Monday, August 10, 2015

Mayo Pass a Difficult Test

It is the lot of the Mayo supporter to walk with ghosts. Ghosts of past players he or she has seen, memories of past achievements and disappointments, echoes of what-ifs and maybes. Mayo went into Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Donegal with a lot of questions to answer. Some were obvious, like the goal-leakage identified by Malachy Clerkin in the Irish Times on Saturday. Some were a little more taboo; not spoken of, but certainly on people’s minds, shoulder-to-shoulder with all those ghosts.

It is to their eternal credit that the Mayo team and management answered all questions asked of them on Saturday, and more. Had the last of the four All-Ireland quarter-finals been an exam, Mayo would have graduated summa cum laude.

Top of the class were the new management team of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly. The challenges they had to overcome were many. Firstly, they had very big boots to fill. Secondly, the strange circumstances of their appointment meant that a lot of goodwill was lost at the start. Thirdly, the League campaign did nothing to ease the constantly frayed nerves of the Mayo support.

And fourthly, perhaps most importantly, the last time the Mayo County Board appointed a manager to give a team that one final push to bring Sam home, the appointee dismantled the team instead, put together a ragbag army similar to General Humbert’s, and suffered the same fate – cut down in Longford, beyond mourning or pity. The thought of the same fate happening the current group of players was distressing in the extreme.

Neither Pat nor Noel is a media creature. James Horan’s frequent media appearances have added to his reputation as a sharp analyst of contemporary football, while Jim McGuinness’s guru status is inviolable at this stage.

There isn’t quite the same bang off Pat and Noel, and the helplessless of the Mayo display against Dublin did nothing to dispel that impression. Post-Connacht final talk of a “secret plan” to shut down the greatest player in Ireland currently, Michael Murphy, sounded like people whistling past the graveyard to try to control their terror.

And then, on a dark Saturday evening in Croke Park, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly rolled a gigantic wooden horse called Barry Moran out between Mayo’s full- and half-back lines and seventy minutes later, Mayo were not only back at the big table, but they were consuming all around them, roaring for more, more, more at the tops of their voices.

For Mayo, Saturday was a story of redemption. Barry Moran, so often cursed by injury, has now played on every line bar the goals. The man has a heart the size of a farm in Meath and to see him work was a joy.

As was the return of Ger Cafferkey. Cafferkey was a permanent selection in the Horan era, and seemed to be taking more of the blame than he deserved for events against Kerry last year. On Saturday he reminded everyone that there is no real substitute for class.

And when we speak of class, what can we tell of Tom Parsons? Missing from Championship football for four years, who knows what sort of grafting that man had to do to tame his natural talent and focus it to the purpose of the group?

Whatever he’s done, it’s paid off in silver dollars. The Mayo heart can only fill with joy at the thought of these proud men and the leadership and character they’re showing, summer after summer, setback after setback.

Was it a perfect display? Of course not. Some of the substitutions were puzzling. Cillian O’Connor was unusually inaccurate with the dead balls. There is always something unnatural about a Gaelic football team sitting a lead rather than racking up scores. But these are small cavils in what was a great display against a very, very fine team. Donegal were leggy and by no means at full-throttle but they still had it in them to bury Mayo. Victory over this Donegal team is no mean feat.

And now, the Dubs. All Mayo is suffused with delicious anticipation of another pop at the metropolitans, not least as previous clashes between the counties have had such edges. The matchups are as stars in the sky, as each management team tries to anticipate and out-general the other. There has never been a bad time to be a Mayo man or woman but right now, for those with an interest in football the summer wine is very sweet indeed.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Piketty is Wrong About German War Debt

Colette Browne quotes economist Thomas Piketty in her column in today's Irish Independent as saying that Germany had sixty per cent of its war debt written off after the Second World War. This is not true.

It's not true for this reason: there wasn't a Germany after the Second World War to pay any debts. Germany was gone, and there were two states, East and West Germany, in its place.

Britain, France and the USA were in charge of West Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was in charge of East Germany. The NATO powers quickly began to cut West Germany a break, as they had made a deal with the devil in the form of Josef Stalin to win the war in the first place, and now needed a strong Germany to protect Western Europe from the Soviets.

