Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A year in Gombeen Nation

All the newspapers do it, as the scribes have little else to write about at this time of the year. So Gombeen Nation proudly presents a brief retrospective of the year that was, picking out some of the lowlights of Irish life that featured in the blog.

In February, we had Donie Cassidy’s bizarre call that non-Irish nationals be forced to drive at slower speeds than the rest of us … then his suggestion that maybe we should all start driving on the right. But we do! Have a look at any dual carriageway or motorway and you will see that the Irish love to drive in the right-hand lane.

March saw B-B-B-Bertie warn us all of dark days ahead for the economy, just before he jumped/was pushed from the sinking ship he captained onto the rocks through economic mismanagement and property tax breaks that inflated the market, and contributed to the credit bubble. The same month saw details revealed of Fianna Fail’s Frank Fahey property portfolio.

April saw the reluctant resignation of supreme shyster Bertie Ahern as Toiseach. However, while Gombeen Man was delighted the corrupt Ahern was forced to leave (there’s enough from the tribunals to prove that, or…?), he saw little hope in the substantial shape of his replacement Brian (The Builder) Cowen.

In June we saw the crabby, overfed faces of Coir members celebrate the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty – another famous referendum “no” from the Irish. Coir operate out of the same address as Youth Defence, and their funding is a mystery. And we won’t speak of Declan Ganley, and where he gets his money.

Then we had the embarrassment of our European commissioner, Charlie (Eeeeeh) McCreevy, proudly declare he had not even read the Treaty. Thanks for making us the laughing stock of Europe, folks!

featured Irish speakers looking for tax incentives and Gombeen Nation looked at the contribution of racism in fueling the sudden “popularity” of Irish Language schools in working-class areas. Some of the comments on this one are quite revealing.

In August, we had Cardinal Brady calling for a return to good old-fashioned Christian values, as we had lost our way. So what kind of progressive Christian values was the good Cardinal referring to? Bigotry? Intolerance?
Sectarianism? Persecution?

September saw Gombeen Man dusting off the crystal ball, and seeing the familiar scene of Roy Keane walking out, this time on Sunderland.

It also saw the Government’s bank guarantee scheme being introduced overnight and Brian Cowen’s plan to use taxpayers’ money to bail out his builder buddies.

October was a busy month for the usually dilatory Gombeen Man, with a prolific 11 blog entries. Tips on avoiding those snotty nosed brats knocking on your door at Halloween were included, as were reflections on the nature of Irish patriotism, in light of Fintan O’Toole's revelations that Revenue had records of only 7,857 taxpayers with incomes of more than EUR 275,000, while a Bank of Ireland report told us that there were 33,000 millionaires in Ireland in 2006. Now, where’s my tricolour, so I can wrap myself up in it?

Gombeen Man also saw an interesting story on the Irland Inside blog, about a GAA supporter who was suing the Belfast Hilton for discrimination because they showed a Premiership match in preference to a Gah one.

In November we had Metro publishing a contentious article about Polish nationals claiming social welfare payments they are perfectly entitled to. It was, however, refreshing to read some of the comments received on this one, as it showed there are people out there who question some of the ignorant attitudes that are, sadly, so prevalent in Ireland at the moment.

There were also some reflections from Gombeen Man on the abuse that comes from that constituency, with some positive comments from readers who made him realise that doing the blog is a worthwhile pursuit. Thanks!

Ok, it’s still officially December, so unless some of you have had as much alcohol as has been consumed in Gombeen Manor over the Christmas, you won’t need reminding of some of the most recent topics. Will you? Just in case, we had Bonus points for Irish speakers in the Leaving Cert, a speeding motorist being forced to contribute to a GAA club, and Bono being offically recognised for his tireless work in avoiding tax.

It's enough to drive you to drink, isn't it?

So all that remains is to thank Gombeen Nation's readers for their support, their positive comments, and to wish them all the best for 2009. No doubt we will still have plenty of raw material to ponder and discuss in the new year.

Happy 2009.

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Sunday, 28 December 2008

Google searches abroad for recruits

You’ve heard it countless times, I’m sure – how great the Irish education system is. And you know, if you repeat something often enough, people will actually start believing it.

This particular assertion, however, might be contested with some vehemence by those who have managed to survive our educational system with their wits intact. Certainly the idea does not tally up with this writer’s recollections of an Irish schooling, which abounds with unhappy recollections of duster-dodging, violence, intimidation, and God-awful bad teaching.

Now it seems that Google are drawing the same conclusion. The search-engine supremo has abandoned plans for up to 100 software engineering jobs in Ireland because it can’t find the requisite highly-qualified staff here. Instead the positions have gone to Poland, Norway and Switzerland.

What’s more, the head of its Dublin-based headquarters went so far as to describe the current dearth as a result of the “dumbing down” of our education system. All this is according to last week’s Sunday Business Post, by the way, which is only finding its way onto Gombeen Nation today, due to excess alcohol consumption over the holiday.

It’s ironic that the Government tries to sell us as a nation of web-savvy gurus, despite large swathes of our loveable little land not even having broadband. It’s ironic too, that the education system is continuing to fail today, just as it has in the past. And when you throw extra points for subjects done through Irish into the mix, it’s no wonder that we are going backwards, just as the multinationals are looking outwards.

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Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Christmas and all that

It's that time of year once again: the only day when it's socially acceptable to drink during the day, veg out, and look at those endless re-runs of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Ah... the true meaning of Christmas.

Very often, even going on holidays can be a stressful experience, so it's nice to have a few days off clocking in, and a good excuse to do absolutely nothing. So Gombeen Man would like to take this opportunity to wish all his fellow malcontents all the best for the holiday and the new year. Keep up the good fight!

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Monday, 22 December 2008

Hard Times replace Christmas Carols as plot Dickens

RTE news held a recent vox pop in Henry Street, interviewing shoppers as they went about their business against a backdrop of falling retail sales figures. One woman described the new austerity, after a decade of credit-fuelled boom, by reflecting: “last year I didn’t even look at prices – but this year I have to watch them carefully”.

It’s been a funny old mirage, the boom time. Last Sunday’s Business Post listed a fireman who left over €2M in his will, along with the usual collection of millionaire farmers and publicans.

It’s been said before on this blog: the “boom” was only due to low interest rates, careless borrowing/lending, Government property tax shelters (which stoked things up by a factor of x?) and McDowell’s act of reducing capital gains tax from 40% to 20%. All this meant that there was too much borrowed money in the economy, buoyed up by extra cash that would otherwise have been in the exchequer funds rather than inflating that detached house in Foxrock to the €5 mill mark.

All in all, it was a funny mix of reverse socialism for the well-off and Simplistic Right Wing Economics for Dummies, nearly two decades after Thatcher and Reagan were pushed off the stage. A strange banana economy in which those who were already well-off become extravagantly rich; while young working people were forced out to distant commuter towns, paying 40-year mortgages for the privilege.

But now it’s all come undone. The pigeons – or vultures – have come back to roost. Irish household debt is €35,000 per capita, and it’s only the brief respite of falling interest rates that is keeping the wolf from many a wobbly door. Particularly for those who speculated late, or overstretched, in the pyramid scheme that was the property market.

Unemployment is forecast to reach 10% in 2009, and emigration is expected to take the place of immigration. Hard times indeed, if not quite Dickens just yet... and just as people wanted to feel all Christmassy. Back to the 80s, as the newspaper feature writers write when they can’t think of anything else to say, and have exhausted their supply of “Mercs in the Lidl carpark” anecdotes.

It should be an interesting new era, as it all ends in tears. But did anyone really think it could finish any other way?

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Thursday, 18 December 2008

Bonus points for Gaelscoileanna is educational apartheid.

One great thing about being an atheist is that you never need feel obliged to genuflect. Nor should you ever accept that any cow is too sacred for the slaughter yard. The same applies to those of us who don't believe in the Irish Language Industry.

