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More money, banking sector? Why yes, that’ll do nicely thanks. March 31, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
5 comments

With the news that is in it this afternoon it’s no harm to look at this fairly good overview of the banking crisis in the Guardian, not least in a chart which tots up just how much the financial sector has siphoned away in bailouts since 2008.

Ireland’s banks will, by the end of Thursday, have required five bailouts since 20 September 2008:

• 2008: €400bn guarantee scheme covering the six main banks 
• 2009: €11bn injected into banks including Anglo
• Pre October 2010: €21.8bn into main banks
• Post October 2010: €13.3bn into main banks
• April 2011?: €18bn to €23bn in new bailout

The total sum (excepting the guarantee scheme) is now approximately €70bn.

One reads that:

There were reports on RTE on Wednesday night that Bank of Ireland could need a bailout of as much as €5bn which will tip the bank, which was founded in 1783, into state control.

This will come as a shock to the Irish public and be seen as an even greater watershed than the bailout of the toxic Anglo-Irish Bank whose reckless lending to developers brought the country to its knees and led to last year’s IMF-EU €85bn (£75bn) bailout.

A shock? No, not at this stage. Merely resigned to the reality of an economic and political class who have refused to make truly ‘difficult’ decisions that would ameliorate the effects of this crisis on ordinary citizens – not that that same economic and political class would dream of telling where private entities to get off.

What’s irritating is that some aren’t unaware of this, even from within the broad sector that those private entities exist within.:

Andrew Bosomworth, one of the [Pimco's] fund’s European strategists, told Bloomberg that bondholders needed to face “bail in” arrangements in the Irish banks, code for forcing some losses on these investors. “I am reasonably concerned,” he said.

He said the line that senior bondholders could not be touched had not worked. “This is fuel for moral hazard,” he said. “Look, Ireland is closing kindergartens to pay senior bondholders – ethically that is a very questionable policy.

It surely is.

Yesterday in the Dáil. Well, duh… March 31, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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Good piece by Com Keena here in the Irish Times.

The crucial line?

Furthermore, it is difficult for him to defend his character when you consider his dealings in relation to his tax affairs.

Which are?

He resigned after it was revealed that Dunnes Stores had paid for work on his Tipperary home. On December 19th, 1996, Lowry was allowed make a personal statement to the Dáil. He said he wanted to “set the record straight”. He had not been trying to hide income he got from the Revenue: “If someone were trying to hide income, would he or she not be more likely to put it in an offshore account?”

Which was a bit of a problem because:

The statement was made just two months after he had opened his account in the Isle of Man. He also at the time had the account in the Channel Islands.
He had opened this account, with AIB Channel Islands, in January 1991, by going into AIB on O’Connell Street, Dublin, and making an opening lodgement of £55,000 sterling. The account was in his name and that of his three children.

And there was more of a problem…

Lowry had availed of the 1993 tax amnesty. To avail of it but not make a full disclosure would be deemed a criminal offence.

But that, clearly, was then, and this is now.

Yesterday, Lowry was asked by The Irish Times about the origin of the money he declared to the amnesty. He said his tax affairs were his own private concern.

Really?

It’s this astonishing disconnect which lies at the heart of this matter, a sort of rolling Year Zero where anything that has come before is not merely pushed aside but ignored and forgotten.

Where events that are on public record as noted above, that can be reported openly in the media without fear of litigation, which allow external observers to build up a sense of the issues and personalities at play, just don’t seem to have happened for some of those involved.

Not that there will be a resignation. Censure or not.

Shedding light on aspects of the conflict… March 31, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Northern Ireland, The Left.
19 comments

Here’s an interesting link.

What’s particularly striking about the present period is how a near-hidden history has emerged into the light of day after many decades. I’m not suggesting this is simply true of aspects of Official Republicanism, or of Republicanism in general – however one chooses to define that – alone, but of the conflict more broadly. Consider the Dessie Ellis interview from a week or so back and many other recent contributions.

