10 die in Carrickmines halting site fire

At least ten people have lost their lives due to a fire at a halting site in Carrickmines, County Dublin, and though the final toll hasn’t yet been established, it seems that many of the dead are children. That, however, didn’t stop the underbelly of Ireland from reacting in the vilest possible way on, resulting in that site being forced to close its comments.

Many people saw the multiple deaths as an opportunity to attack Travellers, rejoicing in the loss of life of adults and children. Blaming victims.

This is the biggest single loss of life in a fire since the Stardust in 1981 and no doubt there will be an inquiry as a result, but that in itself prompts deeper questions. Why does the State abhor multiple deaths but live happily with loss of life when it happens one victim at a time?  Fifty or sixty people die every year in Ireland due to fire, but most die in their beds, causing no demand for inquiries, though we do go through the annual charade of Fire Safety Week with badly-written radio ads and contrived slogans that nobody heeds.

STOP: Smoke alarms. Test your alarm. Obvious dangers.  Plan escape routes.

S-T-O-P. Get it?

How ironic then that ten people should have lost their lives in a single incident during Fire Safety Tokenism Week.

Unfortunately, it seems that the real purpose of official fire-prevention in this country is to prevent people dying in large numbers, because that creates headlines and headlines create problems for politicians.  It’s not the number of deaths official Ireland abhors, but their manner and their timing.

It appears that the fire in Carrickmines involved two housing units but it’s still unclear what the nature of those units was. They might have been caravans, they might have been mobile homes or they might have been some sort of semi-permanent structures.  It also appears that there might have been more people living on the site than it was designed to accommodate, but that isn’t certain yet. However, if true, it means that there were extra units on the site, making it easier for a fire to spread from one to the next. If the units in the fire were fixed structures, questions will be asked about their nature. Were they provided by the local authority or did the residents build them? Who, if anyone, checked them to see if they were safe in case of fire?

[Update. 12 Oct 2015. It is now clear that the people were living in Portakabins or the equivalent, which are suitable as building site offices and the like but are not designed to be used as housing.]

Travellers often, though by no means always, opt to live in a caravan or a mobile home rather than a house, and our laws are framed to facilitate this choice, as a result of a Supreme Court action presented by former President, Mary Robinson.  If Travellers wish to live on a halting site in caravans and mobile homes, the local authority must, by law, respect their wishes.

But caravans, site huts and mobile homes are inherently unsafe when a fire breaks out, for several reasons. Firstly, they burn easily and quickly. Secondly, caravans offer no alternative means of escape if they catch fire. The only way in or out is the door and if a caravan does catch fire, it will go up in seconds.

Caravans are dangerous.

On the other hand, Travellers have a legal right to live in them if they so choose and no local authority has the power to prevent that under the law, so therefore what, if anything, can the local authority do to minimise the danger? Very little, it seems, apart from offering fire prevention training and perhaps installing a firefighting hose-reel on the site as some councils have done in the past. They can’t control the caravans because if they insisted on all caravans meeting a specific non-combustibility test, they would more than likely be in breach of their constitutional obligations to respect Travellers’ nomadic traditions.

They can, however, prevent spread of fire from one unit to the next by insisting on a minimum physical separation between them, or by building screen walls to block thermal radiation. In the Carrickmines site, no such precautions existed, as this Google Earth satellite photo illustrates.  The units at the lower right of the picture are the ones involved in the fire and it’s quite plain that they are far too close to each other for safety.

carrickmines halting site fire glenamuck road dublin


On the other hand, we now know that all fatalities occurred in a single unit, and therefore, in this instance, spread of fire from one unit to another was not a factor.

In the specific instance of the Carrickmines disaster, we can probably rule out arson. By all accounts the Traveller families living on the site are well-liked in the area and coexist happily with their settled neighbours. They seem to be people who fit in very well and who have no enemies, so what caused this terrible event?

If you put the proverbial gun to my head and demanded an answer, I’d  say that, like all disasters, it was probably caused by a combination of things. Ignorance of fire-safety principles — far from unique to the Traveller community — the inherently dangerous nature of caravans and other temporary structures, failure by the local authority to properly audit the site for fire safety, the absence of first-aid firefighting equipment and the lack of smoke detectors.

The most lethal factor, though, must be the time of the fire. Smoke rarely wakes people up. Long before you might expect them to start coughing, the carbon monoxide has already done its work, though this is by no means always the case, so we have no idea if these poor people were aware of what was going on or not.

A fire is the most disorienting thing imaginable. Even a familiar bedroom becomes an alien, unimaginably difficult place when filled with searing hot poisonous smoke. Unless you have specific training, you don’t find the door. You just die.

It seems to me that the local authority has difficult professional and ethical questions to answer, and it might well find itself having those questions put to it by an authority other than itself.



Favourites Religion Scandal

Government Announces Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes

How symbolic it is that the  inquiry into the oppressive practices of the religious orders in Ireland should be announced by a son  of Oliver J Flanagan.

