Saturday, March 31, 2007

It's time to face down the nurses.

Nurses are routinely portrayed as angels by the media. No politician or media commentator has dared to seriously question their “caring” status or their entitlement to greater rewards.
But is it becoming clearer by the day that they are just as intent on screwing as much as possible for themselves out of the public purse as any other group in the country.

The current row with the Cork midwives is a case in point - despite denials from Liam Doran and the INO, it’s clear that a sweetener of between €3k - €5k was expected by the personnel involved. The nurses wider claim for a 10% increase and a reduction in working hours from 38 to 35 hours per week is justified solely on the basis of relativity with hospital administrators.
Both elements have huge implications for the cost of the Health Service e.g. would the lost hours be made up through overtime or extra staff?

It’s easy to see the interminable cost spiral which such relativity claims are likely to create, if acceded to.

One can at least understand some of the motivation behind the nurses claim: it’s human nature - they’re working daily cheek by jowl with overpaid doctors and consultants, who are all either current or future millionaires. It’s natural that they should also want to get more of the gravy.

The A&E situation is the best propaganda weapon available to the nurses and one that Liam Doran and the INO ruthlessly exploits to their advantage. What percentage of the total nursing population actually works in A&E Departments? Would it be more than 2-3%? But the rest of them can piggyback their pay and working hours claims on the highly publicised stress and working conditions of that minority.

Yet we constantly hear stories of filthy wards and toilets, absence of personal hygiene by nurses moving from patient to patient etc etc.. Many tasks which were traditionally carried out by nurses are now considered to be beneath them - “someone else’s job” - and the consequences for patient care include the spread of MRSA and other hospital infections.

The paradox is that the more we pay these medical staff, the less of them we can afford to employ. We cannot continue to simply pour more money into a dysfunctional health system when all we seem to achieve is enhanced salaries rather than enhanced services.

Tallaght Strategy needed for Health


There are two essential requirements for a high-quality, value for money Health Service: political agreement on a clearly defined, long-term strategy and operational competence in implementing that strategy. While ongoing political oversight will be required, there should be no political interference in day-to-day operational decisions.

Current political uncertainty about long-term Health Strategy and the role and authority of the HSE can only serve to undermine efforts to resolve existing disputes and reform the overall structures, in order to deliver a better service and extract more value for money from the system.

Could the main parties agree a "Tallaght Strategy" approach for Health? While this would require a squaring of the ideological circles between the main parties in order to agree an overarching long-term strategy, our political leaders need to acknowledge that almost any compromise strategy, implemented effectively, would probably deliver more value for money and better public service than the existing chaotic system.

With only two months to go to the general election, the alternative coalition is threatening, if elected, to overturn a key element of the current Government‘s strategy - the co-location of Public and Private hospitals on existing public sites. From its inception, the HSE has been plagued by ongoing political interference in key operational matters e.g. the Government obliged the HSE to retain all the existing staff of the 11 health boards instead of achieving significant economies through the amalgamation. The HSE is charged with negotiation of new contracts with the consultants, but it is very clear that the cabinet is still calling the shots.

In parallel, the vested interests will continue to exploit the confusion in order to pursue their own narrow interests and extract the maximum amount of money from the seemingly bottomless public purse.

Any downturn in the economy will leave the rest of us with the heavy burden of an overstaffed, overpaid, under-delivering public service - further limiting the funds available for the health service in future.

In the national interest, we urgently need a coherent long-term health strategy which enjoys cross-party support.

Footnote: Published today as a a letter in the Irish Independent.

The Actor plays shy

This morning’s guest on Eamon Dunphy’s couch is Stephen Rea, the Belfast actor who’s currently appearing in “Kicking a Dead Horse” by Sam Shepard at the Peacock Theatre in Dublin (to mixed reviews).

As usual, Dunphy is obsequious to a fault and greets his guest with “I know you don’t like doing interviews” and expresses his fawning thanks to his microphone shy guest.

This would be the same reluctant interviewee who I spotted while channel-hopping last night - he was on Podge & Rodge - hardly the perfect spot for the shy guest. I also recall an long interview on some other RTE radio programme during the week where he talked at length about his acting background and involvement with Brian Friel and the Field Day theatre company.

Reluctant interviewee, my arse.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A new Golden Age for Irish football?

