Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What's Fintan going to do about it?

It’s Tuesday and the country has largely ground to a halt.

Government Departments are closed, as are most public services. There are no newspapers and the national broadcaster is transmitting an almost unrelenting diet of religious services, Christmas carols and children’s movies. Public transport is virtually non-existent, airline and ferry services are suspended. Shops and pubs are closed, the latter by legal statute.

How can this be happening in a multi-faith Republic?

Fintan O’Toole must be apoplectic, I can’t wait to read his proposed remedies for this appalling situation in the Irish Times.

Happy Christmas

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bertie Ahern redefines friendship

Is there anything sadder than regarding people are your close personal friends when those sentiments are not reciprocated?

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern clearly regards Padraic O’Connor, Brian Cowan and Ned O’Keeffe as close personal friends.

From his tribunal testimony it’s clear that Padraic O’Connor regards Bertie as an acquaintance rather than a friend. (Could Bertie have confused him with the famous FFer FFer Pat O’Connor Pat O’Connor?)
All the poll corrs seem to agree that there is little “personal” relationship between Bertie and Brian Cowan and they expressed some surprise at the personal warmth of Bertie’s annointment of Brian as his nominated successor.
Now Bertie is claiming Ned as a close personal friend. Could the poll corrs all be wrong, as they seem to think that Ned hates Bertie’s guts?

However, this apparent disconnection may provide an explanation of Bertie’s “digouts from friends”.

For if you can categorise almost any living human being as a friend, without regard for their reciprocal feelings, then you can categorise any fund-raising operation as a dig-out from friends.
And if they’ve had the good grace to pass away in the interim then, truly, God alone knows how many such fund-raisers they may have actually contributed to. Or if the events actually took place at all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

7 dead in Omagh fire - father suspected of arson

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

High Court rules against the Irish Times

Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy is quoted today in that paper as saying that “it is disappointing that the issue of public interest seemed to receive no weighting in the judgement”, following the decision of the High Court to order herself and Colm Keena to reveal the source of an article about payments to Bertie Ahern, gleaned from confidential documents produced by the Mahon Tribunal.

The High Court ruled that, in this case, journalistic privilege regarding confidentiality of sources was “overwhelmingly outweighed” by the need to maintain public confidence in the Mahon Tribunal itself.

I’m puzzled by the Irish Times claim that this was a publication “in the public interest”. The source was a document from the Mahon Tribunal, detailing information which would, in due course, be put into the public domain via the public hearings of the tribunal. What purpose was served by it’s premature publication in the Irish Times?

The obvious commercial answer is that it was a significant journalistic scoop, generating significant publicity and boosting the reputation of that paper, if not necessarily greatly increasing circulation. However, the downside is that leaks from the Tribunal damage public confidence, reduce political support and provide ammunition to those who are willing to go to the High & Supreme Courts in order to delay and/or stymie the workings of the Tribunal and/or the scope of its ultimate findings.

The problem is further compounded by the destruction by Messrs Kennedy & Keena of the documents received, allegedly from an anonymous source. This effectively rules out any possibility of identification of the original source of the leak to the Irish Times. The corollary of this is that neither Ms Kennedy nor Mr Keena can now provide any credible assurance that the Tribunal itself is not the source of the leak, thus leaving it open to the accusation of resorting to trial by media and depriving those who are under investigation of natural justice.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Judge Carney attacks media in Holohan case

Judge Carney hard-hitting address in Cork should not have confined criticism to "tabloid" media, unless his comments regarding Joe Duffy were intended to include RTE in that classification.

RTE & Pat Kenny were among the greatest offenders in this case. Kenny shamelessly and relentlessly retried Wayne O'Donoghue on both radio & TV following Majella Holohan's victim impact statement and the revelation of the finding of traces of semen on the body of her dead son.

Perhaps Judge Carney should also have queried who on the garda and/or prosecution teams revealed this information to Majella Holohan. If my recollection is correct, these turned out to be microscopic traces which might have been picked up from a bathroom mat and were subsequently shown not to be from Wayne O'Donoghue.

It’s hard not to sympathise with Majella Holohan - presumably if she had included those comments in her pre-prepared script, they would have been disallowed by the court? Her own response, reported this morning on RTE, to Judge Carney’s comments also suggest that she still believes there was some sexual background to the death of her son.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Time for some real bench-marking

Christian Pauls, the German Ambassador, was a guest on Marian Finucane’s RTE radio programme last Saturday to answer the charges arising from his briefing to a visiting German business delegation.

Some of his comments on public service pay levels in Germany were very interesting.

For example, he revealed that his own gross monthly salary is €7,330 (€87,600 pa) which, he said, equated to the salary of quite a senior civil servant in Germany.

He also said that his daughter is a paediatrician, the number 2 in the Paediatric Dept of a large Berlin Clinic, which suggests that she may well at “consultant“ level there. He said that she'd be delighted to earn €70k pa as doctors in Germany earn between €50k-€65k pa.

Herr Pauls said that salary levels for doctors and other professionals working in the public sector are linked to civil service pay levels +/- 10%-15%.

This was the background to his comments on the hospital consultants dismissal of a proposed salary of €200k+ as “mickey-mouse”.

This man is clearly an incorrigible trouble-maker. His comments suggest that we do need another round of bench-marking for the public services, but this time against their counterparts in the EU!

It also raises the following question: just as business now routinely out-sources support functions to other companies and countries (e.g. call centres in India), has the Govt considered outsourcing to other EU countries? It sounds like we could get things done a lot more cost-effectively if we wanted to.

Given that there are many state functions which would be similar in structure, it would probably only require modest systems tweaks and a translation service to handle matters e.g. why not a single “factory” to handle all motor registrations in the EU?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Revealed: Why there are so few women in Leinster House

Interesting B&A survey of women's attitudes in today's IT - the sample size was 1,003 women aged 18+.

Combining the scores given under “Very Important” and “Quite Important”, the survey throws up some very interesting conclusions:

Personal care (skin/hair) 93%
Financial Independence 91%
Leisure Time 90%
Female friends 90%
Keeping fit 81%
Equality of the sexes 78%
Husband/boyfriend 75%
Taking care of children 69%
Having children in the future 42%
Politics 38%

Good to see that their men made it into the top 10.
And are you still wondering why there aren’t more women in Leinster House?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Des O'Malley renounces core PD philosophy

On Friday (14th Sept) Des O’Malley had a letter published in the Irish Times calling for Government intervention in order to ensure retention of the Aer Lingus Shannon-Heathrow service.

The current situation, and the Government’s decision not to intervene, is an obvious outworking of the free-market philosophy so strongly espoused by the Progressive Democrats during their last decade in Government.

O’Malley‘s plea might be more compelling if he was not the man most responsible for the creation of that party and its “let the market decide” philosophy.

If he’s still a member of the PDs he should resign immediately in protest at the Govt‘s action. If not, he should be expelled. What a laugh that would be!

It just goes to prove the old Tip O’Neill adage that “all politics are local”. O’Malley is from Limerick and his daughter may well try for a Dail seat there at the next general election. She lost her seat in Dun Laoghaire last May, and there’s a strong chance that Dun Laoghaire will be reduced from five to four seats next time around.

O'Malley's Letter
Madam, - I spent a good part of my political career seeking to encourage inward manufacturing investment. I had some success.

I realise, therefore, the vital importance of a frequent schedule of air services between the west of Ireland and Heathrow. That overcrowded and unpopular airport is nonetheless Ireland's best point of contact with the rest of the world because of its onward connections.

The termination of services from Shannon to Heathrow will have its greatest effect in making it much more difficult to attract that kind of investment in the future. Apart from the loss of existing jobs, thousands of jobs that might have been created will not materialise. It will be impossible to quantify what might have happened. As a result, those who cause this situation will claim that they are not to blame.

The Shannon region was, and is, one of the few successes in real decentralisation we have. Will it now remain so? Spending hundreds of millions moving junior civil servants down the country is no substitute for real economic activity.

The Minister for Transport, among others, is espousing a version of company law with which I am not familiar. He seems to think that management is supreme, to the exclusion of all others. The Companies Acts envisage the board of directors as responsible for the actions of a company. The board in turn is answerable to the shareholders. The shareholders have the ultimate sanction of dismissing the board if they disagree with the company's policy.

Why retain a blocking minority if it is not going to be used to stop the very sort of thing that we were told it was kept for in the first place? President Sarkozy retained for the French state a blocking minority of shares in the recent merger of Suez and Gaz de France. Does anyone think he would refuse to use it in a similar situation to this? - Yours, etc,

DESMOND O'MALLEY, Merrion Road, Dublin 4.

BoE should have let Northern hit the Rocks

The Bank of England should not have bailed out Northern Rock .

Fiscal Prudence may seem boring but it’s an essential prerequisite for any serious financial institution and its customers.

Prudence doesn’t come free. It limits management’s capacity to “take a punt” and thus they may seem to miss out of profit opportunities in rising markets. It also means that prudent institutions are contributors to industry-wide insurance schemes such as FSCS, even though they will never need to call on such insurance.

The Northern Rocks, on the other hand, are the “wide boys” of the financial services business, claiming to be innovators, mould-breakers, more customer-focused than their fuddy-duddy competitors. Often lauded by the media who take their every press release at face value.

Northern Rock has been operating a dangerously unbalanced business model, the dangers of which have been recognised by banks for generations: using short-term deposits and interbank loans, repayable on demand or within a relatively short period, to fund 20-year mortgages leaves you seriously exposed if confidence in your bank is in any way damaged, and/or market conditions change.

