Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Crisis? Water crisis? Shortages continue in Dublin.

Haven’t been at the blog in the past few days. Given the time of year, I imagine most people have better (or arguably, worse) things to be doing with their time than reading – or even writing – blogs.

As always in Ireland, however, something is bound to stir you out of your blissful state of peace and goodwill, such as it is. Water, or the lack thereof, is this post’s stimulus.

We ran out of the stuff, without warning, the day before yesterday. It was about One when we noticed a trickle from the taps that quickly reduced to nothing at all.  After a look at the Fingal County Council website, and no mention of water shortages in the area, a quick call was made to the emergency phone number.

Well, when I say quick, It took about half-an-hour to get a human, which was excusable enough for the day that was in it.  I had to work Stephen’s Day, so have some sympathy for those on a skeleton staff coping with increased workloads.  But what about the following?

“Hi there. I noticed our water disappeared about just over half-an-hour ago. I live in Clonsilla. Have you any idea when it might come back on?”

“Clonsilla? Is that near Baldoyle?”

“No. It’s out by Blanchardstown. Dublin 15."

“Oh. Have you checked your outside supply, that it is not frozen?”

“No. As there is a thaw, and we had no prior problems even when it was freezing, I assumed it was part of an overall problem with supply?"

“I will follow it up and get back to you. What’s your number?”

Needless to say, I heard nothing more, nor did I expect to.  But tell me this:  how could they not have known that one of the most highly populated areas in the country had no water?  All I wanted was a bit of honest info - to know the worst.  But it was like there was no problem at all, other than Mr Cranky of Clonsilla.

If you google “Fingal water shortage” you will see search results going back to 2006, so this is hardly a new problem.  You might think that Fingal County Council would at least be able to tell us, with some accuracy, when and where the water supplies will be shut off?

Then, at least, it would be possible to plan for the most basic of things.  Mind you, looking at today’s website, which seems to have more information up, I’m glad we’re not one of the poor sods in Naul, Walshestown, Ballyboghil, and Balrothery.  It has been advised that they will have no water at all until reservoir levels increase again. 

As well as empty reservoirs, it seems that numerous leaks are the, erm, source of the problem.  Apparently, large quantities of precious water are gushing into the underground soil before even making it to our taps.   Indeed, Dublin City Council estimates that 29% of its supply was lost through leakages in 2009, something it blames on the age of the supply system. 

Let us hope the local authorities clean up their acts before the introduction of water charges.

If we, as individuals, have a responsiblity to conserve resources, surely this extends to the suppliers as well?

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Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas and all that

Given the day that's in it, I've just been flicking through "There's Probably No God - The Atheist's Guide to Christmas", edited by Ariane Sherine.  A very good read I got from the sister-in-law. 

 There's a short story in it by Jenny Colgan, who expands on her idea of what Christmas is all about for the discerning atheist:

"In the northern parts of the world, the winters are long, and cold and dark, and people would get sad and miserable. So they have always in the very depths of winter, form the beginning of recorded time, celebrated light, and life, and the promise of renewal and new birth, just when they most needed cheering up.  

And they would store food, and eat, and drink and be merry.  And, in time, [I love all the "ands" - very biblical - GM] different cultures and creeds passed over the world, and changed and added to the stories about why we were celebrating, and said that perhaps we were celebrating because of a green man, or Mithras, or Sol, or that the Baby Jesus was being born, or because Santa Claus is flying over the world.  And now, like all the millions of people who lived before us, we too use midwinter to see our family and exchange gifts, and feast and be merry and carry on traditions from our ancestors."

Sounds good enough for me. 

Whatever your interpretation - merry Christmas.

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Thursday, 23 December 2010

One-fifth of teacher training places to be reserved for Irish speakers.

A few weeks back, Minister for Education Mary Coughlan greeted the news that Ireland's literacy levels had dropped from 5th place in 2000 - as measured in an OECD study - to 17th in 2009, as disappointing.

The decline was the steepest of the 39 countries surveyed.  The study, Programme for International Student Assessment, also estimated that one-quarter of Irish 15-year-olds lacked the literacy skills to "enable them to participate effectively in society."

The Government has responded to this problem.  More resources are to be concentrated on promoting Gaelic.   In a truly Irish stroke of genius, one-fifth of teacher training places are to be reserved exclusively for students from Gaelscoils, or those who get high marks in “de Language” in their Leaving Certificate.

The other way of looking at this, of course, is that one-fifth of aspiring teachers who get the highest overall marks in their examinations (or excel at subjects that are not Gaeilge) will be denied places in favour of students who achieved lower marks in their exams but are good at Gaeilge or have attended Gaelscoils.  

Let us not forget that students who answer exam questions as Gaeilge are already awarded higher marks than those who answer the same questions, with the same level of knowledge, through English.  I suppose you could call it a “Double Irish”.

Good news for Gaelic language hobbyists, lobbyists, linguists, and others employed in the Irish Language Industry  - but not necessarily good news for education in general.   We’ve been there before, of course. But that does not matter for those in government, and other agencies of official Ireland, who are programmed to repeatedly carry out failed Gaelic revivalist policies. Witness the following…

In 1934 the government of the time introduced its Revised Programme of Primary Instruction. It abolished English, even as an out-of hours-subject, in infant schools (they were to teach children from English-speaking families only through Gaelic).  Maths requirements were relaxed in national schools to make way for more teaching through Gaelic. Drawing was dropped. Gaelic was made compulsory to pass the Leaving Certificate, grants were given to Gaelic speakers, extra marks were awarded for answering through Gaelic (still in existence, as you know), teachers of Gaelic were given salary supplements (ditto).

Way back in 1941 the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation questioned the strategy of using the educational system as an ideological tool centred on language revivalism.   Some were concerned that  “awarding extra marks [for those answering as Gaeilge] distorted the exam system by allowing less academically gifted students to achieve results which did not reflect their ability” (Wars of Words - The Politics of Language in Ireland, 1537-2004. Tony Crowley).   This is in 1941, remember.

But no matter.  The Irish Free State’s first Minister for Education, Eoin MacNeill (and co-founder of the Gaelic League - Conradh na Gaeilge), had already set the tone for Irish education when he made clear that " 'the principal duty of an Irish Government in its educational policy' was to serve the construction of Irish nationality" (Terence Brown, Ireland a Social and Cultural History 1922-1985. Fontana 1985). 

Indeed, no lesser a proto-fascist than Dev himself had already assured a meeting of Conradh na Gaeilge (along with the Catholic Church a major power on Irish educational boards since the State’s formation) that it was his “opinion that Ireland, with its language and without freedom is preferable to Ireland with freedom and without its language”. (DH Akenson, Pre-University Education, 1870-1921).