It is just possible that “Stan” Staunton may turn out to be the most successful Irish football manager ever. I base this assessment on the strength of Eamon Dunphy’s condemnation of the man’s management capabilities.

Jack Charlton was previously the object of most contempt from our football pundit, but was also our most successful manager ever, getting us to two World Cup Finals (Italy 1990 & USA 1994) and one European Final (Germany 1988). Next in line for Dunphy’s vitriol was Mick McCarthy, who got us to the 2002 World Cup Finals in Japan/Korea.

Now Staunton is most definitely in the firing line, with Dunphy admitting that he’d hoped Ireland would lose to Wales so that the manager would be fired. If history repeats itself, we might be at the start of a golden era for Irish football.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent.

Another New Dawn in NI

A lot of “historic” hype in the media coverage of yesterday’s agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It reminded me of the day the Good Friday Agreement was finally signed, after days & nights of “will they, won’t they? “ coverage. That was 9 years ago and I had tears in my eyes back then, but not this time around.

Let’s wait and see what happens in May - I hope the assembly gets up and running, but there’s no guarantee that DUP and Sinn Fein can actually work constructively together. My reservations were strengthened by the appearance of Gregory Campbell, DUP MP & MLA, on RTE’s Questions & Answers last night, a special edition broadcast from Belfast.

Campbell was quick to make the point that Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, must be busy wiping the egg from his face after the DUP had shown him that he wouldn’t impose deadlines on them. Thankfully, John Bowman firmly pointed out to Campbell that the deferral of devolution had only been accepted by the British Government on the basis that the DUP had been forced to negotiate this deal, very publicly, with their arch-enemies Sinn Fein.

Campbell is from the anti-power sharing wing of the DUP and is tipped for ministerial office, along with Nigel Dodds, as Paisley seeks to maintain unity within his party. However, Campbell’s contribution last night is typical of the long-standing DUP approach to politics: it is not sufficient to defeat your opponent, you must also seek to humiliate him publicly as well.

Does this augur well for the type of working relationships necessary to make a devolved NI government successful? I don’t think so.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shane Ross and Sir Anthony

Another set of annual results from Independent News & Media gets the usual fawning coverage from Shane Ross in today‘s Sunday independent.

Ross likes to portray himself as the scourge of the business community but is routinely the brown-nosed boy when it comes to the interests of Sir Anthony.

In today’s article, Ross lauds the performance of the group’s media interests in South Africa, Australasia and India and tells readers that “this is not vanity expansion”.

However, he makes no mention of the company’s UK interests where the London Independent continues to lose millions each year. Now that’s what you could classify as a “vanity expansion”, unless shareholders consider it a fair price to pay for a knighthood.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Put a Cork in it

What is it about Cork people that makes many of them believe the rest of the country is envious of them when, in fact, the feeling is more often one of genuine dislike? And with good cause.

When then Minister for Transport Seamus Brennan promised that Cork Airport would be granted independence from Dublin on a debt-free basis, the local cute hoors decided to pull a fast one. Thinking they had been handed a blank cheque, they went ahead and built a Taj Mahal of a terminal at enormous expense. Now they’re bleating about being asked to pay about half the cost of their gold-plated white elephant.

Today we have Roy Keane claiming an anti-Cork bias, simply because one of his Sunderland players hasn’t been included in the Irish football squad. Perhaps it's just a wise precaution on Stan's part, given that a Corkman walked out on his country at a critical time a couple of years ago. Forgotten about that one, have you Roy?

Whingeing langers, the lot of them!

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent but, sadly, they edited out the two best bits of the attack, those in italics above. A modified version, ending "Cork should just get over it" published by the Irish Examiner.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Timing for life

We constantly hear about female-specific cancers, but little or nothing is said about the large number of men who die each year from prostate and testicular cancers. Now, Ronan Keating is fronting a radio advertising campaign to raise awareness of these male problems.

One of the symptoms of prostate cancer is trouble having a pee, often manifested by repeated visits to the loo at night for men. When you get up in the middle of the night, you’re a bit dozy and it’s difficult to assess just how productive, or otherwise, your pee session has been in those circumstances.

Bat recently asked me why I had installed a wall clock in the loo. I explained that I wanted to time my pees, in order to have an early warning system for the onset of the dreaded prostate cancer. “But it’s got no second hand” he protested.



