Sunday, 29 March 2009

Bad Luck Of The Irish...

Recession: the bad luck of the Irish...

It was once hailed as the best place to live in the world. Now it’s in the grip of a terrifying economic storm. Could Ireland be the first euro country to go bust?

In Ireland, the biggest funerals take place in the smallest churches. St Mochta’s, on Dublin’s western fringes, is little bigger than a front room. So many mourners turned up for the funeral of Patrick Rocca that they spilt out onto the pavement. Anyone who is anyone in modern Ireland was there, huddled together under a sky the colour of a day-old bruise.

Politicians, pop stars, billionaire developers, horsemen and the sporting elite. Even the paparazzi. Rocca would have liked that. The 42-year-old was the self-styled poster boy for the new, resurgent Ireland, with a glamorous wife, private planes and helicopters, and a property business worth, at its peak in 2007, €450m. But one morning in January, he snapped. The first sign that anything was wrong was when neighbours saw him walking round the garden of his €5m house in Holmeleigh, an exclusive residential enclave of Dublin, in pyjamas. When his wife, Annette, returned home just before 9am after taking the couple’s two sons to school, she found her husband dead in the hall. He had shot himself in the head with a shotgun. The morning papers revealed the value of his business had collapsed to as little as €14m, with debts of €18m.

Rocca’s funeral was not simply a wake for one man. To many, the bells that rang out as the hearse pulled away were a lament for a nation. The Celtic tiger that transformed a beer-soaked backwater into the envy of every small nation with a thirst for a makeover is dead, and its cubs are looking to emigrate because they see no future. The signs, big and small, are everywhere. One bank, Anglo Irish, the country’s third largest, has been nationalised, and the government is negotiating bail-outs for two more. Foreign firms, notably Dell computers, are shutting factories. The family china — Waterford Wedgwood — is being sold off. Guinness has put its plans to build a €1 billion “super-brewery” into cold storage. Crowds at the horse races are down 10% and on-course betting has dropped 18%. In the most remarkable reversal of economic fortune, Poland, whose workers flocked to Ireland in the go-go years, has started hosting job fairs to attract unemployed Irish workers to Warsaw. The ad slogan? “Come to the new Ireland.”

Paddies heading for Poland? Surely it can’t be that bad? Unfortunately, it can. If you think the British economy is a mess, spare a thought for the neighbours. Ireland had a bigger boom and is now suffering a bigger bust, with fewer resources to dig itself out of the hole. In his cramped, pamphlet-strewn office on the banks of the Liffey, Professor John FitzGerald, an economist at the Economic and Social Res-earch Institute and the son of the former taoiseach, Garret Fitz-Gerald, confirms that salaries are falling, house prices have slumped by a third, the stock market is at a 14-year low, and unemployment is set to hit 12% by the end of the year. Ireland recently became the first western European country to have its top-notch credit rating downgraded from stable to negative by the ratings agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. This year, the budget deficit will reach 10%, the highest in the EU, and the government concedes the economy will shrink by 6.5%, compared with 2-3% in the UK. “This is a dramatically bigger shock for Ireland than for the UK,” FitzGerald says.

Things are so bad that Nouriel Roubini, the New York banker nicknamed Dr Doom because he predicted the global crash, says Ireland could be the next country to go bust after Iceland. He points out that Ireland got richer faster than Iceland, in much the same way, and now has many of the same problems. “If a big institution in Ireland were in trouble,” he says, “the country does not have the resources to bail them out.” Government pledges to support the banking sector by honouring all the country’s bank deposits amount to 250% of annual economic output. Ministers acknowledge the risk. In the words of Brian Lenihan, finance minister, the eco-nomy has “fallen off a cliff”. Here, MPs are so worried about default that they are advising British savers to withdraw their money from Post Office accounts, whose savings scheme is run by the Bank of Ireland. This being Ire-land, there’s a joke about it all. “What’s the capital of Ireland?” they ask. “Oh, about 20 euros.”

Those who have lost their jobs are hardly laughing. Ciaran Costello’s voice betrays anguish bordering on physical pain when he tells a tale typical of Ireland’s boom and bust. He fed and rode the Celtic tiger. He got the job, accounts manager for a luxury housing developer; the house, a three-bedroom semi in Longford, west of Dublin; and the car, a Mercedes. But then the beast devoured him. Last autumn the developer went bust and he was laid off. He could not keep up payments on the house or the car and they were repossessed. Now back home with his parents, he has decided his best business plan is to leave, but he can’t follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and head for the US “because the arse has fallen out of the economy there, too”. Instead, he’s heading for Beijing. “I’ve got a friend there who is making good money as a driver, and he says he can set me up with something. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try Australia. Living here is like whistling in a graveyard.”

What makes Ireland’s fall particularly depressing — and, to men like Costello, bewildering — is that not so long ago the Emerald Isle was the best place to live in Europe. Officially. In 2004 The Economist declared that the country’s low-tax, high-growth economy, its high-quality education and natural beauty gave it an overall quality of life unmatched anywhere in the world. The country “combines the most desirable elements of the new, such as low unemployment… with the preservation of elements of the old, such as stable family and community life,” it said. The data certainly appeared to confirm that a threadbare land of saints and scholars had become the Singapore of Europe. There was record investment in farming and infrastructure. Low taxes and a skilled workforce were attracting foreign investment by high-tech manufacturers. Jobs were so plentiful that, for the first time in modern Irish history, more people were arriving in the country than leaving. The number of foreign workers rose from 1% of the population to over 12%, sending it towards levels last seen before the potato famine.

