Making Housing Work

Immediate and retrospective Site Valuation Tax on all development land; with higher charges on property with which the taxpayer voluntarily absorbed bank debt with a view to providing relief to the wider EU finances.

This money funds an immediate building program, with community owned projects tendering for contractors and arranging planning permission with councils.

The current Central Bank mortgage lending rules are clearly designed to protect it’s stakeholders (the banks) and do nothing to reduce the cost of homeownership; which must be the government policy.  Increased upward pressure will inflate GDP and produce a false illusion of Health GDP growth.

The overheated rental/ownership market is putting pressure on employees to demand reasonable wage increases, and thus pushing some businesses towards a danger zone; with global economic storm clouds gathering (despite best efforts of governments with 0% interest and unprecedented money printing).




999 for Mental Health

You’re walking on a quiet road, you trip and break your arm.  You call 999 immediately, no question.  They help you, no question.

A few months later other events, or mental illness, have left you feeling very, very depressed.  You have suicidal thoughts.  You call 999.  What happens? I’m told that they don’t/can’t help, but I’m not sure about that. Do you know?

I’d like to estimate the cost/benefit of enabling 999 to triage/respond to mental health emergencies, for a government to show how serious this is.  We’d need more operators (let’s say another 500), we’d need counsellors (let’s say 250 of them for 24/7 cover), and we’d need schedulers that could redirect less urgent cases to primary care mental health services in the community (let’s say we need 250 of them too).  Assume they all get paid €45k (it’s skilled shift work), and that the extra IT/Ops infrastructure is €5m/ yr, it adds up to ONLY €50m per year.

There may be better things to spend the €50m on, I’m no expert in the area.  Plus I don’t think we have a spare €50m; the last I heard mental health funding was being cut because…. well my best guess would be because Enda Kenny doesn’t care enough about it.

At this stage, “999 for mental health” is just an idea, I’m going to have to do research to see what the current status is, speak to stakeholders to see if it’s possible and then how it compares to other ideas in the same space.

I know that the Vision for Change developed at the Department of Health by an expert group is not implemented yet, so there’s probably already a long list of excellent ideas in the funding queue.  It’s shocking that we’re so bad at this.

The Citizens Information site has a page about accessing Mental Health services, but the link to “contact the emergency services” leads to a “Page not Found error” – can you believe it?!

Maybe the first step on this journey is to get that webpage working again.

Fake money, and a call to just action.

Since the Dutch East India Company of the 17thC, people have successfully organised trade and commerce globally, with wonderful benefits for society.  Population has taken off like that famous hockey stick graph.

But how do the last 50 years compare with the golden age? Since the banks obtained the power to counterfeit money , we seem to have a problem.

Living standards are dropping for most people, many billions (that didn’t just arrive last week) are now struggling for survival, with their health, life span and other opportunities invested into the disposable and polluting items that we purchase in the West with our digital money. This digital money is disconnecting us from real value.

If it did not exist, if we measured value in the only true sense, then an hours work in one country could be equal to an hour of work in another country. If you agree with this idea, then you can literally start to use it right now. You don’t need me, or a movement, or anything else to start.

All you have to do is to set up a co-op, formally or informally, and start to do business with those in other countries and barter time and services fairly.

When this becomes more popular, and when our impotent and hi-jacked global political system (strong words,  but that’s another blog post) is reclaimed, then we will be able to have plebiscites that literally include everyone.

Everyone with a mobile phone votes, and we have random paper votes in some areas for verification. If there is a proposal to decrease carbon emissions by 50% in the next 5 years to preserve the planet for our grandchildren, then that can be passed by global vote, and become binding on all corporations.

The corporations of today have lost the run of themselves. They no longer respect the needs of global society. They are obligated by law to preserve shareholder value, and that often leads to ruinous conditions for the two billion at the bottom. The same people that only get our sewage and waste trickling down to them.

Act now, act fast, and act for a long time.

At Long Last on the Late Late

Ever been asked for a bribe? How about being in government buildings,  outside the Taoiseach’s office,  being asked for a five million pound bribe into an off-shore account? Given all the legal threats around #pantigate,  we can be sure these days that things said on RTE are likely to be true.

Tom Gilmartin,  RIP Nov 2013,  was born in Sligo and had become a successful businessman in the UK.  He had a knack for putting together large investments for building projects.  Returning to Ireland in the late 80s,  he planned to build a modern mixed use development on the site now occupied by the hideous Liffey Valley.  He was soon mugged by our corrupt officials and their cronies.

