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Shathead

Villager likes Shatter. Well likes is a little strong.  Likes more than any other Fine Gael member of government, apart from Frances Fitzgerald,  perhaps. Or respects. Anyone that annoys the Garda, the legal profession and judges, inspires a debate on their respective contributions to the common good and then wins it, deserves a little indulgence. It is entirely predictable that he will be replaced just as he implements the Troika-mandated Competition Authority recommendations on the legal profession. That said, of course he should have resigned over leaking details of Wallace’s trivial traffic incident – even McDowell at least complained he was saving the state when he tried it on with Frank Connolly. There was no possible justification or proportion to Shatter’s action, which was committed in front of the Garda and which the Garda decided to overlook. We do not live in a police state and information received by Ministers, particularly the Minister for Justice, must be treated with scrupulous discretion. Tellingly, Shatter hasn’t helped his own case by revealing any corroboration: Villager presumes someone knows if the Minister likes a drink (though he seems like a man who would, perhaps, drink on his own, if at all), and indeed if he suffers terribly from the asthma, for which no proof has been offered. Meanwhile, Villager is concerned at rumours that Shatter has a class of superinjunction out against coverage of the prices charged by his former law firm. Certainly there’s been a precipitous decline in media mention of this once controversial issue.

 

Bitter PIL

Unfortunately for him, Shatter was the latest member of the cabinet to come under the spotlight of non-party activist network ‘Independent Resistance’, when ten members of the group held a silent vigil outside the minister’s home in the leafy suburb of Ballinteer, Co Dublin on Sunday 2 June. Independent Resistance is a broad network of anti-austerity and community-rights-based groups, joined together by collective endorsement of a six-point economic strategy for prosperity and sovereignty put forward by Professor Terrence McDonagh of NUI Galway. Members see the network as an alternative to the anti-austerity campaigns covertly driven by ‘Marxism-based’ political parties in Ireland.

Organisers (including a number of academics) claimed they were holding the vigil as a response to the Personal Insolvency Legislation (PIL) and Shatter’s plans to make home evictions more expedient through empowering County Registrars as special judges to preside over debt cases in the courts. This is already practised informally throughout the country with Dundalk being an example where the County Registrar, who is also the Sheriff, sits in her own court, handing out repossession notices, enforcing them and in doing so enriching the Sheriff’s office that receives a percentage of the value of the repossessed home or articles. One placard at the vigil read “You leave our homes alone and we’ll leave your home alone”.

Independent Resistance also held silent vigils outside the home of Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, last month. A number of the network’s founding members held an eight-week rolling vigil outside of the house of then Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern’s, in 2011. In Ahern’s case he resigned and stated that the protesters were “the last straw” describing them in local media as “worse than the Provos”.

 

Dishonest and corrupt people are dishonest and corrupt

The editor was going to synopsise the findings of the report Village has commissioned on private prosecutions against dishonest bankers and tribunal villains. But the legal advice was to keep it quiet for the moment. And all of us here in the sweat-pit that is Village always follow the legal advice: senior counsel chose the headline for this paragraph, for example. Anyway, it’s all happening…

 

Crash to crèche

37 inspectors to monitor 4,700 crèches and pre-schools? Sounds like the beef industry. Or the industrial schools. Or planning or building-regulation compliance? Or the banks?

 

Gonzaga

What secondary school do parents whose toddlers send them to a crèche called Little Harvard go to?

 

The big issues: corporation tax

Irish journalism famously confuses on the big issues (does Nama make a profit, can we renege on our debts to bondholders, is Enda Kenny an eejit, what colour is Shatter’s hair etc). Corporation tax is no different. So, after a fortnight’s scintillating media debate, we know that we charge 12.5% Corporation tax, although there seems to be a problem and our grown-up friends abroad think we’ve a special deal with Apple, though that’s sort-of not true. In fact, just like in France where the  official rate is 32% but the actual rate 8.2%, you need to look behind the headline. In 2011 Michael Noonan said our effective rate was 11%. But we do better for our IT companies. In fact there’s a special tax rate on income arising from intellectual property (IP) which can be as low as 2.5%. Up to 80% of the cost of acquiring IP can be set off. You don’t need to create the IP in Ireland you just need to operate in Ireland and buy the IP here, wherever it has been created (Palo Alto, normally). So you just bump up the cost of acquiring the IP and bingo, you pass for a tax genius, and fleece the ordinary man across invisible borders. Who cares if it’s a ‘special deal’: it’s globalism, and Ireland majors in it.

