Posts Tagged ‘ireland’

samuel l equality

Note: the below blogpost pertains to the upcoming Irish constitutional referendum.

We’ve seen them all, those lovely visual messages produced by the “yes” campaign in the upcoming marriage referendum. Images of people of different and the same race, sexuality and walks of life hugging and high-fiving each other in a visual extravaganza of being “all about the love”. One would be hard pressed to object. After all who would not support equality and love?
Well as it happens it’s the “yes” side who do not support equality. Especially pertains to equality of law and equality of freedom of expression.
Take the example of the recently erected (pardon my French) mural on Georges Street in Dublin. The multi-story mural depicts two men embracing. No problem with that. The artist responsible for the mural, Joe Caslin, has publicly stated that the mural is on support of a “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum. Again, perfectly fine and something that should be allowed. However, and here is the problem, murals like that require planning permission. Especially if they broadcast a political message supporting one side in an upcoming constitutional referendum. It’s similar to election posters, the public display of which is tightly regulated with substantial fines being levied for breaches.  It comes as no surprise then that the Planning Enforcement section of Dublin City Council has issued a statement that “the mural is under investigation and Section 152 Warning Letter has issued in relation to mural.”.
Did the “yes” side think that they were exempt of the applicable legislation?
Well apparently they do! Following the news that Dublin City Council is enforcing the existing legislation the “yes” side has started an petition demanding that the mural in question be made exempt from the applicable legislation. So clearly, one law for us and another for everyone else. Ironically, at the same time they are caterwauling about the message on the poster from the “no” campaign.
Posters which it’s worth noting are displayed legally and which are not in breach of *any* regulations. They have even gone as far as tearing down posters (posting pictures of this on Twitter).
Clear and obvious proof that a fair referendum where the electorate can cast an informed vote is not something which they desire. This is not a unique phenomenon, if we look at other countries or jurisdictions we will see that the introduction of legislation similar to the proposed constitutional amendment has across the board lead to a reduction in civil liberties and freedom of speech. The main difference in Ireland would be that if the referendum returns a majority yes vote such a reduction in civil liberties and freedom of speech would be enshrined in our constitution.
That’s why we should ask ourselves, is granting a tiny minority (gay people make up less than 3% of the population) their wishes worth the loss of civil liberties and freedom of speech for all of us?
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Following storm Darwin earlier this year and the widespread disruption caused by storm damage and flooding I carried out an on-line survey on how information on storm and flood-damage was being disseminated to the Irish public. Having worked with Disaster Tech Lab in disaster zones all over the globe for the last 4+ years I’ve learned that the gathering but even more the curation and dissemination of relevant data is crucial during extreme weather events. It serves dual purposes; first it allows for a better tailored response effort but secondly it also increases awareness amongst the general public allowing them to avoid dangerous areas and/or to evacuate if necessary. The survey was basic and had the single purpose to ascertian if people had received information about damage caused by storm Darwin and through what medium they had received this information.

Following is a summary of the results:

  • Respondents were 61.11% male & 38.89% female
  • The majority were in the 35-44 age bracket
  • Most respondents lived in Dublin, Cork & Galway (in that order) with the rest spread over the country.
  • 77.78% had flood damage in their immediate area.
  • 11.11% experienced flood damage in their immediate area.
  • 88.89% travelled inside of Ireland shortly after storm Darwin.
  • 77.78% encountered flood and/or storm damage during their travels
  • But only 55.56 % was aware of this damage
  • The most interesting part was that 83.33% received this information through Social Media while only 5.56% received the information through the local authorities.

darwin info

The Irish local & national authorities are dropping the ball in a major way here and appear to be woefully unprepared. The only publicly available resource is the floodmaps.ie website run by the Office of Public Works. The most recent data there dates to 2011 and was gathered through a retrospective study. There is no obvious way to report damage in real-time.  With the current drive for Open Data and Big Data you would expect that this would be available. There are a number of easily implementable, Open Source platforms to create an online map with a real-time reporting mechanism without having to re-invent the wheel.

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Building such a service would allow people to report any flooding or storm damage that they encounter via a variety of means. Email, sms or via the website itself. You could even build an app. Reports can include a location (automatically mapped), description and images or video. Once curated (again in realtime) this information will than be displayed on an online map. The data can serve dual purposes. It will alert response services to issues which require intervention or remidiaton but it will also inform the general public as to where a rood is flooded, a tree is blocking the road etc. This allows them to plan travel accordingly and avoid problem areas. The end result is more fluent traffic flows and the avoidance of traffic jams at problem spots.

