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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Jack O’Shea: How New Street turf lit my fire

Kerry's Jack O'Shea launches one upfield in the 1975 All-Ireland SFC final against Dublin at Croke Park. Picture: Connolly Collection/Sportfile

The All-Ireland football final salutes the past, celebrates the present and takes a peek at the future. Ahead of the senior game, old warriors parade on the turf where once they were kings. Prior to that, tomorrow’s men from Galway and Kerry grace the minor match, in the curtain-raiser for a day that cherishes continuity.
And it is that melding of continuity, tradition and community that makes the association unique. Few organisations anywhere in the world can lay claim to such an elevated perch in the national psyche.
The essence of those three ingredients of the association was doled out in nourishing helpings recently when former fooballing great, Jack O’Shea, gave a talk in the clubhouse of St Mary’s of Caherciveen, Co Kerry. There was both eating and drinking in what he had to say.

O’Shea was there as part of the Daniel O’Connell Summer School, a local hero ostensibly detailed to talk about a glittering career which had yielded seven senior All-Irelands and four Player of the Year awards.
Instead, he spoke not of what he had achieved, but what he owed. If, as the old African saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, then Jacko outlined how it took a town to mould a footballer for the ages.
“When I look out here,” he said standing at the top of the packed function room, “and I think of the medals I won, I see so many faces who were part of those medals, people who I played with, who administered me. People whose homes I entered”. He was, he claimed “an ordinary Joe Soap” who was born “without a silver spoon”.
“It was a tough upbringing but everybody in Caherciveen stood by us, we were accepted and that played a big part in my career. We didn’t have a TV in our home. I used to go to several homes in New Street to watch TV.”

Jack O’Shea playing against Clare in 1992

He threw out the names. Br Keating, who, on a visit home from Africa, brought him and his friends to Killarney to watch Kerry for the first time. Paddy Murphy, who trained him at various underage levels. What he remembered about Paddy was how he had managed to pour eight or nine of them into a Renault 4 to strike out across South Kerry to matches.
There was Junior Murphy. When Jacko was starting out as a plumber soon after leaving school, Junior would leave his car open outside the girls’ school where he taught, for Jacko to use as transport for his tools. And Frank O’Leary, who, long after Jacko had left the town, wrote him a good luck card before every big Kerry game.
He mentioned his mother, his five sisters, his whole family and the family beyond in the community.
“I would never have achieved anything but for the people who grew up with me,” he said.
And what a childhood it was. He may have missed out on the silver spoon, but what he had was pure gold.
“All through my youth there was a competitiveness there,” he said. “I was competing all the time, out of school, racing, everybody competing. I grew up with that aspiration. I was trying to do my best. I was never lazy.
“When turf was delivered to somebody on New Street, I ‘d be the first out to put it in.”
Then there was the drag hunting he used to go on with his father, up and down the mountains, through the fields, endless hours on his feet. His career on the pitch was never blighted by injury, and he ascribed that not to luck but a childhood of constant motion, challenging all that nature and the elements had to throw at him.
“I feel a part of everybody, and everything I achieved I achieved for you, every family. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise, I’m very fortunate.”
The floor was opened to the memories of others, and from the back of the hall, another candidate for the pantheon, Maurice Fitzgerald, gave his tuppence worth.
Just as Jacko had spoken of fetching balls for his childhood heroes, Mick, O’Dywer and Mick O’Connell, so Maurice worshipped at the feet of his close neighbour, Jacko.

“As I child growing up, nine, 10, 11 years of age, it was the way he wore his socks, the way he curled his togs down, every single thing about him. I wanted to be like Jacko,” Fitzgerald said.
The memories spilling out across the room threw the present into sharp relief. Without minimising the major negatives which blighted this country in past decades, there is also room to reflect on what has been lost. How many children today get the opportunities that Jacko thrived on? As the country grows increasingly urbanised, childhood freedoms are curtained, parental anxiety replaces trust, the open prairies have been fenced off in the name of security.