The boom changed much more than the economy: it transformed traditional Irish society, culture, even religion. John O’Keeffe saw the changes more clearly than most. He left Dublin in 1986 and worked for Swiss Bank Corporation and Barings in London before returning in 2000 to a country where only the rain seemed familiar. Sitting at the bar of the Residence private members’ club, O’Keeffe, now the editor of Irish Entrepreneur, says: “I left a godly land of broke but merry alcoholics and came back to a place where people who used to dig potatoes were buying luxury apartments sight-unseen and driving Porsches. It was worse than the 1980s boom that I lived through in London because it was so un-Irish, so the selfishness, the vulgarity seemed worse. There were more divorces. On a Sunday the shops were full with people who seemed to worship Versace in the way our grandmothers worshipped the Virgin Mary.”

Ireland was livin’ it large and lovin’ it. But there was one big problem: what began as a boom was becoming a binge, and the worst sort — a property binge. “We started well enough. Ireland needed to grow, to play catch-up with the rest of Europe, but we ended up putting all our eggs in one basket,” says John Gilligan, mayor of Limerick. “Then the basket broke.” The uncomfortable truth is that Ireland is an economic model, but not in the way The Economist reported. In recent years, it has become a case study of how a small nation should not handle new-found riches. To understand why, you need to know about Section 23 and about the Galway Tent. But first you have to go to Doheny & Nesbitt, a pub in Dublin, take a seat in one of the oak snugs and order a pint of the black stuff. It’s here that it all started.

Doheny & Nesbitt is around the corner from the main government ministries and Ireland’s leading banks. Every night, politicians, bankers, businessmen and the odd holy man turn up to drink. “It’s the kind of place where you bump into the finance minister in the gents,” says Ronan Lyons, chief economist at Ireland’s biggest property website,, who is a regular. Every night conversation turns to politics and business. In the late 1980s, with the euro promising currency stability, a clutch of economists, politicians and civil servants planted the philosophical seeds for the Irish economic miracle. What if, their beery musings went, Ireland slashed taxes, reduced import duties and embraced foreign investment; then adopted the euro, giving it access to a much bigger capital market and enabling it to enjoy increased investment from Brussels and low interest rates set by the European Central Bank (ECB); and finally threw in traditional advantages — cheap labour, the English language and GMT? In the new globalised market, surely this would create economic alchemy, turning the base metal of Irish productivity into pure (Kerry) gold?

The new economic model, known as the “Doheny & Nesbitt School”, soon became government policy. It brought huge benefits. Thanks to EU investment, so many new roads and railways were built that the wealthier residents of the north looked over the border in envy for the first time. Low taxes and low interest rates lured foreign multinationals, notably high-tech giants such as Intel and Google, pharmaceutical firms and financial-services outfits, which chose Ireland as a platform from which to operate in the eurozone. A new tax rule, Section 23, encouraged developers to build, by allowing them to offset construction costs against tax. With banks offering low-interest mortgages with no money down, Ireland’s construction industry exploded. Developers were so successful they became cultural figures, much like the hedge-fund and private-equity elite in London and New York. Come August, many were found hobnobbing with decision-makers in the Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races, a pint of Guinness in one hand and a champagne flute in the other.

There’s no doubt that the Doheny & Nesbitt strategy was the right policy, in the right place, at the right time. “We rode global trends perfectly for 15 years,” says Lyons. From 1987 to 2003, gross domestic product per person rose from 70% of the EU average to 136%, while unemployment sank to 4% from 17%. GDP growth regularly touched an astonishing 10% a year — three times the EU average. The number of euro millionaires rose a hundredfold. Ireland was transformed from one of the poorest countries in western Europe into the fourth richest country in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, wealthier than Britain or the US. Thanks to growing tax revenue, the government could increase its spending dramatically and still run a fiscal surplus. It was, it seemed, wealth built upon wealth.

But you can have too much of a good thing. By 2000, there were signs that the boom was not creating wealth, it was simply inflating a vast property bubble. When the economic analyst Dr Alan Ahearne arrived in Ireland shortly after the millennium after working for the US Federal Reserve, he was “profoundly shocked” by what he saw. Bank lending, mainly to developers and homeowners, was rising by 30% annually. Anglo Irish bank ended up lending an amount equivalent to twice the national debt. House prices, quadrupling every 10 years, were outpacing incomes and rents by more than five to one. Household debt as a percentage of GDP had jumped from 60% to almost 200%, the highest figure in the developed world. To put this into perspective, at the height of Britain’s real-estate boom, the property sector accounted for less than 10% of the economy. In Ireland the figure was almost 25%.

Commentators, notably FitzGerald, began war-ning that Ireland risked throwing away the gains of the Celtic tiger years. But ministers rejected calls to raise taxes to choke housing demand. Indeed, when the economy began to slow, in 2006, the government cut taxes, further inflating the bubble. Last September, when the banks imploded and lending stopped overnight, the value of assets plummeted and Ireland became the first country in the eurozone to sink into recession. The casualties? Such unlikely bedfellows as Warren Buffett, whose bank investments turned sour, and the Trainspotting author, Irvine Welsh, who could not sell his Dublin home.

