Sunday, 30 August 2009

Pyjama Girls in Dublin

We all know that the country sleepwalked itself into deep recession whilst dreaming a fluffy dream about ever-multiplying property values that would sustain the economy forever.

Nobody shouted “wake up”, of course, and now all the would-be tycoons are stuck paying for properties they can’t afford, are worth less than they were bought for, and can’t be let out. Oh… and many of them are losing their jobs.

And speaking of sleepwalking, what about all those people – usually female – going around the place in pyjamas all the time? For any of you who haven’t been to Ireland in a while – particularly Dublin – it’s a common sight. Young ones and women right up to their 20s, 30s and 40s who have given up on the idea of getting dressed, and walk the streets in their jim-jams instead - the ensemble usually accessorised by a packet of John Player Blue in the breast pocket.

I noticed it a good few years ago, and often marvelled upon it. But each to their own, and if people want to wear pyjamas 24-7 then grand, that’s their business. But you can’t help noticing and wondering what’s behind it all. The phenomenon, I mean – not necessarily the pyjamas.

Today’s Sunday Times reports that a documentary is in the making, called “Pyjama Girls”. Set around the Basin Street Flats complex near Guinness Brewery, its director, May Derrington, has an interesting take on the subject, theorising that “There is a sense among the communities where pyjama-wearing is prevalent that the home doesn’t stop at your front door…. It’s the wider area you live in. There is more of an old-fashioned sense of belonging, of an identity. Obviously there are also negative sides to those communities in that another reason for wearing pyjamas is because these people are not necessarily going to work”.

In that case, given the rude awakening the Irish economy has had, we might all be donning the pee-jays yet.

Best get down to Penneys and grab a few sets while you still can.

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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Let's honour Scouts with Irish Rail bridge contract

Today’s Irish Times reports that a sea scout leader warned Irish Rail (Iarnród Éireann) of the impending failure of Broadwater Estuary viaduct just five days before a 20-metre section of it fell into the sea last Friday.

“One of my colleagues phoned Iarnród Éireann on Monday week and said it was in danger of collapse……… they did nothing about it. Only when it collapsed did they see the problem. Yet we could see that there was a serious problem developing long before it happened, over a period of two months, and it should have been taken more seriously by Iarnród Éireann”, a Malahide Sea Scout leader told the newspaper’s environment editor, Frank McDonald.

Irish Rail did send an engineer the day after the scout's warning but found everything to be in order. The last full inspection of the bridge was carried out in October 2007, with the next one due the same month this year.

Idea: Instead of employing expensive engineers to assess Irish Rail’s network of viaducts and bridges (and remember that part of the Cahir viaduct collapsed six years ago), why don’t we utilise the services of the country’s scouts, who number over 40,000 across the whole island?

From the above, it would appear that they would be more worthy of the public’s trust than Irish Rail’s surveyors and engineers. And what’s more – given the perilous state of the country’s finances – they would be a lot cheaper as well.

Particularly if we waited until Bob-a-Job Week.

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Monday, 24 August 2009

Commission on taxation says scrap VRT

The following is lifted, unashamedly, from yesterday's Sunday Tribune. It concerns the Irish Government's continuing application of VRT (Vehicle Registration Tax), which is a excise duty on cars imported into Ireland from other EU member states and beyond, which means motorists in the Republic can pay 40% more for their cars than people living in other EU states, for instance (Mercedes SL starting price in Ireland: €126,000. Same car in Luxembourg: €78,300). See END VRT NOW

The Commission on Taxation is expected to recommend that the Government scrap VRT and replace with a taxation on vehicle use, rather than the vehicle itself. It is to be expected that the Government will simply ignore this aspect or the report, as VRT has been such a cash cow for them in the past (though it is contributing to the collapse of car dealerships at the moment). Its attraction for them is that it is a lazy tax, and the Irish people seem happy to pay it compliantly and without protest.

If you want to end this unfair tax, which is contrary to EU principles of free trade and movement of people and goods, bring it up when the political parties knock on your door looking for a "yes" vote for Lisbon.

Tell them that you will be a good European and vote "yes", if they are good Europeans and scrap VRT.