The sub-prime credit crunch was unforeseen, but it’s only one of many events which might have precipitated Northern Rock’s current liquidity problems.

The Bank of England should not have bailed Northern Rock out. The business is solvent and depositors funds should not be in any real danger, even if depositors were alarmed and temporarily discommoded by a closure. In such a scenario, Northern Rock would have been bought by a competitor within weeks, if not days. However, the message to the other “wide-boys”, and the public who do business with them, would have been stark. The management team and board of directors would be immediately unemployed and their professional reputations in the industry would be destroyed. The shareholders would be looking at even greater losses, making the likelihood of investment in similar enterprises unlikely for some time to come.

By bailing Northern Rock out, the Bank of England instead sends the signal to Wide-Boy management that it’s OK to keep sailing close to the wind - and they will keep doing just that. Meantime, the prudent serious players will continue to fund insurance schemes to protect their competitors customers.

Northern Rock - Irish Govt intervention?

Northern Rock depositors in the Republic are covered by the UK’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

However, compensation under the FSCS scheme is limited: 100% for the first £2,000 in savings and 90% for the next £33,000.

On savings above £35,000 you get nothing.

In other words, the FSCS pays out a maximum of £31,700 per person. Yet we’re told that the average Northern Rock deposit in the Republic is €100k, which is approximately double the amount covered by the FSCS.

In those circumstances, should Finance Minister Brian Cowen be offering such reassurance to Irish depositors?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Eddie Hobbs & Brendan Investments

Eddie Hobbs has already had wide media coverage for his new property investment vehicle, Brendan Investments Pan European Property PLC and he’ll be a guest on the Late Late Show tomorrow to put the icing on his PR cake.

The aim of the Company is to raise €50m in capital and borrow a further €150m to create a property investment portfolio worth €200m. The prospectus says that “the company will work with current and future bank lenders to secure bank finance AT A MINIMUM LEVEL OF 75% of the value of the property.”

Page 12 of the prospectus covers the fees payable by investors:

The fees will be as follows:
= No entry fees.
= 1% of the gross asset value of the company is payable to Brendan Investments Property Management Limited for the management of the property and development portfolio.

Assuming that the company succeeds in raising €50m and investing it with 75% gearing, the gross asset value of the company would be €200m. At this level the 1% fee payable to the management company would be €2m annually.

The prospectus advises that the expected life of the company is 7-10 years, at the end of which period the assets will be liquidated and distributed to the company.
This suggests that, even if there is no capital appreciation from the property assets purchased, the management company will receive €14m-20m in fees. If the value of the underlying assets increase, the annual fee will also increase pro-rata.

Assuming the company makes only the initial call on investors, one would assume that they will try to invest the funds raised fairly quickly, within the first 12-18 months? Some development projects may take longer but the company strategy is to invest 75% of funds in existing rent-producing commercial properties.

An annual fee of €2m may be reasonable in the initial couple of years when management activity will be at its maximum, but in the later years of the scheme, when little new investment is being undertaken, it seems like a tidy little earner for the promoters.

An annual charge 1% of Gross Assets, rather than 1% of the investors capital, is a way of disguising the real annual 4% charge being levied by promoters. This approach is not unique to Brendan Investments.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fintan O'Toole wants Nothing!

In his Irish Times column (Tues 28th Aug) , Fintan O’Toole tells us that “the choice is simple: all or nothing” when it comes to religious symbolism and influence in public life and public services. He comes down firmly on the side of the “nothing option”.

That same day I heard him interviewed on radio about his column, where he extolled the virtues of the USA system where that same “nothing option” operates.

That’s the same USA which lacks universal healthcare or social welfare, whose draconian legal system keeps record numbers in jail, mainly blacks, and executes large numbers each year, and where the Christian right constantly and publicly seeks to exercise political influence with some success, notably in the case of President Bush.

Contrast that with the Ireland of today, seemingly crippled under the weight of Catholicism in O’Toole’s view. Some of his concerns are valid e.g. the over-reliance of the state on the churches for education and hospital care, but some are simply prime examples of political correctness .

The Dail’s opening prayer, Bertie’s ashes and RTE’s Angelus are long-established custom and practice which may offend the super-liberals and the bigots, but they oppress no-one and that is the most important consideration.

From the perspective of societal outcomes, I’d suggest to Fintan that USA theory looks somewhat better than USA practice with, hopefully, the reverse situation pertaining in Ireland.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Festival of World Cultures.

I’m not a great fan of my local authority DLRCoCo, but top marks to them for the Festival of World Cultures.
It’s a great reminder that culture & craic are not synonymous with wealth - great music and dance from some of the poorest countries on the planet.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pat Rabbitte - the next leader of Fine Gael.

This may seem like an outside bet, but “what-if”…

Following the precedent set by Michael O’Leary in 1982 - Pat Rabbitte resigns from the Labour Party and joins Fine Gael.

FG & the country would benefit greatly from a revivial of the “just society” ethos in one of the major parties and a Rabbitte-led FG could be just the ticket. A combination of “left-wing” social policies funded by “right-wing” economic policies could well be a winning combination.

In 5 years time we could have a Labour Party which has moved to the Left and is scaring the middle classes with socialist economics, a Green Party which is mortally wounded by the embrace of FF and no PDs to contend with. FF may still be mired in the fallout from the various tribunals (which hasn’t seemed to deter voters to date).

In such an electoral scenario, a “Just Society” FG could clean up. Unfortunately, there’s not enough liberalism within the existing FG to achieve that change of direction without an injection of external talent. Enter Pat Rabbitte.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fintan O'Toole calls for Willie O'Dea's head.

In today’s Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole calls for the political head of Defence Minister Willie O’Dea on the grounds that O’Dea has opposed agreed Government policy on the Aer Lingus Shannon-Heathrow decision and that he is breach of collective cabinet responsibility. But are either of these serious charges valid?

O’Toole quotes Article 28.4.2 of the Constitution: "The Government shall meet and act as a collective authority, and shall be collectively responsible for the Departments of State administered by the members of the Government."

O’Toole then outlines the basis for his charges: “Last week, in a statement issued through the Department of the Taoiseach - implying that she was in effect acting Taoiseach at the time - and explicitly "speaking on behalf of the Government", Mary Hanafin issued a strong statement of its policy on the Aer Lingus decision to end its Shannon to Heathrow service.
She could not have been clearer about Government policy on the matter: "As a listed plc, Aer Lingus has to take its own decisions. It is inappropriate for the Government to intervene in the decision making of a private company. To do so would ultimately be damaging to the company and its customers."“

And later in his article he says that “a Government decision not to interfere with the Aer Lingus move was taken last week - otherwise Mary Hanafin could not have issued her statement.”

Surely Article 28.4.2 of the Constitution implies that a some sort of meeting of Government is required to determine Government policy and, as far as I’m aware, no such meeting has taken place. How can a statement issued by the Minister for Education, on a topic that is totally unrelated to her brief, assume the weight of a policy position formally agreed at a cabinet meeting? Does Fintan O’Toole believe that this is how the constitution envisaged that cabinet decisions would be taken and communicated to cabinet members?

In addition, the assertion in Minister Hannifin’s statement that “it is inappropriate for the Government to intervene in the decision making of a private company” is somewhat misleading, particularly in light of the fact that many cabinet members have indicated that they are unhappy with the Aer Lingus decision. It's quite common for minority shareholders to vote their shareholding in whatever way suits their broader business objectives and not necessarily the interests of the company in question e.g. Ryanair’s holding in Aer Lingus!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

From Major to Minor.

After 2 rounds of the USPGA, the final Major of the season, normal service has been resumed with Tiger Woods on -6, leading the field by 2 strokes.

One of the interesting practices of the USPGA is to put the winners of the previous three majors of that season into the same three-ball, so Padraig Harrington (British Open), Zach Johnson (Masters) and Angel Cabrera (US Open) played together for the first two rounds.

After the first two rounds, the cut came at +5, the only survivor of the trio is Harrington (+2), with Johnson (+10) and Cabrera (+11) both eliminated.

Among the other former Major winners to miss the cut were Ben Curtis, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Justin Leonard, Michael Campbell and Jose Maria Olazabal.

Small consolation perhaps to Colin Montgomerie, (once described as the best golfer never to win a major, but no longer playing well enough for that title) who just made the +5 score and survives to compete in the final two rounds.

But wouldn’t you think that two men who’ve actually won majors in the current season could at least make the cut? Sort of confirms that this “winning a Major” lark is actually a bit of a lottery, particularly when looking at those players who’ve only done it once.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Greens mean spin.

In today’s Irish Times (Opinion & Analysis) Mary Raftery, under the heading “Greens mean business”, sings the praises of our new Green party ministers, citing specifically Environment Minister John Gormley’s reversal of rezoning decisions made by Monaghan Co Co and a supposed hardening of Ireland’s position on GMOs.

However, Minister Gormley’s predecessor Dick Roche had taken the same action against Laois Co Co in October 2006, while her statement that “at the EU Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health, Trevor Sargent abstained in a vote on a GM animal feed ingredient called Herculex which continues to be banned“ hardly suggests a new or radical stance.

An article could just as easily be written under the alternative heading “Greens mean spin”? In the past month we’ve had Trevor Sargent’s big photo opportunity buying a Toyota Prius, Eamon Ryan paying (with our money) for his carbon footprint and taking a subway with a camera crew in tow, while John Gormley got tough with the litter bugs. The decision to increase the on-the-spot fine for littering from €125 to €150 is supposed to send a stern message to offenders, but it’s laughable. If non-enforcement of the current fine isn’t working, non-enforcement of an increased fine is unlikely to do the trick.