Other changes have been wrought which throw down challenges to the sense of community in rural Ireland in particular. New Street, where O’Shea and Fitzgerald grew up, flickers where once it burned brightly. I remember the street as a bustling hub. Many of my school friends lived there and, as might be expected, they always fielded the best players in street leagues.
Today, much of New Street stands empty. During the summer one woman who lives there related to me that somebody had come home from abroad and moved in a few doors down.
“It’s great,” she said. “When I’m going to bed now I can see there’s another light on in the street.” So it goes with thousands of voids around the country. These are the unoccupied homes in towns and villages, once built in all the right places, until time’s brutal expediency has rendered them no further use.
But wait, who’s that out there shooing away the ghosts. As the talk ended, and everybody poured out of the clubhouse into late August’s slanting sun, a figure could be seen out on the pitch, kicking balls in languid arcs over the bar.

There he stood, Bryan Sheehan, another Mary’s man who was wearing Kerry colours, practicing — 48 hours before he would take to the field in Croke Park against Dublin.
Sheehan had been too absorbed in the present to know that the past was being chewed over in the clubhouse. As he addressed another ball, and raised his eyes to take in its projected flight, young children stood behind the goal, waiting in attendance on the latest local to occupy a gilded lineage, wanting to be Bryan Sheehan.
The big wheel keeps on turning.

Gratitude to Stephen O’Shea, Caherdaniel for recording Jack O’Shea’s talk and alleviating my regret for not doing so.
Michael Clifford

Do you complain effectively or indignantly?

Most businesses prefer to know if their customers are dissatisfied. It's said you'll tell one person about good service, but five people about bad. 

We're told we're a nation of begrudgers and it's true, we love nothing more than a bit of a gossip, especially if it's bad news. But when it comes to complaining properly about something we're unhappy about, do we really know how to do it effectively or do we just want to have a rant?
Most businesses prefer to know if their customers are dissatisfied. It's said you'll tell one person about good service, but five people about bad. So, rather than stonewall complainants, many organisations prefer to handle them - it's better for business. But if you find you haven't received proper service or bought something which doesn't work, it's important to know your rights before you kick off.

Purchases fall under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980 and EC Directive 99/44 and revisions. This determines that goods must be of merchantable quality, do what they say and are as described. If not, you are entitled to repair, replacement or a refund. These rights hold firm even on discounted goods, unless they are clearly marked as damaged. However, you have no rights at all if you simply change your mind. You will be reliant on the store's goodwill.
If your complaint is over a breach of legislation, such as discrimination under the Equality Act, or a Government body which didn't provide a service (eg. a medical card, or housing), then you may have even stronger laws on your side, but complaining effectively may take time.

For the most common type of complaint - a faulty good - if you believe you have a valid reason to return it, the first place to complain is with the retailer or service provider. Some will attempt to send you off to the manufacturer, but you should stand your ground. The store/provider you gave your money to is the one with whom you have a contract. It is incumbent on them to fix the problem, not their supplier. Remind them of this obligation by quoting the Act.

Secondly, speak to someone empowered to help - there is no point yelling at the receptionist. Find out who is in charge. If that doesn't work, write to the company's head office, calling first to identify the customer services manager or general manager to ensure your letter goes to the correct department. Some companies are reluctant to receive official complaints by email, but you can certainly try.

Enclose/attach details and proof of your case, eg. receipt, outline of complaint and, crucially, what you want to happen and by when. Many people give out to a company without saying what exactly they expected and now want.
If that is unsuccessful, the next step is to find out if there is a regulatory body, arbitration service or guild to which the company belongs. In Ireland, we have a range of regulators for financial institutions, communications (eg. phone, broadband, TV providers), energy and others. There are statutory bodies dealing with discrimination issues such as the Equality Authority or a breach of government or state services - the Ombudsman's office. Some trades have their own mediation system, for example, SIMI, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry operates a successful service for complaints.

Failing all that, it may be necessary to revert to Court. The Small Claims Court ( handles claims up to €2,000 for a fee of €25. It is also quite speedy, and, in many cases, once the offending company hears of the action, it can act as an effective mind concentrator to settle. If they ignore the court's complaint, you automatically win.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, set up 14 months ago, is the body charged with investigating and enforcing complaints against Irish companies (

The top 10 companies with the most complaints are Eir, Vodafone and Three taking the dubious honour at the top of the table, which also features Virgin, Meteor, Harvey Norman and Currys.

If you're buying online, your rights are even stronger, as the law gives credence to the fact you don't have the opportunity to see or touch the goods first. Therefore, your right to return an item and get a refund extend to 'change of mind' for 14 days. There are some exceptions such as perishable items (food) and customised goods, and some less obvious ones like ticket sales and hotel bookings.

