Thursday, April 21, 2016
The council chief executive rapped by a political standards watchdog for contravening ethics legislation has walked away with a gross €238,364 lump sum on his retirement.
Last November, the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) was highly critical of Longford County Council’s Tim Caffrey over his failure to fully disclose his ownership in a €259,000 property his local authority was helping a charity to purchase.
The purchase of the home at The Mill, Clondra, Co Longford by the Muirosa Foundation did not proceed, however.
In its ruling, Sipo found Mr Caffrey had ‘not acted in good faith’ had been ‘negligent to a high degree’ and that it was a serious matter.
Mr Caffrey had declared ownership of the house in the council’s annual declaration of interests but Sipo found he breached ethics legislation when failing to notify, in writing, his interest in the property to the then chairman of Longford County Council, Larry Bannon.
In response to the report, a statement issued on Mr Caffrey’s behalf said he utterly rejected the conclusion he did not act in good faith and that Sipo was not entitled to make such a conclusion.
The statement said Mr Caffrey was very disappointed with the findings of the report and he had always acted in good faith in a 45-year career in public office.
The Department of the Environment confirmed yesterday that following Mr Caffrey’s retirement last month, Mr Caffrey was entitled to receive a gross pension lump sum of €238,364 which includes a special severance gratuity of €49,883.
He will receive a gross annual pension of €62,827.
Chief executive of Isme, Mark Fielding said: “The eye-watering quarter of a million and some loose change being ‘awarded’ to public sector employees at retirement shows again the absolute weakness in a system that allows politicians to ‘flash the cash’ — our cash — to public servants.”
Council chairman Cllr Gerry Warnock (SocDem) said Mr Caffrey’s lapse in not fully disclosing his interest in the house “was an administrative error”.
Medical matters: Dr Harry Barry’s book contains much to put our busy brains to rest
The amygdala is a tiny structure buried deep in the limbic part of our brains. It fires the body’s stress system and gets it to flood the body with adrenaline.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space . . . in that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. – Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Memory.
It’s not often you finish reading a book and come away with a sense of having read something groundbreaking. I’ve just had that experience with Dr Harry Barry’s new book, Flagging Anxiety and Panic : how to reshape your anxious mind and brain (Liberties Press).
Anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental health disorders; it is estimated that one in nine Irish people will experience a primary anxiety disorder during their lifetime.
While significant strides have been made in understanding depression in recent years, there was a sense of a missing link when it came to anxiety. And, in particular, there was a need to build a bridge between the clinical aspects of the condition and what exactly was going on in our anxious brains at a neuroscientific level.
Enter a part of the brain called the amygdala. It’s a tiny structure buried deep in the limbic part of our brains. In evolutionary terms, it’s been there forever and its job was to make you sense and to respond rapidly to danger. It fires the body’s stress system and gets it to flood the body with adrenaline.
Which is fine if you meet a grizzly bear on a hike in the Canadian Rockies, but a bit over the top if you are feeling anxious in a social situation.
Barry has come up with a brilliant description of the amygdala’s unruly side. “It is also the gunslinger of the stress system – it shoots from the hip, often without thinking and does not really worry about the consequences. The gunslinger is not particularly smart, has a long memory, does not respond to regular talk therapies and regularly disregards instructions from head office, that is our logical brain.”
Meanwhile, the worry side of anxiety has been traced to the left prefrontal cortex of the brain while a tendency to catastrophise can be tracked to the right prefrontal cortex.
These prefrontal cortices and the amygdala are all linked by neural pathways which also stretch to the adrenal glands from where our"fight or flight" hormones emerge.
Over time, the overactivity of these brain parts leads to actual functional change. Called neuroplasticity, this is the ability of the brain to adapt and change key pathways between its different parts.
So let’s say we have pathways formed in our past that are driving our anxiety. By using the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness techniques outlined in the book, we can literally alter our brains using the same neuroplasticity, in reverse, to block lifelong anxiety and panic.
