Tuesday 31 July 2007

Reflecting on Banner

Operation Banner ends today after 38 years. It's another milestone on NI's long road to Normality, and a moment we should appreciate and savour.

I come from South Donegal, an area affected by, but not devastated by the Troubles. Thankfully, we were only on the fringe of the conflict and escaped the worst of its horrors. Nevertheless, ordinary life was to some extent affected.

For a start, the community comprises a mix of Protestant and Catholic that is unique in the Republic. It's probably about 70% Catholic, 30% Protestant, though in the parishes round where I come from, the figures are closer to 60% and 40%, with Catholics in the majority.

It's fair to say that sectarianism has never been a big problem in the area. Yet during the height of the Troubles, both communities felt the burden of belonging to one or other of the quarelling groups in Norhtern Ireland.

The mood would always be very sombre after an atrocity in the North, particularly if it was near the border. There was a sense of collective shame after each terrible slaughter. Everyone knew that our good neighbours were not responsible, but the sense of association was difficult to escape.

Probably the event that caused the most sustained division was the hunger strikes. IRA sympathisers raised black flags on telephone poles. And IRA slogans were seen on the roadsides. This was probably country wide - but in an area of the republic with a more complex religious landscape, we felt it more.

On other occasions a mild polarisation came to the fore. For example, in the weeks leading up to the 12th of July, when many orangemen in the area would march through the village, a slight tension would hang in the air. Friends or neighbours, normally on good terms, would feel awkward towards one another. The odd lout on the Catholic side often took to lobbing eggs or tomatoes at the marchers.

We all had relatives on the other side of the Border - in Derry, Fermanagh and West Tyrone - who had to face the conflict head on. And most of us travelled across the Border often. Crossing the border, dotted with massive military installations, was like entering the West Bank. Soldiers in combat gear, finger on the trigger, would board the bus. And there was always a huge gun pointing from the towers. Likewise, the streets of Derry or Enniskillen, the towns I knew best, were quite heavily militarised. Even the police were in heavy body armour and carried machine guns. And again, after a bombing or a shooting, the air was thick with suspicion, mistrust, and often fear.

I remember paying a visit to an Uncle in Enniskillen a few days after the horrendous bombing in 1987. The rubble of the razed building lay beside the War Memorial (Where the Clinton Centre is now). 11 people had died. The security forces had flooded the town. People were pensive and brooding. It was a public in mourning. People were quiet. Words were made redundant.

A handful of times the IRA struck right on our doorstep. They murdered an ex-UDR man who had come across the border to visit his Catholic girlfriend. The couple were sitting in a car parked outside her house one evening. An IRA unit pounced, dragged her from the vehicle, and shot the ex-soldier over 70 times before running across the field, cheering in celebration.

But in these episodes we in South Donegal saw only a glimpse of the horrors taking place in neighbouring counties. This is no place to assess the rights and wrongs of that awful period. Operation Banner was part of the whole complex and sorry story. And I for one rejoice at its passing.

Thursday 26 July 2007

Harry Potter and the End of the World

I will probably never read Harry Potter. I have my own good reasons, and here they are. First, I have this theory, right or wrong, that anything loved by the masses is usually crap. No, it's not out of snobbery that you won't find the 'top 10' hits on my CD rack, it's just that I think they're pure rubbish. Same for cinema. Films which roll off the Hollywood factory floor, smashing one record after another, aren't exactly my favourites. Same for food. And same for books.

Now, I don't for a moment contend that all things which are popular, or mass-appeal, are pure junk. Not so, but invariably most are. And I'm not going to try out top 10 music, for I know that in all likelihood, it will swiftly be making its way air-born from my CD deck to the old poubelle. (Ah, you didn't like that, a snob using a French word to show his sophistication. What a tit. Ok then, I'll condescend, and we'll settle for 'bin'!)

But the main reason poor Harry will lie forever at the bottom of my wish list is this: Tolkien. Yes, J double R taught me something about myself: I hate fantasy. A friend of mine advised me that The Lord of The Rings was one of the wonders of the world. And he said the best introduction was The Hobbit, and, moved to tears that he had made a convert, he loaned me his copy.

