Fine Gael TD for Cavan-Monaghan Seymour Crawford has announced he will be stepping down from the Dáil at the next election.  He joins party colleagues Olwyn Enright in Laois-Offaly and PJ Sheehan in Cork South West, both of whom will also step down.

So here is a possible scenario for December 7th when the Government budget is voted on:  FG and Labour strenuously oppose it, and thereby avoid, at the forthcoming general election,  the odium attached to such a budget.   Über-gombeen men Lowry and Healy-Rae probably also vote against it.  But the budget nevertheless gets approved.

How can that be, with the current voting strength of the parties? 

Well the solution for everybody is simple. One or more of Crawford / Enright / Sheenan declare that stability of the country and its finances are more important than party politics, and accordingly they have decided to support the budget.  There is an unholy row (a simulated one) in FG of course, and the “renegades” lose the party whip, but the budget is passed and FG sail on untainted.

So let’s get on with it.

Is it greed, or is it stupidity?  Both probably. 

Whatever the chances are of getting public buy-in to the harsh realities of the 4-year plan, they are considerably reduced by the failure of Cowen et al to lead from the front and cut their own (still) excessive pay.  Not to mention the ridiculously inflated pay of semi-state chief executives.  And medical consultants.  And lawyers. And senior civil servants.

These things matter. 

Useless gobshites indeed.  They’re not smart enough even to know how to save their own skins.

Today’s Irish Daily Star is a keeper.

I read in the Irish Times  that “Irish volunteers overseas with the Niall Mellon Township Trust …. completed 140 low-cost houses for poor people in a South African township……. the 750 mainly Irish volunteers managed to overcome the heat and meet their building goal….. Volunteers started to hand over the keys of dozens of two-bedroom houses yesterday to some ecstatic South Africans who had been forced to live in shacks in the Wallacedene township.”

Nice story, and all involved are to be commended for their efforts.  But let me run through the questions that seem to me to be unavoidable and that interfere in my proper enjoyment of the story.

  • Q:  How many of the 750 volunteers had relevant construction expertise that a local unskilled worker would not have, or could not be rapidly trained to have? 
  • A:  Probably a small minority.
  • Q:  Was there in the township or its environs a good supply of healthy and strong local men (or women) who could have done the bulk of the heavy work involved in constructing the houses? 
  • A:  For certain.  No shortage of that.
  • Q:  If so, why were such locals not paid to do this work out of the funds available to the Niall Mellon Township Trust, instead of the latter spending hundreds of thousands of euros shipping workers from Ireland and elsewhere? 
  • A:  No idea.  Could it be that individual fundraisers are much more committed to their task if there is the incentive of a trip to South Africa as a result of their efforts?
  • Q:  The continent of Africa is full of townships and slums where conditions are even worse than in those in South Africa that NMTS assists, so why are its efforts restricted to this one area?
  • A:  Pass. 
  • Q:  Is it cultural/racial conditioning that seems to make it unremarkable for rich, mainly white, folk to fly in from Europe to the townships of South Africa (or for that matter, Haiti) to act as navvies for a few weeks, as if the locals couldn’t be trusted to do the job if we just gave them the money instead?
  • A:  You might have something there.  Try to visualise NMTS or its equivalent flying people into (say) Pakistan or Egypt or Mexico or Rio de Janeiro for the purpose of building houses for their slum-dwellers: I think locals would find it a bit odd.  I suspect the attitude would be: “Welcome.  Now give us the money, leave behind a few managers if you must, and the rest of you piss off so we can do it ourselves”.

Anglo-Irish Bank’s 2009 annual report  tells us that the average number of persons employed during the period was 1,681 and that the related employment costs were no less than €186,000,000 (an average of €111,000 per person). 

It also advises that “as part of the Group’s restructuring process a voluntary redundancy programme commenced in November 2009, the effect of which is not reflected in the above headcount numbers. Once the redundancy programme is complete, it is expected that the Group headcount will be below 1,300.”

What are all these people doing, now that it is no longer extending any new loans, most of the old loans have been shipped across to NAMA, and depositors are unlikely to be knocking down its doors to offer them money?

For that matter, why have there been no dramatic redundancies at the other banks owned wholly or partly by the State?  Surely employees are not being kept on just to help the overall national unemployment figures?

From The Economist:

Italians, unlike the British, French and, increasingly, the Germans, do not see the EU as an arena for the resolution of conflicting national interests. Instead, “Europe”, always referred to as if it were somewhere else, is a supplement to—and maybe, one day, a replacement for—their own government, which is axiomatically bad. The EU is like one of those benign but stern creators that reach out of the clouds in Renaissance masterpieces.

