Thursday, October 30, 2008

Putting Conor Lenihan, & the Blueshirts, to bed.

More name calling in the Dáil, with Junior Minister with responsibility for Integration Conor Lenihan giving the nazi salute and calling FG’s Leo Varadkar “a fascist”.

Lenihan is a political buffoon and a national embarrassment. He famously referred to migrant turkish building workers as “kebabs”. What fool put him in charge of policy directed at our immigrant communities? This is one Lenihan gaffe too far, it’s long past time he was demoted to the back benches.

However, Fine Gael’s long-standing embarrassment about its Blueshirt connection may be a bit overdone. After all, the Blueshirts (Army Comrades Association) had been set up primarily to protect Cumann na nGaedhael public meetings, which were being violently broken up by IRA thugs, newly resurgent since the 1932 elections which brought De Valera to power.

Fine Gael was formed in September 1933 when Cumann na nGaedhael, the Centre Party and the Blueshirt movement merged. While O'Duffy became its first leader, he only lasted a year as his more extreme views were unacceptable to the broader Fine Gael leadership. He resigned in Sept 1934.

O’Duffy died in November 1944 and was given a state funeral by the then FF government under Eamonn de Valera.

O’Duffy was only leader of FG for 1 year before being forced out. By way of contrast, Eamon De Valera led FF for decades despite having effectively defrauded the american investors in the Irish Press. Charles Haughey, the most prostituted political leader since the foundation of the state, was leader of FF for 13 years.
Both these FF leaders were also given state funerals.

Footnote: Aired by Pat Kenny on his RTE radio programme.

Brand & Ross - good riddance

Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross – don’t you just weep for them?

Well, not I, actually.

Personally I can’t stand the constant stream of smut and innuendo that passes for wit and entertainment on the Jonathan Ross tv chat show. Russell Brand takes it to another level altogether. I’ve never seen the point of him, never mind finding him anyway funny.

These guys represent the growing trend in “shock comedy”, where bad language and the description of bodily functions seems to be sufficient to get some laughter from their hard-of-thinking audience. It’s like the way small children laugh when they say a rude word they’re not supposed to know, or use, in front of their parents.

Billy Connolly stand-up represents the mainstream form of this, Tommy Tiernan is another tosser who gets laughs from this shock humour.

Russell Brand has resigned from his BBC radio show, I hope they never re-employ him for any show or gig. I also hope that Jonathan Ross gets fired, without compensation, by the BBC. It might just send a message to the rest of the entertainment world that fishing in the sewers is not the same as illuminating the mind.

All of the above reminded me of Gerry Ryan’s recent hosting of the Late Late Show. At the time, I thought that if RTE wanted the Late Late to be the Irish version of the Jonathan Ross show, then Gerry Ryan is just the man for the job. He could hardly restrain himself from bringing almost every topic around to sex – he’s clearly at his greatest ease in the realm of smut & innuendo.

It highlights the problem for the Late Late – can you still combine serious current affairs debates, often involving several participants, with light entertainment?

When RTE had a virtual TV monopoly in much of the country on a Saturday night, Gaybo could cover almost anything with an audience that was generally undemanding. Can it still be done in this day and age, with so much wall to wall media on offer?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sorting out the Pupil-Teacher ratios

Presumably the vast majority of last September’s new pupil intake to national schools was at the most junior level. This would also have applied to most of those with language and other special needs. These young children, and their teachers, currently have the shortest school day.

Would extending that school day, by, say, one hour, help to ameliorate the impact of increased class sizes by allowing teachers spend more time with their young pupils?

In the stroll to the benchmarking ATM, many routine daily duties were categorised as “extras” in order to justify the payment of significant salary increases to teachers. It has been clear for quite some time that any fresh benchmarking exercise, conducted objectively, would result in salary reductions for much of the public service. That would probably include many teachers.

In those circumstances, is it reasonable for the government to expect teachers and their unions to come forward with constructive proposals to help resolve the current problem, without incurring extra cost for the taxpayer?

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times.

Friday, October 24, 2008

India's gone to the moon.

India is the second most populous country on the planet (and the largest democracy) with an estimated population of approx. 1.2 billion citizens.
Despite it’s rapid economic growth in recent years, it’s still a relatively poor country with GDP per capita of about $1k p.a.
This means that there are hundreds of millions of its citizens who continue to live in what we would regard as acute poverty.

