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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Dick Roche as Pontius Pilate: Irish Water Pollution

As Minister for the Environment Dick Roche, engages in the blame game on responsibility for the water debacle in Galway, this is what the European Commission said on March 22nd, 2007 on the Irish Government's negligence on the provision of drinkable water:

The European Commission is sending Ireland a final written warning for failing to comply fully with a 2002 European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling requiring drinking water supplies to be kept free of E.coli bacteria. It is sending Ireland a similar warning for failing to comply with a 2005 ECJ ruling requiring greater controls on polluting discharges to surface water by local authorities.

If the responses are unsatisfactory, the Commission may ask the ECJ to impose financial penalties on Ireland. The Commission is also referring Ireland to the ECJ for failing to give adequate rights to citizens to legally challenge decisions in cases involving environmental impact assessments and integrated pollution prevention and control. At the same time, action taken by Ireland to ban drift-netting of Atlantic wild salmon at sea has allowed a case to be closed.


Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “I am concerned that, more than four years after a court ruling, and despite substantial Government investments, a significant number of local authority and private water supplies still show a presence of e.coli. This needs to be resolved without further delay."

European Commission takes action to secure Irish clean drinking water as 60 people infected by water contamination in Galway

http://www.finfacts.com/irelandbusinessnews/publish/article_10009522.shtml

RTE Radio 1 Morning Ireland Programme, April 04, 2007 on water quality in Galway:

Environmental scientist Roderick O'Sullivan says he found huge levels of faecal contamination in a survey in 1995

Audio - Real Player should be installed

In the Irish Times on Saturday, March 31st, readers commented:

Madam, - In response to questioning on water pollution in Galway, Minister for the Environment Dick Roche repeatedly stated that he had allocated €21 million in 2002 to upgrade the water schemes in the county.

A preliminary report for a sewage treatment plant in Kinvara was submitted by Galway County Council to Mr Roche for his approval in October 2002. As a member of the Kinvara action group Cairde Cuan Chinn Mhara, I was a member of a delegation which met Mr Éamon Ó Cuív in an effort to speed up the process of approval. He told us very frankly that in his experience the longest hold-up in the process would be at the Department of Environment level.

Approval for the scheme was granted by the Department in December 2006 after a very active campaign by local people.Galway County Council have now - four years after the submission of its scheme - proceeded to detailed design and will then tender and finally commence construction.

Meanwhile, when you flush your toilet in the village of Kinvara, the waste exits directly into Kinvara Bay, which is itself an offshoot of Galway Bay, without filtration or treatment.

Why should communities have to spend time and effort in a prolonged effort to get what is a basic service? I have no doubt that there are many Kinvaras all over this country, after 10 years of economic boom.

Take a bow, Minister Roche.The buck stops with you. -

Yours, etc,

MARIA HANNIGAN, Cairde Cuan Chinn Mhara, Kinvara, Co Galway.

Madam, - At the recent Fianna Fáil Ardfheis, a motion was passed calling for the suspension of "no notice" cross-compliance farm inspections and the introduction of a 14-day notice period for all future inspections.

Similarly, the Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, met the IFA Executive Council on Wednesday March 21st, and promised that if Fine Gael were elected to government, "no notice" farm inspections would end and the IFA's demands for 14 days notice of such inspections would be met.

Cross-compliance relates to 19 management practices that farmers are required to implement if they wish to qualify for the Single Farm Payment. Four of the 19 practices relate to the prevention of water pollution.

At the same time, hundreds of people in Co Galway have contracted illnesses due to contamination of their drinking water supply, and over 90,000 people are boiling tap water before they can use it.

If it is the case that the contamination of the water supply in Co Galway is due to agricultural pollution, will Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael still honour these commitments to farmers? Or will they finally acknowledge that agricultural pollution of drinking water is a serious issue in the west of Ireland, and forego the electoral endorsement of the IFA in the interests of public health? -

Yours, etc,

GARRETH McDAID, Drumleague, Co Leitrim.

Madam, - I am not surprised to hear that Mr Dick Roche does not want "to get into the blame game". As Minister for Environment, he has ultimate responsibility for the public water supply.

It does not matter who is to blame; he is responsible for making sure nothing like this happens.

In other civilised countries he would be in serious trouble for an entire city being left with contaminated water - more particularly, contaminated with a parasite that can be spread from person to person.

Is there anything worse that could happen for which the Minister has responsibility? Will we find out about contamination anywhere else before half of us fall ill? -

Yours, etc,

CONAL WATTERSON, Patrickswell, Co Limerick.

As to Conal Watterson's rhetorical question, most people know the answer, if one is actually needed:

A Banjaxed System of Public Governance where the Buck Stops Nowhere

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Woe Betide the Scaremongers and Doomsayers of the Irish Property Boom!

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!

When a leading spokesperson of the Irish property industry has to conjure up straw men, in a desperate defence of his sector, he is unwittingly revealing more vulnerabilities than apparently intended.

An article in last Sunday's edition of the Sunday Independent (25/03/07) by Ken MacDonald, Managing Director of estate agents Hooke & MacDonald, had echoes of Queen Gertrude in Shakespeare's Hamlet, reacting to to her alter ego's protestations of love to the king in the play within a play, with the line: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

As the Irish residential property market is begining to creak, it's not enough to have bank economists as cheerleaders but from the vantage of self-interested insiders, it appears that any questioning of the market's fundamentals, verges on high treason.

MacDonald wrote: Why do we allow scaremongers and doomsayers with unfounded pessimism and unbridled negativity dictate our thinking and blunt consumer confidence? The Irish economy is the envy of the world. Job creation is phenomenal with more than 7,000 new jobs being created each month - despite the gloomy attention given to periodic job losses in some sectors.

Unemployment stands at 4.1%, the lowest in Europe; there are 750,000 more people in the workplace than a decade ago. We have revitalised cities and towns, a conveyor belt of entrepreneurial business people operating successfully on a world stage, a rich cultural and artistic heritage, a vibrant talented young population, rising by almost 100,000 per year, confident in their own and their country's destiny. We should be celebrating our success on a daily basis. In any event, the Irish love affair with property will continue undaunted despite the knockers.

It would surely be something if we had found the philosopher's stone that would transmute our current good times, built on foreign direct investment, European Union transfers (we are still net beneficiaries from the EU budget) and a property boom, into a permanent prosperity.

