Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Medicine in Ireland - an ennobling profession.

Some maintain that medicine is a noble profession. Well, in dear old Ireland it is more like an ennobling one, given the great financial rewards enjoyed by its practitioners.

Why else would it consistently be the vocation that requires the most CAO points each year?
1) Because we Irish are caring people who leave Florence Nightingale in the ha'penny place.  We desperately want to help our fellow man / woman.
2) Because you get paid a shitload of money for it.

       Now, now. Which of you cynics replied “1”?

Only last week I had to fight back the tears when I read that a doctor’s investment property was being repossessed. AIB had advanced the medic the princely sum of €1,650,000 in February 2007 for the house which was “close to the family home”.  The mortgage was to be repaid by progressively increasing monthly installments ranging from €5,600 to just under €11,000 according an Irish Times report.

Well, so much for intelligence then. I can clearly date the sudden dawning of reality in the Irish property market – “the crash” I think they call it – back to September 2006, when Michael McDowell started talking about abolishing stamp duty.  And like a particularly crazy wall of death ride, once the participants stopped for a second to reflect on what they were doing, they promptly fell to Earth.  By February 2007, that particular sideshow had long left town.

But the medical profession is one of Ireland’s great cartels, and it is predictable that when the Government made a big show of introducing wholesale deregulation, in the form of hitting the taxi drivers, Ireland’s professional classes continued their market-rigging unmolested.

A friend of the blog emailed a piece that appeared, again in the Times, last week. It referred to a 2009 OECD report which found that the Irish medical profession controlled entry to the market to keep fees artificially high, a process that begins right from the inadequate number of places available at medical college.  It found a correlation between the high incomes acquired by doctors and the fact that the number of doctors per 1,000 of population in Ireland was only 60% that of most other European countries.

The same study found that Irish hospital consultants were even “more successful than GPs in restricting competition, which has resulted in many of them earning incomes which are up to four times the average earnings of consultants in other EU countries.”

Allied to all this are various other restrictions on qualified doctors from abroad becoming GPs here, with the Irish College of General Practitioners still "considering" a proposal by the Competition Authority to allow doctors with appropriate hospital experience to enter the GP clinic phase of training directly.

Of course, while all this racketeering is going on, we have people who are dying because they cannot get MRI scans and subsequent early intervention that cancer patients in other countries take for granted.  We have people who are being told their babies are dead when they are very much alive. We have cystic fibrosis patients who are told that there are no isolation wards. We have people who are seemingly paid too much to qualify for medical cards but yet cannot afford doctors' extortionate fees, and who put off going as a result. 

As usual, it's everday life - and death - in Ireland.

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Monday, 28 June 2010

Irish drivers won't go topless - no matter what the weather

“I am a poseur and I don’t care, I like to make people stare”

Poly Styrene and original punk band X-Ray Spex (see below).

Let me say it first, I drive a convertible. You can call me a poseur and all that, but there it is. You could say it’s deeply irrational and impractical to own such a vehicle on our soggy, miserable isle – and you might even have a point.

Thing is, if you’ve ever been interested in two-wheeled forms of motor transport – and I had a (proper) Vespa scooter and a Kawasaki GT750 as my first two vehicles – you will love them.  Even when the sun is at its meekest, you can drop the top, dial the heater up to 11, and enjoy the troposphere rushing past your ears and the distant canopy of sky above your head. So it’s not about posing. Well not completely, anyway.

Then why, why, oh why, do so many Irish convertible drivers keep their lids shut as tightly as Bertie's money box, even as we bask in sunny, dry weather with temperatures  into the 20s?

I went out for a spin to the Devil's Glen last week, and spent a bit of time driving around Dublin at the weekend, and could not believe the number of convertible drivers skulking about like shy clams, shutting out the world around them.

Consider this. If you own a ragtop, you have to fret like an over-anxious mother every time you park the thing, for fear some skanger will slice it open with a knife.  If you own one of the folding steel top variety, you have to accept you can never carry more than a toothbrush and one change of jocks/knickers if you go away for a week in it.  Then – biggest killer of all – you have to pay a massive premium on your insurance for the privilege.   So how good does the weather have to get for these people?   Why do they buy them?

