Michael Green

About Michael Green

Michael Green is Manager of The Information about Ireland Site

UNICEF Ranks Ireland Tenth Best For Kids

A report by UNICEF has provided mixed news for Irish parents with its findings ranging from very good to seriously bad. The report listed an average rank in the four elements of child well-being: material well-being, health, education, and behaviours and risks.


The report examined data from 2001 to 2010 for 29 developed OECD countries and ranked The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden at the top of the list with the UK in 16th place and the US in 21st place. The listing of Ireland in 10th place is relatively good but does however mask some shortcomings in the Irish treatment of its younger citizens.

Ireland ranked tenth overall with the report finding:

  • The Irish Child poverty rate of 8.5% is below the OECD average
  • Alcohol use among 11 to 15 year old children sees Ireland in 14th place with the US in 1st place (least number of children who reported being drunk at least twice) and the UK in 23rd place. Cannabis use by the same age group saw Ireland in 13th place, the UK in 21st place and the US in 25th place.
  • There has been a large decline in child and teenage smoking with Ireland ranked in 6th place, the US in 4th place and the UK in 7th place.
  • Ireland ranks 20th in number of births to teenage girls (15 to 19 years) with the UK in 27th place and the US in 29th place (most births)
  • The number of children overweight is increasing and Ireland is behind the UK, Germany and France in this regard. 15% are rated as overweight using the BMI scale. In the UK the rate is 12% while in the US it is 28%
  • Ireland has the highest rate of child exercise with the US in 2nd place and the UK tenth place.
  • In the 15 to 19 year old bracket Ireland is at the bottom of the list with regard to unemployment (includes not being in school or training)
  • Participation in third level education (15 to 19 years old) sees Ireland in third place (92% participation) with the US in 25th place (82%), and the UK in 29th (73%).
  • In terms of health and safety Ireland ranked 15th of the 29 countries.
  • In education terms Ireland ranked 17th
  • In housing and environment Ireland ranked 2nd
  • Homicide rates in the 29 countries sees the US in 27th place with just under 5 deaths per 100,000 citizens. Ireland is in 24th place (just over 2 deaths per 100,000 citizens) and the UK in 14th place.

The full report can be accessed here:
http://www.unicef-irc.org/Report-Card-11/

by Michael Green
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Rebellion in Labour Party Might Suit Fine Gael

The Irish Government Coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party looks very unlikely to run its full term despite the insistence of the two Party leaders.



Rarely has a Political Party leader looked in so much peril of removal as does Eamon Gilmore at this moment. To the despair of his Labour Party colleagues it is their Party who are taking the lions’s share of the blame for the never-ending austerity measures that the current Government is imposing.

Never mind the fact that the policies now being implemented were first started by the previous Fianna Fail administration. Never mind the fact that Fine Gael is the largest Party in Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) and should shoulder most of the blame. The electorate has focused most of its ire on the Labour Party who seem to have abandoned just about every one of the core values for which it once stood.

It must seem amazing to Fianna Fail supporters and Fine Gael supporters alike that the Labour Party, that which is supposed to represent the interests of the working classes and unemployed, the poorest and the down-trodden, could be part of a Government that has introduced such savage and wide-ranging cuts in public services and incredible increases in taxation.

That the Labour Party supports the introduction of a Property Tax will probably be the final nail in its coffin. Of course both Fine Gael and Labour claim that they have no choice with the Property Tax and that they must introduce the tax as part of the EU/IMF/ECB loans to keep the country going. If that does not work then they will point to Fianna Fail and blame them for all of the austerity being foisted on the hapless Irish public.

This tactic worked for a while but has now worn very thin. Fianna Fail has bounced back in the polls while the Labour Party has plunged downwards. The Party has now lost 5 T.D.’s (members of the Irish parliament), all of whom have left in disgust at the direction the Party is heading. MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Nessa Childers is the latest member to resign from Labour’s Parliamentary Party. The Labour Party candidate in the recent Meath by-election did not get even enough votes to secure the return of his election deposit! There is a public perception that the Labour Party leadership has sold out and the Party seems set to implode with rebellious factions fighting each other.