 

Hari Nama

Similarly, news that NAMA claims to have made a profit of €224m boggled the brains of the nation for a few days recently. What it means is that some of the loans that Nama bought at discounted prices (remember haircuts) were sold at a profit over the last year. Of course NAMA has carefully chosen to sell the best of its portfolio – 80% of its asset sales since inception have been in Britain. Clever, but meaningless for the prospect of the agency getting this country back the €32bn it has invested. A shocking augury is that the likes of Harry Crosbie have indicated that NAMA, before it pulled the plug on him, was expecting him to repay only the discounted price NAMA paid for his loans, not the price the likes of Crosbie originally paid. €7.5bn down and €24.5bn to repay, to real profitability.

 

The best lack all conviction

Ireland is the only country in the European Union that does not have a scheme for the expungement of certain convictions after a set period of time. Eight million people in the UK have a conviction (just under 13% of the total population). The UK Ministry of Justice has found that 33% of men aged 53 have at least one conviction; 9% of women aged 53 have at least one conviction. It is likely that a comparable proportion of Irish people are affected. The Irish Penal Reform Trust says that at least half the calls it receives relate to spent convictions and/or Garda vetting, mostly from people who received a conviction for a minor offence such as drunk and disorderly, sometimes committed 2 or 3 decades ago, and who continue to experience barriers to work, training, and emigration.

 

Machynlleth 

George Monbiot is a man for all seasons. His latest book, ‘Rewilding’, outlining a radical new agenda for land-management has created a concept that will last a millennium. Monbiot moved to Wales some years ago and, though a farmer on a recent BBC Newsnight programme about the idea claimed Public School-educated Monbiot hadn’t been able to hack it there, he remains in Machynlleth. In 2010, Monbiot wrote a column about urban planning for the Guardian, in which he made the inspired case that new estates should be built around a common green on which children could safely play:

“Most importantly, the houses face inwards, and no cars are allowed inside the square: the roads serve only the backs of the buildings. The square is overlooked by everyone, which means that children can run in and out of their houses unsupervised, create their own tribes and learn their own rules, without fear of traffic accidents or molesters. There’s a council estate a bit like this across the road from my house. Whenever I pass through it on a dry day in the holidays, I see dozens of children playing there”.

Tragically, that is the place from which, on 1 October 2012, April Jones was abducted and murdered by former slaughterhouse worker, Mark Bridger, recently sentenced to life imprisonment. He claims he cannot remember where he buried her.

 

Tryanair

Ryanair wants to buy out Aer Lingus.  But competition authorities may actually want it to sell off the stake it currently retains. The EU’s Court of Justice held in 2010 that it could not force a divestment since Ryanair did not have control of Aer Lingus but in late May Britain’s Competition Commission found Ryanair’s 29.9% stake constituted a ‘relevant merger event’, ie an event that would lead to common control or ownership. Worse, it found that it had lessened competition in British markets. The British decision is only provisional but a final decision, due in July, could force a sell off on routes to Britain.  Worse still, a revised EU Merger Regulation may actually make it now possible for the Commission to order divestment of a stake that is less than controlling.

 

Hokey dokey

Amiable veteran sports broadcaster Bill O’Herlihy merely moonlights as chair of RTÉ’s soccer panel, and indeed Chairman of the Irish Film Board. He is in fact, as he has declared himself, primarily a PR dude. His company, O’Herlihy Communications, recently ‘withdrew’ a claim that it advises the Government, after being accused of a potential conflict of interest by Ash, an anti-smoking group. O’Herlihy attended the meeting Taoiseach Enda Kenny held with a delegation of senior tobacco industry figures in May. He advises the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers’ Advisory Committee. It’s called leveraging public goodwill to do evil. O’Herlihy Communications’ website had claimed that staff “have worked in government at the highest levels” and that “we have been official advisers to the current and past government”. The latter assertion was removed after a query from the Irish Times. O’Herlihy was media adviser to Fine Gael under Garret FitzGerald in the 1970s. He has used that background to advance his company.

