Saturday, August 29, 2015
Chancellor Merkel has “contempt” for Ireland’s bankers. But they are just one part of an elite that exploits the island shamelessly.
Anyone who wants to understand why Ireland could be so rich yet will probably remain poor should learn about Ray Burke. In Ireland, Ray Burke is almost as well known as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett or the U2 singer Bono who, in his sunglasses, always looks like a pudgy fly. People in Ireland don’t have positive thoughts about Ray Burke. After all, he sold their future.
Ireland has been trapped in a never-ending crisis since its gigantic property bubble burst. The banks, above all Anglo Irish Bank, worked ceaselessly to pump fresh money into the already overheated property market – which finally collapsed with the outbreak of the financial crisis of 2008.
The ruined Anglo Irish Bank has just made headlines posthumously after the Irish Independent published transcripts of telephone calls from September 2008. On the tapes you can hear how high-ranking bankers make fun of the crisis. The €7 billion emergency assistance that they demanded from the government would be paid back when they have the money, the bankers agree jokingly – “in other words: never”. That money won’t be enough anyway, says one department head, as he pulled the €7 billion figure “out of my arse”.
The journalist and author Fintan O’Toole says: “The reaction here in Dublin is very interesting. Hearing directly [the bankers’]boundless contempt is shocking. And everyone knows: we are paying for what they left behind.”
In a now legendary all-night sitting on September 29th, 2008 the Irish government agreed to guarantee all bank debts. O’Toole calls this the “most disastrous decision that was ever made by an Irish government”. At least two generations of taxpayers will pay off these debts. O’Toole makes an excellent job of charting the Irish path to disaster in his book Ship of Fools, in which he calls the accounts of Anglo Irish Bank the “most inventive work of Irish fiction since Ulysses”.
The oil off the Irish coast could be the way out of this misery. The oil could be the hope. If the former energy minister Ray Burke hadn’t rewritten the relevant laws as though the oil industry itself held the pen. And if Bertie Ahern hadn’t made an already bad deal for the Irish people even worse.
Burke was energy minister in 1987, when it was decided to change the provisions for oil and grass drilling licence allocation. Until then the state owned 50 per cent of all oil and gas found in Irish waters. In addition, companies had to pay royalties of between 8 and 16 per cent as well as 50 per cent tax. (1, see notes below)
The new rule gave companies 100 per cent of their find and abolished licence fees. In 1992 Bertie Ahern, then finance minister and later prime minister from 1998 to 2008, cut the tax for oil companies to 25 per cent – a provision that remains to this day. (2)
Increasing numbers of Irish people no longer accept this. For instance, the fisherman Joey Murtagh. Standing on the edge of Dublin Bay, with a glorious view over the Irish Sea, he asks: “You know what Ray Burke did?”
Or the psychologist Aisling Murphy. She sits in Dalkey in a pub called The Queen’s, where chicken and tacos are today’s special. Murphy asks: “You know what Ray Burke brought on us?”
The financial adviser Eddie Hobbs has arranged to meet at the motorway restaurant Brown’s Barn, 15km south of Dublin. He asks: “You’re aware of Ray Burke?”
Burke was always surrounded by corruption allegations and went to prison in 2005 because of tax fraud.
The reason this political inheritance is causing such animated discussion now is because of huge oil and gas reserves believed to surround the island. The company Providence estimates the volume of oil it discovered in the Barryroe field, south of Cork, at over 1.7 billion barrels, of which at least 270 million can be pumped. Further test drillings in Irish waters have been similarly promising.
At the moment a barrel of oil costs, depending on grade, between $90 and $100, meaning there could be oil worth many billions of euro in the Irish sea bed. (3) Even the oil companies concede that Ireland is surrounded by massive riches. But the Irish will probably gain none of this thanks to men like Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern.
Screwed over again
Murtagh says: “We are being screwed over again with every trick in the book.” Murphy: “We are a land that lies still while we are bled dry.” Hobbs: “The oil companies won’t succeed on this front. Not this time.” O’Toole: “Under the current conditions, it would be better if the resources stayed in the ground.”
But they aren’t staying there.
In April the American oil giant ExxonMobil began test drillings in the Dunquin Field southwest of Ireland. Off the west coast, Shell is extracting gas from the Corrib field, a source of often violent confrontations with residents for many years.