I delved in. Immediately the fantastical and, excessively minute descriptions began to heap up and up, piling upon still more depictions, that soon I felt I had borrowed into and endless thicket of excruciating and mostly pointless detail. The minutae were sprayed out ad nauseum - Hobbits come of age at such and such an age, and eat potatoes and cheese. I mean, for heaven's sake. It seemed like J double R decided to list every observable trait that an animal, or perhaps more generally a thing, can have, and then modify it to a greater or lesser degree. In the end, I laboured so much in that torturous thicket that I decided to back out for a taste of the real world. I needed to loosen my collar and take a gasp of breath after every few pages. And that is how I turned my back, forever I hope, on that intricate, over-contrived, and to me at least, absurd world of the Hobbit.

And that foray into "High Fantasy" killed any appetite I had for plain ordinary fantasy as well. (It seems this fantasy genre has two levels, J double R residing at the higher layer, and HP making do with a lower stratum. Can they do anything simple?) So poor old Harry P will be read by me only if there occurs some apocalyptic, world-altering event - such as is wholly the norm in his own universe - which leaves me inhabiting a world where only he and I exist.

The Real 43rd President of the United States of America

A short, but telling piece in The London Review of Books on Dick Cheney

Wednesday 25 July 2007

The Asian Century

If you believe that this will be the Asian century, then another strong indicator has emerged to bolster your case. It relates to the size of China's economy. In 2005 China passed the UK to take 4th place in the league of the top economies in the world. The other day, the figures for China confirm she is now sailing past Germany and into 3rd place. Perhaps the most stunning fact is not that China is now 3rd, but that it is still rising so rapidly. Could China soon be a superpower rival to the US?

In "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers", Paul Kennedy shows how economic data gave very strong signals about which nations were rising and which were falling back between 1500 and 1980. To take an example, Kennedy shows that while it's true that in the year 1900, Britain stood as the World's greatest power, the writing was already on the wall. The graphs for ship building, military expenditure, tonnes of coal produced, GDP, and so on, clearly show that Britain was being overtaken by Germany and the US. (As an aside, it seems that the Civil War in the US in the 1860s somehow unleashed its vast economic potential. From then on, it is possible to see it one day dominating the World. In fact, Alexis de Tocqueville predicted its potential as early as 1830)

Today, if we look at China's economic stats, we see a power rising at a stunning rate. Exports to US and Russia growing in double digits. Fixed asset investment up 29%. GDP growth 11.95. And if we believe that ultimately, geopolitical power is built on economic power, then we have every reason to believe that China will soon become one of the two or three biggest players on the global stage. The consequences of that would be a huge restructuring of global power.

The balance in the Pacific, where Japan plus US have dominated since WWII, would be turned on its head. What would it mean for other big nations that China borders, such as Russia and India? What would it mean for the global scene generally, where we have already seen less than benign influence by China in places like Darfur?

But none of this is a foregone conclusion. That China will continue its growth is not at all clear. Some commentators feel its growth has peaked and will cool off. (But we heard that before and it proved wrong). Furthermore, there are big questions about the reliability of Chinese figures.

Three major questions stand out, however, even if the figures have been tweaked. First, China's growth to roughly 3rd place in GDP terms is spectacular. And yet its per capita wealth is tiny (about 100th in world terms). What does this say about its potential? It reminds me of the vast untapped potential that Tocqueville saw in America 180 years ago.

And second, what is this transformation going to do to its political stability? How can its pseudo-capitalism sit within an authoritarian state?

And finally, what will this extraordinary transformation mean for the global environment?

* Thanks to wikipedia for the graph

Can Ireland be as unequal as Brazil?

This was a question that a commenter asked of David McWilliams in response to the latter's article on globalisation and inequality.

I would doubt if Ireland will go like Brazil. First, though inequality in Ireland is disturbing, it is not as if we’ve shot to the top of the European league. As McWilliams says, we’re still mid table on a European basis - and that’s after more than a decade of one of the most spectacular booms ever seen. The economy is slowing down now and is likely to reach more sustainable levels - so the great leap in wealth made by rich is likely to slow too.

