Tuesday, October 31, 2006

For Fawkes Sake

Justice Minister Michael McDowell has been issuing dire warnings about the penalties for those caught attempting to import illegal fireworks from Northern Ireland, including the confiscation of cars.
Meanwhile, garda spokesmen have been quoted in broadcast media all day yesterday and today warning of arrests and fines for anyone caught with fireworks.

McDowell’s warnings prompted the following letter (not one of mine) in Monday’s Irish Times, while the whole night tonight has been filled with sound and light as two fingers have been given to the law by the younger population of the borough.

Madam, - I note Minister for Justice Michael McDowell's statement that customs officers have the power to confiscate cars carrying fireworks across the Border. Does this apply if you are driving an old banger? - Yours, etc, M.Kelly

Law for the little people

In today’s Irish Examiner (“de paper”) Harry McGee reports that Transport Minister Martin Cullen has backed Gay Byrne’s criticisms of lenient treatment of speeding drivers by the courts.

Has either man commented publicly on the Taoiseach’s response to recent media claims that his official car exceeded the speed limit? Bertie Ahern’s comment that he was merely a passenger was hypocritical and arrogant.

This isn’t the first time the Taoiseach or one of his ministers have demonstrated their belief that the law only applies to the little people.

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

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The cost of land.

We have one of the least densely populated countries in Europe and yet we also have among the highest land prices. This defies logic until you factor in the zoning and planning laws which can turn landowners into multi-millionaires overnight.

The inflated value of development land has enriched landowners, impoverished house buyers and significantly increased the risk of corruption in the planning system.

The controversy over the cost of land for the new prison at Thornton Hall, at c. €200k per acre, surely suggests that it’s time we tried looking at this through the other end of the telescope.

Instead of incremental rezonings to meet anticipated demand for housing and commercial development, which are open to all sorts of political and financial chicanery, we should be rezoning large swathes of the country with the deliberate objective of creating a significant oversupply of land zoned for residential and commercial purposes.

For example, it might become policy to rezone all land within a certain radius of all towns and villages, with specific exclusions for existing public amenities, heritage and cultural sites etc..

The immediate effect of this oversupply should be to significantly reduce the cost of a site, while concentrating future development in clusters around existing population centres. Availability of more affordable sites should alleviate the demand, with consequent political pressure, for ribbon-development. It should also increase the incidence of one-off houses, providing greater variety in the housing stock and, hopefully, removing the anomaly of “town-house” estates in the middle of nowhere.

The creation of an oversupply of rezoned land should not result in a significantly increased number of houses actually being built - normal market supply/demand factors should take care of that.

The benefits to the house purchaser are clear - far greater choice of location and significantly reduced site costs.

Such a policy would have limited benefit in Dublin, given the scarcity of available land. But expansion of development opportunities in the commuter belt and improved affordability would presumably have some knock-on impact on house/site prices.

The only downside I see is the potential cost of provision of water, sewage and electricity services and there might be a need to revise the regulations regarding provision of some of these services. And, of course, the distress caused to those who currently hold development land of hugely inflated paper value, whose bubble would be burst.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Celtic Pimple

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder has just published his memoirs “Decisions: My Life in Politics”. As the leader of one of the most influential countries in the EU from 1998 to 2005 and a committed European, he must rank as a key observer of the political scene during that period.

We Irish like to think that we exercise a disproportionate weight within the EU, with Bertie Ahern credited in our media with almost superhuman powers of negotiation and conciliation. The last Irish presidency achieved agreement on two highly contentious issues, the draft EU Constitution and the EU Commission presidency. Bertie Ahern was feted in the Irish media as the “Negotiator Supreme”. The Irish media told us of the standing ovations from his fellow premiers which greeted each of his triumphs.

How strange then that Bertie doesn’t rate even a single mention in the Schroder memoirs, much of which are devoted to European and EU politics.

Perhaps it’s an appropriate wake-up call to remind us that the “Celtic Tiger” economy actually represents only 1% of the overall EU economy. The reality is that we’re only the pimple on the backside of the EU economy and our politicians should stop deluding us that everyone else in Europe is looking at us with envy and to us for leadership on how to build a successful economy.

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

The following letter in response published in the irish Independent:

I was perplexed to read Peter Molloy's attempt to link the fact that Bertie has not appeared in Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's memoirs with the notion that Ireland does not have a good economy and that our economic transformation is nothing to be proud of (Letters, November 3).
Having read Mr Molloy's communist diatribes many times I'd have to doubt if there's ever been an Irish citizen more willing to put down his own country's successes. It is appropriate that he was reading Schroeder's memoirs though.
Mr Molloy's hero is a man who presided over the virtual collapse of the mighty German economy mining for fool's gold in a socialist pit.

