Villager April 2015

Just shut up

Villager is interested in the notion of ‘guest’ as applied to the ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’ show. The status seems to be precarious. Tom Cooney, a pro-Israeli former advisor to Alan Shatter, was told to leave after interrupting, Jerry Beades was ejected after being invited to ‘shut up’ (“just leave if you’re not going to stop talking”) and now SIPTU’s Jack O’Connor whose departure admittedly was his own idea has suffered the ignominy of being followed out of the studio by an unhostly invitation to ‘Hit the Road Jack’ and raucous studio laughter. After the ignominy, journalist Colette Browne feared that – much worse – O’Connor might be stuck for an invidious half hour watching the gaiety while a taxi was called to TV3’s studio in far-flung Ballymount.

All of this is fine when you don’t like the victim; and Israel, and the New Land League, certainly need robust criticism.  SIPTU, the Labour Party and the issue of TV3 not being unionised deserve it less.

The problem with the ‘Tonight  Show’ is that – uniquely – the dignity of all the  guests is in play. As well of course as that of the presenter. And sometimes that of the issue.

No one-horse towns

The latest statistics show that 80% of journeys made in Ireland (outside Dublin) in 2013 were by car – driving (74%) or driven (6%).


Joan Burton is proposing a cap on the property tax when the freeze on increases registers at the end of the year. Villager can’t remember where that fits in the socialist handbook. Karl Marx of course wanted to abolish private property, so  just crucifying it with taxes should be allowed.

In similar spirit, the coalition government was happy to abolish the 80% tax on windfall profits to land speculators, which had been introduced at Green insistence, without a solitary murmur from anyone in the Labour Party.

Ya can’t eat planning

Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, isn’t really a man for any of that old leftie stuff relating to land, planning or anything really. According to the Irish Times. Mr Kelly is considering allowing builders of one-off houses to “opt out” of the usual certification requirements. It’s of a piece with recent news that the inspection regime for the country’s 500,000 septic tanks – agreed with the increasingly pliable EU, would take 500 years to complete, even though nearly three quarters of them are “high risk”.

Kelly and his Minister of state Paudie Coffey have announced a review of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 “to consider in particular the impact of S.I. No. 9 of 2014 on single dwellings and extensions to existing dwellings having regard to specific concerns which have been raised in relation to the cost burden of the regulations and the level of certification required for this sector”. This is code for a nod to planning-control anarchy.

Unlawful Society

Villager returns to the case of Kenmare-based solicitor, Colm Murphy, who was struck off from the Roll of Solicitors in 2009 on foot on foot of complaints from another solicitor, Fergus Appelbe. Murphy took a case against the Law Society which failed to investigate Appelbe until very recently when he was finally restricted as to how he can practise. Appelbe is a former member of the Law Society Conveyancing Committee and was the subject of two ‘Today Tonight’ investigations in 1997/8 into his conduct. He and his various companies are now also in overwhelming debt – to a sum in excess of €100m much of which will have to be borne by the state.

Allegations of “repeated skulduggery on the part of officials of the Law Society” were aired in the Supreme Court last year as part of Murphy’s claim of breach of duty, negligence, defamation and misfeasance of public office against them. Murphy claimed that his striking off was based on spurious and inaccurate information provided by the Law Society to its Disciplinary Tribunal and the High Court ten years ago. Key to the decision to strike him from the roll had been a claim by a law society official, Linda Kirwan, that Murphy had breached an undertaking he had given to the President of the High Court. Kirwan insisted at various hearings against Murphy that she had been in the High Court on the day the undertaking was made. It was only after the unfortunate Murphy was struck off that she admitted that she was not in fact in the court when the supposed undertaking was made. No such undertaking is recorded in the order from the court issued on the day in question.

The three judges of the Supreme Court decided in March that the Law Society had misled Judge Hanna in the High Court. They were critical of Ken Murphy, the Society’s Director General and suggested that Colm Murphy could resume practicing as a solicitor and that there would be a full hearing in respect of his compensation claim. The judges awarded costs for the Supreme Court hearing and all costs of the High Court to Murphy (Colm not Ken).