Second, despite our wealth and our clear preference for an Anglo-Saxon form of capitalism, our welfare state is held in high regard. What I mean is, there are redistributive measures in Ireland that would be unthinkable in Brazil. Even our right of centre, pro-business government significantly increased almost all forms of welfare over the last 10 years (maternity benefit extended, OA pensions ramped up hugely, and so on). Why did they do this? Because our welfare state is still very popular. In other words, despite all, we still have a soft spot for the weaker in our society (thank God and long may it last). The weak spot I see is the growing privatisation in some sectors - notably health and education. It remains to be seen how far this can go politically and already it is a hot topic (had FG or Labour won a few more seats last election, some measures might already be in reverse gear)

As a final note - you’ll recall that Charlie McCreevy was seen as one of our most right wing finance ministers. The public just didn’t like it, so FF, finger on the pulse to the last, moved him on.

So there’s still a feedback loop from the ordinary man back to cabinet decisions. I’m not saying the rich don’t have a minister’s ear when they wan’t to, but our country operates in a way that, I think at least, will stop us from ever being as horribly unequal as Brazil.

Tuesday 24 July 2007

High Performance Internet

It was a special day for the employees of Nortel Galway. This was the first time a Vice President of the 90,000 strong Corporation had come to town. The year was 2000 and the Tech boom was in full swing. For months Nortel's share price had curved steeply upwards. The VP was TJ Fitzpatrick, head of one of Nortel's divisions.

There was a mood of excitement as the workers took their seats in the auditorium. A chuckle of laughter was heard here and there as the occasional wag cracked a joke about the Big Lad in town. One lad wondered if "TJ" knew that Galway had made it to the hurling semi-final.

Local management had prepared meticulously for their VIP. The room was set up like a glitzy media event - each side of the stage was emblazoned with the corporate logo; snazzy pictures of key products lined the walls; pzazzy music blared from the PA in anticipation. It felt like Nortel's version of New Labour. This was new Nortel. Old Nortel did telephones, new Nortel did Internet.

TJ was introduced to rapturous applause. Not that the crowd were in awe of TJ's achievements, but they were a well mannered bunch, and crucially the preceding year or so had seen the company dish out stock options to all and sundry. And boy had they risen. Each morning at the coffee machine, people talked about the share price. There was a very palpable feel-good factor. IT had taken off. Nortel was a key player. Employees felt their time had come. So TJ's visit had a buzz about it.

TJ derided disbelievers: "Some analysts ask how we can justify a price/earnings ration of 600". Pause, then in an Al Gore like lilt he continued "It's because we're building the high performance internet".

Anyone who knew that a PE ratio normally sits between 10 and 30 would have gulped. Either Nortel and the Tech boom had really found a new paradigm or something wasn't quite right!

In the months which followed uncle TJ and his boss, company CEO John Roth, continued to talk about the high performance internet. Roth said he expected sales to grow by 30%. Nortel would continue to eat up market share.

And then it happened. Reality came crashing through all the bullshit. Nortel had to admit that the arse had fallen out of its Market. It's sales projections had collapsed. The company suddenly discovered that the high performance internet was already built! No one need any more optical gear which they had turned into a core business.

The company's value on the Canadian Stockmarket fell from $398 billion dollars to $5 billion as the stock price plummeted from $124 dollars to ... 47 cents. A swath of Canadian investors and pension funds were wiped. And Nortel had to hand out p45's to some 60,000 employees.

Apparently Roth got out in time - he baled too that fateful year. But not before he could cash in $135 million of stock options.

Nortel's woes were to continue. In 2003 it was discovered that Nortel had been cooking the books. Billions of dollars had been improperly stated in its accounts and the company had to revise (down!) its positions back to 1998.

I never learned what became of TJ, but I'm full sure he didn't lose his pension. Roth retired to his estate in Caledon Ontario where he lay low enjoying his vast fortune - every penny of it hard earned from the high performance internet.

Monday 23 July 2007

"Out, damned spot! out, I say!"

Lady Macbeth - one of literature's vilest creatures - has blood on her hands. Metaphorically, when she pressures her husband to commit Murder, then literally when she smears Duncan's blood on the guards to inculpate them in the crime. But after the deed the dark lady is haunted by the blood. She imagines it on her hand, and it cannot be wiped away. She cries "Out, damned spot! out, I say!"