Susan McKay, formerly the Sunday Tribune’s much respected NI correspondent, was a guest on “The View” tonight, RTE’s weekly arts, film and book review programme. Discussing a new novel by Kevin Major titled “No Man’s Land” she described it as “prick lit”.

Harold Robbins, who might claim to have been a pathfinder in that particular genre, might well be annoyed that he wasn’t accorded this accolade during his long career. It’s good for the boys to finally have something to counter the “chick lit” revolution.

I’m still smiling.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Betting ups & downs.

Cheltenham was proving a relatively expensive 4-days of tv gambling, until Kauto Star obliged in the Gold Cup on Friday, the final day of the festival. A double with Denman yielded about €130 which reduced my overall losses to about €50.

Since then a couple of obscure bets have restored liquidity to my online bookie accounts. €45 won on Ireland v. Pakistan was followed by €150 won on Vijay Singh on Sunday. What’s that old joke about him marrying Nick Faldo’s former caddy, Fanny?

Flying the flag for Ireland.

Report from the brother-in-law that no Irish flag flew over Stadio Flaminio in Rome this weekend. Instead, we were represented by a new flag featuring the crests of the four provinces, to accompany the rugby anthem “Ireland’s Call“.

If true, this development may not go down too well in GAA HQ, never mind the 800-year men around the country.

I’ll await an eye-witness report from our own 800-year man who was at the match in Rome. However, if deprived of both the national anthem and the tricolour, he may well have expired in a fit of nationalism.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ryanair 1c flights

Aired by Pat Kenny on RTE radio today:

Ref your earlier discussion about Aer Lingus/Ryanair average fares. Those cheap Ryanair flights look great on paper, until you factor in all the incidental costs. The wife and I are just back from 5 nights in Biarritz, which all began with a bargain Ryanair booking - 4 x1c each way Ryanair flights.

With online banking I can now see all the relevant hits on our credit card:

With additional charges, that Ryanair 4c runs up to €82.
€51 - parking at Dublin airport.
€30 - taxis from and to Biarritz airport.
€550 - 5 nights B&B in Biarritz.
€620 - meals, including wine
€610 - misc shopping - a bag, shoes, belt, top, cosmetics etc..(all female)
€280 - misc/unaccounted cash spent on beer etc

That’s a grand total of about €2,225, all starting with 4 x Ryanair "1c" flights. What’s the reverse of "from little acorns ......"?

Incidentally, the average price of a pint (watching the rugby) was €7 - the Shelbourne is looking cheap!

Regards, etc

PS - if you air this, please don’t use my name - the wife would kill me!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What we need from Scotland

Assuming that Ireland can beat Italy on Paddy’s Day in Rome, we need to win by a margin that’s 5 points greater than that by which France beat Scotland in Paris on the same day, if we‘re to win the 6 Nations Championship.

It seems to me that Scotland’s best two backs so far this year, by a considerable margin, have been Chris Paterson and Shaun Lamont, who have both been stuck out on the wings.

I’d recommend that Frank Hadden plays Paterson at outhalf and Lamont in the centre if he wants to create scoring chances for the Scottish backline. Lamont has also been a highly effective tackler, so moving him to the centre should also improve the defensive line in that critical area.

I don’t know what alternative talent they have available to fill-in on the wings, but playing your best two backs at the extremities seems a policy that’s likely to minimise returns.

Left is right

As we’re reminded by the old rhyming couplet, “coughs and sneezes spread diseases”. Consequently, we’re taught to cover our mouths when we need to cough or catch a sneeze (literally!). Most of us do this with our right hand, the same hand that we proffer for a handshake.

This has been the topic of discussion in some catholic churches, where the “sign of peace” is a handshake offered to one’s neighbours during the course of a mass. Some people are reluctant to share germs with strangers, particularly during the winter months when mass is often accompanied by a cacophony of coughing throughout the service.

The solution is relatively simple - we need to retrain ourselves to cover our mouths with our LEFT hand when we cough or sneeze. While we’re at it, we could add arse-wiping, willy-shaking and nose-picking to the list of activities for the left hand.

Could I have cracked the MRSA dilemma?

Eating for Ireland

In France recently I was reminded of the old admonition to “have breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”.

