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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Letters To Home In A World At War

                                                      Gen. Erwin Rommel

Letters to wives during WWII: Gen. Erwin Rommel, Gen. Gotthardt Heirici
In this winter of 1941, the German armies failed to encircle Moscow: Hitler delayed launching the attack till late June because the German Armies had entered Greece, occupied Yugoslavia with 680,000 soldiers in May 4, and were ready to pound on the Baltic countries of Rumania, Hungry, and Bulgaria.

In this difficult Russian winter, Hitler ordered all the commanders in the eastern front Not to retreat. The commanders who suggested a retreat were replaced by other commanders, and a few who did not obey were court marshaled and executed.

In Dec. 25, 1941, General Gotthardt Heirici wrote to his wife:
“They (The German officers and Hitler) don’t want to accept the fact that their armies, facing Moscow, are already completely encircled by the Russian armies. They refuse to admit that the Russians are capable of such military maneuvers.
Thus, they keep rushing in the abyss, totally blind to the consequences. Within 4 weeks, they will have lost their armies, and later they’ll lose the war…”
The weather is below 35 degrees Celsius, the ground muddy and icy, and the German soldiers lacks winter clothing and the vehicles and equipment are frozen, and the supplies are lacking…
The Russian army barely manage to resist the first onslaught, and as Stalin was convinced that Japan is no longer prepared any attacks on Russia, Stalin dispatched 400,000 soldiers from Russia far eastern front to face the German armies that penetrated very deep into Russia since June.
Gotthardt Heirici wrote in April 24, two months before the Russia campaign, and describing the occupation of Poland:
“In Poland, the Germans are behaving exactly as during the Antiquity when the Roman Empire conquered other people: The Polish people are to serve as slaves. Poland is considered the garbage dump of Europe… (the land where most people are potential for extermination).

Gen. Erwin Rommel had led his Panzer division in 1940 across the occupied France in a swift mechanized “horse ride”.
In Jan. 6, 1941, Gen. Erwin Rommel writes to his wife LU, from his quarters in Bordeaux (France):
“It seems the postal service is back to normal: I received your correspondence of Dec. 21 and 23. This afternoon we watched the movie “Le Coeur de la reine” (on Marie Stuart0 and I liked it.
The French peasants are living in the same life style as during the Roman Empire. Their homes are similar to ancient Rome, rough construction, flat roofs with round tiles, no running water, windows that don’t close shut, and not designed to keep the cold and wind out
I am not surprised of the military debacles of the Italian armies in Libya, Greece, Albania, Ethiopia, Somalia… against the armies of the British Gen. Archibald Wavell… The Italians forgot that war is not an easy enterprise…”
The British had rounded up 160,000 Italian soldiers as prisoners and the Italian armies overseas were in constant retreat. Churchill decided that the British armies are better to be shipped to Greece to counter the German advances in the Balkan, instead of reconquering all of Libya and Tunisia.

On Feb. 6, 1941, Rommel meets with the Fuhrer and receives the order to lead the AfrikaKorps in North Africa.
Rommel air bombs the port of Benghazi to prevent the British armies from it to supply its troops, and he settled in Tripoli, waiting for the 120 Panzer tanks to land.
The Italian officers were already packed up and waiting to be repatriated to Italy.
The initial mission of Rommel was to reconnoiter the front and the theaters of operations in Libya. He quickly stepped out of his limited orders and advanced very swiftly by fooling the British that he had many more tanks than he had: Rommel attached makeshift tank bodies on Volkswagen cars and led columns of transport vehicles to raise a lot of dust and give the illusion that an entire division of tanks are on the move…

By Aril 25, 1941, Rommel writes to his wife:
“The city of Tobruk will fall within two weeks and the battle of Egypt and the Suez canal is now seriously engaged. Easter passed and we didn’t notice it. You and my son Manfred are the most precious people I have in this world.
Greece is to fall very shortly… The German traditional officers who are burdened with theories do not comprehend practical spirits.  The energy shared by the chief in constant contacts with his soldiers is often more important than his intellectual gifts and talents.
The modern warfare is swiftness and requires maximum initiatives from the commanders and his troops…”
Athens fell on April 27. The 55,000 British soldiers who were supporting the 200,000 Greek armies had to retreat haphazardly to the island of Crete.  A few weeks later, 5,000 German parachutists landed in Crete and were supported by 15,000 coming from the sea and forced 30,000 British to evacuate again.
Many generals begged Hitler to occupy Cyprus to be at a striking distance from the Suez Canal. The Fuhrer declined the suggestion because Germany lost 4,000 of its best trained parachutists in Crete, and Hitler was still feeling sore of that loss.