Two weeks ago the current energy minister Pat Rabbit urged representatives of 70 companies to invest in gas and oil extraction in Ireland. He said: “It is a priority of the Government to encourage investment in oil and gas extraction off the Irish coast and to optimise the value of the discoveries for Ireland.”
Only the Government isn’t making much progress with the optimisation. In May 2012 an Oireachtas committee appointed by Minister Rabbitte presented a report. After examining the rules introduced by Burke and Ahern, they came to the conclusion that it would be better to leave everything as it is.
Oil companies could scarcely find better terms than in Ireland. In most oil- and gas-producing countries in the world the state taps on average 70 per cent of the profits. In Ireland there is just the 25 per cent tax, though this can rise to 40 per cent on particularly rich fields. But Irish rules allow companies to write off all costs for test drillings over 25 years, regardless of where they were carried out, meaning the Irish State ends up with considerably less than 25 per cent.
Opposition is building through Hobbs’s “Own Our Oil” campaign. It is preparing a report looking into how Ireland could profit from its resources, prepared by experts from Ireland and other oil-producing countries.
He points to Norway, where most of the profits from oil production go to the company Statoil– the majority of which is owned by the state. In this way Norway has become one of the richest countries on Earth. The study is to be presented at a major conference and then handed over to government.
“We’re making good headway,” says Hobbs, “and may be finished this year.”
Hobbs is well-known in Ireland thanks to his 2005 television programme Rip-Off Republic. He is viewed as a consumer champion and is known for his populist, biting attacks on the establishment. He became an enemy of the oil industry after the company Providence made a tactical error.
Last September Providence managed to acquire a licence for test drillings in Dublin Bay. How this was possible is puzzling as the bay is a natural conservation area. The platform was to have stood 10km from the coast and would have been visible from land. The residents of Dalkey were the first to mobilise against the plans. Dalkey is a well-heeled suburb of Dublin in which many celebrities and intellectuals live, resulting in the protest being mocked in many newspapers as a revolt of the rich.
But the well-organised protesters also got a hearing and Hobbs took note. He says: “These people were the first to open my eyes to what happens to the oil.” Murphy and Murtagh are some of these people.
Murtagh says: “We became engaged because this was to take place before our eyes. But then it became bigger.” Murtagh has gone to sea since 1972 and has first-hand experience of how Ireland sold its other big resource: fish. Irish fishing waters are regarded as the best in Europe.
On EU entry in 1973 the Irish negotiated a deal that appeared good, but only at first glance: allowing other EU states into their waters to fish in exchange for money for Irish farmers. Murtagh says: “14.2 per cent of European seas are Irish. But we are allowed have only 2.6 per cent of the fish.”
Murtagh’s thesis: Ireland has paid back twice in fish every euro of EU aid received. The Dutch, Spanish, French come with industrial ships and empty Irish waters while EU fisheries policy keeps him ashore. As he talks Murtagh, 57, has tears in his eyes. (4)
Murphy says that the protest in Dublin Bay has triggered something among her friends.
“You have to know that we Irish have no experience in confrontation. Here it’s usual not to make a fuss. On top of that is something that, in psychological terms, you call ‘acquired helplessness’. You find this, for example, among abused women. Ireland doesn’t defend itself. Ireland quietly puts up with it.”
But a new fighting spirit is palpable since the group in Dalkey formed, Murphy says.
“This is completely new, even for me,” she says. “I was raised that institutions are always right and that you don’t raise any objection.”
Great diplomats, terrible politicians
Hobbs says the Irish always tried to find a third way. “You never have good and evil here, right or wrong. What you always have is people who are somewhat good or a little bit right. Above all, we are good at compromise out of fear of insulting the other. That’s why we have produced great diplomats and terrible politicians.”
It’s the same in the oil affair: “The position is, don’t start a row with the oil industry. They should find something and then we’ll find a solution. But there are Irish people who know that now is the time to do something. The only question is: will it be done the easy way or the hard way?”
The fighting spirit of the group from Dalkey was given a lift when their protest had an effect. Last February Providence handed back the licence to drill in Dublin Bay. The official reason was that, though they met all environmental requirements, the Government made a mistake in implementing an EU directive on environmental protection. The unofficial speculation in Dalkey is that the firm was weary of the negative publicity.
