Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A story with a worrying political hint

Even before results come back from the lab, the story of Clare Daly's apprehension on suspicion of drink driving by the Garda is on every newspaper in the country.

Last month in the Dáil the north Dublin socialist Independent TD named a judge as one of those who alledgedly benefited from the quashing of penalty points by a garda officer.

Is there need to consider this a worrying development?

A comment on the Roman Missal

A young woman, who has been reading the Roman Missal, that was introduced in late 2011, writes the following:

How can they expect people to listen to ramblings like this?

“For in him you have made a new covenant with your people, so that as you have redeemed man and woman by the mystery of Christ's Death and Resurrection, so in Christ you might make them partakers of divine nature and joint heirs with him of heavenly glory.”

How is anyone to understand? ”partaker of divine nature and joint heirs”

Monday, January 28, 2013

Draining people of blood for soldiers

Reguarly the German Red Cross would arrive at Auschwitz and take blood from the prisoners.

Anyone who has ever donated blood is aware how carfully and kindly donors are treated. The maximum that is taken at any one time is a pint or its metric equivalent.

In the German camps they drained the people of blood, people who were already starving.

The blood was then used for transfusions for the soldiers on the front. This pracitce was especially carried out during the battle at Stalingrad.

How can the Germans ever try to use the argument that the Wehrmacht was a 'different animal' than the SS? They were using blood drained from people in places such as Auschwitz, Belsen, Buchenwald, Oranienburg et al.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Germans fighting over sexism

A new all-German controversy has been sparked off by comments published by a journalist in Stern magazine about senior FDP politician Rainer Brüderle.

The reporter writes that in an interview she conducted with Brüderle in 2012 he made sexist comments to her.

It's now the talk of Germany and the political classes in Berlin.

It has moved away from the FDP politician to a debate about how sexism reigns in all facets of German life.

Turning out to be a great discussion.

Sexism in the institutional church?

World Holocaust Day

Today is World Holocaust Day. All member States of the United Nations are invited to set this day aside as a special day of remembrance for those who suffered under the tyranny of Nazi Germany.

It was on January 27 1945 that the Soviet Army liberated those still alive at Auschwitz Birkenau.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

It is it's wrong but it's its priests

Why is it that so many publications with a church background or influence use the spelling 'organize' when all Irish newspapers and the majority of publications sourced in Ireland spell it 'organise'? Ireland uses 'ise' and not 'ize'.

While on the subject, it is embarrasing to note publications with church background confusing the neuter form of the possessive adjective with the abbreviation that is made through using the neuter form of the personal pronoun and the third person singular of the verb to be.

All classes of priests seem to make the error, including bishops, canons, vocation directors. Or should that be vocations director? The Irish Times goes for 'trade unions but most dictionaries prefer trades union.

Eddie Hobbs on The Saturday Show on RTE One this evening, when speaking about a group of people said; "the whole gambit".

And these people can wield such power and authority, sound and look so suave.

Is it all spoof and nonsense just as their use of language is?

Friday, January 25, 2013

The war in Vietnam

RTE One's Drivetime on Friday mentioned the end of the Vietnam War. Did the programme not say it was 40 years since it ended? Hostilities in Vietnam ended in 1975.

In 1975 the author of this blog kept the chronicle of the Dominican community in San Clemente, Rome.

On the day of the announcement of the end of the war, he wrote in the chronicle how Vietnam had been liberated and freed of a foreign aggressor.

In the following days he took part in street demonstrations celebrating the end of hostilities.

Robust railway row

One quarter of all commuter rail traffic in Germany is now operated by non-Deutsche Bahn companies.

The private railways are campaigning for the removal of the DB logo from all rail stations in Federal Germany.

An opportunity to recall a terrible savagery

This coming Sunday, January 27, is World Holocaust Day.

Justice and Defence Minister Alan Shatter is speaking at a remembrance service in Dublin

Tony Flannery on Pat Kenny Show

On RTE Radio One's Pat Kenny Show today, Fr Tony Flannery was interviewed.

The 63-year-old Redemptorist spoke about his current position and his relationship with the Vatican.

He came across as a humble and intelligent man, who genuinely believes what he is saying. His words were compelling.

