Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I have moved!

I've moved to Wordpress, visit my new site here. Thanks for checking in!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bail and bail outs

This was written yesterday, before we had all the figures. For a proper analysis of those see www.irishtimes.com, where they have people who know about maths!

The concept of bail is an odd one. It’s a bit like a hostage situation really, except the Government is the kidnapper and it’s the family who pays up. If, that is, you have the type of family that wants you around. If not, nobody pays, and you languish somewhere overcrowded with no proper toilet facilities for a long, long time.
The concept of bail originated in medieval England, to ransom hostages captured in battle, and to cope with a shortage of travelling magistrates which meant that pre-trial imprisonment could go on for rather a long time.
These days, however, Googling ‘bail’ provides some depressing results. The legal meaning seems to have been largely overshadowed by the more recent term ‘bail out’, usually applied to financial institutions and now, increasingly, countries on the periphery of Europe.
Google ‘bail-out’ and click ‘pages from Ireland’ and an even more depressing 84,800 results comes up. 10,600 of those had been posted in the 24 hours up to my search.
Bail came to mind yesterday as I observed the reaction of people to the guy who drove into the gates of Leinster House in a cement lorry. At the time of writing he was being questioned at Pearse Street Garda station under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984.
I don’t know, at this point, if he’s going to be charged with anything. I’m not sure if I think he should or not; he did damage a lovely pair of antique gates, at, I’m sure, a cost to the taxpayer. That’s just not good manners.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with his sentiment. The guy is obviously pretty angry. I’m pretty angry too. I think we all are. Angry, depressed, and waiting, like a beaten dog, for the next blow. This guy, like the dog that’s been beaten too many times, snapped.
But back to bail.
It was a friend of mine who posted on her Facebook status, along with a link to the picture of his ‘Toxic Bank’ emblazoned cement lorry “if this guy needs a contribution to his bail please call me”, that got me thinking about bail and bailouts.
We will know today how much it’s cost us to bail out Anglo-Irish Bank. It doesn’t really bear thinking about, largely because none of us can compute what €30bn actually is. €30,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeroes, and more money than any of us will see in a lifetime, even if things do go a bit Weimar Republic.
In England Northern Rock was bailed out, in the US AIG was bailed out, in Europe Greece has been bailed out, and Russia helped to bail out Iceland.
If ‘the markets’, those faceless Blofeld types and computer algorithms that have decided Ireland is not a good bet, don’t calm down soon, it’s looking possible, even likely, that we will be next.
For what my money’s worth (for the short time that I still have any), I’m with my friend on this one. I’d prefer to bail out the Toxic Bank truck guy than the actual toxic bank. No harm for Sean Fitzpatrick and co to languish somewhere overcrowded, with no proper toilet facilities, for a long time.
Too bad we don’t have a choice.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Because I am a Girl

This week I'm guest blogging on Plan Ireland's Because I am a Girl blog.

Plan is a great development NGO working around the world providing education, healthcare, and most importantly capacity building for families and communities, with a particular focus on women. Educate a girl and you educate a whole village.

I had the privilege of meeting Plan's spokesperson Benedicta Attoh at a meeting of Network Cork earlier this year where she spoke about her experience of growing up in Africa, where she experienced much of the deprivation and discrimination that Plan is fighting against.

The blog is part of a larger campaign being run by Fuzion Communications to increase Plan's visibility in Ireland. It's a wonderful idea and I'm delighted to have been asked to participate.

You can read it here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Saving the nation

Yesterday I went to get a sandwich in the middle of the newsroom rush. One of the annoying things about working in an industrial estate (lovely and all as Northpoint is) is that you have to drive practically everywhere, so I hopped into my car and zipped up to our local garage.
On the way, I listened to Minister for Education Mary Coughlan and the seemingly decontaminated Richard Bruton fighting about bank bonds, the state of the country (that old chestnut) and importing third-level students for the fees.
I had just finished reading an exceptionally depressing article by David McWilliams, suggesting that the country is turning into an economic wasteland, followed by another, by Dan O’Brien, saying that we are now exporting people at a rate of nine in 1,000.
Queueing to pay for my sandwich in the garage, I felt a stab of panic – then guilt – at handing over €3.99 (not including the accompanying packet of crisps, which probably cost about 50 cent). That’s €3.99 you should be saving! You’re lucky to even have a job!
Then, in a mental swerve that astonished even me, a well-known vacillator, I gave myself an invisible pat on the back for doing as we’ve been told and unselfishly spending my hard-earned cash.
I eyeballed the guy behind the counter, and telepathically communicated to him just how glad he should be that I didn’t have any bread in the house this morning, and my €3.99 was now, almost, in his pocket. Keeping people in jobs, now, I was. What a trooper.
But the bit that really got me thinking was my own reaction to an exchange between the guy behind the counter, and someone I must presume was an American tourist who was paying for petrol.
Hank – for we will call him Hank – was having some difficulty paying for his gas. A little confusion over the Chip & Pin machine and some awkward misunderstandings between Hank and the guy on the till eventually led to smiles all round and a successful transaction.
Commercial affairs concluded, Hank turned to the queue – me, Breakfast Roll Man in front of me, and a few more, all patiently waiting – and smiled widely at us.
“Now, just to remember to stay on the left hand side, haha!”
“Haha”, I trilled back, grinning like… well, grinning like something out of a Bord Fáilte ad. And doing my best to look friendly, and, er, Irish.
Breakfast Roll man was too intent on the two Mars Bars, two cans of Coke he was clutching (both 2 for €2 at the moment, special offer) to say anything. An elderly man behind me looked blank.
Now, I’m naturally friendly, something that has landed me in trouble many, many times.
But it wasn’t my natural charm and politeness coming to the fore.
Oh no. It was his money I was after.
Following the nanoseconds of conscience-wrestling in which I decided I needed to buy that sandwich for the good of the nation, my eyes had alighted on Hank (and my ears on his mellifluous twang), and I’d decided that, heck, my money wasn’t enough.
Hank was going to be the one to save us.
So I simpered and grinned like Darby O’Gill. I’m not happy about it. But I didn’t say anything beginning with ‘begorrah’.
And Hank, if you’re reading this? I hope you had a lovely drive. Begorrah. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Juvenile delinquents

Editorial from Thursday 16 September

I’m not talking about the Junior Certs. They’re paragons of good behaviour, compared to some of their ‘role models’. While everyone was busy sniggering at Brian Cowen, or invading the moral high ground this week, it was another image from this week’s Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party shindig that caught our imagination here at Cork Independent HQ.

