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Luke Ming’s Election disinformation 2014

Its election time in Ireland, so the air is thick with disinformation. Let’s try and cut through it.

(Note: the page is entirely dedicated to Luke Ming Flanagan at this point)

1. Luke Flanagan and the Common Fisheries Policy

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Luke Flanagan is featuring an image on his Facebook page which suggests that the Common Fisheries Policy has resulted in Ireland forfeiting fish to the value of €184bn to other EU member states.

Flanagan doesn’t give any source for this figure, but as with most things Flanagan comes up with, its barstool wisdom and has no basis in fact.

The only assessment of this net cost to Ireland of the Common Fisheries Policy is that carried out by the Canadian University of British Columbia as part of its The Sea Around Us project, in 2009.

The findings of this project are summarised at this link:

http://www.inshore-ireland.com/News/rhetoric-or-real-the-price-of-ireland-s-entry-to-the-eu.html

The were also referred to during the most recent Lisbon Treaty debate, when Ireland’s largest fisherman’s organisation, the Killybegs Fisherman’s Organisation, called for a Yes vote.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/yes-best-for-industry-in-long-term-says-fishermens-group-101833.html

To quote from the above article:

‘An independent study carried out by the Canadian University of British Columbia in Vancouver as part of the Sea Around Us project puts the total value of fish taken from Irish waters from 1974 to 2004 at €8.5bn. During this time, Irish ships took €3.9bn from the Irish waters and €3.16bn from British waters that Irish boats have access to because they are part of the EU.

Mr O’Donoghue said that as a result of EU membership the Irish industry got aid that between 2000 and 2013 amounts to some €100 million. “The national government would not have been able to provide the aid to the same extent if we were not part of the EU,” he added.’

2. Luke Ming Flanagan and Ireland’s growth rates prior to joining the Euro

Flanagan has made the following claim on his election leaflet, and repeated during a television debate on Sunday night.

“The greatest period of real growth, averaging 8.6%, that this State has experienced was between 1993 and 1999. This was at a time when we had our own currency.”

See here:

http://irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/leaflet-from-luke-ming-flanagan-independent-midlands-northwest-2014-european-elections/

Ming wasn’t really involved in serious politics in the 1990s, so he’s probably never heard of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, or ERM.

The ERM was an agreement between EU member states to maintain their currency values as close as possible to a predetermined value, and was in effect between 1979 and 1999, when the Euro was finally introduced. The mechanism was put in place to achieve the necessary stability to introduce a common currency.

Each EU currency had a corresponding value in ECUs, the currency unit of the ERM. It was, in effect, the Euro without the notes and coins.

Its also worth noting that Ireland has never had any real currency independence, in that prior to joining the ERM in 1979, the Irish Punt was always pegged to the Pound Sterling.

3. Ming and the disappearing Prime Time broadcast

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 15.31.28

 

Ming went on Facebook in the week before the Election to claim that RTE had removed a Prime Time broadcast in which he featured from the RTE Player website, apparently because they are biased against him.

RTE hadn’t removed it. They had just changed the URL when they reposted a different version of the programme.

http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/10284573/

(He later admitted that he made a mistake, but didn’t acknowledge it in another Facebook post)

4. Luke Ming Flanagan on the use of liners on bogs

Ming has regularly claimed that its possible to protect the drainage systems in bogs, and therefore allow mechanical extraction, by placing a plastic liner between the parts that are cut and the parts that aren’t.

Anyone with even a basic knowledge of physics knows that this is nonsense, unless the water in bogs doesn’t obey the laws of the gravity, of you were able to place a liner on a bog all the way down to the bedrock below it.

More recently, Ming has claimed that the NPWS are actually using these liners to “prevent water leakage”.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 22.32.06

The NPWS have never used liners to “prevent leakage”. They have used a liner on one bog, Raheenmore, in conjunction with a dam system, to assist in the restoration of the bog, not to allow turf extraction.

When Ming was queried on Twitter about which bog the liner was used to “prevent leakage”, he told the respondent to “Ring the NPWS”.

5. Luke Ming Flanagan on the closure of rural Post Offices

Ming has made the following claim on Facebook

“Under the EU Postal Directive it is proposed that post offices are no longer necessary as they now stand.”

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Ming is trying to suggest here that there is some new EU legislation about Postal Services in the offing. There isn’t. The last Directive was in 2008.

The thrust of EU legislation in relation to postal services is that State’s gradually reduce their monopolies on the services and open it up to competition. The latest date for full liberalisation of the market was 2012, 2 years ago.

Member states are perfectly free to continue to operate rural post offices (as evidenced by their continued existence) provided they don’t confer any advantage on State operated postal services that are not available to private companies.

You can read about the EU’s postal services legislation here:

http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/post/legislation/index_en.htm

The principle objective of the legislation is:

  • To define at Community level a universal postal service, conceived as a right of access to postal services for users, encompassing a minimum range of services of specified quality which must be provided in all Member States at affordable prices for the benefit of all users, irrespective of their geographical location

6. Luke Ming Flanagan on not breaking the law

According to this article, Ming was accosted in Galway by a man who wanted to bring him to a Garda station for breaking the law by extracting turf from an SAC, which Ming freely admits to doing.

In the article, the author explains that Ming argues with the man about whether he has broken the law or not.

Ming has broken the law in this regard, when he allows the cutting of turf on a bog where he used to have rights but which is now an SAC.

The law that he breaks is Section 35.1.b.2 of the EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES (BIRDS AND NATURAL HABITATS) REGULATIONS 2011, which available at this link (see Page 71 of the document).

In summary:

A person who, without lawful authority—

enters or occupies any European Site, or brings onto or places or uses
or releases in any European Site any animal or object, including but
not limited to—

machinery for the extraction or mining of natural resources
including, but not limited to trees, vegetation, minerals, rock, soil,
gravel, sand, turf or peat,

where such action or the use or presence on the European Site of such an animal or object is likely to have a significant effect on, or adversely affect the integrity of, a European Site, shall be guilty of an offence.

ie

If you contract someone to extract turf on an SAC, you are breaking the law.

