Friday, April 28, 2006

Constituency Work

Jim McDaid TD has done us all a favour, perhaps inadvertently.

His announcement that he has returned to a full-time medical career and will not be standing for re-election next year seems to have taken everyone by surprise.

It’s clear that party colleagues, the media and his constituents had all failed to notice that he was no longer fulfilling the functions of an elected, highly paid public representative.

This raises the question as to what exactly is the value of the much vaunted “constituency work” so often cited as the self-imposed core function of our TDs. This activity is clearly motivated by self-interest, maintaining the profile of the TD and fending off potential challenges, particularly from party colleagues, come election time.

The McDaid case suggests that the absence of all this activity would have little, if any, detrimental impact on our lives.

It is clear that many areas of the public service need a radical overhaul if we’re to get value for the large sums of public money we spend on it. The Dail would be a good place to start.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Examiner

Monday, April 24, 2006

Colour blindness

Concerns about census questions relating to colour seem to mirror the recent anti-racism campaign which suggested that we should all be colour-blind now that we’re all “Irish”.

The reality is that Irish people have always been inquisitive, it’s part of the native charm. In rural Ireland, if you’re white with red hair and freckles they’ll ask you where you’re from. If you’re anything other than “a neighbour’s child”, you’ll still be categorised as “a blow-in” until you outlive those who remember your arrival.

People from other countries have interesting backgrounds and cultures that we should be asking them about. Of course, the tone and tenor of the discussion should be friendly rather than threatening - but I’m sure that when it’s the former it’s quite welcome.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Examiner

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The curse of Emmerdale

All the talk of Chernobyl as we approach the 20th anniversary of the accident, coupled with concerns about dwindling oil supplies and global warming, suggest that the human race will probably be extinct within the next couple of centuries.

In perhaps a thousand years from now, aliens will finally discover an Earth with many overgrown physical remnants of human existence but no representatives of its civilisation left to greet them.

You can imagine their archaeologists exploring ruins, burial sites etc and speculating on what caused the final extinction of the human race.

Then somewhere in England a time-capsule will be found which provides the definitive reason for the disappearance of the human race. A corroded video tape of Emmerdale is finally decoded and alien anthropologists are unanimous in their conclusion: in-breeding.

The Poet's Rebellion

The 1916 uprising is sometimes referred to as the Poet's Rebellion.

This suggests that perhaps the old adage should be modified to "The pen is mightier with the sword".

Lie down with dogs and you'll get up with fleas.

On RTE radio yesterday, Michael McDowell, Minister for Justice, admitted he had his arm twisted by PD TD Mae Sexton to decentralise the headquarters of the Prison Service and its 158 staff to Longford town in her constituency.

Coupled with the decentralisation antics of her PD colleague Tom Parlon, this is further proof that the PDs are as capable of gombeen politics as their government allies Fianna Fail, with whom many of their members obviously swim in the same gene pool, at the shallow end.

The PDs like to see the current government arrangement as a coalition of the upright and the bent, evidenced by the behaviour, before the last election, of Michael McDowell when he urged voters to return the PDs to power with Fianna Fail, on the basis that Fianna Fail could not be trusted to govern on their own.

Well we’re now seeing the proof that power corrupts even PDs, and McDowell is learning the truth in the old adage that if you lie down with dogs you’ll get up with fleas.

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

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Who guards the guards?

Driving from Dalkey to Dun Laoire this afternoon at about 3.20, I spotted a garda car (reg. 02 D 61715) illegally parked near Glasthule - on double yellow lines with 2 wheels up on the pavement.

The two gardai were further down the road, putting a ticket on Peter Caviston's illegally parked blue merc outside the Eagle House pub.

Surely the gardai are supposed to observe the law while enforcing it?

I'd love if there was some way of giving them a ticket but they'd be sure to get you back!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Trouble at Mass

The concelebration of mass at the Augustinian Priory in Drogheda on Easter Sunday by three Catholic priests and a Church of Ireland rector seems to be causing some consternation among the hierarchies of both churches.

My simple understanding of the main issue arising from this mass is the opposing view of each church on the Eucharist. While catholics believe that the body and blood of Christ are actually present in the Eucharist, through the process of transubstantiation, protestants believe that the Eucharist is purely symbolic.

