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Friday, June 3, 2016

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali has passed away aged 74 years.

Muhammad Ali has died aged 74, a day after he was rushed to hospital with difficulty breathing. The legendary boxer died with his family at his side on Friday evening. It was earlier reported that Muhammad Ali's family had started making funeral arrangements after doctors warned that the legendary boxer was just hours from death. He was on life support at a hospital outside Phoenix, Arizona, after he was found 'barely breathing' at his home on Thursday. His reported respiratory problems were likely complicated by his Parkinson's disease.

John McGuinness should be cheered, not chided

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness has defended his decision not disclose his meeting with then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan,

The outrage expressed at the so-called “failure” of John McGuinness, the ex-chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, to disclose his meeting with the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in a car park in 2014 has been somewhat puzzling.
Since he revealed it in the Dáil, and it was first reported this day one week ago in this newspaper, McGuinness has come in for much criticism for choosing to disclose the meeting after the O’Higgins inquiry into Garda failures had reported.
From Cabinet ministers to the media, condemnation of Mr McGuinness’ decision to stay silent until last week has been relentless.

His alleged crimes are that: Firstly, he didn’t disclose the meeting to his then PAC colleagues at the time but also, more importantly, that he didn’t bring it to the attention of O’Higgins.
But let’s get a grip here.

Yes he can be abrasive and bristly, and sometimes he does not play well with others, but McGuinness has proven himself time and again to be his own man — a trait which is all too rare in Irish politics.
We are told that Mr McGuinness was summoned to this meeting by the Garda Commissioner at a time of great crisis and unrest in the police force. Amid talk of the committee preparing to take evidence from a serving member of An Garda Síochána, the establishment was up in arms in disgust.
As chairman of the PAC, he acquiesced to Mr Callinan’s request without knowing what was on the agenda.
He gave the Commissioner a hearing over the course of 20 to 30 minutes in the car park of Bewley’s Hotel (now the Maldron) on the Naas Road on January 24, 2014.
This was just 24 hours after Mr Callinan made his “disgusting” remark at the PAC to describe the actions of Sgt McCabe and his fellow whistleblower, John Wilson.
“On a personal level, I think it’s quite disgusting,” Mr Callinan told Independent TD Shane Ross at the tense and charged marathon meeting of the committee.

In the Dáil last week, Mr McGuinness said: “The Garda Commissioner confided in me in a car park on the Naas Road that Garda Maurice McCabe was not to be trusted and there were serious issues about him.
The vile stories that circulated about Sgt McCabe, which were promoted by senior officers in the Garda, were absolutely appalling. Because they attempted to discredit him, he had to bring forward various pieces of strong evidence to protect his integrity. During the course of that time, we have to recognise that the political establishment was of absolutely no help to him. Every effort was made to ensure that he would not appear before the Committee of Public Accounts.”

Once Mr Callinan had finished imparting his view to Mr McGuinness, the two men parted ways.
Given that there was such a campaign to besmirch the character of Sgt McCabe, such an intervention by the Garda Commissioner was not to be dismissed lightly. The easiest thing in the world for Mr McGuinness to do would have been to deny Sgt McCabe his outing and the establishment would have been put at ease.
But he didn’t.
The true test of 
Mr McGuinness was that, despite this overt pressure from Mr Callinan not to bring Sgt McCabe before his committee, he did exactly just that. In the teeth of being leant on by the most senior police officer in the country, Mr McGuinness fired ahead and took a leap in the dark and gave the maligned whistleblower his own outing just six days later in the bowels of Leinster House.
In anyone’s language, that takes balls.

To the point that he didn’t inform his fellow members of PAC, Mr McGuinness has argued this week, with some validity, that, had he done so, he risked placing the chances of Sgt McCabe appearing in jeopardy.
A leading member of the PAC at the time, Mary Lou McDonald, has defended Mr McGuinness’ decision to withhold the information, given the unrest engulfing the committee at the time.
She said there was “merit in the concern” expressed by Mr McGuinness that to reveal details of the meeting before Sgt McCabe gave his evidence to the PAC may have derailed the process, as there was “no appetite within the system to have Sgt McCabe appear before the committee”.
As to the point that he should have revealed the matter to the O’Higgins Commission, there is more of a legitimate argument to be made for that. Even Mr McGuinness himself accepted that his information may have added to the mix and helped Judge O’Higgins in his findings.

But, in defending his decision not to disclose it, Mr McGuinness said that he allowed the report by the O’Higgins Commission to proceed because he believed that Sgt McCabe would be exonerated.
“What has transpired after that, in leaked documents and so on, is the fact that the Garda Commissioner, it is reported, set out to destroy the credibility of Maurice McCabe and his integrity,” said Mr McGuinness.
“And because that happened, I felt that it had to be put on record that this meeting happened and during all of this time, there was an effort made at senior level within the force to undermine not only Maurice McCabe, but many others who have brought forward vital information into how their work is being done.”
The outspoken Fianna Fáil TD said that “serious questions remain unanswered, including is there a continued culture to cover up within the Garda force, the whistleblowers that are under siege in that force”.

