14 September 2009

O'Donoghue defends his Expenses as Minister

John O'Donoghue (photo), the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker or Chairman of the Dáil, the lower House of Parliament) has made his first public comments on the expenses controversy surrounding his time as government minister.

O'Donoghue defends his record as the Minister for Arts, Sports & Tourism (in the cabinet of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern) and as Ceann Comhairle in a letter to all members of the Dáil, which was sent last Friday.

He says he had "stayed silent so far on the extensive media coverage of expenses" in order "to protect the impartiality" of his current position.
It would "not be proper" for him "to become involved in public debate" concerning his time spent as a minister, despite what he called "the natural desire to cross swords with critics" in his own defence.

This is a pretty lame excuse from a man who has wasted taxpayers' money on a grand scale, running up expenses of more than € 550,000 for a lavish lifestyle that was in no way justified by his position as one of the minor Irish cabinet ministers.

He acknowledged that some of the costs incurred "appeared high", and "sincerely regrets that they occurred".

But he pointed out that arrangements were made by civil servants, and as a minister he would not be informed of the details of such expenditure.

On the basis of this statement, one has to wonder who is actually in charge of our government departments. I am sure that any minister who would want to keep expenses low would easily be able to do so. And if a minister would ask his officials what things cost and how much is spent on his travels and engagements, no one would refuse to tell him.

But old-style Fianna Fáil spongers like John O'Donoghue would never care what Irish taxpayers have to pay for his grand ambitions and lavish lifestyle. As long as he has not to pay for it with his own money, only the best is good enough for him and other political parasites.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said that O'Donoghue's response did not go far enough and that he needed to apologise to the people. Well, that would of course be better than his lame excuses. But what the Ceann Comhairle should really do is to pay back at least some of the money he squandered while living like a king.

Roisin Shortall, the spokesperson on Social & Family Affairs for the Labour Party, said the Ceann Comhairle's statement did not appear to appreciate the extent to which the public has been shocked by the level of expenses incurred.

And she is quite right. John O'Donoghue only appreciates a life in luxury, but not where the money for it comes from. If he had any decency left, he would resign - as Ceann Comhairle and as TD - and free the nation from his unpleasant presence in politics.
But this would be too much to expect from a man like O'Donoghue, whose greed and ignorance are only matched by his selfishness and arrogance.

The Emerald Islander

13 September 2009

New communal Bicycle Scheme for Dublin

A new communal Bicycle Scheme has been launched in Dublin today.
Its aim is to encourage more people - Dubliners as well as visitors - to cycle in Ireland's capital city instead of using their cars or public transport.

The initiative is organised by Dublin City Council in co-operation with a French advertising company which is funding the project in return for advertising space.
This copies similar schemes in Paris, Copenhagen and sixteen other cities. But it falls well short of long-established communal bicycle pools one can find in many Dutch cities.

In Dublin a total of 450 silver-coloured unisex bicycles - complete with a wire basket for small items in front of the handle bar - are now available for use by anyone.
They can be hired at 40 city locations, from the Mater Hospital in the North of the city to Grand Canal Street in the South.

A short journey of up to half an hour is free of charge, but for longer use of the bicycles there is a rental fee. The first six hours are covered by a flat fee of € 4.50, and after that € 2 are charged for every half hour.
The target audience for the scheme is therefore the short-distance or casual cyclist who might not have a bicycle but would like to use one now and then. The project could also be attractive for visitors who wish to discover the city on two wheels at an affordable price.

However, there is an obstacle in the system that might prevent quite a lot of people from using the new communal bicycles. To use one of the velocipedes one has to leave a € 150 deposit at the renting station, "in case the bike is not returned", as one of the organisers explains.

This is so typically Irish. We just don't trust anyone any more these days. It is the same attitude that makes us pay for every drink we order in a pub at the moment we receive it.
No one trusts anyone here these days, and - to be fair - there are indeed plenty of scoundrels in Ireland who like to take advantage of others. This begins with the government and ends among the lowest of lowlife in shabby pubs.