Who’s that? somebody asked me earlier today.

oliver j flanaganOliver J Flanagan, TD, was an extremely conservative Catholic bigot, an anti-Semite, a short-lived Fine Gael minister and a proud Knight of Columbanus.  The Mountmellick Monolith,  as John Healy once called him in the Irish Times, represented the worst of parish-pump Irish political stroke-pulling, a ward-heeling kisser of every episcopal ring that came within 100 miles of his ambit and a symbol of everything that was wrong with this backward little country since independence.

How refreshing, therefore, that his son, Charlie Flanagan, minister for children and youth affairs, should be the one to announce a commission of inquiry into the activities of the mother and baby homes that wrought such misery on some Irish people, with the active support of many others.

Charlie is a man of integrity.  In 2011, he called for the expulsion of the papal Legate from Ireland, something that would probably have led to the early demise of Oliver J, but it took another three years before Charlie and his leader finally confronted the horror that lies at  the heart of clerical domination in Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant.

Nevertheless, well and good.  They’ve done it.  There will be a commission of inquiry with full judicial powers, and what’s more, the chair won’t necessarily be a judge or indeed a lawyer of any kind.  It seems that the government has decided to leave no loose ends this time.  The inquiry will look into the high mortality rates in the homes, forced adoptions, clinical trials, anatomical dissections, falsification of consent papers, criminally-negligent obstetric treatment of mothers, and a desire by some to punish young women who had become pregnant either through  their own actions or as a result of rape.

This is the story of 35,000 young mothers, disposed of by a society steeped in shame, and 35,000 babies dismissed as little more than rubbish, to be  sold, abused or buried at the whim of some emotionally-disordered religious petty tyrant.

We’ve reached a very significant moment in assessing what precisely Irish Independence really meant.  Did those most conservative revolutionaries really fight for Rome Rule?  Whose freedom did they have in mind, with all their fine words?

It certainly doesn’t seem to have been the freedom of the weak, the poor or the vulnerable.

Ireland was not Afghanistan, but in the way it treated its daughters, it wasn’t all that different and it’s time for us to look very hard indeed at what we are and where we came from.


From Cannibal Rats to Unionists Against Theatre – A Sort of News Round-Up

It’s been a very bizarre week in the news, a week that no sane person could fail to laugh at.

Take for instance the nutty Christian fundamentalists of Newtownabbey who succeeded in having a play banned from the council-owned theatre because they found it offensive.  The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), a comedy, was due to be put on in the Theatre at the Mill until Rev Brian McClung, a mullah of the lunatic Free Presbyterian Church demanded its cancellation.  He took offence, and his righteous wrath was duly taken up by fellow religious fundamentalists on Newtownabbey council, including the gloriously-named Billy Ball.  Billy’s DUP colleague, Mandy Girvan, declared that it shouldn’t be shown if it’s against the Bible’s principles, whatever that means, thereby opening the door for every crank and nut-job to demand the cancellation of everything they don’t like.  But in fairness, not all unionists are as humourless as the DUP.  The Ulster Unionist mayor, Fraser Agnew, rescued the day by injecting a little absurdism: As the guardians of all that is right in society, he announced,  we have got to take a stand somewhere and that is what happened in this instance.

So there you have it.  Next time you feel something is not quite right about the world you live in, make a call to the Newtownabbey Borough Council, guardians of all that is right in society.  Something a bit off?  Send for Superprod!

And you thought the Limerick city of culture farce was bad?  At least we didn’t have religious lunatics trying to ban things they didn’t like.  Where’s this going?  Should every purse-lipped  prude and ideologue have a veto over things they don’t approve of?  Well, we tried that in the South for decades and look where it got us.  It seems the Wee Frees have a distance to go before they emerge from the Dark Ages and to be truthful with you, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.

For a little light relief (as if the Newtownabbey story isn’t ludicrous enough) we had the wonderful tabloid scare about an abandoned ship adrift in the Atlantic, full of cannibal rats, at any moment about to crash onto the Irish coast, unleashing a plague of ravenous flesh-tearing rodents.  You’d have to admire the hack who dreamed it up, but of course it’s complete horse-shit — not that people have ever worried about such minor details as facts.  It’s nonsense, but it got me thinking.  How would we deal with that if it turned out to be real?

lyubov orlova cannibal rat ship

We’re not a warlike nation and we don’t maintain a large military, unlike our immediate neighbours, who are very warlike indeed, even if they seem to be our best friends these days.  In fact, you could argue that their warlike tendencies over the centuries are what brought about the existence of the ludicrous DUP councillors in Newtownabbey, but that’s a debate for another day.  One way or another, I’m not sure if we’re equipped to sink the ghost ship as it looms into view through the mists, all draped in seaweed with a giant one-eyed peg-legged rat at the helm.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Our coastal patrol vessels are armed and for all I know, they could easily sink a normal ship.  However, the Lyubov Orlova is no ordinary ship.  Designed and built to sail in Antarctic waters, this vessel has a heavily-strengthened hull to resist the impact of ice-floes and icebergs.  Would a projectile from our naval guns just bounce off the outer skin and skip across the ocean like a high-speed explosive metallic pebble?

