Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Who are the world’s most generous donors?

The World Giving Index report for 2011 has just been published.  This is the second time this analysis has been published and it includes 153 countries.  The United States is the most charitable nation in the world followed in 2011 by Ireland and Australia.  There has been a 2% increase in the global population ‘helping a stranger’ and a 1% increase in the number volunteering to 32.4% of the world’s population.

The following is a list of the top-12 countries in the World Giving Index in 2011:


Nation World Giving Rank 2011 IMF Ranking of GDP per capita
United States of America 1   7
Ireland 2 12
Australia 3 10
New Zealand 4 33
United Kingdom 5 21
The Netherlands 6   9
Canada 7 14
Sri Lanka 8 111
Thailand 9 86
Laos Peoples Dem Rep 10 140
Hong Kong 11 11
Morocco 12 117

The following table compares the world’s top ranking nation ranked by GDP per capita and ranking in the World Giving Index this year:


  GDP per Capita in 2010 – US$ World Giving Index 2011 Ranking
1.  Qatar 88,222 19
2.  Luxembourg 81,466 21
3.  Singapore 56.694 91
4.  Norway 51,959 32
5.  Brunei 48,333 73
6. United Arab Emirates 47,439 47
7.  United States 46,860   1
-.  Hong Kong 45,944 11
9.  Switzerland 41,950 21
10. Australia 39,764   3
11. Austria 39,761 29
12. Ireland 39,492   2

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Paying Irish ministerial advisers

Much attention has focused on the Irish Government’s decision to beach its own public sector cap, in the case of ministerial advisers, no less than fourteen times.

There is a plethora of advisers, programme managers, drivers and aides recruited to discretionary roles and paid from central funds, many of whom were previously employed by the political parties to undertake similar duties.

The highest paid advisers to the current Government are apparently being paid €168,000, which converts to $225,000.

While these rates are €20,000 per annum less than those paid by the Cowen Government it is interesting to make an international comparison.

Take US Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, for example. Kerry is paid $174,000 per annum and his team of advisers were paid a total of $1,439,193 between 4 January and 30 September 2011.But his team comprises 60 individuals including a Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, Communications Director, Legislative Director, Press Secretary, Boston Office Manager and a plethora of interns, advisers and factotums. The highest paid earned no more than $68,000 (€50,750) in this 9-month period.

Senator Ted Kennedy died on 25 August 2009. He has a personal staff of 39 who earned a total of $1,214,201 (€905,000) and the highest earner was his Chief of Staff who earned $68,254 in nine months.

These US salaries are pathetically low and the work is very demanding, especially when Congress is sitting.  US politicians have considerable leeway in deciding what to pay their staff.  But despite mediocre pay competition for these positions is very intense, especially so in the case of eminent politicians from states as dynamic and important as Massachusetts.  The pay rates bear no relationship to what candidates, many who are high achieving graduates of prestigious universities, could earn in the private sector.  But the prestige of Washington and their value after a stint in politics make the financial sacrifices tolerable and the connections made never prove to be a burden.

Last year taxpayers provided Fine Gael and the Labour Party with a total of €4,409,198 in parliamentary leaders’ allowances. Both government parties, Sinn Féin and Independents will qualify for an even larger parliamentary leader’s allowance this year having won a significant number of additional seats in the recent general election.

Why are the salaries of all political advisers to ministers, aides, drivers and personally appointed programme managers, or at least the excess over and above the rate capped by the Government, not paid out of the leaders’ parliamentary allowance, especially when in government the allowance pot is bigger?

This would give concrete expression to the concept of shared sacrifice and better value for the taxpayers’ euro, but without deterring the recruitment of the ‘best people’. It might even be possible to disregard the public sector pay cap if the salaries are paid from resources to which the political parties are statutorily entitled - which, incidentally, Fianna Fáil only reduced by 1.4% last year when in government.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Should term limits be imposed on Catholic bishops?

christ the redeemer

The possibility of further Irish State inquiries has been mentioned by commentators this past week following the publication of the most recent reviews of child safeguarding procedures in six Roman Catholic dioceses over a 34 year period.

Further State inquiries will achieve little if they were not to be accompanied by a contemporaneous systemic root and branch reform of the Church in Ireland by The Holy See. While the six reviews did cite one bishop, Dr Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore, Cavan as a role model exemplar and two others bishops for being disciplined and constructive in their safeguarding obligations, the reviews also reveal a horrifying catalogue of dereliction, incompetence and incapacity - euphemistically described as ‘errors of judgement’, which have weakened the moral authority of the entire Church and impair the prospects of credible transformation and transparency.

A vital component of reform relates to bishops’ tenure. There have been no more than five individuals holding the position of bishop in each of these six dioceses that have been reviewed in the last century. Some Irish bishops have been in office for over thirty years.

Longevity of tenure and the fact that there are no structures of checks and balances, other than accountability to self, lead to an impossible and intractable position when a bishop’s moral authority wanes, an outcome that is further aggravated by the absence of new people entering the priesthood and the ageing of the current cohort.

Therefore term limits of five to seven years ought to be considered and the foundation of tenure and advancement needs to rest on demonstrable leadership credentials and moral authority rather than rigidly conservative theological pedigree.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Could Irish banking system learn from its South African counterparts?

Cape Town waterfrontThe Irish Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield, does not want new powers to compel banks to pass on ECB interest rate reductions to customers.

It is perhaps opportune that the Irish authorities consider the interests of consumers’ from a more far-reaching perspective than merely policing interest rate reductions. I have recently returned from South Africa whose financial authorities appears to be a model of foresight, providence and prudence.  The photograph is of Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred waterfront with Table Mountain, now one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World in the background.

The South African National Credit Act 2005, which became law in June 2006, places onerous obligations on credit providers’ not to lend to borrowers who are over-indebted. The law required credit providers to thoroughly evaluate the capacity of a person to borrow based on a detailed analysis of disposable income, past and present spending and payment habits.

This Act ensures that the rights of consumers are safeguarded. Confidentiality is guaranteed and all documentation is based on layman’s terms. Borrowers are protected from becoming over-indebted and are entitled to know by law why credit is refused. The Act eliminates dubious lending practices, unfair discrimination and ensures that credit is extended in a transparent and responsible manner.

The Irish authorities might be well advised to consider similar legislation so as to obviate the insular, self-serving herd instinct in the boardroom of Irish banks and the complete absence of a public interest posture that characterised our catastrophic banking bubble.

Not everything in South Africa is rosy. Approximately 40% of the national income is attributable to 10% of the households. Less than half of working-age South Africans have income generating employment and the unemployment rate for young South Africans in the 16-30 age group is 40% compared to 16% for those in the 30-65 age group.

The menacing image of Julius Malema (30), who is head of the youth wing of the African National Congress in court on hate speech charges raised the threat of racial conflict. He was flanked in court last April by the first wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie and no few than 7 security personnel dressed in identical black suits and red ties carrying assault rifles.

But last week the disciplinary committee of the ANC suspended Malema from all offices and his membership of the organisation for the next 5 years. He is also under the spotlight of the anti-corruption police on allegations that he amassed millions of rand through influence peddling in respect of government contracts.

South Africa is the destination of millions of migrants from neighbouring countries and others as as far away as Nigeria. The biggest bogey man that haunts South Africa is crime, especially in Johannesburg (1,800 metres above sea level) and it is perpetrated by people who have nothing to lose – no job, no prospects. This is a country of rising prosperity coinciding with rising poverty. All houses seem to have sophisticated home alarms supplemented by armed response units.

Car hijacking by armed thugs can be a recurring experience for too many.  The incidence of death in road traffic accidents, at 33.2 per 100,000 of the population is one of the highest in the world.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ireland vacates the Vatican

churchThe decision by the Irish Government to axe its embassy in The Vatican has been described by commentators has having landmark significance.  It is proposed that the ambassador responsible for this relationship will be resident in Dublin, a move that The Vatican will view as impairing its prestige and significance.

The decision has been cast in context of saving the cash strapped exchequer money and that this particular embassy offers no economic return.

However, if the decision is to be seen purely in this context there must be other non-performing absorbers of Irish exchequer resources that could also be shutter – such as the Irish Red Cross.

But the closure of this embassy marks an episode of diplomatic failure of the highest order.  By not contributing to the deliberations of The Murphy Commission into clerical sex abuse of children the Apostolic Nuncio denied the Vatican an opportunity to put its perspective on the record.  The Irish side could have been more muscular in their reaction when it became clear what the Vatican was up to.

