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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Safe home, and don't forget these other 5,000 troops

As 38 years of Operation Banner comes to an end, perhaps we can finally put the spectre of the troubles behind us and move forward.

Then again, it would be a lot easier to do that if it weren't for the 5,000 British troops remaining in the North of Ireland even though the UK government has 'no strategic interest' in the place.

I'm no cornerboy republican, but this looks like more games with language from the British government to me. If 5,000 troops remain on Irish soil, then it's still under occupation. If 5,000 troops remain, then the operation is still ongoing. No PR spin can change those realities.

I look forward to the day when ALL the paramilitary organisations lay down their arms (are you listening, UDA?) and when ALL the British troops have withdrawn from the North of Ireland.

At that point, it might finally become possible for people to speak to each other, listen to each other, and create a democratic society moving forward without the baleful influence of the British military, their Loyalist proxies, or their Republican enemies.

Until then, it's a case of 'Slan Abhaile' to those troops leaving, and 'Can you take your 5,000 mates with you, please?'

Below is one of many murals depicting the theme of this very day. This one, by renowned artist Robert Ballagh, was done in Derry in the mid-Nineties. But similar images have graced walls in the Short Strand, Falls and Ardoyne areas of Belfast.

Monday, July 30, 2007

You are now entering Gay Derry

The past two Friday nights, I've ended up in a gay bar. Fair play to my same-sexed compadres, they do know how to throw a party and keep a bar open a reasonable length of time.

I'm not gay myself, and I have some reservations about the wisdom of attributing the term 'marriage' to a gay union. I'm also not convinced about the necessity for gay people to adopt kids. But these aren't major issues for me. I've got gay friends and we tend to talk about other things.

Mind you, the North of Ireland has rarely been a friendly place for homosexuals, so it is to be welcomed (even if it is hideously garish, dahlings) that 'Free Derry Corner' has been painted pink in support of gay pride week.

Of course, openness to the gay community has not always been the hallmark of all of the North's main political traditions. Who can forget Ian Paisley's campaign over gay rights in the Seventies? (Clue: he wasn't in favour.) Or more recently, his son's expression of personal disgust at gay people?

So it was perhaps not surprising that two posters on Politics.ie decided to imagine what a gay eye for another notorious Northern Irish mural might result in!

St333ve goes for the subtle pastel look above, while Lenster Hauser prefers a more edgy and contemporary vision below!

Bergman finds Bergman films too depressing

While reading about the death of Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman at the age of 89, I came across this brief review of his career in the Guardian.

As it explains:

"In later years, Bergman rarely left his home on the Swedish island of Faro and a reputation as a recluse, a stern old magus locked away from all but his nearest and dearest.

In the course of a rare interview in 2004, he admitted that his own personal favourites of his films were Winter Light, Persona and Cries and Whispers.

However, he added that he rarely watched any of his movies because he now found them 'too depressing.'"

How odd. I never realised I had something in common with Ingmar Bergman. But I do. I found his films to be too depressing to watch also.

Anyone seen the Simpsons movie yet?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Who did it come from and why?

Okay, now that we've cleared that up, only two questions remain to be answered.

Who gave Ireland's Prime Minister $45,000 in 1994, and why has he been making up implausible stories about the payment?

When the girlfriend and supersecretary of Bertie Ahern, Celia Larkin (right), dropped into his office at St Lukes in December 1994, at his request, to pick up a suitcase full of cash and take it to the AIB bank and deposit it, where had the money come from?

Who gave Bertie such a massive sum of American currency, in cash, a sum he has consistently blustered and given ever-changing and bizarre explanations for? And more importantly, why?

Let's recall that Bertie, formerly a Finance Minister who didn't have a bank account, the allegedly qualified accountant who signed blank cheques for his mentor, corrupt former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, initially claimed that this cash was an amount that his landlord Michael Wall had given him in order to refurbish the house he was renting.

Of course, such an amount to refurbish a relatively new home is bizarre to begin with. To have your landlord hand it over to you in foreign currency banknotes is stranger again. Since Bertie was signing so many blank ones for Charlie, you'd think these people might have heard of cheques.

