Saturday, 29 January 2011

De Valera and the heroes of '16 - very much part of what we are now.

A very good friend of mine had the teeshirt (above) printed up.  If there are enough expressions of interest perhaps it might be possible to follow in the footsteps of David Beckham, Gwen Stefani, Liam Gallagher and all the rest, and set up a Gombeen Nation fashion line?  If you do obtain one, however, don't go wearing it into the Widow Scallan's of a Friday night.  Or any night, really.

Speaking of Dev, I had to laugh when some Fianna Failer backed Eamon O’Cuiv for that corrupt party’s leadership. His grounds were that O’Cuiv is a grandson of Dev - often mocked on this blog as being the grand daddy of an insular brand of Catholic Gaelic Irishness - whose aversion to modernity ensured our so-called republic remained a backward backwater up until…well…today.

It is a bit like when somebody poses the question: “what did the heroes of 1916 die for?", as if dying for something automatically makes a cause a worthwhile one. The Islamic fundamentalists who directed two packed passenger aircraft into the Twin Towers died for a cause. Does that mean we should venerate their actions?

Did the nine million-plus soldiers who perished in the lice-infested trenches of the First World War die for a worthwhile cause? Did the German troops who expired on the frozen Steppes of Russia die for a worthwhile cause?

“What would the heroes of ’16 have said?” those of a lemming-like disposition often ask. Well the heroes of '16 were very much involved in the formative governments of the new Irish state.  They made up government cabinets.   Dev himself was there.  The ethos and foundations of this country derive directly from the “heroes of 1916”. They created what we have now.

Granted, some aspects of the 1916 Proclamation were progressive, such as calls for universal suffrage and equality. But I imagine the more progressive calls of the Proclamation came from socialist and internationalist Connolly, rather than Gaelic nationalist headbangers like Pearse and de Valera.

The British establishment reacted in a ham-fisted way to the disturbances of Easter 1916, of course, pounding part of Dublin to smithereens and killing innocent people in the process.  They managed to turn a formerly hostile public to the side of the insurrectionists. They shot Connolly, of course, but not de Valera. The rest is history.

Maybe they knew what they were doing, knowing where he and his sucessors would lead us?

Back to Gombeen Nation main page

Thursday, 27 January 2011

St Raphael's Garda Credit Union short of a few coppers

Pity the poor plod of St Raphael's Garda Credit Union, with in-debt coppers in such dire financial straits that there have been "instances of young gardai sleeping in rest rooms in garda stations and cycling large distances to work because they can't afford fuel or payments for cars", if the Sunday Independent is to be believed. 

It seems that the Credit Union is currently pursuing 20 cases in which a total of €3,000,000 is at stake, with one loan being for the sum of €750,000.  

Things are so bad, indeed, that St Raphael's has introduced a cap of €60,000 per loan, a figure that Garda loan applicants might see as symbolic of the new post-Celtic Tiger austerity. 

According to the piece by Jim Cusack, the plod are feeling the pinch (not his words) "as cutbacks in salary and a near complete ban on overtime are imposed.  Many had taken out loans based on maximised salary and allowances."

Interestingly, it seems that  "..officially, gardai are not allowed to be in a position where they cannot repay debt". 

Let's see what happens there, eh?

For the record, in 2009, 14,500 gardai recieved salaries of €620,904,182 and overtime of €112,476,430.

They also filled their serge pockets with:

Rent allowance €58,945,817 (approx €4,065 per annum per garda)

Gaeltacht allowance €1,196,817 (for those based there).

Uniform allowance €3,039,572 (to maintain their supplied uniforms)

Boot allowance €2,286,857 (to maintain their supplied boots)

(all figures from The Sunday Tribune, August 16th, 2009).

If they can't manage on all of that, what about the rest of us?

Back to Gombeen Nation main page

Monday, 24 January 2011

Section 23 tax reliefs retained - a parting “f*** you” from Fianna Fail.

