Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chamber Philharmonic Europe comes to Dublin and a large number of regional venues

I am absolutely delighted to be able to announce the return to Ireland of the Chamber Philharmonic Europe orchestra. I heard their concert in Dublin last year and it was wonderful - all the better for being performed in St. Ann's Church, Dawson Street with its emotive, historic ambiance and its excellent acoustics. They'll be in Dublin on two evenings, Fri May 6th and Sat May 22nd. Don't miss them!

Concert details:

Click here for Ticketmaster booking for the Dublin Concert on Friday 6th May and Saturday 22nd. May at 8:00 PM.
Tickets in all cases are €18 Adults and €15 seniors, unwaged, students and children.

Tickets will also be available at the door for all venues on the night.

Chamber Philharmonic Europe - Powerful Emotions Tour 2011

The Chamber Philharmonic Europe orchestra is revisiting Ireland along with the award-winning soloists Pawel Zuzanski (Violin) and Kirill Gusarov (Trumpet). You can enjoy an evening of versatile sounds and complex emotions with selected works of J. S. Bach, A. Vivaldi, J. N. Hummel, E. Grieg and G. Faure.

Tour dates May 2011:

4th May 2011 - 8 pm, Friars Gate Theatre Kilmallock Phone: 063 98727
5th May 2011 – 8 pm, Waterford Christ Church Cathedral Phone: 051 858 958
6th May 2011 – 8 pm, Dublin St. Anne's Church Dawson St. Ticketmaster
7th May 2011 – 8 pm, Bray Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Centre Phone: 01 272 4030
8th May 2011 - 8 pm, Naas The Moat Theatre Phone: 045 883030
9th May 2011 - 8 pm, Kilworth Village Arts Centre. Phone: +353 25 27109
10th May 2011 - 8 pm, Thurles The Source Arts Centre Thurles Phone: +353 (0) 504 90340
11th May 2011 – 8 pm, Kenmare Carnegie Arts Centre Phone: 064 6648701
12th May 2011 – 8 pm, Nenagh Arts Centre Phone: 067 34900
13th May 2011 – 8 pm, Carlow The George Bernard Shaw Theatre Phone: 059 917 2400
14th May 2011 – 8 pm, Omagh Strule Arts Centre Phone: 028 8224 7831
15th May 2011- 8 pm, Armagh St Patrick's Cathedral Phone: 028 37527359
17th May 2011 – 8 pm, Listowel St. Johns Theatre and Arts Centre Tel: 068 22566
18th May 2011 - 8 pm, Macroom The Briery Gap Cultural Centre Phone: 026 41793
19th May2011 – 8 pm, Ballina Arts Centre Phone: +353 96 73593
20th May 2011 – 8 pm, Londonderry Waterside Theatre Phone: 02871 31 4000
21st May 2011 – 8 pm, Galway Town Hall Theatre Phone: 091 569777
22nd – 8 pm, Dublin St. Anne's Church Dawson St. Ticketmaster

Tickets in all cases are €18 Adults and €15 seniors, unwaged, students and children. Tickets for the DUBLIN concerts can be booked here on Ticketmaster. In all other cases tickets can be obtained from the venue.

The Chamber Philharmonic Europe is a private orchestra initiative founded 2006 in Cologne/Germany, which engages musicians to create a demanding artistic ensemble. It employs over 60 talented professional musicians from 18 nations, a compilation of years of experience on international stages. Since its inception, the Chamber Philharmonic Europe has been built upon a broad range of professional experience. Our musicians have performed in many reputed concert halls and opera houses, including:

Théatre des Bouffes-Parisiens, Paris
De Munt Opera, Brussels
Koninklijk Theater Carré,
Amsterdam Grand Théatre de la Ville,
Luxemburg Konzerthaus, Berlin

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

“Unique opportunity exists to transform our country”


During the second half of 1996 and throughout 1997 Garret FitzGerald was arguing in his columns in The Irish Times that the economic future for Ireland was going to be one of spectacular growth, due mainly to the reversal of our dependency ratio - the proportion of the population that did not work or pay tax, such as children, retirees and so forth, relative to those who did both of those things - coupled with the then rising global economy. If Morgan Kelly was the prophet of the bursting of the property bubble then Garret, although his writings are not always for the numerically challenged, was the forecaster of the economic conditions that would facilitate its beginning. On Saturday 13th. April 1996, exactly 15 years ago on this day, the prescient headline on Dr. FitzGerald’s piece read: “Unique opportunity exists to transform our country”.

