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Dogged duo who shine a light on Ireland’s ‘golden circle’



Date Published: 07-Nov-2012

Nick Webb would like to see more eggs thrown in Ireland – if nothing else, the Sunday Independent’s Business Editor feels it would be good for the country’s egg industry.

But more importantly, he feels it would be an effective way for ordinary people to show bankers, senior civil servants, auditors and politicians what we think of how the country has been – and continues to be – run.

Nick Webb is the author with Shane Ross of a new book, The Untouchables; The people who helped wreck Ireland and are still running the show. It is currently riding high on Ireland’s best-seller list and the pair will be in Galway’s Radisson Hotel on December 2 as part of the Four Angry Men roadshow, being chaired by broadcaster Olivia O’Leary. The other panellists will include Fintan O’Toole and David McWiliams – all people who were criticised during the property boom as prophets of doom for predicting that Ireland’s extraordinary prosperity was built on sand. Unfortunately, they were right. And as Nick Webb and Shane Ross point out in this book, many of the influential people in the world of politics and finance who can share the blame for the current crisis are still in place.

The Untouchables is written in a chatty, accessible style so in one sense, it’s an easy read. But as you absorb the names and actions of those who continue to live a gilded life, despite their role in leading this country towards bankruptcy, it’s not easy at all. It’s appalling.

“There was a huge amount of research involved and there’s a lot of new stuff,” says Nick. “Shane got some information on the judges and it was all about joining the dots between the actuary and legal and property firms – even the fact of the cosiness and closeness they had with each other.”

Whether it was the closeness of the relationship between AIB and their auditors KPMG, or legal firms moving into offices that had been developed by their clients, Ireland’s upper echelons were a network of cosy relationships.

And, says Nick, those blurred the boundaries and interfered with the checks and balances necessary for a healthy financial system.

He points to the history of AIB, which was audited by and had bizarrely close links with KPMG, after having had disastrous relationship with the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“In 2002 AIB lost €700 because of a rogue trader and PWC missed it – it was a staggering miss and they lost the auditor job. Ten years later they are back at [the State owned] AIB.”

They point to Brian Goggin, head of Bank of Ireland while the property ‘madness’ was at its height. He was one of the senior bankers who went into Government Buildings on the infamous night in September 2008 when the State offered total protection to the banks. Since then, as well as having all its liabilities guaranteed, Bank of Ireland has cost the taxpayers – us – €4.7bn to keep it afloat.

While Goggin was forced to step down as chief executive of the bank he will receive a pension of €650,000 a year for life. It’s hardly punishment, they point out. AIB’s former boss Eugene Sheehy has a pension of €450,000 a year despite the fact that AIB has required €21.7bn of taxpayers’ funds to keep it afloat.

Just last weekend, Finance Minister Michael Noonan told us that those pensions couldn’t be touched. That despite the fact, that the State had no problem dipping into the savings of ordinary workers through the pensions levy.

As for the Personal Insolvency Bill, which has the potential to make a huge difference to people in negative equity and mortgage arrears, it was due earlier this year and hasn’t yet been enacted. The banks have been lobbying hard for their interests and the authors of The Untouchables expect this to have an impact on the final outcome.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.


Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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