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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Lest we forget: A tale of two prisons

There is a prison in Dublin today where inmates (residents) have no bars on their windows, have keys to their own rooms and can lock themselves in when they like. Breakfast is served in the morning and education classes start at 9am. 

There are classes offering fabrics, woodwork, computers, various other trades and hobbies. Aside from good standard breakfast fare, there is a diverse menu for dinner. On Sunday there are specials like roast chicken and vegetables, with a dessert of fruit and ice cream. After evening tea, there is access to a library, a recreation hall, table tennis and a gym. Bedtime rolls around at 9.30pm. You can also write as many letters as you like and phone your solicitor as much as you want as well. Two visits a week are allowed and one personal phone call. There is no common violence against residents. To reside there, you must have committed a crime and be an adult.

One resident/inmate who resided in this facility had already beaten an 81-year-old pensioner to death for the princely sum of €45 back in the year 2000. The facilities may not have been up to his standard for he decided to escape and did.

There was a prison in Galway of recent yesteryear where inmates (residents) had no bars on their windows, no keys to their dormitories, and were locked in, like it or not. Porridge was served every morning, and ‘special religious education’ started at 7am. There was no woodwork or other classes, no library, and no gym. Most of all, there was no freedom and your identity was sealed and forgotten about.  
                               St Joseph's just before it closed down in 1995

Sunday was as special as Monday and what rotten food you could not hold down was fed to the obese pigs grunting expectantly nearby. Bedtime was at 9pm. You could write letters but they were opened going out or coming in. There were no phone calls, visits were rare and only at the discretion of the manager who was overseer to those that ventured to come. 

Common extraordinary violence that became ordinary was used against the residents by the management. The rule book of this place also stated that you could be locked up in a cell on bread and water and beaten and it was all legal. Manual labour was to be 8 hours and schooling for two.

To reside there, you must have committed no crime, be a Catholic and a child no younger than six years old and no older than sixteen.

One resident, who had been abandoned by both parents as an infant, stood up to the machine as the facilities may not nave been to his liking. The machine did not like it and threw him into a mental hospital. He did not escape from there. Many others followed him.

I arrived as a prisoner here and given a reference number as my identification. It was 100. I was five years old on arrival and 15 on my departure when I escaped at fifteen. This act left me homeless and sleeping in farm sheds but also became the first taste of freedom I had felt in ten years.

Mountjoy Prison training unit in Dublin is still open for business today. 
St Josephs Industrial/reformatory institution for children in Galway, where I was a prisoner for ten years, is not. The last one of its kind closed in 1997.

Barry Clifford

PTSB will take months to restore borrrowers' trackers

It will be at least two months before people initially denied a return to a tracker mortgage by Permanent TSB (PTSB) will be restored back to the low-cost mortgage rate and get compensation, it has emerged.

When the process is complete, mortgage customers of the State-owned bank could share in a refund of up to €30m after the bank withdrew its Supreme Court appeals of cases involving four customers who wanted to switch out early from fixed-rate mortgages into trackers.
PTSB is now set to restore as many as 2,000 mortgage holders to trackers, and compensate them.

The windfalls are likely to be between €10,000 and €15,000 per customer.
The bank faces a fine of up to €10m from the Central Bank for failing to restore the customers to trackers.

The regulator is taking what it calls "enforcement action" against the bank.
But it is understood it will be at least June before the process, which is being overseen by the Central Bank, is complete.

Others banks may also have to restore customers to trackers.
It is now two months since PTSB and admitted it should never have denied the mortgage holders the option of returning to lucrative trackers.
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath has urged the bank to speed up the restitution process.

He called on the Central Bank to do more to ensure the affected customers are restored to the low-cost mortgages.
"The bank needs to contact all the customers affected by this issue and immediately put them on an appropriate tracker rate.

"The bank also needs to repay these customers all the additional interest they were wrongly charged on their mortgage."
And the customers should also be compensated by the bank, Mr McGrath added.
"Furthermore, the Central Bank needs to use its enforcement powers to ensure there is an adequate deterrent in place to prevent issues like this happening again," he said.