Back in Russia. In December of 1941, a German soldier wrote to his wife: “Don’t worry. Don’t be sad: The sooner I’m buried deep in earth, the sooner I’ll save myself further pains and suffering…”

The war in Russia has turned “extermination style” on both sides. villages were burned to the ground and the civilians left to die in the cold and out of famine. No prisoners were taken.

Crunch time on mortgage arrears

‘If we had foreclosures at even Spanish levels – and the crisis here was worse – some 30,000 houses would have been repossessed. Instead, the latest figures indicate fewer than 4,000 homes were repossessed by the end of last year.’ 
The Government is working on yet another plan to deal with mortgage arrears. 
The crisis has already involved three expert groups and successive policy changes. This time,
expect some changes to the insolvency regime and more pressure on the banks to do deals.
As usual the big question of who pays the bill for mortgage arrears will be fudged.

Whether you talk of mortgage write-offs or making the whole thing more affordable for borrowers, any “solution” involves the homeowner paying less and a cost that must fall somewhere. Politicians, who like to offer everyone a “free lunch” tend to avoid this, but as well as being a complex and tricky problem, this also makes it a politically toxic one.

Those in arrears want a break, but those who are not don’t want this to happen at their expense, whether as taxpayers or bank customers. This has delayed the move to tackle this problem. Now we have started, it is clear that it will involve a lengthy slog.
The general approach of this Government and the last one has been to try to face two directions at the same time. They have called on the banks to “get on with it”, but say the family home must be protected. The problem is that “getting on with it” – which has happened since legal and regulatory changes were made in mid-2013 – has now inevitably pushed more cases into the legal system and towards repossession.

An IMF paper comparing how the crisis was handled in Ireland, Spain, Iceland and the US puts it in perspective. Forbearance – giving the borrower temporary relief and hoping things pick up – is a typical response early in a mortgage debt crisis. US experience suggests it works in about a quarter of cases and usually within a year. Forbearance offers breathing space, but for most it is not a solution.

The US and Spain both moved quickly enough into foreclosures – or repossessions – with 15 per cent of mortgage accounts being foreclosed since 2007 in the US and more than 4 per cent in Spain. If we had foreclosures at even Spanish levels – and the crisis here was worse – some 30,000 houses would have been repossessed.

Instead the latest figures indicate fewer than 4,000 homes were repossessed by the end of last year: 1,100 via court-enforced orders and the rest via voluntary repossessions. Others will have sold under pressure from the banks.

The Irish solution to this Irish problem has been to hold out the threat of repossession, alongside the promise that it probably won’t be used. However, the numbers are now set to rise quickly, leaving Enda Kenny’s Government with a political dilemma.

Repossession orders
Around 8,000 civil bills have now been lodged by banks seeking repossession orders. Some of these are tactics to get borrowers to the table. Some will be turned down by the courts and some will not be acted on. But whatever way you look at it, the repossession figures are due to rise sharply.

Reducing the number of repossessions means taking action, though if mortgage debt is written off or new arrangements are found to make it more affordable for the homeowner, someone pays. Perhaps we might say “the banks” should pay. But of course we own two of the biggest players –AIB and Permanent TSB – and have a 14 per cent stake in Bank Of Ireland. 

With stakes in Permanent TSB and AIB due to be sold in the next year or so, this will be the unspoken factor which will drive a lot of what happens in the weeks ahead.
The Government plan will promise a promotional campaign to make borrowers more aware of their options under mortgage guidelines and the new insolvency rules. It will try to address problems in the insolvency regime, including the apparent lack of expertise among many personal insolvency practitioners and problems in the financial structure of the whole thing.

Longer-term solutions
The regime will be altered to give some oversight or appeal mechanism in cases where banks object as secured creditors to insolvency deals. And there may be a move to make it easier for those in mortgage arrears to deal with unsecured debt. There is talk of shortening the bankruptcy period, now three years, but this may or may not happen.

