Thursday, 31 December 2009

Have a happy (as possible) new year.

Look, let’s be realistic.

There’s no point in saying “happy new year” because it’s not going to be, is it? It’s going to be more of the same, and possibly worse, if you live in our little gombeen land.

So it's probably best if you get your slippers on, don your fleecy pyjamas (unless you have them on already, as day wear) and go to bed at 11pm tonight. That way at least you'll be starting 2010 with a clear head.

Let’s start the new year by looking back at how our spendthrift rulers wasted our money in 2009 - at least as it came to light in 2009 - culled from last Sunday's Tribune.

  • Average salary at Udaras Na Gaeltachta, the regional authority for promoting the Gaeltacht, was €75,893. The body’s wage bill for just 112 people is €8.5 annually. It spent €170,000 of taxpayers’ money on overseas travel in just two years, and its job creation policies have shown a recent bias towards call centres. Call centres? What language do they use then? English I presume - and I thought it was forbidden?

  • Senior and junior ministers employ over 300 public servants to assist them in their private Dail and constituency offices at a cost of over €16m a year. The Tribune article states that “…while 5,000 public servants have been cut from the payroll this year, many in frontline services, most ministers have failed to cut back on their private backroom staff.”

    Mary Coughlan’s 18 private and constituency staff alone cost the exchequer over €1 million, while Mary Harney’s Department of Health weighs in at €2 million a year on 40 public servants for her and four junior ministers.

    And all this despite requests from Cowen for ministers to cut down on such expenditure.

  • Mountjoy prison received a €400 million refit to improve conditions in the Victorian jail. Fair enough. But how come Thornton Hall, which should provide humane conditions for those incarcerated by the State, is taking so long to build? Especially considering how much was paid for the site.

  • The Central Statistics Office – the people who now tell us how deep in the shit we are – spent €29,075 on sending 10 of its officials to a conference in Durban in 2008, this year's accounts show. An exhibition stand used by the government body at the conference cost €6,720 to fit out.

    Note to CSO accountants: Give me a shout next time, I’ll get some B&Q chipboard and do it for €6,000.

  • Our old friend John O’Donughue spent €126,000 on expenses in less than two years, including €180 on hat hire for a race meeting, €250 for water taxis in Vienna (should that be Venice?) and an €80 tip to “the Indians moving the luggage”. Generous John, eh? But not with his own money I imagine.

  • And, of course, we all know that taxpayers paid out €54 billion to buy the banks’ bad loan book of €77 billion, even though the current market value of the properties underpinned by the loans was estimated at €47 billion.

    You can be sure it’s even less now.

Regular readers will know there were lots more examples of waste and Official Ireland stupidity that came to light last year, but it’s been a long year and I don’t have the energy to list them all here now. If you’re still up to it, you’ve always got the archive on the left. Anyway, we’ll have plenty of fresh material in 2010.

In the meantime, if you're a supporter of the blog, I hope your personal new year is as happy as it possibly can be.

At least you know what you're up against.

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Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Madness - part of what we are.

You’ll read a lot about “culture” on this blog - usually in the comments section. Much of it concerns a contrived, selective, orthodox brand of official Ireland “culture”, which if we weren’t told about all the time, we’d probably know nothing about. Gaelic, Aran sweaters, tin whistles, Peig, those bagpipe things you play with your armpit. But let’s get on to culture as it really applies in the real world. And Ireland.

I was at Madness in the O2 last night, and was very impressed. Not by the O2 or many of the people present – particularly in the row of seats I was in, hopping up and down like a jack-in-the-box to allow egress to those more interested in the bar and the pop-corn than the band. There are two few aisles, you see, and there’s more legroom in a Ryanair jet than in the O2. Throw in the Irish propensity for face-stuffing and that meant I was paying for a seat I wasn’t actually sitting in most of the time. That’s fine if you’re a dancer, but I’m not.

Back to Madness, though. I know they’ve had 30 years to perfect their set, but they were excellent. The light show was superb too, though sound-wise the bass was a bit muddy - and the bass player had a lovely Stingray, so it wasn’t that. Well-crafted, classic ska and pop hits played excellently - with Suggsy the consummate front-man.

As a bonus, Jerry Dammers was there doing DJ, playing an eclectic selection of Blue Beat, reggae and original ska sounds. Dammers, of course, is the man who set up the Two Tone label in the late seventies, a label that included his band The Specials, The Selector, The Bodysnatchers and (initially), Bad Manners, Madness and The Beat.

And while the punk of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Jam and others had an important message before and during the ska explosion, the practical anti-racist ethos of Two Tone is hard to beat - and is possibly the most durable. This is simply because it united black and white youth around a common culture consisting of a love of music that transcended other so-called cultural divisions. All the more impressive, as it happened just as unemployment, government policy, racism and rioting had indeed transformed some British cities into “ghost towns”.

The open, accessible and inclusive culture of Two Tone is one that’s well worth us all celebrating.

And the music’s not bad either.

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Friday, 25 December 2009

Keep your Christmas Happy... stay away from the Forty Foot

Look at the picture on the left, taken at the Forty-Foot near Sandycove – presumably last year. The Forty Foot Swim is a tradition with some elements of south Dublin on Christmas Day, who congregate at the location to submerge themselves in the freezing drink. It’s something to do with masochism or penance, I think... if you want to make a distinction between the two.

I've been pondering this for some time, and honestly can’t think of a worse thing to do. For my part, I’ll be submerging a few drinks today, but rest assured I won’t be anywhere near the Forty Foot… not even to look and give encouragement to the eejits.

No, things will be a lot more sedate and sensible in the Manor. A bucks fizz breakfast, for instance. Then a search of the TV listings to see if Chitty Bang Bang is on. Maybe a can or two of Newry lager, then a Bernard Matthews synthetic turkey dinner, washed down with bucks fizz and maybe a Guinness just to be patriotic, and a few bags of Tayto for good measure. You get the idea. OK, not very sensible at all - but what other day can you do all this on?

Anyway, it certainly beats splashing around in the Forty Foot, your skin roaring red raw from the bitter cold, doesn’t it?

Happy Christmas.

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Saturday, 19 December 2009

Driving in Ireland. R755 - the Green Hell

I went for a spin again the other day towards the Sally Gap and yonder without using the M50, due to an aversion to handing money over to National Toll Roads. I could have just avoided it by cutting around the back of Clonsilla, but decided to see how people managed pre-M50, going via Leixlip, Celbridge, Newcastle and Saggart.

I’m always amazed by the traffic in these commuter towns, and even more amazed that no effort has been made in improving the local roads for the increased population who need their cars to get about.

We’re not talking six-lane dual carriageways here, but simply for the authorities to make the roads safer. For instance, I encountered three busy, narrow bridges with room for only one car in either direction. Head-on collision, anyone? It might have been fine when we went about on donkeys and carts, or when traffic was light - but not now.

Why, oh why, can’t the local councils or the NRA simply knock down these death traps and replace them with nice, wide, shiny bridges where people don’t have to take their lives in their hands? It would be easy, and would “save lives”. Heritage is the reason, I imagine - “It was on this bridge that Cuchulainn stopped for a pee on his way to fight the Brits at Cooley”, or some such nonsense. Or “It was on this bridge that Gombeen Man had a head-on with an SUV, bad cess to him”.

Then you have the R755 from Laragh to Rathdrum, through the Vale of Clara. Now that is a road on which you need to have all your wits about you. It's very beautiful, granted, but if you spend too long looking at the scenery you'll find yourself in it. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere. The Nordschleife – the German racing circuit known as the Green Hell - is in the ha’penny place by comparison.

You’ll be driving along, minding your own business, and suddenly find yourself in mid-air over the crest of a hill, right on a bend, noting that the road has suddenly shifted twenty feet to your right. And you are heading straight for a tree where the road once was – with not a barrier in sight.

