Sunday, 30 August 2009
Michael O'Leary might be an obnoxious prat, but you have to give him credit for his hard neck. When Michael is trying to put one over he just looks you right in the eye and delivers his baloney with a wink and a smile. Perhaps experience has taught him that few are immune to his brand of leprechaun charm.
"Hey, begob, sure 'tis only me, Mickey O -- pulling another fast one on ye, so I am!"
If we're going to be smothered in bullshit in the weeks to come (and we are, dear reader, we bloody are), at least O'Leary's variety provides a degree of entertainment -- and we'll get to Mick's bullshit in a moment.
There's a blizzard of the stuff headed our way, the intent being to leave us overwhelmed, jaded and ready to obediently swallow not one but two bitter pills prescribed by Mr Cowen's government.
Nama is the bigger of the bitter pills -- it's approximately the size of a grand piano -- a massive transfer of wealth from the citizens to the bank bondholders and shareholders who backed the wrong horse.
The second bitter pill is the re-run of the Lisbon Treaty. (It seems that when we voted last year we didn't understand that the 'No' box was on the voting paper purely for decorative purposes.)
We'll give Nama a rest here this week -- and the substance of the Lisbon Treaty debate is another day's work.
What's remarkable is the cynical nature of the establishment campaigns to get us to swallow both. Basically, the strategy is to tell us that Serious People have decided what's best for us and the world will fall down around our ears unless we do as we're told.
It would be more impressive if the establishment hadn't so recently made such a pig's mickey of the country. Not just politicians, but the senior civil service, bankers, speculators, big bonus business chiefs, regulators, economists and those who style themselves the leaders of "civic society". They were all equally dismissive, and abusive, of anyone who questioned the Celtic Tiger nonsense.
Today, for some reason, we must accept that they are Serious People, qualified to tell us what's best for us.
The Government assumed they'd get Nama through very easily because it involves complex financial concepts. Luckily, some academic economists took seriously their duty to examine and explain the process to civilians.
The politicians have so far stood back from the Lisbon campaign. Instead, the "leaders of civic society" have taken the burden.
There's been an allegedly spontaneous eruption of pro-Lisbon outfits. Ireland for Europe, Generation Yes, We Belong, Women for Europe and Lawyers for Europe. These are liberally sprinkled with distant-from-Cowen type politicians (Pat Cox and the like), would-be politicians and the handmaidens of the establishment.
They have a case to make for the treaty, but they don't make it. Instead, the Serious People tell us what they see as unquestionable truths. 1: This is a changed treaty. 2: This is about whether or not Ireland stays in the EU. And 3: The 'No' side are liars.
In fact, the treaty remains precisely the same, though it has been festooned with colourful pledges by politicians, the significance of which could be (but won't be) argued.
The tactic of claiming that this is about being pro or anti EU is tricky. Membership of the EU is clearly not an issue. The 'Yes' side swerves around this by inventing something called "the heart of Europe". Vote 'No' and we'll be ejected from "the heart of Europe".
More subtly, the issue is posed as whether we're "for" Europe. All but one of the "civic society" outfits has that deception in its title. They either want us to "belong" in Europe or vote "for Europe". The manipulative deceit is in the notion that to oppose the treaty is to be against Europe.
The perpetually uncivil Michael O'Leary is one of the civic leaders calling for a 'Yes' vote.
Last week, he decried the "headbangers" who oppose the treaty, and promised to spend half a million euro of Ryanair money on a 'Yes' campaign.
Why? Well, perhaps because Michael is a man who has clashed with EU bureaucrats (something similar could be said of Intel, also spending hundreds of thousands on a 'Yes' campaign). If, for instance, the issue of a Ryanair takeover of Aer Lingus was to -- ah, but Mick would never be so calculating.
Oddly enough, last October O'Leary told the Sunday Business Post that there should be no re-run of the referendum.
''It seems that only in the European Union, Ireland and Zimbabwe are you forced to vote twice," O'Leary said. ''The vote should be respected. It is the only democratic thing to do," he said.
So, O'Leary is now spending half a million to overturn a vote he said should be respected -- knowing that the re-run is an undemocratic contrivance.
Why? Well, I believe what he told Matt Cooper last week: "Everything we do is in the interests of Ryanair."
Much of the media is onside. And the Broadcasting Commission has decided that both sides of the issue don't have to be given equal time. This was never before applied to a campaign -- and the Commission says it will not be a precedent for future votes. It's just for Lisbon 2. Imagine that.
While an objective analysis would say there was at least exaggeration on both sides last time, the 'Yes' campaign states it as a fact that it stands for truth and the 'No' campaign stands for lies.
The Generation Yes website has a section entitled "Fight The Lies". Brigid Laffan, chair of Ireland for Europe, wants a "yellow and red card system" to stop lies.
It's scatty (who would be the ref, what would be the sanction?) but it boosts the fiction of truth tellers versus liars, Serious People versus headbangers.
Good marketing doesn't argue why you should buy a product -- it creates the impression that cool people favour the product, while only the uncool reject it.
How does Ms Laffan's outfit report the Michael O'Leary half million euro campaign? It takes its wording from an Irish Times report.
"Meanwhile", the original newspaper report said, legitimately adding on three paragraphs reporting that some trade union leaders see Lisbon as "a major advance for workers".
On its website, Ireland for Europe replaced the "Meanwhile" with "In response", and changed the report to make it appear the trade union leaders were saying that O'Leary's "announcement represented a major advance for workers".
All in this together, you see, union and fanatically anti-union, except for the "headbangers". (I'm not sure if this qualifies for a yellow card or a red.)
There's lots of low-quality bullshit on offer. Former Fianna Fail minister Frank Fahey was wheeled out on Friday to defend Nama. He claimed to be frightened that the Irish banks will "fall into foreign ownership" without Nama.
"And", said an outraged Frank, "look at what the foreign banks have done to this country!"
I'm still trying to figure that one out. The economic collapse was caused by foreign banks, apparently.
By contrast, last week, Michael O'Leary cleverly refused to tell Matt Cooper how he voted in the first Lisbon referendum. "Next question,'' he said, as though reluctant to admit something.
"Are you going to be one of those people who switched sides to the 'Yes' side?" Cooper asked.
Despite Cooper's pressure, O'Leary repeatedly insisted on his right to keep his 2008 vote private, creating an impression that he had studied the issue and changed his mind from 'No' to 'Yes'.
In fact, O'Leary voted 'Yes' last time -- at least, that's what he told the Business Post last October, when he had no qualms at all about revealing how he voted.
Now, that's quality bullshit.
Article by Gene Kerrigan - Sunday Independent
Saturday, 29 August 2009
THINGS ARE often studied only when they start to go wrong. The end of things is the moment when we start to understand them: and only when they are understood do we begin to realise what might be lost. For instance, sociology emerged as a discipline in that era when society was no longer felt to fit like a glove. Perhaps the fairly recent development of Irish Studies on campuses is less a cause for celebration than a warning: that the identities which it sponsored were, in effect, being codified before their possible eclipse.
Such fears have, of course assailed Irish people long before now. After the defeat at Kinsale, the poets of the 1600s proclaimed the collapse of Gaelic Ireland, but in lines of such throbbing vitality as to rebut that very thesis. A tradition lived on in the lament for its passing, and ever afterward the imagination of apocalypse became a major mode of Irish writing. In the cryptic words of Samuel Beckett: “Imagination dead. Imagine”. Beckett’s imagination was vivified by failure: it was success which he found difficult, as when he described his Nobel Prize of 1969 as a catastrophe.
Tiger Ireland, likewise, never fully evolved literary forms for coping with affluence. Only the more popular genres of so-called chick-lit and crime novel engaged sustainedly with the bright lights and shiny surfaces. Strictly literary artists continued to deal mainly with the past. The more that contemporary finance broke up old cultures, the more necessary its sponsors in New York and London found it to celebrate writers who could supply vivid accounts of what had been erased.
The appeal of Irish plays in New York was that their authors still knew how to tell a good story in colourful language. In London, many of the same plays permitted English audiences to address, at a safe remove, their own unresolved national question, through the years when the Cross of St George supplanted the Union Jack at sporting events.
The lure of national cultures and identities seemed to have been rediscovered after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Liberal democrats began to turn to the nation-state for projections of identity. Tony Judt, for one, constantly expressed the hope that the nation-state might act as a brake on the depredations of global capital.
Such hopes seem naive now. The current financial crisis shows just how ill-fitted are the legal and political frameworks of even powerful states to cope with predators. Yet each community seeks still to respond in a national way, regulating the degree of pain felt by its various groups, if not the behaviour of the ultimate authors of all the affliction.
It wasn’t meant to be like this. Through the second half of the last century, those who abandoned religious practice or nationalist pieties felt that they were getting something far more valuable and useful in return – individual freedom and material well-being.
Such a crisis has occurred before in Ireland, albeit in a far more devastating way – but against a similar backdrop in which many patterns of traditional wisdom had recently been surrendered. In the 1830s, Irish people made a desperate bargain with a modernising economy by giving up their native language and culture, only to find that modernity failed them.
“It was not until the Famine struck,” writes Seán de Freine, “that the active sociocultural edifice was revealed for the barren shell it had become”. The loss of Gaelic cultural codes, before they could be replaced by new ones, exposed a terrible vulnerability in the community, as marketeers carried the day.