No such luck for the East Germans, which the Soviets already had in their mitts. Anne Applebaum has written an excellent book about rise of the Iron Curtain in the first ten years after the end of the war. From that we learn that the Soviets carried off everything in the occupied territories that wasn't nailed down, and would have continued to do so if Stalin hadn't kicked the bucket in 1953. East Germany remained a slave state, of course, but the Soviets went easy on populating the concentration camps left behind by the Nazis with people who didn't toe the state line.

Germany paid for her sins after the war, and now Germany is the main reason why there hasn't been a European war since – the longest period of European history without a war since Alaric and the Visgoths sacked Rome fifteen hundred years ago.

Beware, beware the celebrity economist. There's always a bottle of snake-oil that needs selling.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Val Doonican, and the Fight for Irish Freedom

Val Doonican did at least as much for Anglo-Irish relations as the Queen’s visit, that spurious rugby game in Croke Park, or the existence in material reality of Roy Maurice Keane, Junior. That fact is not widely known in this country, for different reasons, but it should be. Val Doonican is a hero, in his way, and should be celebrated as such.

Not even Val Doonican’s most ardent admirer could deny that the man was born square. Val Doonican was never cool. The jumpers, the rocking chairs, the songs – Delaney’s Donkey, Paddy McGinty’s Goat – no. There is no hipster willing to carry the charade through to that extent. But, in the long and troubled history of two islands in the North Atlantic, Val Doonican provided a bridge when it was needed.

We know there was huge emigration from Ireland to Britain during the war and after. We sing songs about it all the time. But what was that experience like, really? What was it like for someone who had grown up on the side of a mountain to find him or herself living in a terraced house in Blackburn, Lancashire?

There was a marvellous story in the Bullaí Máirtín collection called Peadaí Gaelach Eile, about a man about to go to London to make his fortune but who finds out just how much of a fish out of water he’s going to be before he even leaves home.

It was hard on that generation. They never liked to speak of it themselves, because it was humiliating for them. The current generation doesn’t like to think of it, because they seem to have trouble conceiving of people who are not themselves.

It’s interesting as well that the literature of those who built up and tore England down after the Second World War seems stronger in Irish than in English. Where are the English language equivalents of the navvying memoirs of Domhnall Mac Amhlaigh or Maidhc Dainín Ó Sé?

Nobody wanted to go on the record about how hard it was to come from rural poverty to a major industrial city. And nobody wants to think about the Irish being considered in England the way the Romanians are considered here. Dirty, stinking, going around in gangs, leaving their rubbish lying around, speaking gibberish, not to be trusted.

And then, in the mid-sixties, one of those dirty, stinking Irish people got himself a variety TV show on prime time with the BBC. He wasn’t dirty. He was very well turned out, always with his hair cut and clean and nice sweater on him. He sang comic songs with a twinkle in his eye.

And maybe, after watching the Val Doonican Show on TV, maybe some Englishman heard his Irish neighbours the next day and detected that trace of Doonican in them. Maybe the way they spoke wasn’t gibberish; maybe it was actually a lot like that chap on the television. I wonder could any of them sing songs as well?

What was Val Doonican worth to the Irish community in Britain in the ‘seventies, when the bombs were going off in Birmingham and Guilford and in the car park of the Houses of Parliament themselves? How reassuring was it for the ordinary British person to hear of Delaney’s Donkey winning the half-mile race after the newscaster had just told them that the IRA had just admitted responsibility for the bombing of another bar, resulting in five killed and seven maimed?

Yes, Val Doonican wasn’t very cool. No, Delaney’s Donkey isn’t quite Carrickfergus. But Val Doonican was, by all accounts, a very lovely man who asked for little from life and brought happiness and security to millions and millions. Very, very few of us will get to say that we we are brought to account on the Last Day. Suaimhneas síoraí na bhFlaithis dó.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Priorities in the Health Service

July 1, 2015
HSE management 'clearly incapable', say Portlaoise parents
Families who lost children told to 'go away and have more children', health committee hears
The HSE refused to advertise a helpline for patients on the night of the Prime Time programme, as requested by Patient Focus, because it didn't believe it would attract many calls, Cathriona Molloy of the patient organisation told the committee. The organisation was forced to use its own phone number for a helpline, which attracted hundreds of calls in the days after the programme, she said.

