In the January 19th Radio Derb I passed some remarks about the sorry state of Ireland—the Republic, that is: or "the 26 counties" if you are a radical republican, or "West Britain" if you are even more radical than that. (In many thousands of hours spent in Ireland and among Irish people I have never heard anyone say "Éire," and do not even know how this word is pronounced.)
For patriots and nationalists it is a sad and paradoxical story. After fighting all those centuries for independence, and attaining it at last, the Irish are now in bondage to the bureaucrats of the EU. I tried to explain some of the underlying causes in my Radio Derb segment.
The nationalist impulse of the Irish realized itself as a flight from the hated British. When you flee from something, though, you are willy nilly fleeing to something else. The determination to escape from British control was so powerful, the Irish never paused to ask the question: What are we fleeing to?
Now we know the answer to that question: The Irish were fleeing to control by the bureaucrats of the European Union. From the point of view of national psychology, this is not very surprising. Paradoxically, in view of their intense ethnocentric pride in themselves, the Irish have always had a parallel longing to belong to something big and international. Hence their long devotion to the Roman Catholic church, and more recently to the United Nations. Again, that's understandable, given Ireland's history; but it's just not compatible with being a proud, independent nation.
I ran that segment by John Woods, a friend over there who knows the place much better than I do. He sent back the following, reproduced here with his permission (and some minimal editing: square brackets are me, not him).
In the decade up to 2007 the Irish economy grew by something like 40 percent. David McWilliams, one of the country's foremost economists, popularized the phrase "Celtic Tiger," which soon became a cliché.
It all ended in tears. Prime culprits: the mother of all speculative construction booms, which came to a shuddering halt a few years back, and reckless investment decisions by leading banks— especially Anglo-Irish, which seems to have been basically a conduit for punting money on the London property market.
The collapse of the Irish construction sector (which was massively over-invested in, and in turn massively unbalanced the economy as a whole) means that half the bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, architects, site managers and quantity surveyors in Ireland are currently on the dole, or on a three day week, or in Canada.
During the Celtic Tiger era, large numbers of housing estates were built by speculative developers who just churned the land to the next mug punter, and they built lots of houses which are now lying empty, and covering what was, a few years earlier, beautiful unspoilt countryside. During the boom, a lot of lads who had the grades to go to college eschewed this option and got apprenticeships in construction instead. It was the logical thing to do: the building boom was never going to end. Except it did.
The economically vital Irish tourist economy is also down the toilet. I am not an economist, but I simply cannot understand how, if the Euro is going down—as most informed commentators seem to think it is—how it is still so strong against Sterling and the Dollar. When the Euro first came in, it was totally static for about eight years at 1.50 to the £. Now it's more like 1.25, which means the UK tourists can't afford to come, which means that the hotel sector, which was also massively overbuilt during the Celtic Tiger era, is, like the construction industry, at death's door. The phrase "Zombie Hotel" has entered the argot alongside "Ghost Estate."
The small farmers are, as ever, being raped on profit margins by the big supermarket chains: are basically working seven days a week to keep Dunnes Stores and Tesco Ireland in profit. (The reputation of the Irish agribusiness sector will not be helped by the recent revelation that many of the all-beef patties sourced from Irish farms to the UK arm of McDonald's appear to have been horseburgers.)
The small businessman—the publican or the shopkeeper or the Bed & Breakfast proprietor—does not know how he is going to be able to pay his staff from one week to the next, given the complete failure of the banks to do what they promised to do when they were bailed out by NAMA (aka the taxpayer) and actually start lending.
Note: NAMA (the National Asset Management Agency) was set up by the last and now thoroughly disgraced Fianna Fáil [populist, somewhat nationalist political party] government as a panic emergency "Bad Bank" to compulsorily acquire property development loans from Irish banks in return for government bonds, primarily with a view to kick-starting a moribund economy through improving credit. Sounds like a good idea until you consider that they took 77 Billion Euros (yup, you read that right) from the Irish taxpayer to do so. McWilliams described it as "legalised grand larceny at the taxpayers' expense."
In other words, those who work in the real economy are suffering, or at immediate risk of doing so.
However, it ain't all gloom and doom. Irish academic staff are officially the most highly paid academics in the Eurozone. Irish medical professionals are the most highly paid medical professionals in the Eurozone. Same with the lawyers: same with the upper echelons of the civil service: same with the Foreign office.
The supervisory ranks of the Garda are the most highly paid police managerial staff in the Eurozone: a Garda Inspector makes about 85,000 Euros a year with overtime and allowances. The Irish Defence Forces have 12,000 full timers, and nearly 1000 officers, the largest ratio of chiefs to Indians in any European armed service. And—guess what—the officers are the best paid in the Eurozone.
The Irish judiciary are the most highly paid in the Eurozone. The govt. asked them to take a voluntary pay cut recently: the response was, well, you can guess. (Incidentally, NAMA has over a hundred civil servants—accountants, etc.—who earn over €100,000 per annum.)
Basically, the public sector middle class are sitting there saying: "Recession, what recession?" If anything, they see it as a good time to invest in the property market. No one can get a mortgage any more, unless they work for the government, in which case they can probably get three if they ask nicely, and rent two properties out: house prices in some areas have fallen by 75 percent in the last five years.
