Sunday, 31 January 2010

Road gritters and the unappreciative Irish motorist

A couple of months back, The Sunday Times described this blog as “satirical”. Mark Keenan referred to it as such in his excellent column when writing about “Comical Ken” McDonald’s (once plentiful) upbeat pronouncements on the moribund property market.

Now, while it was great to get a mention in the paper, the sad thing is that the blog is perfectly serious, not satirical. All the stories on Gombeen Nation – mad and all as they might be - are frighteningly real. Or what passes for reality in Ireland. Here’s an example, inspired by the return of the cold weather.

You know the poor buggers who drive the gritting trucks, and get up at all hours of the night/morning to make the roads as safe as they can, given the limitations of our Keystone councils? It seems that they have been on the receiving end of motorists’ bile while gritting the roads to keep the very same bilants out of the ditches/shrubbery/lamposts.

Irish drivers - possibly the worst in the world - don’t like it when confronted with a road gritter up ahead as they blithtely skim along the icy motorway, in the overtaking lane, on their mobiles, smoking a fag, stuffing a breakfast roll into their faces. No, they get quite abusive, in fact.

The Tribune recently quoted one such grit truck driver and supervisor, Lucas Swiatek, saying “I get an awful lot of abuse from motorists… I would see them sticking their fingers up at me and swearing at the top of their lungs, or beeping their horns because they have been hit by some of the salt." On one occasion the man was surrounded by five motorists, all shouting at him.

Things are so bad, that the company he works for, M50 Concessions, has had to advise its staff how best to deal with ignorant motorists who plainly don’t know what’s good for them.

Maybe the gritters should just pull over and let them race ahead into the next very hard, unyielding object, via a patch of black ice? 

We can just call it natural selection.

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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Knock down ghost estates, says IAVI head.

It’s a question often asked on Gombeen Nation: “Where else would you get it?”. 

The head of the Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institution has suggested that the only thing for some of the nation’s empty housing developments and apartment complexes might be to knock them down.

While the blog is not critical of the notion of flattening the “Celtic Tiger” follies dotting our lovely little Gombeen land, it is critical of the Government and local councils for actively encouraging their construction in the first place. 

Some estimates put the number of empty dwelling units in Ireland at 300,000 –  in no small measure thanks to the Government’s property-based tax incentives which whipped up an investor frenzy, where budding tycoons bought houses and apartments off  the plans in godforsaken shitholes where nobody would ever want to live.  Ever.

According to the Sunday Independent,  the IAVI head spoke to  reporters at that organisation’s annual conference last Friday, saying that as a result of poor planning and a lack of infrastructure some of the country’s newer housing stock may never be required.

Scuppering hopes of the Government buying the ghost estates from their builder buddies for use as social housing, she said:   “… that housing might be in locations where it’s not required.  Is it fair to ship people out to that location just because there happens to be an empty house there?.........I haven’t heard any viable proposals about what to do other than to potentially knock down some of these developments”. 

After the Irish economic miracle that never was, maybe we can now save face and create the world’s first-ever deconstruction boom?

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Monday, 25 January 2010

Always Look on the Bright Side of Lies - Gerry Adams' funny relationship with the truth

It’s funny how Gerry Adam’s ratings went up slightly in the last Irish Times/MRBI poll, despite his recent contradictory statements about his knowledge/non-knowledge of allegations of child abuse in the 80s against his brother, Liam, who subsequently worked on youth projects for the Shinners in Belfast and Dundalk.

According to Liam Clarke in the Sunday Times, Adams told a conference in Dublin that “rich lawyers” with whom he consulted advised him that the press “can publish anything, [including] total untruths” with impunity, and that the only thing that stopped him from suing them after some reports on the scandal was the prospect of legal costs.

Journalists might disagree. In fact libel laws in the Republic are particularly stringent, with certain colourful businessmen just waiting to pounce and shut down any newspaper or media outlet that slips up and falls foul of them. And then there’s Martin Cullen, of course. So it would be interesting to hear the full Sinn Fein position on freedom of the press.