Right.  Ireland's educational system remains a sacrificial altar for the failed polices of Gaelic revivalism – and a cash cow for the ideologues and careerists employed in its industries.

Something we have been paying dearly for since 1922.

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Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tide turning in favour of abortion rights in Ireland?

European Court of Human Rights rules in favour of woman with cancer who was denied termination in State

There is abortion in Ireland.  Of course, in true Irish hypocritical fashion, it doesn’t actually take place in Ireland. Instead,  Irish women are forced to travel abroad to  have terminations in Britain, Holland, France and elsewhere. 

Sadly, many Irish are masters of hypocrisy and doublethink.  Most of them, “informed” by the residual influence of the old Catholic therocracy down the years (for that is what our so-called republic was for most of its history) imposed their co-called morals on all of Ireland’s population: Catholic, Protestant, Jew, agnostic and atheist alike.

They voted against legalising divorce – “let no man tear apart…” being the hocus pocus informing their guiding principle.   It didn’t matter if you rejected the doctine informing such a view,  even after a childhood of being force-fed it in State-funded schools run by the Catholic Church.   If the great Irish public, ignorant imbeciles that most of them were, did not want you to have divorce – even as couples they knew personally  lived in separation – you were not going to have it.  It was eventually allowed in 1996, but only by the narrowest of margins.

But what more can we expect of the Irish electorate?   Didn't the same half-wits’ forebears vote for a Constitution that claimed sovereignty over the “whole island of Ireland”, even though it had no such jurisdiction? 

In another neat denial of reality, the same Constitution – formulated by neo-gaelicist de Valera – declared Gaelic to be the first official language of the country. Even though it wasn’t the actual spoken language of the country… and still is not, despite years of skewed educational policies and discrimination in State employment.

You are seeing a pattern here, right?  Conversely, the same applies to abortion – they try to turn reality on its head by believing that denying something exists means it actually does not.  Our courts even tried to stop a 14-year-old travelling abroad for a termination after she had been raped by the father of one or her friends (the X-case).

For the record, 4,422 women from Ireland had their pregnancies terminated in Britain last year.  That’s only in Britain alone, mind. The Irish Family Planning Association estimates that 142,060 women from Ireland have had abortions there since 1980.

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Irish State had failed in its duty by not providing termination facilities for an Irish resident who had been diagnosed with cancer and subsequently realised she was pregnant. The woman sought medical advice in Ireland on the possible effects of the pregnancy on her own health and that of a prospective child. She was not able to get any such advice in Ireland – despite the obvious threat to her own life – and ended up having to go to England for it, and a resultant termination.

The State put its full weight behind preventing a favourable ruling for the woman and the IFPA, but failed. The European Court court found that the State had been negligent, and that the woman should not have been forced to travel abroad.

The ruling should now force the State to finally legislate on the issue, with a recent Marie Stopes/YouGov poll last March recording 78% support for access to abortion when a woman’s life is in danger.

The lights may well have gone out for those in the backwoods twilight:  the "moral" fundamentalists of Youth Defence and their fellow-travellers, whatever they call themselves these days.

Bring it on.

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Saturday, 18 December 2010

Michael D. Higgins on the minimum wage

I'm not on the minimum wage,  but I dread to think what life is like in this country for anyone who is.  Anyone who is honest and hardworking enough to get up out of bed in the morning and toil for a wage that has been deemed the minimum necessary in order to subsist.  After all, it was not called the minimum wage for nothing. 

As readers will know, our scumbag Government has cut the minimum wage by over 11 per cent, while leaving Ireland's scandalously low 12.5% corporate tax rate untouched.  While failed bankers continue to claim bonuses for wrecking the economy, and while those on over €500,000 will see a 4% net increase in their income.  The Labour Party, to its credit, tabled a motion against the cutting of the minimum wage, the text of which you can see below.  There are some very revealing points in it, so it is well worth a read.  

It is also a novelty to hear an Irish politician who is able to string a few coherent words together on any subject, let alone one as important as this.   Michael D. Higgins does so eloquently in the YouTube clip above (thanks Ponyboy). 

 Let's hope when Fine Gael / Labour form the next government, they remember their pledges to reverse this attack on the most decent, most hardworking, most pissed-upon section of our workforce.

Labour Party motion against the lowering of the minimum wage
“That Dáil Éireann:

recognising that the national minimum wage is low, providing a full-time employee with less than €18,000 annually (with reductions for those under 18 or in their first job), and that amongst EU states it ranks as 12th highest when measured as a percentage of average monthly wages and 9th highest if measured in terms of purchasing power parity

accepting that:

the current minimum wage has not kept pace with average growth in wages or been increased since July 2007;

the 2009 income levy has already reduced the real value of the minimum wage; and

the new universal social charge will be payable on wages at this level;

concerned that 116,000 workers, or 6.6% of the workforce, are living below the poverty line, that the working poor make up 24% of all those in poverty and 40% of all households in poverty, and that the minimum wage is especially relied upon for protection by women, migrants and other vulnerable workers;

noting that only 4% of workers, and only 1.2% of industrial workers in export sectors, are on the minimum wage, with no major impact on competitiveness;

acknowledging the role of a statutory minimum wage in protecting against unfair competitive advantage by unscrupulous employers who exploit their workers;

further acknowledging the opportunity available through the Labour Court, which has yet to be invoked by any employer, to plead inability to pay the national minimum wage;

reaffirming that a statutory minimum wage is a statement of core values, providing a threshold of decency under which society agrees that workers’ wages should not fall, and that a reduction would signal a race to the bottom in which everyone – low wage workers, public and private sector workers, social welfare claimants and pensioners – will suffer;

believing that a reduction in the minimum wage will only create a disincentive to work, will have no impact on the public debt or on economic recovery and makes absolutely no sense at any level;

condemning the Government's logic that poverty wages will create more jobs and that welfare rates must be below even those poverty wages, which logic will in turn require major cuts in welfare payments; and

appalled that the Government’s four year plan has targeted the most vulnerable members of society and convinced that the proposed reduction in the minimum wage of one euro an hour will have the most profound impact on those who are poorest, deepen their poverty and draw more workers into poverty;

condemns the Government’s unnecessary, unwise and unfair decision to reduce the national minimum wage and calls for a reversal of this cut.”

— Willie Penrose, Eamon Gilmore, Joan Burton, Emmet Stagg, Thomas P. Broughan, Joe Costello, Michael D. Higgins, Brendan Howlin, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Liz McManus, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Ruairí Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Jack Wall.

