Saturday, September 12, 2015
The costs associated with the marathon Graham Dwyer murder trial has helped push the lawyer bill for the first six months of this year for the Director of Public Prosecutions to over €7.4m.
Figures released by the DPP in response to a freedom of information request show between January and June, it paid barristers to represent the State in the criminal courts €7.462m
The payout represents a 12% or €900,000 increase on the €7.37m paid to counsel for the corresponding period last year and the spend this year is well on its way to top the €13.4m paid by the DPP to barristers for the whole of 2014.
The lead prosecutor in the Dwyer case for the murder of Elaine O’Hara, Sean Guerin SC was paid over €100,000 (all figures including 23% Vat) for his work in putting the murderer behind bars.
Overall, the DPP paid the barrister team in the Dwyer trial €237,749.
However, Mr Guerin doesn’t feature in the top six best paid prosecutors for the first six months and he received €118,936 for his work over the period.
The top-earning prosecutor was once more the in-demand, Una Ní Raifeartaigh SC who received far and away the highest pay at €327,169.
Even taking account of the €61,178 Vat component of the total, Ms Ní Raifeartaigh received €265,991 or over €10,000 per week for the first 26 weeks.
The two others to make up the top three are Brendan Grehan SC who received €189,620 and Paul O’Higgins SC who received €166,013.
Ms Ní Raifeartaigh and Mr Grehan represented the DPP in the long-running Mark Nash murder trial who was convicted in April for the murders of Sylvia Sheils and Mary Callanan at their sheltered housing in Grangegorman in Dublin in 1997.
Mr O’Higgins is representing the DPP in the trial of former Anglo Irish Bank chairman, Seán Fitzpatrick that was recently adjourned to next May.
The amount paid to the top 25 earning barristers for the first half of this year totals €2.86m.
IN Irish public life, there is no greater tool for dealing with a problem than ‘The Report’. If in doubt, commission a report. If in a corner, suggest a report. If in need of buying-time, a report’s your only man. And if you want to get rid of somebody, commission a report to wield the knife.
So it was with Enda Kenny and Fennelly. In Kenny’s case, ‘The Report’ bought both time and political cover. Niall Fennelly produced his report 17 months after the controversial resignation of the garda commissioner, Martin Callinan. And in seconding the investigation to Fennelly, Kenny put it up to the retired judge, a man schooled in the importance of the separation of powers, to produce something that could lead to the resignation of the elected leader of the country. Smart move on Kenny’s part, which got him out of an immediate jam.
It’s not just in politics that ‘The Report’ is used to deal with a problem. Exactly one year ago today, midwife Philomena Canning was effectively suspended from practice, when her indemnity cover was revoked by the HSE. The stated reason for putting this midwife of 30 years’ standing out of business was that it was considered dangerous to allow her to continue until a report on her practice was completed.
Any regular reader of this column will be aware of Ms Canning’s Kafkaeque nightmare, but might also recall that all of this was supposed to have been sorted last February, when, under serious pressure, the HSE restored her indemnity cover. Ah, yes, but there’s more than one way to get rid of a turbulent midwife. Sometimes, ‘The Report’ can succeed when other avenues have been exhausted.
The details of Canning’s case are worthy of a recap, because they are so shocking. She is a a passionate advocate of homebirths. She has facilitated hundreds of women in having their babies in a family, rather than in a clinical environment. They’re not for everybody, but, particularly outside of this country, homebirths are increasingly popular. Throw in tragic, frightening cases in maternity wards and it’s easy to see why the option is gaining traction here.
If client feedback is anything to go by, then Ms Canning is highly regarded. Those for whom she has delivered babies speak of her service in terms varying from complete satisfaction to something approaching veneration. Ms Canning proposed birth centres, a concept that exists in Britain and Europe, by which women can give birth in a ‘home’-type environment. She approached the HSE with the concept, but it was rejected.