This requires a reasonable amount of work on our part. You need to do some homework outside of one-to- one therapy sessions but the reward is to put the gunslinging amygdala back in its box. This reduces the physical symptoms of panic and anxiety. Similarly, reshaping pathways involving the left and right prefrontal cortices means we train our brains to deal with the worrying and catastrophising.
One of the reasons the book works so well is the extensive use of actual cases. As you read these you can see yourself sitting in front of the therapist, both looking in and participating in the interaction. You will see how patient and therapist work together to solve the specific anxiety in each case.
A general practitioner for almost 30 years with a long-standing interest in mental health, Barry saw a need to improve our understanding of the neuroscience of illnesses such as depression, anxiety and addiction. He is now part of an international group of researchers and thought leaders, looking to create new diagnostic tools in mental health.
If you or someone close to you suffers with any form of clinical anxiety then this book is a must read.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Almost two complaints a week were made against Caranua last year by survivors of institutional child abuse.
Caranua was established by the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012 to oversee the use of the cash contributions of up to €110m, pledged by the religious congregations, to support the needs of survivors of institutional child abuse.
The fund is to provide survivors with their health, educational and housing needs.
Figures released under Freedom of Information show that, between April 2015 and February of this year, 75 formal complaints were made by survivors about the service offered by Caranua — almost two every week. The vast majority relate to “disrespectful/poor treatment”. However, others include “failure to protect confidentiality”, “discriminatory treatment” and “failure to meet timeline”.
Tom Cronin of Irish Survivors of Institutional Abuse International said he believed the figures to be “the tip of the iceberg”.
“ A lot of survivors are vulnerable and timid and don’t bother to complain. If Caranua is working, then why are so many survivors unhappy with it? We are just ignored. It’s a situation where we have to beg for our own money — money that we are entitled to. It’s disgraceful what they are doing,” he said.
Mr Cronin said the system was “completely ad hoc” and that while surivivors could get money for certain home renovations, finance for essential white goods like fridges, washing machines, and cookers was denied.
He also queried Caranua’s refusal to release money to survivors who wanted finance to help pay for their own burials.
“Many survivors are worse off now than they were when they received the redress awards. In their twilight years, survivors are being denied what was awarded to them by bureacracy,” he said.
Mr Cronin said he believed the State was hoping survivors would die off so the fund could be closed and re-directed into other areas.
A spokesperson for Caranua denied the level of complaints was high and said that it was always working to make the application process more survivor centred.
“Ideally, we would have no complaints. However, of the over 5,180 part one applications we have received up to February, that figure [75 complaints] represents about 1.5%.
“Obviously, we want that figure down to 0%. In general, we are always trying to iron out our processess to make them as person centred as possible. We talk to a lot of survivors and groups and we are always trying to adapt to best suit the needs of the people we are supporting,” she said.
The spokesperson acknowledged that goods and money for burial was not permitted under the current guidelines but said that, due to survivors’ concerns on this issue, it was “currently under review”.
She also denied that there was any intention to close the fund before all the money has been spent.
“We don’t intend to have any money left over as we can see that the need is there for the money to be spent in the survivor population and that is our intention. As of today, we have spent around €45m in different supports out of the €110m so we are going through it rapidly,” she said.
Caranua will hold an information meeting in Cork on April 23 and Galway on May 14, and is encouraging as many potential applicants as possible to attend.
Conall ò Fátharta
PS: There will be more on this very important matter soon and more proof to expose the actions of Mary Higgins
Monday, April 18, 2016
Pointing out our failure to learn from painful past continues to enjoy an enduring appeal
German chancellor Angela Merkel: Indicated “contempt” for such people following the Anglo Irish Bank tapes revelations. Photograph: EPA
Once upon a time, today’s news was tomorrow’s fish-wrap. But, no more. Almost three years after “Conned, A German View Of Ireland" made its first appearance in The Irish Times, the article has just made its fourth comeback on the Irish Times. Why?
The story goes back to July 2013, when I spotted the original article, “Abgezockt”, on the prominent page three slot of the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung. The article, written by the newspaper’s London correspondent Christian Zaschke, was a striking read.
