Monday, November 27, 2006

What sort of message is this sending out?

The decision of the Ulster bank to issue a commemorative fiver bearing the image of revered soccer idol, and slightly less revered liver transplantee, George Best has set me wondering what's going on up above there in the North. The notes are available from Ulster Bank from November 27th.

Announcing the issue last month on BBC Northern Ireland, Ulster bank chief executive Cormac McCarthy said, apparently without a hint of irony,
"...we wanted to ensure that...we paid fitting tribute to his contribution to football in Northern Ireland and beyond. We wanted to make it possible for fans throughout Northern Ireland and further afield to own their very own piece of unique George Best memorabilia. By selecting the most affordable note denomination, five pounds, we have tried to make the notes as widely accessible as possible."

It would be pedantic of me to point out that if you have a million of something they can't be unique but, mere pedantry aside, the idea of Georgie (they call him) the Belfast boy on a note of the realm I find deeply ironic and not a little bit, how shall we say, uncharacteristic of the image of thrift and sobriety normally fostered by an austere financial institution like Ulster Bank. I wonder what Dr Paisley has to say about this?

Our Georgie was never averse to spending fivers (like a docker on payday, some unkind souls might say) and doubtless used one or two to light the odd havana in his time after a good night at the casino with a former Miss World or three on his arm. Sporting icon and national hero he might have been but a model of the Protestant work ethic, thrift and sobriety much favoured in Belfast, so I've heard, he most certainly was not.

Now, don't get me wrong, I loved the bones of George even though he played for the forces of darkness (i.e. United as seen from Liverpool). To me, like thousands of working class kids of my generation, George Best was a major inspiration in more fields than the soccer variety. George showed us that class barriers could be broken down (preferably in an E-Type Jag), that you could party into the wee small hours, drink copious amounts of champers and still break Don Revie's heart with a hat trick later the same day. A man who retired at the age of 26, for heaven's sake. What kid from inner city Liverpool, Belfast, or Birmingham looking at a future in a factory wouldn't see that as an aspiration?

Who could not admire a man who once said "I spent a lot of my money on booze, birds and fast cars - the rest I just squandered." Well no one whose moral and social values were shaped in those heady days of the late 60s and early 70s when women were women and men wore flares.

Those values of innocent hedonism and devil may care decadence that George embodied are perhaps best summed up in his admission, on the Jonathon Ross show, I think, that after his liver transplant he felt for a while that the new liver had wiped the slate clean and the partying could resume as per usual. What a man for even owning up to having had such a thought!

The sad thing is that most of the million fivers won't be used in a way George would appreciate. You won't see many being passed across pub counters,lost on the turn of a croupier's wheel or soundly invested in a sure thing running at Kempton Park. They'll be up on ebay and turning a nice profit for some dull micro-capitalist exploiting the acquisitive desires of the type of anorak who can tell you who scored the winning goal for Altrincham Town in the 1st round of the 1972 FA Trophy but who wouldn't recognise the pure and redeeming beauty of great football if it nutmegged them on the edge of the 6 yard box. How times change.

Anyway, always one to think ahead me, any takers for a commemorative nicotine patch for Alex Higgins then?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

All in the family

NEPOTISM, n. Appointing your grandmother to office for the good of the party.

From The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce.

Something which has always struck me as odd about the Irish political system is the way in which seats in the Dáil often seem to be passed on in families like some weird recessive gene.

I did a bit of research recently and discovered that of the current 166 sitting above in the Oireachtas, over 20 percent of them (that's 35 for you non-arithmeticians) had been preceded in the house by a close relative of some sort or, like our own dear Taoiseach, had a sibling or other close relative working in the (family) business of state. Of that 35, at least 17 appeared to have directly inherited their seat from an immediate family member. And that's just Dáil Éireann. I didn't look at the Senate or the European Parliament.

