The year the plan expired

Life is full of moments. This is one now and that was one then. If you walked into that Dublin hotel you could, as a non-privy spectator, have mistaken it for a wedding reception, such was the crowd. The same crowd that could confuse would also, on closer inspection, give the game away. The colours were all wrong.

Dark shades and black ties had won out. Hands were busy, holding either hot drinks or each other, offering a consoling hand on the shoulder or a hug to those who needed something more. Caffeine trumped alcohol as we talked with family and friends, reminiscing about my father, whose funeral had been that morning.

2007 had an awful lot to answer for.

With a breaking heart and a muddled brain my phone rang, and I answered it. I excused myself and confirmed it. As planned, the phone line would be connected tomorrow. No ifs or buts. And no father. He had visited the busy construction site before and we pointed out the place we believed to be ours. I hope he saw the one we meant. I know he felt our excitement.

The year could not, would not, end this way.

We finally had our keys and, after two years, couldn’t wait a minute longer to move in. Our relationship was going from strength to strength. Our subsequent desire to make a ‘grown-up’ decision was to put us in the company of thousands of others – not of developers, or investors, but of couples in love who wanted nothing more than the opportunity to turn a house into a home, our home.

In the five years that passed, it never became that to me. I couldn’t bring myself to let it.

The property crash, and the gradual realisation that we were to become a statistic in the mess and little more, led to a deep inward resentment. It goes without saying that I, like many many others, did not see the crash coming. There are plenty who will say that they did, but had they been of a certain age, means and motive, would have done similar. They now have hindsight, without the bittersweet aftertaste, and can rewrite their own personal history as they see fit.

The truth be told, we did our best to be pragmatic, making sure to stick below the €317,500 in order to avoid paying stamp duty. That additional outlay is now but a small percentage of what we owe, which will never be recouped by what we own.

Watching things pan out in a way you never expected, with each twist and turn making it painfully clear how little control we have over this situation has proven to be gut wrenching and too often, gut wrenching on a daily basis. The five-year plans of many homeowners have by this stage fallen by the wayside.

2012 was our expiration date.

Wearing the now tattered and ill-fitting clothing that is negative equity does little to compliment the outfit that is our life in 2013, and what it has become. The term ‘long-term’ has for too long held only negative connotations for me. My imagination, vivid as it is, would struggle to visualise a different property in our future, the property that would become our real house, the one that would allow for pet ownership, better amenities and a shorter commute.

Thankfully, the starting of a family, whenever that will happen and however it’ll be funded, is considered a compromise too far by both of us. There will come a point, however, when space, or the lack of it where we are, may come to play a part in that as well.

By virtue of the things this real house would allow for, it couldn’t but become a home.

Couldn’t it?

As a journalist I spend a great deal of each day being objective. My own inner newsreel does not benefit from any such objectivity, however, when thoughts of signing on the dotted line 2005 are replayed. No balance. Just bias. And let’s not forget the misplaced self-criticism at not being able to foresee what the future would hold.

In the years that have passed, life has gone on in this house. Ten birthdays and six Christmases have been celebrated here. Having never missed a mortgage payment and with two incomes (for now), we remain the lucky ones. There are those who can no longer afford their mortgage repayments, those whose homes have been effected by pyrite, and those from Priory Hall who remain in limbo.

I can only write about my reality, however, and the reality is that holding onto that five-year plan and watching it count down to zero was a waste of time and energy. When everything had changed but the self-imposed deadline which justified the purchase, simple math rendered our best intentions redundant.

It’s time for a new plan.

What is common to us all, regardless of our financial burdens – past, present, or future – is that each of us remain in possession of something that has never dropped in value, and never will.

If you’re still struggling with your New Year’s resolution for 2013 and, more importantly, if you find yourself struggling in general, adopt the one that I should have adopted in 2009 – the one that I am adopting now.

Be a better friend to yourself.

Feel the fear, do it anyway, but accept yourself – always and without condition. Be your own best friend and safeguard the only thing you will ever own that is truly priceless.

It’s time I made this house my home.

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When hypocrite eyes are smiling

With Ireland out of the Euros and England into the quarter finals, just who are Irish fans going to cheer for next?

Charles de Gaulle once said that “patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” Not a bad quote, for a cheese-eating surrender monkey. And that’s how simple it is. You take what you want from a nation before sullying the rest. Another famous Frenchie once said “let them eat cake.” Where our nearest neighbours are concerned, however, it appears to be us who are happy to not only have one’s cake, but to attempt to eat it too.