For example, he mounted a vicious and fractious campaign in an area near where he lived in Cabinteely in favour of Monarch Properties’ scheme for Cherrywood in the early 1990s. He gave controversial evidence to the Planning Tribunal – claiming that the project manager of the development, Richard Lynn, had told him that it was not possible to get a planning application or a material contravention (Section 4) through Dublin County Council unless it was bought. According to Mr O’Herlihy, who had been retained by Monarch Properties as their public relations expert for Cherrywood, Mr Lynn confirmed to him that money – £127,000 – had been paid. Marshalling all the ethics of the avuncular grandee he is, O’Herlihy continued to work for his corrupt employers, touting the project which  he knew had little chance of being built the way his propaganda claimed it would be (full-grown trees, no roads, ‘Moroccan Village’ architecture). In the end the Tribunal found that many of Monarch’s cash donations to councillors were corrupt, though of course no-one has been prosecuted.

In May Ash Ireland wrote to the Taoiseach suggesting O’Herlihy’s claim to be an adviser to the Government and to the tobacco industry constituted a breach of EU guidelines and was “a totally unacceptable and disquieting conflict of interest which warrants investigation and clarification”.  A spokesman for Mr O’Herlihy said the statement online was not correct and the wording would be changed. “It sounds like someone got carried away while designing the website”, he said. For the Irish Times to quote this spurious and Orwellian attempt by a cynical PR firm to distance itself from its own central operations, tells a tale of deferential ‘mediacrity’. Letters seen by the Irish Times showed that O’Herlihy made pre-budget pleas to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton last November not to increase the price of cigarettes. “Excise increases merely generate greater sales for illegal cigarettes,” he argued in the letter, adding: “Ireland, with the most expensive cigarettes in the EU, is fertile ground for criminals who trade in smuggled cigarettes”. Noonan stated he attended the May 7th meeting with the industry because of concerns about smuggling and the loss of revenue to the State. Minister John Perry chaired a ‘roundtable’ (how nice!) meeting with the industry on the same issue last year. Britain decided not to remove branding because of such fears. Meanwhile, the boss of Ireland’s biggest tobacco company, JTI, which sells Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut among other brands, has said it will sue if necessary over the government’s plan  to depress brand-slave smokers by requiring that cigarette packaging is entirely plain.

 

Holy Joery

1916 Irish rebel leader James Connolly, an atheist, turned to God in the final hours before his death and renewed his Catholic faith according to an unpublished book which has just come to light. Journalist Tim Kendall, a friend of Queen Mary, tells how his grandfather George Kendall, chaplain to the 59th division of the British Army which was sent to Dublin to help put down the Rising, witnessed Connolly’s renewal of his Catholicism. The revelation is contained in a manuscript found in an old filing box of documents in England. An admiring Kendall was at Connolly’s side in the hours before the Citizen’s army leader was executed for his part in leading the 1916 rising. For an atheist the holy-joery was some hypocrisy. Connolly is of course one of the founders of the Labour Party. So it sounds like an early example of a Labour leader wrestling with his conscience and winning.

 

Be nimble

Connolly was also a leading light in the ITGWU which evolved into SIPTU in 1990. Soon after defeat of the Croke Park II earlier this year, SIPTU’s current head, Jack O’Connor, who had supported the agreement, told Vincent Browne that his position depended on his assessment that SIPTU members would get a worse deal from government if Croke Park II broke down. Well, Villager finds O’Connor an honourable and thoughtful fellow but nothing now on the table seems to constitute a setback for the interests of union members and we must conclude that his assessment was wrong and the tenability of his overall position dubious. Meanwhile, the unions that recommended a No vote now find their members changing their minds.

 

Gentleman in Red

So Rosanna Davidson’s soon-to-be father-in-law Richard Quirke, promoter of the Borris casino and owner of amusement arcades including Dr Quirkey’s on O’Connell St, settled with the Revenue after it found “the application of incorrect VAT to income earned”. Interestingly the O’Connell St vipers’ den never got planning permission to extend into the old Carlton Cinema.  Quirke has benefited from a lax regime there for years.  Being an ex Garda – albeit one who left under a cloud, does him no harm.