I seem to remember a few years back, when BMW was thinking of replacing the 3-Series' cabriolet fabric roof with a steel one, its marketing department carried out some research on the issue.  Among the negative feedback it received with regard to tin-tops was that some people feared their car might not be recognizable as a convertible when the roof was up. I kid you not.   Maybe that explains all the above? 

Now that’s the most pathetic type of posing I’ve ever heard of.

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Friday, 25 June 2010

IMF supports bail-out for mortgage holders?

Where have all the free marketeers gone, long time passing?

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has declared that Irish banks – bolstered by the Nama bailout – “could” now offer support for “vulnerable” mortgage holders in arrears.   An Independent editorial on the issue even uses the phrase “suicidal nightmare” in relation to the phenomenon of negative equity.

This might sound a tiny bit flippant, right, but why not bail out those who lost last week's wages to Paddy Power too? Where does it all end?

During the boom you had half-wits sleeping all night outside booking offices so they could  put down a deposit on a “unit” which the developer had not even started building. Then there were idiot parents buying apartments for little Oisin and Roisin (aged 2 and 4) who “wouldn’t be able to afford their own places in Ireland when they got older.”

So, if gawms like these are bailed out, how are they ever going to learn?  And why should those who have acted responsibly have to subsidise them?  But that seems to be the culture in Ireland (see Nama), which has suddenly become remarkably more Berlin than Boston in the past few years.

The thing is, the IMF call is a bit of a nonsense really, and might only serve to give false hope to those who are in arrears due to greed – rather than genuine bad luck or unemployment.   There is currently a moratorium on house repossessions and, even if there was not, banks would have to sell repossessed properties at a minuscule fraction of their original mortgage valuations, anyway.  Then there's the backlog of Nama developments they are already trying to drip-feed onto the market to keep property prices artificially high. 

What the IMF called for is happening as we speak. Mortages are being extended and deferred, and arrangements are being made for those  in genuine financial difficulty - and that is right and proper. But the same should not apply to those who were pushing up prices through investment, speculation and flipping.  They were "The Market's" greatest supporters, before their sudden conversion to socialism (Irish style).

Let’s make sure we keep the distinction between the needy and the greedy.

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Eurobarometer report and Merrill Lynch study offer different perspectives

You wouldn’t know what to believe. Today’s Irish Times carries a report on an EU Eurobarometer survey, conducted last month, showing that nearly three out of ten Irish people “fear they may run out of money for food, ordinary bills and daily consumer items." 15% fear for their jobs and a whopping 45% would have trouble coping with an unexpected outlay of €1,000.

Switch over to the Metro Herald and you’re greeted with the headling “RICH LIST GROWING DESPITE THE SLUMP”. Despite Nama and all the other banking/property developer bail-outs, a Merrill Lynch / Capgemini study claims that the number of Ireland’s millionaires hit a peak in 2007 (20,400) before falling by more than 4,000 in 2008. Last year, it seems that the number crept up by 2,000 to 18,100.

According to the Metro piece, the phenomenon is due to investments on the stock market, which rose overall by 24% from a low base in 2008. “Experts” say the number of developers and property investors going bust “would not have had a significant impact on ‘high net worth individuals’”

Hmmm. That’s very surprising, considering that during the Irish property-buying frenzy, the world, his wife, and the whole extended family were in on the act.

Something doesn’t add up.

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Sunday, 20 June 2010

Watch out, piggies about!

There's never a policeman/woman around when you need one.   The other day, I noted  a red Garda gatso van with blacked-out windows on my travels, on the road between Leixlip and Maynooth - the R148. I thought it might be an idea to go out there with a camera and snap them in the line of duty today, but alas, they were not there.  Typical.

Now, I am as much into "saving liiiives" as the next person, so I can only congratulate the Garda Siochanna for hiding in their covert vans to clock people going a few k/mh over the limit in pursuance of this noble aim.  There's a slight niggle though.  Surely, if someone is driving dangerously, the coppers should be out stopping them, rather than hiding behind blacked-out windows to take their reg number?  Just a point. 

You'll see them, on occassion, near the bridge opposite the Carton House entrance before you reach Maynooth. 

