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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Ireland’s powerful, unelected forces who control decision-making

 VIEWERS of the American political TV drama, House of Cards will be unsurprised by the risk of misallocation of scarce resources caused by excessive access and privilege afforded to powerful groups that comprise the Deep State — it is the stuff of human behaviour, the silent hand of soft power.
America’s Depression leader, President Roosevelt, didn’t mince his words alerting US citizens that “behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people”.

President Eisenhower’s broadcast when departing his office in 1961 named part of the Deep State: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex”.

Speaking truth to power isn’t easy, neither is it rewarding in a country like Ireland whose own version of its Deep State appears entrenched and immune from a political system that remains mired in the shoe leather of constituency clientelism, selecting every few years those best at playing the local game to the national chamber in the uncertain hope that the long-term national interest will be served.
In truth, it matters not to the Irish Deep State who controls the Dáil chamber, so long as sufficient power rests outside it to allow the organism to fulfil its primary purpose, which is to survive and thrive.

The Irish Deep State is a nexus of relationships comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, bank executives, public trade union brass, top accountancy firms, multinational corporations, IBEC, agencies like RTÉ, regulators and quangos and is defended by an outer circle of those most dependent on it.
You certainly won’t hear about it on the State broadcaster nor among the panels stuffed with net takers, university lecturers for the most part, who find it hard to accept their role in a Deep State which stood by while the worst parts of the last depression were privatised, namely the job losses and emigration that devastated the indigenous Irish economy and emaciated its private working poor and most indebted.
You won’t hear President Higgins name it and neither, sadly, are you likely to hear it in a media nervous of a litigious billionaire, nor among Ireland’s conventional political classes who live in perpetual fear of upsetting it. But it’s there in plain sight, just follow the money, power and privileges:

Despite causing social devastation, the surviving bank officer class leaned over the shoulders of Government and ensured that the Insolvency Act maintained the chronic imbalance between creditor and debtor, ensnaring tens of thousands of Irish workers in open-ended stress while many of the most powerful got write-downs and, some, salaries.

Trade unions which ought to be principally fighting for the weakest and most vulnerable to exploitation by pernicious private sector employers, crossed to the Deep State lured by gains from ‘Benchmarking’ for which no notes exist, in deals linking their personal remuneration to the top echelons of the Civil Service and which are a multiple of those of ordinary workers.

In the last round, the drawbridge was pulled up, with open pricing against new teachers, for example. It’s why (and, despite constant demonisation) I’ve consistently named public sector trade unions, a price-fixing cartel.

Despite linking the dismantling of the last remnants of protectionism in the professions to the conditions of Ireland’s controversial bailout, the legal profession escaped the fulsome reforms that accompanied the removal of protective barriers in all others.
There is to be no fall in Ireland’s very high legal costs, leaving barriers for many consumers elevated. FOI requests reveal evidence of official lobbying by the Bar Council and Law Society but there will be no trace of the impact of the galvanised efforts of its most powerful members.

Irish society is within two decades of a chronic social crisis characterised by retirement apartheid as most of the private workforce face retirement poverty. The unfunded pension debt in the social insurance scheme is €324 billion but remains unspoken among the political class because to do so means grasping the nettle of the €100bn in the public sector scheme debt, the reform of which would most threaten the top echelons including long-serving senior politicians whose retirement benefits run into several millions and rank as the largest asset on their balance sheet.

No clearer example exists of the Deep State than the manner through which the early retirement scheme was fattened with benefits during the worst hours of Ireland’s depression and then immunised from taxation on its biggest pensions by ensuring the economic cost was understated and matched by free life cover to pay off Revenue debt on premature death for anyone unfortunate to be caught. Meanwhile over €2bn was appropriated from private pensions, by threatening the guardians, pension trustees, with daily fines of €380 for any delays.

Adjusting for its youthful population, Ireland’s spending on health relative to GNP is among the highest in Europe, with some of the worst outcomes. It’s not just about money. Eleven years after forming the HSE, it still has no centralised HR system or digitised patient files and over 50 different invoice systems — who’d stand to lose?
Bending to internal interests, the Government allowed the HSE a second outing to compress the huge National Children’s Hospital into the wrong location, the latest at St James expected to cost over €800m for which the Irish people could get both a children’s and a maternity hospital co-locating at the vast green field Connolly Hospital site, off the M50.

The 31st Dáil elected on the promise of reform, delivered the largest state agency since the HSE, with no efficiencies and conceived in a room comprising 33 local councils, trade union chiefs and the Minister for the Environment, a meeting without notes, the template for which was set by Benchmarking.