It was a busy weekend.  The Greens announced that they could not continue in government.  Brian Cowen resigned - not that it matters a jot, as Cowen was only the leader of Fianna Fail, the party of corruption, clientism and chicanery. The beast itself is still very much alive. 

My vote for new leader goes to grandson of Dev, Eamon O’Cuiv. I think he is the one best suited to lead the rotten party into oblivion. Micheal Martin, on the other hand, might be the acceptable public face that sees it back in power in four years’ time.

And speaking of corruption, clientism and chicanery, few will raise their eyebrows at the news that finance minister Brian Lenihan has decided to retain tax shelters for investors – the very tax shelters that inflated property prices, racked up massive bank debts, and contributed so much to the financial ruin of the country.

Apparently, the Government was the target of “intensive lobbying” when it was announced that the tax shelters would be scrapped in its recent finance bill, so Fianna Fail decided to put the move on hold, pending a study into their “economic impact”.

No such research was conducted, of course, into the economic impact on the working poor, and their families, who had their minimum wage reduced by one Euro an hour. Little notice was taken of the “lobbying” by thousands who took to the streets in protest at wage cuts and tax increases for ordinary people who did nothing to contribute to the financial mess, bailing out the bankers who freely loaned billions to speculators who took out interest-free mortgages on “investment” properties, spurred on by Section 23s which allowed them to write off tax on rental incomes. So how do we “lobby” the Government, then? It seems to be quite easy for some to have their voices heard and heeded.

This stroke means that the most parasitic class in Ireland is getting a longer free ride from the Government, at a time when most people are seeing huge chunks hacked out or their PAYE paypackets. Mark Keenan, in yesterday’s Sunday Times, cites Section 23 investors as “the scourge of the boom’s first time buyers”. Even now – not content with having priced people out of the market back then – they are a scourge, as according to a report by the Society of Chartered Surveyors, 30% of them with apartments in recently built blocks withhold management fees, which residents have to pick up.

What have the IMF to say about this? What about our colleagues in Europe whose taxpayers’ funded the bank bailout? What about the Greens?

The Irish investor class – the greedy motor behind the economic crash – took all the gain in the “good times”. Now we must take all the pain.  Yet another “f*** you” from Lenihan and Fianna Fail. 

The Greens have pledged that they will support the finance bill when it comes before parliament.  Let's hope they attempt to salvage some credibility by insisting that Section 23 tax shelters are abolished for once and for all.

Back to Gombeen Nation main page

Saturday, 22 January 2011

"The Field" at the Olympia. An interesting show for the actors?

Thank goodness it’s the weekend. Time for a little light respite from the hard-hitting analysis and tireless exposés we usually revel in at Gombeen Nation. Let's have a little culture – or lack thereof.

Ireland is a nation of savages. Mostly, anyway - we'll exempt ourselves from that sweeping classification.   I don’t know how the hell it happened - whether large swathes of the great Irish public were never properly civilised in the first place or whether those "Celtic Tiger" bank loans and resultant increased participation in third-level education produced a nation of ignorant boors and degree-waving ignoramus brats. Either way, this is where we are at.

A couple of interesting letters appeared in the Metro Herald last week, concerning the latest production of John B. Keane’s The Field, which is having a run-out at the Olympia in Dublin. The first one was headed “WAS IT IGNORANCE?” and appeared on Thursday. The best thing is for me to paste it here and let you read it:

The second one appeared yesterday:

Now, the last public event I went to – I try to avoid the Irish public – was at the O2 in 2009, to see Madness. We were in a seated area but we might as well have been pogoing to the Sex Pistols in 1977 for all the hopping up and down we had to do...  all to allow passage for those more interested in the bar and doughnut counter than the stage.

