Local News

Leaving Cert offers us lessons in economics

By Brian Lucey

With the Leaving Cert results out, and students awaiting CAO offers, we might wish to consider again some of the problems of the second-level system, and in particular how basic economic principles can help us towards a solution.

We have a well-educated population. The OECD education statistics tell us that 37.7% of the population have tertiary education, compared with 31% for the OECD on average.

For secondary education, this is reversed, with Ireland at 35%, but rising consistently vs the OECD average of 44%. We have, in effect, a two-tier labour market — a younger population with a higher education attainment than an older. This is clear if we look at the age cohorts — educational attainment drops as we move into older age cohorts and we drop behind the average.

However, the high level of educational skills should not be taken for granted. Looking at the data, we see that in 2010, we reached a peak. The percentage dropped in 2011. With a three-year lag, that gets us to the Leaving Cert of 2008, and a two-three year lag back from the Leaving Cert class of 2008 gets us to the height of the bubble.

Looking at these 2003 and 2004 school-entry cohorts, we see a drop in the percentage of male students sitting even the Junior Cert. This is the first economics lesson — students can be incentivised to leave school and forgo long-term benefits for the sake of short-term cash. We have bonus points for Leaving Cert subjects — how about bonus cash for school completion for some cohorts?


Then we have the bonus points. To the surprise of exactly nobody, the decision to revert to a CAO points bonus for Leaving Certificate higher mathematics has induced more students to take it. Economics 101 would however make some other predictions.

Incentives have to be calibrated to the effort required to achieve them. As things stand, we have a single bonus — 25 points for D or above. Not surprisingly, the percentage of those sitting higher maths and failing it has increased — it is “worth a try” for the marginal student as a 25-point boost can be enormous.

There is, or should be, an enormous difference in effort required to go from a D to an A in any subject, particularly honours-level mathematics. So why do we not recognise that and give a calibrated reward to recognise the calibrated effort. A second economics lesson would be to have higher bonuses for higher grades to reflect this.

This raises the other vexed issue of effort. Students are not stupid. They place effort where it is most likely to be rewarded — basic economic logic. Given a choice, why would anyone take Art (1% of 2013 higher-level students get an A1) over Russian (66%)? Why would one take Business (3.9%) over Accounting (9.2%)? Such anomalies abound.

An interesting experiment was carried in Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where a grade anchoring system was put in place. This in effect mandated that the average grades across all introductory courses be equalised. The effect was to change choice, as we would expect. It reduced the prevalence of higher grades in “generous” courses and more importantly, switched student enrolment away from these to other courses.

We see in the higher Leaving Cert that the median grade hovers around C1/B3 for most courses but for some it can be the A1 and for others C2. These translate to significant differences in points. So the third economic lesson is to reduce perverse incentives if they already exist in course choice. The Leaving Cert results discussion was dominated by the maths discussion. That in turn was dominated by the effect that it would have on both CAO higher education points and the benefits to the economy. This is utterly perverse.

In 1976, the CAO points system was introduced as a clean, transparent, incorruptible way of assigning courses to students for university. In 1976, we had less than 3% of the total education cohort in universities, and so the impact of the CAO points system was on a very small number and proportion of persons.

We now have 15% of the total cohort in the CAO ‘space’, so it is much more impactful. The CAO points system is like the ECB. It does its job magnificently well. The problem is that like the ECB, its mandate is limited. Points are a price. The more people want a course, the more expensive it is. The ESRI has shown in stark terms, the effects of the points race on the secondary school experience, and it is very negative.

So, the fourth and fifth economics lessons for the Leaving Cert are as follows: The fourth is to increase the supply at university. This does not mean that we increase the number of places. University now, whether we like it or not, is a generalised education. So we should move towards the Melbourne model with a few, large entry courses in the lower years and allow students to specialise later.