Irish Water is a shambles, rejected by the Irish people whose ownership of water, like all natural resources, was alienated in the 1937 Constitution by de Valera when he took ownership of it to the State and prevented the Irish people from challenging its guardianship through their courts which is why there are protests on the streets.
The attitude, especially to whistleblowers, those within the gardaí, exposed the cultural reflex in favour of secrecy and protection, behind which the Deep State gets its work done. The opposite is a culture of openness, engagement, accountability and a strongly independent, free-thinking press.
These, among many other reasons, are why I deem Irish democracy to be captive both externally, by EU rules and a credit market for highly indebted countries and, internally. It is evidently weak and chatter about breakthroughs driven by arithmetic following the general election lacks credibility.

Government of the Irish people, by the Irish people, for the Irish people, cannot properly exist, outside of short general election windows, without a polar shift in power, pushing down to local government and communities, empowering Dáil committees and replacing Punch and Judy politics with collegiate engagement and open debate, that depoliticises budget setting in particular.

The answer to balancing Deep State power is deep access, transparency, and accountability. Government in the sunshine, led by a fully modernised public sector energised by fresh leaders running teams driven by performance and not dampened by the secrecy, obduracy and conservativeness of an Edwardian legacy, where longevity and not merit is most treasured.

Meanwhile, to take the posturing, opinion and guesswork out of social progress, it ought to be measured at grassroots across a range of outcomes like literacy, education, health, crime detection and equality. These measures of social impacts could feed into a single annual measurement of social progress so that we do not stumble forward venerating GDP, praying for its trickle down, but instead utilise our best experts to depoliticise the debate by scientifically reporting to the Irish people how well or otherwise we are translating economic activity into a range of social outcomes.

An annual Social Progress Index can inform healthy debate about how tax transfers ought to be best weighted, using left of centre or right of centre policies — whatever works best.

Eddie Hobbs

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Conundrum For The Day

A man owes you €90,000 and he offers you the money straight away in cash or an alternate ironclad payment plan over 30 days starting with one cent on the first day and doubling the amount everyday as it rolls over until the final payment. Which plan would you go for? If you opted for the second plan then it would prove that you were good at maths for the numbers stack up  like this: 

1st day)                                                      1 cent
2nd day)                                                     2 cent
3rd day)                                                      4 cent
4th day)                                                      8 cent
5th day)                                                    16 cent
6th day)                                                    32 cent
7th day)                                                    66 cent
8th day)                                                   132 cent
9th day)                                                   264 cent
10th day)                                                 528 cent
11th day)                                               1,056 cent
12th day)                                               2,112 cent   
13th day)                                               4,224 cent 
14th day)                                               8,448 cent
15th day)                                             16,896 cent 
16th day)                                             33,792 cent 
You are over halfway and all this guy has given you is less than €33. Keep going though for it gets better for you! 

17th day)                                            67,584 cent
18th day)                                           135,168 cent
19th day)                                           270,336 cent  
20th day)                                           540,672 cent
21st day)                                         1,081,344 cent 

Still, come on, it is less than €11,000 on the 21st day. Hold tight……

22nd day)                                        2,162,688 cent 
23rd day)                                         4,325,376 cent
24th day)                                         8,650,672 cent
25th day)                                       17,301,504 cent 
26th day)                                       34,603,008 cent
27th day)                                       68,206,016 cent 
28th day)                                     136,412,032 cent 
29th day)                                     272,824,064 cent
30th day)                                     545,648,128 cent

That means you received over €5,456,481 and 28 cents on the last day.

Barry Clifford

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Power of the regulator is a burning issue

THEY do things differently in the North . The discovery of “an act of serious financial impropriety” in the company formerly known as Bord Gáis Éireann had implications on both sides of the border.
The impropriety involved a group of employees of the company effectively covering up overruns on a pipeline project, known as “Project South”. The pipeline, running from Barnkyle to Coonagh West in Co Limerick, was constructed in 2002 and 2003. In the course of construction, it was discovered that there was a cost overrun of €522,000. Instead of informing the company’s board — and incurring reputational and perhaps other career damage — a group of employees decided to cover it up.
This was done by diverting the costs to two other projects, one here and another running between the Republic and the North. The implications for this was to give the impression that these projects cost more than they actually did, and in turn this cost was passed on to customers.

The matter may have ended there had not a former employee decided to blow the whistle on the whole affair. In 2014, this man wrote to the chairman of Ervia, which is the parent company for Gas Networks Ireland, the entity which replaced Bord Gáis Éireann . The whistleblower also passed his concern to the energy regulators north and south.
As a result, KPMG was retained to investigate the impropriety. Its report was completed last May and GNI passed it onto both regulators, which in turn completed their own investigations.