The bank had originally refused to allow some customers who had switched from a tracker rate to a fixed-rate mortgage to revert to the tracker rate.
A glitch in the IT system of PTSB meant customers were able to come off the fixed rates early, at a time when interest rates were falling, without a penalty.
But the bank would not allow them to revert to trackers, despite promising this. It argued that they had breached the terms of their deal by exiting the fixed rates early.

The Government must use October's Budget to kick-start plans to introduce a state-funded grant system for first-time buyers, according to former junior minister Joe Costello.
Under the plans, couples living in urban areas would receive cash grants from local authorities to help them meet strict Central Bank deposit limits on mortgages.

The measures are being considered by Environment Minister Alan Kelly as part of a wider plan of solving the housing crisis, his spokesman told the Irish Independent last night.
One mortgage expert said such a move would provide a major boost to first-time buyers - but that collaboration with the banks is required.

"While we definitely believe that plans to assist struggling First-Time Buyers (FTBs) are needed and so we welcome the Government's proposals, we would stop short at saying that this will be the panacea the market needs," said the director of the Association of Expert Mortgage Advisers, Ken Murray.

A similar scheme, which previously saw first-time buyers being given grants of up to £IR3,000, was scrapped in 2002. Mr Costello said the Government should kick-start the scheme in the Budget.

Charlie Weston

TDs should be careful to use parliamentary privilege sparingly

BACK in March of last year, I got a series of calls from a man in north Cork. 

TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly could both claim to be the victims of garda malpractice themselves in the last couple of years.

At the time, I was snowed under, and the caller left voice messages. The gist of his calls was there was serious garda malpractice going on in the town where he lived. It concerned one officer in particular, who was “running amok”. Despite the import of such a call, I didn’t get a chance to respond immediately, and it was only a few weeks after the first call that I was in a position to answer.

He was relieved at finally collaring me over the “corruption”. Okay so, says he, get a load of this. The local guard, a man who was cock o’ the walk, has been driving around for the last three months with no motor tax on his vehicle. That wasn’t all…

I tried hard not to laugh. No doubt about it. A guard who wouldn’t have his tax bang up to date was capable of corruption of the most insidious kind.
The man from north Cork came into my head last week when the latest allegations of garda malpractice were aired in the Dáil. Clare Daly, used Leader’s Questions to air an allegation that gardaí had been involved in a fatal shooting, and senior elements of the force in covering it up.

“This is a question regarding a person who contacted you, (Enda Kenny) last year and told you he had information of a garda being present in a room when a civilian was shot by gardaí and of being ordered by his superiors to say he wasn’t present,” Ms Daly said.

If there is any truth to the allegation, then we’re in more serious trouble than ever imagined. The commissioner and most senior management would have to resign immediately, and a criminal investigation commenced. If there is substance to it, criminal charges should be brought against everybody who had any role in either murder or cover-up. And if Kenny or any of his ministers know anything about it, and haven’t acted with proper authority, they have to go immediately. A police force involved in murdering a citizen and covering up the crime takes on the character of a fascist gang.

There was a time when the airing of such an allegation in parliament would have brought the airways alive, generated pages of print, and cleared the Dáil agenda. That was a time when most citizens would have regarded such a declaration in the citadel of democracy as “gospel”. Yet, there was precious little reaction. Are we now at a stage where the media and general public shrug shoulders when a startling allegation is made under parliamentary privilege?

A fortnight ago, Daly’s kindred spirit, Mick Wallace, also made allegations of garda malpractice under parliamentary privilege. He alluded to serious corruption by a senior officer, identifiable from the details supplied by Wallace.

The allegations were aired while the annual conference of the association of sergeants and inspectors (AGSI) was taking place. AGSI president Tim Galvin was not amused, saying there were no consequences for TDs who made allegations under privilege. “We all need to be treated in a fair and equitable fashion, not one rule for the privileged few, who can use privileges for political gain,” he said.

Last week, it emerged the association of Garda Superintendents has lodged a formal complaint with the Ceann Comhairle about parliamentary privilege being used to tarnish the good name of its members.
The role of Daly and Wallace in making allegations under privilege is complicated by a few factors. Both could claim to be the victims of garda malpractice themselves. In January 2013 Daly was arrested for drink driving, handcuffed, and put in a cell — it turned out she was not over the limit. The arrest was then leaked to the media within hours. This was at a time when she was prominent in highlighting abuse of the penalty points system.