According to the Irish Constitution Gaeilge is our “first official language" and, as a result, beyond questioning. If it says so in DeValera’s 1937 Constitution - our patriots' bible - it must be true. It follows that we must all do our bit to perpetuate the myth of us being a homogenous race of Gaels, whose native tongue was plundered by the Anglo-Saxon foe. Bad cess to them!

But that mindset does not exist on Gombeen Nation, and Gombeen Man does not feel the need to preface his criticisms with nonsense such as “Irish is a beautiful language, but…”. No such platitudes here. Because while we can question the application of the word “beautiful” to any given language, there is no denying that Irish is a “beautiful” industry – for those employed in it, anyhow.

One group that functions within this sector goes by the snappy moniker of An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta & GaelscolaĆ­ochta, whose mission is to “To fulfill effectively, professionally and at a high standard the responsibilities of An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus GaelscolaĆ­ochta for the development of the Gaeltacht and Irish medium sector and the teaching of Irish in all schools.”

Its chief executive, Muireann Ni Mhorain, had a rather petulant letter in today’s Irish Times, in response to a recent article in that paper on the subject of Gaelscoils, where a writer had the temerity to claim that Gaelscoil students had an unfair advantage over their English language counterparts, due to the Department of Education’s policy of awarding extra marks for sitting exams through Irish.

Even by Ni Mhorain’s admission, it seems that "students answering 'certain’ subjects in Irish are awarded between 3 and 10 per cent extra marks”. So, pray tell, what sane person could argue that such a practice does not constitute an unfair advantage? And by extension, constitutes a disadvantage for students answering the very same questions, in the very same subjects, through English?

Do those in the Irish Language Industry possess such a Pee Flynn-like arrogance, that they can feel perfectly entitled to appear on the op-ed pages of a national newspaper and actually defend such an outrageous, discriminatory, practice? Apparently so.

Ni Mhorain concludes the piece by making a comparison with Maths, claiming that bonus points for that subject might be seen as supporting “progressive economic policy”. Well, that could be argued either way - and many might contend it is not a good idea – but as far as Gombeen Man is aware, it is not possible to sit one’s entire Leaving Cert through mathematics, therefore picking up extra points in other subjects as a result.

The only sector of the economy that benefits from bonus points for Irish is the multitude of State-sponsored bodies that make up the Irish Language Industry.

But Ms ni Mhorain would know that.

See also Gaelscoils, no foreigners need apply

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Monday, 15 December 2008

Podge and Rodge – the gloves are off with these puppets

Gombeen Man has often wondered about the relationship between the Irish and their puppets. Look at how many of them have gone on to be national celebrities, unhindered by their obvious artificiality and their unreal, outlandish appearances. Zig and Zag, Bosco, Dustin the Turkey, Podge and Rodge, Brian Cowen.

Why do we love puppets so much? Is it because their seeming innocence enables them – or their operators - to get away with saying and doing things that would be unacceptable to the more touchy, if they came [directly] from a human? Does it say something deep about us, which is beyond the socioanalytical powers of this blog?

Gombeen Man is a big fan of Podge and Rodge. One of the best episodes featured ex-country & western singer Margo identifying various vibrators and other sex aids as part of a quiz, and it really was quite surreal.

Perhaps you might have had to endure life in Ireland in the 80s, to appreciate just how surreal it seemed to be watching such a programme on RTE. The 80s, after all, was the decade that brought us ‘no’ votes in the Divorce and Women’s Right to Chose Referendums. Podge and Rodge would have been denounced from every pulpit back then, and worse, there would have been people there to listen.

These musings on the Terrible Two were prompted, it should be said, by a TV licence demand for the pricey sum of €160 dropping onto the Gombeen Manor mat the other day. And it revived memories of Fianna Fail senator Jim Walsh's outburst last month, when he questioned what he was paying his TV licence for after “stumbling” across the irreverent puppets one evening (how out of touch can politicians be?).

Gombeen Man sees it differently. In fact, is there any point in switching on RTE at all, other than for The Podge and Rodge Show? It's probably the most sensible thing we've got.

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Friday, 12 December 2008

Lisbon Two addresses imaginary concerns of the Irish

Well, what a great service the Little Irelander “no” voters have done for us and the EU's population of 491,018,683. And all because 862,415 were against a treaty they did not understand.

Now Brussels has bent over backwards to banish the imaginary demons, and every country will now keep its commissioner in a revised Lisbon Two. Ironic, given that one of the aims of Lisbon was to streamline the Commission, and minimise bureaucracy in an expanded EU of 27 states. Was excess “bureaucracy” not one of the planks of the “no” vote campaign? Along with racism, nationalism, ignorance and xenophobia, of course.

Now, assuming the Irish vote “yes”, every country will have a permanent commissioner with his/her attendant cabinets and entourage. Also, we will continue to have the lamentable Charlie Mc Creevy – who proudly declares he never read the Treaty – taking a big wad of cash while showing us up in Europe for the fools that we are. "How could any nation ever have voted such an inarticulate imbecile into power?", they will correctly think.

Other nonsense guarantees forced on Brussels, on topics that were never at issue anyway, are:

Neutrality – Despite us handing Shannon over to US troops engaged in an unjust war, we Irish can continue to indulge in the hypocrisy we are so good at, and pretend to be morally superior to everyone else. Hypocrisy was not at risk from the Treaty, but we have assurances on it now.

Abortion – The denial of women’s right to choose was never an issue either, but the reactionaries will be placated nonetheless.

Tax – Nor was tax harmonization. But we Irish might beg for it when the multinationals go East, lured by lower corporate rates than even we were prepared to prostitute ourselves for.

Conscription - This is the most laughable of the “no” sides threats. There is no EU army so there is no conscription - imaginary or otherwise.

Immigration – The Irish government, along with the Swedes and the British, opened up their borders to the accession states when they joined - other EU states will do so in 2011. That was our decision, and again, is unaffected by Lisbon.

So, if we are eager to secure real guarantees, on real issues, we should pressurise this Government to sign up to EU-wide workers' rights. This would protect all workers from unscrupulous bosses who use nationality to exploit and divide.

Also, we should question why the Irish Government does not allow us to enjoy the full benefits of EU membership, apparent in its continued application of Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT), which makes buying a car up to 40% more expensive here than it is in other EU states.

We should blame our Government for these failures, not Brussels.

VRT , McCreevy, and the Lisbon "No" vote

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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Brian Lenihan's "missing millionaires"

A piece in this morning’s Indo reports that Brian Lenihan is eager to make the acquaintance of Ireland’s “missing” millionaires, who were not identified in a bank report last year (see Irish Patriotism, the Rich and Tax Returns). The report estimated the number of millionaires in Ireland to be in the region of 33,000, despite Revenue being able to account for only 12,300 citizens with incomes of over €250,000.

Gombeen Man has another suggestion. How about changing the tax residency laws to extract a belated contribution from our caste of ex-pat millionaires, such as Denis O’Brien, J.P. Mc Manus and Dermot Desmond?

Under present laws, such captains of industry only have to ensure that they are absent from the country for at least 183 days of the year to avoid paying tax here. What’s more, if they arrive in the morning, and disappear by midnight, that day does not count. They call it the Cinderella Law - which makes Lenihan (along with his predecessors) the Fairy Godmother. Not sure what we are in such a Grimm context… Tom Thumbs, I suppose? As clearly only the little people pay tax in this fairytale - for some - republic.

It’s interesting though, that whenever there is a major planning issue up for appeal, how some of these characters are very much present. Desmond’s recent appeal to Sean Dunne’s proposed development on the old Jurys site in Ballsbridge is a good example. So although such people avoid paying tax to our cash-strapped exchequer – with the full cooperation of the Government – they can still turn up and have a say in our affairs when it suits them. Where else, eh?

So, we’ve identified at least three missing millionaires for Brian to pursue. All he has to do is make a simple change to the unjust tax laws of this country.