In contrast to Ireland, most countries in continental Europe have a culture of general trust and thus a lot less abuse. There drinks are marked on the beermat as long as one is in a tavern, and before one leaves, one pays for what one has consumed.
And in some continental countries, in particular in the Netherlands and parts of Belgium, free communal bicycle pools are a long-established service in many cities. Occasionally it does happen there too that a bicycle is not returned to the pool, but it is very rare. General honesty is much more common there than in Ireland, and as people enjoy the free service, they do not abuse it.

But in post-Tiger Ireland nothing happens without money. So anyone who wants to use one of the 450 new communal bicycles in Dublin has to make a € 150 deposit, either by credit card "or with a bank draft", as a city official suggests.
As credit cards are quite common these days, it should be easy to use them for this purpose. But what about those who do not have a 'flexible friend' made of plastic?
Most of Ireland's poor people, including many who live on social welfare, never had a credit card and would never get one from the banks. A lot of these people do not even have a bank account. So how could they avail of the new bicycle scheme?

No one seems to have thought that through. Without a credit card, people would need a € 150 bank draft! This is a large amount of money for poorer people (almost 75% of a weekly social welfare payment) and I cannot imagine that many would carry a bank draft over this amount around with them, just to be able to cycle around Dublin. It seems that once again a generally good idea is blighted right from the start by focusing too much on money and by not trusting the people.

As it is, the scheme is obviously aimed at environmentally conscious people from the middle classes, and it leaves those of lower social standing out in the cold.
There is also an unanswered question of data protection, since thousands of credit card details will be collected by a private advertising company. So even though I do have a credit card and care for the environment, I will not use the scheme as long as the deposit demand is in place. Too often we hear of data theft and large amounts of financial data that are abused for commercial purposes or simply go missing.
And there is no way that I will walk around with a € 150 bank draft in my pocket at all times...

The Emerald Islander

FÁS Board Members will resign

The chairman of Ireland's national training and employment agency FÁS has said that all its board members will resign in the wake of a report which showed a massive waste of taxpayer money.

Speaking earlier today on the This Week programme on RTÉ Radio 1, Peter McLoone (left) - who is in his day job the Secretary General of IMPACT, Ireland's largest public service trade union - stated there was "no time frame" from either the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste for the appointment of a new board, but that this was something to be clarified early next week.

He emphasised that the present board was only appointed in 2006 and was therefore "not responsible for earlier follies and misbehaviour" inside the agency. However, the board would not stand in the way of change and co-operate completely with the transition.

McLoone defended the board's actions and said it had "dealt with any issues that came before us". He and the whole board would "take responsibility for anything that happened while we were in office".

The move follows strong criticism of wasteful expenditure, including massive overspending on promotion at the agency, specified in detail in a report by John Buckley, Ireland's Comptroller & Auditor General, who investigated FÁS for almost a year. (see my entry of September 10th)

The investigation was ordered last year by the Tánaiste Mary Coughlan (right), who is in her capacity as Ireland's Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment responsible for FÁS.

However, she only acted after the independent Senator Shane Ross (left) had - in a lengthy and painstaking investigation of his own - exposed massive irregularities and waste of taxpayers' money on a colossal scale inside the state agency.

Without courageous and independent people like Shane Ross the truth about FÁS might still be unknown to us and subject to the usual government cover-up and denial.

The Emerald Islander

10 September 2009

Sharing a Bed is bad for your Health

I have always known it, and said it to many people for decades: Sharing a bed is bad for your health.

Now, after all those years when people looked at me strangely, laughed at me or even thought I had problems with my sex life, renowned British scientists and medical experts have confirmed my long-held opinion in full.

Couples should consider sleeping apart for the good of their health and relationship, say the experts.

Somnologist (sleep specialist) Dr. Neil Stanley told the British Science Festival how sharing a bed can cause rows over snoring and duvet-hogging, and how it robs precious sleep.

One of several studies into sleep patterns found that - on average - couples suffered 50% more sleep disturbances if they shared a bed.

Dr. Stanley points out that we were never meant to share our beds, and that historically human beings hardly ever did it until very recent times.
The modern practice of the shared marital bed only began with the industrial revolution (in the late 18th and early 19th century), when many people were moved from the land to overcrowded towns and cities, where they found themselves short of living space.

Before the Victorian era it was not common for married couples to sleep together. And in ancient Rome, for example, the marital bed was a place for sexual congress only, but never for sleeping.