7. Luke Ming Flanagan and the relationship between SIPTU and Labour

In a Facebook post from May 22, the day before the election, Ming has claimed that SIPTU are “trying to save Labour’s bacon” and suggests that canvassing on the part of SIPTU for Labour candidates is a misuse of SIPTU members subscriptions.

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 09.04.47

 

SIPTU have always campaigned for and endorsed the Labour Party during elections, because as a Union, SIPTU is affiliated to Labour. This involves SIPTU paying a subscription to Labour and SIPTU voting at Labour conferences. SIPTU make no secret of this fact:

http://www.siptu.ie/aboutsiptu/siptuatlarge/siptuandthecommunity/

“The Labour Party traces its origins to 1912 when the former ITGWU successfully sponsored a motion at the Annual Conference of the Irish Trade Union Congress to create a political voice for Irish workers. The affiliation of the Union and Labour party in pursuit of the joint goal of bringing about progressive change in Irish society remains today.”

Ming’s suggestion that SIPTU are doing this “behind the scenes” is yet another attempt to misinform voters.

8. Luke Ming Flanagan on Climate Change

Ming attended a hustings organised by the Irish Environmental Pillar in Carrick On Shannon in the run up to the EU Parliament Elections in 2014. While answering a question about Climate Change he acknowledged that action needed to be taken to reduce Co2 emissions. The audience were left in no doubt that Ming is on side when it comes to Climate Change.

However, in a previous parliamentary question put to Brian Hayes, Ming had the following to say:

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If someone believes that carbon dioxide emissions need to be reduced, why would they be questioning the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by carbon dioxide emissions?

The failure of protest

With enemies like these, who needs friends

With enemies like these, who needs friends?

I’m loath to criticise any individual who is energised enough about perceived injustices to take to the streets with a placard or a chant, but given the innumerable protests we’ve had about social, environmental and economic issues over the last few years, and the minimal impact they’ve had on policy making, it probably worth taking a cold hard look at the nature of protest as it exists today.

Let’s set the context first.

We live with something called a “24 hour news cycle”, or in other words, news is reported 24 hours a day, rather than just 4 times per day, like it used to be.

This unending stream of information has blunted people’s capacity to absorb information in anything larger than bite-size chunks. News outlets understand this, so now, rather than featuring longer pieces on fewer subjects, they feature shorter pieces on many subjects. The Journal and Summly are prime examples of this trend.

In addition to this, news outlets understand that as well as being short, their pieces also have to capture the reader or viewer’s attention, so they give prominence in the piece to whatever part of the story (a photo, a clip, a quote) is the most provocative, rather than the part that is most representative of the story as a whole.

Finally, news journalism is no longer governed by the strict code of impartiality that it used to me. Private ownership, fragmentation and the rapacious pursuit of a diminishing pool of subscribers have seen standards go out the window, which means that our news is rarely served without the thumbprints of the opinion stamped all over it.

All this is bad news for protest, the success of which is generally measured by the amount of media coverage a particular protest receives. The apparent logic is that if a protest makes the news, the target of that protest will be pressurized into acting differently.

Why? Because to make protest “newsworthy”, media outlets have to feature whatever it is about that protest that is most likely to stimulate interest in the most disinterested viewer or reader.

As such, a “protest” in which somebody drives a truck into the gates of Leinster House will always attract more media attention than if 300 people gather, march down a street and go home again.

The net effect of this is that the average viewer or reader of news is presented with a view of protest that inevitably involves extreme or outlandish behaviour, which discredits the general impression of protest, which makes it easier for politicians to ignore it.

The presents a considerable challenge for groups who rely on protest. On the one hand, they have do something that makes the news cycle, but equally they have to be careful that whatever that something is doesn’t present them as some sort of fruitcakes who nobody should take seriously.

This isn’t impossible. Large groups, like Greenpeace, who can avail of professional advice in this area, still manage to stage impactful and credible protests.

However, for smaller groups, or larger groups who don’t have the years of experience that Greenpeace has, the challenge is very real, and getting it wrong can shunt a campaign off the road before it even starts moving.

Smaller groups have additional problems when it comes to protest. Where media attention is obtained, through careful and thorough planning, and the protest doesn’t attract a critical mass of participants, the effect is probably even worse than if some member of the protest does something peculiar in front of the cameras.

A protest that was billed as a big deal, but which didn’t turn out to be a big deal, will only barely surface in the media, and the only impression the viewer or reader will be left with is that the issue can’t be that important, as nobody turned up at the protest.

A vicious circle therefore devekops. Protest loses its credibility, fewer people turn up at protests, protest loses more credibility, fewer people turn up at protests, etc etc

So what is the alternative?

The answer to resist the fragmentation of protest, and to aspire to larger groupings, who can engage the necessary level of public relations skill to make protest meaningful.

However, the opposite seems to be happening. Campaign groups tend to protect their territories like old time gold prospectors, and will resist the pooling of resources at ever turn.

The results are there for all to see. At anything other than pan-national level, protest isn’t making a difference to anything.

Tana French’s muddled revisionism

Author Tana French pictured in Dublin's Grafton St.KOB.3/4/8

Apparently we weren’t greedy at all, just a bit thick, according to Tana French.

Tana French’s opinion piece on the “Psychology of the Irish Meltdown“, published recently in both the New York Times and the Sunday Independent, presents an account of our recent history in which the fortunes of the entire nation have been determined by a small group of apparently powerful people. It is an analysis of�the Irish people, their government and the Irish State that is deeply flawed, and this is my response to it.

Since late 2008, when our economic reversal of fortune began, numerous commentators have attempted to distil our experience into a perfectly linear chain of events. The plot outline rarely deviates: the plucky, hard-working Irish, who cobbled together an economic miracle through sweat, toil and sacrifice, were robbed blind by banks, politicians, the EU, the ECB, the IMF and any other faceless bureaucracy in which people wear suits and earn six figure salaries.

