Sunday, December 23, 2007

Irish Planning Corruption Tribunal and Land Rezoning

Dublin Castle, the location of public corruption tribunals -Politicians were revealed to have sold their integrity for as low as €3,000. The corrupt land rezoning system that makes multi-millionaire of farmers and others, is immune from reform.

Irish politicians are not known for political courage or conviction, whether in the area of social policy that is left to the Courts or economic issues that would
challenge vested interests.

The Irish planning corruption tribunal, which was established in 1997, has been the focus of attention in recent times because of an allegation that the owner of a Cork construction company had said that he had paid bribes totalling £80,000 - Irish pounds - made up of two payments - of £30,000 and £50,000 (€101,600) to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 1994 when he was Minister for Finance - a total amount that was in excess of his annual salary.

In April 1994, developer Owen O'Callaghan together with Cork TD Micheál Martin, T.D., who is currently Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, met Ahern at an officially logged meeting in Dublin. In the same month Ahern, lodged £30,000 to a bank account.

The tribunal is focusing on large amounts lodged to Ahern's bank account, following a period when he operated on a cash basis for seven years, including an amount of £5,000 apparently provided by a 28-year old wage slave, who had met Ahern in a pub 3 times and had the money available in cash when the proverbial hat was passed around by Ahern's solicitor, to pay for marital separation legal fees. Whether or not the tribunal accepts Ahern's story of building a cache of cash amounting to £50,000, and businessmen in Dublin and Manchester contributing more than £45,000 years in "dig-outs," years after a separation, there is another key aspect of the planning corruption tribunal that is ignored.

Land Rezoning

The Irish land rezoning system that makes multimillionaires of owners of land that has the prospect of being used for development, need not fear any change in this bonanza system as the issue of changing the system is a taboo subject for the majority of Irish politicians.

Lucky farmers who get up to 80% of their incomes from European taxpayers benefit from what is a tax on non-owners of land. They then become landlords both in Ireland and overseas. Do not fall for the speil that the Irish are obsessed with property because of the British - SEE: Irish Property Obsession, British Landlordism and Myths

In December 2006, it was reported that up to €4.6bn of the €18.5bn of taxpayers' money that will be spent on new main roads over the next decade will go into the pockets of landowners.Fred Barry, chief executive of the National Roads Authority is reported as saying that the increases in the cost of land for major roads projects as "disturbing".

Land acquisition accounts for 23% of the cost of roads projects in Ireland, but just 12% in England, 10% in Denmark, 9.4% in Greece and 1% in Iceland. A further 2% of the €18.5bn provided in the Government's Transport 21 for road building over the next decade will go to archaeologists.

Six years ago, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern asked the Committee on the Constitution to examine the issue of the pricing of development land. In 2004, it concluded that Mr Justice Kenny's recommendation in 1973 that development land should be priced with a 25% mark-up on agricultural land prices, could be introduced by legislation, and without amending the Constitution.

So, after almost ten years of stories of endemic corruption, what changes have been made in the system that spawned it? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

The Green Party believes that it is likely to have a bigger impact on saving the polar ice caps than getting its partners in Government to agree on worthwhile reform.

Change does happen eventually in Ireland but don't doubt that it's at a slower pace than the glacial speed in the Arctic and the penny may well drop at some point for the Dr Faustus of modern Irish politics - John Gormley.

John Gormley's Planet Bertie Speech Feb 2007

Irish Politics and the Value of "Values" - - Minister for the Environment and Green Party leader says in Feb 2007 that the Fianna Fáil party is "without vision or values" and that Michael McDowell, then PD leader was Bertie Ahern's Tammy Wynette - Stand by your Man - a role Gormley plays months later.

Gormley may well have done more damage to the reputation of Irish politics than Bertie Ahern because of the huge gulf between his words and actions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ireland and Climate Change - Where is the Plan?

The logo has the slogan - - Ireland's plan of action on climate change - - There was no plan last month at the high-profile launch of a publicity campaign. Only if governing was about spending an advertising budget!!

The following is an extract from a press release issued in relation to Minister for the Environment John Gormley's participation at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia.

During his intervention the Minister spoke of the Green Party’s influence in Government. "The new government has set an ambitious target of a 3 percent annual reduction in green house gas emissions. We have set up a new cabinet committee on climate change chaired by our prime minister, introduced an annual carbon budget and announced a series of measures, including the elimination of energy inefficient light bulbs. We do not see these measures as a burden but rather as an exciting new opportunity," he said. "We know that the window of opportunity to prevent dangerous climate change is rapidly closing. But it is still within our reach if we agree an historic "Bali Roadmap" leading to a global and comprehensive climate agreement in 2009," he added.

The Minister added, "We, as political leaders, must send the clearest signal yet that we are entering a new era, an era which sees a real paradigm shift. We must begin to think in an entirely new way. We must think carbon. And if carbon is to become the new global currency then we must put a price on carbon.

Here in Bali we must launch a process that leads to a comprehensive deal that addresses mitigation and adaptation, as well as technology and finance, as part of the building blocks of a new climate framework." In conclusion "The window of opportunity to successfully address climate change is fast closing. We have 10 years to stabilise our emissions but only 48 hours to reach agreement here in Bali. We have no choice - we cannot fail to demonstrate political leadership here. We simply cannot leave Bali without a new roadmap."

Whether the "intervention" actually took place, one can only guess, but it's striking that after six months of warning of the peril, and what other countries should do about climate change, there have been no specifics of what unpalatable choices that will be necessary to achieve big cuts in emissions.

For example, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lauds France for its nuclear power but even on wind energy, Irish operators are awaiting decisions from the Government.

A climate change Cabinet sub-committee that met once since June??

Light bulbs?

In the past 2 weeks, we have had the launch of a publicity campaign and a "Carbon Budget" that was aspirational without any costs.

The US has been criticised for insisting that specific emissions targets be excluded from the final Bali Roadmap, which sets out the goal of achieving a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol by 2009.

The European Union pushed for the inclusion of a target of 25-40% carbon emission cuts from the 1990 level, by 2020.

What are the implications of this for Ireland? Like so much else, our policymakers may well not know.

It's easy at this stage for politicians to waffle about 2020 when most of them will be in clover at that future time, with their gold plated pensions.

Our lack of what could remotely be termed a "plan", simply does not match the posturing and demands for action from other countries.

In a special article published by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on Dec 20th, it is claimed that Ireland's estimated economic growth will be reduced by up to 20 per cent a year as a result of the Government's planned reductions in carbon emissions.

The Government's climate change policy, which requires CO2 emission reductions of 3 per cent a year to 2012, would require "draconian measures" across all sectors of the economy, and should be abandoned, says ESRI senior researcher Richard Tol.

He says that carbon taxes be introduced, but only on emissions from sectors not already covered by the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme - the power generation, iron and steel, glass and cement industries.


