Friday, December 24, 2010

Updating the cúpla focal.

Henceforth, Christmas week will be known as Sneachtain na Nollag in the first official language.

Contrary to Met Office forecasts during the week, nil thaw an fós.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Banking legislation could inspire a new Charlie Haughey?

Thankfully the Council of State, unlike the Dáil, is willing to meet in Christmas week.
There must be a strong possibility that the President will refer the new banking legislation to the Supreme Court as some of its provisions e.g. denial of the right of appeal to the courts, appear to be unconstitutional.

In conferring such powers on a politician, let’s not forget that Charles Haughey enjoyed extraordinary latitude in his banking arrangements with AIB, enabled by the implicit threat of misuse of his political power to inflict serious economic damage on that bank.

Now the Finance Minister has given himself draconian, possibly unconstitutional, powers which pose an explicit threat to any bank which risks his ire.

In such circumstances, it is essential that we now have full disclosure of the nature and scope of all banking relationships of our elected politicians and the political parties.

It would be foolish to imagine that all our politicians are to be trusted or that we’ll never have another CJH!

RTE's double-standards re Gerry Ryan death

In its handling of the Gerry Ryan cocaine-related death, RTE has provided ample proof to listeners that it is far better at dishing it out than at taking it.

All those "lifelong friends" and work colleagues (Kenny, Tubridy, Byrne, Finucane, Duffy etc) who queued up to pay their tributes and now telling us that they had no idea that Gerry was a drug user?

Given the nature of Gerry's "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" approach it is inconceivable that he didn't drop broad hints to his friends, even if only in a playful manner.

So the next time we have an RTE debate on some cleric/politician/citizen who has worked and/or lived with a child abuser, murderer, fraudster etc etc – let’s hope they remember their own defence in the Ryan Affair and give their target the benefit of the doubt.

Now that would be a change of tack!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Who said that irony was dead?

Yesterday evening (Sunday), while following news reports from Brussels on the emerging detail of the IMF/EU deal for Ireland, we suffered a power-cut. Clearly no time was being wasted in implementing the austerity measures.

When power was restored about an hour later, during the Taoiseach’s televised news conference, the on-screen programme guide indicated that we were watching “The All-Ireland Talent Show”.

You couldn’t make it up!

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Politicians step up to the plate, media step back!

Hubristic incompetence has been the hallmark of the Governments, bankers, regulators and developers who have brought us to our present dilemma.

Now, when a light at the end of the tunnel is urgently needed, the fatalistic populism in our media gives rise to a real danger of creating the environment where “the man who thinks he can’t succeed is usually right”.

Ireland, through its people, is capable of getting through the current crisis, despite the hard choices, at national and household levels, which must be endured in the coming years.

A universally negative attitude will only delay the economic recovery and add to our general depression. Without resorting to unrealistically optimistic panaceas, we need to inject some positivity into the national discourse, put our heads down and get on with saving ourselves. We can do it and no-one else will do it for us.

We need the political system to step up to the plate and, perhaps, the media to step back from it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A warm welcome to our friends from the IMF & EU

Despite the recurrent theme of “a loss of sovereignty” from opposition politicians and media commentators, I can’t say that I’m greatly perturbed to have the IMF/EU as guests of the nation.

They might just ensure that the bullets that need biting are actually bitten and that our hoped-for economic recovery isn’t compromised by the incompetence and gombeenism of our elected representatives, particularly those currently in Government.

So, in addition to scrutinising our banks, I hope that the visiting IMF/EU team prioritises an impartial bench-marking exercise to compare the public service size, pay levels and pension entitlements with other EU countries.

Our elected politicians should not be exempted from this exercise.

A major cull of the numbers in the Dáil (166) and Seanad (60) would represent no great loss to the nation. Listening to the candidates in the upcoming Donegal by-election would tend to confirm this view.

Footnote: Section in italics published as a letter in the Irish Times.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Time to buy Govt Bonds

Irish government bonds, recently trading at over 9% on the secondary market, are being sold at a significant discount to their original issue price.

The government should now instruct the state-owned National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF) to buy these bonds at their current discounted levels.

There are a number of benefits to this approach:

(i) it will, in real terms, improve our National Debt:GDP ratio

(ii) it will send a signal to the markets that we have confidence in our ability to manage our way out of this crisis

and last but not least,

(iii) it will remove these headline-grabbing rates (for relatively small amounts of stock) from the domestic and international media with their confidence-sapping talking heads, headlines, opinion columns and editorials.

More Pop-enomics from the McWilliams & Lucey double act

Last Fridays’ “Today with Pat Kenny” show on RTE radio was broadcast from Kilkenny where accomplished self-promoter David McWilliams was hosting "Kilkenomics", a 3-day mix of economics and comedy, presumably for his own financial/publicity gain.
Given the participants, it should have been branded “Pop-enomics”.

Both McWilliams and his attendant acolyte Brian Lucey are routinely treated as oracles, rather than orifices, by Pat Kenny and the media in general. Friday’s broadcast was no exception.

It’s the new truth – economists/academics have become the new terrorists – they only have top be right once. (Though I’ve no evidence that Lucey even qualifies under that banner).

The next time Kenny is in their exalted company, I suggest he might quiz them on the following pronouncements:

On September 28th 2008 David McWilliams published this opinion piece in the Sunday Business Post.

In it McWilliams advises the Govt “The only option is to guarantee 100 per cent of all depositors/creditors in the Irish banking system. This guarantee does not extend to shareholders who will have to live with the losses they have suffered. However, it applies to everyone else.”

