Monday, February 21, 2011

Shoddy corporate housekeeping at the Road Safety Authority

The essential role of Ireland’s Road Safety Authority is the advocacy of public compliance insofar as it relates to road safety, so I was surprised to discover some shortcomings with respect to compliance by the Authority itself

The Authority’s 2009 Annual Report is based on accounts that are unsigned by the chief executive and chief financial officer and are unaudited. There is not a single note to elaborate on the contents of the accounts, or to reflect compliance in all material respects with the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies.

The Annual Report identified one board member as Chairman of the Internal Audit Committee. There is no information to indicate what qualifies him to take on this role, nor is there any indication who the other member of the Internal Audit Committee are; if there is a member of the staff of the Department of Transport on that Committee; how many meetings were convened in 2009 and what they have to say to taxpayers.

The Chairman of the Remuneration Committee has been a member of the Court of Bank of Ireland since 2005. That is an institution that is intimately familiar with finer the dynamics of remuneration. They have paid themselves in the region of €47 million since 2005.

The Annual Report neglects to identify the membership of the Remuneration Committee; nor does it disclose the details of the chief executive’s remuneration and board members’ expenses, as required by the Code promulgated by the Department of Finance.

When it appeared last November that the Roma beggars who sit on their arse on the streets of Dublin were more au fait with the arrival of the IMF in Ireland than the Minister for Transport was prepared to admit, a taxpayer would be forgiven for concluding that former Minister Dempsey’s understanding of codes, accounts and governance issues might be compromised by an inability, on his part, to differentiate between a balance sheet and a bingo card.

Ireland is about to embark on the PBE (post-Beverly era) after next Friday’s general election and a new generation of politicians are more likely to emerge who will trim their flaming red eyebrows from time to time. An opportunity for the Road Safety Authority to synchronise with this change, show leadership and creativity could lie in how it reports to its stakeholders.

The membership of the Authority, for example, is currently defined by a set of names that presumably tally with those on corresponding birth certificates and utility bills and photographs which confirm gender and if there is a proclivity to smile. But, with the exception of Gay Byrne with whom the public are most familiar and whom they trust, these details convey no information to describe what credentials the other members have to advocate road safety as set out in S14 (4) of the Act and their capacity to contribute to the orderly governance of the Authority to a standard more desirable than that which prevailed at FÁS or Dublin Docklands Development Authority over the past several years.

Taxpayers, with their financial partners in the IMF, ECB and HM Treasury pay Authority membership fees and require more information about these individuals than might be typically forthcoming from a cohort of masked members of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940’s.

The mission of the Road Safety Authority as ‘simple’. Fast food stalls at a farmers market have a ‘simple’ mission. The mission of the Authority to be relatively complex, far reaching and sophisticated, as it seeks to fundamentally change stubborn and embedded social habits. The catastrophic distress caused by delinquent banks is of such viral and venal gravity as to prompt the desirability of research to establish the significance of the correlation between instances of suicide involving single vehicle collisions and financial distress attributable to Ireland’s delinquent banks.

A culture of fossilised inertia based on ‘twill do’ and shure, what’s wrong with it’ no longer pleases a very restless, agitated and wounded society.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Compulsion will not boost Irish language

Media report sthat Enda Kenny is under pressure over the Fine Gael Irish language plan in the TG 4 debate (17 February) should more properly prompt the language advocates to question their own competence to nourish the language and the enduring legacy of their efforts and vision.

Our 80-year legacy of compulsory Irish teaching in schools has produced 1.6 million people who claim to have a familiarity with the language, according to the 2006 census. But that legacy is incapable of securing a thriving future for Irish. The objective of the recently inaugurated Irish language policy is to nourish the more spontaneous and widespread speaking of Irish on a daily basis by 250,000 people within 20 years. Progress towards this target will depend on personal preference, curiosity, passion and conviction, nor compulsion.

Any viable policy with respect to Irish must first discern which factors underlie changes in personal tastes, habits and preferences.

Our society, for example, embraced refused recycling, a disinclination to smoke cigarettes and a massive preference for wine at the expense of beer over the past decade, totally on a voluntary, or optional basis.

