Posts by Tim Pat Coogan

Eat, Drink and be Merry, For Tomorrow…..


Eat Drink and be Merry For Tomorrow….

In the past week I was reminded of how friendship and tragedy, distance and proximity can echo across the world to resound unexpectedly in one’s daily life.

In the same forty eight hours I was most generously entertained by  Nisheeth Ta with members of my family in the best Indian restaurant in Ireland; Rasam in Glasthule, Co Dublin, which for some unfathomable reason has become one of the buzziest and best places to either eat or shop in the Dublin area.

Across the road from Rasam there lies the emporium of a fishmonger extraordinaire, my friend, Peter Caviston, who runs the best fish restaurant, fish shop and delicatessen in the area. Why this tiny strip comprising shops, wine bars and an Undertakers should thrive as it does, staging one of Ireland’s best Bloomsday celebrations annually into the bargain is not easily explained. A few hundred yards up the road the town of Dun Laoghaire is depressingly filled with shops which have either closed or are struggling to stay open.

Presumably the drive and initiative of people like Peter Caviston and Nieesh has a lot to do with it, and these and other worthies of the district have now been joined by some ex rugby players whoa re doing a roaring trade in health foods and have even succeeded in converting me to Goji berry juice!

When the Troika of dire repute descended on Ireland a few years ago, led by the Indian Ajai Chopra, the first place they headed to before consigning Cathleen Ni Houlihan to a diet of bread and water was Rasam.  Nieesh whose wife is Irish is part of an internationally known family of restaurateurs.  He learned his trade in Mumbai in the famous Taj Mahal hotel which was attacked during the 2008 onslaught on Mumbai in which gunmen killed one hundred and sixty four people and wounded hundreds more.

Amongst the dead were some of his close friends and relatives. As we discussed the Crimea over Nieesh’s incredible cuisine I was reminded forcefully by his presence that no longer do events in faraway parts of the world touch us not.  The bell really does toll for all of us.

I can hear it clanging in my ears as this is written because thanks to the initiative of a local Frank Mullins, a former member of an Garda Síochána we are preparing to commemorate the worst domestic fire tragedy in Ireland, which happened approximately a mile from Glasthule in the Village of Dalkey on 9th March 1974.

On that night the mother and family of the Howard family and eleven of their children died in a fire in Carysfort Road, Dalkey.  I can still vividly remember the sight of friends of mine in the local Civil Defence Unit helping to carry out the bodies, through the smoke and the rain. The victims died as much from smoke inhalation as fire. The smoke was generated by smouldering newspapers; the Howards made their living distributing the papers, including The Irish Press, of which I was then the editor.

Over the years their gravestone had become somewhat tarnished by wind and weather and Frank Mullins has organised the refurbishing of their memorial and a mass at which I’ve been invited to address the congregation, which it is hoped, will include the surviving two members of the family who now live in England.

Separate events, separate memories but one inescapable conclusion, we are all human and all mortal.


Scottish Independence Go For it


Whoever thought that the worst nightmare of Belfast Loyalists would be in danger of coming true this year?  But ‘tis true they, and those that think like them are dependent on a TAIG, the loyalist term for a Catholic, to preserve the Union. The Taig, Mr David Cameron of Eton and Westminster has emerged Toff Against Independence Granting (Taig) for Scotland.

Candidly I’ve always believed that the dominant theme in Scotland’s debate on Independence was an unstated one; Oh Lord make me good but not yet. We could go on discussing the symbolism of the fact that a British Prime Minister chose London rather than Edinburgh to deliver his State of the Union message but the point of his recent speech is that we really are getting to the sharp end of the devolution debate.

The ‘not yetters’ have either to make use of that pot or get off it.  I am an unequivocal believer in Independence for Scotland, the unity of Ireland and as much Independence in decision taking as regions emerging from a colonial past can reasonably manage.

I see no virtue in merely declaring independence so that a handful of zealots can do a Mugabe on a once prosperous area and take an oath of poverty which the people not the Zealots have to observe.  I genuinely believe that nationality, the Nation is an extension of the family, the clan and that there is a pride and an energising creativity in being independent which transcends reliance on the crumbs from the rich man’s table in a faraway metropole.

The Republic of Ireland has had its share of calamitous self-inflicted wounds since independence, one of the worst being the recent orgy of reckless trading presided over by government and facilitated by corrupt bankers, civil servants, financial institutions and the professions.

Bernard Shaw’s dictum that all professions are a conspiracy against the people was only too well borne out by Irish Lawyers, accountants and the stock broking fraternity who advised people to invest their life savings in banks run by their pals from whom they knew very well that a day of reckoning was coming but continued none the less to funnel funds into these financial monsters so as to puff both prices and their commissions.

