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Friday, April 10, 2015

Photo Minute: Just shooting the breeze baby.......

Gerry Adams: Government is afraid to speak of the challenge of Easter week

                                 ‘Citizens retain the power to make good the Proclamation’

                                                                      Gerry Adams

‘The memory and ownership of 1916 does not exclusively belong to Sinn Féin, any other party or the Government.’ 
When the Government first unveiled its commemoration programme for 1916, it was widely viewed as short-term, shambolic and superficial.

Since then a former leader of Fine Gael put forward the view that the Rising was not needed and was a civil war.

Following widespread criticism, and in the run-up to the elections, the Government has brought forward a more fitting commemoration. This is to be welcomed
However, there remains vacuity at the centre of the plans. This Government just doesn’t get 1916. It is an inconvenient issue and you get the impression that it just wants the commemorations to be out of the way and to return to business as usual.

Its approach has been to strip away any politics and context to the Rising: to reduce it to a tragedy in which death and injury was inflicted equally on all sides, and so all sides must be equally remembered.

This is a shallow and wholly self-serving approach to our history. Devoid of context or politics, the Rising is portrayed as a moment in history that should be kept in a little glass case and studied; or, in the view of some in the Redmondite wing of Fine Gael, an unnecessary moment of madness.
War is brutal. It visits death and injury on all sides. The grief of a mother and father, brother and sister, or son and daughter is not diminished by circumstance of that loss. The grief of the family of a Royal Irish Constabulary member was no different from that of a member of the Irish Republican Army who fought in the GPO or a civilian killed on the streets. All have the right to be respected and remembered.

Republican beliefs
However, it is wrong for the State commemoration to be reduced solely to an act of remembrance for a collection of individuals. While each has a story of individual courage and loss, those involved in the Rising were more than a collection of individuals. They were an army and a movement with a shared republican politics, shaped by their experience of the British empire and world war.

Those who took part in the Rising gave their lives and liberty to deliver the republic enshrined in the Proclamation. A republic built on the principles of equality and sovereignty, of human rights and civil liberties, and of unity and nationhood. Principles that remain a challenge to successive governments in this State.

It is in these principles that we find the Government’s problem with the commemoration. For this Government, it is easier to deal with the notion of individual loss and sacrifice than promote the ideas of the Proclamation.

So the Government does not address the inequality, division and lack of sovereignty that drove a generation of republicans on to the streets. They even proposed to rewrite the Proclamation and hope we forget that the original one has been undermined by the actions of successive governments. Heaven forbid we mention the North or the failure that is partition.
The memory and ownership of 1916 does not exclusively belong to Sinn Féin, any other party or the Government. The commemoration of the Rising cannot be limited to a lecture, an exhibition or a parade.

National renewal
It belongs to the Irish nation, all the people who share this island and the Irish nation spread across the globe. While the commemoration must be an opportunity for remembrance, it is also an opportunity for national renewal, for building a new republic.

In the last election, the Government promised a democratic revolution and delivered hardship, inequality, continued loss of sovereignty, a hands-off attitude to the North and the Belfast Agreement. There is a demand across our nation for change, a demand for the republic promised in 1916.
Our history cannot be encased in a museum or mausoleum; it is part of who we are, where we are from and where we want to go.

That is why Sinn Féin developed a programme of events to mark 1916. We are seeking to encourage communities to engage with their heritage and to rise to the challenge of delivering a republic for citizens.

It would appear that the Government is afraid to speak of Easter week, afraid of the challenge that it opens and afraid of the views of citizens.

The most fitting tribute to the loss of past generations, including republicans, British and civilians is to deliver the republic promised on the steps of the GPO, a 32-county republic in which citizens have equality and rights and the sovereignty of the nation is protected.

This generation has the opportunity and ability to deliver such a republic without the sacrifice of previous generations. There is a peaceful and democratic way to achieve this. But it will require leadership, determination and putting the needs of the nation above individual political position.
Maybe the real reason the Government does not want to talk about the unfinished business of 1916 is that it will remind it of its failure and remind citizens that they retain the power to make good the Proclamation.

