Saturday, August 08, 2015

An Open Letter to Meagher Solicitors

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to check with you whether you object to me publishing the following information about your client, Mr Denis O'Brien. The information hereunder is taken from the Moriarty Tribunal Report and is widely available in the public domain, for example, on Twitter.

Denis O'Brien made 3 payments Michael Lowry: IR£147,000, Stg£300,000 and loan support of Stg£420,000.

  • The Moriarty Tribunal concluded that the £147,000 payment by Denis O'Brien to Michael Lowry "gave rise to a reasonable inference that the motive for making the payment was connected with the public office of the Minister." (p. 473 of the Moriarty Tribunal Report)
  • The Moriarty Tribunal Report also stated that "the support for the Stg£420,000 loan provided by Mr. O'Brien amounted to an indirect payment or benefit to Mr. Lowry. ". (p.483)
The above findings did untold damage to your client's good name and reputation.

The clear meaning of the Tribunal's conclusions is that your client paid money to a government minister in order to receive preferential treatment from same. Your client has successfully managed to evade punishment for these actions to date. Indeed, your client's business interests have flourished since the events that the Moriarty Tribunal reported on took place. That being said, we are all aware that correlation does not imply causation.

The findings of the Tribunal still stand today. Does your client dispute the Tribunal's findings?

If you have no objection to me publishing the above findings, we will let the matter rest there. If you and your client do in fact object to the publishing of the above information, please set out the legal grounds for your objection.

Yours faithfully,

James Gaffney

Friday, June 14, 2013

My response to the Irish Examiner Limerick Crime Scene Ad UPDATE

At the beginning of June the Irish Examiner newspaper ran a billboard ad campaign promoting a crime data supplement they were due to publish the following week, comparing crime statistics across the counties of Ireland. The supplement was published yesterday. To highlight this crime supplement, they put up a series of billboard ads in the six counties of Munster, each featuring a location in each county, with yellow crime scene tape in front of it, and the loaded question on top of the photo, asking "Just how safe is ....?" the particular county.

The Marketing Department of the Irish Examiner thought it was a good idea to feature crime scene across a tourist landmark in their Limerick one, while Cork and Waterford featured photos of their main streets, which are similar to generic main streets in any town in Ireland (at least in the photos anyway - don't get me wrong, I love the real Patrick Street in Cork) while the Limerick one highlighted one of our main tourist attractions.

The photos used in the other three counties highlight rural attractions, which I don't think people would associate with crime in any event.

It probably generated such a negative response in Limerick because Limerick people are sick of being lazily stereotyped by outsiders. There are many people and organisations working hard to improve this city, and having this billboard outside the train station, as the first thing that many visitors would see on getting off the train, could only serve to undermine the hard work and morale of those who work hard to improve the city.
For the record, here is what I sent to the ASAI:

I think this ad was neither honest nor decent. It has already caused offence without showing any evidence to support the negative image of Limerick it portrays. The ad shows yellow crime scene tape in front of King John's Castle, a landmark tourist attraction, and has a tag line asking if Limerick is safe. The imagery and way the question is asked imply that it isn't a safe place, which is an opinion based on lazy stereotypes, rather than CSO data.

It's hard to know what motivated the Irish Examiner to put this ad on a billboard outside Limerick's train station.

Do they want to scare visitors away? (Hardly a good idea: the whole country is in the worst recession in ages, and tourism is one of the areas of the Irish economy that could help the recovery.)

Do they want to damage the morale of all the people who work tirelessly to make Limerick a better place? (Hardly a nice thing to do.)

Do they want to perpetuate lazy offensive stereotypes? (Hardly a sign of good journalism.)

Do they want to lose readers? (Hardly good business practice.)

Are they genuinely concerned about the socio-economic circumstances that lead to crime all over Ireland? (Hardly.)

Here is a photograph of the billboard ad in question:

The ad outside the train station was put up in the evening, and by early morning had been torn down by a member of the public.

In the immediate aftermath of the advertisement controversy, I asked a Senior Reporter with the newspaper if he knew why his employer had made the decision to publicise their company in the way they did, and his response was telling:

"Quite simply I haven't a clue but I've long since given up on trying to get into the head of marketing people everywhere."

A picture paints a thousand words. And people are much more likely to form a negative impression of a place based on a picture like the one above, rather than a series of dry data tables, which, thankfully, show that overall crime levels have been falling across Ireland over the past number of years.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Now in Available in Portuguese!

Duquian over at Sedentário and Hiprativo, a Brazilian popular culture website and affiliate of the Rede Record national TV network, got in touch with me and asked me to edit and translate my post about 50 observations about Brazil to use for their website. Due to a demanding work schedule and generally being very busy about preparing to move back to Ireland, I didn't have time to get my Brazilian friends to review my 3am Google-translated version which I sent him. It was a pity, as while the result was understandable (for the most part) it definitely would have benefited from being looked over by a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker.

Anyway, here is the result: my first (and possibly only!) ever publication in Brazilian Portuguese on a Brazilian  national media network website:

61 Impressões de um irlandês sobre o BRASIL

Monday, April 15, 2013

50 Things I've Noticed About Brazil

While I was going to call this post 50 Things I Love About Brazil, I don't think that would be accurate. While I do love many things about Brazil - the people I've met here, the landscapes, and judging from the number of kilos on the weighing scales, much of the food too – some of the following are merely observations, rather than things I like about the place. Some of them might even exist elsewhere. Also, anyone can tell you, Brazilian or non-Brazilian, that the country isn't without its problems - indeed, many Brazilian people I've met get annoyed with what they see as the typically foreign-held viewpoint that Brazil is simply a country of samba, soccer and carnaval - it is much more than that of course, and some of these people feel that these superficial aspects distract attention from some of the other issues affecting the country. So, the following are just some of my observations of certain "Curiosidades Brasileiras" - some of which I like, some which I don't like, but all of which make it a unique and fascinating country to live in.

In three weeks time I will be leaving here, and I have to say, I'll be doing so with a heavy heart. Inspired by two pieces I read, 50 Reasons to love Ireland (written by Irish Times contributors and obviously reflecting their interests) and this fabulous – and, from what I've seen here, accurate – blog post by a German chap living in Curitiba – about a month ago I decided to begin compiling some of my observations on Brazilian life, society, culture, sport and, given my field of work, language. Only this weekend a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of this piece, written by a French guy living here. In the meantime, here is my list of  observations from my time here – I'd love to hear if you have any comments on them!

  1. The word “Gente”, which means “we/us/guys/folks” – sounds like “James” when it's pronounced in Portuguese. When people make suggestions to groups, such as “Vamos, gente” (Let's go, folks!) it still makes me feel really popular, and undeservedly influential – that I have the final say about whether we should go or not!

  2. Portuguese can be a great language for inventing new words in – all you have to do is adding the diminutive suffix -inho or -inha onto the end of words – which functions just like the Irish language's -ín. So if you wanna ask someone for a beer but you don't want to go too mad you invite them out to “Tomar uma Cervejinha.” Then at the end of the night you ask the barman for a “Saiderinha” - a Saidera being the Irish “deoch an doras” or the English “one for the road.” Of course, some people will claim that “segunda saideras” and “terceira saideras” exist too, but that's a debate for another night. Probably a debate to have with a weary barman in fact...

