Jill Kirby made a sensible suggestion in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times (29 November).  Since many public sector employees, or their representatives, are bemoaning the fact that they now have to contribute a material amount to their guaranteed, index-linked pensions, why not let them opt out for a period, or permanently, and avoid that allegedly burdensome imposition? 

Better still (and Jill Kirby didn’t go this far), why not offer anybody who opts out an employer (ie Government) contribution of say 10% of salary, on a defined contribution basis?  This would in fact be better than most private sector employers offer.  We might then see just how valuable the state pension is, for nobody in their right mind would opt out and accept this.

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In London, a Commons cross-party science committee is looking at UK government policy on homeopathic medicines.  And scientists and doctors told MPs this week that giving homeopathic remedies to patients on the National Health Service is unethical and a dubious use of public money.  It’s worth checking out what the Bad Science blog has to say on this, and on homepathy generally.

In Ireland, I note that VHI appears to be the only sane health insurer, and refuses to cover homeopathic treatments.  The Irish Society of Quacks, sorry Homeopaths, reviews the position on their website.  So I am happy not be subsidising delusional and/or fraudulent practices with my ever-increasing annual subscription to the VHI, while being a bit worried that VHI might weaken in the face of a “patients’ petition” being organised by homeopathic practitioners.

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The suggestion by Mr Justice Richard Johnson (the former president of the High Court) that the reintroduction of the death penalty might be “looked at” has received a frosty reception in general.

Many commentators highlighted Ireland’s international legal obligations – as a member of the European Union and the Council of Europe – to keep the death penalty off its statute book.

And of course the other great argument against the death penalty is that judicial mistakes (think of the Birmingham Six) cannot be corrected.

However the argument that I find the most convincing arose when I was challenged to do a very simple “thought experiment”  along the following lines:

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James Joyce wrote about Ireland being the old sow that ate her farrow.  The late John Kelly T.D. memorably said that the position had been reversed and the Irish State had become like a sow “lying, panting, exhausted by her own weight and being rent by a farrow of cannibal piglets”.

 How true that seems now, with our massive Government spending deficit, and the raucous clamour from every sectional interest demanding that they be spared the coming cuts in Minister Lenihan’s budget.

His simile seems all the more appropriate when one looks at one particular section of the scrum of lobbyists: those NGOs, quangos and charities who draw liberally on the public purse to support their activities (and in many cases their very existence), yet are now spending their money (which is partly or mainly OUR money) on expensive lobbying campaigns designed to influence our public representatives in their decision-making.  As if the Minister for Finance’s job isn’t hard enough, he has to put up with attacks from organisations he is helping to fund.

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Interesting article in a recent New Scientist, called “Cute, fluffy and horribly greedy”

….. Waggly tail or not, owning a pet comes at a far higher cost than you might imagine. As you watch a large dog bounding out of the back of an SUV, you might mentally reprimand the owner for their choice of vehicle. You would do better to save your indignation for their choice of pet. Because….. the ecological footprint of our companion animals can dwarf that of even the most gas-guzzling cars. Man’s best friend, it turns out, is the planet’s enemy.

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I see in an article in today’s Irish Times that, according to the Archbishop of Cashel Most Rev Dermot Clifford, Ireland’s Catholic bishops are “totally opposed” to the redevelopment of the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria, west England,

… and would also oppose any plans to build a nuclear reactor in Ireland.    He was speaking in the context of this week’s announcement by the British government that it had identified 10 sites for the next generation of nuclear power plants in the UK, including at Sellafield.    The archbishop said that while the matter had not yet been discussed by the Irish Bishops Conference, “95 per cent of the bishops are against nuclear reactors”……. He spoke of the threat of Sellafield to people in west England and on the east coast of Ireland, as evidenced in 1957 when fallout from the then-named Windscale covered substantial areas in both countries.

Rather than nuclear power the emphasis should be on developing alternative energies such as wind, wave and solar power, he said.   …… Referring to the UN Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen next month, he said it was to be hoped “despite the economic recession that the representatives of 170 governments of the world will agree to meaningful targets to cut carbon emissions over the next 10 years”. The ecological crisis was “becoming more urgent by the day” with “not nearly enough” being done about it “at world, national or at local level”.   The Irish bishops were “seeking to raise awareness of the importance and the urgency of taking steps to reverse global warming”, he said.

Fantastic!  This is beyond parody.  I hardly know where to begin. 

Since when is the Government’s policy on nuclear power (or lack of same) an appropriate matter for the clergy to pontificate on?

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Canada has filed an official complaint at the World Trade Organisation against a European Union ban on imported seal products, saying it violated trade rules. Foreign ministers in Brussels adopted in July a ban on seal products from Canada, ruling the goods could not be marketed in the 27 EU nations. In a letter sent to the European Union and the WTO, Canada said the move was inconsistent with the EU’s obligations under international trade rules.

Now I’m not necessarily in favour of allowing seal products be sold in Ireland.  Frankly I don’t know enough about Canadian seals, how they are killed and processed, the Inuits who depend on them for a living, whether seals are an endangered species, or any of the other issues relevant to deciding on this particular matter.

But I am puzzled as to why this was decided in Brussels and not separately in Dublin, London, Paris etc etc.  Read the rest of this entry »

I was in Barrow Street recently, and I had occasion to buy a “pay and display” ticket to allow me to park.  I noticed that parking charges applied on Monday through Saturday, not just Monday through Friday.  Why is this? 

Surely the main point of charges for parking is (or should be) to provide a mechanism for rationing, in an economically sensible way, a scarce resource?  The fact that charges apply on Saturday, when there is no pressure on parking in a place like Barrow Street, exposes perhaps the real reason for the charges: to raise revenue. 

This is an example of a public authority being dishonest with its constituents.  Read the rest of this entry »