She then set about establishing it privately, but just as she was about to advance the deal, in August last year, her indemnity was withdrawn. The reason given was two incidents during births some months previously. The incidents were routine; nothing arose from them and, in both cases, the women spoke in the highest terms of Ms Canning’s care of them. Interestingly, the investigation into these cases was well-advanced before the women themselves were even contacted.
Ms Canning applied to block her suspension in the High Court, but lost. She appealed to the Supreme Court. In preparation for that hearing, both she and the HSE retained experts to report on the cases at issue. Surprisingly, in a legal milieu where expert reports tend to reinforce the case of the commissioning client, the HSE’s expert came to a similar conclusion to Ms Canning’s. Both suggested there were absolutely no grounds on which she should be suspended.
Rather than face the wrath of the Supreme Court judges — and the ensuing bad publicity — the HSE dropped the case and reinstated Canning’s indemnity. That was three days before the scheduled hearing last February. Game over, you might say. Except Ms Canning has not worked since then.
Despite the reinstatement, and the production of at least two reports clearing her of any professional negligence, the HSE insisted it had to complete its ‘systems analysis’ report into the two incidents.
Note the category of ‘The Report’ — ‘systems analysis’. If Ms Canning’s fitness to practice was at issue, the matter would be one for the nursing board, An Bord Altranais. It might reasonably be assumed that the nursing board would come to the same conclusion as the experts who compiled their reports for the Supreme Court.
So, instead, a ‘systems analysis’ report into Ms Canning’s fitness to deliver babies in a safe environment was undertaken by two individuals in the HSE. This column understands that the personnel involved in this investigation comprise a heath manager and a physiotherapist, both, no doubt, highly competent in their respective fields, which in neither case is maternity care
Late last year, when questioned in the Dáil, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the ‘systems analysis’ report would be completed in March. After all, this should be fairly straightforward, and involves the practice of somebody involved in vital work. One year on, there is still no sign of ‘The Report’. While Ms Canning could have resumed practice in February, she declined to do so, because the report was still not published. What if a heavily-pregnant client was to hear rumours that the HSE was compiling a report that would not be favourable to the midwife in attendance? Ms Canning was not prepared to take on clients, while a report being compiled by the HSE — which certainly appears to be indisposed towards her — was still outstanding.
If the report had been published on time, last March, within weeks of her reinstatement, she could have resumed her practice. That didn’t happen, and questions need to be asked as to what exactly is going on. As things stand, Ms Canning has not practiced for a year. Women who wish to have their babies at home have lost the services of the country’s leading practitioner. Ms Canning has lost her livelihood. And for what reason has she been subjected to this?
A suspicion arises that, in the great tradition of the public service, the whole focus of the affair is now concerned with ‘covering ass’. The hounding of Philomena Canning has not gone to plan, and now it’s about avoiding accountability and minimising damage. In all likelihood, there will be an ultimate outcome in the High Court. If form is anything to go by, this will involve confidentiality, and a serious settlement for Ms Canning. Once again, the question of how power was exercised to the detriment of a citizen will go unanswered. Once again, nobody will be responsible for anything. That is simply not good enough in an alleged democracy. If ever a situation demanded a report simply to uncover the facts, then this is it. Don’t hold your breath. In some regards, Leo Vardadkar may be a new kind of politician, but on this issue he appears to be more of the same.
Friday, September 11, 2015
Fidelma Healy Ames
Fidelma Healy Eames was elevated to the upper house (senate) 8 years ago. She has come long way since then. One thing she is very good at is hanging on to taxpayers money for herself while trying to free ride everywhere else.
In Galway she tried boarding a train going to Dublin without paying; two years later, she then tried to stiff the plumber who fitted a jacuzzi in her Dallas style mansion in Oranmore for €12,412, . She almost got away with that one but in the end her husband had to pay, but only by court order.
