Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Home Rule’s second stumble in 1893

The 1892 general election was held on the 26 July of that year, nine months after the funeral of Charles Stewart Parnell.  The leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party fell to Justin McCarthy MP (1830-1912) for North Longford and Derry.

McCarthy was a Cork-born journalist who became editor of The Morning Star in London in 1864 having had previously worked on a Liverpool paper, Northern Daily Times before starting work at the Star in 1860.  He spent two years lecturing in the United States until he returned to London to join the Daily News as an opinion writer in 1870.

He made his debut as an MP in an April 1879 by-election.  He stood unopposed in Longford in the 1886 general election and was not opposed but he also stood in the constituency of Derry.  He won a seat in Derry after an initial dispute with his Unionist opponent and opted to represent that constituency.

McCarthy was the intermediary through whom Gladstone conveyed his views that if Parnell were to remain Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party after the O’Shea’s divorce in 1889 the 1892 general election would be lost by the Liberals.  McCarthy led the anti-Parnell faction afterwards.

The outcome of the 1892 general election resulted in Gladstone winning an extra 80 seats while the Liberal faction that left after the first Home Rule Bill in 1886 dropped from 78 to 45 seats.  The Conservative and Liberal Unionist group lost 80 seats.

The Irish Parliamentary Party won 81 seats in 1892 and there were two Independent Nationalist MPs returned. Despite a legacy of discipline the Irish Parliamentary Party was split after the collapse of Parnell’s political career.  McCarthy’s group won 72 seats, 66 of whom were supporters of John Dillon MP (1851-1927) for East Mayo and six who backed Timothy Healy MP (1855-1931), who became buddy-buddy with Éamon deValera (1882-1975).  9 favourably disposed to Parnell were led by John Redmond MP (1856-1918).

Gladstone’s Liberals won 272 seats, 63 shy of an overall majority. Despite the split of the Irish Parliamentary Party that grouping still won 309,329 votes in an electorate of 740,536 male voters and they became Gladstone’s parliamentary partners.

Gladstone committed his government to introducing a second bill to grant Home Rule to Ireland despite losing office with the collapse of the first Bill in 1886.

But he was deeply involved in the drafting of the second Bill even to the exclusion of his IPP allies. An error was uncovered regarding the sum to be contributed by Ireland to the British Exchequer, the error being of the order of £360,000 per year, a colossal sum at that time.  Gladstone’s core philosophy was based on a minimal relationship between the State and citizens so this deficit would have grated on this perspective while some of the Irish MPs believed that the Imperial Treasury could be regarded as Ireland’s piggy bank.

This led to a brawl in the Commons between opposing factions when the Bill was being considered on 1 September 1893. 

The Home Rule Bill was passed in the Commons by a majority of 30 but it failed in the Conservative Party dominated House of Lords with only 41 in favour and 419 opposed.

The Chief Secretary for Ireland at the time was John Morley (1838-1923), later (in 1908 Viscount Morley of Blackburn.  The Chief Secretary was responsible for governing Ireland and had cabinet rank.  He resided in the residence that the current United States Ambassador resides at in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

The Irish aristocracy made his tenure in Dublin Castle very awkward because he supported Home Rule. He was also stubbornly opposed to the principle of State intervention in economic and social affairs.  He was also left out of the loop by Gladstone and became disaffected with Home Rule as did the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir William Harcourt (1827-1904).

Gladstone’s core objective in Home Rule for Ireland was to devolve legislative authority rather than to diminish the tendency of Ireland to extract resources from the Britain.  The 1886 Bill proposed a single chamber in Ireland with two orders based on a model of the Church of Ireland Synod after its disestablishment in 1869. The orders could meet separately or jointly.

The 1893 Bill proposed two distinct chambers in Ireland meeting separately.

British Conservative Party administrations in Ireland throughout the 19th century seemed to take on the character of a development agency, some said ‘killing Home Rule with kindness’.  Newly departments of State catering for Ireland included the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1899. the Congested Districts Board (1891) to relieve poverty and congested living conditions in the west of Ireland, the Irish Land Commission (1881) as a rent fixing commission which developed into a tenant purchasing commission that transferred 13.5 million acres by 1920 and the Local Government Board (1871) which had oversight of public health, relief of poverty and local government.

Mahon Tribunal cost €98,068,090, – so far

The Mahon Tribunal which was appointed by Noel Dempsey, Minister for the Environment & Local Government has so far cost taxpayers over €98 million. But the capacity of this Department to either monitor or approve the costs incurred was limited to oversight of the number employed by the Tribunal, the grading of the staff, including contracted staff; third party legal costs and costs of external counsel which account substantially less than half of the total cost.

The independence of the Tribunal apparently meant no prior sanction of expenditure on routine goods and services.  The invoices in respect of these were signed by the Tribunal Registrar as being in order for payment by the Department of the Environment & Local Government.  Approval was only sought to incur items of substantial capital expenditure.  The Tribunal did not pay the costs in respect of its venue at the Clock Tower Building in Dublin Castle.