The result has been a tidal wave of unemployment, bankruptcies, emigration and suicide, the rates for which are currently more than fifty percent above pre-crash levels, all this of course has long term implications for hopes for a united Ireland. But the same ability to make wrong decisions which Independence confers also gives a people the right and the ability to correct mistakes and Irish confidence is currently growing by the month as harsh medicine was taken, lessons were learnt and visibly the economy is starting to take off again.

Scotland has a proud tradition of achievement. Scottish soldiers, scientists and engineers have added to the reputation of Scotland in every corner of the globe. I believe that with independence the creativity and economic drive which is now being syphoned off to the south of the border could really make the Flower of Scotland bloom. Who knows some improvement might even be wrought in the standard of Scots rugby.

North sea Oil reserves are almost certainly far greater than the public has been led to believe and the region attracts colossal revenues both from whisky distilling and tourism. Scotland is literally one of the most beautiful places in the world and the number of its visitors can only grow with the expansion of budget air travel.

The Irish Development Authority (IDA) is recognised worldwide as a leader in the race to attract inward investment to small countries. From my friends in the organisation I know that its Scottish opposite number is regarded by the Irish as a formidable rival and though it would give my own people further competition I have no doubt that the stimulus of independence would increase inward investment to Scotland.

Whatever reasonable period of turbulence the country might expect to undergo after independence I have no doubt that the business acumen of the Scots and their tradition of hard work and study would greatly increase prosperity in the wake of independence.

The only caveat I will enter if I may, based on our dreadful experiences in Northern Ireland on the evils of sectarianism is that political and religious leaders and all sides of the independence debate should always be mindful of the need to avoid stirring up ancient religious passions. Sectarianism, the monster that lurks deep in the psychology of both Ireland and England is a destructive flame only waiting to be fanned into life by the emergence of a demagogue like Ian Kyle Paisley

The scots have nothing to fear from independence but fear itself. After all neither Braveheart nor Robert the Bruce were Englishmen.


Will the Celtic Ritz Hotel lower its Rates?


I have been absent from the blogosphere for a little while now and am only remerging now, just when people were beginning to think it was safe to come out because with my usual imperishable optimism I felt I detected an encouraging chink of light from our parliamentarians over the past couple of weeks.

A handful of T.D.s encouragingly selected on a cross party basis, have been giving a good example of democracy at work by their behaviour on the Public Accounts Committee. They braved mutterings from the bewigged gentlemen in the Law Library and their money making machine of the Four Courts, to conduct hearings, albeit in private as a result of pressure, into the penalty points system.

The people now sitting in Dáil Eireann are operating in the wake of an economic tsunami and I have no doubt that in picking through the rubble created by the death throes of the Celtic Tiger that they are trying to do the right thing. The lawyers do not have a monopoly on virtue or on truth. Homer nodded big time when they got it so spectacularly wrong over Louise O’Keefe, that shamefully,  she had to go to the European courts to secure a judgement against the Irish state which refused to compensate her for the sexual predations of a school teacher on the cute whore basis that the State was not responsible for the doings of teachers. That was the churches bailiwick.

For years Louise battled on at the risk of losing her home and the state wrote to a hundred and thirty five other claimants bullying them in some cases into dropping their claims in the wake of the Suopreme court decision because the unfortunate victims were threatened that if they didn’t abandon their actions they would be hit with crippling costs.  That was law not justice. The Irish public are entitled to justice those in high places responsible for the banking disaster should be held accountable.

As a result of the PAC’s activities, dare one hope that the public who are showing themselves increasingly favourable to what the committee are doing may get sight of their findings, through leak or otherwise and the principle that the people should have some say in the way they’re governed was upheld. I wouldn’t hold my breath for anything good coming out of Minister Alan Shatter’s manoeuvre in trying to keep the controversy under wraps by referring it to the Garda Ombudsman.

Hitherto lack of political will has inhibited much initiative from that quarter, public spirited though holders of the office themselves maybe.

The PAC also brought to light the disgraceful situation whereby the Central Remedial Clinic was apparently using public money to pay its executives from funds which people thought they were giving to further the CRC’s good work.

What has to be realised in all this is that the elephant in the room of Irish public debate is the stultifying influence of the lawyers who have had and are having a retarding effect on the public’s right to know. Lawyers were loudly opposed to Alan Shatter’s far from impressive, and ultimately unsuccessful referendum campaign to allow the Dáil to set up committees to enquire into how the hell an act of major economic treason was committed which almost wrecked the economy and drove the population to suicide, emigration or unemployment.

The lawyers argue that the parliamentarians are not capable of conducting such enquiries because they will end up in party political ranker and that these committees interfere with the man’s right to his good name and the independence of the judiciary.

