A foreign visitor remarked to me recently that he had never seen so many weeds, particularly dandelions, growing on the side of our roads and on central margins .  He wondered if the local government workers employed to spray weedkiller were on strike.

I suggested two possible reasons: the laughably-named “work to rule” by public servants protesting at pay cuts; or that local authorities had run out of money to pay for the weeds to be controlled properly.

Either way, it’s indicative of our slide into quasi-third-world status.  Surely the detrimental effect on local communities and on tourism suggests that not spraying is a false economy? 

Strange that it took an outsider to point out the obvious to me; I suppose I had gradually become so used to the unkempt appearance of our public roads that I had ceased to notice how bad they were.  But now I see the blasted weeds everywhere.  And In them I see an unsightly metaphor for the dereliction that has befallen our economy.

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan was quoted this week as saying that “….. there is nothing in the Lisbon Treaty that diminishes our sovereignty in fiscal matters….. the government secured a protocol confirming this position in advance of the second Lisbon referendum.  To suggest ….. that our corporation tax rate is threatened by proposals announced today is highly irresponsible and certainly not in the interests of this economy which depends so much on foreign direct investment.   As I said in my Budget speech: ‘The 12.5% Corporation Tax rate will not change. It is here to stay.'”

I think he is whistling in the graveyard.  He is right in saying that the Corporation Tax rate in Ireland will remain at 12.5%.  But that’s not going to matter, because what’s really going to happen is that the EU, or a large subset of its member states,  will introduce a new tax system allowing them to tax companies, irrespective of where they are incorporated or are resident, largely on the basis of the proportion of sales made in each country.   That system is part of proposals for what’s known as a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB).

So if you have a company resident and managed in Ireland, the current system means that all its profits are taxed in Ireland at 12.5%.  But let’s say that 40% of that company’s sales in the EU are made into France.  What’s likely to happen when CCCTB comes into force is that France will levy Corporation Tax (at their, higher, rate) on 40% of the Irish company’s EU-wide profits.  That’s a bit simplified, and of course credit will be given for Irish tax already paid on those profits, to avoid double taxation, but it indicates the nature of the problem.

Since Ireland is a very small country, most sales by multinational companies are made outside the country.  The danger of CCCTB is therefore very real and very large.

But doesn’t Ireland have a veto on changes such as this?  Well, we have a veto on any direct challenge to the actual rate at which we charge Corporation tax, but we may not be able to stop other EU member states from pressing ahead and changing their tax systems to one based on CCCTB.   The responsible EU Commissioner (who has the cumbersome title of Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud) is of a mind that CCCTB should be implemented by means of the “enhanced cooperation procedure”  of the EU Treaty.  This procedure would only require that one-third of all EU member states agree to implement CCCTB in their territories, and they could go ahead.  

The enhanced cooperation procedure is the means by which the concept of a “two-speed Europe” will come into being, and Ireland’s corporation tax advantage could be its first victim.

It’s one of the sacred cows of Irish politics: that we are a neutral country.  

Our sham neutrality has its origins in the struggle for independence and the partition question.  Rabid republicans were so blinded by their hatred of the old enemy Britain that they welcomed its possible defeat by Hitler and his allies.  Not taking sides in the Second World War, or not even having an official view as to the relative merits of Nazi dictatorship and democratic Britain, was a bit dodgy, so it had to be elevated to something grander than a mere cosying up to “my enemy’s enemy”.  Hence this wonderful principle of “neutrality”.

If Russian troops landed tomorrow on the west coast and set about annexing this brave Republic, would we not be shocked if the United States and other EU countries did nothing to help us?  We  certainly would feel aggrieved.  So why do we not expect this to work in reverse?  If our friends are prepared to sacrifice their citizens’  lives to keep Ireland free, should we not be prepared to lift a finger when they are in danger?

Sixty years ago, when the world was sharply divided between totalitarian communism (is there any other sort?) on the one hand, and free market economies (both democratic and non-democratic) on the other hand, there was a case to be made for not being willing to support either side militarily.  Even then, it was a pretty disgraceful position, as the tyranny and cruelty of Stalinism had been exposed, and the arms-bearers of Britain and the United States had saved our bacon from Nazi rule. 