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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Over half of Irish people get into debt for Christmas

As kids, my siblings and I always had a good Christmas. The Old Dear would walk us up to Gearys on the corner of Grafton Street, facing Stephen’s Green, and we would see the ‘real’ Santa there.

We had started asking awkward questions like how come there was a Santa in Switzers, in Arnotts, and every shop of any consequence in Dublin?   The others were “helpers” we were assured. The “real” one was situated in Gearys (a toy shop). 

We loved it of course, as the real Santa gave you balloons that “went up” – presumably they were filled with helium – which you attached your message to and duly dispatched to the North Pole. 

At the time, I had no idea of the sacrifices the old pair had to make to ensure that Santa left the latest Hornby train set, Matchbox Motorway, Scalextric, push-kart or whatever else under the tree. But they did. Which makes you think of the pressures people are subjected to – or subject themselves to – over the Christmas commercial money-spinning season.

Even people who have very few pennies to rub together will pull out all the stops to give their kids a good Christmas. It could even be argued that – like communion suits and dresses – the more spectacular the Christmas gifts (proportionately anyhow), the poorer the family.  It’s all they have – their opportunity for extravagance.

In our case there was another, more personal, factor. Our own wonderful mum – may she rest in peace – had an evil old witch of a mother who once left her a bag of soot via the proxy of Santa. As an aside, the same dreadful woman (my grandmother, such as she was) had been known to her childhood playmates around Charlemont Street as “The Butcher”. That will tell you something.  Anyway, the soot thing was never going to happen to us, no matter how tight the financial straits were nor how naughtier than nice we may have been.

What got me thinking about all this was a report that appeared in the Examiner last Monday stating that over half of the Irish adult  population will get into debt just to meet the cost of Christmas, with “a third borrowing on credit cards to cover the cost [who will then face] an uphill struggle to get back on track — it will take a quarter of us three to six months to recover financially from the festive outlay.”

Bloody hell. Now, given my own experiences, I can see how parents want to get their kids the latest X-Box, Playstation, Wii, or whatever else. But what about this pointless sham of spending money on presents for friends, siblings, and extended family? And what about all the stress involved? What about all the queues in the shops? And those awful songs being piped through every shopping centre and department store, with unnecessarily clinging tills as percussive background?

No – don’t get sucked into it. Christmas is one of the few times when most of us can get a few days off work to relax, be slobs, and eat and drink too much.  Apart from making sure Santa comes (usually for those with kids) there shouldn’t be any other pressure on you or anyone else.

For my part, I’ve sent off a balloon asking for a new X-Box.

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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Charlie McCreevy - original genius behind the Irish economic miracle

The Two Brians are taking a lot of flak at the minute for destroying the Irish economy, but let’s not forget their predecessor as minister of finance, Charlie McCreevy.

McCreevy was seen by the  Irish capitalist and investor class - before they all became socialists - as the stormtrooper of Irish physical market-force capitalism. He greeted Ireland’s entry into the low interest rate Eurozone by cutting capital gains tax from 40% to 20%, for instance.

He also extended the property-based tax reliefs, set up the SSIAs, presided over “giveaway” budgets, introduced the failed decentralization scheme, and otherwise did everything in his power to set Ireland’s indebtedness and property "values" on a stratospherically high, unsustainable, upward trajectory.

Here are some quotes from the original guru behind the Irish economic miracle:

“I suggest the phrases ‘radical’, ‘reforming’ and ‘major’ might be applied to this budget – especially on the tax side”   On his 1999 Budget.

“I have it, so I’ll spend it”   Quoted in 2000.

“In the popular TV series, Yes Minister, the loyal civil servant, Sir Humphrey, often advised his political master as follows: ‘To be precise, many things may be done, but nothing must ever be done for the first time.’    "It will scarcely surpise that I do not subscribe to this political maxim”.   Before introducing Budget 2001.

“We got ourselves into a mire by borrowing for current purposes in the past. The legacy hung around our neck for over 20 years. I am not going to repeat the mistakes of the past”. Before Budget 2002.

 “Ireland needs good regulation of the financial sector. It is required to ensure that the hundreds of billions of euro invested by Irish people and organisations in the banks, building societies, insurance companies, investment firms and funds, directly and through intermediaries, are held in trust for them by a professional and secure financial sector”
When launching the Financial Services Regulatory Authority, May 1st, 2003.

“In the 1970s and 1980s our country ended up in an unsustainable situation because of the wrong budgetary policies. Governments refused to respond to challenges as they arose. They chose short-term solutions which caused long-term problems. This Government will not make the same mistake.”    Budget 2003 speech.

And the corker, apparently delivered without irony:

Everybody seems to have become an economics commentator in Ireland. People who don’t know the first thing about economics, public finances or anything else.”Quoted in the Irish Times, January 16th, 2010.

Sorry, Charlie. We all bow before your superior knowledge on such matters.

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Saturday, 11 December 2010

Lenihan's budget means the wealthy pay less tax while the working poor take the hit

We are all going to “share the pain” of Budget 2011, say Cowen and Lenihan. 

Not so. While minimum wage workers will see one Euro wiped off their hourly rate, and modestly paid workers will take home substantially less in net earnings, the high-earning self employed will see an increase in theirs.

According to a piece by Harry McGee (IT Dec 10th), those on €500,000 will pay €9,000 less tax in the year, while those on €1,000,000 will be €24,000 better off.

I’m no fan of Sinn Fein, but their finance spokesman Pearse Doherty summed it up well by pointing out that “someone with an income of €500,000 will get a 4 per cent increase in their net income.  At the same time someone on PAYE and earning €25,000 will be 4.3 per cent worse off”.

Labour’s Roisin Shorthall described the budget as a “working-poor tax”, which “significantly shifted the tax burden away from high earners and on to those on lower pay”.

Another example of Fianna Fail continually pandering to its wealthy friends was the lowering of stamp duty to one per cent on transactions up to €1 million, and only 2 per cent on those over €1 million, while first-time buyers will lose their stamp duty exemption.

Again, the very wealthy are the biggest beneficiaries. Under the old system, someone buying a house for €2,000,000 would have had to stump up €180,000 in taxes, whereas now they will only have to pay €40,000. A first time buyer purchasing a house for €240,000 did not pay any stamp duty before the budget, now they will be liable for €2,400.

The one consistent thing here is that Fianna Fail is still the party of the builders, the developers and the wealthy – despite the populist appeal it holds for the gobshites who vote for it and join its local party branches.  Even in this economic climate, when Fianna Fail ministers are under so much scrutiny, they are quite shameless about where their true priorities lie.