This is a load of rubbish as a practising democrat I believe fervently both in the independence of the judiciary and a man’s right to his good name but the judges are human too and they can get a bit too hot in their leather. The ordinary citizen had no option but to pay up when the Universal Social Charge was introduced in the wake of the banking guarantee and the arrival of the Troika. But a referendum had to be held to amend the constitution before the judges paid up.  They should have given a lead not acted as a retarding factor in the development of a sort of Dunkirk spirit amongst the public.

And it is notorious in the wake of the Banking crash that lawyers, who of course earned vast incomes, are now being pressed quite hard in some cases, to pay back the huge borrowings which the banks in good times conceded to them on foot of their earnings. Small groups of lawyers like those in New Beginning are making commendable efforts to help hard pressed mortgage owners caught in the toils of the banks but the big legal battalions do what they can to help the banks and to frustrate any willingness that the government might show to cut legal costs as the Troika recommended.

In Ireland with certain honourable exceptions that we can all name lawyers have made of the Irish court system a sort of Celtic Ritz hotel – it’s open to everyone.  Perhaps the PAC have begun a process whereby a favourable public opinion may yet make entry to the Irish Ritz, more democratic and less expensive.


Water could start the Fire.


There is an uncanny resemblance between the present Irish Government and the first Cumann na nGael administration of the 1920s. Both took draconian decisions and had the fortitude to see them through even in the case of Cumann na nGael, to the extent of taking the horrific step of executing former comrades.

The present Fine Gael dominated government has not formally killed anyone but there is no doubt that as a result of pressure from the Troika, occasioned in the first place by the depredations of crooked bankers and politicians, that several Irish citizens have been driven to take their own lives in recent years.  And it is in this area that the present government can fairly be charged with showing the white feather.  They have proceeded against the innocent by ways of taxes and cuts from which none escaped but they have not pursued those guilty of reckless trading for their crimes.  I will return to this later.

Like Cumann na nGael, Fine Gael can point to some positive achievements, the former set up a democracy in the wake of a guerrilla war and the Civil War and left behind such legacies as a largely corruption free civil service, a democratically controlled army and an unarmed police force. However as the leader of that government, W.T. Cosgrave acknowledged these were not the sort of achievements to win popular favour in the face of Fianna Fáil blandishments and De Valera’s devicive charisma. Cosgrave was born out in the in the elections of the 1930s onwards and Fianna Fáil held power uninterruptedly for sixteen years .

One can’t see the FFers returning to power at the next election by which time on top of all the cuts in government spending and in peoples incomes which have occurred to date the country will also have felt the full effects of the property tax and water charges. Already these last have raised fears that the good old Irish rip off culture which allowed the bankers, the developers and the CEOs of financial institutions to rape the economy, is still alive and flourishing. The poltroons fumbling in the greasy till have not gone away you know.  For, without an inch of new piping being laid or a trickle of water flowing it has been revealed that the government has apparently spent 50 million euro on consultant’s fees advising on how the new water authority should function.  

Granted that previous administrations particularly Fianna Fáil which presided over the economy during the Celtic Tiger years when money was flowing down O’Connell Street did nothing to ensure that cash was spent on overhauling the cracked leaky pipes which have existed since Victorian times and instead squandered the money on property developments, many of which now lie idle. Granted also that it is monstrously unfair that a generation, already bleeding from the wounds inflicted by the death throes of the Celtic Tiger, should be required to pick up the tab for the hugely expensive operation needed to bring Ireland’s Victorian water supply into the 21st Century.

Nevertheless the reality of the situation is that water may prove to be a highly explosive substance which could blow away much of both the governments stability and Fianna Fáil’s unpopularity at the next elections which lie over the horizon in a matter of months rather than years, even though some economic recovery is clearly underway as a result of government policy.

What could influence the electorate is an injection of something that is now lacking, a sense of fairness. The government has not been seen to move in an organised and large scale way against the white collar criminals who brought about the crash. Only one bank, Anglo Irish is being held to account. But it took several other Irish financial institutions, notably Allied Irish Bank, to rack up the need to bail out Irish banks to the tune of 65 billions.

In addition to the already all pervasive sense of unfairness the public is now contending with reports of key Department of Finance documents going missing or of being so redacted as to be unreadable.  The republics entire financial apparatus was involved to a greater or lesser degree in the disaster which has occurred and whose consequences have to be borne by today’s electorate. And in failing to act decisively to hold the guilty responsible the present administration could find that electorally its achievements are not of the sort to bring victory at the polls.  After all the Irish electorate installed DeValera in power after he had actively helped to ferment civil war less than ten years earlier.   Fianna Fáil might yet get another spell at the helm.


