Picking at Piketty
“What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is in fact the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt, neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French State suffered for decades under this debt. The history of debt is full of iron”
– Thomas Piketty interviewed in Die Zeit
Villager loves Piketty and likes Germany (as they might say in an Aldi ad). But it’s a little unfair of the Frenchman not to note that there is a big difference between debt legitimately accrued and reparations. And Prussia is not Germany.
Keeping up with the changing Times
Villager is looking for an advertising slogan for Village. The Irish Times has some really horrible new ones starting with ‘You are what you read’. That certainly isn’t anywhere close to true, and saying so is bound to annoy readers none of whom can be that enthusiastic about the product now. It succeeds the 2013 campaign with the nice man in the dated jacket putting his hand through Kevin O’Sullivan’s wall: ‘The story of Why’. Worse still is the totally mundane audio-campaign featuring chief sports writer, Keith Duggan: “It’s a privilege to write about different sports”; and Róisín Ingle (who print ads tell us “writes about the things that speak to her; she takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary”): “When someone comes up to me and says you really made me laugh or they say I was cryin’ and everybody was looking at me. There’s something really amazing about bein’ able to do that”. And then: “Even though they’re very much about me, they’re my stories… if I’m enjoying written’ it then I kinda know that that’ll be one that’ll – touch people”. Villager is not open to being, and has not been, touched in this way.
This year’s MacGill summer school will look at our governance and the need for longer-term planning. Was that not last year’s theme, and the year’s before that?
Fair and accurate
Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists has asked Village to clarify the NUJ’s position on the Binchy High Court judgment on the Catherine Murphy/Denis O’Brien Dail reportage debacle. Its statement read “This is an unambiguous ruling in favour of democracy. The right of parliamentarians to speak under privilege is a cornerstone of our democracy and the right of the media to fairly and accurately report such proceedings is fundamental”. Village reported that the phrase “the right of the media to fairly and accurately report” implied that the media has no right to report “wrong-headed contributions”. Dooley points out that in fact: “On the contrary the NUJ believes in the right of the media to fully report what is said in parliament. The public has a right to know what’s said, regardless of whether it’s wrong-headed or not. It might even be argued that the public has a particular interest in knowing that a TD or senator has gone off on one and gone things totally wrong! Saying reporting should be fair and accurate is not the same as saying the comments reported upon should be fair and accurate”.
Very Important, the Presidency
Miriam O’Callaghan, presenter of Ireland’s flagship current affairs programme, ‘Prime Time’, has allowed it to be spread that she wants to be the next President. How compromising! And she’s told VIP magazine whose cover insinuated itself into Villager’s glance in Spar (he was looking without avail for Village), that she wants her epitaph to say that she was a good mother. This presumes she is entitled to an epitaph. Villager prefers presidents and prime-time broadcasters who at least rate the job in hand.
The proposed sale of €20m of Old Masters paintings from the Beit collection at Russborough, Co Wicklow – in contradiction of the express wishes of the deceased Beits who bequeathed them – has been postponed, probably indefinitely, but it has yielded casualties. The Georgian Society’s representative on the Beit Foundation which promoted the sale, Robert O’Byrne, fell on his 22-carat sword to be replaced by senior counsel Jerry Healy, though the soi-disant ‘Society’ is said to be in turmoil, with President Patrick Guinness denying he had, as a release had stated, “deplored” O’Byrne’s approval of the sale. An Taisce has replaced Consuelo O’Connor, its one-time chairwoman, who also approved the sales, with Ian Lumley, its heritage officer. An Taisce is taking a case against the sales that have already gone ahead and as preemption of any attempt to revive the suspended sale of the paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, David Teniers the Younger and Francesco Guardi if their mooted purchase by an Irish collector stalls. An Taisce’s ground is that the National Gallery doesn’t have authority to grant export licence – it was simply never delegated the power by the Department of Arts.