It’s immaterial.  If we really wanted to sink it, we’d ask the Brits and they’d vaporise it in the blink of an eye, and they might not even charge us for the pleasure of doing it, but would that be a good idea?  Surely it would be a very bad thing to be sending 4,000 tons of cruise ship to the bottom of the ocean?  Well, yes and no.  If the Canadians already removed all the heavy fuel oil and other toxic components such as batteries, it wouldn’t matter a goddamn and it might even be a benefit.  Sunken ships form excellent reefs encouraging local ecosystems to develop but on the other hand it might provoke the ire of the Ego Worriers and since, as we already know, facts count for nothing, the government might not want to face a storm of criticism for destroying the environment.

It’s hard to know what to do.  One solution might be to drop snakes from a plane, but even that has its drawbacks, because each time a snake catches a rat, it goes off to sleep for three months while it digests the prey, which means the surviving cannibal rats might simply eat the sleeping snakes, making the problem even worse.

No.  I have the answer.  Send in a single Jack Russell terrier, but only one, because two would fight with each other.  It will immediately kill hundreds of rats and the rest will be so terrified they’ll jump over the side to get away from the crazy bastard.

Absurdity piled on absurdity with the collapse of Irish Psychics Live, a horrible business that preys on the insecurities of emotionally vulnerable people.  In a remarkably prescient move, the previous owners jumped ship in 2009, selling the business to new owners who promptly made a gigantic loss.  Tom Higgins, and his wife, Theresa Dunne, made €9 million from the deal when they sold the premium phone-call business to its new owners who clearly lacked Tom’s psychic ability to spot a doomed company.

This week, the Revenue Commissioners finally closed the whole thing down, not because of any ethical scruples but because it wasn’t paying the tax it owed.  In my personal view, such businesses should be closed down as a matter of course in any civilised society, since they depend on the credulity of people who are already weakened.  Tom Higgins and Theresa Dunne were selling absolute nonsense to people and charging €2.40 a minute for the privilege.  Spend an hour every night on the phone to one of their fake psychics and you’ll soon find yourself penniless.

Can they sleep at night?  I don’t know.  We’ll have to ask a psychic.

Nuttiness piled on nuttiness this week when John Waters, a member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, complained to RTÉ about an interview with Rory O’Neill, aka Miss Panti, during which O’Neill complained about homophobia.  RTÉ duly complied with the threat and removed the interview from its website but, as Simon McGarr cogently argues here, Waters himself breached the terms of his BAI membership by claiming to have been defamed even though this was not tested in court.  Waters resigned from the BAI a few days later for reasons that are not immediately clear.

However, since the theme of this post seems to be absurdity – as if John Waters was not absurd enough in his own right – the real story to be investigated concerns the flood of legal threats from people associated with the utterly ridiculous, ludicrous, beyond-absurd Iona Institute who all issued the same legal threat to RTÉ concerning Panti’s comments.

It was a clear attempt by an ultra-religious political group to silence  people whose views it dislikes, much like the Newtownabbey Free Presbyterians.

Maybe there’s common ground between Catholics and Protestants after all, as long as they’re on the right-wing nutjob fringe, but maybe that’s all that matters, since most reasonable people of any persuasion get along fine anyway.  Being reasonable.  And not mad.

But finally, as if all that wasn’t insane enough, the big news this week is that the government has reopened its embassy where?

Mars?  Narnia?  Middle Earth?  Gormenghast?

No.  You’ll be delighted to know that we now have our embassy back in a state that has no citizens and no democracy, ruled by an unelected monarch, established by Benito Mussolini and boasting the lowest age of consent in Europe.


The Vatican of course.  Where else?

Favourites Health Scandal

John Crown’s Exposure of St. Vincent’s Hospital Fraud Exposes Deeper Malaise in Irish Healthcare

Professor John CrownProfessor John Crown is a walking, talking example of how the Senate can be used to expose the things that are wrong with Irish society.  Yesterday, using parliamentary privilege, Crown informed the House of his belief that the management of St Vincent’s hospital defrauded the government in 2002, subsequently spent a fortune on a cover-up and intimidated staff members who might be likely to expose what went on.

The fraud was simple: some cancer patients who were insured with VHI agreed to take part in clinical trials of new drugs.  Such trials are subject to strict EU rules: doctors conducting the tests are not paid for the work, and the drugs are provided to the hospital free of charge, clearly marked as experimental.  Nevertheless, St Vincents charged the VHI and other insurers €1 million for the drugs and the clinical treatment.  (The State owns VHI in its entirety).

According to John Crown, consultant oncologist at the hospital and also a senator, he has come into possession of certain documents which he believes prove that a cover-up occurred.  Crown first notified the Irish Medicines Board of his suspicions in 2002 and says that, although an investigation began, it was almost immediately stopped and “reformatted”, by which he presumably means given new terms of reference.  In addition, he claims that substantial intimidation was brought to bear, again, presumably against himself as the whistle-blower, and against whatever other staff provided him with information.

Two questions arise from this.  Firstly, who applied pressure to the statutory body responsible for regulation of medicines in Ireland?  And secondly, who within the Irish Medicines Board acceded to that pressure and called off the investigation?

Where have we seen this sort of thing before?

Just replace St Vincent’s with Anglo-Irish Bank and replace IMB with Financial Regulator.