Based on the definition above, I’m sure most Irish people would like to think of themselves as patriots but, truth be told, they’re probably as guilty as the next in their selective nationalism when thoughts of the land mass across the Irish Sea come to mind. The English get a rough time of it where we’re concerned. We joke about them, and continue to call them the old enemy amongst other – vastly less printable – things. But what is our relationship with the English, and when are we going to own up to the hypocrisy of it?

Still not sure what I’m talking about? There is no better example than football – or soccer to our American friends – to indicate just how short-sighted many Irish people can be when it comes to our relationship with the English. Where the English Premier League is concerned, a huge proportion of Irish people have indeed been there, done that, and bought the jersey – both home and away.

And all this from a subsection of Irish people who, once Ireland is knocked out of major competition a la Euro 2012, turn their thoughts to who they don’t want to see win it, namely, England. What a confused bunch we Irish are.

It’s probably time for a disclaimer of sorts. I’m not really much of a football fan. A much younger version of myself did have a fleeting interest in Serie A, the Italian football league. The team was Juventus and their star player, Roberto Baggio, was probably the original of what we would now term a David Beckham. Perhaps I was hoping I could be cool by association.

Young as I was, I still would have seen an issue if an apparent contradiction had arisen from my then-love of Italian football. Should I have held strikingly anti-Italian views in some other aspect of my young life and relished in making these known, I would have thought long and hard about my football allegiance. But I didn’t, because I didn’t.

I have a friend who for many years regaled all who would listen about his night of drinking with an English work colleague, during which he took it upon himself to dish out a history lesson concerning our countries tumultuous dance through the ages.

His story ended with the victorious assertion that their verbal jousting had brought the other person – who had probably started the night with thoughts of a few drinks and a laugh (how different they are!) – to a form of submission, with him apologising for the last 600 years of something that he had absolutely nothing to do with.

One down, 51.5 million to go. To go where, I’m unsure. But one thing is for sure, we don’t appear to be done yet. Not even close.

So, the football thing. Where football fandom is concerned, you don’t have to look much further than (Glory Glory) Man United. We Irish appear enthralled by them, even going so far as to add an additional dimension where possible and catch the action in Avatar-like 3D down the local. Perhaps the supporters have good reason to. Over the years, they’ve had many great Irish players, from Belfast’s favourite son, George Best, to Roy “Keano” Keane.

George Best is remembered for a lot of things. For playing football mostly and for womanising and drinking latterly. In both life and death, I remember reading stories of the quiet lad who couldn’t handle the bright lights and big city that was Manchester. England had been the wolf in sheep’s clothing and Georgie had innocently answered the door. When the crime scene of Irish self-victimisation turns up an English fingerprint, mea culpa is no longer a requirement. Blame the English; they did it (probably).

Had it not been for his playing for Manchester United, would we even have known how good “Bestie” was? If he had played for a team in either the 26 or six counties from 1963 to 1974 before hitting the lows that were the Los Angeles Aztecs, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the San Jose Earthquakes and the Hong Kong Rangers to name but a few, would we have known (or cared) who he was?

England gave him something. It gave him profile, and it gave us an insight into a perceived dream existence that was hedonism unchecked. Why else would so many Irish people have supported an English football team at the same time as our nationalist friends further North were trying to blow its citizens to hell? How many of those same football supporters also supported that cause, while happily making football the exception to the rule that it continues to be to this very day?

Now hating is never a good thing, but if you’re going to do it, be consistent about it at least.

This may sound flippant, but it’s far too serious for that. Based on what Irish society exhibits outwardly, our relationship with the English points of one of two things:

  1. We genuinely hold a deep dislike for the country and its people and are willing hypocrites where football allegiances and a great many other things are involved.
  2. We don’t hold a deep dislike for the country and its people but want to be seen to do so out of some ill-defined need for pseudo-nationalism when the occasion calls for it.

Look no further than the Irish ballad The Fields of Athenry. A song to be proud of normally, until a certain group of drunk proud Irish people decide to throw the words Sinn Fein and IRA into the mix, and usually at a time of the night when they’ll happily grope hug any nationality, including the old enemy.

Never do we feel so nationalistic where England are concerned than when we are within a group of people whom we believe to hold such beliefs, leading us to proactively get the anti-English sentiment flowing in a classic case of Limey lemming behaviour.

We appear to have taken the Napoleon complex and transposed it from short-arse to small country. Anyone unlucky enough to have seen a wedding or night-out end with a rendition of the Irish National Anthem has most likely squirmed as a bunch of (involuntarily) swaying participants struggle.

Attempting to still hold their pint as they clasp their sweaty hands behind their backs, the time has come to engage in the group challenge to prove who loves Ireland the most. Both our patriotism and nationalism appear to flow best when in unison with a beer tap.