Meanwhile, the banks will be pushed to offer longer-term solutions. These will include the mortgage-to-rent schemes for those in deep trouble – meaning they lose ownership but can remain renting – and split mortgages, where part of the debt is parked for a period and may eventually be written down.

The political problem is that there is no “big bang” solution. This is outlined clearly in the IMF paper, which says that some kind of widespread programme of across-the-board debt relief is likely to be expensive and ineffective – and also to cost the banks. There seems no alternative to the “case by case” approach, it says, though the upside is that if the right loan restructure can be found, this can benefit both bank and borrower.

We now have about 115,000 people who have negotiated “solutions” and 110,000 in arrears. The only way through this is to get more people out of the arrears box and into the solutions box, to try and make sure these solutions are not just sticking plasters and to do this in as humane and reasonable a way as possible.

The reality, seven years into the crisis, is that there is a significant group who cannot pay and will never be able to and it is surely better to now get on and finally deal with this.

 Cliff Taylor 

$1m for innocent man’s 39-year term

                                                                              Ricky Jackson

An Ohio man freed last year after spending 39 years in jail for a murder he did not commit will receive over $1m (€923,050) from the state for his wrongful imprisonment, court records show.

An Ohio Court of Claims judge ordered that over $1m be paid to Ricky Jackson, the longest-held US prisoner to be cleared of a crime.

“Wow, I didn’t know that,” Jackson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which said he learnt of the payment from a journalist.

“Wow, wow, wow, that’s fantastic, man. I don’t even know what to say. This is going to mean so much,” he said.
Jackson was convicted along with Wiley Bridgeman and Bridgeman’s brother, Kwame Ajamu, for the 1975 murder of Harold Franks, a money order salesman in the Cleveland area, after a 12-year-old boy testified he saw the attack, court papers show.

The boy, Eddie Vernon, recanted his testimony years later, and told authorities he had never actually witnessed the crime. There was no other evidence linking Jackson to the killing.

Other witnesses confirmed the then-teenaged Jackson was on a school bus at the time of the killing. He had originally been sentenced to death but escaped because of a paperwork error.

Bridgeman was freed soon after Jackson, after the charges were dismissed last November. Although Bridgeman had first been freed in 2002, he was imprisoned again for a probation violation, defence lawyers said.

A Cleveland judge in December dropped all charges against Ajamu, who spent 27 years in jail before having his death sentence commuted and being freed in 2003.

The 39 years Jackson spent in jail was the longest time a prisoner had been held before being exonerated, the Ohio Innocence Project, which provided legal counsel to Jackson, and the National Registry of Exonerations said.

Curtis Skinner

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Tax cuts is a wake up call for all of us

THEY’RE on the blower to Enda again. Some people can’t help picking up the phone and getting in touch with the Taoiseach directly. Maybe it’s because last year, in the US, Mr Kenny told business people he was handing out his number, and they should give him a shout if they had any problems.

In January, he said that he was getting calls from people around the country who were amazed that their pay packets had shown an increase, thanks to the Government’s very modest tax cuts in last October’s budget.
“It was great to see some people contacting us, saying ‘well, I’m not sure whether it was a mistake or not, but I seem to have gotten extra money in the last payment’,” Kenny told a gathering. The following day, under pressure to reveal who exactly these grateful taxpayers were, his spokesman reversed at speed, suggesting that the Taoiseach had been using a “turn of phrase”. Or, to put it plainly, he had been talking through his hat.
Last week, in the US, Mr Kenny took the opportunity to share the content of more recent calls he has been getting, this time from displaced Gaels. “I get phone calls from Singapore and from Australia and they say ‘you know, I’d like to go back — I know I can get a job — but your tax rate is too high’,” Kenny said.
                                                                    Enda Kenny on the phone

“And that’s why we’ve started a process of reducing that tax burden in the last Budget, and it will continue in this one coming up, and the one after, if the Government happens to be re-elected.”

All these people telling the Taoiseach all these things. Where does he get time to run the country, if he can’t get off the blower?

His latest telephonic tale does tell a story, though. Tax cuts are going to be front and centre in the next general election. Fine Gael, and possibly Fianna Fáil, will concentrate on areas like the marginal rate; Labour will be more likely to woo people on the basic rate of tax. And Sinn Féin will promise to abolish water charges and property tax, and heap the cost on the rich, whomever they are.

All parties will have other goodies up their respective sleeves, but tax will be front and centre. Remind you of anything?

