Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A long old week

Its been a long old week both personally and politically.


Two major reports on Ireland were published in the last week. Firstly, Peter Nyberg published his report on the banking crisis where he blames pretty much everyone except specific politicians or the ECB. Buying into the school of thought that came out with classics such as "we all partied", it is hard to see what Nyberg really brings to the table in the way of clarity. Maybe in a few weeks, after the report has had time to sink in, I'll be more positively inclined towards it but at the moment it doesn't really do it for me.

Secondly, Colm McCarthy published his followup to his 2009 best selling An Bord Snip Nua report, by coming up with a list of national silverware that would be better off in private hands. While he had the decency to suggest that we should hang on until the market has recovered before flogging our assets, that there is about €5B to be generated by this process. Again, it is a detailed report, but An Bord Flog It does continue the right-wing agenda of privatisation. One would hope that at least some lessons of Greencore and Eircom will have been learned.


Every year in the run up to Easter I find myself in St Patrick's Cathedral for long periods of time. However, it's not because I become a staunch Anglican. Rather, I am heavily involved in the staging of the annual Good Friday concert in aid of the Carmichael Centre for Voluntary Groups. Over the years I have been bumped up the food chain from stage hand to ticket checker to traffic control and now over the last few years to stage manager where I get to bully talented musicians and singers into doing what I want.

This year the Goethe Institut Choir performed Brahms' Requiem in a very successful evening. However, the first half of the concert was quite awkward from a logistics point of view as the choir performed a Tallis piece from the rear of the Cathedral as opposed to just staying on the staging at the front. However, thanks to the wonders of SMS technology it all went off without much trouble.

The Campaign

I suppose this being a political blog I should comment on the Seanad Campaign. I was on the Coleman at Large panel last Wednesday where we discussed the McCarthy report and the Seanad in some detail. Having done plenty of radio in the past I found it much easier than Vincent Browne the week before. I also bumped into David Norris at the Good Friday Concert where we had a good chat about the campaign and his plans for the Áras.

The count for the DU seats is happening on Wednesday in the Exam Hall, starting at 9:45. I'm still trying to decide what my metric for success will be. Obviously being elected would be the greatest success, but I'm realistic enough to accept that is an unlikely outcome. Initially, I think my goals are to not be the first candidate eliminated, secondly to get into triple figures and then maybe finally to end up further up the rankings than Paddy Power had me (joint 12th). Whatever way this election ends up I've enjoyed being part of the process and learned a lot. As they say if I knew then what I know now I'd have done it all differently.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Filtering the Internet

Me and the Internet go way back. When I came to TCD as an undergraduate in 1994 one of the first things we Maths students had to do was sign up for a computer account that gave you an email address and access to the web and newsgroups. At the time the web was only just starting to flourish and you could easily keep up with every new Irish website. Compare that to now where the IEDR (the people who manage .ie addresses) registered over 10,000 new Irish domains in the first quarter of 2011. The web was also a fairly tame place at the time due to bandwidth constraints, the entire TCD internet connection was a 64Kbps line, so filesharing and movie downloads were not even on the agenda.

Over the last 8 years or so, Ireland has moved from a mainly dial-up environment to a broadband one where most consumer products have at least 3Mbps download speed. In recent times we have seen the music industry attempt to impose filtering, QoSing and disconnection as alternative solutions to the copyright infringement issue. I have posted last October on the result of the UPC case where the Judge said that if there were legislation in place he would have no problem in enforcing a three-strikes policy.

So it is with some interest I noticed last week that an advocate from the EU court of justice said that blanket blocking of websites would be a breach of the charter of fundamental rights. Just as well we signed up to that in Lisbon then! While the statement isn't a final judgment on the case between the Belgian entertainment industry and an ISP, it does carry substantial weight as it shows the line of appeals that could be successfully followed if the case goes against Scarlet (the ISP).