Dr. Stanley, who set up one of Britain's leading sleep laboratories at the University of Surrey, says the people of today should consider returning to the old tradition of sleeping separately.

"It's about what makes you happy. If you've been sleeping together and you both sleep perfectly well, then don't change," he explains. "But don't be afraid to do something different. We all know what it's like to have a cuddle and then say 'I'm going to sleep now' and go to the opposite side of the bed. So why not just toddle off down the landing?"

Poor sleep is linked to depression, heart disease, strokes, lung disorders, traffic and industrial accidents, and divorce as well. Yet sleep is largely ignored as an important aspect of health.

"People actually feel that they sleep better when they are with a partner," says Dr. Robert Meadows, a sociologist at the University of Surrey. "But the evidence suggests otherwise."

Dr. Meadows carried out a study to compare how well couples slept when they shared a bed, versus sleeping separately.
He found that when couples share a bed and one of them moves in his or her sleep, there is a 50% chance that their slumbering partner will be disturbed as a result.

Despite this, couples are reluctant to sleep apart, with only 8% of those in their 40s and 50s sleeping in separate rooms.

Dr. Stanley, who is happily married for nine years, sleeps separately from his wife, who is happy with the arrangement as well.

Having served in the Navy for a long time and thus spent many years at sea, I have slept alone for most of my life. And as I am not married, this continues now in my civilian life. Even at times when I was in a relationship with a woman, I tried to sleep alone as often as possible. And most of the nights I shared a bed I was indeed disturbed by one thing or another, woke up several times and did get a lot less rest than I would have normally.

As a result of many years at sea, I never sleep very long. Between three and four hours of sleep is all I need within 24 hours, which means that I have more time for other things than most people (who on average sleep about eight hours each night).
One of the habits I developed over the years is to read and write during the hours of darkness, when it is quiet, no one disturbs me and no telephone calls interrupt my train of thought. So I hardly ever go to bed before 3 a.m., and by 7 a.m. at the latest I am up again.

In contrast to myself, my most recent partner needed a lot of sleep. By 10 p.m. - a time I am getting ready to write another couple of thousand words - she was totally worn out and tired and had to go to bed. Had I joined her there at 3 a.m., I would most likely have woken her up during her deep sleep. So separate beds are not only more healthy for most people, in our case they also helped to give both of us the sleep we need and protect domestic peace.

In fact, my long-standing criticism of modern sleeping habits goes even further than sleep itself. I think that our whole attitude to life, including the way we design and organise our houses, is in need of a drastic reform. Everywhere in the western world houses are rated by their number of bedrooms. Even the concept of a 'bedroom' is quite wrong in my opinion.

Why do we have one of the main rooms in the house (and several when it is a family home) designated for nothing but sleeping during the night? Unless one is an extreme long-sleeper, this means that a large space in the house is not used for anything for two thirds of every day. This is not only strange, but - more important - a terrible waste of good domestic space.

In my opinion we should re-design our houses, and instead of 'bedrooms' that stand empty all day and are thus pretty useless except for spending the night, we should have personal rooms that include a bed. Couples should have their separate personal living spheres, where they can do what they like best, follow their hobbies and keep things they are particularly fond of. These rooms should include a bed for sleeping alone.
Whenever romantic feelings occur, the partners can be intimate in whatever form and room they want. This would be a lot more interesting than limiting all sexual encounters to the marital bed in one designated and shared 'bedroom'.

As the sleep experts from the University of Surrey have established beyond any doubt, partners sleep better alone and will have more physical and mental energy after a good night's rest.
This should lead rather to more intimacy and happiness than to less. Not even to mention the many couples where one of the partners snores. This can not only ruin the other partner's sleep each night, it can - and does - also lead to disliking the snorer, to estrangement and eventually split-up and divorce.

So, as I have been saying for most of my life, sleeping apart makes happier and healthier people, and more couples stay together for life when they sleep separately at night.

Don't be shy, stubborn or inflexible! Discuss it with your partner and try it out. If you miss each other terribly, then - by all means - go back to a shared bed. But if you feel better and stronger in the morning, and are happier and more relaxed, then it would be the best to return to the long-established sleeping habits of our distant ancestors from before the industrial revolution.