The fees of the Tribunal’s legal team were based on agreed daily rates and legal cost accountants examined and reviewed the costs submitted by external counsel, some of which involved a ruling by the Taxing Master, whose role is to provide and independent and impartial assessment.  The setting of an initial brief fee of €31,743 and €20,951 for senior and junior counsel respectively and the per diem rate of €1,714 for senior counsel and €1,143 for junior counsel.  In 2002 the per diem rate for senior counsel went up from €1,714 to €2,250 (+31%) when the counsel engaged by the tribunals in each case sought a review of the rate.

The Tribunal convened for the first time on 11 December 1997.  The first public sitting was on 14 January 1998 and it convened for a total of 916 sessions thereafter. It produced five reports, four interim and one final. The confidential information that came into the possession of the Tribunal in its early stages ultimately extended the scope of its investigation to matters pre-dating 20 June 1985 the commencement date set for inquiry out in the original terms of reference.

The amended Terms of Reference incorporated not only the original amendment sought by the Tribunal but also amendments which specifically required the Tribunal to inquire into the public life of
a Mr. Ray Burke, a former Chairman of Dublin City Council from 1985 to 1987, Fianna Fáil TD for the constituency of Dublin North and a government minister in several departments, including Environment, Justice, Communications, Energy and Industry & Commerce.  His successor as Minister for Justice was Pádraig Flynn.

When Burke retired on 7 October 1997 he was Minister for Foreign Affairs in the first government of Bertie Ahern.  The Tribunal found that Burke did not purchase his family home in Swords in ‘a normal commercial transaction’ and that the consideration exchanged for the dwelling and lands did not represent the open market value of the property.  The Tribunal deemed that the transfer of this property to Burke was a corrupt payment to him.

The Third Interim Report dealt with payments by James Gogarty to George Redmond, a former senior official of Dublin Corporation in 1988/89. Redmond informed the Tribunal that he had received ‘a gift of cash of between £8,000 and £10,000 from developer Michael Bailey a short time prior to Redmond’s retirement on 23June 1989, at the age of 65.  It subsequently transpired that Redmond was the recipient of two or three payments from Bailey totalling between £16,000 and £20,000 in 1988/89 when he was ‘advising' Bailey on ‘property matters’. Redmond was unable or unwilling to characterise the nature of his ‘advice’ but the Tribunal concluded that he devised a strategy which resulted in service charges and levies payable to Dublin Corporation in respect of a development in Swords, Co Dublin being fixed at their 1983 level for two years after the expiry of the associated planning permission in June 1988 and that Redmond demanded 10% of the savings arising.  The Tribunal was also satisfied that if Redmond’s services had not been used the service charge and levies would have been fixed at a level of at least 100% more than those fixed in 1983.  The Tribunal was also satisfied that Redmond hindered and obstructed the Tribunal

In circumstances where a person increased the duration of hearings by knowingly or recklessly providing false or misleading information or otherwise failing to provide appropriate cooperation, the existing statutory provision allowing costs to be awarded against that party for the benefit of the Exchequer

The Tribunal proceeded to examine transactions relating to lands at Lucan, Bray, Arlington/Quarryvale, Carrickmines Co. Dublin.  There were ongoing investigations of allegation of planning corruption with regard to the planning processes in a number of separate and distinct transactions.

The Final Report was presented on 22 march 2012 and the preparation of it was described as having been an enormous and complex task.  The 14 years duration of the Inquiry was significantly greater than anticipated in 1997.  The wider terms of reference required extensive and prolonged investigation that involved the provision of evidence by hundreds of witnesses, some of whom did not give truthful evidence.  The investigation of corruption is by its nature forensic and painstaking requiring fair procedures always.

The Tribunal Costs from 1997 to March 2012 were:


Category Amount €
Administrative Costs, including non-legal staff 30,271,702
Tribunal’s legal team 50,123,718
Court costs   7,531,495
Court costs – external counsel   3,420,498
Court costs – other   4,110,997
Third party costs 10,141,175
TOTAL 98,068,090

The third party legal costs involved settlements with 40 individuals and 31 corporate entities.  The largest individual settlement was with James Gogarty for €3,567.779.  Gogarty died in September 2005 and it was he who blew the whistle on corrupt payments to Ray Burke.  Gogarty was once a Garda who became an engineer and was employed by Joseph Murphy Structural Engineers.  He claimed that a payment to Burke of £30,000 was intended to corruptly influence Burke to support the rezoning of 726 acres of land at Finglas, Ballymun, Balgriffeen, Portmarnock and Donabate Co Dublin.

One of the many of his more memorable contributions to the Tribunal concerned the car journey to Burke’s house when Gogarty had the £30,000 in an envelope in his pocket.  There had been little conversation throghout and journey and Gogarty enquired of Bailey “would we get a receipt for the money?” to which Bailey replied “will we, fuck!”

Gogarty had claimed reimbursement of costs of €4.539.545 but was paid €971,766 less than this.

The payment of €1,001,853 to RTE was the largest of the corporate claims paid.

