Archive for the 'Politics, Current Affairs' Category

From Promised Land to immigration and ghost estates – Spain economic crisis and the similarities with Ireland

Ireland’s economic crisis was/is a banking crisis along with a political landscape shift where political parties moved to a  centre ‘third way’populism characterizes by an addiction to focus groups, constant polling and the buying off of key sectoral interest groups.

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It is a political culture that has destroyed, not only Ireland’s balance of payments, but attacked the very fabric of Irish society, exposing  a criminal lack of vision and a complete inability to long term plan for a more inclusive sustainable society.

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Here is a quick check list of what has happened in Ireland:

  • Light touch regulation facilitated by senior politicians, regulators and heavily lobbied for by key financial institutions leading to accusations of ‘croney capitalism’
  • A wild west jamboree of wreckless lending by bankers to big developers, devoid of regulatory risk assessment at regional, national and at European level
  • A compliant media that relied heavily on the advertising revenue from estate agents to fuel the building boom
  • A media that constantly relied on economists who talked up the building boom but who, in reality, and in most cases, were spokespersons for the major financial institutions
  • The lobbying of politicians leading to the granting of self-regulation by builders/developers which allowed them to use their own surveyors to sign off on their buildings.
  • Corruption within the planning process where politicians and officials received payments for voting to turn agricultural land into development land, often making massive profits for all involved.
  • Lax planning controls at regional level allowing the construction of poorly insulated housing in inappropriate sensitive rural areas , sometimes on flood plains and with no access to vital infrastructure,  eg public transport, hospitals, broadband.
  • This, in turn, has led to a blight of unfinished housing or ghost estates, almost 3,000 of which are littered across the countryside
  • The complete abdication of responsibility for their actions by overpaid Boards of Directors of financial institutions – many of these directors serve on multiple boards and had appointed each other to their respective boards.
  • The auditors of the big financial corporations have not been investigated or held to account.  Many are global financial players – Ernst & Young, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG.   What were they doing sanctioning false balance sheets?
  • The banks were bailed out at the expense of taxpayers, and, having lied about the extent of their insolvency and risk exposure, had to be bailed out a second time.
  • Senior bankers responsible for bringing the country to its knees have either fled the country, been extravagantly paid off and compensated or have remained in key positions.
  • No senior banker or financial institution CEO has been brought to court or been jailed.
  • Unprecedentedly, senior bank bondholders who, in effect, are global investors, have been protected and are being paid off in what commentators have described as ‘privatizing profits and socializing losses’ or ‘socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor’.
  • The IMF/EU/ECB bailout is totally unsustainable and is crippling Irish taxpayers and their families.
  • There have been inquiries to find out what happened but their terms of reference have been weak and the reporting, in many cases, has fallen way short of what is required.
  • Finally, no one has been held accountable – no senior politician, no senior banker, no developer, speculator, financial regulator or auditor has been identified as guilty and punished.  On the contrary, they have been lavishly compensated and paid off.  They have acted with impunity and have been left unaccountable.
  • Meanwhile vital frontline services in health, education, care and social welfare have been savagely cut while unemployment has soared to nearly 15%.  Immigration is a consistent feature.  House prices have fallen through the floor, government austerity budgets have placed enormous financial burdens on hard pressed families and the banks continue repossessing worthless properties.
  • The lingering time-bomb for financial institutions now is the massive amount of mortgage defaulters that continue to increase their exposure.
Finally senior politicians, bankers, speculators and developers have done more damage to Irish society than any paramilitary or criminal organisation, and that really is some reflection on the value system within Irish society today.

Sound familiar Spain?

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Callely’s forged invoices claim: New rules mean TDs expenses will now be kept secret


The following story appeared in The Irish Mail on Sunday – 29 January 2012 and was written by Ken Foxe

The Oireachtas has introduced a new expenses claim system which will make it impossible to uncover the bogus expense claims similar to the Ivor Callely’s forged mobile phone invoices.

The rules have been changed so that TDS and Senators will not have to supple receipts – even for supposedly ‘vouched’ expenses.  They will simply claim for amounts they say they have sent, with the Oireachtas trusting them to give accurate figures.   The only method of policing the claims is a system of random audits, under which one in ten politicians will be asked to provide the receipts to back up their claims.  That means that for 90% ( Of 226 TDs and Senators, 10% means an audit of only 22) of politicians,  no receipts need handing over  – meaning the invoices cannot be checked to ensure they are genuine.