Here in Ireland people tend to have a small breakfast, grab a sandwich for lunch and then eat a big plateful of whatever you’re having yourself, plus spuds, for dinner - before flopping down on the couch to watch tv for the night. Particularly those unfortunates who spend a couple of hours each day commuting to and from work.

The essential purpose of food is to provide fuel for the body to perform tasks. We’re running on close to empty during the day when we’re actually burning fuel, then we fill the tank in the evening when we go into couch potato mode. This allows time for the body to maximise the extraction and storage of fat from that heavy evening meal, as generally little or nothing is being burnt off through physical activity.

In France & Spain, breakfast tends to be coffee & bread/croissant, but lunch is a substantial meal and one which most people ensure they sit down and eat. Every city, town & village has a host of small restaurants to cater for this demand, and they all provide excellent value at lunchtime.

You’ll see the blackboard outside announcing today’s “Formule Midi” or “Menu del Dia”, usually a couple of courses for no more than €10 - €12. Dinner is often eaten much later in the evening and portions are usually smaller than those eaten at lunchtime. Hence, Paddy on holidays is often starving after dinner there as he’s just had the portion equivalent of a snack, instead of his usual large plate of grub at night.

The old “country “ habit of having your dinner in the middle of the day was our equivalent of eating in the continental way. Though sneered at now by our city sophisticates, who would regard it as peasant behaviour, it was a much healthier and logical approach to eating than our current lop-sided regime.

If we could repackage the old ways and invest them with a sense of Mediterranean/continental sophistication, it would be good for the general health of the country.

Safety on board

While in Biarritz, we bumped into a group of seven “lads” from Bective rugby club who were over on a short break. They turned up on the same Ryanair flight home as ourselves, where they paid the small fee for “priority boarding”.

When they boarded the plane, they filled one full row of the two which constitute the emergency exits over the wings - the surplus member of the party had to sit in the other emergency exit row. Their objective was to avail of the extra leg-room provided in those particular rows.

Now here’s the thing: all of these guys were in their 60’s, overweight and red-faced. They looked like classic candidates for a heart attack. In the event of a crash, some of them looked like they’d have difficulty getting their bulk out through the emergency exit, if they hadn’t already died of a heart attack from fright.

In other words, these six guys would probably have completely blocked access to 25% of the emergency exits, while their spare mate was probably doing the same in the row in front.

Surely there should be rules about just who can sit in these rows? I know I shouldn’t qualify.

Flying for Ireland

We left our hotel in Biarritz at about 10.45 am, walked around the corner to the taxi rank and headed for the airport. By 3.00 pm we were booting down the M50 to the Cherrywood exit, in order to get home in time for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, race time 3.15. The task was accomplished with about 5 minutes to spare. I’d a small bet on Hardy Eustace, who could only finish 4th, but it was great to watch the race live.

That must be the guts of 1,000 miles travelled in less than half a day. How blasé we’ve become, we just take it all for granted, yet that 1,000 miles might be the cumulative total of several years, perhaps even a lifetime, travel for our great-grandparents.

Still, with this Global Warming debate heating up, cheap air travel may soon be a thing of the past, taxed out of existence by the rising power of the Greens. I’ve devised a new slogan for them for the upcoming general election, but I suspect they’ll pass on it - this time around.

“We have ways of making you walk!”

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

I smile at the memory of Monty Python's piss-take on the Spanish Inquisition.

However a book review in this week’s Sunday Times suggests that the Inquisition may have been relative wimps when compared with the secular courts of the day. The review of “The Roman Catholic Church: An Illustrated History” by Edward Norman, reveals that only 1% of those who appeared before the Inquisition tribunals received the death penalty.

With the Inquisition, if you repented your heresy, you were given a penance. In the secular courts, if you stole a sheep and repented you were still hanged. And that was still the case into the early 19th century!

The book reviewer, Eamon Duffy, tells us that “Norman has always specialised in deconstructing the conventional pieties of liberal opinion, and this talent is entertainingly on display in his treatment of the medieval conflicts of Christianity and Islam, and that bête noire of all left-thinking people, the Inquisition. Moorish Spain has, he thinks, been romanticised: “all those placid courtyards and sparkling fountains, that poetry and art,” depended on “one of the largest slave populations the world has ever seen”: the Emir of Cordova in the 10th century maintained a harem of “6,000 women and 13,000 young boys”, and Moorish society never evolved the representative institutions, the judicial system or the concepts of individual liberty that would be the legacy of medieval Christendom. Hence “it is not surprising that Spanish Christians found Moorish moral standards defective, nor that they should have sought what is now termed regime change”.

