Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Does God Exist?

Firstly let me record my profound thanks to William Reville for replacing me, temporarily at least, as the hate figure on the letters page of the Irish Times.

I didn’t see his original article on the existence of God but it certainly has provoked a long and heated response from the atheist science section of the letter-writing crank population.

The reaction to William Reville's article suggests that fundamentalist non-believers have much in common with fundamentalist believers and both need to learn the same lesson : that tolerance is a virtue, not a weakness.

It’s amusing really because, while proving the existence of God is indeed a hugely challenging task, proving his non-existence is actually impossible. Worthy of a Nobel Prize, no doubt.

Yet science has always been willing to allow itself the luxury of unprovable hypotheses.

The existence of the Universe is explained by the Big Bang Theory, but science is unable to say what, or who, caused the Big Bang to occur and where the original matter, which now constitutes the ever-expanding universe as we know it, came from.

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

The Baths Saga - Interim review

My provocative assessment of the situation regarding redevelopment of the Baths site (Irish Times Aug 17th) has prompted, to date, 4 published responses - most of them robust and all of them disagreeing with my position. Two of those responses came from the protestor side of the debate, the other two came respectively from the executive and political wings of the local county council.
I’ve documented below some key quotes from each letter, in the order in which they were published.

DYLAN TIGHE (Aug 24th) “I can guarantee Mr Molloy that 99% of those present were regular and enthusiastic patrons of the baths. …….The fact is that we all used the baths, both winter and summer, and call for it to be reopened once again”

BOB WADDELL, Sandycove & Glasthule Baths Action Group (Aug 26th)
“Let us not forget that the massive protests by many thousands of our citizens were against the handing over of what is a public amenity site to private developers for an eight-storey luxury apartment complex.”

OWEN P KEEGAN, County Manager, DLRCoCo (Aug 25th) “we will shortly be engaging consultants to prepare proposals for a major environmental/amenity improvement scheme covering the area between the East Pier and Sandycove. The overall objective will be to create a world class amenity for our own residents and visitors to enjoy.”

“I do not wish to underestimate the likely difficulties in financing whatever project emerges or to discourage funding from outside agencies. However, it remains my view that the true measure of the value of a project to the council is the extent to which the council is prepared to invest its own money to ensure its completion!”

Cllr JOHN BAILEY (Aug 30th) “The suggestion that the project be funded exclusively from council and port revenue is impractical.”
“There is wide acceptance that these grounds should be kept in public ownership and anyone who doubts that special funding from central Government is needed for the project should study the Indecon Review of local government financing.”

For the protest representatives, Dylan Tighe guarantees that the 99% of the protestors (numbered at 3,000+ by chief organiser Richard Boyd Barret on his website) were regular and enthusiastic users of the baths, while Bob Waddell seems to differ discretely, pointedly reminding us that the protest was against the use of the site for an 8-storey apartment development.

For the council, the County Manager doesn’t wish “to discourage funding from outside agencies” but clearly envisages the council having to fund most if not all of any development. This is dismissed by Cllr Bailey as “impractical” and he insists that special funding from Central Government will be needed.

The positions outlined above clearly demonstrate that what exists between the parties above could not be described as a shared consensus view. The protagonists may well have achieved a cease-fire but they certainly don’t have a treaty.

In addition, the proposed employment of consultants is a classic ploy for dealing with hot political potatoes. It allows the problem to be long-fingered and passes the monkey to a supposedly neutral 3rd party. That status can then be used as cover when some of the current participants dislike whatever recommendations eventually emerge.

It is also clear that there is no guarantee of finance for whatever option or options are recommended. This alone will tend to hamstring the consultants, who presumably will want to produce feasible proposals, yet have no indicative budget to work with.

And if there’s enough resistance, the consultants report can be more easily shelved than something developed by the council itself.
You could wallpaper Leinster House with the pages of unimplemented recommendations from the many consultants reports commissioned by Government over the past decade.