However TDs are expected to hold onto the receipts for five years BUT unless they are audited there is no means by which a member of the media or public can ever get their hands on them – even by using Freedom of Information legislation.

Expenses campaigner and chartered accountant, Enid O’Dowd said that even if invoices are genuine there can be abuses.  “There are no rules insisting on value for money or that the work does no go to family or friends for these expenses.  Because we can’t get the invoices under FoI, we can’t check for this,  and the auditors won’t – it’s not  within their remit.

Ms O’Down warned that the new policy was further erosion of our ability to check how politicians are spending our money.

She said,  “Only a minority of the expenses paid to our politicians can be subject to audit as most payments are fixed allowances paid automatically with no necessity to ever show anything like the amount paid was actually incurred.

“This audit only relates to the 10% of TDs and Senators who who opt for the higher allowance  – why not look at those who opt for the lower allowance of €15,000 per annum.  I call this the ‘no questions asked’ allowance.

“The fact that over half of our politicians have opted for the lower ‘no questions asked’ allowance tells me that they have very few legitimate parliamentary expenses and that the allowance is a form of untaxed salary for them.”

Mazar’s carried out the first independent audit and noted that the audit raised a series of issues about the Oireachtas expenses regime and its loose rules.

It said there were no firm rules and what could and could not be claimed in key areas.  Items purchased included bank interest and fees, the purchase of computer equipment, and sundry items like newspapers, biscuits, tea and coffee.

It said  clarity was necessary on the purchase of items such as laptops and printers, and particularly whether they should be returned to the Oireachtas should the politician lose their seat.

Meanwhile former Fianna Fáil Minister Ned O’Keefe also submitted forged invoices yet the Clerk of the Dáil is insisting that the expenses were legitimate yet the Gardaí believe he has questions to answer.

Arrests coincide with payment of Anglo Irish payments to bondholders

On the three occasions that the Irish Government made controversial payments of  billions of Irish taxpayers money to international unsecured unguaranteed bondholders for Anglo Irish Bank debt (€29 billion in total bailout and now owned by the State) , this is also what happened either on the eve or the same day:

  • 1st November 2011:  former Anglo finance director, Willie McAteer was re-arrested. That was on the eve of the controversial payment of USD 1bn (€730m) to unsecured, unguaranteed bondholders.
  • 9th December 2011:  former Anglo chairman, Sean Fitzpatrick was re-arrested.
  • 25th January 2012:    Ivor Callely taken in for questioning over bogus mobile phone expense claims.

Merkozy, Fiscal Compact and possible withdrawal from the Euro

Merkozy, Fiscal Compact and possible withdrawal from the Euro

Merkozy's fiscal compact

The December EU summit has raised more questions than answers:  will the new financial firewall be enough to steady international global markets? Will the new fiscal union rules work and what will it involve? Does a referendum hold any relevance for Irish voters following the Nice and Lisbon outcomes and anyway, with enhanced cooperation, does it matter anymore? Can Ireland withstand increased austerity measures and would we be better off going it alone?

 The Merkozy European duopoly has unleashed a wave of criticism toward Cameron’s veto of a new 27 country EU treaty and because of this, we now have a proposal for a fiscal compact and an inter-governmental treaty – claiming, as it legally has to, that it is nothing but a simple fine-tuning of powers already granted under the Maastricht Treaty.

While Britain’s veto effectively means it cannot be labelled a EU treaty, the Lisbon Treaty ensures that, under enhanced cooperation, countries can adopt the new rules without waiting for other countries to sign up.

Either way, Merkozy have taken EU leadership into their own hands or rather Germany has, with France sticking close to its better-off partner.   On reflection, in Ireland, hard questions must be asked of Lisbon Treaty ‘Yes’ campaigners who claimed the new treaty would deliver better governance and effective management of business with  the appointment of  a President of the EU and a Foeign Affairs Minister.  Recent events have condemned Rompuy to being nothing but a titular head while Catherine Ashton has been invisible.

Critics of Lisbon predicted that there would be a shift in power from the Commission (the traditional defender of small states) to the Council of Ministers and by consequence, domination by the larger countries. Enter France, Germany and Merkozy.