But does this suit Fine Gael?



The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has repeated his assertion that there will be no renegotiation of the ‘Programme for Government’ and that there will be no substantial reshuffle of his Cabinet. He is basically giving Labour no wriggle room whatsoever at precisely the moment when they are taking the flak for the severe policies the Fine Gael Government are implementing. That is pretty useful political cover!

If Labour left Government, as they must surely do in advance of any General Election, then Fine Gael would still have enough support to carry on, and, even if it did not, it could cut the smaller Party loose while attacking the policies of Fianna Fail and then the policies of their previous coalition partners.

A Fine Gael unencumbered and untainted by a link to a faltering Labour Party would certainly look more attractive to the Irish electorate than the current coalition Government does. Fine Gael will find a way to ditch Labour unless, as seems likely, Labour does it to itself.

The Labour Party is heading towards utter decimation.

by Michael Green
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Milo O’Shea: More than just the ‘Irishman with the Eyebrows’

Milo O’Shea: More than just the ‘Irishman with the Eyebrows’

The famed Irish actor Milo O’Shea has died. He was a renowned performer and had a marvellous career on both stage and screen.



Born in Dublin in 1926 his parents were both entertainers, his father a professional Singer and his mother a Harpist and Ballet Dancer. His earliest role was in a radio production of ‘Oliver Twist’ when he was just ten years old. Encouraged by his parents he pursued his dream of being an actor and left for America. Like so many aspiring actors his ‘day-job’ was a lot less glamorous than his acting turns. He worked as an Elevator operator in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City before returning to Ireland where he found fame with his performance in the 1967 film ‘Ulysses’, based on the notoriously difficult book by James Joyce. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote:

Milo O’Shea is perfect as a fortyish, black-haired Bloom, bright-eyed when fun and lust are rising, flaccid and pathetic when rebuffed

His first of two ‘Tony’ nominations was for appearing opposite Eli Wallach in the 1968 stage production of ‘Staircase’ in which the two leads portrayed a gay couple living together in what is regarded as one of the breakthrough roles depicting homosexuality on Broadway.

On the silver screen he starred in Franco Zeffirelli’s renowned production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and as the mad scientist Durand Durand in the film ‘Barbarella’ with Jane Fonda. International pop band ‘Duran Duran’ took their name from the character so famously played by Milo O’Shea.

His second Tony nomination was in 1981 for his role as the Mercedes-driving priest in ‘Mass Appeal’ and was followed in 1981 by a most memorable performance as the biased judge sparring with Paul Newman in the Sidney Lumet production of ‘The Verdict’.

He regularly appeared in Movies including ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ and ‘The Playboys’ while on television his performances included the TV series ‘Murder in the Heartland’ as well turns on ‘The West Wing’, ‘Cheers’, ‘The Golden Girls’ and ‘Frasier’.

He will be remembered for the huge variety of roles that his versatility as an actor allowed him to carry off with such ease. From comedy to serious courtroom drama to bar-room comedy his range was huge. Survived by his wife, Kitty Sullivan, his sons, Colm and Steven, and three grandchildren, he will be missed.

Milo O’Shea in his comic role in the TV Series ‘Cheers’:

by Michael Green
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Irish Football Team Suffer World Cup Setback

The prospect of the Irish football team lining out in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup hangs in the balance. A fine battling performance in Sweden to gain an unexpected 0-0 draw and a vital qualifying point was followed up by a 2-2 draw with Austria in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.