My response, published by the Independent:

I laughed out loud when I read Keith Redmond‘s attack (Letters, November 8) on my "communist diatribes." His letter significantly misrepresented the content of my earlier letter on which he has chosen to comment, while his attempt to label me "communist" suggests that McCarthyism is alive and well and living on the Howth Road.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Port Tunnel Height

Remember all that controversy about the height of the Port Tunnel and its inability to take the minority of “supercube” trucks?

PD Transport spokesman Tom Morrissey, unveiling the party’s plan to move Dublin Port to Bremore, is quoted in today’s Irish Times Motoring Supplement on that tunnel height topic: “The engineers and policy-makers will not admit that there was a massive mistake in building the port tunnel at 4.65 metres.”

You’d swear that the PDs haven’t been in Government for the past 9 years and have no input to or influence on those policy-makers.

Presumably the tunnel will be high enough to take all those 4x4 SUVs when the yuppies start commuting to their riverside apartments, if the PD plan is ever executed.

Where's Caviston when you need him?

The Government is now proposing to ban drift net fishing for salmon, buying out the fishermen who have traditionally been involved in this activity.

There are news reports that Fianna Fail backbenchers from coastal constituencies are coming under pressure to reverse this position (or presumably to get the maximum possible compensation for this inevitable step).

But here’s the puzzle: Wild salmon is rarely available in your local fishmongers, but when it is it’s one of the most expensive fish you can buy.

However, wild salmon is always available in your local supermarket and is one of the cheapest types of canned fish you can buy.

Has anyone talked to John West to see how he does it? What are we doing that's so different?

Has anyone asked him if, instead of canning the fish, he could freeze it and send it to Ireland where we could presumably enjoy it for a fraction of the cost of the local wild salmon, even allowing for transport costs?

These are the big questions we need answers to! Where’s Caviston?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More Govt Policy that ignores Govt Strategy

Within 12 months of the publication of Transport 21, thePDs have proposed moving Dublin Port to Bremore in what would be one of the biggest infrastructural changes in the history of the state.

The Taoiseach, attending an EU meeting in Finalnd, said he was "broadly supportive" of the idea.

Yet there is no provision for such a move in Transport 21, the Government strategy which is supposed to set out a coherent infrastructure development plan for the next 15 years.

This mirrors the situation where the 2003 Decentralisation scam completely ignored this same Government's National Spatial Strategy, published only a year earlier.

Is it any wonder that local authorities routinely ignore Government policy when they see the Government completely ignores its own major strategies?

How much money has been wasted on such strategy development exercises over the past decade when this Chump Coalition will continue to do their planning on the back of an envelope?

Footnote: Aired by Pat Kenny on his RTE Today programme (minus final paragraph). Published as a letter in the Irish Independent.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sauce for the goose

So Minister for Justice Michael McDowell proposes to review the rights of the accused in criminal trials. Specifically he’s questioning the right to silence and the withholding from the jury of the criminal record of the accused.

How ironic that this comes at a time when the Government seems to have granted similar rights to itself, as Bertie Ahern and his supporters demanded the right to silence and the past record of Fianna Fail in this area was not deemed to be admissible. Both avenues of escape will, in future, be denied to the accused if Minister McDowell has his way.

This reaction to recent events suggests that criminal court standards of proof are now required in matters of public probity. If it cannot be demonstrated that favours have been done in return, it is now acceptable for politicians to fill their pockets with cash from personal benefactors. Indeed, any suggestion of impropriety is met with charges of an unacceptable intrusion into the personal life of the recipient.

Caesar’s wife must be rotating in her grave, or else damning her husband for his lack of imagination and all those opportunities foregone.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Examiner. Section in italics published as a letter in the Irish Independent.

Friday, October 20, 2006

What's a democracy?

What exactly do we mean by democracy?

The question arises because I’m hearing on the news that one of the most oppressive regimes in the world has just tested a nuclear weapon. That would be the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, a.k.a. North Korea. The former East Germany, one of the most repressive regimes in communist Europe, was of course titled the German Democratic Republic (DDR).

Then we have the USA & UK, the champions of western democracy and determined to export this wonder drug to the rest of the world. George W Bush won a very narrow victory over Al Gore, and a little more over John Kerry, but he has proven to be a very divisive leader in his own country, never mind the wider international community. Margaret Thatcher was equally divisive in her long reign as UK Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. Even today, 16 years later, she is revered and reviled in equal measure, but no-one is neutral about her.

The problem with a “winner takes all” approach in these countries is that it can prove highly divisive. One could reasonably argue that Northern Ireland was a democracy from partition to the dissolution of Stormont as the Unionists would always have enjoyed an overall majority, even without gerrymandering. Surely within “democracy” there rests an inherent understanding that the winner must seek to represent the best interests of all the people to the best of his ability, not just the interests of those who voted for him?

Bush and Thatcher had something in common - they’re examples of leaders driven by right-wing ideologies which deviated significantly from the accepted political norms of their predecessors. Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) and Evo Morales (Bolivia) in South America risk being equally divisive, driven by left-wing ideologies.