There are problematic aspects of this. It’s difficult to be entirely sure at this remove precisely what happened in a specific context, memories aren’t set in stone and interpretations even less so. Furthermore these are in many instances contested memories, as indeed are those who claim title to various formations.

But, that’s always the way on some levels. A researcher, or simply those with an interest in an area or an history, will always have to weigh up what it is that they see and attempt to place it within a broader context.

What is important to consider is that now and for a while longer it may just be possible to get hold of first hand accounts from those who were involved in part in shaping a long and tortuous history of the last four decades. Once lost, they’re lost forever. So in a sense no wonder that now the situation has calmed, that time has lent a little distance – though it does no good to underestimate the hurt on the part of many, not least those who weren’t participants but were caught up in events they had no control of – that efforts are being made to contribute to the record and that a space is (or has) opened up where it is now possible to do so.

I think we’ll see a lot more of this over the next while.

Bin waivers… March 31, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
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This is a blatantly obvious point really, but the news that Dublin City Council is to modify the rules as regards waivers on bin collection will not be a surprise to many of us. The reasoning on the Council’s part is that they believe that some households with waivers had an income of up to and over €1,000 per week depending on the number of occupants dependent on welfare. So, DCC now is imposing an income limit of €500 which they claim ‘would still qualify a household of two pensioners.’

Be that as it may, but to me it seems that the situation here demonstrates the lack of efficiency of attempting to monetise – at least in terms of its impact on people, not in the sense that there are no costs involved – public services such as bin collection.

The reality is that paradoxical effects will be thrown up if it is shifted to pay per individual/household or whatever, whereas if the costs are borne by general taxation many of these can be avoided.

Moreover, and this is even more central, it avoids the current outcome where due to cost pressures (this is driven by a ‘jump’ in claimants in the last year from a previous average of c. 39,000 to – er – 41,000, which in a recessionary situation doesn’t frankly seem that bad) DCC seeks to narrow the scope for waivers.

Sure, there’s the idea that charging may modify behaviour, though I tend to wonder about that in implementation. Isn’t it equally likely that those who can afford to won’t see any modification and those who can’t may attempt to evade it entirely.

But the flight from universalism seems to me to almost inevitably lead to these outcomes.

Area man calls on Fianna Fáil to reform. March 31, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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Read the Irish Times yesterday and you will be presented with the following proscriptions for the Fianna Fáil party…

Fianna Fáil needs urgent organisational reform and must prove itself as a competent Opposition,

It was a bad situation and no mistake in the last government.

“An atmosphere of permanent crisis and controversies pervaded Government Buildings throughout the term of the last government,” 

And worse:

“The air of crisis in Government Buildings became worse when Brian Cowen became taoiseach in May 2008. Some of this was down to bad luck but a lot of it was self-inflicted damage,”

And that was a mistake because…

Mr Cowen’s elevation was premature: “The plan had been that [Bertie] Ahern would lead Fianna Fáil into the 2009 local elections and take the rap for the bad result by retiring.
“But the personal finances issue didn’t go away and Ahern was rushed off stage prematurely, leaving Cowen with little time to prepare for becoming taoiseach.”

And then there’s a list of right of centre gripes…

..opposition leader, Enda Kenny “caught the mood” by calling for a cut in TDs’ and ministerial pay, and outraged his own Senators by calling for the abolition of the chamber.
He says that “despite the criticism thrown at Kenny at the time, now nearly everyone is in favour of getting rid of the Senate”.

Except precious few can say why precisely. That’s the problem with ‘moods’.

The social partnership process also damaged the party in government, with “compulsory” membership on State boards and agencies for the social partners.

“In many of the departments where I served, senior civil servants were . . . fearful of taking a decision in case it might be received badly by the social partner nominees on these quangos,” he writes.

Yeah, that social partnership and those social partners… The government, unions and – er – employers organisations.

So, who is this man of mystery? Who is it who has seen all this, been close to the centres of power, and yet whose clear-headed forensic analysis was clearly not listened to during the past thirteen or so years.

Why step forward…

…former minister of state for science and technology, Conor Lenihan.

