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Villager – March 2015

Trust me, I’m a journalist

After warfare and driving, the biggest waste of energy in human history is…social media. The very name.

For Villager Facebook is even more self-indulgent than Twitter since it calls less for a dialogue.

Being a herd-like and sociable bunch, unsurprisingly 99% of Irish journalists use social media, one of the highest rates in the world, with half of those using it daily. 100% of Ireland’s political correspondents use Twitter – perhaps because looking at one’s smartphone averts the need to engage any eye contact. 

92% of other – ordinary – journalists do so compared with only 79% in the US and 59% in Germany.

However, despite their fetish for it many Irish journalists apparently have concerns over the veracity of information on social media and believe that without external verification, the information from social media cannot be trusted, though whether they consider the pap that most of them churn rates higher for veracity is not mentioned. Sixty-four per cent of journalists in Ireland consider this lack of trust as the main deterrent for using social media in their work, according to NUIG’s Insight Centre. So 36% have no such trust problem. 

Gratifyingly, that is almost precisely the same percentage as that of the populace who trust the (non-social) media. According to a recent Edelman report, trust in media declined another three points to 34% this year, and has now fallen 11 points since 2013. Of the 27 countries surveyed only Japan (31%) and Turkey (20%) had lower levels of trust in media.

Meaningful names

Back to Villager’s theory that names convey something important about the bearer.

CRH, the building materials giant, has appointed UK-based former investment banker Lucinda Riches to its board. Ms Riches is a 21-year veteran of Swiss financial institution UBS Investment Bank.

A tendentious article on the cover of the immigration–unfriendly Daily Telegraph of 26 Feb noted that “Britain’s high achievers take flight. Thousands of talented workers leaving for lucrative jobs abroad  while six times as many emigrants with low numeracy skills arrive”. Its author, Tom Whitehead.

Also in February  the Dublin Coroner’s Court heard that a young man from Clonsilla, Dublin 15, died as a result of multiple stab wounds sustained when he fought with Lance Geoghegan in the early hours of June 19, 2012.

‘One of Us: the Story of Anders Breivik’ by Asne Seierstad, has been translated into English by Sarah Death.

12-year old v the system

On February 24, in North Carolina Superior Court, 12-year-old Hallie Turner appealed a decision by North Carolina’s Environmental Management Commission rejecting her petition asking the Commission to promulgate a rule, based on the best available climate science, that would require North Carolina to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by at least four percent each year.

Displeased with the Commission’s decision, Hallie hopes the Superior Court will understand the importance of protecting the State’s climate system, and call upon government leaders to take meaningful action. “It was disappointing when the petition got denied because we trusted our leaders to take initiative on this issue and they didn’t”, Hallie says. “They should be making the right decisions to protect our planet. When they don’t, they are letting us down, as well as future generations. My generation is ready and willing to take action and we will continue to pressure our leaders to do the same”.

Commissioner Benne Hutson who rejected Hallie’s petition is somewhat compromised as the law firm she works for, McGuireWoods, has represented Duke Energy, and its subsidiary, McGuireWoods Consulting, is a registered lobbyist for the Koch Brothers, Halliburton, and others. Children are taking similar actions in Oregon and Massachussets.

John from sales

Confirming Villager’s antipathy to all things computer, Mohammed Emwazi, the Briton controversially identified as an Islamic State executioner, was once a star salesman for a Kuwaiti IT company, the Guardian has revealed, in fresh revelations about the journey from normality to infamy of the Man-U supporter who became known as Jihadi John.

Emwazi, the Kuwaiti-born but London-raised computer graduate, who features in Isis videos raving and beheading hostages in the Syrian desert, was quiet and rather withdrawn but had a natural gift for his work, a former boss in Kuwait City told the Guardian. “He was the best employee we ever had”. the former boss said of the then 21-year-old. “He was very good with people. Calm and decent”.

The Browne/O’Brien family

Gerard Whelan, CEO of Denis O’Brien’s Newstalk has suddenly “left to continue his career outside media”. Mr Whelan – who had previously held a number of positions at Kingspan – replaced Frank Cronin in  September 2013. Cronin was part of Vincent Browne’s abortive crowd-funding ‘Barcelona FC-style’ attempt to set up a democratic magazine.