While this analysis finds a ready audience amongst people who have experienced a fall in their living standards, it has no value in explaining the Irish situation. The idea that the fortunes of the Irish State are dependent on the whims of a cabal of banking executives and politicians (and their brood) is a fantasy, rolled out by an intellectual elite in response to stubborn voters who prefer to elect their next door neighbours rather than people who go to the theatre and quote Naomi Klein.

Yes, Ireland experienced a property bubble, and it exploded, and because we participate in a shared currency, the supply of which we do not control, our options in dealing with it were very limited.

But it takes more than just a few bankers and politicians to create a property bubble viagraindian.com. Its takes millions of people.

Ireland between 2002 and 2008 was a Temple of Vulgarity, in which shops maintained waiting lists for �5,000 Birkin handbags and more people per capita owned Mercedes cars than in Germany.

All of this was based on inflated property values, and while there were numerous individuals, politicians and organisations warning that a bubble was developing, the Irish people had no interest in such warnings; in our General Election of 2007, the composition of our parliament hardly changed. The previous Government was re-elected, narrowly defeating a slew of opposition parties, all of whom were offering the same heady mix of tax cuts, spending increases and ever-increasing property prices.

And contrary to Tana French’s claim that the people were being hypnotised into buying property by politicians, the exact opposite is true: the people were telling the politicians that if they didn’t let them buy or build houses, they wouldn’t vote for them.

By the time the crash came, we had the welfare system of Sweden and the income tax regime of the Cayman Islands. No other combination was acceptable to the electorate. Inevitably, the public spending and wage increases that were made possible by private banks lending billions of euro into the economy had to stop, and the blame game began. It was the banks fault. It was the politicians fault. It was the EU’s fault. If was everybody’s fault except ours.

The response of the State to the crisis fuelled the sense of outrage still further. Faced with the prospect of the financial system imploding, taking with it the deposits of pension funds and small businesses all over the country, and Money Supply in the economy virtually disappearing overnight, the Government had 2 choices: to leave the EU and stock the banks with an Irish currency, or use tax payers money to recapitalise the banking system.

The choice of the later option, which was later to be chosen by several other countries faced with the same crisis, was a field day for the media and general commentariat. Rather than present the actual choices faced by the State, the public were instead served up conspiracy theories, in which government operatives were holed up in the basement of Department of Finance, filling wheel barrows with �50 notes, which were then being wheeled out the back door into the waiting limos of banking executives.

Two year later, this caricature of the Irish financial crisis had become an article of faith. The cuts to Health Care, Education and Social Welfare did not apparently arise from the disappearance of tax revenue that had been sustained by private bank lending, but from the State’s decision to re-finance the banks.

That narrative continues to enjoy rude health today, in 2013, despite the fact that no payments have been made to the banks since 2011, and that the payments to the banks, which are finite, are still dwarfed by our massive, and perennial, public spending commitments.

All that said, Ireland is not the broken state depicted by Tana French. The “enormous cuts to essential services” she describes have still left us with one of the most generous welfare systems in the EU. The “flood of emigration” is not some throw back to the Irish famine of 1845, but the gradual process of 300,000 economic migrants returning to their home countries. Nor does Tana French mention the thousands of people who come to live and and work in Ireland every month, filling jobs in our flourishing IT and Bio-Scienses industries.

On the other side of the fiscal equation, tax collection,�independent analysis has shown that Ireland’s efforts to reduce our budget deficit are the most progressive of any of the EU countries who have recently been required to make dramatic adjustments to their public finances. Indeed , it is ironic that Tana French should state she wants answers for the “taxes piled on taxes” when as an author, she doesn’t pay any income tax in the first place.

Moreover, while every democracy experiences its share of political corruption and low standards, Ireland’s political system remains one of the most open and transparent in the developed world. Our Taoiseach (Head of Government) is a former school teacher, and most of our parliamentarians come from similar backgrounds. The idea that people of such limited ability should have their hands on the levers of power is anathema to our intellectual elite, but if a parliament is not representative of its people, it has no meaning or legitimacy.

Indeed, democracy may well be the real victim in the story of Ireland over the last ten years. The concept of democracy is not a single edged sword, in which the people get to make the decisions and someone else gets to clean up the mess. Democracy has to punish as well as reward, because without pain, the body politic does not learn from its mistakes, and inevitably repeats them.

What Ireland needs to do now is look forward, to be at ease with the notion that nations are as capable as individuals of making mistakes, and to understand that hard work is the only true ingredient of success.

If we continue to respond to every challenge with moral outrage, fuelled by the muddled revisionism of commentators like Tana French, we will have learned nothing from our experience, and that will be a true tragedy.

Is the World Cup heading the way of the FA Cup?

Marco Tardelli famous celebration after scoring in the 1982 World Cup Final. Are iconic images likes these to become a thing of the past?

Marco Tardelli’s famous celebration after scoring in the 1982 World Cup Final. Are iconic images likes these to become a thing of the past?

I can’t remember the last time I watched the FA Cup Final. Over the last 15 years, it’s outcome has become a distraction rather than event, the result of which you come across by chance rather than seek out, like the result of a horse race or some golf event in the Middle East.

It wasn’t always so. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the FA Cup Final was a red letter day in the domestic football calendar. You got up early to prepare for it. The entire schedule of BBC Grandstand was devoted to it. Celebrity fans came into the studio and had penalty shootouts, cameras followed the teams through their pre-match meals and on to their buses, there were outtakes of the teams performing their songs on Top of the Pops, and on one occasion, a special episode of Jim’ll Fix It was interwoven into the schedule in which one young fan got to deliver the match ball to Wembley Stadium.

It was pure carnival, and by the time the game kicked off at 3pm, you were breathless with anticipation.

The games rarely disappointed either. I can remember Mick Mills drinking a bottle of milk whilst being interviewed after Ipswich beat Arsenal in 1978. I can remember Alan Sunderland clasping his hands in prayer after getting on the end of Grahame Rix’s wonder cross in Arsenal’s 3-2 defeat of Manchester United in 1979. I can remember Steve McKenzie’s 25-yard volley for Manchester City against Spurs in 1981, which is still one of the best goals I’ve ever seen, even though that match is generally noted for Rickie Villa’s mazy dribble through the heart of the City defence to score the winner.