Compulsion, politicians promises, hare-brained policies and millions of euro poured into sterile vested interests will not, on their own, be the powerful catalyst to inspire the necessary passion for the Irish language to thrive. There is no substitute for a genuine affection for the language itself.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Large leap in Irish public sector pensioner numbers

Ireland’s Department of Finance has published the 2011 Revised Estimates Volume which complements the details contained in the 2011 Budget. The following is a summary of the Estimates for this year:

Gross Estimates
(including expenditure from the Social Insurance Fund and the National Training Fund)




Change %

Current Expenditure




Capital Expenditure








Net Estimates




Change %

Current Expenditure




Capital Expenditure








Significant Changes from 2007 to 2011

  • Gross National Product decline by 20.2% from 2007 to 2011
  • Gross Current Expenditure as a % of GNP to rise from 30% in 2007 to 41% in 2011
  • Gross Current Expenditure to increase by 8.3% from €48,798 million in 2007 to €52,826 million in 2011
  • Gross Current Expenditure as a % of GNP to rise from 30% in 2007 to 41% in 2011
  • The number of public service pensioners to rise from 86,780 in 2007 to 124,090 in 2011, + 43%
  • Gross Voted Capital Expenditure to drop by 43% from €8,143 million in 2007 to €4,676 million in 2011
  • Public service employment to rise from 271,858 in 2007 to 302,140 in 2011 (+30,282 / +11.1%)
  • The ratio of public sector staff to public sector pensioners will have increased from 32% in 2007 to 41% in 2011.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Evolving Role of the US Secret Service

The United States Secret Service has been in existence since 1865 and has an annual budget broadly similar to that of FÁS - $1.57 million and a staff of 3.200 personnel. It has two functions – ‘criminal investigation’ and ‘protection’. Almost $800 million of this is spent directly on protection.

The catalyst for setting up the US SS was a need to combat currency counterfeiting. This had become a real problem throughout the Civil War when between ⅓ and ½ of all US currency in circulation was counterfeit and this continued to be its only function until 1894 when it function evolved to include protection and the investigation of the Ku Klux Klan and counter-espionage during World War I.

The US SS today investigates counterfeiting and financial crimes involving identity theft, credit card fraud, counterfeiting, computer-based fraud and attacks on the US financial, banking and telecommunications infrastructure. The protection mission covers the President, Vice President, former Presidents and candidates for President, visiting dignitaries and the families of the Head of State and Vice President.

The protection role began in 1894 with the protection of President Grover Cleveland on a part-time basis. President McKinley received protection during the Spanish-American War and there were three agents present when he was assassinated in Buffalo. The transfer of several agents in 1908 to the Department of Justice served as the foundation team in the establishment of the FBI. A 1917 Act made it a crime to threaten a President. The White House Police force was created in 1922 to secure and patrol the Executive Mansion. The protection of the President role was further enhanced in the 1950’s and in 1965 this was upgraded to include ‘permanent protection’. Following the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, Jacqui Kennedy and her children were protected for two years and now Presidents and their spouse are protected for the duration of their lives and, in the case of their children – until they are 16 years old. Diplomatic missions now come within the remit of the US SS.

President Woodrow Wilson introduced the espionage mandate in 1915 and in 1948 the US SS was directed to investigate crimes against the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, federal land banks, and various farm loan associations. Nowadays it investigates a wide range of crimes against financial institutions, telemarketing and identity theft used in committing these crimes.

The post 11 September 2001 environment in the US has extended the US SS mandate to cover terrorist financing and financial crimes, including money laundering, counterfeiting and other offences that threaten the integrity of the banking and financial systems.

Presidential safety is an enduring concern that began in 1861 with fears for the safety of Abraham Lincoln on his journey from Illinois to his inauguration in Washington DC. More recently, there have been security breaches at White House dinners in November 2009 when two gate-crashers were discovered.

Ten Presidents have been victims of direct assault by assassins with four resulting in death. But only one death has occurred since the US SS began protecting Presidents in 1906.

The direct assault on Presidents protected by the Secret Service included:

Date President Location Assailant
1 Nov 1950 Harry S Truman Washington DC Oscar Collazo and Griseillo Torressola, advocates of Puerto Rican independence.
22 Nov 1963 John F Kennedy Dallas TX Lee Harvey Oswald
5 Sep 1975 Gerald Ford Sacramento CA Lynette Alice Fromme
22 Sep 1975 Gerald Ford San Francisco CA Sara Jane Moore
30 Mar 1981 Ronald Reagan Washington DC John Hinkley Jr
29 Oct 1994 Bill Clinton Washington DC Francesco Duran
10 May 2005 George Bush Tiblisi, Georgia Vladimir Arutyunian

Monday, February 14, 2011

National Consumer Agency to tackle Irish Mail on Sunday over Sunday Tribune stunt

It was reported in the Irish Independent on February 12th that the National Consumer Agency is ‘actively pursuing’ a complaint from the National Union of Journalists and the Sunday Tribune with respect to the publication of a bogus ‘Sunday Tribune’ cover on the Irish Mail on Sunday issue of February 6th. It was also reported that Associated Newspapers could face legal action under the Consumer Protection Act 2007.

The National Consumer Agency in Ireland was set up in 2007. It has a budget of €6.1 million and 42 staff. Its chief executive, Ann Fitzgerald, is paid €186,190. Fitzgerald is a former Director of Consumer Affairs.  Its board includes

The United States Department of Commerce was set up in 1903. It has a budget of $6.5 billion and has a staff of 38,000. Its chief executive, Gary Locke, is paid €146,760. Locke was a two-term Governor of Washington and is the first Chinese-American to hold Cabinet rank.