Of course they tried to blemish the fine plumbers name by saying his work was shoddy but the judge found otherwise. Considering the evidence he thought they were the dishonest ones and both liars when he said this: “The fact that the defendants tried to rewrite the contract, and force the plaintiff to accept a deal for less than the agreed price, speaks for itself.” The judge then described Healy Eames’s claim that Mr Allen carried out works on the couple’s garage without being instructed to do so as “implausible” (A nice word for the lies they told)
Mr Allen, the plumber, told the court the extra costs had been incurred for works to accommodate a jacuzzi chosen by Healy Eames for the master en suite bathroom. Asked by the defendants’ counsel why he had not advised his client about this, Mr Allen replied: “If she wanted a jacuzzi bath that size she was getting it… Fidelma is a very intelligent person, she knows what she wants.”
She claimed to be shocked by the rail ticket incident, emotional about the unpaid jacuzzi and mortified in December 2012 from being caught driving around in her Mercedes car three different times without a tax disc. It seems that the monthly €3,600 for other ‘expenses’ was not enough to cover the private car tax, and her salary of over €65,000 was not enough to cover the plumber, and this does not include what her conniving miser husband makes. She never even bothered to turn up for the court as she was too busy beavering away in the upper chamber voting through €10 cut from child benefit and €325 per year from the respite allowance for carers. Now she all about telling us all about the migrant crisis and not what she would do about it, but rather what we should do. As usual Fidelma will not be paying for it.
It seems that Eames now wants the Irish people to take 10,000 refugees and the parishes all across Ireland should take at least five migrant families. She ends this call to action by reminding us that it is not just a government problem to solve but the people of Ireland’s problem.
Of course she can take in more than a few herself. Her salary alone can solve that. Mass bathing can happen in the jacuzzi for whole entire families, the mature large lawns can be used for soccer or the odd bar-b- q, weather permitting of course, and those many bedrooms and ensuites in her home can rest their weary heads. Prayers can be held in a make shift mosque in her living room and she can try and convert a few here and there to the virtues and benefits of catholicism. (bonus points if they can learn to speak Irish). I am reliably told also that you can fit at least 30 people into a Mercedes car, which can only mean free rides all around as long as Fidelma can keep paying the car tax.
She can then, when time and opportunity allows, vote for more child benefit cuts and respite carers allowance to help pay for it all. She can also apply for more personal expenses for herself to help defray the cost of those extra mouths to feed while another Irish child dies because of medical cutbacks and another Irish senior citizen dies because of the lack of respite care.
In England recently, a farmer admitted that pollution from dirty water, that came from his property, was responsible for thousands of fish dying in the Enler River near Comber. Mind you in mitigation, he gave a ‘total apology’ on the matter. All's well that ends well; if only that was enough.
Here in Ireland too pollution is a permanent problem and farming is always at the forefront of that, from a practical sense as well as the perception of it.
Farming land is not outside environmental law but a law that is very hard to implement. There are some farmers attitude that it is their land alone, believing it to be unfettered and immune to outsiders concerns. This is only in their heads, thankfully; like everything else, it is just a question of belief. Facts offer a different and harsh reality from a ribbon dressed opinion.
I live in Connemara. Here, overgrazing by sheep has stripped mountains bare while also polluting the tributaries that joins the rivers that run into the Corrib. Land pesticides everywhere is still one of the biggest killers of fish, wildlife, insects, and more importantly bees. It isn’t just farmers. There is the run off from septic tanks, local and commercial sewage, ageing local authority water plants, and litter thugs. Of course farmers and politicians or whatever other vested interests will point to this survey and that one, trying to tell us how it is all improving. The reality is social fishermen come here in lesser numbers now and the gathering grey and dirty foam that I see in the river right in front of my house coincides with the timing ritual of pesticides spread by farmers every year.
I also wish I had a bee on my bonnet for there are so few of them around here lately that I can count the ones that are. In fact it is the bees or lack off asks all the other questions: Will the greed instinct outweigh our survival one?
Without pollination, the rich and diverse make up of flowers, forests, fruit and vegetation will end any survey or discussion on the matter decisively. The Honey Bee, so aptly named, is more than that. That cute insect needs a lot of loving more than ever in order to survive so that we can. That alone should be enough to encourage us to ensure the bee's survival and any short term gain otherwise will be a loss permanently.
