Economic Recovery In Ireland Is Under Way

Recently released statistics have revealed that 3653 new businesses were started in Ireland during May 2015, which is a 24% increase on the same month in 2014. There were 79 insolvencies registered during May, which is a 38% drop on the previous year.

Unemployment Rate in Ireland

These numbers are a sure indicator that the Irish economy is on the way back. Combined with the reduction in the rate of unemployment to 9.9%, down from over 15% at its worst and under 10% for the first time since 2009, the indications are good. Long term unemployment fell back from 7.3% to 5.9% during the last year, which is an incredible reduction by any standard. Unemployment has fallen in Ireland by over 2.2% in the space of one year. Of course these bare statistics do not account for the massive numbers of young Irish people who have been forced to emigrate since the financial collapse of 2008.

Government Minister Richard Bruton commented:
‘There are still many people around the country who are not yet feeling the benefits yet, and there is still a long way to go before we can say we have replaced all the jobs that were lost, before we can attract young emigrants home in large numbers, before we can have jobs available for all the unemployed.’

Labour Party Attempts to Buy Votes By Squandering Millions

The Labour Party has announced its intention to squander over 566 Million Euro of taxpayers money in an attempt to buy votes in the next General Election. State employees are to receive an average of 2000 Euro each over the next two years.

In an obvious throw-back to the politics of the past the blatant bribery is being criticized in many quarters, but not apparently by those who are to receive the cash. Despite this appalling wastage of public money in the interest of political salvation, the giveaway is unlikely to help the ailing Labour Party who look set to be destroyed at the next election.

Phone Boxes May Be Removed From Irish Streets

For years the telephone boxes that were about the size of a large wardrobe dotted the streets of Ireland.

Irish Telephone Box

On rainy days (it does sometimes rain in Ireland) they provided a safe haven for a minimum of two people (depending on stature) and it was no surprise to see as many as three adults squashed into these tiny apartments, away from the torrential downpour outside.

Many have already been replaced by wall-mounted kiosks and it seems that the days of the remaining telephone boxes are numbered. Due to anti-social activity and the wide-spread usage of mobile phones there have been calls for these relics of a previous iteration of the data communication revolution to be dismantled forever.

The decline has already begun. According to Eircom, the telephone network provider, there were 836 payphones in Dublin in 2006. Less than ten years later there are now only 353.

14 Year Old Waterford Boy Was The Youngest Solider Killed In World War 1

Irish in World War One

During the 1970’s and 1980’s in Ireland the annual remembrance of those tens of thousands of Irish who gave their lives in the Great War was met with a kind of muted national indifference.

Certainly there was laying of wreaths and some elderly people would wear a poppy (before the poppy symbolism was hijacked by the British establishment in an effort to promote their own particular brand of nationalism).

But once the brief RTE television news report had been played the Irish people continued on without much acknowledgement of the anniversary, with younger people especially indifferent to what seemed like a quaint pre-independence ritual.

After all, the ‘real’ heroes of the Irish republic were the men of 1916, Pearse and Connolly, the men and women who had fought the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War, deValera and Collins, plunging Ireland into a scarring divide that would hold the economically bankrupt country back for generations to come.

The Civil War divide still remains in Ireland, but it is very much on its last knees. At last a left-wing Labour movement has emerged (although not necessarily via the Labour Party). Incredibly that may even necessitate a union of the two former political enemies. Even twenty years ago this would have seemed like a fanciful proposition. It was just impossible to conceive that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael would form a coalition together. But now the electoral arithmetic makes that outcome a very real possibility.

What of the 50,000 who perished in the war? What is their legacy following the march of time.

First World War Recruiting Poster from Ireland

Finally it seems that their sacrifice is being realized. It was in 1966 that Sean Lemass, the Irish Taoiseach who is credited with dragging the country into the developed economic world remarked:

‘In later years, it was common – and I also was guilty in this respect – to question the motives of those men who joined the new British armies formed at the outbreak of the war, but it must, in their honour and in fairness to their memory, be said that they were motivated by the highest purpose, and died in their tens of thousands in Flanders believing they were giving their lives in the cause of human liberty everywhere, not excluding Ireland.’

