Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Year's with Notre Dame football

Notre Dame plays in the
Champs Sports Bowl  on Thursday
By New Year's Day Notre Dame's season will be over. Again. Yet when I was growing up Notre Dame seasons didn't end until New Year's Day and that was at a time when New Year's Day was the last day on the college football calendar, unlike today when it seems to drag on through half of January.

Like all the best memories, mine are pretty vague. In my mind, Notre Dame played in one of the big four bowl games each year. Of course, it couldn't be the Rose Bowl, but ND played in one of the other three - the Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl or Orange Bowl - annually. And, again in my mind, although Notre Dame was never on top of the polls themselves, they were more often than not playing the Number 1 team in the country in the bowl game.

As I said, my happy memories are vague and I'm refusing to allow Google spoil them with facts. That's the trouble with the internet - stats and facts can ruin what you "know to be true."

My memories of New Year's Day with Notre Dame are also tied up in family memories, the kind that can't be ruined by Google, only by other family members with clearer memories. Some of my best memories from childhood are from Christmas time. In our house, not only did we look forward to a visit from Santa, but also from another old man - Father Edmund Murray or, as he was known to us, Father Ed.

Father Ed taught Irish History at Notre Dame. He loved that place and instilled that in each of us. He hoped we would go to college there and we did too, even if when we were young it was because we thought we would get to see even more of Father Ed.

On paper Father Ed would appear to be a distant relative - he was my grandmother's first cousin - but in reality he was like our grandfather and every year he would come to us to spend Christmas with us. For the four of us growing up Father Ed's arrival at Christmas was a very close second to Santa's in terms of excitement and anticipation.

Father Ed didn't lavish us with gifts, but we all had plenty of Notre Dame tee-shirts, sweatshirts and hats. He was a lively, jolly man who loved listening to us, telling us stories, playing cards with us or taking us out for ice creams or whatever. And he liked watching football, especially, of course, Notre Dame.

One game in particular stands out for me - the 1973 Sugar Bowl. The game was actually on New Year's Eve 1973 and not New Year's Day, but it was the biggest game of the year. Alabama was undefeated and Number 1 and Notre Dame was undefeated and Number 2.

My parents were out at a New Year's Eve dance and Father Ed was baby-sitting. I was the oldest in the family and Father Ed let me stay up to watch the game with him. I was only nine. I had never stayed up so late in my life. Although I have only vague memories of the game now, there are a few plays I can still see clearly - in black and white.

I remember being over the moon when Notre Dame had held on for a 24-23 victory. I can't remember anything Father Ed said the whole night, but I can still remember the loud clap of his hands each time Notre Dame scored or made a big play and especially when the game ended. In fact, I think he jumped out of his chair. I'm sure he'd have had more fun watching with a group of alumni or even my father, but he never let on and as far as I'm still concerned that's one of the best nights of my life.

A few weeks after that game a gold Notre Dame National Champions banner arrived at our house. That banner hung in my brother's and my bedroom for years afterwards.

Father Ed is a long time dead, but I still think about him a lot at this time of year. I still root for Notre Dame, although I rarely see them. I'm hoping I can watch the Champs Sports Bowl - whatever that is - this week, although it would be better if ND was playing on New Year's Day where they belong.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ireland could use more snow magic this Christmas

Satellite picture of Ireland – Dec 2010
What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time most of Ireland was covered in snow and ice. The country slipped and skidded and shivered through the coldest December in half a century.

It was cold, but different. Kind of exciting. This December's been boringly normal.

So far all we've had is the usual chilly, damp and, especially, windy weather that is typical of an Irish winter. This despite the fact that during the fall we had dire warnings of a repeat – more frigid weather was going to make a mess of our airports, roads and sidewalks. Getting around was going to be a chore again come winter time.

The difference this year was that everyone was ready for another terrible blast of ice and snow.

Local governments drew up action plans and bought in enough sand and salt to see them through a winter worse than last. Hats and gloves were in every store, supermarkets and hardware stores were urging us all to get our bags of salt and snow shovels to be ready for the onslaught of another vicious winter. Toy stores were ready with loads of sleds, hoping to convince kids to trade up from the plastic trays and politicians' signs that made do as sleds last December.
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So far the salt, shovels and sleds have been mostly left in storage. There has been some snow in the north and for a couple of hours last week excited Irish tweets were describing 1cm (0.4”) of snow on the ground across a large chunk of the midlands, but the #sneachta (Irish/Gaelic for snow) tweets petered out as quickly as the snow did. It was a desperate attempt to rekindle some of last year's magic.

Snow made a mess of Dublin's roads
but it looked great.
That's the funny thing. The snow was magical. Yes it was disastrous economically - the constantly closed airport kept exports home and tourists away, the impassable roads kept people from getting to work or the stores to shop - but the snow had a magical effect on last Christmas.

As a lot of people found out when last year's snowy Christmas arrived, not being able to go anywhere actually made Christmas better, more relaxing. It's a sentiment I've heard a number of times the past few days. I suspect that there's more to it than just the bit about Christmas being more relaxing. A lot of people - adults as well as children - really liked the snow. Not just shirkers, happy to use the snow as an excuse not to turn up at work. The snow made for a nice change.

Ireland looked fantastic last December. The beauty of the snow-covered Irish landscape, urban as well as rural, relieved the gloom caused by the country's money problems.

Many Irish people would love to have the snow back this year, only with a functioning transport system and shoveled sidewalks so that old people wouldn't again be trapped at home for weeks. This December Ireland is dull and dark.

What last year's snow hid that this year's weather cannot is that far fewer people are lighting up their houses with colored lights and Santas and snowmen and the like. Too expensive to buy or light up, I suppose. Some town centers are going without Christmas lighting this year due to teh cost.

There are houses around us that used to be lit up like Times Square that are now pitch black. From some you can see the faint glow of a television coming through the blinds. From others not even that.

This was true last year too, but the assumption - hope is probably better - was that the cold and the ice stopped people decorating outside. Now it can't be denied - the dismal economy has made our Christmas darker. We could use some natural decoration.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny – the wrong man at the wrong time

Enda Kenny addressing the nation
on December 4
The past ten days have shown that Ireland's Prime Minister is not really up to the job of leading the country through the current crisis.

Kenny might have been fine as Prime Minister, or Taoiseach, in less turbulent times, but unfortunately for him Ireland is being tossed about in a perfect storm of national economic calamity and tremendous uncertainty surrounding the European Union and the euro. Kenny gives the impression of having memorized his copy of "How to be Prime Minister for Dummies," but he's demonstrated no instinct for real leadership. He knows he needs to act Prime Ministerial, but does so at the wrong time and goes to ground when the country really needs to be reassured that it's being properly led.

