Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Income per capita in Ireland is now amongst the highest in the world

John Kennedy:

“Firms in Ireland are facing competitive challenges more competitive and unremitting than at any pointing our recent economic history,” warned Forfás chief executive Martin Cronin, who said that many parts of China, India and south-east Asia are targeting electronics, software, financial and pharmaceutical opportunities at the high end as well as the low end.

Cronin said it is the fields of electronics, software, financial and pharmaceuticals that drove Ireland’s growth over the past 15 years. He said Irish firms need to compete at a level in line with the world’s best in these fields in order to grow knowledge-intensive jobs and attract investment.

Key to this, Cronin said, is investment in research and development (R&D). As an example he pointed to the number of foreign R&D units in China that have increased from a standing start in 1993 to 700 today. “China’s total spending on R&D climbed from US$21bn in 1996 to an estimated US$102.6bn in 2004 (1.44pc of gross domestic product) and in absolute terms is now behind only that of the US (US$312.5bn) and Japan (US$112.7bn).”

Cronin warned: “Ireland’s goal must be to sustain levels of competitive performance in line with the world’s best. We must focus squarely on our core strengths and on high-value niche areas to achieve success in this increasingly competitive environment.”

Cronin was speaking at the annual Forfás review and outlook for the Irish economy. The report showed that the Irish economy continued to perform very well in 2005 with gross national product (GNP) estimated to have grown by 5pc in 2005 compared with an OECD average of 2.7pc. Income per capita in this country is now amongst the highest in the world. In 2004, GNP per capita measured €30,726, ranking Ireland above the EU average.

Total employment reached 1.99 million in the third quarter, and by the end of the year is likely to have exceeded two million for the first time.

The report pointed to changes in the drivers of Ireland’s growth in recent years. In the early years of the Celtic tiger growth was driven by strong performance in exports. While exports have remained at high levels Irish growth in more recent years has largely been driven by increases in domestic spending by households and by government on construction activity and on consumption. However, internationally trading businesses continue to play a major role.

Employment in companies supported by state agencies IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Shannon Development and Udaras na Gaeltachta reported jobs growth grew to 303,564.

Companies supported by the development agencies created 27,606 full-time jobs last year — the highest since 2000 — offsetting 24,211 job losses in the economy.

Ireland’s total share in services has increased markedly from 0.4pc in 1993 to 2.2pc in 2004, making Ireland the 14th largest exporter of services in the world.

The report said it was critical that R&D investment was fostered and that Ireland still faces a significant challenge in bringing domestic research and innovation capabilities to the levels that will be required to sustain economic performance. Key areas include early-stage venture capital investments, increased patent applications and more adoption of ICT.

In particular, Ireland faces an unprecedented challenge to grow the high-paid jobs and knowledge-intensive investment needed to sustain the country’s performance into the future.

Among its list of recommendations were benchmarking the competitiveness of telecoms in Ireland, the development of a national skills strategy, support for the Government’s R&D Action Plan as well as ensuring the best practice on intellectual property management in Irish universities and institutes of technology.

Forfas urges more R&D investment in 2006

Irish business owners lead EU optimism table

Scots could have been nearly one-third better-off than the English if they had split from the UK

Douglas Fraser:

Whitehall knew in the 1970s that Scots could have been nearly one-third better-off than the English within a few years of splitting from the UK, although the knowledge was kept from the public.

The fear that devolution could lead to independence even led to the Labour government of the day holding a devolution summit, at which the chancellor, Denis Healey, headed an attempted revolt in trying to put the brakes on Scottish home rule plans.

A bleak Treasury assessment warned that just the perception that Scotland could be about to move from devolution to independence and take control of oil revenues would plunge the UK into economic crisis.

The prospects for the economy of the rest of the UK were described as "grim" while those for Scotland were so strong that officials advised ministers they should start to "think the unthinkable".

At the meeting on June 3, 1975, the chancellor, now Lord Healey, was backed by Roy Jenkins, then home secretary, and Tony Crosland, the environment secretary, but all they won from cabinet was a block on any new public commitments on devolution.

The information comes from confidential Treasury papers written in the mid-1970s and recently released from the Kew records office. In one analysis, it was reckoned that income per head in an independent Scotland could soar by the following decade. A Treasury official, S Scott Whyte, wrote in an internal memo: "It is conceivable that income per head in Scotland could be 25% or 30% higher than that prevailing in England during the 1980s, given independence."

The fear of losing North Sea oil revenue and exports was because the Treasury needed oil to get Britain out of a chronic trade deficit.

Internal memos even doubted the trustworthiness of their Scottish Office colleagues in working on a response to the independence threat. That point was made only two weeks after the SNP won 30% of the Scottish vote, and secured 11 seats at the October 1974 Westminster election.

The officials' exchanges later refer to the 1974 memo written by Gavin McCrone, then a senior economist in St Andrew's House. As disclosed in The Herald last year, it showed the economic case for Scottish independence was much stronger than government publicly admitted then or since.

For Peter Mountfield, a Treasury official, the prospects for the UK without Scotland looked bleak: "The Scots have really got us over a barrel here … An independent Scotland can go it alone, provided there is not a disastrous collapse in the world oil price. The prospects for a separate English, Welsh and Ulster economy on the same assumption must look pretty grim. Perhaps we should all start to think the unthinkable".

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP MSP, said of the revelations: "We've been robbed of billions. Every Scottish man, woman and child should be considerably better-off and could have been since the 1970s. Gordon Brown [the chancellor] wants us to rally to the Union flag, but this 25-30% gap is the price for being British.

"The bad news is that each of us is 25-30% poorer. The good news is that we've still got 30 to 40 years of oil and we can't allow the sins of the past 30 years to carry on."

Mandarins hid Scots’ oil wealth

Secret papers show oil cash fears

Tell the truth about why Scotland lost oil billions, says Connery

Independence cover-up of 30 years ago

SNP seizes on North Sea oil memo

Monday, January 30, 2006

Author forced into hiding condemns official blind eye to British loyalist attacks

Henry McDonald:

Alison Mitchell reacts in panic as a man in a leather jacket looms outside her window. 'Is the door locked?' she calls to her husband, Gary. 'Check if it is locked!' she pleads as the figure approaches.