The purpose of the National Consumer Agency is to ‘defend consumer interests’ and ‘embed a consumer culture’ in Ireland. Forceful advocacy, targeted research, consumer information, education and awareness programmes are the prime tools of this Agency.

Writing as a taxpayer, why is the State should become involved in a case that a multinational company of the size of Independent News & Media Plc could quite easily pursue on its own account, should it choose to do so?

It seems to me that the State has become the bearer of all risk making many of the nation’s lawyers fat, smug and unseemly prosperous while those who ought to be risk bearers can exploit the moral hazard opportunities that arise when another party pays the bills and carries the can.

The State hasn’t lifted a finger to implement the recommendations of the Competition Authority to liberate the archaic legal services sector. The absolute and total capitulation of authority by the Government to Members’ of Tribunals to determine Tribunal lawyers’ fees exposes our buffeted, put-upon nation to an estimated liability of €366 million, whenever the Tribunals finally conclude, which is as difficult to define in advance as is the date of the Islamic New Year. While that fact remains uncertain and ambiguous there was no such ambiguity when the Moriarty Tribunal paid three senior counsel €2,500 per day for 304 days in 2008, notwithstanding that the Tribunal sat in public session for an average of 20 days in the last three years.

This scale of expenditure by taxpayers on Tribunals is sufficient to pay for the parking of 200 cars belonging to members of the Bar Council in the short-term car park at Dublin Airport for 100 years, but that taxpayers are not receiving any return for their money.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ken Olsen–Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation is dead

The death took place last Sunday, 5th February ,of a man Ireland owes a great deal of gratitude to. Ken Olsen, was one of the two founders of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). His company became the second-largest computer company in the United States by inventing small but powerful computers, called minicomputers.

The Digital facility in Galway was the pioneering emblem of industrial development of its time until it closed in February 1993, with the loss of 780 jobs, having been in Galway for the previous 22 years.

Digital had been the economic fulcrum of Galway and the west of Ireland. It trained many of those who were to lead IDA client companies that subsequently came to our shores. It was at the cutting edge of human resource development and was most pro-active in fostering relations with Ireland’s universities. Many post-graduate students gleaned their first insight into a modern industrial facility at that site, where people were treated as a vital resource and great care was taken to integrate excellent talent into all facets of the business. Team working and innovation were hallmarks of DEC in Galway. It is ironic that the vacuum created by the loss of DEC in Galway was filled by another very progressive Massachusetts corporation, Boston Scientific.

Ken Olsen was 84 years old when died. He launched Digital in 1957 when he was 31 years old in a derelict wool mill in Maynard Massachusetts, north-west of Boston with $70,000 in venture capital and loans of $2 million. He, his partner, Harlan Anderson, and his brother Stanley Olsen were the company’s only employees in the early days.

But they created a new generation of the computer industry and at one time DEC was valued in excess of €11 billion and employed 140,000 people worldwide.

Digital achieved its breakthrough by offering a smaller, less- expensive and more user friendly alternative, known as PDP and VAX series, to the bulky IBM System 370 mainframes that dominated the computer industry.

Mainframes were usually run by specially-trained operators based in ultra clean rooms and were off-limits to everyone else. Users typically handed over their computing tasks to specialists, then waited for minutes or hours for the results. The old fashioned computers of the 1960’s co-existed with the telex, the telegram and a pint of Double Diamond!

But the minicomputers developed by Digital were cheap enough for businesses to be less cost conscious. They were also more powerful and companies could buy several and let the all interested employees use the computers directly.

Digital and Wang Laboratories from Lowell Massachusetts (which was based in Limerick for many years), along with their spinoffs, were widely credited with playing a large role in the ‘Massachusetts Miracle’, along the perimeter of Route 128 which circumnavigated Boston in the 1980s.

Despite his abundant prosperity, Ken Olsen resembled a hands-on engineer rather than a billionaire, preferring thick-soled work boots and driving an old Ford Falcon because he admired its design and found it easy to maintain.

Under his leadership, Digital endured financial hazards. It flourished in the mid-1980s and Fortune magazine published a cover story profile on Ken Olsen in 1986, calling him “arguably the most successful entrepreneur in the history of American business.’’

Allowing for inflation, Fortune said, Digital was bigger than Ford Motor Co. at the death of its founder, Henry Ford, and also larger than US Steel when Andrew Carnegie sold his company or Standard Oil when John D. Rockefeller retired.

Digital was second to IBM in the computer industry, though it was less than one-sixth of IBM’s size and 14 years younger.

