Friday, 14 March 2008

Frank Fahey's property portfolio

Gombeen Man has always been sceptical about the continued availabilty of property-based tax incentive schemes - in the form of Section 23s, for instance - that allow investors to write off tax on rental income on their properties. How - even in Ireland - did it make sense to keep them going at the height of the property boom?

Brian "U-turn" Cowen has been talking about getting rid of them for years - but every time Gombeen Man opens one of the Sunday papers he is assailed by pages of property-based tax dodging schemes. So obviously they must have stockpiled them in expectation of the coming slowdown.

It would be interesting to know how many (if any) of FF TDs Frank Fahey's 7 Irish properties were tax-based. Fahey's property interests are great, and also include "part-ownership" of another "22 units here, and in France and Belgium" (Metro March 14th).

Thankfully, the property inflation of the past decade: largely fuelled by well-off investors backed by Government subsidies - in a kind of reverse socialism - has come to an end.


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The property crash and economic slowdown. Reality intrudes at last.

Note: This article was posted under an incorrect title the other day. This is the revised version that replaces it.

In light of RTE revelations on TDs' spending splurge last Paddy's Day,
Gombeen Man was intriqued by Bertie's recent words on the Irish economy. Not for the first time.

Warning of dark days ahead as our false economy slows down - due in large part to his Government's steroidal pumping-up of the property market through tax breaks - it is timely to examine the phenomenon that was the Celtic Tiger before it finally leaves for fresher, meatier pickings.

The earlier part of this country's economic success was largely down to EU financial input in the form of funding and a general opening up of Irish society and attitudes thanks to involvement with the rest of Europe. For instance, we now have contraceptives... unthinkable in the 80s. We now have divorce.

Another factor was the work of the IDA in bringing investment here, by making our Gombeen land the ideal place for multinationals to set-up under a low corporate-tax regime, and use the location to process global profits in a "business-friendly" environment. This, make no mistake - along with the fact that we are an English-speaking nation - is why the multinationals operate in, and through, here. Whatever about the ethics of it all, we do, however, now have employment for anyone who wants it.

The problem is, this Government kept the tax-break idea going by applying it to construction in Ireland long after it was necessary. This took the from of tax shelters for the building of holiday homes, hotels, and houses and apartments in "designated areas". While there might have been some argument for state intervention (isn't that supposedly the bane of enterprise and business) when things were depressed, there was none for continuing with it when the economy took off.

Loathe to see their friends in the construction industry go short of the latest helicopters to transport their semi-literate arses in, the Government kept these tax shelters going right through the height of the property boom. Individuals who benefited were mostly those already propertied and well-off, by allowing them to write off rental income from all investment properties by means of Section 23 tax schemes.

The result? Moneyed, middle-aged, middle-class (upper echelons now, I think) people diverted money into the schemes, at a time of low bank interest rates, and pushed up prices to astronomical levels. Many properties were not even let out, but were bought purely for capital appreciation - which thankfully, has come to a belated end. The others, in the form of buy-to-lets, were let to hard-working young people, many of them building the investment properties they now rent. Another consequence is that many young people - single, cohabiting, and trying to bring up families - are now locked into 40-year mortgages on small, overpriced, shoddily built apartments.

Thank you Fianna Fail. But let's be honest - would things have been any different had there been a coalition led by the other side of Irish Civil War politics?

Probably not. Pity there is no opposition in this country.

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Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Patricks Day trips for TDs... Is the party now over, though?

Given Bertie's dark pronouncements on the economy, it's probably just as well that TDs celebrated Paddy's Day last year by making enough hay to last them right through the developing slowdown. RTE reports, on information gained through the Freedom of Information Act, that some of them celebrated the feast day of our reptile-repelling saint - ironic, eh? - by splurging €560,000 on trips abroad.

Noel Dempsey, the man who whose failed attempt to introduce electronic voting cost the taxpayer dearly, led the slippery exodus. His trip to California, along with wife and three officials, cost €75,000 alone. Expenditure included €8,000 for a flight - presumably not Ryanair - and €19,500 for chauffeur and car hire.