Wallace once received a casual, verbal caution about using a mobile phone while stopped at a traffic light. That inconsequential encounter was conveyed all the way to the then garda commissioner, who passed it onto then Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, who in turn aired it on TV in an attempt to discredit Wallace.
So both have some idea of what elements in the force are capable of. That experience could either cloud judgement, or prompt an astute head to exercise caution in dealing with the issue, lest an agenda be perceived.

Both TDs were involved in exposing the penalty points scandal, which included the use of Dáil privilege to accurately name high-profile individuals who had had their points quashed.
Wallace used Dáil privilege in January last year to read a transcript of a conversation between Sergeant Maurice McCabe and the confidential recipient Oliver Connolly. That intervention, it could be argued, ultimately led to the establishment of the Guerin Report, and vindication of McCabe’s serious allegations about malpractice in criminal investigations.

Now, however, questions arise as to whether both TDs are airing allegations under privilege without any hard evidence. Having been proved right in relation to McCabe, are they just taking a punt that all other allegations might have some substance?

This newspaper was to the fore in reporting McCabe’s allegations and exposing malpractice within the force. But it is also a given other allegations against gardai are without foundation.
Filtering is required to find out which have substance and demand further attention. My friend in North Cork is not alone in harbouring a grudge against a member of the force. Others genuinely believe their serious allegations have substance, but that belief may be contaminated by a grievance of one sort or another. Just because somebody has a legitimate grievance, it does not automatically follow that malpractice is at issue. And then, there are the allegations that do have substance.

A review panel is examining around 300 cases where garda malpractice is alleged. Inevitably, a large number of these will be deemed to be unworthy of further examination. That’s what filtering is about.
Using Dáil privilege as a filter is not on. For that privilege to retain its power and legitimacy, it needs to be used sparingly and within the framework for which it was designed.

The cavalier manner in which privilege appears to have been availed of by Wallace and Daly is in a different league to its cynical use by Mary Lou McDonald, who named former politicians as being suspected of tax evasion and cover up. (The politicians all denied it subsequently).

It does, however, further devalue a concept which is a vital tenet in a democracy. There is understandable disaffection with mainstream politics right now, but that does not legitimise the devaluing of all traditions of parliament, particularly one that is a valuable tool in particular circumstances. Let’s be careful out there.

Michael Clifford

Photo Minute: Through the rear view window

The Politics Of Fear

The balance of fear: 
“ When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.
Thomas Jefferson 1746-1826

On spreading fear:
“The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.”
Adolf Hitler 1889-19545

The fear of the individual and a new dawn:
 “ ….never before was there in the hands of men an instrument so powerful to influence the thoughts and actions of the multitudes.”
Ireland’s President on his fear for Televisions introduction in the dawn of 1962
Eamon De Valera 1882-1975 

The appeasement of fear: 
“An appeaser is one who fears yet feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”
Winston Churchill 1874- 1965

The fear of no choice: 
"It take more courage to retreat in the Russian army than to advance“ 
Stalin 1879-1953

Fearful courage: 
"Coward die many times before their actual deaths. Men of courage die but once."
Julius Caeser 100 BC-44BC

Prison scribe on fear:  
“ In Germany they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”
Reverand Martin Niemoller 1892-1984

On unreasonable fear: 
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Franklin D Roosevelt 1882-1945

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Riches to Rags: The story of being wrecked by repossession

One woman's story:

SCHOOL uniform ironed, tick; lunches ready, tick; affidavit on hall table, tick; Book bus for High Court trip, tick. Trips to court are almost a way of life for us now and tomorrow is our 14th appearance in under two years.

It’s hubby’s turn tomorrow, not that he would have gone every time but I got brave and decided to go the last two times and the judge just made mincemeat out of me.

We have no babysitters or family in Cork, where we live, and for both of us to go to Dublin it would mean we need someone to stay over Sunday night, mind the kids and guests (I run a guest house). It’s just too much to ask so we have to do it alone.

I know he won’t sleep tonight. I know he is anxious. I know he is scared of the outcome of the High Court but we will not discuss any of that today. We will carry on as usual and give each other support and reassuring glances. The kids know absolutely nothing about this and we never ever discuss money problems in front of them.