Light-touch regulation as practised at the 19th hole.

Of course, the dust from the CRC scandal hasn’t settled, and we’re still paying the costs of the Residential Institutions Redress Board, so let me ask you this: what do all these things have in common?

The answer is simple enough — they all arose from privately-owned institutions that were somehow afforded a status equivalent to State bodies.  The exchequer pays all the costs of St Vincent’s which is owned by an order of nuns, it pays all the salaries of the CRC and most of their running costs, it’s paying €1.4 billion in compensation to the victims of the religious orders in the residential institutions while the orders themselves have not yet paid a cent.

Why are essential services in the control of private charities and of religious bodies when we, the taxpayers, fund them in their entirety?  Some will tell you that it came about because the State was unwilling to fund the services and so the religious orders had to step in.  This is nonsense.  What it was really about it this: the churches wanted control of healthcare for ideological reasons, and the State, in the person of its ministers, was too obsequious and grovelling to face them down.  That’s why religious orders and other private companies own our healthcare facilities even though we pay for the whole lot.  And that’s why they can give us two fingers when we ask them for information about how our money is spent.

I might just remind you that the management of St Vincent’s hospital in the last few days refused to disclose to the Public Accounts Committee what top-ups its senior executives receive and from what sources those top-ups come.

Let’s be grateful we have people like John Crown to ask the hard questions.

st-patricks-ward_st-vincents-hospital-dublin 2


Favourites Health Scandal

Central Remedial Clinic Salary Top-Up Scandal

Anyone who has ever worked to raise funds for a charity must be feeling sick to the pit of their stomach on hearing the latest news about the Central Remedial Clinic.

paul kiely bertie ahernFirst we heard that the CRC’s former chief executive, Paul Kiely, couldn’t get by on a State salary of €106,900 but luckily, help was at hand in the form of a top-up from The Friends and Supporters of the CRC, a charity.   In other words, the chief executive was more than doubling his salary from charitable donations given to help with the treatment of patients.

Not only that, but we now learn that five other senior staff are receiving similar top-ups from the charity fund.

And we discover that, while the clinic is cutting back services to disabled children, the Friends and Supporters account contains €14 million.

Kiely, by the way, is a close associate of Bertie Ahern and prominent member of the Fianna Fáil Drumcondra Mafia, and remains on the board of the CRC.

I almost want to throw up, as anyone would who ever worked to raise money for a charity.  Many people will now be asking if all the time and effort they put into fundraising really went to help anyone apart from the senior staff of a charity by fattening their already well-upholstered salaries.

The sheer effrontery of it is staggering.  The unmitigated brass neck of such people leaves the rest of us gaping in astonishment.

Unfortunately, volunteer fundraisers are now going to ask themselves very hard questions and the consequence is that charities will suffer, thanks to the barefaced greed of the people at the top of the Central Remedial Clinic.

Oh, and by the way, guess who sits on the board of the Friends and Supporters of the Remedial Clinic.  That’s right.   None other than Paul Kiely himself.  How about that?

Much wants more, as people used to say in the old days.

I don’t know if any of this is illegal, but it seems fair to ask the following: would a reasonable person have expected his donations to end up in the pocket of the CEO?



Central Remedial Clinic Friends of the Central Remedial Clinic
Hassia Jameson Hassia Jameson
Vincent Brady
James Nugent James Nugent
Martin Walsh
Pat Ryan
Ailbhe Rice Jones Ailbhe Rice Jones
Hamilton Goulding Hamilton Goulding
David Martin
Mary Day
Paul Kiely Paul Kiely (retired 1st July 2013)
Brian Conlan Brian Conlan
Frances Sheppard



Elsewhere: this excellent article by Brendan O’Connor in the Independent accurately details the difference between the case of Paul Kiely and that of Rhona Mahony.

Banking Favourites Scandal

100 things Ireland could have got for the price of one Anglo Irish Bank

With the #anglotapes this week it seemed to me a good time to recall those heady days of August 2010 when we had spent only €25 billion on Anglo.  At that time Ronan Lyons and I penned this little piece in the Sunday Business Post.  — BL


This week, it was announced that the EU had approved a further injection of our taxpayer money into additional capital for Anglo-Irish Bank . This brings the total as of now to  almost €25 billion.  This is money going into a bank that is essentially in wind-down over the coming decade, money that the Irish citizens and taxpayers will not see again, as it is shoring up the balance sheet of a bank that had too much imaginary wealth.  And that is not the end of the money, many fear.

So just how much is €25bn that we are having to borrow for Anglo? In one way, it’s small change, compared to what will possibly be €200bn in borrowings by the State to fund the non-banking deficit between the onset of the crisis and 2020. But to any rational mind €25bn is still a mind-bogglingly large amount of money.  The State has limited borrowing capacity, limited by a combination of what the taxpayer can repay. In putting €25 billion into Anglo, the government, on our behalf, has spent money that can not be used for other projects.  Here is a list, then, of 100 things – grouped into various categories – that the government could have spent €25 billion but chose not to.

