Unfolding fiasco of the Week
This was the week we learned the strictures that would apply to those seeking protection from the new personal insolvency processes. What makes the rules on spending so farcical is that it reflects this government’s strategy of dealing with highly-indebted households by stretching a process over six years, rather than the template used elsewhere to recognize indebtedness today, liquidate the assets, pay off as much of the debts as possible and allow the debtor to get on with their lives and contribute to the economy. The reason for this approach is we own the banks which will need more bailouts to fill the holes left by losses crystallized today, but it means we have a farcical experiment where lives are supervised at a micro-level for more than half a decade. We learned during the week that not a single personal insolvency practitioner has been authorized yet the processes are supposed to be available in less than three months. Meanwhile Minister Noonan said it was feasible to have a target of banks producing sustainable solutions for 25,000 mortgages by the end of June 2013.
Accidental Fine Gaeler of the Week
You’ll be hard-pressed to find better comedy than that on Thursday night when, on the Vincent Browne show, Vincent asked Peter Mathews if he could name three Fine Gael policies with which Deputy Mathews, , a career banker and restructuring expert, agreed. Despite the intermission of a commercial break, the south Dublin TD – who incidentally confirmed his intention of running in the next general election – could come up with only two policies and neither has any relevance to finance or economics. It was comedy gold and here is the transcript:
Vincent Browne: Peter, why do you support a government who allows rich people, people who were formerly very rich and many of whom are still rich to live the life of Reilly still today, and people who have never been rich and who are living on the margins are going to be forced to adhere to these strictures which will make their lives miserable. Why? Why are you supporting a government doing this?
Peter Mathews: I am not supporting a government. I am informing a government from within of the true-
VB: You vote for them. Do you vote for them in the lobbies?
PM: “Do I vote for them in the lobbies?” In general, yes.
[Niamh Lyons: You’ve never voted against them]
PM: I’ve had pairings
VB: So you are supporting the government in something that you think is unjust.
PM: On matters that I consider important I have had pairs
[NL: But pairing is the same-]
PM: It is not
[NL: The person on the other side is not voting]
VB: Peter, you agree to support a government on issues which means you vote in support of things which you feel are unjust.
PM: I support a government which is doing its best in a least-worst effort to mend this economy.
VB: Yeah, but your view is that they are taking measures, they’re taking measures which are unjust.
PM: I don’t agree with all the measures that the policy has arrived at (sic) and that’s reasonable and that’s democracy is all about. In a family not everyone always agrees.
VB: I thought the Fine Gael family is obliged to agree
PM: Well, Vincent you know, as I mentioned before the programme began, today is the 65th anniversary of the 18th April 1948 when Ireland became a republic for the first time. Now it’s important that we try to get back the ideals of a republic and that’s why I am in this Dail to try to do.
[Mary Lou McDonald on different matter]
NL: Let’s be honest about it, NAMA was just one big personal insolvency slush fund for developers and builders.
PM: Can I ask you a question? Do you know that I actually anticipated and wrote about this, four and a half years ago, before NAMA was even finalized-
NL: Before you were even a TD!
PM: And then you joined Fine Gael!
PM: Vincent, I anticipated that the way the previous government’s strategy to address the banking crisis from the NAMA project was actually going to lead to all the kind of stuff that you guys are talking about now.
NL: And? But what’s your contribution in government then? Why aren’t you in there in parliamentary meetings, I mean we have talked about this on this programme before=
PM: She [indictating MLM] is on the same committee meetings that I am. And Mary Lou, do I contribute?
MLD: You do. The finance committee I hasten to add. I do not attend FG parliamentary party meetings.
NL: But does Michael Noonan not listen to you when you bring these proposals?
PM: Hold on. Ashoka Mody which everyone got a little bit excited about last week when he was on the broadcast media. He had actually written an opinion piece in the Irish Times three months previously and two years ago, the very stuff that he was writing three months ago was the very stuff that I brought into a committee and it was dismissed. It would cause the Europeans to [indistinct, crash?]
VB: Peter, is there anything of government policy that you actually support
PM: I don’t want to take up all the programme Vincent-
VB: Tell us three biggies, tell us three biggies that you agree on
PM: I’ll tell you after the programme
VB: No, no, tell us now! Do you know why you won’t tell us now? Because you can’t think of anything off the top of your head
PM: That’s not relevant Vincent
VB: Tell us one off the top of your head
PM: Vincent, you used want to hurry on to the next point. About three years ago, when I said there were another €35bn of losses to come in mortgage loan losses and other types. Now we have Fiona Muldoon-
VB: Just off the top of your head, tell us something the Government does that you approve of.