Gerry Adams TD and president of Sinn Féin

Ireland spent 37.3% of GDP on bank bailout costs

Ireland’s bank bailouts cost the country the equivalent of nearly 40% of its annual economic output, most of which it is unlikely to see again, new figures show.
The ECB published estimates of the direct cost to eurozone countries and Britain of supporting their financial sectors, chiefly banks, from 2008 to 2013, and how much of the money spent had gone into assets that might generate a return for governments.

Across the eurozone as a whole, direct support for lenders totalled 5.1% ofGDP by the end of 2013 — equivalent to just over €500bn — but this masked big differences between countries.

Ireland topped the chart, spending 37.3% of GDP, followed by Greece at 24.8% and Slovenia at 14.2%. France, Italy, Finland, Slovakia, and Estonia, by contrast, spent next to nothing on bank bailouts.

“The situation is very heterogeneous,” ECB researchers Henri Maurer and Patrick Grussenmeyer said.
Germany spent more than one-tenth of its annual output on supporting financial firms, similar to Portugal, while Britain spent just under 7% — less than Germany despite its larger financial sector.

The figures do not include the wider cost to European economies from slower growth and higher unemployment, which has pushed up government debt across the eurozone, as a whole, by more than a quarter as a share of GDP.

However, they do give some indication of how much of the money spent is likely to be seen again by taxpayers.

The news is bad for Irish and Greek citizens, as only a third to half of the money was used to acquire assets that could potentially generate a return, and instead was spent on bank recapitalisations and toxic assets.
For Ireland, this equates to a likely total loss equivalent to 25% of GDP. For Greece, the equivalent is 12.1% of economic output.

By contrast in Germany, Britain and the Netherlands, over two-thirds of financial support led to acquisition of valuable bank assets. Already these countries have been able to recoup some of the money spent during the crisis, the ECB paper said.

Britain has also been able to end loan guarantees, which peaked at a massive 34% of GDP in 2009, the ECB added.

David Milliken: Reuters

Photo Minute: Please, can I have a cuddle too?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Photo Minute: Just missed dinner by a feather !!

AIB and BoI ‘rip off’ variable rate customers

The country’s two pillar banks have been accused of basing their recovery on the back of hard-pressed mortgage customers in what has been termed a “blatant rip-off”.

Variable rate mortgage customers are being taken advantage of by AIB and Bank of Ireland in a bid to increase profitability, according to Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath.
The Government and Central Bank are under pressure to exert greater influence on lenders to ease the burden of mortgage repayments for variable rate customers.

Pressure has intensified in the wake of recent ECB interest cuts which have seen rates fall to the lowest ever level — the benefit of which borrowers are yet to see.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan told the Dáil last week that he would ask Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan to consider what influence he and the bank could bring to bear on situation.
Similarly, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he expected the banks “to treat the Irish people with a degree of understanding and pass on interest rate reductions to the consumer”.

Hundreds of thousands of Irish customers are saddled with variable rates of up to 4.5% — a rate far in excess of that elsewhere in Europe.
Consequently, some 300,000 mortgage holders are paying up to €3,300 a year more than borrowers across the eurozone.

The reversal of fortunes for AIB and Bank of Ireland, which saw both pillar banks report profits earlier this year for the first time since the financial crash, is built on the back of variable rate customers, according to Mr McGrath.

“In its most recent annual report, Bank of Ireland clearly states that its profitability is being driven by ‘substantial progress on re-pricing loans’. This is banker speak for ripping off variable rate customers

“Bank of Ireland’s net interest margin increased by a whopping 23% in 2014 to 2.13% from 1.75% in 2013. In 2012 it was 1.10%. It also boasts it expects its net interest margin to grow further.
“It is a similar story with AIB which increased its net interest margin in 2014 to 1.69% from 1.37% in 2013 and 1.22% in 2012.