Goodbody Stockbrokers - - Property-related taxes have been an especially important driver of tax revenues. While stamp duty is most visible in this regard, the biggest revenue gatherer is, in fact, VAT receipts from residential construction, which accounts for c.8% of total revenue. Goodbody estimates that property-related taxes have accounted for up to a third of the increase in the total tax take over the past two years. Property-related taxes now account for at least 17% of total revenues, up from 4% ten years ago. As the property market slows, the scope for further upside revenue surprises is limited.

The conveyor belt of entrepreneurial business people operating successfully on a world stage, is a delusion. It's one of those soundbites that provides the satisfaction of comfort food but has little shred of reality. We have our share of entrepreneurs but beyond, CRH, Ryanair and Digicel, how many other world-class companies, has the Celtic Tiger spawned?

On the world stage, we have certainly made a splash in one sector - commercial property investment - which amounted to €41 billion (equity and borrowings) in the period 2001-2006.

Irish Venture Capital investment in 2006 was €192m - equivalent to 0.024% of 2006 investment in overseas commercial property

The construction sector which has expanded from 126,100 people in 1998 to 281,000 today, is as big as the manufacturing sector, which has been underperforming, at a time when the global economy is in the fifth year of the longest sustained period of growth since the late 1960's. Some 17% of the private sector workforce are in the construction sector but we cannot engineer a permanent building boom.

Job creation is phenomenal with more than 7,000 new jobs..... This soundbite is trotted out by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheál Martin and an army of parrots. It serves its purpose for those who haven't the breakdown.

The policy advisory agency Forfás, which reports to Micheál Martin's Department, said in January that employment growth in the Irish economy continued to increase in 2006, with construction, public administration, education and health accounting for 53,000 of the additional 83,000 jobs in the economy.

During 2006, employment levels supported by the development agencies (Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Shannon Development, and Údarás na Gaeltachta) increased by 5,927 to 305,062 – 2,913 permanent full-time jobs in foreign-owned companies, and 3,014 in Irish-owned companies.

Employment in Irish manufacturing rose by 2,900 in 2006, according to the CSO.

The balance of 24,000 jobs were in retail, distribution and services linked to domestic consumer demand that is built on the property boom.

Against a backdrop of a strong local and global economy, the 7% slice for jobs in the foreign-owned sector and Irish firms in manufacturing and internationally traded services, is hardly impressive.

Ken Mac Donald says that we should be celebrating our success on a daily basis...and...the Irish economy is the envy of the world. True indeed, and little factoids such as the 92% of Irish exports in 2006, which were made by foreign-owned firms, is just one of those little things that could be termed an inconvenient truth!

Comment - Irish Economy and Future of the Celtic Tiger: Putting a brass knocker on a barn door!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

IPOD - - Insecure, Pressured, Overtaxed and Debt-Ridden

A recent feature in Newsweek magazine said that Europe has spawned a generation of "baby losers," society's 20-somethings who are missing out on the economic benefits that their baby-boomer parents took for granted but is the angst justified?

In the United Kingdom, the younger generation has been dubbed Ipod, for "Insecure, Pressured, Overtaxed and Debt-Ridden;" France has the "Génération Précaire" -- the precarious generation; in Germany, the well-educated members of "Generation Intern" accept unpaid jobs, hoping for a rare shot at a permanent position.

Newsweek says that young adults in France, like their contemporaries across Europe, face a slew of problems never experienced by their middle-aged leaders. Consider: a 30-year-old Frenchman who earned 15 percent less than a 50-year-old in 1975; now he earns 40 percent less. Over the same period, the number of graduates unemployed two years after college has risen from 6 percent to 25 percent, even if they typically have better degrees. Thirty-year-olds in 2001 were saving 9 percent of their incomes, down from 18 percent just six years before.

Young people who snag stable jobs, gain access to credit and buy homes later in life are particularly angry that the older generations continue to rack up public debts for which they will get the bill.

The older generation in many countries still enjoy the benefits of a generous welfare system that sees only 30 percent of Belgians older than 55 who still work, for example. A report by the London-based think tank Reform put the issue plainly. "People over 50 are developing the lifestyles of teenagers."

Newsweek says that some countries have so far avoided the malaise. In Ireland, the birthrate peaked late and the strong economy still provides jobs for all. In fact, "this is the first generation to have grown up in Ireland with no question that they would be able to find a job in the country," says Tony Fahey of the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin. Ditto for Spain, where everyone is enjoying the new prosperity and a welfare system vastly expanded since the end of the Franco regime. "[The young here] don't live worse than their parents; in fact they live much better," says Federico Steinberg, an economist at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

But even the happy Irish and Spanish share a housing problem. Across the continent, spiraling property prices and poor job prospects are conspiring to keep youngsters living at home. According to the Italian Institute of Social Medicine, 45 percent of the country's 30- to 34-year-olds still sleep in their old beds and enjoy Mama's home cooking.

In France, the proportion of 24-year-olds now living with their parents has almost doubled since 1975, to 65 percent. Even in the U.K., with its enviable record of job creation, the average age of the first-time home buyer has climbed from 26 in 1976 to 34 today. Property prices are now eight times higher than the median earnings of the ordinary twentysomething.

Matthew Lynn, a columnist for Bloomberg News says that "life has mostly improved for each generation since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. There is no reason to think that has changed now."

That is certainly true, in terms of improvements in medicine and many aspects of the quality of life. However, not all the post-war generation are doing well today, never mind the twentysomethings. For example, in Ireland the majority of private sector workers have no occupational pensions and in developed countries there is a growing income divide.

Young people with parents of property or properties of value, won't miss the boat. As to the rest, the pressures of globalisation will be a challenge and there is always the civil service for the French or Irish post the construction boom. A 2005 polled showed that 76% of French 15- to 30-year-olds aspired to civil-service jobs from which it's virtually impossible to be fired.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Irish and the Comfort of the Victims' Cross

Inishowen Peninsula, North-West Ireland, where in the words of the Chief Justice of Ireland "a stain of the darkest dye on the otherwise generally fine tradition of the Garda," was perpetrated against a citizen of a Republic and it has taken 14 years to get justice.

It's easier to see another's faults than our own, as it is collectively as a people.

Every wrong can be blamed on outsiders and it has usually been the British as far as we're concerned.