Likewise another vile creature, one Joe O'Reilly, could not erase the blood of his hands. The tap he left running at the scene of the crime was his was of crying "out, damned spot". Not only that, he was haunted and obsessed by poor Rachel's blood, which he had so cruelly spilled. Weeks after forensics had left, he hadn't cleaned the blood. And he would return to it again and again with his vistors, including Rachel's parents, God help them, who would be shocked and terrified as he re-enacted the murder, in an uncanny, trance-like manner. Blow by blow, spat by spat of blood.

Lady Macbeth ultimately goes insane and dies of her own hand (we think!). The blood simply wouldn't go away. And neither would it for our contemporary psychopath, O'Reilly, who will now have ample time to consider the wisdom of his cruel, horrendous crime.

Stop this Immigration Madness!

I have every sympathy for those poor wretches who find themselves stuck on a muddy roundabout in the middle of an M50 interchange. But one has to ask: what on earth were they doing there? The question is not to them - who took the tough decision to leave their homeland and who are evidently not the best equipped to undertake such a voyage. The question rather is to our State and Government.

What cretin came up with the idea that we should allow Romanians and Bulgarians to come here freely but not to work? It is true that logic and reason rarely feature in Immigration policies anywhere, but this policy is surely an insane recipe for disaster. Either come here and you can work, or don't come at all.

Most EU countries put a brake on the invasion of Eastern Europeans from the 10 states in 2004. Ireland, the UK,and I think Sweden, did not. These three countries were fortunate in that their economies were strong. Had they not been, no doubt things would have been different.

Few would deny that for the most part, the result has been beneficial thus far - though these complex matters often take time to reveal their true impact. Nevertheless, even now, the British seem to have lost track of the total number of immigrants that have arrived on their shores, and public support for the open door policy is ebbing away rapidly. The same might well happen here, actually is bound to happen here, for our record in the old admin department is rather shaky (if we can't maintain voting registers and constituency lists, what hope of tracking a huge flow of immigrants).

No matter. Back to the Romanians. If we think we have opened our borders enough for the time being - and who can argue that we haven't taken our fair share - then we should simply refuse to admit more Romanians or Bulgarians. We need time to bed down the immigrants we have very rapidly acquired in huge numbers.

Some will cry about the Roma fleeing persecution. That is Rubbish. The latest Amnesty report on that Region - Albania, to Bulgaria, to Southern Russia, has precious little to say about Romania. Yes the Roma are discriminated against, but that hardly amounts to persecution. If they face discrimination let our political ambassadors in the EU exert pressure on Romania to clean up their act.

Others say the EU is based on freedom to travel. Indeed it is. And that should apply to our Eastern friends too - but only after a time. Only after their membership drags their economies and administrations to maturity so that their people will not flee to their rich neighbours by the million. When this latter happens, the biggest losers are in fact the countries which are deprived of their cleverest and hardest working sons and daughters. Already Poland is waking up to the fact that this very phenomenon has produced a crippling brain drain. Same in Latvia.

So please, Taoiseach, Minister for Justice, undo this policy of free entry but no work, for it is appallingly stupid. We are only beginning to see where it leads. If it continues we are guaranteed more mud huts and misery in our hedges, and in all likelihood, the emergence of a vast black market in labour.

Thursday 19 July 2007

Myers on Muslims

Today in letters to the editor of the Indo, Cian Cafferky and Anthony Bates are appalled by Kevin Myers' call to stop Muslims entering the country. But their hearts have overruled their minds. Both responses play on our emotions, while neither answers the fundamental question that Mr Myers asked : given the extreme difficulty posed by Muslim immigration to England, "what rational justification is there for enlarging our Islamic population?"

To be frank, I have grave difficulty with Mr Myers' proposal because it punishes the many for the sins of the few. And when it comes to the perpetrators of the horrible massacres we've seen in Spain, Britain, and elsewhere, we really are talking about the few. But we cannot ignore the shocking radicalisation of Muslim communities in Britain and France. As Mr Myers points out, when Muslim attitudes in these countries were surveyed, the results were frightening.

Liberals will cry that Muslims in France are unemployed or suffer discrimination. Those in Britain are angry at the War in Iraq. All of this is true, but none of it justifies the kind of anger at and raw hatred of the west that we've seen in these communities. Western countries have at various times wronged much of the Muslim world, but we know too that many British Muslims come from countries where all people, Muslim or not, are treated miserably and eke out short, impoverished lives. But for some reason, even grotesque Muslim regimes are spared the fury that is reserved for the West.