We are in our mid-40s and we were both self employed and lost our businesses in the crash six years ago. We have gone through many hellish times and we would both be strong and positive, but six years is a long time and we are now both frayed at the edges to say the least.

My mind is in constant turmoil. My stomach churns regularly and there are many days I just don’t want to even get out of bed. The thought of not knowing if you will still have your home in 12 months time can actually drive you crazy.

My husband copes a lot better than me and he is amazing. Always my rock, always my protector. I worry that if one of us dies, will the other be strong enough to carry on? We are like two peas in a pod and I dream of the day that we can both start living again.

Family get on with their own lives and we understand that. But you wonder do they have any idea how dehabilitating and soul destroying the last six years have been?

Some of our family have been truly amazing. Thank you J,C and P for your unwavering support, for not judging us and for being there when we were so close to the edge. We will be eternally grateful. God bless you.

We still have a good sense of humour and happy hearts but you can never really relax or switch off from the reality that the bailiffs are getting nearer and nearer. They come in groups of four or five with big wooden boards and metal fixings to board up your windows and doors. They phone you the day before and tell you they don’t want to upset you and that really they are gentle giants and suggest that you you slip out in the middle of the night and leave the keys under the mat.

This is called a voluntary surrender so the term evicted cannot be applied and the government can save face. Very clever. This is where the Land League comes in, AKA Gerry Beades and the Vincent Brown kerfuffles outside the O’Donnell residence. They will prevent the bailiffs from entering the property and use legal loopholes to delay the inevitable. Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of anarchy and the Land League have helped many people and are graciously generous with their time but it just causes further humiliation to have the Land League and the bailiffs arguing the toss in full view of your neighbours who haven’t a clue what’s going on.

After four years of struggling to pay the banks what we could (we never paid nothing) the court proceedings started. They are inevitable. Do not believe the banks when they tell you they will work with you. They won’t. Once it goes to court they will not settle for less than repossession. We have had many adjournments and were grateful for the opportunity to re-establish ourselves and build up a new business. We live in a popular tourist area and have built up a successful business but it has taken all our time and effort.

LAST November we presented the banks and the courts with extremely viable proposals. They were rejected by the banks ( they always are) and the judge sided with them. A ruling was made that we must pay the full mortgage or the bank would repossess. We were just putting together the final phase of the new business that would enable us to pay our full mortgage but there was to be no mercy in court on that day. We struggled immensely to pay it and get the business finished on time but we got there. 

The judges are repossessing homes at an alarming rate. We returned to the same court last month and expected a pat on the back or at least a grunt of approval and what happened? The judge said that time had run out for us and unless we could provide a list of impossible demands, a ruling for repossession would be made. So in a nutshell, we are now paying our full mortgage, we are addressing our arrears and have established a new business and at the end of a six-year battle and the toughest road you can imagine, the judge is going to repossess anyway?

What does that tell you? It tells us that the courts are now showing absolutely no mercy, do not care about mitigating circumstances and they will eventually repossess your home — one way or the other. We now need a miracle.

The bank’s barrister is very clever (we can’t afford one and are representing ourselves) and is now trying to prove that our new business is not viable. The mind boggles. The man whose case was up before ours had a severely handicapped child, schools within walking distance from their home, an uncle willing to pay off 50% of his mortgage and his wife had just received a substantial pay rise. The judge made an order for repossession. I saw that man physically shrink in front of me.

Most of us now represent ourselves and feel each other’s pain and frustration. ‘You’re alright,’ they told me as the court recessed for the Almighty to have lunch (and yes, you would be hoping they’d choke on it) ‘you are paying your full mortgage,’ and yes I thought we were lucky to be in that position now. And then bang, two hours later I was completely derailed by the ruling. I left the court a quivering wreck. You sit there all day waiting to be called, mostly on your own — a lamb to the slaughter.

Then you have to call your spouse and tell him the bad news. I was totally alone and utterly bewildered. Xanax, alcohol or Kleenex were not going to make this feeling go away. I longed for someone to knock me out or give me an anesthetic to numb the rising panic in my chest. Nobody gets it unless they have been through it.

The insolvency bill was never going to work. We knew that and decided not to apply. Bankruptcy is not an option as you lose your home. Alan Shatter announced last year he was going to step up to the mark and then swiftly resigned.

