Friday, September 29, 2006

Tears for brother left for dead

The Royal Hotel in Bondi where John Counihan was beaten and stomped upon on Friday. Top, John, with his girlfriend Pamela. Below, Trisha Counihan breaks down as she tries to read her plea yesterday for her brother's attackers to come forward.

Today's Sydney Morning Herald, has a front page photograph of a tearful Trisha Counihan who attended a press briefing yesterday on the attack on her brother John last weekend in Bondi, that has left him fighting for his life. My own son Michael will be released from hospital next week, three weeks after being stabbed in a mugging incident.

The Herald reports that: Trisha Counihan dabbed her tearful eyes and played with her watch. And then when it was time for her to read a statement pleading for her brother's attackers to come forward it all proved too much.

The young woman from Ireland had arrived in Australia three days before to be at the bedside of her brother John, who is critically ill in St Vincent's Hospital after being bashed at a hotel in Bondi.

Mr Counihan, 23, from (Mallow) Cork, who has been here for five months, was at the Royal Hotel last Friday. His attackers bashed him as he left the premises.

The Irish vice-consul, Louise Kelly, had to step in for Ms Counihan.

"She really wanted to read that statement," Ms Kelly said. "It was very difficult for her to hear the description of what happened. She said just before she came out, 'if it was different circumstances, it would normally be JP speaking. He was the outgoing one in the family of six'."

Ms Counihan had decided to make a personal plea for witnesses to come forward. She wanted to talk about the pain the family was going through and to tell the public about her brother, known to family and friends as JP.

A distressed Ms Counihan sat between the officer leading the investigation into the attack, Detective Sergeant Philip Carroll, and Eastern Suburbs Local Area Commander, Acting Superintendent Justin Chisholm.

While Sergeant Carroll described the attack in detail, Ms Counihan dabbed her eyes.
When it was time to read her statement, it was all too much. She began to cry and was led from the room by her Australian boyfriend, Dan, who had travelled with her from Ireland.

In Ms Counihan's statement, her brother was described as "a caring, loving and popular man" with a "great sense of humour".

The police are seeking a number of Pacific Islanders who got involved in a dispute with John in the pub earlier, over a pool game.

Michael Jnr had been returning from a cinema with a friend when he was knocked to the ground, robbed and stabbed in the back of his right thigh, which had necessiated the cutting of the other side, release of pressure above his foot and a skin graft.

Bondi Police said that the two incidents were aberrations.

The Irish Echo here in Sydney writes: Hennigan refused to speak to the Irish Echo about the ordeal, only saying that he "would rather forget about it."

Michael Jnr. forgot that his dad makes his living from the media!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Top US Universities: Bastions of Privilege and Hypocrisy

The two leading candidates in the 2004 US presidential election, George W. Bush and John Kerry, were graduates of Yale University but neither of them were admitted on merit.

Us Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist opposes affirmative action for blacks but has no problem with preference for his son. Former Vice President Al Gore was able to get his son into Harvard even though he would not be accepted on merit.

In the current issue of the Economist, its US columnist Lexington writes that American universities like to think of themselves as engines of social justice, thronging with “diversity”. However, he says that over the past few years Daniel Golden has written a series of coruscating stories in the Wall Street Journal about the admissions practices of America's elite universities, suggesting that they are not so much engines of social justice as bastions of privilege. Now he has produced a book—“The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates”—that deserves to become a classic.

Golden shows that elite universities do everything in their power to admit the children of privilege. If they cannot get them in through the front door by relaxing their standards, then they smuggle them in through the back. No less than 60% of the places in elite universities are given to candidates who have some sort of extra “hook”, from rich or alumni parents to “sporting prowess”. The number of whites who benefit from this affirmative action is far greater than the number of blacks.

Lexington writes that universities bend over backwards to admit “legacies” (ie, the children of alumni). Harvard admits 40% of legacy applicants compared with 11% of applicants overall. Amherst admits 50%. An average of 21-24% of students in each year at Notre Dame are the offspring of alumni. When it comes to the children of particularly rich donors, the bending-over-backwards reaches astonishing levels. Harvard even has something called a “Z” list—a list of applicants who are given a place after a year's deferment to catch up—that is dominated by the children of rich alumni.

University behaviour is at its worst when it comes to grovelling to celebrities. Duke University's admissions director visited Steven Spielberg's house to interview his stepdaughter. Princeton found a place for Lauren Bush—the president's niece and a top fashion model—despite the fact that she missed the application deadline by a month. Brown University was so keen to admit Michael Ovitz's son that it gave him a place as a “special student”. (He dropped out after a year.)
Lexington says that most people think of black football and basketball stars when they hear about “sports scholarships”. But there are also sports scholarships for rich white students who play preppie sports such as fencing, squash, sailing, riding, golf and, of course, lacrosse. The University of Virginia even has scholarships for polo-players, relatively few of whom come from the inner cities.

The Economist's columnist says that you might imagine that academics would be up in arms about this.

Alas he says, they have too much skin in the game. Academics not only escape tuition fees if they can get their children into the universities where they teach. They get huge preferences as well. Boston University accepted 91% of “faculty brats” in 2003, at a cost of about $9m. Notre Dame accepts about 70% of the children of university employees, compared with 19% of “unhooked” applicants, despite markedly lower average SAT scores.

Lexington says that the most important reason for concern about Golden's findings, is that America is witnessing a potentially explosive combination of trends. Social inequality is rising at a time when the escalators of social mobility are slowing (America has lower levels of social mobility than most European countries). The returns on higher education are rising: the median earnings in 2000 of Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher were about double those of high-school leavers. But elite universities are becoming more socially exclusive. Between 1980 and 1992, for example, the proportion of disadvantaged children in four-year colleges fell slightly (from 29% to 28%) while the proportion of well-to-do children rose substantially (from 55% to 66%).

Golden's findings do not account for all of this. Get rid of affirmative action for the rich, and rich children will still do better. But they clearly account for some differences: “unhooked” candidates are competing for just 40% of university places. And they raise all sorts of issues of justice and hypocrisy. What is one to make of Mr Frist, who opposes affirmative action for minorities while practising it for his own son?

Or liberal academics who complain about inequality in the US but are happy to have their own children getting a free pass, at the expense of more accomplished applicants.

The poor left behind

Lexington says that two groups of people overwhelmingly bear the burden of these policies—Asian-Americans and poor whites. Asian-Americans are the “new Jews”, held to higher standards (they need to score at least 50 points higher than non-Asians even to be in the game) and frequently stigmatised for their “characters” (Harvard evaluators persistently rated Asian-Americans below whites on “personal qualities”). When the University of California, Berkeley briefly considered introducing means-based affirmative action, it rejected the idea on the ground that “using poverty yields a lot of poor white kids and poor Asian kids”.

There are a few signs that the winds of reform are blowing. Several elite universities have expanded financial aid for poor children. Texas A&M has got rid of legacy preferences. Only last week Harvard announced that it was getting rid of “early admission”—a system that favours privileged children—and Princeton rapidly followed suit. But the wind is going to have to blow a heck of a lot harder, and for a heck of a lot longer, before America's money-addicted and legacy-loving universities can be shamed into returning to what ought to have been their guiding principle all along: admitting people to university on the basis of their intellectual ability.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sacrificing sex for longer life!