In the interview he pointed out that any correspondence he has had from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has been written on note paper which has had no formal official information as from where the letter has come.

Tony Flanner is a brother of Frank Flannery, the well-know Fine Gael strategist.

Stalin's Order of the Day, January 25, 1943

Below is Stalin's Order of the Day on January 25, 1943 to troops of the Soviet Army.

I congratulate the Red Army men, commanders and political workers of the South-Western, Southern, Don, North Caucasian, Voronezh, Kalinin, Volkhov and Leningrad fronts on their victory over the German-fascist invaders and their allies—the Rumanians, Italians and Hungarians—at Stalingrad, on the Don, in the North Caucasus, at Voronezh, in the Velikie Luki area and south of Lake Ladoga.

I thank the Command and the glorious troops who have routed the Hitlerite armies at the approaches to Stalingrad, who have broken the blockade of Leningrad and liberated from the German invaders the towns of Kantemirovka, Belovodsk, Morozovsky, Millerovo, Starobelsk, Kotelnikovo, Zimovniki, Elista, Salsk, Mozdok, Nalchik, Mineralniye Vody, Pyatigorsk, Stavropol, Armavir, Valuiki, Rossosh, Ostrogozhsk, Velikie Luki, Schluesselburg, Voronezh and many other towns and thousands of populated places.

Forward to the rout of the German invaders and their expulsion from the boundaries of our Motherland!

J. Stalin
Supreme Commander-in-Chief
Moscow January 25, 1943

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Impassioned appeal to help Mali

This evening on the Anna Will German TV show Christof Wackernagle made an impassioned appeal to the German Government to send Bundeswehr troops to assist the French Army in Mali.

Wackernagel, who is an artist, is a former RAF operative and has for many years turned his back on all forms of violence. But he now believes that the people of Mali need immediate help to protect their country against outside aggressors.

Wackernagel has spent a number of years living in Mali.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Columnist Harding on Bishop Jones

Michael Harding's column in today's Irish Times makes for an interesting read.

Those who saw Bishop of Elphin Christopher Jones read his paper at the hearings in the Senate will be in a position to cross check what Harding writes in today's paper.

There are those who will say it is not a matter of photogenics, rather a question of searching for the truth.

It gets complicated.

The miracle of the European Union

On January 22, 1943, the starved, frozen, and exhausted Sixth Army began to collapse. A week later Hitler promoted Paulus to field marshal, and reminded him that no German field marshal was ever captured alive.

Paulus was captured the next day in a cellar in Stalingrad.

And then today in Berlin, Francois Hollande the President of France addressed the Bundestag. Earlier in the day he was received with full military honours by German President Joachim Gauck.

France and Germany were celebrating today in Berlin 50 years of friendship.

On January 22 1963 DeGaulle and Adenauer signed off on the France German friendship treaty.

Many of the German troops who were encircled by the 62nd Soviet Army in 1942/'43 had seen service in France in 1940/'42.

Regular readers

This blog is regularly read in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It has the busiest railway station in the world.

And then there is the anonymous setting (not set) where it is also read on an almost daily basis. Might that be the 'all powerful secret place'? Who knows, who ever knows?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hans Fallada on a prison chaplain

A line from Hans Fallada's 'Once a jailbird'.

"The chaplain - there wasn't much to be said about him. He was already over 60. and had been in the jail for 40 years; the chilliest Pharisee on this chilly earth."

Climate change high up on agenda

Two words used in today's US presidential inauguration: Unalienable and irrepeatable.

Great presidential speech and then it all to finish with Beyoncé rendering of the United States national anthem.

A priest takes back his voice

Below is a piece written by Tony Flannery in today's Irish Times.

Three days after my 66th birthday I find myself forbidden to minister as a priest, with a threat of excommunication and dismissal from my congregation hanging over me. How did I find myself in this situation?

I joined the Redemptorist congregation in 1964 and was ordained 10 years later. That was the era of great openness in the Catholic Church. We believed in freedom of thought and of conscience, and that church teaching was not something to be imposed rigidly on the people we served – they were intelligent and educated, and could take responsibility for their lives.

