Archive for the 'Ireland' Category

Bag O’Shite

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.

The New York Times visits Ireland. Since when was not cleaning up after one’s dog not socially acceptable in Ireland? I thought it was a national pastime. Every time I take the child out for a walk with the buggy it feels like I’m in a recording of It’s A Knockout.

When I used to clean up after a dog, I did so with a plastic bag and a very thick glove, since pooper-scoopers can cramp one’s dog walking style considerably. If the situation now obtaining in Ireland is as the NYT describes, I would have to wear an even thicker glove these days.

Diddly Squat

On Sunday The Observer published a hatchet job by Nick Cohen on Ken Livingstone. The usual sort of thing you see from disenchanted leftists of a certain inclination, with tales of dark deeds from vile sects, but there was one line in particular that jarred with me: this description of Gerry Healy of the Workers’ Revolutionary party.

The cult’s main purpose, however, was to worship the personality of its great leader, Gerry Healy, a squat, bombastic Irishman and a rapist as near as damn it.

Cohen is offering a moral judgement here, based on the history of a person who existed in fact, not a novelistic invention. For him to give the details on Healy’s height, disposition and nationality alongside the accusation that the man was a rapist (which may well be true, I have no idea) is to relate the former categories and the latter.

So then – this was no ordinary rapist: he was a short-arse. Not only was he a short-arse, he was an Irish short-arse. And not only was he an Irish short-arse, he was an Irish short-arse loudmouth . And if there’s one thing worse than a rapist, it’s an Irish short-arse loudmouth rapist. We are invited to understand, by implication, that there are other categories of rapist preferable. An Irish loudmouth short-arse rapist may be worse than, say, a soft-spoken strapping English rapist.

That is a generous interpretation of his description, even if it says something about Cohen’s attitude towards short people and Irishmen. A less generous interpretation would be that Cohen sees a causative relationship between Healy’s squatness, his bombast and his Irishness, and the ‘fact’ (like I said, I have no idea) the man was a rapist. This would mean he thinks Bono to be a more likely rapist than Hugh Laurie. Which would an outrageously racist thing to say, quite frankly.

Rent This Space

Brendan Keenan has an interesting article in the Independent today on the services sector:

Most of the growth in services exports is based on the same model as the previous boom in merchandise exports; the performance of foreign companies which have located operations here, for tax reasons to a large extent.

Despite its 50 years of success, there has always been scepticism about this model. If anything, the scepticism has grown, partly because Ireland has become more expensive, and partly in the belief that, 50 years notwithstanding, it cannot last forever and therefore must one day come to an end.

Neither of these propositions is self-evident. Total labour costs in Ireland are still among the lowest in the EU, according to this week’s survey from Deloitte. There is more of a problem with non-pay costs, but a tough-minded government could sort out a lot of that if the situation really demanded.

My own (fairly limited) experience of this -in terms of decisive factors for companies looking to expand or reduce service operations here- is that the cost of commercial rental property constitutes a thumping proportion of running costs.

A lot of service firms will look at their requirements in terms of the number of transactions to be handled (invoices to be processed, calls to be answered, whatever), and then assess their options based on how much it would cost to have a single transaction performed in a range of locations (Dublin, Warsaw, Mumbai, wherever). So for instance they’ll say $120 in Chicago, $50 in Dublin, $26 in Warsaw, etc. Having spoken to a few people about this, it would appear that in the case of Dublin, a lot of that $50 is made up of rental costs for office space. In dollars, transaction costs in Ireland over the last number of years for firms investing in Ireland have risen pretty dramatically relative to other locations, but -from what I have been told- this is not down significantly to wage inflation, but rather to rental prices (as well, of course, as a falling dollar).

In commercial property, prime rent per square metre per year in Dublin is €646, compared with €300 in Warsaw, and €210 in Budapest, according to this report by Knight Frank. Now before I proceed, I should point out that I know nothing about the specifics of the commercial rental market, so I don’t know how inelastic the overall demand for rental property in Ireland is.

What I do know is that there are plenty of places constantly looking to shift operations to other locations because Ireland is not cheap enough, and for these firms, demand for rental property is relatively elastic. Not so much the case for firms where transactions are relatively complex, requiring a lot of specialist knowledge, since it costs more to shift things, but for those jobs where you can train someone to do the job in a couple of months or less, there is constant pressure to shift operations elsewhere.

