Sunday, June 26, 2011

Varadkar’s mettle being tested


The Dublin Airport Authority chief executive’s bonus controversy has profound public interest implications in the quest for national competitiveness and economic recovery.  It is also a test of the mettle of Leo Varadkar, Minister for Transport.

Publicly owned DAA, catered for 22.61 million passengers and achieved revenues of €558.12 million in 2010. The chief executive was awarded a total remuneration package of €612,500.

Privately owned Heathrow Airport catered for 65.7 million passengers and achieved revenues of over €2 billion in 2010. The chief executive was awarded a total remuneration package of €476,580.

Heathrow catered for 290% more passengers than the Irish airports but the chief executive was paid 28.5% less in 2010.

The Board of DAA felt it was legally obliged to provide for this bonus. How can this be reconciled with the Department of Finance guidelines for the remuneration of senior management of commercial state bodies developed by an interdepartmental group of Assistant Secretaries and published in March 2006? These explicitly state that the payment of performance-related pay will be determined by the remuneration committee of the Board of the commercial state body, augmented for this purpose by a civil servant appointed by the appropriate Minister.

Furthermore, the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies demands that Government policy be implemented in relation to the remuneration of chief executives and that remuneration arrangements put in place by a relevant Department, or the Department of Finance, for determining and approving the remuneration of a chief executive must be implemented and adhered to.

How, therefore, could Transport Minister Varadkar be merely ‘very dissatisfied' about this bonus on the date that the DAA annual report is published?

If the Minister’s hands are legally tied with respect to this bonus will he appoint an entirely new board of directors that operates to his satisfaction in line with the mandate from the single shareholder, the State? The public interest demands clarity as well as leadership by example.

Friday, June 24, 2011

James J. “Whitey” Bulger comes home to Boston

James J. ‘Whitey’ Bulger is to come home to Boston – at last, having featured on America’s Ten Most Wanted List for 12 years and having terrorised this great city for six decades.

When I lived in Boston from 2002 until 2005 I met his younger brother, William (Bill) M Bulger, from time to time. Bill, born on 1934, was five years younger than Whitey and was a powerful force in Massachusetts politics for over four decades and concluded his political career as the President of Massachusetts State Senate from 1978 to 1996. Bill was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1961, motivated like many ambitious politicians’ by innocence rather than arrogance, and convinced that he had discovered injustice and that he had the passion to end it promptly. He became a State Senator in 1971.  After politics he became the 24th President of the University of Massachusetts in 1996 but was summarily removed from this role by then Republican Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney in 2003.

The Bulgers’ were reared in a public housing project on Logan Way in South Boston. Their father worked as a longshoreman until he lost his arm in an industrial accident in 1936.  That event threw the family into severe poverty.

Bill Bulger served in the US Army from 1953 to 1955 at Fort Bliss, Texas. When he returned to Boston in August 1955 he got, what he described, as ‘the greatest shock of his life’ when he learnt that his older brother, ‘Whitey’, was in jail awaiting trial on a charge of bank robbery. But Whitey was first arrested for theft in 1943 when he was 14 years old!

Apart from acknowledging that ‘Whitey’ was his older brother Bill did not speak in public about his. But he had seen him change from an outgoing and cheerful human being to becoming a rebel whose objectives were never terribly clear. Whitey Bulger was said to be in a constant state of agitation and his whereabouts, when his parents were alive, were frequently unascertainable. Whitey was a keep-fit fanatic who neither smoked nor drank alcohol and he kept a spotted, leopard-like cat as a pet that grew so large it was eventually taken to the zoo by their father.

When Whitey was in his twenties he was prone to become involved in street fights and became known to the Boston cops. He left the home neighbourhood without warning for several months and joined a circus as an unskilled labourer.

