Tuesday, August 10, 2010

3 Questions for Brian Lenihan

Brilliant article by Fintan O'Toole in todays Irish Times. I strongly urge everyone to read the article in full.

O'Toole puts three questions to Brian Lenihan;
1. Where, exactly (with page and paragraph references), does Honohan express support for a blanket guarantee for Anglo?
2. Where, exactly, do Merrill Lynch support such a guarantee?
3. And, back to the original question: how much money for Anglo is too much?

I've heard both Eamon Ryan and John Gormley claim that both Holohan and Merrill Lynch supported the blanket bank guarantee which included Anglo. I now challenge Minister Ryan and Minister Gormley (or any other Green politician) to answer these three questions.

I wont be holding my breath.

Monday, August 09, 2010


It has now become a cliche to say we've blown the Celtic Tiger. One of those things that you hear a few times a day in general conversation and from the politicians on radio/tv. I've even heard particular Green/FF politicians say things like "ah, sure I was in a class size of 40 ... didn't do me any harm", or "I grew up poor ... made me the man I am today". Making a virtue of being poor back in the 60's/70's/80's is very much in vogue these days.

The problem is that being poor is not all these politicians make it out to be. JK Rowling addressed the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association in 2008, and spoke thus about poverty ...

"Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools." Link.

Remember Rowling's words the next time you hear a politician romanticise poverty ... they will be the words of a fool.

Political Reform? What a sick joke ...

I was chatting to a friend over the weekend. This person is a good friend, and mere differences of opinion over politics would never cause us to fall out. However, this weekend we came very close to doing exactly that.

You see, my friend is still an active member of the Green Party. This alone would not cause any problems between us as we have great respect for each others opinions ... even though these days our opinions are literally poles apart on some things ... and we still share core beliefs on what is most important. Our difference of opinion came when discussing political reform. My friend claimed the Green Party had introduced many reforms to politics in Ireland since 2007, and said that overall politics was in a better state now because of the Green influence than it had ever been before.

I disagreed, and mentioned the fact that Ivor seems to be getting away with expense abuse and nothing can be done about it, the lonnnnngggggg Dáil holidays still have many weeks to run, the refusal to hold the 3 by-elections, the fact that Brian Cowen is still the worlds 4th highest paid politician, and a few other ways in which Irish politics is still rotten to the core and rife with abuse and gombeenery. My friend had no answer, and I didn't push him for one.

Perhaps he thinks I'm so anti-Green Party these days that I cant see his reality that the Greens are doing great work in the area of political reform. Or perhaps he is so brainwashed and has such a morbid fear of losing power that he is the one who cannot see reality. I hope he read todays Irish Independent editorial ... it might open his eyes as to what is the true reality of this.

"Is Irish politics any better now than it was in the mid-1980s? It is undoubtedly worse. Throughout all the scandals, throughout the economic wreckage, the nod-and-wink culture has survived. Along with it has survived the practice of incomprehensible explanations and defences. No wonder public contempt and anger have swollen."

Or perhaps he could read this opinion piece in yesterdays Sunday Independent ...

"But Callely knows that at the next election Fianna Fail will be turfed out, and he can retire on a nice pension. The reality is that the whole political culture knows it. This is a system, after all, that has done nothing to reform itself since the revelations first started about the ludicrous unvouched expenses system, the crazy mobile phone allowances, the mileage allowance, the overnight allowance, the pension double-ups, and all the other perks that make political life, and even the abuse, so bearable."

Will we stay friends? Of course! Will we have future differences of opinion? Of course. Will we look back on all of this is a few years time and see who held the opinion which was closest to reality? Definitely. And whoever was right, we'll still be able to have a pint and a laugh about it.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Thoughts turning to going back to school ...

Well, its that time of year again. Summer hols are drawing to a close and thoughts are turning to going back to school/college.

So what type of schools and colleges will we and our children be going back to? Unfortunately, the picture is not a good one. For a start we'll have 353 fewer Special Needs Assistants (SNA's), and 30 of our most disadvantaged schools will lose librarians. The recruitment embargo continues, and funding of the entire University sector is in crisis. It is a bleak scenario. The Universities are being asked to manage record numbers of students with greatly reduced resources. Dublin City University president Ferdinand von Prondzynski summed up what one might call an appalling vista for the sector by saying the Universities will “be under further pressure to add to the student numbers while losing yet more money and having fewer staff to teach them".

