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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The politics of a historical fear

“But it was Gerry Adams, who, more than any other single person, was responsible for delivering the most significant political achievement of Irish history for generations: the peace agreement on Northern Ireland. In terms of achievement, no other figure in Irish public life rates even close to him.”

The above direct quote is from Vincent Browne, journalist and broadcaster. This is in a nutshell what Gerry Adams represents to me as a politician and the qualities I expect from one that I would want to help elect. Vincent went on to say with it: “It is not that Sinn Féin is a threat to the established order, it is that Sinn Féin wants to become part of the established order.” 

Vincent Browne is not only all of the above, he is also a qualified barrister and has not been shy to take on that particular bunch of shysters and the Law Society on their almost complete takeover of the Law itself. This is reality, for the union of them is a threat to democracy and is most likely the reason he left the practice of law for if you are a man of principle that is not the area to be. But I digress for he is also one of the few principled men left in the public arena that know all sides of the coin and is at an age that there is no advantage or disadvantage in speaking your mind; nor he did it prove to be an impediment for him when in younger clothes and a lot more to lose. He is also the man that I believe  that speaks that should be listened to.

The last days leading up to this election, the absolute hysteria reporting by the Irish Independent of fictionalised stories against Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin reached new levels. One could pick one or many of those stories and with a little closer optics the reporting is smear and smear alone. If you accuse anyone by suggestion, association or a question, enough sulphur will stick to the clothing that will never wash off for their innocence will not be noticed in such a polluted atmosphere and like Charles Stewart Parnell, the good that they do or had done, to take from Shakespeare, will be interred with their bones.

We need to look again at the unblemished and constructive politics that Sinn Féin has forged in the North of Ireland in a time of peace and not war, for it is their legacy there above the politics of a historical fear which tells not only what they have done as a political party but where they intend to go as one.

That again is the reference point for me, the undecided voter and should be for the long brainwashed one. 

Memory is weak in the latter that they could now even contemplate a return to power the politics of corruption draping the bones of the most corrupt one in the skulking shadow of the enemy within that is Fianna Fáil looking at the mirror. The problem here is that Fine Gael is staring back. 

Barry Clifford

A Government addicted to legal advice

The Government’s habit reached its denouement in efforts to reform the profession
For decades, the legal profession has been in the crosshairs of external critics of the Irish economy.

Every couple of years the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) would review the Irish economy and conclude that the lack of competition in the provision of legal services was one of the things holding us back.
Likewise the International Monetary Fund. 
In its periodic reviews of the Irish economy, the Washington-based body would call for the end of archaic practices it held responsible for keeping the cost of litigation high and making business uncompetitive.

Their views were routinely echoed by our own Competitiveness Council, a legacy of social partnership that labours all year to produce a decent report that the government of the day duly bins.
Thus, when we collapsed into the arms of the Troika in 2010, the IMF saw its chance and managed to slip a commitment to reform the legal system into the conditions attached to the bailout.
They must have thought they would finally get their way, not least because the incoming government appointed Alan Shatter as minister for justice. Something of a rarity, he was a practicing solicitor who seemed genuinely committed to reform of his profession.

Hegemony of lawyers
Five years later, the Legal Services Act finally made its way on to the statute books. It was hardly a cause for celebration in either Paris or Washington. But it was undoubtedly the source of much satisfaction in Blackhall Place and Henrietta Street, the respective homes of the Law Society and the Bar Council which retained much of their hegemony.
How these two self-policing organisations managed to fight off a reforming minister with the backing of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission is something of an untold story.
It says much about how much the Troika really cared about reforming the legal profession; not so much it seems.
It t also demonstrates how deeply the Government is addicted to legal advice and the downside of its habit.

At this stage it is routine for a Government Minister, department or agency to cite legal advice as the reason for taking some course of action or other.
Usually it is cover for not doing something it didn’t much fancy doing in the first place. Recent examples include: the refusal of the Health Service Executive to tell the family of a woman with severe intellectual disabilities of its concerns about a risk to her of sexual abuse at a foster home; the watering-down of the banking inquiry report; inaction over school inequality; and letting the Central Bank breach the Government pay limits.

