Category Archives: Misc

 

This afternoon.

At Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork city.

Football fans begin to gather for the Liam Miller tribute match which kicks off at 3pm.

Pics:  Mick Ring

Meanwhile…

OFFSIDE!

Previously: Playing For Liam

This morning.

At Custom House in Dublin.

Presidential candidate Sean Gallagher, accompanied by his wife Trish and children Bobby and Lucy (top), lodged his election nomination papers.

He went on to tell awaiting reporters that he won’t be taking part in a presidential debate on RTÉ Radio One’s News at One on Thursday because President Michael D Higgins cannot attend due to a pre-existing commitment.

Jack Power, in The Irish Times, reports:

Submitting his nomination forms this morning, Mr Gallagher said he would not be participating in the debate due to President Higgins’ absence, in the interest of “fairness” that all candidates be available to take part.

The “situation could easily have been avoided had RTÉ contacted the office of the President to find out if indeed the President was available on these scheduled dates”, Mr Gallagher said.

“Perhaps what we do now is not concentrate on this debate, but on the lessons that can be learned going forward, to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Seán Gallagher confirms he will not take part in first presidential debate (Jack Power, The Irish Times)

Kinlan Photography via Rollingnews

From top: President Michael D Higgins Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry; Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy

This morning.

At the Public Accounts Committee.

PAC member Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry raised an allowance of €317,000 that the person holding the office of the President of Ireland is entitled to per year.

The committee was told the figure was set by statutory instrument in 1998, when Mary McAleese was president.

It was also told the €317,000 annual allowance is not audited, not taxed and doesn’t need to be surrendered.

From this morning’s proceedings…

Marc Mac Sharry: “Can I ask the C&AG, are you aware of an amount of €325,000 per year in the president’s establishment – the detail of which is not open for you to audit.”

Seamus McCarthy: “Yeah, I think it’s something less than that. I think the official salary of the president is…”

MacSharry: “No, no, not the salary, I’m not talking about salaries at all. And I don’t want to talk about the president either.”

McCarthy: “No, yeah, I’m aware of the other allowance which is…”

MacSharry: “So what is that?”

McCarthy: “It is…”

MacSharry: “How much…”

McCarthy: “I don’t have the figure off hand. It’s paid through the finance accounts, the Central Fund of the Exchequer.”

MacSharry: “Do you know what amount that is, per year?”

McCarthy: “I don’t, I don’t think so deputy…”

Sean Fleming [chairman]: “What the title?”

MacSharry: “I don’t think it has a title. That’s why I’m trying to get some answers. I asked the C&AG are you aware of an amount of money, in or around €325,000 per year, I’m not talking about salaries here. Which is not open to the C&AG…”

McCarthy: “It’s a payment, I think, for 2017, the figure is €317,000.”

MacSharry: “€317,000.”

McCarthy: “It’s a payment under the Presidential Establishment Act 1938 as amended.”

MacSharry: “Ok. So the Presidential Establishment Act, a payment under that, of €317,000, in terms of 2017…”

McCarthy: “It’s an allowance.”

MacSharry: “That’s an allowance for the president. Sorry, so that, so it’s renumeration then is it?”

McCarthy: “No, well, it’s an allowance. Yeah. It’s not pensionable.”

MacSharry: “Right. It’s not a salary.”

McCarthy: “It’s not a salary, it’s an allowance.”

MacSharry: “It’s an allowance.”

McCarthy: “An allowance.”

MacSharry: “And you don’t audit that?”

McCarthy: “I don’t audit that. I audit the issuing of the payment from the Central Fund.”

MacSharry: “You audit the issuing. So what’s involved in auditing the issuing of…”

McCarthy: “Ensuring that the amount that’s paid over is not in excess of the amount that is provided for in law.”

MacSharry: “And in this act, if we look it up, does it say €317,000 or how’s that amount…”

McCarthy: “A statutory instrument from 1998 set the figure at €317,000 and it hasn’t changed since 1998.”

MacSharry: “Ok. Do you know the number of that statutory instrument by any chance?”

McCarthy: “97.”

MacSharry: “Ok. €317,000 per year. You’re saying it’s an allowance but it’s not renumeration. So, in ten years, that’s €3.2million or thereabouts?”

McCarthy: “Obviously, yeah.”