That seems unequivocal and includes the subordinated bond-holders of ALL institutions, don’t you think??

McWilliams also asserts that this guarantee will cost the country nothing as it will never be called in! (We now know better!)

Doubtless this is the same advice McWilliams gave Finance Minister Lenihan at their midnight meeting, following which the Govt announced just such a blanket banking guarantee.

We don’t hear McWilliams claiming the credit for this particular piece of foresight, do we?


In the Irish Times of June 30th 2009 Harry McGee has a report on Prof. Brian Lucey’s December 2005 prediction of ongoing growth in the housing market and the potential for subprime lending by Irish mortgage lenders.

In an analysis prepared for mortgage company Homeloan Management Limited in December 2005, Prof Lucey dismissed the notion of an unsustainable property bubble and forecast the Irish housing market would continue to grow at a “modest but still significant pace”.

Lucey also identified more scope for increased mortgage lending by financial institutions by means of subprime mortgages, 100 per cent mortgages and equity-release loans.

Could Lucey be accused of rank hypocrisy now in his categorisation of bank mortgage lending as reckless, when they were merely agreeing with his own assessment? As it turned out, both were grievously wrong but only the banks are in the dock.


Karl Deeter didn’t feature on last Friday's radio programme, at least the bit of it I heard, but he was one of the signatories to a proposal calling for mortgage debt forgiveness published in Wednesday’s Irish Times.
The opinion piece in question carried no health warning as to the possible conflicts of interests of the signatories, the rest of which were a selection of academics.

However, Deeter is a mortgage broker and presumably is currently feeling the pinch in an almost dead housing market, where banks have seriously restricted their lending criteria and significantly reduced the commissions they will pay to mortgage brokers.
In addition, in a recent media appearance Karl Deeter stated that he himself is in a negative equity situation.

Could Deeter be more compromised? He's perfectly entitled to publish his views but we should be made aware of any vested interest he's representing. But did the Irish Times query the bona fides of this latest batch of harbingers of doom which, incidentally, included that ubiquitous media whore Brian Lucey. Of course they didn’t!

The above merely serves to illustrate the difference between a commentator and a policy maker.
Commentators can change their position on a regular basis and are almost never challenged by their fellow-travellers in the media about such u-turns.

Politicians, on the other hand, have to make actual decisions and are crucified by the media when they are sometimes forced to make u-turns.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Does this Government have any moral authority to govern?

The recent red paint incident involving Health Minister Mary Harney highlights a key issue: the willingness of this minister to turn up to claim the credit at the launch of any new health service initiative while persistently refusing to accept any political responsibility for failures in the health service.

Minister Harney is far from unique among her cabinet colleagues in this regard.

Now the High Court has found that the Government is in breach of its constitutional duty with regard to the Donegal by-election and the only defence offered by the Government is that the courts have no jurisdiction in this blatant abuse of political power.

Does this administration have any remaining moral authority to govern us?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Mary Harney painted red!

Isn’t it interesting that Health Minister Mary Harney can regularly turn up to claim the credit at the opening of a new health facility, while consistently denying responsibility in the Dáil for anything that goes wrong with the health service?

Attendance of this type of PR event, supposedly “state business”, is one of the justifications offered for the provision of the chauffeur driven state limousine to each minister. (The current batch of ministers would go to the opening of an envelope and think nothing of the cost of use of state cars, jets or helicopters to get them there and back!)

However, following the red paint incident today, they’ll be able to claim that personal security is the key consideration in deciding to keep their cars.

Personally, I’d give each minister a supply of paint remover and a book of dry-cleaning vouchers and tell them to provide their own transport in future.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sinn Fein's by-election court case is rank hypocrisy

Sinn Fein is currently in the High Court trying to force the Government to move the writ for the Donegal South-West by-election, which they would be hoping to win with their putative candidate Senator Pearse Doherty.

The vacancy occurs following the election of sitting FF TD Pat “the Cope” Gallagher to the European Parliament in June 2009.

The Government is almost certain to lose the by-election and consequently has been stalling the contest for as long as possible.

While I fully agree that the by-election is way overdue (and is only one of three such outstanding contests), I think it’s rank hypocrisy for Sinn Fein to claim that the absence of one TD in a multi-seat constituency constitutes a democratic deficit, when their own elected MPs in Northern Ireland, each the sole representative in a single-seat constituency, refuse to take their seats at Westminster.

Footnote: A variant published as a letter in the Irish Times

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Joe Duffy's Irony By-Pass operation a success

RTE’s Joe Duffy really took the biscuit last week when his Liveline programme was devoted to litter fines and, in a small number of cases, imprisonment for non-payment of those fines.

Joe was outraged about (a) the cost of the €150 on-the-spot fine and (b) the fact that a person could be sent to prison for such a trivial offence as non-payment of that fine.

It has obviously escaped his attention that there is a large, ongoing media campaign warning people that non-payment of the arbitrary TV licence fee of €160, levied annually on almost every household in the country, will result in large fines and possible imprisonment.

Listening to RTE’s “stars”, earning hundreds of thousands of euros, share with the nation their heartfelt anguish for the plight of the ordinary citizen, I often wonder if an irony by-pass is mandatory in RTE.

Joe Duffy certainly appears to have had one.

Footnote: A variant published as a letter in the Irish Independent

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fine Gael blocks Education Minister's trip to USA

Enda Kenny should relent and give his "alma mater" to Mary Coughlan’s proposed trip to the USA.

