Michael Green

About Michael Green

Michael Green is Manager of The Information about Ireland Site

Irish Among The Happiest People In Europe

A study by the European Union has revealed that Irish people are a pretty happy bunch.

Irish People are among the happiest in the World

With a score of 7.4 out of 10 in the ‘experience of life ranking’ Ireland trails only behind Denmark (the perennial winner) with 8.4, Sweden and Finland with a score of 8, Luxembourg (7.8), Malta (7.7) and the Netherlands (7.7).

Surprisingly, given the recent economic devastation, the report found that Ireland was the third richest country in the EU, behind Luxembourg and Austria in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in purchasing power.

This study mirrors other recent reports including the UNICEF report that ranked Ireland tenth best in the world for kids and the OECD Better Life index that revealed that Ireland had higher levels of education and longer life expectancy that most OECD countries. Similarly the World Happiness Report ranked Ireland as the 18th happiest country in the world!

Commenting on the apparent contradiction in Irish happiness given the severe economic setbacks the country has endured since 2008, the co-author of the World Happiness Report, John Helliwell remarked:

This is just one more illustration that people’s happiness depends to a much smaller extent on their income than they think it does

The Report is based upon several variables:

– GDP per capita
– Life expectancy
– Perceived national corruption
– Freedom to make life choices
– Generosity of fellow citizens
– Having someone to rely on in times of trouble

These surveys are a surprise if you consider the media portrayal of Irish society. Certainly the economy has taken a hammering over the last few years but it is not as if the entire gains of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ era have been wiped out. Infrastructure has improved greatly, quality of lifestyle has improved, social safety-nets are relatively well funded although the Irish health care system still leaves a lot to be desired.

If the news and television media are to be believed though, the country is awash with criminality, desperation, ‘ghost estates’, and unemployment.

Ireland does have all of these problems, just like many countries in the world, but the repeated proof of Irish happiness and good ‘quality of life’ from several international sources simply does not reflect the malaise portrayed by the Irish news media.

Simply put the Irish people are being told that things are desperate but those who have not emigrated, have a job, have a home and have access to health-care, just do not agree.

Those without a job or home certainly feel differently and while the current economic problems will certainly pass it will leave behind a society that has a much greater imbalance between the rich and those who are less well-off.

Happiness therefore is very much viewed through a personal lens.

As Oscar Wilde put it:
Ah, on what little things does happiness depend!
I have read all that the wise men have written,
and all the secrets of philosophy are mine,
yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched.

by Michael Green
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Irish Government Reaps Reward for Exiting the EU/IMF/ECB ‘Bailout’

Calling it a bailout was never a good idea as it was anything but a bailout.

Loans to Ireland

The loans provided by the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the Irish Government had two main purposes: to keep the Euro currency alive and to allow Ireland to repay French and German banks and bond-holders who were owed billions by the bankrupt Irish banks. The fact that the Irish Government needed the cash to meet the wage-bill of the ridiculous numbers of public and civil servants employed by this tiny country was very much incidental. The EU/EBC/IMF had their own agenda.

But now they are gone.

Ireland has again taken control of raising its own finances and regained its ‘economic sovereignty’ amid much fanfare and self-congratulation. Ratings Agency Moody’s has added to the positive tone in Ireland by upgrading Irish 10-year debt bonds to ‘investment grade’ and as a result the cost of borrowing by the Irish Government has dropped dramatically from over 12% at the depth of the financial crisis to a much healthier 3.3% today. By comparison the US and UK borrow at about 2.8% while Germany borrows at 1.65%, Portugal at 5% and Greece at 8.5%.

Should the Irish economy recover and unemployment fall then this will be seen as a very significant turning point in recent Irish history. Fine Gael will claim the credit for steering the country through its darkest ever economic moments having implemented the Fianna Fail plan for recovery that they inherited, despite lambasting that same plan in the run up to the last General Election.

With the economy pointed in the right direction Fine Gael will expect to be rewarded by the Irish people with a second term in office. Despite being not quite half way through its five year term with the next General Election not due until 2016, the analysts in Fine Gael will surely be eyeing up the very best moment to ‘go to the people’, likely next year in 2015.

Of course a year is an eternity in politics and it is not out of the question that a fickle Irish electorate could yet punish Fine Gael for its failures, perceived or otherwise. Lack of political reform, controversial social policies and the never-ending implementation of the economics of austerity may yet come back to haunt the party.

