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Friday, June 29, 2007

Leech by name

Let us once again indulge that rare suspicion that there may indeed be a benign deity in this universe.

PR Puffmistress Monica Leech has been laughed out of the High Court after losing her libel action against the Irish Independent.

The woman, who was banking 650 euro of taxpayers money PER DAY while swanning around the planet on junkets in Martin Cullen's wake, now faces a 350,000 euro legal bill.

(Not that one need feel too sorry for her - her mammoth paycheque for sitting on the board of the Higher Education Authority and her chairmanship of Waterford Chamber of Commerce, as well as her ongoing PR work means that she's probably not shy of a few quid. Oh, and didn't she just take a quarter of a mill off RTE too?)

Leech's team had sought to argue that the offending article, published in December 2004, inferred that she had had adulterous sexual relations with the separated Minister, and that she had performed deeply intimate sexual favours for the minister for the sake of a well-paid and beneficial contract.

Leech, and I tread very carefully here because she is a notably litigious person, was the subject of a crass and coarse allegation, apparently made tongue-in-cheek by a caller to Joe Duffy's Liveline radio show.

It seems fairly obvious to me that few listeners would have for a minute thought that a random caller making such an accusation should be believed for even a second. He was clearly simply being crass and coarse.

RTE apologised immediately at the time, but it's not like you can do much about it when someone comes on the air. You assume they have a proper point to make and not crass insults to share. The Independent reported the incident the following day, mentioning the insult directed at Leech.

Monica's response has been to sue all around her. She sued RTE, despite the apology and the fact that the insult came from a caller. She banked a quarter of a million from that case a few weeks ago.

(Another victory for the TV licence payer. We're paying Bev Flynn's lawyers and Monica Leech's lawyers. No wonder 'Fair City' is so crap.)

Monica also sued the Independent for repeating the allegation in the context of an article about the phone-in incident. She lost that case yesterday. She's also suing at least another couple of media outlets over reporting the phone-in incident, and she's taken some further libel cases against Irish newspapers too, though it seems those relate to separate issues.

Monica is either extremely unfortunate when it comes to being libelled, the most libelled woman in Ireland, perhaps. Or else she is extremely litigious, with an eye to the quick bucks to be made by making yourself out to be a martyr of the Irish media.

It is worth remembering that Monica Leech got her contracts with Cullen in breach of the EU law that says such contracts should go out to tender. No one else was asked to tender for Monica's incredibly, spectacularly lucrative PR contracts.

Of course, all the departments that Cullen worked for have their own civil service press officers. He can also call upon the very able Fianna Fail press office at any time. Obviously those squadrons of spin doctors just weren't sufficient for his spinning needs.

Only Martin Cullen can explain the dire need for a phenomenally paid Monica Leech by his side, especially when on a goodly number of the trips abroad she accompanied him on, including that beautiful trip to romantic Langkawi, not a press release was issued nor a statement made to the media.

Certainly, the two government investigations into the conditions of her recruitment didn't really explain it.

Hopefully this welcome verdict will discourage people from treating libel actions like lottery tickets. Hopefully the Supreme Court, where Monica's headed next, will uphold this verdict, and hopefully her other libel cases against other Irish newspapers and publications will similarly be dismissed.

There is a need to overhaul Ireland's ancient libel laws, as Captain Moonlight cogently argues, which date from the early 1960s. Perhaps greater penalties for those who take frivolous and unsubstantiated libel actions should be incorporated into any future libel law.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fine Gael unleash secret electoral weapon

One shouldn't be cruel. So I'll spare the barbed remarks, other to point out that no JFK is he.

But seriously! Is this the future face of the blueshirts?

Apparently, he runs the young Fine Gael show in the Dublin area. Which might partially explain the repeatedly poor performance that party has had in the capital, especially among younger voters?

But at least he knows Inda. That's nice, he'll have someone to discuss the pain of electoral defeat with.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

They're laughing at us now

All empires bear within them the seeds of their own destruction, history informs us.

