Archive | November, 2010

Dublin: Major Constitutional Crisis Looming As Justice Minister Reveals That ECB ‘Bounced’ Ireland Into Acceptance Of EU/IMF Bailout Deal: UPDATED

30 Nov

ECB ‘Bounced’ Ireland Into Deal

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has said officials from the European Central Bank tried to force Ireland into seeking a bailout before it had even been discussed at Cabinet.

Mr Ahern said “quite incredible pressure” was being applied to the country ahead of the IMF/EU meetings last week and the same thing is happening to Portugal now.

“There were people from outside this country who were trying to bounce us in, as a sovereign state, into making an application – throwing in the towel – before we had even considered it as a Government,” he told RTÉ Radio.

“If you notice they are doing the same with Portugal now because the fear [is] that Portugal will now cause contagion.”

Asked about who was pressuring Ireland, he said they were “quite obviously” people from within the ECB.

“I’ve been going to EU meetings for 13 and a half years as a Minister, and you hear a lot of discussion about solidarity,” he said. “I accept that the European partners were giving us solidarity, but I strongly believe that Ireland should look for this type of solidarity from people and we shouldn’t be cast to the wolves.”

He said “time and time again there is considerable pressure on us as a country to give up on the 12.5 per cent corporation tax”.

When asked if he felt the country had been bullied into taking the decision, he said he believed there was an “effort to bounce us into making a decision” before Cabinet had even discussed the issue.

In the lead-up to the talks on the €85 billion deal for Ireland between the EU/IMF and the State, the Minister had declared it a “fiction” an application had been made by Government for assistance.

He said if officials were talking about bailouts ahead of a meeting of European finance ministers “they had no authority to talk about bailouts because the Government hadn’t discussed it and the Government hadn’t authorised it”.

He said the Cabinet only formally gave Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan authorisation to go to Brussels to discuss the issue of an application on the morning of the meeting.

Mr Ahern said accusations he had lied to the electorate on the issue were difficult. “It was a difficult thing to be accused of being deceitful. My conscience is clear. I gave the factual position – there had been no discussions and I was not aware of any discussions,” Mr Ahern said.

He said that, had he known there were discussions, he would have said something. And he accused officials from within the ECB of leaking information to the media.

Mr Ahern also described the €85 billion bailout package as a good deal. “We are only doing what we should be doing anyway,” he said.

Later today Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said Mr Ahern’s comments revealed the Cabinet was in disarray.

“The Constitution specifically refers to treaties that involve a charge on the public,” Mr Ó Caoláin said.

“If the Fianna Fail/Green Government persists in refusing to put the IMF/EU international loan agreement before a vote of the Dáil they will be acting unconstitutionally. The Constitution is very clear.”

The party called on all parties and Independents in the Dáil to oppose the deal.

NEWS UPDATE:

Labour Party justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte at Leinster House yesterday. He urged the Government to clarify the "exact status" of the agreement in Irish and international law. Asked whether he would consider taking a legal challenge, he said he would "not rule out anything".
Labour Party justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte at Leinster House yesterday. He urged the Government to clarify the “exact status” of the agreement in Irish and international law. Asked whether he would consider taking a legal challenge, he said he would “not rule out anything”.Photograph: Eric Luke

DEAGLÁN de BRÉADÚN, Political Correspondent

LEGAL ISSUE: 

THE GOVERNMENT may be acting in breach of Article 29 of the Constitution by proceeding with the EU-IMF programme for Ireland, Labour Party spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte has claimed.

Mr Rabbitte called on the Coalition to clarify the “exact status” of the agreement in Irish and international law.

A similar stance was taken by maverick Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary South Mattie McGrath, who said: “If, as the Taoiseach has said, the agreement is not going before the Dáil, we will be constitutionally required to hold a referendum on it.”

However, Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews insisted the joint programme was not an international agreement for the purposes set out in the Constitution, and neither the Oireachtas nor any future government was restricted by the agreement.

Asked whether he would consider taking a legal challenge, Mr Rabbitte said he would “not rule out anything”, but first wanted to examine the Government’s response.

In particular, he wanted to know what legal advice the Government had been given in the light of Article 29.5.2 of the Constitution, which states: “The State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann.”

The Labour Party frontbencher said: “Yet the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have made it clear that they will not submit this programme to a Dáil vote.

“If the bailout deal is meant to be a binding contract, then how does the Government square that with the judgments of the courts that prohibit any government from fettering its own discretion . . . these are questions to which the Dáil, the public and the international community are entitled to answers,” he added.

“If the Government does not answer them then the courts will inevitably become involved. In the meantime, the reticence if not refusal of the Government to deal with the issue can only add to current instability and further undermine its credibility.”

Mr Andrews responded: “I want to assure people the loan facility agreements and the Memos of Understanding under the EU-IMF joint programme for Ireland are not an international agreement for the purposes of Article 29.5 and 29.6 of the Constitution.

“The nature of the loan facility agreement for the European Financial Stability Mechanism specifically derives from Council Regulation EU number 407/2010, under which Ireland can request financial assistance.

“Under this regulation Ireland is provided a facility to draw down certain monies in the future,” he said. “A future government is not obliged to avail of any drawdown. Accordingly, future executive action of a government is not fettered, nor is the legislative freedom of the Oireachtas,” he added.

Mr McGrath, who lost the Fianna Fáil whip last June, said: “Article 29.5.2 . . . states every international agreement to which the State becomes a party shall be laid before Dáil Éireann.

“If, as the Taoiseach has said, the agreement is not going before the Dáil, we will be constitutionally required to hold a referendum on it. The people of Ireland, along with their elected representatives, have not been told the truth or have not been consulted for far too long on these very serious issues for the future of our country.