Back to the Future


 

The light is fading on New Year’s Day as this is written, but it is not intended as a song at twilight but as a promise on the dawning of a New Year- I’ll keep the Blog up to date in 2014! After what we’ve been through it would be permissible to open the New Year simply with a salvo directed at the decision takers who have brought such misery on our people. But I feel that there is room for a modest optimism at the impending arrival of economic crocuses to join the floral ones on their way.

There are damn few reasons for optimism, floral or otherwise emanating from Northern Ireland of course. I didn’t expect the recent talks to produce anything.  One of the sharp images I have in my mind from the time of the Good Friday Agreement is of Geoffrey Donaldson driving angrily from Stormont as the Good Friday Agreement neared completion because of his opposition to its contents. I couldn’t see him driving towards a New Year’s Eve agreement with a smile on his face and he’s not the worst of them.  The reality is that in Dublin a Fine Gael led government preoccupied with economic problems and in London a conservative one not too bothered about the north anyway both took their feet off the accelerator of Northern Ireland progress.

London and Dublin should have been at the talks despite Richard Hass’ presence, and that of the attractive Megan O’Sullivan one did not have the feeling that here was the full monty.  We’re in a season of orange commemoration reaching from the signing of the covenant to the Larne gun running and a symbolism of the Loyalist camp at Holy Cross monastery in north Belfast should not be over looked.

The camp is of course an extraordinary provocation to the nationalists of that area whose children had to be escorted to school each day through cordons of chanting loyalists, but if any attempt were made to remove the camp by force what would be the chances of the survival of the monastery itself. They haven’t gone away you know even if Fine Gael and Labour chose to conduct themselves as though they had.

Back to our own economic and psychological state in the republic while I said at the outset and say again that a little guarded optimism is justified I consider it utterly opprobrious that those responsible for the economic treason are still walking about scot free while suicide rates soar, our young people shoal out of the country and able bodied valuable men and women gaze dull eyed a the dole queue and the emptiness of their future. The administrators, the bankers, the politicians and the senior figures in Ireland’s small but terribly influential financial community should be in jail by now not free to make golfing jaunts to the sun or to transfer some of their ill-gotten wealth to their wives.

It’s an open secret that the financial people are in league with the legal profession – important sections of which also invested in bank shares and property busts. Each side props up the other in an outrageous, but hitherto successful, attempt to defeat justice. To paraphrase Padraig Pearse ‘until prison holds these men Ireland will never be at peace’.  

However not to end on a sour note may I wish all my readers a Happy New Year, and one in which the flowers of economic revival really do bloom.


Next, Bring on the Bankers


 

Would it be too much to hope that the Public Accounts Committee, having managed to bring the disgraceful story of the ‘Top up payments’ to Fat cats in the Central Remedial Clinic to public airing that the government now finally grasp the nettle of achieving the same result from the Bankers?

It was entirely appropriate that the Irish public should get the airing in the week that the Troika left Ireland for there should never have been a reason for them to come in the first place. The Central Remedial Clinic took money by way of pay increases to the executives which people had subscribed to the charity in the belief that they were assisting the afflicted. 

The bankers, in pursuit of their bonuses racked up incredible debts with reckless disregard for their fiduciary responsibility towards the public, towards shareholders, towards their staff and towards the consequences for an entire generation of Irish people of their reckless trading.

The reason they have got away with this so far lies in the one criticism the Troika made about Ireland’s response to the crisis – the legal profession remains unreformed.  And it is the intertwining of the lawyers with the Irish political system which has so far protected the bankers from the wrath of the public. A bill to be introduced by the government shortly may do something to bridge the gap between law and justice.

But as this is written not merely have none of the banking suits been sent to jail, they haven’t even been asked to explain what the hell they thought they were doing as over a period of years they steadily lent billions which neither they nor the Irish exchequer possessed in furtherance of their own greedy ambitions.

While we are not being told directly what went on in the boardrooms and plush offices of the arrogant and the incompetent, some information is beginning to leak out. Was it a coincidence, for example, that quite a number of senior banking executives made off into the sunset, their golden retirement packages clutched in their hot little hands not long before the crash.

Did these people know something about the impending disaster which the Irish public – many of whom, were literally to be driven to suicide, did not? Of my own knowledge I know of people in Dublin, who were more than surprised at the reason given by Irish ex-pats now living in relative opulence in the Middle East for their fortunate circumstances.

The ex pats praise the memory of the Fianna Fáil minister who, they claim, told them that a crash was coming and that they should realise their assets.