It’s against this background that we learn that India has successfully launched its first mission to the Moon.

According to the BBC website “the unmanned Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft blasted off smoothly from a launch pad in southern Andhra Pradesh to embark on a two-year mission of exploration. The robotic probe will orbit the Moon, compiling a 3-D atlas of the lunar surface and mapping the distribution of elements and minerals.”
“One key objective will be to search for surface or sub-surface water-ice on the Moon, especially at the poles.
Another will be to detect Helium 3, an isotope which is rare on Earth, but is sought to power nuclear fusion and could be a valuable source of energy in future.”
“The Indian experiments include a 30kg probe that will be released from the mothership to slam into the lunar surface. The Moon Impact Probe (MIP) will record video footage on the way down and measure the composition of the Moon's tenuous atmosphere.”
“Chandrayaan (the Sanskrit word for "moon craft") will also investigate the differences between the Moon's near side and its far side. The far side is both more heavily cratered and different in composition to the one facing Earth.”

“It will also drop the Indian flag on the surface of the Moon. The country's tricolour is painted on the side of the probe and, if successful, India will become the fourth country after the US, Russia and Japan to place its national flag on the lunar surface.”

It would be interesting to see how much new science, if any, will be delivered by this expensive mission, assuming it is successfully completed. One would assume that the USA & Russia, with multiple lunar missions over the past 5 decades, have probably answered all the scientific questions the Indians are now posing.

The reality is that this is a hugely expensive national vanity project as India seeks to keep pace with other space-faring nations in Asia e.g. China & Japan.

An Indian space programme which involved the deployment of satellites to provide communications e.g. national phone, internet, tv & radio coverage etc., weather forecasting, defence etc., might make some economic sense.

There are clearly benefits for India in growing its own R&D capabilities, attracting inward investment etc., from developing leading edge scientific and engineering capabilities, but India sending crap to the moon is, quite literally, a complete waste of space.

Cowen - some thoughts from abroad

The view from the Élysée

“Sacre bleu, quel espèce d'enculé!” muttered President Sarkozy, dropping the diplomatic communiqué on the table beside his unfinished croissant and coffee. “Carla, Cowen est vraiement un branleur!”
Sarkozy’s breakfast table irritation has been caused by the latest report from Ambassador Yvon Roe d’Albert in Dublin, whose update on the budget debacle pulls no punches.

The Ambassador had, earlier in the year, correctly assessed the main reason for the failure of the Lisbon Referendum: the complacency and incompetence of the current Irish Government.

Now, the ambassador spelt out the bleak scenario in his concluding paragraph: (I’ve translated it for you.)
This latest example of the utter political incompetence of the current Irish administration will have serious consequences for your plans to promote a second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

This government has succeeded in annoying and alienating several key constituencies, both through some key budget measures themselves, but also in the way they been panicked into undignified u-turns under the first signs of public pressure.

A second Lisbon Referendum, promoted by this Taoiseach and his administration,, will have very little chance of success.

PS: The arse has really fallen out of the Irish property market. We won’t get anything like €60m for the embassy now. Sorry about that, Chief.


The Chieftains in China

RTE’s Margaret Ward, reporting yesterday morning on the Taoiseach’s meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, told us that the half-hour meeting had gone well, the two men discussing world and business affairs. She also told us that “the human rights issue was briefly touched on.”.

So you can just imagine the scene: Wen & Brian sitting there, sipping their green tea.
“Now, Brian” says Wen, “I want to raise with you some concerns we in China have about the way your budget is mistreating old people and very young children.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Green Party - victims of Stockholm Syndrome?

Are the Greens suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, political hostages trapped in a Government of their own making?

In today’s Irish Times, political editor Stephen Collins suggests that Green Party Dail representatives engaged in a process designed to pave the way for the party's exit if its coalition partners had not proved amenable to backing down on the medical card issue. This is surely a laughable suggestion.

The budget measures, including the medical card proposal, had been endorsed by all cabinet members, including the two green ministers, and received a standing ovation from all Government deputies, including the Green TDs, on budget day. Indeed on that same day, Minister Eamon Ryan made multiple media appearances, defending the budget and praising the collective cabinet decision-making process, describing how they worked constructively together to arrive at these tough but necessary decisions.

Only when the backlash of public reaction became evident in the following days did Green elected representatives, e.g. Deputy Leader Worzella Gummidge (TD - Carlow Kilkenny) and prospective European election candidate Senator Deirdre de Burca, kick off the backtracking process with the media.