An image of An Tánaiste fixing her smart suit for an official parliamentary party photo, because she had just been sat on, for a laugh, by Cork TD Noel O’Flynn.
Whatever your views on Mary Coughlan as a person or as a politician, surely we have more respect for the office of Deputy Prime Minister?
Noel O’Flynn is Mary Coughlan’s junior by quite a bit in terms of professional ranking. Mary Coughlan is, if not the boss, the second in command.
Those of you who work for large companies, take a minute. Picture yourself at an official function. The announcement of a new acquisition, maybe, or a major contract signing. You’re not on a company night out, where the rules are a bit relaxed; there are members of the media, photographers, your immediate boss, and probably their boss too.
What do you do as the official photograph is being taken?
Do you run over to the company Vice-President and sit on his lap?
Like hell you do. Your termination notice would be in your hand before you even stood up.
Anybody working for a multinational or any kind of professional outfit will have broken into a cold sweat reading that.
But apparently it’s ok, because this is Ireland, this politics, not business, and, sure, isn’t Mary Coughlan always up for a laugh?
Imagine Bernard Allen, then a fairly junior Fine Gael TD, attempting to sit on revered Cork Tánaiste Peter Barry during a press conference. Imagine a jovial Charlie Haughey alighting on Tánaiste Seán Lemass’ knee, as the camera rolled and Gay Byrne shouted questions at them.
What’s most astounding about this is it hasn’t even been questioned. By anybody. The huffing and puffing about Brian Cowen’s state on Tuesday morning has distracted from this little episode, which raises more than one question about Irish politics.
The first one, about basic respect for public office, has already been dealt with. All of us make mistakes in our careers, but the office of Taoiseach, the responsibility it entails, is too important to be treated the same as any old nine to fiver where you can show up the worse for wear and lay your head on the desk for the day.
But the second is a different question entirely. With gender quotas back on the table; when talented young politicians like Olwyn Enright just cannot make politics work for them; and as Ireland has one of the lowest rates of female representation in the world, why is it ok for a middle aged male politician to behave towards his female superior like a teenage boy whose next trick will be to make rude noises with his armpit?
It is inconceivable that a male Tánaiste would be treated like this.
A photograph of one of Cork’s few young female politicians – City Councillor Laura McGonigle – appeared in this newspaper recently. The photo was taken at an official function she attended in her capacity as Deputy Lord Mayor, and she was wearing a ballgown. Women wear ballgowns at these things; we are expected to look decorative at all times.
A week later, she started receiving abusive text messages, with personal comments about certain aspects of her appearance, purporting to be complimentary.
If a male Deputy Lord Mayor appeared in this newspaper wearing a suit, his wife would probably be the only one to notice how he looked in the picture.
But this constituent apparently thought he had a right to express an opinion on whether he found her attractive or not. He was even surprised when she mentioned the Gardaí.
Is it any wonder Olwyn Enright decided politics might not be compatible with motherhood? Is it any wonder Brian Cowen thought the office of Taoiseach would not be compromised by a few scoops? Is it any wonder the country is the way it is, when we have no respect for the highest offices in the State, and those elected to them can’t even respect each other?


Editorial from Thursday 9 September

Bertie Ahern might be our next President. Ivor Callely is a victim. There’s no need to be concerned at our international credit rating being downgraded. Not only are we expecting a royal visit, but Queen Elizabeth is going to move into Blackrock Castle with Gerry Adams, as they have always secretly had a thing for one another.

Cork is going to be made a Republic in a matter of months, giving Brian Cowen his wish of making Offaly Ireland’s ‘real capital’, and taking some expensive items off his shopping list for Cork (M20, Cork Docklands Project, North City Ring Road, and giving Micheál Martin an opportunity to be Taoiseach sooner rather than later, without letting him near Merrion Street).
Let me see. What else?
A vibrant, viable Opposition party with ideas and fresh thinking is actually there, it’s just been invisible for a little while. Cork won the All Ireland Hurling Final, they were just wearing blue and yellow jerseys to psych out Henry Shefflin. The world is run by elected representatives, and not by faceless investors who control everything from your mortgage repayments to how much money you’ll have to live on when you’re old. Parking is free at hospitals, and if you’re entitled to social welfare, you might get it without a seven-month delay.
All of these statements fit, I think, into the broad category of ‘delusions’.
Most of them I made up – sadly – but the first two came, independently, from the minds of the protagonists.
Bertie Ahern believes, apparently, that the biggest mistake of his 11 years as Taoiseach was not building the Bertie Bowl.
Ivor Callely is going to court to, er, ‘prove’, that he’s been victimised by the Seanad committee that found him guilty of falsifying his expenses in a most incredible way.
Medicine.Net defines a ‘delusion’ as ‘A false personal belief that is not subject to reason or contradictory evidence and is not explained by a person's usual cultural and religious concepts (so that, for example, it is not an article of faith). A delusion may be firmly maintained in the face of incontrovertible evidence that it is false.’
Now, the whole idea of ‘article of faith’ may be questionable where applied to Bertie and Ivor. I don’t want to tar all politicians, all Fianna Fáil politicians, or even all former North Dublin Fianna Fáil TDs with the same brush, but perhaps self-promotion is an ‘article of faith’ in all politics, and not just in Fianna Fáil?
I suppose it’s a necessary evil in some jobs. My photograph is at the top of this article, after all, and what is that but a form of self-promotion?
But when self-promotion evolves into self-adulation and delusions about one’s importance, popularity, and general relevance to the world, there’s a problem.
Both Callely and Ahern – like Haughey before them – seem to see themselves as tragic Shakespearean figures. Great men, wronged by those they have done so much to help.
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless electorate!
King Lear wouldn’t have a patch on them.

Working things out

Editorial from Thursday 2 SeptemberThroughout the Celtic Tiger years we were told that the rising tide was lifting all boats, and the lot of every sector in society was improving as a consequence of the genius of our bankers and the Government. There are a number of untruths in that sentence, but you can pick those out for yourself.
Even during those years, there was doubt about the kind of work we value. Carers, for example, fought long and hard for recognition of the work they do every day. Most of these carers are women, and they’re caring for family members, friends or neighbours. Many of them were unpaid, while even now they receive an ‘allowance’ and not a salary, despite the work they do being the most important work, on a human level, that anybody can do.
Of course, to convince the Government – and the electorate – that this work was worth paying for, it was necessary to reduce it to numbers. €2.5 billion is the value, in monetary terms, of carers’ work to the economy each year. How much is a hug worth, or a kind gesture, or daily personal contact?
Voluntary work has also come under this kind of scrutiny over the past few years – with various interest groups and politicians coming out with numbers to quantify the work done by tidy towns committees, fundraising groups, community activists and volunteer sports coaches, among others.
But among all this talk of economic benefit we seem to have lost sight of the fact that this is supposed to be a society, not an economy. Economic benefit is a good thing, but is not the only thing we have to think about.
What about social benefit? What about individual benefit?
Work is essentially a positive thing. The right kind of work for the person can be rewarding, challenging, even life-affirming. People who feel rewarded and challenged are a benefit to society – and if they enjoy their work, they are more likely to be good at it, thus conferring that economic benefit everybody is harping on about.
The announcement that the Department of Social Protection has come up with a scheme of community work for people who claiming Jobseekers’ benefit should be, I think, a welcome one. Old-fashioned as this may sound, making a contribution to your community cannot be a bad thing.
While the dignity of unemployed people must be respected, this is not a ‘Famine’ scheme. People will not be chain-ganged or forced to break rocks, as some hysterical reactions will have you believe. Work can bring its own dignity; human interaction, giving something back to society, and a reason to get up in the morning.
The scheme is not perfect – it’s not going to give people €50k salaries, power and influence or the ability to afford a holiday. But it’s a start. And, with the alternatives reduced to emigrating or sitting at home for many people, it’s better than nothing.  