After the oil finds off Cork in 2012, Providence, in particular its boss Tony O’Reilly jr, was more than happy to be in the public eye. He promised that all of Ireland would profit. But with growing numbers of Irish people asking why the country profits so little from the resources, it has become increasingly difficult to contact Providence.
Emails from the Süddeutsche Zeitung from last November were answered with a question. Who else apart from Providence was the newspaper talking to, a spokeswoman asked, while keeping alive the hope of a meeting. Then no emails were answered for some time after they apparently landed in the spam folder. In February, a request for a meeting was declined as all managers were on the road, but the company would send materials. That never happened. A series of questions posed this week went unanswered.
That may have something to do with the fact that Providence boss O’Reilly jr is not used to critical questions. His father Tony O’Reilly is one of Ireland’s richest men and his company, Independent News & Media, owns more than 130 radio stations, 100 commercial websites and more than 200 newspapers worldwide – including more than 20 in Ireland.
O’Reilly jr prefers to speak in safe surroundings. A week ago he told the oil industry website Rigzone that Ireland’s tax regulations were “appropriate for the current state of the industry”. Ireland doesn’t have enough money to search for oil itself and thus, O’Reilly said, needs investors from abroad – and attracts them with low tax rates.
In fact, Ireland has had good experience with low tax rates: a section of the Irish economy booms because of large international companies like Microsoft and Google, which have settled in Ireland because of the low corporate tax rate of 12.5 per cent. This sector is what the Irish Government points to when it says things are improving.
But since 2008, Ireland’s domestic market has been in the cellar, with dramatic consequences. More than 300,000 Irish people have emigrated in the last four years, 40 per cent aged between 18 and 24. That would be the equivalent of 5.4 million people leaving Germany (population 82 million). The State has to make savings, meaning ever less money is available for education, which means there won’t be enough trained staff for international companies – the only economic sector that is working.
“In countries like Greece or Spain the youth go on the street and protest,” says O’Toole. “In Ireland, they emigrate. Now our young people are also leaving because they don’t want to pay back the debts of our bankers.”
The publication of the Anglo Irish Bank telephone calls has revived the outrage. In one extract a banker says: “The strategy is to pull [the government] in, so that they write a big cheque. If they realise the scale of this from the start, they might say it is too expensive for the taxpayer.”
It demonstrated to the Irish public like never before how they were conned ruthlessly by a shameless elite. Even Chancellor Merkel commented on the case. On Thursday evening she said: “I have nothing but contempt for that.”
O’Toole says: “The interesting question now is whether the fury will focus. Whether the people perhaps choose the issue of oil to say: that’s enough. If even Third World dictators can agree better deals with oil companies, why can’t we?”
He answers his own question: “The Government always views itself in a weak position. All important financial decisions are being taken by the troika of the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund. The Government merely implements. That leads to a situation where they are psychologically incapable of acting independently.”
The fisherman Joey Murtagh, the psychologist Aisling Murphy, the financial adviser Eddie Hobbs and the author Fintan O’Toole want to make sure that, on this matter, the last word has not been spoken. That the Irish people no longer have to pay for institutional stupidity and greed.
“It is completely un-Irish what we’re doing here,” said Murphy, “but perhaps we are the start of something new.”
She laughs very cautiously when she says: “Seen that way, perhaps we’re a kind of avant garde.”
By Christian Zaschke
– (Copyright: Süddeutsche Zeitung.)
Friday, August 28, 2015
EVERY time I see a picture of Little Nellie Organ I want to get sick. The horror of it. The dying four-year-old trussed up in a chair in the bridal gown of a First Communicant. The pasty face and the huge staring eyes. It is a repulsive image.
We should be ashamed of Little Nellie Organ, not proud of her. She died from TB in the hospital of an industrial school in the Good Shepherd Convent in Sunday’s Well, Cork in 1907. Not only were her lungs destroyed by the disease, it had crippled her spine and crumbled her jaw, which was stinking and coming away in pieces.
Even children who got the best care died horrible deaths in Ireland in the early 20th century; sadly, it happens even today. But poor children died those deaths far more often than well-off children because they lived in unsanitary conditions and had little or no access to medical care. In the early and mid-twentieth century, parentless children in Ireland were more than four times more likely to die in infancy than children with parents.