Never take bad service, or faulty goods lying down. Fighting works!
Sinead Ryan

Honest Jim Stafford

Those of you who are unemployed, on low income, frightened, still paying or have cleared the mortgage, have a beat-up car, are low or middle working-class, non-professional and believe we are all still equal, please read on:
Honest Jim on the right (perception?)

If you thought that Jim Stafford, a Personal Insolvency Practitioner (PIP), was talking from an elitist point of view when he said professionals were cases that should be accorded a special place in society when it comes to insolvency and may need bigger houses than PAYE workers, this was no self-delusion. Apart from being on the chartered accountants' 'ethics' committee, he wrote the syllabus for the diploma for the insolvency course itself. He once said all of this on RTE radio to Mary Wilson a couple of years ago. Afterwards, he tried to distance himself from those comments.
"It was not my intention to offend," he said. The usual apology followed. 
The 'professional' government agency involved said: "The professional standing of a borrower is not expected to be a factor in this assessment." 

Of course it is, and it will continue to be. Harry Slowey, a former director of the long-departed Bank of Scotland and now a PIP adviser above all things, said this: "The ability to generate work is all about perception, profile and confidence. If a partner in a top law firm is suddenly driving around in a Fiat Bambino, that will affect their work – it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Anyone who still believes there is equal law for professionals and non-professionals should note that Stafford, finding his voice when he should have stayed quiet, said: "Personal insolvency laws do not work for people with low or no incomes."
He added that his firm turns away four out of five people hoping to settle their debts under the state system because "these people can't afford to deal with the banks" or indeed him. He also reserved a comment for those out of work who certainly could not afford to consult him: "People on welfare have only one option – borrow €15,000 from family and friends and try to do a deal with a lender."He leaves out any mention how the borrower can afford to pay back family or 'friends' that soon would become enemies.
Apart from the fact that most honest working class people can't afford Stafford or Slowey in the first place, how can any professional people afford them? After all, they're supposed to be insolvent. 

Slowey had got it right for the con-men are still busily conning. It was never ever about real work in the end and always and only about that fragile and false perception, profile and confidence – and at least looking professional. All the hallmarks for deception you could ask for and is the core reason why the citizens of Ireland are floundering in debt and will continue to do so for they have doing little or nothing about the conmen so far.

Barry Clifford 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What have the British ever done for us? Quite a lot

It is clear Ireland and Britain are totally different – except for our language, food, books, education, legal systems, humour and weather

When President Michael D Higgins made his successful State visit to the UK in 2014, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a cheerful press release.
“Culture is at the heart of the British-Irish relationship,” it opened. “Irish writers, performers and artists continue to develop and thrive in Britain, while British music, television and sport are popular across Ireland. ”
All quite true, but the choice of words was also telling. Britain is a place of opportunity for Irish artistic talent, while Ireland represents an enthusiastic and lucrative market for the British entertainment and culture industries.
These implicit assumptions of an unequal relationship go back a long way and, to a large extent, they simply reflect the realities of the differing scales of the two countries’ respective cultural marketplaces.

But they have also been fiercely contested for a long time.
Ireland’s cultural relationship with Britain has been a source of double-think at home and confusion abroad since the foundation of the State.
It hasn’t stopped people trying, but it’s hard to argue that, culturally speaking, the Irish and the English are totally different.
Unless you ignore the language we speak, the food we eat, the books and newspapers we read, the buildings we construct, our legal and educational systems, our sense of humour, our taste in clothes and the weather we stoically endure, we clearly have a lot in common.
Hundreds of thousands of us live over there and hundreds of thousands of them live over here.
In both cases, assimilation is seamless to the point of invisibility.
Whatever prejudices and tensions existed 40 years ago, on both sides, have eased or disappeared with the ending of the Troubles, and increasing economic parity between the two countries.
We’ve always been intertwined and, if anything, we’re becoming more so.
Which may explain why we in Ireland put so much effort into denying the fact.