“The margin being earned in variable rate mortgages is of course much higher than these blended figures. With variable interest rates for existing customers typically between 4% and 4.5% and the cost of funds for the banks as low as 1%, massive profits are being achieved on the backs of variable rate customers,” said Mr McGrath.

It is clear, he added, that variable rate customers are being “dramatically overcharged by the banks”.
The Fianna Fáil TD also said with an outstanding balance of €40.6bn owing on standard variable rate mortgages in Ireland, €406m is taken out of families’ pockets and the domestic economy with every 1% rate increase.

Mr McGrath called on the finance minister and Central Bank governor to “flex their muscles” and end what he referred to as the blatant rip-off of customers.
An AIB spokesperson said the majority of the increase in its net interest margin — the rate charged over and above a bank’s cost of funds — was as a result of the group’s lower funding costs.
AIB, EBS and Haven reduced variable rates in December 2014 for new and existing mortgage customers, the spokesperson added.

Bank of Ireland, meanwhile, said all rates are reviewed on an ongoing basis.

Peter O Dwyer


Sunday, April 5, 2015

It is time the State finally sorted out Sophie Toscan du Plantier mess

Gene Kerrigan: It is time the State finally sorted out Sophie Toscan du Plantier mess
The Elaine O'Hara case was a victory for gardai. The Ian Bailey saga damages its reputation, writes Gene Kerrigan
TWO DECADES OF INVESTIGATION: Ian Bailey takes time out at the Skibbereen Market, days after his defeat in the High Court. Jules Thomas was not with him as he wandered around the stalls greeting and speaking to people who approached him. Photo: John Delea
The police investigation in the Elaine O'Hara murder case was impressive, right to the end. From the beginning, at local level, there was dedication to duty. The technical work was remarkable. At senior level, the case was built methodically through countless hours of patient work, and it was presented professionally in court.

Afterwards, there was no vulgar celebration, just grim satisfaction. One of the most vulnerable among us had been singled out, used and ruthlessly discarded. The best we can do in such circumstances is identify, investigate and prosecute.
And the police did that, and accepted congratulations without conceit, obviously pleased that they did their job well.

Days later, most of the issues in the Ian Bailey civil case were withdrawn from the jury - on technicalities. The jury then reached a verdict that, in the investigation of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, the police did not conspire to coerce or induce a witness into making false statements.

The two cases were held aloft by mindless cheerleaders and deemed a matching pair of victories for the Garda Siochana. This is not true.
To pair these cases is to belittle the force, to place tribal loyalty ahead of justice.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier was murdered in West Cork at Christmas 1996. Within days, the police focussed on Ian Bailey. Almost two decades later, the police are still hovering over Ian Bailey - "a person of interest" he has been termed. This is despite the fact that though the gardai were justified in arresting him, it has long been clear there is no actual evidence he had anything to do with the murder.

From media reports of Bailey's recent civil case against the police, it seemed to rely substantially on the evidence of Marie Farrell - who subsequently made allegations against the police. Reports suggest it was reasonable for the jury to reject Farrell's evidence.
I have seen her on the stand in another case and read the transcript of her evidence against Bailey - she was not convincing. Some of the recent stuff had the air of fantasy.
The police, in the recent case, quite properly set out to defend themselves and to do that had to destroy Marie Farrell's credibility. They seem to have succeeded. The jury doesn't seem to have had much trouble in rejecting her evidence.

The police established they had grounds for arresting Bailey. One garda believed Bailey acted suspiciously around the scene. He had previously assaulted his partner, and he had scratches on his hand - got when killing turkeys and chopping Christmas trees, he said. It would have been lax of them not to check him out.

It was Marie Farrell's statements that placed Bailey close to the scene.
Farrell involved herself in the case, claiming to have seen a man watching Ms du Plantier. She said she saw the same man at 3am on the night of the murder, near a bridge some distance from the murder scene. She saw him on the dark road for a "split second".
It is not unusual, late at night, two days before Christmas, for drunken men to wend their way home on the by-roads of West Cork. There is nothing - not the ghost of a fragment of a guess - connecting any such man - if he existed - and the murder.