To successive Italian governments, “Europe” has been a convenient excuse for imposing unpopular measures. It is why Italians must sort their rubbish, give up their farmland and let in foreign goods. “Europe” is also the reason why certain things cannot be done—in the bureaucratic slang of Rome, it is the vincolo esterno (external constraint).

According to today’s Irish Independent,

Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv was last night appointed Fianna Fail’s campaign manager in the upcoming by-election, even though he is due to oversee a raft of welfare cuts in next month’s Budget.   The appointment of a key Budget minister to the role is set to provoke accusations that Fianna Fail is putting the interests of the party ahead of the needs of the country.    Mr O Cuiv will have to dedicate large amounts of time to the Donegal South West by-election in the coming weeks amid growing worry among welfare recipients over planned cuts to their income.

Fianna Fáil putting the interests of the party ahead of the needs of the country: not exactly “Man Bites Dog“, is it?

Those who can, do;  those who can’t, teach.  So the old saying goes.  But in Ireland it seems that the noble profession of teaching is not only a refuge for the can’t-do-it brigade, but it also is a stepping stone to occupying a seat in Dáil Éireann. 

I invite you to study the breakdown of our current TDs by profession (for instance by visiting this Google Doc).  It is a bit alarming.  There are 39 who are/were teachers or lecturers, 16 lawyers, 19 farmers. And very few with real business experience.  No wonder we are in a mess.

Part of the reason why the Dáil is infested with teachers is that they can get indefinite leave of absence from their permanent teaching job to chase and occupy a Dáil seat, and their cushy post will be kept warm for them by inserting a series of poor unfortunate temporary teachers.   This can go on for years, even decades.

This over-representation of teachers in parliament, and lack of people with business experience, is another reason why our electoral system needs to change.

Ed Walsh wrote tellingly about this problem last July, in the Irish Times:-

“………… The intense crisis that now engulfs us highlights the deficiencies of Ireland’s system of governance. Talent is the glaring deficit. The 15 people who currently serve as Government Ministers are well-intentioned, hard-working people but generally undistinguished in terms of expertise, experience or achievement. Not one of the many Irish people who have proven themselves internationally serves in government…..

There is some management experience at the Cabinet table: Éamon Ó Cuív managed a Gaeltacht co-operative; Eamon Ryan has a commerce degree and ran a bicycle shop and tour business; and John Gormley owned a language school. But more than half the members were in education (six teachers, one guidance counsellor, one lecturer), one is a social worker and three are lawyers.   …… I can find no evidence that a Fianna Fáil Minister has a business qualification. A company with such an unimpressive board of directors would find it difficult to attract investment or be taken seriously.

An analysis of Opposition front benches suggests that a change of government would not much alter the talent and experience deficit. Similar large numbers of primary and secondary teachers would dominate…..

None of the new democracies of central Europe chose to adopt the Irish electoral system. All decided to introduce some form of list system, which provides a means by which national movers and shakers can be brought into government. Typically half the seats in parliament are reserved for those who are elected, as in our case, from local constituencies and the other half from lists of well-known national figures.

As a result, when the prime minister goes to appoint ministers a wide range of proven talent and experience can be drawn upon. The list system reduces clientism and ministers can take difficult decisions with less concern about re-election. They are released from the distraction and burden of constituency work and can give undivided attention to the ministerial job and the challenge of government……”

Once more, one is inclined to question what exactly one has to do in Ireland for the courts to consider that a jail sentence is warranted.  According to the Irish Times last Saturday,

A Louth woman who defrauded her employer of €475,000 over a three-year period has been given a six-year suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.   Lorraine Gregory (37), used the €475,000 in forged company cheques to buy a house and fund the purchase of other luxury items such as an Audi A4 car and a foreign holiday.  The court heard the defrauded company has since stopped trading after years of operating successfully.  Gregory …. pleaded guilty to 23 sample charges of theft and forgery on dates unknown between August 2001 and March 2004 …..

No wonder Ms Gregory appears to be laughing in the photograph published alongside the article.

Lots of questions arise:

  • would she have been jailed if she stole a higher amount, say €1 million?  (Where exactly is the cut-off point for a custodial sentence?)
  • would a man have been jailed in a similar case?
  • is it any wonder we have so few people in jail?  See this post. (England and Wales have proportionately twice as many people in jail.)
  • is it any wonder that there is a culture of impunity towards white-collar crime in Ireland?

I have commented on this issue more than once before, so there is a real danger I will be thought a crank.   It’s a risk I am prepared to take.  To repeat myself : “I’m sure there is an argument that the convicted parties will probably not re-offend.  I’m equally sure that unless people are occasionally put in jail for fraud and theft, more people will be tempted to take a chance on perpetrating such crimes.  These are not victimless crimes: they affect us all by increasing the operating costs of businesses and by costing the Exchequer (ie taxpayers) millions in enforcement costs.”