“The debts we are talking about were incurred . . . by private wheeler-dealers seeking nothing but their own profit. Yet ordinary Irish citizens are now bearing the burden of those debts.”

NEWS UPDATE:

THE Government’s battered credibility suffered a fresh blow last night after the European Commission flatly contradicted its projections for economic growth next year.

It came as Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan signalled the end for Anglo Irish Bank, saying its toxic brand name would disappear within “weeks” as a first step.

A revised plan to wind down Anglo more quickly than originally anticipated will then be submitted to the EU by the end of January.

Under the plan, deposits in Anglo will be protected but will be moved elsewhere, while the loans on the bank’s books will be gradually wound down over several years.

The Anglo move is part of a wider restructuring that will see the size of Irish banks shrink as demanded under the EU/IMF bailout.

Prof Honohan played down a suggestion by Labour TD Pat Rabbitte that a further black hole could yet emerge in the banks because of problems with complex financial instruments known as derivatives.

“There has been no indication in our discussions over the past couple of weeks that there is a hole that we haven’t discovered,” said Prof Honohan, adding that the EU and IMF teams had pored over the banks’ books.

While that will be welcome news for the Government, it suffered another blow to its credibility when its economic projections were called into question by the European Commission.

In its four-year plan, published just last week, the Government forecast GDP growth of 1.75% for 2011.

But the commission, in its assessment published yesterday, said growth would increase by just 0.9% — roughly half of what the Government is predicting. They also cut the Government’s projections for 2012 from 3.2% to 1.9%.

The commission said the Government’s figures were “not realistic” because people would not spend as much as the Government anticipated and would instead continue to save.

As a result the budget deficit will be considerably higher than the Government’s projections in the National Recovery Plan and debt will reach 114% of GDP by 2012 while the Government said it would peak at 102%.

It is because of this and other factors that Ireland is being given a further year — from 2014 to 2015 — to reduce the deficit to 3% of GDP.

However, Economics Commissioner Olli Rehn said the fundamentals of the Irish economy remained sound and the situation would improve markedly in 2012, with a predicted growth level of 1.9% that would outstrip the EU average.

His comments came as Labour leader Eamon Gilmore played down suggestions by his party’s finance spokeswoman, Joan Burton, that Ireland was “banjaxed”.

Asked by RTÉ if he believed that to be the case, Mr Gilmore replied: “No, the country has a great future, but the (bailout) deal was a banjaxed deal.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing effects of the mortgage crisis were witnessed again in the High Court.

A single mother, who had fallen ill after being attacked at work and thus struggled to pay her mortgage, had her home repossessed by a sub-prime lender.

Judge Elizabeth Dunne said that despite the borrower’s genuine efforts to satisfy the lender, the woman had not been able to keep up with repayments.

The Government has been accused of pawning the country in signing up to the multibillion-euro international bailout.

Government ‘has pawned the nation’ Enlarge photo

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore branded the deal lousy and a sell-out, and claimed it tied the hands of the next government.

The Opposition rounded on Taoiseach Brian Cowen over the massive rescue package and questioned if he would put it to a vote in the Dail.

“Taoiseach, last Sunday you and your Government took this country to the pawn shop,” Mr Gilmore said.

“I can’t believe that you come in here and try to convince us that what you got last Sunday represents some sort of a good deal.”

In a fiery attack, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the state now depends on handouts after the family silver had been sold off and people’s money raided.

Mr Kenny said the deal was an act of national destruction, and added that the country was priced out of the international bond markets because of the arrogance and ineptitude of the Government.

“It (the deal) was done as if the people didn’t matter, as if the people didn’t count and as if the people didn’t exist,” the Fine Gael chief said.

“This Parliament, this Oireachtas, wasn’t consulted either. Do the deal in Brussels and let them eat cheese and the sleek limousines plough their way through the slush.”

But Mr Cowen gave an impassioned defence of the rescue package and the Government’s handling of the economic crisis, claiming it was the right deal for the country.

NEWS UPDATE: ADDITION:

By ARTHUR BEESLEY: IRISH TIMES:

EUROPEAN DIARY: Even as Rehn, Trichet and others expressed their faith in Ireland, the tide turned rapidly

THE IRISH bailout is now a done deal but questions linger as to when the tipping point was reached that made an intervention by the EU authorities and the IMF inevitable. Opinions vary in Brussels and Dublin as to when that line was actually crossed, although the inexorable forces that ultimately led to collapse are plain to see.

Looming like a malignant colossus over this entire scene is the banking guarantee, introduced overnight at the end of September 2008 as panic gripped the capitalist world in the wake of the Lehman bankruptcy. This intervention served to prop up the banks but it aligned the fortunes of the State with their fate. In the view of a senior Dublin official, everything that followed can now be seen as an effort to avert the prospect of external aid being required to help shoulder that monumental burden.

Add a wrenching recession into the bargain – with the economic contraction and the banking crisis feeding off each other – and the challenge was all the greater. The Government won plaudits in Brussels and Frankfurt, home of the European Central Bank (ECB), for the zeal with which it took a knife to public expenditure.

By its own hand, however, and through events over which Dublin had no control, the Cowen administration became trapped in a fiscal cul de sac which ultimately shut it out from markets.

On the domestic front, the advent of Nama compelled the banks to take losses they could not bear without ever-increasing amounts of capital from a State whose revenues had collapsed. In the outside world, meanwhile, the Greek debt debacle and the market tumult that accompanied it served to magnify the perceived risk in all weakened economies.

There are two ironies here. First, Irish borrowing costs were above those of Greece last year in the months before the crisis blew up when Athens admitted its public accounts were falsified. Second, the European authorities then used painful efforts to stabilise the Irish public finances as a stick to beat Greece down the austerity path.