The history of this unique diplomatic relationship will provide scholars and diplomats with fertile scope for far-reaching research into the genesis, objectives, efficiency and effectiveness of modern international diplomacy.

The Irish Government made strenuous and painstaking efforts to have a residential diplomatic relationship at ambassadorial level in place by 24 June 1929 to coincide with the celebration of the centenary of Catholic Emancipation that day in the Phoenix Park. Various extravagant inducements were advanced including the provision of an official residence in the Park, ‘next to that of the King’s representative’ and the likelihood of a new Nuncio being centre stage before a potential audience of up to 700,000 devotees at the celebration.

Pope Pius XI did not, however, appoint the first Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland in the modern era, an Irish born Franciscan called Paschal Robinson, until December 1929. His Irish counterpart was Charles Bewley, a member of the renowned Dublin Quaker family.

The only prior diplomatic relationship between Ireland and The Holy See was when Pope Innocent X sent Archbishop Rinuccini, a personal friend, to the Confederation of Kilkenny in 1645. But Pope Pius XI was apparently anxious in 1929 not to distress his relationship with King George V, the British Commonwealth and the predominant influence then of British clergy in The Vatican.

When Earnest Blythe, Minister for Finance sought a supplementary estimate of £39,726 to cover the cost of this new embassy and others France and Germany in June 1930 he stated that the objective of the diplomatic relationship with The Holy See was not only to acknowledge ‘the religious Head of the vast majority of the Irish race, but also of the oldest and most glorious monarchy in the world’.

When Most Reverend Robinson died on 27 August 1948 in the Phoenix Park after 18 years as Nuncio he was accorded a full Irish State funeral

How many other cash strapped states will follow the Irish example?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Shadow of predictability over Russian parliamentary elections

I spent this week in Moscow, cold grey Moscow, which is preparing for the Russian State Duma election on 4 December next.  But, at least the temperatures were not as punishing as they can be when winter sets in.  Nevertheless an overcoat was necessary.

There are two houses in the Russian parliamentary system, the Duma with 450 members and the Federation Council which comprises of 2 members from each of Russia’s 83 federation councils and consists of 166 members.

There have been five parliamentary elections since the collapse of communism.  The Communist Party prevailed in the 1995 and 1999 election but the United Russian party now holds sway with a 38% share of the vote.

United Russia is the party of Medvedev and Putin and is made up of an alliance of other parties.

Russia is not a jurisdiction that easily facilitates new political groupings.  A new political entity is expected to gather 200,000 signatures of support and post a deposit of $2.5 million.

There has been external criticism of the conduct of Russian elections and everyone I spoke with stresses the predictability of the outcome.

On Tuesday when I was being driven through the traffic-clogged city we came across 7 or 8 heavy Soviet style security vehicles filled with security personnel wearing blue camouflage uniforms and faces with a menacing expression.  A protest was pending.  Later that evening I was walking along Tverskaya Street, Moscow’s equivalent to Grafton Street Dublin, Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills and Newbury Street in Boston.  I couldn’t help but notice the number of these uniformed personnel with their menacing lumpenproletariat  faces walking along the pavement.  Some were accompanied by plain clothes personnel carrying walkie-talkies on the look out for potential trouble makers.  The expression was devised by Karl Marx to describe brothel keepers, beggars and 3-card trick type.  But these were the security arm of the Russian State and all I would say is that, as infants, they were probably bottle fed, rather than breast fed.

I didn’t see any potential trouble makers  but I was told that there were some who made the evening television news.

Opinion polls suggest that United Russia will capture a 50% share of the poll with the balance split between six other parties.

The overall mood in Russia is somewhat subdued with the Central Bank predicting a flight of capital from country of the order of $70 billion this year instead of the $36 billion predicted at the beginning of the year.  The flight of capital in 2009 was $56.1 billion but it dropped to $35.3 billion last year.

Tomorrow, I will escape the grim grey ambience of Moscow and travel to Johannesburg where summer is just beginning!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Political parties scarred by presidential election

Summer time ends in Ireland At 2.00 AM tomorrow morning and I will be en route to Moscow at 5.45 AM, an jour earlier than usual.  But the dark winter evenings should provide Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael with ample time to reflect on the presidential election results.

Fianna Fáil, battered by the general election, did not even contest the election and the party lost the only Dáil seat it held in Dublin in the by-election following the death of the Brian Lenihan.

However, Seán Gallagher, a political novice, who maintained that he was an Independent candidate and having consistently shown a 40% rating in the polls, saw his prospects collapse when it became clear that he was a fund raiser for Fianna Fáil but was not always entirely certain what the source of the funds raised was.

When he mentioned that ‘I may have picked up an envelope’ he sent a shudder through Irish society which reminded them of the venal record of Fianna Fáil and the fact that not all funds raised actually reached their intended target. Despite all of that Gallagher won 504,964 first preference votes which represented a 12% dip on his polling trend.

Fine Gael, now in Government, chose a candidate, Gay Mitchell, who garnered only 113,321 first preference votes – 6.4% of the poll while the party itself is trending in the mid thirties.  This was a diabolical result notwithstanding that one member of the party aristocracy, Leo Varadker, stated that “Gay Mitchell was a good candidate” and another blue blood, Phil Hogan stated that the outcome ‘was not a disaster for the Party’.  What defines a disaster for Hogan? A capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?  They insulted the electorate by choosing a non-viable candidate and then abandoning him.  The electorate will not forget that!

Mary Banotti contested the last presidential election in 1997 for Fine Gael and secured 372,002 first preference votes – 29.2% of the poll .

The Fine Gael candidate in the 1990 presidential election was Austin Currie.  He secured 267,902 first preference votes – 17% of the poll.

The drama queen, Dana Rosemary Scallon, won 51,220 first preference votes in this week’s election and this compares to 175,458 first preference votes when she inflicted herself on the electorate in the last presidential election in 1997.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Former Irish attorneys general lobby as a pack against constitutional referendums

Eight former attorneys general, two of whom have been chairman of AIB, have lobbied that the two referendums that will take place on Thursday will seriously weaken the right of individuals to protect their reputation and that their right to fair procedure to be decided by an independent judiciary will be impaired. While they support the principle of a reduction in judicial remuneration they contend that there is insufficient protection for the independence of the Irish judiciary.  But there wasn’t a whimper out of them when judicial pay was escalating to obscene and unsustainable levels.

This is a blatant and audacious stunt to feather the vested interest of the two legal professions. Justice Minister, Alan Shatter has described it ‘as nonsense’. How right he is. Nobody who observes the rule of law has anything to be remotely concerned about.  Polling trends suggest both referendums will pass.

Many voters will be pleased to end the gravy train that tribunals of inquiry proved to be to lawyers – one of whom had the thick, brazen neck to look for a further €30,000 on top of cumulative payments ranging from €7 million to €9.5 million.

The passage of the referendum on Oireachtas Inquiries will ensure no recurrence of greedy parasites’ milking that State in the manner seen in the last Oireachtas.

Oireachtas Inquiries

One referendum proposes to give the Houses of the Oireachtas (the Dáil and Seanad) express power to conduct inquiries into matters of general public importance and, in doing so, to make findings of fact about any person’s conduct. If the proposed amendment is approved, the consequences would be that:

The Dáil and the Seanad, either separately or together, would have the power power to inquire into the conduct of any person, whether a member of either House or not, and the power to make relevant findings about that person’s conduct. The conduct of any person, whether a public servant or not, could be the subject of inquiry and findings about that conduct could be made if relevant to the matter to which the inquiry relates.

When conducting any such inquiry, either or both Houses would have both the power to inquire into the conduct of any person, whether a member of either House or not, and the power to make relevant findings about that person’s conduct. The conduct of any person, whether a public servant or not, could be the subject of inquiry and findings about that conduct could be made if relevant to the matter to which the inquiry relates.

The Dáil and/or the Seanad would have the power to determine the appropriate balance between the rights of people involved in any such inquiry and the requirements of the public interest for the purpose of ensuring an effective inquiry. When doing so, they would be obliged to have “due regard” to the principles of fair procedures. These principles have been established by the Constitution and by the Courts over many years.

