Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Kenny on Immigration

“Celtic and Christian” would be the generic description used by any disinterested commentator if asked to provide a brief overview of Ireland. The four Irish Provinces have played for several years in the Celtic League (now Magners League) rugby competition, without demur from our Northern cousins. However, to the clique of neo-liberal, politically-correct, pedantic media commentators, these descriptors only conjure up, with horror, a narrow nationalist outlook.

Intrigued by the reaction to the recent Kenny speech on immigration, I actually took the trouble to go back and read it. Far from being a right-wing, nationalist diatribe, I found it to be a moderate and balanced call for development of coherent policies and delivery mechanisms to help immigrants. These include measures to prevent exploitation of immigrant workers, more language teachers in schools to help with immigrant children and adult language classes for the older cohort. Also, the appointment of a minister with specific responsibility for coordinating the variety of services provided by different Government Departments & Agencies.

Kenny does deal with the disproportionate number of non-nationals in our jails and involved in road fatalities, but not in any right-wing, reactionary or inflammatory way.

He also points out that there are at least 50,000 Chinese language students in the country - you’ll see many of them working as shop assistants and contract cleaners. Kenny’s assessment is that “rather than viewing these people as a source of cheap labour…we should engage closely with the large Chinese community to develop links with the fast-growing economies of China and the wider Asian markets.” Narrow-minded, racist nationalism indeed!

In the same week, Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, addressing a public meeting at the Law Society, accuses Kenny of “playing the race card” and then puts forward his own proposal for detention centres for dealing with immigrants and citizenship tests for applicants. Hardly a word from our liberal commentators on that one.

If these media commentators succeed in stifling reasoned debate on this important topic, it greatly increases the risk of social and racial problems in future years.

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

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A short break in bandit country, anyone?

There’s a TV ad running at the moment which aims to promote tourism in South Armagh.

The ad features a young couple entering a busy pub, lively with chat and traditional music, which goes completely silent as they enter. They stop in the doorway looking nervous. The barman, with a slightly menacing look, leans on the bar and addresses them: “You’re not from round here. You’ll be wanting to buy us a drink, it’s tradition.” Then finally the barman grins, the hushed crowd in the bar laughs and the strangers finally smile in relief.

Given that South Armagh has long been known as bandit country, with “sniper at work” placards routinely decorating telegraph poles in the county, such a reception in a pub there would scare the bejasus out of any sensible person.

I don’t know what ad agency came up with this or who approved it on behalf of the client, but neither party deserves any marks for the application of brainpower.

Footnote: I accessed their website and emailed this view to them.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Brand Goody

Anyone watching Celebrity Big Brother who thinks that Jade Goody represents the lowest form of pond life in modern British society is making a big mistake.

Flicking across the channels last night, I happened upon "Celebrity Big Brother’s Big Mouth", presented by Russell Brand - supposedly a comedian.

His guests on the show were the “celebs” who had been evicted from the house, with the top 3 due to arrive later. In the first couple of minutes of the show he told several crude wanking “jokes”, all accompanied by vigorous hand movements.

This really was shit presented as wit, with only the crude vulgarity generating the laughter, doubtless much of it nervous. I switched off the TV and went to bed.

The difference between Brand and Goody is that this guy is getting paid by Channel 4 specifically to deliver this school-boy toilet humour, whereas Jade Goody was merely set-up by Channel 4 to self-destruct for our “entertainment”.

I thought the original idea behind Channel 4 was that it would be the commercial equivalent of BBC2 - a platform for minority interests e.g. arts, culture, education, drama etc - more intellectually challenging programmes than the mainstream channels.

Big Brother should be buried at a cross-roads at midnight with a stake through his/her heart, never to be seen or heard of again!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Going Nuclear on the Health Service

In August 1981, Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) in the USA went on strike. As Federal employees, the strike was illegal and President Ronald Reagan gave them a 48-hour ultimatum to return to work or have their contracts terminated.

A large majority (about 11,000) of ATCs ignored the ultimatum and were summarily dismissed. The Government brought in military and retired ATCs to supplement the minority of ATCs who had remained/returned to work, augmented by supervisory staff with ATC experience.

Naturally there was some disruption to air travel in US airspace, but the country kept flying and the strike was effectively broken. Over the following couple of years, new ATCs were recruited and trained and the dismissed ATCs were never re-employed.

Which got me thinking about the current impasse with the Hospital Consultants and what effect the “nuclear option” would have on the Irish Health System.

What is the Nuclear Option?

The “nuclear option” would be to deliver an ultimatum to the existing consultants - accept the proposed contract changes for newly appointed consultants (which don’t affect the T&Cs for existing consultants!) and cooperate fully with it’s successful implementation, or face dismissal from the public health service payroll.

Any consultant who refuses to provide written acceptance of these terms is summarily dismissed. Consultants who take any form of industrial action in support of their dismissed colleagues are also summarily dismissed.

The HSE would quickly appoint a tranche of new consultants - chosen from the ranks of registrars/experienced hospital doctors - the existing “no. 2s” on each consultants team and recruitment in UK and elsewhere.* These new appointments will significantly outnumber the dismissed consultants, in line with policy to provide a consultant-delivered service.

Assuming that these junior medics are willing to accept their lucrative promotions (and some won’t - but you appoint as many as you can and identify other suitable candidates for fast-tracking), what are the likely outcomes for the Health Service?

Likely Outcomes:

1. An increased number of Hospital Consultants seeing public-only patients in public hospitals should help to quickly reduce waiting lists (when coupled with other necessary procedural changes in hospitals).

2. Strong and decisive action against the all-powerful consultants should ensure the easier compliance of other vested interest groups e.g. junior doctors, nurses etc in making the necessary changes to improve hospital productivity.

