How is it that a repeat offender, who has committed the most serious of crimes, is granted bail? How are communities to protect themselves from high-risk and known repeat offenders?
MORE than 700 convicted criminals are walking the streets because there are not
enough prison spaces to hold them.
The proportion of inmates being given temporary release to ease prison
overcrowding has more than tripled in the past two years.
The increase has coincided with an upsurge in crimes committed by prisoners on
temporary release, new figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal.
Despite assurances from the Irish Prison Service that only low-risk offenders are
being let out, in the past year prisoners on temporary release have been either
charged with or convicted of manslaughter, possession of firearms, armed
robbery, theft and criminal damage.
Just 5.1pc of the prison population, or 174 inmates, were on temporary release in
January 2008. But this number
has been rising steadily, with increases noted almost every month since then.
Latest prison service records show that by March this year the proportion of
prisoners on temporary release was 17.2pc, or 725 inmates.
The figures could have been even worse but for the fact many prisons are
operating above their official capacity.
On March 1, 4,215 inmates were in custody across the prison system, even
though there was only a bed capacity of 4,066.
The overcrowding crisis is most acute at Mountjoy, which housed 643 inmates that
day, despite having a bed capacity of just 590. A further 252 inmates, or 28pc of
the prison's population, were on temporary release from the prison that same day.
At Mountjoy's female prison, the Dochas Centre, 106 inmates were in custody,
despite a bed capacity of just 85. A further 73 inmates were on temporary
On the same day, a quarter of the prisoner population of Cork Prison was on
One in seven inmates at Limerick Prison was on temporary release, while one in
every 10 prisoners at Castlerea was also out of custody.
Gardai claim many of those being set free prematurely are career criminals with
a track record of re-offending.
"No sooner have we completed our task than criminals are back on the
streets," Garda Representative
Prison insiders admit increasing the number of inmates on temporary release has
been necessary to alleviate chronic overcrowding in a number of facilities.
Delays surrounding the Thornton Hall prison project, which is to provide 2,200
prison spaces, have also exacerbated the problem.
Although announced five years ago, tenders have yet to be published for the
development of the north Co Dublin prison.
- Shane Phelan
Sunday November 30 2008
Fifty Irish bankers and some of Ireland's best known property developers, including Sean Dunne, fled Ireland this weekend to join multimillionaire developer Niall Mellon on his annual one-week volunteer trip in South Africa.
Although the future of Irish banking is in a state of flux, with mergers and possible collapse still on the cards, many senior bankers are getting down and dirty building houses in the townships while disaster still looms at home.
Heads of lending divisions, and a number of employees from the global division of Bank of Ireland, are among the Irish volunteers building houses for families living in abject poverty.
"No less than 50 of Ireland's leading bankers have taken a week away from the credit crunch with some very senior bankers accompanying us on our building blitz to Cape Town," said Niall Mellon, founder of the Niall Mellon Township Trust.
"In every sense they are on the global market this week, being at the other end of the planet," added Niall.
Third-time veteran of the trip, controversial multi- millionaire developer Sean Dunne is taking a break this week from his plans to transform Ballsbridge in Dublin. He, along with his 26-year-old son Steven, is among 2,000 volunteers transforming the lives of people in the township of Khayelitsha, located 30km from Cape Town
"Niall asked me to get involved so I put my name down and came along three years ago," said Mr Dunne. "You are helping people who cannot help themselves. Time has become the most valuable commodity and it's nice to give time rather than always giving money. We might run out of money soon but hopefully we will never run out of time."
In previous years Dunne donated the proceeds of a €2.75m apartment sale in an exclusive Dublin development to fund 500 homes for poor people in Africa. This year he says: "We haven't got into donating any money and I haven't spoken to Niall about it yet. It's normally something I sit down and chat to him about at the end of the week, never at the beginning, always at the end," said Mr Dunne.
"The first year I built a house with six others from start to finish and we handed over the keys at the end of the week to a family who had been living in a shack.
"It gave me the greatest self satisfaction that I could ever experience when I saw the family walk through the door and sleep there on a Friday night. That's what makes it all worthwhile. This year I'm labouring. I spend enough time managing other people back home, so this year I'm being told what to do."
IRELAND-its a rich mans island.! Super-rich are laughing at the taxman - all the way to the bank.
A new report by the Revenue Commissioners has revealed that one-in-10 of the country's 400 highest earners paid less than 5pc in tax in 2002.
And the study shows six of Ireland's richest elite managed to pay no tax whatsoever compared with five individuals in 2001.
The number of millionaires paying less than 5pc in taxes rose to 43 individuals - up sharply from 30 the previous year, the Revenue said. In total, the number of wealthy individuals paying less than 15pc tax jumped by nearly 50pc from 55 to 79 people.
The number of millionaires with an effective tax rate of less than 20pc rose from 75 to 95. And those paying less than 30pc tax went from 115 to 150.
Less than 21pc of Ireland's 400 highest earners paid tax at a rate of between 40 and 45pc. Property-based capital allowance incentives were the main means by which the wealthy slashed their tax bills, the Revenue concluded in the report prepared for Finance Minister Brian Cowen.
Opposition parties slammed what they called the "inequity" in the tax code between high earners and the ordinary PAYE taxpayer exposed by the Revenue Commissioners' study.
Fine Gael deputy leader Richard Bruton claimed the special tax relief schemes had cost the State almost twice as much as they had returned in benefits.
"This survey sharply highlights the lack of even-handedness in relation to ordinary PAYE earners, many of whom fail to claim tax reliefs because the system is so complex," he said.