Ergo, the Spanish Inquisition was a good thing. Bet you weren’t expecting that!

Monday, March 05, 2007

A woman's right to choose?

Today’s Irish Times features the latest in their new “Head 2 Head” pieces, this one on the topic “Should gay and lesbian couples be allowed to adopt children?”.

Quite apart from the usual argument as to whether it’s better for the child to have a father & mother rather than a two fathers or two mothers, a major underlying concern among the straight population is undoubtedly one of uncertainty regarding the “nature or nurture” aspect of this particular topic.

Obviously, the best interests of the child must be paramount, as already decreed by existing adoption law. This shouldn’t be a social experiment, driven in part by the need to be politically correct or overly considerate of the feelings of either side in the debate. Let the science prevail.

It will be interesting to see how this adoption issue intersects with the debate around the proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine the rights of the child in the constitution. Already there are signs that this will create potential conflicts with the rights of parents and protections of the family currently enshrined in the constitution.

When it comes to the “rights of the child”, the real elephant in the room will be the question of whether these should be superseded by the “woman’s right to choose”, as they routinely seem to be at present?

At present, in sexual/reproductive matters, “the woman’s right to choose” seems to broadly cover four main options:

(a) To have sex, or not.
(b) To use contraception, or not.
(c) To have her baby fathered by a long-term partner, or not
(d) To have an abortion, or not.

I’m fully in agreement with a woman’s right to choose for Options (a) & (b) above and, if her rights under those headings have been denied, to have the rights outlined under Options (c) & (d).

However, in the context of the rights of the child being specifically enshrined in the constitution , should the child’s rights be pre-eminent in consideration of Options (c) & (d), other than in the circumstances outlined in the previous paragraph?

According to Treoir, the group representing unmarried parents, over 20,000 babies are born each year in Ireland to unmarried parents (that's about one-third of all babies), and 25% of these have no father's name on the birth certificate. In addition, it's generally accepted that over 5,000 women travel abroad each year for abortions.

Who will argue the case that many of those babies born to unmarried mothers, plus all those babies aborted, would not have better life prospects if adopted by a loving gay couple in a long-term, stable relationship?

This could be a long and heated debate.

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

Tiling Dublin 4

Noel O’Gara featured again on RTE’s Today with Pat Kenny as he’s just set up a tile market in Dartmouth Square. He got a rough time from some of the programme’s listeners, particularly some naïve but rude comments about his being a red-neck with no empathy for Dublin.

The reality is that he’s just a property speculator who somehow managed to get his hands on a valuable piece of real estate at a knock-down price and he’s determined to maximise his financial gain.

To that end, he’ll do whatever he can to annoy the local population in order to ensure that local politicians pressurise the council to get this sorted out as quickly as possible. He is also, through his car-parking and tile market ventures and by talking up the possibility of apartment blocks, seeking to demonstrate the commercial value of the property when it comes to be assessed under a CPO process.

Frankly, I find it a bit rich for the politicians to be criticising O‘Gara. After all, our Dáil occupants have converted Leinster Lawn into a surface carpark for their own private use for the past several years, an act of public vandalism which is in blatant contravention of the same local planning guidelines which were used in Court to stop O'Gara operating Dartmouth Square as a car-park.

What I’d like to know is how he came to hear about the Dartmouth Square property and how he managed to buy it at such a knockdown price. Any more cheap public parks coming up in the near future?

Lies, damn lies and statistics

So Irish schools are ranked close to the bottom of an EU-wide league table for the provision of physical education (PE) classes, according to a new EU report. The report also notes that despite the recommended Department of Education guideline of 60 minutes per week, PE is not taught in some Irish primary schools. Quality of provision of PE also varies, with research showing three-quarters of classes last less than 30 minutes.

This is interesting in the light of a Dáil Exchange at Leaders Questions last Wednesday. FG leader Enda Kenny questioned Taoiseach Bertie Ahern about the level of drug experimentation among children aged 15 and under. Apparently, Ireland was ranked 4th worst overall and worst among girls in that age group in an International survey.