Trade Union TV Footage of Belfast Anti-Cuts March March 30, 2011

Posted by Garibaldy in The Left, The North.
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UPDATE

I’ve been looking for left responses to the UK budget but might have missed some. Please add more in the comments if you have them.

The 2011 Con-Dem budget is an escalation of the Class-War announced by Osborne in Budget 2010. It is a blatant attempt to use the present crisis of capitalism to attack workers and their families, the unemployed, pensioners, and other weaker sections of society. Once again the majority in society suffer to consolidate the privilege of the few”

From the budget analysis of The Workers’ Party

Moriarty and Lowry… March 30, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
14 comments

There’ll be no end of commentary today, no doubt, about the events yesterday in the Dáil, but there’s one aspect of the whole issue which is worth contemplating.

Meanwhile the mood music about Lowry should probably comfort the Deputy. There’s an awful lot of ‘Go, in the name of God, go now…’ but the caveat of ‘…not that we can make you’, keeps being slipped into conversation. So it’s a sort of weirdly bloodless rhetoric that only serves, ironically enough, to keep the pot boiling and, as was noted last week, not in a way that is to the Government’s liking.

Labour has made the running on this, and they probably have least to lose, collective cabinet responsibility notwithstanding. Yes, it’s potentially embarrassing, but with the full weight of the Fine Gael party standing between them and the events of the mid-1990s before it starts chipping away at their own Ministerial contingent in office then.

Although, in fairness to Alan Shatter – words I haven’t written before – he was entirely correct to point out a few home truths about the discourse.

Here’s Michael Lowry’s explanation from the 17 page statement issued yesterday:

I received a loan of IR₤147,000 from a long time personal friend, Mr. David Austin, in late 1996 to refurbish a property I had bought in Dublin. Mr. Austin deceased, would be known to many members of this House as a man of honour and integrity. I repaid that loan (with interest) to him a short few months later. I provided clear documentary evidence of this loan agreement to the Tribunal. The Tribunal simply rejected this evidence. Mrs. Austin’s widow gave evidence to the Tribunal to say that she was aware her late Husband was providing finance to assist me with that property. Again, the Tribunal just rejected this evidence from her. As ever, if the evidence does not accord with the allegations being made by the Tribunal, it was simply rejected.
What is abundantly clear is that I received no benefit whatsoever from this transaction. This was a loan; a loan which I repaid 14 years ago. I paid this loan back with interest in accordance with the terms of the agreement reached.

To find out what the Moriarty Report said you should consult pages 82-84 of Volume 2, Chapter 2. Let’s just say it doesn’t mince its words and is very clear in its interpretation of the money trail as related in the Irish Times this week:

The tribunal says it is satisfied that Mr Lowry received a payment of Ir£147,000 from Mr O’Brien in July 1996, stg£300,000 in March 1999 and a benefit equivalent to a payment in the form of the businessman’s support for a loan of stg£420,000 in December 1999.

It says the evidence is that there was a carefully-planned and covert payment of Ir£147,000 by Mr O’Brien to an account owned by Mr Lowry in the Isle of Man. It says Mr O’Brien’s money was passed through two accounts held by his financial adviser Aidan Phelan in the Isle of Man to a Channel Islands account owned by the late David Austin, a mutual friend of Mr O’Brien and Mr Lowry. It says subsequently a payment of Ir£147,000 was transmitted from Mr Austins account to Mr Lowry’s account in the Isle of Man.

The tribunal says that this money was “hastily repaid (by Mr Lowry to Mr Austin in February 1997) out of fear of possible disclosure at the time that the McCracken tribunal (into payments to some politicians) was established”. It rejects the suggestion that there were two separate transactions. In this scenario the money paid by Mr O’Brien, via accounts held by his financial adviser, to Mr Austin was for the purchase of a holiday home in Spain while the other was “a friendly loan arrangement” between Mr Austin and Mr Lowry for the refurbishment of a property in Blackrock, Co Dublin. It says this suggestion represents “a belated attempt retrospectively to clothe those transactions with some commercial reality, in circumstances prompted by a realisation that at some point they might be uncovered”.

