The Index »

  • Worker-directors make bid for survival beyond privatisation

    July 16, 2012 @ 2:17 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Are worker-directors good for business? Yes, was the unequivocal answer given by a focus group of chief executives, other company directors and corporate governance types to a study conducted by think-tank Tasc and commissioned by the National Worker Director Group.

    Worker-directors were “felt to be loyal to the company, trustworthy and diligent in their duties; their contribution was viewed as positive and unique by over three-quarters of respondents”, Tasc found. And, as Seán Barrett, the Ceann Comhairle, said as he launched the report this morning “there’s no State organisation that has gone down the tubes because there were worker-directors on the board”.

    Some argue that worker-directors are more independent and resistant to groupthink than other directors; others feel the advantage worker-directors bring to boards lies in their long-term commitment to the organisation, and in their insider knowledge. This is exemplified in their role in industrial relations, where they “act as a two-way conduit for information in times of conflict”.

    So why aren’t there more of them? And why are employee-directors almost always excluded from boards’ powerful remuneration and audit sub-committees? “I’m a qualified auditor, but I wouldn’t be allowed on my own audit committee,” said John Moore, employee-director of the Dublin Port Company since 2007. “I’m not saying you have to be an auditor to be on an audit committee, but it helps to have financial knowledge.”

    Indeed. There are times, it seems, when a little bit too knowledge among worker-directors is seen, by their co-directors, as a dangerous thing. Tasc’s report, based on interviews with nine worker-directors and 13 non worker-directors, found that “almost all” worker-directors felt excluded from audit and remuneration committees, “and in particular felt that CEOs would not welcome a worker-director on a remuneration committee”.

    No prizes for guessing why. The perception was borne out by the other interviewees, more than half of whom felt that worker-directors shouldn’t sit on remuneration committees “due to a potential conflict of interest”.

    UCD professor of corporate governance Niamh Brennan has previously written that conflicts of interest for elected worker-directors are “so systematic as to completely undermine their ability to carry out their duties as directors”. But, as Barrett suggested at the launch of Tasc’s report today, worker-directors are no more at risk of a potential conflict of interest than any other director. “Don’t tell me the other directors don’t meet at the Stephen’s Green club or the golf club.”

    Not everyone was happy when worker-directors were first introduced in Ireland more than 30 years ago. “In some quarters it was seen as a Communist takeover, if not of the country, then of certain State bodies,” recalled An Post employee-director Jerry Condon.

    Tasc has now recommended that the worker-director model should be extended across the public sector, with a minimum 25 per cent employee representation on public boards to ensure worker-directors are not isolated. There were concerns in the room, however, that in the State assets privatisation journey that lies ahead, the days of worker-directors at some companies might be numbered.

    Barratt insisted privatised and part-privatised State companies should retain their worker-directors. “The old fears of 30 years ago didn’t come to fruition,” he noted. Perhaps ominously for supporters of worker-directors expecting the Government to take the lead rather than just welcome new reports, he added that worker participation on boards should happen “automatically”, rather than needing to be backed up by legislation.

  • Raced through the Mahon report already? Indulge in these long reads instead

    March 22, 2012 @ 2:36 pm | by Laura Slattery

    The fifth and final report of the Mahon Tribunal is 3,270 pages long, which would certainly pass the time during all but the most problematic of toilet visits. It follows in the glorious tradition of these notoriously long documents, in which every word is no doubt a keeper.

    1. War and Peace: The 1869 multi-volume Leo Tolstoy classic is ironically used as shorthand for “epic” publications. Its first edition had 1,225 pages, which is 63 per cent shorter than Mahon. But which one has the most jokes? (Probably the Russian.)

    2. The US tax code (and most of its counterparts): Accountants presumably have mixed feelings about the unwieldiness of the average tax code, which justifies their fees even as it costs them 80 per cent of their eyesight just to do a preliminary scan. The US version runs to more than 72,000 pages long.

    3. Facebook’s privacy policy: This runs to 5,830 words, which can be summarised as “we don’t believe in privacy, to be honest”. Pithy by Tolstoy standards, then, but as the company’s critics have helpfully pointed out, also somewhat less concise than the US Constitution.