It could have been so different. The young Irish team were a goal down within 11 minutes after a defensive mistake let in the Austrians who had dominated the early part of the game. Martin Harnik poked home the opening goal past the despairing dive of Irish keeper David Forde. The Irish team dug in and with the excellent Shane Long leading the attack got a lifeline with a penalty after an Austrian defender rashly chopped down Shane Long on the edge of the penalty box. A definite penalty that was expertly converted by Jonathan Walters. Long was unlucky not to score shortly after when his beautiful back-heel came back of the post. The Irish were in the ascendancy with the stadium erupting when Walters scored his second goal of the night, a header from a corner kick and right on the stroke of half-time.

The Austrians regrouped and started to dominate the game again in the second half. Ireland still threatened and might have had a third goal when the Austrian goalkeeper Heinza Lindner expertly prevented an own-goal from an Irish corner. Increasingly the Austrians gained the upper hand and it was with a sense of inevitability that they snatched a deserved equalizer deep into added time. Just seconds remained on the clock but the three points had been converted into just one with new questions abounding about the tactics employed by the Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni.



No-one doubts the ‘gameness’ of these Irish lads and they are not without genuine footballing quality but against Austria they were let down by their Manager’s unwillingness to believe that they could do more than just cling on and defend their goal advantage. With the Austrians dominating it became clear that the Irish team needed midfield reinforcements while the substitution of Shane Long was baffling to say the least.

It is not over yet and if the Irish can produce an away performance against Austria and turn over the Swedes in Dublin then they may yet claim second place in the group and a play-off place.

At the moment this looks like a very tall order.

Group C – Current Standing
Germany - Played: 6 – Points: 16
Austria - Played: 5 – Points: 8
Sweden - Played: 4 – Points: 8
Ireland - Played: 5 – Points: 8

Lose Your Cable TV If You Want a Mortgage Write-Down

The issue of mortgage write-downs or ‘debt forgiveness’ has been a very thorny one in Ireland ever since the Irish banks effectively collapsed and were taken into state ownership. Thousands of home-owners lost their jobs at about the same time as the value of their property plunged. They found themselves in negative equity, preventing them from selling their now-devalued property and trapping them in apartment blocks and rural housing estates in a vicious circle that is hard to escape.

The realization that a certain level of mortgage write-downs would have to be granted was greeted with a mixture of despair by those who actually managed somehow to pay their mortgage and with an opportunistic ‘nod and a wink’ by those who are trying to ‘game the system’. There is anecdotal evidence that a certain number of home-owners are deliberately not paying their mortgage in anticipation of a deal being struck in the future. This is preventing write-downs being offered to the most deserving of cases, stalling the property market, trapping people in homes they cannot afford.

It is estimated that as many as 100,000 Irish mortgages are now in arrears of at least three months. It is inevitable that deals will have to be done with some if not many of these cases. The banks are unsurprisingly being very cagey. Where home-owners in arrears present themselves to the bank they are being offered longer terms, mortgage holidays, interest-only payments, split mortgages, etc., in an effort to give them some breathing space. For some, even these measures will not be enough.

The new Personal Insolvency Service has laid out a number of concessions that they expect from those desperate for a deal including:

* getting rid of a second car and even trading down to a lesser model of car
* an end to taking foreign holidays
* removal of certain Cable TV services including sports and movies packages
* removal of children from private schools
* ending of private health insurance
* any other obvious ‘unnecessary’ expense

The Personal Insolvency Service is part of the Government’s overhaul of the outdated bankruptcy laws in Ireland. Irish banks are expected to use the new rules and restrictions laid out by the Service in dealing with people seeking mortgage write-downs.

It is likely that these new measures may be tested in the Courts. The spectre of desperate families choosing between private education for their children and private health insurance over keeping their family in their home is likely to be loom large in the national consciousness and soon.

It is a battle that will likely get ever more bitter as the stark reality of a bank-imposed ‘austerity lifestyle’ hits home.

by Michael Green
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Saint Patrick’s Day Traditions

The Wearing of the Green

The tradition of wearing Shamrock to celebrate Saint Patrick seems to date from the seventeenth or eighteenth century. This was a very turbulent time in Irish history. The suppression of the Gaelic way of life by the ruling British invaders resulted in many aspects of the Catholic religion in Ireland being forced underground. Strict laws were enforced which prevented the Catholic population from attending schools so ‘hedge-schools’ were operated in secret.