The KPMG report confirmed the allegations. It also noted GNI had stated that “neither the board nor the CEO of Ervia had any awareness of the misallocation. This misallocation would never have been sanctioned by the proper authorities”. GNI told the Irish Examiner four of the six employees involved were still with the company and have received appropriate sanctions.

On March 1, the Northern Ireland Authority for Energy Regulation issued its report, with a recommendation that GNI’s UK arm be fined £500,000 (€644,000). This fine is due to be confirmed following a statutory period of consultation which expires at the end of this month.

The regulator reported that “we take these provisions seriously. The purpose of reporting actual costs is to ensure that the licence holder is appropriately recompensed for expenditure actually incurred and to ensure that any such expenditure which is ultimately paid for by Northern Ireland consumers reflects the actual costs incurred by the licence holder.” Last Tuesday, the Irish Examiner contacted the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) in this jurisdiction and was told that a report was imminent on the matter. That report was published on Thursday, under the heading Final Report on Project South, which gave no hint as to the nature of the report.

The report stated that “the whistleblower alleged that the senior member of staff within Bord Gáis Éireann deliberately concealed from Bord Gáis Éireann’s board the cost overruns associated with a Bord Gáis Eireann gas infrastructure project”.
It also discovered a “financial transaction” in Bord Gáis Éireann for the 2006/7 period, which was not reflected in the company accounts. This has since been rectified.

Yet the Commission for Energy Regulation is not in a position to impose a financial penalty on the company despite it being responsible for overcharging customers on foot of the dodgy transactions.
The CER reported that it would “engage with DCENR (Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources) regarding the development of enhanced administrative sanctions for the CER to implement (including the ability to impose financial penalties) as it is the view of the investigation team that the CER does not have sufficient vires to impose appropriate sanctions of financial penalties on regulated entities.” 

The report went further, saying that it would be further engaging with the department “to ensure that the regulatory powers of the CER are sufficient and that they evolve in line with the growth of the energy sector”.
The difference between the teeth shown by the regulator in the North and its opposite numbers in the South could not be more stark. In the North the matter was taken so seriously as to impose a considerable fine. In the South, the regulator simply does not have the powers to impose any such fine. Is it the age-old problem that in this State we do not take seriously matters of regulation and any improprieties that occur?
These days, the CER is also responsible for the workings of the highly controversial Irish Water. Numerous issues have arisen about that entity, yet the body to which it is ultimately answerable simply does not have the powers to issue a financial penalty.

Questions also arise for Gas Networks Ireland and its parent. How closely are matters of control policed? The company claims that the kind of stuff that was undertaken in this incident would not occur since new controls have been put in place, but whether or not that is sufficient remains to be seen.
Gas Networks Ireland issued a statement to the Irish Examiner which condemned that which occurred within the company.

“This incident was a clear breach of the company’s values and the company deeply regrets and apologies for this misallocation of costs.
“Having completed its own internal investigations the company believes that the misallocation was an isolated incident and did not reflect a pattern or practice within the company.”
That confidence may be misplaced. If the whistleblower had not come forward, this incident would never have been uncovered and everybody would carry on as if nothing had happened.

For years there were rumours about the manner in which contracts were awarded and run in the gas networks. Before now, nothing was ever discovered to substantiate any of the rumours.
Sources in the industry claim there have been changes in recent years as the corporate structure was overhauled which ensure tighter controls, but that remains to be seen.

The most crucial question, however, remains the powers of the regulator. The area is one that should receive immediate attention whenever a new government is installed. With the proliferation of energy companies it is vital that customers can retain confidence that their energy requirements are being met without any impropriety along the way, particularly when such improprieties result in the customer picking up the tab.
Michael Clifford

Monday, March 14, 2016

Make it easier to get your smart phone back if it's stolen

More than 7,000 mobile phones, most of them smart phones, have been stolen since the beginning of 2015.

Gardaí say they are worth almost €3m.

Up to 60% of thefts and robberies involve stealing a mobile phone and most of them happen between 10pm and 4am.

In a campaign to coincide with St Patrick's Day, which generally sees an increase in this type of crime, they are also warning people to beware of thieves and pickpockets.

Gardaí are recommending that people should record the IMEI details of their smart phone.

Sergeant Kelvin Courtney of the National Crime Prevention Unit said: "An Garda Síochána strongly recommends that smart phone owners record details of their IMEI number. Only one in three people have this unique number when reporting their smart phone stolen.

"Knowing your IMEI number is important for several reasons. Firstly, An Garda Síochána can reunite recovered smart phones far easier if the IMEI number is reported to us at the time of theft or loss.

