These comments from March 2013, following the death of Hugo Chavez:

President Michael D Higgins:

“President Chavez achieved a great deal during his term in office, particularly in the area of social development and poverty reduction”

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams:

“President Chávez worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Venezuelan citizens. He dedicated himself to building a new and radical society in Venezuela.  His progressive social and economic changes took millions out of poverty.”

And this from yesterday’s Washington Post:

“Venezuela is stuck in a doom loop that’s become a death spiral.    Its stores are empty, its people are starving, and its government is to blame. It has tried to repeal the law of supply and demand, and, in the process, eliminated any incentive for businesses to actually sell things. The result is that the country with the largest oil reserves in the world now has to resort to forced labor just to try to feed itself.”

Just sayin’.

 

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

So our ex-President Mrs Mary Robinson is to open the State’s first presidential archive and research centre in 2017.  Good for her.

In a touching piece in the Irish Times, Robinson-biographer and acolyte Lorna Siggins tells us that “A quarter of a century after her promise to keep a symbolic candle in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin, former president Mary Robinson has outlined plans to brighten her north Mayo birthplace with the State’s first presidential archive and research centre.  The €8.35 million centre in her former family home – the 19th-century Victoria House, overlooking the river Moy in Ballina – will open in the second quarter of 2017, Mrs Robinson said in Ballina at the weekend.”

€8.35 million!  Wow, that’s very generous of her, isn’t it?  Why, I’m almost ready to forgive her for quitting her pathetic little job as President of Ireland in 1997 two months early so she could nail down a real job with the United Nations as their High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Oh but wait a minute, Mary isn’t paying for the house – you and I are footing most of the bill it seems.  Here’s what Lorna tells us:

  • €1.5 million has been provided by Mayo County Council to buy the house and to provide an adjoining site for construction of an annexe, along with architectural and design services;
  • The State has committed just over €2 million through the Department of the Taoiseach;
  • Mrs Robinson has donated her archive, valued at €2.5 million, to the State, under section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, which provides that people who donate heritage items can credit the value against certain tax liabilities.

So this vanity project for Mrs Robinson will cost the Irish citizens up to €5.5 million, depending on what is the net effect on the State coffers of the tax foregone as a result of the big fat tax credit she will get.  She may not have thought enough of us to serve her full term as President, but obviously our money is as good as anybody else’s.

It seems that the archive “will house files relating to Mrs Robinson’s legal work, her presidential engagements from December 1990 to September 1997 and her term as UN high commissioner for human rights from 1997 to 2002.”

I am impressed with the prescience she showed in keeping safe all those boxes of files spanning some five decades.  She must have been confident from an early date that history was being created.

However, in my self-appointed role as intrepid defender of the hard-pressed Irish taxpayer, I have to ask two questions: (a) How come the archive is worth €2.5 million and who decided this?  And (b) how come the papers in the archive are Mrs Robinson’s to donate in the first place?

The latter question is interesting.  Mrs Robinson, both as President of Ireland and as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was effectively employed by and paid for by Ireland and the United Nations respectively.  Under most legal systems and contractual arrangements with which I am familiar, any materials produced in the course of the execution of the paid-for role belong to the employer organisation, not the individual involved.

Why are the files relating to her presidential engagements from December 1990 to September 1997 not already the property of the State?  Why are we effectively paying for them twice – the first time through her salary when she was President and was generating the relevant papers, and now in giving her an 80% tax credit for handing them over to us?   Maybe we need to take a look at the terms of our Presidential “employment contract”.

If Mrs Robinson is anything, she is ethical and law-abiding.  So I’m sure everything is above board.  But somebody has to ask the right questions.  If you are waiting for the Irish Times to ask any challenging questions of her, don’t hold your breath.

PS…. I note that for our money we also will get a research centre that will have “a particular emphasis on the ‘critical area of women’s leadership’, unleashing ‘energy for change’ through women’s empowerment”.   I can’t wait.

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself.
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home…..

 

We have heard a lot in Ireland recently about politicians and their consciences.  Famously, Lucinda Creighton broke with Fine Gael as she wouldn’t follow the party whip and support the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill last year.  She asserted the need to follow her conscience, which apparently was telling her that the Catholic Church’s hard-line position on abortion had to be followed.  Many people’s reaction to stances such as that of Lucinda is to say something like: “I don’t necessarily agree with the views of Mr/Ms X, but I admire him/her for taking a stand on a matter of conscience”.

But this is a superficial analysis.  Because the essence of Lucinda’s stance is to deny all Irish women the very thing she insists on having herself, namely freedom of conscience on the issue of abortion.  And abortion is a matter of conscience.  It’s not like murder or theft or arson, matters on which there is a consensus in all civilised societies, regardless of religious beliefs, and against which we properly (and indeed necessarily) legislate.