At that point, said a Dublin official, there was some confidence in Government circles that it had the situation under control. Indeed confidence in Brussels was strong enough for economics commissioner Olli Rehn to publicly declare he agreed with Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan that the worst was over for Ireland. This was in early May, only weeks before the creation of the €750 billion bailout fund that Ireland is now using.

An earlier ruling by Eurostat, the statistical arm of the EU Commission, held that bailout cash for the nationalised Anglo Irish Bank would have to be included in the budget deficit. This was hugely significant as the State’s capital commitment to the banks was no longer obscured. Bank losses grew as Nama transfers continued, and with them their requirement for fresh capital from the Government. At the same time, the banks’ reliance on emergency ECB funding grew out of all proportion.

In late summer a credit rating downgrade by Standard Poor’s (SP) pointed to a continuing seepage of confidence. Whereas the downgrades that came with Greece’s slide into the abyss met a political fightback from Europe, the response to SP was muted. The agency’s critique was deemed more or less valid.

Alarm bells were already ringing loudly before Lenihan presented a new estimate for the cost of the bank rescue to an informal meeting of euro group finance ministers on September 30th, two years to the day after the Government first guaranteed the banks. This was the day the bailout bill climbed to €45 billion, with the prospect of another €5 billion also mooted. The budget deficit would reach 32 per cent as a result, more than 10 times the EU limit, not exactly conducive to confidence.

Even as Rehn, ECB chief Jean-Claude Trichet and other top officials expressed their faith in Ireland, the tide was turning rapidly. For some in Brussels, although no one would say it publicly, this was the moment at which the prospect of an external intervention became likely. While the Nama scheme had won formal approval from the EU authorities months previously, few were prepared for the drastic escalation of losses at Anglo that took the bailout to new heights.

Market pressure intensified, with a further build-up of tension taking its cue from the Deauville declaration on private sector participation in sovereign bailouts by German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Days later, the endorsement of EU leaders for the Deauville statement served to pile yet more strain on Irish borrowing costs. Although some in Dublin hold this to have been the moment of no return, certain figures in Brussels say the game was up by then.

In the background, meanwhile, top-ranking ECB officials were becoming increasingly concerned about the frailty of Ireland’s banks. Their clamour for action reflected the view that survival was now impossible.

The melodrama which followed – with a string of increasingly implausible Government denials that any bailout was in prospect – marked only the culmination of the saga. From the outset of the crisis, the frailty of the banks meant more than a little good luck would be needed to ensure survival. As a confluence of negative forces took hold, it was not to be.

NEWS UPDATE:

CAROL COULTER, Legal Affairs Editor

BACKGROUND : The Irish courts are unlikely to insist the Government brings the EU-IMF agreement before the Dáil

ANY LEGAL action seeking to force the Government to bring the EU-IMF agreement before the Dáil is unlikely to succeed, according to legal experts.

Labour Party justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte raised the issue on Monday, citing Article 29.5.2 of the Constitution, which states: “The State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann.”

The issue hinges on the nature of international agreements, according to constitutional expert Prof Gerry Whyte of Trinity College Dublin.

International agreements are normally lodged with the UN and provide for the settlement of any dispute about their interpretation. This is not the case with the funding agreement with the IMF, he said.

The Irish courts are very reluctant to get involved in what they see as a political issue, he added. In the recent High Court challenge to the National Asset Management Agency (Nama), the divisional court repeatedly stressed it had no role in ruling on Government policy in this area.

The higher courts have stressed they have no role in deciding on social and economic rights and the distribution of resources.

Dr Darren O’Donovan of UCC agreed, but stressed the importance of publishing the letters of intent and memoranda of understanding as soon as possible, before the budget on December 7th, so there can be a full public discussion on them.

He said the IMF has traditionally been quite clear that it does not regard memoranda of understanding as binding international agreements, and has required its staff to avoid binding or contractual language in their drafting.

“The IMF is, in essence, relying on its market influence and the reality of our economic dependency to enforce its conditions. If we breach conditions it will not be legal power that is mobilised, but the fund may suspend payments, with severe consequences for our bond yields,” he said.

It appeared therefore that the agreement did not constitute an international agreement under the constitutional provision. While this means the Government is not required to bring it before the Dáil, it also means that if Ireland fails to meet a memorandum target, it is not in violation of international law.

More adversely it means that should we end up in dispute with the IMF over the meaning of the terms, our recourse to international courts or arbitration is limited, he said.

He warned that there are circumstances where even political statements can become binding, and it was essential that the government ensure that the memoranda contain disclaimers which rule this out.

Dr O’Donovan said the status of the European Stabilisation Fund is less clear than that of the IMF, and its establishment is currently being challenged in the German constitutional court.

While he thought it unlikely the Irish courts would question the Government’s approach, he pointed out that measures required by the IMF had been challenged elsewhere.

The issue here was not about social and economic rights and the distribution of resources, which the Irish courts consider the prerogative of the executive and the legislature, he said, but the rule of law and the need to pass laws which are

proportionate and based on an adequate assessment of the choices facing us.

NEWS UPDATE:

EU antitrust commissioner Joaquin Almunia. Photo: Bloomberg News

EU antitrust commissioner Joaquin Almunia. Photo: Bloomberg News

Banks may be weaned off government help by the end of next year under plans to be presented by the European Union’s antitrust commissioner today.

Joaquin Almunia will say how he plans to phase out state support for banks when he extends crisis aid rules due to expire at the end of this year.

Spanish and Irish lenders including Allied Irish Banks and Anglo Irish Bank are covered by EU-approved state guarantees until June 30.