Following years of revelations about gross misconduct by gardaí (Irish police) in County Donegal, it has taken the Supreme Court to set out in the starkest terms, the "disreputable conduct and a shocking abuse of power" on the part of two members of the Garda who had conspired to concoct false evidence against him, resulting in perjured Garda evidence being given at his trial and his conviction.

For the innocent victim Frank Shortt, it was "a tormenting saga of imprisonment, mental and physical deterioration, estrangement from family, loss of business, public and professional ignominy and despair". He was "sacrificed in order to assist the career ambitions of a number of members of the Garda".

The 14-year nightmare for wrongly jailed Co Donegal nightclub owner Frank Shortt ended with a €4.7 million damages award from the Supreme Court, including an unprecedented €1 million punitive damages award, to mark the court's abhorrence of "outrageous conduct" by gardaí towards him.

The five-judge court increased from €1.9 million to €4.7 million the award of damages made to Mr Shortt by the High Court arising from his wrongful conviction and imprisonment on trumped-up charges that he allowed the sale of drugs at his former nightclub in Inishowen.

The award includes €1 million punitive damages to reflect the court's disapproval of what Chief Justice Mr Justice John Murray described as an affair which was "a stain of the darkest dye on the otherwise generally fine tradition of the Garda" and the "especially grave" abuse of Mr Shortt by two gardaí - Supt Kevin Lennon and Det Garda Noel McMahon. The damages were awarded against the State.

It has taken a public tribunal and more than a decade for the 72-year old Frank Shortt to get justice. If he had lived across the border in Northern Ireland and had suffered the same fate, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern would have likely interceded with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on his behalf.

The long comfort of the victims' cross has clearly made it hard for some of us to face the truth about ourselves, despite the lip-service that flows so easily about the ideals of a republic.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Origins of Morality

Frans B.M. de Waal (born 1948, the Netherlands) was trained as a zoologist and ethologist in the European tradition at three Dutch universities (Nijmegen, Groningen, Utrecht), resulting in a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Utrecht, in 1977. His dissertation research concerned aggressive behavior and alliance formation in macaques. In 1975, a six- year project was initiated on the world's largest captive colony of chimpanzees at the Arnhem Zoo. Apart from a large number of scientific papers, this work found its way to the general public with Chimpanzee Politics (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982).

In 1981, Dr. de Waal accepted a research position at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. There he began both observational and experimental studies of reconciliation behavior in monkeys. He received the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Peacemaking among Primates (Harvard University Press, 1989) a popularized account of fifteen years of research on conflict resolution in nonhuman primates. Since the mid-1980s, Dr. de Waal also worked on chimpanzees at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and their close relatives, bonobos, at the San Diego Zoo.

In 1991, Dr. de Waal accepted a joint position in the Psychology Department of Emory University and at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, both in Atlanta. His current interests include food-sharing, social reciprocity, and conflict-resolution in primates as well as the origins of morality and justice in human society. His most recent books discuss the evolutionary origin of human morality, and the implications of that we know about bonobos for models of human social evolution: Good Natured (Harvard University Press, 1996), and Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape (University of California Press, 1997).

Nicholas Wade in an article in The New York Times today says that some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.

Wade says that biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality. They further believe that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.

Moral philosophers do not take very seriously the biologists’ bid to annex their subject, but they find much of interest in what the biologists say and have started an academic conversation with them.

The original call to battle was sounded by the biologist Edward O. Wilson more than 30 years ago, when he suggested in his 1975 book Sociobiology that “the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized.” Wade says that he may have jumped the gun about the time having come, but in the intervening decades biologists have made considerable progress.

Last year Marc Hauser, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, proposed in his book Moral Minds that the brain has a genetically shaped mechanism for acquiring moral rules, a universal moral grammar similar to the neural machinery for learning language. In another recent book, Primates and Philosophers, the primatologist Frans de Waal defends against philosopher critics his view that the roots of morality can be seen in the social behavior of monkeys and apes.

Dr. de Waal, who is director of the Living Links Center at Emory University, argues that all social animals have had to constrain or alter their behavior in various ways for group living to be worthwhile. These constraints, evident in monkeys and even more so in chimpanzees, are part of human inheritance, too, and in his view form the set of behaviors from which human morality has been shaped.

While de Waal does not claim that chimpanzees possess morality. He does however say that human morality would be impossible without certain emotional building blocks that are clearly at work in chimp and monkey societies.

Dr. de Waal’s bases his views on years of observing nonhuman primates, starting with work on aggression in the 1960s. He observed then that after fights between two combatants, other chimpanzees would console the loser. But he was waylaid in battles with psychologists over imputing emotional states to animals, and it took him 20 years to come back to the subject.

"We seem to be reaching a point at which science can wrest morality from the hands of philosophers," he wrote in Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals .

De Waal argues that the key element to morality is "reciprocal altruism": treating others kindly with the expectation that they will accord one the same treatment should a similar situation arise (a notion similar to, if not identical with, the so-called Golden Rule). Such reciprocal altruism will not occur when individuals are unlikely to meet again. It requires good memories and stable relationships, conditions which occur mainly in the primates. "Evolution has produced the requisites for morality: a tendency to develop social norms and enforce them, the capacities of empathy and sympathy, mutual aid and a sense of fairness, the mechanisms of conflict resolutions, and so on."

De Waal's book is filled with examples of monkeys and apes taking care of disabled members of their group, showing sympathy for those in pain, and engaging in mutual aid. The principle of parsimony, he states, holds that if closely related species act the same, then the underlying process is probably the same, too. Much, if not all, of what constitutes human morality can be found by closely studying the social practices of our fellow primates.

De Waal writes: "It is not hard to see why monkeys would want to avoid harm to themselves, but why would harm to another bother them? Probably they see certain others as extensions of themselves, and the distress of those resonates within them." To see one's self in the plight of another is perhaps the basic building block of morality.

Dr. de Waal sees human morality as having grown out of primate sociality, but with two extra levels of sophistication. People enforce their society’s moral codes much more rigorously with rewards, punishments and reputation building. They also apply a degree of judgment and reason, for which there are no parallels in animals.

Religion can be seen as another special ingredient of human societies, though one that emerged thousands of years after morality, in Dr. de Waal’s view. There are clear precursors of morality in nonhuman primates, but no precursors of religion.

So it seems reasonable to assume that as humans evolved away from chimps, morality emerged first, followed by religion. “I look at religions as recent additions,” he said. “Their function may have to do with social life, and enforcement of rules and giving a narrative to them, which is what religions really do.”