They say no man is an Island, it is more than a truism: We are all connected to the land and water and every species in it. If the ongoing pollution and un-replenished destruction of our resources of the land, the sea, and rivers continues, we will not be standing long as we try to finish what we started. To bee or not to bee is more than a question now.
Anybody out there with a few bob interested in picking up 14 houses for half a million quid? Michael Clifford attends an auction for Celtic Tiger era properties
Go on, it’s a snip. These little gems, built during the Celtic Tiger’s gallop, are situated just 10 miles south of Wexford. And there’s nobody living there to bother you. Think of the fun you could have with 14 vacant houses.
These properties, which consisted of lot #229 in yesterday’s Allsop Property auction in the RDS, went unsold. What is wrong with you people? Don’t you know that the Tiger has been raised from the dead?
Allsop is into its stride. When the UK auctioneer first began flogging off distressed property in Dublin two years ago, a rogue element of distressed people caused a kerfuffle. Many of the lots had been repossessed by the banks. Allsop, in the minds of the distressed, had the cut of a vulture feeding off the misery inflicted by the recession. The guards had to be called and proceedings briefly suspended.
Things have moved on. These days the fun takes place in the salubrious location of the RDS. A section of the grounds outside the door is cordoned off by fencing. Three members of An Garda Síochána are on duty. Entry is strictly monitored to prevent infiltration by any groups who take issue with the sanctity of the market.
A security detail numbering at least a dozen patrols both inside and outside the building. These lads are togged out like undertakers, which may be appropriate considering the business at hand. A deposit of €100 is required for entry, and a bank draft or cheque to the value of 10% of the deposit of any property that has taken your fancy. Photographic ID is demanded. Who knows? Maybe Allsop is on the radar of Islamic State.
Inside, the going is fair to middling in a hall that is around half full with a largely middle-aged attendance. Allsop’s top man Gary Murphy is tearing through the lots. This man can sell, no question about it. He has the perfect pitch, just enough push without appearing pushy. Sufficient charm to ensure no charge of condescending would ever stick.
Here and there he commends a successful bidder with a “well fought, sir”, as if the purchaser had just survived 10 rounds in a cage with Conor McGregor.
When one of a number of lots don’t reach the reserve price, Mr Murphy goes gently into the night of that sale. “Shall I move on?” he asks of a bidder who will bid no more than twenty grand shy of the reserve. “Let me take your number, sir. I’ll see what we can do afterwards,” he says, referencing the large numbers that all bidders wear around their necks. There’s always a chance that the seller will grasp reality and drop the reserve in the deflated aftermath of an unsold lot.
And the fare on view would suggest the seller in many instances is still from that quarter that includes banks, receivers and assorted personnel called in to clean up a mess left by soured deals, dreams and plans.
For the most striking feature of the Allsops auction yesterday was the number of properties that are vacant. Whether it be nice semi-ds in desirable addresses or a block of apartments in rural heartlands, again and again, the properties on offer were marked “vacant possession”.
Notwithstanding the importance of location, the idea that there are so many properties lying idle at a time when housing people has reached a crisis point exposes a festering sore in a country allegedly getting back its economic mojo.
Soon after four o’clock the last of the 378 lots of residential and commercial properties goes under the hammer. This auction took place over two days and Allsop will be back for more towards the end of next month.
Despite its rocky start, the format is here to stay, servicing an economy in which a large cohort of distressed assets can be matched with a considerable number of people who appear to have plenty of cash to invest. You sir? Surely you could find some use for a dozen vacant apartments in the middle of nowhere?
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Thomas Edison's teachers told him he was "too stupid to learn anything."
Edison went on to hold more than 1,000 patents like the phonograph, practical electrical lamp, and a movie camera.
Sir Isaac Newton's mother pulled him out of school as a boy so that he could run the family farm. He failed miserably.
