Saturday, July 11, 2015
Conor McGregor climbed off the canvas for the most stunning win of his career at the MGM Grand, downing Chad Mendes and claiming the interim UFC featherweight championship title.
Amid the deafening noise of a partisan crowd the Dubliner had come off second-best for much of the nearly two rounds of action. But with mere seconds remaining in the second round, McGregor connected with a devastating left hand that downed Mendes for the first time in his illustrious career.
The Californian never got up and the Irish masses who had invaded Las Vegas on a record-breaking night went absolutely wild. The heroic victory sends McGregor on a direct collision course with champion Jose Aldo for a unification clash. It also sends McGregor's star to even more soaring heights.
But for much of the fight - almost all of it in fact - it looked as if the 'McGregor show' was about to come to the most crashing of ends. Sinead O'Connor had sung the Notorious one into the ring as the atmosphere at the Grand Garden arena went beyond spine-tingling.
But once the first bell struck, things got very real. McGregor opened with a spinning kick but was quickly on the defensive. He was soon taken down to the canvas for the first time and while he worked his way out of trouble, he wasn't upright for long.
Mendes downed him again and connected with a left elbow to McGregor's right eyelid that cut the 26-year-old open for the first time in his UFC career. The round was certainly Mendes' but McGregor simply beckoned the Californian for more as the second round began.
He got more, plenty more, spending a huge part of the second round on his back but defending stoically as Mendes tried to connect with more elbows. Mendes looked for a submission but McGregor broke free, gathered himself and delivered a stunning deciding blow.
McGregor sunk to his knees in victory and the roof all but came off the famous arena. After the marathon build-up, the change of opponent and the late switch to Mendes, McGregor had done what he has consistently done since exploding on the scene. He delivered. Delivered the biggest triumph of his lifetime.
ONCE upon a time, long ago, I spent a summer employed as a yardman in a concrete mixing depot in north London. It was a serious operation in which sand and gravel were transported to the depot by train, unloaded, and fed into the mixer by a JCB. I had a handy number, but so did the man driving the JCB, a native of Killarney who went by the name of Fran.
He was quiet in the mornings but steady behind the wheel of the JCB. After disappearing for a few hours at lunchtime he returned with a smile that saw him through the afternoon, but his driving was no longer steady.
At the back of the yard, there was a large pit into which was thrown the waste that was surplus to requirements or for one reason or another, had gone wrong in the mix. Every so often a flatbed truck arrived in the yard, and Fran duly bucketed the muck into the truck.
He explained to me that the lads in the truck were Irish cowboys, who would pass off the muck as concrete for small foundations or paving, and would be long gone when the cracks appeared, and settlement occurred.
The crowd I was working for were also Irish and happy somebody was taking the waste off their hands. Nothing to do with us, guv. That summer came back to me recently as I worked on stories concerning people who had bought homes, only to find a few years down the line they had not been built properly.
Buying a home is the biggest financial decision most of us will ever make. In many societies the enormity of the transaction is recognised by the state. Building regulations are policed to ensure that homeowners are not prey to cowboys. In the UK, for instance, regulation is overseen by local authorities. The British recognise the integral role that homes play in society, and the need to ensure that homebuyers are protected.
Not so in this country. Here, the indifference felt by my erstwhile employer in north London is mirrored by the State. Nothing to do with us, guv.
Building regulation has for over 25 years now been largely left to the industry. The State takes a back seat, stands back, lets them at it. That was the ethic that was employed right through the years of a frantic building boom. Some in the industry maintained proper standards, but many did not. Prairies of exploitation were opened up for cowboys. Builders who felt under pressure, through competition or greed, began to cut corners.
Taking a decision to cut corners, do shoddy work, make a few on-the-spot changes to design, is a lot easier when you know the results of your decision won’t be visible to the naked eye, or even to a surveyor making a cursory inspection on behalf of a prospective buyer. It is now becoming obvious that a lot of corners were cut when new houses were going up at a rate of knots. Some in the industry believe places like Priory Hall, Longboat Quay, Belmayne, all in Dublin, Millfield Manor in Newbridge, Riverwalk Court in Ratoath are just the tip of the iceburg.