Third party costs are awarded and the amount determined in retrospect. While the process in other countries varies,
application for legal fees to be met from the public purse is required prior to participation in the public inquiry process in Australia, Canada and the UK.

The last public session of the Mahon Tribunal was on 29 October 2008.  Some €14 million of the total costs to date relate to the period from the end of 2008 to March 2012. That includes €5.6 million paid to the Tribunal’s internal legal team.

Each of the three judges who comprised the Mahon Tribunal are paid a salary of €156,248 (reduced from €177,554 since 1 Jan 2012) plus and untaxed allowance of €9,058.  The total sum paid to the three of them from 24 October 2002 to 15 march 2012 was €4,598,091.  The Tribunal commenced as a Sole Member Tribunal but three judges were appointed to it on 24 October 2002.

This Tribunal has been the longest running in the history of Ireland.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The long tedious march towards Home Rule in Ireland

Today we take self government for granted both in the Republic and, more recently, in Northern Ireland.  The combined population of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in 2012 is 6.16 million and 4.58 million men and women (74% of the population) have the right to vote and stand for election.  There was an era when democracy could not have been taken quite so much for granted. Approximately 750 families owned over 50% of the land mass of Ireland.

Back in 1880 less than 230,000 Irish men were entitled to vote at a time when the population of the island was approximately 5 million.  That meant, for example,  that less than 4.4% of Ireland’s population determined who the 103 male MPs that represented Irish interests in Westminster were. Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) had been an MP from 1875 until his death in 1891 at the age of 45, initially standing for Meath, but from 1880 he was MP for Cork.

There was a general election in 1880 which returned William Gladstone (1809-1898), the Liberal Party Leader installed as Prime Minister, having previously been Prime Minister from 1868 to 1874. Gladstone governed with a majority of 25 seats. Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary Party won 63 of the 652 seats in that election with 95,535 votes – almost 10% of the seats with 2.8% of the total votes cast.  The total number entitled to vote in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1880 was only slightly over 3.3 million.

The next general election took place in 1885 but the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland electorate had been enlarged to about 5.5 million men, of whom 737,965 were resided and voted in Ireland. The number of seats in the House of Commons increased from 652 to 670 which meant that a government needed the support of 336 MPs for a majority. 

Gladstone won 319 seats in the 1885 general election but Parnell won 86 with 310,608 votes and as the Conservative and Unionists had won 237 seats Parnell held the balance of power in 1885. The larger Catholic electorate in Ireland now included smallholders as well as the well heeled and the poorer classes were strong supporters of Parnell.

Home Rule in Ireland was a major issue in the 1885 general election with both the Conservatives and Liberals appearing disposed to it.  The enlarged electorate greatly diminished Conservative and Protestant influence in all parts of Ireland, apart from the North-East and in the Trinity College Dublin constituency which elected two MPs, both Unionist. 

The impact of the Great Famine in 1847 had also swelled the Irish population resident in Great Britain where it was estimated to have been upwards of two million persons, a great number of whom resided in clusters throughout Britain.  The Irish influence the rest of the United Kingdom was negligible prior to the legislative changes in 1884, which extended voting rights to all men paying an annual rent of £10, or more and all men holding land valued at £10, or more.  The changes of 1884 did not establish universal suffrage because all women and about 40% of the male population were excluded from standing or voting.  While two-thirds of men in Britain had voting rights only half the men in Ireland did.

The ambition for Home Rule had existed since the Act of Union shuttered the Parliament of Ireland at College Green Dublin in 1800.

The first of four Home Rule Bills was introduced by Gladstone in April 1886, in the 49th year of the reign of Queen Victoria.  It sought to establish a devolved assembly in Ireland.  This would have consisted of a single parliamentary chamber consisting of two Orders which could meet jointly, or separately.  The first Order was to have consisted of 100 peers: - 28 representative peers, elected by other Irish peers to sit in the House of Lords, plus 75 other peers elected by a very narrowly defined electorate.  The second Order was to have consisted of either 204, or 206 parliamentary representatives.  There were to have been no Irish MPs sitting in Westminster after the legislation was passed.  Executive power was to have been held by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, based at Dublin Castle who was advised by the Irish Privy Council.  Abbeville, in Kinsealy, recently the home of former Fianna Fáil Leader, Charles Haughey TD, was one of the summer residences of the Lord Lieutenant.

The first Home Rule Bill was debated for two months before its was voted on and defeated on 8 June 1886 when 341 MPs (including 93 from Gladstone’s Liberals voted against it and 311 supported it.  Parliament was dissolved on 26 June 1886 and a general election was called.

The 1886 general election cost Gladstone 127 seats while the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists picked up 144 seats giving them a 57 seat majority.  Liberal Unionists (a breakaway faction of the Liberal Party, accounted for 77 seats in this bloc.  The Irish Parliamentary Party gained a seat bringing its representation at Westminster to 85. The Prime Minister for the next six years was Lord Salisbury (1830-1903), formerly Robert Cecil and Viscount Cranbourne – and opponent of Home Rule in Ireland.  His accomplishments included the setting up of London County Council and spending £20 million on new ships for the Royal Navy making it twice the size of its nearest rival. Salisbury and his wife had eight children and he was considered to be a powerful intellectual heavyweight in the tomes of Conservative Party history. 

