Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Be corrupt as you like - but be contrite afterwards.

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes.

Those of us who endured a miserable Irish Catholic childhood will sympathise with the above. But that is the thing about religion - it’s not as though we had much choice, given the “get them early” recruiting philosophy of most of them.

That’s if they will even wait that long. Certainly, in my own case (not, by any means, a unique one) I was only a few days old when I was bundled from Holles Street Maternity Hospital into Westland Row Church - swaddling clothes and all - for deliverance into the mass(ed) ranks of the Holy Catholic Church. Of course, that was in the days before it was accepted that you never knowingly place a child – no matter how young - within groping distance of a priest.

And don't get me started on the miserable Irish Catholic schooling (don’t ask me what non “Catholics” did for an education back then). "Give me the boy, and I’ll give you the man” , the Jesuits founder, Ignatius Loyola rather cynically put it. In an Irish context, the said “boy” was usually about five years of age upon starting his Church-run State "education" - which meant around 13 years in their sweaty clutches. Even the Hitler Youth would have baulked at getting them that early.

But for those who did not have the wit to reject the superstitious dogma outright, after that lengthy period of indoctrination, it would seem that there are certain advantages inherent in being a Catholic, according to piece in today’s Irish Times. Namely, that you can be corrupt as sin, and still sleep easily at night - once you have said your Act of Contrition before going to bed, that is. Then you just get up the following day, and do it all over again!

A 2000 study by Daniel Treisman, a University of California professor, found that countries with a Protestant tradition tend to be less corrupt - presumably because they don’t have the same ready facilities for repentance and forgiveness on tap.

Indeed, the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, concurs that Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark have been the least corrupt countries over the past 13 years - while the Catholic countries of southern Europe have been at the other end of the scale. And let’s face it, nearer to home, most people here would accept that even when British politicians do wrong, more often than not they resign, or are made do so. In Ireland they get voted back in with increased majorities.

Don’t get me wrong – I think religion is a bad idea in general, so I’m not singing the praises of one brand of nonsense over another (and let's not forget the oppressive ignorance that is Islamic fundamentalism).

But as far as cultural legacies go, the corruption explanation is an interesting theory in a European context, is it not?

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Sunday, 29 March 2009

Belmullet to be painted out of the Gaeltacht?

As regular readers will know, I am regularly accused by my detractors – who seem fatally attracted to the blog - of being “unpatriotic”. Funniest of all, I have even been charged with “continuing the work of Cromwell”. And all because I question the daily nonsense that goes on, and passes for normality, in the country of my birth.

As it happens, I firmly believe that patriotism is one of the basest “isms” of all, and anything to discourage it should be lauded. Probably the best way of seeing this clearly is to look at patriotic jingoism in other countries. Small-minded? Repulsive? Exclusive? Myopic? Well, it is exactly the same here, obscured by the "can't see the wood for the trees" effect.

One domestic manifestation of this can be seen in the picture above. It’s a road sign, clearly, that some half-wit has gone to the trouble of painting out an English placename on. Yes, a placename we all use and know - one in the mother tongue of our country. A placename in the language of Joyce, Swift, Wilde, Shaw, Beckett and the like - not that of Peig.

The really worrying thing about this, however, is that according to the person who supplied the photo, this is not the work of a lone right-wing Gaelgoir with hatred of the Brits and their "800 years of oppression" burning in his heart – but the work of Mayo County Council!

I had thought that English language placenames were only forbidden in the State-funded Gaeltacht proper, but it seems that Mayo County Council are really getting into the spirit of things here, by obscuring the word “Belmullet” - sorry, "Beal an Mhuirthead" - on road signage outside that fund-draining region.

Interestingly, a piece last year in the Mayo News reported that the very same Belmullet was in danger of falling off the Gaeltacht funding bandwagon, due to a shortage of real Gaelic speakers. A study commissioned by the Government in 2004, entitled ‘A Comprehensive Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht’, proposed adapting new criteria to calculate the number of Gaelic speakers, in order to decide if Gaeltacht regions can continue to qualify for taxpayers’ funding.