Two weeks ago Kenny announced to great fanfare that he was going to address the nation, live on national television. Initially one of the two national networks balked at preempting their normal Sunday night programming – the X Factor – and announced instead that they would air Kenny's speech on Monday night. Pressure was brought to bear, however, and they agreed to show Kenny's speech on Sunday night, albeit on a delay of half an hour or so.

The news media were all of aflutter. After all it had been 30 years since the last such "State of the Nation" speech. What would he say?

We all knew Ireland is in dire straits economically and financially - was there something about this Kenny needed to address? We also knew the government was due to announce its budget for 2012 the following Monday and Tuesday – perhaps he was going to deliver a bombshell headline item from the budget?

And then there is the EU and the euro. By that weekend there were all sorts of rumors about what might happen with the euro and the EU and what might be the outcome of the crunch EU leaders' summit the following Friday. I convinced myself that Kenny was going to say something big on this topic.
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France and Germany now calling the shots in Ireland

In the end Kenny said nothing. Nothing new, anyway. The speech was an utter flop. Kenny gave us was nothing more than a summary of what had been in every news bulletin and in every newspaper for weeks. The government 'must cut spending and raise taxes' was the gist of it and there's “uncertainty” surrounding the euro. Oh, and the economic disaster is "not your fault." Gee, thanks.

Fast forward a few days to the EU leaders' summit.

Everyone in Ireland knows the score. We all know that (a) Ireland is one of the smallest members of the EU and (b) our position is made even weaker by the fact we had to be bailed out. We're in a tough spot. We didn't expect Kenny to work any miracles in Brussels.

However the summit was a disaster for Ireland, although there was little Kenny or any Irish person could have done to stave off this disaster. The summit was a disaster because Ireland, as a eurozone nation, is compelled to join the EU's new fiscal union yet our primary trading partner, Britain, rejected the Franco-German deal and will not cede any fiscal controls. We'll be competing with Britain with one hand tied behind our back by the Germans and French. When it comes to EU affairs, Ireland is generally pretty tight with Britain, but Britain now stands at a great remove from the center of EU decision-making. We'll be largely on our own in the EU.

The summit was also a disaster for Ireland because (a) EU leaders didn't come up with a credible plan to end the uncertainty about the euro and (b) Ireland may have to impose a new financial transactions tax that could drive tens of thousands of jobs out of Ireland to Britain, which won't be imposing the tax. There's that competition thing again.

Things are very bad now, but thanks to last week's summit they could get a heckuva lot worse. If there was a moment when the nation needed to hear from Kenny this was it. He should have addressed the nation this past Sunday on what happened at the summit, what it all means for us and what he plans to do now.

Yet we've heard very little. On Friday evening we heard Kenny say that he had told the summit that we are going to "pay back every cent" of Ireland's massive bank debts - even though it's "not your fault" we owe all that money - and that he had "placed that firmly on the table" that we have gone through "exceptional difficulty" borrowing to pay back all those banks debts. That'll show 'em. He also said the Attorney General will determine whether we need a referendum on the EU deal, but even that we won't know for months.

He has said nothing to allay anyone's concerns or clarify what the government's position is with regards to all those financial services jobs that now may be at risk. He's insisted that Ireland's "economic security has been defended and protected," although there's no evidence that any of that is true - whatever it means - and he's offered nothing to back that up.

Ireland's situation is serious and it looks like it may get a lot worse. Thanks to the proposed fiscal union we won't have the flexibility to adopt the type of policies that worked during the late 80s and 90s to get Ireland out of the last recession.

Ireland needs its leaders, especially the Taoiseach, to rise to the occasion. Grandstanding and placing things "firmly on the table" is not going to cut it.

Kenny needs to show that he's out front on these matters. He needs to explain what we may have to accept and what we will not accept. He needs to lead.

Friday, December 9, 2011

France and Germany now calling the shots in Ireland

The EU's power brokers
Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy
They started yesterday and they're still talking in Brussels. Well, 26 European Union leaders are still talking because Britain's David Cameron sort of excused himself early this morning when he basically said, "out, out, out" to everything that was being discussed.

Of course, among the 26, two are doing nearly all the talking and each of the others is nodding vacantly or looking into their coffee cup wondering why they didn't take that university job they could have had.

Sure some of the others are less unhappy than others, but they all know they're being told to take it or leave it. That's how the European Union works. Nobody officially says that, but there's a reason why Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy had their own pre-summit summit earlier this week. They were hammering out what is to be done and now they're telling everyone else.

The answer to Europe's troubles, according to current rumors, is what they're calling a "fiscal compact," which is basically centralized control over each state's budgetary process. In short-hand this means each EU state remains a free country ... so long as they do exactly as the Germans and French want.
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Ireland's sovereignty is probably gone for good

Photo highlights tensions on day Michael Collins signed the Anglo-Irish treaty

And what of Ireland? Well, to coin a phrase, we are between a rock, a hard place and the deep blue sea. All options look extremely unfavorable. Right now it looks like we'll swallow hard, look back longingly at all those nice sentiments and the long, historical struggle for independence and say good-bye to all that. Almost certainly Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny will come home from Brussles and try to put a brave face on what is a surrender, even if it's a surrender to reality in the eyes of many people.

The other options include turning away from the rest of the EU and asking if Britain will take us under its wing. This might be preferable to a Franco-German domination, but Irish people are not ready to accept that.

The last option is to - as much as possible - go it alone. "Ourselves alone" (Sinn Féin) again. This option will have a lot of appeal to the more hard core nationalists and could even carry the day if we get a vote on the new deal. It would mean severe financial hardship. Yet, Irish people are pretty stubborn when someone tries to tell them what to do and if we have a referendum any attempt by the Germans or French to bully us into a 'Yes' could well back-fire. We may well spurn the money if the mood is determined enough.

Oh, but that's the other rumor: we won't be getting a referendum on this new treaty to amend the rules of the European Union. We have had referendums for every EU Treaty until now, but this time, when the issue is fundamentally about Ireland remaining an independent state or becoming part of a United States of Europe we may not have a say. It's a rumor coming from Brussels.

There's a lot of gallows humor and jokes about German rule here at the moment. Irish people excel in laughing in the face of utter disaster, which is where we are now. I've indulged in it myself, calling the proposed new treaty the Anschluss Treaty.

However, a lot of the anger being directed at the Germans is not fair either. They're owed a lot of money and they want it back. They have a culture of saving and not borrowing and they're an old and aging population. They're fearful.