3. The loss of experience and skills will inevitably mean an increase in misdiagnosis and sub-optimal outcomes for a minority of patients, including death. BUT this will be offset by a reduction in the number of sub-optimal outcomes, including death, for people who currently spend months, even years, on existing waiting lists. An actuarial exercise would be required to assess this equation, which would also be impacted by items 4, 5 & 6 below.

4. The dismissed consultants would not be redundant but would find themselves involuntarily redeployed into the private sector. Most would concentrate on private practice, greatly increasing the capacity in the private sector and this would probably lead to accelerated investment in private hospitals. With over 50% of the population holding private health insurance (e.g. VHI, BUPA, Vivas) demand for their services would be unlikely to diminish, at least in the short/medium term. This situation should somewhat ameliorate the risk of increased mortality in the public health system caused by misdiagnosis or loss of surgical skills.

5. The huge increase in the number of private consultants should, in theory at least, lead to more price competition and cheaper service. In turn, this should reduce the rate of medical inflation currently suffered by VHI and other medical insurance subscribers.

6. The National Treatment Purchase Fund would still buy surgical procedures from private consultants where the need arises. In addition, the fund could now buy consultancy and diagnostic services for complex cases where this was deemed appropriate. It could be the best of both worlds - still having access to the best medical knowledge/skills, without having to employ it on a full-time basis and pay the exorbitant salary and pension costs.

* SIMON P. KELLY, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, Bolton Hospitals NHS Trust, confirmed on Morning Ireland (31.1.07) that the c. €250k pa salary on offer compared very favourably to consultants salaries in the NHS. He also pointed out that NHS consultants were able to earn productivity bonuses to boost their basic salary.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The real Dr Goebbels

Finally, thanks to today's Indo, the real Dr Goebbels of Irish politics is revealed in all his glory.

What a pity he's wearing his raincoat over his uniform!

Breaking the Consultants Stranglehold

It’s increasingly difficult not to see the hospital consultants as a group of arrogant and greedy professionals with a stranglehold on the Health Service and a willingness to hold hostage the most vulnerable members of our community - those in need of hospital care.

Doubtless there are many hospital consultants who do not believe they merit the above description, but they are either deluding themselves or, at least, failing to exert influence within their profession.

If press reports are to be believed, the new public-only contract proposed by the HSE will carry a salary of €200k+ per annum, while junior hospital doctors are currently earning up to €100k per annum in overtime alone. The Government routinely defends it’s performance in the Health arena by highlighting the additional billions which have been spent on Health over the past decade. It’s now clear to the ordinary taxpayer that the main result of this largesse is to make budding millionaires of far too many medical practitioners.

The Government needs to take decisive action as the country’s health service cannot continue to be held to ransom by this powerful, elite and wealthy clique.

A good starting point might be a “name & shame” policy: publishing a league table of consultants showing relevant information such as number of patients seen, procedures carried out, public salary paid etc..

The HSE should push through the proposed Public-only Consultant Contract and appoint consultants, with or without the cooperation of the existing clique.

Any non-cooperation should, following delivery of appropriate warnings, be deemed a breach of contract and used as the basis for termination and renegotiation of contracts on the following basis:
50% of salary for attendance in the public hospital for 40 hours per week, with the other 50% dependent on achievement of CHALLENGING annual targets e.g. number of patients seen, number of procedures performed etc..

If a significant portion of salary was dependent on OUTPUT, the hospital administrator's door would be beaten down by consultants with proposals as to how to see more patients, maximise use of operating theatres etc..

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dull & Duller?

The Government yesterday unveiled it’s new 7-year National development Plan which proposes to spend €184bn over the period of the plan.

The launch photo attached, courtesy of the Indo, shows just how exciting and innovative the Taoiseach and Tanaiste find the plan.

Helping the real First time Buyers

Until recent years, First Time Buyers (FTBs) were predominantly young couples forming families and trying to buy their first home, rather than making a property investment.

Nowadays, the majority of FTBs are actually property investors and it is their buying activity which is the primary driver of house price inflation.

The easy availability of 100% finance, combined with low interest rates and ever-rising house prices, has made residential property a virtually risk-free investment, where the buyer may put up 0% of the capital cost but gets to keep 100% of the capital gain, tax-free.

If these FTB Investors were treated in the same way as other property investors, then the FTB concessions relating to stamp duty and mortgage interest relief would be confined to those involved in family formation.

This would take much of the heat out of the housing market and make homes more affordable for young families (however that family unit may be legally defined).

This Government's 1999 Tax Individualisation measures effectively illustrated their view that the family is now to be regarded as an economic rather than a social unit. I believe it's time to rebalance the equation in favour of families. Focusing the First Time Buyer reliefs on families would be a very good place to start.

Ultimately, deflating the residential property bubble will benefit all those who wish to buy a home, though not necessarily please those who regard investment in houses as an easy source of profit.

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

Killeen Kock-Up

Following Tony Killeen’s recent embarrassment over the revelation that his constituency office made representations on two occasions on behalf of a convicted sex offender, it now emerges that he made representations for the early release of a murderer.

On Morning Ireland (23rd Jan), Mr Killeen once again admitted that he hadn’t seen, signed or approved the letters issued in his name.He revealed that his constituency office has issued in excess of 200,000 letters in the 14 years he‘s been a TD, not counting e-mails and phone calls. It’s probably safe to assume that at least 50% of these letters required a response from some Government Department or Agency.

If every TD was equally "productive", this would mean that in excess of 50,000,000 pieces of mail have been generated, many of which are the result of the TD merely going through the motions, but all of which consume resources which could be better utilised.

There is clearly a substantial industry involved in making delivery of public services dependent on keeping you indebted to your local TD, solely for the purpose of his/her re-election, and it’s all being paid for out of public funds.

