Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hybrid Vigour to improve the gene pool !

A big confident German Shepherd pulled its owner in the door of Kildare Vet Surgery yesterday. Tugging on his long lead this bushy muscular apparition ( the dog- not the owner) filled the reception area forcing two children and a terrapin onto a corner bench. While diplomatically making friends with this prospective patient I made more than the usual complementary remarks, namely that we dont see enough of the strong workmanlike, old-fashioned type of GSD any more. This character was big and broad, long-coated, a bold alpha dog, and the type you used to see on farms. Healthy enough to probably never need a Vet and strong enough to take a good kick from a bullock as all part of a days work. I grew up with a lovable GSD whose annual dip in the sheep tank was the closest to a preventative pet health plan we ever worried about in those days.

We are all too accustomed to seeing a smaller, thinner specimen of German Shepherd at Kildare Vet Surgery. A list of our frequent flyers at Kildare Vet would feature GSDs right at the top of the table. We dont give out air miles- but we do give good sympathetic discounts (!) and advise every new pedigree pup owner to take out insurance. The newer strain of GSD we see , certainly around this part of Ireland, suffer high incidence of a degenerative arthritis from a young age known as DOD which affects elbows, shoulders and hip joints. They develop irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, at the slightest divergence from recommended feeding habits. Then in older age if they have escaped these problems , will frequently present with Hip Dysplasia. I have a bit of that myself now- but my excuse is a youth spent falling off slow racehorses and a midlife crisis marathon running career. The sort of incidence of these problems I am recording greatly exceeds any expected average for any other dog sample group.

I am absolutely convinced that in-breeding of closely related dogs and bitches due to a relatively small breed population on a small island is the cause of this increasing incidence of congenital defects. The specimen of obvious rude health I began this piece with turned out to be out of an English GSD bitch and by a German dog. This owner had bought the pup, in fact, in Wales. The channel tunnel improved the movements of dog breeds. The Pet Passport scheme will also improve gene pools over time through mixing.

It is of course not just GSDs whose gene pool is now shown to be too small. I recently examined a shih tzu pup with a face only a mother could love. Its severely brachycephalic flattened nose rendered ths pup almost unable to breathe, while a markedly overshot jaw would over time affect eating habits and oral hygiene. This client was casually told that her new expensive pup was very " finely" bred, was related to show winners, and that mother and father were half-siblings. The mind boggles. I hope she took my advise, returned the pup and demanded her money back as that is obviously the only way to halt these breeding practices.

The principle of producing healthy hardy stock by out-crossing to new bloodlines is known as hybrid vigour. Nature invariably combines new gene pools to complement each other for survival by natural selection. This is why in every species opposites attract and stand out individuals score the chicks, fillies, birds as the case may be. Racehorse breeders who apply a science of sorts breed the best to the best- but know that better progeny result when the best stock out-cross.

If we go on safari a la Desmond Morris and reflect on the out-crossing of the Irish gene pool during the Celtic Garfield years of the last decade we will see that perhaps Ireland will soon benefit from a bit of hybrid vigour. In years to come I am sure many Polish, Latvian or Ukranian bred Offaly and Kildare Youngsters will take up the Caman. The Kerry defence may be shored up not by Paidi or Ciarans but by Radovan and Pietr. Ta an-athas orm an corann seo a glacadh as Prague agus Riga. We know many sons of the Laois and Leitrim soil who have brought home the lovely svelte and charming Katerina or the tanned and sultry Svetlana to meet mammy- grinning like the proverbial celtic cat that got the cream before sunday morning mass.

I have read notes from an eminent lecturer in the IMI again on the issues of Corporate Governance pertinent to the Irish Problem over the last decade. Internationally Ireland's corporate boards have been known as cronyistic, untrustworthy, typical of a very small village style financial sector. Investors and the markets have always been wary of Irish boards and relied on a heavy level of local knowledge in decision -making around investment. Difficulties historically are cited as an over-reliance on senior management judgements, lack of independent non-vested board members, lack of challenge at board level and a cavalier approach to regulations. These are symptomatic of parochial thinking, group-think consensual decision making, old-boy network appointees, all in a small country where events have precluded the need for tough ethical stances or lateral thinking until recent economic tsunamis have exposed the limitations of Irish public and corporate board governance.
Somewhere within the morass of FAS, our Banks , our public sector indecision, lies a salutary moral about the dangers of in-breeding and the urgent need for Hybrid Vigour!.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

