20 February 2009

AIB has Egg on its Face

The Allied Irish Bank's regional office and main branch in Cork has egg on its face - literally.

Three days ago - on Tuesday, February 17th at about 11.30 am - a "well-dressed man", wearing a suit and tie, approached the AIB's main building on the South Mall in Ireland's second-largest city. He carried a medium-sized cardboard box, and at first it appeared as if he was just another customer, walking towards the bank.

But then he stopped in the street outside the impressive 19th century building (photo below), opened his box and began to throw eggs at the façade and windows. The bombardment lasted only a few minutes, but it brought traffic to a halt on the usually busy South Mall, one of Cork's major inner city streets.
Some of the motorists and various passers-by are reported to have given the unidentified man a spontaneous round of applause.

The AIB building at 97 South Mall, Cork is probably the most beautiful and impressive bank building in Ireland. Built in 1825 and reconstructed 1863-65, it was the first branch office of the Irish Provincial Bank Ltd., which later became part of the Allied Irish Bank Plc (AIB). Thus it is particularly iconic among Irish banks and a clear symbol of traditional banking and old-world capitalism.

After finishing what he had come for and using up all the 'ammunition' he had brought along, the man dropped the by now empty box and walked away from the scene as inconspicously as he had arrived.

The box, which had been filled with three dozen Irish farm eggs, was later identified as an item bought from a poultry merchant at the nearby 'English Market', Cork's very popular traditional grocery market.

However, the identity of the "well-dressed man" and the specific motives for his direct action remain so far unknown.

An AIB spokeswoman confirmed the incident and declared that the bank would not be making a complaint to the Garda (Ireland's police).
"The man did not enter our building," she said, "and we have no idea who he is, or why he has bombarded the bank with eggs."

While the identity of the 'Egg Man of Cork' might well remain a mystery, with regards to his motives one can think of many. The outrageous behaviour of Ireland's major banks, including AIB, whose reckless and irresponsible management has created the most serious economic and financial crisis in the history of the state, is causing widespread anger among Irish people.
Especially the fact that most of the over-paid fat cat bankers are unwilling to admit their mistakes, expect to remain in their posts and receive their salaries of several million Euros per annum as if nothing has happened, creates great resentment among many ordinary people, whose tax money is used by the Irish government to bail out the failed banks.

I suggest that we all pause for a moment and give three cheers to the 'Egg Man of Cork'...

The Emerald Islander

19 February 2009

CPSU Members vote for Industrial Action

More than 13,000 Irish civil servants who belong to the Civil & Public Service Union (CPSU) have voted decisively to take industrial action in protest against the proposed new pensions levy, for which legislation was published yesterday by the government.
83% of the union members balloted voted in favour of strike action, with 17% voting against. The turnout was 86% of the membership.

The CPSU is now set to hold a one-day strike in a week's time - on Thursday next, February 26th - which will affect services across a range of government departments, including social welfare offices.

Yesterday over 4000 civil servants and public sector workers attended a rally outside Leinster House to protest against the levy. There was also a similar - though much smaller - protest by members of the police union GRA (see yesterday's entry below).

It can be expected that this will not be end of the matter, since the government is determined to push through legislation and the affected civil servants and public sector workers are outraged and angry over the new levy. So we better brace ourselves for a season of discontent, disruption and more gloom on the Emerald Isle.

The Emerald Islander

Bus Drivers to go on Strike over Job Cuts

Shop stewards from SIPTU, Ireland's largest trade union, decided that there will be an all-out strike at Dublin Bus from March 1st unless the company's management stops their proposed cost-cutting measures, which include job losses.
This could mean that there will be no buses at all in the capital for quite some time. The union made the decision yesterday, after receiving a clear mandate from its members.

In a statement Dublin Bus said it has "not yet received official notification of any industrial action by the drivers' unions".
It called the action "regrettable" but said it was "open to discussions" to try to resolve the matter before the end of the month.

Also yesterday drivers with Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus said they would mount a one-day strike on Saturday, February 28th in protest against 600 planned redundancies at the two state-owned bus companies.

A further
two-day strike is planned for March 9th & 10th.