(For the record, I am a "yes" voter by inclination, as I believe that if VRT is ever scrapped, it will happen due to pressure on the Irish Government from a stronger, more integrated EU. But just make the point to our gombeen politicians anyway!)

Congestion charges or petrol tax to replace VRT

Radical moves proposed by Commission on Taxation include levy on cars in Dublin city Emmet Oliver, Business Editor - Sunday Tribune

Vehicle registration tax (VRT) should be abolished on all cars sold in Ireland and replaced with a UK-style congestion charge or an increased tax on petrol, according to proposals submitted to government by the Commission on Taxation.The radical measures are aimed at "taxing driving, rather than taxing cars" according to the report of the commission, which goes to the Department of Finance this week.

If the government implements the measures it would represent a major change in taxation and transport policy.The recommendations, which could provide an unprecedented boost to the faltering Irish motor trade, would involve charging drivers a fee when they enter designated and often congested urban areas. For example, in Dublin the charge would most likely kick in if a car travelled within either of the two main canals.

The report comes to the conclusion that VRT is a "lumpy tax" that is dependent on one large purchase being made by a consumer. A tax on driving and use of the road network would throw the net much wider and mean the government would receive large revenues even if car sales slumped as they tend to in recessions."It will provide the exchequer with more stable sources of revenue and is part of the general drive to broaden the tax base,'' a commission member told the Sunday Tribune.

The London congestion charge levies drivers who enter certain defined zones from the hours of 7am to 6pm with a charge of £8. Residents who live within the congestion-charge areas and those driving green vehicles are either exempt from the levy or can avail of a discounted rate.A set of cameras have been placed around central London to take images of drivers' registration plates, and a number of payment methods, online, by phone or in a shop, are available.

The motor industry desperately wants a car-scrappage scheme introduced in the December budget, a measure it says could help to salvage large parts of the sector, but the idea of abolishing VRT could provide an even bigger lift, although petrol taxes or congestion charges are not popular with the motor industry.

VRT is the main reason why cars are more expensive in Ireland than in other EU countries. The prices of new cars here increase by up to 30% when VRT is applied.Commission members who spoke to the Sunday Tribune said the measure was also designed to have a 'green' impact."The idea is to lower people's use of their car and get them to switch to public-transport alternatives. "Just taxing the car itself doesn't do that, because once somebody has paid the tax they can drive it as much as they like.''

A congestion charge, which the report refers to, would be more popular than a general increase in petrol costs, which are already high based on recent hikes in oil prices. While the government's tax receipts for 2009 remain under pressure, the importance of VRT has hugely dropped over the last six months.Net VRT receipts in the first half of the year amounted to €269m, compared to €866m for the same period last year, according to Department of Finance figures.

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Sunday, 23 August 2009

Hardies shareholders back move to Ireland

Last June, Gombeen Nation featured the news that Hardies, the Australian building materials company that is facing a raft of claims in its own country due to its liberal use of asbestos in its products, intended setting up in Ireland. The company is currently contributing to a fund helping multiple victims who contracted Asbestos-related illnesses – including cancer - in its employment.

Hardies had a major shareholders’ meeting recently, at which they received over 99% approval for the planned relocation of a substantial part of its operation here, to avail of corporate tax breaks.

According to a source in Australia, who is following the Hardies' case with interest, it seems that the planned move to Ireland will cost in the region of €60 million... which means that the company “will be unable to honour its commitment to fund the Asbestos-related disease fund as fully as it should”. That, I should imagine, constitutes a further kick in the face for former employees who are sick or terminally ill as a result of working for the company.

What’s more, it seems that the same company was somewhat reticent about its use of asbestos in materials used to manufacture driveways in Oz… and the costs that will now be involved in replacing these with safer materials.

Many of the companies’ directors have been banned from holding directorships for varying periods, including ex MD Peter Mac Donald (pic above), who won't grace an Australian boardroom for at least another 15 years.

Might there be a welcome for him in the parlour of Irish corporate life in some capacity, where standards are obligingly low?

P.S. - Thanks to Pony Boy for the story.

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Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Irish Fascists - Architects of the Resurrection

It’s often maintained that Ireland never had a significant fascist or extreme right movement during the 20th century, and by implication the same absence will prevail into the future.