Next year, some special treatment will “continue to help banks deal with the remaining balance sheet problems,” Almunia told European lawmakers yesterday. “Market conditions permitting, we should return to the normal state aid regime on January 1, 2012.”

Banks in the 27-nation EU used nearly a trillion euros of state guarantees between 2007 and the end of 2009, according to commission data published in April.

The EU’s antitrust agency, which checks whether subsidies distort competition in the region, granted approval for the measures as part of its response to the financial crisis.

EU officials have already suggested increasing fees that banks pay for state guarantees on their borrowings from mid- 2011.

The guarantees help lenders obtain funding, providing a backstop for creditors and bondholders. Governments set the fees, which can’t fall below a minimum level determined by the EU’s executive arm.

Lowry and Healy-Rae expected to back budget

Warning of rise in poverty among elderly

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Ireland’s Young People Face A Familiar Choice: Stay Or Go ?

30 Nov

AP – Kylee O’Brien sells off almost everything her family owns for a move to her native Australia after 13 …
By DAVID STRINGER, Associated Press David Stringer, Associated Press:

DUBLIN – Carrying cardboard boxes groaning with crockery and clothes, Kylee O’Brien clears a space at her makeshift market stall and lays out her wares — trappings of a life in Ireland brought to an abrupt end by the country’s economic crisis.

The 34-year-old is selling almost everything her family owns — from a guitar to a child’s bicycle — and heading overseas, just like thousands of others fleeing the debt-wracked country, pushing emigration to a level not seen since Ireland’s financial gloom of the 1980s.

Ireland’s young have long roved the world, moving in tens of thousands to the United States, Britain and elsewhere, fleeing famine in the mid-1800s, a stagnant economy after World War II and dark years that preceded the Celtic Tiger economic boom from the mid-1990s.

As the country thrived, it enjoyed a brief role reversal, attracting immigrants from around the world and high-tech giants such as Dell and Google. Now current woes have revived a belief that the grass is greener away from the Emerald Isle, leaving many among Ireland’s 4.5 million population pondering a future elsewhere.

“Make me an offer, it’s all got to go,” O’Brien shouted into a wintry morning at Dublin’s monthly flea market on Sunday. “None of this is coming with us when we leave.”

Her business selling children’s clothes has struggled as Ireland’s economy has shrunk, and O’Brien decided a month ago it was time to shift her family to her native Australia.

“I just can’t handle waking up every day to be told I live in a rubbish country, am going to struggle to survive and will never make any money. I’m sick of hearing people saying that we are doomed,” says O’Brien, a mother-of-two who will move to Sydney with her children and Irish boyfriend after 13 years in this country.

Last week, Ireland’s government agreed on a plan to cut euro10 billion ($13.3 billion) from spending and raise euro5 billion ($6.7 billion) in extra taxes from 2011 to 2014. On Sunday, it accepted an offer of euro67.5 billion ($89 billion) in humbling international bailout loans.

Like O’Brien, many question whether to remain during four years of harsh austerity measures.

Anthony Burns, a 27-year-old from Dublin, graduated with a degree in industrial design two months ago, but has been unable to find a job and is debating whether to leave.

“I think everybody’s all wondering it in their heads, but nobody wants to say it out loud because they are almost afraid to rattle people,” he said. “Suggesting it openly would almost be seen as a sign of weakness — or an insult to those people who have to stay behind.”

Figures for the 12 months to April 2010 show about 65,300 people leaving Ireland over the last year — about half of whom were Irish citizens — the highest rate since 1989.

At the same time, the flow of foreigners into Ireland has dramatically dwindled — a turnaround from recent years, when the country was seen as a land of opportunity for people from new EU members such as Poland, and from as far afield as Asia and Africa. Immigration dropped from 57,300 between April 2008 and April 2009, to 30,800 over the following 12 months.

Experts said that, unlike periods of mass emigration in the 1950s and 1980s, those leaving Ireland now are slightly older, vastly better qualified and bound for jobs in IT, law and the financial sector — not on foreign construction sites.

In the past, teenagers with few skills “were going to join the bottom of someone else’s labor hierarchy,” said Eunan O’Halpin, a professor of contemporary Irish history at Dublin’s Trinity College.

Mary Corcoran, a sociology professor at the National University of Ireland, said new emigrants also may be less likely than previous generations to eventually return home.

She has studied 1980s emigrants who came back to Ireland, finding some returned to share in the country’s rapid economic growth between 1995 and 2007, but that almost all had longed for the warmth of Ireland’s close-knit communities.

“It’s actually much easier now for people to maintain that psychological connection with home and their communities — they’ll use Skype and Facebook in a way that’s not been possible in the past,” Corcoran said. Defining events in the national calendar, like finals in Ireland’s homegrown sports Gaelic football and hurling — similar to rugby and field hockey respectively, are now screened around the world on satellite TV, she said.

Others question the rush toward Ireland’s exit gates — fearing the loss of a generation of talent which they believe should be rebuilding the country’s economy, not deserting it.

“The country needs the people with the brain power, with the education, with the ambition, with the big picture thinking to stay behind. Otherwise this cycle is just going to continue and our children will be leaving Ireland, too,” said Deirdre O’Shaughnessy, a 25-year-old journalist in Cork, southern Ireland.

Population figures released in September already show a fast aging society, with more than 500,000 people aged 65 or over for the first time on record.

Julie O’Brien, a 26-year-old chef from Kilfinane, in southwestern Ireland, said the experiences of previous generations should serve as a warning to those planning to flee.

O’Brien moved with her parents to Brixton, a gritty London neighborhood, in 1987 as the family sought a better life in Britain. They returned four years later, chastened.

“It was tough. I remember living in a one-bedroom apartment for a long time, and money was just as tight over there as it was here,” said O’Brien.