Constantly keen Ken

Last year Ronán Lynch, formerly of the Centre for Public Inquiry and now of the Westport-based Lafferty Financial Group, broke some icons in this magazine to analyse the guests on Marian Finucane’s weekend radio show. He found of 255 guests over the year no less than 26 were legal professionals – somewhat fewer than politicians (36), academics (25) and businesspeople (18). In the last two months this same Ken Murphy, the moustachioed head Law Society honcho, appeared twice including once (February 10) to give an enthusiastic endorsement of Magna Carta – as if that has anything to do with the way the legal profession runs today; and on April 5 to wax uncontroversially about the print media, Fianna Fáil and the issues of the day.

Ok, Marian show: you’re not fulfilling your obligation to broadcasting having so many lawyers on your show. They don’t need people like you enfranchising them and mainstreaming their influence – they’ve rigged the system through their contacts already. Does someone in there know Ken or why do you keep showcasing him? Why don’t you ever ask him about solicitors’ anti-competitive practices and overcharging or about the scandalous failures to prosecute particular solicitors – and indeed the tendency to prosecute the wrong ones?

Chief Just Ice

Moving to the acceptable face of the  legal profession, 25 readings taken by our diplomatic and forensically elegant Chief Justice, Susan Denham, during a week in January showed the temperature in the Supreme Court and its conference room in the Four Courts complex varied between 13.5 and 19 degrees. Accustomed to stalactites freezing from the keys on his Remington typewriter in the ice box that is what passes for the Village office, Villager wasn’t sure whether it was meant to be plus or minus.

Bank bunk

Borrowing to fund the bank bailout costs around €1bn a year – a small fraction of the total fiscal adjustment of €30bn since 2008, according to John FitzGerald – now almost indistinguishable from the presence his deceased Dad Garret used to represent in the Irish Times.

Objectively most of the fiscal problem was caused by increased public-sector payments. Villager notes that in the period 2001-2006 public-sector salaries rose 59%; payroll went up 18% – 38,000 additional workers; and pensions increased by 81.3. The education sector saw the biggest increase with pay costs rising by 65%. Health sector pay surged by 63%, civil service salaries rose 48%. By contrast the  average industrial wage rose only 19%.

Liveline for intellectuals

A new Irish podcast, free to download,, lets you get your voice on the internet instead of just wasting your day there. Here’s How, Ireland’s political, social and current affairs podcast allows listeners call 076 603 5060 any time and record a voice mail of up to three minutes on a topic of their choice, which is then played in the next episode. William Campbell, the show’s presenter, also interviews politicians, representatives of pressure groups, and anyone else who’ll have him. The point is to provide an (even) more intelligent analysis of issues than you might hear on live radio phone-ins.

2015’s suite of neologisms

This year’s exciting new political conversation-fillers are borrowed from best international practice: The all-purpose “Let’s be clear” and the simple but surprisingly crafty “Look!” are as at home on the BBC’s ‘Today’ show as on Marian. Straight-talking is what it’s all (not) about. The fine new gambits are filling space formerly occupied in this country by “we are where we are” and ‘going forward”.

We all miss even earlier modalities including  the vacuous “ruling nothing in and ruling nothing out” from the Ahern era and the Haughey era “hand, act or part”, “not a scintilla” and “good, bad or indifferent”, all of which were intended to buy time so the speaker could ensure that the next sentence chimed with the previous sentence’s  lie.

Eamon Gil-less

Although he resigned on July 4th 2014, Eamon Gilmore’s website still refers to him as Tanaiste,  His twitter account disappeared from  July 3rd until February 27th but is back in force now banging on about housing in Sallynoggin and the like. Though tending his constituency, he has not contributed a word to the Dáil since 9 July 2014. He makes Terence Flanagan TD, who essentially cannot speak, look loquacious.

Bags, bins and water

His buddy Pat Rabbitte seemed to let the water out of the bag when he attacked the anti-water-charge campaigners on ‘The Week in Politics’ in late March: “Citizens are going to be left with accumulating debt that they need not have incurred. It happened in the case of the bin charges, and then the  leaders moved on to a new campaign, and the bin system was privatised,  That was the  outcome last time, and that is what will happen on this occasion”.