During a period of 6-7 years, it was as if every final was the greatest game of football ever played. By the end of the 90 minutes, and on several occasions, 120 minutes, you were on some sort of natural high, the only antidote to which was to go outside and started kicking a football off the garage wall for 2 hours.

Then, later in the evening, you’d settle in for Match of the Day, and relive the day in mellow satisfaction, savouring the monosyabllic interviews with the key players as they sped along in their coaches with the trophy perched on the table in front of them.

And then it all just went a bit flat.

Manchester United, who hadn’t been a regular final partcipant in several years, starting showing up and turning in clincal performances, like beating Brighton 4-0 the 1983 final replay. There were a couple of other decent finals in the late 1980s, but then from 1994 through to 2000, which was the same period in which the Premiership began to grow in stature, we had a series of finals in which the only the winning side scored.

Then, Wembley was closed, and the final moved to the Millenium Stadium for 6 years, which removed more of the gloss. Manchester United’s Champions League victory in 1999 had also had a dramatic impact on english football at this time, in that the top flight teams were now focusing on it more, leaving less bandwidth for making a decent fist at winning the FA Cup. In 2000, Manchester United didn’t even contest the competition, despite being holders, preferring instead to participate in the FIFA World Club championship.

The stars of the FA Cup Final also began to change. The heroes of past were local boys: Trevor Brooking, Norman Whiteside, Ian Rush, Ronnie Whelan, Andy Gray. The heroes of the modern FA Cup were chic Italians (Roberto Di Matteo), surly Frenchmen (Eric Cantona) and athletic Africans (Didier Drogba) none of whom seemed to regard the FA Cup Final in the same esteem as their English and Irish counterparts.

By the time the final returned the new, and far less iconic, Wembley in 2007, it’s star had well and truely dimmed, and a drab final between Chelsea and Man United didn’t do much to reverse the trend. The 2008 final, between also-rans Portsmouth and Cardiff, was another drab 1-0 affair, by which time the prestige of the FA Cup Final was buckled beyond repair.

It was all a bit sad really, like mislaying some sovenir of your childhood, and what is worrying now is that the World Cup seems to be heading the same way.

In the past, the World Cup had always been insulated from the sort of influences that killed off the FA Cup as competition of any real significance.

It was held during the summer, so there were never any other competitions competing for the attention of players and fans. No other competition comprised so many teams, it only rolled around once every 4 years, it felt new and refreshed, with a new host country, and new rising star, a new surprise team, and generally a new winner.

Every competition also seemed to feature a least one wonder game, in which 2 teams left their blood and guts on the field. Who can forget the the 1982 semi-final between France and Germany, the 1986 final between Argentina and Germany or England versus Cameroon in 1990?

The 1994 competition in the US was a something of a speed bump, during which OJ Simpson diverted the attention of the US media, and we had our first final to be decided by a penalty shoot-out (Diana Ross missing a penalty in the opening ceremony didn’t help either), but in 1998, the fairy tale of France and Zinedine Zindane winning the competition on home soil restored our faith. 2002 in Japan and South Korea was a novel affair, and in 2006, Germany organised an excellent competition which although not notable for any particular match, featured some of the best football across the entire competition that we had seen in several decades.

Then came South Africa in 2010. From the word go, with 50,000 vuvuzuelas blocking out the traditional noise of the crowd at the opening match, it just didn’t feel right. After a couple of days, we started seeing empty seats at out of the way stadia, which was unheard of in previous competitions. The failure of the host nation to qualify for the second round was yet another setback, and when the final African participant, Ghana, were robbed of their place in the Semi Final by a cheating, cheering Luiz Suarez, the sparkle of the competition seemed to fade away completely.

The final, between the Netherlands and Spain, never really had the potential to inspire either. In fact, it probably did even more damage to the memory of the competition, in that it was most notable for the Dutch fans booing referee Howard Webb as he received his medal, after he refused to award the Dutch a late free-kick, despite the Dutch team having attempted to hack the more talented Spaniards to pieces for the previous 85 minutes.

There was something missing in terms of the star players too. The likes of Zico, Platini, Maradona and Zindane had been the greatest players of their time, and had always showed up with great performanes when they played in the World Cup, but in 2010, the world’s supposed greatest players, Lionel Messi and Christiano Reynaldo scarely cobbled together a decent performance between them. Messi’s failure to even score a goal in the 2010 World Cup is particularly notable.

All of this could of course be just a blip. 2010 was the first World Cup to be staged in Africa, and like the 1994 competition in the US, it may well be that the competition just didn’t travel well.

But what is worrying now is that the next 3 World Cups don’t hold out much promise of redemption.

The 2014 staging in Brazil should on paper be a fantastic World Cup. Brazil is the spirtual home of football, and the country knows how to party, which would seem to be a good start.

But Brazil is also a country in political turmoil, which has somehow managed to lumber itself with hosting both a World Cup and Olympics in the space of 2 years, which has left many Brazilians wondering if the billions of dollars being spent on the World Cup could not be better used elsewhere. How and if this will contaminate the competition itself remains to be seen, but it does not bode well that certain teams competing in the recent Confederations Cup didn’t even want to leave their hotels.

Then, in 2018, we’re off to the vast expanses of Russia, where players and fans will have to take 4-5 hour flights between venues. In 2016, we will also have had the first 24 nation European Championships in France, which raises the question as to what appetite the average football fan, or European players, will have for another 32 nation tournament in the same continent 2 years later.

The real test will however be 2022, when, after another 32 nation European Championships in 2020, the World Cup heads to Qatar. Nobody in FIFA seems to have figured out yet how a football competition can be played in temperatures of 40C+, on rock hard pitches, in a country where you can only buy a pint in a Luxury hotel, but that hasn’t stopped FIFA awarding the competition to the Qataris anyway. Sepp Blatter has suggested that the competition be played during the winter, but then again, Sepp thinks that the absence of goal line technology in football, and the inevitable controversies it produces, is all part of the fun of the game.

