Sunday, 27 November 2011

Where Were You? Garry O'Neill's book comes highly recommended.

Those who like to ponder, or pontificate, on matters of “culture” could do worse than peruse Garry O’Neill’s “Where Were You? Dublin Youth Culture & Street Style 1950-2000”.

I have always had a healthy respect for people living in Dev’s Ireland of the 50s and 60s, who rejected the state-sponsored insularity and anti-modernity of the era, and swapped ideals of poker-arsed comely maidens jigging about at every crossroad in exchange for twisting, jiving and locomotioning to alien influences. Some might call it being defeated by cultural imperialism…. if so, I’m grateful for it.

The book goes beyond that however, and covers the period 1950-2000, right up to punk, the mod revival, and on to the more recent trends that I wouldn’t be so au fait with. You won’t see an Aran sweater anywhere, thankfully.

What you will see, is young Dubliners bucking the local trend by donning drapes, drainpipes, tonic suits, parkas, leather jackets, safety pins and other apparel that Dev and the Irish powers-that-be would have condemned. I’m sure brave souls outside the capital did so too – and they deserve even greater respect.

Anyway, have a look. You never know who you might see.

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Thursday, 24 November 2011

Darren Scully and Kevin Cardiff - a Comedy for Europe?

The Fine Gael mayor of Naas, Darren Scully, resigned his post last Tuesday after stating in a radio interview with Kildare FM that he “would no longer represent black Africans”.

He apologised “unreservedly” for his comments, saying “I realise now that my remarks were open to an interpretation that I did not intend. I abhor racism in all its forms”.

Bloody hell… what kind of a place is it? An elected representative, a mayor no less, saying he wouldn’t represent a particular grouping of constituents on the basis of their nationality and skin colour. What other kind of interpretation was there? And how could someone occupying such a position say something so obviously stupid, and think it was OK?

The last person I heard making such a statement was Derek Beacon, of the British National Party, prior to his council election in London’s Isle of Dogs back in the 90s. Scully, however is a member of the senior mainstream party in Ireland’s coalition government. But he’s not a racist, OK Ted?  Apparently there were people phoning  daytime radio programmes (not at work then?) to voice support for his remarks.   

It is hard to believe some of the stuff that goes on in this place. Between that and the senior civil servant in the Department of Finance who presided over the economic collapse of the country, and couldn’t account for €3.6 billion in his own Department, being nominated by the Government to the European Court of Auditors - with the full backing of supposedly new broom prime minister, Enda Kenny.

When Labour MEP, Nessa Childers, spoke out against Cardiff’s nomination she was told to shut up by fellow Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa. She received dire warnings that she “could be sued” for Cardiff’s loss of earnings (a six-figure sum) should he fail to get the post. It sounds like something from the Haughey years, but this time the threats came from a smoked salmon socialist of the Labour Party against this own colleague.

Embarrassingly for the Government, and De Rossa, Cardiff’s nomination was last night rejected by a European Parliament Committee. Did they not see it coming? Or are standards so low here, that they expect the same to apply elsewhere.  Or were they just trying to provide some kind of comedy act to lighten the mood in these times of crisis?

In some other countries both Scully and De Rossa would be expelled from their respective parties. But here?

Best take that next breath when your face starts turning blue.

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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

An Coimisinéir Teanga to be merged with Ombudsman

The Irish language lobbyists were up in arms (again) last Friday, protesting outside the Irish parliament on Kildare Steet. “What was the subject of their ire this time?” I hear you cry.

Well, make sure you are sitting down for this one, as this is serious shit. It seems that - hang on ‘til I check the spelling  - An Coimisinéir Teanga (The Irish Language Commissioner) is to be absorbed into the Office of the Ombudsman in Dublin.

Now. What do you think of that bombshell?

Never mind the Universal Social Charge, never mind 23% VAT, never mind the carbon tax, never mind the health cuts, never mind… you get the idea. This is the most shocking news since Lenihan announced the bank guarantee. It is catastrophic. We might as well all flee for the hills this very minute.

What is going to become of the country? What? An Coimisinéir Teanga was set up to enforce Eamon O’Cuiv’s (who has the blood of Dev himself coursing through his Gaelic veins) 2003 Official Languages Act.