Shamrocks - one of the symbols of Ireland

These were schools run outdoors in secluded places (sometimes literally ‘under a hedge!). The teaching of religion was also forbidden so it is only to be expected that teachers would use naturally available resources to inform their pupils. Thus the Shamrock plant was used to illustrate the message of the Christian Holy Trinity.

Saint Patrick was credited with using the Shamrock in such a manner so the wearing of the Shamrock by the oppressed Catholic population became a means of demonstrating their defiance to the ruling British class. It also imbued a sense of kinship among the native Gaelic people, differentiating them from their oppressors.

Wearing a clump of Shamrock is now a firmly established tradition throughout the world to celebrate not just Saint Patrick but Ireland itself. The Shamrock symbol is widely used by businesses seeking to associate with Ireland and, along with the Harp, is perhaps the single most recognisable symbol of Ireland. It is a shame though that the Shamrock is not a blue plant as the color originally associated with Saint Patrick was blue!

Saint Patricks’s Day Parade

Saint Patrick’s Day is unique in that it is celebrated worldwide. It is most unusual that a country has such an international celebration and is really evidence of the generational effects of emigration that has afflicted Ireland for centuries. After the 1845 to 1849 Irish Famine emigration soared with as many as a million native Irish leaving their homes in the decades after the famine to settle in places like Boston, New York, Newfoundland, Perth, Sydney and beyond. The US Census Bureau now reports that 34 Million US Citizens claim Irish descent. Most emigrants like to commemorate their heritage and thus the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade came into being.

Saint Patrick's Day Parade, New York, 1909

The earliest record of a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was in the year 1762 when Irish soldiers serving in the British Army held a Parade in New York City. Earlier records suggest that the day was celebrated by the Irish in Ireland as early as the ninth and tenth centuries.

Again, this was a very difficult time in Irish history with Viking raiders terrorizing the native Gaelic population. It is thus no surprise then that in times of strife the local population would turn to religion and to a commemoration of their own heritage and individuality – a practice that has been repeated by populations of troubled places since the dawn of time. The New York Parade is now the longest running civilian Parade in the world with as many as three Million spectators watching the Parade of over 150,000 participants.

Saint Patrick's Day Parade, Dublin

The first official Parade in Ireland was in 1931. The 1901 law that copper-fastened March 17th as an Irish national holiday was later amended to insist that public houses close down on the day. This restriction was later lifted in the 1970′s. In the mid 1990′s the Irish Government really started to promote the event when it changed from a single day’s Parade into a 5-day festival attracting as many as a million visitors into the country. Parades are now held in just about every major city in the world with the biggest in several US cities reaching epic proportions.

Chicago River on Saint Patrick's Day

Greening of Rivers and Buildings

The use of the color green reached new heights (or plunged new depths!) when in 1962 the city of Chicago decided to dye part of the Chicago River green. Since then the campaign to have just about every possible landmark turned green for the day has taken off in earnest and in recent years has included the Irish Parliament building, the Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls and even the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt!

A Pint of Plain

The Irish association with drinking is well known and not always positive. Fortunately there are plenty of examples of the appropriate use of alcohol and Saint Patrick’s Day is one of them. It is a widely held tradition in Ireland that beer or whiskey can be taken on Saint Patrick’s Day although native Irish pub-goers can only look on aghast as visitors top the heads of their creamy pint of Guinness with a green Shamrock. Sacrilege! It is estimated that as many as 13 Million pints of Guinness are consumed on Saint Patrick’s Day, up from the usual 5.5 Million per day!

