Thursday, October 29, 2009

Education Payroll Budget: A Public Sector Bubble We Can no Longer Afford.

I was interested recently in doing some research into education in Ireland wondering how had things changed since I left secondary school myself. What drew me to this task was the statement by John Gormley T.D. and leader of the Green Party, that the Green Party is the Party of Education. As a member of the Green Party myself I wanted to find out more.

What I found was astonishing. Here is a summary. There are today some 480,000 students in primary taught by 31,349 primary full time teachers, 337,000 students in secondary education taught by 27,236 full-time secondary teachers and 150,000 students in third level resourced with over 35,000 full-time academic and non-academic staff.

This can be broken down into 10,000 full-time academic staff, over 15,000 full-time contract research staff and over 10,000 non-academic staff employed.

This is why the Department of Education has the third largest budget of any Department in the State. When you see these figures its easy to understand why.

So how far have we come in the past decade with education?

Far more than we would ever realize. Lets look at the facts. In 1998 the number of primary school teachers in full time employment was 21,100, today it stands at 31,349 an increase of 10,249. The number of full time secondary school teachers in employment in 2000 was 24,600 and today it is 27,236, that’s an increase of 2,636.

I do not have the figures for employment in third level for 2000 but it is widely accepted that there are now a considerably larger number of staff employed full time compared to ten years ago. So what we have seen in the recent past is a massive increase in investment in education by the state that is not generally acknowledged by the public or trade unions.

To illustrate how significant this investment has been lets look a little deeper at the statistics.

In 1985 there were 552,528 students in primary education. Today there are 480,000, a reduction of 72,528 pupils. Within the same time we have seen an increase in the number of teachers by over 10,000 full time staff. So while student numbers have fallen significantly teacher numbers have increased by a roughly a third. But lets not forget this investment was necessary as we were making up lost ground to bring our standards up to our European neighbours.

The expenditure per student for primary, secondary and third level education has increased significantly in the past ten years from €3,313, €4,949 and €8,927 respectively in 1998 to €6,546, €9,447 and €11,368 in 2008. That's an increase between 100% for primary education to 20% for third level in the last ten years.

In every respect one has to acknowledge that in a short time we have come an enormous distance. The facts speak plainly when it comes to education; we have never had it so good.

The State has invested in education enormously over the past ten years. This money, however, has principally been spent on salaries and not on educational infrastructure. Hence, the substandard quality of infrastructure used by many schools around Ireland, which in some cases comprises entirely of leaky, cold and poorly insulated prefabs.

As with other sectors of the public sector we have seen a massive investment in human resources in hiring additional staff. In parallel with the huge increase in staff numbers has also come a significant increase in salary costs over the past ten years.

One of the problems that now confronts us is how we pay for this as a nation going forward.

If we cannot pay for it, what do we do? Do we cut numbers or cut costs? For in the next ten years we must find over €12 billion in savings to deal with the critical state of the public finances. This critical state has us borrowing €70 million a day to pay for our public sector costs alone.

If we look at what the situation is elsewhere it might help enlighten us as to how we may manage our costs in the difficult years ahead.

A typical secondary teacher in Ireland after nine years service earns approximately €56,000 and this figure rises annually thereafter; in the UK it is capped for life at €40,100 (save for annual inflation rises). In every respect after nine years service to be able to earn €56,000 is a very significant salary especially for a job that is also compensated with 18 weeks paid holidays a year. In reality what this means is that for someone who takes up employment as a secondary school teacher at 24, by the time they are 33 they will be guaranteed an income of €56,000, 18 weeks holidays and a guaranteed pension.

If we were paying similar wages to the UK for secondary school teachers, where they have a much greater tax base to pay for public sector salaries, we would see an approximate reduction of €433 million a year in operational staff budgets for secondary education alone. That's a lot of money. The figure for third level would be even higher approaching one billion euros as academics and lecturers in Ireland are paid significantly more in Ireland than their European counterparts.

The reality, which we don’t want to accept, is that we are a very small country and cannot really afford to pay the many very generous public sector salaries awarded in this country. It will be impossible to make significant savings in the education budget without impacting on services provided unless payroll costs are revised. This reminds me of a scenario I had as an employer back in 2002 when I wanted to take on additional staff and increase the salaries of new staff in my organization but did not have the budget available to do so. I knew that in order for the business to develop in difficult times something had to give. My response was not to take a pay-rise that was due to me but rather use this money to reward and keep the existing staff on my payroll. For me this was a relatively simple decision; I knew my job would be made a lot more difficult if staff left. How many I wonder in the public sector would be willing to take a pay cut to keep their colleagues in employment? From what we hear from the Unions, no one is willing to compromise. What we have seen in some public sector organisations, however, is part time staff losing their jobs by the hundreds and thousands while their full time colleagues get pay rises. Payroll costs have increased while numbers employed have decreased. This is a shocking indictment of our country and character.