Ireland needs her to showcase our educational standards.

Footnote: Aired on Pat Kenny's Today programme (RTE)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Leaving Cert - Girls v. Boys

Once again, girls outperform boys in the Leaving Certificate points race, thus giving them first choice of the most desired places in our third level institutions.

Despite this educational disadvantage, men continue, in general, to outperform women, in later life, in business and the professions.

Does this suggest that we are failing to optimise our very substantial investment in third level education, by over-investing in, ultimately, under-achieving females?

Re-balancing the allocation of third level places, by whatever means, would probably deliver significant long-term economic benefits to the country.

Indeed, creating a bias in favour of males students would be the logical, if politically unacceptable, solution.

Published as a letter in the Irish Times

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lucinda Creighton - batting for Paddy McKillen?

Was Lucinda Creighton attacking Enda Kenny with her comments at the MacGill Summer School re corporate contributions, or was she subtly supporting Paddy McKillen's challenge to NAMA?

Paddy McKillen will certainly welcome what is being reported as the latest Fine Gael leadership attack by Lucinda Creighton, as it strongly supports his High Court challenge to NAMA on the grounds that any involvement with that body will be prejudicial to his business.

The contention is that being “in NAMA” inevitably brings with it a significant degree of ignorant prejudice, fuelled by much ill-informed and populist political and media commentary.

Mr McKillen’s legal team might usefully consider calling Ms Creighton as a witness.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Enda Kenny nicknamed Stalin: Man of Steel

Today is the day. Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting (TDs, Senators & MEPs - 70 in total)kicks off at 11.30 with a one-item agenda: a vote of confidence in the leadership of Enda Kenny.

If Kenny wins today, even by a small margin, it will represent a remarkable feat of courage, endurance and real balls. What you want in a leader when the going gets tough.

Such a win will lift FG/Kenny in the polls because Kenny will have displayed fighting qualities the public, never mind the plotters, didn’t believe he possessed.

It will also help in silencing some of his critics in the media punditeriat who treat him with thinly veiled contempt face to face, and with unconcealed contempt when he’s not in studio.

And isn’t it interesting that even in an online members poll (2147 votes), the messiah Bruton is only narrowly ahead of Kenny but still couldn’t get 40% of the votes, despite the long-term weakness of Kenny.

I’m personally very unconvinced by Bruton as a charismatic leader who will connect with the public when exposed on a wider range of topics.
And I’m not alone in questioning his economic abilities. His original banking plan was an unworkable recipe for disaster and I'm not alone in that assessment. Even Karl Whelan and Brian Lucey agree. Luckily, the country didn't have Bruton at the wheel at that critical time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Richard Bruton pledges disloyalty to Fine Gael if Kenny wins

Tomorrow’s Fine Gael leadership meeting should begin with a public, individual commitment by all participants that all voters will accept the outcome and commit to putting their talents at the disposal of the party in the aftermath of the vote, whoever emerges as the leader.

To refuse to make this public commitment would amount to disloyalty to the party, not just to the party leader. In that circumstance, those refusing should resign the FG whip and sit as independents.

This is necessary because challenger Richard Bruton has publicly declared that he will refuse to serve Fine Gael in any front bench position if incumbent Enda Kenny wins the leadership contest tomorrow.

Bruton has said in a number of interviews that he will serve his constituents but will refuse to put his talents at the disposal of his party, despite a democratic leadership process having been undertaken.

This is clearly disloyalty to the party, not just to the party leader. If Bruton persists with this stance, he should resign the FG whip and sit as an independent.

Incidentally, Bruton said, on Vincent Browne’s programme the other night, that he would not serve in a Kenny-led front-bench, but he got all coy when VB asked would he refuse a ministerial position if offered one by Kenny after the next election.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Des O'Malley - "would start a row in an empty house"

Watching RTE’s “The PDs – From Boom To Bust” last night, I laughed when Charlie McCreevy said of Des O’Malley that, while he could be great craic, “he would start a row in an empty house”.

I was reminded of a story I heard a couple of years ago about an incident back in the 1970s when O’Malley was Minister for Justice. Hopefully it’s not an urban myth.

At the time Des was in the habit of paying a regular visit to his mother, who lived in the Sandycove/Dun Laoghaire area. After the visit he would drop into Fitzgerald’s pub in Sandycove for a drink, accompanied by two Special Branch bodyguards. Des would take a stool at the bar and the two bodyguards would sit at a table near the door.

Des would strike up a conversation with the locals at the bar and, in no time at all, would have an argument going. Sometimes he’d be running several different arguments simultaneously with a number of drinkers.

The night of O’Malley’s visit would coincide with the pub owner’s (Charlie Fitzgerald) night off and the young barman in charge didn’t know who O’Malley was.

After several weeks of this routine the young barman finally lost patience: “Look, every time you come in here you start a row. You’re upsetting my regulars. Finish your drink and get out, you’re barred!”

Of course, this started a new row with the barman as O’Malley strongly asserted his rights. The barman came around the counter, took Des by the scruff of the neck and frog-marched him to the door, past the two bodyguards who made no move to intervene, and out the door onto the street.

As the barman came back in, he passed the Special Branch men on their way out to rejoin their master. “Goodnight now” was all they said.