14 reasons to vote YES

1. Ireland now will keep our Commissioner thanks to our NO vote last time. A new position of EU Foreign Affairs representative will be created within the Commission. Irelands influential role within the Commission can continue.
2.The Council of Ministers will now meet in Public and not in Private as is now the case. This will lead to greater accountability and transparency in the Council. All states including Ireland will retain a veto in matters of Tax and Defence. All other issues will be decided by Majority vote allowing more progress and less stalemate.
3.The EU Council will now have an elected full time President for a two and a half year term. Henry Kissinger once publicly asked " When I want to speak to Europe who do I call?" A full time President will give the EU one face, one voice and increase the EU's global credibility and authority.
4. The European Parliament after Lisbon will have new powers to overrule some of the EU Council's decisions and will now also have joint control over the division of the EU budget.
5. Each states National Parliament will have 8 weeks to examine new EU legislation. If one third of countries object to a bill it can be sent back to the EU parliament.
6. A citizens initiative clause in Lisbon will allow one million signatures to bring a bill before the EU Parliament. This will be a new form of grass roots engagement in the EU process.
7. The Lisbon Treaty sets down permanently the rules and process for a country to enter the EU.These conditions include, stable government, good human rights record, and respect for minorities.
8. Lisbon treaty lays out the full powers the ECB has in Europe over monetary policy. This will strengthen the future of the euro and the authority of the ECB. In the Ireland of 2009 , if we still had the punt and no ECB you and I would need the proverbial wheelbarrow of worthless punts to buy a loaf of bread. In effect we would be the Zimbabwe of Western Europe.
9. Lisbon outlines opt-out clauses for Taxation directives and Defence directives. These opt out clauses will benefit other small countries as well as safeguarding Irelands neutrality and our investor-friendly (low-corporation tax) fiscal policy.
10. A European Culture and Heritage Clause in Lisbon recognizes the influence of Judaeo-Christian tradition on EU laws and procedures. With Western Europes growing Islamic migrant populations, this clause will give legal security against the push for Sharia Law in some mixed-culture states.
11. The fundamental Charter of human rights will become the EU charter under Lisbon. This Charter will underpin future EU laws. The Charter places protections on the vulnerable and elderly and will become a moral yardstick within EU justice.
12. The Solidarity Clause outlines the possible setting up of a European Defence Agency. This will it is hoped be a European peace -keeping force with teeth. An army of sorts with the power to intervene in a future Srebrenica and provide mutual member state military assistance. In this clause, our Neutrality allows us an opt-out.
13. The Enhanced Cooperation Clause of the Lisbon Treay discusses cooperation between states on the issues of Climate change and energy needs, amongst other areas of common interest. Environmental concerns are placed at the heart of the EU for the first time.
14. The Guarantees obtained by the Irish since Lisbon 1 are an example of nuanced and clever Irish foreign relations. The reaction abroad to another NO vote will be a shrug of the shoulders by both Eurocrats and our US multi-national tenants. The watching waiting world will not again take the time to revisit our concerns.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lisbon treaty Summary

Discussions surrounding the pros and cons of the Lisbon treaty have failed thus far to view the Treaty as a whole or even as a sum of parts. Instead what we have read and heard has tended to be debate by interest groups concerned with aspects of the Treaty. Worse still Lobby groups have argued points that arent even in the Treaty ; from the minimum wage red-herring on the No side to the scaremongering of dire consequences on both sides. Here follows a synopsis of the Treaty's key clauses both to demystify the jargon and to debunk the fear-mongers.

The Treaty can be divided into two halves with the first half dealing with proposed changes to EU Governance, the way they do things, and the second half dealing with EU policy and activity changes. There are some six or seven fundamental changes in each half. The first half;

1. The Commission. A new position of EU Representative of foreign affairs will be created. The proposed drop from 27 Commissioners to 18 is now replaced by an assurance that each state keeps a Commissioner. Thanks due to the Irish for that welcome concession. The Commission's main role is to propose policy and law.

2. The Council of Ministers will meet in Public and not in private as they currently do. They will vote by Qualified Voting Majority and no longer by the system of unanimity / veto. The majority required will be a total weighted 55% majority. The Veto rule will continue for Defence and Taxation issues. The Council of Ministers make final decisions on Legislation, but now underLisbon will engage in greater consultation with the European Parliament.

3. The EU Council. This is the Council of the Heads of each Government. There will now be an elected President ( elected by the EU Council itself) for two and a half years which will be a full time position. The EU Council's role is to give " political direction" to the EU.

4. The European Parliament is given more powers under Lisbon. The Parliament will now have equal voting status on some legislation as the Council of Ministers.The Parliament will have new power to elect the Commission President. The Parliament has new increased powers to make legislative decisions in the areas of Asylum, Agriculture, Emigration and the EU Budget.

5. National Parliaments. Each country's own National Parliament has eight weeks to examine new legislation from the EU and if one third of countries object an EU bill can be sent back for review.

6. A Citizens initiative clause in Lisbon allows one million citizen signatories to bring forward a bill to the European Parliament for discussion in the Parliament .

7. The procedure and rules for countries gaining membership to the EU is outlined in a joining clause. Interestingly there is now also a process outlined for a country to leave the EU.