The Killeen episode is clear proof that it’s time to end this form of political serfdom for citizens and instead provide a nationwide network of professionally staffed offices to provide proper advice and advocacy services to the public.

No further public funding should be provided for the running of constituency offices, it’s time to end this nonsense.

Footnote: Aired by Pat Kenny on RTE, published as a letter in the Irish Times (they edited out final paragraph in italics). An earlier version was published in the Irish Independent.

What I find most surprising is that Killeen has been interviewed several times by RTE radio & tv but has never been challenged about the value of all this paperwork, or the cost to the state of the resources tied up in it.
Of course, RTE is far too busy pursuing the real political issues, such as baiting Pat Rabbitte with post-election “what if” scenarios.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Parking in D(e)L(e)R(ium)CoCo

My next door neighbour recently wrote to Owen Keegan, County Manager Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DLRCoCo), to protest about the recent installation of parking meters on the streets immediately adjacent to Glenageary DART station.

He pointed out that one consequence of this would be to move parked cars out onto the narrow Upper Albert Road and into our quiet cul-de-sac, where children still play on the street in relative safety.

Mr Keegan has responded, defending the council’s policy of installing meters at DART stations. He pointed out that DLRCoCo already imposes parking charges at Blackrock & Salthill stations, that Luas Park & Ride sites are metered and that Iarnród Eireann will introduce charges for car-parks under their control.

With regard to the problem of parking moving further afield, Mr Keegan offers the following solution: “If the implementation of paid parking controls on Station Road caused parking problems on other roads in the area the Council will be happy to implement parking controls (with residents permits) on these roads.”

This offer is clearly a cynical two-fingered response to a genuine local concern. The offer to extend metered parking even further into the suburbs can only be seen as further proof that this is an opportunistic fund-raising scam, a further example of stealth taxes in action.

It should also be pointed out that the Luas provided new car-parks, involving the acquisition and conversion of property, and their ongoing maintenance. The car-parks under the control of Iarnród Eireann are company property used for parking rather than some other revenue-generating purpose, whereas DLRCoCo is charging for parking alongside the pavement, without providing any additional parking.

Mr Keegan now intends to introduce clamping in the DLRCoCo area, another money-raising scam which will be dressed up in some guise as being for the benefit of those who live and work in the borough. Who does he think he’s fooling?

Plastered at Sunrise

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has always denied he did any favours for the €60k+ “dig-out” he got in 1993 from a group of associates, which included Paddy “The Plasterer” Reilly.

But on 21st December last, the Winter Solstice, Paddy and his missus were among the 25 select few who got into the Newgrange passage tomb to witness the sunrise. According to a spokesman for the OPW, Paddy attended the event as an official guest of the Taoiseach,

Each year over 20,000 members of the public put their names into a hat in a draw to gain access to the chamber, so putting Paddy the Plasterer on the Newgrange A-list was certainly a nice “thank you” gesture on Bertie’s part.

Joining Paddy and his missus in the chamber were the ambassadors of the USA and the UK. Unfortunately, Tom Parlon was also there - a case of having to take the rough with the smooth.

Let’s just hope that Paddy wasn’t there in a professional capacity and Parlon’s OPW are not planning to refurbish the interior of the tomb, starting with a nice coat of plaster to cover up those rough etchings and edges. We may find out when the National Development Plan is published next week.

US Presidential race 2008

Memo to: The Editor, Guinness Book of Records:
Subject: US presidency
Date: Sunday 21st January 2007

Prepare draft inclusions to cover the following possible outcomes:
1. First woman US president
2. First black US President
3. First Hispanic US President

Today, Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico has declared his intention to run for Democratic Party Presidential candidate for the 2008 election, joining Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, among others, in the race.

Despite his name, Mr Richardson describes himself as being of Hispanic origin and his announcement that he was throwing his hat in the ring was issued in both English and Spanish.

All we need now are candidates from the gay, jewish and islamic communities to make it really interesting. They'll probably emerge on the Republican ticket. (I don't really think so)

Lord of the Pants

The Sunday Independent seems a little preoccupied with Michael Flatley and his former fiancée Liza Murphy. Today they quote him as saying that, while he had loved her, he was never in love with her. They contrast his caddish behaviour and public utterances on the topic with her dignified silence on their relationship.

However, a couple of weeks ago the Sindo carried an interview with Liza which included her new relationship with society solicitor Gerald Kean, who in turn has split with his glamorous solicitor wife Clodagh, who has also a new partner. Liza posed for some tasteful photographs to accompany the article (sample displayed). Clearly a catholic girl of good taste and modesty.

There’s obviously a Happy Valley Set right here in Dublin and god alone knows who’s sleeping with who on any given night. Would RTE or TV3 consider a Celebrity Big Brother with all these “lovely” people locked up together for our amusement?

You can only surmise that they all deserve each other.

Heineken Cupset

Widespread woe this weekend with the defeat of both Leinster and Munster in their final pool games of the Heineken Cup, Leinster losing to Gloucrester, who don’t even qualify for the next phase of the competition, and Munster falling at fortress Thomond to Leicester.

Ronan O’Gara will presumably be asked if there are any grounds to reconsider his comments earlier in the season regarding the relative quality of English premiership rugby. Neither Leinster or Munster can have any grounds for complaint, both were beaten by better teams on the day.

Anyway, it’s not all bad news, several positives seem to flow from the outcome:

Both teams still qualify for the quarter-finals, albeit with an away draw. But even that isn’t such a big issue, given that both teams might well have had to go abroad anyway, with both Lansdowne Road and Thomond Park closed for reconstruction and no noises coming from the GAA to suggest that any of their grounds will be made available.