Sean and Mary citizen have done well to bear the sacrifices attendant on getting rid of the Troika, the least they are entitled to is an explanation as to the whos and the hows that made those sacrifices necessary.  Will they get it? I don’t know, as a friend of mine observed; ‘this is a great country, we get rid of the Troika and we bring in the Royka (Roy Keane & Co)’.

The Royka, may yet see Ireland achieve some wins on the soccer field, but for the moment the bankers and the lawyers are scoring unhindered by a referee.  


The Resumption!


As I have had to do too often in the past I must begin a blog with an apology for not starting one a long time ago.  I seem to have been embroiled in time consuming controversy to a greater degree than with any of my books here to fore, even the study of  The Hunger strike background , ‘On the Blanket’, through my most recent work ‘The Famine Plot’.

 

This in large part was my own doing because not alone did I say plainly that the Famine could have been avoided, or greatly mitigated, had elements in the British Cabinet not pushed genocidal policies in order to clear the land of unprofitable tennantry but that Irish academic historians had colluded in a white wash of this policy to prevent the facts being known.

 

Stung from their torper in the groves of academe, some of these gentlemen spewed forth bile in a manner that displayed more energy than had been shown in their publications over the years. However now that the ungodly have been I hope suitably smitten it is time to apologise to my friends and readers and a blogging we will go.

 

The real impetus towards starting again was the recent death of two friends, from two of Ireland’s differing traditions, the Green and the Orange.

 

The Green friend was the great Peacemaker Fr. Alec Reid of whom I have written an appreciation also posted on this site.

 

The Orange, my friend Mabel Fox who died in her Clontarf home recently at the age of 103.  Actually although Mabel who was born into a Church of Ireland family she was probably better described as Agnostic rather than C of I and she certainly was not Orange in the sense we associate with those antropoidal tattooed gentlemen who claim to be displaying their culture by playing their flutes in places where they are not welcome.  Yet an incident from her childhood maybe taken as indicative of the manner in which her generation of Irish Protestantism adapted to the new Ireland born of that terrible beauty of 1916.

 

Her abiding memory of that seminal event was of standing, her hand in her fathers gazing at the nearby South Dublin Union in 1916 as bullets flew over her head and her uncle’s fought in France with the British army. 

 

 

Mabel was a widow, who had lost her only daughter, my good friend Barbara Hailey, in a car accident in 1991 but she was always cheerful and interested in the events of the day, buoyed up by her practise of Christianity rather than her preaching of it.

 

She was a remarkably well read woman with a keen, if somewhat sceptical interest in religion and a talent for friendship which was demonstrated at her funeral by the presence of the sort of large crowd of mourners one would normally associate with a person of half her age.

 

But Mabel as her older friends dropped off the vine displayed an extraordinary knack of acquiring new companions, who sought out this remarkable woman in a spirit which was half consultation of and respect for the wise woman and half calling in for a coffee and the craic.

 

Mabel’s life in a way could be taken as illustrative of the manner in which Protestants in the south of Ireland have contributed to the development of Irish society. Barbara succeeded a priest to become a highly respected professor of English at St Patrick’s college Maynooth and her first cousin Olive, Mabel’s niece became a judge and Mabel’s principal solace and support for the last decades of her life.

 

I will say no more about Fr. Reid here my thoughts on him are contained in the accompanying post but will conclude by saying that most men could justifiably feel themselves fortunate to have had a friend of the calibre of these two very different people. But to have known both of them I consider to have been a gift of great worth.


How would Michael Collins have treated the Bankers?


Recently as the anniversary of Michael Collins’s death approached, a man from my neighbourhood tied the end of a rope to a tree, fed the other end through his car window, tied it around his neck and drove off- decapitating himself. The action was shocking but the outcome has become a common place in modern Ireland, suicide is now running at over 50% pre-crash levels.

This terrible statistic is part of the aftershock from the blow delivered to Ireland by a variety of corrupt lazy politicians, senior civil servants, bankers, businessmen, lawyers, accountants and stockbrokers.

We have lost our economic sovereignty. Our young people are shoaling out of the country. There is an army of unemployed and we are told that we have given some 65 billion to “Our” banks. They have reciprocated, not by lending to industry but by allowing jumped up bank clerks to tell decent people that they can’t afford Sky television and that ten euro a day is too much  money to spend on food.

On this the anniversary of Michael Collin’s death, in a newspaper with origins as Corkonian as his own, I think it would be instructive, and beneficial, for society as a whole to ask what would Collins have done about the banks and the situation they were allowed to create?

Firstly, it should be said that he would not have allowed the crisis to occur, he was skilled in financial matters having worked in the London financial industry and he hated waste. Before going on this point should be emphasized because recently efforts have been made to denigrate his abilities.  Inside Dermot Ferriter there is a fine historian trying to get out but is currently restrained by the self-imposed straight jacket following the publication of his hagiographical work on De Velara which a Fiana Fáil minister installed in every secondary school in the country. As part of the De Valera build up, Ferriter attempts to pull down Collins.