Finfacts Climate Change Reports

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Low Irish interest in Science makes Goal of Ireland as a World Class Knowledge Economy an Expensive Pipedream

From the Eurobarometer survey - answer to a survey question on interest in scientific research coverage in the news

This week, the European Commission published a new Eurobarometer survey on scientific research in the media, which showed that in Ireland in answer to a survey question on interest in scientific research coverage in the news, 41% of the Irish sample expressed interest compared with an EU average of 57%, 80% in Sweden and 79% in Denmark.

On Monday, the European Commission reported that the proportion of households with a broadband connection in the first quarter of 2007 was highest in the Netherlands (74%), Denmark (70%) and Sweden (67%) and the percentage of households in Ireland with broadband was 31%

Today, the OECD issued its final PISA 2006 educational tests survey. Based on tests carried out among 400,000 students in 57 countries in 2006, the survey focuses particularly on students’ abilities in comprehending and tackling scientific problems.

The top performer in science in PISA 2006 was Finland, followed by Hong Kong-China, Canada, Taiwan, Estonia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.

Ireland got a 15th rank and the OECD said that students from families with a more advantaged socio-economic background were more likely to show a general interest in science, and this relationship was strongest in Ireland, France, Belgium and Switzerland.

The Irish Government has a goal for Ireland to become a world-class knowledge economy in just over 5 years. It's a political goal of politicians who have a track record of no appetite for structural reforms and during a period of unprecedented prosperity, have not put a credible foundation in place for an economy post the current National Development Plan infrastructural programme.

It is not only an issue of lack of vision and conviction of political leaders but the broadband debacle also reflects the inherent conservatism of Irish society. The adoption of the web has been at glacial speed compared with the Nordic countries and Korea.

Every day, I encounter examples from some of the biggest companies where a report is published. The public relations firm scrambles to have an interview arranged on a morning radio programme. The report is referred to but it is rare to have it promptly available online. Simply, the people who are motivated enough to check it out, usually would not find it on the related company or organisation website.

On Monday, for example, the Irish unit of the international commercial property services firm Jones Lang LaSalle, launched a review of the year. A press release was issued and more than 24 hours later, the review is not available online. From banks to big accounting firms, that is the rule rather than the exception.

So, it's easy to talk about a "world class knowledge economy" while ignoring some fundamental issues. Basically, we believe our own propaganda. Like George Bush saying that the US has the best army in the world, we think that our education system is also on top of the world.

Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole wrote last October:

We have, in this country, a great talent for fiction. So great, indeed, that it cannot be confined to the realms of James Joyce, Kate O'Brien and John McGahern. Our fictions are too important to be left to the novelists, so they burst through into public policy.

The finest example of this creative flair is in the story we are telling ourselves about where we go after the Celtic Tiger. We're moving towards "a vibrant, knowledge-based economy". It's all going to be about how smart we are, how skilled our workforce is, how innovative and creative we can be.

The truth is that Ireland is a massively undereducated country. A startling 35 per cent of Irish adults aged between 25 and 64 do not have even a Leaving Certificate.

Our level of working-age population with at least upper secondary-level education is below the averages of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) developed countries and the European Union. More significantly, given our pretensions to be at the leading edge of knowledge economies, we are way behind the top performers. We've got 65 per cent of the working-age population with a Leaving Certificate equivalent. The Czechs have 90 per cent, the US 88 per cent, Canada 85 per cent, Germany 83 per cent, Austria 81 per cent, Korea 76 per cent.

Half a million Irish adults (a quarter of the adult population) are functionally illiterate - a figure that shocked us when it was published in an international study in 1997. But it didn't shock us so much that we know what the figure is now.

Some Irish people unfortunately do not like to have to deal with facts when waffle and blather sells even better.

Long-term planning anyone?

When is the penny going to drop that spin and issuing grants alone, isn't going to bring a conservative society i.e resistant to change, to the level of a world class knowledge economy in just over 5 years?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Irish Politics, Bipartisanship and the 460 people advising Minister Harney on health policy

Mary Harney TD, Minister for Health and Children

Two Government ministers provided a vivid illustration of the paralysis at the heart of Irish politics this week when ministers Mary Harney and John Gormley called for a bipartisan approach to cancer services.

Politicians in power take credit for any positive news that they can and apart from the admission of impotence, why would Opposition politicians support a policy that some members of governing parties including a minister, oppose with impunity, at local level?

Perish the thought that Harney and Gormley would for example call for bipartisanship on land rezoning, which has remained unreformed despite 10 years of the corruption planning tribunal or on public sector reform that has been outsourced to the Paris-based think-tank for governments, the OECD.

There was no call either for bipartisanship on the Super VIP Benchmarking payments and Cork TD, Deputy Ciarán Lynch who asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of tax payers in 2006 or the most recent year for which complete figures are available, who returned incomes of €38,000 or less, highlighted a fact, through the reply that a lot of Irish workers do not spend their free time in Macy's .

The amount of €38,000 is the recent pay hike increase that was received by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Brian Cowen TD replied: I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the estimated number of income earners on the income tax records in 2006 earning gross income of €38,000 or less is projected at 1,452,000. Gross income is income before adjustments are made in respect of capital allowances, interest paid, losses, allowable expenses, retirement annuities etc. but after deduction of superannuation contributions by employees.

The figure is an estimate from the Revenue tax-forecasting model using actual data for the year 2004 adjusted as necessary for income and employment growth for the year in question. It is, therefore, provisional and likely to be revised. Cowen said that it should be noted that a married couple who has elected, or has been deemed to have elected, for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

Two-thirds of the workforce are earning less than €38,000 annually and two-thirds of private sector workers - - 900,000 - - have no occupational pension.

Compared with the average industrial wage of €32,000, TDs in general are also in clover, earning more than 3 times the level. The country is 15 miles from Leinster House with overnight allowances payable and TDs in North Dublin can collect up to €30,000 annually in local travel expenses.

Then there are the 130 full-time personnel on the public payroll supporting ministers' constituency work. Bertie Ahern has 9 working in his constituency - more people than the total staff of a typical SME firm.

In the Sunday Business Post on Dec 2nd, Vincent Browne provided an illustration of featherbedding in the Department of Health and Children, headed by Mary Harney TD.

In recent years, the Department's operational functions have been hived to to the Health Service Execute (HSE) leaving the Department with a policymaking role.

There are 460 people advising the minister on health policy!

Last week, a minister in the Irish government said that the lack of Irish public sector reform, "is a joke"!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Green Irish Greens in the Soup

Our part-time parliament, which is shuttered for about six months of the year, can resemble a theatre in the rare times that it is in session.

This is the busy season for Santa Claus and his elves in the North Pole and our messenger boy/girl politicians at least can look forward to a six-week break starting next month, barring the odd meetings of most of the do-nothing parliamentary committees. There are 23 of them in a system where there is little or no accountability and the overpaid lobby fodder can continue to top up their expense earnings by signing the attendance books.