It is a tense moment, which dissipates only when the stranger is revealed to be a postman. Alison remains agitated - and with good reason. The couple have been living at a secret location in Northern Ireland since last November after their Belfast home was attacked by a mob incensed by the plays Gary Mitchell had written. His best known - the BBC drama As the Beast Sleeps, screened in 2001 - revealed how young Protestants were coping with life before and after the loyalist ceasefires. Local youths were not amused.

Now, in his first interview since the attack, Mitchell reveals what has happened to his family in the aftermath: their seven-year-old son, Harry, is so traumatised he spends most days in his bedroom and has had to take time off from school; Alison rarely goes beyond the door; and Gary cannot return to the house they still own on the northern outskirts of Belfast.

'I was sitting in the living-room with my father watching Rangers play Porto live on television when it happened,' Mitchell, a former playwright-in-residence at the National Theatre, says. 'My wife heard noises, looked out and started screaming: "They're attacking our car, they're trying to get into the house." She phoned the police and hid in the back of the house. By the time I got the front door open, they had already gone. They had pulled the car doors apart and thrown petrol bombs into it.'

On the same night the homes of Mitchell's uncle and niece were attacked in Rathcoole, a stronghold of loyalist paramilitaries. Police estimate that 32 people took part in three co-ordinated attacks on the wider Mitchell family.

The Mitchells were attacked for two reasons: first, there has been growing resentment in Rathcoole about Gary's exploration of Ulster loyalism and its identity crisis. Secondly, the loyalist paramilitary groups have begun to fragment.

Detectives have recently identified 'rogue paramilitaries' at Rathcoole - where Mitchell used to live - who don't answer to either the Ulster Volunteer Force or Ulster Defence Association leadership. They deal in drugs, picket Catholic families trying to visit graves at nearby Carnmoney Cemetery, and killed a doorman at a north Belfast nightclub because he refused to let them sell cocaine and ecstasy on the premises.

Mitchell admits he has 'history' with some of this renegade gang. In 1997 when he won a Dublin-based award for new writing, he was branded a traitor. 'They would stop you in the street, ask you what you were doing in Dublin and accuse you of selling out.' The 40-year-old writer eventually left Rathcoole the next year, after a campaign of intimidation. He returned for his grandmother's funeral in November. 'They (the gang) sent a message that I was banned from Rathcoole and had defied them, but I never even knew there was a ban.'

After eight weeks of hiding Mitchell, who has been commissioned to write two new screenplays for Channel 4, finds it puzzling that his family's plight has not become a national issue. 'When I go over to work in London most of the people you meet, even after what has happened to us, say "Oh Gary, isn't it lovely that you now have peace." BBC Northern Ireland told me I wouldn't be working with them any more unless I wrote about the peace process and it would have to be positive. So I told them, "No, you won't be working with me."How could I write a positive drama about the peace process when terrorists are blowing up my car?

'As for England, you're a second-class citizen if you don't come from London or Metro-land. If I was a Muslim writer whose work upset members of my community so much that some were threatening to kill me, then it would be a cause celebre. There would be questions in parliament, writers would stage protests and Salman Rushdie would write letters of support. But because this is Northern Ireland what's happening to my family isn't part of the peace process narrative.'

Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, offered Mitchell and his family some comfort just before Christmas - an invite to a drinks reception at Hillsborough Castle. But the playwright says that the invite spectacularly backfired.

'When we arrived at Hillsborough there were senior loyalist paramilitary figures drinking and eating in the same room. It was insensitive of the Northern Ireland Office to invite a family who were victims of loyalist intimidation to a function where loyalist leaders were in attendance.'

Daniel's killers are 'agents'

NI artists denounce threats against playwright Mitchell

Loyalist paramilitaries drive playwright from his home

Loyalist mob disrupts grave service

The death of a postal worker

Daniel's job costs him his life as loyalists target postal workers

Scepticism over UDA ceasefire

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Outcome of IMC report is very predictable

Brian Feeney:

Everyone's waiting with bated breath for next week's performance of the NIO's puppet theatre, the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). Will it, won't it, support the view of one of our district commissioners, turn-coat Tory Shaun Woodward, that the IRA as an organisation is no longer involved in criminal activity?

It's clear both Dublin and London have already decided that there will be enough in the IMC report to enable them to arm-wrestle the DUP to the conference table. Bertie Ahern's response in India to the Policing Board leak made that obvious. Besides, Tony Blair is visiting Ireland tomorrow to start the ball rolling. Most bet it will have rolled into a bunker by St Patrick's Day. All very predictable.

What is equally predictable is that all concerned will turn a blind eye to that part of the IMC report which will certainly state that the UDA and UVF are still up to their necks in murder, drug-dealing and racketeering. It will also confirm that there is no UVF ceasefire. Just as both the DUP and UUP paid no attention to the alleged remarks of assistant chief constable Sam Kincaid about continuing loyalist activity in his briefing to the Policing Board, so they will say nothing about the contents of the IMC report which relate loyalist terrorist groups.

It's a perfect example of the despicable quality of unionist political representation. The UVF and their horrible little client, the Red Hand Commando, whose activities the security forces have always ignored, continue along with the 'wee teams' of the UDA to batten on the districts unionist politicians represent. There, extortion and violence ensure that no investment goes into those districts which sink deeper and deeper into poverty and dereliction. Yet not one word from unionists about loyalist gangsters. Instead, unionists remain obsessed with the IRA which now has no impact whatsoever on their districts.

It's not just the usual parts of Belfast, south Antrim and north Down which suffer from the depredations of loyalists. Take Ballymena. It has one of the worst records for hard drugs in the north. Have you ever heard a speech from any of the Paisley family addressing the issue of hard drugs in their own bailiwick? You can hardly say 'back-yard' since Paisley pere lives in east Belfast. Well have you? Have you heard them demanding the police round up the loyalist gangs which control the drug trade in Ballymena? Does it strike you that the Paisley family spend more time pontificating, sorry, preaching, about what's going on in nationalist constituencies than in their own?

