Tag Archives: Irish politics

Death and Taxes

Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, stated that

‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

While not wanting to speak ill of the dead, for the late Brian Lenihan the certainty of death is now is all too apparent, yet because of his calamitous decision to give a blanket guarantee to our banks when the financial crisis came to a head in September 2008, for the rest of us, the certainty of taxes will remain for a very long time indeed. Taxes on our homes, taxes on our wages, taxes on our water, taxes on our fuel, taxes on generations to come, and all as a result of a decision taken in in secret, without consultation or accountability, by a small group of bankers, economists and political leaders.

The recent outpouring of grief and the media love-in over the death of Mr Lenihan concentrated on the man’s personal courage in the face of death, and his affability and generous personal nature.  He was, we were told, a man of the people. Though I did not know him, I am sure that all of this is most likely true. However HSE statistics show that on the same day as Mr Lenihan passed away, close on one hundred people in total died in Ireland. I am sure that much could be said of the personal courage and affability of many of those people also, but they will have died in relative quiet in comparison to the huge coverage afforded to Mr Lenihan, for they were ordinary people, perhaps not as important to society as one such as Mr Lenihan. Nonetheless, history will record that Mr Lenihan, along with a select few politicians, economists, civil servants and bankers, is unique among us as being the only person who signed away our nations future by lumbering us with the debts of reckless and criminal bankers, a future which, had he listened to the advice given at the time by Merrill Lynch a consultancy company whom the Government hired and paid 6 million to for a few days work and who advised him against a blanket guarantee, might have lead us to a much different place today. So while we can mourn the passing of Brian Lenihan the man, we must also face the fact that Brian Lenihan the politician, due to his actions on that fateful September night, played a huge personal part in the destruction of our economy and our society and ensured that whatever about the certainty of death, the certainty of taxes will remain with the rest of us ordinary mortals for generations to come.

For Mr Lenihan at least, these certainty’s  are no longer a worry.

Ronan Gallagher


THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT

Somewhere in the world a butterfly flaps its wings. This seemingly insignificant action causes a tiny fluctuation in the earth’s atmosphere which sets off a train of events that over a period of time, results in a massive tornado occurring somewhere on the other side of the planet.

‘The Butterfly Effect’ is an elegant explanation of ‘Chaos Theory’ a strange and complex mathematical equation which essentially says that everything on the planet is interconnected and even the smallest fluctuation in the system can have far reaching, unforeseen, and sometimes devastating consequences.

It is a theory that our leaders here in Ireland and in Europe would be wise to take cognisance of as the current path which Irish and European citizens are being forced down by largely unelected and unaccountable mandarins, is of far more significance than a butterfly’s wing flaps, and if the Chaos Theory equation is applied to our economic and political system you can be sure that the resulting hurricane will have hugely devastating and as yet, unforeseen consequences.

One such consequence could be the break up of Europe and a reversion to insular nationalism which could put us right back to Europe pre 1939. Am I being ‘alarmistic’, as an unfortunate former Minister once put it? Should we be stocking up on our iodine tablets? Well, let’s see how such a scenario might play out.

As the debt contagion spreads throughout Europe, more and more of her people are being burdened with the debts of the banks and the bond holders who invested in them. Whatever one’s position is on this, there is absolutely no doubt that these debts were incurred through reckless, negligent, and possibly criminal behaviour by those banks and an abject failure on the part of bond holders, auditors, regulators, Governments, and the ECB to recognise the dangers of ‘bubble economics’ and take action to correct it. Having failed in their duty to the citizens of their countries, and the citizens of the wider Europe, these same leaders guarantee to pay these private bank and bond holder debts and place the burden on the shoulders of their citizens. In an attempt to ensure that these debts are paid and to further certain right wing ideologies, these elite groups inflict austerity measures that bite deep into the pockets of citizens and further contract already shrinking economies resulting in rising unemployment and unsustainable personal debt with devastating social, political, and economic results.

Already we are seeing these ripples of unrest spreading throughout Europe. In Spain a social network revolution not unlike the ‘Arab Spring’ managed to bring thousands into the capital Madrid’s Puerto del Sol square to camp out in protest at Spain’s rising unemployment and growing economic crisis. In Greece there is rising political and social unrest and increased defiance of the imposition by the Greek Government of IMF/EMU austerity measures and the forced sale of strategically important state assets. Portugal has just negotiated its own bail out with austerity measures to follow and Spain and Italy, both on extremely shaky ground, could be next. How will the citizens of these countries react to their loss of sovereignty when unavoidable austerity measures are imposed on them to pay for the debts of the banks, and the failures of their own Governments and European leaders? And what about Germany whose people have been told (wrongly in my opinion) that their taxes are being used to bail out countries such as Ireland, Greece and Portugal? Notwithstanding the fact that German taxes are ultimately being used to bail out German banks who recklessly gambled on Irish banks such as Anglo Irish, a fact which is not being made clear to them, people in Germany cannot be best pleased if they believe that they are being asked to pay for the excesses of others in what now seems like a failed European experiment.