Little Nellie Organ was not the poorest of the poor. Her father was a soldier in the Royal Artillery, then stationed on Spike Island. But Nellie’s mother’s death of TB in 1907 dealt a killer blow to the family, as happens so often in poor families. To this day in sub-Saharan Africa the death of a mother spells death for her child in three-quarters of all cases.
Nellie’s mother would have guessed the probable fate of her family as she lay dying of TB. Devotional literature has her clutching her rosary beads as she turned her last months “almost entirely to God”: “Towards the end”, continues the Mystics of the Church website, “ she clung to Nellie with such transports of affection that the child had to be torn, almost rudely, from her dying embrace.”
Little Nellie Organ, then three years old, was infected with her mother’s TB and without doubt severely traumatised. Barely a year later the little girl was dead. The details of her last year are heart-breaking, even through the rose-tinted spectacles which they are recorded.
What hope for a motherless family? Nellie’s father could not look after his family as well as work for their living (though that is what we expect of single parents today). A neighbour was drafted in to help with the sick and grief-stricken children but this did not work out. One account has Nellie being dropped by “a childminder” but all the evidence suggests that it was the TB which crippled Nellie’s back.
In the end, Thomas, David, Mary and Nellie met the fate of most poor, motherless children of their day and were farmed out to different charitable organisations. The entire family disappears from the accounts at this point as the cult of Nellie is being built.
But I want to ask different questions, like what happened to little Mary Organ, not much older than her sister Nellie and also with the Good Shepherds, but not quite so movingly pathetic? Why was Nellie’s father not at his daughter’s funeral?
No, instead was have Little Nellie of Holy God, deathly white amidst the white sheets and tended by gentle nuns and nurses.
“Holy God took my mudder but he has given me you to be my mudder”, said Nellie to a certain Miss Hall, who was nursing her. Every detail of this story breaks my heart, even Nellie playing with a little black kitten on the floor.
The little girl’s devotion to “Holy God” seemingly began when she formed a fascination with a statue of the Child of Prague. She used to play the tin whistle to the statue and on one occasion she was convinced it was dancing for her.
But when it came to grief this poor little girl sadly had wisdom beyond her years. When the nuns were in distress over a sick woman Nellie apparently asked if she had children. Told that she was a mother many times over, Nellie said, “I will pray to Holy God and He will see that she’ll be cured.” The woman was cured, or else we would not have heard the story, and no doubt this is among the “miracles” being trumped up in an effort to have Little Nellie venerated.
Pope Pius X changed the age at which children can have their First Communion from 12 years to seven years, on hearing from the Bishop of Cork of the solace which receiving the Eucharist gave Little Nellie. The subtext here is about emotional support for the families of the vast numbers of children who were dying before they reached the age of reason.
Though I am not a Catholic I am married to a Catholic and my children made their First Communion at eight. Reason they had not, but I was enormously moved by what was for me the real meaning of the day: gratitude that my child had survived thus far and was likely to survive to adulthood. And I began to understand the emotion of tens of thousands of poor mothers down the years, bursting with pride as they brought to church a child who survived, dressed in white clothes it had taken all their wit and work to provide.
But I don’t want to know about Nellie’s body, exhumed for reburial in the grounds of the Good Shepherd convent a year after she died, and apparently “incorrupt” in its First Communion dress and “dainty little shoes.” Let’s not exhume her again, as the Bishop of Cork John Buckley has suggested, because the grounds are derelict and people want to pray to her.
We shouldn’t be praying to her, but for her - and the thousands of tiny children who lie in unmarked graves in the grounds of industrial schools and Magdalene laundries all over the country. Nellie is a stereotypical Victorian/Edwardian dying child icon, like Dickens’s Little Nell or like Pearse’s Iosagan. Her cult does mean that people were becoming more aware of children but it was designed to help them accept the terrible toll of infant deaths.
In Ireland this cult of acceptance delayed the foundation of our national health service. It was the anger, not acceptance, which stopped this slaughter of the innocents: the anger of politicians like Noel Browne whose own mother died of TB without even calling the doctor she could not afford to pay; the anger of health professionals like Chief Medical Officer Dr. James Deeny who stopped the eradication of “illegitimate” babies by infection in Bessboro Mother and Baby Home in Cork.