The notion of work - paid work, unpaid work, work in the home, homework – is a fluid one, dependent on place and time and individual preferences. Studying sociology in college I learned about the concept of paid for work versus unpaid (largely, women’s) work. One person’s pointless meandering through Facebook is another person’s dayjob – while mucking out horses may be fun for some but is definitely work for others.

Landmark moments

This is my editorial from Thursday 26 August. Apologies for delay updating!

We all have those moments in our lives that stand apart as landmarks. They might be a way of remembering a loved one or idyllic period, or they might be the marker of a turning point or an 'annus horribilis'. While they are moments that may be historically significant to the entire world, they can evoke a powerful individual nostalgia for that which is no more.

My history teacher used to tell us, "Mammy was making sausages for the tea when we heard President Kennedy was shot". Every time he said it, we could see him gaze misty-eyed out the window, as he remembered the smell of the sausages, the spit of the pan and the look of saintly suffering in the eyes of the Sacred Heart picture that hung over their black and white television.
My mother remembers the Bay of Pigs crisis, because the nuns made them practice hiding under desks. When she sees old footage of the crisis, or hears of it, she feels cold stone under her bare knees and smells chalk and sour milk and wet wool, that indefinable odour of a primary school. The nuns weren't to know, I suppose, that a desk wouldn't be much protection from the type of explosion that vaporises people. But if any of those women, now in their fifties, are ever stuck in an earthquake, I'd say they'll be absolutely fine.
On my own account, I remember the 9/11 attacks and the feeling of absolute helplessness when I realised that this was happening, we could watch it happening, over and over again, and yes, those dots on the outside of the Twin Towers were people, who were almost certainly dead by the time we watched the footage.
Funny that all three of our memories are based on American events. But the other common thread here is that, despite our different ages and circumstances, and interests, all the events that we remember as somehow defining a particular time in our lives, were major world events brought to us by the media.
Something that happened during the week brought home to me just how powerful media coverage of what happens, and the priority it gets, are in ordinary people's lives, and how media priorities are changing.
The first was when I watched the – by now infamous – YouTube video of a woman putting a cat in a dustbin in England. Sky News have sent a special team to the woman's house to report on an angry mob that has gathered.
Yes, it was cruel, and it was wrong. But let's get some perspective here. It wasn't really cruel on the scale of, for example, 150 women being raped in one village in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a single day. That was last month. I didn't see any Sky News reporters on the ground there. Nor, by the way, did I read of it in any Irish newspaper.
Nor was it pivotal to future world politics in the way that the lack of aid being provided to Pakistan at the moment will almost certainly be. The floods in that country, and a process of rebuilding which will be very vulnerable to manipulation from fundamentalist groups, could be a turning point in the ongoing difficulties between hardline Islam and the West in much the same way the Bay of Pigs was for the Cold War.
In forty years time, will our children and grandchildren be asking us where we were, when we found out that a woman put a cat in a wheelie bin on the side of the road somewhere in the UK? I don't think so. Maybe it's time the media grew up a little, and recognised where our priorities – all our priorities – lie.
The one thing I'd like to thank that woman for, is that she's coined a new idiom. No longer will I say 'storm in a teacup'. 'Cat in a wheelie bin' will do just fine, and I look forward to explain it to my grandchildren

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010


This is my editorial from last week's paper. I've noticed similar pieces a couple of places,in yesterday's Agenda magazine and elsewhere, but this was written last Tuesday.

There are a lot of euphemisms about these days, masking unpleasant news. We’re all familiar with downsizing, resizing and – the most recent word from the world of human resources – ‘rightsizing’. De-energising is the latest one. Coined, seemingly, by the ESB, it refers to what the rest of us call ‘disconnecting’.
Last month, the state-owned energy company ‘de-energised’ 900 households for failing to pay their electricity bills. That’s up from 500 last August.
The news also comes in the same week that the Government floated plans to bump up electricity prices by 5 per cent, adding an estimated €30 per year to household bills as part of a new levy.
€30 doesn’t sound like a lot.
But it is when you remember that this is on top of already well-inflated prices. A 17.5 per cent jump in late 2008, just before the start of the coldest winter most of us can remember, and consistent, small, increases both before and after that.
And it is when you remember that many households have taken substantial pay cuts. Pay cuts have been well documented at this stage, and while some in the private sector – usually those who are still working in their pre-bust jobs – have seen their salaries return to ‘normal’ levels, there are still plenty who haven’t. Public sector workers are still at about 85 per cent of their previous salaries. 13.7 per cent of us are unemployed.
The new levy will come on top of an increase in mortgage rates – the increase varies, but for some customers the hike is as much as €40 per month.
It also comes on top of a 9.2 per cent increase in the costs of education (according to the latest Consumer Price Index figures from the CSO, for July), and an increase in transport costs (2.7 per cent).
In her book The Shock Doctrine, sociologist Naomi Klein discusses how private interests so often triumph over public ones in the wake of disasters. ‘The shock doctrine’ is defined as using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters -- to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.
And what greater shock has this country had since its foundation than the economic crisis? While the Government discusses selling off essential services like Cork Airport and Bord Gáis, we have taken on the liabilities of some of the country’s most reckless private interests.
While economic theory may not seem relevant to your pocket or mine, take a minute to think about it. Why, with no consultation and no opportunity to protest, will we all soon be paying 5 per cent more for electricity, supplied by a company that we own? Why, when we own the banks, will we be paying one or two per cent more interest on our mortgages, while bank staff play golf at our expense? Why, if we can’t manage our bills as it is, and that five per cent makes paying a bill on time every time unachievable, will we be cut off from a service supposedly run by the Government for our benefit?
Naomi Klein has one term for it – the shock doctrine – but we can thank the marketing department at the ESB for coming up with a new and better one. De-energised is a much better term to describe the state of the nation. We’ve lost the energy to fight back.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Justeat.ie - it's pretty simple!