There are those who will say that my above description of what is being done to the citizens of Ireland, Greece, Portugal and what will be done to other European countries whose economies also fail is too simplistic, that it’s too black and white with no allowance for grey areas, but no matter what nuance or spin you put on it, the core effect of what is happening with the IMF/EMU bailout deals is that private commercial debt is being burdened on the shoulders of the citizens of Europe at the same time as we are going through the worst recession since…well, since 1939.

The current recession with its crushing and unsustainable burden of debt, with no growth, no hope, rampant unemployment, economic uncertainty, and the social and political unrest which all that brings with it, is fertile ground for an upsurge in nationalism. The perceived injustices of pouring huge debts on the citizens of Europe to pay for the excesses and failures of others disconnects its citizens from the political system and enhances the growing view that Europe is more interested in serving the interests of big business and less and less in serving the interests of its citizens. This disconnect serves only to foment growing resentment among Europe’s citizens, erode the union’s authority and leadership, and diminish its relevance to its citizens thereby creating a void in European politics. Who knows, perhaps as in the 1930’s, under such circumstances a ‘charismatic’ leader or leaders, swept to power on a nationalist anti European agenda, might rise up from the ashes of an economically ruined Europe to fill that void. The reason given for Europe taking the path it has chosen to take during this economic crisis is to hold the union together; however as the chaos theory equation demonstrates, the possibility of the exact opposite happening is equally as likely.

And we all know where that led to in 1939.

Ronan Gallagher


The Beat of Mary Harney’s Drumm

The recent controversy over the 70,000 Euro bonus payment to the head of the HSE Mr Brendan Drumm, raises many questions, particularly over the role of Minister for Health Mary Harney. Her admission at the weekend that despite being paid nearly a quarter of a million euro a year as Minister of Health, and a further 750,000 in expenses, she has no responsibility over him or the HSE, is an astonishing, though totally true fact. It is also indicative of a grave fraud that has been perpetrated on the electorate, the taxpayer, and society in general who now find that Mz Harney has become nothing more than a very highly paid figurehead in one of the most important Government departments in this country. It is all the more astonishing to find that this ceding of power was brought about by none other than Mary Harney herself, with the full backing of the Government. Essentially, she passed all power and responsibility for our Health Service to an unelected professor complete with a wage tab of over half a million euro to boot.

One has to ask why, especially in a climate where we are all being told to become more competitive and cut wages, is Mz Harney still being paid her Ministers salary of nearly a quarter of million big ones? Why, if she now has no responsibility for Health, is she still being paid such a large salary and incurring such a huge expense bill also? Would it not be more efficient and more competitive to reduce her Ministers wages back down to the level of TD, given her much reduced responsibility and workload? This would have the effect of offsetting the very high cost to the state of employing Mr Drumm to run (or not run as some people claim) our health service. If Mz Harney has no responsibility for Health, why is she still Minister for Health? Why is she getting paid at all?

Hopefully one of our equally well paid journalists, might make room in their busy schedules to actually ask Mary Harney this same question at some point, or maybe they too have delegated that responsibility to someone else in this new ‘Banama Republic’ we seem to have created.


Lisbon: Post Coital.

The Lisbon Treaty referendum which we just went through was a bit like sex for Catholics.  We wanted to do it, but was it right? In the heat of the moment, with Lisbon, beautiful Lisbon, spread before us and simmering with seductive promise, we gave in, and in one  lustful moment threw caution to the wind resulting in a Yes! Yes! Yessssss! And now, as we lie, exhausted, sated, and puffing ponderously on  the post coital cigarette, the first tinges of guilt and the prospects of regret begin to creep in.

The tinges of guilt will stem from the fact that perhaps the whole thing was kind of forced, that in our lust we just couldn’t take no for an answer, the prospects of regret perhaps coming from the knowledge that now that we have made our bed, we must lie in it and can only hope we don’t get the wet side.