Which party excelled at offering and delivering tax cuts in the decade before the economy, and with it much of society, went belly up? What was the clarion call of all parties in the years of illusory plenty?
Politically, whenever standards of living are discussed, everything is measured against how we lived prior to 2008. Any discussion of whether the country might have been living unsustainably was dismissed with the glib, and — at this stage — clownish retort: “We didn’t all party.”

This is in reference to a clumsy comment made by the late Brian Lenihan, that all of society had benefited from the property bubble. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t party. Like all of you, though, I did benefit.
I benefited from tax rates and improved services that were, to a large extent, paid for by the money that poured into the exchequer from property-related activity. Those at the top benefited most, by far. Some were infected with obnoxious greed. Others believed their own horse manure as to the infallibility of the economy, and the bigness of their brains. But everybody did benefit, make no mistake about that.

The failure among large swathes of the population to acknowledge that home truth is now allowing the political classes to effectively promise that we can all get back to the standards of living that we enjoyed in those days.

Consider the following, which was calculated with the assistance of a tax consultant. Take a family, including three children under six-years-of-age, in which one of the parents works outside the home, earning €50,000.
Back in 2008, that income yielded €40,563 net, when rates, allowances, credits and PRSI payments were taken into account. Throw in the child-benefits rates of the day, of €166 for the first two children and €203 for the third, and the early childhood supplement of €1,100 per child (which was payable at the time), and the family was receiving €9,720 from the State.

So with a net income of €40,563, and transfers of €9,720, the family had an income of €50,283, leaving them with a net transfer from the State of €283. Happy days.

Not everybody has three children under six, but neither is the above example exceptional. It is also the case that high-earners proportionately benefited far more back in those crazy days. However, when you consider that around two-thirds of earners have income less than €50,000, it throws the times into sharp relief. An oil-rich nation might well be able to sustain that kind of approach to taxing its citizens, but the notion that it was sustainable in this economy is simply for the birds.

Yet, it is those standards that politicians of all hue are hinting that they want to restore. After all, if the man and woman in the street didn’t benefit from those illusory times, isn’t he or she entitled to have those standards of living restored?

The whole thing is a con game and the electorate is willing to be played. For if there is one constant in Irish politics, it is the electorate’s wish to get fooled again with more promises, particularly from parties who are in opposition.

And what of the awful tax rates that now exist, which have Enda Kenny allegedly getting an earful from Irish people working abroad?

One friend on the €50k is now coming out with a net of €38,301, having paid taxes, PRSI and the USC.
That compares with the €38,346 he was receiving in 2002 — just €45 more than he’s getting now. Was this a high tax country in 2002? Hardly.

Of course, other issues are impacting hugely today that are a result of the recession. Water charges and property tax can add up to €500 a year, and the real bugbear of overbearing mortgate repayments for some, and arrears for others, are not easy to digest.

There are far more important matters in today’s world that require addressing, such as the state of the country’s services, and the growing problem of low pay. Don’t expect these to feature prominently in the election campaign. The trends set during the days of plenty are here to stay. Vote for us: less tax for you — and if that’s not sustainable, we’ll find somebody else to pay for it. It’s a pity that somebody hasn’t got onto the blower to Enda Kenny about more pressing or nationally important matters than tax. But even if they did, it’s unlikely that Mr Kenny would share those calls with us.

Michael Clifford

Friday, March 20, 2015

Give back the Irish people their courage in this climate of fear.

A general election looms, not because the government are rising in the polls but because Sinn Fein are. And that is the only reason. 

When our sovereignty became permanently compromised by ‘shifty Bertie’ and drunken Biffo, people at the very least people demanded some sort of accountability. They got the bill instead. 

Since 2008 when the great fraud was finally exposed, it did not mean the con had stopped, for there was a few more deadly hands to be played, rather we were left holding a dead hand in a game of bluff.

                                                                                          Gerry Adams

Not one politician has been convicted of fraud since that time, not one developer, not one banker/gangster, nor one civil servant. The flight of the people has already  begun in deadly earnest as almost 82, 000 men, women and children left our shores last year alone because of what happened here. 

The much heralded 10% unemployment rate is the cloth that covers the new ‘employers’ that employ nothing more than indentured slaves in the laughably called ‘back to work schemes.’ These are schemes to massage the unemployment figures downwards and keep highly qualified people from rising above the €50 that is added to their unemployment benefit ‘wage.’ These are the wages of sin and little else. Yet, Kenny tells us he is well worth his €3000 a week wage while asking the people who have left Ireland to come home. To what?

