Monday, September 27, 2010

Changchun’s Irish visit a boost to Sino-Irish relations

IMG_6330-1_edited-1 His Excellency Li Changchun, the fifth ranking of nine-member Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China – the only political party in the country, visited Dublin today.  The CPC was founded on 1 July 1921 and has almost 78 million members across 3.3 million branches. Over 71% of the membership is under 35 years of age and 21.7% are female members. Li was promoted to the Politburo at the age of 54 in 1998 – making him the youngest person ever to achieve this role.

China has become the 3rd largest economy in the world and having achieved a 9.1% increase in GDP in 2009 is poised to achieve an 8% growth this year.

Despite rapid growth China is still a developing country and although heavily populated it faces problems in the areas of employment, pensions, social security, housing and healthcare. But, according to Li, China is opening up and attaching great importance to intellectual property rights.

Ireland and China established diplomatic relations in 1979.  Ireland has a trade surplus with China and exports to China increased by 17% last year.  China is seeking to secure cooperation with Ireland in fields such as telecommunications, bio-pharmaceuticals, clean energy and other fields.  It is also interested in initiatives to advance culture, education, media and tourism.  Li is the propaganda chief of the CPC.  He mentioned a need to fight against trade and investment protectionism, and to work jointly in areas such as climate change and economic recovery.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fine Gael’s approach to the presidential election brimming with vision

A brim is the upper edge of anything hollow.  The verb brimming describes something that is full to the brim – and Fine Gael are certainly not brimming with vision when the issue is the next presidential election.

A comment this morning on the Marian Finucane RTE 1 radio programme by Brian Hayes the Fine Gael TD to the effect that an agreed candidate’ might be an option for the next President of Ireland almost induced an episode of collective projectile vomiting in our household.  

Ireland has been afflicted with a Taoiseach who has no public mandate and the suggestion that a so called ‘agreed candidate’ is an appropriate means of determining the next President is an appalling, ugly vista that totally compromises our fundamental democratic rights and falls within the same retarded school of political thinking that advocates gender quotas.

The very least the nation should expect is that the major political parties are capable of sponsoring a viable candidate and if they are unable to do so their chances of governing effectively are correspondingly weakened.  Do  Fine Gael not have the balls to play this game on the electoral playing field?  That need not exclude Fine Gael sharing the endorsement of a candidate but the person nominated must be one of several candidate who must contest a presidential election.

A major weakness in the presentation of those who have tilted at the prospect of a nomination so far is their reluctance to state clearly at a high level at the outset what their credentials are to become head of state. 

Therefore, how can a voter deduce if someone from Kerry who was once president of the GAA is an attractive choice to become President of Ireland because he offers not an inkling as to how he would execute the office?  Does writing about agricultural issues in the media and representing subsidy-hunting farmers in the European Parliament constitute a satisfactory launching pad for the presidency, especially when nothing else is known about the person concerned?  Will the country, where the median age of the population is slightly under the age of 35 years embrace the concept of a candidate who would be 77 years of age at the end of the next presidential term excite voters? 

There will be a gap in each and every instance between the background and current activities of these individuals and their capacity to be a successful president.  There is no such thing as a ready-made presidential candidate.  That is why each one must address the central question as to why he, or she, is worthy of public trust in this supreme office.  Imagine if the nation is be afflicted with another ‘George Lee’ type whose credentials for office are ‘wonderful’ but whose capacity to serve in elected office was pathetic.

It is not for me, or any other commentator, to provide the ultimate answer and that is why there must be a presidential election which offers a choice of decent, attractive candidates.  I trust that Mr Hayes observation is the first and last occasion I hear talk of ‘an agreed candidate’. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tom Elliott and the GAA

It is noteworthy that the first days of the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party by Tom Elliott are characterised by what he will apparently not do rather than what he is determined to accomplish.

Mr Elliott is skittish about attending GAA matches. He was also churlish about supporting Down in the All Ireland final.  If Mr Elliott was really shrewd he would realise, as the incoming leader of a political party that has been consigned to the margins, no longer centrally relevant to society’s destiny and whose dwindling, ageing membership grows more sedentary and apathetic, that he has much to learn from the GAA. A new leader has political capital in the bank.  A new leader ought to be abundant with energy, vision and novelty, not sclerotic, like the centurion guard of a tribe threatened with extinction.

