Monthly Archives: May 2013

Politics, not overfishing, devastated fish stocks.


The Hague Preference.

Robert Ludlum really should have come up with that one before Fisheries Ministers did. It would have been a perfect fit for his tersely titled, spy thrillers. Since 2002 though it has been a small part of the complex architecture of the worst piece of policy making currently implemented by the EU – The Common Fisheries Policy.

The worst piece of policy making? Really?

Well, when the commissioner responsible for its enforcement, Maria Damanaki, apologises for it you can assume that it is not actually fit for purpose.

The Hague Preference is a codicil to the policy that depending on your point of view has either kept fishing communities in Ireland and Scotland alive or has contributed to the depletion of fish stocks to close to the point of no return.

The Hague Preference, incredibly nothing to do with Robert Ludlum

The Hague Preference, incredibly nothing to do with Robert Ludlum

The CFP was supposed to apportion quota on a basis that would sustain an economically viable industry and increase fish stocks side by side. It failed miserably at both. In reality marine biologists were presenting their warnings to the fisheries ministers every year. The ministers would thank them, make some of the right noises about preserving fish stocks and then get stuck into extracting every last kilo of quota possible at the negotiating table. Fishermen were spending more and more time at sea and extracting less and less fish because the stocks just weren’t there. The increased costs associated with fishing this way were pushing them to the wall. Fishermen and fish were losing out because policy makers couldn’t change their way of doing business.

You can read the Euro speak definition of The Hague Preference here if you want to give yourself a headache. In plain English though it allowed Scottish and Irish fishermen to ignore reductions in the Total Allowable Catch because their financial situations were so precarious. The Hague Preference alone isn’t responsible for depletion of North Atlantic fish stocks (they’re actually on the rise) but it is a good illustration of how the CFP served nobody’s long term interests.

Fishing net

Though Fish Discards is only a single aspect of the CFP it is the one that has forced the pace of all the other reforms. There’s a handful of celebrity chefs and NGO’s that should take a bow here. Highlighting the stupidity of chucking a quarter of everything that has been caught back into the sea to die made it profitable for some politicians to push CFP changes up their agenda. Regrettably though as an unsustainable system was left to run for so long change will bring upheaval. Everybody claiming authorship of the reform process is pushing a long term increase of 37,000 jobs in the sector across the EU. It is hard to see in the short to medium term, though, how allowing stocks to replenish won’t also see further job losses.

I explored more of these tensions in a radio piece you can podcast here. Inevitably now though whatever distress is caused in coastal communities will be painted as a clash between environmental and social priorities. But if you need a scapegoat – decades of a “slice of the pie” approach to politics would be a far more fitting suspect.

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Creches – Is the business model bad for kids?


The employees, some of whom have already lost their jobs, are most immediately to blame for the treatment of the children featured. But what role might the business model of these crèches play in what happened? Poorly paid staff in some instances supervising too many children on behalf of employers earning several multiples more than them.

The frontline staff were the people who must take the most immediate responsibility for what we saw on our screens – but you can’t divorce their actions from the conditions of their employment.

15% turnover of staff every month across the industry should tell you all you need to know about the terms and conditions of employment in creches, as well as the experience and qualifications of those applying for jobs in the sector. 25% have no qualification or prior experience for what is a skilled job.


But even when job applicants have a qualification (Fetac level 5 or better) two of the creches in the Prime Time programme – Links and Giraffe – were only offering minimum wage. Less that €9 an hour when according to the companies office accounts for 2010 the directors of Giraffe awarded themselves an average €110,000. That’s six times what they paid their staff.

One of the revealing things about the business model is the way the directors of one of the companies – Giraffe – went about pitching for venture capital. I discussed this in some detail in my Drivetime report here. In trying to convince investors that labour costs and regulation wouldn’t subtract from the bottom line they likened the childcare business to the burgeoning gym and leisure centre sector. Increased economies of scale would said one of the directors to the Sunday Business Post would make Giraffe’s facilities “more financially rewarding”.

In other words “big is beautiful”. Clearly it wasn’t in the cases of Little Harvard, Links or Giraffe. That is not to say that what Prime Time and reporter Oonagh Smyth uncovered in these three big chains isn’t also happening in smaller creches and pre-schools too. However, one of the fundamental principles of early childhood care is “small is best”. Small groups, that allow for a lot of one on one attention. A small number of facilities in any business presumably makes more direct proprietor management possible too. Hopefully the directors of big chains of can put this small prnciple at the heart of their business models from now on.


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Syria – to arm or to embargo?

Young members of the Free Syrian Army show off their weapons, araquib city

The moral arguments for intervention to put an end to human suffering are well made and by this stage well rehearsed.

The strategic arguments for not intervening are similarly well trodden. And there are equally well worn reasons for not sending arms to a country when you can’t be sure whose hands they will end up in.

But does lifting arms embargoes work? This is not something, that I at least, have heard so much of.

So today I set myself the challenge of finding a country in similar circumstances where the supply of arms to one side or another proved decisive.

Somalia  – is the most obvious parallel I found where a decisive intervention was made, and the report I did for Drivetime can be downloaded here. But there is just as much evidence there to make equally decisive arguments for the other side. Ultimately in 2009 US guns and ammo ended up being sold on the side of the streets in Mogadishu and presumably went to those who were never intended to get them.

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Woolwich attack – who was playing who?

Michael Adeboyejo

Is this a picture of a news event that should be reported on the front pages of national dailies and at the top of every news bulletin?

Or is this agit-prop that should properly be confined to the murkier depths of the internet?

Whether these men prove ultimately to be mentally ill, or sophisticated domestic Jihadis they showed a very good grasp of how the media would respond to their atrocity. So who was playing who? Something I mulled over in this radio report Podcast here.