The Emerald Islander

P.S. - When you sleep separately, you also do something good for our ailing economy. Buying two beds instead of one can stimulate business, and when you are happier and more relaxed, you are also more likely to do other things as well that will stimulate the economy. The only people who might see a decline of business would be psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage guidance counsellors and divorce lawyers. And this would not be a bad development at all.

Massive Waste of Taxpayers' Money in FÁS

Ireland's national training and employment agency FÁS (Foras Áiseanna Saothair) has wasted vast amounts of taxpayers' money and exceeded its budgets regularly.

A new report by Ireland's Comptroller & Auditor General John Buckley, which is the result of a nearly year-long investigation, highlights "a substantial and prolonged breakdown in budgetary control" at the state agency.

One of the agency's most significant follies is a case especially highlighted in the report: FÁS did spend more than € 600,000 on a television advertisement that was never broadcast.

Mr. Buckley also found that general spending in FÁS exceeded budgets by up to 66%.

Nearly a year ago, when the scandalous money-wasting of FÁS became public knowledge, he was given the task to investigate the agency. (see my entries of September 22nd & 23rd, 2008)

Between 2002 and 2008, FÁS spent over € 48 million alone on advertising and promotional activities. This is the largest advertising spend in the non-commercial state sector, and for most of the period audited Ireland had almost full employment. Which means the agency had hardly anything to do and only very few 'customers'.

The Comptroller & Auditor General also found that budgetary control in FÁS was "poor" and expenditure in this area exceeded budgets by 38%.

As well as the € 600,000 spent on the un-used television advertisement, the agency spent a further € 600,000 with no services at all delivered.

Criticising the wasteful expenditure of FÁS, John Buckley said that "public procurement requirements were not met".

Overall, the report finds that advertising and promotional activities lacked strategic direction and that much of the advertising was ineffective in increasing awareness of FÁS services.

On the basis of what is known by now, there are good reasons to abolish FÁS as an independent agency and to divide its obligations between two government departments: Education (for the training elements) and Enterprise, Trade & Employment (for the work-related and employment duties).

It would also be sensible to prosecute FÁS employees who were responsible for the enormous spending spree and the massive waste of taxpayers' money and try to re-coup as much of it as possible from guilty individuals.
But as things are in Ireland, this is rather unlikely. Those close to the government here get away with everything and are never punished. The ordinary Irish people are instead burdened with the costs of government follies and the many failures and mistakes of its countless agencies.
If one would not know better, one might think Ireland is still a feudal state in the Middle Ages.

The Emerald Islander

For further details about the scandals and wastefulness of FÁS see also my entries of November 22nd, 25th, 26th & 27th, 2008.

Ryanair increases Baggage Fees again

The Irish 'low fares' airline Ryanair has announced a further increase in its fees for checked-in baggage from next month. According to the airline, it is "part of a change in company policy".

In order to keep people confused at all times, the amount of bags Ryanair passengers can check in will increase, but at a higher cost.

From October 1st passengers will be able to check in two bags, each with a separate 15 kg allowance. This a double the current Ryanair luggage allowance of 15 kg.

But the on-line fee for the first checked-in bag will rise from currently € 10 to € 15, while the fee for the second bag goes up from € 20 to € 35.

If the bags are checked in at the airport, the fee for the first bag climbs from € 20 to € 30, while the charge for the second bag goes up from € 20 to a staggering € 70!!!

The airline says that the higher charges will "recover" the cost of what has apparently been "a 20% fall in average fares" this year. And it adds that the increases are "aimed at encouraging passengers to travel with carry-on luggage only".

I am not so sure about this. To my knowledge, Ryanair fares have not fallen in recent times. In fact, with all the add-on charges for luggage, credit card use (which is obligatory for booking with Ryanair) and other so-called 'extras' that were free until recently and still are with many other airlines, travelling with Ryanair has in fact become ever more expensive.
Adding to this the fact that many Ryanair flights do not go to major European cities - despite the airline's claim that they do - but to obscure small airports* many miles away from these cities, the idea of 'cheap flights to the heart of Europe' becomes even less attractive.