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Thursday, 17 June 2010

GAA bans the vuvuzela - no foreign instruments, please...

It has long been acknowledged that the GAA contains some of the greatest minds of the 19th Century.  An organisation that – right up until the 70s - banned its own members from playing or attending “foreign” games, and only reluctantly allowed the hosting of soccer and rugby matches in (the largely publicly funded) Croke Park a few years ago, having come under enormous political pressure.

Now the GAA is turning its sights on the vuvuzela. Most of us will now be all too familiar with the awful buzzing tones of the instrument played by fans at the World Cup finals in South Africa  -  and sure, they make a frightful racket. 

The vuvulela’s supporters claim that the plastic horns, which are blown like a trumpet, are based on traditional African instruments, but this is debated.  Whatever the truth about that, there is no doubt that the vuvuzela sounds as sweet as the most sugary Mozart symphony in comparision with our own "traditional"  uileann pipes.

But GAA fans be afraid, be very afraid. If I heard today's Morning Ireland correctly, it seems that the GAA is set to bar the vuvuzela from its citadel, Croke Park.

The justification?   Ostensibly, because it falls foul of present regulations applying to bugles and air horns. But GAA spokesman Alan Milton added that "it is impossible to say how popular it would be, because it's not a traditional Irish instrument”.  

 Let's hope that decibel-hungry GAA fans don't look for indigenous alternatives.

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Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Saville Report clears Bloody Sunday civil rights protesters

It took 38 years, but the innocent civilians who were shot dead by the British Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday, while taking part in a peaceful civil rights protest,  have finally had their good names cleared.

 Shortly after the horrific events of January 30th, 1972, the British government of the day set up an inquiry, presided over by Lord Widgery.  Far from being a genuine inquiry, however, it was a whitewash.  Worse, it was full of weasel words and innuendo which cast doubt on the innocence of those who were butchered on the day, implying that many of them were armed, or had been in the presence of those who were.

Yesterday the Saville Report, which began investigations in 1998, finally concluded that those who were killed in cold blood were unarmed, and that the army had fired on them without warning.  It should be borne in mind that the people on the march were demonstrating for civil rights and fair treatment in a society in which there was widespread discrimination, prejudice, and gerrymandering.

The civil rights protests of that time were peaceful and progressive, but the actions of the British Army on that day ensured that the IRA would have a plentiful stream of eager recruits for years to come, and that Northern Ireland - already on a tipping point after the provocations of Paisley and the Bombay Street pograms - lurched into a cycle of wholesale destruction, sectarianism, bombings, shootings, hatred and suspicion that lasted over a quarter of a century.

You have to wonder how different things might have been had successive unionist governments, and those of the "protestant" majority in that State, been more open to the simple idea of civil rights and equality for their "catholic" countrymen/women?   If they had included them, instead of unleashing a wave of State brutality against them?

By the same token, you have to wonder how a more measured response to the 1916 Rising in Dublin (by a relatively small number of people) by the British Government of the day might have facilitated a similarly measured transition to independence (or even diminshed the desire for same) for some, or all, of the island we live on - rather than creating two nasty little statelets equally backward in their own respective ways?

It would be nice to see prosecutions come out of today's report.  If they do, it would be a sign that the powers-that-be are at least learning something.

 Let's not get our hopes up, though.

Saville Report full text here

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Monday, 14 June 2010

HP boss questions time and resources spent on Irish in education.

It has long been the contention of this blog that the promotion of Gaelic, as a badge of supposed “authentic” Irish identity, has been a divisive waste of time, money, effort and resources. A cultural-nationalist, State-sustained industry that, to me, sums up much of the nonsense of this place.

Since the State’s sorry conception it has been a badge of honour for those who subscribe to the old Dev and Paddy Pee-inspired vision of a Gaelic, crossroads-dancing (with Peig Sayers as cheerleader) hate-the-Brits Ireland.  And, of course, a tool for others to advance their careers in its burgeoning, elitist, taxpayer-funded bureaucracy.