As a page devoted to the topic on wikipedia tactfully puts it: 'There is a tradition in Irish politics of having family members suceed each other in the same parliamentary seat.' As we all know, I hope, just because something is a tradition, it doesn't make it right.

Moreover, it is a tradition that appears to be set to extend itself for another generation and beyond, if the biographies of the current Dáil Éireann crowd can be relied on (Not always a sure thing, just ask Bertie about his academic qualifications, for example). I stopped counting after I ran out of fingers, toes and other numberable body parts, but a recurring phrase in many of their bios seemed to be 'XXX'S son/daughter/younger brother serves on Dublin/Cork/Limerick/Galway Council'. Which it seems to me is code for 'will inherit the seat when the old man buys the farm/moves up to the Senate/gets a nice little earner in the EU'.

Now I don't know about you, but I would find such a high proportion of legacies in any democratic society to be something of a worry, but in Ireland it makes me very nervous indeed. Apart from serious stuff about the formation of oligarchies which stifle the democratic process and concentrate power and influence in the hands of a ruling elite, the potential conflicts of interest that can arise and the possibility of producing a lineage like that of the Bush family, what really scares the bejabbers out of me is that the institution that appears to be producing a significant proportion our political masters is the Irish family.

You don't need to be a social historian or a sociologist to know that the Irish family is a unique class of a beast. Ask anyone who ever grew up in one. A product of the Great Hunger and a particularly rigourous form of 19th Century European Catholicism, its principal products over the past 150 years have been emigrants, schizophrenics, priests, parochialism and a brand of internecine disharmony unparalled for its stubborn persistence. It is not an institution I for one would rely on to produce politicians of vision and statesmanlike abilities.

In other countries, the selection of political representatives is usually a quite rigorous process involving committees and panels and the assessment of candidates' character and abilities. In Ireland the process of selection probably goes on like this (With apologies to Synge and Keane):-

Interior night, a peasant cottage somewhere in rural Ireland. Dan 'the Bull' Aherne sits at a scrubbed pine kitchen table sipping tea loudly from a chipped enamel mug. He is a large man with a thick white beard and a fine mane of silver hair. Though old his eyes have lost none of their peasant craftiness and are set deep in his weather beaten face. Behind him, his wife, a small women of middle years attends a large pan simmering on the kitchen range.

BULL: What's to become of that son of ours, that Bertie? Tis a hard story the way I'm left to-day, when it was I did tend him from his hour of birth, and he a dunce never reached his second book, the way he'd come from school, many's the day, with his legs lamed under him, and he blackened with his beatings like a tinker's ass.

The woman ignores him and continues to stir the contents of the pot on the range

BULL: The wrack and ruin of three score years; and it's a terror to live that length, I tell you, and to have a son going to the dogs against you, and you wore out scolding him, and skelping him, and God knows what. I never till this
day confused that dribbling idiot with a likely man. I'm destroyed surely.

The silence from the kitchen range continues, broken only by the sound of spoon against pot

BULL: [turning on the silent woman with a roar of rage.] -- Didn't you hear me say he was the fool of men, the way from this out he'll know the orphan's lot. He has me killed, so he does. Why couldn't he be like his brothers and sisters, keeping the slates on the roof with the remittance money from Amerikay? Married into land in the town below or doling out the penances to the sinners above in Dublin? What's to become of him and us. I'll tell ye now, woman, 'twas cursed the day we sent that eejit Noel off to the building sites of London and kept Bertie here to inherit the land my parents broke their hearts and backs defending from the Tans.

The Bull and Bertie discuss election strategies

He bangs the chipped mug down on the table spilling its contents, cradles his head in his hands and begins weeping softly. His wife continues to stir the pot silently. Suddenly she turns away from the range and speaks, her voice tremulous with passion

WIFE: Bull, tis 18 long years since I last opened me mouth to speak to ye. Aye 18 years since ye walked the light of me life down to the emigrant boat with naught but the fare in his pocket and a few phone numbers in Cricklewood. I begged you to send Bertie in the place of the other one, but ye'd have none of it, would ye? Too stupid you said, too lazy, too feckless and conniving to make the friends a man would need to last on the streets of London. Well Bull, me darling, there's only one thing for it now. If he's no good for the land, too much of sinner to take the cloth and no girl in the district would after be taking him for a husband, then there's nothing else but it's up to the Dáil he'll have to go.

