Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The shady world of Gombeen Nation and its funding

Sometimes I wish the blog had the power and influence some seem to think it has. Take a comment that came in the other day on an older post detailing Councillor Nial Ring’s opposition to the recent visit by our nearest neighbour’s head of state.

The correspondent had been searching for the good councillor’s contact details, and was rather miffed to come across the bould Gombeen Nation topping the Google search (I tried it myself, but was rather miffed to see Gombeen Nation only came up second). I paste the comment below:

No doubt since I'm not a hater of all things Irish my words won’t get printed. One question I would like to ask is where does the money come from that maintains this bile and hatred? I was just searching for Councillor Rings’ contact details and this is the first thing that presents itself. I know that Google doesn’t provide this kind of exposure cheaply.

I wonder can it be traced back to the British treasury or a British org that promotes their monarchy?

Please note that Councillor Nial Ring was democratically elected by his constituents, which is more than can be said for some!

Padraig Beirne

Conspiracy afoot, it seems. Declan Ganley has nothing on the shadowy world of Gombeen Nation and the money that funds it.  Does the dodgy cash come from the British Treasury, or a British organisation that promotes its monarchy? Or maybe it is even bankrolled by those masters of dirty tricks, M15?

No, far more banal than that Padraig, I’m afraid. It’s free to set up a blog. The only thing it costs is time - and the odd headache, from beating your head against the wall all the time.

Ireland is, after all, a place where many cannot see beyond the “bile and hatred” that passes for everyday, orthodox political discourse and opinion. Councillor Ring’s banging on about the Rising, "informers" and The 800 Years being a very good example of the genre.

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Saturday, 28 January 2012

Kenny - "people went mad borrowing during the boom"

What is it about so many of our fellow Irishmen/women that they can’t face the truth? Our esteemed prime minister, Enda Kenny – who makes a shade of grey seem rather exciting – says that  “[Irish] people went mad borrowing during the boom”, and it creates a furore.

But Irish people did go mad borrowing during the boom – or bubble, as it might be more accurately termed. Not all Irish people, mind you, but enough to get the country up to its hoxters in debt. People who are now saying – like Kenny in another context – that "it’s not our fault”.

Bloody hell. Years back, a German/Turkish mate of mine came to visit – just as the bubble was puffing up nicely – and he was shocked by the amount of expensive cars on our roads. He was even more shocked when I told him some of them cost nearly twice as much in Ireland as they did in Germany, thanks to Ireland's  Vehicle Registration Tax.   All bought on the never-never, when Paddy and Mary were happy to take the money from the banks, bondholders or not.

I remember trying to move house during the boom years, and everywhere I went was swarming with investors. One estate agent – a refreshingly honest young lad – told me how a postman had a portfolio of seven properties on the go. How many did your average solicitor have, I wonder? Given how much easier it was to take care of the legal stuff?  Portfolios that now translate into loss accounts for all of us.

The same lad related how everyone in the estate agent’s office, where he worked, laughed out loud when a semi-D down the road “made” a million. But back then, Paddy and Mary thought it could go on forever. Bertie Ahern thought the naysayers should commit suicide. The media talked it up, uncritically, and the opposition benches were quiet about the Ponzai scheme on which the Irish economy was built. If you stuck your head above the parapet and said it was “mad” you would most likely have it knocked off.

And now, even in retrospect - with the supposed benefit of hindsight - the story is the same with Kenny's belated admission.

It's a pity the ostrich is not indigenous to these barren shores.  It would make a lovely national emblem.

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Friday, 27 January 2012

Another enforced hiatus ends?

Just a quick note to say the blog is in transition from Vodafone to Smart Telecom at the moment and, as seems to be the way of it these days, connecting is proving troublesome.  

It seems my nearest phone exchange is over 5km away, and the line consists of copper wire mined by destitute Victorian urchins.  Its installation was, I'll wager, overseen by Alexander Graham Bell himself (left).