MacSharry: “Do you know what it’s used for? Does that act prescribe…”

McCarthy: “No, it doesn’t prescribe what it’s use for…”

MacSharry: “Ok. So. €317,000 per year allowance, not audited, we don’t know what it’s used for and it’s not prescribed in law. Is that correct?”

McCarthy: “The purpose is not prescribed in law.”

MacSharry: “It’s purpose meaning it’s use – what it’s used for?”

McCarthy: “Other then that it is a payment that can be made to the president, that’s what the law says.”

Later

MacSharry: “What we have – €317,000 per year, provided under an act, we don’t know what it’s for, it’s an allowance. We don’t know what it’s purpose is for, it could be spent, theoretically, on anything, it mightn’t be spent at all, presumably. Is this an amount that’s surrender-able at the end of the year or…”

McCarthy: “No. It’s not surrender-able.”

MacSharry: “Ok, so it’s an allowance for unknown items, or unknown purposes, not audited and presumably not subject to taxation because it’s not salary or whatever.

McCarthy: “That’s correct yeah.”

Later

MacSharry: “Is it reasonable to say, and I know sometimes my language is a little bit flippant but is this a €317,000 payment on the blind? That no-one passes any remote oversight, notion, idea, look, at what it’s spent on? Is that the case?”

McCarthy:I don’t know, deputy.”

Later

McCarthy: “I do have a piece of information which may be relevant. In 2011, an amount of €357,000 was returned to the Central Fund at the end of the previous president’s [McAleese] presidency.”

MacSharry: “That would indicate then…sorry, just because it’s on the same thread…that this €317,000 can be paid per annum, be accumulated and then, if there’s amounts left over, as would seem to be the case in 2011, the balance was refunded to the Central Exchequer. Ok. But still, whoever was the incumbent, or whoever was responsible at that time, we don’t know what the money was spent on per year and we still don’t.”

“We want to get the procedures but we do know the Secretary General of An Taoiseach doesn’t know, the C&AG is not responsible and doesn’t know and the Department of Finance Secretary General, according to yourself, the C&AG, also doesn’t know, or doesn’t have a role in auditing that amount of money. So I think that’s significant.”

Follow PAC proceedings live here

The Four Courts in Dublin

This morning.

At the High Court before Judge Richard Humphries.

A single mother, who was the foster carer for a baby born prematurely with severe health difficulties for more than a year, will challenge the actions of Tusla in the hope that what she claims happened to her won’t happen to anyone else.

In March of last year, the mum-of-two, who has fostered more than a dozen children in the past, responded to a call-out from Tusla for a volunteer to sit with the baby in a hospital, and cuddle it, as, Tusla said, the then three-month-old baby hadn’t had any significant human contact since it was born.

As time went on, the mother began fostering the baby and underwent specialised training to learn how to feed and care for it.

She sought to adopt the baby but she was told it was the birth mother’s wish that the child be adopted by a married couple. However, Tusla organised for her to have a legal consultation on the matter.

In April of this year, while the child with severe special needs was recovering in hospital following surgery, the mother claims it was abruptly removed from the hospital and given to a couple in the process of adopting the child.

The adoption process in regards to the child is not yet complete but it’s expected to be finalised in several months.

However, by seeking a judicial review of how Tusla handled the case, the mother wants to stop the adoption process which Tusla has started with the couple and she’s also seeking an order compelling Tusla to consider her application to adopt the child.

She claims Tusla didn’t follow procedure, didn’t provide for a proper transitioning period and didn’t give her adequate notice of what was going to happen.

She also claims the best interests of the child were not served in how Tusla handled the case.

An internal Tulsa investigation into the matter is also already under way.

Related: Single mum takes Tusla to court after agency takes away foster baby (Mark Tighe, The Sunday Times)

Foster mother loses custody of child because birth mother wants kid to go to “a couple” (Irish Mirror, April 28, 2018)

UPDATE: 

The mother has been granted a judicial review and will come back before the High Court on October 16.

 

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy; Donal O’Shea at the launch of new social housing units last year; Donal O’Shea

The legacy of this Fine Gael government has been brought into sharp relief in the weeks since their annual party think-in.

Though politics has always to some extent been an exercise in messaging, this government has seemingly decided, or understood, depending on your level of cynicism, that messaging is all that is required in modern politics.