As preachers we must try to present the message of Christ in a way and a language that spoke to the reality of people’s lives. This necessitated a willingness to listen to the people, to understand their hopes and joys, their struggles and fears.

Helping people to deal with the teaching on contraception during the 1970s was a great training ground. Just repeating the official line of Humanae Vitae was no help. During those years priests and people alike learned a lot about how to form their consciences and make mature decisions about all areas of their lives. As priests we learned more from people than they learned from us.

As the years went by we could all see that the teaching authority within the church was reverting to the more authoritarian style of ministry practised in the past. As authority became centralised in the Vatican once again, pressure came on priests of my generation to be more explicit and decisive in presenting church teaching: orthodoxy was now the imperative, and allowing people to think for themselves was seen as dangerous. There was no room for grey areas.

Reports to Rome
We became aware that there were people around the country who reported any slight deviation from the official stance by a priest, for example allowing a woman to read the gospel at Mass. Throughout the world, priests were being sanctioned, silenced and even dismissed because they would not toe the line.

In autumn 2010, I was one of a small group who set up the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP). This association was unique in that it was an independent body of clergy, a new phenomenon in the church, and one with which the authorities, in Ireland and the Vatican, were uncomfortable and didn’t know how to handle. The growth of the movement served to catapult me into a more prominent position, which brought me to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

I had been writing for various religious magazines for more than 20 years without any problem. But suddenly last February I was informed by my Redemptorist superiors that I was in serious trouble over some things I had written. I was summoned to Rome, not to the Vatican, which to this day has not communicated with me directly, but to the head of the Redemptorists.

This was the beginning of what is now almost a year of tension, stress and difficult decision-making in my life. Initially my policy was to see if some compromise was possible, and it seemed in early summer this was a real possibility.

But I gradually became aware that the CDF continually raised the bar, until it got to the point where I could no longer negotiate. I was faced with a choice. Either I sign a statement, for publication, stating that I accepted teachings that I could not accept, or I would remain permanently banned from priestly ministry, and maybe face more serious sanctions. It is important to state clearly that these issues were not matters of fundamental teaching, but rather of church governance.

So now, at this hour of my life, I either put my name to a document that would be a lie, and would impugn my integrity and my conscience, or I face the reality of never again ministering as a priest. I have always believed in the church as the community of believers and as an essential element in promoting and nourishing the faith. I have enjoyed my years of preaching, the main work of Redemptorists, and never had any doubt that Christ’s message was one worth proclaiming.

But to give up on freedom of thought, freedom of speech and most especially freedom of conscience is too high a price for me to pay to be allowed minister in today’s church.

Catholic identity
There are people who will say I should leave the Catholic Church and join another Christian church – one more suitable to my stance. Being a Catholic is central to my personal identity. I have tried to preach the gospel. No matter what sanctions the Vatican imposes on me I will continue, in whatever way I can, to try to bring about reform in the church and to make it again a place where all who want to follow Christ will be welcome. He made friends with the outcasts of society, and I will do whatever I can in my own small way to oppose the current Vatican trend of creating a church of condemnation rather than one of compassion.

I believe that the real aim of the CDF is to suppress the ACP – attempts have been made to clip the wings of the Austrian association. I hope and pray it will not succeed.

While I am dealing with these issues in my own life I believe it is appropriate for me to temporarily stand down from my position of leadership in the association. I will, however, remain an active member, and will be available to help in every way possible for the work of the ACP, which is bigger than any one person.

Finally, it could be asked why I am going public now having remained silent for a year. I need to take back my voice.

Interviewing a vulnerable woman

Some days have passed since RTE's Prime Time screened a section of its programme on crime in rural Ireland.

Prime Time's Miriam O'Callaghan travelled to Donegall and interviewed an elderly lady in her home. Some days earlier the woman's home had been burgled.

It was poor television where an elderly, fragile woman, who was at her most vulnerable, was 'used', most likely for television ratings.

And so far not a word of criticism of the clip on the Prime Time programme.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Close election in northern Germany

Exciting election count night in Hannover.

Today's election in Niedersachsen is proving a cliff-hanger.