What we need right now, more than ever, is national unity, which requires public sector employees and their unions to acknowledge reality. The taxpayer and the public sector must come to accept the reality that we have a public sector bubble that we can no longer afford. We all agree that we must invest in education and services but this does not mean that we go bankrupt doing so. Something must give and it has to be a reduction in salaries back to European norms.

Hallowe’en Trick or Cheat, Seanad Eireann and pretending to be what you’re not.

What’s the connection between Halloween, Simply Red, the Labour party and public money?

Hallowe’en is all about wearing a costume and pretending to be what you are not; a bit like a Senator who wishes they were a TD but didn’t get elected.

If like me you left school in the 1980s you certainly remember that hit single by Simply Red from 1985 called “Monies too tight to mention”. Well, if ever there was a song to represent the depression of the 80s this was it. It also represented the working man’s plight and the rise in public popularity of Labour Party politics. Perhaps now that we are living in the worst recession since the 1930s, this song should be re-released.

So what’s this got to do with public money and the labour party you might ask? I’ll tell you what. Over the past four years, as reported in the Sunday Tribune and Sunday Business Post, 95 politicians who have served as Senators have claimed more than €10.57million in expenses. Among them is Labour Senator Michael McCarthy from Dunmanway who has claimed over €240,000 in expenses between the period 2005 and 2008 alone. That equates to taking home an average of €60,000 on top of an annual salary of €70,000. This amounts to the staggering sum of €130,000 per annum. Over his 9 years as a Senator, Michael McCarthy has earned approximately over 1 million in salary and expenses.

Where else would one have the ability to earn this enormous salary with little or no experience and with the added bonus of having a work year that requires just 100 days or less in office?

The majority of expenses were claimed for travel and subsistence payments for attending Seanad Eireann. Yet, a study by RTE’s ‘The Week in Politics’ programme found that, from May to January 09, only three senators had attended all 55 Seanad Eireann votes. In simple terms, only three actually turned up to work and vote on legislation or Oireachtas business when they were required. That’s three out of the total number of 60 Senators, a mere 5% of the Senate members, who have a 100% attendance rate.

The question begs as to how a figure of more than €10.57million has been claimed by Senators when the level of attendance by many of them is so abysmally low?

Moreoever, what have the opposition parties have to say about this, particularily, the Labour Party in light of their demands that John O’Donoghue resign for his gross misuse of public funds? Surely they intend to lead by example? Well, it wouldn’t appear so. The Study by RTE showed that the Labour Party Senators were in the bottom five of members in voting attendance. Yes that’s correct: the bottom five. One must ask what the Labour Senators are actually doing when between them they are costing the taxpayer more than one million a year to sit as Senators? Furthermore, how can Senator McCarthy claim over €60,000 a year in travel and subsistence when he is not present for Seanad business as reported by RTE?

I, for one, would like answers to these questions. In a time when the public are seeking greater transparency on how public monies are spent or where they could be spent, one must question the value we are getting for OUR money. Let us not forget that our taxed income is paying for this extravagance.

Staying local, I would like to know why Senator McCarthy voted only 15 times out of 55 in the 6 month period between May and January 2009. That’s an attendance record of 27% for a position with a combined salary and expenses of over €130,000. I find these facts and figures truly scandalous. In the private sector any employee who presented such a record of employment would be sacked immediately. In any other working democratic institution in the developed world, such individuals would be forced to resign from office, yet here in Ireland they carry on without reproach.

Have we as a nation completely lost our ability to govern? It appears that we have created a generation of self-serving politicians who see their office as one of entitlement with no concept of reality as experienced by the citizens of this state that pay for their privileges. All Oireachtas members are required to comply with a code of ethics as represented in the Ethics in Public Office Act, which sets out the standards of conduct and integrity expected to be observed by the members in the performance of their official duties. The Code of Conduct states that in performing their official duties, members must apply public resources prudently and only for the purposes for which they are intended.

Given the above, one would conclude that since Senator McCarthy’s voting record on Senate business illustrates only a 27% participation rate, it could be reasonably suggested that he repay €95,000 to the State for expenses and salary claimed for non-attendance on Seanad business. These are after all monies the taxpayer paid. Neither I nor anyone working in the public or private sector, would be allowed to claim expenses for work when records show non-attendance. Surely this would not be tolerated? Certainly, not in the real world.