It is a racing certainly that the same ministers will be turfed out of office at the next election, leaving the task of cleaning up their mess to a Fine Gael / Labour coalition. By the time the election after that comes around, Fianna Fail will have a new leader and its TDs will have been making all the right noises from the opposition benches.  They will hope people might forget how they brought the country to the edge of ruin with their skewed policies.

Let's hope people do not forget, and  they deem the party's behaviour now and throughout its whole time in government to have pushed it beyond the rubicon.  Let’s hope that - for once - the Irish electorate shows itself capable of being rational, and remembers what Fianna Fail has done to the country and its working poor.

Let’s hope they never vote the cute hoors back into power again.

But that’s only wishful thinking.

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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Comical Leni and the Irish Budget 2011. One quote sums up its integrity.

Well, the budget was much as we feared, with the slimy fingerprints of Fianna Fail all over it  -  and that party’s own unique spin on reality.  I'm sure you'll read a lot more on the subject, in a lot more detail, elsewhere in Blogland, so let's just take one point as an indicator of its overall integrity.

Namely, Comical Leni’s interpretation of Cowen’s 6% pay cut (€214,000, down from €228,000 = a drop of €14,000):

“This brings the overall reduction on the gross pay of the Taoiseach to over €90,000…”  Lenihan.

Yet another example of how Brian Lenihan simply seems incompatible with the truth. Whatever he says or predicts, you can be sure the opposite is true/will happen.   Just as when he and Cowen swore blind that the IMF was not on its way with the bailout money – even as its officials were already in Dublin.

Lenihan’s imagined €90,000 Cowen paycut was based on the fact that the  “Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Service recommended in late 2007 that the salary of the Taoiseach be increased by €38,000 to €308,000, making the post the highest paid in the EU.  This increase was never implemented. Instead, Mr Cowen’s salary… rose to €285,000 but was reduced to €257,000 in October 2008 and then to €228,000 in January 2010”. (Harry McGee, Irish Times Budget Supplement).

So the €90,000 figure is a blatant fabrication. In isolation, you could take it as a simple mistake. But Lenihan’s inaccurate observations are far from isolated, they are legion – and always a pathetic attempt to put a positive spin on his Government’s imcompetence.  That means they are not inaccurate, they are wilfully untruthful.

Still.  Cowen's €214,000 is still a lot of money, particularly when you consider his British counterpart David Cameron gets a comparatively palty €172,000.

 I’m sure the lads in Fossetts would envy it.   They might even be on the new minimum wage.

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Monday, 6 December 2010

Discriminate against non-Gaeilge speakers in Civil Service, says language commissioner

In “Patterns of Ethnic Separatism”, David L. Horowitz sees processes of national secession being  driven by emerging elites who see their interests best served by autonomy. Tom Garvin, in “Preventing the Future: Why was Ireland so poor for so long?” sums the theory up thus:

“For Horowitz, the motor of secession is clearly driven by elite ambitions. Backward areas which have a cadre of relatively well-educated people… are reluctant to secede and only finally do so under exceptional pressure such as extreme discrimination, denial of educational opportunity, physical threat, or undermining of their local power base. Educationally backward elites in backward or advanced regions secede early if they can get away with it…”

It is mildly debatable which model – educationally advanced or backward – applied to the elite behind the Irish independence movement in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  It is clear, though, that the cultural vehicles for that movement consisted of neo-Gaelicism (the "return" to an idealised, Gaelic-speaking, rural-based Ireland) and Catholicism.

Upon acquiring independence, the first things the new Irish ruling class did was begin transforming the Civil Service and the educational systems to bring about a Gaelic, Catholic Ireland.  Driven by the ideal of reviving Gaeilge as the spoken language of the new State, they made it compulsory for entry into the Civil Service and a mandatory requirement to attain the Leaving Certificate in schools.

The higher ranks of the Civil Service became populated with linguistic evangelists, many of them Gaelic Leaguers. Effectively, the State bureaucratic apparatus and the schools were little more than tools to bring about Dev’s Ireland of comely maidens and sturdy youths...  Gaeilge-speaking, of course.  A nonsense project, and doomed to failure from the start.

It seems, however, that the old Gaelic League rump within the Civil Service and Government quangos is still in business. In 1973, a Fine Gael/Labour coalition abolished Gaeilge as a requirement for entry into the Civil Service, but now  today’s revivalists want to turn back the clock – without being quite so blatant.

In last Monday’s Irish Times, Anne Lucey reported that language commissar - sorry, commissioner - Sean O Cuirreain called for “positive discrimination” in the public service for Gaelic speakers, due to falling numbers of civil servants who speak the language.

O Cuirreain asserted that only 1.5% of administrative CS staff could provide services as Gaeilge, compared to 3% in 2005.  He described this state of affairs as a “scandal” - and all despite the fact that “there was strong official recognition of the language, It was mentioned in 140 Acts, and some €700 million a year was spent teaching it.”

According to census figures, only 72,000 people (outside the education system) claim to speak Gaeilge on a daily basis.  It is unknown how many of this number would demand all discourse with Civil Service offices to be conducted “as Gaeilge”, but it is known that there is a distinct lack of demand for government and council documents in that language (Clare County council translated three development plans in 2009, at a cost of €30,000. Not one was bought).

Similarly, the Irish Times reported in February of that year that only 0.5% of Government websites were accessed through their Gaeilge versions. This is not so surprising, for there is not one person in the country who speaks Gaeilge alone. Not one. They are all English speakers.

For what it is worth to the Gaeilgeoirs, “positive discrimination” for them exists at this very minute in the Civil Service. Gaeilge speakers/enthusiasts get extra marks for internal promotions exams, for instance.  It is also likely that sitting a Civil Service entry exam with the “optional” Gaeilge paper must confer some kind of advantage too.

The bare fact is that language hobbyists and careerists are calling for non Gaeilge-speaking workers, both native and non-native, to be further discriminated against in the sphere of public service employment.  And at a time when jobs are becoming ever more scarce.

That is the real scandal.

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Saturday, 4 December 2010

News of Celtic Tiger's death reaches Taiwan

I don't know how our good friend at came across this one, a video put together by a Taiwanese concern called Next Media Animation TV

I laughed out loud - to use that horrible expression - when I saw it.  Very funny, and all the funnier for being all too true... 

Thanks, Toast.

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Thursday, 2 December 2010

Dublin's winter road budget on slippery slope

We say it every year. A little bit of snow and the whole place grinds to a halt. The wage earners are briefed, every morning by radio, to leave their cars at home and take public transport. Yet anyone who ever uses public transport knows what that means.