I kid you not. I am sure this has actually happened to people. In fact it’s impossible to imagine it hasn’t. Just go out that way and see for yourself - but be careful, if you don’t want to get too intimate with the green stuff.

Take the M50 though. You might get ripped off crossing the toll bridge, but at least you won't get killed.

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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

YouGov survey shows the Irish are not happy anymore

Remember all the surveys, not that long ago, finding we were the happiest nation on Earth? That the whole world wanted to live here and that Ireland’s population would be 50 billion by the year 2020? And, accordingly, we’d need tax breaks and shelters in place to build all the apartments required to cater for the coming population explosion? And how there would be a wealthy new Irish landlord class that could sit back and live off the income from their investment properties, funded by the influx of drones, assuming they had bought enough apartments?

Well, all that is no more, it seems. A poll by YouGov featured in today’s Metro now tells us that the Irish are not happy campers at all, with nearly 60% worried about “debt, money and their bank balance” - and negative equity I presume. The corresponding figure in the UK is 48%. Surprisingly, only 28% were worried about “the state of Irish politics”. Maybe that statistic alone says it all.

Another finding, in the land of eternal friendliness and gregariousness, was that loneliness was a big issue – with 17% of 18 to 24-year-olds citing it as a top concern. 32% were worried about health issues: not surprising, as if anything happens to them they will probably find themselves on a hospital trolley in a busy corridor, while the highly paid consultant they need is out playing golf. Ah, it’s a great little land altogether.

First thing to do when you read a survey is find out who commissioned it. If it’s about the demand for houses and the Construction Industry Federation (or Fianna Fail) have paid for it, you need to be sceptical.

If, on the other hand, it was carried out on behalf of the Samaritans – as was this one – it might be worth taking a bit more seriously.

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Sunday, 13 December 2009

Anarchy is virtually dead – we've not evolved enough.

If the Internet is an expression of anarchy – no rules, regulation, policing and whatnot - it just affirms the suspicion that anarchy could never work, simply because we are not evolved enough.
You only have to take a look at some of the sites and blogs to see it: Ignorance, racism, prejudice, myths taken for fact, sickos and worse. Not all sites are as informative, authoritative and respectable as Gombeen Nation and the blogs listed to the left, you know.

Being a bit of a petrolhead, I did a search the other day on the subject of the oversteering tendencies of a particular chassis/engine configuration. It lead me to a sick site that gloated about the death of an 18 year-old girl in the US who had taken her parents' Porsche and crashed it.

Not only did it gloat (LOL was the term employed): it featured pictures of the poor kid’s corpse in situ. The pictures were released by some scumbag from the local police department and put up by another (?) scumbag for the entertainment of scumbags the world over, who enjoy such things. The girl’s family were confronted with these pictures, and the other kids had to be taken out of school in order to avoid being goaded by fellow students about their sister’s death.

Where am I going here? Well, this is not about class, nationality or any of the rest – it’s about how far we have evolved as a species. Some of the comments on these sites shocked and filled me with a sad unease – and that does not happen very often, I can tell you. It seems there are quite a few of our species who, at best, don’t have any ability to emphasise - the very quality that distinguishes us from the other animals.

You’ll see it here too, in other forms. I don’t post all the comments I get on the blog – some are too vile and some are simply too ignorant – and I suppose that’s the nearest you can come to self-regulation on the Internet. I always publish a certain amount of them, of course, but if I published each and every one it would just get too tedious reading the same mindless drivel, that adds no value to the topic under discussion.

The post here about rug-headed Limerick mayor, Kevin Keily calling for the deportation of non-nationals was one example. “Fair play to Mayor Kiely – send them home” was typical, but sometimes in less civilised terminology. Stunningly, I even had such comments from (presumably) Irish people living abroad asking for deportations... some from the States (I wonder were they legal?). But the Irish capacity for hypocrisy and self-deception is legendary. More legendary than Cuchulainn, in fact.

But that’s what you’ll see here is mild. Search out a “contentious” issue on You Tube and read the comments - you’ll be stunned at the level of debate. Put it this way, it’s not the kind of stuff that would get past the letter’s page editor of The Irish Times, The New York Times, Die Welt, or whatever else.

So despite whatever objectionable content we might occasionally come up against, calls for increased state regulation should be resisted - especially given Irelands record of censorship. After all, what’s out there was always out there.

The only difference is we are all aware of it now.

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Friday, 11 December 2009

Wind up Anglo Irish Bank... save €7 billion?

Interesting idea in the Metro letters page the other day, of all places, from Ken who suggested that the Government could have made all the Budget cuts and more, simply by winding up bad bank Anglo Irish.

"Last week when all the attention was on talks between the Government and unions, the Department of Finance published estimates for 2010, in which €7 billion of taxpayers' money is expected to be spent on Anglo Irish Bank.

Simple solution: wind-up Anglo Irish Bank and transfer the staff not involved in the corrupt practices of the bank to work for Nama. The Government says it needs to save €4 billion, well wind up Anglo and we'll save €7 billion."

I'm no economist - and maybe that's not a bad thing in an Irish context- but does that suggestion not sound quite sensible?

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Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Compulsory Irish placenames for Dublin - Brabazon and Ni Dhailaigh decree

This is not a joke, right? This is for real.

All future building developments and street names in Dublin will be compelled to have Gaelic names, Dublin City Council has ruled. The council - which obviously has little else to do - supported a motion to that effect proposed by Fianna Fail’s Tom Brabazon and Shinner Criona Ni Dhailaigh.

The move, inspired by Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League), an Irish language lobby group, means it will be illegal for builders to use English when naming new housing or commercial units – whenever they get round to building them again. New estate names will be required to “reflect local history and topography”, but “as Gaeilge” only.

The Gaelic League's chairperson Seán Ó hAdhmaill believes that the edict will “normalise” the use of Gaeilge in Dublin. "I am sure that this initiative will increase the use of the national language in this our capital city".

Maybe someone should point out to these clowns that the extent to which Gaeilge was ever in common usage on the eastern seaboard is highly debatable – certainly in the Viking city of Dublin and surrounding counties (the much-maligned Pale, which I am in favour of reinstating). Indeed, it might be more apt for these jokers to decree that we use Hiberno-Norse, Norman or Anglo-Saxon monikers.

Sure, there may well be an argument for avoiding portentious names such as “Tuscany Downs”, but that does not justify a blanket ban on the use of the city's vernacular. After all, there is a housing estate somewhere in Meath called “Tir na Nog” (The Land of the Young). How embarrassingly, cringingly crap an address is that, then?

If a placename is to reflect “local history” it should be in the local language of Dublin – not Government Gaelic, as Dublin's heritage and influences are far more multifarious than that.

But that would be at odds with the spirit of Official Ireland and our idiot rulers.

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Saturday, 5 December 2009

IFA urge Paul McCartney to let it be on global warming

Listen. Do you want to hear a secret?

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) is an organisation not known for narrow self interest, whingeing and self-promotion; so we really have to sit up and take notice when its members request Paul McCartney to Please, Please Let it Be on climate change.

Macca, as you may know, has been banging on about the world’s livestock herd for some time, and has made the point that if we all stopped eating animals that it would Help reduce greenhouse emissions considerably.

"The biggest change anyone could make in their own lifestyle would be to become vegetarian… I would urge everyone to think about taking this simple step to help our precious environment and save it for the children of the future”, the former Beatle has said.

And if you’re into that kind of thing – saving the world and all that – it makes sense. Indeed a 2006 United Nations report on climate change found that cattle-rearing generated more greenhouse gases than transportation. Speaking personally, I'll happily forego the odd Whopper meal if I can continue to Drive my Car and the eco police leave my 0-60 times alone.