Even as Rome was in it's Imperial pomp, with Caligula appointing his horse as consul, or Nero blowing the entire Imperial fortune on interminable poetry contests, a bit like John O'Donoghue used to, we can see with retrospect that the fall of the Caesar family was inevitable.

So it will be with Fianna Fail and it's rum cast of dynasties.

As their grip on Ireland, or at least the 26 counties of it they still claim is Ireland, copperfastens, we have seen the many various dissenters come scampering back into the fold for the third term.

The Donegal Blaneys, who'd make a Shinner feel Unionist, have now signed up to the whip. So have the Kerry publicans the Healy-Raes, their ongoing feud with the former minister for poetry readings now ended in their favour with his demotion to head boy of the Dail.

And so to the Flynns. Pee Flynn, as Senator David Norris was wont to call him, was classic Fianna Fail through and through. Viscerally clientelist, he first showed up as a TD in the Dail wearing a white suit, not unlike that worn by journalist Martin Bell when he ran against the corrupt Tories as an independent.

Of course, it was the Tories rather than Martin Bell that Flynn intended to emulate if not surpass.

He was an early exponent of fundamentalist Fianna Faildom. That's one way of describing those within the Soldiers of Destiny who believe it is their divine right to rule Ireland without interference from anyone, whether it be the Opposition, the electorate, or god forbid, a coalition government partner.

He opposed the coalition with the PDs, not because the PDs are an evil bunch of political degenerates, but because the coalition 'hit at Fianna Fail core values.' He opposed Mary Robinson as President, not for the sane reasons that she was another party's candidate and a lefty, but because she was 'a wife and mother.'

By 1993, he was such an embarrassment, that Fianna Fail parcelled him off to Europe where he became part of the EU Commission that had to resign en masse due to allegations of malpractice in 1999.

That same year, he went on the Late, Late Show and openly boasted about taking bungs from developers. He, poor diddums, actually complained about the hassles of his millionaire lifestyle, his houses, cars and housekeepers.

The public's collective jaw dropped to hear how the Fianna Fail inner circle actually lived, for this was in the days before the full extent of Haughey's corruption and ferrying of Charvet shirts via the diplomatic black box was known.

And so to Beverly, the offspring, the one proud daddy Pee Flynn called 'a class act.'

Beverly worked as an investments advisor for a bank, and advised her customers to salt money away in off-shore accounts to hide it from the taxman. So while the rest of us were paying taxes through our noses to Fianna Fail governments, Bev's 'high net worth' customers were not.

RTE kindly let the world know that Bev had been up to this. This was important, as she was now a TD in her daddy's old constituency. Bev took a libel case against the national broadcaster. Bev lost, because she had been guilty of all the things RTE had alleged.

Bev now owed an awful lot of money in legal fees. If she'd been made pay it all, she could have been declared bankrupt. Then again, if she'd married her millionaire boyfriend who used to belong to someone else incidentally, she could have avoided bankruptcy, but would have been left with many fewer millions than she was used to.

If she'd become bankrupt, she would have been removed as a TD, and a by-election would have ensued in Enda Kenny's own constituency. That would have cost Bertie twice over in relation to his dolly mixture majority, as he'd have lost a vote and FG most likely would have gained one.

So suddenly RTE decides to settle the action for the legal bills. All of a sudden, like. Straight after the formation of Bertie's latest government. Sheer coincidence, you know.

And then Bertie's on the telly, talking Bev up to the skies, how it'd be great to have her back in the party with her troubles behind her, and sure, couldn't she be a great Minister some day soon?

They're laughing at us now. Caligula has just announced he wants to make his horse consul, and all of us are tugging at our togas in embarrassment, nodding dumbly and muttering, 'Well, if you must...'

But let us set aside our shock at the venality of this series of events. It should surprise no one if swine seek to put their head in a trough. We've seen decades of tribunals, we're all numb to the shock of such things now.

Let's instead consider the cost. RTE, the national broadcaster, are down around two million euro. That's a hole in their budget that's going to come from the licence fee. The licence fee paid by normal viewers like you and me, including many people who can barely afford it.