For decades post-WWII, “coalition” was dirty word politically. People would point at Italy as a classic case of a political basket-case, with weak coalition Governments frequently lasting less that a year. In a parliament of musical chairs, Romano Prodi is the 37th Prime Minister in 60 years. (Amintore Fanfani is the record holder, having held the office on five different occasions between 1954 & 1987.)

The composition of any Israeli Government appears, on paper, to defy political gravity and parties regularly leave and enter office without governments falling. UK politicians react with horror to the prospect of a hung parliament and the thought of having to form a coalition government.

However, our own experience of coalition governments has been generally very stable and relatively positive. The alignments of right and left together in government has blunted political ideologies and all parties have relative consensus on a broad range of policy areas. It may be relatively dull, the only real excitement coming from financial scandals, but is has been productive.

Based on our own experience and contrasting it with the US & UK experiences, it may be less exciting but it looks like evolution is a more desirable political approach than revolution.

Hugo and Evo please note!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

GAA International Rules series

The GAA’s International Rules series kicks off later this month in Galway and is being actively promoted through radio advertising with the tag-line “It's time to play - HARD”.

Given that the future of this series has been regularly threatened because of on-field violence, such advertising seems highly inappropriate.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish independent.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The White & Black Minstrels?

Do you remember the "Black & White Minstrels"? A bunch of white guys who used to black-up their faces and do supposedly black song & dance routines. They went out of fashion when political correctness decided that they were potentially a racist slur of some sort. Maybe it was also the time when that type of show just went the way of Val Doonican.

Well, just back from South Africa where we were entertained by "The Cape Minstrels" - a bunch of black kids who whiten their faces. I hadn't the heart to tell them.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Surge in support for Government

Some reaction to recent Irish Times & Sunday Tribune opinion polls, showing a surge in support for the Government, seems a tad naïve in light of the long-standing refusal of the Irish electorate to punish, at the ballot box, those involved in previous financial scandals.

The funds “lent” to Mr Ahern were only pin-money compared to the gifts showered on his mentor, Charles Haughey.

Mr Haughey, in turn, must have viewed with admiration the corporate stroke of Fianna Fail founder Mr de Valera in taking control of the assets of the Irish Press for a nominal personal investment.

Nowadays such a stroke would probably constitute a corporate fraud, perpetrated on the american investors, but the de Valera family continue to benefit from those assets.

Footnote: Section in italics published as a letter in the Irish Independent

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Flatpack Poetry

Here's a new concept that should be a big seller - flatpack poetry that the reader can assemble and customise to suit his/her own outlook on life or just their mood at a particular time. Check out the example below.

Carpe Diem

From starting gun
To closing bell
Elapsed so soon
Employ it well

Now try customising your own last line. e.g. Traditionalist RCs and depressives might substitute "Endure" for Employ, while hedonists might change the entire last line to "Enjoy your spell" or even "Party like Hell!"

So Seamus Heaney
Amend your craft
At flatpack poems
Prepare to graft

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Irish Times Opinion Poll

You wouldn't get a cigarette paper between the PDs & FF on ethical standards.

And the Irish Times poll suggests that Michael McDowell is right to abandon any pretence of occupying the high moral ground.

Footnote: Aired on RTEs Saturday View by Rodney Rice.

Friday, October 13, 2006

St Andrew's Agreement

Let’s all hope that today’s “St Andrew’s Agreement” achieves it’s objective and finally brings about implementation of the 1998 “Good Friday Agreement”.

However, watching the various press briefings by the party leaders, it strikes me that a new precondition should be added to the draft proposals: that Gerry Adams should stop murdering the Irish language!

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent and the 2nd paragraph aired on RTEs Saturday View programme by Rodney Rice.

Tues 17th Oct - I had a phone call, purporting to be from the Ulster Unionist Party HQ, thanking me for my letter in the Indo!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

New English

Just returned from 2 weeks holidays with another married couple.

Watching them in action together prompted me to invent a new phrase and I commented that while she might be suffering, he was definitely “in naggony”.

On mature reflection, I realise that this exchange took place in the airport café - on the way out!

TCD's Pantomime Horse

Caligula appointed his horse to the roman senate and for years TCD has matched this impertinence by sending both ends of a pantomime horse to Seanad Eireann, in the form of Messrs Ross and Norris.

Today's Irish Times report that 742 TCD electors will be excluded because of a mix-up in the registration process raises some slight hope that one or both of these accomplished self-publicists (windbags) may finally be taken off the public payroll.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Put the PDs out of their misery

Surely there remains no logical reason for the Progressive Democrats to delay rejoining Fianna Fail?

You now wouldn't get a cigarette paper between them on ethical standards.

Footnote: Published as a letter (last tuesday) in the irish Independent & the Irish Examiner

Blog Archive