GMIT Maths lecturer and Connemara-based Gaeltacht expert Donncha Ó hEallaithe (Mayo News' description) is quoted in the report as saying that “the Irish language in Mayo is not yet dead but it is very close to it and they can basically say good-bye to it if something is not done to encourage people to speak it and use it as a community language. There is no point in people pretending they are a Gaeltacht community just for the sake of it. They are only fooling themselves if they think that they live in an Irish-speaking area just because they happen to live inside a boundary which was drawn up 40 years ago…… at the end of the day, it will be a ministerial decision whether we are taken out of the Gaeltacht. However, Minister Ó Cuív has often told us that if there is an effort to speak and promote Irish, we will continue to remain in the Gaeltacht, and the effort to promote Irish in Erris and Achill is clear to see. Nobody will benefit from a community losing its Gaeltacht status, and the only people who would be happy would be the far-right Irish speakers”.

Then again, this blog has often highlighted the gap between official perception and on-the-ground reality. So let’s just keep spending money on a fallacy so many in officialdom are eager to have us believe, at a time we cannot afford to do so.

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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Nude Study of Brian Cowen Perched on the Toilet

or, "So it Comes Out Both Ends, Then?"

This is very late, and it is a topic that has done the rounds - or had the runs - on practically every other blog in the country a couple of times by now... so YOU SAW IT LAST ON GOMBEEN NATION! But just for the record: here's the famous pic that appeared in Dublin's National Gallery recently, of our illustrious leader perched with his pants down, no doubt contemplating how many segments of loo roll to use in order to reduce the national debt .

The same picture, by the way, this day prompted our wonderful police force to call at the Offices of Today FM, to investigate emails sent to that broadcaster by Conor Casby, the artist responsible for the excellent work. OK, the subject is not the most promising source material, and Mona Lisa need not worry about eviction from the loo - sorry, the Louvre - any time soon. But What an enigmatic smile! What light and composition!

After RTE news had reported the mysterious appearance of the painting in Dublin's art gallery on Monday evening's news (usually it's disappearances that get all the attention), they were forced to issue an apology at the end of last night's news in case "any offence" had been caused to the subject or his family. This apparently followed a complaint by Cowen's office, who it seems were quite po-faced about the matter.

If this had happened in any other country - apart from Stalinist Russia or Hitler's Germany perhaps - it would have been ignored or laughed off by those in authority. But not in Ireland.

What exactly is RTE apologising for? Reporting the news... lightweight as it may be?

Maybe we should rename the State broadcaster "Pravda" (or "Truth")? In Gaelic of course.

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Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Limerick criminal shoots himself in the head

"Just put the gun to their head and pull the trig…"

A leading figure from Limerick’s infamous Keane-Collopy criminal gang, Philip Collopy, died today having shot himself in the head with a Glock handgun.

Various theories have been expounded on his unexpected demise, which occurred at a party (and I’m glad I didn’t have to knock on the door and ask them to turn down the music). One being that it happened after a game of Russian Roulette went wrong... as it sometimes can. Which asks the question: where are the health and safety people when you need them?

It is an interesting, but fanciful, take on the incident. As pointed out by Bernd, of Irland Inside fame, the Glock is magazine-loading weapon - unlike the revolver pistols beloved of Russian Roulette players the world over, and is not suitable for that not-so-trivial pursuit. Unless you mixed in blanks, I suppose... but then it might get a bit complicated if you wanted to kill somebody, which is quite probable if you are a member of a Limerick criminal gang.

Some of yesterday’s media reports were more forthcoming, and claimed that the perpetrator/victim had been demonstrating the best technique for “killing someone” when he put the gun to his head, unaware that it was loaded.

Just in case, presumably.

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Sunday, 22 March 2009

Abortion is a reality - deal with it.

Is it not about time that we stop being such hypocrites – something many Irish people excel at – and belatedly introduce abortion rights in this country?

According to the Safe and Legal in Ireland Campaign website, “at least 123,258 women traveled from Ireland to the UK for abortions between January 1980 and December 2005.”