Here’s an example. Some years ago, a lobby group called Stadas campaigned to have Gaeilge made an official language of the EU. One of its declared motivations was to secure EU jobs for "Irish speakers".  Well, a couple of Sundays back the Tribune’s Martin Frawley reported that €750,000 was spent by the government paying 40 lawyers to attend courses in Gaelic “so they would be available to work in the EU”. To date, the report said, just four laywers have been hired by EU institutions to work through Gaelic. Something, remember, that is totally unnecessary and has been created only through bureaucracy and lobbying.  And this is just one small example.

Interesting then, that Hewlett-Packard Ireland’s Michael Murphy has questioned the amount of time and resources spent on Gaelic in our schools. In a statement that is guaranteed to get the Little Irelanders, Gaelic educationalists and grant-grabbers up in arms, he says we should be giving more attention to languages such as Mandarin.

In today’s Metro, the HP managing director is quoted as saying that our education systems needs a “shake up”, with nothing being treated “as a sacred cow… Everything should be looked at – nothing should be ruled in or out. An enormous amount of time is put into Irish”.

HP, by the way, employs 4,000 people in Ireland. And to think there are nutters out there, many of whom seem to have a fatal attraction to Gombeen Nation, who want Gaelic “restored” as the lingua franca of Ireland. Oh dear, we’ll be back to seaweed cultivation and famines so, when all the international companies flee.

Interestingly, although Murphy believes that more languages should be introduced to Irish education, he says that “a language teacher should not be necessary in every school any more”, maintaining that there are now ways of using technologies such as virtual classrooms.

If that is the case, surely we should be also looking at ways to cut down on language-based bureaucracy not just in education, but in the public service, the EU, and the legal sector? 

Given the economic climate, EU-wide, there has never been a better time to start - even if it does cut off a few career paths.

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Sunday, 13 June 2010

RTE 2 World Cup coverage

I’m a great fan of Brian Carthy, one of RTE’s many GAA correspondents. Whenever the alarm goes off at the appointed time for the 8am news, and I remain in the scratcher throughout “What it says in the Papers” right up until the 8.30am news and its sports report, Brian’s piercing, nasal, highly irritating whine is always guaranteed to get me out of bed.

This morning he came on (at 11am, it being a weekend)  and gave a preview of the day’s great sporting events. Naomh Mhuire camogie team were playing Scoil Erin go Bragh in the Offaly regional under-14 Quinn Direct play-off qualifier. At the end he mentioned that there was a "soccer" tournament taking place somewhere in Africa. Patrick Kavanagh's "Epic" and roods of land and all that.

Actually, I just made that paragraph up. In fairness, Carthy actually mentioned the World Cup.  And you have to congratulate RTE 2 on their coverage of the tournament. You’ve the best Irish player and pundit ever, Johnny Giles, along with professional controversist Eamonn Dunphy, ex-Liverpool midfielder Ronnie Whelan, Arsenal maestro Liam Brady, and token hun Graeme Souness (but he did sign Ranger’s first-ever high-profile “Catholic” player) doing the discourse - all conducted by 72-year-old evergreen Bill O’Herlihy, and it's usually quite entertaining. And whatever Bill is taking, I want it.

So, for an armchair football fan like me, it’s great – a few weeks of always-on entertainment. A pity we’re not there. But that’s football - dodgy refereeing decisions and all.

And what about Thierry Henry claiming handball against Uruguay? But there you go. The greatest game in the world - life writ large, with all its irony.

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Thursday, 10 June 2010

Honohan and Regling-Watson banking reports. Fianna Fail's culpability.

You will probably have heard a little this morning about two reports on the Irish banking collapse commissioned by the Government - one compiled by the head of the Central bank Patrick Honohan, the other by international banking experts Klaus Regling and Max Watson.

Both  will form the basis for a Statutory Commission of Investigation to be carried out this year. The Government, however, has excluded its own role in the terms of reference of investigation. Some investigation, then. It sounds like holding the Nuremburg trials without the presence of war criminals.

Of course Fianna Fail wanted to portray the economic mess as something caused by outside factors, or the banks alone, but even the two reports it commissioned show the Government itself culpable.
The two reports are here: Honohan report      Regling-Watson report

Here are some snippets I found interesting. The range of property-based tax shelters and dodges is breathtaking, as is their duration (you can still see them on the property pages of the papers today):

Honohan Report, pages 31-32.

