Recently in Miscellaneous Category

Confidence is ......

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As a follow up to Aidan Roddy (Letters 27th August), confidence is something people fleetingly have before actually doing or saying something, especially in relation to DIY and politics.

Letter published in Irish Times on 31st August 2020.

Contract for National Broadband Plan

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The Government appears to have availed of the Phil Hogan controversy to slip out the National Broadband Plan (NBP) contract on Tuesday last. It is hard to understand why it bothered as the contract spans 50 weighty files of which only 21 are not fully or partly redacted.

Given that the contract could require €3 billion from taxpayers and runs to about two thousand pages, the cost per page (before redactions) works out at about €1.5 million per page. Hopefully, the NBP proves to be better value for money than this contract which will cost €15 million a year for decades to supervise and, by virtue of its length and longevity, is likely to become a legal minefield and lawyer's paradise.

Letter published in Irish Times on 28th August 2020.

Zero Covid-19

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The surest way for schools to fully re-open at the end of August is to totally suppress Covid-19 on the entire island as per New Zealand. This means 100% buy-in on masks, distancing etc. backed by effective legislation along with a 24-hour testing service, compulsory testing/isolation of incoming travellers, minimal foreign travel and all-island collaboration.

With only thirty days to their re-opening, we have little time in which to hit zero-case suppression.  If successful, we could open up almost every restricted activity and become 'normal people' again.

Lead letter in the Irish Times on 3rd August 2020.

Covid-19 and Overseas Travel

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The Health Protection Surveillance Centre's daily report dated 23rd March contains data which is very relevant to the current debate about the compulsory isolation of incoming travellers. Out of 836 confirmed cases reported on 21st March, Austria, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland were sources of infection for 131 cases and other countries, mainly the UK, accounted for a further 54 cases.

If a Reproduction value of three is applied to these cases, then the resultant number of domestic cases would be about 555. This exceeds the actual number of locally-originated cases (543) reported at that time and, arguably, clearly shows how a failure to curtail inward travel in early March resulted in the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland.

Now that we are approaching zero-case status, March's failure to control inward infection must not be repeated. Our island status should be exploited by continuing to discourage all non-essential international traffic and adopting compulsory testing/isolation measures on an all-island basis. 

Letter published in the Irish Times on 10th July 2020.

Coronavirus and Foot & Mouth

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Given that we have had just one case of the coronavirus, and assuming that incidences are likely to multiply over the next few months, we have still an opportunity for robust pre-emptive action. As was done for the Italian match, the best first-line of defence, from a health perspective, is surely prevention, ahead of containment which applies once the horse has bolted.

During the 1967 Foot & Mouth outbreak in the UK, Irish emigrants were asked not to come home for Christmas and all ports were littered with disinfectant mats and signs like 'If you recently visited a farm in West Midlands or North Wales, please report to the Agriculture desk' as well as requests to avoid visiting farms. 

These measures were successful and protected a vital sector of the economy even though over a hundred thousand emigrants, including yours truly, didn't get home that Christmas.

An updated strategy, taking advantage of our island status, would entail extensive information and vigilance at all ports and on flights; selective testing & observing at ports; and progressively discouraging or even blocking high-risk or unnecessary travel. 

Letter published in the Irish Times on 3rd March 2020.

White- or Brown-water rafting ??

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Surely, there is a danger that the planned white-water rafting centre at the IFSC could turn into a brown-water one unless overflows at the Ringsend Treatment Plant are permanently fixed.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 7th December 2019.

Plan B for National Broadband Plan

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Here is a summary of my Plan B for Ireland's National Broadband Plan. The full 19-page Plan can be downloaded here.

  • This report seeks to build a case for next-generation, satellite-based broadband services to be considered as a complementary technology alongside fibre for the National Broadband Plan. 

  • Up to now, use of satellites to deliver internet services has been constrained by the need to deploy geostationary satellites located 35,800 kms above the equator. This results in latency problems (delays) in signal transfers between users and satellites.

  • New solutions based on low-Earth orbiting satellites operating in large constellations have the potential to eliminate these latency problems and to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas worldwide at competitive prices.

