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Saturday, June 13, 2015

800 years of Magna Carta – its legacy lives on

‘The Magna Charta Hiberniae, “son of” Magna Carta, slightly amended and issued for Ireland on November 12th, 1216, is part of the retained law of the land’

"I’m the commander, see,” George Bush insisted in 2003.”I don’t need to explain – I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the president.” “L’État c’est moi!” is how Louis XIV put it.
Sometimes the mask slips. Not for the first or last time, however, Bush was spectacularly wrong. Because 800 years ago this weekend in a field at Runnymede in Surrey the obnoxious King John, after five days of fraught negotiations, conceded Magna Carta to his rebellious barons. Remarkably its 63 clauses still remain the source of four key pillars of Western jurisprudence: habeas corpus, the prohibition of torture, trial by jury, and the rule of law.

Most famously, Article 39, which declares that “no free man” shall be punished in any way, “nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.”

It retains a central place in Irish law too – the Magna Charta Hiberniae, “son of” Magna Carta, slightly amended and issued for Ireland on November 12th, 1216, is part of the retained law of the land, mentioned as recently as in 2007’s Statute Law Revision Act. We too should be celebrating.

Even the president of the US, pace Bush, is subject to the rule of law/Magna Carta, as he was reminded by Supreme Court judge Anthony Kennedy in the 2008 decision to declare conditions in Guantanamo unconstitutional. In the landmark Boumediene v Bush, he noted: “The writ of habeas corpus became the means by which the promise of Magna Carta was fulfilled.”
On Monday Queen Elizabeth will join a “spectacular” river pageant to Runnymede to celebrate the anniversary, although no one will be churlish enough to point out the irony that royalty, and even her presence, represent the very antithesis of Magna Carta – it was the card John played precisely to save his neck by conceding that from now on royalty would have to accept the constraints of law, “the lawful judgment of his peers and . . . the law of the land”.

Not, as David Cameron suggested recently quite wrongly, that the king had to embrace democracy, of course. No mention of voting. Nor did he have to succumb immediately. These were different times, and with the help of the pope, John initially repudiated the charter and his promises to his barons.

The charter’s restoration would be a slow burner, but inspiration in the struggles that would later develop between king and parliament and in the popular movements against privilege like the Levellers, the Diggers, and indeed the rebellion of the American colonists. Today an emasculated monarchy is all that is left, a strange flagwaver for the charter.

The revolutionary potency of the charter also resides in clauses that have tended to be forgotten with time. The concept, for example, of “no taxation without representation” could be found in Article 12 : “No scutage or aid is to be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our realm.” (Scutage under the feudal system allowed a knight to “buy out” of military service). In 1775, Massachusetts incorporated an image of the charter into its state seal.

More radical readings, like those of Marxist historian Peter Linebaugh or Noam Chomsky, point to the Charter of the Forests, incorporated with the Charter of Liberties to form the full Magna Carta, and which defends the rights of the commoners to exploit the resources of woodland – food and fuel – against encroachments by nobles on their ability to feed their families.

It is, they argue, a manifesto against privatisation that has echoes today in community fights against water privatisation, and has been cited, as Linebaugh records, in one of the communiqués from the Lancandan jungle of Central America by Subcommandante Marcos, the spokesman of the indigenous people’s revolt in 1994. “The brilliant postmodern revolt cited a tedious premodern source. Why?

“Marcos described the global forces that daily suck out 92,000 barrels of oil, leaving behind ‘ecological destruction, agricultural plunder, hyperinflation, alcoholism, prostitution, and poverty’ while the campesinos in Ocosingo have to cut wood to survive.”

“Its goal,” Chomsky writes of the Charter of the Forest, “was to protect the source of sustenance for the population, the commons, from external power – in the early days, royalty; over the years, enclosures and other forms of privatisation by predatory corporations and the state authorities who co-operate with them.”

“What art thou Freedom?” Shelley asked, recalling the spirit of Runnymede . . .
“For the labourer thou art bread,
And a comely table spread . . .
Thou art clothes, and fire, and food

For the trampled multitude”.

Patrick Symth

I could kiss John Delaney, I love him so

TODAY, this column walks tall with the following declaration. I love John Delaney.
I love him as only one man can love another, just shy of switching sexual orientation.
As a journalist, I love him because of his generosity in providing copy.
But, most of all, I love him because, in this vale of tears, there is nothing that rescues the battered spirit quite like the ridiculous.