Saint Patrick's Day Girl

Dressing Up

The tradition of dressing up in Irish outfits is not just confined to participants in Parades. Jovial creatures of Irish origin the world over use the opportunity of Saint Patrick’s Day to dress up as Leprechaun or even as Saint Patrick himself. Kids love to wear the big green, white and orange hats and receive sweets thrown to them by similarly clad operators of the various Parade floats.

The Saint Patrick’s Day Dinner

Corned beef and cabbage is as traditional and Irish meal as you will ever find and it is often hauled out for Saint Patrick’s Day. Traditional Irish music in the background and a family gathering are other Irish Saint Patrick’s Day traditions that have been going on for centuries.

by Michael Green
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Blow to Economy as Tourists from Britain Desert Ireland

The number of visitors from Britain has fallen by as many as a Million visits since 2007 when 3.7 Million trips from Britain to Ireland were recorded.

Six short years ago Ireland was a very different place. The ‘Celtic Tiger’ still stalked the land although his days were numbered. A property market collapse and financial ruin were just around the corner. Britain suffered its own recession too but was spared the carnage caused by the banks that Ireland suffered. Against this backdrop it is perhaps no surprise that visitors from our closest neighbour have decided to opt for sunnier climes.

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) are doing everything they can to reverse the trend but are not helped by the high costs they face in running their businesses. Commercial Rates are effectively an extra big tax on their income. Many Hotels are also suffering negative equity in respect of the development of their Hotel property after the market collapsed in 2008. Consequently Hotel rates in 2012 were at their highest level since 2008 according to a Hotels.com survey.

Killarney at 101 euro per night was listed as the most expensive destination for Hotel rooms where the country averaged 90 euro per night. Irish Hoteliers are not at all happy with the survey though, claiming that the cost of rooms has been greatly reduced in recent years despite persistently high costs and that Ireland compares favourably to most other popular European destinations.

Tourism is vitally important to the Irish economy accounting for 5.3 Billion Euro in revenue and employing 11% of the entire workforce of the country.

by Michael Green
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Government ‘Divide & Conqueror’ Strategy to Test the Resolve of Public Sector Unions

A successor to the ‘Croke Park Agreement’ has been finalized that will see cuts of 1 Billion Euro from the Government pay bill. The deal includes pay cuts for all staff, and up to 10% for top-earners, additional hours of work at no extra pay, and reductions in allowances and premium payments.

As many as nine Unions have already indicated that they will not support the new deal and are recommending that their membership reject it. The consequences of being outside of the new arrangements are likely to make for a very difficult situation for the Unions. It is very likely that the Government will unilaterally reduce the pay of those staff who do sign up to the deal, a step that will almost certainly cause strikes.

The Government seems to be playing hardball this time around. The new proposals actually provide for some compensation to public servants in two years time in certain situations, but only to those Unions that sign up to the deal. Those staff who opt out will not receive the agreed compensation. Divide and conqueror seems to be the tactic.

Similarly the deal provides for zero compulsory redundancies for those Unions that sign up – a huge concession given the current unemployment rate of over 14%. Those left outside the umbrella of the agreement however will have no such comfort and may see compulsory redundancies implemented, on top of compulsory pay cuts.

The divisions in the Unions are becoming apparent. The huge Impact Union that represents over 63,000 public servants has recommended that the deal be accepted. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation however is to recommend rejection of the deal to its 40,000 members. Similarly Teachers Unions have rejected the deal. Already a group representing Gardai, Nurses, Paramedics and Fire-Fighters, some 70,00 public servants, has been formed to co-ordinate its opposition to the deal.

The problem with the deal from a Union perspective is that it requires every public servant to take a pay cut. While this may seem reasonable in the case of a person earning over 65,000 euro per year it is a lot harder on lower paid civil and public servants, nurses and front-line staff, many of whom earn less than 30,000 euro annually.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is determined that the cuts to pay and conditions have to me made:

“Implementing these savings by agreement with public service staff would be another big step on the road to economic recovery, and would send out a signal to the world that the Irish people are determined to fix our economic problems and restore the country to prosperity and full employment.”

