Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gilmore shakes his clenched iron fist at corrupt Uganda

Having ostracized the Vatican from his diplomatic wigwam Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has now shaken his iron fist at Uganda and given its prime minister a flavour for ‘Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way’

The brazen and barefaced misappropriation of €4 million by the Nomenklatura of Uganda of money donated by struggling and compassionate Irish taxpayers should serve as a sharp wake-up call to our own authorities and lead to a radical and fundamental policy change with respect to Irish Aid.

We have been informed by the Tánaiste that this money is to be repaid. The Prime Minister of Uganda has told the Irish public that he is not implicated in its misappropriation. But there are no instances, anywhere on the globe, of endemic corruption prevailing among public officials who are not aided, succoured, protected and abetted by politicians, as various costly tribunals in this country and the media reports about Uganda over many years have so clearly illustrated. It is also noteworthy that it was not the Irish authorities who uncovered this misappropriation and this begs the critical question of how much more of the €600 million+ spent on Irish Aid reaches unauthorised banks accounts in disreputable and decrepit jurisdictions.

Officials attached to the office of Uganda’s President Museveni were accused last year of accepting millions of dollars in bribes. The Ugandan Parliament met in emergency session and demanded that the Uganda’s prime minister, foreign minister and internal affairs minister recuse themselves from office while the parliament investigated allegations that millions of dollars in bribes were paid by an oil company. Sam Kutesa, the foreign minister, who was involved in a separate scandal involving the use of public money to renovate a hotel, resigned in October 2011.

The Ugandan Government was also accused of losing an estimated €115 million in 2007 from various scams during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. The former Ugandan vice president resigned after being accused of being a beneficiary to the tune of €3 million to provide luxury cars used to transport visiting dignitaries.

As recently as last August Transparency International cited Uganda as registering the highest incidence of bribery cases in East Africa and fingered the Ugandan police and the Ugandan judiciary as being the most corrupt institutions in that country.

Against this appalling and indefensible background the Tánaiste is telling us that he is asking his Department to examine how Ireland could assist the Ugandan Government to recover misappropriated funds through processes similar to those employed by our Criminal Assets Bureau. This tongue-in-cheek exercise in solicitous introspection is to take place at a time when Ireland has had to face the implications of €500 million of assets being unlawfully and wilfully dissipated by the Quinn family by recruiting a Russian entity, unfamiliar to most Irish taxpayers, to untangle that opaque cobweb arrangement with the inducement of an upfront payment of €31 million  with no strings attached and 20% of the proceeds of what is eventually retrieved by the State from this dreadful illicit debacle.

Uganda is set to become the beneficiary of revenue derived from the recent discovery of large oil reserves, estimated to have the potential to deliver at least 2.5 billion barrels that will yield tax revenue of over €1.5 billion per year. The Ugandan Government has been fit to spend over €570 million on military aircraft to protect this asset. It is time for Irish Aid to cut the umbilical cord of easy Irish cash.  The limited resources of the Criminal Assets Bureau need to be fully and forensically and rigorously employed in this country hunting rogue bankers and other delinquent renegades and not used teach the Ugandan Government how to discover the road to virtue, especially in the light of our curtailed resources and the fact that not a single recruit has been enrolled in An Garda Siochána in four years.

The compassion of the Irish people must not be exploited by either vested interests, do-gooders or corrupt manipulators, nor should aid programmes be of indeterminate character. A root and branch reform of the Irish Aid programme is urgently required combined with an immediate severe pruning of its budget.

Should tax relief could be granted to those who wish to donate to corrupt countries in a personal capacity?  The era of saddling society as a whole with an outrageous burden of unaffordable generosity that fosters a culture of infinite chronic dependency must end now.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

First anniversary of Michael D Higgin’s lacklustre, unfocused presidency marked today

According to the editorial writer in The Irish Times on 5 November, 71-year old  President Michael D Higgins ‘has performed assertively and well’ during his first year as President of Ireland. Does this mean he is convincing, credible and effective

When the wreath laying, headstone tapping and fraternal greetings to the widows’ of long-deceased fallen idols are segregated from the activity of his first year in office, what remains that defines his presidency? 

He has been a critic of the EU’s failure to balance austerity with growth and job creation, but what interventions has he made directly to counter this and to stimulate employment other than offer idle chatter?  Who is he connected to that is strategically relevant to enhancing the prosperity of Ireland?  Who accepts his phone calls?

His speeches tend to be long and weary commentaries about abstract concepts of general concern over which he has limited or no, capacity to influence.  Any one of the sloppy and slovenly Independent TDs in Dáil Éireann could embrace a similar platform of self-righteousness  but Higgins is Head of State, not a local, scruffy ward heeler.  How, creatively and dynamically is he using the resources of the presidency?

The Irish Times interview with President Higgins (A Year in the Áras, 3 November) conveys an impression of a one-dimensional presidency on a perpetual campaigning carousel, engaging only in a zealous, but somewhat ambiguous, quest for a philosophy that might produce a purer form of virtue and an ethical culture that is more robust. The theme of this endeavour is to be adapted in 2013 from the attribution in 2012 that unregulated markets caused ‘a post ethical, or unethical existence’ to wider reflection and deliberation on what is described as ‘the crisis in ethics and the crisis among intellectuals’.  What impact will that have on the stature and wellbeing of Ireland other than being fire side conversation over a stale pint of Guinness?

But as far as the public is concerned the presidential election campaign is over, having resulted in President Higgins achieving the highest-ever number of first preference votes in the seven contested presidential elections. Public focus is now on what the President is actually delivering. It is regrettable, therefore, that President Higgins did not avail of this interview opportunity to describe the impact, effectiveness and strategic accomplishments of the first year of his presidency.