Since Ryanair's boss Micheal O'Leary (right) never does anything without a reason - and without gaining a profit from it - I do wonder if the real reason for the sudden and steep increase in baggage charges might be that Mr. O'Leary is a strong supporter of the Lisbon Treaty. Has become a major donor to the YES campaign in the run-up to the second referendum on October 2nd, and I am sure he is keen to recover this money in some way.

Personally I do no longer fly at all (as regular readers of this weblog will know from previous entries) and I have never used Ryanair. But if I would still fly, Michael O'Leary's aggressive support of the YES campaign for the Lisbon Treaty would be a good reason never to use his airline again.
I hope that readers who still fly with commercial airlines will take notice of this and follow my line of thought.

The Emerald Islander

* Many Ryanair flights pretend to go to major cities, but their aeroplanes actually land on small airports nearby, or in some case quite a distance from the 'official' destination. Passengers are then transported to the actual destination by train or - more often - by bus. When Michael O'Leary developed the Ryanair network, he took advantage of the large number of small local and regional airports in Europe. Some of them had existed for a long time and serviced mainly small private aeroplanes and flying schools, without any airline ever going there. Others had been military airbases during the 40 years of the 'Cold War'. When, after 1990, the strength of NATO military power was reduced all over the European continent, a growing number of these airfields became available for civilian use. A typical example is the former US Airforce base at Hahn, in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate), which was the home of American fighter bombers for decades. Now it is a civilian regional airport and serves - among others - Ryanair as one of their main destinations in Europe. But only Ryanair sells their flights to Hahn as flights to "Frankfurt-Hahn", even though no such place actually exists. Frankfurt, the metropolis of the neighbouring state of Hessen (Hesse) and the financial capital of Germany, is in fact more than 100 km away.

09 September 2009

MONOPOLY Game goes global on-line

A massive multi-player on-line version of the popular property board game MONOPOLY has been launched today.

Monopoly City Streets has been developed by Hasbro, the US toy and games manufacturer who produces the conventional board version of MONOPOLY (as well as other games) here in Waterford, Ireland's oldest city.

The free on-line game uses Google Maps or the open source Open Street Map as its playing board.

Hasbro says that it will be "the biggest game of Monopoly of all times" and will allow players to purchase "almost any street in the world".

The goal of the game, like in the conventional board version, is to earn money on property and become the richest person playing.

New players will receive three million Monopoly-Dollars when they start, and then they are free to build their virtual empire. In theory, every street in the world is available for purchase.

Once a player has taken control of a street, he is - like in the board game version - able to charge rent and build new virtual properties. Streets can also be sold or traded with other players.

In a change to the original board game, Hasbro has introduced new chance cards for the on-line version.
They will allow players to "sabotage" neighbouring rivals by building rubbish dumps, prisons or wind farms on their property, in order to reduce the rent value of their neighbours.
Players can only remove a hazard by bulldozing it off their property, again through the use of chance cards.

The on-line game, which was started today, will run for a little under five months and close on January 31st, 2010.

In case you are interested to become a player, I hope you have some patience.
As it could be expected, the first few hours after the launch have been frantic and - as also could be expected - the system's servers went down very soon, being overwhelmed by the interest of people from all around the world who want to sign up and play.

Most people who went to the official website of the game - www.monopolycitystreets.com - today received the following message:
We anticipated an opening rush when we launched the Monopoly City Streets online game, but the first few hours have surpassed even our greatest expectations.
The registration is slow due to the overwhelming response. Our servers are on fire! Thanks for everyone’s interest and patience - please keep trying.
We are in the process of increasing our firepower and expect to be running more smoothly within the next several hours.
Thanks for your patience as we work as fast as we can to resolve this and get everyone playing and trading on Monopoly City Streets.
Personally I would have neither the time for such a massive game, nor am I a particular fan of MONOPOLY. But if you are and want to join in, I wish you the best of luck!

The Emerald Islander

9-9-9 - And the World did not end...

Today's date - the ninth day of the ninth month in the ninth year of the century - has inspired and frightened various people in equal measures.

In Chinese numerology the number 9 represents 'long life', so its triple appearance on the calendar has led a large amount of couples in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore to get married on this lucky day.