The Bull looks up and around him, an expression of wonder on his face like a prisoner emerging into the light of day.

BULL: Let him take his father's seat, is that what your're saying woman? Let him take responsibility for the budget estimates,the health service, the town planning, the infrastructural development, the taxation, the brown envelopes?

WIFE: I am indeed Bull, me darling. Where else could we be placing the wee ommadawn if he's to have half a chance in this world or the next?

BULL: Woman, that's pure brilliant, so it is. I'll resign me seat in the morning and have him on the hustings before the week is out. Sure, why I didn't think of it meself I don't know. He'll not be out of his depth in the Dáil, to be sure, to be sure.

WIFE: And we can retire to the villa in Malaga to see out our days in a bit of sunshine for once.

BULL: [taking her in his arms] That we can, me darling, that we can.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Stone Cold Stone Storms Stormont

What is the 6 counties coming to? A former loyalist gunman and leader of the UFF(Long Kesh branch) today tried to blow up that bastion of Unionist ascendancy, Stormont Castle, apparently in protest against the resumption of talks on devolution.

20 minutes into the proceedings shouting "No Surrender, No Surrender, No Surrender", murderer of six and father of nine (at the last count) Michael Stone Cold Stone burst into the assembly with a knife, a gun and a bagful of bangers left over from Guy Fawkes' night. Did no one tell him that old Guy was a Taig, for heavens sake? He was overpowered by unarmed security staff and taken away by the police.

Chief constable Sir Hugh Orde branded the action "a sad publicity act by a very sad individual". I hope they don't take those comments into account when they revoke his licence and send him back to the pokey for the rest of the century.

Stone was sentenced in 1989 to 684 years for six murders and five attempted murders including the notorious Milltown cemetary massacre. He was released in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday agreement. Stone was much criticised in Loyaist circles for his support for the agreement which got him off the porridge just a few years shy of serving his full sentence.

Smacks a bit of cherry picking that, Mickaleen, me old mate: "Release me 674 years early, excellent! Proceed with the democratic process, I don't think so!"

I guess Johnny Adair wasn't the only mad dog in loyalist ranks.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sod ‘em they’re only spas, anyway

I can imagine the conversation that took place in 2001 in the State Examination Commission office.

Civil servant 1: Don’t forget to attach those notes to that load of leaving certs in the pile over there

Civil servant No 2: What, you mean those yokes to do with the exam accommodations?

CS1 : Them’s the lads.

CS2: Might we not upset them a bit, like we’re after suggesting how they got it easy in the exams, an all?

CS1: Don’t be after worrying your head about that. They’re dyslexics they’ll not be able to read ‘em anyway. Bleedin’ spas.

It surprises me not one iota that the Department of Education here intends to appeal the Equality Authority decision that they had discriminated against two students because annotations regarding the support they were given to enable them to take their Leaving Cert examinations were appended to their results.

Nor does it surprise me that someone came up with the crackpot idea of attaching such a codicil in the first place.

In my opinion, the approach to disability issues in general in Ireland stinks to high heaven. While we regard ourselves as a caring and compassionate nation, unstinting in our support for those less fortunate than ourselves, the reality, particularly in the case of the disabled, is quite different.

I worked for 5 years in a college here which, if its glossy brochures were to be believed, had an active and welcoming policy towards disabled students. Unfortunately, had a wheelchair using student decided to take up the céad míle fáilte, s/he would have found him or herself unable to have independent access to lecture theatres, the library, my office for tutorials or the student cafeteria. Not much of a learning environment left after that really, is there?