Hear part of the story from his son Thomas Gilmartin Jr and author Frank Connolly,  as part of their Late Late Show appearance to promote Frank’s book. Hear about the Gardaí ignoring the complaints of extortion,  the effect of the ordeal on the Gilmartin family and the revelations from the tribunal.

(I was a little late to hit record when I was watching it, but it should be clear enough.  Anyone in Ireland can watch the Late Late on the RTE Player for a week or so)

Poetically enough,  Padraig Flynn (who asked for the €50k blank cheque),  had disparaged Tom Gilmartin and dismissed his allegations on the same TV show 15 years earlier.  At the time,  Tom Gilmartin was watching the show from his home in Luton,  and his anger was one of the things that propelled him to give evidence at the tribunal.

You might like to hear Pee Flynn’s side of the story.  Stay tuned for the end of the video when he explains what a financial struggle it is for him to maintain his 3 homes on his salary of £140,000. (his known salary was approx 6-7 times the average salary at the time,  not counting ‘donations’)

So –  what was happening while these corrupt idiots were in charge?  How were the decisions they were making affecting our lives?

Just to pick one example; I think that the price of property,  and it’s relationship to the average wage,  makes the biggest impact on how much spare money you might have at the end of the month.  During the time that CJ Haughey,  Pee Flynn,  Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern were in charge – this is what happened to property prices compared to average wages.

House Prices vs. Wages; Ireland 1977-2005
House Prices vs. Wages; Ireland 1977-2005 (source)

And that’s why I care what politicians are doing,  that’s why I pay attention to those that call ‘wolf’  and why I salute Tom Gilmartin,  Thomas Gilmartin  and Frank Connolly for having the tenacity and bravery to drag this corruption into the light.

People that have to move to think

In 2006, Sir Ken Robinson made a passionate case at TED for an overhaul of education.  When I first saw this video, I was working in Suas, a nonprofit working to improve education.  It was encouraging to hear Ken lay out the reasons why this ‘sit down and learn by rote‘ model is failing us, and won’t prepare us for the future.

It’s funny in parts, he tells a great story, and bits from this video will stay with you for a long time.


Do it for many reasons, but mostly for the kids

It’s a false ecomony to cut back the numbers of Special Needs Assistants at schools. It’s very cruel to consider this cut while paying back private bank debts to foreign investors. Join a family friendly protest on Kildare St, on Wednesday 13th, at 3pm.
Cuts have to be made, of that there is no doubt, but there is plenty of waste in civil service bureaucracy, and consultants fees, that should be cut ahead of these crucial jobs. Cutting SNA jobs mean that children may have their learning disrupted,and the kids with special needs may find things a lot harder.

I remember when I was at school, children with special needs were kept in a different class to the rest of us, and as such we never really mixed. Many were even in a different ‘special’ school.

Later, I heard from my Mum (a primary teacher) that all children were going to be taught in the same classroom and that special assistants would be brought in to help the children that needed it.  A good thing, of course.

Bless her cotton socks, as it was happening many years ago, Mum predicted that one day they would try and cut back brutally on the number of special needs assistants to save money, once people were used to having all children in the same class.  I thought she was being alarmist, but once again, Mum was right!

If you care enough – there is something you can do.  Join a protest group – this coming Wednesday July 13th, at the Kildare St entrance to the Dail, at 3pm. It’s a family friendly event, bring your kids (or someone else’s!), bring colourful banners, buy some balloons along the way.

There are a few different groups involved in organising the protest, including the Special Needs Parents Association.  I heard about it through the Stephen Donnelly office.

This is a hard time of the year to get children and parents to a protest.  Please spread the word to all the people you know with time on their hands that care about this.  If the cuts go through, they will affect all children in primary school – let’s fill the streets and stop this cut.

A game changer – humanitarian assistance as a business

Globally almost 300 million, one-third of the developing world’s children, suffer from chronic malnutrition.  This is nothing short of a disgrace.  The devastating longer-term consequences are often not fully appreciated.

There is a critical period, from conception to 24 months of age, when without adequate diversity of diet and range of nutrients, both mental and physical development is severely impeded – and this damage is irreversible.

