Calls For End To Austerity As Ireland Plunges Back Into Recession

Those commentators who have been critical of the overuse of austerity policies in Ireland are claiming that Ireland’s plunge back into recession is proof of their views.

A 'People Before Profit' March Protesting Irish Government Policies

Since 2008 the Irish economy has been battered by international forces beyond its control in addition to massive self-inflicted damage caused by a property market bubble and the near collapse of the Irish banking system.

The effects were far-reaching. Unemployment stands at 13.7%, public services have been slashed, bitter wrangling continues between the Government and its own employees in the Civil and Public services. Emigration has soared to Famine-era levels while those left behind have been burdened with extra taxes and levels of debt that will take decades to pay off.

Ireland re-entered recession in the final quarter of last year and with ‘negative growth’ prevailing it seems that the austerity and tax increases have dampened any possibility of a domestic recovery. The Property Tax did not help either. Demanded as a condition of loans granted to Ireland by the EU/IMF/ECB the Property Tax was almost gleefully imposed by the Fine Gael Government who clearly see it as an easy way to bring in finance. Political cover was provided by the European ‘troika’ who could be blamed for demanding its imposition – ‘it wasn’t us – its them!’ Job done.

Chart showing the financial effect on Ireland of the economic crash

The uncertainty caused by the Property Tax, the fear of its impact and the never-ending burden of yet more taxation certainly played a huge part in dragging the country down again.

Ireland is also more exposed to events outside its borders than most other countries. As an island nation the most basic raw materials must be imported, raising costs. Exports to Britain, Europe and beyond have to be expensively transported, raising costs. Any change in the value of the Sterling and US Dollar currencies can lay waste to the best laid of export plans in the space of a few hours, again raising costs.

Even bad weather can effect the Irish economy, especially domestic spending, further depressing a beaten-down population who retreat to their ‘mortgaged to the hilt’ apartments in semi-derelict half-built housing estates to ponder the future – ‘I wonder if Australia is still looking for electricians?’.

Maybe this is the bottom of the trough?

Domestic spending looks to be improving now that the Property Tax shock is pretty much out of the way. Anecdotal evidence of a recovery in both the construction market and the property market have been borne out by recent numbers. Major road projects are being undertaken for the first time since the economic crash in 2008, a sure sign that things are about to improve. The South County Dublin section of the Dublin property market has actually seen a 12% increase in prices in the first 6 months of 2013 according to Irish property website Daft.ie, with an overall rise of 5.3% in Dublin prices over the last year.

Hot stuff. And even the weather has improved!

So despite the economic woes there does appear to be grounds for optimism. This is year five of the greatest economic crash in the history of the country. Being well positioned to catch a ride on the global economic upturn that will inevitably come must surely be the current Government’s major priority, as well as its best bet for being re-elected.

by Michael Green
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Irish Tourists Arrested for Watching a Game of Bingo in Portugal

The desire to stamp out illegal gambling in Portugal seems to have taken a bizarre turn. A group of 28 British and Irish tourists were arrested by Portuguese police for being in a bar where a game of bingo was taking place.

Irish Tourists were among those arrested for playing Bingo in Portugal

Under Portuguese law any gambling, even bingo, needs to have an appropriate licence. The first game of bingo had concluded when the police swooped on the bar, arresting those present, regardless of whether or not they were actually participating in the game.

The owner of the Yorkshire Tavern is Marianne Pittaway:
“It is crazy, an absolute joke. We were playing bingo for biscuits, chocolate and some alcoholic drinks. There was no money exchanged apart from paying for the ticket. The money we make pays for prizes.

Everyone in the bar who was playing bingo was handed a 300 Euro fine plus a three-month suspended sentence. Those who were in the bar but not playing were given a 150 Euro fine plus a three-month suspended sentence. I was given a €700 fine and a four-month suspended sentence and [partner] António was given a 500 Euro fine and a four-month suspended sentence.”

The incident has the potential to be a public relations disaster for the Portuguese tourist industry. While it is reasonable of course for the Portuguese to enforce their laws it is perhaps counter-productive of them to target holiday-makers for such a minor infraction, especially as these are the same tourists who are bringing much needed finance into the local economy.

Portugal is in receipt of 78 Billion Euro EU/IMF/ECB loans following the collapse of its property market. Unemployment in Portugal in the first quarter of 2013 was 17.7%, as reported by the Instituto Nacional de Estatistica.

Scaring tourists away is hardly going to help that number.

by Michael Green
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Vested Interests Attempt To Scupper Alcohol Advertising Ban

The ongoing attempts to reduce the amount of alcohol consumption in Ireland have been met with predictable opposition from those with most to lose.