But the IFA is having none of it. With incisive insight, it claims that the multi-billionaire (even after Heather Mills) is only campaigning to sell more of late wife Linda’s veggie pies. Indeed, all IFA president Padraig Walshe is saying is that we should give meat a chance. "He has an agenda, and it’s annoying to see the hype that’s around somebody like him coming into the EU Parliament to promote it”, says the farmers' spokesman.

Something tells me the IFA's members have an agenda here themselves, and I'm sure if we think about it long enough We Can Work it Out.

When it comes to agendas the IFA is out standing in its own field.

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Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Virgin Mary, Knock, and eyesight damage

You'll all know by now that Gombeen Man is a great fan of religous visionary Joe Coleman, who regularly conducts conversations in his Ballyfermot living room with the Virgin Mary. Joe, of course, has predicted "Yer Wan" will appear again at Knock this coming Saturday, the 5th of December.

Needless to say, the cynics have been having a go once more. This time it's some big-shot eye surgeon fella who is putting the mockers on the great forthcoming miracle by claiming that the faithful are not - in fact - seeing the Virgin Mary, but are having the backs of their eyes burnt out by the Sun's rays.

Dr Eamonn O'Donoghue claims that staring at the Sun can cause you to see a "great variety of bizarre visual phenonema". The Galway University Hospital surgeon says he has already treated five Virgin Mary enthusiasts who followed our Joe's advice to hot-foot it down to Knock. This is ridiculous, of course! The man is talking rot as he obviously has no faith and his soul is clearly damned for all eternity for suggesting such nonsense! It will be more than his eyes burning in the fires of Hell, the bowsie!

The video below "appeared" on RTE tonight (in the form of a video) and gives the real facts of the matter through an interview with a female veteran of previous Knock miracles. After looking continually at the Sun for a while, she recounts how it started "dancing" before taking the "form of a host" in the sky. Once again, this is conclusive proof on Gombeen Nation that the clearly intelligent people standing in the mucky fields of Knock, gawping at the heavens, are indeed witnessing apparitions of "Our Lady", and are not blithering half-wits burning their eyes out.

Doctors eh? Who needs them?

RTE video on sun damage to eyes at Knock

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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Police and Priests

During the very time that the Catholic Church was telling us that divorce was scandalous immorality altogether- and that Irish people should be denied it to save their eternal souls (even those of us who had none) - a considerable number of its clergy were engaged in systematically abusing children throughout the land, and covering up their crimes with the help of gardai, either through collusion or inaction. Which amounts to the same thing, I suppose.

So it came as no real surprise to read the following in last weekend's Sunday Tribune.

Ken Foxe, Public Affairs Correspondent. Sunday Tribune. November 29, 2009
A GARDA who admitted downloading child pornography at Garda Headquarters is still serving with the force more than seven years after first being arrested.

Garda Darach Kennedy, who had a nolle prosequi entered against him on the day his trial was due to begin, is currently the subject of disciplinary proceedings. He continues to serve at a station in Co Meath despite admitting during questioning he had downloaded sexual images of boys as young as eight. The Garda Press Office declined to comment on the matter, and refused to even confirm that Garda Kennedy was still a serving member.

"We do not comment on matters of internal discipline concerning named members of An Garda Siochana," a spokesman said. "We cannot comment on ongoing matters of discipline involving individuals. We are not in a position to confirm whether a person is still serving or not."

In December 2002, Garda Kennedy was interviewed by then Det Insp Dominic Hayes of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He was asked whether he had ever accessed the internet to download pornography while on duty at Garda HQ and Garda Kennedy admitted that he had.

An investigation later concluded that Garda Kennedy had been accessing hardcore pornography over the course of three years on a computer in the purchasing support office of Garda HQ, where he worked.

In November 2002, staff at the office noticed the computer was running slow and a technological check discovered material from pornographic sites. Further investigation uncovered thousands of images in the computer's recycle bin as well as written stories involving paedophile activity. A full technical examination then took place.

In April 2003, gardaí submitted a file to the DPP and a month later Garda Kennedy was served with two summonses under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act. Two days later, he was suspended from the force. An internal inquiry was also put in place but it was temporarily halted whilst criminal proceedings went ahead.

In February 2005, for reasons that have never been clarified, a nolle prosequi was entered by the state and Garda Kennedy returned to the force. Gardaí immediately reactivated their internal inquiry and it is understood that process is still underway more than four years later.


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Saturday, 28 November 2009

Murphy Report into Clercial Sex Abuse

Niamh Connolly: “I hope it’s [Craggy Island parochial house] not some kind of hideaway for paedophile priests. That whole thing disgusted me.”

Father Ted: “Well, we’re not all like that, Niamh. Say, if there’s two hundred million priests in the world, and five per cent of them are paedophiles, that’s still only ten million.”

The above dialogue is from the Father Ted comedy series, by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews. Years ago, when it first came out, my family would send me VHS recordings of it when I was living away. They loved it, and knew I would too – still do, in fact.

I’ve even got a book of the complete scripts, which I delve into whenever I want to escape the madness of Irish life into a world of relative sanity. Sometimes the boundaries between Ireland and Craggy Island are thin, granted - but at least Craggy Island is funny with it.

There’s no need here to go into the recent revelations of the Murphy Report on clerical sex abuse in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese, which came into being after a Prime Time programme, Cardinal Secrets, produced by Mary Raftery in 2002. Suffice to say, the findings of the report confirm what anyone with a brain in their heads has known for some time, but at least now the State cannot deny it anymore.

That’s important. Remember this issue is not just about the Catholic Church, which has had an unhealthy influence in State affairs since it was founded, with elected politicians referring policies to the Catholic hierarchy for approval before enacting them; it also is a damning indictment of our police force, which ignored complaints and covered up the systematic rape and abuse of children in good old Catholic Ireland. The Boys and Girls in Blue Serge genuflecting before the Men of the Cloth.

The question is, however, what has changed? What has the State done to ensure something like this never happens again – or isn’t still happening?

Nothing, I think. The only difference now is the Catholic Church is a discredited organisation that can no longer claim to have any moral influence on Irish life. Those priests who abused should be held accountable for their actions - as should the police officers who collaborated and covered up, along with our political caste who are ultimately responsible.

It should not stop with the Catholic Church.

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Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Ireland Today poll - attitudes towards immigrants not very welcome

"Ireland of the welcomes"

Well, maybe when the prolifigate natives thought they were rich, on the basis of borrowing heavily against their overvalued houses, and were splurging money left-right-and-centre in restaurants and hotels serviced by underpaid workers from other EU states, non-Irish nationals were welcome. Not any more, it seems.

Yesterday’s Irish Times "Ireland Today" poll of 1004 Irish adults found that 72% wanted a reduction in “non-Irish immigrants” living here, with 42% saying they would like “some” to actually leave the State.

Attitudes were starkest in the 18-24 age group, 81% of whom wanted to see immigrant numbers fall (compared with 69% in the 25-44 age group).

Hilariously, 40% of those in the same 18-24 age group say they are “likely to emigrate” within the next five years – seemingly without any trace of irony.

Great. Bye-bye to the Celtic Brats at last - don't let us stop you.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Speed camera contract award will make no difference to road safety

You’ll know that the Government has awarded a lucrative speed camera operating contract to a private consortium, Go Safe - a move that will extract in excess of €16 million annually from motorists who don’t watch their speedos attentively. This is the minimum amount the consortium needs to generate to cover the scheme’s running costs. Go figure.