It means hours standing at desolate suburban stops as empty buses whiz past en route to the depot (an experience of a Knocklyon work colleague yesterday). It means trains that run 50 minutes late (my own experience). It means the roads, no doubt populated by public-transport sceptics, are chock-a-block skating rinks.

But it seems that this is just a harbinger of worse to come. Our friends in Dublin City Council revealed that they received no extra Government funds for dealing – in a manner of speaking – with the capital’s January cold snap, which cost an extra €323,199. 

The financial cost of the current cold spell has yet to be taken into account, which does not augur well for next year.  According to an Irish Times report (30th Nov), Dublin will have no budget for extreme weather in 2011, as its entire winter budget for road clearing next year has been set at €152,466.

There was no discussion, it seems, as to what efficiencies could be achieved in other areas at the council bunker to free up more money from its total budget of €870,000,000 in order to keep the city moving. Safely.

We’re on the slippery slope.

But hey, we might not have jobs to go to next year anyway.

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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Irish bailout - it's not our fault!

There is something comforting about being back on familiar territory as the laughing stock of Europe. The world, even. Nearly like pulling on a pair of tatty old slippers.

After years of listening to the nonsense about the Irish economic miracle – obviously unsustainable – we are back in the ha’penny place, blaming everyone else for our ills as usual.

The current public sentiment in Ireland, possibly fostered by sections of the media and the blogosphere, would appear to be that it is all the fault of the Germans and the French. The Germans especially, as their banks “recklessly loaned” (David McWilliams on Today FM, 29th Nov) money to Irish banks.

This kind of logic is much the same as that emanating from the whinging Irish investors who were like flies around ordure at every apartment launch not that long ago, snapping units up off the plans – aided by Irish Government tax incentives. It is not Johnny and Mary’s fault: it is the banks' for loaning them all that money.

Now Johnny and Mary, along with Irish institutions, companies, builders and developers, cannot pay back those loans because they borrowed too much for their properties, which were overvalued by their own speculation, and are now in negative equity. They borrowed money they could never realistically pay back, for properties that were worth less than they are. So now they and the banks are bust... or would be but for the bailout and the money the ECB has already pumped into them.

Granted, the Irish banks – who were better appraised of the domestic economy than those in Berlin or Paris – were only too happy to loan recklessly.  But were John and Mary complaining as they got the go-ahead for their latest interest-only loan? No, they thought they were on the pig’s back. Now that they have fallen off, everyone else is at fault.

The games of denial and blame, of course, all add to the comedic element, and no doubt provide added mirth to those watching events from abroad.

But that’s what we’re good at.

Speaking of which, here’s an amusing-enough joke from last Sunday’s Tribune:
An angry man walks into a bar, orders a drink and says to the barman “All Fianna Failers are arseholes”.
A man sitting at the other end of the bar pipes up “Hey, I resent that!”.
“Why, are you a Fianna Failer?” replies the first man.
“No”, comes the answer, “I’m an arsehole”.

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Saturday, 27 November 2010

Dublin's traffic - unaffected by the bust?

As a kid, I had an awful familiarity with the back of the living room couch. Let me explain.

The formative family front door was ever the focus of interested parties seeking money for something or other:  ESB men (it was considered imprudent to have them read the meter), insurance men (it was always men), HP men (ditto, obviously), and all the rest. Every time someone knocked on the door, it was time to make a beeline for the back of the couch.

As a result, I have an awful fear of credit. There was a mortgage, and that was it. Everything else was cash. And when you think about it, a car loan – for example – is just cash in arrears. Paying for it up front just means you have to wait three years longer for your wheels. It is cheaper too.

All that meant I didn’t know what a car salesman was on about a few years back when he spoke of “balloons”. A balloon, it seems, is when someone takes a loan out for an item with the payback loaded towards the end. Think of it as the opposite of the so-called National Recovery Plan (if it goes as planned – which it probably won’t). A lot of the swankier cars going to auction were repossession jobs due to balloon payments not being made.

I'm sure the same credit arrangements must have prevailed during my nine-year stint in London, back in the 80s and 90s, as Thatcher’s deregulation boom turned to bust. Not only were there fewer Porsches, Ferraris (they have such things in England), Astons and all the rest – there was far less traffic in general. My drive to work from Stratford to Limehouse in east London became a lot less stressful and arduous - not to mention quicker, for those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs.

But what the hell is going on here in Ireland? There’s a recession underway, unemployment is up, the IMF reps are here with their 6.7% loan, and the whole country is going down the tubes. But I swear to natural forces, there is more traffic now than there was during the boom. OK, it’s coming up to Christmas and all that, but even so.

When the madness of Ireland’s credit-fuelled boom was in full swing, there were those who thought we could teach the rest of the World how to create a buoyant, thriving economy. The Irish boom – based on buying and selling houses – would go on indefinitely. The Irish boom would not be subject to the busts that had occurred elsewhere. It was different.

It looks like the bust is different too, judging by the amount of activity still going on out there.

But I have an awful feeling we have seen nothing yet.

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Thursday, 25 November 2010

'National Recovery Plan' to hit poorly paid the hardest

Today I can report that notwithstanding the difficulties of the last eight months, we are now on the road to economic recovery… our plan is working. We have turned the corner”.
Brian Lenihan. December 9th, 2009.

Since his appointment as minister for finance in May, 2008, Brian Lenihan has been the source of countless upbeat, Comical Ali-style, statements on the economy.

He even provoked guffaws in the British House of Commons some months back when the above statement was quoted. Yesterday he claimed the Government’s “National Recovery Plan” was necessary to pull the country out of “the steep downturn”.

The main targets of the plan will be the lowly paid. The minimum wage will drop by 11.5%, while the dole will drop by 5% - further disincentivising work for badly paid people.

According to a freesheet from the Socialist Party that dropped through the letterbox, Combat Poverty maintains that 94,000 working households already live in consistent poverty in Ireland, with 350,000 “at risk” of poverty. There will be even more doing so after this establishment attack on the softest, most undeserving, of targets.

Nobody who reads the blog will be too surprised to learn that politicians’, top civil servants’, and judges’ pay will remain untouched. Similarly, Microsoft, Google, Intel and all the rest will not be asked to contribute any extra taxes to the Irish exchequer.

“It is time for us to pull together as a people”, the Two Brians said in justification of their measures.

When they are turfed out of office in the next election a career in stand-up awaits.

MAIN POINTS OF PLAN (from RTE website):

The minimum wage is to be reduced by €1 an hour to €7.65 an hour, while a review of registered employment agreements will also take place.

VAT from 21% to 22% in 2013, with a further increase to 23% in 2014.

People to enter tax net at €15,300 a year by 2014.

