Wednesday 21 November 2018

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More bank reform before pay cap lift 

The resignation of the Allied Irish Bank chief executive, following the recent departure of the bank's chief financial officer, has given rise to a suggestion that the imposed cap on bankers' pay should be lifted. The suggestion is premature. Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe recently announced that his department has issued a tender for a consultancy firm to review bankers' salaries. The outcome, of what is expected to be a lengthy process, should be awaited and then duly considered before a decision is taken.

Seamus Coffey, the chairman of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, has also expressed serious concern over what he has called a

Volatile corporation tax unsustainable 

The announcement of an extra full €1bn in corporation tax receipts ahead of earlier forecasts is welcome news at a level this close to a Budget required to meet pressing public spending demands, but is also deeply concerning at another, in that it seems to confirm that Ireland has become reliant on what is an unsustainable revenue source. The anticipated extra funding is now expected to fill a growing black hole in the funding of the health service, amounting to around €700m. There is clearly something seriously amiss when what is described as a 'technical change in international...

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Europe has much to do 10 years on 

The 10th anniversary of the onset of the economic crisis has given rise to much retrospective analysis as to what went wrong, but a more pertinent question is whether the real lessons of that calamitous event have been learned to ensure a similar event will not reoccur in the future. It would be convenient to say that such lessons have been learned, and for many, at a personal level, the scars have been recent and so deep as to make it unlikely that a repeat of the conspicuous mistakes of the past will reoccur in their lifetimes. Indeed, on a broader domestic level, there are also signs that...

US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

Trump visit and the right to protest 

The visit to Ireland by US President Donald Trump in November, as part of a European tour that would also see him travel to Paris for a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice after World War I, has given rise to calls for a mass protest from the public from several politicians, including the Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin and the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Protest is very much a vibrant part of liberal democracies and should be accepted, indeed welcomed, as such. Since Donald Trump's inauguration as president, there has been a protest every day somewhere in...

Pope Francis shakes hands with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle. Photo: WMOF2018/Maxwell Photography via Getty Images

Actions will be test of new covenant 

In his speech to mark the visit of Pope Francis, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he believed that the time had now come to build a new relationship between church and State in Ireland, what he called "a new covenant for the 21st Century". It was his hope that the visit of the Pope would mark the opening of a new chapter in the relationship between Ireland and the Catholic Church. Undoubtedly, the hope expressed by Mr Varadkar will be shared by many people and not just the faithful, while mindful also, as the Taoiseach said, that religion is no longer the centre of our society but within...

The Papal cross in Dublin’s Phoenix Park (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Pope's visit and modern family life 

The visit of Pope Francis to attend the World Meeting of Families in Ireland next weekend has already become mired in the Catholic Church clerical child sex abuse scandal. That is to be expected. Both internationally and in this country the church has failed to properly face up to this issue since details first began to emerge around three decades ago, a failure which has continued up to recent times as events in the US showed again last week. But it would be a missed opportunity for the Pope's visit to be entirely shadowed by the sex abuse scandal. This is, after all, a once-every-three-years event...

'One thing that hasn’t changed is the apparent capacity of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive to raise the temperature in any debate on this issue.'

Housing becoming a national scandal 

Seeing those young boys trying to sleep on hard chairs in a garda station was upsetting for many people and had the effect of making us think again about the homeless crisis. We have a housing problem and a homeless problem, caused by an inadequate housing supply to cater for a great demand. Increasing supply takes time, 18 months to two years we are told. But the problem is we have been told that for at least the last two years and little has changed. As such, the housing crisis is fast becoming a national scandal.

Clearly, there is a pattern of alcohol and drug abuse behind
most of the aggression which leads to the most distressing
cases of anti-social behaviour. Stock photo

Growing menace of anti-social crime 

Anti-social behaviour may be a complex problem which is best tackled at multiple different levels, but that should not be an excuse to continue to tolerate an issue which is on the rise again and causing untold misery to many people throughout the country. The causes of anti-social behaviour, such as social disadvantage and lack of life opportunity, have long existed and are often paid lip service by politicians and policy makers. A thorough examination of those causes are again merited, and policies put in place to minimise the worst excesses of the problem over time.

President Michael D Higgins. Photo: Arthur Carron

Let in the light on President's office 

As it now seems certain that there will be a presidential election later this year, it is a good time to state that the office of the President of Ireland should be absolutely transparent and, as it is the recipient of significant public funds, should no longer be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. At a minimum, the publication of such information would assist the public in their understanding of the office and its functions, something which is to be recommended.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Picture: Tony Gavin

Ireland must push for Brexit deal 

The visit of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to Ireland last week, and the assurances he repeated in relation to the European Union's solidarity with this country in what are difficult Brexit negotiations, while obviously welcome have added to the appearance that such events are increasingly part of a tactical interplay between the EU and UK at a time when it seems the negotiations are more likely than ever to go down to the wire next March.

In the end, a pragmatic solution will have to be found.

EU remains firm but fair on Brexit 

The European Union's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has systematically dismantled the United Kingdom's latest paper on its withdrawal from the EU and has stated, 10 months from Brexit, that more "realism" is required from the UK. On the British side, chaos rather than realism remains the order of the day. There is cause more than ever for deep pessimism as to the outcome of the process and, therefore, growing concern that the UK seems to be heading for a catastrophic withdrawal that will be damaging in the extreme to the interests of this country.

