Deals and 'arrangements' – all very normal

At first glance, the case of Cllr. Michael Fahy dealt with today at the Circuit Criminal Court in Galway today, is straight forward.

Cllr Fahy was convicted of obtaining €7,000 by false pretences in 2002 and the attempted theft of €7,500 in 2003 as well as five other charges of deception and false accounting. But as always in Ireland there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Fahy committed the fraud in 2001 and when council engineers suspected something was wrong an internal investigation was initiated which found that the Council was out to the tune of €7,000. In a properly functioning jurisdiction the next step would be to inform the police. But as with the Friends First fraud, (See below) that is not how things are done in Ireland.

Instead, Cllr. Fahy was summoned by the County Manager in Galway County Council, Donal O’Donaghue and told that he would have to repay the €7,000. In addition, because of what he had done, he would have to make a contribution to a local charity.

In other words, the theft of €7,000 of taxpayer’s money by a local politician was being covered up by the local authority. In a properly functioning jurisdiction this ‘arrangement’ would be seen and dealt with as a serious crime in itself.

Cllr. Fahy repaid the €7,000 and donated €3,000 to the local Lourdes Invalid Fund and there the matter rested.

In June 2004, Brian McDonald, West of Ireland correspondent for the Irish Independent, got wind of the story and submitted an FOI request for documents concerning Cllr. Michael Fahy – The story was out.

Once again, justice was only done because of good investigative journalism. What I find amazing is how the massive elephant in the room can be ignored. Time after time corruption is covered up, arrangements are made, deals are done and, for the most part, all this is seen as perfectly normal.

Dawkins answered

It was just coming up to one o’clock in the morning, I was reading Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The God Delusion and listening to RTE’s excellent late night show, Late Date (4th Jan, 57min). Suddenly, the soft but resolute voice of a certain Mary O’Malley was taking the good Mr. Dawkins to task for his latest attack on her belief system.

In common with all those who fear Mr. Dawkins’ devastating and unanswerable demolition of religious superstition, Ms. O’Malley could only respond with gobbledygook and personal attack.

Her use of a story about five blind men describing an elephant serves as a perfect analogy for the superiority of science over religious belief; not, I think, what she intended.

Here’s the full sermon.

The famous Mr. Richard Dawkins is at it again. Mr. Dawkins is certain that there is no place for religious sensibility in this world and he rants on like some born again creature to save us all from the perfidy of belief. He has no time for poor fools who haven’t reached his evolved state of scientific clarity about the absolute badness of all religion, everywhere.

Scientists like Dawkins remind me of the story of five blind men describing an elephant. Each convinced of the truth of his own touch; the tail, the giant legs, the long trunk. Along came a sighted man and scorned them for their foolish beliefs.

God made the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested. Then the oceans quickened under the moving spirit and life as we know it began. Adam, Eve, temptation, the bite of the juicy red apple, a house, kids, the whole catastrophe. Then they spoil the kids, then murder. The plot thickens after that with more twists and misery than a Schwarzenegger movie and don’t’ expect scientists to come up with anything better.

A big bang, then a lot of invisible activity that takes forever, then things crawling out of the primordial slime, it sounds like rugby.

The thing about most great stories is that we know that they are not true, not literally, most of us. Do you believe in the fairies granny? I do and I don’t Alana. But to give another twist to an old saw, I mightn’t believe in them but I still need them and most of us need, if not faith, then hope.

The right to choose to live in the light and work by the light, we need not be stupid or gullible but allow us to savour the beauty of a story well told and the wonderful power of fable. Sometimes, it’s all we’ve got.

Electronic law enforcement

It was obvious, as I approached the checkout, that all was not well. A woman, aged about 30/35, was arguing with the checkout girl. She wanted to purchase a six pack of beer but a digital message on the till displayed a stark and unbending message – “Alcohol sales prohibited” or words to that effect.

It was just two minutes after 11.00pm and despite the anger of the customer and the apologies of the checkout girl, the machine was not for changing. I tentatively proffered my six pack of non alcoholic beer but that too was rejected by the machine.

I wondered, as the burley security man cordoned off the alcohol section with a Berlin Wall type fence, why consumers could buy anything they wished in this massive 24/7 supermarket but not alcohol after certain hours.

I wondered why the owners and State authorities could not bang their heads together and allow adults to buy a couple of beers or a bottle of wine at 11.01pm or even 4 in the morning if they so wished.

Last Christmas, I witnessed an even more chaotic situation. At about five minutes to ‘closing time’ in this supermarket that never closes, there was an announcement –

“Anyone wishing to purchase alcohol should proceed immediately to a checkout.”

At least one hundred customers, manoeuvring trolley’s heavily laden with Christmas shopping looked at each other in disbelief before rushing helter skelter for the nearest checkout.

Pandemonium ensued as customers fought desperately to join the shortest queue, some even engaged in frantic negotiations with non alcoholic carrying customers in their efforts to beat the ruthless till.