Lucinda obviously believes that her conscience must be given greater weight than those of hundreds of thousands of women in Ireland who believe that women should be allowed have an abortion in Ireland, whether because of Fatal Foetal Abnormality, because of a pregnancy arising from rape, or for any other reason that their conscience permits.

As Gene Kerrigan has so aptly written,

It’s possible to have a personal position against abortion – which means you will not have an abortion; you hold that abortion is wrong. And at the same time to have a political position – which is that every woman should have the right to make that choice based on her conscience. Not yours or mine.   Otherwise, you’re saying no one has a right to do anything except what my conscience allows….

…There are women who just don’t – for reasons that are not your business or mine – wish to go through with a pregnancy they never wanted.  We may disagree with them, but we do not have a right to speak for their conscience.

Imagine it was the other way around – that people who are in conscience opposed to abortion were required to undergo abortions, because – for instance – the state imposed a policy on the number of children allowable.

Lucinda exiled herself from Fine Gael as she wanted to retain the status quo for our ultra-punitive abortion laws instead of making the marginal relaxation which the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill involved.  Following your conscience cannot be a “get-out clause” for doing bad things or (and this is key) for refusing similar latitude to other people whose reasoned and informed consciences tell them something completely different.

Dr Ryan Walter, a lecturer in politics at the Australian National University, wrote a fascinating article (“Conscience votes corrupt our political system”) on the relationship between politics and public representatives’ consciences.  It was in the context of proposed same-sex-marriage legislation, but it is relevant in this debate.

“Many politicians appreciate the freedom for debate and personal reflection that comes with conscience votes, but this is exactly why they are so dangerous. For conscience votes have the potential to undermine one of the defining principles of secular liberal democracy: the separation of religion and politics….

…We know from empirical research that politicians will tend to hold a mix of these views [on how best to represent their constituents and to serve the public interest], but the point to underline is that all these visions of politics require the politician to fulfil their public office rather than pursue private interests. This includes personal moral and religious interests. We are perfectly comfortable calling politicians corrupt when they steal from the public purse, but we are inconsistent when we do not decry injecting personal religious belief into legislation that will govern the lives of all Australians, regardless of faith.

…. [Conscience] tells us only to look inside ourselves but not what we’ll find there, which could be all sorts of things: university-student ideologies, religious convictions, moral visions. It is the role of political parties and the ritual of parliamentary process to discipline these private enthusiasms by subjecting them to the duties invested in the public office of a politician.”

Ask your actual or potential public representatives this question: “Do you believe that Ireland should be a secular democracy and that we should separate religion and politics?”  If they say no, well at least you know where they stand, and you should commend their honesty.  If they say yes, then tell them that you expect them to act accordingly when performing their duties as a legislator, and not to vote according to their “conscience” where that conscience is informed by religious views that are not universally accepted.

As Bertrand Russell said, “…the infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.”

 

If you were a senior politician in this decidedly unpopular Government and wanted to promote yourself through the medium of a laudatory and unchallenging newspaper profile, preferably one that takes up almost two whole pages in a weekend edition (which more people have time to read), how would you fancy your chances of achieving same?  Well you might reasonably think that the probability ranked somewhere alongside the chances of winning the Lotto jackpot, even if you have a fleet of handlers and spin-doctors who are paid handsomely to promote your merits on a daily basis.  After all, our newspapers are usually wall-to-wall with caustic and unflattering articles about politicians of all parties, particularly the current Government parties, it would seem.

But there is one class of politician, and one particular newspaper, to which this does not seem to apply.  They are, respectively, well-educated women and The Irish Times.

On Saturday 1st November, the wimmin who pull most of the strings in our Paper of Record excelled themselves by according our new Minister for Justice a lavish and soft profile on the lead page (and most of the second page) of its Weekend Review section.  You will get a flavour from the heading “Minister with a Mission to Deliver”, and even more so from the sub-heading “Practical, tireless, sharp and fast-moving, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is showing she has a flair for the feasible”.  Enough to make even a politician blush, I would have thought.

The writer, Kathy Sheridan, also makes sure to provide space in the article to promote Ms Fitzgerald’s suitability as our next Taoiseach:

She could yet make it to Taoiseach. Does she want it? “I’ve had a chequered political career, so I don’t even go there,” she says.  True. But surely she would say yes, if offered?  “There’s no question of the Taoiseach going anywhere.”   But supposing it opened up? “You’d have to examine the circumstances . . . I don’t think a woman should say no to anything.” So she would take it? “Of course,” she says, with some exasperation.

