Monthly Archives: September 2008

There He is, Gone

Just four days after I named Twenty Major’s blog among my 100 favourite things he’s gone and closed it down.

If this becomes a trend soon there’ll be no more sunrises, no more airports and no more Harry Potter books.

Anyway, today’s as good a day as any to tell the story of the one-and-only time I met Twenty. I had wandered in to Ron’s Bar in the mistaken belief that it was the Gresham (in my defence, the sun was in my eyes).  A lone figure was sitting at the counter sucking fiercely at a cigarette. A tiny sausage-dog which was lying at his feet sat up and yapped, though its voice was so high-pitched that only, well, dogs could hear him.

“Quiet, Throatripper,” said the man.

“Why do you call him that?” I asked.

“If he ever fought another dog he’d stick in his throat and choke him,” was the reply.

I laughed and offered to buy him a drink, which he accepted. He held out his hand. “Twenty,” he said. This may have seemed like a strange name, but when you’re called Tinman you tend not to mock other peoples’ names, unless they’re called Track or Trig, which would be just silly.

Twenty is taller than you’d expect from his blog, though this may be just because my laptop has a very small screen. He is a lively conversationalist, though his language is a little crude. I noticed, however, that he seemed a little dejected, and asked was anything the matter.

“I’ve just come from my aunt’s funeral,” he said. “Mathilda Major. She was 102, and one of the great patriots. She was an officer in the old IRA.”

“An officer? Was she called Major Major?” I asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous, no-one would be called that. She fought with all the greats – Connolly, Pearse, Howth Junction …”

“You mean she was in the GPO?” I asked.

“Yeah. Loads of times. That’s where she collected her children’s allowance.”

“No, er, I meant, it’s just, well, you said she fought with Connolly and all…..”

“And so she did. Fought with them all the time – called them gobshites and wasters.”

I felt at this stage like I was conversing in a bucket of treacle. “Anyway,” I said, “her funeral was today, you say.”

“It was. Full military affair. Guard of honour. Twenty Gun salute. And she was buried in a full army uniform. And, of course, in the special hat that all IRA members get buried in.”

He knocked back the last of the pint, walked to the door, and turned back to me.

“She wore the RA’s bury beret,” he said.

***************************************************************************************************

That’s my tribute to you, Twenty. Best of luck with all you do.

The Tin Soldier

Tinson1is joining the FCA, or the Reserve Defence Forces as it is now apparently known.

If ever I needed proof that he is not my clone, no matter how much he looks like me, then this is it. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less. Well, be trapped in a lift for two hours with the elevator music stuck on “Achey Breaky Heart” , perhaps, but nothing else.

Indeed, the FCA came campaigning to our class when I was in my final year at school. It wasn’t a great success. The guy decided to appeal to the macho man within us. “The training is really tough,” he said. “Wow”, we repiled. “You’ll get to drive really big motorbikes,” he said. “Oooooh,” we replied.

Looking at their website now, it’s clear that they’ve upped their game since my time when it comes to recruitment skills. The introduction says:

“What did you get up to last weekend? Well, if it involved getting together with a 100 or so good friends and firing semi-automatic Steyr AUG rifles or being part of an artillery gun crew, then you already know about the unique challenges and attractions of the Reserve Defence Forces. If not, maybe you should check it out.”

Even my class would have been impressed by that. Anyway, Tinson1certainly was, and so a couple of days ago Mrs Tin had to drive him to Wicklow town to go through the induction process. The other Tinkids and I stood at the window and saluted as the car backed out of the driveway. (When he returned Tinson1informed us solemnly that there are very strict rules about when and whom you salute, and was informed equally solemnly that we weren’t in the FCA, and that we‘d salute whomever we wanted to, whenever we wanted to, thank him very much). We have continued to poke fun at him ever since, with comments about tennis-ball haircuts and potato-mountain-peeling, and will carry on doing so right up until the time when he learns to use the rifle.

What do I think of it all? I don’t want to stand in the way of him trying anything he wants to. I honestly believe that when he actually tries it (he can’t start for another five weeks, till he’s 17) he won’t like it, and that it will be a lesson well learned. If he does like it, and stays involved, well, it will keep him fit (one of his obsessions), teach him about discipline, and the importance of teamwork.