In our 1920's era governance system, the country is 15 miles from Leinster House and an overnight allowance can be claimed whether or not our over-taxed (nothing got to do with tax!)legislators, actually stay in Dublin.

In reaction to perceived public displeasure about the Super VIP Benchmarking pay rises, Green Party Ministers Gormley and Ryan who are both getting an extra €25,656 and Trevor Sargent who will get an additional €17,716, announced that the money would be diverted to the Green Party, even though it appears that the plan is in violation of electoral law.

Given their failure to object to the pay bonanza, the belated decision to divert the funds for party use has an air of sleaziness about it.

Irish politicians of courage and conviction are a rare specie and Green politicians are as good at following the crowd as others.

Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan during the week issued a stark warning of climatic Armageddon unless there is a dramatic reduction in global emissions.

"If we ignore this challenge the threat posed is beyond any catastrophe, war, famine or natural disaster which occurred on the planet for hundreds of millions of years," he told the Dáil during a debate on climate change.

Climate change justifies the Faustian bargain for power with the acceptance of corruption and the zero prospect of reform in areas of governance and land rezoning. However, after almost six months in office, where are the radical proposals on climate change?

There are none of course and we will await what the European Commission will propose.

Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment John Gormley, in true Irish ministerial style, is due to set up a panel to advise him on the mechanical biological treatment (MBT) of waste as an alternative to incineration.

Similar to the way the promotion of biofuels was foolishly seen as a simple risk-free alternative to fossil fuels, MBT is in a similar boat. Gormley needs to get an international scientific panel to advise him and it could well say that incineration is a more practical option.

Gormley opposes incineration because his constituents oppose it. Nevertheless, the planning board approved the building of a plant on Dublin’s Poolbeg peninsula.

“Minister Gormley must be the first politician ever that found on appointment to ministerial office that he has less power than when he was an opposition TD,” Labour Party leader Eamonn Gilmore said.

Fine Gael leader said that the Greens "comment on everything and aren't able to implement anything," like the Muppet Show's Statler and Waldorf.

Green Party Senator Dan Boyle owes his position to political patronage such as the members of the hundreds of Sate quangos that he criticises.

Decisions were being made by independent bodies for political reasons because powers had been abrogated in legislation and politicians could not stand over that, Dan Boyle of the Green Party, deputy leader of the Seanad (Upper House of the Irish parliament), said in relation to an Environment Protection Agency go-ahead for the Poolbeg incinerator.

Senators had recently discussed how an ongoing process of abrogating political responsibility to stand-alone bodies was diminishing political decision-making and democratic accountability.

Dan Boyle like the worthies, do-gooders and party hacks who people all the quangos, also owes his position to political patronage. The dead-man walking Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who the Greens in May said had "lost moral authority," because of a torrent of corruption allegations, appointed Boyle to his current position as a national politician.

Santa Claus will see more glacial change than the Irish political process.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has chaired one meeting of a Cabinet sub-committee on climate change since June. Meanwhile, the Greens oppose incineration but do not appear to have a problem with the export of hazardous waste for incineration. They oppose nuclear power but we may well import UK electricity that is generated by nuclear power. Baby-steps and posturing are the responses to climate change.

It all could be termed Irish politics as usual.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Irish Public Sector Biggest and most Powerful Consumer for Private Sector

Dr. John Crown

Self-censorship has been in the news in recent times when it was disclosed that a senior manager in Ireland's public broadcaster RTE had excluded the well-known cancer specialist John Crown from a television panel discussion on the lamentable state of Irish cancer services. RTE wished to create "balance" by excluding the one person who was in a position to speak with direct knowledge on the service.

Crown is on record as a critic of the establishment e.g. “It is a shame that the Department of Health have had to be cajoled, humiliated and bullied in public into doing something about it. The disastrous health service we’ve had over the past ten to twenty years reflected a complete lack of planning on the part of the Department. It wasn’t until certain people started to make very public criticisms of the state of the cancer service that they were shamed into doing something about it. I think it’s an awful pity that that’s the way the public discourse has to work in a democracy.”

The same senior RTE manager apparently had no qualms about balance on the same programme before the general election when two leading apologists for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appeared on a panel of three. Ahern subsequently appointed one of them to the Upper House of the parliament at a cost of €150,000 annually in a redundant role. Small change, some might think but add all the rest of the featherbedding - e.g. the Green Party office manager likely trebled his salary to €161,000 when be became aide-de-camp/gofor for Minister for the Environment John Gormley. The Cabinet and Ministers of State have nearly 130 civil servants and privately-recruited staff working solely on constituency queries, costing the Exchequer at least €4 million annually. Gormley has seven staff working in his private office on ministerial duties and four more in his constituency office.

Senior RTE managers are working in the public sector and compared with an SME manager in the tradable goods/services sector, they have well-paid cushy numbers and why would they wish to rattle the cages of their political masters?

So why would IBEC, the principal representative organisation for Irish business also behave with a level of timidity that is a welcome bonus for politicians?

One obvious explanation is that it doesn't want to get listed on Bertie Ahern's "little black book."

Politicians, in common with adults can have thin skins and act in infantile ways. Look at our history and De Valera's jealousy of Michael Collins. Last May, the Bagehot columnist in the Economist wrote in relation to current British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's petty reaction to Tony Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell: According to those in a position to know, Mr Brown has not spoken to Mr Powell since soon after Mr Blair became leader of the Labour Party in 1994, even though he is forced to pass his desk every time he visits the prime minister. Mr Powell's transgression was to laugh when Mr Brown suggested that some of the money he was raising to run the new leader's private office should be handed over to the shadow chancellor.

Many Irish business firms also have a pertinent reason to resist rocking the boat of the permanent government.

The Irish public sector has huge power over the private sector because it is the biggest consumer of goods and services in the State. That power simply buys silence despite the incompetence, waste, lack of accountability and failure to match a modern economy with a credible system of governance.

Last September, the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance confirmed that Budget Day 2008 would include "a major innovation" with the change that “all new spending measures, as well as tax changes, will be brought together and announced as one in a unified way on Budget Day, instead of on a piecemeal basis, as at present”.

Given the glacial pace of change at governance level in Ireland, the "major innovation" is in reality a baby-step.

There is no detail provided on spending across government in say up to 20 categories e.g what is spent on energy, marketing, consultants, information technology etc.

I was advised by the Department of Finance earlier this year, that I would have to go to each Department via Freedom of Information requests to get information on the top 100-200 suppliers to the State. The catch is that each Department can charge the cost, at its discretion, of providing the information.

Senior RTE managers are not the only ones who find it expedient to toe the line (btw that is the correct spelling for the phrase!)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Irish Politics, Brass Necks and Donkeys

An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern canvassing in Dublin South Central in May 2007

I recall as a youth reading a number of American journalist John Gunther's (1901-1970) series of "Inside" books that I had got from the Bandon library.