The Dáil [= lower house of Irish Parliament] has 166 deputies to serve a population of 4.5 million: Britain's House of Commons has 650 MPs to serve a pop. of 63 million: ratio of constituents to TDs [= Members of Parliament] is therefore 28 percent of what it is in the UK. Being a back bench TD is basically a part time job: but they pay themselves over €100,000 per annum basic anyway. Enda Kenny [Ireland's Prime Minister] earns a higher salary than Barack Obama.
With regard to the average Fine Gael [neoliberal party, currently in power] TD, it's not as if they need the money that much anyway: most come from such bourgeois backgrounds that they could well give half their salaries back to the exchequer as a mark of solidarity: but do you think any will? What we have we hold, as Edward Carson said.
The PR system in the Dail means that they now have a dozen Sinn Féiners [Sinn Féin is a radical-republican political party; and in the North, a front for republican terrorist/criminal gangs] and another half dozen far left Trots in the house: The Shinners in particular appear to be learning the first law of Irish politics: get on the expenses gravy train as soon as you can.
Aengus Ó'Snodaigh TD [the last bit is pronounced "Snoddy"], a man who was arrested by the Garda more than once in his time, and whose wife was also once arrested for drunk-and-disorderly and threatening Garda officers after they were called to a drunken brawl at a Sinn Féin fundraiser in Dublin, was recently reported having submitted €50,000 worth of expenses in a single year for printer ink cartridges.
As one journalistic wag said at the time, it's better that SF are busying themselves with this type of cartridge as opposed to the other type. Gerry Adams [former capo di tutti capi of the republican terror/crime gangs in the North], now TD for Louth, did not allow his socialist views to prevent him seeking private medical care in the U.S.A. for a recent prostate operation, rather than risk the waiting lists in Ireland. His medical bills were mysteriously paid for him.
The left are working themselves into paroxysms of rage about all of the above, but are strangely silent about the other area in which the Republic tops the poll in Western Europe: dole payments. An unemployed single man gets €197 [= $262] basic per week plus his rent. A married man with three kids gets near €450 [= $600]: which means he has to find a job paying €700 before tax before it's worth his while getting off his arse to go to work.
Again, the rates were massively hiked by Fianna Fáil during the boom as a sop to buy off the unions and the poverty lobby. They just thought that since unemployment had been abolished in the brave new Ireland, like the business cycle itself, they were never actually going to have to pay this money out.
The massively over generous dole payments are attracting large numbers of Nigerian con artists, Romanian gypsies, various white trash ne'er-do-wells from England, Albanian organised crime types and other undesirables. On the public housing estates these people are ethnically replacing the native Irish workers, who are bailing out to Canada or Australia. The indigenous lumpen, especially the "Travellers" (no one calls them that in real life) are also breeding away merrily.
Thirty years ago, inner city working class Dublin was probably the most ethnically homogenous society in Western Europe. The only black people there were Paul McGrath, Phil Lynott, and a few African nuns. Racial violence between native Dublin youth and black immigrants is now becoming endemic.
A young Nigerian lad, Toyosi Shittabey (yup, real name) was stabbed to death in a fight with some local kids last year, and the Irish Liberals now seem determined to canonise him as the Irish Stephen Lawrence.
The powers that be seem to realise some ugly things are brewing on the estates, and are busily papering over the cracks. All over Dublin these days one sees posters with smiling kiddies of various different ethnicities and the words "celebrate diversity."
That's an order.
The Poles, who flooded into the Republic in the boom, don't seem to attract too much obloquy. The locals seem quite well disposed towards them, maybe because of the religious affinity, and the fact that the Poles do generally seem to want to work for a living.
However, the Polish immigration into Northern Ireland appears to be causing serious social tensions, mainly because of the sectarian aspect: the attitude in working class loyalist [loyal, that is, to the union with Britain—"Protestant" on the usual U.S. news schema, though I doubt many of them could place the Diet of Worms in the correct century] areas seems to be that they've got enough Catholics already, thank you.
The N. Ireland v. Poland international at Windsor Park Belfast in 2009 ended in horrific bloody violence after a bunch of Dublin based Polish football hooligans (of which there are a surprisingly large number) went North for the game and waved some Irish tricolours in an attempt to annoy the locals, which succeeded only too well. There is some interesting footage on YouTube of some bloodied Poles being tended to by the police and paramedics.
Apparently, on the 12th July in the Shankill [a district in Belfast, the heart of loyalist sentiment], they have now taken to burning the Polish flag as well as the green, white, and gold. Apparently they have to import 'em specially.
All in all, the country's screwed. I'm seriously contemplating moving to Australia, assuming they do something about the forest fires.
I smiled at the reference to Tesco, the British supermarket chain. Back in 1981 I was doing contract systems design work around the British Isles. Tesco expanded into Ireland that year, buying up an Irish chain named 3 Guys. We (I had two programmers, also contractors, cutting the code) created and implemented the entire inventory system for the Tesco Ireland operation from scratch in six months, on time and in budget. The user manuals came back from the print shop the last day of my contract—very satisfying.
The thing I mainly remember, though, is the Royal Hibernian hotel in Dublin where we were put up for the duration. It was a grand old Georgian pile with the best food in Ireland. The pastry chef was particularly good: I can still taste his choux pastry.
The Royal Hibernian has since been closed and demolished. I believe the pastry chef, in despair, committed seppuku with his cake slicer, a very sad business.