A 27% voting record does not demonstrate, even in the wildest imaginations of public service, value for money and is nothing short of contemptible. Such behavior by Senator McCarthy and his colleagues demonstrates conduct unbecoming of office holders and brings the integrity of their office and the houses of the Oireachtas into serious disrepute. This is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated now or in any circumstance, especially when the state is cutting funding for essential social and health services elsewhere. The idiom “a penny wise and pound stupid” comes to mind.

Senators are only required to sit for a maximum of 2 days a week and actually attend Seanad Eireann for less than 100 days a year. It is for some a part-time job albeit an enormously well-paid one. This privileged position brings with it a salary of €70,000 per annum plus expenses. However, one should look a little deeper, for example, the cost of Senator McCarthy’s expenses for each day’s attendance would equate to over €1,300 per day to the taxpayer. Were one to take into consideration his 27% voting attendance record this could be recalculated at a staggering cost of €4,815 per day for his participation in Seanad Business.

How can this be justified? If someone feels that they can justify their job with a 27% attendance then clearly that position is not required. Not even the most talented career professional could demand this level of remuneration, not even for a two day week; such waste of public finances is nothing short of a national disgrace. And all this from one of the next generation of career politicians who proudly claims on his website “McCarthy’s around when others can’t be found”.

More like “Others around and McCarthy’s nowhere to be found”.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Politics of History rather than the Politics of the Future.

When does an economist becomes and environmentalist. For anyone who watched David McWilliams programme Peak Everything this week, you might find this article by John Gibbons on McWilliams becoming a devoted ecologist in the Irish Times an interesting read. David used a lot of information that i have been presenting on climate change and sustainability over the past 18 months to organizations and communities. Information and ideas that i also spoke about with people when i decided to run in the local election earlier this year. This was why I ran, to try and get this message out to as many people as possible which i did by circulating information to 14,000 households. Thats why even thought i didnt get elected i was happy that over 3500 people gave me a 1-5 preference vote. People are beginning to listen. I was delighted with the programme, i can no longer be regarded as a radical when someone such a D. McWilliams starts quoting the same information and references as I do. When it comes to NAMA and the financial crises we aint seen nothing yet. My concern with NAMA is however that we are investing in a the failed and unsustainable system rather than using this money to invest in our communities, an alternative future, a new beginning. That's what it's all about ? the politics of history rather than the politics of the future.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Climate Change One Year On.

As the rain pelted against my window today I reflected on the fact that we have less than 50days left to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Almost one year ago I organized an International climate change conference here in Cork. I came across today the notes that I used in my opening speech to delegates attending. I thought I would share my comments and views of that day as they are even more relevant today in the mist of our current financial uncertainty. With all the media attention on the financial chaos one might think that climate change has gone away, it hasn't, its worst than we even considered one year ago.

Anyway this is what I said:

Let me begin by saying thanks to all of you who’ve traveled here today, for giving of your time to this event.

We all made this journey for a reason.

By being here today you have shown that you are concerned about our future, perhaps wishing to learn more about climate change and how each of us may work individually and together to tackle the enormous challenges that lie ahead.

That’s the journey we are on today.

I organized this conference motivated by a single, simple powerful idea, that I might play a small part in building a better future. We are all our future has to work with, each of us here today will play a part in deciding that future. It is up to us.

Never before was so much knowledge available to so many capable of understanding and acting. We are the most prosperous educated generation ever sustained by our planet.

Now science has presented us with a profound message, it is a imminent reality that can bring about the destruction of humanity.

Together we bear the biggest responsibility ever borne in our history.

We are the generation that can decide the faith of billions of people, the faith of our species and the natural world which sustains all life on this planet rest’s on our shoulders. It is an extraordinary responsibility.

Our time will be regarded as the most important opportunity for humanity to prove its intellect and resolve.

We must ask, do we realize this?

In the past two years the world has reached an unprecedented level of awareness on climate change yet it appears the public are not moved to react.

It is critical that we begin to engage reality. We still have an opportunity to act and to minimize the level of devastation that climate change will bring about.

The promise of a green technological and industrial revolution is at hand; a new age of green economics and truly sustainable development.

The possibility of a shift to renewable sources of energy is now available to us along with more efficient public transport, energy conservation and sustainable development.

It will require political leadership supported by an informed public.

The shift to a greener economy needs urgent assistance; we cannot wait for the economic conditions to improve as the costs of inaction – in ecological, human and financial terms – will far exceed the costs of action now.

Are we willing to deal with the challenge?

As a society we are distracted from reality and encouraged to go on living unsustainable lives as if climate change was science fiction, its time to wake up.