And surely all the evidence to date suggests that the Greens will stick with this Government through thick and thin, on the basis that if the coalition partners don’t hang together they’ll hang separately?

So the Greens have nowhere to go, they are completely compromised by their 18 months in office.

In pursuit of their stated goal of saving the planet, the Greens have been content to park their ethical concerns and look the other way as the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern blustered his way unconvincingly through months of tribunal hearings. Indeed, Green party leader John Gormley, one of Bertie’s loudest critics when the Greens were on the opposition benches, was transformed into mourner-in-chief when Bertie announced his resignation. Standing at the shoulder of his fallen Taoiseach, one wondered if John would be able to hold back the tears as this mighty stag was pulled down by the pygmies of the opposition and the media.

The current budget shows that they have also been prepared to park Green social policy positions. Presumably, they concur with Mary Harney’s cynical text message: “the worst day in Government is still better than the best day in Opposition.” [as reported by Stephen Collins]

If saving the planet is your goal, then you can justify almost any means to attain that end. The Greens routinely adopt this highly elastic line of defence. Yet it’s clear that the 5-year 15% cumulative reduction in CO2 emissions, set out in the 2007 Programme for Government, will not be achieved unless, perhaps, the country goes into the very deepest economic depression.

If the Greens fall far short of their climate change targets, while simultaneously abandoning long held ethical and social policy positions, will there be a price to pay at the next election?

Who or what can save the Greens now? Only an environmental disaster, I suspect. Every toxic cloud has a green lining.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Patriotism is the last refuge of Fianna Fail

Doctor (Samuel) Johnson (1709-1784) famously said that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan inadvertently reminded us of this truism with the closing line of his budget speech last Tuesday.

Having squandered the boom years, the Government is now demonstrating how to foul up a recovery programme. It’s handling of the over-70s medical card issue should be a case study in how not to do it.

The two Brians have gone from zero to hero and back again in the space of a couple of weeks.

What an incompetent bunch of scoundrels!

It also strikes me that PD will always be with us – as we exit the Progressive Democrats, enter Patriotic Duty.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Clipping the President's wings.

Seán T. O’Ceallaigh, President of Ireland 1945 – 1959

On Ryan Tubridy’s radio programme yesterday, former FG Minister Gemma Hussey suggested that one cost-saving measure the Government might consider would be a reduction in the number of state visits made by our current President Mary McAleese.

On her frequent travels abroad, the president is invariably accompanied by her husband, a number of aides and, frequently, a senior government minister. It’s quite a little circus and an expensive one, too.

Gemma’s suggestion reminded me of a story told by my aunt who was an Aer Lingus hostess in the early/mid 1950’s. President O’Ceallaigh was going to some meeting in Paris and my aunt was chosen for that flight because she would be able to greet him “as gaeilge”.

So she duly welcomed him on board, showed him to his seat and took his hat and coat to hang up.

Carrying the coat, she was surprised to feel something hard and bulky in it. When she was behind the curtain hanging up the coat, out of curiosity, she took a peek in the pocket and was surprised to find a large packet of tea. So even back then the tea in France was obviously rubbish.

But what a contrast between our then president carrying his own tea and the present “royal family” type entourage we routinely send out. We mightn’t want to go quite that far, but a little less of the regal hauteur and the travelling court wouldn’t go amiss.

They always get you in the end

My mother tells an interesting tale about her personal dealings with that Mother Teresa figure who is now our caring Minister for Social Welfare.

In the late 1990s my mother was suffering from variety of medical complaints, including angina, which required her to pay frequent visits to her GP, probably at least once a month. She was living on a teacher’s widow pension which put her very marginally over the income threshold for a medical card.
The GP knew my mother’s circumstances and was aware that the cost of those visits and prescription costs were a material financial burden.

The GP suggested she should apply for a medical card, to which my mother replied that she was over the income limit and had already made an unsuccessful application.
The GP told her that exceptions could be made and recommended that she visit a local Government TD who could probably pull the necessary strings.

So my mother attended the constituency clinic of local FF TD Mary Hanafin, recently elected in 1997.
My mother explained her medical and financial circumstances and asked if Ms Hanafin could help. She may also have been naïve enough to reveal that she’s a life-long FG supporter, but promised to switch allegiance if the requested help was forthcoming.
Having listened to my mother, Hanafin fixed her with a steely stare and pronounced “there’s nothing wrong with you”.