90% of all newly qualified doctors and existing ones believe they will have to find better pay and conditions in another country while patient in trolleys lie moribund in the corridors of hospitals up and down the country hoping to see the few that stay. Football clubs in urban and rural Ireland have closed down because the life blood of youth has long departed. Vacant houses dot the landscape while great chunks of picturesque villages lie boarded up like the old wild west towns of 18 century America long after the gold rush was over. Repossessions are the norm, rents are unaffordable while homelessness is now normal. We live in a climate of fear.

Yes, tourism will still come to see what Ireland might have become had it not been for the Celtic tiger that roared yet died with a whimper. It’s faint pulse is still there through it’s dying eyes for corruption and unaccountability keeps hope still in it’s heart. There is nothing left to bargain with now except our ‘Cead Mile Failte’ and natural friendliness for the rest has been sold off for a stay of execution like an appeaser to a crocodile hoping he will be eaten last. The prostrated knee has been exalted as an act of courage and still people put up with it.

The question is: for how long more? They now tax our houses on the inflated price we paid for them; the water, that was already paid with our taxes, is already being double taxed in between all the other stealth taxes. How long more can we take it indeed?And still the golden circles and rampant cronyism exist as it always has.

There is one fact that the Irish Independent cannot wash over or distort while using false allegation of sexual abuse to support their hate campaign against Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams, and it is this: There would not have been any peace process without them, or any acceptance of the status-quo that is the northern Ireland conflict today. Jerry Adams persuaded an entrenched and uncompromising IRA to do the opposite and that is make compromise, to decommission, to embrace the peace process. That took courage, reckless if not suicidal courage.

Even by some die hard Irish republican’s today he is seen as a traitor for doing those things, and by the mainstream corrupt political parties of the south supported by their media in the form of the Irish Independent for doing them as well. The latter just wanted the party, their own personal party to go on as before. 

Gerry has long been in a seemingly no win situation but he is winning slowly the will of the Irish people north and south. The main reason he is vilified and hated by politicians in the south of course, is because they fear, not the long de-commissioned and imaginary guns, but accountability and transparency and above all real change. Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein I believe will give the Irish people that positive change and their courage back in this climate of fear.

If they do not deliver, then, as always, they should be voted out of office, but at the very least they should be allowed, without vile and hysterical prejudice, to be voted in.

Barry Clifford

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Proud war of independence revolutionaries left fumbling in the till

IN JUNE 1923, two months after the end of the Civil War, the Dáil agreed to recognise and compensate wounded members and the surviving dependents of deceased members of various groups that had participated in the events of 1916 to 1923 and were deemed and proven to have had “active service” during this time.
Arising out of this initiative, from the 1920s to the 1950s, two streams of legislation, the Army Pensions Acts from 1923 to 1953 and the Military Service Pensions Acts of 1924, 1934, and 1949, were introduced to facilitate recognition of military service, injury, and bereavement, and the legislation generated an enormous administrative archive, including the pension applicants’ files and various supporting material, such as reports of military activities, the nature of military service and family circumstances, information on degrees of dependency, societal circumstances, and where applicable, medical reports, as well as requests for investigations by the military authorities, reports from An Garda Síochána and the issuing of recommendations.
There was also considerable correspondence between the departments of finance and defence, Old IRA Associations, reviews of individual cases, the details of payments of pensions, gratuities and awards and individuals’ proof of service, including references and testimonials.
                                  Undated photo of the Clonmult unit fromMiddelton in County Cork

To assist the Department of Defence, specific bodies were set up to decide on the merit of each applicant’s case, including a board of assessors under the Military Service Pensions Act of 1924 and a Referee and Advisory Committee under the 1934 and 1949 Acts; membership of these bodies included senior civil servants, former senior IRA officers, and members of the judiciary.
In the process of building and sustaining the pensions process, there were numerous difficulties in relation to defining “active service” (around which there was much ambiguity), eligibility, and the application and assessment procedures.

