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Villager June 2015

No interest

Villager is always amazed at how some things that cost a lot just aren’t much good. Denis O’Brien’s spokesperson, James Morrissey, didn’t appear to know what he was talking about, still less to believe it, in his debate over parliamentary privilege with an impressive Micheál Martin on RTÉ Radio 1’s ‘This Week’. He did tell us that his master, who lobbied the government not to sell its remaining stake in Aer Lingus “has no aviation interests”. In fact, through Topaz Energy, O’Brien owns 50% of Shell & Topaz Aviation, supplier of fuel to Irish airports and airlines, which might be affected by a regime change.

Innocent

As the trial of phone-tap bad guy Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World, for perjury in the trial of former socialist MP, Tommy Sheridan, collapses, Villager got reflecting about delays to proceedings in the case of O’Brien’s best buddy, Seanie Fitz, who has pleaded not guilty to 21 charges of making a misleading, false or deceptive statement to auditors and six charges of furnishing false information in the years 2002 to 2007. Judge Mary Ellen Ring says the legal issues have now been resolved and a new jury will be sworn in, in October. It appears it has been difficult to keep some of the evidence against FitzPatrick tied down.

Casting a cold eye.
On life, on death.

Prince Charles (or ‘Charles’ as Sinn Féin call him every second time they refer to him) enjoyed his visit to Drumcliffe, where WB Yeats is buried. The graveyard lost all its charm when the car-park was extended to within a yard of the great man’s grave and the Sligo-Bundoran route widened to create a constant background hum. Even the limestone is cut somewhat crassly and the capitalisation of “Life”, “Death” and “Eye” just wrong.

Try cod instead

A study of the annual inspection records of Irish salmon farms by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries between 2012 and 2014 has shown a complete breakdown of the salmon-farm licensing system. Author of the report, Friends of the Irish Environment Director Tony Lowes, said “We found there were no provisions for ensuring inspections of the critical mooring components that have led to previous breakaway disasters typically in storms in spite of repeated recommendations by the Minister’s officials in accident reports. When licence infringements were identified there was a persistent failure by operators to do anything about them”.

No to youth

Village’s editorial stance is secure. There are more than 200,000 fewer people in their 20s in Ireland than there were six years ago, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) indicate. The Vital Statistics Yearly summary shows the number of people between 20 and 29 fell from 755,000 in 2009 to 549,300 last year – a fall of 205,150, or 27.2 per cent. Most readers of Village were in college with Vincent Browne.

Dairy reality makes bad poetry

Hero George Monbiot puts his English boot into the mythology of Irish dairy farming in a recent article in the Guardian: “Perhaps the starkest example of this myth-making I’ve come across is a children’s book distributed with Saturday’s Guardian called ‘The Tale of City Sue’. It tells the story of a herd of cows on an Irish farm.

‘This friendly, Friesian family/were free to roam and browse/and eat the freshest, greenest grass/which made them happy cows/They belonged to farmer Finn/Who called them by their names/And when it was their birthday/He brought party hats and games/ He played his violin for them/inside the milking shed,/and sung [sic] them soothing lullabies/when it was time for bed’”.

It turned out the book was in fact an extended advertisement for Kerrygold butter and following questions from Monbiot the Guardian made the provenance of the article clearer. He still wasn’t impressed: “From what I can glean, Kerrygold’s marketing seems to rely on the public perception that Irish dairy farms are small and mostly grass-fed. But they are changing fast. According to the former chair of the Irish Farmers’ Association, ‘scale must go up. … The dairy farm of the future is going to have to be bigger’. Could the current Kerrygold marketing blitz be an attempt to embed in our minds a bucolic, superannuated image of an industry that is now changing beyond recognition? If so, it might be an effective way of pre-empting criticism about the changing nature of its suppliers”.

Líhypocrisie

As France prepares to host the COP21 supposedly charged with solving the climate crisis, the French government has given a worrying insight into the sincerity of its commitment – in unveiling its choice of sponsors. Among the twenty companies on the initial sponsors list are Air France – an airline opposed to emissions reductions in the aviation sector, car manufacturers Renault-Nissan, and Suez Environnement – known for its pro-fracking lobbying. It may be over-compensation for the Anglo-Saxon perception that it’s all orgies and never business in Europe’s most contrarian land.