    4. Steve Jobs: A Biography: At 600-plus pages, Walter Isaacson’s book, published soon after the Apple founder’s death, is “an encyclopaedic survey of all that Mr Jobs accomplished”, according to the New York Times review. The trouble is he accomplished a lot.

    5. The Moriarty Tribunal report: At a mere 2,348 pages, Mr Justice Moriarty was brevity personified in his final report compared to Mr Justice Mahon. Or maybe the latter just found 40 per cent more corruption. Who can yet say? Only the speed-reading masochist community.

  • Budget 2012: What have we learned? A 20-point guide

    December 6, 2011 @ 7:15 pm | by Laura Slattery

     1. Budget 2012 is the Twilight: Breaking Dawn of budgets: gruesome set-pieces, unconvincing delivery of lines and should never have been split into two parts.

     2. With no careers available to speak of, there is apparently no need for career guidance counsellors anymore. Hundreds of education posts have been chopped.

     3. Yes, Ryanair is important to the economy, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan acknowledged in a very rare concession to the negotiating hand of Michael O’Leary.

    4. The fuel season now officially lasts 26 and not 32 weeks, says the Government, whose faith in the mildness of September and April will surely come back to haunt them, and us.

    5.  Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin’s speech was a touch generic – in that he declared that a switch to cheaper generic drugs would save us millions.

    6. Post-speech press conferences will be scheduled later next year, so that ministers who depart the Dáil to attend them are not taunted by the Opposition for knocking off early.

    7. It would not be good if one of Ireland’s expat billionaires were to suddenly go rogue and attack the mother country, as the number of army brigades is set to be cut from three to two.

     8. “Many young men and women now see their future in farming,” according to Noonan – a self-sufficiency that could come in handy when Western civilisation implodes.

     9. Cash fares are dead. Public transport fares will increase next year, but passengers who buy the pre-paid integrated Leap card will, despite the name, be cushioned from most of the jump.

    10.  Private health insurance = rich man’s luxury. The VHI warns its premiums will rise by a staggering 50 per cent as a result of changes to private beds in public hospitals.

    11. It’s no longer especially economical, if indeed it ever was, to have more than two children, as families with three or more kids take the hit on child benefit cuts.

    12. The back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance will no longer be paid to parents of two- and three-year-olds, on the grounds that they don’t go to school.

    13.  On the advice of Nama, upward-only rent reviews are here to stay – a case of “up UORRS” to retailers. It will save taxpayers money, partly because there will be fewer shops.

    14. Public sector spending will be subject to “evidence-based expenditure policy”, which is code for not throwing cash at useless, pointless things.

     15. Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald accused Labour of “sleeveen politics”. says “sleeveen” implies “slyness, untrustworthiness, and obviously slippery character”.

     16. Noonan enjoys caustic appraisal of the “mental arithmetic” skills of his critics, pausing during his speech to correct various Opposition assertions on the impact of the VAT hike.

    17. By 2014, single parents of children aged 7 will be deemed available for full-time work and if they can’t find affordable after-school childcare, then… well… er…

    18. Cheap supermarket booze is on notice, with the Government signalling that Ireland may follow in the footsteps of Scotland, which unveiled a minimum pricing bill last month.

    19. If only we’d taken fewer duvet days… “Absenteeism is a problem in both the public and private sectors in Ireland,” observed Noonan, to an uncommonly packed Dáil.

    20. “Difficult choices are never easy.” This was an actual sentence spoken in the Dáil on Monday by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. And who can argue with that?

  • Why are the Irish not more like Spain’s Indignados?

    May 27, 2011 @ 10:01 am | by Laura Slattery

    The “Spanish revolution” saw thousands of young Spaniards embark on a week-long series of anti-establishment demonstrations, with tactics including Twitter calls-to-action and the setting up of a “tent city” in Madrid’s central square, Puerta del Sol. Spanish protesters, dubbed “los indignados” (the indignant), want jobs (Spain’s youth unemployment rate is around 45 per cent), better living standards, fairer political processes and changes to their government’s austerity programme.

    This sounds familiar.