And we do need a Defence Force. And other countries do have National Service. And the youth of these countries do seem to emerge more respectful and mature.

And yet… I hate all the macho crap involved with organisations like this. I’m sad that the website had to focus on the opportunity to fire rifles, rather than the chance to serve the public, as its catchcry. I’m worried that he’ll come into contact with people joining because of the lure of aggression and bullying rather than the excitement and cameraderie. And, in the end, damn it, I just don’t like guns.

Or perhaps I’m just sad because it’s one more proof that his childhood is virtually over, and that he’s becoming a man.

Tinman’s Modern Sayings

In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One-eyed man has to do a lot of helping people across the street.

I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet… and I took his shoes.

All good things come to he who waits. Unless he’s at a bus-stop at 4am.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll catch all your fish.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls – just answer the door yourself.

Blood is thicker than water, but so is yogurt, so what’s your point?

Genius is one percent inspiration, and 99 percent perspiration. And five percent Googling.

The face that launched a thousand ships must be fairly bruised by now.

It is more blessed to give than to receive, but let’s face it, the receiver gets the better of the deal.

The pen is mightier than the sword, but only in Sudoku. Never test this saying in an actual fight.

Pride goeth before a fall. Or sometimes, it’s eleven pints.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or just makes you forget about her altogether.

Sometimes when God closes a door, he opens a window. Which just proves that God farts too.

Man of the People

An Ordinary Joe

An Ordinary Joe

I think it’s the fact that Bertie Ahern told George Hook in a radio interview that he wants to be addressed as “Iar-Taoiseach”, meaning “Former Taoiseach” that has finally driven me over the edge regarding this infuriating man.

Ahern pointed out that former Presidents of the United States always retain their honorific title, being known as President Clinton or President Carter.

“During the summer I was down with the gaeilgoirs in Kerry and they couldn’t understand, if for all your career you have the word Taoiseach, why do you change when you are the former Taoiseach. So they said that I should use the word Iar-Taoiseach, which means former Taoiseach, so that’s what I’m doing.”

None of the previous ten ex-Taoisigh, including even the power-obsessed Haughey, tried to pull this stunt. But perhaps none of them were made to feel as special as he has since he resigned as Taoiseach.

He’s had a nice new office near Leinster House renovated for him at a cost of €220,000 (while the average cost of a house in Ireland is €272,946), although he has so many speeches and lectures planned that it’s not clear now often he’ll use it. He is to be one of the guest speakers at Hectors’Long Christmas Lunches in the Mansion House, and tickets for his lunch are one-third dearer than for those of Jason Byrne or Risteard Cooper. RTE had him as a guest presenter on ‘The Road to Croker’. The Irish Times got him to write a “what I did on my summer holidays” essay. He’s going to write a book.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that this man was forced out of office after his evidence to the Mahon Tribunal became just too laughable for even the most faithful to believe. After his former secretary (sorry, iar-secretary) Gráinne Carruth was reduced to tears in the witness box as she tried to back his story in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. After he explained hitherto unmentioned sterling amounts by referring to winnings on UK horse races. After he claimed to have had no bank accounts for a number of years, and then embraced the idea of a bank account so firmly that he was involved in 26 different accounts just six months later. After he claimed to keep wads of cash in his office safe, and then just to grab a fistful of it at random and hand it uncounted to whoever happened to be around to lodge it into whatever of his accounts they felt like. After he claimed to have got dig-outs from friends at a time when he had over fifty thousand in savings. After it transpired these dig-outs arose because his friend and solicitor, in an astonishing breach of client confidentiality, told his other mates that he was stuck for money to pay his legal bill to, yes, that solicitor. After he said that he made a speech after a dinner in Manchester, and was handed £8,000 without having asked for it (because if he’d asked for it, it would be a fee and therefore be taxable). After he said he was not the owner of the B/T account, yet the only major payment ever to go out of it was to his girlfriend to enable her to buy a house.

In short, after it became clear that, while in one of the best-paid and most influential jobs in the state, he accepted huge sums of money from anybody and everybody who was willing to give it to him.

Some people think this behaviour is irrelevant. They say “things were different then. It was a different culture.” Or they say “well, look at the job he did with the country”.

