Wednesday, June 28, 2006

RTE - a gravy train we're all paying for.

RTE has just announced its top-10 earners in 2004.
1. Pat Kenny €899,000
2. Gerry Ryan €487,492
3. Marian Finucane €439,265
4. Joe Duffy €279,149
5. Miriam O'Callaghan €251,251
6. Ryan Tubridy €216,150
7. Derek Mooney €189,906
8. John Kelly €188,630
9. Sean O Rourke €177,463
10.George Hamilton €168,322

In addition, many of these will have earned substantial additional income from ancillary activities such as celebrity appearances, after dinner speaking, moderating seminars, involvement in independent TV productions etc..

Miriam O'Callaghan's RTE income is only exceeded by her Childrens Allowance.

We can safely assume that all these salaries will have increased by 10-20% in the intervening period. It’s a relief tome to know that the recent sizeable increase in RTE’s licence fee is not being wasted.

I've often complained when RTE's top "stars" disappear for 2-3 months every summer, accusing RTE of equating "public service broadcasting" with "teachers holidays".

However, when you see these salary lists you realise that it's probably a good thing. If they had to be paid for the extra months work the increase in the licence fee would be punitive.

Footnote: The section in italics published as a letter in the Irish Times & the Irish Independent.

Bertie the good shepherd

Bertie Ahern has comprehensively routed the back-bencher revolt and they have agreed to shelve the proposed Fianna Fail "1922 Committee".

To paraphrase Dennis Healey, Bertie seems to have found his back-benchers' rebellion to be equivalent to being savaged by a flock of dead sheep.

Whatever Bertie did or said in response to their public bleating, all we're hearing from them now now is the silence of the lambs.

Footnote: The section in italics published as a letter in the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner. It also aired on "what it says in the papers" on RTE's Morning Ireland.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tax Dodgers in Paradise

The Revenue Commissioner’s analysis for 2002 shows that the top 400 earners in the state, who each earned in excess of €1m, paid an average tax rate of 24.4% and that 43 of these paid less than 5% in tax.

This will not come as any great surprise to ordinary PAYE taxpayers and the data merely confirms the need to cap the use of tax avoidance schemes as proposed in the last budget. However, the extended phasing of this change means that it will be several years before the target of a minimum 20% tax take from these high-rollers is actually achieved.

What is missing entirely from these Revenue Commissioner statistics is that group of Ireland’s wealthiest and most prominent businessmen who have declared themselves to be non-resident for tax purposes. Notwithstanding their non-resident status, these worthies appear regularly in the media as they conduct their business here, sitting on boards of directors, appearing before tribunals of inquiry, attending race meetings, social functions etc etc..

The inconvenience of being non-resident for tax purposes is not great as you can actually be in the country every day of the tax year, provided you remove yourself across our border at midnight on 50% of those days. You don’t even have to stay away for the night, you can slip back after midnight to sleep in your own bed. In the absence of electronic tagging and passport controls, who’s to say whether or not you even made the token effort of removing yourself temporarily from the jurisdiction?

Of tax evasion, tax avoidance and tax non-residency, only the former is deemed to be a crime but all three have the same effect. Each reduces the funds in the community chest which are required to pay for public services and essential infrastructure. This shortfall must either be made up by the compliant taxpayers or else public spending must be reduced, which invariably impacts most on those in greatest need - the elderly, the infirm, the handicapped and the poor. This is not a victimless activity, whether legal or not.

Irish citizenship carries rights but it also comes with obligations. Something along the lines of “from each according to his means, to each according to his needs” seems fair. Clearly those who engage in aggressive tax avoidance are within their rights but are actively seeking to avoid meeting their obligations. The same applies to those who effectively live and operate in Ireland but claim non-residency when it comes to their tax affairs.

The Revenue Commissioners regularly “name and shame” those caught evading tax, above a €12.7k threshold. They should also publish lists of those who benefit from tax avoidance schemes, quantifying the amount, subject to the same threshold. As for the tax non-residents, the law should be changed so that even if just one of your feet momentarily touches Irish soil, you are deemed to have been in Ireland for the day for tax purposes.

Such measures would, at least, be a start and should send a message both to the high fliers and to the ordinary tax payer.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times & the Irish Examiner. I'm curiously waiting to see in the Irish Independent publishes, as Sir Anthony is one of our most prominent tax "exiles".