  3. “Cara” means man, dude, sham or guy, and I find it a coincidence that “cara” is of course the Irish word for friend.

  4. “Jeitinho” translates roughly as “the knack”, “a nod and a wink” or “way of doing something” – often “way around something” and that something is usually an obstacle like a stifling bureaucracy, a requirement to follow procedures correctly or that irritating thing we call The Rule of Law. Taken to an extreme level, when it manifests itself in corruption, nepotism and miscarriages of justice, it obviously has it flaws, but I have always felt that in many situations, bit of flexibility helps. A book on Brazilian society I read, written by Larry Rohter, an American journalist who has live here since the 1970s, said jeitinho is far more common in Brazil than in Anglo-Saxon societies. The conclusion I drew from that was that Ireland is therefore no Anglo-Saxon society! Some people say that the prevalence of jeitinho emerged from the Colonial Era, when Brazil's resources had to be sent back to the Colonial master, Portugal – people here felt such a rule was unjust, and began to ignore it as a result.

  5. I've often heard people complain about the bureaucracy here. I don't know if it's any worse in Brazil than it is in other countries – for me, bureaucratic red tape is annoying anywhere in the world. What has been annoying for me though, is when certain service providers require you to have a CPF number (Revenue Registration Number) for nearly everything. To buy a bus ticket online, to join the video store, to buy concert tickets online: you need a CPF number. Not very foreigner friendly. Perhaps with the World Cup and Olympics coming up and the expected influx of tourists such service providers will adjust their conditions to be a bit more flexible.

    Continuing on the bureaucracy theme, on my first weekend here, local elections were held here. My boss related the following exchange he had at the polling centre:

    Election Official: Hi Célio, how are you?
    Célio: Great thanks, yourself? I'd like to vote.
    Election Official: Sure. Can I see your ID please?
    Célio: But you've known me for over 30 years! You just said “Hi Célio!” to me!
    Election Official: Can I see your ID please?

    I suppose such exchanges are reasonably common worldwide, wherever you have to deal with bureaucrats. And perhaps, when it comes to something as sacred as democracy, it's no bad thing to have these checks in place, especially when you consider that within living memory the country was ruled by various dictatorships.
  1. Queuing to leave nightclubs. They have a system in many places where you're given a card on entry, then when you order your drinks at the bar the bartender simply scans your card. The fact that you don't hand any money over while ordering your drinks can make you feel much richer or much more generous than you are in reality – dangerous! It means you then have to pay on exit, this is where the queuing part comes in. You then get your receipt stamped, and only then can you show it to the burly bouncer blocking the exit. The first time that I experienced this system, I managed to lose my receipt in the 5 second walk form the payment counter to the door – no amount of my “presente de Natal” offering (attempted bribing!) or any other form of jeitinho would convince the bouncer to grant me my freedom!

  2. Sometimes I hear about  Brazilian people who've been to Ireland talking about Irish "knackers". To clarify, I would define a "knacker" as a young person who engages in petty crime and violence, often hanging around city centres behaving in an intimidating and threatening way, asking people for cigarettes, money and being a general nuisance. It just sounded strange hearing such an Irish word being dropped into the middle of Brazilian Portuguese conversations! As far as I know, the Brazilian Portuguese equivalent word is “mano”, and yes, their ones dress and walk the same as other manos the world over.

  3. “Vagabundo” is their great word for any ne'er-do-well, gurrier.

  4. The road between Sao José dos Campos and Ubatuba, the road between São Paulo and Santos, the road between Paraty and Trindade. More like rollercoasters than roads!

  5. Karabukspor vs Galatasaray was on yesterday. I managed to catch the last 15 minutes of it. The cliché about the Brazilians loving their football is true, if the TV schedules are anything to go by. There are a multitude of local championships to choose from, then there's always the midweek Copa Liberatadores games, while on our TV I've watched English Premiership and Championship games, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, Italian and the above-mentioned Turkish League matches, not to mention International Friendlies. It was a surreal experience listening to Brazilian commentators give their take on Paul McShane! ESPN Brazil were even advertising the Athens derby next week, for Christ's sake! Heaven for football hipsters.

  6. The local club matches aren't much to write home about it seems... empty stadiums, professional teams pitted against semi-pro sides and a reputation for crowd violence, means that it's not very well supported – the public are voting with their feet and seeking their entertainment elsewhere.

  7. The commentators really do say GOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!! even if it's just Millwall v Wigan, Ireland v Poland, the Moscow Derby, the Minas Gerais Championship, or one of the games from the above-mentioned Turkish league. Handy if you've nipped out to put the kettle on – you can be certain that something worth returning for has happened!

  8. The sheer unpronouncability of some of the placenames here. Guaratinguetá. Pindamonhangaba. Itaquaquecetuba. That's because they come from the indigenous Tupi-Guarani languages, and can be difficult to pronounce. However, when you do finally master their pronunciation, it's pretty satisfying to say them!

  9. When I was asked what the indigenous people of Ireland are called. I was nearly about to answer, then I realised we don't have any indigenous people in Ireland, or do we? I was then stopped in my tracks. What are they? Who are they? Who were they? The Celts? Travellers? The Tuatha De Danann? It's another reminder of the diversity of Brazilian people.

  10. I like the way “Facebook” is pronounced by Brazilians.

  11. And on the subject of Facebook, Ela é Top by MC Bola, the song beloved of Brazilian boy racers everywhere seems to be about creeping on Facebook. And on the subject of boy racers, here they don't just soup up Honda Civics... the ride of choice seems to be a pick-up truck, with a huge speaker system installed in the back, so they can crawl slowly through the streets with the windows down and the system up, passing bars where non-boy racers are having normal nights out.
  1. And on the subject of boy racers, Horse Outside culture seems to be alive and well in Brazil, at least in the provincial towns in the Sul de Minas. There's one guy, a town legend, who rides through the streets of Itajubá in his horse and trap and he with a sound system installed in his cart.

  2. And yes, many Brazilian women are indeed absolutely stunningly beautiful.

  3. And continuing on the subject of rides, they have a great system here called Caronas de Itajubá – it's basically hitch-hiking for the Facebook generation. If you want to travel from Itajubá, to São Paulo for example, you put your request on the page, and, for the price of the petrol, if someone's travelling at that time you get a lift to your destination, plus 3 hours of good conversation instead of 4 hours of a sweaty bus.

  4. Actually, the buses here aren't sweaty – they're generally very well air-conditioned to the point of being cold. Bring a jumper.

  5. I quite like the Brazilian bus system. When you put your luggage into the hold of one of the coaches, they put a sticker on it with a code, and give a copy to you. You can only claim your bag at your destination by producing your sticker. This eliminates the fear that comes with Irish bus journeys every time the Bus Éireann man reminds us to “Stand Clear, Luggage Doors Are Operatin'” when your bus is stopped in Moate or Nenagh or Gort... no offence to any of these places, but they all happen to lie on Bus Éireann routes, and only a system of mutual trust is what stops people stealing others' baggage.