Phased reduction in the tax relief on pensions for those on the higher rate of tax. Reduced by 2014 to relief at the standard rate of 20%.

The corporation tax rate will remain unchanged at 12.5%.

Lower rate on labour intensive services will be left unchanged as any increase could harm employment.

Phased abolition of legacy capital tax reliefs (in line with Programme for Government) over the four years. There will be a further abolition of ten reliefs in Budget 2011, including trade union subscriptions.

Income tax relief for rent paid on private rented accommodation is to be phased out on the same timeline as mortgage interest reliefs - by 2017.

Six more tax reliefs are to be curtailed, including the artists' exemption.

Spending on social welfare is to be reduced by 14% over the four-year period, with cuts of around 5% next year, though the details are being left until Budget day.

Public service job numbers will fall by 24,750 from 2008 levels, cutting the public sector pay bill by €1.2 billion by 2014. New entrants to the public service also face a 10% pay cut.

There will also be deductions from current public service pensioners, ranging from 6% to 12%, though those below €12,000 a year will be exempt.

Plans to introduce water metering by 2014, while a site valuation tax to fund local services will also be introduced.

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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Protect the minimum wage. Let multinationals pay their way in Ireland's crisis

8.65 is not an awful lot of money.  It is, however, the hourly rate of pay for those working on Ireland’s minimum wage.

Anyone who gets up out of bed to go to work should be rewarded for it, and cutting the minimum wage is not the way to reward hard-working people, some of whom are active in the more exploitative sectors of our economy.

Of course, the Small Firms Association and some other interest groups have been calling for a reduction in the minimum wage for years; whinging that the proprietors of coffee shops, restaurants and the like can’t afford the wagebills and are consequently going out of business.

First rule of capitalism: establish a viable business.  If paying an hourly rate of  €8.65 is too much to ask of an employer, you have to wonder if they should be in business anyway? 

If Ireland’s much discussed bailout does not come with conditions that challenge well-off, highly-regulated professions and break up their cartels, it will be a missed opportunity. Likewise, it will be a missed opportunity if the corporate tax rate is not increased, in defiance of  dire warnings from some of the US conglomerates based here.

Even if corporation tax was increased by 2.5%, bringing it up to 15%, it would still be low by EU standards – the same as Latvia’s and higher only than Bulgaria and Cyprus.

Given that the Government and the IDA are forever banging on about inward investment coming to Ireland due to "our young, educated workforce" (never mind the fact we are mother tongue English speakers) maybe they should have the courage of their convictions and stand up to the bullying of Google and Intel?  Let them pay their way. 

They can better afford it than those on the minimum wage.

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Saturday, 20 November 2010

The 12.5% Irish corporate tax rate - part of a culture of fiscal fiddling.

Government-inspired tax scams were a major cause of Ireland's ignominious boom and bust. When I came back here in 1997, having lived abroad for some years, the Irish property market was already booming – in no short measure due to the proliferation of developments being sold under “tax incentive” schemes. These schemes were initially dreamt up to aid urban regeneration in depressed times, when places like Gardiner Street in Dublin (just as an example) were crumbling.

Whatever good purpose they may have served at the onset, however, they quickly became a means for the well-off, self-employed, and company directors to hide their income from the taxman. Obviously, when I returned to Ireland I was looking for a place to live, and had first-hand experience of seeing these investors in action.

Initially, I ended up renting an apartment on North Brunswick Street – one of many units owned by the MD of a large Dublin solicitors' firm. This nouveau landlord was able to write off rental income for tax purposes, thanks to the Secton 23 Tax Shelters, and was able to build up a large portfolio of properties on this basis. This was replicated throughout the whole country. The new Irish landlord class could even write off tax on non-Section 23 properties, if they had a section 23 or two in their collection.

As I say, this was already well underway when I came back to Ireland in 1997. So then we became part of the Eurozone, with its low interest rates, in 1999.   As Ireland had come from a situation where interest rates were relatively historically high (like Britain – I remember rates of 15% in 1989), the prudent thing for any government to do would have been to introduce fiscal measures in its property market to counteract this.

Not so the Irish Government and Finance minister Charlie McCreevy. He extended the Section 23 schemes and cut capital gains tax from 40% to 20%. I remember, at the time, being dumbfounded by this stupidity, but McCreevy was lauded by much of the public and media as some kind of Irish financial guru.

The boom then got “boomier”, in the mangled words of Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern. For the best part of a decade, the broadsheet supplements reported very average houses “making” astronomical sums at auction. They were talking about asset price inflation, which feeds into the whole economy, as though it was a good thing.

You know what happened thereafter. It culminated in the EU and the IMF arriving in Dublin to bail out Ireland, and save us from the crass stupidity of much of our populace and all of our rulers.

If there is one thing that should be learned from all of this, it is that the Irish political class is incapable of implementing a fair, sustainable tax system. Not only do its tax policies consistently favour the wealthy and hammer the PAYE sector unremittingly – in 2007 PAYE workers paid €10 billion of a total €13.5 income tax take – they distort, and eventually destroy the economy.

Another tax scam is, of course, the Irish corporate tax rate. I pay tax at 41%, yet Microsoft pays it at 12.5%. Companies from all over the world set up letterbox operations here to channel cash through and minimise their domestic tax obligations. German and British companies do it, starving their exchequers of income.

The British taxpayer, alone, whose treasury is being denied income by UK companies using this ruse will have to fork out £7 billion for the Irish bailout,  while the Irish Government sees its 12.5% rate as "non negotiable". That cannot be right.

Irish corporation tax must be increased as part of any deal.

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Thursday, 18 November 2010

Irish IMF / EU bailout imminent - let's hope cash comes with conditions.

It is only a matter of time before the two Brians – I won’t call them brains - of  the Irish Government finally admit that Ireland will be bailed out by the EU and/or the IMF. The European Central Bank cannot continue to unconditionally deposit money into the black hole of Irish banking debt, that is for sure.  It is owed an estimated €90 billion by Irish banks as things stand.  (Colm Keena, IT, 17/11)

There is much talk from our leaders – and some sections of the great Irish public – about how such a development might compromise our precious sovereignty.  You know? How the IMF/EU might come in with a fresh broom and start sweeping away at some dusty old cobwebs our political class has no disire to disturb?

According to economist Dan O’Brien (Irish Times, 17th November, “Bailout conditions likely to follow Greek recipe”) this could include CIE, lawyers, pharmacists and accountants.  They could also throw in consultants, GPs, dentists and any number of privileged groups.  I've always thought that sovereignty was over-rated anyway.  But please, let them leave the minimum wage alone.