The Ulster Unionist Party is 21 years younger than the GAA – a callow youth in comparison, but, in common with many political parties, it achieves little traction with the age group that the GAA so expertly attracts and captivates.

The GAA has a legacy extending back 125 years and claims a million members, mostly young, able and ambitious individuals whose genius and ingenuity will define the potential of Irish and Northern Ireland society for coming generations. The GAA is an organisation that has thrived on change, embraced diversity and repositioned itself at the mainstream of Irish society, especially among young people and is strengthened as a consequence.

If Mr Elliott believes that he has the imagination and capacity to reinvigorate his moribund party he could also learn much from the organisational skills and grass-roots savvy of the GAA and, especially, how it has successfully navigated fundamental change to its policies and rules without jeopardising its own existence. He could learn how it attracts, inspires and fosters the loyalty of tens of thousands of young members. But to gain these insights personally he must earn the trust of those who can describe the insights and experience. That involves steering his sturdy Fermanagh feet onto the terraces of various GAA grounds from time to time. The fact that Sir Edward Carson enjoyed hurling and was a member of Cumann Iománaíochta at Trinity College prior to the founding of the GAA should not make such a proposition an unduly distressful ordeal for Mr Elliott.

The passage of the British-Irish Agreement in the 19th Amendment of the Irish Constitution on 22 May 1998 by a majority of 93% of those voting means, unequivocally, that there is no threat to the political interests that Mr Elliott represents - other than through the free will of the people.

But if Mr Elliott’s political legacy is to be constrained by archaic shibboleths and yesterday’s thinking then he might as well hide and record his thoughts on his office voice mail to assure his followers that he has nothing new or inspiring to say to them and that their destiny under his leadership will not mean they become more self-sufficient, more prosperous, or more self-confident.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ireland: Borrowing money to give it away

Mr Justin Kilcullen of Trocaire has severely chastised the Government (The Irish Times Opinion & Analysis, 20 September) for ‘reneging’ on its commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP per annum on international aid, a target set by the UN a decade ago.

The Irish Government is spending €535.3 million on this programme in 2010.  It spent €422 million on development aid in 2002 when our tax revenues were last in the region of €30 billion, when the exchequer surplus was €94 million and our national debt was €31 billion.  The government has spent over €5.8 billion altogether between 2001 and 2010, so even if we stand indicted in the eyes of lobbyists, Irish people have pulled their weight on the delivery of ‘real change’ to the less privileged.

But the view of the aid agencies is that the government needs to commit €1.1 billion per annum for an on-target performance.  They exhort the Government to ‘find the money’ and, in the classical language of a lobbyist, ‘to set out clearly defined, year-by-year steps’ to meet their aspirations – in circumstances of unprecedented turmoil and volatility.  The Government is also asked to introduce new legislation so that Ireland can lead the world in the safeguarding of aid commitments from any and all prevarication, doubt and uncertainty.

This approach would be a difficult challenge at any time because Peter has to be robbed to pay Paul, but when government expenditure is €54 billion and government income is €30 billion that challenge becomes even more elusive because the only source of money is from international moneylenders whose penal rates of interest are a reflection of their below-par confidence in the country’s capacity to recover from the brutal mauling inflicted by our banks and building societies and their capacity to regain functionality.

It still appears that a great deal of money spent on aid by Ireland is based on the ‘black baby principle’ of merely giving it away with no economic advantages being conferred on our economy.  Other countries spend aid on the provision of long-term infrastructure and assets by their own enterprises so as to stimulate self-sufficiency,  not nurture chronic and infinite dependency and, critically, to minimise exposure to bribery, corruption and price gouging – a widespread  experience anecdotally reported following the horrific earthquake in Haiti.