Irish sporting associations receive alcohol sponsorhip

The head of Diageo in Ireland, who own the Guinness brand, has warned that a ban on sports sponsorship in Ireland could lead to a reduction in its future investment in the country. The thinly veiled threat is aimed squarely at the Government who are attempting to ban sponsorship by alcohol companies at all Irish sporting events. The plan is to phase out all sponsorship links between high-profile sporting events and alcohol brands by the year 2020.

The Gaelic Athletic Association and Irish Rugby benefit greatly from sponsorship by Guinness and Heineken respectively. It is inevitable that the ban of this sponsorship will mean less money for these huge sports. Nevertheless the Government seem determined to press ahead with the ban, realizing the devastating effect that alcohol consumption can have on young lives. The cost to the Irish taxpayer in dealing with health-care and crime issues from those abusing alcohol costs the State at least 3.7 Billion Euro annually. (* note 1)

A recent report by the Health Research Board has found that 58% of Irish people believe the Government is not doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption while 85% of Irish people believe that the current level of alcohol consumption in Ireland is far too high. Average alcohol consumption in the year 2010 was 145% higher than the average amount consumed in the year 1960, a startling increase.

Recent initiatives (and the recession) have helped to curb some of these excesses. A CSO report indicates that alcohol consumption in Ireland is actually down 19% since 2001.

Speaking at the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) Committee on Transport and Communications Pat Hickey, the President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, lambasted the drinks industry:

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.

John Treacy is Chief Executive of the Irish Sports Council and won a Silver medal in the Marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. He offered a different angle, suggesting that any ban would force the very best of Irish rugby players to ply their trade abroad, in much the same way that the best Irish soccer players work in England.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland also had their say to the Committee arguing that any ban would not address alcohol misuse. A spokesperson remarking:

Evidence shows that the principal influencers on youth drinking are parents and peers.
Alcohol consumption in Ireland has a huge cost
It should not be a real surprise then that those sporting bodies who receive sponsorship from alcohol companies would oppose any ban. It would mean that they would have to find new sponsors.

But perhaps the real question that is not being asked is just why the alcohol companies engage in such advertising? The answer is obvious if unspoken. It is clear that they hugely benefit from their sponsorship and especially benefit in attracting younger people to their brands, since it is to a large degree the younger generation who are most passionate about sport.

Younger people. The next generation of drinkers.

It is ironic that sporting agencies that are supposed to help further the health and well-being of young people are arguing for their efforts to be associated with Ireland’s biggest killer, alcohol. Of course they are most concerned about the next five years and about promoting sport in Ireland, which is admirable. But it is the next twenty-five years and the next fifty years that really should be the focus.

The links between pub-owners and politicians, especially in rural locations is hard to break. The financial contribution of the multi-national drinks companies is impossible to ignore. The Irish sports bodies are even arguing against a sponsorship ban.

Is it any wonder that there is such a huge alcohol problem in Ireland?

Meanwhile the Irish drinking binge goes on.

* note 1: See http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/alcohol-related-harm-facts-and-statistics/

by Michael Green
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Greedy Irish Politicians Revert to Type in Seanad Showdown

OPINION PIECE

The division between what is broadly termed ‘the establishment’ and the ordinary citizens of Ireland has rarely been more evident than in recent weeks.

Irish Seanad may be abolished

The current Government is committed to holding a referendum to provide for the abolition of the Seanad (one of the Irish houses of Parliament – pronounced ‘shan-idd’). The Seanad has very little real power and although it can delay the passage of legislation by up to three months it cannot ultimately stop laws being made by the main Irish Parliament.

It is an unelected body and thus has become a breeding ground for ‘wannabe’ politicians and as a means of rewarding cronyism and political favours. Several of the countries Universities get to nominate members of the Seanad also, a privelege they guard jealously.

It was in the run-up to the most recent General Election that Taoiseach Enda Kenny declared that he thought the Seanad should be abolished and that his Party were committed to holding a referendum and giving the Irish people the chance to have their say.

It is with a sense of despair then that the everyday Irish person has to witness the campaign being currently waged by members of the political, legal and academic elite in this country, and aided by a compliant media.

The promise to abolish the Seanad house was put forward at the precise moment when just about every institution in the country was a potential target. The country was bankrupt. It made no sense whatsoever to have a second Parliament house at a ridiculous cost.