  6. Portuguese idioms:

    “Tá no inferno, abraça o capeta.” = “When you're in hell, you might as well hug the devil.” It's used when someone is already in trouble, so they may as well continue acting as they have been doing, because their punishment's not going to get any worse. Similar to the Irish idiom, “You might as well be hung for a sheep as hung for a lamb.”

    “Pica a mula.” = “Poke the mule.” Means scram, get lost, F- off!

    “Mao de vaca” = “Cow's hand”. It means someone's tight-fisted/mean/stingy/ Cavanperson. Presumably because cows never pay their way because they can't hold money in their hooves.

    “Olhos de cara” = “Eyes of your face” - it means the same as “An arm and a leg” - used to complain about something, such as tomatoes these days, being very expensive. I find it a disgusting image really, when it's taken literally!

  7. Gata means an attractive-looking woman. Chata means an annoying and boring woman. Don't do what I did and get these two terms mixed up. But I guess we learn from mistakes, don't we?

  8. Chata/Chato means both boring and annoying. I think this makes sense – most boring things (i.e., Ironing) could also be described as annoying and vice versa.

  9. "Né?" Add it onto the end of any statement and you'll be considered fluent! It's a question tag, an abbrevaited form of Nao é (Isn't it?) and functions in much the same way as the Kerry 'hwah?

  10. The Belo Horizonte accent.

  11. Brazilian barbecues. See earlier remarks about the extra kilos.

  12. Grilled cheese on a stick. Queijo espeto. Incredible.

  13. Despite all the greasy, delicious junk food, (Salgados is what they're called – and I was advised that the dirtier-looking the boteko, the better the salgados!), many Brazilians still have great figures! (See #18!) The food is so good though – coixinha de frango, quiche de frango, pastels, pão de queijo... Hell they'll even serve you bacon and cheese chips, in the bar, rather than having to wait until the chipper afterward! One of life's great mysteries – why isn't this South American nation a country of North American-sized people? (Though of course there are exceptions of course – I shared a 16 hour night bus journey in January with a generously-proportioned lady who easily took up about three-quarters of my seat too... didn't sleep much that night!)

  14. Livraria Cultural in São Paulo – one of my favourite bookshops, indeed shops, I've ever been in.

  15. In 1870 Limerick had a higher population than São Paulo. It doesn't any more.

  16. The music scene – sertanejo, pagode, samba, techno, rock – it's all here! And nearly all of it will put a smile on your face and get you dancing! Some great cover bands too – Barzim in Itajubá is a great spot for Rolling Stones cover bands and the like. Some of the original artists I've enjoyed listening to here include Os Mutantes, Nação Zumbi, Tom Ze, Seu Jorge e Carolina, Tim Maia, Gui Boratto, Planet Hemp, and plenty of samba versions of everyone from Bob Marley to U2 and probably lots of other bands I don't know the name of!

  17. Some marketing research firm has gone to the trouble of publishing the average monthly salaries of different soccer supporters by the club they support. I can think of no conceivable reason why they'd do this, if only to elevate antagonisms between rival supporters.

  18. You don't meet many Irish people here. You're far more likely to meet Brazilian people who have studied there or have friends living there. That being said, it didn't stop ESPN Brasil from screening the documentary, the premiere of which I saw in the Belltable, called “Munster Rugby: A Limerick Love Affair”. Also, my clan's pub, O'Malley's of São Paulo, sure know how to throw a good St Patrick's Day party!

  19. Whenever I curse in Portuguese, or announce that I'm a Corinthinans supporter, I generally get the one of two polar reactions – one of shock disgust and horror, or immediately embrace me as one of their own. “Vai Corinthians!” “Não! Você é um Corinthiano? Caralho, cara!”

  20. Lula and his legacy seem to divide opinions as much as my Corinthians shirt. Some admire the man with little formal education, but “a doctorate in charisma” for the progress the economy made during this time; others feel he benefited from being at the right place at the right time – in charge of the country during a commodities boom, and they decry some of the spending done by his government while in power, while are equally exasperated by the levels of corruption by those in power during his time in office.

  21. Depending on the time of year, there can be a 2, 3 or 4 hour time difference between Brazil and Ireland. Often there is a much larger temperature difference too, though surprisingly enough, not always – the temperature can get down to minus 3 in the mountainous town of Campos do Jordao, the “Brazilian Switzerland” in the winter.

  22. Portuguese verb conjugations can be hard; but Brazilian hand language is even harder. Mastering the flick of the hand knuckle crack they do over here is one of my proudest achievements.

  23. The Cataratas (Waterfalls) at Foz do Iguaçu. My boss said he never even tries to describe them to people who've never been there yet – words can't do them justice. However, this is a simple blog post, words are all I have (apart from photos and videos of course) so let me just say that they are magnificent. Unforgettable. Majestic. There are many ways you can see them, including by helicopter if you desperately need to get rid of your money somehow, but I'll describe my experience there. You enter the national park on the Argentinian border by bus, and the bus drops you off at a forest trail that hugs the left bank of the River Paraná. As you walk through the forest, every so often the trees clear, giving you a stunning view of the tumultuous falls. They are over a kilometre in width. At the end of the trail, there is a metal viewing platform, which extends over the the river, leaving you facing directly in front of the largest cascades, right up close. You get saturated, which isn't too bad really, because the rainforest is very humid. Personally I'd love to see a How It's Made Discovery Channel type programme about the construction of the viewing platform – fair play to the engineers and labourers behind that project!
  1. Because Brazil is well-established on the backpacker trail, you're never too far from a weekend away with other travellers. And you might even run into Jethro Tull.

  2. The BRT.

    My running career took me to the city of Rio de Janeiro last weekend. Whilst there, I scaled the Sugar Loaf in the company of my would-be hosts for the weekend. However, owing to the fact that the Rio Half starting line lied no less than 38km from said hosts' apartment, it was deemed sensible by all concerned that I stay in a hostel a mere 2km from same starting line for Saturday night itself. So, at about 7:30pm, our Sugar Loaf had been climbed up and descended down, so there on nothing for it but for me to catch my bus back out to Recreio where my hostel was. So Recreio being a pretty huge suburb, I wasn't sure about where to get off in order to be near my hostel. So I ended up passing through Recreio, then a favela, and finally the countryside. It was at that point that I asked the motorista if we had passed Recreio, which I had suspected we had, and he confirmed, that yes, indeed we had.

    Anyway, he dropped me near a roundabout near stray dogs and pointed me in the direction of this glass-enclosed Luas-station-looking building, which I entered, safe from stray dogs I guess. The building was of course a BRT Transoeste station. The BRTs are the buses pioneered in Curitiba, the Mecca of Public Transport Nerds everywhere, and By God, what an experience. You have a whole lane in the middle of the dual carriageway, blocked off by a high kerb, given over to the BRT bus, which, by the way, is three-buses long. The bus stops even have platforms. And Christ Above, does the driver floor it or what. An experience I'll take with me to the grave. And an entirely unexpected and unplanned experience too at that. Of course the diversion and associated delay meant I slept in for the Half-Marathon, showed up late. Now, it's time to stop blaspheming and get on with this list.