I can picture other senior Government members, and potential successors to Enda Kenny, gnashing their teeth and shaking their head in disbelief as they read the article.  But there’s more:

Many doubted her ability for justice – why is not clear, since she had been a resounding success elsewhere. In a glowing reference, Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardos Ireland, said she had “worked tirelessly” as minister for children. “She wasn’t afraid to listen, learn and debate with those working directly with children . . . Her commitment to the role is evident from her long list of achievements, accomplished in an impressively short tenure.”

Now Ms Fitzgerald is probably one of our more capable politicians, despite her less than stellar electoral record, but it’s a bit tiresome to have to continually witness the gender bias of the Irish Times, particularly in its coverage of politics (see here for another example).

And even she, as Minister for Children for the past 3 years, might have been slightly embarrassed by the proximity in the Weekend Review of another article, this one about child poverty, which starts with the words “Before the recession, Unicef ranked the State as one of the 10 best places to be a child.  Now it is one of the worst, ranked 37 out of 41 countries.”  No mention of that in Kathy Sheridan’s article.

Ms Fitzgerald, a former head of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, can be confident that the sisterhood, and particularly its many representatives in the Irish Times, will be looking after her interests in the months and years ahead.

 

..

Seriously though, the Government must stop throwing vast amounts of citizens’ money at a failed project to resurrect the Irish language.  It also needs to realise the hypocrisy of continuing with coercion as a policy when the Government’s own members can’t be arsed to learn it.  We continue to witness a classic case of “Do as I say, not as I do”

Last week we read in the Irish Independent about “Opposition anger at ‘farce’ of tongue-tied minister” where the Government could not provide a single minister fluent in Irish to take Dail proceedings during Seachtain na Gaeilge.  Jobs Minister Richard Bruton was the most senior minister available to represent the Coalition due to the annual St Patrick’s Day exodus of ministers abroad.  He admitted that he could only respond in English during a debate that was scheduled to be conducted in Irish.

Mr. Bruton was later reported to have defended the Government’s record on promoting Irish.  This is entirely normal; hardly any Irish politicians can speak the language properly, and yet they all promise (threaten?) increased efforts to promote it. This hypocrisy reached its zenith in the 2011 Presidential Election, where only one candidate out of 7 could debate in Irish.  All spoke of their desire to be fluent in the language, and promised to promote Irish if elected.  In plain language: more coercion for us plebs, more taxpayers’ money to be wasted, but I’m too busy and important to take the trouble to learn the language.

We are the only EU country whose first official language is not spoken by the general population. 6 out of 7 candidates for the highest office in our country never thought it necessary or important enough, throughout their entire career, to be sufficiently familiar with the Irish language to carry on a conversation!  This is mind-boggling.  And yet we spend tens of millions of euros annually in maintaining the fiction that Irish is a living language.

This hypocrisy was further highlighted in another newspaper report in the past week, with the Irish Times reporting that

More than 1,000 bemused Irish residents of Amsterdam have received letters impeccably written in Irish – asking them if they would like to vote in the European elections in May.   On headed paper of the Amsterdam City Council, the letters begin “A dhuine uasail”, before going on to explain that as European citizens the recipients are entitled to vote in the Netherlands for Dutch MEPs.

On the other hand, “Má theastaíonn uait votáil i do thír dhúchais le haghaidh Pharlaimint na hEorpa, ní­ gá duit rud ar bith a dhéanamh ach ahmain má tá tú cláraithe cheana féin san Isiltír”, the Irish expats are advised . . . In other words, if they wish to vote in their own countries they need do nothing at all, unless they are already registered to vote in the Netherlands.

With perfect etiquette, the Amsterdam authorities sign off as Gaeilge with, “Le dea-mhein, Bárdas na Cathrach” – “With best wishes, the city corporation.”   ……. City hall spokeswoman Jutta Ravelli told The Irish Times the letters “prompted quite a few calls from Irish people.  Most were delighted they had been translated into Irish, but they also wanted to know if we had an English version – because they couldn’t understand a word of them.”

So here we have some innocent Dutch officials trying to do their duty under the mistaken apprehension that Irish people actually speak Irish.  The embarrassment.  Less than 1% of Dáil and Senate debates are conducted in Irish (Richard Bruton need not feel isolated in this respect), but the last Fianna Fáil government had the brass neck to persuade our European Union partners to have Irish recognised as a working language in the EU.  So Dutch and other European taxpayers have to pay for a small army of translators to be available just in case an Irish MEP wants to use a cúpla focal.

This again brought to mind the 2011 Vanity Fair article by Michael Lewis (“When Irish Eyes Are Crying”), which highlighted our hypocrisy on what we laughingly call our “First National Language”.