Following Leinster’s defeat on Friday, a Saturday victory for Munster would have meant the two Irish sides meeting each other in the quarter-final draw, so at least we retain the possibility of 2 Irish teams getting to the semi-finals. It currently looks like Leinster will play Wasps in London, with Munster travelling to Llanelli.

With a bit of luck, this defeat might just inject a modicum of modesty into the average Munster fan, who believes his own hype and has traditionally displayed a superior smugness when making comparisons with Leinster or other supporters. They have come to mimic Cork people who, like barristers, have no real understanding of just how much the rest of the population genuinely dislikes them.

Having €10 @ 2/1 on Gloucester and a further €10 @ 3/1 on Leicester means that I made €50 on the two results. Now that can’t be a bad outcome either!

The only downside may be the blow to confidence for the upcoming 6 Nations and a couple of injury worries, notably Shane Horgan.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Saddam's Cat

In the worst possible taste!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Killeen Episode

The failure of political opponents to exploit Clare FF TD Tony Killeen’s recent embarrassment, over the revelation that his constituency office made representations on two occasions on behalf of a convicted sex offender, is very interesting. I’m sure that this is because many other TDs might well be similarly compromised.

In an interview on RTE radio's Morning Ireland yesterday, Killeen said "I never saw that letter, I seldom see letters" and stated that his office had "issued in excess of 22,000 letters, not counting e-mails and phone calls”.

It’s probably safe to assume that at least 50% of these letters required a response from some Government Department or Agency. If every TD was equally productive, this would mean that in excess of 5,000,000 pieces of mail have been generated, many of which are the result of the TD merely "going through the motions", but all of which consume resources which could be better utilised.

There is clearly a substantial industry involved in making delivery of public services dependent on keeping you indebted to your local TD, solely for the purpose of his/her re-election, and it’s all being paid for out of public funds.

The Killeen episode is clear proof that it’s time to end this form of political serfdom for citizens and instead provide a nationwide network of professionally staffed offices to provide proper advice and advocacy services to the public.

No further public funding should be provided for the running of constituency offices, it’s time to end this nonsense.

Footnote: an edited version published as a letter in the Irish Examiner, an updated version aired by Pat Kenny on RTE (23rd Jan) after latest twist - Killeen also made representations for early release on behalf of a murderer - but Tony himself had nothing to do with the letters!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Moher International Airport

The debate regarding emissions from air travel is hotting up, the latest development being the UK government imposition of a travel tax for all passengers. The phenomenal growth of low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and Easyjet has meant that such emissions are growing at an unprecedented pace, despite the introduction of more fuel-efficient aircraft. There are moves afoot for the EU to introduce similar measures on a Europe-wide basis.

In Ireland, the obligatory Shannon stopover for many transatlantic flights has, for many years, added to aviation pollution, as each take-off consumes a very high proportion of an aircraft’s fuel-load. However, we’re unlikely to see any voluntary change in the stopover regime as the economic benefits to the Mid-West Region far outweigh global environmental concerns, if any, for the Government.

Before the imminent publication of the National Development Plan, perhaps an alternative solution might achieve an acceptable compromise between economic and environmental considerations and could still be provided for in the plan.

The Proposal

Move Shannon Airport to the Cliffs of Moher and, using a catapult system similar to that employed on aircraft carriers, launch aircraft off the cliff top and out over the Atlantic. This should significantly reduce the amount of fuel burned in take-off and thus reduce emissions. The new visitor centre would make a fine terminal building, while the car park is already big enough.
If this all seems a little far fetched, please be assured that it has received as much detailed consideration as many other major Government initiatives e.g. decentralisation.

The difference is that I’m willing to publish my detailed plan (click on image to enlarge) for this innovative proposal, unlike the Government who have refused to show us the back of their envelopes with the detail of Decentralisation, Dublin Metro system etc..

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Limerick limericks

This week Pat Kenny is running a “Limerick” competition, the first line must be “There was a red army from Munster”. The prize is two tickets for the last match to be played in the current Thomond Park ground, Munster v Leicester in their final pool stage Heineken Cup match.

Tickets will be as hard to find as hen's teeth and will sell on ebay for a couple of hundred euros apiece, so I've submitted the following entry. It's a touching tribute to Alan Quinlan’s recent 6-week suspension for stamping in the game against Cardiff.

There was a red army from Munster
Their team the proverbial dumpster
With tackle and stamp
Opposition they tramp
And suspensions just give them the hump, sir.

I’m not holding my breath for a winning outcome.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Micheal "Gekko" O'Leary

Michael O’Leary is Chief Executive of Ryanair and the darling of the media.

He earned salary and bonus of €779k in the year ended 31st March 2006 and treats the company like his own plaything, even though he actually owns only 4.53% of the equity. No other board director holds even 1%.

O’Leary is an endless source of quotable quotes and publicity stunts, perhaps most notably driving a tank up to Luton Airport, the main base of Easyjet, his main rival in the low-cost airspace.

He is routinely lauded by the media as Ireland’s most capable and successful businessman - ever. However, to me he seems more like the Gordon Gekko of Irish business, a “greed is good” prophet in real life. His belligerent attitude is clearly more than just a publicity stunt, there’s been ample evidence from a myriad of court cases and employment tribunal hearings that he’s as obnoxious within the company as he is without.

The case that he’s the most capable and successful Irish businessman ever, or even currently, is certainly open to question. Quite apart from the likes of Tony O’Reilly, Michael Smurfit or Denis Brosnan, who developed their businesses and made their millions in far less benign economic times, there are several Chief Executives of Irish companies, who don’t get anything like the profile or credit accorded to O’Leary.