The long-term unemployment rate is 8.8% and 29% of those in the 20-24 year age group are unemployed. But nowhere in this interview does the President refer to his attitude towards investor sentiment, profit, employment creation, opportunity, innovation, incentive or risk mitigation all of which are critical catalysts to relieve the debilitating and tragic catastrophe haunting Irish society. Why should President Higgins seem to be so detached and aloof from the benchmarks of economic vitality and the complexity of investment decision making, or is he taking the achievement of a dynamic investment flow from sectors that are rigorously regulated and closely scrutinised too much for granted?

The interview describes the thousands of encounters the President has had this year and the journeys he has taken. But it does not elaborate as to what proportion of these interventions have had a significant or influential impact, or which are a reflection of the eminent stature and the privileged global access the unique prestige of his office confers.

The President is preparing a speech for delivery in the New Year intended to truthfully represent the history of The 1913 Lockout to ensure that the efforts of workers of that era, struggling to achieve even the most minimal power to protect themselves, is accurately portrayed by him.

But what initiatives and interventions to promote investment and employment creation does he intend to take to ensure that the workers of 2013 and the hundreds of thousands deprived of work are afforded the opportunity to achieve a modest level of self-sufficiency and dignity to sustain themselves and protect the integrity of their families?

President Higgins attributes the widespread failure of institutional leadership in Ireland to moral turpitude, prompting ‘a different search for a source of morality’ –as if morality was something one discovers in a Swedish furniture warehouse. He states that ‘the President’s discretion is what defines the Presidency’, the essence of which is moral authority, but he also wants to extend the boundaries of the presidency.

What specific, focused, targeted accomplishments would he like to describe at the conclusion of the second year of his presidential legacy in November 2013 that are shown to have had a compelling and enduring impact; are the product of the discretion and boundaries already available to him and are crafted by his irrepressible insight, passion, acumen and charm combined with the counsel, guidance, pragmatism and experience of his officials?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ireland’s Children's Referendum is also a vote of confidence in the Health Services Executive

Changing the nation’s Constitution will be a futile exercise if the nation’s health services do no deliver enhanced child welfare services. Voter turnout on the day will speak volumes.

Concern has been expressed that voter turnout at the referendum on 10th November to alter the rights of children vis-à-vis their parents will be low. Perhaps this concern is rooted in a conviction by voters that this initiative will promise much but deliver little, despite the escalating nature of the underlying problem of child abuse that the referendum is intended to deal with.

Ireland eventually ratified the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in September 1992 because the Government considered that people under 18 years of age need special care and protection that adults do not require. Ratification meant that the Government agreed to be held legally accountable for this commitment.

The Child Care Act of 1991 imposes an obligation on the HSE to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection.

But the definition of the corporate mission of the HSE is to enable people to lead healthier and more fulfilled lives’. Neither the ratification of a United Nations convention, nor the statutory obligations of legislation that have been in place for 21 years to deal with the welfare and wellbeing of vulnerable and isolated children, has persuaded the HSE to reflect the special requirements of the child in its corporate mission statement in the way the Government would like the Constitution to. Yet, James Reilly, Minister for Health and the Secretary-General of his Department have direct control of the HSE in all material respects.

During the decade to April 2010 a total of 196 children died who had been in the care, or after-care of the State, or were known to the HSE. The 112 children who died from non-natural causes include 30 deaths that were drug related; 28 suicides and 16 deaths attributable to unlawful killing.

While the interests of children merited a dedicated cabinet minister in the current government, it is also noteworthy that the mandate of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children concerns proposed health policy, the future planning of health services and scrutinising the way healthcare is delivered. The focus of the Oireachtas sub-committee on Children and Youth Affairs is on future legislation and the review of spending estimates. There is no special priority by these Oireachtas committees on child welfare outcomes of those vulnerable children who are catapulted from the care of their own parents, however unsatisfactory that may be, into the care of the State.

One need look no further that the recent report by the Inspector of Prisons into St Patrick’s Institution to glean an insight into the consequences of inhuman, delinquent and incompetent oversight of young people in the long-term care of the State that no constitutional referendum could ever put right.

The population of children in Ireland aged 18 years and under, has increased by 8.8% from 2006 to 2011. But the population of children in the care of the State has increased by 15.4% to 6,160 in this period. The population of children under the age of 14 increased by 12.9% between 2006 and 2011, so the demand and necessity for State intervention is likely to increase further based on these demographic trends.

The United States Congress considers a detailed report on child welfare outcomes every three years that is intended to inform the public and policy makers about the performance of the State in delivering child welfare services and the priorities that need to be set.

If the Government are to convince voters to support this referendum they will need to demonstrate that that apparatus of State has the leadership, integrity, capacity, commitment and will to deliver better and more effective child welfare outcomes and that these outcomes be deliberated on in public by an Oireachtas committee so that the public are fully informed as to what is happening.

The seriousness of the issue of child abuse is of the utmost gravity and the first step in the campaign of persuasion is for the Government to demonstrate clearly and convincingly that a change in the Constitution will be simultaneously accompanied by integrated, holistic, effective and well executed policies, not mere window dressing in the form only of a constitutional referendum that will otherwise offer few advantages to those most needing support, care and guidance.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Omnipotent editorial practices and lousy leadership dooms the Irish Daily Star


Last week the editor of the Irish Daily Star published an unwanted and intrusive  photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge taken while she was sunbathing topless on vacation and at a private venue.

The editor of this newspaper described his decision as ‘a service to the paper’s readers’.  The Irish Daly Star is owned in a joint venture company, Independent Star Limited controlled by Independent News & Media Plc and Northern & Shell.

The outraged Jewish chairman of Northern & Shell, Richard Clive Desmond  (aged 60), 57th richest man in Britain with a net worth of £590 million, has announced a decision to dismantle the joint venture underpinning the Irish Daily Star while the other partner describes the publication of the photograph as a ‘poor editorial decision’.

If this was ‘a service to readers’ that the Stars readers’ really wanted, desired and valued the consequences would be reflected in higher circulation figures for the issues concerned. If it was not a service to readers it was an exercise to feed the pocket of a mercenary parasite.