Among his friends Whitey was always regarded as the leader, which brother Bill admitted was the only role Whitey would tolerate. His leadership was characterised by never raising his voice when he wanted something done. He became the leader of a gang known as the ‘Winter Hill Gang’ that operated from the Boston suburb of Somerville, having initially been the enforcer of the gang leader, Howard Winter, in South Boston.

Whitey served in the US Air Force for a period and created many excuses to be missing without permission. He was honourably discharged and after that became involved with a gang that undertook bank robberies as far away as Indiana. Whitey was sentenced to 20 years in prison when he was 26 years old at Boston Federal District Court for participating in three bank robberies and served his sentence in Atlanta. He would have been eligible for parole after 7 years but was caught with contraband in the prison which the authorities said would have facilitated an escape by other prisoners. Instead of being released on parole Whitey was sent to Alcatraz – the maximum security prison in San Francisco Bay. He was eventually released after serving a total of 11 years.

Another brother, John P. Bulger, had been a 32-year veteran staff member of the Boston Court system but he lost his annual $65,000 pension as a former court clerk magistrate in the Boston Juvenile Court system in September 2003 when he was convicted of perjury and the obstruction of justice after lying under oath about the whereabouts of Whitey. It now transpires that Whitey had been living at the same Santa Monica apartment since 1999. John, now aged 73, retired from the Courts in 2001 and was the only one of the the three Bulger brothers to serve a jail sentence since 1965.

The case against John Bulger was that on November 26, 1996 he testified before a federal grand jury that he had no knowledge of any safe deposit boxes belonging to his brother Whitey. But John knew of, and had made, a 1996-rent payment for, a safe deposit box in Clearwater, Florida that Whitey opened in 1992. The false testimony was provided before a federal grand jury investigation James J. Bulger, Stephen J. “The Rifleman Flemmi, (sentenced to ten years in prison in 2001 for extortion and to life in 2004 after pleading guilty in a plea bargain to 10 murders) and others for potential money laundering offenses relating to their organized crime activities.

John Bulger committed his second act of perjury and of obstruction of justice by falsely testifying on January 22, 1998 before another federal grand jury that he had received no direct or indirect communication whatsoever from Whitey since Whitey had become a fugitive in January 1995. In fact, Whitey had called an acquaintance of John’s around August 1996 and the acquaintance reported his conversations with Whitey to John. If that case proceeded to the trial the US Government would have offered the testimony of Kevin J. Weeks who was present in the summer of 1996 when John talked on the telephone to Whitey. The false testimony was provided before a federal grand jury investigating Catherine P. Greig and others for potential offenses relating to harbouring and assisting fugitive Whitey.

Bill Bulger considered that many of the allegations attributed to Whitey was designed to be a political attack on himself and his view was that he loved his brother and prayed that he would not continue to damage himself.

The FBI have spent millions of dollars hunting Whitey Bulger around the world in order to charge him with 19 murders from the 1970’s to the mid 1980’s, drug dealing, money laundering, extortion. When he was arrested this week police discovered arms and large amounts of cash in his Santa Monica apartment. The Whitey Bulger universe was governed by fear and controlled through brutality.

A $2 million reward was offered for information leading to Bulger’s capture but the public were warned that he has a violent temper and was known to carry a knife at all times. He was known to have been interested in history and to visit libraries and historic sites. He was also known to disguise his appearance but he travelled extensively in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe.

The arrest of Bulger follows the broadcasting of a 30-second public service announcement in several states designed to draw the public’s attention to Catherine Greig, Bulger’s 60-year old companion who absconded with him in 1995. Aimed at a female audience, the announcement focused on Greig’s appearance, personality and social habits. It highlighted that she maybe possibly seen in beauty parlours or doctor’s offices. The announcement prompted hundreds of leads one of which hit the bull’s-eye. There was a reward of $100,000 for information leading to her capture. She had not been charged with anything implicating her directly with Bulger’s crimes but in 1997 was charged with harbouring a fugitive.

The current Ten Most Wanted list is currently reduced to 8 with vacancies arising as a consequence of Bulger’s capture and Bin Laden’s death.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How critical is Irish-American support to a President of Ireland?

