A sad, rather pathetic, Christmas story

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.’ (Clement Clarke Moore)

As winds howl around me and rain rattles my window panes like the chattering of false teeth, I recall this sad, rather pathetic, Christmas story…

Prominent politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness on the Irish national stage gets stuck on a knife-edge. Someone with access to key information can prove he falsified expenses on the back of the average Seamus/Sean/Patrick ‘Joe O’Blow’ citizen, both as a board member of Irish-language body, Údarás na Gaeltachta, and Donegal County Council.

Concerned about the effects on its chances of returning to Power if things get sour, spin doctors at his political party’s Dublin head office get involved. Politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness also calls in his own local cronies, most from the west Donegal Gaeltacht area – well-paid fellows in silk suits, some of whom made financial hay on the back of his and his party’s long-term, some say overly-long, stay in power.

Christmas story Donegal, politicians in Donegal

Money, money – who says I’m interested in money?

They say ‘deny, deny,’ which said politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness does. He’s hoping the custodians of the county council and the national Irish-language body – many of whose top brass owe their own cushy, well-paid admin jobs, expenses and pensions to his own political party – will sit on it like dementia-suffering chickens, and do nothing.

But the evidence is much too solid, and from a respected and knowledgeable insider too, comprising definitive documents that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the culpability of said politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness.

Also, hushed voices are alleged to whisper in the Corridors of Power, ‘there’s so much more that could easily come to light and make donkeys of us all.

Aforesaid local top brass know they must do what’s unavoidable. Otherwise their own jobs, generous expenses and pensions could be on the line. So, faced with no alternative, they bring the allegations – rather reluctantly – to the attention of the relevant authorities, hoping it will all go away and they can return undisturbed to their comfy desks, genteel lifestyles and holiday homes on the Spanish coast.

But that doesn’t happen.

An investigation begins by the six-member, national Standards in Public Office (SIPO) chaired by an experienced, former High Court Judge.

corruption in Donegal, what's on in Donegal

Now let me think: two places at the same time. Mmmmm, surely it must be possible. Anyway, who’s lookin’?

Re-enter stage left the local and national spin-doctors-cum-advisors to said politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness. Okay, not ‘deny, deny,’ but ‘delay, delay.’ Until it all blows over and our All-Consuming Party climbs back on to its Rightful Throne. ‘Knowing the fickleness of the average dumb, thick-as-shite, Irish voter, that’s inevitable,’ they say, ‘quicker than you can slip a brown envelope into a pocket.’ Then we can blow this under the carpet as we have done with much more serious stuff in the past.’

But national elections come around. And, lo and behold, the hoped-for Dramatic Return to Power, which they feel is theirs by Right, they being the ‘Soldiers of Destiny,’ doesn’t happen.

The battle cry, as per the silk-suited, well-heeled advisers and cronies, then becomes not ‘deny, deny’ or even ‘delay, delay’ but that bastion of Irish patriotism. The one, they feel, will blind the thick-as-shite voters to the insignificant wrongs of falsifying expenses and screwing the average Seamus/Sean/Patrick Joe O’Blow.

The sacred language. The language of Pearse, Plunkett and Wolfe Tone.

Let’s tell them, by George: ‘We want any investigation to be conducted in our native language, as Gaeilge, le do thoil. If not, we’ll not recognize this court.’ Quite ironic, as the comprehensive falsifying of expenses, by all accounts, was done in the dignified language of the Royal British Crown.

And so it’s done.

And so the cost continues to rise…and rise…and rise even more.

Finally, the rather inevitable conclusion was reached, just last week after around two years of delay: politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness has indeed screwed over the average thick-as-shite Seamus/Sean/Patrick ‘Joe O’Blow.’ Regardless of our rapid technological development, it seems it’s still impossible for a homo sapien to be in two separate physical places at the very same time.

But guess what?

poverty in Donegal, Senator O'Donnel Donegal

Hey Mister, Merry Christmas, can ye spare a penny cos the politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness stole all our parents’ money?

Instead of costing the average Seamus/Sean/Patrick thick-as-shite ‘Joe O’Blow’ a couple of thousand euro, it costs, wait for it – with lawyers’ fees, documents, photocopying, translation costs, administrators and secretarial overtime etc – a whopping 350,000 euro.

To put this sum in perspective, this is the equivalent of around 12,000 (that’s twelve thousand) round-trip airfares on flybe for cancer patients from Donegal’s Carrickfinn Airport for specialist treatment in Dublin.

Yet, even sadder, so unimportant and insignificant is scarce public money, both Donegal county council and Údarás na Gaeltachta have just announced they’re not going to ask for the money back from said politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness.

Now isn’t that a sad and pathetic Christmas story?

But know what the even sadder thing is?

Said politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness continues to be paid out of Seamus/Sean/Patrick ‘Joe O’Blow’s’ thick-as-shite’ pocket. In fact, between 2011 and 2015, said politician was among the top ten most expensive Senators in the entire Irish nation – 409,183.06 euro to be exact in salaries and expenses. That’s about a 100,000 euro a year. Did you ever earn that figure?

As for the party of our politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness. Fianna Fail by name. Beset by ever-increasing, power-hungry pains and after spending a great deal of time, effort and money defending ‘Their Man’ and spinning the truth, they – in their instantaneous wisdom – cut him loose. Snip. You can always come back another day, they say, the Seamus/Sean/Patrick thick-as-shite-Irish-voter suffers genetically from short-term memory problems, so we’re all okay, in it together, if you know what I mean.

Now, you tell me. Who’s the real loser in this sad, rather pathetic, Christmas story?

Donegal politicians, Fiana Foil Donegal

Yeah, it’s pretty bad. We ain’t got no shoes or socks. Where did the money for them go anyway, you ask? Well, it’s a sad, rather pathetic, Christmas story…


If you’re interested in political and corporate corruption in a suspense novel linking Donegal to the US, read newly-published ‘Pretty Ugly.’ Can be purchased direct from Amazon, in eBook or print form, or in Donegal from Gallaghers or Matt Bonners Bunbeg, or Easons Letterkenny.