Shortly before that, I read how one Yusif Islam was barracked by an O2 crowd because he didn’t belt out his 60s alter-ego Cat Steven’s “Morning has broken”.  Now you might say that anyone who goes to a Yusif Islam/Cat Stevens concert deserves all they get, but that is another matter.

Ignorance and oafishness - you see it everywhere here.   Whether you are in the Palmerstown Bowler, The Harp, Temple Bar, the O2 or the Olympia.  It is replicated at all levels and by those of all backgrounds in Irish society.

It is the one respect in which we are truly egalitarian.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Tourist signs must be altered as Irish language letters are not big enough

We all know about the Irish authorities’ dysfunctional relationship with signage. Take the road signs on the M50, for instance. When you join at certain junctions on its periphery, you are informed only that one way is north and another is south.

That can be tricky enough even when you are a Dubliner, as you need to remember exactly where you are, and what relationship your destination bears with the compass in comparison to your entry point on the road.  Imagine what it must be like if you are from beyond the Pale?  Or a tourist?

Other countries take the revolutionary approach of having placenames on all their signage, but we Irish are far too clever to take heed of international best practice.

Then there is the other Official Ireland extreme. 683 signs issued by Dublin City Council, specifically for tourists in the capital, must be stripped down and altered so that the Gaelic for Guinness Brewery, and the like, is made larger (Ken Foxe, Sunday Tribune, 16th January).

It seems that one of our Gaeliban friends got onto the Irish Language Kommissar, Sean O’Cuirreain, to complain that the Gaelic letters on the signs were smaller than the English language ones.  Never mind that tourists visiting the capital are more likely to be interested in the language and literature of Shaw, Stoker, Joyce, Beckett, Wilde, O’Casey, Swift and company than the stenographed gibberish of Peig on her rocky Blasket outcrop, as immortalised by the nation-builders of the Irish Folklore Commission. 

But maybe gibberish is what our authorities do best?

Once they make sure the letters are the regulation size... and damn the cost of such nonsense.

Back to Gombeen Nation main page

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Callely and Chaytor - two cases that say it all.

Two recent incidents support the notion that there will be no improvement of standards in Irish public office any time soon.

The first incident was Ivor Callely’s High Court case which overturned the Senate Committee’s decision to suspend him for making €80,000 expenses claims for travel from his second house in Cork, rather than his actual residence in north Dublin.

The court found that Callely’s constitutional rights had been “infringed” by the 20-day suspension, and that the Committee had made a “political judgement” outside its power by so doing.  Once again, the Constitution was interpreted to the advantage of those in power. Sometimes you have to wonder if we would be better off without it?

The second incident happened across the water, and involved former British Labour Party MP David Chaytor. He fiddled £22,650 in expenses between 2005 and 2008.  Result: 18 months’ jail.

A tale of two very different cultures with diametrcially opposed expectations of how those in public office should behave.

Back to Gombeen Nation main page

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Ireland's third world water situation

Is there a Mr/Ms O'Goebbels in charge at RTE?   Is there some instruction to suppress "bad news", like that of an advancing Red Army during the bunker's last days?  The truth, I mean?    How come there is not a single mention of the country's continuing water restrictions on the State broadcaster's news bulletins lately? 

Dublin has had water restrictions since before Christmas (I speak of Dublin, as that is my own theatre of experience - but many other parts of the country are similarly affected).  We've had no water for weeks now between the hours of 7pm - 7am. 

That's bad  -  especially on a sodden, windswept, miserable piece of muck and rock in the Atlantic that is surrounded by the stuff, soaked by constant precipitation, and is home to some of the largest freshwater lakes in the EU.

Even now, at 9.30am on a Saturday morning, there is no water - despite Fingal County Council's claim that there are to be no water restrictions during the weekend. 

Oh.  And it is absolutely pissing down outside. 

Right, that's it.  I'm off to B&Q for a plastic barrel.

Back to Gombeen Nation main page

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Cowen and Fitzpatrick golf outing. A good talk oiled?