What does a real fiscal union look like in federal states?

Federal fiscal union requires centralised powers of tax collection and public spending.  These powers provide the main mechanisms by which fiscal transfers can be made to the more depressed regions of the state.  The amount of tax collected varies between regions, but expenditure on schools, hospitals and public services remains uniform or even weighted towards poorer areas, so taxpayers in richer regions subsidise poorer ones. Monetary union cannot work effectively without these transfers.

But within the EU, with no fiscal or monetary transfers to compensate, peripheral nations are being forced into repeated rounds of self-defeating austerity in order to survive and pay their debts.  Even the default mechanism of currency devaluation is denied them.  There was nothing in the December summit initiative to relieve these pressures.

The new fiscal model

For Germany, European solidarity means everyone playing by strict economic and fiscal rules and hence, the new fiscal compact designed to hardwire austerity into European law.

Central to the treaty will be the requirement, to be enshrined in national law, to maintain a budget surplus or, at worst, an annual structural deficit of 0.5% of GDP. To put that in context, the Stability and Growth Pact which we’re already committed to, sets an annual deficit ceiling of 3% of GDP. That is 6 times the level that will be allowable under the new compact (the SGPlimits also include debt repayments) and the penalties for non-compliance with the new limits will be far more stringent.

This looks like a recipe for permanent austerity ensuring that those on the periphery are condemned to prolonged economic depression. Just look at the facts:  under the old S&G pact between 1990 – 2008, before the crisis hit, Ireland was able to satisfy the 0.5% structural deficit only once in ten years,,  the same as Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.  Austria, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain never once met the target.   There is absolutely no chance that Ireland (or Italy, Greece or Portugal or Spain) will regain competitiveness against an even more competitive and strong Germany in the near future, if ever.

Fiscal compact and degree of intrusion

What is clear is that a common currency cannot operate without a common fiscal policy, and importantly, the means to ensure compliance.

What is alarming is the degree of intrusion envisaged, not only for our national budgets, but for economic policy generally and these include:

  •  greater competitiveness;
  • convergence of economic policies and labour markets;
  • convergence and harmonisation of corporate tax bases;
  • and the creation of a financial transaction tax.

In effect, national budgets will have to be approved in advance by the EU.  The priority will be competitiveness, with a consequential lowering of labour and social protection costs which will inevitably lead to greater inequality between states and populations.

Irish referendum

Talk of a referendum in Ireland is a ‘red herring’.  This deal was agreed by 26 countries following Cameron’s veto and ensures that the 11 weak states will be governed by the six strong ones, led by Germany, operating through Brussels.    However there is one clear caveat, the financial firewall with funding coming from the IMF and not the ECB is fundamentally weak and may have to be revisited in January.

Referendum or no referendum –Ireland is in a weak position with few or no marbles to trade.  But this is the final crossroads and probably the most crucial decision an Irish electorate will ever have to decide upon, should a referendum take place. And it should.

Already the campaign has begun and been framed as a vote for or against the Euro.

As for the sovereignity argument, it has long since gone in the face of international financial institutions , the rating agencies, currency speculators and global capitalism.

The political strategy will be based on winning a concession on Ireland’s corporation tax and a re-calibration or elimination of the €31 billion debt promissory note (borrowed to sort out Anglo Irish and Irish Nationwide).  The most likely outcome is a war reparations style deal where interest is lowered and the loan term vastly expanded.   This would release Ireland from the current debt straightjacket and bridge the gap between our debt re-structuring and the new European Stability Fund.

Irish economic strategy

Few are convinced that the December summit has provided the solution to Europe’s financial crisis. If all countries introduce austerity programmes they’ll likely drag each other down.

Ireland’s own plan for recovery consists of driving down domestic demand while boosting exports.  This will only work if the European and global economy picks up.  Economic forecasters are predicting a mini-recession acrossEuropein the first quarter of 2012.

 The three key questions which Ireland must ask itself following the December summit ‘financial firewall’ and ‘fiscal compact’ initiative are:

  •  Will it work? – will it resolve the Debt crisis, the Banking crisis and lead to growth inIreland,Greece,ItalyandPortugaland beyond?
  • Will it protect European solidarity?
  • Does it uphold the key principles of subsidiarity?