It could also mean the Government’s 12.5% corporate tax rate, which allows US conglomerates to "minimise”  their tax obligations in the EU, could end.   Or, to put it another way, they could no longer use Ireland as one rocky tax dodge on the periphery of Europe.  This, in turn, would mean that Ireland could no longer undercut other EU states in"attracting" foreign investment - it would have to do so fairly.

There is a letter in the same edition of the Irish Times mentioned above, in which a Dr Anthony Palmer refers to our corporate tax rate as “enviable”.  Presumably he means our  more advanced EU colleagues are envious of it?  Why so?   If they wished to,  Britain, France, Germany, Austria and the rest could also prostitute themselves to the multinationals.  They could introduce a 10% corporate tax rate if they so desired.  They choose not to, as they don't want to sell themselves on the cheap.  And that is more to do with principle than envy.

I hope the 12.5% rate goes, as it is immoral in my view.  We should not allow ourselves be used as a Trojan Horse tax-dodging scam in Europe.   Maybe then we can move towards full EU tax harmonisation, which would mean our domestic tax-dodgers (you know them - the ones that give loudly to charity) could not shelter their incomes from Revenue in other EU states, as they do now.  It would mean a common VAT rate.  It would mean the end of VRT.

Bring it on.

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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

GoSafe rolls out Irish speed cameras (see map below)

From today, a private consortium called GoSafe starts operating a new network of speed cameras across the State. The network will consist of between 45 to 50 mobile cameras (I’ve seen different numbers quoted) switching between 600 locations. The map below purports to reveal the possible locations:

GoSafe speed camera location map

Nearly a year ago, Gombeen Nation carried a post which pointed out that GoSafe needs to generate more than €16 million per year just to cover the consortium's running costs.  GoSafe is not in this for the public good, however, it is in it for a profit.

According to Stephen Carroll, writing in last Saturday’s Irish Times, the “secretary general of the Department of Justice, Seán Aylward, previously estimated the proposed network may generate half a million speeding penalties a year. At €80 per speeding fine, the privatised speed cameras alone could generate roughly €40 million a year.”

If those figures and projections are correct, that is a €24 million surplus per annum in fines. €24 million!

That means GoSafe (which is led by the Spectra company) and the Government want you to speed, in order to make their money.  It also means that you run a vastly increased risk of fines for minor speedometer transgressions, and an increased risk of insurance hikes due the resultant penalty points.

“Kill your speeed and save liiives”  is the lazy mantra we keep hearing.  And not much thought goes into a mantra, which works by constant, mindless, repetition.    Not only that, it is very convenient for the authorities, who can abdicate any real responsibility for road safety and driver education by simply farming out lucrative work to a fleet of Spectra vans.

Let’s be clear on this: bad driving costs lives... and Ireland is awash with bad drivers. Much of Germany’s motorway network does not have a mandatory speed limit, yet the autobahns are Germany’s safest roads, according the ADAC (the German AA).

So, plainly, if the Germans are not dying like splattered windscreen flies on their motorways, speed is not the only issue at play – bad driving is. What’s more, speedo watching does not make a good driver.

For the record, even the RSA – the quango charged with road safety in Ireland – claims that speed is “the main cause” in just 15% of fatal two-vehicle accidents. Driving on the wrong side of the road caused 52% of road deaths. Please don’t tell me that people were more interested in keeping to the speed limit when overtaking than doing so quickly and smartly?

The same organisation claimed that speed was the main “contributory factor” in 54% of single-vehicle accidents.  Well what were the other factors then, or are they bothered?   Overloaded cars? Drunk drivers? Drugged drivers?  Dangerous roads? Pedestrians on unlit rural roads with no footpaths?  Bald tyres? Old cars without stability control systems (which the Government continues to tax)? Inexperienced, over-confident young male drivers? And the great unsaid - suicides?

Is GoSafe and Spectra going to address that lot then?

No doubt, in years from now, the road safety industry can point to falling fatalities where speed cameras are located. The fact however, is that road fatalities have been steadily and consistently falling, as vehicles become safer and roads become better.

Road deaths have been decreasing for years in Ireland, where speed cameras have been few and far between in comparison to Britain.   They will continue to decrease. But in future GoSafe and Spectra will be able to hijack the figures to justify their own existence and profits.

We are being had.


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Saturday, 13 November 2010

Michael Flatley and Riverdance - symbols of the Celtic Tiger?

Mario Rosenstock does Michael Flatley
(big thanks to Tallowman for posting on You Tube)

I remember, as a kid, being dragged across town to Cora Cadwell’s near Camden Street to do Irish dancing. For those of you who are of a younger vintage, or did not have traumatic childhoods, Cadwell was the Billie Barry of the Irish dancing world, a teacher of some repute.

I was only 5 years old and was probably on some kind of kiddie bribe, but when I got there I could see Irish dancing was not for me.  Not impressed at all - just as a young Frank McCourt likened the style’s frantic, stiff-backed, jigging to someone hopping around with a poker up their arse. My Irish dancing career was very short, and consisted of doing three “steps”. That day, Michael Flatley lost a serious rival.

And what about Flatley and Riverdance? According to a column-filler in today’s Arts section of the Irish Times the dubious art-form “represented national self-confidence and joie de vivre”.  That explains a lot about what happened since.   Then Flatley was behind something entitled (non-ironically, I think) “Celtic Tiger” which apparently "boasted the biggest TV screen in the world" with $3 million worth of costumes and a lightning show to rival Pink Floyd.

Now, much as I would rather stick pins in my ears than listen to a Pink Floyd album, I can appreciate the group’s place in the musical hall of fame and popular culture.  But Riverdance? What a bloody embarrassment.  It says it all that Riverdance was seen as a sign of the “new Irish confidence” as the eejits were sending Oisin and Roisin off to the Gaelscoil and getting up to their necks in debt to borrow money for apartments in places they hadn’t even heard of. Give me the pins in the ears anytime.

Last week, I tuned into the Late Late Show to see ex-Leeds United and Ireland football legend, Johnny Giles, make an appearance. Imagine my shock when I heard the show’s presenter, Ryan Tubridy, introduce Flatley onto the Late Late floor for the second week running due to popular demand.  “This has got to be a parody”, I thought, as I watched the world’s best exponent of cadence braking skip across the stage.

Thankfully it was a parody, and turned out to be none other than mimic Mario Rosenstock. You had to look at it for a while to establish that for certain, though.

See clip above, it’s amusing. The Michael Flatley bit anyway... not sure about the rest of it.

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Thursday, 11 November 2010

Anglo investigation stumped by password enigma - an insight into Ireland

Few people who support the blog will have been surprised at yesterday’s revelations that detectives, looking into the governance affairs of basket-case bank Anglo Irish, had come up against “difficulties” in their investigation.