There are some evenings you just don't want to cook. I love cooking, and even I will admit this. But I'm usually pretty reluctant to get a takeaway - I've watched all those 'You Are What You Eat' shows where they show you what you eat in a week on a big table, and I'm determined that my big table would, firstly, be a little table, and secondly, mostly be constituted of things I can identify, rather than chemicals.
This isn't a food blog, but my Twitter followers will be aware that I love my grub and I love to cook.
Having spotted that, the lovely @EimearMcCormack from JustEat.ie contacted me to ask if I'd like to write a post on the company's service. With an offer of €20 to pay for my meal, I was in. (Insert 'cheap date' joke, here).
Living in Cork I'm lucky to have some fantastic restaurants on my doorstep for the nights that I do go out to eat. It's rare enough that I get takeaway, but Cork has some very good choices in this regard - even for the health-conscious.
My favourite pizza in the entire world comes from Uncle Pete's on Pope's Quay. These guys are really passionate about their food, and it shows. Now, it's not the cheapest - my usual, the personal sized primavera, is about €12. But it's well worth it. You can customize your pizza as it's made right there in front of you. They also offer a range of pasta dishes and wines. They are a devoted takeaway, with no sit-down area, and as a proud nouveau Norrie I love the urban legend that they don't deliver to the Southside. I don't think it's anything more than an urban legend though.
Using the JustEat.ie system was so simple I could do it on my iPhone. Their site is not really made for iPhones, and they don't have an app (yet, I presume), but it was still quick and easy. You register, using your email address and password, and you can either pay by credit card - very handy if, like me, you don't tend to have cash on you for the delivery person - or by cash when you get your food delivered.
I submitted the form - for one of JustEat.ie's fantastic €5 feast offers each for me and the boyfriend - at about 6.40pm.
A word on those offers - they're amazing value - as I said, Uncle Pete's is not cheap so €5 for one of their main courses - we both chose spaghetti with meatballs - is incredibly good value. The offers are still open, I think, and my next adventure is Banna Thai on Maylor Street, which comes highly recommended.
About a minute after we submitted the online form I got a call from Uncle Pete's confirming the details and giving the usual 'wait' warning. Not to worry - our food arrived about 20 minutes later.
Very quick, very easy, and very, very delicious. Uncle Pete's do the best meatballs I've ever eaten, in Ireland, Italy or anywhere else. Can't recommend them - or JustEat.ie - highly enough.
Watch out for the next post, when I check out Banna Thai!

Monday, August 16, 2010


I've been doing some work with Newstalk recently. Here I am on last Friday's Lunchtime show, with Newstalk's Cork correspondent Jonathan Healy, talking about two things I really know very little about - children and the GAA! So you'll forgive me if I sound a bit, well, blonde. Because I had done lots of research on Larry Murphy and this is what I ended up talking about. (From 35 minutes).

The following day I was on Saturday Edition with Brendan O'Brien, as part of their newspaper review panel with Evelyn Cusack from Met Éireann. The podcast isn't online yet, but once it is, it'll be here.

Protest power

This is my editorial from last week's Cork Independent 

As I drove to work last Wednesday, I was delighted to hear on the radio that a protest against the attitude of the Catholic Church to women is being organised, for 26 September.
Finally, I thought, women are getting angry.
I have been angry for quite some time at the treatment of women by one of the world’s largest organisations. We in the West tend to look down on Islam for its perceived subjugation of women, but in this case we are almost certainly living in glass houses.
And the woman who got angry? Step forward ‘the monk’s mother’. So named by the Irish Times, Jennifer Sleeman from Clonakilty (who informed Morning Ireland  that, in fact, she has five other children), is very angry, and hurt.
She has cause to be angry. A former Presbyterian, she is one of very few people in Ireland to have actively chosen Catholicism. The rest of us simply accepted it as our birthright.
Well, most of us do. Some don’t – quite a number of Irish people have registered on the website www.countmeout.ie, which formally removes a person from the Catholic Church, and many more are practicing Catholics only insofar as they marry in churches, baptise their children and send them to Catholic schools, whether by choice or not.
But back to Ms Sleeman. At the age of 80, she is the only woman I’ve heard of trying to organise a response to the increasing disregard for women the Catholic Church, under Pope Benedict XVI, is purveying. She is asking women not to attend Mass on Sunday 26 September.
I have heard French women and American women being interviewed on Irish radio about this issue – mostly on Newstalk, funnily enough – RTE doesn’t seem that interested. But I have heard no Irish Catholic woman, before this, speak out on the issue as if it was one they wanted to do something about.
Could it be that the majority of us believe the Church has done us such a grievous wrong that there is no going back? Or, worse, could it be that so many see the Church as an irrelevance, something anachronistic that has no import on our lives?
For those who are believers, the most recent betrayal of women by the Church – proclaiming the ordination of women with paedophilia as equally serious sins – must have been devastating.
Leaving aside the terrible revelations about sexual and physical abuse, the mismanagement of these scandals, the suffering of women in the Magdalen laundries and other issues which have arisen in relation to the Church, this latest blow on its own was bad enough.
For women who have worked all their lives for the Church as cleaners, sacristans, flower arrangers, altar decorators, tea makers, choir mistresses, singers, housekeepers and all the hundreds of small, menial jobs the organisation requires to keep going – largely unpaid – it is nothing less than a slap in the face. They have not been given robes, homes or livelihoods by the Church. They are not adored; they do not have titles.
And now, they are discovering that they do not even have the respect of a religion many have devoted their lives to.
I have great admiration for Jennifer Sleeman. She loves her religion and wants to make it something worthy of that love and respect. While I am not myself religious, I hope that those who are will join her in her protest and make its deafening silence reach all the way to Rome.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Silly season

Thanks to The Guardian's Organ Grinder and, of course, The Sun, for this image, which you can find at http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/organgrinder/2010/jul/23/the-sun-parasailing-donkey