Without proper nutrition, a child is intellectually blunted, resulting in significantly decreased educational attainment – irrespective of what support may subsequently be provided. Furthermore, increased ill health, sub-optimal earning capacity and greatly reduced life expectancy all stunt economic growth of developing countries.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have a sustainable business model for treating malnutrition. Furthermore, Valid Nutrition, the Irish-based company I founded in 2005, has a proven track record in this area. It is also the only company in the world exclusively manufacturing and marketing a range of ready-to-use therapeutic foods in Africa”, says Dr Steve Collins, who has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2010 global Ashoka Senior Fellowship award for social entrepreneurship and an MBE from Queen Elizabeth for his services to humanitarianism.

A medical doctor with a PhD in nutrition, he is a world-renowned expert on malnutrition, and publishes widely in major international medical journals such as Nature Medicine, The Lancet and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

For the first time in the history of human civilisation, the world now has the capability to combat malnutrition at real scale and help the children of the poorest nations realise their full potential. The development of highly fortified nutritious pastes, commonly referred to as ready-to-use therapeutic foods, together with community-based therapeutic care, a new approach to delivering nutritional care to people in their villages rather than in hospitals, have revolutionised our ability to treat severe malnutrition”, Dr Collins notes.

Dr Steve Collins on Newstalk – July 1st 2010

These innovative ready-to-use foods contain a mix of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and 40 different nutrients. They do not require mixing with water or any other liquid and can be eaten directly from the sachet pack. Because bacteria cannot grow in the packs, they can be stored safely for over 12 months without the need for refrigeration. As well as being highly convenient, children find them delicious. Those who are treated with the foods make a complete recovery within six weeks and do not relapse.

By providing ready-to-use foods to mothers in their local communities rather than in conventional hospitals or health centres, which are often located far from villages, we have seen a dramatic improvement in treatment and prevention. Death rates have been cut by a factor of five and the lives of hundreds of thousands of children have been saved”, adds Dr Collins who first pioneered the concept of community-based therapeutic care (CTC) in the late 1990s.

Since then, his approach has been endorsed by the UN, adopted by the World Health Organisation, the World Food Programme and UNICEF, and is their preferred model for the treatment of severe malnutrition in children.

Valid Nutrition has operations in Malawi, Kenya and Zambia.  These operations will produce some 2 million life-saving sachets in 2010, and production is expected to grow by some 30% a year thereafter.

Last year, in Malawi alone, 50,000 children were treated with Valid Nutrition’s ready-to-use foods, and with new manufacturing operations coming on stream in Ethiopia and West Africa, some 200,000 children will be treated with these foods by end 2010.

As well as being hailed as a humanitarian success story, the Valid Nutrition business model has a number of interesting aspects.

First, although it is a social enterprise, it is run as a fully fledged commercial foods business, with the same governance and financial controls in place. The fact that it has no shareholders – allied to its status as a registered charity with related tax advantages – means that it can re-invest all of its profits in furthering its humanitarian aims.

Second, where possible, it sources ingredients for its products locally from small-holder farmers and local suppliers, thus bringing major advantages in terms of cost, quality and a multiplier effect to local economies – a sustainable approach in the broadest sense.

In keeping with Valid Nutrition’s humanitarian ethos, this local production approach to the treatment and prevention of malnutrition enables the company to help its customers avoid the high cost of raw materials, labour, transport and duties associated with importing this food from developed countries.

With our manufacturing coming to scale, we are reaching a point where we can set a benchmark for price and quality which other companies in the ready-to-use foods market must meet. This will allow us to punch above our weight and use our presence in this market to leverage a much wider ethical engagement in under nutrition from other commercial players,” says Dr Collins.

In order to help Valid Nutrition reach that critical stage in its development, the company is seeking investors to offer interest-free loans, or donations of cash or services.  The loans will be repaid after 3 years, so the net donation to Valid Nutrition is the interest that might otherwise have been earned on the money.

Complete details are available here.

The lion’s share of that money will never be seen again.

Something is rotten in the state of Ireland.  Here is the CEO of Anglo telling us that the money we have put into that bank will never be seen again. Twenty-two billion euro. Gone.

That’s about five thousand euro each for every man, woman and child.  Where has it gone?

It must have gone somewhere, right?  If it’s gone out of our pockets it must have gone into someone else’s pockets.

Never, never put the party of Ahern, Haughey and Cowen in power.  This loss is the effect of their policies.  Their cosy arrangments, non-existent financial regulation, and the fact that they live on a cloud of comfort away from the rest of us.

It angers me that they let this situation develop on their watch, whilst ignoring calls from people to do something about the property bubble.