  3. A Capitale Nacional de Pé de Moleque: Piranguinho. Brazil goes in for naming their towns as the “national capital of such-and-such”. Well, maybe Brazilian towns in general don't, but Piranguinho, the village I work in once a month, does. Pé de Moleque, which translates as Urchin's Foot, is a toffee-like, fudgy peanut candy, beloved by dentists everywhere as it keeps them in jobs.

  4. “Parabéns!” (Congratulations!) is a typical birthday greeting. What are you congratulating me about? What have I done to deserve this praise? Avoided getting hit by a bus for yet another year? Anyway, I'm not complaining about getting congratulated once a year for something I didn't really have to put much effort into, it's nice and I suppose it's the thought that counts, to my gringo ears it still sounds strange!

  5. In restaurants, if there's a group of you, you can buy a 2 litre bottle of Coke. Or Guaraná. Better than being fleeced and having to pay the eyes of your face for individual small glassed bottles!

  6. Café Vadinho, Praça Central, Itajubá. The slogan on the waiter's shirt says it's “O Melhor Café do Mundo” - I don't know if that refers to the coffee or the café... the coffee's OK, though I think the coffee in Café Floresta on the other side of town is much better, but the café in general is a city institution. The salgados (see Point 29) are the best I've ever tasted, the coffee and juices are excellent, and you'll get a good slagging from the waiters too – at least I did when I mistakenly ordered a “Vitamina com Banana e Frango” (A smoothie with banana and chicken) instead of the “Vitamina con Banana e Morango (Strawberry)” that I meant to ask for!

  7. Over here, sharing really is caring, at least when it comes to eating and drinking out. At barbecues here, the meat is cut up into tiny pieces, put on a plate in the centre of the table, and everyone shares the plate – different from the Individualist, Anglo-Saxon hamburger staple of the Estadunidenses to the North. Similarly, when you go for a beer, or a “cervejinha”, you typically order a large bottle of beer, and this is shared out among the group in small glasses. I like it. It serves a practical purpose: Brazil being a hot country, a small glass of beer is less likely to get warm as quickly as a pint glass of beer.* Plus I think it's a really sociable way of going for a drink. Though this sharing malarkey can be taken to extremes – I once benefited from a Big Mac being carved up with a knife and fork and distributed among the people at the table... nice, but there was no need really.

    *On the subject of cold beer, I've frequently been asked if we drink warm beer in Ireland. Well I suppose if 4 degrees is warm by Brazilian imbibers' standards then yes, I guess we do. A few months back I was at a barbecue when I got the shock of my life when one of my hosts grabbed my glass of beer and chucked the contents onto the grass – a sin akin to taking another man's wife where I come from. As I looked at him in exasperation, he explained that unknown to me, my beer had become too hot – he was simply rescuing me from the dire consequences of drinking hot beer, and dutifully refilled my glass!

  8. The napkins in cafés and bars are not fit for purpose – they are terrible, in fact – they don't absorb anything!

    The 12 hours it took to travel 300km from Paraty to São Paulo through traffic in January on the Sunday at the end of a public holiday.

    The high-security perimeter fence surrounding the campus of Universidade de São Paulo, one of the country's most prestigious universities. It's obviously there for a reason – but is it a symptom of wider problems in the country? On that note, the perverse state of affairs exists where the best schools in the country are private, while the best universities are public – so children of the rich get the best exam results and therefore the best access to the publicly-funded universities; while poorer ones, if they manage to get through the public school system, have to work while they study at fee-paying private universities.

    The stinking canal that flows across the road from the Universidade de São Paulo campus, alongside the CPTM train line – I pity the commuters who have to take that train in the summer.

    TIM Brasil's will-they, won't-they relationship with providing mobile phone coverage.

    Brazilian ATMs love-hate relationship with gringo bank cards.

    Showers shouldn't have to have instructions advising you how not to electrocute yourself.

    Toilet paper should go in the toilet.

    The senseless, mindless crime we see too often on the nightly news.


    Remembering Portuguese Verb Conjugations.

    Some of the contrasts you can see between the haves and have-nots here: one of the most visible one is Rio de Janeiro's Rocinha Favella, which sits, crammed on a hill overlooking the Gavea Golf and Country Club on one side, the Sheraton Resort on the other.

    Big Brother Brazil 13.

    Corruption: it has plagued Brazilian society for generations. “Aos meus amigos, tudo, aos meus inimigos, o rigor da lei,” is one phrase apparently used by those who engage in corruption - “For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the rigour of the law.”

    Cheese is considered a viable component of a sweet dessert. Not a separate cheese course, no, but as integral as ice cream. There's a particular dessert called “Romeo e Julieta” - cheese with this Goiaba fruit marmalade... now if my memory from Shakespeare's play or at least Baz Lurhmann's film is anything to go by, I thought that the whole point of the story was that Romeo and Juliet where never meant to hook up? When I aired my concerns about this dessert to a fellow diner he said that there is a saying here: “A dessert without cheese, is like love without a kiss.” Right. 

    Rice and beans. They're fine. Grand. That's all.

    And finally, for a country with such a great climate, there seem to be very few public swimming pools – most of these seem to be located behind the walls of private country clubs or gyms (Gyms, confusingly, are called Academias here!). For a nation of beach-lovers, I think it would be great if the government could provide more pools – it would improve people's health and bring safety benefits too.

    As you have probably guessed, this point is about things I don't particularly like about Brazil... although if I was completely honest, I have to admit that I did watch, and sometimes even enjoy, BBB13 occasionally!

  9. The immense beauty of the country. The waterfalls; the mountains of Minas Gerais; the beaches of the Littoral Norte de São Paulo; Florianópolis' waterfront promenade and the beaches of the Ilha de Santa Catarina; the geographically spectacular setting of Rio de Janeiro; Colonial, tranquil, Paraty – the town that time forgot; Vila Madalena in São Paulo and the bright lights of Avenida Paulista at night; Santos' dockside, gritty, historical charm; Ubachuva when the rain stays away; the wildlife, be it the Toucans in Foz do Iguaçu, the alligator I saw near work, or the brightly-coloured, noisy maritacas that drive my boss crazy... I could go on.

  10. The sheer size of the country. When I flew over here in October, I was tracking the position of the plane on the in-flight screen, and as we passed over the North Coast, I presumed we'd be touching down in São Paulo pretty soon. Nope. It took a further 4 or 5 hours for us to land! They call it a Continental-sized country for a reason. I'm not going to get to visit the Amazon, the Nordeste, which everybody raves about having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, whether they've been there themselves or not, and countless other places. The good thing about this is there's so much that I still haven't seen yet, so there are so many places left to visit when I return!