Education cuts in Budget 2010 meant that overall spending on education was reduced by €603 million in 2010 (link.). Unfortunately, the bulk of these cuts were focused on the poor, the disadvantaged, the disabled, and VTOS students going back to education. Even those wanting to study Clynical Psychology are being hit (see my previous blog post for details on this).

Specific cuts to the budgets of educational bodies in 2010 are as follows;
* National Council for Curriculum and Assessment reduced by €0.93m;
* National Council for Special Education reduced by €2.3m;
* Higher Education Authority reduced by €0.562m;
* Dublin Dental Hospital reduced by €0.410m;
* Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies reduced by €0.546m;
* Royal Irish Academy of Music reduced by €0.303m;
* National Qualifications Framework (NQAI, FETAC, HETAC) current allocation reduced by €2.1m;

So we have a lot to be proud of in our Island of Saints and Scholars. Although I suppose we cant really claim to be "saints" anymore because the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society are being hit with the hardest cuts, whilst the highest paid civil servants have their incomes protected. And we cant really claim to be "scholars" anymore either as our education system is crumbling around our ears.

Maybe we should adopt a new name ... something that more accurately reflects the reality of the way we are today. How about "the Island of inequalities and gombeens"? That seems to fit a little better. And we have the Green Party and Fianna Fail to thank for that.

Want to become a Clincial Psychologist? It's just got a lot harder ...

Yet more stealth cuts to education and mental health as outlined by this post on Politics.ie.

The full post is as follows ...

"I am no authority on anything that has been posted in this thread so far. But I thought I would post this personal anecdote I have experienced in the last couple of days.

Clincial psychologists are in desperate need in Ireland. Mental health services have been clearly identified as an area that needs drastic improvement in Ireland. Anyway, the training to become a clincial psychologist takes 3 years. It is extremely competitive to get onto a course. If 1000 people apply to an institution (UCD, Trinity, UL, UCG) 10 will get offered a place. The programme is basically 6 cycles of 6 weeks of classes and 4 months of work at the coalface working in hospitals and other institutions in Ireland. Those who apply are not "students" really. They will never be any younger than 25, will have a masters and will have a number of years experience working as an assistant psychologists, a psychology researchers etc. Most applicants apply a number of times before successful application. Many, of course never get onto a course. If you are successful the deal is this:

You are paid about 35000 a year for the 3 years. A decent salary for sure. But considering the age and qualifications of candidates and the competitiveness for places it is not a massive amount of money (but a fair salary). The HSE pays for 60% of your university fees (which can be between 10-14,000 per year), you pay the rest from savings or your salary. In return for the HSE paying 60% of your salary, you commit to working with them for another 3 years after your training and it has to be in the very same health board (mid-west etc). This is a very similar to the system in the UK except they get paid a bit less, but have fees fully paid for and dont have the same restrictive work practices after training.

This years intake will be starting in 3-5 weeks (depending on the university). The candidates have just been notified that they will have to pay full fees, upfront. So with 3 weeks notice they are being told that they dont have to pay 5000-6000 fees for the year ahead but 12-14000. They would earn 60% of this back pro rata as they work their 3 years with the healthboard after training.

Considering many who apply for such a position have young families and would be coming back from working abroad to take these positions its a massive thing to be told 3 weeks before you start that you will be doing so with 42000 worth of depth hanging around your nexk for 3 years. With giving people just 3 weeks notice it seems a desperate and deceitful ploy by the HSE to save some money at the last minute or people are only realising on a week to week basis just how ********************ed some of our budgetary problems are.

Technically it is not a cut. They will pay the money (just 4-6 years later). But the timing and method in which it has been done is very stealthy and a direct attempt to quickly save alot of money - there would potentially be 40-50 people starting at 4 Universities in Ireland in 3-5 weeks time. 50 times 60% of 14000 is over 400,000 euro.

The timing rather than the nature of the new deal is the big issue here.