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Moral Complexities of EU Crisis

The crisis that has dominated the EU has polarised opinion among the citizens of it’s member states and the latest drama is set to continue the debates. Britain’s decision to abstain from the recently proposed treaty change is another example of the rock or hard place decisions that must be made by member states.

From the information that has been made available, it appears that this treaty is a fiscal union deal which will apply strict budget and debt rules on members and penalties on those in breach of these rules.

British Prime Minister David Cameron decided that Britain could not agree to the proposal in it’s agreed form as certain exemptions he was seeking for the UK were not granted. He believed that in it’s current state the new treaty may be harmful to Britain, it’s independence and it’s financial sector; London being one of the World’s major financial centres.

On one hand, Mr. Cameron should be applauded for not being afraid to back his own beliefs, stand up to the powers-that-be and show that his country can make their own decisions without being bullied into agreeing with other EU powers.

On the other hand, the precarious situation the EU and euro zone countries find themselves in now is one that cannot be allowed to happen again. reckless management of finances by member states has lead to not only their own near collapse (such as with Greece) but each individual collapse would have the knock on effect of bringing down most around it. A Greek collapse would have greatly damaged the EU and other member states, especially France whose banks had invested the most in Greek national bonds.

A Greek collapse would also have exacerbated the fear in financial markets that many other EU countries were on the precipice, staring into the abyss (such as Italy). With all the states linked and invested in each other and with other countries and world financial markets also naturally invested in Europe this was a fear on a global scale, as witnessed by Americas constant public statements urging EU leaders to solve the issue.

It seems logical to place restrictions on member countries and monitor them more tightly to ensure countries are not over-spending and leading us again into the disaster in which we have found ourselves.

Although the UK is not a euro zone country it is in the EU, and granted it’s economy has not put the EU under any strain but should it get into difficulty the EU will still have to assist it financially. Therefore should it too, not have to abide by these latest rules. It would appear that in not agreeing to them, Britain is running the risk of isolating itself should it need future assistance.

Furthermore, earlier in the week Britain refused to contribute €30 bn to the IMF as was requested of them by their European counterparts. The British chancellor reiterated the Government’s position that the IMF’s purpose is to protect “countries – not currencies” and said Britain believes eurozone members should take more decisive action to tackle the problems among themselves.

An issue for Ireland is the possibility of being asked to vote in another referendum on treaty change. There is some very real talk of this latest treaty change being attached to a reduction in the repayment terms of Ireland’s debt, which gives the country quite a difficult decision to make.

All are well aware that our national debt is crippling the country and any additional  reduction offered on this debt would have to be seriously considered. However, sentiment in the country appears to indicate that another EU treaty amendment would not be welcome should it go to referendum. This feeling is given further weight by the statements coming from government a few weeks back that any resolution to the EU problem should be found without changes to the treaty thus requiring a referendum. Given the country’s record of rejecting treaties in the past the government clearly want to avoid this step, however the spin has already begun with sounds coming from the Dáil that any rejection of this EU treaty amendment would mean our having to exit the EU and certainly the Euro.

Whether  a rejection would mean this is difficult to know yet. Certainly our relationship with Europe would be severely damaged. Furthermore, it would also leave Ireland in a dire position should our country veer towards bankruptcy again. Without signing up to the current changes and abiding by it’s financial regulations we would be like a vehicle on a long road journey without AA membership – it would be hard to see anyone coming to help us. The AA (EU) certainly would not have to help if we are not fully paid up members. Would a rejection of the treaty mean having to leave the Euro? Quite possibly. If we are not willing to be bound by the new rules of the Euro then we will hardly be allowed to be left in a position to possibly take down the Euro in the future.

No longer being in the Euro could be damaging to Ireland. As a tiny island nation Ireland marketed itself to foreign investors as having a lower corporate tax rate than other EU states, highly educated workforce and being in the Euro and EU thus providing access to the European market.

Yet being a part of the Euro has been a contributing factor of many of the problems we now have, cheap easy credit, tighter connection to other Euro banks. We gorged on the money, squandered and gambled it, bought into all the complex derivatives. Now we find ourselves paying back not only our gambles but the gambles of these other nations and banks because we are part of the reckless collective.

These are the big decisions to be made. Do we acquiesce to the bully tactics of Europe and accept whatever treaty is thrown our way under threat of expulsion? Or do we accept the carrot approach and agree to a treaty we are quite sceptical of in exchange for less crippling debt? Do we take the moral high ground, say no to further relinquishing national sovereignty to Europe and especially the powers of France and Germany, and then go our own way – even if our own way may be fatal.

Should the government leave these decisions to the people or simply use it’s mandate to govern, and with all the inside information made available to it make the best decision for the country on our behalf.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the current government. It has found itself in a truly unenviable position. A position not of it’s own making! It is stuck between a rock and a hard place where every possible turn and decision, with regard to Europe, has as many negatives as positives and is likely to rankle the population and leave some sort of lasting sour taste. It would appear that one way or another this country is going to become weaker and more subordinate to someone before it can become stronger.