Until now, I had no connection whatsover since Monday, when Vodafone cut off the old one, hence the lack of posts and delays in getting comments up. Now I have a shiny new modem from Smart (received a few hours ago), so let's see how this goes.

I can't describe how frustrating this malarkey is, especially as there are so many good blogging subjects out there at the moment... the hysterical reactions to Enda Kenny's "people went mad during the boom" statement being one.  ENDA TELLS THE TRUTH SHOCK!  Facing reality, you see, has never been popular in Ireland.

But that's another story.  In the meantime, we'll have a look at this new connection and see how we go. 

Thanks for your patience. 

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Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Irish and the Nazis - Jig Heil!

' Oh here's to Adolph Hitler ,
Who made the Britons squeal ,
Sure before the fight is ended
They will dance an Irish reel . '

Sinn Fein Irish Republican 'War News ' November 1940

Further to the last post about de Valera blacklisting Irish soliders who joined the British Army to fight Hitler, here's an interesting documentary which sheds yet more light on Ireland's rather sad history with regard to the Nazis.   Big thanks to John for this one.

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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Irish WW2 "deserters" seek pardon

An interesting message from a reader dropped into the inbox recently. It brought attention to a campaign which seeks to pardon some 5,700 Irish soldiers who "deserted" to join the British Army during the Second World War in order to fight Nazism.

A letter writer in Tuesday's Irish Times, Ciaran Mac Aodha-O Cinneide, might sum up the attitude of some who simply insist that  desertion is desertion, no matter what - and such an ovine attitude is characteristic of many in Ireland..

Ironically, they miss the point Captain Peader Cowan  -  who defended two such soldiers at their court-marshall in Ireland after the war  -  made when he defined “desertion” as “leaving a post of danger for a post of safety”.

In the case of these men, they did the exact opposite, with many dying on the beaches of Normandy, the bloodbaths of Arnhem and elsewhere, as their stay-at-home comrades played cards during the "Emergency", as Official Ireland referred to World War Two.

Non-pedants will contend that these soldiers, who rejected the delusional attitude of Dev and the Irish establishment, should have been honoured for their bravery and initiative in helping to topple one of the most awful regimes the world has ever known, despite the opposition of their own government.

Dev, we know, was a slippery chancer who could bend his so-called principles when it suited him. Instead, he chose to play hard-ball with these brave souls when they returned home in victory.  The man who pursued a spineless policy of neutrality, and commiserated with the German ambassador on Hitler’s death, put the soldiers on a “starvation” blacklist to ensure they could never again attain employment in their own country.

Yet more maliciously, even the children of some soldiers concerned were condemned to incarceration in Ireland's industrial "schools" as a result of the policy (Irish Times – “Time to Pardon Soldiers who Left to Fight Hitler” 14th Jan 2012). The Gestapo themselves would have been impressed.

As an example of bitter, petty spite, it is hard to beat. But then again is it surprising?  During the war, when the modus operandi of the Nazis was apparent, it is believed that a substantial number of  Irish people wanted Hitler to triumph. Motivated solely, as was their nationalism and Dev’s, by "bein' agin the Brits".

What is harder to understand, even by de Valera's very low standards, is how he and the Irish authorities still enthusiastically adhered to their policy of blacklisting the ex-soldiers when the full extent and scale of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis shocked the world in the years and decades after the war.

The treatment of these men and their families is up there with the worst of the many scandals in this sorry State's history.

BBC4 documentary on the Irish “deserters” who fought Hitler

Irish Soldiers Pardons Campaign

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

HSE worker gets 60k pension after 18 years' sick leave.

Sorry, the longer I do this blog the more I feel like I'll be getting a shouty column in the Oirish Daily Mail very soon.

But bloody hell,  there comes a point when you have to ask what is going on in the seemingly parallel world of the Irish public service?  

According to an Irish Times editorial "Grandstanding on Property Tax" (19th December), our public services (including pensions) cost €1.3 billion a month to run. 

But even in times such as these, when our rotten little kip is being kept afloat by IMF and EU money (we cannot afford to borrow on the bond markets), there is still a residual attitude that public money - borrowed as it is at present - is a limitless resource. 