Those who follow such a line explain away the inconvenient appearance of the Blueshirts by stating them a bi-product of Civil War politics and agrarian unrest among Cumann na nGaedheal’s supporters, rather than a genuine fascist grouping - though there is a wealth of evidence to refute such a claim, including support for Franco and openly fascist pronouncements by its leaders.

However, any fascist movement worth its salt always has some element of "folk", monocultural, linquistic, or race-based idea of nationality. Indeed, Umberto Eco defined the characteristics of proto-fascism as the "cult of tradition, a rejection of modernism, the cult of action for action's sake, life lived for struggle, and a fear of difference”. I'd say there was a fair bit of that in the GPO, Eastertime, 1916.

It might be assumed that when a truly fascist grouping arises in Ireland it will, of course, be deeply nationalist and jingoistic and will be based on an exclusive, Gaelic interpretation of Irishness. I'll wager it will also have a Gaelic name. But hang on - we've been there already.

I’m currently reading a book called Architects of the Resurrection by R.M. Douglas, about such a grouping which won 12 seats in the June 1945 local elections in Ireland. It was called Ailtiri na hAsieirghe and was led by a crackpot gaelgoeir, cultural nationalist, civil servant by the name of Gearóid Ó’Cuinneagáin.

Ailtiri were unashamedly pro-Nazi – even after footage of death camp victims had appeared on newsreels – and proposed setting up internment camps for those who spoke English as opposed to the tongue of the noble, mythical, Gael.

Ailtiri also wanted to change Ireland’s capital to the Hill of Tara, impose State control of all industries, and proposed a programme of public works on the same model as Hitler’s. At its peak, the fascist group had 2,000 members - not surprising considering the author's assertion that a majority of Irish people wanted the Nazis to win the war - even according to De Valera in 1940.

O’Cuinnegain died in 1990, with the motto “Our day is coming” not long departed from his lips. "Our day is coming", "Tomorrow belongs to me", or "Tiocfaidh ár lá", call it what you will.

Thank goodness it didn't - and let's hope it stays that way.

Read the book.

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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Anyone for?

There are reports that a certain developers properties and landbanks will soon be taken into receivership and put on the market at knock-down prices. Anyone for 20 Carrolls?

Boom boom!

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Sunday, 16 August 2009

Rathkeale worshippers stumped by act of vandalism

You will, of course, be aware that today is the blessed Feast of the Assumption. Even as I write, you are probably on the way back from Rathkeale, Limerick, where the big day was celebrated with gusto by worshippers who flocked to the sacred field containing a tree stump in the likeness of “the Virgin Mary holding a baby”.

Council workmen discovered the miraculous qualities of the stump last month after they felled some trees adjacent to a schoolyard. Since then, it has become a regular focus for the devout, who say rosaries in its presence.

So far, so Father Ted, only this is not a sitcom, this is Ireland – though sometimes the boundaries with Craggy Island get more blurred than Father Jack’s vision after a good feed of Brasso.

However, it seems that nothing is sacred to the heathens who vandalized Ireland’s real “class-A relic” last weekend. Apparently, worshippers arrived at the sacred stump last Sunday morning to “have a bit of an old pray” only to discover that the Devil’s spawn of Rathkeale – indifferent to the risk of divine retribution - had sprayed it with paint.

“This was an action carried out by mindless morons who have nothing better to do”, local shopkeeper Thomas Hogan told the Irish Times. "It’s extremely disappointing to think that something like this could happen on sacred ground”.

Fortunately for the worshippers, a group of Rathkeale women wooden let the vandals spoil the big Assumption Day show, and restored the stump to its former glory (be to God) for the hundreds of people turning up at the field today to offer thanks and prayers.

We won’t make any remarks about “mindless morons with nothing better to do”, as that would be a cheap shot.

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Friday, 14 August 2009

Irish Economic Recovery, Dead Cat Bounces and Ex-Parrots

There are tentative signs of economic recovery in France and Germany, as both economies showed growth of 0.3% in the second quarter of last year, it seems.

But before our discredited economic cheerleaders take the dais to speak up the prospects of the Irish economy, it might be worth considering that neither of those countries distorted their domestic economies through tax breaks and shelters, and reckless lending.