Of course, the State pays lip service to regulation. Each local authority has inspectors whose function it is to keep an eye on things. But that’s really a sham. Resources in the area of building control regulation were systemically reduced over the years.
In theory, most local authorities commit to a target of 15% inspections of all new buildings. In reality, it’s a fraction of that. I’ve spoken to architects who’ve been in business for over two decades and never encountered a local authority inspector on site.
That’s what suits the industry. Interfering state agents might hold things up. And the industry has usually got its way. The connections between developers, builders and Fianna Fáil during the bubble years is well documented, but relationships run much deeper than that.
Construction is an integral part of the economy, and a sector with excellent lobbying skills. Whispers of slowdowns, roadblocks, and squeezed profit margins are enough to put the jitters on most politicians who want to get things moving.
Last year, on foot of the fallout from Priory Hall and other shoddily built developments, the Government introduced new “robust” regulations. Now an “assigned certifier”, a building professional, must sign off on everything.
This process, known as SI9, is largely a cosmetic exercise. It means that an individual can be fingered when things go wrong, but the idea that this system leads to greater protection for homebuyers is preposterous. For instance, the certifier can be employed by the developer, killing any notion of independent evaluation.
Earlier this year, the Minster for the Environment, Alan Kelly, instigated a review of SI9 because of controversy about costs, rather than the shortcomings of a regime that leaves the homebuyer as exposed as ever.
Two recent situations illustrate the indifference the State continues to harbour towards homebuyers. A fortnight ago, Kildare County Council unanimously passed a motion from independent councillor Willie Crowley instructing the executive to conduct 100% inspections on all new developments. This follows outrage locally at what has emerged in the Millfield Manor estate in Newbridge, where a devastating fire exposed major shortcomings in fire safety in all 90 houses.
The motion is laudable, but it won’t change anything. A proper inspection regime would require some serious resources, which would have to be sanctioned by the Department of the Environment and Local Government. That won’t happen, because if it did, the Government would be forced to roll out a proper inspection regime. That wouldn’t suit the industry and it would cost the exchequer money — initially — which could be better spent on tax cuts.
Another attempt to improve building standards was made by Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown council which voted that all new homes should comply with “passive house” standards, an international standard for energy efficiency.
A few weeks later, the chiefs executive of the four Dublin local authorities received a letter signed by both Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Housing Minister Paudie Coffey, warning not to impose standards that could delay the quick delivery of houses.
The ministers wrote that “viability of new development and therefore supply will be placed at risk by the insertion of unreasonable or excessive requirements in relation to the standard of housing”. As Fingal councillor David Healy pointed out, the ministers charged with protecting homebuyers were asking councils “to keep standards low”.
Here, as elsewhere, it’s back to the future. An election is in the offing. There is a housing shortage.
Builders must not be discommoded or they might throw a strop. Once again, Joe and Josephine Public are being left to the whim of what individual builders and developers consider acceptable standards rather than anything decreed by the State.
The cowboys I encountered in London would feel right at home in the old country.
Friday, July 10, 2015
IT WAS back to the future yesterday at the Public Accounts Committee hearing. Strange goings on at the interface of business and politics. Middlemen pulling in serious bucks. Offshore accounts. Apparent conflict of interest.
The Isle of Man, the delightful bank-friendly Isle of Man. And cops belatedly shaking themselves awake to crack open an investigation. Come back to us, tribunals, all is forgiven.
There is a smell off a deal done by Nama which involved a major writedown of asset value and £7m resting in an Isle of Man bank account. There is no suggestion that any personnel in the National Asset Management Agency acted in a dishonest or corrupt manner. But there’s no getting away from the smell.
Yesterday, the PAC sniffed around the chapter and verse of Nama’s sale of its portfolio of loans in Northern Ireland, and why it’s a cause for concern.
It all began with Sammy Wilson, the minister for finance in the Northern executive. On June 24, 2013, he wrote to Michael Noonan, enclosing a letter from an American law firm, Brown Rudnick, stating that they were interested in acquiring the Northern Ireland loan portfolio. This was an unusual approach, which left Wilson open to a perception he was making a representation on behalf of the firm.