Judicial Pay

At present, judges pay tax and the Universal Social Charge in the same way as everyone else. Judges are not legally obliged to pay the “Public Service Pension Levy” although they may voluntarily choose to make an equivalent contribution.

The proposal would also allow for a law to be passed making judges subject to the Public Service Pension Levy and to any other future similar charge, or charges

Proposed amendment – judges’ pay

At present, Article 35.5 of the Constitution states:
“The remuneration of a judge shall not be reduced during his continuance in office.”.  This is intended to ensure that an individual judge is neither scapegoated or blackguarded by the Government.

It is proposed to replace this with the following wording:

5 1° The remuneration of judges shall not be reduced during their continuance in office save in accordance with this section.

2° The remuneration of judges is subject to the imposition of taxes, levies or other charges that are imposed by law on persons generally or persons belonging to a particular class.

3° Where, before or after the enactment of this section, reductions have been or are made by law to the remuneration of persons belonging to classes of persons whose remuneration is paid out of public money and such law states that those reductions are in the public interest, provision may also be made by law to make proportionate reductions to the remuneration of judges.

The judiciary is one of three branches of government in Ireland: the Oireachtas, the President and the judiciary. Judges are mandated to make their decisions independently and without interference from the Government or the legislature – who are responsible for the pay of judges.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Will Ireland elect a straw-man or straw-woman as President?

Puerto BanusI observed the ebb and flow of the Irish presidential election over the past 10 days, or so, in Puerto Banus  on the Costa de Sol. It has been a turgid campaign not made any easier for voters by a naive and very amateurish approach and a reluctance by candidates to disclose very much about themselves.

Take Seán Gallagher for instance.  I received a leaflet from him by mail when I returned yesterday.  He states ‘Ireland is a great country.  We are a strong and proud people.  We have an entrepreneurial spirit.  We have bright and well educated young people.  We are creative, loved and respected internationally.’  He goes on to say ‘What we need now is to believe in ourselves’.  The only information conveyed about himself is his surname and one Christian name.

Dana Rosemary Scallon in a similar leaflet explains that ‘I will be President for all the people’.  Really? Is that not the purpose of the office? ‘I will always protect Irelands sovereignty’ but as a ‘truly independent’ she says ‘I have no agenda’.  Mrs Scallon discloses no personal details about herself and neither do any of the other candidates.

Someone seeking to work as a chambermaid in the presidential mansion would be required to provide more biographical information than these people.

Why should voters give any consideration to candidates who are essentially strangers?  Apart from winning enough votes the incoming President also needs to win the trust of the nation and the legitimacy to be an effective President with the potential to become a statesman of consequence in the global arena.

A curriculum vitae would have been an appropriate starting point.  Voters ought to know who the potential President really and details such as educational attainment; proficiency in languages; leadership experience; ability to scrutinise legislation; personal values and whether they are tax compliant, solvent or legal transgressions.  They could elaborate on how they have coped with crisis in their lives.

All of this could form the backdrop to an explanation of how they might conduct the presidency; the priorities and concrete goals they intend to set.

What has transpired instead is a campaign driven by the news media who investigated facets of candidates’ background leaving the candidate floundering with peripheral issues that become full-blown controversies.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Opinion poll heralds seismic shift in Irish presidential election campaign

The latest MRBI poll results in The Irish Times are not surprising but there are 21 days campaigning days left and much can change to influence the outcome.

People are deeply and passionately interested in who is the head of state because that person becomes the bearer of a part of the ego of each and every citizen that defines our nation. The public want to know who these candidates really are and not to be merely presented with a sanitized caricature of who the candidates would like the public to perceive them to be wrapped in an enigma that is no more than a stream of vacuous consciousness of the candidate’s concept of utopia.

Michael D Higgins is the only one of the 7 that passed the biographical-details test and who introduced himself and his wife to the wider public via the Miriam Meets programme on RTE 1 Radio when he disclosed some personal minutiae about both of them.

The public also need to have some robust conviction what the election of any candidate is likely to signal about Ireland to the wider world and what impact that candidate will have on the presidential office – especially the capacity to safeguard the dignity of the office and the nation. The president is the mirror of the nation.

The potential implications of these poll trends are considerable. Fianna Fáil has demonstrated that it is so marginalised and reviled that it could not even put forward a candidate from the mainstream of Irish society to begin to inspire public confidence.

The Fine Gael party has some grounds for the deepest introspective reflection and soul-searching if their best offer to the Irish public is a candidate who is trailing second last seven – 35 points lower than the party itself. Enda Kenny has won the trust of the public and presents as a Taoiseach comfortable in that role.

I have seen first-hand in locations far away from Erin’s shore over the past 10 days that he and Eamon Gilmore have managed to salvage the credibility and stature of the country because Ireland is seen overseas as being led by a competent, stable and responsible government by power brokers whose vigilant gimlet eye defines sentiment.

Sinn Féin must think beyond the boundaries of their traditional narrow, conservative regional enclave if they are to make the stunning breakthrough they believe to be their right. They need turn up for the work they are handsomely paid to do in Westminster and scrutinise the legislation that is impacting the lives of tens of thousands of citizens in the single-seat parliamentary constituencies that they were elected to represent. Laggards in any walk of life are ultimately a useless, irrelevant carbuncle on the arse of spineless society. If Sinn Féin is to be acknowledged as a serious party of national leadership then it is time to start leading, not posturing as neighbourhood activists and playing to the whims of a narrow gallery .

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Norris disability allowance claim highlights a very loose system with scant oversight

It has been reported that Senator David Norris was the recipient of a disability allowance from the Department of Social Protection for a period of 16 years from the time he retired in 1994.  The payment was apparently equivalent to about a quarter of his salary.

The Norris episode highlights some underlying and far-reaching issues with respect to disability allowances. Total payments of disability allowances has increased from €332,208 in 2001 to €1,109,549 last year – an increase of 234%. The number of recipients during this period increased from 57,655 to 101,111 – an increase of 75%

During 2001, 9,663 recipients (just 17% of the total number of recipients) were scheduled for medical examination. Of these, 3,577 qualified for disability allowance; 3,016 did not qualify and 3,010 did not attend for medical evaluation.  It seems like a ‘suck it and see’ practice is prevalent with respect to disability allowances.

During 2010, only 512 medical examinations were scheduled. 107 persons qualified for disability allowance; 201 persons examined did not qualify and 204 persons did not attend for evaluation. An unascertainable number of recipients were ‘desk assessed’ rather than examined last year.

This trend would suggest that Senator Norris is not the only recipient of a disability allowance over a protracted period who could perhaps ‘not specify how much it was worth’.  This week I heard of a person who obtained a disability allowance when her wrist was fractured 15 years ago and continues to receive this allowance – no questions asked!  Her husband, I was told, is a very high earner whose income is derived outside Ireland and who pays no tax in Ireland.

That’s how to spend over €20 billion on welfare without even blinking.

Martin McGuinness needs the vision and enterprise of Sam Walton, not Denis Guiney

There are times when an onlooker would wonder if some of the candidates in the presidential election could survive the election campaign, never mind the 7-year term of the presidency.

They continue to shadow box without disclosing anything positive and inspiring  that could genuinely supportive that has a wow factor. Each of them must appeal beyond the narrow core of support, or is it tolerance, that is reflected in their favour in the opinion polls.

Sinn Féin, for example, are engaged in this contest from a background of subverting the interests, stability and institutions of the State – slaughtering Gardaí, not recognising the legitimacy of the courts despite familiarity with courtrooms. It is as if a proverbial sow’s ear has become a silk purse with candidate McGuinness proposing to salute, as commander-and-chief, the honour guards of the nation’s military while aspiring to become a 32-county president ‘without offending unionists’.

Why would Sinn Féin be seeking to incubate the Irish presidency, feigning acknowledgment of the institutions of the ‘Free State’ while continuing to draw the salaries and expenses derivable from the seats they won at Westminster but not turning up for work? The Westminster seats are based on single-seat constituencies so the archaic stunt of not turning up for work means that all constituents of Sinn Féin MP’s are deprived of effective parliamentary representation. Is there not something absurdly pathetic about standing in front of an Irish electorate seeking to become their head of state at a cut price while taking the Queen’s shilling but not deliberating on the legislative programme that impacts the lives, welfare and prospects of thousands of people in Northern Ireland of all and no political persuasion?  Is parliamentary representation not the most fundamental civil right in a democracy?