Istanbul AirportI flew from Istanbul to Dublin early this morning and browsed an opinion piece on the four-hour flight in The Irish Times by former US Congressman Bruce Morrison about his friend Niall O’Dowd.  Morrison was responding to a previous opinion piece written by Walter Ellis, s former journalist at this paper, who argued that O’Dowd is ‘too much of an Irish-American for the Áras.

Ellis contended that O’Dowd sees Ireland as a brand, not a nation and that Irish-Americans are ‘too misty eyed’.  Morrison countered this argument by pointing out that O’Dowd successfully engaged a range of the diaspora in many ways to support the interests of the mother nation.

When I read Morrison’s article one would think that Mr O’Dowd is seeking to become primus inter pares of an enclave rather than Head of State in a sophisticated nation, notwithstanding that the 42-million strong Irish-American diaspora is as multifaceted and distinguished as the largest diamond in the world.

None of those seeking consideration to be candidates in the forthcoming presidential election have either demonstrated that they understand the role of the President or how they are qualified to conduct that Office - without controversy. All suffer from the hazard of very limited name and reputation recognition in what will be the first such election in fourteen years. Nobody under the age of 31 years has ever voted in a presidential election and half the total population is under the age of 35 years. More than 10% of the total population were born elsewhere and many of these are now Irish citizens and will be first-time voters in a presidential election.

Aras 6

The role of the President includes (1) defending the Constitution (2) defending the dignity of the nation and (3) enhancing the prestige of the nation globally.

This is why the Office requires an incumbent with a sophisticated, far-reaching perspective of our legacy, our circumstances and our ambitions; someone whose presence inspires awe and admiration rather than explanations and scepticism.

But the essence of Mr Morrison’s argument, that Mr O’Dowd can leverage ‘valuable support’ for Ireland in America does not take into account that many doors currently open to Mr O’Dowd will also be open to any person who is President of Ireland and are most likely already open through other avenues, such as the Global Irish Network that is due to convene for the second time in Dublin Castle on October 7th. Therefore, had Mr Morrison provided some rich and colourful insights into the competency, skills and sophistication of Mr O’Dowd to enable him become a statesman, rather than influence peddler in one large jurisdiction, the readers might be more enlightened. But he has left them with nothing interesting to cling to.

Apart the political parties the nation’s county councillors’ are also a gateway to a nomination. This is the same myopic cohort that has facilitated the littering of this insolvent nation with vacant and unusable ghost housing estates. The fear now is that they will litter than nation with ill-qualified ghost presidential candidates. We cannot indulge delusional fantasists who are mere man, or women, of straw. The voters need to be convinced beyond doubt of the suitability of candidates. But since so little of real relevance is known about any of them it is up to each of them and their advocates to make defensible case to the electorate based on their understanding of the role and the qualities (as opposed to purported contacts) that they claim for themselves. The Office requires the incumbent to be the President of the entire nation not segment(s) of it, whether at home or abroad.  It requires a statesman, not a salesman

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Higher corporation tax yield in Ireland than UK

2009 09 01_0378_edited-1

Corporation profits tax accounted for a higher proportion of total tax revenue in Ireland last year than in the United Kingdom.

Corporation tax receipts in Ireland increased by 1.3% in 2010 to €3,944 million, accounting for 12.3% of Ireland’s total tax revenue of €31.91 billion last year. Corporation taxes provided 9.4% of total British tax revenue in the year to April 2011.

The British authorities collected a total of £446 billion in taxes in the year to April 2011. While total British tax receipts increased by 38.8% over the nine years ending April 2002 to April 2011, British corporation tax receipts increased by 30.4% in this nine year period

British corporation tax receipts in the year to April 2011 amounted to £41.9 billion. British corporation tax receipts increased by 17.3% from the years ending April 2010 to April 2011 compared to an average decrease of 12% in the previous two years.