Thursday, June 22, 2006

McDowell's toys out of pram - again.

The Irish Times scoop about the attempted heave in the PDs (politically destitute?) was great news for those of us starved of political intrigue in recent months. We now have our very own Blair/Brown scenario, albeit in the smallest rather than the largest party.

Mind you, given his antics in recent months, the PDs would be mad to give the leadership to Michael McDowell before the next general election. Some of his outbursts have literally been small boy tantrums, which makes you regret the absence a political satire such as Spitting Images or Scrap Saturday - he’s such an ideal candidate for piss-taking.

If necessary and, of course, in the national interest, McDowell will probably leave the PDs and form his own party which might well be known as Mé Féin.

It strikes me that the name would probably make an appropriate sub-title for the PDs themselves - Progressive Democrats - the mé féin party.

Footnote: The penultimate paragraph of the above slag was published as a letter in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner. It was also aired on Ryan Tubridy's RTE friday radio round-up of the week.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Haughey tunnel

Fianna Fail members of the city council are keen to name the soon to be opened port tunnel after their deceased hero, Charles J. Haughey.

If they succeed in doing so, it will undoubtedly be awarded an alternative nickname by dubliners.

I'd like to propose "The Northside Shaft" or just "The Shaft".

The Boss follows in the footsteps of The Chief

Charles Haughey was not the first Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fail to find creative and
innovative ways of supplementing his income. In that regard, The Boss was only following in the footsteps of The Chief.

When Eamon de Valera set up the Irish Press in 1931, it was largely funded by small shareholders in the USA. However, de Valera used a share structure that gave him complete control over the company, despite the fact that he only subscribed for $200 of the total share capital.

Over the subsequent years, The Irish Press became a cash cow for generations of the de Valera family. Despite the fact that the newspaper ceased production in 1995, de Valera’s grandson continues to extract substantial directors fees each year.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ronan O'Gara - Alone he stands

"After several powerful scrums they created enough space for Luke McAlister to click past tackling turnstile Ronan O'Gara and seal the victory.

O'Gara's flaky defence had been a target in Hamilton as well, with McAlister admitting the All Blacks had been unable to isolate him."

The above is an extract from the New Zealand Herald coverage of Ireland's 27-17 defeat by the All Blacks on Saturday.

"Tackling Turnstile" is cruel but hard to dispute and it adds to existing criticism of O'Gara inability to make a break and thus at least tie-in some of the defence to deal with such a threat. Allied to similar limitations with Stringer, it really sets up the two centres as targets once the running option is chosen.

Sadly there are few obvious contenders for the out-half slot and it's unlikely a replacement can be found and groomed before the World Cup next year.

Vincent Browne re-invents GUBU!

The Pauline conversion of Vincent Browne to the cause of Charles Haughey has been one of the more intriguing side-shows in recent weeks.

Village magazine recently published an interview with the former secretary to Mr Haughey who revealed that, apparently, the then Taoiseach had no prior knowledge about Sean Doherty’s phone-tapping activities. Vincent Browne subsequently had her as a guest on his radio programme, where he conducted a lawyerly cross-examination of both the lady and his other panellists in an effort to demonstrate that Mr Haughey had been wrongly forced from office.

Incidentally, Vincent’s approach that night could not have contrasted more starkly with his most unlawyerly performance a couple of weeks earlier when, seeming to lose his temper, he hotly declared that Brother David Gibson should simply “shut up”, rather than seek to question the volume of accusations being levelled against members of the Christian Brothers.

The Browne thesis appears to be that if Mr Haughey was forced to resign on a false premise then we, the court of public opinion, should be required to ignore all the subsequent evidence against him which emerged in the various tribunals of inquiry and the fact that he perjured himself there.

This lawyerly logic may make sense to Vincent Browne but it doesn’t cut much ice with me. I don’t know what impact Vincent’s support may be having on the opinions of the “undecided”, but I suspect it’s placing a serious question mark over the good judgement of the advocate.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent and in Vincent Browne's Village Magazine.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Protocol gone mad

The state funeral for Charles J Haughey has been explained on the grounds of protocol, which grants the right to such a ceremony to all ex-Taoisigh.