 

Advertisements

‘Justice(s) in Ireland’ – a cozy cartel

Believe it or not, I’m not going to write about the national election, either the one here or the one across the Atlantic.

(except to say…Fianna Fail will support a minority Fine Gael government and acrobatically pretend to be ‘in’ Government and ‘out’ of Government and Hilary will win the White House but will be run close by Bernie Sanders whom she’ll choose as her vice-president in an effort to get him to stay quiet, though I’d prefer Bernie to win outright).

Rather than elections – we all need a break – I’m going to write about a poor, unfortunate woman who was shafted by what is loosely – very loosely – called ‘the justice system in Ireland.’

justice in Ireland, Concillor O'Donnell

The lady in question is an emigrant, the luckless Petra Kucklick of Creeslough and she was run over by reckless driver, John O’Donnell, a long-time Fianna Fail member, who in order to get elected to Donegal County Council at a time when that particular political party was rightly blamed for bankrupting Ireland became what I call a ‘pseudo Independent.’ He showed his true colors last week openly supporting Fianna Fail’s Pat the Cope Gallagher, a friend of the family, who, in turn, let down those who voted for him by saying he wanted to be Ceann Comhairle, where he won’t have any voting rights on any issues whatsoever – a fine, upstanding way to represent one’s constituents on the national stage.

But back to Petra.

Run over and injured by Chauffeur O’Donnell in the year 2000, she has been waiting for fair compensation for 16 long years. Does this seem like justice to you?

Not only, but even now, after the public tax payer has doled out tens of thousands of euro on repeated court hearings on this particular case – not on whether O’Donnell is guilty or not, that has been clear from the very beginning – but on why an obviously guilty party has not paid out proper compensation.

Even now, this week, at the latest episode in what has become a legal circus, an utter mockery of any justice system, Mr. O’Donnell comes to court, after being told last month to bring all documents showing he has no money – a claim he makes to avoid paying compensation – and raises two fingers high to all those present – document-less.

Donegal justice, legal system Ireland

As for the expensive clothes said Mr. O’Donnell has been buying and the fine dinners with the best of wines for himself and his friends, well……what’s a man to do, one has to live in the style to which one has become accustomed. A full year of payments he was finally asked to make to Ms. Kucklick amounted to less than the suit he chose at the local menswear shop.

But there’s one element to this whole story that has escaped attention thus far. Why would a judge of any kind, never mind the one in this particular case, Paul Kelly, let a man screw around like Mr. O’Donnell has done? After all, every time this case is adjourned – and O’Donnell has demanded that regularly – it costs the ordinary citizen a lot of money.

judges in Ireland, Irish corruption

A glimpse into the expenses of judges in Ireland may provide part of the answer. Judges claimed a total of 1.65 million euro last year, excluding salaries. All expenses for judges in Ireland, including mileage, are tax-free. Judge Kevin Kilraine, who presides in Donegal, for example, claimed 65,392 euro in 2014 and featured in the top five claims nationally last year also.

And what about Judge Kelly…. could money have something to do with why he seems so easily to allow Mr. O’Donnell to nonchalantly ignore repeated requests from the court for details on his personal financial worth, in a case that has lasted 16 years? After all, the more the cases are adjourned, the more judges get in expenses.

How much do you think Judge Kelly’s expenses amount to? Hazard a guess….

In journalism, the golden rule is: ‘Follow the money … or the politics.’ In the case of Councillor O’Donnell, it seems both elements play a role.

Time for change. Real, lasting change. Time to grow up, we Irish have prevaricated enough

Today, you and I – along with several million other Irish people – will enter a voting booth, pick up a pencil and start X’ing.

In doing so, we’ll help seal the Fate of the Republic of Ireland for the next five years, and probably far beyond.

That is a daunting responsibility for all of us and we need to be clear and confident in what we do – for it is not only for whom we give our X but the very action in doing so that could have momentous repercussions. As has been proven scientifically, actions and words have a multiple energy far beyond the effect on the person taking the action or saying a word or phrase.

Without going into further details here, my advice is to be aware of the incredible power you possess that is yours and yours only.

Back to the national elections and one particular influence playing you.

Irish elections 2016, voting in Ireland

It’s time for us to grow up as a Nation. We’ve tried Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour – and they’ve all failed us. Let’s change the game right now.

Established media

‘Established media,’ no matter the country, holds a certain view about social development. Having been in turn, reporter, editor, publisher and journalism professor for over 30 years, I suppose I could easily be lumped in under this heading. I hope not, for the term refers to those media, usually right of left to varying degrees in their political thinking, which support the status quo, regardless of whom is in power nor the far-reaching consequences of that entity staying in power.

Why?

Inevitability it’s because members of the ‘established media’ have well-paying jobs they want to protect at all costs, ones that provide them with hefty salaries, thick expenses and a handsome pension at the end of it all. Change, they feel, means uncertainty. Perhaps, their jobs lost. After all, they are elites and the fall could be a mighty one.

That’s why it is key for us voters to be aware of these factors when we read newspapers, watch TV or listen to radio – especially media supported directly or indirectly by big business (Denis O’Brien at Independent Newspapers) or government (RTE). Health warning: don’t be unduly influenced.

I have been fortunate not only to have spent my media career in both broadcast and print (newspapers and magazines) but also in different countries including Ireland, north and south, the US and mainland Europe, so have gained a broader perspective than if I had stayed in my native Belfast.

As such, while abroad, I was shocked to learn that the entire body of ‘established Irish media’ failed utterly to warn ordinary folk of the economic bubble that burst upon them, a bubble as we know, created by crooked bankers, crooked developers, inept regulators, all caricatured by Fianna Fail’s infamous ‘Galway tent.’

From my standpoint, removed for so many years from journalism in Ireland, the cozy relationship between big Irish media and big Irish business was, and is, so obvious, with some few exceptions, sometimes (such The Irish Times columnists, Fintan O’Toole and Diarmaid Ferriter).

