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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