In early/mid 2003, I invested in a portfolio of shares, many of them Irish-owned and managed. The acid test for any investor is how the shares perform, so here’s a little comparison I can make myself.

The table below shows the relative growth in the share prices in the intervening period of almost 4 years. Of the 8 shares listed, Ryanair’s growth has been the least spectacular - by a significant margin. Indeed, in the intervening period, the Ryanair share price was often below the purchase price - it’s main gains have been in the past year. How many people can name the Chief Executives of the other companies, who have all outperformed the high profile O’Leary?

AIB: +106%
CRH : +165%
DCC: +127%
Grafton: +221%
IAWS: +156%
Kenmare: +319%
Kingspan: +1079%
Ryanair: +76%

Saturday, January 13, 2007


The 70ft trawler Pere Charles, fishing out of Dunmore East, was lost with all five hands during the past week’s violent storms.

One of the drowned crewmen was Pat Coady, who came from a family with a long tradition as fishermen. His father Stephen drowned in January 2006 and grandfather Paddy drowned in 1995.

That’s what you'd have to call a Jonah. Given the superstition that prevails among seafarers, the biggest surprise is that the rest of the crew agreed to sail with him.

How's your battery?

The BBC recently conducted an experiment where one of their staff agreed to live without electricity for a week. That meant no appliances of any kind - cooker, phone, fridge, light, radio, tv etc.. I only heard a small extract of his thoughts on the experiment, but he got me thinking.

He described cooking dinner and checking if something was cooked, with his candle dripping wax into the pot. His experience of preparing and cooking food in semi-darkness was extremely difficult, and he wondered if that was the reason that, in earlier times, people used eat their main meal in the middle of the day.
He described the difficulty of trying to read by candlelight - he had to give up because of the eyestrain involved.

He speculated that the pace of life for our ancestors must have shown very significant seasonal variations - very different in the short winter days to the almost endless days of summer.

Nowadays, we have 24-hour everything - radio, tv, internet, take-away pizza. We are in constant light - even at night in cities the street lights and reflected light off the sky (clouds?) means that city-dwellers rarely, if ever, experience anything like total darkness.

Our lifestyles have adapted to these changed circumstances, we are instantly contactable by phone, email, text etc.. Cars and planes have transformed the way we commute, work and play, though each comes with it’s own brand of stress. We are bombarded by media of all types, far too much choice and far too much dross.

All this change has happened in the space of not much more than 100 years (remember that in Ireland, rural electrification only happened in the 1940s & ‘50s!).

So here’s the thought: a species will adapt naturally to accommodate/exploit changed circumstances in a slow process known as evolution. This would normally take several thousand years - or hundreds at least.

We’ve had to do it all in decades, and it’s still ongoing - faster than ever. Is it any wonder that people fell stressed by the pace of life and the demands of modern society?

We’ve turned ourselves into battery hens!

Fly KennyAir

In an interview published in last Monday’s Irish Independent, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny proposed an investigation of the feasibility of providing a second airport for Dublin. Baldonnel, and Weston were two possible locations, though he didn’t rule out a greenfield site.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary dismissed the idea as rubbish: "Parties in opposition tend to come up with stupid ideas but a second airport for Dublin would be pretty much up there on the scale of stupid ideas with the Dublin Airport Metro – something that will never be used and will never work".

Which raises the question - where might Michael be coming from?

After all, Ryanair flies to secondary and tertiary airports on the continent - some located long distances from their supposed destination e.g. Paris-Beauvais, Brussels-Charleroi, Barcelona-Gerona etc..

Such airports offer benefits to both airlines and passengers alike.

Airlines can expect significantly better deals re landing charges, while low usage levels facilitate faster turnaround of planes, with little risk of aircraft having to queue for landing or take-off.

Passengers may also benefit in a number of ways. Generally, road access will be easier, even if a bit further, and parking will probably be cheaper. Because the airports themselves are less busy, passengers can be processed more smoothly and with less stress than in a busy, overcrowded terminal like Dublin Airport. Baggage reclaim is also easier if only one plane is being processed at any given time.

No low cost airline is going to compete head-to-head into and out of Dublin Airport with Ryanair. Easyjet and GO tried it but were quickly forced off their chosen routes by Ryanair’s predatory tactics - replicating those routes and using loss-making pricing to attack competitors whose pockets were not as deep.

However, Easyjet or BMIbaby flying into Baldonnel or Weston might pose a bigger challenge for Ryanair. The airport itself is now the most stressful part of flying and people might well be willing to pay a few euros more for the ability to use an airport that was easier to get to and get through.

Ryanair might be forced to offer flights from that second airport in an attempt to force the competition out. Using two airports for the same city would duplicate many overheads, result in the sub-optimal use of aircraft and risk confusion among passengers as to which airport they were flying to/from.

So Michael might really think a second airport is a great idea, unless you’re Ryanair.

Footnote: An edited version published as a letter in the Irish Independent

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Bull O'Donoghue

In an article on negative politics/campaigning in the Irish Times on Saturday 6th January, political correspondent Mark Hennessy recalled the last “Rainbow Coalition” period in office (1994-97) when Nora Owen (FG) was Minister for Justice and John O’Donoghue was Fianna Fail front-bench spokesman on Justice. Hennessy described O’Donoghue’s approach thus: "frequently bordered on the vicious"; and "certainly targeted, personal, sustained and ultimately, probably successful".

O’Donoghue, currently Minister for Arts, Sport & Tourism and a political pitbull, had a letter published in the Irish Times (10th Jan) vehemently denying this description and listing his political achievements in the Justice area while in opposition.
This prompted me to send the following letter, which I’m delighted to see that they’ve published today (Friday 12th January).

Madam - Anyone who recalls the performance of John O’Donoghue as opposition Justice spokeman will have a mental picture of a red-faced political boot-boy, laying into Minister for Justice Nora Owen.