BUT WASN’T IT ever thus – the Irish language about to vaporise, the Irish novel about to die, the Irish theatre on the verge of extinction? True enough – but the laments of a Douglas Hyde, a Sam Beckett or a WB Yeats were informed by a definite sense of what was to be mourned, of what was being lost. The elements that today might form a national culture are not so readily identifiable. The Irish language? Gone in most places by the 1860s. Traditional religion? In free fall since the 1970s. Political nationalism? Emphatically repudiated in the Belfast Agreement. Far from being addicted to so-called core values, our people are willing to jettison them once they seem no longer of immediate use.
WB Yeats believed in a sense of place, in a mythology that married people to rock and hill. So did the socialist Bernard Shaw, who said that “the men of Ireland are mortal, her hills eternal”. Well, after the despoliation of Tara, maybe not.
In a truly democratic society, the land itself together with the wisdom of the dead and the interests of the yet unborn, would be factored into all our judgements and debates. But the “present tensism” of policies with no import beyond the last or the next election prevents such awareness. So does the decision, taken in the 1990s, to reduce the emphasis on history in the national curriculum. A whole generation has since emerged with a diminished sense of the chronology of their own culture.
And without a clear sense of the past, younger people may lack a corresponding sense of the future, in whose name they might cope with current challenges.
Sometimes, when a people are about to surrender a culture, outsiders come to its rescue. It was TS Eliot, a young man from St Louis, Missouri, who saved English poetry in the 1920s, abetted ably by other outsiders like Pound and Yeats. In the previous generation, the English novel had been reconfigured by an American named James and a Pole named Conrad – as it would be by Joyce in the next decades. All cultures which survive strongly do so because they are open to injections of new life from without.
It would not, therefore, be altogether surprising if immigrant writers from Africa or Eastern Europe reopened a dialogue with Cúchulainn and Deirdre. They may well find inspiration and new meaning in these marginal figures, who exist still as buried memories of that landscape in which these newcomers are choosing to live. The model of what Eliot did in English in 1922 is clear enough: in The Waste Land he described a fallen, jaded city, emptied of serious human encounter, but by invoking The Fairie Queene and The Tempest , The Fisher King and Brahma, he showed how seemingly lost traditions could flow like tributaries back in to the present, resacralising the landscape.
The fate of our land – with fewer crops grown on it every year, but endless ranches being created in a mode of pastoralism – suggests a people who no longer feel married to rock and hill. What they want, at best, is a pleasant view of “scenery”. Land ownership seems more important than land use, in ways that would not be true in France, whose farmers still take pride in bringing their home-grown fruits and vegetables to local markets. The Famine robbed many Irish people of their trust in nature; and thereafter they lived as squatters, who had lost the self-belief of a rooted, earthed people. The writer John McGahern often said that the moment of apparent independence in 1921, far from signalling a revival of national life, was the moment when responsibility for managing the clearance of rural Ireland (which had begun with the Act of Union) was simply passed from one elite group to another.
In that wider context, de Valera’s radio broadcast of 1943 extolling rural values takes on an insurrectionary, anti-colonial intensity. But why did most artists and journalists treat his ideas with such hostility? The exclusion of intellectuals, under conditions of censorship, from the national project after the 1920s may be the real explanation. If they had been included, they might have further developed the Yeats/de Valera themes, as the Palestinian Edward Said did at Sligo in 1986, when he proclaimed Yeats the supreme poet of decolonisation and of a reclaimed national landscape.
The Irish State was solidly established, but the cultural domain, in whose name the whole separatist agitation had been mounted, remained largely marginal, even tokenistic. The family, named as the basis of society in the 1937 Constitution, often functioned as an alternative to the social itself. By the last century’s end, despite the growth of the State, there had been a further shrinkage of the cultural “public sphere”. By then, most people owned cars in which they hurried through streets from one private experience to another. Gated communities emerged on the edge of towns, in which domestic dwellings got much bigger. It was often left to immigrants to become the most enthusiastic users of streets, parks, beaches, galleries – as if Old Ireland were retreating into privatised space.
To understand what a huge reversal this represented, one has only to think of Ulysses , in which “street people” , far from constituting a problem, are seen as vital to a full civic life. In the free circulation of persons through all of Dublin’s streets, a young poet can confront his own inner strangeness by taking a late-night bread-roll and coffee with a Jewish ad-canvasser. By the 1990s such meetings seemed less and less likely. Even though the streets of Ireland contained many migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, the literature produced in Tiger Ireland (with some honourable exceptions) seemed largely incurious about the Other. Instead of attempting a total portrait of a city or society, writers tended to focus on this or that sub-group.
This was the period of the property bubble, when people dreamed of owning a house with a garden in which to stoke up a barbecue for a few friends. That was a dream of privacy without loneliness. “Ireland” was now a place you entered by an act of will, on a motor-trip to the Gaeltacht, a walk through a historical interpretative centre or, indeed, a visit to a pub (and pubs were shutting down every week to make way for luxury apartments).
SOME INTREPID souls tried to challenge these trends by abandoning life in crowded anonymous cities and returning to the land. The problem was that by the 1990s, rural Ireland had itself been suburbanised, by the motor-car, fridge-freezer (filled from the nearby town), and by the erection of buildings often at odds with the environment. The whole country, as Frank McDonald noted in this paper, seemed about to become one giant suburb: people joked that Connemara might be renamed Galway 4.
The effect of all this affluence was not individualism but a strange conformism, itself a further sign of lost cultural self-confidence. This took its cue from American “lifestyles” (toned, perma-tanned, bodies clad in designer labels), which for some buttressed “self-esteem” in the vacuum left by a loss of trust in long-term personal relationships. State-run agencies, from the national broadcaster to institutes of education, which had once promoted cultural traditions, now turned over the primary direction of their affairs to accountants.
Yet these were also the years when icons of Irish culture appeared to triumph at a global level. It was often, however, the more simplified forms of Irishness which were encouraged on these circuits. Artist X might seek to write as a citizen of the world, yet in London or New York he or she was renationalised faster than any bank, as “the Irish writer X”. Finance, like crime, might be global; but writing from Ireland was always “Irish writing”, doomed to bear the stigmata of a national origin.
As the Croatian writer – I use the term ironically, of course – Dubravka Ugresic has observed: “it is easy to perform anti-nationalism, but difficult to remain a-national”. Whereas once stage Irishmen conformed at home to all the images which visitors from overseas expected of them, now Irish or Croatian writers on international circuits were compelled to do the same. “They cannot help but remind you,” says Ugresic, “of professional entertainers who know their audiences well”. As Yeats feared as long ago as 1900, they can end up exploiting rather than expressing their material.
In the global market, as Ugresic argues in her book Thank You For Not Reading , identity gives way to branding; literature makes way for celebrity books; and art becomes just another form of business.
That is the background to the tragedy of many contemporary artists and intellectuals. They have declared their embarrassment in the face of simple-minded notions of nation, faith and fatherland; and have helped to erode these forces. But in the collapse of all other “isms”, the market itself becomes the sole remaining ideology – and its idea of a Croatian or an Irish identity is Disneyesque in its naivety.
If the marketeers, who have in the days of plenty taken away so much of cultural value, are now allowed to liquidate what remains – in the name of “retrenchment” – then the world will become not just more cruel but a lot more boring.
Article by Declan Kiberd - Irish Times
Friday, 28 August 2009
FEAR: No more breathing space on mortgages...
UP TO 25,000 home owners face the chilling prospect of having their homes repossessed because they have fallen significantly behind on mortgage repayments.
Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P), which has a 25pc share of the home mortgage market, has confirmed that 6,122 loans are now three months or more in arrears and it is estimated that up to another 20,000 mortgage holders with other lending institutions are in a similar position.
Under the State bailout arrangement, banks had agreed to give all mortgage customers one year's breathing space before repossessing.
But, for many, that deadline is now imminent.
New legal orders coming in to effect on October 1 will make it easier for District Courts to grant uncontested repossessions, which is likely to increase the number of homes being taken over by banks.
Under the same act, contested repossession cases will be heard in the Circuit Court rather than the High Court, making the process cheaper and more attractive to the banks.
Labour Party deputy leader Joan Burton has called on the Government to ensure that homeowners who have run into arrears with their lending agencies are not "put out on the side of the road".
"There is no sense in repossessing in the short term because the families will be forced to go back to the State for help," she added.
The Labour Party had wanted the Government to bring in a two-year breathing space when the bank guarantee legislation was brought in, but this was rejected by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan as unnecessary. IL&P, which is covered by the €400bn State guarantee, said it would "work with" homeowners to try to manage their arrears.
A spokeswoman said the 6,122 customers who are in arrears are from across the range of mortgage customers.
"Permanent TSB is working constructively with all customers who may have problems with arrears to find suitable arrangements going forward -- irrespective of any clock."
IL&P has suffered a €51m loss in the first half of the year with both loan losses from its mortgage-focused banking arm and a tumble in the life and pensions sales.
The company, which turned in a €300m profit for the same six months last year, had to set aside €189m this year to cover bad loans compared with just €15m for the first six months of 2008.