Like most German media outlets, the Süddeutsche has no full-time correspondent in Ireland, meaning that coverage of the island is sporadic and often superficial.
But this article was different. It was clear Zaschke had spent time travelling Ireland, talking to people and listening to what they said – and asking them about what they were not saying. Unlike most German media coverage of Ireland – often superficial and cliche-ridden – this got under our skin.
The article was well-observed, beautifully written and well-timed. Days earlier, the infamous Anglo Irish Bank tapes had leaked, exposing the full contempt of its bankers for the Irish taxpayers and – in the infamous Deutschland Über Alles segment – for Germany. When I asked Chancellor Angela Merkel about the tapes, after another late-night emergency summit in Brussels, she said she had “contempt” for such people.
Zaschke wanted to know why Irish contempt for people who had screwed them over in the past – over oil and fish reserves – didn’t stop us allowing them do it again
Aisling Murphy, a psychologist and member of a Dalkey protest group against off-shore oil drilling, told the newspaper: “We are a land that lies still while we are bled dry.”
But why? Ms Murphy suggested it originating in the Irish fear of making a fuss.
“On top of that is something that, in psychological terms, you call ‘acquired helplessness’,” she said. Ireland was the sovereign equivalent of a battered wife, she suggested, that “quietly puts up with it”.
For Zaschke at the time, the article turned on his head the image he – and many of his German readers – had of the “fighting Irish”: fearless rebels who delight in challenging authority.
It was a daring article for a German newspaper to run in 2013, given the popular crisis narrative in some Irish quarters at the time that the Germans, and not the Irish, were primarily to blame for the country’s misery.
I got permission to run the article, translated it quickly, and it appeared on our pages on July 6th, 2013, under the headline: “Conned – A German View of Ireland.”
It shot to the top of the most-read articles, with the first online comment: “Why can’t we get critical analysis like that from our own journalists?”
“Conned” went viral and enjoyed a second coming in October-November of 2013. By year-end, “Conned” was the most-clicked article on Irishtimes.com. But things did not end there. “Conned” rose from the dead a third time in August 2015 – again pushed by social media. And yet again in the last seven days.
The largest spike in readers comes from Facebook links from posting such as “Call for a revolution in Ireland”. Another reason is the virtuous circle of online journalism, where most-read articles get a bounce for featuring on the most-read list. And perhaps the headline triggers a “what do the Germans think of us?” itch that many cannot resist scratching.
David Cochrane, Irish Times social media editor, refers to the article as “evergreen content” – something with a lasting message that remains relevant despite the passage of time.
That’s a view shared by Zaschke. He thinks the article touched a nerve not because of the various political sell-outs he described – of oil, gas and fish reserves – and more because of the red thread linking them.
“I think people see an elite in Ireland that doesn’t care for the country, an elite people have tolerated for too long and which now has to be held to account,” he said. “When people contact me after reading the article now, they are baffled to hear the story is almost three years old. I guess they think its message is still valid.”
WHO owns the Constitution? The answer may be self-evident to
He told a conference last month that he would like to do a lot more about the housing crisis but is prevented from doing so by the Constitution. “I was repeatedly blocked from making provision for what I believe is the common good by the strength by which property rights are protected under Article 43 of the Constitution,” he said.
That position has been disputed by, among others, the master of the High Court, Edward Honohan. He says there is ample provision for the common good to be taken into account. “The Constitution in effect provides that the State may expropriate private property if the Oireachtas decides that to do so is for the ‘common good’,” he wrote in an open letter to Kelly.
What is at issue is the competing rights between individuals and the common good, and Honohan makes the point that there are circumstances where the common good must hold sway. He provided the example of road-building which often involves the compulsory purchase of land.
If Kelly’s was a one-off plaintive cry of “don’t hit me with the Constitution in my arms” it might have some credibility. But it is not.
Time and again, whenever successive governments have been faced with making a decision between vested interests and the common good they have come down on the side of the former by waving around the Constitution. And not just when property is at issue.