It would be nearly a half century though before an admiration, or at least an acknowledgement, of those Irish troops who joined the British army could co-exist with a similar admiration (even worship in many cases) of those men and women who had fought in the cause of Irish freedom in the ruins of the GPO on Easter Sunday in 1916, or in the fields of Ireland against the Black and Tans in 1921.

Why did they do it? Why did the Irish volunteer for the British Army?

The motivation of soldiers in any age, including today, who are often impervious to any criticism, such is the level of bombast in certain places, is rarely easy to grasp.

Many initially volunteered for the money. This was the Ireland of ‘Strumpet City’ and ‘The Lockout’. Jobs were very hard to find and when found, paid poorly. Poverty, especially in the main Irish cities of Dublin and Cork was extraordinary, even by modern day standards.

Today there are various definitions of poverty, the most often used in Ireland is that anyone with an income of 60% of the average national wage is ‘in poverty’. In the decade leading up to the great war such a definition would have been much more relevant. In modern Ireland the lack of a TV satellite dish is regarded as a symbol of poverty. Everything is relative.

Most however, joined to represent their country and to fight for freedom. When the all but forgotten Irish nationalist John Redmond encouraged and even demanded that his Irish followers enlist in the British army to fight the German menace he did so in the hope that the service of the Irish would be remembered and rewarded. It is easy to look back now and lament at how naive he must have been.

Francis Ledwidge was an Irish volunteer who was to die in preparation of the Third battle of Ypres in 1917:

‘I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy of civilisation and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing but pass resolutions.’

John Condon - the Boy Soldier

The stage was set in Ireland for another dramatic failure, as that what the Easter Rising was from a military standing. But the British over-reacted, executed the Irish rebel leaders. Their martyrdom ensured that the die was cast and the Irish journey to independence was unstoppable.

What might those Irish trapped in the blood-filled trenches of Belgium and France have thought now?

Francis Ledwidge again:

‘If someone were to tell me now that the Germans were coming in over our back wall, I wouldn’t lift a finger to stop them. They could come!’

Poelcapelle Cemetery in Flanders is the final resting place of Private John Condon who hailed from Waterford and was known as the ‘Boy Soldier’. He had worked as a bottler in Sullivan’s Bottling Stores in Waterford before, aged 13 years, he lied his way into the British army. He is recorded as the youngest military casualty of the first World War.

He died at the second battle of Ypres in May 1915, killed in action at Bellevarde Ridge on a day when ‘a strange greenish mist crept across from the enemy position, to attack the eyes and throat and burn out the lungs.’

So many Irish soldiers returned to their country with damage to their lungs from the poison they had breathed, many to suffer for decades with their injuries.

As many as 206,000 Irish soldiers served in the British army during the first world war.

Over 50,000 perished.

On this Remembrance Day nearly a century later should we not ask: Is Private John Condon any less of a martyr in the cause of Irish freedom than Pearse or Connolly?

by Michael Green
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Government Probe into Banking Crisis May Examine Media Collusion

In what is becoming a far-reaching examination of the disastrous events of 2008 to 2010 in Ireland the Irish Government committee set up to examine the issues has suggested that Newspaper editors and other media commentators may be called upon to give evidence.

This is something quite new in Ireland. Rarely has the Irish media been examined for its role in creating and fuelling news stories. And this is the news story about the single biggest economic event in the history of the country.

Broken ATM

The collapse of the Irish banks was directly tied to the bursting of the property bubble, leaving the banks with huge debts. Unable to pay, the banks went cap-in-hand to the Government who effectively underwrote the debts, transforming private debt into public debt, and forcing years of austerity onto the shoulders of Irish citizens who had to re-pay the loans.

And to whom exactly were the loans repaid? To German, French and European bondholders who the EU/IMF/ECB ‘troika’ insisted be repaid or else they would declare the country bankrupt. The only option facing the Fianna Fail Government of the time was to agree to the European bullying, or else the lights would be turned off, ATM machines would stop working and within a few days the rioting and looting would begin.

This was the stark situation facing the Irish Government who were severely criticized and turfed out of office at the next election, to be replaced by Fine Gael and Labour (who pledged to ‘burn the bondholders’). The new coalition Government did not change the policies of their predecessors and instead reneged on their election promises and continued to cow-tow to Europe.

