There was a incisive and outspoken opinion piece in Monday’s Irish Times by John McManus, about the Government’s reaction to the publication of the McCarthy Report.  It’s worth reading in full, but here’s a flavour:

“…..There was an implicit bargain that tax increases and pay cuts were the immediate first aid to stabilise the patient, while the cure was the reform of the public sector ……Instead, we got the nonsense that passes for politics here. The report is finally with us, and instead of taking ownership of it, the Minister for Finance and the rest of the Cabinet are engaging in all sorts of manoeuvring to try and limit the damage to a Government and maybe a party that is already beyond saving…… Read the rest of this entry »

Ireland has benefited greatly from membership of the EU, and hopefully it will continue to do so as a full and commited member.  However, to be deeply involved in and to respect an institution of which one is a member does not mean that one suspends one’s critical facilities or simply stands back when one believes that the instution is heading in the wrong direction with its policies.

This is what has been happening for many years with the EU, which has been engaged in a centralisation of power and legislative capacity towards its own institutions at the expense of lawmakers and citizens in individual member states.  What is most difficult to cope with is that there does not seem to be a coherent philosophy which underpins this drift towards the centre; rather there is just an inexorable process which is driven mainly by the self-interest of the Commission, the Parliament and the European Court of Justice.   A recent report by the Institute of Economic Affairs has an excellent overview of this topic.

Thre are many areas of law-making which can undeniably be more effectively and coherently implemented at the EU level, but at present there is no simple way ensuring that the principle of Subsidiarity is adhered to (and the related proposals in the Lisbon Treaty are fairly toothless).  Read the rest of this entry »

In last Friday’s Irish Times, Paddy Agnew drew attention to a piece in the Italian news weekly, L’Espresso, by Umberto Eco, the academic, philosopher and novelist who is best known for his medieval “whodunnit”, The Name of the Rose.  Eco, according to Agnew, “sounds a strident alarm about what he perceives as the threat posed to media freedom in Italy by proposed new legislation from the Berlusconi government”

Eco wrote: “The Italian problem is not Silvio Berlusconi. History is full of enterprising figures who had a very low sense of the state Read the rest of this entry »

In The Financial Times on July 15 2009, Anthony Bolton of Fidelity International had some interesting things to say about short sellers, those notorious pantomine villains (hiss! boo!), whose activities were actually restricted by law last year, during the banking crisis.

“The shorting of bank shares was … a symptom rather than a cause of the financial crisis. Now we know what the banks were up to, it is clear that the ones that failed required no assistance in destroying their businesses. They did a perfectly good job themselves…. Read the rest of this entry »

The European Commission on 30 June called on member states to boost their non-smoking legislation in order to move towards a “smoke free” EU by 2012.  The Commission is suggesting that smoking in “enclosed public places, workplaces and public transport” be banned by 2012, while children’s exposure to tobacco should be specifically tackled and “efforts to give up tobacco use and pictorial warnings on tobacco packages” should be encouraged.

Now I think the objective here is a good one, and Ireland already is well advanced in the area of anti-smoking legislation.  But that’s not the point.   The point is that I can’t see why, following the principle of Subsidiarity, the Commission cannot leave it to each member state to decide how far to go in combating smoking under its laws.  Read the rest of this entry »

The fact that publicans are lobbying against the proposed drop in the permissable blood alcohol level for motorists does not necessarily mean, even to a cynic, that the proposal is a Good Thing.

The adverse social effects of the proposed change (from 80 mg to 50mg/ml blood) are significant, particularly in rural areas, and are not outweighed by potential savings in road deaths or injuries.  There is no evidence that any such savings exist to any material extent.

Despite what you may think, in recent years the number of deaths on our roads has fallen significantly, and we are now one of the safest countries in this respect.  Read the rest of this entry »

John Kay in Wednesday’s Financial Times has gone surprisingly soft on those villainous bankers.

“Better, as so often, to follow an aphorism of Warren Buffett’s: invest only in businesses that an idiot can run, because sooner or later an idiot will. Our banks were not run by idiots. They were run by able men who were out of their depth. If their aspirations were beyond their capacity it is because they were probably beyond anyone’s capacity….. we would be wiser to look for a simpler world, more resilient to human error and the inevitable misjudgments. Great and enduringly successful organisations are not stages on which geniuses can strut. They are structures that make the most of the ordinary talents of ordinary people.”

I think John Kay is too kind to bankers.  It was not complexity but greed  Read the rest of this entry »

The Great Gatsby

7 July, 2009

The Irish Times magazine on Saturday 4th July featured a great literary quote, from F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:  “I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.” 

How true that is.  But it’s not clear to me that it is snobbish to hold that view.   The idealism and optimism of youth (“Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope”) must inevitably give way, not necessarily to cynicism, but to the caution and pragmatism of more mature years. 

So much of our legislation and administration is dependent on the hope or expectation that citizens will not exploit the system unfairly or illegally; in the belief that we are all equally and sufficiently decent human beings, Read the rest of this entry »

A defeatist tone from Kevin Myers in a  recent piece in the Irish Independent.  Basically, while previously he opposed the significant transfer of power to central institutions in the EU that the Lisbon Treaty would facilitate, he is now so depressed at the performance of our politicians and civil servants that he thinks it would be better if they exercised even less power than they currently do.  Hence he wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater and vote “Yes”.  Read the rest of this entry »

Oh dear.  Poor Ronan O’Gara.  On 7th May last, was he not heroic when we saw him standing up (well slouching anyway) for the Republic when the Irish rugby team met the Queen of England during a reception held to honour their Grand Slam victory?  Were we not proud when he refused to take his hands out of his pockets when greeting the head of state of perfidious Albion?  Read the rest of this entry »