But while daily newspaper circulation in Ireland has declined from 2006 to 2011 by 14%, from an average of 635,595 newspapers per day in the first half of 2006 to 536,025 in the latter half of 2005, the reduction of circulation of the Irish Daily Star has been significantly more severe.

An average of 104,054 copies of the Star sold each day in early 2006 according to statistics published by National Newspapers of Ireland but the corresponding figure for the latter half of 2011 was 81,105, a decline of 22%, or a drop of almost 23,000 copies daily.

Turnover has dropped from €43.1 million in 2006 to €40.6 million (-5.9%) in 2011 while profit on ordinary activities before taxation dropped from €5,841,787 to €4,293,102 (-26%) in the same period, a trend that would make Mr Desmond’s instincts edgy and uncertain, to say the least.  His wife apparently divorced him on grounds of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ but is he likely to make such a definitive statement about the future of the Irish Daily Star and back away from the consequences? Hardly, if a history of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ has been eliminated.

How could the apparent omnipotent attitude of a newspaper editor who panders like a poodle to a voyeuristic predatory parasite with a camera really consider the publication of compromising photographs of a married woman to be ‘a service to readers’?

What consequences could such arbitrary decision making have on the interests of advertisers?  What reputable corporation would want to compromise the image of their products through association with a media that is so detached from the social values of Irish people?

Clearly waning circulation and growing disinterest in the Irish Daily Star by newspapers readers have taken their toll on the patience of at least one participant in the controlling joint venture.

But if Chairman Desmond’s decision to cut and run is devoid of commercial rational and the standard of leadership of the Irish Daily Star is not risible millions of euro in new venture capital will emerge and a new source of income will arise for Irish professional service providers.  Advertisers will flock to the paper to promote their strategically important products and services.  Readers will return in their tens of thousands and Editor O’Kane’s judgement will have been vindicated.

If it is not vindicated 80 people will be out of work as another Irish newspaper fails.

Last week Editor O’Kane stated that ‘I can think of no reason not to publish them’ referring to the photographs, having presumably paid the parasite who snapped them. 

Today it is reported that media controlled by Silvio Berlusconi (aged 76) is to publish similar photographs. He may regard this as another noteworthy milestone of his long life but perhaps the most important facet of his durable legacy will be feeding the appetite of a million starving maggots from his carcass after his demise, while a thousand hookers look elsewhere to make a living after he takes tenure in a chipboard coffin.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Should Hugh O’Flaherty use a media soapbox to engage in political advocacy?

Today’s edition of the Irish Independent features a front page banner proclaiming that ‘Hugh O’Flaherty Joins the Independent’. O’Flaherty is a former justice of the Irish Supreme Court who resigned abruptly in 1999.

It has not been customary for a former judge of any Irish court to climb onto a political soapbox after ceasing to be a judge, or even to revert to court advocacy. Has that not been the argument to justify paying them such absurdly high salaries and exceptionally generous retirement packages?

The decision of Hugh O’Flaherty to peddle his political sound-bites through the Fourth Estate is extraordinary. He resigned abruptly from the Supreme Court because interventions he had made with respect to a the Philip Sheedy case were deemed by the Chief Justice to be possibly open to misinterpretation and could therefore potentially damage the administration of justice and the integrity of judicial process.

Mr Sheedy, an architect,  was convicted following the death of Anne Ryan in a fatal road accident near Tallaght in 1996. He had been driving a recently acquired high-performance sports car while intoxicated.  He was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving in the Dublin Circuit Court presided over by Mr Justice Cyril KellyMr Justice Matthews had been asked by Kelly to preside over the sentencing of Sheedy who applied a four-year sentence with leave to apply for a review of the sentence after two years in October 1999. 

Sheedy was initially jailed in Mountjoy Prison for the first six months and then moved to an open prison, Shelton Abbey.  While at the open prison he was visited by his friend Joe Burke, a former building contractor and Fianna Fáil county councillor and confidante of Bertie Ahern, who had loaned Ahern £3,500. Sheedy had been employed by Burke as an architectural adviser in J & H Burke Enterprises Limited.

Ahern approached Justice Minister John O’Donoghue to enquire in July 1998 if Sheedy could be granted day release from prison but this request was rejected. 

O’Flaherty’s intervention occurred after me apparently casually met Sheedy’s sister in October 1998 and he invited the County Registrar to his Supreme Court chambers to have the Sheedy case relisted, as an application to have the review date vacated was granted by the sentencing judge on 6 November 1997.

Following O’Flaherty’s intervention Mr Justice Kelly (not the Jusge Matthews who sentenced Sheedy)  reviewed Sheedy’s sentence on 12 November 1998  The remainder of the sentence was remitted but neither the Gardaí or the Director of Public Prosecutions were told about the review or that Sheedy had been released from jail.

The DPP challenged Kelly’s decision in February 1999 at which time Sheedy had voluntarily returned to prison. O’Donoghue asked the Chief Justice to investigate the case whose finding was that Kelly’s handling of the Sheedy case and O’Flaherty’s intervention compromised the administration of justice. Both Kelly and the County Registrar resigned their positions which at that time was that of High Court judge in the case of Kelly.

Mr Flaherty seems to have abandoned his desire in 1999 for privacy but is the custom of former judges keeping their personal views private not better practice for the sake of judicial independence?

If not, where is this process heading? Will judges next feature in television advertisements climbing out of kitchen cupboards on their hands and knees to flog the virtue of their journalistic scoops?

The purpose of the Constitution is to define the nation and its boundaries values, one of the most cherished of which is the integrity and independence of the judiciary. That principle ought to have precedence over the ramblings of a former judge about political decisions if the entire judicial system is not to degenerate into a television soap opera based on three-minute sound bites by wannabe actors.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dr Jerimiah Newman, Bishop of Limerick was ‘no pushover’

The Safeguarding Board of the Catholic Church in Ireland has published the findings of its second audit of safeguarding practices and policies.  A summary of the findings for the first and second tranche reveals:


  First Tranche Review
(6 dioceses)
Second Tranche Review
(4 dioceses)
Three religious Authorities 

Number of individuals subject to an allegation




Number of allegations received




Convictions related to these allegations





The three religious authorities reported a higher incidence of abuse allegations than the dioceses and the reviews also found significant practice deficits, such as non-reporting or delayed reporting of allegations when these emerged.