The catholic church has long accepted the Anglican congregation as legitimate christians. Presumably this also implies an acceptance that Protestant church services would have Christ’s blessing.

So here’s the question that is puzzling me.

If Christ is present in the catholic Eucharist, why would he not choose to be present in the protestant version also, even if protestants do not believe him to be?

If, on the other hand, belief in his presence in the Eucharist is an essential prerequisite to his actual presence, and therefore the missing ingredient, then surely a catholic taking protestant communion will, through his belief in the presence of Christ, actually achieve that result? And, of course, vice versa for a protestant taking catholic communion.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

How to dismantle a time-bomb?


Pensions Time-Bomb

Hibernian market research 2005:
· 69% still have no pension cover
· Rising to 75% for private sector workers

Pension Affordability
To fund a comfortable retirement at 60 (two-thirds of pre-retirement income) a 35 year old needs to be putting aside a minimum of 20% of their salary every month, and increasing contributions as they get older.
For example, at 60 a retirement fund of €100,000 buys an annual income of €5,340 but at 70 it buys €7,480. (Source: Hibernian)

However, most Irish people prioritise house-purchase over pension provision. The house-price inflation over recent decades means that funding both a mortgage and an adequate pension plan simultaneously is beyond the financial reach of most wage/salary earners. This becomes even more challenging if the cost of rearing and educating a family have also to be taken into account.

At the same time, the concept of “a job for life” in the private sector has become largely a thing of the past. In addition, those companies which do fund employee pension plans are moving to “defined contribution” plans rather than the traditional “defined benefit” plans.

This means that the retiring employee is exposed to the vagaries of the investment markets and the performance of the pension fund managers. But, more importantly, their pension benefits are no longer linked to their final salary but rather to their salary averaged over the term of their employment - typically from a relatively low starting point to a maximum at the finishing point.

Demographic Trends

  • Number of people aged 65+ set to double over the next 25 years.
  • Numbers in long-term care set to go from 84k in 2003 to 144k in 2031 and 203k in 2051.

2005 ESRI study (2063 sample size)

Over 80% felt it “very important” to be able to stay at home as long as possible.
Only 7% wanted to move to a nursing home or hospital.
a) 4% felt that individual should pay
b) 42% felt Government should provide full funding
c) 54% felt cost should be shared between individuals and Government*

* however, when the level of individual contribution was quantified for Option (c), this support fell off rapidly. At only €8 per week (€400 pa), this option was now rejected by two-thirds of those who originally chose (c).

60% of respondents were “definitely opposed” to older people re-mortgaging or signing up to equity-release schemes.

Estimated home-ownership among over-65s (incl. those with mortgage)

Ireland, USA, Australia = 80%

UK, France, Italy = 66%

Germany = 45%, Netherlands = 40%

Possible Solution

Irish people enjoy one of the highest levels of home ownership in the western world and it will remain the number one investment priority for most people.

It is an entirely logical and highly commendable aspiration - it provides security of domicile in old age and, as mortgages have generally been cleared by retirement age, the avoidance of rent provides a significant boost to the disposable income of such retirees.

Given that “the family home” will be the largest asset most of us will own outright, what is missing is a trusted mechanism to allow people the option to release the equity in their homes should they need it, while still enjoying the use of their home “in perpetuity”.

Proposed Mechanism

1. The Government introduces a scheme whereby it purchases the family home from the owners at market value.
2. The vendor is granted a “lifetime lease” at a rental cost linked to some published rate such as Euribor. (The potential rate may be capped to provide financial security to the tenant.)
3. The lessee (s) is clearly identified and the lease is strictly non-transferable.
4. The lease is terminated by (a) death of the lessee or (b) vacation of the premises by the lessee for a period exceeding 12(?) months.
5. Surviving heirs have “first refusal” on purchasing the property, using the same valuation mechanism originally employed at (1) above.

  • Having the Government as Landlord should remove much of the concern felt by elderly people about long-term security of domicile which may attach to existing equity-release schemes.
  • Item (5) above should re-assure vendors (and their heirs) about what constitutes “market value” and that unfair advantage is not being taken.
  • It will also permit the home to stay in the family should that be the desire of the family.