The appeal of the World Cup is therefore in for a real trial over the coming decade, both for fans and players. The FA Cup faced a similar trial 20 years ago, and deflated like a 3 week old party balloon. I fear the World Cup is in for a similar experience. Prestige is something that is hard won, easy to lose, and virtually impossible to recover.

Deconstructing the emigration myth

Is this where we are again?

Is this where we are again?

Whilst campaigning the 2011 General Election in County Leitrim, what struck me most was the number of people who had family members who had either recently emigrated or were on the verge of emigration.

Had I being campaigning in Mayo, Donegal, Sligo or Galway, I’m quite sure the story would have been the same. Emigration is a permanent fixture in the west or Ireland; it is notable by its absence rather than its existence canada viagra.

Emigration is also a subject that features prominently is public discourse, and is frequently referred to by opposition politicians and media celebrities when constructing attacks on the sitting Government.

Take this article by Irish Central, entitled�Irish emigration at highest point since Famine — 3,000 leaving per month

In the article, Union of Students of Ireland President, Gary Redmond, makes the following apocalyptic prediction:

“Masses of highly skilled graduates are leaving for distant shores, taking with them the future prosperity of this island.�

Here another example of emigration being used as a political tool, this time from Sinn Fein Finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, who says:

�Michael Noonan�s comments are a disgrace. Six thousand people are leaving Ireland every month, the overwhelming majority seeking work in America, Australia, and elsewhere,� Doherty said.

�The overwhelming majority have been forced to leave because of the lack of employment and the belief they have no future in this country.�

Sobering stuff indeed.

Combined with personal experience of people who have emigrated, this sort of commentary has unsurprisingly led to a public narrative in which emigration had reached endemic levels and without which our unemployment rate would be significantly higher than it currently is.

The truth is, as always, slightly more nuanced.

Let’s refer to an actual scientific study rather than the musing of politicians and media celebrities.

Early this year, the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis produced a report entitled The Changing Landscape of Irish Migration, 2000-2012.

The purpose of this study was to give some definition to the manner in which migration to and from Ireland had changed, from a previous time in which economic migration from Ireland, by Irish people, dwarfed any level of inward migration, to more recent times, when Ireland, as a member of the European Union, was witness to significant levels of inward migration, both by Irish people and people of other nationalities.

The report contains the following graph, which gives the general picture of migration over the period:

Irish Migration 2000-2012

In understanding this graph, we should first explain Net Migration, which is the number of people who immigrate into a country less the number of people who emigrate from a country. If Net Migration is less than zero, it means the population of the country is falling.

The graph shows the following trend:

Between 2002 and 2007, there was a significant rise in the number of people entering Ireland, while the number of people leaving Ireland rose only slightly, leading to an increase in Net Migration.

Or in other words, the population of the country increased significantly, by 310,000 people through migration alone. According to the report, the vast majority of these inwards migrants were people of foreign nationality.

After 2007, the trend changes dramatically. Inward migration falls rapidly, while migration from Ireland increases, although not at the same rate as inward migration increased earlier in the decade.

As a result, Net Migration begins to fall, but only becomes negative after 2009.

The sharp divergence in trends continues through 2010, but then tapers off, leaving us with negative Net Migration of approximately -30k people at the end of 2012.

In broad terms, what this analysis tells us is that the current Irish experience of emigration is substantially different from before, in that our current emigration figures include significant numbers of economic migrants who entered the country between 2002 and 2007.

The table given below is telling in this regard. For instance, it shows that in 2009, only 26.7% of people who left Ireland were in fact Irish.

Migration to Ireland 2006 2012

 

For anyone faced with a decision about whether or not to emigrate, or for those they will be leaving behind, analysis of macro level statistics is meaningless. Their pain is real, and I would never suggest otherwise.

But in figuring out how we set the country on a even keel again, we should have a understanding of current situation, and the current “consensus” that we have returned to famine-era emigration levels is totally undermined by the statistics available to us.

Yes, large numbers of people are leaving Ireland every year as a result of the downturn in our economy, but, unlike before, many of these people are foreign nationals who migrated to the country in the previous 10 years, and, again unlike before, large numbers of people are still migrating to the country, to the extent that the negative Net Migration between 2009 and 2012 is still only about 20% of the positive Net Migration that occurred between 2002 and 2007.

The report itself comes to much the same conclusion:

“Migration from Ireland has clearly increased since the start of the prolonged
recession in 2008. Yet, changes in patterns of migration are less marked and less
significant than is suggested by banner headlines.”

The business of winning votes and selling newspapers is one that leaves little room for consideration of the national mood and public confidence in our economy. That has always been true and always will be true, but it is no less regrettable for it.

Going off the deep end over PRISM

Darth Vadar pulls up a PRISM developer on frequency of cat images pulled from Facebook

Darth Vadar pulls up a PRISM developer on frequency of cat images pulled from Facebook

The degree to which stories about governments mucking around with the Internet (eg SOPA) turn into forewarnings of an impending apocalypse really demonstrates how shallow our appreciation of the world around us has become.

On any given day, the US Military could fly an drone aircraft into northern Pakistan, a sovereign nation, ostensibly in search of terrorists, and kill 30-40 civilians. This would barely make the international news cycle, but as soon as a Government agency starts looking at pictures of people’s cats on Facebook, its the end of the world.

That is not to say that digital snooping on the part of a State agency is a trivial matter; it isn’t, but it needs to be presented in the correct context, rather than with the type of alarmist rhetoric that has accompanied recent reporting of PRISM.

To believe various organisations who specialise in State paranoia, and indeed certain news organisations, PRISM is a real-life version of Skynet, programmed and managed by Darth Vadar from a city-sized space ship somewhere in outer space.