An hour ago it seemed as if if would be a CDU FDP coalition as before but now it looks as if it could be an SPD Green victory.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Play it Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible

Hugh Linehan's piece on Guardian editor Alan Rusbrdiger in today's Irish Times Weekend Review is a great read

What the Soldaten did

"On the second day of the Polish war," recalled a Luftwaffe pilot named Pohl in conversation with a fellow prisoner of war, "I had to drop bombs on a station at Posen (now Poznan). Eight of the 16 bombs fell on the town, among the houses. I did not like that. On the third day I did not care a hoot and on the fourth day I was enjoying it. It was our before-breakfast amusement to chase single soldiers over the fields with (machine-gun) fire and to leave them lying there with a few bullets in their backs."

From 'Soldaten' by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer.

Marlowe writes on 'saint' Obama

Irish Times US correspondent Lara Marlowe packs her bags and moves to Paris.

In today's paper she has a hagiography-style piece on Barack Obama. But it's lovely and a great read.

She'll be missed by many readers.

Good luck in Paris.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Changes to Tralee Dublin rail service

Worth flagging for Irish Rail passengers, who use the Tralee Dublin service.

The new timetable, which becomes operative on Monday shows a change on early morning services from Tralee.

The early morning 05.20 service has been cancelled. There is a 04.55 Monday only service, which arrives in Heuston at 08.30.

There is a new 05.55 Tuesday to Friday service, which arrives Heuston at 09.30.

The 07.20 direct service has been advanced to 07.00 and arrives in Dublin at 10.45.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Through the window of a Dublin bus

It was raining in Dublin today in the late afternoon.

On leaving my office I intended cycing home but the rain persuaded me to take the bus instead.

The Dublin Bus app is a modern-day magic.

Upstairs on the number 14 a past pupil spots me. He is studying law and French in Trinity. A nice fellow.

Two or three stops after he gets off the bus there is a loud bang. I look out the window and see a cyclist fall to the ground. A car had hit him and he was now writhing with pain on the ground. He may have been badly hurt.

Imagine it, two or three seconds earlier he was cycling away, probably coming from work and heading home to his family.

In seconds his world had changed, maybe for ever.

It seemed no one on the bus had seen it and certainly no one was interested, upset or concerned.

We are all seconds away from disaster. How fragile we are.

Had the rain not persuaded me to take the bus, where would I have been at that moment?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

We all get lost from time to time

The column below appears in this week's INM Irish regional newspapers.

By Michael Commane
A friend of mine worked on the PR side of Shane McEntee’s first and successful Dáil campaign in 2005. On the day that I learned of Mr McEntee’s death my friend said that Shane was the nicest and kindest Irish politician he had ever known.

At the graveside oration Taoiseach Enda Kenny looked visibly shaken and indeed I have heard from close associates of his that he is still shocked by Shane’s death.
Over the years I have known people who have taken their own lives. I remember just after priestly ordination working in Germany getting to know a wonderful young German Dominican sister. The following year I was told that she had died of a heart attack but I later learned that she had taken her own life. I have also known a number of priests, who have died by suicide – all terrible tragedies.

Last week actor Joe Pantaliano was in Dublin highlighting all that can be done for people who suffer depression and may be thinking of taking their own lives. “The reason I came out to talk about it was because I was angry with the stigma and discrimination attached to it all,” he said. Pantaliano told his audience in Dublin that he suffered in silence for over 50 years.

For most of us, the human mind is a mystery. We seldom if ever know what is going on in another person’s head. Do we ever know what is going on in our own?

Maybe it’s my DNA, maybe it’s my own inertia, maybe it’s my own sloth, but I very easily give in to moaning and groaning and bemoaning my lot. Only last week, driving from Kerry to Dublin, a woman said to me that my life is far better than I realise.

Before I say another word, of course I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist or any sort of therapist and people who suffer clinical depression need to attend experts for healing, advice and medication.

I imagine just like the rest of the human race, I get down, fed up, wonder why I ever took the path in life I chose. Just last week I woke up one morning asking myself what in God’s name was I doing being a priest. The day moved on and I got on with life, at least in my own tin pot way.

In the week after Christmas a family with whom I am friendly came to Dublin for the day, Mum, Dad, three girls and a boy. Children are aged 14, 12, 10 and nine. It was mainly a treat for the three older girls. They wanted to come to Dublin to go shopping in a newly opened store on Dame Street.

