Thursday, 29 September 2011

Government to tax online gambling

Last week the Government announced it was "examining changes to taxes that could yield up to €100m annually from online gambling and betting shops". (Irish Examiner 22th Sept). The same Examiner article also quoted the Rutland Centre, a Dublin addictions clinic, which reported a "30% increase in people presenting for help" with gambling addictions.

I met a family some years back who had lost everything they ever had because the father, who was also the breadwinner, lost it all through gambling. When you think about it, it is possibly the most ruinous of addictions because of its insidious and limitless nature.

Even with alcohol addiction, you can only drink so much at one go. Footballers like Paul McGrath and Tony Adams even managed to have careers at the top of their sport while being alcoholics.  There are pop stars who have come through decades of drug abuse alive, though with no recollection of what they were doing at the time.

Alcohol and drug addictions are awful - don't get me wrong - but you can only physically drink so much before you fall over and go unconscious.  You can, of course, always die from liver disease or overdose, too.   I am just saying there is always the potential to wake up, having hit a particular low, and get sorted. There is only so much damage you can do at one sitting, so to speak - particular excess and hard drugs excluded.

With gambling, however, the depths you can reach through steady financial ruin are unplumbed. With the recent advent of online gambling, losing all your money has never been easier. There is no waking up the following day and saying "I think I'll scrub that lot I lost on the credit card last night and start afresh". You can even lose what you don't have... in a way.

Which is why we should be wary when we hear the Government looking to increase its tax take from the industry. Already the Irish horse racing industry is subsidised - bizarrely - by the taxpayer, with the Exchequer contributing "more than €31million to the [the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund] in 2009, and a further €28 million in 2010”. (Sunday Business Post, 1st May).

If our Government has such a vested interest in gambling, it is hard to imagine it doing much to protect its citizens most damaged by the industry, despite promising to introduce a "levy for help and education services" as part of the tax reforms.

What are the bets such promises don't make it past the first furlong?

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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

McGuinness can count on the Cyclops vote

There was an interesting article in The Sunday Times last weekend, dealing with Martin McGuinness's bid to be president of Ireland and head of its official armed forces. 

McGuinness, you may have heard, has stated that he left the IRA in 1974.  Intelligence sources disagree, however, as do former comrades-in-arms, who claim he was the top man right up until the ceasefire negotiations and beyond.

According to the article, McGuinness dismissed those who question his paramilitary past as "west Brits”.  And in Shinner logic that deals the whole uncomfortable issue a knockout blow. Anyone who disagrees with the Shinners' brand of national socialism is a “west Brit”, of course. There are worse things though - like being a leading light in an organisation that killed protestant and catholic workers alike, if it deemed them to be “legitimate targets”. 

I know the IRA were not the only ones – there were also the sectarian murder gangs of the UDA, UVF and the rest.  There were bigots like Paisley stirring it since the late 60s civil rights movement, and making a career out of it.   Now they are all peacemakers - having got it out of their systems - and we should all fall over ourselves in gratitude to them.   And how many younger people who have no recollection of what things were like during "The Troubles"  will be rushing out to vote for Sinn Fein's candidate?

How many will vote for him because he is the “Ya-Boy-Ya!!!” candidate?  You know the type? The barstool republicans who have blighted every Irish generation since 1922, lemming-like in perpetuity, cheering on the boyos from a safe distance with their lumpen nationalist bollocksology.

That other hopeful candidate, David Norris - a man being hounded for far less serious past transgressons - might wistfully recall The Citizen from the Cyclops chapter in Joyce’s Ulysses – a character that summarised the above type so well.

He hasn’t gone away, you know.   He'll be out voting for Martin McGuinness on the 27th of October.

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Friday, 23 September 2011

BNP seeks common ground with Irish fellow racists

Back in the late 80s/early 90s I  had a stint in London AFA (Anti Fascist Action).  The reason I joined was not out of any desire to make the world - or London - safer, nicer or fluffier; but purely out of self interest. 