And even then - do you "harbour" any doubts about the County Council's ability to develop and manage an agreed solution? Consider the following:

The County Manager also says that “The overall objective will be to create a world class amenity for our own residents and visitors to enjoy.”
Dun Laoghaire already enjoys such an amenity - the harbour. In particular, the East Pier is enjoyed by walkers of all shapes sizes and ages throughout the year. People come from a wide catchment area to “walk the pier”, some strolling, some power-walking. Some are pushing buggies, others pushing wheel-chairs. Dogs, wives and husbands are all walked on the pier.
There is a public toilet located on the East Pier and its maintenance is the responsibility of DLRCoCo..

This toilet has been locked up for several months now. Yet there is no notice to
  • apologise for the inconvenience caused
  • advise patrons of the reasons for closure
  • indicate a date for reopening
  • provide directions to alternative facilities.

Is this an example of how the council believes you manage a “world class amenity”?

Finally, with regard to the baths site, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Frankly, I’d prefer to be eating humble pie in a couple of years time, rather than saying “I told you so!”.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Penalty Points System

In the interests of road safety, I’ll get penalty points if I forget to fasten my seat belt or I use my mobile phone while driving.

But if I fail my driving test, I can just hop back into the car and continue driving unaccompanied without being penalised.

Does this make any sense or am I just slow?

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent.

Monday, August 28, 2006

O'Leary v. The Crown

A short letter in the Irish Examiner that made me laugh:

IS there any truth in the rumour that Ryanair is suing the British government for 99 pence, but that taxes, fees and ‘other related charges’ have driven the real figure up to £3 million?

If this ever comes to court, which is probably unlikely, the lawyers fees could well come to more than £3m!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Blondes do have more fun!

Mayo 1-16 - Dublin 2-12

I watched the All Ireland semi-final on tv this afternoon, most of it through my fingers. Particularly the Dublin blitz at the start of the second half which left them seven points ahead, when I was sure that we were in for a humiliating hiding.

By some miracle Mayo came back to win the match by a single point. So blondes do have more fun! I watched the highlights (pun intended) later on RTE in a much more relaxed state of mind and Mayo won again!

Having lived in Dublin for over 40 years, more than 80% of my life, I’m surprised at my own affinity to my home county and my complete lack of interest in the fortunes of Dublin, even when they’re not playing Mayo. Proof perhaps that you can take the man out of the bog but you can’t take the bog out of the man.

Having watched the RTE highlights programme, I went channel hopping and ended up watching Film 4 which was showing Jack Nicholson in “As good as it gets”. I just hope that wasn’t an omen for next month’s final against Kerry.

Up Mayo!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Dun Laoghaire Plage - a modest proposal

(Click image to enlarge)
The French invention of “Paris Plage” 200 kilometres from the sea has prompted me to propose “Dun Laoghaire Plage" as a possible local solution.

The Proposal

This involves the construction of a new breakwater linking the baths to the back of the East Pier - possibly at the location of the “geographical pointer” there. The breakwater would require some type of sluice gate and/or pumping mechanism to both maintain a desired water level inside the breakwater and the ability to refresh the water periodically to maintain water quality.

The newly enclosed area would now be filled with a beach, made of imported sand, and a relatively shallow lagoon. The enclosed nature of the construction means that the area of beach available to the public will be constant as it is not subject to tidal fluctuations. Also the depth and expanse of enclosed water will also be constant. This should provide a greater degree of safety for users.

The orientation and layout of the artificial beach are important considerations: that section of sea-front backing onto Queens Road is effectively north-facing and thus the least attractive from a sun-bathing perspective. (This problem also impacts on the amenity attractiveness of the baths) The artificial beach backing onto the new breakwater will be south-facing and get the most exposure to direct sun, while the section backing onto the East Pier is east-facing and will get good morning sun, but no evening sun.

The proposed Plage should provide at least twice the maximum area of beach available at Sandycove, without the periodic tidal incursions. The breakwater could be constructed so as to facilitate sea swimming from the seaward side of the construction.