The following day Charlie Fitz was horrified (terrified) when one of his regulars, who had recognised O’Malley, told him what had happened, fearing perhaps that he’d be targeted by the gardai in reprisal. Thankfully, there were no repercussions.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Richard Bruton - a political jack-in-the-box

On Thursday night, when the results of the latest Irish Times/MRBI poll were known, Richard Bruton appeared on RTE’s Prime Time and TV3’s “Vincent Browne at the Palladium”.

On both programmes, he was invited to endorse Kenny's leadership and singularly failed to do so. Instead, he behaved like some shy teenager being teased about fancying some young one.

This wasn’t just a display of disloyalty, it was gross political stupidity.

Regardless of his feelings about Enda Kenny or his own desire to lead FG, he has to endorse the current leader in public, when specifically asked about it by the media.

Instead, what he has now done is to provide ammunition for the media and opposing political interests, including Labour, to focus on FGs problems and deflect attention away from

(a) the banking stew in which, rightly at last, Biffo finds himself and

(b) the populist vapidity of Labour's utterings on how to resolve the public finance deficit

Those TV performances were akin to Bruton shooting himself, and his party, in the foot.

In the loner term, Richard Bruton’s performance regarding the banking crisis has been pathetic. His original proposal, repeatedly revised in light of ongoing criticism, was complete nonsense. Even with the revisions, his proposals have been rubbished by two of his former party leaders, and no recognised expert has endorsed them.

In the past year, Bruton has transformed himself from serious commentator into a political jack-in-the-box joke, jumping up and down with every market movement, desperately trying to score populist political points, instead of maintaining his gravitas.

The last thing FG needs is a shrill new leader named Richard Bruton (or that tiresome whinger Lucinda Creighton).

What they do need is some cop on, more political bottle and a display of loyalty to their current leader. Otherwise, they will let both FF and Labour off the hook and lose even more market share.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Shane Ross - the dog that doesn't bark - at O'Reilly

Independent News & Media (IN&M) AGM was held yesterday and I knew there would be fireworks as the bold Senator Shane Ross castigated the board over the massive loss of shareholders investment in the past 3 years. The shares have fallen from a peak of €3.87 in June 2007 to a dismal €0.115 today – that’s a drop of 97%!

In terms of shareholder losses, IN&M has managed to outdo AIB & BOI – now that took some doing. So after the roasting Shane Ross gave the top table at AIB & BOI shareholder meetings, I knew the IN&M board was in for a torrid time.

Imagine my surprise when I watched the tv news last night and read the papers this morning. Not a word of ructions at the IN&M AGM – I wonder was Senator Ross even at the meeting?

Actually, this will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched Ross’s populist antics over the years. He’s fearless attacking Eircom, the banks, the toll on the M50 etc., but he’s never published or uttered a critical word about any of his employer’s business ventures, many of which have failed to sparkle. IN&M is only the latest dud – Waterford Wedgewood was a complete disaster, not least for the workers who lost not only their jobs but their pension entitlements too. Fitzwilton was a long-standing walking wounded until someone finally put it out of its public listing misery. Various ventures into oil and mining have also left investors nursing significant losses.

I look forward to seeing what’s in the Sunday Indo (Ross is the “business editor” – now that’s a laugh) about the performance of IN&M. Doubtless it will be glowing praise and optimism for the efforts of the board, now led by O’Reilly junior.

Time to reprise, again, my favourite Shane Ross joke:
Trinity College has outdone Ancient Rome because it's only a myth that Caligula made his horse a Roman Consul but it's a fact that Trinity College has made a senator out of a complete horse's arse.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Israel a pariah state, comparable with apartheid-era South Africa

It has always been legitimate for sea-farers to attempt to repel pirates with every means at their disposal. Responsibility for the Gaza convoy deaths rests entirely with the Israeli pirates, not with those attempting to repel the heavily armed boarders.

It is laughable for the Israelis to claim a justification of self-defence when they were the armed aggressors attacking an unarmed ship. If I break into your house armed with a gun and shoot you dead because you try to resist, a plea of “self-defence” just might get me a reduction from murder to manslaughter, but I’m certainly going to jail.

I look forward to seeing those involved in the authorisation, planning and execution of this criminal act brought before the international court on charges of piracy and murder. (I won’t be holding my breath)

In the meantime, we ordinary citizens can take our lead from the actions of the Dunnes Stores workers who, in 1984, showed us the appropriate response to a repressive regime which consistently shows two fingers to the international community with regard to human rights.

In terms of pariah status, Israel is now on a par with apartheid-era South Africa. The UN should dust down the old sanctions, no need to re-invent the wheel.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Johnny Foreigner on Little Englander

What would a foreigner make of UK society if he/she had to make a judgement on it, as viewed through the prism of UK media?

Quite apart from all the recent routine election-related vitriol, there’s the weekly Westminster Punch & Judy show that is known as PMQs. This, supposedly, represents the pinnacle of political discourse in the UK parliament.

The BBC’s (the public service broadcaster!) “mock or shaft” Dragon’s Den and the hyper-abrasive personnel skills of Alan Sugar on The Apprentice might well be taken to represent the recommended approach to achieving business/economic success in the UK.

The foreign viewer would also have the daily diet of dysfunctional families and communities, as represented by top-ratings programmes such as Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Eastenders.

One wonders what the ordinary UK resident makes of it all, fed on this daily tv diet of abrasion and confrontation from all levels of society? And then there are the “red tops”, the biggest selling “newspapers” in UK, which routinely go for “shock & awe” OTT banner headlines.