All of which is understandable, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily the right move for Ireland to be part of this new revised EU, this United States of Europe. In fact, with the United Kingdom outside our life inside the EU - the new tighter euro in particular - might easily leave us with the same boom/bust existence we've had since the euro was born.

Our peculiar place inside the euro, but trading mostly to non-euro countries leaves us exactly where we were before all these changes. As of now we still owe far more than we can pay back. I've seen nothing that says in exchange for agreeing to this new treaty that the EU powers will write off our over-sized debts. Without a big pay-off in terms of debt forgiveness it seems we may have opted for the worst least option available to us.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sophie Toscan du Plantier and Ian Bailey - Irish crime demands Irish justice

Sophie Toscan du Plantier
In December 1996 Sophie Toscan du Plantier was found murdered outside her County Cork holiday home, but thus far no one has been brought before an Irish court in connection with this crime. Although the gardaí (police) have a  'prime suspect' - Ian Bailey - so far they have been unable to produce enough evidence for the public prosecutor to charge him.

Now, however, there's a good chance he will be brought before a court only it won't be an Irish court but a French one. France has requested Bailey's extradition in order to prosecute him there. Next month Ireland's Supreme Court will hear Bailey's appeal against his extradition. If he loses he will stand trial in France for a murder committed in Ireland.

My detestation for the murderer, whether it's Bailey or someone else, and my sympathy for Toscan du Plantier's family does not change the fact that this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

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Toscan du Plantier's family have been tireless in their pursuit of justice for their wife/daughter/mother these past 15 years. During all this time they have also been graceful, but understandably their patience has been severely tested. They're very easy to root for in their campaign for justice.

Bailey has twice been arrested and questioned by the gardaí about Toscan du Plantier's murder, but he has never been charged. Last year he was arrested for a third time when the French extradition request was received.

At the time of the murder Bailey, originally from Manchester in England, was living in near Toscan du Plantier's holiday home and making a living as a freelance journalist. It wasn't long after the murder that a neighbor made a statement to the gardaí, which she later retracted, that she had seen Bailey in the area around Toscan du Plantier's house on the night of the murder.

I don't know any of the people associated with this case. I don't know the town or whether the locals believe Bailey is the killer or not. I don't even know anyone from that area.

I don't understand why there isn't more upset in Ireland at the prospect of Bailey's extradition to France. Maybe it's a reflection of the public's sympathy with Toscan du Plantier's family. Maybe it's because Bailey isn't all that likable? Maybe it's because he's English? (I don't believe that one.}

I don't know why, but there's no uproar about this.

What I do know is Toscan du Plantier's French citizenship is irrelevant. France's belief that it can investigate crimes against its citizens that happen outside France should also be irrelevant. There is no suggestion that Toscan du Plantier was targeted because she was French. There is not even a hint of any international consipracy behind the crime. This is not France's call.

If I were found murdered outside my home I would not expect the American government to involve itself in the search for justice unless I was killed by al Qaeda or killed as part of some international criminal conspiracy or killed just for being American. Even at that, I wouldn't expect any trial to take place outside Ireland, unless my murder was part of some conspiracy born in America.

Legally (but not culturally) France and Ireland are more tightly connected through the EU than are Ireland and the United States, but that doesn't alter the fact that France has no role in this case. If a Californian woman was killed in New Jersey and the chief suspect was from Connecticut, he would not be extradited to California to stand trial.

As the years pass the chances of any Irish court hearing a case connected with Toscan du Plantier's murder grow more and more remote. Toscan du Plantier's family is frustrated. They want someone brought before a court, tried and convicted. I'm sure they're frustrated with the way our legal system works and they could easily be of the opinion that the gardaí are not very good at policing.

And they might be right. This case does seem to be an indictment of Ireland's policing and judicial systems. If it is, then we have to fix those problems and not paper over them by exporting our most high-profile failures. How many other victims are not getting the justice they deserve and will never get because they're not French?

There is no justification for extraditing Bailey to France to face French justice. Toscan du Plantier's murder was an Irish crime. It demands Irish justice.

{Photograph from Cork-Guide.ie}

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bruce Springsteen's coming to Ireland to research his roots and fleece the Irish

Springsteen in Dublin, July 2009
Bruce Springsteen is coming to Dublin again. Great. It's been nearly three years since his last show I'm sure his Irish fans will be thrilled to see him and the E Street Band again.

Irish sure people do seem to love him. Tickets to his shows are always hard to come by. Often extra shows are added after the first sells out quickly. In November 2007 Springsteen tickets went on sale for a show the following May. It sold out in 15 minutes, a second show was added and then a third. Springsteen sold more than 110,000 tickets that day to watch him and his band play in the RDS, a showjumping arena that is not a great venue for a concert. A year later he returned and sold out two shows, another 80,000 tickets.

That was early 2009. A lot has changed since then. Although we knew hard times were coming, they weren't really here yet. The ticket prices were steep, but the full impact of what was about to befall Ireland hadn't been fully realized yet. For the 2008 show the prices were  €81 ($109) to stand in a field or €91 ($122) to sit in the distant stands. A year later they were €86 ($115) and €96 ($129).
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Money was tight then. It's much tighter now. I'm curious to see if Springsteen's Irish fans can and will pony up this time. The tickets that go on sale this Thursday are the same price as in 2009.

The prices of the tickets just stick in my craw. It's not just the old (and valid) complaint about Springsteen supposedly being this blue collar hero while charging top dollar for tickets to his shows. It's that a reduction in price was warranted and what's worse is that tickets for his shows in England are a lot cheaper.

Based on inflation figures there should have been a reduction in the ticket prices. There's more to it than than that, though. Springsteen is not your typical ignorant showbiz type. I'm convinced he knows Ireland is experiencing an economic collapse. I'm sure he has read some of Paul Krugman, who yesterday referred the suffering of the Irish people as "outrageous."

Possibly even more galling is that the tickets to see Springsteen are cheaper in England. A lot cheaper. Okay, there are differences in taxes, but that doesn't account for the vast difference in prices between here and England. The English have to pay £55 ($85) to stand in the field. The tickets to Springsteen's Dublin show are a third more expensive. Why? Why is Springsteen charging his English fans less than his Irish fans?

Whenever Springsteen comes here he mentions his Irish roots, talks about how much he loves it here. He always gets an enthusiastic reception. His Irish audience helped him sell a show recorded during his tour promoting the We Shall Overcome album, the title alone an ironic whack to the head for his Irish fans.

Springsteen's Irish fans are loyal. Very loyal. Some won't care what it costs, "Costs be damned! It's The Boss, after all." I'm sure others will sweat and worry, but pay too whether they should or not. For many, however, $125 including booking fee is simply too much nowadays. Would it have killed Springsteen to have shown his loyal Irish fans some consideration and at least charge them no more than his English fans?