The fifth is to increase the “purchasing power” of students, to engage in “quantitative CAO point easing” as it were. Right now, we reward only one domain of intelligence. What we should do is expand the range of skills for which points can be awarded, and so long as this is done at the same time as we expand the base of entry, we won’t see a problem with point inflation.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

UKIP by Huffington Post

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Danny McConnell and the Herald

In the Herald, Danny insinuates that I am not a professor – ask UU! Interestingly, Danny takes me to task on the issue of “Tossers”.

How would Danny react if a person who is fulltime on the Senate expense roll claims that councillors get €60 K in expenses and later reduced the figure under pressure to the €20s and maybe a bit lower then. Christy Burke was very annoyed at the persistent misrepresentation.

The facts are so easily checked.  All income from the council is published.    Either this is ignorance or wilful distortion and propaganda. Either way “tosser” is an nice epithet.

How can a person living on a Senator’s expenses claim to be the “no expenses” candidate? Embarassing if it is taken seriously!

Ballymun Kickhams apply pressure.

Dear Local Election candidates,


Ballymun Kickhams are currently studying the feasibility of a massive project which we feel will bring immense rewards to the community of Ballymun. We are looking to build a new home close to the heart of Ballymun. As you may be aware our home ground is currently up beside the airport and this hampers our main focus of getting children involved in the club. We are currently looking at land nearer Ballymun and have been in talks with Dublin City council about the land on the Ballymun Road, opposite the Topaz garage, known locally as the seven pitches. Our new home will not just be some pitches and a clubhouse, but a state of the art centre of excellence which will benefit the whole community young and old. We are looking to see if all candidates will sign the below pre-election pledge to help Ballymun Kickhams. This pledge has been sent to our members and we have asked them to be aware of the local elections and to discuss the project with all candidates they meet out canvassing.


Next week we hope to link our facebook page with those who have signed the pledge to allow our members see who is supporting the club. Our members come from mostly Ballymun, Ballygall, Finglas so we will have votes in both Ballymun and Finglas / Cabra.


I look forward to hearing from you and would be obliged if you confirm your support or otherwise to me by e mail.



“As a candidate in forthcoming local elections, I pledge to support the disposal of the ‘seven pitches’ site to Ballymun Kickhams CLG and to support any change in zoning which is required to facilitate a new home for the club and a great community facility for Ballymun.”








Dear Mr McMahon,
This issue was discussed at the last Northwest Area Committee before Easter. The area management staff stated that there was insufficient space to give two contiguous full sized GAA pitches to the Ballymun KIckhams Club within Ballymun estate. Any proposal such as yours will require a special meeting of the councillors, staff and the club to discuss the details and initiate any agreement.
To date, I am unaware of any public representative opposing or blocking the change of site of the KIckhams club. However, pledging to support a proposition which has not been discussed in detail with all  interested parties and with the Planning Department of the City Council is unlikely to result in honesty of intention especially as disingenuity is the order of the day during elections. Economy with the truth a an unfortunate failing of many politicians as Robert Armstrong famously opined. Do you think that those signatories of the above pledge will deliver what may not be in their power to deliver?  Rezoning of land is a fraught business and is taken very seriously at the City Council.
In this vicinity of Dublin, we are lucky to have an outstanding GAA infrastructure with Ballymun Kickhams, Na Fianna, Setanta, Whitehall Colmcille and Erin’s Isle. I have to declare an interest.  My family is associated with Na Fianna and I am grateful for what the club did for my children and I have supported Setanta in delivering hurling to the kids in Ballymun.
In the political sphere, personally, I have fought to preserve the pitch in Hampstead Park for GAA and also to get a small sided pitch for Erin’s Isle in Tolka Valley. The obligation to be fair to everyone is important.
If elected I will meet the club officers, Council officials, TDs and other representatives to agree the best way forward for Ballymun Kickhams. I can make that pledge but anything else would be a deviation from the truth. I don’t do that even to trick people for votes. Integrity is important to me.
Best Regards
Bill Tormey

Better news on the Finance front

Tax revenues up, spending down, new figures show  Howlin and Noonan say returns in line with improvement in the domestic economy

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said tax performance for the first three months was ‘in line with expectations’.   Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said tax performance for the first three months was ‘in line with expectations’. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times
Ciara Kenny, Stephen Collins

First published: Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 17:20

The public finances continue to improve, with tax revenues increasing and public expenditure on target, new figures show.

