Category Archives: Economy (yawn)

I swear not to screw around on the Irish Constitution

Good folk of the world who want to make Éire their full-time home will soon have to swear an Oath of Fidelity to the nation. The exact nature of this newfound fealty isn’t specified in Alan Shatter’s plans, though there’s yabbering aplenty about an eventual ‘citizen test’ to see if non-natives can fit in with our indigenous way of strife. Before I laugh my knickers off or launch into a jeremiad of what it means to be truly Oirish, it’s worth noting that other EU nations do similar.

Britain insists that new citizens must adhere to its values of toleration, democracy, etc., while in Germany multiple choice questions are answered on history, language and culture. There too migrants must fulfil other conditions such as having sufficient command of the German language, no criminal record and an income independent of social welfare. In Portugal you’re requred to have sufficient knowledge of the language and ‘show the existence of an effective link with the national community’. It’s generally the same (with differing years of residency requirement) in Finland, Sweden, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, and Slovakia.

Theo: murdered in 2004

The Dutch however push this to the limit. Their citizenship test is designed to weed out fundamentalists as like it or lump it, Holland professes to have a big problem with migrants (the country has a 1,219,753 muslim population for instance, at last count earlier this year). One guy after all, born and bred in Amsterdam, murdered Dutch artist and ancestor of Vincent Van Gough, Theo Van Gough. So when foreigners apply for Dutch citizenship they have to sit through, among other things, pictures of gay men and lesbians kissing and their reaction to the same sex love is monitored. They only become Dutch citizens if they agree that gay love is acceptable.

Flash forward to the non-rebellious Dystopia of 2016, when IMF bureaucrats regularly appear in Kerrygold butter ads, apartments on Dublin’s quays are forced to sell for €55,000 if unoccupied for longer than three years, Job Agencies are replaced by Internship Houses, the HSE is bought by an American health insurance company which bans all forms of cancer from its policies, FÁS is a souvenir Facebook page and crack cocaine is dispensed free on library cards in areas where unemployment exceeds 92%. The newfangled Citizenship Test is now fully in place and today, for the first time, 498 people will sit through three papers on Irish culture, begrudgery and history, in a ‘Reduced To Sell’ embassy building on Raglan Road. When the stern looking ex National Library archivist blows the fireman’s whistle to begin, there’s a bulk sigh of relief that Question One is such a sinch:

In an Irish stew, would you use two gigot chops or three?

Gone are the lean days where applicants took an oath before a District Court judge during court business and received their certificate by post. Now would-be Irish men and could-be aulones had to make sense of all of Ireland, from the first faux republican graffitis of Dorset Street shutters to the unwashed men sucking seaweed on bar stools on bleak islands off the coast of Cork, where car insurance and television licences no longer exist. Lucky for this lot the lion’s share of the Culture Paper seems very manageable overall:

  • Name a tasty dark beverage found in most Irish pubs, fridges & security huts.
  • Under what circumstances would an elderly Irish female use the term: “He has his glue!” and/or “There’ll be wigs on the green!”
  • Which Sunday Independent journalist won an award for not talking about themselves in every single article for a period of 14 months?
  • Is it true that Irish males born with carrot red hair are forced to play hurley up to the age of consent?
  • What does ‘may the road rise with you’ mean?
  • Was Cost Plus Sofas responsible for the famous Irish economic boom?
  • Are leprechauns real? [See exam notes on ‘making up truths’. For example, if you consider merchandise available from branches of Carrolls Irish Gifts & Souvenirs to be ‘realistic’ , according to your own unique culture & customs, adjust answer to suit].
  • Are Jedward real?
  • Is Penneys the same as Primark?
  • Is the consumption of Denny sausages considered ‘the norm’ on the morning of a traditional Irish wedding? Would your average Irish bride-to-be still have her hymen intact on this day?