Seemingly there is a new bill going through as I write this but unless the government call off the dogs, I can’t see how it’s going to prevent thousands of homes being repossessed and families left shattered.

Watch the increase in suicides again, watch the greedy landlords and auctioneers once again line their pockets. Have we learned nothing from the economic crash? Enda Kenny, shame on you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

“We know what happened to people like Mairia Cahill when they sought to speak out.”

“We know what happened to people like 
Mairia Cahill when they sought to speak out.”
Joan Burton

“We will seek to find out.”

Barry Clifford

When the bailiffs come knocking: The families facing down homelessness

Seven years after the bank bailout and the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank, its widely expected that there will be a wave of repossessions this year.
The Central Bank itself expects that up to 50,000 people could find themselves homeless by the year’s end due to repossessions and rent hikes.
Groups helping people struggling to keep their homes are unequivocal about it: there is a great deal more pain and hardship ahead.

Michael Culloty from the Money, Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) said despite talk of recovery, the cases people have got dreaded for years are finally appearing before the courts.
“ There are a lot more cases before the courts and while things might be getting better for some people that recovery is not trickling down to everyone. We have to remember, most people don’t stop paying their mortgage to be feckless, they do it because their circumstances have changed. The trauma of being faced with such an uncertain future can be significant,” he said.

Over 8,000 people have already lost their homes this year and according to Byron Jenkins from The Hub – a not for profit helping people in mortgage arrears – the situation is reaching a crisis point.
“According to figures from the Central Bank nearly 50,000 people could face eviction this year. We’re smack bang in the middle of an eviction crises. These are family homes, sometimes going back generations. It’s getting worse and worse. We see 10 people a day, five days a week. We’re booked up for the next few weeks,” he said.

St Vincent de Paul spokesperson Jim Walsh said the society’s lines are also inundated with calls due to sudden rent hikes that a renter can’t absorb.
“We’re getting 5,000 calls for help a month and that’s just in the Dublin region. People are on fixed incomes so when there’s a rent hike and that unexpected bill comes, like a broken washing machine, they can’t manage.

So landlords putting up the rents means people have to stop paying other bills, like food or fuel. Children are suffering, it’s a cycle filled with difficult decisions,” he said.

One such person is Maura Kerr who is in her 60s, in remission for cancer, and who has been on the housing list in North County Dublin for seven years.
She suddenly found herself looking after her three grandchildren, aged 10-17, when her daughter “dropped dead on her way to work”. Her daughter was only 33.

“ Initially people told me I was mad, at my age, after rearing five of my own children but I never thought me and the boys could end up homeless. I was on the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) with Dublin City Council for four years, in private rental accommodation but the contract was only for four years and it ran out last February 25. I’m packed here since the New Year, everything in this home is mine everything is packed waiting to move, it’s a horrible feeling, but as long as there’s breath in my body those boys will not be taken into care,” she said.

“I’ll take any house, any size, anywhere as long as we can call it our home. It’s hard for the boys, if they hear me talking on the phone about the situation. The kids are worried if I don’t get a place they’ll be taken off me. My life is full of stress and anxiety. I’m not asking for any special treatment I don’t care what condition the property is in. I just want to be able to say ‘right boys we’re here now this is our home until I die’,” she said.

At the end of last year a total of 110,366 (14.5%) of all mortgage accounts were in arrears and last year 8,164 civil bills for an order of possession were lodged in the circuit courts.
Paul Murphy TD says, by allowing evictions, the Government is adding to Ireland’s burgeoning homeless crisis which stems from the rental crisis. Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath says that “the official stats are understating the number of family homes being lost”.

“We are looking at a wave of repossession throughout 2015. The banks are ramping up their enforcement activities and the 38,000 people in arrears of a year or more are in great danger of losing their homes. The official stats are understating the number of family homes being lost as often people are handing back the keys. All of this seems to be happening with the blessing of the Government,” he said.
Ciara O’Reilly: Donnycarney, Dublin

“My husband and I separated six years ago. When he left all of the mortgage repayments fell on me and I just couldn’t make them. You become so overwhelmed with the incoming information, the letters, the demands it’s an everyday struggle. Initially it wasn’t a huge pressure but then the letters and phone calls started flooding in so quickly. Eventually I hit rock bottom and ended up in Pieta House. When you’re dealing with all the bureaucracy nobody wants to sit down and talk to you. You start to feel more and more isolated. I’ve spent 25 years in the civil service working as a midwife in Holles Street.