 

Lost without one

Nathan Deal, governor of Georgia, recently overturned a court ruling that it was improper to allow distribution of Gideon bibles to properties in the famously lovely Georgia state parks. Ed Buckner, a former head of Atheists America, had found no less than nine bibles in a cabin he was staying in. Fair-minded Mr Deal noted “any group is free to distribute literature” so Atheists America took this as a deal, and asked to distribute books by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins to the parks’ lovely cottages.  But while the godless ones waited for guidance on how to start distributing, Deal told the local newspaper he “cannot guarantee their safety”. Of course the bible is quite popular in Georgia (there isn’t really an Irish equivalent:  perhaps Fintan O’Toole’s ‘Ireland in 100 Objects’). The most famous Georgian, peanut-farming former President, Jimmy Carter, revealed: “for the last 35 or more years my wife and I have read the Bible as the last thing every night. One night she reads aloud and then the next night I read aloud. Then we have discussions about what we read to each other”.

 

A future half empty

Google Glasses look like funky spectacles but projects an array of relevant images and choices for its wearers. One of these is to take photographs just with a word of command. Villager feels that such technology may work in theory but it will not work in a world run in the interest of humans. In the course of the day we all see things not fit to show to our lovers or to appear in the National Enquirer. One insidious look down from your mate in the gents and your genitalia will set the web alight for eternity. It just won’t work. Julian Assange, in reviewing for the New York Times a recent book in which Google’s maestros share their vision of the world cautions above all to “know your enemy”: “if you want a vision of the future, imagine Washington-backed Google Glasses strapped onto vacant human faces — forever”. A debate also rages over whether to allow face-identifiaction-technology on to the Glasses. Villager looks forward to Google Glass going the way of Google Plus, Google Wave and Google Buzz.

 

Pro-eyed

Where do they get the models for those pro-life campaigns, vigils etc? The child-like eyes focused at the horizon, the perfect skin, the youthful idealism.  Upon reflection, they’re identikit Youth Defence members – remember the now-elusive Nic Mhathúna sisters, and the look they’re going for is… foetal.

 

Buy, buy

The 2.02 acres veterinary-college site in the centre of Ballsbridge originally bought by developer Ray Grehan for more than €171m  is now being marketed by Jones Lang LaSalle with a guide price of “over €15m” – 8.7% of the 2004 tumefaction. Though of course Dunner paid even more per acre for Hume House, nearby, it’s still rented out so Villager reckons Grehan, newly-minted free of his €300m debts after a London bankruptcy and – ludicrously – now ‘Africa-based’, holds the record for worst buy.

 

Hackaleese

And you thought his attendance record in the Seanad, before he abdicated, was the worst thing about him. The UN Committee on Torture has responded to the investigation by Martin McAleese into the Magdalene Laundries. The McAleese report, warmly received by religious institutions and even the Irish Times’ Patsy McGarry who can normally be relied on for an anti-Catholic perspective, stated that no evidence exists that abuse took place in the laundries, despite the existence of hundreds of pages of testimony describing incidents of physical and mental cruelty considered by McAleese and his team. Felice Gaer, vice-chair of the UN Committee on Torture in a letter to the UN representative in Ireland wrote: “the report lacks many elements of a prompt, independent and thorough investigation…specifically the committee has recieved information from several sources highlighting that the McAleese Report despite its length and detail did not conduct a fully independent investigation into allegations of arbitrary detention, forced labour or ill treatment”. It was Ms Gaer’s Committee Against Torture and its 2010 report into the laundries that forced the government to launch an inquiry in the first place.

Gaer also wonders “whether the Quirke investigation process [on redress for survivors] will have independent statutory powers, be transparent and subject to an appeals process, and independently monitored” and Ireland  “intends to set up an inquiry body that is independent with definite terms of reference and statutory powers to compel evidence and retain evidence from relevant religious bodies”. Well, does it?