The strategy of Martin McGuinness to the presidential election is reminiscent to that of retailer Denis Guiney in the 1950’s ‘pile them high but sell them cheap’. But Guiney’s approach has become obsolete and his retail enterprise never expanded.  McGuinness, perhaps, needs to think like Sam Walton, founder of WalMart.

If he is so much in favour of change and of air brushing history why does his party not propose something more radical – such as taking their seats in Westminster and doing the peoples business and if McGuinness won the election and he were to continue to reside in the North he could imbue the rest of the population with a flavour of what a post united Ireland might be like!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Irish presidential election is becoming chaotic, desultory, pathetic farce!

Gay Mitchell is telling us that how reluctant he is to smile but that his priorities are combatting suicide and child mortality in the third world? The people of Ireland are looking for a head of state, not a drag-queen resembling Mary Magdalene parading his vanity around the globe attaching himself to issues that are beyond the scope of the mandate of the President of Ireland.  If Mitchell wants to become a missionary he needs to pursue a different path.

Is this guy really telling the Irish public that his capacity for public office is so limited and constrained that he cannot even manage to smile at them? If Mitchell performs as chaotically in this election as he is in the campaign that outcome will inflict greater damage on the party that sponsored him than it will on the candidate. What considerations entered the calculus of the Fine Gael party in July when they were choosing a candidate for the presidential election?

The vacuous, evangelical, bullshit that has been proffered about the ‘suitability’ of McGuinness without any concurrent description of what makes Gay Mitchell a compelling candidate for presidential office must bear its own message – and that, too, must be something that does not evoke a smile.

Perhaps it is better for the electorate realise before the election, rather than afterwards, that the disposition of a prospective president to smile graciously is a potential stumbling block to his capacity to relate to them as President. Mr Mitchell there is some substance in the adage – ‘smile and the world smiles with you; scowl and you scowl alone’.

The presidential election campaign by all candidates is degenerating into a pathetic and desultory chaotic farce being acted out by a posse of candidates no more qualified to be head of state that a random selection of hassled commuters at a bus stop in rush hour.

Do these people consider the electorate to be gullible buffoons as they narrate their inane stream of consciousness that is supposed to pass as a compelling case to elect them President of Ireland? The esteem of the nation is at stake and the people deserves better.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A mandate to become President of Ireland or a camouflage for congenital laziness and inertia?

The Irish people are about to be asked to make a 7-year commitment on the 27th October when they choose they next President.  They are entitled to be provided with an intelligent insight into the qualities, qualifications and limitations of the panel of candidates and how each of them intends to conduct that office. 

The Irish Times in its edition of 3rd October has given the candidates in the Irish presidential election a platform to set out their stall under the banner ‘Why I should be President’. Each of them manages to convey absolutely nothing to answer this question.

Mary Davis wants ‘to make a contribution to Ireland’s recovery; restoration of pride at home and reputation across the world’. She does not indicate how she intends to accomplish this. But, like an observer on the upper deck of a double-deck bus she has seen others overcome adversity. As a member of the Council of State she has observed the protection of the Constitution. She advises that “the presidency is about ‘influence’ – using your voice as president to speak for all the people of Ireland, especially those for whom Ireland has not been a welcoming place; about using the office to promote fairness, equality and respect for every person in the country and playing a more expansive international role”.  How has this candidate obtained influence and used it throughout her career?

To whom will her voice be directed to achieve these desirable objectives? What is fairness? How can a President inculcate respect for every person? Where will the more expansive international role be conducted and who on the international will make a difference? She doesn’t indicate which languages she is proficient in so as to expand the international footprint.  The electorate need to understand the precise scope and nature of the intended contribution.

Sean Gallagher wants to put enterprise at the heart of the next presidency. How will his concept of enterprise be juxtaposed with the dynamics of a free marketplace? He wants to become involved in trade missions. Where would he travel to and who would he meet? What would he say when met the target audience? How would he select his targets?

But it is not the function of the President of Ireland to lead trade missions. Dialogue with business people is a components of a President’s international mandate but the responsibility for execution and delivery rests with a Government minister. Gallagher fails to indicate an understanding of the function. Other people are paid handsomely to accomplish what he thinks he could achieve. The nation needs an inspiring statesman in the role of President, not a technician with modest accomplishments.

Michael D Higgins wants inclusive citizenship in a creative society. He does not elaborate on what barriers need to be removed to progress this and how he, as President, can remove them. What is inclusive citizenship? How might I feel if I were included in this process? He is almost 70 years old. Will his health and stamina be robust enough to be an effective President?

David Norris continues to wander around his own personal hall of fame. He wants to put the welfare of people at the centre of political culture. Is that not a role for the leaders of political parties? He believes the role of President needs to be reinvented so that the image of Ireland evokes a smile but fails to elucidate in what direction he would reinvent it.

Gay Mitchell is concerned about the number of suicides and elsewhere I read that he is proposing that the Irish President should become joint head of state in Northern Ireland. Mitchell has been in politics for decades. Why has he had no influence on suicide trends and what exactly does he believe the President can do about this trend? The election is being fought on the basis of the Constitution. How does he propose to effect his proposal with respect to Northern Ireland? Perhaps he might emulate President Obama if he were to seek to also become the joint President of Russia. Credibility rather than hallucinogenic thinking might offer more grounded leadership.

Martin McGuinness wants to construct a new republic in which he would be President of people in the 32 counties of Ireland – whether they want this or not. He wants to make employment the cornerstone of his presidency – but in which part of his kingdom will the jobs become available and who will be the employers? He wants to overhaul what he describes as the archaic mode of selecting candidates but he does not elaborate on what the nature of his implied change might be.  How will he deal with conflicts of interest between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?

Dana presents herself as an entertainer and a business woman. We know she sings hymns but the electorate has no idea as to what her business experience is or how successful she has been in this field. She wants to be an ardent protector of the Constitution. Her presidency will be a catalyst to overcome intolerance and eliminate barriers. How does she intend to do that?

If each of these candidates were to set out what accomplishments they aim to achieve in the second year of the 7-year term the electorate might have some idea as to where their compass is pitched. These vignettes lack candour, conviction or credibility. But this opinion piece is merely a trawl of a stream of consciousness that contains no analysis; an unfocused immature internal monologue. The tragedy is that this pathetic posturing could shroud the egotistical ambitions of lazy, incompetent people unfit for the role of head of state who would become a massive reputational time bomb as President of Ireland.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Gay Mitchell’s Áras campaign must be in lamentable trouble

Under a front page headline ‘Phil Hogan warns No terrorist in the Áras’ today’s edition of The Sunday Independent report today that Ireland would be left looking like a banana republic and denuded of serious levels of corporate investment within 24 months’ if Martin McGuinness is elected President. Not one syllable of explanation is reported as to how Gay Mitchell, the Fine Gael candidate is ‘suitable’ in Hogan’s opinion.

Does this suggest that those sponsoring corporate investment in Ireland are likely to reject the democratic mandate of the Irish people as Hogan warns us of their jackboot influence?

The implication of the Phil Hogan remark would therefore presumably mean that Northern Ireland is a dead duck as far as its economic development is concerned because a terrorist has become a Government leader and business decision makers might ‘whisper’ that they are ‘appalled’. That fragile economy, which already has an overweening dependency on State intervention and money, will therefore never achieve the vitality, independence and prosperity that can only be derived from the private sector if that is the case.

The Fine Gael party has responded to the Mitchell nomination with the sense of excitement, shock and awe more typically associated with a monastery of Trappist monks’ or an enclosed order of nuns.

Gay Mitchell was chosen 83 days ago as the Fine Gael candidate but he is badly trailing the popularity of his own party in the opinion polls. Why are the plain people of Ireland not recognising his ‘suitability’ to become the next President and reflecting in the polls? Why is Mitchell not colonising the public imagination with excitement and exhilaration at the prospect of him becoming President? Poll ratings of 10% in favour and 90% not in favour of his candidacy are not trends that inspire confidence in a public that is about to make a 7-year commitment in choosing of candidate to become our President.

If Ireland is threatened with being associated with the reputation of a banana republic the source of this lies with unprosecuted bankers rather than with presidential candidates. If the Fine Gael Party do not demonstrate even mild conviction that Mitchell is a desirable candidate how can they expect the electorate to respond otherwise? Mr Hogan, your starting point is to say something, anything positive about the candidacy of Mr Mitchell before treating the electorate as if they are undiscriminating buffoons. 