Next summer 'The Boss' is apparently going to spend a little time searching for his Irish roots while he's here. Maybe when he arrives he'll realize it's not his Irish roots, but his Irish heart that he needs to find.

{Photo from James Horan/Photocall Ireland}

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ireland's 'bagel tax' is a vote of no confidence in the EU

plate of bagels
Bagels - not bread in Ireland
Is a bagel bread? I say it is. The Oxford English Dictionary says it is ("a hard ring-shaped salty roll of bread"). From what I can tell Jewish people consider the bagel to be bread.

Truth is, I can't imagine anyone thinking the bagel is not bread yet, the Irish government does. As far as the government is concerned, bagels are not bread.

Last week the Irish Times revealed that Ireland's Revenue Commissioners (the Irish version of the IRS) are dusting off an old law as to what constitutes bread. Those products that don't meet the definition will now be subject to a 13.5% Value Added Tax (sales tax) rate. Bread incurs no VAT.

Lest you think this is an attack directed against Ireland's tiny Jewish community, it is not. Bagels were non-existent here until about a dozen years ago, but now they are widely produced by non-Jews all over Ireland. Besides, it isn't just bagels that the revenue officials are targeting. Croissants, garlic bread and other 'fancy breads' that became widely available here during the Celtic Tiger years are also in line for the extra tax treatment.

According to the Irish government, bagels and the rest are "not sufficiently bread-like to be exempt from VAT." The law defines bread pretty specifically based on ingredients and the cooking process. As far as the law is concerned bread is produced by "baking dough composed exclusively of a mixture of cereal flour" and any of the ingredients on their list.

Those ingredients include fruit and milk, but not eggs or garlic, which is why croissants and garlic bread do not fit the definition. Bagels are excluded because the dough is boiled before it's baked. Unless seeds can be included as "dried fruit" a lot of "fancy breads" topped by sesame or poppy seeds are also excluded from the legal definition of bread. Of course loads of bagels come with sesame seeds or poppy seeds or onion or garlic or cinnamon, which only further emphasizes how far from bread they really are in legal terms.

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Brown bread as your mother made it

So what's going on here?

Well, ostensibly our broke government is simply looking for some extra dough. Enforcing a long-neglected law on bread is just one more way to raise revenue. However, I think there's a deeper philosophical underpinning at work here, one that runs counter to what I wrote last week.

By breathing new life into this moldy old law the government is telling the Irish people to stop eating that "foreign muck" and get back to eating "real bread." And by real bread they mean something your Irish granny used to make. Traditional Irish soda bread or brown bread is recommended, but good old-fashioned white bread, unsliced, is also fine.

This is the government's subtle way of telling us that all those foreign influences we've imported during the past 40 years of European Union membership are comming to an end. Maybe they think the EU is coming to an end or maybe just our involvement in it. Regardless, this is clear evidence that the government's love of the EU has grown a bit stale.

If they really believed in our long term future in the EU they'd realize that a narrow, Irish-only definition of bread would not survive a challenge brought to a European court. I mean, even Irish people seemed stunned to learn that bagels and croissants are not bread. Is a French or German or Polish official going to concede that bagels and croissants are not bread? Unlikely.

The government's 'let em eat brown bread' attitude ties in neatly with their constant cries of austerity. It also ties in well with the philosophy that drove Ireland's governments between 1922 and 1960, when people endured some significant financial hardship in order to build a new, independent Ireland. This is the first official hint that we are heading back in that direction. I'm curious to see what else they've got cooking.

{Picture from ChiagoBagel.com}

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ireland's sovereignty is probably gone for good

Enda Kenny & Angela Merkel
Enda Kenny and Angela Merkel
before this week's Irish-German spat
There is uproar in Ireland today following yesterday's revelation that last night the German parliament discussed an Irish government document on its budget for next year. Many people are outraged that our tax rates, welfare payments and other government expenditures were discussed in Germany's parliament before it was up for debate in Ireland's parliament. The Irish government is outraged that the document was leaked.

Why is the government so shocked? The shock is mostly contrived. Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny tried a bit of the tough guy act in Germany yesterday and his German counterpart called his bluff. The budget document was leaked by the Germans as a way of letting Kenny know that he's not in control; they are.

I don't understand why so many others, especially in the Irish media, are outraged. Haven't these people been paying attention? We had to be bailed out back in November 2010. We're still beholden to those who bailed us out. Yet the media is acting as if the implications of the bail-out are a complete shock. The penny only finally dropped today.

"Germany is our new master" is the headline across the today's front page of the Irish Daily Mirror.

Yet, Germany has been "our master" for more than a year. Ireland is not a sovereign nation. We have been giving away bits and pieces of our sovereignty for the better part of 25 years, but all pretense at being a sovereign nation evaporated last year when, essentially, we entered Chapter 11. That's the way it goes.
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The hard truth is our sovereignty is probably gone forever. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that in exchange for Germany committing to fixing the problems in the euro she is seeking a fiscal union across the Eurozone (the 17 EU nations that use the euro). This is what triggered Kenny's tough talk - he told Merkel that her plans for a fiscal union were a step too far.

Yet as last night's leak makes plain, we have limited choice in the matter. If the Germans want a fiscal union, they'll probably get one. The only decision left to us at that stage will be do we want greater sovereignty and greater hardship or less of both? We will get a vote on it, but if we vote yes - as I suspect we will - that will mean the end of independence.

We will head towards the centenary celebration of the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule knowing we spent roughly the first half of that century trying to achieve greater independence and the second half giving it all away again. By 2016 we will have completed a century long swap of British rule for German.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Michael O'Leary and Ryanair are great for passengers and for Ireland

O'Leary - always outrageous, always in the headlines.
Ryanair. If you live in America and you know the name Ryanair it's probably because (a) you know the airline is legendary for its abysmal customer service and/or (b) you know of Ryanair's Chief Executive, Michael O'Leary, who adores playing the clown, saying the most outrageous things – especially when there are members of the media around.

The media and people in general in Ireland, in England and pretty much anywhere Ryanair flies love to moan about Ryanair. The 'customer service stinks,' the 'hidden charges are unfair,' the flights 'take you to airports way out in the sticks' (Dublin Airport is unusually central) and, of course, 'O'Leary is an arrogant windbag.'