It would be interesting to see if the ‘tough mindedness’ Brendan Keenan sees as required from the government would extend to bringing down commercial property rents. I’m cynically inclined to think that such ‘tough mindedness’ would be applied to not bringing down commercial property rents, it being somewhat easier to focus, even though labour costs are still relatively low, on ‘wage restraint across all sectors‘, calling on our sense of duty to the nation, and by extension, to the prosperity of commercial property investors.

Oh Calcutta

Dublin’s traffic congestion ranks as among the worst in Europe, with a survey of international cities revealing that congestion was only worse in Calcutta.

You’ll never guess where I was mid-morning yesterday. On the M1, north of the port tunnel, busting for a slash. Operation Freeflow indeed.

Tell you what though, whatever the hellfire and brimstone they might spit over the phone to their TD when their second provisional licence is no longer valid, Irish drivers are oddly accepting of their gridlocked fate. Not one of the thousands of drivers beeped their horn in anger at the situation. Maybe they were all fiddling with their satnav equipment, in case they might ever need to use it.

I was thinking about the proliferation of big ignorant cars on Irish roads. At first glance, one is inclined to think that this is evidence of chronic status-seeking on the part of a substantial whack of the population. Yet this ignores the fact that many people have to live in their cars. Would you deny them the luxury? Have a heart. It’s Christmas.

Next year’s Christmas toy: In-car fart filters.

If The Wind Changes

IT’S not often Ireland can be said to have something in common with that bastion of socialism, Venezuela, but it happened last week. Both nations had a burly, squashed-face man propose changes to how their country was run.

From yesterday’s Tribune. Yeah, I know I wasn’t going to mention Venezuela again, but -great golliwogs!- how was I to know I’d stumble over the phrase ‘squashed-face man’ describing someone of indigenous Latin American descent in an Irish Sunday newspaper? I also had forgotten to point out that when I remarked on the caricature of Chávez with rubber lips in the video I posted yesterday (at 1:22), I omitted to mention the text that accompanied it:

LA ‘MONO’-ARQUIA

Monarquía means monarchy. But ‘mono’ means monkey. So the intended signification of the poster was that Venezuela was ruled by a monkey with rubber lips. Like the Tribune comment, this is not in the slightest bit racist.

In the video above, from coverage of yesterday’s Banco Del Sur founding ceremony, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the new president of Argentina, gets a round of applause when she begins her speech by saying that she never imagined that she would see the day that she would be accompanied by presidents of Latin American countries who actually looked like their fellow countrymen. One presumes, if the round of applause is anything to go by, that she wasn’t implying most Venezuelans were ‘squashed-faces’.

Independent Minds

Indo

What’s been preying on the minds of Indo readers of late.

Prophylaxis, Property Taxes

Peter Wyse, Of Wyse Estate Agents — whose company has three offices in the Dublin area — is among those who have let staff go as a result of the slowdown.Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Wyse said: “This penal system of stamp duty is overtly anti-family. It is like a giant condom preventing people from having more children, because they can’t afford to trade up to a bigger house. Stamp duty has created a minor recession on its own.”

I could have done without that mental image first thing on a Monday before my Weetabix.

Of Pigs And Troughs

So the Taoiseach now gets paid more than George Bush, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel. In Spain, Zapatero earns about 89 grand: about three and a half times less than Ahern.

 

In general, I think remuneration for public servants based on private sector considerations is a bad idea. Not least because pay structures for senior private sector roles are rigged:

 

  • There is ‘performance-related’ pay, but senior managers decide what ‘performance’ means anyway
  • Pyramid structure operating in private sector means tooth-and-claw battles for promotion, to the advantage of senior managers
  • Threats to subordinates are more effective in private sector.
  • Profitability is not the same as effectiveness
  • The ‘headroom’ prestige in private sector top posts is not necessarily desirable for public sector posts. Unless you want a collection of caudillos running the country. Oh. Wait.

Agenda Bender

For the second successive Friday, David Quinn is writing about the ‘equality agenda’ and education. Last week, it was Mary Hanafin’s decision not to give additional funding to fee-paying schools that was part of said agenda, and this week it’s the Combat Poverty Agency’s report on how the current system favours the better off.