"Secondly, if the phone is registered with a service provider the IMEI number can be blocked on the networks, rendering the phone useless for anything other than parts. Thirdly, convicting the thief or handler of the phone becomes more straightforward if an injured party has been identified."

To access and record your IMEI number;
1. Simply dial *#06#
2. A 15 digit number will appear on your screen
3. Take a screen shot of this number (this usually involves holding the power button and home button simultaneously, handsets may vary).

4. Email this picture to yourself, giving you a permanent record of this number.

'If your child is a mess, it's your fault' - says psychologist Oliver James

                                                   Oliver James at his home.

Renowned psychologist Oliver James has written a provocative new book in which he claims parents cause their children's mental health problems. He tells Peter Stanford that a lot of mental health issues really are nurture - and not nature, or caused by genetics.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Oliver James has got it in for parents, even though he is one himself. The eminent clinical psychologist, for many years a familiar face on our TV screens, has in the past gone public about the shortcomings of his own mother and father, both psychoanalysts, in his best-selling book They F--- You Up. And he extended that reference to Philip Larkin's pessimistic poem in a follow-up on childcare, How Not to F--- Them Up.

Now comes the 63-year-old's latest volume, Not in Your Genes. Its stark conclusion is that whatever mental health issues youngsters may have, it's mostly due to parental maltreatment, rather than any genetic inheritance. And this, he says, can be unconscious. As a parent, it is one of the most chilling books I have ever read.
James looks shocked when I tell him this. "That's the last thing on earth I intended," he says. But there is an added sting in the tail of Not in Your Genes. The crucial period for damaging your children, it suggests, is up to the age of three. A case of damage done, then, as far as my teenagers are concerned?

"Pretty much," he replies. And for his, too? James has a daughter and son, Olive and Louis, 14 and 11, with his wife, the journalist Clare Garner. "Yes, pretty much.'' Brief answers, but usually it is Oliver James who is asking the questions, with clients he sees in his London consulting rooms on Monday, or for the rest of the week by Skype from his office at home in a Cotswolds village. Today, however, it's TV's favourite shrink who is the one on the couch, stretching out his long, thin frame on a grey sofa in his living room, his trademark spiky black hair resting against an ill-matched pile of cushions.

"Consciously, the only reason I have written the book," he explains, "is that I became very aware of all the evidence about the Human Genome Project (HGP), which startled me." And that evidence is that when it comes to conditions such as ADHD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, all of which exact a terrible toll, genes play little or no part.
"No gene has been shown to have any significant effect on any psychological traits," James insists. "That's just a fact. Now the HGP scientists haven't concluded from that, that genes do not have an effect. They have said they just haven't found [the genes] yet. There have been so many studies of genes now - with mental illness there have been 115, all finding squiddly diddly."

For too many, he says, the "genes thing" has become "like a religion". If you sideline genes, when considering why youngsters suffer mental health problems, that leaves parents in the firing line.

Many of us know loving and long-suffering parents, I suggest, who devote themselves to the care of troubled offspring. Is he really saying such parents have caused those troubles? "Definitely," he replies without hesitation. "There are a lot of things that people think are nature but which are really nurture. It's much, much more comfortable to think nature."
James says he doesn't want to blame nurturers. "I have no time for blame. Insight is all. Blaming your parents gets you nowhere. It is there in the second verse of Philip Larkin's poem - 'they were f---ed up in their turn'. That is where redemption lies." But any redemption, he suggests, will be addressing the symptoms - through therapy and drugs - rather than the causes.

James made his name by taking no hostages. As a TV presenter, he famously caused former Tony Blair acolyte Peter Mandelson to cry when he questioned him about his father in the BBC Two series The Chair. It has made him a controversial figure, even among his professional colleagues.

Even the title of his new book, though, demonstrates his habit of giving most prominence to the eyecatching parts of his latest thesis - in this case, damning the cherished notion that gene therapy could offer a cure to mental illnesses. Yet, when you dig down, James's message is more nuanced. He may rule out genes, but he is not dismissing nature altogether.
"I can see very strong evidence from personal experience that physical transmission of traits is possible." He uses the example of playing football in the garden with his son. As a child, James was good at dribbling a ball and now so is Louis, but not because his father has hot-housed him - James has had multiple sclerosis for 27 years, so giving a practical demonstration of dribbling is now beyond him.

But what exactly does he mean, then, by "physical transmission"? "My son may have inherited his dribbling skills through a physical mechanism, because he couldn't have learnt it from me. There's a black box of physical transmission there. That's all I am saying." That "black box", he says, might be to do with chemical patterns passed on from father to son through a process known as epigenetic.