I have a particular interest in our ancient roots, as can bee seen here:

The National Geographic and IBM's Genographic Project: Charting the migratory history of the human species

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Irish Economists: Optimists and Realists - but where are the Cassandras?

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Photo: Baker Library, Harvard Business School - - Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said about Adam Smith, who is regarded as the father of modern economics: "In the broad sweep of history, it is ideas that matter. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. As John Maynard Keynes famously observed: 'Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.' Emperors and armies come and go; but unless they leave new ideas in their wake, they are of passing historic consequence."

Philosopher-economist Adam Smith : A patron for 21st century trade unionism?

In the Irish Times Property supplement today, Economics Editor Marc Coleman referred to doom merchants, saying in relation to the Irish property market, that irrational predictions of doom can be self-fulfilling. Some people just need to pull themselves together and adopt a stiff upper lip: the market is correcting, not collapsing.

Growth should steady to low single digits for the next year or two, remaining below nominal income growth and thus eroding the modest amount of overvaluation in the market. With interest rates set to peak this year and start declining next year - and with the possibility of supporting the market by cutting stamp duty always at hand - the safety nets for house price levels in 2008 are effectively already in place.

Austin Hughes, Chief Economist of IIB Bank, in a commentary on the latest Irish inflation figures, wrote: While inflation in Ireland is above the European average and bears watching we think some of the recent concerns in relation to Irish inflation have been exaggerated to the point where they could damage consumer and business confidence.

Economists, as practitioners of what is termed the "dismal science," are stereotypically painted as seeing doom much faster than boom as accountants are branded as boring.

Any set of data can be viewed from different angles and forecasting the future can have a positive or negative slant.

The number of Irish economic commentators or economists is small and those who have a profile in the media, tend to work in financial services. If they were presenting many tales of woe, they wouldn't last long in their jobs.

As to other economists, where are the Cassandras?

Against the mass ranks of political spin and the self-interested optimists, is a small number who draw attention to the unbalanced economy with an over-reliance on construction.

In America, there is always a "next crash" industry but who is saying that the Irish sky is falling?

It is actually a stupid tack to take because it allows those who do not wish to look beyond the short-term, off the hook - basically two extremes talking past each other.

In the run-up to the General Election, the politicians have set the agenda with soundbites and there has been little reaction from the media and economists.

For readers who are not fans of the Greek Classics, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Cassandra as follows:

Etymology: Latin, from Greek Kassandra

Date: 1542

1 : a daughter of Priam endowed with the gift of prophecy but fated never to be believed 2 : one that predicts misfortune or disaster

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

US report State of the Media 2007 says some Bloggers are on Secret Retainers

The State of the News Media 2007 is the fourth edition of the US Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) annual report on the health and status of American Journalism.

Its goal is to gather in one place as much data as possible about all the major sectors of journalism, to identify trends, mark key indicators, note areas for further inquiry and provide a resource for citizens, journalists, and researchers.

For each area the PEJ has produced original research and aggregated existing data into a narrative. The statistical data also exists in an interactive area called Charts & Tables where users can customize their own graphics. This year, the authors lso offer a detailed report on the status of online journalism, based on a close quantitative examination of a diverse sample of news websites. “Digital Journalism: A Topography” identifies what qualities of the web are being emphasized and which are not. The study also includes an interactive component that allows users to find the qualities they are looking for and test their favorite sites.

The study is the work of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a non political, non partisan research institute that is part of the Pew Research Center in Washington. The study is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and was produced with the help of a number of partners, including Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, Andrew Tyndall of ADT Research and a host of industry “readers.”

The full report is comprehensive, totaling more than 160,000 words.

The business of journalism is entering a new phase in 2007 -- one of "more limited ambition," according to an annual report published on Monday by the US Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The fourth annual edition of The State of the News Media, analyzes trends in newspapers, cable, network and local television, radio, ethnic news and attitudes toward media.

The report says that: with audiences splintering across ever more platforms, nearly every metric for measuring audience is now under challenge as either flawed or obsolete — from circulation in print, to ratings in TV, to page views and unique visitors online.

Every media sector except for two is now losing popularity. Even the number of people who go online for news — or anything else — has stopped growing. Only the ethnic press is up.
The definitions of enemy and ally in the news business are changing. Newspapers have begun to partner, for instance, with classified-job-listing Web sites they once denounced, brought together by mutual fear of free sites such as Craigslist.

With fundamentals shifting, we sense the news business entering a new phase heading into 2007—a phase of more limited ambition. Rather than try to manage decline, many news organizations have taken the next step of starting to redefine their appeal and their purpose based on diminished capacity. Increasingly outlets are looking for “brand” or “franchise” areas of coverage to build audience around.

The Project says that in the face of falling ad revenues and audience, it predicts that media outlets will increasingly try to brand themselves based on either a geographic place or a personality, or target a certain audience. That could mean a newspaper closing its foreign and national bureaus and focusing on "hyper-local" coverage, or a network TV show dropping the cloak of objectivity and ramping up its editorial attitude, like CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight," where the presenter campaigns for protectionism. It may also involve asking its readers and viewers to provide more citizen journalism, a term used to describe news generated by nonprofessionals.

The report says that the electronic media is in transition from what it calls the "Argument Culture," epitomized by the canceled CNN shoutfest "Crossfire," to the "Answer Culture," exemplified by the branded persona of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and the exposure of child predators by NBC's "Dateline."

For an emerging cohort of Web sites it is the involvement of everyday people (some alternative news sites now come closer than ever to the promise of authentic citizen media).

In a sense all news organizations are becoming more niche players, basing their appeal less on how they cover the news and more on what they cover.

The report says that the consequences of this narrowing of focus involve more risk than we sense the business has considered. Concepts like hyper localism, pursued in the most literal sense, can be marketing speak for simply doing less. Branding can also be a mask for bias.

Handled badly, the new strategy might also render a big city metro paper irrelevant. The recent history of the news industry is marked by caution and continuity more than innovation. The character of the next era, far from inevitable, will likely depend heavily on the quality of leadership in the newsroom and boardroom. If history is a guide, (be it Adolph Ochs, Ted Turner, or Google) it will require renegades and risk-takers to break from the conventional path and create new directions.

“I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing The Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care,” the paper’s publisher and chairman of the New York Times Company, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., told an interviewer earlier this year. The head of country’s most esteemed news company meant to sound an optimistic tone about journalism’s future, but the statement, like the industry, seemed to teeter between boldness and uncertainty.