Looking back, those who got caught up in the euphoria feel like fools. Gerald Kean is Ireland’s most high-profile solicitor. He represents Boyzone and is a star of Celebrity Bainisteoir, Ireland’s version of Celebrity Apprentice. His 50th birthday was a €100,000 Louis XV-themed party at the Ritz-Carlton in Dublin. Over a medium entrecĂ´te and a glass of his favourite Portuguese red at Dublin’s fashionable Dax restaurant, he says: “The Irish are welcoming people. Greed came knocking at our door. We welcomed it in, fed it, and let it stay. Then it started eating us up.” Who’s to blame? “We all are. The banks for lending too much. The regulator for not stopping them. Ministers for not pricking the bubble before it got too big. Consumers for believing the hype and not putting anything aside for a rainy day.”

Out of luck and lucre, could Ireland really go bust? On the streets of Limerick, it looks like it already has. Unemployment there is 14% and the town is about to suffer the loss of 2,000 direct jobs and perhaps a further 8,000 indirect posts following Dell’s decision to close its Raheen laptop factory and shift production to Poland, taking almost 4% of GDP with it. Hotels are closing and snazzy new homes lie empty. On Cruises Street, the main drag, every shop has a sale on, with discounts of up to 80%. In the worst estates, where unemployment is 70%, corner shops sell single cigarettes and single tea bags. Economists use the pyjama index to track poverty: they count the number of people walking around the street in their pyjamas because they see no point in getting dressed. Whole neighbourhoods are fighting chronic crime, drug abuse and the most violent gang warfare in Europe. Recently a man accused of not repaying debts to a local family saw his children doused in petrol and set on fire. They suffered dreadful burns but survived.

As he drives his ageing Ford Fiesta past shops advertising free false teeth repairs for new customers, Dr Stephen Kinsella, an economist who left New York for Limerick three years ago, says the town sums up the problem Ireland faces. “We’re confronting the perfect economic storm. We have the housing bust and liquidity problems other economies have, only ours are worse. At the same time, our traditional economic model — ‘We’re cheap, wages and tax are low, and we’re in the Euro’ — is collapsing.” He explains the housing boom pushed wages 20% above the European norm. Taxes, once low, are going to have to rise to pay off public debt. Even the currency is now a problem, with the strength of the euro making exports more expensive. Export trade is critical for the Irish economy because four-fifths of what it produces is sold abroad.

All the elements that fuelled the boom now seem to be deepening the bust. As a member of the eurozone, Ireland cannot devalue its currency, print money or cut interest rates, as Britain and America are doing. Instead of increasing spending to keep demand high, ministers are cutting public spending by €2 billion, about 1% of GDP, to reduce the €20 billion hole in the government’s finances — a move that will deepen the recession. Economists are worried. Simon John-son, the former chief economist of the IMF, points out that debt market investors now rank Ireland as the most troubled economy in Europe. He is urging the world’s leaders, who meet at the G20 summit in London this week, to come up with “a plan of action for Ireland. We need it and we need it now. Does the European Union come in to help? Is this a job for the IMF? And don’t tell me, ‘The Irish have to sort this out for themselves.’ Eventually, the world always comes to help; check your notes on Iceland”.

Irish ministers dismiss fears that Dublin is Reykjavik-on-Liffey. At a recent meeting with Gordon Brown in London, the finance minister Lenihan insisted that if the worst happened the EU would come to Ireland’s rescue. Iceland, he pointed out, was outside the EU. “The ECB has been a great support to the liquidity of the Irish banking system,” he said. But an EU bail-out is not guaranteed. The ECB hardly wants to be seen to be rewarding bad behaviour by helping a government that has run up a deficit over three times higher than the EU’s guideline of 3% of GDP.

Apart from cutting spending, the only room for manoeuvre that the taoiseach, Brian Cowen, has is in wage rates and taxes. He is forcing through wage cuts of around 10% in the bloated public sector that built up during the boom years when government and unions cemented a strong social partnership. He has pledged fresh spending cuts and tax hikes in an emergency budget next month. Cowen insists Ireland has no choice but to swallow a bitter pill. “We have to save billions. The political decision had to be made.” But he is ill-placed to sell acceptance of five years of austerity. Three out of four voters say his handling of the crisis has been poor and blame him for failing to do more to safeguard jobs at Waterford Wedgwood and Dell.

The anger on the streets is so great there’s a whiff of revolution in the air. Last month 120,000 people staged the biggest mass rally in 30 years to protest against pay cuts and job losses, and unions are threatening a “Doomsday” national strike if Cowen does not reverse his policy. One key difference between public reaction to the slump in Britain and Ireland is that, with Ireland part of the eurozone, anger is not directed at foreign workers — as it was in the recent dispute between British and Italian workers at a Lincolnshire oil refinery — but at the government. This makes unrest on a large scale more likely.