Even at Trinity, a much bigger institution which did at least make some accommodation to the needs of disabled people, there were problems. A student using a wheelchair could pretty much get unaided access into the sociology department (but not to my office). Had there been a fire during their visit, however, their chances of survival would depend very much on the willingness of some hero to carry them bodily out of the building.

Out on the streets it’s as bad if not worse. Getting around means negotiating bags of rubbish and wheely bins awaiting collection scattered randomly along the main streets, little or no ramping of kerbs and cars parked on pavements. Only the other day I watched an elderly man in a motorised chair dice with death on one of our busiest roads due to inconsiderate parking by not one but several motorists

Few buses and almost no taxis are wheelchair friendly, something I imagine breaches EU regulations these days. Our Georgian city might be the delight of visiting tourists, but only for the physically able. For the disabled it must possess the charms of an army assault course.

Most ludicrous, but entirely symptomatic of the general attitude towards disability came last year when Dublin Corporation removed the beepers which enable blind people to know when it is safe to cross from a number of pedestrian crossings on O’Connell St. The reason for this was that the Corpo had been informed that the sounds were distracting for sighted pedestrians!

The Irish State ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1989 but the first attempt to introduce disability legislation in 2002 ended in a shambles amid an outcry from disability groups because of its inadequacy. In the same year the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), noted “persistence of discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, especially in the fields of employment, social security benefits, education and health”.

The second attempt, this time in consultation with disability groups, ended again in disarray. As the Disability Legislation Consultation Group, the consultative body set up to advise on the re-drafting, stated in May 2005:
This is now a totally flawed and fundamentally inadequate piece of legislation. It fails to meet the needs of the disability sector and we are appalled that the Government is determined to ram it through the Oireachtas in the face of opposition from the very people it was originally designed to benefit

Sean Love, the executive director of Amnesty’s Irish section, sees the cause of these problems arising from the unwillingness of the state to frame adequate ‘rights-based’ legislation in accordance with the ICESCR in case they should find themselves the subject of very costly litigation for non-compliance with their own laws. The preference is, in Bertie Ahern’s words, for a strategy which is ‘rights based, but not lawyer driven.’

But the problem lies not with a fear on Bertie’s part that the state will find itself besieged in the Four Courts by mobs of angry wheel-chair users and barking guide dogs, assuming they could get up the steps and into the court in the first place. Nor even does it lie with penny-pinching politicians who’d rather support the big wheels rather than the users of smaller wheels.

Needs & Rights in Ireland 2006 And why would a cripple be after wanting to go to the shops on his own, Willie?

The problem, it seems to me, goes very much deeper and is rooted in the nature of Irish society itself. Unlike almost every other European society, the Irish state and the culture accompanying it is not at heart easy with the notion of rights, human or otherwise. In its dealings with the disabled, the homeless, the mentally ill, the poor or almost any other marginalised group the approach taken is primarily needs based, rather than rights based. It is not intended to encourage civic participation, but rather to stifle it.

Part of the reason for this lies with the kind of catholic social teaching which dominated the state for most of its history, a form of 19th Century social interventionism which divides the disadvantaged into the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’. The marginalised are required to bear the predestined stigma of their marginalisation in a quiet and becoming manner. In such a context the privileged offer their beneficence to the less privileged in the form of ‘good works’, in return for which the latter should be thankful for what is offered. In the meantime we despatched our stigmatised to places out of sight and out of mind.

The other element derives from the colonial legacy in which citizenship is understood in terms of access to social privilege and influence and not embodied in the person at all. We inherited this and successive administrations have done bugger all to change the legacy. Anyone threatening to rock the boat was traditionally encouraged to get on one if they didn’t like things the way they were.