"While the minister has terminated a number of property taxes, the benefits of these will be enjoyed by some for years to come because the relief will be phased-out over time. The total investment to date under these schemes has come to around €4bn and despite the termination of these schemes, an even larger investment of €6bn is yet to come."
Bigger than half a dozen hay barns, it is one of the most impressive structures at the Ballybrit racecourse, in Galway,accounting for nearly a third of its sprawling marquee village. The Fianna Fail tent. This political mecca becomes,every year, a vehicle for making money for those who feel that Fianna Fáil is good for the Republic's, and their own, prosperity. For €350 a plate, guests got medallions of beef in a pepper cream sauce and "goodie bags" that included titanium golf balls billed as having "optimum spin for maximum control". Those who pay for the grub included some of the country's leading business people, notably big building contractors, property developers, auctioneers, estate agents and others with a stake in "development", Fianna Fail style.
Quote of the year.
'The success of Antisocial Behaviour Orders depends on our willingness to imprison children at a cost of 250,000 Euros a year.'
'Yet the Children's Act 2001 remains unimplemented because we are told the resources are not availible'
(Peter McVerry, Society of Jesuits)
This statement from a true disciple of Christ,is a both a cry of despair and a judgement of this government. Despite the recent blank cheque of taxpayers money written by Bertie Ahern for the past crimes of members of the irish roman catholic church; despite his audience with the new Pontiff; despite his presence in the pro-cathedral as a devout massgoer; despite his bizarre role as "a sheep among wolves,and a shepherd of wolves" he and his associates will be arraigned one day before a final a court of justice, just as his mentor C.J.H. is fast approaching that appointment -which there is no evading. It will not be evaded with costly tribunals. His stewardship of the common good of all four million citizens of this island will then be laid bare. Politics is not just a 'game' as he is fond of describing the art of being re-elected to high office,and all the trickery and stroking that goes with it. It is a responsibility.
Sadly, responsible people rarely seem to enter politics, or gain access to the management of nations in many parts of the world. Ireland is no exception.
The first and last refuge of scoundrels. the Fianna Fail party.
'From him to whom much is given, much is expected'.
Irish Constitution Article 42 (5)
'In exceptional cases where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children,the state as guardian of the common good,by appropriate means shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents,but always with due reguard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.'
Sept.2005; A SUPREME Court judge criticised the Government’s willingness to spend “enormous resources” on prisons while failing to fund crime-prevention measures.
Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness said that district and children’s court judges were “doomed to despair” at the lack of resources given to the Probation Service.
Mrs Justice McGuinness said the Children Act 2001 was an “encouraging instrument of change” aimed at reverting the trend over many years of children ending up in St Patrick’s Institution and subsequently Mountjoy Jail.
Speaking at a conference organised by Dublin Institute of Technology, she said “sadly” large sections of the act had not been brought into effect.
Spend less time,on photo opportunities , Papal visits, and prayers in the Pro-Cathedral, Bertie, and give more time given to common humanity and christian governance.
ST PATRICK'S Institution, the State's only prison for young offenders, has been branded "an obscenity" in a hard-hitting report by the Jesuits in october 2006
The report accuses the State of trying to control offenders rather than rehabilitate them, and of wrongly believing that money spent on rehabilitation is wasted money.
It describes St Patrick's in Dublin as "a disaster", adding that its operation "reveals the moral bankruptcy of the policies of the Minister for Justice".
Yesterday's report is the latest in a long list of reports into conditions at St Patrick's.
In 1985, the report of a committee of inquiry into the penal system, under the chairmanship of Dr TK Whittaker, recommended the closing of St Patrick's as soon as possible.
That report stated: "Rehabilitation is not possible. The services required could not be provided even in a renovated St Patrick's."
This latest report accuses Justice Minister Michael McDowell of faulty reasoning in his plans for tackling drug abuse in prisons. These include random drug tests and punishment for people testing positive.
It adds: "Fifteen-minutes' consultation with anyone who knows the prison system, or anyone seriously connected with the lives of prisoners, could tell the minister to get real."
Recommendations by the Jesuits include turning Wheatfield Prison into a juvenile centre - linking rehabilitation programmes to outside agencies - expanding the training unit, reintroducing reviews of sentences and greater use of temporary release.
The latest finding highlights how the abuse, violence and neglect suffered by many of the 200 young inmates at St Patrick's have never been adequately addressed.
The report, entitled 'Rehabilitation - are we for real?' and published by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, claims that there are no staff with childcare qualifications although one-third of the population at St Patrick's is under 18. It claims further that:
* There are no inspections by Special Services Inspectorate nor are there care plans or social workers, as is required for all children in the care of the state.
* The required documentation describing all interventions by staff has not been kept. The children's ombudsman is prohibited from investigating complaints by the young people.
The report attacks the prison-like regime and the manner of punishment. "Most young men spend 19 hours a day, each day, alone in their cells, and the other five hours mindlessly walking up and down a dreary, depressing yard, with nothing to do except to scheme (with enormous ingenuity, it must be said) how to get drugs into the place to kill the boredom."
It adds: "Young people who explode in frustration are punished by being placed in solitary confinement in the basement, where they are locked in cells for 24 hours a day, with no contact with other prisoners, no cigarettes, and nothing to do except sleep for three days."
Eugene Moloney(Irish Independent)
Mr Brian Lenihan was in Geneva Sept 2006 being grilled on the country’s efforts to address the eight-year-old concerns raised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.. -in Ireland.!
Sept 2006 YOUNG offenders are now each costing the taxpayer more than half-a-million euro every year.
The cost of each place in a young-offenders institution has rocketed to €507,470. This shocking figure is to be disclosed in a special report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) when the Dail comes back this week.