King Solomon the wise would struggle with some of these decisions.

Take Shelter

Take Shelter

Take Shelter

Take Shelter revolves around a family man who suddenly begins having very vivid dreams about a storm that has a strange effect on those around him.

It stars Michael Shannon, although not too well-known to many now unless you follow Boardwalk Empire, his stock has risen since being cast as General Zod in the upcoming Superman movie due for release in 2013. He plays Curtis LaForche a quiet family man who works on site for an oil drilling firm and is married to Samantha (Jessica Chastain) who have a deaf daughter.

Curtis begins to get troubled by these dreams or visions and the extreme vivid nature of them carries over to his daily life leaving him disturbed and worried by what he had dreamt. He begins to change things in his life as a reaction to these dreams. He starts working on an old storm shelter out in his back garden and ostracising himself from those that appeared in his dreams. His unusual behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed, culminating in conflicts between Curtis and his employers, co-workers, friends, the local community and his wife.

The film is shot at a slow pace which gives time to both weigh up and question all that Curtis sees and does. It throws a few twists and turns at us, especially when we discover the history of Curtis’s mother.  The film also operates essentially without a soundtrack over it which really adds to the heaviness and tension of some scenes and also the realism, giving it a more raw feel. Between all this and the slightly duller feel to the lighting it adds to the feeling of dread and in fact does almost feel like there is a large black cloud hanging over the entire film.

Shannon is excellent in this. The supporting cast are good, especially Chastain but the film is  about Shannon and he delivers.

Shannon is thoroughly believable as the happy old school, southern, family man. His character is quiet but has a good strong presence which lends real power to the scenes where his character becomes more emotional. He is astounding as this essentially good man driven to the brink of insanity, portraying a real sense of quiet desperation.

This film is definitely worth seeing. It’s easily one of the best dramas of the year so far. It’s tense, gripping, simple and psychological. See this.

Score: 4/5

Tragedy Bringing Mental Health Into Focus

Mental Health

Mental Health

With the shocking death last weekend of Gary Speed and the controversy surrounding the suicide of Kate Fitzgerald, our attention has been brought to issues of mental health and suicide.

It is unfortunate that it takes deaths such as these to draw attention to this problem, a problem that happens so frequently yet is rarely ever highlighted.

What people have found so surprising about the death of Speed, a former professional footballer and manager of the Wales national team, is that this is a guy who appeared to have it all. An excellent playing career, emerging managerial career, he was held in high regard by all involved in the game, he had a beautiful wife and family and no major problems that anyone appears to be aware of.

According to the World Health Organisation every year approximately 1million people die from suicide globally, a mortality rate of 1 death every 40 seconds. It is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for all ages.  It is among the top 3 causes of death among 15 – 34 year olds globally. Take a moment to think about that last statistic, it’s shocking!


That last statistic will be surprising to many people, especially in this country where so much publicity is given to road deaths, yet very little focus is given to a far great killer – suicide. We are constantly told about the number of young people dying on our roads yet nothing about the numbers of young people attempting suicide.

In Ireland at least 520 people took their own lives in 2009, an increase of almost 25 per cent on 2008 and provisional numbers for 2010 are showing a similar figure. The exact figure is hard to pin point as some unexplained deaths are suspected suicides. Also, suicide is still such a taboo subject in Ireland, a country that has such a strong Catholic past where many suicides were covered up so that the victim could receive a full Catholic burial.

Another troubling factor is that suicide seems to be more acute in rural areas where problems are often exacerbated by social isolation. Counties such as Roscommon and Offaly have suicide rates up to twice that of urban counties like Dublin. The issue of suicide in rural areas is one that has been mentioned by County Coroners from Clare, Kerry and Offaly earlier in the year.

Kerry county Coroner, Terence Casey, also raised the issue of a rising rate in the number of suicides among elderly people. In 2009, of the 13 suicides registered in the county 4 were aged 60 and over and 3 were in the 40-50 age group. This adds further weight to the issue of social isolation. It also means cutting funding for carers and home help for the elderly can have disastrous consequences, especially as elderly may also see that home help as a chance for social interaction, especially if their own mobility is limited.

The culture of drinking alcohol in this country needs to come into focus when discussing suicide also. The founder of the Irish Association of Suicidology, Dr John Connolly, has said teenage suicide tends to be a more impulsive act, and that alcohol can lead to an increase in that impulsivity. John’s words are striking and give purpose for us to learn how to help an alcoholic in the family.

Alcohol is implicated in up to 45 per cent of all suicides,” he said. “It blinds people’s judgment and [causes them to] do things that are uncharacteristic and unusual for them. It can increase a person’s depression, which is a big factor in suicide.”

Mental Illness

People say to look out for symptoms but all too often symptoms or tell-tale signs can be hard or impossible to find. As in the case with Gary Speed, as little as 24 hours before his death he had appeared laughing and joking on the BBC’s Football Focus show and had arranged a game of golf with former team-mate Gary McAllister who was also on the show. Nobody noticed any signs of problems or a difference in Speed’s behaviour.