However, he said he had “made the call having heard the O’Higgins report, and having listened to the debate that it was time to put on record a piece of proof that the culture within the force continued in the vein that militated against Sergeant Maurice McCabe”.
He told me this week that the main reason he did not inform O’Higgins was that he considered it, rightly or wrongly, to be outside the remit of the inquiry. At worst, even if he made a mistake on that, the criticism of him has allowed the focus to shift from the man who really should be under the spotlight. It is, surely, for Mr Callinan to explain exactly why he sought the meeting.

It is, surely, for the ex-Commissioner to confirm or deny the very serious charges levelled at him by McGuinness in the Dáil and in his subsequent media commentary on the matter.
So far, Mr Callinan has remained silent. All we have to go on is the unchallenged account, offered up by Mr McGuinness and confirmed by other sources, which paints the retired Commissioner in a poor light.
It merely bolsters the image conjured up by his use of the word “disgusting” to describe Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson one day before he met Mr McGuinness in that now infamous car park meeting.
Mr Callinan’s successor, current Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, has said she was unaware of the meeting.
She has had to try to convince the public that the force is now a changed place for those people willing to speak out. She faces two stern tests later this month when she goes before the new Policing Authority in public session.

Ultimately, this might not be a popular view on this topic, but I believe Mr McGuinness should be cheered, not chastised, for ignoring the will of the establishment by allowing Sgt McCabe a forum.
Daniel Mc Connell

Thursday, June 2, 2016

No parent can rest easy about Tusla’s unquestionable power

The apparently arbitrary power vested in the State’s child protection agency to take our children away from us is compounded by its power to review its own decisions, writes Margaret Hickey

 We are looking at a frightening scenario where state agencies are less answerable for the welfare of children than grandparents or parents.

It is almost like a throwback to a much discredited era where the prevailing ideology decided in its arrogance what was and was not a suitable milieu to raise a child. Time was when children were torn from their unmarried mothers — with family consent as often as not — because they were considered unfit to provide for their child.

The emotional violence visited on both mothers and children in our not-so-distant past is now rightly repudiated. But thinking has changed. Instead of breaking up families in difficulty, we support them. How ironic then that, in our more enlightened age, a whole new set of social arbiters can remove a child from the loving care of his natural family.
The decision of the State’s child protection agency, Tusla, to take a nine-year-old boy from the grandparents who had raised him from the age of four, is both bizarre and tragic, given the reasons for the decision.

Tusla saw fit to assess the grandparents as they would any applicants for foster parenting, completely factoring out their relationship to the child and the fact that they had provided him for more than half his life with the only stable home he had ever known.
That these were loving grandparents whose care and devotion were vouched for by the child’s school principal, the family GP, and a paediatric specialist did not weigh against the arbitrary box-ticking employed by Tusla.

It beggars belief that Tusla did not respond to such representations, and to the heartfelt appeals of the distraught grandparents, backed up with some two dozen court appearances. As a last resort, the grandparents have brought the issue into the public domain.
Independent deputy Mattie McGrath has made correspondence relevant to the case available to the press and has called on Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone to intervene in the matter.

The grandparents of the child were informed by Tusla that they would not be approved as foster parents because of age (they are in their mid-60s), safety concerns about the farm on which they lived, and their lack of engagement with the agency.
There was a further reference to concerns about the health of the grandmother even though her GP had stated she was well enough to look after her grandson.

All of these objections would carry weight if the child was unknown and unrelated to them, if they were strangers applying for approval to foster a child without the prior claims of blood and long-established loving relationship with the child.
One can only guess at the human trauma involved in this story. It is the kind of thing you hear about in totalitarian states. Our Irish version of totalitarianism is emerging from the inner folds of government, agencies, authorities and quangos, who have a semi-autonomy that allows government to plead inability to intervene when it suits them.

This case is the first widely known example of the arbitrary power over the lives of children that our Constitution and legislation now vests in the State’s child agency post the Children’s Referendum.
The fact that they have proved anything but trustworthy in the manner in which they care for genuinely vulnerable children does not dint their self-belief or their readiness to use to the full their powers under both Constitution and law.
These agencies can now decide, according to the prevailing prejudices, what constitutes a good nurturing environment for a child and the point at which a child may be removed from the family home.

This case suggests there is little or no regard for the ties of flesh and blood, or for the unique bond between children and grandparents. It is blind to the fact that the child was raised without misadventure through the far more demanding and dependent years between five and nine.

It is blind to the emotional trauma of sundering a child from the familiarity of not only his home and prime carers but his school, his friends and his neighbourhood.
While we can only guess at the dynamics involved, one suspects that the case was compounded by the officials involved rubbing the grandparents up the wrong way or vice versa.
Thwarted officialdom may have decided to flex its power to the full, with the young child becoming something of a pawn in a power struggle.

