Ireland is a country which professes to respect citizens of all religions, and those of no religion, and conversely insists that such citizens are fully loyal to the State.  It is therefore surely time we took a hard look at the wording of the preamble to our Constitution. 

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,

We, the people of Éire,

Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,

Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation ………..

The wording is so specifically Christian that it raises a doubt in my mind as to the allegiance non-Christians might as a result feel to the Constitution: if its preamble, which presumably sets out the very foundation for the clauses which follow, is offensive to their beliefs, can they really identify with, and subscribe fully to, Irish law and legal principles?

Conquest’s Limericks

26 July, 2010

I am currently devouring Christopher Hitchens recently-published memoir “Hitch-22”, of which it can truly be said (unlike so many other alleged examples of the characteristic) that there is something to interest or amuse one on every page. 

I hope I am permitted by copyright law to quote from the footnote on Page 174, which expands on the tendency of those attending the now-legendary Friday lunches of the late 1970s London literary set (Hitchens, Kingsley Amis , Martin Amis , Robert Conquest, Clive James, Craig Raine, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes to mention a few) to indulge in word games and compose witty poems.

Insistence upon the capacious subtleties of the limerick was something of a hallmark.  Once again [Robert] Conquest takes the palm: his condensation of the “Seven Ages of Man” shows how much force can be packed into the deceptively slight five-line frame.  Thus: 

Seven ages: first puking and mewling,
Then very pissed off with your schooling,
Then fucks and then fights,
Then judging chaps’ rights,
Then sitting in slippers, then drooling.

 This is not the only example of Conquest’s genius for compression.  The history of the Bolshevik “experiment” in five lines? Barely a problem:

There once was a Bolshie called Lenin
Who did one or two million men in.
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That old Bolshie Stalin did ten in!

The first Limerick cleverly condenses the “All the world’s a stage” monologue from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” which can be found in full  here.

One often reads about the small pleasures in life, and how important they are in getting us through the day.  There is even a popular website devoted to this theme, although I have forgotten the link.

In line with my generally misanthropic outlook on life, I think there should equally be a website devoted to those small but disproportionately painful occurrences that happen to us all on a regular basis.

Near the top of my personal list would be the pain of browsing in a bookshop and finding that a book of which one is particularly fond has been remaindered, and lies unloved  in a pile of less worthy books. 

This first struck me years ago when, after proselytizing madly to my friends about the merits of “The Debt to Pleasure” by John Lanchester, I saw a pile of them for sale in Hodges Figgis at a fraction of the cover price.

But the worst experience of this nature happened recently when I saw Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time by Clive James on sale at something like €4.99 in the same shop. The pain arose not from the fact that I had paid full price for this wonderful 896-page tome (although I had),  but because I had derived so much pleasure from reading the book, because I regarded it as part of my cultural CV, and because I felt everybody with a functioning brain and even a passing interest in 20th century culture and history should share my discovery.

I will have to learn to live with this particular form of disappointment, as I suspect that few books will escape this fate in the future.  After all, one expects new DVD film releases to fall sharply in price as time passes and their novelty value wears off.  But somehow books seem different.  This isn’t necessarily logical, but they do exert an attraction for book-lovers that goes beyond pure form and content.  Which explains why seeing a great book remaindered is like discovering a former lover who has fallen on hard times and is working as a hooker.

Below is an extract from today’s Irish Times, under the heading “Tory peer faces theft charges over expense claims”.

Conservative peer John Taylor was accused yesterday of dishonestly claiming £11,000 (€13,000) of parliamentary expenses, the latest politician to face criminal proceedings in a scandal that shocked Britain……Lord Taylor faces six charges under the theft act for false accounting, prosecutors said. He will appear in court on August 13th. Disclosure last year of taxpayer-funded claims submitted by politicians provoked public anger at a time of economic retrenchment………..Director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer said Lord Taylor had dishonestly submitted claims for overnight subsistence and car mileage on six occasions in 2006 and 2007, falsely stating that he lived outside London when he was actually resident in the capital…………..“Having thoroughly reviewed the eighth file of evidence we have received from the Metropolitan Police in relation to parliamentary expenses, we concluded that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to bring criminal charges against Lord Taylor,” said Mr Starmer.

I hope Ivor Callelly reads this.  I also hope the Irish Director of Public Prosecution reads it and, as I’ve said before, the Gardaí.  If John Taylor MP has his collar fingered by the peelers for a mere £11,000 then our own lovely Ivan is surely deserving of attention for a sum that is about six times larger. 

However, my doctor advises me not to hold my breath.

Tesco’s illusory jobs

14 July, 2010

The economic bulls**t was everywhere today as newspapers, radio and other media unquestioningly trumpeted Tesco Ireland’s press release claim that it “will create 748 jobs” as a result of opening “seven new stores as part of a €113 million investment in the Republic”.

Come on guys, this is lazy journalism of the worst kind. You are not paid just to regurgitate press releases without adding some analysis (or maybe you are?)