What’s even more ironic about Ireland’s widespread hypocrisy is that more thought and effort appears to go into feeding the contradiction: the club choice, the jerseys, the games, the supporters club, before finally being topped off by the graft required to attain an anorak-level of knowledge about said club. The weak-willed protestations against the English that the ears are often assaulted when this is brought up lack the same level of vigour or energy.

We attempt to justify it as an anomaly, a blip on the radar.

Yeah I like English football, which I actively follow, but I’m anti-English otherwise, which is why you’ll never find me in Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Topshop or myriad other English outlets.

This quote is mine, as I’ve just read it aloud as I typed it.

Had I not done so it would be unattributed. Not because my bibliography would have come up short, but because I don’t believe these words have ever been uttered by another living soul. For all the bluster, I have yet to meet an Irish person with such clarity of thought and, most importantly, the follow-through to see their supposed conviction through.

This willingness to be happily hypocritical has a face, and in reverence to Time’s person of the year for 2011 being the protestor, it is only fitting that it’s our own version that should be the one to show it. In 2006, the Love Ulster march in Dublin ended in riots. Some of the rioters did so having that morning made the strangest of clothing decisions, adorning themselves in English and Scottish club jerseys.

Five years later and the visit by Queen Elizabeth to Dublin was protested against by Éirígí, who view themselves as an Irish, socialist republican, political group – their words, not mine. Many of their members appear to have failed to get the memo, however. Perhaps they were over in Scotland cheering on Celtic at the time.

Carrying placards which read “Britain out of Ireland”, their football jerseys made it clear that this message was not without its terms and conditions, namely to leave the Sky+ boxes alone so we can still grab the match once they’ve left. After all, how else could you explain some of the protestors wearing jerseys as they protested?

How else could those who claim their convictions to be unwavering and pure engage in such a fashion faux pas? Now don’t get me wrong, I have much greater issues with Éirígí and their ilk than their confused dress sense, but this typifies the confused nature of the Irish psyche.

Now hating is never a good thing, but if you’re going to do it, be consistent about it at least.

Let us, for one minute, forget about a shared history and think about our shared present. Almost half of our tourists come from Britain. Not too shabby, especially when we need money, and lots of it. Also less than shabby is the fact that we Irish make almost three million visits to Britain each and every year.

All that coming and going is fine, I hear you say, but there’s nothing as nice as coming home to Ireland. Well, extenuating circumstances aside, the approximately 600,000 Irish who have made the UK their home appear to be struggling on through, managing to live and, cherish the thought, even copulate with those-who-must-not-be-named. It appears that the old enemy has become the new bedfellow.

Most astonishing of all is that fact that over 300,000 UK citizens have decided to live amongst us, despite our schizophrenic attitudes toward them. For those who would rather remain at arm’s length, three million of them happily claim Irish ancestry of some sort. I think my hating is never a good thing… assertion needs a bit of an update.

Now hating is never a good thing, but if you’re going to do it, be consistent about it at least, while making sure that it’s still justified.

Those who still bear a grudge, either genuinely or otherwise, don’t want their view mirrored. They want to hate while at the same time garner the love, respect, and adulation from the object of their disaffection. We want what is exported daily as “Irishness” to be embraced; even when we ourselves view much of it with national embarrassment.

For those Irish embarrassed by the Riverdance juggernaut that came into being in 1994, other nations could not, would not, be allowed to find what we found kitsch to be just that. While at a wedding in England some of the Irish party saw fit to break into some impromptu Irish dancing, doing their best to access the part of their brains that had stored the steps learnt from classes taken in childhood.

And that was their stamp. The Irish were ‘ere 2012. True to form, they lived up to the brand, first with the drinking and then with the diddly-eye.

We do things like this in foreign countries like some sort of secret handshake. “This is us, and to hell with you if you don’t like it,” we think to ourselves. That is, of course, unless you react like you actually don’t like it. We wouldn’t be happy with this one little bit. Secretly, we want you to ask us about our little jig. We want your curiosity to get the better of you. We want your questions. We want that chance, and we want you to give it to us, even if you are the old enemy.

We watch sports on the BBC and UTV instead of RTÉ in order to see whether the commentator commits the most heinous of crimes and refers to someone from Ireland as being English or British. We want that tut tut moment. We crave it. Behind that tut tut we think “we have something you want” and we love it. We, from our armchairs, have gotten one over on them, through absolutely no doing of our own. When one of our own is seen to be winning, and revered on both sides of the water, we can hardly contain our excitement.