An Coimisinéir Teanga does work that is tremendously important. For instance, if a Gaeilgeoir hobbyist notices that the letters making up “Guinness Brewery” on a Dublin tourist signpost are printed larger in English than in Gaelic, he/she can complain to An Coimisinéir Teanga. Or if the Gaelic translation of the words is not placed above the vernacular version. Then, Dublin City Council can tear down all the existing signs and replace them at considerable expense.

Or if a language hobbyist observes a bedraggled queue of people standing at a bus stop, looking for real-time information on when the next bus might arrive, he/she can complain to An Coimisinéir Teanga and have the signage delayed until they show the information as Gaeilge (first of course) and English alternately. It doesn't matter if this takes a decade or so.

A language hobbyist can also apply to An Coimisinéir Teanga on the subject of automated train announcements if he/she feels that Gaeilge is not being given enough prominence. Thus, we can all enjoy interminable bi-lingual (with Gaeilge first, of course) announcements from the minute we get on the train until we get off.

Or if a government or local authority document has not been printed as Gaeilge, our language hobbyist can get onto An Coimisinéir Teanga and make sure thousands fly off the presses. Even if not one is bought by the public.

An Coimisinéir Teanga fulfills a vital  role in Irish life, and my heart goes out to its dynamic, visionary staff who will have to vacate their lovely shiny building in Spiddal, Galway, to share a crumbly premises in Dublin with Office of the Ombudsman time-servers.

Shocking news.

There is no doubt about it. We are staring into the abyss.

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Saturday, 19 November 2011

Less fees more gees: the lofty aspiration of middle-class Irish students

While the Irish middle classes have no problem paying fees for little Oisin and Roisin’s secondary education, they feel that third level should be “free”.  That is, the ubiquitous “taxpayer” should stump up for their brats’ passport to economic advancement.

When third level fees were abolished in 1996, it was trumpeted as an initiative that would open further education up to all classes. It didn’t, of course, as a report by Dr Kevin Denny, in May 2010 found:

“..while all taxpayers, including those on lower income, end up paying for free education for third-level students, it is the children of the better off who literally cash in, getting their ticket to a better future and a higher income for free...
Meanwhile, disadvantaged students still enter third level education at the same dismally low levels."

Plus ça change.

It seems that third level education in Ireland will remain the preserve of the better off, given the lack of targeted, properly means-tested initiatives to increase the participation  -  and cultivate the innate intelligence  -  of those who don't traditionally make it to campus.

But we are in safe hands, as the future elite - as currently constituted - is certain to rescue the country from its present sorry state.  

Witness the thought-provoking placards you see here, with legends such as DOWN WITH FEE'S and LESS FEES MORE GEES
("Gee" being "vagina" in Hiberno English, for the benefit of the uninitiated).

Or perhaps it is time to simply put more resources into decent primary and secondary education? 

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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Ireland 1, Estonia 1 (5-1 to Ireland on aggregate). Memories of Euro '88 come rushing back...

I remember what I was doing when the Republic of Ireland qualified for the European Championships in November 1987. I was hurtling down Stapleton Hall Road near Finsbury Park, London, on my Kawasaki GT750. I had the radio on – the aftermarket FLF fairing fitted contained such a luxury – and was listening to the Bulgaria v Scotland match on Radio 5.

If Bulgaria won, they would finish one point above Ireland, clinching qualification to Euro 88 in Germany. What happened, however, was Scotland’s Gary MacKay scored in the 87th minute. Ireland had thus qualified for a major tournament for the first time ever. I’m sure anyone walking down Stapleton Hall Road that evening would have been startled by my incredulous roar of celebration. One of those moments you never forget.

As readers will know, yours truly is hardly the most patriotic of people. The only time I come near to it is when football is concerned; and that is more about wishing well for the beautiful game in Ireland over the institutional distraction of the GAA… an organisation that forbade its followers even attending “soccer” matches up until the 70s. It only finally allowed the game to be played at Croke Park in 2005, when the ban on "foreign games" was lifted. (As an aside, soccer is the only form of ‘football’ that is played primarily with the feet, not the hands, so is most deserving of the description).

To make things more difficult for the world’s most popular ball game, Irish schools tend to promote either GAA or rugby – at least that was the case in my schooldays. Where I attended, soccer only officially got a few weeks towards the end of the term. It was, however, the game of choice in the schoolyard all year round… a succinct commentary in itself.