In Britain and the USA, where 999 is the emergency telephone number, there have also been many weddings - involving at least one partner who works for one of the emergency services - today. A particular increase in people who wanted to tie the knot for life has been reported from the Scottish border town of Gretna Green, where traditionally marriages can be conducted by a blacksmith.
Even though there are no longer special laws in Scotland that made Gretna Green the place where run-away couples would go to get married in the past, especially when the bride was too young to get married in England or when there was a feud between the lovers' families, the place still attracts many couples who wish to have their wedding in the old smithy.

On the other hand, many suspicious and pessimistic people were in fear of today, as for them 999 is "the number of the beast" and represents 'the devil' and the end of the world. Even in our modern times there are still millions of highly superstitious individuals on this planet, and certain religious groups and sects fuel such superstition further with their own scaremongering.

This brain-washing and incitement of fear is dangerous and destructive. It leads to depression, suicides and even to acts of crime and violence. But fortunately there have - so far - been no news reports of irrational mass-hysteria on this day from anywhere. And although the date is still 09-09-09 in much of the Western hemisphere of the globe, I do hope it will stay this way.

As the day draws to a close in my part of the planet, I am glad to say that we had a very nice and sunny day here today, with nothing special happening, despite the special date.
And - of course - the world did not end today either. This is only going to happen when our star - the Sun - will reach the end of its life in about four million years from now. Until then we should try to make the best of our lives, day by day, regardless of superstitions and numerology.

The Emerald Islander

Micheál Martin's Woolly Waffling

Until this morning I thought that Micheál Martin (photo) is Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs.
But since his appearance on the Today programme with Pat Kenny on RTÉ Radio 1 earlier today, I have my doubts.

The 'performance' Martin gave this morning in relation to the Lisbon Treaty makes him more qualified as the Minister for Woolly Waffling, and that is exactly what he does now for quite some time. He tries to pull the wool over the eyes of the Irish people, while he waffles on about "being at the heart of Europe" and how important it is to please everyone else in the EU.

When he took his oath of office as a Minister, he swore to act at all times in the interest of Ireland and the Irish nation.
This he most certainly does not when he performs cheap advertisement stunts for the Lisbon Treaty.
Instead of doing his best to protect the nation in whose government and parliament he serves, Martin signs away ever more of our rights, ignores the democratic will of the Irish people - as expressed very clearly in last year's referendum - and turns himself and the Irish government into weak push-overs for unelected but ambitious EU bureaucrats.

This is more than disappointing. In fact, it comes dangerously close to treason.

And this is the man whom quite a lot of Irish people would still regard as a possible Taoiseach in waiting.
Well, if he does not change his tone and attitudes very soon and very drastically, I cannot see him progressing any further. He will most likely end up on the large dust heap of Irish history, together with the majority of arrogant, useless, clueless and incompetent Fianna Fáil politicians.

The Emerald Islander

Over 50% of On-Line Sellers break EU Laws

More than 50% of websites selling electronic products across Europe are breaking EU consumer laws.
This is the finding of a recent investigation, co-ordinated by the European Commission.

A majority of websites selling mostly electronic products - such as digital cameras, mobile phones or MP-3 players - fail to comply with rules on explaining the price in clear terms, their company address and details regarding the right to return products.

Increasingly, consumers are turning to the internet to buy everyday electronic gadgets like phones, cameras, iPods or games consoles.
However, consumers have also become more disenchanted about the purchase of electronic equipment on-line, with one third of all customer complaints now relating to digital products.

A survey, conducted by enforcement agencies in 27 European countries, found that 55% of the tested websites show irregularities.
On most of these websites consumers were not informed about their right to return goods within seven days without giving a reason.
Consumers were also misled about whether they could receive cash rather than credit, or about their entitlement to have faulty products replaced.

On-line retail sales of digital goods only are currently worth nearly € 7 billion in Europe each year.

But on nearly half of the problem sites on-line retailers appeared to obscure address and contact details.

The investigation included 15 Irish websites selling electronic equipment. Among them, six "potential problem sites" have now been identified, although so far the National Consumers' Association has refused to name and shame offenders.

Less Ferry Traffic between Britain and Ireland, but more Irish People take the Boat to France

Ferry traffic between Britain and Ireland has dropped, but more Irish people are now travelling by ferry to France.

The total number of passengers travelling by ferry from Ireland to Britain was down by 130,000 in the first half of this year, compared to last year.