Chief executive Kevin Murphy said mortgage arrears rose rapidly during the last quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of this year but in the second quarter they began to slow down, reflecting the slow down in unemployment. Despite the losses, Mr Murphy said IL&P would not be selling off toxic assets to NAMA.
"We avoided the pitfalls of development and construction finance and we will not be a participant in NAMA," he said.
"Our lending focus has always been on mortgages for home owners and while we're seeing arrears on those mortgages rising as unemployment has risen, we are working closely with those affected to help them deal with their problems."
Report by Clodagh Sheehy - Evening Herald
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
They argue that Nama should pay the banks only the current market value for the loans it will assume.
In response, economist Alan Ahearne, special adviser to Minster for Finance Brian Lenihan, said last night that a number of claims in the article were incorrect. He added that most of the economists in the country had not signed the article drafted by Prof Brian Lucey of Trinity College.
Prof Lucey said he had contacted about 250 lecturers in economics and not one had come back to say they disagreed with the views expressed in his draft. He said a number did not sign because they did not want to get involved in a round-robin exercise.
In the article, the economists say the Government will pay significantly above market value for the bad loans advanced by the banks.
“The key difficulty facing the Government is that to pay prices now prevailing would leave the banks sitting on losses sufficiently large as to effectively bankrupt them, which would then require the State to invest capital sufficiently large as to in effect nationalise the banks,” the economists argue.
“It is thus clear that the Government are determined to pay a price for land and speculative developments greatly in excess of the market clearing price.”
The economists say that by overpaying, the State would wind up transferring to private individuals a sum close to exchequer’s entire annual tax-take.
The economists went on to urge the Government to reconsider its approach to payment for loans to be taken into Nama and to pay no more than current market value, which they said could be ascertained even in these straitened times.
The article suggests that bank shareholders should forfeit their investment. Bondholders should also be asked
In his e-mail to fellow academics asking them to sign the article, Prof Lucey pointed to the impact of an earlier article on the issue signed by 20 economists.
“The 20 economists piece in The Irish Times has been constantly referenced in the debate, so we as a group do have influence. How much more influence on the debate might we have if we had 200 signatories.”
Mr Ahearne was one of the economists contacted, but he responded by sending an e-mail to colleagues taking issue with what he described as “some of the deficiencies in the note you have been asked to sign”.
He disputed a number of claims in the article, including the assertion that the true value of the loans being taken over by Nama would be close to €30 billion.
“I’m afraid that anyone who is trying to suggest that they can make a reasonable guess at the ‘true value’ of the loans without knowledge of any of the details about the individual loans is either delusional or is being disingenuous,” he said.
Mr Ahearne also said the notion of making the bondholders swap debt for equity showed “a startling lack of understanding” of the bondholders’ position, given that they were covered by the State guarantee and bonds might have been bought after the introduction of the guarantee.
“I hope you agreed that what you have been asked to sign is a rather poor piece that unfortunately does nothing to inform this crucial debate,” he concluded.
With the Cabinet expected to be briefed on Nama today by Mr Lenihan, Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton last night accused the Government of running away from a debate on the issue.
Report by STEPHEN COLLINS - Irish Times
Monday, 24 August 2009
FORMER president Mary Robinson yesterday warned the Government that the country is in the grip of possibly the worst crisis in the history of the State.
She bluntly told the country's leaders that a lack of a vision of ourselves "lies at the heart of the crises we face" and warned that it was vital that example now come from the top and that the vulnerable be protected.
The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights yesterday became the first former president to deliver the General Michael Collins oration at Beal na mBlath in west Cork.
Her speech centred on the scale of the crisis facing Ireland and how those in positions of power should deal with it.
"Challenges of this magnitude demand not only detailed solutions but a comprehensive vision of what sort of society we want to see emerge from our current difficulties.
"The likelihood is that, in the absence of a vision of our future which enjoys broad support, every interest group will put its own concerns first. That would be a recipe for disaster," she declared.
The former president said that Ireland now stands at an historic crossroads.
"The international banking crisis has hit us proportionately harder than other developed countries. And the findings of widespread physical and sexual abuse of children has shocked and appalled people," she said.
Report by Ralph Riegel - Irish Independent
Thursday, 20 August 2009
As this State flounders towards collapse again, let's ask: why do we always get things wrong? Sure, I know three reliable answers: the Brits, the Brits and the Brits again.
Indeed, entire university faculties are given over to discourses on Hibernian victimhood, with self-pity intellectualised through the impenetrable verbal mud of Foucault, Derrida and Fanon.
This whingeing school of thought has an academic brand name, Field Day, and a caste of articulate laureates who specialise in the plaints of our woebegone Irish identity. Yet no one considers the possibility that there might be something genetically askew with too many Irish people for us to create an ordered, predictable society that does not fall apart every 15 years or so.
So, has our still-small population been cursed with some genetic fault from our founding population which came from Spain 4,000 years ago? A baleful genetic legacy need not be very large. Any teacher will testify to the impossibly disruptive influence of a minority of pupils. What if the same were true of an entire society?
The enduring success of Fianna Fail, founded by yet another Spaniard, has been the main story of independent Ireland.
Yet this is the party that did its violent best to destroy the State at its outset, and did so again in the 1930s by waging a ruinous economic war with the world's mightiest empire, and our only trading partner. It did bring the State to its knees in the 1950s, attempting to create a Catholic Gaelic paradise, and courted ruin again in 1970 when it turned a blind eye to the formation of the Provisional IRA.
Lo, come the 1980s, and insane Fianna Fail borrowings took us to the brink of penury. And finally, here we are again in the 2000s, now facing Armageddon.
Yet at this very nadir, the Fianna Fail vote of 25pc in Euro elections suggests that a quarter of the population is clinically insane. We don't need psephologists to explain Irish elections. We need psychiatrists. Take Donegal, where the electorate in the 1990s returned one TD who demanded free, universal British television, and another who demanded Brits out: transfers from one got the other elected.
Irrationality is a defining feature of Irish life, yet even to draw attention to this is to attract comparably irrational cries of "anti-Irish". Thus the mental disorder even has its own antibodies which prevent any enquiry into it. "We are victims: we cannot be authors of our many misfortunes, and anyone who says we are is a bigoted anti-national Hibernophobe".
Fine. But why have outbursts of killing been a consistent characteristic of Irish life down the centuries? Why do we have the highest rates of alcoholism, schizophrenia and mental illness in Europe? Why did Ireland have legislation (1817) for public asylums before France (1838) and England (1845)? Why are we so often incapable of planning anything?
Half-cocked, unorganised rebellions have entered Irish mythology as glorious -- though doomed -- blows for freedom. From Silken Thomas's idiotic insurrection through to 1916, it is as if the iron law of consequence does not exist. Historical events almost become almost like a blight of bungalows littered across the countryside. They are all intellectually disconnected; nothing is learnt.
Translate that pathological disregard for the inevitable into the management of a modern society, and you get Anglo-Irish Bank and Sean FitzPatrick, and tiny terraced cottages in Drimnagh being sold in 2007 for €700,000 each.
It took us 20 years to build a few hundred miles of motorway, but without service stations or rest areas; yet Paddy in Britain in the 1950s was building one mile of motorway, complete with service stations, every eight days. In the 1980s, the main Galway-Clifden bus would leave Galway railway station for Clifden five minutes before the train from Dublin arrived. Conversely, the Clifden-Galway bus arrived back at the railway station five minutes after the Dublin-bound train had departed.
In Cork they managed things just a little better. The bus for West Cork left five minutes after the train from Dublin arrived -- however, not from the railway station, but from a bus-terminus half a mile away.
Eamon Coughlan could catch it. Everyone else, tottering with their bags, would collapse, wheezing in its wake, just as it drew away.
Dysfunctionalism is central to this society. Lateness is not seen for what it is, arrogant selfishness, but as a charming eccentricity.
We have the shortest academic year in the EU, yet still allow teachers annually take a further six weeks uncertificated sick leave. So unsurprisingly, we have the highest rate of illiteracy among school-leavers in Europe.
We give gardai special holiday allowances when they're getting pink in Ibiza, to compensate for the tax-free perks they're missing at work. John Lonergan, the governor of Mountjoy prison, probably the worst and most violent jail in Europe, is a darling of the liberal media.
The best-paid presenter on RTE television, Pat Kenny, attempted to obtain, by "adverse possession", a neighbour's land for free, but ended up in court. The state broadcaster is now giving him a TV weekly special on politics, no doubt with searing insights into ethical improbity in high places.
So -- is this what the aboriginal Iberian gene pool did to us? Gratias España - but let's bring on the Poles.
Report by Kevin Myers - Irish Independent
Monday, 17 August 2009
The Celtic Tiger has come and gone and the skyline of our capital city remains much the same. What happened to the skyscrapers that the 'starchitects' were supposed to bring...
They were supposed to symbolise the new Ireland, a collection of skyscrapers and internationally renowned buildings that would illustrate to the world the global hub that the country, and in particular Dublin, had become. In the end, they were never built, with some left firmly at ground level as the economy crashed and the myth of Ireland's national wealth was exposed. In other cases, the planners decided against high rise, while a combination of An Bord Pleanála and significant opposition from well-to-do residents of areas like Ballsbridge has seen other plans turned down.
