Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are The Greens Living In The Real World?

I don't like political parties, any of them - lets get that one out of the way. I think that they are self-protectionist and put their own needs above those whom they are supposed to ultimately serve,that is the electorate - not their members.

Having said that, the more I watch them, the more I wonder if the Greens are living in the real world at all - or understand the way things work in that most beloved of their sacred cows - the planning system.
Aside from the fact that they are propping up the most despised government that I can ever remember - for which I am sure the electorate will get the chance to show their gratitude in time - they have recently come out with two beauties concerning planning.

Now planning is a very contentious issue and what I might not like, is another mans' bread and butter. But aside from your personal preferences, where are they coming from by thinking that (a) de-zoning land and or (b) a windfall tax, will reverse the ridiculous prices that have been demanded for land and houses in the last decade.

Firstly, there is a very strong argument to say that a shortage of zoned land has contributed to the cost of land and that de-zoning land will exacerbate this, increasing prices even more. Now I'm not talking about small towns that have had stupid re-zonings for thousands of homes in areas with no services or public transport etc. I'm talking about supply and demand. If there is a demand for houses in an area, then restricting the availability of zoned land would make that land more expensive surely.

Secondly, the imposition of a windfall tax on developers as proposed by the Greens in order to make NAMA more saleable to their members, will simply, rightly or wrongly, be added onto the price for the eventual end-buyer - be that a first-time buyer or anyone else. That's the way commerce works. If it costs more to deliver; it costs more to buy.

So despite the best of intentions (I am sure) I do not believe that either of those two approaches would deliver the desired results for the Greens. It's a case of unintended consequences: sometimes, the very interventions you make to prevent something, actually cause the problem you were trying to solve, to become worse.

How can reducing the supply of land and increasing the cost of delivering houses do anything other than contribute to increasing the cost providing and buying houses in the future. Maybe I'm mis-understanding it?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Rody Molloy & that Pension Boost

It cannot have escaped the notice of ex-Waterford Crsytal workers - or indeed the good people of Waterford, that while they did nothing wrong, their pensions have nonetheless been whipped out from under them without so much as a by-your-leave.
The irony then, of one Rody Molloy of FÁS fame and his seeming heaps of wrong-doing - ranging from deliberately keeping information from the Board of Directors (allegedly) to all sorts of ridiculous over-spending on non-running tv commercials and the like - not only keeping his pension, but getting it topped up!
There really does seem to be one law for those in the inner circles that does not apply to the ordinary citizen of this country.
And in a further twist Mr Molloy has only today resigned as Chairman of the Institute of Public Administration - not a paying post - but nonetheless a body that lectures civil and public servants on, among other things, ethics, transparency and good governance.......!
Irony heaped upon irony. We'll have to invent a new word for that. How about birony: the act (or art?) of engaging in two or more ironic situations at the same time. LOL!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Treatment of Criminals

I write this blog in the context of the very sad death of Paddy Barry earlier today and although I don't wish to intrude on the Barry family and their deep grief, I do most certainly want to express my sympathy to them on the tragic and untimely death of their much loved father and grandfather.

There is nothing anyone can say to ease their grief and they face a trying time now, probably made worse by the glare of media attention. Please God, their justifyable anger will transmit into some positive action to deal with the issue raised by Keith - which is that these criminals have neither respect for, nor fear of, the law.

Why is that? The Gardai in my opinion, do a tremendous job on these sensitive cases. They liaise closely with the families and commit huge time, effort and resources into trying to bring those guilty parties to justice through the courts.

That, in my opinion though, can be where justice ends. In the courts. Very often, the sentence does not seem to fit the crime. I support Keith Barry and his call for at least wanting those found guilty to have to serve a minimum sentence. I think it would be a very good thing and perhaps those thinking of committing these type of crimes might think twice if they knew they would serve a good long sentence if caught and found guilty.

My problem though is that, regardless of how long they serve, those criminals invariably come out the other side of a prison sentence far worse, having served an 'apprenticship' in prison with violent criminals, in a possibly violent environment and then, they are released back into society - very seldom having 'learned their lesson' or as better, chastened, or even sorry people, never to err again.

So how do we break that circle? I wrote an article a number of years ago where I advocated that criminals should be sent to boot camp. Where they would learn discipline, respect for themselves and others and the value of hard work (as part of a custodial sentence or instead of one for lesser crimes).