Fed on such a sustained and noxious diet, is it any wonder that many UK citizens appear to believe it is acceptable to behave aggressively and/or to hold xenophobic views? This might also explain the UK attitude to the EU – they can’t be a member of any club unless they actually run it!

Hopefully, the recent formation of a coalition government may remove some of the perceived stigma associated with the idea of having to moderate ones language and behaviour and live with compromise.

The reality is that we all do it in our daily lives - in our family, our workplace, our social circle etc..

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Sauce for our political geese

Recent problems regarding expenses and pensions for our politicians arise primarily for a common reason: their propensity to exclude themselves from regulations they enact for application to the rest of us.

The solution therefore is for the political classes to formally adopt the following principle: what’s good enough for us is good enough for them.

In that situation you wouldn’t, for example, have
(a) politicians in receipt of ministerial pensions while still in receipt of TD’s salaries, well in advance of normal retirement age.
(b) such pension entitlements calculated on a greatly foreshortened service scale.
(c) permission to claim material expenses and allowances on an unvouched basis.
(d) the use of a state car and drivers for personal and/or party political use without incurring any benefit-in-kind tax liability.

From now on we should have no special exemptions for politicians. That might help regain public trust.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cian & Ciaran - tag team-mates?

A listener who doesn’t speak English would be forgiven for thinking that, from his deadpan mono-tonal delivery, Cian McCormack is tasked with reading out the daily list of the dead on RTE radio.

That same listener might also think that Ciaran Mullooly routinely reports from Drumlin country, while being carried up and down those small hills in an unsprung vehicle, such is the variety of his delivery - in tone, in spacing and with the emphasis often on the wrong word or syllable in each sentence.

It strikes me that if RTE teamed them up together they just might correct each others delivery shortcomings and come out as perfectly modulated reporters!

Gerry Ryan - enough, already.

I readily admit that I have never met Gerry Ryan, nor was I a fan.

I never listened to his radio programme and my only exposure to him was the occasional accidental glimpse on tv.. The persona I perceived there was not one I liked or admired. I recall one reviewer opining that if Ryan was an ice-cream he’d lick himself.

That said, I would not have wished him any harm, other than a large salary reduction, and his death at a relatively early age has left a family and partner in grief.

Am I alone in felling a little disturbed by the “Princess Diana” nature of the media coverage of his death, particularly on RTE?

What does it say for the national intelligence if Gerry Ryan was the country’s most insightful and influential commentator – for he is now, in death, elevated to that exalted position.

Somewhere in outer space, where radio signals from Earth are monitored, the alien on the RTE desk is reporting the death of some major eminence, possibly the world leader. This is causing confusion because no other radio signal is carrying the same story.

Enough, already!

Gaia begins the fightback

The Gaia hypothesis (roughly) proposes that Earth acts like a living organism in order to maintain the ecosystem of the planet is some sort of equilibrium. It suggests that it can invoke measures to rebalance unwelcome events/effects.

This hypothesis was first proposed by James Lovelock, but in March he expressed the view (to the Guardian) that humanity is too stupid to save the planet from global warming, and basically we’ve doomed future generations to oblivion.

That must really have got up Gaia’s nose, because look at what she has just done.

The eruption in Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano has had two main effects.

Firstly, it has significantly reduced air travel into and around Europe, with consequent reduction in CO2 emissions.
Secondly, it has thrown a layer of ash and dust into the atmosphere, which has the effect of reflecting some of the sun’s heat back into space and prevents it from warming the earth. Might it even delay the melting of the polar ice-cap?

Could this be just the start of Gaia’s fight-back and what will the consequences be for the current inhabitants of the planet?

I hope it will still be possible to get those little asparagus spears flown in from Kenya, and the limes from Chile. Life without its little indulgences wouldn’t be worth living.

Nature or Nurture?

In late April, Governor Kathleen McMahon retired from her position at the Dóchas Centre, which is Ireland's only women's prison.

Governor McMahon said she had decided to retire early because her position had been made 'completely impossible' by conditions at the prison. These included overcrowding and the imprisonment of women who posed no threat to society, she said.

Governor McMahon is quoted as fearing that this overcrowding will lead to in increase in "self-mutilation, bullying, depression and lesbianism".
In the interim, I have waited in vain for the media debate on the lesbianism comment.

“Nature or nurture?” is the routine argument regarding sexual orientation. Governor McMahon’s comment would seem to add credibility to those who argue that it may well be both.

Get them out of the Mercs!

UK cabinet minister Ed Balls was recently fined £60 for using a mobile phone while driving. We know that couldn’t happen here, because the gardai would be driving him rather than stopping him.

The 24/7 availability of state limousines with garda drivers is one of the more visible perks of ministerial office and further demonstrates the bloated sense of entitlement of the politocracy that rules us.

Any executive in a private company enjoying the 24/7 use of the company limo and chauffeur, for other than company business, would be liable for a large benefit-in-kind tax bill, but not so our political leaders. The state merc is permanently available for personal/family and political party business.

I have no difficulty with ministers having the use of state cars for state business, but they should use their own transport for party-related and personal activities

Claims that this garda limo service is required for security reasons are patent nonsense. If any politician needs garda protection, he/she should have an armed bodyguard, not a chauffeur/flunkey driving a state car.

Now that public outrage has forced a u-turn on the payment of ministerial pensions to serving politicians, another unique arrangement for the benefit of the political classes, let us next turn government ministers out of their state cars, save the country some money and free up those wasted garda resources.