  11. The people! Yes, Brazil has its problems just like everywhere else but I have been bowled over by the warmth, humour and friendliness of the people I have met since I arrived here last October. Old friends and new, their families, colleagues – the hospitality and generosity with which I have been received here has been amazing. You know who you are. This is the main reason why I will definitely be back, and why, now that I think about it, I think this list could be more appropriately called 50 Things I Love About Brazil.

    Obrigado a todos! Terei saudades de vocês! Até mais!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Two types of criminals?

Brazil’s legal code offers extraordinary protections for the country’s elite. College graduates, who make up only about 11 percent of adults between ages of 25 and 64, obtain special cells if they are sentenced to prison. Political authorities, even if they lack a college degree, get the same privilege. Hundreds of top officials cannot be tried in lower courts at all.

What has that got to do with the Irish Criminal Justice system?

One story about the criminal justice system in Ireland has dominated the headlines today – that is the sentence Justice Paul Carney handed down to Patrick O’Brien for raping his daughter, Fiona Doyle, over the course ten harrowing years of her childhood. While a 12-year custodial sentence was imposed on O'Brien for what the judge described as "one of the most serious cases of serial rape of a daughter”, he still walked free from court as the last nine years of the sentence were suspended.

The sentence has understandably provoked outrage, with some politicians and lobby groups calling for a review of the way sentencing is administered.

The victim was devastated after the verdict.

"He raped me for 10 years and he just walks out of here today. I just can't believe that this has happened," she said.

Devastatingly for Ms Doyle, Mr Justice Carney said in his sentencing that her daughter-raping father was “of good character.”

O’Brien committed the first assault the night before her First Holy Communion.

The judge gave his reasons for the seemingly lenient sentence, saying that if he locked the 72-year-old Mr O’Brien up, he would be branded as “a trial judge who substituted one injustice for another.” I thought that this was the basis of how most Criminal Justice systems work – you do the crime, you serve the time. Not so in Justice Carney’s view. He then suspended the last nine years of the sentence on grounds of ill health, age and remorse.

Contrast these mitigating factors that the judge took into account during his sentencing with Patrick O'Brien, who took no account of his daughter's age, her ill health due to his raping of her, and who obviously showed no remorse while he perpetrated his vile abuse.

Before handing down the sentence, the judge heard evidence from the director of nursing services with the Irish Prison Services, who said that the Prison Service had managed patients with similar health issues as O'Brien and the level of care available to him would be "as good as that in the general community".

Yet the judge still thought that O’Brien’s age and ill health (which his daughter later claimed himself and his legal team had exaggerated) should be a reason not to imprison him.

Today, as part of a series reporting on conditions in Irish Prisons, The Irish Times’ Conor Lally wrote the following piece about the violence contained therein. He opens his piece with the story of Declan O’Reilly, who was shot dead in a drive-by shooting as he walked along the street with his 10-year-old son in September 2012. In my view, the contrasting treatments of Declan O’Reilly and Patrick O’Brien at the hands of the Irish Legal System, are indicative of wider problems within the criminal justice system.

According to newspaper reports, Declan O’Reilly was a fringe member of some of the Crumlin gangs. He was a heroin user too, from a disadvantaged area of Dublin. In any event, during the summer of 2007, he was serving short sentences for Public Order and Road Traffic Offences. That June, he stabbed fellow inmate, Derek Glennon, to death in Mountjoy Prison.

Derek Glennon was an aggressive killer, subject to more than 50 prison discipline reports, and was a gang member in the criminal underworld. He had been jailed for killing a cyclist while driving a stolen car, while he had also once shot a man dead in a Dublin pub because he had apparently been humiliated the night before in a fight in a Chinese takeaway. He also once threatened two prison officers with a sawn-off shotgun during an escape attempt.

According to evidence given by prison officers and Derek O’Reilly in court, Glennon was also a bully in the prison wing – he would use intimidation, including threats to get his associates to harm O’Reilly and other prisoners’ families outside the prison walls. Fellow prisoners were threatened into storing drugs, weapons and mobile phones in their cells for Glennon. Eventually O’Reilly snapped, stabbing Glennon to death on 27 June 2007. The jury at the trial accepted this was a case of self-defence, and acquitted him.

Freedom didn’t come with his acquittal though. Even before Glennon’s funeral, his associates had thrown hand grenades at a house in Crumlin, targeting O’Reilly’s family. In September 2011, just seven months after his plea of self-defence was accepted by a jury at the Central Criminal Court, O’Reilly was shot and wounded in Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

A year later, Derek O’Reilly was shot dead by a gang member on a bicycle, as he walked with his 10-year-old son on the South Circular Road in Dublin.

There is no doubt that innocent people suffered because of O’Reilly’s initial crimes which sent him to prison in the first place. However, the contrast between his fate and that of Patrick O’Brien following their respective crimes is stark.

Remember, two of the reasons why Justice Carney refused to jail O’Brien where because of his age and ill health. Meanwhile, it isn’t clear whether whichever judge jailed O’Reilly took his health or age into account.

O’Reilly was sent away to an environment of constant fear and intimidation from murderous fellow inmates like Glennon. The Irish Prison service is the kind of place where people can get jailed for relatively minor crimes, and come out the other side as heroin addicts – not only heroin addicts, but addicts indebted to criminal suppliers within the system. Rehabilitation? Doesn’t exist – that is, if we consider the findings of the UN Torture Committee’s 2011 report on the Irish Prison System.

So, Ireland is a country were petty criminals are routinely dispatched to institutions where fear, drug addiction and extreme violence are lurking around every corner. That is, if the criminals in question dropped out of school early, come from the wrong side of the tracks and speak with a strong accent, it would seem. No health risk whatsoever is posed to these kinds of people when their locked up.

Meanwhile, if the criminal in question shares the same age-group as the judge, and is deemed to be of “good character”, no matter how heinous his crimes, he can walk free.

Am I wrong to be drawing the conclusion that Ireland has a two-tier justice system? Is it time for Ireland to maybe take a leaf from Brazil’s book, and at least be more honest about how some types of prisoners are more equal than others?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

One more candidate gives her views

I sent a reminder e-mail to the candidates in Limerick City yesterday - all those except Matt Larkin, Conor O'Donoghue and Denis Riordan, because I didn't have e-mail addresses for them, although I did text Conor in fairness. This was to follow on from the questions I had posed to all the Limerick City General Election candidates at the beginning of the months - you can see those responses here and here.

Jan O'Sullivan got back to me, here's what she said:

Dear James, thanks for your email. I have answered your queries as

1. As Labour Party Health spokesperson I published a very detailed
reform proposal which would completely transform the Health Services to a
one tier system which will include primary care free at the point of
delivery as well as the complete transformation of the HSE. This is
available on the Labour Party website at

2. Yes I would put a cap on the cost of Ministerial cars and also reduce
the number of them greatly.

3. The IMF/EU bailout was not a good deal. It must be renegotiated
including the rate which has been charged and also the need to bear the
burden with bond holders.

4. I am not planning to travel abroad on St Patrick's Day.

5. The Labour Party is proposing much shorter holidays for the Dail.

6. I think Politicians pay should be set by an independent body which
does not have any representation of politicians on it. I believe our pay
should be reduced, particularly the pay of Ministers and the Taoiseach.