Mind you, unionist politicians are not alone in their total disregard of the threat loyalists pose to the people they represent. Magistrates regularly let known loyalists walk free from court or with suspended sentences. Judges blithely believe loyalist thugs who claim to have been operating under duress and pat them on the head.

As for the shiny new police service, it's an open secret that still today it harbours within its ranks officers who have protected from prosecution loyalist killers who have been and remain informers. Who have they killed in recent years? Why, none other than fellow unionists. Do we have to wait for the police ombudsman to reveal as much as she can about UDA and UVF killers who have enjoyed immunity because of their role as informers? Why can't the chief constable take action against these police?

After all, Sir Hugh Orde knows more than anyone else about the, shall we say, unorthodox methods police here have always used to run informers. It was Sir Hugh who did the spade work for the various Stevens's inquiries. If he doesn't know, then no-one knows. Oh yes, you might say, those inquiries covered events 15 and more years ago. Fair enough.

What about events since Sir Hugh took over?

Do we really have to wait for the ombudsman's report to tell us how many ordinary Protestants have been killed in recent years by loyalist gangsters who are police or MI5 agents? Does the chief constable not know? If he doesn't, why not? One thing you can be sure of is that no unionist politician is going to be bothered asking any of these questions.

Council motion will challenge Taoiseach on all-Ireland aims

RUC ‘is outside killings probe’

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bank of Ireland says Irish economy will grow by 6% in 2006

Finfacts Team:

The Irish economy is experiencing a consumer boom that is set to fuel economic growth of 6% in 2006, according to Bank of Ireland Global Markets economic outlook for 2006 that was published today. The outlook also shows that this spending is not being fuelled by debt, rather by increases in household income, which grew by 10% last year. In this respect, consumers can be said to have Berlin-style savings with Boston-style spending.

The outlook predicts that 40% of SSIAs will mature in 2006, a third of which will be spent adding over €2 billion to consumer spending this year. This will come on top of another strong year of income growth with employment set to rise by 4% and earnings by 4.5%, the net effect being an overall rise in consumer demand. This demand will be underpinned by increases in government, construction and business spending. The outlook predicts that output is unlikely to keep pace with this spending as the domestic economy does not produce the types of goods likely to see the largest increases in demand (cars, foreign holidays, consumer durables) and foreign demand is also likely to lag that of Ireland, limiting the growth of Irish exports to 6%. This will lag import growth, the net result being GDP growth of 6% from 4.7% in 2005.

According to Dr. Dan McLaughlin, Chief Economist Bank of Ireland Group, despite much comment the reality is that the current consumer boom is not fuelled by a debt driven consumer binge but by income growth.

“In 2005 consumer spending is likely to have increased by 6.5% while household incomes rose by 10%. In fact, consumer spending has lagged household income growth for a number of years, implying a rise in the personal savings ratio, which probably exceeded 14% in 2005. It is evident, therefore, that consumer spending is driven by income rather than debt and in that respect Ireland can be said to have Berlin-style saving but Boston-style spending”, said Dr McLaughlin.

According to Dr. McLaughlin, the real threat to the Irish economy is not rising oil price, a fall in the US Dollar or a slowing down of the US economy but the absence of a sovereign bank as this breaks the link between interest rates and activity.

“To date this has benefited the Irish economy, as Irish interest rates are probably too low for domestic conditions while appropriate for the sluggish German, Italian and French economies. There may come a time, however, when the reverse is true – the Irish economy slows, pushing up unemployment, but interest rates stay high because Germany and France are booming. In other words the real risk to the Irish economy is a country specific shock which hits hard here but leaves the larger European economies unscathed”, concluded Dr. McLaughlin.

Consumer boom 'to boost growth by 6%'

'Debt not driving spending surge'

Economy to grow by 6pc in 2006 - BOI

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

High King Niall: the most fertile man in Ireland

Jan Battles:

GENETICISTS have identified Ireland’s most successful alpha male. As many as one in 12 Irish men could be descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, a 5th-century warlord, according to research conducted at Trinity College Dublin.

Niall, who was head of the most powerful dynasty in medieval Ireland, may have left a genetic legacy almost as impressive as Genghis Khan, the Mongol emperor who has 16m descendants after conquering most of Asia in the 13th century.

Researchers at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity estimate there could be as many as 3m men worldwide descended from Niall. The highest concentration of his progeny is in northwest Ireland, where one in five males have inherited his Y chromosome.

The High King at Tara from 379 to 405, Niall founded the dynasty Ui Neill, which means descendants of Niall, who ruled Ireland until the 11th century. He reputedly made raids on the coasts of Britain and France, including one that netted St Patrick, then a slave called Succat, who was brought to Ireland.

Niall is said to have subdued his enemies by taking them hostage and he established small kingdoms in Wales and France, where he was eventually killed. His children were also powerful kings, particularly in the northwest.

The Trinity study examined the Y chromosome, which is passed unchanged from father to son, in males around Ireland. Laoise Moore, a PhD student working on the Wellcome Trust-funded project, took DNA samples by mouth swab from male volunteers and recorded the birthplace of their paternal grandfather.

Dan Bradley, who supervised the PhD, analysed the genetic fingerprints of the samples and found the same Y chromosome in 8% of the general population, with a cluster in the northwest where 21% carried it. This unexpected anomaly reminded the geneticists of the similarly common Y chromosome found in central Asia and believed to be Khan’s.

They calculated that the most recent common ancestor was likely to have lived about 1,700 years ago. Coupled with the geographical distribution centred on the northwest, this pointed to the Ui Neill dynasty.

The researchers then checked genealogical records, which recorded the relationships between different Irish families over centuries. Katharine Simms, head of Trinity’s history department, provided the geneticists with a list of modern surnames linked by genealogical tradition to the Ui Neill dynasty.

“We found that the frequency of this variant, this Y chromosome, was much higher in this group,” said Bradley. “That was the clincher — the Ui Neill, this group that held sway and power in Ireland, seemed at some stage to have had a single patrilineal ancestor.

“It’s another example of a linkage between prolificacy and power. It confirms these medieval genealogies.”