My predictions just two weeks ago that silly season had begun (following a nervous chat with a journalist and photographer from another fine Cork publication, in which the sense of dread felt by all three of us was palpable) has proven, sadly, to be correct.
The Ivor Callely story - which took pride of place in our paper this week - is giving both national and local media (in both Cork and Dublin - thanks Ivor) something to chew on. For a while.
Otherwise, though, it's pretty dreary. The newsdesk email is dead. Nobody is answering the phone. Even political press releases on subjects as enlightening as potholes, pavements and mortgage interest relief, are thin on the ground. It's the time when the contents of your average popular YouTube video featuring an animal or a dancing baby actually qualifies as news (as opposed to the rest of time, where we include Cork-related ones just for the laugh, like this, and this).
It does make me wonder, though - how come PR companies haven't latched onto August as the time to make hay for their clients? I know they need holidays too, but in terms of easy coverage, August is a no-brainer.
When we have real news to report, press releases are thrown on the slagheap, but when there is no real news, we still have to fill pages.
It can be one of the most depressing parts of the job for both journalist and editor, but "filler" is a huge component of modern newspapers, especially local newspapers, where we can't bump up the 'international news' section to make up for a lack of local news, and that quirky tale of someone's dog eating their foot  is just not appropriate for our use. (Unless we can figure out that the guy had an ancestor from Cork).
There are only so many pictures of kids eating ice cream you can put in one newspaper, and the weather isn't very conducive to that. Plus, most freelance photographers seem to be on holidays too.
We are using the extra time we have in the newsroom, and the extra news pages, to do some in-depth news features, which usually we don't have room for. I'm quite excited about this, as it gives the reporters some room to carry out proper research and multiple interviews, rather than the usual fast pace of our researching and writing.
Having spoken today, via The Twitter, to @GavinGrace, a broadcaster working in Clare, it seems every media outlet in the country is having the same problem. It's a good time to use imagination and a bit of flair, and sometimes to try out new things, although it's a pain having to bear in mind that you may try out a new set piece / column / feature only to find that when things start happening again in September you have no room for it.
Like I said before. If you know of a footballing dog - please, now is the time. All cute animal stories, community groups with a new toilet in their premises, and potholes, will be covered.*

*Maybe not "all". Some. The interesting ones.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Secret life of Cork

Living in the city centre, I thought I knew everything that was going on in Cork. On my doorstep, I have the English Market, Opera Lane, Patrick’s Street, historic Shandon, the Docklands, the genteel business district of the South Mall, all waiting to be discovered. And I have explored all of them numerous times.
But, like a lot of people, I don’t go outside my comfort zone too often – mostly, I go out to the same places, buy my groceries in the same shops and take the same shortcuts.
This is the first week in what’s known as ‘the silly season’. We’ve been lucky this year - it usually starts in July - but the economic conditions have meant there’s plenty of news even if most of it is bad. It’s the time of year when journalists quake at the thought of filling 96 pages – no council meetings, no Dáil, very little crime and no courts – and everyone else is on their holidays. Nobody answers the phone and nobody calls you back, and that dog that plays football in the neighbourhood is suddenly front page material.
With the Opera House closed, the majority of summer festivals over and done with, and schoolchildren starting to count down to the dreaded 1 September, it would be fair to assume that Cork has shut down for its summer holidays.
A colleague remarked to me during the week that even the streets seem to be dozing in these warm, heavy evenings. Pockets of buzz illuminate the hotspots, but by and large, Cork is quiet.
But it’s those pockets you have to watch out for. Where you see four or five, or ten people huddled outside a building, smoking and chatting, it’s worth finding out what’s going on.
This week, I’ve been having my own private Arts Week.
On Monday night, I went to see Cork playwright Conal Creedon’s two one-act plays, When I Was God & After Luke, at the Cork Arts Theatre.
Right across the river from the sleeping Goliath that is the Cork Opera House, the Cork Arts Theatre is like a brave, busy David, merrily toiling away with a packed schedule of lunchtime theatre (€10 – bargain) and short, tightly produced shows with Cork actors and production.
Creedon’s plays were marvellous – they capture Cork beautifully and with human themes that have appealed universally, as far away as Shanghai and New York. Whatever about the Lonely Planet, I bet there are a few Chinese theatre fans who are counting down the days until their trips to Cork.
On Tuesday, it was the turn of the Everyman, the grand old lady of Cork theatres, where the Cork premiere of Druid’s production of Penelope, written by Enda Walsh, was showing. The theatre was sold out, and the buzz – all ages, shapes and sizes of people – was impressive.
Despite some rather intimidating reviews in national papers, most of the crowd seemed to enjoy what is essentially an expose of human nature and its brutality and passion, wearing the clothes of a demented comedy. Well worth a watch, with an open mind.
Today, I hope to take in some art – but I’m not sure where to go. The Crawford Museum? The Cork Vision Centre? The Glucksman? Or maybe the exhibition of the adult education art classes at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, the invite to which popped into my inbox as I was writing this.
My point is this: The city may appear to be sleeping. But there are still plenty of people here who are dreaming, and the dreams are open to all of us. Step outside your comfort zone, and dare to dream.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fertile ground

Fertile ground

For a fertility feature we ran in the paper a couple of weeks ago, I spoke to leading Cork fertility expert, Dr John Waterstone, about the hows, whys, and whos of fertility treatment.

The interview reveals some interesting things. You can read it here... I wonder if anybody else will come up with the same queries and misgivings I had in relation to some of those statistics.

Dr John Waterstone is probably Cork’s best-known fertility expert.
Co-founder and Medical Director of the Cork Fertility Centre, his interest in helping couples conceive arose when he worked with the now world-famous fertility doctor and television personality Robert Winston, now Baron Winston, in London. He currently works as a Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at CUMH, and as a gynaecologist at the Bons Secours, as well as his work at the Cork Fertility Centre.
An energetic, fast talker, Dr Waterstone is clearly passionate about his subject. Fertility treatment, he says, is “magic” when it works, but when it doesn’t work it can be heart-wrenching.

Changing profile

Although the clinic only opened in 2002, there have been major changes in both Irish society and its operations, in its short life.
While the clinic originally dealt only with couples, and Dr Waterstone was “uncertain” how staff would feel about dealing with single women or lesbian couples, an increase in approaches from these groups led to a change in policy.
In the past 18 months, about 50 per cent of the couples seen at the clinic have been lesbian couples, a dramatic change to the previous dynamic. This is despite the lack of a legal framework for gay parents. Single women are also a huge group.
“It’s striking, we see so many single women who are heterosexual, very personable, good looking, with good jobs, it makes you wonder what’s wrong with Irish men, and why these women haven’t been snapped up,” he says, sounding genuinely baffled for a moment.
The clinic’s typical clients are couples who have been trying to get pregnant for a year or more, have seen their GP with concerns, and have been referred on.
“We tend to see older women rather than younger, often the women are in their late 30s or older,” explains Dr Waterstone.
“The average age for IVF treatment would be about 37. It’s unusual to see women in their 20s, and we sometimes don’t see people if they are too old; we would have a cut off age of 45.”
The clinic doesn’t recommend IVF treatment for women over 45.
“If women are over this age they often go abroad, where they can get egg donation as old as 49 or even 50. Where they want to use their own eggs [here in Cork] the cut off would be the conventional age, 45.”