The report, seen by the Irish Independent decries the huge cost of juvenile justice here in comparison to other countries. The €500,000 figure relates to the average cost of a place at Finglas Child and Adolescent Centre, the report says. This is the most expensive centre in the country. the cost is enough to fund six prisoners in Mountjoy
Committee members will also disclose that, despite the colossal funding - equivalent to a soccer star's salary of €10,000 a week - offenders are not being reformed in institutions once known as reformatories.
"The relative expenditure is approximately €80,000 per prisoner in Mountjoy compared to up to €500,000 for young offenders," the report says, while noting that the money is considered well spent if even a small number of offenders do not return to the prison system.
The rate of recidivism (reoffending) is put at 70pc for a prisoner released from Mountjoy, compared to 50pc for a released client of Trinity House, another young offender institution.
Abject failure of a horrendously expensive system:
A Department of Justice tracking system found that of 57 tearaways released from one centre at the end of their detention, nearly half (47pc) were in prison within two years.
Another 5pc were in the care of health authorities and others were back in detention or could not be found.
"More than half appeared to gain no benefit from their experience," the report notes - at a time when the issue of anti-social behaviour is increasing and jumping close to the top of the political agenda for the next election.
Meanwhile a huge level of unused capacity is frustrating efforts to find places for young offenders.
A new unit for troublemaking youngsters completed at Lusk some three years ago is still not being used, the Public Accounts Committee revealed.
The fourth unit for Trinity House was constructed in 2003 to meet the surge in demands for places being experienced at that time and for many years before. But despite its completion, at a cost of €4.7m, it remains empty.
The committee is angered that the Department of Education appears to be targetting the extra unit for continued restriction in order to save money.
An internal document states: "The Department has identified the potential for a saving of about €5m by reducing the requirement for the new residential accommodation."
But the PAC report declares: "Members of the public find it difficult to understand why the centres operated by the Department (of Education), the Department of Justice, and the HSE all cost a great deal of money despite being empty."
THE construction world was left reeling this week with the news that property tycoon Sean Dunne's Mountbrook Homes had offered an unprecedented price for what nobody disagrees is probably the most desireable site in Dublin city.
Dunne and his second wife live on Shrewsbury Road, in Ballsbridge, where you will find the country's highest concentration of high net worth individuals.
It was this week two years ago in the Fianna Fail tent at the Galway races that Dunne met Gayle Killilea. Last year the couple married aboard the yacht 'The Christina' once owned by Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. The Taoiseach was invited to the wedding.
Well known in FF business circles, he is passionate about horse racing and is heavily involved in Lansdowne Rugby Club.
He is estimated to be worth €50m. One wonder how much tax he was asked to pay,last year under this administration.?
The penalties for the offence of violating Mr McDowell's new ASBO scheme for underage hooligans are a fine of up to €800 or detention in a children's detention school for up to three months.
One wonders where Mr McDowell will "detain"( incarcerate) those who ignore his ASBO'S?
The juvenile justice system in Ireland is governed by legislation (the Children Act, 1908) that pre-dates the creation of the present Irish State. New legislation (the Children Act, 2001) has been enacted but the ongoing delay in bringing most of its provisions into force has resulted in the continued use of the outdated 1908 Act. Full introduction of the 2001 legislation is not expected until the end of 2007.
Underlying the Children Act, 2001 is the principle that detention should only be used as a last resort. In this respect the Act upholds the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which provides that detention of those under the age of 18 "shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time." The Act emphasises community-based non-custodial measures as alternative approaches for dealing with young offenders, including restorative justice, cautioning, family group conferences and the strengthening of the Garda Juvenile Diversion Scheme.
The Government chose to close Shanganagh Castle, a progressive facility operating in line with modern concepts of best practice and chose to open a prison for children, possible only under 1908 legislation, ignoring the recently passed but not yet introduced section within the Children Act 2001
The closure in late 2002 of Shanganagh Castle constitutes a major step backwards for justice policy and practice in Ireland and runs contrary to the philosophy of the Children Act. Shanganagh Castle, the only open prison in Ireland, provided rehabilitation and education to young offenders between the ages of 16 and 21 years. With nearly one in five prisoners below the age of 21 years, the closure of Shanganagh with no plan for a replacement is a regressive step, leaving a gap in the options available for young offenders. It is widely anticipated that Shanganagh Castle will be sold.
Re inspector of prisons report by Justice Kinlen and proposed Inspectorate of Prisons Agency (Never implemented by Fianna Fail)
" He has problems in that various civil servants decided what was appropriate for him to do. This got to such a pitch at one stage that he had to get a freedom of information order to find out what was in a memo that he considered was relevant to him between one civil servant and another within the Prison Service. That cannot be considered a satisfactory way for any system to operate and the sooner it is changed the better."
The Prison Service and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have been slow to provide any information to the Inspectorate. The fact that they wanted me to take six months off to read myself into the job and wanted me to go on a tour of Western Australia and possibly New Zealand shows their peculiar mindset. While many interpretations will be put on these offers, I took them as meaning that I was not to do any real work."(Justice Kinlen.)
Sunday November 23 2008
Sunday Independent, June 17, 2007
SCHADENFREUDE may be back in vogue now that the Ballsbridge Billionaire Boys' Club has closed its doors after a decade of running rampant. But before anyone gets too carried away, delighting at the thought of 'greedy developers' and their broken D4 dreams, they should stop and think.
For while Sean Dunne, Bernard McNamara and Ray Grehan spent a chilling €1.07bn buying up land at the heart of Dublin's embassy belt at the height of the property boom, much of that money was borrowed.