As was posted recently on the website, an organisation that helps young people through tough times and aims to promote mental health,

“Many “experts” would have us believe that suicide warning signs are always there. That we should be watching out for them. But how can we? Life is so unpredictable and so is suicide.”

One mental illness which can hide itself from onlookers is manic depression (bipolar disorder). Symptoms include severe mood swings and repeated episodes of depression. Many are surprised when they hear of certain people diagnosed with this illness as they may have always appeared very happy jovial people. However that outgoing side is the side the public often see, with the darker periods kept for times behind closed doors. This means it’s very hard to encourage someone with this illness to seek the correct help because unless they confide in someone that they have this problem, it can often be near impossible to notice.

The number of people with  bipolar disorder who commit suicide is 60 times higher than in the general population. In Ireland, over 40,000 people have been diagnosed with the illness according to


So what can be done to make a positive change? A 10 year government plan called A Vision For Change had been launched in 2006, however Orla Barry of the Irish Mental Health Coalition believes that the plan has not been implemented to it’s fullest, she said:

The fact that senior executive accountability was never established has been hugely detrimental to implementing the executive policy. The contrast with the progress of the National Cancer Strategy is stark.”

It is important from early on, in our schools, that children are made aware of the places they can turn to like the various websites, phone networks such as the Samaritans or Reachout – a group dedicated to helping young people through tough times. It is also vital that in schools we attempt to remove the non-truths and stigma associated with mental ill-health and mental illness. Most colleges will raise awareness during a mental health week and this is something that should be more widely adopted into society. The country could promote a mental health week nationally, push awareness of the issue in workplaces, newspapers, television and radio adverts.

Fundamentally, the key to making progress in this area is in educating people. Separating fact from fiction. Providing the information and knowledge necessary to help remove stigma, making it easier for people to step forward and look for help or treatment. There are organisations out there attempting to bring about change such as Mental Health Ireland and it is vital that their programmes are adequately promoted and backed so that they can make progress in this area.

It is an incredibly tough time financially for the country and government spending is being cut, however health is a matter worth focusing on and a healthy mind is just as important as good physical health. It is also important that we as individuals attempt to better our approach to this issue as it actually is something that can make a difference in someone’s life by even one person improving their attitude towards mental health.

Budget 2012 Hints Test The Water

With the 2012 budget fast approaching members of the coalition government have been speaking about possible changes that may feature in the budget. Some see this as testing the water, gauging the backlash on certain cuts or taxes that have been considered. Others, such as Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath, calling these releases a “ deliberate softening up-exercise”.

So with the government aiming to reach a target of €3.8bn in spending cuts (€1.6bn) and tax increases (€2.2bn), just what potential implementations have been mooted so far?


Health minister James Reilly is believed to be aiming for cuts of circa €500 million in the health service and there is apparently disagreement between Minister Reilly (FG) and Brendan Howlin (Labour- Public Expenditure Minister) on how to meet €500m of health cuts.

Minister Reilly has spoken of the possible introduction of an annual charge of €50 on medical card holders. Given there are some 1.5 million medical card holders in the country that is an annual additional income of circa € 75 million per annum.  Which is just under one sixth of the target of €500m.

This potential move has been criticised by many including Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients Association who has said that many will not be able to afford such a charge.

Others, such as Dr. Mark Hannon wrote in the Irish Medical Times in May of this year that even small charges for medical care can help prevent serious abuses of the health system taking place.

Another change suggested for this budget is to apply an increase of €1 or €1.50 on prescription charges for those on medical cards. This has also caused much uproar, for the same reason as the flat medical card fee in that those with medical cards possess them because of poor financial circumstances, and as such are not in a position to pay an additional fee for prescription medication. Lest we forget that last year also saw the introduction of a  50 cent fee on prescription items for medical card holders. This would prove especially crippling to those with long-term illnesses.

Minister Reilly has come under particular criticism for this proposal as earlier in the year he had repeated his intention to press ahead with his pre-election promise to abolish prescription charges for medical card holders.

Minister Reilly has also said that some community nursing units around the state are going to be closed down. However, he added that there would be no more hospital closures in this budget. Health Service Executive chief executive Cathal Magee said that a capital investment of between €600 million and €900 million would be required to bring many nursing units up to the required standards and that there were “significant challenges around the viability of units when you get below 50 beds”.

Mr. Magee also pointed out cost benefits to the customer to pursuing many private options as opposed to underperforming State-run units saying that under the Fair Deal scheme the cost per patient per day in a private nursing home was €850 while in the public system the cost was €1,350-€1,400 and in some smaller facilities up to €1,800.

Social Welfare

The Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton is believed to have the unenviable task of having to plug a gap of €1.6 billion in the Social Insurance Fund.  This covers areas such as Jobseekers Allowance, Worker Illness and disability.

Minister Burton said “I can plug this hole either by increasing rates of PRSI, reducing benefits or reforming the system. My preference is to reform the system.”