Funding the Scheme

The primary capital funding of the scheme should come from the National Pensions Reserve Fund (currently valued at €15bn+). In essence it would be investing, on a commercial basis, in the Irish Residential Property Market.

When a sufficient stock of houses had been accumulated (e.g. 2,000 units with a cumulative value of €1bn) these could refinanced through a secondary mechanism.

Secondary Funding Options

A “Securitisation”-type approach

The freehold of the housing stock could be sold off in large blocks (e.g. minimum 100 properties or €40-50m value) to long-term investors e.g. banks, pensions funds, private investment consortia etc..

The terms of the sale would ensure that the landlord/tenant relationship between the Government and the original vendors (and their heirs) would be unchanged by this arrangement.

Unit-Linked Funds

In time, it should be possible to sell on the investment to the general public through the mechanism of Unit-linked Funds.

In the early years there would obviously be liquidity issues, as the turnover of purchased properties would initially be very low. It would probably take 15-20 years for a cash-flow equilibrium to be established - balancing between houses purchased and vacated houses sold.

However, in time this would cease to be an issue and, in any event, companies such as Irish Life have been selling highly-illiquid commercial property funds to the general public for decades - so valuation and encashment mechanisms clearly exist.

There are a number of possible knock-on benefits that may derive from this particular funding option:

Investment Buyers are provided with an alternative property vehicle. Such a vehicle should be attractive as it spreads the risk among a large number of properties.
The knock-on effect might be to reduce the level of “investment” activity in the New House/ Apartment market and take some of the heat out of price rises.
It would also allow “ordinary savers” to become investors in the property market without having to take on the burden of mortgages, managing properties etc..

First-time Buyers would be able to invest directly in the housing market, without seeing the buying power of their savings diminished as the rate of increase in house prices rapidly outstrips the interest earned on savings.
This might reduce their “panic buying” of properties in order to get on the property ladder.
Which, in turn, might also contribute to taking some of the heat of house-price inflation.

One aspect that needs to be considered is the gearing effect of a mortgage. It should be possible to provide either public or private finance to allow FTBs invest in housing through the Unit-linked mechanism, should this be desirable in the public interest (potential impact on house prices).

Main Barriers to success
Cultural attitudes to “owning one’s own home”.
2. Desire to leave the house to the family.
3. Attitude of potential inheritors.
4. Risk of family (or others) manipulating elderly parents in order to realise their inheritance early.

Possible Solutions?
A Government-guaranteed lifetime tenancy agreement in their own homes might convince many older people to cash in their equity in order to improve their quality of life. Clearly a role here for a sustained education and marketing campaign.
2. Vendors can always manage the cash received as frugally as they wish and/or can distribute it as they see fit. The "first refusal" option for heirs to repurchase the property should also help.
3. Potential inheritors will display a wide range of reactions, ranging from benign disinterest to naked greed. Other than pointing out to them that they too will, in time, be able to benefit from the exercise of the same option, it’s hard to see what reassurance can or should be offered to them.
4. Part of the overall process should be a step to ensure, as far as it is possible to do so, that the vendor is acting of his own free will and is capable of understanding the implications of the transaction.

The Potential Prizes

1. Dismantling the Pensions time-bomb for up to 80% of the population
2. Providing funding for quality long-term care for the elderly.
(The State should not be expected to pick up the financial burden of such care in circumstances where the elderly person is the owner of significant property assets. Such an approach should allow for better state funding of care for those who are not in a position to fund it themselves.)
3. Helping to achieve a “soft-landing” in the residential property market
4. Giving First-time buyers a chance to get on the property ladder without crippling themselves financially.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

How the Rising and Casement fell victim to Murphy's Law in Kerry

This article is published today in the Irish Examiner. I’ve reproduced it because it appeals to my revisionist bent and my longstanding dislike of kerrymen.

“How the Rising and Casement fell victim to Murphy’s Law in Kerry”
By Ryle Dwyer

At the 1975 Munster football final in Killarney the much-fancied Cork team were being hammered, and many Cork supporters began to bail out early. A Kerry supporter shouted at them, “Leaving early, can’t take ye’r beating!” One of the fleeing Cork crowd shouted back: “What do ye mean ‘leaving’? Ye bastards, ye left Casement on Banna Strand!”