What a pity the two other papers on begrudgery & Irish history were so tricky by comparison. Questions such as: Should farmers continue to illegally lend one another their sheep/cow/pig stock when getting assessed for EU grants? From what year were ‘selfish career women’ blamed on male suicide rates in rural Ireland by male columnists in the media? Approximately how many centuries will it take for Ireland to pay back its private-sector-generated debt? How many terrorists and killers help run the country and get paid for it? In your opinion, is Cromwellian-type violence linked to Limerick gangland’s abysmally low literacy rates? Can you list 14 characters from Tuatha Dé Danann? What is the ratio of smack-warbling heroin addicts on the Liffey boardwalk to sparrow-legged receptionists and wage-cut public servants with alcohol problems? Do you think a Citizenship Test such as the one you’re sitting now is an unnecessary waste of time and resources? How long do you plan on staying in Ireland and did you wipe your feet when you came in the door?

 
 

Wrongly accused cucumbers

Poor cucurbitaceae! Creeping vine cultivated lovingly for 3,000 years, shining star of many a modern porn shoot, healer of skin disease, longtime slug killer, cellulite remover, wrinkle chaser, hangover alleviator, cleanser of faucets, sinks and stainless steel, fertility charm, carrier of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, dragged to Europe by the Romans…in 2009, an international team of researchers announced they’d sequenced the cucumber genome…this week the green watery flagpole is the subject of intense diplomatic battle between two European hyperpowers.

Fear of Killer Cucumber Grips Europe, proclaimed the Times of IndiaBelgium Blocks Spanish Cucumber Imports, a German newsagency declared. 16 Dead From Killer Cucumbers, said The Sun. Full transmission of media plague. Cucumbers infected with E.coli allegedly may cause the deaths of a few dozen people by week-end, leading to a rake of retailers withdrawing cucumbers from sale in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Hundreds were also thought to be ‘critically ill’, the outbreak of hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which affects the blood, kidneys and, in severe cases, the nervous system, was the largest ever in Germany and the biggest of its kind worldwide. Health officials advised people in Germany to avoid eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce immediately. The cucumbers were initially thought to have been sourced from Spain, however subsequent tests failed to show contamination in the imported Spanish cucumbers which lead to the Spanish Government demanding compensation for Spanish farmers who had been forced to destroy huge quantities of cucumbers. Germany, in the mainstay, was to blame.

Let’s just take a quick breather to browse relations between the two countries in recent history. While Spain was neutral in the Second World War its dictator General Franco was indebted to Hitler. The Nazis provided him with air power and armaments during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) which had tilted the struggle in Franco’s favour. 

In the post war period especially when Spain opened up to mass tourism in the 1960s, the country became a new battleground between the British and the Germans. This “war” was fought out at the edge of swimming pools and sunny sandy beaches with the Germans making major advances by being up mega early and getting their towels and women down first! 

For a period up until the 1990s the Germans were the second foreign dominant force on the Spanish costas. But there was temporary German flight from the sun spots after the Social Democrat-led government started to impose taxes on Germans who owned properties abroad. Relations also soured somewhat in 2004, when Zapatero was elected Spanish Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s relationship with Chancellor, Angela Merkel was less close from that moment on, but remained civil, at least on the surface. The heyday of the D-Mark rich German tourist spending large amounts of cash on the Costa Del Sol while belching up pretzels was over. The Brits, and the Irish, remain in depleted numbers and spend more in the Malaga branch of Dunnes or Lidl than in the family run shops and cafes.

The Spanish are now uber furious that German paranoia over cucumbers has cost them hundreds of millions of vital euros. But they ought to be careful in attacking De Fatherland. Spain could follow Ireland and Greece in going to the EU with a begging bowl. Fiscal crisis in Spain means Spanish banks are as over-stretched as Irish ones having also got into the property-bubble mania. Going to the EU with said begging apparatus means of course asking the Germans for a dig-out. Germany is the main banker of the EU and it’s German car engineers in Stuttgart and chemical workers in the Ruhr who are currently helping to keep civil servants in Athens and Dublin in their jobs.

