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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