At the time the 'sniggering classes' and PC brigade ridiculed that suggestion. Personally I still think the arguement holds, and is valid. Can anyone seriously argue to me that prison works? Yet what is the alternative? We certainly have to lock these kinds of people away. Society deserves to be protected.

But look at recent evidence. I need go no further than last weeks' news and the story about the sex offender who was released (twice) only to re-offend within hours (twice). Now I know that sex-offenders are a slighlty different case, but the principle remains the same. How much crime is committed by 'former' inmates? Almost all I would say, if you were to conduct an analysis certainly almost all of violent or dangerous crimes.

So by all means, I agree with Keith Barry: put them away. But please come up with some way to remediate them, to teach them self respect and discipline. Otherwise we just delay the day when they re-emerge into society as more violent, more hardened and more dangerous criminals. What does that achieve?

My suggestion is a type of boot camp because for sure - whatever is happening now, it's not working.

Again, my sincerest condolences to Keith and to his family. To lose a loved one in this manner is unimaginable torture. My thoughts are with them all.

The Frontline

I watched the new Pat Kenny fronted RTE programme The Frontline last night and I must say that I enjoyed it. I thought the audience were well picked, the guests (including the celebrity ones in the front row) were mostly worth having there and I thought that a good, indepth discussion was allowed to develop on the whole NAMA issue.
As to whether it helped me to make up my mind on NAMA, I'm less sure. But with such diametrically opposing views from seemingly equally well-informed and qualified people coming from both sides, it's very difficult to know who's right.
However, two things make up my mind for me: firstly, I do not trust Fianna Fail. That's just the way it is. They are too associated and intertwined (interbred even!) with those in the banking, (non) regulation and developer communities. I have written on this blog before about this issue and everything I see and hear just confirms it for me. It would be a very interesting exercise to map out the inter-relationships within those circles. That might open a few eyes. (Lets include the media for the craic!)
The second thing that made me sit up and say no-way last night was the information from Fintan O'Toole that around €30 billion of the €54 billion buy out/bail out, whatever you want to call it, is going to one Anglo Irish Bank!!! This is extraordinary. A dead bank with less than 50 clients who, between them have bankrupted the bank and the country. For why, I have to ask? Nothing good can come of it for the ordinary taxpayer and as a result of those two things I am anti-NAMA.
That is not to say that I either have, or understand the complexities of the alternatives and Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore do not fill me with confidence on that front either.
I suppose that this is the nub of the issue politically, really. Fianna Fail, whenever the next election comes, should be finished - although there is no way that I believe their core support is as low as some polls are indicating - but when you look across the Dail Chamber at the alternative you have to ask yourself: what's better about them? Other than a lack of those invidious inter-relationships I mentioned earlier. In my book anyway, they probably deserve their chance at this stage.
As for the Greens? Well, historically, any party that has propped up a Fianna Fail administration has suffered subsequently. Look at Labour and the Progressive Democrats. They were punished by a combination of the 'Anyone But Fianna Failers', their own voters and the swing voters. I suspect the Green Party may suffer a similar fate.
And as for NAMA - can it be stopped? The only way to stop it at this stage, in my humble opinion, would be to topple the Government.
What would that take? Could we do it? Do we care enough? Is it worth it? Now there's an interesting question........ Maybe they could debate that one on The Frontline next Monday!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Irelands' Sail Training Future

Sail Training International have shown a huge committment to Ireland in the recent past - and indeed for the foreseeable future. Their most high-profile event, the International Tallships Race, having been in Waterford in 2005, makes a welcome return in 2011. Further to that it will return to these shores again the following year in 2012 when Dublin will play host to the event.

All the more pity then, that Ireland currently has no sail training programme and if Mr McCarthy of An Bord Snip Nua fame gets his way, it will not have one into the future in order to save an immediate €3m (insurance payment claimed on Asgard II) and to further save €0.8m annually - the cost of running the sail training programme - which by the way, came entirely from Lottery funds.

The main reason that the Tallships Races are held at all, is to promote youth development through the fantastic medium of sailing. I can personally attest to its usefulness, as, with a husband who has for the greater part of our marriage been Captain of one or other Sail Training Ship, I hear regularly of the changes it has wrought in otherwise hard-to-reach youngsters; others who may have gone off the rails; some who need to gain maturity or even those who have suffered severe disadvantages in their lives. Sailing on a ship, in many cases seems to give so much more than the obvious to these young people. Much more benefit than can be measured by the mere cost of running a sail training programme.