This was Celtic Tiger Ireland and it was a new place, some of us said, with new ideas and a new way of looking of things. The housing boom had made most of us appear better off (even if it was entirely based on cheap credit) and there was a widely-held belief Dublin was ready for buildings to put it on the world map. Then when the PDs published a document in 2005 calling for the relocation of Dublin port and its replacement with high-rise buildings, it triggered a new debate on whether "mini-Manhattans" had a place in the capital.
As part of the team hired by financier Dermot Desmond to oppose Sean Dunne's skyscraper plan for Ballsbridge, architect Shane O'Toole told An Bord Pleanála that "starchitects" were being hired all over the globe "in a vain attempt" to replicate the titanium-clad Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain. The world's leading architects had become near-household names and with the property bubble making developers rich, at least on paper, those starchitects came to Dublin.
Foster + Partners moved into plush offices off Grafton Street, winning commissions for the U2 tower and the Clarence hotel. The curve-loving Zaha Hadid didn't see her entry win the U2 tower design competition, but Treasury Holdings, which commissioned it, has since raised the prospect of constructing the building on Dublin's north docks.
Other starchitects had more success in seeing their projects come to fruition. Daniel Libeskind's theatre in Grand Canal Square opens next year while Manuel Aires Mateus's five-star hotel is under construction next door. Convention Centre Dublin, designed by our own Kevin Roche, will also open its doors next year. Those projects though are low rise, sitting comfortably within Dublin's flat skyline.
In the end, despite the breathless announcements and the bitter debate that followed, no skyscrapers were built in the capital city. It was left to Cork to construct the Republic's new tallest building, the 17-storey Elysian tower. Even that has not been adverse to the downturn however; developer Michael O'Flynn told financial news service Bloomberg that 80% of the apartments were still on the market as of late April. "It's not the product, it's just the times we're in," O'Flynn said.
Elsewhere, some of the sites touted for high rise sit derelict or fenced off, the idle cranes a reminder of what might have been.
Crane Street, Current Status: Part Approval
Manor Park Homebuilders acquired its site on Crane Street in the Digital Hub, Dublin 8, following a tender process that saw two sites in the area – the other was on Thomas Street and was acquired by P Elliott & Co – sold for a combined value of nearly €120m, part of which was to be paid in cash and part of which was to be provided in the form of new offices for the state.
However, when Manor Park unveiled plans for buildings of up to 53 storeys on its 2.5 acre site you could hear jaws hit the floor. The deBlacam and Meagher-designed scheme was turned down by the city council because "its unprecedented height would seriously impact on the identity, character and scale of the inner city" and it "would impact unacceptably on adjoining properties". An Bord Pleanála upheld that decision because of the "excessive height of the proposed buildings" and the "excessive scale of development" but it did praise "the high quality of design of the buildings".
Earlier this year Manor Park, which is owned by the Moran family, was granted planning permission for a much more modest office and retail scheme on a quarter of the site.
The U2 Tower, Current Status: on hold
Launched in a blaze of publicity, the U2 tower is on ice after the DDDA announced that negotiations on the future of the plan will not recommence until October to allow for an "improvement in the current uncertainty surrounding the property and financial markets". Neither market has improved in any real sense so it remains to be seen if the tower will ever be built. U2 and developers Ballymore and Paddy McKillen, through a company called Geranger, won the right to develop the site using a design by starchitects Foster + Partners, but had refused to pay a non-refundable deposit. The 120m tower was to include apartments, a hotel and shops and construction was due to finish in 2011.
One development-land expert recently told the Sunday Tribune that the site is now worth less than €10m, significantly below the bids of up to €100m which were submitted for the site by various competitors. The DDDA is also facing a multimillion-euro bill from Dublin-based architectural firm BDCH, whose proposal had originally won the international competition to design a tower for the site.
One Berkeley Court, Current Status: initial plan rejected
During the boom, Sean Dunne spent nearly €380m to acquire Jurys and the Berkeley Court in Ballsbridge, both next door to each other. His subsequent €1.5bn redevelopment plan saw Dublin City Council reject plans for a 37-storey tower designed by Henning Larsen Architects and an office block on the seven-acre landbank, despite the fact that the tower was by far the most impressive part of the proposal. The council instead gave planning for six other buildings on the site. After the decision, Dunne's Mountbrook announced that development would not commence until the two buildings refused permission by the council were granted permission, either through An Bord Pleanála or Dublin City Council, in a subsequent planning application. An Bord Pleanála ruled against the proposal, however, saying it would represent "gross overdevelopment" of the site. Afterwards, Dunne said that a revised application to develop the site would be drawn up.
The hotels continue to trade under the name D4 Hotels. Dunne has other landholdings in the area via his ownership of part of the AIB Bankcentre complex and an office block known as Hume House, which was the subject of legal action between Dunne and property advisers CBRE. ?
The Watchtower, Current Status: on hold
Concert promoter Harry Crosbie's Watchtower building next to the O2 on Dublin's north docks was intended as a bookend to the U2 tower on the other side of the quays. The foundations, which cost €14m, are in place but the site has been tarmaced over as the economic downturn takes hold. Crosbie now plans to give over part of the 120-metre building to offices and commercial use rather than develop apartments as originally planned.
The tower, which was designed by Scott Tallon Walker, forms part of Crosbie's €800m Point Village development, which will have a shopping centre anchored by Dunnes Stores. Dunnes is currently taking legal action, seeking to be released from that agreement, as a result of the Watchtower and the U2 Experience being put on hold. That move followed an earlier legal action taken by Crosbie against Dunnes.
Crosbie is one of the largest landowners in the docklands. He is involved in the Spencer Dock scheme on the north docks and the Daniel Libeskind-designed theatre in Grand Canal Square.
Clarence Hotel, Current Status: on hold
Plans for a flying-saucer-style extension to the Clarence hotel in Temple Bar had architectural conservationists up in arms but the Foster + Partners-designed scheme was eventually approved. However, Bono and the Edge, who part-own the hotel, have since said the project is on hold. The other owners are property syndicator Derek Quinlan and developer Paddy McKillen who owns half of the Jervis Street and Powerscourt shopping centres and has numerous retail interests.
The plan was to increase the hotel to 140-bedrooms by demolishing a number of protected structures. The planning-appeals board eventually ruled that the proposal constituted "exceptional circumstances" which would justify the part demolition of those protected buildings. The appeals board ruled that the Foster + Partners scheme "would provide a building of unique quality and architectural distinction at this quayside location, would not unduly detract from the Liffey Quays Conservation Area, would in time become a significant feature in vistas along the Liffey and would ensure the continued historic hotel use of a signature building, which would add to the architectural legacy of the city of Dublin".
Sir John Rogerson's Quay, Current Status: planning expired
When Noel Smyth's Dunloe Ewart won planning permission in 2001 for a 90-metre tower designed by OMS at the former Hammond Steelworks on Sir John Rogerson's Quay, it was viewed as a major victory over planners. The four-acre site was acquired by Dunloe after it narrowly beat rival developer Liam Carroll in a tendering process.
Dunloe Ewart was later bought by Carroll after a hostile takeover and the 231 apartments and office properties were never built – Dublin City Council decided insufficient works had been carried out before the planning application expired to justify an extension of the planning permission. The ruling was important because the DDDA had brought in a planning stipulation that only one tower could be built on the south docks, and that it had to be developed on the U2 tower site. That meant that if Carroll reapplied for planning for the tower element of his scheme it would likely have been turned down. Legal proceedings against Dublin City Council's decision were lodged with the High Court by one of Carroll's companies in 2007 but little has happened since.
Report Neil Callanan - Sunday Tribune.
Sunday, 16 August 2009
It is in the nature of all politicians to give hostages to fortune. So we can't really hold it against Brian Lenihan that he once, by his own account, deputising for Brian Cowen, went to Brussels and said: "Nous cherchons le soft landing."
There is a scene in True Confessions (the film from John Gregory Dunne's novel) where seedy New York cop Robert Duvall raids a whorehouse, and one prostitute, in an effort to save her own skin, squeals: "Hey officer, not me. I do awful good French."
As we try to drag our bruised bottoms up off the cold, hard landing, we may yet be grateful that our Finance Minister does awful good French. The French, you see, have turned it around (no joke intended). Along with the Germans, their economy grew between April and June, while ours plummeted into an abyss. And there was nothing laissez-faire about it either.
They began with the same problems as the rest of us. They had negative growth, they had bad banks and bad bankers.
How come hope now springs eternal in their hearts, while we are looking at a winter of discontent? For an answer, simply cherchez la femme.
The French finance minister, stunning platinum blonde Christine Lagarde, was on Newsnight on Thursday night. Did this belle du jour drown us in economic jargon? Non. If she said common sense once, she said it 10 times.
And in France that common sense comes down to what we call consumer confidence. As with the Americans, who believe that retail is the key to kick- starting the economy, retail -- in all its forms -- is a love affair with them.
Consumer confidence lost is like trust lost in a marriage. What was once viewed with innocent optimism can only be viewed, post-betrayal, with guarded suspicion and fear. Distrustful Irish people are afraid to spend.
Despite their reputation for love in the afternoon, the French take care of their relationships. If things are sluggish, they will try anything from Lapin Provencale to the Rampant Lapin. They know the importance of stimulation. So without dancing on the head of a pin, they dropped Vat in restaurants from 19 per cent to 5 per cent; they made a special case of their auto industry; and they cut the crap with the banking system.