Recent attempts to have the EU/IMF/ECB include Ireland in new financial arrangements that would reduce the Irish debt burden have so far failed. And why should they allow Ireland a break? The Irish have already committed to repay the debt over the next two decades. The bondholders in Germany have already been repaid!

It is against this backdrop that the banking probe is being operated. The fact that several media outlets invested heavily in property and property-related websites may have caused a conflict of interest for them. The Irish Times famously and disastrously paid 50 Million Euro for the property web site at the height of the property bubble. The website is now worth a fraction of that amount.

The degree to which media editors drove the story, shaped public opinion and actually reported facts is certain to be of great interest to observers once the probe gets going.

Potentially this is political dynamite.

US Governor Appeals to Ireland over Cigarette Packaging

It is not often that events in Ireland register among the political fraternity in North Carolina but news that Ireland is planning to force cigarette companies to use plain packaging on their products has prompted Governor Pat McCrory to act.

Smoking in Ireland

Writing to the Irish Ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson, the Governor requested that his concerns be forwarded to the Irish Government for consideration in what is becoming an international assault on the Irish proposals. Ireland it will be remembered was the first country in the world to introduce a blanket ban on smoking in the workplace. The legislation was presented as a health-care issue for workers rather than an attack on cigarettes per se, but of course the effect was the same. No-one can really argue that an individual does have the right to damage the health of another person by smoking in an enclosed work environment and thus the new laws were widely accepted and implemented.

The smoking ban in Ireland badly hit the revenues of pubs and hotels especially, both of which are businesses crucial to Ireland’s tourist economy. Despite this the laws remain, with prospects of their reach being extended.

The Irish war on tobacco continues and the latest proposals involve compelling cigarette manufacturers to have brand-free blank labelling on all of their tobacco products. Ireland already forces manufacturers to print extreme and graphic photographs of the effects of cigarettes on its packaging – a policy that neuro-science fMRI research suggests is counter-productive. Now the focus is on removing all branding and slogans such as ‘low tar’ from the packaging in a bid to stop the use of cigarettes in Ireland, especially among women.

One in three Irish women now smoke regularly with lung cancer now overtaking breast cancer as the main cause of cancer death among women in Ireland. In poorer areas the rate of smoking among women is over 50%. A recent study by an Australian research group revealed the following rates of smoking internationally:

Afghanistan 50%
Greece 39%
Russia 35%
India 32%
Ireland 27%
UK 24%
Australia 18%
Canada 17%
USA 17%
Iran 11%

North Carolina is home to the second-largest tobacco firm in the US, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company who manufacture the Camel brand of cigarettes. Three of that States top five employers are tobacco companies. So while it is not surprising that the Governor of North Carolina should take such an interest in anything likely to effect the employment of his constituents, it is perhaps a little surprising that his reach should extend to Ireland.

Governor McCrory suggested that the ban on branding would be a ‘direct assault’ on intellectual property and trademark rights. He wrote that there was ‘little evidence that plain packaging measures are anything more than symbolism’. Perhaps missing the point that all branding is a form of symbolism.

The Republican politician said the Irish plans threatened to ‘divert attention and resources from more effective actions that could achieve Ireland’s greater goal of being smoke-free during the next decade’. He declined to offer suggestions as to how the country might become smoke-free.

He suggested that retaliatory action in the US could hit Irish businesses:

Imagine if the United States required Guinness to be stripped of its universally recognised brand and be marketed solely as ‘beer’ or Jameson to be labelled simply as ‘whiskey’ and Baileys as ‘liqueur’. These outstanding Irish companies would be outraged and would argue that the quality and distinction of their products, as conveyed through their brand packaging, were being stolen – and they would be right.’

Presumably any such alcohol labelling ban would apply to US beer companies and not just Irish companies but nevertheless this is a fair point. The focus in Ireland is currently very much on cigarettes while it can be argued that alcohol advertising is also very damaging.

The letter to the Irish Ambassador concludes by saying that he respects Ireland’s ‘sovereign prerogative to govern’.