  • The leading player is SpaceX's Starlink which recently launched 60 test satellites and plans to launch a further twelve thousand on a phased basis by the mid-2020s. Other key participants include Amazon, OneWeb and Telesat.

  • Starlink may have enough satellites in orbit to start servicing rural areas in Ireland and much of Europe by about 2022.

  • The EU has published periodic plans to assist the deployment of high-speed broadband. An initial broadband speed target of 30 Mbps for households first proposed in 2013 have been increased to target 100+ Mbps by 2025. Whilst not endorsing unproven, next-generation satellite broadband, the Commission has identified it as a possible future technology.

  • The NBP which originated in 2012 has evolved into a plan to offer high-speed broadband using fibre to every rural premises in Ireland not serviced by private sector operators. The expected cost of passing about 540,000 rural premises with fibre will be about €5 billion, including an Exchequer subsidy of about €2.5 billion net of VAT.

  • Currently, the NBP's Intervention Area (IA) is being finalised ahead of awarding a 25-year development and operation contract to a preferred bidder who is proposing to offer download speeds in excess of 150 Mbps. For an area to be excluded from the IA, prospective service providers must undertake to exceed a minimum download speed of 30 Mbps and meet other detailed technical, operational and financial criteria. The assessment process makes no provision from new market entrants such as satellite broadband operators.

  • Plans for satellite broadband are gathering momentum and have attracted substantial funding. Total funding could ultimately hit US$40 billion and up to 20,000 next-generation satellites could be providing ultra-high-speed, inexpensive broadband as an alternative to fibre-based solutions especially within rural areas worldwide well inside the next decade.

  • If these expectations are fully, or even partly, realised, then satellite broadband services could impact significantly on proposals for the NBP in terms of costs, timelines, Exchequer contributions and contracting arrangements.

  • This report recommends that an independent, expert technology assessment be commissioned by the Government and followed, if favourable, by a comprehensive review of the NBP (as was recommended by the Oireachtas Committee). This could give rise to a Plan B which integrates satellite broadband alongside fibre and next-generation fixed wireless to provide high-speed broadband throughout rural Ireland, within existing time scales and at a moderate cost to taxpayers.

Deciding on National Broadband Plan

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Given the imminence of a Cabinet decision regarding the National Broadband Plan, I have some concerns that need consideration.

Instead of awarding a single contract for the entire country to one firm, the Plan could be broken into regional plans which would be tendered for separately. This would spread risks across several suppliers, speed up delivery and create a much more competitive bidding process leading to a substantial saving to taxpayers.

If proceeding with a single tenderer, what undertakings are being secured to ensure that the underlying business will not be progressively drained of cash, loaded with debt and flipped multiple times?

If the Plan costs the State €3 billion and the service secures a 30 percent uptake amongst its half million prospective customers, the State's expenditure per subscriber would be €20,000, equivalent to almost €2,000 a year given that most costs would be front-loaded. This is additional to service charges of about €500 a year payable by subscribers.

Although not perfect, mainly due to poor latency, satellite broadband is readily available with acceptable speeds in many rural areas. The front-end cost per subscriber would be a mere €100 for a disk. Even if the State offered every household a free dish and acquired a low-orbit satellite, the total cost would be well under €300 million, a tenth of the proposed expenditure. Furthermore, this strategy keeps options open to avail over the coming 25 years of major technological advances in internet delivery via mobile and fibre, power line, satellite (e.g. Starlink), drones etc.

Given that a general election is in the offering, there is a danger that, as in the case of the National Children's Hospital, politicians may feel obliged to selectively honour promises at any cost and that the National Broadband Plan will fall into this category. 

To allay this fear, the Government should publish complete results of independent 'value for money' studies and, if not available, defer an investment decision till they are. 

Letter published in the Irish Times on Friday 3rd May 2019.

Planning for Next Presidential Election

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Some suggestions for consideration:

- Shorten the term of office to, say, five years.
- Introduce a petitions route to nominations
- Enfranchise recent emigrants
- Reduce the Dail nomination quota
- Audit all presidential expenditure
- Tighten councils' nomination procedures

Letter published in the Irish Times on 30th October 2018.