Mr Hogan, if Fine Gael have chosen a dud candidate for this election that is their problem and that is a reflection of their judgement – not the judgement of the electorate.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Irish presidential election campaign marches to a dull morbid tramp

I have been watching the progress of the Irish presidential election campaign from Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Buenos Aires is a city full of vitality and verve while the major Brazilian cities are focused on preparations for the Olympic Games and the World Cup. The population of Sao Paulo, at 20 million, is almost greater than that of Australia.

President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner holds a commanding lead of 60% as she faces a presidential election in Argentina this month.

Her former Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Ignácio Lula de Silva, left office last December but raised 30 million of his citizens from dire poverty in the seven years that he was President of Brazil.

The fact that none of the Irish candidates for President has successfully captured the public imagination to the extent that materially overshadows rivals is an indication of how utterly boring, weak and unconvincing each of the campaigns is. It is an ample demonstration of an inability to connect.

Frankly, if these candidates are as insipid at promoting their own credentials to become a global statesman of some consequence to the general public, how on earth could they possibly have any impact across the world as President and be fit-for-purpose to a public that hardly know where Ireland is?

From a candidate’s perspective, this phase of a campaign is not about being validated by those who are already convinced. It is about moving out of their comfort zone and converting the agnostics – be they ‘West-Brits, D-4 snobs, those who warmly welcomed Queen Elizabeth as well as those who did not’ etc. etc. The contest is for head of state, not head of enclave and that means reaching out to all components of society, even those who will never love or admire you.

None of them have yet demonstrated a credible understanding of the role they are seeking to occupy.

The campaign to date is based on reacting to adversarial shadows – some factually grounded, others less so. Why have none of them published sufficiently comprehensive curriculum vitae to inform strangers who they are? How many languages, for example, are each of them proficient in? What is the educational attainment of each candidate? How literate are each of them in economics? What are there hobbies and personal interests?

How can they honestly expect the electorate to become stimulated and passionate about vacuous slogans and meaningless shibboleths? The public will also quickly weary of any President whose tenure requires endless explanation of the mitigating reasons why he, or she, is the office holder.

The moral is to start showing some flair, energy, relevance and focus – even if most of them are north of 60 years of age seeking to establish stature with a nation, half of whose population is under the age of 35.

This is a presidential election campaign in a sophisticated sovereign State, not a mid-winter Grand National for paraplegic snails at Leopardstown Race Course intended to stimulate insomniacs.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Taoiseach resists outrageous bank lobbying on salary cap

Viewed from as far as Buenos Aires this evening, I am sure that many taxpayers are greatly relieved that the Taoiseach confirmed to Dáil Éireann on 27th September that he ‘sees no good reason’ for breaching the €500,000 salary cap on bank chief executives’ remuneration in response to prolonged lobbying by AIB and others over many months.

All stakeholders in our society have had to make the most profound sacrifices due to the venality of bankers’ and their boards’ of directors in the interests of economic survival, recovery and vitality. A Government decision to cave into the banking lobby on this issue would therefore have had the most profound adverse consequences which would have found unequivocal expression in the forthcoming presidential election and beyond it.

High salaries did not enhance the standard of corporate governance, providence and prudence in the Irish banks’ prior to their collapse and it would be the utmost folly to consider that the resumption of salary deals to any elite that are utterly extravagant in the context of our national circumstances would deliver reform. The banks and their elite fellow travellers must restore trust with society before they attempt to indulge fanciful remuneration whims.

It would also be interesting for taxpayer’s to be informed, in clear an unambiguous terms, how much the State is paying consultants ‘and professional advisors’ to rehabilitate AIB, now State owned.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Irish presidential election a magnet for the maudlin’ and the mediocre

The Irish presidential election campaign has attracted a motley compendium of the irretrievably mediocre, the almost-sedated and the infinitely deluded and more kindred spirits are emerging. All share the common characteristic of not demonstrating a basic understanding of  what the role and function of an Irish Head of State is and that the President is the first of all citizens, including those in ‘Dublin 4’ and the fat, rich and smug.

This weekend it seemed as though a posse of salesmen specialising in providing a tarmacadam surface on the driveways of suburban houses had begun to compete against each other when one of the aspirants, 72-year old Laurence Murphy (aka Labhrás Ó’Murchú) proclaimed, in what was possibly the first widely broadcast comment in his 14-year career in Seanad Éireann, that he would take on the role of President at no salary whatsoever – so desperate is he for recognition. Not to be outdone in the bidding war Martin McGuinness offered to take on the role at a salary of no more than €35,000 per annum.

The McGuinness bid equates to the average industrial wage but comes with the promise of a mawkish, welfare-saturated ‘New Republic’ – whatever that is. 

But having had a genuinely superb President in Mary McAleese for the past 14 years the Irish electorate are unlikely to grovel around seeking merely a candidate with the potential to develop into an average President to replace her. They are seeking someone with the potential to be a world-class statesman – as she is, not a cardboard cut-out whose limited capacity will merely offer a cheap and cheerful presidency - heavy on rhetoric but light on impact.

When Martin McGuinness tells us that if he were elected President that he would accept remuneration no greater than €35,000 per annum and advises that his legacy as an IRA commander should be conveniently disregarded and even excised from our imagination. He also neglects to mention that he draws the full salary and expense as a member of parliament for Mid Ulster – but never goes to work in Westminster. This, no doubt, resonates with the thousands of malingers in other walks of life who also fail to turn up for work.

But perhaps McGuinness is confusing the concepts of cost and values. If the average industrial wage was to become the critical benchmark when choosing a Head of State the electorate would ask candidates’ for quotations and consider the merits of the lowest bidder. But the qualities required to safeguard Bunreacht na hÉireann and the heritage of a proud nation are priceless.

A presidential election is fundamentally about values and, specifically, which candidates’ are best qualified to safeguard the Constitution and reflect the values, spirit, prestige and dignity of our nation – in a manner that typically find expression in the sophisticated, prosperous democracies of Northern Europe but not in fragile, obsessive-compulsive tin-pot statelets elsewhere across the globe.

Irish people, as a whole, have been outraged at the brutal campaign of terrorism in which McGuinness played such a prominent and protracted role; a campaign that retarded the development of society for decades leaving Northern Ireland economically paralysed with a much lower level of prosperity, self-sufficiency and economic vitality.

They abhorred the menacing threats to the security, stability and integrity of the institutions of our State. They were incandescent and outraged each time a member of the Gardaí was callously slaughtered and they were appalled at the contemptuous disregard for the exclusive authority of our military forces to defend us.

Therefore, the first and major priority for candidate McGuinness is to demonstrate the credibility of his credentials to become President and commander-and-chief of the military. He needs to persuade the electorate that our sense of nationhood would be diminished were he not to prevail. The salary-cost of the Presidency is secondary to the stature, calibre and overall suitability of the successful incumbent.

Furthermore, if McGuinness did win the hearts and votes of the electorate he could propose that the Irish presidential mansion be relocated to Londonderry or Fermanagh so as to give the public a flavour of what life would be like in a ‘united Ireland’.  Aras an Uachtarain could sold in a package with the National Lottery.  If the buyer turned out to be a gambling consortium the Aras might be converted to a casino and this might obviate the desire to build a replica pastiche version of The White House in Two Mile Borris, Co Tipperary.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tribunal fee claim a catalyst for reform of legal professions?

The Irish media this weekend carried two contrasting reports of contemporary life in Ireland. Once concerned a family in Co. Kerry who were starving after the breadwinner’s fragile income disappeared with his part-time job.

At the other end of the spectrum lawyers the Government rejected claims of €30,000 for senior counsel and €20,000 for junior counsel in ‘severance payments’ in respect of their engagement by The Moriarty Tribunal which got under way in 2007 and published its report last March.

The overall cost of this tribunal to the end of 2010 was €41,396,005 with estimates of costs outstanding being in the region of €6.7 million, although the final cost is inherently difficult to estimate, according to the Comptroller & Auditor General.

Public sittings commenced on 31 October 1997 and there were 390 public sitting days from then until 31 December 2010, 13 years later.  Lawyers fees accounted for 78.6% of the cost of the Tribunal.  Total expenditures on this Tribunal was equivalent to an average of €106,144 per public sitting day of which an average of €83,472 was spent on lawyers fees.