You can do something about it. Apathy is an illusion. Granted, it’s a comfortable illusion to feel that there’s nothing you can do, but frankly it’s going to be an expensive one if all of us choose it. Choose to do something!

Visit the website of each political party. Read what they say they will do to fix this mess. Then pick a party and get involved.  Turn up to a meeting. Get out and campaign. That means talking to people that aren’t interested in politics and trying to get them interested!  Showing them how this really, really matters.

Let’s get a government that’s working for us, instead of plunging us deeper and deeper into debt trying to save their own skins.

Oooops! I forgot about that construction company I half-own

Clerical error leads to TD forgetting about €1m investment

One of the largest property owners in Dail Eireann, Frank Fahey TD, is blaming a ‘clerical error’ for his failure to mention to the Dáil the 50% stake he owns in Sage Construction Ltd. Furthermore, the company owes his wife over €950,000 according to the most recent accounts filed. Neither were declared in the Register of Members interests in 2008 or 2009 and the Clerk of Dail Eireann, Kieran Coughlan, is considering complaints from members of the public alleging that these omissions are breaches of the 1995 Ethics in Public Office Act.

Deputy Fahey has had a history of controversial stories, such as the compensation scheme his department administered where two of his constituents received 75% of the total amount disbursed and one of his last actions as Minister whereby he granted the controversial foreshore license for Shell in Mayo, following in the footsteps of Ray Burke in accommodating the wishes of the oil company.

In response to this latest allegation, the Mail on Sunday reports that Deputy Fahey rushed to have the Register of Interests amended and issued a statement that the whole affair was due to a clerical error. Time will tell if this mistake will be excused or punished.

What’s most frustrating about this episode for me is that his constituents are unlikely to be overly perturbed by this, in the same way that they have not been bothered by other Fahey scandals.  I suspect that is so because in this nod and wink politics culture to which Fahey belongs, you actually want the guy to be doing favours for you and as such if he’s doing favours for other people, well that’s just part of politics and you have to accept it because you want the same thing done for you.

And there are probably enough people in his constituency grateful to Deputy Fahey to ensure that he is returned time and time again.

If you want to do something about this – you are free to complain to the Clerk of Dail Eireann (Kieran.Coughlan [at] that Faheys ommission may be a breach of Section 5 of the 1995 Ethics act.

The initial source of the story, for me –

2009 accounts for Sage Construction Ltd –

A long webpage with many other details about Deputy Fahey –

Ubuntu here I come

I’ve heard a lot about Linux over the years, how it’s a ‘better’ operating system than Windows, how it’s going to break the domination of Windows (and how that’s a good thing) and mainly how awkward it is to use.

Well, here I go. There’s an old laptop of mine which has been giving more and more trouble recently with Windows, slow, infected, slow… annoying. Having invested too much time in trying to fix it, I’m off – I’m going to linuxland.

My research tells me that the only thing that I can’t do in linuxland is to use iTunes, which only really matters for my iphone. But, I’m not that attached to the iphone and my contract is up. Other than that, apparently Linux can do all by browsing, office work, music, video, and other bits and pieces in relative comfort.

The first thing that I had to do was to make a CD to install from (luckily I’d already had advice about which Linux to install) and there are nice and easy instructions for that. It took about 10 minutes to burn, I stuck it in the laptop, rebooted and a whole new desktop came up with one button ‘install ubuntu’. Nice start.

Clicked that and there were a few simple questions… now it’s installing. What will it be like?

(11 minutes later) Holy shit. I’m now editing this on my shiny new Ubuntu computer. It’s installed, it’s online and it’s about 10 times easier than windows.

Next challenge – sort out a photo organiser, music player, and office suite. So far it gets a huge thumbs up from me.

Any older relatives that might be wanting to start off on computers and will be starting from scratch… get them going on laptops with Ubuntu instead of Windows.

I met my first hiccup a minute later – went to Applications, Software Centre (instead of downloading installers like in Windows, you pick from a menu in the software centre)… and when I tried to select ‘Adobe Flash Player’ to install it, I saw an odd error. Luckily enough, a quick google solved it for me, and now it appears, the solution is updating my entire Ubuntu, so hurrah for that.

Onwards and upwards…

UPDATE:  March 22nd 2010

So far, it’s been incredibly reliable and almost everything has been working well.  There were two annoying problems and only one of them is partially solved. Flash wouldn’t work properly (since partially solved) and I can’t get the mic to work (so no Skype).

Other than that, it’s all good!