There are two items I remember from Inside Latin America, which was first published in 1939. Gunther recounted how the drunken Bolivian president General Mariano Melgarejo had in 1870 thought that the new British ambassador could be brought down to earth by ordering that he be strapped naked, facing backwards, on a donkey and paraded around La Paz.

The other story also involved a donkey. Politicians in some Brazilian town were so discredited that some citizens nominated a donkey for mayor and the ass won.

It's said that the camel seldom sees his own hump and when it comes to Irish politics it is not always easy to discern who are the donkeys - - the politicians or the voters?

When free education at secondary level was introduced in 1968, there was a concern as to who would do all the "dirty" jobs given that most people would henceforward be "educated." The term brings to mind writer Frank O'Connor's cutting reference to "Mr De Valera's educated government," in a forward to the Eric Cross book The Tailor and Ansty, which was banned in the early 1940's.

Still on the subject of donkeys, writer Seán O Faoláin in a letter to the Irish Times, said in reference to the moral guardians of the Censorship Board that they had made “fools of themselves and an ass of the Minister”—or “a fool of the Minister and asses of themselves.”

Fast-forward to modern Ireland and the expected call for pay restraint came two weeks after the Super VIP Benchmarking awards - it was a decent interval - and was a day before the conferring of honorary doctorates on three "distinguished public servants" at Dublin Castle.

The new doctors had all won considerable pay hikes in the benchmarking bonanza. Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach Dermot McCarthy, got a 25% pay rise and his retired predecessor Frank Murray, also got the corresponding increase, in his pension. John Fitzgerald got a 36% pension rise as his successor as Dublin City Manager, received a 36% hike in what can be termed Super VIP Benchmarking. Former Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald, who presented the awards, also received a 14% pension rise to correspond with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's benchmarking rise.

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Tánaiste Brian Cowen, on Thursday displaying brass necks, lectured union leaders about wage restraint following their own salary hikes worth €38,000 and €36,000 respectively.

In the Sunday Independent issue of Nov 4, 2007, senior journalist Willie Kealy wrote on the bleak future facing Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who will get compensation of one year's salary of €310,000 on leaving office and a pension of about €200,000 annually together with a State car for the rest of his life. As for providing for this two children, there is nothing to worry about either. As far back as 1994, Ahern's children were listed as potential beneficiaries of his landlord's will. In the interval, one of them has become a millionaire through a contract with one of Rupert Murdoch's publishing companies while the other is married to a millionaire member of the Westlife boy-band.

And what does the future hold? He has already said he will step down before the next election. So a few more years in office as Taoiseach -- if all goes well -- and after that, what?

A well paid job as President of Europe? There was a time when that seemed a shoo-in. Now with all this muck flying around, all this dirt from the tribunal which shows no sign of abating. Well, they are pragmatic if nothing else in Europe. And they are not going to put themselves offside to do Bertie a favour.

So nothing is guaranteed, except that by the time Bertie Ahern reaches 60, he will probably be out of a job and his best chance of employment will be to try to retain his seat in the next election.

He currently has no woman in his life that we know of. He dotes on his daughters and the grandchildren, but lives alone in Drumcondra. If that job in Brussels is lost, he has probably lost it already. And he does not have to fight another election as Taoiseach. He is that dangerous animal, a man with little left to lose.

In those circumstances, as he looks forward into an old age that could be lonely and unfulfilling, compared to the career and family highs he has tasted in the past, he must be tempted to say to himself, "I can at least make sure it is not a penniless old age." He has four more years of a Taoiseach's salary to collect, at best, and after that a pension. There will be no more dig-outs.

He is now facing into the prospect of being a fixed-income pensioner with no independent source of income and no real assets except his home.

In those circumstances, is it any wonder he said that he would take the €38,000 a year extra salary he has just been granted and the corresponding increase in his pension.

The way he is feeling right now, to turn it down would not only be monumentally foolish, but personally irresponsible. Des O'Malley and Bobby Molloy made such a gesture before, refusing to accept an increase for two years, and they each reckoned that it didn't earn them a single vote in the subsequent election.
And, as for postponing it for a few years ... well he only has a few years left at the highest level of public life.

Forget the old Bertie, the man who hadn't a clue where the next pint would come from and didn't care. The man whose care of his career was fanatical. The man whose fine political judgement was unrivalled. Now he can sometimes be distant, those close to him say. His sense of persecution is fuelled when a favourable poll gets a brief mention on the nine o'clock news, but one showing him on the slide is a big story.

Today's Bertie Ahern is a man on a mission. He's pretty sure his legacy is secured already with the North and the Celtic Tiger and that all the tribunal stuff will eventually fade, probably after he's gone.

No, Bertie Ahern's mission today is to secure his old age.

One can well wonder who think's whom are the donkeys? Bertie Ahern's mission today is to secure his old age - - and 900,000 workers have no occupational pension never mind the gold-plated pension that awaits plain old Bass man himself.

Also revealing this week was the news that climate change is hardly a big priority for Bertie Ahern.

The professed raison d'être/excuse for Green Party leader John Gormley's Faustian bargain for power has also been undermined since June. Bertie delivered on a Cabinet sub-committee on climate change (big, big addition to the laundry list of Green "achievements" to keep the idealists in tune!) and he even attended its only meeting to date!

Impressive indeed !

The polar ice caps melt faster than change in Bertie's Ireland; Gormley's moral compass tarnishes by the day and we sit idly by awaiting for direction from Brussels on climate change.

Who was it that strongly condemned gombeenism in February 2007?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques meets the Pope

The meeting in Rome on Tuesday between Pope Benedict XVI and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was a surprise given that it is illegal to publicly practice Christianity in the desert kingdom. Saudi Arabia has existing strong links with the Eternal City having funded the building of its main mosque.

At the first meeting between a Pope and a Saudi monarch, the two discussed the need for greater collaboration between Christians, Muslims and Jews and prospects for a Middle East peace. A Vatican statement said “the presence and hard work of Christians (in Saudi Arabia) was discussed” – seen as a clear reference to the Vatican’s concern over the Christian minority.

In Saudi, December is the busiest month for the religious police , the muttawa - officially known as the Committee for Preventing Vice and Enforcing Virtue. The muttawa try to ensure that traders do not sell anything that could be regarded as a Christmas decoration. Filipinos are particular targets during the Christmas period.

While religions other than Islam are viewed with suspicion, it's preferable to have one for visa purposes.

On one occasion, the Saudi embassy in Brussels rejected a business visa application, as the applicant had entered "none" in the religion box.

Credit is due to King Abdullah for taking a step that can only be viewed as positive.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Remarkable Decades of Change in World but Irish System of Governance Immutable to Reform

On June 12, 1987, US President Ronald Reagan delivered a historic speech by the then Berlin Wall, with the Brandenburg Gate in the background, at the other side of the Wall in East Berlin: Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same--still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar....General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!....As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: "This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality." Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.

Just over two years after President Reagan's address in Berlin, the Wall had fallen in a decade when Reagan himself and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, were rare politicians, in challenging conventional economic orthodoxy.