The total amount paid to the Tribunal legal team to the end of 2010 was:




Jerry Healy SC October 1997


Jacqueline O’Brien SC (1) October 1997


Maire Moriarty JC (2) December 1997


Stephen McCullough JC May 2002


Patrick Dillon-Malone JC (3) 2001-2003 and from October 2010


Stuart Brady, Solicitor January 2005


Darach McNamara, Research Assistant September 2003


John Coughlan SC Oct 1997 – Dec 2010


Brian McGuckian, Research Assistant 1998 -2002





The daily rate paid to these lawyers in 2010 was as follows:

Level Daily Rate, excluding VAT, 1 Jan-31Dec 2010 Daily Rate, Excluding VAT, 1 Feb to date
Senior Counsel



Senior Counsel, 80% rate
[J O’Brien]



Junior Counsel



Junior Counsel
[P Dillon Malone]





These lawyers were identified, selected, recruited, retained by the sole member of the Tribunal alone and the civil service department who paid them had no input.

No procurement procedures were followed in the selection process. 

In 2002 the per diem rate for senior counsel went up from €1,714 to €2,250 when the counsel engaged by the Tribunals in each case sought a review of the rate. The review was a function of specific proposals and representations made by the individual barristers concerned and, separately, a review conducted by the Department of Finance and the Office of the Attorney General about appropriate rates at that time. A legal cost accountant was consulted on what
would be a reasonable rate at the time.

Three senior counsel at the Moriarty Tribunal were paid €2,500 a day for an extraordinary 304 days in 2008. The Moriarty Tribunal sat in public session for an average of 20 days in each of the past three years. The report advised that there were no specific attendance records for the legal teams maintained at the Morris and Mahon Tribunals. The Moriarty Tribunal records attendance of Tribunal legal team members but does not take account of arrival and departure times.


Extra Payments

An extra €1 million has been paid to counsel because of an error in the Department of the Taoiseach, where counsel have been paid a per diem rate of €2,500 instead of €2,250 and where the matter was allowed continue without rectification. After lengthy negotiations, a rate of €2,500 per day was agreed with Moriarty senior counsel and notified to them by letter in June 2002. A few weeks later, in view of the setting of the fee of €2,250 per day for senior counsel at other Tribunals, it was realised that the Moriarty rate had been agreed at a higher figure arising from a misunderstanding between the Department and those setting the fees. The Moriarty fee was reviewed again. It was considered that in view of the particular circumstances of that Tribunal, the higher fee was appropriate and, following advice from the Attorney General this rate was sanctioned by the Department of Finance on a personal basis.

The Department of Finance saw no basis for paying the higher fee of €2,500 per day and having regard to this, is of the view that steps should have been taken to apply the lower fee. The Department of the Taoiseach should have acted with more vigour in refusing the higher rate of payment.


Catalyst for Reform?

The scale of these costs and the absurdity of these claims aptly demonstrate the urgent and compelling need for the radical reform of the legal professions and promptly ending the combined role of the Bar Council and the Law Society regulating and representing the professions.

The combined roles of self-governance and representation causes restrictive impediments, less transparency, openness and accountability leading to the typical cost of legal services in Ireland being the highest in the developed world – an observation validated in a 2009 World Bank report and the widespread perception that lawyers can simply charge what they like.

This buccaneering culture is a severe constraint on the prospects for reform, economic recovery and investment. The State, as the biggest buyer of legal services needs to deal aggressively and effectively with the underlying issues that facilitate absurd and outrageous costs and claims, such as these.

Successful intervention will mean fewer unemployed and underemployed barristers and solicitors and a legal system that becomes a more dependable purveyor of justice and equity.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Micheál Martin’s ‘headache’

The article in the Irish Independent on 20 August, Challenge for Martin as Lenihans’ opt out of the election’, asserts that this constitutes ‘a massive headache’ for Micheál Martin’s efforts to rid Fianna Fáil of its toxic image. Surely, this type of brazen nepotism would only appeal to the 15% of the electorate who supported the late Brian Lenihan. Martin’s fundamental challenge is to win the trust of the 85% of the electorate whose political gaze is elsewhere and he will need to do much more than merely preach to the choir in this endeavour.

The immediate and compelling challenge for Fianna Fáil is to sponsor a committed and sufficiently distinguished candidate to contest the Presidential Election. That ought to be a person with the capacity to inspire the trust, confidence and enthusiasm of the electorate; someone who can convincingly be described as the most distinguished Irish person of the current generation.

Half of the Irish electorate are under the age of 35 years. Most of this cohort has never voted in a Presidential Election. Our population has expanded by 850,000 since 1997. A substantial portion of the electorate were not even born in Ireland.

The clumsy and uncoordinated Fianna Fáil efforts to make a credible impact on the most important Constitutional Office of State are risible, especially when the competition is so lacklustre, taciturn and undistinguished.

The Presidency of Ireland is not a political party trophy even though Fine Gael and the Labour Party have treated the forthcoming contest as a facility to confer a distinguished honour on one of their own insiders. No party, or prospective candidate, has begun to explain the credentials to justify their high-flown ambition to be recognised as an eminent, world-class statesman. The response of the electorate to them, according to polls, is ambivalent and uncertain. There is every prospect that the Presidential Election will record a voter turnout no greater than the 47% recorded in 1997. The vitality and influence of the President will not be derived from electorate that is tepid.

Therefore, the next pragmatic step for Fianna Fáil is to provide the electorate with a candidate choice for President who is energetic and credible, untainted by the prevailing quagmire of toxicity and who reflects the voters’ aspirations, values and expectations.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fianna Fáil could be the real kingmaker in the Irish presidential election

Now that the sluice gate of opportunity has been perceived by Dana Rosemary Scallon to have opened following the exit of David Norris the real king maker could be Micheál Martin.  The presidential election will be the first real test of his leadership of in the eyes of the nation - beyond the boundaries of Fianna Fáil. That said, I don’t think that a member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party could be a successful presidential candidate this time for self-evident reasons.

But Fianna Fáil was able in 1997 to attract a distinguished candidate from beyond its own mainstream who was to become a genuine, world class statesman; who became a unifying, consistently progressive force in the country for not one, but two terms; who dreamt of building bridges and did so with astounding tact, tenacity, imagination, diligence and success. Fianna Fáil’s offering to the nation in 1997 was inaugurated one week after President Obama won his first-ever election to political office and she will leave office in 2011 with a level of goodwill and esteem that is, at best, a fantasy for the world’s major leaders and statesmen.

That candidate thoroughly understood what the role of Head of State entails – its scope and limitations. That disciplined candidate safeguarded the Constitution and scrupulously protected the dignity of the Office and of the nation. That visionary candidate understood the concept of prestige and enhancing the reputation of Ireland. That reflective and mature candidate radiated values that resonated with voters’. This chosen candidate was authentic and credible; that’s why she won the election and then won the heart of the nation.

The reputation of this nation had a very close shave with reputational Armageddon this week, three months before the presidential election. The image on the world’s television screens of an Irish President declaring his abrupt resignation on the steps of the Áras and describing his love of a rapist has been averted. The risk that the equivalent of the Lincoln Bedroom at the presidential mansion could be accommodating a personal guest of the President who would attract lurid tabloid journalism comment and speculation has been mitigated. The prospect of a convicted child rapist being the second person, as consort of the President, to formally greet foreign dignitaries when they arrive here on State visits will not arise.

Those who have expressed an interest in contesting this election are not really endowed with the presidential stature that we have become accustomed to. The nation therefore needs a determined input and intervention to insure that this contest provides the electorate with the opportunity to elect a statesman of calibre – an individual who is the best Irish person of this generation and whose credentials to become President are inspiring and compelling.

The electorate should not be reduced to a choice of candidates from among the minor aristocracy of domestic reality TV, from the faded grandees of the Eurovision Song Contest when President de Valera was in office, an anonymous  stranger who has yet to offer a single compelling statement to justify consideration and a pair of jaded duds with a faded political legacy whose appeal is likely, at best, to be only to their most loyal and long-standing following. That escapade would end in a puddle of tears and a nation diminished in the eyes of observers. We have been through enough of that.