This blog has been arguing against speed cameras for years, so I’m not going to go into it all again, but suffice to say that their “effectiveness” is the subject of some debate, and in Britain they have simply become a self-perpetuating industry with no appreciable effect on road safety. See Scrap Speed Cameras Now - Daily Telegraph

Road deaths are the lowest they have ever been in Ireland, and this has happened in tandem with improved roads. The next time you look at the news and see the aftermath of a fatal crash, have a look at the road. Invariably it will be on a single-carriageway, rural road.

While we are slowly linking our cities together with (tolled) motorways – despite innate Irish conservatism – we will always have single-carriageway roads. But they can be improved through road widening, surface improvement, and the provision of stretches with dedicated overtaking sections, as they have on the European mainland.

Only a couple of days before this contract was awarded, four students were killed on a notorious accident blackspot at Ballintine, Galway. According to the Matt Cooper show yesterday, I am told, the locals speak of an accident a week at this location.

The following is from BreakingNews, Ireland Online:

Parish priest Fr Michael Kenny was called to the scene at about 8pm last night, shortly after the collision. "... The weather was terrible. There was terrible rain and the road conditions were pathetic,” he said.

Fr Kenny, who offered this morning’s Mass for the young women, said the area was notorious for accidents as the road narrows to a sharp bend on a slight incline. “It is a very notorious spot. It is renowned for car accidents,” he said. “It’s on a corner but there’s a drop-off, a slope, as you are coming round and you can lose control.”

I have lost count of the dangerous roads I have driven on where parts could be widened, the camber could be improved, drainage could be addressed, dangerous humps and dips could be levelled, junctions could be cleared to provide visability and so forth - clear measures that would make them safer. Roads, by the way, on which I would not dream of doing the legal limit of 80 Kmh. One such example is the pic above, scene of another accident.

But such measures require considered thought, planning, and constructive action on the part of the authorities – as opposed to simple posturing – so they will never be taken.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

France 1 Ireland 1 - Henry's Hand of God

The phrase “hand of God” will never have the same meaning again in Ireland after tonight’s World Cup play-off. Thierry Henry used his left mitt to pass the ball to William Gallas for France’s equalizer in extra time, putting them through to South Africa 2-1 on aggregate.

It wasn't quite as blatant as Maradona's goal against England in the World Cup which, of course, provoked similar outrage about unsporting behaviour throughout Ireland in 1986.

But Henry's sleight of hand was a slap in the face for the Republic, who were easily the better team on the night, and can justifiably consider themselves hard done-by. Robbie Keane’s goal was excellent, and both he and Damian Duff had chances to wrap it up shortly afterwards. It will remain one of those "what ifs?", unfortunately.

But all the Irish players can have good reason to be proud of their performance, and have nothing to be ashamed of. Isn't that right Thierry?

World football is the nearest I get to being patriotic. Aussi Malade comme un perroquet.

You Tube video, Thierry Henry handball

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Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Road deaths lowest on record - despite the RSA and the Government

It’s been said before on this blog - road deaths have been in steady decline for many years now, despite the hysteria generated by the likes of Gay Byrne, Noel Brett and the Road Safety Authority. If you took them seriously you would imagine our public highways are like something from Grand Theft Auto. But I suppose all quangos have to talk things up to bolster their own perceived importance.

Only 205 people have died on Irish roads this year to date - 45 fewer than last year. It is predicted that less than 250 people will lose their lives on Irish roads by the end of the year – the lowest since records began in 1959.

Now, can someone tell me what is driving the Gay Byrne/RSA/tender company demand for speed cameras? Would it, I wonder, be a desire to hit the motorist with yet another form of taxation, and the Government and the operators with yet another form of revenue?

What, anyhow, is behind the decline in road deaths? Is it:

a) The coppers, zapping us on dual carriageways and motorways?

b) The television ad playing “do it do me one more time” while showing someone’s head being smashed open like an eggshell… over and over again… in slow motion?

c) The coppers, zapping us on good roads with inappropriately low speed limits?

d) The television ad that shows that bloke with runny mascara somersaulting his car several times before landing on little Oisin on his swing, flattening him to a pulp?

e) The coppers, zapping us from their sneaky vans with the blacked-out windows, just before the “80" sign when leaving a town?

f) The television ad showing a spotty teenager overtaking on a blind bend, losing control of his car when a dog (left to roam freely by its owner) wanders out in front of him, causing it to slew across the road, pinning an innocent bystander against a wall and removing her legs in the goriest fashion possible?

g) None of these.

I would go for “g”.

While there are no comprehensive figures available with regard to road death causes, because the authorities can't be arsed compiling them, it is known (thanks to EU studies) that some roads are more dangerous than others. Dual carriageways and motorways are the safest, and in recent years the proportion of such roads in the Irish network has increased – despite protests and opposition by some groupings.

It’s also fair to assume that the old culture of driving to the pub in the "back of beyant", getting hammered, staggering back out the car, and somehow driving home with the help of a few Hail Marys is now frowned upon – unless you are a Fianna Fail backbencher, of course, in which case you believe you actually drive better when you're pissed.

Finally, manufacturers are making cars safer – despite the Irish Government continuing to (VRT) tax life-saving technologies such as Electronic Stability Control, which has been shown to reduce road deaths by 40%. Despite the Government, more and more cars on Irish roads have this feature, largely because the EU aims to make it mandatory by 2011.

Another case of us being saved from our own elected imcompetents by our membership of the EU.

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Sunday, 15 November 2009

EU survey: Irish job applicant's address "important".

Years ago, 1986 I think, the girlfriend and I headed off to Holyhead to get out of recession-torn Ireland. Prior to doing so, she wanted to cash a cheque from her old dear, so we popped into Bank of Ireland on O’Connell Street.

As Irish-based readers (or those who were once and have since got out) will know, everything is a struggle here, and it was the same back then. There was some palaver about it not being my girlfriend’s branch, or something of the sort (it was her old dear’s), but the teller eventually relented and cashed the cheque on the basis that my girlfriend “had a good address”.

Unemployment was running at about 17 per cent at that time, but if you didn’t have a “good address”, the chances of small-minded, parochial, Irish employers taking you on were very slim indeed. So instead of jobseekers from say, Ballymun, receiving credit for getting it together enough to fight the odds and attempt to better their inherited lot, capable people from such locales were left on the dole. Not a “good address”, you see.

There’s an interesting snippet in today’s Sunday Times about a European Commission survey which found that “36% of Irish people believe a job applicant’s ‘way of speaking’ or accent is important (EU average: 30%) while what it describes as a ‘staggering’ 31% think a person’s address is important, compared with an EU average of 9%”.

Never mind ability, aptitude or suitability for the job in question then – you might as well have an Irish Mrs Bucket up there interviewing you, when it comes down to it.

On returning here in 1997, I didn’t think much had changed. Now I am sure...

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Thursday, 12 November 2009

"Deport unemployed foreign nationals" - Limerick Mayor, Kevin Kiely

Mayor of Limerick, Fine Gael’s Kevin Kiely, is NOT a racist. He just wants unemployed foreign nationals deported from our lovely little land, that's all. But he's NOT a racist. Right?

The following is from The Limerick Leader:


THE Mayor of Limerick, Cllr Kevin Kiely, has called for the deportation of EU-nationals who have failed to secure employment since their arrival here.

I'm calling for anybody who is living in the State and who can't afford to pay for themselves to be deported after three months. We are borrowing €400 million per week to maintain our own residents and we can't afford it," the outspoken politician said this Wednesday. "During the good times it was grand but we can't afford the current situation unless the EU is willing to step in and pay for non-nationals," he said.

The president of the Irish-Polish Cultural and Business Association, Pat O'Sullivan, has called on the Mayor to withdraw his comments. "I am shocked, I am taken aback by those comments and it is shocking and dangerous talk," he said. "EU nationals have a legal right to be here and calling for them to be deported shows an extraordinary lack of understanding of our place in Europe and how the world views us as a people," he added.