Some Britons are willing to take a vow of celibacy if it means they can live to be one hundred, with 40 percent of people prepared to give sex altogether.Women would be more willing to trade sex for a longer life (48 percent) compared to just 31 percent of men, while 39 percent of those polled would be ready to sacrifice eating and drinking whatever they wanted or travel (42 percent) to ensure they lived to 100.

The findings are just a small part of a snapshot of ageing Britain commissioned for the BUPA Health Debate which brings together key influencers to discuss topical health issues.

The Ipsos MORI research reveals that if Britons had a choice, they only aspire to live on average to 85. On the issue of when old age begins – the young and old are divided. The 16-24 year olds see it as commencing at 61, while those of 75 and over see it as being marked at 71.But nearly half (49 percent) agree scientists should continue to keep trying to prolong people’s life spans, while 45 percent of us agree it is everyone’s duty to live as long as possible.

When asked about the main advantages of science being able to extend life, 16 percent said to be there for family and friends and 14 percent to see grandchildren grow up.

Over half (51 percent) believe high priority should be placed on treating the very elderly on the NHS even when those resources could be used to treat younger people. Those aged 35-74 are most in agreement with this while more women (55 percent) than men (47 percent) see it as a high priority.

Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, BUPA’s medical director said: “Britain is facing an ageing time bomb with major challenges presented by retirement, the desire to live longer and the increasing burden of caring for older people. However, the question has to be asked can society cope, with only one in three (32 percent) believing that an ageing population brings more benefits than problems. It would appear Britain wants to have its cake with 100 candles and eat it!”

Monday, September 25, 2006

Lost in Bangkok

My mother used to regard a train journey, in which she didn't have an opportunity to have a natter with someone, as nothing to write home about.

I'm not as vaccinated with a gramophone needle as my mother was, but I did discover on a flight to Sydney, which began Friday evening, that adjacent passengers were a mother and daughter from Dublin, who were en route to Sydney, for the wedding of a family member later this week. However, at the end of the hour long stopover in Bangkok, the Irish couple had failed to return to the plane.

Some passengers joked that the Irish couple may have been planning a counter-coup.

The 18th coup in 74 years is going to result in the country's 17th constitution. In his book, The King Never Smiles, Paul Handley writes that the king and his coterie of royalists have built a form of a theocratic state that exists alongside - outlasts - the country's regular phases of democracy and military rule.

In contrast with the influence of the Thai King Bhumibol, Japan's Emperor Akihito lives in a gilded cage, subject to a constitution written by the US after the Second World War.

In 1952, King Farouk of Egypt said that 20 years from then, there would be only five kings left in the world - the four in the deck of cards and the King of England. In Europe, in recent decades, the relics of the past have remained static with the return of the Spanish monarchy offsetting the demise of royalty in Greece.

I'm in Sydney, to meet my son who was stabbed in a mugging last week. He is recovering but it hasn't been a pleasant time for him.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Turkey making a case against it joining the EU

Turkey wishes to join the European Union and it's likely that the majority of the peoples of the EU, oppose such a move.

The United States has strongly supported the application by Muslim Turkey, a country that was a staunch ally during the Cold War but Turkey is hardly helping its case.

On Thursday, the trumped up charge against Elif Shafak, Turkey's most celebrated woman novelist, of "denigrating Turkishness", collapsed in a matter of minutes before a court. It highlights again the argument for the abolition of an article that has no place in the penal code of a country that wishes to join the European Union.

Shafak, a writer who also teaches at the University of Arizona in the US, was charged with infringing Article 301 of the penal code, which makes a joke of Turkey as a country that wishes to be regarded as part of modern Europe.

A character in her recent novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, referred to the mass murder of more than one million Armenians in 1915 as "genocide". The case was similar to one last year, when Orhan Pamuk, the world-renowned novelist, had complained about Turkey's conspiracy of silence on the fate of the Armenians. The charges against him were also dismissed on a technicality. In May this year, a court upheld a suspended sentence against Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian editor who, could be imprisoned if he is deemed to insult Turkishness in the next five years.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoganMr Erdogan, who is disliked the army-dominated secular establishment, is unwilling to change the penal code ahead of new elections next year.
Turkish entry talks are already in stalemate over the issue of Cyprus.

However, on the penal code, the government seems blind to the damage that is being done to its case in Europe.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Belief not tempered by doubt poses a mortal danger

In recent days we've had a local example of academic bitching at University College Cork and a clash of religions in reaction to Pope Benedict XVI's quotations from the transcript of a Christian Byzantium Emperor's conversation with a Muslim from Persia in the fourteenth century.

UCC President Gerry Wrixon may deserve all the brickbats from his academic colleagues or his antagonists may be preening, arrogant peacocks like the cabal who drove the former US Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers from the office of President of Harvard University.

When I was at UCC, the head of the Psychology Department, a Capuchin priest, was at loggerheads with the senior lecturer in the department who made it clear to students that he was an atheist. Following a pushing encounter on a staircase, the latter issued a copy of a letter to students that he had sent to the then president of the college.

So much for warring psychologists.

The late French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), who will be remembered as one of three most important philosophers of 20th century, had to contend with a lot of bitching from the defenders of the conventional wisdom in the academic world of philosophy and thought a lot about religion.

Philosopher Simon Critchley wrote the following on his tormenters:

Derrida's treatment by mainstream philosophers in the English-speaking world was, with certain notable exceptions like Richard Rorty, shameful. He was vilified in the most ridiculous manner by professional philosophers who knew better but who acted out of a parochial malice that was a mere patina to their cultural insularity, intellectual complacency, philistinism and simple jealousy of Derrida's fame, charisma and extraordinary book sales.

In the English context, the incident which brought matters to a head was the initial refusal in late Spring 1992 to award Derrida an honorary doctorate at the University of Cambridge, a refusal that found support amongst prominent voices in the Philosophy Faculty. After finally receiving the honorary doctorate with his usual civility, humour and good grace, a letter was sent to the University of Cambridge from Ruth Barcan Marcus, the then Professor of Philosophy at Yale, and signed by some twenty philosophers, including Quine, who complained that Derrida's work "does not meet accepted standards of rigor and clarity."

I would like to take this opportunity to register in print my gratitude to these know-nothings for the attention they gave to Derrida because it helped sell lots of copies of my first book - on Derrida and ethics - that also came out in 1992 and paid for a terrific summer vacation.

Derrida on Religion

Derrida understood that religion is impossible without uncertainty and that God can never be fully known or adequately represented by imperfect human beings.

However, we live in an age when major conflicts are shaped by people who claim to know, for certain, that God is on their side. Derrida said that religion does not always give clear meaning, purpose and certainty by providing secure foundations. To the contrary, the great religious traditions are profoundly disturbing because they all call certainty and security into question. Belief not tempered by doubt poses a mortal danger.

US Professor Mark C. Taylor writes that as the process of globalization draws us ever closer in networks of communication and exchange, there is an understandable longing for simplicity, clarity and certainty. This desire is responsible, in large measure, for the rise of cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism—in both the US and around the world. True believers of every stripe—Muslim, Jewish and Christian—cling to beliefs that, Derrida warns, threaten to tear apart our world.

Taylor says that fortunately, he also taught us that the alternative to blind belief is not simply unbelief but a different kind of belief—one that embraces uncertainty and enables us to respect others whom we do not understand. In a complex world, wisdom is knowing what we don't know so that we can keep the future open.