If Fianna Fáil can produce a credible candidate with potential universal appeal that personal achievement could become a defining moment, the catalyst for Martin to prove his leadership credentials to those who are apolitical but patriotic. That accomplishment could confirm the character of Martin’s leadership. It would be an act of real patriotism.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Norris bows to the inevitable

IMG_8275The remarks David Norris made when he withdrew from his campaign to seek a nomination to contest the Presidential Election have been described by some commentators as dignified. Norris had petitioned an Israeli court on behalf of his lover, Ezra Yitzhak Nawi, a plumber of Iraqi decent, who had been convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year old Palestinan youth in 1997. While he condemned the crime as ‘disgraceful behaviour’ and explained that he ‘forgot’ to tell his supporters about the letter; that the episode was ‘very sad that in trying to help a person I loved dearly – I made a human error’

Inevitable’ and ‘Histrionic’ might have been more accurate adjectives to use than ‘dignified’ in withdrawing from the predicament that Senator Norris threatened the electorate with. The only saving grace was that this matter came to light three months before the election, not three months after the inauguration where the same speech might have been delivered on the steps of Áras and Uachtaráin to an aghast global media and a mesmerised Irish nation. But this close shave will most certainly prompt the electorate to scrutinise the credentials and capacity of all candidates even more closely question the calibre of what is presented.

The lacklustre nature of this campaign has yet to inspire confidence, conviction, enthusiasm or clarity among the electorate. Therefore, the durability and robustness of a perceived leadership status at such an early stage was questionable.

Has any aspirant demonstrated a thoughtful, insightful understanding of the role of Head of State they are seeking to undertake? Has any aspirant convincingly described what personal qualities and accomplishments that make them especially and eminently suitable to become President of Ireland? Has any aspirant persuaded the electorate he, or she, could enhance and extend the reputation and stature of Ireland in the global community?

The answer, in my opinion, is ‘no’. That is why there is scope for a really distinguished and compelling individual to enter this contest. The people of Ireland deserve a panel of top-class presidential candidates that rouse them with the enthusiasm that only authenticity and legitimacy can produce.

Political parties love to waffle about their aspirations and the bright, gleaming future over the yonder horizon. This presidential election will test their mettle. It will indicate what they can actually deliver. It will demonstrate their capacity to attract real talent. Their sponsored candidate will be a manifestation of where the concepts of ‘excellence’ and ‘high standards’ converge in their world.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Norris candidacy for President is no longer tenable

IMG_8277Senator David Norris advises that he ‘remains committed to his presidential ambitions’ notwithstanding that he is knee-deep in controversy again.

It would be misleading to portray Norris as the only prominent friend and advocate that Ezra Nawi had in Ireland. Nawi (59), a Jerusalem-born plumber whose parents were Iraqi, was prosecuted in 2009 and eventually jailed in May 2010 for a month having been charged with assaulting an Israeli border police officer in July 2007 while military bulldozers were destroying the fragile shanty homes of Palestinians in South Hebron. Israeli television film footage of that incident indicated that Nawi was not guilty of that charge.

Nawi's interest in that cause was stimulated by his long-time Palestinian partner, Fuad Mussa and both were the subject of a film documentary made in 2008. The Palestinian homes did not have running water, electricity of basic infrastructural services and the occupiers of these properties had been under constant harassment by Israeli ultra-orthodox settlers’.

Nawi was described on the Trocaire web site as ‘a friend of the charity who works closely with its partners’. Trocaire’s voice was one of 20,000 who protested vigorously against that conviction. Nawi’s non-violent political activity was aimed at highlighting the efforts of local Palestinians’ to remain in their property but Israeli settlers, army and police had a strong interest in muzzling his efforts and removing him from the area and he was frequently the subject of threats to his life and homophobic sneers.

Those who advocate on his behalf in Ireland and The Middle East make no reference to his conviction for the statutory rape of a minor in 1992 although some acknowledge that it was his long-term and younger Palestinian partner who originally stimulated his interest in the residents’ cause starting in 2000, eight years that conviction.

They joined Ta’ayush,, an Arab-Jewish partnership in the south Hebron area. Ta’ayush was established in 2000, which stands in Arabic for ‘living together’ the stated objective of breaking down racism and segregation. Nawi remained a member of this organisation until he began his jail sentence on 23 May 2010. He contended that Israeli laws ‘are immoral’; hence his civil disobedience.

The dignity and the integrity of the Office of President cannot be sustained if it is to lunge from one controversy to another and this is why Senator Norris and cronies are unlikely to prevail. If the dignity of the presidency is under attack the dignity of the nation will be undermined. How could that be a credible basis for defending the Constitution and promoting the prestige of Ireland?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Irish Financial Regulator and Chairman of AIB challenge Government on bank pay cap

BankcentreThe Chairman of AIB Bank and the chief executive of the Irish Financial Regulator are attempting to put the jack-boot into the Irish Government and to bully Irish society on the issue of the State cap on executive salaries in banks.

The cap of €500,000 was set in February 2009 following a report on the Republic’s derelict bailed-out banks by the State appointed Covered Institutions Remuneration Oversight Committee (CIROC). This Committee was appointed under the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Scheme 2008.

Each institution covered by the State bailout was required to prepare a plan to structure the remuneration package of directors and executives so as to take account of the objectives of the Act of 2008. For this purpose remuneration included total salary, bonuses, pension payments, and any other benefits received from a financial institution covered by the State and its group entities, or otherwise received by a director or executive arising from the performance of his or her functions as a director or executive.

The covered institutions included AIB and Bank of Ireland, Anglo Irish Bank, two mutual societies – EBS and Irish Nationwide and Postbank – which in 2008 was a start-up.

The timing of this initiative followed the Government guarantee that was put in place in September 2008, the recapitalisation programmes for AIB and Bank of Ireland and the taking into public ownership of Anglo Irish Bank.

The salary of the Chief Executive of AIB was €928,400 from 1 April 2007. The base salary in February 2009 was €696,300 following reductions in salary, totalling 25% in October 2008 and February 2009. The CIROC recommended a salary cap of €500,000 in the case of AIB.

When Matthew Elderfield, Head of Financial Regulation and Deputy Governor of the Central Bank spoke last Monday at the MacGill Summer School he is quoted as saying that “we will probably need to take a look at the caps on bankers pay” under a headline ‘Bankers’ pay cap could be abolished - regulator’ and “it is better to have a bit of arm’s length between the political system and the banking system and look at the remuneration arrangements in the round” . Unfortunately, for Mr Elderfield, the electorate did not elect a TD to represent Bermuda NW but it did elect a government that is expected to govern.

Does Mr Elderfield’s remarks mean that the Government has abrogated its direct responsibility for such a highly charged and politically sensitive issue to the compendium of high-octane intellectuals that populate the Central Bank Commission? Did they, in turn, mandate policy conception and propaganda on the subject of executive bank pay to Mr Elderfield, who has chosen to communicate his thoughts on the subject, in the first instance, at a provincial summer school, notwithstanding that he opined “I don’t have a view on that” (salary cap for bankers increased)?

The hired gun that, for the time being, sits in the Chairman’s seat at AIB, is clearly as perplexed as I am. Having declared a €2.6 billion loss and a 26% increase in the bad debt provision to €2.1 billion for the first half of this year, he told the public that he raised with Government the possibility linking the salary of the next chief executive (of nationalised AIB) to a recovery for the State of the €20 billion provided by taxpayers’. “The concept”, he advises, “is one that we have discussed and one that we haven’t had a door slammed in our faces”.

Perhaps the proverbial door does not have hinges. The ambivalence would seem to imply once again the Trappist silence, inertia and reticence of the Department of Finance is encouraging the Chairman of AIB to think like a flower arranger foraging for an exotic shade of narcissus in a garden that is barren, on the grounds that the bouquet he is seeking to create for the Bankcentre boardroom will not smell like a rabid skunk.

The salary cap on executive pay in the banks that the US taxpayers kept alive is $500,000 (€345,000) – substantially more that the income of either Timothy Geithner or Ben Bernanke.

If our Government are implementing a cap on the salary of higher appointees in the public sector at €200,000 and it is possible to recruit a distinguished native-born Central Bank Governor at a salary of €276,324, what possible rationale exists to justify the removal of a €500,000 cap on the salary of the next chief executive of a nationalised runt bank that has been suffocated with a blend of self-serving smug arrogance and myopic delusion (“who didn’t think there was a problem and ‘were convinced that there wasn’t much wrong that needed to be changed’)?

