Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: County Cork

Only Connect, Only Congest

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday January 29 2012

Forster’s Connections

“Only connect” is a commonly quoted aphorism by EM Forster.  I have never quite understood it. Forster himself was quite keen to connect with policemen, bus drivers and Egyptian labouring men but that probably is not the wisdom of the aphorism. Forster’s literary output was small. The author of works such as A Room with a View and Howards End stopped writing in 1924, after he published A Passage To India. He lived until 1970. According to Wendy Moffat, associate professor of English at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, Forster had sex with a man for the first time at the age of 38  – an injured soldier on an Egyptian beach. He met his long-term lover – a married policeman – some years later.

Only one novel, Maurice, dealt with gay issues. It was written around 1910 but was not published until after Forster’s death. Edward Morgan Forster was known to his friends as Morgan. Prepare for an elaborate punning joke. Stay awake at the back there! 1966 was the 50th anniversary of the Easter rebellion in Ireland. One of the rebels executed was Roger Casement. Over the years, the British leaked Casement’s diaries in order to smear his reputation because of his homosexuality. Also in 1966, a film was released called Morgan: a Suitable Case for Treatment, starring David Warner and Vanessa Redgrave. The satirical magazine Private Eye published a spoof film poster announcing: “Morgan: a Suitable Treat for Casement – a tale of the Easter Rising”.

SLT Cancels Christmas

Enough digressing! The phrase “Only connect” has been in my mind lately because I have been trying to connect with my sainted aunt in Ireland in order to give her our seasonal greetings. SLT won’t  let me talk to her. She is almost 92 and in poor health but sharp of mind and tongue. I started phoning  through IDD on our SLT land line long before Christmas Day. Every time I dialled the Irish number, I was interrupted by a  female  Sri Lankan voice saying “Your call cannot be connected at this time because all our circuits are busy”. This was followed by a saxophone playing what sounded like George Michael’s  Careless Whisper. (I keep getting  it mixed up with Careless Rapture by Ivor Novello, Siegfried Sassoon’s gay lover. Sorry to get back on the gay theme!) Careless Rupture would be more appropriate.

Now, at least this SLT woman sounded civil when she told me she was not allowing my call. A great improvement on the creature I call “The Congestion Woman”. That one  sounds like a bossy woman in a sari – a huge mountainous woman who wobbles when she breathes. “You call cannot be connected due to the congestion” she shouts.

Help!

I kept trying to call my aunt in Ireland until way after New Year’s day. I was trepidatious about calling an SLT help line because I usually want to take my own life after trying to get through to the call centre. I really am not a misogynist but I always pray that a man will answer. The women usually start off sounding irritated that I have disturbed them and grow increasingly impatient as I try to explain the fault. They always sound as though they think I am stupid and to blame for the lack of connection.

Black Arts

Getting connected  to the call centre at all is a major  trauma. One is given a menu to choose from. On the internet help line two of the options seem appropriate but if one chooses the wrong number all one gets is a high-pitched screech which almost pierces one’s eardrum. Then one has to wait for an average of twelve minutes before anyone answers. If one could just drift into a meditative trance while waiting patiently, it would not be too bad. SLT will not countenance this. One’s ears are filled with noise, the noise of the black arts of advertising and marketing.

“Ayabowen –our call centre officers will assist you shortly”. One is subjected to that doomy, boomy Americanised voice one hears on movie trailers. Also those annoying children’s voices which assail one on trips to the supermarket  – God rot you and blast you Tiny Tim!

“Open your home to the world of Megaline”. Why should I? “Conversations drenched in memory”. My memory is drenched in frustration s I try to connect.

“A home where you are never alone”. What kind of hell is that?

“Your world is never confined”. Well, my world is actually confined when I keep losing  my internet connection and I am prevented from speaking to my family in Ireland.

Pump Don’t work ‘Cause the Vandals Stole the Handles

Before broadband became available in our neck of the mountains, I tried to get SLT to deal with the problems I was having with connecting to the internet. A very helpful man promised that he would get their best technical brains working on it and the problem would definitely be solved. Eventually he got bored and told me the problem was that I lived too far from the exchange. It seemed that I needed to sell my home and move somewhere else.

A couple of years later someone stole the SLT cables for the sake of the copper. I was without a phone line for two months and had to take a 36 kilometre round trip to check my e-mails. Despite these inconveniences I received a bill that was six times the normal amount.

When broadband did become available, SLT put on intense marketing pressure to sign up for it. I was persuaded. After paying the requisite fee, it took five months to actually enjoy the benefits of ADSL. Things have definitely improved and my outgoings have reduced. It is still frustrating however because the connection can be suddenly lost. When one gets through to the helpline, one is told “there has been a common service issue”. Nevertheless, I have been without an internet connection for three days at time. No sign of a refund.