Ireland could make a major contribution to fighting global poverty world-poverty

€25 billion would go a long way in the fight against global poverty. Here are a few suggestions:

100. Buy enough malaria nets to protect the entire malaria-affected population of the world (half a billion people) for 80 years (based on NothingButNets figures of $10 a net)

99. Completely fund the World Food Programme for five years

98. Repair twice over the damage done to Haiti in the recent earthquake

97. Fund enough clean water and infrastructure projects to meet the Millennium Development Goals in those areas

96. Buy up and extinguish the national debt of Bangladesh

95. Fund the UNESCO “Information for All” Project for 1200 years

94. Provide food aid to Niger for 1000 years

93. Asphalt every trunk and regional road (110,000km) of substandard road in sub-Saharan Africa

Ireland could become a World Science and Technology Hub leneye

Major scientific and technological projects cost a lot of money. But rarely €25 billion.  Here are a few ways Ireland could have used the money to become a global hub for major breakthroughs in science and technology.

92. Start our own space programme, with twenty €1.2 billion space shuttles

91. Foot the bill for a century of global research into nuclear fusion (the current 30-year global ITER project is expected to cost €5-10 billion)

90. Research & develop 5000 new drugs. One of  ’em’s bound to be useful

89. Construct 6 Large Hadron Colliders – one for each Green Party TD

88. Build 5 James Webb Space Telescope (the successor to Hubble), and revolutionise astronomy

87. Build two magnetoplasma space vehicles which in theory could get to mars in 40 days

86. Build a space elevator

85. Build two ITER nuclear fusion reactors and provide the world with cheap, abundant energy.

We could decide to give ourselves a break holidays

What about using the €25bn to give ourselves a break? Here are a number of things that €25 billion could pay for, while we take a break.

84. Pay the interest on everyone’s mortgage for 4 years (€147 billion of mortgages at 4% is €5.88 billion a year)

83. Abolish income tax for two years (based on 2009 gov income tax receipts of €11.8 billion)

82. Offer everyone on the live register €100,000 to emigrate (we could afford a 50% take-up by the 466,000 on the dole)

81. Abolish VAT for two and a half years (based on 2009 receipts of €10.8 billion)

80. Remove excise duty from fuel, tobacco and alcohol until 2015 (based on exise receipts of €4.7 billion a year)

79. Pay the grocery bills of everybody in the country for 2.5 years

78. Scrap all fares on all forms of public transport, intercity and commuter trains and buses for 33 years

We could just treat ourselves scrooge-mcduck-1

We could just treat ourselves with the €25 billion windfall. Here are some suggestions as to how.

77. Run the world’s best ever lottery – every Irish citizens is entered into a draw where 25,000 people become millionaires!

76. Give every OAP a pension of 55,000 for a year….

75. Fly the adult population of Ireland to Las Vegas, give everyone €10k to gamble with

74. Give every person in the country €5,555.56

73. Buy half a million ecofriendly Nissan Leaf cars and have enough for a 5GW nuclear power station with the cash left over

72. Provide a new laptop every year to every second level student for 147 years

71. Buy a 32GB iPhone, a 64GB iPad, a 13? 2.13GHz MacBook Air and a 27-inch iMac for every man, woman and child living in Ireland

We could treat the world icecream

Treating ourselves is probably a bit selfish. Here are some ways to make the rest of the world like us more!

70. Buy 6.7 billion copies (one for everybody in the world) of Joyce’s “portrait of the artist as a young man”

69. Buy a pint of guinness for everyone in the world to celebrate Arthur’s Day (and it would count as exports)

68. Buy every child in the world a 99 ice-cream cone every day for a week

67. Send every adult in the world on an MSc in Social Media in NCI

66. Send 225,000 people to do the Harvard MBA

We could truly become the world’s biggest sports fan 10bestclubs_2012

Sport is big business. But not that big. With €25 billion, we could…

65. Buy the world’s 20 most valuable soccer clubs, worth €9.6 billion, wipe their debt (€2.3 billion) and move them to Ireland, building each a 75,000-seater stadium (€600m each, based off cost of Aviva stadium)

64. Host two Olympics games, based on the London 2012 cost of €11.2 billion

63. Buy Tonga and Fiji, which would have obvious rugby advantages

62. Construct 25 Bertie-bowls (one for each county except Dublin!)

61. Buy 83,300 McLaren supercars

60. Buy the entire stock of tickets and merchandise for all premier league clubs for the next 12 years

We could decide to really become a major player on world markets 2374

Banking and finance got us into this mess. Surely they can get us out?

59. Buy €600 billion in Credit Default Swaps on Ireland (could pay off nicely in the next few years!)

58. Buy two of Asia’s largest banks – Bank Central Asia and Malayan Banking

57. Recapitalise ALL the banks in Europe that failed the stress tests

56. Purchase Monsanto, as a present for the green party, or (buy Nokia as a present for Ivor Callely)

55. Give each one of the 10,000 most senior bankers a round of golf on old head Kinsale, the most expensive course in Europe, every day for 20 years, and hope that they come up with some ideas!

54. Subsidise the US postal service for ten years.

53. Allow the Italian Government to not put in place its 3-year austerity plan.

52. Pay the salaries of TCD and UCD academics for 100 years.

We could just do it  because we can burjkhalifadubai-828m

While the Government says it’s not a waste of €25 billion, many people believe it is. Here are ten ways to really spend €25bn.