He appointed Edward Gibson, later Lord Ashbourne (1837-1913) as his Lord Chancellor of Ireland.  Gibson was born at 22 Merrion Square, Dublin, educated at Trinity College and was a Queens Counsel by profession who was an MP for the Trinity College constituency from 1875 to 1885.

He had been Attorney General for Ireland and drafted legislation known as the Ashbourne Act which set up a £5 million fund to allow tenants buy land by way of government loan repayable on a monthly basis over 48 years at an interest rate of 4%.  Ashbourne remained Lord Chancellor of Ireland for 20 years except for the three-year period from 1892 when the Liberals under Gladstone returned to power.  He lived on Pembroke Street in Dublin, died in London and his ashes were interred in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The enduring legacy of RMS Titanic

There has hardly been a catastrophe at sea which has endured so vividly in the public memory as the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic. a 46,328 ton vessel that was supposed to be unsinkable.

One hundred years ago today, on Thursday, 11 April 1912 the liner arrived in Queenstown (now Cobh, Co. Cork) having sailed from Belfast to Southampton via Cherbourg.  Eight passengers disembarked at Cobh, seven of whom were first-class passengers, the eighth a fireman. The disembarking passengers included Fr Franics M Browne SJ who at at that time was studying to be a Jesuit priest in Milltown Park, Dublin and his were the only photographs that survived.

The 120 who boarded, of whom 38 survived.  These mostly travelling steerage (3rd class) and between £7 and £8 for a ticket while some of the first-class tickets cost over £200.  A 3-bedroom house in Dublin in that era sold for approximately £700.  A small number of those who embarked in Cobh travelled second class but these were in the main Irish-Americans who had been on short visits to Ireland.  Approximately 280 Belfast-based crew members delivered the Titanic to Southampton. The designer of the Titanic, Thomas Andrews (39) was one of the first-class passengers who travelled onwards but lost his life.  Andrews was from Comber, Co Down and was a nephew of the owner of Harland & Wolff, Lord Pirie.

Titantic had been build by Harland and Wolff in Belfast at a cost of £1.5 million.  It could accommodate 2,599 passengers and a crew of 903 persons. The Chairman of The White Star Line, J Bruce Ismay inherited the business in 1899 from his deceased father Thomas, who had originally acquired the then bankrupt business in 1868 for £1,000.  Ismay senior had struck a friendship with Gustav Wolff shortly after he acquired The White Star Line. The cusp of the twentieth century was a time when steam ships were replacing sailing ships and he intended and Bruce Ismay envisioned transatlantic travel becoming a luxury experience.  Between 1901 and 1907 he brought four large ships into service (Adriatic, Baltic Cedric and Celtic).  Each could accommodate 400 first-class and second-class passengers; 2,000 in third-class and had a large cargo capacity.

The Titanic was one of 13 ships that carried passengers, cargo and mail across the Atlantic but it was intended to replicate the exceptional luxury and grandeur of an English country house. It was owned by the White Star Line was sold to Hartford CT native JP Morgan (1837-1913) in 1902 although the Chairman of White Star Line, Bruce Ismay became its President and the firm operated 29 steamers and tenders and had an ownership interest in 13 other steamers. Morgan’s shipping conglomerate, International Mercantile Marine Co was set up to monopolize the shipping trade but the sinking of the Titanic caused it to cash-flow problems in 1914 which led to it missing a bond payment and receivership and dollops of US federal funding followed in 1915.  The White Star subsidiary was eventually sold in 1926 to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co.

Transatlantic liners of that era typically followed specific routes that varied somewhat by season in order to avoid the hazards of fog and ice but apparently made ad-hoc diversions in the interest of speed and cutting voyage time.  The usual route, prior to the Titanic catastrophe, would have been on an arc from the Fastnet Lighthouse in West Cork to a point 42N and 47W  - east of Cape Cod and from there to pass to the south-east of Nantucket. Shoals, an area of perilous shallow waters that extends 40 kilometres to the east of the island  The route passes about 45 kilometres south of an area known to be prone to ice between March and July. 

Bruce Ismay, (1862-1937) and Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon (1862-1931), a Scottish landowner and fencing competitor in the 1906 Olympics, were first-class passengers who survived the tragedy but were alleged to have bribed the crew in their lifeboat not to rescue people in the water.  They were exonerated in the two official enquiries but the number rescued was several hundred less than the wholly inadequate lifeboat capacity on board the Titanic

It also transpired that instead of having 48 lifeboats with sufficient capacity for all passengers and crew that the Titanic only had 14 thirty foot long each capable of carrying 65 passengers; two 25 foot cutter capable of carrying 40 passengers.  Lifeboat capacity was based on a formula related to tonnage rather than passenger capacity.  There were four other collapsible boats which brought the overall life-saving accommodation sufficient for 1,178 persons. There were 2,208 passengers and crew on board and 1,500 of these lost their lives.