Eleven years ago when NATO tried to save Kosovo by attacking Serbia, Ireland had no view on the matter. As one jornalist wrote “In the first war on European soil in some 50 years, the Government neither approved nor disapproved of the Nato action.  Ireland’s neutrality policy on the issue was hard to explain, and even more difficult to justify.”

Just what does “neutrality” mean in 2010?  In what dispute are we neutral?  Is there no cause which would justify us taking up arms?  Are we always going to be freeloaders? 

Sean Lemass remarked that  “a Europe worth joining is a Europe worth defending” and he was correct.  Martin Luther King, quoting Dante Alighieri, said that “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality”

Another religious man, Bishop Desmond Tutu, warned that “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”   

There’s truth in the old saying that the minute your shift into Neutral when you’re trying to go up a hill, you start going backwards.  So which of our political parties is going to be brave enough to call a halt to this craven and backward policy?  I’m not holding my breath.  Until other countries publicly call us out on this, instead of muttering behind closed doors, our politicians will continue to confuse cowardice with principle.

You see, I have converted to the one true religion of Meshugism and I sincerely believe it is my duty to adhere to every written precept of this great movement, and to fight with every fibre of my body any unbeliever who seeks to roll back or interfere with the inevitable completion of our victory over other unworthy religions and over people of no religion. 

For it is written in our Holy Book, revealed to our holy prophet Al-Dawkinsii, that men shall keep women in their appointed place and shall not fail to curtail their corrupting tendencies by appropriate instruments of restraint.  And verse 37 of tract 13 of the Holy Book, as interpreted by our beloved seventeenth century high priest Wuddi-alaan, instructs us to fashion a rope from the finest hemp, and to attach this rope to the neck of a woman before allowing her to be present in a public place, the better to ensure her safety and to enforce on her the standards of decorous behaviour prescribed by our holy religion.

I insist on my right to practice my religion freely, and to treat my woman as the Holy Book prescribes.  I reject all oppression by so-called “liberals” who scandalise our faith by promoting equal standing for women.  I tell you that our women are happy to be subject to the norms of our one true religion, and rejoice in the safety and certainty that it brings to their troubled existence.  I give this warning: non-believers interfere in our right to exercise our religious beliefs at their peril.  Your objections on supposed grounds of “equality” and “civilization” are an offense to all of us who are prepared to make any sacrifice, even the ultimate sacrifice, to secure our religious rights and to ensure the ultimate victory of Meshugism throughout the world.

I thought Gerry Ryan was an accomplished and entertaining broadcaster, and it’s genuinely sad that he has died.  But is it really the case that his death justified the POPE IS DEAD sort of coverage that RTE gave it?  He was an Irish radio personality, for God’s sake, not an international superstar or the President of the United States.

Some RTE television news editor decided that the first eight minutes of the main evening news last Friday should be devoted to Gerry Ryan’s death.  The same news programme eventually got around to telling us about the resolution of the Greek debt crisis and the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.  This is just embarrassing, and tells you all you need to know about the clique that runs RTE.  As my daughter would say, they are so up themselves.  Sack that news editor, I say.

RTE is so supremely self-regarding, and so incapable of seeing beyong its own little parish, that we then had to have the main weekly talk show re-jigged at short notice and largely devoted to a tribute to Gerry Ryan.  A modest documentary on Gerry, made and broadcast a couple of weeks after his death, would have been a more appropriate response.

But it was ever thus.  Somebody should really do an analysis of just how much of RTE’s output consists of one RTE broadcaster interviewing another RTE celebrity (sic).  And don’t get me started on George Lee and Charlie Bird, those two almost-graduates of the Montrose Montessori.

I better stop now, or this will turn into a rant.  But you see ….  it’s just that I was in fact really saddened by Gerry Ryan’s death, and so it was all the more annoying to have those overpaid and over-indulged bozos in RTE make such a meal of it.  I would like to think Gerry would agree with me.