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Archive for August 18th, 2012

“This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever” what Martin Scorsese, in his movie “The Departed”, says Sigmund Freud said about the Irish. In fact the attribution is disputed by Freud’s descendants and curators of the Freud London museum, who say there is no proof he ever said it. Damn! It was nice when we thought we were unique..

The Quinn family saga might have temporarily disappeared from the headlines and is not set to return to the courts until the 2nd of October, 2012 though Judge Kelly has darkly warned that the summer recess “didn’t mean the courts were closed” if something of significance arose. It is clear from the recent national conversation about Ireland’s former richest man that there is no single black-and-white assessment of Sean Quinn, with significant outpourings of support for the man and his family, clashing with a more general condemnation of the man who seems to have done everything he could to avoid repaying loans to a bank which we now own. What is perhaps just as remarkable is the way in which those holding one position seek to impose their views on others, as if there can be only one sustainable view, be it black or white.

Cognitive dissonance is the psychological term to describe the mental state of having two opposing positions in our own minds, an example of which commonly cited, is we might know that smoking is bad for us, but we rationalise that danger away by convincing ourselves we will escape illness, or we have to die of something anyway. Cognitive dissonance naturally gives rise to internal turmoil with guilt, anger or embarrassment as people contend with being mentally pulled in two directions, and people try to resolve the conflict by rationalising and promoting one position over the other. It’s a natural reaction to a condition which is not at all uniquely Irish. Consider the following:

Arkan

Most of you probably won’t remember “Arkan”, the nickname of a Serb career criminal who cut a swathe of murder, rape and torture throughout the former republic of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. The court in the Hague examining war crimes during the Yugoslav wars, formally accused him of mass killings. He commanded a gang of fighters known as “Arkan’s Tigers” who are seen as marauding butchers by many, though there is still a feeling by some today in Serbia that they were patriots. After the Kosovo war, Arkan returned to what appeared to be a lucrative life of crime in Serbia but was killed in 2000. A pretty despicable character, most would agree.

Except he found support from a very surprising source in one of the BBC’s most respected journalists and later a member of parliament – pictured below in trademark white suit confronting the crooked soon-to-be-toppled politician Neil Hamilton – Martin Bell who recalled him as a charming friend, despite the savagery in which Arkan was undoubtedly at the centre. “I don’t think you necessarily have to feel moral approval of people whose company you enjoy” was Martin Bell’s coming to terms with his own cognitive dissonance.

Roman Polanski

He might be better known for directing Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown or The Pianist, but he is also behind one of the all-time favourites on here, Dance of the Vampires which combined comedy, romance, horror, Sharon Tate, Ferdy Mayne, love, lust, a creepy castle and lots of snow. The 79-year old Polanski is still knocking out the occasional artistic masterpiece to much acclaim. Wherever he goes throughout the world, he is feted by the great and the good as a Colossus of film.

“throughout the world” with the single exception of the US of course.

In 1977 he drugged and raped a 13-year old in the US and then fled the country, avoiding punishment and has never returned. Speaking in 2009, that nice woman, Whoopi Goldberg defended the director by saying “it wasn’t rape-rape” and when the director was arrested in Switzerland in 2009 pending possible extradition back to the US, a petition demanding his release was signed by prominent fellow directors including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Demme, Ethan Coen and David Lynch, as well as actresses Penelope Cruz and Tilda Swinton.

Bill Clinton/Tony Blair

Almost universally loved in Ireland and fondly remembered in the US, the former president has a well-established chequered past. We probably remember best his dalliances with Monica Lewinsky and others, but more serious was his lying on oath – and consequent impeachment –  and his controversial presidential pardons for major criminals, including those imprisoned for their part in the so-called Whitewater affair.

Yet Bill is feted most places he goes. Women, including married women, jostle for his attention – not much solidarity there in the sorority for Hilary! An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny is comfortable sharing platforms with the former president, a man who played a crucial role in delivering the Peace Process in Northern Ireland and who undoubtedly is, and has been, a great friend to this country. It was not a random decision on Bill’s part to pay a visit to Ireland after his impeachment proceedings where he got an almost-fanatical welcome on College Green, something which showed to the world that Bill is more than a one-dimensional liar and womaniser.