I called them sometime after lunch and we met for coffee in the St Stephen’s Green Centre. At that stage they were all sort of tired and shopping had not worked out as planned. Prices were high and in the end they really did not see anything that they wanted.

I arrived on my motor bike so the gear was a source of some fun for a few seconds, especially for the little nine-year-old boy.

They had a few hours to spare before the departure of their return train so I suggested we take a stroll in St Stephen’s Green. And we did that. They had never been in it before. It was something new for them.

I pointed out a few things of interest. I think we all found it a pleasant walk. And then just before we were leaving, the children spotted a brown squirrel. They ran over to it and then naturally it darted up a tree. The excitement it caused. Their mother turned to me and said: “You know that’s the highlight of the day”. We all laughed.

These children live in the country, see animals every day. They come to Dublin to see the bright lights and yet it is a squirrel darting about a tree that makes the day for them.

Of course we have to plan our lives. We have to get things done. There are important things to do.

But I wonder do we all get lost from time to time in a world about us that may not be as important as we think.

Young Scientist Exhibition is a success story

The piece below appears in this week's 'Ireland's Own'. The weekly magazine has a circulation of 50,000.

By Michael Commane
It’s not everyone who gets the chance to meet someone who has rubbed shoulders with George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Eamon de Valera, Richard Nixon, President John F Kennedy, Erskine Childers, Patrick Hillery, Sean Lemass, Pope John Paul II, Garret FitzGerald, Charlie Haughey, Todd Andrews, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly.

That was just my good fortune when I called on 90-year-old Niall Weldon (above) in his home in Rush, Co Dublin.

Ireland’s Young Scientist Exhibition will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2015. This year as a result of an initiative begun in NUI Maynooth, 100 schools in Tanzania took part in the country’s first Young Scientist Tanzania exhibition.
The idea for the Tanzanian project springs from Ireland’s successful Young Scientist Exhibition.

Concern Worldwide sponsored a prize at this year’s exhibition which was held in Dar-es-Salaam. The Concern prize was won by Pamba Secondary School in Mwanza. The prize is called the Concern Niall Weldon Award and this year’s prize was a laptop and a lab-in-the-bag, which is a kit of basic scientific tools to engage or interest young people in science.

Niall Weldon was chairman of the Aer Lingus Young Scientist Exhibition judging panel for 22 years.

Back in 1964 Carmelite priest Tom Burke, a physicist at UCD, visited a science fair in Albuquerque with Tony Scott. On their return to Ireland they looked for a sponsor for a similar exhibition in Ireland and the then Aer Lingus Chief Executive Jerry Dempsey obliged.

The first exhibition was held in Dublin’s Mansion House in 1965. There were 190 exhibits, and seven judges. It lasted three days and approximately 5,000 people attended. It was officially opened by the taoiseach of the day, Sean Lemass.

The success of the exhibition meant it needed a bigger home, Dr Tony Scott, a member of the Royal Dublin Society science committee facilitated its move to the RDS where it has remained to the present day. The 2013 exhibition, now sponsored by BT, will have 1,879 ideas entered from 4,189 students from 32 counties. In recent times over 37,000 attend the exhibition each year.

Although modest in its proportions and aspirations, the inaugural event was considered a worthwhile venture but questions were raised as to its ability to cope with the major scientific and technological developments then taking place nationally and internationally.

“Two important factors provided the exhibition with a sound starting base. Aer Lingus had a small team of highly efficient and dedicated personnel. Secondly we were able to call on the services of as many as fifty eminent scientists from a wide range of institutions to adjudicate on the hundreds of exhibits. These were drawn from universities, colleges, trade and commerce organisations, Government departments, health and hospital boards and a variety of other educational bodies. A point worthy of note here is that all the judges gave their services for free,” Niall recalls.

“Paddy Brennan, who was Company Secretary of Aer Lingus, was appointed chairman of the judging panels at the exhibition. In 1966 Paddy went to work with International Air Transport Association (IATA) and I was appointed Company Secretary and subsequently the job he did at the Young Scientist Exhibition fell to me. I did that job until 1988,” Niall explains.