It is believed that she is looking to reform the PRSI system (which pays for the above) by widening the net to make certain types of unearned income such as rent profits and dividends liable to PRSI.

It has also emerged that Minister Burton is looking at a proposal to transfer responsibility for paying sick pay from the Department of Social Protection to individual employers in the first four weeks of an employees illness. The proposal would take at least a year to get up and running but is projected to save the exchequer €150 million in 2013.

This has not gone down well with Employers representatives.  Brendan McGinty of Ibec said :

The issue for business here is that it is a straight hit to the bottom line, it is going to increase employer costs in terms of the cost of employment.

Isme chief executive Mark Fielding said:

To further add to costs when businesses are struggling to stay afloat, maintain and create employment, is daft. It is as if the Government have a ‘death wish’ for the small business sector.

Another option the coalition are believed to be looking into is the possibility of cutting the child benefit allowance by €10. It is perhaps this possible proposal that has received the biggest backlash, especially given Labour leader Eamon Gilmore’s election pledge that he would not allow Fine Gael to cut child benefit rates. As such, the possibility of this cut has also lead to apparent unease within the Labour party.

Independent TD for Dublin North Central Finian McGrath said that child benefit helped to reduce poverty levels for poor families and went on to ask Taoiseach Kenny whether he accepted that child benefit was not a slush fund for the rich but was a huge help to families, particularly those women and children at risk in dysfunctional families where the partner or husband controlled the purse strings.

Representative McGrath also added that :

It’s a bit rich and a bit hypocritical to be talking about children’s rights referendums in the future when you’re planning to take €10 off these poor families.”

However, Cabinet Minister Leo Varadkar commented that should the child benefit be cut, that certain measures could be taken so that it may be partially offset by increases in other payments targeting the most badly-off families. An example of this is the possibility of increasing means tested payments such as the Family Income Supplement.

Possible support came from children’s charity Barnardos, saying that they would be willing to support some cuts in child benefit if it resulted in a more targeted system, according to its chief executive at an Oireachtas committee in November.


The government has spoken of the possibility of increasing the VAT rate in the country by 2% to 23%.

The Taoiseach said the VAT increase would not apply to food, children’s clothing or services, but would apply to goods like televisions or washing machines where people make choices. He said he believes income tax increases would kill jobs and he wanted to get people off the dole and back to work.

Mr Kenny also said that currency fluctuations have a greater impact on cross border trade than VAT increases.

It appears the government may have been listening to warnings about further hits to income tax from  the  Irish Tax Institute, which had previously warned that Government’s reliance on income tax is probably at an unhealthy level.

Gov has said it won’t touch income tax with Income tax now representing 40 per cent of the overall tax take compared to 29 per cent in 2007, despite the decline in the number of people at work.

According to figures compiled by the Irish Tax Institute, budgetary cuts over the last four years have cost one-income families on the average industrial wage €453 per month on average equating to a 16 per cent reduction in monthly take-home pay.

Bernard Doherty, president of the Irish Tax Institute, said there had been a dramatic impact on people’s ability to pay in just four budgets.

“The capacity for people to bear more pain is running out as we approach an overall tipping point in terms of the money that can be taken from them in tax,” he said.

Public Sector Pay

In a statement last night the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said a core priority is to continue to tackle and reduce the overtime bill across the public sector after significant savings have already been achieved through better management and work place changes.

The McCarthy bord snip report recommended looking at cutting “liberal system of allowances” paid to new hires in the future, with regard to areas such as rent allowance, premium rates and overtime.

Government expenditure on overtime is to be cut by about 10 per cent next year with deeper cuts earmarked for the following year, 2013.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the huge salary savings would have to be discussed with unions as part of the Croke Park agreement. “All State organisations are well aware that there is a necessity to bring down costs of all kinds, including payroll costs,” the Tánaiste said.

“What the Government is seeking to do is to get the savings in payroll where they can be achieved but that will be done in the framework of the Croke Park agreement.”


These are just some of the issues and discussions that have taken place so far regarding the upcoming budget announcement. We can expect to hear more as we get closer to Budget Day 2011.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

This film is an adaptation of a novel by Lionel Shriver which deals with the life of a mother whose son has done something horrific. Tilda Swinton plays Eva, the mother in question, who has to not only deal with the fall out of this incident within the community but with her own guilt after the actions of her son. It stars Tilda Swinton as the mother Eva, John C.Reilly as the father, Ezra Miller as Kevin.

On one level the film deals with the nature versus nurture question. The film doesn’t blatantly side with one argument but shows enough so that both possibilities could be argued by the viewer. Was Eva merely an unfortunate woman who randomly give birth to an evil child or did her feelings of hate and disdain for the unwanted being inside her filter through  to the unborn and manifest itself into this problem child? Is the latter what lead to an automatically antagonistic relationship between mother and son, did this lead the son to doing what he did so as to torture the mother?