And now that the boom has turned to bust, that €1bn and the other €103bn lent by the banks to major and minor developers across Ireland has become a burden we will all be forced to share, whether we like it or not.
Because you can forget any fanciful notions you might have of developers being hauled before credit committees at the banks for weekly inquisitions in relation to their ailing portfolios, their crippling loans and hefty interest bills.
Such a scenario might be credible for the rest of us given the fate that befalls anyone unfortunate enough to fall behind with their mortgage payments on a family home. Repossessing an apartment or a semi-detached house in the suburbs is easily done. Taking back €104bn in residential and commercial development land is quite a different story.
And that is why the relationship between our bankers and our builders, while fundamentally changed, is as strong as it ever was.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, one informed source close to a major developer provided a telling insight into the dynamic which now pertains between the country's property moguls and their lenders.
"Contrary to what has been put out in the media, there isn't much more micro managing going on than there was before. The relationship is good. They [the banks] have to work with us. They don't really have any choice. We are in a market where the property we have cannot be disposed of," the source said.
Commenting on the banks' attitude to Ireland's bigger developers at least, and their future prospects, the source said the major lenders were now looking to 2011 as the earliest point at which they expect to see some positive news.
"You go into the bank once every six months for a review on loans, or every two to three months for loan renewals depending on the loan term. In these meetings, the bank's committee will look for an update on the sites you have, any sales, the value of your stock, the loans you have with them and your projections going forward. They [the banks] are looking at projections going out to 2011 at this stage given what's going on here and around the world."
"There's no question of calling in the loans now from any of the bigger developers, because the money isn't there. Taking possession isn't a viable option either given the economic climate," the source added.
Smaller developers, and those beyond the eastern seaboard particularly, could soon find themselves in a different boat however, the Sunday Independent understands.
"After Christmas, nobody should be surprised to see guys in rural areas with loans of €2m to €3m getting taken out, one by one, by the banks. Some of the bigger developers have been asked if they would be in a position to take over some of these projects, but they won't. Nobody has the money to take on dead weight in property," the source said.
That dead weight is likely to weigh heavily on us all for some time to come.
Estimates of 35,000 unsold houses across Ireland from the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) pale alongside the countless other thousands of investment properties that once aspiring landlords wish they now could sell as rental yields decline in a saturated market.
And in a further sign of how problematic things are, one property industry source who spoke to the Sunday Independent expressed the view that housing output will have to fall to as low as 10,000 units for at least the next five years before any balance is restored to supply and demand.
That is a problem for anyone trying to sell their home and for anyone trying to buy.
With so much supply in the market, values have fallen for the vendor, while conversely aspiring buyers can no longer secure adequate financing from their lenders.
And with our banks so heavily exposed to property lending over recent years, international investors have finally found them out, and quite justifiably taken flight from their share registers.
In just one example, Bank of Ireland's exposure to residential and commercial lending has seen its share price plummet from a high of €18.65 in February 2007 to €1.17 last Friday.
"You can't fool the markets." That's how one senior banker explained the falling share price of one of his competitors when they went into their last big freefall before Finance Minister Brian Lenihan introduced his taxpayer-backed €400bn deposit guarantee scheme only two months ago.
The bill for that guarantee scheme, coupled with the multi-billion euro cost of the Government's expected recapitalisation of the banks, will all be paid for by ordinary taxpayers for years, and possibly generations, to come.
And while Taoiseach Brian Cowen might try to brush off the underlying cause of our problems, saying simply that: "we are where we are", there is little doubt about how we got here.
Monday September 29 2008
JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern is considering slashing the number of people sitting on prison visiting committees in a bid to save the Government money.
In a move which is likely to be unpopular with grassroots members of Fianna Fail, Mr Ahern is contemplating drastically reducing the number of committee places. Appointments to the committees, which are made by the minister, have traditionally been seen as a way of rewarding supporters.
Some 168 committee members -- many of whom are Fianna Fail or PD councillors and activists -- pocketed over â‚¬250,000 in pay and expenses last year for visiting prisons and producing short annual reports on conditions.
However, their positions could be under threat as Mr Ahern looks to wield the axe to make savings after figures revealed the committees had cost almost â‚¬2.2m since 2002.
Government sources said Mr Ahern has been considering the move for several weeks. "He believes there are too many people on these committees and is looking at the issue," a senior official told the Irish Independent.
The move comes in the wake of plans by the Department of Justice to make savings by merging four other watchdog groups, the Irish Human Rights Commission, the Equality Authority, the Equality Tribunal and the Data Protection Commission.
The amount spent on the country's 14 prison visiting committees has been on the slide over the past six years following controversy over expenses paid to some members.
According to figures released to the Irish Independent under the Freedom on Information Act, costs have been reduced from â‚¬650,000 in 2002 to â‚¬430,000 in 2003, â‚¬338,000 in 2004, â‚¬278,000 in 2005, and â‚¬234,000 in 2006. Last year they cost â‚¬250,000.
Former justice minister Michael McDowell further reined in the cost of running the committees in 2006 by ending the controversial practice of assigning committee members to prisons far away from where they live so they could maximise mileage payments.
The former minister also scrapped the generous mileage allowance of â‚¬1.08-per-mile. In its place, he introduced a flat meeting expense of â‚¬150, which is taxable, and a maximum of â‚¬40 in travel expenses, which is not taxable but must be vouched for.
With committees meeting 12 times a year, the maximum a member can now take home is â‚¬1,500 per annum. This compares with an average payout of â‚¬3,900 to prison visiting committee members in 2002. However, some payments that year were as high as â‚¬12,000.
- Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent
OUR blackspot estates are breeding grounds for teenage criminals who become trapped into a life of crime because of poverty, lack of education and dysfunctional family backgrounds.