It should be relatively straightforward to create café, shop & toilet facilities to the rear of the East Pier (there are currently fenced off shelters there), perhaps augmented by a Liffey-style boardwalk. More sophisticated dining and leisure facilities could be provided in the old baths premises, the objective being to provide an integrated leisure complex which can accommodate all the family, and families of varying means.

The addition of a beach and a safe swimming/paddling area would significantly increase the attractiveness of the overall amenity. The use/function of the old swimming pools and premises would need to be reviewed in light of the expanded adjoining swimming facility.

Ongoing Maintenance

Maintenance of the area - both in terms of cleanliness, facilities and ambience (e.g. no public drinking, loud music etc.) will be critical to the success of the complex. The Council might consider imposing a modest entry charge which would pay for cleaning, security & maintenance staff, while hopefully discouraging undesirable elements. This income would also be supplemented from rents from concession holders within the complex.

Paris Plage only operates for the summer months and there’s no reason why DLRCoCo might not consider operating Dun Laoghaire Plage on, say a six-monthly basis - April to September at least in the initial years. Allowing the area to “flood” while closed would ensure that it didn’t become an eyesore during that period.

Demand for the beach element will be largely driven by weather considerations and winter storms might well make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain the artificial beach on a year-round basis. In addition, it would be desirable to provide some form of covered shelter to cater for our sometimes unpredictable summer weather.

Role of the Harbour Company?

Clearly this particular “Plage” proposal involves use of a section of the East Pier so could not progress without the approval and involvement of the Harbour Company.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour is the major landmark for the town and probably it’s most used public amenity. People come from a wide catchment area “to walk the pier”. The amenities - café, shops etc provided for the Plage could also be used by pier walkers, thus materially enhancing that amenity.

The Harbour Police could be used to provide security on the Plage, thus maintaining the high standard of the facility.

If the Plage was to be developed in conjunction with the Carlisle Pier proposals, it might well help to deflect some of the public objections to that particular development. Particularly if part-funding of the Plage development and/or its ongoing maintenance were linked to the revenue streams from the Carlisle Pier development.

Benefits to Dun Laoghaire

The proximity of the proposed Plage to the town centre should be beneficial to trade there.

Existing beaches at Sandycove and Seapoint are too far removed from the commercial centre, and the former is too small, to be of material benefit. The numbers using Sandycove on sunny days would suggest a significant demand for such a facility, particularly for young families.

The provision of this amenity should revive some of the tourist trade in the town. There was a time when there were several small hotels on the seafront, though current property values suggest that a return to that situation is highly unlikely.


I am not is a position to cost this proposal, but the breakwater and artificial beach elements seem like a “modest proposal”.

The actual construction cost should not be too great and the ongoing maintenance would probably pose the biggest financial challenge to the local council. Partnering with the Harbour Company would obviously make financial sense if that was feasible.

The renovation/conversion of the old baths complex is likely to require a greater investment and might be left to a "phase 2" period of the overall development until the "Plage" has proven it's drawing power.

The Empire Strikes Back

Well at least I'm getting their attention, this is published in today's Irish Times. Mind you, the employment of consultants is the classic way for politicians to deal with any hot potato. You could wallpaper Government Buildings with the various unimplemented consultants reports commissioned over the past couple of years.
That said, I like the tone of Owen Keegan's apparent commitment and he is a man who comes with a reputation for getting things done - even if he became a hate figure for Dublin motorists. Time will tell. I wonder if this would be a good time to pitch "Dun Laoghaire Plage" to him? Maybe not.