It is ‘Game On’ with division, public protest and strikes inevitable.

by Michael Green
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Further Fianna Fail Poll Surge Is The Low-Mark Of Irish Despondency

The ruling Fianna Fail Party was trounced in the 2011 election. At 17% of the vote they seemed to be on the very edge of oblivion. Fine Gael and Labour had brushed them aside, bolted into power on a wave of optimism about ‘real change’ and ‘burning the bond-holders’ (a reference to not paying back bank loans to unsecured bond-holders in Europe).

For a while it seemed that there might actually be some a change in direction. But alas it is now clear that the current Government has merely assimilated the trappings of power worn with such gusto by Fianna Fail, and in fact is implementing much of the previous Government’s policies.

It is difficult now to see any real difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael from a policy standing. The historical civil-war divide between the two parties is now all but irrelevant. Fine Gael have made very few changes to the deal struck with the EU/IMF/ECB troika who are lending Ireland huge sums of money in order to pay back German and French banks (and at a nice interest rate). Even the renegotiation of the Irish Promissory Note Deal is but a scratch on the surface of the mountain of debt facing the country. Heralded as a triumph it actually increases the amount of debt Ireland owes!

The Irish electorate is facing a scenario where there are two big Parties occupying the moderate central section of the Irish political landscape (Fine Gael, Fianna Fail) while the Labour Party vainly attempts to brand itself as the party of the left wing, a space now dominated by Sinn Fein and the Socialist Party. Rumours abound that the vacancy for a more right-of-centre Party may about to be filled with the establishment of a new ‘Progressive Democrats’ style of Party, but it has not happened yet.

The most recent opinion poll shows that Fianna Fail are now the best supported Party in the country at 27% compared to Fine Gael on 25%, 20% for Sinn Fein and Labour at 13%.

How could this happen?

How could the Party that was in Government while the Irish economy imploded be a mere two years later regarded as the best bet to lead Ireland to recovery?

Perhaps it is a sign that the current Government has failed or that the prospect of Sinn Fein in power is just too much for some people. Perhaps it is the disgust with the Labour Party being expressed so openly now by even some of its own membership. Perhaps it is the now five years of austerity and hardship that has been imposed on a relatively docile Irish citizenry by its masters in Government.

Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above – or is it that such are the depths of Irish despondency and cynicism with the Irish body politic that people will now vote for anyone just to get some real change.

Anyone.

Even Fianna Fail.

by Michael Green
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Irish Government Finally Issues Apology to Magdalene Survivors

The Irish Government response to the release of the Report into the extent of Irish State involvement in the now infamous ‘Magdalene Laundries was very poor indeed.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny botched the response and unwittingly inflicted more stress and hardship on the victims. The easy and honorable thing to do would have been to immediately apologise to the victims of what were essentially State-Sponsored Labour camps.

Instead of apologising Enda Kenny decided that his Government needed more time to examine and consider the findings of the Report. Now, in respect of putting together a proper financial compensation package for the estimated 1000 still surviving women who were interred in these prisons, a considered approach is certainly appropriate. But quite why an immediate apology did not follow is a source of bafflement to just about everyone outside of the Taoiseach’s close circle of handlers and advisors and prompted severe media criticism.

The backlash had an effect. Enda Kenny finally stood up in Dail Eireann (the Irish Parliament) and apologized to the women, some of whom were in attendance:

“Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt done to them, and any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry”

The Government has also established a fund to provide compensation for the victims of the 10 Magdalene Laundries. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore criticized the four religious orders who ran the Laundries and called on them to help provide compensation for the women.

The apology does not mark the end of the investigation into the running of the Laundries but it is a starting point and hopefully will provide some measure of, if not closure then at least acknowledgment, for the women who suffered so badly in these most terrible of places.

by Michael Green
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