Endless Buffering

I was looking forward to the joys of YouTube – salivating at the possibility of watching archive footage of my departed jazz heroes  like Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane. It was not to be. The video clips keep stopping and starting because of endless “buffering”.

I looked at various internet fora on this topic – when SLT allowed me to c! I find that I am not the only one to have this problem and that it happens in Colombo as well as in my mountain retreat. One frustrated customer writes:  “I get Browsing Speed 512 kbps. But I get 47kb as Kilo Bytes. For Direct Download without IDM I get only 6 or 7kb. Same for some files that download via IDM – I got 5 or 60 before”. “Ya, ADSL is supposed to be fast, but of late, I have felt that internet has slowed down from about ten in the morning till about nine in the night”. “Yep, now I can’t stream YouTube even at six in the evening”. “From the beginning of august, my ADFSL (Home 512/128) connection got a huge slowdown in both down and uplinks. But the funny thing is torrent download speed is working same as past (normally 55kbps). Bur the direct downloads from rapidshare, medoafire, hotfile and filesonic were dropped own to 10kbps. (Before this slowdown these downloads came in at 60kbps). All the parameters in the router are the same as in the past(like attenuation, SNR margin). I called 1243 and opened a complaint. Then a guy called from SLT technical division and said there were no problems in the connection and the have NO BLACKLIST FOR HEAVY USERS.”

So, did I get to speak to my aunt in Ireland? Sort of. We phoned the SLT helpline and explained that I was not able to get through to any landline number in Ireland from my landline. This could not be simply a problem between my phone and my aunt’s phone. I asked if an operator could connect us to the Irish number. The answer was a resounding NO!

After several calls to SLT in Sinhala as well as English , the only solution they could offer was to try phoning on a cell phone. We did get through but it was difficult to have a conversation and the call was of course more expensive than a landline call. No one could explain why our landline calls were being intercepted. We learnt later that SLT’s way of following up the complaint was to ignore the time differences between Sri Lanka and Ireland and phone my aunt several times in the middle of the night to check the line. This caused her considerable anxiety.

Connect the Prose and the Passion

Forster’s ‘only connect” catchphrase comes at the epigraph to Howard’s End. Calm down! Howard’s end is a house, not an anatomical appendage. The full quotation is: “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer”.

Never mind about connecting the prose and the passion. Can we just connect Badulla with County Cork?

Reconciliation in Ireland Part 1

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday August 12 2012.

Ireland’s Revenge on the Tudors

 

tudors

I have been watching on DVD the Showtime TV series The Tudors. It strikes me as ironic that the series was filmed in Ireland and has provided gainful employment to innumerable Irish actors (including my Facebook friend Nick Dunning, wonderfully shifty as Thomas Boleyn).  Ironic because many of the troubles Ireland has suffered over the centuries resulted from the policies and actions of Henry VIII (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers – Sean O’Keefe from County Cork- who first came to fame as the man who shot Michael Collins in Neil Jordan’s film).

Patriotic Irishmen, my father included, like to talk about 800 years of British oppression (see the responses to my essay on Groundviews: http://groundviews.org/2012/03/17/martyrology-martyrdom-rebellion-terrorism/). True, Strongbow (2nd Earl of Pembroke Richard de Clare, Lord of Leinster, Justiciar of Ireland) invaded Ireland in 1170 but it was not until the Tudors that the real oppression began. Strongbow is described as Cambro-Norman, a term used for Norman knights who settled in southern Wales after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

War on terrorism?
The Normans were not generally too much of a bother to the native Irish and they actually helped bring a measure of efficiency to agriculture, commerce and the law. To a great extent, the Normans ‘went native’. Some adopted the Irish language and customs and intermarried. The Irish themselves also became “Normanised”. Many Irish people today bear Norman-derived surnames such as Fitzgerald, Burke, Roche and Power. There are many Irish D’Arcy’s, De Laceys and De Burghs. There are several distinct types of Irish face. One of them- thin lips, sharp nose –  is distinctively Norman.

Many of Ireland’s problems came from Wales. The Welshman Henry VII founded the Tudor dynasty in 1485 after killing the reigning King Richard III. In 1536, Henry VIII deposed the Fitzgerald dynasty of Kildare as Lords Deputies of Ireland. The Fitzgeralds had been, in effect, rulers of Ireland since the 15th century but had become a security threat to the Johnny-Come-Lately Tudor dynasty by inviting Burgundian troops into Dublin and crowning the Yorkist pretender, Lambert Simnel as ‘King of England’ in 1497. In 1536, Silken Thomas Fitzgerald rebelled against Henry VIII. The rebellion was put down and Henry tried to bring all Ireland under his control to prevent it being used as a base for a Catholic invasion of England.