The Diocese of Limerick was one of those included in the Second Tranche.  The audit dealt with complaints received from 1975 to the present.  Since 1940 some 500 priests ministered in Limerick and 26 of these were the subject of complaints.

The Bishop of Limerick from May 1974 to April 1995 was Limerick native, Dr Jerimiah Newman (31 March 1926-7 April 1995), former President of St Patrick’s seminary Maynooth.  His 21-year tenure compares with that of his predecessors – David Keane (1923-1945) – 32 years, Patrick O’Neill (1945-1958) – 13 years and Henry Murphy (1958-1974) – 16 years.

The report found that reporting practice was very poor and even potentially dangerous.  There was documentary evidence that Newman, while apparently having knowledge of a priest’s  abusive behaviour in England, allowed him to minister in Limerick where he abused again.

The Diocese of Limerick heritage web site contains a biography of Newman which reads

Dr Newman was by nature a student of philosophy, specialising in social philosophy and with particular emphasis on Church/State relations.  His research, lectures and many publications earned him international renown.  He as gifted with a clear, sharp logical mind allied with great mental powers of retention and recall and had a tremendous capacity for work.  He was a man who had the courage of his convictions and was outspoken on many of the social and political issues of the day .  It was not easy to score debating points against him.  Loyalty to the teaching of the Church and to the Holy See was a top priority for him.  As Bishop of Limerick, his presence and influence were felt, not only in Limerick, but nationally.  His statements on matters of Church and State made the headlines and got widespread attention.

Though he was kind and considerate in dealing with his priests, he was never what one might call ‘a pushover’.  His priests respected him for the way he treated them and for the confidence and trust he put in them.  He had a pleasant sense of humour, was quick witted and a good conversationalist.  These qualities enabled him to relate well with people.  He showed the common touch, as could be witnessed by the ease with which he mingled among young and old.  He was indeed much loved and appreciated.  He was concerned for the welfare of the people throughout County Limerick and displayed competent leadership on the relevant issues of the city and region.

As President of Maynooth College he got an insight into University organisation which enabled him, as Bishop of Limerick to make a positive contribution.

He left behind a well organised diocese where the faith of the people is very much alive and pastoral policy in its many and varied aspects is clearly outlined.

In any list of great Bishops of Limerick, the name of Dr Jerimiah Newman would have to be among the first’

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Where now with the abortion issue in Ireland?

Abortion has been illegal in Ireland under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

The 8th Amendment to the Constitution in October 1983 introduced for the first time a constitutional ban on abortion by inserting Article 40.3.3:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect and, as far as is practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right’.

The 8th Amendment was passed by a margin of 66.9% to 33.1% based on 1,265,994 votes and a voter turnout of 53.67%.

provides The 14th amendment to the Irish Constitution in 1992 specified that the constitutional ban would not prohibit the right to distribute information, subject to restriction as maybe prescribed by law, about abortion services in other countries. The 14th Amendment was passed by a margin of 59.8% to 40.2% based on 1,732,433 and a voter turnout of 68.1%.

The Report of the Expert Group established by the Minister for Health following the judgement of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights is anticipated shortly.

This case involved three applicants A, B, and C, each of whom had a crisis pregnancy and their claim against Ireland was that there had been violations of Articles 2,3,8,13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Grand Chamber determined that there had been a violation of Article 8 in respect of one applicant, C. Article 8 states that:

  1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The Expert Group, under the leadership of Mr Justice Seán Ryan, has been mandated to examine this judgement and the implications of it on the provision of healthcare services to pregnant women in Ireland. They are also asked to recommend a series of options on how to implement the judgement taking into account the constitutional, legal, medical and ethical considerations involved in the formulation of public policy.

During the decade between 2002 and 2011 a total of 51,945 women, resident in the Republic of Ireland, had an abortion in England and Wales, of whom 415 were under the age 16 years and 5,922 were between the ages of 17 and 19. The corresponding total figure for Northern Ireland was 12,195 pregnancies terminated.

A total of 1.96 million abortions were conducted in England and Wales from 2002 to 2011 and 81% of these abortions were carried out for single women, a proportion that has risen from 76% since 2001. Some 20,299 of these abortions were carried out because there was a congenital malformation of the foetus under Statutory Ground E. These included deficiencies in the nervous system and chromosomal abnormalities as well as issues connected to maternal factors, congenital infectious disease and other disorders.

An abortion is a pregnancy lost in the first trimester, or 14 weeks, of pregnancy. The term, however, is applied to the termination of pregnancy by other means. A miscarriage occurs when a pregnancy is lost between 14 and 28 weeks which has traditionally been the point of independent viability although viability has been established as early as 24 weeks. A foetal heartbeat is evident from approximately 20 weeks gestation and a foetus can be independently viable from 24-28 weeks.

British abortion legislation does not apply to Northern Ireland and practice there varies from that in Great Britain. About 30 pregnancies are terminated each year in Northern Ireland on grounds that the foetus is abnormal.

The European Convention of Human Rights is of considerable significance for any discussion of the law relating to abortion for two reasons. Firstly the European Court of Human Rights can express an opinion as to whether there has been a violation of the Convention is a complaint is brought by an applicant. Secondly, the Convention has a special status in EU law. The 1992 Treaty of the European Union (Maastricht) provides that the EU shall respect fundamental rights (inter alia) as guaranteed by the Convention as general principles of EU law.