Ireland now reduced to austerity and Local Authority status

Full fiscal union, as defined by France and Germany, marks the end of any safeguards through veto or through non-approval that Irelandhad trusted and relied upon as the EU evolved over the years.

In EU terms, full fiscal union finally consigns Ireland’s national parliament and political leaders to a Local Authority status of governance with responsibility for policing, education, health, housing and transport.

While the bailout troika of the EU/ECB/IMF oversees Government policy under its Memo of Understanding remit, surely a deeper investigation of how Ireland has mis-managed its affairs would undercover a culture of cronyism and corruption; localism; patronage; a sense of entitlement and an inability to learn from mistakes or the mistakes of others.

Budget scrutiny – is it a price worth paying?

  • There are those who believe that allowing Irish national budgets open to  EU/German budgetary scrutiny has its merits.  It might ensure that Governments and overzealous political leaders and their finance ministers could no longer lure an electorate with the promise of budgetary ‘goodie’ bags.
  • Will the new fiscal rules bring pressure to bear on the already unsustainable public sector pay bill. For example, public sector pay increments, which are based on time in service rather than performance, will cost €300 million alone next year.
  • However, the EU, and specifically Germany, insisted that Ireland pay senior bondholders as part of the EU/ECB/IMF bail out deal – an appalling decision and flew against all the rules of financial speculation and the capitalist system.
  • Has the Irish Government lost the moral authority to implement strict budgetary measures on its citizens following its failure:

–         to reform the political system;

–          to reform the political expenses system;

–         to reform the senior civil servants and senior politicians pay-offs and pensions;

–         to adhere to its own salary caps for political advisers

–         to present and handle Budget cuts with fairness, clarity, creativity and sensitivity?

Is a ‘Managed Withdrawal’ feasible and what would it involve?

  • Withdrawal would need support from the ECB for liquidity reasons
  • It would involve arrangements with EU authorities for a re-calibration of the debt
  • It would mean a return to a national currency as per Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the UK but with power to devalue.

The negative consequences would inevitably lead to a rise in unemployment and inflation and currency-wise, who would we track? Devaluation would provide a boost for exports, and possibly tourism.

There are serious concerns that leaving an international currency in the middle of the worst recession in the country’s history when the economic is so weak, would be disastrous and could amount to a giant leap in the dark.

However, bereft of any effective leadership on the financial crisis at EU level over the last three years,  the EU’s economic orthodoxy and the burden of debt is sinking Ireland and others in a ‘one size fits all’ emasculating and rigid approach.

 

The Greens – where did it all go wrong?

Greens announce they are to leave Government as TD plays with 18 month old baby

And then there were none…….

Introduction

At the end of the Green Party convention in 2005 at the Silver Springs Hotel in Cork, party leader, Trevor Sargent, announced, not to the annual members convention, but after the event, in a one-on-one pre-recorded interview with TV 3 political reporter, Ursula Halligan, that as party leader, he would not enter government with Fianna Fáil.

It was an extraordinary statement.

Not for the principled position the party leader had taken, nor for the political strategy that he had so publicly announced to just one media outlet, but for the fact that it was, to all intents and purposes, a ‘solo run’ with absolutely no widespread consultation with party members that weekend, nor consultation with his Parliamentary Party, nor in consultation with the organisation’s communications team.

In contrast, Sargent’s subsequent announcement in 2007 at the Green’s Membership Convention at the Mansion House, which had just voted to enter Government with Fianna Fáil, that it was ‘the proudest day of his life’ was once again,  an equally extraordinary statement’.

Three and a half years later, in March 2011, the Greens would find themselves, not only voted out of office, having suffered a wipe-out at the mid-term June 2009 Local and European election, but with absolutely no seats at all in the 31st Dáil.  Fatally, the organisation had also failed to reach the 2% first preference vote threshold for party funding, having received a mere 1.8% nationally.

The  Greens, a small party, which had spent 20 years building, nurturing and constructing a dynamic policy platform that included enlightened economic, ecological, equality and social justice policies,  with admirable successes at local, European and national level, found itself completely wiped out of any representation at all three political levels.

How did it come to this?  The answer lies at the very heart of Sargent’s 2005 statement.

Political Strategy…….and the first mistake?