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While members of government discuss the issue of climate change and coastal flooding they fail to implement adequate response mechanisms. Ones which have become standard in countries like the USA which has been dealing with extreme weather events a lot longer. During a FEMA conference in Washington DC last year I commented that Ireland (and Europe) will soon see a drastic increase in extreme weather such as floods and storms. The recent flooding in Ireland and the current unprecedented flooding in the Balkans which has claimed over 40 lives are only the start of this. We need to prepare ourselves and an increased public awareness is the first step. Increased awareness will lead to increased preparedness and resilience. Recent studies in the field of disaster response has shown that the top-down approach taken in the past only solves short term problems and doesn’t improve matters in the long run. A shift from disaster response to disaster preparedness is needed and this can only be achieved by an increased public awareness and involvement. Empowering people by giving them a means to report problems and needs in real time and acting on this information is a first step in this.

 

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Ireland has been hit by an escalating series of flood in the last few months. Initially the flooding was preserved to coastal areas and caused by a combination of storm and high tides. Especially the West Coast was very badly hit with extensive damage to flood defences, piers, coastal roads and buildings in coastal areas. Especially Galway city and surrounding areas were very badly hit.

However in the last weeks the flooding has spread to built up floodplains. We have in recent days seen severe flooding in Galway, Limerick, Cork, Galway, Waterford and other cities and towns built around river floodplains and estuaries. What is shocking is the utter lack of preparedness or coordinated response. Ireland is known for its rain and this is not the first time we’ve seen flooding. After every previous flood a debate ensued about the need for flood defences but these were eventually never built or the ones built were based on the level of the last flooding rather than on the ones that would come next.

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Lacking preparedness one would at least expect some sort of adequate and coordinated response. After all there was no need to invent methods of dealing with floods. Our neighbours to the east, the UK, have been hit by far worse floods in recent years and have at least developed a semblance of a coordinated response. Or even look west to Boulder Colorado which was hit by severe floods last September with 8 people killed and 11,000 evacuated. A simple email or call to the organisations who responded to those floods would provide a wealth of information about how to initiate a coordinated response. The writing is on the wall really as the only data on flooding in Ireland is held on the OPW (Office of Public Works) website and the most recent data there is years old. It would have been so easy for one of the government agencies to crowdsource flooding data in realtime, something that agencies in other countries have embraced wholeheartedly.

A good example of such an effort is the Irish Flood Alert Crowdmap put up by Disaster Tech Lab (disclosure: I’m the founder of DTL). Such a map allows people to report the location of floods & flood damage and even to upload images. All this data will then be made publicly available in realtime.

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Instead Ireland is seeing a stream of nodding heads meeting in board rooms or visiting flooded areas without much idea on how to respond. The response is generally limited to throwing insufficient amounts to money at the problem while no effort is made to develop a resilient flood defence program…..

UPDATE: Disaster Tech Lab has put up a survey to measure the impact and awareness of the flooding and damage caused by storm Darwin. Please assist in improving future response by completing the survey.

On November 10th Ireland will hold another referendum. Referendums are getting nearly as popular as tribunals with the 2 Nice Treaty referenda, the Lisbon Treaty referenda,  the  “ESM treaty” referendum and now a Children’s rights referendum. I had hoped to avoid blogging about the latter but the matter is too serious and the spin from the “yes” side to thick to ignore it any longer.

You see the proposed constitutional amendment (to articles 42.A.4.1 & 42A.4.2) is being proposed as means to better protect the rights of the children in cases of neglect, abuse, or a combination of these. This is to be achieved by giving the state more power to (forcibly) remove children from their parents custody. Even if this is against the wishes of both the parents AND the child. The state will be able to come and take children out of their homes and forcibly put them up for adoption. If they deem that there is enough reason to do so.

Article 42A.2.1: In exceptional cases, where the parents, regardless of their marital status, fail in their duty towards their children to such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected, the state as the guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with the due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

Now who can find something wrong with that? Surely its all to the betterment of the rights of the child right? Wrong!