Now why didn’t he think of that?

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Saturday, 6 December 2008

Don't support the local GAA club – slow down!

Well, Gombeen Man has seen it all now. He’s often pondered the questionable institution that is the GAA, and its special status in the country as a founding pillar of the State, and here’s your proof.

Bit late with this one, but yesterday’s Irish Times carried a report by Joe McCabe and Tim O’Brien on a woman who was summoned to Naas court for exceeding the speed limit in a 50 km/h zone. It seems that Alison O'Donovan had not received a fixed penalty notice in the post, so she was given the opportunity to make a “charitable donation” in lieu of penalty points and a fine.

All very commendable so far, you might think. After all, isn’t it about time we had a bit of latitude in these matters, rather than slapping penalty points onto people’s licences for exceeding (often inappropriate) limits by a few kilometres an hour?

And no doubt the charity would be a good cause, especially in these recessionary times. So who would it be? St Vincent de Paul? Simon? Concern? (no, they use chuggers, and don’t deserve a penny), Help the Aged?

None of the above, sad to say - for the body chosen to receive the “donation” was Sallins GAA club. Yes, in a time when more people are falling into the poverty trap, and living rough on the streets, a GAA club was the beneficiary of "charitable" Court Service funds.

So whatever you do, if you find yourself speeding in Naas, for Christ’s sake, slow down!

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Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Irish and the Beautiful Game

Gombeen Man gets a fair few Google searches leading to the blog. Some of them can be rather bizarre, and no doubt the searchee ends up disappointed when they reach the shores of Gombeen Nation. There have been a couple of "Jobs in Gaelscoils" queries, for instance. "Where's the back button?!", you can hear them exclaim.

One that crops up quite often, believe it or not, is "why do so many Irish people support English soccer teams?". Well, Gombeen Man feels it's only fair to provide his explanation on this subject, so that those who land here in this manner are not disappointed.

Football (or “soccer” - a play on AsSOCiation Football) is a world game. Sao Paulo or Soweto, Munich or Manchester, Dublin or Dubrovnik, Kiev or Kuwait: this is the game that is played in every urban setting the world over. Football is truly a universal language - unlike some less inclusive, more parochial sports that Gombeen Man could mention, but won’t. Not for another paragraph, anyway.

For decades, young Irish lads have have had ambitions to play this wonderful game at the highest level. To be a pro, in front of massive crowds, enjoying the atmosphere, the adulation and the lifestyle it brings. Just like Johnny Giles, in fact - the best Irish footballer of all time. Even Gombeen Boy once harboured such illusions- undeterred as he was by an obvious lack of talent or ability. So useless was he, in fact, that he was regularly the last one picked in the schoolyard kickaround.
Interestingly, although GAA and Rugby were the schools’ “official” games, it was Soccer that was the natural choice in the yards. Indeed, businessman Bill Cullen was actuallty expelled from his Christian Brothers school for playing soccer, rather than GAA. Amazing, but true.

Soccer has always been the poor relation in Ireland. The GAA banned its supporters from playing it or attending its matches. It never enjoyed the official State sanction and financial support that Gaelic did. It was denounced as a “foreign” game by those narrow little cultural supremacists whose vision of Irishness is an idealised, homogenous, Gaelic one. Never mind the fact that DNA research indicates the Irish are not exclusively Celts at all. But let’s not let the truth stand in the way of a good myth, eh?

But we digress. Many “English” football clubs have been represented very strongly by Irish players down the decades. Leeds United, Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Spurs, Reading, and loads, loads more. In fact, today, some “English” teams might not have a single English player on the pitch for some matches. Arsenal come to mind.

So, although English clubs are based in England, and attract the support of their local towns and cities, they are undeniably international in their make-up. So is it any wonder that Irish people who love the Beautiful Game may, indeed, follow an English team? What’s the problem?

So for those who whose queries on the subject lead them to this site, here’s the answer:-
There’s a big world out there, just beyond the boundaries of your parish pump. You should go and have a look sometime.

Come on Leeds!

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Monday, 1 December 2008

It's official: Bono's the artful tax-dodger!

Gombeen Man would like to extend his sincere congratulations to Bono on his nomination to New Internationalist's shortlist of "most artful tax dodgers" (see excerpt below)

"Irish minstrel and anti-poverty campaigner Bono joined the band of celebrity tax dodgers (which includes the Rolling Stones) in 2006, when it was revealed that U2 had moved its royalty income from Ireland to the Netherlands.

For many years Ireland had famously – and much to the benefit of U2 – not taxed the income of ‘artists’. Then the Government decided to set a cap of $200,000 a year – a fortune for most artists, but not for U2.

Ireland is itself a corporate tax haven and Bono would have done well enough had he decided to stay put. But the Netherlands offered a more competitive deal, partly through its link with the Antilles. Another band member, The Edge, pleaded: ‘Who doesn’t want to be tax efficient?’ "

Gombeen Man feels it is high time that Bono's tireless work in avoiding tax was given official recognition - especially in these challenging times, with the exchequer crying out for cash and more and more people being pushed into poverty.

Well done, Bono, we are so proud of you! You truly are a great Irish hero!

PS Don't listen to any of those begrudgers who say you are a hypocritical, posturing, pompous, sanctimonious, egomaniacal, little arsehole.

New Internationalist article

See also Is Bono a hypocrite?

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Friday, 28 November 2008

What price patriotism - Irish shoppers invade North

“When a nation is filled with strife, then do patriots flourish.”
Adlai E.Stephenson, one-time US ambassador to the United Nations.

The only thing that’s flourishing in Ireland today, though, is cross-border trade, as southern shoppers flock north in a bid to escape rip-off traders and high Government taxes.

Ironic then, that Fianna Fail (the Republican Party), is in decidedly twenty-six county mode; appealing to shoppers to be patriotic by spending their money down here.

Gombeen Man is sick to the back of his rotten, yellowy teeth, by these repetitive appeals to that basest of instincts, patriotism. Indeed, Brian Lenihan has upped the ante by reminding shoppers that, by spending up north, they are contributing to “Her Majesty’s taxes”. “Spit!”, is the reaction he hopes to provoke, it seems.

Well Gombeen Man can tell Brian – as it’s almost certain that he is an avid reader of the blog – that he, for one, would gladly pay Her Majesty’s taxes, rather than hand over his hard-earned to the corrupt bunch of tax-extorting, public-money-wasting shower of scheming shites that is his Government, and its State agencies.

For the record, this morning Herald AM lists some price comparisons, which are (Dublin prices green, northern prices orange) :

Jameson (Irish) Whiskey, one litre: EUR 38.59 EUR 24.96

Jacobs Creek Charonnay EUR 9.49 EUR 5.37

Sony Bravia TV EUR 1,149 EUR 873

Republic of Ireland football shirt EUR 60 EUR 50 (love that one)

Nescafe Gold Blend 100 g EUR 4.44 EUR 3.35

Pampers nappies EUR 4.99 EUR 3.35

Playstation Three 80 GB EUR 399 EUR 377.34

Do we need any more examples?

It’s amazing that "patriotic" appeals seem addressed only to the consumer, never the profiteers. Is there any chance that Irish retailers could lower their prices? Or that the Governent could lower its VAT in line with UK rates?

As that is not going to happen any time soon, Gombeen Man will head north next weekend, with a pocketful of Euro for Lizzie’s exchequer (God bless her).

He might even see some of you up there.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Bad teachers to be sacked shock

It seems that Irish teachers are about to have a belated introduction to the hire-and-fire aspect of the world of work – but at least they’ll still have their holidays, counted in months, to recover from the trauma. This follows a revolutionary agreement forged between Department of Education, and school and teacher representatives.

And isn’t it about time? Gombeen Man remembers his schooldays with no fondness whatever. The happiest days of your life? Don’t think so - unless you were some kind of embryonic masochist.