For the time being Fine Gael are enjoying their time in office with the latest numbers from the opinion polls supporting their optimism:

Fine Gael: 30%
Fianna Fail: 26%
Sinn Fein: 16%
Labour: 12%
Others/Independents: 16%

This survey suggests a return by vast groups of voters to the more mainstream political parties and away from independents and fringe groups. Even the Labour Party managed to increase its support although it is still in a very poor position. Looking at the numbers above, surely a grand coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is only a matter of time?

by Michael Green
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Canadian Astronaut Sings ‘Ride On’ to Lord Mayor Of Dublin

Colonel Chris Hadfield is perhaps the most famous Canadian Astronaut in history. Not only was he the first Canadian to walk in space but he also tweeted some marvellous images of Ireland and the world while serving aboard the International Space Station. His images became an Internet sensation.

Chris Hadfield in Ireland

Now retired from active service he visited Ireland recently as a ‘tourism ambassador’ and regaled the Lord Mayor of Dublin with his version of ‘Ride On’, performed before a packed hall at the Mansion House, the Mayor’s residence in the city.

The Colonel is also especially admired in Ireland for sending the first ever tweet from space in the Irish language:

Tá Éire fíorálainn! Land of green hills dark beer. With Dublin glowing in the Irish night.

He commented later that while in space he had a particular interest in keeping on eye on Ireland as his daughter is attending Trinity College in Dublin.

Proving himself to be an accomplished guitar player it looks like the sky is still the limit for the multi-talented Canadian.

Funeral Directors Aim Daggers At Irish Minister

The recent decision by the Irish Government to scrap the ‘Bereavement Grant’ has less than impressed those involved in the Funeral business in Ireland.

Funeral Expenses Grant abolished in Ireland

The 850 Euro grant was previously paid to families of the recently deceased to assist with funeral expenses. In an attempt to deflect from criticism of the grant’s abolition Ruairi Quinn, the Irish Education Minister, suggested that there is ‘insufficient competition’ in the funeral business in Ireland. Clearly he thinks that the cost of funerals is being inflated by the bereavement grant and thus has no problem disposing of it.

It is estimated that the cost of a Funeral in Ireland is about 5000 euro (just under 7000 US$). Welfare Minister Joan Burton pointed out that there is still a generous allowance in the event of the pensioner’s death:

“If one partner of a pensioner couple dies, their spouse continues to get the social welfare payment of the deceased spouse for six months. That is worth roughly 1,200 to 1,400 Euro.”

Apart from the Bereavement Grant the Telephone Allowance for Pensioners has also been scrapped while Welfare for those aged under 26 years has been reduced. The Fine Gael and Labour Party Government made much of the fact that they have not increased the rates of taxation in their most recent annual budgets. Nevertheless their tenure in office has seen a whole host of new ‘stealth’ taxes introduced in tandem with some pretty savage cuts to services.

These latest cutbacks are just one of a number of measures in the recent annual Budgets that have attempted to roll back some of the largesse offered to Irish citizens during the Celtic Tiger years.

Times are very different now.

With the country effectively bankrupt the last five years has seen some very severe so-called ‘austerity’ measures implemented by successive Irish Governments. It would be expected then that a people who enjoy their reputation as being ‘The Fighting Irish’ would hit back and hard.

Not so.

Opposition from the Irish population has been relatively minimal. No Greek or French style riots. No imprisoning of Bankers and Government officials as happened in Iceland. The Irish have taken the economic downturn pretty much in their stride.

Or Emigrated.

by Michael Green
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Alcohol Abuse in Ireland Targeted by Irish Government

A new Public Health Bill is to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol products based on the alcohol content of the drink.

Irish Government is trying to reduce Alcohol consumption

The new laws are an effort to reduce the consumption of cheaper high-alcohol beers, wines and spirits. For the first time products will be targeted based on the actual amount of alcohol they contain.

Other new measures include:

* From 2016 alcohol advertising on TV and Radio is to be confined to evening time.

* Advertising of alcohol in Cinemas will be confined to over-18 movies only.

* Outdoor advertising of alcohol will also be restricted.

* Supermarkets and other outlets will have to relocate alcohol products to their own separate location within a premises.

* All alcohol products will in future carry health warnings (but significantly not with the kind of graphic pictures used on cigarette packets).

The President of the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr Matthew Sadlier, welcomed the new regulations:

“In Ireland, despite high excise duties alcohol has become increasingly more affordable. Under a minimum pricing structure, the price per unit becomes more expensive particularly affecting demand by younger binge drinkers and excessive harmful drinkers. Thus minimum pricing can reduce alcohol-related harm without necessarily penalising moderate drinkers.”

The new laws have been criticized for not going far enough and especially for not banning the sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol companies. In a surprising ‘pact with the devil’ the Irish sports lobby successfully persuaded Government that the withdrawal of sponsorship by the alcohol companies would severely impact on funding for sporting activities.