The fact is that Ireland is not a rights-based society, it is a privilege based one, where the privilege is based on a mixture of wealth, birth and position in the social hierarchy. It is a society of peculiar moral judgement in which the deviant of any kind lacks standing, often literally.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Street crime in Dublin claims another victim

Last Sunday afternoon I became another statistic in the growing wave of crime sweeping tsunami-like through this fair city. I was mugged.

Now the amount was small, a mere 60 cents, and I suffered no injuries except to my pride, thanks be to God, but it was the brazen and blatant manner in which I was parted from my hard earned spondulicks that concerns me.

Not a care in the world, I was heading into town to claim a seat in my favourite hostelry for the Liverpool Arsenal game. I waited for my bus and when it arrived I jumped on board, my one and half Euro fare clenched in my hot little hand. "1.55, please" I said politely to the driver. He smiled back at me and issued my ticket.

My suspicions should have been raised on the spot, since smiling amongst Dublin bus drivers is something that occurs about as often as Halley's comet and is usually only occasioned by some dark and preferably painful misfortune befalling a passenger or other road user.

As I proceeded to my seat, I noticed a tattered black and white notice sellotaped just to the rear of the driver's cab. It announced the institution of a flat fare rate of 95 cents for all journeys made on Sundays in November. I knew nothing about this act of beneficence on the part of Bus Átha Cliath but the driver should have. I looked at my ticket. Instead of the 1.55 I had paid, it showed the flat fare of 95 cents. Clearly he did know and in the interests of reducing next year's subvention decided not to share the secret with me.

A Dublin highwayman makes good his escape

Now for those of you unfamiliar with the system on Dublin buses, all fares are deposited in a strongbox attached to the driver's cab. The drivers themselves do not handle cash or give change. If you don't have the exact fare and you're lucky enough to have a driver who can be arsed, the excess will be marked on your ticket and you can redeem the few cents you've overpaid by waiting for 3 days in the queue that snakes along O'Connell St out of the doors of Dublin Bus Headquarters.

Nor do they accept notes. This a source of much amusement to bus crews and native passengers alike at Dublin airport when a gang of Italian language students laden with handmade leather cases and designer rucksacks attempt to pay their collective fare in paper Euros on the number 16 to Harold's Cross. They get on in a playful and noisy flurry of bag stacking and then, having been peremptorily dismissed by their putative chauffeur, they slink off in a symptomatically Latin sulk, muttering about omerta and vendetta and such like. Céad Míle Fáilte, me arse. That'll teach 'em to be more stylish and better footballers than us, wha?

Anyway, like most victims of crime, my traumatic experience has left me with certain questions apart from 'why me,Lord?' I can't have been the only one who didn't know about the reduction and paid the normal fare nor can I be the only one whose refund stubs never get redeemed because by the time I get off the bus my ticket looks like it has been ill-used in a group orgy of origami practitioners.

So what happens to the dosh, boss? Does it go into some secret slush fund used to train bus drivers in advanced techniques of sullenness, stunt driving and general misanthropy? Are Dublin Bus executives dining out in expensive restaurants and leaving their tips on the table in neatly stacked piles of 5 and 10 cent coins? Does it pay for the fine tuning of braking systems which can bounce a pensioner the length of the lower deck with the merest twitch of driver's right foot?

The public should be told.....

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Who benefits? No guessing there

While, like many Dublin residents, I would rarely be averse to the belabouring of culchies with big sticks, the recent activities of the Garda up above in Mayo gave me pause for thought. The men in blue were out and about the Mayo countryside this weekend taking a breath of air and making the country safe for Big Oil. Or, as Chief Inspector Tony McNamara put it, they were defending 2 constitutional rights 'the right of peaceful protest and the right of people to access their place of work.'

Chief Inspector McNamara, doubtless a keen scholar of the Irish Constitution appears to be referring to Articles 40.6 and 45.2.i of this hallowed document. It's a shame his reading didn't extend to the bit that says

All natural resources, including the air and all forms of potential energy, within the jurisdiction of the Parliament and Government established by this Constitution and all royalties and franchises within that jurisdiction belong to the State subject to all estates and interests therein for the time being lawfully vested in any person or body.