The Titanic travelled at 21.5 knots for the two hours prior to the collision with the iceberg that sank it and it was alleged that Ismay has urged to skipper to undertake some speed tests.  Despite warnings about ice in the vicinity the skipper neither reduced speed nor materially altered course by sailing south rather than west.

There had been several warnings of icebergs in the vicinity from other ships. Titanic hit the iceberg on its starboard but some commentators have suggested that had it struck the iceberg head on there would have been less damage to the vessel.  The weather was described as being perfectly clear and mild.

The collision occurred at 11.40 PM on 15th April and the vessel foundered 2.20 AM.  The nearest potential rescue boat was approximately 100 kilometres away. That was the SS Carpathia owned by Cunard which was on a voyage from New York to Liverpool but was almost 100 kilometres away.  Marconi radio communications were in their infancy then but proved vital to securing the aid of Carpathia which arrived four hours later and two hours after the Titanic foundered.

Titanic was travelling too fast in dangerous waters.  A rib of ice cut the whole of her belly and cut open four of the bulkheads which were supposed to be preserve the safety of the vessel.

Ismay was slated by the British media and ostracised by British society.  He departed White Star Line in 1913 and he retired to Costelloe Lodge Co. Galway.  He died in London in 1937 having suffered the amputation of a foot following complications with diabetes.

Both the British and the American authorities conducted inquiries into the disaster.  Lord Mersey was appointed Wrecks Commissioner by the British Board of Trade while the American inquiry was led by Senator William Alden Smith (R-Michigan) (1859-1932) and Senator Isidor Rayner (D-Maryland) (1850-1912) and conducted at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York in the days immediately after the catastrophe.

The human cost of the catastrophe can be summarised as follows:


  Total Listed Survived Lost
First Class 329 199 130
Second Class 285 119 166
Third Class 710 174 536
Crew 899 214 685
TOTAL 2,223 706 1,517






The House of Commons debated the Mersey Report in July 1912 and one of the outcomes was a regulation to have sufficient life-saving accommodation for all passengers and crew.

Leslie Scott MP represented the interests of nine-tenths of the total tonnage of the United Kingdom through the Shipowners’ Parliamentary Committee in the debate.  He was anxious to disabuse the public that ship owners make money while disregarding the risk to human life by pointing out that ‘wrecks and loss of life alike, are bad for business.  The foundation of a ship owners’ prosperity is to win a reputation for safe ships and for not losing human lives.’

The character of the mercantile industry has been through a period of dramatic change.  There were 15,000 sailing ships in 1880 but by 1910 there were 5,000.  The 15,000 ships were manned by 152,000 sailors while the 5,000 were manned by 35,000 sailors

There were 3,700 steamers in 1880 with a gross tonnage of 2.5 million manned by 18,000 sailors.  This number mushroomed to 9,400 steamers by 1910 with a gross tonnage of 10.5 million manned by 250,000 sailors.  The MPs pointed out that only 118 lives had been lost their lives crossing the Atlantic in the 20 years before 1912, but what consequence does this statistic have if over 1,500 lives are lost in a single incident?  The Titanic sank having only completed 2,418 kilometres of the 3,170 kilometre voyage. Its wreck is located in in 1985 in 3,900 metres of water some 750 kilometres to the south-east of Halifax Nova Scotia.

Friday, April 6, 2012

April 2012 is a major Irish historical milestone

This week marks the centenary of a series of events that were major milestones in Irish history, a beacon for the future as we contemporaneously know it.

It was on Monday 11 April 1912 that the British Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith introduced the 3rd Home Rule Bill into the House of Commons. The effect of the legislation would have been to establish a devolved parliament in Dublin with 164 members and a nominated Senate with 40 members.

The Home Rule movement reflected a desire for the repeal of the Act of Union of 1800 which shuttered the Irish Parliament in College Green. The first Home Rule Bill was passed in the House of Commons in 1886 but never introduced in the House of Lords. The second Home Rule Bill was passed in the House of Commons in 1893 but defeated in the House of Lords. William Gladstone was Liberal Prime Minister in 1886 and again from 1892 to 1894. He had also been Prime Minister from 1868 to 1874 and from 1880 to 1885.

The Third Home Rule Bill (1912) was passed with Royal Assent but never came into force due to the start of World War I. The fourth Home Rule Bill became the Government of Ireland Act 1920 which established the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and resulted in the political partition of the island.

There were 103 MPs in the House of Commons representing Ireland in the 31st Parliament which had been elected in December 1910. The Bill proposed to reduce this number to 42 Irish MPs – one MP for every 100,000 citizens. This would have brought about a realignment of constituencies with the merger of some boroughs and counties ad the grouping of some counties which previously had an MP of their own. Three boroughs would remain with Belfast having 4 MPs, Dublin 3 MPs and Cork 1. The representation for party purposes would have consisted roughly of 8 Unionists and 34 Nationalists. Ireland had been contributing £2 million per annum to the Imperial Exchequer in the 1890’s but by 1912 it was the recipient of somewhat less than £2 million and there was agitation by British MPs about Ireland accounting for 103 of the 670-member House but not being a contributor the Exchequer.