His interests were set aside because the protocols and procedures of bureaucracy were unable to follow their wonted course or because adults on both sides perhaps, were not prepared to put his best interest before pride and principle.
It will be interesting to see if Ms Zappone takes back Tusla’s power to review its own decisions as demanded by Deputy McGrath.

Because the really worrying thing in this case is not whether this particular decision was right or wrong, but that Tusla apparently has not exceeded its powers in the manner in which it acted. Numerous court applications taken by the grandparents appear to have established that.
Potentially, given the reasons for the decision taken in this case, no parent or loving custodian of a child can rest easy.

If the minister does not take the action called for, we are looking at a frightening scenario where state agencies are less answerable for the welfare of children than their own grandparents or even parents.

At the very least, Tusla’s power to review its own contested decisions must be taken from them.
Margaret Hickey

Zookeepers Aren’t The Biggest Threat To Gorillas. We Are!!

Humans are literally eating the animals out of existence.

An Ohio zoo’s decision to shoot and kill a gorilla after a child fell into its enclosure has sparked
a widespread debate about animal rights. But the heavy attention on the actions of a single zoo has obscured the real threat facing the great apes: us.
The death of the critically endangered western lowland gorilla, named Harambe, may result in criminal charges against the child’s family for negligence. The mother of the 4-year-old boy has been defended, as well as eviscerated over the incident. And activists have re-upped fierce campaigns against zoos and their captive residents.

But the blitz defensive Facebook posts and opinion pieces seems to have overshadowed — or perhaps suppressed — the very real fact that humans have long been driving every last gorilla in the wild to the brink of extinction.
In fact, humanity is essentially eating gorillas out of existence.

By far the biggest threat to all four subspecies of gorilla is the illegal hunting and consumption of the creatures for bushmeat in horrifically poor regions of Africa. A report released in April by the Wildlife Conservation Society found people openly talk about hunting the animals, regardless of conservation status, because they’re too poor to eat ethically sourced meat.

“Great apes are among the more highly prized species because of their relatively large size,” the report’s authors write.

Because of this horrifying trend, all remaining gorillas are now at a high risk of extinction as are eastern chimpanzees. The one subspecies not yet listed as critically endangered, the Grauer's gorilla, has seen a 77 percent decline in population in 20 years.
Now there are just 3,800 left.

This isn’t an unknown topic, and perhaps the widest-spread information about the plight came with the release of the documentary “Virunga,” distributed by Netflix and nominated for an Oscar last year. The film is named after a national park in central Africa, which is home to about half of the world's 700 remaining mountain gorillas. The film features the ongoing fight of park rangers to protect the famed animals as poachers and developers vie for natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In a bit of good news, the mountain gorilla subspecies is the only one actually on the rise, according to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, thanks in large part to intense conservation efforts spurred by such heavy scrutiny. For other populations, Grauer’s included, the luck ends there.

Despite these very real threats, media coverage often fails to mention the plight Harambe’s relatives face every day. Many other gorillas are snared, shot and hunted regularly, and there are only half-baked plans to set up defensive forces to protect them.
People will continue calling for criminal charges to be brought against the zoo employees tasked with defending the child. They’ll question the motives of his parents and analyze video footage that may or may not show whether Harambe was acting aggressively.
But there is perhaps a better way to spend that time and effort: become a champion for the animals still remaining in the wild, fighting for survival in a world set on their destruction.
If efforts to protect the gorillas of Virunga hold true, there is very real success to be had in an effort to save these creatures, an outcome many species have yet to be afforded.

Groups like the WCS, the World Wildlife Fund and primatologist Dian Fossey’s eponymous organisation are actively working to save these animals. Because, as cliche as it may be, there is still time to help.

But that won’t be the case forever.

Nick Visser

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Catholic Church spent $2M to block child-sex law reform

ALBANY NY — Not leaving it to divine chance, the state Catholic Conference has turned in recent years to some of Albany’s most well-connected and influential lobby firms to help block a bill that would make it easier for child sex abuse victims to seek justice.
The Catholic Conference, headed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, has used Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, Patricia Lynch & Associates, Hank Sheinkopf, and Mark Behan Communications to lobby against the child victims act as well as for or against other measures.
All told, the conference spent more than $2.1 million on lobbying from 2007 through the end of 2015, state records show. That does not include the conference’s own internal lobbying team.
Filings show the lobbyists were retained, in part, to work on issues associated with “statute of limitations” and “timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses.” Other issues included parochial school funding and investment tax credits.

“They are willing to spend limitless money in order to basically keep bad guys from being accountable for their actions,” said Melanie Blow, chief operations officer of the Stop Abuse Campaign. “I think they’re doing it because they don’t want to have to pay out settlements.”

Timothy Cardinal Dolan heads the state's Catholic Conference, which in recent years hired major lobby firms to block legislation designed to help child abuse victims seek justice. 