My favourite aphorism is from another Frenchman, André Gide (1869-1951), Nobel Laureate in Literature 1947: Believe those who search for truth. Doubt those who claim to have found it

Monday, September 18, 2006

McDowell offers update of Fianna Fáil 1977 manifesto

Given the shambles at Dublin Airport where the chaos at peak times will not be alleviated with the opening of a second terminal for 3-4 more years, PD leader Michael McDowell has a brass neck in coming forward like his FF colleague Martin Cullen with a sweeping infrastructure plan. It's another port plan that's not even McDowell's own and it may take decades to achieve!

The principal part of the McDowell vision is a proposal to transfer Dublin Port to the north of the county. It has been lifted from a study that was done by Irish Academy of Engineering, which produced a vision for infrastructure, forward to 2050.

It took a public outcry about waste on IT projects and infrastructure projects to prompt Michael McDowell and his colleagues to propose new control measures in October 2005!

It hadn't occurred to him before then, that the existing system was simply a joke.

The infrastructure aspirations are just a prop to show that cutting some taxes, isn't the PDs only answer to future challenges. McDowell hasn't promised a reduction in total taxation, which highlights the political nature of his proposals.

McDowell's approach evokes the Fianna Fáil manifesto of 1977 when the slump he talks about was set in motion with the abolition of motor tax and council rates. What he is offering is another dodgy prospectus with his stamp duty wheeze.

Between 1977 and 1981, the combination of tax cuts with huge spending increases (in the single year 1979, the public service pay bill was increased by 34%), resulted in a trebling of the National Debt.

So here we are in our petro-like economy where venture capital investment in Irish business will be less than €200 million in 2006 - the Cosgrave property family invested €650 million in UK property just in the first 7 months of 2006 - and all that McDowell can offer is a trip on the property bandwagon to get him back to power.

If he is back in government, will he support tax rises?? Of course he will and he could have Charlie Haughey's first Finance Minister Gene Fitzgerald as his patron.

When Fitzgerald was challenged on Budget night 1981 for quadrupling the car "registration" fee from £5 to £20, he was accused of re-introducing motor taxation.

The then Minister replied with a straight face: "It's not a tax. It's a car registration fee!"

So we have another politician hungry for power who questions the State's need for stamp duty income but apparently agrees with his colleague Tom Parlon that a system which allows an individual make up to €500,000 on an acre of land, is equitable.

Is it the future be damned? McDowell doesn't know what the position of the Exchequer finnaces will be after a slowdown or slump in the property market and increase in unemployment.

If Enda Kenny had made the statement about the Govt not needing stamp duty money, do we have to imagine what McDowell's reaction would be.

Irish Income taxes are low but indirect taxes are among the highest in the developed world. The overall tax burden is as high as the UK's and that is not including private health insurance and GP fees that many people have to pay in order to secure a reasonable health service; new car prices are 28% above the eurozone average and the State takes an average of €100,000 from the cost of every housing unit built here.

Because of indirect taxes and the corrupt property system that make some people with land very wealthy in a country where there is no scarcity of land, people on the average industrial wage of €31,000 are screwed big-time. In addition, 900,000 workers out of 2 million have to fund their own pensions if they need an adequate income for their retirement.

There is no plan for what will happen when 100,000 currently in a construction sector of 262,000 - 17% of the private sector workforce - will need work elsewhere in the next 10 years and so much more - details here.

Ireland is not a low-taxed economy and McDowell is not promising an actual reduction in the burden of taxation. What he is promising is politics, which is an easier game than serious reform.

Friday, September 15, 2006

No Ministerial Rush for Bragging Rights on Job Losses

Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment
There is nothing new in a Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment taking credit for new jobs. The current incumbent Micheál Martin issues press releases in his name setting out details on the new jobs and calls a press briefing if the announcement is viewed as significant.

Ministers usually run for cover on news of job losses and following the announcement today that the Braun factory in Carlow is to cut 157 jobs at its Carlow plant, one of Martin's juniors Minister for Trade and Commerce, Michael Ahern, T.D., today "welcomed the latest trade statistics released by the CSO...."

Ahern happens to be on a trade mission in Australia and presumably one of his special political helpers in the Department ran off the standard welcome for a rise in exports by 3% in the first half of 2006, compared with the same period in 2005 - not really anything to get too worked up about.

The release reads: Minister Ahern expressed his satisfaction with the July trade figures and the overall trend of the figures for the first half of 2006. While exports decreased on two occasions during this period (i.e. during the months of April and June) overall, exports are up 3% for the six month period January-June 2006 relative to January-June 2005. “I am pleased with the recovery in our export position as illustrated by these latest July trade figures. All in all, exports are continuing to hold their own when you look at the longer term situation,” Minister Ahern said.

I guess he does actually realise that a bounce in one month, does not imply much in regard to a trend.

Back to jobs... With the Braun announcement, Lakelands, Motorola, Delta Modular Systems, together with other job losses that end up in the quarterly redundancy figures, up to 950 jobs have been lost in the first 2 weeks of September. Not exactly a minor issue but don't expect that any minister will accept any blame.

Why worry about 950, when you can take credit for many more jobs as per Wednesday's press release?:

Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment, today welcomed the employment figures for the second quarter of 2006 which show the total numbers of people in employment in the state at over 2 million for the first time in our history.

Commenting on the figures the Minister said, “The figures released today are another endorsement of this Government’s employment and economic policy. That we now have over 2 million people in active employment in our country is another indication of the strides we have made over the past decade”.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Reclaiming the streets from the thugs irrespective of their class

On Tuesday, there was the very sad news about two deaths resulting from violent attacks that have become so commonplace on the mean streets of Dublin.

Liam McGowan (22), Kinlough, Co Leitrim, died at 1.30am at Beaumont Hospital where he had been on a life-support machine since the attack just over three weeks ago.

Liam had worked at Eagle Star insurance company, and was discovered lying on the street unconscious at the junction of Hardwicke Street and Frederick Court in the north inner city at 2.15am on Sunday, August 20th.

The Irish Times reported that Gardaí believe he was set upon by two men who stole €40 in cash and a mobile phone from him. Liam McGowan sustained serious head injuries during the attack. He had recently moved to Dublin after graduating with a commerce degree from NUI Galway.

Two men, aged 22 and 23, from Cabra and Dominick Street in the inner city, have already appeared before Dublin District Court.

Also on Tuesday, a Dublin pensioner who was attacked during a robbery at the bakery where he worked has died after slipping into a coma days after the attack.

Jimmy Louth (66), from Cabra, had been in a coma for nine weeks after he was attacked by raiders in the course of a robbery on July 3rd at Clarke's bakery, New Cabra Road, Dublin.

Jimmy was scheduled for a day off but had gone into work at 3.30am to help colleagues with early-morning deliveries.

Three raiders were waiting in a laneway at the back of the premises when Jimmy and another man arrived to begin the shift.

They were both tied up, and Jimmy was hit over the head with a broom handle.

The three-man gang then left the premises with an undisclosed sum of money.

Then on Tuesday evening, I got a call from Sydney advising of a mugging involving my son and a friend in which my son was stabbed in a leg, severing an artery.