Even if Cowen’s medicine does somehow go down, where will the new jobs Ireland desperately needs come from? Irish people are good entrepreneurs — just not in Ireland. US boardrooms are full of Irish names. In Britain, there’s Tesco’s Terry Leahy, British Airways’ Willie Walsh, and Niall FitzGerald, Unilever’s former boss. Ryanair is the only home-grown Irish world-beater. “What Ireland needs now is to become a Ryanair economy,” says Kinsella. “We need to use the benefits of the boom — better education, better infrastructure — to find the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

“More Michael O’Learys? Jesus! One’s enough,” says the gobby boss of Ryanair, which has grown so fast it now carries twice as many passengers as BA. O’Leary’s office, on a drab industrial estate next to Dublin airport, scarcely looks like the future. It’s so spartan there’s no heating in the lavatories. But O’Leary is anything but gloomy. In fact, he’s so bullish about economic prospects that he has just ordered 300-400 new Boeing and Airbus aircraft at a cost of €100 billion. “This recession is fantastic. After 10 years of economic lunacy in this country, it’s absolutely necessary. Now we can start again and do things properly,” he says. “There’s never been more opportunity. Interest rates have never been lower. Oil is cheap. There’s no pressure on wages. This is the time when good businesses start up, grow and go out and gear up for the next five or six years of growth. We’ve got to just accept our losses, work harder and we’ll get there.”

As they eye the economic horizon nervously, what most people on the streets of Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Waterford are wondering is whether Ireland would have been better off without the boom? Was Ireland a foolish little nation that thought it had found a new way of getting rich but forgot to ask where the money was coming from? In spite of current woes, most say no.

Standing next to the vast steel spire on O’Connell Street, built on the site of the old Nelson’s Column blown up by the IRA as a defiant symbol of the new Ireland, Kean says the Celtic tiger “helped us to get over our inferiority complex and find a little much-needed swagger and self-belief. Our creativity increased and we made new friends abroad. We lost our farmers-cutting-peat image, got serious and joined the modern world. That won’t go away, however embarrassed we might be at how carried away we got”.

With a knowing smile, he recalls the excesses of the boom. “I’ll never forget the day I went to this big house in Dublin and the lady of the house said there had been a leak in the roof. Then she said, ‘It came through into the maid’s room, then the master bedroom, then the drawing room, then the cinema, then the games room, then the wine cellar, then the second garage, then the gymna-sium and into the panic room.’ People were living in houses that should have been in Beverly Hills, not the Dublin Hills, and with prices to match. We thought we were better than anyone, better than California, better than Sheikh Mohammed.

We’ll tell our grandchildren all about it and you know what?” He pauses and grins. “They’ll think we’re telling fairy stories.”

Report by John Arlidge - UK Sunday Times

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Doom Gloom Nation...

We are a nation of brooding pessimists, research finds...

MAYBE IT’S our gloomy weather, 800 years of colonial oppression, or just listening to George Lee for too long.

Whichever, it is official: we’re a nation of brooding pessimists.

New international research shows Irish people have the darkest outlook on the economy and believe the current crisis will last longer here than anywhere else.

That’s according to a poll of 19 countries on economic confidence. The Irish survey of almost 1,000 adults was undertaken by Behaviour Attitudes last month. A majority of Irish adults believe the situation is the worst it has ever been in their lifetime, while about half believe things will get worse in six months.

When asked about the inevitable upturn, it seems the Irish habit of finding a dark cloud in every silver lining continues: most feel it will last well beyond two years.

In contrast, people in the US are positively upbeat, with a majority expecting their personal circumstances will improve over the next six months. Even the Russians, not known for their sunny disposition, are more optimistic on this front than the Irish.

In most polls you can expect the odd discordant voice, someone who for reasons of bias, ignorance or just pure devilment takes an opposing view from the majority. Not this one. How many people feel the economy in Ireland is getting stronger, or even a little stronger? Zero per cent.

Despite the overwhelming sense of gloom at home, we seem a little reluctant to change our spending ways. We’re less likely than other countries to cut back on food or clothing, and we’re less likely to work longer hours to make up for lost income. Irish people are making some sacrifices, though. When asked – theoretically – what would be the first thing you would cut back on, holidays topped the list.

The extent of the national depression is likely to take many by surprise. It seems like only a few short months ago we were the most optimistic people in the world, living for the moment, seeing a sun-lit upland where others only saw gloom and privation. All that has changed.

There is one reassuring constant, though: the Government is always to blame. In fact, people are more likely to blame the Government for the economic crisis than either the banks, financial institutions, the Central Bank or the culture of corporate greed combined.

Some 39 per cent in Ireland blame the Government, compared with just 5 per cent in Germany.

But even in these parlous times, it’s good to see someone has a sense of humour. When asked about the Government’s response to the crisis, 1 per cent said it was doing “too much”.

Report by CARL O'BRIEN - Irish Times.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Cheapest Apartments In Dublin...

Are these the cheapest apartments in Dublin?

€159,000 price tag on these apartments in D15 set a new benchmark for starter homes in the city...

CAPEL Developments is billing the one-bedroom apartments at its new Waterways scheme in Ashtown, Dublin 15, as the cheapest in the city. Priced at €159,000, the apartments in the canalside scheme are 35 per cent cheaper than when the first phase of the large development was launched by Capel back in 2005.

In 2006, one-beds at the scheme were priced around €300,000, 47 per cent more expensive than today’s price.

In a bid to clear overhanging stock, Capel Developments is offering deep discounts and now claims to be offering the cheapest one-bed apartments in the capital.