The good news for traditional media organizations, said project director Tom Rosenstiel, lead author of the study, is that they are finally recognizing the challenges that have chipped away at the industry for years. The bad news, he said, is that they have few good answers for how to change their business model.

The industry must find a visionary leader, he said, like cable news magnate Ted Turner, who foresaw the potential of cable television and translated it into CNN.

The report asks: "Does the industry have a vision that is bold enough and does it have leaders whom journalists and audiences will follow?"

The authors say that traditional journalism is not, as some suggest, becoming irrelevant. There is more evidence now that new technology companies have had either limited success in news gathering (Yahoo, AOL), or have avoided it altogether (Google). Whoever owns them, old newsrooms now seem more likely than a few years ago to be the foundations for the newsrooms of the future.

But practicing journalism has become far more difficult and demands new vision. Journalism is becoming a smaller part of people’s information mix. The press is no longer gatekeeper over what the public knows.

Journalists have reacted relatively slowly. They are only now beginning to re-imagine their role. Their companies failed to see “search” as a kind of journalism. Their industry has spent comparatively little on R&D. They have been tentative about pressing for new economic models, and that has left them fearful and defensive. Some of the most interesting experiments in new journalism continue to come from outside the profession — sites such as Global Voices, which mixes approved volunteer “reporters” from around the world with professional editors.

There are signs, meanwhile, that those the press is charged with monitoring, including the government, corporations and activists, have reacted more quickly. Politicians, interest groups and corporate public relations people tell PEJ they have bloggers now on secret retainer — and they are delighted with the results.

"The paradox of professionalizing the medium to preserve its integrity is the start of a complicated new era in the evolution of the blogosphere," the report says.

In some ways, the news business is going through many of the same transitions the music industry has undergone over the past several years, as both have seen the realization of an economic theory dubbed "the long tail" by Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson.

The "long tail" refers to how the demand curve of our culture and economy no longer revolves around a small number of mainstream products, in this case major newspapers or TV networks.

Instead, the demand curve has a long "tail" consisting of an infinite number of bloggers, podcasters, video uploaders and others who are creating news-oriented content tailored to individual niches.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Growing Inequality in Developed Countries

The Top 0.01% Income Share and Composition in the US, 1916-2000
Note: The Figure displays the top 0.01% income share (top curve) and its composition
(excluding capital gains).
Source:
Piketty and Saez (2003, 2006)

The impact of growing inequality is getting serious attention in many Developed Countries.

Earnings are being squeezed despite a surge in corporate earnings.

Last year, the Washington D.C. based Economic Policy Institute (EPI), in an analysis of the Bureau of Economic Analysis March 2006 data, said that in the fourth quarter of 2005 corporate profits claimed the largest share of gross domestic income (GDI) in 37 years. The last time profits claimed this large a share of GDI was in the 4th quarter of 1968.

Ireland

In Ireland, like France, there are Insiders and Outsiders. The former have done well from the temporary prosperity that has been fuelled by a surge in foreign direct investment in the 1990’s and a resultant property boom.

While the majority of Irish private sector workers have no occupational pensions, while in contrast, in addition to a pension that would cost 28% of annual salary in the private sector, Irish public service salaries have risen by 59% in the past five years and the payroll has expanded by 38,000 extra staff.

Increases in public sector over the period due to general rounds total €2,479m (or 24.3%), “special” pay increases (primarily Benchmarking) total €1,328m (or 13%), and other factors (such as extra numbers) total €2,193m (or 21.6%).

The increase in the average industrial wage for a male worker in the period 2001-2005, was 19% compared with 38% in the public sector, excluding additional staff costs.

The Exchequer’s annual wages and pensions bill increased sharply from €10.2 billion in 2001 to €16.2bn last year, with what has been termed "benchmarking" accounting for up to €1.32bn of the rise. The number of public servants grew by 38,760, or 18%, since 2001 to 257,013 to January 2006. The education sector saw the biggest increase with pay costs rising by 65%. Health sector pay surged by 63% in the period, civil service salaries rose 48% and in the security sector they rose by 34.8%.

Preliminary Central Statistics Office estimates of Industrial Earnings for September 2006 show that the average weekly earnings of Industrial Workers in All Industries increased by 3.5% when compared with September 2005.

Average weekly earnings in the Public Sector (excluding Health) rose by 4.2% in the year to September 2006. The index of average earnings, which excludes some effects of changes in employment composition, rose by 4.5% for the same period.

Irish Nurses are currently seeking a 35-hour week and a hike in pay as private sector jobs are increasingly under threat.

The Irish Government is expected to cave-in to the demands as it has in the past when the unionized public sector has threatened strike action.

Japan and Germany

Japan's national statistics office reported on March 2nd that inflation was zero in January, signalling the struggle to end a decade of deflation.

Core consumer prices, which exclude fresh food, were unchanged from a year earlier, the statistics bureau said.

Earnings have fallen the most in more than two years, according to a separate report, signalling the difficulties that the Bank of Japan has in raising its key interest rate from the lowest in the world at 0.5%.

Wages fell 1.4% in January, the biggest fall since June 2004, the labour ministry said.
A recent Japanese Cabinet Office survey showed that people felt a high level of anxiety about their daily —the highest angst level recorded since the poll began nearly 40 years ago despite a recovery in the economy.

Japan's economy has grown for 60 consecutive months, the longest period of growth in the postwar era. While unemployment has fallen from 5.4% in 2002 to 4.1% at the end of 2006, wages have not moved. Statistics published by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare show that the average Japanese made $2,881 a month in 2002. For most of 2006, the average monthly wage was only $2,749.

Japanese companies have kept wages in check in part by shifting more work to part-time employees, who now constitute over 33% of Japan's workforce, up from 20% in 1992.

According to Time Magazine, in Spain, a study by the IESE business school last summer showed that household spending power has barely budged in a decade, even as the national economy grew by 3.8% in 2006.

In Germany, De Statis, the Federal Statistics Office reported last month that German wages posted the smallest rise in 2006 since the office first began reporting on pan-German wages in 1995. Wages rose 1.2% last year, lower than the 1.7% rate of inflation.