In future, we should demand that our political leaders subject themselves to exactly the same rules and regulations which apply to the rest of us plebs. No more opt-out clauses for the ruling elite.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday pub opening

It’s Good Friday and there’s been plenty of media debate about the decision to allow Limerick pubs to open tonight because of the Munster-Leinster rugby match.

Christian/Catholic religious tradition means that pubs in Ireland are legally obliged to close on two days of the year – Good Friday and Christmas Day. In a society which is becoming more religiously diverse and increasingly secular, many question whether the traditional catholic ethos should continue to have the same prominence. This is typically manifested in calls for RTE to drop the Angelus, for Christmas cribs and trees not to be displayed in public buildings etc etc..

The secularist argument is that if you allow Christian symbols and traditions, you must also allow those of all other religions. This would obviously get messy and their real objective is to get rid of the Christian items, rather than facilitate the other religions.

Although I don’t personally practice any religion, I find it objectionable that all religious tradition must be jettisoned in order to satisfy the demands of political correctness.

Some years ago I watched a discussion on BBC involving former Labour party government minister Roy Hattersley and a coloured lesbian lady whose name escapes me. They were discussing some recent anti-gay comments reported in the media. Hattersley spouted the usual liberal, politically-correct line, something to the effect that “we must be intolerant of such intolerance” which, I admit, would have mirrored my own immediate response.
However, the lesbian lady stopped him and said she profoundly disagreed. While she found the published comments offensive, they did not oppress her. And that, she said, was the critical yardstick in a free society. It was an eye-opener for me and it makes sense.

So, applying that principle to Christian/Catholic Ireland, what would it do to our traditions? Well, the wearing or public display of religious symbols may offend some people, but it certainly doesn’t oppress them. So, in with the retention of Christmas cribs in public places, crucifixes in hospitals, schools etc.. Ditto the Angelus on RTE.

However, closing pubs on Good Friday & Christmas day can be seen to oppress those who want to have a drink in a pub on those days, so out the legal ban must go. Naturally, it is up to each publican to decide whether he/she wants to open on those days, so their own religious sensitivities are not oppressed. And the necessary legislation should ensure that pub staff can also opt out – while including a condition that working on Xmas day earns 3-4 times the normal hourly rate.

RTE's "greatest Irish person ever" poll

RTE has been heavily hyping it’s online poll to find “the greatest Irish person ever”.

It’s not that long since The Wolfe Tones rendition of “A Nation Once Again” won a similar BBC worldwide online poll for the greatest song ever written.

Surely this was sufficient proof of the utter worthlessness of such online polls?

Could any award be more meaningless?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Moriarty Tribunal - GUBU.

The recent revelations at the Moriarty Tribunal must surely qualify as the stuff of GUBU. It seems that the tribunal’s legal team have been in possession of crucial information since October 2002 which should have resolved “the ownership issue”, but they chose instead to pursue a line of inquiry that appears to have completely discounted and concealed that information.

In addition, it seems the tribunal chairman has relied on a “phantom” letter, allegedly written by the Attorney general’s office, to support this particular line of inquiry.

All of this has extended the life of the Moriarty Tribunal, at significant extra cost to the taxpayer, and now raises major question marks over the credibility of any findings published by this 13-year old tribunal.

There may, thankfully, be some redress available to the hard-pressed taxpayer as the tribunal chairman, Mr Justice Michael Moriarty, has the power to refuse legal costs to any party who is deemed to have impeded the work of the tribunal. Indeed, he may levy additional costs on parties whom he deems to have caused the tribunal to incur unnecessary additional costs.

So, if a compelling justification for the actions of the tribunal legal team is not immediately forthcoming, Mr Justice Moriarty might demand a refund of the relevant legal fees paid to the tribunal lawyers involved in this debacle. If Mr Justice Moriarty himself has been a fully informed participant in this matter, he may also apply the same sanction to himself.

I would also suggest that, in the absence of credible justifications being forthcoming, none of the parties involved should ever again work for the state.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Who has the right to call for Cardinal Sean Brady's head?

Should non-practising catholics or those of other religious denominations, or none, have any right to call for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady or any other catholic prelate?

They certainly have a right to call for the gardai to investigate/prosecute possible breaches of the law, or to call for the removal of catholic clergy from roles in the educational system, but what business is it of theirs who holds office in the catholic church?

Obviously those who remain within the catholic church have such a right.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cardinal Sean Brady & Amnesty International

I don’t know whether Cardinal Sean Brady should resign, or not.

However, I was surprised that Amnesty’s Colm O’Gorman was so quickly out of the traps in calling for the cardinal’s resignation, without allowing any time for an explanation or defence from the cardinal.

Kangaroo courts are surely anathema to Amnesty International?

So irrespective of the outcome for Cardinal Brady, Colm O’Gorman should now resign from his leadership role with Amnesty.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Johnny Ronan - How the other half lives!

When ordinary folk find a leisure activity overly distracting from the important business of earning a living we are invariably obliged to give up the distraction.

Johnny Ronan has chosen the alternative option – he’s giving up the business, rather than the distraction.

The rich certainly have a different way of operating.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Raising the spirits

Given the over-abundance of bad news these days, I applaud the Irish Times for adopting an innovative approach.

The inclusion of a birth announcement (Emily Rachel Lawlor, IT 6th March) in the midst of the death notices was a bold and welcome move that helped to raise the spirits. (Yes, I'm afraid the pun is intended.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bank Inquiry should "follow the money" to the Govt's door.

Lest we forget….