51. Buy Steve Jobs (€25 billion is actuarial value on his life) and get him to work for Ireland Inc.

50. Buy gold plating 1.75mm thick for O’Connell Street

49. 25,00 carats of red diamond, enough to encrust a Mercedes.

48. Build a shed 10k long by 4k wide and put it around Tullamore.

47. Buy every one of the 5.8m cattle in the country, and to keep their little feet cosy two pairs of jimmy choos each

46. Detach the People’s Republic of Cork from the Republic of Ireland, by constructing a 10-metre wide moat – the per-kilometre cost of the new Gothard Tunnel in Switzerland suggests this may cost €30bn but I’m sure we could haggle them down in a recession.

45. Cover the entire county of Dublin a foot deep in corn

44. Hire Bertie to speak for 95 years

43. Purchase carbon credits to allow us to burn 3,000 sq miles of hardwood forest

42. Build 20 copies of the Burj Khalifa Dubai, the worlds tallest building

We could just splash the cash item0-size-queen-mary-2-100488-1

When people win the lottery, there’s naturally a tendency to splash the cash. Winning a €25 billion lottery would certainly allow us to splash the cash.  Here are some ideas.

41. Buy 1,000 luxury yachts to kickstart the Upper Shannon Rural Renewal Scheme (78-footers, 2nd-tier Russian oligarch standard)

40. Buy over one third of Denmark, 10% of France or three Luxembourgs, based on 2008 land costs

39. Send 833 people into space (or perhaps just 1,666 one way trips…)

38. Stay in the most expensive hotel room in the world for 3,400 years (it’s the Atlantis resort, Bahamas in case you were wondering)

37. Build 50 ginormous cruise liners akin to Carnival Splendour or Queen Mary 2

36. Make 100 Avatar-type films, which lets remember made back its money x4 at the box office!

35. Buy every TD a Boeing Dreamliner, ideal for those trips to Glenties

34. Purchase 35 of the world’s most expensive mobile phone (goldstriker iPhone 3GS supreme) for every member of the Oireachtas!

33. Build four Libraries of Alexandia in each county.

32. Endow one university to the level of Harvard.

31. Tile Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown totally in nice porcelain.

30. Buy five Nimitz Class Nuclear supercarriers to scare the bejaysus out of the Spanish trawlers.

29. Or buy 17 Virginia Class nuclear attack submarines, if we wanted to sneak up on the Spanish trawlers instead.

28. Supply the water needs of Galway City, for a year, with Perrier water

27. Purchase four Birkin Hermes bags for every adult female in the country, one for each season’s wardrobe.

26. Buy and install 100 sq yards of parquet flooring for every single dwelling in the country.

25. Fill the Jack Lynch Tunnel with Midleton Single Cask whiskey

24. Purchase 225,000 kg of the most expensive truffles in the world

23. Buy every house and apartment listed on and still have 12 billion left to refurbish them

We could transport ourselves  out of this mess 98962638-crop-rectangle3-large

With €25 billion in our back pockets, all those pie-in-the-sky superprojects would no longer be pie in the sky! Here are ten ways Ireland could put itself on the global superproject map.

22. Construct our own “Channel Tunnel” from Rosslare to Pembroke (based on the cost of the Jack Lynch tunnel)

21. Build 1,000 km of high-speed rail, serving all major coastal cities on the island (based on recent costs in Spain)

20. Build 11,150 miles of dual carriageway

19. Put in place a 400 station metro (if we could build it for the cost of Porto’s metro)

18. Put in place a Maglev train from Belfast to Cork via Dublin

17. Build our own Three Gorges Dam, complete with turbines

16. Put in place 12 new Luas lines

15. Build just short of two Hong Kong International Airport (€15 bn each)

14. Build 12 New York-style “Freedom Towers” at €2bn each

13. If we didnt want a tunnel we could have five Oresund-style 20km long bridges (Denmark – Sweden, €5b)

We could pay for improved public services childrenshospital

And lastly, some slightly more practical ways to spend €25bn

12. Build 75 brand new 50-teacher schools and run them for 75 years

11. Build 35 new Children’s Hospitals (based on €700m cost of new Children’s Hospital in Dublin)

10. Pay for an extra 5,000 hospital consultants for 62.5 years, based on Finnish wage (or for 29 years based on Irish wages)

9. Pay for cervical cancer vaccines for every girl going into 1st year for the next 8,333 years

8. Reduce the pupil teacher ratio in primary schools to 1 in 10 for the next 20 years

7. Given an ultra highspeed fibre-optic broadband connection to every single house (including ghost estates…)

6. Buy 8,500 years of private speech and language counselling and really help autistic and speech problematic children

5. Introduce free pre-schooling for 32 years, based on an average cost of €700 a month for two years of 10 months, for all 110,000 children in the country

4. Make education properly free – the current cost from primary school to degree graduation is €70,000 per child. €25bn would bring nearly 400,000 students through their entire education