Spenser’s final solution
Edmund Spenser, considered by many the first English poet of note after Chaucer, could also be regarded as the Radovan Karadzic of his day. Spenser wrote most of his masterpiece, The Faery Queene, on his 3,000 acre estate at Kilcolman Castle in County Cork. County Cork is in the province of Munster. He also wrote propaganda advocating genocide. The Munster Plantation of the 1580s was the first mass plantation in Ireland. It was a punishment for the Desmond rebellions.  The Desmond dynasty was annihilated and their estates were confiscated.

Spenser was a beneficiary of this confiscation. Spenser communicated with his neighbour and fellow poet Sir Walter Raleigh, who had commandeered 40,000 prime Irish acres for himself at Youghal. First Earl of Cork Richard Boyle may have been an ancestor of the writer Richard Boyle who has long been resident in Sri Lanka. Both were born in Canterbury. The Earl of Cork claimed most of the County and Munster as his own.

Plantations
English ‘Undertakers’ were wealthy colonists. They undertook to import tenants from England, Scotland and Wales to work on their new lands. The plan was to confiscate the land and redistribute to create concentrations of British settlers around new towns and garrisons. The new landowners were explicitly banned from taking Irish tenants. The planters were also barred from selling their lands to any Irishman.

The remaining Irish landowners were to be granted one quarter of the land in Ulster and the ordinary Irish population was relocated near garrisons and Protestant churches. Up to 80,000 English and Scots Protestants had been settled in the previously Catholic north of Ireland by 1641. The Reformation did not ‘take’ in Ireland. This was because brutal methods were used to pacify the country and exploit its resources which heightened resentment of English rule.
Settlers with a British and Protestant identity would form the ruling class of future British administrations in Ireland. Penal laws discriminated against Catholics who were barred from public office and from serving in the army. Voting for Parliament was rigged so the Protestants would always have the majority.
There is a familiar imperial pattern here of colonisation, land theft, divide and rule, religious and racial discrimination leading brutality to conflict. During the years of the Provisional IRA terrorist campaign the British from a superior height would say : ”Why is it these people can’t just get on with one another?” To Irish people it is not an Irish problem. Ireland suffered from an English (or possibly Welsh) problem.
See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/international/item/9218-ireland%E2%80%99s-revenge-on-the-tudors.html#sthash.kV8cfSYr.dpuf

 

Credit Unions – Banking and Social Responsibility

This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of The Abacus.

 

Will the conventional banks ever provide “a New Moral World” of happiness, enlightenment, and prosperity?

 

When I called in at Midleton Credit Union just before Christmas, I was immediately offered a piece of cake and a glass of red wine. This was around 10am and there was already a good deal of red-faced conviviality in the branch. Whenever I stopped by to make a deposit or withdrawal, the manager would call me in for a friendly chat.

I have a similarly cordial relationship with my local Sampath Bank manager but one could never imagine such a thing with conventional banks in the UK or Ireland. If one tries to phone the Croydon branch of Barclay’s, one finds that all branches have the same telephone number and when one dials that number, one finds oneself speaking to someone in Bangalore rather than Croydon. Barclays plan to cut 12,000 staff this year. The bank’s total bonus pool for 2013 rose by 10% to £2.38bn, from £2.17bn in 2012, with the investment bank’s bonus pool increasing by 13%.The level of personal service is unlikely to improve.

History of Credit Unions

Credit Unions originated in the 19th century, based on the ideas of Robert Owen in the UK, Herman Schulze-Delitzsch in Germany and Alphonse Desjardin in North America. Owen was born in Wales but moved to Manchester, then to Scotland (where he achieved commercial success operating on principles that became the basis for the cooperative movement in Britain). He then bought a town in Indiana which he renamed New Harmony. Unfortunately, the utopia failed. Owen’s vision was of “a New Moral World” of happiness, enlightenment, and prosperity through education, science, technology, and communal living.

A Credit Union is a member-owned financial cooperative, democratically controlled by its members, and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at competitive rates, and providing other financial services to its members. Many Credit Unions also provide services intended to support community development or sustainable international development on a local level.

Credit Unions in Ireland

Credit Unions have played an important role in Irish society since the 1950s. The Irish Credit Union movement has achieved one of the highest membership penetrations of any country, with over 50% of the Irish population now holding membership. Credit Unions in Ireland today vary dramatically in size, membership and in the range of services they offer. However, they all share a basic philosophy and set of principles.