Quinn’s criticism of the report’s recommendation (the PowerPoint is at the bottom of this document; I can’t find a written report) that a centralised or regionalised application system should ‘effectively de-segregate the school system’ begins as follows:

HOW would you like it if the Government took from you the power to decide which school your child should go to?

My own response to this was that I didn’t even know it was in my power to decide. OK, so my child isn’t even born yet, but unless one of those ‘get rich quick’ searches on Google finally pays off or a benevolent millionaire decides to answer my Private Eye ad, the financial and transportational constraints on our life are such that I can’t see it being possible to pick the school of our fancy. One with Pugin wallpaper and a mausoleum for its founder would be delightful, I suppose, but there simply aren’t any in the area.

At any rate, I’m quite traditional about this. It all started with the Fisher-Price model village I got given as a child. I believe a school is an important component of a thriving local community, as opposed to an incidental component of a thriving construction industry, so I would prefer to send a child to the local school rather than send him out to the next town in the hunt for better exam results. That said, I am not hot on single-sex education at any level. And the natives here seem to be big into that sort of the thing, perversely.

So, anyway, I didn’t even know I had that power. Maybe I do have that power, in the sense that anyone born in America can become President. But, dang, even Quinn himself admits that there are plenty of parents who do not have this power:

At present parents often have little choice but to send their children to the local school

However, the outcome of a centralised or regionalised applications and allocations system (the word ‘application’ denotes at least some form of choice) would, Quinn claims, without the need to provide any evidence, result in parents

see(ing) their children being bussed into some other neighbourhood because the proposed central educational authority had decided that the local school had enough middle class or working class kids already.

Do they have neighbourhoods in Ireland? When I think of neighbourhoods, I think of Forest Hills, where Spider-Man lived with his Aunt May. Anyway. These shadowy central authority figures don’t even exist yet, but are already deciding whether or not my kid should wear a top hat or a peaked cap. Those bastards.

I don’t know how these things would work in practice. Probably some sort of strange gerrymandering-cum-apartheid system where huge concrete education walls get erected around entire ‘neighbourhoods’, snaking their way through people’s back gardens and splitting their bathroom in two, with armed watchtowers, all as part of some insane pen-pusher scheme to push the ‘equality agenda’.

He continues:

The effect of this system, therefore, would be to reduce parental choice to practically zero.

Yeah, man, but the difference between ‘effectively zero’ and ‘practically zero’ is practically, effectively zero. Anyway, what it is, this ‘equality agenda’ thingy, is

an attack on education because it seeks to retard the education of one group of children in order to (supposedly) advance the education of another set of children.

Yet the point of the presentation at least -and I am not impressed with the author’s PowerPoint skills- appears to be that the current system retards the education of one group of children (the poor) whilst facilitating the education of another set of children (the well-off).

The poor do badly in education, and this means that they do worse in the job market, and -given the shortcomings in the Irish education system- this means that they have less money to spend on the grinds for their children (which middle-class parents are prepared to pay to maintain their competitive advantage), less ability to assist their children with their homework, less time and energy to help their children (the working poor generally have longer commuting hours): in sum, less of everything.

One is therefore tempted to conclude that the current system itself constitutes an attack on education.

Anyway, to hell with the poor. Why is the Irish Independent so interested in education these days anyway? Has it anything to do with this – so lavishly plastered over free newspapers this week?

Independent Colleges is a new concept in Irish education providing goal-focused, personalised tuition, supported by Independent News & Media plc.

I look forward to further attacks on ‘the equality agenda’.

You Get What You Need

Good grief, a Martina Devlin column I mostly agree with.

But no, they cynically chose to victimise one of the most powerless groups among us, the methadone user. Perhaps they felt the public would shrug its shoulders. After all, some drug-users do steal to fuel their addiction. Quite a few of us have been on the receiving end of their crimes — I was mugged by a drug addict with a syringe in Dublin.

But that doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye to what’s happening here. A defenceless group is being held to ransom in a row over money — over other matters too, but profit margins are among them — and to hell with the repercussions to the methadone user.

To which I would have added: why methadone users, then? Well, they’re addicts. By withdrawing what they need to cope with their addiction, the pharmacists are delivering a vivid message to the public of what it is like to have the demands of your addiction denied. Pharmacists do this because they’re addicted to money.


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August 2020
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