…… The first thing you notice when you watch the Irish Parliament at work is that the politicians say everything twice, once in English and once in Gaelic. As there is no one in Ireland who does not speak English and a vast majority who do not speak Gaelic, this comes across as a forced gesture that wastes a great deal of time. I ask several Irish politicians if they speak Gaelic, and all offer the same uneasy look and hedgy reply: “Enough to get by.” The politicians in Ireland speak Gaelic the way the Real Housewives of Orange County speak French. To ask “Why bother to speak it at all?” is of course to miss the point. Everywhere you turn you see both emulation of the English and a desire, sometimes desperate, for distinction. The Irish insistence on their Irishness—their conceit that they’re more devoted to their homeland than the typical citizen of the world is—has an element of bluster about it, from top to bottom…..

It’s time we stood up to the Irish language lobby.  Blogger Jason O’Mahony has likened them to the Israeli lobby in the United States, because “many people don’t share their views, but are afraid of being called anti-Irish, and so we let them have a position of power and influence in our society out of all proportion to their numbers.”  He might also have likened them to the Neutrality obsessives, or the anti-nuclear nutters.  A herd of sacred cows is being maintained, and proper debate is being stifled.

The current policy has failed miserably.  Generations of schoolchildren have suffered endlessly under the yoke of compulsory Irish, for little evident benefit to them or society generally.  Hundreds of millions of Euros have been largely wasted

So what should the Government do instead?   That’s for another day.  But there may be lessons to be learnt in a country far, far away…..

So, coincidentally or otherwise, we have elected as President the only candidate who actually can converse in our first official language (that’s the Irish language by the way).

From Irish Times on 19th October, reporting on the televised presidential debate held on our national Irish-language TV station, TG4.:

Only one of the seven, Mr [Michael D.] Higgins, is fluent in Irish. The format of the debate had each of the candidates read a short prepared statement in Irish. The debate, chaired by current affairs presenter Páidí Ó Lionáird, was conducted mostly in English, with Mr Higgins speaking in Irish.

The other candidates (surprise, surprise) all spoke of their desire to be fluent in the language, and promised to promote Irish if elected.  Translation: more coercion for the plebs, more taxpayers’ money to be wasted, but I can’t be bothered myself to learn the language.  Such hypocrisy.

This is both revealing and embarrassing.  We are the only EU country whose first official language is not spoken by the general  population.  6 out of 7 candidates for the highest office in our country never thought it necessary or important enough, throughout their entire career, to be sufficiently familiar with the Irish language to carry on a conversation.  And yet we spend tens of millions of euros annually in maintaining the fiction that Irish is a living language.

Fewer than 1% of Dáil and Senate debates are conducted in Irish, but Fianna Fáil succeeded (sic) in getting Irish recognised as a working language in the European Union.  So taxpayers have to pay for a small army of translators to be available just in case an MEP wants to use a cúpla focal.

Bad as that is, the cost is probably small compared to the millions wasted as a result of the Official Languages Act 2003.  For instance, Section 9(3) says that “The public has the right to expect that public bodies will send information …. to the public in general or to a class of the public in general in Irish or bilingually”.  So every piece of official bumph is 100% larger than it needs to be because it’s printed in both English and Irish.  You don’t get to choose which language you want your copy of a particular booklet to be written in; instead you get a jumbo version printed in both languages, which is wasteful beyond belief.

Our new President claims credit for establishing TG4 fifteen years ago.  It costs €33 million annually to run, and has an audience share of under 3%, basically a rounding error.  Indeed I suspect many of those viewers are watching subtitled programming in the second national language, or catching up on televised sport (for instance, Wimbledon tennis,  which bizarrely is transmitted live by TG4 with an Irish language commentary).

Previous Puckstownlane posts on this topic:  here and here.  And Michael Lewis exposed the folly of our Irish language posturing in his Vanity fair article, referenced here.  Ouch.

Ahern remains delusional

19 October, 2011

Apparently the press is to blame for the collapse of the Irish economy.  At least that appears to be the latest line being spun by Bertie Ahern.  Unbelievable. You couldn’t make it up.  See details of an interview with our dodgy, delusional, and disgraced former Taoiseach here.

A flavour of his ramblings:-

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has called for an investigation into the media for what he said were failures to follow the economy because journalists were more concerned with following his dealings with the Mahon tribunal.

Mr Ahern said that from the time he began evidence to the tribunal, the media “just stopped following the economy”.

In an interview on Dublin City University’s radio station DCU FM, he said: “There should be an investigation into it. They should have been following the economy from August 2007, but they weren’t, they were following me. I think a lot of these guys really should have looked at themselves.

“The government were following the economy but the media weren’t. It was a very poor job by the media really. They were shown to be incompetent and that was the trouble – everything was on me.”

When will he ever recognise that the ultimate responsibility for the well-being of citizens came with the job of being Taoiseach, and it wasn’t just about lining his own pocket and being nice to his developer pals?  Trying to deflect responsibility to the media for our economic problems is beyond a joke.

Please, Bertie, get off the stage.