Had the Chief Inspector been a bit more familiar with Article 10 of the Constitution, he might have been directing his men to knock a few heads in the environs of Leinster House this week.

Garda Siochána dressed for stroll on the bog

For interested readers the details of the ongoing campaign of eco-resistance towards the siting of the gas plant can be found at the Shell to Sea site on but what appears to have slipped off the page in coverage of the current controversy is the shoddy brokering of the deal which granted the rights and royalties associated with the Corrib gas field to Shell, Statoil and Marathon Oil for free, gratis and for nothing.

Fadó, fadó
Back in the 1970s before the tigers stalked the land, Ireland had a halfway decent policy with regards to the activities of companies who wanted to exploit our off-shore resources of gas and oil. Under the direction of the then Minister of Industry and Commerce, Justin Keating, a plan was put in place to ensure that the State would receive significant financial benefits from any commercial energy finds.

Based on the Norwegian model, Keating's plan envisaged a set-up whereby the State would hold a 50% stake in any commercial find, together with royalties of between 8% and 16% and Corporation Tax at the then standard 50% rate. The Irish government was also offered help from the Norwegian Government in setting up a state oil company with involvement in the North Sea fields as a means of gaining experience in the exploitation of off-shore resources.

The state oil company envisaged in Keating's plan was eventually set up reluctantly by his successor, Des O'Malley, in 1979 but was never given the resources to function effectively. O'Malley, founder of the PDs and last heard of as director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, was the man who sold the rights in perpetuity of Irish offshore gas and oil to Marathon for £500 in 1967.

Jump cut to 1987. Ray 'Rambo' Burke, well known jailbird and recipient of the odd brown envelope, is now in charge at Energy. For some inexplicable reason (libel laws prevent me from speculating) Rambo exempts prospectors from royalties and prohibits state participation in the business of exploration. If that were not enough, he offers 100% tax write-offs on capital expenditure against profits for the next 25 years. It must have been a good day in the Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway Races the year he came up with those concessions.

Morecambe and Wise give the oil companies a hell of a Christmas special

Five years on in 1992, if the oil companies hadn't already had their cake and were readying to eat it, Rambo's mucker Bertie Ahern, then Finance Minister without a bank account, adds some icing to an already sweet deal by reducing Corporation Tax for oil and gas companies down to 25%, making it the perhaps the lowest taxation rate for such ventures in the world at the time. Not of course that they'd be stumping up a brass farthing in the foreseeable future due to Burke's earlier acts of generosity. In the same year, the bulk discount scheme for supplies negotiated with Marathon was rescinded allowing producers to sell our gas back to us at the full market rate.

The licences issued around this time were what were known as 'frontier licences'. In addition to being remarkably lacking in any vestige of state control over the activities of prospectors, they also prevented the state from auctioning off rights to areas adjacent to any discoveries to the highest bidder, apparently a common practice in this business.

An interesting and often overlooked factette about the activities of Irish politicians in their dealings with the oil business during this period was the use of consultants to provide advice on how best to manage our resources. Citing national security as a reason, successive Ministers have refused to name the consultants engaged in the vital task of shedding national assets for the price of a spot in the Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races. National security? More likely job security for a brother-in-law or two needing a leg up in the oil business.

Along came Frank
If you think it couldn't get any worse from the point of view of the plain people of Ireland, then you didn't reckon with the appointment of Frank Fahey, dodgy builder and alleged erstwhile Russian hairdressing entrepeneur. When Fahey was made Minister of the Marine it was widely rumoured that this was one post where he would find it hard to do any damage. The rumours were wrong.