Noonan wrote back saying this was Nama business, nothing to do with him, and Nama only did business on the open market. That September, Brown Rudnick approached Nama on behalf of a client, Pimco, which wanted an exclusive deal to buy the portfolio.
“At a meeting on 12 December, the Nama board decided that the portfolio should be openly marketed as part of a competitive process,” Nama chairman Frank Daly told the PAC yesterday.
“The board also set a minimum price below which it would not be willing to proceed with a sale.”
That price was £1.3bn. The sale was given the name Project Eagle and off they went.
By March there were only three bidders still in the game. Then Pimco informed Nama that part of its process involved paying a fee to a former member of Nama’s Northern Ireland advisory committee, a Mr Frank Cushnahan. This gent had resigned his Nama position the previous November, and now he popping up advising a company buying Nama assets.
Mr Daly told the PAC he’d been informed that there was to be a £15m commission to be paid by Pimco, and split equally three ways between Brown Rudnick, the Belfast law firm Tughans and Mr Cushnaham. That’s nice gravy if you can get it. (By contrast, Nama CEO Brendan McDonagh told the PAC that Nama’s legal fee on the deal was £1.8m).
The retention of a former Nama committee member by a purchaser didn’t do it for Daly and McDonagh. They told Pimco they’d have nothing more to do with that bid because it would look bad, and perception is everything. Pimco was out of the game.
Three weeks later, the sale went through to the next highest bidder, another US outfit called Cerberus. And that would have been the end of that maybe, if Mick Wallace hadn’t stood up in the Dail last week and alleged that £7m had been lodged in an Isle of Man account in relation to the sale, earmarked for a northern politician or party. Tughans confirmed the money had been diverted by its former managing partner Ian Coulter, who had now left the firm.
The surprising thing is that both legal firms which had acted for the departed Pimco, also acted for the winner of the bid, Cerberus. That should have been enough to raise eyebrows.
Now the PSNI is also involved, having launched an investigation on Thursday.
Nobody in Nama appears to have acted improperly, but questions do arise. Daly told the committee that Nama asked of Cerberus whether any money had been paid to Cushnahan, and the response was in the negative.
“I am confident that the Nama board acted quickly, decisively and took every measure available to it to protect the integrity of the sales process as soon as the proposed fee arrangement came to light,” he told the PAC.
It also emerged yesterday that Mr Cushnahan had use of an office in Tughams. If that was known, then surely Nama needed more than just assurance from the purchaser that its former committee member was not paid a fee. And the biggest question of all is who was the seven million big ones earmarked for?
As elsewhere, it would seem that curiosity was not a feature of corporate governance at the agency.
Now it has got itself in a pickle, even though nobody at the agency did anything wrong. The smell emitting from the affair may well lead all the way to yet another inquiry.
Thursday, July 9, 2015
All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.
How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don't think.
Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.
The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it forces those who fear it to imitate it.
The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.
The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it forces those who fear it to imitate it.
The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.
Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.
The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.
BRIAN Cowen came to the banking inquiry yesterday to make a few corrections on sums. Some people have “added two and two and got 20”, he told the inquiry early on. He was there to put them right.
His second day before the inquiry dealt with his turbulent time as taoiseach. It’s also a period out of which various rumours have solidified into fact. Like the one that the bank guarantee overseen by Cowen delivered the country into austerity.
Or the “well known fact” that Cowen over-ruled Brian Lenihan’s wish to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank, rather than guarantee it.
Or the one about Seán Quinn’s brother Peter ringing Cowen while he mulled over the guarantee in Government Buildings.
And of course it’s pure gospel that Cowen was in the pocket of the bankers, intent on looking out for their interests, rather than discharging his duty to the nation as a whole.
Cowen dealt with all these issues, which ranged from the ludicrous to the plain wrong. His demeanour yesterday was in contrast to how he appeared last week to rake over his time as minister for finance. Then, he started out in bullish form, later lapsing into the unsure, slouchy figure which he had become in the final months of his tenure as taoiseach.