Tax revenues for the first quarter rose 4.7 per cent or €415 million year-on-year to €9.232 billion, according to the latest Exchequer returns, in line with Department of Finance targets.

Net voted expenditure was down 5.8 per cent to €10.264 billion compared to the first three months of 2013.

The Exchequer deficit at the end of the quarter stood at €2.316 billion, an improvement of €1.379 billion on the same time last year.

Commenting on the returns in a joint statement this afternoon, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said the figures represent “a solid start to the year”.

“In line with the improvement in the domestic economy, the reduction in the live register and the increase in employment levels, tax revenues are growing and expenditure on public services is within budget,” they said.

The Government is committed to reducing the deficit to below 3 per cent by 2015, they added.

Mr Noonan said tax performance for the first three months was “in line with expectations”.

Vat revenue increased by 6.4 per cent or €210 million year on year, while excise duties rose 11. 5 per cent, “reflecting improvements in the domestic economy, retail sales and consumer confidence”, he said.

Income tax receipts were up €129 million, or 3.5 per cent, as a result of “strong employment growth”.

“Finally, and as profiled, we are starting to see the impact of strong employment growth feeding through into income tax receipts,” he added.

Local property tax receipts of €214 million were collected in the first three months of the year, while capital gains tax was up €28 million or 40.9 per cent to €98 million in the period.

Mr Howlin said public spending was being well managed by Departments in accordance with levels agreed by Government in the budget.

“It is, however, early in the year and the Government is aware of the continuing need to keep overall expenditure on profile,” he said.

Mick Clifford on the ratcheting of Martin Callinan

Sour smell of scandal lingers as Shatter squirms free of chopping block

The smell that these Garda scandals have been giving off has turned sour. Alan Shatter and Enda Kenny must answer all the tough questions more than satisfactorily, writes Michael Clifford

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Alan Shatter: The justice minister finally said sorry to the whistleblowers. ‘I believe it is appropriate that I apologise to both and withdraw the statements made.’ Picture: RTÉ

THERE, that wasn’t too hard now, was it? The Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, stood up in the Dáil yesterday at 4.20pm and apologised for blackguarding the two garda whistleblowers. It would be difficult to believe that he meant a word of it, but issuing empty platitudes was a small price to pay for holding onto his job. Now that he’s got over that little personal crisis, we can all turn to what is emerging as a really serious question.
Did Enda Kenny fire the Garda commissioner in order to save Shatter’s bacon? These controversies which have been raging for over two months are finding a rhythm. Some new nugget of information comes to light, sending everybody into a tizzie. Then Shatter comes into one of the forums of the Oireachtas and patiently explains to the mere mortals how they’ve all got it wrong and how he has acted with probity and efficiency at every turn.

So it was yesterday, except in this phase of the controversies, he was required to make two speeches instead of one in a single day.

The apology to the whistleblowers was important because he retracted an attack made under privilege on the two men concerned, Sergeant Maurice McCabe and former garda John Wilson. On October 1, Shatter had told the Dáil the men did not co-operate with an internal garda inquiry into the penalty points controversy. The statement portrayed the pair as individuals who would complain about the system but then refrain from helping sort it out.

This issue was first reported in the Irish Examiner in early January. Since it mushroomed as a contentious point in the last month, Shatter’s party and cabinet colleagues backed up his position. A number of them, most prominently the party chairman Charlie Flanagan, pushed the notion that Shatter had been correct in his use of words. The two men weren’t interviewed by the O’Mahoney investigation; therefore, they didn’t co-operate, Charlie and the naysayers kept repeating. The reality was that O’Mahoney never contacted the men, a standard procedure in any police inquiry since Robert Peel first donned a uniform.