Mayor Kiely has denied his comments amount to racism. "I'm not racist but it is very simple, we can't continue to borrow €400 million a week and the Government has to pull a halt and say enough is enough unless the EU intervenes and pays some sort of a subvention," he insisted.

Mind you, there are lots of things “we can’t afford” in Ireland - one of which is the sponging, scrounging political class that Kiely is a part of. The class that has been bleeding us dry since the Irish State’s inception. The class that used emigration as a let-off valve up until the false boom, exporting unemployed Irish people to other countries. The class that would be up in arms if the Daily Mail wanted unemployed Irish nationals deported from Britain, Germany or any other EU state.

We can't afford:

FAS. E-voting machines (the buying, the not using, the storage and eventual disposal of same). Public Service unaccountability. Decentralisation. Public works and land purchases that cost multiples of what they should cost. The Irish Language Industry (grants, subsidies, translating unread documents, the Gaeltacht). John O’Donoghue. Overblown legal fees at the tribunals. NAMA. Bank bail-outs. The Senate. The size and number of local councils. The number of TDs we maintain.

Oh… and the Mayor of Limerick. He's the sort of person we can well afford to do without in this country.

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Sunday, 8 November 2009

Government Section 23 tax shelters avoid "sharing the pain" for some.

It’s stunning. Amid the talk of us all having to “share the pain” to deal with the economic disaster and the black hole in the public finances created by this Government, one of the official wheezes that led to the false boom - and very real bust - is still very much in evidence. Namely the property-based tax shelter for investors.

Today’s Sunday Business Post carries a half-page ad on the back page of its property section, inviting the wealthy to avoid paying tax by investing in a Section 23 apartment scheme in Athlone called Bastion Court.

And I quote:


How can this be?

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Thursday, 5 November 2009

Religious symbolism and schools

Some time ago the subject of wearing the hijab, and whether it should be allowed in Irish schools, was a topical one. I remember listening to a debate on RTE Radio One at the time, when one of the participants took the line that Ireland was a “modern, secular state” and that such religious displays were not appropriate. He had hardly got the sentence out of his mouth when the secular, state, RTE presenter announced, without a trace of irony: “Thank you. And now it’s time for the Angelus”. Ireland in microcosm.

On a related issue, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools “violated religious and educational freedoms” after a complaint was taken by Soile Lautsi, who lives in the north of that country. The Italian government defended the use of the icons on the grounds that they were a symbol of “culture, history, identity, tolerance and secularism”. Secularism?

Whichever way education develops here in Ireland, it has to be one or the other. Either you “respect” all religious franchises, and segregate education to cater for each of them - or you take the line that religion is a private matter, and that State schools should be genuinely secular with no religious displays or bias.

I think the latter option is the only one that makes any kind of sense. Education should be broad, inclusive, and non-divisive. It should not be geared towards narrow, exclusive interests, religious or otherwise. It’s the future, after all, and we can’t afford to get it wrong.

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Joe Coleman reveals Immaculate Mary's messages.

This place is getting worse, if that’s possible. According to the Irish Independent, 15,000 half-wits turned up at Knock last weekend in great expectation of a guest appearance by the Virgin Mary. And they weren't disappointed, even if she again disguised herself as the sun breaking through the clouds (See Blessed Virgin / "Our" Lady appears at Knock ).

Better than that though, is clairvoyant Joe Coleman’s claim that Herself turned up in his house in Ballyfermot and left a couple of “secret” messages which he decided to reveal anyway. Take it away Mary:

“I love all my children unconditionally with my immaculuate heart especially all my priests who are not listening to my call. I ask all my children to pray for my priests. Pray. Pray. Pray”.

That’s the first message, and it's a corker alright. Here’s the other bombshell:

“I am the immaculate heart, Mother of all my children, Mother of all God’s children. I am the Immaculate Conception. I am Queen of the heavens. I am Queen of the Earth.”

Sensational stuff, I'm sure you will agree. And it is perfectly clear that only the Virgin Mary could come out with something as illuminating as this. Only she would be privy to such knowledge. Yet there are cynics out there who maintain that Joe Coleman is just plain mad! The fools, the fools!

Despite being a conduit for the Immaculate One, Joe still manages to retain an admirable humility and modesty. Yesterday, he told Joe Duffy’s Liveline that things could have turned nasty down at Knock Shrine, as devotees attempted to touch his visionary hem:

“It was very, very dangerous. People were pulling out of me, tipping off me, throwing their children at me; all they wanted to do was touch me so I would heal them. And I tell them: ‘I don’t heal people, I heal through the Blessed Virgin’. Knock knew this was going to happen and not one priest showed up. They think I’m a crank from Ballyfermot that doesn’t know anything. Well maybe I am a crank to them, but if Our Lady asked me to jump off a mountain tomorrow, I tell you, I’d jump off it”.

Don't do it Joe!!! At least not before you ask Yer Wan for next week’s Lotto numbers the next time she appears in your living room.

My email address is on the left.

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Saturday, 31 October 2009

Ireland – the land of scumbags and skangers.


It’s an interesting word, and one with several meanings. Beyond these shores it is someone who slaughters horses, en route to the manufacture of equine glue, or suchlike. Within them and beyond, it can be used as a verb, as in “to knacker” something, or an adjective as in “the whole country is knackered”.

Exclusively in Ireland, it is predominantly utilised in reference to an individual member of the travelling community (those of you abroad who are unfamiliar with Ireland's travellers might look at the film "Pavee Lackeen" to get some idea). Sometimes the term is employed as an ersatz word for “skanger”, a distinctly urban Irish underclass of scumbag who lives on the dole (though some do work), steals your car, and sticks bangers up your cat’s arse at Halloween . Whenever I use the term it is always in the latter sense, never the former - but it’s probably best to just to use the term “skanger”, as that avoids any possible confusion.

Some time ago, I played in a pub covers band which contained a sizeable proportion of skangers who you would trust as far you could throw (definitely not far). Funny thing is, they would refuse point-blank to perform at traveller weddings. At the time, I mused on what was it, exactly, that made these people feel they were superior to anyone else? Knowing some of them, it certainly wasn’t honesty or integrity.

The subject of travellers is quite a heated one here in Ireland, but it’s one of the few things I would not get hot and bothered about. In short, travellers have never actually bothered me throughout my life to date, whereas skangers have – and there are lots more of them, particularly here in Blanchardstown.

There’s a Traveller halting site not too far away from me on the Porterstown Road, but I have never heard any reports – or experienced – any problems coming from that quarter of Dublin 15. Can you say the same for many of the “settled” estates in the area? No. Skangers are the problem for me, not travellers.

Sure, sections of the travelling community feature disproportionately in reported crime – just as they are underrepresented in education – and some of their internecine feuds are unimaginably vicious and entrenched. But you also have to wonder if an individual traveller attempted to get a job and live and work with settled people, would he/she ever be accepted by the wide majority? My guess is no.

Not even by the skangers.

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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Blessed Virgin / Our Lady appears at Knock

Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou… Sorry, you caught me unawares there …amongst women and blessed is the fruit… Anyway, it does not matter any more as I am renouncing the blog and all its works ...of thy womb Jesus... I have just seen YouTube footage, filmed on October 11th, which plainly shows the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing in the sky over the fields of Knock, just as visionary Joe Coleman said she would ...Holy Mary, Mother of God.... This is conclusive proof that there is a god and there is a Blessed Virgin and that everything they told me during my Marist Brother Catholic schooldays was in fact 100% correct ...pray for us sinners now.... So, I’m off to Knock next weekend and maybe the Gaeltacht the one after... and at the hour of our death, Amen.

See you all there.

God bless.