You may not know it but we live in a society where we are considered to be amongst the top 1% of the world’s population.

We as a society are one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions per capita of any nation on the world.

As a nation and individually we have a long and difficult path to take and it won’t be easy, we’ll have to make hard choices and although Governments will play a crucial role in bringing about the changes we need, each of us here today, in our own lives will have to accept responsibility for educating the wider community in which we live, sharing our knowledge and together help change the way society views the world.

We don’t have must time.

I believe we can transform our society, we can transform our nation, we can turn this crisis of climate change into a moment of opportunity for innovation and job creation and an incentive for business. This conference must be a vehicle to push us forward to a common purpose. That is the purpose here today for me. If you see, as I see, an alternative future, a more sustainable way of living, you must believe that you can make a difference.

I myself like many of you here today was influenced by distinguished scientists such as our esteemed colleagues here today Professor Robert Devoy and Professor Colin Woodroffe who were lead authors and contributors to the UN IPCC Climate Change 4th Assessment report which received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

I thank sincerely Dr Pachauri who received that price on behalf of the IPCC team for taking time to make his address for us here in Cork today, and to all the other distinguished participants in particular Dr James Hansen for his live presentation later today from the USA, and to Minister John Gormley for taking time out of his busy schedule to open this conference, I would like to acknowledge their work and dedication to which we all owe a great debt of gratitude.

We have today some of the most distinguished scientists, experts and civic leaders on climate change in the world addressing this event. I am immensely proud and honored that they have all willingly given of their time to share their knowledge and experience with each of us here today. For me this is thee most significant climate change educational event yet to have occurred in this country.

This would not have happened without the support and generosity of our main sponsors, EnviroManagement Services and Bord Gais. For that I would like to thank John Mullins the CEO of Bord Gais and oddly myself as EnviroManagement Services. To add to the uniqueness of this remarkable event is the generous third level and second level sponsor programme’s we have facilitated.

No conference on climate change is effective without the inclusion of the most important generation. To the student delegates here today representing secondary school’s in Cork city and county I am grateful to your sponsors the Change campaign, SWS Natural Resources and Arups Consulting Engineers for their generous support and providing much needed financial assistance to the running cost of this event.
As this is science week it is remarkable and encouraging that we are sponsoring so many schools and universities to attend this event. To all the third level students from around Ireland I thank you for coming and your sponsor NTR for their key sponsorship. Last but not least to our other key sponsors that have made this day possible, SWS Group, Musgrave Group, Trocaire, the EPA and BT for further reducing our carbon footprint and providing the technology for live video conference today without which some of our speakers would not be able to participate.

A vital aspect of the conference is not just about raising awareness here but assisting communities in developing countries. I hope through this conference and your attendance here today that Partnership for change can be able to provide a solar power initiative for a entire community that has no access to electricity, in addition to benefiting other charities and environmental organizations.

For some of you here today this will be your first experience of such an event, I hope that we do not disappoint. I know that here today we will witness the seeds of new vision and leadership for the next generation. We are all part of the problem of climate change and global warming. Today you are part of the solution.

Monday, October 19, 2009

NAMA a failed business plan to protect private equity

NAMA is a colossal misdirection and waste of public resources, a financial ballot of institutions that have corrupted our democracy and damaged our society condemning hundreds of thousands to negative equity, bankruptcy and un-employment.

The root cause of this is greed and selfishness and a tangled skein of institutions grown up to express and protect them. NAMA represents not only a failure of truth and justice but illustrates how politics, the economy, society, you and every taxpayer is now subject to the control of financial markets and institutions.

It is exceedingly difficult for the public to understand how Irish Banks as independent financial institutions who made billions in profit for private shareholders in the past few years, now seek a colossal financial ballot from the taxpayer. These very institutions exposed themselves and their shareholders to financial risks totaling, well over 90 billion a figure so vast in the context of Irish history that one searches in vain for any relevant historical parallel.

In 2005 Anglo Irish Bank reported a profit of 685million euros and over 1billion profit in 2007. This profit was shared out amongst its main shareholders including Sean Quinn a 15% shareholder of the bank, Invesco 5% shareholder, Swiss Bank 6% shareholder, Dresdner 7% shareholder and Janus Capitol a 5.5% shareholder.

These shareholders accepted the business plan of the board of directors of the bank that providing over 67billion in loans in 2007 largely for property developments and purchase of development lands in Ireland and abroad that were widely overvalued and should have been regarded as high risk investments. Yet it is now the Irish taxpayer who is being told that we have no choice but to recapitalize such risky credit institutions.