Following Fianna Fáil’s 2007 general election success, surprisingly for many, the Greens, who had defied the odds by winning 6 Dáil seats in that election, found themselves invited into coalition talks at the behest of third time general election-winning Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, to discuss talks regarding the possibility of forming a coalition government.

The negotiating team, quickly put together and led by party chairman John Gormley, who had feverishly campaigned to position the Greens as a party ready for government, was joined by the General Secretary and former Green TD for Cork South Central, Dan Boyle.   This team were successful in negotiating two Cabinet positions for Gormley and Ryan, a junior position for Trevor Sargent and two Senatorships, one for Boyle and the other for the unsuccessful Wicklow candidate, Deirdre de Burca.  They were less successful where it mattered most – in the Programme for Government.  Political correspondents were unanimous in proclaiming the Programme a decidedly weak one.

The decision to enter Government with Fianna Fáil was the party’s first major mistake.   The party had received no mandate from the electorate to enter coalition with Fianna Fáil.  Why?   Green electoral victories owed their mandate to the large number of second,  third and fourth preference voters that pulled Green candidates over the line.  While the party won 4.8% of first preferences nationally,   it was preference votes which ensured election.  The first preference votes, whilst key to securing a foundation for all successful candidates, still relied on the mandate bestowed on it by preference voters.  The stark reality is that these preference votes came from across the political spectrum, from Fine Gael, from Labour and from more radical left wing voters who were attracted to the Green’s sound environmental, human rights, equality and social justice policies.  The preference votes certainly did not come from Fianna Fáil voters  An obvious assumption here is that the preference voters, while supporting Green policies and the organisation’s rallying general election call, ‘Its Time’ expected the party to form a rainbow government with Fine Gael and Labour, and certainly not with Fianna Fáil.

In truth, the Greens were not needed to form a Government and this was only too well reflected in the weak programme they negotiated.

Furthermore, having sidelined Fine Gael and Labour preference voters they then marginalised their more radical left wing support with their failure to successfully negotiate any deal on incineration, on Shannon rendition, on Corrib and on the Tara M3 motorway.  Many viewed this as a betrayal primarily because the Greens had been so vocal in their support and had gained valuable publicity on the back of these campaigners.

Communications Strategy

Small parties entering coalition with a bigger partner, particularly one as experienced in the trappings and exercise of power as Fianna Fáil were, need a decidedly robust personality to survive.  This required, not just a well-planned, deft and forceful communications strategy but one based on retaining the essence, the values, the uniqueness and overall cultural ethos of the Green Party.  The actual strategy adopted was the exact  opposite.  The Green’s had, what could be described as a simple three-phase approach:

  1. Be strong reliable partners in government for the first two years and send a message to our senior Fianna Fáil partners but also to Fine Gael and Labour that the Greens could be relied upon to stand the pace.
  2. Embark on a process of differentiation, highlighting the Greens unique but enlightened policies on energy, planning, waste, political reform and climate change.
  3. Walk.  Find a suitable time and an acceptable reason to walk from Government.

The tactic of being strong reliable partners backfired spectacularly with the Greens quickly finding themselves wrong-footed and defending poor decisions which portrayed them as following rather than leading.  The Gráinne Carruth story was a classic example. The then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s former constituency secretary broke down and changed her story at the Mahon Tribunal admitting that she did make sterling bank lodgements on behalf of the Taoiseach.  It was a very public humiliation for Ahern and Carruth.  Yet when the media looked to the Greens for a response, they turned the other cheek.  It was Mary Harney who called on Ahern to ‘clear the air’ and clarify Carruth’s statement.  The Greens were badly wrong-footed.

Gormley displaying solidarity for former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern

Within five days Ahern announced, on the steps of the Department of the Taoiseach in a lengthy speech, that he was leaving office.  Viewers looked on astonished, as John Gormley, the once withering detractor and author of the Planet Bertie jibes, now stood shoulder to shoulder with the disgraced Ahern in a show of solidarity.

It appeared to many that the Greens had gone native and it transpired that Gormley only backed Harney’s initial call for clarification following heated representations from his own green councilors.  Gormley’s presence in support of the tarnished Fianna Fáil leader was surely the very least a ‘reliable partner’ could do for its senior cousins.

This trend of following rather than leading became a feature of their communications strategy where it appeared that they had no clear plan for dealing with internal Government mechanisms and for coping with unpopular Cabinet decisions.  The medical card fiasco in October 2008 being a perfect example.