3. Give medical cards to everyone, for 25 years based on €500m cost in 2009 to cover 1.5m people

2. We  could use the money to renew and replace the drainage and water system of all mains

1. Or we could buy one broken bank…oh, hang on…..

So, a mixture of the bizarre, the stupid, the deeply practical, the useful, all tinged with a sense of lost opportunity. A bit like the government’s solution to the banking crisis really! What this list shows us is that choices matter. Its unlikely that any government would have #50, paving O’Connell street in gold, as a priority (well, not perhaps unless its leader was from Dublin Central), But wouldn’t it be nice if we had a government with the courage and vision to do #18, a maglev on the east coast, which would catapult Ireland into a world leading technological position and cement the all-Ireland economy? or decide  #96 to lift Bangladesh out of poverty? Or … the list goes on, a list of lost opportunities.  And when one considers the additional €100 billion that represents the structural element of the government debt, well…

While Colm McCarthy is correct, that anger is not a policy, its hard to be anything but enraged when one considers the sheer scale of wasted opportunities.


Prof. Brian Lucey



Reading the papers

I picked up a newspaper today and as I flipped through it, I became more and more irritated.  Jesus, do they write about anything else?



It’s depressing.  A little further down the page, there’s more of the same angst.




In search of a little relief, I quickly riffle through the pages and come across the following information.  It seems that a Mr Duffy has been elected president of the Union of Students in Ireland, a traditional haven for loudmouths and bullies.  Let’s hope Mr Duffy breaks with that tradition.

Joe Duffy elected USI president


What’s this?

Sadly, the fighting in Nicaragua continues, and the Sandinistas have issued a strong statement, despite Mr Reagan’s hard line.





Oh God.  War.  US intervention in foreign countries.  It’s too depressing, but there is some light on the horizon.

Firstly, Mr Desmond, the minister for health, is planning to make condoms available without a prescription which will come as a relief to those hard-pressed couples having to pay a GP every time they need balloons.


Barry Desmond contraception



And the other good news is that soon you’ll be able to get a phone within a few weeks of applying for it.




So there you go.  What changed between 1983 and 2013?

Everyone has a phone and everyone can buy rubbers, but apart from that, pretty much nothing at all.

The Yanks are still invading countries that didn’t attack them, and Joe Duffy is still loudmouthing.  Bishops are still ranting about abortion.  Everyone is up in arms about taxation.

Welcome to the 21st century.

John Healy



News Politics

Boris Berezovsky Found Dead

Boris Berezovsky was found dead by his bodyguard at his Berkshire mansion, and nobody is surprised.

If you happen to be one of these so-called Russian oligarchs, and you happen to have pissed off Putin, my advice to you is simple.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.  It doesn’t matter how many billions you have —  sooner or later they’ll come and get you.

boris berezovsky

It isn’t easy being a mega-rich oligarch these days.  If the Russian president, who happens to be a former KGB officer and sixth-dan karate black belt, doesn’t kick you to death himself, the chances are some spook will feed you enough radioactive material to wipe out all of Chechnya.  When they killed Alexander Litvinenko back in 2006, they used Polonium-210, an extremely rare substance , safe to handle but deadly when swallowed.  How rare?  So rare that Russia’s total monthly exports weigh  about 8 grams.  A quarter of an ounce.

These guys don’t mess around when they want to whack you.

Of course, Berezovsky can’t have been too happy with the money situation either.  In the last few years, he spent something like €100 million on legal fees.  Then he paid his ex-missus another €100 million after their divorce.  Throw in the odd ten or twenty million here and there, fighting Roman Abramovich in court and you can see how he might be down to his last luxury yacht, but it doesn’t end there.  If he had any readies stashed in a Cypriot bank – and what self-respecting Russian oligarch doesn’t? – tomorrow he’d be looking at a 40% haircut on his hard-earned money.  Or if not hard-earned, exactly, certainly earned using all the cunning cleverality available to a former professor of mathematics who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Don’t you love the way they talk about people  “gaining control” of Russian companies after the collapse of Yeltsin’s rule in a flood of vodka?  They all woke up one morning to discover that somehow, by magic, they were the new owners of all the industry in the former Soviet Union.  All the gas.  All the oil.  All the uranium.  Everything.

In 1995, 49-year-old Berezovsky and his 28-year-old business partner Roman Abramovich, each paid €100 million to purchase Sibneft, a company whose true value turned out to be in the billions.  To achieve this, they recruited gangsters and bribed hundreds of government officials to turn a blind eye.  How two men who grew up in in the former Soviet Union acquired the €100 million each, history doesn’t record.  Abramovich was a street hustler and punk, while Berezovsky was a shrewd mathematician, well able to manipulate a deal by using hyper-inflation to purchase goods in advance and delay payment until his real debts were reduced to nothing.

One way or another, they were both shady dealers, political insiders feeding at the Yeltsin trough, even though one of them had the cloak of academic respectability, and that shady dealing came to a head when Berezovsky sued Abramovich for €3 billlion over the ownership of Sibneft, among other things.  Ultimately, the High Court in London found Berezovsky a less credible witness than Abramovich, which was hardly a resounding endorsement of either.  The word of one fly-by-night against another.