Let's consider the cost to our democracy. The good people of Castlebar, and they are good people, have elected the noxious Pee Flynn repeatedly, elevating him to the point where Fianna Fail behemoths start thinking in terms of Imperial dynasties.

Pee promoted the 'class act', and the Castlebar electorate duly voted her in. And then did it again, even after she had been bravely revealed by RTE to be assisting tax evasion.

We the people must shoulder the responsibility for the culture of excess, corruption, entitlement and arrogance that seem to hang around the upper reaches of Fianna Fail like a miasmic haze of smog.

Like the Roman Senate, we have permitted these people power and permitted their excesses to develop and degenerate.

And the next time the TV Licence Fee inspector calls round, remember how your hundreds of hard earned euro are paying Bev Flynn's lawyers in defending a libel case she lost.

And seek the same percentile settlement as Bev. Offer to pay half the money asked for. Tell them you want the same deal they gave Bev. And then drop me an email from Mountjoy Prison, which is where they'll send you.

But at least they have telly in Mountjoy, so if you behave, you might even get to see Bev being appointed junior minister in the next government shake-up on RTE news.

She'll be smiling. She'll be laughing at you.

P.S. Watch Pee Flynn's staggering hubris on the Late, Late Show at Public Inquiry's blog.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bono and the crusty Aussies

Okay, so Bono's a tool. We know this, especially those of us who live in Dublin. I went to the loo in a nightclub once and when I came back to my seat Bono was sitting on my coat. He didn't even acknowledge me when I pulled it out from under his arse. So he's a tool. I know this.

We know he's a hypocrite too. He moved his money to the tax haven of Holland only last year, yet he's always lecturing the rest of us to dig deeper in our pockets for the common good.

He's an anti-poverty campaigner with his own investment vehicle. So yes, he's no stranger to contradiction.

He's a pompous arse, too. We found that out when he sued his clearly mental former stylist for the return of an old hat.

But in fairness to Bono, he could sit in his big house and polish his vintage car collection, as other members of U2 appear to do, and not give a shit about Africa.

He's made his millions. He doesn't need to be going around to G8 meetings or sitting down with African despots trying to find solutions to the problems plaguing the continent. He's clearly doing a lot more for Africa than any amount of unwashed, dreadlocked, Aussie backpackers with a ropey video camera.

Yet, strange isn't it, how those trustafarian wastes of oxygen are the ones who start hectoring and assume the moral high ground when they bump into Bono in the street?

If I was Bono, I'd have just smacked them in the mouth. They don't even deserve to be spoken with, this bunch of lazy, entitled, morally outraged professional wasters.

So, hypocritical, pompous tool that he is, I doff my old hat to Bono for even engaging with these crusty losers.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Death and Taxes

They say the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Well, that's probably correct in most cases. But then you think about Jesus Christ, or Charlie Haughey, and you remember that there's always someone bucking every system.

Anyhow, I had to go and file some returns at the O'Connell Street Revenue office yesterday. That was, of course, great fun. My mate Rusty the Taxman had warned me that the Revenue office had moved to temporary accommodation, and he wasn't lying.

The usual queues of non-nationals seeking PPS numbers to legitimise their stints working behind the counter of my local shops were still present, of course. But with the original building around the corner being refurnished, the current Revenue office is even less cosy and comfortable than the original.

Plonked in some rent-a-room palace next to a shop selling pictures of the Virgin Mary, there isn't even a seat anywhere. You have to queue, standing, for hours. Then you finally reach the revenue officers, who are sat at their desks, and you have to stand there too, like naughty schoolchildren brought before the principal, while they ruffle your papers and pretend to be busy.

Anyhow, I took my ticket from the machine, surveyed the mammoth queues of various Balts and Africans waiting to legitimise their work in the eyes of the Irish exchequer, and promptly fled to Burger King next door, where there are seats a-plenty.

I reckoned that I could peacefully relax and read my paper for a good half hour, then wander back into the Revenue's temporary home just in time to be called.

So I was quietly mulling over my crap coffee when I was approached by a gold-toothed, heavily bangled Roma gypsy (see image of similar above), a grubby hand thrust under my nose, seeking money.