With a population of just over 4.5 million the country is served by 166 directly elected T.D.’s and 60 Senators in the Seanad. Utter madness. Taoiseach Enda Kenny estimates the abolition of the Seanad could save 20 Million Euro annually:

Enda Kenny

‘There is something fundamentally wrong, in my view, in politicians asking others to change and make real sacrifices and not doing the same ourselves’

Against this backdrop it looked certain that the guillotine would fall. But perhaps unsurprisingly many politicians and members of the elite, and particularly those Senators who are most likely to lose out on huge pay and expenses, have reversed their position and are now seeking to have the Seanad reformed instead of abolished.

The ‘Save our Seanad’ campaign is in full flow:
‘It acts as a safeguard against the excesses of the main Parliament’ they say.
‘It has propelled some very fine people into public life’ they say.

Oversight of the behaviour of the Irish Parliament is provided by its own Committees, the News Media and ultimately by the Irish people who get to vote people out of office every 5 years if they so wish (often sooner). And as for training people for political life in the future? That is the job of the political parties, of debating societies and pubs everywhere.

The Seanad is an expensive talking shop populated by the unelectable, by cronies of political big-shots, by academics and poseurs. It is appalling to witness those who most benefit from its existence scratch around for every conceivable tactic and strategy to try to keep it going. The worst kind of money-grabbing. Legalized theft. Looting of what is left of the public finances.

Our money – the Irish peoples money – being used to line the pockets of a bunch of dilettantes.

The existence of the Seanad is contrary to the spirit of an Irish Republic and it should be abolished at the first opportunity.

by Michael Green
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Ireland Criticized by US Senator

The Irish tax system is under the microscope after US Senator Carl Levin called the country a ‘tax haven’ and this despite the fact that the US government does not officially class Ireland as one.

The Senator is clearly unhappy with the fact that Apple Inc, the computer technology company, is reported to only pay as little as 2% tax on its profits by registering its business in Ireland. By doing this the profits can be funnelled through Ireland and then on to an actual tax haven country, thus avoiding a big tax bill in the US.

It is clearly not unreasonable for the US Senate to be unhappy with this situation. Huge companies such as Google and Apple have for many years now avoided paying large amounts of tax in their homeland by the use of these schemes.

The Irish government are furious and have repeatedly denied that any special deal was provided for Apple. The standard rate of corporation tax in Ireland remains at 12.5%. Most of the foreign multinational companies based in Ireland are American and employ about 150,000 people in the country. The IDA (Industrial Development Authority) of Ireland intends to write to Senator Levin about his comments.

Barry O’Leary of the IDA:
Irish officials will definitely be clarifying and making sure he (Senator Levin) is up-to-date on exactly what happens in Ireland ……the description he used (tax haven), I dont think anybody else would.

His annoyance with the US Senator was echoed by Government Minister Pat Rabbitte:
If there were monies channelled through Ireland (by US multi-nationals) then that is a function of what is allowed by the American tax system.

It has been suggested that the US authorities could easily close off this tax arrangement by changing their own tax law. Putting the ball back in the US Senator’s court is unlikely to reduce the pressure that the Irish Government is under and not just from the US. Fellow EU countries, especially France and Germany, are also unhappy with Ireland’s 12.5% tax rate for corporations and have mad several attempts over the last few years to have the rate upped.

‘Quiet Man’ Pub Sold To Film Fan

The Irish country village pub made famous by the film ‘ The Quiet Man’ starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara has been sold to an English fan of the film.



The bar is located in Cong in County Mayo, deep in the heart of Connemara and is reported to have sold for close to the asking price of 300,000 euro (US$385,000). The bar is central to the famous fight scenes between Sean Thornton (John Wayne) and Squire ‘Red’ Will Danaher (Victor McLaghlen). The fight meandered its way through the local fields, into the town and back out into the streets again with the protagonists eventually succumbing to the drink they had take in the bar before falling home to be served their tea by Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara).

Sean Thornton: (loudly)
Woman of the house! I brought the brother home to supper!

Mary-Kate: (gently)
He’s kindly welcome.

Will Danaher: (meekly)
God bless all in this house.

Mary-Kate: (scolding)
WIPE YOUR FEET!



The film revolves around Sean Thornton who has returned to his homeland from America. His arrival causes quite a stir among the locals. He courts and eventually marries Mary-Kate Danaher but their marriage gets off to a rocky start when Thornton refuses to extract a dowry from his wife’s brother, entitled as she knew she was to it. Eventually a brawl erupts between Thornton and Danaher with a satisfactory outcome for all concerned.

The film has been criticized for parodying Irish country people and especially for its portrayal of stereo-typical Irish characters who seem to embody just about every cliche possible.

But it is precisely this characteristic that gives the film its charm and humour. Barry Fitzgerald as the local matchmaker is a constant source of amusement as he plots and schemes his way through the various village dramas.