This obsession with legal advice ignores a rather obvious fact – it is just advice.
It would seem pretty self-evident that an adversarial legal system such as ours takes as a given that there are at least two opposing points of view - and sets of legal advice - on any issue and one of them is wrong .
Instead the Government – and indeed many businesses – tend to treat legal advice as tantamount to a court judgement. More often than not an expedient course of action is supported by the advice in question.

This has an obvious corrosive effect on government and fosters a culture that focuses on legal backside-covering rather than doing what may be politically fraught but correct none the less.
Legal advice has been elevated to a role in the process of government it does not deserve as a consequence.
This less-than-healthy dynamic seems to have reached some sort of denouement in the recent machinations over the Legal Services Bill, as revealed by Arthur Beesley in this paper .
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the proposed Bill was given to the Bar Council for review and, in effect, agreement before it was presented to the Cabinet, never mind the Oireachtas.

Fear of the law
Implicit from the documentation obtained by Beesley was the real fear on the behalf of the Government of a constitutional challenge to the Bill.
It verges on the absurd that a government cannot bring about reforms of the legal profession – that are advocated by just about every objective observer – because they are afraid that they will be sued by the lawyers who are materially affected.
What else would they expect lawyers to do about measures that could potentially hit their pockets?

But no doubt the Government has some legal advice to back up the decision to roll over.
John McManus

Gardaí bring Donegal mum to Dublin in taxi over unpaid TV licence fine

A terrified single mum was taken by gardaí in a taxi from Donegal to Dublin for not paying the full fine on a TV licence offence.
However, after three hours in the women’s prison Dóchas, she was given a voucher for a bus home.

The woman, in her 40s, had paid €212 of a district court fine of €450 for not having a €160 TV licence.

Four other women in the prison cell had been committed for the same offence.

The taxi cost, one-way from Letterkenny to Dublin, was estimated at €350.

Her son was left in tears as gardaí arrived at their home to take his mother away.

“My 11-year-old son was crying his eyes out to see his mother being taken away in a Garda car,” she said. “Luckily my daughter is older and she was able to look after him.”

After the district court penalty had been imposed, she claimed she had an agreement in place to pay off the fine in instalments.

The woman said a garda gave her €212 in an envelope on the way to Dublin.

Although she accepted gardaí were doing their job, she was furious an order had been given to arrest her. “I couldn’t believe it when the gardaí called to my home and told me I was ‘for up the road’,” she said.

“I was terrified and distraught; I didn’t even have time to put my coat on.

“I had never been given any warning letter or anything. I was doing my best and I had almost half the fine paid back.”

She was taken to her local Garda station and then by taxi to Mountjoy in Dublin, stopping in Sligo for a cup of coffee and a cigarette.

The prison authorities were “more than nice” but that did not stop her from being terrified.

“I had never been in a prison in my life before. I was distraught,” she said. “Some of the other women were trying to calm me down.

“At one stage, one of the officers told me that I would be going home later and that settled me a bit. But for all I knew I could have been there for a week.”

She and three others from Louth, Dundalk, and Galway were given Bus Éireann vouchers and made their way to the city centre.

“We managed to get lost and I was a bit calmer at this stage but I still just wanted to get home to my children,” said the woman.

When she arrived home at around 9pm, her children were lying on her bed in a distraught state.

Gary Doherty, a member of Donegal County Council, described the woman’s plight as “a major scandal”.

He claimed the authorities were in breach of the Fines Bill, amended last year to allow people time to pay smaller fines.

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman Padraig Mac Lochlainn and Mr Doherty have sought a meeting with Garda chiefs in Letterkenny. 

Stephen Maguire  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

George Redmond among most corrupt officials in Irish history

Senior council official showed ill-disguised contempt for Dublin’s architectural heritage
Sat, Feb 20, 2016, 01:00
Frank McDonald

Arrested by members of the Criminal Assets Bureau at Dublin Airport after flying in from the Isle of Man with a bag containing £300,000 in cash and bank drafts. 