A groundbreaking report has found that the majority of young offenders come from "very specific" geographic locations - blackspots such as Limerick's Southill and Moyross estates - that suffer from acute problems of socio-economic disadvantage.
The national study of the Children's Court is the first piece of research to provide nationwide statistics onthe circumstances of young offenders - their backgrounds, education, offending trends and passage through our courts system.
It was published on the same day as the Government, which has yet to implement certain key provisions of the 2001 Children's Act, announced a (pre election )multi-million euro package to tackle the juvenile justice crisis.
The study, carried out by the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development, catalogues an appalling vista of persistent young offenders.
lagued by a host of personal and structural disadvantages, including widespread delays in the courts process, the study highlights the lack of early intervention to divert children from drifting into crime.
The report also criticised a lack of after-care support for teens who are jailed to prevent then from reoffending once they have served their sentences.
The study, of 400 young offenders, found:
* 90pc of young offenders are male and consistently come from very specific geographic locations.
* 86pc were formally absent from mainstream education.
* 27pc didn't live with either parent.
* Six out of every 10 charges end in a conviction.
Teen offenders are most likely to commit public order, criminal damage, road traffic and theft offences.
"We have confirmed what is obvious to most people and glaringly obvious to all who work with young offenders," said Emer Meehan, one of the report's authors.
"These children come from clearly identifiable disadvantaged areas, marked by poor engagement with the education system and substance abuse in the home either by minors or their parents.
"Many of the young people in this study have continued to offend and are now serving medium to long-term sentences because of a collective failure to intervene in this disadvantage cycle," Ms Meehan added.
Dearbhail McDonald (Irish Independent April 2007)
DANIEL McCONNELL & EUGENE MOLONEY
AS THE public service pay bill hits record heights, the Sunday Independent has learned that Bertie Ahern would receive a pension of at least €282,000, in his first year after leaving office.
The huge payment comes at a time when the Taoiseach has publicly rapped the Bank of Ireland about changes to its pension policy for staff.
But Mr Ahern did so in the safe knowledge that, while the value of private pensions are in turmoil, his own pension and the pensions of ministers, TDs and public servants have never been higher.
According to a pensions survey of politicians' pension entitlements, using figures from the Department of Finance, the Taoiseach would receive a pension from the state of at least €282,000 in his first year out of office, and €146,161 every year after that, if he were to stand down after the next election.
If he stays for another term - as is his stated plan - he could expect this sum to be further enhanced.
Mr Ahern has been a TD since 1977. He qualifies for the maximum benefits of 60 per cent of his Taoiseach's salary of €167,960, and half of his basic TD's salary of €90,770 every year. These figures do not factor in any private pension scheme to which he may be contributing.
Under the terms of the Members Pensions Scheme, introduced in 1992, every TD who has served the maximum term of 20 years also receives a lump-sum payment of one and a half times their TD's salary, amounting to €136,155 in addition to their annual pension pay-out.
This is at a time when workers in the private sector are having to increase their pension contributions to maintain the value of their pension schemes. Many large companies are closing their 'Defined Benefit' pension schemes to new entrants.
The Bank of Ireland and other large employers have said that unless such remedial action is taken some schemes could collapse altogether.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his Dublin Central constituency last night were holding the traditional annual Christmas constituency bash at Clontarf Castle. The party gives the Taoiseach the chance to relax away from the glare of publicity and surround himself with the nearest and dearest of the party faithful, not to mention a few prominent property developers and other friends in high places.
The purpose of the event was to relax, celebrate Christmas and raise a few euro. And as he looked around the room the Taoiseach could relax in the knowledge that when it comes to cash, the party still has plenty of well-heeled supporters. Certainly the Taoiseach was reported to be in upbeat spirits as he slipped in the side door to be greeted with a standing ovation.
He was among friends. Hoteliers Jim Mansfield and John Glynn arrived together, with Mr Mansfield joking in the double negative: "I've no money for nothing."
Developer Sean Dunne was joined at his table by his wife Gayle Killilea who was keen to avoid being photographed in the very stylish dress she was wearing because she had appeared in it recently in the press. Paddy Duffy, former advisor and scriptwriter to the Taoiseach, was with developer Vincent Maguire of Maguire Walsh Developers, and his partner, the singer Sandy Kelly.
Another Duffy, Keith of Boyzone and Coronation Streetarrived with his wife Lisa, explaining that he was simply there as "a friend".
Publican Charlie Chawke and his wife Bernice were given a warm welcome by the Taoiseach. And talking of developers, also present was Patrick Byrne and his wife Marian.
Barrister Colm Allen arrived with solicitor Michael Kelly and joked that he was simply popping into the Castle for dinner.
Barry Egan's Diary,
ONE person in every five living in Ireland is at risk of poverty.?
Despite our booming economy, increased incomes and better living conditions, many cannot afford to eat properly, they go without heating and do not have money to buy clothes.
Single parents and people living alone are most at risk, with almost half of all lone parents, and more than one third of people living on their own, in danger of poverty.
Other high-risk groups include people living in rented or rent-free accommodation, the unemployed, the ill or disabled.
The EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions, released Decmber 12 -2005 showed that last year 19.4pc of the population were at risk of poverty - defined as living on an income of under €185 a week or €9,680 a year.
The total gross annual household income was estimated at just over €49,000 last year - equivalent to an average of €945 a week. This is an increase of almost 9pc on 2003.
Total disposable income for households increased by over 7pc to €750 per week, with the average individual income at €18,773 or €360 per week last year.