“It made me realize, you can go to England, you can go to America — but unless you are going into a highly skilled job there’s no point because you’ll be struggling just the same there as you do here,” she said.

London: Massive Hike In Fees Will Scare Poor Students Off Attending University?: UPDATED

30 Nov

Protests against proposed increases in tuition fees risk scaring young people from poor backgrounds off going to university, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned.

Fees demos ‘may scare off students’ Enlarge photo

In a letter to the National Union of Students (NUS), Mr Clegg said that many young people now believe – wrongly – that they will have to pay large sums up-front before they go to university.

He appealed to the NUS to ensure that its campaign against fee rises does not have negative consequences on efforts to widen access to higher education.

Mr Clegg’s letter to NUS president Aaron Porter came as MPs prepared to debate university funding in the House of Commons.

And fresh protests are expected in central London on Tuesday, with activists calling for school pupils and higher education students to go on strike.

Previous demonstrations saw windows smashed at Conservative Party HQ on November 10 and thousands of students “kettled” by police in Whitehall last week.

Mr Clegg appealed to the NUS to help ensure that those taking part in protests understood “the true picture” of the proposed reforms, which he insisted were fairer than the current system.

“All of us involved in this debate have a greater responsibility to ensure that we do not let our genuinely-held disagreements over policy mean that we sabotage an aim that we all share – to encourage people from poorer backgrounds to go to university,” said the Liberal Democrat leader.

The NUS has launched a “right to recall” campaign to force by-elections in seats held by Liberal Democrat MPs – including Mr Clegg – who signed a pledge to oppose increases in fees before the general election. Liberal Democrats secured a provision in the agreement forming the coalition Government that their MPs can abstain in the vote to increase fees, though it remains unclear whether the party’s ministers will do so.

But Lib Dems are expected to vote against a Labour motion in the Commons on Tuesday which calls on ministers to delay legislation on the fees hike until after they have published a White Paper spelling out their vision of the future of higher education. Labour’s “opposition day” motion will give MPs their first chance of a full-scale debate on university funding since the Government unveiled proposals to increase the cap on tuition fees from £3,375 to as much as £9,000.

NEWS UPDATE:

A massive protest against planned rises in tuition fees will be held on the day MPs decide whether to agree to the controversial increases, with workers and pensioners set to join students for the demo.

Major protest to mark fees vote day Enlarge photo

Organisers have dubbed the protest Day X and predicted widespread action in universities, colleges and schools as well as a huge demonstration in London.

MPs are expected to vote before Christmas over the Government’s proposals to increase the cap on tuition fees from £3,375 to as much as £9,000 a year.

Fresh protests were held on Tuesday for the third time in recent weeks, including a rally in London’s Trafalgar Square and a march to Parliament, past Downing Street.

Mark Bergfeld of the Education Activist Network said universities could be shut down for the day when Parliament votes on tuition fees.

“Buildings in more than 15 universities are currently being occupied by students and the momentum continues to build against this unjust increase in tuition fees and scrapping of Education Maintenance Allowances,” he said before the start of Tuesday’s rally.

“Students are in the vanguard of the fight against this Government but we have unions and other groups including pensioners on our side as well.

“We are building for Day X when we will call on workers as well as students and others to join our fight.”

A total of 41 people were arrested last Wednesday after a group of protesters smashed a police van in Whitehall, leading officers to surround demonstrators in a so-called “kettling” operation.

Violence also flared on November 10 after a march by 50,000 students when some protesters smashed windows at the London headquarters of the Conservative Party.

NEWS UPDATE:

British police have warned students not to use violence in a protest on Tuesday against a planned rise in university tuition fees, after clashes at two previous demonstrations.

Organisers are calling for students and school pupils to take to the streets in a “national day of action” against the Conservative-led coalition government’s plans to almost triple tuition fees to up to 9,000 pounds a year.

“November 30 will see even more students come out on protest across the country,” the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts said in a statement.

“The event, launched once more via Facebook, has around 24,000 people pledging to join actions on the day,” it said. Students, writing on social networking websites, vowed freezing conditions and snow across Britain would also not deter them.

Protesters smashed windows and started fires at the building housing the Conservative Party headquarters in London during a march early this month, and there were also scuffles and vandalism in the capital last week.

Police were criticised on both occasions, for failing to realise the potential for trouble at the first and then for alleged heavy-handed tactics at the second.

The capital’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson has since warned that “the game has changed” in policing protests and that he expected more disorder.

The student demonstrations are the first major protests directly linked to the government’s spending cuts. Labour unions are warning of strikes and more action as anger rises over job cuts and the loss of some public services.

SENSE OF BETRAYAL

Student protesters say they feel betrayed by the coalition government, in particular by junior partner the Liberal Democrats, who had promised before May’s general election to oppose higher tuition fees.

More than 100 Lib Dem candidates defeated in May have signed a petition urging the party’s members of parliament to vote against the rise.

The issue is to be debated in parliament on Tuesday and Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has written to the National Union of Students to say, while they could not keep their pledge, the plans were fair and progressive.

“People are not stupid and will not be fooled by the deputy prime minister’s attempt to apply lipstick to a pig,” NUS President Aaron Porter told Sky News.

Commander Bob Broadhurst, who will be in charge of Tuesday’s policing operation in London, said no disorder would be tolerated and they would be ready “to adapt to whatever unfolds on the ground.”

While respecting the right to peaceful protest, “I would urge all those considering taking to the streets of London again this week to think carefully about the consequences of engaging in violence and disorder,” he said.

In addition to the protests, student groups have been occupying university buildings as part of their campaign against the government fee plans, part of austerity measures which will see 81 billion pounds of spending cuts over four years.