Thankfully, he is recovering after an operation and I must say that I'm impressed by Detective Senior Constable Nick Seddon of Bondo Police Station who called early this morning and followed up with an e-mail. I'm also very impressed with the staff at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick, Sydney.

In Dublin, violent crime isn't simply a class issue which was exemplified by the case of two middle class twentysomethings who beat a man senseless on Dublin's Grafton Street in the recent past and then got a rap on the wrist from a middle class judge.

Drink is often the excuse as it is with domestic violence. However, it should absolutely be no excuse whatsoever.

The argument about crime usually is one of extremes; throw away the key or excuse the crime because the perpetrator was dragged up in a grim tenement.

There is no simple remedy in rehabilitation but it is also absolutely inexcusable in a country that is awash with money that it appears that very little of significance is being done in this area and the state of our prisons was recently highlighted by the case of a person in the State's custody who feared for his life but was apparently left to be beaten to death by a fellow prisoner.

In The Sunday Business Post last month, columnist Tom McGurk wrote: Mr Justice Dermot Kinlen, the Inspector of Prisons, releases his annual report on the condition of our prisons, it makes a few extraordinary headlines and then an invisible door slams shut on all the controversy. We move on and nothing changes. For four years, Kinlen has been producing reports that have, on all occasions, highlighted the failure of our prison system and made various recommendations, which have been largely ignored.

Wealthy and middle class Ministers of Justice usually live almost on a different planet as do their well-paid officials and that is reflected in their attitude to rehabilitation.

While there should be rehabilitation, there should also be a clear and unmistakable deterrent to violence whatever the cause. Former Minister for Justice John O'Donoghue thought that "zero-tolerance" was a good sound bite, but did little in practice.

Policing should be more than Operation this or that; good headlines for the Minister for Justice and then the attention turns to something else. Road safety becomes an issue when there are a lot of deaths, promises follow but ho often is there consistent follow-through?

There is generally a blasé attitude to observance of the law. Is there for example a law against parking a car on a footpath, which has become very common?

It's really time to reclaim the streets.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Michael Collins and Whiskey

We received a release today on the launch of Michael Collins Irish Whiskey, created by Sidney Frank Importing Co., Inc., a U.S.-based spirits company, and distilled at the only independent distillery in Ireland.

Why Michael Collins? Says Lee Einsidler, CEO of Sidney Frank Importing Co., Inc., “Our late founder and Chairman, Sidney Frank, had read the biography of Michael Collins and was so inspired by it, he felt it was only fitting to create an Irish whiskey named for the legend.”

I guess that linking an Irish hero with drink is not really sacrilegious.

Besides, on August 22nd, 1922, the day of Collins' death, his convey had stopped in my hometown Bandon and the group had a few drinks, which may have been a factor in Collins getting out of his armoured car in response to an ambush seven miles north of Bandon at Béal na mBláth.

Collins' jealous political rival de Valera was in the area and had stayed the night before in Ballyvourney. There are various accounts of his involvement in meetings with the anti-Treaty IRA there.

According to Tim Pat Coogan, biographer of both Collins and de Valera, in 1939, de Valera who was then Taoiseach, forbade any public attendance at the dedication ceremony of a memorial cross at Michael Collins' grave in Glasnevin, either by the press, the public, or by any member of the Collins family apart from his nephew who was a civil servant. Only the officiating priest and an altar boy were permitted to be present.

In an article in the Irish Times in Jan 2005, Coogan wrote:

Before leaving the attitudes issue, let me place on public record for the first time another incident from 1966 which indicates that the turning down of McGrath's (Michael Collins) foundation approach was not an aberration, but an accurate indication of de Valera's mindset towards Collins. It was described to me by Gene Foley, a member of President Kennedy's cabinet, whom I interviewed in Washington in March 1997.

I still have my reporter's notebook containing the record of our conversation.

The 1916 50th anniversary celebrations at the GPO were attended by a distinguished Irish-American delegation, including Congressman John Fogarty of Rhode Island, a particular favourite of de Valera's because of Fogarty's record in sponsoring House resolutions advocating Irish unity. Foley was so close to Fogarty and his three brothers, that he said he was described as "the fifth Fogarty".

Foley told me that, at a convivial reception in Áras an Uachtaráin after the GPO events, Fogarty took advantage of his standing with de Valera to inquire: "Mr President, what's the story of your involvement in the death of Michael Collins?" De Valera replied: "I can't say a thing John but - that fellow had it coming to him."

In 2004, a RTE 1 documentary detailed how de Valera had funds that were raised in the US during the War of Independence (1919-1921) diverted for the establishment of the Irish Press newspaper, that ended up in the control of his own family.

In 1927, the New York Supreme Court had ordered that the funds be returned to the subscribers as with the formation of the Free State, the legality of ownership was in doubt. Dev requested the subscribers to endorse cheques issued from the account, to him and wrote that the existing press: “is consistently pro-British and imperialistic in its outlook”.

The following is from a Sunday Independent article:

But de Valera already had plans for any money raised in the US and had cautioned his fundraisers to pitch the campaign to the Irish-Americans. He had warned them to be careful not to suggest that they would get shares or certificates directly from the company, but instead would get participation certificates from an American trust company.

Instead of getting shares in Irish Press Limited, they received certificates from Irish Press Corporation which was registered in Delaware, the US equivalent of Switzerland. Files undisclosed for decades show that once de Valera had secured the money in 1931 the company sent out 'A' class share certificates from IPC.

Although there were over 60,000 'A' class shares, total control of the company would rest with the owner of 200 'B' class shares. In a simple transaction, the documents reveal how de Valera, the owner of the B class shares, gained total power of over $250,000. "Nobody could take it from him. This was carried on out of sight of the public. And the next phase would be to use the American company money to purchase a huge block of shares in Irish Press Limited - the company back in Ireland," the documentary explains. By clever cloaking of figures - a move that would no doubt be the subject of tribunal investigations these days - de Valera secured purchasing control of 43 per cent of Irish Press Limited for a paltry sum of $1,000.

Back to Michael Collins Whiskey...

Made in the only independent Irish-owned distillery left in Ireland, Michael Collins will be available as a Blend and a Single Malt. The blend is a combination of pot and column-distilled whiskeys aged for a minimum of 4 years in small bourbon casks. The casks are stored in 18th century warehouses where the cool, moist Irish air brings the whiskeys to maturity.

Michael Collins Single Malt is pot distilled from 100% malted barley and is lightly peated. The whiskeys are aged in specially selected oak casks for a minimum of 8 years to over 12 years. The single malt is well-rounded with a wonderfully subtle smoky flavor from the peat that lingers on the palate. It is best enjoyed neat or on the rocks.

Last photo of Michael Collins, taken outside Lee's Hotel in Bandon, West Cork on 22 August 1922. He and his colleague General Dalton are in the back of the touring car. Collins is on the left.. Collins was killed in an IRA ambush, seven miles north of Bandon.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Dartmouth Square and Dublin Propertymania

Dublin is in the grip of propertymania and last week 5 residents of a South Dublin cul-de-sac agreed to sell their houses to a property developer for €30 million.

Some existing property millionaires in an older Dublin suburb had to contend with another fallout from the property madness.

On Monday, the owner of the park in Dartmouth Square near Ranelagh, South Dublin, said that he wants to build a gym, a creche and an underground car park on the land.