It didn’t help that Abramovich remains a close personal and political associate of Putin while Berezovsky went into self-imposed exile after a very public quarrel with the man he once helped to make King.

Thames Valley police are saying they don’t suspect any third-party involvement in Berezovsky’s death, which suggests he died from natural causes or else killed himself.  But since the police are still waiting for the results of the post-mortem it’s hard to know how they can conclude anything.  Until they have the toxicology reports and the radiological results, who can say what happened to the man?

Would you mess with this man?
Would you mess with this man?

All I know is this — I personally would never annoy Vladimir Putin and neither should you if you know what’s good for you.

Oh, and make sure never to gain control of a Russian mega-business.



By the way: Irish Nationwide Bondholders



Crime Media News

Malcolm McArthur Released — So What?

If Malcolm McArthur dressed in a tracksuit and spoke with a working-class accent, he’d have been out of jail years ago.

It’s the truth.  Far more prolific killers have done their ten or fifteen years and now walk the streets, ready to kill whoever looks at them crooked, while McArthur did a full thirty and still there’s an outcry about his release.

Is it because he murdered two people? I don’t think so.  If that was the reason, the papers and TV would be in a constant knot of agitation outside every prison in the country as they waited for the latest killer to walk free, but in fact the release of murderers is routinely ignored by the media.

I think Malcolm McArthur committed three crimes in the eyes of the media .

The first was murdering Bridie Gargan.  The second was murdering Donal Dunne.  But perhaps his biggest crime was the way he dressed.  The media  didn’t like that sort of thing back in 1982.  They didn’t like people getting above their station.  They didn’t like to see a guy wearing a bow tie.  That was for a very small range of people, wealthy architects and senior doctors, though the average Joe could get a temporary dispensation if he was wearing a dress suit for the night.

But a corduroy jacket?  With sleeve patches?  And a dickie bow?  Worn by a fellow with no money?

Not on your nelly.

Of course, there’s another aspect to it as well, since McArthur became the unwitting catalyst whose actions exposed the ludicrous nature of the Irish state in the early 80s, leading eventually to Haughey’s immortal GUBU statement.  Perhaps that’s why he was never forgiven.  He appeared in the middle of a period when government ministers were bugging the phones of journalists, when police chiefs were providing politicians with listening equipment, and there he was, caught hiding in the apartment of the Attorney General, for Christ’s sake!

A murderer living in the home of the country’s top legal official.

Of course, it could have been simpler.  Could it be that the insular, parochial Ireland of the early 1980s, including journalists who congratulated themselves on being cosmopolitan, as if such a thing was possible in the one-horse town that was Dublin, never forgave him for being a little bit of a West Brit?

I think that has a lot to do with it.

With no disrespect to the families of Donal Dunne or Bridie Gargan, we know of many killers who served their ten or fifteen years and were duly let go.  I’m sure it hurts those families to know that the murderer walks free, but it is not usual to keep a killer in jail so long.

The message for prospective murderers seems to be simple enough.  Don’t  stand out.  Don’t capture the public imagination and don’t give the less gifted members of the Press a chance to label you.  Wear the tracksuit, try to look like a stereotypical skanger and you’ll walk.

If there’s anything interesting about you, the politicians will cave in to a clamour from the Press and you can expect to do thirty years.


Media News

Irish Daily Star and the Kate Middleton Topless Photos

What age is Ger Colleran, managing director of the Irish Daily Star?

50?  55?

I don’t know, but wouldn’t you think by now he’d have grown out of the sort of prurient mindset that thinks grainy blurred photos of a young woman undressed somehow constitutes news.  Wouldn’t you think he’d be denouncing it  instead of defending it?

Wouldn’t you think so?

Well, that’s not how Ger operates, and it’s not how editor Michael O’Kane operates either.  He was on radio over the weekend saying how astonished he was at the outcry.  A true journalist, Michael will never rest until he gets the hard news: in this case, a picture of a girl sunbathing topless on private property, taken by someone with a long lens who climbed a tree a mile away.

Don’t you feel a little grubby thinking about that?  Two middle-aged men deciding to publish these pictures and then being hypocritical enough to defend their puerile actions on the grounds that the story had news value.

No, it fucking didn’t.

It was voyeurism and it was irrelevant.  Why didn’t Colleran and O’Kane just admit that they were peddling titillation, instead of hiding behind bullshit about journalistic integrity?  Go away, lads.  It’s not a story.  Regardless of what title Kate Middleton has, nobody cares.  Did Colleran not think it was seedy  to be printing pictures from a Peeping Tom?  What would he think if some creep took pictures of his own daughter and sold them to the gutter press?

Did Michael O’Kane really believe this was journalism?

Of course not.  They are the gutter press.  Remember the time Colleran was outraged because the Courts Service wouldn’t allow his pigs with cameras direct access to a young woman who had given evidence in a murder trial?

There’s no end to the hypocrisy in the story.  Richard Desmond, the British co-owner who said the pictures were in bad taste, made some of his fortune publishing pornography, which would be fine by me if he wasn’t holding his nose over the Kate Middleton pics.  Angling for a knighthood.  What a hypocrite.

In fact, what a bunch of hypocrites they all are.