Browne suggested last year that a collective of upwards of 50,000 people in Ireland pitching in €100 apiece could support a €5m journalism project, based on the Barcelona model. He particularly emphasised that Barcelona ran without the support of “an oligarch or even a cabal of oligarchs”, though Villager seems to remember that when Browne owned this magazine it was scarcely run by town-hall voting. He was reported to have roped in Frank Cronin as well as his affable long-standing right-hand man, Tom Vavasour, and nephew, journalist Malachy Browne who until recently ran politico.ie, a left-wing news website, with support from his uncle. Browne nephew, who once worked for Village, then became the news editor of social news agency Storyful, and is now managing editor and European anchor of Reported.ly, a new media start-up backed by the founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar. We may assume he is unavailable for the Barcelona gig.

Before Cronin, the CEO of Newstalk was Elaine Geraghty, former personal assistant to Vincent Browne and married to Tom Vavasour. Since you ask, Geraghty now runs charity Inspire Ireland which “helps young people lead happier lives”. While Browne helps older people to feel miserable.

A beady eye on landlordism

Jerry Beades, of the New Land League, spoke briefly to Rachel English on ‘Morning Ireland’ in early March about the situation regarding the repellingly-coiffed O’Donnell family’s home in Killiney, Dublin.

Brian O’Donnell reminds Villager of Jeremy in the organ-splitting comedy, ‘Paths to Freedom’. In the end, after a series of financial setbacks Jeremy set up a tent on a fairway at his golf-club, the Fitzhatton, with a view to highlighting the issue of injustice to the rich.

Jerry Beades, who runs a company called ‘Jerry Beades Concrete – easyscreed’, served time on Fianna Fáil’s Ard Comhairle (National Executive) from 1995 and was a “close friend” of Bertie Ahern. In 2010 he announced plans to launch a website called “Fianna Fáil Nua”, to promote “root and branch reform” of the party, informing RTé Radio One’s ‘Drivetime’ that his proposal was similar to “what Tony Blair did with New Labour in England” and claiming FF Cabinet ministers had taken control of the party away from the grass roots members, like him presumably. 

He said an initial meeting of a “Fianna Fáil Nua” had already been held but no trace remains of the endeavour. Instead he has given us ‘Land League Nua’.

In 2013 summary judgment was granted against Beades for €3.5m to Ulster Bank relating to loans for property. €1.3m had been taken out of an account with the assistance of a bank manager, as a result of “theft”. He says that he intends to bring a claim against the bank arising out of this alleged wrong. He was also pursued by Bank of Scotland for nearly €10m lent for property development. When well-regarded beak, Peter Kelly, asked if Beades had received the monies at issue from Bank of Scotland – he received the response “I refuse to answer that question”. Beades seems to stand for a) not taking responsibility and b) the rights of people who own property to retain it even when they blow it and even when it is to the financial detriment of the public.

Rachel English called a stop to the ‘Morning Ireland’ interview when Mr Beades claimed a PR company had been hired by a bank for the O’Donnell story. For Villager, that was the only edifying part of the whole story. Why would Rachel English want to extinguish this angle?

Humility comes to Kinsealy

The new owners of Charlie Haughey’s Gandon-designed mansion Abbeville are the Japanese hotelier family, the Nishidas. They own the Toyoko Inn group, one of the largest hotel operations in Japan which now has expansionist plans in Europe. The chain aims for uniformity in its ‘no-frills’ hotels, using as many prefabricated and bulk-purchased components as possible to reduce costs. It is also known for almost exclusively hiring women: at one time, 95% of the company’s workforce was female, and nearly all of its hotel managers were married women.

In 2006 Norimasa Nishida, president of Toyoko Inns, was forced to agree to retrofit all its hotels.

Nishida also apologised for not taking the case seriously. At a previous news conference, he had downplayed the modifications, including removing parking required for disabled people.