The NAMA legislation is being introduced to protect credit institutions that are of systemic important to the economy of the state. We the public need to demand of our Minister for finance who has ultimate responsibility for selecting which credit institutions are protected by NAMA to explain to the members of the Oireachtas and the public why it is that Anglo Irish Bank, an insolvent institution, is of systematic important to the Irish economy.

Is NAMA protecting its shareholders and business partners who took a risk on equities and investments that have failed? NAMA is now calling on the taxpayer to provide a multibillion bailout to a failed economic system at a time of soaring job losses and widespread economic turmoil. By injecting almost 30 billion euro in Anglo Irish Bank to overpay for assets that are now significantly devalued is a crime. A failed bank and a failed financial system is being sold to us to ensure the survival of a few greedy individuals on the backs of the sacrifices of the many.

How we deal with this current crisis will provide a clear indication of how as a society we may face the real challenges of the 21st century, climate change, food and energy security, over consumption, the challenge of diminishing resources and increasing population. Based on the current situation right now the future doesn’t look to bright.

Crunch Time for Politics

Let me start by saying that I’ve written this as a member of the Green Party who objected to the NAMA legislation. At the recent Green Party conference, I was one of a few speakers to offer contributions on both the NAMA legislation and the revised programme for government.

I wish to outline to your readers my personal views on both these important issues so that you may understand that not all within the Green Party accept that the Programme For Government (PFG) or the NAMA legislation represent the best outcome for the taxpayer in these difficult times.

First, let me begin with why the convention was called. The Green Party constitution allows for a special convention when at least five electoral groups submit a request to the National Executive Committee (NEC) on this occasion,  to decide the position of the party to the proposed NAMA legislation.

Media commentators and opposition political parties have made negative comments about the relative small number of Green Party members deciding government policy. I would be of the opinion that it highly desirable in a democracy that members of political parties can call a special convention to review how a political party is performing in government (or opposition), allowing members an open and frank opportunity to express their views and concerns regarding the performance of their elected politicians.

The weakness lies in the fact that no other political party allows for such openness and access to ministers and politicians and for this reason I would praise the Green Party for its willingness to engage with its members especially in such tumultuous times.

I took the convention very seriously, devoting many hours prior to the convention in attempting to understand the significance of the NAMA proposal and alternatives, while seeking council from professionals in the financial sector, businesses and members of the public on whether it was indeed in the best interest of our nation for this legislation to be introduced in its current format. I was not alone in this endeavor as many Green Party members did likewise.

As a political party, it has devoted more time than any other party and perhaps than all other parties combined, to debating the NAMA legislation. The Green Party have facilitated three party seminars and a party convention devoted entirely to NAMA. Many hundreds of members from across Ireland have attended these events at their own time and personal cost. It has been debated at branch meetings, at local and national level. Therefore it would seem that NAMA has been debated more within the  Green Party membership than any other party in the state. So I would say to detractors that while we may be a minority party, its members clearly take their responsibilities very seriously.

Notwithstanding the above I was disappointed with the Convention for many reasons. The convention was called primarily to debate the NAMA legislation and unfortunately the PFG re-negotiations overshadowed the occasion dealing a serious blow on the day to any attempt to properly debate the NAMA legislation.

I have presented my views on this to the Green Party and they are available for anyone to read openly on my blog website:

In summary, I stated that I found the manner in which the convention was organised to be worthy of political manipulation.

Despite the clear unease within the Green Party to supporting the NAMA legislation, there was no possibility that the motion to reject NAMA could be won given the procedures and events of the day.

I spoke against the NAMA legislation. I also clearly outlined why I believed the PFG was too aspirational whilst neither being radical enough nor clearly providing transparency on how or when it was going to delivery on many of the 200 items presented in the document. I voted reluctantly for the PFG and only as I noted on the day because I believe that the Green Party ministers are seriously attempting to change how our institutions govern this state from the houses of the Oireachtas to local Government. I voted for the PFG because I believe the Green Party can still make a difference in politics. You can only do this in Government.

In the debate on NAMA, I outlined why I could not morally or ethically accept the legislation in its current format. I stated that the safeguards for the taxpayer were not concrete enough and that if NAMA was the only possibility for safeguarding the taxpayer that it had to be changed.  I debated that neither Anglo Irish nor N.I.B. could be regarded as of systemic importance to the Irish state and that both institutions should be liquidated when the current bank guarantee ceases. I suggested that the bank guarantee should be extended when the current guarantee expires to all other banks so that we may attempt to save what we can and use public monies elsewhere where they are urgently needed. A considerable number of likeminded people voted the same as myself, against the NAMA legislation despite the Party’s insistence that it would result in dissolving the Government.