I’ll never forget the time I saw George Redmond positively glowing. It was on a cold, wet day in the month of January during the grim 1980s, and he was sitting beside Ray Burke, then chairman of Dublin County Council, on the podium of its makeshift council chamber on Upper O’Connell Street.
What distinguished Redmond from everyone else in the room was his deep suntan, acquired on a post-Christmas holiday in Spain, which some of us assumed had been paid for by one of the big builders with an interest in developing land in the county. Certainly, I believed he was “on the take”.

There is a long-established tradition in Ireland of not speaking ill of the dead. But I would make an exception in George Redmond’s case because he used his position to subvert “proper planning and development”, for the benefit of builder clients who were prepared to pay him for his “advice”.

Redmond was one of the senior local authority officials I had interviewed for a series of articles in 1979 called “Dublin: What went wrong?”. At the time, he was in charge of the city planning department, yet it was clear to me he had an ill-disguised contempt for Dublin’s architectural heritage.

I pressed him about Dublin Corporation’s devastating road-widening plans, which would have levelled most of the Liffey quays and numerous historic streets. But he was among those who clung to the belief that Dublin’s streets were designed for a bygone era and needed to make way for “progress”.
When Dublin Tourism approached Redmond with a proposal to purchase Malahide Castle, he was worried about what it might cost to maintain. “How old is this castle?” he asked. On being told parts of it dated from the 12th century, he exclaimed: “You’re talking about an open chequebook situation!”

Malahide Castle and its gardens subsequently became one of the jewels in the crown of Dublin’s tourism attractions – thanks to county council parks superintendent Michael Lynch, who worked tirelessly on the development of such amenities as Marlay Park, Newbridge Demesne and Ardgillan Castle.
Shortly before Redmond retired as de facto county manager in 1989, he suggested to me that the two of us should do a “tour” of all of these places and I would write about it for The Irish Times, as a kind of valedictory for his career. I declined, because it would have amounted to greenwashing.
By then, of course, Dublin County Council had become “the estate agency that represents us”, as Nuala O’Faoláin wrote in one of her opinion columns. Week after week, land that was never intended for development was being rezoned at the behest of its owners, contrary to professional planning advice.

Redmond was never a “planner” as such, merely an official who had started out in 1941 as a clerk straight from St Joseph’s CBS, Marino, and rose up through the ranks until he became assistant city and county manager, with delegated powers to run the area administered by the county council.
Apart from being a narrow-minded bureaucrat, devoid of any vision, his meanness was legendary. He ate lunch in the canteen of the council’s office block and often got others to pay for it. And all the while, as we have since discovered, he was squirrelling away hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash.

I was told by one official, sotto voce, that Redmond worked closely with the spectacularly corrupt Liam  Lawlor, principal mover-and-shaker on the council in relation to land rezoning in the county. Lawlor was later named as “Mr Big” by one-time lobbyist Frank Dunlop in evidence to the planning tribunal.

It was Lawlor who introduced Tom Gilmartin to Redmond in 1988 when the Co Sligo-born developer, based in Luton, was trying to acquire land owned by Dublin Corporation at Quarryvale for what is now Liffey Valley shopping centre.
As recounted by the tribunal’s final report, this meeting took place in Redmond’s office, where he plucked a map of the Quarryvale area from a drawer in his desk, colour-coded to show the different ownerships. He then stepped out to “take a phone call”, leaving Gilmartin and Lawlor alone together.

It was then that Lawlor told him he would have to pay him £100,000 and would also have to pay money to Redmond. “If you’re going to go anywhere . . . you have to take care of George [and] you have to have me on board,” Lawlor said, according to Gilmartin.

A complicating factor was that Redmond had a close relationship with John Corcoran,  then head of Green Property Company, which had its own plans to develop the Blanchardstown shopping centre, and Corcoran correctly identified Gilmartin’s plan as a major competitive threat to it.
I had heard on the grapevine Redmond had been promised a management role in Blanchardstown after retiring from the public service. But all he could do to assuage Corcoran’s fears was to ensure the sale of the corporation’s 69 acres at Quarryvale went to public tender.