Brian Cowen was less emphatic about his links with economist Alan Gray, who also dealt with David Drumm and Sean FitzPatrick.
Yesterday, he was more assured, more steady and with good reason. At one stage he reached for the metaphor of an ambulance in explaining the actions that led to the bank guarantee. He was behind the wheel. He is far more comfortable talking about Taoiseach Cowen than Minister Cowen who contributed to the disaster that required the presence of an ambulance.
He echoed others who were present on the night of September 29, 2008, that the guarantee was a “least worst option” based on the assumption that the banks were not bust, but unable to access cash.
He didn’t accept that enough due diligence had not been conducted on the banks prior to giving the guarantee, pointing out that PWC went into the banks in the weeks afterwards and emerged with much the same analysis on liquidity that had informed the decision on September 29.
In recent months, much has been made of an alleged dispute between him and Lenihan on the night in question, with the latter wanting to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank, rather than guarantee it.
The subtext of this narrative casts Lenihan as having a better grasp of the situation, and Cowen as being intent on implementing a decision that was more favourable to the people who ran Anglo.
Apart from such a scenario having zero basis in fact, the idea that nationalising Anglo would have saved the citizens much money, or alleviated any of the austerity that was to follow, is largely bogus. (Anglo was nationalised three months later in any event.) But these are the kind of received wisdoms that have drifted into the public consciousness in the search for a smoking gun.
There was no rancour between him and Lenihan on the night in question, he asserted. “We were talking the issues through. Both of us were deliberating with each other and striving to find the best course of action for the country at this point,” he said.
Later, he praised the other man. “Brian had a tough job and he did it very well,” he said.
Susan O’Keeffe asked whether he’d taken a call from Seán Quinn’s brother Peter on the night in question.
“No,” he said, batting off one of the crazier rumours from the period.
His position was less emphatic on other matters. He said he rang economist Alan Gray on the night in question to get an outside opinion of the situation. Hours earlier, Seán FitzPatrick and David Drumm had called into Gray’s office as they toured Dublin on their “buddy, can you spare a dime” desperate bid to save Anglo.
Cowen was asked whether Gray told him of the earlier visit. “No,” Cowen replied. That is strange, to say the least.
A few months earlier, in July 2008, Cowen’s old pal and former Anglo director Fintan Drury had, at Cowen’s request, gathered a group to discuss the deteriorating economy at the Mount Juliet golf resort. Fitzpatrick and Gray were there. Cowen said there was no discussion about banking at the meeting, which Pearce Doherty suggested “stretched credulity”.
The witness said it was an informal get-together to discuss the economy, not the bank.
“As God is my witness that’s the truth,” he said.
There was less controversy around the bailout period in November 2010. This country was “bounced” into it, but the inquiry has repeatedly heard from other witnesses that we would have ended up as a protectorate of the Troika within months one way or the other.
Another long day of evidence failed to release a whiff of cordite. There may have been mistakes here and there in the white heat of his time as taoiseach, as the country grasped for survival. Proper contingency for disaster was sadly lacking in the first months of his tenure.
Anglo could have been nationalised when the other banks were guaranteed, purely on the basis that the management had run the bank into the ground and had to be removed.
On some occasions, he appears to have shown a serious lack of curiosity about what was unfolding around him.
But most of Cowen’s big mistakes were made when he oversaw the finance portfolio, before donning the paramedic’s uniform.
Over the two days, Cowen put his hand up in relation to some of his actions and held tough as far as others, particularly in finance, were concerned. He also called to mind the fact that here was a highly intelligent politician who was well capable of dealing with anything thrown at him by the inquiry committee.
In different times, under different circumstances, he may well have left a political legacy far removed from that which the short view has bestowed on him.
Monday, July 6, 2015
While the ‘no’ vote in Greece is being hailed as milestone for democracy and somehow has many citizens thinking they are going to get a free get out of jail card, they will be forced to think again after a rather severe dose of reality has set in. Greece is a sun country full of delusions. Much like Ireland, except for the sun part, where corruption does not exist either in convictions and even less in actuality, because most investigations end after a brown envelope full of money has been paid either officially or unofficially, and without admission of liability, someone, somewhere, has to pay.