The 122 Toyoko Inn hotels nationwide had been found to have been modified in violation of the Building Standards Law and other laws that require certain types of buildings to make their facilities friendly to the elderly and disabled.

“We will restore (the illegally modified hotels) to their original state as soon as possible,” Nishida, his head bowed as he wept, told a news conference in Tokyo. “It was me who gave the go-ahead for (the modifications) and I take all the blame”.

Climateís biggest war yet

An unprecedented climate change-fuelled three-year drought contributed to the political unrest in Syria, a new paper published in  the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences concludes.

Researchers show how the drought worsened existing water-security and agricultural woes, and forced up to 1.5 million rural Syrians to migrate to urban areas, occasioning demographic changes that fed instability in cities. In addition, the drought contributed to rising food prices and more nutrition-related diseases in children, which exacerbated the turmoil.

Getting boomier

The State collected €6.74bn in taxes in January and February, an increase of €925m or 15.9 per cent on the same period in 2014. It is time to re-elect Fianna Fáil.

Arch-beak-off

Paul Carney, the country’s most senior criminal law judge, will retire next month.The 71-year-old judge has been a stickler for pomp, fawning and wig-wearing in his court, once earning a rebuke from the archest judge in the Common Law world, Adrian Hardiman, for being, ‘arch’ when he made disparaging comments about wigless defence counsel during a criminal trial. According to Hardiman, the comments which though “plain as a pikestaff to any lawyer” were “obliquely couched” and could not have meant anything to the presumably wig-unaware defendant.

Carney who controls the Central Criminal Court (part of the High Court) has heard an unprecedented 150 rape and murder cases including the Wayne O’Donoghue and Padraig Nally murder trials over the last 24 years.

He famously was arrested on the steps of the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin banging to gain entrance for ‘a late drink’ after a stressful trial, though he was regarded as clever, independent and usually fair-minded.

As a child he lived in Sweden with his academic parents who had moved to Scandinavia to establish a Department of Celtic studies at Uppsala University. He returned to Dublin at the age of nine and went to Gonzaga College where he presumably lectured his peers in Swedish. Before becoming a judge he worked for the election of schoolmate Michael McDowell. In 2004 he became embroiled in an unedifying beak-off with then Chief Justice, Ronan Keane, over the contents of a proposed speech. Keane had asked him to amend the contents of his paper ‘The Central Criminal Court: The Limerick Experience’. Typically Carney withdrew altogether rather than agreed to proposed changes.

Lest we forget

It is the fiftieth Anniversary of the arrival of the first US combat troops in South Vietnam on March 8, 1965. After the Viet Minh took power in Vietnam in 1945 from the beleaguered French, the Allied victors insisted on a division of the country between the British-French-US-controlled South and the Chinese-controlled North. By 1965 the US-backed government in South Vietnam was suffering from power struggles among its leadership and troops were deserting its army. Communist forces from North Vietnam were taking advantage, and gaining control in the countryside. Viet Cong guerrillas had attacked a US compound in the Central Highlands that February and General William Westmoreland requested two battalions of US marines to which President Lyndon Johnson agreed. By the end of the year 185,000 troops had been deployed. A decade later when Saigon fell and US soldiers made their final exit, more than 540,000 Americans had served in Vietnam and more than 58,000 had been killed. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese were killed too, including 2 million civilians. The Vietnam-US relationship was normalised under the Clinton presidency in 1995. Two-way trade reached $36.3bn last year.

But was Rupert the greatest ever touring Lions wing?

Former Independent Group CEO, Gavin O’Reilly (48), and Natalia Nataskin (44) who front ‘the Agency Group’ are a new entry at 52 in the ‘2015 Billboard Power 100’ of “the executives who rule music now”. The Agency operates from seven international offices – London, Malmo, New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, Miami and Nashville – and employs over 100 agents. The citation notes that “in their first full year steering the booking behemoth [the Agency], the formidable duo has more than 2,000 clients (including The Black Keys, Guns N’ Roses, Merle Haggard and Wiz Khalifa) and booked nearly 50,000 shows. Among their moves: creating a branding division, acquiring Nashville independent agency The Bobby Roberts Company, planting a flag in EDM through purchases of the Bond Music Group and London-based Coalition talent agencies and launching dedicated casino, college and corporate divisions. “I’ve made no secret about our expansionist agenda, across all musical genres”, says O’Reilly.

GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: “Being the only female CEO of a major talent agency’s U.S. operations”

Nastaskin

BUSINESS ROLE MODEL: “Rupert Murdoch – visionary and tenacious”

– O’Reilly. 

Impressive until you see that No 1 is someone called Lucian Grainge.

Red-faced and cross

The CEO of the Irish Red Cross, (IRC) Donal Forde, has announced his resignation from the Red Cross, coincidentally on the same day he was named on a list of bankers to appear before the Banking Inquiry. Mr Forde had been managing director of AIB in the Republic of Ireland between 2002 and 2008. According to the bank, his salary was €1.3m in 2007.

He had been coming under pressure in recent months from Volunteer elements within the IRC seeking to stall much needed  and overdue reforms and seeking to regain control of the IRC from its Head Office and professional staff. Both the Head of Finance and the Head of  Communications have also recently resigned.

There have been problems in this organisation since at least 1985 when the Sunday Tribune reported “Red Cross in Crisis over Funds report”.

In June 2007 the Secretary General left in acrimonious circumstances. She had been pushing for reform, a dangerous pursuit in the IRC. By 2009 there were problems with a huge financial deficit, staff redundancies, staff morale, failures to rotate board members and delays in distributing funds raised for that year’s domestic flooding.

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. He denied any wrongdoing. At least one call for his resignation was made.

David Andrews followed his Secretary-General by resigning as Chairman of the IRC – following an article in Village in October 2009 calling for him to step aside in view of issues of corporate governance and propriety including the delayed tsunami payment, under his watch. At a meeting on 28 November 2009 of the central council David Andrews referred to “wretched scribes”. The resignations were treated in the press as part of a pre-arranged process but in fact the Chairman had recently been re-appointed; and the tenure of both the Chairman and Secretary General had a significant time to run.  Neither would have resigned had a crisis not arisen. 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. The culture of an organisation will trump any reformist strategy.

After a 40-year association with the IRC, Tony Lawlor remains chair of its Training Working Group.

Reasons to vote Democrat

Republicans last won the White House without a Bush on the ticket in 1972.

Our Baths Saved?

Dún Laoghaire Baths are to be redeveloped after years of dilapidation and disuse. Phase-one plans involve  refurbishment of the original baths pavilion to include artists’ space, public toilets, a small café and the demolition of derelict buildings. A small jetty will be built into the sea with access for swimmers. The second phase of the plans includes a swimming pool, but no funding has yet been allocated for it.

Knifing the competition

The Daily Telegraph is in the doggy box over a story on its front page about rival publisher News UK which publishes The Times and the Sun. It came a week after its former chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, resigned claiming that the paper had perpetrated ‘fraud’ against its readers over its lack of coverage on the corruptions of HSBC, a big advertiser. The front-page article, which does not have a byline, claimed that News UK has launched an internal investigation into the suicides of two of its commercial staff “amid fears that staff are being put under unreasonable pressure to hit targets”. Meanwhile, the Guardian, having gunned down the News of the World and the Sun is busting itself to do in the Mirror, leading with stories like “Phone hacking at Mirror titles was on an industrial scale”. It makes Village’s tiffs with other em non-supportive media look like Buckaroo.

In football as in politics

Syriza backed down on football violence even faster than it did on economic injustice. In February Greece’s professional football leagues were suspended indefinitely in a bid to crackdown on crowd violence, the top-flight Super League. The move followed a pitch invasion at the end of the Athens derby and a Super League board meeting which ended in a brawl. It was the third time this season that professional football in Greece has been shut down. Matches were halted for one week in September following the death of a fan after violent clashes at a third division match. And sure enough within a week the already beleaguered Government caved and indefinite suspension had become a week’s suspension.