Therefore, rather than looking to the economists for guidance – and seeing how they got it so wrong for so long in the past – maybe we should look to science instead? Namely Newton, a man who wasn't afraid to look the sun in the face and write about it later.

Newton's Third Law states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Applied to the Irish economy, that means that we can expect a slump of intensity and duration to equal that of the Government/Bank generated boom which preceeded it.

Or maybe we can look to zoology, and swap Monty Python’s dead parrot for the Irish Economy? “It has expired and gone to meet its maker!…. It is an EX-PARROT!”.

Whatever about parrots, we'll be lucky if we even get to see a dead cat bounce.

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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Liam Carroll's companies, the receivers, and NAMA

Given the news that ACC Bank has applied for the winding up of two of Zoe Developer Liam Carroll’s companies, Vantive and Morston, it should be interesting to see the fallout for NAMA’s valuations when his stock of variously evolved developments and sites fall into the reciever's hands.

Many of Carroll’s companies were, of course, in tax-break designated areas in the capital, and his original Zoe Developments company built many of Dublin’s boomtime apartment blocks. One of the boom's prime architects, Bertie Ahern, is now infamous for (among other things) predicting that said boom would only get “boomier”.

But even Ahern’s recent quiet dropping of the topic Celtic Tiger: the Irish Model of Development from his portfolio of after-dinner speeches would seem to be a final admission that Ireland’s building boom might have had firmer foundations had Ahern fixed it to take place on Dollymount Strand.

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Monday, 10 August 2009

Nothing in life is free, they say…

Herald AM runs a poll every day on disparate, sometimes desperate, topics. Quite often it’s stuff like “Should Mary be kicked out of the Big Brother House?” or “Should Paris Hilton get a poop-a-scoop for her handbag?”.

This morning, though, it was “Would you pay to read an online newspaper?”, a question inspired by Rupert Murdoch’s plans to introduce such a scheme for his online versions of the News of the World, The Times and the rest of his media empire.

The answer, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, was a resounding “no”.

The problem with that, though, is that nothing is free, is it? It’s all very well bloggers like me pilfering news items from the established media and putting the Gombeen Nation slant on them, but someone has to get the news items first – namely the journalists. And journalists have to be paid.

The problems newspapers are facing are many. They are suffering from reduced advertising revenue due to migration to the web - which pays less than print ads did. They are operating in a recession, and they are trying to sell a product to an emerging generation that prefers its information in byte-sized segments... and expects it to be free.

There is another issue at play here when you consider that many of the scandals in Irish political life were uncovered by the print media, so where would we be if the newspapers were to close down due to lack of income? Irish politicians would have a clear run to carry out their dodgy dealings – and no wonder so many of them are vocal in their criticisms of the press, neutered as it is by our stringent libel laws.

It’s true that one of the healthiest things a society can have is a free press – but I'm afraid we have to pay for it.

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Sunday, 9 August 2009

Skanger me Banger - Darren's top tips.

I don't know who Darren (or Andy Quirke) is, but I did steal a picture from his blog on Missed connections at the Palmerstown Bowler.

From the same source, I think it's worthwhile having a bit of light relief here on Gombeen Nation, and for that reason I'm featuring Darren's guide for "skangering your banger".

I suppose it is a Dublin version of "Pimp my Ride". But remember we have VRT here, which the bros in the cribs on MTV don't have to contend with.

Anyway, have a look - it's amusing. But turn down the sound a bit if you're at work, wha...?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Pharmacists' dispute. The drugs don't work - if you can't get them.

There was a short piece on RTE News this evening about a woman on a medical card who had to traipse around eight or nine different chemists in Dublin before finding one willing to dispense her medication for her severe diabetes.

Once again, it seems the same old Irish story of the well-off, well-organised classes – be they vintners, consultants, dentists, developers, bankers, teachers or pharmacists - making the most noise to protect their privileged positions while ordinary, or vulnerable, people have to suffer in silence.

The pharmacists, of course, claim they are not “mere retailers”, but hold the deeply responsible role of providing front-line healthcare. Not just drugs, but professional advice and diagnosis. It is hard to reconcile that boast with the actions of a substantial number of them in refusing medicine to people whose lives depend on it.