Niall was born in 1922, attended Rush National School, O’Connell Schools and UCD where he graduated with Commerce and Public Administration degrees. Niall paid a high tribute to his maths teacher, Kit Carroll in O’Connell Schools, who taught him for the Leaving Cert.

“Everyone in our class got honours in maths due entirely to Kit’s teaching brilliance. He also taught Pat Kenny of RTE fame,” he says.
Niall’s late wife, Lily Shiels, was a maths teacher from Ballyboughal and shared first place with Charlie Haughey in her final B Comm. examination at UCD.
Niall’s first full time job was a senior clerkship position in the Turf Development Board, now known as Bord na Mona.

After four years in the Turf Board he joined Aer Lingus. His boss was Michael Dargan, who in later became CEO and later still Chairman of Aer Lingus.
Niall’s first promotion was to fill the post of Administrative Assistant to the London District Manager. He spent two years in London and it was while he was in London that he met Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw when deputising for the District Manager who was unable to be present.

“One evening there was a party at the nearby Tea Centre and Churchill had been invited to open it. My boss was sick so I was sent to the party. I was in a line of people and when Churchill heard I worked for Aer Lingus, he asked me if I knew Jack Kelly Rogers. At the time Kelly Rogers was deputy MD of the airline. He had been a sea plane pilot and had flown Churchill to the Yalta conference. I told Churchill I knew Kelly Rogers. I had never spoken to him in my life! I often think of that day. I was much taller than Churchill and was looking down on him when I told my fib.
“When I came back to Ireland I got to know Kelly Rogers and we became friends,” Niall tells me.

The Rush man spent 42 years working in Aer Lingus, retiring in 1988.
The late Patrick Lynch who served as Aer Lingus chairman between 1954 and 1975 suggested to Niall that he should write a book.

“The idea sounded daft as I had never written anything but Patrick prevailed on me. I wrote a draft and gave it to Terry Prone to read. She liked it and, believe it or not, ‘Pioneers in Flight’ sold out,” Niall proudly tells me.

Concern’s Chief Executive Tom Arnold expressed his delight that Niall was willing to allow Concern use his name in their sponsored prize in Tanzania.

Niall Weldon has spent his life developing ideas and fostering growth. He has played a pivotal role in the development and support of the Young Scientist Exhibition.

The nonagenarian is a man of great intelligence, who has used his wisdom and diligence in furthering the development of science and business for the betterment of peoples at home and abroad.

Niall remained as chairman of the judging panels at the Young Scientist Exhibition until his retirement from Aer Lingus. Today, in his 91st year he is keenly aware of the importance knowledge based industries play in the well-being of Ireland.
“The industries of the future and the industries that have a future are knowledge-based. To ensure our place in these industries, Ireland needs not only a grasp of science and technology, but also a planned programme to keep pace with world developments in these areas. The Aer Lingus Young Scientist Exhibition has been a trailblazer that has pointed the way forward for young Irish people.”

Monday, January 14, 2013

A few interesting anniversaries

2013 is the UNO World Water Year. It is the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Station in New York, the 200th birthday of Wagner and Verdi and the cassette recorder is 50 years old - if there are any still about.

Faster Irish Rail services

New rail timetable operative from January 20 will see trains running between Cork and Dublin in two hours 30 minutes. And the fastest trains between Tralee and Dublin will cover the journey in three hours 45 minutes.

Most trains from Cork to Dublin will depart at 20 past the hour.

Irish Rail has restored the 19.20 Cork Dublin service.

But no printed timetables. If you have old ones, hold on to them as they may become collectors' items.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hillary Clinton on girls and women

Before Christmas Hillary Clinton was in Dublin where she spoke at DCU.

Two paragraphs from her speech quoted below.

As the mother of a daughter, and as someone who believes strongly in the right of every person, male and female, to have the opportunity to live up to his or her God-given potential, it pains me so greatly when I travel to places around the world and am received almost as an exception to the rule, where the male leaders meet with me because I am the Secretary of State of the United States, overlooking the fact that I also happen to be a woman. We are on the right side of history in this struggle, but there will be many sacrifices and losses until we finally reach a point where daughters are valued as sons, where girls as educated as boys, where women are encouraged and permitted to make their contributions to their families, to their societies just as the men are.