OK.  The chairman of a basketcase bank that loaned billions – much of which it had borrowed - in unsustainable loans to developers and investors to inflate a speculative property bubble, plays golf with a certain basketcase country’s prime minister.

Months later, that country’s government introduces a blanket guarantee for the yet-to-be-announced-insolvent banks, which makes the taxpayer responsible for all of the bad debts they had accrued during the Government-property-tax-break-fuelled boom.

But the two events – the golf on the broad links and the gulf in the bank’s loan books – were unconnected.  Sure.  Or perhaps in a country like Ireland, reknowned for golden circles and clientism, it is perfectly acceptable to have prime ministers who are on golfing buddy terms with bankers, property developers, and other business interests?

I mean, Cowen himself even got in on the buy-to-let act at one stage with a property in Leeds. Strange one that... you might have expected him to take advantage of his own Government’s Section 23s?  You can be sure that others did.

But whatever about that, Cowen swears blind his cosy, golfy, relationship with Fitzpatick (and what were his relationships with other bankers/developers?) had nothing to do with the bank guarantee.

In contrast, Fitzpatrick might be less likely to underestimate the commercial possibilities of a game of golf.   In a new book called the Fitzpatrick Tapes, by Tom Lyons and Brian Carey, the disgraced banker - who considers himself to have been made a public scapegoat for all that happened - cites three of his favourite sources of investment advice:  

The Financial Times website, The Economist, and… erm, golf.

It's more than just a game, it seems.

Back to Gombeen Nation main page

Sunday, 9 January 2011

John Giles - a football man

One of the books that appeared under the 2010 Christmas tree was John Giles’ autobiography, “A Football Man”.  Giles was a pivotal cog in the great Leeds United teams of the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, and was one half – along with Billy Bremner - of the most formidable midfield partnership in the League.  Forget about Roy Keane, whose game was based on aggression and endless running,  Johnny Giles was Ireland’s best footballer ever.

But if the Christian brothers and the GAA had their way, he might never have had a career in professional football. I quote the following from his book:

“When I moved on to the primary school at Brunswick Street (Brunner), it wasn’t just the sums and the Irish language and the homework that got me into trouble, it was also my love of soccer, or the “English game” as it was regarded in schools run by the Christian brothers”.

The young Giles was busy setting the foundations for his football career by playing “the English game” whenever he could, but the Christian Brothers insisted he play GAA.  So much so, that his father had to sign a commitment to the school that his son would play Gaelic for it when selected.  If Giles’ father had refused to sign the commitment, young Johnny would not have been admitted to the school. 

Giles writes of the “level of hostility at Brunner to the ‘soccer men’, otherwise known as the ‘corner boys going up to Dalymount Park’…  in fact, the idea of soccer as the foreign game was drilled into us to such an extent that, for a few years after I left school, I didn’t feel Irish at all”.

So here you had an obviously supremely talented youngster, who played at under-fourteen level when his real age bracket was under-eight, being obstructed by his school from playing the game he loved so much.  The game that was to become his livelihood

Familiar territory for Gombeen Nation.  The all-pervasive influence of the Catholic Church who ran/run the State schools with taxpayers' money, and cultural organisations such as the GAA who monopolised the schools to play their sports, and Conradh Na Gaeilge, who had members on State educational boards along with the clergy.  All three organisations peddling a particular brand of reactionary “Irishness”.

It is no wonder that people left school at fourteen, or as soon as they possibly could.  Unfortunately, not all of them had the gift of football that John Giles had.  The gift that enabled him to prosper despite the very best efforts of the Irish educational system. 

You have to wonder how many lives were ruined by it.

Back to Gombeen Nation home page

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Irish to address postcodes issue

It looks like Ireland is to be dragged, once again, kicking and screaming, into the 20th Century. True, we are actually situated in the 21st, chronologically speaking – but easy does it. This time postcodes are the issue in question.