Let’s take a closer look at the parts I’ve highlighted; First of all there is the reference to “the state as the guardian of the common good”. Call me a cynic but I have so far seen very few states where this “common good” was an unequivocal and unilaterally accepted principle. Au contraire, “common good” is an as ambiguous principle as possible. So if we enshrine in the constitution that the state is  the guardian of this ambivalent condition than we basically give carte blanche to future governments to interpret that at will. Secondly there is the suggestion that the state “supply the place of the parents”. That is not only wrong but also biologically impossible. The definition of parents (according to Dictionary.com) is “a father or a mother”. The state is not only genderless, it is also an abstract entity. While the state can assume guardianship over children they can never be “parents”. Including that term in the proposed amendment is equal measures wrong and insulting. It is impossible for the state with even the best intentions to provide the quality of care for a child that a parent will provide. Lastly there is “”proportionate means as provided by law”. This is a change from the “appropriate means” term in the current constitution. What it means is that the state will not stop at this change in the constitution, the use of the term “proportionate” means they will have to enshrine these constitutional powers in law. This gives them increased powers to enforce these amendments on you.

What also offends me that there is clear mention of the increased powers of the state, the amendment makes no mention of the right of parents. Instead it actually erodes the rights of parents to raise their children in a responsible manner as they see fit. Instead it puts parents in a position where they are accountable to the state for how they raise their children. This is only an intellectual hop and a skip from the state deciding how many children parents are allowed to have or what religions are “preferential”. Lets just note that the Irish state’s record in this area is far from examplary. The reprehensible levels of child abuse that took place in Irish institutions in the previous decades took place after the state put the children in these institutions. Even now the country’s health care system, the HSE, let nearly 200 children die while they were in its care. And the Irish people are now supposed to give this same state more CONSTITUTIONAL powers on a promise that the system will be changed?! Sounds like a cart before the horse approach to me.

Several years ago I had a “experience” with the HSE’s department of child protection that did little to instill confidence in their abilities. At the time someone who lived locally and who I was pursuing for a substantial amount of money owed decided to get back to me by hurting it where it hurts most; my children. What happened is that they made an anonymous phone-call to the local childrens protection office accusing my wife and myself of neglecting our children. As it emerged later the extent of this “neglect” was laughable. Apparently our children sometimes attended school without the sufficient amount of pens, pencils, copybooks or not wearing a complete uniform. Hardly abuse but it was enough to put the HSE machine in motion. The first thing that we learned of it is when we received a letter making us aware of the anonymous complaint and notifying us that a child care worker would visit us for an inspection in two weeks time. Now if we had been abusive parent those two weeks would have given plenty of time to hide any and all signs of abuse and/or neglect. In our case we had done nothing wrong (anyone who knows us is aware that we ALWAYS put our children’s welfare first). and the letter caused so much upset that we were not willing to wait two weeks for any further clarification. What we did instead is contact the HSE and demand they send an inspector to our house ASAP! And preferably without any notice.

Next we contacted the primary school which our children attended to discuss this with the schools principal.Her relief when we spoke to her was immense. Apparently the HSE had contacted her when the complaint was initially made to verify the accusations. She had vehemently denied these and made clear to the HSE person that we actually took very good care of our children and that they were smart, and pleasant children. However this was not enough for the HSE, in spite of the fact that the allegations had now been refuted by a reputable 3rd party. She was instructed *not* to discuss the matter with us and that the HSE would investigate the matter further.

The inspectors visit was rather uneventful as it was obvious that the complaints was without both without any basis and made maliciously. However rather than dismiss the case we received a notifications several weeks later that the investigation was closed “due to lack of supporting evidence”.  As you can imagine this whole affair was a far from pleasant experience and we are far from happy with the way it was handled.

However considering all that I am of the opinion that if the HSE had, at the time, the powers that the proposed constitutional amendment would give them it would have gone far different. It would make it likely and legal for the HSE to remove children from parental custody while a case is investigated. And to do so without informing the parents of the exact details of the case. This is already common practice in the UK where even the family court cases are being held in “secret”.

There is also the case of “common good”. Take the example of recent large scale vaccination programs. Take the case of the H5N1 (avian flu) outbreak. In a panic measure a vaccine which had only had limited trials was pushed on the general public. Everyone was strongly “advised” to vaccinate not only themselves but more urgently their children. Based on our own research we decided that the risk of being injected with a largely untested vaccine was greater than the risk of contracting Avian flu. Looking back we were correct as several side effects have manifested while the number of actual infections with the virus have been minimal. Then there is the case of the mass vaccination of pre-teen girls with the human papillomavirus vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Vaccination programs were organised through schools rather than voluntary through doctors practices and as nobody wants their children to develop cancer we allowed our two eldest daughters to receive the vaccine. As it now expires it not only can cause premature ovarian failure, it also only protects against 2 out of 5 possible strains of the cancer.