Madam, - Peter Molloy (August 17th ) is mistaken in his view that "last year's protests have scared local politicians and the county council is unlikely to propose any new initiative for fear of another backlash. Consequently we could be faced with years if not decades of inaction on this bricked up and derelict eyesore on the seafront ."
On the contrary, we will shortly be engaging consultants to prepare proposals for a major environmental/amenity improvement scheme covering the area between the East Pier and Sandycove. The overall objective will be to create a world class amenity for our own residents and visitors to enjoy. We envisage a facility in keeping with the world class setting and incorporating the S2S - Sandycove to Sutton Promenade and Cycleway project. The development will also be consistent with the recommendations of the council's baths subcommittee. Any new proposals will of course be put out to public consultation.
I do not wish to underestimate the likely difficulties in financing whatever project emerges or to discourage funding from outside agencies.
However, it remains my view that the true measure of the value of a project to the council is the extent to which the council is prepared to invest its own money to ensure its completion! - Yours, etc,
OWEN P KEEGAN, County Manager, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A shot across my baths!

The following letter is published in today’s Irish Times. This is what you'd call a robust rebuttal of my last published contribution on Dun Laoghaire Baths and a fine example of the old adage that attack is the best means of defence.

I defend Mr Tighe’s right to indulge in sweeping generalisation (while I question the veracity) and his use of very robust language, mainly because I indulge in such things myself. Bear in mind that the SWP organisers claim that over 3,000 participated in their protest march on June 12th, so 99% of that would be 2,970+. I suspect that we're seeing yet another incidence of the dreaded "Bewley's Syndrome".

In fact I particularly like the pithy construction of his sentence “This is a stunningly ignorant conclusion and a complete fabrication” and will be looking for an opportunity to employ it myself on some other topic in the future.

Madam, - Peter Molloy (August 17th) says it is a sad fact that most of the middle-class people who protested against the planned development for the site of DúLaoghaire Baths had probably never used the baths when they were open.
Probably indeed! As one of the aforementioned middle-class from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown with wide contacts and ties with my community I can guarantee Mr Molloy that 99 per cent of those present were regular and enthusiastic patrons of the baths. One would have to be living in total seclusion not to know that in the local area.
This is a stunningly ignorant conclusion and a complete fabrication.
The fact is that we all used the baths, both winter and summer, and call for it to be reopened once again as Dublin's, and possibly Europe's, only outdoor public seaweed baths.
(In fact, many of the older protesters first learned to swim there under the renowened teacher Mr Gillespie.)
The revenue from tourism alone would more than help assuage the financial fantasies of the council, who, as witnessed by the protests, have acted in a thoroughly selfish and anti-democratic fashion.
How many times would those same councillors use the baths? As many times as Mr Molloy I suspect - zero! - Yours, etc,
DYLAN TIGHE, Aubrey Park, Shankill, Co Dublin.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Little Paris" - I don't think so!

Recent reports of drunk and disorderly anti-social behaviour on the “parisienne-style” Liffey boardwalk will hardly come as a surprise to anyone who spends much time in town, particularly in the evening hours. The prevalence of public drinking of cans of beer and the apparent indifference of the gardai to this activity must inevitably lead to such situations arising, albeit in a minority of cases.

About a month ago, on a Friday night, my wife took me to see “A Constant Wife” in the Gate Theatre. (I still don’t know what point she was trying to make.) We took the DART to Connolly station, arriving at about 7.15pm, and walked up Talbot St and O’Connell St to the theatre, a distance of about one mile. En route we passed several groups of alfresco beer drinkers at that early hour, but not a single garda was seen.

Leaving the theatre at about 10.30pm, we encountered even more public drinkers, some of them now extending white polystyrene coffee cup begging bowls as we passed. It wasn’t aggressive begging but it was off-putting. The plinths of the newly installed Barry Flanagan Rabbit sculptures have provided more bench-space for these activities.

We quickly decided against having a drink in town and headed back to the DART by the same route. Again, we didn’t see a single garda on our walk. I noted that the Kylemore Café and the adjoining Beshoff’s were already closed at this relatively early hour. We saw no violence or even a row, but the combination of elements made it an uncomfortable location and suggested that it wouldn’t take much to spark an incident.

Considerable disruption has been endured and a small fortune spent on attempting to convert O’Connell St into our very own Champs-Elysées. However, unless steps are taken to curtail the anti-social activities of some it’s denizens, it’s going to remain a no-go area at night for most sensible sections of the population.