He deemed her personally responsible for every crime committed in the country and attacked her at every opportunity. Mark Hennessy’s description of O’Donoghue’s approach was quite accurate.

In hindsight, Mr O’Donoghue’s own rhetoric on “zero tolerance” proved to be complete waffle when he became Justice Minister, while any Fianna Fail minister taking personal responsibility for bad news remains an alien concept, in stark contrast to their willingness to claim credit for the success of the economy. Yours etc.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Blue Circle Luas Line

The transport plans for Dublin City include an extension of the Luas Green Line to O’Connell St, primarily to intersect with the Luas Red Line, facilitating the transfer of passengers from one line to the other.

In addition, the proposed Metro will run from St Stephen’s Green, via O’Connell St, out to the airport.

All Dublin’s major transport systems and routes - bus, DART, Luas, train, metro - both current and planned, radially converge in An Lar, the city centre. This is a relatively small area, a radius of a couple of hundred metres around O’Connell St.

One result of this is extraordinary traffic congestion in the city centre which, in turn, causes serious delay to the bus service, the major public transport service for the city.

Another consequence is that getting across the city in any circular direction is almost impossible using public transport.

An objective of planning and transport strategies should be to increase the size of that central city footprint to a wider “inner city“ area, reducing the concentration of traffic at the absolute centre and improving commutability across and around that inner city area.

The extension of the Green Line to the top of O’Connell St creates the risk that all south-bound trams at rush hour will be full by the time they arrive at the current Stephen’s Green Luas terminus.

Here’s an alternative proposal which is either brilliant or daft.

To achieve the desired Luas interconnection (and support other public transport interconnectivity - bus & dart), why not create a new circular line which serves the wider city centre - a new Luas Blue Circle Line. The attached map (click on map to enlarge) illustrates one possible route (see street details below).

The suggested way of running this is a single line, one-way (anti-clockwise would best fit with existing traffic flows), continuous loop service - which reduces the encroachment into existing road space, cost and time/disruption and allows for increased frequency with a smaller number of trams e.g. 4 trams could probably guarantee a service every 5 minutes. The trade-off is that it constrains the overall length of the line (illustrated example is approx. 3 miles long) - if it’s only going one-way, you need to keep the round-journey time to an acceptable limit - e.g. max 20 mins.

The main benefits of such a line would be to facilitate
(a) cross-city centre and inner city commuting, thereby reducing car traffic in the central area
(b) connecting with the Green Luas at Stephen's Green, crossing the Red Luas line in two places, connecting with DART at Tara St and numerous bus termini and routes.
(c) running a limited number of Green Line trams on this inner loop line at peak times, if necessary
(d) development of somewhat run-down areas of the city centre e.g. Capel St, Parnell St., Aungier St, etc expanding the footprint of the “city centre”
(e) increased demand arising from numbers of apartment dwellers in inner city locations.
(f) moving some suburban bus termini a little further out from the O’Connell St/Quays area - reducing their journey/turnaround times and easing traffic in the most congested central city area.
(g) provision of inner city multi-storey parking slightly removed from the city centre itself

Suggested Route
Blue Circle LineTerminus South King St - across St Stephens Green Nth, down Dawson St, around College Green, Tara St (connecting with DART)
Across bridge, Eden Quay, Marlborough St, Parnell St, Capel St
Across bridge, Parliament St., Dame St, South Great Georges St, Stephen St Lr, Mercer St Lr, back to South King St.

At junction of Stephens Green/Grafton St/South King St a connecting track between Blue and Green Luas lines to allow trams to move from one line to the other as required.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Can Gerry Robinson fix the Health service?

Although last night was only the first of three episodes, I suspect that BBC2’s “Can Gerry Robinson fix the NHS?” should be made compulsory viewing for all the parties involved in delivering health services in the Republic.

Not only do the positions of the various vested interest groups seem familiar, but it’s quite likely that any solutions developed could be highly relevant to Irish hospitals.

All parties involved in the delivery of medical services - consultants, surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses, administrators - think that they’re working both hard and effectively, that the problems with waiting lists arise because of failings in someone else’s domain.

Similarly, all interest groups seem to have some feasible solutions to offer, but no mechanism to have these moderated within the wider hospital medical community. There is no effective mechanism for agreeing and implementing change.

It was clear that the hospital administrators have responsibility without any real authority. This results in a reluctance to push for change because of the risk that a public rebuff by consultants etc will undermine whatever limited authority the administrator may have with the wider hospital population. So they are forced to pussyfoot about - avoiding confrontation by avoiding proposing anything approaching radical change.

The presence of the cameras means that Robinson’s task should be a little easier; the Hawthorne effect will probably cause people to co-operate somewhat more in achieving change than would normally be the case.

However, a trailer for the next episode showed a couple of consultants chatting about the problems. One was querying the capability of the administrators, as in “why should someone with a couple of O Levels be directing the activities of professionals who each have several university-level qualifications?”.

One to follow.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Justice v. The Law

The posthumously published thoughts of Mr Justice Sean O’Leary, former judge of the High Court, make interesting reading for the layman, particularly his criticism of the Supreme Court in the Mr A case.

An abiding memory of that case was the procession of eminent Senior Counsels who populated the broadcast media and, with varying levels of exasperation, tried to explain that Joe Public was confusing justice and the law. In the minds of the lawyers, these are clearly two very different concepts.

On the one hand, Joe Public is constantly confused by the ability of judges of all courts to dismiss charges on the slightest of legal technicalities, simultaneously discharging defendants who have clearly broken the law and enriching lawyers who have found some minor loophole. The current system encourages defendants to go all the way in the legal process in the hope that some minor defect may save them. This clogs up the courts and vastly increases the associated costs of running the legal system.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court, in arriving at their decision, was perceived by Joe Public as having delivered justice, even if the lawyers thought it was not necessarily in accordance with the law.

