Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Irish government promotes Guinness with President Obama, but wants to stop it sponsoring sporting events

Guinness sponsors the Hurling Championship.
Kilkenny's James Fitzpatrick
last year's All Ireland title.
In an attempt to curtail drinking by young people the Irish government is considering a proposal to ban alcohol companies from sponsoring sporting events.

Look, I'm as keen as the next 45+ year old to see fewer Irish people in their early 20s, late teens or even younger drunkenly stumbling around our streets at night, but that doesn't mean I see this as a problem that requires the government to "do something."

First of all I'm not convinced the problem is greater now than it was 25 years ago when sponsorship was much less prevalent. My own observation was that when Ireland was awash with cash it was frequently in a drunken stupor. Now we're broke (again) and people are drinking less. Irish people drank 10% less alcohol per capita in 2011 than in 2006. It's possible young people are drinking less now than they did during the Celtic Tiger years.

Regardless, young Irish people drink more than their peers in most European countries. It would be better if they drank less, but if the problem is no greater now than it was before alcohol sports sponsorship became the norm there must be other factors at work.

That doesn't stop people like Minister of State for Health Róisín Shortall. Young people are drinking "too much" and she's going to marshal the forces of state and do ... something, even if it's the wrong thing. Hence the proposal to ban Guinness and others from sponsoring sporting events.

The thinking is that young people are impressionable and sports stars are their heroes so when they see the captain of the championship team lifting the cup off a stand draped in Guinness advertising that's sending a message to the young fan that it's good to drink. I'm not going to argue that advertising and sponsorship don't work, especially on a subliminal level, but does a Guinness sign tell you to drink or to choose Guinness when you're buying that drink? I suspect the latter.

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Banning Guinness from sponsoring the Hurling Championship - probably the biggest Irish sporting event sponsored by an alcohol company - could well have more negative than positive effects on the health of young people. Guinness pumps a lot of money into the GAA through the sponsorship deal, money the GAA uses to develop facilities and promote playing their games to young children, teenagers and adults all over Ireland.

The GAA gets people moving and the Guinness money helps with that. The Guinness sponsorship is probably a net positive for the health of the nation.

Of course the government's proposal would only affect sporting events in Ireland. English and European soccer, rugby, golf and other major television sports that originate in other countries would be out of reach. So the government's ban would serve only to weaken Irish sports without really doing much about children and young people witnessing alcohol-sponsored sporting events.

Besides, if the government is that worried about drinking and the susceptibility of star-struck young people why does it organize celebrity drinking events? Last year we had two major ones: the Queen, who actually spurned the Guinness that was offered to her, and the coolest cat to visit Ireland in years - President Obama - were both invited to drink for the cameras.

Without doubt the happy scenes of President and Mrs Obama downing Guinness in Moneygall would have had far more influence on young people than the sight of Kilkenny's hurlers lifting the championship trophy adorned with Guinness streamers.

The Irish government organized a trip to the pub for President and Mrs Obama
during their visit to Ireland in May 2011.
If I were in charge of the GAA or any other Irish sports organization I'd tell the government to get its own house in order before coming after our revenues. If the government feels the need to "do something" they can start by not foisting pints of Guinness into the hands of every visiting world leader.

{Hurling photo thanks to the Belfast Telegraph.}

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

When Irishwoman Katie Taylor goes for Olympic gold I won't be watching

Irish boxer Katie Taylor, favorite to win gold at the London Olympics.

Katie Taylor is Ireland's best hope for a gold medal at the Olympic Games, which take place in London two months from now. I hope she wins her gold medal, but I won't be tuning in to watch her. Taylor is a boxer and, although this possibly puts me at odds with 'modernity,' I will not watch women's boxing.

From everything I've picked up through the television, radio and newspapers Taylor is a fantastic boxer, extremely skilled in the "manly art of self defense" and is favorite to win gold. This past weekend she won the gold at the World Championships, a title she has held since 2006.

Of course women's boxing is a minor sport, unlikely to create much of a stir in most countries, but in Ireland Katie Taylor is on the verge of becoming a superstar. Public misgivings about women's boxing are non-existent either because people are afraid of falling afoul of the PC police or they're too desperate to see the Irish flag fly above all others as the Irish anthem rings out at this summer's games. Irish Olympic gold medals are pretty rare, especially if you exclude Michelle Smith's three golds for swimming in Atlanta in 1996.