Noel O'Gara was speaking after the High Court adjourned the case taken against him by Dublin City Council.

O'Gara told the court today that, although he owns Dartmouth Square, it seems he can do nothing with it.

He said the planning legislation preventing him from using the land as a public car park was a bad law, repugnant to the Constitution.

The judge said if he himself wanted to build a pizza parlour in his back garden, he too would have to go through the proper planning channels.

O'Gara agreed not to park more than two cars on the land and the judge adjourned the case for a week, urging O'Gara to talk to Dublin City Council about the possible use of the land.

Afterwards, he said this land was his private property and he should be entitled to whatever he likes with it.

The Dublin City Council thought that it owned the land.

On its website, its says that "this 0.8 hectare park in Ranelagh was in private ownership up until 1987 when it was acquired and developed as a public park by the Corporation. Houses around the Square date from the 1880's and the design of the park reflects a formal Victorian layout with a central pergola and loggia.

Formal pathways flanked by clipped laurel plantings and flower beds also provide an ideal setting for surrounding houses."

O'Gara says: "We own it now. It's 100 per cent legal. The Council's lease expired in 1997 and they never renewed it."

"I own it now and in any case, it was never really a public park. They are crying about the children and old people but all their kids are over-privileged with big gardens. I bought this from Mr Patrick Darley, who got it from his father, who got it from his father before him," Mr O'Gara said. "I can't go into their gardens, so why should they go into mine? They just want to take their dogs into my land. That's why they are annoyed, they've nowhere to bring their dogs for a crap," O'Gara told The Sunday Independent.

The new leader of the Progressive Democrats Michael McDowell is a resident of Ranelagh and his Party President Tom Parlon said in 2003 that any tampering with existing property rights that enable farmers with land near towns to make up to €500,000 an acre, would be a move to the left of Stalin !

When Parlon was head of the Irish Farmers' Association, the organisation even claimed that the State had no right to make compulsory purchases of farmland for roadbuilding.

Let he who has not sinned, cast the first stone!!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Darfur: Deafening Silence in Arab World and Elsewhere

Burned shops in an abandoned village between Geneina and Sisi, Darfur, West Sudan: Government of Sudan military forces and its Arab militias collectively known as Jingaweit, have systematically burned and looted towns and villages of tribal groups who the Sudanese government claims are supporting opposition forces.

The tourist journalists have long departed Lebanon but there's no rush to head to Darfur, West Sudan where according to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday, "the conditions...have become so desperate...and the numbers of people suffering or being killed continued to grow."

Deafening silence in the Arab World, is matched by indifference in the rest of the world, to an estimated quarter of a million dead and another 2.5 million people in squalid camps.

We hear of angry Muslims who have been radicalised by what has been happening in Palestine and Iraq but where is the anger when an Arab-dominated Islamic government launches a campaign of genocide against a primarily black African Muslim people?

Where is the anger among people who appear to only get a rush of blood to the head when there's an American angle to an issue?

A United Nations Security Council resolution authorized a force of more than 22,000 troops and police officers to take over peacekeeping duties in Sudan from the African Union. But Sudan has refused to allow the new force to deploy, and it says the African Union must leave by the end of this month, when its mandate ends, if it cannot work on its own.

New York Times reporter Lydia Polgreen, who is no tourist journalist and has reported several times from Sudan, writes: Tawila and the sprawling, makeshift camp of displaced people at its edge sit astride a deadly fault line in Darfur. This small but strategic town has been the front line of some of the deadliest battles in a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and sent 2.5 million fleeing.

It is a place where a grim struggle between the government and its Arab allies, and non-Arab rebel factions, has given way to a fractured struggle that pits non-Arab tribes against one another, fanning centuries-old rivalries and setting the scene for a bloodbath of score-settling vengeance should the African Union soldiers withdraw, as demanded, at the end of this month.

Tawila is an apocalyptic postcard from the next and perhaps the grimmest chapter in Darfur’s agony, a preview of the coming cataclysm in the conflict the United Nations has called the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis.

Thousands of people in this squalid camp fear that their annihilation will be the final chapter in this brutal battle over land, identity, resources and power, which the Bush administration and many others have called genocide.

“We beg the international community, somebody, come and save us,” Sheik Ali said. “We have no means to protect ourselves. The only thing we can do is run and hide in the mountains and caves. We will all die.”

United Nations

The leadership of the Sudanese Government may be held collectively and individually responsible for what happens to the people of Darfur if they allow the African Union (AU) mission there to leave and then refuse access to United Nations peacekeepers, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Friday.

Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan reiterated his message to Khartoum that the planned force of blue helmets in Darfur “is not coming in as an invading force, but basically to help them protect the people.”

On 31 August the Security Council voted to deploy a UN force of more than 17,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, an impoverished region on Sudan’s western flank that has been beset by brutal violence and massive displacement since 2003.

The Council resolution “invites the consent” of Khartoum, but the Sudanese Government has said on repeated occasions that it is opposed to the UN taking over the work of the AU operation, known by the acronym AMIS, which is due to end later this year.

The Secretary-General’s warning comes ahead of a high-level Security Council meeting on Monday to discuss the situation inside Darfur, which he will attend. Representatives of the Sudanese Government, the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference have been invited to participate.

Mr. Annan said the conditions inside Darfur have become so desperate that if there is no AU or UN presence and the numbers of people suffering or being killed continued to grow, then the Sudanese “are placing themselves in a situation where the leadership may be held collectively and individually responsible for what happens to the population in Darfur.”

Scores of thousands of people are thought to have been killed amid fighting between rebel groups, Government forces and allied militias in Darfur, and at least two million others are estimated to have had to flee their homes.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Tony Blair and Political Lilliputians

I'm a fan of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

An alliance of political Lilliputians who hark for the old style socialism of brotherhood and victimhood, together with patronage seekers, are trying to speed his exit from office.

The late British politician Enoch Powell said that every political career ends in failure. In a certain sense that is true, because no political leader can ever be satisfied that all goals and objectives are met in a particular period of time.

A political leader who is in office almost a decade will inevitably have disappointed some of the electorate and colleagues who may have missed out on the ministerial gravy train. Tony Blair's remarkable period in office has had its successes and failures but like Margaret Thatcher, he has made a difference. It's only when he will have departed, that his record will truly be appreciated.

Charles Moore, former editor of The Daily Telegraph and now a columnist at the newspaper has written an incisive analysis of the turmoil that is currently afflicting the British Labour Party.

Labour will miss him when he's gone (and Cameron takes over)

"My pride in what our Government has achieved under your leadership is beyond expression," wrote Tom Watson, parliamentary under secretary at the Ministry of Defence, to the Prime Minister this week.

You or I might find words such as these quite flattering, but Tony Blair is a politician, so he will have seen at a glance that what his very, very junior minister meant was: "I want to kill you." Sure enough, by the second paragraph, Mr Watson had got to the point: "I no longer believe that your remaining in office is in the interest of either the party or the country."

Mr Watson began his letter by explaining his qualifications, as he saw them, for writing it: "The Labour Party," he said, "has been my life since I was 15 years old."

Inspection of Who's Who confirms Mr Watson's sad story. He was born in 1967. Apart from being a fundraiser from 1988-89 for Save the Children, he appears not to have done anything that anyone outside politics would call a job.