In contrast with the protected Irish public sector, hardest hit were government and municipal employees (a category that includes police, fire fighters and teachers), and workers in the building sector, whose hourly wages fell 0.8% and 0.2% respectively as a result of working longer hours for the same wage. Add to that a variety of price increases — in January, value-added tax rose to 19% from 16%, and health insurance premiums rose — and the combination stokes growing anger.

Germany's powerful IG Metall union, which dominates the automotive, machinery and steel industries, is seeking a 6.5% wage hike — almost quadruple the inflation rate.

"Shareholder profits and management salaries have been rising a lot faster than the wages of factory workers in this country. There are high expectations among the rank-and-file. I think we're going to have a wage round with a lot of conflict," says Hartmut Meine, the IG Metall official for car group Volkswagen, according to Time Magazine.

Martin Kannegiesser, head of the metal industry employers' association Gesamtmetall, expects the pace of industry growth to slow this year. "We are in a phase that demands moderation," he says. "Wage policies can not be allowed to drive our prices sky high on world markets, otherwise the economic recovery will come to an end."

According to a poll published by the Ard public television network on Feb. 1st, just 22% of Germans questioned said they felt they would personally benefit from the economic recovery, compared with 74% who said they wouldn't. When asked about IG Metall's wage demand, 44% said it was appropriate — and 5% even said it was too low.

US Inequality

President Bush acknowledged on January 31st that there is growing income inequality in the United States, addressing for the first time a subject that has long concerned Democrats and liberal economists.

"The fact is that income inequality is real -- it's been rising for more than 25 years," Bush said in an address on Wall Street. "The reason is clear: We have an economy that increasingly rewards education and skills because of that education."

In three separate Congressional hearings on the same day, Democrats probed the causes of middle-class angst, focusing on rising income inequality. Meanwhile, the Senate separately has taken aim at executive compensation, adding a provision to the minimum-wage bill that would limit the ability of executives to amass millions of dollars in tax-deferred accounts.

In his remarks, Bush also said that the "salaries and bonuses of CEOs should be based on their success at improving their companies and bringing value to their shareholders." While Bush said the government should not set compensation, he told business executives that they "need to pay attention to the executive compensation packages that you approve."

The gap between rich and poor has been growing wider since the 1970s. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the wealthiest 20 percent of households accounted for 45.4 percent of total US income in 1979, but claimed 53.5 percent in 2004. Households in the bottom fifth dropped from 5.8 to 4.1 percent over the same period.

"Sometime in the 1970s, the market turned ferociously against the less skilled and the less educated," Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton University economist and the former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors told a hearing of the congressional Joint Economic Committee.

But that is likely to change in the future, he said, as globalization and technological advances begin to trigger the same kind of upheaval in the service sector as has hit manufacturing.

Bush in his speech promoted the No Child Left Behind Act. He described the bill as "one of the most important economic initiatives" of his presidency because of its role in closing what he terms the "achievement gap" between students.

"The question is whether we respond to the income inequality we see with policies that help lift people up, or tear others down," Bush said. "The key to rising in this economy is skills -- and the government's job is to make sure we have an education system that delivers them."

American economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert J. Gordon distinguish two complementary explanations, the "economics of superstars," i.e., the pure rents earned by sports and entertainment stars, and the escalating compensation premia of CEOs and other top corporate officers.

These sources of divergence at the top, combined with the role of deunionization, immigration, and free trade in pushing down incomes at the bottom, have led to the wide divergence between the growth rates of productivity, average compensation, and median compensation.

Download paper.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Irish Newspaper Readership 2007

The IAPI (Institute of Advertising Practioners of Ireland) released the latest JNRS (joint national readership survey) today while the final circulation figures of 2006 were released by ABC last Thursday.

Initiative Media has compared full year 2006 figures for both sets of figures to full year 2005. This year’s JNRS report uses a different sampling methodology to all previous reports, and as such is treated as an interim report, with results to be considered accordingly. The JNRS previously used the electoral register to select its random sample, however, in 2006, it moved to using the Geo Directory, which uses latest CSO statistics and An Post and Ordnance Survey data, to provide a sample reflecting the changing Irish population. The new sample contains more foreign nationals than the electoral register would have provided.

Initiative Media says that the sample comes from the electoral register, with the remaining 40% sourced from the Geo Directory. While the number of people reading any newspaper increased slightly in the latest release, the readership of most daily newspapers decreased. This was mirrored in last week’s ABC results, which showed most titles failing new sell more copies. The long predicted impact of the Internet on newspapers may finally be showing some truth, although not at the level predicted by some pundits at the start of the century. Broadband penetration now stands at 13% in Ireland, with 15% of Internet users saying they read newspapers online.

The Irish Times was the only daily not to lose readers, remaining steady at 336,000, while the Irish Independent lost a whopping 40,000 readers. All of the tabloids, most predominantly the UK titles with Irish editions suffered in terms of both readers and circulation.

The Irish Sun lost 24,000 readers, and although its still Ireland’s highest circulating tabloid, it decreased its circulation by over 10,000 daily copies. The Irish Sun has the lowest reader per copy ratio of all newspapers. While it has the second highest circulation, it falls well back with the fifth highest readership among all the dailies. Readership was not measured for the Daily Mail in this book, however, its circulation still remains low at just under 57,000, circulating just 100 copies more per day than Dublin only freesheet Metro. Dublin’s other freesheet Herald AM has an impressive daily circulation of just over 62,000, which may be to blame for its big sister, The Evening Herald losing 3% of both its circulation and readership.

Among the Sundays, most titles again lost both readers and circulation. The Sunday World was the only paper which managed to grow both readership and circulation in 2006. The IN&M controlled tabloid is now only 1,400 copies behind the market leader The Sunday Independent in terms of circulation. Despite a 4% drop, the Sunday Independent still has over one million readers every Sunday.

The transition to the Mail on Sunday hasn’t had the promised results for Ireland on Sunday, which saw its circulation drop by 9% over the transition period.* The Irish Mail on Sunday is not measured in the current JNRS. Following on the tail of its daily sister, the Sunday Mirror showed the biggest percentage decreases in both readership and circulation. The Daily Star Sunday’s phenomenal 14% increase in circulation was not matched in terms of gaining new readers, which suggests that the circulation success may have been promotionally led.

*Ireland on Sunday figures used for Jan-Jun06, Irish Mail on Sunday figures used for Oct-Dec06. No figures available for Jul;-Sep06.

Are the figures credible?