Among those who carry the distinctive pattern of Y chromosomes in their genes, indicating probable descent from the warlord, is Bradley himself. “I’m from the northwest, so it is not that unusual,” he said. “One in five of the people I would meet on the street at home would also be descended.”

When international databases were checked, the lineage also turned up in roughly one in 10 men in western and central Scotland. About 2% of European-American New Yorkers carried similar Y chromosomes.

“Given historically high rates of Irish emigration to north America and other parts of the world, it seems likely that the number of descendants worldwide runs to perhaps 2-3m males,” according to the paper, which has been published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, which is also where the study showing Khan’s genetic dominance appeared.

Niall reportedly had 12 sons, many of whom became powerful kings themselves. One was Conall, after whom Donegal (Tir Chonaill) was named, while Tyrone (Tir Eoghain) was ruled by Eoghain. Other sons were powerful in the midlands and all but two of the High Kings at Tara after Niall were his descendants.

Because he lived prior to written records, there had been doubts Niall was a real person.

“This genetics is very exciting because for the first time you are taking about real people,” said Fergus Gillespie, the chief herald. “The light these surveys are throwing on who the Irish are is fascinating. It verifies the genealogy and answers a lot of questions.”

Powerful men in medieval Ireland had many wives and children. Divorce and concubinage were allowed and illegitimate sons were claimed and had rights under law.

“Under Brehon law a man had a first wife, a live-in concubine, a live-out concubine and someone he just casually met and so on,” said Simms. “In each of these cases a child could take the father’s name.”

Modern surnames tracing their ancestry to Niall include Gallagher, Boyle, O’Donnell, O’Doherty and O’Kane. Even in the 15th century, Niall’s descendants were producing offspring in abundance. Lord Turlough O’Donnell, who died in 1423, had 18 sons with 10 different women and had 59 grandsons in the male line.

Scientists discover most fertile Irish male

Japan Falls From OECD Top 10 List of Per-Capita GDP in 2004

Kyodo News International:

Japan's per-capita nominal gross domestic product was $35,922 in 2004, making it fail to be included in the top 10 list among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members, the government said Friday.

The Cabinet Office said the result is due to foreign exchange factors and does not reflect Japan's actual economic situation. Japan ranked 11th among the 30 OECD members. Japan first made it to the top 10 list in 1984, when it ranked 10th, and was at the top in 1993.

"Japan's ranking fell because the yen had weakened against European currencies," the Cabinet Office said in releasing part of its National Accounts report for fiscal 2004, which ended last March.

Luxembourg topped the per-capita GDP list with $70,499. Norway came second with $55,269, followed by Switzerland with $47,923, Ireland with $45,442 and Denmark with $45,118.

Among the Group of Seven advanced economies, the United States ranked seventh, Britain 12th, Germany 15th and France 16th.

Great Britain: the New Germany

IDA to build tech campus in west Dublin

Why many feel threatened by rise of Sinn Féin

Damien Kiberd:

Northern Secretary Peter Hain clearly hopes that he can kick-start the peace process in February. He wants to stop wasting time and, to that end, has decided to issue warnings every few days to people who want to waste time.

Firstly, he says that there is little point in holding assembly elections in 2007 if there is no prospect of getting the various parties to agree. Then he hints that the existing assembly members – already operating on reduced wages – could be ‘decommissioned’ completely by mid-year, if they are making no progress in reaching agreement.

He further refers to the Six- County economy as “unsustainable”, alluding to its massive dependence on public spending. Two thirds of economic activity in the Six Counties now depends on public cash and one third on employment.

Hain adds, somewhat oddly, that he would like to see a united Ireland in his lifetime and that the future of the northern economy lies in the context of an all-Ireland economy.

All of these statements have been made against a backdrop of ongoing leaks concerning spies and alleged spies, with Denis Donaldson being “outed” after the PSNI told him he was suspected by various unnamed republicans. This was followed by the attempted and very public “outing” of other alleged spies and by the planting in the media of various bizarre stories designed to de-stabilise Sinn Fein.

The process of using informers to sow confusion and of using contacts in the media to create suspicion has accelerated in the period since IRA decommissioning was completed. Some might have imagined the de-commissioning would result in an improved political climate: but the opposite is in fact the case.

Why is this so?

Well, there are a number of very obvious reasons. Firstly, the publication of the next report of the Independent Monitoring Commission is imminent and there is a possibility, though only a possibility, that the commission will give the republican movement a clean bill of health. Hence, despite the dropping of charges against three men previously accused of involvement in the alleged Sinn Féin spy ring at Stormont, more stories are being planted in the media to the effect that there was a spy-ring and that it was operating a massive intelligence-gathering operation.

Perhaps, between now and the publication of the IMC report, other strange events/disclosures will take place. There are lots of people who do not want the IMC to unlock the door to political progress. And there are people who positively dread a situation where the IMC would give republicans a clean bill of health.

This is because they fear that such a report from the commission would permit Sinn Féin, if it so desired, to participate in the control of the policing system in the six counties and that this, in turn, could lead to the dismantling of the Special Branch and of various special units within the police.

Now, after what has happened since 1970, there are clearly people within the security services who — for reasons that are perfectly understandable in human terms — are viscerally opposed to the idea of republicans taking decisions in relation to future policing. They will have lost comrades who were killed by the very forces that may now be given a central role in policing. But there are other aspects to the problem.

Clearly a lot of money is at stake too. Over 35 years, a whole security industry grew to very large levels and while some of that has withered away, there is still a lot at stake for many people. Looking at possible meltdown for the security apparatuses that they have built they will use whatever cards they have at their disposal to halt progress: the two big cards at present are informers and contacts in the media.

Just as a whole security industry has grown within the police and army in the six counties, a parallel industry has grown in the media — in the North and especially in the South — where writers are occupied on a virtually full-time basis in attacking Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and the rest of republicanism. A symbiotic relationship exists between the securocrats and these columnists and “journalists”. The more Sinn Féin is normalised the less of a raison d’être can be advanced for the continuance of such obsessions.