Turning to the future, how can Ireland meet the ambitions of those seeking to alleviate world poverty if our policy is really founded on the practice of borrowing money to give it away and the scale of the expenditure bears no relationship to our capacity to afford it?  It would be preferable for Ireland to participate in the international aid arena with integrity and modesty rather than indulging our vanity and always seeking a status and recognition in the eyes of the world that is beyond our capacity to sustain. Finally, why should our values be shaped dictated by lobbyists who have no mandate beyond the perimeter of their own T-shirt and not the elected Government who are presumed to act vicariously and in the best interests of the people?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rescue remedy needed for training and education system

The viability, reputation and stature of our national training and education enterprise is sailing like the Titanic en-route to the iceberg and there are no life jackets on board.

Despite recurring and widespread allegations of systemic malpractice and accounting failures at FÁS, SIPTU announce glibly that the ‘problems’ at FÁS can be overcome, a perspective not apparently echoed by IBEC. Is this a case of mutual recognition by birds of a feather, or does it merely imply that SIPTU has a higher than desirable tolerance of mediocrity and slovenliness and an aversion to change and radical reform?  FÁS is a creature of a social partnership process that has self-destructed as a result of insular thinking, incompetent, delinquent and politically compromised leadership. The best days of FÁS are behind it and only those with deep vested interests, most precious to themselves, refuse to recognise this while those most effected deserve a much more enlightened and inspiring response.

Secondly, a stronger level of Government supervision is urgently needed over the plethora of private third-level colleges emerging in this country. This could take the form of an operating licence reflecting the conformity of its teachers and courses to designated national standards.  Some of these so-called colleges are purely money-making rackets promoted by individuals with no background in education and no substantial personal academic credentials. They should be immediately banned from advertising courses that have no Irish State accreditation rather than playing on the desperation and gullibility of an unsuspecting public, presumed to believe that any entity with the initials C D in its identity automatically has the prestige and resourcefulness of a distinguished university. When there is incisive and scathing official criticism of a private college it is no defence whatsoever to state that such criticism is "not as positive as we might have hoped".

Thirdly, the realisation that 40% of our adult population struggle with primary school maths and that 10% of the candidates for ordinary maths in the 2010 Leaving Certificate failed is a symptom of a fundamental failure in leadership at an institutional and also at a political level. If that trend is not successfully arrested the prospects of our society being able to sustain the standard of living it aspires to will be sorely compromised and those adversely affected will find it increasingly difficult to obtain meaningful work at home and abroad because such a wide range of skills are based on some understanding of maths and mathematical relationships.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mortgage arrears escalate

2009 11 28_1130_edited-1-copy Mortgage arrears in Ireland continue to climbed by close to 40% while the overall number and value of mortgages declined by 0.6%.

Total Mortgages Number Balance Outstanding € Average Mortgage €
Sep-09 794,609 118,648,748,000 €149,317
Dec-09 792,885 118,342,812,000 €149,256
Mar-10 791,047 118,057,227,000 €149,242
Jun-10 789,814 117,717,554,100 €149,045
Sep 09-Jun10
-0.6% -0.8% -0.2%
In arrears
91-180 days
Number Balance Outstanding € Arrears €
Sep-09 8,504 1,589,274,000 47,684,000
Dec-09 9,418 1,745,326,000 52,856,000
Mar-10 10,504 1,943,632,000 50,388,000
Jun-10 11,641 2,142,685,000 72,386,000
Change Sep 09 - Jun 10 36.9% 34.8% 51.8%
In arrears
180 days+
Number Balance Outstanding € Arrears €
Sep-09 17,767 3,238,39Bal5,000 306,730,000
Dec-09 19,185 3,588,718,000 361,367,000
Mar-10 21,817 4,160,047,000 414,165,000
Jun-10 24,797 4,805,837,000 486,527,000
Change Sep 09 - Jun 10 39.6% 48.4% 58.6%
Total Arrears Number Balance Outstanding € Arrears €
Sep-09 26,271 4,827,669,000 354,414,000
Dec-09 28,603 5,334,044,000 414,223,000
Mar-10 32,321 6,103,679,000 464,553,000
Jun-10 36,438 6,948,522,000 558,913,000
Overall Change
Sep 09 - Jun 10
39% 44% 58%