Beloved former Taoiseach John Bruton of the IFSC (annual pension variously reported as €125K, €134k or €141k; first pension paid aged 35; retired from Dail aged 57) writes in the Irish Times castigating Greece’s “completely unsustainable pensions regime” (annual average pensions €9,996; average retirement age now 61).
Blood out of Labour’s stone
Labour sold its headquarters on Ely Place for €800,000 and has moved to the spiffy top floor of the Bloodstone building on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, built by Sean Dunne’s Mountbrook and owned by Blackstone.
Labour pays rent of €212,625 a year. It will run out politically before it runs out financially, then.
Newish ICTU General Secretary, Patricia King has told its bennial conference that the greatest friend that inequality and those who perpetrated it had was a weak trade union organisation. Ms King told the conference that the introduction of a living wage of €11.45 per hour would present strong advantages and would create a “virtuous circle effect”. Villager is impressed at the championing of measures that are not directed only at Union members. Like many institutions it would be good to audit ICTU itself for its impact on equality in society, rather than simply its impact on the wages and conditions of its members.
Another weird article by Peter Murtagh on the Corrib debacle. Some years ago as opinion-column editor of the Irish Times he wrote two opinion pieces about Rossport, the second of which finishes, “Willie Corduff ‘very badly beaten up’ by Shell’s mercenary thugs? I don’t know because I wasn’t there and I’ve yet to see supporting evidence. But that won’t deter some people pronouncing it as fact”. He queried Corduff’s medical condition though Village ascertained without difficulty the fact that the hospital verified the injuries. Anyway in his new incarnation as Managing Editor and ‘reporter’ he wrote a story on 6 July: ‘Corrib gas cost overruns deprive State of €600m in tax Objections to pipeline stimulated by poor management contributed to €2.4bn overrun’. That is a perverse angle. While a €2.4bn overrun is very bad for Shell and indeed humanity in fact it is clearly good for the Irish economy as it generated extra wages, income tax, VAT, PRSI, USC etc.
From the edge to the view
Coverage of Corrib has always been eccentric. Former well-known Producer and Editor (of the ‘Late Late Show’ and ‘Questions and Answers’) at RTé, Betty Purcell, revealed last year that in 2009, she produced 21 documentaries for the ‘Would you Believe’ series but only one, ‘Living on the Edge’, a programme about Willie Corduff’s life on a farm in remote Rossport, was questioned and challenged by management: “I was called in by my head of department and I was asked to justify the programme. I was told it would be scrutinised for balance, the legal department would need time to look at the programme and make changes if necessary…. Within a month of the programme being accepted as ready for broadcast I was moved out of documentaries to the Arts programme ‘The View’”. It was even suggested, she said, that because TV3 were about to do a documentary on Corrib “maybe we should leave it to them”.
She claimed the pressure on her team was ‘sustained’ and stated her belief that Shell personnel appeared to have ‘automatic access’ to senior management in RTé.
Narrow vision, broad stone
Dublin’s largest professional visual artists studios, Broadstone Studios, home to 34 professional visual artists, closed after 18 successful years, on July 3rd. Despite resiliently navigating the boom and bust cycles of Dublin’s property market for nearly two decades under the direction of Jacinta Lynch, the studios received abrupt notification that the lease on the Victorian building that they have occupied for nearly five years, has been refused further renewals. After costly legal proceedings and intense negotiation, tenants were offered five weeks to completely pack up and find alternative studios. The owners of the building, which is located on the corner of Harcourt Terrace and Adelaide Road have indicated they intend to sell the building, a protected structure, for re-development.