This presumably would an extract from the same protocol manual which sent then Taoiseach de Valera to the German embassy in 1945 to extend condolences, on behalf of the Irish people, on the death of Adolf Hitler.

For all his faults there is clearly no equivalence between Haughey and the nazi monster, but it does just illustrate that protocol can be a complete ass.

The missing comma

The Bailey brothers of Bovale Developments have made a tax settlement of €25m, believed to be the largest, so far, in the history of the state.

When publishing their regular list of settlements extracted from tax defaulters, the Revenue Commissioners should at least consider producing the list under the banner headline: “They have done the state some service”. Of course, in time that might be abbreviated to “They have done the state”.

There is an ongoing debate about what Charlie Haughey actually meant to say in his valedictory address to the Dail. Those who have seen his script say that there was actually a comma inserted after the word “State”, which would make much better sense of the actual quotation in the context of Haughey’s career and subsequent revelations at the various tribunals.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Time gentlemen, please.

The Irish Times regularly advertises “reader offers” and today they offer us an outdoor clock which digitally displays time, date and temperature.

The ad makes the following claim for the device: “This amazing clock is accurate to less than a second in a million years”, which prompts a couple of questions:

(1) How have the manufacturers validated this claim?

(2) How would I go about claiming a refund in, say, 500,000 years should the claim prove to be invalid?

I've directed the query to "Madam".

Haughey's Medici Complex

It is now widely recognised that Charles Haughey suffered from chronic Medici Complex.

Having attained the highest public office and greatly enriched himself and his family through its misuse, he then turned his considerable attention to leaving his mark indelibly on posterity.

Although a great admirer of Napoleon, a man of similar physical stature and humble background, Haughey immediately realised that a country of Ireland’s size would never be a major military power. He also recogised that the age of major expansion of national territory through military means was probably over, at least for his generation.

A classic poser, Haughey had also recognised that, both within and without Ireland, writing and other cultural activities are Ireland’s USP (unique selling proposition). A keen fan of Florentine political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli’s (1469-1527) “The Prince”, which had long been his operating manual for domestic politics, Haughey began to model himself on Cosimo de Medici (1389-1464), the founder of Florence’s Medici dynasty which was a major influence on Machiavelli’s philosophical and political thinking.

Indeed, Haughey may well have been influenced by the contemporary portrait of Cosimo de Medici by Jacopo Pontormo (above). You can see that the likeness is striking. As with all these medieval princes, Haughey believed the first duty of the state was to provide him with financial prosperity and personal ennoblement. The assets of the state were the perosnal assets of the prince, to be used as he saw fit. Having achieved great wealth and the highest political office in the land, CJH then set about, Maslow-style, creating his place in history.

The implementation of Haughey’s strategy to create a long-term historical legacy involved surrounding himself with pompous opinionated pontificators, such as minor poet Anthony Cronin, peppering his speeches with scripted cultural references and quotations, adopting a world-weary aloof demeanour and, most importantly, dispensing largesse to the artistic community, all funded at public rather than his own expense. And, of course, having a cabinet of gombeen gobdaws ensured that he was always a major contrast-gainer in that company.

Thus Aosdana was born, as was the Artist’s Tax Exemption which, in addition to being of benefit to struggling domestic artists, attracted such down-at-heel artists as Freddie Forsyth and Def Leppard to our shores - temporarily at least, until the major portion of royalties had been paid.

Other public monies went on a variety of vanity projects, including Dingle Harbour and Government Buildings. The former ensured him a welcome in the Kingdom even after his public disgrace while the latter was reputedly inspired by a visit to President Mitterand at the Elysee Palace and has become known to dubliners as The Chas Mahal.

It is difficult to convey in words how this complex manifested itself, but it was brilliantly illustrated by RTE's satirical radio programme Scrap Saturday. This regularly featured a sketch in which Haughey is reminiscing about his roots - he's always a descendant of mythic celtic warriors, greek philosophers or roman generals and emperors, why he's even related to the Japanese royal family through Hirohito Haughey.

RTE should replay those extracts as a tribute to the man and also as a wake-up call for all those misty-eyed eejits out there who think you should never speak ill of the dead!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Death of Charles Haughey

The death of Charles Haughey provides further proof of our almost endless capacity for hypocrisy as politicians and commentators who vilified Mr Haughey in life now queue up to find positive things to say about him in death.