In a recent article in The Irish Times he claimed that Collins was responsible for the unimaginative British treasury policies of our Department of Finance and said his celebrated collection of speeches Path to Freedom, showed little merit.

In fact, had he checked, he would have found that the man who set the Irish Department of Finance on the British path, was an English senior civil servant C.J. Gregg, a friend of W. T. Cosgrave’s.  A man with at least as great a claim to economic expertise as Dermot Ferriter, Sean Lemass is on record as saying that it was Collins’s Path to Freedom that fired his interest in economics. 

One can also turn to a memorandum Collins sent Desmond Fitzgerald shortly before he was killed for examples of far-seeing internationalist thinking. He sighted the examples of countries such as Germany, Denmark, Holland and Switzerland for guidance in agricultural matters, economic development and hydro power. He saw the then new medium of the cinema as a tool of education and argued for a see-change  in our attitude to rural planning. Specifically where banks and banking were concerned, we know that he organized a superbly efficient Dáil loan and had a banking inspector Alan Bell who attempted to interfere with it, shot dead. He did not hesitate to threaten force when banks policies threatened the newly formed Irish Free State.

When the Bank of Ireland refused the government a loan, he announced that he was withdrawing the army guard from the bank’s headquarters, in fact there was no guard but he got the loan. 

When the British proposed to transfer the Registry of British Government Stock from Dublin to Belfast and London his reaction was ruthless and unequivocal: “… there are several retaliatory measures we could take and in fact must take if things of this kind go on.”

“Things” did not go on, the Register stayed in Dublin and a number of other moves initiated by the Unionists were countered.

It is glaringly obvious that our society has been hit by a tsunami of reckless trading and a blatant disregard for the fiduciary responsibility of directors but where are the prosecutions? Nobody has been held accountable for this and as a mood of anger and despair grips the country – nobody goes to jail. The buck stops nowhere.

We are currently suffering from two legal impediments to justice. One is the lack of Fraud Squad backup. The government and opposition are hiding behind the public service embargo to prevent the appointment of the forensic accountants, barristers and solicitors required in white collar crime cases.

The second  was the failure of the government to carry the referendum which would have allowed Dáil committees investigative powers and the ability to make findings of fact. That campaign should be revisited and carried through to fruition.

One of the mortal wounds which the referendum campaign suffered was a round-robin letter from ex-attorney generals objecting to the committees on the grounds that they would interfere with a man’s right to his good name and the independence of the judiciary.

One of the signatories to that letter had been chairman of Allied Irish Banks, Dermot Gleeson, another of Goldman Sachs International, Peter Sutherland. A third, Michael McDowell did not allow his concern for a man’s good name to prevent him handing a document from his office whilst he was Minister for Justice and Táiniste, to the Irish Independent. The document helped to fuel the controversy over whether Frank Connolly had visited his brother in jail in Columbia on a false passport. In the ensuing uproar, the Public Inquiry Institute funded by Chuck Feeney, the philanthropist who gave billions to this country, dissolved and with it Frank Connolly’s role as chief investigative journalist. Bertie Ahern defended the government’s role on the grounds that no other country would allow an outside agency to supply information about its affairs. In the welter of controversy the public failed to learn that the story Connolly and his staff had been working on had been – Bertie Ahern’s financial affairs.

A plethora of political assistants have been employed but because, we are told, of the public service embargo The State has not given its major anti-white collar crime units the CAB and the Fraud Squad the tools it need to do its job, in fact during the relevant period Fraud Squad resources have been cut.

I believe unquestionably Collins would have initiated strong action against the unholy collection of professionals who have done so much to validate George Bernard Shaw’s dictum that all professions are a conspiracy against the public.

I believe Collins would have ended the farce of a de facto collusion between government and opposition to avoid prosecuting the guilty and given the Fraud Squad the tools it would have needed to do the job. Without the requisite forensic accountants, solicitors and barristers, the Garda units attempting court proceedings are like rugby teams crossing the line without the ball.

 

 

 

 


Fr. Alec Reid Peacemaker Extraordinary


Father Alec Reid, an appreciation by Tim Pat Coogan.

 

By the acid test; “Did his life enhance or detract from human happiness?” Father Alec Reid’s sojourn on this earth must be judged a spectacular success. 

 He was the initiator of the peace process and the most tireless worker for it.

 But when this shy diffident Tipperary man first entered the maelstrom of Falls Road life in the early days of the Troubles he encountered scepticism and near dirision.

