Bertie has nothing to worry about

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny thinks that Bertie Ahern will be in trouble if he fails to provide clear answers to the Tribunal. Kenny is wrong.

For Ahern, this episode is nothing more than an irritant.

He knows that standards in Irish public life operate from the sewer, that most Irish citizens are docile and easily fooled, that the media quickly loses interest as soon as the next scandal breaks and most of all he knows that there is no authority in the state with the courage or power to actually make him accountable.

He may be mildly concerned that if the Greens decide to abandon ship, he will have the bother of rearranging his power base.

He has nothing else to worry about.

Dunphy, seeing the light

“Ireland is a very, very corrupt country in all its institutions and professions.”

This was the view expressed by Eamonn Dunphy on last Sunday’s Marian Fincuane Show. When asked to elaborate, Dunphy went on; (Edited version)

“If you reflect on our professions, accountants, Bankers, Gardai, some of our major business figures and no less a person than the Taoiseach himself who is going to be in Dublin Castle this week.

I think that any forensic view of all of that tells us that we live in a deeply corrupt society.

We need honest people in public life and we need serious regulators running regulatory authorities. If you’re an accountant or banker and you are caught you need to be punished. I’m sick of seeing the consequences of corruption in this country, in every aspect of our national life.

If there is no probity, if there is no sense of justice abroad in our community then why should anyone behave? How can we point the finger at a delinquent, a gangster when people in suits are very often not much better?”

Welcome to the long held views of Public Inquiry, Eamonn.

Playing volleyball with life

There was some interesting conversation on the Marian Finucane Show last Sunday about the latest shocking scandal concerning the gross incompetence in the treatment of breast cancer.

The panel consisted of Justine McCarthy (journalist), Liam Griffin, Joe Higgins (politician), John Crown (consultant) and Michael Colgan. At times it is difficult to identify who is speaking but here are some quotes to send a chill up the spine.

John Colgan:

“It’s interesting to listen to John Crown saying that it’s easy to make mistakes, and they’ll get suspended and they’ll get sacked and they’ll get changed. Yet, when Dr. Gupta wrote to the HSE, he was told, ‘go to the Dept. of Health’ and they sent him to the Medical Council, he was given the run around.

I come back to what Justine (McCarthy) said, 650 people are dying, 15% more than the EU average. People playing volleyball with this, not taking the blame, going home, saying they did nothing and actually killing people.”

John Crown: (I think)

“There are five or six really big places… that really try to do this right (for cancer patients).
But until O’Higgins identified all of this there were lots of little public hospitals where ego driven, cult personality run individual doctors were allowing breast cancer care to be done, I believe, inappropriately, incorrectly and to a lower than acceptable standard.”

Panel member: “How does that sound to somebody out there with breast cancer?”

Marian Finucane: Terrifying, I would have thought.

Panel member: “I’ll tell you something Marian, if anything goes wrong with me in this country, I’m glad I can afford it, I’m getting a second opinion and now when I read all of this, a third.”

Strokeonomics

In a well written article in last Sunday’s Sunday Business Post, Journalist and author, David McWilliams analyses the ‘Strokeonomics’ rampant in Ireland.

“Strokeonomics. It is economics Irish style, when the local government and the local politicians join forces to build infrastructure based on electoral boundaries rather than engineering logic. What other country has roads determined by county boundaries?”

”Strokeonomics enfeebles all of us because the tax money of the central government is used to prop up the ambitions of the little emperors who masquerade as politicians in Ireland.”

While McWilliams is writing about the incompetence, jobs for the boys, Gombeenism, greed and political favouritism rampant in road building.

The same points could be made about health, education, police, politics, legal system, civil service, in fact, about any area of Irish public life.

The article is well worth reading.

Never ending quangos

For decades Irish consumers have been ripped off by rogue businesses because of inadequate protection from the State.

In 2005, in an alleged effort to protect consumers, the National Consumer Agency was set up. Unfortunately, its powers were limited to issuing press releases and highlighting rip offs.

This situation could only have arisen through gross incompetence on the part of civil servants responsible for its establishment, or, it was a deliberate policy to create a toothless tiger.

Two years later, after ‘rip off Ireland’ had become part of our culture, the NCA was (apparently) given;

“Real teeth allowing it to go after the bad guys, investigate suspected offences and refer cases to the DPP.”

(Prime Time).

It was made clear on the same programme that tackling sharp practices in the construction industry would be top of the agenda for the newly empowered NCA. Acting executive chairwoman, Ann Fitzgerald, made her position crystal clear.

“We are been given huge powers and we as a board are not afraid to use them and we will use them.” “Businesses who treat consumers unfairly will be brought to court.”