As I have said (more than once) in this blog, I am not a legal expert, but I am fairly well versed in the technical issues surrounding internet access. The biggest problem with any solution imposed by a court on an ISP is that within hours, a workaround will have been found by those that are serious about circumventing the block, leaving those that are casual users caught in the crossfire. Beyond the technical though, it is vital that the presumption of innocence is maintained at all times. If an organisation believes I am infringing their rights, then there is a perfectly good legal system in place for them to use to pursue me for damages. It should not be the role of any other entity to act as judge of my actions.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Video killed the radio star

Last night I had my first ever appearance on live TV, if you exclude being in the crowd at a Leinster rugby match. After a bit of emailing back and forth I was invited to appear on Tonight with Vincent Browne on TV3 along with other Seanad candidates Marc Coleman (DU) and Eoin O'Broin (NUI) along with Noirin Hegarty recently of the Sunday Tribune and now with the Independent Online.

As a very regular viewer and tweeter of #vinb I knew pretty much what to expect with the show but I had a bit of a wardrobe moment around 6ish when the producer texted me reminding me that the show is shot using chroma compositing. Unfortunately I had brought a blue-white striped shirt and my navy jacket to wear and TV3 use blue as their chroma colour rather than green-screening like I thought they did. I had plans in Rathmines over teatime and had not planned on heading home until after the show. However, not wanting to appear as a floating head, I dashed home to change to the suit and a non-blue shirt, and found myself in Ballymount ready to go at 10:30.

Once on air, we spent the opening 20 minutes or so discussing the Seanad and why the various candidates felt they should be elected. Of course Vincent and Noirin were having none of it. At one point I may have gotten stuck into Donie Cassidy a bit too much but that was only because I couldn't bring myself to say Ivor Callely's name on air. However, at this stage of the campaign most viewers will have heard most of the debate on the future of the Seanad and how it should be either reformed or abolished and so sensibly Vincent went to an early break.

During the break the front pages of the newspapers along with some of the opinion pages were brought in to the studio. I was immediately drawn to Fintan O'Toole's article on how the negative equity generation should take to the streets. Eoin and Noirin started discussing welfare cuts and the poverty trap and mention was made of protests. I tried to get involved bringing in O'Toole's article but the moment passed before there was a convenient pause.

During the second half, I got into a bit of a fight with Marc over academics and their 10 hour work week and then followed up with a bit about the liquidation of the University pension schemes at the bottom of the market by Brian Lenihan. This morning in work, those are the bits that got me the most praise - quelle surprise, academics stand together on these sorts of things! After a brief discussion of campaign financing Vincent suddenly called time and we were done.

All in all I'm pretty happy with how things went. Would have liked to have gotten in a bit more on science and technology but that probably wouldn't have made for great TV. Also, and for this I am grateful, I think Noirin and Vincent both went a bit easier on me than on Eoin and Marc. While I have done plenty of radio in the past, live TV is a whole other ball game. But having one show under my belt I'm pretty sure I could handle it being kicked up a notch or two if I end up in front of the camera again.

For those that want to watch it again have a look here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Transport Blues

It was only a matter of time I suppose, but it is disappointing to read in today's Irish Times that only one of the three big public transport initiatives in Dublin will now proceed in the medium term. Each of the three projects brings different benefits to the city but only through their combination would we end up with a truly integrated public transport system in Dublin.

From the noises that are being made it seems like Metro North will be the most likely to proceed. I have previously blogged on MN and still believe that it is fundamental to the proper future development of the city. Just to reiterate there though, it is NOT just a link to the airport. It is a corridor connecting Swords (40,000), the Airport (20 million passengers), Ballymun (25,000), DCU (15,000 students and staff), Mater Hospital (site of Children's Hospital) with the City Centre and interchanges with Luas and Dart.