Even Fine Gael, Labour right-wing partners in government are denying Irish Water, which after all the country has taken so much to heart, will be flogged.

Dulce et decorum est

The Glasnevin Trust, necrologists for the 1.5m people interred in its cemetery, has come up with a list of the 485 men, women and children killed in Easter Week 1916, and intends to erect a wall at the cemetery on which the names of all will be inscribed.The breakdown of the casualties tells a tale. The majority of the dead were civilians – 54 per cent. The British Army and police accounted for 30 per cent of those killed, while just 16 per cent of the casualties were rebels.

A lover not a fighter

So Gerry Adams has told CBS he never pulled a trigger, ordered a murder or set off a bomb during the decades-long war in Northern Ireland that he helped to stop in 1994. Ed Moloney, who of course is not well disposed, notes: “There is no doubt that Gerry Adams was in the IRA and that he gave orders that led to others pulling triggers or setting off bombs and, of course, killing people. But he was not an operator by any stretch of the imagination”. The only story Moloney encountered of Adams being personally involved in violence was when – according to a contemporary of his in the pre-split IRA, the late Jim Hargey who kept friendly relations despite the subsequent parting of the ways – “Adams had fired shots at the British Army’s base in Ballymurphy, the Henry Taggart hall, very early on in the Troubles. That was at a time when there were nightly incidents like that… Gerry Adams’ lack of operational experience was well known within the IRA and a serious handicap when he began steering the Provos in a political direction”.

In 2003, using parliamentary privilege, the then DUP MP – and not notably reliable – Iris Robinson claimed that Adams was involved in the 1978 IRA La Mon restaurant bombing. Adams denied the allegation and said the remarks were made to deflect attention away from developments in the Stevens Inquiry into collusion.

More damagingly former Belfast IRA commander Brendan Hughes has named Adams as having ordered the murder and secret burial of Jean McConville in 1972. Former republican prisoner Evelyn Gilroy, who was active in Divis where Jean McConville was abducted, says that Adams was the only person in the position to order the murder. Among the abductors of McConville was Dolours Price, who has claimed that she did so on the orders of Adams. Hughes, and Price, also claimed that Adams was involved in approving IRA bomb attacks in London in the early 1970s. Former Garda Detective Superintendent PJ Browne has claimed that Adams was “the leader of the psychotic IRA unit in Belfast in the early 1970s”. Adams doesn’t mind a bit of old lying, as evidenced by the string of them he told the Belfast Crown Court about the  abuse by his brother Liam of Liam’s daughter, áine.

The CBS blurb notes “Many believe Adams could be the Republic of Ireland’s prime minister someday”.

Mandarin speakers wanted

No good will come of China’s five-year plan of 2011 which requires Chinese firms  to acquire advanced technology and high-quality brands from abroad and which is now registering as deals worldwide. Website Finfacts reported recently that Chinese investment into Europe is at record levels and at 50% higher than the US level. With 153 separate investments worth $18bn last year, Europe has emerged as one of the top destinations for Chinese foreign investment globally. The UK is the top destination and $55bn has been invested in Europe in five years but IDA Ireland, the Irish inward investment agency, has yet to have an impact.

We haven’t heard much recently about the €1.8bn   trading hub  and exhibition centre for Chinese and European companies proposed in 2010 for Athlone but Dalian Wanda, one of China’s largest and most ambitious conglomerates snapped up two deals in the UK, a year or two back, paying Irish firm Green Property £700m for a site in Wandsworth  that will incorporate a pair of new London skyscrapers to mirror the unedifying Shard further along the South Bank and including the first high-end Chinese hotel overseas; and buying Sunseeker Yachts for £320m from a consortium led by Peter Crowley, former CEO of IBI corporate finance; and brother of Village’s Niall and of former INM CEO, Laurence. Wanda is also the world’s largest cinema operator after buying AMC, the US chain, for £1.7bn In March China National Chemical Corporation (CNCC), a state-owned conglomerate has bought Pirelli, an Italian tyremaker, for €7bn.