Digital’s fortunes slumped when it was slow to enter the burgeoning personal computer market and its Apple Mackintosh counterpart. Digital had missed the tide of opportunity. Olsen resigned as president in 1992 and resigned from the board subsequently, cutting ties with the company. Digital was acquired by Compaq in 1998.

Ken Olsen regularly attended the Paulist Fathers Park Street church in Boston, as I did myself on many Sundays. He was a native of Bridgeport Connecticut. He started studying electrical engineering in the US Navy, which he joined in 1944, and continued his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At MIT, he received a bachelor’s degree in 1950 and a master’sin 1952, in electrical engineering.

Afterward, he worked at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory until he launched Digital, getting seed money from the early venture capital firm American Research and Development Corp. That firm was founded in 1946 by a former Dean of the Harvard Business School and a former President of MIT. While Digital changed the computer industry it was this venture capital investment that redefined that business. The financial backers did not want the word computer in the company’s name, so Olsen settled on Digital Equipment Corp., or DEC.

The company had sales of $94,000 in its first year. Times are difficult in Ireland now but in 1971 they were in many ways worse. But Ken Olsen whose arrival in Ireland coincided with the demise of another great economic pioneer, Seán Lemass was a massive force for a change in our fortunes and self-belief. He taught us the meaning of the slogan ‘Oh yes, we can’.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Right of prisoners to vote in parliamentary elections

Prisoners in Ireland have a right to be registered in the political constituency where they would normally live if they were not in prison. However, they have no right to be given physical access to a ballot box by temporary release or a postal vote or any other way.

If they happen to be on parole, or temporary release, at the time of an election, they are free to vote where you are registered.

Prisoners rights if thye are on remand are the same as if you were a convicted prisoner.

The Electoral (Amendment) Act 2006 provides procedures that enable prisoners to vote by post. If in prison, a prisoner can register for a postal vote in the area that you would otherwise be living in. If they are already registered to vote in that area and wish to be able to vote from prison then a prisoner should fill out a form called Form RFG. If a prisoner is not already on the register then he, or she, should complete Form RFA4 as well.

United Kingdom

The European Court of Human Rights found in 2005 that the UK’s current ban on all serving prisoners from voting contravenes Article 3 of Protocol No 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In June 2010 the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers expressed ‘profound regret’ that the ban had not been lifted in time for the 2010 general election. 

The Committee of Ministers said that it would draw up a resolution for action if the UK Government failed to give prisoners the right to vote in time for the elections to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2011.

On 20 December 2010 Mark Harper MP, the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, announced that offenders sentenced to a custodial sentence of less than four years will be given the right to vote in UK Westminster Parliamentary and European Parliament elections, unless the judge considered this inappropriate when making the sentence.

Can Ireland renegotiate its IMF/ECB/EU deal?

IMG_6260-1The Irish parliament (the Oireachtas) was stood down today.  Brian Cowen the outgoing Taoiseach has been effectively run out of town and will not contest the general election.  The general election will take place on Fri, 25 Feb.  The potential alternative government leaders have been posturing for the past several days about renegotiation the bailout deals. 

It is hard to see this as anything other than empty, vacuous, meaningless, political posturing! The horse has bolted and the stable door is off its hinges. Those with massive ambitions to renegotiate have no leverage.

The bailout deal was not negotiated in the first instance. Those whose interests were threatened arrived in the country, walked the streets, sniffed the air, took the Government by the scruff of the neck and told them that they were no longer in control of the economic stewardship of Ireland. The interest rate was prescribed unilaterally, as were the ongoing detailed quarterly reporting and compliance arrangements. That in a nutshell is how Ireland has been humiliated and joined the line of other can’t cope, won’t cope headless-chicken nations – where ministers abandon their roles abruptly and for no rational or coherent reason.

Apart from the bail-out proposition, over 80% of national debt is due to foreigners. Those foreign interests together with the IMF, ECB, EU and HM Treasury have the Irish authorities under the heel of their jackboot and they have no option but to be as compliant as a prisoner seeking goodwill in return for good behaviour.

The relationship the Irish Government has with these stakeholders is going to provide a salutary lesson in the concept of moral hazard and how its consequences cannot be always shuffled and finessed into the ether, as has been the case for too long within the country.

What the electorate will take a particular interest in is the capacity of the alternative government to bring about change in spheres over which they ought to have some control and leverage – for example, the gigantic scale of fees paid for professional advice and the ancient restricted structures that facilitate these charges; the cost of running the NTMA and its foster children and the transparency of these entities being specimens of how a government and their senior civil servants could demonstrate that their bargaining power and focus is not totally exhausted.

When the Fingleton 2008 ‘€1 million pre-contracted bonus’ has been redeemed the Government will have shown negotiating form. When bankers appear in the criminal courts the country will have demonstrated a sense of resolve and can begin to lay claim to be taken seriously. But blather at the onset of a general election campaign is just that.