South of the border there are equally logical reasons why the waters are being routinely muddied. The biggest party Fianna Fáil, rightly or wrongly, fears the growth of Sinn Féin and clearly approves of actions by third parties designed to prevent the growth of the Sinn Fein vote. The Taoiseach has to perform a high-wire act here. On the one hand he has to negotiate with people like Adams and McGuinness and seek to get the Belfast Agreement implemented. But all across north Dublin, including in his own constituency, Fianna Fáil deputies will face challenges in 2007 from Sinn Féin candidates who did well in the local elections.

So when the Progressive Democrats descend into rabid attacks on Sinn Féin — attacks which have become more rabid since decommissioning — it is inevitable that the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil will approve. It is, in a sense, a perfect situation for the Taoiseach. Someone else is throwing the stones by proxy on his behalf.

And just as there is a highly developed security apparatus in the Six Counties, there is a similar security apparatus south of the border. Again twin factors combine: a visceral hatred of republicans coupled with an objective financial interest in frustrating the normalisation of politics on this island.

In a sense, the only people in this equation who unambigously want a political deal to be struck in the Ssix Ccounties are Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

They have nothing to lose from the creation of such a deal and lots to gain. Arranged against them in this regard are a whole variety of forces: political parties, security forces, bureaucrats and so forth. Anybody who expects significant progress to be made in 2006 is an optimist.

The priority given to the Six Counties within British politics is also likely to decline. The NIO now constitutes half a cabinet portfolio for one minister, and people may start asking why it is necessary to subvent the Six-County economy so massively with British taxpayers’ cash.

Reducing reliance on the public sector in the North clearly offers a way forward but that can only be done if the private sector takes up the slack. There has been some significant inward foreign investment in manufacturing in the Six Counties but not enough to alter the balance of the economy. Perhaps overseas investors do realise that a degree of normalisation has been achieved but suspect that the situation is “not normal enough”. Media hype about conspiracies and spies, coupled with the annual circus surrounding the marching season, must act as powerful disincentives to investment.

Plea on North’s policing

Under starter's orders

Stalwarts of unionism must adapt and change to survive

Man’s killers are agents

Sinn Féin call for all-island economy

Friday, January 13, 2006

A former Catholic police officer has broken his silence on the sectarianism within the force in south Armagh at the height of the Troubles

Sharon O'Neill:

The man, who does not want to be identified, said he felt compelled to come forward after The Irish News highlighted a murderous 24-hour period three decades ago.

The ex-constable was also based in Co Down in the early seventies – and was one of the few Catholics in the predominantly Protestant RUC.

"The first thing I saw when I got to south Armagh were all the young constables, only 19, 21, 22, 23, with no experience of policing.

"There were no 'seasoned' police officers, " he said.

"I often look back, thinking of the hundreds killed in the explosions and shootings, we were used as cannon fodder."

With police under scrutiny over ever-emerging allegations of security force collusion with paramilaries – more recently a number of UVF killings – the former officer gives a unique insight into his time within the force.

While stationed in south Armagh the ex-constable, now in his fifties, went out on night operations with who he called the 'mystery man', as he was never told who he was.

"I am convinced he was not military but an MI5 agent. He had a plummy English accent.

"I realised they were trying to gather information on people," he said.

"The houses he went to, they were all homes of Protestants. I noticed pictures, platoons of [the disbanded] B Specials."

On January 6 1976, the UVF murdered two brothers and fatally wounded another at their south Armagh home.

Ten minutes later another Catholic home near Gilford was targeted, killing three.

Allegations of collusion in both cases are to be probed.

Although these murders – the IRA retaliating just hours later killing 10 Protestants at Kingsmill – occurred just as the constable had tendered his resignation, he had already been highly suspicious of the actions of some of his colleagues years earlier.

"I don't think there was any investigation [into these murders]," he said.

"Something very, very sinister was taking place because information was being leak-ed... to organisations like the UDA or UVF.

"We have not even scratched the surface of what was going on. It was so deep and widespread.

"There were a few military regiments present at that time, the Royal Marine Com-mando and the notorious Parachute Regiment.

"They were very agressive to say the least.

"I used to meet a lot of serving UDR soldiers... many were deeply bigoted. Even police constables would make comments. I remember a police woman saying to me 'this is a Protestant country'.

"When I finished training we were presented with bibles.

As I was the only Catholic, I was given a red bible. Several remarked 'I never knew you were a Catholic'. It was if I had two heads."

Bizarre events and dirty tricks

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A black woman may be forced to quit a loyalist housing estate after her home was daubed with shocking racist slogans


Alison Antoine, 34, woke today to find the words "Die N****r" spray-painted on the front of the house in Stiles, Antrim.

A swastika, the Nazi SS symbol and "White Power" were also scrawled on the Housing Executive property at Rathkyle where she has lived for four years.

Ms Antoine said: "I`m sick of it and don`t know what to do.

"I`m frightened to walk out onto the street unless I have someone with me."

The Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities described it as one of the worst incidents of race hate it had encountered.

Executive director Patrick Yu said: "Normally they distribute leaflets, but this time it is targeting a specific family. It`s very serious."

Ms Antoine, originally from Grenada, moved to Northern Ireland more than 10 years ago to be close to her partner Robert Jones`s family.

Although the unemployed woman stressed most people in Antrim have caused her no trouble, she told how the intimidation from a minority has intensified.

A garden shed was burnt down and her kitchen windows smashed since she moved into the town, she said.

"I have been victimised because of my colour and had racist names shouted at me, but nothing like this," Ms Antoine added.

"I don`t know why somebody has done this to me, I wish they would leave me alone.

"It`s making me think about asking to move."

A Housing Executive order has been issued to have the graffiti removed on Wednesday.

British colonialism strikes again.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Irish businesses most optimistic in Europe

RTE News:

Irish business owners are the most optimistic in Europe and rank second globally. This is according to the fourth Grant Thornton International Business Owners Survey, which is conducted in 30 countries around the world.

The survey reveals that 85% of Irish business owners are positive about the coming year, up from 79% in 2005. In Ireland, 77% of businesses surveyed expect turnover to increase, up 14% on the previous year. 32% expect employment increases, up 9% and 30% see selling prices rising - an increase of 6%.