In all the blame allocation about the economic/banking/property crash, it seems to be forgotten that there was, in fact, a general consensus that the construction boom could not be sustained indefinitely. The debate centred on whether we’d have a soft or a hard landing. The vast majority of economists (incl. Brian Lucey) favoured the soft landing scenario, which would have yielded very different consequences to those we are currently enduring.

If we’d had the desired soft landing
- developers and builders would have experienced an orderly reduction in activity levels
- unemployment in the sector would have increased but, at a moderated rate, and much of it would have been absorbed by an economy that continued to expand in other areas
- House price rises would have stabilised, rising at a rate akin to normal inflation and moderating the need to “get on the housing ladder” for first-time buyers
- Banks would have suffered some decline in their profits, but those would still be quite substantial. They would certainly have avoided the catastrophic level of bad debts now being incurred.

However, how would the largest financial beneficiary of the construction boom, i.e. the Govt, have fared in a soft landing?

During the boom, it was routinely estimated that about 40% of the sale price of every new house and apartment went to the Govt through a variety of taxes, duties & levies. Doubtless something similar applied to new commercial properties.
On second-hand properties, stamp duty rates of up to 9%, Capital Gains Tax etc added to the overflowing coffers of the Exchequer.

Rather than recognise the temporary nature of this engorged inflow of property-related taxes, the Government instead embarked on a programme of long-term spending commitments, which were dependant on maintaining and increasing the tax inflows. These included increased public sector employment, bench-marked salaries & pensions, generous social welfare hikes etc etc..

It was a bit like a man working on a 3-5 year project, which temporarily provided a significant boost to his earnings, deciding to take on a 30-year 100% mortgage on the strength of that temporary boost.

So the Government was heading for an inevitable, and material, shortfall in its finances, the so-called structural deficit, regardless of the worldwide economic recession. We got the dreaded hard landing in spades, predicted by the very few, which has greatly exacerbated the problems in the public finances.

It’s clear that the Government was almost certain to be in trouble regardless of what happened, and it was the player who most needed the construction boom to continue as long as possible. Might that explain the annual budget incentives for developers, investors and first-time buyers?

Many investigations logically use a “follow the money” or “cui bono?” methodology. Assuming that the proposed inquiry into the banking crisis pursues this line, the Government will inevitably be in the dock alongside the bankers and developers.

Michael O'Leary & me

Michael O’Leary & I have something in common, we’re both minority shareholders in Ryanair. But only Michael gets to use our company as his own private plaything.

I bought Ryanair shares 7 years ago, in Feb/Mar 2003, at an average price of €3.14 (excluding dealing charges & stamp duty, and adjusted for the subsequent “2 for 1” stock split). The shares closed this week @ €3.50 – a gain in 7 years of just over 11%.
In those 7 years, the share price has generally bumped along within +/- 10-20% of the original purchase price.

So, allowing for inflation in the intervening years, I’m losing money on my Ryanair investment, given that the company has never paid a dividend.

In the same period, Ryanair has grown significantly in size – it carried 19.5m passengers in calendar 2003 and this had risen to 65m in 2009 – an increase of approx. 330%.

Based on this volume growth, Michael O’Leary is feted as a business genius and is a darling of the media – "he gives good head" lines.

There’s a saying in business that “volume is vanity, profit is sanity”, and, on that basis, Michael certainly does vanity very well. But I, and my fellow shareholders, would be much better served if Michael turned down the volume and concentrated on the profit side of the growth equation.

Frankly, I start to worry a bit about a business model where, it seems, that extraordinary volume growth is required to produce relatively pedestrian profit growth. It’s beginning to feel like one of these circus guys spinning plates – we all applaud as he adds more and more plates, but at some point it’s all going to spin out of control and they’ll come tumbling down.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Willie O'Dea - did he gamble in court case?

An interesting opinion piece in today’s Irish Times titled “Lowest standard once again wins the day” is penned by barrister and former Green Party councillor Vincent Martin.

He sets out the background to the case and highlights the relevant clauses of the Electoral Abuses Act (1923) which gave rise to the original court case involving Sinn Fein council candidate Maurice Quinlivan and Government Minister Willie O’Dea.

Possible penalties facing Minister O’Dea had he been found by the High Court to be in breach of that Act include:
Section 15 provides that on conviction, a person will be barred from voting in all State elections for a period of five years.
Section 16 provides that on conviction, a candidate for election to the Dáil or Seanad shall be incapable of being elected to such office for a period of up to seven years and if elected that election shall be void.”

This would suggest that, had Minister O’Dea gone into court and admitted his guilt, he would have been facing very dire political consequences – the ending of his political career.

Much has been made by Minister O’Dea himself, his party colleagues and, indeed, some media commentators, of the fact that O’Dea knew the interview in question had been taped and that, consequently, it was highly unlikely that he would knowingly swear an affidavit which contained a blatant lie, given that the tape record was probably still extant (as has proven to be the case).

However, could it be possible that, faced with a choice of owning up in the High Court and facing the dire penalties of the Electoral Abuses Act, the minister decided to gamble on the interview tape either no longer existing or, alternatively, never being discovered by his court adversary?

Did he make the choice between certain political disaster now versus possible political disaster later – with maybe a better than 50:50 chance of getting away with it?

After all, his sworn affidavit was accepted in the High Court, the local elections went ahead and Maurice Quinlivan was duly elected in Limerick. Minister O’Dea might well have expected matters to rest there, the false accusation of brothel-keeping being just part of the normal cut & thrust of local Limerick politics.