'Detox' the banks became their mot juste. They refused to incentivise bad risk-takers; they hammered home the point that the taxpayer was lending to the banks and they had better respect it.
How different from our own dear queens at home, who relentlessly and methodically set about betraying the retail industry with punitive Vat rates and levies. And what's worse, having acknowledged the error of their ways, refused to rectify matters.
If Brian Lenihan doesn't take note soon, he may find that apres him, le deluge.
Report by Anne Harris - Sunsay Independent
Friday, 14 August 2009
Irish banks agreed to provide 100pc mortgages to one-in-four young first-time buyers last year despite a collapse in the property market.
Thousands entering the property market for the first time took out mortgages with loan-to-value ratios of over 95pc with up to 5,000 taking out the 100pc housing loan.
The Department of the Environment's Housing Bulletin 2008 also revealed that the average age of those who successfully obtained a 100pc mortgage was 31 years.
These loans were taken out for between 31 and 35 years, which would indicate that people would be paying back the cost of their home until they retire.
Earlier this year, the Financial Regulator said it was considering banning 100pc mortgages and restricting lenders offering homebuyers loans greater than three times their annual salaries.
This followed the publication of a report by the British financial regulator which said there was a case for limiting the size of home loans to protect people from over borrowing.
However, so far there has been no concrete move by the Irish Financial Regulator.
The Financial Regulator has said it had forced banks to put aside extra capital to meet possible defaults from 100pc mortgage-holders since 2006.
The housing figures showed that lenders approved over 53,000 mortgages worth €14.5bn last year.
A total of 41pc were for first-time buyers, and one in four (23pc) of all first-time buyers drew down 100pc loans.
Ronan Lyons, of property website daft.ie, said a house buyer who bought in 2007 on a 100pc mortgage would now be in negative equity.
"It's mind-boggling they continued to give out 100pc mortgages in 2008."
Housing Minister Michael Finneran said that a move away from 100pc mortgages would be "welcomed".
The Labour Party's spokes-man for housing Ciaran Lynch said: "Given that the dogs in the streets knew in 2008 that the housing market was collapsing, the banks had a duty of care to lenders but they were still proceeding with practices that were not only questionable but core to the difficulties we're now in," he said.
Report by Claire Murphy - Evening Herald.
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Fears of new turmoil in the market if banks move in...
DEVELOPER Liam Carroll last night lost the battle to protect his multi-billion euro empire, raising fears the property market will be plunged into further turmoil.
The Supreme Court rejected his survival plan -- saying it was neither credible nor viable.
A number of banks are today expected to begin the process of picking over the bones of his companies, with a view to recouping a fraction of their losses.
They will be led this morning by ACC Bank, who may seek to wind up his companies, appoint a liquidator or receivers.
The tycoon's Zoe Group of companies is laden down with bank debts of more than €1.2bn -- and a fire sale of his assets could undermine the Government's NAMA plan to remove €90bn of toxic development loans from bank balance books.
However, it is unlikely that there will be an immediate rush to sell off assets when there is no demand for in the current climate.
Declan Black, head of insolvency and litigation at business law firm Mason Hayes and Curran, said: "If a receiver or liquidator appointed by ACC sought to sell properties promptly, that could set a low threshold for market value and, in turn, impact on NAMA property valuations,"
He added: "Equally, any sale of debt could impact on NAMA's loan valuations."
Mr Carroll lost court protection on day 14 of his examinership action after the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Murray, ruled that his survival plan was not supported by any objective evidence.
The developer had painted a doomsday scenario of hundreds of job losses and thousands of apartments flooding the already depressed Dublin property market.
But the Supreme Court was unmoved by his claims after ruling that he had failed to pass the basic legal test for examinership.
The three-judge court criticised Mr Carroll for relying on outdated valuations by estate agents CBRE and Hooke and McDonald, when those valuations had not been presented to the High Court or the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court also found that it was not possible for the court to reach any conclusion about the prospects of survival of the companies as a going concern "in the absence of any evidence about the likely future development of the property market".
The court found that in order to persuade it that the companies had a reasonable prospect of survival, "it is perfectly obvious that some evidence of likely improvement in the property market is absolutely essential".
Last night's judgment will have several repercussions for the Government's plan to pass the NAMA legislation next month. It raises the prospect of destabilising the property market, but it also challenges the assumptions underlying the legislation.
NAMA is predicated on the notion that property prices will rise over the next decade or two and that the public should accept that presumption. But yesterday's dramatic judgment challenges that assumption.
The outcome of the Carroll case will raise further questions about the State's setting up of NAMA to buy toxic property loans.
But the Department of Finance insisted the Supreme Court ruling would not have any implications in the setting up of NAMA or its operation.
"NAMA will still be set up in September. This decision does not affect that," a spokesman said. But Fine Gael and the Labour Party have expressed concerns about the exposure of the taxpayer in the setting up of NAMA and the knock-on effects of the Carroll case.
The failure of Mr Carroll to secure court protection could deter other developers from doing so.
"The decision indicates a more stringent application of the test for the appointment of an examiner, especially for development companies," said Mr Black. "A development company seeking the appointment of an examiner would now need to demonstrate clear accounting and valuation evidence showing that it had a reasonable prospect of survival.
"It would also need to demonstrate fairly unequivocal support from its bankers in terms of future funding."
In his petition, Mr Carroll laid great emphasis on the negative consequences of a compulsory liquidation.
He warned of a catastrophic fire sale of assets, that the property market in Dublin could not absorb a portfolio of his scale, and the loss of more than 600 jobs.
Mr Carroll said the market "would be thrown into an unprecedented degree of turmoil", with consequences not just for his group of companies and its creditors.
What Mr Carroll failed to do was give enough evidence to objectively support his doomsday claims.
The judges were also sceptical about the prospects for the property market, questioning whether there would be any positive developments in the availability of credit anytime soon.
Michael Cush, counsel for the companies, sought to reassure the court about the prospects for Mr Carroll's empire.
The judges expressed concern that the court was not being allowed to see the valuations that purported to prove such a turnaround was possible.
Without this evidence, they noted during the hearing and in their subsequent 31-page judgment, it was impossible to work out whether the valuations made sense.
The Supreme Court's decision also leaves some of the country's biggest banks with an immediate and obvious headache. Allied Irish, Bank of Scotland (Ireland), Ulster Bank and KBC Bank (Ireland) will have to return to the courts to begin the process of untangling part of Mr Carroll's property empire and dividing up the losses.
That process will unsettle shareholders, who will be wondering what it means for them -- as the decision goes against the listed banks' stated wishes.
Report by Tom Molloy and Dearbhail McDonald - Irish Independent.
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
THE number of people turning to a Government money advice service to save themselves from financial ruin will double this year.
In response, the Government has been forced to hire a new team of advisers to bolster the under-staffed Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS).
Despite the public sector recruitment ban, the Department of Finance has given the green light for a team of new recruits.
The extent of indebtedness emerged as it was revealed that up to 500 ESB and Bord Gais customers were being disconnected every month because they could not afford to pay their bills.
Stark new Department of Social and Family Affairs figures reveal:
* The MABS helpline received more than 12,200 calls in the first six months of 2009. This compares with almost 11,000 for all of last year.
* MABS staff have been visited by almost 10,000 new clients -- owing an average of €15,100 -- since the beginning of the year.
* The vast majority of the debt (65pc) is owed to banks or financial institutions. Around 16pc is owed to credit unions, 3pc to energy suppliers, 2pc to debt collection agencies and 1pc each to money lenders and local authorities.
* Single people are most in difficulty. They account for almost a quarter of all new clients seeking help.
* Almost one in five new clients in dire financial straits are married couples with children.
The five busiest urban MABS offices will each get a full-time temporary post. Around 14 other offices with increasing caseloads will get an additional part-time temporary post. That will bring to 271 the total number of advisers working at the service.
"We are seeing more and more people across the country experiencing financial difficulties -- whether they lost their job or been put on reduced working hours or have taken a reduction in pay," Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin said.
"In the past year there has been a substantial increase in the number of new clients approaching the MABS service."
Up to 500 ESB and Bord Gais customers are now being disconnected every month because they cannot afford to pay their bills, the Irish Independent has learned. Bord Gais last night confirmed that between 350 and 400 customers a month -- most of whom are householders -- are being disconnected for non-payment.
The ESB admitted that up to 4,000 of its customers have been switched off this year because they could not pay their bills.
Half were domestic users.
The stark figures emerged as the Commission for Energy Regulation yesterday warned that consumers face even higher heat and power bills over the coming decade. It blamed our reliance on imported fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas to generate power.
The comments were made at a public forum discussing plans by Bord Gais to drop consumer prices by almost 10pc next year.
There will not be any reduction for ESB's domestic customers. The ESB has instead sought to freeze prices for domestic electricity customers, while small businesses would see a reduction of 0.4pc and medium businesses would get a 5.5pc reduction.
Bord Gais is seeking permission to reduce the price of gas by 9.3pc for residential customers and 13.6pc for small and medium-sized businesses from October 1. A decision is expected in early September.
Bord Gais last night said that about 4,500 customers a year were disconnected for non-payment.