The poverty threshold of €185 a week is worked out at 60pc of the average individual income.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) survey also showed that 7pc of the population are "consistently poor" which means as well as being at risk of poverty, they also are deprived of a number of basic things.
Those surveyed were asked if they could afford a substantial meal at least one day in the previous fortnight, had gone without heating in the past year, had debt problems because of ordinary living expenses, were unable to afford two pairs of strong shoes, a roast once a week, a meal with meat, chicken, or fish every second day, new clothes or a warm water-proof coat.
If the person has been deprived of one or more of those because of a lack of money, they are considered consistently poor.
Members of lone parent households had the highest consistent poverty rate (31.3pc). Higher than average rates were found among those renting (20.7pc), the ill or disabled (21.7pc) and the unemployed (19.2pc).
The survey found that social benefits such as unemployment, and child and pension payments have more than halved the numbers at risk from poverty. Without these, almost 40pc would be at risk.
AS the Government prepares to refund €1 billion illegally deducted from pensioners in State nursing homes, the coalition is embroiled in a fresh controversy over wrongly clawing back money which elderly people had squirrelled away for a rainy day and left to their families.
Between the years 2000 and 2005, officials lodged similar claims against the relatives of a high proportion of 2,326 other deceased pensioners. While around half of €31 million raked back during that time may have been unjustified, according to an internal memo, most next-of-kin believed the savings were assessable as means.
St Vincent de Paul
by Sara Burke (Village Magazine)
Thursday, November 3, 2005
St Vincent de Paul make over 300,000 visits every year to people in need. They spent over €31m in 2003 fighting poverty. Calls for assistance to their national office are up by 300 per cent. The St Vincent de Paul are calling on the Government to share Ireland's economic success more equally by using the 2005 budget as the opportunity to break the cycle of disadvantage across the population, including older people and children.
"We urge Government to make the brave and just choices to prioritise spending on improving key services – and so break the cycle of disadvantage now" Professor Monaghan said. "The money is there, the need is there – if not now, when?"
The St Vincent de Paul are calling on the Government to assist people on low incomes by:
•Increase adult social welfare rates by €17 per week in adult social welfare rates to €165.80;
•Develop a second child income payment for all low-income households with children, ensure it is adequate to tackle child poverty and structured to remove poverty traps;
•Increase non-contributory and contributory pensions by €16;
•Increase child benefit;
•Reinstate child benefit payments for all children of asylum seekers;
•Increase and standardise child dependent allowance to €30 per week;
•Increase fuel allowances for people on low income;
•Remove all minimum wage earners out of tax net and ensure they stay out;
Provide a half day of early childhood care and education, five days a week for all children in the year before they go to school – starting with disadvantaged children
•Provide free school books for pupils in families on social welfare and up to FIS income eligibility levels.
In order to respond to the housing crisis they are calling on the Government to build or acquire 10,000-12,000 social housing units per year to 2012 as a mix of local authority and voluntary/co-operative housing. Delivering on the Government's own commitment to provide 200,000 full medical cards above 2001 levels is essential assistance for people living in poverty. The St Vincent de Paul view the "doctor only" medical card as an inadequate response to the health needs of low income households, while an adequately funded primary care service will enhance everyone's quality of life.
21 March 2007 Irish Independent
Anti-poverty plan - Action must be taken on election vows
DESPITE the unprecedented wealth of the Celtic Tiger phenomenon — now a dim and distant memory as industry declines and thousands of jobs are lost — the stark reality is that poverty remains a dark blot on the conscience of society.
In the run-up to the General Election, the political parties are busy wooing voters with a bewildering array of auction politics, likely to be dishonoured later. Hopefully, the Coalition’s anti-poverty plan, embedded in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016, is not in that category. Not surprisingly, this blueprint, which set out a 10-year target for eradicating ‘consistent poverty’, was strongly criticised by the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI) for ignoring the thousands of "working poor" at risk of hardship and deprivation.
In a wave of fresh criticism, the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) Ireland, has accused the Government of leaving behind hundreds of thousands of people over the last decade.
Its blunt message, delivered at yesterday’s session of the Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs, was that in a time of unprecedented wealth, Ireland is in grave danger of squandering the opportunity to eliminate poverty. In a barrage of stinging criticism from EAPN, the plan was described as "a catalogue of missed targets and missed opportunities".
Politicians can’t dismiss the representatives of EAPN Ireland as belonging to the bleeding heart syndrome. The alliance is made up of people working at the coalface of the poverty crisis. They include the Simon Communities, One Family and the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed (INOU).
According to Robin Hanan of EAPN, while the last three budgets have contained redistributative elements, overall the target to eliminate consistent poverty has been abandoned. He claims the measures are inadequate to address the 140,000 working poor, or the continued social exclusion of Travellers, lone parents, people with disabilities, older people and ethnic minorities.
One Family, the organisation working with lone parents, is highly critical of the targets aimed at reducing the high levels of poverty among one-parent families and cutting child poverty.
With some reason, the INOU is worried about the increase in the number of long-term unemployed, which has risen by 4,000 over the past five years.
According to the Simon Communities, the Government’s plan lacks ambition when it comes to the difficulties facing the homeless.
Fighting for the forgotten people on the margins of society, Simon activists believe the strategy could have been far more ambitious in terms of addressing the needs of people at risk of homelessness and those using homeless services.
While poverty is gradually abating, it is still far too prevalent. According to statistics compiled by Cori, in 2007 the poverty line for a single person is €209.87 a week, or €10,951 a year. For a household of four it is €486.90 a week or €25,406 a year.
Given that almost 25% of those at risk live in households headed by someone who has a job, Cori regards the failure to set out effective initiatives, targets and time frames to address this group’s poverty as unacceptable.