But things weren’t different then. Corruption was illegal and morally wrong in the 1980s, just as it is now. And if things were different then, why are Revenue still pursuing people over money that they hid away during those days? And as for the “look at the job he did” argument, this is the kind of ‘High Chieftain’ argument that was also used in Haughey’s case. It’s effectively saying that they’re better than we are, so they should be entitled to different treatment.

And besides, look at the job he did do with the country. He did a wonderful job on the North, and it was agreed by all of the rest of Europe’s leaders that he was fantastic when Ireland held the EU Presidency, getting agreement between the states on issues that everyone had thought unsolvable. His commitment to work is beyond question also, as shown by his return to the Good Friday talks directly from his mother’s funeral.

But look at the country now. He was leader while McCreevy and Cowen fuelled a property boom that filled the pockets of the Galway Races brigade, but left the middle classses struggling with giant mortgages, and now facing an unsure future thanks to the fact that it has all blown up. He managed a period of stability simply by throwing money at everything, backing down every time anything was threatened that might make him unpopular. The public service has swelled in numbers. He allowed McCreevy to come up with the ridiculous decentralisation idea, and stuck blindly with it even after it became clear that it’s just not going to work. And somehow our schools and hospitals are as badly funded as they were when we were poor.

Checking on Ray Burke

Checking on Ray Burke

Worst of all, though, he has damaged democracy in this country by helping to fuel cynicism toward politics and politicians.  He appointed Ray Burke and Liam Lawlor to senior posts when eveyone knew they were corrupt. He defended Beverly Flynn, and welcomed her back into Fianna Fáil, suggesting she might be a minister one day. He made Ivor Callely, who had to resign after getting his house painted free, a Senator after the electorate rejected him in the General Election. He appointed three additional Junior Ministers on salaries of €150,000 each, just so he could keep more of his party happy. He defended and finally just deferred (not scrapped) his €38,000 pay increase, which would have made his salary higher than George Bush.

He lauded Charles Haughey, saying at his funeral: ‘He was a consummate politician… The definition of a patriot is someone who devotes all their energy to the betterment of their countrymen. Charles Haughey was a patriot to his finger tips.’ He helped ensure the defeat of Lisbon with his reference to opponents as ‘Loo-lahs’. He scathingly attacked anyone who questioned the safety of the proposed electronic voting system, calling them ‘luddites’ and saying he was ‘ashamed’ after he watched the French election that we were still using the ‘peann luaidhe’, and even after experts that he appointed said the system wasn’t safe he still attacked the opposition.

He made Conor ‘Kebabs’ Lenihan Minister for Immigration. He admitted that he did appoint people who gave him money to State Boards, but said “I appointed them because they were friends, not because of anything they had given me”. He said his biggest regret on leaving office – in a country who’s economy is falling apart, where gang-realted killings are now an everyday occurence, and where women have died because they’d been misdiagnosed as cancer-free – is that he never got to build the Bertiebowl, blaming “small-minded people” for opposing the project.

That last bit is one of the things I remember most about him – his sneering spitefulness whenever he felt he was being attacked, and his quickness to hide behind his position. To insult him was to insult the office of Taoiseach, he’d be quick to tell you.

This self-proclaimed man-of-the-people, who had the gall to call himself a socialist, now sees himself as some sort of super-statesman, deserving of a title all of his own and the undying respect and devotion of the Irish people.

Stick it in your iar, Bertie.

Park and (be taken for a) Ride

The authors of a report called ”The Climate Change Challenge: Strategic issues, options and implications for Ireland” have recommended that commuters pay an annual levy (of up to €4,500 in Dublin city centre) for free workplace parking spaces. They also suggest “congestion charging might be charged even in advance of major public transport improvements”.

Car-parks

Car-parks

Further on these geniuses, who are not actually named in the Irish Times front page report, estimated that the “travel demand measures would reduce congestion in the greater Dublin area by 12 percent in the morning peak and increase public transport use by 19 per cent”.

I don’t drive to work, so this doesn’t affect me. But it still infuriates me. I’m presuming these guys got paid for producing this crap. It’s a huge waste of money. Firstly because they propose the charges would apply to both the private and public sector, and there’s not a chance the civil servants will agree to it. And secondly because it’s unworkable.