Pat Hickey, the President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, clearly disagreed with some of his colleagues in the Irish sporting community and responded by launching a scathing attack on the drinks industry in Ireland and particularly on the veiled threats by Diageo to reduce its investment in Ireland should a ban on drinks-industry sponsorship of sporting events be implemented:

I thought it was an absolute disgrace to read a report of an international company, Diageo, making an attack on the Irish Government and the Irish State about how they should conduct their business and investment. This is a multinational that has no interest whatsoever in Ireland except they happen to have a product beginning with ‘G’ and they promote that in Irish pubs just to get bigger profits around the world.

Abuse of Alcohol in Ireland costs Billions

A report that was recently published by the Health Research Board revealed that 58% of Irish people think the Government is not doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption. 85% of those surveyed believe that the current level of consumption of alcohol in Ireland is far too high. Average consumption in the year 2010 was 145% higher than the average amount consumed in the year 1960, a huge increase by any standard.

While the drinks industry in Ireland may be concerned at the new regulations they will surely be celebrating their most recent success at being able to continue their sponsorship of Irish sporting events.

Where they can recruit new and young devotees.

And all aided and abetted by the Irish sports lobby!

by Michael Green
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Opinion Polls driving Fianna Fail and Fine Gael together – Doom for Labour Party

The prospect of Fianna Fail entering a coalition with Fine Gael after the next General Election is looking ever more possible. A recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll certainly points toward such a possibility and also makes very, very bad reading for the Labour Party.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Labour are currently in Government with Fine Gael whom they joined in coalition after the 2011 General Election. Fine Gael took the bulk of the Fianna Fail vote with Labour also soaring to new highs in the hope that the party would see off the money-men of the EU/IMF/ECB troika who were/are hated by large sections of the Irish population.

‘Burn the bondholders’
‘Let the banks fail’,
‘Gilmore for Taoiseach’ were the rallying cries.

The reality has been very different for the Labour Party. Nurses, Labourers, Teachers, Public and Civil Servants, lower-paid workers and even the unemployed all voted for Labour in their droves at the last election. Now they are looking elsewhere.

Irish Nurses proitest against Government policies

By continuing the policies of the previous Fianna Fail government both Labour and Fine Gael chose to play a long game. Fine Gael could make the case that they have no choice but to implement the policies they inherited while alternately blaming Fianna Fail and then claiming the credit for the economy stabilizing. Labour however, have no such luxury.

It was the Labour Party that was supposed to represent the working classes. Instead they implemented cuts to services and installed the hated Property Tax, threatening and bullying the Irish citizenry into submission.

Eamon Gilmore is the Labour Party leader

Just 6% of voters now say they would now vote for Labour (down from 19%) while 23% say they would vote for Sinn Fein and 22% for Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein and the Labour Party occupy much of the same left-wing space on the political spectrum yet it is Gerry Adam’s party that now seems to represent the working classes. Historically though Sinn Fein have always done better in opinion polls than at the ballot box. This is probably because their support comes largely from a younger population who are in fact less likely to actually vote.

With 26% support Fine Gael cannot afford to be too smug either. Both they and Fianna Fail have repeatedly said that they would not go into a coalition Government with Sinn Fein. Logically then, if an election were held tomorrow the obvious new Government would be a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail!

In the US this would be the equivalent of John Boehner cozying up with Barack Obama in a Democrat-Republican national government to run the country.

Could it happen in Ireland? This possibility has recently been floated by former members of both of these political parties. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have their genesis in the 1922 Irish Civil War. Over the last two decades any lingering differences have rapidly dissipated. Socially Fine Gael is viewed as being more conservative than Fianna Fail but there seems to be little to choose between their economic approach.

Is a grand union possible?

In Ireland after the economic crash, anything is possible.

Irish Rejection of Seanad Abolition is a National Disgrace

The defeat of the proposal to abolish the powerless Seanad House in the recent Referendum in Ireland is a damning indictment of the Irish people.

Seanad Referendum Result in Ireland

The Seanad House is the upper house of the Irish parliament. It cannot prevent legislation from Dail Eireann (the main parliament) being enacted and has for decades been used as a way to bail out failed politicians and to reward public figures who supported the Government of the time.

It is not accountable to the Irish electorate with many members of the Seanad either being appointed by University Graduates or directly by the Government of the time. Members of the Seanad enjoy huge financial benefits at the expense of the public and have no real power or function.

It should have been an easy decision therefore, to abolish the Seanad. All of the signs pointed to an easy victory for the abolitionists. An opinion poll just a few days before the vote indicated 62% of those in favour of the proposal and in the few intervening days nothing of any real substance happened. There were no major developments, no game-changing revelations.