Added Kathryn Robb, an advocate and survivor who says she was abused by her brother as a 9-year-old: “If they need to spend that much money on lobbying, clearly, then, they have some pretty big secrets to hide.”
While a far cry from the millions in lobbying top special interests spend in Albany each year, advocates for child sex abuse survivors say the $2.1 million spent likely represents a worthwhile investment to the Catholic Conference if it can continue to block legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse civil cases and open a one-year window to bring lawsuits for victims who can no longer sue under current law.
The Catholic Conference has argued that opening a one-year window to revive old cases could ultimately bankrupt the Church.
The firms the Catholic Conference chose is also telling.

Wilson Elser has long been Albany’s biggest lobbying firm. The firm represented the Catholic Conference from at least 2007 through the end of 2015 and was paid more than $1 million during that time, according to online filings with the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
After several key people either left the firm or reduced their responsibilities, the Church did not renew the contract with Wilson Elser for 2016, sources said.
Wilson Elser, which was being paid $10,000 a month by the Catholic Conference, had no comment.
In its place, state records show, the Catholic Conference hired another prominent firm, Greenberg Traurig, which it is paying $6,000-a-month. The lobbyist from the firm representing the Church is Michael Murphy, who used to be an assistant counsel for the Senate Republicans.

The Senate GOP opposes the one-year “lookback” window that Democrats are calling for.
The Catholic Church, some Orthodox Jewish groups, and other private entities oppose legislation by assemblywoman,Margaret Markey (D-Queens) and Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) that would eliminate the time limit that prohibits adults who were victimized as children from bringing civil cases after their 23rd birthdays.
Another top firm, Patricia Lynch & Associates, whose namesake had close ties to now disgraced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was hired by the Catholic Conference in 2009. Lynch’s firm for many years was ranked in the top 3 of well-paid lobbyists.
Lynch’s hiring by the Catholic Conference came after the Assembly passed different versions of the Child Victims Act four times from 2006 to 2008. The measure never came up again for a vote after Lynch was hired.

“Once Ms. Lynch lobbied for the Catholic Conference, Mr. Silver’s support for our bill ended, and the bill did not come out of the Assembly’s Codes Committee ... which as speaker, he controlled,” John Aretakis, a former lawyer and an advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse, wrote in a scathing letter recently to a judge handling Silver's recent criminal sentencing.

State lobbying records show the firm’s contract with the Catholic Conference was terminated earlier this year, not long after Lynch was outed in court papers as having had an affair with Silver.
Silver was sentenced earlier this month to 12 years in prison after his conviction on federal corruption charges.
Lynch, whose firm was being paid $7,500-a-month, would only say her contract with the Catholic Conference was ended by “mutual consent.”

Sheinkopf, meanwhile, has had close ties with Gov. Cuomo, the former leadership of the Senate Democrats when they were in control of the chamber, and even the Senate Republicans.
Like the others who were hired by the Catholic Conference, he would not discuss the specifics about what he does for the $5,000-a-month he is being paid.
“They like me,” he said. “They think I’m smart.”
In an email, Catholic Conference spokesman Dennis Poust wouldn’t comment directly on his organization’s lobbying efforts. He also would not comment on the reasoning behind why specific lobbying firms were chosen.

“The Catholic Conference lobbies on many issues, from assisted suicide to farm worker rights to school choice to criminal justice reform,” Poust said.
He said the conference’s lobbying activity is in full compliance with the law and is reported, as required, to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

“As such it is all a matter of public record,” Poust said. “We have no further comment beyond that.”
Kenneth Lovett

Largest act of larceny against Irish people

We don’t own our natural resources under Article 10 of the Constitution. It needs to be repealed, but is there anyone with the bottle to take it on, asks Eddie Hobbs

Irish naval vessel LÉ Róisín on a routine maritime security operations patrol off Rockall, 230 nautical miles northwest of Bloody Foreland, Co Donegal

Atlantic, narrated by the feral voice of Brendan Gleeson, is the second in a remarkable series of evocative films by Risteard O’Domhnaill who, starting with The Pipe, charted the story of Rossport tucked behind the dunes amid the sentinel cliffs of Erris Head and Broadhaven Bay.
Pulling the camera lens high above the dramatic coastline and its Corrib gas pipeline, Atlantic brings the audience the story of the North Atlantic itself and the battle between local and international corporations — a struggle, at its heart, between individuals and closely bound communities and those who are lobbied, in national government and in Brussels.