The €159,000 one-bed units have 47–50sq m (505–543sq ft) of space. Also on sale from this weekend through Savills are 73–80sq m (790–860sq ft) two-bed apartments which are priced from €248,000.

Three-bed top floor apartments have 85–105sq m (918–1,135sq ft) and are priced from €279,000.

Capel is not the only company facing up to severe price cuts. Right across the city developers are reducing prices wholesale, particularly in high density schemes that have been finished but largely unoccupied for many months.

In the cases of many large long-running schemes apartments are now cheaper than when they were first launched in 2005.

P Elliot is selling apartments at the Arena, Tallaght from €169,000. When the scheme first launched back in October 2005, one-beds started at €235,000.

Meanwhile, Castlethorn has reduced prices at its showpiece scheme in Adamstown where one-beds are now €195,000, down from €280,000.

In Herberton, a development that replaces the old Fatima Mansions housing scheme in Dublin 8, one-beds were €295,000; now they cost €165,000.

At Crosbies Yard, a development by Harry Crosbie in the docklands, one-beds are now being offered at €189,000, down from €270,000.

Capel was the first developer to break ranks at the end of 2007 when it publicly advertised a price cut of €100,000 off the price of apartments at The Crescent, which also forms part of the Ashtown site.

The move proved quite successful for the developer, securing over 60 sales and forcing other developers to follow suit.

Since then the economic outlook has deteriorated significantly, leaving big developers such as Capel with even more unsold stock on their hands. Capel is hoping that this, the second significant price drop, will attract buyers who have been waiting for prices to bottom out.

The Waterways forms part of Capel Developments’s scheme in Ashtown, the new residential area taking shape beside Ashtown train station in north-west Dublin. So far, 300 of Capel’s units have been sold and there are 120 homes left to be sold.

The overall district is being developed by a number of companies, including Capel Developments, Ballymore and Castlethorn Construction. When finished, it will have some 4,000 new homes.

The Waterways has a great location in the overall scheme. It is close to the commercial hub and train station and overlooks the Royal Canal.

In a bid to attract buyers, Capel has also upped the spec on communal areas and apartment finish. The bulk of apartments in this release are south-facing with large balconies or terraces facing onto the the canal. All units have decent walk-in storage rooms and bathrooms have chic sanitary wear, full tiling and large mirrors.

Three show units will be open this weekend to give potential buyers a flavour of what is on offer. Going with a retro theme, each show apartment is decked out in the style of the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s. Interior designer Liz LaCumber has used original furniture, accessories and artwork from these decades to achieve this look. All units have a designated underground car-parking space. Maintenance fees are from €1,325 to €1,725 a year, but owners have to pay an extra €100 a year service charge for parking spaces.


Saturday, 14 March 2009

Forget The Blues Go Green...

St Patrick's Day revellers paint the town green...

IT is the time of year again to don green garb, tune your fiddle and dance a merry jig. St Patrick's Day is upon us, and never mind if you aren't Irish.

Don't think it's only Australians who go slightly mad in their celebrations. Practically the whole world claims Irish ancestry on March 17, all in the name of a good party. Besides, St Patrick himself wasn't Irish.

What is St Patrick's Day?

You could do worse than celebrate St Patrick's Day in Ireland, although traditionally the holy day was marked only by church and charity functions. In Dublin, there's now a week-long festival that includes street performances, a fun fair, treasure hunts, exhibitions and fireworks.

In recent years celebrations have also been promoted in towns such as Cork, Limerick and Killarney.

And in Galway, a St Patrick's Day parade meanders through the narrow cobbled streets and the town is filled with pipe bands, performance artists and dancers.

Many shops close for the day and a carnival atmosphere reigns.

Across the water, celebrations in England have also become much more prominent in the past decade.

London has musical concerts and a parade featuring marching bands, sporting clubs and schoolkids.

Festival events are held in Trafalgar and Leicester squares.

Celebrations in Manchester are now reckoned to be the third largest in the world. Two full weeks are devoted to dance, music, art exhibitions, theatre and sport from the Emerald Isle.

However, if you really want to party on St Patrick's Day, it's the USA that sets the trend for green goings-on.

The day was first marked in America in 1737 with a public commemoration in Boston, and the tradition of the St Patrick's Day parade actually originated there.

Almost as old, the world's largest parade now takes place in New York City and draws more than a million spectators, many decked out in Irish soccer and rugby shirts. On a more serious religious note, Mass is celebrated at St Patrick's Cathedral in downtown Manhattan.

The third great Irish-American city, Chicago, also has a noted parade that includes more than 20 bands and hundreds of Irish step dancers.

Chicago also dyes its river green to mark the occasion.

St Patrick's Day is celebrated all across the USA. In Seattle, there's an entire Irish Week and the parade route is ceremonially painted with a green stripe down the centre of Fourth Avenue.

Other events are held in the smallest of towns, especially if they have an Irish name, such as Dublin (Ohio) and Dublin (California).

Free party buses tour from one Irish pub to another Great day: Traditional Irish dancing (opposite page); 'tis your man himself; three colleens in Sydney; street parade in Dublin; a young boy watches the celebrations in Galway; and an American marching band visits Dublin

In the Missouri town of St Patrick, which claims to be the only place in the world named after the saint, the post office stamps letters with a shamrock. And in Shamrock (Texas), celebrations include a Miss Irish Rose competition.