There is no reason to believe that we could do any better at integrating our Muslims. When the economy slumps, as it will one day, they too might suffer discrimination or deprivation. They might be angry at our unquestioning support of American foreign policy, or a future war for that matter. In that case, is there not a very real chance that our Muslims too would begin to hate us? In such circumstances, the horrid, loathsome fundamentalism that we've seen elsewhere could catch on here. As elsewhere, in the fertile soil of anger, it would flourish. Is this a horror we'd rather avert now, or deal with later?

Mr Myer's has suggested one way to prevent the problem. Those who attack him have not suggested an alternative. Until they do, his approach, though flawed and unpalatable, stands as the only rational way to avoid what could become a terrible nightmare.

Wednesday 18 July 2007

Doctors’ Earnings

We've heard a lot of discussion lately about the new contract for consultants. It's true that the docs are unhappy with certain changes in their contract - but the public was left with the impression that they weren't happy with the proposed salary. Well how well paid are our docs?

A recent OECD survey compared the earnings of GPs and Speicialist across 23 rich countries. Where possible they showed the earnings of self employed docs and also those of salaried docs. For Ireland all GPs are essentially self employed so there are no salaried figures. Also for Ireland the OECD showed only the earnings of salaried specialists. Perhaps the figures for the self employed were hard to determine?

The OECD compared calculated the ration between doc salaries and GNP per head.

It turns out the Irish docs aren't doing so bad at all. Irish GPs shared second place with those in New Zealand at a ratio of 4.0 (on average doc earns 4 times the average GNP per head) For comparison Canada 3.3, France 2.8, Nederlands 3.5. Top of the league comes the US at 4.4.

For salaried specialists Ireland at 4.6 is again in second place behind the US and UK who top the pole at 4.8. For comparison, Denmark 2.8, Nederlands 4.0, Norway 1.6. (It should be pointed out that where figures are available for self-employed specialists they are generally significantly higher - Belgium 7.8 say).

Of course a snapshot like this doesn't tell the whole story. But if these figures are reliable it's very hard not to accept that Irish docs are pretty well paid.

We the paying customer or taxpayer have every right to ask why are Irish docs at the upper end of the scale? What conditions in our system make it so? And if there are constraints on entry - like limited med school numbers - who is preventing change? Clearly we need more docs. Clearly more people want to be docs - sky high points for med is simply screaming out that this is the case. When the IT sector boomed in the mid to late 90s, 3rd level places gradually swelled to meet demand. Why is it not the same for docs?

The docs, the unis, and the Minster for Health should be repeatedly asked to explain this. It's our money and our health service.

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Spooks in Bus Éireann

Bus Éireann has been infiltrated by a spook from private enterprise. An agent of one of the bigger private operators or perhaps a mid ranking hack at IBEC must have volunteered to go under cover. The agent's mission was to scupper any possibility that bus Éireann would provide a fast, decent expressway service. If the aim was to make bus Éireann look bad, by God it succeeded.

But how could such a spy pass BÉ's rigorous vetting operation? Perhaps he, I'm sure it was a he, for women are still rare in the bus game. Perhaps he answered an ad and sent in a cv ticking all the right boxes. Are you capable of completely ignoring the pleas of a desparately angry customer? Can you make up routes at random? Can you drive as the crow doesn't fly? Are you fond of long fag breaks? Are you certain that it bothers you not to rattle along empty when all customers have turned their backs on your apalling service? Yes to all of the above - you're in.

I'd guess our spy was code-named Thirty, for that's the number of the inane, winding, endless, treck from Donegal Town to Dublin, a dreadful adventure which BÉ calls "expressway". Our agent, Thirty, must have been asked to plan the route which, it turns out, Bus Éireann had recently taken over from a private operator. The private operator took three and a half hours. Thirty would add an hour to cripple BÉ's efforts to make their customer happy. Not only that, Thirty would play games with the routing. Lost villages would be rediscovered; main roads avoided. Better still, to keep customers awake the route would vary. The three o clock would run via Swanlinbar, the six o'clock through Derrylin. And so on. Oh, and Thirty knew well that travelling through Swanlinbar from Donegal to Dublin was the equivalent of going from Galway to Dublin via Sligo.