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Monday, 26 October 2009

€30,000 lost in translation by Clare County Council

The high mullah of Ireland’s Gaeliban, Eamon O’Cuiv, has a lot to answer for.

His Official Languages Act came into force in 2006, three years after he disclosed to a gathering of Irish Language enthusiasts 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" (Sunday Tribune, of 22nd June, 2003).

Now, though the boom money is long gone for such frivolities, we are left footing the financial "bill" to publish documents in Gaelic which will never be read, and which constitute a further financial burden on the taxpayer.

One example appeared in yesterday’s Sunday Times, where the Bar Council was reported saying that the requirement to translate new laws and legislation into Gaelic had resulted in hold-ups, meaning that lawyers were “not able to advise clients properly”.

Another was reported in The Irish Times of Thursday, October 15th, in relation to Clare County Council spending €30,000 to have three development plans translated into Gaelic. Not one was bought, while 190 copies of the English language version were purchased.

Green Party councillor Brian Meaney is quoted as saying that “It is insane that the council has to spend this money to comply with the Official Languages Act 2003… If the council is given a choice that has to be made in the future: spending €10,000 on translating an annual report into Irish or providing €10,000 in grants in improving homes for the elderly or people with disabilities, I know which choice I would make.”


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Friday, 23 October 2009

Irish union leaders' pay, and striking for the teachers

With all the posturing by union leaders on the subject of impending pay cuts for their members, it’s quite shocking – I think – to note the income disparity between the union heads and the majority of workers. It also asks the question: how out of touch with reality are union leaders with ordinary people, especially after years of “social partnership” and hob-nobbing it with TDs?

There’s also, of course, the glaring absence of a union presence where it should be: in the low-paid and exploitative regions of the private sector... the very workers the union bosses should have organised and signed up during the boom years. They chose, instead, to ride the gravy train - sticking to the cosy option of pursuing public service benchmarking.

Now it’s all “workers unite – private and public!” if you listen to them. But am I – or any other poor sap in the private sector - going to walk out of my precarious job to march shoulder-to-shoulder with a phalanx of pampered teachers, whingeing about taking a moderate pay cut? My arse I am. Let alone the fact that I’ve always hated the bastards. Formative reasons for that, I suppose.

But I digress. Of 16 unions contacted by The Irish Times on the subject of their leaders’ nemuneration, seven refused to disclose any details. Teachers’ union boss, John Carr, was found to be the highest-paid of those who fessed up, chalking up €172,000 a year, while IMPACT’s Peter McLoone banked €171,000.

Three national executive officers of SIPTU were paid €125,000 last year; and John White of ASTI, Peter McMenamin of the TUI, and ICTU general secretary David Begg were paid €144,000, “between €132,000-€150,000”, and €137,000 respectively.

We need a revolution in Ireland, but I think it’s highly unlikely it will come about through any form of anarcho-syndicalism.

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Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Enda Kenny on abolishing the Seanad (Senate)

Kenny wants to Enda Senate shock

nda Kenny may well have the personality and charisma of a newt, but he deserves credit for his proposal to abolish the inherently undemocratic body that is the Senate (or Seanad).

Kenny has shown an ability to surprise in the past, such as when he called for Gaelic to be made a non-compulsory school subject – attracting predictable howls of protest from Ireland's powerful Gaeliban (Irish Language lobby).

So let’s look at the Senate, the chief purpose of which – like the British House of Lords – is concerned with giving privileged, but otherwise insignificant, blusterers some kind of nominal function and Gormenghastian status.

Eleven of the sixty blusterers are appointed by the Taoiseach (prime minister) of the day. One example being Sunday Independent bore and waffler Eogan Harris, who was rewarded with a senatorship by Bertie Ahern for defending him and his dismal Government on the eve of the last election… just when some sections of the electorate where showing faint signs of getting wise.

A further six are “elected” by the graduates of TCD and NUI. Naturally, given the self-perpetuating nature of the entrenched class system and third level education in Ireland – populated as it is by the middle-class brats of the well-off (whose fees are paid by the taxpayer) – this too helps ensure an innate conservatism.

Finally, 43 blusterers are elected by “Vocational Panels”, which for the life of me, I cannot figure out. But let’s just say it involves sitting Dail members, selected council members and others, arranged by “vocational interest”. And some people here had the neck to give out about Lisbon and the EU??

Today’s Irish Times reports that the salary of a senator is €70,135, topped-up by a further €45,000 in “unvouched expenses”. They sat their privileged bottoms on the Senate benches for only 93 days in 2008, and the whole charade costs us a whopping €25 million a year to run.

Kenny is talking about calling a referendum to abolish this elitist talking shop. Bring it on.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

West Dublin gardai in drugs investigation

Judge Morris, head of the tribunal investigating corrupt Donegal gardai, has spoken of a culture of dishonesty in the force. It's fair to assume that such a culture is not geographically confined to Donegal - and so it seems. The Herald reports below on an investigation into criminal collusion, involving two Garda stations, with a leading drug dealer.

West Dublin has serious problems with regard to drug-dealing criminal gangs, who are active in areas such as Blanchardstown and Clondalkin. Looks as though it also has problems with its gardai.

Friday October 16 2009

THREE plain clothes gardai are the latest to be questioned over their links to Ireland's biggest drugs dealer, 'the Don'. The three officers were questioned about passing information to the criminal. The trio, all based on the west side of Dublin, were not arrested. A fourth officer was arrested and quizzed last week. Files on the corruption inquiry have already been sent to the DPP.

'The Don' has been blamed for several murders on Dublin's westside and has access to large amounts of money. The three officers work in two West Dublin stations and are involved in drugs investigations. This follows the arrest last week of a uniformed officer and the discovery of a shotgun in his home. The shotgun is said to have been taken from an evidence room in a garda station. That officer's girlfriend was also arrested.

The investigation has been growing as the suspected corrupt officers tried to drag innocent colleagues into the mess. "When they were off duty they would ring members who were working looking for information about suspects," said a source. "They would then pass the information on to the Don -- but it could not be traced back to them; rather to their colleagues who were working at the time," the source continued.

The garda who was arrested last Friday along with his partner, has 20 years' service with the force under his belt. Detectives are looking closely at the activities of his girlfriend. It is believed that this woman could have been involved in a number of criminal dealings. She is also suspected of being involved in a scam linked to the security industry. Gardai raided her workplace in recent days. Her garda boyfriend strenuously denies any wrongdoing. He is, however, suspected of accessing the Garda PULSE system, which holds information on criminals and ongoing investigations, on her behalf.

Sources believe that the officer may not have realised that his girlfriend was allegedly passing on the information to known criminals. The activities of four gardai and the woman are now at the centre of this investigation. It has been alleged that the three officers were receiving money and favours from criminals, who then used the garda intelligence to target and intimidate rivals and innocent members of the public alike.

The four officers at the centre of the investigation are suspected of providing information to a number of criminal gangs in north and west Dublin, including tip-offs about potential raids. It is believed details from hundreds of internal and top secret garda reports may have been leaked. Up to a dozen officers could face trouble if the allegations are proven. "Anything up to 12 members of the force may have been given information of the corrupt trio, not knowing the true purpose of their request," a source said.

With "lawkeepers" like these, who needs criminals?

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Thursday, 15 October 2009

Morgan Kelly and NAMA

There is much debate taking place on the subject of NAMA, with Lenihan now claiming it will make a profit for the taxpayer within 10 years.

Which prompts the question: If these loans are so potentially profitable, why do we "need" NAMA?

As an analysis of the folly of NAMA, and the Government's Homer Simpson-like inability to learn from its mistakes when interfering in the property market, the following is hard to beat. It's pretty long, but worth the effort.