The film, now screening to audiences throughout the country, hits deep, interweaving the common issues between the peoples of Newfoundland, Norway, and Ireland, and telling the story of how each fared in the struggle to retain ownership and control of natural resources, against the backdrop of the huge decline in fishing stocks from industrialisation by massive fleets and the tension between sonic booming from oil explorers and the marine ecosystem.
It brings the wild, beautiful and bountiful Atlantic to the viewer in a manner not achieved on film before, rekindling a sense of stewardship, lost since Ireland chose to join the EEC and, it appears, sacrificed its fishing grounds and coastal communities, to protect its inland.
The territory of Ireland extends nearly half ways across the North Atlantic. It is an area six times our land mass within which we are entitled to fishing stocks in low digits and under which we’ve given away the rights to hydrocarbons, ever since Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke, unaccompanied by civil servants in meetings with oil and gas explorers in 1987, reversed the actions taken by Justin Keating in the 1970s.

The Labour minister had mimicked those of far-sighted Norwegian politicians in their struggle against multinational explorers. Atlantic revisits the clash between the people’s rights to a fair share of rents from natural resources and powerful business interests aligned against them by telling the story of how Newfoundland stood up to the landlocked Canadian capital of Ottawa and the big oil lobby to secure the type of share Keating had once won.
Despite the fury surrounding the water debate, few in Ireland still grasp how the Irish people are, uniquely in Europe, alienated from their own natural resources — in short, we don’t own them.

That means the fish in our seas, the hydrocarbons underneath, the wind that blows across the land and the fresh water that flows through it, are not owned by the Irish people.
In what is, arguably the largest act of larceny in our short history, Dev’s 1937 Constitution, reversed the 1922 Constitution and passed ownership of all natural resources from the ancient Irish people to the recently founded State under Article 10, then made its trusteeship unchallengeable in the courts.
The divide between the self-preservation of the State and its privileges and the Irish people only comes into sharp focus when there is an existential economic crisis, such as the last one which we entered at a low debt of just 23% of GDP.

A fresh global economic crisis, the likelihood of which currently is probably about one in seven, would catch Ireland, this time, at debt levels four times higher, while governed by a minority administration now holding all of its water in a single corporate entity.
At a fundamental level, the decision facing Britain in June is about whether the British people wish to regain the right to eject all those who govern them every few years or to continue to deposit many aspects of sovereignty to an unelected EU Commission, a decision in many ways about what modern citizenship means.

Stop anyone in the street today and ask them to describe how EU government works or to identify its key leaders and you’ll be met with blank stares but show a photo of two TDs dancing on a Pajero outside Leinster House and they’ll be identified in an instant, one set unknown but with huge powers, the other well known, but with none.
Until and unless the Irish people demand the return of all our natural resources by overturning Article 10, we remain captive not just to the uncomfortable trade-offs in the ongoing EU existential struggle, but also to a State polity that will do just about anything to preserve its privileges.

Irish viewers leaving Atlantic do so, invariably, angry but still not grasping that they’ve just watched a film, not about their natural resources but those of the State. RTÉ, who chose not to broadcast the multi-award winning The Pipe, may yet decide that Atlantic is safer fare, but will the state broadcaster then commission a series of current affairs treatments about the whale in the swimming pool, the alienation of the Irish people from their natural resources? What do you think?

Eddie Hobbs 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Garda corrupted by sloppiness, indiscipline and vindictiveness

If you read the O’Higgins report, you will find that at the bottom of so many of its case histories is sheer fecklessness

There is no disciplinary action arising from the O’Higgins report and none from the Clare Daly affair. 

If you landed in an unknown country and wanted to know what it was like, one of the key questions you’d ask is: are innocent people afraid of the police? The answer would tell you a lot about whether you were in a decent and well-ordered society. For most people in most countries the answer would be “yes”. The police are corrupt and bad cops act with impunity. Ireland is one of the fortunate countries where this has not been the case. Compared even with the UK or the US, we’ve had very few police scandals. And maybe this is why we’ve drifted steadily and complacently towards a situation in which the answer to that key question is no longer an emphatic “no”.

There are different kinds of police corruption. There are deep-seated systems of bribery in which the police are bought by criminal gangs and cops become robbers with badges. There is no evidence that this has happened on any large scale in Ireland. There are also cultures of institutionalised racism, endemic in the US and historically prevalent in some forces in the UK. We have limited evidence of that here. And there are massive, decades-long cover-ups like the one that stemmed from the Hillsboro disaster in England. There’s no equivalent in recent Irish history.

But there are other kinds of corruption. One definition of corrupt is “changed from the naturally sound condition, especially by decomposition or putrefaction”. An Garda Síochàna may be naturally sound but it has been slowly putrefying. Three forces have been eating away at its integrity: sloppiness, indiscipline and vindictive defensiveness.
The least spectacular form of corruption is people not bothering their arses to do their jobs properly. If you read the O’Higgins report, you will find that at the bottom of so many of its case histories is sheer fecklessness – guards who don’t take their responsibilities seriously. No one suggests that these guards are typical, but neither were they so egregiously untypical that their superiors reacted to their fecklessness with outrage and urgency.