"I am also not ruling out physical causes for psychological traits. There's a whole business about the long-term effects of what happens in pregnancy that will, perhaps, one day turn out to be hugely important. However, with psychosis - whether it be bipolar or schizophrenia - there is just a mass of evidence that something has gone horribly wrong in the family."

He illustrates his point again with a story from his own life. "I grew up with Teddy St Aubyn [the award winning novelist, Edward St Aubyn]. It didn't occur to me, or my parents, that Teddy had been sexually abused by his father. The awful truth about families is that there is a lot that goes on behind closed doors that nobody knows about."
James is not breaking any confidences here. St Aubyn has written of the long-term damage done to him by his childhood, but with other cases discussed at length in the book - notably the deaths, 14 years apart, from heroin overdoses of TV presenter, Paula Yates, and her daughter Peaches Geldof - James gets closer to the line. He knew Yates well - they once worked together on a TV series, Sex With Paula - and says that his detailed account of the mother/daughter relationship is based on information "from people who knew [her] well. The main sources are impeccable."

Does he worry that so publicly picking over the details of a young woman's tragic death, less than two years after it happened, might add to the grief of her father, Bob Geldof, or her family? "I've thought about this an awful lot," he replies, suddenly vulnerable. "I'm very aware of what Bob's been through and I hope that, if he does read it, he will feel it makes sense of something that otherwise didn't make sense."

Writing about other people's parenting inevitably shines a spotlight back on his own skills. "Maltreatment can be everyday," he agrees. "I went blundering into [parenting], just like everybody else. But as I have got older, I have become gradually more conscious of how awful it can be for them to be my children."
So what is life with James as a dad really like? He makes light of his grumpy moods and his MS.

When I look closely, I notice his walking gait is a little stiff, but nothing more. I wonder if his illness has had any impact on the quality of his nurturing of his children.
"A minimal effect on my daughter - the only thing is the tiredness. Sometimes I'm perhaps a bit more irritable because I'm tired. It's a sadness, but I would say from their point of view, it is very insignificant. What really matters to a child is whether someone is tuned in to you. It's all about love."

At last, an optimistic note. Even if it is all down to parents, James is acknowledging, we do have the potential to get it right.

Not in Your Genes: The Real Reasons Children Are Like Their Parents by Oliver James (Vermilion, £20).

Thoughts for the day: Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.......

                                                                         Otto Von Bismarck

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.

Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.

I have seen three emperors in their nakedness, and the sight was not inspiring.

When you say you agree to a thing in principle you mean that you have not the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice.

The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Russia.

Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.

Be polite; write diplomatically; even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness.

People never lie so much as after fishing, during a war or before an election.

Whoever speaks of Europe is wrong: it is a geographical expression.

The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions but by iron and blood.

Otto Von Bismarck (1815-1898)

Banks have already been paid for mortgages

Since our economic commentators won’t ask this, I will.

If banks sell mortgages to investors, via the securitisation industry, how were they ever bust?
Pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds, etc, buy mortgages and pay banks the principal, plus a premium up front as a lump-sum payment.

Therefore, the bank is paid in full, once, for the mortgage. The monthly payments of the homeowners are passed by the banks to the investors. Over the life of the mortgage, the investor earns more than they paid up-front to the banks, due to interest payments.
This is admitted — albeit grudgingly — by banks. They can no longer deny securitisation. But how do they explain being bust? They should be in extra credit, from the profit above the principal that the investor paid to them.

Are banks keeping shadow books? Is their securitised income declared for tax?
Where is that money?

How did the banks all arrive in Government Buildings in 2008, saying they needed to be bailed out overnight or the country would go bust, when their mortgages were all already paid in full? How can any bank in Ireland lay claim to the title of any house in Ireland if they have sold this right to others?
Henry Ford said: “it is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and money system, for, if they did, I believe there would be a revolution.”

Barry Fitzgerald

The economy is not growing by anything like 7.8 per cent

Ironically, by overstating economic growth the data over the past year or so may have actually hurt the coalition

At 11am on Thursday the Central Statistics Office published figures showing that the economy grew 7.8 per cent last year, and that the growth rate was running at an eye-watering 9 per cent-plus in late 2015.
Ireland, in the final quarter of last year, was the fastest growing economy in the world.
About 5½ hours later the Dáil voted down the nomination of Enda Kenny as taoiseach. If the growth figures were for real the resulting feel-good factor might well have swept the coalition back into office.
But GDP growth is a deeply-flawed indicator of what is actually going on in our economy.What we are witnessing is a decent economic recovery but not a boom.
When Bertie Ahern famously declared in 2007 that “the boom times are getting even more boomer” he was right economically, if not grammatically. Back then consumer spending had been growing annually at between 7 per cent and 10 per cent for three years and special flights to buy apartments in Bulgaria were booked out. Now consumer spending is rising at a more modest 3.5 per cent, and Bulgaria doesn’t even feature in the holiday brochures.