The survey is based on readership by any adult aged 15+ who has spent at least 2 minutes spent on a particular publication – so one is a newspaper reader by simply checking the time of a TV programme.

It's hard to believe that The Sunday Business Post, which targets a business audience and does not have a sports section, has an average of 3 readers per copy - greater than the average of the Irish Times, which gets exposure during the workday in receptions, coffee shops etc. never mind the range of content for a broad cross section of the public.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Mario Chanes de Armas

The founding father of Soviet communism Vladimir Lenin may or may not have coined the term "useful idiots" to describe Western reporters and travellers who endorsed the Soviet Union and its policies in the West.

The ailing leader of Cuba Fidel Castro, has similar admirers who conveniently downplay the dark side of his rule

Mario Chanes de Armas, who died last week at the age of 80, was one of Fidel Castro's earliest and closest companions. He fought alongside Castro in the 1953 attack on the Moncada army barracks and helped launch Cuba's guerrilla war in 1956.

Castro won power in 1959 and Mario Chanes de Armas could have had a key position in the new regime but opted to return to his job in a family brewery. For two years he watched Castro restrict liberties and human rights while increasingly embracing communism. Chanes was tried as a "counterrevolutionary," and on July 17, 1961, was imprisoned for 30 years. He spent six years of those years in solitary confinement in a windowless room.

Chanes de Armas' son was born while he was in prison and died at 24 without his father being able to attend his funeral.

On his decades in jail Chanes said: “I watched men get shot, point blank, beaten with bayonets, arbitrarily pulled out and punished. But we were alone. The world didn’t know.”

Even after his release in 1991, aged 64, Castro refused his former comrade permission to leave the country.

Chanes never showed bitterness about his years in Castro’s jails, saying they had never crushed his spirit. “After my release, during my two years in Cuba, I realized that no-one on the island was free anyway. I don’t have feelings of hatred or vengeance. Vengeance is for cowards.”

Mario Chanes de Armas arrived in Miami on July 21, 1993. He wrote an article for The Miami Herald's "Hemispheric Dialogue," an occasional series in which heads of state and other principal figures in the hemisphere discussed issues from their own perspective.

I BARELY remember youth and tranquillity. A brief part of my adolescence was spent in the waning years of Cuba's last democratic government, on the eve of general elections that never took place because the coup d'etat of March 10, 1952 abruptly interrupted the electoral process. The nation then fell under a dictatorial regime that soon became tyranny.

I belonged to a generation of young people who rebelled against the usurpers of power. We had no alternative but to confront dictatorship head on, to act to give back to our nation the freedom and the democratic institutions that Gen. Fulgencio Batista's coup had abrogated.

Getting acquainted and getting together were not difficult. Young people with patriotic sensibilities recognize each other by a simple exchange of opinions. I found my colleagues in the work place, the school room, the trades hall. Soon we formed a nucleus of people cognizant of what we condemned and what we fought for.

Standing out from all the rest, a young lawyer, Fidel Castro, was the man who most clearly expressed our ideas and harmonized our differing opinions.

Against the frustration and impotence that shrouded Cuba's society, we brought confidence and a fighting spirit. We founded a modest but effective publication, The Accuser, which we distributed secretly among the population.

I don't want to rewrite a novel that has more than enough protagonists and that I've lived intensely until today. If I left my youth behind the bars of a political prison constructed by my own companions; if I endured imprisonment under two political tyrannies; if I never accepted the birth of an authoritarian regime that -- far from installing the righteous government we had fought for -- hastened to bar the return of our institutions and freedoms from the very moment it seized power; if I did all this, it's not because I'm an exceptional man.

That, I am not. I consider myself the simplest of persons. I did it because some of us react viscerally to the betrayal of principles that are a revolutionary movement's reason for existence. We had not struggled merely to exacerbate a class struggle that only led to hatred. We were not deposing a dictatorship merely to impose our ideas.

When Castro's campaign against the independent media began, I believed that our government was entitled to express its opinion -- but only if it respected others' opinions. In 1959, when I left prison -- where I had been sent for taking part in the Granma landing and for my overall revolutionary activities -- Fidel Castro was the supreme authority. His incendiary, nine- hour speeches had a vehement irrationality I wouldn't have expected from my former comrade-in-arms. The democratic nature of our discussions, which led to the raid on the Moncada barracks, was gone from his new harangues.

The young man who chose the 26th of July to break into the military fortress at Santiago de Cuba and seize the weapons to place in the hands of the people now addressed an abstract, invisible audience. He was only waiting for the masses' applause and support to activate a machinery of vengeance and terror. Discontent spread through the revolutionary rank-and-file as the Popular Socialist (Communist) Party expanded its participation in government. The party -- which had publicly condemned our objectives and our methods, and which had refused to participate in our acts of insurrection -- became, at Fidel Castro's behest, his sole and trusted ally.

For a while, anyway. At the end, its leaders suffered the same fate of all those whom Castro utilized while pursuing his monomaniac political agenda. Swiftly, the old communists who edged out our colleagues became themselves a thing of the past: members of "the first Marxist party of Cuba," a rhetorical entity. The "true" Marxist-Leninist party would be his creation alone. More

The Economist's Obituary

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Miriam Lord - An Irish journalist of distinction


Miriam Lord in Cube Hotel in Tokyo - - I slept in a big washing machine on Saturday night.

Never again. On Sunday morning, I tumbled out into the Tokyo sunlight, washed out and half dead, with a bump on my head and a thumping hangover.

You'd have to be drunk to stay in a Japanese capsule hotel.

As it turns out, most of the people who book into these bizarre little sleeping pods are, indeed, half cut. Hotels are very expensive in the city, and the super efficient train system shuts down around midnight, so the capsule hotel offers a relatively inexpensive way of overnighting when the witching hour strikes and you turn into a pumpkin - from the Irish Independent June 2002 - Photo: Irish Independent

Last year, when columnist Kevin Myers moved from the Irish Times to the Irish Independent, Miriam Lord moved across the River Liffey to the Irish Times. It was an inspired choice by the IT editor Geraldine Kennedy.

Miriam Lord has the rare talent of effectively using humour to drive home a serious point.

On Thursday's Irish Times, Lord wrote in her Dáil Sketch about Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's support for Health Minister Harney's plan to give developers tax incentives to build private hospitals on public land. Unlike Labour leader Pat Rabbitte, she said that he doesn't think the plan will lead to a worsening of our two-tier health service.