You know something? It's all true. You know something else? I don't care. I love Ryanair. Okay, 'love' is the wrong word, but generally speaking I am quite a contented customer. In fact, I'm so contented that I've often wondered if O'Leary would deliberately sabotage my travel plans if he knew because O'Leary gives the impression that contented customers are the last thing he wants.
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Yet, I have flown on Ryanair many times and despite the poor customer service, despite the lack of comfort, despite the constant selling by the cabin crew and despite the fact you have to line up like a kid waiting for the school bus in order to board the plane I keep coming back for more. Why? Because the cost of flights for the whole family is the lowest in Europe and from what I can tell, lower than any airline offers in America.

back of a Ryanair seat showing safety instructions
Ryanair airplanes.
No seat pockets means no safety cards -
painted on back of seat instead.
{Photo thanks to Wikipedia.}
Over the past five years we have been to England, Scotland, Belgium, France and Germany on Ryanair. We've been to most of those places more than once. The most we ever paid for flights was €150 ($200) - for five tickets. Most of our trips cost just under €100 ($135). Again, that's five tickets. A few years back I was able to get 4 round trip tickets to London for €0.08 (that is 10¢, one dime).

We have been able take the children places and show them things I never thought would be possible thanks to Ryanair.

Sure it can be annoying. You have to be willing to go when they want you to go. You have to use the 'right' card to buy your tickets. You have to pack lightly and tightly. You have to be willing to endure discomfort for 60-90 minutes. You have to play by Ryanair's rules. We're able to manage all that, which is why we fly Ryanair.

We're not alone either. Ryanair is one of the world's most popular airlines, despite being almost universally loathed. 74m passengers will fly on Ryanair this year. I don't know how many of those are contented passengers, but O'Leary doesn't care if they're contented so long as they keep coming back.

As for O'Leary, his clownish behavior and outrageousness is so transparently a marketing ploy that I'm amazed the media hasn't started ignoring him. Ryanair doesn't use advertising to publicize the fact it's the lowest cost airline in Europe. It uses press releases or O'Leary's mouth to get that job done.

Whenever there's a lull in the news O'Leary pops up with an announcement that Ryanair will get rid of co-pilots or charge passengers to use the bathroom or allow to passengers to watch pornography on board or whatever. He says something shocking. The media loves it and reports it breathlessly. All of this has the effect of reinforcing one message: Ryanair is cheap.

Read More:

More Ryanair News

Storm as Ryanair boss says he'll allow porn on planes

Ryanair's O'Leary: Greek passengers ‘can pay in mountain goats'

All of which keeps Ryanair's shareholders sweet and O'Leary does care about those people. You can tell O'Leary cares about Ryanair's shareholders because when he's on CNBC the clownishness is replaced by seriousness as he discusses passenger load figures, revenues, aircraft purchases, etc.

Shareholders, in turn, may not love O'Leary, but they're probably contented too. Despite difficult trading conditions for European airlines, Ryanair is growing bigger and more profitable.

Ads on the planes -
another revenue stream for Ryanair
{Photo from Ken Fielding}
At some point O'Leary will step down. At the moment he's the closest thing Ireland has to Steve Jobs. Although he's more like the 'anti-Jobs.' Everyone knows O'Leary, identifies him closely with the business he runs, but generally he's despised as is the company he heads.

The Irish media loves to lambaste O'Leary and Ryanair, but both have been great for this country. Where other businessmen have headed for tax exile, O'Leary has remained in Ireland.

Ryanair can take a lot of the credit for the competitive air fares and the boom in tourist numbers Ireland has experienced over the past 20 years. Soon Ryanair will be the biggest company on the Irish stock exchange. It is already the best Irish company.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ireland's cowardly government closes Vatican embassy

Villa Spada in Rome
Ireland's Embassy to the Holy See since 1946
{picture from DFA.ie}
Last week the Irish government announced that it is going to close its embassy to the Holy See. Despite what everyone believes, the government claims that the embassy's closure has nothing to do with the souring of relations between the Vatican and the Irish government over scandals in the Catholic Church in Ireland. In fact, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny "reacted angrily" to the suggestion that the closure was due to anything other than budgetary constraints.

That Kenny and Tánaiste (Deputy PM) Eamonn Gilmore are willing to claim that the closing of Ireland's embassy to the Holy See is due to the need for the state to make savings says more about their cowardice than it does about the state of Ireland's finances. This decision is transparently NOT about saving money.

The Irish government will save €1.2m ($1.65m) with the closing of the embassy. While that's a lot of money to the average Joe, that's not a whole lot of money for a state, even a bankrupt state like Ireland.

Sure the government has to cut back and, yes, Gilmore's Department of Foreign Affairs has to do its share, but it doesn't take long to realize that there are inconsistencies in this tale of budget cuts that make a nonsense of the government's tale.

Start with the building itself.

Ireland's embassy to Italy
{picture from Google.com}
The Irish embassy to the Holy See is in a beautiful building, the Villa Spada {see photo above}, in a beautiful setting on the top of the Gianicolo. Selling that would probably net the government a fair amount, but they're not selling it. No, they're moving Ireland's embassy to Italy from its cheap, rented accommodation {see photo left}into the Villa Spada. If they were serious about saving money they would not give up those cars-parked-in-the-doorway, paint-peeling-off-the-walls offices for a perfectly maintained hilltop Roman villa.

Then there is the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) budget.

This same government department that decided it cannot afford the $1.65m for the embassy at the Vatican is still spending over €400m ($550m) on "Official Development Assistance" or foreign aid. Okay, yes, of course we can't simply cut all foreign aid to poorer countries simply because, well, we're bankrupt. We may be bankrupt, but the people in those poor countries who are dependent on our aid still need to be helped, even if it adds a dollar or two or half a billion to our debt mountain.

Fair enough because those countries are really poor. Right?

Well, if they're really poor and need our aid how come countries like Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all able to afford an embassy to the Holy See in Rome when we cannot afford the same? After all, those countries are receiving aid from us, yet somehow they can afford that which we can no longer afford. Will the DFA cut off aid to countries rich enough to afford a Vatican embassy? Of course they won't because the cost of a Vatican embassy is not worth worrying about. If it was only about the money we could probably share office space and administration costs with the Malawians.{Here's a great map of the world showing which countries have diplomatic relations with the Vatican and a resident mission, which is what Ireland is closing.}
Read More:

Prime Minister slams suggestion that sex abuse row prompted embassy closure

Shock closure of Irish Embassy in Vatican Announced -- Further evidence of deep problems between Ireland and Holy See

More news stories on the Catholic Church in Ireland from IrishCentral

No, it was never about the money. That is a fib they're peddling because they're worried about alienating the still fairly sizable minority here who take their Catholicism seriously. At the same time they want the kudos for taking a populist stand, for confronting the Catholic Church over its mishandling of its many scandals.