Yes, but why?

A low-light of the all-sweeping Yes campaign was a blazing row between Marriage Equality, Yes Equality and Glen on the one hand and Lawyers for Yes, on the other. The forensic ones wanted a focus on the law, in particular to counter the formidably analytical debating of “Dr” Tom Finegan, one-time parliamentary assistant to Ronan Mullen, the caped baron of ‘No’. Indeed the furious thwarted lawyers consider that continuance with the strategy of promoting the human reality of gay marriages and anti-gay discrimination, rather than focusing on adoption, surrogacy and those tiring differences between marriage and civil partnership etc led to the loss of 8% of the vote. The non-lawyers, led ironically by barrister, Noel Whelan, prevailed by sheer numbers.

Doing no harm, everywhere
only in private now
At a recent launch of a barrage of new features, including ‘Google Expeditions’, ‘Google Next on Tap’ and a ‘revamped Google Cardboard’, products that didn’t come up much amid the razzmatazz were Google Plus, its moribund Facebook-following foray – “a social layer across all of Google’s services” and Google Glass, the specs that would have allowed wearers to photograph what goes on in the next cubicle, unbeknownst. Google Glass lives on in some can-do workplaces, and Google hasn’t ruled out future iterations for it.

An exhausted Villager fondly remembers the days when Google (well, googol) was a number (1 followed by 10100 zeroes), not the world’s biggest Means with the attitude of an End.

Doing harm, but not knowing it

It is almost the definition of a Village reader that you do not slap children (or still better do not have children). This will not have hindered your enthusiasm for a ruling by the Council of Europe under the obscure European Social Charter that Ireland’s laws which permit the slapping of children are a violation of children’s rights.

While legislation which allowed parents to use force against their children was repealed in Ireland almost 15 years ago, the defence of “reasonable chastisement” still exists in common law for parents or child carers.

The Council found this defence was a violation of the charter whose signatories promise “to protect children and young persons against negligence, violence or exploitation”.

The parent-fearing Government’s response here was strangely familiar: it announced plans for a new review of whether the defence of reasonable chastisement should be maintained in law. Tellingly, the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ study of three-year-olds found up to 45 per cent of their primary caregivers had previously smacked them. What’s really needed is a child to take a case under the sister Council of Europe Convention, that on Human Rights whose Article 3 prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment.

If we lost there the government would actually feel embarrassed enough to do something, as it did after David Norris’s historic legal victory under the Convention in the dark days when the Supreme Court had found prohibiting buggery to be compatible with the joy that is Bunreacht na héireann.

Everyone can be media now

The shiny new Competition and Consumer Protection Commission which hoovered in the nicely-ineffective former Competition Authority has written to Village following articles published in the May edition (presumably including the Denis O’Brien-proof spoof correspondence between Ireland’s richest man and his wiser but equally litigious mentor, Dermot) about the sale of Siteserv: “The Millington/Siteserv transaction [whereby O’Brien took over the repulsively spelt utility – and now water-meter – provider] was notified to the Competition Authority on 16 March 2012. At that time, the definition of a “media merger” was set out the Competition Act 2002 – “a merger or acquisition in which one or more of the undertakings involved carries on a media business in the State.” Based on this, the Millington/Siteserv transaction fell within the definition of a “media merger”. The assessment conducted by the Authority in relation to a media merger under the legislation then in force was precisely the same as that undertaken in respect of any other type of notified merger. The Authority’s assessment focused exclusively on whether the proposed merger would “substantially lessen competition in markets for goods or services in the State”. In other words, the Authority’s only remit was to review the merger on competition-related grounds”. Not whether it was dodgy, then.

Chewing on Tuam

Exactly a year after the Tuam babies story made global headlines, survivors say they are “deeply disappointed” by the lack of progress being made by the inquiry. The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes (and Certain Related Matters) was announced in February of this year by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly, but despite a €21m ($23m) operating budget, it does not yet have a website. In May, Terri Harrison from the “Mother to Mother Dublin” group called for greater transparency in the investigation which is expected to run for three years: “No Mother has yet been asked to partake in the Commission”.