It’s time for Green ministers to stop these petty PR stunts and start to show us some substance, other than simply replicating what their FF predecessors would have done anyway.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Green Ministers adopt 3 wise monkeys approach to Govt

To date, the Greens have brought a us new form a laid-back Government and on RTE's Morning Ireland we’ve just had another instalment from Minister John Gormley.

When asked about Finian McGrath’s deal re Dublin Port - he responded with a question: has RTE asked Finian about it?

Gormley claims to know nothing about whatever arrangement was agreed between the Taoiseach and McGrath on this important topic. It doesn’t seem to strike him as odd that he doesn’t know, and it clearly hasn’t occurred to him that he should ask anyone, especially the Taoiseach, to put him in the picture. Surely the Taoiseach should have briefed the cabinet on any material matters he agreed in his deals with the independent TDs, items which clearly will impact on the work of various Departments?

Given that
(a) part of Dublin Port is in the minister’s own constituency
(b) there’s a proposal to extend the port by reclaiming about 50 acres of sea
(c) it’s PD policy (a partner in Govt) to move Dublin Post altogether to Bremore.
(d) either of the above proposals have potentially major consequences for the “environment” of Dublin City
you'd imagine that Minister Gormley might wish to keep himself informed about port-related developments.

So far, the Green ministers seem to be keeping their heads down and their mouths shut in Cabinet/ Government. This 3 wise monkeys approach may well keep their cabinet colleagues happy for the moment, but I doubt it’s impressing the electorate.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Who killed who in the NI "Troubles"?

In the run-up to the election, I heard someone on radio extolling the virtues of a forum called www.politics.ie so I started to engage there. However,the forum has a large number of contributors there who are unreconstructed republicans who don’t accept the Good Friday agreement and hijack almost any topic thread to vent their rabid anti-Brit feelings. These are dressed up as being anti-war, anti-imperialism etc., but you don’t have to scratch hard to find the Northern Ireland gorilla perched firmly on their backs.

Many of the anti-Brit contributors on politics.ie routinely present the British as the army from hell, marching through civilian settlements, killing, raping, burning, looting etc.. We’re left with the impression that this is what happened in Northern Ireland during the “troubles”.

Am I alone in having difficulty reconciling this picture with some of the actual facts which emerge from that conflict? (without in any way seeking to excuse the British army for Bloody Sunday or other atrocities).

During the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, the British army presence peaked at 30k+ in the 1970’s, supplemented by c. 20k combined RUC & UDR. That’s a total of about 50k armed personnel on the government side of the conflict. In addition, the British army were equipped with armoured vehicles, helicopters and had ready access to a vast array of weaponry of all types.

Facing this large and well-armed force, republican paramilitaries had a much more limited arsenal of weaponry and their active service volunteers never numbered more than a small fraction of their “crown forces” adversaries.

So, logically, the ruthless, jack-booted British killing machine should have been responsible for the vast majority of deaths in the troubles. And that this number killed by the crown forces should greatly outnumber their own casualties.

Yet the tables below, from the CAIN website, http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/sutton/ , which analyses all troubles-related deaths from 1969 to 2001, shows that Republicans were actually responsible for the majority (58%) of such deaths.
In fact, British Security Force deaths outnumbered Republican deaths by a ratio of almost 3 to 1!

Even allowing that some portion of the Loyalist killings were proxy killings on behalf of British Forces, the Republicans still win the killing race hands down.
One conclusion that can clearly be drawn from these statistics is that republicans were far more ruthless killers than their British opponents.

The data below includes deaths caused by military vehicles and heart attacks caused by explosions etc.. 1581 (45%) deaths occurred in the 5-year period 1972-1976. It also covers all relevant jurisdictions , in NI (3268), Britain (125), RoI (113) & Europe (18),

Killed by
Republican Paramilitary = 2056 (58%)
Loyalist Paramilitary =1020 (29%)
British Security Forces*= 362 (10%)
Irish Security Forces = 5 (0.1%)
Not known = 81 (2%)
TOTAL = 3524

Victim Status
Civilian = 1857 (53%)
British Security =1112 (32%)
Republican Paramilitary = 394 (11%)
Loyalist Paramilitary = 151 (4%)
Irish Security = 10 (0.3%)
Total = 3524

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Michael Moore - new book reviewed

There’s a new book “Citizen Moore: The Making of an American Iconoclast” by Roger Rapoport, reviewed a couple of weeks back in the Sunday Times - on the attached link.


It doesn’t seem to be a particularly flattering account of the man and his methods.

His first big hit “Roger & Me” supposedly portrayed Moore’s futile efforts to get to meet the General Motors CEO, Roger Smith. While the film claims that Moore never succeeded in getting to meet Smith, the book reveals that he actually met him three times, with the interview filmed on two occasions. This fact was completely suppressed in the final production.

According to reviewer Rod Liddle, the picture of Moore that emerges “is of an at times unscrupulous, overambitious, often incompetent and always arrogant hybrid of journalist and comedian, with a monstrous ego. His former manager, who also seems to hate him, describes him contemptuously as a “vaudevillian”. Rapoport marshals a parade of disgruntled former associates and employees to fling the ordure”.

A new international role for Bertie Ahern?

RTE are reporting that the Government is to set up a new Conflict Resolution Centre, based in the Dept of Foreign Affairs, with an annual budget of €25m.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said that while the conflict in the North was a local one, it had global resonance and, using the experience gained in the peace process, the new centre will seek to assist in bringing peaceful solutions to international trouble spots.

Could this be Bertie Ahern’s next stop - a state-funded role as an international peace-maker to rival good friend Tony Blair’s recent appointment as representative of The Quartet in the Israel/Palestine conflict?

And when will he be taking up that position? Anything to do with his appearance at the Mahon Tribunal later this month? Probably just wishful thinking on my part.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Raj still rules.

Empire’s Children, a new series on Channel 4, started last night, tracing the colonial roots of Dame Diana Rigg who was born in India in the 1930’s, where her father worked as a railway engineer.

During the programme, Dame Diana did a certain amount of hand-wringing about the fact that even the relatively low-ranked English sahibs were waited on hand and foot by an army of Indian servants.

Her conscience was assuaged by meetings with a number of Indians who had known her father and gave him good references with regard to his treatment of themselves and other natives. She told us that she now felt somewhat less guilty about their time in India, knowing that her father had not been a typical Sahib.

Her father was working for the Maharaja of Jodhpur at the time his career in India ended, following the granting of independence in 1947. Dame Diana had a photo of a social event in the Rigg house in the early 1940‘s, which included a lady known as Baiji, who was a member of the Jodhpur royal family. Rigg visited this lady, now in her 90’s, who still lives in the Maharaja’s palace.

The documentary showed Rigg being admitted to the Maharaja’s Palace where she was shown into a sitting room. Then Baiji enters the room and Rigg waves her hand at a sofa and invites her to sit there. It struck me as odd, as a guest in someone else’s house, to be inviting your host to sit down.

Clearly the ways of the Raj are not easily forgotten.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Venus v. Mars - again!

On Saturday last, the Irish Times published this photo of two young women mud-wrestling at Glastonbury on its front page.

The following Tuesday, the paper published letters from two female writers who objected to the photo. Then on Wednesday, the paper published three letters from male writers who didn’t seem to be offended at all.

Clearly Venus and Mars continue to maintain their independent orbits.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Britain to reciprocate with Ahern Chair endowment

It’s good to see the Government taking steps to create a long-term acknowledgement of Tony Blair’s role in the resolution achieved in Northern Ireland.

There is a strong rumour that, in a reciprocal gesture, the British Government will endow a Bertie Ahern Chair of Cash-flow Management in a suitable north side academy of learning?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tony Blair's Legacy - and he hasn't even left yet.

Tony Blair faced his last PMQs on Wednesday and yesterday hosted his final cabinet meeting as Prime Minister. In 10-20 years time, how will political historians assess his term in office? It's far too early to make any definitive assessments, but the medai are already at it so I thought I'd just jump on the bandwagon.

In the immediate aftermath, it’s easy to point to Northern Ireland and Iraq as the high and low points respectively, but will there be any other achievement/failure which merits comment in the longer term?

These are just some ramblings on the Blair Legacy - more questions than answers, undera number of broad headings.

Labour Party
New Labour - moving Labour & UK politics to the centre, to be followed there by the conservatives.

New Labour’s “3rd way” - “left-wing” social policies funded by “right-wing” economic policies.

A 3-term, longest serving Labour PM, unlikely to be repeated by his successor.

Spin/Relationship with media. Will it even merit a footnote in history?

“Cash for Honours” - will anything stick, or does the public believe they‘re all at it anyway?

Northern Ireland - peaceful resolution of the constitutional position, probably his greatest political achievement. But will it last 10-20 years? When eventually transition to real Govt/Opposition political structures takes place, will the dam hold? Will NI vote for United Ireland within the next 20 years?

Devolution - Scottish Parliament, Welsh & NI Assemblies. Will these be hailed as examples of devolution of power at its best, or cited as the start of the process that led to the break-up of the UK? Alex Salmon for Head of the Commonwealth?

Education reform- will City Academies be remembered for changing the educational prospects of inner city kids or just be a footnote” in the “cash for honours“ chapter?

Reform of Lords - partially complete, will it stall? Will the hereditaries hang on? Will House of Lords reform also be just a footnote in the “cash for honours” chapter?