    And yet despite the parallels in the economic plights of both countries (overheated property market, youth-concentrated unemployment), sustained and co-ordinated protests, youth-led or otherwise, have yet to take place on the same kind of scale in Ireland. This is much to the dismay of Irish activists, who wish their compatriots were more visibly angry about the extent to which external, unelected bodies have assumed the power to dictate social and economic policy here (via the usual method of debt enslavement).

    Independent TD Richard Boyd-Barrett, doing the loudspeaker thing at a Spanish solidarity protest in Dublin last Saturday, declared that Irish activists “want to see the Spanish revolution imported into this country”. But why do we have to import it? Why can’t the Irish be more like the Spanish? Without degrees in psychology, sociology, economics and European history - and a field study in both countries – that is not a question I am going to attempt to answer in a mere blog post. Oh no. But here are some possibilities.

    1. The answer lies in the numbers: Some 27 per cent of workers aged 20-24 in Ireland are unemployed (as of the end of last year), while almost half of 18-25-year-olds in Spain can’t find work. Could it be that somewhere in between lies the tipping point between tolerable and intolerable?

    2. The Irish media are innately conservative, promoting political consensus and a heads-down attitude to life… On the other hand, there’s nothing a home news editor enjoys more than a mass protest, what with its reliable capacity for producing a bumper crop of page-filling pictures of crowds bearing strong, witty placards – some of which manage not to be Father Ted references.

    3. Irish people are lazy.

    4. Irish people are not lazy; they just don’t feel very much like marching for an hour, then waiting at the bus stop for the same length of time.

    5. Irish people are not lazy, just waiting for the summer. Boyd-Barrett has named July 16th as the date on which “the spirit of Spain” will be brought to Ireland by way of demonstration, which gives Ireland’s Indignados plenty of time to figure out how to erect their tents.

    6. Irish people are righteously indignant, but it’s much easier to RT an online petition than it is to mobilize.

    7. Irish people are more cynical than the Spanish about the effectiveness of political protest when it comes to changing law and government policy, and are less likely to value benefits such as the fuzzy feeling of solidarity, post-chanting catharsis and the opportunity to flirt self-deprecatingly with fellow protestors.

    8. The Spanish protesters were partly objecting to Spanish government austerity measures and its all-round handling of the economy, while Irish people are resigned to the idea that the Irish government has already ceded control of both of those things to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

    9. The Spanish political establishment isn’t as good at divide-and-conquer as its Irish counterpart.

    10. There aren’t any encampment-friendly open spaces in Dublin city centre that are equivalent to the Puerta del Sol… on the plus side, for “boutique” demonstrations, the Spire is a foolproof meeting point.

    11. Media coverage of protests focuses disproportionately on incidences of violence by protesters, putting people off attending.

    12. Media coverage of protests focuses disproportionately on incidences of violence by Gardaí, putting people off attending.

    13. Media coverage of demonstrations makes protests look boring and protesters look cold.

    14. Media coverage of demonstrations is all about logistics such as road closures that might possibly crimp the extremely important day of people who are not actually marching and have no intention of ever marching, while giving comparatively little attention to the “ishoos”.

    15. Television news coverage of protests patronises protestors by constantly congratulating them for being “peaceful”: You know, it’s almost as if they’re disappointed when there isn’t a massive rumble followed by an all-day kettling.

    16. Irish people don’t know any good protest songs. “This is what democracy sounds like”, indeed.

    17. Young Irish people would prefer to rant about the state of the nation from the comfortable distance of Scruffy Murphy’s pub. Which, last time I checked, was in Sydney.

    18. There have been plenty of decent-sized protests in Ireland, including the snowy outpouring of November 27th, 2010. Where have you been?

    19. A combination of the above.

    20. All of the above.

    21. None of the above.

    22. Other _________________

  • The last man standing, Lenihan completes the household names in Dublin West

    February 27, 2011 @ 1:10 pm | by Laura Slattery

    It was Joan Burton’s day in Dublin West – her turn to glide to a quota-beating first count. “I never count my chickens,” she said, arriving at the Coolmine leisure complex in the early afternoon. But after the early tallies (of votes, not poultry) placed her on 24 per cent, she had been confident enough to take a stroll into town that morning “to do what female politicians do in these situations” – go to the hairdresser. She felt “a little sweetness”, she said, when she was the first TD to be elected to the Dáil on Saturday.