Post War Germany became famous for many things including a highly productive porn industry in places such as Essen in the north, which is regarded as the smut-producing capital of the Federal Republic. Germans, like the English, have a penchant for rear end activities with the aid of the long, girthy green food stuff that is currently wrongly blamed for Europe’s lethal outbreak. Knuckle Cake is just one term used to describe such activities. Even though the Spanish would surely like to take one of those cylindrical fruits and place it firmly in the anal passage of any German politician they see as responsible for the cucumber-hysteria, caution is advised! German bank balances and a robust economic growth means Kraut neighbours are more than capable of giving as good as they get, ensuring any EU partner that crosses them will eventually have to bend over and ask: “how far and for how long Meine Damen und Herren?”

The Bricks ‘n Mortar Muppet Show

I have tried to picture the child estate agent to be: pasty and sulky, selling on satchel-warmed lemon curd sandwiches or a half-eaten Mars bar in the school playground for a stupidly inflated price. Failing English grammar and spelling tests…dreaming of a commission-loaded life with a leatherette clipboard and a Smart car. A life of ‘gently urging’ people to buy poorly constructed plywood homes without gardens, not far from a motorway, but still managing to share the same sewerage pipe as a once-famous now-dead Irish person of vague literary worth who managed to pen a novella drunk.

Now after a decade of unprecedented smarminess, the grown-up estate agent is no longer nestled in a good place at all. ”Rare as hen’s teeth!” s/he hollers out about a dormer bungalow for sale in Dublin 15 – one of the capital’s slowest selling enclaves. ‘Rare’ opportunities abound, a chance to snatch up a bungalow, for instance, even though there’s 5,570 bungalows for sale nationwide at the moment. In an attempt to ambush the flimsy heartstrings of hapless arty types, there’s a deluge of property specs marketed at the budding poet, artist or fisherman ’where you can also enjoy the panoramic views over lush green surrounds’, in the middle of nowhere. The desperation is quite staggering. ‘One of the last opportunities to purchase a “raw” house on this salubrious road’. What exactly is a ‘raw’ house? One with its walls removed? If we’re not permitted to lie about the contents of food, why is it admissable for a house purchase? In essence, do we need to read such brainless turgid crap three years into bust?

Irish history continues to infect the bijou mind of our more-than-happy-to-help estate agent as well. You can nab a semi-derelict cottage in Leitrim that’s handily positioned ’near’ Sean McDermott’s Cottage, a well-known tourist attraction and the birth place of the 1916 leader, but nothing whatsoever to do with the house for sale. The sales hunger for famine cottages hasn’t abated either – perfect for a ‘lifestyle change’ the estate agent assures us. Or how about Gordwin Swift IV’s gaff? Never heard of him? That’s OK. Another spec reads: ‘Behind its funky facade…the lavish and stylish art deco foyer provides a unique atmosphere that perfectly complements the building’s history.’ Yeah, how so? It’s an apartment refurb in Dublin 3 that’s not selling and is being flogged for half price. ‘Hurry hurry hurry, before it’s too late’, the man with the white towelling socks says.

Then there’s the almost generically applied *** WOW *** WOW *** WOW *** category which some estate agents are using for every house sale: a 3-bed in the heart of Poppintree Ballymun or a terrace in deep downtown Finglas. ’Wow what a stunner!’ the agent says about this Tyrrelstown house in a hideously inglorious part of Dublin no-one wants to live in. Wilson Moore is one such estate agent that uses this ‘wow wow wow’ insignia on almost all its sales briefs, regardless. Let’s not forget too the estate agent’s excruciating post-boom rewrites…houses like 19A Long Lane dubbed the perfect bachelor’s bolthole at €425,000 in the grip of boom. This week it’s eventually ‘sale agreed’ after being unashamedly flogged as a ’low maintenance home’ for €155,000. The reason why it suits a single gent or a sociopath is because the house is only two metres wide (around 7ft), being an old laneway that was filled in to create a uniquely anorexic house that has nose-dived in price by at least 68%. You absolutely could not swing a cat and you’d definitely have trouble energetically shagging your Mrs.