The end of the Iron Curtain in Europe and the adoption by the Chinese Communist Party of a capitalist model, gave a significant acceleration to globalisation together with low inflation and interest rates as prices of Asian manufactured goods fell over a sustained period and Eastern Europe provided the economies of Western Europe with a new source of labour.

People easily take for granted the remarkable decades of change for the better in the world in recent decades.

Just consider that on Jan 1, 1974, Spain, Portugal and Greece were run by dictatorships; Eastern Europe was under the jackboot of a Soviet tyranny as was Russia and Central Asia; Most of Latin America was run by dictatorships; a small number of Asian countries were making remarkable economic advances but most of the region's population was living in extreme poverty; life for most people in the Arabian peninsula hadn't changed in more than a thousand years and most of Africa remained in a cycle of despair including the majority of the population of the advanced economy of the region - South Africa.

In Ireland, we've had tremendous success through becoming an important base for US multinationals and having our farming industry hugely subsidised by other European countries but we should be cautious about self-congratulation in claiming some uniqueness when our current level of prosperity has been so tied to the acceleration of trade and globalisation. There have been huge advances elsewhere.

As we look ahead, globalisation will bring new challenges. The benefit of Chinese goods price deflation will disappear; food prices and other commodities are surging. The era of very low interest rates is behind us, bar a severe recession.

In Ireland, do we need some bad economic times before we confront some serious questions?

How can a country that has taken so long to even introduce a credible broadband system, become a "world-class knowledge economy" in 5 years? Why does it take 29 years to complete the building of a motorway between the two principal cites - Dublin and Cork -, on a small island, when countries like Malaysia have already built a comprehensive infrastructural network in a much shorter time?

In 1955, the Irish Minister for Finance Gerard Sweetnam appointed the 39-year old Thomas Kenneth Whitaker as Secretary of the Department of Finance and in the 1956 budget Sweetnam exempted profits derived from exports, from taxation. The imprint of Whitkaker was clearly to be seen. In 1958, Whitaker's Economic Development white paper became the basis for the First Programme for Economic Expansion.

That was the genesis of the Celtic Tiger and today, almost a half century later, there is not one senior civil servant who is known to the Irish public.

Ireland today is in need of another Whitaker who can get the attention of the school teachers, farmers and small-town solicitors that the our old Ireland system of cronyism and gombeenism produces.

I'm an optimist, which by definition every entrepreneur is but it is realistic to ask, how low do our economic fortunes have to fall before attention is given to reforming a paralysed political system of 1920's/30's vintage with its limited accountability and responsibility?

Where is the Outrage? Gombeenism thrives at home while in Paris, OECD staff work on proposals for Irish public service reform

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pests and the European Parliament

European Parliament in Strasbourg
European Parliament building, Strasbourg, France
This week European Parliament MEPs proposed that spraying pesticides near schools or hospitals should be heavily controlled to safeguard health and food quality.

There would also be a general ban on aerial crop spraying, making it illegal to kill bugs using a method made famous by Alfred Hitchcock's movie North by Northwest.

No doubt, the highly protected agricultural sector would be provided with compensation.

For the pests in the European Parliament whose only exposure to tropical pests is in the rarefied atmosphere of 5-star hotels when on their regular junkets, and the anti-GMerrs, in the comfort of Europe, the mammoth UN environment report that was published on Thursday said:

Losses in total global farm production, due to insect pests, have been estimated at about 1 per cent.

Since 1987 the expansion of cropland has slackened, but land use intensity has increased dramatically. A hectare of cropland, which then yielded on average 1.8 tonnes, now produces 2.5 tonnes.

Unsustainable land use is causing degradation, a threat as serious as climate change and biodiversity loss. It affects up to a third of the world's people, through pollution, soil erosion, nutrient depletion, water scarcity, salinity, and disruption of biological cycles.

The food security of two-thirds of the world's people depends on fertilisers, especially nitrogen.

Population growth, over-consumption and the continued shift from cereal to meat consumption mean food demand will increase to 2.5-3.5 times the present figure.

By 2030 developing countries will probably need 120 million more hectares to feed themselves.

The loss of genetic diversity may threaten food security: 1 animal species make up 90 per cent of all livestock, and 30 crops dominate agriculture, providing an estimated 90 per cent of the world's calories.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

False Panaceas for Fools on Biofuels and Organic Food

Conventional wisdom is dangerous when it comes to climate change remedies and with politicians likely to follow the crowd, it's well to be on guard for what is termed the law of unintended consequences.

So for example, if you believe that you are contributing to alleviating climate change or protecting the environment, by buying organic food, you may be dead wrong. You may also believe that the European Union target to increase the share of biofuels used in transport to 10% by 2020, is a good thing. It may well not be. You may also regard Ryanair's Michael O'Leary's rejection of emission curbs on aviation as pernicious but just consider: Every year, the world loses a forest area the size of Ireland. This accounts for 18 percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions, more than from the world’s entire transport sector. Deforestation must be reversed not accelerated by for example biofuel production. (SEE: Finfacts article).

In recent weeks, there have been warnings that the greenhouse gas situation is being made worse by the emphasis on biofuels. Increased palm oil production in for example Indonesia will accelerate the destruction of the rain forests while in India and China, water supplies will be endangered.

The poor of the poor are at most risk from the jump in grain prices that the increase in subsidised biofuel production in the US has triggered.

The damage to the environment may in fact be worse than the disease.

Dr. Norman Borlaug (1914- ), winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, is called the Father of the "Green Revolution" and in the words of US Senator Charles Grassley, has "saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived."

Last week, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, demanded an international five-year ban on producing biofuels to combat soaring food prices.

Switzerland's Jean Ziegler said the conversion of arable land for plants used for green fuel had led to an explosion of agricultural prices which was punishing poor countries forced to import their food at a greater cost.

"232kg of corn is needed to make 50 litres of bioethanol," Ziegler said. "A child could live on that amount of corn for a year."

Using land for biofuels would result in "massacres", he said, predicting a reduction in the amount of food aid sent to developing countries by richer ones.

"It's a total disaster for those who are starving."

Ziegler's proposal for a five-year moratorium, which he plans to submit to the UN General Assembly on October 25, is aiming to ban the conversion of land for the production of biofuels.

Ziegler said he hoped that by the time the moratorium was lifted science would have made sufficient progress to be able to create "second generation" biofuels, made from agricultural waste or from non-agricultural plants such as jatropha, which grows naturally on arid ground.

Taking Brazil as an example, Ziegler said he deplored the fact that sugar cane plantations, whose products were used for biofuels, were spreading at the expense of food-producing land.

He said ten hectares (100,000 square metres) of food-producing land could sustain an average of seven to ten farmers, whereas the same area could only produce enough sugar cane for one farmer.

The use of non-food plants such as jatropha, shows that it is not a simple issue of saying one solution is good, another bad.