Farrell didn't recognise the man. She later identified him as Bailey.
It made sense for the police to treat Bailey as a potential suspect, to follow the evidence as far as it took them.

Farrell's description varied from medium height to very tall. It went from thin to heavy. Which pretty much takes in most of the male population. The man watching du Plantier wore a black beret, she said, then she said he didn't.

Farrell said she saw the mysterious man in daylight, wearing a mauve-coloured three-quarter length coat and a pair of green Wellingtons - a truly memorable apparition. She later swore she never saw that apparition, and she didn't remember saying she did.
This was the state of credibility of Marie Farrell.

Bailey cooperated with the police. He offered and gave forensic samples, knowing that if he was guilty, they would incriminate him. The results show that there was nothing whatever to connect Bailey with the murder scene.

The case against Bailey can be roughly divided in two.
Marie Farrell, placing him out in the Cork countryside in the middle of the night.
Various reports of Bailey admitting to the murder together with the scratches on his hands and the prior assault of his partner.

When word got around about Bailey being a suspect, he was treated as a pariah. Unfortunately for him, Bailey is given to black humour, and when asked how things were going, he might reply that they were fine until he bashed that woman's brains in. Often drunk, Bailey repeatedly made shocking and bitter remarks about how his life had been screwed up since he killed that woman.

Unable to grasp the bitterness and irony in such remarks, some suggestible people took them as confessions.

Then, in 2005, Farrell stood the case on its head.
She withdrew her claims against Bailey and claimed the police coerced her into implicating him. The response of most of us was that the police were entitled to a presumption of innocence, until proved otherwise.

Now, a jury has found for the police on that issue.
This leaves Farrell's credibility in tatters.
What does this do to Ian Bailey's position as a so-called "person of interest", when one of the original sources of the case against him has been rendered wholly without credence by the police?

The police have put all their resources into exploring what other evidence there is and after almost two decades the case has not advanced.
What does this say about the original basis for the case?

Ian Bailey has had his problems through the years, like all of us, but there's nothing to connect him to the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. And now that Marie Farrell and her muddled, contradictory claims have been comprehensively undermined by the police, isn't it time some organ of the state assessed this dreadful case and acted accordingly?
Aren't we, and this unfortunate woman's family, entitled to know just who did kill Sophie Toscan du Plantier?

After two decades of investigation all we know for sure is that Ian Bailey has been damaged by this case.

And so has the reputation of An Garda Siochana.

Gene Kerrigan


1916 commemorations: Why Rising to the occasion is not easy

ONCE UPON a Celtic Tiger time, I attended a Fianna Fáil Cairde dinner. This was in 2006, at the height of the bubble. The dinner was an annual knees-up for friends of the Soldiers of Destiny.

Many of the tables were taken by developers, who were at the frontline of the march of a nation towards economic abyss.
A notable feature of the evening was the menu. Not the grub, so much as an illustration.
This being Fianna Fáil, you might have expected Eamon de Valera’s mug. He, after all, had founded the party from the ashes of the violent and turbulent decade that began with the 1916 Rising and which ended in a civil war as brutal as the Brits had ever been.

Fianna Fáil depended hugely on his cult of personality during the early decades of the new State, and even right up until the ’60s.

But at the Cairde celebration of a booming country shaped to a large extent by this party, the iconic image on the menu was Padraig H Pearse, who was dead a decade before the party was formed.
Why celebrate a man who lived for the country, when it’s far more satisfying to pin your colours to the mast of one who had died gloriously, and was buried in romantic myths?

Last week, at the second time of asking, the Government announced its plans to commemorate next year the centenary of the Rising. At this launch, the executed leaders actually got a mention.
The theme was commemoration, rather than, as was the case at the first launch, last November, it being an occasion to flog Ireland as a place to do business.