Overpaying for Nama may hit taxpayer for €30bn

Professor of Economics, University College Dublin, writing in THE IRISH TIMES on Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Government estimates of Nama valuations appear implausible, are out of line with other property collapses and may impose massive losses on the taxpayer

WHAT HAS been dismaying about the recent acrimonious exchanges over Nama is that neither side seems to feel it necessary to produce any evidence to support its assertions about its likely cost to the taxpayer. Like most discussions in Irish public life, the Nama debate seems set to generate more heat than light.

If we want to make sensible predictions on the likely course of Irish property prices over the next decade, we need to see what has happened historically in the aftermath of similar booms. In other words, we need to find property booms where sharp increases in bank lending caused real prices to more than double.

In Ireland, between 1995 and the peak of the boom in 2007, the average price of housing and commercial property roughly tripled, adjusting for inflation, while disposable incomes increased by one half.

Two previous booms fit this pattern closely: Japanese urban land in the 1980s, and Irish agricultural land in the late 1970s.

In Japan between 1985 and 1990, the real price of commercial land in major cities tripled, while the price of residential land doubled. What makes the Japanese case particularly relevant to Ireland, as I pointed out here two years ago, is that at the peak of their bubble, Japanese banks had the same extreme exposure to development and construction loans – 30 per cent of their lending – as Irish banks did in 2007.

As Japanese banks buckled under bad property debts, lending fell sharply and prices with it. By 2005 – 15 years after the peak – residential land had fallen back to its pre-bubble level, while commercial land had fallen by nearly 90 per cent. Given that many people are claiming that Irish property prices will recover once the economy starts to grow again, it is interesting to note that Japanese property prices collapsed while the economy continued slowly to expand: real output in Japan rose 20 per cent between 1990 and 2007 and did not fall in any year during this period.

The next case is much closer to home but almost forgotten: the boom and bust in Irish farmland prices in the late 1970s. After joining the EEC in 1973, Irish banks began to lend heavily to farmers. As a result, the inflation adjusted price of agricultural land tripled between 1975 and 1977, reaching a peak equivalent to €14,000 per acre in 2009 prices. Real Irish GNP in 1977 was about one third of its present level, so this price is roughly equivalent to €50,000 per acre in current purchasing power for land with no development potential. For comparison, during the recent boom, when agricultural land prices were driven by demand for potential development, prices peaked in 2006 at an average of €21,000 per acre nationally.

The bubble quickly burst as farmers ran into difficulties servicing loans: between 1977 and 1980 real prices fell by around 75 per cent, and remained at this level, more or less where it had started in 1973, until 1995, 18 years after the peak.

These examples illustrate a general principle: property bubbles are the consequence of abnormal levels of bank lending. Once the bank lending that fuelled the boom returns to its usual levels, prices return roughly to where they started before the boom.

In ordinary times, property prices grow at the same rate as national income: people in industrialised economies spend much the same fraction of their income on housing as they did a century ago.

However, a surge in prosperity, which drives property prices higher and encourages banks to lend more on appreciating assets, can lead to a self-reinforcing cycle of rising prices and rising lending.

Eventually, banks get a fright and return to levels of lending they used to regard as prudent, causing prices to fall back to where they were before the bubble. Just like Irish farmland in the 1970s, and Japanese property in the 1980s, our recent property boom was the product of unsustainable bank lending.

Between 2000 and 2007, while nominal GNP rose by 77 per cent, mortgage lending rose from €24 billion to €115 billion, lending to builders from €2.4 billion to to €25 billion, and to developers from €5 billion to €80 billion. Should the usual post-bubble correction occur in Ireland, it would suggest that real prices of residential and commercial property would return to their levels of the mid-to-late 1990s, two thirds below peak values.

Already the Irish property market has seen unusually sharp falls by international historical standards. The Sherry FitzGerald house price index is down 35 per cent nationally, and 42 per cent for Dublin; while the Society of Chartered Surveyors estimate that commercial property prices have fallen 48.6 per cent from their peak; and Knight Frank estimate that farmland prices, which were driven by their development potential, are down 45 per cent from their peak but are still twice those of comparable UK land.

Despite these large falls, which already exceed the one third haircut on Nama assets rumoured to be proposed by the Government, the property market remains moribund. Property transactions, measured by stamp duty receipts, are two thirds down on this time last year, and 80 per cent lower than two years ago.

In other words, if nobody is buying despite large falls in price, then price needs to fall considerably further to reach its long-run equilibrium.

The impression that Irish property prices are still considerably above long-term value is reinforced by rental yields: the ratio of the rent you get from a property to the price you paid for it. As many of you have discovered to your cost, property is a risky asset that performs particularly badly during economic downturns. To compensate for this fundamental risk, property should earn a long run rental return of at least 8 per cent.

Despite some of the highest rents in the world at the peak of the bubble (according to Lisney, Dublin ranked as the second most expensive location for industrial property and ninth for offices, with Grafton Street coming in as the fifth most expensive retail street on earth), new residential and commercial property was earning a paltry rental yield of 3-4 per cent.

This means that, to restore long-run equilibrium, prices needed to halve from peak levels, or rents to double.

Suppose for a moment that the Government’s assertions are correct, and the long-run value of Irish property is two thirds of its peak value. In order for rental yields to rise from an unsustainable 4 per cent to a long-run equilibrium of 8 per cent, the Government needs rents to rise one third from their already extreme peak values.

In fact, instead of rising, rents have fallen, and nearly as sharply as prices. The Irish Property Watch website estimates that residential rents have fallen by 32 per cent since May 2008; while Lisney estimate that commercial rents have fallen 24 per cent from peak, with office rents down 35 per cent and now lower than they were a decade ago.

Again, these large falls have not been sufficient to restore equilibrium. The number of rental properties listed on has risen from 5,000 at the start of 2007 to nearly 25,000 now, while the average time to rent a property is now 76 days.

For offices, HWBC estimate that lettings are running at one fifth of their rate last year; while Lisney calculates that one fifth of Dublin offices are now empty (something they describe as “startling”) and one third in west Dublin.

The usual post-bubble correction in property prices is likely to be aggravated in Ireland’s case by large falls in national income, and the dislocation in the banking system and Government finances, caused by the collapse of our unusually large construction boom.

The effective ending of new construction activity, collapsing consumption, rising taxes and cuts in Government spending all make the 15 per cent contraction in GNP forecast by the ESRI and others look optimistic. The fall in national competitiveness and likely continuing difficulties in the banking sector make the prospect of a swift national recovery seem problematic.

What we have seen then is that as the abnormal lending that fuelled the property boom returns to its normal level, Irish property prices should fall back to their pre-bubble values, at around one third of their peak values.

In the absence of evidence to support it, the Government’s claim that €90 billion in developer loans are backed by €120 billion in assets appears implausible. While five-year developer loans were the norm, properties were usually flipped on after two years, meaning that existing loans were mostly taken out at peak prices.

In addition, while loans were supposedly 70 per cent of property value, the collateral supplied was usually equity in other property or personal guarantees, both now worthless.

It appears, therefore, that, by paying an average of two thirds of the face value for Nama assets, the Government is likely to impose severe losses on taxpayers of the order of €30 billion, or one fifth of national income.

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Tuesday, 13 October 2009

On the one road, singing the wrong song.

"We're on the one road, maybe the wrong road, we're on the road to God knows where... we're on the one road, maybe the wrong road, but we're together now who cares..."

Oh Jesus - what complete and utter shite. Sorry, there's no other way to describe the Wolfe Tones’ Shinner anthem. But, patent drivel as the song may be, there are people out there who think it's a profound expression of Irishness. And maybe it is?

What is Irishness anyway? Is it playing GAA or the tin whistle? Is it speaking the Gaelic they forced on you at school? Is it singing along - preferably through your nose - to the Wolfe Tones after a feed of pints? Is it just hating the Brits?