I pointed out to her that begging is illegal in Ireland. She shrugged and went to the next table instead. Looking over her shoulder, I could see three others like her working the room.

I went to the poor lad whose job it is to clean the place and asked him to throw the beggars out. Let's call him Pablo. Pablo is from abroad, and he came to Ireland to work. He has possibly one of the worst jobs in Ireland, cleaning up the tables in O'Connell Street's Burger King.

Every twenty minutes, a load of Roma gypsy beggars come into his place of work and annoy everyone in it, begging for money. He used to tell them to stop. That's when they stopped him, on his way home after his shift, and threatened to kill him. He's seen them getting into Mercs at the top of O'Connell Street with Dunnes' Stores bags full, literally full, of cash.

So he sympathised with me, but explained that he wasn't going to risk his life or job trying to stop these gold-toothed scam artists from begging anymore.

Back in the tax office, waiting for my number to be called, I looked around at all the faces - the black faces, the white faces, the yellow faces - that surrounded me. I listened to the Russian language, Polish language, Spanish language and French language being spoken.

I thought about all the decent people from so many different places, like Pablo in the burger bar next door, who had come to Ireland simply to earn a living.

Then I thought about the Roma gypsies, their begging scams, their threats on the life of a poor man asking them to stop plaguing his workplace, their Mercedes lift home in the evening.

And I wondered when I'd ever see any of them in the tax office seeking a PPS number and filing a tax return. And I wondered when the Gardai on the most policed street in Ireland are ever going to give poor Pablo a hand and arrest and deport this criminal gang of scum gypsies.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Return of the Home Internationals

Looks like there might be a return of the late, lamented Home Nations Championship.

The football competition, which was suspended in the early Eighties because England got fed up being beaten by Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, is set for a much welcome return on a biennial knock-out competition basis, rather than the previous league format.

And like the cherry on top of the cake, since England don't want to take part and no one else wants England to take part, the Republic of Ireland have been invited to join discussions.

The result: hopefully a vibrant Celtic Cup international tournament beginning in two years time.

I can't wait. If only Lawrie could have stayed on...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Dublin's cost of living rising

Relative to other world cities, Dublin continues to be one of the world's most expensive cities to live in.

The latest edition of the Mercer Cost of Living Index reveals that Dublin is now the world's 16th most expensive place to live, marginally behind New York.

Think about that for a sec. You're paying New York prices for Dublin living standards. Sad but true.

This is two places higher than Dublin was last year, indicating that the cost of living relative to other cities is still rising in Dublin, despite cooling house prices. Conclusion: rip-off Ireland is still alive and well and scorching the wallets of everyone in the Pale.

Moscow tops the list of the most expensive cities in the world to live - not a surprise to anyone who's tried to get accommodation there or even buy a sludgy coffee near the Arbat.

London is second, no surprise there either, and the Asian cities of Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong make up the rest of the top five.

In case anyone's wondering how Moscow could be the world's most expensive city, here's Mercer's rationale:

"Mercer's annual Cost of Living Survey covers 143 cities across six continents and measures the comparative cost of over 200 items in each location, including housing, transport, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment. It is the world’s most comprehensive cost of living survey and is used to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation allowances for their expatriate employees."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Other Buggers' Efforts

I've blogged about this before, but it really, irrationally, annoys me.