Economy: a decade of steady growth, growing employment, industrial peace. Will this just be taken for granted, or will all the credit be given to Gordon Browne?

Iraq will be engraved on his tombstone - though he’s still probably hoping for a miracle turnaround there which will result in a positive outcome, eventually. Afghanistan may go either way. He’ll hope to be gone before Iran comes to a head.

A big fan of the EU, he promised to place the UK at the heart of Europe. Instead, his alliance with Bush may have created a new barrier there. The paradox is that Sarkozy & Merkel might be much more amenable to stronger US ties, in contrast to Chirac and Schroder. Despite his initial desire for sterling to join the Eurozone, it looks further away than ever. And he seems to be ending his premiership doing a Mgt Thatcher at his final EU summit.

3rd World - his Commission for Africa, established in 2004, work in the G8, relief of 3rd world debt, WTO Doha round etc - what long-term impact will these have?
Ditto the Environment and initiatives such as the Kyoto Agreement and successor agreements e.g. G8 summit at Heiligendamm in 2007.

There are many other potential topic areas e.g.
National Security post 9/11, London bombings July 7th 2005
Law & Order/Society - ID cards, ASBOs, CCTV, extended detention
NHS reform
Immigration issues/policy
Middle East
Zimbabwe, Darfur
Etc etc etc

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How Gerry Adams paid for that Donegal holiday home.

Government saving buyers from sellers!

The Government has published proposed legislation to eliminate all stamp duty liability for first-time buyers, to apply to all contracts signed on or since 31st march 2007.

There will be no change in the stamp duty regime for all other house buyers, who will continue to pay punitive rates of duty e.g. 9% on house/apartment purchases of over €635,000.

Thus Stamp Duty will continue to act as a disincentive to people who wish to trade-up or trade down e.g. it currently adds €58.5k to the buyer’s costs for a house/apartment purchased at €650k.

The Government offers the following explanation for not modifying the stamp duty costs to non-first-time buyers:

They argue that the reduction in stamp duty would simply be added to the asking price by the vendor, thus increasing house price inflation and removing any benefit to the buyer arising from the reduction in stamp duty.

In other words, to prevent the risk arising that the vendor might screw the seller for the amount of the stamp duty, the Government itself will guarantee that the buyer continues to be screwed for the amount of the stamp duty. That’s some deal!

The reality is that the Government raises billions of euros each year through this punitive tax. They'd have to work harder if they gave some of it up.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bertie's Missing Money

From The Irish Times today:

"Meanwhile, Mr Ahern's spokesman said yesterday the Taoiseach has instructed his legal team to pursue the €60,000 costs and damages arising from his circuit court libel action against Denis "Starry" O'Brien. The six-year period in which Mr Ahern can claim the damages and costs he won is up on July 11th."

Mr Ahern was awarded £30,000 + costs in the Dublin Circuit Court in July 2001. The money has not been paid to date and the debt becomes statute barred after 6 years.
The spokesman’s statement suggests that Mr Ahern’s instruction to pursue the debt is a recent one. Presumably Mr Ahern’s legal team have long since been paid their appropriate fees, so he’s been out of pocket in a real sense for several years now.

What is it with uncollected monies and Bertie Ahern? Is he just forgetful, or too polite, or both?

Despite revelations regarding monies given to prominent FF members, e.g. Ray Burke, Charlie Haughey, Pee Flynn, which the donors claim were intended as donations to the Fianna Fail party, ending up in their private bank accounts, there appears to have been little or no effort to recover these monies on behalf of the party.

Presumably the original purpose of £5,000 NCB donation, included in the recently revealed “dig-out” to Mr Ahern in the early 1990's, will be clarified in due course by the Mahon Tribunal.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Political Banners

Published in Today's IT - the writer is the architect I used almost 20 years ago to remodel the house. He's also a rabid Shinner (note the "a chara" etc). I'm sure he's delighted to score a "hit" on me.

A chara, - Peter Molloy (June 9th) is dismissive of Richard Boyd Barrett's impressive electoral result in Dun Laoghaire, insinuating that Mr Boyd Barrett deceived the "middle classes" by standing for a People Before Profit Alliance rather than the Socialist Workers Party.

I suggest that Mr Boyd Barrett was no more deceptive than those candidates who stood as members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael rather than a "Profit before People Alliance". - Is mise,

So I've banged off the following response, but I don't expect they'll publish.

Madam - E F Fanning (letters June 16th) justifies the action of the Socialist Workers Party in hiding behind the People before Profit banner during the recent general election by claiming that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael might have campaigned under a “Profit before People” banner.

In that scenario, the Sinn Fein banner would be “Pragmatism before Policy”, having ditched all their inconvenient tax policies in the weeks before the election. However, the winner would still be the Greens whose banner would proclaim “Pragmatism & Power before Policy & Principle“. Yours etc

Friday, June 15, 2007

An Taoiseach mis-speaks, again.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has a bit of a reputation for mangling the English language. Could he have done it again?

On RTE’s 6.1 News on Thursday 14th June, Bryan Dobson interviewed An Taoiseach, in advance of the announcement of his new cabinet.

Towards the end of the interview Dobson asks what the Government’s priorities will be for the next 5 years. Bertie Ahern speaks about the economy and finishes on the need to help the less well off in society.

His final sentence in the interview ends with the words “and we’ll continue to make great strides to deal with the issue of social exclusiveness”.

Could he possibly have meant “social exclusion”?

The 4min 20sec clip is available on www.rte.ie/news/2007/0614/6news_av.html?22588991,null,

Outgoing FF Minister claims authorship of Environment Policy

On RTE's "Today" programme this morning (with Tom McGurk), Dick Roche said that he was proud that only THREE lines of the Environment section of the Programme for Govt had not been written by him! If true, you'd have to wonder what exactly took 10 days to negotiate???

The most interesting thing about the Green Party position is the 180 degree political turn they’ve managed to perform in the past week.

For 10 days of negotiations, the country was repeatedly assured that getting Green policy in a programme for government was the complete focus and priority. Nothing as tawdry as cabinet seats was even considered.

Once the deal was signed and the paucity of the policy concessions to the Greens was revealed, we were told that having Green Ministers at cabinet to influence Govt was the only thing that actually mattered. The negotiated programme for Govt is almost dismissed by Green TDs as being relatively unimportant.

Correction: I've listened again to the interview and Roche's claim regarding authorship of all but 3 lines related to the Local Government Reform section of the Programme for Government. His claim with regard to ownership of the Environment policy in the Programme for Govt was a more modest 85%.

I'll excuse myself this error on the basis that it was significantly less misleading than FF's 97% v. 3% tax benefit pre-election ads, which were a straightforward, bare-faced and deliberate lie.

Greens - the new Fianna Fail Lite

Trevor Sargent launched an astonishing attack on Enda Kenny in the Dail last night for not looking at the first Inter-Party Government of 1948 as a model of achieving power.

He said that, had Kenny really wanted to achieve power, he would have negotiated with Sinn Féin to form a Government, just as Fine Gael's John A Costelloe had appointed former IRA chief Sean McBride as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Sargent was effectively saying that the Greens had been willing to sell their souls to the devil in order to get into Govt with FF & PDs. He was mocking Kenny for not having the same naked appetite for power. How quickly the Greens have morphed into FF-Lite

Sargent’s outburst clearly shows that the Greens were willing to go to any lengths, compromise any principles, sacrifice any sacred cows etc to get into power.

The Greens are clearly intoxicated by office, behaving like an order of nuns who've unexpectedly discovered sex and can't get enough of it. They'll find themselves holding the FF baby in due course

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Greens in office but not in power!

The new Government Ministers haven’t even gone to the Park to get their seals of office from the President, but already Fianna Fail are screwing their new Green partners in Government.

Although Green Party president John Gormley has been appointed Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Govt, the Taoiseach announced that responsibility for non-National Roads will be transferred from Environment to the Dept. of Transport.

Later it emerged that outgoing FF Environment Minister Dick Roche has today signed the order permitting construction of the M3 Motorway to continue on its original route - straight through the recently discovered pre-historic henge.

Given that re-routing of the M3 was a major platform for the Greens in the recent election, and failure to get this agreed in the joint programme for Government was a major embarrassment for them, this really is FF giving them the two-fingers on their first day in office, but not in power.

PS: 15th June 2007 - incoming Environment Minister John Gormley announces that he doesn't believe he can rescind his predecessor's decision. They're learning - "big boy's games, big boy's rules".

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Who'll be next leader of Green Party?

Who’ll be the new leader of the Green Party? The front-runners appear to be Gormley, Ryan and Cuffe.

John Gormley has always struck me as the main representative of the flakey wing of the party, but his personal conduct during the recent negotiations (not necessarily his ability as a negotiator) has suggested that he may be calming down to more acceptable and balanced levels.

Eamonn Ryan is another front runner who makes me uncomfortable. In fact, as uncomfortable as he himself appears to be - he twists and squirms as sincerity is given a physical manifestation as he speaks in a voice laden with emotion. But I don’t trust him since his solo-run in 2004 when he announced his candidature for the Presidency, without prior consultation with his party colleagues. This smacked of naked personal ambition and was ultimately shot down by the party, merely succeeding in making the Greens look like fools and political novices in the process.

Ciaran Cuffe is touted as another front-runner. He seems like a cold fish, I can’t imagine him enthusing members or being a great ad to attract new members. His pre-negotiation blog likening a deal with FF as a deal with the devil was in stark contrast to his pro-coalition attitude at yesterday’s Mansion House conference. He strikes me as a charisma-free politician who keeps his cards close to his chest and I wouldn’t trust him.