After being a "deputy general election co-ordinator" and a "national political organiser", he became MP for West Bromwich East in 2001.

The key to Tony Blair's career has been that he always understood that people such as Mr Watson should, wherever possible, be ignored. So in the tragicomedy that is politics, it is fitting that such people are now pulling him down.

But in his struggle against the Tom Watsons, he has always been on the side of us, the voters. Although we mostly want rid of him now, we shall therefore miss him.

No political party should ever be anyone's life. Its value is only instrumental – that it can mobilise enough people, ideas, money and interests to run things that need running and get things done that need doing.

Mr Blair knew this. He had no connection with the Labour Party before he met Cherie Booth, and has not had much more to do with it since. He felt a vague but strong desire for a centre-Left alternative to Thatcherism, and had a justifiably high opinion of his own persuasive gifts.
He could see that Labour was the only means of winning power if you weren't Tory, so he joined it. And when he came to lead it, he never deviated from his original intentions. That is what he meant when he said that he was elected as New Labour and would govern as New Labour.

Although the methods of "spin" have often been even more disgusting than people understand, the central message being spun has been astonishingly truthful. New Labour is modern, moderate, middle-class.

Even today, when we are sick of his mannerisms and stare rudely at his scalp to detect the hair-dye, Mr Blair still expresses this to us with a remarkable clarity and courtesy. Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher are the only prime ministers in the past 50 years who set out with a clear idea about what they wanted to do, and did it.

The much-mocked leaked memo from Mr Blair's advisers about how to organise his farewell actually said something that is true: "His genuine legacy is not the delivery, important though that is, but the dominance of New Labour ideas … the triumph of Blairism."

As someone whose proudest childhood moment was when our husky puppies appeared on Blue Peter, I quite understand why the memo-writers want to make that the venue for his swansong. It fits with the unpolitical politics that he represents. Appearing on Blue Peter is a normal human ambition. Appearing on Newsnight is not.

On that warm May night in 1997, I felt curmudgeonly. We grumblers had warned that a Blair government would increase the tax burden, fail to improve the public services, undermine private pensions, disrespect our institutions, give in to the IRA, disturb the balance of the constitution, abolish hunting, reduce liberty and lose control of immigration.

Today we have every right to say: "We told you so." And yet, the people wandering the dawn streets of London looking irritatingly idealistic grasped something that we did not – that change was needed and that the hour had produced the right man. Many of them feel disappointed now, but they weren't wrong.

In the new film The Queen, which dramatises the week of the death of Diana, there is a moment when Blair's entourage sits round scoffing at the Queen's refusal to leave Balmoral and come and grieve all over everyone in London.

They see her as a figure deserving no sympathy. Blair, although instrumental in persuading the Sovereign to change her mind, suddenly gets angry with his gang. He sees that the Queen is real, and stands for something. "I don't like it when people start to bully her," he says.
That's what I feel about Mr Blair this week. Of course he should go fairly soon.

He committed political suicide on September 30, 2004 by saying that he would not fight the election after next, and the only surprising thing has been how long it is taking him to die.

So these little Watsons (not so little actually: I gather one of the consequences of the 5ft 8in Mr Watson spending his whole life with the Labour Party, and so not getting out enough, is that he weighs 16 stone, thus contributing to the "obesity epidemic" that his party is pledged to fight) who are trying to bully him are not mistaken in thinking his time has come.

But this week, like the Tories in November 1990, they have given voters a traumatic reminder of what political parties are actually like. Mr Blair is a better man than his critics, and what they want will be worse than what we've got. He can be quite proud of their hatred.

People such as Tony Blair get made leader only when their party is in opposition. Desperation drives parties into daring originality. In (peacetime) government, the Tom Watsons decide.

They think about whose turn it is, who has the largest amount of relevant experience, who has most successfully courted the big factions, who will give them a job. The result is the likes of Alec Douglas-Home or John Major or Jim Callaghan, never Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher.

One must do Gordon Brown justice, though a heavyweight faction led by a well-lunched Charles Clarke does not want us to. He was as important as Tony Blair in inventing New Labour.

He is not Buggins. He has a big brain and plenty of determination. But for all that, and for all the efforts – cuddling his children, smiling at strangely random intervals – he diligently puts in, the Labour Party is his life, just as it is Tom Watson's.

I think this is why, when he speaks in public, he is so boring, so impermeable and so hard to understand. He cannot really imagine what it is like to be his audience.

This does not necessarily mean that Labour will lose the next election. People forget that, although the Tories were declining even before Mrs Thatcher fell, they still managed to struggle on in government for seven more years.

But I do believe that Labour's currently most over-used word, "renewal", cannot now take place. In British politics, there is a sort of apostolic succession of the leader who can reach beyond party.

This passed from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair, and the candidate who seeks it today is not Gordon Brown, or any of the other contenders for the Labour leadership, but David Cameron. After this week, Tony Blair won't be unhappy to lay the hands upon his head.

Fairtrade and Fraudtrade in ethical coffee production

According to food group Nestlé, it is known that coffee was being cultivated in the Yemen in the 6th Century AD, though some say it was drunk as early as 900BC. One legend has it that an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi was curious to see his goats leaping around after eating a certain type of red cherry. Kaldi tried the berries, and found himself strangely energised. Before long, Muslims were brewing a beverage from the dried berries, which they found gave them further energy in their long hours of prayer. This beverage became known as 'kahweh' from the Arabic for 'invigorating' and the Turkish derivative kahveh (that gives strength) - all forms are phonetic forms of this with 'coffee' now accepted widely throughout the world.

In the Middle East today, Arabic coffee is made from boiling green coffee beans and adding cardamom spice.

Insomnia Coffee Company announced earlier in the week that all coffees served from its outlets are now 100% Fairtrade certified. It said that this was the first time that an Irish coffee company had taken the decision to source all its coffee through Fairtrade. The deal is the biggest ever completed by Fairtrade Mark Ireland representing 20% of its total Fairtrade coffee business in 2005.

It is however a story that is not all sweetness and light.

The Financial Times says in its Weekend edition that “ethical” coffee is being produced in Peru, the world’s top exporter of Fairtrade coffee, by labourers paid less than the legal minimum wage. Industry insiders have also told the FT of non-certified coffee being marked and exported as Fairtrade, and of certified coffee being illegally planted in protected rainforest.

The FT says that the development casts doubt on the certification process used by Fairtrade and similar marks that require producers to pay the minimum wage. It also raises questions about the assurances certifiers give consumers about how premium-priced fair trade coffee is produced.

As the board member of one Peruvian Fairtrade-certified coffee producer told the FT: “No certifier can guarantee they will purchase 100 per cent of a co-operative’s production, so how can they guarantee that every bag will be produced according to their standards?”

Though certified coffee makes up less than 2 per cent of the global coffee trade it has become increasingly mainstream as large retailers such as Starbucks and McDonald’s adopt it.

The FT visited five Peruvian smallholdings, all of which have Fairtrade certification.

Each farm hires 12-20 casual coffee pickers during the harvest season. All house and feed their workers, which allows them to deduct 30 per cent from their wages.
After that reduction from the legal daily minimum wage for casual agricultural workers of 16 soles ($5), farm owners are still obliged to pay at least 11.20 soles a day. In four of the five farms visited by the FT, pickers received 10 soles a day, while the other farm paid workers 12 soles a day.