19A Long Lane: originally a laneway

From the peak of the market in 2006, Dublin house prices have fallen in real terms by 45.7%, while nationally, prices are down by 40.2%. This and a whole host of other stats we’re already laboriously aware of. But where and how did we lose our minds so utterly? There’s an apartment block in Parnell Street with a ‘putting green for the golf enthusiast’ – directly opposite alleyways where the city’s crack cocaine dealers do a roaring trade. Wyckham Point in Dundrum is an apartment complex which offers an ‘on-site gym, sauna, steam room, cardiovascular & resistance gym equipment and heated relaxation zone’. Tullyvale in Cabinteely has a resident’s swimming pool on site although a lot of the apartments are now being sold at a substantially reduced price. I imagine the swimming pool is fast draining of chlorine and charm. Did they really think the luxurious gimmickery could last forever?

Remnants of boom-based mentalness still exist in some high end properties too. ‘Things only happen when we dream’ the intro reads, for a multi-million euro apartment overlooking the River Liffey. The 2-bed [plus guest accommodation as extra] apartment is decked out by a ‘revolutionary stylist’ we’re told, to include none other than a three and a half carat andrée putman lacquered oak coffee table, floors custom-made from antique oak cobbles, a “Vous de Jouer” mirror [one of only 20 in the world], ‘cupboards concealed behind felt-coated doors whose colour and texture mimic the heather and granite tones of the Irish countryside’, a hammam steam room, and a Gien Polka tea set that the designer ‘noticed’ during an official trip to Soviet Russia…It was on originally for excess of €4 million in April 2007, but later dropped to €3.74m and now it’s a straight forward ‘price on application’, though you might nab it for a bit less if you ask for some of the 45 bespoke designer items to be taken out of the loop.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the current estate agent invective is the ‘Reduced To Sell’ signs flung up in gardens all around Ireland over the last year or more. We’re expected to believe prices are reduced only as a favour to us and not as a result of a totally impacted market. An ’exceptional opportunity has arisen to acquire a unique and attractive property’. Except there’s nothing exceptional or unique about it at all. Where were the equivalent ‘Inflated To Sell’ signs during the boom?

This post originally appeared on the Anti Room blog in October 2010. To read comments click here

The women who forgot to ruin Ireland

Where are they? Who are they? You know; the women bankers, auditors, property developers, stockbrokers, industry regulators, etc., responsible for pricking the Oirish bubble with a sharpened golf club. The ruthless go-getting millionairesses who cleared the way for spiralling unemployment, a kaput banking system, demolished property sector, an albatross of debt and all the rest of the yack you’ve been hearing all over the telly for the last year. It’s not a facetious question, I’m genuinely curious. I asked a male journo friend a while ago, who makes a living writing ‘business’ articles: “How come we haven’t witnessed the usual media ‘witch-hunt’ of women (semi)responsible for the bust?” *pause* “Eh, they were probably caught up writing memos or getting their nails done at the time,” he quipped. [He considers himself awfully gas altogether].

From the off it was big-boy names being flung on the turbo charged execution cart: Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen, Brian Lenihan, Pat Neary, Lehman Brothers, Liam Carroll, Seanie Fitzpatrick, Brian Goggin, Padraig Walshe, Sean Quinn, John Hurley, Sean Dunne, Dermot Gleeson and so on. Newspapers were keen to pinpoint the perpetrators in articles throughout this OMG awakening. With the exception of hearing Mary Harney dubbed a deregulation fetishist or the likes of Anne Heraty, former bank director and stock broker, I cannot locate the ’wimmin’ in this sordid tale. Even when it came to the Yellow Brick Road venture of NAMA, the cock-stock was made up of high-ranking banking officials, men in the pinstriped wink, nod and know: Frank Daly, public interest director at Anglo Irish Bank, the bank that likes to say a multi-orgasmic “yes yes yes yes yes yes!”, until there’s nothing left; along with colleagues Michael Connolly, Peter Stewart, Brian McEnery, Willie Soffe and some other guys…Aside from Eilish Finan − an independent Consultant and Director in various Financial Services Industry sectors − appointees to the board of NAMA are men.