But Protocol 17 to the Treaty of the European Union states that:

Nothing in the Treaty on European Union, or in the Treaties establishing the European Communities, or in the Treaties or Acts modifying or supplementing those Treaties, shall affect the application in Ireland of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland.

There has also been a steady reduction in the number of Irish residents seeking to terminate crisis pregnancies in Britain with the annual number declining each year from 6,522 in 2002 to 4,149 in 2011.

Referendums in 1983 and 1992 have shown that it is extremely difficult to formulate referendum proposals on abortion. Ambiguities have been exposed in defining abortion and it is next to impossible to identify terms that convey certainty of meaning.

The All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution deliberated on this issue from 1997 to 2000.  A Green Paper on abortion was referred to the Government in 1999.Submissions were considered from a wide range of interests – civic, medical and religious.

The Committee considered 7 scenarios:

  1. an absolute constitutional ban on abortion
  2. an amendment to the Constitution provision so as to restrict the application of the X Supreme Court case in 1992 concerning the threat of self-destruction can amount to a substantial risk to the life of the mother.
  3. the retention of the status quo
  4. the retention of the constitutional status quo with legislative restatement of the prohibition on abortion
  5. legislation to regulate abortion in circumstances defined by the 1992 X Case
  6. a reversion to the pre-1983 position
  7. permitting abortion on grounds beyond those specified in the X Case.

The Committee agreed that a major problem facing Ireland is the large number of crisis pregnancies which resulted in recourse to abortion services elsewhere; that a decade ago there was an urgent need to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies and the importance of alternatives to abortion being available.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Quinns’, the GAA and politics

Back at what must seem like the dawn of time around 350 B.C. the Greek philosopher Aristotle, from the age of 28, developed an approach to philosophy based on observations of the natural world and his publication On Rhetoric had a major influence on public discourse to this day.

Aristotle identified three pillars of persuasion, ethos, pathos and logos.

Ethos refers to ethical appeal - the credibility of the speaker and the potential scope for identity with an audience; Concepts such as character, respect, identity, trustworthiness come into play.

Pathos, standing for suffering or experience,  refers to the emotional connection with an audience; the emotions and tone of a speaker conveys the essence of the message or what the topic evokes; the emotional chord struck within an audience stirred by, for example language, imagery, sympathy, empathy and appeals to the imagination. Pathos is the foundation for rapport when an audience identifies with the author or speaker’s perspective.

Logos concerns the logical, internal consistency or factual foundation of an argument; the logical appeal and whether it is coherent and makes sense; is it supported with data, facts or evidence. Each of these pillars can be deployed to underpin a dialogue.

In summary ethos establishes credibility; pathos fosters the bond of a relationship through shared experiences, common outlook and mutual interests; while logos appeals to reason and logic.

Last Sunday night, 29 July there was a street protest to support the Quinn family in Ballyconnell Co Cavan which attracted almost 4,000 participants with a platform headed by prominent GAA supporters and personalities. The following day the former President of the GAA, Seán Kelly now a Fine Gael MEP for Munster was interviewed on Radio Kerry and extended his support to the protestors, who displayed banners proclaiming ‘Anglo Steals a Business; Seán Quinn Gets Jail. Why?’, ‘Cowardly Kenny Supports Illegality’ and ‘Let the Quinn Case for to Brussels. There Is No Justice Here’

Are the prominent personalities of the GAA and most particularly Kelly, confusing ethos with pathos in their desire to demonstrate tribal loyalty to the Quinn family and hawking the reputation of the GAA and the State in the process?

While this saga is undoubtedly painful for the family it is also a matter of phenomenal national significance to the economic wellbeing of each taxpayer in the country who is faced with the prospect of bearing a massive personal financial burden as a consequence of grossly dysfunctional investment decisions that are the subject of litigation.

Kelly argues that his demonstration of ‘moral support’ from a GAA perspective is a case of showing support for our own’ and ‘standing behind those in trouble is what the association is about’. That gesture amounts to attaching the ethos and credibility of the GAA to an issue which is before the courts of the State and which involves a massive conflict of interests with the electorate.

This platform of support is based on pathos rather than ethos – an effort to trigger an emotional response from a bewildered community. But the price of this approach is for an officer of the State, a member of the Oireachtas, is to imply that the independence, authority and integrity of the judicial system, as enshrined in the Constitution, may not deserve public confidence.

It surely cannot be possible for Seán Kelly to be partly loyal to the electorate of Munster as their MEP, partly loyal to the Constitution, party respectful of judicial due process and partly loyal to the Quinn family whose interests conflict with those that Kelly is supposed to represent in Europe.

This is not an issue for the forked politician’s tongue, no matter how aggrieved the vested interests concerned may feel. Neither Mr Kelly, nor any elected politician, or political party has any right to bring the judicial process of the State into question.

The reputation and stature of the GAA might be better preserved were its leading lights not to become a spontaneous cheerleader, stooge or pain-bearer at the head of public expressions of sympathy by neighbours and friends of a vested interest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Should Seanad Éireann be mothballed?

The chattering classes have declared that Seanad Éireann, the Irish Senate is unfit for purpose but are divided as to whether its should be reformed or abolished.  Taoiseach Enda Kenny declared in 2009, 16 months before he succeeded to his current role that he proposed to save the State €150 million by abolishing the Senate; reducing the number of TDs by 20 to 146 and cutting the salaries of Taoiseach and ministers to achieve greater parity with other jurisdictions.  A decision to reduce the number of TDs by 8 has been taken, as has a decision to reduce the number of town councils from 75 to 50.

The Irish Times, in its editorial on 24 July, states that no compelling case has been made so far for abolition and that the issue should be considered by the Constitutional Convention which is due to convene in September. The Times maintains that ‘reform should be radical’ but that the Upper House should not compete with the Dáil.  Its role should be to ‘influence’ and provide ‘medium to longer term perspectives’.  It could, for example,  become a voice for Irish emigrants, provide gender balance and fair representation for third-level institutions, along with facilitating among its membership subject matter or sector experts. In other words, an institution that should be maintained but which requires an excuse to survive.