July 1, 2015
Hiqa to review Tusla over concern for at-risk children
Records obtained by The Irish Times earlier this year showed thousands of reports of abuse, neglect and welfare concerns over children at risk were waiting to be allocated a social worker. An internal report presented to the board of Tusla said backlogs were so acute in some areas that hundreds of extra staff are needed to bring numbers back to 'manageable' levels.

June 22, 2015
HSE orders review into nine maternity cases
The HSE has recommended a full review into nine maternity cases at three separate hospitals. A team examined 23 cases from the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise, three from the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar and two from the University Maternity Hospital in Limerick between 1985 and 2013. It found that nine cases should be subjected to a full systems analysis review.

June 15, 2015
'Cloak of secrecy' around abuse of intellectually disabled
Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd made the claim after the Irish Examiner revealed 21 HSE workers have been sacked or suspended for alleged sexual, physical, and financial abuse of residents at care facilities for adults with severe intellectual disabilities since January 2014. Details published on Saturday show that, over the past 18 months, HSE management has been aware of serious incidents at seven such facilities.

June 12, 2015
What the hospital scandals teach us about management
HR policies are such that managers will tell you they are powerless to deal with people who ought to be sanctioned even for quite serious reasons.
It can take six months to replace a nurse through the shared HR services centre in Manorhamilton.
There is no effective performance management system for managers. Management structures are in a state of constant flux; many managers don't have the delegated authority they need to do their job; and some support functions are too centralised.
Compared to the HSE, the hospitality industry in Ireland has a better system for the training and cultural formation of hotel managers, sending them to the best hotels around the world on a carefully structured development programme. The results speak for themselves.

March 5, 2015
HSE 'Gave Contracts to Former Staff' Without Tender
The claims are understood to mostly centre around cases where contracts were awarded to companies led by former HSE staff, or where ex-HSE workers are now on the payroll. They include cases where the HSE has paid former staff members for spaces in care homes, without first investigating whether better deals could be found elsewhere. Committee chairman John McGuinness says some former HSE staff members have made huge money from unadvertised contracts.

These are just some of the reasons that the HSE has been in the news lately. And what is the Government doing about all this? Why, it's providing free healthcare for children less than six years old WHO AREN'T EVEN SICK IN THE FIRST PLACE. This isn't just an inefficient use of resources. This is immoral in every way and I don't know one politician who's had the stones to come out and say that, for fear they'd lose votes in leafy suburbs or roasted by a "Mums Outraged .." headline in the Indo or the Daily Mail.

Banana Republic. Will anything ever change in this godforsaken country?

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Can the Seanad Save Free Speech?

RTÉ and the Irish Times are both before the Courts this morning to see if they are allowed to broadcast and/or print speeches made in the houses of the Oireachtas. It’s an awful situation for a democracy to find itself in, but crisis can often lead to opportunity. And the very peculiar current crisis does present the Seanad with the opportunity to be what its advocates claim it is – relevant to the proper governance of the State.

You remember the Seanad – it’s the theoretical upper house of the bicameral Oireachtas, a growling, snarling watchdog that keeps the Government of the day on their toes. Or so, at least, its proponents would have you believe during the referendum on the continued existence of the Seanad, which the sovereign people choose to retain in a referendum held on the 4th of October, 2013.

Since then, the Seanad has done nothing – zip, zero, the null set, nada, nothing – to show itself worthy of the nation’s faith. Senators who were passionate and vocal contributors to the save-the-Seanad debate haven’t been heard from since, and the chamber looks like what it’s been long-perceived to be, a sanatorium for recovering politicians who didn’t quite make it to the lower chamber.

However. God never closes one door but He opens another, as the old people used to say, and circumstances have given the Seanad the chance to be heard.

If the current court order to redact details of the injunction issued on an RTÉ report into the relationship with businessman Denis O’Brien is upheld, the Seanad won’t have to do anything. There will be a fully-fledged constitutional crisis then, and God only knows how it’ll resolve.

If, however, the courts do not uphold the decision to injunct RTÉ and redact the details of the judgement, then An Taoiseach can roll into the Dáil – one week from now, because the Oireachtas is enjoying a well-deserved break currently – and proclaim what he has always known in his heart, that Ireland is the best little country in the world in which to do free speech. Any further questions will be brushed away, and dissent will be mashed into the carpet by the Government’s massive and well-whipped majority.