There’s no indication as to where the authors live or work, so I’m guessing they’ve never been on a Luas at peak time, or travelled on the Calcutta-like 5.30 train to Enniscorthy. If they did they wouldn’t suggest increasing public transport use by 19 per cent before making major improvements. Where are the extra passengers going to go? Perhaps we could sellotape them to the roof.

Where I work we have two parking spaces, which the company pays the landlord for. They are kept for the use of clients – in other words we have no free staff parking. How would we prove that? I’m guessing the Council would just charge the company for the spaces anyway. What about larger companies with bigger car-parks, like RTE, for instance. Do they even know who drives to work and who doesn’t?

What happens if you work a four-day week? What happens if you only drive in on Fridays, so you can head home to the country to your folks after work?

The powers-that-be won’t allow high-rise development in Dublin, so there isn’t enough housing available in the city centre. They allowed banks, property developers and builders to drive up the price of housing in the suburbs so that normal people could only afford to live in the arsehole of nowhere (sorry, fellow Greystones residents). And then they rob us blind for living there.

Train robbers

Train robbers

This week Iarnrod Eireann and Dublin Bus both increased the charges on some of their Taxsaver fares. They said it was “due to a combination of increased costs and in an effort to have a consistent pricing structure for the Short Hop zone and for longer distance commuters”. Since it’s only on certain fares, I gather they didn’t have to get permission for it – certainly, I’d heard nothing about it before. The phrase “consistent price structure” is interesting. The Monthly Inner Short Hop Zone ticket, for example, rises from €90 to €103 – an increase of 14 per cent – and brings it to the same €103 that I pay for the Monthly Outer Short Hop Zone ticket. In other words, it will cost the same to travel form Greystones daily to Malahide as from Sandymount to Tara Street.

This is like charging a person who has soup at lunchtime the same price as someone who has a five-course meal with wine “to have a consistent pricing structure”.

During the summer Iarnrod Eireann announced they were going to start charging for using their car-parks. Now they’re targeting Taxsaver schemes, presumably hoping people won’t mind because they’re getting tax relief anyway (not working, two of our staff withdrew from the scheme this week). They will presumably get a big increase from January 1st anyway.

And now there other eejits want to tax people who drive to work.

Just leave us alone.

An Odd Development

A cowboy

A cowboy

A development company called Kimpton Vale Limited has been fined €1,000 after it illegally demolished the 19th-century Presentation Convent on Terenure Road West.

It was demolished in November 2006, just two weeks after Dublin City Council began the process of adding it to the Record of Protected Structures. Bulldozers moved in to demolish the convent at 7am and by the time a council official arrived at 9.30am, so much had been razed that the remainder had to be demolished on public safety grounds.

In September 2007 Dublin City Council ordered the company, and its principal Laurence Keegan, to rebuild the convent. An Taisce were thrilled at the time.Their Heritage Officer Ian Lumley said “Dublin City Council have led the way in this regard, we welcome their decision to instruct the developer in Terenure to rebuild and we would urge other local authorities to follow their example”.

By December 2007, however, the company had ignored two opportunities to re-build it, and the Independent reported that it now faced “fines of up to €12.7m”.

Fast forward now to this Thursday in the Dublin District Court. Firstly, the charges against Laurence Keegan (who is currently disqualified from acting as a company director after he and another company he was involved with made large tax settlements with the Revenue) were struck out. This makes sense only if the judge believed that Kimpton Vale Limited is a sentient being with a mind of its own, and that Keegan had nothing to do with the decision to send the bulldozers in.

Then a solicitor for the company said “his client had been under the impression that an exemption from permission applied in this case”. Why, then, did they start the demolition at 7am? Did anyone ask the solicitor that?

And how did potential fines of €12.7 million become just one thousand euro? Why weren’t they made sell the whole site (which they paid €15m for) and fined the maximum possible?

This case says so much about regulation in Ireland. A bunch of people at the top bounce happily along, laughing down at, and holding two fingers up to, the rest of us, knowing they can do what they like and get away with it.

Kimpton Vale are now expected to apply for planning permission for the site. I’d say Keegan reckons it was €1,000 well spent.