Well, of course, the country has been transformed. However, the old Chinese proverb that warns one to be careful of what one wishes for is immediately brought to mind. We flew high but, like Icarus, went too close to the sun. God be with the days when our Minister for Finance, a certain Brian, of the Cowen clan, could be envied by his counterparts from all the countries in the developed world as the finance minister whose economy effectively ran itself and for which the only way was up. As late as 2009 Eurostat, the European Commission body with responsibility for statistics, ranked Ireland’s per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as second only to Luxemburg. In other words we were, on average and on paper at least, richer than The Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, the UK or Germany. Two years later we’re dependent on the transfer of funds from these countries, both collectively and individually, in order to be able to pay the salaries of our teachers, gardai, civil servants and all others in the public service, not to mention expenses for our senators and Dail deputies.

It was good while it lasted, though. Anybody who read a paper or watched TV at the height of the boom could not but be impressed with the way our image was presented abroad. No sooner was a senior Irish business person or politician retired than he or she was off on the lecture circuit to explain to everybody else how it should be done. That this earned significant fee income which might be used to top up your pension fund without raising your tax bill, thanks to the thoughtfulness of a previous Minister for Finance, was just an added bonus.

Now it’s changed, and changed utterly. We have attracted the attention of the debunking cohort of international journalism, such as Mr. Michael Lewis, a writer for Vanity Fair magazine whose claim to fame revolves around his authorship of the controversial book (admittedly the best kind) called “Liar’s Poker”, detailing his time with Salomon Brothers, the scandal riven Wall Street investment bank which eventually became part of Citigroup.

Mr. Lewis has produced a significant piece for the current issue of Vanity Fair, describing the outcome of a visit to Ireland to report on our travails, called “When Irish Eyes Are Crying”. As can be imagined from the title, it’s written for US consumption. While it is a fair account of how the drama unfolded, Mr. Lewis cannot resist references to fairy forts, apparent incessant rain and a theory, presumably his own, of how the lowering of our dependency ratio coincided with the lifting of the ban on condoms and other methods of contraception. The aforementioned Morgan Kelly comes very well out of the article, as is his entitlement. All the familiar actors are also there, such as David McWilliams, Patrick Neary, Seanie Fitz, Bertie, Brian Lenihan - complete with garlic chewing anecdote during his nocturnal visit to meet with McWillaims - and Joan Burton with a typical, acerbic witticism:

“Do you know that Irish people are now experts on bonds?” says Burton. “Yes, they now say 100 basis points rather than 1 percent! They have developed a new vocabulary!”

The gentleman who threw the eggs during the AIB Annual General Meeting in 2009, Gary Keogh, is there, as is Joe McNamara, who drove his concrete mixer truck into the gates of Leinster House. All in all, Michael Lewis manages to press all the buttons.

So where, apart from dealing with the other side of the international press treatment, does Ireland go from here? Undoubtedly, we have to manage our way out of the crisis, and for that we should be open to the assistance of our European friends, among others. And there have been benefits, such as in the form of road and rail infrastructure, which is not to be minimised. These developments will stand us in good stead as the global economy improves and as the excellent IDA Ireland continues its sterling work among the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) global community. It is a pity, and a real shame, of the sort that comes along from time to time to remind us that we can be prone to both hubris and hypocrisy, that more was not spent on all levels of education when we had the wherewithal to do so.

And we might pay more attention to our academics, especially when they crunch the numbers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Garda own goal in County Mayo

A group of gardai (Irish police), including a sergeant, has been recorded joking about threatening to rape women protesters who refuse to comply with a request for identification. This is a shocking revelation even if they seem to be, relatively at least, callow youths, and even considering that police the world over are known to develop a callousness which comes of regularly dealing with situations that the rest of us would regard as the stuff of nightmares.

The incident occured when Gardai arrested two women who attempted to disrupt work at the Shell terminal near Belmullet, Co. Mayo. One of the protesters was using a video camera at the time.

The camera was apparently put into a bag, having been confiscated but inadvertently left running, unknown to the occupants of the garda patrol car in which it was being transported. The recording, which your blogger has heard, gives an interesting insight into the day-to-day concerns of the garda-on-the-beat, so to speak.

The first people to be heard are the protesters, who are there to obstruct the construction of a gas terminal by Shell. They’re claiming they did nothing wrong but, of course, refusal to identify yourself when asked to do so by police in any jurisdiction is an offence and therefore does constitute “doing something wrong”.

The recording, in total, takes well over half an hour (38.5 minutes). There are discussions about the concerns the lads have around what constitutes a road obstruction, how they would fare in court if a protester was injured while being taken down from a lorry or a tractor, the anxiety that Health and Safety legislation invokes in all who have to implement it and, touchingly, umbrage at being characterised as Keystone Cops, presumably by a protester. Thirty minutes into the tape they’re still discussing the advisability of acquiring bean bags. These are used in the construction and other industries to protect workers who might be in danger of falling from heights.