In Britain, which has long been open to foreign ownership, Chinese firms have stakes in Thames Water and Heathrow airport. In France they have invested in Toulouse airport; in Club Med, a resort operator; and in PSA Peugeot Citroën, a carmaker whose deal with Dongfeng, in partnership with the French government, helped the firm return to profit in 2014; it is now selling more cars in China than in France. In Greece a Chinese firm runs part of the port of Piraeus, though Syriza is stymieing moves to sell off more of it. In Sweden Volvo, another carmaker, is also Chinese-owned. Geely’s acquisition of Volvo in 2010 was the impetus for  last year’s record sales of 465,900 cars.

Speak up there

Anti-corruption group, Transparency International (TI) Ireland, has published its first report based on data collected from over 500 whistleblowers, witnesses and victims of wrongdoing in Ireland deriving from the only free-phone non-profit helpline for whistleblowers, witness and victims of wrongdoing.

The ‘Speak Up Report’ suggests that the risk of corruption and other forms of wrongdoing is relatively high in Local Government and the Health Service, as well as Social Services including Charities, but TI Ireland’s Chief Executive John Devitt has warned against assuming that these sectors are more ‘corrupt’ than others.

The report identifies planning and public procurement as key risk areas for local authorities, while the high rate of whistleblower retaliation in the Health Sector (at 20% of calls) is highlighted as a source of concern.

Climate picnics may not be enough then

According to a recent Greenpeace-sponsored Climate Skillshare in Zurich there is no prospect of media developing other than a passing interest in climate issues until either: a) multiple extreme weather events or other climate-related crises (e.g. fodder) force them to address it and/or b) climate activists are creative, courageous and/or crazy enough to bring it to public attention through innovative and inspirational actions.

Cam off it

Villager doesn’t mind David Cameron (except for his beliefs and background of course). He’s quite articulate and rarely seems to make unforced mistakes; and unlike Ed Miliband he knows how to eat. Anyway he has declared himself an “evangelical” about his strong Christian faith and criticised some non-believers for failing to grasp the role that religion can have in “helping people to have a moral code”.

It comes after several big clashes between the coalition and the church, including a letter from 40 Anglican bishops and 600 church leaders calling on all political parties to tackle the causes of food poverty.

Writing for Premier Christianity, a Christian magazine and radio station, the prime minister talked about “hard work, fair play” and the importance of Christian “values”. His vagueness has irritated many practising Christians, and the piece has been criticised by the Guardian as a way of “fishing for votes”. Practising Anglicans were twice as  likely to vote Conservative in 2010 than Catholics were. Partly, this is cultural.


In October Sweden became the first Western government to recognise the state of Palestine. Margot Wallström, the foreign minister – once accused by the Economist magazine of offering a kum-bay-yah approach to her then European Commissionership – was duly invited to address a meeting of the Arab League on March 9th. Ms Wallstrom wrote a rather anodyne speech exhorting the member states to live up to their commitments on human rights, particularly women’s rights. Saudi Arabia objected, and the league blocked her from speaking. Now Sweden’s relations with much of the Arab world are in vortex.

On March 10th the Swedish government said it would revoke a weapons export agreement with Saudi Arabia that had been in place since 2005 and a few weeks ago Wallström denounced the subjugation of women in Saudi Arabia where women are prohibited from travelling, conducting official business or marrying without the permission of male guardians, and as girls can be forced into child marriages where they are effectively raped by old men. She attacked the Saudi courts for sentencing Raif Badawi to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed secularism and free speech – ‘mediaeval methods’, she said.

Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador and stopped issuing visas to Swedish travellers. The United Arab Emirates joined it. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Muslim-majority states, accused Sweden of failing to respect the world’s ‘rich and varied ethical standards’. Outside Sweden, the media have ignored the story, and the EU has passed on the opportunity to support her.

Saving trees from themselves

The tree surgeons are coming to the end of their pointless mission to save Merrion Square Park in Dublin from trees. Meanwhile, as Spring kicks in, the City Council also brings to the city the cutting of trees along the Grand Canal at Portobello. •