It is not to late for further significant changes to be made to the NAMA legislation. Let us hope that the multifaceted group of experts, people including teachers, farmers, solicitors, social workers, fish exporters, insurance brokers, economists, plant hire businessmen, auctioneers, accountants, publicans, general practitioners, funeral directors and those of no other occupation or professional skill, that make up the elected deputies and Dåil Eireann have the ability to attempt the salvation of our financial system. For many NAMA represents the level of control that the financial sector have not only over our economy but also our political system. Its not unrealistic to suggest that NAMA represents crunch time for politics in Ireland.

Declan Waugh

Thursday, October 15, 2009

NAMA Designations of Failure and Incompetence

I attended some of the Green Party seminars on NAMA where many concerns and suggestions were raised by members but how many of these concerns have been implemented in the current NAMA legislation?

Where there is a clear view within the party that the amendments do not go far enough, it is not good enough in my opinion to vote through the NAMA Bill without clearly explaining to members why:

a)     their principle objections or recommendation cannot be facilitated

b)    why alternatives will not work

c)     why the proposed bill is the best we can deliver

This did not happen at the Green Party Convention last week. No written information or evidence was presented by the party to outline the Government of Green party elected delegates views.

I do not agree with the opinion that by voting against the Bill at the Green Party convention it would bring down the Government. The Bill could have been delayed to facilitate changes to the legislation, a revised Bill could have been voted on as with the Lisbon Treaty with guarantees written into the legislation to support current market realities and the views not just of the Green Party members but also some of the observations of the main opposition parties and many independent economists.

Clearly FF would not have presented the Bill for voting this week where they knew it was going to fail. In reality the Bill (as with the Lisbon Treaty) has to get as much as possible all party agreement to get the public to buy into what is in effect the most significant legislation to be brought before the houses of the Oireachtas in decades. After all it is the public the taxpayer who will be paying for this as they do the salaries of all Oireachtas members.

The outcome of the Green Party meeting in Athlone earlier this summer is os some significance in this debate, it is a fact that only 13 per cent of the attendance at a Green Party conference expressed support for the legislation in its current form, the Nama Bill in its current format came in fourth out of six options placed before Green Party members in Athlone. So what is new in the legislation to reflect this?

The majority of members opinion was that NAMA should pay only the current market rate for loans transferred to the banks yet this has not happened.

The general consensus by all commentators is that NAMA should only apply to credit institutions of systemic importance to the economy. This is my own belief and interestingly one should note the intended purpose of the NAMA legislation itself as stated in Section 2. Part (iv) is “to facilitate restructuring of credit institutions of systemic importance to the economy”

Section 55 part (1) outlines how the Minister will select which financial institutions should be covered by the NAMA legislation. It states that the Minster can designate a credit institution where  the Minister is satisfied “the credit institution is systemically important to the financial system in the State”

Neither the green parliamentary party nor the Minister for Finance nor the Government have explained to anyone why Anglo Irish Bank and NIB are systemically important to the financial system in the State.

I do not believe they are and I am not alone in this view.

Further the NAMA business plan presented today raising serious concerns regarding the risks associated with this legislation.

The NAMA business plan estimates an approximate 47% average decline on an aggregate portfolio basis including the impact of declines in overseas markets.

In order to estimate the aggregate current market value of assets to be acquired, it is necessary to estimate the decline in value of the underlying property collateral since the loans

Where this is examined in regard to many large developer loans it is clear that this figure is absolute nonsense.  The 85% crash in asset value of the former glass bottle site in Dublin should indicate the real world depreciation that is now evident in the market place.

The courts yesterday reported how EBS are suing three well known businessmen for not paying the interest or loan repayments on a site they purchased in Cork in 2007. This debt will be included in the NAMA loan books. I know this site very well and would be of the opinion that it wold now be valued at approximately €5 million which would support the 85% devaluation in property that occurred with the glass bottle site in Dublin.

We have current hard evidence to show that NAMA valuation is clearly nonsense and furthermore where this is evident the projection in the NAMA business plan of a 15% uplift on the current market value of the collateral of loans identified for transfer is absurd and balderdash.

To add insult to injury the NAMA business plan projections assume that, of the €77 billion nominal value of loans acquired, €62 billion will be repaid by borrowers. This will never happen. Its time for a urgent injection of realism within the political establishment.

My suggestion to the Green Parliamentary party is that they demand that the Minister for Finance must outline why Anglo Irish Bank and NIB are systemically important to the financial system in the State, this is what needs to be done and undertaken urgently in a transparent and proper fashion. 

Explain to the members of the Oireachtas and the public why both these institutions cannot fail? 