Artists who have occupied the studios over the years include some of Ireland’s representatives at the Venice Biennial including Gerard Byrne, Sarah Pierce, Isabel Nolan and Ronan McCrea. Stephen Loughman represented Ireland in the Sao Paulo Biennale, all of these artists along with Alan Phelan have worked closely on exhibitions at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Many others including Niamh NcCann, Martin Healy, Damien Flood and Liam O’Callaghan have made works in the studios that are now held in the public collections of IMMA, the Hugh Lane Gallery, the Office of Public Works, the Crawford Gallery, the Arts Council collection and other state collections. Many artists have produced important solo shows in other public spaces such as the RHA, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin City Council’s Lab including Gabhann Dunne, Sofie Loscher, Maria McKinney, and have participated in group exhibitions in national institutions including IMMA, Douglas Hyde, Lewis Glucksman, The Model Arts Centre and Visual Carlow. Work has travelled internationally to be exhibited in cities such as London, Berlin, Stockholm, Brussels, Vienna, Istanbul, New York, San Francisco, Baltimore, Pittsburg, Moscow, Sydney, Beijing, and Shanghai.
In a city currently aspiring to win designation as European City of Culture 2020 by trumpeting its creative vibrancy, the loss of one of the most significant artists studios in the city, and the lack of infrastructural planning it exposes, doesn’t help the impression Dublin City Council is hoping to convey to Europe.
€275,000 Dore way
Last year RTé agreed to give a public apology and a payment thought to be in the region of €1m to Fr Kevin Reynolds as part of the settlement of an action brought against it by Fr Reynolds over defamation in the ‘Prime Time Investigates: Mission To Prey’ programme. Robert Dore and Company had sought an instruction fee of €275,000. During a taxation hearing before High Court Taxing Master Declan O’Neill, Mr Dore described as “insulting” RTé’s assessment of the instruction fee as €44,750 and said that grossly underestimated the value of his work. The instruction fee sought by Mr Dore was nevertheless reduced to €80,000 after taking into account factors including the nature and extent of work involved and the recession.
In July 2015 RTé apologised to Richard Burke, Archbishop Emeritus of Benin – as he is still known, though out of ministry for incorrectly stating that he had declined to be interviewed for the same ‘Mission to Prey’ programme. Much more importantly the programme had alleged Mr Burke had sexual relations with a Nigerian, Ms Dolores Atwood, who was underage. The case hinged on whether his sexual relationship with Dolores Atwood had begun when she was 14 as she claimed, or 20, as he claimed. Outside the High Court, Robert Dore, solicitor for Richard Burke, was reported to have leaned against the court railing overlooking Chancery Park, waiting for members of the Burke party to emerge, as word spread that the settlement hadn’t yielded a cent in damages for his client but had made a contribution towards Mr Burke’s ie his lawyers costs – the not insignificant sum of €275,000 plus VAT. The case before Judge Iseult O’Malley had originally excluded evidence of Mr Burke’s multiple other sexual activity with adults, as simply irrelevant. But when it was revealed that Mr Dore’s aggressive letter before action to RTé alleged Ms Atwood’s promiscuity, the judge felt she had to undo the exclusion of the evidence about Mr Burke. The evidence would potentially have damaged the plaintiff’s standing before a typical jury. The other side too was somewhat remiss. Paul O’Higgins SC for the defence extraordinarily failed to put basic but critical evidence to the Archbishop Emeritus as to what Ms Atwood would say actually happened. In view of the embarrassing failures of lawyers on both sides it is not surprising they did what embarrassed lawyers often do – they settled.
Guarantee should not have included subordinated debt nor existing senior-term debt
Jayz do we learn nothing. Cowen told the Banking Inquiry the guarantee was justified as we had one shot at it. No. At the very least it should have been restricted. Patrick Honohan told the Inquiry it “should not have included subordinated debt nor existing senior-term debt”. That’s a formula that should be embedded in every Irish journalist and politician’s gut for the next generation.