Have a look at the following extract taken from, not the Mail, but the Irish Examiner of January 14th.  And apologies to any productive hospital workers I might know!

Hospital worker gets €60k to retire despite spending 18 years on sick leave

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A HOSPITAL worker was given almost €60,000 to leave the HSE under last year’s "cost-saving" voluntary retirement and redundancy schemes — despite being on unpaid sick leave for 18 years.

Documents obtained by the Irish Examiner show the unnamed employee was one of 61 HSE South staff paid to leave despite not being on the state payroll. Twenty people had been off it for five years or more. The figures are detailed by an HSE internal audit examination of the exit schemes.

According to the 26-page document, 232 of the 2,003 people who initially took up the national programme to cut health service payroll costs were based in the HSE South. But 61 of those had not worked in the system "for an extensive period". They included a former worker who had been on unpaid sick leave since 1992, when his paid sick leave had expired.

The audit said despite concerns over this person’s eligibility under the scheme, it was decided that under the Redundancy Payments Act he was entitled to almost €60,000: two weeks’ pay per year for 1992 to 2010 (€33,354); an undisclosed bonus week payment; a €23,664 ex-gratia payment and €1,130 "in lieu of notice" to leave under the cost-saving measure.

A similar internal review of exit scheme take-ups in the HSE Mid-West found that one applicant was incorrectly given €10,000 in taxpayers’ money.

The raft of internal audits released under the Freedom of Information Act includes details of:

* How doctors at the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar cost the taxpayer millions of euro by failing to fill out private inpatient paperwork, some from five years ago, and saw costs written off as "bad debt".

* Concerns over how "acting up" payments for staff to cover more senior posts are used for longer periods instead of finding full-time employees to fill the roles...

It really is hard to reconcile all this nonsense with the fact that, but for the bailouts, the country is bankrupt, and recent tax increases are unlikely to see any boost to the exchequer as people have been bled dry at this stage.   23% of nothing is much the same as 21% of nothing, after all.

 No matter what Kenny says - and his record for false promises is second to none - another bailout looks likely, and that is bound to come with conditions... which is probably just as well.

'Tis a great little land.

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Friday, 13 January 2012

Shortall's minimum price booze boost for Newry

You are in a bookshop, you plonk five hefty tomes on the counter and hand over your money. The assistant then gives you your change and receipt before asking  “do you want a bag?”

A few years back, the government of the day introduced the plastic bag levy, and Irish retailers must have been delighted. The levy was ostensibly about saving the planet, but shop owners saw it as a way to save money by not supplying free plastic bags to customers.

Some switched over to paper bags, but were very miserly about handing them out.  So now the country is full of people walking the streets with armfuls of merchandise.  The above is an excellent example of using a worthy goal - saving the planet – to further supplement the greasy till.

And now Labour’s Roisin Shortall wants to pull the same stunt on a larger scale.  She wants to introduce and enforce a minimum price at which alcohol can be sold, under the pretext of combating under-age drinking by preventing the sale of  “cheap” booze to them... and everyone else.

Publicans have been whinging for years about supermarkets and off-licences selling alcohol for lower prices than they charge in their pubs, so they will be pleased with this one.  You would swear Fianna Fail were still in power, with Shortall serving the same old vested interests  –  albeit camouflaged by the supposed noble goal stamping out under-age and problem drinking.  Many a pickled liver will rejoice, no doubt.

A Department of Health spokesperson recently stated that government’s “real concern” prompting  the proposal was the accessibility of alcohol to young people and under-age drinkers. Surely, though, If retailers are selling alcohol to those who are under-age, they should simply be prosecuted?

Ironically, supermarkets - the real target of the vintners' lobby, are perhaps the most stringent in terms of enforcing age legislation, with every item of alochol sold needing "approval".     (As an aside,  how come  “young people”, students and other assorted brats seem to have so much disposable income to piss up the wall in times such as these, anyway?)