No longer are tangible actions necessary or even desirable; it is enough to throw a launch, which is itself the precursor to another launch, which is itself the precursor to a photo-shoot with a minister playing dress-up on a construction site.

As long as your initiative isn’t set to conclude, or even begin, for a suitable length of time, you can now accept the kudos for your ambitious long-term strategies while remaining insulated from the headaches associated with actual delivery.

Though it may be verging on equine cruelty to continue beating the dead horse that is Leo Varadkar’s now defunct Spin Unit, its impact was still evident during the media blitz that followed the party mind-meld in Galway.

Fresh from their summer breaks, Leo and Eoghan came out swinging; ready to bravely face down the “left wing” councils that were apparently bringing the capital’s housing market to its knees.

Emergency powers, we were told, would be brought into effect if required.

What these powers might entail was not clear, but they seemed to suggest a break from the inertia that had characterised the previous three years of governmental housing policy.

Would this be the start of compulsory purchase orders and punitive taxes on unproductive vacant properties, rent freezes, or perhaps a shift in stance on the sale of loan portfolios by state-owned banks?

Alas, it appears that these powers will be limited to combating creeping ‘communism’ in Dublin’s local governing bodies, and diverting attention from the calculation at the heart of the government’s approach to this crisis; negatively impacting the value of property in this country is more detrimental to Fine Gael’s electoral ambitions than 10,000 Irish people being without a home.

Further evidence of Fine Gael’s penchant for choreographed PR offensives could be seen in their response to the North Frederick Street eviction and the accompanying footage.

With the now infamous photograph of masked Gardaí seemingly running cover for balaclava-clad private security forces spreading across various social media platforms, the national airwaves quickly became inundated with talking heads seeking to frame the events within specific parameters.

Leading the charge was Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan, who appeared with Sean O’Rourke to discuss the urgent need for a ban on recording Gardaí in the line of duty.

The fact that we’re only a year removed from the Jobstown trial, in which a judge instructed jurors to disregard the testimony of Gardaí due to discrepancies and consistent inconsistencies that contradicted video evidence was apparently not relevant to the discussion.

What followed this opening salvo was an impressive exercise in reality manufacturing, aided in no small part by a compliant and credulous media.

Capital “S” Serious and capital “R” Reasonable pundits lined up to decry the dangers posed by these anarchist squatters.

Public order offences, arrests, threats to Gardaí, and private property rights dominated the conversations. Hospitalised protesters quietly disappeared from view.

That these viewpoints bore no relation to the footage captured by those present at the eviction was beside the point. Once you can control the terms of engagement, repetition will take care of the rest. After all, who could possibly place themselves in opposition to improving Garda safety?

While polling suggests that Fine Gael’s calculated inaction has yet to seriously impact their popularity, the events at North Frederick Street may prove to be an inflection point.

Images like those taken at the eviction have a certain emotional resonance that can’t be deflected as easily as impersonal statistics and figures.

Brand management and marketing are all well and good, but as the water charges and repeal movements showed, direct citizen-led action has an impact that can’t be ignored for long.

Donal O’Shea is an Irish freelance writer, currently living in Chicago.

Top pic: Rollingnews

Government Secretary General Martin Fraser this morning

This morning.

At a Public Accounts Committee hearing.

Government Secretary General Martin Fraser is addressing questions from TDs about spending related to President Michael D Higgins’ term of office.

More as we get it.

Watch proceedings live here

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (front left) and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (front centre) and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May ( background second left)) during the EU Informal Summit of Heads of State or Government in Salzburg, Austria,last week; Derek Mooney

Just when you thought Brexit could not get worse… guess what happens… it gets worse.

I am not talking about the last week’s Salzburg debacle (though I will later), rather I am referring to the news coming from the UK’s Brexit ministry yesterday that post Brexit an English person will not be able to travel to the EU with their ferret.

Was it for this that Margaret Thatcher hand-bagged Mitterrand and Kohl?

According to the latest guidance from Her Majesty’s Government on what might happen if there is a no-deal Brexit, British pet owners who want to take their dogs, cats or ferrets on holidays with them to the EU post Brexit will have to prepare for travel “at least four months ahead in advance of the date they wish to travel”.