I knew of someone with red hair and freckles who was beaten up after straying into an Isle of Dogs hostelry around the time of the Canary Wharf bombing. The local assailants assumed he was Irish with his funny accent spouting contrarian views. As it happened, he was from the north of England with a funny accent spouting contrarian views.  Nationalists, eh?

Then there  was the local Irish Centre in Stratford, east London.  At a loose end, I called in and mentioned this story to them, thinking the fash only had to get lucky once, and I did not want to be The One.  But the Children of Lir Society, or whatever they were called, appeared to be more interested in bodhran playing, Irish language lessons and set dancing.  In other words, the very shite I had been trying to get away from all my young life.   Nationalists, eh?

It does not matter what franchise of exclusive cultural nationalism is in question, nationalism is like religion - it is something we need to evolve beyond.  I see this especially now in Ireland, where even the anarchists are patriots.

But is is funny to watch the ex Paddy-bashing (along with Paki-bashing, of course) BNP-ers in England  try to reconcile their new "we're all white - all right" policies with their actions of the past.  Thanks to F of Lancaster Unity for the following report:

Simon Darby, the BNP’s media spokesman, spoke to The University Times about his party’s connections with Ireland ahead of Nick Griffin MEP’s visit to the College in October.

Mr. Darby highlighted the “great deal of concern” he felt existed in Ireland at the moment over the issue of immigration. The number of recent radio interviews Nick Griffin had done with Irish broadcasters, he said, evidenced “the interest the Irish people have in the issue”.

He was also keen to point out the “considerable amount of people of Irish extraction” who had voted for Nick Griffin in the recent European elections. Mr. Griffin MEP represents the North-West England constituency, which includes Manchester and Liverpool, two towns with long-standing connections to Ireland. Mr. Griffin finished fifth in 2009’s election, behind Britain’s three largest parties and a UKIP candidate, polling 8% of the vote.

The BNP have traditionally included the Irish among their classification of the “indigenous British”. In an interview with the BBC in May of 2010 Mr. Griffin said, “We are certainly not going to shut the doors to the Irish, because the Irish, as far as we are concerned, are part of Britain and fully entitled to come here.”

This drew a rebuke from Jennie McShannon, chief executive of the Federation of Irish Societies in Britain. “We do not recognise the portrait of ‘White Britain’ painted by the British National Party,” she said. “When the Irish arrived in Britain in the 1950s alongside immigrants from the West Indies, we were met by boarding house signs reading ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No dogs’. The racism stirred up by Nick Griffin’s predecessors created a climate of fear with lasting damage to the physical and mental health of both communities. In today’s Britain, we recognise the contribution of generations of migrants to the diversity of our shared culture. As Irish people we wish to be included and our Irishness celebrated, and so, too, we extend this support to other communities.”

Mr. Darby was keen to clarify the BNP’s position on the ethnicity of the Irish, saying that they “did not regard them as British as such.” He also sought to tackle the “quasi-imperialist” impression he felt had been given by the reporting of the BNP’s suggestion that Ireland be re-incorporated into a union with Britain.

“We don’t want British rule in Ireland. What we mean is a loose federation, a loose collection. It would be rather like an emasculated version of the European Union, but just for the British Isles.”

Speaking about the possibility of the BNP hosting a rally in Ireland or seeking to make contact with similarly minded Irish political groups Mr. Darby said that this was “another matter” that was best “not confused” with the debate.

“We are aware of the existence of a number of groups. But there simply isn’t anything tangible there at the moment. There is nothing I would like to see more than an Irish National Party representing the interests of the Irish people.”


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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Stolen Irish level crossing gates cross the line

I remember when reading "Teems of Times and Happy Returns" by Dominic Behan - an original 1961 hardback version found in Greene's - the author recalled that anything not nailed fast in his  Rutland Street childhood stomping ground, was likely to be stolen.  It seems light-fingeredness is a national disease, whether the lowlives are clad in shellsuits or Armani.  Or maybe Louis Copeland, this being Ireland.  