"Subdued consumer demand" is the main reason given by the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) in its half-yearly passenger traffic report

Dublin Port showed a growth of 14%, which is attributed to the moving of ferry traffic from Dun Laoghaire to Dublin.

However, overall the ferry business to Britain is down, and the Sterling-Euro exchange rate is another reason blamed in the IMDO report.

In contrast, ferry passenger traffic to France, where Irish people find a better Euro value than at home, is up by 4%. This increase is mostly due to the excellent service of Irish Ferries, the operator of the ferries to and from France.
Their main vessel at present is the
Oscar Wilde (above), which sails from Rosslare, Co. Wexford to Cherbourg every second day, with the return journey the next day.

Adding an observation of my own to the IMDO report, there is also a growing number of people who are utterly fed-up with the ever increasing extra charges, invented by so-called 'low fares' airlines to boost their profits. This, combined with ever more hassle at airports, turns sensible people travelling to Europe away from airlines and makes them use the ferry service to France, which is very competitive now.

The Emerald Islander

08 September 2009

Many Critical Reactions to the Commission on Taxation's Recommendations

Irish opposition politicians have said they expect the government to use the report of the Commission on Taxation (see yesterday's entry below) "to tackle the shortfall in the public finances".

Fine Gael's deputy leader and Finance spokesman Richard Bruton (left) said that Fianna Fáil was "trying to tax its way back to recovery, and that no country has ever managed to do this".

"The last thing families and taxpayers need at this time of deepening economic crisis is dreaming up even more ways to tax them to pay for Ireland's unreformed, often dysfunctional and high-cost public service," Deputy Bruton said.
"No country has ever taxed its way back to recovery, but that is exactly what Fianna Fáil is trying to do."
"Ireland's tax system may need to be redesigned to support employment and investment, but the government's focus should not be on increasing overall tax levels," he added.

Fine Gael's newest TD (and former RTÉ economics editor) George Lee (right) stated that people would have to wait and see whether the report was a fair one. This would depend on what choices the government made from the menu provided by the commission, he said.

Joan Burton (left), deputy leader and spokesperson for Finance of the Labour Party, said she was "amazed that the commission has not tackled the issue of property based tax relief" and claimed that "the dominance of tax lobbyists in the commission's make up contributed to them side-lining this important issue".

Deputy Burton stated that the report would require "careful study" and called for it to be used "to address glaring anomalies in the tax system".
She added that despite the commission's description of the report as "revenue-neutral", it would be difficult not to see some of the new taxes being proposed being used to plug the gap in the public finances.

Sinn Féin's Finance spokesperson Arthur Morgan (right) said he expected the report to be used to increase taxation of ordinary people.
"This report unfairly targets households, as does the McCarthy Report, to pay for the government's mismanagement of the Irish economy," he said.
"It is not a restructuring of the tax system based on fairness - it is an attempt to squeeze even further ordinary people struggling to make ends meet."

Meanwhile the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) criticised the report's proposals on carbon tax and changes to the capital allowance system.

IFA President Padraig Walshe (left) said he was "very concerned" that a carbon tax will add another cost to the productive, export-driven sectors of the economy and will also discriminate against farmers and rural dwellers who do not have the option of public transport.

He thinks the recommendation to change the capital allowance system will undermine any future investment in farm buildings in Ireland.

Con Lucey, the IFA Chief Economist, was a member of the Commission on Taxation.

Another farm group, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), which has demonstrated against low milk prices outside Government Buildings in Dublin only last Friday (see my entry of September 4th), said that the proposal for a new carbon tax would "fall disproportionately on the agri-food sector and considerably worsen Ireland's competitive position".

The Arts Council has said it will make a "strong case" to the government for the retention of the artists' tax exemption scheme.
Its President Pat Moylan said that if the exemption is abolished, Ireland could lose entirely a considerable number of artists, and that this would not be for the public good.
She added that a study had shown that the Exchequer would lose tax revenue if the exemption is scrapped.

The Emerald Islander

07 September 2009

Commission on Taxation presents its Proposals

Ireland's Commission on Taxation has proposed an annual tax on all residential property, water charges and the taxing of child benefit.