According to The Village magazine, Fahey was lobbied heavily by Enterprise Oil executive John McGoldrick before the company and the gas field was sold on to Shell E&P Ireland Ltd. Fahey then ordered compulsory acquisition of lands for the gas pipeline and, wearing his Coillte hat, flogged off the land at Bellanaboy to build the cleaning plant for the gas as it comes ashore for a sum that journalists call 'undisclosed' and the rest of us would probably call bargain basement if we were let in on the secret.

I know that relations between Galway and Mayo are often bumpy,especially around the time of the Connacht Championship, but the boy from Menlo really seems to have had it in for his neighbours in the next county. For an encore he granted the foreshore license to land the pipeline and consented to the laying of the pipeline within 70m of people's homes in breach of international pipeline safety standards and best codes of practice. You can bet your life the smoking ban won't need much enforcing in those parts for many years to come.

I could go on, but you get the drift, I'm sure. I could, for example, mention the risk assessment exercise done on behalf of the state by a company which, purely by coincidence I'm sure, was partly owned by Shell or the way in which the state systematically blackened the name of Frank Connolly the director of the Centre for Public Inquiry, which published a report highly critical of the Corrib scheme in 2005, causing the CPI to lose its funding from Atlantic Philanthropies.

What really chills me to the bone is Energy Minister Noel Dempsey's recent announcement that his department has engaged the services of Indecon International Economic Consultants to assist it in its review of future licensing agreements. Indecon's chairman is Paddy Mullarkey, former General Secretary at the Department of Finance.

Mr Mullarkey was, amongst other things, chairman of the assessment panel for the Dublin Airport Terminal, a member of the committee on public sector benchmarking, and is clearly a chum of Malcolm McDowell if his appointment to the wee sinecure he holds on the Rememberance Commission is anything to go by.

He should best be remembered, however, as the see no evil hear no evil monkey who told the Public Accounts Committee in 1999 that he did not consider the problem of non-resident accounts a 'live issue' during the 1980s and 1990s and whose department in 1997 actually loosened the requirements and made it easier to set up bogus non-resident acounts.

Our Paddy is also a non-executive director of IIB Bank, the Irish subsidiary of a Belgian based banking group. In 2004 IIB underwrote a E350 million credit facility to Tynagh Energy to build, wait for it, a gas fired power station in Co Galway. Tynagh was at the time owned by Gama Construction (yes, them lads) and the beef baron Blake brothers, one of the EPA's favourite environmental defaulters.

Unless he has some kind of hidden agenda, perish the thought, Mr Dempsey must be a singlarly trusting soul if he thinks he's going to get an objective assessment or advice from Indecon.

The sad thing is that despite the well organised campaign and the justified and determined objections of the people of Erris to this project, it's not going to be stopped. Bord Gáis already have the bulk pipeline in place to carry the gas across country and any opposition will be bought or batoned off or simply have the spotlight of the media removed from them. They may not go away, but they will appear to have done so. And the banana republic of Ireland will carry on being run by the monkeys for the foreseeable future......

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Another nail in the coffin of ould Ireland

Two stories in the news this morning made me wish that we had a satirist as funny and sharp as Myles na Gopaleen/Flann O'Brien/Brian O'Nolan still with us on this wee island.

The first concerned Tipperary FG councillor Michael Fitzgerald who claimed yesterday that the current Garda campaign against drink driving was bringing about the demise of traditional rural Irish culture. He defended the rights of rural drinkers to climb into their SUVs and swerve their way home after a half a gallon or so of porter on them. People, he contended, were being confined to their homes by the campaign and could not even drink there as they could be breath-tested the next morning.

Mr Fitzgerald publicly admitted he drives with "three or four pints" even though he has previously been breathalysed and banned from driving. "I've never killed anyone. I feel the wrong people are being targeted," he said. He has, however, been previously been banned for drink driving but the lack of fatalities in his wake seems to justify his defence of traditional customs.

The second item concerned a report on suicidal thoughts which showed that Irish people were more likely to contemplate suicide than even the Norwegians, a well known shower of gloomy bastards who currently top the European suicide league table.