And part of the reason was the fact that people who should never have been let near of a bunch of kids, where somehow qualified, in Ireland, to become teachers. And what kind of teachers, in Gombeen Man’s experience, were the most dysfunctional? You guessed it: Irish language teachers.

Many of these teachers were, at best, mediocre in every other respect (or subject), and would not have come within a flying blackboard-duster’s range of a classroom but for Gaelic. Only for it, in its State-sponsored Frankenstein manifestation, they would never have been teachers.

GM can only speak from his own experience, but it’s an experience that was terrifyingly real. We had one Irish language teacher who claimed he was a financial adviser to C.J. Haughey. He also claimed he had a helicopter (in the 70s) and drove a Bentley (very British, I thought), until one eagle-eyed pupil saw him running for the number 18 bus during lunch hour, and raised the issue during class.

This clown, who would not have been employed as a teacher in any other country, used to sit at the top of his class, cover this face with his hands, and mutter something; before quizzing some unsuspecting sod to repeat what he said.

Another was a bit more touchy-feely, but not in the liberal sense. The guy had a habit of addressing certain favoured pupils as “lovely boys”. He never did anything untoward, if you know what I mean, but there was a creepiness there. He ranked the class according to a farmyard hierarchy, whereby the most proficient in Irish were “livestock”, and those less gifted in the Noble Tongue of the True Gael, were “poultry”. You might be surprised to hear that Gombeen Man was poultry, until he got fed up with the farmyard bullshit and stopped going to the class altogether – compulsory or not.

But at least that particular one was not violent. Unlike another specimen who carried with him a threat of simmering menace, which found expression on occasion. A big ex Gah player with a big ignornant lump of a turnip head on him, he - like so many Irish language enthusiasts / careerists - did more to discredit his supposed cause than he would ever have the intelligence to imagine.

There were other teachers, of course, and many of them were incompetent. But at least they weren’t stark, raving mad. And they weren’t knuckle dragging cultural supremacists. They were just shit.

So isn’t it about time that bad teachers can get sacked? Is it not reasonable that people placed in postions of trust with children, in their most vulnerable, formative years, should be somehow accountable?

Gombeen Man thinks so. And he hopes, that in the coming economic depression, he bumps into a few of those excuses for teachers who made his young life a misery, at the dole office.

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Sunday, 23 November 2008

Another satisfied customer?

Email problems persist at Gombeen Manor, and the search for a new internet service provider other than Perlico continues. But who?
A call of enquiry to Magnet proved unfruitful, as a respresentative promised that a sales person would "call back in the afternoon". They didn't. Not very promising, if even the sales people can't be arsed to phone you back... what chance if you've got a problem?

Then, going through the options, I considered NTL - for a millisecond - until I remembered the interminable waits whenever there's a problem with the Sky box (Gombeen Man being an avid fan of "foreign games"). Then I recalled the following letter from another dissatisfied customer, featured in an email that was doing the rounds some time ago. I've shamelessly lifted it and pasted it below, for your enjoyment...

Dear Cretins,
I have been an NTL customer since 9th July 2001, when I signed up for your 3-in-one deal for cable TV, cable modem, and telephone.During this three month period I have encountered inadequacy of service which I had not previously considered possible, as well as ignorance and stupidity of monolithic proportions.

Please allow me to provide specific details, so that you can either pursue your professional prerogative, and seek to rectify these difficulties - or more likely (I suspect) so that you can have some entertaining reading material as you while away the working day smoking B&H and drinking vendor-coffee on the bog in your office.

My initial installation was cancelled without warning or notice, resulting in my spending an entire Saturday sitting on my fat arse waiting for your technician to arrive. When he did not arrive at all, I spent a further 57 minutes listening to your infuriating hold music, and the even more annoying Scottish robot woman telling me to look at your helpful alleviated the boredom to some small degree by playing with my testicles for a few minutes - an activity at which you are no doubt both familiar and highly adept.

The rescheduled installation then took place some two weeks later, although the technician did forget to bring a number of vital tools - such as a drill-bit, and his cerebrum.Two weeks later, my cable modem had still not arrived.

After several further telephone calls (actually 15 telephone calls over 4 weeks) my modem arrived ... a total of six weeks after I had requested it, and begun to pay for it.I estimate that the downtime of your internet servers is roughly 35%...these are usually the hours between about 6pm and midnight, Monday to Friday, and most of the useful periods over the weekend.I am still waiting for my telephone connection.

I have made 9 telephone calls on my mobile to your no-help line this week, and have been unhelpfully transferred to a variety of disinterested individuals, who are it seems also highly skilled bollock jugglers.

I have been informed that a telephone line is available (and someone will call me back), that no telephone line is available (and someone will call me back), that I will be transferred to someone who knows whether or not a telephone line is available (and then been cut off), that I will be transferred to someone who knows whether or not a telephone line is available (and then been redirected to an answer machine informing me that your office is closed), that I will be transferred to someone who knows whether or not a telephone line is available (and then been redirected to the irritating Scottish robot woman.... and several other variations on this theme.

Doubtless you are no longer reading this letter, as you have at least a thousand other dissatisfied customers to ignore, and also another one of those crucially important testicle-moments to attend to. Frankly I don't care, it's far more satisfying as a customer to voice my frustrations in print than to shout them at your unending hold music.Forgive me, therefore, if I continue.

I thought BT were shit, that they had attained the holy piss-pot of god-awful customer relations, that no-one, anywhere, ever, could be more disinterested, less helpful or more obstructive to delivering service to their customers. That's why I chose NTL, and because, well, there isn't anyone else is there?How surprised I therefore was, when I discovered to my considerable dissatisfaction and disappointment what a useless shower of bastards you truly are.

You are sputum-filled pieces of distended rectum - incompetents of the highest order. British Telecom - wankers though they are - shine like brilliant beacons of success, in the filthy pus-filled mire of your seemingly limitless inadequacy. Suffice to say that I have now given up on my futile and foolhardy quest to receive any kind of service from you. I suggest that you do likewise, and cease any potential future attempts to extort payment from me for the services which you have so pointedly and catastrophically failed to deliver - any such activity will be greeted initially with hilarity and disbelief - although these feelings will quickly be replaced by derision, and even perhaps a small measure of bemused rage.

I enclose two small deposits, selected with great care from my cat's litter tray, as an expression of my utter and complete contempt for both you, and your pointless company. I sincerely hope that they have not become dessicated during transit - they were satisfyingly moist at the time of posting, and I would feel considerable disappointment if you did not experience both their rich aroma and delicate texture.Consider them the very embodiment of my feelings towards NTL, and its worthless employees.
Have a nice day - may it be the last in your miserable short life, you irritatingly incompetent and infuriatingly unhelpful bunch of twats.

Yours psychotically, xxxxxxx

Let's just say I'm still undecided, apart from knowing who definitely NOT to go with. Any advice will be gratefully received...

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Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Do the Irish have the foggiest idea how to use their lights?

Gombeen Man has long been bemused by Irish drivers’ propensity to drive with their foglights switched on. And it’s not just a seasonal thing, you’ll understand, as was Dublin Council’s decision to turn on the city’s festive illuminations three weeks early to encourage careless consumer spending. Foglights stay on all year round in Ireland – the time of the day, the year of the month, or the road conditions have little to do with it.

Why is this? Goodness knows you don’t see it anywhere else, so why do some Irish consider putting on the foglights to be more essential than pulling on a seatbelt? Is it something to do with the 800 years of oppression? Was there once an obscure penal law whereby the poor Irish peasantry were beaten into the ditches by ruthless Redcoats for affixing lamps to their donkeys’ carts? Or if that is too fanciful for you, could it simply be some kind of compensatory measure for them never using their indicators?

Gombeen Man has even quizzed some who indulge in this quintessentially Irish practice. Two popular explanations given were that said lights “looked cool”, or “increased visibility”. Maybe in the latter instance, some could contend that grey or green cars might otherwise blend, chameleon-like,into their respective urban or rural backgrounds. Not entirely convincing though is it?