Brian Cowen, who all the pol corrs were determined had come out fighting, scathingly told Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe who was questioning him at the Inquiry, that his ‘friends and colleagues’ were private people, not bankers. He looked, for once, like he meant it. Except that when she mentioned the official access afforded to Fintan Drury, friend and banker, the insincerity was laid bare. He blubbered about not really having discussed Anglo, of which Drury was a director, but in the end couched it so no-one could tell if he really believed he’d been scrupulous. Cowen admitted he’d met Bernard McNamara, Sean Quinn and Jed Pierse in his office but couldn’t for the life of him remember why; “they must have come in to see me about something, I don’t know”, bumbled the brightest of all FFers. He’d played golf with Sean Fitzpatrick, arranged by Drury, to discuss the economy but absolutely not the then collapsing Anglo Irish Bank of which Seanie was chairman. He also couldn’t advise whom he’d been referring to when he said he’d been “bombarded by demands to revisit” the ending of property-tax reliefs. He pretended he’d ended them as soon as he could when he’d in fact extended them so those who’d started could finish, on the spurious but unchallenged basis that otherwise he’d have been sued. When commission chairman, Ciaran Lynch, showed him a graph purporting to show a link between the incentives and property-price growth, Cowen strangled an “I don’t think so”, and shrugged jadedly. You wouldn’t miss him.
You would miss him
Garret FitzGerald consistently disparaged Charlie McCreevy for increasing Irish public spending by around 45 per cent in the space of three budgets from 1999 to 2001.
Covering up the cover up
Gerry Ryan, the conservative Departmental officer who feels several Ansbacher investigations into offshore tax evasion and avoidance in the 1990s have been covered up, is not giving up. He has made fresh allegations which have not yet been circulated to members of the Public Accounts Committee, pending legal advice – advice which has not in the past favoured transparency over Ansbacher.
Think the climate debate is settled? US Presidential candidate Jeb Bush says you’re “arrogant”.
Bush has released 1,150 pages of tax returns on his website – that’s 33 years’ worth. They reveal that since leaving the Florida governorship in 2007, Bush has made at least $29m. “Thank God for term limits”, he told a group of reporters self-mockingly. The 2016 candidate said his net worth is $19 or $22m now. He made about $7.3m in 2013, and has not yet released his tax returns for 2014. Speaking fees, contracts with Lehman Brothers and Barclays, additional consulting, and serving on several boards provided much of Bush’s recent income.
Even the Croesean Clintons have released 30 years’ worth of tax returns that stop at 2006. The past few years are more of an unknown.
Villager intensely dislikes drivers and therefore – necessarily – road-sign writers. According to the Road Safety Authority the new sign for the end of speed limits in rural areas has the same meaning as the old sign; the legal limit is 80 but use your judgement and travel at an appropriate speed. The RSA claims that: “The new sign is a black circle with diagonal which is in use internationally under the Vienna signage convention”. It turns out that Ireland is not actually a signatory to that convention. What’s even worse is that under that convention the sign has an entirely different meaning:
“Circular White or yellow background, No border, Black, blue or grey diagonal line means ‘End of prohibition’”.
In other words, to most visitors from Europe this sign will mean the end of the previous speed limit as well as cancelling any other restrictions.
The average American woman now weighs 166 pounds – as much as the average 1960s man.
More important than Presidential voting age
Brian Cowen’s pension is to rise from €134,000 to €136,000 annually, over the next three years.
Labour’s Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has said if he had the power he would not allow any increase to top pension earners in the public service.
However, he said over time everybody will have to have their pay and pensions restored because the emergency legislation under which cuts were made cannot last forever.
Howlin says he cannot “start punishing people” as the Supreme Court has decided that politicians cannot make adverse findings against people, less still impose penalties. Fianna Fáil’s Finance Spokesperson Michael McGrath suggested to Howlin that a tweaking of the Public Service Pension Reduction could “effectively negate” the increases that these people are due and others have suggested the raise is “disgusting”. But Villager favours a constitutional referendum.
Out of touch
Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett tried to stop Mick Wallace’s Leader’s Questions which opened the Project Eagle NAMA controversy: “There are other places to make these charges”, he moaned. “This is Leader’s Questions. Would you put a question? You’re out of time.” •