That’s a lot of women surreptitiously undergoing what is an already traumatic procedure, without any support or back-up care from the State, which takes the usual Official Ireland "what we say rather than what we do" approach to the issue.

Last week, new guidelines were issued in Northern Ireland which should have the effect of making it easier for women there to access terminations locally, although legally they are only allowed when "it is necessary to save the life of the woman or if there is a risk of serious, long term damage to her physical or mental health.”

Here, in the Republic, abortion is allowed only where the actual life of the woman is in danger. Indeed, in the past the State has attempted to prevent individuals travelling to other EU States for terminations; as in the 1992 “X-case” , when it attempted to prevent a 14-year-old who had been raped accessing an abortion in Britain.

According to the Safe and Legal in Ireland Campaign, “the ban on abortion in Ireland is the most extreme in Europe. Abortion is criminalised, attracting a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Irish law makes no provision for legal abortion when a woman has a severe foetal anomaly, is pregnant as a result of rape or incest, or experiences serious complications from pregnancy that threaten her health or well-being.”

While the decision to have an abortion should never be taken lightly and should always be an informed one, there will always be crisis pregnancies - and as long as there are crisis pregnancies there will be abortions. It is about time that the Irish State recognised this simple reality and provided this facility for its citizens, rather than forcing them into late-stage, crisis abortions abroad.

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Thursday, 19 March 2009

Barack and Brian - blood brothers.

Our esteemed first minister, Brian Cowen, was recently rubbing shoulders with the great and good at the White House during the Paddy’s Day shenanigans. There was much talk, as usual, of the "special relationship" between the two countries.

But there might be more to the relationship idea than we thought, as Obama joked he might be a distant of cousin of Cowen’s. This was, of course, after determined research on this island uncovered evidence that a great-great-great grandfather of Obama's was born in Biffo Cowen’s home county of Offaly. See: There's no-one as Irish as Barack Obama

Obama, like any politician (principled or not), no doubt had a shrewd eye on the Irish-American vote as he made his little joke. But it is testimony to Brian Cowen that he maintained his dignity during this blatant attempt by the US president to cash in on the Irish leader's high standing as one of the world's truly great statesmen.

But how much research does one really need to confirm their common bloodline? One politician is shrewd and intelligent. Proud of his Offaly roots, he is polished and charismatic, and can string a few coherent sentences together and express his point convincingly and forcefully when need be.

He is resistant to the interests of lobbyists, and is determined fight corruption and hold to account those who brought our economy to crisis. He is a man to make decisive choices in an economic climate in which there are no easy options.

The other is Brian Cowen.

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Tuesday, 17 March 2009

They've gotta pay just to pray today

Many of us are aware of the Irish authorities’ penchant for slapping charges and taxes on things. We have one of the highest rates of VAT, for instance, which stands at 21.5%. We have a tax on our credit cards. We have a cheque-book tax. We have a tax on bank deposit account interest. We have an income levy. We have a 2% charge on insurance premiums. We are obliged to pay income tax – or at least those of us who are part of the PAYE sector are (to the tune of €10 billion of the total €13.5 billion income-tax take in 2007).

We have property stamp duty, which goes as high as 9%. Then there are the assorted taxes on motorists: road tax, for example, which can cost as much as €2,000 a year to affix a paper disk on our windscreens . Also, we have Vehicle Registration Tax which adds up to 30% on top of a car's price (plus VAT, of course). And none of that exempts us from road tolls, as we pay those too. Don't forget park & ride charges if we opt for the misery of public transport – assuming any is available where we live.

Then we must pay bin charges to have our rubbish collected. And there's a TV licence fee, to choose not to look at the rubbish programmes on RTE, one of the worst public broadcasters in Europe (who also, incidentally, run adverts). To cap it all, we have the Government constantly telling us we are fortunate to live in a "low-tax economy". Well, it might be "low-tax" for the US multinationals and Bono - but it's not for us.

However, it is nice to see a tax that Gombeen Man can agree with for once – a prayer tax. Any of us who lived our young lives in fear of random violence or buggery when undergoing education/attempted indoctrination in our Catholic-run State schools, or any of us whose teenage years were spent fretting if we'd ever get to have a shag in a country that did not even officially have sex, will be gladdened to hear that Mayo County Council is charging the devout as they park their cars to clamber up Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain (let’s ignore the “another tax on motorists” angle for now).