RTE’s Leaders Debate – an exercise in maintaining Right power

leaders debate Ireland, national elections Ireland

Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams (left), capturing Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny (second left) in pretty much a straight lie was the highlight of the entire set of nationalized ‘Leader Debates’ – but ask the ‘Established Media’ and you’ll get a very different answer.

Take, for example, the ‘Leaders Debate’ on RTE earlier this week. My view: Miriam O’Callaghan’s performance was biased and amateurish, certainly compared to Claire Byrne in the previous debate. O’Callaghan read at times so automaton-like from her prepared script while attempting to stamp her ‘established media’ credentials on the final outcome.

Did you notice how, having mentioned the widespread cronyism that has gone on under the tutelages of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour (hard to avoid), she then turned to Gerry Adams – who, not having ever been Taoiseach or a Government Minister here, couldn’t be accused of cronyism. But that didn’t stop O’Callaghan, citing, unfairly, two particular persons, Bobby Storey and Danny Morrison. Her inaccurate accusation of Morrison being a felon was so reckless and willful an attack that it could well lead to a major lawsuit for which, rightly, RTE should pay generous compensation. Morrison was long ago cleared of all charges in the case the British state brought against him and RTE’s researchers should have been well aware of that.

Not only but in the televised debate, there was one dramatic and defining moment, one captured by Gerry Adams on camera before millions: that, for the first time after multiple denials and prevarications, Taoiseach Enda Kenny admitted – caught unawares – that HE had appointed Donegal’s John McNulty, a Fine Gael Seanad by-election candidate, to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, even though McNulty had no prior interest whatsoever in art throughout his entire life (unless you include the art of deception).

Gerry Adams Sinn Fein, Enda Kenny Fine Gael

Moment of triumph for Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams (left). Caught in a lie, Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) fumbles to keep him at arm’s length.

Hypocrisy of RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan

I also find rather despicable the hypocrisy of Miriam O’Callaghan in bringing up the issue of cronyism. I met her in the Belfast studios of the BBC in recent years having been invited to attend an event celebrating the investigative program, ‘Panorama.’ I had learned that not only did Miriam use her role as a presenter to help get lucrative contracts with her employer, RTE, for some of her eight children, but also for her private production company, Mint Productions, one she established with her second husband, Steve Carson. Then helped him get a job at the Beeb in Belfast (my belief is that Carson left RTE, in great part, because the conflicts of interest he and his wife were involved in by gaining outside contracts with RTE for his children and Mint Productions was encroaching more into the public arena and the RTE elite were becoming uncomfortable that their lucrative jobs could be at stake for allowing it, but also because of some silly broadcasting mistakes Carson made).

Miriam O’Callaghan elections,

Expensive looking dress. Miriam O’Callaghan and husband, Steve Carson, have done pretty well financially as full-time RTE employers, while also obtaining RTE contracts for their own production company, as well as for their children. But there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

At the public debate that was part of the ‘Panorama’ event, hosted by Miriam, I asked her about these things as the first question from the floor. Her answer shocked me, “I don’t know anything about those things. My husband and I don’t discuss professional matters.”

This is the very same lady who tried to hammer Mr. Adams, Danny Morrison and Bobby Storey so unfairly on national television earlier this week – about cronyism.

Analysis or simply spin?

Immediately after RTE’s 90-minute ‘Leaders Debate,’ the station hosted ‘The Spin Room,’ with so-called experts analyzing the debate. Even though Gerry Adams catching Taoiseach Kenny out on the McNulty issue was by far the most dramatic new development in the whole debate – literally a ‘journalistic scoop’ – the station did not even re-broadcast that short exchange between Adams and Kenny – even though they did replay other videos from the debate, labeling several of them as moments of what they called ‘Adams’ substandard performance.’

RTE’s ‘Leaders Debate’ was peppered with examples of ‘Established Media’ bias. There were plenty more elsewhere:

Noel Whelan, in his column for The Irish Times, wrote that, “The only sustainable outcome (of the election) is a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail Government.”

Sarah McInerney, a political reporter for The Sunday Times, who lives high on the hog in a spacious home in one of the most elite areas of Dublin, said during ‘The Spin Room:’ “The next Government will be Fine Gael-Fianna Fail. If they can’t do business, no-one can.”

Pat Leahy, deputy editor and political editor of The Sunday Post, in his very first column  days before the election was even called, wrote: “For Sinn Fein, the big breakthrough – participation in government – won’t come this time. The party doesn’t really want it to – that’s what its strategy to rule out anything but a left-led coalition means.”

Sinn Fein and Independents: a viable alternative to the same old…

What such ‘Established media’ commentators are saying is that with Labour in free-fall, there is no other choice – but there is, though they don’t dare mention it: a winning combination of Sinn Fein and Independents.

Through sheer hard-work and diligent application, Sinn Fein has increased its popularity, both in votes and seats at both national level (in the election five years ago) and in the local elections (two years ago). Not only but Martin McGuinness – who has acknowledged that, like the 1916 heroes, Padraig Pearse and James Connolly before him, he is an Irish Republican, and was a member of the IRA – did well in the Presidential Election. In fact, his penetrating dramatic contribution on the final televised Presidential debate in 2011, in effect, won Áras an Uachtaráin (the Irish ‘White House’) for Michael D. Higgins.

As for the Independents, their rise up the political ladder over the last five years is just as impressive as Sinn Fein’s, but the ‘established media’ again do not want you or I to consider that duet option. So they’ve tried to pour cold water on it, saying Independents in government is unworkable, especially when they’re Lefty Liberals.

History, however, proves them wrong, repeatedly.

Steve Farnsworth, political journalism

US professor, journalist, author and political commentator, Stephen Farnsworth, says Liberal and Left-wing coalitions can and do govern well.