Trashy and immoral
“Everywhere you turn, you see both emulation of the English and a desire, sometimes desperate, for distinction,” American writer  Michael Lewis  wrote in an article for Vanity Fair in 2011.
“The Irish insistence on their Irishness – their conceit that they’re more devoted to their homeland than the typical citizen of the world is – has an element of bluster about it, from top to bottom.”
Lewis was describing the few token words of Irish used by politicians at the outset of speeches.
Those cúpla focail are a ritualised nod to Douglas Hyde’s 1892 essay The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland, which explicitly stated a a rejection of English culture was an essential part of an Irish national revival.
The Gaelic revival which Hyde led changed Ireland in many ways, as well as providing the philosophical underpinning for the achievement of independence.
But, considering the essay on its own terms 120 years later, it’s clear the main project failed spectacularly.
“On racial lines, then, we shall best develop, following the bent of our own natures,” wrote Hyde.
“And, in order to do this, we must create a strong feeling against West-Britonism, for it – if we give it the least chance, or show it the smallest quarter – will overwhelm us like a flood, and we shall find ourselves toiling painfully behind the English at each step following the same fashions, only six months behind the English ones; reading the same books, only months behind them; taking up the same fads, after they have become stale there, following them in our dress, literature, music, games, and ideas, only a long time after them and a vast way behind.”

Some of this – but by no means all – has come to pass, and yet a strong and often confident Irish national sense of self persists.
But an awful lot has also changed in ways Hyde could not have foreseen.
In the 1890s, British culture arrived on the mailboat from Holyhead.
Now, an always-on globalised Anglophone media and entertainment industry permeates our lives with instant updates and on-demand everything.
“We must set our face sternly against penny dreadfuls, shilling shockers, and still more, the garbage of vulgar English weeklies,” wrote Hyde, clearly anticipating the likes of Geordie Shore and Naked Attraction.

The association of English culture with the trashy and the immoral would be a recurring theme of official Irish discourse for much of the 20th century.
That strange part of our country’s history when sexual prudery was enshrined in law as part of our national identity is receding into the past, but the idea of England as a place where you could read, see and do things that were frowned upon at home still informs our relationship with our neighbours.
The big city offered – still offers – the freedom of anonymity, along with a wider range of opportunities for self-actualisation.

The escape to England is a recurring final act in many works of 20th century Irish literature, although what happened next is less explored.
An important shift occurred when the children of that huge wave of Irish emigrants of the 1950s emerged as pop stars, footballers and artists – John Lydon, the Pogues, Morrissey – speaking in English working-class accents about their sense of Irishness.
National identity, it became more clear, was a complex affair than some had allowed for.
For those involved in cultural production, the benefits of escape to the UK were clear to see.
Without support from British publishers, British patrons, British producers, British agents, British broadcasters and sometimes the British taxpayer, many of the most significant Irish works of art of the past century – films such as My Left Foot, TV programmes such as Father Ted, and the writing of Edna O’Brien and John McGahern – might not have seen the light of day.

Just as emigration to the UK allowed the Irish State to avoid confronting the consequences of its own economic failures, so British support for Irish creativity allowed successive Irish governments to abdicate their own responsibilities.
Many writers and artists found support farther afield, in the US and Europe, but the default option remained London.

It’s worth considering what effect this had on Irish artists.
The fact that the primary gatekeepers to the wider world have been English must surely have had an impact on what sort of stories ended up getting told.
It’s not an accident that Joyce and Beckett – Ireland’s two greatest contributions to the 20th century avant-garde – looked to continental Europe rather than the UK.
It would be fatuous to over-simplify the many complex and productive creative relationships that have existed across the Irish Sea, but there is clearly an appetite in Britain for certain forms of Irish expression that combine an apparent “authenticity” with a muscular reinvigoration of the English language.
Like all clichés, the statement that the Irish are “storytellers” contains both an inherent truth and a restricting stereotype.

But London’s cultural elites do not represent the full picture of the relationship between the two countries.
As important, and even more ignored, are the shared cultural ground of popular culture – first music hall and variety, then picture palaces and rock ’n’ roll – has always transcended national boundaries.
The disentangling of the two states in the early 1920s was never replicated in the movie or music distribution industries.
To this day, film journalists find themselves patiently explaining – yet again – the concept of national sovereignty to Sophie on the Regional desk in an office somewhere in Soho.

Much of that music and cinema was American rather than British, and it’s worth bearing in mind that the past 100 years have been marked by an almost uninterrupted decline in British power from its imperial heights.
The result has been an explosion of compelling post-imperial voices, from the Beatles to Salman Rushdie and beyond.
Has that helped ameliorate the resentments or inferiority complexes on the Irish side?
It’s hard to tell, although there are still many signs of old-fashioned Irish “cultural cringe”, the internalised inferiority complex that causes people to dismiss their own culture as inferior to those of other countries.
You can see it in the housing estates called Windsor Downs or Westminster Lawns, or in the way plummy English accents are used to mark status in ads for luxury goods.