Interest in the film has never abated. Guided tours of the Cong area are available to eager tourists who are shown the original locations where many of the movie scenes were shot. There is even a ‘Quiet Man Cottage Museum’ for those who really want to get into the experience.

At the time of John Ford’s film in 1952 the pub building was actually used as a shop but was re-opened as a pub in 2008. Now it has been sold again to another ‘outsider’ – hopefully he will have less trouble in the village than Sean Thornton did!

by Michael Green
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Looted Irish Treasure Recovered in Britain

A hoard of treasure including medieval silver coins, some military items and a Bronze-Age axe and spear-head that were looted from Ireland have been recovered and returned to the National Museum of Ireland.



The use of metal detectors in Ireland requires a licence. It is suspected that several people searched for and found the historical treasures between 2009 and 2012 and removed them illegally. Some 899 items were removed from the County Tipperary area, a location that was already in the news this year for the discovery of a 17th Century Pot of Gold Found in the Foundations of an Irish Pub. Some of the newly recovered coins date to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The bronze spear-head dates to between the years 1400 and 900 B.C. – some three millenia ago!

Doctor Kelly is the keeper of antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland:
The most striking part is probably the coin hoard. It includes 28 medieval coins that were all found together as well as 30 silver coins that are also medieval. There are coins dating from the reign of King John to Elizabeth I and from Georgian and Victorian times all of which suggests a range of finds were made.

The British Museum are believed to have reported internet messages about the illegal theft of the items to their Irish counterparts. With the assistance of the Norfolk Constabulary in the UK parts of the vast hoard were recovered and returned to Ireland.

Seamus Lynam is the Acting Director of the National Museum:
The recovery underlines the continuing threat posed to the portable archaeological heritage of Ireland by metal detectorists. Many items similar to those recovered have been offered for sale in recent times over the internet and are the subject of on-going investigations. The recovery shows the determination of the National Museum, the Gardaí and other State bodies to protect the nation’s heritage and demonstrates the ability to recover important heritage objects even when they have been illegally removed from the jurisdiction.

This episode highlights the difficulties faced by not just Irish but all National Museums in preserving their nations heritage. Without the assistance of the British Museum it is unlikely that the 899 items would ever have been returned to Ireland, where they can be studied and viewed by tens of thousands of people.

by Michael Green
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Divisions In Irish Government Over Abortion Laws

The Fine Gael and Labour Coalition Government are committed to implementing legislation on foot of the X-Case. This 1992 Irish Supreme Court case confirmed that a woman was entitled to an abortion in Ireland if her health was threatened. This included the risk to her health of suicide and it is this provision that is causing so much trouble for the Government.



Fine Gael are perhaps the most conservative of the larger political parties in Ireland with many of their T.D.’s (members of the Irish Parliament) being from rural districts. Some of their Dublin T.D’s are now also very concerned about the new legislation and it is clear that they will vote against the proposals.

The proposed legislation does not actually change the law of the country relating to abortion. Rather, it clarifies and formalizes the procedures that should be implemented when the medical profession encounter such difficult scenarios.

The impetus for the legislation was brought about by the tragic death of Savita Halapanavar who was denied an abortion and died from complications relating to a miscarriage she had while in the care of the Irish health-care system. It is clear that her life could have been saved had the medical profession had clearer instructions on how to act. Currently Doctors are having to interpret the legal position on an individual case-by-case basis and at their own risk.



It is proposed that the abortion legislation will provide a procedure whereby a suicidal woman can be legally given an abortion. This circumstance may occur for example where a woman or teenager is raped and becomes pregnant. The rebel Fine Gael T.D’s are concerned that this provision may be abused and lead to a situation of ‘abortion on demand’.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has so far ruled out a ‘free vote’ on the issue, whereby Party members would not be obliged to vote for the legislation with the possibility of being expelled from the Party if they did not. Fianna Fail may allow their own members to have a free vote which would certainly cause problems for Fine Gael if they did not follow suit. The Labour Party, Sinn Fein and most Independents will vote in favour of the measures so it seems that the new legislation is very likely to be passed and become law.

The difficulty for Fine Gael is just how much damage it will inflict on itself over this, perhaps the most divisive of all social issues.

by Michael Green
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Rip-Off-Ireland Shedding Its Expensive Image

The perception that Ireland had become a very expensive country – a rip-off Republic – emerged during the Celtic Tiger boom era of the 1990s and early part of the current century.


Photo From Free Public Domain Photographs

With near full employment (only 4% unemployment at the height of the prosperity – now unemployment is over 14%), staff could afford to pick and choose their jobs, pushing up prices, offering poor value, inflating business costs.