    “It is a great pleasure to represent Dublin West for no other reason that you know your fate with great speed,” joked Brian Lenihan later – a good deal later, as the 2007 poll-victor had to wait until the fifth count to add his name to the constituency’s roster of high-profile TDs. It was less than four years since Lenihan was giddily hoisted atop the shoulders of his triumphant supporters, modestly shushing the accurate predictions from his men of an immediate Cabinet promotion.

    This time around, everyone agreed that it was Lenihan’s local popularity that carried him over the line. As the only Fianna Fáil TD in the capital not to be rejected by the electorate (assuming Mary Hanafin is too), count wags proposed that the constituency party organisation, Fianna Fáil Dublin West, should now simply rename itself Fianna Fáil Dublin.

    Lenihan’s successful seat-clinging, made easier by the fact the constituency has added a seat since 2007, was “more a testament to Brian’s personal vote than anything else”, said Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar, who came second. “It’s hard to begrudge Brian that. He does have a good personal vote.” In truth, neither Varadkar’s running mate Kieran Dennison nor Labour’s Patrick Nulty ever looked like capitalising on the electoral poison that Lenihan might have suffered from, say, being voted the worst finance minister in Europe by the Financial Times, or, even more dangerously, from being a member of Fianna Fáil.

    No escape from local election issues at the Dublin West count centre

    Lenihan insisted it was national rather than local issues that swayed voters. The third-placed Joe Higgins was eager to make the obvious links between the two. Higgins promised that the United Left Alliance would form a “relentless, unremitting Opposition”, fighting a programme of EU-IMF cuts that could lead to the downgrading of Blanchardstown hospital. Copies of the Dublin 15 freesheet Community Voice were strewn around the gym hall, emblazoned with the headline “Connolly A&E Under Threat”. Lenihan’s departure as Minister for Finance, it was speculated, could hasten the HSE’s axe.

    There was one glaring feature of the Dublin West candidate list – it only had one woman on it. “Was there a bit of girl power?” a reporter asked Burton. She agreed there had been. Young women, and young men who appreciated the need for more female politicians, had given her strong support. “And Mario Rosenstock didn’t do me any harm either.”

    She had long since left the count centre when Lenihan, explaining how Fianna Fáil would “co-operate” with the election result, could still be heard uttering the words “export-led recovery” down a radio mic.

  • Manifesto promises that allow fathers share maternity leave are good for all women

    February 18, 2011 @ 3:33 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Speaking as a non-parent, if someone was to ask me what my favourite manifesto promise is – one that I think that I would personally benefit from were it to be introduced this side of 2020 – I’d instinctively plump for Fine Gael and Labour’s pledge to allow paid maternity leave to be shared between mothers and fathers. I may never have kids, yet as a woman I still have a vested interest in the idea that fathers would be able to get paid (or partially paid) time off during the first year of their baby’s life, while their partners take their breasts back to the office.

    Specifically, Fine Gael says: “We will review maternity leave to permit parents to share leave entitlements, recognising the changing needs of modern families.” The party’s potential coalition partner sounds slightly more cautious: “Labour favours moving to a paternity leave model, where parents can share paid leave when a new baby is born, as resources allow. [my italics]”

    It’s a remarkably simple concept that already exists in the divinely woman-friendly Sweden and will be introduced in the UK from April. Under the new UK system, if a mother returns to work without taking a full year’s maternity leave, the father will be able to take leave for the remaining time, up to a maximum of six months. It’s a measure that was pushed through in the dying days of the Labour government by its deputy leader Harriet Harman, who is that lesser spotted creature in politics these days: a feminist.

    To the horror of the business lobby, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg – who himself took time off after the birth of his first child so his wife Miriam could return to work – says he wants to bring in further flexibility from 2015. He describes the current rules as “Edwardian” , saying the “paltry” UK rules granting two weeks’ paternity leave on statutory pay “patronise women and marginalise men”.