The report says that from the stg£300,000 payment, stg£231,000 was used to complete the purchase of the property in Mansfield while stg£44 ,500 was paid for the deposit on the Cheadle transaction – the balance coming from the loan.

It says that the form in which the stg£300,000 was made – through the agency of Mr Phelan directly to a solicitor’s account held outside the State – “was motivated by a desire to conceal the fact that Mr O’Brien was the true source of the payment to Mr Lowry”.

The tribunal maintains that in relation to its money trail investigations “no conclusion can be arrived at, other than that repeated and clandestine courses of actions were adopted by persons intimately associated with Mr O’Brien, to confer payments or other benefits upon Mr Lowry, on behalf of Mr O’Brien”.

And here’s what the Irish Times editorial thought about this last week:

The two-volume report recalls that, had Mr Haughey not been unwell in 1999 and delayed matters, the tribunal would have concluded there was no reason to investigate the relationship between Mr O’Brien and Mr Lowry. Important information, it says, was withheld. That material only became available in 2001 and in 2009 after “false and contrived documentation” had been exposed. Payments and benefits were conveyed to Mr Lowry by persons intimately associated with Mr O’Brien. This gave rise to a reasonable inference that they were connected with his position as minister. A payment of £147,000 was made to Lowry within months of the Esat contract being signed. Payments and benefits amounting to £342,000 followed.

And here’s what the Sunday Business Post editorial thought about it this weekend…

For O’Brien, one of Ireland’s most successful businessmen, the findings relating to the payments and linking them to the licence competition are hugely damaging – no matter how he may dispute them, or how much he questions the motivation of the tribunal.

The money trail, in particular, while first presented in evidence many years ago, remains disquieting when set down in its full detail.

O’Brien and Lowry are correct, up to a point, in their portrayal of the findings as Moriarty’s opinion. But this is the opinion, based on years of research, of a judge of the High Court who was tasked with this investigation by the Oireachtas.

ULA membership drive… March 30, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
199 comments

As Mark P noted yesterday, the ULA is starting a membership drive and discuss the steps necessary to see it emerge as a party in its own right.

You’ll find details and a joint statement here.

Interesting to learn yesterday that there’s no clear intention to organise in Northern Ireland at least not as of yet.

Now this, this is interesting… March 30, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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Kathleen Barrington of the Sunday Business Post has written another very useful piece about the banking crisis and in this instance how that may impact upon private pensions.

There’s something refreshing about Barrington’s approach. She notes that in Hungary for example that:

In February, it cancelled $7.5 billion worth of government bonds after grabbing privately-managed pension funds to cut the country’s indebtedness.
The appropriation of the assets came despite protests from leading pension fund managers, as well as legal threats.
The raid was carried out by Hungary’s Debt Management Agency, which is roughly equivalent to our own National Treasury Management Agency.
László Buzás, the deputy chief executive officer of the agency, told news agency Bloomberg that by cancelling the government bonds, the government would reduce Hungary’s debt by 5.5 percentage points from about 80 per cent of gross domestic product.

She also mentions the Danish experience in the very recent past where depositors in a bank were forced by their government to carry losses.

This appropriation is remarkable. As she notes later in the article:

The Hungarian and Danish governments’ moves serve as yet another reminder that the financial crisis in Europe is now so deep that EU governments are giving consideration to measures which were unthinkable only a few short years ago.

Indeed so. And yet, there’s part of me which wonders why it is that only now, all these years in that such measures are only now being considered and that the first recourse was to the public purse rather than to alternative sources. And surely, the public purse is the – effective – lender of last resort. But given that this was and remains very much a function of private sector failure one wonders why more hasn’t been done to spread the debt burden in such a manner that – short of a willingness to walk away from it by the state, because with the current and previous crews that sort of thinking just isn’t there – it falls less on the broad range of citizens who had no hand or part in these issues and more on those who did.

Barrington notes that:

[Fine Gael] said during the election campaign that it would publish a jobs budget with a cost of €381 million within 100 days of entering government, which would be funded by the early payment of the first tranche of the 0.5 per cent levy on pension funds.
The pensions industry opposes this proposal.