In the midst of all the hype about 1916 the story of what happened in Kerry has been largely overlooked. It was a weekend in Kerry during which Murphy’s Law ruled. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The Germans arrived in Tralee Bay on Thursday in the Aud with an arms shipment for the Rising, but there was no one there to meet them. At the time the only person in the area who knew about plans for the Rising was Austin Stack, the local brigadier of the Irish Volunteers and head centre of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. On Good Friday three men were sent from Dublin to seize a radio transmitter in Caherciveen and set up a transmitting station in Tralee to get in touch with the Aud. Two of them were drowned when their driver took a wrong turn and drove off the end of the short pier at Ballykissane.

Some later contended that this tragic accident undermined the whole Rising, but it really made no difference whatsoever because even if they had got the transmitter and set it up, they would not have been able to contact the Aud, which had no radio. Leaders in Dublin had changed the date on which the Aud should arrive to Easter Sunday after it had sailed, so the Germans had no means of contacting the ship. Roger Casement set out from Germany on a submarine with that information, but it had engine trouble and had to return to port, so vital days were lost on getting another submarine. It arrived in Tralee Bay in the early hours of Good Friday while the Aud was still waiting impatiently for a signal from the shore. As Casement and two colleagues were coming ashore their boat capsized and they were thrown into the water. Casement was suffering from malaria and after being soaked, he was in no condition to walk the six miles to Tralee. The other two went for help, but he was captured before the help arrived.

The Germans were convinced that Casement came back to Ireland to take part in the rebellion, but he was really trying to prevent it. “The one hope I clung to,” he later told his solicitor George Gavan Duffy, “was that I might arrive in Ireland in time to stop the Rising.”

When Casement was brought into the RIC barracks in Tralee he was put in the billiards room and a fire was lit for him. Head Constable John A Kearney sent for a local doctor, Mikey Shanahan, who was known to have Sinn Féin sympathies. Shanahan was allowed to see Casement by himself. Kearney knew the prisoner was Casement. The head constable hoped Casement would identify himself to Dr Shanahan and have the local volunteers rescue him. Before the doctor left the station Kearney showed him a photograph of Casement saying he was the prisoner. He wished to make sure that Shanahan would tell the volunteers the RIC knew who it was holding.

But Stack pretended not to believe the doctor. He insisted that the RIC had only arrested a Norwegian sailor. Meanwhile, Kearney invited Casement up to his residence for a meal. “I would love nothing better than a good steak,” Casement said when asked what he would like to eat. Kearney’s wife went out to purchase steak from a local butcher because they had no meat in the residence as it was Good Friday. She cooked him the meal, and Kearney sent out for some Jameson whiskey for the prisoner. Before bringing Casement back down to the billiards room, where he was left unrestrained with the front door unlocked so that a rescue party could just walk in, the head constable told his wife to keep their children upstairs as he expected the volunteers to rescue the prisoner.

Casement asked Kearney to send for a priest. Fr Frank Ryan was summoned from the nearby Dominican Church. In Fr Ryan’s presence, Kearney asked Casement: “What do you want with a priest? Aren’t you a Protestant?” Kearney then left Fr Ryan alone with Casement, who identified himself and asked the priest to get a message to the volunteers. “Tell them I am a prisoner,” he said, “and that the rebellion will be a dismal, hopeless failure, as the help they expect will not arrive.”

The priest was taken aback. He had come on a spiritual mission and had no desire to get involved in this kind of politics. “Do what I ask,” Casement pleaded, “and you will bring God’s blessing on the country and on everyone concerned.” Then “after deep and mature reflection”, Fr Ryan realised that “it would be the best thing not alone for the police, but also for the volunteers and the country, that I should convey the message to the volunteers and thereby be the means through which bloodshed and suffering might be avoided. I saw the leader of the volunteers in Tralee and give him the message. He assured me he would do his best to keep the volunteers quiet.”

One can only imagine Stack’s state of mind when Fr Ryan told him that Casement wanted the rebellion called off. He was supposed to be the only person in the area to know about the plans. Now he was being told about it by a priest who had no involvement in the movement. What was worse, Fr Ryan told more than Stack that Casement wanted the rebellion called off. “I also told the head constable of the steps I had taken, and my reasons for it, and he agreed with me that it was perhaps the wisest course to follow,” Fr Ryan noted.