"Many of those disconnected would then clear their arrears and be reconnected. The rate of payment disconnects overall has increased somewhat in the last 12 months. It had been at a steady 300 to 350 a month for the previous few years," a spokeswoman said.
"We work out a payment plan with such customers, which would aim to clear any arrears that had built up within six to 12 months. Very few of these (disconnected customers) would be businesses, probably less than 10 a year.
"This year we have seen greater debt in the business area, with a good number of liquidations, receiverships and examinerships of businesses occurring where gas bills are outstanding, in line with the downturn in the economy generally."
Dermot Jewell, chief executive of the Consumers' Association of Ireland, said people could not be left without an essential service and needed help to get them over this.
"It's not good enough to just cut them off.
"If we're to really deteriorate to a Third World level, and I see signs of that happening, then we need to move to stop this," he said.
Report by Aidan O'Connor, Paul Melia and Breda Heffernan - Irish Independent
Monday, 10 August 2009
We are at the brink of being ungovernable as our absentee political class flee the Dail...
This may have been the week where the political establishment was caught with its trousers down around its ankles but nobody is laughing.
It is not often these days that Leinster House is a catalyst for Christmas images but there was more than a small element of that much loved children's poem 'The Night Before Christmas' surrounding the latest Dail debacle.
On 'black Wednesday' the worst exchequer figures in the history of the State were announced, but in the Dail 'not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse'.
One supposes we shouldn't have expected anything better.
Those absentee Ascendancy landlords who allowed Ireland to rot during the great famine may be one of the most reviled groups in Irish history but, as the economy experiences its worst shock since the famine, it appears as though we have our own home-grown absentee Government.
In fairness it should be noted our permanently dyspeptic Taoiseach was home alone in Tullamore recovering from the horrors of an interview with The Star.
Ironically, in the midst of a series of churlish responses Mr Cowen refused to rule out the possibility of a state of the nation address at some date in the future.
Well Brian, if there was ever a good time to make a state of the nation address, last Wednesday was the day.
But of course as with every other opportunity Mr Cowen has had to bring the nation with him, a politically butter-fingered Taoiseach flunked his chance.
Instead as Ireland, even with the support of the euro, continues to slide towards an Icelandic-style economic abyss it looks as though the only sightings we will have of the man whose job it is to unite the nation will consist of surly Sunday scowls in Croke Park.
Of course the Taoiseach's increasingly bewildered defenders will say Mr Cowen is the great man for tradition and within the Mallory Towers-style environs of Leinster House the great tradition is that during the month of August 'school's out baby'.
However, whilst it might have been acceptable for our politicians to experience the sort of holidays that were normally reserved for 17th Century aristocrats on the grand tour of Europe, we know they're simply not worth it any more.
And whilst the Finance Minister has been up until the early hours quite a lot recently, how hard would it be to appear on the six one news for 10 minutes to give the public a steer on how we are all getting on in this great national odyssey?
It's called respect Brian.
Oh wait, that explains the absence.
Though there was nothing exceptional about the sight of this government dealing with a crisis with all of the force of dozing Nile crocodiles, it was harder to explain the absence of the Opposition response.
They will of course say the shutdown of the Dail by the Government means there is little point in having a presence in Leinster House.
But the Opposition has to be bold and find innovative ways to ensure their message (if they actually have one) is heard for, if they cannot do it now, how can we believe they would make any difference in Government?
Last week there was a gap in the political market but astonishingly, with the match effectively conceded by the Government, the Opposition failed to field a team.
It should of course be noted that Enda is apparently still in the country. However, the veil of mystery surrounding his activities meant that for all we know the FG leader could be writing a great philosophical treatise on the fall of the Tiger or bucklepping around a heap of rural parishes telling jokes and acting the goat.
In truth -- and we know which option our money is on -- we suspect Enda's absence did not make a whole pile of difference.
However, the public might have been consoled if Eamon Gilmore had turned up on every television station in the land calling for the return of the Dail.
Instead we were told our man was resting up in preparation for the dramas that are bound to come at the end of the month.
On one level the Labour leader's stance is understandable for we will need clear heads and a fuller understanding of the complexities of Nama than Mr Gilmore displayed earlier this year if this country is to survive.
However, one might have thought that a bit of prescience would have told him to postpone any time in the hammock until after the August bank-holiday weekend.
We are reluctant to criticise Richard Bruton or Joan Burton for their absence for no politician has been more prescient or brave in his analysis of the economy than Bruton whilst Burton is the most impressive Opposition front bencher we have seen since Maire Geoghegan Quinn destroyed Michael Noonan.
Sadly, in spite of all their fine work, no one could blame the voters if they looked up from our economic debacle and included them in the long list of politicians who appear to have abandoned the people.
This might not be a 'nuanced' position but, unlike the Dail, recessions do not go on holidays and Ireland is now a scared place which is beginning to seethe over the great failure of the political class to rescue the people.
Already the young are fleeing our zombie nation at a rate not seen since the 1950s when anthropologists wondered if Pat would suffer the same fate as the Red Indians.
And though the Thomas Cook affair or the pharmacist's polite rebellion against our authoritarian political misfit of a Health Minister were not the modern equivalent of the miners' strike, there are some far hairier beasts still coming down the tracks.
A great crisis of confidence in the institutions of the State is beginning to accelerate. Voters believe that Nama is an exercise in deceit that cannot work because its existence is predicated on the same concepts and personnel who got the country into this mess in the first place.
People are looking at the spectacle of the Thomas Cook ladies being dragged into the courts with far greater alacrity than any banking executive and asking just whose interests are being looked after.
And all of this is not just happening because of bad luck.
Instead the country is at the point of becoming ungovernable as a result of the failure of the political class to govern.
The voters look to their political leaders for answers and all they get in return is the hunched shoulder, the turned back and then finally a complete absence.
Our disappeared politicians would be wise to realise that a constitutional democracy is not some divinely created entity that has fallen from the sky.
Its legitimacy is instead derived from the consent of the governed (sorry about that Mr Cowen) and last week's great diaspora has done serious damage.
In the armed forces one of the most serious charges a soldier can face is that of being absent without leave.
Last week, and not for the first time either, the political process left itself open to a similar charge.
In better times they used to shoot deserters.
The good news for this lot, in so far as there is any, is that our voters may punish them by smiling falsely at the pollsters before they take the opposite route and vote no to Lisbon.
Report John Drennan - Sunday Independent
Sunday, 9 August 2009
POLL: Seventy-four per cent want Dail to be recalled immediately:
The public is demanding that politicians come off holiday following the publication last week of the worst mid-summer economic data in living memory.
Almost four months after the Government introduced an emergency Budget designed to stabilise the economy, exchequer figures show that the situation is getting perilously worse.
Since that Budget on April 7, tax revenue has continued to decline at an alarming rate and current spending has continued to increase unchecked.
The result is that the budget deficit has widened dramatically in a month, by almost €2bn, at a time when the Government had hoped it would reduce following its imposition of painful income and pension levies and tax increases. On top of that, Live Register figures, also published last week, show that almost 350 people a day are now losing their jobs.
Politicians, meanwhile, are on holiday, with no intention of returning to Leinster House until September 16.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen was yesterday officially on holiday, said by his spokesman to be at home in Tullamore, Co Offaly; Finance Minister Brian Lenihan is on holiday, whereabouts undisclosed.
While they, and seven other Cabinet members are officially confirmed to be on holiday, crucial decisions remain untaken on proposed Nama legislation which may help free up essential bank lending to employers, and on the McCarthy report, the introduction of which will help bring about essential savings in out-of-control Government spending.
Mindful of the current calamitous state of affairs, the public want the Dail to be recalled immediately, according to a Sunday Independent/Quantum Research nationwide poll.
Conducted on Friday night among a sample of 500 people, a massive 74 per cent said the latest exchequer and Live Register figures, and the continuing confusion over Nama, required that the Dail should be recalled. Just 26 per cent, or only over a quarter of those polled, did not feel the Dail should be recalled.
Asked who they thought was running the country in crisis last week, over half (57 per cent) said they did not know. Seventeen per cent thought Mr Cowen was running things; 15 per cent said Tanaiste Mary Coughlan was; and 11 per cent thought Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was in charge.
The public is almost equally angry with the Opposition for abandoning the country en masse in a week which confirmed that the economy is still in freefall while important legislation and decisions remain to be implemented.
Asked if they thought Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore had been effective last week, an overwhelming 79 per cent said no, while just 21 per cent said yes. Yesterday Mr Kenny was said to be "on holiday" at home, but going away next week; Mr Gilmore was said to be on holiday in Poland.
The public does not want an election now: 45 per cent said they wanted an immediate election but 55 per cent said they did not.
The possibility of an election increased significantly last week, however, following the resignation of two TDs from the Fianna Fail parliamentary party. The Government is now precariously dependent on the vote of Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue to ensure a Dail majority.
The resignations of Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon has sent a deep shiver of unease through the parliamentary party. "They have done something that is going to create huge difficulties for the Government," one senior Fianna Fail TD said yesterday. Another said: "There is no doubt their actions have destabilised the Government."