Or, as I said earlier, maybe her son is just a vindictive evil being. The flashbacks from time to time give the feeling of Eva looking back and chastising herself for not recognising earlier that there was something wrong with her son. How far does a child need to go before you acknowledge these issues? We can see occasions where Eva knew things weren’t right but didn’t act however no mother wants to believe there child is bad and Eva is the same as she desperately tries to salvage some form of normal relationship with her teenage son.

On another level the film shows how the parent of someone who commits an atrocious act must deal with the fallout. With her son incarcerated we see that Eva has grown accustomed to dealing with the ill feeling of the entire community. Being struck by still grieving parents in the street is not a big issue for her, neither is her house being vandalised or dodging other parents in supermarkets. Eva’s willing acceptance of the entire repercussions of her son’s actions, at times, gives an impression of self-punishment.

It certainly is an interesting and fresh angle from which to approach the act in question (Kevin’s crime). Often the lives of victims and victims families are focused upon but to take the view of the mother of a serious criminal and how their lives also become thrown upside down is thought-provoking.

In fact the  entire film is thought-provoking and also very scary in a confidently hushed way. The scares in this movie are, thankfully, the antithesis of cheap “horror” shocks like in films such as Hostel. The horror of this movie is more cerebral, more horrifying in the plausible reality of it.

The actin g in the movie is impressive. Swintin is impeccable as Eva. Thoroughly believable throughout from beginning, as a woman who’s life is now interrupted by the impending birth of this child, to the aftermath as a gaunt,drained, hurting shell of  a woman. There’s been some Oscar talk already for her performance in this.

In my opinion, credit must also go to the young actors playing Kevin, especially Jasper Newell who plays childhood Kevin. The acting of children can mostly be very limited and lacking powerful use of the eyes to suggest more, like  more experienced actors can employ. However,for someone so young, Newell has this down. The looks he gives his mother are unnerving and unsettling.

The film is well shot, edited and directed with some interesting use of visuals and music however, it is too long. Or at least feels it’s near 2 hour duration. Some scenes could have been omitted without taking away from the story, especially given the primarily slow pace of the film.

A challenging, disturbing, scary, thought-provoking statement of a film. This is not one for a Saturday night out or a date and certainly will not help those already afraid of having children. It is a film that you very much need to be in the right mood for, but if you are able for something like this then you will appreciate it.

Score: 4/5

Contagion Review

Contagion Movie Poster

Contagion Movie Poster

Contagion is a movie about the global outbreak of a new highly contagious infectious disease that kills rapidly and has spread around the world at an alarming rate. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean’s 11) and featuring a strong cast that includes Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Brian Cranston, Marion Cottilard, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Paltrow plays a business exec who becomes sick while travelling and brings this disease back to the U.S. from Asia. When the disease begins spreading rapidly and killing the American population Admiral Haggerty (Cranston) calls on Fishburne, the head of the Centre for Disease Control, to investigate. Fishburne sends Dr. Lipkin (Winslet) out into the field to investigate further. Meanwhile the WHO (World Health Organisation) sends emotionally cold field agent Dr. Orantes (Cotillard) to Asia to attempt to uncover the source of the disease. Back in the U.S., Matt Damon plays a father/husband who has become very protective of his daughter after suffering two losses in his family already. Jude Law features throughout as Alan Krumwiede, an australian freelance journalist and conspiracy blogger who was first to uncover this disease.

If reading that above description felt long and a bit too much, then I completely agree and that is essentially the problem with this entire movie! There is far too much happening in it. The movie has the feel of an adaptation of a much larger book from which huge chunks have been cut to condense it into a more manageable film. It touches on far too much without giving enough of the desired detail. It teases by arousing interest in certain aspects of the plot then ignoring them again.

The acting is solid, it can’t really be faulted as the actors don’t appear to have been given much in terms of their characters. There are too many characters, too little time and as such they are very one-dimensional. We aren’t given any real background to the characters and rarely see them in any real situations to expose us to what kind of people they really are. That is, apart from Damon’s character. His character (Mitch Emhoff) is the most fleshed out character and Damon does a very good job of making him believable and ultimately have us root for him throughout.

You get the feeling that the movie attempted to be a little too clever and as a result ended up as a jack of all trades, but master of none. It touches on the emergence of completely new diseases, as have been seen in the last number of years with  “Bird Flu” and “Swine Flu”. It grabs our interest by mentioning the conspiracy that it may be “big pharmaceutical” creating these diseases so as to profit from the remedies then it leaves it at that. The movie refers to the dangers of pushing the widespread use of rushed vaccines without knowing the long-term effects, as happened with the ‘swine flu’ vaccine. It gives us a glimpse of the panic and hysteria that can spread, how society can turn on itself and easily disregard the cords that bind us –which is always an interesting angle –  then shows us no more.

Ultimately this movie is a decent effort, you can see what it attempted but it just doesn’t pull it off. It’s an alright watch if you’ve seen all else out now and want to scare yourself as to how easily disease can spread in a globalised world. However, you will never regret it if you don’t see this film. You may have covered all it’s basis if you’ve already seen films such as Outbreak.