PM: Well, it’s moved through other areas of legislation in matters to do with-
VB: We’ll go to a break to give Peter some time to come up with three things that he agrees with the government on, that’s the government he supports, join us after the break.
VB: (sarcastically) Peter Mathews has told me to say that he has come up with 30 issues that he has agreed with the government policy on (sic). I can’t remember what the 30 issues now were. What were the first three of those?
PM: Symphysiotomy as Mary Lou reminded me, the pardon for the World War 2 soldiers who left without leave, various things, you can go through them-
VB: And you can’t think of a third.
PM: I’ve told you, have you forgotten.
VB: What was the third?
PM: You’ll have to do mental exercises.
VB: [Giving up and looking at notes] Somebody says “Breaking News! Peter Mathews, you’re actually a member of the government party. Do you forget that Peter?
PM: Thanks for reminding me, listen they’re wonderful people
Greedy bast*rds of the week
This was the week that NAMA confirmed that it has spent €22m on legal fees during 2012. DLA Piper in the UK was one of seven firms which received more than €1m in 2012. Let’s hope the UK firm doesn’t suffer from the same apparent greed as its US branch which was reported by the New York Times to have, what the NYT called a “lax attitude towards billing”. DLA in the US sued a client who hadn’t paid his bills. The client sought discovery of documents relating to his case and the discovery yielded emails from DLA which revealed their turbo-charged attitude towards billing.
“I hear we are already 200k over our estimate — that’s Team DLA Piper!” wrote one of DLA’s lawyers
“Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode…That bill shall know no limits” another Piperer wrote.
The case was “resolved” this week with a confidential settlement between the parties. Let’s hope NAMA scrutinizes “Team” DLA Piper’s invoices closely.
Salaries of the Week
The accounts for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland – its board members are pictured above – were signed off by Andrew Harnkess on behalf of the Comptroller and Auditor General on 29th June 2012 but were only laid before the Dail by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte on 11th April 2013. The accounts weren’t available on the BAI website this week but you can access them here . They make for interesting reading. The BAI is one of the few organizations in the State where salaries increased by over 12% between 2010 and 2011 and now stand at an average of €51,000. But take a look at the note to the accounts on salaries – and these exclude pension costs of €208,000.
In 2010, the average salary (before employer national insurance and pension costs) was €48,300 for the 38 staff. In 2011 the accounts below show €1,571,000 but that excludes €489,000 transferred to the so-called Broadcasting Fund which indicates gross salaries inclusive of national insurance contributions of €2,060,000 for 38 staff which equals €54,210 average and if you exclude an average of 6% for employers national insurance (90/1571) then that leaves you with an average salary of €51,000 – up 12.5% on 2010. Nice!
The BAI is a strange quango and has only been around since 2009. It is an utterly useless waste of resources and it has failed miserably in its primary role which was to ensure diversity in Irish media. Oh, and take a look at what you could be watching in the UK last Sunday night on their Freeview and then take a look at what was on our equivalent Saorview on a Sunday (which uses an incompatible and more expensive set-top box)
Saorview Sunday 21st April, 2013
Coincidence of the Week
5th April, 2013 – Attorney General sends letter from Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin to the Chief Justice Susan Denham who forwards it to members of the judiciary. The letter sets out the cuts to judges’ salaries under the Croke Park 2 agreement which was expected to be ratified mid-April
11th April, 2013 – Judge Kelly delivers a speech to a conference in Dublin in which he castigates the government for interfering with the judiciary. The two examples of interference are cuts to judges’ pay and the creation of new judicial structures such as the insolvency courts without appropriately qualified judges
14th April, 2013 Sunday Business Post reports the speech by Judge Kelly
14th April, 2013 Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter responds saying “at a time when we are still fighting to restore our economic sovereignty and bring about sustainable economic recovery, we all have a duty when speaking to ensure that what we say has no unintended consequences and does not undermine international business confidence in the State”
15th April, 2013 Back in 2011, the judges found they had no platform to voice their objections to the referendum on judicial pay when justice minister Alan Shatter told the Court Service to remove a statement by the judges setting out their objections to having their pay exposed to reduction. Well, the judges learned their lesson and they have their own website now, and the judges responded to Minister Shatter’s comments by issuing a statement which included “The judge pointed out that for almost 90 years of the State’s existence there had been no need for an association of judges given the mutual respect demonstrated by the executive and judicial branches of government, one for the other. All structures both formal and informal which existed for communication between those two branches of government have ceased”
16th April, 2013 (8am) Master of the High Court Edmund Honohan wades in by speaking on RTE’s morning Ireland and using that phrase guaranteed to get anyone’s gander up by criticizing the “sense of entitlement” of judges in their comments about the government
16th April, 2013 (11am) President of the High Court, Judge Nicholas Kearns responds to the uppity Master Honohan by saying he “is not a judge but an office holder with limited functions created by statute” and “specifically, he has no authority to speak on behalf of the High Court or its judges. Any impression to the contary would be mistaken.”