I hate to think what visitors must make of it.

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

Monday, August 21, 2006

Cetic Tiger or Paper Tiger?

This photo, published in the Irish Times on 1st August, shows the Taoiseach and Tanaiste emerging from a special cabinet meeting in Avondale, Parnell's former home in Co Wicklow.

My Aunt Vyvyenne has drawn it to my attention with the comments that Bertie looks like he's been dressed by Oxfam while Mary might easily pass as the representative of the People's Republic of China.

How can people be so critical?

(Click on image to enlarge)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Men's Liberation

Hats off to Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company and/or Stena Line.

Taking a pee in the gents at the ferry terminal today, I noticed a strange contraption attached to the wall.

Closer inspection revealed it to be a fold-down baby-changing table.

John Waters and I have been campaigning for such facilities for years, though I have no intention of ever using the thing.

A second observation:

Washing my hands, I noticed that the adjacent vending machine dispensed a variety of items - from mints to condoms.

I couldn't help wondering how often has some drunk wanting mints emerged with a packet of condoms, and vice versa?

Bono & the Tax System

Pity poor old Bono - he spends half his life working to relieve poverty and disease in the third world and, in an instant, his tax advisers have people calling for his head. Personally, I’d give him a “get out of jail free” card for his all good works, though I might be less well disposed towards the other fat cat members of the U2 corporation.

What we seem to forget is that, in a democratic society, the taxation system is the main mechanism for the redistribution of wealth. We don’t just pay taxes so that the road system can expand to accommodate our ever increasing number of cars, or for extra gardai and prison places to keep the proletariat in their place, or to keep government ministers in shiny new mercs each year. We also pay tax so that those in need can be supported, either directly through payments or indirectly through the provision of support services. The tax system also funds the national contribution to third world aid.

Aggressive tax-avoidance has to be recognised as anti-social behaviour, yet it is practiced by many of our wealthiest and most prominent citizens. Indeed, some of our most notable worthies claim to be non-resident for tax purposes, despite their presence at every dog-fight and dance here.

In his Irish Times column this week, Vincent Browne highlights the ludicrous situation where hospitals are dependent on charity to provide essential services which should be properly funded from the public purse. It’s easy to find lots of other examples e.g. run-down schools, over-crowded prisons, lack of affordable nursing home places etc..

Tax avoidance may not be a crime but neither is it victimless. Provided the taxation system is relatively fair and the administration is not overly corrupt, we all have a duty to contribute our fair share to the community chest of public funds.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent (twice by mistake!) & the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

3rd World Twinning

This morning, Ryan Tubridy interviewed 3 Irish entrepreneurs who had visited Africa recently with Goal. The objective was for each man to identify an opportunity and help set up a business for local benefit.

I sent him the following email which he aired. I had originally suggested the idea about 12-18 months ago to a group associated with helping East Timor but they don't seem to have progressed it.

As you drive into any town in Ireland, you see the signs that tell you that this town is twinned with a community in France, Germany, USA etc..

I’ve always wondered why Concern, Trocaire, Goal etc haven’t set up a similar twinning programme with communities in the 3rd world. Wouldn’t it be great to see those signs on our roadsides?

Your interview with the entrepreneurs illustrate some of the benefits and skills that could be transferred. In addition to obvious fund-raising programmes, there are all sorts of exchange programmes that could benefit both communities. Even transition-year students (suitably supervised) could be involved in support programmes which would greatly benefit their own personal development as well as the 3rd world communities they are assisting.

For the Special Olympics towns and communities around Ireland acted as hosts to visiting athletes and their families. They did a fantastic job and the “host town” signs are still up around Ireland.

This suggests that there is a large appetite out there to do something tangible to help - but people need the organisational structure to get it moving.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Development in Dun Laoghaire

Following the publication of my post of 31st July as a letter in the Irish Times, it drew the following response from the Harbour Company, published 8th August, which is followed by my response, also published in the Irish Times on 17th August.