The justification offered is often to do with the feelings of the family at this difficult time for them. However, we should not forget it was Mr Haughey who betrayed his wife with a very public affair over a period of three decades and that his family were, and continue to be, material financial beneficiaries of his extraordinary funding arrangements.

The anecdotes now filling the media tend to portray Mr Haughey as a loveable rogue, rather than the man who must bear most responsibility for the corruption that became almost endemic in the biggest political party in the state and, as revealed in the various tribunals, spread its
tentacles into many areas of public life and administration.

Whatever credit he may be due for some of his contributions to public life, his death should not now be a coat of whitewash for his misdeeds.

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

Gone but not forgiven - Charlie Haughey

In the Haughey biography you'll find that, as in the dictionary, Prostate Cancer came between a Jail Sentence and a State Funeral.

A great pity that he didn't follow Liam Lawlor's example and spend some of his later years in the Joy.

That Maths Paper

A great media kefuffle about the Leaving Cert Honours Maths paper which, apparently, was over-demanding on the logical skills of the students. Questions didn't come up in the sequence or format that teachers or students had expected, based on previous years exams.

Could this have been a secret Govt plot to reduce the number of women gaining maximum Leaving Cert points, filling all the medical places in college and then, when qualified, being unwilling to work the hours the public needs? It's well known that married women doctors want 9-5 jobs and are often unwilling to work as GPs or as hospital doctors outside "normal office hours".

Maths is a logical science, and it makes sense to test the logical ability of the candidate rather than their ability to simply memorise large numbers of formulae and solutions.

I suspect that girls are better at Rote Learning because, God knows, when they become women it's very hard to get a logical answer or response from them.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Learning to Reed & Rite

Today’s Irish Times carries a report on educational reform which opens with the sentence “Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has backed reform of the Leaving Cert, which would see less stress on rote learning and more on practical work”.

From some recent written evidence, with multiple incorrect spellings, it would seem that he himself has already instituted a change in “rite” learning.

Of course this may all be a simple misunderstanding of the Taoiseach's position. It may well be that he thinks “rote” is the past tense of “rite”.

What's the point of the new Garda Traffic Corps?

Driving from Rosslare to Dublin yesterday, it took one hour to get through Gorey at lunchtime, a distance of about one mile. This delay wasn’t the result of road works or an accident, it was just a normal day’s experience in this particular town. Needless to say, I didn’t see a single garda in that hour.

It would be unsurprising if many motorists subsequently exceeded the speed limit in an effort to make up for this lost time. It’s certainly unlikely that it helped improve tempers or road manners.

Does the much heralded Garda Traffic Corps have any responsibility for ensuring that traffic flows as smoothly as possible or are they just there to catch us when we break the law? Why is it that you almost never see a garda on point duty, unless there’s some politician or visiting dignitary being whisked through, while the rest of us are delayed in the national interest.

We have been reminded in recent months that Gardai spend two years learning their trade in Templemore. Is it that they now consider themselves over-qualified for point duty, or do they need to spend even longer in training school? It could be that organised crime is very active in Gorey, consuming all available garda resources, but I doubt it.

Hopefully the reservists will help to sort out the problem.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the irish Times, but with some unfortunate editing grammatical cock-ups. Also in the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner.

Which prompted the following note to the IT editor:

I have a query regarding my letter published on 8th June under the above heading.
Does you edit all the letters yourself or does you delegate the task?
Yours etc.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Turning up the heat on Michael Moore?

Published today in The Guardian, this article probably tell it like it is in making a Michael Moore mockumentary.

Fahrenheit £40m: armless soldier sues Moore for using his image in anti-war film
· Veteran says film wrongly showed him as war critic
· Lawyer claims footage was used without permission

Dan Glaister in Los Angeles
Friday June 2, 2006
The Guardian

It's a powerful moment in Michael Moore's anti-war film Fahrenheit 9/11. A young American soldier who lost his arms in a helicopter explosion is describing his injuries. The soldier, Sergeant Peter Damon, says he feels like he is being "crushed in a vice". Painkillers, he continues, "take a lot of the edge off of it".