My mother came home feeling completely humiliated, angry and, of course, empty handed.
A couple of years later, in 2001, the introduction of universal medical cards for the over-70s (a ploy for the upcoming 2002 election) got my mother out of her difficulty and has proved very valuable – she’s had a number of serious medical problems in the interim, including a heart attack a few years back. She’s now on a daily cocktail of 16 tablets and a nitro-patch.

In the interim, her public service widows pension has improved substantially ahead of the rate of inflation, thanks to bench-marking and linkage to annual teacher salary increases etc – so it’s highly unlikely she’ll qualify under the revised regime announced in yesterday’s budget.

So I visited my mother last night and broke the news to her that she’ll probably lose her entitlement to a medical card under the aegis of Social Welfare Minister Mary Hanafin.

“She got you in the end, Ma.” I said.
“They always do.” she replied.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Green Mudguard

One might consider that a positive aspect of the budget has been the level of solidarity among the Government coalition partners in defending the more unpalatable measures.

Even while the opposition finance spokespersons were still responding in the Dail, Green Minister Eamon Ryan featured on both Newstalk and RTE, defending unpopular elements such as the universal income levy and the removal of the over-70s medical card.

However, material measures to promote the environmental agenda were notable by their absence. So while the Greens have always been keen to promote greater use of the bicycle, is their eager transformation into Government mud-guard a step too far?

Firing blanks at Ryan Tubridy

Ryan Tubridy opened his radio programme this morning with “Road to nowhere” (Talking Heads) and had a good laugh about the recession, the “return to the 1980’s” and the tough budget due today.

According to last sunday’s Indo, Tubridy is paid €346k p.a. by RTE – supplemented, no doubt substantially, by extra curricular activities – PR appearances, openings, after dinner speeches etc..

So I sent him the following email. I’m not expecting him to respond, read it out on air or, god forbid, take the action suggested. I just thought I’d rattle his cage.
Indeed, I might modify the email and send it to some other RTE employees.


RTE is the biggest earner of advertising revenue in the country, supplemented by a couple of hundred million euros from that arbitrary tax on every household in the country, the television licence fee.

Yet RTE considers it a major triumph if it actually manages to breakeven each year. The organisation is living perpetually in cloud cuckoo land when it comes to understanding the real economy because all its commentators are wrapped in cotton wool the rest of us have paid for.

One of the reasons for RTE showing no profit is that it systematically overpays its “stars” – like yourself. How can you justify that massive annual salary for what is, in effect, a part-time job?

Yet you mock the rest of the country with your “Road to Nowehere” choice of music, it’s all a good laugh in Montrose – a good source of topics for filling airtime.

So go on, Ryan, announce that you’re taking a voluntary 10% pay-cut – in the national interest and to show empathy with your listeners – you’re not only feeling their pain but you’re actually willing to share it.

It might also put some pressure on that fat slug Gerry Ryan!

According to last week's Sindo, the following are some of RTE's high-earners:

Pat Kenny €850k
Gerry Ryan €558k
Marian Finucane €455k
Joe Duffy €367k
Ryan Tubridy €346k
Derek Mooney €242k
Miriam O'Callaghan €221k

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Banks already repaying the Government

It’s good to see that the banks are already beginning to indirectly recompense the Government for providing the state guarantee.

For while the politicians, media and general public all heap opprobrium on the bankers, no-one is pointing the finger at the Government who, for at least the past decade, have been responsible for furiously pump-priming the construction sector. This continued apace despite the clear evidence that the economy had become increasingly over-reliant on the construction sector.

A plethora of grants and tax breaks have fuelled the excesses as investors, which included many first-time buyers, sought to buy into guaranteed easy gains in an ever-rising property market.

Now that the bubble has burst, it’s easy enough to spot the financial losers – recent investors, construction workers, banks, developers etc.. But, other than the developers, who were the big winners over the past decade? Could it have been the Government, representing the Irish public?

The billions of euros collected each year in construction-related VAT, Stamp Duty, Capital Gains Tax, Corporation Tax, PAYE/PRSI etc exceeded, by a large multiple, the annual profits made by the entire financial services industry from funding construction activity and mortgages.

I don’t recall too many public protests when our personal tax rates were falling, subsidised by the sea of money flowing into Government coffers from the housing & construction boom.

Footnote: a slightly abridged (by IT) version published as a letter in the Irish Times.

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