I believe anger, not acceptance, is the Christian response to the idea that children must die young because they are poor or orphaned. Let’s keep Little Nellie in the ground and fight on for universal health care.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
A man with multiple sclerosis who displays a disabled driver badge in his car was arrested and taken to Cork Prison in his wheelchair after refusing to pay a €40 parking fine.
David Tyrrell, from Midleton, Co Cork, spent 15 minutes being processed at the jail before being allowed to leave.
He branded the entire process a disgraceful waste of taxpayers’ money, with estimates putting the cost of courts, gardaí, and prison officials’ time on the case at close to €9,000.
“All of this for a €40 fine. It’s just crazy,” he said.
Mr Tyrrell, who was diagnosed with MS about eight years ago, walks with the aid of two canes, and has to use a wheelchair when his condition affects his balance.
He told the Neil Prendeville Show on RedFM yesterday that he received the fine after parking his car off Cornmarket St in Cork City some months ago. He said he wasn’t parked illegally.
He said as he walked back to the car using his canes, he explained to the traffic warden that a disabled driver’s badge was on display in his car. But he said the warden replied: “I don’t fucking believe you — everyone in this country can have one of those.”
Mr Tyrrell refused on principle to pay the fine and contacted the local authority. He was summonsed to court to pay an increased €90 fine but he said that, following a worsening of his MS, he was hospitalised when the court case was heard.
A garda arrived at his home a few weeks ago with a warrant for his arrest, and took him in his wheelchair to Cork Prison. When it was discovered that his 21”-wide wheelchair wouldn’t fit into a prison cell, he was photographed, fingerprinted, and allowed to leave. His wife took him home.
“It took me longer to get up and down from home than I was actually in the prison,” he said.
Cork City Council was not available for comment on the case.
Analysis: Quality of work, wages and living costs driving people away
Almost 40,000 people with a third-level qualification emigrated from Ireland in the 12 months to April.
When the Government published its first diaspora policy in March this year, encouraging emigrants who had left the country in their droves to return was at the centre of the launch. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he expected outward migration of Irish people to fall significantly this year, and that 2016 would be the year when returning Irish emigrants would outnumber those leaving.But figures from the Central Statistics Office published on Wednesday show the number of Irish people who left Ireland in the 12 months to April was down just 13% on the previous year, with 35,300 emigrating in the period.
The number of Irish people returning from abroad increased slightly to 12,100, but it was from a very low base of just 11,600, the lowest figure since CSO records began in 1996.
The trends are certainly moving in the right direction, but not as quickly as the Government would hope. So why are so many Irish still emigrating, and so few returning, when Ireland is supposed to be in recovery mode?
Unemployment hit a six-year low of 9.5 per cent in July, the CSO also announced, which must be encouraging for people who want to stay in Ireland, or for those living abroad who are planning to return. But job prospects are not the only push and pull factors, which is emphasised by the fact that just one in seven of those who emigrated last year were unemployed before they left.
The number of third-level graduates leaving Ireland is also on the rise. Almost 40,000 people with a degree or higher moved abroad in the 12 months to April. While a significant proportion of the returning Irish and immigrants of other nationalities moving to Ireland have third-level qualifications, we have lost a net 56,200 graduates since 2010.
This points clearly towards a dissatisfaction with the quality of work on offer to newly qualified graduates, who are not being given the support they need to start their careers here in Ireland. A culture of unpaid internships, when rents are soaring and the cost of living is also on the up, is driving young people away who simply cannot afford to stay.
Over the past seven years, high emigration rates, combined with low birth rates in the late 1980s and early 1990s, have led to a 34 per cent drop in the number of 20- to 24-year-olds living in the country, and a 27.5 per cent drop in 25- to 29-year-olds.
The National Youth Council of Ireland has warned that a failure to attract young emigrants back could have serious social and economic policy implications for the country in the future.
“Maximizing the rate of return of the current wave of young Irish emigrants back to Ireland as the economy starts to recover is critical for both social and economy recovery,” says Marie-Claire McAleer, senior policy officer with the NYCI. “But it depends on the availability of good quality employment and effective Government policies to reduce the high cost of living and address the housing crisis which serve as barriers to return for many young people.”
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
A media storm erupted last week after a press conference was held by the PSNI about the murder of Kevin McGuigan. Mr McGuigan was shot dead after media speculation had linked him to the killing of Jock Davison last May in the Markets area in Belfast.