Unfair recovery
Ironically, by overstating economic growth the data over the past year or so may have actually hurt the coalition.
Voters looking at the figures will have felt that growth rates of 6-7 per cent were not reflected in their pockets. The inevitable conclusion was that somewhere else in the economy other people were making out like bandits. It all played into the “unfair recovery” narrative.
The economic reality is good, but it is simply much less spectacular than the figures suggest.
Ireland is growing strongly but the figures are subject to huge distortions from the operations of multinationals. These mess up the GDP totals, and make a lot of the breakdown of the figures completely meaningless.
Last year, for example, it appears a number of big multinationals moved their intellectual property rights to Irish legal entities as part of a clean-up of their tax affairs. This gave a massive €10 billion boost to investment last year, and also, because of the way the whole thing is counted by the CSO, pushed up imports.
When you have a once-off factor like sloshing around the figures it gets really messy. The combination of big multinational companies and a small economy make these distortions significant.

People’s lives
You could spend the day arguing about the “real” level of growth in the Irish economy. In terms of how growth affects people’s lives, there are a few places that are worth looking at.
One is total employment, which was 2.3 per cent higher in the final quarter of last year than in the same period in 2014.
Another is consumer spending, rising 3.5 per cent year-on-year, its highest growth rate since 2007.
A third is the amount people are earning, where the data has jumped around a bit, but suggests growth of about 2 per cent last year, with survey evidence suggesting something similar, or a bit more, is likely for this year.
You might conclude that the underlying rate of growth was somewhere in the range of 3-5 per cent. This doesn’t mean that the CSO data is incorrect – just that the GDP figures are now not a very useful way of measuring how our economy is doing. Ireland is doing well – euro zone average growth is just 1.5 per cent – but not anything like as spectacularly as the headline data suggests.
People intuitively understand this. Unless you work in professional services or technology where wages are soaring – or moved from unemployment into work – you are unlikely to be 9 per cent better off now than you were a year ago.
Consumers are finally feeling confident enough to spend a bit more. Earnings are starting to rise. There are jobs available. It’s a recovery – and a decent one – but it’s not an economic boom.

Mortgage arrears
Most households are at least a bit better off, but for a significant minority the cost of the crash lives on in crippling debts. Mortgage arrears are in decline but 88,000 houses are still behind with repayments and many more who bought at the height of the boom are still struggling. Meanwhile, while unemployment is falling 190,000 are still out of work.
So the challenge for the next government is to build on a recovery, not rein in a boom. The rate of growth is probably still quick enough to raise questions about the scale of any tax cuts in the next budget and whether an economy growing strongly needs more cash. But we are not back in Celtic Tiger territory.
The scale of resources available to the new government will not be the tsunami of cash that allowed big tax cuts and spending hikes during the 2000s. And EU rules will limit room for manoeuvre.
If our politicians can actually form a government keeping the real rate of economic growth at 3-4 per cent would be a decent result. If Brexit does not happen it might even be possible to achieve it.
Then it will all come down to competent use of the resources this growth will make available to invest, spend and manage the tax system.

That is another story entirely.

Cliff Taylor

Childcare workers in State schemes on as little as €5,700

Casualisation growing in the sector, with staff turnover almost 23%, report reveals
about 6 hours ago

State investment in childcare amounts to 0.2% of GDP, compared with an OECD average of 0.8% and UN recommended benchmark of 1% – which is exceeded by the UK, France and the Nordic countries. Photograph: Getty Images

Childcare workers in State-funded schemes can earn as little as €5,700 a year , an unpublished report from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has found.
Casualisation is growing in the sector, with staff turnover rates as high as 22.6 per cent – almost as high as among waiters and waitresses.
The report says significant improvements in pay and conditions for its mainly female workforce, will be “central to the implementation any high quality model of early care and education”.

The report, a Who cares Report on Childcare Costs and Practices in Ireland, draws on a survey of 3,703 trade union members who use childcare services.
An overreliance by the State on the private sector to deliver childcare and continued chronic under investment in public provision, has “the potential to deter single parents and secondary earners – typically women – from taking up paid employment”.
It also notes women’s employment rates fall between the ages of 25 and 49, with the difference in rates between these ages – at 20 per cent – the fourth highest in the EU.