That someone is usually the less informed and those living in perpetuity of hope that things will change. They are sometimes called the electorate, honest citizens, and much worse behind their back. Bless their moral laden hearts.
Like any errant borrower or lender, if one refuses to pay then the other will refuse to lend more money. But the lender has more options unlike the borrower.
He/she can go to the Government and convince them that unless their particular private lending company is saved and the bondholders with it, the country will be crushed and all the pillars and bulwarks that goes with it will collapse and never rise again. The commerce of fear has always worked and why not this time yet again.
But the stakes of corruption and unaccountability can only go so far if nothing is done to reign in the recklessness and greed of the lender in tandem with the stupidity of the borrower. That is where Greece is today and where Ireland will be tomorrow along with a few more; the domino effect of greed and delusions is as much as you can describe it without trying to make something simple that much more complicated.
One island there named Zakynthos, 680 people pretended to be blind. 61 of those felt so confident of not being caught they drove around the island in their cars. 498 were not blind at all or even partially sighted. This scam netted each person €724 every two month and a reduction in utility bills and all traced back over other participants in the scam, and there was many, to one ophthalmologist and one official. This cost Greece €9,000,000, or rather it will cost us that if we allow ourselves, yet again, to bail these people out or anyone else for that matter. Of course this is only an illustration of what goes on as ‘normal’ in what is becoming a very backward country and heading for third world rankings without the brakes. It is also just the tip of the iceberg.
Emotional scenes of pensioners is one thing to stir up anger and angst, but free lunches do not exist in reality for someone inevitability has to pay, and we have nothing left to give.
She was made sign adoption forms to give up her child despite being under the legal age of consent.
The woman, who still lives in Cork and asks not to be identified, is still in possession of a calendar given to her on entering the institution, where she marked off the months she stayed.
She sent a letter to this newspaper following an Irish Examiner two-day special investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
Simply signed ‘M’, the woman said her experience in Bessborough in 1975 “had a lasting effect on my life” and, only in recent months, she had found “the courage to seek counselling to try and rid myself of some of the guilt I have felt for the past 40 years”.
She described the fear she had entering Bessborough as a pregnant teenager: “When I arrived in Bessborough in February 1975, I was 16-years-old with no idea of what was ahead of me.
“My name was changed straight away and I was warned not to tell anybody who I was, or where I was from.
“One of the women there was about 70 and I was told that she had been there all her life. Lots of the women there never left. I wondered if I would ever again go home,” she wrote.
‘M’ outlined in detail the treatment of the residents, from the lack of preparation for labour and the refusal to allow mothers to bond with their children.
“There was no preparation for childbirth and as we slept in dorms, almost every night it seemed someone went into labour and I knew all that was ahead of me without having a clue as to what was really going on.
“My daughter was born in August and I cared for her for about four weeks. During that time I became very attached to her but the nuns put me on night duty caring for all the babies and labour ward duties so my time with my daughter would be less,” she wrote.
Shockingly, she reveals how mothers had to drink Epsom salts on the premise it would help their digestive systems.
“Once the babies were born the mothers were given Epsom salts dissolved in hot water to drink first thing in the morning. We were told that it was for our digestive system but it was purely to deter breast feeding.”
At the age of just 17, ‘M’ was brought to a solicitor’s office and made sign the consent forms to adopt her child, despite not being of legal age to do so.
“One day the nuns sent me into Cork city for something and when I came back my daughter was gone.
“It is hard to explain how I was feeling at that time but I am sure you can imagine,” she wrote.
“Shortly after that I was brought to a solicitor’s office on Patrick’s Hill and made swear on the bible that I would never try and contact my daughter again and then I was told to sign adoption papers. There was no one with me, only a nun from the convent. Remember I was only 17 and I could not legally sign any document at that age but I signed the adoption papers.”
Her daughter’s adoptive mother told ‘M’, many years later every time someone knocked on the door she hid the girl in the wardrobe in case the natural mother was coming back for her.
“That speaks for itself,” said ‘M’. “The adoption of my daughter was illegal and I am sure some money changed hands,” she wrote.
Conall O Fatharta