North of the border, Vancouver hosts an entire CelticFest, with more than 60 performances at outdoor stages across the city. Gaelic football matches, a food fair, Irish film festival and Celtic music are also part of the entertainment, while a parade of floats and bands winds along West Georgia Street in the city centre.

In New Zealand, 20 per cent of the population claim some Irish blood.

Auckland hosts an annual St Patrick's Festival along Queen Street that includes music, dancing, and plenty of drinking in its official festival pubs.

Free party buses tour from one Irish pub to another, so revellers don't have to stagger up the street.

But if you assume you have to be in an English-speaking country of Irish ancestry to enjoy a knees-up on March 17, think again. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for merrymaking all around the globe.

In Paris there's a Celtic Night at the Stade de France, where singers, dancers and musicians from Ireland, Scotland and Brittany perform on four stages.

Mass is held at the Irish Cultural Centre and is followed by music recitals and whiskey-tastings.

In the Dutch capital of The Hague, the Irish Club puts on a festival featuring performers flown in from Ireland.

In Moscow, there's a week-long jamboree of Irish food, dancing and concerts, with Russian marching bands and Cossacks on horseback thrown in for good measure.

Oslo hosts a lively parade of dancers, musicians and characters in Irish costume. It heads through shopping streets, past the cathedral and town hall and culminates with evening celebrations in the Norwegian capital's Irish pubs.

Some venues for St Patrick's Day are even more surprising than Norway: the occasion is marked from Brazil to South Africa.

Even Kampala in Uganda has sporting events on the day that pit Ireland against the "Rest of the World" in soccer and Gaelic football.

The sole Irish pub, Bubbles O'Leary, sadly has no beer on tap (only Guinness in bottles), but visitors can enjoy traditional Irish music.

Even Asia turns a little green. In Seoul, they've inaugurated an Irish hurling match, after which bewildered Koreans sit down to whiskey tastings and Irish breakfasts. There is also the inevitable parade and evening performances of Irish plays.

And in Tokyo, a St Patrick's Day parade has been heading down Omote Sando for more than a decade. Participants include members of the Tokyo Irish Setter Club and a US Army band: proof that St Patrick's appeal is indeed universal.

Incidentally, the only other place in the world apart from Ireland that gets a public holiday on St Patrick's Day is the island of Montserrat, a tiny British territory in the Caribbean.

It was settled by large numbers of Irish immigrants. Names such as Murphy and O'Malley are common.

The week-long celebrations there include guided mountain hikes, calypso competitions, church services and masked street dancers. Banjos and steel drums compete with bagpipes to outdo each other. Even the Caribbean, it seems, is Irish for a day.

Report by Brian Johnston -

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Irish Emigration Is Back...

If you want to escape, it will cost you...

Not so long ago, emigrants were paid to go to Australia -- today, it could cost a few grand to get into Oz...beating the downturn...the hidden cost emigrating to find work.

WITH up to 300 jobs a day being lost in Ireland, anyone would be tempted to hop on a plane out of here. Although no country is likely to escape, Canada is expected to avoid the worst blows. Small wonder then that Canada is becoming a more popular place to emigrate to than in the past.

Other favourites include Australia and New Zealand. Although the US and Britain have their fair share of recession blues, the traditional links between both countries and Ireland continues to draw Irish emigrants there. However, the cost of emigrating could burn a deep hole in your pockets.


Home to the Rockies, the grizzly bear and the awkward moose, anyone emigrating to Canada certainly won't be hungry for the great outdoors -- but you could need almost €18,000 to enter the country. This is to prove that you have enough money to support yourself and your family.

Under the country's Federal Skilled Worker Programme, you must show that you have at least CA$10,833 (about €6,717) to support yourself in Canada unless you have a permanent job offer from a Canadian employer. This amount increases the more family members there are travelling with you -- if emigrating with one other family member, you must prove that you have $13,469 (€8,350) to support your move; $28,668 (€17,775) if emigrating with another six family members.

Unless you have a close relative living in Canada, one of the easiest ways to emigrate there is under its Federal Skilled Worker Programme. If you have an offer of permanent employment from a Canadian employer, you have a better chance of getting a visa under this scheme. Otherwise, you must have a least one year's experience in one of a number of occupations -- if you have worked in Ireland as a restaurant manager, geological engineer, chef, cook, plumber or crane operator for at least a year for example, you could qualify. It costs CA$550 (about €340) to apply for a 'skilled worker' visa if you are over 22; $150 (€93) if under 22. If your application for a visa is successful, you -- and any spouse or partner that accompanies you -- each must pay a 'Right of Permanent Residence Fee' of $490 (about €304). Children do not have to pay this fee.

If you have a doting granny or another relative living in Canada, you may be able to emigrate there under the Family Class scheme, where a visa costs between $475 (€294) and $550 (€340) if you are over 22. For more information, visit the Canadian government's immigration website at or contact the Canadian High Commission in London on 0044 2072586600 or at

Be sure you're following the right set of rules if going to Canada -- Quebec has its own immigration requirements. (Visit for more information.)


If you're over 30 (the age-limit for the one-year working holiday visa) don't kiss goodbye to your dreams of an Australian outback adventure just yet.