It seems that the faithful will not only have to endure the agony of having their feet cut to ribbons by the mountain’s razor-sharp scree as they ascend its heights in pursuit of closer communion with (what they believe to be) their maker - they will now have the added misery of coughing up a “pay to pray” charge for the privilege. And what better way of reinforcing the martyrdom of the occasion for the God-bothering bastards, while providing the council with extra revenue?

Maybe we could develop the idea, and tap this potentially rich font of revenue? How about a pay-per-view/listen Angelus?

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Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Silicon Valley of Europe? Right so.

According to a recent statment by Eamon Ryan, Minister for Communications and Energy, Ireland could become the Silicon Valley of Europe and be at the forefront of the “green technology”.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and fancy that I am living on the set of a Father Ted episode, and plainly ludicrous statements from those in authority - like Minister Ryan's - do little to dispel that Craggy Island feeling. But there's nothing new there. I remember reading, some years ago, a compilation of Myles na gCopaleen's satirical pieces which appeared in the Irish Times from 1940 until the writer's death in 1966. The same writer, incidentally, was also known as Flann O'Brien, and his "Third Policeman" has recently enjoyed renewed interest through an episode of "Lost", a programme I've never seen - so I've no idea of the context.

Anyway. One of O'Brien's columns touched on the subject of a contemporary crisis of some sort in the agriculture industry, and a shortage of animal feed or something similar - I don't profess to be an expert. It seems that the minister, whose name I forget, had the bright idea of feeding cows - or was it pigs? - on the foam from pints of Guinness. I kid you not!

O'Brien, of course, pointed out that whatever the dubious claims of Guinness about the supposed "healthy" benefits of their product in the past, it was a fact that the foam - or the head - of the black stuff has no nutritional value whatsoever. Then, more recently, we had a minister, Ned O'Keefe, calling for banning of the film "Babe", on the grounds that it might pose a threat to the Irish pork industry (an industry in which the minister is involved). But that was a just a joke, right? Right?

So idiotic statements are nothing new, but the idea that Ireland - a country that lags behind most of Europe on broadband takeup - could become the Silicon Valley of Europe is something that even Father Dougal might have thought too ridiculous for words. According to an EU report last year, DSL coverage is still unavailable in 30% of rural areas. Broadband takeup is 17%, while in the UK it is 26%, and in the Nordic countries it is over 30%.

Just to illustrate this point, a young and eager representative of Smart Telecom knocked on the door of Gombeen Manor last week to sell that company's broadband product. As some of you might know, I have been singularly unimpressed with Perlico, and have been looking for alternatives, so rather than set the rabid dogs on the intruder I listened attentively and agreed to a follow-up call to make the switch.

A few days later, someone called from Smart called me on my mobile, asked for my land-line number, and promptly told me that Smart broadband was "unavaliable" in my area, due to "porting" problems. So they had some poor sod traipsing around Blanchardstown, trying to win customers for a product in an area in which the product is unavailable. An area, I might add, that is one of the most populous in the country!

The Silcon Valley of Europe? Right so.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Avoid penalty points - back to basics.

It’s difficult to imagine the kind of mind that is content to sit for hours, hiding in the back of a van, pointing a laser camera at people who are driving at an appropriate speed on a road with an inappropriate speed limit. But maybe that’s why I’m not a copper. Too much self-respect, you see.

I mean, if they want to slow people down, should they not be out in their yellow jackets, looking silly, providing an obvious deterrent? Why do they have to be so sneaky? Have they no shame?

The stated aim of speed cameras is to “save lives”. Yet, I have lost count of the times I have seen “covert” cameras on motorways, or stretches of good road with 60 Km/h speed limits.

I imagine it would be very easy for those of a cynical persuasion to draw the conclusion that it is all about quotas and collecting revenue, rather than saving lives. And all to finance our Government of imbeciles who, during the boom, exercised the fiscal restraint of Viv Nicholson, the famous North of England football pools jackpot winner of the 1960s. In case you don’t know: she blew all the cash in double-quick time.