The scene follows a clip showing the Democratic congressman Jim McDermott criticising the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. "You know, they say they're not leaving any veterans behind, but they're leaving all kinds of veterans behind," the politician says.

It bolsters the anti-war sentiments of the film, suggesting that Sgt Damon and others were abandoned by America's political leaders after sustaining horrific injuries in pursuit of a conflict about which many developed doubts.

But now Sgt Damon is suing the man who he says used footage of him without his permission and distorted his words. He never met Moore, or anyone from his production company, says the former soldier, who is claiming $75m (£40m) in damages for "loss of reputation, emotional distress, embarrassment, and personal humiliation".

Sgt Damon's wife is seeking an additional $10m in damages because of the mental distress caused to her husband.

The interview which appears in Moore's film was conducted by a prime-time news programme, NBC's Dateline, for a report about a new painkiller. The NBC report ends with the words: "These men, with catastrophic wounds are ... completely behind the war effort."

In his lawsuit, Sgt Damon alleges Moore misrepresented his words to make it appear he was critical of the war. He "agrees with and supports the president and the United States' war effort, and he was not left behind", he states.

"They took the clip because it was a gut-wrenching scene," Sgt Damon told the New York Post. "They sandwiched it in. [Moore] was using me as ammunition ... I was complaining about the pain I would've been having.
"I just want everybody to know what kind of a guy Michael Moore is, and what kind of film this is," he said.

Moore's film, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2004, became the biggest-grossing documentary in history, taking $222.5m at the box office worldwide.

Sgt Damon's lawyer, Dennis Lynch, said he had been struck by the soldier's story when he met him at a St Patrick's Day parade. "You see a man that has lost both his arms, is obviously disabled, a man that supports his country and the policy in Iraq, and you hear about his name and image being used in a manner that is contrary to everything he believes in. There's a lot of harm been done. Michael Moore took my client's good name and reputation and defamed him using WMD - weapons of mass defamation."

Mr Lynch said he had tried for more than a year to settle the complaint, but Moore and his lawyers rejected any negotiation. "We didn't just rush to court with this," he said.
Sgt Damon, 33, knew nothing about his appearance in Fahrenheit 9/11 until a friend of his in hospital greeted him one day with the words: "Hey, movie star".

The soldier did make a subsequent appearance on camera, but it was in the anti-Michael Moore film Fahrenhype 9/11. Addressing Moore through the camera, he says: "You know you've lied in making this movie. You know you lied in my case, you know you lied in a whole lot of other cases."

"I was ecstatic when I saw that he was suing Michael Moore," said the Farenhype 9/11 director, Alan Peterson.

Neither NBC nor Moore obtained a release form from Sgt Damon giving permission for them to use his image. NBC is named in Sgt Damon's lawsuit, as are the producers of Fahrenheit 9/11, Miramax and LionsGate films and companies involved in the distribution of the film. None of the companies would comment on the lawsuit. Moore did not return messages requesting comment.
According to Peterson, Sgt Damon's experience is typical of the subjects in Moore's films. "We went through Michael Moore's film and looked at the people he interviewed and asked them if they felt they had been fairly treated," he said. "More often than not they didn't know they had been interviewed for the film."

Peterson said others might well come forward with claims against Moore. "It wouldn't surprise me if this rippled through Michael Moore's other films," he said, "because his modus operandi hasn't changed. Michael Moore and Miramax made a ton of money off these people. It will be interesting to see how the courts view that.

"I hope it sends a message to film-makers that we have to be careful. The idea that there is objectivity in film-making is ridiculous.
"I hope this helps people understand that when you watch something you have to be aware of where it's coming from."

Re-trying Derry O'Rourke?

Derry O’Rourke, the former national swimming coach, was convicted 8 years ago of raping 12 under-age girls who were in his charge as a swimming coach.

A caller to RTE’s Liveline today said she had been sexually abused by Derry O'Rourke. She said that he was prosecuted on sample charges for the offences against her, but that he had, in fact, also abused her on many other occasions.

In that situation, could O'Rourke now be charged with new offences for other specific assaults on this woman, other than those which were the sample charges in the original case?

If this is possible, could it also be a mechanism to re-try other offenders who are now being released? The use of such sample charges rather than an exhaustive list of every criminal act is quite a common procedure.

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