On the other side of the coin, the agency that developed PRISM, the NSA, have claimed that PRISM is entirely innocuous (if you’re a US citizen) and of no more concern to your digital privacy than posting a Facebook update about what you had for lunch.

And who is telling the truth?

Well, that’s the thing, we just don’t know, but as in all these things, the truth is probably as far from either extreme as is mathematically possible.

What we do know is as follows:

1. US Law permits the NSA and FBI to obtain data about users from Internet companies whose networks are in the US. Information can be requested about individual users, groups and users and trends. For instance, if the NSA wants the personal details of any users who have used the phrase “bomb in my backpack”, they can legally obtain this from the likes of Google and Facebook.

2. To facilitate this (the transfer of data from the companies to the agencies), agencies like the NSA have hardware located on the premises of these companies. This was explicitly referred to in some of the documents leaked to the Washington Post and the Guardian.

3. Companies affected are legally prevented from disclosing the nature or existence of such systems (which is why they didn’t refer to the existence of such equipment in their statements about PRISM).

4. Companies like Google and Facebook, for whom privacy is a key selling point in the delivery of their services, are not required to allow any State agency connect directly to their servers. They are only required to provide data in accordance with specific legal requests, as indicated in their various responses to the PRISM story.

And that’s really about it.

What this paints a picture of is a permanent and sophisticated IT infrastructure that allows the likes of the NSA and FBI to quickly obtain specific data from private companies when those agencies have obtained legal permission to do so.

The payload of data, which is derived from parameters entered into the system, could include a large portion of information which is of no interest or value to those agencies (eg a picture of your cat), but it is gleaned none the less. Seemingly, only that information that is relevant to the particular investigation made by the agency is kept and used further.

What this doesn’t paint a picture of is a system which is sucking every single piece of data directly out of Facebook and storing it permanently in a State owned database which is then opened up to tax authorities, health insurance companies and private detective agencies.

So, is this something you should be worried about? Well, yes and no.

Yes, because it demonstrates yet again that the US citizens have no problem with their Government pushing the envelope on civil liberties to the absolute limit in terms protecting “National Security”; and no, because if you’re a regular, sane person, you’re not including highly sensitive personal information in Skype chats and Facebook status updates, let alone sharing plans for dirty bombs with your friends, and will therefore not be of any interest to anyone working for the NSA or FBI.

But isn’t there some sort of principle involved here, that should prevent the State looking into your inner most secrets, even if those secrets involve no more than pictures of your cat? Isn’t it the thin end of the wedge, that will ultimately result in CCTV in our living rooms?

Probably, yes, but these compromises arise all the time in our daily lives. A law enforcement officer can stop any motorist at any time and ask them to perform a breath test; you can be denied bail even if you have not been convicted of a crime; tax authorities can require you to  provide details of your income and assets.

All of these are infringements of civil liberties that we take for granted, partly because we recognise their value in preserving order in society, and partly because they have been around for a long time.

However, when it comes to the Internet, perspective seems to go out the window at even the slightest mention of State intrusion. The difference seems to be that the Internet is regarded as some sort of frontier territory which has been colonised by “good guy” activists and which the State now belatedly wants to control. The fact that the Internet is also a “hip” subject to offer your opinion on (unlike dead Pakistani peasants) and widely misunderstood in technical terms are also contributing factors.

And what of claims from EU leaders, that the NSA is infringing the rights of EU citizens by looking at their data?

There may be something in this, but how it can possibly be policed is beyond me. Are we going to have an EU-only Facebook, Google and Twitter, where nobody in the US can interact with anyone in the EU, and vice-versa, or is the EU Commission going to ban Google unless Google locates its entire data infrastructure (for the entire world) in the EU?

This would appear to be another case of politicians thinking that global data communication can be regulated in the same way as dog licenses.

Over the coming weeks, a lot more technical detail will probably emerge in relation to PRISM. The NSA will most likely review its use, and rebuild it in some other way, and the detail about the old system will lose its security value.

This will give us a better picture of what PRISM was/is capable of. It may be the case that Darth Vadar is in fact at the controls, but I’m guessing that probably isn’t true, so for now, just  follow the Golden Rule re. Internet Privacy and you’ll be fine:

Nothing on the Internet is private

Why does the EU trade with China?

Trading with China. Is it worth it?

Trading with China. Is it worth it?

Reports coming out of Syria in the last week suggest that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against civilians, which once again brings into focus the impasse on the UN Security Council with regard to the international community’s response.

As has been the case since the Syrian crisis began, Russia and China remain opposed to intervention, whereas the US, Britain and France want to keep intervention open as an option.

Why Russia and China have taken this position, in the face of of overwhelming evidence of serious human rights abuses, is presumably explained by some article of faith in their approach to geo-politics. China’s response is perhaps the least surprising of the two, given that the Communist Party of China only cares about one thing: the Communist Party of China.

China’s apparent disdain for the well-being of anyone who isn’t Chinese, or indeed, anyone who isn’t a high ranking official in the Communist Party of China, begs the question as to why other nations, or trading blocs like the EU, are so willing to trade with China.

If it were the case that the Chinese population had an insatiable desire to consume products and services produced in the the EU or the US, wherein millions of jobs were created in the process, the jagged edges of the Chinese regime could perhaps be overlooked.

What is peculiar is that the opposite case is true: EU and US consumers can’t get enough of Chinese products, which has led to a economic boom in China and the perennial decline of the manufacturing in the west.

The EU’s own summation of its trade relationship with China is telling. In 2011, the EU recorded a €159bn trade deficit with China, or in other words, we bought €292bn worth of plastic crap from them, while they only bought €136bn worth of cars, chemicals, movies and software from us.

Furthermore, the EU doesn’t appear to be very happy with its trading relationship with China. For instance, it has complained that 73% of all fake goods seized at EU borders come from China (much of the IP of which is owned by EU citizens) and that of 22,000 telecommunications licenses issued in 2011, only 23 were awarded to foreign companies.

