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"!