Now, agent Thirty had a sense of humour, and thinking his preposterous route would be vetoed by managment, he smiled to himself as he clicked send on the mail that proposed it. Oh how he folded with laughter when he opened his in-box the following day to see the mail "approved".

And when he phoned his real boss, IBEC or perhaps CityLink, with the news of his hilarious achievement, they too rolled with laughter, for they now knew that BÉ's attempt to heave its fat girth into the 21st century was well and truly over.

Bertie and The Inquisition

David McWilliams has written that Bertie Ahern's criticism of those who question the state of the economy is akin to the Inquisition and to the Church's reaction to Galileo who suggested the Earth was not centre of the universe. According to McWilliams, in both cases the Inquisitors were stamping out criticism to protect their own interests.

First about Bertie : to my knowledge, Bertie Ahern has never provided a coherent argument about why he believes the negative commentry is wrong. You see, Bertie doesn’t do reasoned coherent arguments. His remarks are usually about as clear as the mist rolling in over the Mull of Kintyre. He never makes an argument - he just huffs and puffs. I think the reason that his reaction now is a bit more significant is that he knows the Emperor is rather scantily clad. He knows in his heart that the Celtic tiger is merely concealling a very grave sickness. So it’s not just denial - as David suggests - Bertie knows fine well there are big shadows on the radar. He is angry that the naysayers won’t just leave him alone to operate his politicking after his own fashion. In fact, Bertie treats all critical voices the same way: those who speak out on the economy, the environment, our society, or opaque government are all just annoying noises preventing him from running his little fiefdom. For him, dissent is not the life blood of democracy, it's a hassle that ought to be pushed aside quickly with whatever measures he can get away with.

Back to the economy: Another part of the game is the soft-landing brigade. God knows, I am as keen as the next man for a soft landing instead of a hard one. But the curve in asset - read house - prices has been so steeply upwards that when it flattened it rather ressembled a huge machine racing along and knocked into neutral. Its momentum carries it for a while an will even propel it up small hills for a time. But unless it gets back in gear soon it will grind to a halt. If we meet a hill, the stop will be swift. Basically, a hard landing can begin softly. In the aftermath of the 1929 Crash, the stock market kept on crashing for 4 years. Little recoveries would suggest a bottom before each successive drop went deeper still. I wouldn’t push the analogy too far. This is not America in 1929. But the point is: house prices have just begun to fall and we don’t really know yet how far or for how long. So when the Inquisitors talk about soft landing they should be swiftly rebuted by asking, how on earth do you know?

Gleann dá loch

Thug mé cuairt ar Ghleann dá loch le mo thuismitheoirí ag deireadh na seachtaine seo caite. Bhí an t-ádh dearg orainn go raibh an ghrian ag scoilteadh na gcloch. Le mí anuas ní fhéadfá do chos a leagan taobh amuigh den doras de bharr na drochaimsire.

Rinne mo thuismitheoirí iontas den Ghleann agus de sheanbhallóg na mainistreach. Go hálainn agus fíorspéisiúil a dúirt m'athair i dtaobh na mainistreach agus an túir. Agus b'fhíor dó.

De réir mar a thuigim, bhunaigh Naomh Caoimhín an mhainistir sin sa séú haois. An séú haois! Is deacair an ré sin a shamhladh anois. B'ansin, i nGleann álainn an dá loch, a rinne sé macnamh ar an tsaol, ar an dúlra, agus ar an tsíoraíocht.

Tá na suíomhanna seo fíor-thábhachtach dúinne, nó go gcuireann siad ina luí orainne go raibh sibhialtacht ann - anseo in Éirinn - i bhfad romhainne, agus gur chaith na daoine sin tréimhse ar an talamh seo, gur mhair siad, go ndearna siad iontas den tsaol seo, gur fhulaing siad, gur smaointigh siad ar an tsaol eile, agus gur imigh siad, amach ar shlí na fírinne.

Ag macnamh ar na daoine sin, i bhfad siar, tig rud amháin i mo cheann: gur fada an lá ag an uaigh orainn. Sea, ní thugann rud ar bith ach seal beag gairid.

