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Archive for October 20th, 2012

Of the Week…

Referendum Poster of the Week

In the High Court yesterday, there opened a legal bid to stop the forthcoming referendum on the grounds that the Government is spending €1m promoting an information campaign which it is claimed, is one-sided. The final cost of the Referendum – scheduled for 10th November 2012 – has not been estimated but you wouldn’t expect much change out of €5m. Apart from the fey John Waters, it is hard to find anyone actually opposed to the Referendum – opinion polls seem to suggest an overwhelming majority in favour and even the Catholic Church seems to be on the “Yes” side. Of course, just because the Referendum will be passed by a landslide majority doesn’t in itself mean we shouldn’t hold it. Except, it seems difficult to see exactly why a referendum is needed at all – if, for example, the objective is to allow the subsequent adoption of children taken into care from dysfunctional families, then do we really need a change to the Constitution for that. Surely the existing Constitution allows the State to intervene to remove a child from abuse or danger, and if there is a likelihood of such abuse or danger continuing, to allow the State pursue a long-term solution for the child, including adoption. There’s the odd smattering of “Yes” campaign posters about the place on behalf of Fine Gael and Labour, both featuring little angels. And in the interest of balance and also to express frustration at the fact that Enda Kenny’s commitment given in last year’s Address to the Nation to hold a referendum this year to abolish the Seanad has not been delivered – there’s talk about a 2013 referendum, but it’s obvious it will not happen with this Taoiseach – here is what a “No” vote poster might look like.

(Graphic above produced by Japlandic.com, contact here)

Man of the Match of the Week

The 1-4 win over the Faroe Islands (population 50,000 – same as Waterford), this week went some way to soften the 1-6 defeat to the Germans the previous week and the Italian seems have escaped with his skin once more. If Trapattoni is looking for fresh blood on the team, he could do worse than look to the men and women of An Garda Siochana who policed the “Home Help” march in Dublin on Wednesday this week. About 1,000 were expected, but in the end, there were probably less than 100, in part no doubt due to the very wet weather. There was a march from the GPO on O’Connell Street to the gates of Leinster House (or to be more accurate, the doors of Buswells Hotel), and at Leinster House, a number of TDs, councillors and home helps addressed the crowd. From the outset of the march though, there was a sinister row of youngish men with the biggest flags showing that the 32 County Sovereignty Movement cared about the plight of our elderly facing a serious deterioration in their living standards with the withdrawal, or reduction in home help. And so from The Spire on O’Connell Street to Leinster House, the Gardai moved in to walk alongside the 10 or so flag bearers and associates, and if one broke ranks and moved back into the march, there was a Garda or two on him. This is the sort of man-marking that might have turned a 1-6 defeat into something less ignominious a week ago. And at Leinster House, the 6-7 flag bearers stood in front of the speakers with their oversized billowing flags preventing anyone at the back seeing Richard Boy-Barrett’s angry face accompanying his angry words. The Gardai eventually moved the flag bearers to one side beside a van where they still held their flags aloft. And as the speeches came to a close, the likely lads from the 32 CSM – some wags suggest the 32 refers to the percentage tax they levy on drug-dealing – made their way back towards Grafton Street, with five Gardai prominently walking a meter behind them, until they reached the bottom of Grafton Street and got into three taxis and departed, but not until the Gardai had (unheard) words with the taxi drivers. Yep, if Trap had men who could mark like that, it would have been a different result on Lansdowne Road a week ago!

Negotiator of the Week

Well, the Playboy of the Western World who told us in June “I’m a hard grafter and, as some of them found out, they shouldn’t tangle with me too often” seems to be rapidly coming undone as Old Mahon – in the guise of hardyarse, Angela Merkel – seems to have turned up to contradict the summer boasting, and the so-called “debt deal” seems to be in tatters. In fairness to An Toaiseach Enda Kenny, he has a rotten hand to play, and for those of us in Ireland who think there are compelling ethical reasons for a deal to reduce the burden of the bank bailout, just remember that we generally don’t give a damn about what is happening in Spain and Greece, so our expectation of attention may be no more than the latest expression of Small Dog Syndrome. Now that the bonds in the worst Irish bank – Anglo and Irish Nationwide, now merged into IBRC – have been largely paid off with less than €190m remaining, and now that we have approved the Fiscal Compact*, we really don’t have a lot to negotiate with, except our charm and our wits. Now, Enda is a decent enough man and a fine chairman but he rubs people up the wrong way, he’s not the most articulate and on national, international and global economic matters, he hasn’t displayed anything that would resemble sure-footedness. So, who might be a better negotiator, given that we have very few hard bargaining chips remaining:

(a) Bono, knows about debt forgiveness and can even sing them a song. Achtung Baby!

(b) Seamus Heaney, who has been remarkably quiet since his stroke, and seems not to have written a jot on the calamitous economic crisis befalling the country, but who might still recite them a poignant observation on life’s progress

(c) Brendan O’Carroll, well if we are the joke of Europe – country in IMF bailout programme, with debt:GDP of 120% and 10% deficit pays billions in world’s most bust bank – it would make sense to send a comedian in to negotiate for us

(d) Chuggers, yes the new university term has started and so we have the usual abundance of ch(arity) (m)uggers doing their damnedest to grab our attention on the nation’s high streets. What better way for hard-up students to earn €10-20 per hour than to get us to sign up to (whatever) charity, and it is truly eye-opening to see them at work as they size up potential donors approaching them on the footpath, donors who might well be considering crossing the road to get away from them, but then notice the luminescent vests or geanseys on the other side of the street as well, and all this theatre being played out under the watchful eye of a supervisor who stands in the shadows like a pimp to cajole and enlighten the posse of chuggers into doing better.

*If the Fiscal Compact had been rejected in May 2012, then Ireland would have been faced with default at the start of 2014 because of lack of access to the ESM. That being the case, Ireland could not have reasonably paid €700m of bonds at IBRC in June 2012 – you don’t pay bonds at zombie banks if the sovereign itself is facing a funding crisis – and we would have triggered a crisis in June 2012 which would have brought to a head our bank debt burden. Alas we approved the Fiscal Compact, and so lost that potential weapon in our arsenal.

Court case of the Week

Yes, Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne’s court number 6 at the Four Courts was packed to the gunnels yesterday morning to hear the latest instalment in the Quinn family saga. IBRC’s CEO Mike Aynsley was separated from Sean Quinn senior, by merely one bench row of spectators – if they were boxers, they would have been within reach of one another. Sean junior was also there in his prison clothes – jeans and a Ralph Lauren zip sweater – for which his barrister apologised, and the Quinns’ new legal team was struggling to cope with the enormousness of the case to which it been formally appointed a couple of days before. The court heard of further sinister twists to IBRC’s pursuit of the Quinn’s property empire and the income generated by it – a freezing order on the USD 500,000 payment to Larissa Puga in Ukraine last year seems to have been lifted mysteriously in the Ukrainian courts, and the Russian bankruptcy receiver whose appointment IBRC had championed has been displaced. “Disturbing” said Judge Dunne. In the end the Quinns walked free but only for another fortnight when the case resumes. But this was not the court case of the week, and that honour must go to:

Independent News and Media director, Karl Brophy (his Twitter profile picture is reproduced above) who is taking a case against his employer. Now, it is not even clear if INM is his former employer or indeed his current employer, as Karl successfully sought an injunction earlier this year preventing INM from acting on a dismissal. Karl is apparently claiming that his dismissal was unlawful and principally was caused by his getting on the wrong side of Denis O’Brien. Although Karl was employed by INM as a hifalutin Director of Corporate Affairs and Digital Content in 2010 by its then-CEO Gavin O’Reilly, waaay back in 1998, Karl was a lowly political journalist who wrote an article at the Daily Mirror which prompted Denis O’Brien to sue, and Denis won €750,000 in libel damages.  At INM, it seems that Denis, or Denis’s spokesman, James Morrissey, thought Karl was connected with a series of articles unflattering to Ireland’s richest indigenous man (though he is apparently tax resident elsewhere). The case is set to continue for another four days from next Tuesday, but we seem to be getting a corroboration of a disturbing picture in Ireland’s foremost media group. Remember Sam Smyth? He’s the Independent journalist who wrote extensively about the Denis O’Brien/Moriarty Tribunal proceedings, whose contract at Denis O’Brien’s Today FM was terminated last year and who was unsuccessfully sued for defamation by Denis O’Brien associate Deputy Michael Lowry. Veteran journalist Vincent Browne recently wrote that Sam has been ostracised at the Independent, and indeed it seems to be the case that Sam’s last published article at the Independent was on 25th May 2012. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland curiously decided over the summer that Denis O’Brien’s stake in INM did not warrant an investigation at this stage, though subsequently it appears the BAI wrote to INM about recent changes to the INM board and news that Denis O’Brien now controls 29.9% of the group – INM had 60 days to respond to the latest BAI concerns and that 60 days seems to be up.  Over the summer we learned that Vincent Browne himself had been on the receiving end of unpleasant correspondence from Denis, and indeed there appears to be a history – including this episode – of media interference by either Denis or his associates.

Denis O’Brien has become fantastically rich from enterprise in some of the most corrupt countries in the world, enterprises that are in themselves ripe for corruption – the awarding of mobile and radio licenses. Minister Shatter still responds to questions about the Garda investigation of matters examined in the Moriarty Tribunal report published in March 2011, with the pat response that the Garda investigation is ongoing. The Moriarty Tribunal report concluded “adverse findings” against Denis O’Brien, findings which Denis O’Brien rejects and claims to have no legal basis. In the defamation case that was brought by Deputy Michael Lowry in 2011, the judge, Judge Kearns indeed did seem to concede the Tribunal didn’t have a legal standing in one sense, but then went on to state “but of course tribunal hearings and findings may be reported upon by the media and tribunal findings may certainly provide a roadmap or trail for other bodies or persons with an interest in the subject matter of inquiry”

So Karl’s court case, which continues next week, is seen on here as more important than the recent instalment of the Quinn saga, and we may learn more over the coming week of the internal workings of what is still Ireland’s premier media group, despite its vertiginous fall from financial grace – share price continuing to tank, closed yesterday at a measly 10c – compared to about €4 at its peak  – valuing the company at €55m; then again, the company is balance sheet insolvent to the tune of €200m, so a stock market valuation implies future value of €250m which might seem ambitious given the 5-10% annual falls in circulation and advertising at INM.

Straight question of the Week

Independent TD for Wicklow, Stephen Donnelly is not letting go of the recent €1bn payment by AIB to unsecured, unguaranteed bondholders. AIB has received €20.7bn so far from us as a bailout and Deputy Donnelly is now going on a crusade to understand how the hell this country, which is facing into 120% debt:GDP, 150% debt:GNP can still afford to pay back bonds at state-owned or controlled banks which are utterly bust. This was a parliamentary question

Deputy Stephen Donnelly: further to Leaders’ questions on 3 October 2012, where the Minister for Education and Skills stated the Government was forced to repay €1 billion to the holders of unsecured bonds in Allied Irish Bank at the insistence of the EU IMF Troika, if he will provide documentation to substantiate this assertion; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: The Deputy will be aware that when this Government took office it attempted to implement burden sharing with senior unguaranteed bondholders in particular institutions that were no longer core elements of the Irish financial system. Intensive discussions were held with our European partners and particularly President Trichet of the ECB in the run-up to the announcement of our stress tests on 31st March last year. At that time the President believed that such action was not in the interests of Ireland or the Euro Area. This matter was discussed again with President Trichet on a number of occasions including the Ecofin meeting in Poland in September 2011. As already indicated to the Deputy, AIB has an important mandate to supply credit and essential banking services across the nation. It is important that its business model remains intact so that it can eventually regain access to international funding markets in a meaningful way and eliminate its dependence on the Irish state.

Nevertheless, I would like to again reiterate that this Government is currently in discussions with our European colleagues in relation to securing a deal on the Irish bank debt and further detailed work will continue to ensure that the positive moves in Europe are harnessed to maximise the benefit to the Irish taxpayer.

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