Ireland in the 1950s could have been a third world country. There was high unemployment and poor housing, which led to sickness and malnutrition. State unemployment benefits were low and did not last indefinitely, leaving many families in abject poverty, relying on loan sharks. Banks and other financial institutions did not advance credit without substantial collateral or guarantees; you had to be a homeowner in order to get a loan and very few people owned their own homes in the 1950s.

Nora Herlihy (a teacher of under-privileged children), Sean Forde (a baker) and Séamus P MacEoin (a civil servant) decided to do something about it. They recognised the root of the problem as the scarce availability and poor management of money and resolved to identify a system that would allow people to gain more control over their finances.

In 1956, a government sponsored savings campaign prompted a co-operative in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin, to set up a thrift society, which was reformed as the Dun Laoghaire Borough Credit Union – the first in Ireland.

Peace pioneer John Hume and five others pooled their combined savings of eight pounds and ten shillings, in October 1960, to set up Derry Credit Union, the first in Northern Ireland.

The movement advanced through the 1960s in a series of spectacular leaps. By the end of the decade, 180,442 people had joined 336 unions spread throughout the 32 counties and their savings amounted to almost £9 million. Most members of Credit Unions are savers rather than borrowers, which can be a problem for their viability.

Personal Experience

I was a member of Midleton Credit Union in County Cork. Their motto is Not for profit. Not for charity. But for service. Midleton has 18,000 members and provides a full range of financial services to members. Midleton Credit Union was formed in 1968 solely to help its members and aims to offer fair and reasonable rates on savings and loans. It provides loans for cars, holidays, Christmas, weddings and just about anything one can persuade the manager to agree to. Payment periods range from one to five years. Loans are insured at no direct cost to the eligible member. Repayment protection insurance is available as an optional extra. There are no hidden fees or transaction charges. A loan of 10,000 repaid monthly over five years would mean monthly payments of €209.82. The typical interest rate of 9.5% is high compared to the 2% on my Bank of Ireland mortgage, but I found the Credit Union’s flexibility helpful in the refurbishment of my derelict cottage and the refurbishment of my very mouth when I had extensive and expensive dental treatment. Repayments are calculated on the reducing balance of the loan. This means smaller interest repayments as you repay your loan. Repayment terms can be adjusted to suit your particular circumstances. You can repay the loan earlier or make larger repayments than agreed with no penalty. Additional lump sum repayments are accepted with no penalty.

Criticism

It is ironic, in the light of what I have written in these pages about the shortcomings of the Central Bank of Ireland as a financial regulator, that it should publish a report critical of Credit Unions. In Credit Union Prism Risk Assessments, Sharon Donnery, Registrar of Credit Unions, wrote: “Regrettably, we found the majority of credit unions we engaged with needed to make significant improvements. …We also noted in a small number of cases certain attitudes and behaviours indicative of an unwillingness to comply with legal and regulatory requirements and associated absence of appropriate risk management systems and compliance programmes.”

 

Ms Donnery pontificates: “As with all other financial institutions, they depend on public confidence for their success and members need to be assured that their savings are safe.”

 

Despite the shortcomings of the Central Bank, three executives of Anglo Irish Bank are each facing 16 charges of illegal activity.

 

Customer Satisfaction

Research indicates that Credit Union customers are more satisfied with service quality than bank customers are. A survey showed that Credit Unions rate significantly higher than banks on 11 of the 14 service quality questions: access; courtesy; communication; credibility; security; empathy; tangibles; basic service; fairness; fixing mistakes; and guarantees. People between the ages of 18 and 34 have a high regard for the community-owned lenders. Four out of 10 young adults are members of Credit Unions and half of this group would consider a loan of around €6,300. Young adults see Credit Unions as more understanding than banks.

 

Conclusion

The World Council of Credit Unions is the leading international trade association and development agency for credit unions. Since 1971, World Council has increased access to high quality financial services worldwide by strengthening Credit Unions using a well-defined and thoroughly tested development model. In Sri Lanka, the World Council is strengthening Credit Unions in areas affected by the conflict with the intent of restoring financial stability and a broader sense of security.

It would seem that in Ireland the public, chastened by the antics of the casino banks, have more trust in Credit Unions than banks, whatever Ms Donnery might say. Is there a lesson for the rest of the world? Banking (the service that should protect savings and supply loans for social uses such as productive development) is too important to be left in the hands of a small number of private bankers who, by definition seek only to maximise their profits. Credit Unions bring a measure of democracy, cooperation and mutuality to the ugly world of finance. They are an example of what biologist EO Wilson called “the delicate web of reciprocity”.

 

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