Add to that the enormous value of Asgard II to Ireland in terms of International flagwaving duties and the goodwill engendered when she visited foreign ports. I know for a fact she was worth far more to the Country than the paltry €0.8m is cost to keep her and keep her sailing.
However there are some who measure everything in terms of 'cost' and know nothing of 'value'. For a very small (Lottery) investment, Asgard II delivered enormous value to this small Country and indeed would surely have no peer as both the prettiest and indeed one of the most loved and famous ships in the worldwide Tallships fleet. It is so sad then, to think of her sitting upright and not badly damaged (we hear) on the bottom of the ocean off the coast of France.

Sadder far though, is that the demise of Asgard II seems to have heralded the demise too of Irelands' entire Sail Training Programme. Such a pity, when the International Tallships Race, the premier sail-training proponents in the World have shown such faith in Ireland (and our comittment to sail training??) by awarding us the race in two of our Countries best cities and ports; Waterford in 2011 and Dublin in 2012.
I welcome sincerely the announcement of Des Whelan as the Chairman of the Tallships event for Waterford in 2011. Des has a unique experience and is well capable of delivering an even better event for Waterford than the wonderful festival in 2005 which is universally fondly remembered by all our citizens. He has a huge task in front of him but I know that he will pull the right people together to work their collective fingers to the bone to deliver for our ancient port city.
Hopefully by the time the Tallships visits Waterford, the Government and relevant Minister (Willie O'Dea) will have had a change of heart on the value of sail training and will have re-instated our national programme, although sadly, probably with a different vessel. Hopefully someday Asgard II can be rescued from her watery resting place where, thankfully, I am told that her wooden hull should not have deteriorated over what could turn out to be a long, long time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lisbon Yes or No?

Personally speaking I could argue for both a Yes and a No vote to Lisbon!
However my no vote argument doesn't have anything to do with opposing the Lisbon Treaty - as I don't. But to be honest I'm not inclined to give the Government any win or credit by giving them what they want i.e. a yes vote.

However on balance I feel that this would be (proverbially) cutting off the countries nose to spite its' face. That doesn't mean that people won't take the opportunity to give the Government a bloody nose. I mean who wants to hear them crowing in the event of a 'yes'?

I don't think there could be a worse time for the referendum to be held as the amount of anger at the Government is astonishing. People are feeling sore and bitter and bracing themselves for a whole lot more financial pain. They still can't understand how it all went so wrong, so quickly. All with the distinct feeling that much of this could have been avoided with better management and an eye to the unsustainable taxes (see earlier blogs) which were treated as if they would last forever.

Then I look at who is leading the opposition and, of course, my Yes vote is confirmed. They're like Chicken-Licken running around shouting about the sky falling in (on every single EU vote that I can remember) which of course, it won't. Having said that, they are campaigning better than the Yes side.

Ireland needs to be on the pitch, playing with the big boys rather than on the sidelines watching the action. When you consider the original aims of the European project - they still stand. And it has delivered a long, peaceful period to an otherwise very volatile continent. Look at our history. Surely emphasizing co-operation and our 'European-ness' can only help to keep us all together, and working with each other rather than against each other.
Europe has delivered very positively for Ireland and we should be 'taking the hand from the wrist' off of them to ensure that we continue to play a role which is completely out of proportion with our small size.
I'm not convinced the Government can win this vote though. People want a change (of government) and their vote may well be more influenced by their emotions rather than by any consideration of what is a clumsy and difficult to read treaty. If that happens then the blame will lie firmly with an unpopular and unmandated (in these circumstances) Government which seems incapable of giving up power.

As for the Green Party? No matter what the surgery they are trying to convince us they are performing, it will be seen as cosmetic surgery only - when the big issue is keeping those deemed most responsible for this mess i.e. Fianna Fáil, in power. They will be punished for that no matter what they do.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Nell McCaffety Refused Treatment

I read an article in the Irish Times today that shocked me. It's about one woman: Nell McCafferty and a neurosurgeons' refusal to treat her because she was 'terse' with his staff.
Boo bloody hoo for his staff, I say!