So called management companies represent one of the greatest rip offs for Irish consumers. Many of these companies are nothing less than ruthless mafia style operations preying on (mostly young) struggling home owners (See analysis here).

When asked about this situation Ms. Fitzgerald said;

“We have set up a forum to address all these issues without needing legislation because the legislation is going to take two or three years and I don’t want to see the half a million people involved left hanging for two or three years.”

Well, here’s news for that half a million people that Ms. Fitzgerald doesn’t want to see left hanging’.

‘Get used to being a victim of these vultures because protection is further away than ever.’

Last Sunday’s Irish Independent reports that yet another quango is being set up with the alleged aim of ‘protecting’ property owners.

So, just when it seemed, after years of waiting; that property owners might get real protection by a regulatory body backed up by tough legislation, the Government decides to start the whole process again.

At this point we can dismiss the NCA as a serious organisation. It’s just the latest in a long line of useless organisation that cannot or will not take real action to protect consumers.

But what about this new government quango with the clumsy title; National Property Services Regulatory Authority (NPSRA)

The first thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that it too will be a completely useless organisation. After all, its principal mission will be to regulate a business closely associated with the government favoured construction industry.

But as an exercise in observing how things are done in our Republic it will be interesting to monitor its progress.

The report tells us that the Law Reform Commission, the Office of the Director for Corporate Enforcement and our old friend the National Consumer Agency have all delivered reports on the property services sector.

Last December the Government approved the drafting of legislation to establish the new regulator. We can safely say, therefore, that it will be many years before the new quango has any real power.

But let’s be generous and predict that NPSRA will be in a position to act in the interest of property owners in, say, five years time. What will happen then? Yes, you’ve guessed. Another quango will be initiated and the whole process will begin again.

In the meantime the NCA has established a “multi-unit development stakeholder forum” (Where do they get these titles). Hilariously, they believe that the ruthless sharks in the management companies sector will actually agree to a voluntary code of practice.

Decade after decade, quango after quango, report after report; promise after promise. There is only one consistent reality – Consumers are still being ripped off.

Ms. Fitzgerald should take herself back on Prime Time, apologise to Irish consumers for giving them false hope and, with her entire board, resign forthwith.

Liars, cowards and double talkers

Writing about the Shannon controversy in yesterday’s Irish Times (Sub required)Fintan O’Toole noted that Irish voters still haven’t grasped the fundamental point that you get what you vote for. Voters in the broad Midwest region gave Fianna Fail a clear endorsement in the last election in the belief that Shannon would be protected.

He expressed astonishment that Irish voters still actually believe the utterances of Irish politicians like that of Martin Cullen in May 2005.

“In the context of any decision to reduce State ownership in Aer Lingus, all the options available within the regulatory framework will be examined to ensure adequate ongoing access to Heathrow for Irish consumers”.

Cowardice is another trait common to Irish politicians but, amazingly, many Irish voters are shocked that the leader of the country has run away and refuses to deal with the crisis.

Double talk and dishonesty are also features of the Irish political scene. A letter in today’s Irish Times makes the point.

Madam, – So Willie O’Dea thinks that the Aer Lingus decision to axe the Shannon-Heathrow route is “wrong”.
Apparently, he is willing to attempt to persuade the company to change its mind, in direct contradiction to the position of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport.
So is this a genuine matter of conviction for Mr. O’Dea, or is it just an opportunity for some cheap publicity?
The last occasion on which Mr. O’Dea stood up against his own government was in 2000 during the introduction of taxi deregulation.
In Limerick, Mr. O’Dea told a meeting of local taxi drivers that the policy was “disastrous and unworkable”, that they should continue protesting against the move, suggesting that the decision could be reversed if enough pressure was exerted.
Two weeks later in Dublin, however, he made a pathetic and grovelling apology to his government colleagues “for any embarrassment caused” and said: “I fully support government policy on deregulation”.
Mr. O’Dea added that if he had known that his speech to Limerick taxi drivers was being recorded, he would not have said what he did.
Madam, one wonders if Mr. O’Dea realised his recent comments on Aer Lingus were being recorded!
The Taoiseach said in the wake of the taxi deregulation saga: “I will not tolerate views that are contrary to the collective responsibility of government.”
So will Mr. O’Dea now be dismissed from the Government by the Taoiseach, since he is now once again in complete public disagreement with Government policy?
And when the Dáil resumes in September, will Mr. O’Dea put his money where his mouth is and vote against the Government in protest at its inaction on the Shannon issue; or will he settle back nicely into his departmental leather chair once the silly season ends, finding himself, once again, in full agreement with Government policy?
No prizes for guessing. – Yours, etc,
BARRY WALSH,
Brooklawn,
Clontarf,
Dublin.