For that landlord to subsequently sell the house to his tenant only a couple of years later, after ploughing £30,000 STG into it, makes virtually no financial sense whatsoever, especially since he sold it to Bertie for only £140,000 punts and had only owned the home for a couple of years, during which it seems Bertie was renting it the whole time.

Remember, this is only ONE of the strange payments Bertie received in cash at that time. Let's not forget the two whiprounds totalling £8,000 punts that he got from businessmen pals in Manchester. Or the debts of honour, totalling £39,000 punts he received but never repaid until this all became public in 2006?

Then there is the £50,000 punts he had apparently saved up between 1987 and 1994, despite having no bank account in that period.

Now that we know that the £30,000 STG house improvement donation from Michael Wall doesn't add up, the question remains, who did give Bertie that money, which appears to be $45,000? Was Bertie receiving large undeclared cash donations from American interests?

And more importantly, why?

Sadly, like the end of season cliffhanger, we've now got to wait for months for the answer. Tune into the Tribunal in the Autumn to find out.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Chinese bad habits

The Chinese government are telling their people to quit their bad habits in advance of next year's Olympics in Beijing.

Reuters reports that citizens are being warned not to swear, spit or litter, and to learn how to queue in a line properly.

Such a terrible pity that it's not the other way round. I've little doubt that the Chinese people would only love to tell the Government to quit their bad habits, which are a lot more serious that clearing your throat in public or failing to line up neatly.

Invading sovereign nations like Tibet and subjugating them, for example. That's a very nasty habit of the Chinese Communist Party.

Or stifling all dissent by murdering or incarcerating anyone who dares protest against any aspect of the regime. That's a very nasty habit dating back to the time of that crazy old psychopath, Chairman Mao.

Starving the people in needless famines, that's probably the most nasty of the habits of the Chinese one-party government. They've done it repeatedly too, causing tens of millions of deaths.

And rewriting history to suit their own ends, so that everything they don't like, such as the KMT's leading role in defeating the Japanese during the war, or the Tiananmen Square democracy massacre of 1989, gets airbrushed out of their history. That's a tremendously nasty habit right there.

There are plenty of bad habits that ought to be corrected before China is permitted to hold a global event like the Olympics. But spitting and swearing are the least of them, I'd suggest.

Boycott the Beijing Olympics.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Get your kids off Myspace

It's now time to get your kids off Myspace.

After various US states forced the Rupert Murdoch-owned firm to identify convicted sex offenders with profiles on the social networking site, they were horrified to discover that nearly 30,000 perverts had profiles on the site, which is popular with teens and even younger kids.

This is after Myspace had already removed 7,000 profiles of convicted sex offenders from the site. And this figure only includes American sex offenders, not those from any other country.

What's even more concerning is that word about using Myspace to contact underage kids seems to have gone out among the pervert world. How else to explain the quadrupling of the number of sex offenders on the site in the past two months?

Its rival in Ireland and the UK, Bebo, seems to be somewhat more serious when it comes to online safety of the underage. They appointed Irishwoman Dr Rachel O'Connell as their safety officer some time ago, and this week they introduced a set of educational resources to promote the safe and responsible use of social networking across its user community.

Which is not to say that I'd recommend permitting your children to spend hours unattended on any social networking site. But kids will be kids, and if they must be on a site like this, then it's clearly safer that they use Bebo.

And of course, it's of the utmost importance that parents involve themselves in their children's online lives, and inform themselves about the risks involved. Nothing makes a child safer in any walk of life than their feeling able to speak to and confide in their parents about everything.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Time for a new immigration and asylum system

So finally the authorities have started removing the Roma who had been living in their own faeces on a motorway roundabout, seeking to extort free money and housing from the Irish taxpayer.

News reports have revealed how these people, with no visible means of support, had nevertheless been banking four figure sums in Western Union accounts. Either that money came from begging, such as I have already highlighted, or from out-and-out robbery.

Comments by Gardai in some news reports suggest the latter, in the form of handbag snatching, is the most likely source of much of the income they obtained.

The Romanian embassy is appalled by the behaviour of these people. They have repeatedly said so in public too. The Irish authorities have done their best for them, repeatedly offering them free flights home, healthcare, social services assistance, and even going so far as to take into care three at-risk children from the camp, which is soiled by the collective faeces of over 100 gypsies.