How then was the proposal defeated by just under 52% to 48%? What is the reason for a 14 percentage points swing in only a few days when nothing significant occurred?

The answer is both simple and depressing: The Irish people did not vote.

The Constitution of a country is mostly regarded as a sacred thing.
In some countries.
But clearly not in Ireland.

With a turnout of only 39% of the approximately 3.15 Million eligible voters only 1.23 Million voted. Those who won the referendum amounted to 0.63 Million. Just over 623,000 voters decided the fate of the Irish Constitution. The population of Ireland is approximately 4.6 Million.

So where is the disgrace? A lot of people are just not interested in politics. Many are too worried about paying their bills.

By comparison European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Germany regularly have huge voter engagement compared to Ireland. Foreign Reporters who visit Ireland look on in amazement at the utter lack of interest shown by the citizens here. The country is on its knees financially and here was a perfect opportunity to save countless millions of euro over the coming years by greatly reducing the number of politicians in that rarest of events – an example of real political reform.

What did the Irish people do?

1. They did not vote.
2. Some of those that did vote used their ballot as a protest against Government policies.
3. Those that stood to gain from the retention of the Seanad enthusiastically campaigned in their own self-interest.
4. Some political parties (Fianna Fail in particular) cynically used the Referendum as an opportunity to give the Government a thumping. More self interest.

The biggest reason though is the first listed above. The Irish people have long since lost any right to complain or protest. You get the Government you vote for and the life you settle for. If you are not wiling to vote then you have lost any right to complain. You need to shut up.

Those pictures of lottery winners that regularly adorn the tabloid newspapers could today easily be replicated with pictures of the Seanad members after the Referendum votes were counted. They Have won the lottery and at our expense.

What do the Irish people do?
They sit in their bars drinking their pints, watching the football.
They moan and grumble about the latest round of austerity taxation.
They drink their bottles of wine while watching their soap operas on television.

While the well-heeled elite from the Universities and professional classes laugh at them for their ignorance and stupidity (and then count up the allowances and pensions they can parasitically squeeze from our system of Government) the Irish…… down another pint. And complain.

The upcoming 1916 anniversary of the Easter Rising should be cancelled immediately. The Republic for which those men and women fought is dead.

There are countries in this world that are today fighting and suffering to get the freedom and democracy we Irish so take for granted.

We are a disgrace.

by Michael Green
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Dublin Property Market Increase Sparks Fear Of A New Bubble

The Irish people do not need any reminding of the devastating effect that a property bubble can have. Back in 2008 when the property market in Ireland imploded the Irish banks had to go cap-in-hand to the Government for support. ‘Back us or the ATMs will stop working’ was the blunt message offered to the Irish politicians of the time. They duly obliged by underwriting the deposits held by the banks, preventing any mass withdrawal of funds by the public and financial institutions.

Irish Property market has stabilized after massive crash

The problem with the bank guarantee was that, while it kept the ATMs operating it also underwrote the funds held by the massive institutional investors, including those in France and Germany. When the banks were eventually nationalized the bonds held by the European investors became payable by the Irish State. ‘Burn the Bondholders’ was one of the famous slogans used in the run up to the 2011 election. To date there has been little or no evidence of that happening with the EU/IMF/ECB troika protecting their own interests while drip-feeding enough finance into the Irish economy to keep the lights on.

The situation has stabilized since then but at some cost. Unemployment remains stubbornly above 14%. Job opportunities are limited with massive emigration the escape valve. Taxation has been greatly increased to the point where even those most enthusiastic in engaging austerity are suggesting that a financial stimulus and not more taxation is now what is required.

Against this backdrop the Irish property market has suffered one of the greatest collapses in modern history. Only Dubai has suffered a bigger recent loss as the value of houses and apartments plummeted by anywhere between 40% and 60% depending on the report that is cited. Banks of course, are now much more stringent in their lending policies, anxious to avoid the mistakes of the past. But it may be a case of ‘a short memory’ for some people.

It has long been suspected that the value of houses in Dublin has dropped too much, with no such reservations about the price falls in rural locations. Tiny little towns with half-built housing estates and a dwindling population are a recipe for further house price falls. But in Dublin there are enclaves and districts that have seen pretty hefty gains. A recent Myhome.ie report indicates that prices for property in the capital city are 26% above the national average price of 191,000 Euro (US$258,000).

Unfinished housing estate blight the Irish landscape

The same report indicates that nationally house prices fell by 7.8% over the last year, which is a lot better than the 14.3% recorded the previous year. But Dublin prices have soared by 10.6% over the last year according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the price increase fuelled mainly by a lack of housing stock.