How gutless. How wimpy. If they want to make a statement on the Catholic Church in Ireland then make the statement and stand over it. They should take the flak.

They didn't. They used prevarication and obfuscation in an attempt to hide the truth from those 'knuckle-dragging' voters who still go to Mass on a Sunday. It didn't work. Now those same voters feel that the government insulted their faith and their intelligence.

This is what angered Kenny. Everyone saw through the official twaddle to the essence of what was happening. Even those Kenny and Gilmore probably assumed would support them conceded that cost was only a smokescreen. The Irish Times admitted it in the first sentence of its editorial. The Irish Examiner said that by its decision the government "has essentially thumbed its nose at the Vatican."

The Examiner then went even further noting that the Catholic Church's tremendous influence across the globe. This is why the United States has full diplomatic relations with the Holy See. "The U.S.-Holy See relationship is best characterized as an active global partnership on a wide range of global issues."

Mary Kenny in the Irish Independent noted that the list of countries with full representation at the Vatican includes many non-Catholic, even non-Christian countries. Thanks to this decision Ireland will now be "a less important link in the globalized network connected to the Holy See."

This is what diplomatic relations are all about. Even when you are in dispute with another state you try to maintain diplomatic relations. Closing the embassy in a fit of pique is short-sighted. Lying about it is stupid.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

John Barry - Irish hero of the United States

John Barry,
John Barry, Irishman and "father of the American navy" seems to be finally getting some of the recognition he's long past due. The most important development is the decision of the United States Naval Academy to erect a memorial to Barry, thanks to the efforts of members of the local branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. In addition, a recently published biography of Barry is the first in 72 years. I'd love to imagine that Barry will also receive some national attention in Ireland, where he is mostly known in his native Wexford.

I have visited Philadelphia many times and each time I've taken a moment to look at the statue of Barry. It's not hard to find. It's in Independence Square, right in front of Independence Hall.

You can't miss it, but from what I've seen on my visits very few people actually pay any attention to the man whose statue greets them on exiting the building. During my visit there this summer the thought crossed my mind that many tourists from Ireland probably go on the Independence Hall tour and leave the area without ever realizing that the man who greets them in this quintessentially American location is an Irishman.
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His Brother's Keeper: Commodore John Barry, Father of the American Navy

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Notre Dame vs Navy will be security nightmare for Ireland
It's a shame that Barry is not better known - in America and Ireland - because Barry's story, while hardly unique, is fantastic. He grew up a poor kid in Ireland. His family was forced to leave their farm, supposedly by the landlord, and move to the coastal town of Rosslare. He was drawn to the sea, began working on merchant ships as a young boy and eventually sailed into Philadelphia, where he settled.

When the Revolutionary War broke out Barry, who was then captaining merchant ships, volunteered for and was given the task of outfitting fighting ships. He had a successful war as commander of a of a number of ships and even fought as a marine with Washington at Trenton and Princeton, while his ship was in dry dock. Barry's success during the war was rewarded later by President Washington, who made Barry the first head of the new United States Navy.

John Barry, Wexford
(photo: Paddy Donovan)
Philadelphia is not the only city with a Barry statue. There is one in Franklin Square in Washington, which I have not seen, and one in a prominent place in Wexford, which was a gift from "his grateful countrymen to the people of the land from which he sprung."

{Maybe it's my combative nature, but I prefer the Wexford statue that depicts Barry with the sword in his hand. In the Philadelphia statue he's pointing his hand and his sword is in its scabbard.}

While you can't miss Barry's statue if you visit Philadelphia, you can miss his grave. I know because I did every time I visited until this year. His grave is well worth visiting, however, and it's only three blocks away from the statue. {Although on the day I visited this summer - July 23 - it was over 100F and those three blocks seemed an awfully long way.}

Barry's grave is in a beautiful setting and well maintained in Old St. Mary's Church yard. The epitaph on his tomb, restored in the 1870s, is poetic. It begins with:

Let the Christian, Patriot and soldier
Who visits these mansions of the dead
View this monument with respect.
Beneath it are interred the remains of
Father of the American Navy.
He was born in the County Wexford in Ireland
But America was the object of his patriotism
And the theatre of his usefulness.

Barry is not the only prominent Irishman buried at Old St. Mary's. Thomas Fitzsimons from Wicklow, who signed the Declaration of Independence, and General Stephen Moylan from Cork, who during the Revolution was Quartermaster General, Aide to General Washington and finished the war as a Brigadier General, are both buried there. These two, along with Barry, put Old St Mary's high on the list of important places in Irish-American history.

John Barry's grave
Old St. Mary's Church, Philadelphia

Friday, October 28, 2011

Elected: Michael D Higgins - Ireland's most anti-American President

Ireland's 9th president -
Michael D Higgins
Today Ireland elected Michael D Higgins as president. Higgins, who lived and worked in America 40 years ago, is the most anti-American president Ireland has ever had.

As an American living in Ireland it has been clear to me that since the early 1980s Higgins has been among the most outspoken opponents of American policy in Ireland. He's been at the forefront of organized protests and rallies directed at America for 30 years.

In the 1980s it was President Reagan that riled Higgins. During Reagan's short visit in June 1984 Higgins was a keen participant in the protests against Reagan at Shannon Airport, in Galway and then outside the Dáil (parliament) in Dublin when Reagan was speaking there.

During the 90s Higgins was opposed to the Gulf War and  opposed various aspects of America's defense policies during the Clinton years.

Flash-forward to the Bush years. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Higgins was with the majority of Irish people in opposing the war, but he went further than most here when he declared that the American military was going to "wage war on a civilian population." Visions of American war crimes came easily to him. When the fighting started he denounced the Irish government's policy on allowing American troop planes to land and refuel at Shannon.

While he hasn't been a fan of a number of America's presidents, he has allied himself with some of America's enemies. He has been an admirer of Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba, cited Castro favorably in the Dáil and simultaneously demanded that America lift its embargo on trade with Cuba.

He also courted Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. Higgins was also a supporter of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and in 1989 he hosted Nicaragua's Sandinista President Daniel Ortega in his own home. In early 2003 he visited Iraq in order to get the Baathist perspective before the war had begun. In 2004 he took part in a candlelight vigil to mourn the death of Yasser Arafat.

Before you worry that Ireland has gone off the deep end with Higgins, there are a few caveats: (1) a majority of people were totally dissatisfied with options on offer during the election and Higgins' win was more a rejection of the others and an embrace of him and his views; (2) Higgins only polled around a third of the electorate, but gained a majority on transfers from the other candidates; and (3) the position he's won is mostly ceremonial with no influence on policy.
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The last factor should mean that if Higgins does his job properly we'll hardly notice that he's in office during the next seven years. Higgins' is entitled to his views, which are to the left of the Irish population, but as President he's not in a position to make or even influence policy so his views shouldn't matter.