A majority of Fianna Fail TDs who have spoken to the Sunday Independent said that the decision of the two to resign was a result of a "disconnect" between ministers and the parliamentary party. "There were frantic moves by the party to keep them onside, but the bottom line is, the Taoiseach and his ministers are just not listening to us," a TD said.
Another TD said further resignations from the parliamentary party could now be expected. "The decision of the lads in Sligo has given licence to it. It is now almost more attractive to be outside the parliamentary party," a TD said.
There is a feeling within the Fianna Fail parliamentary party that Mr Cowen is "a blown fuse", "damaged goods", "not credible anymore", "not bringing the troops with him", and that if a challenge to his leadership was mounted it would be successful.
However, nobody within the parliamentary party can yet see such a challenge being made.
There is some concern this weekend that Fianna Fail's coalition partners, the Greens, who are closely monitoring dissent within Fianna Fail, may move first to pull out of Government, perhaps when the Greens' membership vote on a renegotiated Programme for Government.
However, most Fianna Fail TDs expect the Government will "hang together" until the Budget, scheduled for December, in which the Government will announce the aspects of the McCarthy report it intends to implement.
At this stage, though, a significant number of Fianna Fail TDs privately admit that they are not confident sufficient support exists to ensure the Budget will be passed. "I would put it 60:40 against at this stage," one TD said.
Another TD said that the support of former minister, Michael Lowry could no longer be taken for granted. "Put it like this, Lowry is not going to be around for the crucifixion," a TD said.
With the Government seemingly in the process of tearing itself apart, the economy is continuing to fall apart.
Exchequer figures last week showed that tax revenues collected by the Government up to the end of July were €575m lower than the Department of Finance expected a little over three months ago.
The shortfall in tax receipts has trebled over the last month. The Government is now likely to be unable to meet its projection of €34.4bn in tax revenues this year.
The exchequer deficit grew to €16.4bn at the end of July, compared with €14.7bn at the end of June. The deficit, which is almost €10bn higher than it was this time last year, includes €6bn in payments to bail out the banks.
The latest exchequer returns point to further weakness in the economy, led by a decline in consumer spending. The gap between the projected and actual level of VAT returns, an indicator of economic consumption, widened to €448m and accounted for most of the shortfall.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan increased the VAT rate from 21 per cent to 21.5 per cent last October. He also increased a range of other taxes. The subdued state of the labour market was reflected in a worsening shortfall in income tax receipts, which are €185m behind the Government's targets.
Report by JODY CORCORAN, DANIEL McCONNELL and JOHN DRENNAN - Sunday Independent.
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
OPINION: Builders and developers have finally managed to shape the country in their own image...
THE DRAFT National Asset Management Agency (Nama) legislation runs to 136 pages, so it’s not too surprising that most people have missed the interesting section 201.
It reads as follows: 201.1: Henceforth, all male children shall be called Seán, Seánie, Paddy, Mick, Tom, Joe, Gerry, Liam or Bernard. All female children shall be christened Seona, Patricia, Michaela, Tomasina, Josephine, Geraldine, Wilma or Bernadine and shall be referred to de facto as Seán, Seánie, Paddy, Mick, Tom, Joe, Gerry, Liam or Bernard.
201.2: From the coming into force of this legislation, all citizens shall be required to receive a daily dosage of testosterone and cocaine to induce feelings of competitive aggression and megalomaniacal omnipotence.
201.3: All male citizens shall wear a pink shirt as a declaration that said citizen is so macho that he can wear pink and not be thought gay.
201.4: Modes of transport other than private jet or helicopter shall be prohibited by law. Usage of public transport shall be punishable by death.
201.5: All citizens shall be required to own at least one racehorse and attend at least five race meetings in every calendar year. During such attendance, citizens shall study the consistency of the nether parts of jockeys and attempt to develop necks of similar consistency.
201.6: All citizens shall be required to make regular donations to Fianna Fáil, just below the limit at which disclosure would be necessary. All citizens shall vote for Fianna Fáil, while retaining a sneaking regard for Charles J Haughey and a soft spot for Bertie Ahern. All citizens shall repeat at regular intervals that you can judge the health of the country by the number of cranes on the skyline.
201.7: All citizens shall extemporise pompous and reactionary views on dole scroungers, trade unions, pampered schoolchildren and other social parasites who, unlike themselves, are a “burden on the nation”.
Okay, so none of this is in the Bill, but it ought to be. For this is who we are now. Napoleon famously called the English a nation of shopkeepers. We are now to be a nation of property speculators. This is not a rhetorical exaggeration. The principal activity of this State, for this generation and probably the next, is to be the management of the biggest property company on the planet. Everything else – health, education, security, job creation – will be a side issue. We now live in Developerland – of which Ireland is a wholly-owned offshore subsidiary.
The State is taking on not just the debts of the property developers, but their habits of mind. We’re going for a grand, heady gesture: the €90 billion that’s at stake here is the same as the entire amount the Spanish government, in a vastly bigger economy, is spending on its entire bank bailout. And we’re channelling the developers’ adrenaline-fuelled love of risky behaviour.
Remember all that stuff about the wisdom of the market, which decided what things (and people) were worth and it was wrong, wrong, wrong to interfere? Scratch that. The market may think that virtually every property in what is to be the people’s portfolio is worth a fraction of what madmen paid for it at the height of the boom.
But we’re not going to buy the stuff at market rates, we’re going to buy it at some notional future value, determined by a raft of assumptions. These include the notion that the depression is a short period of readjustment and things will get better. We’re gambling on the future or, in other words, speculating.
We’re supposed to be reassured by the fact that these values will be set by independent auditors – like, presumably, the independent auditors whose assessment of the worth of Liam Carroll’s properties was said by Mr Justice Peter Kelly in the High Court to show “a degree of optimism [that] borders, if not actually trespasses, on the fanciful”.
This being the case, we have to start thinking like speculators. This takes a bit of getting used to. Take, for example, the office tower in the Rockbrook development in Sandyford, Dublin, that we heard about last week when ACCBank took our brother developer John Fleming to court. It is worth €10 million, but will cost €20 million to build.
Inspired, entrepreneurial thinking-outside-the-box go-getters like us see an opportunity.
Someday, when the tower is built and everything gets back to the crazed normality of the boom years, it will be worth €30 million. Now if you’re not seeing this then you’re not with the programme, you’re obviously not taking your cocaine.
Like Frankenstein, we’re doomed to spend the rest of our days chasing after the monster we created. We gave the developers and speculators the run of the country and they’ve managed to shape it in their own image.
We’re all on the same side now, whether we like it or not. All sucked in to a giant crapshoot in which we take our children’s future and roll the dice. Everything that makes for a civilised country is riding on the outcome of what must be proportionally the largest financial gamble any state has ever punted on.
But never mind, the helicopters will be nice.
Report by FINTAN O'TOOLE - Irish Times
Sunday, 2 August 2009
The Government isn't just passing bad laws, it's putting us all in an economic strait-jacket...
First, it's necessary to use this space to defend the banks. Over the past week, much of the criticism thrown at senior bankers was unmerited, and it would be unfair not to acknowledge that. It's a dirty job, defending those greedy bastards, but someone's got to do it.
I can promise that normal service will be resumed shortly (within a few paragraphs, to be honest -- at which point we'll try to understand why we're now up to our chins in the rising tide of faeces that is Nama).
The bankers got a bad rap because one bank, Permanent TSB ("The Bank That Likes to Say Feck Off"), increased interest rates. Other banks acknowledged they have similar intentions. Screams of horror issued from the media and politicians. Oh, dear -- it seems the banks are refusing to operate as social utilities. As though they believe that nothing is more important than their profits. Imagine that!
"The public won't wear the fact that we're bailing out the banks and that the banks in turn are really screwing mortgage-holders and businesspeople," said Fianna Fail former minister John McGuinness, the little dote. Enda Kenny called on Brian Lenihan to intervene.
Frankly, I'm a bit shocked at people like Kenny and McGuinness. Can they really be so naive as to imagine that these banks have some function as social utilities? How quaint.
Criticising bankers for operating totally and exclusively in the interests of their own profit is like slagging the Terminator for blowing people's heads off. The premise of the Terminator is that he's a machine designed, built and programmed to kill, and for no other purpose. Senior bankers are programmed to relentlessly squeeze money out of the rest of us, by any means necessary.
Private banks have no social function (beyond perhaps a bit of sponsorship, for PR purposes). No doubt there are individual bankers who would take pride in having a social function -- good for them. And when promotion time comes around they're sent to the end of the queue. Those who thrive and reap the gigantic bonuses are the greediest, the most single-minded, the most ruthless.
Private bank directors are not just encouraged to put shareholder dividends and bank profits before everything else, they're legally obliged to do so.
Of course, in a sane world, banks would be public utilities. But Kenny and McGuinness and a lot of other people give the impression that they don't believe in the overriding rule of capital and the free markets. It's currently a populist position.
Last autumn, as it became obvious the banks were insolvent, there was a brief moment when things might have been different. The private banks might have been left to the tender mercies of the free markets. We might have seen the emergence of a true public utility bank, designed to service the rest of us. Here's Soapbox last November:
"If I was one of the Brians, I'd buy a premises in each county, and 26 safes and 26 laptops and I'd open my own State bank. Call it the Provisional AIB. Or the Continuity Bank of Ireland. Get credit moving. Why bother giving money to the banks in the hope they'll lend it on to businesses that need it? Cut out the middle-man. We know the banks are failed financial entities, run incompetently by overpaid gobshites."