Score:    3/5

The Ides of March

The Ides of March

This latest directorial outing from George Clooney follows events that take place in the state of Ohio during the race to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for the U.S. Presidential election.

George Clooney is Governor Mike Morris, the frontrunner in the race and a candidate seen by many as a serious contender for the White House. The remaining all-star cast features Ryan Gosling as press secretary on the Morris campaign, the always excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman as Morris’ campaign manager, plus supporting roles for Paul Giamatti as campaign manager for the opposition and Marisa Tomei as a cutthroat political reporter.

Clooney wisely plays a character that doesn’t feature too heavily with regards to screen time, leaving himself ample time to concentrate on directing. The majority of the time he does spend as Morris would not have been too taxing either as the Governor’s easy charm and demeanour are essentially Clooney’s, as a viewing of most of his interviews will prove.

Gosling plays a character that is a very intelligent and politically savvy young man coveted by the opposition. Gosling’s character makes an error of judgement which leads to him being kicked off the team but not before he stumbles upon a dirty little secret that could bring down the entire campaign.

I would like say that it is at this point that the movie picks up pace but that’s not exactly correct. The plot progresses, certainly, but the pace is never fast, certainly not to the levels of a Grisham style thriller. The direction by Clooney in the movie is excellent so it can be assumed this was a conscious choice by the director, perhaps forgoing fast-paced set pieces for more cerebral calmer paced scenes to keep the movie more grounded in the realism of day-to-day political campaigning.

There are other beautiful shots in the movie such as a clandestine meeting in an empty restaurant and a fine ending scene which shows the transformation of one of the characters and a real hammering home of the disingenuousness and morality (or lack thereof) of politicians and politics as an industry.

You do also get the feeling that the movie is a sort of sounding board for some of Clooney’s own political views, with he himself being quite outspoken politically. Indeed comments by his character on the Iraq war are quite close to comments he himself has made.

In fact to watch this film, and certainly the opening half hour or so, one would want to be fairly knowledgable of the American Political system and specifically elections. The movie is well shot, well acted by an excellent cast and is kept pretty simple and realistic. It’s a statement about U.S. politics, both Republican and Democratic, and at this moment of time would leave Irish viewers even more cynical of politicians in general.

A very good movie, an interesting watch but not a classic. However,if politics is your thing then this is a must see.

Greece Places More Pressure on Europe

Late Monday night Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou announced that his government would hold a referendum to decide on the EU-IMF debt programme they had negotiated. If rejected by the Greek electorate it could lead to increased risk of a forced Greek sovereign default, potential exit from the Euro and ultimately place severe pressure on the stability of the euro zone.

Janis Emmanouilidis, a Greek-German analyst with the European Policy Centre in Brussels said:

“It’s as if he (Papandreou) set off a bomb under the whole continent,”.

The negotiating of the deal agreed with Greece had caused much consternation within the euro zone with many countries uncomfortable agreeing to the level of concessions being granted to Greece, especially in agreeing to take a 50% reduction in the return on Greek bonds. When a deal was eventually reached it was believed this would be the end of the Greek dilemma for the EU yet this act by Papandreou has caught EU officials off-guard and caused more panic in the market.

The decision to go to the polls lead to the Euro closing on Tuesday 3% down against the dollar from where it had opened on Monday morning. Michael Derks of FxPro(foreign exchange traders) said

“the current situation is bordering on a farce of epic proportions and the reaction in financial markets reflects this,” .

Ratings agency Fitch released a statement Tuesday stating that a rejection of the deal by Greece would have severe financial implications for the financial stability and viability of the
euro zone.”

Criticism has also been forthcoming from other EU officials, especially in France and Germany where officials admit they were caught off guard by Mr. Papandreou’s decision to put the deal to a vote in Greece.

Rainer Brüderle, former economy minister and leader of the liberal Free Democrats who are part of Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition said: It sounds as if someone is trying to wriggle out of what had been agreed,”.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Mr. Papandreou’s decision “incomprehensible” and “totally irresponsible”.  He went on to reiterate that the only way to solve Greece’s debt problem was for them to adopt the deal that had been agreed last week. This point was seconded by German officials who stated that there is no question of renegotiating the deal should the Greek electorate not approve of it.

“Announcing something like this only days after the summit without consulting other euro zone members is irresponsible,” Slovak finance minister Ivan Miklos said. Irish Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said that this grenade had been thrown just a few days after the European summit was meant to have dealt with the uncertainty in the euro zone.


Mr. Papandreou was summoned to a meeting today with furious European Leaders where he will be asked to explain himself and according to German officials, have the “riot act” read to him.

Upcoming Referenda


Tomorrow,on the same day as the Presidential election, we will be asked to vote on two referenda. One is on the issue of judicial pay and whether judges salaries should be reduced in line with the reduction enforced upon other civil servants. The other relates to the powers of the Houses of the Oireachtas to conduct an enquiry into any matter stated by the House or Houses involved to be of public importance. Unfortunately due to the levels of media attention given to the Presidential Election and the candidates in the race, very little focus has been placed on these proposed changes to our constitution. Also, unfortunately ( or perhaps fortunately as some politicians may see it) there has been very little political debate on either of these two issues in the run up to their being voted on.