“He was preaching eeecuminism at Mass last Sunday!”  a prominent Republican told me wonderingly.  The man had been one of the group who had helped to prevent the monastery from being burnt down during the Orange onslaught of August 1969.

 But Clonard has always been a red bricked oasis of Christian charity in the desert of Belfast Protestant/Catholic relationships and Father Alec, and, later, like minded colleagues like Father Gerry Reynolds, also a Southerner reached out to both Orange and Green.

 Alec was torn between the demands of frantic parents seeking news of a son who had been “lifted” by the security forces, or taken away by the IRA, making peace between the various IRA factions, being called out to hospitals at all hours of the day and night and – preaching eeecuminism. 

By 1980 the threat of the removal of special category status, in effect political status from the IRA in the H block prisons at Long Kesh, an old RAF airfield outside Belfast, was threatening to explode sending the north into far greater turmoil than anything hitherto witnessed.

With Fr. Reid’s help I undertook to write a book; ‘On the Blanket’ to call attention to the looming catastrophe. So many Catholics had been rounded up that scarcely a Nationalist family in the north would be unaffected.  I had to write the book while holding down my job as editor of ‘The Irish Press’ and I found the emotional impact as well as the physical strain almost unnerving.

To this day I can still see the face of a woman Fr. Alec introduced me to, a Mrs Carney, one of her sons was in prison as an IRA man, another had been shot by the IRA as an informer having already been kneecapped.  She lived a life of tidy church going desperation remembering the day she first discovered her dead son was in the IRA.  He had always kissed the picture of the Sacred Heart before going out but one day she both realised that he had stopped doing this and that he had an indentation on his forehead which showed that he was wearing a Fianna cap.

Despite her entreaties he continued in the movement saying; ‘I have to do something to support them lads in the H blocks’.  Such O’Caseyesque dramas were played out all over the six counties.  

I finished the book in three months it took a somewhat similar period to recover from the effort but Alec Reid continued in the Maelstrom for the rest of his life.

Eventually, his health broke down.  I visited him once in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and found him lying on the outside of the bed fully clothed, his arms folded gazing blindly at the ceiling his sight and his energy sapped by diabetes.  As I concluded my visit another long-term friend with whom he would one day change Irish history, entered the room, it was Gerry Adams and his wife Collette. 

 His superiors sent him abroad to recover and stationed him as far as they could from Belfast but he worked his way back engineering postings to various Redemptorist Houses, until he finally managed to springboard himself from Dundalk back to Belfast.

 Here the death of a UDR man whom he had vainly tried to save, —- as he would later do in the world famous incident at Milltown Cemetery when he unsuccessfully attempted to rescue two British soldiers — finally decided him on making an effort at securing an overall peace settlement.

He fireproofed himself against the Church authorities by having the Redemptorist theologian Sean O’Riordan vet his plans and later secured the approval and support of Cardinal Thomas O’Fiaich. In fact the peace process might have begun earlier than it did had O’Fiaich not died suddenly on a Lourdes pilgrimage.  The Cardinal had agreed to break the logjam by publicly meeting Gerry Adams.

 Alec knew and trusted Adams whom he had met through the latter’s custom of attending eleven o’clock Mass in Clonard.  Moreover his mother’s family, the Hanaways were both prominent Republicans and neighbours, and supporters of the monastery.

Adams was supportive of a strategy which shelved the prospect of a united Ireland and concentrated on power sharing between nationalists and unionists, each side to work towards their goals by democratic methods, independently of British influences. 

 They had to work in extreme secrecy, security authorities had placed Clonard under intensive electronic surveillance and there were people in the Republican family who would gladly have shot Adams had they known what he was doing but the pair persevered, sometimes holding their conversations in Adam’s kitchen or bathroom with the taps running to scramble bugs.

 Eventually Alec approached John Hume to join the talks.  Hume risked extreme censure from his party, the SDLP but willingly supported the initiative.  Alec then approached me to get Charlie Haughey aboard as the leader of what was seen in the North as the largest Republican Party in the South.

 It was by now 1986 and Haughey and I had fallen out because I had criticised him in the Irish Press for rejecting the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement.

However, Haughey proved surprisingly welcoming and ‘though he would not meet Adams he appointed the excellent Martin Mansergh as a go-between.  He also accepted the peace strategy blueprint which Alec had drawn up in conjunction with Adams and studied it carefully.   And after he became Taoiseach again the following year, he received myself and Alec at Kinsealy, where he tested Alec’s IRA knowledge by finding out from him just what had happened at Loughall where Jim Lynagh’s ASU (active service unit) had been wiped out by the SAS after surrendering.

 There followed some years of activity without movement during which Alec never gave up hope talking on the ‘phone he employed a code which embodied the two loves of his life, the Holy Spirit and the GAA.