British corporation tax receipts fell from £43 billion in 2008 to £35.9 billion in 2009 as company profits declined. The improvement in the most recent period maybe due to improved economic conditions leading to a recovery in corporate profits in Britain.

Today David Cameron is to address the Northern Ireland Assembly today and is expected to give the thumbs-up to the introduction of a lower rate of corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland. But the Northern Ireland authorities will have to deal with any overall shortfall in revenues that this might result in as a consequence of a reduction in the British Government block grant.

UK Tax Receipts

Year ending April Total Tax Receipts
£ Million
Corporation Profits Tax CPT % Total Tax
2002 £321,768 £32,176.80 10.0%
2003 £324,526 £29,207.34 9.0%
2004 £343,609 £28,175.94 8.2%
2005 £371,045 £33,765.10 9.1%
2004 £397,930 £41,782.65 10.5%
2007 £423,674 £44,485.77 10.5%
2008 £451,063 £46,459.49 10.3%
2009 £439,103 £43,032.09 9.8%
2010 £408,509 £35,948.79 8.8%
2011 £446,502 £41,971.19 9.4%
Change from 2002 to 2011 £124,734

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lacey banned by High Court for 9 years

4 Courts and RowersThe High Court yesterday (7 June 2011) disqualified Jim Lacey (61) of Grove Avenue, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, the former chief executive of National Irish Bank from 1988 to 1994 and former Fianna Fáil party insider , from serving as a director or officer of any company for 9 years on grounds of unfitness.

The court found that Lacey had been grossly negligent and that his conduct constituted a fundamental failure of governance. Lacey remained as a non-executive director of NIB from 1994 to 1997.  He had not acted on internal audit findings that had been brought to his attention.

He is the 10th former executive of NIB to be banned and cases are outstanding against a further six. 

The extent of his unfitness was described in adverse findings of the High Court Inspectors Report on NIB which was published on 30 July 2004. The Report covered the period 1988 to 1998 when NIB was owned by National Australia Bank and, following an expose by two RTE journalists - not by the Central Bank.

The High Court appointed the Inspectors on Monday, 30 March 1998 to investigate:

  • Bogus non-resident accounts and fictitiously named accounts were opened and maintained, allowing customers to evade tax.
  • Clerical Medical Insurance policies were promoted as secure investment for funds not disclosed to the Revenue Commissioners. The total value of polices sold was around £48m and about 40pc of these exceeded £100,000.
  • Special Savings Accounts had DIRT deducted at a reduced rate.
  • Improper charging of both interest and fees to customers.  Over 6,500 NIB customers were reimbursed in 2001 for overcharging that was applied to their personal loan accounts in 1997, 1998 and 2000.

The Revenue Commissioners, as of 31 December 2010, have collected €60.14 million involving 312 cases of tax evasion as a consequence of special investigations following the NIB debacle.

Lacey resigned his two State appointments to the board of the Irish Aviation Authority and Dublin Docklands Development Authority as well as his position as a fundraiser for Fianna Fáil on Friday, 27 March 1998 for personal reasons that should not be interpreted in any way as implying any impropriety by me in my previous role with NIB”

Lacey had been a close adviser to Bertie Ahern and had been appointed to Forum 2000, the Fianna Fail fundraising vehicle. Former Environment Minister Noel Demspey, who appointed Lacey to the DDDA in 1997 ‘accepted his resignation with regret’

When the High Court Inspectors Report was published the Head of the Financial Regulator, Liam O’Reilly – until last month a director of Irish Life & Permanent Plc. and member its Risk & Compliance Committee, stated on 30 July 2004 The type of activity described in the High Court Inspectors’ Report is utterly unacceptable. As a regulator with a strong consumer mandate we are absolutely determined to ensure that there is no place for this type of activity in the financial services industry of today.