7. The Labour Party has proposed a higher rate of tax for anyone earning
one hundred thousand euro or more. We also believe that there should not
be very high salaries for people in the public service and that we need to
have a more equal society. We intend to protect the incomes of people on
lower levels of income and on Social Welfare. The Labour Party has a
number of initiatives on job creation including a five hundred million euro
jobs fund, PRSI holidays for people who take people from the live register,
thirty thousand graduates/apprentices places, proposals to develop
Ireland's strengths, including the food industry and information
technology. As well as clean energy and tourism. If we can become a world
leader in some of these areas we can create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

8. The Labour Party proposes a very small team of people to advise the
Taoiseach and Cabinet and it will be focused on policy rather than media.

9. The Labour Party is the only party to vote against the bailout of the

10. I do not believe that T.D.'s should get pensions until they are 65,
that includes Ministers.

With best wishes,

Jan O'Sullivan T.D.

So that ends that then. Don't think I'll have time to post up any more responses tomorrow. At least I have six out of ten responses, representing five of the main parties - one response each from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael (albeit a very short one), Sinn Féin, The Green Party and Sinn Féin, with two from Labour. Unfortunately I didn't get a detailed response from Fine Gael, the party most likely to be in Government, so it'll be very hard to call them to task if they end up not pracising what they preached.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Three more Limerick City election candidates get their answers in

One week on from when I first posed the questions, I got three more replies into my inbox in the last 24 hours, this time from the Greens' Sheila Cahill, Sinn Féin's Maurice Quinlivan and Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea. It turns out they're all running in the Limerick City, and not the Limerick East, constituency. Credit's due to Sheila Cahill, the Green Party's candidate, who clarified that one for me. In fairness to her, she was also very quick off the mark with her response: I only learned of her candidature on Saturday, she sent the following back to me by Sunday night:

Hi James,

Thanks for your email and your questions. I hope that I give clear answers to your questions -- however if anything isn't clear please feel free to get in touch. I'm delighted that you plan on publishing all responses online -- transparency is the only way we can get clean politics in this country. I'm trying to set an example by for example posting all my election expenses online.

Last Monday night I sent the below e-mail to all the candidates that I knew were running in the Limerick East/City constituency (what's it called these days?)

The name of the new constituency is Limerick City -- I don't blame you for being confused though!

What reforms have you planned for the HSE? Any hope of making the health service more efficient?

Our health system must be based around universal access to primary health care delivered in the community. My mother had to go to A&E last year, and she had to wait on a trolley for three days before being transferred to a ward. Yet many people present themselves to A&E because they have no alternative. Effective primary care services, delivered locally in a cost-effective manner, could save the HSE millions of euro and provide a much better experience for patients. We should be augmenting our local services with assistance such as anNHS Direct equivalent for people who want health advice but can't afford a GP visit. There would of course be challenges to such an approach, particularly when asking staff to deliver services in a different manner. But without a shift in focus from the provider to the patient, we will never achieve a health system that works.

Would you put a cap on the cost of ministerial cars to vehicles that are a little less ostentatious and better value for money, e.g. a ford fiesta?

I am proud that the two Green Party ministers in the last government chose a Toyota Prius for their ministerial car over the more standard Mercedes S-Class. I think a pooling system for ministers cars could save money, and more importantly give a message that we're all in this together. I would love to see all ministerial cars replaced with fuel-efficient models which reflect the new austerity in this country.

Was the IMF / EU bailout a good deal in your opinion and if not can you renegotiate if elected?

We can't unilaterally renegotiate the IMF/EU bailout. Any candidate who tells you otherwise is completely unrealistic or lying. Having said that, the current interest rate is punitive and I think through diplomacy we can encourage our European neighbours to reconsider the interest rate, especially the service charge.

Are you travelling abroad on St. Patrick’s Day at my expense and what do you hope to achieve by it?

Limerick is the best place to spend St. Patrick's Day, without a doubt! If I was travelling for the day it would only be to encourage investment and jobs in Ireland. And, if elected, I would publish all expenditure on such trips on my website, so the public could decide whether any trip was value for money.

Why does the Dail get such long holidays and is it fair on the rest of us?

Much of the work of government gets done outside Dáil sessions. This is a sad reflection on the purpose of our national parliament, where point-scoring and local queries dominate and policy barely gets a look-in. A working Dáil requires two commitments, one from politicians to accept that they cannot continue to take ridiculously long holidays, and the second from voters who need to accept that we elect TDs to focus on national issues.

How much do you think politicians should be paid?

€50-60,000 sounds about right to me.

Why are certain public servants and members of semi-state bodies paid so much money?

I think it's reflective of a culture where we don't seek value for money in our public service. This especially relates to our semi-states: if the Minister is the only shareholder then s/he should be able to demand that we're getting value for money.

What real and tangible initiatives does your party have for creating jobs?

Through initiatives such as the Warmer Homes Scheme, over 16,000 jobs have been created by the Eamon Ryan's department alone in government. There's an awful lot more we can do. More details here.

Will you do anything about reducing the excessive number of costly media advisors to the Taoiseach and cabinet?

I think it's reasonable for a Minister to have one or two staff that s/he has power of appointment over. Anything more than that is excessive.

Would you reverse any decisions made in propping up the banks with taxpayer’s money?

That's a difficult question, and it's difficult to give a concise answer. Unfortunately the mistakes made in banking policy were in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it was obvious that the property market was spiralling out of control but no-one would listen to the voices, including the Green Party's, who tried to say stop. Now we have to sort out the mess, and there are no easy answers. It hasn't helped of course that many banks were less than honest about the scale of their losses.

Given that each ministerial pension costs so much to fund, what is the average fully laden cost to us for each TD? How many do we really need?

I don't have the exact figures to hand, but obviously we need to reform Ministerial pensions. I think it's sensible that no pensions should be paid until someone reaches 65, and that the payment is proportionate to how long someone has served in the job. On the number of TDs, I agree with John Gormley's proposal that there should be 120 TDs, half elected from single-seat constituencies and half elected from a national list.

I hope that answers some of your questions. I'd be interested in what you think -- do drop me an email if you have views yourself on these issues.

Best wishes,


Next up was Sinn Féin's Maurice Quinlivan, who has arguably sent the most comprehensive reply so far:

Dear James,
Please find below answers to questions posed by yourself.

What reforms have you planned for the HSE? Any hope of making the health service more efficient?

Sinn Féin is committed to a new universal public health system that provides care to all free at the point of delivery, on the basis of need alone, and funded from general fair and progressive taxation.

We will make the health service more efficient in a number of ways, all of which are detailed in our manifesto. I’ll mention just a couple for now:

1) Fewer bureaucrats, more frontline health workers. Carry out a review of managerial and administrative posts within the health service and the Department of Health, with a view towards eliminating those positions that are surplus to requirement

and using the money saved to hire more frontline health professionals.

2) An end to public subsidies for private healthcare.