2.27 Throughout this period, the Government made extensive use of taxation incentives aimed at the construction sector.21 The rates of stamp duties, which were high, were lowered several times in recent years (in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007), sometimes with the aim of improving the affordability of housing to first time buyers (as was the case with the Bacon initiatives 1998-2000).

 In addition, different classes of construction investment have attracted sizeable income tax concessions extending over long periods. At the height of the boom, in 2004-06, schemes existed for urban renewal, multi-storey car parks, student accommodation, buildings used for third level educational purposes, hotels and holiday camps, holiday cottages, rural and urban renewal, park and ride facilities, ―living over the shop‖, nursing homes, private hospitals and convalescent facilities, sports injury clinics and childcare facilities.

 After some transitional arrangements, most of these incentives were abolished by 31 July 2008, after the expiration date of the schemes had earlier been extended on several occasions during 2000-08.

Regling-Watson report.

In relation to taxation policy and competitiveness.  Page 22.

Of course, some loss of competitiveness is the natural mechanism through which growth is slowed in a euro area economy that is overheating. In Ireland, however, an imprudent expansion of bank lending, accompanied by an unwise policy on tax exemptions, resulted in this natural economic cycle becoming much more extreme than should have ever have been the case.

In relation to tax policy and property.  Pages 27- 28

...Ireland is one of very few countries where interest payments on mortgages can be deducted from income tax yet there is no property tax (which would provide a stable source of revenue for the public sector). While this approach narrowed – again – the tax base, it also interacted in a negative way with the emerging real estate bubble by giving additional incentives to households to invest in real estate.

Third, the Irish tax system includes a large number of “tax expenditures” (tax allowances, reliefs and exemptions from income tax which – to some extent – reflect the income tax cuts mentioned above). According to the OECD, by 2005 the cost of “tax expenditures” had become larger than the remaining income tax receipts. As a percent of total tax revenue, tax expenditures in Ireland are more than three times larger than on average in the EU. Again, this excessive reliance on tax relief narrowed the tax base.

In addition, it contributed – again – to the property bubble, as some of the tax relief was directed to the property sector, often in particular regions of the country. And it contributed to a more general misallocation of resources as some of the tax concessions seem to have been granted on an ad-hoc basis in a not fully transparent way. After a review by the Department of Finance in 2006, a number of tax expenditures were eliminated and some restrictions on the use of certain tax reliefs were imposed.  Nevertheless, the system remained distorted.

And it still is. 

The opposition must not allow Fianna Fail to detract from its central role in creating the property bubble.  And they should also ask themselves what they were doing/saying at the time.

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Monday, 7 June 2010

Fingal County Council "Growing Places" project. A get-out-of-cutting-the-grass scam?

Anybody want a lawnmower? Petrol, about four years old, starts first time? You see I’ve decided to let the garden and the tiny rectangle of grass on the street in front of the house go to meadow, “wildflower meadow” to be precise.

Our local rulers on Fingal County Council have decided not to cut the grass on many open space amenity areas in Dublin 15. The council claims it is to “add more colour and wildlife”. As if we don’t have enough wildlife as it is in the locality.

But maybe they mean butterflies and ladybirds, as opposed to gangs of flagon-wielding skangers necking cider on neglected waste ground? Have a look at the pic here, taken on Delwood Road, and tell me which you think is more likely.

It is obvious that Fingal County Council want to save money by not cutting the grass on amenity areas currently used by kids to play football and the like, but in keeping with the bullshit we are constantly fed by officialdom in this country, they are dressing up their laziness/tightness by making it out it is for the benefit of us and the environment.


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Friday, 4 June 2010

Ivor Callely and Larry Butler expenses fiddling.


"As the most severe difficulties hit the Irish and Global economies, we are all faced with a massive task to come through this difficult period.

I understand that there has been very careful assessment of the extent of our problems and of the exceptional effort it will take to improve the situation. We have to turn the tide of our present difficulties and put our economy back on a sound  footing once we have our public finances under control.