“Speed kills”, they keep telling us (actually it’s stopping suddenly that does it: the 0.001-second, 60-to-nought time being the decisive factor). But, as has been mentioned on this blog before, how come the Germans are not dying like flies, given that getting on for 70% of their motorway network has no mandatory speed limit? Could it be that an awful lot of Irish people simply don't know how to drive?

If speed alone kills, as they would have us believe, maybe we should go back to a more indigenous means of propulsion that does not go fast enough to present such a danger? Let’s be true patriots, and re-enact the kind of rural idyll envisaged by Pearse, DeValera and our other crackpot founding fathers, and spurn those nasty foreign automotive imports. How about we revert to donkeys and carts?

It would keep the Greens and the new-age crusties happy, with the added bonus that all the donkey poo could be used as organic fertilizer (any leftovers could be put into an envelope and sent to those they suspect of carbon crimes). To boost the tourism industry, everyone could have their hair dyed red (those who need to), and have big orange freckles painted on their ruddy faces. The whole country could be transformed into a living, breathing John Hinde postcard for our victims – sorry, visitors. We could sell them pints of mouldy Guinness at €10 a pop, with a bit of Irish dancing, a few made-up words of Gaelic such as "craic", and other assorted paddywhackery thrown in. OK, it might be awfully dishonest and contrived, but what kind of half-wit comes here for their holidays anyway?

But all that is just a spin-off. The real advantage is that Irish people would not have to bother learning how to use indicators, as donkeys don’t come equipped with them. They wouldn’t have to pass a driving test to take to the road – nothing new there, but at least this time it would be entirely legal. Yummy-mummies would look ridiculous on the school run, no matter what their brand of head-borne sunglasses. Single-donkey accidents would not have the same incidence of fatalities as the motorised variety, so everyone could drive home pissed from the pub again – just like the good old days. The more I think about it, the better it sounds.

Let's face it – it’s quite obvious that most Irish people never got the hang of them motorcars anyway. The only ones that might be disappointed would be our friends in the Transits with the blacked-out windows, and the Exchequer.

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P.S. Watch out for the Gatso on the R157, Dunboyne-Maynooth road, outside Carton House.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Waiting for the bus that never comes.

Just a small bit of musing here. Gombeen Man was driving out towards Navan the other day (don't ask), and was surprised to notice a 24-hour bus lane on a stretch of the N3, north of Dunboyne.

Correct me if I am wrong, but is it true that we have no 24-hour buses serving these lanes? I have just had a look at the CIE website - which is a mystery in itself - but can see no mention of a 24-hour bus service to Dunshaughlin, Navan or Kells. From what I can make out the last Bus Eireann service outbound ends before you’d have time for a decent post-work couple of pints before heading for the sticks.

Why then, make a whole lane of road redundant by banning cars from it 24/7? Is there some logic at work here that I can’t quite figure out? Is there some master plan to expand the bus service? No… they are looking to cut back in that regard, aren’t they? Nice one, John Gormley.

If someone can enlighten me, I’ll be grateful.

In the meantime, have a look at Sven's Crazy Irish Traffic Signs for some pics of inappropriate signage in our little banana republic.

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Monday, 9 March 2009

Gerry Ryan - because he's not worth it

Operation Transformation is a second-rate RTE reality programme that uses a panel of “experts” to life-coach selected candidates into losing weight, exercising, eating more healthily and generally getting their acts together.

Once – and I mean once – I saw an episode of it, and was amazed to see Gerry Ryan, its host, standing there with his considerable belly spilling over his trousers, berating contestants (is that what you would call them?) for their physical condition and appearance.

Liam Fay (author of “Beyond Belief” - read it) saw the same irony in the situation, and wrote about it in his Sunday Times column yesterday. He described Ryan as the “elephant in the room” in that particular show.

If the elephant analogy holds true, it would seem that RTE’s headquarters in Montrose would be a better bet for a day out with the kids than the Phoenix Park, as the place is heaving with “stars” who are paid out of proportion to their abilities, in an incestuous “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” country with a small population that’s jigs and reeling under the new austerity of the recession.