Gormley would probably be the deserving and safe choice, while Ryan might be more dangerous but, with more imagination, could produce innovative ideas and appeal to a younger audience.

Sargent sacrifice a necessary fig-leaf for Greens

By entering government with no concessions on major Green demands - such as an end to hospital co-location, US military use of Shannon, corporate donations, the M3 at Tara - the Green Party has laid itself wide open to the charge of abandoning principles in pursuit of power.

The public self-sacrifice of leader Trevor Sargent was necessary to provide a fig-leaf of principle to an otherwise naked Green Party

Footnote: Aired on RTE's Today programme 14th June & published as a letter in the Irish Times 15th June 2007.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The fate of the man in the white suit?

What was that recent event on Sandymount Strand all about, with the Greens prancing about with their umbrellas, led by John Gormley - The Man in the White Suit?

Is it just the Greens mimicing Jack Vettriano - someone (possibly every Green) has one of his posters on the bedroom wall. Believe it or not, this painting is titled "Mad Dogs" - apt or what? Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery - but this really is "Art Lite".

Or could it be “The Man In The White Suit” a 1951 Ealing Comedy starring Alec Guinness.

Guinness plays Stratton, a researcher working in a textile mill who invents an incredibly strong fibre which repels dirt and never wears out. From its fabric he makes a suit which is brilliant white because it cannot absorb dye. Stratton is lauded as a genius until both management and the trade union realise the consequence of his invention - consumers will only need to purchase once (how many permanently clean white suits would you need?), then demand will drop and put the textile industry out of business. The business owners try to trick Stratton into signing away the rights to his invention but he refuses. Managers and workers try to shut him up, but he escapes.
The climax sees Stratton running through the streets at night in his white suit, pursued by both the managers and the employees. As they close in, the suit begins to fall apart as the chemical structure of the fibre breaks down over time. The mob, realizing that his yarn has a flaw, rips pieces off his suit and he’s left standing in his underwear.

In the current political scenario, John Gormley plays the man in the White Suit. Will history repeat itself? Or has he already signed away his rights to the magic formula?

Or is John Gormley modelling himself on former BBC man Martin Bell, “the man in the white suit”, who ousted disgraced Conservative MP Neil Hamilton in the 1997 UK General election?
Is it an omen that Bell was defeated in the 2001 election (albeit in a different constituency)?

How hard will it be to keep that white suit clean when you’re sitting and supping with the devil? Only time will tell.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Blair to become catholic deacon?

Over the weekend, UK press reports that not only will Tony Blair convert to catholicism when he leaves No 10 but that he also wants to be ordained as a Deacon.

The Blair’s catholic cleric was on Andrew Marr’s BBC TV programme yesterday morning, he’s recently written a book about his own horrific childhood, but he refused to answer any questions about Blair’s personal religious leanings or intent. However, he confirmed that a catholic deacon can perform many services including preaching, baptism and marriage but he can’t celebrate mass. So if the press reports are correct, Blair could be a busy man post-No.10.

It seems odd that the Prime Minister has to be so coy about his religious beliefs, but perhaps it’s not all that surprising.

About a year ago, Blair was explaining that he didn’t go to war in Iraq on a mere whim or just to keep in with the USA. He stressed how seriously he had considered the decision, pointing out that it wasn’t just the judgement of the court of public opinion or history he had to face, he would ultimately be judged by God for his actions.

Immediately, much of the media and the anti-war brigade jumped on this to ridicule Blair, presenting it as proof that religion and politics don’t mix. They deliberately mis-represented what he’d said, twisting it to mean that Blair believed God had given him the nod for the Iraq war.

Which wasn’t at all what he’d either said or meant. But it did illustrate how readily the media could and would use any religious utterings by him in order to damage him. Even if he has already converted to catholicism, he’s a wise man to keep it quiet till he leaves No 10.

The spin around Blair isn’t all one-way!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Chavez - time to Chile out!

After the 1973 overthrow of the Allende regime in Chile, Fernando Flores, his Finance Minister, spent 3 years in jail. After his release he fled to the USA (a strange destination if you believe the CIA coup theory) where he subsequently became a very successful business consultant, his consultancy firm is known as BDA (Business Development Associates). BDA is linked to Billy Glennon’s Vision Consultants in Ireland.

About 5 years ago, I attended a private weekend conference in Dublin, hosted by Fernando Flores. It was a very interesting experience, not least because he was probably the most autocratic host speaker/presenter I’ve ever encountered at many a business conference over the years. He also SEEMED to admit (I don’t want to misrepresent him) that the Allende regime had tried to make too many radical changes in too short a time-frame and, with the benefit of hindsight, might well have achieved their goals if their approach had been more pragmatic and less ideological.

He told us that, in the hours after the coup and the death of President Allende, the surviving cabinet members were offered safe passage and a plane to take them to Argentina. This offer was declined because they didn’t trust the bona fides of the coup leaders, and subsequently they were told that their plane was to be shot down over the Andes - an unfortunate accident and what outside body would ever investigate the “crash”?.

It’s hard not to be sympathetic towards the new left-leaning and reforming regimes in South America e.g. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil - but you have to worry that, through natural impatience to achieve social justice and overthrow the ruling elite, some may repeat the mistakes of Chile and fail to achieve the social and democratic change that is necessary.

Postscript: The Chilean Embassy is located in Sandycove and the ambassador’s son, Manuel, sometimes works as a lounge-boy in my local. None of yer Ferrero Rocher nonsense there!

One Night in Paris

Paris Hilton - in jail, out of jail, back to jail - the things she’ll do to keep her name on the front page!

A couple of years ago she made an explicit sex video with her then boyfriend, which soon became available for sale on the internet, under the title “One Night in Paris”.

Apparently this was one of the few things she’s done that genuinely upset her parents, as apparently the video was shot in a Marriott hotel room.

How do you get on Pat Kenny's panel?

Anyone know how you get on the “Friday panel” on RTE’s “Today with Pat Kenny”?

More specifically, anyone know how Emer O’Kelly gets on it so regularly? Somehow, she also manages to get on Kenny's Late Late Show on tv. Every time I see or hear her pontificating on politics or anything in the real world, I become even more convinced that she knows SFA about most things.

Yesterday was a case in point: she delivered a fluent dissertation about democracy in Russia and the respective roles of Gorbachev and Yeltsin.

Luckily Conor O’Clery was also on the panel and came in straight after her to flatly contradict her analysis. I suspect that, having been Irish Times Moscow correspondent and married to a native Russian, he might actually know something about the topic.

And then there’s her accent - what part of Kerry is she from?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Green Party VAT Policy seems misguided

It’s beginning to look as if the Fianna Fail talks with the Greens may fail to arrive at a successful conclusion. This will bring the game back to the original FF/PD + Independents model.

There are several points of policy compromise which could prove insurmountable, particularly with the Greens having to get approval for any deal at a convention of their members next Sunday - and the need a 66% vote to approve the deal.

Quite separately, and not something I expect is a problem in the negotiations, one aspect of Green manifesto has puzzled me - the proposed reduction in VAT rates by 1% - supposedly to help the “less well off”.

Most family supermarket trolley items are already Zero VAT rated, as are medicines, children’s clothing & footwear and books.

A blanket reduction in VAT rates will give most benefit to those who have the greatest discretionary spending capacity, the “less well off” will have very limited spending capacity beyond the staple items.

So such a VAT reduction will certainly put a little more small change in the pockets of the needy.

On the other hand, the big spending Killiney & Dalkey residents ordering their weekly wine deliveries from Mitchells, dining in Cavistons, putting €80 worth of petrol in the Merc, booking the Riviera holidays etc., will be material beneficiaries.

Have I got it wrong?

Boyd Barrett Bullsh1t

In an Opinion piece in today’s Irish Times, Richard Boyd Barrett makes a number of substantial claims for his near success in the recent general election, totally ignoring the complete failure of the other handful of candidates running in other constituencies under the “People before Profit” banner.

In response the following letter published in the Irish Times on 9th June 2007:

Madam - Richard Boyd Barrett claims that "against the background of a very poor overall performance for the left, the shock caused by the People Before Profit Alliance in Dún Laoghaire in coming so close to taking a seat may be a small but significant pointer towards a possible way forward."

This assertion would be more credible if Mr Boyd Barrett had made Dún Laoghaire voters aware of his prominent role in the Socialist Workers Party and familiarised them with that party's Marxist economic policy.

I suspect that many middle-class voters in Dún Laoghaire identified Mr Boyd Barrett only with the public baths protest, without knowing of his SWP affiliation, and voted for him on that basis.

Next time he should run with his true colours flying and we can then assess more accurately the appeal of his politics and the effectiveness of the electoral strategy he espouses in his article
. Yours etc.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

It's Thatcher time

Two brand-new ESB power stations out of action for months, what the hell is going on in that overstaffed, overpaid semi-state company.

Modern state-of-the-art power stations are completely automated, all you need to run one is a computer, a man and a dog

- The computer to run the station
- The man to feed the dog
- The dog to keep the man away from the computer.

And now Brendan Ogle, formerly of train-driver strike fame, is threatening us with power blackouts over proposed changes in the ESB.

It’s time to hire Maggie Thatcher to advise on how to break the power of the public service unions.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Dutch blocked air support before Srebrenica massacre.

An abbreviated extract from a Reuters report in today’s Irish Times breaking News Section - under the title “Dutch 'blocked' support before Srebrencia massacre”

The Dutch refused crucial air support to their own troops defending Srebrenica under a UN mandate, allowing Bosnian Serb forces to take away and massacre 8,000-10,000 Muslims, it was claimed today. Lawyers representing about 6,000 relatives of the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, are suing the Dutch state and the United Nations for failing to stop the killings.