Mr Justice O’Leary (and the Irish Times editorial of 4th January) absolves the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General of any responsibility for the difficulties that arose when the courts struck down the constitutionality of the existing statutory rape legislation. Surely it is the responsibility of Government to create the law and the courts to interpret it? The potential difficulties with the then existing legislation and the likelihood of a constitutional challenge had been highlighted in legal journals, long before the actual case was taken.

So how could Mr Justice O’Leary condemn the Supreme Courts judges for their decision in the Mr A case, on the basis that no offence in law existed and therefore the plaintiff should have been successful and released from prison, while at the same time absolving the chief law officers of the Government from any responsibility to have corrected the defect in the existing law? Surely these are contradictory positions?

And finally, if the function of the courts is to adjudicate on the law, rather than concern itself with the delivery of justice, why are judges still accorded the address of “Mr Justice” etc..? From now on let’s just make it plain “Judge”.

Parking Tax

There was a time that you found parking meters in or adjacent to busy town centres. Now, however, they are extending inexorably into the suburbs.

Dun Laoghaire is a classic example, where metered parking is in operation on all streets and it has extended to the main and side streets of its village suburbs of Sandycove, Glasthule, Monkstown etc.. The metered area is constantly extending and now the meters have appeared on Station Road and Marlborough Road, the main parking streets for commuters using Glenageary DART station. The all-day charge of €5 means that commuters will have to pay up to €25 extra per week.

Their presence means that other suburban streets near the station will now become home to the cars of daily commuters, while some commuters will simply decide that it’s as cheap to park in town as it is to pay parking and DART fares. Residents in those newly colonised streets will be greatly inconvenienced by the number of parked cars. They will be offered a solution by Owen Keegan - install parking meters on your road and the problem will move again.

Now Owen Keegan, county manager for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown has announced the immediate introduction of clampers to the borough, supposedly because of the high incidence of non-payment of parking fines.

In Keegan’s previous role as traffic tzar for Dublin, he introduced clamping to the capital. At the time, we were assured that clamping would only be used on cars that were illegally parked and causing an obstruction to traffic. We all know what a blatant lie that soon turned out to be.

Parking meters and clamping are merely taxation by another name. This is a purely opportunistic revenue raising operation, as no new or improved parking facilities have been introduced by the county council.

Footnote: a variant on this theme published as a letter in the Irish Examiner (13th Jan)

Curing A&E?

The HSE task force set up to address the problems with A&E will propose a target for all patients to be admitted to a hospital bed or discharged within six hours of arriving in an emergency department by the end of the year. They will set an interim 12-hour target – from time of a decision being made by medics to admission – to be achieved within the next three months.

Unsurprisingly, Liam Doran of the Irish Nurses Organisation claims such targets are unrealistic and impossible without additional resources.

I’m only familiar with the activities in one hospital, St Vincent’s in Dublin. If a patient is not discharged when the consultants do their rounds on a Friday morning, he/she will not be discharged over the weekend.

I’ve long suspected that this approach may be particularly applied to those in-patients who have private health insurance, typically VHI or BUPA. Such weekend stays allow the hospital to bill the insurers and generate incremental revenue for the hospital.

However, the weekend is also the busiest time in A&E. Surely doctors should be actively discharging appropriate patients on Saturday and Sunday as well? The unavailability of beds in the hospital means that patients who need to be admitted and kept overnight have to be housed within the A&E unit itself - something it was never designed for. This leads to the chronic overcrowding, lack of privacy etc which have generated all the negative, but deserved, publicity.

In addition, a policy of temporarily discharging suitable, non-critical patients on Friday, to return on Monday, might free up a substantial number of beds, and also be welcomed by the “paroled patients” who get to go home for the weekend?

There was life before Microsoft

Watching the movie Apollo 13 on TV last night, I was struck by the need of the astronauts (in 1970) to manually transfer data from one computer to another. It reminded me of claims that there is more computing power in the microchip of a digital watch than in the computers used on these early space missions.

Then I realised that there was a possible explanation for this, and that the early computers may well have been all the more effective for it.

They didn’t have to run Windows, the Microsoft operating system that takes up most of the memory on your ordinary computer. They didn’t have to run Microsoft programmes, which consume any memory left after Windows has been loaded. They didn’t have to reboot on a regular basis because of bugs in their Microsoft system/programmes.

The pre-Microsoft computer had straightforward programmes which performed clear functions which were both required and understood by their users. Contrast that with programmes like Powerpoint or Excel. Most users need about 5%-10% of the functionality provided. Even if they knew the rest existed, which they generally don’t, they still wouldn’t want it or ever use it.

So if you could eliminate all the bits of Windows and programmes that you don’t actually use or want, you could probably work happily away with your old Commodore 64 or Sinclair ZX81.

It’s still up in the attic - they haven’t gone away you know!

Nominating Deasy for top media award

Published in today's Sunday Independent under the heading "Deasy set to receive dubious accolade"

Sir - In the same week that John Drennan named Mayo TD Jerry Cowley as the very worthy winner of '2006 Political Gobshite of the year', (SI, 31/12/06) Fine Gael's John Deasy has, barring a miracle, guaranteed himself the same accolade for 2007. Yours etc.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Taking the piss out of Oscar

On a current radio ad, musician Paddy Cole quotes Oscar Wilde “I have the simplest of tastes, I only want the best", before inviting listeners to visit the showroom of Elegant John (you've guessed it) purveyors of toilets and other bathroom fittings.

