Archive for February, 2009



12
Feb
09

Is Brian fixing the economy with sparknotes?

A thought occurs to me. How embarrassed are Fianna Fáil voters feeling these days? I mean, they won the last election largely because they were seen as the best stewards of a successful economy. I recalled an episode of Questions & Answers where Brian Cowen (then finance minister) displaying a smarmy, sarcastic attitude that seemed to suggest, “If you really trust Fine Gael with the economy we built go right ahead and vote for them,” which of course was largely their campaign message. I watched several vox-pop segments where people said they were pissed off about the miserable public service in this country but they were still voting Fianna Fáil because they didn’t want to “rock the boat” (it’s a shame that boat turned out to be the Titanic).

I ask this because Brian Lenihan yesterday achieved something I’d previously thought impossible by continuing to astound us with his government’s incompetence. A report commissioned by the minister stated that the bank he was in the process of nationalising had been hiding its financial problems with loans from other banks, and he DIDN’T FUCKING READ IT. It would be hilarious, if not so bloody infuriating.

Anyway, a FF backbencher (I don’t remember which one) was on Vincent Browne’s show last night suggesting that when judging this government’s performance one must consider it in a global context. The problems with the Irish economy simply reflect the problems happening the world over, he claimed. Cowen suggested something similar on Marion Finucane’s radio show last weekend when he said our problems have been fuelled by the collapse of international markets for Irish goods. Sorry, Biffo, but that’s not good enough. There was no international market for Irish houses. Our problems, which are exceptional even in the current international climate, came about because our economy was completely dependent on a grossly inflated housing market that the government had to know couldn’t sustain itself. That and the complete inability to regulate institutions lending money to people who clearly couldn’t pay it back.

Of course I don’t buy the “I never read it” excuse. It’s far too convenient, and amazingly similar to Barry Andrew’s handling of the Bishop of Cloynes case, or Michael Martin being unaware that the HSE were ripping off of pensioners in nursing homes because he was late for the meeting where it was discussed (god be with the days when a minister’s job could be questioned because somebody in the department forgot to post a letter). What seems to me to have happened here was that Lenihan was aware, at least to some degree, of what had been happening at Anglo Irish Bank, but didn’t react because he had no idea how to. Much of our government’s incompetence is borne from ten years of a policy of ignoring problems in the hope that they would go away. After all, it worked fine until now.

The more I think about it the more I feel my future lies outside this country. I’d hate to leave, and I realise every country is feeling a crisis on the jobs front, but for the sake of my sanity I’m becoming increasingly convinced that I must live in a real country, with a government that offer even the slightest indication that they have some grasp of the problems they face.

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11
Feb
09

Mo money mo problems…

This morning I received a phone call from the Irish Examiner telling me they ran a piece of mine a few weeks back and I must set up an account in order for them to pay me. Confused, I declared that they’ve already paid me. “Really,” responded the bloke, “you name’s not on my list. Are you sure it wasn’t somebody else that paid you?” This was, in fact, exactly the mistake I was making. Seemingly suffering from a brief, highly specific level of amnesia, I forgot a distinction between the words “examiner” and “independent”. Of course I only realised this after the fact. Rather cheekily, I said to the guy on the phone, “if you want to pay me again go right ahead.”

Anyway, it was a nice surprise. I’d missed the piece when it ran so it was nice of them to chase me down to pay me. I’m sure whatever money I’ll get will be so tiny it almost won’t be worth the bother. But sure, it’s better than a kick from a horse, as they say.

08
Feb
09

The Irish Blog Awards: long-listed

The Unemployed Blog has found itself on the long list for two categories in the Irish Blog Awards, best newcomer and best personal blog. To be nominated at all is hugely gratifying. To know people actually like this stuff really makes the effort worthwhile. Thanks to whoever nominated me and to the judges who rated this blog. Cudos also go to Mulley for organising these events. It really brings forward blogging in this country.

08
Feb
09

Frank and me

I’m currently reading Marley & Me, the non-fiction account of “life and love with the world’s worst dog”. I didn’t really want to, as it always seemed to me to be the light, easily marketable kind of book that everyone claims to love but forgets forever as soon as they’ve finished it (and so far my initial presumptions were correct). However, I’ve been forced to read it as a sort of homework assignment (someone else’s homework, but that’s another story).

I bring this up because it serves highlight my relationship with my own dog. Having returned to the family homestead, I’ve been reunited with Frank, the family dog. Like Marley, Frank is a Labrador retriever (though not a purebred. Apparently there’s some husky blood in there somewhere), and considering that Marley is the world’s worst dog I’m having a hard time realising why he’s any worse than Frank. Like Marley, Frank doesn’t recognise his own strength, and frequently knocks people over (literally) with his friendliness. He chews up whatever he can get his jaws on. He refuses to lets us wash him, yet zips for every last puddle when taken for a walk. His favourite game is a sort of wrestling which involves biting. He never bites through though. He just sort of holds arms and legs in his mouth. So I nervously tell myself that he will never actually attack anyone as biting to him is something to do as play.