And please, let’s explode the “cheap booze” myth.   A couple of years back, the blog mentioned how cheap, compared with Ireland, alcohol was in Spain, with a bottle of vodka to be had for four euro and a half-litre can of San Miguel for just over 50 cent. Yet the streets were not full of pissed-up Spaniards making a nuisance of themselves and clogging the A&E departments.

No, Ireland’s alcohol and anti-social problems need more focused targeting than Shortall’s  proposal, something she herself concedes by acknowledging the need for an "holistic approach"... while taking the blunderbuss approach anyway and raising the price of yet another consumable for the public.  Can't she see that people feel shafted enough as it is?

Should she get away with it,  despite EU competition law, expect the Newry tills to start ringing again and Irish retailers hear the sound of tumbleweed in the aisles .

And the pubs will still be no busier.

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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Mary Raftery dies aged 54

Ireland is a country that has never benefited from a surfeit of conscientious, campaigning journalists.  People who dedicate their careers to fighting injustice and speaking out for the most voiceless and vulnerable.

Mary Raftery was one such rarity, however, and her death at the age of 54 signifies a sad loss for journalism and Irish society in general.

The following is taken from  BBC news:

'States of fear' journalist Mary Raftery dies

Journalist Mary Raftery who was instrumental in challenging the Irish state and Catholic Church on clerical child abuse has died.

She was best known for her 1999 ground-breaking "States of Fear" documentaries.

They revealed the extent of abuse suffered by children in Irish industrial schools and institutions managed by religious orders.

It led to taoiseach Bertie Ahern apologising on behalf of the state.

Her work also led to the setting up of the Ryan Commission, which reported in May 2009, and to the setting up of a confidential committee which heard the stories of victims of institutional abuse.

Speaking about her findings to the BBC in 2009, Mary Raftery said: "There was widespread sexual abuse, particularly in the boys' institutions.

"Extremely vicious and sadistic physical abuse, way off the scale, and horrific emotional abuse, designed to break the children.

"We had people talk to us about hearing screams... the screams of children in the night coming from these buildings and really not knowing what to do.

"They didn't know to whom they could complain because the power in the town was the religious order running the institution."

Following the documentaries, the government set up the Residential Institutions Redress Board which has compensated about 14,000 people to date.

And her 2002 documentary "Cardinal Secrets" with Mick Peelo for RTE led to the setting up of the Murphy Commission into clerical abuse in the Dublin archdiocese.

Ms Raftery worked for RTE from 1984 to 2002.

She wrote a column for the Irish Times and taught at the Centre of Centre of Media Studies at NUI Maynooth.

RTÉ Director General Noel Curran said her journalism was defined by determination and fearlessness, and that she had left an important legacy for Irish society.

Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said her death was a "significant loss".

"She will be mourned by all who knew and respected her as a fearless journalist who was always willing to ask awkward questions, to seek out uncomfortable facts and to shine a light in the darkest corners of Irish society," he said.

"Mary will be best remembered for her ground breaking documentaries, 'States of Fear' and 'Cardinal Secrets', but her contribution to Irish journalism was multi-faceted.

"Her passion for social justice informed Mary's journalism at In Dublin, in Magill and in RTÉ. Her work was always challenging, always provocative yet always sensitive."

Summing up her work in a newspaper interview last September, she said: "The most important thing you can do is to give a voice to people who have been silenced. And …what else would I be doing?"

Mary Raftery is survived by her husband, David Waddell and their son, Ben.

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Sunday, 8 January 2012

Water sign of the times

We all know there's a recession on, and the present government is nearly as inept as the last one with its 2% VAT hike, but are things really so bad that supermarkets have to put security tags on an 85c (or €1.10 for two) bottle of water?

Spotted in Tescos, Tallaght.

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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Irish education system - must do better

There has been some talk recently of reforming the education system in Ireland – something that is long overdue.

As far back as the 1920s, the fledgling State’s rulers were more taken with the idea of using the education system as an instrument of Gaelic revivalism, promoting a spurious homogeneous Gaelic, Catholic identity. Then, at some point, it was decided to teach all primary school children through Gaelic… a language the majority did not speak nor understand.