3) Immediately end tax breaks for private hospitals and the land gift scheme

4) Abolish the National Treatment Purchase Fund and return its funding to the public health system

5) End private hospital co-location scheme.

Potential to save €100million

6) Apply charges based on the full economic cost to all use of all beds in public and voluntary hospitals in the State for the purposes of private medical practice.

Saves €305million.

7) Reduce the cost of medicines in our health system, establishing a state

company for the wholesale distribution of drugs, using lower-cost generic drugs, and tackling over-prescription and wastage. Saves €200million (figure provided by the Department of Health in2009).

Would you put a cap on the cost of ministerial cars to vehicles that are a little less ostentatious and better value for money, e.g. a ford fiesta?

Yes I would, I would advocate moving to a carpool system similar to that operated in Britain whereby ministers access a car only as they it for ministerial business. Cars should be small and environmentally friendly

Was the IMF / EU bailout a good deal in your opinion and if not can you renegotiate if elected?

No it was a disastrous deal that condemns a whole generation to mass unemployment and emigration in order to bail out European Banks that lent money recklessly to Irish Banks.

Yes we can renegotiate it-by insisting on separating bank debt from sovereign debt as advocated by Pierce Doherty and David McWilliams. Actually we can’t afford not to renegotiate it.

Are you travelling abroad on St. Patrick’s Day at my expense and what do you hope to achieve by it?

No, I’ll be staying in Limerick and look forward to seeing the parade on O’Connell Street.. As you mention the issue of expenses I would like to point out that my expenses as a Councillor were the lowest on Limerick City Council-this is because I don’t do junkets.

Why does the Dail get such long holidays and is it fair on the rest of us?

The Dail gets such long holidays because it has been run by a thoroughly corrupt and inept elite who have become entirely detached from how people in the real world live. No of course it’s not fair, it’s a disgrace.

How much do you think politicians should be paid?

I think they should be paid the average industrial wage, which incidentally is what I will take as my salary should I be elected

Why are certain public servants and members of semi-state bodies paid so much money?

Because they’re great. Only joking, Because they have worked hand in glove with the political elite that have done so much damage to this country, and have been awarded handsomely over the so called Celtic Tiger years. Sinn Fein policy is that no public servant should be paid more than 100K a year.

What real and tangible initiatives does your party have for creating jobs?

We propose the following tangible initiatives:

1)A labour-intensive essential infrastructure programme as part of a €7billion job stimulus programme. The focus of this programme would be to build hospitals,

schools, water infrastructure, public transport networks and to roll out broadband State-wide.

2) Establish within the stimulus programme a €600million Jobs Retention Fund.

This fund would subsidise workers in struggling Small and Medium Enterprises

(SMEs) with the potential to save 96,000 jobs, akin to the successful model used in


3) Create employment through the construction and delivery of childcare services. There is a significant deficit which, if unaddressed, will be an impediment to economic recovery.

4) A new generation of co-operatives. Provide start-up funding and other

support for co-operatives as a viable choice for start-up businesses and

the conversion to co-operatives as an alternative to closure for struggling


5) Jobs created for the under-25s. A Youth Jobs Fund to create 20,000 new jobs

and an individual plan for the long-term prospects of every person under 25 who

is on the Live Register.

6) Boost employment in the tourism sector by developing tourist attractions,

including cultural tourism attractions, amenities for those interested in adventure sport and attractions for children and young people. Implement steps to make Ireland the top destination for those who want a clean, green tourist

destination in Europe. Target emerging and different/niche markets.

7) Grow the agri-food sector by implementing the proposals in the report produced by Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan for the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment. These proposals include funding and support central production hubs for SMEs involved in the agri-food sector.

8) Employ apprentices on public projects. Make the employment of a set amount of

apprentices a condition on which public contracts are awarded to contractors building public infrastructure to help address the crisis in non-completed

apprenticeships due to the construction sector collapse.

j) Create a new generation of entrepreneurs. Do this by changing the

PRSI system to create a safety net for those who attempt to establish their

own business, launching a National Entrepreneurship Programme with

incubation centres on the country and doubling the target for supporting

High Potential Start-Ups (HPSUs) from 200 to 400 per year.

Will you do anything about reducing the excessive number of costly media advisors to the Taoiseach and cabinet?

I wouldn’t use media advisors, I don’t believe any politician is justified in engaging in spin

Would you reverse any decisions made in propping up the banks with taxpayer’s money?

Yes Sinn Fein is very specific in this regard. We would remove the blanket guarantee to bank bondholders, immediately close down Anglo-Irish Bank, and merge Bank of Ireland and AIB.

Given that each ministerial pension costs so much to fund, what is the average fully laden cost to us for each TD? How many do we really need?

Ministerial pensions are a disgrace and should not be tolerated-I would support the idea of ceiling on pension payments for all T.D.’s.

I would retain the current number of T.D.’s at least until such time as a proper system of accountable local government is established. People should have full access to their local politicians- but I would insist that they get paid an awful lot less money and also drastically cut expenses.

With regards,

Cllr. Maurice Quinlivan
Limerick City Council
087- 825 8125
find me on:
Twitter and Facebook.

And finally, another comprehensive one, this time from Willie O'Dea TD, Fianna Fáil, which arrived via his personal secretary Yvonne McMahon this evening:Dear James queries please find below responses.

Dear James
Further to your recent queries please find below responses.

What reforms have you planned for the HSE? Any hope of making the health service more efficient?

We recently introduced a scheme to reduce the numbers working in administration in the HSE – that will produce help reduce costs and target more resources at frontline staff. In my personal view one of the main difficulties with the HSE is that it does not seem to put the care and comfort of the patient to the fore of everything it does. There are very many good and hard working people in the HSE at all levels, but poor management and out of date work practises across the service are hampering progress.

Would you put a cap on the cost of ministerial cars to vehicles that are a little less ostentatious and better value for money, e.g. a ford fiesta?

I personally would have no problem with restricting car size or type and with having car pooling arrangements. As you may know I often did not use the ministerial car by choice when on Ministerial business or when I was working in Limerick, so there were many times when the car was available and could have been used by others.

Was the IMF / EU bailout a good deal in your opinion and if not can you renegotiate if elected?

I have written about this matter in the Sunday Independent a few times in recent weeks. The first point is the bailout here was really about the EU defending the Euro and their belief that it was cheaper to defend it on Irish soil rather than Spanish or Italian soil. The interest rates we would have to pay on the open market are still above those being charged by the EU. But there is no doubt that the EU interest rates could be lowered and should be lowered.

Brian Lenihan has successfully worked to have the issue of a reduction in the interest rate placed on the agenda and progress is being made. Governments from the 17 euro area and the 27 EU member states are expected to agree a comprehensive package of reforms to the rescue funds by end-March.

Why does the Dail get such long holidays and is it fair on the rest of the country?

There is a difference between Dáil holiday’s and a TD’s holidays. The Dail does not usually sit in August & September – though the Dail committees do sit in September. The Same applies in January.