In light of this and other recent charging issues that have emerged, the Financial Regulator is currently engaged in an industry-wide exercise focusing on appropriate systems and controls to ensure that all credit institutions are fully in compliance with all relevant laws and requirements. The Financial Regulator is also of the view that in considering how to deal with regulatory issues, financial institutions must consider factors outside their specific legal and regulatory obligations. In particular, financial institutions should seriously consider their responsibility to maintain the trust and confidence of their customers. There is a clear message coming through - financial institutions that put short-term profits before customers will suffer the consequences. The cost of engaging in unacceptable behaviour has been proven to be very high, in both financial and reputational terms”

Mr. Justice Peter Kelly after disqualifying another former executive of NIB, Nigel D’Arcy, for 9 years stated in 2005 that "The edifice of banking is built on a foundation of trust. On the Inspectors findings there was a breach of trust. The operation was carried out over a period of years in a deliberate fashion"

Following the Lacey judgement, Paul Appleby Director of Corporate Enforcement stated  The NIB/NIBFS Inspectors found that responsibility for the various improper practices which existed within the Bank rested with its senior management.

Last April, the High Court determined that Mr Lacey bore important responsibility for the continuation of the six practices criticised in the High Court Inspectors’ Report, and I welcome the Court’s affirmation of the significant duty which rests with company directors to secure their company’s compliance with its major legal obligations.

Today’s decision reminds directors of their responsibilities and of the personal consequences which may flow from a failure to take effective steps to correct non-compliance in their companies. The decision is also important in clearly demonstrating that we are serious about promoting and upholding high standards of corporate governance in Ireland.

The current status of the nine disqualification actions originally initiated in 2005 is summarised in the following table. Seven of them (including Lacey’s case) remain before the Courts.

Disqualification granted by the High Court – No Appeal 1
Disqualification granted by the High Court – Respondents Appeal 4
Disqualification refused by the High Court – Appeal by Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement pending 2
Disqualification overturned by the Supreme Court 1

The effect of a disqualification order is to prohibit a person from being appointed or acting as an auditor, director or other officer, receiver, liquidator or examiner or being in any way, whether directly or indirectly, concerned or taking part in the promotion, formation or management of any company, or any society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts 1893 to 1978.

Lacey intends to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Who is fit to be President of Ireland?

aras an uachtarain_edited-1

Ireland is now less than six months from the first election since 1997 to elect a new President.  No candidates have been confirmed to date. But this will be an election which will test the stature and mettle of the political parties which they will only pass if they deliver worthy candidates with the exceptional qualities necessary to become an admired articulate role model for Irish citizens across the world but survive intense scrutiny and far-reaching expectations.

The term of the next President will coincide with the centenary of many milestones of our nation. Having been deeply humiliated by the surrender of economic sovereignty due to incompetence and delinquency many Irish citizens speculate, with uncertainty and concern, about what may ahead.

Blogging in The Irish Times on 6 June, under a headline The Áras: Nice Job If You Can Get ItDeaglán de Bréadún refers to the Office being a ‘very prestigious job, well-paid, nice accommodation, lots of foreign travel and optional workload, i.e., you can work really, really hard or you can do the standard amount and then go and play golf’.

The reference to an optional workload’ must be either tongue-in-cheek or betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Office of President. Our Head of State is the Custodian of the Dignity of the Nation. 

The presidency is not ‘a job’. The gardener, the cook, the chambermaid,the drivers,  the Secretary-General to the President and the clerical support staff at the Áras have jobs - but the President does not.  The President has an incumbency with an onerous burden, not least of which is to respond to the zeitgeist and soul of the nation.

The complex role of President of Ireland requires extraordinary discipline, dedication, vision, energy and understanding. The nation may have been beaten into economic turmoil by unworthy bankers and cunning political insiders and too many constitutional office holders have failed dismally to live up to their mandate. But President McAleese is concluding her 14-year term with a consistent high approval rating that many leaders would crave for but never achieve. In her case this is a consequence of her exceptional capability, leadership and judgement and because she is authentic and has had the exceptional support of an outstanding spouse.