High costs
Many respondents said almost all their earnings were going to pay childcare.
For the lowest income households (€24,999 or less) the cost of childcare is more important than quality when choosing where their children will be looked after, as costs are so high. Some 39 per cent of these respondents used relatives for childcare and 24 per cent private childcare.

As income increased they were more likely to used private providers.
“When asked about the main influence on the choice of childcare, quality was deemed to be the most important issue for 51 per cent of dual-earner households . . . and 31 per cent of lone parents. By contrast affordability was ranked highest priority by 62 per cent of lone parents . . . and 41 per cent of people in dual-earner households.”
Earnings in the sector “are a function of hours worked”.

“The operation of the ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) for only 38 weeks of the year has led to a growth of casualisation in the sector as a result of closures during the summer months when funding for the government initiative does not apply . . . If a childhood professional was working for €10 an hour, 15 hours a week for 38 weeks a year as per the timeframe provided for . . . their annual salary would amount to only €5,700.”

State investment in childcare amounts to 0.2 per cent of GDP, compared with an OECD average of 0.8 per cent and UN recommended benchmark of 1 per cent – which is exceeded by the UK, France and the Nordic countries.
This amounts to a “serious social policy flaw with repercussions for the needs of children, working parents, employers and society”, says the report.

Among its recommendations is that employers’ PRSI on portions of income above €100,000 be increased to 13.75 per cent – to yield €150 million, to be ring fenced for childcare investments.

Kitty Holland

Sunday, March 13, 2016

It is 25 years since the Birmingham Six were released from prison

The Birmingham Six following their release at the Old Bailey in London. Photo: Denis Minihane

It was twenty five years ago tomorrow that they walked out, blinking, into freedom. They had spent sixteen and a half years incarcerated for something they didn’t do. Some of them had endured hard, hard years in British prisons, extended periods in solidary, long years despised by some elements as murderers of twenty one innocent people.

A crowd was waiting for them outside the Old Bailey, the symbol of British justice, which had for centuries evoked pride in a people who value their own sense of fair play.
On March 14 1991, the cries went up as the six, Paddy Joe Hill, Richard McIlkenny, Hugh Callaghan, Gerry Hunter, John Walker and Bill Power, came through the doors. The crowd there to greet them were swelled by passers by, construction workers in nearby sites, and not a few who were just satisfying a curiosity about a case that had for years by then achieved the status of cause celebs.

Paddy Joe Hill addressed those present with the kind of emotion that draws on a reservoir built up through sixteen years of anger and gut wrenching pain.
“The police told us from the start that they knew we hadn’t done it,” he roared. “They knew we hadn’t done it. They told us they didn’t care who had done it and that we were selected and they were going to frame us just to keep the people in there happy.”
His arm now waving at the Old Bailey, he went on. “Justice, I don’t think those people in there have the intelligence to spell the world, never mind dispense it. They’re rotten.”
The tears flowed through clenched fists. Justice was theirs at last, but what had it cost? The stolen years behind bars, separated from loved ones, prevented from developing in life, was one thing. But the years ahead would not be theirs either, continually haunted by what might have been.

The Birmingham pub bombs exploded at a time when Britain was under attack from the IRA.
For the eighteen months preceding the attacks on November 21 1974, bombs had gone off across southern England as the Provos brought their war across the Irish Sea.
At 8.11pm on the night in question, a call was made to the offices of the Birmingham Post&Mail.

“There is a bomb planted at the Rotunda, there is a bomb planted in New Street at the tax office,” the caller said, providing an accepted code word. Immediately the police were contacted, but there wasn’t time to access and evacuate.
The two bombs went off at the Mulberry Bush pub and the Tavern in the Town, roughly but not precisely at the location mentioned in the warning call. A third devise failed to detonate.
Twenty one people were killed and around 180 injured. It was at the time the worst atrocity in the UK during peacetime.

That same evening five of the six Irishmen who would be framed for the atrocity were on a train to take them to the boat for a trip back to Belfast. The sixth, Hugh Callaghan, saw them off at New Street station in the city. All had been living in Birmingham for years, some for decades. Five were from Belfast. John Walker was a native of Derry.
They were returning for the funeral of an IRA man who had been killed while planting a bomb in Coventry the previous week, as most knew the man’s family from Belfast. That fact would be held against them when they were eventually tried.

While they were stopped for a routine security check at Heysham, word came through of the bombings. The men were detained on a cautionary basis, but within twelve hours they were handed over to the West Midlands Police, an outfit that would go on to have a notorious reputation.