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Katie Taylor realises her Olympic dream as she secures place in London games

Irish boxing champion Katie Taylor says she 'won’t be wearing miniskirts in the ring'

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Undoubtedly Taylor's undamaged face and perfect smile owe a lot to her skills in the ring. My wife met her once and was surprised at how pretty Taylor is.

An attractive woman boxer seems unlikely, but there you go. I'm sure this fact is not lost on marketing people, who are probably drooling at the ways Taylor can be put to work once she wins that gold this summer. The people in charge of women's boxing have probably noticed too. I wouldn't be the least surprised to learn that it was Taylor that they had in mind when they "suggested" that women boxers wear skirts in the ring rather than shorts.

Maybe they didn't know Taylor well enough before making the suggestion. The new sport's biggest star was having none of it. She said the miniskirts they wanted the women to wear were a "disgrace," that she didn't "wear miniskirts on a night out, so I definitely won't be wearing miniskirts in the ring."

Taylor is a female boxer, which is rare enough, but she is also a born again Christian and unafraid to talk about her faith. Among young Irish people that makes her even rarer than a female boxer.

American sports fans are used to athletes making reference to God in interviews, but here that sort of overt religiosity is unknown. Taylor is more Jeremy Lin than Tim Tebow, but regardless I'm sure the Irish media is hoping she keeps those "glory of God" references to a minimum. It invites awkwards silences from interviewers.

My wife may have been surprised by Taylor's appearance, but it was Taylor the person that really got her. Taylor is "humble, friendly, polite, and extremely generous," a real credit to her parents and she'll be a great ambassador for Irish athletes when she wins that gold.

From all I've learned about Taylor I admire her greatly. I really wish her well. It's just that she's only a few years older than my oldest daughter and, although I'd have loved it if my daughter were great at running or soccer or basketball, I would never have wanted her to box.

I expect to watch a fair amount of this summer's Games, but I won't watch women's boxing even when our local hero goes for gold.

{Picture from}

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ireland and the EU Fiscal Treaty - it cannot be 'No' this time

Declan Ganley - bogeyman of Irish politics & a leading
'No' campaigner on EU Fiscal Stability Treaty. 
Europe is in turmoil. Greece is heading for an ugly exit from the Euro, possibly from the European Union itself. The big European powers are at loggerheads as to how to solve Europe's massive problems and in the midst of all this the Irish people will be going to the polls on May 31 to vote on the EU Fiscal Stability Treaty.

The 'Yes' side is desperate for us to approve the Treaty. They're pleading; they're threatening. The Treaty is about "jobs;" it's about "stability." A 'No' will mean Ireland will be denied all access to credit (ie money) and we'll be kicked out of the euro. Basically they're saying that if we don't agree to the terms on the table our European "partners" will leave us battered, bleeding and slumped over in the corner.

The problem for the 'Yes' folks is that we've heard all of their positive gloop about jobs before. Nobody's buying it this time. The Irish people have finally and thoroughly removed the wool from their eyes: we were sold a pig in a poke starting with the Maastricht Treaty when we voted to join a currency we had no business joining. The Europhiles led us into this mess. Nothing positive they say now has any meaning. As for the menacing, negative stuff, well ... more on that in a minute.

The 'No' folks are the usual hodgepodge group of socialists, nationalists and others who are just fed up with the never ceasing centralizing of power in Brussels, outsiders all of them. In the Dáil (parliament) they comprise no more than 20% of the elected representatives, but when it comes to the EU they represent a far greater percentage of the electorate.
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The most "unofficial" leader of the 'No' campaign is businessman Declan Ganley. If anyone in Irish politics can be called a bogeyman, it's Ganley. He's scorned by the left - his allies in these treaty referendums - and he's scorned by the center and pro-EU right.

One reason Ganley is so distrusted and disliked by so many, is that he appeals to a large segment of the population and he never fails to turn up when it's EU referendum time. He never takes the unthinking 'Yes' for an answer.

Ganley is not among the group generally called "Euroskeptics," but rather he's a Euroidealist. Ganley believes in a federal Europe with democratic institutions. Ganley wants the Irish people to reject this treaty because it doesn't solve the serious economic problems we in Ireland and people across Europe face now and it doesn't address the democratic deficit at the heart of the European Union.

Ganley's right, of course, but he's also wrong. It's too late. The EU is doomed and voting 'No' in the hope that this is going to trigger the change Ganley hopes for is just pie-in-the-sky thinking. There is no appetite for a new EU, although it's badly needed. Those who founded the United States had the sense to revisit the Articles of Confederation and draft a new Constitution, but they didn't wait for 25 years to realize the error of their first attempt. The EU has waited too long and the Germans and other creditors have too much to lose fixing it now.