Yet, over the past 20 years Presidents Robinson and McAleese have managed to expand the role of the office beyond what was ever imagined when the constitution was first passed in 1937. One of the new roles of the President is leading trade and cultural delegations on trips abroad. Mary McAleese has made many such visits to different parts of America, where she never put a foot wrong.

Will Higgins be able to follow suit? I'm doubtful.

If Higgins were to go on a visit to America he would have to temper his reactions to those who hold opposing views to his. I'm not sure he can do this.

Last year Higgins turned the air blue during what had been a robust, but good-natured live radio debate between himself and Boston talk show host Michael Graham. The discussion ranged over a number of topics and Higgins got more and more wound up. Eventually he went off on Graham, urging him to support a national health care initiative for America and to "be proud to be a decent American rather than just a w****r". Whatever you may think of Graham's views they are not outside the American mainstream and Higgins couldn't cope with them.

The government would do well to take heed of Higgins' contempt for some aspects of the American people. An explosion like the one at Graham during a trade mission might cause the kind of upset that would drive potential jobs away from Ireland. In addition, his views on Israel might cause consternation in other quarters.

Overall, it would probably be a good thing if the next seven years did not include any Irish presidential visit to America.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Americans, like the Irish, should have to provide photo ID to vote

Irish election officials checking voters' registration details

When considering American politics, Irish people almost universally side with the Democrats over the Republicans. However, when it comes to the requirements for actually voting in an election, the Irish demand the sort of proof of identity that would make America's Republicans envious.

Irish people are voting today for a new President. Anyone intending to vote must (a) be on the register, (b) bring the Polling Information Card mailed to them and (c) bring an additional form of photo ID with them.

Registration involves filling in a form and submitting that to the local election officials. Annually someone from that office comes to the door to make sure that the register matches what they find at each household. (This is not tricky. It consists of "Is this you?" and "Does this other person live here?"}

Anyone properly registered will receive a Polling Information Card in the weeks before a vote. A voter must bring that card with him to the polling station along with a photo ID - driver's license, passport, student card,  etc. In some cases bank statements and birth certificates can be used.
Read More:

Polling stations open in Ireland to elect new president

Irish emigrants watching Ireland's presidential race

The Irish Presidency and the vision thing

I've never heard anyone complain that these requirements are too steep a hill to climb for any voters. So, what exactly is the problem with implementing similar measures for American elections?

Yet, across America people object when a photo ID is required for voting. That there is little evidence of voter fraud doesn't mean a thing. Until you actually demand that a voter verify they are who they say they are how do you know they're not committing a fraud?

If voter fraud is a non-issue what's the concern with demanding ID? Last time I was home in New York I was asked for proof of age when I wanted to buy a bottle of wine. I was told it was mandatory. I thought it was a little strange because it was the first time I was asked for ID in over 20 years. That's all it was, though. Strange. Nothing more. Not even inconvenient.

It's not just buying alcohol either. These days you're always asked to provide photo ID. Want to enter your workplace, you're likely to be asked to produce a photo ID card. You want to cash a check? Photo ID. You want to buy an Amtrak ticket? Photo ID.

It seems so minor an imposition that the only conclusion I can come to is that those who oppose it do so because they know it's a bigger problem than they're letting on. Get over it. Photo ID for voting should be mandatory.

{Photo from UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office.}

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Smearing Sean Gallagher has propelled him towards Irish presidency

Presidential contender Sean Gallagher
Sean Gallagher has risen from the bottom to favorite to become Ireland's next president when the country goes to the polls on Thursday. A few weeks ago he was so far out of it that some in the media were wondering why he didn't just pack it in. He was a 'no-hoper.'

So what happened?

A couple of the other candidates self-destructed, but in early October Labour's Michael D Higgins seemed to have an insurmountable lead. He hasn't really put a foot wrong since.

So what happened?

A month ago Gallagher was virtually unknown. He had made something of a name for himself on a television program, but politically he was unheard of. There have been many debates - I've lost count - in the interim, but nobody could argue that Gallagher's performances have been so astoundingly good that they're the reason he's gone from last to first. If anything, the more Gallagher appears on television the more 'iffy' his prospects seem.

Read More:

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So what happened!?

He got 'smeared' that's what happened. The media and the opposition parties went to town on him for ... wait for it ... having been associated with the Fianna Fáil party.

Fianna Fáil, if you don't know, dominated Irish politics from the early 30s until this year's election. In February's election Fianna Fáil got 17% of the vote, easily their worst ever performance. In fact, I don't think Fianna Fáil will ever recover. For a real measure of how damaged the Fianna Fáil brand is watch the results from the by-election also being held on Thursday.

The party may be finished, but that doesn't mean that the 40% of the population that voted for them necessarily believes that anyone who was associated with the party in the past is so damaged that they cannot be President of Ireland.

That's what makes this attack campaign so ridiculous. It's one thing to denounce those who were in charge, who were ultimately responsible for bringing the nation down, but it's another to lump in everyone else who ever touched the party.

Now those people have their backs up and whereas early in the campaign they may not have known who Sean Gallagher was, now they know: "He's one of us and they say we're not fit to be president."

This sort of thing happens regularly in Ireland. You'd think the media and the political elitists would learn. When "one of us" is attacked it doesn't matter what they say about him/her, "we vote for our own."

The dumbest thing the political elitists and the media - and they are almost all entirely in the tank for the Labour candidate - did was to point out to the average Fianna Fáil person that Gallagher was "one of us." When he gets the keys to the Presidential Palace - Áras an Uachtaráin - on Friday he should thank the sneering elitists for all their help.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Unforgettable - a year studying in Ireland

Sitting in front of one 
of Trinity's libraries
I've been enjoying reading Irish Central's new Gaelic Girls series because I love their enthusiasm, their lack of cynicism and their wonder at all the things that are different and surprising and exciting for an American student coming to Ireland to study. I know what it's like because I did it myself (shhh) 25 years ago.

I'd been to Ireland before so it wasn't the scenery or old buildings that struck me, although they still did, but simple everyday things about life here, student life in particular.

Just as the Gaelic Girls I sampled the student "nightlife." I'd come from New York and we never went out before 11, but here all the pubs closed at 11. I quickly got used to the fact that students in Dublin went out a lot earlier than they did in New York.

If you want to any sort of function, a dance - "disco" - or a party in a function room or whatever, the night always ended with Frank Sinatra's New York, New York followed by the national anthem. Why? I don't know, but Frank was the cue to pack up, find your jacket or whatever and get ready to go. Then the lights would come on and the anthem would start and everyone would stand still. Many would sing. I always found that odd, but I liked it too. I have no idea if they still do that here now.