Contrast that assessment with poor Tony Blair’s, whose decision to launch his autobiography in Ireland of all places, was also not a random decision. Remember Tony did more for the Peace Process in this country than any other British prime minister, despite the generational warning from that bulldog Winston Churchill, that British leaders will met their political cemetery if they involve themselves too much in Northern Ireland. But Tony had built on the work of John Major and persevered and was key to delivering peace. It is probably the greatest international – involving as it does, the UK and Ireland – success in Tony’s career, and so you might have expected universal gratitude to greet the ex-PM when he stopped off in Eason’s bookshop on O’Connell Street to sign copies of his book, or at Montrose when he stopped off for a “Late Late Show” interview with Ryan Tubridy. Instead, he had the Iraq War thrown incessantly in his face, with the Peace Process in Northern Ireland taken for granted. Go figure!

Denis O’Brien

Or “Sue” as he is affectionately known to the wags keeping tabs on the impressive tally of legal threats issued by him to journalists. Whilst Denis might be perceived in the popular imagination as a corrupt businessman who bribed then-Minister, Michael Lowry so as to award Denis a lucrative phone licence, this has NOT been established, even in the Moriarty Tribunal. Instead, we have the familiar expression, “adverse findings”, used to describe the conclusion by Mr Justice Michael Moriarty where – and I use Elaine Byrne’s words in the Sunday Independent which I do not believe are subject to libel threats – “Judge Moriarty concluded that O’Brien donated almost IR£1m in “clandestine circumstances” to Lowry who, according to the tribunal, “not only influenced, but delivered” the licence.”. It has also emerged that Denis, or rather a close business associate of his, Leslie Buckley, sought to have the Independent journalist Sam Smyth removed from reporting on the Moriarity Tribunal where his reporting was not deemed helpful to Denis. Sam was subsequently removed from presenting a radio show on Denis’s Today FM radio station and more recently, Sam has, according to Vincent Browne, been “ostracised” at the Independent where Denis now owns nearly 30% of the shares.

But as well as being an ogre in some peoples’ imaginations, Denis also employs many in his Irish businesses and his international Digicel mobile phone business seems to turn in good results, and on the philanthropic front, Denis helps us fund our national soccer manager and he has a history of good deeds in countries where he does business, for example Haiti and Jamaica.

Sean Quinn

His Quinn group businesses, from which he was unceremoniously ejected last year, seem sound enough, and just this week, a former Quinn business won a GBP €600m contract in the Northern Irish public sector. Alas, Sean and his family were “de-Quinned” from the Quinn group in April 2011, when Anglo/IBRC sent in the receivers so they can’t claim credit for any present success.

Sean’s insurance business had failed according to the view of Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield and back in March 2010 needed a €450m bailout which has since risen to €1.1-1.65bn.

But business failure is not a crime, and those businesses which the State guarantees, there is supposed to be intrusive regulation to ensure the businesses remain sound, and that didn’t happen under the former Regulator, Patrick Neary.

So far, Sean Quinn’s only transgression revealed at Quinn Insurance was the inappropriate transfer of funds in 2007/8 to “invest” in Anglo shares or more accurately “contracts for difference”, and that transgression earned Sean a personal fine of €200,000 and Quinn Insurance a fine of €3.25m. Sean says this wasn’t illegal, Vincent Browne characterised it as unlawful, but you don’t get fined €200,000 for nothing. So, up to this point, all we have against Sean Quinn is inappropriately using insurance funds for which he was punished, plus the business failure of Quinn Insurance, and even he disputes his part in that.

But what now puts Sean Quinn at odds with Irish society is his campaign – documented in Judge Dunne’s recent judgment – to bilk his fellow countrymen and women, who for good or ill, now own IBRC which is in turn owed €2.8bn by Sean Quinn, though Sean disputes €2.3bn of that. A particularly unsavoury picture has emerged in the past two months with the video of one Quinn who is now on the run conspiring to defraud us, with another Quinn sent to jail for sticking two fingers up to this country’s judicial system – and contrary to what the Quinns claim, it is not Anglo/IBRC that is putting them in jail, but judges – with yet another Quinn sticking two fingers up to us as she worked as a part-time receptionist yet took a “salary” of €320,000 from Quinn companies that was seemingly our money, and with Sean Quinn himself seemingly resigned to a collision course with Irish society as his demands that “something be left on the table” for him and his family, conflict with his obligations to repay loans to a bank which the rest of us own.

