New Irish Government was decided BEFORE the elections

Weeks before the recent Irish election was even announced and long before the first votes were cast, representatives of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael met behind closed doors to cut a deal, with one solitary aim in mind – to keep Sinn Fein out of government.

At the same time, generously funded by major corporations, banks and developers, highly-paid public relations specialists in the pockets of these two same political parties were instructed to create what’s known as a ‘news camouflage.’

To avoid any fall-out from someone learning about these secret meetings, they spun a story through a web of overly acquiescent Irish media that these two political parties would instead discuss forming a coalition with other minor parties.

irish elections, elections in ireland

Coalition terms were discussed on behalf of these two men by their representatives BEFORE the Irish election was even announced.

It is a well-planned and co-ordinated charade to create a facade of democratic fairness.

Among those most wanting Sinn Fein side-lined at all costs was Jim O’Callaghan, wealthy Dublin barrister, senior counsel and Fianna Fail’s justice minister, a man who only managed to get elected on the eighth (8th) count, beaten by Sinn Fein candidate, Chris Andrews.

O’Callaghan is brother of millionairess and RTE presenter Miriam O’Callaghan who infamously grilled Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald, on a pre-election ‘Leader’s TV Debate’ on – guess what – justice issues.

In doing so, she used an archaic 13-year-old audio report excavated from deep within the archives of the BBC as a weapon. It may come as no surprise to many whom Miriam’s husband, Steve, works for.

Yes, you guessed right. The BBC.

The O’Callaghans, like many wealthy people in Ireland today, would be required to pay a little more in taxes under a Sinn Fein led government, with loose tax avoidance loopholes used by many rich people closed. These taxes would help close the gap between rich and poor and ease the housing, health and education crises mainly affecting working-class people.

Reflecting growing popular interest in the economic inequalities in Ireland, a blog I wrote before the elections on the O’Callaghans attracted a massive 20,348 views from readers in just one week. More than 2,000 readers every single day.

 That being said, here is my prediction.

Within the next two weeks – after demonising Sinn Fein as a ‘cult’ through a slick and expensive media campaign (thus demonising half a million Irish people who voted for that party), Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will announce a new Centre Right government.

The word ‘change’ will be sprinkled liberally throughout their joint manifesto and media interviews and they will announce they ‘have put aside their differences —- in the interests of the country,’ thus positioning themselves as some kind of ‘national saviours.’ 

Sinn Fein President, Mary Lou McDonald, won more votes for Prime Minister than both existing PM Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin.

I predict this development with sadness, but with confidence gleaned from 40 years of journalism experience in Ireland, the US and mainland Europe. 

And on this election issue, I’ve got things right so far.

I predicted Sinn Fein would get more than 30 seats.

I predicted the five politicians who would be elected in my own constituency of Donegal

I predicted Pat the Cope Gallagher, a Fianna Fail member of parliament for 40 years, a man with whom I had a public run-in would lose his seat, with many people telling me such a prediction was like Manchester United being relegated from the Premiership.

With the Cheltenham races coming up, perhaps I should make a few big bets for I even predicted the following two weeks ago in my blog –

“… on voting day tomorrow (Saturday), will the final outcome be any different from that over the last 100 years? Sadly, regardless of Sinn Fein receiving a well-deserved boost, hopefully above the 30 mark, I don’t think so.

If past results are anything to go by, we will remain with a Centre Right majority that kowtows to wealthy individuals, major corporations, banks, vulture funds and major land developers offering tax breaks and other incentives. A coalition that steadfastly fails to rectify the growing, severe inequalities in social life here.”

The truth is simple. Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin wants to be Taoiseach, Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar still wants to be in Government. And they both need to pay back their rich sponsors, both individuals and corporations.

Such was the huge turnout for this week’s Sinn Fein public meeting at Dublin’s Liberty Hall, site of many famous events hosted by socialist leaders such as 1916 Revolution leader James Connolly, people were addressed both inside and outside the Hall.

As they prepare to announce their Government, it is important to point out the following for context: 

*Sinn Fein elected 37 TD’s, out of 42 candidates;

*10 Sinn Fein candidates topped the polls;

*27 Sinn Fein candidates were elected in the first count.

*Sinn Fein doubled their vote in Dublin;

*Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald won more votes last week for Prime Minister than both the present PM Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin; 

*Sinn Fein’s Dublin West candidate, Paul Donnelly, elected in the first count, beat Leo Varadkar, who only got elected in the fifth count, the first time in Irish history a Prime Minister has lost his own constituency;

* Sinn Fein candidates in my constituency, Donegal, were both elected on first counts – Pearse Doherty with 21,044 votes, 8,000 over the quota, and Pádraig MacLochlainn, with 13,891 votes, a massive 45% of the total vote;

*Sinn Fein’s candidate in Clare Violet-Anne Wynne who received just 385 in the local elections, won over 10,000 votes in the national ones;

*Sinn Fein candidate Johnny Mythen won in Wexford, the first time in 100 years the party has won a seat there;

*Sinn Fein won 45,614 votes, a mere 2.5% of the total in the 1997 election. In 2020, that transformed into 535,595 or 24.5%;

Is it any wonder the O’Callaghan’s and wealthy people like them are fearful.