(Editing by Louise Ireland and Mark Trevelyan)

Dublin: Justice Minister Dermot Ahern To Stand Down At Next Election: UPDATED

30 Nov

NEWS UPDATE:

Europe tried to bounce Ireland into an international bailout before the Cabinet could discuss it, a senior minister has said.

Ahern accuses bank of bailout leaks Enlarge photo

Dermot Ahern also accused officials from the European Central Bank (ECB) of leaking details to the media to pressurise the Government into applying for a rescue loan.

The Justice Minister‘s remarks follow suggestions from Children’s Minister Barry Andrews that the country was forced to accept the package offered by the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

After announcing his imminent retirement from national politics, Mr Ahern described the days prior to the bail-out negotiations as fraught.

“I do believe there was an effort to bounce us into a discussion before the Cabinet had even discussed it,” he said.

“Those few days were extremely fraught, quite clearly.”

Mr Ahern was left red-faced after branding reports the Government was on the brink of a rescue package as fiction just days before Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan revealed a bailout was on the cards.

The minister, who has revealed he will not stand in the upcoming general election, insisted he gave the factual position at the time and denied he was left out of the loop.

Although now backing the 85 billion euro package, he claimed there had been no discussion at Cabinet of a bailout at that stage and accused the ECB of leaking information to the media.

“Clearly there were people from outside this country who were trying to bounce us, as a sovereign state, into making an application, throwing in the towel before we had even considered it as a government,” Mr Ahern said.

—————

NEWS UPDATE:

Taoiseach Brian Cowen faced heated questions over the EU-IMF bailout plan in the Dáil today as the House met for the first time since the €85 billion scheme was announced on Sunday night.

During leaders’ questions Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny described the scheme as a “bad deal for Ireland” and said the future of the Irish people and the future of sovereignty had been decided upon behind closed doors.

“What happened last Sunday was a demonstration of art, craft and skill of national destruction,” Mr Kenny said.

“This deal…was done as if people didn’t matter, as if people didn’t count and as if people didn’t exist. Do the deal in Brussels and let them [the people] eat cheese as the sleek limousines drive through the slush.”

Mr Kenny asked if the Taoiseach had the “courage“ and “gumption” to put the deal to a Dáil vote.

In response, Mr Cowen accused the Fine Gael leader of retreating “into flights of rhetoric” any time a serious matter is discussed in the house.

He asked where Mr Kenny expected the State to get the money if he felt it was such a bad deal.

 “What we do need in this country perhaps is to rise above partisan politics now and again,” the Taoiseach said.

“Far from referring to Ireland as either banjaxed or an economic corpse, we need to recognise there are people going to work…and we need to be supportive of what they are trying to do.

“Rather than this constant negative rhetoric coming from the leader of the Opposition he needs to confront the real issues.”

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore accused the Taoiseach of taking the country to the “pawn shop”.

“You’ve no shame after what you have done to this country,” he claimed. “To stand up here on the day you come back with a lousy deal like that and to try and spin it in the way you have.”

Mr Gilmore also questioned the legality of the deal going through without it being put to a vote in the Dáíl. He quoted article 29 of the Constitution: “The State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann”.

Mr Cowen responded by saying he had “taken every step possible in the national interest to try and bring this country forward again”.

He added: “We now have funding arrangements in place to deepen the reforms in the banking sector and to create jobs and growth in this economy.”

And he said Mr Gilmore had no basis to assume he would have got a better deal had he been negotiating.

A full Dáil debate on the deal entitled Statements on EU/IMF Programme for Ireland and the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 takes place this evening and tomorrow.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has said he will not contest his Dáil seat at the next General Election.

 Dermot Ahern - Has been a public representative for 32 years
Dermot Ahern – Has been a public representative for 32 years

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has said that he will not contest his Dáil seat at the next General Election.

In a statement this morning, Mr Ahern said he had informed his local party organisation in Co Louth that, after 32 years as a public representative, he is stepping down at the next election.

He said he also informed his Cabinet colleagues this morning.

Mr Ahern said that following the 2007 election he came to a decision with his family that it would be his last.

He said he informed Taoiseach Brian Cowen of his intention in October and confirmed that decision with him last weekend.

Mr Ahern said that in the last 18 months he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis ‘necessitating heavy medication’.

He said he has been advised that a change in his ‘pace of life is essential in coping with this condition’.

Mr Ahern served as a councillor for 12 years, a TD for 24 years and minister for over 13 years.

He has served as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Social Welfare and Communications.

His announcement means that one of the Taoiseach’s most experienced ministers will not be taking an active part in the most challenging election for Fianna Fáil in generations.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, who will contest the next election in Mr Ahern’s constituency, has wished the Justice Minister well.

However, he said ‘his colleagues in Government should now join him and a general election should be held immediately’.

NEWS UPDATE:

Fianna Fail TD Rory O?Hanlon in his office in Leinster House. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Fianna Fail TD Rory O?Hanlon in his office in Leinster House. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil deputy for Cavan-Monaghan Rory O’Hanlon has announced his decision not to contest the next general election.

The former ceann comhairle informed local party members of his retirement over the weekend.

His decision brings the number of sitting TDs not contesting the next election to 15 after the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern also announced his decision to step down this morning.

Dr O’Hanlon (76) was first elected to the Dáil in 1977 and has served as a minister for the environment, health, and as a minister of state at the department of health and social welfare.

Announcing his decision, Dr O’Hanlon thanked the people of Cavan-Monaghan for their support.

 “I will continue to work to the best of my ability in my role as a TD until the next general election,” he said. “Following my retirement, I will remain an active member of Carrickmacross Cumann,” he added.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen thanked Dr O’Hanlon for his “many years of service to the people of this country and to the Fianna Fáil party”.