Let’s first dismiss the trifling matter of the five million big ones. The hullabaloo that has been generated about the deal that John struck with his mucker, Sepp Blatter, has been blown out of all proportion.
John and Sepp are men of the world. This was nothing more than a little arrangement between two like minds. Both have records in manoeuvring themselves into positions of power for the long haul.
Neither man suffers from a lack of self-esteem, as evidenced by the huge wads of cash they pull in from their respective associations. John is paid around €350,000 per annum, making him the highest paid football administrator this side of an oil-soaked regime like Quatar.

The pair have a similar taste in the opposite sex.  John has revealed that at a gathering in Vienna, some time ago, Sepp eyed-up John’s partner, Emma Something-Or-Other, and said he approved.
John told him to move on, and the smart money says that, only for the presence of Emma, things might have turned ugly. It could have ended up with chequebooks at dawn.
John enjoys huge support in his association, just as Sepp did up until a few weeks ago. Both men know how to water the grassroots.

In fact, in a recent radio interview on Morning Ireland the similarities between the pair were writ large.
“On a personal basis, he could be affable, if he requires you,” said the interviewee. “He has a huge ego and he operates on that basis. He thinks (his association) is an empire, its own country, a huge power. Personalities aside, he is not the person to lead (his association) going forward.”

Who said that? It was John talking about Sepp. But it could just as easily have been Sepp referring to John. Isn’t it uncanny? Two lads, thick as thieves, tripping over each other to make the world a better place.
There, however, the similarities end. I have it on good authority that Sepp can sing, whereas John has a brutal voice, as evidenced by his little episode last year, when he was caught belting out a song about an IRA hunger striker.

John is also better in the smarts department. He actually convinced Sepp that the FAI had the basis of a legal action over Thierry Henry’s handball in Paris. Sepp looks a bit dopey now and again, but he couldn’t be that stupid? It must come down to John’s ability to convince others that he has huge ability.
Ok, his ability isn’t limitless. An issue arose as to whether the €5m was a gift or a loan. When I heard that, a cold shiver ran down my spine.

Momentarily, I was back at the Planning Tribunal, where another giant of Irish life, Bertie Ahern, tied himself in knots over whether he had received a gift or a loan as a dig-out.
The agreement itself was straight out of the Sepp and John Administration Handbook. The moola was provided on the basis that it would be repayable if Ireland qualified for the next World Cup. These guys would have fitted in as right bankers here, a few years ago. Lend money out, but it’s written off if the borrower isn’t successful — and somebody else foots the bill.

Staying with the theme, John couldn’t remember what was done with the cash. Initially, he said it went into the Aviva. Then, there was some suggestion that it was invested in the game, in areas which might otherwise have been ignored.

See how John was taking care of those who might otherwise be ignored? We now know that football fans in disadvantaged areas had a two-way bet during the last World Cup campaign.
If Ireland qualified, all hell would break loose. When we didn’t, football people were treated to John’s munificence with an extra €5m. How lucky is Irish football to be led by such a giant?
Try telling that to the bregrudgers. Chief among them were the terrible twins, Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, and Tom Fleming, the Dáil deputy from South Kerry. Fleming suggested that John should take a 50% drop in salary. What tosh. Monkeys and peanuts, Deputy Fleming, and John Delaney may be a lot of things, but he’s no monkey.

Mourinho quite obviously used the €5m story to have a pop at John, because he is in fear of his ‘Special One’ status being usurped.
John Delaney is a man of integrity and ability, but more than anything he is a strict disciple of openness and transparency. No public figure could claim to be more open about their private life, or more transparent about promoting the object of their affection.

The picture taken at the England match, last Sunday, painted five million words. John and Emma are standing where others sit, enjoying a good smacker, while Sports Minister Pascal Donohue looks on, as if a loved-up couple are a silly, but welcome, distraction from the real world.

John introduced the fragrant Emma last year, in a hard-hitting documentary about his life, entitled John The Baptist, in which John emerged as a cross between Michael O’Leary and Mother Teresa.
He was very open about the fragrant Emma, when he was under pressure about the half-cocked, brutal singing. On that occasion, he told Ryan Tubridy that Emma was getting dog’s abuse online over the incident. How brave he was to share the guilt and shame that must have been eating him up because his loved-one took abuse for him.

He was transparent with Ray D’Arcy when he revealed Sepp’s covetous glance at the fragrant Emma. Even on the deadly serious current affairs programme, Morning Ireland, he didn’t shirk from his fidelity to openness.
Asked by Gavin Jennings how long he intended to go on after his lucrative contract expired in 2020, John manned-up.