The fundamental choice is whether Ireland should continue to have a bicameral parliamentary structure, like the 13 larger members of the European Union or a unicameral structure like the remaining 14 members (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden) and countries of comparable size and scale, such as Norway, Israel and New Zealand.

Federal state typically have two houses of parliament while unitary states have one, and this is also the case in certain regional administrations such as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Where there is no second house to act as a revising chamber providing a second review of legislation other provisions are made.  Luxembourg maintains a Council of State for this purpose.

The first Dáil, which met in January 1919, was a unicameral body.  The 1922 Constitution provided for a senate.  Half of its membership was nominated by the head of government and half were elected by the Dáil.  This procedure was intended to ensure that Unionism was not politically overshadowed.

A change in 1928 resulted in senators being elected by the Oireachtas from a panel nominated by it.  This led to a conflict between Dáil and Seanad in 1936 prompting the establishment of a Commission under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice, Hugh Kennedy.

The 1937 Constitution, passed by a margin of 51/29 with a voter turnout of 75.8%, established the current Seanad – 60 members of whom 11 are nominated by the Taoiseach.  Six are elected by graduates of two universities while graduates of the University of Limerick and Dublin City University are disenfranchised, as are graduates of institutes of technology.  Apart from university graduates the electorate comprises members of the Oireachtas and county councillors.

Seanad Éireann is a deliberative body with limited powers to initiate  and review legislation but with the authority to be a forum for discussions on matters of public interest.  A Money Bill cannot be initiated in the Seanad nor delayed for more than 21 days before returning to the Dáil, which has the power to reject Seanad recommendations.  The Seanad has the power when combined with one-third of the membership of the Dáil to request the President not to sign a Bill into law on the grounds that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.  But that power has never been used.

The rationale for a bicameral parliamentary structure is based on a need to take account of interests that may not be adequately represented in the Dáil and the need to review legislative proposals before they are transposed into law.  A senate is intended to offer checks and balances on the legislative process – but how is this possible if the membership of a senate is elected from such a narrow franchise, as is the case currently and is a mirror image of the government?

The Irish Government derives its authority from the Dáil although up to two members of government can be appointed from the Seanad.  This occurred only twice when Garret FitzGerald appointed his buddy Senator James Dooge (1922-2010) as Foreign Minister in 1981 and Senator Seán Moylan (1888-1957) who was appointed Minister for Lands in 1943 by deValera.

The tenability of the Seanad has been considered on many occasions.  A Seanad Electoral Law Commission was convened in 1958 comprising 19 members under the chairmanship of a Circuit Court judge, Joseph McCarthy but it reached no concrete conclusions after nine months of deliberation.

The Committee on the Constitution which was inaugurated in 1967 at the prompting of Seán Lemass then considered the issue but more recent analysis has focused on the duplication of representation as between the Dáil and the Seanad as well as its relevance in contemporary political life.

Few items of legislation originate there although some technical matter have done so.  Senators cannot raise parliamentary questions and sittings, which typically take place on a Wednesday and Thursday, are determined by the need to consider Bills passed by the Dáil. But in the last analysis party politics impacts both the nomination and election of senators.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Irish Constitutional Convention set to become a Hall of Mirrors

Both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in their article in The Irish Times on 11 July advise that the Constitutional Convention is to be the vanguard of profound social reform.

The challenges of the 21st century they believe need to be met include curtailing the presidential term of office from seven to five years and giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote at embassies overseas.

The length of the presidential term was not an impediment to the distinguished and illustrious transformative presidencies of Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. The experience of the most recent presidential election highlighted concerns about the availability of a sufficient number of candidates with adequately compelling credentials to become President; whether they fully understood what the function of Head of State is and who could persuade the electorate that the presidential office would conducted with dignity, distinction and honour during their tenure.

The prospect of those outside the country being granted a vote begs the question of whether those who do not pay tax should have the privilege of voting. Perhaps the Convention may consider that there is some legitimacy between the presence of a tax evader in the membership of the Oireachtas making the laws of the nation and a constitutional entitlement for the wider Diaspora to determine who should be Head of State.

Another topic for the Convention is to be the greater participation of women in public life. If this is the urgent priority with the stature the political parties would like to convince us us it has, why did they only spend €76,896 of the €4,805,258 of taxpayers’ money granted to them in 2011 on the participation of women in public life? Surely some solid background effort on the ground is necessary before the electorate are asked to embrace profound social and institutional reform.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New 50% income tax rate could yield €490 million

The estimated income of the top-10,000 earners in Ireland this year is estimated to be €5,959 million, or an average of €595,900 per person. The amount of annual income tax payable in this is €1,715 million – an effective tax rate of 29%

The effective tax rate does not include additional liability in respect of social charges – PRSI and Universal Social Charge. A married couple may elect for joint assessment and counted as one tax payer.

The following details relate to the top 1% of income earners; the top 10% of income earners and the top 20% of income earners: €


  Top 1% Top 10% Top 20%
Number of earners 21,650 216,500 433,000
Gross income €8,742 million €29,600 million €43,300 million
Average earnings €403,760 €136,710 €100,000
Amount of tax €2,463 million €7,080 million €9,294 million
Effective tax rate 28% 24% 21%


The number of income earners earning more than €100,000 in 2012 is 113,500.  The top rate of income tax is 41% which applies to single individuals earning over €32,800, married couples – one earning in excess of €41,800 and married couples – both earning in excess of €65,600.

Other streams of income are taxed at different rates.  Deposit interest income is liable to tax at 30%.

If a 50% income tax rate was to be applied to incomes in excess of €100,000 the estimated yield in a full year would be €490 million.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Irish politicians’ gravy train intact despite escalating debt burden

The proposed €120 billion plan proposed at the two-day summit in Brussels last night is relatively modest when compared to the National Debt of Ireland, which nos stands at  €129 billion

While the Government wrestles with its conscience about the phenomenal debt burden on Irish taxpayers’ and the implications of the personal insolvency of many of them, one facet of that burden which seems utterly immune from the conscientious distress of the Government is the quantum of taxpayers’ money paid to political parties and Independent members of the Oireachtas under the Electoral Acts.