“The mortgage on my house was taken out against my salary as a midwife and my husband’s income. Now I just can’t manage the mortgage and trying to keep enough food on the table to feed me and my son. I just wonder if people like me can struggle, what’s it like for others?

I’m a strong individual but this brought me to my breaking point. I went to my GP and he tried to put me on pills but I wouldn’t do it. I practice a lot of mindfulness and try to keep going but this is my son’s home, it’s my home, it’s my dogs’ home. I thought I’d grow old here. It’s the uncertainty of what’s ahead for us that’s the killer. People sort of seem to think ‘right you overspent take the hit’ but this could happen to anyone. It just takes one or two things to tip you over the edge. Being dragged through the courts is dehumanising. The last time I was in court I told the judge there’s a human side to all these stories. I just think it’s something people forget. I didn’t know what an anxiety attack was until this happened to me. It’s like hyenas coming after you when you’re weak and alone”
Jeanette Campbell: Delvin, Westmeath

“It affects everyone from every walk of life. I’ve been self-employed my whole life. I used to help foreign businesses set up in Ireland but I’m disabled after an accident so I can’t work. People say you can stay with us but I’ve been a homeowner since I was 20, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I wake up in sweats after horrific nightmares. In my opinion it’s the women of the country, that seems to be bearing the brunt of this.

I have a 15-year-old daughter, she’s in an exam year and is worried sick about the situation and about me. No 15-year-old child should be worried about mortgages. I saw a woman on the Late Late Show saying she’d hate to think of someone “getting away” without paying their mortgage. I’d like to ask her, has she ever fed her children banana sandwiches for dinner pretending it’s a treat? In this situation your pride is the first thing to go. There’s weeks we just can’t buy shopping. I was always independent, I moved to the States at 18, I always wanted my kids to have a better life than I did. But I have a chronic spinal condition where nerves get trapped between the bones. So, I’m now disabled.
Christmas was always so special to me, it was about being in your home with your family. But it stopped two years ago when I stopped putting up a Christmas tree. Then you see the things on Facebook about people being thrown out of their homes and it’s terrifying.

“All it takes is to break your leg, or for a partner to leave, or even an unplanned pregnancy to end up where I am. It could happen to anyone”.

Norma Costelloe

Maurice McCabe is a force of change for the good

Having already created history in An Garda Síochána, Maurice McCabe is now about to do likewise in the history of whistleblowers.
The appointment of Sergeant McCabe to head up the traffic unit in Mullingar is an astonishing development in light of all that has transpired within the force over the last few years. Even more astonishing is the revelation he was offered a role in the Public Standards Unit of the force, but he opted to remain on the frontline of policing.
This type of elevation for a so-called whistleblower within a closed organisation is unique, possibly in the world. Traditionally, the whistleblower is either turfed out, eased out, or left to stew in his or her organisation.
                                                                         Maurice Mc Cabe

In the first instance, the changes in the last year in An Garda Síochána should be acknowledged. Most of these changes are directly attributable to McCabe’s efforts to highlight wrongdoing, and the reaction to those efforts by both senior management and their political masters.
A minister for justice and a garda commissioner both resigned in response to the controversies around how they handled McCabe’s claims of wrongdoing.

A new system of police oversight, which is designed to remove politics from policing, is being set up. This garda authority will, for the first time, put a buffer between the minister of the day and senior garda management, though the devil may lurk in the detail.
The garda ombudsman, GSOC, has received major new powers to investigate wrongdoing in the force. Much of this is attributable to what McCabe exposed. The new powers include the capacity to investigate the commissioner, an issue that arose in one of McCabe’s complaints.

The penalty points system, designed to enhance road safety, has been overhauled to eliminate the capacity of senior officers to cancel points for colleagues, friends and family.
McCabe, along with former garda John Wilson, pursued this issue until it was addressed. After major changes were made, McCabe returned with further evidence last September that the abuse had not stopped. That also has now been largely dealt with.

                                                                                          John Wilson

There have been changes also in the element of human resources within the force. Last October, for the first time, a civilian was made head of human resources. John Barrett’s appointment came eight years after an expert committee first proposed that the appointment of a civilian would enhance the culture within the force, which had been criticised in the Morris Tribunal.