Peter Molloy's interesting suggestion (August 1st) that the redevelopment of the public baths in Dun Laoghaire should be funded from the profits of Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company unfortunately ignores the commercial realities which the harbour company has to deal with every day.
His conclusion that the company is highly profitable is based on his analysis of its published annual accounts for 2002, which show a profit after tax for the year of €2.5 million. The harbour company's after-tax profit in 2005 was €2.7 million - a growth rate which has failed to keep pace with inflation in the intervening period. There is one very obvious reason for this: the decline in passenger numbers through the ferry terminal. In 2002 ferry passenger numbers amounted to 1,015,000; in 2005 the figure was 851,000.
Over the same period the company has had to deal with the rising cost of maintaining and repairing the harbour. The recent refurbishment of the lower level of the East Pier, for example, cost about €3 million. Work which is about to begin on repairs to the structures of both the East and West Piers will cost more than €10 million. The harbour company spends about €3 million a year on the conservation of the historic harbour as a public facility to be enjoyed by this and future generations - and it is committed to doing so for the foreseeable future without recourse to the taxpayer.
As we are a state commercial company which receives no funding from the State, we have to rely on our profits to generate the funds necessary to carry out this work.
This is why the company is pursuing new sources of revenue. The marina and the Crofton Road development are two very obvious examples of this. We expect the redevelopment of Carlisle Pier to be another. The company cannot contemplate the redevelopment of the pier without the realistic expectation that it will generate a reasonable profit.
Unfortunately, the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company is not now and is unlikely, for the foreseeable future, to be able to contribute from its profits to the redevelopment of the public baths by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council. However, the company does contribute €700,000 a year in commercial rates to the council. In addition, it contributes about €1 million a year to the State in corporation tax and VAT. Both figures are likely to grow substantially when Carlisle Pier is redeveloped.
This company already makes a substantial and growing financial contribution to the Exchequer and the county council. If the recipients of those contributions were to direct them towards the redevelopment of the public baths, most reasonable people would see this as a sensible and appropriate use of funds generated by Dun Laoghaire's waterfront. - Yours, etc,
MICHAEL HANAHOE, Chief Executive, Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company

My response, published 17th August:


Having been abroad, I’ve just seen Michael Hanahoe’s response (8th August) to my suggestion (1st August) regarding the possibility of cross-funding Dun Laoghaire Baths from the successful Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company. It is indeed nice to see an all too rare example in these Celtic Tiger times of the once popular irish tradition of “an beal botch“.

However, as chief executive of the Harbour Company, his desire to quickly insert a forty-foot pole between his company and the financial white elephant of a re-instituted public baths is entirely understandable. If the baths are re-opened in their current format they will continue to lose money. It’s a sad fact that most of the middle-classes who protested last year had probably never used the baths when they were open and will never use them if they’re re-opened.

However, a decision on the future of the baths is required and it is ultimately a political one. If the baths are deemed to need an ongoing subsidy then this must be provided from either local or central government funds. If neither is willing to commit to such a subvention, then the baths should be demolished to allow continuous public access along the seafront and/or the site to be used for some commercial purpose.

Last year’s protests have scared local politicians and the County Council is unlikely to propose any new initiative for fear of another backlash. Consequently, we could be faced with years, if not decades, of inaction on this bricked-up and derelict eyesore in a prominent location on Dun Laoghaire seafront.

The Harbour Company, on the other hand, has displayed a willingness to take commercial decisions and risk public disfavour, as exemplified by the selection of one of the less-favoured designs for the Carlisle Pier development.

If a commercially viable solution is required, then it might make sense to transfer ownership of the baths to the Harbour Company with a mandate to effect the necessary changes, even if Mr Hanahoe doesn’t want this particular political and financial monkey.

Regards etc..

The PDs bite back!

Following publication of my entry of 31st July in the Indo, the PDs had a response published on 10th August, which I reproduce below. This is followed by my own response to the PD rebuttal.

