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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