And if we do get the wet side what then? As the pro Lisbon forces in the country danced ‘the seven veils’ in front of our eyes, tantalising us with the promise of better things to come, they risked raising our excitement and expectation to levels they might not be able to live up to. The promise of jobs, economic stability, and a voice at the center of Europe was at the heart of the Yes campaign’s seductive moves as they strutted their stuff in a sensuous political pole dance which ended with them having their way with us. But as we all know, relationships often change and after the memory of the climax of our yes vote has faded, if those promises are not fulfilled, will we look to our bedfellow with the same dreamy, lust filled eyes? Or, in the cold light of day, will we  begin to see imperfections in our partner? If the result of the seduction does not lead to an improvement in our economy, more jobs, and our voice being heard effectively in Europe, will we become more distant and more critical? Will our lust turn to resentment, anger and ultimately blame? Will we begin to see Europe as a mistake, and, as with all mistakes in relationships, will it eventually lead  to increased pressure for a parting of the ways? And what if the same unfulfilled promise results in similar ‘relationship difficulties’ for other countries who ratified Lisbon, many without being even allowed to vote? What then for this new post coital Europe?

Will we be sitting together around the table come breakfast time or will we prefer to quietly slip out of the bed, sneak down the stairs and scuttle off into the cold, lonely, dark of the night? The outcome of this relationship depends on whether the seed of our seduction bears fruit or falls on barren ground. It is an outcome which now lies firmly in the control of our seducer whose power over us has been greatly enhanced with Lisbon.

Let us hope it is a power and an outcome that lives up to it’s promise.

For all our sakes.


Fab Vinnie, David Lee Roth and Michael O Leary

Back in the early eighties Dave Lee Roth, the spandex wearing ‘wella’ haired front man for 80’s superband Van Halen was being interviewed by Vincent Hanley otherwise known as ‘Fab Vinnie’ for the then hugely popular MT-USA Show on RTE. Vinnie, obviously in awe of the golden haired Roth, couldn’t contain himself and asked him what it was like to be so fabulously wealthy?

With a deft wave of a gold and diamond bejewelled hand, Roth flicked back his hair and looked right at Vinnie with those dreamy eyes and said

‘ You know Vincent, by the time I get to pay my manager, my lawyers, my accountants, my staff, my entertainment bills and the taxman, I’ve just about enough left to buy a small Caribbean island!’

I was reminded of this the other day while watching Michael ‘Arc Angel’ O Leary tell the nation in RTE’s Prime Time debate on Lisbon that we should vote for Lisbon because we are broke, because it is good for business and because he would rather have Europe run Ireland than the ‘Shower of incompetents in Leinster house‘. Michael went on to tell us that he was an important businessman. He employed a thousand people. He paid huge amounts of taxes here in his home country and told the nation that he brought inward investment with his company Ryan Air. Readers should note that it was at that point the memory of Vincent Hanley interviewing Mr Roth nearly a quarter of a century ago popped into my head.

You see, when Michael pays all his taxes etc you can be sure that his take home cheque wont leave him standing at the ATM machine praying to the God of ATM machines to please give him something, anything except that heart sinking message of

‘Sorry you have insufficient funds for this transaction’.

That aside, as long as Mr O Leary pays his fair amount of taxes and covers his costs which I’m sure he does, no matter how much he pays he should not feel that he has any rights or privileges over other tax payers, or that this gives him a right to a bigger say in our democracy than any other citizen of this state, be they taxpayer or welfare recipient.

And there’s where my problem with Europe lies. Deep under my skin I get the creeping feeling that Europe is getting more concerned about markets than people. More concerned about the economic imperative than the  social one. The more I hear ‘We need to be at the heart of Europe winning friends and influencing people‘, I can’t help but wonder if the whole European project amounts to nothing more than a lobbyists paradise? If so why not send a ‘Frank Dunlop’ to Brussels and save all this voting malarkey. Frankly speaking, a word in the right ear from a ‘Frank’ would surely see a jacuzzi in every house in the land. Just imagine it. A Europe with a budget worth billions of euro, covering nearly half a billion people, controlled by a gargantuan political structure where things get done by ‘winning friends and influencing people’ and where the social agenda is being tamed to allow free market conditions to prevail. What’s not to like for  Michael and many like him. It’s a businessman’s paradise!

So every time I hear a well paid business man, politician, economist, banker,  or lawyer tell the nation that they too are sharing the cuts and the pain like everyone else in this seemingly ‘banama’d’ republic, the memory of Mr Roth comes back to me. It rises up when I hear well paid commentators and journalists tell the nation that public sector pay must be cut, education and health cuts must be implemented, that we are all living beyond our means. And it really hits home when one realises that the cuts that the well heeled are taking are more than the average yearly wage of over 80% of the people in this country.