The presidency is not a role for the feint-hearted or the ambivalent because of high public expectations and the intense scrutiny that surround it. The range of skills required are quite daunting – diplomatic, representational, nation-building, nation-parenting etc. – characteristics that are not merely a function of overweening personal ambition. It requires candidates who, needless to say, can demonstrate unimpeachable integrity.  President McAleese has a particular aptitude to reach out effectively to all parts of society without being a captive to any one of them.

The next President of Ireland will be expected to redeem that nation’s reputation and stature.

None of those aspiring to become candidates have indicated what they personally believe makes them sufficiently distinguished to become our Head of State of what President Kennedy referred to with deep pride as one of the ‘five feet high nations’; an ‘isle of destiny, a destiny that will be glorious’.

When aspiring candidates start to share their convictions about themselves with all of us and describe how the character of their presidency might evolve society will begin to have something to cling to. Some say they want a conversation with the nation. But does the nation want a President or a therapist with a set of tarot cards?

Society is looking for distinguished candidates that ‘look like a President; sound like a President and act like a President’. This means that those who ‘look like a janitor, think like a janitor, sound like a janitor and behave like a janitor’ need to find work as a janitor and not be pursuing delusional and dysfunctional aspirations.

Furthermore this Office has become something of a family enterprise with those close to the President making an enormous contribution to the success of the Office. Aspiring candidates might bear in mind that society are also curious about your supporting cast and how he, or she, might enhance the Office. What’s the package?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Brazilian restaurant chain demonstrates spectacular innovation and flair!

Fogo de ChaoEach time I have been in Brazil I visited a branch of Fogo de Chão, (pronounced ‘fo-go dee shaun’) a chain of churrascaria style restaurants that offers a rodízio style of service!

Churrascaria is a cooking style over flames not unlike barbecue. This restaurant chain has an army of serving staff dressed like gauchos (Brazilian cowboys) who come to the table with up to 15 categories of beef with skewers of meat and sharp carving knives several times in the course of a meal . The diner is provided with a coloured card one side of which is red and the other green. The servers will only bring meat if the green side is showing.

For a fixed price diners can enjoy a salad followed by what seems like an infinite variety of salads, cured meats, smoked fish and cheese. Then diners are served gorgeous slices of meat at the table that have been roasted over open flames.

These include the picanha – the prime part of the sirloin, top and bottom sirloin, filet mignon, beef ancho from the prime part of the rib eye, ribs, leg of lamb, chicken legs and garlic beef. While customers can eat all they wish for a fixed price, the meal is especially appetizing because it is served so elegantly. A nice touch is that plates are replaced throughout the meal ensuring that one is not scavenging through a scrap heap as the meal progresses. There is also an attractive range of desserts!

This business was established in 1979 by two brothers, Jair and Arri Coser and the first of 16 branches in the United States was opened in Dallas in 1997. There are now branches of Fogo de Chão in Beverly Hills, Scottsdale, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Washington DC. Baltimore, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Denver, Minneapolis and Chicago.

I am surprised and disappointed to discover that there are no branches in my beloved New England!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Surreal reflections on AF 447


I flew from Paris to Sao Paulo yesterday on an Air France Airbus 330-203 (F-GZCJ) that in the previous seven days had been flown routinely between Paris and Riyadh; Paris and Rio de Janeiro; Paris and Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Paris and Cairo and Paris and Senou, Mali, West Africa. This aircraft returned to Paris last night and is on its way to Abu Dhabi as I write this. The flight met all my expectations – departed and arrived on time and the cuisine on board was excellent.