Ibrahim Rehman, the director of action programs at The Energy and Resource Institute in India, says that in the absence of a global consensus on specific principles, criteria or standards for bioenergy production, there are indications - especially in the developing world - that the biofuels agenda is being pushed forward with limited understanding of social, environmental and economic implications.

A further complication is that the case for biofuels is often oversimplified. For instance, in India it is argued that crops for biofuels production can be planted on 106 million acres of wasteland - even though a major part of this so-called wasteland is under various uses, not lying vacant, as agricultural planners may assume.

Rehman says that in other situations, biofuels initiatives likely will involve planting on land already in production, or cultivating crops that would otherwise contribute to the food chain - with rising prices of U.S. corn and of cereals in China as cases in point. It will be crucial to properly assess and determine the economics of growing our fuel and its implications on food security.

To an extent, several pilot initiatives are addressing this lack of specific criteria for biofuels production, thus contributing to the nascent development of standards and practices.

In India, one such step in the direction of developing practices and standards is the joint biofuels initiative of BP and The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi. The project focuses on growing jatropha - a non-food crop that thrives in conditions where food crops tend to fail - on more than 19,700 acres of land in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

The project encompasses and assesses the complete biodiesel production process, and very poor farmers are involved in measuring jatropha's benefits in augmenting incomes for marginalized sections of society.

The World Bank in its World Development Report 2008, (WDR) which was published on October 19, 2007, says that promising new opportunities for mitigating climate change and creating large new markets for agriculture have emerged through the production of biofuels, stimulated by high energy prices. But few of the current biofuels programs are economically viable, and many pose social (rising food prices) and environmental (deforestation) risks. To date, production in industrial countries has developed behind high protective tariffs on biofuels and with large subsidies.

These policies hurt developing countries that are, or could become, efficient producers in profitable new export markets. Poor consumers also pay higher prices for food staples as grain prices rise in world markets directly due to the diversion of grain to biofuels or indirectly due to land conversion away from food production.

What is the future for the global food supply?
From World Development Report 2008

Agriculture has been largely successful in meeting the world’s effective demand for food. Yet more than 800 million people remain food insecure, and agriculture has left a huge
environmental footprint. And the future is increasingly uncertain.

Models predict that food prices in global markets may reverse their long term downward trend, creating rising uncertainties about global food security.

Climate change, environmental degradation, rising competition for land and water, higher energy prices, and doubts about future adoption rates for new technologies all present huge challenges and risks that make predictions difficult.

To meet projected demand, cereal

production will have to increase by nearly 50 percent and meat production by 85 per cent from 2000 to 2030. Added to this is the burgeoning demand for agricultural feed stocks for biofuels, which have already pushed up world food prices.

Managing the aggregate response of agriculture to rising demand will require good policy and sustained investments, not business as usual. Sharply increased investment is especially urgent in Sub-Saharan Africa, where food imports are predicted to more than double by 2030 under a business-as-usual scenario, the impact of climate change is expected to be large with little capacity to cope, and progress continues to be slow in raising per capita food availability.

The WDR says that Brazil is the world’s largest and most efficient producer of biofuels, based on its low-cost production of sugarcane. But few other developing countries are likely to be efficient producers with current technologies. Policy decisions on biofuels need to devise regulations or certification systems to mitigate the potentially large environmental footprint of biofuels production. Increased public and private investment in research is important to develop more efficient and sustainable production processes based on feedstocks other than food staples.

Dr. Norman Borlaug is presented the Congressional Gold Medal by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, President George W. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on July 17, 2007 - - Professor M.S.Swaminathan, President, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences of India, said at the ceremony: The impact of the Borlaug-led Green Revolution symphony will be clear from the fact that during 1964-68, Indian farmers increased wheat production in four years by an order greater than that achieved during the preceding 4000 years.

Organic Food

Peter Melchett of the Soil Association, Britain's leading organic lobby group, says that environmental concerns, rather than health benefits, are now cited by British consumers as their main justification for buying organic food.

The Economist says that there is no clear evidence that conventional food is harmful or that organic food is nutritionally superior.

The Economist says that not everyone agrees that organic farming is better for the environment. Perhaps the most eminent critic of organic farming is Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the “green revolution”, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and an outspoken advocate of the use of synthetic fertilisers to increase crop yields.

He claims the idea that organic farming is better for the environment is “ridiculous” because organic farming produces lower yields and therefore requires more land under cultivation to produce the same amount of food.

Thanks to synthetic fertilisers, Dr. Borlaug points out, global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the amount of land used increased by only 10%. Using traditional techniques such as crop rotation, compost and manure to supply the soil with nitrogen and other minerals would have required a tripling of the area under cultivation. The more intensively you farm, Dr. Borlaug contends, the more room you have left for rainforest.

What of the claim that organic farming is more energy-efficient? Lord Melchett points out for example that the artificial fertiliser used in conventional farming is made using natural gas, which is “completely unsustainable”.

The Economist says that Anthony Trewavas, a biochemist at the University of Edinburgh, counters that organic farming actually requires more energy per tonne of food produced, because yields are lower and weeds are kept at bay by ploughing. And Mr Pollan notes that only one-fifth of the energy associated with food production across the whole food chain is consumed on the farm: the rest goes on transport and processing.

The Economist says that the most environmentally benign form of agriculture appears to be “no till” farming, which involves little or no ploughing and relies on cover crops and carefully applied herbicides to control weeds. This makes it hard to combine with organic methods (though some researchers are trying). Too rigid an insistence on organic farming's somewhat arbitrary rules, then—copper, a heavy metal, can be used as an organic fungicide because it is traditional—can actually hinder the adoption of greener agricultural techniques.

Norman Borlaug

Named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 most influential minds of the 20th century, Norman Borlaug was born in 1914 to Norwegian-American parents outside Cresco in the north-eastern part of the American State of Iowa.

In 1944, Dr. Borlaug participated in the Rockefeller Foundation's pioneering technical assistance program in Mexico, where he was a research scientist in charge of wheat improvement. For the next sixteen years, he worked to solve a series of wheat production problems that were limiting wheat cultivation in Mexico and to help train a whole generation of young Mexican scientists.

The work in Mexico not only had a profound impact on Dr. Borlaug's life and philosophy of agriculture research and development, but also on agricultural production, first in Mexico and later in many parts of the world.

It was on the research stations and farmers' fields of Mexico that Dr. Borlaug developed successive generations of wheat varieties with broad and stable disease resistance, broad adaptation to growing conditions across many degrees of latitude, and with exceedingly high yield potential.

These new wheat varieties and improved crop management practices transformed agricultural production in Mexico during the 1940's and 1950's and later in Asia and Latin America, sparking what today is known as the "Green Revolution." Because of his achievements to prevent hunger, famine and misery around the world, it is said that Dr. Borlaug has "saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived."

Finfacts 2006 report: Enormous tasks ahead to feed the world, says former Nobel Peace Prize recipient

Finfacts Climate Change Reports can be found in the lower right-hand column of the home page.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ozone Man's Vindication

Al Gore's award as co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, is a worthy vindication for a man who has promoted environmental issues from his early years in politics.