Luuk Zonneveld, managing director of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, the Bonn-based body that sets fair trade standards, told the FT that the certification system “is not fool- and leak-proof” but said the problem should be put in context.

“Poor farmers often struggle to pay their workers fairly,” he said. “Why are casual labourers there at all? There are wider issues here. We need to ask why this goes on and what we can do to help.”

The FT said that a number of industry insiders had told it that they had also witnessed fraud within the certification system which resulted in coffee from uncertified sources being exported as Fairtrade.

The FT has also been told of Fairtrade coffee being planted in protected national forest land in the northern Peruvian jungle. Using global satellite mapping, a Canadian NGO found that about one-fifth of all coffee production in one Fairtrade-certified association was illegally planted in protected virgin rainforest.

Finfacts reported last June that global sales of Fairtrade certified products have reached €1.1 billion mark in 2005. This represents an increase of 37% over 2004.

All product lines expanded their markets, especially Fairtrade coffee in the U.S. (+ 70,9%) and the U.K. (+ 34%), bananas in Austria (46%) and sugar in France (125%). Non-food products did well too: sales of Fairtrade flowers, newly introduced last year in Canada, Germany and Belgium surpassed even the most optimistic expectations. Thanks to continued strong sales in Switzerland and the U.K., a total of 113 million stems of Fairtrade flowers were sold in 2005.

The value of goods sold under the label in Ireland increased by 30% to €6.5m.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Politicians and Self-Interest

The turmoil in Britain's Labour Party this week with Chancellor Gordon Brown giving the nod to supporter MPs to drive Prime Minister Tony Blair from office as soon as possible, has been a public display of self-interest. Brown's impatience to win the office as soon as possible, is even risking the value of winning the prize, when he will likely get it.

There is always a balance of self interest and common interest in politics and self-interest is the primary factor for individual politicians.

However, there is a taboo in democracies for politicians to be honest about their motives.

Most people other than those blinded by partisanship, believe that self-interest is the dominant factor but the fiction of it being the reverse has to be maintained.
There is nothing wrong with self-interest being the primary factor. It's the same with doctors who serve the community and in every profession, there are a minority of individuals where the mix of self interest and common interest is lopsided.

Honesty about motivation would be a better context for example to review special pay arrangements that have been made for TDs (members of the Dáil, the Irish parliament), some of the best paid politicians in the world, relative to responsibility and legislative workload.

If Mary Harney who resigned today as leader of the Progressive Democrats, decides to retire next year from the Dáil, she will have a pension for life at 54, starting at €100,000 annually! A TD, without ministerial service, gets a pension of almost €50,000 annually after just 20 years of service while 900,000 Irish workers have no occupational pensions.

Stephen Collins in The Irish Times reported last July that politicians received their fourth pay rise in a year at the beginning of June, bringing the basic salary of a TD to €96,560 before special allowances and expenses are taken into account.

For the Taoiseach and his Ministers, it was the sixth pay rise over the past 12 months. Mr Ahern's salary is now €258,730 a year, including his TD's salary, while the Tánaiste earns €222,256 and other members of the Cabinet get €204,020.
Each minister has got 2 benchmarking awards, even though everyone knows that the system has been an absolute scam.

Find more details on the system that has given legislators a 120% rise in 10 years, while their constituents on the average industrial wage have got 60% (when pensions are taken account of, the disparity is even greater) here - scroll down to lower end of page.

Irish Newspaper Readership 2006

The Irish Examiner reported on Wednesday that its average readership soared by 16,000 in the past year although it had no increase in circulation

"For the second year in a row the Irish Examiner has achieved the highest readership growth of any daily Irish newspaper," the paper reported. "Our gains have far outstripped those of the Irish Times, while the Irish Independent continues to lose thousands of readers."

In September 2005, the Irish Examiner reported that it "has confirmed its position as Ireland’s most dynamic newspaper, adding thousands of daily readers over the past year while its competitors lost thousands. The independently audited Joint National Readership Survey (JNRS) figures show that this newspaper gained 36,000 extra readers a day between June 2004 and June 2005. In contrast, the Irish Independent lost 27,000 daily readers and the Irish Times 12,000 in the same period."

The Irish Examiner circulation has not changed in the past two years despite the jump in readership.

Thomas Crosbie Holdings, also owns the Sunday Business Post, which has increased its circulation by an impressive 7% in the past year. Readership jumped 14%.

Unlike Sky News polls, where numbers are never disclosed, the Joint National Readership Survey (JNRS) is carried out by an independent market research company and therefore should have credibility but it's hard to believe that a Sunday business newspaper has as many readers per copy as other newspapers. It suggests that excluding copies that are read by a single reader, that the newspapers has 6-7 readers per copy.

The National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) said in a statement on Tuesday that "more than three million (3.032m) Irish adults are now regular newspaper readers. That’s the main finding of the 2005-06 Joint National Readership Survey (JNRS), which was published today. The survey shows that newspapers have attracted 65,000 new readers in the past year, and that 57% of Irish adults regularly read daily newspapers while 75% regularly read Sunday newspapers.

The figures highlight the traditional strength and enduring popularity of newspapers in our society – the newspaper is the medium that most people around the world say they “could not live without” – as well as reflecting other factors such as Ireland’s continuing population growth and buoyant economy.

The latest JNRS report shows that young people, in particular, continue to choose the printed word for their daily news and entertainment. Despite the fragmentation of the youth media market, 89% of Ireland’s under-25s (570,000) regularly read newspapers, while 94% of those with home internet access are also regular newspaper readers.

“Prophets of doom were wrong”

“Today’s report shows that the prophets of our doom got it wrong,” said Frank Cullen of National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI). “Not so long ago we were being told that the internet and other new media would bring about the demise of newspaper-reading, especially among young people. These figures clearly show that the opposite is true – more young people than ever are now reading our titles.”

Frank Cullen says "These figures clearly show..." But do they??

Over 7,100 interviews were conducted by Lansdowne Market Research for the readership survey amongst a representative sample of the adult population by personal in-home interview, using a combination of face-to-face and self-completion questionnaires.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

China pushing its weight around in Africa

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe with China's President Hu Jintao
It appears that an international issue has to have an American angle to it to evoke a reaction from many people.

Evolving superpower China is paying a lot of attention to primary resource produce and does not have to worry a whit about human rights issues. It replaced Western oil companies in the Sudan and there's no danger that it will use its UN permanent Security Council seat to put pressure on the Arab Muslims in Khartoum who have allowed fellow tribesmen kill more than 200,000 African Muslims in Darfur, West Sudan and displace 2 million more.

China is also to seeking to develop the oil industry in Burma, run by a military junta for decades.
Yesterday, the Chinese government intervened in Zambia's upcoming presidential election in a signal of its growing influence in Africa.

Li Baodong, China's ambassador in Lusaka, said China might sever diplomatic relations with Zambia if voters elected Michael Sata, an opposition candidate, as president, Zambian media reported on Tuesday.

China is a leading investor in Zambian copper, the country's biggest export product by value.

China's investment in Africa in recent years and Chinese trade with the continent has quadrupled since the start of the decade, mainly through purchases of crude oil.
In Zambia alone Chinese companies are believed to have invested more than $300m (€234m) into copper and other industries.