In the same vein, the force is currently going through a process, for the first time, in which every officer will receive training in bullying and harassment.

Dr Gerard McMahon, an expert in people management, has been retained to conduct a number of seminars at stations throughout the State to inform and educate every officer on bullying and harassment.
These changes in human resources management are again directly attributable to McCabe’s actions and experience.
                                                                             Maurice with Enda Kenny

Since coming to public prominence last year, he was allegedly the subject of bullying in a number of instances in his Mullingar station. Prior to that, when his complaints were dealt with internally, he suffered severe harassment.
One incident, which is to be investigated by the Higgins Inquiry into McCabe allegations about criminal investigations, concerns apparent attempts to blame him for the disappearance of a computer suspected of containing child pornography.
The report on that incident will make for interesting, if not shocking, reading.

Even in light of all those outcomes, it would ordinarily be assumed that there was no future for McCabe in the force. So, how come he is bucking the trend?
Senior management, and their standard bearers in the media, would claim that it all points towards a new culture within the force. There may be some merit in this.

                                      Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has made all the right noises.

The human resources appointments and reform of the penalty points system were early initiatives in her tenure.
She certainly appears to be more cognisant of the requirement to drag elements of the force’s culture, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

She also has a political antenna. If, for instance, McCabe was sidelined, or forced to leave, she knows it would render a huge blow to the new image she is creating for the force.

Commissioner O’Sullivan didn’t land in the top job directly from Mars. She rose through the ranks over a 30-year career, making alliances and contacts.

She would be well aware some elements in the force are still smarting from having had their dirty linen washed in public. McCabe has been the subject of snide comments in the Garda Review, the magazine published by the Garda Representative Association.

Other elements continue to dispute the claims he made which led to the establishment of the Higgins Inquiry.

Commissioner O’Sullivan knows, though, that to succumb to those elements would be a retrograde step, both in terms of substance and image.

Another factor in the new dispensation may be the influence of a civilian at the top of a closed organisation.
However, if one is to locate the primary reason for McCabe breaking new ground in the aftermath of exposing wrongdoing, one need look no further than the man’s own character. He persevered for seven years in the wilderness pitted against the most powerful organ of state.

He protected himself by recording meetings, a tactic that was vindicated when there were later attempts to paint one meeting in a different light. He refused to throw in the towel, even after senior management tried to bury his claims in internal inquiries, later exposed as whitewashes.

When the internal inquiry into the penalty points failed to get to the nub of the matter, McCabe went to the Comptroller and Auditor General, and then the Public Accounts Committee, where he received a hearing.
If he was guided by a compulsion to do the right thing, then a stubborn streak ensured that he would not stop until the truth was dragged out into the public square.

That truth has been laid bare. And now it appears that he has stuck in there until he was allowed, in the best interests of the force, to return to what he loves doing best — policing.

These days, he reportedly loves getting up every morning to go to work, after a hiatus of seven years.
He was never about settling scores or pursuing a beef. In an interview with the Irish Examiner last December to coincide with his People of the Year Award, he spelt it out.

“Here’s the important thing,” he said. “I wanted reasonable standards applied. Not high standards. Just reasonable standards, so the public would get that at least.” Job done.

Michael Clifford

Personal Insolvency Service agree debt deals in 75% of bank talks

Almost three quarters of people living in insolvency and who have used a personal practitioner to liaise with their creditors have managed to agree a settlement which could leave them debt free.

The Insolvency Service of Ireland’s (ISI) statistics for the first quarter of 2015 show that more and more people, under the burden of huge levels of debt, are turning to that organisation to find a solution. In the first three months of this year, 525 people made an application for one of ISI’s personal insolvency schemes, including 310 who applied for a personal insolvency arrangement (PIA).

A PIA provides for the restructuring or settlement of a secured debt up to €3m and settlement of unsecured debt over a period, usually six years. It is the one to which most people who are saddled with unsustainable mortgage debt will turn.

The indebted person will approach an ISI-listed personal insolvency practitioner (PIP) who will then assess their financial situation before liaising with the debtor’s creditors, with the intention of organising a meeting at which, it is hoped, a deal can be reached on addressing the debt.