In the 1992 presidential campaign, President George H.W. Bush nicknamed Gore, then Bill Clinton's running mate, "Ozone Man" and portrayed him as a threat to Americans because of his perceived wacky positions on the environment. Eight years later, Gore was contesting the presidency against Bush's son and "misunderestimated" him to use a Bushism.

American columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in 2004: Upon losing a game at the 1925 Baden-Baden tournament, Aaron Nimzowitsch, the great chess theoretician and a superb player, knocked the pieces off the board, jumped on the table and screamed, "How can I lose to this idiot?"

Within months of Gore's searing loss of the presidency as decreed by the Supreme Court, President George W. Bush exempted the US from emission targets that were set by the Kyoto Protocol of 1997.

For many, the new president confirmed the view that he was an idiot. Bush in fact wasn't exactly the Neanderthal that his poorly communicated position suggested - see letter of March 13, 2001 to US Senators. A President Gore would also have had a serious challenge in selling climate change to the Republican controlled Congress at that time.

Al Gore Nobel Peace Prize Press Conference

Gore like the superrich Irish rock musician Bono, has been successful as an advocate. Advocacy however, is only the start of the process of reaction and it's the easy part.

Wealthy celebrities can promote their cause, without in any way risking their lifestyle and they often enhance their earning power. The New York Times says that Gore is a multimillionaire who has built a media and high-tech empire around himself and his environmental work. He is an adviser to Google, sits on the board of Apple and is the chairman and cofounder of Current TV, a cable network with 38 million subscribers. He receives up to $175,000 per speaking appearance, although he waives or reduces his fee for some non-profit companies and schools. Fast Company magazine has estimated his net worth at more than $100 million.

The rich like Bono and Gore can buy conscience salving carbon credits and solutions for climate change would be painless for them.

For others, the hard part is ahead.

The jump in the price of oil in the 1970's coinciding with environmental concerns moving up the political agenda in the rich world, ushered in significant advances in technology that has reduced both pollution and increased oil use efficiency. The emphasis on climate change will bring forward a technology leap in decades ahead that will prepare the world for a time when oil will be more costly and harder to extract - e.g. from tar sands - than it is conventionally.

The difficult choices ahead are exemplified by the impact of the ramping up of biofuel production has had on in pushing up grain prices in the US and the warning this week that India and China will face water shortages if they go ahead with their biofuel plans.

The poor of the poor in places like Africa may face the biggest threat from climate change but some remedies may hit them in the here and now. Where does most of the wheat for the World Food Program come from?

Politicians have had little to say on expected lifestyle changes ahead if any, so far and in Ireland, Green Party minister Eamon Ryan has called for a cross-party consensus on climate change measures, suggesting a reluctance to make hard choices. In an ideal world, it would be nice to get all politicians to agree on proposals that would sacrifice short-term popularity. However, where parties in power take credit for everything of a positive slant, apart from the weather,
Ryan's spread the responsibility strategy, will hardly work.

Al Gore Debates Global Warming

Ryan's ministerial colleague John Gormley does not engender much optimism either given the muddle that he has made of waste management policy. He plans to spend millions in hiring international experts to advise him, even though he has already set forth various versions of his own position.

Ireland is a very small part of the climate change issue and the people in Emerging Economies have much further catch-up in spreading the conventional carbon-rich first world lifestyle. More cars, more air conditioning, more showers, more clothes washing, are just part of the emerging scenario.

Just consider how hard it is to get a global trade agreement.

The first world could impose carbon taxes on imports from poorer countries but wasn't it precisely the deflationary impact of those imports that has kept our interest rates in the first world at single digits for the past two decades?

To borrow the words of Winston Churchill in November 1942: this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning

So let's give two cheers for Al Gore's prize!

Related articles on climate change can be found on the lower end of the right-hand column of the Finfacts home page.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Hidden Ireland and the Vested Interests with the Grip on the Public Megaphone

Tánaiste and Minister for Finance Brian Cowen TD - - After the last sham benchmarking, it is "likely" that the Benchmarking Body will take account of the public service pensions that would require the equivalent of 28% of salary for 40 years in the private sector! More...

This morning on RTE Radio 1's flagship news programme Morning Ireland, a representative of the Aer Lingus pilots/shareholders, outlined their case for the application of a model in relation to international bases, which the airline may establish, that is the antithesis of the model that has been the central pillar of Irish economic development for the last half-century i.e. principally American companies could set up operations in Ireland and operate in accordance with local market conditions.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on Tuesday had given the pilots' union a hope of a fudge on conditions for pilots at the new base in Belfast, by saying that both sides should resume talks. It's a tack that has worked fine for a while during times of plenty, with the likes of sham benchmarking, but sometimes a clear line must be drawn.

Some time later on Morning Ireland, a representative of the Irish Medical Association outlined why doctors are threatening a strike at Dublin's Beaumont Hospital because of the reduction in overtime. Not too long ago, the whinge was that junior doctors were expected to work too long. Surprise! surprise!

In both cases - excess and inadequate overtime, the ostensible concern is safety of patients.

Another morning it could be medical consultants carping about salaries of over €200,000 being "mickey-mouse" money or teacher unions whinging about some grievance, all on behalf of the patients again or the school children.

In the hidden Ireland, there are hundreds of thousands with no job security and on terms and benefits that pale in comparison with those of the vested interests that have a firm grip on the public megaphone.

IBEC, which represents large Irish employers, said on Tuesday that in the period 1999 to 2006, compensation per private sector employee in Ireland rose by 42%, compared to 15% in the euro area, and just 7.5% in Germany.

Politicians pay increased about 90% in the period and the rest of the public service in the period 2001-2006 saw their pay increase by 38% (additional staff are excluded in arriving at figure) compared with a rise of 19% in the average industrial wage which is €32,000 - not too much more than Trevor Sargent TD, who lives in Balbriggan, North Dublin, claimed in travel expenses last year.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen said last week that the Benchmarking Body in making comparisons is likely to give greater weight to the value of the public service pension package "in view of developments in relation to pensions across the economy in recent years."


A private sector worker can provide for the equivalent of a public service pension for a maximum of two-thirds of final salary for retirement. However, 28% of salary would have to be put aside every year for 40 years to do so.

In the private sector, there are 900,000 workers without any occupational coverage.

Having a grip of the public megaphone pays dividends big time and the politicians are good at feathering their own nests.

One can well ask, where is the outrage from the hidden Ireland?

Anyone for Benchmarking.....but perish the thought that there would be public sector reform.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Happy 10th Birthday Irish Planning Corruption Tribunal; Land Rezoning Reform: ZERO

Dublin Castle, the location of public corruption tribunals -Politicians were revealed to have sold their integrity for as low as €3,000.

The corrupt land rezoning system that makes multi-millionaire of farmers and others, is immune from reform.