Or perhaps it's more practical than that? Maybe it's denying abortion rights, on the grounds that such a need does not exist? A bit like sex didn't exist in Ireland before the Late Late Show, when people were forced to find new ways to amuse themselves. "Ah sure they can always go to England for that type of thing."

Or are we a nation of devil-may-care rebels, who care not a whit for authority? You know the hoary old chesnut: we have an ingrained disrespect for authority as a result of our colonial past. But that does not tally with the deep conservatism of the Irish, and their unquestioning, prostrate obedience to the authority of State and the Church in the not-so-distant past even as young lives were destroyed in institutions that Dickens would have been shocked by, and child abuse by the clergy was first ignored, then covered up. Where was the anti-authoritarianism then? Well?

Maybe being Irish is just being dishonest and corrupt, and blaming the 800 years for it all? So many Irish patently see nothing wrong with voting for corrupt politicians. Wait and see how many votes John O'Donoghue gets in Kerry next time round - just as Michael Lowry, Charles Haughey and Beverly Flynn prospered, despite all their dodgy dealings.

There was much talk about our sovereignty being diminished by Lisbon. Well, I think sovereignty is greatly overvalued and it can't be diminished enough in our case. A strong, accountable Europe – and I hope one day it’s a federal one - is our best hope for self improvement.

For the past 80-odd years we’ve been on the one road. And yes, it was the wrong one.

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Sunday, 11 October 2009

Joseph Stiglitz, NAMA, and the Greens

It has long been said that power corrupts, and we in Ireland know that more than most – given the overwhelming number of corrupt/dishonest politicians in relation to our population size.

The Greens went into coalition with Fianna Fail (which translated from the Gaelic means “Party of Corrupt Shysters”, I think) full of bluster and big ideas – including saving the planet, of course.

Much was made in the lead-up to their “Programme for Government” conference, and the vote on whether they would support the implementation of NAMA, the Government's plan to bail out the banks and keep property prices artificially high by using taxpayers’ money to overpay for the banks' bad loans. No surprise that they voted overwhelmingly both to stay in power and to implement NAMA.

Interesting that Nobel Prize winning economist Joeseph Stiglitz, when asked about the scheme, thought that “the principle of overpaying banks for loans is criminal” and that NAMA was quite simply a bad idea.

But who cares about what a Nobel Prize winning economist thinks anyway? The main thing is that the Greens get to cling on to power for a little bit longer.

Joe Stiglitz RTE interview below, courtesy of You Tube.

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Wednesday, 7 October 2009

John O'Donoghue Mastercard - Irish Taxpayer picks up tab

This one came into the Gombeen Nation email yesterday. It's a bit late in another sense too, I suppose, but the gist of it still holds true.

It would be funny if it wasn't true. Sad thing, RTE interviewed some of his constituents yesterday and they felt "the poor man" was "being hounded out of his job". Another stupid fool has a letter in the Metro this morning saying what a great man "The Bull" is... that he "worked hard to get a good job" and that he was "entitled" to his expenses... that we are all just "jealous" because we haven't got a pot to piss in now that there's a recession.

If you are wondering why so many Irish politicians are so corrupt, look no further than the people who vote them in and think it's alright for them to bleed us dry.

As the Dunnes Stores people say (and somehow think it's a selling point): "The difference is we're Irish."

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O’Donoghue resigns… kicking and screaming.

It took a long time, but the Dail’s chairman was finally asked to resign by the "opposition" after spending €90,000 of taxpayers’ money since taking office in 2007. Prior to that, the Fianna Fail politician had submitted expenses exceeding €500,000 when Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. Expenses.

There are two very telling things about this saga.

1) It was only due to Tribune journalist Ken Foxe and the tireless work of Gavin Sheridan, of Gavin's Blog, that these details saw the light of day via the Freedom of Information Act.

Interestingly, another well-known political chancer - Charlie McCreevy - introduced fees in 2003 for information sought under the FOI. He also increased the exemption period for cabinet records for five to ten years. So information that was once free, could suddenly be very expensive indeed. I quote Gavin below:

“Curious how the Tribune, I believe, only managed to get access to the information just as the Dail was going into recess. But what is perhaps more important is the attitude of the FOI officer. At first they looked for €600 to get the information requested, which was later reduced to €200. This is clearly unacceptable.

Let me be very clear. As a citizen, I have a right to know about how every cent is spent by every Minister, TD and Senator. I have a right to know how taxpayers’ money is spent. It really is that simple. I want details of every single expenditure. For the moment only ministerial expenses can be accessed in this almost detailed way. TD expenses simply fall under broad categories. This has to change, and I will be pursuing this through every means necessary.

And one thing for the Tribune. Publish all the documents you received in the FOI to the web. This isn’t just your data, it’s our data.”

2) Why did it take so long for the opposition to demand O’Donoghue’s resignation?

Are they afraid of similar scrutiny?

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Monday, 5 October 2009

54 billion mind-boggling reasons to oppose NAMA

Everyone knows by now that we, the taxpayers, have been elected by Brian Lenihan to bail out the banks’ bad loans to the tune of €54 billion (€54,000,000,000). And as Ali G might put it, should he ever do an interview on the subject, “€54 billion is a lot of money, innit?”

But how much is it exactly? If you are not playing Monopoly or you weren’t one of those developers “using earth-movers for dice” in 2006 (as wonderfully put in one of the Sunday's) it's a difficult figure to get your head around.

With that in mind, Gombeen Man has done an enormous amount of painstaking research to contextualise one billion for you. OK, OK, it was a quick websearch leading to Wiki, then.

So all you have to do is multiply what you read below by 54 (don't ask me to contextualise that) to get some idea of what kind of debt we have been signed up for.

In terms of time:

  • One billion seconds is about 31.7 years.

  • About one billion minutes ago, the Roman Empire was flourishing.

  • About one billion hours ago, modern human beings and their ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

  • About one billion months ago, dinosaurs walked the earth during the late Cretaceous Period.

In terms of distance:

  • One billion metres is almost three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

  • One billion kilometres is over six times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

In terms of volume:

  • A billion grains of table salt or granulated sugar would occupy a volume of about two and a half cubic feet.

Get the idea?

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Saturday, 3 October 2009

Kwik-Fit Newry. Highly recommended

Back in PriceWatch mode here, having made the trip to and from Newry yesterday - enticed by a couple of tyres that cost €200 less there than in Fast-Fit, Coolmine, Dublin 15.

What do they say on those programmes? “Highly recommended”? After just 1 hour and 10 minutes, we were greeted by MPH speed limit signs, shortly after which we peeled off for Newry itself.

There was a bit of a tailback into the town (they are building a bypass) but we got to Kwik-Fit on Monaghan Street in no time, where the job was done in half-an-hour with the kind of friendly and efficient service that’s all too rare down here, I’m afraid. So full marks to Eddie and Kwik-Fit Newry.

Then it was off to The Quays to spend part of the saved €200. There’s something nice about that, there really is. Old mods might be interested to hear that Fred Perry tops are €20 cheaper than Debenhams, Dublin. Beer connoiseurs might be tempted by the offer of 8 large (568ml - 1 pint) cans of Stella Artois for €9… you have to get more than eight with that kind of value, of course.

A litre bottle of Sainsburys vodka can be had for €13. Kelkin muesli (made in the Republic) costs £2.79 - as opposed to €4.89 in our local Tescos - which you must buy to kid yourself into thinking you're atoning for your shopping trolley's more decadent contents.

In short, I can’t recommend it highly enough. So don't mind Brian (NAMA) Lenihan accusing you of being “unpatriotic”. There are far worse things after all... like being in Fianna Fail.

No, I’d suggest you take Mary Harney’s and Smokey Robinson’s advice - get yourself up there and “shop around”.