At the press conference, Det Supt Kevin Geddes for the PSNI said: “Action Against Drugs as you may be aware made a public statement on 6 August that they would execute anybody who had any involvement or they believed had any involvement in the murder of Jock Davison”.
He went on to say that it was his assessment that: “Action Against Drugs are a group of individuals who are criminals, violent dissident republicans and former members of the Provisional IRA…They are dangerous, they are involved in violence and extortion of the nationalist and republican communities and they have a criminal agenda…My assessment is that this is a separate group from the Provisional IRA”.
However, it was his subsequent comment that a “major line of inquiry for this investigation is that members of the Provisional IRA were involved in this murder” and that he could not say at this stage “whether that was sanctioned at a command level or not and I’m not prepared to speculate on that” that was seized upon and created the subsequent political and media furore.
Some unionist politicians, ever quick to rush to judgment against Sinn Féin, threatened to exclude our party from the Assembly and Executive.
Elements of the media were no less quick. Some main media outlets speculated that ‘Action Against Drugs’ had entered into a working arrangement or joint enterprise with the IRA. Action Against Drugs has been vigorously opposed by Sinn Féin and accused of murder and extortion by Gerry Kelly and other republican leaders.
Journalists, some with long experience who should have known better, speculated that republicans were working with a criminal gang — riddled with agents and informers — made up of people trenchantly opposed to the Sinn Féin peace strategy and leadership. The inconsistency and contradictions inherent in this position were ignored.
During the years of conflict and censorship the idea of balance or of proper journalistic investigation, with some notable exceptions, went out the window. But in these more peaceful times the lack of impartiality and objectivity in this instance is equally striking. A press conference which was supposed to be about a murder investigation, morphed seamlessly into a media and political storm as to the status of the IRA.
As unionist leaders blustered, threatened and condemned Sinn Féin and the political institutions looked increasingly fragile the PSNI Chief Constable held another press conference.
According to George Hamilton, the PSNI is “currently not in possession of information that indicates that Provisional IRA involvement was sanctioned or directed at a senior or organisational level within the Provisional IRA or the broader Republican movement.” He went on to state that while he believes the IRA exists the PSNI assess that:
“In the organisational sense the Provisional IRA does not exist for paramilitary purposes… · “Our assessment indicates that a primary focus of the Provisional IRA is now promoting a peaceful, political Republican agenda.
“It is our assessment that the Provisional IRA is committed to following a political path and is no longer engaged in terrorism.
“I accept the bona fides of the Sinn Fein leadership regarding their rejection of violence and pursuit of the peace process and I accept their assurance that they want to support police in bringing those responsible to justice.
“We have no information to suggest that violence, as seen in the murder of Kevin McGuigan, was sanctioned or directed at a senior level in the Republican movement.”
“We assess that the continuing existence and cohesion of the Provisional IRA hierarchy has enabled the leadership to move the organisation forward within the peace process.”
He went on to further describe Action against Drugs as “an independent group that is not part of, or a cover name for the Provisional IRA”.
Unionist politicians ignored the bits that didn’t fit with their narrative and jumped on Hamilton’s claim that the IRA still exists to ratchet up the crisis.
I don’t agree with the PSNI chief constable’s claim the IRA exists — even in the benign way he paints it. The war is over and the IRA is gone and is not coming back.
Over the two or more decades of the peace process Sinn Féin and republicans, including the IRA, have taken a series of historic initiatives to create the opportunity for peace; to sustain the process in difficult times and to overcome obstacles.
The progress that has been made is the collective work of many parties, groups, and individuals. But without the active participation of republicans and the risks we have taken for peace there would be no peace process.
Time and again elements of the British and Irish governments or the unionist parties and others have connived to undermine the political institutions. Some have done this in a very premeditated way while for others, crises have been created through their failure to fulfil their obligations or to uphold the Good Friday and other agreements.
The Sinn Féin leadership has worked hard to find imaginative and innovative ways to resolve problems. But this problem is not of our making. Sinn Féin has no responsibility whatsoever for those who killed Kevin McGuigan or Jock Davison. The response of the other political parties to these killings has been self-serving and short sighted.
The political institutions are already in considerable difficulty. There are important elements which have not been implemented. There are major budgetary difficulties and an ongoing effort by London to impose austerity policies on the northern Assembly.