No longer will they be able to just pop a ferret down their trousers and head away for a day trip to Bruges. It gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase ‘compo-culture’ (apologies for that appallingly belaboured Last of the Summer Wine gag. Watching all those repeats on UK Gold has melted my brain).

This ‘travelling with pets’ advisory is the latest of about 75 pieces of specific guidance which the British government has published on what might happen if the UK leaves the EU next March without a deal or two-year transitional period.

This is not a theoretical exercise.

As we head towards the end of September, a No Deal Brexit is not just a strong possibility it is now a high probability. This situation did not change at Salzburg, it just became clearer.

As Bobby McDonagh, Ireland’s former Ambassador to the EU, UK and Italy set out in his Irish Times article last Friday, Prime Minister May was neither ‘ambushed’ nor ‘disrespected’ in Salzburg.

She went there with the goal of going over the head of the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier by appealing directly to the 27 heads of government and her plan back fired badly.

The problem with her plan was that it was never going to work. It was just the latest in a long series of events that shows that the British government, particularly the team of Tory ministers that May has assembled, do not understand the EU or Brussels dynamics.

One of the biggest misunderstandings, but one that is not limited to Theresa May or even Jeremy Corbyn, is the notion that the talks between this beleaguered British Government the EU are a classic negotiation. They are not.

This is a topic which my old friend and BEERG colleague Tom Hayes has explored many times in his excellent Beergbrexit.blog (declaration of interests, I am also involved in this blog).

Tom is an experienced negotiator from the world of labour relations. He has been involved in many complex employee/employer negotiations across the EU over the past two decades and has written extensively about the key elements required for a good outcome, including here.

In a classic negotiation you have two sides who enter the talks in the belief that they can find a deal that will be better than their current situation.

They work to find mutually beneficial outcomes. One of the ways they do this is by managing both the expectations of their own stakeholders and those of the other party.

This is not what we have with Brexit.

The EU side – and this obviously includes Ireland – believes, indeed it knows, that Brexit will damage both sides. It knows that Brexit increases costs and does not deliver benefits.

The EU’s goal at the talks is not to find some mythical half way compromise between the UK being in or out of the EU: it is damage limitation, pure and simple.

Barnier’s clear aim in the talks is to limit the damage that Brexit will do to the EU and its 27 continuing member states.

What Theresa May attempted to do at Salzburg was to go over Barnier’s head and ask the individual EU heads of government to pay more for the damage that Britain was causing. How could she have ever imagined that any of them would agree to this? Especially when those heads of government know how isolated and weakened she is.

What the British political system and the British media and commentariat continually fails to grasp is that what it describes as EU “intransigence” or the EU “punishing” the UK, is simply the EU limiting the damage that Brexit will do to the interests of the 27 member-states.

Brexit is an UK demand. Britain has every right to leave the EU, even if it costs it 1000s of jobs and reputational damage – that is a hole of the UK’s own making.

What Britain does not have a right to expect however, is for the EU 27 – and in particularly Ireland – to happily and contentedly pick up the tab, economic and political, for the Tory party’s political folly.

The continuing failure of the British political establishment, both red and blue, to heed, never mind acknowledge, the impact of Brexit on its closest neighbours is indicative of a political system that is in continuing decline.

But it is hardly surprising. Should we be shocked that ministers in London pay little attention to what their counterparts in Dublin or the Hague think when they ignore their own devolved colleagues in Edinburgh or Cardiff?

The leadership vacuum at the top of Britain’s two main parties makes our own party system look inspiring – and its not often you find that sentiment on this website.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Pic: AFP/Getty

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy and Minister for state Catherine Byrne

This morning.

Ahead of a no-confidence motion in housing minister Eoghan Murphy, tabled by Sinn Féin…

Mr Murphy said the no-confidence motion is nothing more than an “irresponsible stunt”.

The motion of no confidence, he said, will do nothing for those in need.

Mr Murphy said he hopes to speak with [Dublin South Central Fine Gael TD and Minister of State] Catherine Byrne this afternoon about “genuine concerns she has for her constituents“.

He added he hoped she would not be pulled into “Sinn Féin’s stunt.”

Vote will put pressure on Govt to accept policies are failing – Sinn Féin (RTÉ)

Rollingnews

From top: Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe; Michael Taft

It’s that time of year when people and organisations put forward their favourite tax cut, tax rise or new tax altogether.