They already have so why put public money which a) we don't have and b) is badly needed elsewhere, into two institutions that are corrupt  and will never give a return on the investment. 

Such an act could damage the State and our economy irreparably.

Where these institutions are not seen to be of systematic importance, as I believe is the case, they should not be designated as institutions that will benefit from the NAMA legislation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Art of Political Manipulation

I came to the Green Party convention on the 10th October 2009 with an open mind, not being a member of either of the five Green Party constituency groups that called for the convention to debate and vote on the National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009.

I took the responsibility very seriously, devoting many hours prior to the convention to attempting to understand the significance of the NAMA proposal and seeking council from businesses and members of the public on whether it was indeed in the best interest of our Nation for this legislation to be introduced in its current format. I believed that my democratic vote could make a difference and was honoured to be given an opportunity to vote on this matter of national importance.

However, as someone who has observed politics for many years, I found the manner in which the convention was organised to be worthy of Machiavelli, the master of political manipulation.

Firstly, the members were presented with a debate on the Programme for Government (PFG) rather than the NAMA legislation.

Secondly, insufficient time was given for members to review the PFG document prior to debate. Procedures for the day stated that it was to be circulated to members at 10am rather than after noon, which was the case.  The logisitical difficulties here are understandable in the circumstances, however, these could have been overcome by holding the debate on NAMA first.

Thirdly, the NAMA proposal was not allowed to be debated as part of the Programme for Government.

Fourthly, the debate on the NAMA proposal commenced after voting had ceased on the PFG. Yet, the opening argument by the party was that by not supporting this legislation the government would fall; making a mockery of the first vote to support the Programme for Government.

Fifthly, voting on the Programme for Government closed before the debate was finished while allowing members to vote on the NAMA motion before the debate had even commenced was reprehensible.

Sixthly, the procedures allowed for up to 30 speakers to debate the Programme for Government, while less than 10 speakers had the opportunity to debate the NAMA proposal, which let us not forget was the very reason for the convention in the first place.

Seventhly, the National Executive Committee (NEC) did not allow the original or any alternative motion that would have allowed the party to reject or seek changes to the NAMA proposal while remaining in Government.

Despite the clear unease within the Green Party to supporting this legislation by following such procedures, the NEC and Party headquarters ensured that there was no possibility that the motion to reject NAMA could be won.

For the convention to be transparent, clearly the order of the day’s business should have been to discuss the most significant motion first, that being the NAMA proposal, especially given that the convention was called for to debate and vote on the proposed NAMA legislation by Green Party constituency groups. Notwithstanding this, one could argue that implementing the NAMA legislation is the most significant political decision in the Programme for Government and perhaps the most important Statute Bill ever written in the history of our nation.

While I accept the democratic will of the party members, I believe that the convention represented political manipulation of the highest order, was deeply flawed in its procedures and may as a consequence destroy the Green Party for decades to come.

As a result of the aforementioned, the Green Party now have the distinction over any other political party that it’s not just its parliamentarians that voted for NAMA but its ordinary members.

If the Government get it wrong, especially when they do not have the support of the people to make such an important decision, the Government and the Green Party in particular will forever be associated with NAMA; this may well prove to be the tipping point, not climate change, for green politics in Ireland this century.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Test of Green Party Conviction October 10th 2009

This weekend the Green party hold what many in the party believe is the most important meeting in the party's history. While not diminishing the importance of the convention I believe that the decision to go into government with Fianna Fail two years ago will be seen as the most defining moment in Green Party history. At that meeting the party membership voted overwhelmingly to enter into a coalition government with FF. 

This decision was taken with a certain knowledge and awareness of the ethics, morality, integrity and often delinquent behaviour of FF parliamentarians.

It must be absolutely clear from the past thirty years that FF as an institution cannot change, it is an illusion to believe that FF is capable of evolving as a political party and it will continue its reckless addict like behaviour until ultimately they can no longer continue. 

The harsh reality is that the public are largely responsible for this monster that we have created. You voted for and elected them not the greens, you supported this party despite the obvious reckless disregard for the costs of their actions to others as well as to themselves. For the green party it was obvious, the public wanted FF and there was no other way that the greens as a political party could implement their policies unless they entered government with FF.

The last general election was a turning point for me personally, despite all the revelations and evidence of incompetence and corruption by some office holders; despite the certainty that the policies pursued would de-stabilise our economy, the public voted from them for a third term in office. I realised then that perhaps its not FF but the public that will not change and so I supported the greens going into government.

The public may not like what they have now created, but the Green Party are attempting to bring the highest ethics and morality to office holders in Dail Eireann. They are attempting to change the face of government, to offer responsible political leadership at a time of international turmoil.