For decades, Irish citizens have been voting for liars, cowards and double talkers. The surprising thing is that they continue to be surprised when those they elect then betray them.

Telling letters

Two telling letters in today’s Irish Times on the plan to force registration of all ‘pay as you go’ mobile phones.

Madam, – The Government’s plan to require registration of pay-as-you-go mobile phones is doomed to failure. The majority of pre-pay customers are teenagers and young adults who live at home or in rented accommodation and pay no utility bills in their own name. If the Government requires “proof of address” to register, either this group will be prevented from obtaining phones (and will the multi-billion-euro telecoms industry allow this?) or the standard of proof will be set so low as to be meaningless. The biggest beneficiary of this plan will be criminals, who will swiftly set up a black market in second-hand and unregistered phones. – Yours, etc,
MARK SUGRUE,
Drumcondra,
Dublin 9.

Madam, – What excellent logic the Government displays by planning to order all us innocent citizens to register pay-as-you-go mobile phones, just in case criminals might, some day, use the same for nefarious purposes. I trust all TDs and senators will now immediately register any pay-as-you-go lawyers, bankers, accountants, lobbyists and developer friends to aid the never-ending fight against political corruption. – Is mise,
JAMES HYDE,
Ballinadine,
Lismore,
Co Waterford.

Yet another threat to civil liberties

The Government is planning to introduce a register of all mobile phones to clamp down on drug dealing and criminal activity.

The Minister of State with special responsibility for Drugs Strategy, Pat Carey said this new legislation would be used by the Gardai to monitor all citizens who own a mobile phone, which is practically every adult in the country.

In a very soft interview on RTE today,(2nd item) the Minister outlined his plans for the new measure. At no time was he challenged on the potentially serious consequences for the civil liberties of ordinary law abiding citizens.

Here are a few suggestions for any hardened drug dealer looking for ways to circumvent this proposed law.

Mug the nearest person to you and use his phone.

Buy a phone using a false name/id.

Ask/pay/threaten somebody to buy a phone for you. They can simply claim that it was mislaid or robbed.

Buy a phone in any other European country where such draconian laws are immediately rejected out of respect for civil liberties.

Give up the dangerous activity of drug dealing and set up a lucrative trade supplying ‘clean’ phones to the criminal underworld.

The bottom line is that this latest draconian legislation will be practically useless in the fight against crime.

It will, however, provide the State, along with the already operational power to store and access mobile and fixed-line data and the recent watering down of the right to silence, with even greater power and control over the lives of ordinary citizens.

The death of innocence

The Green Party has had its first blooding in how to manage scandal in public life. Secrecy is the crucial element in Irish public life if a politician or party wants to avoid having to provide embarrassing and far fetched explanations to the public.

And Trevor Sergeant’s explanation (8th item) regarding the illegal supervision of Seanad election voting was far fetched.

Green Party councillors had received an email instructing them to submit their ballot cards for inspection. Because they’re new to power and because they still have political integrity they naively made their outrage public. Tut, tut, first rule in Irish political life – All law breaking must be kept secret.

Sargent explained that the email was sent because of

“a mistaken understanding based on an old rule that unfortunately was presented as the current situation.”

Brilliant, pure Fianna Fail. Just mouth words, it doesn’t matter what they are, doesn’t matter if they make sense or not, nobody is going to delve any deeper. Well, almost nobody.

The situation is simple. For years Irish political parties have been breaking electoral law by forcing councillors to submit their ballot papers for inspection to ensure that deals done are being adhered to.

So what is Sargent talking about? Was there an old Seanad rule that allowed parties to break the law? Does the ‘current situation’ mean that that rule is now outlawed?

How are other parties, used to illegally tampering with electoral law, going to make the difficult transition to genuine democratic practices?

Or, has the Green Party learned the lesson and arrived at a ‘suitable alternative (secret) arrangement’ whereby Fianna Fail can be sure of their pound of flesh?

Ah, the death of innocence.

Fr Ted speak

One of the funniest episodes of Fr. Ted involved teaching Fr. Jack to answer any difficult question he might face from three visiting bishops with the universal phrase

“That would be an ecumenical matter.”

Fr. Ted loved the idea saying,

“That’s the great thing about Catholicism, it’s so vague, nobody really knows what it’s about.”

Bertie Ahern adopted the same strategy recently when questioned about the secret deals he did with the Independents.

“They’re political agreements” or in Fr. Ted speak, “That would be a political matter.”

When asked did he give anything special to the Independents he brought vagueness to an extreme.

“No, these are, but important issues that people lobby for them, you know, sometimes things are in the National Development Plan and are at the end of National Development Plan and people lobby for them and that’s the norm that every politician elected or that supports a government department does.”