So, not content with these explanations, GM has thought long and hard about the problem, and come up with his own theory, which is: options-list-one-upmanship. People switch on their foglights to show that they have them, simple as that. And the proof of this is that they now do the same with their xenon headlights.

If you don’t believe this have a look around during the daytime. You’ll notice that Irish motorists are increasingly embracing the Nordic idea of daytime running lights… only in the Irish context it is usually high-intensity xenons. What does Gormley, and his Token Greens in Government, think about that?

Perhaps the Irish are still in the juvenile stage when it comes to motoring? Car ownership increased dramatically in the past decade or so, as we catch up with the rest of Europe, so for many motoring is still a bit of a novelty – you can tell that by the standard of driving.

And sure as shit, if people are going to pay over the odds for their cars, over the odds for their road tax, and over the odds for their options, by God they’re going to use them – whether they need to or not. Hail, rain, sunshine, or snow.

Every weather condition, in fact, with the possible exception of fog.

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Sunday, 16 November 2008

"Home Choice" Builder Bail-out Scheme

Gombeen Man would like to draw attention to a campaign on the Irish Home Truths website, which is helping to organise opposition to the Government’s Builders Bailout Scheme – otherwise known as the “Home Choice” loan scheme.

“Home Choice” offers “choice” so long as you want to buy a new home, within a certain price bracket, in a development where builders can’t shift their overpriced houses and apartments. In a nutshell, it offers Government-backed mortgages to people who have already been turned down for loans by the banks, most likely on the basis that they are trying to borrow more money than they can safely pay back.

Against the background of the financial crisis, brought on by careless lending and borrowing, the word “scheme” can only be used in this instance in the derogatory sense. That is, the Government “scheming” with their construction industry benefactors to use public money to subsidise their private profits.

A piece in today’s Sunday Times quotes NUI Galway economist, Alan Aherne, saying “if you get a Home Choice loan but have been rejected by two banks, that’s equivalent to sub-prime lending… that person has been rejected for a mortgage because either the price of the property they wanted to buy is expected to fall, or because of changes in their financial circumstances”. David Duffy, of the ESRI, is reported in the same paper as stating that if people do default in their payments, the cost will “have to be picked up, and given that it’s a Government scheme, that cost will fall back on the taxpayer”.

Incredible. Given that property is still overpriced by any conventional analysis, and the fact that we are in a deepening recession - which will see an increase in unemployment – this could very well happen. Where else, pray tell me, would you get an elected government, bending over backwards - to extremes that would make a yogi blush - to vested interests in such a blatant and unashamed manner?

The report goes on to say that P Elliot, the Cavan-based developer, could make EUR 31.8 million by shifting unsold apartments through the scheme. Think about that for a minute. The Government is going to use your money, to keep property prices artificially high, so builders can continue to make astronomical profits, and people can be in stuck negative equity mortgages, guaranteed by you. Doesn’t it make you proud to be Irish? After all, aren’t the developers one of the most vulnerable groups in our society? We need to look after them. We need to show we care.

If you think this is all somehow slightly immoral (not to mention illogical), you could do worse than visit the site above and join the hundreds of people who have submitted complaints to the EU’s competition directorate about the Government scam, on the grounds that it contravenes competition rules, applying as it does - conveniently for the builders - to new properties only.

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Thursday, 13 November 2008

On being Gombeen Man

Running a blog can be interesting. Despite its pervading anoraky image as being a rather solitary endeavour, it can be quite an eye-opening experience.

Regular readers of this blog will know that it has no truck with the concept of patriotism, or blind devotion to one’s nation-state. This can sometimes be a tough job, in a country where even the anarchists are patriotic.

Because Gombeen Man has had the life experiences to question accepted establishment orthodoxies, he is sometimes vilified. You can see it on some of the comments on this blog – though thankfully there are supportive ones too. There are also negative references elsewhere on the web, and a steady number of abusive emails.

But hey, it comes with the job! And while it is comforting to know there are other progressive people out there who can question bogus aspects of Irishness – even the abusive feedback from the Little Irelanders confirms that the blog is doing its job. Namely, exposing these Lilliputians for the small-minded, parochial jingoists they are.

In fact some of the abuse can be funny. Let’s give you a selection (from comments and emails and elsewhere on the web). I have been accused of “finishing off the work of Cromwell” . Of being a “Gombeen Jackeen”, guilty of “royalist Pale logic” and “treasonous west-Britishness" (one of my favourites).

I’m a “pseudo-liberal attacking Gaelic culture”. I’m an anti-Irish language ‘racist’ ” because I dare question the State-funded Irish Language Industry, with its attendant bureaucracy and elites.

I’m someone who “hates the Irish” (despite being Irish… I assume this is where “self-loathing” comes in?). This accusation I can counter by stating that I hate only the narrow, bullshit definition of Irishness that my detractors espouse.

Some of it has been less funny. I am a “nigger-lover” (Deep South drawl here) who should emigrate. Been there, done that, actually. But maybe it would be the ultimate act of patriotism if that particular poster took his/her own advice? Permanently.

Nearly as bad, I have been accused of being a student! Typing away on my “UCD” computer, no less. Wrong again. Like many working-class people of my time, I left our questionable educational system after my Leaving Cert, before leaving for the Holyhead boat a few years later. 1986 it was, in fact.

There were even fewer attractions in Ireland back then. Unemployment was high, and those working in the PAYE system were handing over their pay packets to fund the lifestyle of Charlie Haughey and the Golden Circle. The Civil Service was reserved for Irish speakers, you couldn’t get a rubber johnny unless you knew where to look, divorce was banned, and the streets were full of “police and priests”, as Bob Geldof memorably put it.

But emigration can be an enriching experience. It can open up your eyes, show you there’s a world out there. It introduces you to lots of good people, and some bad ones – such as the National Front and the British National Party. But that’s another story, and a small part of Gombeen Man’s anti-fascist and anti-racist past.

Did I say past? The story continues - just the location has changed. Home sweet home, eh?

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Sunday, 9 November 2008

Metro, Poles, the Daily Mail and Irish racism

Seeing the above headline, you might think Gombeen Man meant to say “Metro, Daily Mail and anti-Irish racism”, and that would be understandable. But it would seem that - in one generation - many Irish have switched from being the victims of prejudice, to being the perpetrators.

When Gombeen Man worked in London, along with so many Irish of his time, he was used to seeing offensive anti-Irish headlines in rags such as the Daily Mail and the London Evening Standard.

Bold 120 point lettering to the effect of “LAZY IRISH SPONGING OFF OUR SYSTEM” . 20 years is a long time ago, so that headline might not be an exact recollection, but that was certainly the gist of it. Particularly galling, as I worked every day of my nine years London. Apart from the odd sickie, of course.

What a surprise then, when the freebie Metro ran a headline last Wednesday, screaming “POLES CAN STILL GET IRISH DOLE AT HOME”. The vindictive column-filler, by someone called John Staples, made great play of the fact that foreign nationals who work in Ireland - and have made the requisite PRSI contributions - are entitled to claim 13 weeks’ Jobseekers Benefit from those contributions when they return home.

This facility, it should be pointed out, is available to all workers, of all nationalities, in all countries in the EU. It is perfectly legal, and Polish workers, or Irish workers, for that matter, are perfectly within their rights to claim the benefits they have earned through their tax and contributions. So why did Metro run this sensationalist, nasty piece?

Needless to say, a polish woman by the name of Magdalena Obrzut wrote to the letters’ page the following day complaining – rightly – that the piece was unfair to Poles, as it singled them out above all other nationalities. She felt that the article was poor journalism, and served only to heighten racial prejudices. A fair point, I thought.