The communications tended to flip flop, that is, they were either ‘too small to make a difference’ when pressurized on bad news stories or they were ‘punching above their weight’ on good news stories.  They eventually retreated to a position where they concentrated on the two ministries claiming that, as long as green policy was being adopted, they would stay in government.  This was a clear attempt to hide behind the stream of poor decisions, mainly emanating from Fianna Fáil ministers,that the Greens supported and voted through.   De Burca and Boyle, who effectively had their political careers revitalized as the Taoiseach’s nominees to the Senate, became the party leadership’s ‘defenders of the faith’ and, more importantly, acted as ‘attack dogs’ to quell dissent when high profile members walked.

Re-Positioning

The Greens have always claimed that they were neither left nor right but it was obvious that their social justice policies clearly positioned them as a left of centre party. However, in Government the party’s support for the bank guarantee and NAMA, effectively supporting a policy of socializing the losses and loading an enormous financial burden on the backs of taxpayers to sort out the grossly irresponsible behaviour of private bankers,  was a clear re-positioning and a move away from original Green thinking and policy.

Furthermore the support for cuts to minimum wage, social welfare, carers and blind pension including support for blasphemy legislation clearly positioned the party as a centre right organisation.  It seemed extraordinary that the leadership could contemplate such a drastic change in policy direction. To attempt to re-position a political party while in Government is an extremely high risk strategy but in this case made no sense – it appeared illogical to attempt to change the brand of what was a small but influential party, moving it to the centre right when it was obvious that Fine Gael, on a clear upward trajectory, were hoovering up that constituency.  The party lost many of its original members and supporters as a result of this strategy.

There were, of course, other key moments that alarmed the electorate – Trevor Sargent’s resignation for interfering with the course of justice was considered both unethical and unlawful, the unseemly row over an alleged promise of a high-salaried position in Europe saw the once uber-loyal Deirde de Burca depart but the final nail in the coffin for many was the revelation of a ‘rotation deal’ where the spoils of war ensured there was a job for ‘everyone in the audience’. The Greens at first denied the very existence of such a deal but eventually capitulated stating that job rotation was common practice among green parties across Europe.  It was common practice indeed but always announced openly, transparently and with the full knowledge of all involved.  In the Greens case, not even the party’s governing National Executive were informed of the deal.  It was a serious blow for a party that had lived on the thin air of the moral high ground for so many years.

The constant orchestrated and clichéd hand-wringing was repeated ad nauseum – ‘I don’t like this decision but I will vote for it anyway’‘we’re being punished for making the right decisions’, ‘we have experience of making tough decisions’ .  By the summer of 2010 the electorate had lost all faith and patience in the Greens.

Even the manner in which the party announced it was  leaving Government was bungled.  On one of the most important announcements for the State, the falling of a Government, their Dublin Mid-West representative was allowed play at the top table with his l8 month old daughter.

Shortly after this momentous announcement the Greens started back-peddling, stating that they were going, but not just yet, as there was serious legislation to be negotiated – political reform, corporate donations, a Dublin Lord Mayor and a Climate Change Bill.  Once again this communications strategy backfired as their stance acted as a final roll-call for everything that the Greens had failed to achieve during their disastrous period in office.

Ultimately the Greens became a party of contradiction, a party of ‘flip flop’, the seeds of which were sown by Sargent back at the Silver Springs Hotel in 2005. He would not lead the party into a Fianna Fáil-led Government but he’d accept a job in it and proclaim that the Greens going into coalition with Fianna Fáil was the ‘happiest day of his life’.   The contradictions became legendary.  Gormley very publicly taking the ferry to Holyhead only to be collected by a chauffeur-driven limo that had driven 300 miles from London to collect him.  There were many more.

Not surprisingly the Greens continue to spin that they have been punished for taking the tough decisions and that their complete wipe-out is just a temporary demise.

The truth is the Greens supported incompetent decision-making and a bumbling and poor Taoiseach and positioned itself right of centre.  Probably their ultimate downfall was their collusion in denying the electorate its democratic voice by refusing to hold the three by-elections.

It will be a long, long time before a Green Party will be trusted again.


Greens, Stag Hunt and Labour – The Real Story

The real story behind the new Animal Rights Bill is the cynical manipulation of animal rights activists to keep this Government in power.

