Fragments 2006-11-02

Six weeks after we reported in a front page story that Michael McDowell had bought Thornton Hall lands for eight times the commercial value (see accompanying cover of Village of 14-20 September and the reproduction of the article by Frank Connolly), the penny has dropped with the Committee of Public Accounts and some of the media that this is, in fact, what occurred (see headline from the Irish Times of 27 October, left).

As we reported then, Michael McDowell had challenged his critics a year previously: "Identify one parcel of land of 150 acres within 10 miles of O'Connell Street which is suitable for a major prison campus and which is available for purchase for less than ?29 million. If you can't, then stop pretending that the site selection committee and its advisor got it wrong." The ?29m represented a price of ?200,000 per acre.

The article by Frank Connolly presented several instances of such lands being sold for a fraction of the price, all within the same radius of the Dublin city centre.

McDowell has been spared embarrassment over this extraordinary piece of incompetence by the diversion of the Bertiegate controversy, but he is likely to be haunted by the debacle in the months running up to the election.

Ministers in Limbo

Síle de Valera's (pictured) announced retirement as Minister for State on the Feast of the Assumption (8 December) will give rise to the usual speculation on who her replacement will be, with the usual names in what is known as the "frame" – Sean Haughey, Pat Carey, Sean Ardagh, John McGuinness et al. But the real issue is why anybody would want to be Minister for State.

Aside from the money – an extra ?50,000 or so, which might be a good enough motivation for many – Ministers for State live in a limbo (the Catholic Church limbo has been privatised, but the political one is still in being as a semi-state entity). While backbenchers have some influence, in that occasionally they can puff at Parliamentary party meetings and go into a collective huff when they feel they have been ignored, Ministers of State can neither huff nor puff, which must make the fires of limbo all the more excruciating (limbo does have fires, doesn't it?).

Also for many of them there is nothing to do, which for the able amongst them (ahhem...) must be frustrating.

But there is the ?50,000, plus a subsidised car plus driver (a driver can be a relative or a friend, even a voter).

Aer Lingus fate is sealed

As Martin Fitzpatrick predicted in Village last week, Aer Lingus workers are certain to face the same fate of job losses and forced changes in their work-practices whether Michael O'Leary and Ryanair take over the airline or not. This is an inevitable consequence of the government's decision to privatise the company. And a further consequence is that decisions will be taken on the future of Aer Lingus that will have no regard for the interests of the Irish state, regarding solely the enrichment of the new shareholders.

It may be that not just the Heathrow slots will go, but the North American connection will end as well. If Aer Lingus is to become merely a short-haul /low fares airline, the rationale for a long-haul arm will be questionable.

The genie is now out of the bottle and all we can do is sit around and wait for the market and the "big boys" to decide what is in our interests.

On this day: 28 October 1492

Christopher Columbus in Cuba

Christopher Columbus is said to have "discovered" America on 12 October 1492 when one of the Bahamas islands was sighted from his ship. During the months of that October he explored that area of the Caribbean, landing in Cuba on 28 October. He continued his "discoveries" of the New World until early 1493, when he headed back to Spain – actually it was Portugal he returned to because of a storm.

The claim that Christopher Columbus "discovered" America is a lie and a pernicious, racist one, for there were 100 million people living in America by the time he "discovered" America. What Christopher Columbus did was to invade America. He and his crew were rescued from almost certain death when his ships ran around on one of the Caribbean islands. They were rescued by the local people, the Taino, and treated with great hospitality. Columbus's response was to massacre, enslave and torture his rescuers.

He seized 1,200 people and packed as many as he could into his boats to bring them back to Spain. Over 200 of them died on the journey of disease, hypothermia and torture.

On returning to Spain, he had them paraded through the streets of Seville as sub-human trophies.

Back in America, the gallant explorers enslaved thousands of the native people, forcing them to work in mines and plantations, lands stolen from the native people.

In a practice that presaged what Europeans did in the Congo centuries later, the enslaved natives were required to meet targets on gold finds and when those targets were not met, their hands were chopped off, then their arms, then their legs and finally their heads.

Native people were required to convert to Catholicism and were tortured and murdered when they refused or failed to do so because they did not understand what was required of them.

That "discovery", which is now celebrated in European and "official" American culture – the United States celebrates it with Columbus Day on 12 October each year – was a tragedy of enormous proportions for the native Americans who inhabited the land before Columbus landed.

It is estimated that in the Caribbean, Mexico, South America and Central America alone, 50 million people died as a result of the European invasion. In all, it is estimated that over 100 million Native American people were killed.

This was one of the greatest crimes against humanity ever perpetrated. And yet this "discovery" is celebrated as one of the great achievements of "civilisation". America commemorates it each year with Columbus Day on 12 October, never acknowledging the appalling crimes that followed on from that "discovery".

The rape of the continents of north and south America and the enslavement and murder of millions of American people was getting underway 514 years ago.

McBreartys dissipate sympathy

The McBreartys (Frank snr and Frank jnr, pictured right, and their relative Mark McConnell) have a strong case for a State guarantee to fund their legal expenses. The State funds the legal expenses of several Gardaí who have given perjured evidence at the Morris tribunal and who have been found to be guilty of gross indiscipline and illegality, and yet the victims of these illegalities are refused a guarantee that their legal costs will also be paid. Michael McDowell's obduracy on this is illogical and wrong.

But Frank McBrearty jnr can hardly rely on this further wrong done to him and his relatives to justify his refusal to permit counsel for Gardaí at the tribunal to cross-examine him. He participated at the tribunal, without the guarantee on his legal costs, and in the course of his evidence he made very serious allegations against several named Gardaí. Yet, he refused to allow his allegations against these Gardaí to be tested in cross-examination.

In addition, the tribunal moved its hearings to Donegal to facilitate the McBreartys and for them now to refuse to co-operate or to give a guarantee of co-operation is clearly unfair and undermines the sympathy that most neutrals have had for them, both because of the way they were victimised by Gardaí and by the refusal to guarantee them their legal costs.

This current module of the tribunal – the inquiry into the detention 10 years ago of the McBreartys and others in connection with the murder of Richie Barron – may be entirely subverted by their action. In which case, months of tribunal work will have been for naught and millions of euros costs incurred for naught.