Which is why the Seanad must do what the Dáil cannot, and take a stand for freedom of speech. The Government want this thing to go away very, very dearly as, once it starts to unravel properly, goodness only knows where the breadcrumb trail might lead.

Ironically, in the light of previous relationships, the Labour Party may be more eager to see the issue go away than Fine Gael. The marriage referendum and Bench-marking II will go down well with the two wings that make that Labour Party and, after four hard years and the predicted giveaway budget will make the hat-trick. Labour don’t want to see their gifts to the Labour core support blown away in a political storm.

Which is why the nation must look to the Seanad to safeguard its rights. There is nothing that can be done in the Dáil, because of the Government’s steamroller majority. But the Government’s majority in the Seanad is nominal, if it exists at all. That gives the Senators some elbow room.

The powers of the Seanad are quite limited, but there is one shot in its locker. Article 27.1 of the Constitution states that “A majority of the members of Seanad Éireann and not less than one-third of the members of Dáil Éireann may by a joint petition addressed to the President by them under this Article request the President to decline to sign and promulgate as a law any Bill to which this article applies on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.”

There is a bill due next week proposing that nobody may own more than twenty per cent of the media. Which sounds great, except that the law is not retrospective. If anybody already owns more than twenty per cent of the media, he or she can keep it.

That’s not good enough. Between the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal, the Siteserv controversy and the current attempt to muzzle the democratically elected representatives of the people, it’s time to have a look at the precise relationship between the Government and #REDACTED.

Can the upper house stand for the public good when the lower house either can’t or won’t? Will a majority of members of the Seanad vote to send this press ownership Bill to the President, and let the cards fall as they will after that?

Such a move still needs the backing of one third of Dáil deputies, which is fifty-five of them. The Government has 101 votes, which leaves sixty-four left over. They can surely scrounge fifty-five votes from those sixty-four if the upper house raises the flag of Liberty.

Eighteen months ago the Seanad told that sovereign people that it was relevant in the democratic processes of the state. Now it has a chance to prove it. History awaits.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Won't Anybody Think of Kieran Donaghy?

The last fancy eats he'll see for a while.
The Gaelic Players’ Association, or GPA, like to make a big song and dance about the suffering of the inter-county player, and the great efforts that the GPA make to help those forced to wear that crown of thorns, that overladen creel, that 21st Century hairshirt that is the county jersey.

As far as the GPA are concerned, the county player, like lovely Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, is worth it.

“County players are separately [separate, that is, to the club players who make up 98% of the GAA’s playing population, and should be glad of the seat at the back of the bus, the scuts – ASF] supported through a Development Programme in specific recognition of their commercial importance and significance to the GAA in three main areas - the sale of sponsorship deals, broadcast rights and gate receipts.” says the GPA’s FAQ page.

What your correspondent can’t get through his cabbage head is why, for all their rhetoric about elite tier players and commercial significance, one of the most elite of Gaelic football’s elite tier players is currently on the brink of penury and ruin while the GPA seems to be doing nothing – nothing! – to support him.

The Indian Summer of Kieran Donaghy was one of the stories of last year’s Championship, and the single most important factor in Kerry’s winning of their 37th All-Ireland. Donaghy has been named captain of Kerry this year and what is his thanks? He’s out of a job. That’s his thanks.

The Irish Independent reported last week that Donaghy has quit a fine job in the bank in the heat of the worst recession in Europe since the 1930s because of his football commitments. What’s the man expected to live on? Air? And him with a young family to support as well. It’s a disgrace, that’s what it is. It’s a scandal.

Where are the thousand GPA swords leaping from their scabbards to protest this injustice? Why isn’t Dónal Óg Cusack doing a piece to VT for RTÉ Prime Time, followed quickly by Minister for Sport, Transport and Tourism Pascal Donohoe being asked “but Minister – what about the children?” by Miriam O’Callaghan over and over again?

It’s a long time between now and 2016, when Donaghy will be able to work again. It’s a long time to be without a steady income. The steadfast Gaels of Erin endured rapine, famine and oppression for eight hundred years before our Gaelic culture, handed down to us by Almighty God, was able to take its place among the cultures of the earth, and were glad to do it. Are we now to stand idly by while one of our greatest current exponents of Gaelic football, that jewel of Gaelic culture and sportsmanship and athleticism, starves on the side of the road?