There is an inflationary bubble out Donnybrook way that is more expansive than many of its “stars” egos. Gerry Ryan excluded. Is he really “worth” €558,000 a year? He thinks so, obviously, and you can just imagine him there, waving his bottle of L’Oreal (extra greasy) as he says so.

Ryan attracts a loyal listenership, and his radio show was seen by many as daring after it was first aired in 1988, and was up 1,000 listeners in the last JNLR survey – though he’d lost 9,000 in the last one. Ryan points to the advertising revenue he brings into RTE as justification for his salary remaining uncut.

But surely that’s the point. Advertising revenue is falling – there is an estimated €68 shortfall predicted for this year according to Fay’s article – so “stars” salaries will have to drop accordingly. And are they really that good anyway? I don't think so. Maybe it’s not the presenter that is the important factor in winning listeners, but the format of the show.

Perhaps it’s time to let Ryan walk, and see how he fares outside the safe environment of RTE? Let him prove his worth, and let RTE bring in some badly needed new blood into its tired programming schedule.

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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Ryanair to charge for emergency chutes shock!

After Michael O’Leary’s recent declaration of his intention to charge customers to use the toilet on board his no-frills aircraft – a declaration accepted as fact in po-faced (sorry) media reports – comes the revelation that Ryanair punters will now have to pay for oxygen masks and use of the emergency chutes (click on pic left).

In an exclusive interview with Gombeen Nation*, Mullingar mogul Michael O'Leary said he thought the idea of charging for oxygen masks, lifejackets and access to emergency chutes was reasonable in today's economic climate, and was not in breach of health and safety regulations.

“For fuck’s sake”, he said, “I’m providing cheap flights for these ungrateful, unwashed fuckers… if they want ‘free’ oxygen masks they can go and pay twice or three times the price with Aer Lingus, and put up with all the ‘Dia Duit, Failte on board’ shamrock shenanigans shite as well.

“Surely, in the unlikely event of possible asphixiation (very unlikely, as our ‘planes are perfectly safe) it is not too much to ask the miserable bastards to put their hands into their tight pockets, and put a €1 coin into the overhead fucking slot?”

When asked if charging people a planned €25 to use the emergency chutes should a plane ditch or crash-land was unethical, O’Leary was adamant it was not so. “For Christ’s sake, if the plane has to crash-land or ditch in the middle of the fucking Atlantic you’re all fucked anyway, unless you have that American guy who landed in the Hudson River behind the controls – but that was unusual. Anyway, he'd probably be looking for too much money.”

Becoming increasingly animated, he went on “look, if you are talking about saving your miserable fucking life would you really object to paying 25 fucking Euro? You wouldn't buy a fucking third-hand parachute for that, never mind an emergency chute. Anyway, it’s not that much really, especially when you consider I’m going to have to buy a new fucking plane in such a circumstance. Have you any idea how much they cost? Have you? A lot more than 25 fucking Euro, you fucking muppet. Or is that Sterling?”

“We make no bones about being a low-fares airline, but we provide a value product in an increasingly challenging environment for the aviation industry”, he concluded, "they can like it or lump it, the cheapskate fuckers."

*not true.

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Tuesday, 3 March 2009

From the top down - our talent for corruption

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that a study by anti-corruption group Transparency International has found evidence of high-level corruption in Irish public life.

The study found that low-level petty corruption is not widespread in this country (bribes to officials, for instance) but that “legal” corruption through political funding, “cronyism, political patronage and favours” unduly influence “political decisions” at a higher level.

Some other points touched on are a “risk of patronage” in appointment to State boards, lack of transparency in funding for political parties, no disciplinary framework for judges, limits on access to freedom of information, self-regulation of professions, lack of whistleblower protection, lack of fraud and anti-corruption plans for local government, and the awarding of public contracts to shelf companies.

Well, we don’t call it Gombeen Nation for nothing.