Growth in Gaelscoileanna
So, to paraphrase a line from one of their own films (albeit one banned here for many years), what have the English ever done for us culturally?
It looks as though it’s now possible to answer “quite a lot” without being accused of being, in one of Hyde’s most lasting phrases, “a west-Briton”.
The recent growth in Gaelscoileanna is prompted more by a vision of the Irish language as a bulwark against cultural globalisation than anything else.
When taoiseach Leo Varadkar and prime minister Sadiq Khan meet in 2021 to commemorate the centenary of the Treaty, the notion that Irish cultural identity has to mean aggressive non-Englishness should finally be consigned to rest.

As for English cultural identity, that’s another matter entirely.

Hugh Lineman

The mystery French lady who visits Michael Collins’ grave every year

A mysterious French lady will visit Michael Collins' grave once again this year, continuing a 15 year tradition since she fell in love with the Irish revolutionary after watching the movie Michael Collins.
She is known as the “Mysterious French Lady” and she appears like clockwork at his grave and lays them down gently before saying a prayer.

The woman has been identified as Veronique Crombie a lecturer at the French National Museum who admits to a passionate love for the Irish revolutionary.
The 55-year old academic explains her love for the patriot after she saw the movie.
"The draw of seeing the Neil Jordan (director) film three years after it was released appeared to me that it was more than an excellent actor giving a great performance, Michael's life story was finally being told [to the world]," explains the intensely private woman.

She said she cannot explain the magnetism and draw that Collins has on her. Veronique told the Sunday Independent how she was attending an Indian classical dance workshop in the south of France in August 2000 when she felt the inexplicable need to rush to a nearby cathedral and light a candle for Collins.
“On the 22nd, the date he was shot dead, was the decisive moment which helped me understand that definitely, sooner of later I would have to go to Ireland to know more and that going to his grave would show me the way. That Michael himself was drawing me to continue on his story,” she said. “I’m not the only one who feels that way, my friend, author Chrissy Osborne, told me time and again, when she published her first book about Michael, Michael Collins Himself and also the second one, Michael Collins, A Life in Pictures, that she had always felt that it was Michael who wanted those two books to be written and published because both were a different approach to recounting his life.

Michael Collins in London
Having no Irish connections that she knows of, she cannot explain why this "draw" to mark and carry on his name has taken such a hold. But her journeys to Ireland have created friendships that carry the history of the Cork man who died 98 years ago.
An annual candlelight ceremony at his grave, is when she plans to visit Glasnevin Cemetery again.

"The amazing thing was indeed that Mercier Press immediately agreed and wanted to go ahead when Chrissy contacted them to talk about her project, even though she was not a historian, had never written a book and wasn't even a journalist.
Veronique also adds that: "Amazingly, that is also what I felt when I saw Michael Collins -- a Musical Drama, in 2009 . . . The musical was just fantastic, I know it was very special for Bryan Flynn who wrote it and Eoin Cannon who played the part on the three occasions I saw it, and gave a fabulous performance." All three are now good friends. Finally, visiting Collins's grave was a powerful moment for Veronique.

"It is difficult to find words to describe how I felt. It was emotional and tears welled up in my eyes but I didn't cry and I wasn't afraid. It was the start of something that is still with me. When a person dies young an energy is left behind. An energy surrounding things left undone. Speaking to relatives of Michael, they say they feel the same."
So many strangers have now become firm friends due to the politician's and soldier's legacy. Bumping into men who -- without being asked or seeking recompense -- care for his grave, now becomes something of a reunion for Veronique.
"The selfless devotion of Denis Lenihan who has kept Michael's grave for years. Two others, both former army men, James and Ronnie helped Denis out with cleaning the grave and bringing fresh flowers every week.

"I suppose what I do appears more spectacular because it comes from a foreigner but their work shouldn't go unnoticed. Now other people are placing flowers on his grave."
Since her first trip to Dublin, she has become involved in a campaign to Save Moore Street and preserve it as a National Monument. These are the houses where the leaders of the 1916 Rising took shelter when they had to evacuate the GPO and where they made the decision to surrender. It is hoped to create an interpretive centre out of the houses.
"The Hewitt sisters at Rosary Florists do a great job for me on preparing the floral arrangements for Collins's grave. It happens sometimes that I ring them early in the morning saying: 'Sorry to ring you so early but I woke up this morning knowing that Michael needed something, can you have a few red roses delivered to the grave asap?' and there is never a problem.

