Sunday, July 31, 2011

Norris candidacy for President is no longer tenable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Enda Kenny throws his gauntlet at The Vatican

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!

Monday, July 18, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vatican’s voice not always silent on Ireland issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fine Gael to select candidate to contest Áras 2011

Fine Gael will select a candidate to contest the Presidential Election today from among Gay Mitchell, Pat Cox and Mairead McGuinness.  Two of them are Members of the European Parliament and Cox is a former Member and former President of the Parliament.

If one, or more, of these candidates had established sufficient credibility with the electorate they would be entering this selection process radiating a more intense sense of conviction rather than an ambiguous aura of compunction.

None of them have communicated directly with the voters. None of them have described to the electorate their credentials to become Head of State. There is an enormous difference between the skill-set of a European parliamentarian and those of a successful, inspiring President. The qualities that make one competent in one role do not seamlessly transfer to Áras an Uachtaráin. Therefore, as far as this Office is concerned – all of them are strangers with inadequate recognition throughout the country. Opinion polling data about strangers is nonsensical, whatever trend it attempts to portray.

There appeared to be widespread sentiment in Fianna Fáil at the end of the Bertie Ahern’s tenure as Fianna Fáil Leader and Taoiseach that the obvious and only candidate to succeed him was Brian Cowen – based on Cowen’s sound-bites in the course of the 2007 general election and a perception that he had what was necessary to be a strong leader and to pick a competent cabinet. The 2011 general election gave the electorate’s verdict. The voters will be cautious about the sentiment of any political party having been so badly let down by that experience.

The electorate want the next President to be no ordinary, taciturn Joe or Jane Soap. They want an articulate, sophisticated and nuanced President who will defend the Constitution; defend the dignity of our nation and be imbued with a sense of its potential. They want a President with the capacity to promote and reflect the prestige of Ireland across the globe. They want a President who, at one level, has the authenticity to convey the nation’s grief to those afflicted with appalling personal tragedy and, at another level, to inspire an audience of sceptical foreign strangers in faraway places that Ireland is awesome. They want a President who radiates the spirit of Ireland.

Who is electable to conduct such a mandate?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Contribution of FDI to the Irish economy

Red Square

Dan O’Brien, Economics Editor of The Irish Times wrote an article that was most complimentary to the role that foreign direct investment (FDI) plays in the creation of wealth in our economy citing various benchmarks to illustrate this.  I brought it to Moscow this week to reflect on it from afar.

Tangible expression of this can be discerned in the listing of the Top-1,000 companies in Ireland published by The Irish Times. These show that the top-60 of these generate a cumulative turnover of over €178 billion and profits of over €7 billion.

FDI companies account for 25 of the top-60 with cumulative turnover of over €65 billion. These figures are only indicative of the impact of FDI because they do not, for example, include the turnover of Intel, Tesco or Dunnes Stores. But they do give an insight into how the State collects €3.9 billion in corporation tax receipts.

O’Brien stated that, without FDI companies, ‘Ireland would never have been industrialized’ and every metric available shows how unusually important our clients are. ‘The success in attracting foreign companies is rightly celebrated’, according to O’Brien.

The top-60 firms in Northern Ireland have a cumulative turnover of less than €15 billion and due to the travails of the Quinn Group, the largest firm there these 60 firms recorded a loss of over €200 million. Northern Ireland is reported to contribute 1.5% (c€500 million) to Britain’s corporation tax revenues. The introduction of a 12½% corporation tax rate there could cost the Province’s economy up to €300 million per annum if incremental sales and profits of approximately €40 billion and €2 billion are not achieved and the reduced tax rate applies. That is a tall order in an economy whose top-60 firms are dominated by those in the public utility, gambling, construction and wholesale sectors.