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Monday, 2 March 2009

An Anti-Fascist day out in London, Part Two

This is a continuation of "An Anti-Fascist Action day out in London, Part One"

Part Two

So. You are in a packed District Line carriage on your way to Bow Road Station to meet a pubful of neo-Nazi skins... but at least you have about 150 like-minded anti-fascist activists for company.

There’s something strangely calming about such a situation, believe it or not. Maybe it’s the mob mentality at work (which you considered yourself immune to), or it is safety in numbers - but somehow when you look around and see the characters who are on your side, you feel confident. But then again, you haven’t seen the opposition yet.

Anyway, we reach our station and the doors open, and AFA’s concerned citizens pile out of the tube in fash-fighting form, up the stairs and on to the Bow Road, which leaves a one-hundred metre sprint to the Little Driver, and its Blood and Honour occupants.

As we reach the street we notice a small scouting party of fascist skins, who nearly jump out of their braces when they see what’s emerged from the tube station. This is no timid party of placard wavers – it is AFA (motto: Beating the Fascists). The fash take flight towards the Little Driver as fast as their 14-hole Doc Martens will carry them, which is quite fast with a load of baying anti-fascists in pursuit.

One runs past the side of the emerging AFA group, unspotted, and races for safety. A kick connects, but it’s only a glancing one. The chase continues, and one of the fash makes out to sprinkle something – possibly ammonia - in the direction of his pursuers as he flees, but it makes no difference… he and his friends are never going to make it to the Little Driver.

Incredibly, you actually feel a low-level sympathy for the fleeing fash as you gain on them, reflecting in a sped-up way on the imbalance of your group’s numerical superiority over the scouting party’s. But then you think of the racist attacks, the attacks on gays, and the attacks on lefties in your area, and your fleeting sympathy quickly evaporates… these fash are going to get it.

All of a sudden the Cavalry come to their rescue, as masses of coppers in riot gear, on foot and on horses, appear from a side road to the right. Members of your group are pulled down and arrested and riot police charge from parked vans further up the road to create a line between the advancing AFA stewards and the fascists HQ. You’d swear they were in it together.

Before the coppers get in position, some of the AFA group on the left side of the road get a brief glimpse of fash emerging from the pub and running in our direction - presumably under the dangerous misapprehension that we are the Anti-Nazi League. One is identified as Charlie Sargent, Chelsea Headhunter and CI8 leader (sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 for murder of a fellow C18 member), who runs towards us – manboobs wobbling – until he does a double-take and he and his bonehead mates beat a swift retreat back to the pub. Another fash is seen diving into a police car for protection.

Even before our group is halted by the coppers, close to the pub, someone fires a flare which hits a railway bridge near the Little Driver, and the remaining fash scatter to safety. We try, but can’t get past the police ranks so the cry goes up: “Ian Stuart – better off dead!” for the benefit of the fash in the pub. Some of them are guided out by the police and give it the big one in our direction from the safety of their protectors (we don’t know where they are going).

We are pushed back down the road to the tube station forecourt, where we are corralled by the riot police - one of whom is trying to take photos of us as we pull our hoods up to make it more difficult. There is a nice moment as a woman passes by, and asks if we are the anti-fascists. Upon receiving the answer “yes”, she turns on the police and says “you should leave these alone and get that lot up there!” A roar of approval goes up, and the coppers shuffle around. One or two even look vaguely embarrassed.

After that, the Metropolitan Police commandeer a whole tube train exclusively for us, and whisk us away from East London. One thing you’ve got to give them - they are organised; years and years of practice at football matches has honed their responses, and they have it down to a fine art. The underground train takes us non-stop to Earl’s Court, in the west of the city, where we meet up in clusters in various pubs to discuss the day’s events so far.

There will be more skirmishes later that night as some of us head towards Waterloo Station, as reports come in of fash in the area. But nothing major happens, apart from a few fash stragglers who make the mistake of trying to enter our pub and end up getting a beating. Finally, the day’s activities end when the riot police arrive and escort us from the pub and out of the area, once again.

It’s been a long and weary day, but it has been a good one. Blood and Honour did not manage to organize their benefit gig, and it turns out to be their last attempt to pull such a stunt in London.

Result for AFA!

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