Irish politicians are not known for political courage or conviction, whether in the area of social policy that is left to the Courts or economic issues that would challenge vested interests.

For more than four decades, the Irish population has been threatened with shame and embarrassment by being hauled before the courts for non-payment of a television licence - or let's call it a tax, for this purpose.

During much of that time, anyone who could evade taxes, did it on a massive scale and to borrow a line from the late Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley, who recently hit the news by willing her dog $12 million: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."

Some of our little people, were charmed by a political leader such as Charles Haughey and bought into a plot similar to the James Stewart 1946 film It's A Wonderful Life.

In our history, the name "Oliver Cromwell" and the word "landlord" has induced frisson in many an Irish person.

Haughey's mentor, current Taoiseach Bertie Ahern however has done a good makeover on the word "landlord" with another sequel to the James Stewart story. This time, the angel Clarence in the person of Michael Wall brings a case full of cash to the distraught "George Bailey." The angel as the landlord, not only wills his house to the tenant but in the event of the tenant's death, to the latter's children.

There are believers in UFOs and yarns but beyond stories of sterling and dollars, there are two striking aspects to the Irish Planning Corruption Tribunal that will celebrate its tenth anniversary next month.

News of the nexus between land rezoning - Ireland's crack cocaine - and politics is no news. Secondly, after a decade of public confirmation of corruption, the system that spawned the corruption, has been subject to ZERO reform.

The days of the brown envelope may be past but anyone who believes that the incentives for more subtle forms of corruption have abated, is an idiot, given the huge value changes that rezoning decisions, or the prospect of them, trigger.

Is there a prospect of change? Absolutely not.

My mother used to say to expect nothing and you won't be disappointed. In that regard, it is arguable that the Green Party leadership has done more damage to the reputation of politics in recent times, than anyone else.

John Gormley's Faustian bargain for power is not tied to measurable objectives such as changing the corrupt rezoning system but to more stellar ones such as saving the polar ice-cap. While important too, the reality is that an Irish politician, representing 4 million from a global population of 6.5 billion, has to comply with EU targets and piggy-back on the credit of others from more significant economies, if there will be anything to brag about.

The Irish Times reported last May: Green Party leader Trevor Sargent described the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as a political "dead man walking" and claimed no party would be willing to serve in a coalition government led by him because of the questions about his personal finances.

He said he could not "see any party to be honest accepting the moral authority which is expected of a taoiseach with Bertie Ahern in that office".

"I feel that Bertie Ahern as a result of the Tánaiste essentially calling him a liar is politically now a dead man walking. When people vote for Fianna Fáil the question will be on their minds as to who they are voting for as leader because it's very likely it won't be Bertie Ahern."

He added: "The questions of his own personal finances and his relations with individuals which he didn't want to make public but has been made public, does, I believe, call for a new start in Irish politics where standards are set at the very highest level which take out any confusion about vested interests and who controls decision making in Government."

Trust me? And the same people bewail widespread cynicism!

Within weeks, Trevor Sargent avidly drank the soup despite the cant on moral authority and became a Minister in Ahern's Government!

On September 26th, Green Party Leader John Gormley spoke in support of Bertie Ahern in a Dáil confidence debate: When the Green Party made the decision to enter Government last June, its members knew a process was in train and that the Taoiseach was due to give evidence to the Mahon tribunal. It has been our consistent line that we will await the outcome of that tribunal. It is important that the tribunal be allowed to conduct its work unimpeded and that no attempt is made to prejudge the outcome.

Consistent? Four months is a long time to be consistent!

Change does happen eventually in Ireland but don't doubt that it's at a slower pace than the glacial speed in the Arctic and the penny may well drop at some point for the Dr Faustus of modern Irish politics.

The message on the one tax - the television licence - that continues to get promotion on the broadcasting airwaves, has also changed in recent times.

Besides scaring the little people, business owners who may be dawdling the day away watching trash daytime TV, are now also under threat of shame and embarrassment not only in the courts but in front of staff, when an inspector calls.

That's progress at least, if not a little more democratic but dare anyone impinge on the potential bonanzas for farmers - who are already largely dependent for most of their income on European taxpayers, and continue to have the opportunity of a double-dip with the system of rezoning, paid for dearly by house purchasers!

John Gormley's Planet Bertie Speech Feb 2007

Irish Politics and the Value of "Values" - - Minister for the Environment and Green Party leader says in Feb 2007 that the Fianna Fáil party is "without vision or values" and that Michael McDowell, then PD leader was Bertie Ahern's Tammy Wynette - Stand by your Man - a role Gormley plays months later.

Gormley may well have done more damage to the reputation of Irish politics than Bertie Ahern because of the huge gulf between his words and actions.

Postscript: It will be reassuring that a poll apparently conducted by the Sunday Independent among 400 people on Friday, by a team of "professional telephone pollsters", has found that the public's support for Bertie Ahern has not wavered.

The identities of the "professional telephone pollsters" is not given in contrast with polls published by other newspapers. Readers have to make up their own minds if the poll is a figment of someone's imagination.

Whether it's the Wall Street Journal, the Irish Independent or the Irish Times, no serious newspaper has its staff call people from the phone book and then present it as a poll.

If the poll did take place, it's clear that it wasn't scientific.

Anyway, the Taoiseach's satisfaction rating "remains rock solid" at 50 per cent, five points ahead of Mr Kenny (45 per cent), with the new Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore at 43 per cent.

The Greens leader, John Gormley, "will be heartened" by his emergence as the second most popular leader (47 per cent), a possible reflection of his continued support for Mr Ahern (what a surprise???), and of his party honouring its deal to stay in Government, in the face of huge political and media pressure in the aftermath of the Taoiseach's evidence to the Mahon Tribunal.

The so-called "poll" appears to be another front in a newspaper war.

Sunday Business Post Political Correspondent Pat Leahy writes:

The Taoiseach’s future has become a sort of ideological battleground between two newspapers, neither of which takes prisoners.

The Sunday Independent has followed its abrupt pre-election u-turn by backing Ahern aggressively in its news pages and in many of its opinion columns. The Irish Daily Mail - and particularly its Sunday edition, a direct competitor for mid-market readers - has hounded Ahern relentlessly and mercilessly.

It is a brutal commercial conflict, personalised by the antipathy many of the journalists on each paper appear to feel for their rivals, an antipathy that is openly acknowledged. Recently one Sunday Independent columnist decried the ‘‘British newspaper’’ for trying to take down an ‘‘elected Irish Taoiseach’’.

The Mail responds by boasting of its scoops on Ahern’s finances and sneering at the Sunday Independent’s sudden conversion to Ahern’s cause.

The Mail says the facts are against Ahern; the Sunday Independent says the people are on his side.Maybe both will turn out to be right. But Ahern has fought his last election as leader of his party; the support of the people is not as important for him as it was before May.

And one thing is certain: Fianna Fail will not fight an election to save him.