So, nice to see Trapattoni’s men qualify for Euro 2012. It should be a nice boost for the game and maybe, who knows, even the country?

Altogether now - olé, olé, olé, olé…

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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Chapters of Parnell Street - a worthy Irish institution

All right, the blog is often accused of "knockin' Ireland"

That's not altogether true, of course, as only the things that are deemed bad about our little land get "knocked".  Admittedly there are many such things.

One such thing that isn't, is Chapters on Parnell Street.  Never mind its indigenous competitors Easons, Hodges Figgis, and Hughes & Hughes  -  or Waterstones from the land o'er the wave.  Chapters is the best bookstore in Dublin.

I should point out at this juncture that I don't have shares in Chapters, nor have I received any dodgy brown envelopes, either real or insinuated.  But if you're looking to get a couple of gifts for Christmas - and you're one of the unfortunate souls who gets drawn into all of that - or if you are just looking to get a couple of good reads for yourself, like moi, I really can't think of a better place. 

As an example, I will cite the "Ultimate History of Porsche" hardback above.  208 colour glossy colour pages containing a comprehensive history of the German car manufacturer, whose founder gave us the famous - and once ubiquitous - VW Beetle, from whose rather humble lions spurted the present-day Porsche 911 Turbo S, with its 0-60mph time of 2.6 seconds (Road & Track Magazine test).  Yours Sir/Madam, for €6.99.   The book, I mean.

If you're not into automotive history - and I imagine many of you aren't - the store has plenty to offer by way of world, European and Irish history.   R.F. Foster's "Modern Ireland 1600-1972 " found its way onto the Gombeen Nation recommended reading bookshelf, and Tony Crowley's "Wars of Words - The Politics of Language in Ireland 1537 - 2004" (Oxford University Press) can be picked up for a very democratic price there night now... one of the best books I have read in some time.

Even more so than the first-mentioned tome on Ferdinand's best.  And that's saying something, for me.

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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Compulsory Irish - a parent writes

Interesting article in the Irish Times on the subject of compulsory Gaeilge in our schools (a subject covered elsewhere on the blog).   It comes from a feature on the Education Today pages called  TBH -  To Be Honest, a slot that aims to "give a voice to those within the education system who wish to speak out anonymously". 

As a practical demonstration of the nonsense of compulsory Gaeilge  -  with its roots in late 19th / early 20th century Gaelic revivalism  -  which has been a failed policy for 89 years or so, it is hard to beat.   

'Wasted hours' on learning Irish

A parent writes : I can’t believe that children are still being forced to learn Irish in school. I spent thousands of wasted hours in primary and secondary school learning this language and now I can’t speak a word of it. If only, if only, that time had been spent learning maths, science, a modern language or even spent running around the yard I think it would have better served me in later life.

I often look back with dismay at all the time I spent banging my head against this difficult and useless subject that any reasonable education system would relegate to a minority elective for those with the specific interest and motivation to learn it.

Now I have children of my own. One of them, in particular, is having real literacy problems. We are slowly and painstakingly bringing him up to speed with the rest of the class in his basic reading and writing skills. We’re getting there, but as his classmates are moving ahead to read independently, he is still struggling to get through the most basic readers aimed at younger children.

Now he’s coming home with Irish homework. He’s grappling with whole new families of sounds and spellings, just as he was starting to get a grip on his mother tongue. For him, learning to spell and pronounce Irish words is like unlearning all the rules we’ve been working so hard to get into his head. I can see the poor child looking at me with utter confusion as I turn everything we’ve learned about letter sounds and spelling upside down.

And for what? To learn a language he will never use. Even if he wanted to use it, he won’t have the competence because Irish taught in the classroom is a complete waste of time. This is a child who desperately needs as much time as possible spent on basic literacy and numeracy. Instead, he is now spending his time on a confusing, pointless and empty exercise largely designed to keep Gaelgoirs in jobs.

When he comes home in the evening with his frankly impossible Irish homework I help him as much as I can. In fact, I’m well able to help him because believe it or not I was actually good at school Irish. I did honours for the Leaving Cert and got a B.

But there’s a big difference between learning for the Leaving Cert exam and actually being able to use a subject in the real world. Despite my honours Irish, I cannot even walk into a Connemara pub and order a bowl of soup.