All of this palaver was merely politics at play. What matter the reputation of two men who had done service by pointing out malpractice? The main thing was to back up their colleague Shatter, whether he was right or wrong.

The speech delivered yesterday afternoon changed all that. Under mounting pressure, the source of which had spread to his cabinet colleagues, Shatter finally admitted he had got it wrong and had misled the House. Now all those minions who came out to bat for Shatter look more than a little silly, to put it at its mildest.

“I want to say very clearly that, having examined the facts and further considered the matter, I believe more should have been done during the course of the O’Mahoney investigation to obtain information from and ascertain the views and experiences of the whistleblowers,” he said.

“I therefore wish to correct the record of this House that the whistleblowers ‘did not co-operate with the Garda investigation that took place’. I acknowledge that this statement was incorrect… and I believe it is appropriate that I apologise to both and withdraw the statements made.”

Did he mean a word of it? Unlikely. The apology had to be dragged out of him. On a number of previous occasions, he had refused to budge from his position. It would appear that he was finally dragged, kicking and screaming, to the point of repentance on pain of losing his job if he refused.

A far bigger issue now emerging is whether the Garda commissioner paid the price for Shatter to keep his job. On Tuesday, it initially appeared that Martin Callinan had fallen on his sword rather than issue his own mea culpa over the hostility he had directed towards the whistleblowers. This explanation portrayed him as a proud, possibly arrogant, man who was unwilling to admit that he had been wrong all along about the motives and actions of two officers in his force.

Hours after his resignation, it looked like he went rather than face into a fresh scandal, this one involving a long-standing practice of tape recording phone calls in a whole raft of Garda stations.

However, as the facts tumbled out, it began to look like Callinan was taking on the role of fall guy. The practice of tape recording stretched back 30 years to a time when the former commissioner was a rank-and-file member. He had been responsible for discontinuing it last November. At the time, he contacted the attorney general about the issue, thus ensuring the legal adviser to the Government was fully informed.

As a result of a pending case — now known to be the legal action being taken by Ian Bailey and Jules Thomas — new material had come to light. Again, Callinan can’t be held responsible for how the Bailey case has been handled.

He wrote to the Department of Justice about this matter on March 10, indicating that it should be brought to Shatter’s attention. This was not done until last Monday, a fortnight after the letter was dispatched by courier.

Why were no red flags raised as far back as November? Why did it take 14 days for Shatter to see a letter that was couriered to his office? These questions need to be answered satisfactorily, but no culpability lies with Callinan.

Yet, when the matter was brought to Enda Kenny’s attention, he had, within 24 hours, dispatched the secretary general of the Department of Justice to meet Callinan personally to express the Taoiseach’s concern.

In the Dáil yesterday, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin interpreted this envoy as a floating P45. “You essentially sacked him [Callinan],” Martin said. “You sent a senior civil servant out to the commissioner the day before a cabinet meeting.”

It’s difficult to see any other interpretation. In the circumstances that pertained, there was no requirement for words or direction. The message was conveyed by the mere presence of the secretary general on Callinan’s doorstep.

Kenny rejected this suggestion with great umbrage, but what else could he do? Admit it? The smell that these Garda scandals have been giving off has taken a sour turn. Callinan’s hostility and conduct towards the whistleblowers was such that he may well have deserved to lose his job. He most certainly didn’t deserve to lose it over the phone-recording issue that the Government appears to have blown into a major scandal.

Shatter took a similar line to Callinan on the whistleblowers. His lily-livered apology has come too late, but he seems to have escaped the chop for now. He’s a lucky boy that Kenny thinks so highly of him that the Taoiseach was willing to have Callinan “retired” in order to save Shatter’s bacon. Only problem is, Kenny has now thrown himself right into the vortex of these scandals.