When should I worry?

But when, or how, should women go about investigating their fertility, and how do they know when to start worrying?
Age is incredibly important, says Dr Waterstone.
“How old are they? If the woman is young, in her 20s or early 30s, there is no mad rush. I would be concerned if the woman was in her late 30s or 40s, because that’s when you have to move fast as the time is limited, and she could miss the boat.
“Speed is important depending on how old the woman is. The perception of this very basic issue really varies, some women waltz in at 42 and can’t understand what the problem is, while you get some in their early 30s who are very worried.
“Women can be blissfully unaware that this is such an important issue.
This is not necessarily covered in biology classes, and people just don’t get it,” he adds.
Other issues include a basic lack of knowledge about when conception is most likely to occur, he says.
“A lot of women don’t know that ovulation happens in the middle of the month,” he says, “so trying just before ovulation is the best time. Sometimes you’ll get people trying every day for a year but not realising that there is a best time.”

Men’s problems
Of course, there are problems on the men’s side too.
“There can be problems with men, but you don’t know that until the sperm analysis.
“Once you get to the GP, that is one of the first tests done, so before they come to us we already know, immediately, if that’s the issue.
“Quite a chunk of the couples we see have this problem, maybe a quarter have problems with semen quality,” explains Dr Waterstone.

Apart from regular IVF treatment, the clinic is one of only two in Ireland to offer egg donation treatment. Because of the lack of legislation in the area the clinic only offers this to women who already have a donor. However, if women don’t have a donor and need to go abroad, the Cork Fertility Centre can offer a support service for that.
The lack of legislation covering IVF is worrying, says Dr Waterstone.
“The biggest stress factor regarding legislation is uncertainty regarding donor sperm or eggs. Who are the legal parents of the child, that can have a bearing on inheritance, and other things.
If you speak to lawyers working in the area, they will tell you it’s quite complicated to introduce legislation, but there is certainly a need for it.”
In the UK, legislation deems that the woman who bears the child is the legal mother, but here, although there has never been a test case, it could be quite different.

It’s not an easy job.
“It’s fantastic when it works, when you treat a couple who’ve been trying for ten years, and bingo, there’s a baby! But it doesn’t always work. When it does, it’s magic.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

They’re at it again

They’re at it again. Pesky politicians.
Politicians across the very narrow spectrum of Irish politics are incredibly predictable. We’ll go through them, and you’ll see what I mean.
Fianna Fáil. They’re lying low. Brian Cowen was off in the States recently proclaiming our economic recovery, and fair dues to him. He’s more likely to get a friendly reception almost anywhere than in Ireland these days. In fairness to him, it’s important for the economy that we’re seen to engage with the international markets… It’s just an unfortunate coincidence that Moody’s downgraded our credit rating the day after his Wall Street visit.
The rest of them, despite great posturing over different issues such as, variously, dog breeding (hello, Christy O’Sullivan and Denis O’Donovan), stag hunting, and civil partnership, have disappeared since the Oireachtas went on holidays. Everyone needs a holiday, of course, and I’ve no doubt they will be busy in their constituencies once they’ve done their two weeks’ penance somewhere. Speaking of holiday homes, another, er, Cork Fianna Fáiler who’s been in the news lately is Ivor Callely. His reasons for being newsworthy? Living in Cork – apparently – and claiming outrageous and dubious expenses. So, more of the same from Fianna Fáil. Is it me or is there a stench of the 1980s off all of this?
And now to Fine Gael. Let’s see. A botched leadership challenge, an ideological/geographical/generational divide, a social event where the opposing groups lined up at either side like an old fashioned dance, allegedly, and now a young TD criticising the ‘cute hoor’ culture of Irish politics, not just within the Government party, which would be ok, but within her own. So far, so 1980s. The Fine Gael curse has struck again, despite the valiant efforts of, among others, our own Jerry Buttimer to convince the outside world that everything is fine.
Labour. Eamon Gilmore says, like Pat Rabbitte and Dick Spring said before him, that there is no chance of him joining Fianna Fáil in Government after the next election. Rumours that a Fianna Fáil rep in South West Cork is about to jump ship to the new ‘populist’ party, and talk about a ‘Gilmore Tide’. Now we’re up to 1992!
While the Greens were but an embryo at that time, it’s pretty clear that history is repeating itself in Irish politics, and their parliamentary party has something of the endangered species about it; think of the Workers’ Party, the Democratic Socialist Party, etc. Parties with genuine policy positions and ambitions of real change rarely get very far in this country.
More of the same and plus ca change; is it any wonder we’re bored?
There’s a lot of rhetoric about ‘change’ going around, and the MacGill summer school in Donegal was full of it. But we’re well known for rhetoric – blarney, waffle, and spin are all readily identified with the Irish – and rhetoric isn’t going to get us out of this trough.
One of the most depressing radio items I’ve ever heard was a panel discussion on Radio 1 on Saturday in which four young politicians discussed their reasons for getting into politics and joining the parties they’d joined. While they were all very pleasant and articulate, they were all careful not to alienate anyone, careful not to offend each other, and careful to kowtow to their party lines.
And so, the cycle continues.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Making our own good news

The news today about McElhinney's of Athboy is really heartwarming. Unusual for business news to be "heartwarming", but this is a through-and-through good news story.

I'm not too acquainted with the finer points of the deal, but from what I gather, after going into voluntary liquidation, the company did a deal with another Irish company - Flairline - allowing it to reopen the store and rehire its 56 employees.

McElhinney's is a well-known brand and occupies a place in the consciousness of a lot of Irish people. Of course, they will never be forgiven for that appalling TV ad "starring" Rosanna Davison. Here it is, just to remind you:

.. But we won't hold that against them.

Today's news is really encouraging, and shows that a bit of imagination and a a really solid brand can provide an escape hatch for businesses that don't appear to have one.

It's particularly encouraging given the number of small businesses that are closing around the country.

Living in a city centre, I have a bird's eye view of businesses closing and opening, and at the moment there are certainly more doing the former than the latter.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking past the Spectra photo shop on Patrick Street when I noticed they were having a sale, at 70% off. Unable to resist that when I needed photo frames for some prints I bought recently, I went inside, and only then realised that it was a closing down sale.

As I was buying a few knockdown frames, from the very small selection that remained, I had a most depressing chat with the owner.

Online destroyed him, he reckoned - that and the cameras in his shop just couldn't compete with the big multiples. He was obviously a keen photographer himself and I'm willing to bet the level of expertise you would get shopping there would have been second to none.