A long-time friend, Stephen Farnsworth, veteran American journalist with whom I was a colleague in the US, author or co-author of five books and now a tenured Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, told me over the last few days, “Not so.” Pointing to the Liberal minority governments of Lester Pearson of Canada in the 1960s, he informed me, “Pearson was Prime Minister during the 1960s and his amazing record, with the Liberals and the NDP, Canada’s left party, working together, included  universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the new Flag of Canada, a unified armed forces, a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, and he fought to keep Canada out of the Vietnam War. His government also abolished capital punishment de facto.”

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if a coalition of Sinn Fein and the Independents could achieve even half this? Why not? Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour have already failed miserably.

Here in Donegal, there is no shortage of quality Sinn Fein and Independent candidates (and I’m not speaking about pseudo-Independents such as cash-for-favors local councilor, John O’Donnell, who, interestingly, is urging people to vote for Fianna Fail’s Pat the Cope). A TD combination in Donegal of Sinn Fein’s Gary Doherty, Padraig MacLochlann and Pearse Doherty, Independent Thomas Pringle and one of the other candidates, now local councilors, such as Niamh Kennedy, Dessie Shiels, Frank McBrearty or one of the other ‘real’ Independents, seems to me like a good choice.

After all, haven’t we given the Fine Gael-Labour coalition five years to put things right, and what have they done? The former used this precious time to ignore the needs of the vast majority of Irish people and instead strengthened elitism, with economic research showing the most affluent 20 per cent of people in Ireland own 73 per cent of the country’s wealth and the poorest 20 per cent own just 0.2 per cent. Alas, Labour simply sold out its long-held principles for a whiff of power. As for Fianna Fail. Wasn’t that the political party that slept with crooked bankers and developers, bankrupted Ireland, closed hospitals and schools, lost our Sovereignty and sent the country groveling to Brussels for handouts?

Don’t let Big Media misuse and abuse you. This is your time in that voting booth, alone, your time only, a time when no-one has the right to tell you what to do.

As the French might say if they were here – ‘Bon voting‘!

In addition to voting today, there is one other place to which perhaps you would kindly attach your name, for a cause that is both noble and just, virtues hard to find in today’s questionable political world.

Public apology and re-affirmation of support for a true Irish Republic

or

President of Ireland Michael Higgins, apologize & publicly support heroes, families & ideals of 1916 Irish Revolution

Are Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour and pseudo-Independents set on destroying power-sharing in Donegal?

Early last Monday morning as most of us woke up groggily and struggled out of bed to face the week, a dramatic closed-door meeting of the Independent Grouping within Donegal Council was taking place in Lifford at which the very future of politics in the county was being decided.

Or at least that’s one interpretation: that pseudo-Independents (my sobriquet for them) backed by the Coalition Government partners of Fine Gael and Labour together with Fianna Fail were aiming for.

But the political cat might be out of the bag, so to speak.

Could it be that someone poured (or was it self-administered?) poisonous elixir into the ears of certain councillors that the life of an independent within traditionally conservative Irish political circles is a short one, so they’d better rejoin the party fold again – before it is too late? “Being in a party makes for an easier life,” may have been the song on the hymn sheet. “You’ve got the company of like-minded people. Talk up the party you formerly belonged to until we win the Dail, then we – together with you – will control Lifford as well.” If it was, perhaps instead, without knowing, they’ve been listening to the Song of the Sirens.

Donegal councillors, county council meeting

(l to r) Let’s decide on a plan of action. Councillors Frank McBrearty and Michael McBride confer discreetly at Monday morning’s meeting of Donegal County council.

Intriguing backstory

As Councillor Michael McBride told me last week, a motion by John Campbell at Monday morning’s private Independent Grouping meeting to have John O’Donnell expelled from the group supported, by Michael Cholm MacGiolla Easbuig and himself, was defeated by five other councillors, a strange situation to say the least as only last month, they had all voted to make him resign.

But that wasn’t the biggest surprise of that morning.

That came just a few minutes later, immediately Campbell and Easbuig left the Independent Grouping in protest.

“Much to my amazement, someone suddenly called for the dissolution of the entire Grouping,” recalls McBride, who chaired the meeting but said he cannot remember who made what he considered a bizarre call (strange loss of concentration as chairperson at so vital a time). “And it was agreed upon so quickly I can’t but believe they had all discussed this much earlier, in private.”

The five councillors in the Independent Group who voted against O’Donnell’s expulsion were Nicholas Crossan, Tom Conaghan, Niamh Kennedy, Ian McGarvey, and John O’Donnell himself, most former party members.

Later that same evening McBride sent me an e-mail purportedly written by Kennedy stating that, “a decision has been taken to suspend the independent grouping and that no positions would be removed from any member as an investigation is currently underway by the ethics registrar of Donegal county council.”

She added, “None of us are involved in the 25/30 councillors referred to by Cllr.  O Donnell (on the RTE programme). This decision has been taken in the interest of the people of Donegal and in order to accommodate the smooth running of the business of Donegal county council following this past two months of turmoil.” But one is still left wondering why the Grouping was suddenly dissolved? Could it be, as McBride said, that they were fed up working with the fiery Frank McBrearty, who first proposed O’Donnell’s expulsion. Or with the intellectually able Campbell and passionate Easbuig? Or is something more sinister going down?

Franc McBrearty, Donegal councillors

Loosening his tie. But then again, Councillor McBride wasn’t wearing one, was he, at the council meeting? Just a bout of nervousness then? Or indecision?

Asked about his feelings on the dissolution of the Independent Grouping, McBride said, “I didn’t want that. It’s good for the council to have the four-group all-inclusive set-up that it has. To my understanding, that kind of power-sharing is unique in the whole country, something Donegal should be proud of.”

I asked McBride several questions

“Would you like O’Donnell – your former business partner in Dúncrua Teoranta, which was granted 120,000 euro from Udaras na Gaeltachta – expelled from all council committees.”

“I would have no problem with him being removed from all committees.”

“Why then did you abstain in the full council vote on the matter this Monday?”

“Because of the way I was treated fairly when I was co-opted on to the council for former Senator Jimmy Harte’s seat.”

“So, you would have been okay with a council decision to expel him, but not for you to vote on it?”

“Yes, it would have been democracy in action.”

Conversation ends.