This proposed amendment may well have appeared out of a growing public frustration with the prolonged, fruitless and expensive tribunals this country has seen in it’s recent history. These tribunals, which have been left up to the legal profession themselves to conduct, have been seen in many circles as a failure. Earlier this year the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) estimated that the cost to the State of the three tribunals of inquiry (Mahon,Morris,Moriarty) could be as much as €366m. Further insult was added to injury when reports emerged that those who appeared before the Moriarty tribunal may in fact be able to have their legal costs paid by the State as a result of judgments made by the Supreme Court made in the builders JMSE case against the Mahon/Flood tribunal in April of last year. These may include Micheal Lowry, Frank Dunlop and other persons who came before the Tribunals who were considered to have obstructed the tribunals. The PAC also found that five senior councils have been paid more than €5m for their work on Tribunals.

Committee Chairman, Bernard Allen TD said;

“The cost to the taxpayer for these tribunals and other legal services obtained by the State is astronomical. We need to achieve far greater value for money in procuring legal counsel. To accomplish this, competitive tendering should be made mandatory for legal services to the State. This will see a greater number of legal service providers competing for work and lead to lower prices.”

Further, in response to criticism during the week by eight former attorney’s general Minister for Justice Alan Shatter claimed these individuals had a vested interest because of the substantial fees that had been earned by the bar library as a result of the tribunal system. This point was echoed by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar who said “it sounds to me like a bunch of lawyers looking to protect their incomes.

Those campaigning for a “yes” vote on the issue also say that this proposal would put us on an equal footing with how things are done internationally, as it will provide the Oireachtas with comparable inquiry powers to parliaments across the world. For example, in the U.S. Senate, all-party committees are formed to investigate companies/people/issues within the national interest and are seen as an important function of the Senate.

Indeed this all-party committee system would be a feature of the proposed enquiry powers, a feature that Brian Walsh T.D. believes has worked well, citing the example of the aforementioned PAC and it’s tackling of the issue of overspending in FÁS.

Furthermore, for those in the last General Election calling for a reform of politics in Ireland, a call Fine Gael said they would answer, this should be seen as the beginning of that. These Tribunals have been nothing short of a disaster, that much is widely acknowledged. Old politics in this country got us into the dire state we’re in, here is a chance to begin changing it.


Perhaps the most common complaint against this proposal is the manner in which it has been rushed through without much debate. It was only quite recently that any attention was given to the two referenda to be decided on, in part due to the focus on the Presidential race. With regard to the proposed Oireachtas Inquiries amendment, greater discussion and debate is surely needed on an issue that ‘would give politicians judges’ powers’ according to senior counsel Oisin Quinn. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) which is spearheading the “no” campaign has called this proposed amendment rushed, ill-considered and failing to strike the right balance between the public interest and the rights of the individual.

The right of citizens to have disputes between them and the Oireachtas decided independently has been called into question by eight former attorneys general. The eight include Peter Sutherland, Michael McDowell and Paul Gallagher. Interestingly Mr. Gallagher is the immediate past Attorney General who advised the Fianna Fail/Green coalition that a referendum was needed to reduce judges’ pay. These eight have taken particular issue with the wording of the proposed legislation, which may be so open as to allow it to be manipulated in the future. This is a worry shared by former Senator Joe O’Toole who believes it is dangerous to change the Constitution in a way that does not limit what can be done by legislation in the future.

The Dáil’s Technical Group, composed of mainly independent TD’s has also urged for a “no” vote on this referendum on Oireachtas Inquiries. Chairman of the Group, Finian McGrath believes that it could hamper the work of the courts while Deputy Thomas Pringle stated his worry that the proposal gives the government of the day too much power to use these investigations for their own advantage. It is this latter point that is quite worrying.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has said there is no intention of overstepping the mark with the powers provided by the new proposal, and there is no reason to doubt that. However, the worry arises over the possibility for future governments to abuse these powers. Would this new legislation give powers to the government of the day to investigate and publicly condemn their enemies? Also, if the outcome of an Oireachtas investigation was damning to a number of parties or high ranking members of parties can we count on these issues to be publicly exposed at the cost of a party or government?

Peter Mullan, joint managing partner of leading law firm Garrett Sheehan, spoke to The Independent of his fears on just this issue stating : “There are a number of political decisions that certain politicians would like to defend/Can we be absolutely certain that they (politicians) are going to be impartial?”

This point has been echoed by Green Party Dublin West candidate and lecturer in Constitutional law, Roderic O’Gorman. He further adds two more aspects of the proposed legislation which worry him. Firstly, that the Courts’ power to intervene if TDs or Senators decide to limit individuals procedural rights will be significantly lessened. Secondly, is that the new article is extremely vague on the rights individuals appearing before these inquiries receive; “Will their rights be set out in legislation, or will these be devised by each separate committee of inquiry as they go along?” he said.