According to the Irish Times, Minister for Enterprise Batt O’Keeffe said the investment underpinned the company’s commitment to Ireland and added momentum to the Government’s economic recovery plan. He is quoted as saying that “the investment shows that this is not a jobless recovery. Our recovery is built on prudent Government fiscal and economic policies, indigenous entrepreneurship and continued investments from the multinational sector”.

I wonder if the Minister actually believes the stuff he spouts?

And, not surprisingly, Tesco made similar claims, with its chief executive Tony Keohane asserting that the investment would benefit consumers and create jobs at a difficult time for the Irish economy: “there will be a significant boost in local employment in terms of 748 new jobs at a time when Ireland needs to get people into work”.

The fact is, the new shops that Tesco will open will result, on a net overall national basis, on little or no jobs. For we already have far too many shops of all kinds in this country, thanks to the follies of the Celtic Tiger, and adding new Tesco stores will just hasten the demise of a load of other retailers and the associated jobs.

In reality I suspect that, in the retail sector at least, the overall number of jobs will actually decline, because I would assume that Tesco are relatively more efficient in the number of staff it requires to sell a given value of goods to consumers.

 The Irish Independent today reported that “Many of the loans that will today bring about the bankruptcy of former Anglo Irish chief executive Sean FitzPatrick were given by the bank on an interest-only or interest-roll-up basis”

This adds to the mystery of how the bank reported its “loans to key management personnel” in its annual reports to shareholders.  Take, for instance, the 2007 report, which includes the extraordinarily incorrect statement that “Loans to key management personnel are made in the ordinary course of business on normal commercial terms”.

Here we have a bank which gave its former chief executive (a) tens of millions of euros in loans (b) on an interest-only basis, (c) without adequate security, and (d) allowed him the facility to re-draw the loans after temporarily repaying them for concealment purposes at year-end.  And the board and the auditors were satisfied that this was “in the ordinary course of business on normal commercial terms”?

Either the board (including Fitzpatrick) and the auditors were guilty of gross default of their duty to shareholders, and perhaps of a statutory offence, in allowing this to be published, or the management  were guilty of concealing from non-executive directors what they knew about Fitzpatrick’s loans.

False accounting is a criminal offence under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act, 2001.   It arises inter alia where somebody, intending to make a gain, or to cause loss to another, “falsifies any account or any document made or required for any accounting purpose” or “in furnishing information for any purpose produces or makes use of any account, or any such document, which to his or her knowledge is or may be misleading, false or deceptive in a material particular.”

And still we wait for the wheels of justice to turn.

 Last April, it was reported in the news that (a) President McAleese had launched a new fund dedicated solely to women’s causes (“The Women’s Fund for Ireland”) and (b) that she claimed that the current economic situation was “pretty much testosterone driven”.  At the launch, it was claimed that there were 200 women’s funds worldwide and that there was clearly a need for funding specifically for women.

I was expecting a degree of protest at President McAleese’s comments (where’s her scientific evidence that testosterone had anything to do with our economic crisis?), or even a question or two about whether a fund dedicated solely to women’s causes was necessary or appropriate.  But hardly a peep was registered.  Now, if our President had launched a fund dedicated solely to men’s causes, there would have been a landslide of critical comment.  What does this tell us about our media, or about how we are all still conditioned to think of women as victims in the game of life?

But it is predominantly men who are the academic underachievers, the criminal offenders, the drug addicts, and the morbidly unhealthy.  Men work longer hours, die years younger than women and are now under-represented in third-level education.  Men’s health issues receive far less taxpayer funding than women’s health issues. 

But I don’t expect to read any day soon about a new fund dedicated solely to men’s causes (“The Men’s Fund for Ireland” anybody?)

During my living memory, I have seen a succession of financial/commercial scandals or controversies played out in Ireland.  Some involved suspected corruption or illegality, some were the fruits of disastrous business decisions, and some were attributable to poor regulation.  I suspect that, per capita, we have far more such issues than other countries.  I also believe that the main reason for this is that the protagonists in Ireland seem to be able largely to escape the consequences of their actions, thus creating a climate where history repeats itself.

As an exercise, I sat down the other day and tried to recall all the main scandals or controversies which have blighted our commercial, financial or regulatory reputation.  I have limited this to the past 30 years or so, and thus excluded classics such as the mysterious origins of Charlie Haughey’s wealth, and the Shanahans Stamp Auctions scam. 

  • PMPA – a Ponzi type insurance bubble?
  • GPA – spectacular rise and spectacular fall
  • Goodman Group collapse (and dodgy export credit insurance claims)
  • Patrick Gallagher / Merchant Banking Limited
  • AIB/ICI and the State bailout
  • AIB/Rusnak
  • DIRT scandal
  • Bogus non-resident accounts scandal
  • Baltimore Technologies’ crash
  • Anglo-Irish Bank (and all its myriad subplots)
  • Quinn/Anglo debacle
  • DCC / Fyffes insider trading scandal
  • Bertie Ahern and his tribunal evidence
  • etc etc etc

I invite readers to add to the above depressing list, and comment upon whether it confirms that we are particularly accident-prone or corrupt.