A sneaking sympathy for Patrick Nulty

He may have been suffering from the Bart Simpson delusion: if no one saw you do it, it never happened

Patrick Nulty: will scuttle off into that murky place in our consciousness reserved for public figures who once did something wrong, only no one can quite remember what. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Patrick Nulty: will scuttle off into that murky place in our consciousness reserved for public figures who once did something wrong, only no one can quite remember what. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Patrick Nulty’s behaviour – sending creepy Facebook messages to female constituents, including one of 17 – was sordid and wrong. Once it had been exposed, the only thing for him to do was to resign.
He at least did so quickly, leaving us with some high-minded sentiments about his belief in a “fairer and more just society”. He will never have a chance to show us how he intended to achieve one. Instead, he will scuttle off into that murky place in our consciousness reserved for public figures who once did something wrong, only no one can quite remember what.
There was nothing memorable enough in the revelations to earn him a place in the annals of powerful men who risked it all for sexual thrills: no bunga-bunga parties, no cigar in the Leinster House loo. He was no Dominique Strauss-Kahn, no Charlie Haughey. God love him, he hardly amounted to an Anthony Weiner. As far as we know, the entire history of his sexual misadventures never amounted to more than a few embarrassing messages online.
And on this basis, it’s difficult not to have a sneaking sympathy for him.
Nulty blames alcohol for his unravelling and has said he will be seeking treatment for his personal problems, but there is another explanation. True, he may not have sent those messages if he hadn’t been drinking; but it would have been impossible for him to send them if it hadn’t been for Facebook.
The term “the online disinhibition effect” is now more than 10 years old – it was coined by American psychologist John Suler, who showed how the internet unleashes aspects of our personality we normally manage to keep hidden. It’s the same effect that makes us swear at other drivers, when if they jostled us on the footpath we would likely mumble a “sorry” and go on our way; taken online, it can make otherwise mild-mannered people post abusive messages to others. The effect has less to do with anonymity, it seems, than with the absence of eye contact and the social cues that normally govern our interactions – and the sense that, as Nulty put it himself, online everything is a “harmless game”.
Nulty, like many of those felled by an intemperate tweet or status update before him, may have been suffering from what psychologists call “illusory anonymity”, or the Bart Simpson delusion: if no one saw you do it, it never happened. In one American study, participants took part in an experiment where they had the opportunity to profit financially from lying about their success at problem-solving tasks. Under bright lighting, only one in four did, while when the lights were dimmed, the number who cheated rose to 60 per cent.
We like to believe the world is divided into good, upstanding people with a clear moral compass and boundaries, and bad, ethically bankrupt ones, the kind who become sexual predators, petty criminals or, say, hedge-fund managers. Unfortunately, psychological studies don’t bear this analysis out. It turns out that there’s not much separating the first group from the second; sometimes, it’s as little as the return of another human gaze.
If true sociopaths – those with, among other things, a lack of inhibitions, low empathy and a disregard for social norms – are few, the dim lighting of the online world seems capable of temporarily unleashing the hidden sociopathic tendencies in the most well-balanced of us.
No matter how drunk, would Nulty ever have walked up to a stranger in a bar, and asked her if she had been spanked? I don’t know him, but I would venture it’s unlikely. That doesn’t excuse him, of course – plenty of people get drunk and have Facebook accounts and manage not to sexually harass 17-year-olds. But instead of revelling in his demise, we might be wiser to look on it as a cautionary tale.

Gilligan, security and ethics

So the state pays €35 K for Gilligan’s security in Connolly hospital according to the Herald. Was it not astonishing that Gilligan’s exit picture appeared in the INM group of papers? Not really? Who told the press of Gilligans exit from hospital and his transit to the Holyhead ferry? Is it ethical to point out to likely assassins this man’s overall whereabouts? I don’t think so.
I hope there is major surveillance going on to discover the identities of the killers operating in the state.

Recording Oliver Connolly surreptitiously was slimy irrespective of the colloquialisms of the reputed quotes

Former garda confidential recipient Oliver Connolly has said that his good name, integrity and privacy have been impugned by the leaking of “an unverified transcript of a confidential conversation” with Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

Mr Connolly, who was the point of contact for garda whistleblowers, was sacked by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter last month after details of the alleged transcript were read into the Dáil record.