Somewhere in the brief recent arguments for and against the proposed 30th amendment to our Constitution you have seen or heard one thing which is enough for you to have made up your mind in one way or another. Perhaps you feel it’s time for change to the structure of politics to begin, perhaps you have had enough of costly tribunals and will vote “Yes”? Or perhaps you are wary of a potential “Big Brother” effect and removing power from the courts so you will vote “no”? Or maybe you feel there has not been enough debate on the issue and do not want to change the Constitution without feeling more certain of what change is being brought in, in that case “no” change may be safer for now.

Social Entrepreneurs Inspiring Change

Michael Kelly, Séan Coughlan,Niamh Gallagher, Michelle O'Donnell Keating, Tommy Breen, Sean Love

At a time of such negativity in this country it is refreshing to be in a situation where you are completely immersed in positivity. That was the atmosphere at the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland awards last night where 8 groups were awarded for their efforts to improve Irish society.

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland is a foundation that directly supports high potential social entrepreneurs to enable them to maximise their impact. Since launching in 2005 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has supported 150 social entrepreneurs, directly investing over €4M into supporting these exceptional individuals.

At the core of their activities is their Social Impact Programme which provides financial investment and direct support to early stage social entrepreneurs through networking opportunities, increased awareness, training and an investment package up to €130,000.

Darren Ryan, Head of Engagement at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland said: “These eight social entrepreneurs have the potential to fundamentally change Ireland, and we are proud to support them on their journey. Seeing such a large crowd here tonight is a great signal of the momentum behind these individuals and the level of support that is out there for innovative ideas for social change.”

One of the supporters in attendance was An Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Mr. Kenny stated his desire to attend is due to his belief in what these people are doing for the improvement of this country, and that the outstanding work and creativity of social entrepreneurs would be vital to our future.

Chief Executive of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, Séan Coughlan, used the attendance of an Taoiseach as an opportunity to call on the government to create a Venture Fund to harness the power of Ireland’s social innovations, a move Mr. Coughlan believes would not only solve some of Ireland’s social problems but also cut costs for the State in the long-term.

“If government and philanthropy were to come together to create a new Venture Fund then we could take the best ideas, rapidly scale them and as a result change Ireland. We have seen this type of approach work in the commercial sector, so why not for initiatives that are for public benefit?” said Mr. Coughlan.


SEI presented 3 major awards on the night, one in the area of education and literacy, one in the area of sustainability and the other  to encourage greater participation of women in politics.

Sean Love, former director of Amnesty Ireland, and writer Roddy Doyle won an award for their venture – Fighting Words, a free creative writing centre for students of all ages. The centre’s aim is to give students confidence in writing, film-making and self-expression and so far has hosted over 26,000 students with three anthologies of short stories having been published and many other film-making, playwriting and other projects have been realised.

GIY Ireland was created by Michael Kelly in 2009 with a plan to empower people from all walks of life to grow their own food and in the process strengthen communities, protect the environment and improve the nation’s general wellbeing. Such a movement would be welcome given that earlier this week in Dublin a conference on nutrition and health stated it’s finding that Ireland has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe with more than 60% of the adult Irish population either overweight or obese at an annual cost to the State of €1.6bn.

Women For Election is an organisation set up by Niamh Gallagher and Michelle O’Donnell Keating whose vision is of an Ireland with a balanced participation of women and men in political life. Given that Women make up 52% of Ireland’s population, but they currently make up only 15% of our elected representatives it begs the question as to whether large portions of our society are not being represented in politics in Ireland today.

Another five social entrepreneurs were also recognised for their contribution to changing Ireland, and will be provided with a support package worth €35,000 each over a 12 month period. The winners of this award were Lisa Domican of Grace App; Steven Daly of Camara Ireland; Sheila Gallagher and Melissa Griffith of Green Sod Land Trust; Joan Freeman of Pieta House; and Krystian Fikert of MyMind.


In such a difficult era for the nation of Ireland, a country suffering from financial difficulties and loss of economic sovereignty, it is inspiring for us all to see these brave and inventive individuals embarking and what is an arduous and uncertain journey given the frugal situation the country finds itself in. However, through their determination, foresight and creativity they are leading a charge for the improvement of society in this country, finding ways to make change happen despite the challenges and refusing to let a dire time in this nation’s history be an excuse for preventing our country from being the best it can be.

An example of a success story from one of SEI’s previous winners is Fledglings, it provides high quality, affordable early years education for the children of Tallaght West. The HighScope approach adopted by Fledglings is academically proven to have significantly better outcomes for children. The HighScope research demonstrated a social return over the life of the adult of $16 for every $1 invested in early education. The fact that parents are themselves able to take up further training or employment is a positive side-effect; the real benefit lies in the intrinsic value of the early education that the children receive.

If this country can continue to produce programmes like Fledglings that not only solve a social problem but provide a return for the State also then the benefits are obvious. Furthermore, if this country can continue to produce the calibre of people getting involved in social entrepreneurship of some form, then all is not bleak for Ireland’s future.