So Sean inspires condemnation from some, but there has been an outpouring of support from others. And the two sides seem to go to great lengths to defend themselves and attack the opposing view. The portrayal of the “Border” people of Cavan and Fermanagh who came out in their 1000s to show support for the Quinns, as yokels gone astray seems particularly offensive, they didn’t turn out because of any current contribution to their lives from Sean Quinn, they turned out because of a four-decade history during which Sean Quinn established vibrant businesses and during which he spread the wealth, often to local causes. And that actually makes the people of Cavan and Fermanagh superior to the coiffed, cultured and cosmopolitan adorers of Polanski who pay tribute to his current contributions. With Sean Quinn not due to emerge from bankruptcy before he reaches 78 years of age, the locals are not offering support in expectation of imminent reward. Eaten bread is perhaps not as quickly forgotten in Cavan and Fermanagh as elsewhere.

Irish people will make up their own minds about Sean Quinn and his legacy. It seems perfectly rational that some will offer support to the man for who he is and what he has accomplished. Others, perhaps more distant from the man’s former life, may dismiss him as a villain avoiding his present-day obligations. Should we beat ourselves up as a society just because we can’t all settle on one version of the Quinn legacy? Of course not. And nor should we seek to impose one version’s dominion over another, when logic tells us both versions are valid.

Sean Quinn and his family will now go through the legal motions. You never know, they may yet avoid much of the Anglo/IBRC debt which they dispute, and they may prove the administration of Quinn Insurance was a financial mistake, though I would be doubtful on both fronts.

IBRC – and that is what the company formed from the merger of Anglo and INBS is called, though the Quinns are careful to always refer to “Anglo” even in terms of the present-day events – will pursue the repayment of its loans as best it can. It won’t recover anything near the sums claimed because the bets on Anglo’s shares failed and there’s no remaining asset, and the Quinn companies are not worth €2bn-plus.

The claims and counterclaims will ultimately be resolved by a judicial system, which we jealously hold to be independent in this State, and so far there is striking similarity in judgments by two Dublin judges with those of two Belfast judges – here and here.

Sean Quinn is bankrupt and is likely to be for 12 years under current legislation, and the recent Personal Insolvency Bill doesn’t change that for older cases. There will be a hunt by IBRC for undisclosed assets or suspicious transfers which may result in some sanctions. The only two risks from supporting the Quinns as far as I can see are the possible political contagion whereby Michael Noonan eventually picks up the phone to Mike Aynsley and says “back off” or where Quinn supporters help hide assets. Both seem like very light risks.

People will determine for themselves the legacy of Ireland’s once-richest man, some views will be black, some white, most varying shades of gray. And that will be that. We don’t have a national mental illness, and we are merely doing what people around the world do when trying to rationalise a way of dealing with prominent people who have more than one dimension.

As it’s the weekend, I leave you with a gallery of others for whom you might have mixed emotions. But don’t fret, any turmoil felt is not because you’re Irish.

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Schizophrenic of the Week

Sinn Fein and the Quinns. First we had the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone,  Michelle Gildernew telling her local newspaper, the Impartial Reporter in July 2012 “he [Sean Quinn] has been treated disgracefully by the Irish Government. Had they not tried to strip him off all his assets, including his home, deny him the ability to function in business, and routinely try to humiliate him I believe he would have paid back every penny he owed to the Irish taxpayer…he accepted he had done wrong, but all our attempts to make the government show some common sense were ignored. He is being punished for having the audacity to ‘buy the bank; and for being an ordinary man from Fermanagh who is hugely respected by his community” and then we had the 4000-strong march in Cavan where it was reported Sinn Fein representatives attended, though it seems that claims they appeared on the platform with the Quinn family, Father Brian D’Arcy, Mickey Harte and others were incorrect. And in response, we had the deputy leader of the party, Mary Lou McDonald stamp her authority and issue the party’s official stance -“justice must be done before the courts in the Quinn case” despite whatever loyalties and emotions people might have.