Even in Britain, the scousers - many of whom have strong Irish connections - are the ones who get most stick on the subject of thieving.   Whether there is any truth in it or not, or if it is because parts of Liverpool are particularly poor, I do not know.

I meant to put this post up last week, but between one thing and another, I've been pretty much up to my eyes and never got around to it.   Blogging is a time-consuming business, and it is no wonder that so many long-running bloggers are packing it in these days.   So, in the excerpt from "Breaking News" below, read "Sunday last last" for "Sunday last".  Yeah, not-so-breaking news on Gombeen Nation.

Iarnród Éireann says that seven level-crossing gates were stolen in the early hours of Sunday last between Ballymote in Co Sligo and Boyle in Co Roscommon.

Two gates were stolen at Cloonloo and five at Culfadda, according to a company spokeswoman.

She said Iarnród Éireann moved fast to secure the train lines for the safety of livestock and the public.

Cabling had been stolen in the past but level-crossing gates, which can be up to 14-foot high, had never been taken before, the spokeswoman said.

Gardaí in Ballymote and Boyle are investigating.

Given the petty gain for one individual, against the very real safety implications for others, I suppose you could say a line has been crossed in selfish stupidity 

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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Phoenix Park Station, all change for Navan Road Parkway.

Ever since Irish Rail's Phoenix Park Station - which serves the Maynooth line -  opened in January 2008, the few pedestrians visible in its proximity have been puzzled tourists and day trippers standing around scratching their heads.
You see, Phoenix Park Station is nowhere near the Phoenix Park.  Ok, it is nearer than, say, Limerick Junction; but in the acceptable sense - the sense acceptable to everyone other than Irish Rail - it is not near the Phoenix Park.  

 If anything, the preceeding station, Ashtown, is nearer.  Even then it is a bit of a ramble if you manage to get across the Half Way House roundabout alive.   But such is the state body we entrust to transport the nation.

Irish Rail (Iarnrod Eireann to give its official Gaelic name) has finally bowed to the inconvenience of reality, and given into public demand for a name change.  Henceforth it will be known as "Navan Road Parkway", as it has a park and ride facility and is situated on the Navan Road section of the N3.

Not to be confused with the M3 Parkway further up the line after it branches off for Dunboyne...

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Thursday, 15 September 2011

Chaos at Gombeen Manor

It has been a bit chaotic at the Manor lately, between one thing and another.

Nothing too hectic, such as serried ranks of torch-bearing, hurley-wielding Gaelian fundamentalists outside the door (that was last year, see left).  Far more mundane stuff, but enough to have prevented a post going up since Monday. 

I mean, it's not like there hasn't been anything to blog about. 

Hope to resume abnormal service within the next day or so.

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Monday, 12 September 2011

Travellers' slavery racket, JLCs, RAI and 490 new restaurant jobs

Morning Ireland today reported on five Irish travellers being arrested in Britain in connection with an alleged slavery racket.  

24 men, recruited from soup kitchens and UK benefits offices, were allegedly held captive on the site and were required to work while living in subsistence conditions.

Ironically, the next item on the programme had supposedly respectable Irish restauranteurs waxing lyrical about a recent High Court ruling which found legislation that protected workers in the retail and hospitality industry "unconstitutional".   The same court system that maintained judges’ pay and €800,000 senior civil servant and banker pay-offs.

The scrapping of wage legislation safeguarding the poorly paid (called JLCs – Joint Labour Committees) had resulted in “490 new jobs” being created since the start of July, gloated the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI). 

Really?  What quality of jobs then?    Interestingly, MacDonalds, who recently took on 150 new staff, said its new jobs were nothing to do with the scrapping of the JLCs.  They had been planned long ago. 

By the way, it was *Eddie Rocket’s, Supermacs and Burger King who took the court challenge to attack their workers' conditions.  Something to bear in mind if you are wondering which brand of trans fats to plump for...