Governments are expected to govern and be accountable. Regulators are expected to regulate and prosecute. Administrators are expected to administer - and lucidly communicate. If the Government fail to confront this issue head on there will be serious implications for its reform programme.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Enda Kenny throws his gauntlet at The Vatican

Enda Kenny has shown mettle this week. A week after the publication of The Cloyne Report into the vile, depraved sexual abuse by 19 clerics in the Roman Catholic diocese that bears this name it was a cathartic and refreshing moment to discover that Ireland actually has a statesman at the helm of Government with principles, integrity, backbone and conviction who is not as afraid of his own shadow, as was the case with too many of his deferential predecessors’.

The menace, subversion and hostility of The Holy See with respect to Irish citizens over the past 30 years contrasts starkly with their high-octane input into the consultations in April 1937 in relation to the draft Constitution and the recognition deValera sought to confer on the role and status of the Catholic Church under Article 45 (defunct since the 1972 constitutional referendum).

DeValera’s emissary, then Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, spent 3 intensive days of dialogue with the then Cardinal Secretary of State, Eugenio Pacelli – (who served as Pope Pius XII from 1939 to 1958), poring over this document, before it was even presented to Dáil Éireann, to secure the approval of Pope Pius XI. Pacelli was most energetic and determined in his attempts to have Ireland adopt a Catholic Constitution because it was, Pacelli believed, the only Catholic Country in the world. The Vatican also wanted nothing less than absolute control over marriage.

This Republic needs to waken up and take care of its vital interests and those of its most vulnerable citizens. The custom of automatically appointing the Papal Nuncio as Dean of the Diplomatic Corp must be immediately discontinued if the self respect of the nation is to be preserved. The Tánaiste also ought to consider whether there is even a basis for maintaining diplomatic relations with the Holy See whose contempt and derision effectively puts vulnerable people in harm’s way.

Furthermore, Bishop John Magee, the former Papal Master of Ceremonies ought to have had the backbone and gumption to be in this country and account for himself and his 22-year tenure as bishop. His own Archbishop, Dermot Clifford, should urgently consider if the interests of his ‘dear people’ would be better served by his immediate resignation after a 26-year tenure in Cashel and Emly with catastrophic episodes of paedophilia and mortal tragedy not just in Cloyne - but also in Limerick. Peter McCloskey was 37 years old when he relayed in March 2006 his experience of being allegedly raped by two priests in Limerick in 1980 and 1981. It was apparently put to McCloskey that the diocese could sue him and he could become liable for the associated costs. This greatly distressed McCloskey who died by suicide on 1 April 2006.

Finally, Cardinal Brady must reflect on his own credibility after his robust defence of Bishop Magee in 2009, his friend of 50 years, in the light of the Cloyne Report’s findings and his failure to report Brendan Smyth to the civil authorities for 19 years.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Irish Red Cross give plum State-subsidised job to senior banker

The disclosure in the Sunday Independent (News, 17 July) that the State is providing a Government grant to subsidise a salary of €95,000 payable to a former senior banker at The Irish Red Cross is troubling.

But what is even more troubling was the disclosure in the Dáil at the end of June by Defence Minister Shatter that the State has paid over €9 million in grants to the Red Cross since 2002 to cover administration against a background of a 20-year history of consistently weak corporate governance and no accounts being published since 2008. The annual grant has not even been reduced since 2006.

The provision of an Annual Activity Report will be a requirement of the Charities Act 2009 when it becomes operational. The absence of accounts is particularly reprehensible especially after the Irish public generously donated over €33 million to the Red Cross after the Asian tsunami catastrophe.

The Military have confirmed that they have no record of the Red Cross having ever fulfilled its primary function since it was set up – to furnish volunteer aid to the sick and wounded of armies in times of war and to furnish relief to prisoners of war. When the legislation setting up the Red Cross was being debated in 1938 it was made absolutely clear that the only financial commitment envisaged by the State was the provision of a small start-up grant of £1,000 to establish an office.

This begs the question why the State has any financial commitment whatsoever to the Red Cross as it merely operates a small generic charity alongside those who receive no State support to fund their administration. It also raises the question as to whether the patronage of the Red Cross by the President of Ireland is desirable except when the Society is active in alleviating distress during war conditions in line with its statutory mandate.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vatican’s voice not always silent on Ireland issues

When the State’s Murphy Commission of Inquiry into clerical child sex abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne asked the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Most Rev Dr Giuseppe Leanza to submit to it any information you might have about the matters under investigation’. Leanza replied that ‘the Nunciature is unable to assist’.  Leanza had treated the Inquiries of abuse in Dublin, Ferns and in industrial schools with silent contempt.

It is interesting to compare this sterile and hostile response with the dialogue which preceded the referendum to approve Bunreacht na hÉireann in 1937 before it was even put before Dáil Éireann. When the strategic interests of The Vatican are in play there is not reticence or reluctance on their part to speak vigorously.

Joseph Walshe (1886-1956) was a former Jesuit seminarian and solicitor who rose to the rank of Secretary of the Department of External Affairs from 1927 to 1946 and Ambassador to the Holy See from 1946 to 1954.

Walshe travelled to Rome in April 1937 and reported to his Minister, Éamon deValera on his discussions with Vatican apparatchiks’ about the draft Irish Constitution and particularly about Article 45 which was intended to confer State recognition on the Catholic Church (but was removed following a constitutional referendum in 1972)

Walshe’s discussions over the course of three days that month were with Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (1876-1958), Vatican Secretary of State who was to become Pope Pius XII from 1939 to 1958. DeValera was seeking the approval of The Vatican insofar as it could be given, even though the Constitution did not completely accord with what Pacelli and Pope Pius XI considered to be ‘the complete Catholic ideal’.

Pacelli and the Pope argued that noting the ‘special position’ in Ireland of the Catholic Church in the draft Constitution  ‘had no real value so long as there was not a formal acknowledgement of the RC Church as the Church founded by Christ’. They argued that Ireland was the Catholic Country of the world and they thought that deValera should make a special effort to give to the world a completely Catholic Constitution. They stated that according to the strict teaching of the Church the advocates of the draft Constitution were heretics to recognise any church but ‘the one true Church’ – although the Church would not take an heresy too seriously.

Pacelli promised to have a long talk with the Pope and to obtain his blessing for the Irish Government. But Pope Pius XI responded with the words ‘Ni approve ni non disapprove; tacermo’ – he did not approve or disapprove and went on to maintain silence and reflect a stance of complete neutrality. Pacelli argued that ‘neutrality’ should be interpreted as a crumb of consolation insofar as the Pope went as far as he could go.

On the question of marriage which the Vatican regarded in 1937 as one of the supreme tests of the Catholicism of the State the Cardinal also said the Irish Government of the day was also heretical. Cases of matrimonial nullity and of ‘ratum et nonconsummatum’ presumes that all marriages, Catholic and non-Catholic, are valid unless canonically proven invalid and that marriages celebrated within a church in Ireland are within the exclusive domain of the Church.

References to ‘other Christian churches’ could not be formally improved but they could tolerate the word ‘Bodies’.

Eleven years earlier when Ireland was seeking to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See when the Kingdom of Italy granted independence on 7 June 1929 under the terms of the Lateran Treaty

Walshe visited The Vatican in May 1929 and observed that Irish bishops were perceived by the Rome counterparts as second rate because, with the exceptions of the then Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Byrne and one other, none of them could converse in Italian.  The Irish bishops were also believed to be wanting in intellectual weight and from a cultural perspective resulting in no Catholic literature or results of Catholic learning emerging from Ireland, which it was felt ought to have been the fountain of Catholic thought in the English speaking world in 1929.  The role of the Irish State adopted to respond to this was to endeavour to get only the elite young students intellectually and culturally, sent to Rome.  Roman studies, the State considered, should become a sine qua non of any candidate qualified to become a bishop, having attended the great ecclesiastical universities of Rome.  Apart from helping the Nuncio to remind the Vatican of the Church’s duty to the State in Ireland, Irish Ministers  efforts should centre on how Ireland could ‘find her proper position in Rome’.  This was thought to be achievable if the diplomat succeeded in winning the support and goodwill of the 15 or 20 people who count in Rome and by fostering ‘friendly’, or at least ‘correct’ relations with his British counterpart so as not to be cut off from useful contacts and sources of information.