So if you are a user of public transport in Ireland, be prepared to go nowhere for quite some time.

1000th British Visitor

The independent automatic tracking system Flagcounter has just registered the 1000th individual visitor from the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK).

Though the number of British tourists visiting Ireland is down now significantly - due to 'credit crunch', economic crisis and the more than 20% drop in value (and spending power) of the Pound Sterling to the value of the Euro - I am pleased to see that our neighbours to the East and North are still visiting this humble weblog as frequently as usual.
And you are of course as welcome as always, regardless of crisis and 'credit crunch'.

Since I began writing this weblog nearly 14 months ago, UK visitors have been constantly the third-largest group of readers, with a current share of 12% of individual visitors*.

The largest amount of individual visitors - currently 41.7% - come from the USA, which has been in the lead from day one, followed by readers from Ireland, which make up currently 19%. Given the fact that the Republic of Ireland has only about 4.2 million inhabitants (compared with over 300 million in the USA), the share of 1/5 shows that our own people take a fair interest in what I have to say.

More surprising I find the fact that positions 4 and 5 in the ranking of individual visitors are held by Malaysia (currently 9.9%) and Singapore (currently 4.6%).
Although I visited these two countries in South-East Asia regularly when I was based in Hong Kong and Thailand, this is a long time ago and I don't usually write about that part of the world on this weblog. The interest of these Asian readers in Ireland and my writing is appreciated even more and they are most welcome. I read Asian weblogs myself and think that knowing more of and about each other can only improve the state of the world and the spreading of new ideas in the interest of global peace and prosperity.

Very recently the system also registered my first ever readers in Uruguay and Venezuela, and I can only hope that my Views from the Emerald Isle will find even more interest everywhere in future. Everyone is welcome here, regardless who they are and where they are based.

At present the various tracking systems I use here have registered visitors from 113 different countries - from Afghanistan to Vietnam - plus 58 computers registered by the EU organisation.
There were also 763 'hits' whose identity and nationality could not be identified by the tracking systems and thus are listed as 'unknown origin'. Maybe some of them come from various intelligence agencies like the American NSA and CIA, or the Russian FSB (the successor of the KGB), who have the technical capacity to hide their IP addresses and surf the web frequently.
Well, who ever they are, they are welcome to this weblog, and I hope they will find it worth their while to come here and read what I have to say.

The Emerald Islander

* Every single computer in the world has an individual IP address (or registration number). This unique IP address is the basis for counting individual visitors. Repeat visits by the same reader, or someone else using the same computer, are not counted. They are however registered in the overall statistic by a separate system that counts the number of 'hits' the weblog receives from any visitors.

18 February 2009

Russia denies Responsibility for Oil Spill at Sea

The Irish Department of Transport & the Marine says that the serious oil spillage in the Celtic Sea (see yesterday's entry) - off the southern coast of Ireland - is now around 30 nautical miles (ca. 55 km) from land.

Coast Guard surveillance established that the slick contains more than 520 tonnes of Russian fuel oil and is at least 6 km long and wide. It is said to be breaking up, reducing naturally and spreading over a larger area.

Yesterday the Coast Guard predicted that the slick could land on the coast of Co. Wexford within about two weeks' time. However, the latest change of conditions make this less certain. There is currently an easterly wind in the area off the Old Head of Kinsale. But winds do of course change all the time.

Irish authorities first learned about the spill last Saturday through surveillance by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), which is based in the Portuguese capital Lisbon.
Aerial surveillance conducted since then confirmed the spill, surrounding the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and its accompanying vessels: one destroyer, two tankers and an ocean-going tug.

As the Admiral Kuznetsov was refuelled at sea and no other ships have been sighted in the same area for some time, it is quite clear and obvious who is the perpetrator of this pollution. However, there are conflicting comments from different Russian military sources.

While the Russian Naval Attaché to Ireland stated that the Admiral Kuznetsov performed a fuel transfer from a supply tanker at sea when the spill took place, General Nikolai Marakov (left), the Chief of Russia's General Staff, only confirmed that a Russian aircraft carrier had refuelled in the area, but denied that there had been "any problems".
And Igor Dygalo, a spokesman for the Russian Navy, says that "there has not been any accident on board of the ships in the Celtic Sea, nor any deliberate dumping of fuel overboard".
He also disputes the size of the oil spill, adding that "it neither has a catastrophic character, nor does it constitute a threat to coastal ecology".