So the matter is settled then.

Until the Sinn Fein-controlled Fermanagh District Council issues a letter of support for the Quinns on 7th August, 2012!

Now in fairness, Sinn Fein is not the only political party to have a seemingly disjointed approach to the Quinns – the prominent backing by Fine Gael MEP, Sean Kelly of the Cavan rally has caused all sorts of ructions in that party – but somehow Sinn Fein is emerging as a party untainted by the jobbery and gombeenism of Irish politics over many decades, and might therefore be expected to be held to a higher standard.

Table of the Week

“Other markets are still in free fall. Property prices in Ireland, at the foot of our table since April 2010, continue to plummet” says the latest annual Economist magazine survey of global house prices, which however concludes that house prices in Ireland are “under-valued” by 5% when compared with income and rent levels. This survey reinforces the conclusion in a recent Central Bank of Ireland report which said our house prices were up to 26% undervalued. Last year, The Economist claimed our property was 10% over-valued by reference to rents and was exactly correctly valued by reference to income.

Economic Time-bomb of the Week

 “When anyone asks ‘why would a company come to Northern Ireland instead of the Republic of Ireland?’, there isn’t a persuasive answer. If we don’t devolve corporation tax we will have little to attract industry with. The system of grants we now rely on is being phased out and, apart from corporation tax, there is no Plan B to replace it” Eamonn Donaghy, head of tax at  KPMG, Belfast speaking in the Belfast Telegraph

Over the Border in Northern Ireland, they are getting concerned about the withdrawal of financial support from Europe and Westminster, and the consequent effects this will have on the small local economy. And well they might – this week saw the publication of the April to June unemployment figures for the UK which showed Northern Ireland’s rate rising from 6.8% to 7.6%, a pretty worrying 0.8% increase, though according to the Enterprise Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the DUP’s Arlene Foster “while figures show that unemployment has increased over the quarter, the rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland (7.6%) is still below the equivalent rates in the UK (8.0%), European Union (10.3%) and the Republic of Ireland (14.6%) [sic, it’s actually worse at 14.8%]”.

Beyond any atavistic interest in the goings-on in Northern Ireland, this affects us because of the pressure for Northern Ireland to reduce its corporate tax rate from 25% to 12.5%, the same as that of the Republic. However Northern Ireland cannot simply reduce its tax rate, because under the EU’s Azores Principle, any cut in a regional tax rate in a country – and for these purposes, the UK is “a country” – must be matched by a reduction in central funding, which in Northern Ireland’s case means a cut of about €500m in the annual €14bn subsidy from Westminster. Such a cut would be politically difficult to implement, and most commentators see a change to Northern Ireland’s corporate tax rate as coming some years away. I am not so sure, and I wonder how long before we will see decisions like those of  Global Pharmaceutical Centre of Excellence which decided to set up shop and create 300 high value jobs in Kerry instead of Derry on tax grounds, reversed.

Photograph of the Week

Tomorrow at 11.30am in Charleville in Cork, the Ballyhea/Charleville bank bailout protesters will be taking to the streets for the 77th time – yes 77 weeks of protest supplemented by fasting, sit-down protests on the main Cork-Limerick road, taking the campaign to the ECB headquarters in Frankfurt, a cycle/run/walk/crawl from Ballyhea to Leinster House to hand in a petition and an online campaign to raise awareness. One of the protest leaders, sports journalist with the Irish Examiner, Diarmuid O’Flynn won’t be able to partake in the Charleville march tomorrow because of work commitments covering the All-Ireland semi between Kilkenny and Tipperary in Croke Park, but he will be marching himself from the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square in Dublin to Croke Park at 11.30am. It’s about a 20 minute march and the Corkman would appreciate company along the way! Diarmuid is on Twitter at @Ballyhea14

Pi**-up in Brewery of the Week

It was simple really, five Irish athletes – four boxers and a show-jumper – had won medals at the 2012 Olympics in London, a 50-minute flight away from Dublin. Two of the four boxers, Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes, are from Northern Ireland but had opted to compete under the Team Ireland banner. Overall, this medal tally of five was Team Ireland’s joint-best Olympics ever, equaling the results in 1956, when coincidentally we also won five medals with three bronzes, a silver and a gold. In total in the modern Olympics we’ve won just 28 medals in 116 years, so five medals in one fortnight is a very big deal indeed.