In the interim they will seek a protective notice which will give the debtor 70 days of breathing space during which the person has the protection of the court and the creditor can no longer contact them and must deal with the practitioner.

The figures from ISI show that in 75% of cases where a creditors’ meeting is secured, the PIP is successful in getting a deal on the debt. Since the scheme began in September 2013, 821 such deals have been done out of a total of 2,013 applications.

However, ISI admits the number of cases completed so far is only the tip of the iceberg — the Irish Mort- gage Holders Association pointed out the Central Bank last week estimated 30,904 people will lose their family home.

“I cannot deny the number is low in terms of the scale of the problem,” said ISI director, Lorcan O’Connor.
“But we have opened in record time and we now have hundreds of people who have successfully concluded their arrangements so we have evidence that the solutions work. Obviously, the next challenge is to spread the word so that those who need our help are aware of it.”

Nonetheless, IMHO said the figures showed the insolvency system was not trusted by debtors. It pointed out that just 129 PIA applications actually resulted in an arrangement in the first quarter of this year.
“Interestingly enough, the ISI has not detailed how many of these are family homes,” it said.

“They state that the write-off in PIAs is 22.2% on average and give the impression this involves family homes where we believe 90% of PIA’s involve investment properties only.”

Mr O’Connor rejected that, saying the “vast, vast majority” of PIAs involved the family home.
ISI has pointed out that creditors who choose to reject the PIP’s plan face losing an average of €100,000 if the person then has to declare bankruptcy.Mr O’Connor said in spite of that, a number of creditors were still choosing to vote “no”, but he hopes that percentage will fall with the introduction of a new Personal Insolvency Arrangement protocol which could push the acceptance rate up to 95%.

ISI carried out a survey of 47 cases in the fourth quarter of 2014 where creditors voted no to a PIP’s resolution proposal. Start Mortgages voted no in 80% of the deals it was involved in and Permanent TSB in 48%. By comparison the percentage for Bank of Ireland and AIB/EBS were 21% and 14% respectively.He said before such a protocol was introduced in Britain, acceptance rates were below 50% but are now above 95%.“That is where I would like to think we could get to, simply because they are losing €100,000 every time they vote ‘no’,” he said.

Stephen Rogers

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Gerry Adams's letter the Irish Times refuses to print

The Irish Times – Anti-Sinn Féin polemics

Here's the text of a letter which Gerry Adams TD has been trying to get The Irish Times to carry for the last two weeks. It has refused.
The Irish Times – Anti-Sinn Féin polemics

A Chara,
The Irish Times has set out its clear opposition to Sinn Féin in advance of the next general election.
Last week the paper published three editorials in the space of seven days questioning Sinn Féin's political bona fides and fitness for Government.

In addition, Political Editor Stephen Collins (Sinn Féin casts a dark shadow over Irish democracy, The Irish Times, 14 March) made a highly-charged direct appeal to the entire political establishment to unite against Sinn Féin.
Fintan O'Toole accused us of putting party interests first; of lying and of being incapable of understanding the concepts of accountability, openness and honesty.

Each of these extraordinary anti-Sinn Féin polemics has been based on erroneous information and spurious claims.

On 7 March, the editorial made the outrageous, unsubstantiated and entirely false claim that a portion of Sinn Féin's income was derived from illegal sources. There was no attempt to back up this slanderous accusation with any evidence.

On 11 March, another editorial claimed, completely erroneously, that Sinn Féin had “plunged the political process” in the North into crisis. The facts contradict this. The crisis was sparked by the DUP resiling from a key part of the Stormont House Agreement providing social protections for citizens. However, this is now history. The effort must be to fully implement the Stormont House Agreement. That is Sinn Féin’s focus.
Then, on 14 March, the paper claimed that Sinn Féin had refused to co-operate fully with law enforcement agencies in relation to the serious issue of sexual abuse. Not true. Sinn Féin and I have co-operated fully with An Garda Síochána in relation to these matters.

That the attacks on Sinn Féin will intensify as the election draws closer will be no surprise but, as the so-called ‘paper of record’, the Irish Times should not resort to misreporting, misleading comment or false accusations.

Is mise,
Gerry Adams TD,
Teach Laighean,

Baile Átha Cliath 2.