    Imagine how it feels then to be living in sub-Edwardian Ireland, where paternity leave, either paid or unpaid, isn’t recognised in employment law – at all. Bibs and beakers and buggies are for women only as far as our legislators are concerned. Too bad if you belong to a family where the female partner is the higher earner or the sole earner, or where it’s the father who wants to submerge himself in Monday-to-Friday baby bonding.

    The new government would ideally start by introducing a period of paid paternity leave, to be taken after the baby’s birth. The next step is the introduction of flexible maternity leave transfers, which in my view is no longer a question of encouraging the greater involvement of Irish fathers in their children’s lives – it’s actually about facilitating a desire that’s already there. To paraphrase the Fine Gael manifesto, it would mean catching up with the needs of parents. It’s not compulsory; it’s just about what suits, what fits.

    Why would maternity leave transfers benefit all women, not just mothers? Employers like the rules on leave to be as gender-rigid as possible, so they can “plan ahead”, which is a phrase that’s cropped up in the UK debates on the issue. This “planning” essentially means cost-based discrimination against women in the workplace – and by cost-based discrimination, I mean the practice whereby companies limit the number of women they appoint and promote primarily to minimise the risk that they might all decide to breed their own Von Trapp singing troupes.

    Even if you work for an employer that doesn’t stipulate “Y-chromosome necessary” on the application form, the current rules perpetuate a state-sanctioned culture of motherhood that means legions of your female colleagues – whether they want to or not – will not only disappear from view during their maternity leave, but follow a well-trodden path that starts with job-sharing and ends with the disillusionment of under-promotion. The disillusioned ones may not necessarily be the mothers – after all, they’ll have their children to pour their creative and administrative energies into – but the full-time women stuck in a work atmosphere of intensifying machismo.

    The sooner Ireland follows the UK and allows the transfer of leave entitlements, the better. Affordable childcare options are probably going to be another decade’s work.

  • Election 2011: What the Haskins is going on?

    February 8, 2011 @ 12:30 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Until last weekend, I was as far away from Ireland as it is physically possible to go without counterfeiting a Virgin Galactic boarding card, with the result that I missed the opening credits of Election 2011. Already it’s feeling like one of those shows you’re either supposed to watch from the beginning or wait for the DVD.

    Walking through Dublin city centre yesterday, my eyes gazed inexorably up towards what seemed to be photographic evidence of the fact that not only has human cloning technology been successfully developed, but a single strand of Jason Donovan’s combed blonde Eighties hair has proven enough to manufacture an entire independent candidate for Dublin South East.

    I’d always assumed that when most people groaned that they wanted more young people to run for office, there was an unspoken coda: “not if they’re younger than me, obv.” But since then I’ve been reliably informed by several usually reliable cynics that not only is Dylan Haskins old enough to vote for himself, but his desire to hang out with the fetid lifers at Leinster House is generally a good thing for democracy. Breaking into the chorus of Too Many Broken Hearts in his presence is probably already a tiresome cliché.

    The sight of Haskins was so unexpected, I arrived at yesterday’s “Jobs Manifesto for Election 2011” briefing by business group Ibec primed for another surprise. Perhaps they would be in favour of increasing the minimum wage back to where it was before the grim swipe of the “National Recovery Plan” (a reversal favoured by Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin). Or maybe they’d turn around and declare: “Forget everything we said before, actually we don’t give a flying FitzPatrick about corporation tax rates. Do what you like, Sarko.”

    None of this happened, of course, and instead I spent some time pondering the semantic differences between the phrase “the next government” and the favoured expression of Ibec director general Danny McCoy – “the next administration”.

    Yesterday also saw the launch of Fianna Fáil’s election manifesto, and soon it will be the turn of the major political parties. Jet lag, however, means I’m having even more trouble concentrating on the meaning of words and pictures than usual, which is quite alarming in a world where you can open a copy of Vanity Fair and find a portrait of Brian Lenihan captioned “Of Human Bondage” mere pages away from a shot of House actress Olivia Wilde wearing a gown that looks like a seatbelt accessorized with a hanky. In this highly caffeinated state, my main “take” from the Vanity Fair dissection of Ireland by long-term financial-voodoo demolition man Michael Lewis was his brilliant description of economist Morgan Kelly as “puckish”. It peaked right there, for me.