The report, which has been published in Dublin today, is part of the Irish government's strategy to shore-up the public finances, with the budget deficit likely to exceed € 20 billion this year.

With Ireland facing its worst financial crisis ever, the government is under huge pressure to restore the public finances.
Step one was the McCarthy Report, which recommended extensive spending cuts across the public sector, and step two is the list of recommendations from the Commission on Taxation.

The commission states that its priority is "to broaden the tax base, rather than merely increasing tax rates".

Commission chairman Frank Daly says the recommendations would "not damage economic growth". All recommendations were "designed to spread the burden of taxation more evenly and to give the government more certainty about its tax revenue".

The report urges the government to focus on raising revenue through property taxes, spending taxes and income taxes - in that order.
The commission also identified 245 tax relieving measures in the Irish tax system.

The main proposals are:
  • An annual property tax on all residential property, excluding social and local authority housing.
  • Child benefit should be a taxable income, with a tax credit to offset the increase in tax for low income earners.
  • A new three-rate income tax system should be introduced to replace the current high and low income tax rates.
  • The health levy should be abolished and integrated into the income tax system when fiscal conditions improve.
  • Rules on residency and tax exemption should be strengthened.
  • Stamp duty on ATM, credit and debit cards should be phased out in the interest of promoting a cash-free society.
  • Removal of tax relief for nursing home expenses once the 'Fair Deal' scheme ends.
  • The current 'Cinderella clause' needs to be supplemented with additional tests and criteria.
  • Additional capital gains tax should apply on windfall gains from property rezoning.
  • Domestic water charges should be phased in, with incentives to install meters and with a waiver for low income households.
  • Carbon tax based in tonnes of carbon should be introduced and collected at the earliest point of supply.
  • VRT should be replaced over ten years by a system based on car usage.
  • Tax relief for pension payments should be replaced with a scheme 'along the lines of the former SSIA scheme'.
  • The first € 200,000 of pension lump sums should be tax-free, with the remainder taxed at standard rate.
  • Ireland's low corporate tax rate should remain in place to support economic activity long term.
  • The artists' tax exemption should end.
  • Expenses of Oireachtas members should be treated in the same way as expenses paid to all other employees, with a limit placed on the dual abode allowance and an end to the flat rate of relief for accommodation.
  • End stock relief for farming business, but continue relief on farm land leasing.
  • Income tax relief for trade union subscriptions should be ended.
As these are so far only recommendations, it will be interesting to see which of the proposals the government will adopt, and in which way they will be implemented.

06 September 2009

HSE is facing € 800 Million Budget Cuts

Today the Chief Executive of the Health Service Executive (HSE) has confirmed that the Department of Health has instructed him "to draw up plans to cut next year's budget by at least an additional € 800 million".

Speaking on the Sunday programme This Week on RTÉ Radio 1, Prof. Brendan Drumm (photo) said the HSE would have "to cut at least 6000 jobs in the coming years if substantial savings could not be achieved".

Prof. Drumm also announced that he will not seek a renewal of his contract when his five-year term as head of the HSE comes to an end in 2010.
"Five years are a sensible period of time," he said, "but ten years in the same position might be too long for one man and lead to unexpected problems."

Urgent Review of Dublin 'Bus Gate' demanded

Dublin city centre businesses have called for an urgent review of the car-free zone at College Green, claiming it has "caused a serious decline in trade".

A hastily arranged meeting of business people in the city heard that Thursday night trade in particular has been badly affected by the 'bus gate'. (Thursday is still the day when most Irish people receive their weekly wages, and various social welfare payments are made on Thursdays as well.)

The operator of the Brown Thomas car park said that "trade is down 75% in the evenings".

The Dublin 'bus gate' came into operation at the end of July, banning private cars from passing Trinity College during morning and evening rush hours.

Dublin City Council has promised a review of the situation next January.

However, Fine Gael Councillor Gerry Breen said that "many shop workers could be on the dole by then".

A spokesman for Dublin City Council declared it will "look at ways of encouraging shoppers who travel in cars into the city".
He said that it seemed the 'bus gate' had been "a success for bus passengers and pedestrians".

But, as in so many other Irish cities and towns, a reduction of traffic in city centres also means a reduction of business there.

The Emerald Islander