One husband/wife team did manage to purchase about half of their Christmas booze before the till cut them off. Working with military precision, the wife ruthlessly ejected all items of a non alcoholic nature, clearing the way for the husband to throw as many crates and bottles as possible at a delicate checkout girl who was on the verge of abandoning her post in panic.

Sadly, few others succeeded in beating the electronic alcohol sentry and an air of despair descended over the would be Christmas revelers as this machine enforced what can only be described as an idiotic law.

I wonder what would happen if every pub and club in the country was subject to the same strict enforcement – revolution?

Freedom of speech and personal destiny

I never thought I would find myself sympathising with the Pope or agreeing with a journalist with such extreme views as Mary Ellen Synon.

The recent comments by the Pope that has so upset the Muslim world should be seen in the West in simple terms – Should religious belief be allowed to take precedence over freedom of speech?

Mary Ellen Synon was debating on Today FM the case of a Jehovah’s Witness who was forcibly given blood against her express wishes. The presenter Sam Smyth and the panel which included Pat Rabbitte strongly disagreed with Synon’s view that the woman’s rights were violated.

I suspect the judge was taking a typically Irish approach to a very difficult problem. His decision saved him and the medical personnel from facing the consequences of allowing a person to make a free decision about her own destiny.

The case could, however, open up a Pandora’s Box. For example, what happens now if a person decides not to avail of treatment for cancer? Can a family member or indeed the State go to court and force treatment because they know what’s best?

In the case of the Pope and Islam, the West should defend its cherished right to free speech. In the case of the Jehovah Witness, the right of a sane adult to decide their own destiny should be sacrosanct.

The price of (non) drink

Dropped down to the local last Saturday to watch the rugby – what a game?
Anyway, I asked for a Becks non-alcoholic. After rummaging around under the counter for a while, the young bartender eventually found a bottle and opened it for me. Obviously not used to serving this particular drink, she didn’t know the price and so asked to barman/owner.

Although I couldn’t hear the conversation, the body language indicated that she was both amazed and puzzled by what he was telling her. She apologetically informed me that this small bottle (275Ml) would cost me €3.60.

The same bottle cost just €1 in the local supermarket. Out of this €1, I presume, the distillery, Government and supermarket get their share. So how does the publican justify the extra €2.60? The answer is, of course, he doesn’t have to justify anything, he just picks a price out of the air – And the publicans are puzzled as to why more and more people are socialising at home.

In any case, I have been told that I was “lucky’ enough with the price, that some pubs are charging up to €4.20 for the same drink. I would be interested to hear if anyone else out there can beat that.

Beating around the bush

Several European countries have begun enquiries into allegations that the Americans have been using their airports for rendition (torture holiday?) flights. I particularly liked the Dutch response, mixing humour with threat.

‘ prompting Dutch foreign minister Ben Bot to warn that his country could reconsider its 1,100-strong military presence in Afghanistan if the Americans “continue to beat around the bush” on the issue”.

Given that Ireland is almost totally dependent on American industry, the response by the Irish Government was predictable. When Condoleezza whispered in Dermot Ahern’s ear:

‘We would never do such nasty things”

Dermot rushed to assure the Irish people.

‘We fully accept the categorical assurance of a friendly nation.’

He couldn’t, of course, tell the truth, which goes something like this.

‘Please, please Connie, we will do anything, agree to anything, ignore any action, even torture so long as you keep the dollars rolling in.

Anti-corruption group calls for ombudsman

Over the weekend a new anti-corruption group, headed by Frank McBrearty Jnr., was launched at the Mansion House in Dublin. This is a welcome development. I was contacted some weeks back by a representative of the new group but have not heard back since. The Irish Times reports on it today:

He announced the new group at a public meeting held on Saturday afternoon in Dublin’s Mansion House. He likened the new group to the One in Four campaign, in that it will seek to deal with what he terms as victims of the abuse of power by State institutions.

Mr McBrearty was accompanied at the launch by eight other speakers on the platform, including TDs Dan Boyle, Joe Higgins and Sean Crowe, as well as journalists Frank Connolly and Eamonn McCann; Aisling Reidy of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties; and Labour Cllr Nicky Kelly and Osgur Breathnach – both of whom were wrongly convicted for the Sallins train robbery in 1976.

About 250 people attended the meeting, including Labour Party justice spokesman Joe Costello.

Mr McBrearty said the primary aim of the group was the setting up of an ombudsman similar to the office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Nuala O’Loan.

This weblog welcomes the aims of Anti-Corruption Ireland, and hope that can assist in highlighting corruption in Ireland.

Councillor charged with misuse of funds

From today’s IT, in a story by John Fallon:

A councillor has appeared in court in connection with the alleged misappropriation of funds belonging to Galway County Council.

Cllr Michael Fahy, who resigned from Fianna Fail last year when this matter first emerged, but who continues to serve as an independent member of the council, appeared before Kinvara District Court.

And the alleged crime:

The alleged offences relate to incidents going back over four years and include summonses in relation to amounts of €7,523.91 and €3,702.12. He also faces two summonses under the Larceny Act 1916 and under the Criminal Justice Act.