"Usually I realise in an afterthought that the day is a date of some significance in his life."

Mary Hewitt said that visitors to the grave and callers to the florists are intrigued by the French woman's commitment to the memory of Collins and her devotion to his legacy. A legacy which has formed a part of modern-day Irish politics.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Photo minute: Images of note in history

 Times Square NY 1945

A message to Hitler 1945

Buchenwald Concentration Camp 1945

Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank and only surviving member of their family, in the attic where Anne stayed in hiding

Abandoned boy with stuffed toy elephant in 1945

Albert Einstein in 1945

Old country store in 1938 is southern USA

The moment Goebbels had been told that the photographer taking his photo is Jewish

Mark Twain in 1908

Kicking the can of responsibility down the road

Olympic Council of Ireland president Pat Hickey leaves a police station in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on September 6. Picture: Reuters

HERE comes another inquiry with all bells and whistles attached. The latest revelations about Nama’s disposal of its assets in the North looks set to open up fresh prairies of investigation in this state.
The filming of an adviser to Nama in the North apparently accepting a bag with £40,000 in cash from a developer appears to have pushed over the line the requirement for an inquiry down here.
There has been a smell off Nama’s business in the North since Mick Wallace first told the Dáil in July 2015 that £7m had been deposited in an offshore account as a pay-off associated with the sale of Nama’s assets in the North.
For over a year, the Government rejected calls for a full-blown inquiry on the basis that there are inquiries, including a criminal investigation, afoot in the North and in the US over the deal. Fianna Fáil has largely supported the Government’s stance on the matter, but now the smell has become a stench.

A commission of investigation, the mother and father of all inquiries these days, looks set to be established. A hunt will be undertaken to track down an idle, retired judge, a species that is becoming increasingly rare in these inquiry saturated days.
Once a commission is established the whole affair will be off the political agenda and deemed out of bounds. Any political reckoning will be placed on the never-never. In the Nama controversy, this amounts largely to a question as to whether the agency was put under political pressure to sell off assets quicker than its original design allowed for. In such a scenario, the potential opened up for the exchequer to get fleeced as a price for the political capital that might accrue to the Government.

Any such question will be long-fingered with an actual result most likely due between two and four years into the retirement of Michael Noonan and Enda Kenny.
So like much else, the Nama inquiry will be another problem to be long-fingered by the coalition for kicking the can down the road.
A huge chunk of the business of government has been thrust onto the never-never in this fashion. Apart from Nama, there are commisisons of investigation afoot into alleged Garda malpractice, alleged sweetheart deals in the IBRC/Siteserv, and alleged ticket touting at the Olympic games.
An inquiry has also been completed into the case of alleged abuse of “Grace”, the disabled girl whose experiences in a foster home in the South-East were highlighted
That inquiry is at a stage where the minister of state concerned, Finian McGrath, is examining whether it can be referred to a full commission of inquiry.
All of these have about them the common theme of kicking the can down the road. In each case, the Government has effectively silenced controversy by setting up an inquiry. What is noticeable is the difference in approach to establishing these inquiries.
Some, such as Fennelly (into taping of calls at Garda stations) and the Rio affair, get off the ground almost immediately.

In both those cases, the fallout is likely to fall on bodies or agencies outside the Cabinet and therefore there is no reluctance to find those who should be held accountable.
This approach differs when dealing with the likes of Siteserv/IBRC and Nama. In these instances, decisions at Cabinet come under close scrutiny and possible criticism. While Messers Noonan and Kenny can fortify themselves in the knowledge that a result won’t be due for years, there is also the matter of their legacies, something politicians hold dear.
It’s not just controversies that involve allegations of wrongdoing that are getting kicked down the road: Two of the most contentious issues of recent years, water and abortion, are also being thrust onto the never-never.
The expert commission on domestic public water services has been handed the task of debating what exactly is the best way to pay for the water infrastructure in this country. There was a time when a government would decide a matter like this, but that was oh so long ago.
At least this commission has done some service for one of the political parties by giving cover to Fianna Fáil to change its principles on paying for water.