I read with interest Peter Molloy's 'A Prayer for the poor PD's' (Letters, August 4) with some amusement. It is a long time since I have seen the word gombeen used in Irish political discourse; in fact I am sure in fact that many of your younger readers will have no idea what it means. When I was growing up it referred to a style of politics dominated by personality politics and clientalism.
It is clear from Mr Molloy's letter that he is himself is a practitioner of this style of politics as all his criticisms of the Progressive Democrats are focused on issues of personality rather than issues of policy. I had thought that we as a society had moved beyond such a trivial analysis of political matters.
Mr Molloy appears to believe that Tom Parlon is a gombeen politician. I had the pleasure recently of seeing Minister Parlon chair a meeting of farmers in his own constituency. During the meeting a suggestion was made from the floor on a matter of policy which was to say the least impracticable. The response of any Gombeen politician would have been to make soothing noises, promise to raise the issue at the highest level etc. The Minister did not give that response he said straight out it was a bad idea, and why it was a bad idea. Straight talk is not the mark of a Gombeen politician.
Mr Molloy appears to believe that Minister McDowell is unfit for office because he lost his temper, and that he has become "increasingly belligerent".
No one would claim that Minister McDowell is a shy, shrinking violet, but then again who would want a shrinking violet as Minster for Justice?
Minister McDowell had the courage to stand up to Sinn Fein when the overwhelming consensus was that a blind eye should be turned to their crimes, when see no evil seemed to be the public motto. Nor has he been afraid to push through vital reforms in law enforcement in the face of concerted opposition from powerful vested interests. His judgement has been questioned, but more often vindicated.
When Minister McDowell lost his temper, he made a full and gracious apology on the floor of the house; if it was good enough for Richard Bruton surely it should be good enough for Mr Molloy.
Minister McDowell is a refreshing change, a politician who knows his mind and is unafraid to speak it in a forthright and fearless fashion.
Finally, Mr Molloy has the absolute temerity to question Tanaiste's competence.
There can be no doubt that the single greatest challenge facing the Irish political system is the provision of a proper Healthcare system for the Irish people. Irish taxpayers are paying for a world class Healthcare system and Minister Mary Harney is working both hard and smart to make sure they get one.
It is a huge challenge; indeed it is the largest change management exercise in the history of the State. I know of no other politician who would have either the courage to accept the task, let alone to deliberately seek it out, or the skill to bring it to a successful conclusion.
Progress is being made, slowly and painfully perhaps, but real progress nonetheless. The Tanaiste is a woman of acute intelligence, great political skill, and no little compassion. All attributes she will need to deliver the promise of a world class Health Service. I have no doubt she will do so.
On one point only do I agree with Mr Molloy, the fate of the Progressive Democrats (and indeed of every politician in Dail Eireann ) lies in the hands of God and the Irish people. To God I commend our souls and the souls of all in politics, to the Irish people I commend the Progressive Democrats.


My response emailed Sunday 13th August

Dear Sir,

I refer to Seamus Mulconry‘s response (10th August) on behalf of the PDs to my earlier analysis (4th August) of the party’s situation. I doubt your readers required his help in understanding the meaning of “gombeen politics”. They only have to think “Parlon Country” to conjure up an appropriate image of self-serving cute-hoorism. It’s not a question of intelligence or competence, it’s a question of how those attributes are applied.

Mr Mulconry offers a robust defence of Michael McDowell, a man of undoubted ability and intelligence. However, the minister’s outburst against Richard Bruton was only the latest in a series of gaffes which place serious question-marks over his political judgement. Other include the highly controversial provision of confidential garda information on the Columbia Three case to a selected journalist and a series of high-profile policy u-turns forced on him by his government colleagues, most recently the decision to legalise gambling clubs.

Finally, Mr Mulconry has the brass-neck to accuse me of having “the absolute temerity to question the Tanaiste's competence” as, in my letter of 4th August, I stated that “few people doubt her integrity or work ethic, but her competence is now being called into question by her apparent inability to achieve significant improvement in the health service or to break the hold of the powerful vested interests - the consultants, nurses etc - in that service.”