Seamus Brennan, he who foisted penalty points on an unsuspecting public, bagged an apartment at €1,650 a night.

Gombeen Man will be watching festivities this year, hoping to see some evidence of belt-tightening, given the changed economic climate.

See following article:

Bertie's dark pronouncements on economy

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The Party's over - Bertie warns of dark days ahead for economy

Sorry, this article was posted incorrectly. Please go to

for the revised version.

Gombeen Man

Saturday, 8 March 2008

O'Cuiv's charter for legal obfuscation

Maybe Gaelic is worth learning after all?

The First Notional Language of the country - as enshrined in DeValera's 1937 Constitution - has long been used as tool by some enthusiasts to obfuscate and delay legal proceedings; from fighting TV licence fees on the basis that there isn't enough Gaeilge on TV, to having speeding charges dropped because the ticket was issued in the vernacular, English. Perfectly legally, you understand.

However, the potential scope for evading, delaying and complicating the legal process has been assisted greatly by Eamonn O'Cuiv's 2003 Official Languages Act, which stipulates that public services and publications must be provided in Irish.

Before introducing the Act, O'Cuiv is reported to have told a meeting of Irish Language activists in Spiddal that "The English speakers of the country do not know about the Bill and if they did there is a good chance that we would not succeed in putting it through". They - the Dail TDs - didn't, and they - the Irish Language Lobby - did.

Gombeen Man is not commenting on the specifics of the following case, or disputing the issue of availing of a constitutional right. He is, however, using it as an example of how - due to one of the more reactionary elements of the 1937 Constitution (along with the enshrinement of Catholicism), and the Official Languages Act - a legal case dating back as far as 1990 was still under progress at the Supreme Court last Thursday.

According to a report in The Irish Times (Friday, 7th March), a Ruairí Mac Cárthaigh, of Tallaght, was charged with the robbery of confectionery and chocolate to the value of €11,000 and receiving the goods knowing them to have been stolen, at Suardais Road, Dublin, on May 28th, 1990. He denies the charges and wants his trial conducted in Irish, saying he was raised in Dublin through Irish.

It seems that Mac Cárthaigh had originally sought to be tried by a jury sufficiently fluent in Irish to follow court proceedings, but this was correctly refused by the court on the basis that "most of the population would be excluded from jury service if they were required to have a clear grasp of the Irish Language", and would "be contrary to the requirement that a jury should be truly representative".

So, if a trial is conducted "as Gaeilge", it must be translated to the vernacular for the benefit of the judge and jury, and for any "member of the public who wishes to avail of translation" - as most people would not have a clue what was being said if a trial was to be carried out only in Gaelic.

It would appear, though, that there are two kinds of translation - simultaneous and consecutive. The court had originally ruled to translate consecutively, a decision Mac Cártaigh appealed in 2002 - claiming that the interests of justice could be better served by simultaneous, rather than consecutive translation. So now, 18 years after the original alleged offence (yes, 18 - unless there is an error in the newspaper's report), Mac Cártaigh has been given leave to make a fresh application for simultaneous translation of proceedings in the Circuit criminal Court, on the grounds that an interpretation of O'Cuiv's legislation could give more weight to his argument.

It is obvious that in today's Ireland, with its welcome mix of new nationalities, there are genuine demands on the courts for translation services to facilitate some foreign nationals who haven't yet acquired satisfactory English. Presumably such defendants will have no right to simultaneous translation, because it applies only to the official languages? But surely the basis of the argument applies just as much here, if one form of translation is inherently inferior to the other? If not more so, as such defendants have a genuine need to have their cases translated.

Gombeen Man would contend that there are no Gaelic speakers in the country who are not also fluent in English. So if that is the case, why can't legal proceedings simply take place in that language? The answer, of course, is due to the elevated status of Gaelic in the constitution - aided by O'Cuiv's Act - which allows such obtuse wrangling. So, unless a referendum is called to remove it as the first official language of the State, nothing will change.

And what politician or party would have the courage to call for the slaughter of that particular sacred cow?

For Census figures on Irish speakers, see "Sunday Tribune and the Irish Language Industry"

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