Ireland is the only country in the EU that does not have postcodes. Dublin is the only city that has any kind of codes at all, and even they are not proper ones; identifying only large areas without narrowing down addresses by means of a grid system. But at least you have street names and house numbers in a city. 

Imagine if you are a postie or – worse, in this case – an ambulance driver in Mayo who gets a call to pick up a seriously ill person in The Little Cottage, Shammerdoo, Co Mayo? (see left). You would have to hope it was one of the Flynns' lives at stake, and not that of an innocent person.

An Post, which is ancient Irish Gaelic for The Post, has been resisting the introduction of postcodes for years, but now, as it relents, battle is to be recommenced by Conradh na Gaelige (or CnG, the Gaelic League), the interest group whose forebears were instrumental in the establishment of our corrupt little Statelet. 

CnG last year received a hand-out from the Government of €238,186 to restore its Georgian HQ on Harcourt Street. Eamon O Cuiv – grandson of Dev – was there for the grand opening, which was followed by music and refreshments. You might think they'd have been happy with that, but no, it seems they were most likely poking their designer blackthorn sticks into the postcode issue.

As a consequence, it seems that the Cabinet is ‘split’ on the issue of basing postcodes on English – the vernacular of the country – or Gaelic, the language of Official Ireland. 

Eamon Ryan, the Green's Minister of Communications, believes that one of the most important features of the new system should be ‘memorability’ (Irish Times 4th Jan) so, naturally, he favours plumping for the latter, insofar as it does "not lead to difficulties in disseminating the postcode to the public... or other operational difficulties”. 

This stance follows the Government having “received representations from Irish Language organisations” arguing for postcode prefixes based on Gaelic. So let me see. Because the Government receives representations from a narrow interest group to do its bidding, the rest of us – and this time also those addressing letters to Ireland from abroad – have to suffer? 

If CnG and the rest had their way, Waterford would be identified by the prefix PL, rather than WD. Wicklow would be CM as opposed to WW. Dublin would be known as BAC rather than D. Wexford would be known as LC rather than WX.

“Conradh na Gaeilge Demands Irish Postcodes for an Irish Country” goes the lobby group’s clarion call press release of September 2009. Certainly it seems the Galiban mobilised early. But really, haven't we had enough of lobby groups in Ireland by now? 

What's more, are these crackpots not aware that we are an English-speaking country? 

Please, please, please, let us examine how much money we are wasting on the nonsense of Gaelic revivalism and its attendant industries in the form of State funding, grants and subsidies – and pull the plug completely. If it takes a referendum, so be it. There is all sorts of talk about reform at the minute, so maybe it is the time?

“Wexford”, “Waterford” and “Wicklow” by the way, all come from Old Norse. 

Not that the etymology matters. Clarity is the issue.
Isn't that what the introduction of postcodes is all about?

Back to Gombeen Nation main page

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Irish road deaths reach record low - despite stability control tax.

The road safety people must be getting worried. Road deaths in 2010 were the lowest since records began. 212 died on Irish roads last year – despite the increased number of people using them. This figure compares favourably with the previous year, when a total of 238 people lost their lives.  If the numbers keep dropping, those on quangos such as the Road Safety Authority will have no jobs to go to.

Over the years, road fatalities have been steadily decreasing as roads have improved. Motorways are statistically the safest type of roads, and Ireland now has more of them – despite the best efforts of Swampy and his crusty friends.

Equally important, more cars now come onto the market equipped with ESC (electronic stability control). This technology works by allowing a car’s ECU, or electronic contol unit, to sense when a vehicle is about to go into a skid, and intervene accordingly to prevent it from doing so.

I don’t have the time to collate the percentage of cars equipped with ESC 15 years ago compared with today, but I do know that Thatcham, who work out risk for the British insurance industry, believe these systems can reduce road deaths by 40% (Irish Times, “Lives lost needlessly by skids” 6th Sept, 2006).

