National Post articles, by me.



Here’s a selection of what I’ve been writing for the National Post


Legal drugs crisis


The front cover of an investigation I carried out into the over prescribing of drugs in Ireland. It was the first time figures were compiled in such a clear way.Legal drugs crisis

Living on the margins of society

Ireland’s scandalous direct provision housing – a system where asylum seekers are trapped for many years, with no money, no hope of work, their lives in limbo – is an issue I investigated extensively as a journalist in Ireland.

Here are some of those articles:

Asylum system

Asylum system 2

And here’s a report I carried out into residential homes for the disabled, and overuse of medication:

Residential Homes

Sheriffs seize over 100m in two years from those in debt

There has been a lot of debate in recent times over the role of sheriffs – who they are and what exactly they do. I managed to eventually get figures from the department of Justice for city and county sheriffs in Cork and Dublin, but it appears as though there are none for county registrars who carry out the function of the sheriff in the rest of the country. Amazing really that people who are collecting debt on foot of court orders are not being monitored in any way.

This was thrown into focus during the Laois eviction which was heavily publicised at the time.

Here is my recent report on Sheriffs from Irish Examiner:

Sheriffs seize over 100m in two years from those in debt

City and county sheriffs in charge of seizing goods or property from people in debt on foot of court orders have collected over 100m in a two-year period, Department of Justice figures reveal.
The figures highlight the repayments people have had to make by surrendering goods or property to pay their creditors.

Sheriffs in Dublin and Cork, along with court registrars in the provinces, can seize anything which belongs to a person in debt from furniture to cars to farm machinery; white goods, computers, cars, or business supplies, in effect, anything which is not nailed down.

Only the Dublin and Cork sheriffs are required to make returns to the department. Available figures do not account for the work of county registrars.
Returns to the department  show transactions on debt were:

Dublin city sheriff, Oct 2009 to Sept 2011, 50m; Dublin county sheriff, Oct 2009 to Mar 2011, 27m; Cork City sheriff, April 2009 to Mar 2011, 5.6m and Cork county sheriff, Aug 2009 to July 2011, 19.4m.

Sheriffs sell the goods they seize, then pay the creditors. In an arrangement known as “poundage”, they are paid a percentage of  funds raised. Poundage , or commission, is calculated at the rate of 5% on the first 5,500 and 2.5% on additional balance.
After sheriffs deduct fees, expenses and poundage, the balance of the proceeds of sale is paid over to the creditor.
Brendan Dempsey, southern president of the St Vincent de Paul,  said he had seen teams of people coming to seize goods and questioned the what he called the aggressive  method of debt collection.
“Nothing is protected from these people,” he said. “We had a case where we went to the house in advance and took the cooker and beds and things the people needed and stored them, and when they were gone, we brought them back again. This was a situation where the family had lost business, we were
feeding this family so if they took the furniture, we would have to provide it.”
Mr Dempsey said the fault lay with politicians who have not changed the laws in this regard.
“The laws of the land are there and judges have to uphold them but that doesn’t make it right. The politicians need to act. People’s incomes are being squeezed and lives are being lost because people can’t cope.”

Senior policy officer with FLAC, Paul Joyce, questioned the oversight of the system and said there needed to be more accountability. “Who are these people answerable to? There needs to be more accountability. It is not a good way of dealing with people in debt.”
In 2010, a Law Reform Commission report on personal debt called for a centralised system of enforcement to be introduced in Ireland.

A central aspect of the new system would be a dedicated national office responsible which would have the sole responsibility for enforcing judgments the enforcement of judgments. Enforcement would be centralised by a head office rather than localised and the proceeds of seizure and sale would be recorded and monitored.
The report also outlined the “considerable powers” a sheriff has to enter homes and businesses for the purpose of seizing goods, and highlighted constitutional and human rights implications of these powers
“The law must be particularly conscious of the detrimental impact of financial difficulties on the lives of children living in over-indebted households,” the commission said.