Over the following weeks, as the British police were put under severe pressure to get the culprits, the six were subjected to savage beatings, until such time as four of them signed statements implicating all six.

In an interview on RTE Radio two weeks ago, Paddy Joe Hill recalled one occasion during his detention when the policeman pulled out his firearm and pushed it into his mouth.
“He said, I’m going to count, to three. One, he pulled back the hammer, two and then on the count of three he pulled the trigger back and I can still see it going back, it seemed to take ages and then I heard the click He pulled it out an hit me on the head with the gun and did the same thing again, one two three and pulled the trigger. The third time he did it he stuck the gun into my left eye and he said either you do it this time (make a statement) or you’re dead.”
All the men told similar tales. The verdicts in their trial were a foregone conclusion. It was as if the whole state apparatus from police through to the legal system and the judiciary had elected to turn a blind eye to justice because circumstances demanded that somebody, anybody, must pay a price for a heinous crime. All were sentenced to life in prison.

The attitude of the British authorities to the six was best summed up by Lord Denning who heard an application for the men to appeal their convictions for the second time in 1980.
“If the six men win, it will mean that the police were guilty of perjury, that they were guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were involuntary and were improperly admitted in evidence and that the convictions were erroneous,” he said.

“That would mean the Home Secretary would either have to recommend they be pardoned or he would have to remit the case to the Court of Appeal. This is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say: It cannot be right these actions should go any further. This case shows what a civilised country we are.”

In reality, the appalling vista had come to pass. Denning and all his ilk were simply unable to accept that their misplaced confidence in the system was wholly unwarranted.
As the years wore on the truth began to seep out The case of the Birmingham Six was taken up by Chris Mullen, a British Labour party MP whose interest in the case had been awoken. He had no connection to the men, and precious little to Ireland, but Mullen more than anybody was responsible for blowing open the appalling miscarriage of justice. At a time when many in the Irish establishment and media were cautious of tackling anything that could possibly smell of another Provo propaganda campaign, Mullen went were others simply would not until such time as the truth became to come obvious.

Momentum increased after the release of the Guildford Four in 1989, a group whose experience mirrored that of the six. It took another eighteen months, however, before the British authorities could swallow the grave injustice which had been perpetrated.

Since their release the men have received monetary compensation varying from £800,000 to £2 million, but there are some injuries that simply cannot be healed by money. All have referred at one stage or another to the impact that the whole ordeal had had on their lives.
Speaking earlier this year, Hugh Callaghan said that he still had nightmares about the beatings.
“It was a terrible ordeal for me and for us and for our families,” he said.

“I am very angry. The beatings were terrible. I remember one time I said to Gerry Hunter, ‘I think they are going to kill us’ and he said, ‘I think you might be right’.
“People don’t’ realise that the whole world was against us, even the other prisoners. It was deadly and now to think they may have known all along that we were innocent.”
Earlier this month, Paddy Joe Hill told Ray Darcy on RTE Radio One that the men had been diagnosed as suffering from the highest level of post traumatic stress disorder, higher than most combat veterans.

“One minute you’re alright and the next minute you’re on your knees crying your eyes out and you don’t know what you’re crying about. I’ve learned to look after myself. I realised years ago we were on our own. I manage myself.”
The case did lead the British authorities to review the system which lead to the setting up of the Criminal Cases Review Act, which facilitates a second look at cases where new evidence comes to light.
The policemen who were involved in the detention, assault and framing of the Birmigham Six were never prosecuted.

He lost his family as a result of his detention on his struggles to come to terms with life afterwards. He eventually settled in London and penned a book on his story, Cruel Fate. Now 85, he lives with his new partner, Adeline whom he credits for “saving” him.
He lives in a remote part of Donegal with his second wife, with whom he has a son. Now 79, he rarely comments on the case.
The father of six returned to Ireland soon after he release and he lived in Dublin with his wife right up until his death from cancer in 2006.
Now 71, Paddy Joe Hill lives on a 20 acre farm in Ayreshire, Scotland with his second wife. He has had great difficulty coming to terms with life after his imprisonment, and says that he has practically no relationship with his six children since he came out of prison. He has been one of the main movers behind the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, which campaigns in cases where a miscarriage is believed to have occurred.
Like Paddy Joe Hill he had major issues around bonding with his children after he came out of prison. While he lives a quiet life in London, the 71-year-old did become involved two years ago in a campaign to block legislation in the UK which would make it more difficult for those who have been wronged to seek compensation.

Now 71, he lives on the Algarve in Portugal. In an interview a few years ago he described how he has moved on. “I learned in prison that hate and bitterness will only destroy you,” he said.

Michael Clifford