Can we bear the thought of Kieran Donaghy, a hero and role model to the youth of Ireland, living from hand to mouth for an entire year, never knowing where his next hot meal is coming from? Is he to spend the next twelve months using one teabag for four mugs of tea, watering down the breakfast milk and – horror of horrors! – economizing further by ating rice instead of spuds with his dinner? I should bloody hope not.

This column knows where our duty lies. This column calls on all Gaels to rally to the cause. Footballers, hurlers, handballers, Scór tin-whistlers and even whoever exactly it is that claims to play rounders are to get out now and start collecting non-perishable goods, clothing, fuel and other necessities of survival and common human dignity. Parcels are to be made up and shipped to Kieran Donaghy, c/o Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, Co Kerry.

Blankets would be good too – with the way the summer is shaping up already, the poor man might be glad of them. And when winter comes around, maybe someone can stick a knife in that damned Bóthar goat and send the carcass down to Donaghy. He can ate the thing himself and then try to flog the skin to a bodhrán-maker to get the price of a bowl of hot soup or something. Star will need all the help he can get in the long, cold winter.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bias and the National Broadcaster

At first glance, the front page story in Saturday’s Irish Independent was a delicious revelation that, for all their bien-pensant rhetoric, the Irish Labour Party are just as venal as the next party when it comes to the dirty of game of politics.

The Indo reported that there had been a spat between Fine Gael and Labour over who would represent the Government advocating a Yes vote on the Prime Time debate tomorrow night. RTÉ wanted Leo Varadkar, the first Minister in the history of the state to come out as a gay man, but there was an agreement already in place between Fine Gael and Labour that it would be two Fine Gael, one Labour over the course of three RTÉ debates. Fine Gael had already used up their quota with Frances Fitzgerald and Simon Coveney, so Alex White was going on Prime Time and that was bloody that.

Great story. Not front page news, of course, but front page news hasn’t been what it was in the Indo since Vinnie Doyle retired. And then suddenly you might stop and wonder: what is it to RTÉ who represents any particular side anyway?

The story quotes an RTÉ source as saying "Our job was to get the best people for both sides, and one would have thought that Leo was the best person on the Government side for the last debate.”

But is it really RTÉ’s job to get the best people for both sides?

A referendum debate isn’t like a run-of-the-mill news or current affairs program. The national broadcaster’s job during a referendum or election campaign is to provide a public forum for debate. It is not the national broadcaster’s job to vet the debaters as regards their suitability to speak or represent a point of view. The national broadcaster’s only job is to measure speaking times for fairness and ask as unbalanced a set of questions as can be reasonably expected.

There is no national broadcaster in the USA, but the prospect of a commercial broadcaster stepping in to advise a political party on whom it should or shouldn’t use in a particular TV debate is ludicrous.

If, during the 2008 US Presidential Election, the Republicans wanted Sarah Palin to debate against former President Bill Clinton, can you imagine someone at one of the networks saying “our job was to get the best people for both sides, and one would have thought former Governor of California Arnold Schwartzenegger the best candidate to represent the Republican side?”

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? That’s not really the way it works.

To bring the story back home, suppose the No side decided on a second-time lucky strategy and put Gaelic footballer Ger Brennan forward as their representative for the Prime Time debate.

Would RTÉ turn to the No side and say, “look, Ger was a very underestimated center-half back in his prime but for a debate like this, you really need to send a heavy hitter like Breda O’Brien, David Quinn or Rónán Mullen to the plate”? Or would RTÉ just say “You’re sending Ger Brennan? Well, alrighty then,” and then text their friends to stock up on popcorn?

It’s not like RTÉ’s record in these debates is particularly strong. That the RTÉ Frontline debate cost Seán Gallagher the Presidency is as sure as little green apples. The only question is if that was due to incompetency or something more sinister.

In a sighting of that rare bird, investigative journalism, Jody Corcoran joined some dots about who’s pals with whom among the players on the night of that Frontline debate three years ago, and drew up a very interesting pattern. That piece was published three years ago, in March of 2012. Nothing changed as result of his investigation, of course. Nothing ever does.