The issue is clearly divisive in the US also with the US Chamber of Commerce joining the North Carolina Governor in his objections to plain packaging while the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association have both written to Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny supporting the proposed new laws.

Pressure against the initiative is building. Within Europe Italy became the ninth EU state to object to the anti-smoking packaging, joining the Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

It remains to be seen if the Irish Government has the will to proceed.

by Michael Green
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It’s Official: Ireland Is The Best Country In The World

The results from the very first ‘Good Country Index’ have been announced.
And the winner is………….(drumroll)……. Ireland !!

Forget the never-ending Dublin traffic jams, the mediocre health care system, the high unemployment rate or the often abysmal weather. Using 35 indicators from the UN and the World Bank Ireland has topped the league table of ‘contribution to humanity’ by finishing near the top in four of the seven categories:

Planet & Climate: 45th place
Prosperity & Equality: 1st place
Health & Wellbeing: 9th place
Science & Technology: 20th place
Culture: 7th place
International Peace & Security: 33rd place
World Order: 4th place

One of the creators of the report is Simon Anholt:

(the intention is to…) ‘measure what each country on earth contributes to the common good of humanity, and what it takes away. Using a wide range of data from the UN and other international organisations, we’ve given each country a balance-sheet to show at a glance whether it’s a net creditor to mankind, a burden on the planet, or something in between. Do (countries) exist purely to serve the interests of their own politicians, businesses and citizens, or are they actively working for all of humanity and the whole planet?

The message to the Irish people is that they can hold their heads up high. No matter how much they are suffering in the last number of years, they haven’t forgotten their international obligations and neither has the Government. They still can feel proud of where they come from.’

The author of the report was not at all surprised to receive a deluge of emails from amazed Irish people unhappy with the findings of his study.

‘I have advised 53 countries in my career and I’ve only come across three that do not suffer from low self-esteem – Sweden, the United States and Kazakhstan.’

The UK was ranked 7th while the USA was ranked 21st. Iraq, Libya and Vietnam propped up the bottom of the league table.

Back in Ireland, the citizenry of the country have been advised not to get too carried away with their status as the best on the planet.

‘Loo with a View’ may revert to a Public Convenience

This is perhaps one of the strangest headlines we have ever penned but bear with us – it will make sense. At the very height of the property boom in Ireland a decade ago even the most obscure, tiny, or ridiculous piece of land was fetching equally ridiculous prices. The huge punt on the old ‘Glass Bottle’ factory site in Ringsend is perhaps the most infamous of these property gambles, tumbling as it did in value from 411 Million Euro to an estimated 40 Million Euro today. It is currently an unused field.

But perhaps the full extent of our collective madness was demonstrated by the purchase of a tiny plot of land that was home to a toilet, overlooking the promenade at Lahinch. 400,000 euro was paid (over US$550,000) for what became known as ‘the Loo with a View’. Plans to develop the site came to nothing and it looks like the Council may buy back the plot to provide restroom facilities for visitors to the popular Lahinch beach.

Obviously the situation is getting critical with local politicians getting ever more agitated by the lack of action:

Councillor Bill Slattery:
I am very frustrated with the situation. Nothing has been done by Clare County Council or Fáilte Ireland. The criticism that we are getting in Lahinch because of the lack of toilets is unreal. We can’t walk down the promenade without being criticised. We have no public toilets in Lahinch and I think that is an absolute disgrace.

Rise of the ‘DONT GIVE A FECK’ Party

It is becoming apparent that not all politicians are taking the upcoming elections in Ireland seriously. A launderette-owner from Duleek in County Meath named Dave Keaveney cant have guessed how popular his campaign would become after he placed a poster in the window of his local business: ‘Vote Dave no 1 for a cleaner Duleek’.

Dont Give a Feck Party

It started off as a joke. I made up the poster because I’m fed up listening to the same bull from politicians and the same electioneering promises that aren’t kept.

He now intends to run for election as a non-party candidate in the Laytown-Bettystown Area. His campaign promotes a number of positions including the provision of Viagra to the Over-90s and to:

‘Give Ireland back to England and apologise for the state it’s in. It’s fecked!’

If I get elected, I’ll shake up the whole Council Chamber.

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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