This is another example of the typical Russian manner of arrogantly denying established facts, a habit that has not changed since the days of the old Soviet Union, which thrived on propaganda and barefaced lies, even if there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

In contrast to the Russian attempts of denial and shirking responsibility, Molly Walsh of the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth says that the slick could seriously damage marine life.

The Irish Department of Transport & the Marine expects the oil to reach the southern coast of Ireland in about 14 to 16 days. Some of it will evaporate, and the rest will most likely develop into tar balls, small sticky patches of oil that often wash ashore and cause coastal pollution and serious damage to beaches and wildlife, in particular sea birds.

John Lucey, a senior biologist with Ireland's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it is the biggest oil spill in the waters around Ireland in ten years.
The last happened in 1999, when the oil tanker Sea Empress ran aground off the south-west coast of Wales and dumped 72,000 tonnes of oil. Compared with that disaster the current oil spill is rather small, but it could nevertheless become a serious threat for the Irish south coast.

The Coast Guard took samples of the oil and experts are currently contemplating if a clean-up operation at sea is possible. This could prevent major damage to our coast and would certainly be the best option of dealing with the pollution.
The open question remains who is going to pay for it. Most likely Ireland would have to foot the bill in the first place. But whatever the costs for a clean-up at sea might be, it will be less than a large-scale clean-up of polluted coastline.
So one can only hope that our government will act quickly and decisively, and that eventually common sense will reach Russia, which - as the obvious polluter - should pay for any necessary clean-up work.

The Emerald Islander

Heated Dáil Debate over Banking Scandals

While more than 4000 civil servants and public sector workers - including Gardaí - were protesting outside Leinster House against the proposed new pension levy today (see entry below), a heated debate was going on inside the Dáil chamber.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen (left) angrily denied suggestions that he was attempting to protect anyone involved in the Anglo Irish Bank share scandal.
He accused Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny of "impugning his reputation", a charge vehemently rejected by the Mayo TD and most senior deputy in the Dáil .

Cowen told the Dáil that his government was "determined to ensure that due process is followed" and that - if wrong-doing is uncovered - "people will face the legal consequences".

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern (right) said that he "would prefer that the ten individuals involved [in the fraudulent share-buying scandal] be revealed", but that "due process must be allowed to take its course".

Meanwhile it has come to light that the annual report of the now nationalised Anglo Irish Bank, which is expected to be published on Friday, will reveal that a property owned by a member of (former bank boss) Sean FitzPatrick's family was rented by the bank. It is understood that this property is in London.

The Taoiseach stated that he regarded regulatory reform of banking as "a top priority".
In relation to the so-called 'Golden Circle' of ten fraudulent share buyers, he said the issue arose because of "due diligence by the government". He explained that the debts remained and his government would ensure that these debts would be collected by the bank.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny (left) said the government had been "far too timid" about the situation in Ireland's financial institutions, because it was responsible for the failure to regulate the banks properly.
He asked the Taoiseach if he agreed that "a fraud has been perpetrated on the Irish Stock Exchange".

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore (right) asked why Brian Cowen, when he was Minister for Finance, ordered the Revenue Commissioners to reverse its decision to impose stamp duty on Contracts for Difference (CFD).
These are high-risk investment 'products' where investors can bet on the future direction of a stock, without having to actually buy shares.
Eamon Gilmore said Brian Cowen had already confirmed that he had been lobbied about the issue, and asked for the identity of those involved.

In reply the Taoiseach said as far as he recalled, the lobbying came from "a professional body", but he promised to check with the Department and provide details.

Meanwhile the Green Party has said that it "could review its support for the government if politicians are implicated in the latest banking scandal".
"We are still committed to remaining in government, but that is not an open-ended commitment," the party's chairman, Senator Dan Boyle (left), told a news agency.
Remaining questions about the scandals should be answered quickly instead of the recent 'drip-drip' of revelations, so the damage to Ireland's reputation could be repaired, Boyle added.