Perhaps any prospective prosecution by Adams might be made more difficult given the fact that no one can seriously believe a word the man says? He says he was never in the IRA, for example. Now, years ago, when the “troubles” were in full swing, that was a necessary tactical denial - but is there a need for him to keep it up now? Also, when Jean McConville was kidnapped and murdered by the IRA, Adams said he was in prison - a claim disputed by commentators.

Then there’s the behaviour of the Sinn Fein leadership during the hunger strikes, as alleged in a book by a former IRA member, who says that they let their own members die even after Thatcher had conceded on key points. If that's the case, some of them died soley in pursuance of the Shinners “ballot box in one hand, Armalite in the other” electoral strategy.

A more harmless porky, in the scheme of things, is that Adams cites Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life as one of his iconic prison memories, which he and other inmates/POWs sang after being beaten by prison guards.

Trouble is - the song was not written until after his release.

Gerry Adams "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" video

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Friday, 22 January 2010

Developers' Special Incentive Tax Rate costs €800 million.

Bertie Ahern, Eamon O’Cuiv, Bono and Charlie McCreevy are the four apocalyptic horsemen of the blog, galloping ahead of the plentiful field in the Featuring on Gombeen Nation Stakes.

One of them, Ahern, today defended a Fianna Fail tax dodge introduced on his watch for the party’s developer buddies: the Special Incentive Tax Rate. The break allowed developers to pay tax of 20% on their landbanks, rather than the previously applicable rate of 42%.

The move was ostensibly intended to “encourage” developers to release their landbanks for building. Nonsense of course, as with any of the other property tax measures, the builders/developers simply waited and sold their assets at whatever inflated amount the banks were prepared to recklessly advance to buyers, then pocketed the extra profit.

Ahern is quoted defending the squalid scam to RTE by saying that “the place was disastrous” when the tax incentives were introduced. Well it's a lot more "disastrous" now, Bertie, isn't it?

What he also neglects to acknowledge is that this particular measure was introduced in 2000 (it may even have been 2001) when the property bubble was already inflating alarmingly. All in all, the Special Incentive Tax Rate cost the exchequer €800 million by the time it was finally scrapped in 2009, while also contributing to unsustainable asset price inflation.

And which finance minister introduced it? Yes, fellow horseman Charlie McCreevy. He, along with Ahern, of course, recently denied they had any part in creating the current economic mess.

And I thought the horse wore the blinkers.

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Wednesday, 20 January 2010

No money for road repairs.

Have you seen the state of the roads? Ever since last year’s biblical floods, and the mini ice age that gripped us as we saw in the New Year, they are like something from the Somme. There are potholes deep enough to swallow a whole party of spelologists, never mind banjax your tyres/wheels/suspension/spine.

Not very encouraging then to hear, in a country with woeful – or none in some places - public transport, that no extra money is being allotted for necessary road repairs.

I say necessary, as they are. Such roads not only represent a danger to your vehicle’s integrity, but also to your life – and this applies particularly to those on two wheels, whose stability and safety can be severely compromised by even minor surface imperfections.

It’s particularly galling when you consider how much we pay for road tax in Ireland compared with our nearest neighbour. In the UK, a road tax disk will set you back £405 at the very most, while vehicles in the lowest band are exempt. In Ireland you’ll still pay €104 for the humblest of runabouts, right up to €2,100 at the other end of the range.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we pay way more for our cars in the shape of excise duty – also known as Vehicle Registration Tax – in some cases nearly twice as much as UK motorists. In addition to all of this, we also pay road tolls. Which prompts the question, where do our motoring related taxes go?

Surely if this Government and our local councils can waste money on countless frivolous projects (lots on this topic elsewhere on the blog), they can at least honour the vast sums they extract from motorists with safe roads. But the truth is, motor tax is not ring-fenced, it can go anywhere. Motorists who live in isolated areas, who are dependent on their own transport, will increasingly experience this in the years ahead.

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Sunday, 17 January 2010

Blanchardstown Shopping Centre - Buggy Wonderland.

I’ve just come back from the nearby Blanchardstown Shopping Centre, and the place was heaving. Whatever about consumer spending being down, there’s still a heavy footfall – and Liffey Valley was the same yesterday.