The sums involved are additional to the very substantial tax-free payments in respect of the Parliamentary Standard Allowance, the Travel and Accommodation Allowance and the other direct supports provided through the Oireachtas Commission at a cost of €130 million in 2011. They are simply outrageous, unconscionable and, in a society bearing a cumulative exchequer deficit well over €82 billion and a titanic National Debt, unaffordable.

The standard of accounting is risible in the case of political parties and non-existent in the case of Independent politicians. The quality of oversight reporting by the politically-compromised Standards in Public Office Commission is opaque, shoddy, wretched, inconsistent and disregarding of basic accounting conventions.

Thanks to the bountiful munificence of Charlie McCreevy in 2001 political parties have been granted over €78 million of taxpayers’ money since 1 January 2007 under the authority of the Electoral Acts to meet reported expenditure of under €64 million with €14 million left in their balance sheets. Last year 29% of the €13.3 million paid to political parties was carried over to 2012, probably as a consequence of the vast sums spent paying a myriad of ministerial political advisers.

The scale of these payments escalated since 2002 by 47% in line with increases in public sector pay but it is most noteworthy that payments to political parties did not reduce when public sector pay reduced from 2009 onwards.

Do taxpayers really need to: pay Fianna Fáil €28,542 in respect of depreciation, (a non-cash charge); pay Fine Gael €18,657 to spend on ‘donations’; pay the Labour Party €44,000 to spend on ‘international affairs’; provide €28,700 to the Sinn Féin ‘national finance department’ and leave €90,000 in the balance sheet of The Green Party, which has no Oireachtas membership? [/over]

Fine Gael and Labour voted against the appointment of a politician (former Fianna Fáil minister, Michael Smith) in a Dáil vote on 19 December 2007 to membership of the Standards Commission, a curtain-raiser initiative of the Ahern Government that preceded the publication of tribunal reports. It is interesting that only 15 of the 73 TDs who supported that motion are in the current Dáil and they include the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, John McGuinness, Independent Deputies Noel Grealish, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath and Michael Lowry.

Both the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and the Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore,  participated in the Níl vote against that motion. If the Governing parties position in 2007 opposed the principle of a politician, or former politician, becoming a member of a commission whose mandate is to oversee the ethical standards of politicians and public officials’, why has this Government not already removed political influence from the Standards Commission, especially in the light of the tribunal reports’ findings and instructed it to improve the quality of its published reports rather than tolerating its interminable excuses for inertia and weakening moral authority?

Will the Government’s ambition to reduce the debt burden on taxpayers’ include a dramatic reduction in the amounts of State money paid to political parties to a level that is affordable and demand a more transparent and credible regime of accounting for this money, or does the Government merely intend to haunt society with threats, innuendo and rumours of more taxation, new charges and cuts in public services?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Political party State funding, a rich, rewarding gravy train

The scale of funding provided by taxpayers to political parties under the Electoral Acts and the Party Leader’s Allowance legislation, by any benchmark, is so outrageous, absurd, unaffordable and inadequately accounted for that political parties have become equivalent to bloated, featherbedded and State-dependent QUANGOs.

Figures recently published show that taxpayers provided €12.66 million last year to which a further €3.1 million was carried forward from 2010 bringing their spending capacity in 2011, courtesy of taxpayers’, to €15.77 million. They reported spending €11.88 million which means they brought forward €3.8 million to 2012; a 26% increase on the sum carried forward, unspent, from 2010, in an era of severe austerity, great personal sacrifice and massive cutbacks.
To put the scale in context, the British Government provided €8 million in 2011 to Opposition parties who successfully contested the 2010 general election for research support for front-bench spokesmen. The 2010 British general election consisted of a valid poll of 27.1 million votes. Our 2011 general election consisted of 2.2 million 1st preference votes.

Despite the attachment of an auditor’s certificate the accounting for this money is pathetically obscure; devoid of candour and adequate transparency, notwithstanding the proximity of the Standards in Public Office Commission as overseer.

The Standards Commission advise that Fianna Fáil, for example, claimed to spend €28,542 on ‘depreciation’, a non-cash expense. Fine Gael spent €18,657 on ‘donations’. Labour spent €44,666 on ‘international affairs’. Sinn Féin spent €28,700 on its ‘national finance department’. The Green Party, with only 41,000 general election votes and without a single Oireachtas member, managed to spend €341,466 but have still brought forward over €90,000 to 2012. The pair of two-TD parties received so much funding that they are bringing forward almost €93,000 of unspent taxpayers’ money to 2012 leaving the four of them to eke out an existence on the €167,462 in tax-free travel, subsistence and Parliamentary Standard Allowances.

The People Before Profit Alliance spent just €1,000 on ‘pre-Budget research’ but over €7,500 on ‘travel and subsistence’, over and above the €20,000 their TDs collected in travel and subsistence to commute from the adjacent Dublin suburbs last year. The Socialist Party has obliged all taxpayers to pay €4,689 in respect of the production of Socialist Party publications. Independent members [/over] of the Oireachtas pocketed €713,885, free of income tax, without even an auditor’s certificate, or any obligation whatsoever to account for this money. Some of them tell us they donate their allowances to charity.

The Parliamentary Leader’s Allowance, which last year amounted to €7.2 million, is linked to pay increases in the civil service but the legislation does not compel a reduction in line with civil service pay cuts and the radical pruning of the public sector since 2009.

It is noteworthy, in the context of the statutory mandate that 30% of selected candidates in the next general election are to be female, that 1.4% of the €5.4 million provided to seven parties under the Electoral Acts was applied to the promotion of participation of women in political activity.