Overall, a picture emerges of a very imbalanced relationship, where one party is flooding the market of the other with cheap rubbish produced under very suspect labour and environmental laws, while at the same time doing its utmost to prevent that party from entering its markets on an equal footing to indigenous companies.

So why does the EU persist with this relationship? The cost, both in terms of unemployment in the EU, the EU’s trade balance and the wider impact of China’s industrialisation on the global environment, would appear to suggest that the benefits are limited, if any.

The long term thinking seems to be the short term pain is worth it, so that EU companies can gradually eat into the vast Chinese consumer market as China slowly deregulates.

But really, is this what EU citizens want? Would we not be better making our own plastic toys, shoes, mobile phones and toothbrushes, and paying a bit more for them, if it meant there were more lower skilled jobs available? The net effect of this on EU states who are struggling with unsustainable social welfare burdens would be significant.

And would we not be better off if China’s wasn’t churning out millions of tonnes of Co2 emissions into the atmosphere, well beyond China’s borders, in order to make all this rubbish for a euro less than we can make it ourselves?

And would Africans not be better off if Chinese oil magnates were not buying up half the Continent in order to supply energy for the the next phase of their industrial expansion, while the EU struggles with a conversion to renewables?

And ultimately, would we not be better off if China’s continuing ascent up the Superpower league, financed by their trade deficit with the EU and US, were thwarted, so that when situations arise like that in Syria, the UN Security Council could deal with it on a humanitarian basis, rather than having to bow to Chinese paranoia about global politics?

What am I missing here?

A vanishing team, but not for want of money

Pulling pints and laying bricks instead of togging out.

Pulling pints and laying bricks instead of togging out.

In an address to the Leitrim Supporters Club earlier this year, one of the Leitrim Senior Football team’s co-mangers, Brian Breen, appealed to attendees to help members of the of the current senior panel find employment.

He specifically referred to 6 or 7 players who were currently without work, and at least 1 or 2 who had indicated they may have to leave the panel.

This is nothing new for the team. In 2011, the Irish Independent reported that only 1/3rd of the the Leitrim Senior panel who had gathered in 2010 were still on the panel.

The continuing drain of players has become more and more evident in the team’s performances. Leitrim remain rooted at the bottom of Division 4 of the Allianz Football league, and have still never managed to win 2 back to back games in the Senior Football Championship.

Like most Irish men, I played Gaelic games in my youth, and was a member of my local club.

These days, my interest is in other sports. I have a passing interest in GAA, but I am not a passionate GAA supporter, and I do not claim to understand the deep-rooted traditions of the GAA.

However, I do retain some sense of logic, and can see very little logic in what is currently happening to the Leitrim Senior Football team.

Over the last 10 years, no effort has been spared in investing in GAA facilities in Co. Leitrim.

€3m was spent on a new stand at the county ground, €2m was spent on a state of the art training facilities, and considerable sums have been invested in club facilities through grants from the Sports Capital Fund and local fund raising.

Additionally, the Connacht Council has raked in millions of euro from gate receipts at Connacht Senior Championship games, and the GAA itself has been the beneficiary of considerable transfers from the FAI and IRFU from leasing Croke Park for soccer and rugby games.

All of this revenue has been retained within the GAA organisation, and invested in either the day to day running of the organisation or facilities.

That’s all well and good, but a well run organisation and top notch facilities is of little value if the GAA’s most valuable resource, its best players, are laying bricks or pulling pints in Sydney or New York instead of togging out for their county team.

Employment in Leitrim is a very scarce commodity. An appeal to the supporters of Leitrim GAA to help find work for players is well-intentioned, but when most of the supporters themselves are struggling to make ends meet, its unlikely to bear any fruit. Similar appeals have been made before, and nothing has changed in the general decline in the talent available to the management team.

Conversely, there are thousands of people in Leitrim who are willing to pay money to watch the county’s best players in action. Granted, the gate receipts and sponsorship that are available to a small county like Leitrim are not going to provide a full time income to a panel of players, but even the payment of a small appearance fee might be the difference between a player emigrating or not.

Of course, to suggest that a player be paid for togging out for a GAA match is to many the moral equivalent of taking a sledgehammer to the Sam Maguire.

Apparently, putting €200 euro in a players pocket as he leaves the dressing room will destroy the organisation, whereas the combination of paying his manager, putting a brand name on his jersey, selling advertising hoarding around the pitch, and charging a local radio station or RTE money for the rights to broadcast the game will not.

Like I say, I am not a die-hard GAA supporter, and perhaps I don’t understand the complex fabric of the GAA and its relationship with Irish society.

All I can comment on is what I observe, and as things currently stand in Co. Leitrim, your chances or pulling on the county jersey are far more influenced by your employment status than your ability to play the game.

There isn’t any logic in that, no matter what traditions you hold dear.

Whose debt is it any way?

Short term memory loss. Where did all the money come from if its wasn't from the banks?

Short term memory loss. Where did all the money come from if its wasn’t from the banks?

People in Ireland, and I suppose people in general, love to hate authority, and none more so than faceless, well paid authority like the European Central Bank (ECB).

This hatred was in full flood last week, as it emerged that the Fine Gael and Labour government had reached an agreement with the ECB to change the manner in which the Irish State makes good the impaired debt on the balance sheet of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, formally known as Anglo Irish Bank.

Previously, the Irish State have given the IBRC what is known as a Promissory Note, which is like the name suggests, a promise to pay the bank money at some future date, or in this, case approx. €3bn every year for 10 years. The IBRC then used this Promissory Note as security to borrow money from the Irish Central Bank to make good its balance sheet, so that it wouldn’t go bust and take the entire Irish Banking system down with it.

For a State collects approx. €35bn in tax revenue each year, and which has a sizeable budget deficit, €3bn per year is a sizeable chunk of change. A more palatable arrangement, argued the Irish Government, would be for the Promissory Note to be paid back over a longer period of time, which would give the State time to rebuild its economy, wherein the debt burden would require less credit financing, thereby reducing the cost to the Irish taxpayer.