What’s really remarkable though, is the number of buggies in these places. Bloody hell, both the Blanchardstown Centre and Liffey Valley were like two massive crèches, with a plague of screaming brats pushed along by battalions of aggressive, shellsuit-clad mothers (always the mothers). My heels still bear the bruises as a result of not getting out of their way quickly enough. Next time I’m taking the hiking boots, or I might don a priest's attire in order to keep them away from me.

You might have guessed by now that I’m not exactly the paternal sort: the pitter-patter of tiny feet and the thought of spending my hard-earned on packets of Pampers (when I could be spending it on beer) are things that never attracted me – but that’s just me, right? And let’s face it, when it comes to popping them out there are no shortage of volunteers in Ireland.

So, given that a recession is possibly the best time to start a business - with lower rents, cheaper premises, and reduced start-up costs - here’s a top tip for you. Get yourself a Mothercare or Mamas & Papas franchise, and remember me kindly when you really start coining it in when the economy improves in 2020.

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Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Dublin City Council - Irish only placenames.

Dublin is a city renowned for its writers. The likes of Joyce, Swift, O’Casey, Wilde, Shaw, Beckett, Stoker and Synge have been massively influential in shaping the canon of English literature, and their works are famous the world over.

More recently, and up to the present, Dublin can still boast of Murdoch, Binchy, Doyle, O’Connor, Connelly and more. It is a cultural heritage of which the city can be truly proud.

Now, however, Dublin City Council wants to ban the English language – our proud and unique version of it – from future placenames in the city. Up until now, Dublin’s street names have been bilingual, but if those in the Wood Quay Bunker have their way all new streets will be in Gaelic only. English will be forbidden...

Likewise, the naming of future developments, estates and buildings has been a matter of choice up until now. In Dublin City Council’s brave new world it will be forbidden to refer to them in the vernacular of the city.

I, for one, am sick and tired of being ruled over by a gombeen political “elite” who ride roughshod over us with impunity. They only do it, of course, because they consistently get away with it. Let’s make a start and don’t let them get away with this nonsense.

Please read the relevant section from the notice below and tell them where to go before March 12th. E-mail them at (submissions MUST include your full name and address).

DUBLIN DRAFT DEVELOPMENT PLAN (Section 17.9.2 Names of Residential Estates)
"All new street and development names shall reflect local historical, heritage or cultural associations and the basic generic description (i.e. Court, Quay, Road etc.) must be appropriate.

The Planning Authority will approve the naming of residential developments in order to avoid confusion in regard to similar names in other locations. Street signs must be bilingual, and all house numbers must be visible.

Developers shall agree estate names with the Planning Authority prior to the commencement of development. Such estate names shall be in the Irish language only and shall reflect the history and topography of the area in which they are located. The names of public roads shall be in the Irish language only." DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL

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Sunday, 10 January 2010

Forget Sherry Fitz - get a St Joseph home selling kit

Trying to sell your house? Coming to the conclusion that selling snowballs to the Eskimos might be an easier option? Worry not, for divine help is at hand.

Today’s Sunday Times reports that would-be Irish sellers are resorting to religion in an attempt to shift their overpriced shoeboxes, and are enlisting the services of no less a deity than Saint Joseph, Jesus' stepdad.

It seems that as well as being the patron saint of carpenters, Saint Joseph also represents the home and, by extension (sorry), estate agents. So what you do is buy a statue of Saint Joe and bury him head-first in your front garden, facing away from your house, preferably near your “For Sale” sign. I kid you not, this is what I am reading. Either that, or somebody slipped some LSD into that last coffee.

A spokesperson for Veritas, the religious store based on Abbey Street, is quoted as saying that sales of St Joseph statues are booming in the bust, increasing by 500% over the past year. The practice is popular in the United States too – unsurprisingly – with dedicated home-selling kits that include special prayers, St Joseph oil (?), a St Joseph print and, of course, a statue of the man himself. See St Joseph home selling kits

For those who want that extra bit of shove from above, a deluxe kit is available which features a statue of St Jude for good measure. The more devout among you will recognise straight away that St Jude is the patron Saint of lost causes, which is especially apt.