That impression was not shared by contributors to Metro’s letter pages the following day, who saw nothing wrong with the article. One example being a particularly stupid text (predictable, rather than predictive) from an ignoramus called Liam, berating Polish people for “taking someone’s job”, and “sending money home”.

And the Irish never did that, no? Actually, we did. At least those of us who had the intelligence and enterprise to get up off our arses and look for work elsewhere when the economy was in permanent recession back in the 80s. But what would the likes of Liam, with his lazy mind and his lazy texts, know about that? Yet.

Perhaps with the deepening recession in Ireland, he – and others of his spoilt generation – will find out sooner than he thinks.

Bring it on.

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Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The poor old Irish publican

Gombeen Man cannot bear the sight of crocodile tears trickling down our poor publicans’ chubby cheeks. The facial ones, you’ll understand.

All you can hear from them, in their supposedly recession-proof industry, is how they are being squeezed out of business by the smoking ban, off-licences, stronger enforcement of drink-driving laws, and goodness knows what else. The one thing that won’t cross their minds is the slightest suspicion that their prices are too high.

In fact, some have even raised their prices in the past, in a novel approach to attracting more customers. Now where else on Earth would you get that kind of business acumen?

But then, buying a pub has been the height of entrepreneurial endeavour in Ireland for generations. These are the movers and shakers, the visionaries and the wealth creators of Irish society (wealth for themselves, that is). And then there are the builders, of course, flying their exposed arsecracks about the Irish skies in their helicopters. Not exactly Bill Gates, is it?

I met someone from my, erm, close circle of friends the other day at lunchtime. In a defiant display of the radical anti-patriotism I’m famous for, I shunned the local brew, Guinness, for a Coors Light. Strange choice, you might say. Especially considering Stella Artois was on offer, and is a good bit stronger. But let’s just say it’s something to do with a recent health kick. Well, it’s all relative isn’t it?

Anyway. My mate was driving, so he was on something even more namby-pamby than me, namely a rock shandy. So, off went the barman for said drinks and duly placed them in front of us, along with a request for payment of EUR 10.20. Ten euro and twenty cent, I kid you not! For the briefest of nanoseconds, I was tempted to get a couple of double vodkas in, to get over the shock. Then I wondered what they might cost.

That was bad enough, but it actually gets worse. When the time came for my friend to return the compliment, and get a round in, we had to wait about 15 minutes for the pints to arrive.

From what I could make out, although there was no shortage of people behind the bar, most of them seemed to be getting sandwiches for portly punters, and pulling pints was not part of their skill-set at all. We could see only one person who could carry out the aforementioned task, and he was divided between the bar and the lounge sections.

Well really, on this evidence, is it any wonder that people are giving the pubs a miss? So, Gombeen Man – in his temporary role as pub spy – has a radical suggestion for our licensed vintners to stoke up business: lower your prices and actually serve some pints when customers request them. It might sound a bit like one of those “thinking-out-of-the-box” things, but trust me – it will work.

By the way, the pub was Kennedys Bar on Westland Row. I think we’ll try somewhere else the next time.


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Monday, 3 November 2008

Does the RSA really want to save lives?

This may sound a bit extreme, in the style of the most paranoid conspiracy theories doing the rounds on the blogosphere. So I'm not saying I genuinely believe the following to be true, but it's an interesting thought nonetheless. Namely: does the Irish Road Safety Authority want people to die on the roads in order to remain in business?

Would it not be self-defeating for the RSA to achieve its stated goals? In such an event, it could not make a career out of “road safety” any more, could it? Let’s face it, such an organisation is effectively a business (albeit funded by the taxpayer) – even employing the language of business in its remit to:

“reduce death and injury resulting from road collisions” through “cooperation with many stakeholders working in the area of road safety, including the Gardai, education sector, health sector, local authorities, National Roads Authority, the media and of course the general public”.

Gombeen Man loves the “and of course the general public” bit.

As with any State-funded industry, the interest of the RSA is to build a whole self-perpetuating bureaucracy around itself, providing a purpose - and employment - for self-appointed “experts” in that field. So, what would these people do with themselves if road deaths ceased altogether?

In Britain, for instance, the whole road safety industry has taken on a momentum of its own, with thousands of quangos promoting and expanding the use of speed cameras – which do not reduce road deaths. (See Daily Telegraph article: Failure of speed cameras and Safespeed.)

It has been said before on this blog - and will probably be said again and again - that if Gay Byrne and the RSA are serious about reducing road deaths, they can do so at a single stroke. They can get our high-tax Government to abolish VRT (vehicle registration tax) on electronic stability control systems (ESC).

According to Thatcham, the British insurance industry research group, ESC systems (also known as ESP, DSC, VSC, PSM, depending on maker) can reduce road deaths by 40%. That’s right – FORTY PER CENT. So why does the Government insist on taxing this crucial safety feature, which can prevent drivers losing control of their cars in adverse road situations?

Because the tax is applied to ESC, it makes it more than twice as expensive to install on some cars. As a result, many manufacturers do not fit it as standard on vehicles sold here, but leave it as an option (to keep base prices down in a market where some cars are over already 40% more expensive than in other EU states, due to VRT).

On a Nissan Qashqai, for instance, ESC costs an extra EUR 800 in Ireland, but it is fitted as standard in Germany. According to a salesman in a Nissan showroom contacted by Gombeen Man, only about 2% of people ordered ESC on Qashqai bought there.

Taxing ESC, is akin to taxing seatbelts. It is akin to taxing Airbags. So, this Government is actively killing people - and Gay Byrne and the RSA has nothing to say about it, preferring to bleat on about the failed technology of speed cameras.

Once again, we must wait for Brussels to rescue us from our own Government. The European Commission hopes to make ESC mandatory on all new cars by 2011. Until then, hundreds of Irish people will die needlessly on our roads.

The Irish Government - helped by the silence of the RSA - is responsible for this carnage.

See also: Gay Byrne calls for speed cameras - again

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Friday, 31 October 2008

Halloween – the perfect night for the pub

Don’t get me wrong - I’ve nothing against children. No, really! I mean, I wouldn't actually harm them, anyway. Not even the Celtic Bratz that knocked on the front door last year, and greeted my generous offering of assorted sweeties – bought expressly for the occasion – with a belligerent “is that all you’ve got?”. I needn’t tell you, I only curbed my instinct to snatch back said offerings – while delivering a kick up the gits' podgy little arses – due to mummy’s threatening, po-faced, arms-folded, presence at the garden gate.

Mind you, kids are a blank canvas, aren’t they? If they’re ungrateful, spoilt little bastards – similar to that Viz character in the sailor hat – you can only blame it on their parents. After all, if their folks are stupid enough to believe their genes are worthy of perpetuation, they’ll be stupid enough to bring up their kids with all their own attendant character flaws.

Gombeen Man often ponders the near-extinction of the good, old-fashioned, decent Dubliner – and the displacement of that archetype by the modern Dublin skanger. Gombeen Man’s folks were Dubliners, of course, as were theirs and theirs (as far as he can go back, actually), and they were thoroughly decent people – shitty and all as their lives were. There are a few of that mould still around, but Christ, they are few and far between.

So what better time of the year to celebrate the ascendancy of the Dublin skanger than Halloween? It’s a time of lard-arsed little shits banging on your door, demanding sweets/money/a-standing-order-to-their-bank-accounts with menaces. It’s a time when no cat that values its arse can wander out, for fear of a tracksuit-clad scumbag sticking a banger up said orifice. It’s a time when the whole of the Dublin 15 skyline resembles the Baghdad heavens at the height of its forced “liberation”.

And do you know what else? It’s a time to get the hell out of the house and down to the pub, leaving those vile little bastards to knock on your front door – preferably in sub zero temperatures - in vain. Just in case though, take your car out of the driveway so they can’t slash its tyres. Oh, and keep your cat indoors.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Irish patriotism, the rich, and tax returns

Gombeen Man is often accused of being “unpatriotic”. As it happens, it’s one of the fairer criticisms aimed at this blog, and he is glad to pronounce himself guilty as charged. Mindless patriotism – and isn’t it mindless by necessity – and religion have been the two ever-present factors in war, persecution and division down the ages. They both still exist only because we have not evolved sufficiently as yet.

