Irish Look Into Facebook Complaints

The popular social network Facebook has 600 million users across Europe but that hasn't stopped an Irish agency from auditing the internet phenomenon. The Irish Data Protection Commission has agreed to audit Facebook following complaints about privacy issues from the tiny Europe-v-Facebook group. The complaints stem from an investigation begun by a concerned Facebook user, Max Schrems, an Austrian law student who believes that Facebook is collecting and misusing his personal information.

In a press account appearing in the Irish Times last month, Schrems asked Facebook for access to the data it had on him. Facebook replied with a CD containing over 1,200 pages of information that the social network had retained on Schrems, who was surprised by what the personal data contained. It had posts, messages, lists of friends, etc. that Schrems had deleted and should not have been retained by Facebook. He also found instant messages with personal information about him and his friends that should not have been in his file. Schrems was additionally concerned that other types of data which should have been there were missing from his Facebook file.

To cut to the chase, our law student Schrems, 24, created Europe-v-Facebook to get to the bottom of serious defects in the Facebook privacy guidelines. Setting out on a David versus Goliath mission, Schrems and his friends want Facebook to define their parameters regarding personal information and the rules on transparency. Because Facebook's European headquarters are in Dublin, the Irish agency has jurisdiction over the social network's users outside the US and Canada.

Ireland has been highly successful in recent years in its quest to have a number of digital and social network companies establish operations in the country. Today, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter all are well represented in Ireland and contribute to the economic revival ongoing there.

There is, however, some growing concern that in having the Irish Data Protection Commission judge the dispute between Facebook and Europe-v-Facebook, Ireland runs the risk of alienating the social network companies and prompting their departure from what they might consider unfriendly surroundings. Stay tuned.

Pat Has Overstayed His Welcome - As a fairly regular viewer of MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews, I have been collaterally subjected to the racist xenophobia of Patrick Buchanan. Most always I switch to another TV station or click mute but I have seen and read enough of Buchanan since his Nixon White House years to recognize a "Gangplank Irishman" poster boy when I see one. That metaphorical title, of course, is borne by those Irish who were happy enough to use the gangplank to come to America but were quick to pull up that same gangplank for immigrants who might try to follow, especially if the immigrants didn't quite look like them.

A quick aside: During the Ray Flynn years I sometimes found myself at the City's elegant Parkman House for a holiday gathering or the odd reception. Once I was in a four-way holiday chat with, among others, a very high-placed, well-known, famously Irish law enforcement official who stunned me with his outburst of "gangplank" racism. His vehement intolerance towards the new comers of all shades and nationalities loudly uttered almost prompted me to ask about his native American roots. Instead I fled and found more comfortable company elsewhere.

But getting back to Buchanan. He recently appeared on a conservative radio program where he attacked America's diversity (multi-racial, of course) and warned that the US would soon face numerous problems. He said that student test scores will decline because, increasingly, test-takers will be African American and Hispanic. He ended his racist ramble by asserting that blacks and whites were more "unified" during segregation than today. In a 1989 newspaper column he implored the Republican party to "take a hard look at former KKK leader David Duke's portfolio of winning issues." The Buchanan history on issues like the above is long, dark and destructive.

The Anti-Defamation League has called Buchanan an "unrepentant bigot" and I agree. Shame on MSNBC for providing a forum for this blatant, longtime, nativist bigot.

More Moola For McColgan - Riverdance Supremo John McColgan has a fresh idea that he believes will allow him to make a new fortune, possibly overtaking the hundreds of millions he and his wife Moya Doherty made producing and directing the fabulously profitable "Riverdance." His newest project is an innovative Irish social networking site that aims to connect millions of Irish people around the world who share a common affinity with Ireland.

McColgan says the site works by harnessing the power of existing social networks (Facebook, Twitter, et al.) to strengthen people's relationship with Irish culture, arts, sports, and business and, while doing that, attracting investment to Ireland.

As the Irish Independent noted "no other country has developed a similar social media portal for national content." The McColgan approach, if done right, would, it seems to this observer, play off the strengths of the "Irish Brand," which despite the current economic crisis in Ireland continues to hold a unique and welcome place within the international community.

McColgan is scheduled to meet with US investors soon. That site again:

Tense Times for Cowen & Lenihan Family - Mary O'Rourke is a tough old lady. She is a veteran member of the Irish Dail, a former Fianna Fail minister, and also the sister of former Taniste Brian Lenihan Sr., and the aunt of the late Finance minister Brian Lenihan, Jr. She has done her grieving for her nephew and is not reluctant, especially since her defeat in the last election, to speak truthfully about the former Fianna Fail Taoiseach, Brian Cowen.