So in that spirit I’d like to put forward one of my favourite blue-sky reforms: abolish income tax and substitute an expanded Universal Social Charge (USC).

The USC is a great tax. It is simple, transparent and no matter how many accountants you hire, you can’t escape it. The tax has almost no exemptions, reliefs, or allowances – unlike the income tax system which is riddled with tax expenditures.

The rates for USC are:

Up to €12,012: 0.5 percent (though if you earn below €13,000 you will be exempt)

€12,012 to €19,372: 2 percent

€19,372 to €70,044: 4.75 percent

Above €70,044: 8 percent (except for self-employed – income above €100,000 is taxed at 11 percent)

In 2016, income tax – with rates of 20 and 40 percent – raised €14.3 billion. The USC – with rates of between 1 and 8 percent (the standard rate then was 5.5 percent) raised €3.6 billion.

The cuts to USC since 2014 have been substantial.

Originally, the USC had three rates: 2, 4, and 7 percent. Why cut a tax that is simple, transparent, easy to administer and raises substantial revenue on low rates? One can always change the rates and thresholds and still maintain revenue.

Let’s play out this exercise and assume the Government abolished income tax in the budget. By how much would USC rates have to rise to make up the lost revenue?

I am not suggesting that these same rates and thresholds are optimal. They would be very high and penal for those on low incomes. However, rates and thresholds can be changed quite easily with a provision to exempt income below a higher threshold.

What it does show is the potential to substantially reduce marginal income tax rates among middle income earners who now pay 44.75 percent (48.75 percent if you include PRSI) while maintaining tax revenue.

The above doesn’t provide for any tax reliefs. We could re-introduce tax reliefs into the system – credit for dependent adults, health insurance, pension contributions, etc. But for each credit introduced, we’d have to increase the tax rates or reduce the thresholds or both to maintain revenue.

As a rule, for each €100 million in tax relief, each of the rates above would need to increase by approximately 0.1 percentage point. However, moving towards a USC system would allow us to revisit the way we provide resources for households.

Take a small but important relief – the Blind Persons’ Tax Credit. The implication of moving to a USC-based system would be to remove this credit which is worth €1,650 (or approximately €32 per week) for recipients.

There is an additional relief for guide dogs worth €165. Removing this credit would seem, at first glance, inequitable.

But here’s what the Commission on Taxation said about this credit when it recommended that it be abolished:

‘We consider it inequitable that this tax expenditure only benefits blind persons who are liable to tax and with sufficient income to absorb the credit; blind persons on lower incomes or those dependent on social welfare obtain no benefit from this credit.

We recommend that the appropriate level of State support be provided to blind persons through the direct expenditure route and that the tax credit be discontinued.

However . . direct expenditure support at the appropriate level should be put in place first; only then should the tax credit be withdrawn.’

So those on social protection and those at work, but whose income is so low they don’t pay income tax, do not benefit from this credit. This is not equitable.

The Commission’s proposal would mean that all people with visual impairment would benefit – regardless of their employment or tax status.

We could go one better. We could increase the direct payment and tax it. This would mean that those on low incomes would benefit even more while those on high incomes would receive only a proportional benefit, commensurate with their income.

This would turn the payment into a progressive one.

There are a number of tax expenditures that could be turned into direct payments with progressive effect. Another one is the credit for households with an incapacitated child.

This is a valuable credit for households with real needs; however, those on low incomes do not benefit.

Again, the Commission on Taxation proposes the credit become a direct expenditure equivalent to the same amount – and then abolish the credit.

So moving to a USC-based system is not just about tax rates and thresholds – it could also reform way we deliver support to households.

We would need more detailed data and an assessment of the impact on different income groups – especially those who rely on crucial tax reliefs to make ends meet.

But this approach can help focus the debate away from marginal tax rates and on to effective tax rates – creating a simpler, more transparent and efficient tax system.

It is not about cutting revenue. It is about reform.

Michael Taft is a researcher for SIPTU and author of the political economy blog, Notes on the Front.

Rollingnews

 ‘Weetabix’ labels In a New Zealand shop must be covered up to protect local cereal brand ‘Weet-Bix’

A breakfast of dry compressed wheat
Doesn’t strike me as much of a treat
But in one hemisphere
The courts interfere
To let big corporations compete

John Moynes