It wasn't all bad - he himself was moving to a job with a former competitor - something like the McElhinney's story. But the shop that he obviously loved was gone, and it was with something like shame that I left with my not-quite-ill-gotten gains.

That same week I was food shopping, and dropped into my local vegetable shop, which is located in a shopping centre, near a large supermarket selling all the same produce it sells.

Chatting to the owner, I got the same sense of despair from him that I'd got from the Spectra man. Except that he was still in business, just about. He couldn't understand why potential customers were walking past his - cheaper - fruit and veg to get to the supermarket at the end of the shopping centre. Neither could I, to be honest. It was clear that he loves his shop, that profit margins are extremely tight, and that he doesn't know how long more he can keep going. When I called in, it was after closing time, but he was staying open during sweeping-up time just to catch the last few stragglers. I left with lots of fruit and veg, my week's supply, for about €7, and without the pain of traipsing through a supermarket.

Those two experiences made me really, really think about what small, local retail means, to both owners and customers.

It's about pride, and personal achievement, and 'buy-in' and genuine 'ownership', literally and metaphorically, for the owner. For customers, it can be as important as a social network, a valuable source of advice and information, and just one part of the glue that holds a community together. Economically, it's about jobs, and keeping money circulating locally, and a rising tide lifting local boats. But, lest we all get carried away, economics are only a part of it; the human side is just as important.

I've always paid lip service to shopping locally, but since then, I've been determined to try. I'm doing my best to buy in small local retailers and to buy what I need from them, even if it's a bit more expensive, rather than going to a big supermarket and buying a load of stuff that I don't need and that will go off anyway.

The McElhinney's news is brilliant for their staff, for the company, and for the locality. Let's try and make sure there are some more good news stories like that.

Monday, July 19, 2010

2000 years

'I will put enmity between you and the woman...' 3:15

No, that's not a quote from Joseph Ratzinger at 3.15 this morning.

It's a quote from the Bible, a compilation of hearsay, rumour, innuendo, misogyny, fairytale, legend, biography, social history and advice written by various men over a period of a few hundred years.

The Bible has largely been the same since it was agreed upon as a fundamental part of the Christian Church, over 2000 years ago.

The world, however, has not.

None of this is news; none of it is even that outrageous. The quote above, put into the context of a 2000-year-old society, could even be considered enlightened, in that it doesn't place the blame on women for the enmity.

What is outrageous is the reliance of the Catholic Church under Ratzinger on the ancient tradition of misogyny within its teachings.

Ratzinger - I know he's the Pope, but part of my problem with the Church is the edification of its officers through mystical titles, robes and glittery accessories - has, during his tenure, taken the Church back many years. And it was already quite a bit behind.

The latest release from the Church, including the 'sin' of ordaining women priests in a list which mostly focussed on the 'grave' sin of child abuse, is almost mind bogglingly stupid, ignorant, and short-sighted.

I've been putting off writing this post since I first read of this last week, as I was afraid I'd merely spew expletives.

Contrary to some reports, the news from the Vatican did not precisely equate women priests and those who ordain them, with paedophiles.

They made the unfortunate mistake of including the new rules on ordaining women priests in the same document as the new rules on paedophilia. At least, that's their line on it.

It shows just how clueless the Church is when it comes to the gravity of paedophilia. It's like including late payment of your TV licence in the same legal provision as murder. Even if you believe they didn't mean it that way, it shows an astonishing lack of political nous, something that would be surprising, given its proud history as an Italian city state and how it got there.

But that's optics. It's well documented that the Church has no clue how to tackle paedophilia, and for a long time, didn't really care. I will give Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and some of his colleagues the benefit of assuming that now, they do care.

The part of this that really and truly astonishes and angers me is how the Church, after 2000 years of progress in almost every other sphere of society, can still believe that women have no place in its structure.

My relationship with the Church was a big part of my childhood and it was exemplified almost 100% by nuns, teachers (all female), priests' housekeepers, my granny and all the other old ladies who went to mass and kept the place going.
Women who cooked and cleaned for the Church and its many tentacles, who grew and arranged flowers for the Church, who sang at Church, who did readings at Mass, who visited the poor and the sick for the Church's charities and who arranged fundraisers and trips to Lourdes and the 'tea and sandwiches' part of the funeral. In the midst of this a priest wandered in, had his dress put on him by some overawed kids who spent an hour handing him things, ate and drank what he was given by the women, and went for a pint.

I am not saying all priests are lazy or that all priests or bad; I am not even saying all priests are like this. But every support service that I can remember ever seeing in the Church was carried out by women.

When I visited the Vatican a number of years ago on a trip to Rome, I became incandescent with rage and had to leave St Peter's Basilica. I've written about this before, and I won't go into it in detail again.

But as we wandered around between statues of 'holy' men, crypts (of men) with nuns beating their heads off the ground and wailing in front of them, pictures of men and astonishing wealth, held by men, we walked past nuns cleaning, and of course ended up in the gift shop. Where, if we'd bought anything, we'd have been served by nuns.

It was the biggest and wealthiest clubhouse I had ever seen and they did not want me in the club.

I have been raised to expect that I am equal to anybody. I know that I am equal to anybody. And yet, there is no chance that I or any other woman, can ever be in a position to change the Church. Because change has to happen on the inside, and we are not on the inside.

We are tolerated as tea makers and cleaners and mothers (to a point - only in marriage and only if we eschew contraception and impure thoughts and enjoying any sexual contact not designed for procreation). We are tolerated as 'handmaidens'.

Now, when the Church is in the throes of the biggest crisis since the Reformation, when it is desperately seeking vocations and forgiveness from the thousands, possibly millions, it has wronged, in one foul publication, it shuts out the 50 per cent of the population that has not been proven, over 2000 years of administration, to be completely misguided and wrong about how we do things.

I am not religious. But I feel some of the disappointment and shame that the Church's female adherents must be feeling now. There is a movement for women priests, and it is quietly supported by quite a few male priests.