We have also done a great deal of work to refocus our global health programmes so that we save the lives and improve the health of more women and girls. Health programmes, as you know, can be imbalanced, often in ways that are not obvious, but the result is women and girls don’t get the care they need when they need it, and many die unnecessarily. So our starting point must be this: Women’s lives matter. And promoting the human rights of women begins with saving the lives of women whenever we can.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Trials and tribulations at an ATM

The column below appears in this week's INM Irish regional newspapers.

By Michael Commane
Early in December there was a news report in the national newspapers about a new scam at Automatic Teller Machines.

A genuine customer would go to the ATM, place their card in the machine, request a sum of money, nothing happens and then out pops your card. As soon as the customer moves away from the machine the trickster comes to the machine and manages to remove the sum of money that the genuine customer had requested. The trickster had earlier placed some sort of device in the machine which prohibits money leaving the ATM.

The newspaper report, quoting the Garda, warned customers to remain at the machine and telephone their bank while still standing at the ATM.

That advice seemed clear and sensible

On Thursday, December 20 at 14.26 I went along to an ATM in Camden Street in Dublin. The machine was outside the bank and it was the branch’s machine. It is the bank where I have my account.

I was in somewhat of a rush and needed cash in my pocket. I took the usual precaution, covering the pad as I punched in my numbers. I requested €40. No money is spitted out but my card is returned to me. I immediately recall what I read in the newspaper and called the number, which is printed on the reverse side of my bank card.

I was nervous and certainly felt in a vulnerable position. The last thing I was going to do was move away from the machine. I asked the person with whom I was speaking if she would contact someone inside the branch and ask them if they would come out to assist me. My suggestions was dismissed and dismissed in the most patronising way possible. I explained to customer services on the telephone that I had read a report in the national press, which warned people not to leave the machine. Again I was dismissed. I spent over six minutes on the telephone, which cost me €1.72. I had no choice but to go into the bank and explain the situation, all the time worried that I was victim of a scam. A friendly and helpful member of staff explained to me that the machine was new and was causing teething problems. I did tell them about the story I had read in the newspaper and suggested that they should have some sort of notice on the machine screen explaining the situation. But not a word on the screen.

I was angry not because the machine had failed but because of the patronising and dismissive way I was treated by on the telephone by the bank.

Later that day I reported the incident to the bank. I was told I'd be contacted within five working days. It is now Friday, January 4 and so far I have received no call.

The bank is currently running a catchy advert on television. The ad alludes to the recent banking failures but assures viewers that it is rebuilding and making sure to take care of all their customers. It uses the words "commitment" and "guidance". And then it finishes with the words, "for small steps, for big steps, for life" on the screen while a voiceover speaks the words.

Well, let me assure you the last thing the bank did for me that day was offer me guidance or commitment.

It's the gap between that advert and the experience I had some days earlier that I find so annoying. And it is a phenomenon that exists right across our society at every level - the words of spoof and appearance and then the reality, which is something altogether different.

I have been a customer of the bank for many years. I have never been in dispute with them and generally they have treated me well. But I am finding more and more when contacting customer services of any of the facilities we use, it can be tedious and frustrating, indeed nightmarish.

And right now I'd expect the banks, above all, to be that little bit chastened and maybe even humble in their dealings with their customers.

Note. Yesterday, Monday, January 7 I received a letter from the bank informing me that they were looking into the matter. This piece had been sent to the newspaper long before I received the letter from the bank.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Unwise to dismiss the ordinary

Below is the Thinking Anew column in today's Irish Times.

By Michael Commane
For the next six months garda outriders will be guiding sleek black cars through Dublin's junctions. To the annoyance of some motorists these cars will be ushered through red lights on their way to EU meetings in Dublin Castle and Government Buildings.

The elected governments of the 27 European Union states and their officials
will be meeting in Dublin between now and June as Ireland takes on the role of presidency of the EU.

Dublin is the city where the talking will take place. Here democratically elected representatives of 502 million people will barter, hassle, argue, discuss and plan for the future.