A perfect example of the constitutional defence used by governments was in the area of drink driving.
In 1998, the newly-formed Road Safety Authority (RSA) proposed the “urgent” introduction of random breath testing for drink driving. Younger readers may find it difficult to believe, but back then gardaí had to harbour a “reasonable suspicion” that a driver was under the influence before resorting to the breathalyser. Numerous prosecutions fell on the basis that the suspicion that a driver was under the influence was not “reasonable”, or at least was not shown to be “reasonable”.
Then along came the RSA with an eminently sensible proposal. Let the gardaí breathalyse whomever they wanted on the basis that anybody driving should be observing the law. Who’s afraid of random breath testing?
Well, publicans for one. They had their business to consider. How could anybody drink in peace while fretting the prospect that they could be asked to blow into the bag by a random garda.
Despite the urgency of the RSA proposal, the government of the day refused to play ball. On what basis? Well, there could well be constitutional problems with such a law. Everybody was too polite to point to the elephant at the cabinet table — the almost unrivalled political influence of the publican.
And so it went on for nearly eight years. During that period any time the prospect of random testing was aired, the government of the day waved the Constitution as reason why it couldn’t be contemplated. Between 1998 and 2006 there were 3,181 fatalities on the roads. How many of them might have lived if a more stringent regime of drink driving was in place?
Then in 2006, the constitutional issue disappeared. What had suddenly made the problem go away? For one, the country was awakened to the carnage by high-profile campaigns from the RSA and in particular its chairman, Gay Byrne. This period also coincided with a waning of the political power of the publican.
So once the public mood changed, and power began draining from a vested interest, the road was cleared of the ‘constitutional problems’. Random breath testing was made law and no more was heard about it.
The Constitution has also been continually invoked to prevent interference in the property market. Back in 1974, the Liam Cosgrave-led cabinet of the day was presented with the Kenny report into the price of building land. One of the report’s main findings was that land speculation was hindering the cost of housing.
Once land is rezoned from agriculture to housing, its value increases by a multiple, effectively turning muck into gold overnight. All of this windfall accrues to the landowner, despite rezoning being effected ostensibly for the common good. The canny landowner makes huge fortunes on the back of the common good.
Kenny proposed changing the system to statutorily value rezoned land as its agricultural price plus 25%. On the face of it this would go a small way to rebalancing power between vested interests and the common good.
Reportedly, the Kenny document was passed around the cabinet table. Somebody pointed out that there could be a constitutional problem over property rights. Nobody had the stomach to take on the vested interests of land owners and developers. Consequently, the Constitution was waved as exhibit A to protect the politicians from making difficult decisions that would discommode their friends and benefactors.
There was little further discussion and the report was shelved, where it lay until an all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution examined the issue and reported in 2004.
The committee found that in light of developments in case law over the previous 30 years it would now be “very difficult” to see any constitutional impediment to implementing it. In other words, here’s your chance lads to do something to rebalance the power between a vested interest and the common good.
Of course nothing was done. In 2004, the Bertie Ahern-led government had taken to genuflecting at the altar of the developer. There was no way there was going to be any interference in a market that was making overnight millionaires out of Fianna Fáil’s buddies, who in turn paid financial tribute to the party.
The Green Party attempted to do something about it by bringing in a 90% windfall tax on rezoned land, but once Fine Gael got into power that was dispensed with by Phil Hogan.
Today, in the throes of a real humanitarian crisis in housing, another politician is dusting down the Constitution as a defence for doing nothing.
A serious debate over what powers the government can invoke in what is effectively an emergency needs to take place. Honohan has suggested that the hoarding of residential property by vulture funds could be targeted.
Certainly, the hoarding of building land should be examined in a far more aggressive manner that it currently is. The continuing travesty of awarding land speculation through the rezoning — undertaken for the common good — has still not been addressed. All of these and other issues in relation to the constitutional provisions for private property have to be in the mix to find solutions to the crisis.
The day when a minister can simply wave the Constitution as a defence for not doing anything that might discommode a vested interest should be long gone by now.