But none of that is sufficient for these people, who gravitated here from France and Spain seeking free housing and dole outs of funds from the Irish state, seeking to claim asylum (even though no EU citizen can claim asylum in another EU state) and demand the same lengthy list of freebies that other nationals have eagerly came here to receive.

To achieve that aim of a free life at our expense, these people robbed, begged, refused their children education and lived in their own filth. That is child abuse, pure and simple. While the women and children should be heading back to Bucharest, the menfolk ought to be doing prison time for those repeated acts of child abuse. But they won't. If we can get them onto a plane we'll be lucky.

As for the 38 refusing to leave, prison is now the preferred option. Warrants should be issued for their arrests on child abuse charges. Investigations by Revenue and the Gardai into the source of their incomes should proceed, and charges forwarded to the DPP in relation to tax evasion and theft.

The Romanian government should receive the bill for this. They have behaved honourably, but issuing handwringing statements is insufficient. Perhaps if they were forced to pay for the behaviour of their nationals, they would start taking this issue much more seriously.

This country showed good grace and the desire to help others repeatedly in the recent past and has seen that grace abused by criminals from all over the world. We've had 97% of Nigerian nationals who sought asylum proven to be liars. We've seen hundreds of cases of asylum seekers breaking the law in Ireland once given the chance of a new life here.

This shouldn't surprise anyone, except perhaps the bleeding heart professional vested interests of the likes of Pavee Point and the Refugee Council. After all, it isn't cheap to get to Ireland from Romania or Nigeria. Only the criminal classes can generally afford to travel. Those in real need of asylum, the people of Darfur, or Uganda, or Cambodia aren't coming. They can't afford it.

And with the accession of the Eastern EU states, we've seen the influx of Roma gypsies, who don't want to work, but are happy to live in their own squalor, use their children to beg with menaces, are suspected thieves and known to be fond of resolving disputes with large knives.

People forget we didn't have to open the doors to these people. We didn't have to permit large scale abuse of the asylum system. We showed hospitality and saw it repeatedly and systematically abused on a massive scale.

I propose we shut down all asylum programmes with immediate effect, and refuse entry to the state to anyone who shows up without the correct travel documentation.

In place of the current system, which has shown its flaws and inability to keep up with the scammers, I suggest we take two Aer Lingus planes and fly them to places with known and proven need.

Let us prove our dedication to the asylum process by removing ourselves from all current conventions and conducting an emergency intervention programme in actual warzones. Let us fly planes to Darfur, to the Ivory Coast, to Uganda, and to the other places at actual war (unlike Nigeria or Romania) and give a new life in Ireland to people who actually deserve it.

In most of the places on the planet where people have the greatest need of asylum, Irish charity workers are already on the ground. We should consult these NGO workers to establish who ought to be given the chance of a new life in Ireland and use them to establish screening processes to keep out criminals.

Then we can rest assured that we really are doing our bit to assist the most unfortunate. Unlike these thieving Roma chancers or the scamming Nigerians we foolishly let in thus far.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Supreme Court ruling today

Lost among all the important events of the day, like the Sopranos finale, was an interesting ruling from the Supreme Court.

The birth mother of an infant was permitted the right to continue to appeal for guardianship and joint custody of her fourteen month old child, which the father wishes to remove to Australia for at least a year.

The father, who is in a gay relationship, had sought to take the child to the ends of the earth with his gay lover, but the Supreme Court has ruled in a majority 2-1 decision that he must at least wait until the mother's court appeals to have the rights to see and know her own child have been heard.

Ridiculous? Of course it is. No mother would ever be treated like that in Ireland. It never happened. Only it did, sort of. Swap the genders around and you have the real story.

What I find bizarre is that the father, as this RTE report reveals, has had to go all the way to the Supreme Court just to be permitted the right to ASK for rights to know his own child, before the child's mother and her lesbian lover whisk the infant off to Australia.