She then let Newton finish his basic education and was eventually persuaded to allow him to enroll in Cambridge University. Newton went on to become one of the greatest scientists of all time, revolutionizing physics and mathematics.
When Sidney Poitier first auditioned for the American Negro Theatre, he flubbed his lines and spoke in a heavy Caribbean accent, which made the director angrily tell him to stop wasting his time.
Poitier worked on his craft and eventually became a hugely successful Hollywood star. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Charles Darwin was considered an average student. He gave up on a career in medicine and was going to school to become a parson.
Darwin instead studied nature and traveled the world to uncover nature's mysteries. His writings, especially "On the Origin of the Species," fundamentally changed the world of science by spreading the discovery of evolution.
Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting, "The Red Vineyard," in his life, and the sale was just months before his death.
If he had given up his artistic career early it would prove later the art world would be missing hundreds of paintings from a true master.
Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, had his first book rejected by 27 different publishers. He went on to sell over 600 million more books.
While developing his vacuum, Sir James Dyson went through 5,126 failed prototypes and his savings over 15 years. Today he is worth over $4.5 billion.
Police are investigating after two five-year-old Russian boys spent days using toy spades to dig their way out of their kindergarten to set off on a mission to buy a Jaguar sports car.
According to the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, the duo vanished as a group of children took a supervised walk in the grounds of the kindergarten in the city of Magnitogorsk in the Urals.
After reaching freedom, the boys walked two kilometres to a car showroom.
They told a woman they had come from their kindergarten to buy a Jaguar but did not have any money.
The boys had prepared their escape for several days, digging a hole under a fence using spades from the sand pit, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported, citing kindergarten staff.
The kindergarten only noticed the boys’ absence after half an hour.
Local educational authorities responded by firing the supervisor in charge at the time and giving a warning to the acting head.
“This is considered a very serious violation,” the head of the pre-school department of Magnitogorsk, Olga Denisenko, told Komsomolskaya Pravda.
She could not be immediately reached for comment.
The children’s parents did not submit any complaint.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
“Conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard.”
“I am the punishment of God...If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”
“an action committed in anger is an action doomed to failure.”
“Who can’t stop drinking may get drunken three times a month. If he does it more often, he is guilty. To get drunken twice a month is better; once, still more praiseworthy. But not to drink at all - what could be better than this? But where could such a being be found? But if one would find it, it would be worthy of all honour.”
“At military exercises I am always in front, and in time of battle I am never behind. In the space of seven years I have succeeded in accomplishing a great work, and uniting the whole world in one empire.”
“ When it was wet we bore the wet together, when it was cold we bore the cold together.”
“It is not sufficient that I succeed; all others must fail.”
Genghis Khan (1162-1227)
• A Muslim man can marry only a Muslim, Christian or Jewish woman. He cannot marry an atheist, agnostic or polytheist.
• A Muslim woman can marry only a Muslim man. She cannot marry a Christian, Jew, atheist, agnostic or polytheist.
• The minimum age of marriage for females is nine, for males is twelve.
• A Muslim minor girl's father or guardian may arrange the marriage of a girl, without her consent, before she reaches adulthood.
• An adult man cannot marry an adult woman without her consent. An adult woman requires her wali's - father or male guardian - consent to marry, in following schools of sharia: Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali and Jafari.
• A marriage is a contract that requires the man to pay, or promise to pay some Mahr (property as brideprice) to the woman. The married woman owns this property.
• A man can divorce his wife any time he wants, without reason. A woman cannot divorce her husband without reason. She may file for divorce for reason, such as he is impotent, missing or biologically related to her.
• A Muslim man can marry four Muslim women with their permission, only if he can support them financially and equally. A Muslim woman can marry only one Muslim man.