Shakespeare: Is there something rotten in the state of …. Donegal?

Why would the trio of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour want the Independent Grouping at Donegal County Council dissolved? Here is a possible answer.

We’ll have a national elections very soon – we’ll know this week just when – and if the situation demands it, these three parties, regardless of what they say now, will try to ‘intermingle’ to form the next Government. But according to latest polls, their Donegal TD candidates desperately need all the help they can get even to shuffle lamely past the finish line – thus the pseudo-Independents. Fifteen years ago, the electoral breakdown was Fianna Fail a massive 70 per cent, Fine Gael 30 per cent, Sinn Fein 0.2 per cent and the rest Independents and Pseudos. Within the last five to six years, the Donegal political pendulum has swung dramatically and is now around 25 per cent Fianna Fail, Fine Gael 18 per cent, Sinn Fein a mighty 40 per cent, and rising, and the rest Independents and Pseudos.

And, let’s be quite clear about this: the main reason some pseudo-Independents are ‘Independents’ is that either their parties didn’t choose them to run last time out or that they’d never have won if they’d gone under that party’s ticket, especially if they’d gone under the Fianna Fail banner. In politics, however, such slights and inconveniences are often forgotten in the greedy grab for the prize piñata.

Concillor O'Donnell, Donegal politics

(r to l) Fianna Fail Donegal County Council chairperson, Ciaran Brogan, prepares for the meeting with council chief executive, Seamus Neely.

What happened behind closed doors Monday morning one week ago after Campbell and Easbuig stood on principle and left could be a classic political quid pro quo situation. ‘Talk up the party in the nationals in a few weeks time and you can run under our ticket for a council spot next time round, and, believe me, you’ll feel more secure for doing so,” could have been the way it was put.

Then again, my hunch might just be the workings of an over-active imagination. The truth might be that the Independent Grouping is a motley group, a raggle-taggle band with perhaps their hearts in the right places, but no cohesion. And so inexperienced and pulled apart by differences that they don’t even realize what their full potential could be if they created unity from diversity and voted for the right things.

This, however, is the perfect time – with national elections six weeks away – to find out which of the above-mentioned theories is the right one. True colors will begin to seep through. Threads will start to unravel.

If something more sinister is afoot, perpetrators of the cloak-and-dagger plotting have sadly overlooked one vital element – common decency. The overriding public mood is one of disillusionment, bordering on despair. If the three main political parties have indeed won the pseudo-Independents over – backed by business elites with much to gain by keeping O’Donnell on the council and on the ever-important ‘Roads’ committee which oversees tens of millions of euro in construction projects – trouble lies ahead. Keep in mind, the council’s annual budget is 133 million, 127 fixed and 6 to 7 discretionary. Construction of the Dungloe-Glenties road is in five-stages, the second, for example, cost around four million euro and the tender for the next stage is end of this month.

The ‘plotters’ may, however, have made the fatal mistake of ignoring the simple, unadorned hopes of ordinary folk, throughout Donegal and throughout the country, hopes for a sliver of common decency among politicians after all the putrid corruption they’ve been forced to roll in over the last five years or so.

Donegal people demonstrating, Donegal county council

Protestors inside the County Chamber voice their sentiments about Councillor John O’Donnell, corruption and cronyism within and outside Donegal County Council.

Another key question is now being asked in the corridors of power in Lifford: not if, but how many, high-level executives within Donegal Council – many of which were employed both within the county and imported from outside the county, with generous salaries and pensions under the previous, long-running Fianna Fail government – are involved in this purge of True Independents and the break-up of power-sharing? After all, they have to reward their paymasters.

What a shame if such a deceitful game is being played, in this of all years – the centennial anniversary of our national independence.

But in a very short time, you, dear Reader, will have the chance to put things right – by availing of your unalienable right to walk behind a curtain and put your ‘X’ exactly where you want it to be.

Perhaps, this blog will help you choose well. I certainly hope so. It’s a rare chance to truly show that we are indeed ‘different up here.’

As for Councillor O’Donnell….

Epitome of nonchalance

I was quite astounded watching the councillor last Monday morning nonchalantly reading that morning’s edition of the ‘Donegal News’ as the political maelstrom swirled all around him in the council chamber. Either this young man has nerves of steel, I thought, or he is so utterly sure of what will happen that there is absolutely no need for him to be concerned in any way, about anything or anyone. Wish I could wake up feeling that way, as I’m sure do thousands of unemployed, elderly, sick, disabled and struggling mothers trying desperately to feed their children on paltry, insufficient income coming into homes across this county, across the country.

John O'Donnell, Sinn Fein Donegal

Nonchalance or absolute certainty? John O’Donnell displays his lack of concern about the possibility he might be expelled from Donegal County Council on Monday morning. That very evening, he released a press statement thanking his fellow councillors for supporting him.

During a short adjournment, I approached O’Donnell and introduced myself as Gaeilge, thinking – as he had attracted so much Údarás funding – he would be fluent. Perhaps it was due to my poor pronunciation or stumbling vocal ways, but he didn’t seem to understand, so I changed my questioning to as Bearla.

“Can you speak? I’ve a few questions I’d like to ask.”

I’ve been told by my legal advisers not to say anything,” he responded. “They’ve told me to let the ethics investigation takes it course. I’ve nothing to answer for anyway. People are just out to get me and use me as a platform for their own political gains.”

“What would you say to your fellow councilors here if they ask you any questions about your various business interests and debts owed through them?”

“I’d say, ‘That’s none of anyone’s business. It’s my private affair, mine only.”

“What about the 120,000 euro granted to your company, Dúncrua Teoranta, by Údarás na Gaeltachta just before it went bust, can you explain that?

“My legal advisers have told me to say nothing and that’s what I’m going to do.”

“Will you pay the money back?

“No comment.”

Then he went back to reading his newspaper.

O’Donnell, a long-time family member of Fianna Fail, also declined to comment on the court case he faces this Wednesday, Feb. 3 for failing to pay 33,000 euro in compensation to a Creeslough woman whose foot he drove over in a car accident. If O’Donnell does not show up for that case, District Court Judge Paul Kelly has said he will have him arrested.