16th April, 2013 (3pm) Opposition warn of “constitutional crisis”
16th April, 2013 (4pm) News filters through that Croke Park 2 is voted down by unions
17th April, 2013 Judges adjudge themselves satisfied that government is not interfering with judiciary
We still don’t know how many judges are in NAMA – finance minister Michael Noonan refuses to answer that question, but we believe there are a few, and it is remarkable that the momentum drained from the “constitutional crisis” as soon as judges saw the Croke Park 2 agreement was dead in the water and that the threat to the salaries of the cash-strapped ones has been lifted, at least for now. A coincidence, shurely.
League table of the Week
This week, an organization called Corporate Reputations produced its annual survey of the reputations of companies in Ireland. It produces a Top 100 based on some 5,000 interviews, and this year, it found that the most reputable company and brand in the State is BMW. Irish companies, the Kerry group and Superquinn also made it into the Top 10. RTE, which has new self-promotional advertising ahead of unveiling its 2012 financial results which are expected to be atrocious, is ranked at position 53 which is above Sky at 56 and TV3 at 59 but way lower than the Irish Times at position 20. Independent News and Media, which published the Independent, Sunday Independent, Sunday World, Herald just about makes the table at position 93. There are four banks, Bank of Ireland, AIB, PTSB and Ulster Bank in the last five positions 95-100.
Sad statistic of the Week
In (the Republic of) Ireland, we beat ourselves up about suicide. In 2011, the provisional statistics indicate that 525 died through suicide. That equates to 11.4 per 100,000 citizens. Every single one is a tragedy. Although of cold comfort to individual tragedies, comparing suicide rates with other countries, suggests we are well below average and certainly far, far better than across the Border where provisional figures for 2012 – see above, from the Northern Ireland Statistical and Research Agency – indicate there were 278 suicides in a territory with a population of 1,810,863 indicates a suicide rate of 15.4 per 100,000 down from 16.4 in 2011 when 313 died through suicide. So Northern Ireland’s suicide rate in 2011 was 44% greater than that in the Republic. This week, the Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Edwin Poots observed that the rate doubled in Northern Ireland in the past decade and the reasons for the dramatic increase are unclear.
Quote of the Week
“Every now and again you’ll see these so-called republicans parading. And I look and I see these 50-year-olds, and I see these 40-year-olds, and I see these 35-year-olds … and I don’t recognise most of them. You know what I wonder – I wonder where they were when there was a war” Martin McGuinness at the Sinn Fein Ard Dheis
Oddly enough the above quote which was widely reported in the media doesn’t appear in the Ard Fheis speeches published on the Sinn Fein website indicating that it was an improvised addition.
Donnchaidh O’Laoghaire delivered perhaps the most poignant speech of the Ard Fheis on emigration.
“She came up to me and she said, ‘I’ve got one thing to say to you, my boy … you can’t trust the Irish, they are all liars’, she said, ‘liars, and that’s what you have to remember, so just don’t forget it. With that she waltzed off and that was my only personal exposure to her.” Labour party politician Peter Mandelson recollecting his only “exposure” to Margaret Thatcher whose funeral took place during the week. Let me say as an Irish person, she left the world a better place socially and economically, her contribution to international relations was spectacular particularly in south America, she will be much missed. And of course, she was the first woman to run the mile in less than four minutes.
“I am pleased, first of all because Dundonald is somewhere where there is clearly demand for houses. Where there is a market for houses, and where there’s a land bank available, I have been stressing to Nama not to hold on to the land because it holds back development and prevents jobs” Sammy Wilson, Minister for Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland responding to the ground-breaking NAMA announcement that it was investing €11m in a south east Belfast development. Just 24 hours beforehand there were carefully crafted mutterings about NAMA’s malign effect in Northern Ireland in the wake of the Kennedy Group foreclosures and we saw on here the connection between Alistair Kennedy of the Kennedy Group which was sponsor of the NW200 annual motorcycle road race and the DUP.