I remember reading a quote from Brendan Behan, of all people, some years back. Something to the effect that he was proud to be a Dubliner “so far as you can be proud of being born somewhere”. Then there was a letter in Metro two weeks ago, of a lower literary elevation, where someone declared that they “loved being Irish”. What? As if it's a choice.

You won’t find any of that guff here - Gombeen Man is very definitely an internationalist. But while he cannot see the attraction of patriotism for the vast bulk of the populace, he can appreciate why the Irish “elite” might be well disposed towards it; and why Brian Lenihan might invoke it to appeal to the more stupid of the population at large.

An excellent piece by Fintan O’Toole appeared in yesterday’s Irish Times, entitled “Rich elite due a dose of patriotic punishment”. O’Toole compiled some telling statistics (some from a Bank of Ireland Private Banking report of last year) on the prolificacy of the “boom” years, bought on cheap credit and property-based tax incentives for the rich.

Some of the highlights are:

1% of the population in Ireland had assets of EUR 100 billion in 2006.

The top 1% owns 20% of the wealth, the top 2% owns 30%, and the top 5% owns 40%.

There were 33,000 millionaires in Ireland in 2006.

And most tellingly:

During the “Celtic Tiger” years (1995-07) the personal wealth of the top 1% of the population grew by EUR 75 billion.

That’s all pretty fascinating, isn’t it? And maybe if I was one of them I’d have a little tricolour flying over Gombeen Manor. Maybe I’d stand up for the national anthem? Maybe I’d start speaking Gaelic? OK, scrub the last two, at least.

Fascinating as those figures are, O'Toole - one of the few commentators worth reading - goes on to describe how Bank of Ireland’s figures seem to be at odds with those of Revenue. And bear with me here, as you must assimliate this information against a backdrop of Budget cuts attacking pensioners, schoolchildren and ordinary working people.

It seems that Revenue can account for only 7,857 taxpayers with incomes of more than EUR 275,000 in Ireland, and only a paltry 25,000 who earn more than EUR 150,000. “In effect, we have, on the one hand, about 40,000 people sharing personal assets of EUR 100 billion and on the other we have fewer than 8,000 households with a declared taxable income of more than EUR 275,000”, O’Toole states.

So, what can we in Gombeen Nation conclude from the above? If there is really is such a black hole in the tax take, it would point to Revenue being a prime candidate for root-and-branch reform of certain Civil Service sectors. For on this evidence, it would seem that they do not bother to look beyond the easy target of the PAYE sector to raise taxes.

It also means the Government have a simple remedy for balancing the books. After years of using property tax shelters to distort the market and transfer wealth from the have-nots to the haves, they can always take the novel option of taxing the wealthy, who have become even more obscenely so thanks to the uniquely Irish, State-sponsored reverse socialism of the boom years.

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Friday, 24 October 2008

Perlico customer service – does it exist?

Gombeen Man has always felt that customer service and value in Ireland leave much to be desired. For example, Dunnes Stores only introduced changing rooms after the British shops moved here. Then, during the recent “boom” years, as consumers splashed borrowed cash about like drunken Monopoly players; paying the asking price, or above, for something was nearly seen as badge of honour.

It didn’t matter whether assets, goods, or services were in question. Discussing something as vulgar as the price was a sign of fiscal weakness for many. “What the hell! I’m flush. I can afford it!”, was the philosophy - with scant consideration to the constraints of reality.

With such a ready supply of lemming-like custom, who could blame our real-estate, retail, and licenced sectors enthusiastically extracting the yellowy fluid? They only had to name their inflated price, provide their shoddy, costly service - and still the public came back for more! Happy days!

It was during this time that Gombeen Man decided to sign up for broadband, choosing to take the Eircom route(er). Mistake. After a couple of weeks waiting for a codeword and a unsuccessful wrangle to keep his old Indigo email address, in order to avoid a moniker such as (Eircom owned Indigo), the Gombeen Manor internet modernization project was dead in the water. Eircom said that the only way of keeping the old address was to pay for broadband and dial-up!

So, Perlico it was. No such complications on the matter of email addresses with Perlico – they simply didn’t supply them. By now, however, GM was resigned to losing his civvy email addy, and decided to go ahead regardless. Things were reasonably OK for a while, until sent emails began bouncing back on a regular basis. Having checked that similar mail delivered successfully from other sources, it was time to visit the Perlico site and their advertised e-mail customer support facility.

However, it seems that Perlico have much the same attitude to customer support queries as they do to dedicated email addresses… they just ignore their existence. Several have gone unanswered, so now it’s time to look around for another ISP. Mind you, in a country where there is as much genuine competition in the commercial sector as there is in the political one, it’s a tough, erm, call to make.

So what’s a cranky blogger to do in order to keep connected (given, "Anonymous" in comments, that I’m not going to stop the blog)? Can anyone advise?

Answers please, by comments or to: gombeenman(at)lookout(dot)ie

Monday, 20 October 2008

Affordable housing more expensive than unaffordable housing shock

According to today’s Irish Times, some so-called “affordable” housing is now more expensive than equivalent properties bought on the open market.

It seems that buyers can save EUR 10,000 on EUR 250,000 two bed apartments in Ongar, and EUR 5,000 on apartments in Mulhuddart by buying privately rather than through Fingal council’s “affordable” housing scheme. The same pattern is repeated in Meath and south Dublin.

If ever there was an argument for this in-the-pockets-of-the-developers Government to stop interfering in the housing market surely this is it? But if Brian Lenihan has his way, the taxpayer will soon be funding the Government's Home Choice Loan Scheme, in order to keep prices artificially high for builders.

If they would just leave it alone, all housing will become "affordable".

Irish Times article

The Property Pin

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Friday, 17 October 2008

The Budget, the Irish Government, the construction industry and the enabling public




Gombeen Man has observed the tendency of many bloggers to become more bitter, twisted and cynical the longer they keep up their sites. Difficult, in GM’s case, you might well say… but is it any wonder?

This blog has been going for 15 months now, and as much as I might bilefully pummel my keyboard here in Gombeen Manor, the fact remains that the majority of Irish people are as thick as two very short (and) fat planks. This does not – of course – apply to the small and exclusive cadre of Gombeen Nation readers.

When I lived as an economic refugee in London between 1986 and 1995, I always reacted with vigour if anyone made a disparaging remark about my accent or nationality. But you know, I now believe that Bernard Manning and company might have had a point. We’re thick.

We have had a “patriotic” budget that sees us all paying a “levy” on our income, has increased the cost of motoring in a country where public transport is not an option for many, has taken the automatic medical cards from the elderly, has upped hospital charges, has increased VAT, and has even increased the immoral DIRT tax.

But to cap it all, and to confirm that Fianna Fail is bought and controlled by the property developers, it is introducing a “Home Choice Loan Scheme” which will give Government loans to first time buyers at more competitive rates and multiples than the banks will give.

Think about it – even after the financial crisis and bank bail outs, this Government is going to loan more irresponsibly to people than even the banks will! Only on newly built properties, mind, as the construction industry lobbied them to do this so they can sell off their unsold apartments.

So once again, this arsehole Government – voted in by arseholes – is going to continue meddling with the property mess it has made in the first place. No wonder building lobby head piper-payer, Tom Parlon, is reported to have walked with a spring in his step in Buswell’s Hotel prior to the budget being announced.

It’s unbelievable – it really, really is. In Metro yesterday morning, there was a letter from “Dave” saying he wasn’t going to vote “yes” to Lisbon should it come up again. The funny thing is, if they had another general election tomorrow, the self-same idiots would rush out and vote the same corrupt Fianna Fail government in again.