Scandalously, stability control systems are subject to Vehicle Registration Tax in Ireland, and remain unavailable for a small number of cars. They are still only optional on many new cars sold here, due to manufacturers trying to keep costs down to combat the Government’s VRT charges.  Thankfully, the EU will make the systems mandatory in November of this year.

These two factors – increased availability of ESC and more motorways – have been instrumental in reducing road deaths.  Not police waving laser guns from motorway bridges and lay-bys, and not Go-Safe, who must be well pissed off that recent snowy and icy road conditions have deprived them of a few scalps.

Noel Brett, of the Road Safety Authority, is worried that forthcoming cutbacks will make sustained reductions in road fatalties more difficult, due to “the struggling economy and reduced numbers of staff”, according to an Indo report of January 1st. It is not clear if he is referring to RSA staff, or otherwise, but I don’t think he need fret unduly.

While we will never get to a point where absolutely nobody is killed on our roads, as he seems to believe possible (“every one of those [212] fatalities did not need to happen” he claims in the same article), it is quite likely that the trend will continue as it has been doing over the past many years for the reasons mentioned above.

Long before Noel Brett and Gaybo got behind the wheel.

Back to Gombeen Nation main page

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Charles Haughey - "the world's finest leader"...

Well, here we are at the start of another new year. More of the same.

We can look forward to Fianna Fail being kicked out in a few months, only to be replaced with an alternative that offers little difference in terms of policies and outlook, and will be hamstrung by the mess left behind by the current incompetents in any case. The best we can hope for is that they are not quite as corrupt as the present lot - for those of us concerned about such things.

I had the radio on yesterday afternoon. Some shysters from Bertie Ahern's north Dublin stomping ground were being interviewed about his belated departure from politics. One said “Ah shure leave him alone. Shure dere all at it. He was no worse than the rest.” Something like that anyway.

And therein lies the problem. The people who vote for politicians with low standards have low standards themselves. How many of those who frequent Fagans and sing the praises of dodgy politicians are working in the black economy, cash-in-hand, and claiming income support?

There must be quite a few, because no hard-working, tax-paying, honest person could possibly be so tolerant towards corruption and clientism in Irish political life. And how come they have so much time to sit around Fagans during the day?

Alison Healy reported on the State papers of January to June 1980 in last Thursday's Irish Times. Her piece was about “two bulky files of letters and cards”  sent by members of the public to one Charles J Haughey.  

Now, when I was at school Haughey was in power, and everyone knew he was corrupt.   I was a young punk then, and had a tee-shirt of my own manufacture with “Haughey is a pig” written on the front. I wanted something stronger than “pig” – “cunt” perhaps – but knew my mum would not let me out the door in it, even though she hated Haughey too.  With hindsight, I should have written “Haughey is a corrupt chancer”.  I wasn’t as subtle back then.

Here are some of the accolades Haughey, the corrupt chancer, received through the post around the same time my tee-shirt graced the streets of Dublin:

A Mayo woman cooed  that CJ was "the world’s finest leader” and a “remarkable gentleman. You shine out amongst men. You bring dignity into ever (sic) place you go, so very noticeable in Dublin this week, really a great man amongst men, and women!… God spare you to this country for many years”.

Monsignor James Horan told Haughey he was doing “a magnificent job” and that he had “the personality, warmth, flair and above all courage which goes to make an outstanding leader”.

A woman from Dublin started her missive with “Dear Leader” and promised him a nine-day novena for his “guidance, protection and continued success… may God guard and strengthen you for poor Ireland’s sake. We all observe how you spend yourself in her cause.”

Where's the sick bag?

We all know now, without a doubt, how much Haughey spent – beyond his visible means – on his own lavish lifestyle.  A corrupt lifestyle funded by the bribes of business interests seeking favours which were duly granted.  He set the bar for those who followed.

And they loved him.

Back to Gombeen Nation main page