The fact that part of the War of Independence was a guerrilla conflict exacerbated these difficulties; proving membership of an underground movement was fraught, and what constituted sufficient sacrifice was open to a variety of interpretations.
There was a hierarchy of victims, with the immediate families of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, for example, specially catered for with higher annual allowances than were paid to others bereaved.
Crucially, the anti-Treaty IRA was initially excluded from the pensions process and there were allegations of political bias in the award of pensions; in 1929, a member of Fianna Fáil accused the government of using the pensions “for the purposes of political graft”.

But when it came to power from 1932 onwards, Fianna Fáil was more than willing to extend the benefits of pensions to anti-Treaty republicans, which meant its supporters.
The Military Service Pensions Act of 1934 amended and extended the Act of 1924 and included members of Cumann na mBan within the definition of those who constituted the “forces”. It was estimated in the 1930s that the pensions provisions would lead to an annual bill of IR£400,000 (about IR£25m, or €32m, in today’s terms).
Not everyone was happy about this expenditure. In 1945, well-known civil servant PS O’Hegarty, for example, described the clamour for monetary reward as telling “a sorry tale of patriotic degeneration and lack of public spirit”.

But this assertion needs to be balanced with the fact that extensive hardship was experienced by revolutionary veterans and their dependents. This is one of the reasons why the pensions archive reveals so much about the revolution’s afterlife.
Those involved in administering the pension process were keepers of a precious national record but were also arbiters in disputes about survival and status. Some of the recipients led lives of financial ease, became holders of high public office, and had elevated status as a consequence of their revolutionary activities.

Many, however, paid a high price for their involvement, enduring disability, poverty, obscurity, humiliation, and early death. Many women and children were left without any means of support other than the prospect of a dependent’s pension.
There was a huge gulf between the numbers of applications and awards, meaning there was a very large constituency of people who were, at the very least, disappointed at the decisions of the assessors.

A government memorandum in 1957 revealed that 82,000 people applied for pensions under the 1924 and 1934 acts; of these, 15,700 were successful and 66,300 were rejected. The archive is thus a great chronicle of disappointment.

There were those, however, who won their battles over pensions, including Tom Barry, the former British army soldier and IRA activist from Cork, who had been one of the best known and most admired of the flying column leaders during the War of Independence, particularly as a result of the Kilmichael Ambush of 28 November 1920, when he led an attack on a patrol of Auxiliaries, 17 of whom were killed.
                                                                                Tom Barry

The ambush had a profound impact, resulting in the declaration of martial law for much of Munster the following month, official reprisals, and widescale internment. By the spring of 1921, his flying column, with 104 men, was the largest in Ireland. Barry survived the War of Independence and the Civil War, during which he fought on the republican side.

He remained on the run until 1924, the same year in which he became involved in the Cleeves Milk Company based in Limerick and Clonmel, and from 1927 until his retirement in 1965 he was general superintendent with the Cork Harbour Commissioners.
In the midst of his working life, his book, Guerrilla Days in Ireland, was published and became a bestseller. Barry has been described as autocratic and prickly but also generous and charismatic.

Intelligent yet intolerant, he was quick to take on lawyers and bank managers over matters relating to his IRA column’s activities.
He also had to take on the Military Service Pensions Board over another perceived slight — its decision that his activities during the revolutionary period did not merit the award of the most senior rank and grade for the purposes of payment of a pension (pensions were graded A to E depending on rank and length of service).

In December 1938, Barry wrote to the assessment board to submit his form, which claimed IRA service from July 1919 to the end of September 1923: “I would like to point out that I have not included what I would term the lesser fights, shootings or actions. I have only dealt with the major activities... I claim that I was continuously engaged without a break for the period mentioned. In justice to myself and the officers and men I commanded, I claim Rank A.
“Apart from the post of Liaison officer for the martial law area to which post I was appointed on the day preceding the Truce, by virtue of my rank as deputy divisional O/C [Officer Commanding] prior to that date, I had under my absolute control all the fighting organisation of active service units in Cork, Kerry, Waterford and West Limerick.

“My post was NOT vice O/C but Deputy O/C. The late General [Liam] Lynch handed me over all the Active Service Units about three weeks after his own appointment. My rank and activities also during the Civil War period entitles me to rank A.”
Days later, he wrote another letter to the board, suggesting “it is possible that the Board would be facilitated by a more detailed statement in deciding the issue of my rank” and also to make the point that, at the outset of the Civil War, “the ranks on 1 July 1922 were indeed very vague for any of the GHQ [General Head Quarter] officers”.