Sprucing up the same old policies

Forestry minister Tom Hayes has announced the approval of the new forestry programme by the EU Commission but environmental groups claim the plan fails to resolve serious environmental issues with the Irish forestry model. The Environmental Pillar, which is made up of 28 Irish environmental NGOs, says the plan represents the same model with some token environmental measures. The key issues are:

1. Dependence on foreign species

The plan guarantees the continuation of Sitka Spruce as the dominating tree in Irish forests. 

2. Dependence on clear-felling by heavy machinery.  It devastates wildlife, damages watercourses and is an eyesore on the landscape.

3. Missed opportunity for job creation. Systems which focus on native trees, natural regeneration, and coppicing provide abundant timber while maintaining the biodiversity and watercourse protection benefits and also provide more jobs. •

Wicklow manager retires

By Frank Connolly

The retirement of Wicklow County manager, Eddie Sheehy, has focused attention on the controversial legacy which his, yet to be announced, successor will inherit. Over the 14 years that he has been at the helm, the Council has been embroiled in a succession of embarrassing episodes and legal actions, from the illegal dumping of waste to planning and re-zoning disputes involving some of the country’s wealthiest developers.

Sheehy featured in the national newspapers a few years ago after they exposed a holiday junket by current and former Council staff to Florida in which he was photographed with a fistful of dollars. He was at the losing end of a High Court action taken by three Councillors whom he wrongly barred from the Council chamber after they lost a defamation action against the County manager.

He also figured in another controversial High Court outing when the Council sought to have companies involved in widespread illegal dumping pay for the remediation of polluted landfills in west Wicklow. The court action was suspended in late 2011 after it heard evidence that the Council itself was involved in illegal dumping of waste at the huge Whitestown dump, while one of its authorised officers had sought to obtain the contract to remediate the site and reap millions in profit from the clean-up.

Sheehy departs at a time when the Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, is considering various other allegations of maladministration in local government in the county and what form of inquiry is required to deal with them. Just days after Sheehy announced his decision to retire, rather than apply for an extension to his term as manager, a detailed set of questions and complaints concerning his involvement in property developments in Bray and Greystones was submitted to the minister by prominent Wicklow auctioneer, Gabriel Dooley. 

The 44 questions submitted by Dooley centre on the manner in which two of Ireland’s leading developers, Sean Mulryan and Sean Dunne, acquired Council lands and way-leaves to gain road access to a major residential and retail scheme at Charlesland near Greystones in the early 2000s. Dooley had already helped assemble the mainly landlocked private properties at Charlesland, and was a partner with Mulryan in the Florentine development in Bray town centre before they fell out over an outstanding €4m debt which the auctioneer claims he is owed by the developer.

He claims that the Council did everything it could to facilitate Zapi, the joint-venture company formed by Mulryan and Dunne to develop Charlesland, and that he was present when prominent Fianna Fáil Councillor, Pat Vance, discussed maps and plans for the scheme with the developers over a meal in Dobbins restaurant in March 2003. Vance is the long-time chairman of the planning committee of the Council.

Central to Dooley’s complaints are the manner in which the Council acquired lands under compulsory purchase orders (CPO) to provide access to Charlesland from the N11 motorway, the main route from Dublin to the south-east. He has asked the minister whether he is satisfied with the manner in which the Greystones Southern Access route (SAR) and the Killpedder Interchange on the N11 were financed and what monies the developers contributed for the roads, for a roundabout at Charlesland, and for other services provided for the scheme. Dooley has also claimed that lands at Three Trouts Stream were compulsorily purchased to benefit the developers rather than for social housing as senior Council officials have always insisted.

He has also questioned why a contract signed with senior Council officials and signed by Councillor Vance and Eddie Sheehy was made with two companies,  Brambleglen and Ballymore Contracting, rather than with Zapi which had obtained the planning permission for the Charlesland scheme. In the contract, the Council undertakes to obtain, under CPO, any lands required by the developers for roads or to meet other requirements. 

There are also outstanding issues over planning and other levies that have yet to be resolved between Zapi and the Council and a sensitive issue as to whether compliance certificates were provided by the Council to allow the homes to be sold before all of the required levies were paid by the company.