What hope has my son, who is already two classes behind in basic English, in getting grips with, never mind making use of, this minority language?

Good luck to people who want to keep the language alive. Let them take their kids to classes after school or send them to Gaelscoils. Let the rest of us learn for the real world, please.

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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Alexandra Trotsenko fundraiser. Artist who had fingers cut off by skanger needs money for operation.

If you wanted to breed an underclass of superskanger, you could not have planned it better than the Irish authorities did.

Informed as they were by the Catholicism of the founding fathers which - along with Gaelic revivalism - was a key founding component of the 1922 state, they ensured that contraception remained an alien concept to the Irish up until relatively recently.

As a result, people popped them out like there was no tomorrow. Being able to provide, or notions of parental responsibility, did not crop up at all. Consequently, vast swathes of sink estates sprung up around the country's larger urban centres, as the nation's denizens were encouraged to breed without forethought. Or foreplay, as that was presumably sinful.

Then the state provided some generous incentives to perpetuate the paroxysm of procreation. You could only get a corpo place, for instance, if you had enough verminous devilspawn to form a football team.     Childless? Forget it...    Two or three kids?  Not enough, keep trying!

If you have a bit of imagination outside the bedroom department, you might be able to see how this social policy did not encourage responsible parenting. In turn, it might explain how we have some of the most vicious scumbags and skangers in Europe, despite having one of the most generous social welfare systems.

Here is an example. In 2009 a scumbag by the name of James Kenny (pic above) broke into the Finglas apartment of a talented artist, Alexandra Trotsenko (pic left). He assaulted her with two knives, cut off several of her fingers, and left her for dead before robbing her and making off with her cash cards.

Kenny was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment last week. Just for the record, he had previously attacked and stabbed a couple, in their fifties, in their own home back in 1998. He had received a four-year sentence for that. He had "form".

I could be making a very big presumption here, but it is quite likely that Kenny is not a diligent worker - unlike Ms Trotsenko, who was illustrating for a book around the time she was attacked. I will even push the boat out and make the assumption that Kenny came from Ireland's underclass of permanent "unemployed". If anyone has other information, please feel free to correct me.

Trotsenko, in contrast, came to Ireland to work.  Incredibly, however,  it seems that the Irish healthcare service will not provide her with prosthetic fingers to replace the ones that Kenny hacked off, as they are "very expensive".

The Adams Art Gallery in Blackrock is holding an auction of works donated by artists on November 27th, in order to raise the necessary finance. RTE Liveline has also set up a helpline, where people can donate.  See link below.

Alexandra Trotsenko fundraiser

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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Nama pays failed developers €200,000 a year salaries - bonuses extra, of course

When Brian Lenihan ushered Nama (National Assets Management Agency) into our lives in 2009, he – and others in authority – denied it was a bailout mechanism for failed builders and developers.

Nama, for those of you who might have been on an Antarctic expedition over the past year or two, is an official scam whereby the “bad” bank loans of Irish builders and developers where bought (with taxpayers’ money) for a sum that they might possibly be worth some time in the future.  But won't be.

It means that stupid, greedy developers and speculators – with the collusion of dodgy bankers – who gambled and failed, will be rewarded by the public purse, rather than find themselves begging with no arse in their trousers beside every city centre ATM, as they might in the US for instance.

That is not the Irish way, oh no. The Irish way is to pay them a “salary” of €200,000 a year. Here is a list, cogged from Daniel McConnell in the most recent Sindo, illustrating how we do things in Ireland.


Nama is paying at least two developers €200,000 and up to 120 others between €70,000 and €100,000 a year in salaries.

Nama admits it is now realistically only chasing the amount it paid for loans – €31 billion – and not the original €78 billion amount.

Nama is now willing to pay bonuses, potentially worth millions, to developers on all “profit” made above what it paid for loans.

Nama has allowed €2bn to cover legal and other advisory fees during its 10-year lifespan.

Nama is currently paying about €100,000 a day on financial and legal experts according to its latest report.

Nama remains a secret society, and is not accountable under the Freedom of Information Act.

122 senior people at NTMA/Nama are being paid more than €100,000. Nama CEO Brendan McDonagh’s salary is €430,000.

The difference is we’re Irish, as the slogan goes.

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