It's time for them to raise their voices. Schism is an old-fashioned word, but it looks to me like the concept has never been more inviting.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


 Image (c) Tony O'Connell Photography

Cork City Manager Joe Gavin this week said goodbye to the city he’s taken charge of for the past ten years.
Mr Gavin leaves with a considerable list of achievements under his belt, for which he was widely applauded at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
A vox-pop of our readers carried out on Facebook and on the streets suggests that the majority of Corkonians recognise these achievements.
The regeneration of St Patrick’s Street and the Grand Parade; the inception of the (some day, hopefully realised) Docklands Development Plan; the Lapps Quay and Opera Lane developments were all mentioned at Monday’s meeting. Councillors spoke at length about the infrastructural developments I’ve mentioned above, as well as others.
Mr Gavin praised developers, including Cork’s own ‘fugitive’ Greg Coughlan, of Howard Holdings, whose vision produced the Lapps Quay and Boardwalk development.
And then he said something else that proved just how little we have learned in the two years – so far - of this recession.
There were five cranes visible on the Cork skyline when he arrived, in 2000. At the ‘peak’ of his tenure, there were 28. This is how he measured his achievements, watching the skyline from his upper-floor office in Cork City Hall.
This statement – from a man who has done so much work for the people of Cork – just proved that we have learned absolutely nothing from the past two years of crashes, revelations and toppling of pedestals.
When will we learn that progress is not about buildings, but about people?
While all of the developments mentioned above are important and welcome, creating jobs and improving the city’s appearance, they are still just buildings.
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, it was also revealed that the number of homeless shelter beds in Cork currently meet demand, for the first time.
That is a wonderful achievement, and hats off to Cork Simon and the other services that continue to fight against homelessness. No matter how badly off we are as a country, one thing we are not short of is houses, so homelessness is a particularly ironic, and unnecessary side effect of this recession.
That, to me, is a major achievement, and I’m sure it is not the only human progress made in Cork since 2000.
Cork City Council has had its share of ups and downs under Mr Gavin; the St Mary’s Road Library move, which has been the cause of some confusion among councillors as to who voted for it, and when, is one negative that will be remembered from this year; the extensive flooding another.
While it will be a long time before Mr Gavin’s legacy can be assessed accurately, and from an objective distance, the legacy of the economic crash should already be teaching us that progress is about people.
Perhaps the next City Manager, Tim Lucey, when he takes over in August, will measure progress differently, while carrying on the good work of his predecessor.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I've been on the radio a couple of times lately - on Newstalk's Lunchtime Show on Friday, for example. Listen here (from about 40 minutes):

Inside Out

An email I received yesterday morning from a US radio show interested in speaking to me about an article I wrote (Cork Independent, 3 June 2010), called ‘Turning corners in a maze’, only served to highlight that there is more debate on the state of this country outside it than there is inside. 
In recent weeks, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Economist have all written about Ireland’s financial woes and the measures the Government is taking to counteract the recession.
So, to be fair, have a lot of Irish commentators, but the fact remains that there is no real debate here; inside the mire, it can be hard to have perspective on an issue that affects all of us. We all have an axe to grind, and most of us are finished grinding, because nobody is listening. And when they do, our centrist politics mean that real alternatives are very thin on the ground.
While Fine Gael and Labour oppose the spending cuts, they have no alternative. They are both so busy lining up for Government that policy positions are a sideshow, and the fact that they’ll more than likely be in coalition after a General Election means they can’t commit to anything. These two parties, anywhere else in the world, would be the least likely bedfellows – can you picture Labour and the Conservatives in the UK going into coalition? 
Fine Gael have spent a lot of time working on policy documents like their NewERA programme, but they are well aware that they won’t be in Government for a little while yet; they may as well watch Fianna Fáil hang themselves through unpopular spending cuts, rather than commit Alan Dukes-style hara kiri by repeating the Tallaght Strategy, for something as nebulous as ‘the common good’.
Labour, meanwhile, have taken the road most travelled; oppose everything, suggest nothing, and keep your powder dry until you actually have to do something. In the current situation, we have no idea how Labour would cope, or what proposals they would come up with to save our skins from the IMF, the EU and all the other bogeymen out there.
Perhaps it is the collective lack of ideology among our politicians (never forget that Labour were the first to promise tax cuts before the last General Election), and among the people who vote them in (yes, that’s us) that is to blame for this consensus.
Yes, consensus-building is good, but that usually means compromise, changing position slightly, making a few tweaks. In this situation, there has been very little questioning of the policy of reducing the deficit.
US commentators have pointed out that recessions become depressions when spending cuts are introduced and the budget is balanced. They point out that governments should spend when private companies don’t. Maybe they’re right; I’m not an economist, I don’t know.
But in the week when we’ve learned that we are officially out of recession, and also, that 5,800 were added to the Live Register in June, it’s worth reopening the debate on whether the cuts being made are really working, and, this time, making it a real debate.

Listen to me on KCRW: http://www.kcrw.com/media-player/mediaPlayer2.html?type=audio&id=tp100630stimulus_or_austerit

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kenny has proven himself

This week's events in Fine Gael have shown me one thing; Enda Kenny is tough enough to be Taoiseach.

Up to now, it's always been my concern that Kenny, though clearly a very capable organiser, has just been too 'nice'. I've heard otherwise - party insiders say Phil Hogan is his hatchet man - but all the evidence has suggested that he is a manager, a nice guy, a somewhat unconvincing schoolteacher from the Wesht.

But he's not the longest-serving TD in the Dáil for nothing. In Fianna Fáil you would never see the leader's constituency colleague trot out to defend him, and mean it - as Michael Ring did, a number of times this week.

This week, Kenny has shown himself to be a very able dealer. His approach to the leadership heave left no room for niceties - when the crisis was upon him he confronted it head on and dealt with it.

His refusal to even countenance speeches at the front-bench meeting on Tuesday meant that there was no time for waverers to be courted, and his courting of them so assiduously over the following days meant that the Bruton camp really did have no idea what hit them in the end.

The perception that they are an elite, that they are an urban, middle class, silver spoon gang, didn't help; that's not true for all of them, but there's certainly a large contingent who fit into that category. Simon Coveney stuck out this week - the son of a Cork merchant prince stuck out his neck in a big way, and that will almost certainly come back to haunt him. While Kenny has been magnanimous in victory, and is certainly too intelligent to offer a slight that will harm him again, he will also have a long memory.

While I've met and interviewed both Kenny and Bruton, I have to say, I agreed with Sarah Carey in Thursday's IT that Bruton, of the two, particularly lacks charisma. As she put it, he "giggles under pressure". Not very statesmanlike. His grasp of economics is second to none in the Dáil, but this does not make him leadership material.

I've been thinking a lot about Machiavelli's the Prince this week, and one quote particularly comes to mind: "The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him." 

While Kenny is not an economist, or a doctor, or an accountant, he has surrounded himself with people who have those qualifications; his job is to lead them, to shape his party, and to get on with the business of running Fine Gael and of representing Fine Gael. He is not meant to be Miss World.

He has come through a major challenge, something that could have completely destroyed Fine Gael, looking better and coming across more impressive. Bruton, on the other hand, has completely discredited himself - unfortunately, because he is "a nice guy". He has said it would be hypocritical to serve on Kenny's front bench again. And he won't be leader. So what's left? 

Skilful manoeuvring, a willingness to tackle a challenge head-on, and a magnanimity born of pure political nous, in victory. Enda Kenny has proven himself.