Bertie’s response was to criticise those who picked up on these negative statistics, while ignoring other aspects of that survey which portrayed a more positive aspect of Irish youth. As an example, he cited a finding that Irish children were ranked among the most active in that same survey - the implication being that this was as a result of Government policy in this area - compensating in some way for their lack of action/success in the under-age drugs scene.

Now we can see that whatever success is being achieved on the “activity” scale, it has nothing to do with Government policy.

Digging Jim Reeves

Bat's Cat - beginning to look like him! And has stopped moving too.

Wimbledon Wimmen

Wimbledon has decided to award identical prize money to men and women at this year’s championship. There has been some debate about the fact that men compete over 5 sets, while women compete over 3 sets. Presumably this is historical and relates to the perceived physical differences between the sexes.

However, is a 40% differential appropriate and would women’s tennis benefit, as a spectator sport, if there was a greater emphasis on the physical endurance aspect of sporting performance?

A brief look at other sports suggests that this 40% differential may well be too large:

Track & Field - the average performance differential for middle distance events e.g. 1500, 5000 & 10000 metres, among elite athletes is about 15% - ditto the marathon. In high & long jumps it’s about 20%.
Swimming - the difference in world record times for all Freestyle distances between 50m and 800m ranges between 10% - 15%.
Golf - Ladies play 18 holes of golf - the ladies tees generally reduce distance by no more than 20%, often less.
Equestrian - ladies compete on an equal footing with men in show-jumping, 3-day eventing and there are even a small number of successful lady jockeys riding professionally against the men e.g. Nina Carberry.

All this suggests that the gap between men and women in tennis should be reduced to a maximum of 20%.

Bearing in mind that there needs to be an uneven number of sets in order to ensure a winner, this could be achieved by either increasing the number of games in each of the existing 3 sets or, preferably, making it the best of 5 sets with the number of games in each set reduced e.g. first to 5 games with a two-game lead.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Those funny Shinners

The Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis has passed a motion to re-name Merrion Road, home of the British Embassy, as Bobby Sands Avenue. That’ll please the owners of the mansions along that up-market road, as it would undoubtedly knock large lumps off the value of their homes.

While they’re at it, presumably the Shinners will also re-name Parnell Sq, where the party's HQ is located. Murdering Bastards Place would seem apt.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sleeveenism - O'Toole v. McDowell

In his Irish Times column of Feb 27th, Fintan O’Toole defined “sleeveenism” as “a combination of cunning and cowardice, the sly use of low tricks to avoid facing up to a potentially difficult situation.”

O’Toole went on to accuse Michael McDowell and the PDs of “an act of supreme sleeveenism” with regard to the Labour Party’s proposed Civil Unions Bill. To wit, the Minister for Justice’s proposal “not that the bill be rejected, but that its reading be postponed for six months. Six months from now, of course, there will be a new Dáil and all motions left over from the old Dáil will lapse. The effect of the McDowell amendment is to consign the Civil Unions Bill to oblivion without anyone having to actually vote against it. Fianna Fáil and PD TDs can go to the doorsteps, tell gay people that they support their right to equality and tell social conservatives that they sunk an attempt to recognise gay partnerships.”

In his defence, published in today's Irish Times, Michael McDowell states that “it would be a mistake and politically dishonest to accept the Labour Bill. It would be especially wrong to do so in the context of legal advice that the central scheme of the Labour Party Bill was unconstitutional.”

If Michael McDowell felt so strongly about the demerits of the Labour bill, he should have voted against it, rather than kicking it into limbo. Regardless of which man is correct on the legal argument, I believe that the charge of political sleeveenism has been proven, based on the defendant’s own testimony.

I rest my case.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times.

Flogging the Public Service

Based on my 22 Feb Blog re public service staffing levels, I’ve sent the following letter to all three national broadsheets and a variety of radio commentators e.g. Pat Kenny, Vincent Browne, Matt Cooper, George Hook. Not published, to date, which isn’t a major surprise given the length of the piece. However, if the commentators take the time to read the piece it might influence their approach to public service topics in the future.