A recent book by award-winning journalist Bruce Arnold and Jason O'Toole on the collapse of Fianna Fail and the Cowen-Lenihan government paints a sad picture of a once highly respected finance minister, Brian Cowen, his problems with "the pint," and his leadership shortcomings. Mary O'Rourke, quoted in the Arnold-O'Toole book, says she didn't think "Cowen went on benders; I just think he drank steadily." (Ouch!) O'Rourke, when asked by the media, has not been reluctant to weigh in on Cowen's leadership skills, or the lack thereof. She and others continue to believe that Cowen too often dismissed Lenihan's ideas and proposals and in the end that reality contributed to Ireland being forced to accept a draconian IMF bailout.

Catholic Church Hierarchy ‘Immunity' Cracked - For the first time since 2002 when the clerical abuse scandal surfaced in Boston, law enforcement has targeted someone other than a priest for indictment. The bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, Robert Finn, has been charged, along with the diocese he heads, with "failing to report suspected child abuse." The specifics of the indictment relate to accusations that the bishop waited five months to inform police about hundreds of images of child pornography discovered on a priest's computer.

On another front, Amnesty International Ireland flayed the Irish Catholic Church, saying, "The abuse of tens of thousands of Irish children is perhaps the greatest human rights failure in the history of the state... Children were tortured. They were brutalized, beaten, starved and abused."

Colm O'Gorman, a clerical abuse victim and executive director of AI Ireland, based his findings in part on four state reports from the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne dioceses.

No New Michelin Stars for Ireland - There are six restaurants in the Irish Republic with Michelin stars. They are Dublin's famed Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, with two stars, and the one-star restaurants: Waterford's Cliff house, Thornton's, Chapter one, L'Ecrivain, and Bon Appetit in Dublin. No new stars were awarded this year. There are currently no Michelin-starred restaurants in Northern Ireland; Deane's in Belfast lost the star it had held for 14 years in January.

In an interesting aside, there are 13 British pubs, not dining rooms, that have won Michelin stars in the current guide. "This," said Guide editor Rebecca Burr, "confirms our view that pubs serving good food are the ones that continue to thrive."

Finucane family "Angry & Insulted" - As most readers know, Belfast defense lawyer Pat Finucane was assassinated as he was having dinner in his home with his wife and children in 1989. Some 22 years later his wife Geraldine and his children are still waiting for an open investigation and justice.

In early October the Finucane family was invited to Downing Street by Prime Minister David Cameron. Their hopes were elevated and all things seemed possible. Their aim since the first days after the young lawyer's murder has been for a "full independent inquiry." The prime minister offered the Finucane family a "review" conducted by a Queen's Counsel. The review - not a full-fledged open investigation - would have the QC, a British government lawyer, look over the papers related to the Finucane case and report back to Cameron. Speaking after the Downing Street meeting, Mrs. Finucane said: "He [David Cameron] is offering a review. He wants a QC to read the papers in my husband's case and that is how he expects to reach the truth."

The Finucane's disappointment with the Cameron meeting prompted a Dail discussion and a pledge from the Fine Gael-led coalition that the Irish government would support the Finucane family and its goals.

One Man's opinion - The Boston Globe doesn't bat a thousand or close to it, but they were right, it says here, to identify publicly the Icelandic tipster who turned in Whitey Bulger and collected the $2 million reward. There was enough doubt about the specifics of the Bulger arrest and the details leading up to the California grab to make an open identification almost a pro forma necessity.

Certainly information released by the FBI in recent years regarding criminal matters has, how to say it, not always been totally reliable. In the first hours after Whitey's grab there were a number of skeptics willing to raise questions about the FBI public spin on events. I thought it might be a convoluted way to protect someone or a process that the FBI wanted to keep secret and I expressed my personal doubts.

Boston attorney Harvey Silverglate, writing in his Phoenix blog, expressed considerable doubt about the FBI scenario, suggesting that the FBI might be protecting an informant who was a friend or family member. As Silverglate said (from experience, I presume) "nothing is straightforward when it comes to the FBI."

Well, Harvey was wrong in this instance and so was yours truly. I wish the former Miss Iceland a grand time with her two million.