What do Ian Botham,
Salman Rushdie,
the director of Specsavers opticians,
a KGB colonel who defected to the West,
a Persian CNN reporter,
the head of the Loreto Sixth Form College in Manchester,
Michael Eavis who runs the Glastonbury Festival,
a Scottish primary school janitor,
the director of Battersea Dogs Home,
York Minster's organ player,
the head of the Northern Irish Tourist Board,
Stephen Poliakoff the writer,
a 77 year old baseball coach from Kent,
trashy novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford,
blues covers singer Joe Cocker,
footballer Ryan Giggs,
a crofter from the Scottish highlands,
snooker commentator Terry Griffiths,
the British international development officer in wartorn Basra,
the blokes who wrote 'Auf Wiedersehn, Pet',
a black presenter off children's TV show 'Play School',
a restaurant owner from Middlesex,
a hospital radio broadcaster in Bradford,
a milkman in South West London,
a female skiier from Sussex,
a female boxer from Bristol,
a hospital porter from Hull,
cosmetics mogul Liz Earle,
a Welsh auctioneer,
a Scottish highland dancer,
the Sunday Times crossword puzzles editor,
a Welsh Karate expert,
the RNLI press officer in Merseyside,
a playgroup manager in Leicestershire,
an Ipswich rope maker,
a Wigan rugby league player,
an Oxfordshire ploughman,
footballer Teddy Sheringham,
the HR manager in Belfast Passport Office,
the managing director of Sellafield Nuclear Plant,
the head of Halliburton's engineering subsidiary KBR in Iraq,
jazz singer Norma Winstone
and innumerable Northern Ireland Office penpushers, including one aptly named Leach, all have in common?

They all were given honours for the Queen's birthday (the official one that she wasn't actually born on) this weekend.

If ever there was good reason to scrap outdated honours systems like Britain's, surely the list above is it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A story that needs to be told

It's not often that Irish daytime radio does anything impressive.

In a country where people like Roisin Ingle or Joe Duffy are allowed on air, it's obvious that the powers that be want you to work, goddammit, during daytime hours, and broadcasters facilitate this by having the most abysmal radio on Earth clog the airwaves while it's light outside.

There have been exceptions, rare exceptions. Dunphy's 'Last Word' was one. 'The Right Hook' is occasionally another. I'm about to make a case for Brenda Power as another.

Brenda's first and foremost a journalist. A real, actual journalist. Not a former rugby player or some refugee from Radio Kerry or a student agitator or any of the other strange pastimes that seem to permit one access to the airwaves in Ireland. She's actually a journalist who worked for the Press, when there was a Press, and she knows what a story is.

And she zoned in on a great story this morning. A sad story. A story that has been told before, but has been ignored by the populace at large. A story that needs to be told.

The story of elder abuse.

In this era of preposterous house prices, a lot of older people are sitting in goldmines. Never mind that these goldmines are their homes, have been their homes often for decades.

And their greedy, evil, ungrateful offspring all too often are ushering their parents out of their homes and into institutions solely in order to get their greedy mitts on the goldmines left behind.

Old people are often vulnerable. Their children are often their only lifeline. Like abused children, they feel conflicted loyalties to the very people abusing them. Abuse of elders is sometimes physical, but more often it's emotional neglect coupled with financial exploitation.

That's why elder abuse so rarely is reported. But in order to get away with these daylight robberies, the scum who abuse their elderly relatives require the assistance of professionals like bankers and solicitors, who all too often know exactly what is going on, but are happy to be complicit in order to pocket their own fees.

This morning, Brenda Power highlighted a number of cases of elder abuse, where older people have been effectively incarcerated in institutions while their homes have been sold against their will, or are occupied by their children against their will. In one sad case, an elderly woman was described as being stuck in a nursing home while her own children rented out her house for profit.

Due to their age and frailty, even those elderly people who fight to gain access to their homes or funds stolen or exploited out of their accounts will often die before correcting the injustices done to them by their own flesh and blood in their twilight years.

Anyone listening to Brenda's show today can only have been angered by the descriptions of what some amoral people are prepared to do for money in this country. Congratulations to Ms Power for highlighting another Irish scandal that has the capacity to be as nationally shaming as the institutional child abuse issue was.

It's high time that legislation was introduced to enforce solicitors, banks and financial advisors to report suspected cases of elder abuse just as medics and nurses are already required to do.

And they should also be held partially responsible for cases when elder abuse is discovered and proven, and they have been complicit in it.

It's a sad day when we need sharks like solicitors and bankers to police how people look after their own elderly relatives. But that's Celtic Tiger Ireland for you.

Well done, Brenda.

The information line number for Elder Abuse is lo-call 1850 24 1850.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Principles? What principles?

The Green Party were once thought to be too 'flakey' for government. Their insistence on principled stands on issues that mattered to them meant that prior to the present, no one would consider them as coalition partners.