It was only when Councillor Quinlivan issued defamation proceedings against both Minister O’Dea and The Limerick Chronicle that the interview tape surfaced and proved conclusively that O’Dea’s sworn High Court affidavit was very misleading.

Even then, it looked like O’Dea had gotten away with it, having won a confidence vote on the issue in the Dáil yesterday. Then the Greens wobbled the other way….

If Willie O’Dea did make such a judgement, it almost paid off.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Maire Geoghegan Quinn's Dáil pensions

The above report in yesterday’s Sunday Tribune on Maire Geoghan Quinn’s generous Dáil pensions makes interesting reading.

Ms Geoghegan Quinn served approx. 4.5 years as a full cabinet minister and left the Dáil in 1997, having served 22 years as a TD.

In 2008 her ministerial pension amounted to €62,945 in 2008 and, when added to her TD pension, she received a total Dáil pension of €107,326 in that year.

These pensions have been paid to her since she left the Dáil in 1997, when she would have been 47. In the real world, Irish legislation bans the payment of pension benefits before reaching 50 years of age, except in cases of disability.

This case is a perfect illustration of the gold-plated arrangements our national politicians have organised for themselves, both in terms of generosity and the waiving of rules that apply to the rest of us.

In the same way, the revised expense regime for Oireachtas members still allows unvouched expense claims to be made, in direct contravention of the rules applied by the Revenue Commissioners to every business in the country.

Why do our politicians believe that they should be treated differently from the general population, for which they legislate?

It’s time that the political classes applied the same rules to themselves that apply to their constituents. What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

Incidentally, contrast the generosity of MGQ’s Dáil pension package with that of former EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy, who served 6 years in that position.
McCreevy will qualify for a pension of €51,068 when he reaches age 65.

If Ireland Inc can put the renowned Brussels gravy-train in the halfpenny place when it comes to lining politicians pockets, it just shows the extent to which we lost the run of ourselves during the Celtic Tiger years – and it was led from the heart of Government.

Michael O'Leary woos Mary Coughlan

A great spat between Michael O’Leary and Tanaiste Mary Coughlan over the job potential for Ryanair taking over the old SR Technics hangar at Dublin Airport.

He’s as obnoxious as ever and she seems to be as useless as ever.

Another case of “the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable”.

You’d have to wonder what their love-child might be like?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

FG up, Labour down - but Kenny the media focus

The latest opinion polls (Sunday Independent today)have Fine Gael up but Enda Kenny down.

Once again, Eamon Gilmore is the most popular party leader, but Labour has fallen 2% in the polls.

The media seems to believe that it’s Enda Kenny, rather than Eamon Gilmore, who has questions to answer.

In the 2007 general election, FG gained about 20 seats and it was the failure of Labour to make any progress which allowed FF to get back into power.

The media should be asking the hard questions of Labour and Gilmore, rather than hounding Kenny.

The George Lee affair & RTE

Can RTE report objectively on the George Lee affair?

There is clear disbelief among RTE’s top current affairs commentators that one of their former peers and brightest stars could possibly be a political failure.

Hence it must all be the fault of Fine Gael and Enda Kenny.

Apparently it hasn't dawned on them that it's generally much easier to ask the questions than to formulate the solutions.

Perhaps it’s a case of “those who can, do; those who can’t, broadcast.”

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

ESRI slams Gormley policy on waste management

The ESRI has today published a report from on Ireland’s Waste Management Strategy which is highly critical of Minister John Gormley’s policy. The report was commissioned by Dublin City Council.

A few juicy quotes from the Frank McDonald’s Irish Times report:

MINISTER FOR the Environment John Gormley’s policy on waste incineration has “no underlying rationale” and is likely to impose “needless costs on the economy”,

the Minister’s policy to set a cap of 30% on the incineration of municipal waste could damage Ireland’s reputation as a place to do business and “will thus harm economic development and competitiveness”.

“Arbitrary limits on incineration and consequent expansion of MBT [mechanical and biological treatment] have no place in waste management policy,” it says, disputing Mr Gormley’s contention that his new policy would create jobs and improve competitiveness.

Minister Gormley has responded to the strongly worded criticisms in the ESRI report, claiming that some of the data and assumptions used by ESRI are flawed.

However, I laughed when Gormley accused Dublin City Council of commissioning the report in an attempt to undermine the national strategy on waste management. Because what is undisputable, is that Gormley changed the national waste management policy specifically to undermine the plans of Dublin City Council to build a large incinerator at Poolbeg, in the minister’s own constituency.

Bailout for FTBs in negative equity?

Brian Lucey is back in the Irish Times – again.

In an opinion piece titled “State must not bank on bailout of bad mortages” he makes a number of points I’d agree with (for a change).

However there’s one I’d like to take issue with. Lucey identifies first time buyers from 2004 onwards as those most likely to be suffering from negative equity, but he also highlights a potential problem with a NAMA-style bailout for mortgage-holders as involving “transfers from persons who did not borrow excessively to those who did.”

However, during the boom it was routinely estimated that Government, at national and local levels, received about 40% of the sale price of every new house and apartment, garnered through a range of taxes, duties and levies from a variety of sources.

Therefore, a Government bailout of those first-time buyers would constitute a refund of their own money, rather than a transfer from anyone else. As the major financial beneficiary of the construction boom, the Government, rather than the banks, bears the primary responsibility for any bail-out of mortgage-holders.

My advice to FTBs who find themselves in a real bind: “Get your own back”.

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