The idea behind the Bill, which was the first-ever devolution initiative by Parliament, was to devolve local affairs to local bodies while the House of Commons would represent the common interest of the constituent elements of the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland and discharge corporate trust to the Empire as a whole.

There were three components of Irish nationalism in the House of Commons (Irish Parliamentary Party, All-for-Ireland Party and Independent Nationalists) and they accounted for 84 of the 103 Irish seats. The Irish Parliamentary Party held 74 of these seats with just 90,416 general election votes (11% of the seats with 1.8% of the votes). The total number of votes cast in the election was 4,870,409. All Irish nationalists accounted for just 121,649 votes in a region with a population of 3,140,000.

The Bill was rejected by the Unionists whose leader Captain James Craig (1871-1940) MP for Down East from 1906. He later became the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and in 1918 he was created the 1st Viscount Craigavon by King George V. Craig’s career in politics was helped by the £100,000 legacy that he inherited from his father, a distiller.

Craig was aided and abetted by Sir Edward Carson MP for Dublin University (1854-1935) and Leader of the Unionist Alliance and Ulster Unionist Party. Carson was born in Harcourt Street Dublin (named after 1st Earl Harcourt, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in October 1772). He was the barrister who defended the Marquis of Queensberry in a criminal libel action against Oscar Wilde in 1895 concerning Wilde’s homosexual relationship with the son of the Marquess, Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde abandoned this case when Carson indicated that he intended to present male prostitutes as witnesses who would testify that they has sex with Wilde.

The 31st Parliament represented an era of considerable change. Asquith (1852-1928) MP for East Fife was a Yorkshire native and Prime Minister from 1908 TO 1916 and was the longest serving prime minister until his longevity was eclipsed by Thatcher in 1988. His grand daughter is actress Helena Bonham Carter (b1966).

The Liberals abandoned their laissez faire philosophy of minimal government intervention replacing it with a collectivist approach. This found expression in the introduction for the first time of non-contributory old age pensions in 1908. Approximately 170,000 persons in Ireland over 70 years of age qualified for a pension which was worth five shillings (€0.32) for single people and seven shillings and six pence (€0.48) per week for married people. There were more old age pensioners in Ireland in 1908 than in Scotland and Wales combined where the population of pensioners was 86,745. The total population of old age pensioners in 1908 was 596,038 and Ireland accounted for 43% of the total.

Asquith’s Government also introduced the National Insurance Act 1911 which introduce health and unemployment benefits for the first time. Those who earned £160 per years paid 4 pence per week to which the employer added 3pence and the State 2 pence. This meant that sick workers could be paid 10 shillings for the first 13 weeks of an illness and 5 shillings for the next 13 weeks.

The unemployment benefit was financed by a weekly contribution of 2½ pence each from the worker and employer and 3 pence from the State. After a week of unemployment a worker would be eligible to receive 7 shillings for up to 15 weeks in a year.

A land tax was proposed as an element of the Parliament Act 1911 which impacted large land owners but when the Conservative dominated Lords voted this Bill down Asquith called a general election in May 1910 from which he formed a minority government. The Lords voted this Bill down again and Asquith called a second general election in December 2010, this time calling for a mandate for constitutional change. King Edward VII died in 1910 and his successor King George V indicated that he would create 100 new Liberal peers to neutralise the Conservative majority in the House of Lords.

The Irish Parliamentary Party MPs became Asquith’s coalition partners after the December 1910 general election. They supported the Parliament Act in the belief that if the veto of the House of Lords vanished it would be possible to achieve Irish Home Rule as this had been rejected by the Lords in 1893 and the passage of the Parliament Act did lead to the passage of the Third Home Rule Bill in 1914, known as the Government of Ireland Act 1914.

Asquith also had to deal with the issue of women and the right to vote. This issue was championed by the Suffragette Movement and eventually succeeded in 1918. But during the 31st Parliament Asquith passed the Cat and Mouse Act 1913 which allowed a jailed suffragette on hunger strike to be released from prison in an attempt to divert embarrassment for the government if that person died from starving by attributing blame for the death to the victim of it. Their hunger strikes were declared legal by this legislation.

When the Government of Ireland Act 1914 was passed it became the first law ever passed to establish devolved government in the United Kingdom.  The implementation of it was postponed for 12 months after the outbreak of World War I. Unionist opposition led to further postponements.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Greater transparency urgently needed in Ireland after Mahon Tribunal findings

The publication of The Mahon Tribunal findings highlighted the urgent need to make the political system in Ireland more honest, more transparent and more accountable.

The passage of the Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Bill 2011 will reduce the threshold for reporting donations to political parties and politicians. The maximum amount of political donations which can be accepted, in the case of a political party, will be reduced from €6,348 to €2,500 and in the case of an elected politician from €2,539 to €1,000. A political party will be required to report donations to the Standards in Public Office Commission of €1,500, or more while a candidate for political office will be required to report all donations above €600.