Judea

The ‘Non-Payment Network’ announced recently that it will be running candidates in the next election, in direct competition with ‘Right2Water’. The groups are clashing over who will lead the radical new political movement inspired by whatever lessons they glean from the water-charge demonstrations which have attracted up to 200,000 onto the streets on a single day.

Right2Water is backed by five unions including Mandate and Unite and held a conference on Mayday reported on in these pages.

The Anti Austerity Alliance, a member of the Non Payment Network, sniffily described the conference as “limited’ and “invite only”.

The Non Payment Network is supported by AAA TDs Joe Higgins, Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy and Richard Boyd Barrett. It will stage an “unrelated” meeting focused on non-payment and fighting the charges, on June 7, six days before Right2Water holds its policy conference on June 13.

Drunk and stupid
Village quiz team (actors used)
Village entered the Magazines of Ireland Editors’ Quiz in late May, featuring stalwarts from ‘head office’, the editor and art director, and ‘In the Sticks’ Shirley Clerkin who was ‘In the Smoke’ for the night. The quiz was viciously rigged in favour of teams that were actually members of the Magazines of Ireland with one round, for example, focused on who the other members were. And another on chocolate papers, about which Village knows, and wants to know, nothing. Village came second. After the RTé Guide. Out of four.

Red-faced and Cross

Former Fianna Fáil minister Pat Carey who ‘came out’ with some dignity during the recent referendum campaign has been appointed chairman of the Irish Red Cross. Mr Carey was nominated to the position by the board and started in May. He succeeds former AIB head honcho (salary 2007: €1.3m), Donal Forde, and, before him, David Andrews, one-time minister for Defence. Both the Head of Finance and the Head of Communications have also recently resigned.

In the end everyone resigns at the Red Cross because it’s so badly run.

Remember the Arms Trial in 1972: the Irish Red Cross Society was used as a vehicle for transmitting most of the aid Haughey had to ensure that no transaction involving arms should be traced back to bank accounts in the “North of Ireland” in case it would come to the attention of British Army Intelligence.

It has a bad record internationally too. In the US after the September 11 attacks, it was revealed that a large portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars donated to the organisation went not to survivors or family members of those killed, but to other Red Cross operations, in what was described by chapters across the country as a “bait-and-switch” operation.

As long ago as 1985 the Sunday Tribune reported “Red Cross in Crisis over Funds report”. In June 2007 the Secretary General (SG) left in acrimonious circumstances. She had been pushing for reform, a dangerous pursuit in the IRC.

The discovery of an undeclared bank account in mid-2008 in Tipperary under the name of the IRC, which had had €162,000 lying in it for over three years, caused consternation and panic. The money was supposed to be for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami but money was not forwarded to IRC head office as per IRC financial procedures. The Vice Chairman of the IRC, Tony Lawlor, was a signatory on the account.

Whistleblower, Noel Wardick who described the pattern of dysfunctionality in an anonymous blog was fired in 2010 for “gross misconduct” – though he has since been vindicated and compensated.

The problem then as now is a number of power-hungry recalcitrants on the executive who in reality control the organisation.

“I am looking forward to it”, Mr Carey said. “It will be mainly chairing board meetings and making sure it complies with corporate governance and financial governance”.

Drifting drafts

Draft reports are circulating to interested parties about the long-stymied reviews by the Department of the Environment of planning practice in six counties: Galway, Cork City and County, Dublin City, Carlow, and Meath. Outside of Galway the drafts are fairly hard-hitting. The review was conducted by planning practice McCabe, Durney, Barnes. It seems likely a senior counsel will investigate Donegal, where the problems are on a different scale, though the investigation will be “non-statutory” so its terms will be crucial in determining how stringent it will be.

And a recent Dáil debate suggested Minister Alan Kelly was considering adding Wicklow to the list, partly on the back of allegations aired in Village, by Frank Connolly. •