“I’m very happy in my personal life,” he responded to the question about his professional life. “I’ve made that clear recently. Any decision will be on a joint basis.” Notably, he didn’t say “joint” with whom? Was he talking about the fragrant Emma, or was he perhaps hinting that he wouldn’t make any big decision before consulting his kindred spirit, the bould Sepp.

So, folks, you can see why I love John Delaney. What you see is what you get, and what you get is unbeatable. But for now, consider this: If he truly is John The Baptist, who in their right mind would want to be Salomé?

Michael Clifford

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Photo Minute: Wild Beauty

One law for the people and no law for the cops in Ireland

A court heard that on the 29th of August 2013 Garda Una Ryan of 13 Hillcrest, Kilcullen, stationed at Naas Garda Station, was pulled over and breathalysed on Edward Street in Newbridge, Kildare.

Two officers from Newbridge Station Garda Young and Garda Conor Sheehan saw a car pulling out with no lights on, the court was told.

The vehicle then drove straight through a red light and nearly caused a collision.
The officers then turned on their siren and pulled Garda Ryan over.

They found that she had a strong smell of alcohol and was unsteady on her feet.
Her breathalyser result was five times over the legal limit.
Despite this the youngest judge in the state, Grainne O’Neill, accepted a defence submission that there were technical issues with the procedures on the night.

Judge O’Neill said there was an issue over the caution although Garda Young was positive that he did caution Garda Ryan.
Garda Ryan was convicted of careless driving and fined €300.

The Leinster Leader reports that in mitigation Garda Ryan’s barrister said that his client was a 35-year-old single woman and that because of her profession it was a huge embarrassment for her.

She had undergone rehabilitation and was in much better health.
He said her conviction would impact on her job and she has been taken off certain duties and hopes she will be restored to full duties.

He also said that Garda Ryan will be the subject of disciplinary matters arising from this case.

The Garda Ombudsman’s office (GSOC) said that no complaint regarding Garda Ryan has been made to them.

GSOC sources confirmed that  An Garda Siochana are only obliged to refer a case to GSOC if there has been a death or serious crime and that members of the public can only submit a complaint if they were directly involved in an incident or were a witness.

“I wouldn’t expect to get a report in on this” said the source.

Morgan Creagh

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Package for Magdalene women takes effect next month

Women to receive medical card and other supports including home help and counselling

Women who worked in the Magdalene laundries and remain resident in Ireland will get a medical card and other supports including home help, counselling and physiotherapy services free of charge from July 1st when the Redress for Women Who Were Resident in Certain Institutions Act comes into force.

Women who worked in the Magdalene laundries and remain resident in Ireland will get a medical card and other supports including home help, counselling and physiotherapy services free of charge from July 1st when the Redress for Women Who Were Resident in Certain Institutions Act comes into force.

Payments made by the State to the women will be exempt from means test criteria for services such as nursing home support and the women will not be charged for acute in-patient services.

Women living abroad who were in the launderies are not covered by the Bill and their access to equivalent medical services will be dealt with “on an administrative basis” by the Health Service Executive (HSE)

This is because of the “wide variation of different health systems internationally” according to the Department of Justice.

Announcing the commencement of the Act on Wednesday, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the women would receive all the medical services recommended by Mr Justice Quirke in his report on the Magdalene Laundries.

“The Government has given its commitment to fully implementing all of the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Quirke in his report on the Magdalene Laundries. I am therefore very pleased to announce the commencement of this Act,” she said.
After Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s apology to the Magdalene women in 2013, Mr Justice John Quirke was tasked with designing a restorative justice scheme.

Under the Act, the women will be entitled to GP services; prescribed drugs and surgical appliances; nursing and home help services; dental, ophthalmic and aural services; counselling; chiropody and physiotherapy.

A scheme of ex-gratia payments to women who were in these institutions provides for a payment of between € 11,500 and € 100,000 depending on the length of stay.
According to the Department of Justice, decisions have been made on 86 per cent of applications out of the 776 received to date with € 18 million paid out so far.

Pension-type top up payments of up to €100 weekly, if under pension age, and up to €230.30 weekly when aged 66 or over depending on other State payments are already being made by the Department of Social Protection. 

Aoife Carr

Monday, June 8, 2015

Denis O’Brien’s influence and the meaning of press freedom

‘Announcement suggests that, whatever the bluster, Denis O’Brien does not take seriously the prospect that the Fine Gael-led government will do anything either to curb his current media power or to stop its future expansion’

‘The startling thing about Leslie Buckley’s announcement is it suggests that, whatever the bluster, Denis O’Brien does not take seriously the prospect the Fine Gael-led government will do anything to curb his current media power or to stop its future expansion.’ 