All of which brings me back to the menacing, negative stuff that is bubbling up in Brussels, Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. Ganley says voting 'Yes' is like buying a ticket on the Titanic. He's wrong about that. We're already on the Titanic. The only hope now is that sucking up to those who control the lifeboats will work in our favor when we hit the iceberg. Voting 'No' will not endear us to those people.

In the past when we voted 'No' to EU treaties we were told to go try again, like the Irish people were disobedient children being asked to leave the room and come back to the table in a mannerly fashion. That will almost certainly not be the case this time. This time we can't stop the Treaty, so if we vote 'No' it will only affect us. We may well be taught a serious lesson by those who now control the purse strings here. They may well tell us to leave the table, go to our room and not return.

I love the idea of voting 'No' and toughing it out, but we're in a very weak position right now. If we were actually cut loose by those calling the shots in the EU the hardships we currently face would seem as nothing. Civil disorder or mass emigration are possible in such a scenario.

If this were 1999 when we were riding high I'd be all in favor of telling the EU leaders where to get off. I've only once before supported a 'Yes' in an EU treaty referendum. I won't be voting 'No' this time, however. I'm definitely not in the 'Yes' camp either, but I am in the 'Not No' camp.

{Photo thanks to}

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ireland's "changeable" weather - colder now than during the winter

Ireland's changeable weather. It's felt colder since Easter 
 than it did during the winter. 
It's been wet too,
but that's a given.
If you know Ireland then you know you cannot count on the weather. It seems to defy all prediction, making monkeys of the weather forecasters.

In fact, the weather seems so far beyond prediction that most Irish people are more willing to accept the word of a man who predicts the weather based on the behavior of frog spawn and nanny goats than those who use the latest scientific equipment and models. Modern science can't compete with old wives tales when it come to weather forecasts, something that can irk the professional weather man/woman.

Tuesday was a perfect example. Unfortunately I didn't have access to frog spawn man's latest thinking on what might happen, but at lunchtime I checked the Met Eireann web page before deciding that I could include a walk of just about a mile and a half after a meeting. I didn't want to use the car or take a bus. I wanted to walk.

So I checked the forecast. There was a chance of a light shower in the early afternoon, but the evening was to be dry. Seeing as I knew I wouldn't be on my way til after 4:30 I left the car behind and set off knowing I was going to have a healthy, lengthy stroll to close the day.

The meeting had just ended and I started my walk. I was half way - equidistant from start and finish and well off any bus route - when it began to absolutely pour. This was no light shower. It was a heavy rain and not the huge-drop, thunder-storm type rains, but the finer, more soaking rains that just drenches you. The proverbial drowned rat would be drier than I was when I finally finished my walk.

I know what you're thinking: 'that happens to me where I live to.' I'm sure it does, but it just seems to happen far more often here than elsewhere.
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The weather in Ireland is "changeable," which also just happens to be the forecasters' favorite word. They use it to describe days that are warm, cool, dry, wet, calm, windy and anything else you can think of. That seems to describe a large number of days in any calendar year.

Changeable. That could also be used to describe the actual seasons. 18 months ago Ireland experienced one of the coldest winters of the past hundred years. Cold, snowy, icy weather lasted for weeks. Then just around Christmas 2010 it went away. And stayed away. January, February, March right on through to December 2011 the weather was pretty much the same.

Before last winter those who like to provide seasonal forecasts were telling us we were in for another dose of freezing weather. They couldn't have been more wrong. The weather was fine. Drier and warmer than usual, which carried on through January and February. We essentially had no winter whatsoever. Non-winter then gave way to beautiful, warm weather in late March. It was like we'd suddenly found ourselves living on the Mediterranean.

All that ended in April. Don't go looking up the stats because I won't believe them anyway, but it's been colder since April 9 than any month since the snows of December 2010 melted. It's not ice cold as it was on occasion during the winter months, but it's been an almost constant damp, chilling month since Easter.* We even had a funnel cloud (water tornado) just off the coast here. The temperature wasn't even 40F at the time and the accompanying hailstones didn't melt for hours.

I hardly had the heat on during long stretches of January through March, but it's been working overtime since then.

Who knows, maybe this is evidence of climate change, but I think it's more likely that it's just another sign that Ireland's climate has always been changeable. You get your wintry days and you get your summery days, but you never really know when they might come. In between you get long stretches of changeable weather. Climate change? The Irish laugh in its face.