One day, perhaps, we might eventually see some equity in parenting in this country. But that dissenting judge's opinion in the Supreme Court today indicates that it won't be any day soon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pagans need to cop on

More proof if proof were needed that public relations spindoctors work better magic than pagans do.

This revelation comes to us direct from the ancient site (well, couple of hundred years old, but that doesn't stop hippies from dating it back to the bronze age) of Cerne Abbas.

With the Simpsons Movie out now, of course it was a superb wheeze of the spinmeisters to plonk Homer next to the ancient naked warrior. But the druids and warlocks are unimpressed. Now they say they're going to do 'rain magic' to wash poor Homer away.

What odds on our wash-out summer suddenly turning gorgeous?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ulster says no - I say cheerio!

The Ulster Bank are crap. Simple as that. Rubbish at what they do. Complacent in a finally competitive banking market. Arrogant to their customers. And keen to rip them off at every twist and turn.

As of this moment, I have two current accounts (one of which I pay over €100 a year for the privilege of them minding my money in), one mortgage and a credit card from the Ulster Bank. I've already cleared the horrendously expensive loan account I held.

As of Monday, I'll have none of these things, hopefully.

Because the Ulster Bank are a bunch of shitehawks, and I've had enough of them living off my money and providing nil customer service.

I had a loan account with them for a car. The APR was well over 11%. Yet the bank were offering new customers the opportunity to borrow at 5.2%. Never mind customer loyalty, or the decades I've banked with them. I could go shove myself when I asked for my loan to be switched to the rate they were offering to dogs off the street. So I cleared the loan immediately.

I have a mortgage too, on a house with a low loan-to-value ratio. This means you get a lower interest rate. Only not with the bank that likes to say no. They want me to go out and spend hundreds on having the house professionally revalued before they'll consider dropping the 0.2% differential.

And this while they waive such requirements for new customers, and even bung them a grand as a bribe. A grand of course, they've made out of mugs like me.

Their credit card rates are particularly appalling. On my earnings, I should have been offered what they call their Zinc card years ago. This is the equivalent of a gold card - higher limit, lower rates for good customers. Did they offer it to me?

Did they fuck. They'd rather I stayed on their pissy rate. So it's been cut up and the balance transferred to the Halifax which charges less than half the Ulster Bank rate AND 0% APR on transfers for six months.

Now, you might be thinking what a mug I am for putting up with all of that for so long. But I'm the same as most people. I don't want to have to think about my finances too much. I'm complacent and just let things mosey along.

But when I recently had to urgently transfer funds overnight to another bank account, and paid the Ulster Bank a significant fee for doing so, and then they didn't do it, I got really annoyed. I got more annoyed when I had to go to the branch in person and sort out their mistake.

When I had to send funds abroad to pay for a holiday, and they didn't arrive for well over a week, again despite my having paid extra to ensure a quick electronic transfer, I got even more angry. Now they're threatening my fucking holidays!

But the final straw came yesterday when I had to rise from my sickbed and get a cab to the bank to pay an emergency tax bill. I got to the branch with minutes to go before they shut at 4pm.

However, the lard arse on the door had already locked it and refused to let me in, even though I was waving the time in his face. I called the branch manager from outside the door. She insisted to me it was past four, and during our conversation, I could hear the four o'clock news beginning on a passing car's radio.

The manager suggested that I could wait outside in the pissing rain for a half hour while she checked the CCTV tapes to see if they'd shut the doors early. I asked would she then let me in to pay my bill if it was established they had. 'No,' she said, of course. So why the fuck would I bother?

Wandering back into town I passed the permanent TSB. They were still open. So was the ESB. So was Halifax. I don't know who will get my current account business, but probably it will be one of them. I'll check the excellent Ask About Money website to see who are doing the best deals.

Probably your bank are shitehawks too. The Bank of Ireland and AIB have both been caught ripping off their customers in recent times. I recommend you pop along to Ask About Money and compare the rates and products there to whatever rip-off rates you're currently suffering from.

Then go to your bank and tell them to shove it. And move all your accounts. Like I'll be doing first thing on Monday morning.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

High Times

First, Cork was literally awash in cocaine.

Now it's growing on trees in Limavady.

So, can anyone tell me how the war on drugs is to be won when Columbian marching powder is so prevalent in Irish natural surroundings?