The whole nation lost its heart to Katie Taylor who won a gold, there were tears when Mullingar’s John Joe Nevin was narrowly defeated to win a silver and we were just puffed-out-chested proud at the performance of them all. And we wanted to give them a memorable welcome home and show them how proud they had made us. How difficult could that be?

Really the home-coming should have been at the Guinness Brewery, such was the cack-handed, uncoordinated and comical farce that it turned out to be. Cash-strapped Dublin City Council originally refused a city homecoming on cost grounds and sought a financial contribution from the Olympic Council of Ireland, which sniffily told it to “get lost”. The athletes were said to be unhappy with the row over arrangements and said they just wanted to go home and rest with their families, which set against a 50-minute journey from London and a fortnight’s absence, didn’t sound all that convincing. The public was asked not to go to Dublin airport on the Monday when the five medal winners flew home on the Team Ireland flight. In Northern Ireland, the two local boxers had a formal “welcome home” at the Titanic complex in Belfast on the Monday, but the only home-coming involving all athletes from Northern Ireland was behind the closed doors of the sports minister at Stormont, Carál Ní Chuilín. Katie Taylor went her own way for a home-coming in Bray and it was only on the Wednesday that we had a rain-sodden homecoming on Dawson Street in Dublin.

To compound the farce, boxer John Joe Nevin risked going from hero to zero in a week, with complaints about how his family had been treated in Mullingar pubs on the day of his semi-final bouts and then calling for pubs to be closed for his local homecoming so as to deprive them of any financial benefit from his feats, and then complains about how athletes had been treated on their homecoming from Beijing in 2008 when only the medal winners exited from the front of the plane and the rest were kicked off the rear. And to cap off a great week, John Joe’s mobile phone with irreplaceable pictures of the Olympics featuring John Joe with other athletes, was apparently stolen in a Dublin night spot, though if it had happened in a brewery it would have been just perfect.

Economic bright-spot of the Week

 

We might be on our uppers, with the economy still contracting in the first quarter of 2012, with unemployment at a record 14.8% in the current crisis and a swingeing budget in prospect in less than four months, but there were still queues around the corner this week, lining up outside the Central Bank of Ireland on Dame Street to buy newly-minted commemorative coins featuring War of Independence hero, Michael Collins. In fact within two days, the Bank had sold out of the 6,000 double coin presentation packs with a €20 gold “proof” and €10 silver “proof” coin. At €30 a pop, that was €180,000 of sales in two days and although the coins might be used as currency, the more likely use will be forming part of a collection.

Although the Bank has sold out of the double coin packs, it still has a “limited” number of single €20 and €10 coins – of which 12,000 and 8,000 respectively were originally minted – for sale, but presumably it’s too much effort to stick one of each in a bag and call it a double!

Twitt-error of the Week

Undoubtedly must go to former Fianna Fail TD Chris Andrews after he was unmasked as the person behind the @brianformerff Twitter account which, for months, had bad-mouthed former colleagues and current rivals – and their wives. Chris has gone to ground, but not before telling the Sunday Independent that the account “was set up by him and a “small group of like-minded individuals” who were supporters of Fianna Fail disenchanted with the party.” and today in the Irish Times, a journalist mischievously writes “how Andrews allowed himself to be persuaded into setting up a bogus Twitter account to further his political ambitions beggars belief” – or in other words, if you’re thinking of suing Chris for defamation, he may seek to hide behind others!

Runner-up must go to DUP member of the Belfast Assembly, Jim Wells, who last weekend re-tweeted a tweet about Ireland’s Olympic success “the Irish had taken the gold, the lead from the roofs and the copper piping from the changing rooms” The BBC reported “Mr Wells said the message should have been deleted and not forwarded and that he has now deleted the post and blocked the sender”

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