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?