Why is racism against our ethnic minority community simply accepted?

Travellers must not be excluded from society

Why is racism against our ethnic minority community simply accepted?

LAST November when Cllr Darren Scully (FG) said he didn’t want to deal with “aggressive black Africans” he was forced to resign as mayor of Naas.

His remarks were widely condemned and he was reported to the gardaí for incitement to hatred by at least two people, including a Labour TD.

This week, when an Ennis councillor lambasted the excess
of “Prada-wearing Travellers” and another called for Travellers convicted of feuding to have their welfare benefits withdrawn, there was no similar outpouring of anger for such a blatant attack on an ethnic minority group.

To be clear, Cllr Paul O’Shea wasn’t asking that all convicts have benefits withdrawn — just Travellers. Cllr Johnny Flynn said that a section of the Traveller community seemed “to be able to exhibit extraordinary wealth, but don’t seem to be able to identify the sources of their income”.

Why then doesn’t the Criminal Assets Bureau step in and tackle the criminal elements within the Traveller community? If it really is worth that much to the
exchequer, we could certainly do with it.

If Travellers are fraudulently claiming welfare or fleecing the system, then this should be tackled and made clear it will not be tolerated.

There is no disputing some Travellers are trouble, they get in fights, drink too much, engage in crime, but so do a lot of other people. There is simply no evidence to support claims that Travellers are more violent, or commit more crime than the rest of the population.

What we do know from studies is that they don’t live as long, they take their lives more frequently, and some of them live in awful conditions.

But instead of tackling those issues, we prefer to perpetuate the myths. The media is partly to blame for this, often only reporting on Travellers when they have done something wrong.

A perfect case in point this week was the lack of focus on the fact that a newly refurbished council house in Kilkenny was burnt out just before a Traveller family — a father and five children — were about to move in; an arson attack carried out by someone who didn’t want them there.

A day later, the incendiary comments made by Ennis councillors were much more appealing. The only purpose these kind of comments serve is to further
legitimise the exclusion and racism experienced by Travellers.

The truth is most Travellers just want a safe place to bring up their children. But government policies over the past 10 years in particular have completely changed their way of life and led to a situation where they have been corralled into group housing schemes, and often told that if they don’t go there, they won’t get any other assistance.

These schemes were supposedly to preserve the Traveller way of life, but nobody really thought of the social consequences of forcing families to live side-by-side permanently. Segregated into small areas, often far from other amenities and with high walls around, it is an unnatural way of life.

Over 250m was spent in the past seven years on building what are essentially halting sites, but these places seem to be a fertile breeding ground for feuding and violence, and more and more families are seeking to live in private rented accommodation. While this goes against their cultural instincts, the day for ghettoising people into these schemes must come to an end. Travellers can still preserve their cultural history without living this way.

There seems to be two kinds of Travellers — those who, because they have been firmly pushed to the sidelines of society, have turned even more inward on themselves; and those who are becoming assimilated and forced to deny their cultural and history as they otherwise would not be accepted by their peers.

This came to light in a documentary aired on RTÉ this week, Unsettled: From Tinker To Traveller. The narrator said many business people whose forbears had been Travelling people 40 years before didn’t want to speak on camera as it would be damaging for them.

The documentary, which saw two US anthropologists who recorded Travellers’ lives in 1971 return to catch up with them 40 years later, portrayed a more innocent and simple way of life for Travellers back then. There wasn’t the violence, the drinking, the feuding; the question must be asked how much of this is because of their ongoing marginalisation?

Historically, from Australia to Canada, aboriginal and indigenous people have been discriminated against by their own people.

And while most in Ireland would probably lament these causes, when it comes to our own ethnic minority people the discrimination is rampant and widespread, and in most cases goes unchallenged.

With latest census figures showing a population of about 30,000, surely it’s time to find solutions for people who have always been treated as though they don’t deserve a place in Irish society.

JHough, first printed in The Irish Examiner