During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Srebrenica was declared a safe area and guarded by a Dutch army unit serving as part of a larger UN force in Bosnia. The lightly armed Dutch soldiers, lacking air support and under fire, were forced to abandon the enclave to Bosnian Serb forces, who then massacred Muslim men and boys who had relied on the protection of the Dutch troops.

"Shortly before the fall of the safe area air support was obstructed by the Netherlands itself," lawyers Axel Hagedorn and Marco Gerritsen said in the writ of summons to be filed at the district court of The Hague.

The Dutch state has always said its troops were abandoned by the UN which gave them no air support, but public documents show a network of Dutch military officials within the UN Protection Force blocked air support because they feared their soldiers could be hit by friendly fire, the lawyers said. "It is a wrong idea that the Dutch soldiers were let down by the United Nations," Mr Gerritsen added.
"It was a decision by high ranking Dutch officers together with the Dutch state to see that requests for air support were denied."

After requests for air support were initially granted by UN officials the Dutch state did everything in its power to reverse this approval.

Who is suing the UN on behalf of the estimated 800,000 victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda? Is this the only way that the international community can be shamed into taking effective action against regimes engaged in genocide within their own borders?

Are FF the only party honestly enaged in the current negotiations?

Strange as it may seem, Fianna Fail are the only party honestly engaged in the current negotiations regarding the formation of government. They are displaying their natural pragmatism in pursuit of achievement of their ideological goal: the acquisition of power at any cost. The electorate expects no more or no less from FF.

By contrast, their main negotiation partners are doing political handstands and pirouettes in order to get on the Government bandwagon, freely abandoning core principles and ignoring inconvenient elephants in the corner.

The Greens will readily abandon
- their principled opposition to the use of Shannon Airport by US military
- their strong rejection of the last Government’s hospital co-location strategy
- their demand for the banning of corporate donations
- Trevor Sargent’s promise to resign as party leader rather than lead the Greens into coalition with FF

The PDs will forget
- their firm commitment to only coalesce with “like-minded parties” and the Greens would not qualify.
- Mary Harney’s intention to quit Government in the week before the election, based on revelations from the Mahon Tribunal. The fact that the Tribunal’s opening statement for it’s current module has raised even more questions for the Taoiseach, and seems to further undermine his latest “full explanations”, will have to be ignored in order to ensure survival of the Progressive Democrats.

Thus, any remaining perceived vestiges of PD high principle in politics are shed. Sic transit…….

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Mother Teresa of broadcasting

On RTE’s Morning Ireland programme today, one of the presenters expressed surprise that the Dell share price had risen on the news of the proposed job cuts.

Yesterday, Bank of Ireland announced annual profits of €1.96bn, an increase of 28% on the previous year. The share price promptly fell 3%, making a total fall of 14% from its 2007 high.

Both these events illustrate the high expectations and lack of sentiment of investors.

I’ve often thought that since RTE is a cosseted public service employer, with its employees cushioned from the realities of the real commercial world, the station may not be an appropriate commentator on business or commercial matters in general. They often come across as a broadcasting Mother Teresa, defending the “rights” of the worker or the consumer against the interests of “big business”.

RTE thinks that it's performed exceptionally well if it breaks even for the year, profit seems to be something of a dirty word there.

Who'll win Political Gobshite of the Year 2007?

I had thought that John Deasy would be a racing cert for the “Political Gobshite of the Year” award come December.

But Jim McDaid has overtaken him and now leads by a sizeable margin, between his screw-up of the FF election campaign in Donegal and his latest outburst, saying that he may not support Bertie for Taoiseach. “FF did nothing to support me in the election, I don’t feel under any obligation to support them”.
(Has he been breathalysed?).

McDaid’s biggest threat may not come from Deasy, but from Finian McGrath who’s making up ground rapidly. The longer the Government formation process takes, the more pirouettes McGrath will be able to perform, each one gaining him multiple PGY points with the public and the media.

Speaking of pirouettes, and factoring in election results, Michael McDowell has to be in with a shout. Only time will tell.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Inappropriate Speed Limits

I recently spent a few days in Mayo, driving around the Newport/Westport area. Although many of the roads there are narrow, winding, undulating and with uneven surfaces in many places, the speed limit is 100kmh. I rarely felt it appropriate to exceed 80kmh.

I was puzzled by the fact that the County Council could paint the instruction “Slow” or “Very Slow” on the road without any reduction in the legal speed limit. Similarly, there was no reduction in speed limit where yellow warning signs, e.g. “Dangerous Corner Ahead“, “Road Narrows” (particularly for small bridges) etc., were displayed. I assume that this situation is replicated in other counties too.

I understand that the local authority must pass a resolution for each local variation from the official speed limits as set down by the Dept of the Environment, and this clearly could be a huge exercise for a county the size of Mayo.

Surely the logical solution is for the national rules to be changed so that, where it is deemed appropriate to put up certain warning signs, the speed limit should also be automatically reduced.

The corollary is that, on national roads where there is no justification for a warning sign (e.g. stretches of the N11), local authorities should have their wings clipped with regard to the imposition of unreasonably low speed limits.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent 9th June 2007 & the Irish Examiner 11th June 2007.

Postscript: I filled the tank before leaving Dublin, drove to Mulranny observing the speed limit and spent some time touring locally, as described above. I refilled the tank after 520 miles, the warning light hadn't come on yet. It took 53.5 litres (11.8 gallons) and that translates into 44mpg. That's some performance for a 2-litre petrol engined, 8 year old car. Clearly, slowing down makes economic and ecological sense.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

McDowell leads PDs down the road to perdition

The following is a straight lift from an article in today's Sunday Independent. Some comments about McDowell seemed entirely apt.

The coalition partners lost six of their eight seats, including party stalwarts such as deputy leader Liz O'Donnell in Dublin South, Tim O'Malley in Limerick and Fiona O'Malley in Dun Laoghaire.

Mary Harney, in Dublin Mid West, and Noel Grealish, in Galway, were the only two members of the PDs to be re-elected to the Dail.

Ms Harney was unavailable for comment last night.

Michael McDowell told the Sunday Independent last night: "I won't go back. I will be a private citizen again. I won't be a politician, a journalist or a controversialist. The guillotine has come down."

But Mr Grealish, who won the last seat in Galway West, said he would be meeting Mary Harney in the next few days to discuss the future of the party.

"Mary Harney has spent the guts of 30 years building up this party. Is she going to spend the next 10 years rebuilding it? I'm not so sure. It's a tough battle," he said.

Mr Grealish said the PDs got squeezed by the two bigger parties.

"Now we are just two. It is hard to run a party with just two deputies. It is very hard for the party to survive with just two members in the house," he said.

"Hopefully we will survive and rebuild but we will have to think seriously about all options, including about whether we will disband," he added.

Mr Minihan, who failed in his bid for a seat in Cork South Central, said last night that Bertie Ahern should appoint Mary Harney as health minister in the national interest.

He said he was not suggesting that the Progressive Democrats go back into government, just Mary Harney.

"I think that the Taoiseach should invite her to continue as minister for health and the mechanics of the rest to be worked out," he said.

"I believe the Taoiseach is big enough to invite her to take the portfolio of minister for health. The Taoiseach should invite her in his own interests and most of all, in the interest of the Irish people. Mary Harney is bigger and better than the entity of the Progressive Democrats at this moment in time.

"Mary Harney should feel absolutely no responsibility for the PDs at this moment in time. That responsibility is a responsibility of Michael McDowell," he said.

It seemed increasingly likely that Mary Harney will resume leadership of the party in the coming days. Party trustees are expected to meet today to schedule meetings to decide on the party's leadership and its future.

Tom Parlon, the outgoing Minister of State, said that the Progressive Democrats could remain in government in their own right, with Ms Harney and Mr Grealish helping Fianna Fail make up the numbers in a new government.

As shock over the scale of the losses sank in, recriminations over Mr McDowell's leadership began to surface. One party source likened his departure to a general walking away from battle, leaving wounded and leaderless troops to fend for themselves.

Post-Election Tranquility - for the moment

In the post-election tranquillity of the doldrum period as we wait for Bertie’s political wind to blow, I’m off today to Enda Country with the two current “Mrs.M”s.

A few days in Blueshirt Heaven, savouring the memory of the PD meltdown, will restore the equilibrium to my blood pressure, raised by episodes like Simon Coveney’s performances on Q&A and Morning Ireland.

A minor upward blip again this morning when I see that, once again, John Deasy, gobshite of the year, is suggesting that Enda Kenny be replaced as FG leader.

Pat Rabbitte may be in trouble with his Labour colleagues - several querying the strategy now that they haven’t gained any seats - but FG have. As a fellow Mayo man, I think he’s the best they have and I hope he survives any heave.

Hopefully, by the time we come back on Thursday, the PDs will have rejoined FF.

Time to fire John Deasy

It seems that John Deasy has been on Waterford local radio again - calling for a new leader in Fine Gael.

I believe Enda Kenny did enough to prove his capabilities as a leader - between reviving a Fine Gael party that was DOA after the 2002 meltdown, to mounting a credible campaign (look at the seat numbers!) , even to debating with Bertie - which he lost but wasn’t knocked out.

This despite an uphill struggle with the media - undermined by his own people with the Deasy/English intervention and then almost every interview opening with the question-mark over his ability/experience from a hostile/sceptical media.