After the debate Fine Gael Enda Kenny stated that the public deserved to know the names of the 'Golden Circle' members.
Speaking on RTÉ's Six-One TV News, he said the Irish people now own Anglo Irish Bank and "are entitled to know what is going on".

I wholeheartedly agree, as anyone with a sound mind would. And to go one step further: I do not understand why the government appears to know nothing about all these scandals, and still - after the matters have emerged into the public domain - makes no active efforts to find out what was - and is - going on.
Is it the high level of pure incompetence in our government we have to blame for that, or is Fianna Fáil fully aware of more skeletons hidden in the government's cupboards...?

The Emerald Islander

4000 Civil Servants protest at Leinster House

More than 4000 Irish civil servants and public sector employees took part in a rally outside Leinster House in Dublin (Ireland's parliament building) today, protesting against the controversial pensions levy the government is about to introduce.

The protest was organised by the Civil & Public Service Union (CPSU), which will announce the result of a ballot for industrial action within the next 24 hours.
If a majority of CPSU members support further action, it is expected that over 13,000 civil servants will hold a one-day strike on February 26th.

Members of the Garda [police] Representative Association (GRA) also joined the protest outside Leinster House (photo left).
Seeing policemen actively participating in such a protest (rather then accompany and police it) is quite a rarity.
But many Gardaí agree that the proposed pensions levy is unfair and that the burden of dealing with the current crisis and with the measures of economic recovery is not been spread equally across the community.

The protesters were met at the gates of Leinster House by Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore (left) and his deputy Joan Burton, who is also the party's spokesperson on Finance. Both pledged their support for the concerns of the civil servants.

Meanwhile the legislation to impose a public service pension levy was published this morning. It is to be debated in the Dáil tomorrow and next week, and is due to go to the Seanad on Thursday of next week.

The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2009 - as it is called in full - includes provisions allowing public bodies to reduce the professional fees paid by them to external service providers.
It also includes changes in the early childcare supplement and the Farm Waste Management Scheme, which were announced at the same time as the levy.

Looking at the bill's name alone one has to wonder if politicians will ever be able to put things straight and in plain English that everyone can understand. Why is it that most of our laws have odd and longwinded titles and are phrased in a way no-one speaks? Not even politicians talk like that...

On top of the whole Civil Service and public sector, the proposed levy will also apply to all TDs - including Ministers, Ministers of State and the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker) and Leas Ceann Comhairle (Deputy Speaker) of the Dáil - as well as to all Senators, the Attorney General and Members of the European Parliament.
However, due to the provisions of the Constitution, the President and the Judiciary cannot be included in the measure.

If passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas (Ireland's parliament), the levy will apply to all earnings of the people affected by it, including allowances and overtime, from March 1st. The legislation specifies that no extra pension benefit is conferred by the deduction.

In light of today's demonstration and the generally unfriendly reactions the proposal has created in a large portion of civil servants and public sector workers, it remains to be seen if the bill will actually become law in the form and way the government wants. It is a fact that no government could function without the Civil Service and the many areas of the public sector.

Maybe the recent talks of the Social Partners were broken off without an agreement a little bit too hastily. As long as Ireland's rich and super-rich, many of which caused the current crisis, do not contribute their fair share to the recovery programme (and are seen by everyone to do so), the Irish are not in the mood for ever more sacrifices from the ordinary people - in the public as well as the private sector - while selfish and arrogant millionaires keep enjoying the wealth they creamed off the nation over the past decade.

The Emerald Islander

17 February 2009

Russian Oil Slick heads towards Irish Coast

A huge oil slick (photo above) in the Celtic Sea is heading towards the Irish coast and could reach the shore in about two weeks' time.

Ireland's Department of Transport and the Marine has confirmed that a spill of up to 1000 tonnes of fuel oil is floating just 43 nautical miles south of the Fastnet lighthouse and drifting towards the Irish mainland.

Aerial surveillance of the scene by the Waterford-based Coast Guard helicopter has established that the oil spill covers currently an area of approximately 4.5 km by 5 km, surrounding the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and a refuelling tanker of the Russian Navy (photo below).