If Mr Mulconry thinks that the public and the media are already declaring the Tanaiste's tenure a success in the Health arena, then I suspect that he needs to do more research in his role as PD Director of Policy.

Regards etc.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

How is it in your ideal world?

Our daily lives are highly complex affairs, though we rarely recognise that fact.

We interact with a myriad of people - family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and strangers. Some interactions are planned, many are unplanned. We have prepared responses and we are also required to make many off-the-cuff responses.

We make good decisions, imperfect decisions and outright mistakes.

The good decisions may often involve the telling of lies, the use of flattery, the biting of tongues, the deliberate avoidance of the perceived truth.

The sub-optimal decisions are generally, though not always, arrived at without malice. We misjudge other people’s motivation or needs. We’re in a hurry. We’re not interested. We’ve already made our mind up. We’re deliberately provoked. We lack or lose patience. We act on imperfect or incomplete information or knowledge. We react to what has been done or said by the other party, or pre-empting what we expect as their contribution/reaction, or seeking to settle an old score. We act on something we’ve been told by a third party, which proves to be incorrect.

Sometimes the problem arises because the other party misunderstands what we mean to express or our intent, for good or ill, and an unexpected and unpredicted scenario develops. They arrive at our interaction with their own set of possible inputs and outcomes, so it’s fraught with a double dose of potential for misunderstanding.

Our daily lives are filled with such situations. Depending on how they are evolving before our eyes we make a number of decisions. We change tack. We bite our tongue. We compromise. We attack. We retreat. We kiss and make up. We shut up. We listen. We learn. We apologise. We walk away. Whatever.

Our own lives are a microcosm of national and international politics, but thankfully most of us are only burdened with a fraction of the potential complexities.

Media commentators have lives that are equally complicated. Indeed, with wealth, fame and the circles they move in, they probably have ample opportunity to complicate their lives even more.

Yet put them in front of a microphone and the same media people allow no such ambiguities. They offer black and white analysis of some imaginary black and white world that simply doesn’t exist and has never existed - for us or for them. They demand yes/no answers. They not only want definitive answers and explanations to existing problems and situations, but they want answers to hypothetical future situations - “what will you do if….” etc.. Often these hypothetical scenarios have the potential to exacerbate an already overheated situation if the response is seen or heard by the opposing party to the dispute under discussion.

The media make it virtually impossible for politicians to do what we do every day in our own lives - change their mind, compromise etc.. And, God help us, most politicians seem to collude in this nonsense.

Whatever chance exists to resolve international disputes, I suspect that the role of the media is definitely a double-edged sword. How would any of us, or our relationships, survive if we were forced to endure the equivalent of scrutiny by 24-hour reality TV but with the added twist that we were also subjected to constant interrogation, often of a speculative nature? With everyone you know and don’t know watching.

It's time to call a halt!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

King of the Pygmies

On Channel 4 News tonight, Sir Christopher Meyer was a contributor on the steps necessary to resolve the overall problem in the Middle East.

In response to one of the other contributors who made the point that both Hamas and Hizbollah are dedicated to the destruction of Israel, Meyer made reference to the lessons learnt in the Northern Ireland peace process and pointed out that the constitution of the Republic of Ireland laid claim to the territory of Northern Ireland.

That Meyer saw this as being relevant to the situation in the Middle East shows a shallowness of thinking that is breath-taking. The Republic of Ireland never made, or even threatened, any effort by force to put that territorial claim into effect. The contrast with both the words and the actions of Israel’s neighbours could hardly be greater.

When this man was UK ambassador in Washington, there were clearly more pygmies running about than those identified in his memoirs!

No heroes in Lebanon

Israel bombards Lebanon, attempting to avoid killing civilians but failing.

Hizbollah bombards Israel, attempting to kill civilians but failing.

A plague on both their houses.

Footnote: Published as a leter in the Irish Independent.

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