Crime and punishment
Sharia recognizes three categories of crime:
1 Hudud: crimes against God with fixed punishment
2 Qisas: crimes against Muslims where equal retaliation is allowed
3 Tazir: crimes against Muslims or non-Muslims where a Muslim judge uses his discretion in sentencing
Hudud crimes are seven: theft, highway robbery, Zina (illicit sex), sexual slander (accusing someone of zina but failing to produce four witnesses), drinking alcohol, publicly disputing Islam, and apostasy (leaving Islam and converting to another religion or becoming an atheist).
Sharia requires that there be four adult male Muslim witnesses to a hudud crime, or a confession repeated four times, before someone can be punished for a Hudud crime.
Murder, bodily injury and property damage - intentional or unintentional - is considered a civil dispute under sharia law. The victim, victim's heir(s) or guardian is given the option to either forgive the murderer, demand Qisas (equal retaliation) or accept a compensation (Diyya) in lieu of the murder, bodily injury or property damage. Under sharia law, the Diyya compensation received by the victim or victim's family is in cash, and the amount depends on the gender and religion of the victim, for an equivalent crime and circumstances. Muslim women receive less compensation than Muslim man, and non-Muslims receive less compensation than Muslims.
The penalty for theft
Theft (stealing) is a hudud crime in sharia, with a fixed punishment. The punishment is amputating (cutting off) the hands or feet. However, before a person is punished, two eyewitnesses must testify that they saw the person stealing.
The penalty for zina
Sharia law states that if either an unmarried man or an unmarried woman has pre-marital sex, the punishment should be 100 lashes. If a married man or a married woman commit adultery, the punishment should be 100 lashes and then stoning to death. There are some requirements that need to be met before this punishment can happen. For example, the punishment cannot happen unless the person confesses, or unless four male eyewitnesses each saw, at the same time, the man and the women in the action of illicit sex. Those who accuse someone of illicit sex but fail to produce four eyewitnesses are guilty of false accusation and their punishment is 80 lashes. Maliki school of sharia considers pregnancy in an unmarried woman as sufficient evidence that she committed the hudud crime of zina. The Hadiths consider homosexuality as zina, to be punished with death.
The penalty for apostasy
Sharia law does not allow Muslims to leave Islam, in order to become atheist or covert to other religions. This is strictly forbidden, and is called apostasy. In Muslim theology apostasy is a crime against God. The punishment for apostasy is death for Muslim male apostates. The major schools of sharia law differ in their punishment for female apostates: Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali sharia requires execution of female apostates, while Hanafi and Jafari sharia requires arrest, solitary confinement and punishment till she recants and returns to Islam.
In many Muslim countries, some people may be accused of apostasy even if they have non-conventional (non-traditional or unusual) interpretations of the Quran. Sunni and Shia Muslims have historically accused each other of apostasy, since the early days of Islam. Similarly Sufi, Ahmadiyya and other minority groups of Muslims have been accused of apostasy by majority Islamic sects.
The motives for telling lies – small or big – to children are varied but the reasons may say more about us than about them.
Parents should perhaps ask themselves, says Dr Maeve Hurley, “Is the intention in my response to protect this child, to keep it safe, to be loving and caring? Or is it to deceive the child, for whatever reason, to make life easier?”
A former GP and now co-founder and chief executive of Ag Éisteacht, a charity that provides training to health professionals working with families, Hurley says her knee-jerk response to the question, “Is it okay to lie to children?” was “Absolutely no way.” But when she discussed and reflected on it, she could see the merit of “white lies”.
“Parenting styles that are warm, sensitive and accepting of your child are the ones [in which] children really thrive,” she says. And a relationship of trust is vital.
If your child asks a question like “Will you always be here for me?” you may be able to tease it out and get to what’s really bothering the child, rather than saying a glib “Of course,” or expounding on the inevitability of death.
If a child sees you are deliberately trying to conceal, they will start to question your integrity, says child and adolescent psychotherapist Colman Noctor. “That’s when it can become problematic.”
Hurley wonders about the merit of “unnecessary lies”, designed to avoid a row or curb bad behaviour. The question for parents is, “Am I prepared to be the adult here or am I expecting the ‘bogeyman’ to do the parenting?”