At this point Kearney sent Stack a message that Con Collins, a friend arrested earlier in the day, wished to see him at the RIC barracks. Paddy J Cahill, the deputy brigadier, advised Stack not to go, or at least make sure he had nothing incriminating on him. Stack handed over his revolver and supposedly checked his belongings to ensure he had nothing else of importance. When he was searched at the RIC station, however, he was carrying a massive bundle of letters from people like Pádraig Pearse, James Connolly, Bulmer Hobson and a circular from Eoin MacNeill urging the volunteers to resist forcefully any attempt by the Crown authorities to suppress or disarm them. He was promptly arrested.

Stack later wrote to his brother, Nicholas, that he was carrying “a large number of letters, ie, fully 20 or 30 letters, I imagine”. The count at the barracks was 52 letters. Somebody might carry that many letters in a briefcase, but has anyone ever carried that number on their person.

One must ask why was Stack carrying so many letters when he went to the barracks? With things obviously going so badly wrong in relation to the plans for the rebellion, it looked suspiciously like he wanted to be arrested so that he would be in custody when the balloon went up?

It is about time people began examining the record for what it was, not what it should have been.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Teacher Union Amalgamation?

The media is full of talk about the possible amalgamation of the 3 teacher unions, but my old maths teacher could tell you that ASTI INTO TUI won’t go.

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Promoting the Irish language?

If the relevant Government Minister should be a champion for Irish as a living, vibrant language, could you choose a worse representative than Eamon O’Cuiv?

The man is a throwback to the 19th century Victorian era.

He has always seemed to be about 30 years older than his calendar age in demeanour and dress. His speech, both in tone and content, is dull and pedantic lawyer-speak. I don't know him but he gives every impression of being a charisma-free zone.

One must assume that it’s only Fianna Fail loyalty to the de Valera lineage that has him in the Dail.

Monday, April 10, 2006

1916 Proclamation

Over the centuries, thousands of revolutionary and political proclamations, declarations and manifestos have been issued in countries all over the world.

I doubt if you'll find one that isn’t full of high-flown rhetoric and promises of better times to come, or one that was actually implemented after a successful revolution or election.

So why do we treat the 1916 Proclamation with so much more reverence than we would the Election Manifesto of a modern political party?

I suggest it’s because the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation were fortunate. They were executed and thus saved from having to engage in the often sordid politics of the real world in attempting to deliver on their promises.

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

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Grand National Blues

I backed 3 horses in the Grand National today - each-way bets on Innox @ 16/1 and Juveigneur @ 36/1 and Hedgehunter @ 13/2 to win.

The two each-way horses fell at the first fence, while Hedgehunter finished second.

Net return = ZERO.

Then I got a text message from my friend “smug git” to tell me that he’s backed the winner and the 3rd placed horse.

Can it get any worse?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ryanair's Fear of Flying

YESTERDAY, the Ryanair website listed 80 flights into and out of France, which were cancelled because of the threatened general strike. It added: ‘Ryanair sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused by these flight cancellations.’

About 12,000 passengers would have been forced to make alternative travel arrangements. Presumably about 50% of these were attempting to get home from a trip abroad.

This was in addition to the 27 flights cancelled on the previous two days for the same reason, added to the complete cancellation of all Ryanair’s French flights on March 28.

While other airlines, including Aer Lingus, succeeded in meeting their obligations by flying their French routes on March 28, my wife and I were stranded when our return Ryanair flight from Biarritz was cancelled without warning. We were obliged to return the following day with Aer Lingus from Bordeaux, incurring about e500 in incremental costs for accommodation, meals, train and air fares.

Michael O’Leary likes to portray himself as fearless. But Ryanair’s fear of flying, stranding its passengers abroad while its competitors continue to meet their responsibilities, exposes him as gutless.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Examiner. A variant was published some days later in the Irish Independent.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Crocodile Tears?

The tourist dipped her hand in the water and raised it to her sweating brow. Rivulets of cool water ran from her fingers and, trickling down over her eyelids, caused her to blink momentarily.

At that moment, the crocodile struck, his powerful jaws snapping shut across her torso, instantaneously crushing her ribs, arms and spine. She made no sound, other than the whoosh of air expelled from her collapsing lungs.

