major contribution to economic and social inequity, widening the already large gap between rich and poor. Only the already well-off can benefit from these schemes, and the richer you are the greater the potential benefit.

In addition, many of our wealthiest citizens are non-resident for tax purposes, although they appear very regularly in the media as they attend functions and race meetings throughout the country.

Yet at the same time.......
  • The High Court recently awarded €120,000 to the family of an autistic boy in compensation for the State’s failure to make proper educational provision for him.
  • An RTE survey recently found that only 27% of traveller girls attend secondary school, with only 2% actually sitting the Leaving Cert.
  • Primary schools across the country are run-down, aging and overcrowded hovels, bereft of proper sports and other appropriate developmental facilities.
All this at a time the “Goverment” keeps reminding us that, thanks to their expert management of the economy, we’ve never had it so good. And it is true that the country has never been so well off financially.

If our Government displays little interest in non-voting, highly disadvantaged sections of our society, while leading business icons flaunt their enjoyment of “Irish Society” without contributing taxes to support it, why would anyone be at all surprised if the burgeoning middle classes develop a “mé fein” and NIMBY approach to life?

Footnote: An abbreviated version of this was published as a letter in all three Irish national dailies, the Irish Times, Irish Independent and Irish Examiner. However, in each case headlined something like "Tax reliefs for the wealthy" which somewhat misses the point.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A sign of The Times

There are two death notices in today’s Irish Times which begin in identical fashion, as follows:

"RHATIGAN (Dublin) February 7, 2006 (peacefully), at home, after a long illness bravely borne. Brian will be sadly missed by"

And there the two notices digress.

Notice 1 continues: “by his loving wife Odilla. Beloved father of David, Odilla etc etc………”

Notice 2 continues: “by his devoted partner Rachel and their daughters Sophie and Isabelle.”

Lucky man. I wonder who gets the ashes?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wasting Diets?

The following article is a straight lift from today's London Times. Don't you just wish that all those thousands of scientists, employed at huge expense, could come up with some definitive answers on the subject of Diet?
It's not as if there weren't an enormous number of Diet books on the shelves, or that drug and food companies don't see the huge financial potential of cracking the problem.
It makes you wonder just how reliable are all the other drug and treatment regimes, for a very wide variety of ailments, that have supposedly passed all their required "scientific" tests.

Times Article
"A DIET high in fruit and vegetables and low in fat may be seen as the panacea for all ills, but research questions its effectiveness in tackling some of the deadliest diseases in women.
Three studies, as part of the Women’s Health Initiative study in the United States and involving 50,000 post-menopausal women, indicate that eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and low-fat foods does not reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and breast and bowel cancers.
The women, who were tracked for more than eight years, showed little evidence of greater disease protection from cutting back on fat — despite theories of the dramatic impact that this can have on health.
The studies, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest that a healthy diet may have to be followed more rigorously and for longer to reap possible benefits against cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Researchers asked more than 19,500 women aged 50 to 79 to take up a more healthy diet, while the eating habits of another group of 29,300 women remained unchanged.
The expected impact on rates of breast and bowel cancer and heart disease did not materialise. A 9 per cent reduction in breast cancer incidence indicated that out of 10,000 women, 42 in the low-fat group and 45 in the control group developed the disease each year.
Overall rates of colo-rectal, or bowel, cancer were not lowered by the healthier diet, but reducing fat consumption did produce a 9 per cent decrease in colon polyps, which can lead to colon cancer. Nor was there any significant reduction in heart-disease risk among the women eating less fat. Rates of heart disease fell by 3 per cent, and blood levels of “bad” cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, dropped by only 2.4 per cent.
The researchers said that the importance of different types of fat was not recognised when the investigation started, so the women were merely asked to reduce total fat consumption. "

Friday, February 03, 2006

Cartoon Terror

"The pen is mightier than the sword". But don’t try telling that to an angry man who’s armed with a blade.