The survey shows that other key indicators, while still positive, are down on last year's survey. 52% of Irish businesses expect their profitability to increase (down 7%) while 48% see more investment in new plant and machinery(down 10%).

The most optimistic business owners of all, for the third year, are in India with an optimism/pessimism balance of 93%, up from 88%, 83% and 25% in the previous three surveys.

Overall, the survey shows that businesses in 26 out of 30 countries are optimistic about their economy's performance. Optimism has improved in 13 countries over the last year. However in major industralised countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, France and Italy, the mood is now less confident.

'The Irish economy continues to confound even the most benign predictions of a slowdown,' commented Gearoid Costelloe from Grant Thornton.

He said last month's Budget helped the situation by not interfering in the two key areas of the economy - construction and retail.

'While a lot of international commentators have concerns about our private debt burden this is partly offset by the quality of the asset base that many borrowers are accumulating and the hope of continued low interest rates. It would seem that the Irish business sector has a lot to be confidence about for 2006,' he adds.

Irish business owners optimistic

Business Confidence for Major World Economies; Ireland in 2nd place behind India

Gathering gloom in British business

Monday, January 09, 2006

The contrasting fortunes between the north and south of Ireland have been put in stark relief over the past few weeks

Alan Ruddock:

In the republic, the government’s finances are in even better shape than expected, while the Industrial Development Agency (IDA) reports that last year was its best since 2000. Job creation is remarkably high (almost 100,000 new jobs were created in 2005); tax receipts are buoyant on the back of the continued booms in construction and consumer spending; and while there are medium-term concerns about the sustainability of the rate of economic growth, the immediate future looks secure.

In Northern Ireland, by contrast, the picture is grimmer. Peter Hain, the secretary of state, recently described its economy as “unsustainable” and suggested, to predictable outrage, that its future lies in being part of an “island of Ireland” economy.

It was a neat soundbite, one that was guaranteed to appeal to nationalists and to appal unionists, who predictably spotted yet another political plot to do them down. Hain’s comments were, however, much more disingenuous than that. He knows that Gordon Brown, the chancellor, will not countenance fiscal or monetary independence for Northern Ireland. Under no circumstances will he allow Northern Ireland to set a corporate tax rate to compete with the republic, or even to align its Vat rates to Irish standards. And suggestions that he might allow Northern Ireland to join the euro are fanciful in the extreme. Any concession made to one part of Britain would be demanded by all the others: Scotland already looks enviously at the republic’s low corporate tax rate and romantically at the euro.

Northern Ireland is stuck with what it holds, so for Hain to talk of participation in an island of Ireland economy is nonsense, and he knows it. There is no island economy, and cannot be while two separate tax, legal and currency regimes exist. There is undoubtedly opportunity for greater trade between north and south, but businessmen both sides of the border know that, and pursue opportunities where they see them.

Since Hain’s prescription holds no water, his diagnosis is particularly troubling. If Northern Ireland’s economy is unsustainable, and if there is no easy fix by blending with an island economy, then what is to happen?

Undoubtedly, the economy is in trouble. It is alarmingly dependent on the British state, which is responsible for 63% of economic activity and directly employs a third of all workers. Its manufacturing industry, which was heavily reliant on the textile, clothing and ship-building industries, has shed 100,000 jobs in the past 35 years.

It has had some limited success in attracting foreign investment — about 100 American companies provide employment for some 23,000 people — but its achievements pale beside the success of the IDA, which has encouraged 1,000 foreign companies to provide employment in the republic for 130,000 people.

Northern Ireland’s economic statistics, which show reasonable growth and low unemployment, mask a host of problems. State spending, which is now under severe threat from Brown’s belt-tightening regime, is the main driver of the economy. Unemployment figures do not show the true level of economic inactivity in the north, where the number of people claiming incapacity benefit is 74% above the UK average. Neither do they chart the scale of the province’s brain drain. Because the number of university places is capped, more than a third of school- leavers attend university in the UK, and half of them never return.

The British subvention runs at a net £5 billion (€7.4 billion) a year, yet, for all the money, the quality of services falls below UK standards. Northern Ireland’s health service receives 9% more per head of population than the UK average, but its waiting lists are longer and productivity is lower.

Its education system is renowned for its success in delivering university students, yet 24% of the working population has no qualifications whatsoever.

The biggest problem, though, is the scale of the state’s involvement in the local economy, which runs at about double the equivalent rate for the republic. It is a pressing problem because Brown’s stewardship of the British economy — marked by a profligate tax and spend policy — has run its course.

British growth is slowing, its tax revenues contracting and its options are limited. Brown has to rein back spending where nobody either notices or cares, and from a Westminster standpoint, Northern Ireland qualifies on both counts. Spending will be cut, jobs will be lost, and whatever savings accrue in time from lower security bills will be snaffled by the Treasury, and not returned to the province.

Unless the local business community takes up the economic slack with alacrity, the deflationary pressures on the economy will be severe. And therein lies another problem: years of state dependency have robbed Northern Ireland of entrepreneurialism. It lags far behind the republic and the UK, with proportionately half the number of young entrepreneurs. Businesses have to compete with the state for employees, yet struggle to match the wages and job security that the state can offer, not to mention the pensions. That feeds through into the choices made by students and the courses offered by universities: why chase a high-tech degree if your guaranteed future lies as a bureaucrat?

Into this sclerotic, state-dominated, economy Hain hopes to attract a new wave of foreign investors, who will be asked to choose Northern Ireland over cheaper accession countries, far cheaper Asian countries and the republic’s low-tax regime. In its favour it can offer grants, but so can the rest of the UK regions, and it can offer a relatively well-educated, English-speaking workforce, as can the republic.

It can highlight a few success stories, such as Seagate, an American firm that employs more than 2,000 people in two plants and which has created world-beating standards of quality and productivity in a highly demanding industry. Yet the republic can point to highly developed clusters of high-tech companies, including the world’s best-known brands such as Intel, Microsoft, Google and Dell. The reality is that the inward investment boom has passed by Northern Ireland.