Another example would be where a mother tells a child in bed that she is just going down to the kitchen, when in fact she is going out for the night.
“They think they are sparing the child, but [they’re] not teaching the child to manage.”
However, Noctor sees no harm in telling a small child who is messing at a restaurant table that “the man over there” will put him out if he doesn’t behave.
How truthful to be if the parents’ relationship breaks down is always problematic. While the aim must be to reassure a child in an age-appropriate way, swearing that nothing is going to change, when it inevitably will, is not recommended either.
Children are very tuned in to what is going on in a home, Hurley points out. “They need to know that their world will be different but will still be intact.
“They have to know it’s not their worry and it’s not their fault. They have to know they don’t have to take charge of it.” Most of all, they need to know both parents still love them and don’t need to hear how one or other has been wronged.
“Maybe that is the truth but I don’t think that is very helpful,” says Hurley. “You’re dragging the child into what’s part of the adults’ world.”
Trying to preserve childhood innocence is probably the noblest reason for being economical with the truth.
“I think we feed children the truth as they are able for it,” says Noctor. “Unfortunately, in the world we live in now, we have to give them the truth earlier: it’s on the internet; it’s on Facebook; it’s everywhere.”
As a result, we need to be honest about sex and “stranger danger” before we might want to, “making sure they have enough information rather than leaving them naive and vulnerable”, he adds. “That’s the real dilemma, I think.”
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
‘The stroke demands bad administration – no records, no clarity, no actual relationship between supposed cause (the taping) and desired effect (Callinan’s resignation)’
A few years ago, a beer company had an ad campaign that appealed rather brilliantly to the Irish psyche. It was based on the idea that whenever you’re faced with a choice between A and B, there’s always C.
When things go wrong in Irish governance, A is cock-up and B is conspiracy. But reading the Fennelly report last week, it struck me that there is a C. Let’s call it “cockspiracy”. What I mean by this is that we have a governing culture that actually conspires to cock up. It has a wilful, planned, systemic incompetence.
This is not the chaotic incompetence of people who don’t know what they’re doing. Rather, it’s a system that goes out of its way not to know what it’s doing. It goes to great lengths to do things the wrong way.
It’s a pity that the discussion of the Fennelly report has focused so much on the mysteries of the Taoiseach’s behaviour. In fact, for anyone who reads the report, it’s clear enough what the Taoiseach did. He pulled a stroke.
Enda Kenny was faced with a political problem. Martin Calling, as Garda commissioner, had become a political liability – not because of the taping of phone calls at Garda stations (an issue on which he did nothing wrong), but because he had called whistleblowers disgusting and had treated the raising of serious and substantial questions by honest officers as insubordination. He had clearly lost public confidence. But the problem was that Kenny had backed him all the way.
Hence the Taoiseach’s political dilemma: how do you sack someone you’ve backed so strongly? Kenny did the cute-hoor thing: seize on a separate issue on which Callinan was blameless and use it as an opportunity to suddenly change tack. Send a messenger with a metaphorical revolver and hope the commissioner understands what to do with it. Problem solved. A supposedly new crisis explains the sudden change of course, and you don’t have to sack the man in an honest, open, transparent and lawful way.
The key thing to understand is that in the world of cockspiracy this is a piece of brilliance. If you were Enda you’d have given yourself a big wink in the bathroom mirror. You were being sucked in to a political whirlpool and now you’re standing on the shore, home and dry.
You needed two bodies, Callinan’s and that of his close ally Alan Shatter. The manoeuvre of blaming Callinan for the thing he didn’t do (the tapes) allows you to make it look like you’re making him accountable for the things he did (rage at the whistleblowers). Callinan’s resignation makes Shatter’s inevitable. But you didn’t lay a finger on either of them. The handsome chap in the mirror deserves a “Fair play to you, boy!”