Next week’s court case should be just as entertaining as the county council meeting last  week – with potentially very serious consequences for all concerned. If, having said he has no money, he pays up, you have to ask yourself: where did the spondulix come from? If his solicitor delays the proceedings, you’ve got to ask yourself: why? Could it be waiting for the results of the upcoming elections? If, however, he is convicted, I am ainformed O’Donnell automatically loses his council seat. There’s a lot at stake.

Go along if you can. It should be as good as an episode of ‘Judge Judy,’ hopefully better – unless some shadowy person(s) gets to the judge before then.

Protestors angry at Donegal County Council’s ‘dog’s dinner’ response to corruption and cronyism

As protestors from across Donegal vented their feelings inside Lifford’s County Council offices yesterday about corruption and cronyism in Ireland – the specific one lighting the fuse relating to controversial Donegal Councillor John O’Donnell – archaic rules, procedural confusion and tribalism prevented members expelling the Kilmacrennan-Fianna Fail linked man from all committees and the full council.

Anachronistic rules meant a counter proposal for what could well be a very long and drawn out ethics investigation by council executives superseded an initial proposal to expel O’Donnell immediately.

At times, the meeting, which was hosted by chairperson, Fianna Fail’s Ciaran Brogan, with the assistance of council executive Liam Ward and Seamus Neely, council chief executive, took on a farcical nature, with some describing it as a ‘dogs-dinner.’ During a discussion in which some councillors were attempting to expel O’Donnell – one of the most controversial decisions the council has faced in its entire history – confusion reigned, some members being unsure which proposal they were actually being asked to vote on. This caused Sinn Fein councillor, Marie Therese Gallagher, to ask the chair for immediate clarification.

Saying O’Donnell’s alleged ‘cash for favors’ actions caught last month on RTE national Irish TV camera were ‘disgraceful’, former Mayor Frank McBrearty (Independent) proposed removing O’Donnell from all committees, a motion seconded by fellow independent John Campbell.

“Due to the serious allegations against Councillor O’Donnell, we have the power to stand together and take action against him,” McBrearty said. “The public demands transparency and responsibility. There is a need to highlight corruption wherever it shows itself. As all politics is local, what we do here affects the nation so we have the chance to give a clear signal to the people of this county that we will not tolerate unethical behavior. The mushroom is getting bigger for Irish society. We must stop the rot now.”

However, a second, counter motion, by former Fianna Fail member, now long-time Independent councillor, Ian McGarvey, requested an ethics investigation be continued by council staff was also forwarded. Afterwards, during a conversation with me, McGarvey said he did not know how long such a process could take.

Confusion also reigned as Ward and Neely said legal advisers had told them O’Donnell could not be expelled from the council or its committees, but when asked for the legal documents proving this the two officials did not produce them. Neither did they bring into the chamber the legal adviser responsible for the advice when asked to do so by McBrearty.

According to Ward’s own instructions, there is “no specific provision within Local Government Legislation to provide for the removal of a member from committees to which he/she was appointed.” He added, “the position being taken is that the Motion as proposed (by McBrearty) is not permissable and, as a consequence, any resolution passed on foot of it would have no legal effect. The current process under the ethical framework should be allowed to continue until conclusion when the matter may come back before the members in one form or another.”

Some local government procedural analysts deem “illogical,” the situation whereby Chamber rules meant councillors were asked by Brogan to vote on the counter motion ahead of the original one put forward by McBrearty. That counter motion was ultimately accepted by 20 of the 36 councillors present, the votes representing Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labor and several Independents, mostly former members of Fianna Fail. All Sinn Fein members supported McBrearty’s motion. Independent Councillor Dessie Shiels was absent, having refused on principle to be in the same room as O’Donnell. Councillors McBride and Brogan abstained. Campbell and fellow Independent Councillor Michael Cholm Mac Giolla Easbuig promptly walked out of the meeting in protest saying, “this council has let down the people of Donegal and should be deeply ashamed.”

Added Councillor Gallagher, “I feel debased by O’Donnell and the opinions of some people about what he has done. He has brought disgrace to this chamber. My view is that as he was voted on to committees by council members, they have the right to vote him off them. It is a shame Frank McBrearty’s motion did not pass. This council had the opportunity to expel him and did not take it and now we have to wait until March to discuss it again.”

Protestors, men and women both inside and outside the chamber, said they were “disgusted by the council’s behaviour” adding, “our elected officials have failed to take proper action to stem an ugly, pervasive growing tide of corruption and cronyism sweeping across both this county and this country detrimentally affecting families, the elderly and children.”

Full story with photos and extended quotes coming up later today.

Exclusive: Donegal councillors John O’Donnell and Michael McBride funded by Údarás na Gaeltachta

At a time when controversial ‘cash for favors’ Donegal councillor John O’Donnell was refusing to pay more than 33,000 euro compensation to a Creeslough woman he injured in a car accident 16 years ago, Údarás na Gaeltachta granted him and fellow councillor Michael McBride more than 122,000 euro in public money (see document here Udaras grant), I can reveal exclusively in this blog.

John O Donnell Donegal, independent councilor Donegal

O’Donnell was founder, director and secretary of Dúncrua Teoranta, the company receiving the money. Interestingly, a second director of the company was fellow councillor, Michael McBride, who also acted as company secretary. Both men – now declaring themselves independent councillors – were then members of Fianna Fail. A third director named was Sarah Doherty.

Documents show McBride and O’Donnell became directors of Dúncrua Teoranta on the same day, 14 Sep 2006, when it was set up to sell metal ore. They are also listed as company secretaries. McBride was director for a year and four months, until February 2008 when he resigned. The company’s address was listed as just inside the Gaeltacht, at Cuirin, Termon.

Dúncrua Teoranta

Údarás approved funding for Dúncrua Teoranta of 122,300 euro in 2008, paying out 66,850 euro in that year alone. The owners put the company into bankruptcy within months of the money being given. Aidan Garcia of Collins Garcia Corporate Recovery, 28 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin was appointed as liquidator.