He said Dr O’Hanlon made an “outstanding contribution” to public life and the country has “benefited greatly” from his work in Dáil Éireann.

“His long career as a public representative is a shining example of all that is good in politics and public service,” Mr Cowen added.

Dr O’Hanlon’s son is comedian Ardal O’Hanlon, best known for his roles in television sitcoms as Father Dougal McGuire in Father Ted .

Artic Weather Conditions Puts Ireland & Britain Under Snow Blanket: LIVE UPDATES

30 Nov

Glorious Overnight Snow Disrupts Travel:

 
AOIFE CARR and CHARLIE TAYLOR

Motorists face another morning of hazardous driving conditions following overnight snow.

Some ferry services have been cancelled, public transport has been curtailed and footpaths are very icy and slippery in some areas.

Road conditions in Dublin are much worse than yesterday morning. There are reports of particularly treacherous conditions on the N11 Stillorgan road from Morehampton road all the way out to Foxrock. The road has been treated, but motorists are still advised to take extra care.

It is particularly dangerous along the Grand Canal between Harold’s Cross Road and Grove Road. Traffic around Terenure is extremely heavy due to poor conditions and motorists are advised to avoid Terenure Road West between the KCR and Terenure Village.

Lights are out of action in Fairview at the junction with Phillipsburgh Terrace and on Abbey Street at the junction with Marlborough Street. Icy roads around the Strawberry Beds in Lucan have been treated, but icy patches may linger. Harbour Road in Rush is extremely icy. Care is also needed on the Malahide Road. No delays have been reported for city centre or M50 traffic.

Gardaí are also advising care on the M1 Dublin/Belfast Road through Co Louth. Icy conditions have been reported between Drogheda and Julianstown and on the Old Dunleer/Drogheda Road at Maiden Cross.

The M7/Limerick/Dublin Road is down to one lane northbound at J10 Naas south due to snow with heavy delays as a result. The M4 Sligo/Limerick Rd is also down to one lane at J9 Enfield.

Higher ground and mountainous areas in Wicklow should be avoided. The Sally Gap and Wicklow Gap are impassable, and the Roundwood/Laragh Road (R755) is also very poor. In Co Wexford, conditions are extremely icy in Gorey, Enniscorthy and Bunclody and on all secondary routes and back roads.

There has been heavy overnight snowfall in Tullamore, Co Offaly, and dense fog in parts, while the Conor Pass in Kerry is impassable.

The N63/Athleague/Roscommon Road and N61/Roscommon/Athlone Road are both impassable. Snow is currently in Galway and care is needed on the Coast Road from Oranmore.

In Westmeath, drivers are advised not to make any unnecessary journeys as fresh snowfall is causing major problems around Athlone and Mullingar.

AA Roadwatch reports the N55/Longford/Athlone Road is blocked by a truck at Ballykeeran, Glassen Hill, as is the N52/Mullingar/Delvin Road. Elsewhere, the Mullingar/Castlepollard Road (R394) is impassable due to a crash.

Bus Éireann and Irish Rail services passing through Athlone are experiencing severe delays. Trains from Galway and Westport are running late as a result.

Treacherous conditions are reported in Waterford city, and motorists are advised to take extra care in parts of Co Cork, particularly in Ballingeary and Inchigeelagh.

In Monaghan, roads are particularly bad around Emyvale, Scottstown and Clones while in Co Donegal, icy conditions are reported on the N15 Donegal/Ballybofey Road at Barnesmore Gap.

The 8.45am and 2.30pm Dublin to Holyhead Dublin Swift sailings have been cancelled as have the return 12.00pm and 5.15pm journeys. All passengers will be accommodated on the Irish Ferries Ulysses 

cruise ferry. For further information, passengers should contact Irish Ferries central reservations on 0818 300 400.

A number of Stena Line services have also been cancelled or delayed.

The 1.15pm Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead ferry has been cancelled. Stena Line services from Larne to Fleetwood in Scotland are all delayed by as much as eight hours, but the Rosslare to Fishguard and Belfast to Stranraer services are sailing as scheduled.

There are a number of curtailments to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann services. Intending passengers should check http://www.dublinbus.ie and http://www.buseireann.ie for up to date information.

The airports are operating as normal, but passengers should check airport websites before leaving in case of any delays or cancellations.

There are no reports of delays on either the green or red line Luas services.

Many schools around the country are closed due to the adverse weather.

A full list of those school closures can be found at www.schooldays.ie.

Snow showers have swept across almost all of Britain as bitter easterly winds continued to bring Arctic conditions to the country causing widespread disruption and conditions being linked to at least two road deaths.

Arctic Britain blanketed with snow Enlarge photo.  More photos: Weather

In almost every corner of the UK, people woke up to between 0.8in (2cm) and 4in (10cm) of snow, with the east coast worst hit by flurries and sub-zero temperatures. And the cold blast from the North Sea was expected to continue to batter eastern areas throughout the day, even bringing snow to London and the South East.

Severe weather warnings were issued by the Met Office for almost all regions with London, the South East, the East of England, the East Midlands, the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, the North East, North West and Wales all on alert for heavy snow well into the morning.

Grampian, Strathclyde, Tayside and Fife, south-west Scotland, Lothian and Northern Ireland were all warned to expect widespread icy roads.

Snow caused widespread disruption across Lincolnshire, with around 60 schools closed and driving conditions described as hazardous. A Lincolnshire Police spokesman said there had been one fatality in the area so far – a man who was killed in Ruskington Fen when his Land Rover left the road and ended up in a ditch on Monday morning.