What the court ruling did was give unscrupulous Irish restauranteurs carte blanche to exploit already exploited workers even further -  many of them foreign nationals doing work the Irish would not give up their benefit payments for.    And really,  if they can’t pay the wages, these so-called entrepreneurs do not have viable businesses anyhow.

And now a final thought.   Years ago a mate of mine worked in the kitchen of a prestigious Dublin hotel. He told me some of the things that went into the soup of the day, and you really do not want to know what they were. 

Put it this way -  you definitely don’t want disgruntled workers preparing your food.

* What is Eddie Rocket’s about anyway? Burgers with knives and forks at twice the price?

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Saturday, 10 September 2011

The making of the Gaelic Catholic State

I came across the following extract from an American educational publisher called Thomson Gale - an interesting, elucid account of how our rotten little republic came into being. Well worth a read...

Gaelic Catholic State, Making of

Independence was followed by few institutional or social innovations—the main exception was the increased prominence given to traditional Irish or "Gaelic" culture and to the Catholic religion in public life. Given the extent to which the independence movement was inspired by ideas of cultural and religious identity, this was understandable, but the result was apparent state adherence to an exclusive interpretation of "Irishness" that embraced only the majority community.

Gaelic symbolism was extensively used in the formal and ceremonial aspects of government and traditional forms of art and entertainment were encouraged, but the greatest effort was devoted to the cause of reviving the Irish language. Language enthusiasts believed that the best hope for this endeavor lay with the primary (or "national") schools. Beginning in 1922 the government implemented a policy of requiring all instruction of infant (elementary) classes to be in Irish. In the higher grades, as much instruction as possible was to be in Irish, and every incentive was offered to increase the total amount of Irish taught. Fianna Fáil Minister for Education Tomás Derrig was dissatisfied with the rate of progress in the national schools, and beginning in 1934 he reduced the time allocated to other subjects. Secondary schools were not subjected to the same requirements, but Irish was given significant prominence. In 1925 it became necessary to achieve a passing grade in Irish in order to pass the Intermediate Certificate, an examination usually taken at age 16. In 1934 the same regulation was applied to the final school examination, the Leaving Certificate. Secondary schools were also assessed for state grants according to the amount of instruction in Irish.

By the 1940s, teachers' organizations had become critical of the fact that there was little educational development other than that motivated by language revival, but the public and their representatives rarely discussed dissatisfaction. This may have been due to a commitment to the cause of language revival, or more negatively, a reluctance to be seen to be antinational. It may also have been because many jobs in the public service were reserved for Irish speakers. The one significant source of discontent was the Church of Ireland, whose members often felt culturally alienated and practically disadvantaged by the language policy. It was not easy for Church of Ireland schools to find teachers competent in Irish, and the general decline of educational standards made it more difficult for students to gain admission to universities or to secure jobs outside Ireland.

The state's commitment to the Irish language was largely confined to the schools, but the influence of Catholicism was more pervasive, if in some ways more subtle. Cumann na nGaedheal, the party in government from 1922 to 1932, had a close relationship with the Catholic hierarchy, which had contributed to establishing the government's legitimacy during the Civil War. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Fianna Fáil was no less anxious to display its Catholic credentials. Notwithstanding the formal separation of church and state, state occasions were imbued with Catholic ritual, and Catholic moral and social ethics had a profound effect on social policy. The state had inherited a denominational education system and all political parties accepted that they should not interfere with this arrangement. Catholic social teaching of the period was deeply suspicious of the power of the state, particularly in areas of education, health, and family welfare. Successive Irish governments were content to minimize their involvement and to permit the development of a concept of social services that was heavily dependent on voluntary organizations. This arrangement led to a destabilizing conflict of interests when these services were reorganized in the postwar period.