I think the real problem for Fine Gael was the question in voters minds of the dubious quality of the FG team behind Kenny. Who are the FG front bench and where were they during the debates?

Richard Bruton (knee-high to what now?) performed well - but isn’t a natural street-fighter. Olwyn Enright gave Mary Hanafin a hard time, soundly rebutting her claims without ever getting shrill. Who else performed well for FG in the national media?

Simon Coveney is nice but not assertive enough when faced with Brian Cowan or Dermot Ahern. Indeed, FGs decision to put Coveney on Q&A and Morning Ireland in the final days of the campaign was a big mistake.

Meanwhile, FF has an array of seasoned heavyweight street brawlers and used them to good effect on a daily basis, at their own press conferences and in media debates. Incidentally, RTE did FG no favours during many of the bouts, the referee was noticeably absent when many low (and loud) blows were thrown.

If FG are serious about getting into power, they need to forget the Queensberry rules when they’re in the ring with FF heavyweights.

The first step for Kenny should be a review of the front-bench talent and potential in the new intake. They really need to start now, sending these people to political boot-camp, sharpening up their Dail and media performances.

Kenny should remain the leader, at least for the next 2-3 years, unless and until a credible replacement has the opportunity to show him/herself. One thing I’m sure of - it shouldn’t be John Deasy.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

McDowell's missed opportunity

As he exits public life following the loss of his dail seat and the decimation of the PDs, I found this old letter of mine, published in the Irish Times in February 2001 (pre-Madam era) under the heading "Fine Gael Leadership"

It's difficult to see either of the coup leaders as visionaries who will succeed where John Bruton failed - in motivating and mobilising a fairly jaded party.
I suggest Fine Gael take the opportunity to look outside the party for possible leadership candidates.
Let me start the list: Pat Cox and Michael McDowell.
Yours, etc.,

How could I have got it so wrong (about Michael McDowell)?????

Clouds, Silver Linings etc..

Disappointment at the failure of the alternative coalition to win the election has been tempered somewhat by the destruction inflicted on the PDs.

I’d have been happy if McDowell and Parlon got the chop, but they’ve been joined by 4 others, leaving only Mary Harney and Noel Grealish. Apparently these two don’t particularly like each other, he was a McDowell supporter and they're both gene-pool FFers. So will the PDs continue to exist in a couple of months time?

Now that the political smoke is clearing, it looks like a FF-Green coalition is the most likely pairing, based on the numbers required for a stable government.

This scenario throws up some interesting possible crunch points in the negotiation of the final deal between those two parties.

A core principle for the Greens, oft repeated during the campaign whenever the possibility of coalition was discussed, is the banning of corporate donations to the political parties. That would really hit FF finances very hard, as the largest beneficiaries of corporate largesse. It would surely mean the end of the infamous Galway tent - unthinkable!

Then imagine the consternation when it comes to the use of Government transport. The ministerial Merc would be replaced by the Ministerial bicycle. Recognising the occasional need for motorised transport, Merc-pooling would be introduced, solely for state or government business and banned for personal or party use. Who would take the kids to school, the wife shopping or the Minister to the races?

The Government jet would be sold or moth-balled, Ministers and their garda minders would be routinely seen on buses, trains and, as infrequently as possible, in the economy section of commercial aircraft.

And just imagine having to listen to John Gormley at cabinet meetings!

Plenty to smile about just thinking about the upcoming negotiation process.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Michael McDowell - No Thanks

This is a straight lift from today's (sat) Irish Examiner. Not enough people buy de paper.

THE hard man of Irish politics held it together just long enough to make it back to his Mercedes, then the magnitude of the previous six minutes broke over him and his eyes filled with tears. A career born in bombast had collapsed in personal agony.

It was the final twist of the rollercoaster election campaign, and the deep irony could not be ignored that after twice going to the brink of exiting government in disgust at the Taoiseach’s evasions over the payments saga, the voters had finally tipped the Tánaiste into history while at the same moment rewarding Bertie Ahern with a stunning landslide.
Mr McDowell arrived at the RDS count downcast but dignified. As the media swirled around him — surely the final time they would orbit this dark sun of political divisiveness and dynamism in such numbers — he could only progress just inside the main doors before being immobilised by the sheer weight of attention surrounding him.

There, just yards from where the ballot papers had flowed onto the tables to be tallied — damning him as they did so — the Tánaiste delivered the totemic moment in an already extraordinary day of political theatre.

His voice at times breaking with the momentum of the occasion, Mr McDowell spoke of his love for Ireland, responsibility for his own destiny and his seemingly snap decision to leave public life for good.

He ignored the Labour supporters barracking him with joyous chants of “Cheerio! Cheerio! Cheerio!” as he turned to leave, almost overcome by the body blow delivered by his own electorate.

But for an ideological street fighter who delivered so many bruisings down the years, he showed he could take them too.

As supporters moved in to try and comfort him after his shock announcement, the Tánaiste first came close to tears, within seconds he was in the relative privacy of his government car and could no longer deny his true feelings as the reality of personal defeat and party near-annihilation amid government triumph washed over him.

Mr McDowell had finally been laid low by Green avenger John Gormley who blew him out of office on the fifth count for the bitterly fought seat of Dublin South East.

Not content with delivering a happy slapping to Mr McDowell in the street in Ranelagh, the Green TD had now given the Tánaiste severe stress at the RDS.

It had been obvious calamity was in the air for several hours.

You knew Mr McDowell was twisting in the wind when he got more transfers from the eliminated Sinn Féin candidate than the poll-topping Fianna Fáil one.

The voters of Dublin South East had the final say on this most combative and commanding of Dáil giants : They said: “Michael McDowell — No Thanks."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Vote for Roche is a Vote for.......

Some slogans are just too honest. The sad thing is that Dickhead will probably top the poll in Wicklow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Going for Chelsea Gold

The 2007 Chelsea Flower Show has 20 entries in the Show Garden category.

The following is the breakdown of Medal winners:

Gold medals: 7
Silver Gilt: 5
Silver: 5
Bronze: 3

In other words, every Show Garden was awarded a medal of some sort and over one-third of the gardens earned a Gold Medal, which must somewhat devalue the actual achievement.

Creating a garden for the show and winning a medal is obviously a great was of promoting a gardening/landscaping business. Diarmuid Gavin has undoubtedly gained huge publicity from his involvement at Chelsea on a number of occasions - he won a Silver Gilt medal this year - which means he finished in the range 8-12 out of 20.

There are persistent media reports that Fitzpatrick Gardening & Gambling Inc. has recognised the possibilities and is actively considering submitting an entry for next year’s Chelsea show. One can readily envisage areas of lawn set out as roulette or blackjack tables. I'm reliably informed that employees are not looking forward to this project, particularly the noisy and dirty job of using an angle-grinder to cut square paving slabs, in different colours, into circular chips.

Footnote: Today's Indo carries a report by Anne-Marie Walsh in which it states: "Gavin revealed that one of the Royal Horticultural Society judges told him the wrong garden had taken the gold medal". Which one of the seven gold medals awarded would that be, Diarmuid? Chancer!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

McDowell's credentials in question

Letter published today (Wednesday) in the Irish Independent under the heading "The Minister's accusations"

Sir, On radio today, Justice Minister Michael McDowell defended his action, during last Wednesday's Leader's debate, in challenging Gerry Adams with accusations regarding the Colombia Three and FARC.

This accusation has potentially serious ramifications for all of us, not just Sinn Fein. It raises fundamental questions about the underlying principles of justice and democratic accountability.

Let's suppose that Michael McDowell genuinely believes his latest red scare election tactic and decides that the alternative coalition must be stopped in the national interest. As Minister for Justice he has access to Garda, Revenue and Welfare files on his political opponents and their families and could presumably leak a variety of stories to journalists, at national and local level, which would damage those opponents.

Is this acceptable, based on Mr McDowell's judgement of the national interest?

He has, at very least, created the precedent for future office holders to abuse their sources of information for political purposes. This is a highly dangerous state of affairs and one which should not be tolerated in a democracy.
Yours etc.

Footnote: Also published by the Irish Examiner on election day itself. I'm disappointed that the Irish Times hasn't chosen to publish this letter.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Latest election betting

Current (Sunday) Paddy Power odds

Next Taoiseach
Kenny 10/11
Ahern 1/1

Next Govt
FG/Lab/Green 1/1
FF/Lab 5/2
FG/Lab 6/1
FF/PD 7/1

Most likely Party totals
FF 63-66 6/4
FG 52 or over 10/11
Lab 23 or over 11/10
SF 9-10 11/10
Green 9-10 7/4
PD 1-2 11/10

Still all to play for. However, Mayo truly hammered by Galway today in the first round of the football championship. This result won't do much to help Mayo team manager John O'Mahoney's (FG) chances next Thursday.

What Bertie won't tell you.

Visit www.17billion.com

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hung Dail in prospect

An interesting exercise on RTE’s Saturday View, extended to 2 hours today. Using local and national media sources, supported in most cases by opinion poll findings, they did a constituency by constituency analysis of likely outcomes in all 43 to arrive at a projected national result for next Thursday’s election.

This was how the 166 seats panned out:

FF: 65 (-14)
FG: 47 (+15)
Lab: 21 (NC)
SF: 11 (+6)
Green: 9 (+3)
PD: 2 (-6)
Independent: 11 (-4)

If this is the actual outcome, the PDs are toast. However, a combination of FG/Lab/Green only totals 77 seats, which is still 6 short of the bare minimum required for an overall majority (allowing for non-voting Cathaoirleach).