The shortfall in the private sector defined benefit schemes was estimated at €13 billion at the end of 2008.

It has been suggested that those schemes could cut the benefits of an estimated 65,000 pension members to take account of the levy – a move which would, in Moriarty’s [Jerry Moriarty, chief executive of the Irish Association of Pension Funds (IAPF)] words,’ ‘penalise the prudent’’.
But the scale of the EU’s banking and fiscal crisis is now so enormous that it is entirely possible that governments will find themselves penalising the prudent in an effort to shore up the public finances.

But what then one wonders is Moriarty’s thoughts on of those of us who were neither prudent or imprudent, who had absolutely nothing to do with this crisis. No end of appetite to penalise us.

Remembering the Shankill Butchers March 29, 2011

Posted by Garibaldy in media, The North.
19 comments

Stephen Nolan may be an unfamiliar name to many readers here, but he is pretty much the star name in BBC Radio Ulster’s line-up, doing a daily morning phone-in show (obviously Gerry Anderson’s show is much better). He also does work for BBC Radio 5 Live, and some television work. He’s something akin to Northern Ireland’s version of a populist shock jock (although he has a very different persona for 5 Live). His show is very popular and award-winning, but he rubs a hell of a lot of people up the wrong way. I’m one of them. But credit where it is due. Last night, he presented a documentary about the Shankill Butchers (iplayer link so may not work outside the UK and may be time-limited, while a search for Shankill Butchers on youtube turned up a band of that name and some tribute videos to the likes of Lenny Murphy that I didn’t watch). He then followed it up this morning with an edition of the radio show dedicated to talking about the Shankill Butchers (may not work outside the UK, and is time-limited). The radio show in particular was fascinating.

The publicity for the documentary made great claims to having unique access to the evidence from the cases involved, and also exclusive interviews with victims’ families and with the RUC CID detective who caught them, as well as others such as the pathologist and journalists. It’s a long time since I read Martin Dillon’s Shankill Butchers, but as far as I can remember it drew on much of the same material he did. There is something much more immediate and affecting, however, in seeing the daughter of a victim talk about noticing that her father’s nose had not been sewn back on properly, and that it took a metal brace to hold his head in position because he had nearly been decapitated than reading about it in a book. The documentary itself was fairly straightforward, telling the tale of the gang from its earliest days to its capture to Lenny Murphy’s death at the hands of the Provisionals. Importantly, it stressed just how small the area the butchers operated in was, crusing in a black taxi to abduct victims, and later in other cars. It also included footage of the quite large funerals of some of the Butchers, and the awful experience of a victim’s daughter who was stuck in the traffic jam caused by one of their funerals for two hours, forced to watch what was going on around her.

In terms of the Butchers themselves, it raised a number of issues. The first was whether, and for how long before they were caught, their identities were known: (a) to the UVF leadership (b) to the security forces, and in particular the CID team seeking to catch them and (c) more generally to the local population of the Shankill. There was no statement from the UVF leadership, or quoting of sources active then, but the line has tended to be they did not know, and certainly weren’t certain if they had suspicions, with Murphy’s unit protrayed as a rogue outfit. This was roughly the line taken by a former loyalist internee on the radio show this morning. The fact that the gang was responsible on leadership orders for the Easter Sunday bomb in 1977 that killed a ten-year old watching the Republican Clubs parade undermines that argument somewhat, as does the fact that they killed a number of other loyalists. I suspect they were seen as a good group to have to intimidate rivals. There are some parallels perhaps from the 1990s with the unit based in the Mount Vernon estate (and riddled with informers) that was responsible not only for vicious sectarian murders, but also for beating Raymond McCord Jr. to death and for taking an active role in feuds with other loyalist groups. The Sunday World’s Jim Campbell was adamant that the identity of the butchers was known early on to his sources in the UVF on the Shankill. Surprisingly, the detective in charge stated his belief that the UVF leadership did not know who was responsible when Nolan asked him.

(more…)

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