It seems that bank employees and former top-brass of Anglo had not provided police officers with the passwords of important documents that might be valuable in any possible future criminal prosecutions.

Brian Cowen said on the news that he was “powerless” to do anything about the situation –  nothing to do with the Government, you see.  This, of course, despite the fact that Anglo has been nationalised and the country is footing the bill for its losses.  Cowen also refused to comment on allegations that he had been fully appraised of the dodgy bank’s situation in a meeting with executives back in 2008, before its financial position became common knowledge. 

In another typically Irish twist, gardai (police) appear devoid of powers to compel Anglo to hand over the passwords necessary for their enquiries.  Would obstructing them in the course of their duty not do? Or withholding information for an investigation?   No, it seems not.  Instead they are getting encryption experts to crack the codes, which will delay the process even further.

Can Lenihan and Cowen really wonder why international opinion is unconvinced about the Irish authorities' (governmental, financial and civil) ability to solve the country's problems?  The continuing reluctance to confront the rottenness and secrecy that led us into the mess we are in?  What must the rest of the world think, looking at this circus?

The Irish Government's clowns just don't get it. 

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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Morgan Kelly's latest predictions on the property market and the bank bail-outs

I got a message from an estate agent the other day quoting an Irish Independent article in which an economist suggested now might be a good time to buy. It shows you how desperate they are if they are reduced to bombarding anyone who has ever made an enquiry (I asked about a pub about 6 months ago) with talk-up-the-market emails.

Somehow, I don’t think the same estate agent will be emailing today’s article by Morgan Kelly in The Irish Times. As readers of the blog will know, Kelly predicted the crash and even put a percentage on the amount he thought prices would fall. 80% was his
most recent estimate.

The two Brians keep telling us we have turned the corner, and that the spoilsport media are talking down the economy. Nonsense, of course. Sections of the media had a vested interest in talking up the market, profiting as they were from a property advertising bonanza, but they have no reason to talk it down. They are simply telling it like it is, that’s all.

Kelly, who is professor of Economics at UCD and so is not in the employ of the banking/property sector, reckons that Ireland is effectively insolvent. He believes that the cost of the bank bail-outs will be €70 billion. To put that in perspective, it means that “every cent of income tax that you pay for the next two to three years will go to repay Anglo’s losses, every cent for the following two years will go on AIB, and every cent for the next year and a half on the others."  In other words, the Irish State is insolvent: its liabilities far exceed any realistic means of repaying them.

It seems that we have seen nothing yet. The economist expects the banks to pass under direct ECB control next year, and they will be forced to stop lending in order to “shrink their balance sheets back to a level that can be funded from customer deposits.” This will mean that the market will then “be driven by cash transactions, and prices will collapse accordingly”. He also predicts there will be massive mortgage defaults in the coming years, which will exacerbate the crisis even further.

Interesting times we live in

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Saturday, 6 November 2010

Government's free EU cheese plan grates on Irish public

Government plans to distribute EU cheese among Ireland’s poorest in the run-up to Christmas are creating an awful stink in some quarters. Indeed, I am told that callers to Joe Duffy’s Liveline were going crackers about it. 

Some of them even drew rather stiltoned parallels with the French revolution, substituting Marie’s infamous cake suggestion with Brian’s supposed "let them eat cheese" .   Or how about "let them gorge themselves on Cheddar"?

Talk of such edaming upheaval in an Irish context is just blarney however. It is not in our culture, you see. No, the fat cats will continue to get feta while the whole crisis brieses over, just when it seems that people camembert any more.

By offering charity, however, it seems that Government ministers have underestimated the pride of the grate Irish public. How could they make such ementhal mistake? You’ve gouda wonder.

Better stop now, in queso you’ve had enough.


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Thursday, 4 November 2010

Third-level fees protest: perhaps it's time to pay up?

Yesterday saw an estimated 40,000 people take to the streets protest against Government plans to increase registration fees for university students.  Some protesters staged a sit-in at the Department of Finance offices and others attempted a sit-down protest outside the Dail (the Irish parliament).

In the latter two instances there were scuffles with heavy-handed police, which resulted in several protesters being injured, including one who had his “head stamped on” according to a Socialist Workers Party spokesperson. Two protesters were charged; one with criminal damage and another with breach of the peace.  No gardai were charged, to the best of my knowledge.

All that aside, however, this is a difficult one for me.   While it is good to see some form of anger and protest on Irish streets,  it is perhaps predictable that such a protest should come from one of the more privileged sections of Irish society.

When third-level fees were abolished back in 1996, it was trumpeted as a move that would open up third-level education to the disadvantaged.   It did no such thing.   Instead it provided a subsidy for middle-class parents to send their kids to college for free… even when they had paid privately for their second-level education.  The abolition was universal and made no distinction with regard to socio-economic background or income.

A report by Dr Kevin Denny, in May of this year, found that (summary by Karlin Lillington, Irish Times, July 30th):    “..while all taxpayers, including those on lower income, end up paying for free education for third-level students, it is the children of the better off who literally cash in, getting their ticket to a better future and a higher income for free. Meanwhile, disadvantaged students still enter third level education at the same dismally low levels."

The crux of the issue being, of course, that “students from lower-income backgrounds who qualified for university would have been eligible for a fees grant and in some cases, a maintenance grant”.

Ferdinand von Prondzynski, president of Dublin City University for ten years up until last July, also dismissed the supposed universal benefit of “free” third-level education in an Irish Times article (May 18th 2010) entitled “The education system fails those we most need to help.”

Prondzynski pointed out that   between 1998 and 2004 participation levels of those from a ‘non-manual background’ (the lowest social-economic grouping) actually fell by three percentage points.”      He put the third-level participation level in areas close to DCU, such as Finglas and Ballymun, at “somewhere between 5 and 7 per cent”, with a continued decline among those from “non-manual, skilled manual and semi-skilled backgrounds”.

To go back to Denny’s report, its conclusion was that access to third-level education for those from disadvantaged backgrounds must be addressed at secondary level (and I should imagine, well before that, at primary), one of the points being:    “A clear policy implication of this paper is that attempts to tackle inequalities in university access that do not address these performance differences at the Leaving Certificate won’t solve the problem.”

In short, the abolition of fees has done little to address educational disadvanage.  Also, “free” third-level education is nothing of the sort -  someone has to pay for it.

Given the coming cuts will, no doubt, be felt most keenly by the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, perhaps it is not unreasonable to ask the better-off to put their hands in their pockets and pay for their offsprings' education?

Full Denny report here

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