Dear ….
The National Economic & Social Forum (NESF) report “Improving the Delivery of Quality Public Services”, published in December 2006, calls for major reforms to the way public services are delivered in Ireland in order to make them more customer focused and to help people to seamlessly access those services they require. These recommendations will hopefully form the backbone of some political party’s promises to us in the run-up to the election. Getting better value for an estimated €39bn spend on public services would surely be a big prize indeed.

While the NESF recommendations may seem highly aspirational, they may not require incremental funding if introduced as part of a root and branch reform of the public services, for it is just possible that currently that Public Service may be overstaffed by as much as 35%.
It is difficult to form a coherent picture of relative efficiency or appropriate staffing levels within the public service, but some former and current semi-state companies may provide a reasonable proxy
, given that they shared, with the wider public service, the same ultimate owner representing "the public interest" and the same unions representing the staff interest.

Since the mid-1990’s, Eircom has shed approx. 5,000 employees, ESB has shed 3,000 and Aer Lingus 3,000. In combination, these three companies have reduced their combined total workforce from about 31,000* to about 20,000 in a little over 10 years, a 35% reduction. The impact on customer service arising from these changes has been interesting: your new home phone will now be installed in days rather than years, while Aer Lingus fly many more of us to a multitude of interesting new destinations at much reduced fares.

This analysis may be somewhat crude but it does pose a serious question as to the likely staffing levels, efficiency and value for money we are getting from the Public Service Sector as a whole. The modus operandi employed in the recent restructure of the eleven Health Boards into the HSE suggests that a prima facie case exists to support this hypothesis. The overall employment scenario implied in this analysis would cover a variety of outcomes - from functions which are understaffed, or even in need of creation, to those which are heavily overstaffed, or even functionally redundant.

The bench-marking process was supposed to provide parity between the public and private sectors, which should presumably have included measures of productivity and efficiency. It’s quite clear that the process has actually achieved little by way of reform to extract value for money, while there is a wide consensus that much of the public service is now significantly overpaid, relative to its private sector peers, notwithstanding the security of employment and
gold-plated pensions enjoyed by the public service.

The wasted opportunity of bench-marking has been further compounded by the fallout from the 2003 decentralisation stroke, which must have seriously damaged trust among middle and senior public service management, effectively killing any prospect of proactive proposals for material change and flexibility from this key group of employees.

The incoming administration must make root and branch reform of the Public Service a key objective, reminding all concerned of the explicit promise in the title of that employment. This NESF report would make an excellent pump-primer for such a review. One immediate
step should be to suspend, temporarily or permanently, the 2003 decentralisation plan which can only further embed the existing inflexible structure and continue to alienate Public Service
management. Such a move should also provide some inducement for the Unions to play their own part in the necessary reform. The next phase of bench-marking should be a very different animal, with the emphasis on reform, restructure and redeployment of resources to actually
the public services which the public need and are able to access.

In the meantime, as the election approaches, Public Service unions will be maximising their effort to extract further concessions in exchange for industrial peace.
Regards, etc.

* Eircom (then Telecom Eireann)1994 13,000 to 8,000 in 2004, -38%
ESB 1997 11,500 to 8,300 in 2005, -28%
Aer Lingus 2002 6,500 to 3,500 in 2006, -46%

Footnote: an edited version (essentially the bits in italics) published by the Irish Independent.

Give us our jacks back.

The following letter is published in today's Irish Times. I’ve been waiting for some time to have a go at Owen Keegan, County Manager Dun Laoghaire - Rathdown County Council, and a recent letter in the Irish Times criticising the many eyesores on the South County Dublin Coastline provided a good opportunity.

Madam, - AJ Rous (February 27th) is disappointed at the state of the bandstand and its roofless companion shelter on Dún Laoghaire's East Pier, one of the borough's most popular amenities. Both structures are the responsibility of the county council, rather than the Harbour Company which recently improved the paving and lighting on the pier.

He didn't comment on the state of the public toilets, which are also the responsibility of the county council, and have been closed for well over 12 months. There is no indication as to why they are closed, when they might re-open, or where alternative facilities might be found.

Dún Laoghaire residents would be grateful if county manager Owen Keegan could display the same zeal for providing such essential public facilities as he does for increasing the revenue generated from car parking and clamping. Perhaps before the weather improves and the walkers come out in force, he might find time to do something about this.
Yours etc, Peter Molloy

Blog Archive