Could it be that massive house and apartment building will again get under way in the city? This seems fanciful at the moment but there Are signs of new construction work being undertaken in Dublin. With the population of Ireland expected to grow by at least 10% over the next 15 years it is estimated that 20,000 new housing units are needed annually to keep pace with the demand. During the boom years upwards of 40,000 housing units were being constructed. This year the likely total will be about 6000.

Until the supply of houses increase in Dublin city it seems likely that prices will continue to rise. But any sudden shift in sentiment or a dramatic increase in supply (such a as a major spate of bank repossessions and then fire-sales) could yet see a repeat of the recent pain for Dublin house-owners.

A short memory indeed.

OPINION: Irish Media Bias in Seanad Abolition Referendum

The upcoming referendum to decide if the upper house of the Irish Parliament (known as the Seanad) should be abolished is having a number of interesting side-effects. The poll will be held on October 4th.

Irish Seanad House may be abolished

On the one hand it is both a tragicomedy and a farce to observe those who are members of the Seanad desperately try to convince a near bankrupt electorate that they should be kept in their privileged positions. Rarely in the history of Ireland have the ‘working classes’ been afforded an opportunity such as this to remind the elite of exactly who rules.

The real irony of this situation is that if there is a low turnout at the polling stations (which is typically the case with referenda in Ireland) then it is this very apathy of ‘the working classes’ that may play into the hands of the elite, the professional classes, the legal professions, academics, business interests and politicians.

Simply put, those most motivated to lose something are those most likely to act. The combined sudden and surprising action of the Senators over the past few months has quite possibly exceeded the previous activity of all previous Seanads since the foundation of the State! It is just appalling to witness these privileged cosseted people debase themselves as they attempt to save their utterly useless and parasitic jobs.

The attitude of some sections of the Irish media has also been very interesting to observe. A series of Opinion Polls run by the Sunday Independent newspaper have been reported and re-reported by RTE (Irish National Television) and several other media outlets. The question ‘Should the Seanad be abolished’ or ‘Should the Seanad be reformed’ was asked in a survey with media outlets gleefully reporting that voters in favour of keeping the Seanad (either in its current format or in a reformed format) are rapidly closing the gap on those in favour of abolition of the Seanad. Trouble ahead for the Government! Jobs may be saved for those in the clique!

Very interesting.

Until you realise that the question being put to the Irish people in the referendum is NOT ‘Should the Seanad be reformed?’ but is in fact ‘Should the Seanad be abolished? – yes or no’.

When asked about this apparent manipulation Richard Bruton, the director of elections for the Fine Gael campaign to abolish the Seanad agreed that the question in the Sunday Independent poll was not the same as that which will appear on the actual Referendum ballot paper:

‘The Sunday Independent is not your usual Newspaper!’ he remarked.



With the regular newspapers apparently having their own agenda it was left to Irish bookmaker Paddy Power to commission a survey that found support for abolition of the Seanad running at 58% compared to support for keeping it at 42% (ignoring those who replied ‘dont know’). This is quite some difference from the poll by the Sunday Independent, breathlessly revealing that only 39% of those questioned said that they wanted the Seanad scrapped while those supporting its reform or retention actually amount to 40%!

Of course opinion polls are all in the phrasing. It was Dan Rather the former News Anchor of the US CBS Evening News who famously said:
‘Journalists should denounce government by public opinion polls.’
Some of his Irish counter-parts clearly agree.

Perhaps the last word should go to the bookies. Paddy Power bookmakers are currently offering odds of 1/2 for the Seanad to be abolished, 6/4 for it to be retained.

Maybe the ‘working classes’ will have a punt on the 5/4 odds with the intention of staying at home on polling day!

Labour Party Exile May Form New Political Party

Speculation is mounting that a new left-wing political Party may be formed in Ireland.

The Labour Party are currently in a Coalition Government with Fine Gael that has effectively continued the policies of the Fianna Fail Party that it ousted at the last election. It is this position that has seen support for the Labour Party plummet in recent opinion polls.

Labour is supposed to be the Party representative of the working classes and yet has supported the imposition of a property tax as well as the never-ending austerity measures. Against this backdrop the possibility of a new Party with a socialist backbone is very much alive.

Roisin Shortall was a Junior Minister in the Government but resigned her position after further cuts to the Irish Health Service were implemented. She is very much a thorn in the side of the Labour Party leadership at the moment and could align with similar left-of-centre independent T.D.’s to form a new Party that would directly challenge her former colleagues.

by Michael Green
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