Those who controlled the education system, the politicians, the Catholic Church and the Gaelic League did not care that such a policy would result in children leaving school early with no education, other than a cowed deference to authority – which had been beaten into them.

I  remember people going on about how great the Irish education system was when I was part of it in the 1980s… when even to a young participant it was anything but.   Our school had a sizeable complement of incompetent teachers: some violent, some clueless, some psychotic, and some plain mad.

But whatever about the past, an article on the subject of schooling in Ireland by Emer O’Kelly in the most recent Sindo made some pertinent contemporary observations, such as  these below:

"Those who didn't actually leave the education system without being able even to read and write (23 per cent of the adult population) were, apart from the very few of exceptional ability, products of a numbing system of rote learning which prevented provocative thought, intellectual exploration and critical analysis. They were uneducated, taught what to think, not how to think."

"Early retirement packages have been offered to teachers, allowing them to live extremely comfortably from their mid-50s onwards. And quite a lot of our "dedicated" teachers -- whose unions spend their time telling us of teacher selflessness, commitment, and risibly low salaries -- rushed to apply for the package.  (By the way, how is €69,500 for a job that ends at four in the afternoon and has three months' holidays "risible"?)."

"As things stand, a teacher aged 54 with 34 years' service, based on 2009 arrangements, will receive a pension of €28,322. It will be accompanied by a gratuity of €88,655. That's if the teacher goes in February."

Interesting stuff, eh?

Now look at the following equation, ye at the back!  

23% illiteracy +   €69,500  teachers' salaries = Teachers fail miserably. 

Think about that near ninety-grand retirees will receive.    The very time-servers who have done our children such a disservice should be seen off by means of a size-12 foot up the collective hole, rather than through a golden handshake.  That won't happen though, as they are unaccountable, so we just have to be happy we are getting rid of them at last - albeit at great expense.

To replace them, restrictions on foreign teachers working here – and many indigenous ones -  through a Gaelic proficiency requirement, should be ended.  Even as things stand, and ignoring the qualified-elsewhere teachers barred from employment in education, there are 2,000 non-permanent teachers to replace the 1,000 expected to take the money (according to O'Kelly). So let's re-educate them in any putative shake-up. 

And then let's slaughter some Dev-inspired sacred cows.  Compulsory Gaeilge and extra payments for teachers teaching it,  must end immediately.  As should extra points for students sitting exams as Gaeilge.  Both help to perpetuate the industry within education around the subject, and the latter distorts students' results as well as causing resentment.

Teachers should be made accountable - their jobs should be seen as responsible ones and treated as such. 

Finally, rote learning and regurgitation of facts should be replaced by an approach which enables pupils to actually understand the subjects they are being taught.

It might mean that, a few generations down the line, we would eventually have a populace capable of rational and critical thinking.

But then again, do our authorities really want such a thing?

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Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year resolutions... who is going to keep them?

So it's 2012 – a new year - and it’s going to be even more miserable than the last.

You will pay an extra 2% on top of practically everything you buy, road tolls will increase, yet more revenue-raising fixed penalty motoring offences will be enforced, rail and bus fares will go up and you can be sure the utility companies will have their slice of the action too. It's all so predictable.

Like this morning. I was driving through the Phoenix Park on the way into town – an act that takes an eternity as they have been re-surfacing its main road for months now.  I was one of the poor unfortunates who had to work today, so wasn’t in the best of form. 

Even so, I couldn’t suppress a hearty guffaw when I observed the legions of joggers about – as plentiful as the faithful at the Pope’s gig in the dark(er) days of the Seventies.

Who were they kidding? They’ll be sat on their arses watching daytime TV as soon as their resolutions dissolve into indolence – just like happened last year. So enough of the New Year optimism nonsense, puh-lease!

The only ones who will hold true to their resolutions are the Government, its state and semi-state companies, and the authorities. 

And they’ve resolved to shaft you even more.

Happy new year!

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