They ran in the recent election on a series of principled stands, and their leader vowed not to enter government with Fianna Fail after the election.

As a result, they garnered many votes from Fine Gael and Labour voters who were intent on seeing Fianna Fail removed from office.

But after ten days of negotiations, during which they were mightily screwed by the Fianna Fail negotiating team, the Greens settled to go into government with them.

What's worse is that they sold out every one of their principled stands in order to gain access to government. What's worse again is that the 500 or so Green Party members who gathered in Dublin yesterday endorsed the deal.

Let's look at the deal:

Hospital co-location (ie giving land owned by the state surrounding state hospitals to Mary Harney's developer pals to build private hospitals on.)

The Greens were bitterly opposed to this, we were told, and were also opposed to Harney continuing as health minister. In their deal with Fianna Fail, the Greens have managed to negotiate that co-location goes ahead and the leader of the two-seat party remains at the cabinet table as health minister!

US rendition flights through Shannon.

The Greens were bitterly opposed to this country continuing to permit US forces to use Shannon as a stopover and refuelling centre for flights involving the kidnap of people, their subsequent torture in third party states, and their transit to illegal incarceration without trial at Guantanamo Bay. In their deal with Fianna Fail, they managed to negotiate that the flights will continue!

Corporate donations.

The Greens wanted to clean up Irish political parties and put a final end to the culture of brown paper envelopes that has plagued political life in this country. They wanted to introduce a ban on corporate donations and overhaul the funding of political parties.

In their negotiations with Fianna Fail, they managed to gain none of these things, thereby permitting their partners in government to continue with their Galway race tent mode of funding. Well done!

The M3.

The Greens were bitterly opposed to the development of the M3 as currently envisaged, for the simple reason that it would carve a massive motorway straight through the hill of Tara, Ireland's oldest and most important neolithic site, and one of the most important anywhere in Europe, thereby destroying forever any treasures or excavation that could be done there. The Greens also wanted to review all current roadbuilding plans in favour of looking into better public transport options.

In their negotiations with Fianna Fail, they managed to ensure that all current roadbuilding plans, including the M3, will go ahead. Great work!

Basically, in their lust for power at all costs, the Greens have sold out each and every one of their principles. One wonders whether they actually negotiated during those ten days at all, or merely choked as they swallowed every refusal that Fianna Fail put to them.

Their sell-out will be remembered, perhaps not by the handful of members who endorsed this appalling deal, but by their thousands of voters who will now see the Greens as the latest prop of Fianna Fail, now that the PDs have been all but dispensed with by the electorate.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Greens sign suicide note

Well, the Greens have been bought off by the Prince of Darkness and will now enter government with Fianna Fail.

They will replace the previous small party, the PDs, who were decimated by the electorate following their dalliance in government with Fianna Fail.

The Greens may just have signed their own suicide note.

Certainly it must now mean the end of Clever Trevor Sargent's leadership. Only a few months ago, he said he would resign the leadership if the party goes into coalition with Fianna Fáil after the next Election.

However, Mr Sargent also said that he would make himself available to serve as a Minister in such a coalition.

So don't expect him to stay out of the ministerial merc on principles.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Lies They Tell - Part 4 of an occasional series

"In principle, neither politicians nor officials should accept personal gifts of value from outside their family."

Said by which Irish politician in 1996?

Why, the very same politician who recently ran to call an election to shut up the Mahon Tribunal.

The same politician who cannot explain his personal finances to the tribunal.

The same politician who explains large gifts of cash from developers as 'debts of honour' that took him over a decade to remember to repay, only after the tribunal started asking about them.

That same politician, people, who seeks election as Taoiseach for the third time this Thursday.

Brass-necked Bertie himself.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Remembering Tiananmen

I've been looking for an excuse to blog again about China, and it looks like the ageing Junta in charge of the world's fastest growing economy have given me one.

The editor of the Chengdu Evening News - a paper I've seen, but being unable to read Mandarin, I can't vouch for its quality one way or the other - has been sacked for publishing a one-line classified ad.