Were Myles still with us, I have no doubt that he would find something of a correlation between these two snippets, for it is surely the stuff that an Ibsen play is made of (Apologies to Ibsen and Myles).

The Wild Goose

At Whelan's house. A richly and comfortably furnished study; bookcases and upholstered furniture; an HD TV and home cinema system dominates the room. At the back, open folding-doors with curtains drawn back. Within is seen a large and handsome room, brilliantly lighted with lamps and branching candle-sticks. On the left, in front, a fireplace with a glowing peat effect fire, and farther back a double door leading into the combined kitchen-dining-room.

Whelan is a stout, ruddy faced man of middle years. He stands before the UVPC window of his study mournfully contemplating the sodden vista stretching down to the lough. The sound of an SUV in low gear is heard coming up the gravel drive.

Shortly afterwards the door is heard to open. Enter Nora, humming a tune and in high spirits. She is in outdoor dress and carries a number of parcels; these she lays on the table to the right.

NORA: What a day. There was such a rush down below at Brady's in the village. He had some fresh truffles in from Italy and sure wasn't every old biddy in the place after getting their paws on them. We'll have them with the osso bucco and the sun-dried tomatoes for tea tonight. Odd-bins had some Frascati on offer that'll go lovely with the veal.

WHELAN (gloomily): Truffles, is it? Frascati, is it? Sun dried tomatoes, is it? What's wrong with cruibeens and a rake of spuds just dug from the soil me grandfather fought the Tans for? And some cabbage with the life boiled out of it running with butter fresh from the churn and washed down with milk still warm from the cow?

NORA: Seamus, me darlin', are you after mourning the decline of traditional Irish culture again? You know what the doctor said about your hypertension. Put the Sky on. There's bound to be something about the Manchester United that'll cheer you up. I'll get you some Xanax and a glass of water.

WHELAN: Would you not hold your whisht now, woman? You know I can't enjoy the United without a pint of porter before me, its fine cream head settling like the first snows of winter.

NORA: Well why don't you take a spin up to O'Hennessey's Bistro and Wine Bar at the crossroads for a drink before your tea's ready?

WHELAN (angrily): A spin up to O'Hennessey's? Woman, have you lost your mind altogether? The boreen is crawling with Garda with their breathlysers and radar guns, laying in wait for dacent citizens with a couple of scoops on them to cross their path, the blackguards. It's a sorry state that has befallen us when a man can't drive his Range Rover down to the pub for a few beers and a chorus of Kevin Barry with his friends. Them jackeens up above in Dublin with their laws don't seem to understand what they're doing to rural culture. They're after destroying us, so they are. Six pints of stout and a quick spin home, sure where's the harm in that? Do they want us back on the bicycles again? Another nail in the coffin of the true Irish way of life, so it is. Between that and the planning regulations, they'll be after withdrawing the farmer's dole next and then where will be?

NORA: Seamus, mo chroi, don't take on so. We survived Cromwell, the Famine and the emigrant boats, did we not? Sure it'll take more than a few Garda with breathalyser kits to crush the life from rural Ireland. Pull yourself together and I'll bring you a wee can of stout from the kitchen.

WHELAN: A can of stout in front of me own fireside. And I can't even enjoy that for the fear they'll have me on the way to town in the morning. Is that all me compensation is to be for the years of tax avoidance and careful investment in prime building land? Is that what the apartments in Bulgaria are paying for? All that struggle and sacrifice and GAA for nothing more than a can of beer by me own fireside. I'll tell you now, Nora,you can bring me the shotgun for that's the only thing will save me from the despair that's fallen on the land since they stopped the drink driving.

NORA: Do you mean that I can't be after having a few vodkas while I watch the Eastenders and America's top model on the satellite for fear I'll be stopped the next day on me way to the tanning salon?

WHELAN: I do indeed, Nora, me darling.

NORA: Is the shotgun still in the cold press and the shells on the shelf above?