So, is there any explanation for this other than sheer stupidity?

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Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Brian Lenihan's Budget - "a call to patriotic action"

The newspapers, radio, TV and blogosphere will be full of comment on yesterday's budget, so Gombeen Nation will confine itself to a brief remark on the subject.

Be afraid - be very afraid, people - of anyone that presents anything as "a call to patriotic action".

Hasn't Lenihan heard Samuel Johnson's famous quote that "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"?

Entirely predictable: how McCreevy and Cowen led us into this mess

The Irish Times comprehensive guide to Budget 2009

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Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Gay Byrne calls for speed cameras. Again.

Road deaths are at historically low levels, having been on a downward trend for the past decade or more, but you would not believe it listening to those who work in the Road Safety Industry.

Road Safety Authority (RSA) chairman Gay Byrne continues to act as cheerleader for private speed camera companies looking to screw yet more money out of the Irish motorist. Gombeen Man had hoped Byrne would disappear from our hand-held radar when he retired from the risible Late Late Show, but that was obviously hoping for too much.

There seems to be an Irish obsession with the issue of speed. “Speed kills” the mantra goes - but surely bad driving kills? A large part of Germany’s Autobahn system has no mandatory speed limit, yet they are the safest roads in that country.

Byrne’s stupid pronouncements on speed cameras ignore the drink-driving culture that is still alive and well in Ireland - at least until the next single-vehicle crash into a ditch or a wall, that is.

A study carried out between 2003-2005 shows that 31% of road deaths in that period were alcohol-related. However, it seems that no blood alcohol samples were taken in another one-third of accidents, so the true figure is certainly higher.

In view of this bombshell, why are Byrne and the RSA focusing on making people watch their speedos rather than the road ahead? Why are they more interested in the pettiness of hitting people with points and fines for exceeding speed limits by a few Kph – often on good roads with inappropriately low speed limits? Will that really “save lives”? No, it won’t

Instead, they should concentrate on driver education (lane usage, for example), and full alcohol testing at all accidents (to build a true picture of accident causes). And lastly, they should campaign against the Government’s scandalous VRT tax which penalises life-saving safety features such as skid-avoidance technology.

Oh, and Gay Byrne should just butt out of our lives for good.

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Friday, 10 October 2008

Simon calls for Government to purchase unsold apartments

The Simon Community is an organisation that does some excellent work for the homeless people of this country. Its volunteers provide a crucial service to those who find themselves living rough, and the organisation's stated aim is to eradicate homelessness.

However, Gombeen Man is not convinced of the wisdom of its recent call for the Government to buy out apartments which are lying empty due to the long-overdue property crash - citing that such an initiative would increase the social and affordable housing stock, while simultaneously giving a "boost" to the construction sector.

Property developers - driven by insatiable greed - continually welshed on obligations to provide a social and affordable element in new housing projects - especially in "better" areas. They made untold profits during the Government-sponsored "boom", and now we are being asked - as taxpayers - to put our hands in our pockets to buy their unsold stock. And this just after every Irish citizen has become a guarantor for the careless loans of massively profitable banks! (Lots more on this and other property-related issues elsewhere on the site).

The ironic thing is, the need for social and affordable housing grew during the property boom, as more and more people became squeezed out of an overpriced market, and the number of people who found themselves homeless grew exponentially.

There will always be a need for the State to stop people falling into the poverty trap, or from ending on the streets through eviction, through family problems, through mental illness, drugs, or through myriad other reasons. And groups like Simon should ensure the Government fulfills its responsibilities in this regard. But as far as housing, in general, goes - the only way it will become "affordable" again, is to simply let prices sink back down to realistic levels, where people don't need Government support to buy a place to live in.

Simon's suggestion would amount to charity for speculators and developers.

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Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Irish house prices drop but the penny does not

Gombeen Man has always been of the opinion that Ireland’s longest running conflict has been the particularly long war between fantasy and reality - and in any war, the first casualty is truth.

The latest house price report states that the national average house price is EUR 312,500 – down nearly 11% on last year. In GM’s Dublin 15 stomping ground, which has seen massive development in recent years, this figure is well over 20%, according to his observations. And they are still not selling.

UCD economics lecturer Moore McDowell is quoted as saying that while the figures “point to a continuous slide in prices overall” it seems that “sellers are not adjusting their asking prices sufficiently to clear the market. The slow adjustment of expectations to reality is illustrated by the gap that has now emerged between asking prices for houses just put on the market and those for houses that have been on the market for a quarter or more”.

Which brings us to the original point. It seems that vendors want to sell at 2006 prices, and buy for 2008 money. A “logic” firmly grounded in their own unrealistic expectations rather than objective reality.

House prices are falling to real-world levels at last – but the penny has not dropped for some vendors just yet.

See also: Property crash and economic slowdown, Part 2

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Sunday, 5 October 2008

GAA, the Belfast Hilton and discrimination

Irish history is full of martyrs. Nothing will make a patriot bristle with dewy-eyed pride as much as tales of death, glory and the odd blood sacrifice - and the more bloody and futile, the better.

Alas, with the outbreak of peace, it seems that the put-upon-victim has taken the martyr's place. Witness the following story on the excellent Irland Inside blog

The piece (in German, with a link to the RTE report) tells of a disgruntled guest who is suing the Belfast Hilton hotel for showing the Chelsea v Manchester United match in preference to the GAA all-Ireland final in Croke Park. The GAA fan is suing for "discrimination", claiming the choice was an affront to his "dignity" and "national identity".

Funny. Is this man a supporter of the same GAA that banned "foreign" games from its largely taxpayer-funded main stadium, until it came under political pressure? The same GAA that banned members of "the security forces" from joining its enlightened ranks? The same GAA that forbade its own followers from playing soccer, on pain of expulsion? The same GAA that is thwarting Shamrock Rovers' attempts to open a modest stadium in Tallaght? Well, indeed it is!

Discrimination. Sure GAA fans should know that when they see it.

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Friday, 3 October 2008

Maynooth Line, skangers, Irish bank bail-outs

Coming home from work on the PAYE sector slavey-train the other evening, Gombeen Man was dismayed to hear the driver announce “I’d like to inform passengers that there have been reports of stone-throwing between Glasnevin Junction and Broombridge. I repeat - there have been reports of stone-throwing between Glasnevin Junction and Broombridge”. The clear inference was that we were all to get ready to duck.

Two points come to mind here, the first being a question. Namely, where are the Piggies when they aren’t at the market, or dishing out penalty points (for minor traffic infringements) to mugs like us? Given that the previous train passed through the war zone a good half-hour beforehand, surely there was time for the boys and girls in blue to mobilise and apprehend any skangers engaged in hurling rocks at passing trains? Is it really too much to ask?

The second point is a social observation. Namely, that ordinary working people seem to constitute the meat in the sandwich between the skanger underclass on one side, and the business lord-it-over-us class on the other.

We are the ones who fund the social welfare system, which in turn keeps the aforementioned shell-suited idlers sufficiently nourished to pepper us with missiles as we return from work.

We are the ones who (or many us, at least) are spread-eagled over a financial barrel for our foreseeable working lives, with a large jar of Vaseline placed between our ankles - slaves to 35-year mortgages for the privilege of living in godforsaken kips.

And who are we paying the mortgages to? I’ll tell you. Greedy financial institutions grown rich, complacent and fat on a property bubble inflated by Government tax shelters and tax avoidance schemes for property developers and investors. And now we must act as guarantors for them should their investments not work out, and a bank (or two) go bust through bad debts and careless lending (see elsewhere on this site).

Bob Geldof wrote “Banana Republic, septic isle… great to see the place again, it’s a pity nothing’s changed”. And he was spot on. Despite the boom that was to float all boats, we still have the social problems we had twenty years ago, and we still have the “Golden Circle” pulling the strings of our politicians.

And we’re all so pleased with ourselves.

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