Perhaps the most obvious and controversial influence of Catholicism was in the area of public morality. In 1925, after consultation with the Catholic archbishop of Dublin, the government took steps to circumvent the power to grant divorces that had devolved on the Irish parliament from Westminster. Given that courts were not empowered to grant divorces, either, this meant an effective ban on divorce in the Free State. Though some Protestant clergymen and lay people supported the measure, others argued that because divorce was permitted by their churches, the measure represented the removal of an existing civil right. The matter provided the occasion for a speech in the senate by the poet W. B. Yeats in which he famously set out the achievements of the Anglo-Irish community, claiming that "we against whom you have done this thing are no petty people" (Brown 1985, p. 131).

Yeats and many of his fellow writers were also in the vanguard of opposition to the Censorship of Publications Act of 1929. This act was not draconian in its inception—it was intended mainly to prevent the free circulation of publications relating to contraception, an international concern at the time. However, the zeal of the Censorship of Publications Board established under the act led to the prohibition of many of the greatest works of modern Irish and world literature. These included Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, Samuel Beckett's More Pricks than Kicks, and James Joyce's Stephen Hero. Until its liberalization in the 1960s the severity of Irish literary censorship was internationally notorious.

Cumann na nGaedheal failed to address two of the greatest sources of anxiety to the Catholic hierarchy: the widespread growth of unregulated dance halls and the question of contraception. In 1935 Fianna Fáil responded to these concerns with a regulatory Public Dance Halls Act and a Criminal Law Amendment Act that absolutely prohibited the importation and sale of contraceptives. It was a measure that was widely applauded, but one that also drew criticism from those who believed the power of the state should not be used to enforce Catholic values in matters of public health and private conscience.

The creation of a Gaelic and Catholic state reached its apogee in Eamon de Valera's 1937 constitution, which established Irish as the first official language of the state and recognized the "special position" of the Catholic Church "as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens." The Catholic ethos of the constitution was not purely symbolic: The text was deeply imbued with Catholic social theory and traditional values. The family was recognized as the fundamental unit of society, entitled as such to protection from the state. The family was also recognized as the primary educator of the child, and the state was relegated to a secondary role. In the context of family values the constitution recognized the support given by woman "by her life within the home" and stipulated that no law permitting divorce would be enacted.

In the 1920s and 1930s opposition to the increasing identification of the state with Gaelic and Catholic culture was muted, sporadic, and unorganized. It is inaccurate to regard these measures as motivated solely by a desire to establish an exclusive national identity; nonetheless, that was one of the results. Perhaps the most overt example of the confusion of nationality and majority culture is found in the preamble to the constitution, which acknowledges "all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial." This was not simply a statement of Christian piety, but an understanding of the nature of the state in the context of a specific historic tradition.

That, folks,  is what the past 89 years have been all about... 

 A bad idea from the start.

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Thursday, 8 September 2011

Talk Talk redundancies - 575 jobs go walk walk

It is pretty bad form when you find you are being made redundant through Facebook, but it seems that is what happened to workers at UK telecommunications company Talk Talk's branch in Waterford.  The company is simply upping sticks and taking its call centre operation to Asia, where people can afford to work for as little as €2,400 per annum.  Without warning.

No doubt Ibec will have words of non-wisdom to say on issues of "competitiveness", wage costs and all the rest.  The fact however, is that we in western Europe cannot compete with such salaries, as our cost of living is much higher.  I can't imagine much demand for €500,000 houses in Delhi, for instance.  I certainly didn't see much evidence of such during the two occasions I visited, anyway.

Talk Talk also cited Eurozone fluctuations  -  but such things are transient, and other companies that do not work through Sterling still manage to operate here.  And are the Indian Rupee or the Philippine Peso tied to Sterling?  

So really, you have to look at Ireland's over-dependent strategy of basing employment on the multinationals...  It might have worked in the past, thanks to the fact that we are mother-tongue English speakers and the avoidance opportunities offered by Ireland's corporate tax laws, but it is something other countries can do now - for far cheaper.