Brexit postponed

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It looks increasingly likely that the UK awaits a united Ireland to solve the border problem so that it can leave the EU's customs union.

Letter published in Irish Times on 19th May 2018.

Fighting White-Collar Crime

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The Government's latest proposals for fighting white-collar crime don't go half far enough given the scale and complexity of the problem and singular failure of the current system to efficiently investigate and successfully prosecute cases.

For example, the measures fail to facilitate class actions and champerty; to make reckless lending a crime; or to extend the statute of limitations.

In addition, they could have permitted rewards to 'bona fide' whistleblowers, granted immunity to 'first confessors', allowed plea bargaining, placed onus of proof on defendants and made perjury a crime.

More far reaching measures could have included a white-collar criminal court, extending the use of the civil standard of proof and providing for punitive damages at corporate and individual levels.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 4th November 2017.

Water and Electricity Meters

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Would swapping all our under-used water meters for smart electricity meters be a shocking idea?

Letter published in the Irish Times on 23rd September 2017.

Spin Doctor's Dictionary

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"Elevate"should be added to the ever-growing dictionary used by spin doctors alongside "mature reflection", "fake news", "alternative facts", "mental reservation", "scapegoating", "forgetfulness", "systemic error" and "post-truth".

Letter published in Irish Times on 20th September 2017.

Water Meters Down the Drain

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In the light of the Drogheda water supply failure, it is worthwhile marking the water meter debacle by estimating its cost and placing this in context. 

The total cost could hit €714 million covering meters (€574 million), conservation grant (€90 million) and related administration for billing, grants and refunds (say €50 million). This 'sunk cost' equates to 13 per cent of Irish Water's capital expenditure plan for 2014-21 and ignores the recurring benefits that would have accrued if the same amount had been invested in productive leak-prevention or supply-security projects.

The €714 million can be compared with about €200 million expended on the HSE's PPARS computer system and €54 million lost on e-voting machines, to name just two recent financially-challenged projects,

Letter published in the Irish Times on 26th July 2017,

Here is the text of a letter sent on 28th January 2016 to Dr Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, about quantitative easing:

I am writing to you as an Irish citizen who, like yourself, is concerned about the state of the EU's economy. I refer to your recent statements about extending the ECB's programme of quantitative easing to help stimulate Eurozone growth and inflation.

If I may be so bold to say so, I don't think that simply acquiring financial assets from major institutions will achieve these objectives as your measure is much too remote from the real economy where growth and inflation actually occur. My view is supported by many leading experts (including the Fed) who seem to agree that QE may not be working as intended1

Horses and Health

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If food labelling fails to disclose ingredients, how can the nutritional information be accurate?

Letter published in the Irish Times on 9th February 2013.

OMG, WTF, LOL

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OMG, what has become of the paper of record?

On Tuesday last Fintan O'Toole and Frank McDonald (Opinion and World News, December 11th) both used the term WTF in their articles. Do you plan to explain what WTF means to uninitiated readers? LOL.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 17th December 2012.

Say Cheese

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The big cheeses say 'hard cheese'. They must be crackers if they think people will swallow this.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 6th November 2010.

Name for Dublin's Wheel

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How about "The Spinning Wheel" to reflect the fact that our politicians are always spinning and going around in circles?

Letter published in the Irish Times on 25th August 2010. Other suggestions included:

  • Ireland's Eye
  • Whirly Gig
  • Dublin Money-Spinner
  • Wheel of Fortune
  • The Wheeler Dealer
  • Roulette
  • Dublin Eye Soar
  • The Turning Point
  • Wheel-a-Wheel-Abhaile
  • Eye of the Tiger (RIP)
  • Dub Hub
  • Eye'll Go On
  • Pointless

Changing the Irish Constitution

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As indicated in my posting Your Country Your Call, I submitted an idea entitled New Republic - New Constitution proposing that a Citizens' Assembly be established to help prepare a new Constitution to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising. You can vote for my entry here.