We'll have to start banning things that grow wild shortly. Oh, we did that already...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Meet Gwen Baker

Gwen loves life by the shore. Whether its her lakeside apartment, or the harbour views from her second home in England, or indeed the clifftop Italian hotels, five star naturally, in which she likes to holiday, Gwen loves to have water nearby.

I'd love to post a picture of Gwen Baker in one of her spectacular Venetian masks or swanning around in a stunning Mediterranean villa, so you could truly appreciate just how much she enjoys her life.

I'm not allowed to, though. I'd link to some pics of Gwen, but she's taken them all down off the web. She's taken down her CV too. This is also a pity, because if it were online I could link to it and then you could see for yourself why she and her fantabulous lifestyle should be of interest to every taxpayer in Ireland.

Gwen, an American lady of a certain age, is what's known as an SAP consultant. They design complicated IT systems. This much you can confirm online at her website here.

But you'll have to trust me when I tell you that Gwen was one of the leading designers of the Irish health service's PPARS computer system. A system that cost the Irish taxpayer over €180 million and has never worked.

It has been uncovered that IT consultants like Gwen walked away with millions of euro each for designing a system that ran rapidly out of control and never worked. People like Gwen were even hired via shady off-shore recruitment firms, and so it is unclear if they even paid tax on the millions they made.

It was announced today that the whole thing will have to be scrapped and a new system created. God forbid that they permit the morons of the HSE to oversee the replacement system. Yet, they will.

Those morons are the same morons who greenlighted every increase in budget for PPARS while they were in the old Southern or North-Western Health Boards. Yup, that's right, folks. They haven't been sacked. They're not going to be sacked. And they're probably going to oversee another scandal like PPARS all over again, because nothing has changed.

And probably people like Gwen Baker will come along again and siphon millions of taxpayers money from our health service - that's the HEALTH SERVICE, you know, the one that tries to help sick people but is starved of staff and resources? - by creating another IT system that doesn't work.

And probably people like Gwen will continue to enjoy their fabulously wealthy lives of luxury. And probably the same goons in the HSE will keep signing the cheques mindlessly. And the same fat lump of a health minister will nod and greenlight everything.

And the same poor, sick people will be stuck on the same trolleys in the same squalid hospitals waiting for the same beleaguered staff to look after them.

Because this is the Irish health service and no one is ever held to account. No one is ever to blame. And we the people are paying the price.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Rebranding the Orange Order

Just in time for the 12th of July, the Orange Order has undergone a rebranding.

Despite their Seventeenth Century tendencies, this does not refer to a literal branding of the members, fun though that might be.

Instead, in an attempt to convince the public that the Orange Order is a fresh, vibrant, fun religious group for the Twenty-first century, they've gone and made themselves a brand new logo.

Here it is:
Ah, isn't it lovely? It looks like something off a seeds catalogue or a tampons pack. All flowers and Times font and tradition. No mention of Catholic hating, civil disturbance, burning down neighbourhoods, intimidating the neighbours, or generally being antediluvian morons.

I prefer the logo offered by the truly splendid Uncyclopedia instead:

It might remind the worshipful glorious master sheepbotherers that the next time you get lost and find yourself marching through a neighbourhood you're not wanted in, all you have to do is just phone home!

Happy marching season, everybody!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lady Rushdie

I try not to take any schadenfreude or pleasure out of other people's marital difficulties. It's just not dignified or pleasant to do so.

So I will restrict myself simply to noting the sad parting and imminent divorce of Sir Salman and Lady Rushdie.

And to myself, I will quietly ponder what it is about the ageing, balding, multi-millionaire novelist that Ms Lakshmi found so attractive in the first place.

And I will wonder why, now that she is no longer just some C-grade model but has become, thanks to her high profile marriage, a successful reality TV star in New York and published cookbook author herself, she has decided to end the relationship at this time, just after Salman got knighted.

UPDATE: According to the New York Post, Ms Lakshmi, who married Rushdie when she was 28 (past it for a C-division model) and he was 52 (simply past it), may be involved with an unnamed billionaire, which has led to this sad rending of the marital vows.