    Luckily, I’m not the only one in a haze – even seasoned campaign watchers admit to being stumped by the ever-twisting, beyond-satire logic of Enda Kenny’s stance on television debating. Over the last 24 hours, I’ve also managed to absorb three further – albeit useless – election facts: that Fine Gael has taken an early lead for the cringe award by launching something called a “twolicy”; that Fianna Fáil Dublin Central candidate Mary Fitzpatrick favours the landscape format for her posters; and that not even hardcore sea swimmers are safe from the clutches of canvassers anymore.

    I’m off to the Irish Times Election 2011 blog now to find out the rest.

  • Rejoice! We are free! says the Heritage Foundation

    January 12, 2011 @ 1:15 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Ireland is the seventh freest economy in the world, according to the conservative US thinktank the Heritage Foundation, an organisation for which the ability of millionaires to transform themselves into billionaires unencumbered by anything resembling “government control” – or laws as they are more generally known – is paramount. Ireland, incidentally, which it describes as “mostly free”, came in two spots ahead of the US itself. (The full rankings are listed here.)

    Given that economic management in Ireland has often seemed like an oxymoron lately, I thought it might be a good idea to find out a little more about the kind of ideologues that our Government has managed to impress through the apparent chaos. On a hunch, I turned to the index of Naomi Klein’s book on “disaster capitalism”, The Shock Doctrine. Halliburton, Hamas, Harvard, Hayek, Hemingway… ah, there it was: Heritage Foundation. Pages 14, 255, 289, 295, 355 and 410.

    Klein, who is of the left, describes the Heritage Foundation as “ground zero of Friedmanism”, referring to its slavish following of the beliefs of late free market evangelist Milton Friedman, who would have privatised oxygen if he could. It was the Heritage Foundation that two weeks after the levees were breached in Louisiana came up with a list of Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina – a list packaged as “hurricane relief”, Klein writes, but comprising of such measures as the suspension of laws requiring federal contractors to pay a living wage.

    Let’s see what the Heritage Foundation has to say for itself. On Obama’s plans to reform health care, it is thoroughly alarmed: “The result of so much government control is that health care is one of the most highly regulated sectors of the American economy.” This means “less personal freedom”, it laments. It is similarly hostile to Obama’s reforms to education legislation called the No Child Left Behind act, describing them as “a reckless spending spree”.

    On poverty and inequality, it says poverty, what poverty? “Poor persons in the US have far higher living standards than the public imagines… By his own report, his family is not hungry, and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.” The greatest weapon against child poverty, it states, is not a living wage (or indeed a functioning welfare state), but marriage.

    On sex education, well… it’s against it: “Abstinence education programs are effective in reducing sexual activity against enormous pop culture pressures. Alternative comprehensive sex education programs disparage abstinence and teach that casual sex among teenagers is acceptable and desirable.” Freedom only goes so far, then.

    These are the people who just love what we’re doing with the economy.

  • Single/Double Summer Time: what’s not to like?

    December 3, 2010 @ 7:31 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Being neither a farmer nor a veteran of this mission parents call “the school run” – indeed as someone who only gets up before dawn in an emergency – I’m very keen on the idea of moving the clocks forward by an hour all year round. This is, of course, entirely selfish, but then I’m not the only one who fancies a “fall forward, spring even further forward” system of time.

    Today, Britain’s Daylight Saving Bill cleared its first hurdle in the House of Commons. This doesn’t mean a time-shift is imminent – the issue is something of a parliament perennial – but it does, rather sensibly, call on ministers to conduct a full analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of moving in line with Central European Time.

    Current practice in Ireland and the UK is to spend the (miserable) winter months under Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), then move to what’s known as British Summer Time (BST) or GMT +1 in the summer months. The Daylight Saving Bill proposes that if the committee established by the Cameron government came to the conclusion that a shift to GMT +1 in winter and GMT +2 in summer was, on balance, to the benefit of the whole of the UK, then a three-year trial would follow. The system is also known rather fabulously as Single/Double Summer Time (SDST). Double summer, you say?