* The odd thing is that on this little island the weather can be so different. I don't think the weather's been anywhere near as dire away from the east coast.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Censored – the Catholic Church's clunky attempt at keeping Fr Brian D'Arcy 'on message'

Fr. Brian D'Arcy, censured by the Vatican
for his newspaper columns.
Popular Irish priest Fr Brian D'Arcy has been censured by the Vatican. Or, as the Irish media tells us, Fr D'Arcy has been muzzled, silenced. One columnist even referred to the Vatican "bullyboys" giving Fr D'Arcy the "mafioso treatment." The Irish media can be a tad emotional at times.

Fr. D'Arcy was censured, apparently, for articles he wrote for the Sunday World newspaper in 2010. Fr. D'Arcy has been a weekly columnist for the paper since 1976. He is also has a regular slot on BBC Ulster radio and a regular contributor on other Irish radio and television stations. The Irish media can rely on Fr. D'Arcy to tweak the hierarchy whenever the opportunity arises and he's generally described as a "liberal priest."

Fr. D'Arcy is more than just a media darling, he is also a member of the National Union of Journalists, as I learned over the weekend. One outraged journalist's tweets seemed to indicate that the Church was not entitled to censure Fr. D'Arcy seeing as he is a member of the union.

I find that last tidbit more than a little odd. Why is a Catholic priest a member of labor union? After all, his primary occupation, the job that puts food on his table, is his position as a priest. He is also a member of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland.

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I know being a priest is not like working for a bank or a software development company or a professional sports team, but nonetheless in a practical sense the Church is an organization with employees and a mission just as banks, software developers and sports teams are. Do they have employees who are members of the National Union of Journalists?

All of those employers have employees who deal with the press. Banks, software developers and sports teams have official spokesmen, who provide the 'voice of the organization,' but they also have employees who offer opinions on what is going on in their business or even the wider world.

For example, you'll often hear a bank employee on the radio talking about the economy or the industry. Some bank employees write regular columns in newspapers. Software development personnel seemed to be asked regularly for their views on education. Members of professional sports teams are all available to the media for comment on their own play, sometimes on the trends in the game and occasionally on issues that have nothing to do with sports. Again, are any of these people members of the NUJ as well? I doubt it.

All these people – the banker, the software developer, the athlete – all write or comment under a censor of some sort. They all know there is a line that their employers won't let them cross.

So while a bank's investment manager might discuss the workings of his industry, he almost certainly will not discuss what his bosses are doing wrong. Same goes for software developers and even star athletes, although the big stars are often given a lot of leeway due to the uniqueness of their talents. Yet even big names can be reined in, sometimes even for saying something about the wider world that interferes with the employer's "message." (See Ozzie Guillen for a recent example.)

Message. That's one of our modern day buzzwords. You gotta stay on 'message.' The bank, the software company, even the professional sports team all want to "stay on message." So does the Catholic Church.

Fr. D'Arcy wasn't staying on message. In fact, he's made a habit of calling into question the management of the organization he works for and even the "product" they're selling, if you can forgive my crudeness. So the Church reprimanded him. They didn't silence him. They told him he can go on writing his column and doing his piece on the BBC, but his media work has to be run past a Church censor; they want to make sure he  stays on message or at least does not go too far off message.

Is this a good idea? Will censuring and censoring Fr D'Arcy work for the Church? I don't know, but I'm skeptical.

Fr. D'Arcy is not my cup of tea, but he doesn't shock me. Ever. In fact, I hardly listen to him when I hear him on the radio because he's always saying the same thing. He never surprises. I doubt anyone in Ireland is ever surprised by Fr. D'Arcy. Therefore, it seems to me censuring Fr. D'Arcy will accomplish little other than providing  succor to those who love bashing the Church – and they've had lots of that lately. I can see no real up-side to this.

On the other hand, in this internet age, it's possible Fr. D'Arcy's newspaper columns and radio work could well be sowing confusion in far-flung places. For all I know Fr. D'Arcy straying off message is wreaking havoc with the Church's work in the Philippines or Uruguay or even El Paso for that matter. That seems unlikely to me, but I don't know.

I'm not charged with running a 2000-year-old organization with a billion members, millions of employees and global reach. Keeping such a vast organization on message is a mighty task. Censuring Fr. D'Arcy might be the right option, but it just feels ham-fisted.

{Photo thanks to the BBC.}