It is not multinationals alone, however.  "Outsourcing" is a buzzword these days, and indigenous Irish companies indulge too.  In Britain, even  those in jobs they might have considered immune to such a practice - journalism, for example - have been hit.   Reuters outsourced parts of its operation to Singapore in 2004, and the Daily Mirror did the same in 2006.

Indeed, if you think about it, it is hard to imagine any job which does not require a physical presence at the point of sale that could not, theoretically, be outsourced.

And where does that leave us all?  Companies end up cutting into their own domestic markets because we are all on the dole, our jobs having gone east.   Maybe companies that readily outsource might not notice the disappearance of their Irish markets, but they would if the same were to happen in the larger EU economies.

Countries like India widely use forms of protectionism, in the form of tariffs, to develop their own economies.   Perhaps it is time that we in Europe did the same for multinational companies operating within the EU, at least in the form of an obligatory code of conduct?

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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Irish property crash - lessons have not been learnt?

Two posts ago we considered how once in a blue moon one might see a letter worth reading in Dublin’s freebie Metro Herald.

That post was prompted by an unusually intelligent missive to that publication, from someone called Bruce who articulated on what he saw as Ibec’s (the Irish employers’ union) hypocrisy.

Let us see the other side of the coin now, and a letter from somebody who lacks the grey matter quotient of our friend Bruce. It seems the lessons of the boom and bust in Ireland have been lost on this particular character, who signs him/herself off as “Another Concerned Citizen”. Witness the following excerpt:

“… I am a very responsible person with a young family and I made five property transactions during Bertie’s Tiger – some on private residences and a couple for Buy to Let.

It was people like me, and thousands of others, who drove this economy and had confidence in it to spend on property. The tax we paid to the Government on property-related earnings was huge. So I think people genuinely struggling need help and deserve to get some of the tax we generated back…”

Can you believe the stupidity of this person? And what about the projection of “Bertie’s Tiger”?  Nothing to do with him/her.  Most of these fools were voting for Bertie not that long ago. My ears are bleeding from hearing the cock crowing, they have denied him so many times.

Speaking of ears, when I lived in London for nine years some time ago,  if anyone told an (anti-) Irish joke within shot of mine they would have been cruising for the proverbial bruising. But now I am beginning to wonder if Bernard Manning, for instance, wasn’t just terribly perceptive? I jest – he was an ignorant racist bigot – but you take my point.

There seems to be a serious disconnect between cause and effect, reality and fantasy, in Ireland. You see it manifest itself in many ways – the denial of divorce rights for so long to people who were separated; the pretence that abortion does not exist here, because Irish women are forced to travel abroad for it; the joke that Gaeilge is our first national language, even though the majority of us do not speak it.

Then there is the property disconnect. This letter writer cannot make the connection between his/her – and “thousands of others property investments” and their requisite borrowing requirements – and the massive debt the country now finds itself in.

It seems that no lessons have been learnt

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Saturday, 3 September 2011

Fats Domino at the Crystal Ballroom - a guest of the nation?

In my parents' time Ireland was monochrome. Forty shades, perhaps - but monochrome.

 It never really occurred to me - until after they were long dead -  how even more awful the place was back then, when I read an MIR called "Stealing Sunlight" by Angeline Kearns Blain some years ago.   If you think the country is bad now, just try to imagine how grim it was in the forties and fifties - and even the sixties - in orthodox Dev Ireland. 

It must have been a big thing when The Beatles vistited the Adelphi Ciniema in Dublin back in 1963 to play "She Loves You" and a few other ditties only to be mistaken, by some, for upstarts ripping off The Royal Showband.   But being "with it" in Ireland was not easy at the time.

I was just looking at YouTube earlier and came across Fats Domino.  My old dear (natural forces rest her) was well hip back then and was a big - real time - fan.  As a young wan she used to frequent one of Dublin's two relative hotspots... a place called "The Crystal" off Grafton Street.

Not too far from Kildare Street and the Dail.

But that was another world completely.

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