Discretion Leaves Most Memories Undisturbed - The all-party British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly meets regularly in rotating venues to discuss Northern Ireland and related issues. This year the site selected was the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England. But this assembly meeting late last month came with some heavy duty memories. Twenty-seven years ago, in October, 1984, the Grand was the target of an IRA bomb that killed five people, including a Conservative MP, and wounded 34. But it missed its chief target, who was in the hotel: Prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The venue that some Irish and British members wanted changed was not changed. No one sought to have it changed. Though they usually attending Assembly meetings, this year there were no Sinn Fein members of the Dail or Seanad present. Sinn Fein Deputy Padraig MacLochlainn told the Assembly that all Sinn Fein representatives in the Republic were needed for the final days of the presidential election.

A Point of Order - The October issue of Boston Magazine had a lengthy article titled "Fast Times at Marina Bay" and it focused on two members of the O'Connell family, Quincy developers of the marina and other high profile projects. The principal targets of alleged criminal behavior were Bill O'Connell of O'Connell Development and his nephew, 40-year-old Robert O'Connell, the son of O'Connell Development's principal owner, Peter O'Connell. Beyond his relationship to his brother and his son, Peter O'Connell was not relevant in any meaningful way to the article.

In the first half of the 1990s, Peter O'Connell and Arthur Casey, working with a group in Derry, Northern Ireland, and Boston Ireland Ventures, a nonprofit in Boston working with leaders in Derry - and with the good graces of Mayor Raymond Flynn - put a proposal together to build a large shopping center in Derry City. Derry, long a troubled focus of the violent Troubles needed a commercial spark and Peter O'Connell and Arthur Casey agreed to plan and build a large retail shopping center along the Foyle River.

Arthur was on site in Derry almost continuously for two years supervising the shopping center build-out. At the other end of the development team was Peter O'Connell, the man who made it happen from Boston as Casey led on the ground in Derry. During the long months of construction Peter was a passionate and determined player in the drama unfolding along the river in Derry. He and Arthur made things happen on the ground in the North that integrity and professionalism.

In 1995, I joined Peter and Arthur at Derry's Druid Hall ceremonies and into the finished gleaming glass atrium cover of the Foyleside Shopping Center, Northern Ireland's largest and most successful shopping center. Peter O'Connell and O'Connell Development had pulled off a miracle, and when all was said and done, the winners were peace and the people of Derry.

Thank you, Peter O'Connell, for your steadfast loyalty to an idea and to a new beginning for a city and its people who will never forget you.


Irish Folks who have the odd drink and travel over the border could be in trouble. The Northern Ireland alcohol limit is .08., which is the same as most states in New England. However the Irish Republic has just changed its acceptable alcohol level to .05, so legal in the North means trouble down South. … Good luck to good guy Tom O'Brien, a former BRA director, with his plans for turning the inconvenient Government Center Garage into a modern, massive mixed-use complex. … Iconic postcard company John Hinde, Ltd, is sadly in big financial trouble and hopes to survive through restructuring. … Google is investing more than $100 million in a new energy-efficient data center in west Dublin. … Moving in the right direction is an Indian financial services company shifting its headquarters from Bangalore to Tralee. … Adding to the good news on jobs and investments, Twitter is opening an international office in Dublin, where PayPal, Google, and Facebook have bases in Ireland. … It won't be this year or next, but in 2013 there will be a reunion of the 12 Tribes of Galway.

Derry can be a dangerous place. The city's Peace and Reconciliation Group is reporting that 38 residents are currently under death threat from the Real IRA and Republicans Against Drugs. … Gerry Adams's brother Liam has been extradited to the North to answers charges that he molested his daughter over a long period. … The Irish writer Brian O'Nolan (aka Flann O'Brien and Miles na Copaleen) is being honored by a commemorative stamp on his 2011 centenary. … Anglo Irish Bank is conceded to be the trigger for the Irish economic crisis, yet nearly half of the old Anglo bosses are still in their $230,000 PA old jobs and some are due $65,000 bonuses. … Bill Clinton was in Dublin early last month with words of hope and creative encouragement for the people of Ireland; he is as popular as ever. … Aer Araan is scheduled to pull the plug on flights in November out of troubled Galway Airport, which is also battling a loss of government subsidy. … The tab for just five months of policing for parades and related security in the North is almost $10 million. … Ryanair is way down at the bottom of the pile as a favorite airline for travelers but is planning to expand its service next year throughout Europe.

Michael Quinlin and The Boston Globe said it all in their farewells to Mike Cummings, but I want to say that he was as decent a man as you could meet and an unselfish Galway-Boston Irish patriot. RIP.