The foregoing expenditure is separate and distinct from the €6 million received, tax-free, directly by TDs in respect of the Parliamentary Standard Allowance and generous tax-free travel and subsistence allowances, which they receive when they turn up for the 100 days sitting of the Dáil each annum.

Spending last year on political parties is equivalent to an average of €1,311 for each 200 votes received by qualifying parties in the February 2011 general election. Political parties in Great Britain and the North are obliged to provide detailed annual audited accounts since 2003. The average overall subvention for each set of 200 votes won by qualifying parties in the last British general election in 2011 was €37.16, less than 3% of what Irish taxpayers are saddled with.

The ridiculous scale of political party spending in Ireland is also illustrated when the campaign cost of each vote cast, €4.17 in the 2011 general election is compared to the campaign cost of each vote cast in the 2010 British general election, €1.07.

Is there any other facet of the €52 billion in current expenditure that is spent by the Government so out of kilter with economic reality, where loose and ambiguous rules are tolerated and the standard of elementary accountability to stakeholders is so opaque?

How can the Irish Government, reform-minded and responsible for public expenditure, public sector reform and the adequacy of corporate governance standards look voters in the eye while this self-indulgent squandering orgy that is unnecessary and which is taking place directly under their collective nose?

The British political party subvention, incidentally, is restricted to Opposition parties with at least 2 MPs and more than 150,000 votes (0.55% of the national poll). It is based on three elements:

1. General funding of €18,600 per seat + €30,04 for every 200 votes

2. Apportioned travel expenses for Opposition parties subject to an overall limit of €204,000

3. A sum for the running of the Leader of the Opposition’s office

4. Salaries for three post holders: Leader of the Opposition’ Opposition Chief Whip and Assistant Opposition Whip

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How the State got screwed on Dublin Docks

It beggars belief that the State owned the entire controversial Irish Glass Bottle site at Poolbeg, through Dublin Port Company, in 2005. But the following year, after the freehold title was acquired by a subsidiary of the tenant under a loophole in the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) No 2 Act 1978, the site was offered for sale by public tender with the State having a 33.3% share of the sale proceeds, not the more typical 50:50 share that had been the custom in instances where long-term commercial leases were being disposed of in a similar context.

The site was sold to a consortium that included Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) as a 26% shareholder, developers Bernard McNamara and Derek Quinlan in late 2006 for a consideration of €411 million. The State stood to recoup one-third of this (€140 million) but ought to have recouped a further €65.5 million had the customary landlord/tenant 50:50 split applied.

DDDA sought the permission of its supervising minister, Dick Roche to enter the joint venture and to increase its borrowing capacity to €127 million, the maximum allowable under governing legislation; permission to enter a joint venture and indicated on 12 October 2006 that the cost of the proposed transaction in respect of which the loan powers were sought would be €220 million.

Mary Moylan, an Assistant Secretary from the Environment Department, with line responsibility for DDDA, was an Executive Board member who participated in 12 of the 15 board meetings that took place in 2006. Ministerial approval was received on 24 October 2006. Ten days later, on 3 November, the Executive Board of DDDA agreed a tender bid of €411 million but Moylan’s Minister and Secretary-General was not informed of the massive and fundamental change in the terms of engagement.

The assessment of the site value was left to Bernard McNamara, in recognition ‘of his expertise and experience and if he had some additional information which convinced him that the bid should be increased then the Executive Board of DDDA agreed that McNamara could be allowed to increase the bid as he saw fit to a maximum of €437 million’.

A professional valuation of the site was not obtained in advance of determining this bid although one was obtained the day after the decision to submit with an application for loan finance to Anglo Irish Bank, two of whose directors, Lar Bradshaw and Seán FitzPatrick, were members of the 8-person Executive Board of DDDA, Bradshaw was chair of the Executive Board and FitzPatrick was his predecessor in that role.

The stated objectives for the involvement of DDDA in this joint venture was to (1) ensure that the site would be developed imminently (2) expedite the planning process (3) advance its social amenity and less commercially desirable agenda and (4) input to the architectural design and tone of the development.

DDDA operated on the basis of creating a Master Plan for parcels of the 500+ hectares within its jurisdiction. The 2003 iteration of this for the Poolbeg Peninsula had not been completed when this deal was executed in 2006 but they had broad stroke ambitions to have facilities in place for research and development and industrial and commercial usage. The promoters of the joint venture envisaged a return of 15% on their investment. A substantial portion of this would have comprised 1-bedroom apartments overlooking an incinerator and selling for prices up to €1 million each. But no detailed analysis was carried out by the Executive Board or management of DDDA for a proposition that was supposed to have a ceiling of €35 million for DDDA.

The negotiation of funding for this splurge took place with Anglo Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland. Bradshaw and FitzPatrick were both directors of each organisation while another member of the esteemed executive Board, Declan McCourt was a director of Bank of Ireland, as well as being a director of the vehicle importer and distributor, OHM Group. While these three absented themselves from the actual discussion of the funding issue at the board meetings it was Bradshaw who signed the loan guarantees with Anglo Irish Bank.

By 2010 DDDA had a potential exposure of €81.9 million but after a settlement was reached with NAMA, which acquired the lending banks’ loan assets, its actual exposure was €52.1 million.

Some €36.3 million was allocated to site remediation. The value of this 10 hectare site, on which €431 million was spent before taking account of remediation costs, was put at €45 million at the end of 2010.

There has been never been evidence that the scale of this splurge was ever made known to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and in May 2012 the current Minister, Phil Hogan, announced the shuttering of DDDA. Moylan remains an Assistant Secretary in charge of finance and central services. The five other member of the Executive Board in 2006 were Angela Cavendish from Raglan Road Ballsbridge, a director of Alexsam Limited, Donall Curtin a director of Byrne, Curtin Kelly an accountancy practice, Niamh O’Sullivan from Ranelagh, a director of Arup Consulting Engineers and Joan O’Connor formerly a director of Interactive Project Managers Limited.