Sata who is challenging Levy Mwanawasa, the incumbent president, in the September 28 election. He has been quoted calling Taiwan a "sovereign state," angering China and has also spoken out against Chinese labour practices in Zambia.

The Times of Zambia on Monday quoted Li saying Chinese investors were "scared" to come to Zambia because of Sata's "unfortunate" remarks. If Sata won and established relations with Taiwan, Beijing might think of cutting its relations, the newspaper reported.

"Chinese investors in mining, construction and tourism have put on hold further investments in Zambia until the uncertainty surrounding our bilateral relations with Zambia is cleared," the state-owned Zambia Daily Mail quoted Mr Li as saying.

In Zambia several mineworkers were shot and injured in July after a violent protest at Chinese-owned Chambishi Mining. There are conflicting reports on whether Chinese managers or Zambian police shot the workers. Sata has spoken out against Chinese mine managers' alleged ill-treatment of workers during his campaign. "They ill-treat our people and that is unacceptable," he was reported to have said.

Chinese influence can be seen in African countries as disparate as Liberia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have both visited the continent this year.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bertie Ahern and long-term planning

An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern TD, shares a cup of tea with well-wishers during a recent visit to North Tipperary.
Bertie Ahern said today September 5th that he was "appalled" at the crisis in A&E that led to people sleeping on trolleys.

Speaking on the second day of Fianna Fáil's annual meeting in Westport, Co Mayo, Ahern said: "It gave me no satisfaction last year to see the fact that we were spending almost €13 billion in health, and I heard that people couldn't get a blanket or were sleeping on trolleys.

"That appalled me and rather than being appalled like everyone else I had to get out and do something about it."

He told RTÉ radio that health was the topic of discussion for the party and that they were "trying to get community medicine, put more resources in for the elderly people and trying to do more in the National Treatment Fund.

"If we can solve them all this winter, I don't know. But the sure thing is we have to solve them over the next few years, that's important."

With the general election campaign underway, we are already hearing a great deal about big plans for the future.

Minister for Finance Brian Cowen's claim that the plan to invest €3.8 billion in R&D in the period to 2013, will result in the creation of 500,000 jobs is let's say kindly, a little optimistic.

Only if we could have the equivalent of property booms in other sectors of the economy!

The free lunch has yet to be invented and almost 90% of Irish exports are made by foreign firms. As we ramp up R&D spending from a low base, the rest of the world will hardly be asleep at the switch.

One striking statistic is that less than €200 million in venture capital investment, will be made in Irish firms in 2006. In contrast, the Cosgrave family that is involved in property development in the Dublin area, have invested €650 million in UK property in the first seven months of 2006.

Last year, a total of $2.7 billion in venture capital investment, was made in Israeli companies.

Check out what is the current record on long-term reform!!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Is corporate entertainment acceptable bribery?

Recipients of lavish corporate entertainment never admit that they can be compromised by freebies.

The acceptable form of bribery is big business and there are plenty takers from wealthy medical consultants to researchers who just might drop a hint on some interesting work to a hedge fund manager during a trip to a strip club or whatever.

At a local Irish level, conflict of interest issues seems to be an abstract issue to many people including politicians.

It’s extraordinary that a public tribunal investigating planning corruption, has been sitting since 1997 when the present government combination came to power. Lawyers have become multimillionaires in the interval and surprise, surprise, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has been done to change the system that fuelled the corruption!!

Last week a Fianna Fail councillor was at the centre of a political storm for accepting free Ryder Cup tickets from a property developer.

In a u-turn, Councillor Maire Ardagh finally decided to reject an offer of corporate hospitality worth thousands of euro from the country's biggest home builder.

The wife of Fianna Fail TD Sean Ardagh, who is also a chartered accountant, gave into the pressure after she said that she planned to attend the golfing event as a guest of Menolly Homes.

A spokesperson for Sean Ardagh said his wife had now "declined the tickets".

Menolly Homes, which paid former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor IR£40,000 to get a better postal address for its homes, offered several South Dublin councillors the tempting gifts of Ryder Cup tickets and corporate hospitality.

Mrs Ardagh was the only councillor to admit accepting the offer, saying she was "delighted to go" and didn't see any conflict of interest.

However, fellow councillors were reported to have said, it could result in "suspicion" or be "misconstrued", and that accepting it was possibly contrary to ethics rules.

Global corruption rampant; Corporate entertainment the new bribery in Developed World

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Dublin Restaurants

Michael Hennigan with American actor John Wayne in 1973, at the Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs.
More than a decade later, George W. Bush decided during his 40th birthday celebrations there, to go on the wagon.
The highest pressure job I've had, was working as a waiter during college summer time, at the Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs, south of Denver, Colorado. A nervous Spanish table captain Manuel would have thrown Cool Hand Luke off his game (What we've got here is … failure to communicate!). On one occasion, a faux-pas involving a food order from an "important" couple, prompted Manuel to hit his desk a thump, as he shouted: "You son-of-a-bitch!" ( he at least spared me the Spanish version: hijo de mil putas, son of a thousand bitches). The couple apologised to me for his intemperate behaviour.

So following my experience at the Broadmoor, I've never taken restaurant work for granted. Price and quality of the fare, is a different kettle of fish.

Restaurants in Dublin are pricey and many of the the mid-range ones leave a lot to be desired.

Of the higher-priced restaurants - about €60+ per head, I would recommend Roly's Bistro in Ballsbridge, Dali's in Blackrock and the Unicorn on Merrion Row. Value for money choice is Roly's Bistro.

My regular restaurant choice is in the mid-range and I tend to be reluctant to change from good choices as there are many awful restaurants in Dublin.

I was in Berlin earlier this month and in a Spanish branded steakhouse Medura, offering US beef, off Potsdamerplatz, a meal for 2 cost less than €40 compared with €65-€75 in Dublin.

A glass of Chianti in an Italian restaurant in Berlin costs €2.50 compared with a minimum of €4.50 in Dublin where house wine is often plonk.

With the continuing property boom, restaurants do very good business at weekends in central Dublin. While the tourists are easily fleeced, the natives also appear to be willing lambs to the slaughter!

L’Gueuleton on Fade Street off South Great George's Street, was crowded on Friday.

It's a French-menu restaurant and is not going to get a revisit from me.

Rib-eye beef was of poor quality and Toulouse sausage was apparently also nothing to write home about. That choice had been prompted by a BBC2 presenter hyper-ventilating about Southern France sausage, in a programme themed on a canal barge trip from Bordeaux to Marseilles. In addition to poor quality food , the service was not up to par.

I tried a glass of the house wine but switched. There is no excuse for any restaurant not to have a reasonable standard house wine, given the surplus of wine currently flooding the market.

I was in a Little Caesars' outlet in Dublin sometime in 2005 and I remarked to the waiter that the wine tasted as if water had been added to it. He made a head gesture to the manager, who was at the other end of the room: "Tell him, if you want to," he helpfully suggested.

I'm not difficult to please!

My worst experience of service in the past year was in Dunne & Crescenzi's on South Frederick Street, on a Saturday afternoon: 10 minutes to get a menu and nothing else; 10 minutes of menu browsing later, without even a nibble and my company and I headed for the exit!

My regular choices are Boccaccio on Dame Street, Siam Thai on St. Andrew's Street, Baan Thai in Ballsbridge and Brasserie 66 on South Great George's Street.