How things have changed. With the Tiger slain the economic crisis that nearly sank the country in 2008 and 2009 has seen earnings plummet, taxes spiral upwards while employment opportunities have disappeared. The result for the Tourist Sector of the Irish Economy has been predictable. Widescale closures of Hotels and Golf Courses throughout the country while the devastating reduction in the standard of living for employees has meant that jobs have become cherished, meaning better customer service and value.

A 2009 Bord Failte survey of visitors to Ireland revealed that as many as 41% of Tourists felt that holidaying in Ireland was too expensive. The most recent survey has seen this figure plummet to 17%.

So what is happening?

Well the first thing that can be said is that with the devastation in the Hotel sector those who remain standing are having to offer ever more enticing deals and room rates to their visitors. Where this has resulted in more people through the Hotel lobby the staff in the hotels are now required to offer better service, and cheaper too.

An increase in advertising by the Irish Tourist agencies with promotions such as ‘The Gathering’ have also helped to drive more visitors into Ireland, whose Dollars and Pounds are going further, a lot further than before. The Currency Exchange rate with the US Dollar has helped too. The Greenback has recovered from the 1.60 ceiling it nearly shattered last year to the 1.30 level it occupies today. It is clearly more affordable and a better overall experience to visit Ireland during its financial humbling.

Visitors from America seem to agree. The Bord Failte survey cited over 50% of visitors from the US as indicating that their visit ‘exceeded their expectations’.

Nothing like a bit of austerity to focus the minds of business owners and staff alike!

by Michael Green
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Gay Marriage Referendum Recommended For Ireland

The ‘Convention on the Constitution’ Committee that is meeting to recommend changes to the Irish Constitution has voted in favour of legalizing Gay Marriage in Ireland.



The Committee is comprised of 66 members of the Irish public, who were chosen by random, with 33 politicians from the various political parties and a chairman making up the 100 strong group. The Committee voted by a margin of 79 to 19 in favour of recommending the Constitution be changed to allow Gay Marriage. The Government is now obliged to have a Parliamentary debate on the subject within four months and to then set out a timescale for a Referendum.

The timing of this decision will certainly cause problems for Fine Gael. The main Party in Government is regarded as being more conservative than their rivals Fianna Fail and certainly more conservative than the left-wing Labour Party who are in Government coalition with Fine Gael. They are now faced with being perceived as the Party that quickly brought both the abortion issue and the Gay Marriage issue to the Irish public, many of whom would prefer to just leave these issues alone.

The decision to legislate for the X-Case on foot of the tragic death of Savita Halapanavar has put the abortion issue front and centre. Not all Fine Gael T.D’s (members of parliament) are at all happy with the proposed abortion legislation with many set to oppose the provision allowing for abortion in Ireland where there is a risk of suicide by the person seeking the abortion. Many Fine Gael T.D’s are concerned that this will amount to ‘abortion on demand’ and are not assuaged by the assurances that any such provision would be strictly policed.

By also putting the question of Gay Marriage to the Irish people there is a fear within Fine Gael that the Party may be seen to be acting too radically or liberally, and too quickly. Of course asking the question about Gay Marriage of the Irish citizenry does not automatically mean the Referendum will be passed. The Irish public has in the past demonstrated itself to be liberal in the opinion polls and conservative at the ballot box.

An example of his occurred in the 1995 Referendum to allow Divorce in Ireland. The measure was enacted by a margin of 50.28% to 49.73%, and this despite the fact that it looked as if the measure would easily pass in the opinion polls prior to the actual vote. A previous Referendum on the same subject in 1986 was rejected by the Irish people by 63% to 37%, thus preventing the introduction of divorce in the country and again when opinion polls indicated that the Referendum would be easily passed. (note 1)

Consequently those who are in favour of Gay Marriage in Ireland will certainly not be taking the result of any future Referendum for granted.

The Local and European elections that are due to be held in 2014 also complicate the matter for Fine Gael. They will certainly not want these mid-term elections to become a de-facto vote on their decision to hold a Referendum on Gay Marriage. They have enough to be concerned about with Fianna Fail surging in the opinion polls and their austerity policies attracting ever-increasing criticism.



The battle-lines are being drawn up already with the Labour Party delighted to have a policy that they can promote as one of their own. Party Leader Eamon Gilmore:

I believe myself that same-sex couples have the right to marry, I’m glad the Constitutional Convention has recommended that

It is possible that Fine Gael may delay any actual Referendum until the next term of Government, making it a General Election issue or they could reject the recommendation altogether which, for a somewhat conservative Party would be quite a radical move.

note 1: http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1277&context=djcil

by Michael Green
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