Russia's Naval Attaché to Ireland has now confirmed that the Admiral Kuznetsov performed a fuel transfer from a Russian supply tanker at sea when the spill took place.

Meanwhile a spokesman from the Irish Department of Transport and the Marine said: "Several vessels are at the scene in the Celtic Sea at the moment. They include the Russian aircraft carrier, two refuelling tankers, one Russian ocean-going tug, one Russian destroyer, one British destroyer and the Irish Naval vessel L.É. Aisling. It is believed that the Russian Task Group may leave the Celtic Sea tomorrow, having completed their refuelling operations."

The Irish Coast Guard, in co-operation with the British Coastguard, is now carrying out aerial pollution surveillance flights over the area. Samples of the oil have been taken from the scene to be analysed.

As soon as further information is available, I will share it with you here.

The Emerald Islander

11 February 2009

MEP Kathy Sinnott marks European 112 Day

Today - February 11th, 2009 - marks the European 112 Day (11/2), which aims to inform all EU citizens about the European emergency telephone number 112.

More and more EU member states now organise a 112 Day on that same date, such as Finland, Romania, the Netherlands, Poland and Denmark. Here in Ireland, however, we have no time for such sensible things. We are much too occupied with ruining our country and tearing apart the social fabric of the Irish nation.

So while many people in Europe pause for a moment to reflect on better emergency services, the Irish government is dealing with emergency legislation and bailing out our failed banks with € 7 billion of taxpayers' money, but without doing anything about the rotten and deeply corrupt structure of these evil institutions, which are major causes and contributors to our massive and unprecedented economic and financial crisis.

Fortunately there is the independent MEP Kathy Sinnott (photo), who represents Munster in the European Parliament.
She did not forget and hosted a press conference in Brussels this morning, to mark the first EU-wide European 112 Day.

The campaign to establish an EU-wide 112 emergency telephone system has been under way for quite some time.
is compatible with all phone systems. The idea is to have a European call centre which can accommodate all the European languages, plus others like Mandarin (Chinese), Filipino Tagalog and Russian.
When someone dials 112 in an emergency from anywhere in Europe, the exchange can identify the location of the nearest emergency response system. If the caller's language is different from that of the working language of the response system, then the 112 call centre can provide translation.

Speaking this morning, Kathy Sinnott said: "I congratulate those who have been working so hard for the past 17 years to promote 112. In Ireland, the emergency number is still 999, like in Britain."
So it appears that in 90 years of Irish independence we did not even manage to drop the old UK emergency number...

"Would an Italian - for example - who is used to dialling 113 for police, fire and ambulance or 118 for medical emergencies know to ring 999 when he is in Ireland?" Kathy Sinnott asked. "The answer is most likely: No. This is where awareness of 112 comes into play."

During the press conference, Ms. Sinnott outlined a number of important details.

"Last year," she explained, "I wrote a report for the European Parliament on protection against injury and promotion of safety. What I learned while researching this report is that people are most in danger of injury during times of leisure, and especially on holidays. For example, a Hungarian tourist breaks his leg while hill walking in West Cork. He can free-phone 112, speak to someone in Hungarian who will put the call through 999 to reach Bandon Garda Station and translate for the Garda on duty. If we were to develop this technology further, translation from 112 could remain available to the tourist even when he reaches hospital."

"Another point I would like to mention is the use of 112 for people who are trafficked to another country against their will. With this very simple number, people deprived of their normal freedom, if they were able to get even a moment alone with a telephone, could dial 112, speak to somebody in their own language and get help."

"This is a real tool which could be very effective, especially in today's multi-cultural society. Sadly, at present only 27% of Irish people are aware of 112. The Irish government have a legal responsibility to promote awareness and use of 112 through the 2002 Directive on universal service and user's rights relating to electronic communications networks and services. I call on our government to put this Directive into practice and start saving lives - now."

One can only hope that someone in Government Buildings was listening to Kathy Sinnott and that after seven years of forgetting the matter one of the many ministers can be found to implement it. I presume they cannot all be busy with bailing out failed banks and organise cosy retirements for corrupt bankers and senior civil servants.

The Emerald Islander