During his sworn statement before the military service pension’s advisory committee, Barry was asked was there a difference between deputy divisional commander and vice divisional O/C.
He replied: “Certainly there was a difference... Deputy Divisional O/C is one which ranks co-jointly with the OC, whereas the Vice O/C is only a staff officer.”

In reply to the question about a later period — “You claim your rank at that period was Rank A?” — his reply was adamant: “Certainly. I would accept no other rank.”
Grave disappointment was to follow for Barry. In January 1940, he received his military service pension award of Rank B, which “I reject... on the grounds of both length of service and of rank”.

He was livid that the board had disallowed him full-time active service on certain key dates, including the periods October 1919 to July 1921 and July to September 1923. “It is sufficient to state that my award was humiliating to a degree,” he said.
As was usual with Barry, such a concise assertion of his grievance was not sufficient; a few lines later in the letter he wrote: “I do ask the Board now to understand that I am feeling ashamed and ridiculous at the award and that I am entitled at least to have this humiliation removed from me.”

He insisted on his appeal being heard in person and maintained he had lined up former IRA officers who were prepared to verbally testify on his behalf. Senior politicians, including Fianna Fáil ministers Éamon de Valera and PJ Ruttledge, had already written statements of evidence on his behalf.
Bill Quirke, who was a member of the Army executive and O/C of the second southern command, and who had also been awarded rank B, wrote the following month to the board in relation to Barry: “I always regarded him as my superior officer and if any man in Ireland is entitled to special consideration for special services, surely he is one man.”

De Valera intervened the following month and suggested to the board “that you avail of rule 4, to step up his rank. Perhaps you could consider this.”
Barry gave further evidence in May 1940 and in August 1940 he was granted the rank of rank A for pension purposes, on the basis of which an annual pension of £149.7s was payable. His perseverance, righteousness, attention to detail, friends in powerful positions, and adamant testimonials on his behalf had paid off.
THE saga surrounding Barry’s application for a pension and his vehement rejection of the Pension Board’s initial decision is a reminder of the longevity of battles over the legacy of the War of Independence in the state that was created at its end.
Significantly, Barry’s struggle in the late 1930s and early 1940s with the Pension Board involved the issue of status rather than money but, for many others, the award of a pension could mean the difference between material survival and destitution.
The bulk of the pensions archive is filled with the experiences of those who were not household names, and includes many voices of desperation and urgent pleas for pensions due to the abject circumstances of a host of War of Independence and Civil War veterans. Undoubtedly, as with Barry, status was a preoccupation for some of them also, but the monetary award could be of more immediate consequence.
Many were not as fortunate as Barry; some were the relatives of republican icons, but such a family connection was not always a guarantee of material comfort.

This was painfully evident in the case of Brigid Treacy, the mother of Seán Treacy, the Tipperary IRA volunteer killed in 1920. Brigid was a claimant under the Army Pensions Act 1923 and also crossed swords with the Pensions Board.

She was living on a small holding of 14 acres in Tipperary and was offered a gratuity of £100 per year which she refused, and responded: “£100 for the life of Sean Treacy?.. A few lines to let you know of the humiliation I have experienced this morning at receiving the enclosed paper offering me the paltry sum of £100, for the loss of my noble son my only child and only help in this wicked world... had I to beg from door to door for the remainder of my life I could not nor would not accept the meagre sum of £100, for the life of my heroic son."
“The Army Pensions Board must have a goodly mixture of the old hated class in it or I would not be so humiliated by them or E[rnest]. Blythe [the minister for finance]... other men will do justice to my son’s worth and character and protect me from the insults I am receiving.”
The gratuity on offer was later raised to £150, the maximum allowable, due to “special circumstances”. She was described in administrative correspondence as “an old feeble woman and Seán Treacy was her only son”.
Some applicants had to endure years of waiting, frustration, and tortuous correspondence, often with no positive outcome. The tone of many of their letters conveys anger with seemingly endless bureaucratic inertia.

An added insult to many, to their genuine dismay, was that their services and sacrifices were not officially recognised, sometimes because of the verifying the exact level of service or number of military engagements. Poverty formed the backdrop to many cases considered, which gave an added urgency to appeals.
Others who were disappointed with the decisions about their rank expressed their dismay but did not pursue an appeal, being well aware how long the process could take. As John Scollan from Drumcondra in Dublin put it in May 1938: “The question of rank is certainly disappointing. As I am now 62 years of age, it would only delay matters considerably if I were to appeal. This I am not going to do.”
Scollan had been director of organisation, intelligence, and munitions for the Hibernian Rifles and a member of the executive council of Sinn Féin.