And so sadly it seems are the Irish media which, displaying its Right-wing bias, has failed miserably to fulfil its role as the Fourth Estate, to serve and protect the public interest.

It refused to report on the emerging banking crisis under Fianna Fail’s watch that left Ireland bankrupt and at the mercy of the IMF and it is now refusing to report the real reasons Sinn Fein is being excluded from Government.

My predictions: Irish election Saturday

My observations of us Irish since returning to live in my native country 10 years ago is that far from the reputation we have in the eyes of other nationalities as an almost swashbuckling tribe of adventurers, we are in fact the most boring, banal and predictable of people when it comes to voting habits.

We, sheep-like, have voted into government mainly one of only two parties since the nation was founded a century ago, our warped sense of ‘change’ being simply to switch from Fianna Fail to Fine Gael and vice-versa now and then.

In doing so, we fail to realize – or worse, realize but lack the courage to accept – that there is simply no difference between these two parties.

What greater evidence do we need of this, if we needed more, than the last five years of Government: these two parties having been in what is strangely termed a ‘confidence and supply’ relationship. In effect, a coalition government under a different guise.

elections 2020 ireland, vote in 2020 ireland,

My advice: take a chance on change. It’s long past time and no less than what you deserve.

Consequently, shocking ongoing crises in key sectors such as health, housing and social welfare have occurred under the watch of both parties. They are both equally guilty of neglect and disservice to the people of Ireland. And Fianna Fail bankrupted Ireland not so long ago, leaving teachers, nurses and others on the scrap heap, and some of its TDs then are running again, including its leader.

So, on voting day tomorrow (Saturday), will the final outcome be any different from that over the last 100 years?

Sadly, regardless of Sinn Fein receiving a well-deserved boost, hopefully above the 30 mark,  I don’t think so.

If past result are anything to go by, we will remain with a Centre Right majority that kowtows to wealthy individuals, major corporations, banks, vulture funds and major land developers offering tax breaks and other incentives. A coalition that steadfastly fails to rectify the growing, severe inequalities in social life here.

Through the election campaign, I continue to be deeply disillusioned by the media in Ireland and their bias. For example, do many people really believe there was a dead-heat between Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, 24-24 percent, in the Red C poll for the Business Post? What decent, well-organized poll ends up in a draw? It is not even mathematically possible as you poll an odd number of people, not an even number, to make sure there is an outright winner.

A caveat to this is that my wife, Columbia from Romania, who will, I believe like many emigrants, vote Sinn Fein, received a call from Red C. But when she said she lived in Donegal, they refused to take her details, telling her they had enough people from Donegal.

Surprising to say the least, as Red C had boasted its poll was a ‘random’ one. This simple incident proves it was far, far from that. It is no coincidence that, with Sinn Fein poised through Pearse Doherty and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn to attract more votes than any other party in Donegal, Red C pollsters were told not to take anyone from Donegal in the so-called ‘random’ poll.

I feel Sinn Fein was probably the winner in that poll but a national business newspaper handing this particular party the lead in such a crucial election would have been tantamount to treachery in the eyes of the newspaper’s owners and its well-to-do readers.

vote in 2020 ireland, irish elections 2020

Let a woman take the lead. (image from first-ever Irish elections)

Or take The Irish Times, for whom I worked as a foreign correspondent. At least, they had the decency to portray their poll results honestly. Sinn Fein as outright winners.

But then a strange thing happened, the newspaper started spinning the numbers in an effort to reduce the prestigious victory of Sinn Fein, mixing in other numbers to the point of confusion.

There was even a bizarre moment during its live election debate from Trinity College earlier this week for subscribers when event host, Hugh Linehan, the newspaper’s arts and culture editor, said the poll might have created ‘a self-fulfilling prophecy’ and encouraged other journalistic colleagues on the panel to agree with him, which political correspondent, Pat Leahy (formerly of the Business Post) gleefully did.

How can a poll be ‘a self-fulfilling prophecy’? It’s as if a poll is an unseen power outside in the ether controlling the minds of people. Simply ludicrous. A completely irrational attempt at spin.