Under the General Skilled Migration programme, which suits people who cannot get sponsored by an Australian employer, you can move to Australia as long as you are under 45 and have experience in certain work, including architecture, accountancy, bricklaying, dentistry, engineering and secondary school teaching. At A$5,030 (€2,532) though, these visas don't come cheap. A working holiday visa only costs about €100. You may also have to cover the cost of health and police checks.

In response to the global recession, Australia recently tightened up its rules for immigrant visas. If you find it hard to get a visa under the Skilled Migration programme and have no qualms about living in the middle of nowhere, you may also be able to emigrate to Oz under the continent's regional migration programme -- these visas also cost $5,030.

Unlike Canada, you do not usually have to prove you have enough money to support yourself in Australia if moving there permanently. However, if visiting Australia under a temporary visa, you must have enough money to support your stay.

"There is no specific amount of money required for temporary entry as that is decided by the length and intention of stay," says Steve Davis, regional director for immigration with the Australian High Commission in London. "The purpose of this policy is to ensure that temporary entrants have the necessary resources available to fund their stay in Australia and their onward travel or return journey home."

For information, visit the Aussie government's immigration website on or contact the Australian High Commission on 0044 2078561563 or at


If emigrating to New Zealand under its skilled migrant scheme, your visa will set you back €731. You need to apply for the visa through the London branch of Immigration New Zealand. For information, call 0044 1344716199 or visit www.immigration.


With unemployment in the US at a 17-year high, job competition is bound to be stiff. But if you've decided to take your chances, remember you don't have to apply for an immigrant visa -- with a non-immigrant visa, you can move to the US and work there for a few years without becoming a US citizen.

The fee for a non-immigrant visa is €104. If applying for an immigration visa, the processing fee varies depending on the type of visa -- a standard visa costs €282. For information, visit the website of the US Department of Homeland Security ( or call the American Embassy in Dublin on (01) 6688777 or click


Last January, Britain went into recession for the first time since 1991. However, Britain -- along with the US and Australia -- continues to be one of the key destinations chosen by Irish emigrants, according to Joe O'Brien, policy officer with Crosscare Migrant Project.

You don't need a visa to emigrate to Britain but it's wise to bring the price of your return flight should it not work out for you over there. Crosscare advises anyone heading to Britain to apply for their national insurance number before looking for a job. This number -- which you give to your employer when you start work -- ensures that the national insurance contributions and tax you pay in Britain are properly recorded, which in turn means you will get any state benefits you are entitled to.


If you emigrate to another country, you could end up paying less tax than you paid in Ireland, depending on how much you earn and where you move to.

In Canada, you usually pay 15 per cent federal tax on the first CA$38,832 you earn, 22 per cent on income between $38,832 and $77,664, 26 per cent on earnings between $77,664 and $126,264 and 29 per cent on income over $126,264. You also usually have to pay provincial tax, depending on which province you live in.

In Australia, you usually pay 15¢ tax on each A$1 earned between $6,001 and $34,000. If you earn between $34,001 and $80,000, you pay $4,200 tax plus 30¢ for each $1 over $34,000; if you earn between $80,001 and $180,000, you pay $18,000 tax plus 40¢ for each $1 over $80,000; if you earn more than $180,001, you pay $58,000 plus 45¢ for each $1 over $180,000. If you pay tax as a non-resident of Australia, the tax rates are different.

In New Zealand, the lowest rate of tax is 13.9 per cent on earnings up to NZ$14,000. If you earn $70,000 or more, you pay tax at the higher 40.4 per cent rate.

In the US, you usually pay between 10 and 35 per cent tax, depending on how much you earn and whether you are single or married. In Britain, you usually pay 20 per cent tax on income up to stg£34,800; 40 per cent on income over stg£34,800. You may also have to pay water and other local authority charges.


If you emigrate, you could lose your social insurance benefits -- such as 'free' dental care and entitlement to state pensions and maternity leave -- in Ireland.

If you emigrate to Switzerland or the European Economic Area (which includes the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) and you worked and paid social insurance contributions there, you may still qualify for social insurance in Ireland when you return, so long as you pay at least one PRSI contribution after you return.

If you are temporarily transferred by your employer to work in Australia, Canada, Quebec, the US or New Zealand, you may be able to pay Irish social insurance contributions (rather than contributions to the country you have emigrated to) and this would ensure you don't lose your Irish benefits.

For info on how you can continue your contributions while abroad, call the PRSI Special Collection Section on (051) 356012.

Report by Louise McBride - Irish Independent.

Are you thinking of moving to New Zealand? Click here for important info!


Wednesday, 4 March 2009

April Fool's Budget...

All set for an April Fool's Budget, but the joke is on us...

IT'S a bit like throwing water into a bucket of sand. No matter how many fistfuls of euros the Government fling into the financial black hole, it just keeps on getting bigger, deeper and darker.

No-one was expecting the Exchequer returns for the first two months of this year to make pleasant reading, but the sheer speed at which the country is sliding further into the red is nothing short of hair-raising.

In the same two months last year, when few people had a clue that the Celtic Tiger had been placed on the endangered species list, the Exchequer posted a Budget deficit of €125m.

What a trifle that is, a mere bagatelle compared to frightful figures unleashed yesterday which revealed that the Budget deficit for the first two months of this year stands at €2bn. The economy is staggering all over the place like a drunken sailor, and nobody seems to know how to straighten it out.

The Exchequer figures were due to be released during Leader's Questions yesterday afternoon, and both Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore were rushing to get a hold of them.