Listening to the comments about the possibility that one of the arrested was “a Yank” reminded me of the scene in that fantastic movie, The Graduate, where Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin, is asked by his Berkeley landlord, played superbly by the late Norman Fell, if he’s “ of those agitators – those outside agitators”. Readers of a certain age will of course remember that the University of California at Berkeley was a hotbed of student protest in the ‘Sixties, when The Graduate was made.

There is liberal use of the F word which, these days, is an inevitable consequence of listening in to a group of young (and not so young) men who do not know they are being recorded. Certain comforts can be taken from the tape. One is the degree to which the speakers are concerned about proper procedure. Something is motivating them well in this regard, which is good. A major downer is the reminder of how the protest against the Shell gas terminal and its policing in Belmullet have created a “them and us”, confrontational situation between certain members of the community and the gardai, reflected here in the title of this piece. This is not good.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Forum on Irish primary education system

Letters page, Irish Times, March 17th 2011:

Madam, – The establishment of a forum on school patronage by the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, is to be welcomed (March 12th).

However, even before it starts, it is disquieting to read that the Minister feels it necessary to deny that the Labour Party has a secular agenda. We must reject the historical mental conditioning that has created the notion that a secular society is in some way an illegitimate aspiration.

A secular State school system, where parents are free to give their children the religious ideas they wish in their homes and in their places of worship, without impinging on the justifiable wishes of those who do not want their children exposed to dogma that is presented as irrefutable fact, is very much to be desired.

A secular agenda is not an atheistic agenda. It simply makes room in the spectrum of belief for those who have no religion. It is nothing short of intolerance that this has not been the case in our State-funded primary schools up to the present time.

The forum on school patronage should have, high up in its terms of reference, the possibility of getting rid of the patronage system altogether and ensuring that our schools are placed directly under the control of the Department of Education. This is what, after a great deal of anguish, we are moving towards in relation to our health system and its supervising government department. –

Yours, etc,

SEAMUS McKENNA, Farrenboley Park, Windy Arbour, Dublin 14

Friday, April 1, 2011

The charity that excels as a fund manager

I’ve just received the Wellcome Trust annual review for 2010. It makes good reading. It also offers an important insight into the activities of a large philanthropic organisation.

Money talks, of course, and the Wellcome Trust has lots of it. It was founded after the death of Henry Wellcome, the driving force behind the growth of a multi-national pharmaceutical company which initially bore his name but which has since been absorbed into the giant pharma multinational, GlaxoSmithKline. Mr. Wellcome bequeathed the means to establish the trust in his will. It funds biomedical research. It makes money available for such things as seeking a cure for cancer, understanding Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and motor neuron disease, sequencing the human genome, and the impacts of climate change on human health. Most importantly, it also has, as a core activity, efforts aimed at the public understanding of science. This means that one does not have to be a research fellow to benefit from the Wellcome Trust – it makes high-quality educational material available free to any member of the public that requests it. Teachers can order educational packs which include both teacher and pupil instructional resources. All this can be done online at

Up to recently the main focus of its activities has been in the UK. However, last September (2010) the trust announced that it had formed a biomedical research partnership with Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board of Ireland.

Apart from the research it is involved in at present, which is detailed in the annual review and which can be downloaded here, one of the most interesting aspects of the Wellcome Trust is the way it has maintained the flow of funding that allows it to carry out its activities. The review says:

"Over the past 25 years we have been able to increase the nominal value of our charitable expenditure from £20 million a year to more than £600 million a year because our financial investments over the period have given a return of more than 2700 per cent.

At 30 September 2010, our investments were valued at £13.91 billion. Over the year, we enjoyed a return of 11 per cent, equivalent to £1.45 bn, as returns recovered to an all-time high despite the financial crisis".

The cumulative net returns on its portfolio since 1986 relative to inflation (CPI +6%) and the MSCI stock market index of 1500 global stocks, from 24 countries of the developed world, are as shown on the graph above, which is also from the annual review.

All told this is an impressive performance, particularly in the light of the recent meltdown in various economies around the world. The Wellcome Trust seems to be an excellent fund manager as well as being a funding powerhouse for scientific research.

The Wellcome Trust is not without its critics nor, indeed, should it be above criticism. One Brian Deer, an investigative journalist working for the Sunday Times, carried out a study of the background of Henry Wellcome himself, the company he founded and the links between the pharma industry and the Wellcome Trust. At one stage he suggested that practitioners who aspired to carrying out research and who were in a position to promote the Wellcome company’s products, did so with at least an implicit understanding that they would be funded by the trust. Mr. Deer’s writings, with links to relevant articles, are to be found here.