“As the money was given at a time when the company was close to bankruptcy, it seems it’s yet another case of cronyism, money given to two Fianna Fail politicians by a Fianna Fail dominated organization,” commented one observer with inside knowledge of Údarás operations.

Interestingly, O’Donnell was granted the money by Údarás at a time when he owned another company, Kilmac Form Work Limited, which later went into receivership with documents showing it had liabilities of 4.8 million Euro. Much of that debt, as declared during a High Court hearing in 2012, was owed to AIB Finance, thus to ordinary Irish people as the bank was bailed out by the State through injections of billions of euro of public money.

Kilmac Form Work Limited

O’Donnell registered Kilmac Form Work Limited on 6 April, 2005 in Ballyherrin, Kilmacrennan, several kilometers from Duncrua Teo, described as being involved in the manufacture of metal structures. It is currently listed as ‘Receivership’ with two directors, O’Donnell and his brother. The ‘Irish Independent’ reported recently that O’Donnell was forced to make back settlements to the taxman totaling over 330,000 euro. I have contacted both Councillors McBride and O’Donnell for comment but neither has responded. Údarás finally released a statement confirming it did grant O’Donnell the money. Where were Údarás officials when the RTE ‘cash for favors’ investigation was aired to such national furore weeks ago? Cowering in a corner hoping no-one would notice it had given scarce public money away so recklessly?

Urgent questions require immediate answers

The documents unearthed for this blog call into question the actions of both O’Donnell and Údarás na Gaeltachta.

O’Donnell is already firmly in the public spotlight due to his being caught on RTE camera allegedly offering ‘favors for cash’ on Donegal council business, as well as being under threat of arrest for failing to pay compensation due to Ms. Petra Kucklick of Creeslough whom he injured when he drove his car over her foot in 2000. District Court Judge Paul Kelly was quoted in the local media saying he will have the councillor arrested if he does not appear in person at the Letterkenny court on February 3rd to explain why he has failed to pay any of the compensation to the injured woman. O’Donnell seemed to have had lots of money at one time and could have easily paid the compensation, why did he decide not to do so?

Almost all of the main political party representatives in Donegal have called directly for O’Donnell’s resignation, as did Independent councillors, Micheal Cholm Mac Giolla Easpuig, who has called for a boycott of next week’s full council meeting due to take place on Monday, January 25, Dessie Shiels, who left a meeting Letterkenny Municipal District Council last week in protest, and Frank McBrearty, former Mayor, who resigned last week from the Independent Grouping on Donegal County Council in protest as O’Donnell not being expelled.

Donegal Now‘ news service said Cllr. McBrearty explained that Cllr Michael McBride’s casting vote as party whip means he has the power to expel Cllr John O’Donnell from the group and the committees given to him under the all inclusive deal. The news service quoted McBrearty saying: “I will perform my duties as an Independent councillor and do my very best for the people that elected me. I will not be associated with Cllr John O Donnell when he clearly said he could get the backing of 25 to 30 other councillors. I am not one of these councillors and am making my position clear by taking this stand. I do not understand the reluctance of some councillors to support my decision but that’s for them to decide.”

The information these documents reveal also come as councilor Shiels, who will contest the next national elections, recently left a meeting of the 10-member Letterkenny Municipal District Council in protest at O’Donnell’s attendance. “In the aftermath of the RTE investigates programme which aired on RTE in November past, I personally cannot involve myself in county council meetings, whether at Municipal District Level or at full plenary council level in the presence of councillor O’Donnell,” Shiels said. “To do so would, to my mind, compromise everything that I have tried to do to date since being elected to Donegal County Council to restore public confidence in politics in Donegal.”

Added another observer, who prefers his identification to remain confidential at this times, said, “I wondered why Michael McBride was so quiet in his condemnation of O’Donnell.”

Is John O’Donnell the kind of political leader the people of Donegal want? Is this what we mean when we say proudly, “we’re different up here?”

Does Údarás na Gaeltachta lack good governance?

Key questions also remain about the operations of Údarás na Gaeltachta, particularly in Donegal.

Did anyone at the organization check into the financial health of O’Donnell and his companies before granting him 122,000 euro of public money? If so, why did it go ahead and approve the grant? If it did not check, then it is guilty of ignoring its duties to the public whose money supports the organisation’s entire operation.

Perhaps, in addition to the controversial wind farm development issue that was the focus of the RTE program, perhaps O’Donnell can clarify how he got the money from Údarás for Dúncrua Teoranta. It is not believed either O’Donnell or McBride have paid any of the money back.

Also, as the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) identified the requirement for a ‘Section 56’ on O’Donnell’s company – which allows interested parties to bring concerns before the liquidator and thus try to recuperate their money – has Údarás done so in relation to the loss of public money (the grant)? If, not, why not? Is this yet again willful disrespect of public interest?

Or in the light of the allegations arising from the RTE program – did some people at Údarás get kick-backs for pushing the money through for O’Donnell? Considering Fianna Fail’s long-time dominance of Údarás and that party’s record of skullduggery in bankrupting Ireland, such allegations cannot be ignored. In addition, this blog revealed that Údarás hired Finbarr Boyle as business training manager for local entrepreneurs through the EU funded CeanaglG project in Donegal even though Boyle was already under investigation, had already pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain and was later proven guilty of stealing more than 200,000 euro from a village school, including money earmarked for children’s food. Does the organization suffer from a severe lack of good governance?

Oh, and by the way, where did the 122,000 euro go? As Cuba Gooding Jr. said in that wonderful film, ‘Jerry Maguire’ – “Show us the money!”

Changes required at Údarás?

With frequent revelations about the operations of Údarás – including free trips for executives, board members and their wives to Las Vegas (to meet officials of Enterprise Ireland) and ‘insider trading’ schemes whereby former Údarás board members and top executives received money for their own organizations and projects – economic experts are questioning whether the group is fit for purpose. These concerns are especially sensitive locally as well as in Brussels as the Government decided recently it will operate the multi-million euro EU LEADER programme in the Donegal Gaeltacht where decisions on money allocation will take place over the coming months.