Companies, trade unions, societies and building societies will have to report all donations over €200 in their annual reports, having previously only been obliged to report donations above €5,078.

This reform is to be followed by a Government commitment to introducing a statutory register of lobbyists this year and to establish rules governing the practice of lobbying and representations on this matter have been received from a number of interested parties.

The underlying intention of this is to make politics more transparent; to make the political enterprise more accessible to everyone. The positive contribution that lobbyists make is acknowledged – by putting forward the views of vested interests to policy makers leading to better legislation.

The British Government also intend to regulate lobbyists. They suggest that a lobbying firm would have to register quarterly with details for public inspection of the registered address of the company and its registration number; the number its employees on lobbying activity; whether those employees are former minister or senior civil servants and their client lists.

A self-employed lobbyist would be obliged to provide on quarterly details of clients.

At the heart of this would be the definition of a lobbyist. The voluntary register of lobbyists maintained by the UK Public Affairs Council defines lobbying, as activity in a professional capacity, that attempts to influence, or advise the British Government, Parliament, devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government, or other public bodies on any matter within their competence with respect to legislation or proposals for legislation; the formulation, modification or adoption of a rule, regulation or any other programme, policy or position; or the negotiation, award or administration of a public contract, grant, loan, permit or licence.

The British Government consider the foregoing definition unsatisfactory because the concept of attempting to influence is extremely broad and that it can be difficult to prove intention underlying action. A very broad definition can also have unintended consequences. Would too broad a definition of a lobbyists, for example, oblige lawyers advising lobbyists on employment law, or a building design expert helping a campaigning organisation to reduce energy consumption to register as a lobbyist?

Ireland could learn from the approach to lobbying elsewhere.

European Union

A voluntary joint European Parliament and Commission Transparency Register was launched last June in order to register and monitor ‘organisations and self-employed persons engaged in EU policy making and policy implementation’.

The scope of this covers all activities carried out with the objective of directly, or indirectly influencing the formulation or implementation of policy and the decision-making processes of the EU institutions, irrespective of the channel or method of communication used. The scope excludes legal advice and the activities of social partners acting in an official designated capacity under a specific Treaty. Churches, religious communities, political parties, local, regional and municipal authorities are also excluded but any representative office or legal entities, offices and networks created to represent them are expected to register.

Networks which have no legal status or legal personality but which constitute a source of organised influence and which are engaged in activities falling within the scope of the register are expected to register.

Registration is free but conditional on signing up to a code of conduct that requires transparency over who lobbyists are, who they represent and their aims and objectives.

Information must be updated at least annually in addition to indicating the areas of policy in which they have an interest. Professional consultancies are expected to disclose their turnover that results from activities that fall within the scope of the register. They must list their clients in decreasing order of contract value. Trade and professional associations are expected to provide an estimate of the cost associated with their activities associated with the activities falling within the scope of the register. And to publish tier overall budget and sources of funding, including disclosure of funding from other EU instritutions.

United States

American legislation defines a lobbyist as any individual compensated by a client for services that include more than one lobbying contract – that is, more than one communication where there is an attempt to influence – except where lobbying activities constitute less than 20% of their time over a 3-month period. A client is defined as any person or entity who employs and compensates another person to conduct lobbying activities on their behalf. Groups that carry out lobbying activities on their own behalf must also register.

A lobbyist whose lobbying expenses exceed, or are expected to exceed a $3,000 threshold over a 3-month period is required to register once he or she has had a lobbying contact with senior members of the legislative or executive branch of the US Federal Government, or with senior officials.

Lobbyists in the US are required to file quarterly reports of their activities and identifying the name of the firm or entity; the number employed in lobbying and the entities and issues which are lobbied.


There has been lobbying legislation in place since 1989 which was revised in 2008. Activities covering more than 20% of time lobbying are captured. Exceptions include communications restricted to requests for information already in the public domain and the preparation and presentation of material to parliamentary committees.


Lobbying in Australia has been regulated since 1983 with a separate register for foreign and local lobbyists. Lobbyists were obliged to register when they took on a client and to provide a description of the pertinent lobbying activity. A lobbyist required a letter from the Registrar before approaching a minister or officials about the issue which concerned the lobbying.

Government representatives are not allowed, since 2008, to knowingly engage in lobbying activities with unregistered individuals.

Lobbying activities in Australia mean communications with a government representative in an effort to influence government decision making, or amendment of legislation, the development or amendment of a government policy or programme; the awarding of a contract or grant or the allocation of funding.

But it does not include communication with a parliamentary committee or the communication with a minister or parliamentary secretary with respect to non-ministerial matters. It does not include communication with respect to calls for submissions, petitions, or grass roots campaigns with respect to changing a policy or decision. It does not include communications in response to a request for a tender; statements made in a public forum or responses to government to requests for information.