What a travesty - poor Oscar must be spinning in his grave in Père Lachaise cemetery to find himself (ab)used to help sell lavatories.

Friday, January 05, 2007

More Fine Gael eejits

Following his appearance on RTE's Morning Ireland today, I sent the following email to Damien English. ( , It seems he’s away skiing in Andorra, such a pity that he hadn’t his mobile phone switched off when Sam Smyth of the Independent came calling. On the lunchtime news, Mark Hennessy, political correspondent of the Irish Times, described English’s performance on Morning Ireland as “naïve, bordering on stupid“. Personally, I detected no border.

Young talent in Fine Gael my arse!
As a lifelong Fine Gael voter, if you or John Deasy ever emerge as senior members of the party I'm switching to Labour.

What a pair of f***ing eejits! The big media issue is now the leadership of Enda Kenny, they must be shitting themselves laughing over in FF HQ.

Frankly, I hope the pair of you lose your seats. You're no asset to any party and your pathetic performance on Morning Ireland will have given the electorate no confidence in the capability of FG's younger TDs.

I thought Deasy had nailed "gobshite of the year 2007" but he's obviously got strong competition. Sadly, it's within FG!
Yours etc.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Past his best

An eye-catching short letter by another writer in today's Examiner, under their equally clever heading "Past his best".

Dear Sir,

Your historian columnist Diarmaid Ferriter advocates a Labour /Fine Gael merger (Irish Examiner, December 28).

Stick to the past, Diarmaid.

Yours etc PJ McElhone

FG's Gobshite of the Year - already!

John Deasy, Fine Gael TD for Waterford, has today announced that he’ll be challenging Enda Kenny for leadership of the party should Fine Gael fail to be in Government after the next election.

At a time when the opinion polls have given Fianna Fail a boost and the media are openly sceptical about Enda Kenny’s political appeal, Fine Gael need the latest Deasy intervention like a hole in the head.

In 2004 Deasy was sacked as Fine Gael’s front-bench spokesman for Justice, when he flagrantly and childishly broke the law by smoking in the Dail bar after the smoking ban had been introduced. He continued to do so despite several requests from Dail staff to move outside if he wished to smoke.

The addition last year of a 3rd candidate to the Fine Gael ticket for the Waterford constituency for the upcoming election was fiercely resisted and resented by Deasy and, added to his earlier sacking, means that relations with party leadership have probably never been worse.

His old man, Austin Deasy, was a former Fine Gael TD (1977-2002) and Minister for Agriculture (82-87) who also fell out with the party leadership (sparking leadership challenges to both Alan Dukes and John Bruton) and spent his last years sulking on the backbenches and sniping at his leader.

His son is clearly a chip (on the shoulder) off the old block.

I’ve emailed him the following appreciation. (to

Well done, a strong early entry for political gobshite of the year.
You already demonstrated what a childish tosser you are with that smoking lark. Now you've confirmed that you shouldn't be let near the Dail, never mind leadership of Fine Gael.
Your old man had a chip on his shoulder, it's a pity it hasn't skipped a generation.
If the leadership should happen to move to the next generation, it certainly won't be to a prat like you! Yours etc.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Traveller Ping Pong 2

Ping (Incoming 1st January)

Peter - I'm a columnist, I don't do impartiality. The tone I used to make enquiries of pavee point was the same as I would use to any lobby group or politician or spokesperson dodging a legitimate question. But I understand that anything but kid gloves for travellers constitutes unforgiveable discrimination. Again, personal responsibility doesn't arise - if you don't like 'the tone' of the question, but especially the question itself,you have automatically been offended and are entitled to demand legal redress. Brenda P

Pong (Outgoing 2nd January)

You certainly don’t do impartiality, that much has become abundantly clear. Nor perhaps do you do enough research before writing incendiary press articles - “I don't believe for a second that there are 1000 traveller families without accommodation - there are only around 1000 traveller families in the whole country”

You seem to believe that you were hard done by in your dealings with Pavee Point and deserving of sympathy on the topic. Have you any mirrors in your house ? Try reading aloud, to yourself, your venomous article and emails, in a tone of voice that is consistent with the content. Look at yourself in the mirror as you do it. It’s ugly. It might just demonstrate why it would cause more than usual offence. It’s the difference between begging and aggressive begging - the latter is a form of mugging without the actual physical contact, but with the implicit threat of it. You don’t seem to be able to see that.

You deride the bleeding-heart liberals who seek to defend/explain travellers and attribute to them a total blindness to the problems caused by the behaviour of a minority, but too many, of the estimated 25,000 travellers (6.5k families) in the country.

The other side of that “bleeding-heart liberal” picture you paint would be the “red-neck hillbilly” who believes that the only good traveller is the one in someone else’s county, or country (or dead?). Again a minority, but too many.

You cannot believe that the belligerence of your approach could convince the broader traveller community, or their liberal fellow-travellers, that you empathise in any way with them or have any real interest in their issues - “the causes of crime“. Your approach will appeal to the red-neck hillbilly minority, but it will probably alienate the silent majority of the population, who would undoubtedly like to see an end to traveller nomadism but recognise that much more needs to be done to help that community.

What is needed is reasoned, open and robust debate where all parties can acknowledge their shortcomings and set out their issues, with proposed solutions attached - both short and long-term. This would require mutual respect and the avoidance of branding an entire community with the transgressions of a minority of their members. (Or expecting Pavee Point to be responsible for the entire traveller community. No-one expects someone to stand up and take responsibility for Moyross.)

I had hoped, foolish as it now seems, that you might be persuaded to moderate your tone, in the hope that you might actually be someone who would help push forward that honest debate and get the traveller issue much higher up the political agenda.

I don’t propose to waste any more of your time.
Regards, etc

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