This change of tack may well be a reaction to plans announced by both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin for their own commemorations.

As with the Rising itself, different agendas are at work. The political parties appear to be asking not what they can do for 1916, but what 1916 can do for them.

At a time of political upheaval, and with the more immediate issue of a pending general election, the centenary presents an occasion for all to warp the Rising around election posters.
Beyond the political parties, the commemoration — and all its attendant baggage — could be an opportunity to examine prevailing mythologies.

In the last week, there have been tortured debates on radio and TV over how to commemorate, whether to commemorate or celebrate, and the biggie: Whether the country has lived up to the ideals of the proclamation.

As for the proclamation, a few notable points have gone missing in the myths.
The country most certainly hasn’t lived up to its aspirations, but it is doubtful that even those who formulated the document would have ever attempted to do so, had they lived.
James Connolly’s vision for Ireland was far removed from that of many of the other leaders.
The conservative country, in thrall to the Church and vested interests, that emerged from the ashes of Civil War would have been anathema to him, but that doesn’t apply to many of the others.

If Pearce or Plunkett had engaged in a new, democratic free state, would they have dealt with the overweening power exercised by the Church any differently than Cosgrave and DeValera did?
Much has been made of the Proclamation’s inclusion of “Irishwomen” in its opening sentence. Would any of the leaders have really striven in a post-colonial state to ensure that women had equal rights? Would they have done any more “to cherish all the children of the nation equally”?

As it was to turn out, none of them had to deal with that messy business.
The spectre of the “blood sacrifice” as a central plank of the leaders’ intent should be proofed for mythology in the coming year.

Connolly, by all accounts, wasn’t interested in that kind of stuff, and while Pearse apparently was, it has passed into mythology that this notion informed all their actions.
Sacrificing oneself for a cause can be noble, but the Rising resulted in 485 deaths, most of them civilians who had no interest in sacrifice.

The other issue that could do with a little airing is the effect the proclaimed ideals of the Rising had on the Civil War.
Those who took up arms against the fledgling Free State did so on the basis that the Anglo Irish Agreement fell short of the Republic that had been proclaimed on the steps of the GPO.
Did the high, some might say impossible, aspirations of the Proclamation ultimately lead to brothers turning their guns on each other?

None of which is to take from the bravery and honour of those who led, and participated in, that tumultuous event.
But they were real human beings, rather than the mythical figures they became once the firings squads’ shots had rung out.
A visit to the 1916 Exhibition, in Dublin’s Collins Barracks, illustrated the flesh and blood of those figures.
There is a cheque signed by Pearse, showing his financial struggles in attempting to keep his school, St Enda’s, afloat.

There is a gold medal Eamon Ceantt had won for playing the uilleann pipes a decade before he fought and before he was marched out to his death.
There is the tunic worn by Liam Mellows in Easter week, another man who died in front of a firing squad — in his case, six years after the Rising, and manned by his former comrades — and who had settled for something less than the ideal.

More stark than any of that is the death certificates of those who were executed, including a handwritten section that says they died through “shooting by order of field general court martial”, a human touch to the documents that would convey brave men into the pantheon.

Examination of the mythology would be timely, but it remains to be seen whether the country has the stomach for it in the coming year.
The John Bruton school of opinion on the Rising has it that it was a waste of human life, ahead of what would have been the inevitable granting of Home Rule.
This opinion carries the implication that the leaders were profoundly anti-democratic, an idea that has some merit, but ignores the context of the time.

At the other end of the spectrum is the traditional view of the Rising as the actions of a band of men prepared to give up their lives to drag a slumbering nation into throwing off the shackles of imperialism.
This view implicitly relegates the lives of the overwhelmingly civilian casualties to an acceptable cost of awakening the nation.

Somewhere in the middle the myths thin out. Let’s hope, in the coming year, that we can look in a grown-up manner at what it was all about, and how, if at all, it served to shape the last century on this island.


Photo Minute: Starry starry night