We can never ever underestimate the privilege it is to be able to discuss,
talk and share ideas in a free and open environment. In spite of all the current hardship and recession we should count our blessings and appreciate our freedom and democracy.

The reality that people can express their ideas and beliefs in freedom is very precious. We can share our ideas and opinions knowing that there will never be a knock on our doors in the middle of the night to take us away to the secret police. It might well be easy to take it for granted but that freedom is something for which people have fought hard.

It's a long time since I was introduced to theology and philosophy and sadly
much of it has now evaporated out of my system through the passing of time.
But somewhere in the deep crevices of my head I can still recall learning something about the sensus communis. From what I can recall, it is the idea that in a free and open society there is a commonsense among the general public, that most people know what's right to do and know how best to deal with situations as they arise.

It's never a good idea to dismiss that “commonsense” that prevails among the
general public. And because of that it is important that governments and ruling authorities have the wisdom and foresight to keep a keen eye on what the “ordinary people” are thinking. That applies to state and church.

Watching Christmas Mass on television from St Peter's basilica in Rome I was
struck by the power and glory of it all. Liturgical ritual can be most inspiring and it's often said that no one does it better than the Catholic Church. It might well be true. Indeed all liturgies can be most inspiring.

Public prayer done well can help us on our life-long journey to the discovery of God.

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of The Lord - the making
manifest of God to the world. No, God does not turn up at the doors of the
high-ranking priests and scribes to announce his arrival. Instead ordinary
wise men make the discovery of his presence in the world.

"When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of
Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born." (Matthew 2: 3 - 4) And then later in a dream the wise men are told to avoid Herod and stay well away from him.

The Epiphany is the story of how God offers himself to all mankind.

Significantly he doesn't go along to any elite group. Instead he makes himself known to “ordinary people”. Surely that's a lesson for all people who are in positions of authority and influence. It might also be a hint to all of us never to underestimate the common good sense of the “ordinary

Might it be that the current economic crisis that rages world-wide is someway linked to a small self-appointed elite group believing that they 'knew best' and forgot to take account of the views and opinions of the “ordinary people”.

And is it possible to say the same in the domain of religion: ministers of religion pay far too little attention to the views and beliefs of ordinary good living, holy people? It's far too easy, almost a cliché, to say the “world” is all bad and “we” are right.

Of course in any healthy society there will always be tension between the various groups and factions. But tomorrow when we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of The Lord surely it is important to ask why God was made manifest in such a way? God chose the “ordinary people” over the elites.

The comings and goings in Dublin Castle and Government Buildings for the next six months are very important. Hopefully the elites going through all those red traffic lights will make wise judgements, which will work for the better of all peoples. Also important is our public prayer in such places as St Peter's and Canterbury. We need our governments, our priests too, but
there can never be a break between our public prayer and the lives of the “ordinary people". The Epiphany insists we link the two together.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New bus connections in Germany

As and from January 1, the bus market in Germany has been liberalised. It means regular bus services are now operating between all German cities, indeed one services is between Cologne and Latvia.

Fares are less than half railway tickets.

German Rail has a new serious competitor.

A railway without a timetable

Irish Rail has discontinued printing timetables. A bad decision.

Most regular rail passengers will know there is an hourly service between Dublin and Cork. But say someone wants to break their journey in Thurles and then stop at Mallow, how are they to know what trains stop at the intermediate stations?

Not all people have internet and certainly not everyone has a smart phone with internet connectivity.

One of the speical features of rail travel is linking smaller places to bigger towns.

Irish Rail made the decision to stop printing timetabes as a cost cutting exercise.

It would be interesting to do a costing of the purchase of their Spanish rolling stock which are hauled by GE locos. The unit was never to have been used as it is. The Spanariads originally designed those coaches to have power units at each end. It never happened.

And does anyone remember the silly curtains that disappeared after a month?

Platforms 10 and 11 at Heuston?

Empty trains that run between Limerick and Ballybrophy via Nenagh? A ghost train from Limerick Junction to Roslare Harbour?

Empty car park spaces?

How much did it cost to change the parking system at Heuston?

Will there be a word of protest from the travelling public?

Did the Transport Minister give his approval?

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