In the run-up to the revised Programme for Govt convention, Gormley et al realised that the party membership still consisted of a core but significant group of animal rights activists. These activists were very carefully nurtured to the extent that even Gormley himself was frantically phoning them ahead of the Green Special Convention on  the revised PfG and NAMA.

As the convention got underway, as per usual, there were various proposals regarding Procedures and Standing Orders. Party chairman Dan Boyle outmanoeuvred the anti-NAMA wing and the animal rights votes swung the day on the revised Programme in return for a ban on stag hunting.

The subsequent vote on NAMA fell as it failed to receive the necessary two-third support. The Green leadership had delivered an animal rights vote in support of the revised Programme and defeated its own anti-NAMA faction in effect keeping them in Government and supporting NAMA in return for a ban on stag hunts.

The payback for supporting NAMA and keeping the Government in power was FF backbench support for a ban on the hunt.   Having a go off the stag hunt was seen as easy pickings – a select bunch of ‘tally-ho’s’ with narrow political clout. No tears would be shed by either coalition partner in plotting their downfall. Well, not until the Ward Union Hunt crowd quickly realised its predicament and proceeded to greatly widen its constituency into  a national campaign under the banner of RISE – Rural Ireland Says Enough.

This all makes the attack on the Labour Party on a point of principle risible given what many perceive as the manipulation of animal rights activists (note: fair play to them for using their votes to prise change) to remain in power.

This is trophy legislation.   Its headline lgrabbing and in football parlance,  ‘ballwatching’ while the real game goes on. It is definitely not ‘real deal’ wide-ranging animal rights legislation.

If the Green leadership were really serious about tackling bloodsports they could have negotiated a more comprehensive package, particularly with regard to the more wide-ranging pursuit of coursing.

Nota Bene: I am not an animal rights activist but I am in favour of a ban on stag hunting, puppy farms, fur farming and coursing.

How can we create a new vision and value system for this country?

The values many might aspire to promote – values of cooperation, team-playing, treading lightly on the earth, a ‘fair deal’, outlining vision and leadership are constrained by the systems we have put in place and by the systems powerful vested interests resist at all costs.

Our senior politicians by their actions reduce themselves to game play and fighting battles rather than outlining clear vision and leadership while our senior civil service is ivory-towered, protected and totally risk adverse.

We have allowed those in positions of power to venerate the sacredness of institutions and to hide behind them – examples of this are clerical sex abuse and the Government compensation ‘deal’ allowing immunity and anonymity, the Government’s present reaction to the distasteful, unethical and grossly criminal behaviour of the financial institutions and their ‘leaders’ and the most recent Ceann Comhairle debacle, are all symptoms of a deeper malaise. Social partnership anyone?

It may make us uncomfortable to think so but we are a tiny country with a vested interest mentality and with an electoral system that promulgates this culture .  Of course,  we  eventually plotted our own downfall when we engaged in hubris and started to believe our own Celtic Tiger hype.  Many but not all have been guilty.

Identifying a suitable channel for this ‘values’ debate in Ireland is perplexing. There are numerous media outlets hosting programmes which engage in crass debate, point scoring and moan fests where vested interest opinions are proffered yet a complete dearth of channels for any rigorous adn in-depth analysis and explanation.

A new value system will involve a dismantling and restructuring of our institutions but right now our senior politicians and our institutions are engaged in a cosmetic mopping up exercise. We have a vacuum where politicians, public servants and key institutions are shorn of any vestige of moral authority. Nobody appears to have the will, the leadership nor the sheer guts to turn off the tap and re-shape this country with values and vision.

An eye-opening exposé of the multi-billion dollar global coffee industry?

Black Gold – A film about coffee and trade

Multinational coffee companies  dominate the industry worth over $80 billion, making coffee the most valuable trading commodity in the world after oil.

But while we continue to pay for our lattes and cappuccinos, the price paid to coffee farmers remains so low that many have been forced to abandon their coffee fields.

As westerners revel in those designer lattes, impoverished Ethiopian coffee growers suffer the bitter taste of injustice.


In their eye-opening expose of the multi-billion dollar coffee industry, filmmaking brothers Nick and Marc Francis trace one man’s fight for fair trade.

NOTE: You can view this film in sections on You Tube

Or purchase it here



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