I lived in "flatland" in Dublin, which owed its name not to the topography, but to the prevalence of flats rented by 'impoverished students.' These flats were, without fail, dirty, dark, damp, and drafty. The flats were far worse than the student accommodation I'd experienced in the Bronx, but I was now a student in Dublin and I adapted.

I shared a flat with another American student. It was two rooms, but it was very small. The bedroom was an extension added to the house, built out of cardboard I suspect.

Our heater looked like this,
only less safe

(from Lightworks.net)
The flat was unheated other than a small electric bar heater we had. It could only heat one of the two rooms. One night I was studying late and had the heater. It was ice cold outside and basically the same in the bedroom. When I went in I noticed my friend was curled up in his bed in a strange position. I was afraid he was dead or dying. I decided to wake him to make sure he was all right and noticed that he was sleeping with his toes in his hands. How we laughed about that one.

My flatmate and I "went native" in order to save money. We learned to eat cheese and cole slaw sandwiches - often. We rented a TV. Who knew such things were possible? £2 per week. We later learned that we were supposed to have a license if we had a TV, but our ignorance was rewarded because no one ever came looking for the license we never bought.
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In order to get electricity we had to put 50 pence coins into the meter in our flat. Of course it always ran out at the worst possible moment.

Although we did go native somewhat, we didn't fully embrace Irish student traditions. For example, my flatmate and I showered daily. Most of the Irish guys we knew tried to keep that to a minimum. There were a couple of guys on our basketball team who eschewed the shower even after playing.

Yes, I played on Trinity College's basketball team. Heck, I was a starter, which was a shock because, believe me, when God made me he did not have basketball in mind. I was slight and not what you'd call tall and I was no great shakes at the game. In college in New York I played intramural basketball - B League. Didn't matter in Ireland, however, the B League intramural standard was good enough to start on Trinity's top team. Basketball was very much a minor sport here then.

I also had no internet, of course. I used to write and receive letters. What a concept, huh? I couldn't get American news or sports results for days, which was a real tribulation for me, although in an emergency I could get the scores from Sportsphone in New York (212-976-1313). It was free, too, thanks to the fact that Irish payphones didn't require payment until you wanted to speak.

Even 25 years from now the Gaelic Girls will remember their year studying in Ireland. They'll have all sorts of memories of the sights and sounds of their year here. Smells too and not just the unwashed 20-year-olds. Even today after living here for so many years when I smell a coal fire - a rarity these days - or I get a whiff of Guinness's I remember back to that year. It's like everything's new again.

The Gaelic Girls are just starting out on a great year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

America's Irish immigrants - not Irish enough to be President of Ireland

Irish Presidential candidate
Dana Rosemary Scallon
Irish Presidential candidate Dana Rosemary Scallon found herself at the center of a controversy she clearly never anticipated when she decided to put her name forward for Ireland's top job. Although it was couched in a variety of ways, the accusation essentially was that Scallon was an American.

It's true too. She is. Scallon became an American citizen during the 1990s. The Irish Times said she'd become American in 1997 before her last bid to become President of Ireland. Scallon said it was 1999 and it seems to probably be the case as the source for the Irish Times' story has rowed back somewhat on her testimony.

As the story unfolded on Friday I got more and more annoyed as Scallon's American citizenship took on the aura of a social disease. Twitter and talk radio were ablaze with people indignant that this woman who had taken out American citizenship should want to be President of Ireland.

It is vaguely amusing because the Irish Constitution doesn't actually disallow an Irish citizen from the Presidency simply because they happen to also be a citizen of another country. You may well think that's a bit lax, but the Irish Constitution was "written"* by American-born Eamon De Valera. He somehow failed to exclude himself from any governmental role, including President when the Constitution was being drafted.

So, there is no restriction on an American citizen becoming President of Ireland.

Fortunately the matter of the Oath of Allegiance provided an out for those who prefer their political assassinations to be less obviously based on bigotry. The Irish Times got the ball rolling by "helpfully" reproducing the oath Scallon had to take when she became American. They pontificated on the fact that she had declared that she does "entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty ..." when she became a citizen.

That's true too. She said those words, or some form of them, when she became an American citizen. However, Ireland, like the United Kingdom and other countries, doesn't accept the renunciation in the American oath. She retained all rights of citizenship after taking the oath that she had before she did so. There is absolutely no legal impediment to her becoming President of Ireland.
Read More:

Dana offers to renounce US citizenship in latest Presidential row

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Niall O'Dowd: Day one on the presidential campaign in Ireland

There is nothing legally preventing Scallon from becoming President, but the Irish Times and others are keen to prevent someone of that type from becoming President. What type is that? Irish immigrants to America.

Niall O'Dowd ran into the same bigoted nonsense earlier this year when he was only exploring a possible run for the Presidency.

And, yes I am convinced it really is only Irish immigrants to America who would be targeted in this way. If one of the candidates had spent years living in France, speaking French and living as an immigrant in France we'd be told over and over how great it would be to have such a sophisticate in the post. If the person had lived in Indonesia, we'd hear about how the candidate could help us renew our ties to the third world.

However, if you go to America and live as immigrants to America live you're told you are no longer Irish. Not really. You're sort of tainted Irish. Good enough for us to woo if you're successful in business or to invite to a "homecoming," but don't for one minute think you're still one of us.

One thing O'Dowd got right that Scallon got wrong was that he didn't apologize or run away from his decision to become an American. Millions have made the same journey over the past two centuries and to give into this bigotry would have been an insult to all those who went to America, many because they were driven there by poverty and political ineptitude, but who nonetheless remained proud to be Irish and passed that pride down to their American born children, grandchildren and so on.

Scallon, unfortunately, said she "would have no problem giving up my US citizenship if that was the wish of the Irish people." How craven.

She should have spit in their eye and told them that she was proud to have become an American and saw no conflict between being an American citizen and serving as President of Ireland. She could have just said she would abstain from participating in the American political process while serving as President. That would have been fine.

The President of Ireland has limited constitutional responsibilities. The role of the President these days is one of national cheerleader and promoter. An American, whether an immigrant from Ireland or of Irish descent, would be a great idea. It would demonstrate that all this talk about harnessing the diaspora's potential isn't just guff or a cash call. Even in a losing effort Scallon could have been that candidate, but instead she chose to accept the Irish Times' denigration of America's Irish immigrants.

* The Constitution is often said to have been "written by Dev," but in fact he closely oversaw the drafting process.