Other than FF/Lab whose combined total is 86, it’s hard to see what sort of coalition Government could be put together, particularly as every other party has ruled out Sinn Fein in advance.

Needless to say, Mary Harney rejected the PD result, while Eamon Gilmore reckoned that Labour would be several seats better. Gilmore pointed out that, in the analysis, Labour were supposedly in the hunt for the last seat in 17 of the 43 constituencies but were never declared the likely winner. Phil Hogan predicted that FG would pick up several more seats than the 47 projected.

Tomorrow's News Today!

The latest RedC tracking poll to be published tomorrow in the Sunday Business Post

FF 36% (+1)
FG 27% (-2)
LAB 11% (-1)
Greens 8% (+2)
SF 10% (+3)
PD 2% (-1)
Ind 6% (-2)

From the Sunday Independent, their latest IMS poll

FF 37% (+2)
FG 25% (-1)
LAB 12% (-1)
Greens 5% (no change)
SF 9% (-1)
PD 3% (no change)
Ind 9% (+1)

Fieldwork for Sindo poll was done on Mon/Tues and RedC on Weds/Thurs/Fri this week. FF party political broadcast featuring endorsements of Bertie by Blair, Clinton & Mitchell was aired on Monday night. Tuesday saw Bertie Ahern’s televised Westminster address and we had the Leaders tv debate on Thursday night. The consensus is that Bertie won the debate by a modest enough margin.

Are PD Chickens coming home to FF roost?

Friday's Irish Times headline "Kenny scores on confidence and Ahern on detail" tends to support Fianna Fail's assertion that Bertie Ahern’s greater command of the detail in the "Leader’s TV Debate" is evidence that he’s the more suited to the role of Taoiseach after next Thursday’s election.

However, on inspection, this may prove to be something of a double-edged sword, for it also puts him squarely in the dock for the many deficiencies and failures of his government over the past 10 years in office, at a time of unprecedented national wealth. The defence of “I didn’t understand the implications or shortcomings of the policy, M’Lord” is now firmly denied him.

Attempts to distance FF from their partner PD efforts in the areas of Health and Justice are now well and truly defused. Indeed, it would be hard to find the FF DNA in either of these policy areas. You can be sure that FF would be much more comfortable with Labour as a coalition partner in matters of policy (though less happy about the number of cabinets seats they‘d have to yield to a much bigger coalition partner).

This point was at the core of Eamon Dunphy’s robust rejection of a sympathy vote for Bertie Ahern on RTE’s Late late show last night. Bertie Ahern has presided over the disproportionate imposition of PD right-wing policies over the past 10 years and he and his party should now be made face the consequences, for good or ill.

Are the skies now darkening with the wings of chickens coming home to roost?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Latest odds on Election Outcomes

Today’s betting from Paddy Power:

Next Taoiseach:
Enda Kenny - 4/5
Bertie Ahern - 5/4

Next Government:
FG/Lab/Green - 1/1
FF/Lab - 5/2
FG/Lab - 6/1
FF/PD - 7/1
FF/SF - 10/1

Those odds would seem to rule out a return of the existing Government coalition or, indeed, Fine Gael & Labour getting sufficient seats to form a Government without the Greens. Nevertheless, I've €10 @ 10/1 on a FG/Lab outcome.
It'll be interesting to see how these odds may change over the final week of the campaign.

Also, latest Betting for Dun Laoghaire constituency (5 seats).

Anyone who fancies PD Fiona O’Malley (in the political sense) should get on now. I won’t be backing her. If the bookies are right, it looks like a Fine Gael gain from the PDs.

Mary Hanafin* FF - 1/100
Eamon Gilmore* Lab - 1/33
Ciaran Cuffe* Green - 1/25
Barry Andrews* FF - 1/5
Sean Barrett FG - 4/11
John Bailey FG - Evens
Eugene Regan FG - 9/4
Oisin Quinn Lab - 5/2
Fiona O’Malley* PD - 7/2
R.Boyd Barrett PBP - 11/1
Eoin O’Broin SF - 20/1

* sitting TD

The Great Election Debate

Last night was the much-heralded “great TV debate” between party leaders and candidates for Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny. RTE reported that average audience for the 80-minute debate averaged almost 1m viewers.

While both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael both claimed victory for their own man, the general media concensus was that Bertie won the debate by a relatively narrow margin, as captured by the headlines in the three Irish broadsheets this morning:

Irish Times
“Kenny scores on confidence and Ahern on detail

Irish Independent
Ahern shades it but fails to land knockout

Irish Examiner
No killer punch line means a messy draw

But Enda Kenny may well have been the real winner. Expectations of Kenny were pretty low, given his often wooden performances in the Dail. The greatest fear of the alternative coalition partners was that Kenny would blow it last night in the head-to-head with the seasoned campaigner that is Bertie Ahern.

So there must have been great relief that his demeanour and performance were quite good, although he was caught a couple of times by challenges on policy detail.

Six of us sat down to watch the debate, which started at 9.40pm, in my living-room, lubricated by a little wine. After paying some attention for the first 10-15 minutes, we found that no-one was listening to the debate as we all discussed the election, Bertie house, how the two boys looked like they’d been togged out by the same tailor (which turned out to be the case - the ubiquitous Louis Copeland) etc etc.. After about 40 minutes, 4 of us decamped to the pub, where the debate was showing on the big screen tv. However, we couldn’t hear it from where we were sitting - indeed only 2 or 3 customers were standing near the tv actually following the debate. Mind you, the pub itself was very quiet last night, so perhaps people were staying at home to watch it.

So I saw the great debate, but I heard very little of what was said. Only one week to go till the election, it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, impact it has on the opinion polls. I suspect only the “undecided” are up for grabs, existing supporters of either man will have seen him as the winner. Certainly, nothing emerged which is likely to change voting intentions.

There are two polls to be published this weekend, but the fieldwork was completed before the Thursday night debate. I think the Irish Times plan to publish a poll on Monday which will have been taken after the debate.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is Michael McDowell a democrat?

I’ve always got mixed emotions when I hear Michael McDowell ripping into Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin.

On the one hand, I'm delighted to have the Shinners challenged on criminality and the Colombia escapade. On the other hand, I can’t accept that a Minister for Justice is justified in making charges on the basis that “I know what I know.” The precedent being set is highly dangerous. What’s to stop him, or a successor in office, from trailing information, to which he has privileged access, in order to blacken a political activist or opponent who is pursuing the government on a legitimate basis?

This type of activity is compounded by other disquieting activities which one shouldn’t expect from a serving Justice Minister:
(a) leaking the contents of a confidential garda file to a pet journalist regarding Frank Connolly and the Colombia 3 and
(b) contacting Jody Corcoran of the Sunday Independent in order to get access to leaked tribunal documents which should not have been in the possession of the journalist in question.

Are these the actions of a real democrat, particularly one who is both Minister for Justice and a senior counsel? Surely such a man should be upholding the law and the rights of every individual citizen, understanding the need to do so even when it does not suit his political purposes?

Bertie's latest digout from friends

Has Blair‘s “Cash for Honours” now morphed into “Political Endorsement for Legacy”?

Last night, a week before Ireland’s general election, Fianna Fail, the largest party in the state and leader of the current two-party coalition government, aired its latest party political broadcast featuring warm endorsements of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern by Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and George Mitchell. While the tributes centred on Ahern’s role in the northern Ireland peace process, both Blair and Clinton also praised Ireland’s economic performance. Clinton just stopped short of adding “it’s the economy, stupid!”

The screening of this party political broadcast on Wednesday night raises inevitably questions about the timing of the Taoiseach’s Westminster address the previous day and the very warm and glowing personalised introduction he received from Tony Blair on that occasion, which was televised live in Ireland.

Is this Tony Blair's "thank you" for Bertie Ahern's help in securing agreement in Northern Ireland, by far the most prominent positive achievement for the Blair legacy?

The following extract from today’s Irish Times makes it clear that the participants in last night’s party political broadcast were well aware of the exercise in which they were engaged. It inevitably raises the question: is it appropriate for a serving British Prime Minister to involve himself so directly in a foreign election campaign?
Irish Times Thursday 17th May 2007
Opposition parties were last night playing down the significance of contributions from former US president Bill Clinton, British prime minister Tony Blair and former US senator George Mitchell, all of whom pay warm tribute to the Taoiseach in the latest party political broadcast from Fianna Fáil. Deaglán de Bréadún , Political Correspondent, reports.
In the four-minute election broadcast, Mr Blair says: "We would never have had the peace process in Northern Ireland without Bertie Ahern."
A similar point is made by former president Clinton who says: "If it hadn't been for Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair we would never have had the Good Friday agreement."
Mr Mitchell, who chaired the talks at Stormont which led to the Belfast Agreement, says the Taoiseach's role was "crucial" to the success of the negotiations.
Mr Blair also praises Mr Ahern for his "immeasurable" contribution to Ireland's economic success, both as Taoiseach and minister for finance.
A Fianna Fáil spokeswoman told The Irish Times: "They were all asked to participate. They knew they were participating in a party political broadcast."
All three recordings were made last month: "They were shown the finished version and they cleared it before it went ahead. All three approved them, and they saw the final version. They were all cleared personally."


Footnote: I’ve emailed the above item to BBC radio’s flagship radio news programme Today, to BBC2’s Newsnight & Daily Politics, to Sky News and to Channel 4 News. I’ll be very disappointed if this doesn’t generate some media heat for Mr Blair and his friend.

An edited version of this published as a letter in the Irish Times.

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