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CIE Could Constipate an Actuary

Posted on: January 24th, 2010

AS I arrive at RTE’s hospitality room for the Frontline programme, there are only two people present. Pat Kenny offers the usual polite greeting while there is a freeze from the other man in the room. His face, or the small part of it that the world ever sees, looks familiar.

Pat’s companion bears a bushy beard. I recognise it. It has appeared in this column more than any other beard on God’s earth.

I blink and grasp the hand of Siptu boss Jack O’Connor, muttering gratefully that “we have never met”.

Jack is not impressed. For a split second he seemed about to withhold the hand that strokes the beard. Instead, he makes it crystal clear that he has not been aching for the encounter.

“You have done me great damage,” he retorts with feeling.

Used to the rules of combat that allow political opponents to converse reasonably amicably outside the public battlefield, I gulp, but settle down a safe distance away from Comrade Jack. The freeze hardly thaws until Green TD Dan Boyle, another guest on the programme, appears.

Sadly Jack is on a different part of the show.

Tuesday

On an early morning trip to the City of London I meet one of the former heroes of the Irish economy. My favourite developer, Sean Mulryan, is slumming it in Dublin Airport where once he housed his private jet.

Sean is heading to his London Docklands project, followed by a trip to promote his interests in Berlin. I engage Sean in conversation but get the impression he would rather be elsewhere. It seems to happen to me rather a lot.

Former Anglo Irish Bank whizzkid Tiarnan O’Mahony, who departed when David Drumm pipped him for Sean FitzPatrick’s job, is on the same flight. Tiarnan is the man whose ISTC went belly-up for €850m. Unfazed, today he heads up the nation’s Pensions Board. It could only happen in Ireland.

After we reach London, I spot Tiarnan heading for the Docklands Light Railway which charges only £4 to the common rabble for a ticket to central London.

How are the mighty fallen. In the days before he vapourised the €850m, Tiarnan would surely have treated himself to a taxi.

In London at an AGM I overhear several small shareholders comparing notes. They all seem to know each other. Curious at what they are plotting for the meeting, I eavesdrop.

Far from preparing questions for the board, they are swapping the dates and times of upcoming annual meetings, busily entering them in their diaries. One elderly investor asserts that if they all organise their diaries properly they can be guaranteed a good lunch every weekday in the City.

In these times of rare dividends, small investors are suddenly becoming resourceful.

It is harder to work the shareholder lunch circuit in Ireland as there are not enough public companies here with accessible AGMs. Lunches will hardly make up the losses.

So as a possible recession-buster, buy just one share in each company. One share could earn one lunch. Alternatively, put your gatecrashing gear on.

Wednesday

Minister John Gormley comes on to RTE’s Pat Kenny Show to mix it about the bank inquiry. John is the gentlest of ministers but he swallowed the Fianna Fail magic potion on the inquiry — hook, line and sinker.

Hearings will not be in public, it will not cover the events after the bank guarantee and, as Kenny points out, no Oireachtas members will be able to tackle the findings until 2011!

Efforts by supporters of the inquiry to drag in the Murphy report on child sexual abuse as a good example of an effective private inquiry do not wash. The Murphy report was held in private for a very good reason: to protect the victims of sexual abuse from reliving their torture under the gaze of the cameras.

In the banking inquiry the victims are Irish taxpayers entitled to see with their own eyes how the powerful — bankers, politicians, regulators and civil servants — respond to forensic questioning.

Today the DCC report from barrister Bill Shipsey causes consternation. His conclusion raises eyebrows. Jim Flavin, the former DCC boss, is given the benefit of the doubt and a fool’s pardon. Shipsey says Flavin made an “error of judgment” on the insider dealing allegation.

Thursday

I head for Cork with authors Matt Cooper, Pat Leahy and Fintan O’Toole to promote our books in the Opera House. The 900-seat venue fills up, not I suspect so much to hear the ‘Four Angry Men’ sounding off but as an outlet for the widespread public anger at the nation’s economic mess.

The question and answer session sparkles, as ordinary people from all over Cork voice disillusion with all political parties. One man asks why all four whingers are not leading a revolution. Bankers come in for special stick. Next in line are politicians and developers. Two rows from the front sits property developer Owen O’Callaghan, star of the Mahon tribunal. He keeps the head down and does not ask a question.

Nor does the delightful Cork Fine Gael TD Deirdre Clune, sitting a few rows away, despite an opportunity to knock the Government.

The books — Cooper’s Who Really Runs Ireland?, Leahy’s Showtime, O’Toole’s Ship of Fools and my own The Bankers — are all still selling well. They are back in the bookshops after some sold out just before Christmas.

Friday

Back to Dublin on Irish Rail’s InterCity flagship. Breakfast is brilliant — but when the tannoy blares out, thanking us for travelling on Irish Rail, it renews my interest in this monopolistic quango.

There is little alternative to travelling with the dinosaur that has so many questions to answer about the destiny of taxpayers’ €300m a year subsidy and about the dark tales related in the latest consultant’s report which cost the Irish people €500,000.

While CIE’s breakfasts are good, its accounts would constipate an actuary. They were late being submitted. Its directors are politically appointed anonymous figures. Its budget is excessive. It is losing passengers and turnover.

Its minister and only shareholder Noel Dempsey has shown a reluctance to become involved in a full examination of the less transparent activities of this mysterious semi-state monster.

Dempsey is in the news this morning (“waffling” in the words of Michael O’Leary) as our lunatic air traffic controllers try to blow Ireland off the economic map singlehanded. Dempsey is merely rattling his sabre at the Luddites among the air traffic controllers who are refusing to operate new technology.

Dempsey should do more than make noises. If overpaid minorities in key posts hold Ireland to ransom they should, as O’Leary said, be sacked. At a time of economic emergency, we cannot afford to indulge hands-off ministers who tolerate industrial blackmail in the air and out of control spending on railways.

Is Bertie Ahernism alive and well in the Department of Transport?