Europe and Ireland. A world of equals? I don’t think so.


It’s Not Easy Being Green!

It’s not easy being green. So goes the old Van Morrison song, and in today’s political and economic climate, as John Gormley and the Irish Greens are finding out, never was a truer word spoken (or sung).

Having derived their political power from concerns about the future of the planet they seem to have largely forgotten that they need to have a social vision as well as an environmental one. Their support of Fianna Fail seems to be predicated on them getting what they want in terms of bettering our environment, at the expense of bettering our society. The unwritten rule seems to be that Fianna Fail can bail out banks, slash and burn services, and generally have a free hand at whatever they want as long as they allow the Greens to pursue and implement their own agenda. Listening to John Gormley today on RTE one would get the impression that he was the one responsible for the recent and forthcoming amendments to the NAMA legislation. No doubt someone more qualified than me will remind him that were it not for the grass-roots revolution in their Green party, John and his fellow Greens in Cabinet would have allowed the NAMA bill to go through unchallenged.  Their relative silence regarding the social devastation which much of the McCarthy report will bring on the most vulnerable in society is indicative of their ‘keep the head down and plough on with our own Green agenda’ policy which they seem to have  adopted since taking up their positions in Government. One does not have to be a Pulitzer prizewinner to know that were the Greens in opposition right now, they would be screaming from the rooftops in protest at the McCarthy report and the totally unbalanced Commission on Taxation Report which puts the burden on ordinary citizens and gives more tax breaks to business thus allowing the economic imperative to supersede the social imperative yet again.

Whilst I am in total agreement with them on their relentless pursuit of the Green agenda, I am also fully aware that these Green policies and initiatives will not be sustained if the Green Party is, like the PD’s, decimated and banished to history in the next election. Mr Gormley’s call yesterday for a social dividend to be paid from NAMA might be seen as a sea change but might also be too little, too late. The price they might have to pay for their political singularity could be total annihilation and a collapse in public support for all things Green.

That, dare I say it, could set back the environmental agenda by decades, something which would be disastrous for everybody and which could plunge Ireland into an even deeper economic, environmental, and societal black hole.


Deja Vu

Listening today to An Taoiseach Brian Cowan on RTE’s News at One exhorting us all to vote yes in the second, upcoming referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, I had a terrible sense of Deja Vu. You know that feeling where you are sure you have heard or lived through something before?

Our glorious leader warned us all that the best way to keep our commissioner was to vote yes. If we wanted to be at the heart of Europe we should vote yes. If we wanted to retain our ‘influence’ in Europe we should vote yes. If we didn’t want to be shunned by Europe we should vote yes.

Hadn’t I heard all this before not more than fifteen months ago? Did not our Taoiseach Mr Cowan himself tell us all this during the first and very recent referendum? Didn’t he have anything new to bring to the table? Then it occurred to me that I might possibly be listening to an interview which RTE had dragged up from the archives of the last referendum debate, but no, the presenter clearly informed the listeners that the interview was conducted live in the studio today Wednesday Sept 02 2009.

Is it truly possible that this Government thinks that it can win this referendum by repeating the arguments of the last one, arguments which were rejected by the people little more than a year ago? Is it conceivable that despite all the consultations, summits and other activities since the last referendum the Taoiseach can only come up with a repeat of the same arguments put forward back then? Or is it possible that Mr Cowan, having seen the so called ‘legal guarantees’ being exposed as little more than a toothless political agreement between heads of state, now realises that in fact what he is putting to the people next October is exactly the same as was put to them over a year ago, hence the repetition of the same argument as last time? And if this is true then could not Mr Cowan and many on the yes side be accused of corrupting and manipulating our democratic process to suit their wishes over those of the people by presenting the exact same argument which the people rejected on June 13 last year by a sizeable 53.4% of the votes?

A further worrying familiarity is that at the end of the interview Mr Cowan was asked again if he had read the treaty. This was a question he chose, for whatever reason, not to answer, instead preferring to tell us that the Government and all Departments would be ‘au-fe’ (I’ve never really understood what the hell that means) with all aspects of the treaty.

Today’s interview raises many questions which those who have been through the first referendum will find familiar. That is because they are exactly the same questions raised last time out. Questions like, if we vote no will we lose our Commissioner? If we vote no will we be shunned by Europe, and if so, who wants any part of that kind of democracy? Is our influence in Europe dependent on us saying yes to everything Europe demands? Oh and one last but very important one. Has our Taoiseach actually read the treaty this time?

Please tell us that you have Taoiseach….Please….

See what I mean about Deja Vu!



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