No cartoon could create as offensive a stereotypical caricature of Islam as the press images of angry true believers carrying placards calling for "Death to those who insult Islam" and shouting
their pro-9/11 & 7/7 slogans.

The call for a “day of anger”, rather than a "day of protest", by Islamic religious leaders, coupled with widespread death threats by fundamentalist Muslims, has to be quite unacceptable in the modern world.

Expressions of outrage, condemnations of blasphemy, calls for economic boycotts etc would all be acceptable forms of protest.

What’s most worrying is the almost complete absence of religious or political leadership of Muslims calling for a more temperate response. Instead we get so-called moderates explaining away the anger and the response, rather than condemning it or calling on their followers to desist from acts of violence.

We need to consider whether tolerance of these intolerant protests in the West is the appropriate response. Perhaps we need to modify the old adage to "The pen is mightier with a sword".

Thursday, February 02, 2006

ATM Scam

There has been a lot of publicity recently about a widespread ATM fraud known as “card skimming” which has yielded millions of euros in the past year.

However, it now seems that this is a Mickey Mouse operation compared to the real ATM scam that has been going on in recent years.

Yes, it’s a clever scheme known as “bench-marking” which Joe O’Toole correctly predicted would be a stroll to the ATM for teachers.

A recent ESRI study has confirmed the findings of earlier studies, which showed that the public service typically enjoys salaries that average 10-15% more than their private sector counterparts. The ESRI study took into account age, sex, qualifications, responsibility levels etc in arriving at their conclusions.

The ESRI study also confirmed that this is not a new phenomenon, that a significant disparity existed even before the bench-marking exercise was undertaken.

This disparity does not take into account the security of employment and generous pension arrangements enjoyed by public servants. Their private sector counterparts have no such job security and many have little or no employer-funded pension schemes.

Traveller Rights

On 9th December 2005, High Court damages of €120,000 were awarded against the State to the parents of 15-year old Lewis O’Carroll, an autistic boy, to compensate for the breach of his right to education and care to date. In addition, the state has committed to the provision of an agreed programme of education for Lewis at unquantified expense. Presumably the associated legal costs in the case, to be borne by the State, are substantial.

I was reminded of this case by today’s report that only 27% of Traveller girls attend any second-level school, and only 2% actually sit the Leaving Cert. Most of the others drop out after the Junior Cert, but 3 out of 4 never attend any secondary school.

In addition to this huge educational black hole, many traveller families live in squalor on temporary sites with limited access to “normal” domestic facilities. Their general health and life expectancy are considerably worse than the settled community and their job prospects are extremely limited, perhaps non-existent. In effect, they are condemned to relive the deprivation and exclusion endured by their parents and, if nothing is done, their children will too.

It can only be a matter of time before the State is sued for failing in its duty to these traveller citizens. Watch out then for the Class Actions and the Tribunals of Inquiry into the failure of the state. The compensation and legal bills will undoubtedly rival those currently arising under the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

We’re very sanctimonious about the neglect and abuse in those residential homes 40, 50 or 60 years ago, at a time when the country was broke and society was considerably less liberal and enlightened. No such excuses can be offered today and our children will be outraged to listen to the stories of what we have allowed to be done, or not done, in our name and in our time.

Footnote: A slightly modified version of the above was published as a letter in the Irish Examiner.

Clerical Abuse?

12 Bishops, 283 nuns 2,365 monks and 4,184 priests*. Clerical abusers?

No, actually this is the number of documented catholic clergy murdered by the Republican side before and during the Spanish Civil War. In addition, hundreds of churches, monasteries and convents were looted and burnt.

This anti-catholic clerical pogrom, carried out mainly by the Anarchists and the Marxist POUM, went largely unchecked by the newly elected Republican Government and was one of the reasons for the outbreak of the civil war in July 1936.

Small wonder then that the Catholic Church in Ireland took the Nationalist side and encouraged men to join O’Duffy’s Irish Brigade.

* Source: Historia de la Persecución Religiosa en España (1936-1939). Author: Antonio Montero Moreno

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