With an election looming, strategies and plans are now the stuff of political promises. In the final analysis, however, the resourcing and implementation of those plans and strategies are what really count.
Those on the margins are hoping, as one delegate put it yesterday, that the political will is there to drive the strategy and deliver on the targets.
12 December 2006 (Examiner newspaper)
What chance has a bright kid born where the streets have no name?
By Fergus Finlay
I WORK with a remarkable woman. I won’t tell you her name because it might help to reveal the identity of the boy she told us about at a function the other night.
She has spent her entire career working with boys like this. And she, like all her colleagues, never gives up on them. This is Stephen’s story, as she told it. Stephen isn’t his real name, but his story is true in every other respect. Stephen lives with his parents and older brothers in a council house on a sprawling estate. The roads have no names and numbers have been removed from doors in order to confuse the police when they come in search of stolen cars.
Crime is high in the area with many of the neighbours serving prison sentences for drug-dealing, weapons possession and theft.
Stephen’s parents have never done time. But they’re young, unemployed and untrained. They live on social welfare, disability and child benefit.
Stephen’s dad has had a few jobs, but he never manages to hold them for long. When employers find out about his depression and dependence on street drugs, they change their minds about him.
There is a year’s rent arrears on the house, but the street drug dealers get priority when debts have to be paid. They always get paid first.
Every morning when Stephen arrives at playschool, his head is lowered and his eyes are fixed on the bowls of cereal, all ready on the table.
His body is rigid with tension. As soon as he reaches the table, he pours milk into a bowl until it overflows and then starts to eat rapidly with one hand while gathering cereal from other bowls with the other. He curses at anyone who comes near him or complains that he has taken their cereal. While he’s eating, he can lash out at anyone who comes too close.
Sometimes he complains of a pain in his tummy, but it usually subsides after he has eaten several bowls of cereal.
After breakfast he finds his favourite toys. He likes to have a grown-up near him while he plays, but they must use a soft voice because any loud noise makes him angry and agitated.
Stephen appears well dressed. His clothes fit and are warm enough for the cold spell. His hair is naturally curly and is kept short. It is only when one sits close to him that you can see the head lice moving on his scalp. He scratches constantly and is clearly annoyed that the scratching doesn’t stop the itch. Close up it is possible also to smell Stephen’s unclean clothes and skin. But gradually he responds to the story a grown-up is reading.
When he lifts his head you can see the dark circles under his eyes from late nights. He never smiles.
Stephen’s day improves after breakfast. He likes to play with the sand, driving trucks through sand castles.
He tolerates the company of grown-ups but as yet has no interest in the other children. He’s jealous of toys that any of the others show an interest in, and on his sadder days he’ll hit any child who steps close.
On better days, Stephen’s vivid imagination and advanced verbal skills are obvious. He sings, rhymes, listens to stories and makes up his own. Those days are rare, but wonderful.
Sometimes, Stephen tells stories from home. He tells a grown-up when he has seen his mum cry or his dad hitting her. He tells stories about his dad’s drinking and sleeping all day long. He confides, sometimes, about how scared he can be. But he always asks the grown-up not to tell his mum what he has said.
Through it all he loves his mum and dad. But that doesn’t stop him sometimes getting tearful when the bus goes up his road to bring him home.
At home, he spends most of the time in his room with his brothers because they have been bullied on the street, so they’re kept indoors.
They are all pale from lack of fresh air and nutritious food. They virtually live on cereal and bread, to the point where they find it hard to digest other food, and they’re often sick with vomiting and diarrhoea.
STEPHEN’S home is one of thousands. There are sweet shops and a pub within walking distance, and a field where stray dogs run.
There’s broken glass there, too, hundreds of empty beer and cider cans, and hypodermic syringes. Situated two miles from Stephen’s house is a large shopping centre. Among other things, it has a cinema and a MacDonald’s. Stephen has never been in either.
My colleague works with Stephen as often as she can. She will never give up trying to help, trying to give him the skills and the confidence to break out of the cycle of poverty and put his undoubted talents to use.
Just as Stephen is one of thousands of children who live in poverty in Ireland, my colleague is one of hundreds who work, day in and day out, with children like him.
My colleagues are part of what is sometimes sneeringly referred to as "the poverty industry". But they don’t mind that — the sneers are water off a duck’s back to them. The only thing they care about is breaking through the vicious circle and trying to help kids make it against the odds. The only time they get upset is if it proves to be impossible to reach what’s inside every one of those kids.
And of course the poverty industry is made up of a number of agencies, charities, non-governmental organisations — call them what you like — all of which have the same aim.
The aim is to ensure that this rich country doesn’t forever ignore and forget its most vulnerable citizens. They all deserve support, perhaps at this time of year more than any other.
Stephen and his family are citizens of Ireland. But they’re weighed down by the stress of trying to cope in a world that doesn’t understand them.
As my colleague put it, they are held under a blanket of poverty, unemployment, addiction, mental illness and lack of education and parenting skills. Stephen, too, is enfolded in this blanket.
He is a bright, creative, funny child whose sadness and anger overshadow his every gesture and every word.
The poverty of his home has damaged his innocence and his spirit. Although those who work with him are determined to ensure it doesn’t happen, that damage may be indelible.
I’m telling you this story, I suppose, because of the time of year it is. There’s a lot of Stephens out there, and a lot of organisations working with them. For many of them, Christmas Day will be just as bleak as any other day of the year.
In whatever way we can, we’re trying to ensure that isn’t so, just as all the other organisations, agencies and charities are also trying their best.
Stephen has lived a pretty full life already. He’s seen and experienced a lot. Enough to make him distrustful, cynical, angry. Enough, maybe, to cause long-term damage.