Bertie Ahern had told the Dáil that : "Joe or Mary Bloggs, who have little other than welfare, or Mr X or Y, who are millionaires and billionaires, can be seen by the same consultant. It happens every day in our hospitals. And it happens very successfully."

Miriam Lord wrote that Bertie says that eminent consultants "look after Joe and Mary Bloggs, day in, day out," thanks to the miracle of "co-location," but this is management-speak for being able to nip across the car park from the building with deep-pile carpets to the building with rampant MRSA.

Everyman Bertie is sold on the idea. "That is my view, having been on both sides of the argument, as an administrator, as an accountant, as a practising politician and Joe Public, as well as being Taoiseach."

"Hang your head in shame," is Pat Rabbitte's reaction. The plan will lead to the "cherry-picking" of simple profitable procedures, leaving complex medical work to the public hospitals.

They will bear the cost of training doctors, who will then leave for the private sector. Meanwhile, private patients, when the need arises, will still be entitled to a public bed.

Bertie was deeply frustrated by his attitude. "You are ignorant of not understanding what the system is."

He pointed to lucky "Joe and Mary Bloggs", the welfare benefits couple who share their consultant with millionaires and billionaires.

"What parallel universe are you in?" came a voice from the Fine Gael backbenches.

Ah yes, Bertie's parallel medical universe.

What fun we had that day in the overcrowded waiting room. I told Sir Anthony about my little dog and he showed me a picture of his horse.

Then my mobile phone ran out of credit, so Denis O'Brien, sitting to my right, loaned me his.

Mary Bloggs unwrapped her sandwiches and handed them around. Two surgery dates cancelled and the hip giving her awful gyp, but still thinking of others.

A familiar moustachioed face appeared around the door.

"Howyis lads!" drawled Dermot Desmond. Cement Czar Seán Quinn shoved up to make a bit of space for Kaiser Dermot.

God, but it was hot and smelly in that waiting room. We'd been hanging on for hours waiting to see a consultant.

At least the Bailey brothers kept us entertained with hearty renditions of The West's Awake.

The consultant's door opened again. A radiant Michael Smurfit danced out, waving his appointment card.

"There's been a cancellation. I'll only be waiting 18 months for the surgery now," he beamed.

Joe Bloggs may get his heart operation in seven months. Never complains.

"Thank God for the Harney plan. Under the new plan, giving developers tax incentives to build private hospitals on public lands, we're all equal!" he rasped, waving his crutch for joy.

In Late September 2006, Miriam Lord was one of the media pack that was on Bertie Ahern's trail as the news was dominated by a revelation in the Irish Times, that sums of between €50,000-€100,000, including cash payments, were being investigated by the Mahon tribunal, which had been told had been used to pay Ahern's legal bills.

It was later disclosed that "friends" of the then Minister for Finance in 1993, had organised a "dig-out" to defray expenses related to a separation agreement.

Bertie had an appointment at Dublin Zoo where it had been earlier reported that two elephants there, were pregnant.

Miriam wrote: It's a very rare occasion when Bertie Ahern has nothing to say to the media.

People began to mutter about ostriches and sand.

On his way out, he was asked about comments made by the Tánaiste a few hours earlier. "She says she expects you to clarify the matter," he was told.

"The Tánaiste is a man," riposted Bertie with grim satisfaction.

That is a matter for some debate, as Michael McDowell has been uncharacteristically quiet on the subject of Bertie's benefactors. Is he a man or is he a mouse?

The day got worse for the tight-lipped Taoiseach. His next engagement was at Griffith College, where he got trapped in the lift for five minutes.

It was a small lift, packed with big men. He couldn't have felt more uncomfortable had the two pregnant elephants been inside as well. Then again, maybe he was hoping the doors wouldn't open until everyone went away.

More talk of pregnancy at the next stop, when he visited the Trinity College School of Nursing to mark the 10th anniversary of its nursing and midwifery course.

At this stage, Bertie seemed tired and subdued. He posed for photographs with three nursing students at the foot of the stairs, hunched over and clinging to the banisters, which was understandable after his nasty experience in the elevator.

The location of the nursing college might also have contributed to his unease. It's in D'Olier Street, across the road from the Irish Times building. He was probably feeling a little vulnerable, what with the accursed Irish Times responsible for breaking the story of his bizarre Drumcondra dig-out.

He wasn't given an easy time by the student nurses either.

Damaris Noble from Booterstown, Niamh Murphy from Enniskerry and David Wallace from Celbridge took the opportunity to lobby for better pay for nurses. Second-year student David thought the Taoiseach looked like "a man under stress".

He asked Bertie if he was going to support the Irish Nurses Organisation's pay claim. "We'll have to try our best," came the reply. David pressed his case. "Maybe by the time you're qualified, things might be better," sighed the Taoiseach.

Could they get any worse? Putting on his best bedside manner, the student nurse inquired how things are in government. "Oh fine," whispered the sickly patient.

It was Damaris's and Niamh's first day in college when they met Bertie. They couldn't have expected to be doing work experience so early on, but there they were, face to face with a serious case of political accident and emergency, howling all day for the privacy of the screens.

The distinguished guest didn't hang around D'Olier Street for long. Instead, he took off for yet another gig. This time, he was scheduled to open the refurbished Ulster Bank premises across the Liffey in Dorset Street. Just as well he had a driver, because Bertie doesn't seem to know very much about banks.

If only he went to one in 1993 and asked for a loan - it's what ordinary people do when they need an injection of funds - he would have been a much happier man yesterday.

Still. At least there was good news on the elephant front. "I look forward to the elephants coming," he declared.

In September 2002, the planning corruption tribunal that was then headed Mr Justice Feargus Flood, issued an interim report.

Bertie Ahern had famously said in 1997 that he had been "up every tree in Dublin" investigating the rumours and finding them groundless before appointing his friend Ray Burke as Minister for Foreign affairs. He decried "the persistent hounding of an honourable man". The tribunal hearings were marked by claims of amnesia from many of those involved as well as much obvious blustering, obfuscation and concealment.

The then Irish Independent journalist Miriam Lord, who attended many of the tribunals, wrote: "Flood has well and truly nailed the lying toads who sat smugly in the witness box telling barefaced untruths as they arrogantly played their audience for fools. They came in with good suits and expensive lawyers and came out with a pack of lies, making a mockery of the tribunal. Their clumsy efforts are dismissed briskly in the Flood report."