Anyway, my point is that increased power to the state would put them in a position to say that vaccinations are in the name of the common good (in fact they have already said so) and to force parents to either have their children vaccinated or to take the children into custody.  If you think that’s crazy thinking then I advise you to check Minister of Social Protection statement recently where she hinted that vaccinations could be tied to child benefit payments and or school admittance. Where I come from that’s called a “worrying development”…

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Access Legal has put together a great infographic on the 2012 Irish startup scene.

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Tax is evil; there I said it. The organised extortion of money by the state sanctioned by a threat of violence or incarceration is something I principally object to. However I am realistic enough to understand that “we the citizens” need to make a small contribution towards the running of the state apparatus. A flat tax would be the most equitable way to do so and would allow for the abolition of all tax loopholes as well as so-called stealth taxes, sales tax, duties, excise and what more.

However I am digressing from the topic of this blogpost….

Irish corporate tax and specifically the low rate is a hot topic of conversation both in Ireland and across the EU. The debate mostly centers around whether Ireland should be allowed to hold on to this low rate which on the face of it has attracted such giants such as Google, Facebook, Linkedin, Dell, Microsoft, Apple and a whole raft of other big players to the country. Other EU countries rightfully seem to think that this low corporate tax rate (12.5% compared to for instance 28% in the UK) gives Ireland an unfair advantage. It turns out that they might be wrong…

During an exchange on Twitter with the fabulous @dhkirk yesterday it expired that even though the corporate tax rate is substantially lower than most other EU countries most of these multinationals only pay that tax rate on a small percentage of their revenue. See, @dhkirk was researching this to ascertain the validity of InvestNI’s statement that a lowering of the corporation tax in Northern Ireland would result in it being just as attractive to large corporates as the Irish Republic. You can read his blogpost here.

The common perception is that the large corporates sluice all their European revenues into their Irish corporate entity through the use of licensing agreements allowing them to only pay Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate on not just the Irish revenues but almost *all* revenues across Europe. It now turns out that this is only part of the chain. Apparently because of a quirk in Irish law, if the Irish subsidiary is controlled by managers elsewhere, like the Caribbean, then the profits can skip across the world tax-free. This (legal) construction is known as a “Double Irish Sandwich”.  Let’s try an example; ACME Inc has offices all over the world. It now register a corporate entity in Ireland. Let’s say it’s Called ACME Eire Ltd. Management of all patents and intellectual property regarding ACME Inc’s products is transferred to ACME Eire Ltd. At the same time ACME Inc. sets up a corporate entity in a tax haven (such as the Bermudas, Cayman Islands etc.) It then assigns the *ownership* of all patents and intellectual property regarding ACME Inc’s products to the corporate entity based in this tax haven. This construction than results in all ACME Inc. global companies globally are billed for us of these patents and intellectual property by ACME Eire Ltd. These fees paid to ACME Eire Ltd. can be as high as most of their revenue. ACME Eire Ltd. in return pays an “administrative fee” to the entity registered in a tax haven. ACME Eire Ltd. only pays the low Irish corporate tax rate over a fraction of its revenue. In the case of Google it reduced the companies taxable revenue in Ireland reduces its gross profit from €5.5bn to just €45m.

It appears that it means that it’s not Irelands low corporate tax rate which makes it an attractive location for multinational but rather their specific tax legislation allowing this construction. The NY Times has produced an excellent illustration of how this works. Click on the image for a detailed explanation.

Based on this it would appear that all the campaigning for Ireland to hold on to its low corporate tax rate as a change might scare away these large multi-nationals might not have been fully informed. Full disclosure requires that I admit that I have used this argument also. However I have always followed it by stating that Ireland should develop other means of being competitive than just being the cheapest tax country. Based on the information outlined above I would suggest that an increase in the corporate tax rate might not have such detrimental effects. But please remember that I am *not* a tax expert.

Following are some sources of supporting information:

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/finance/2012/0514/1224316065838.html

http://www.businessworld.ie/livenews.htm?a=2941771

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/ireland-business-blog-with-lisa-ocarroll/2011/mar/24/google-ireland-tax-reasons-bermuda

Today is referendum day in Ireland when every Irish adult has the opportunity to vote for or against the ratification to the Fiscal Compact.

As I’m not an Irish citizen and my 16 years of paying tax here do not give me a right to vote I have to watch this one from the sidelines. However for those of you who do not know what this Fiscal Compact is I have put together a simple visual primer.

Enjoy:

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