In the end, Corcoran’s bid for the Quarryvale land – with the intention of squashing Gilmartin’s plans – was trumped by the Luton-based developer’s offer of £5.1 million. Gilmartin later joined forces with Cork-based developer Owen O’Callaghan, but then found himself frozen out of the scheme he had conceived.

The planning tribunal concluded that Redmond “accepted corrupt cash payments made in order to influence him in the performance of his public duties”. Several councillors, including Lawlor, were also cited for accepting payments from Frank Dunlop for rezoning Quarryvale and other land.
The tribunal also dealt with a Garda investigation of planning corruption, on foot of a series of articles in The Irish Times in 1989. It said this investigation, which inexplicably exonerated Lawlor and Redmond, was far from thorough, and its conclusions were “unwarranted”.
Incredibly, Supt Brendan Burns, who headed the Garda investigation, did not interview Lawlor – a lapse the tribunal believed was due to his “position as a TD”. And although Redmond was interviewed about a minor matter, he was not questioned about Quarryvale.

Although loath to spend money, Redmond looked after his own with the fortune he accumulated over the years. Although his gross salary was less than £30,000, he was able to help out his son, a Dublin-based solicitor, in acquiring a grand house in Dublin 6 by putting up a share of the purchase price.
The real truth about Redmond was dramatically underlined in March 1999 when he was arrested by members of the Criminal Assets Bureau at Dublin Airport after flying in from the Isle Of Man with a bag containing £300,000 in cash and bank drafts. It also emerged he had up to 20 bank accounts.

Jail sentence
Like the squirrel he was, Redmond had stashed money in kitchen cabinets, under the bath and other hiding places at his home in Castleknock. But he eventually had to sell the house to meet a tax settlement that cost him £780,000 – nearly €1 million. That must have been painful.
More ignominiously, Redmond was convicted of corruption in 2003 and sentenced to a year in jail, although this was overturned on appeal after six months. He was retried in 2008 on two charges, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on the first and he was acquitted on the second.

The planning tribunal had to withdraw its findings against Redmond due to a technical legal flaw in the way it conducted its business. This allowed him to claim he had been “vindicated”. But I stand by the record, which indicates that he was one of the most corrupt public officials in Irish history.

Frank Mc Donald

Legal elites have nobbled the rest of us

'The bailout Troika, of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, had demanded we reform our legal system, which is seen as one of the most restrictive and expensive in the western world' Photo: Getty Images/Ingram Publishing

The power and privilege of lawyers in this country is excessive and anti-consumer.
Nothing sums up the overweening influence of lawyers quite like the revelation that amendments to legislation to reform the profession were sent to a lawyer representative body before they were seen by Cabinet members.
That shocking situation was one of the facts to emerge from files obtained by the Irish Times on the unrelenting lobbying by the legal profession into attempts to reform it.
The Law Society and the Bar Council were well known to have issues with the now passed, but considerably watered down, Legal Services Regulatory Bill.

But the fact that the Bar Council, the representative body for barristers, was given draft amendments to the legislation before they were presented to Cabinet is shocking, and confirmation that elites have run rings around the little people.
The bailout Troika, of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, had demanded we reform our legal system, which is seen as one of the most restrictive and expensive in the western world.
The high costs have huge knock-on effects in areas like motor insurance, with so many injuries claims ending up in the hands of solicitors, despite efforts to bypass them through the operations of the Injuries Board.

And rather than suffering during the financial crisis that began in 2008, it seems the legal eagles have seen their incomes actually go up, something that is quite extraordinary.
According to figures compiled by the National Competitiveness Council, the cost of legal services did not fall to the extent expected during the downturn.
Costs dipped up to 2013, but have since risen, and are now 5.8pc higher than 2010 levels.
The protected legal sector here restricts entry, limits price competition and grants its members exclusive rights to perform certain tasks, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) think tank.

To be fair, the Legal Services Bill did introduce some reforms. These included the setting up of a new legal services regulatory authority, a new complaints system, and some reform around legal costs.
But many of the original proposals were smothered. The reform efforts needed to go much further than the legislation we got.

Now it seems real reform will have to be for another day, if at all.
If you want to know who runs this country, look no further than the elites in the legal profession.

Charlie Weston