FF as a coalition partner have repeatedly shown themselves to be a toxic party to the misfortune of smaller parties. The ultimate issue this weekend for the greens in not debating NAMA or the programme for government but rather are the green party members capable of staying the course and implementing real change. 

The real test this Sat is do they believe they can still make a difference.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ethics in Public Office Act and behaviour of Mr. John O Donoghue, T.D

This letter was forwarded today to Minister John Gormley, leader of the Green Party and all the green party public representatives. It read as follows:

I am writing this as a member of the Green Party and former Green Party candidate in the local elections 2009. 

One of the reasons I accepted the honour to represent the party was my support for the moral and ethical position of the Green Party in demanding standards of integrity and conduct for political representatives for both the Houses of the Oireachtas and elected representatives of local Government.

As you know the media have reported for some weeks on the conduct and manner in which certain elected office holders carried out their duties both as Ministers in the previous Government but also as office holders in the current Government.

The nation stands dismayed, angry and disillusioned at the behaviour of office holders by members of the Oireachtas and the totally unacceptable use of public finances by certain public representatives in carrying out the functions of their office.

I refer in particular to Mr. John O Donoghue T.D. former Minister and current Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann.

Every day new evidence comes to light on the manner in which Mr. John O Donoghue T.D conducted his office and the privileges which he bestowed on  himself in undertaking his public duties both in the past and as the current Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann.

As coalition partners in the current government the Green Party have an obligation to ensure the highest level of ethical behavior of Cabinet members, members of Dail Eireann and in particular office holders such as the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann.

For this matter I wish to draw your attention to the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, as amended by the Standards in Public Office Act 2001.

Section 10 of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 provides for the introduction of Codes of Conduct which set out the standards of conduct and integrity expected to be observed by the persons to whom they relate in the performance of their official duties.

For your reference I include some of the principle points herein:

  • In performing their official duties, Members must apply public resources prudently and only for the purposes for which they are intended
  • “In accordance with the provisions of the Ethics Acts, office holders shall, in so far as it is relevant, have regard to and be guided by the Code in the performance of their functions and in relation to any other matters specified in the Code. This Code seeks to ensure that office holders must at all times observe, and be seen to observe, the highest standards of ethical behaviour in the carrying out of the functions of their office.
  • Office holders should ensure that their use of officially provided facilities are designed to give the public value for money and to avoid any abuse of the privileges which, undoubtedly, are attached to office.
  • Members must conduct themselves in accordance with the provisions and spirit of the Code of Conduct and ensure that their conduct does not bring the integrity of their office or the Dáil into serious disrepute.
  • In performing their official duties, Members must apply public resources prudently and only for the purposes for which they are intended.
  • Furthermore members of Dáil Éireann must recognise that it is in their individual and collective interest to foster and sustain public confidence and trust in their integrity as individuals and in Dáil Éireann as an institution.

The Principles of Ethical Conduct are defined within the Ethics Act and state

that :

  • Holders of public office have a duty to keep faith with the public trust placed in them by the manner in which they carry out their official responsibilities.  This is a personal responsibility and requires them at all times to promote the common good, fairly and impartially, to conscientiously and prudently apply the resources of their office in furtherance of the public interest and to observe the highest ethical standards in the performance of their duties.

In addition to complying with those formal requirements, office holders should at all times:

  • observe the highest standards of behaviour and act in good faith with transparency, fairness and impartiality to promote the common good in the performance of their official functions.

In respect of use of public resources the Act specifies that:

  • Office holders are provided with facilities at public expense in order that public business may be conducted effectively. The use of these facilities should be in accordance with this principle. Holders of public office enjoy an enhanced public profile and should be mindful of the need to avoid use of resources in a way that could reasonably be construed as an inappropriate.., and
  • Office holders should ensure that their use of officially provided facilities are designed to give the public value for money and to avoid any abuse of the privileges which, undoubtedly, are attached to office.

 I believe that the Nation is united in the belief that Mr. John O Donoghue T.D. and Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann has shown through his actions that he has clearly breeched the standards of conduct and integrity as required by Oireachtas members in the Ethics in Public Office Act as outlined herein.

This is a moral and ethical issue of enormous significance for the Green Party; if as leader of the Green Party you do not act and insist on his resignation from office, I believe that the Government cannot survive and the relevance and integrity of the Green Party will be damaged irreparably.

Every day that you do not act you as leader of the Green Party, the party itself and Dáil Éireann as an institution continues to lose credibility.

To restore public confidence there is no option for the Green Party and Dáil Éireann but to demand the resignation of the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann.

 Declan Waugh