Keep in mind also that election podcasts by The Irish Times since the campaign began featured four men in key intro voiceover sound-bites, Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin, another Fine Gaeler and an Independent. No mention of Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald, who won the newspaper’s own poll as most popular person for Taoiseach and Sinn Fein as most popular party.

Not until I pointed this out to the newspaper in several e-mails did they decide to include Mary Lou’s voice.

Beware of Subliminal Election Messages

PREDICTIONS

My predictions for the five-seater in Donegal where I live: two Sinn Fein, one Fine Gael, one Fianna Fail and one Independent.

Pearse Doherty and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn of Sinn Fein and Joe McHugh of Fine Gael will be the first past the post.

Then there’ll be a battle for the last two seats with Fianna Fail’s Charlie McConalogue sweating it out next to get over the line.

Then the Battle Royale for the final seat – between Fianna Fail’s Pat the Cope Gallagher and hard-working Independent, Thomas Pringle.

vote sinn fein, elections ireland

It’ll be a rainy day for some candidates.

It’s past time multi-pensioned Pat, and his brand of old-style politics, retired from the ring. While once a shoo-in, he’s now panic canvassing door-to-door, but I’m hoping Pringle, younger, more progressive, more passionate, will receive his just reward.

Whether you agree with me or not, don’t waste your right to express your opinion. Call me a dreamer, but I still believe voting has as much meaning as we give it, so use it.

Perhaps this will turn out to be ‘the election of the young,’ the one that changes the usual political landscape of Ireland.

Miriam O’Callaghan: the discriminating face of RTE bias?

Miriam O’Callaghan, the wealthy Irish RTE TV presenter (average total annual earnings estimated at over 500,000 euro) came under the hammer today after her appalling hosting of the ‘Leaders Debate’ Tuesday evening – and rightly so.

Her bias in favour of parties such as Fianna Fail, and her severe anti-Sinn Fein stand, is well-known. After all, her brother, Jim, is the Fianna Fail spokesperson on justice.

TV presenter Miriam O’Callaghan’s ‘fitness for office’ is being called into question. Even her co-presenter on the ‘Leaders Debate’ Tuesday evening, David McCullough, seems aghast by her blatant on-air bias.

It’s no wonder then that Miriam gave Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin an easy ride during the state-owned, 90-minute TV debate than the other two leaders – Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar and Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald.

And why she spent so much time criticising Mary Lou McDonald on justice issues. Even her co-presenter, David McCullough, seems shocked by her blatant bias as seen by his expression in the photo above.

For Miriam, I daresay, knows full well not only could her brother’s political career be in danger but also her own massive pay and expenses contract with RTE, a publicly-owned national station, if Sinn Fein gets into power after Saturday’s voting.

I’m referring not just about her huge salary, but also the lucrative contracts production company, Mint Productions, once owned by Miriam and her husband, Steve Carson, who himself worked for RTE, gained from RTE, thus providing even more generous amounts of income and well-paid jobs for their children.

And with Carson now working for the BBC, who could possibly have obtained in such a timely manner a verbatim transcript of an interview with Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy on Paul Quinn from deep within the archives of the BBC 13 years ago to help Miriam grill Mary Lou with? Even more, who says that is a key issue in this national election, anyhow?

The entire set-up Tuesday evening certainly seems like a complete family affair. Starring the O’Callaghans.

My own run-in with Miriam took place in a television studio when as a journalist I was invited to attend a conference.

Miriam started the day’s proceedings with a few generalities on media and later I asked her about the generous contracts, Mint Productions, gained from RTE.

“Do you or your husband not think these might be a conflict of interest as you worked for RTE in a senior position, as did he?” I asked her.

Her answer: “I don’t know anything about those things. My husband and I don’t discuss professional matters.”

Mary Lou McDonald, elections 2020

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald out canvassing with friends and supporters.

Tuesday evening’s unprofessional performance by Miriam, I’m afraid, was par for the course.

Four years ago, I wrote this blog on a ‘Election Leaders Debate’ that took place then, at which O’Callaghan was again less than shy about showing her bias.

‘Time for change – real lasting change – time to grow up, we Irish have prevaricated enough’

By the way, here’s a very short excerpt of Miriam talking to ‘Her’ magazine some time ago: The presenter is one of RTÉ’s biggest earners, raking in €300,000 per year but she said money is not a draw for her. “It’s not about the money, it really isn’t. 

My fervent hope is that the Irish electorate has learned over the last few years that certain influential, well-to-do people with much to lose if the old political duality changes will not hesitate to use whatever means necessary to prevent that happening.

Be careful whom you choose as your preferences on Saturday (and put it in pen, not pencil – just in case).

UPDATE: Payback Time

Following Tuesday’s election, debate Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin wasn’t slow to return the favor to RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan

Martin promises a household media charge to boost RTÉ

 

‘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.

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.