There is also the unanswered questions about the sell-off of Nama’s loan book in the North and the allegation that some politicians and associates have benefited from this. Interestingly, though this goes to the heart of the Irish Government, as well as the Executive, there is no speculation of the kind which is now in full flow around Sinn Féin’s worthiness as a political party.
Let me be very clear. Once again. Anyone who breaks the law should be held accountable by the justice and policing agencies. Sinn Féin supports these agencies and we will co-operate with the PSNI in their investigations into the killings of Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan.
We have consistently called on anyone with information to bring that forward so that those responsible can face due process in the courts. We are very mindful of the fact that there are two families and local communities grieving for the loss of loved ones.
It is our firm view that anyone involved in illegal activity should be held accountable before proper judicial processes. The PSNI investigation should go where the evidence takes it. It should be afforded all possible support to this end by all of the political parties and the two governments.
Let me be equally clear. Enough is enough. Sinn Féin has no special, or particular or specific responsibility to respond to the allegations made about the IRA, above and beyond what I have outlined here.
There is no basis for the charges made against Sinn Féin by our political opponents and if this descends into a political crisis it is a direct result of their stupidity and party political opportunism.
Indeed given the manner in which the debate has descended into personalised attack, invective and Sinn Féin baiting, it is hard to know how the other parties, Executive ministers or Irish government ministers would hope to sort this crisis out.
Unless of course, and I accuse them of this, they are motivated entirely by party political and electoral interests.
Sinn Féin will not allow ourselves or more importantly our electorate to be demonised or marginalised over matters that have nothing to do with us. In this case there is nothing more Sinn Féin can do.
We have done more than anyone else to bring an end to conflict in our country and to open up an alternative peaceful and democratic path for republicans to pursue republican objectives. This never existed before.
The opportunistic and deeply cynical way in which these events have been seized upon to attack Sinn Féin, our integrity and our electoral mandate and the democratic rights and entitlements of our electorate, is shameful and will be robustly resisted by our party and our leadership.
British efforts and unionist posturing in this respect are not surprising. Every and any opportunity and issue is grasped by the unionist leaderships to try and dilute the potential of the Good Friday Agreement and the institutions. But the intervention of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and others in Dublin is especially contemptible.
Ms Fitzgerald has uncharacteristically undermined her role as justice minister to politically smear Sinn Féin.
Micheál Martin has also sought to use these killings for party political purposes. He was the minister for foreign affairs when the then minister for justice, Dermot Ahern said that the IRA was gone and not coming back.
In 2010, when Sinn Féin successfully negotiated the transfer of policing and justice with the two governments he was part of process. He never raised the matter with me once. But now we are on the cusp of an election and Micheál Martin is in electioneering mode.
His outrageous claim that the IRA funds and provides political intelligence for Sinn Féin while exercising community control is despicable. Last year, the people of Ireland in free votes in the European and local government elections gave Sinn Féin the largest vote of any party on this island.
Were those votes coerced? Are those voters naive or stupid or intimidated? No. They voted for Sinn Féin because we provide a real alternative to the bad politics of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. And that is what really worries these parties.
For our part Sinn Féin will not be distracted from continuing with the difficult work of building the peace, resolving the budget issues in the Executive, getting on with the business of making the institutions function properly and winning support across this island for Irish unity and for the Republican alternative to austerity.
We will also continue to support the PSNI and An Garda Síochána in their fulfilment of their duties and we will make ourselves accountable to the electorate in the upcoming Assembly election and in the general election when the Taoiseach has the courage to call it.
Gerry Adams is Sinn Féin president and TD for Louth.
IT’S simple, really. The Government is to blame. If only they would provide the money, the housing crisis could be solved in the morning. Just ask the opposition.
Or maybe it’s really the local authorities which should be under the cosh. They have failed to build or provide social housing, not to mention properly cater for those who are forced to sleep rough. Just ask Alan Kelly.
On the other hand, perhaps the housing agencies and charities need to take a good look at themselves. Are they jockeying for position? Are they maximising the resources at their disposal in the most efficient manner
Labour TD Joanna Tuffy thinks a few questions need to be posed in that vein. Then there are property owners, greedily hiking rents, waiting in glee for an increase in rent supplements so they can ring up more profits. Plenty of blame to be deposited with them.