The second option is the Interconnector, or Dart Underground as it is being marketed. This line which would join Heuston station with the northern Dart line through a tunnel via Christchurch, Stephen's Green and Docklands, bypassing Connolly, is actually the most important project in my opinion. The current bottleneck at Connolly cannot be remedied by signalling or other incremental improvements. The only way to improve services is to bypass the station and end up with one line running Malahide to Sallins and the other from Greystones to Maynooth with a crossover at Pearse.

The third option is the LUAS BX-D project from Stephen's Green, via O'Connell Street and Grangegorman to join the Maynooth trainline at Broombridge. While it makes sense to finally join the two existing LUAS lines, this should not be done until the central section of MN has been built as that construction will most likely result in tearing up the BX section of LUAS along Westmoreland and O'Connell Streets.

Of course, the really galling thing about all this is that none of these are new projects. All have been mooted in some form or another since the mid 70s in the DRRTS in the case of MN and the Interconnector or the mid 90s plan for LUAS. Successive governments have tinkered around with the plans, sat on reports, commissioned new studies and all other possible time wasting activities rather than just going ahead and building the infrastructure. Now when we need to throw all our spare cash into the banks, it comes as no surprise that worthwhile infrastructural investments are the first to be sacrificed on the altar of the EU/IMF.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Health Priorities

Briefing notes posted on the Dept of Health website at the end of last week make for depressing reading.

They state that Ireland must submit an action plan to the Committee of Ministers before mid June with respect to the ECHR judgement in the ABC case. It also notes that the ECHR decision is binding on the state and that action must be taken to avoid further violations of the Convention on Human Rights. Slightly further on in the 56 page document is a section on Assisted Human Reproduction where the issues on fertility treatments brought up by the frozen embryos case is discussed. So far so good. At least these two important issues are on the Department's agenda

But then at the bottom of the page there is a footnote that says "in light of current resources, a
decision will then have to be made as to which of these issues will be prioritised for
the development of regulation/legislation." This is an outrageous position for the Department to take. No matter what your views on the morals and ethics of either of these two issues, kicking one of them to touch due to cutbacks is not acceptable. You can be sure that plenty of other legislation will be prepared by the Dept of Health in the next period, much of it nowhere near as urgent or requiring the same level of scrutiny and sensitivity. It is this sort of carry on that gets the public service a bad name.

Hat tip to the Cork Irish Examiner for the story.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Gaffer

As and from 1st August I have a new boss. He was elected by his peers on Saturday in a ritual that would rival the Papal election in Rome. At least the TCD one doesn't rely on smoke signals to inform the plebs and this year I found out via Twitter about 10 minutes after the final ballots were counted.

So what to make of the results? Well firstly it shows again how difficult it is for an outsider to make headway with the electorate. While Des Fitzgerald's stint as VP for Research in UCD may not be looked on kindly with TCD academics, he is the sort of person you could see leading a top class university but I guess not one with whom he forged an innovation alliance for 4th level activity.

Secondly, it shows that you have to put in the hard slog to win voters. John Boland's low key campaign didn't connect beyond those who already knew him. On the other hand Colm Kearney's high profile campaign with posters around campus, ads in the college newspapers and lots of public meetings didn't click either. So is there such a thing as over-exposure in a closed ballot where it is possible to meet almost all the electorate?

Thirdly, the results show a pretty clear divide between the East End and West End of campus. With increased pressure on teaching and research funding, and the Arts feeling the squeeze already, will having another Provost from the back of College accelerate the move away from the ideals of liberal education? Or will Paddy Prendergast be able to harness Jane Ohlmeyer's team of supporters across the Arts and deliver the revival that Ohlmeyer was promising?

Finally, on a personal note, it was disappointing to not be eligible to participate in the process. Despite being academic enough to teach, supervise students and vote in the academic constituency for Board, I am not deemed sufficiently academic to elect the Provost. During the recent restatement of the Statutes, there was a lot of debate over extending the franchise further but the Fellows refused to agree. In the election campaign, the candidates all made similar noises on the issue so it will be interesting to see if anything comes of it. If in 10 years I am still disenfranchised then I won't be a happy camper.