 

BMWhopper

All motor manufacturers manipulate their fuel-consumption figures. An Taisce is calling on the EU to resist the delaying tactics of these car manufacturers and adopt the new global testing standard which will become available in 2014 and give consumers fuel-test results that they can trust. BMW is responsible for the most inaccurate and misleading fuel consumption data. They are followed closely by Audi and Mercedes. A new report, released by the International Council on Clean Transportation, shows that the average BMW uses 30% more fuel than the Bavarian carmaker claims. Audi is next worst, at  28%, while Mercedes/Daimler is not much better, using 26% more fuel than ‘official test results’. Examples of dodgy practices that make a mockery of the ‘official’ EU efficiency test include:

  • taping over the crevices between the car’s doors (to reduce air drag);
  • over-inflating the tyres (to minimise rolling resistance);
  • disconnecting the battery (because recharging it uses fuel);
  • using Formula 1 grade lubricant (to optimise the engine);
  • removing or disconnecting items such as the radio aerial, the passenger side mirror, air conditioning, etc.

Toyota’s manipulation is far less with a gap of 15% between claimed efficiency and real-world performance – hardly impressive.

 

Power (hosing) comes to Fermanagh

When it was first announced that this year’s G8 summit would be held in Co Fermanagh, British Prime Minister David Cameron grandiloquently stated the potential for a “brilliant advertisement” for the North. It is a “great place for business, a great place for investment”, he orated from a platform at a forklift truck manufacturer in Co Armagh last November.

At the very least, it can appear to be a great place for business. In the lead up to the summit, a widespread policy of covering up dereliction has been “accelerated”, according to Minister for the Environment, Alex Attwood. This includes painting, power-hosing, and the widely reported flowerifying of once-prosperous business spaces with window paintings. In the one-street town of Belcoo, a former well known butcher’s shop had coloured stickers applied to the windows suggesting a packed meat counter and that business is booming.

Overall, £2m has been spent by Attwood’s Department in the North.

It might be more difficult to paste over the economic hardship of the scenic locale considering the five-star Lough Erne luxury hotel and golf resort, which will host the summit, has been in receivership since 2011 and is on the market for €10m.

 

In the Sunday Times’ attic

Does anyone know who John Burns is? Well, he’s the guy who shapes around in the background of the Sunday Times but never appears in the outside media or goes for the job of editor when it becomes available there. Villager thinks he might be deputy editor (Associate ed, Ed). Anyway he’s had this ‘news’ ‘miscellany’ column to fill for the last little while for the Murdoch-owned title. It’s called Atticus (Atticus the Platonist, Atticus Finch, Atticus Ross?) in an effort to make it sound even more pompous than ‘Villager’. Anyway Villager takes solace that at least he doesn’t have to resort to stories about malapropisms and tea, Atticus’ staple. The thing is that he seems to have it in for little Village, using his over-remunerated, over-proofread Atticus vehicle as hammer. In July last year Burns noted that we slagged off Elaine Byrne’s serial misuse of words in a piece that was missing a comma in the right place. Wow, Mr Atticus. That was on a page of the Sunday Times which misspelt tea “cosey” (more tea, by the way). Then earlier this  year, he noted that Village’s Contributing Editor, John Gormley, had tweeted that the Examiner group was about to  go under. Burns derided Village’s (actually now quite respectable) finances and Gormley for getting it so wrong. But two weeks later Gormley was proved prescient and Burns exposed as just uninformed. Now Burns is back. He noted that Villager, in our last edition, confounded The Great Leaders of North Korea. Round 3 to Burns. Kim Jong-un has indeed replaced Kim Jong-il. But, not content with his victory, the elusive Burns said that, because it runs a Village Idiot page, this magazine is somehow “smug”. Smug, Mr Atticus?

The editor, incidentally puts it all down to some legalistic correspondence he had to send to Burns during his litigation-fetish period.

 

Grand Social Rage

Vincent Salafia (the man whose litigation let the motorway through Tara off the hook) is back. Long-time litigator, camper, JD, law lecturer in Queen’s. Now promoter. He’s fronting an event called Rage Against the Regime, which will be launched at the Grand Social venue in Dublin’s City Centre on 13 June, and will run from 8.00pm until 2.30am. It is a new monthly political event, incorporating debate, live music, comedy, art, film, spoken word, and dance. The event, which takes place in three different rooms simultaneously, will be broadcast live on the Internet, and anyone can participate via social networking. Sounds good but do try to avoid Vincent himself.

 

Meaningful surnames

Congratulations to Mount Anville’s Samantha Power on her appointment as US ambassador to the UN. And indeed to Tom Hayes, the new junior minister in agriculture. Grist to Villager’s ongoing campaign to have it recognised that meaningful surnames reflect a truth. Like Burns.