If none of the above works for you, it might be time to drop your asking price...

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Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Cold "Snap" - Don't wait for Dublin City Council to get a grip

Right, this is out of civic-mindedness and humanitarian priniciples. I'm not making any money for advertising these, nor am I expecting any sneaky brown envelopes to pass through the Gombeen Manor letterbox. No personal gain, right?

I had to traverse 100 metres from my workplace to the train today in Dublin city centre and nearly broke my pert little bottom on at least two occasions during the odyessy. So bad were things, indeed, that people abandoned the paths to share roadspace with skidding traffic in a vain attempt to remain perpendicular.

All this was after Michael Phillips, chief engineer with the the society of clowns otherwise known as Dublin City Council (the same lot inflicting Gaeilge-only placenames on us see here) was on radio saying they were not going to be gritted, as "resources were not available". And we still have another ten days of freezing weather to come.

I'm trying not to curse, as I'm determined not to let the high standards drop on Gombeen Nation. I'm trying, trying hard not to curse. Really. If you'll excuse me, I'll just pop outside for a minute.

Where was I? Look, if we wait any longer for these complete and utter incompetents to sort out the paths and roads we'll all be lying on trollies in the grounds of the local A&E, roaring with hip fractures and broken arses, as there won't even be enough room in the corridors.

So if you do any amount of walking at all on our treacherous footpaths, get yourself a set of these Yaktrax. It looks like they fit around your existing shoes, boots, trainers or slippers, as the case may be.

Then let me know if they work, as I'm very curious.

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Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Bertie autobiography gets tax exemption

Readers of the blog will be heartened to hear that, even in these cash-strapped times, the Revenue Commisioners have granted Bertie Ahern tax exemption for his autobiography.

The artists' tax exemption scheme was introduced by Ahern's Mentor, Charlie Haughey, in 1969 – ostensibly to provide encouragement to struggling artists working away in their dingy garrets.

Predictably, it ended up being used as a vehicle for multi-billionaires U2 and their rock-star friends to avoid paying income tax. One unnamed beneficiary pocketed €10 million in one year without paying a cent on it, just before it was capped in 2006, according to today's Irish Times.

In order for a work to be granted exemption status by Revenue, it must be “original and creative” and “generally recognised as having cultural or artistic merit”.

While we doubt that Bertie’s account of his life in and out of politics contains much cultural merit, we are sure our erstwhile leader will give Stephen King a run for his money in the creativity stakes.

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Monday, 4 January 2010

A sprinkling of snow and the place seizes up.

I was one of the unlucky souls who had to work on New Year’s Day. Usually I take the train, but on Sundays or bank holidays that’s not possible as the “service” is too infrequent to deserve such a description. As for gettting back home, the last train out of town to my place on such days is 8.48pm.

So I drove in with the other half and left the car in the Phoenix Park, and we walked/slid our way along the quays to get the benefit of a bit of exercise. The plan was that I’d go in, do my shift and get picked up when I had finished.

When I got into work I heard that all the buses had been cancelled - just like that - and there were poor sods waiting at bus stops for buses that were never going to come. I can’t verify this, but people on the Boards forum claim that Dublin Bus had nothing about the sudden cancellations on their website.

Later on I heard that the Phoenix Park gates were closed due to icy conditions on the park’s main road, which is an important artery running out of town to Castleknock, Blanchardstown, Clonsilla and beyond. Many of the roads around Chapelizod were closed too, so bang went the idea of getting a lift back home. The only thing for it was to take an early cut and get the (early) last train. At least I had that option - those living in places served only by Dublin Bus were well and truly snookered.

Even last Saturday, when we headed into town again (we had to), the Phoenix Park was like an ice rink. What’s more, the place was jammers with people who evidently had no idea how to drive in such conditions. That same evening, the park gates were shut again.

Question: Why did the Powers-That-Be find it necessary to shut the park? Haven’t they heard of grit?

Bloody hell. A couple of centimetres of snow and the whole country literally seizes up.

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Sunday, 3 January 2010

Man Utd 0, Leeds Utd 1. FA Cup 3rd round

It's got nothing to do with the blog really, but...

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