An anti-water charges protest in Cork. The issue of paying for water is another one kicked down the road. Picture: Dan Linehan

Heretofore, the party was in favour of some form of water charges but it has now told the commission that it no longer espouses that principle. The people didn’t like Micheál Martin’s principles, so he changed them.
Another handy vehicle to kick another can down the road is the citizens’ assembly which will decide on whether and how to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
In a functioning democracy, the Oireachtas would make this decision, but that would cause headaches for the Cabinet. In a functioning democracy, the people would simply be allowed to have their say on such a primal matter, but that might cause further grief.
So as with much else, the issue is put on the never never, where a decision might be arrived at after the next election, which, in political, terms, is engulfed in a foggy future off on the horizon.

Water woes
- Noel Baker
The issue the Government must wish would simply disappear down the plughole.
Water charges proved to be an issue that many voters wouldn’t swallow, meaning the Government’s planned rollout of payments was stymied from the beginning. First came the sop of the water conservation grant, then the precipitous drop in the number of people making quarterly payments, and finally the general election result. The Government would still prefer to pay for water through charges, but without Labour and down numbers in the Dáil, there was no way it could push it through.
With charges suspended, the expert commission on domestic public water services was formed as part of the agreement which allowed for the formation of the Government. It will make recommendations having considered submissions made before last Friday’s cut-off, but the Fianna Fáil position has hardened. It wants water paid for through general taxation and a scrapping of any charges.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has said Ireland could be fined over the suspension of water charges as it is a signatory to the water framework directive. Like a yard tap on a frosty night, this one will run and run.
- Noel Baker
Historically, no single issue has proved as divisive, emotive and, arguably, downright toxic as abortion.
It could be argued Labour’s implosion in the last general election had one silver lining for the Government: The smaller party was committed to holding a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment, whereas Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s position was always more circumspect.

Amnesty International and supporters demonstrate outside Government Buildings over the Eighth Amendment and issues surrounding abortion in Ireland. Picture:

The issue hoved back into view after the election when the UN concluded Ireland’s ban on abortion subjected a woman carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
It sparked calls from pro-choice advocates for the Government to change the laws, with pro-life groups equally steadfast in calling for the existing ban to remain in place.
The Government-appointed citizens’ assembly, chaired by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, is now due to meet next month and the matter of the Eighth Amendment will be top of the agenda.
Just this week People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said: “The citizens’ assembly is really just a cover and kicking to touch an issue that is very urgent.”
Project Eagle
- Noel Baker
Nothing to do with a fictional German plot to kidnap Winston Churchill at the height of the Second World War, nonetheless Project Eagle appears to have its own fair share of intrigue.
Nama, the State’s bad bank, took over property loans made by Irish banks in the North with a book value of more than €6bn. In April 2014, it sold the lot of them in a single transaction, covering 860 properties, to Cerberus, a US investment giant, for about €1.6bn. The codename for the sale within Nama was Project Eagle.
As the biggest property deal in Northern Ireland, the sale was first dogged by controversy after €7m linked to it was found in an Isle of Man bank account.
Project Eagle has been examined on several occasions by the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee and opposition politicians are currently calling for a commission of inquiry. It’s also under investigation by the UK’s National Crime Agency, the US department of justice’s securities and exchange commission, and the subject of a parliamentary inquiry in Stormont.
In August, Finance Minister Michael Noonan received a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General into the sale by Nama of its Northern Ireland properties.
It is due to be published on Wednesday.
‘Undue’ benefits
- Noel Baker
The Apple cart was well and truly upset when the European Commission ruled that Ireland had granted undue tax benefits of up to €13bn to the technology giant, in a move which not only called into question the country’s international reputation, but also caused a significant wobble within the Government.
The finding by European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager prompted sustained complaint from senior government figures, with Finance Minister Michael Noonan instantly saying that the decision would be appealed.
However, some Independent figures in government, including Finian McGrath and Katherine Zappone, needed to be convinced.
The issue was also complicated by soundings that other EU states would be interested in sharing any €13bn windfall, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and others stressing that at no time did Apple get a sweetheart deal, and that our tax affairs were entirely our own concern.
According to the Department of Finance, the State has two months and 10 days to lodge the appeal but the European Court process is expected to take several years and it is likely to be a year before there is an oral hearing. Ultimately, the result will have huge ramifications for the country’s finances and economic outlook into the future.
Siteserv sale
- Noel Baker
Siteserv was sold by the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) in March 2012 to the Denis O’Brien-owned firm Millington for €45m.
The deal saw State-owned IBRC (formerly Anglo Irish Bank) write off €110m of its €150m debt, effectively a 70% haircut.
Subsequently, an unsuccessful underbidder raised concerns saying they were prepared to offer more for Siteserv. It also emerged the law firm Arthur Cox advised both Siteserv and Millington on the sale. In 2015, the Siteserv controversy blew up again after Independent TD Catherine Murphy retrieved documents under freedom of information, which revealed a level of official concern over the deal. In an effort to quell the controversy, the Government announced a review of IBRC deals, including Siteserv and a commission of inquiry was set up. The inquiry is investigating the sale of IBRC loans where there was a loss of at least €10m to the taxpayer. Six transactions involved write-offs of over €100m. Last year, the commission’s examination of up to 38 transactions — including the 2012 sale of Siteserv — effectively stalled after the commission’s chairman, Judge Brian Cregan, concluded he did not have sufficient legal powers to proceed. New laws were drafted to allow him continue his work.
‘Grace’ report should clear way for full inquiry
- Noel Baker
The report into the ‘Grace’ case is with Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath, who said just last month that he would aim to bring it to government as soon as possible with a view to early publication.