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If you go down to the woods today …

Crone Woods

… you’re in for a big surprise. Four years after Bord Snip first suggested privatising Coillte. Three years after Brian Lenihand and Brian Cowen agreed with the Troika that we should sell off state assets to clear the debt. Two years after the current government started trying to put a price on what the harvesting rights of the trees should be sold for. Two weeks after Simon Coveney promised that the cabinet was going to make a decision within two weeks  … the whole idea is going to be quietly shelved.

Simon Coveney was previously reported as being scheduled to bring the matter to cabinet for debate and a decision yesterday. That didn’t happen, and I understand while it has officially been long fingered for several more weeks, some in government are suggesting that this will be the first step in just quietly shelving the proposal.

One government source said to me that Pat Rabbitte would not have told the Dail that the  prospect of a sale was looking more and more unlikely every day if he didn’t seriously believe that was the case. What has to be agreed now I understand is how this would be presented to the Troika – who will need to be convinced that there is a sound financial reason for the government reneging on something previously agreed, and that the are not just caving in to pressure.

The increasingly vigorous campaign to keep our 10 national parks and 150 woodland amenity locations open to the public will claim a victory. That issue was always something of a red herring though. It is virtually impossible to extinguish rights of way and owners/managers of private forestry already let the public roam freely.

This was about what the sale would yield. And as I reported on Drivetime here, the numbers just didn’t add up and the level of investor interest may have been hugely overestimated.

IMPACT on behalf of its 600 members employed by Coillte commissioned Peter Bacon & Associates to study the financial dividend from a sell off. Though their conclusions naturally enough emphasise the downside but rather starkly highlight that the revenue generated would be equivalent to three weeks of interest payments on our national debt. Shrewd campaigning, but it would appear that many in government had already arrived at a similar conclusion.


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Garda report on quashing of Penalty Points

Pen Points Image

A whole lot of research to reveal not an awful lot of wrongdoing.

The problem with this whole affair is that its credibility rests or falls entirely on your faith in internal reports. There is no reason on this earthly world to suggest that the author of the report, Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney, has done anything other than a straight up job. But it is an internal report, and one of the most basic principles of natural justice is that you can’t be a judge in your own case. So even if it was countersigned by the Dalai Lama and rubber-stamped with added papal infallibility it would still suffer a credibility deficit.

Taking that as read the report completely dismisses some of the more headline grabbing allegations. Yes one Inspector did quash thousands of penalty points – 11,783 in three and half years – but that was his job in the Fixed Charge Notice Office. All of the system error, duplicate, poorly photographed penalty points that shouldn’t have been issued had to be terminated by him. No conspiracy, no skullduggery, just a lot of tedious data processing.

Equally the claims that lives could have been saved had points not been quashed were found to be completely without merit. Many of them were duplicate charges, in one instance the points were quashed but after the motorist had died so her family wouldn’t have to deal with a court appearance on her behalf.

And of nearly one and half million notices issued in the period being investigated only two family members of guards had points quashed not strictly in accordance with procedures. A mere 11 guards had them quashed on discretionary or compassionate grounds, in accordance with procedures.

Those 11 guards may have told a great sceal. They may have lied through their teeth. Or indeed they may have been entirely deserving of the compassion/discretion of their superior officer. In this report unfortunately we don’t find that out. It is one of the shortcomings of the report that we are not told what proof is required of somebody claiming medical emergency or similar extenuating circumstances.

It’s hard to ignore though that those 11 gardai account for less than 0.1% of the force. Even they may be entirely blameless. Was it for this that so much Dail time and political energy was spent.

There are three individuals, two Inspectors and a Superintendent, who are going to have to give a more detailed account of their actions. The report doesn’t say much more than their paperwork was sloppy. Those disciplinary procedures will disappear behind closed doors which is also far from satisfactory.

I examined all this in a lot more detail in my report on Drivetime this evening which is podcast here.

You can draw your own conclusions, and no doubt the division lines between those who doubt the claims of the independent deputies and those who dismiss any Garda investigation into themselves have already been drawn.  Before you do though, look at these two charts .

1537 of the quashed Penalty Points Notices that had had the finger of suspicion pointed at them were justified by the authors of the report as follows.
Pen Points Table

Then they took a random sample of quashed points for comparitive purposes which were accounted for as follows.

Pen Points Table 2
In a system that issued nearly one and half million Fixed Charge Penalty Notices in the three and half years under investigation there would appear to be a strong degree of correlation between the “suspect” terminations and the “randomly chosen” terminations. Unless somebody has massaged the figures beyond recognition
these two charts would point to the “suspect” figures as being pretty run of the mill.

Draw your own conclusions or read the whole report here.

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No Planet B

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide passed a significant milestone at the Hawaiian monitoring station that has been recording these things longer than anywhere else on the planet. I did a piece for radio where you can hear the officials from Mauna Loa Observatory analyse the significance of this in their own words.

There is little a generalist like me can add to the Climate Change debate that hasn’t already been argued, but allow me to share this graph with you, which you mightn’t have seen.

Climate Efforts vs Global CO2 rise

It charts efforts at a political level to check our carbon emissions and maps them against the unstoppable progress of atmospheric CO2 through the previously unthinkable threshold of 400 molecules for every million molecules of air.

Or rather it charts the redundancy of those political efforts. It is a crude index, but an eloquent way of saying that Carbon Emissions Trading lies in tatters; austerity has brought coal back into fashion with a vengeance; and governments all over thew world are letting themselves off the hook of their commitments.

I could go on, but this is a scientific debate and the scientists say it much better than journalists – so listen here to the significance of another signpost now in the rear view mirror

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