Agus rud eile - nuair a d'imigh Naomh Caoimhín agus a chairde, d'fhág siad an tír seo againne, agus d'fhág siad an eaglais agus an túr ina ndiaidh. Agus mhair dhá scór glún idir an dá linn, is gur fhág chuile ghlúin acu siúd na séadchomharthaí seo don chéad ghlúin eile. Ba chóir dúinne an rud céanna a dhéanamh.

Mar sin, molaim go gcuirfí cosc ar dhaoine siúl isteach tríd an reilig i measc na leac uaighe. Bíonn déagóirí ag léimniú thart is ag siúl ar na leaca. Bíonn na mílte daoine ar cuairt ann le linn an tsamhraidh is ba chóir go ligfí isteach iad faoi mhaoirseacht is go mbeadh súil á coinneáil ar an tséadchomtharha féin.

Is lómhar agus is iontach an áit í. Ba chóir dúinn í a chaomhnú dóibh siúd atá le teacht.

Wednesday 11 July 2007

The Greedy Farmer

Now we know. The Farmers are indeed the most parochial, selfish, mean-spirited lobby of them all. One motive lies behind their objection to more access to walking routes: pure untempered greed. They see an opportunity to squeeze another unearned euro of poor old Joe Public.

I am a keen hillwalker and I know the countryside pretty well. The vast bulk of hillwalkers are responsible people who are mindful about the countryside and the environment. Not only that, by definition, it's in their interest to keep the countryside in good shape. Most that I know are highly conscious about littering the countryside; they dutifully close gates after the pass through; they keep distance from animals and private dwellings.

Furthermore the vast bulk of the most interesting walks lie in the least productive farmlands - usually uplands covered in bog or rock.

The other striking fact is that farmers are the most heavily subsidised workers in the country. About half of their farm earnings come as a subsidy. And these matters are decided by politicians who always keep one eye on public opinion. If the public attitude hardens against farmers, politicians will feel they can make deeper cuts in farm subsidies. No Matter. It seems the farmer is conditioned to severe the hands that feeds him.

All reasonable people know that the tiny incidence of misbehaviour among hillwalkers can be dealt with. And agreements can be made about how to use potetial walk ways. No particular genious is required - it's all been done elsewhere. Why not here?

The other thing is that many rural communities - especially on the Western seaboard - will come to depend more and more on incomes from tourism. Small farmers have a role to play here in partnership with the tourism industry. Various co-operative schemes can be imagined. But it's certainly in the medium to long term interest of these small farmers to see tourist numbers increase. Walkers can be a big part of that. Our coastal walks are stunningly beautiful and have enormous potential.

So it's rather sad to see the farmers dig in on an issue where, really, they have nothing to gain from their blind intransigence, and very very much to lose. So ok famers, dig in, but the clock is ticking on your subsidies, and next time the begging bowl is out, we, the public will make up a bogus constitutional argument about why we cannot help.

Tuesday 10 July 2007

Doctors not Special

Many media commentators have expressed their shock that those arrested for the recent attacks in Britain were doctors. Had these men been engineers, no-one would have raised an eyebrow. But doctors! Why do people still allow their critical faculties to be subdued by the old fallacy that doctors are a higher form of human being?

How on earth, people have asked, could doctors perpetrate these barbaric crimes? The answer of course is simple: because they are human. The medical profession gladly competed to get into Hitler's vile T4 program, which was set up to purify their race by murdering thousands of disabled people, many of them children. That they had studied medicine and professed a desire to heal gave them no immunity from the loathsome, perverse ideas that drove the Nazis.

We should remember that there are many reasons why people become doctors: the reward of healing people, the joy of applying an interesting science, family encouragement or even pressure, and, as often as not, because it pays well.

In the past, doctors (with lawyers and the clergy) were part of a social elite by virtue of their education and their specialist knowledge in an age when these were rare. Nowadays, thankfully, a huge swathe of the population have access to higher education. The doctor no longer seems so special. Doctors are not now seen as infallible. Indeed, better outcomes nowadays are achieved when the doctor treats the patient as an equal.

The attacks in Britain show us that a whiff of superiority still hangs over medicine. The notion that doctors are different is elitist and simply wrong, and it should not be indulged.