Finian McGrath: Has received ‘Grace’ report.

The allegations are grave: That decades of sexual abuse of a woman with severe intellectual disabilities who lived in foster care may have been covered up.
The case involves a foster family in the South-east who looked after 47 children and adults with severe intellectual disabilities between 1983 and 2009. The old South Eastern Health Board became aware of concerns about the family as far back as 1992 and three years later removed all of the people in their care.
Yet one woman, given the pseudonym Grace and who turned 18 in 1996, was left with the family for 14 more years, and is alleged to have suffered severe sexual abuse.
The report into matters related to the former foster home was prepared by Conor Dignam SC, who advised some legal procedural and administrative issues should be addressed before the report is published.
Once published, it should open the way to a full commission of investigation into the care of individuals with a disability in the former foster home. The case is also the subject of a garda investigation.
A separate case, based in Cork, is the subject of another review by the HSE and Tusla.
Olympics lap of honour turned into massive headache
- Noel Baker
When OCI president Pat Hickey flew out to Rio for the Olympic Games, it must have seemed like a lap of honour at the end of a glittering career. Instead it has turned into a personal nightmare for Mr Hickey and a massive headache for the Government.
While Mr Hickey has consistently proclaimed his innocence of all the charges levelled at him by Brazilian authorities, the staccato nature of the controversy seemed to catch the Government on the backfoot. Some members of the Dáil were not convinced a non-statutory inquiry would be sufficient to answer the many questions sparked by the tickets scandal.
Transport Minister Shane Ross admitted Mr Hickey “ate me for breakfast” during their meeting in Rio before the latter’s arrest, although he’s bound to be the more chipper of the two men at the moment.
The collective countenance could change if Brazilian authorities do provide the evidence they claim they have that shows widespread abuses regarding the dissemination of tickets.
In addition to the process in Brazil and the inquiry here, the OCI is carrying out its own review, which is likely to conclude in October. Already, some OCI affiliate bodies are querying why everything seems to be on hold and have called for changes in corporate governance.
Given the importance of sport to this country and its international reputation, the outcome of all three probes are eagerly awaited.
Industrial action over pay
- Noel Baker
And now begins the winter of our discontent. That is how some members of the Government might be feeling after the Luas strikes gave way to the on-running (and sometimes non-running) Dublin Bus dispute.

Last week’s two-day stoppage by Dublin Bus staff affected as many as 400,000 commuters daily.

Last week’s two-day stoppage affected as many as 400,000 commuters daily, and more stoppages are planned after workers rejected a Labour Court recommendation on increased wages, to be phased in over three years.
The next stoppage is scheduled for Thursday and Friday of this week. The situation appears to be in deadlock, but given the earlier Luas drivers wrangle, how this plays out could influence how workers elsewhere view their rights to increased pay following years of austerity.
Where the bus drivers go, Dart and train workers could follow. There is also the issue of teachers, who have consistently voiced their concerns not only over central issues such as pay and pupil-teacher ratio, but also over proposed reforms to the curriculum.

Just last month, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland said it may take industrial action over pay discrimination against newly recruited teachers, claiming the removal of qualification allowances from new entrants almost five years ago was effectively a 20% pay cut compared to their colleagues.
Michael Clifford