One man died and two other men were injured in a three-vehicle collision on an exit slip road off the M18 motorway in South Yorkshire. South Yorkshire Police said the crash happened when a recovery vehicle rolled into two other vehicles.

Tiffany Curnick, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: “We’ve still got these showers streaming in from the east bringing some further accumulations of snow. The areas that won’t be affected are Cornwall and western Scotland – anywhere sheltered from the easterly winds.”

On Monday, thousands of motorists were hit by one of the worst days on Britain’s roads, flights were cancelled and hundreds of schools were forced to close.

The AA said it was one of its busiest on record after it was called to more than 20,000 breakdowns, but today could rival it.

Edinburgh Airport has reopened after closing at 6.15pm on Monday, but a number of flights arriving and departing from the snow-stricken transport hub faced disruption.

Dublin: United Left Alliance Opens Up A New Vision For Irish Society

30 Nov

UNITED LEFT ALLIANCE TO FIGHT FOR A NEW VISION OF SOCIETY:

The new movement of the left In Ireland and by (its-extension across Europe and internationally) was launched in Dublin’s Gresham hotel to a more than packed house of over 400 people. Five speakers outlined their vision for the future and their reflection on past and present events.

The meeting saw MEP Joe Higgins receive a well deserved rousing standing ovation from the floor.

According to the principal leaflet which sets out the detail of the new United Left Alliance – ‘the formation of the ULA is part of a process across Europe and internationally of the development of movements and organisations to fight the attacks on workers, the unemployed and the poor and to fight for a new vision for society‘.

The leaflet also tells us that the current economic crisis is resulting in an unprecedented onslaught on living standards, spiralling mass unemployment and a dramatic rise in poverty – while countless billions is being taken from the empty pockets of working people to prop up the bent bankers, builders and international speculators.

The ULA rejects the so-called solutions to the current economic crises that are based on – slashing public expenditure, social welfare payments and workers pay (including the reduction of €1 per hour in the national minimum wage rate). The ULA favour democratic and public control over resources so that the social needs of the community can be better met.

The alliance involves the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance, the South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group and the Independent Socialist group of Declan Bree in Sligo.

The website for the United Left Alliance is now up. www.unitedleftalliance.org

Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins will attempt to reclaim his Dublin West seat in the next general election.

Richard Boyd Barrett, a councillor for People Before Profit Alliance, and former Tipperary South TD Seamus Healy, will also contest the election under a new United Left Alliance.

The new grouping expects to field some 20 candidates. Dublin councillors Clare Daly and Joan Collins are also involved.

Mr Higgins said the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance and the Tipperary-based Workers and Unemployed Action Group had come together to provide a “left alternative to the establishment parties”.

Sinn Féin was accused of being prepared to “prop up” Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour in a coalition government, at the launch in a Dublin city centre hotel this morning. (Editor’s note: PRESS CONFERENCE).

“The outcome of the forthcoming election is almost a foregone conclusion insofar as Fianna Fáil and the Greens will be annihilated. Fine Gael and Labour’s sole virtue is that they are not Fianna Fáil yet they are wedded to the same cutback agenda for the next four years,” Mr Higgins said.

“The presence of a number of genuine left TDs in the Dáil offering a visible political alternative will be a massive pole of attraction to workers, unemployed and young people and can become a real factor in the unfolding crisis.”

Mr Boyd Barrett said it was time for people to take to the streets in protest.

“We all need to get behind it and send the strongest possible message to this rotten government: get out now.”

Mr Healy said the new alliance would not participate in coalition with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. “We will not rest until the interests of Irish workers, employed and unemployed, are the first priority in this country”.

(Editor’s note: primitive society was fine and functioned for thousands of years, until the advent of the present modern society – which is propelled by greed and usually seeks to dismiss the proper order and social controls which are the necessary norms for the proper order and functioning of any social grouping or the wider society.

The creation of a new political entity – must be controlled be a strict discipline and a respect for the people’s existing and well established institutions – within that grouping, including the realisation that the law-enforcement agency of this state (Ireland) do police this country by the common consent of the people.

Public protest is fine and is the right of every citizen – young and old and the people who we meet in uniform – the Gardai that are present at such protests – are also members of our community and society and have all the rights of every other citizen including the right of bodily integrity and must be respected and obeyed for the safety of the public – including – protesters and the members of the force.

It is the responsibility of every grouping that organises public protests to ensure that such protests are carried out in a peaceful and lawful manner.

Those who organise public protests can not exempt themselves from the bad behaviour of a number of their followers – especially where that behaviour may result in the destruction of private or public property injury or death of a protester an innocent member of the public or a member of the gardai or other emergency service personnel.

Any person intending to take part in a peaceful and lawful protest has no need to cover their faces by means of scarves or other face-masks.

Having and showing respect for the law of the land and other members of the community, regardless of their role or function within our society if the first and last duty of every citizen).

Crossmolina, Co Mayo: Gardai Appeal Over Missing Man

29 Nov

The public’s help is being sought to locate a missing man in Co Mayo.

Ciaran Davidson - Last seen in Crossmolina on Saturday
Ciaran Davidson – Last seen in Crossmolina on Saturday

The public’s help is being sought to locate a missing man in Co Mayo.

Ciaran Davidson, 33, was last seen in Crossmolina on Saturday evening.

He is described as 6′ 1″ (1.85m) tall, of slim build, with brown short hair and blue eyes.

When last seen he was wearing a black sleeveless bomber jacket, dark jumper and blue work trousers with a reflective band at the bottom of each leg. He was also wearing a black cap.

He is believed to be using a white Nissan Terrano 4×4 with registration number 97-WW-5038.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Ballina Garda Station on 096-20560, the Garda Confidential Telephone Line 1800-666111 or any garda station.