What about the banks? While things were on the up, the banks were happy to throw money at anybody putting up as much as a shed. Now that all has changed, the banks simply repossess and turf out former owners or tenants. The bottom line does not involve rehousing the dispossessed.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget the bureaucracy that infests the public sector. The Housing Finance Agency apparently sets out an elaborate obstacle course for any agency seeking money to build houses. And then, of course, there’s the people looking for homes. Never happy with what they’re offered. Let’s throw a little blame that way too.
Now that housing has descended into a crisis, the primary focus would appear to be on finding somebody to blame and locating a quick fix. All we’re missing right now in the political, media and social culture of this country is a goddamn inquiry into the crisis.
There is plenty of blame to go around. There have been long-term failings in policy and execution going back decades. There have been recent failings, most prominently a failure to foresee the current crisis because of a near complete emphasis on seeing the back of the bailout troika.
Ideology — particularly in relation to the free market — outsourcing, the constitutional sanctity of private property and banking have played a part. So also has the imperatives of local politics.
There is jockeying in the community and voluntary sector, and quite possibly Tuffy may have a point, even if it is a relatively minor one. There are serious questions to ask of bodies like the Housing Finance Agency, which seems to have adopted the hyper caution now afflicting the commercial banks because of their profligacy during the building boom.
There is no one entity or political caste to blame. The lack of political will to tackle issues around social housing and homelessness is all encompassing. Take one small example. Last September, most urban local authorities reduced the new property tax by 15% as allowed per legislation.
In Dublin City Council, the elected members were told that if they desisted from cutting the tax, the money saved would go towards services for the homeless. That didn’t cut ice with most of them. There’s no votes in the homeless. Only the Labour and Green party members thought it a good idea.
If such a vote was required today would the rest of them still possess the hard neck required to pontificate about the most vulnerable, while keeping the main eye on votes? Now that we’re in crisis mode, all has changed.
Now that we’re in crisis mode, the all encompassing solution is being desperately sought. Last week, it emerged that a proposal is being floated that some families requiring homes be rehoused in conjunction with the rural resettlement programme that relocates people from cities to the counties.
It got short shrift. How could that be a solution? Did they want to scatter all in need of a home out to the sticks, just as they cleared the inner city to create high-rise ghettos in the suburbs a few generations ago? Meanwhile, out beyond the pale, some were stirring up the prospect of large hordes of homeless families descending on rural communities like a plague.
The proposal is a sensible one. If a family wished to take it up, that’s great. It might make a marginal impact on the crisis, but that’s not good enough for the media or political culture. It’s all or nothing.
Ultimately, the Government will string together something that will offer a temporary solution on the current situation, something to get them past the next election. The structural problems will, as usual, be long fingered.
That’s what happened with the element of homelessness that afflicts those for whom a house couldn’t make a home. When Jonathan Corrie died in front of Leinster House last December, there was an immediate response. Beds were made available.
Nobody who wanted a bed for the night was denied one. It got everybody past the winter and the controversy de jour. Now that element of homelessness is as bad as it was before Mr Corrie’s inconvenient demise.
The burgeoning element of homelessness — those whose primary need is simply bricks and mortar — is a problem that has been simmering for decades.
Back in 2000, environment minister Noel Dempsey proposed one simple long-term policy in social housing. All new developments had to include 20% of social or affordable units. This would ensure the private sector did its bit, and also alleviate the dangers of creating social housing ghettoes.
Within two years, the policy was watered down by Dempsey’s successor Martin Cullen to an extent that rendered it redundant. How much different would the housing landscape now be if well enough had been left alone in relation to that policy?
Action is needed now to relieve those in distress, but just as important is a period to reflect and decide on how exactly housing and homelessness is to be handled going into the future.
In the first instance the distinct differences between those who constitute the “long-standing” homeless, and those who cannot afford to put a roof over their heads needs to be recognised, and separate solutions sought.
Thereafter, it is vital that parties concede that what has gone before has not worked, and a whole new approach is required.
On a macro level, the recession that this country endured was wasted. To a large extent, there has been little structural change regarding most of the negative features that landed the country in the mire.
Wouldn’t it be a change if the current crisis in housing wasn’t wasted, and proper long-term solutions, requiring major shifts in positions and attitude, might actually be sought?