The second half of the Treaty outlining proposed changes to policy and activity deals with areas of competence ( the EUs powers in part or in full) and lists exclusive competences, joint member state and EU competences, and member state exclusive competences.

1. The Eu has exclusive competence ( full legislative power) in the internal market (free trade) and monetary policy in the eurozone ( the ECB).The Eu has exclusive competence in Customs law, Competition law and conservation in the seas.
The Eu has joint competence with each member state in social policy, environment, energy, transport and public health.
Member states have exclusive competence over human healthcare, culture, tourism, policing, sport,education,industry.

2. The Opt-out clause. Member states can opt out of EU taxation directives and do their own thing on tax or fiscal policy. EU Defence directives can be opted out of if they conflict with country policy-such as Irelands neutrality. Directives affecting common foreign and security interests must be unanimously accepted- in effect every country retains a right to veto on these issues.

3. The European culture and heritage clause. A paragraph outlines the influence that religion and history has on European law. In effect Judaeo-Christian traditions inform EU policy. Perhaps a safegaurd against Sharia law's claims for legitimacy in future Eastern accession states.

4. The fundamental charter of human rights is given equal legal status in the Treaty as the Treaty itself. It will be now known as the EU charter, will underpin future EU law and be a yardstick to test existing law. The charter gives specific protections to the young and the elderly.

5.The Solidarity clause. Member states are required to assist each other against terrorism, aggression, man-made disaster, natural disaster. This mutual assistance must not conflict with a country's NATO membership or a country's Neutrality. Each member state can decide to participate in a European Defence Agency- or not in our case as Neutrality is expressly protected. Conflict prevention and peace-keeping are mentioned. A formalised military grouping within the EU to lead defence policy and with the power to prevent a future Srebrenica.

6. Enhanced Cooperation clause. Nine or more EU states can now follow procedures of common policy if they agree to on any issue. This provides a means to work together on climate change and energy needs and is the first time the climate crisis is part of an EU treaty. This clause is said also to encourage improved policing with cross-border follow-up on human trafficking and drugs trade.
Dr Garret Fitzgerald stated in his Irish Times article recently that Irelands negotiation of Lisbon Two's Irish Guarantees is the latest example to be added to our record of considerable Irish successes in Foreign Policy.
Simply , the guarantees are; A. We will retain a Commissioner.
B. A Guarantee that we will continue to look after our own Tax.
C.The protections in our constitution on life, education, and the family have precedence over EU treaty or law.
D. Irelands position on Neutrality is safegaurded by a triple -lock system of Veto.
E. Workers rights and social issues are solemnly declared to be protected within Lisbon by the provisions of the EU charter.
On the day the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by all states a new treaty will enforce the provisions of these guarantees. My view is that we should trust the Guarantees as plainly no other small country will ever trust the institutions of the EU if Irelands assurances are not delivered as promised.
There is much to fear in the Treaty in the use of phrases like Solidarity and European Defence Agency but also much to welcome in the EU charter and the conditions for future accession. Conditions such as stable rule of law, protection of human rights and minorities.
The European union is the most successful example of multi-lateralism in the history of the world. Such success requires compromise of the type larger states made to begin with when accepting the membership application of a wet and backward former colony on the outer edge of the Atlantic sea all those years ago.

Friday, September 4, 2009

YES... To keep our commissioner.

Ireland's electorate will vote to ratify or reject once more an unchanged Lisbon Treaty on October 2nd. The easiest choice will be taken by those who abstain. Voters against this treaty make a choice to risk alienating the monetary mandarins of the ECB and unnerving the international direct investment that our vulnerable and leaky economy depends on. Those who vote Yes choose to trust that a place at the european table secures an audience for Irish concerns and to trust in further immersion in a European experiment which emerged from the wreckage of two world wars. Last year when the Irish Voters faced this choice about the nature of our future relationship with Europe the majority asserted a right to say No, a right to better assurances, a right to understand what this Treaty will mean and will change.
So it is then that we vote on an unchanged Treaty, but one now with assurances attached. Perhaps the most important of which for a small nation with a lowly weighted voting right, will be the right to retain a Commissioner. In this issue alone the NO lobby , like Othello, have done this state some service. David Cochrane, journalist, on has pointed out that this alone suggests a single salient sound bite that the Yes side can win on; YES- to keep our commissioner.
It is overwhelmingly important for anyone in business, anyone with a stake in the free market, whether an employee or a shareholder to understand that ratifying Lisbon is integral to economic recovery by its strengthening of the status of the ECB and the unity of the eurozone's import-export channels. To those fearful of the free market's big business agenda I can give reassurance that the counter-balance of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, now to be the EU Charter will now have full Legal status in EU Law without affecting any articles in the Irish Constitution. This charter for the first time makes legal the civil, political, economic and social rights recognised by the EU. In fact this EU Charter, if Lisbon be ratified, should make managers, HR departments and judiciary alike more wary of due process- and probably will provide the Trade Union movement with a renewed relevance.