This is where the second element comes in – indiscipline. Police should be subjected to the tightest disciplinary regime in the public service. The evidence suggests the Garda’s regime may in fact be the loosest. We can judge this by reactions to the same breach of public trust in different public institutions.
Over the past decade, we’ve had cases in theDepartment of Social Protection, in the Revenue and in the Garda of individuals accessing sensitive personal data without legitimate professional reasons. The welfare officials who did this were issued personal warnings. The Revenue officials were downgraded and barred from seeking promotions for two years. These punishments are arguably too light, but at least wrists were slapped.

Disturbing level of abuse
And the Garda? We know that abuse of personal data has been widespread. The Data Protection Commissioner’s 2014 audit of the Garda, for example, revealed a “particularly disturbing” level of abuse of the Pulse recording system. The audit looked at a random sample of Pulse files relating to public figures. Every single one had been “inappropriately accessed” – 100 per cent of the sample.

The case of Clare Daly TD is even worse. A politician who has been critical of the guards was wrongfully suspected of drink-driving. Details of her arrest were leaked, almost certainly by gardaí, to journalists. The Pulse record of her arrest was accessed over the subsequent hours by 24 different gardaí, including one from as far away as Newbridge who claimed to have a “particular interest in traffic-related incidents”. One detective garda used this information to send abusive tweets to Clare Daly. Each garda can be identified from the Pulse system. Yet no action has been taken against any of them. Gardaí, in other words, are being held to even lower standards of discipline than other public officials. This systematic failure to impose discipline was exacerbated by vindictive defensiveness.

Systematic campaign
The full extent of the internal campaign against whistleblower Maurice McCabe is still unclear. But on current evidence it seems to have worked through many levels of the force, ranging from attempts to frame him as an incompetent cop who lost a computer, to an attempt to prove him a malicious liar, to the spreading at the highest levels of rumours he was guilty of some unspecified, “vile” crimes. This looks like a systematic campaign to destroy a good cop. Again it seems there has been no serious internal investigation.

This brings us back to that question: do innocent people have reason to be afraid of the police? Clare Daly was innocent. Maurice McCabe was innocent. And as things stand, it seems gardaí can not only take it on themselves to destroy reputations but do so with complete individual impunity. There is no disciplinary action arising from the O’Higgins report and none from the Clare Daly affair. The present commissioner has shown deep reluctance to investigate the attempts to destroy McCabe. People with that level of impunity must always be feared.
Fintan O' Toole

Monday, May 30, 2016

£21,000 turned into £2m: How to invest like George Frideric Handel

£21,000 turned into £2m: How to invest like George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel in a painting by Denner: he started with shares but switched to bonds CREDIT: 

Most of the giants of investment we have profiled in this series (such as George Soros, Sir John Templeton and JD Rockefeller) devoted their working lives to the subject. One or two, however, achieved greatness in unrelated areas – and were successful investors in their spare time.
One such was George Frideric Handel, whose compositions include the Water Music and Messiah.
We know a great deal about Handel’s approach because detailed records survive of his dealings with his bank and the custodian of his financial assets – which in both cases was, surprisingly from a modern standpoint, the Bank of England.

But, for whatever reason, this seems to have been the first and only time he owned shares. It was not the last time he invested in the South Sea Company, however. The bursting of the bubble in South Sea shares in 1720 led to a public outcry and pressure from the government for investors to be compensated.
This involved, among other things, the conversion of half of South Sea’s shares into bonds. These bonds were called, confusingly for us today, “annuities”, but unlike current annuities, the fixed income that they paid was perpetual. The conversion took place in June 1723 and the new South Sea Annuities were to pay 5pc annual interest until 1727, when the rate would fall to 4pc.
Although the South Sea Company had started life as a notionally private venture, the involvement of the government and the Bank of England in its restructuring meant its bonds or “annuities” were in effect backed by the state – so they were the equivalent of modern-day gilts.
Handel was therefore getting a decent return of 5pc on what had become a very safe investment, and he seems to have wasted no time in buying them. The Bank’s records show that he bought £150 worth on the day after the bonds’ creation. The Bank’s records deal only in the “par” value  of the bonds, however, not the market value, although the price is likely to have been within a penny or two of the £1 par value.  

Glimpse of the past: detailed records survive of Handel’s financial dealings  CREDIT: COURTESY OF THE BANK OF ENGLAND ARCHIVE 

But what was the value of money in Handel’s time? According to, which offers various means to compare past and present values, £1 in 1723 was worth about £140 today on the basis of the cost of a basket of various goods. This would make Handel’s £150 purchase worth about £21,000 in today’s money.
The composer traded in and out of South Sea Annuities a good deal in the following years, although this activity seems to have yielded little profit.
For example, on March 17 1724, in the midst of the first run of his opera Giulio Cesare, Handel bought £100 of stock, selling it seven weeks later on May 5 at a loss of 10 shillings (roughly 0.5pc). In November 1775 he had built up his balance to £600, but by June the following year he had emptied the account again, incurring a loss of £62 13s 6d.
To these losses have to be added the costs of trading, which at that time consisted of a fixed tax of 7s 9d and a fee of 0.125pc on each stock transaction, in addition to a broker’s commission of about 0.5pc. 