I’m not an economist (if I was I’d have nice clothes, a car, a holiday home and an Irish wolfhound) or even a business journalist (if I was I’d have nice clothes, a car, a holiday home and a Yorkshire Terrier), but to my mind the entire environment in which the Celtic Tiger blackguards operated was exceptionally macho. There was a testosterone-fuelled air to the whole enfant terrible. Even the media language deployed: ‘Celtic Tiger Man’ or ‘Breakfast Roll Man’ etc. was ever so vigorous and potent. There was a real sense of aggression in the urban professional Irish male, particularly in Dublin. Places like Baggot Street were full of young geezers guffawing over caramelised scallops in the Unicorn during ‘very important’ business lunches. Down at the financial services district there was a real swagger in the way the men used to walk, talk, and conduct themselves. I remember Googling: ‘why do men wear ties?’ because there seemed to be a pandemic of scorching power-colour ties, more than usual. Red: excitement, desire, speed, strength, power, aggression, danger, war, a sprawling economy. Purple: flamboyant, wise, arrogant. The ritual wearing of ties, by the way, dates back to 17th Century wars. It’s not just a cloth arrow pointing to his wotsit. I found it all very unpleasant at the time.

It chimed too with a sense of national smugness…that we were the new masters of the universe and the Brits were down at heel, and that soon we would be so rich that even the stupid unionists would give up the ghost and accept a united Ireland. The gorilla chest-beating was strewn across all jungle paths of Irish life: politics, economics, the retail sector. At the height of boom (2005-2006) Ireland had proportionately the highest number of sports cars (yes, penis extensions) in Europe and the highest number of year-in registrations. I lived in Smithfield then and almost all of the top-quality penthouses were rented by young single business men who snorted cocaine and watched Fashion TV in-between making Ireland great. “Hi my name’s Paedar, I work in the IFSC, I rent the glass penthouse over there…” Penthouses riddled with Bang & Olufsen and every wall-hanging gadget imaginable. I knew quite a few sassy career women too, but for some reason they didn’t have the same chutzpah or cockiness towards themselves or their jobs.

The fiscal cauldron was brimming over with ‘fabulous’ men who couldn’t shut up about our endless wealth and the part they were playing in rainbow-nabbing it. Our GDP per capita rose from 60% of the EU average to 120%. Women with similar Tigerish jobs were just too busy to brag, it seems. But they were definitely out there: we were told over and over of uptakes of women on third level business courses throughout the boom, women studying economics, a sharp rise in female entrepeneurs, organisations like WITS began to appear…equal opportunities at the highest levels of power in the land, even in the civil service for God’s sake! There must’ve been women property developers who squandered millions in rice-paper transactions? Women who took part in dirty deals, secured multi-million euro loans over the phone in the dead of night from beaches in Donegal, sanctioned nonsensical far-off investments, who later took part in hiding it all with the help of politically connected mates, who now owe more than they’ll ever be able to pay back in several lifetimes.

What part did Irish women play in the catastrophic decision making, at business level, that flung us into financial decay for decades? I’m wondering why these women didn’t appear on Late Late slots like Harry Crosbie or Mick Wallace did. I’m wondering why I hear of ‘developer’s wives’ in the abstract, and not women who surely snapped up glass towers in Dubai or beach villas in Cape Verde when it was trendy and apt to do so. Boy journalists are spinning out reams of books on the bust, so perhaps I’ll start my research there. Maybe even a Diarmaid Ferriter of the future will answer my question: where are the women who helped ruin Ireland? I promise to have my nails done and I’ll listen intently…I might even write a memo on it if I can put my cocktail down for long enough.

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This post were originally posted on the Anti Room blog on August 1st, 2010. To read the comments click here