Others suggested a State bank could be set up through the Post Office structure. Good idea.
But, said the bishops of the free market, international investors would be aghast, they'd refuse to lend us money. I doubt it. Not if the Government explained thusly: "The banks, as free market entities, must retain their independence. Meanwhile, by setting up a State-backed bank, we will provide a safe haven for depositor and investor funds, and also the credit facility necessary for economic survival and development."
Investors want a safe, profitable place for their money. Which is why they abandoned our crappy, insolvent banks. A sovereign bank offered the best value, greatest efficiency. It made sense.
A State bank, however, was simply beyond the understanding of the likes of Cowen and Lenihan and their advisers. It was like telling Catholic bishops there was a warehouse of condoms around the corner, which would protect us from a blizzard of sexual diseases. It might be the sensible thing to do, but their religious sensibilities wouldn't allow them even consider it.
I watched, on Vincent Browne's TV3 show, a senior economist break into a fit of giggles when he was asked about setting up a State bank. He looked just like a 1950s bishop being asked to consider condoms.
Besides, the idea of a State bank has a smell of socialism off it. Better to sink into national bankruptcy than even consider any such radical ideas.
Similarly, when the "bad bank" idea flourished, sensible economists urged temporary nationalisation of the main banks. It wasn't about appropriating banks, it was about temporarily neutralising the bankers who always act in their own interests, whatever the effect on the common good.
Some of the most right-wing economists on the planet endorsed the idea of temporary nationalisation -- it was a capitalist solution to the problem of zombie bankers screwing up any rational attempt at unravelling the banking chaos.
Again, to the likes of Cowen and Lenihan, nationalisation had a socialistic smell to it.
They really are desperately incompetent. We're being Namafied by a Government that is ideologically bankrupt, intellectually crippled and operating from an electoral mandate that's way past its sell-by date.
Nama (An Bord Bailout) is taking €90bn in construction loans from the banks. Happily, we have the timely Liam Carroll debacle in the High Court to indicate the market value of such loans. From the Carroll case, academic economist Brian Lucey calculates that the €90bn in loans are now worth about €40bn. And Brian Lenihan will probably pay about €60bn or €70bn for them -- a gift of up to €30bn of our money to the bankers.
Why? Because the banks want money. And investors won't give it to them. And Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan believe they can saddle us with that debt, blind us with jargon, tell us there's no alternative, and we'll meekly accept. And the banks might even use some of that money to provide credit to business -- but they're not obliged to, and they probably won't.
The politicians say they believe that the loans they're buying, at a price of maybe €70bn, will "in time" be worth more than their current €40bn market value. As the property collapse ends (which, they suggest, will be any day now), property prices will rise again. And, eventually -- in maybe 20 years' time -- those bad loans may be worth €70bn. So, we'll get our money back.
Some of us think that property prices can go down a lot more. It's more likely that property prices are still heading down towards a sustainable level, and won't rise again for a long, long time. Which is fine with those of us who wouldn't at all welcome another property bubble.
But the banks and the developers and their buddies in Government hope and pray for that bubble.
And Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan are betting about €30bn of our money on such a new bubble. It would be bad enough if this zombie Government was merely passing bad legislation that could be reversed by a later Government. What they're doing is stitching us into an economic strait-jacket for a couple of generations.
And that's why your grandkids will be sending you Christmas greetings by internet video link from New Zealand.
Report by Gene Kerrigan - Sunday Indepandent
Dublin and commuter belt homeowners have been particularly badly hit by the ongoing downturn in house prices.
The latest Permanent tsb/ESRI monthly figures on house sales show the average price of a house nationally in June was just over €240,000.
This is down from €311,000 in February 2007 when the market peaked.
In Dublin, the average price of a home is now just under €320,000. This is a drop of over 15pc on the same time last year, considerably worse than the 10pc average fall outside of the capital.
It is expected that the trend will continue for the immediate future, said a spokesperson for Permanent TSB.
"The index today confirms the pattern of recent months. Poor demand and significant oversupply have combined to cancel out the benefits of lower interest rates to mean that prices continue to weaken. This pattern is likely to persist for some time," they said.
This year has seen a worsening in the decline in house prices compared to 2008.
In the first six months, there has been a reduction of 7.7pc across the country, compared to five per cent in the same period last year. The commuter counties of Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow dropped almost 20pc in the year to June, bringing the average to €245,000.
Last night, the Professional Insurance Brokers Association said research had shown the top three reasons preventing people from buying homes were the non-availability of finance, expectations that prices will fall further and lack of job security.
"Unfortunately there is every indication that banks will behave too conservatively with overzealous lending criteria at a time when the indications are that property prices are bottoming out," said director of mortgage services Rachel Doyle.
"Banks must be prevailed upon to behave responsibly and not ratchet up interest rates unreasonably when the ECB is likely to keep rates low for some time," she added.
Report by Shane Hickey - Irish Independent
Saturday, 1 August 2009
IN a certain fairytale, a vain emperor struts through the streets showing off his "new clothes". The adoring crowd applauds the naked emperor until a small child cries out: "But he has nothing on!"
Yesterday, Judge Peter Kelly, head of the Commercial Court, gave short shrift to developer Liam Carroll's "fanciful" scheme to turn a €1bn-plus loss into a €300m profit in three years.
Liam Carroll, a reclusive director of 203 companies, is the developer least likely to exhibit any degree of vanity.
But he is naked.
He is broke. His companies are insolvent. Not only insolvent, but so interconnected in a "byzantine" corporate structure that if one company falls, the empire does too.
Carroll knows this. The Government knows this.
Carroll's benign lenders, who are rolling up his interest with "great forbearance", know this.
These are the same banks, incidentally, who are hammering small borrowers and homeowners in our courts.
Dutch-owned ACC Bank, whose demands for €136m triggered a bid by Carroll to seek court protection to avert a potentially catastrophic fire sale of his assets, knows this.
Everybody knows it, but it took Judge Kelly to have the guts to shout out that Carroll's companies are bust.
Yesterday he refused to appoint an examiner to six of Carroll's companies that, by extension, would place his property empire under court protection.
Examinership is aimed at rescuing troubled companies.
It provides for a temporary breathing space (70 to 100 days) for a company to trade out of its difficulties.
But there is a major caveat: anyone seeking such protection must satisfy the court that the company, in whole or in part, has a reasonable prospect of survival as a going concern.
Even if an entity or group succeeds in establishing that there is a reasonable prospect of survival, the courts have discretion to refuse to appoint an examiner.
Carroll failed the basic legal test. Spectacularly.
The survival projections put forth, said Judge Kelly, were devoid of reality.
An Independent Accountants Report (IAR) furnished to the court was originally littered with inaccuracies, though later corrected.
The IAR, the backbone of any examinership application, was written by an accountant who acted as auditor to Carroll's companies.
Prepared in four days, the IAR contained trading projections crafted by the same captains of management that steered the ship onto the rocks.
Not only were the projections not independently assessed, but the two valuers -- CBRE and Hooke and McDonald -- who prepared the now seven-month-old valuations, had previously worked for Carroll's companies.
Add in current market conditions and the degree of optimism "borders or even trespasses on the fanciful", said the judge.
In addition, Carroll's survival plan deviated from previous examiner case law because it did not anticipate any additional investment or writing down of debts.
The only creditors are the banks. The job losses, mooted at 650, are less than 100.
When the Supreme Court sits down next week to hear an appeal by Carroll to challenge the refusal, they will have a tough time disagreeing with Judge Kelly's factual and legal conclusions.
Indeed, Carroll's lawyers must, according to the Supreme Court's own recent jurisprudence on examinership -- see the First Equity Group ruling by the court on February 2 last -- introduce additional evidence to convince the court that Carroll can survive and be satisfied that all his creditors support him.
Otherwise, if the Supreme Court affords Carroll protection in the face of a hopeless survival plan, it may stand accused of bending the law to accommodate a political crisis.
The ACC/Carroll dispute was never really about Carroll's prospects of survival.
It is all about NAMA.
ACC admitted as much in recent court proceedings and the Government held secret talks with the lender last Thursday.
As the secret meetings were under way, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan unveiled a polished 200-page dossier on NAMA.
Not a NAMA bill, a draft bill or even heads of a bill, but a proposal document "for public consultation purposes only".
The parliamentary process has not begun.
The proposal for NAMA Bill 2009 is a mere statement of intent, and until it is published in the form of a bill, NAMA is a legal fiction.
This makes life very difficult for the Government which is setting up NAMA to avert a fire sale of up to €90bn in toxic development loans.
If the Supreme Court upholds Judge Kelly's ruling, the subsequent liquidation of Carroll's empire will jeopardise the process under which NAMA will value loans.
A fire sale of Carroll's assets this side of NAMA being established will effectively set the market price for development assets, and this will form the basis for the write-downs banks will have to take.
This crowd will see the naked write-downs and this will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Government to justify over-paying the banks.
Under the planned NAMA Act, judges will be obliged to consider the public interest and the reasons why NAMA was set up when handling legal challenges to it.
But the Supreme Court can't consider a speculative law that is not yet in being.
Report - Irish Independent