Now Nell is not every ones' sup of tea. She's opinionated. She's testy. She's aggressive and to be honest she annoys the hell out of me a lot of the time. But that's neither her nor there.

The bottom line is: we have all, for a long time, dealt with the unspoken knowledge that you have to somehow 'charm' neurosurgeons or their secretaries in order to try and speed up or gain access that you might not otherwise get.
I can't tell you how many people have reported to me that they receive appalling treatment from these people but are afraid to speak up because they don't want to compromise their case.
Now it seems that they are right. Be mean to the staff and you will be refused treatment. Or, as in this case, turn up only to have had your appointment cancelled while the letter informing you was 'in the post'. Yeah.

The neurosurgeon in question and his staff should be ashamed of themselves. It seems that we all have to be humble, and sheepish, and grovelling in order to get what in this case is life-saving treatment.

So. A woman - a worried woman who had a brain aneurysm diagnosed (a condition which has caused death and devastation among her immediate family) was 'terse' with his staff. My God who does he think he is?
I think Nell should make a formal complaint both to the hospital and whatever his governing body is and all this blather that he is coming out with, saying that because he cancelled her appointment she was never his patient and he therefore has no responsibility to her should be seen for what it is: a powerful man, demanding a subserviant demeanor for him and for his staff from us lesser important mortals.

Aside from how you feel about Nell McCafferty, in this instance: Nell is me. Nell is you. A sick person seeking treatment.

So you can be refused that treatment if the staff don't like you now???? Well, what we always suspected is true then.

Photo shows Nell McCafferty in conversation with school girls.

Bad News From TEVA

Teva Pharmaceuticals in Waterford City have just announced 350 job losses over the next year from their 750 strong workforce. This is another devastating blow for the city from a profitable company which has been here for quite some time. Reports abound that the company is transferring to cheaper locations in Eastern Europe.

Other than mere platitudes - calls for task forces (has one ever delivered anything, anywhere??) and the like what does Waterford need to do to try and stem this tide of redundancies and try and build up for the future?

In my opinion there are some things that can be done. Whether anyone has the gumption to actually do them or not is the question. What are those things?

A University for the South East. Lets face it, Universities attract investment and jobs. Just look at Galway which was a small town of 15,000 people which has grown through investment to over 70,000.

Waterford Crystal. The Waterford Crystal brand is still huge. Government investment needs to come to the city to bring those showrooms and some manfacturing jobs right into the heart of the city. Those tourists are still coming. We need to make sure that they still come and that they deliver more for Waterford and a move to the city centre would achieve that.

A constraint on planning objections (it may well be too late for this one). Planning delays and objections - headed up by zealots and even (can you believe it) by people who are elected now to Waterford City Council, caused so much delay to some projects that they have not started and those delays have by extension cost this city thousands of jobs.

Government investment. The Government is going to have to stimulate the economy of Waterford and indeed Ireland though strategic investment to underline its own policy of Gateways driving growth in their regions.

Airport investment. If you are a company looking for a site there are certain things you are looking to be ticked off. University; tick? Airport; tick? If international access is not available then where is it available.

Re-organising of local government to ensure that the Gateways are not diluted by parish pump politics which threatens the sustainability of a region.

These are just some of the things that I believe could make a real difference.

How do we get those things? Our Government TD's. If they can't put Waterford before party politics at this stage then why are they there? If it were me I would be threatening to bring down the Government at this stage over the University issue alone - not to mention all the other issues.

How many more job loss announcements can this city afford? Every job lost has a huge ripple effect in the wider community. When do we cross the line in the sand?

Give us our University now. It is a huge tool in attracting and developing a region. Invest in Waterford Crystal. Invest in our Airport. Invest according to your own National Spatial Strategy. Stop amateur objecters costing us jobs. Extend the City administrative area.

Do I think that any of this will happen? If it doesn't we're in even bigger trouble than we should be. Does anyone have the heart for the fight? Do the people that are in those crucial positions? If not, what are their solutions. What can they do to help Wateford? Ask them. Ask the question: what does Waterford need to get itself out of this situation and what are you going to do to deliver it?

If I was in a position to deliver: I would. Waterford first. Not party. Not power. Some things are more important.


(Photo shows Teva Pharmaceuticals HQ in Jerusalem)