He said that his conversation with the serving garda sergeant had been recorded without his consent at an official confidential meeting, which was covered by statute.

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Mr Connolly said he refused to answer questions about the transcript last month because what was said during his confidential meeting must remain confidential.

He said he had a duty under garda regulations and the Official Secrets Act not to disclose, acknowledge or otherwise comment about any confidential report or any meeting with a confidential informant.

In his four-page statement, he does not name Sgt McCabe, but calls him the “principal whistleblower”.

He also refers to Dáil comments last week by Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness about another whistleblower, a female garda.

On his sacking by Minister Shatter, he said he should not have been required to validate and he shall not validate, either by way of confirmation or repudiation, the contents of an alleged transcript unlawfully procured.

Mr Connolly criticised the TDs who have published selected extracted lines from the unverified transcript of his conversation with Sgt McCabe.

He said that the TDs who published the alleged transcripts had trampled over his right to privacy and those of his family.

Mr Connolly said: “During the past number of weeks, I have been subject to a concentrated attack by certain members of Dáil Éireann.

“These individuals, in a naked political attempt to embarrass a Minister for Justice whom they oppose, have selectively extracted lines from an unverified transcript of a confidential conversation between a serving member of An Garda Síochána and myself, acting in my former role of Confidential Recipient.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he expects Mr Connolly to co-operate with barrister Seán Guerin, who is carrying out an investigation into garda malpractice.

Speaking at a news conference this afternoon, Mr Kenny said if Mr Guerin requires information from the former confidential recipient, he expects Mr Connolly could do this while respecting the confidentiality of his office.

Mr Kenny said: “We have [Mr] Guerin commissioned to carry out a wholly independent analysis.

“If he’s looking for information that he doesn’t have at his disposal that the former confidential recipient Oliver Connolly would be able to cooperate with him … I expect that he can do that respecting the confidentiality of his office.”

Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson said the statement issued by the former confidential recipient does not address the core issue of details of the alleged transcript between Mr Connolly and Mr McCabe.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Drivetime programme, Niall Collins said he understood Mr Connolly’s unhappiness that his comments were recorded but said they merit public discussion.

He repeated his invitation to Mr Connolly to come before the justice committee to answer questions about his role.

“What is at issue here is the fact that a person appointed to a statutory office refers to the Minister for Justice of the day in the manner in which he did.

“I think it would be proper that he could appear before us when we could probe and examine the whole working of the office.”

Independent TD Mick Wallace said the latest events highlight that the Minister for Justice is unfit for office.

He said: “Oliver Connolly seems an honourable man.

“He is entitled to defend his friend but as far as we’re concerned, the last 18 months has shown Minister Shatter to be unfit for his office – at one stage after another he has sought to minimise and dismiss the information available to him.”

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesperson Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said Mr Connolly’s statement does not shed any light on what led to the alleged advice given to the garda whistleblower.

Miriam Lord ends thus! on Shatterday

The statements continued on. Then it was time for questions. Alan Shatter was there to take them for the full half-hour allotted. It was a farce. A few questions. Fewer answers. And most telling of all, when asked if he agreed with the Garda Commissioner’s assertion that whistleblowers are “disgusting”, the most diligent Minister in Cabinet said he didn’t read those highly publicised controversial remarks made by the commissioner to a Dáil committee. So he couldn’t comment.

His parting short was to criticise whistleblower Maurice McCabe for taping a conversation with a senior officer. But if Sgt McCabe had not, he wouldn’t have been able to disprove Shatter’s statement that he disobeyed a direct Garda order to co-operate with an inquiry. And Alan Shatter wouldn’t have had to obliquely blame the gardaí for leading him to “misunderstand” what actually happened.

Not that he apologised to McCabe for that misunderstanding. But he’s out the gap for the moment, and that’s all that matters.