Then there was the time and trouble involved in the transactions: in those days the rules required the investor to visit the Bank of England in person if he wished to trade. Handel would normally take a horse-drawn carriage from his home in Brook Street, Mayfair, to the City.
By 1732 he had again sold all his bonds, presumably to fund the staging of his operas, and he did not return to the market for 10 years. But from 1743 until his death in 1759, his portfolio only increased in size.
He invested £1,500 (nominal) in South Sea Annuities on May 2 1743 and by his death owned a total of £17,000 worth of bonds, although he had by that time switched to 3pc “consolidated” government bonds.

However, the market value of £100 in these bonds at the time of his death was £80, so his holding was worth £14,044 – which is about £2m in today’s money. His income from the bonds would have been about £500 a year (worth about £71,000 now).
What lessons can we draw from this story? It could be said that Handel made some mistakes and was lucky not to suffer more severely as a result.
First, when he invested in South Sea shares, he was making the classic investor’s mistake of failing to diversify: buying individual shares is inherently risky and this was a time of fevered innovation and speculation in an immature and relatively unregulated market.
The second error was trading in and out of his bonds. While government bonds tend not to fluctuate greatly in price, limiting the risk of serious losses, the composer was still making the mistake of using an investment account like a bank account – as a source of funds for everyday needs.

He would have been better holding money for these purposes in cash, thereby avoiding the fees and taxes that he had to pay on his bond trading, and reserving his bond accounts for money that he could safely leave alone for years.
But these criticisms of the composer’s decisions have to be set against the great virtue of a consistent savings habit and his choice of asset.

At a time when systematic analysis of shares was unknown and the stock market was far less sophisticated than it is today, the sensible course for an investor in Handel’s position was surely to stick to the rock-solid reliability of bonds issued or backed by the British government, especially as he could get a reasonable rate of interest.
What was the South Sea Bubble?
Founded in 1711, the South Sea Company was promised a monopoly on trade with Spanish South American colonies by the British in exchange for taking over the national debt raised by the War of Spanish Succession.

But the trade concessions turned out to be less valuable than hoped. In January 1720, when the company’s shares stood at £128, the directors circulated false claims of success and  in February the share price rose to £175.
The following month the company convinced the government to allow it to assume more of the national debt in exchange for its shares . With investor confidence mounting, the share price had climbed to about £330 by the end of March.
The South Sea Company was part of a wider flurry of speculation . Newly floated firms were seen as appearing like bubbles: 1720 was sometimes described as the “bubble year”.
In June, Parliament, at the behest of the South Sea Company, passed the Bubble Act, which required all shareholder-owned companies to receive a royal charter. The South Sea Company received its charter, seen as a vote of confidence in the company, and at the end of June its share price reached £1,050.

But investors started to lose confidence in early July and by September the shares had plummeted to £175, devastating investors.
How Isaac Newton fared in the South Sea Bubble

Sir Issac Newton also invested in shares in the South Sea Company, but unlike Handel was still a shareholder when the bubble burst.

In fact, Newton invested twice. He bought first in the summer of 1719, just as the bubble was getting going, and sold just months later having almost doubled his money.

Richard Evans

Tim Brannigan: a real black Irish republican

When Tim Brannigan was born his mother persuaded a doctor to declare him a stillbirth. Then she gave him to an orphanage – coming back a year later to ‘adopt’ the son she couldn’t admit she’d had. After that he had a normal IRA-safe-house childhood

When Tim Brannigan(above) was 19 he found out who he really was. Growing up as a black kid in 1970s west Belfast, he already knew he was different. He had been adopted as a baby, he believed. But it turned out the person who “adopted” him was his own mother, Peggy. As he tells it in his memoir, Where Are You Really From?, it is an extraordinary narrative of secrecy, desperation and deep, unbreakable devotion, played out against the flaming backdrop of the Troubles. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that Hollywood can see its cinematic potential. Brannigan recently sold the film rights to his life story to the Oscar-winning producer John Lesher, and scripting will soon be under way.
“Mum told me everything on July 13th, 1985,” Brannigan says. He remembers the date clearly because it was the day of Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s televised music fundraiser for famine relief in Ethiopia. The family had decamped to an uncle’s holiday house in Cushendall, Co Antrim, to escape the Twelfth parades in Belfast. “The drink was flowing, and my mum was sitting there with a glass in her hand,” says Brannigan. “She started asking me what I wanted to do when I got my A levels. Suddenly she said, ‘Your father was a doctor.’ ”

That didn’t make sense. As far as Tim knew his adoptive father was Tom Brannigan, a delivery man and sometime showband singer, whom he describes as a chancer. “He had plenty of opportunities to fly his kite, and he did.”
“Get ready,” Peggy said. “First of all, you’re not adopted.” Shocked, Tim began to weep. “Don’t cry,” his mother whispered. “People will think I’m shouting at you. And don’t tell them, or I’ll bust your face!”