    SDST was previously trialled between 1968 and 1971 and was also in place during the Second World War, when it was used to help save electricity and provide more working hours in daylight. These rationales still exist in peace time and the clocks-forward campaign is backed by everyone from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa), which estimates that it would result in a net reduction in road deaths, to our very own Senator Feargal Quinn, who also cites the benefits it would bring to tourism, business, the environment and overall quality of life.

    Quinn believes that “the only thing that has stopped it happening” is “the Scottish farming lobby”. Indeed, Scotland is the big loser under SDST, as it would stay black well in the winter morning. Advocates of the change say school times could be adjusted to compensate. But the British government itself is firmly against the experiment as a result, with business minister Ed Davey telling the House of Commons that “we cannot make this change unless and until we have consensus on this matter throughout the UK”.

    Despite Quinn’s wishes, it seems unlikely that Ireland would ever go it alone, as this would create some interesting (although not unique) border time zone effects. In any case, while grander stretches in the evenings sound amazing, the dark mornings would certainly be grim – perhaps grim enough to crank up the number of these duvet days that we keep hearing are so detrimental to our economic advance. Ultimately, I guess what I really want to do is create more daylight, rather than toy with the clock.

  • Freezing to death? The Government has its ear muffs on

    November 28, 2010 @ 9:00 am | by Laura Slattery

    You may have noticed it’s a little cold outside. And in. Sub-zero temperatures are sending the country into a blue freeze as severe as our economic stasis. But if you’re feeling it, then you are, by comparison, lucky. In the advanced stages of hypothermia, its victims become unaware of how cold their bodies are. The shivering stops.

    Age Action, which has made a special plea to people to look out for their elderly neighbours during this wintry spell, estimates that 2,000 older people die each winter from cold-related illnesses. These are deaths that could be avoided were they not living in fuel poverty – typically defined as spending more than 10 per cent of your income on fuel needs (including a satisfactory heating regime). It’s three years now since an Institute of Public Health report found that Ireland has one of the highest rates of excess winter mortality in Europe. Fuel poverty, the institute said, was “unacceptably high” in Ireland, with no systematic monitoring.

    Age Action’s Eamon Timmins, who calls Ireland’s chilling record in this area “a matter of national shame”, was duly unimpressed by the Four-Year Plan’s announcement of increased carbon taxes on fuel. “The Government cannot add to [the] suffering by further intervening to increase the price of energy, without taking some action to protect these people,” he said. But it seems they can. In fact, Government policy whenever anyone raises the issue of fuel poverty is to put its ear muffs on and disappear somewhere snug.

    When carbon taxes were first introduced in the 2010 budget, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan and Minister for the Environment John Gormley claimed the funds would be used in part to alleviate fuel poverty through a compensation voucher scheme. Now, as of last Wednesday, the carbon tax is officially designed to contribute €330 million to the “overall correction”. Earlier this month, Minister for Social Protection Eamon Ó Cuív ruled out introducing the voucher scheme, giving the excuse that “insulation, insulation, insulation” was the more efficient long-term approach. He also lamented that there was too much of an administrative burden associated with such a scheme.

    Indeed, keeping people alive can be such a chore.

    The least administratively burdensome way to provide what the Commission on Taxation called “adequate safeguards” to prevent fuel poverty would be to increase the fuel allowance. But even if this were to happen in next week’s Budget, it wouldn’t immediately heat up the nation. As Labour spokeswoman Róisín Shortall has pointed out, “working poor” families don’t qualify for the payment because they’re not in the social welfare loop. As a result, they’re also left out of the warmer homes’ scheme favoured by Ó Cuív, unless they make a special case. Meanwhile, Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan told the Dáil in October that this scheme is due to make structural improvements to 22,500 low-income homes by the end of 2010. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that the number of households living in persistent fuel poverty is almost three times that amount at 60,000, with a further 160,000 suffering from it intermittently.

    Two years ago, the boss of British energy giant Centrica made a mask-slipping gaffe when he advised customers struggling with rising heating bills to lower their thermostats and endure a “two jumpers instead of one” winter. That now seems like a relatively sensible plan, given this Government’s approach is to say one jumper will be just fine, because we’ll be along with a lagging jacket later.

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