He had, at various stages, been a prisoner in Frongoch, Wandsworth, Wormwood Scrubs, and Reading jails. Although he made his statement in October 1935, he had still heard nothing by November 1936. In May 1938, he was informed his pension would be £20 per annum.
Understandably, at a time of high unemployment, economic stagnation, and very limited prospects for the next generation, the issue of dependency permeates the pension files. In 1946, the 34-year-old daughter of an army pension recipient who had recently died asked the Department of Defence if her father’s last cheque could be made payable to her.
“ I am absolutely dependent for my support on my father’s pension,” she wrote.

“I should also like to point out that I am an invalid for over twelve years and I am not in receipt of any monies from any source whatsoever. I am unable to work, I get no relief or insurance benefits, and I have nothing left out of my death policy as any money received went to pay doctors for my father’s illness and funeral expenses. My brother in law has asked me to live with him for the future.”
The sum was paid to her as requested; it amounted to 13 shillings and nine pence. For those seeking to eke out a bare subsistence in the 1930s and 1940s, every penny generated by War of Independence service was precious.

A Nation and Not a Rabble: The Irish Revolution 1913-23 by Diarmaid Ferriter is published by Profile Books.

Video Minute: Funny- skinny jeans

European rights body warns of ‘corrupt Ireland’

There is growing concern about corruption in Ireland especially about elected politicians, Europe’s foremost human rights authority has warned.

Various reforms recently introduced, such as the freedom of information and ethics acts are too complex and in some cases conflict with one another.

The report, from the Council of Europe in which Ireland and 46 other governments are represented, warns that there is too much political interference in the appointment and promotion of judges and has called for changes to maintain their independence.

They also want laws that threaten government ministers, elected politicians and others with six months jail for disclosing confidential information scrapped as it discourages whistleblowing.

It notes that Ireland’s reputation has been slipping with Transparency International placing it at its lowest ever ranking among the business community two years ago at 25th, behind Uruguay, Chile and the Bahamas.

The report calls for more stringent rules for politicians on conflicts of interest and asset declarations to include liabilities and those of their closest connections. More streamlined rules and more independent way of assessing politicians’ compliance was needed.

They say all the rules that apply to government ministers should be extended to cover all elected politicians, and to their staff, and it should not be limited to just getting money, but should be extended to cover other advantages.

It raised a red flag over the fact that the clerk of the Dáil or Seanad can dismiss complaints against members without referring it to the relevant committee. They question why complaints are only made public if there is a negative finding.

They are also concerned that a minister can face six months jail for disclosing confidential government information, irrespective of the reason for doing so. This could mean that people are discouraged from becoming whistleblowers.
While the Government pointed to a range of protections, the report believes it is not sufficient and recommends that the whole issue be clarified to ensure whistleblowers are protected.

The report took on board the complaints of the judiciary that the public campaign and referendum on cutting their salaries damaged their standing. There is now a two-tier payment for judges depending when they take up their posts and the constitutional ban on changing their salaries has been scrapped.

A judicial council should be established to deal with such issues in the future, to be involved in appointments of judges, establish an ethical code and judicial training practices.
The report is very critical of politicians’ role in selecting judges and says judges’ promotion “is even more susceptible to political interference” and urges a judicial council to be involved.

The report, from the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption to which Ireland has signed up, monitors anti-corruption laws and practices and focuses on the measures in place nationally to prevent corruption among elected politicians, judges and prosecutors.

It makes 11 recommendations to the Government and has asked it to report in 18 months on the steps it has taken to implement the recommendations.

Ann Cahill 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Nothing Good Gets Away- A letter from a father to his son (John Steinbeck)

In November of 1958, John Steinbeck — the renowned author of, most notably, The Grapes Of Wrath, East Of Eden and Of Mice And Men received a letter from his eldest son, Thom

                                                                  John with his sons

who was attending boarding school. In it, the teenager spoke of Susan, a young girl with whom he believed he had fallen in love.

Steinbeck replied the same day. His beautiful letter of advice can be enjoyed below.

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.