Dooley’s bitter antagonism to Mulryan centres on an arrangement which the pair agreed, to buy and develop the Florentine site in Bray town centre, where Dooley has one of his auctioneering offices. Between 1996 and 2002 he assembled the properties of dozens of landowners for Mulryan’s vehicle the Ballymore Group, on which they planned to build a major retail centre. They formed a consortium, Florentine Properties Ltd., with Ballymore and Dooley each holding 50% of the shares, and negotiated a loan from Bank of Scotland which took the title deeds from all of Dooley’s commercial assets as security. In June 2005, Ballymore acquired Dooley’s shareholding for €5m with a down payment of €1m and the balance to be paid when the 100,000 sq ft shopping centre and 85 apartments were completed, or on the sale of the site. 

In 2007, Wicklow County Council placed a CPO on the site which was completed in 2009. By this time, some €2.75bn of distressed Ballymore loans from a range of institutions including Anglo Irish Bank, Irish Nationwide, Allied Irish Banks and the Bank of Ireland were in the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA).

In November and December 2010, Dooley met officials of Anglo, which handled his personal investments, to discuss his plan to take legal action against Ballymore to recover the €4m debt. He claims that details of these confidential discussions were passed on to NAMA and thence by officials of that ‘bad bank’ to Ballymore. None of Dooley’s assets or loans were in NAMA and he had no business with the agency. Following this unauthorised disclosure, which he confirmed by obtaining e mails from the bank under Data Protection legislation, Ballymore approached Dooley and offered him a six figure sum to settle the outstanding debt, an offer he promptly refused.

In a meeting in the Berkeley Court Hotel in May 2012 Mulryan offered Dooley a sum of €75,000 in settlement of the dispute, which he refused. According to Dooley, Mulryan warned him that if FPL was put into receivership then he would get nothing, as specified in the 2005 contract.

“I told them that I had spent 18 years of my life helping them with the Charlesland and Florentine developments and that I’d rather starve than accept what I considered was an insult. They later came back with an offer of €500,000 which I also rejected”, he said.

Six months later, the land was placed in receivership in a manner which Dooley claims was designed to ensure that the monies owed to him would not be paid. When receivers Grant Thornton took control of the site, Mulryan argued that he no longer owed the €4m as he had not developed or sold the land, which was required by the contract.

Following this breakdown in trust with the bank, Anglo appointed receivers over Dooley’s property portfolio which, he said, had a devastating effect on his auctioneering business and family. 

Almost five years later, Dooley’s auctioneering business is back on track with the uplift in the property market and he remains determined to get the monies he is due from Ballymore. He has also claimed that the Council facilitated the re-zoning of Ballymore lands at Charlesland in September 2013 which increased their value from €80,000 to €1.2m an acre, a deal which, he claims, provides further evidence of the special treatment Mulryan and Dunne have received from the Council and its senior officials over the past decade and more.

In 2003, the two developers envisaged a massive retail scheme at Charlesland which, with the help of a new road link to the N11, would attract customers from counties to the west and south east but this was refused by An Bord Pleanála following successful objections from traders in Greystones. The 1,400 houses and apartments they built at Charlesland yielded a significant profit for the pair of high-rollers but other plans for undeveloped sections of the lands they control were put on hold following the property and financial crash. Dunne, of course, is entangled in his battle against NAMA and other banks, in Ireland and the US, although he has claimed in papers submitted to the US court that he and his wife still control two sites at Charlesland.

Mulryan is hoping to emerge unscathed from NAMA following the turnaround in his fortunes from his UK and Europe-wide investments. He now wants to develop some 400 expensive homes at Charlesland on the 20 acres re-zoned by the Council. However, the continuing efforts by Dooley to recover his €4m, and possibly other damages and losses, could pose complications for Mulryan, as he rebuilds his property empire in Ireland and Britain. The developer has a long history of dealings with Wicklow County Council, including with another former county manager, Blaise Treacy, who went on to work as a consultant for Mulryan following his retirement. It remains to be seen what Eddie Sheehy will do with his spare time as his two seven-year terms as head of the Wicklow local authority come to a close. •