A lobbyist in Australia does not include a charitable, religious or other organisation or funds that are endorsed as a deductible gift recipient; non-profit organisations or associations constituted to represent the interests of their members that are not endorsed as deductible gift recipients; individuals making representations on behalf of relatives or friends about their affairs; foreign trade delegations visiting Australia; professional whose everyday work involves dealing with government representatives in a professional capacity (e.g. an auditor or broker); or members of professions, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants or service providers who make occasional representations to government on behalf of others in a way that is incidental to the provision of that particular service

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Urgent reality check should dissolve the board of the Health & Safety Executive

Last week the spending proclivities of taxpayers’ money by the board of the Health & Safety Authority on themselves got an airing at the Public Accounts Committee. They apparently spent €625,000 from 2005 to 2011 but the explanation of this sought since last July is still not forthcoming.

The Chairman of the Committee, John McGuinness TD referred to spending on wine, flowers and restaurants. A trip to Paris apparently cost €1,250. Dinners’ two days apart from each other
cost €2,208 and €2,220 each and the restaurant tip was €300! A total of €4,086 was spent on
travel in a single day, the purpose of which was ‘unexplained’. Purchases from a health centre in Limerick cost €200.

Public curiosity in this matter started on 6 July 2011 when an internal audit got under way. The Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation reported to the Public Accounts Committee 17 November that the internal audit took five months to complete and that the report of it would be issued, but that no evidence has emerged of ‘wholesale, or systematic abuse of corporate credit cards at the Health & Safety Executive’. Apparently more questions have arisen for the HSA.

Up to €25,000 of this expenditure was ‘questionable’. My curiosity became agitated. I am puzzled to understand if the Members’ appetite for corporate governance has been as refined and elegant as their passion for epicurean splendour and fresh flowers. Furthermore, is this form of institutional governance really fit for purpose in a State that has endured 338 workplace fatalities
during the 6-year period of this splurge?

Compliance is the cornerstone of the HSA regime. Achieving and maintaining a high level of compliance requires effective enforcement and uncompromising efficiency. Is this achievable under the auspices of a 12-person board, comprising lobbyists’ and ‘happy-clappy’ political appointees of a chronically failed government who are supposed to determine ‘operational policy’? There is not a single word in the HSA annual reports from 2005 to 2010 to describe the
leadership, governance, technical and professional credentials of the Members of the Authority.

The annual reports of 2005, 2006 and 2007 did not include detailed audited accounts. This blatantly disregards the Code of Governance of State Bodies published by the Department of Finance over a decade ago. The toleration of this must have required the blind-eye of the former
Secretary-General of the parent Department. He was once a member of the board that presided over the rampant, inept corporate governance and delinquency at FÁS and who allowed Rody Molloy depart for good in a taxpayer-owned Audi, as if that was Molloy’s inalienable right.
The published HSA financial data from 2005 to 2008 could have been printed on a bus ticket. No wonder it takes over nine months to conduct an internal audit of boardroom spending for the Public Accounts Committee in such a self-serving culture of mottled opacity and muddled priorities.

The annual reports of 2009 and 2010 contained somewhat more detailed information that included a reference to a fund called Grant XO1 (Note 11 Board Members Disclosure of Transactions).This amounted to €410,000 over these two years. While the name of this grant sounds like a washing powder additive intended to take stubborn stains out of old men’s underwear, it was, apparently, supposed to fund a number of ‘external organisations’ and ‘strategic partnerships’, which were directly connected to Members’ of the Authority who presumably enjoyed the hospitality of the corporate credit card. The approved fund was paid into that most ambiguous of cul-de-sacs, a ‘partnership account’, which was “controlled” by the
noblesse oblige of the Construction Industry Federation, an entity which has not issued audited accounts for public inspection, or an explanation of what becomes of ‘partnership money’.

It is impossible for taxpayers to discern if Grant XO1 had a legacy prior to 2009 because of sparse information but I would like to know who the actual beneficiaries were; how this money was spent and what was accomplished throughout the life cycle of this grant.

Substantial money spent by the National Health Service Partnership Forum allocated to SIPTU never even found its way onto the SIPTU financial radar. This is the reason that there is no difference in the mind of taxpayers’ between a ‘partnership account’ and a slush fund for self-important apparatchiks’ of elite soviets to attend foreign sporting events at taxpayers’ expense.

This board structure is obsolete. It ought to be promptly replaced by a Health & Safety Commissioner whose reporting protocol would not be dissimilar in nature to that of the Director of Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement – and without a board of directors.

The immediate impact of this would save taxpayers €120,000+ per annum in fees and direct expenses and the public would have a clear-sighted, unambiguous understanding of where precisely responsibility and authority rests for the promotion of health and safety on the farm and in the workplace and compliance with the law.

The British counterpart of the Health & Safety Authority is the Health & Safety Executive. It has a board of nine members. Detailed biographical details are available on each director together
with extracts from the Register of Interests. The budget of the British body is £236 million – ten times larger than the HSA. It has in the region of 3,500 permanent employees compared to 175 in the HSA.

There were 48 workplace fatalities in Ireland in 2010 compared to 152 in the UK. Radical change might lead to radical improvement.