And Enda was on high alert after the Government had added an amendment to a private motion put forward by his party relating to the necessity of a new Budget.

"Part of that Government amendment states, 'notes the Government decision today to announce further necessary measures by the end of this month to ensure the stabilisation and sustainability of the public finances'. What are these measures? What decisions were taken by the Cabinet today?", demanded Enda wearing the wary expression of a man who was smelling a large rat.

The Taoiseach rose to his feet. The forthcoming figures, he informed the tense House, were "disappointing".

No, Taoiseach. Brad Pitt's new film is 'disappointing'. Ronan O'Gara's kicking in Croke Park last weekend was 'disappointing'. A €2bn hole opening up in the public coffers -- a scant nine weeks into the year -- is more akin to adjectives such as catastrophic or calamitous.

"It is clear that tax revenues in 2009 are under pressure," Brian added with breath- taking understatement. He then offered a set of figures. "The end of February returns reveal a figure of €5.759bn as opposed to €7.562bn for the same month last year," he explained grimly.

It was one, slightly circuitous way of breaking the bad news. It sent everyone scurrying for pencils and paper to do their sums.

Understandably, Enda didn't realise that Brian had actually coughed up the horrendous deficit. "I would have expected the Taoiseach to provide the figures to be published in a few minutes time," he said disappointedly.

But Enda moved on, and tried to convey to the Government benches what he felt was at the heart of the problem.

"It is the duty of the Taoiseach to set out the economic landscape for the next three to five years. That landscape is bleak at the moment and, therefore, people have no confidence to invest or to spend. That is what is causing the crisis of confidence in people's personal and business lives. It is the responsibility of the Taoiseach to deal with that," he urged an unimpressed Taoiseach.

Brian tried to make himself more clear. "I have given the figure," he pointed out. "It seems there could be a shortfall in revenues of between €2.5bn and €3bn based on those figures if the profile were to continue for the remainder of the year," he said flatly.

There was silence on all sides of the chamber. No heckling from Fine Gael, no verbal punches thrown by Noel 'Jack' Dempsey in the Government's corner. Everyone realised that this made a new Budget inescapable.

This was all-but confirmed by the Taoiseach minutes later. He had already dropped a hint about "a combination of tax increases and expenditure savings" being put in place.

"We have made the decision that we will take whatever adjustments are necessary to meet the emerging deficit for this year's figures by the end of this month," he announced doggedly. "That is what the Government intends to do and we are indicating that we will make decisions at the end of this month".

So that's it. Twenty-seven more days before axes are taken to pay packets and public spending is slashed. Twenty-seven more days before Brian Lenihan makes like Freddie Kruger.

This most likely won't be a mini-Budget, a snip here and a tweak there. This will probably be a full-on Lenten Budget in which everyone gets a hairshirt for Easter. This is an Emergency Budget in the sense that the Second World War was euphemistically referred to in Ireland as the 'Emergency'

If it was Ash Wednesday last week, then it was Ashen Tuesday yesterday.

Global stock markets were up in a heap again, the tax returns were dreadful, and there is more bad news on the way today with the latest jobless figures due for release.

Just to add another note of grim humour, the Lenten Budget could very well be unveiled on April 1.

It would be nice to think that the Government could then pop up and say 'April Fools y'all! The banks are actually grand, and the hole in the finances is just a vanishing trick!".

Alas, it's all too real. And the joke is on us.

Report by LISE HAND - Irish Independent.

Home Repossessions Record Increase...

Record increase in families fighting to save home...

REPOSSESSION orders sought by banks and mortgage lenders soared by more than 100pc last year in the wake of the downturn.

According to figures complied by the Courts Service, 758 new applications for possession orders were brought to the High Court in 2008 -- compared to 374 the previous year.

The increase is the largest ever recorded by the courts and points to aggressive tactics deployed by some lenders to recover their debts.

Many of the applications were from subprime lenders, such as Start Mortgages, but there were also from major banks such as AIB and Bank of Ireland.

In the past six months of 2008 the High Court received 505 applications -- compared with 253 at the start of the year.

However it was the final quarter of last year, when the country was hit by massive job losses, which saw applications gain momentum.

Between October and December 294 applications were brought by lenders -- compared to just 96 during the same period in 2007.

The big increase in applications led to a total of 238 properties actually being taken away from their owners by financial institutions who were granted repossession orders -- the highest number of repossessions in four years.


The figures come as thousands of people struggle to meet mortgage repayments in light of an increase in unemployment -- which is set to hit more than 400,000 by the end of this year.

Recently the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, warned an "avalanche" of home repossession cases was anticipated for the courts in light of what he described as a recession of 'historic proportions'.

A county-by-county analysis of the orders granted show Dublin was the worst hit, with 53 repossession orders -- 35 on residential properties.

This was followed by Cork, which saw 21 repossession orders granted -- 11 on residential properties.

Last night Michael Culloty of the Money and Advice Service (MABS) said people facing home repossession were feeling isolated and desperate.

And he said one in three callers to the organisation were seeking help after falling behind their mortgage repayments.

"We have seen an increase in people coming to us to cannot met their mortgage payments. We are urging people to negotiate an affordable medium term agreement if they are falling into difficulty."

Report by Patricia McDonagh - Irish Independent.