Ghanaian doctor
Peggy Brannigan met Tim’s real father, a Ghanaian doctor named Michael Ekue in 1965, at a dance hall in Belfast. “She was out on the town with her friends, and this black man came over to them,” says Brannigan. “When I say black, he was really black, west African black, and he stood at about 6ft 3in. One of the women said, ‘I’m not dancing with a nigger.’ ” Outraged at the casual racism of the remark, Peggy waited until it was ‘ladies’ choice’, walked over and invited Michael on to the dance floor herself. That was the start of their affair, and soon Peggy was horrified to find herself expecting a child.

“It was an exhausting, tension-filled pregnancy,” says Brannigan. “She wasn’t sleeping with her husband, so she knew the baby would be born black.”
Instead of going to her local hospital Peggy delivered her son in a clinic in east Belfast, where she managed to persuade a doctor to declare the child stillborn. “He came out and announced to the family, ‘She’s lost the baby.’ Years later I asked my uncle, ‘How did you not know?’ He said, ‘It was the 1960s. If a man walked out of a hospital with a white coat and a stethoscope round his neck, you believed him.’”
Tim was hidden in a room down the corridor, then whisked off to a Belfast orphanage, Nazareth Lodge, and given into the care of the nuns. But his entry in the home’s official ledger, which Brannigan eventually saw in 2006, was marked “not for adoption”. Peggy always knew that she was coming back for her son, and a year later she did. “All of her family and friends believed I would make up for the child Mum had ‘lost’,” Brannigan says.

Peggy’s adopted son was treated very differently from his four brothers. Conscious of the hostility he was likely to face, and desperate to protect him from it, she held Tim fiercely to account for all his actions.
“She would always be spitting on her cuff, rubbing my face, keeping me clean and tidy. She checked my homework every Sunday night, and she often made me rewrite it,” Brannigan says. “One time, when I was little, she caught me peeing in the garden, and she dragged me in and slapped me round the legs. She said she didn’t want white people seeing me doing that.”

One of his early memories of his mother is lying in bed, listening to her raised voice floating up from downstairs. “The Troubles were at their height, and there was this sense of excitement: you could feel it in the house; something was happening. We were an IRA safe house. There would be whispers, a knock at the door, and six men would go upstairs to an empty bedroom. Mum would tell us, ‘Don’t be saying anything in the street.’ ”
Brannigan also recalls IRA training sessions in the family home, where he still lives today. “This guy lay on the kitchen floor with his rifle poking out the back door. He fired a couple of shots, and the noise was ferocious in the house. It gave me butterflies. It sickened me.”
Brannigan graduated from Liverpool Polytechnic with a degree in politics in July 1990 and returned to Belfast shortly afterward. By October he had been arrested, and he ended up serving a seven-year sentence for possession of guns and explosives. Among several hundred IRA prisoners, he was the only black man.

Long Kesh
He remembers his time in Long Kesh when his home comes under attack from local thugs, as it sometimes does, especially in summer. Last August he had to leave the house at 3am, on the advice of the police, after windows were smashed by bricks and stones. “As an Irish republican who did seven years in the H blocks, to be forced out of your west Belfast house . . .” Brannigan shakes his head. “I’m a socialist. More of a socialist than a republican, really.”
But Brannigan can laugh about some experiences. He’s a soccer fan, and when watching the game at the pub he sometimes overhears racist language about players. “You hear someone going, ‘Shh, Tim’s behind us.’ Then they come over, buying me pints, saying that Bob Marley’s their favourite artist, telling me I’m a legend. I’m not a legend. I’m just an arsehole like everyone else.”
Peggy died of a brain tumour in 2004. Brannigan took a year off to look after her. In 2007 he tracked down his father in Ghana. “We met at a hotel, because he didn’t want us to go near the house. It was absolutely amazing. He was an impressive man, striking to look at it, wearing a long west African tunic over ordinary trousers and shoes. He’d been working with the UN on finding a cure for malaria. I asked him how he met Mum, and he said that was a very personal question. But you’re my father, I thought. There’s not a family on the planet that doesn’t tell that story.”

After the meeting Brannigan received birthday cards from his Ghanaian family, with messages from the children, saying “Uncle Tim, we can’t wait to see you.” But after a while the cards stopped, and now Brannigan has no contact with his father again.
The morning after Peggy Brannigan told her son the real story of his birth she disappeared. “She wasn’t in bed, and we drove round Cushendall looking for her,” Tim says. “We found her with her shoes in her hand, walking towards Belfast. She was ferociously angry when she got into the car. Later, in 2000, I asked her, ‘Why did you tell me then? What was it about that day?’ ”
“Too much vodka”, she replied.
By Finola Meredith