I am determined ‘with every beat of my heart’ to resolve the difficulties this country now faces. Our ability to come together in difficult times has never been more important. Working together, we can help each other climb out of these difficulties. We all have a share in each other’s success, because the more each individual succeeds, the more we all succeed.

We are at a point in our history where we have never been able to see more clearly what we can achieve. Ireland has undergone a transformation, we are a small, open and pulsating economy, now energised by some of the most sophisticated industries and services in the world.

We have a proven track record in our economic performance, especially during the period 1995 to 2005 which consistently reflected our success, our determination and our ability to succeed. Our ‘can do’ attitude has characterised our success before, all the more necessary now. We have the basic ingredients, an entrepreneurial and well educated population, a good infrastructure, diverse markets, established trade links and a tremendous reputation on the world stage.

I have a clear vision that involves new thinking of getting us moving again along the road we successfully travelled in the past ant learning from our mistakes."

Ivor Callely

The above is an excerpt from Ivor Callely's website (big thanks to C).

Well it seems that people like Ivor Callely and Fianna Fail senator Larry Butler never do learn, because there is no incentive to do so. Butler is the latest politician who has been caught claiming travel expenses - from the public finances - claiming through a distant holiday home rather than his actual residence, this time to the tune of €20,000 a year.

Callely, of course, had to resign his cabinet position in 2005 after it was discovered that a builder who had public contracts painted his house (his main residence) for freepence. He subsequently lost his seat in the 2007 general election, even though 7,003 upstanding citizens of Dublin North Central still thought him worthy of their first-preference votes. But that is a constituency with a particularly sorry history. A constituency where Sean Haughey, son of Charlie, the godfather of corrupt politicians, romped home with 9,026 first-choice votes - presumably on the strength of daddy's bad name.

That lot are beyond hope, but some of us in Ireland would like to see corrupt and expense-fiddling politicians brought to book. Nothing short of expulsion of Callely and Butler from public office will discourage such behaviour in the future.

The ultimate goal, however, must be to abolish that institution of undemocratic freeloaders, the Senate, in its entirety.

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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Niamh Kavanagh and Ireland's Eurovision bum note - why it happened.

Right, it’s taken me this long to comment on it, so you can safely deduce that I’m not a huge fan of the Eurovision.

OK, I had a peek when Dustin was on it a while back, but only because so many bonnets were buzzing with swarms of angry bees (including Dana's) at the idea that Ireland’s entrant was a foul-mouthed turkey puppet taking the piss out of the whole thing.

I heard Niamh Kavanagh’s Irish entry a few days before this year's competiton, when RTE were going on about how great it was. I have to say, I thought it was awful. Awful. In fact I think John Waters could have written a better song, tune and all, and that is saying something.

So imagine my surprise at all the fuss and whingeing when it finished third-last in Eurosong. “What went wrong?” was all I could see in the papers and hear on the airwaves.  Well, what went wrong is that it was a crap song, full stop.  Musically, a good song should have a hook, a rhythm, and a melody.  “It’s For You” fell down in this regard as it had none of those things. Not one.

Out of curiosity, and to satisfy the strict standards of research and objectivity for which Gombeen Nation is famous, I had a quick listen on You Tube to the winning German entry, “Satellite” by Lena, and thought it was alright for a Eurovision song. At least it had the quality of rhythm anyway.

But for those who for whom winning the Eurovision Song Contest is considered an achievement, and who prefer to see Ireland’s lack of recent success as the consequence of demographic changes and culturally similar voting blocks conspiring against us, a tongue-in-cheek letter in yesterday's Irish Times from Jake Walsh of County Louth might have an answer.

He suggests that we encourage the UK to enter as Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales to increase the voting power in this corner of Europe. Greenland, the Isle of Man, and Iceland should also be encouraged to abandon all taste and enter.

If any of the other countries object that the newly independent UK “countries” - for reasons of Eurovision expediency - are disqualified on the grounds of having no national broadcasting companies of their own, he says (though I’m sure there’s a HTV, a UTV, and a STV), any objections  “can easily be allayed by the simple provision of a brass plate or two bearing the names of said corporations in our very own IFSC. After all, this is one area of international competition in which we are still truly world class!”

Douze points, Jake.

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