In one continuous movement, the crocodile flipped his catch over into the water and drove her underwater in order to drown her. She offered no resistance whatever as he held her at the bottom for several minutes.

Then, satisfied that she was dead, he carried her back to his private meat-safe when he wedged her under a submerged tree-trunk, with the intention of leaving her to marinate for a couple of days.

Even though there would clearly be little eating on this skinny cadaver, the crocodile was beside himself with excitement at his catch. He couldn’t wait to tell the lads that he had caught that most elusive of the “Croc’s Big 5”, the very rare albino ape.

Save the whale?

The old whale said her final farewells to the other members of the pod and turned to ride the incoming tide onto the nearby beach. She had simply grown too old to keep up with her extended family and it was time to die. She had chosen to beach herself and die without struggle, rather than face death by drowning. She had enjoyed a long and happy life and accepted her inevitable end with equanimity.

Reaching the beach, she settled comfortably on the sand as the tide ebbed and allowed her mind to wander, recalling fondly her mother, her youth, her own children and great feasts of krill enjoyed in the southern ocean.

Her reverie was interrupted by an unfamiliar sound and she wearily opened one eye to see if she could identify the source. A small dog was jumping up an down beside her head and barking loudly, while its owner was running down from the nearby dunes to examine this large piece of unexpected flotsam.

Soon there were dozens of humans swarming around her tired body. Some throwing buckets of water over her, others digging trenches. Soon, pulleys, ropes, slings were being erected around and under her and a tractor appeared which somehow became connected to her tail.

As the tide rose, she realised with horror that she was being towed backwards into the water. She attempted to use her tail to shake off her assailants, but quickly realised that she was too weak to counteract whatever mechanism was pulling her backwards. “Moby Dick” she cursed, “ are they trying to drown me? Have they no humanity?”

Soon the heaving mob had, with the aid of the tractor and the tide, moved the whale off the sand and out into shallow water where she could manoeuvre herself, albeit feebly. As she turned reluctantly seawards, she could see them punching the air, hugging each other, shouting exultantly in celebration of her now inevitable fate.

On the beach a TV crew was busy interviewing the local Green representative who talked about the need to protect these beautiful animals, extolled the efforts of the local population and hailed the success of this particular rescue operation.

As he spoke, the camera panned across the celebrating crowd on the beach and the bay beyond, to the point where the whale was slipping slowly beneath the surface to drown.

Footnote: On April 29th 2006, 3-ton pilot whale was successfully refloated from Inch Beach, Co. Kerry.

Crap advertising advertising crap

There are three ad campaigns running on radio which really annoy me and suggest lazy or no research by the advertising agencies involved.

The first is the campaign aimed at getting people to pay their TV license fee. It labours under the illusion that there is some major social stigma or embarrassment to being prosecuted for not paying the fee. There isn’t.

The second is the series of ads encouraging us to complete our census forms so that planning for future needs for schools, roads and other public services can be as effective as possible. Given the state of the national infrastructure, you'd have to ask what they've been doing with the result of all earlier census operations.

The third is supposed to be an anti-racism campaign but it only succeeds in sounding incredibly stupid. The bottom-line is that we’re all supposed to become colour-blind now that we’re all “Irish”.

The reality is that Irish people have always been inquisitive, it’s part of the native charm. In rural Ireland, if you’re white with red hair and freckles they’ll ask you where you’re from. If you’re anything other than “a neighbour’s child”, you’ll still be categorised as “a blow-in” unless you outlive those who remember the fact.

The reality is that people from other countries have interesting backgrounds and cultures that we should be asking them about. Of course, the tone and tenor of the discussion can be either friendly or threatening - but I’m sure that when it’s the former it’s quite welcome.

Niall Toibin has a great joke about the CIA attempting to infiltrate the IRA in order to use their contacts with Ghadaffi to gain intelligence. So they train their best agent to speak perfect Irish in all the regional dialects. He visits pubs, ceilis etc all over the country but fails to make contact with any IRA people. Finally, having a pint in Kerry and speaking perfect gaelic, the barman compliments him on “speaking great irish for a yank“. The CIA man is stunned and asks the barman how he'd guessed he’s a yank. “Sure aren’t you as black as the ace of spades” comes the response.
Niall has probably had to retire that joke, though there’s nothing racist about it.

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