But here’s the thing: this kind of stroke, this ingenious opportunism, is possible only in a system that is deeply, thoroughly and deliberately screwed-up. If the people whom we trust to run the country for us were doing basic things properly, it couldn’t happen.
Kenny’s manoeuvre depended entirely on wilful confusion. It was a yoking together of two opposites: Callinan’s responsibility for his mishandling of the whistleblowers and Callinan’s innocence of any wrongdoing in the taping affair. In a system of governance that functioned rationally and competently, this simply couldn’t be done. The flow of information, the procedural rigour, the formulation and recording of decisions would make this entirely illogical leap impossible.
Systems of management in any organisation have a primary principle: clarity. But clarity would have strangled Enda’s opportunistic stroke at birth. The stroke is a creature of fog and night.
We see this at its starkest at the fateful meeting of March 24th, 2014, after which the secretary general of the Department of Justice was sent to Callinan’s home with the metaphorical revolver. This was a very high-level meeting, involving the Taoiseach, the Attorney General, two departmental secretaries general and (in part) the minister for justice. But we will never know what was said at it because these participants gave Fennelly sharply different accounts of what he regarded as “crucial” points. We will never even know what the final decision was. Nobody wrote it down.
Fennelly, clearly gobsmacked, writes that it is “beyond argument that good administration would require that a proper record be kept of such an important decision”.
The judge is right, of course. But what he understandably doesn’t say is that “good administration” is not at all the same as what the Taoiseach would regard as a good stroke. The stroke demands bad administration – no records, no clarity, no actual relationship between supposed cause (the taping) and desired effect (the resignation).
Records, clarity and rationality would mean a trail of accountability, and accountability is the enemy of the stroke. It is the slug powder that kills the slippery, slimy way of doing things on which our unreformed governing culture thrives. Hence cockspiracy, the studied incompetence that leaves room for cute-hoorism.
The Fennelly report shows that cockspiracy is not an abuse of the Irish system of governance. It is the system.
Charles Ebbets below getting ready to take photo in 1932
This is the photo he took
American veterans from the battle of Gettysburg making peace in 1913
Italy’s top court threw out a conviction of American woman Amanda Knox for the 2007 murder of her British flatmate because of “glaring errors” in the case against her, a document showed on Monday.
The brutal stabbing of 21-year-old Meredith Kercher prompted a zigzag of contradictory rulings which ended in March with the acquittal of Knox and her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito , casting an uncomfortable spotlight on Italy’s legal system.
The Court of Cassation said there were no certain biological traces in the room where the murder was committed, nor on the victim’s body, of Knox or Sollecito, who have maintained their innocence throughout.
“There was no shortage of glaring errors in the underlying fabric of the sentence in question,” the court wrote in the official explanation of its reasons for striking down the second guilty verdict handed to the pair.
The legal meandering which produced two convictions, two acquittals and four years each in jail were due to “deplorable” carelessness right from the start of the investigation, the court said.
A kitchen knife found at Sollecito’s house and alleged to be the murder weapon was kept in a cardboard box, “the kind that gadgets are wrapped up in for Christmas”.
A bra clasp said to have carried DNA evidence was left on the floor for 46 days, possibly trodden on and later passed between people wearing dirty latex gloves.
The third person accused of the murder, Ivory Coast-born Rudy Guede, who is serving a 16-year sentence after opting for a fast-track trial, left “copious” biological traces at the scene, the court said.
The court said avid media attention paid to the killing and the nationalities of the people involved led “a spasmodic search for one or more guilty parties to offer up to international public opinion” which “certainly did not aid the search for the truth”.
The decision to overturn the conviction, which called for 28 years in jail for Knox and 24 years for Sollecito, surprised some in Italy who expected the case to be sent back to a lower court.
The court said re-examining it would have been useless as there would be no chance of drawing reliable conclusions from the small amount of evidence available.
It also said the two women’s computers, which could have yielded new information, were “incredibly” burned by investigators.
The court upheld a sentence against Knox for falsely accusing Congolese barman Patrick Lumumba of the murder.