Thursday 5 July 2007

Off Their Trolleys

The Farmers Markets, or to use the correct term Formers Morkets, are never going to make any difference to how we shop or eat. In today's indo Martina Devlin writes that she would shop at the farmers markets if only they were well run. She'd happily pay an extra 20c for organic bread. But wait a minute: have you been to a Formers Morket lately? We're not talking about 20c here. It's more like 2 euros. Clean supermarket carrot = 20c, dirty Formers Morket 60c. Little plastic (plastic mind you) pot of olives, 5 eu. Right lads. The only thing thats organic there is the piss being taken out of the monied punters. Besides, not all of the produce at these Morkets is organic. The other trouble with the Morket is time: who in God's name has time to pick up the kids on the way from work, then drive to the Morket to pick up the organic leeks? I mean, come on. No, sorry, we are not going to get to know our local producer again and we're not going to know the soiled hands that toil with our dirty carrots. Here's all I want: supermarkets that are well designed, well run, and stocked with a good variety of fresh fruit and veg - organic and otherwise. At the end of the day, the old trolley is your only man.

Tuesday 3 July 2007

The Shadow over Blair

In what amounts to a eulogy on Tony Blair, John Waters asks if the ex-PM's intervention in Kosovo wasn't "the most exemplary episode of leadership in our time"? Perhaps. But it was not Blair's leadership that was called into question; it was his judgement. About Blair's case for invading Iraq, Waters continues "the worst that can be said about Blair is that he exaggerated the danger to win public support". In fact, Blair decided to go to war way back before the inspection process was anywhere near exhausted. We now know that the intelligence community had grave difficulty with the way its information was presented. Basically, all the ifs, buts, and maybes were removed. Blair played a key role in this, and must have known that the evidence did not in fact show Saddam to be a serious threat. Nor did it link him with Al Queda and September 11th.

That Saddam's regime was a dictatorship could not have been the reason for war . Britain has since sold 70 fighter planes to Saudia Arabia, another dictatorship. Perhaps Blair felt Saddam deserved to be toppled for the heinous crimes he committed in the 80s when he was backed by the West. But Blair never put that case forward, nor was it ever likely that he would.

A final reason why Blair may have taken Britain to war is that he may have calculated that he would buy credit in Washington which he could draw down later for his projects in Africa or Palestine. If that is the case then he badly misjudged the intensity of Washington self interest and the limits of the Britain's special relationship with the US.

Blair is indeed an extraordinary politician and his achievements for Britain and the Labour party should not be minimized. But they are overshadowed by the terrible error of dragging his country into a prolonged and bloody conflict with no positive gain. The catastrophe in Iraq will compromise British and American intervention in the region for at least a generation and has considerably reduced the likelihood of success in the so called, War on Terror.

The Fall

Until recently I was full sure that I was McGuinness, or MacAonghusa, and therefore descended from one of the ancient Ulster clans from Co Down. Son of Aonghus, or in old Irish, Óengus - the young God. Now, for you mere mortals, I'll have you know that it's rather reassuring to know that one's lineage is not merely noble, but divine!

After a chat with my father about how several grand uncles found their way to America, I decided to do some research on the family tree. My first inquiries with family elders revealed what was to be a disturbing fact: our name had been "McGinney" until about two generations back. If this were to be confirmed, I would have to cede my place among the deities.

The story ran like this: a parish priest advised a great grand parent at the christening of her first child that the name McGinney was inccorrect. McGinney, he contended, just didn't sound right; it was a vulgar colloqualism forMcGuinness, the proper form of the name. The priest insisted that child be given the correct version of the name. My great granny gave in. Surely the parish priest couldn't be wrong. A local schoolteacher confirmed that the priest was right: the name was McGuinness.

In the world of my dear old ancestor, the priest and the teacher were wells of wisdom where the submissive peasant would come to drink. And so it was that old Mrs McGinney surrendered her own name in deference to those with learning.

The implications of this were so great - I would be merely human again - that I contended that it was no more than a family myth. All families have their mythology, their tall stories, their heroes and their victims. The Great Name Change was one of ours.

But a visit to the National Archives was to confirm my worst fears. Microfilm IP46 shattered the pleasing and romantic notion that the blood in my veins was that of an Ulster Chief of the twelfth century. It contained the birth and marriage certs of my ancestors - the McGinnys. I was no longer a God! I wasn't even royal. No, my pedigree was lower still. My real name, McGinney, or MacGéibheannaigh, means 'son of the incarcerated'.