The world is now a far more competitive place than it was in 1998, when the Good Friday agreement was signed. Back then, buoyed by international goodwill and a genuine feelgood factor, Northern Ireland could have extracted concessions from the British and the European Union that might have proved the catalyst for a mini-boom. But the opportunity was lost. Since then the province’s politicians have engaged in mind-numbingly rancorous politics. Its communities have become more, rather than less, polarised, and the economy has been left to wither.

Sinn Fein struggles with the concept of democracy, plays fast and loose with decommissioning, indulges in espionage and deceit, and forgets that its posturing eats away at the economic prospects of its people. Unionism sees plots and conspiracies at every turn, struggles to embrace cross-border initiatives and devotes none of its energies to tackling what is threatening to become a genuine crisis.

And all the while the republic ticks along, creating jobs and enjoying a prosperity that was once beyond its dreams. In 1970, Northern Ireland enjoyed a standard of living and an economic output that exceeded the republic’s by almost a third. Now it lags behind, and the gap grows daily.

Where the fault lies no longer matters: Northern Ireland’s economy is unsustainable because the British exchequer no longer has the interest or the resources to maintain it in the style, however faded, to which it has become accustomed. The province’s politicians, who draw a salary for doing diddlysquat, need to wake up to their crisis, resolve their contrived differences, and get on with the serious business of providing leadership and direction.

Northern Ireland has to wean itself away from state dependency, and that requires a combination of entrepreneurialism and political realism. Republicans must realise that those in the republic who yearn for unity would prefer a successful Northern Ireland that does not require huge state subvention. Unionism must accept that cross-border co-operation on every possible economic level is essential to its prosperity. Without realism the impasse will remain and the province’s economy will founder.

Of course, the best way to remedy the economic problems of the Six Counties would be to acknowledge that British colonialism in Ireland makes no sense whatsoever. Then the British colonists could be repatriated back to Britain where they belong and the Six Counites could enjoy the economic benefits of being united in a 32-county Republic of Ireland.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Unionists in danger of losing prized bauble

Brian Feeney:

Instead of our beautifully maintained proconsul trying to persuade unionists to begin negotiations with Sinn Féin this year, would it not be more worthwhile for him to try to get them to ask themselves a more fundamental question, namely, what is Norn Irn for?

We know what it used to be for. It was devised in 1920 as a place to preserve that diminishing and endangered ethnic species, the Ulster Prod, known for political purposes as unionists. It wasn't unique. There were other havens created about the same time, most notably Lebanon, a place or state of grace given to the Christians of Mount Lebanon where they could lord it over the surrounding vast numbers of Muslims. Over the next 60 years the Christians made themselves so objectionable that the place had to be taken from them. Despite help from among others, Israel and France, they were routed in a bloody civil war which by coincidence took place during the Troubles here, though it was over much more quickly.

Like the Christians of Mount Lebanon, Norn Irn had to be taken from the unionists. They didn't last as long as their Lebanese counterparts. They managed to score maximum points on the objectionable scale in 50 years.

The place which Sir James Craig's brother candidly told the House of Commons was "the largest area we can hold", no longer belongs to unionists. Legislation has put nationalists formally on a par in almost all walks of life.

Most importantly, unionists no longer own the security forces Churchill presented to them in 1921. With the unlamented disbandment of the RIR they will no longer have their own militia for the first time since the 18th century. The days are gone when any Orange lawyer with half a brain who became a unionist MP could look forward to becoming a judge automatically. Interesting sign of the times: no lawyer with half a brain even thinks it's worth trying to be a unionist MP. It's the road to nowhere.

When their allies in Westminster gave them what came to be called Norn Irn, unionists could at least argue they would lose financially and economically if consigned to the Free State. That argument remained valid until about 20 years ago. No longer.

One of the reasons for Norn Irn was that it provided cheap labour for the wealthy manufacturers who had built an industrial enclave here. By the 1970s all those industries were dead or dying. From a position 50 years ago where those industries gave the north 37% of total Irish output, the north's output is now 23% of the whole island's and falling.

The north's output is now 22% lower per head the Republic's. The standard of living here is only maintained by massive transfers from Britain, more than anywhere else in the UK.

Our proconsul warns it can't go on. As security spending falls along with the jobs for unionists that went with it, another prop is removed. Repeatedly British ministers take decisions at EU meetings which naturally don't suit people here but are tailored to Britain's economy, whereas of course the Republic's ministers take decisions which would benefit the whole island.

Now our proconsul is threatening to take away the bauble unionists always prized most, their wee toy parliament at Stormont. Do they not realise that the assembly was placed at the centre of the Good Friday institutions to placate them?

Do they not realise that without it they will control nothing, nor ever hope to? Well yes, but they also realise only too well the price, which is to reach out the hand to Sinn Féin and, wait for it, run the north jointly with fenians with an input from the Irish government.

Neither Irish nor British government has yet accepted that the unionist electorate in 2003 and 2005 voted decisively to prevent that outcome. The DUP best articulates that position. There's no danger of them admitting to their voters that the terms of trade with the rest of the island and Britain have irrevocably changed, that they need to consider if they can't own Norn Irn, but won't share it, what's the point of it? An open air museum?

The DUP is going nowhere without Sinn Féin

Irish American leaders call for assembly return

Irish America will be there

Loyalism’s true face

Sinn Fein figures brave rumor mills

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Irish economy set to thrive, predicts government agency

Ireland Online:

The Irish economy looks set to thrive this year with many new business ventures expected to kick-off, a Government agency said today.

The Industrial Development Agency (IDA) said 2005 had been the best in terms of job creation, the range and quality of new investments and the development of research capabilities since the year 2000.

“2005 was notable for the spread of investment by multinational companies throughout the regions, and for the depth and quality of R&D investments now being won,” Sean Dorgan, chief executive of IDA Ireland, said.

“We are also confident about the prospects for 2006 as the volume and quality of new business in our pipeline is as strong as it has been at any stage in recent years.”

The number of new permanent jobs created in IDA-backed companies during the year rose to 12,605, with job losses amounting to 8,309.