 Speaking on the ‘phone he would describe progress, or lack of it by saying things like; “the Holy Spirit is in the Forwards.”  If things were going badly He would be at Wing Back or even on the bench!  Alec’s faith in the Holy Spirit was such that, traditionalist though he was, he even accommodated to the Church’s newer custom that the Holy Spirit might be a She.

The peace process, which had taken a markedly more constructive, upward momentum when Albert Reynolds became Taoiseach, took a further great leap forward after I introduced Alec “the Monk” as she described him, to Jean Kennedy Smith.  Alec in turn used to refer to her in his coded conversations as an spéirbhean(the spirit woman of Irish Legend).  The new American Ambassador was deeply impressed by him and she, and importantly her brother Senator Ted Kennedy knew that Alec was not merely a good man but a well-informed one and that Adams was sincere in his desire for peace.

Despite all the subsequent alarms and excursions the Good Friday Agreement was eventually born as Father Gerry Reynolds memorably put it “it was like a baby being born.  There was blood, pain and torn tissue, but the baby survived and will grow strong.” Incredibly despite the toll which all the foregoing inflicted on Alec after 1998 he took up the cause of making peace between the Basques and the Spanish government and succeeded in making some progress in that most intractable of problems.

If the Irish Church is to survive it will be because of the work of Alec Reid and the men of Clonard Monastery.


Kathleen Ní Houlihan needs a perp’s walk.


Kathleen Ní Houlihan needs a perp’s walk. If the Government didn’t share my views on the need to make people accountable for what was done to our people and our economy under Fianna Fáil, I’d say the opinion poll results which came out since I wrote my l blog below went far to changing their minds.

Enda Kenny’s humanity displayed in his reaction to the Magdalene Women report may alter the position but the fact remains that the poll showed Fianna Fáil going ahead of Fine Gael! This is the party which gave us an epidemic of suicide because of their marriage made in hell with corrupt financiers, builders, bankers and civil servants.  When I say party I mean its leadership of course and those who went along to get along not the ordinary Fianna Fáil supporter who comes from the same stock as Fine Gael and shares the same hopes and aspirations.

The poll does not reflect any appreciation of the efforts of Enda Kenny and some of his team to act with decency and dispatch to clear up the foul mess which Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen left behind them, but it does reflect the dangers and the depth of the grave which the Fine Gael led coalition with Labour are digging for themselves.  There’s an eerie sense of history repeating itself.

Fine Gael is the lineal descendent of Cumann na nGael which established the Irish Free state,thereby creating the democratic sovereignty which Fianna Fáil have handed over to the IMF and the money lenders of Brussels.  Cumann na nGael successfully fought a civil war and managed to repair the destruction of that war and of the Black and Tan war, out of an Exchequer bereft of British subventions and suffering from the effects of horrific  emigration and unemployment. The party also established an unarmed police force, a corruption free Civil service and through the most Draconian cuts and economies somehow managed to balance the books and avoid the ever pressing danger of having the British treasury pulling the rug from under the Irish pound.

Alas these were not the kind of successes which appealed to an electorate, what impacted on the public were cuts like the docking of a shilling a week off the blind pension. If one were to add to today’s economy, factors such as the church led opposition to the proposed abortion referendum and the militant resistance of the Garda to cuts in their emoluments then, one could be back in the period of the 1930s before DeValera won his first election and a spell in power which was to last for an unbroken 16 years.

The government has had a notable triumph in its securing of a deal over the Promissory Notes issue to pay Anglo Irish Bank bondholders, but like the triumphs of Enda Kenny’s predecessor, W.T. Cosgrave, such triumphs have difficulty in eliciting a resonance from the man in the street.   The Government needs to drop the excuse that the vacancies for forensic accountants and for lawyers which are crippling the fraud squad’s efforts to combat white collar crime cannot be filled because of the embargo on public service recruitment and fill these vital posts.

It really is a crime that the white collar criminals who created the need for the embargo should be walking free smirking all the way to the banks which the tax payer is forced to subsidise as they cash in their monstrously unjust and plain monstrous pay offs and pensions.  It would be an excellent political balancing act if the Government were to make up for the fraud squad expenditures by fulfilling their election promises to cut down on the army of county councillors (some 1600 in all) who supply what is laughing known as ‘local government’ at the taxpayer’s expense.  Further meritorious balancing would be achieved by honouring pre-election promises by abolishing the Seanad which is nothing more than a talking shop wherein are provided jobs for the boys and by cutting down the number of T.D.s in the Dáil.  There are currently 166 of these, we could well do with a hundred but the Government is planning to cut only 8, thereby (understandably) furthering the perception that cuts are for the public not the politicians.