What heinous statement could this advert have made, for it to have cost the job and career of a regional newspaper editor? What horrific sentiment could it have contained, for the state to have sent dozens of people out on the street to retrieve copies of the paper, or for a crack investigative team to have flown from Beijing to get to the bottom of the issue?

Here's what the microscopic ad on page 14 of yesterday's paper said: "Saluting the strong mothers of victims of 64."

If you're still confused, let me add that 64 refers to the fourth of June. If that's still unclear, and it probably would be for most of us in the West, then it's probably important to recall that on the fourth of June 1989, the Chinese Junta sent tanks into Tiananmen Square to mow down protestors who were demanding more democratic rights.

Tiananmen Square was the nerve centre of the liberation movement that was smothered at birth. As freedom spread across the former communist world of Eastern Europe that same year, it was strangled with tanks in Beijing.

For 18 years, any mention of how the state mowed down their own people in the name of dictatorship has been brutally silenced in China. And now that they run Hong Kong too, they're also seeking to silence dissent in the most democratic part of their realm.

The South China Morning Post and the Standard, Hong Kong's main English language papers, reported extensively on a major row last month when Beijing puppet Ma Lik sought to play down and joke about the Tiananmen massacre.

At least in Hong Kong, the massacre is still remembered each year, and thankfully there was a predictably irate response from pro-democracy campaigners to Ma Lik's comments that people couldn't have been minced by tanks in the square and that the death toll was greatly exaggerated.

For us in the West, it would be all too easy to forget that China is the world's biggest police state, intent on smothering the democratic rights of its citizens with violence. It is all too easy to visit Beijing, tour the forbidden palace and other sights, forgetting how the students were mowed down by their own government.

It would be easy to ignore the occupation of Tibet and the denial of full democracy to Hong Kong.

Beijing desperately wants us to forget all of these things, and is spending billions on hosting the Olympics next year in an attempt to convince us that it is a respectable world power now.

It isn't. If you need proof of that, ask the editor of the Chengdu Evening News, if you can find what re-education camp he's been sent to. Ask the mothers of those murdered by the state in Tiananmen Square on June 4th 1989.

Frankly, I'm not normally a fan of boycotts. But these Olympics should be boycotted by all decent thinking people, in order to show solidarity with the Chinese people and not with their corrupt ruling class.

Unlike the joyous atmosphere of Athens in 2004, which I attended, the Beijing Olympics will be built on fear, denial of human rights and the threat of murder. Hardly the spirit of the Olympics, is it?

And while the people of China face the threat of incarceration for merely mentioning Tiananmen Square, it is incumbent on the free world to remember it for them. To remember it, and ultimately to hold the Communist Party ruling elite responsible for it.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Michael McDole

As promised, here are some pics of Michael McDowell at the recent general election count at the RDS, during which he made his speech resigning from political life.

There has been some debate in the media and online about whether McDowell was mobbed and jeered by Sinn Fein supporters as he made his speech. This first pic clearly indicates that it was the media who did the mobbing.

McDowell was no sooner in the RDS than he was surrounded by photographers and hacks, as this pic indicates.

Here he is giving his speech about loving his country and so on.

And following his departure, where he was indeed jeered by a People Before Profit member carrying a sign reading 'Michael McDole', John Gormley of the Green Party arrived in time to be declared elected.

Finally, some people might be pleased to know that the 'Michael McDole' sign, a piece of history from this particular general election campaign, was retrieved for posterity and is now in a safe place. Here's me posing with it!

I'd just like to add that I was not the person waving it about at McDowell, nor was I the person who retrieved it from the trashcan. Neither a protestor nor a bin-dipper am I! (But special thanks to those who did retrieve it and who let me borrow it for this snap - you know who you are!)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Ronins in Limerick

In medieval Japan, when a Samurai's master died, he became a Ronin, a masterless swordsman for hire who roamed the land looking for bloody, gory employ as a mercenary.

Clearly Ronins are no longer a thing of the past in Limerick, where two such Samurais have been arrested by Gardai after hospitalising two other fellas with four foot long Samurai swords in a house last night.

And they wonder why people refer to the place as Stab City?