At the end of a week dominated by the implications of Denis O’Brien’s power for Irish democracy, he upped the ante. After the agm of Independent News and Media, in which O’Brien is the largest shareholder, his close associate Leslie Buckley, who is chairman of INM, announced the group is planning to spend up to €100 million on the acquisition of yet more media companies. Some will be spent in the UK, but some of it will go to acquire further Irish media assets to add to what it is already O’Brien’s unparalleled influence over both newspapers and broadcasting.
The Irish Independent reported yesterday that INM, perhaps aware the timing of Leslie Buckley’s announcement was unfortunate, is now downplaying the prospect of INM acquiring TV3. But the startling thing about his announcement is it suggests that, whatever the bluster, Denis O’Brien does not take seriously the prospect the Fine Gael-led government will do anything to curb his current media power or to stop its future expansion.

To understand why this matters, it is necessary simply to reflect on a striking absence. Over the last fortnight, the media faced the most fundamental challenge it has been presented with in the history of the State: the attempt by Denis O’Brien to stop the reporting of a speech made under parliamentary privilege. It is inexplicable that by far the largest newspaper group in the State did not seek to clarify its own rights in this regard by going (as The Irish Times and the Sunday Business Post did) to the High Court. INM chief executive Robert Pitt said after the agm the company’s inaction was “an editorial matter”. I genuinely don’t understand what that means. I have never, in 37 years in journalism, come across any editor in any country who would not regard the banning of a report of a parliamentary debate as an attack on the most basic function of the media in a democratic society.
A second way to gauge why O’Brien’s confidence that he will be allowed to expand his influence over the Irish media should be alarming is to read Eoghan Harris’s column in the Sunday Independent last Sunday. Harris has been accused of many things but being a shrinking violet is not one of them. Even those who hate him would surely agree that his particular combination of extreme intelligence and combative pugnacity adds something unique to Irish public discourse. Tangled affairs Yet last Sunday he effectively told his readers that he felt unable to write about the story of the week – the tangled affairs of Denis O’Brien, IBRC and Siteserv. He wrote that he had considered doing so but, “On prudent reflection, I decided to take the advice of the Kerry sage, Tommy the ‘Kaiser’ Fitzgerald as dispensed in Tig Paud a Chaoin in Ventry.” Asked by a customer in trouble with the guards whether he should make a statement, the publican replied: “Na habair faic agus na scriobh faic, mar nuair a cuireann tu an dubh ar an gheal ta tu fuckalta a bhuachaill”. Harris translated, before moving on to another subject entirely: “don’t say anything, and don’t write anything, because when you put the black on the white [in other words, when you put anything in writing], you are f****d boy.”

Is Eoghan Harris saying he would be “fuckalta” if he wrote about an affair that is of great interest to his readers but of even greater interest to the largest shareholder in INM? And, if so, is that paranoid? After all, Leslie Buckley told a media briefing after the INM agm that “There is absolute editorial freedom in INM. I think this view that Denis O’Brien has any influence editorially at [sic] what happens in INM is nonsense.”

Maybe it is, but the fact remains that journalists – and especially columnists – at INM are afraid to write critically about Denis O’Brien. And their fear has a name: Sam Smyth. Smyth did Irish democracy considerable service by exposing, in the Irish Independent, Michael Lowry’s extraordinary business and tax arrangements with Ben Dunne and, in the process, opened the way to the Moriarty tribunal which revealed Lowry’s even more extraordinary financial links to Denis O’Brien. Smyth was the Independent’s leading commentator on public affairs and the editor and host of a popular radio show on Today FM. In his Irish Mail on Sunday column, Smyth wrote that after O’Brien took control of Today FM “management instructed me not to discuss the Moriarty tribunal or the mobile phone licence that O’Brien won when Michael Lowry was minister for communications”. He was told on the day the tribunal report was published that his programme was going to be dropped. (The chief executive of Today FM stated in a letter in The Irish Times the reason for Smyth’s departure was “the fall in audience numbers”.) His position at the Independent became untenable and he lost that job too. That’s what “fuckalta” means.

Maybe these fears are misplaced. If so, they can be banished by two simple declarations. The Government can say that there are no circumstances under which O’Brien will be allowed to increase his extraordinary influence over the Irish media. And O’Brien can say publicly that Independent journalists are free, within the law, to write what they like about him.

Fintan O Toole