I cannot speak for other TD’s but I do not take long holidays. I have clinics for about 48 weeks out of 52 weeks. I am at my office in Limerick or out and about attending meetings when I am not in Dublin.

While I have no objection to the Dáil sitting for longer, the reality is that spending more time in Dublin attending the Dáil will reduce the amount of time I have to make contact with the people on the ground and hear their views, give advice and perhaps assistance. I do not see how this benefits the democratic process.

How much do you think politicians should be paid?

A couple of years ago it was generally agreed that TD’s should no longer have the right to decide their own pay. I agreed with that decision. It was agreed then that a TD’s pay should be pegged to a civil service grade – Principal Officer. I think that is about right.

As part of the austerity measures pay for politicians has dropped since 2008 – as it has for people generally. Minister’s pay came down by just 20% and TD’s pay by about 10%, plus the pension levy was applied to us all. The expenses system was tightened up considerably and costs reduced. Brian Lenihan also made major changes to the pension arrangements. One important change means that from this election onwards, sitting TDs will not be able to claim ministerial pensions while they are still TDs. Only those who have retired from politics will be able to claim pensions.

Why are certain public servants and members of semi-state bodies paid so much money?

The argument for paying certain people so much has been that they could get more in the private sector and that it was necessary to pay more to keep the best people.

It is only three or four years since the president of the Hospital Consultants association called a consultants salary of over €230,000 for just 31 hours work in a public hospital “mickey mouse” money.

While there was pressure getting good people in the public sector during the boom years, it is not so true now. Now the public service with its security of employment and good pension provisions is as attractive, if not more attractive than some areas of the private sector,

What real and tangible initiatives does your party have for creating jobs?

Our Jobs Programmes identifies specific areas of economic activity that will provide growth and employment, it is ambitious and costed. We set our how each enterprise agency will deliver new jobs and the sectors these jobs will be delivered in. These amount to the direct support for the creation of 150,000 new jobs.

Our commitments include Metro North, and a new national retrofit program which, together with tax credits for energy efficiency upgrades, will create 10,000 new jobs and we have ambitious plans to support Arts and Culture, the Green Economy, including the establishment of a Green IFSC, and developing the Digital Economy.

Our Plan outlines in detail how we will reduce the cost of doing business and offer new support to small and medium size enterprises, which support 700,000 Irish jobs. It also spells out how we will aid the services sector, which already accounts for 107,000 jobs in agency assisted companies. It details new strategies to create new jobs in the agri-food sector; outlines specific actions to assist the tourism industry. Our Plan aims to increase the number of overseas visitors to 8 million by 2015.

Foreign direct investment supports a quarter of a million jobs in this country, and we intend to resolutely defend this cornerstone of our economic strategy.

We have real world advantages, such as -

· the fact that we have the youngest population in Europe;

· the highest proportion of graduates amongst the under 34 in the EU;

· clusters of leading multinationals already here; and,

· the fact that US companies invest more in Ireland than they invest in Russia, China and Brazil combined -

Will you do anything about reducing the excessive number of costly media advisors to the Taoiseach and cabinet?

There is a lot of talk about media and political advisers, but most of the advisers are full time civil servants who are just assigned to the Taoiseach’s office. Moving them back to their own original section would not reduce costs and would only mean additional work on those in the Taoiseach’s office. I think it is important that any Minister has access to good independent advice – as well as to the civil service, so I would not be in favour of scrapping the advisers system entirely. Each Minister is allowed to appoint two advisers, usually one of these deals with the media. Though we are a small country we have a huge media, particularly political journalists, and dealing with their queries, requests and questions can take up far too much of the advisers time. If we are to cut the number of advisers then journalists will have to accept waiting longer for replies to their questions.

While I was a Minister staff numbers in the Taoiseach and Minister’s Officers were reduced by over 10%. Advisers pay was reduced twice – by about 15% in total.

Would you reverse any decisions made in propping up the banks with taxpayers' money?

The alternative to what we did was to have the entire Irish banking system collapse. It would have collapsed Irish business and brought the entire country to a standstill. What we did was not nice – but the alternative was so much worse. Though it might seem like a technical point, we are not actually propping up the banks with the taxpayers cash, we are borrowing money from the European Central bank to prop up the banks and using the banks assets in exchange.

There is a cost to the taxpayer as borrowing all this money for the banks has made it more expensive to borrow money to run the state. We established NAMA to help us recover that money over the decade ahead, but it is costing us now.

We now know the extent of the incorrect and frankly misleading information given to the Government and to the markets by the Banks. They only revealed the truly disastrous state of their finances when they had absolutely no alternative. Their delaying and misleading tactics cost us money and massive loss of credibility. I wish we could have established NAMA sooner so the states experts could have gotten into the banks sooner and given us the true picture.

Given that each ministerial pension costs so much to fund, what is the average fully laden cost to us for each TD? How many do we really need?

Not every TD becomes a Minister, far from it, so the costs of a Minister and a TD are very different. A TD is paid on the principal officer scale – approx €93k. The expenses and allowances system was tightened up considerably and costs reduced.

Brian Lenihan also made major changes to the pension arrangements. One important change means, from this election onwards, that sitting TDs will not be able to claim ministerial pensions while they are still TDs. Only those who have retired from politics will be able to claim pensions.

The number of TDs is based on the provision in the constitution Article 16.2 that allows 1 TD per 20,000 – 30,000 people. As the population has increased so has the number of TDs. The population according to the 2006 Census (there will be another Census this April) is just over 4.24million. This leaves an average of 1 TD per 25,500 people based on the 2006 figure, the population has been increasing so it is likely that the average today is slightly higher. This does allow scope for reducing the number of TDs… but then the problem is which regions and areas lose TDs. Mathematically it should be those where the population has increased least, but this would likely give less representation and a weaker voice to rural areas suffering most from emigration – either to Dublin or abroad.

I hope that this addresses your questions James but if you have anything further please do not hesitate to contact me.


Willie O'Dea T.D.

Sent by: Yvonne MacMahon
Personal Secretary to Willie O'Dea, T.D.

So there you have it. Three hefty replies, each offering differing and interesting policy suggestions. I don't read too much into the time taken responding to the e-mail - the Election is a busy time so perhaps the pragmatist in the politicians is wondering why should they spend so much time and effort into answering just one voter's questions. Also, I think the power of social media and the Internet on shaping elections has been somewhat overestimated since the 2008 US Election - Stephen O'Shea, an Independent candidate in Dundrum in the 2009 Local Election had some interesting views on this topic in the wake of his campaign: Is there anyone listening to the virtual politician? Well I suppose his blog post was published before Simon Coveney mused about Brian Cowen's congestion problems or Dan Boyle's saying one thing to Fianna Fáil and tweeting another.

Anyway, I sent the original e-mail for a number of reasons: I'm a genuine swing voter this time round; I'm not home til quite late each evening so chances are I'd miss the politicians and their attendant supporters in person on the doorstep and finally because a list of direct questions are harder to fob off in print than they are in the spoken word. I've found their responses quite interesting and informative and I hope you do too.

I will of course publish any further replies I get from the other candidates.