And Stephen, by the way, is five.
Domestic violence — the issue revealing the arrogance of power
WITH two totally unrelated strokes of a pen, the Government has managed to do what it has failed abjectly to do in the past decade, and that is to put domestic violence seriously on the political agenda.
The importance of this issue was so far off the political radar as far as this Government is concerned, it wasn’t even a blip.
The National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency (NDVIA) was in danger of closing its doors because it had been refused funding so modest it could only be described as peanuts.
The NDVIA is now being given paltry funding of approximately €30,000 over the next three months.
The agency is something akin to a fire brigade providing emergency support services to victims of domestic violence — female and male — and creating awareness of a huge problem that was largely hidden for far too long.
The extent of it can be measured by the fact that more than 250,000 people are the victims of domestic violence annually.
By way of contrast, the Government announced an €11.4 million aid package to support Palestinian refugees, representing an increase of almost 25%.
Ireland had already increased its aid to the Palestinians by a total of 40% last year, to €6.4 million. The money will fund the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) for three years. This agency helps more than four million refugees across Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
The humanitarian aid will target the vulnerable population affected by conflict and make a real difference to the lives of Palestinian families.
Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern made the announcement in Bethlehem at the start of a four-day visit to the Middle East. "Today’s decision will involve a further significant increase in our overall assistance in 2007," he said.
There is no doubt the Palestinian refugees are desperately in need of whatever aid we can afford, but that should not preclude domestic funding for a vital organisation such as the NDVIA.
What is offensive is that quite a lot of money can be found without any hassle for overseas aid, which is commendable, but a major problem on our own doorstep is virtually ignored.
Yesterday, a spokesperson for Justice Minister Michael McDowell said an offer was made on Wednesday to fund the agency pending a decision on long-term funding.
Unless McDowell imagines that domestic violence is somehow going to disappear, it goes without saying that the agency will continue to need funding. Of course, it’s all a matter of election priorities — and domestic violence isn’t one of them.
The Government’s (including McDowell’s) attitude to the agency is one of sheer arrogance, if not contempt.
On Tuesday, after a derisory offer was made and rejected, some official in McDowell’s department made another offer by phone. This was accepted. The call was made just 15 minutes before the agency was due to hold a press conference to announce its closure, and the reasons why.
To add insult to injury, the offer made is only for three months.
The NDVIA hasn’t a clue what will happen after that, and the future for it — and at least 250,000 victims of domestic violence — is bleak.
I suspect Gráinne Healy, project development worker at the NDVIA, was being either charitable or diplomatic afterwards when she said the past few months had been "a very difficult time" for them and blamed "a mismanagement issue of the project within the government department".
Mismanagement would be a kind description because for the past 10 years this Government has done very little except pay lip service to one of the most harrowing situations that exists in this State.
McDowell, in what only can be described as a gratuitous insult to every one of the victims, said his department, as a gesture of "goodwill", was prepared to keep the agency’s funding going while Government policy was decided.
With an arrogance characteristic of the Government he represents, he added:
"There is no excuse for winding it (the NDVIA) up and gestures of this kind would have no effect on Government policy. They will only damage the people we are trying to assist, and that is victims of domestic violence."
The sheer hypocrisy and callousness of that statement is so breath-taking it was hardly surprising his PD colleague Fiona O’Malley was dispatched on a damage limitation exercise.
Two days ago, Gráinne Healy wrote in the Irish Examiner: "The treatment of NVDIA (or rather its mistreatment) reflects a consistent refusal of Government to prioritise domestic violence as criminal and to protect victims and effectively sanction offenders" .
She was writing on the very day that the closure was barely averted — at least for the next three months.
BACK in 1999, the failure of both the civil and criminal justice systems were highlighted, and the Department of Justice agreed to fund a pilot project that led to the establishment of the NDVIA.
The CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, said it was "imperative" the NDVIA was supported and allowed to continue its work.
"As one of the frontline agencies responding to the terrible consequences of domestic violence, we are calling on the Government to please support the continuation of the work of the NDVIA and make the monies available," she said.
The agency was promised €3 million when it was set up in 2003 to run an intervention model to help deal with the problems in court cases.
To give an idea of how the Government viewed the relevance and importance of its work, the agency had to survive for more than three years on a miserable budget of €440,000 — or less than €150,000 a year, from which four staff members had to be paid. That’s McDowell’s idea of funding for this vital agency.
In fact, he earns substantially more than that himself annually.
It is not just on the question of domestic violence that the Government has an appalling record but in the entire area of sexual assault and violence generally against women.
Basically, it’s a cynical question of voter power. Even with an election around the corner, the Government still couldn’t care less about domestic or sexual violence against women — or men for that matter — and that was very evident in the way the NDVIA crisis was dismissed — or as good as. Compare that with the urgency surrounding the consultants’ dispute at the moment — although it too has been allowed drag on for two years.
The frightening prospect is that, apparently, Fianna Fáil could be within reach of an overall majority after the general election according to the latest opinion poll conducted by Red C for the Sunday Business Post.
While Fine Gael showed a decrease, Bertie Ahern and his party made a strong showing.
Through its own callous neglect of the issue of sexual and domestic violence, the Government has ensured a phalanx of organisations, including SIPTU and women’s groups, will now make it an election issue.
They include Women's Aid, the NDVIA, Rape Crisis Network Ireland, the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the National Network of Women’s Refugees and Support Services.
This is a formidable alliance and, despite the polls, the Government is far from home and dry. It may well in the end fall victim to its own arrogance, like all politicians who have been in power for too long .(Irish Examiner)