Maybe he’s just particularly bad when I’m home, as my presence in the house is something of a novelty and it gets him excited. Of course this doesn’t explain why other dog owners can do things with ease that are impossible with Frank. For instance, I occasionally notice dogs outside supermarkets and places, tied to railings while patiently waiting for their owners. My brother tried this with Frank once. Refusing to be left alone, he pulled the metal railing he was tied to from its wall. I too tried something similar once, but the poor dog went into such a panic that he made it impossible (though he probably did me a favour, given that in a moment of hunger-driven weakness I was trying to enter a McDonalds).

Currently Frank is tormetted by the dreaded cone, preventing him from gnawing at a cut in his back leg. He looks like an after-shot of that HMV logo. He needn’t worry too much though as I don’t see it lasting long. He already broke a piece off yesterday by running it into the back of my legs.

Incidentally, reading Marley & Me got me thinking. If one attempted to use the Bart Simpson “the dog ate my homework” excuse for not having their report on this book, could they get some credit for creative interpretation of the assignment.

05
Feb
09

A rejection letter just in case you were thinking of asking us for a job

Recently I wrote a somewhat whiney post about a receiving a rejection letter that upset me. Now, however, my experiences with rejection letters are getting surreal.

I was sent an e-mailing stating, “You applied for my role in Customer Service area just recently. Unfortunately this role has been closed and we won’t be able to proceed with your application at this stage.” Nothing I’m not used to, except that I never applied for this role. I’ve received so many rejection letters lately that they’re now being sent on spec.

Ok, this e-mail was obviously sent to me by mistake, but it’s still something of a coincidence that they sent a response to a job application to someone else who’s looking for a job. On the other hand, I suppose in this climate you throw a stone in the street and exceedingly likely you’ll hit a jobless person.

02
Feb
09

Freedom of Information: a response

I’ve received an e-mail regarding my post on my adventures with a freedom of information request to the Department of Justice, challenging my claim that the civil service holds the Freedom of Information Act in contempt. The writer requested that if I post any part of the e-mail here I wouldn’t identify him as this would likely cause him “big shit” (I didn’t know civil servants could swear). I wouldn’t have risked it, but he made a fair point that deserves airing. I’ve done my best to obscure personal details.

I was an FOI officer for a very large Government Department, and the response you got from that FOI Officer in DoJ was rubbish, and totally wrong (as you pointed out).

However, in defence of FoI officers, any that I know (and I’d know a few), do not hold FoI in contempt as you mentioned:

“Of course this is symptomatic of the general contempt for freedom of information displayed by our civil servants, addicted as they are to the culture of secrecy granted to them by Charlie Haughey’s Official Secrets Act of 1963. These guys personally resent examination of how they do their jobs and see the Freedom of Information Act as something that should at most be pacified and preferably ignored completely.”

When I was an FoI officer, I always assumed (and this is how we were trained by the Civil Service Training and Development Centre) that everything was automatically releaseable to whomever asked for it, and to refuse anything we had to go through a long process and justify why we couldn’t release it. Every decision I made was automatically appealable to my supervisor (at Assistant Principal level), and his decision was also appealable to the Information Commissioner.

Well done on following up on that idiot in DoJ, though, and for publicising it, keep up the good work.

It was, I accept, unfair of me to charge all FOI officers for the sins of this one individual. I take that back. However, I remain unconvinced that there isn’t a culture of secrecy within many levels of the civil service. Many, many journalists I’ve spoken to have told me of incidents with requests similar to mine. I believe the individual above when he says he assumes all information is releasable, yet I’m also sure there is an “old guard” within many departments whose first instinct is to protect its operation from outside examination, and for this we have the Official Secrets Act to thank.

But that’s just my opinion. The more important information to take from this e-mail is that it backs up my claim that the DoJ officer is taking the piss, and when this happens the best option is to challenge then.

02
Feb
09

Dublin, I hardly knew ye

It occurs to me that the world’s great cities need character. This might sound mighty pretentious, not least because I can’t define what I mean by ‘character’. Nonetheless, I’m certain all great cities have an atmosphere you can feel through your skin like the company of a good friend. New York, for instance, is the world’s great city as it’s the one with the most character. You feel the buzz of the place as soon as you leave the airport. Chicago, a place dear to my heart, also has a certain uniqueness about it. Even Galway, where I studied for four years, has a character guaranteed by its healthy population of students, musicians, hippies and sophisticated culchies.

I mention this as I’ve been living in Dublin for just over 7 months now and I still haven’t found anything that might be described as ‘character’. I’ve been searching for the Dublin that Joyce wrote about, or at least Damien Dempsey, but to no avail. This has ultimately lead me to leave the city.

Truth be told, the decision to leave was largely made for me, due to a change in circumstance (but I can’t really talk about that). But it would have been very possible to stay in Dublin. However, I thought to myself, “why bother?” There was nothing compelling me to stay, and so I got the train south.

For the moment I’m back at my folks’ place, but I know I’m going to get sick of this before too long as well. I’m not sure where I’ll go after that. I might move back to Galway, or I might leave the country altogether. Of course I could be convinced to return to Dublin if some position comes up, but I’ll be very slow to move back to the north side.