Some sector analysts as well as ordinary people in the Gaeltacht community say that after several decades of failure and with unemployment in the Gaeltacht at an all-time high, the economic regeneration model for the regions is simply not working and that Údarás na Gaeltachta should simply be dismantled and replaced with a new and more efficient organization, one featuring well-trained technocrats, not politically-appointed personnel.

Others say that much-needed changes are already underway, an example being the recent appointment of Letterkenny-based, former county council director of services for community, culture and planning, Micheál Ó hÉanaigh, as director of enterprise and employment, marine and natural resources at Údarás. Ó hÉanaigh, credited with launching the Donegal Diaspora project.

However, one must also note the recent reaction by Joe McHugh, Fine Gael Minister for the Gaeltacht, to the questionable activities at Údarás – he said the organization would receive an extra one million euro in public funding this year.

Minister of Public Expenditure raps Údarás na Gaeltachta for lack of transparency

Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, has rapped Údarás na Gaeltachta on the knuckles for failing to release vital information on spending of public money affecting Donegal and other Gaeltacht areas.

Following a refusal by Údarás to provide details on hefty pension payments to former executives that accounts for more than half its annual budget under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request I filed, formal written parliamentary questions were submitted by TDs angry about the lack of transparency by the Gaeltacht economic development group.

FOI

Such questions culminated in one by Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein TD and member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on my behalf, directly to the Minister, “To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in view of his stated commitment to transparency and accountability in the spending of public moneys, his views that it is acceptable for a public body fully funded by the Exchequer to withhold from the public record details of public service pension arrangements on retirement for senior managers; and if he will legislate to require all publicly funded bodies to make such information public in the interests of open Government.”

A formal written response has just been received from Minister Howlin, in which he, in effect, tacitly states that Údarás was wrong to turn down my FOI request seeking details of pensions for former executives paid wholly out of public funds, and that it should release the information forthwith.

The Minister writes, “Under the 2014 (Freedom of Information) Act, the terms and conditions of any individual who holds or held any office or other position remunerated from public funds in a public body, rather than just those of a Director or member of staff as provided for under the 1997 Act, are not afforded the protections under the Act in relation to personal information. On that basis, the type of information to which the Deputy’s question refers i.e. public service pension arrangements on retirement for senior managers which would be part of remuneration, would be available from a public body that was subject to FOI, other than where a specific exemption applies against the release of such information.

The Minister elaborates further, “Under the Freedom of Information Act 2014, as was the case in the original Freedom of Information Act in 1997, an exemption from the provisions of Freedom Of Information (FOI) is provided for personal information. The 2014 Act also expanded the definition of what does not constitute personal information in the context of FOI.”

In answer to McDonald’s question as to whether the Minister “will legislate to require all publicly funded bodies to make such information public in the interests of open Government,” the Minister writes, “Given the matter is already provided for by the Freedom of Information Act 2014, I do not consider further legislative action is required.

As we have seen with scandal-hit FAS and other Irish state bodies that abused peoples’ trust and misspent public money, the only way to prevent corruption is by creating greater transparency. The government coalition of Fine Gael and Labour made this a central issue in their electoral platform. In the three years since they took office, little progress has been made.

cartoon

Several weeks ago, Ireland was placed 31st position ‘in the league of transparent nations’ following research by the World Wide Web Foundation. It is the worst of any European nation, even behind countries such as Russia, Mexico and Brazil. The group’s categorized Ireland as a country that faces challenges to “mainstreaming open data across government and institutionalizing it as a sustainable practice.” It also said “core data on how the government is spending taxpayers’ money and how public services are performing remains inaccessible or pay-walled even though such information is critical to fight corruption and promote fair competition is even harder to get.”

Tim Berners-Lee, Web, founder of the Web Foundation and the London-based Open Data Institute, said, “Governments continue to shy away from publishing the very data that can be used to enhance accountability and trust” and highlighted the power of open data “to put power in the hands of citizens.”

Údarás is a classic case in point.

lenses

Dinny McGinley, former junior minister for the Gaeltacht, wrote back in a vague response to my FOI request saying simply that Údarás had informed him it was “a data controller, defined under the Acts as a person who either alone or with others controls the contents and use of personal data.

For so many years untouchable hidden behind a veil of Irish-language support, Údarás perhaps is in many ways no different to FAS in terms of greed and individual self-interests. According to Údarás sources, former board members in Donegal remained in boardroom meetings during discussions on lucrative payments to their very own companies and organisations. In addition, not one but at least three Donegal Údarás board members have been up before the Standards in Public Office Commission on corruption charges relating to double dipping on expenses. When one considers the expense claims for board members, particularly under the long-time chairmanship of Liam Cunningham from Glencolmbcille (from 2005 to 2010 he received more than 155,000 euro in fees and expenses, according to Highland Radio), one has an idea of the unchecked, proliferate spending that went on.

Some details as already reported by Highland Radio –

  • Four former Donegal members of the Údarás board each received in excess of 100,000 euro each, over a four-year period, in travel expenses.
  • Fianna Fáil member Daithi Alcorn earned nearly €120,000 between 2005 and 2009;
  • Fianna Fail Senator Brian O Domhnaill received €115,000 while independent Donegal member Padraig O Dochartaigh received €105,000.

Over one billion euro of public money has already gone into supporting Udaras na Gaeltachta yet unemployment rates in Gaetachts are consistently highest in the nation.

Misspending of public money (an issue brought up by the former head of the PAC, see 3-part series article series), includes all-expenses trips to Las Vegas for Udaras board members and their spouses – supposedly to meet a delegation of the IDA;

In truth, Údarás was – and perhaps still is – a cash cow for well-to-do insiders in west Donegal.

It is long past time Údarás prepared proper annual reports instead of the porous documents it now produces that disguise the spending picture and that it holds open public meetings to allow the people of the Gaeltacht to know exactly how their hard-earned money is being spent.