SPARE a thought for Dr James Reilly, sacked last year from his prestigious job of Health Minister. Happily he continued with his crusading anti-smoking campaign in his new vocation as mini-minister job for Children and Youth Affairs – despite the wrath of the fag manufacturers descending on his head for suggesting they were ‘evil’ and ‘targeted our children.’
The Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee described Reilly’s comment as ‘an allegation most foul’ and demanded he ‘intercede’ with RTE to make sure it would never again be broadcast. The tobacco industry, you see, is entirely ‘legitimate, legal and law-abiding’ and insists that any reference to its activities should be equally so.
Yet, all that the good doc wants to do is to make Ireland a tobacco-free country by 2015 (defined as having a smoking rate below 5%).
As Health Minister he went some way in achieving his goal by making Ireland the first country in Europe and the second in the world to introduce plain packaging laws for tobacco products.
But as soon as the legislation was signed into law Japan Tobacco Ireland (owner of the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands) launched a legal bid to halt the legislation – an extraordinary interference in Ireland’s sovereign right to draft and enact laws.
Reilly said Ireland would defend the action robustly ‘in the firm belief that it’s in the best interests of the health welfare of the public’; and, he added rather pointedly, ‘especially of children.’
A brick wall
So it was an eyebrow-raising moment for the doc to see Ronnie Flanagan, former head of the most controversial police force in the world – the RUC – arrive in Dublin in his new role as loyal employee of British American Tobacco.
The ex-cop displayed a somewhat avuncular interest in our smoking habits before reminding the ‘Irish State’ that smugglers were depriving us of between €250m and €500m per annum in lost revenue. Curiously, he did not reveal the cost to his employers.
Skibbereen recently had a close encounter with the reality of fag smuggling when townspeople witnessed a dramatic Garda and Customs swoop on a van containing illicit ciggies parked on the Main Street.
It was like a scene straight from Hawaii Five-O, although without the blazing guns.
As for Reilly and his anti-smoking campaign, he might as well be knocking his head against a brick wall – a wall that his party, Fine Gael, has already daubed with double standards and hypocrisy.
Cash in the attic
For instance did you know that the State, through its Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, has €9.6 million of investment in the tobacco industry; and that two years ago the Fund bought €3m worth of shares in British American Tobacco?
Or that it invested in financial bonds issued by Imperial tobacco, the owners of brands such as Gauloises and Gitanes, ploughed serious cash into Altria (Marlboro, L&M), formerly the Philip Morris company; and that in 2013, the Fund (then known as the National Pension Reserve Fund) owned a substantial amount of shares in Reynolds American, the second largest tobacco company in the United States?
To his credit, Reilly was not slow to remind Finance Minister Baldy Noonan of the government’s ethical dilemma: of campaigning against cigarettes and at the same time handsomely profiting from the sale of them.
He wanted Ireland to follow Norway’s example and to divest itself of all shares in tobacco companies. Needless to say, the chums politely told him to ‘feck off’!
In other words, while poor ole Jimmy Reilly was declaring war on the tobacco industry and, in the process, taking a lot of stick for his initiative, Kenny, Baldy, Madame Burton and chums were brazenly investing in the tobacco companies – and it’s not hard to see why: The tax revenues from tobacco sales in 2014 amounted to a whopping €1.29 billion! So, put that in your pipe, dear reader, and smoke it!
Poor as sin
Since we’re crunching numbers and gasping almost incredulously at Blueshirt hypocrisy, let’s take a dekko at another example of FG-Labour ‘virtue’ – one that has nothing to do with the fags but with more celestial matters: the Irish embassy in the Vatican.
In 2011, in a burst of contrived populism following the scandals associated with clerical sexual offences, Kenny and his ex-Workers Party sidekick, then Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, withdrew the ambassador and his entourage from the Vatican and shut down the embassy.
They did so in the expectation that they’d come across as ‘right-on’ for political correctness and win kudos from the liberal brigade. Which they did!
A year later Kenny engaged in antics during a meeting with Pope Benedict XV1 that to most people were cringe-inducing but to his supporters were a bit of a laugh and ‘cool’. Our illustrious Taoiseach was caught on a Vatican video fiddling with his mobile phone and looking decidedly bored at what the Pope was saying.
Despite all the embarrassment, Gilmore claimed that by closing the embassy he saved the State €845,000 annually. Last July, the Embassy reopened, accompanied by government bragging that running costs would amount only to €32,000 annually – a miniscule sum when compared to the vast sums spent on opulent Irish embassies elsewhere.
For example Jakarta annually costs more than half a million, Lilongwe (where’s dat?) relieves us of close on a million, while Beijing knocks us back for two million. In total, Irish embassies snaffled €61m from the public purse in 2014.
Compare that crock of gold to the stingy amount Kenny put into the refurbishment of Ireland’s new cupboard embassy in the Vatican. Its fitting-out cost just €1,500 more than what was spent on two lavatories in Ireland’s Paris embassy where the pleasure of being able to have an ambassadorial-style pee comes at an almost unimaginable cost of €30,912!
Perhaps Ireland’s envoy to the Holy See, Ms Emma Madigan (she’s the only person appointed to the squalid Dickensian cubbyhole) might tell us why Kenny singled out the Pope for a display of unreasonable stinginess?
Because people would like to know who’s he trying to impress? The anti-clerical gang holed up in the Indo/Sindo? Or is it another example of Kenny being super-trendy in an effort to connect with the vote-carrying ‘liberated youth.’ You know, the young ‘mods’ who managed to swing the homosexual marriage referendum.
Can his message be interpreted as a sort of epistle to Young Fine Gael with the message of ‘Hey, we’re with you, man, and we too don’t particularly dig that Frankie guy in the dress’? If such is the case, then it’s time for dear Gawd, to take pity on Unholy Mother Ireland! Urgently!