It was however, a surreal experience because I was travelling almost two years to the day after Air France flight AF 447 from Rio to Paris abruptly crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near the Equator on 1 January 2009 without broadcasting an emergency call. The jet had been flying normally for over three hours when its autopilot and auto accelerator abruptly disengaged at 11,000 metres leading to the death of 228 people from 32 countries. These sophisticated instruments are more complex that merely controlling heading, altitude and speed. They can control the character of a climb or landing. My flight also flew at 11,000 metres. At that altitude above sea level humans cannot breathe unaided. Aircraft require atmosphere – the bubble of air that surrounds the earth that is held in place by the earth’s gravity.

I first flew to Brazil in August 1988 and several times subsequently and I have always noted episodes of turbulence close to the Equator.  AF 477 had reached an area known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone, next to the Equator, where tall thunderstorms in a configuration not dissimilar to a very tall chimney, create icy, windy conditions that often causes turbulence. When I was at school this phenomena was called The Doldrums where the winds of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere converge.  The Doldrums traditionally caused sailors more difficulty than aviators because of the absence of wind to propel sailing boats.

The AF 447 crew had navigated around an anticipated thunderstorm even though there was speculation that they flew directly into it.

It emerged last week that the black box has been recovered and that a combination of turbulence, faulty instrument readings and a stalled engine caused this aircraft to fall at a rate of 3,000 metres per minute from the normal cruising altitude of 11,000 metres in a four-minute period. The wreckage sunk to a depth of four kilometres under the Atlantic Ocean. The stall warning sounded in the aircraft twice indicating that aerodynamics were not sustaining the aircraft and that control was being lost.

There had been speculation that the crew had steered the Airbus into a storm, where water was sucked into a configuration like a giant chimney that converted water into indecipherable ice crystals that are not detected on radar. The aircraft apparently experienced what experts call a deep stall and the wreckage was scattered ten kilometres from its last recorded location.

There is a suggestion that Air France pilots had not at that time been adequately briefed on how to deal with speed sensor failure and there had been several episodes of this occurring in Airbus aircraft. The evidence available shows that the crashed aircraft pulled steeply upwards after the speed sensor failure and this could have caused a stall.

Having discovered the black box on 1 May last, the French Accident Investigation Bureau (BEA) is now able to reveal the sequence of events leading to the crash of flight AF447. This analysis replaces the assumptions that have been made over the past two years.

It appears that the flight deck crew was monitoring the changing weather conditions and thus altered the flight path, that the initial problem was the failure of the speed probes which led to the disconnection of the autopilot and the loss of the associated piloting protection systems, and that the aircraft stalled at high altitude. It also appears that the flight captain quickly interrupted his rest period to regain the cockpit.

Compensation claims will be attributable to whoever is blameworthy for the accident.  Both Air France and Airbus could be prosecuted for negligent manslaughter

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Obscene pension and termination payments to former Irish senators

The disturbing revelation that 19 of 21 former senators are to receive lump sum payments over the next 13 months that average almost €229,000 per person is an outrageous affront to society. Eight of these were the nominees of the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern after some of them failed to win Dáil seats in the 2007 general election.

These payments to them are in addition to an annual pension pot of over a half million euro. The combined effect suggests that political patronage remains an extravagant gilt-edge gift that keeps on giving - irrespective of whether a politician is in, or out, of office. The impudent scale of them illustrates how immune and indifferent politicians are to the devastating impact of the economic collapse on everybody else and to the concept of affordability.

The 23rd Seanad sat for less than 100 days each year so the role of a senator is part-time and intermittent. Apart from a salary provision of €4.25 million in 2011, there is also provision this year to pay our part-time senators €1.38 million for travel expenses to attend the august institution and almost €1.25 million in other allowances – equivalent to average annual payment of almost €115,000 for their part-time service. Yet, each senator also has full-time secretarial support for the 140 working days that they are absent from the House each year.

If the Government really want the public to live within the means of the State more fervent example ought to be clearly evident from all branches of the Oireachtas and the establishment.

Our nation cannot afford an extravagant Senate, with an ambivalent mandate, which civic society has no part in choosing and which is not answerable to the people. The sooner the issue of its future is put to the electorate in a Constitutional referendum the better.