Economy good but caution required 

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development delivered a timely if not dire warning last week that property prices here "may increase more strongly" which would boost further construction activity in the near term but "may induce another property bubble" associated with a strong surge in credit growth. At this relatively recent remove from the economic collapse, reference to a ''property bubble'' is enough to chill even the most optimistic going forward. So the analysis should be borne in mind by the Government and all policy makers while simultaneously meeting the many challenges which still exist in the broader economy.

Options: Referendum posters

Two Irelands, one referendum divide 

Today's Sunday Independent/Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll highlights a divide of opinion in the country in relation to the issue of abortion, certainly, but it also seems to underline the emergence of what we might call two Irelands: an urban, liberal and a rural, conservative Ireland. This phenomenon has, of course, always existed at some level, but the referendum campaign is highlighting what appears to be a growing polarisation which is unfortunate, the exploitation of which should be resisted in the weeks ahead.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Commemoration of 'Republic Day' 

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has set out the Government's intention to bring the State's commemorative programme to a close in what he calls "an upbeat and optimistic note" by celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Republic of Ireland coming into effect in 2024. In that regard he has charged the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations to handle what has the potential to be a sensitive event. However, this group has, to date, managed with great sensitivity, not to mention a certain elan, recent commemorations, not least the 1916 commemoration, and there is every...

Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Trump's troubling chaotic Presidency 

In every way unimaginable, the US Presidency of Donald Trump is living down to and beyond worst expectations since his election to that great office last year in what are deeply questionable circumstances. His election remains under investigation, the outcome of which may yet prove fatally damaging to his Presidency if not to the office he holds - damaging to a extent greater than even the President himself has set about achieving through his prodigious use of Twitter to communicate with the world.

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Prudence still key for the economy 

Exchequer returns for the first quarter of the year showed solid revenue growth but there was also some cause for concern with a fall in income tax receipts in March, which is being put down to a dip in returns from the self-employed sector. Lower-than-expected income tax receipts have been a feature in previous returns which is difficult to understand in a strong labour market. While the Department of Finance expects this downturn to unwind later in the year, the returns do serve as a salutary reminder that caution and prudence must remain the watch words. That said, the figures...

Supporters gather outside the Department of Justice on St Stephen’s Green during the Rally for rape trial victims.
Photo: Tony Gavin

Lessons of the Belfast rape trial 

The Belfast rape trial has raised the most serious questions in relation to the sexual interactions between men and women, primary among which is the meaning of rape, which is sex without consent, and as a consequence of that, the meaning of consent. In recent times there has been a wider discussion around the meaning of "consent", specifically when it is offered and withdrawn. This is an overdue discussion, still evolving. However, despite its importance to the nature of sexual violence, consent remains misunderstood.

Leo Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar goes to Washington 

Today Leo Varadkar has begun a trip to Washington, his first as Taoiseach. Some would demand he take the opportunity to stand up to President Trump in the White House. Some would want him to raise the threatened imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium imported into the US. There is concern over the tariffs - 25pc for steel and 10pc for aluminium - because the Aughinish Alumina plant in Limerick, with a workforce of 450, is Europe's largest producer of the raw material for manufacturing aluminium. And heavy American tariffs could displace product from elsewhere and...

Footpaths are cleared in Kildare Town, Co Kildare - Niall Carson/PA Wire 1/3/2018

Now that the storm has passed 

The national conversation will turn soon, if it has not already, into the state of preparedness for and response to weather phenomena such as Storm Emma and that which became known as the Beast from the East, both coming just four months after Storm Ophelia brought the country to a standstill. That conversation can be expected to take a somewhat cynical turn, to insist that the authorities over-reacted or that we must find another way to cope with what seem to be more frequent events other than to shut down entirely the normal functioning of society.

Sinn Fein's outgoing president Gerry Adams Picture: PA

Adams's legacy is abject failure 

The Nobel Laureate in Literature, Seamus Heaney, was quoted in the presentation speech to award the Nobel Prize to John Hume and David Trimble in December, 1998, the year of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Heaney had used the fable of the hedgehog and the fox to describe the difference between the then SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party leaders. "John Hume is the hedgehog, who knew the big truth that justice had to prevail," Heaney wrote. David Trimble, on the other hand, "is the fox, who has known many things, but who had the intellectual clarity and political...

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.

Property tax review must fix anomalies 

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe recently announced a review of the Local Property Tax which will, in particular, look at the potential impact of the tax in light of significant property price increases. Since the tax came into effect in 2013, property prices have increased by around 70pc, which means property owners would receive a substantially increased tax bill were the current evaluation metric to be applied. It is expected that the review will be completed at the end of August and that the report will provide a number of policy choices to the Government for...

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Heal wounds and embrace optimism 

The famous US baseball player, Yogi Berra, perhaps better remembered for expressions, or turns of phrase that were memorable because they did not make sense, once said that predictions were difficult to make - especially about the future. His unintended wisdom should be especially borne in mind when it comes to the dismal science of economic forecasting. That said, the latest quarterly bulletin from the Central Bank is welcome and a cause for general optimism, not least the bank's upgraded headline growth for the economy of 4.4pc this year and the expectation that an...

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: PA

Ireland, changed for the better 

Ireland's political culture is the product of both the collective history of our political system and the life histories of the members of that system and, therefore, is rooted equally in public events and private experiences. Last week the country's two main political leaders made memorable, some would say remarkable, speeches - one at the European Parliament, the other in Dail Eireann - and they were a credit to Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin respectively, whether you accord or not with the views expressed.