The agency’s end of year review stated the net increase of 4,296 jobs was the highest number of jobs created since the year 2000.

Figures from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment have shown there were over 21,500 redundancies in the first 11 months of last year, with over 40% of the jobs lost in Dublin.

The IDA said around 46 out of 71 investments by multinational companies were outside the Dublin region. Around 50 research and development projects were supported by IDA Ireland involving a total investment by business in excess of €260m – an 85% increase in value from 2004.

The figures show almost 40% of all new jobs in IDA-backed projects are worth in excess of €37,000 a year. Half of the jobs created in 2005 required third-level qualifications.

The IDA said recent announcements of job creations from Google, Wyeth Research, and financial firms including BISYS in Waterford, IFS in Drogheda and AXA in Athlone had shown Ireland had established itself as a high performance location.

The IDA said the company Sita Inc. confirmed it was expanding its software operation in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, and Zeus Industrial Products said it was opening its new European Operations Centre there.

But Donegal was also struck by some major job losses with clothing manufacturer Fruit of the Loom announcing it was laying off more than 500 Irish workers.

“The nature and the quality of investments have noticeably changed in the last year. Once we firmly placed Ireland on the world map as a knowledge economy, our challenge then was to make sure the investments we secured for Ireland would be innovation-driven, technologically advanced and with the highest calibre of employment creation,” Mr Dorgan said.

The IDA said Irish third-level graduates were a key attraction for investors and students must be encouraged, particularly in science and technology, to go on to complete Master Degrees and PhDs.

The IDA said significant investments in research and development last year included Microsoft’s establishment of a software research centre at its European operations in Sandyford.

During 2004 IDA supported companies spent €15.5bn in the Irish economy from their sales of €75bn and paid €2.5bn in corporation tax.

Enterprise Minister Micheál Martin said the range of new investments and job creation showed the Irish economy was competing remarkably strongly in the global marketplace.

“Ireland is continuing to outperform its European counterparts in terms of economic growth and development; the recent Central Statistics Office projections for future economic growth indicate that this growth is showing little sign of slowing down in the near future,” he said.

Mr Martin said the review showed efforts to ensure a balance between the capital and regional areas in terms of investment was paying off.

“Ireland is now competing for and winning world-class R&D investments. Our young highly skilled and highly educated workforce is a key component in attracting key investment. Our universities and IT’s are providing a key regional spread of graduates and post-graduates, providing a accessible pool of world class employees for multinational investors,” he said.

IDA expects 30 job projects after best year since 2000

IDA Ireland says that 2005 was best year for inward investment since 2000

IDA Ireland lauds 2005 investment boom

Company liquidations in 2005 fall to record low

Irish company lquidations fell in 2005

Ireland challenge in 'free economy' rankings

Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom: Ireland in third place

Kelly defies SDLP ban to accept OBE in New Year’s honors list

Dearbhail McDonald:

A PROMINENT member of the SDLP spent last night smashing plates in Greece. While the locals were saying goodbye to 2005, Tom Kelly was celebrating the OBE that he received in the New Year’s honours list.

Even though the nationalist SDLP bans its elected representatives from receiving gongs, the party said yesterday it was “delighted” that Kelly, a public relations executive and the party’s representative on the Northern Ireland policing board, received the honour.

“I am delighted for Tom and wish him well,” said Alasdair McDonnell, the deputy leader of the SDLP. “His work on the policing board has been superb. He deserves any award that he receives in recognition for his work in the community. Whether he chooses, as a party member, to accept his award is his decision, but I accept it. If Tom is comfortable with it, so am I.”

McDonnell’s stance suggests his party’s view on the British honours system has changed significantly.

The SDLP’s official position has always been that these awards endorse the British state and the royal family. The party has criticised nationalist honours recipients in the past, including Lord (Gerry) Fitt, its founder, who was knighted after leaving the party in 1983. John Hume, another former leader, refused a gong in 1998, the year he won the Nobel peace prize.

The party almost split 12 years ago when Mary McSorley, a councillor in Londonderry, accepted an MBE.

Kelly said yesterday he was conscious that his decision to accept the award could be controversial. He did not consult the SDLP about the nomination, telling only one party colleague beforehand. He informed Eddie McGrady, the South Down MP whose election agent he was last year, about the OBE last Friday.

Speaking from Athens yesterday, Kelly said: “I’m really happy. We’re going to celebrate it tonight (New Year’s Eve) by smashing plates. We’ve been in Greece for all of Christmas and I’ve been dying to break plates all week, but I haven’t had the chance yet.

“I was surprised, to be honest, because I am a fairly stringent critic of the government in my column in the Irish News. I wasn’t sure I should accept it, but I was persuaded to do so after talking to my dad and other members of my family.”

Michael Kelly, Tom’s father, said: “Why wouldn’t he accept it? Tom has worked very hard in everything that he has done, including all his charity, business and policing work. He deserves it and we are very proud of him.”

Kelly’s accolade was listed on the official Number 10 Downing Street website, but not by the Northern Ireland Office, leading to speculation that he had exercised his right not to have his name identified on the official Northern Ireland list. But Kelly, who joins the broadcaster Terry Wogan, businessman Allen McClay and Ken Newell, the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church, on the honours list, said he is happy to go public.

The SDLP should just merge with the Ulster Unionist Party and get it over with. No one who knows anything about politics in the north of Ireland seriously believes that the SDLP is a nationalist political party.

Sinn Féin challenge SDLP over OBE decision

All that glitters....

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Interest rates expected to hit 3% in 2006

Ireland Online:

Interest rates are expected to rise to about 3% by the end of 2006, but economic forecasters have said that it will be a good year for the economy.

The Irish economy is predicted to grow by up to 6% and house prices will continue to rise, reflecting the strength of employment growth and wage increases.

Bank of Ireland economist Dan McLaughlin said: “The downside of the very strong economic performance in Ireland and also better economic performance in Europe would be that anyone borrowing money on a variable interest rate will have to pay a little bit more as the year unfolds.”

The Irish Independent reports that tax revenues for the past year have boomed - more than €1.8bn ahead of expectations

GDP to grow 5pc on domestic spending