In this posting, I elaborate on the proposal by suggesting some possible changes to the 1937 Constitution, I cannot be too specific as I don't have all the answers and don't even know all the right questions!  Purposefully, I have steered clear of some potentially controversial issues like the status of Irish, religion and the family. Constitutional law can be very technical and it would be important to consult widely via the proposed Citizens' Assembly and to secure the help of experts and other interested parties.

You can view the Constitution or buy a copy in bookshops for under €3. Relevant material on the Internet includes the following:

Of course, the political parties have their own views on possible constitutional changes as do many representative and special interest groups.

Here are my thoughts to get the ball rolling:

Your Country Your Call

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I have submitted a proposal entitled New Republic - New Constitution to the Your Country Your Call competition which was launched by the President of Ireland. You can see my entry and, hopefully vote for it, at http://tinyurl.com/y7en6rh.

It proposes that the Citizens' Assembly mechanism be used to undertake a comprehensive review of the 1937 Constitution with a view to a new Constitution being put to a referendum ahead of the centenary of the 1916 Rising. A New Republic with a New Constitution would be a much more appropriate way to celebrate this than the predictable parades, flags and monuments.

I had been kicking the idea around for some time but was unable to see how it be progressed without being high-jacked by politicians for their own ends. Several references to Citizens' Assemblies in the inspiring Renewing the Republic series (published by the Irish Times during March/April) were the keys to the door!

Here is my full proposal:

Mental Reservations and Mature Reflection

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Is it too much to expect people in public positions to answer questions truthfully without recourse to mental reservations, mature reflection or overnight consideration?

Letter to editor published in the Sunday Business Post on 6th December 2009.

Citizens' Initiative

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Given that the main political parties all supported the Lisbon Treaty, would they consider adopting a measure for Ireland similar to the Treaty's Citizens' Initiative whereby at least a million EU citizens from a significant number of member States could request the EU Commission to bring forward proposals on a particular issue?

Based on the Lisbon model, we could be talking about a minimum of eight thousand citizens from, say, six counties being able to oblige the Cabinet or Dail to consider an issue or for the Government to hold a referendum. Apparently, such a proposal was included in a draft of the 1922 Constitution of the Free State. Citizens' initiatives operate in Switzerland, New Zealand, Estonia and about half the States in the US. A measure along these lines might help bridge the yawning gap exposed by Lisbon between our politicians and the electorate. What issues would readers propose as citizens' initiatives?

When the Wind Doesn't Blow

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In his opinion piece on behalf of the Irish Wind Energy Association, Paddy Teahon (2nd April) suggests that Ireland has one of the best wind resources in the world and that wind is the only creditable option to achieve the one-third renewable target. He highlights the main challenges confronting his industry including uncertain policies, moratoriums and planning restrictions. However, he completely fails to mention the greatest challenge of all - uncertain supply of wind. At time of writing, wind is supplying just 13 MW out of a total demand of 3,885 MW, that is 0.33% of demand. Is the wind industry whistling in the wind or in the dark?

Letter published in the Irish Times on 6th April 2007.

Tongue in Cheek

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I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms about RTE's latest series, Rip Off Republic, which features a standup comedian and a large audience which laughs hilariously at his vile jibes. He imparts a verbal stream of cheap shots and below-the-belt digs at many important national institutions, industries and individuals.

Subjects of abuse have included ministers, TDs, publicans, importers, builders, taxation, government policies and competition rules.

RTE should be severely censured for broadcasting such drivel under the guise of a factual program and the offended should be offered a right of reply to rebut the scandalous and outrageous insinuations about their alleged high prices, weak policies and unscrupulous behaviour. 

I'm so incensed that my tongue is stuck in a cheek.

Our Second Language

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Surely, the second most widely used language in Ireland is either Polish or Mandarin rather than Irish. I wonder what the Polish for Dingle is?

Whitewashing

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Given that heads are rolling within the BBC as a result of faulty reporting, can we assume the UK Government and heads of its security services will resign if no weapons of mass destruction are found. What a widgery, oops, I mean whitewash !

Letter published in Irish Times on 30th January 2004.

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