It is also hard to take seriously their claims of impending poverty and hardship due to reduced income from the revised Drugs Payment Scheme when so many of them can afford to close their entire businesses in protest at the scheme’s implementation.

If someone does die as a result of their actions, it might well prove the watershed in shifting the public’s perception of the profession and the regulation surrounding it.

Click here for list of chemists still open for State Drug Scheme business

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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Skangers at Marlay Park - Paula's Metro letter.

Interesting letter in this morning’s Metro from Paula, who describes herself as a “former proud Irish woman”.

Ah you see, Paula, that’s the trap to avoid alright: being “proud” of your nationality, because nothing is more groundless. You can’t help where you’re born after all. But, conversely, neither should you be ashamed – as long as you have your critical faculties about you and can marvel at the grotesque reality of Irish life.

But onto that letter which struck a chord with Gombeen Man. At a time when prominent, privileged, silver-spoon-fed voices are calling out for minimum wage cuts for honest, decent people who get up off their arses to do a day’s work; it’s timely to consider that plentiful Irish species, the Skanger, who was a drain on the country’s taxpayers even during the years of near 100% employment, and continues to be so now in the recession.

Take it away Paula:

I was at Marlay Park on Sunday and all I can say is if the army had dropped a bomb on the place, Ireland would be out of the recession!

That’s because all the skangers abusing the dole all these years would have been wiped out, as well as all the skanger single mothers claiming free housing, child allowance, single mothers’ allowance and many more allowances.

I have never seen so many scumbags packed into one area! I was surrounded by fighting, vomiting and bottle-throwing “people”, not to mention wobbling flabby stomachs and celluite – L’Oreal would have had a field day!

I felt so annoyed that this country tolerates this type of behaviour – there were no police, no security, nothing! Those pigs
[the skangers, not the police - GM] were allowed to absolutely run riot.

No wonder people are dying on our streets from vicious attacks. And it’s purely because the perpetrators know they’ll get away with it.

I’m sickened! This country has gone to the dogs.

Well Paula, I can’t remember it being any other way to be honest, and I imagine I'm older than you. Skangers are something that we Irish have always done very well. I've unfond memories of the boating lake in Butlins, 1977. Upturned boats, people being hit with oars, roaring skangers… carnage in general. It’s nothing new. But fair play, you’ve seen the light and you have articulated your Marlay Park experience very well.

And I can tell you that I have heard confirmation of the same from a work colleague who reports cars outside the park being vandalised by cider-slurping skangers (as the police drove blithely by in their squad cars), and five stabbings in a special "reserved" area near the stage, where the skangers managed to infiltrate. A great day out for all the family, eh?

Anyway, not often you see a sensible letter on in the Metro. Well done Paula.


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Monday, 3 August 2009

Chemists and State Drugs Scheme

A couple of years back, when on holiday in Spain, I had reason to visit a chemist with a prescription. I can't remember what the pills cost, but I was shocked at how cheap they were, compared with my experiences of chemists in Ireland. Not that I'm a regular customer, you understand.

My impressions were confirmed when I had to renew the prescription on coming back to Gombeen Nation. The same drugs were more expensive.

So isn't it ironic, that in a country which supplies Europe and beyond with much of its drugs - due to the activities of US pharmacuetical multinationals in Ireland - that "the cost of medicines in Ireland is among the highest in Europe" (Sunday Business Post 2.8.09).*

The same source lists the cost breakdown under the Drugs Payment Scheme of Lipitor, a drug frequently prescribed to treat high cholesterol. It makes interesting reading:

Packet of 28 Lipitor tabs (cost at present), (cost under new system):

Ex-factory price: €21.39; €21.39.

Wholesale mark-up: €3.78; €2.14.

Pharmacy mark-up: €12.59; €4.71.

Pharmacy fee: €3.16; €5.00.

Total cost: €40.92; €33.24.

I'm assuming that the costings for this particular drug are not untypical? It would be interesting to see a breakdown for other countries.

List of Pharmacies open for State Drugs Scheme business

*Just as an aside - and, dear reader, you'll know I can't resist stuff like this - isn't it also ironic that Ireland, a country that forbade the use of condoms for "recreational" sex up until 1984, now supplies much of the world with Viagra (albeit by multinational proxy).

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