A quite reasonable proposal it would seen, but the ECB is legally barred from engaging in what is called Monetary Financing, which means using the market mechanisms of the ECB, and it network of Central Banks, to provide de facto financial assistance to a member state.

The ECB viewed any extension of the debt held by the Irish Central Bank as Monetary Financing, and was loath to support any such move; and while the ECB was providing the bulk of the liquidity available to Ireland’s banking system, the ECB held all the cards.

That is until last week, when Irish Government officials finally won the ECB officials over to their side of the argument. Speculation has it that the ECB badly needed a success story, and Ireland was their prime candidate, so a deal was done to allow the Promissory Note to be converted into a series of long term bonds, reducing the Net Present Value of the debt being paid by the Irish taxpayer significantly.

To the casual observer, this would seem like a good news story. A conservative analysis of the likely cash flows arising from the deal shows that the Irish State will have an extra €1bn to play with in their annual budget for at least the next 10 years. It also means that the State’s cost of borrowing will come down, reducing the debt burden for future generations of Irish people.

The strange thing was that this wasn’t universally greeted as a good news story back here in Ireland.

To understand why, you need to look at where the debt arose from in the first place. Anglo Irish Bank was a reckless bank, lending money to property developers in the teeth of a very obvious property bubble. When the bubble finally popped, and the developers ran for cover, Anglo was left with a huge hole in its balance sheet.

Faced with its economy and banking system going into a tail spin, and frozen out of the sovereign debt markets, the Irish Government sought assistance from the EU Commission, the ECB and the IMF. The “Troika” as it became know, agreed to lend the Irish State the money required to keep the lights on, subject a list of conditions, one of which was the the debts of the Irish banks had to be made good by the Irish taxpayer.

And now you see why the good news from last week wasn’t received as such.

For 4 years, since the depth of the Irish banking crisis became known, the Irish media has been telling the Irish taxpayer that they have been greatly wronged by the Troika deal. And its not hard to see what the Irish taxpayer would agree with such analysis.

Anglo Irish Bank was a private bank, that borrowed money from other private banks, and then loaned it to private persons. Where exactly does taxpayer fit into this? Why should the taxpayer have to pick up the tab for the follies of a private bank?

The answer to this would seem pretty straightforward. The bank should be told to go fiddle, and the taxpayers should just go about their business. And for Irish taxpayers who have endured 4 years of budget cutbacks, that answer was a perfect fit.

And that’s why, for many, the news of the deal with the ECB wasn’t good news. For them, the only good news would have been if the Irish Government had told the ECB, and their Troika partners, that they were going to stop paying the Promissory Note altogether, as is suggested by an endless stream of commentators and celebrity economists in Op-Ed pieces and on talk radio shows.

For these people, its a question of morality. The debt had nothing to do with them, so why do they have to pay it back.

And from purely legal and technical perspective they are right. The problem is that if you want to make a moral argument, you have to allow that argument be judged on a moral basis, and the problem for Ireland’s debt rejectionistas, is that there is no moral basis to their argument.

Ireland’s property bubble started around 2002 and popped in 2008. In those years, Irish banks injected a mountain of borrowed money into the Irish economy, primarily into the construction industry.

For example, at the height of the bubble in 2006, Irish property developers built 93k new homes. If the average cost of each home as €200k, and 70k of the 93k homes were loan financed (all conservative estimates) that equates to €14bn loaned into the economy in that year, and that’s for residential development only. You could add another €5bn at least for commercial development.

That’s a huge injection of cash into an economy of 4m people. And its impact was immediate. Wages went up, asset values went up, Government tax revenues went up, public spending went up, capital spending went up, taxes came down, and all over a period of 6 years.

In short, every man, woman and child living in Ireland benefitted from the money that Irish banks, and in particularly Anglo Irish Bank, was lending recklessly into the Irish economy.

It is this point that seems to be eternally lost on those Irish people who continually reject the notion of paying back Anglo’s debt.

What they don’t seem to realise is that it is this point that is foremost in the mind of the Troika, who understand that allowing Irish taxpayers to detach themselves from the debts of the Irish banking system means that other EU taxpayers will have to step into the breach, either through having to make good the debts of the Irish banks, or seeing the value of their savings decline as the ECB pumps money into the eurozone system to cover the debts through inflation.

So on whose side does the moral penny finally fall? Yes, in an ideal world, we could just let the banking system cave in, but in sophisticated credit driven economies, that isn’t an option.

If ultimately, some taxpayers somewhere have to make good the banking debts, is it not just that those taxpayers who benefitted most should be in the vanguard?

The Troika seem to think so.

Twitter goes all cheap on Apache

Are things really that bad in Twitter?

Are things really that bad in Twitter?

Back in April 2012, the Twitter Engineering Group released a blog post in which they announced that they were going to start sponsoring the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), the non-profit group that maintains the world’s most popular Open Source Web Server, Apache, as well as numerous other platforms which form a core part of Twitter’s IT operations.

The blog post makes such grand eloquent statements as:

“Sponsoring the ASF is not only the right thing to do, it will help us sustain our existing projects at the ASF by supporting the foundation’s infrastructure. We have a long history of contributing to Apache projects, including not only Mesos, but also Cassandra, Hadoop, Mahout, Pig and more. As Twitter grows, we look to further our commitment to the success of the ASF and other open source organizations.”

At the time of the announcement, Twitter didn’t specify what level of sponsorship they were going to provide, but given Twitter’s girth in the world of e-Commerce, most people would have presumed that a sizeable donation was in the offing, certainly in at least the Gold Tier of the sponsorship levels that the ASF provides for.

Not so it would seem. A quick glance at the ASF’s web page for current sponsors show the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google in the Platinum Tier, but no sign of Twitter.

To find Twitter, we have to scroll all the way down through the Gold and the Silver Tiers to the Bronze Tier, which signifies a donation of just $5,000 (!), where we finally find a reference to Twitter in amongst such Internet Star Destroyers as Two Sigma Investments and Digital Primates.

$5,000?

How many users does Twitter have again? Are things really that bad financially in the world’s largest micro-blogging website?