Another favourite son, this time from Cork, is as Irish as they come. When Roy Keane launches into a diatribe toward his own, he can divide a nation. When he ‘gets one over’ on the English, however, the majority forget his divisive nature and instantly forget that, ‘hey, he could be wrong, as he so often is when he turns his sights on us.’ We’re too busy lapping it up instead.

His draw is magnetic. By the time he left the manager position at Sunderland FC in 2008, he had helped to transform the club – financially. Irish fans had flocked, in love with the Irish domination of the club that came in the form of Niall Quinn and himself, seeing this as something truly unique.

Unique perhaps in England, but pretty much the standard when you consider the setup of our very own League of Ireland teams. But enough about them, for they don’t appear to be interesting enough for the vast majority of Irish. So long Monaghan United.

Irish fans had travelled by the bus load, literally, with his presence even resulting in the establishment of a direct air-link between Cork and Newcastle. Hold your incredulity for one more sentence, however. During the tenure of the cranky Corkonian, presentations had even been made to Cork City Council to twin the county with the English city.

This truly is unfettered fandom. But let us remember the Irish county we’re talking about here. Cork people have genuine trouble even accepting Dublin as Ireland’s capital. How many of the people on those buses or specially chartered flights would love all things Blighty? It doesn’t take an abundance of gray matter to work that one out.

I’m coming to a close now as I’ve a Union Jack that isn’t going to burn itself. Time for one last anecdote, dear reader. Irish people love Father Ted. It’s just the way it is. It is rerun nearly as much as Friends, which is pretty amazing, considering Friends reruns leave very little scheduling time free. We love the barren location that is Craggy Island, the backward locals and the harmless priests.

It’s all so very Irish, so very us. Stick around for the closing credits, assuming your sides haven’t split by then, and take a moment to notice how very English it is. You do recall you watched the originals on Channel 4, don’t you? You do remember Dermot Morgan’s near hatred for our own national broadcaster in his later years, don’t you? You do deduce that you would never have had a Dermot Morgan/Father Ted vehicle had it not been for the infinitely superior public-service broadcaster across the water, don’t you?

We Irish appear still in love with hating the English, despite the Queen’s visit, despite history being just that, and despite the hypocrisy that our football allegiances (and the rest) throw up in our faces on a near daily basis. We are truly adept at never letting the truth get in the way of some good old-fashioned mob mentality. After all, you don’t want to let the bigots down.

Do you?

Giving Balbriggan a future by recognising its past

Balbriggan harbour, a maritime history kept at arms length

Balbriggan harbour, a maritime history kept at arms length

It’s a damp grey day in Balbriggan. Driving through the town my tyres splash through Drogheda and Dublin Street, streets named after the places they’ll take you to, instead of enlightening you as to where you are. The street names remind me of the jaded joke whose punch line asserts that the best feature of a place – a place with people, dreams and a history – is the road, or roads, which leave it. In the five years I’ve lived here I’ve gotten to know some of its people and I know the dreams of many, my wife and mine included, but I know little of its history. The Balbriggan Maritime Museum is trying to change that.

They have given my journey a purpose and my car a destination. The Bracken Court Hotel is hosting a ‘pop-up’ exhibition for one day only, giving a temporary address to a town’s history – a history which finds itself homeless. As I am to learn, Balbriggan has a rich and varied maritime past, made possible by the towns harbour; completed 250 years ago this year.

Trevor Sargent and Jimmy Deenihan TD

Trevor Sargent and Jimmy Deenihan TD

I arrive to hear ex-TD, Green Party member and Chairman of the Balbriggan Maritime Museum, Trevor Sargent, speak passionately about Balbriggan and its active community, his words filling the already full room. He speaks of his wish for the artefacts on show to have a permanent home in Balbriggan’s former lifeboat house, his speech pleading for ‘this one thing’ time and again. The coup of the day is undoubtedly the attendance of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, Jimmy Deenihan TD, who heralds the ‘pop-up’ museum as ‘a positive beginning’ to the creation of Ireland’s first maritime museum.

Balbriggan’s former lifeboat house - the proposed location for the museum

Balbriggan’s former lifeboat house - the proposed location for the museum

Once the speeches have ended, the museum is opened for a few short hours. Life and death are on show here for all to see, with recent events both at home and abroad having sadly brought the latter to the fore once again. The rich, detail-laden stories and memorabilia which await me, however, leave no doubt that the Irish Sea, to which the town stares out onto, has given our island nation far more than it has taken.

While the replica boats and unearthed cannonballs on display draw the eye, the dots are joined and the ears informed by the elder statesmen of the town, as they revel in their ability to hold an audience with their knowledge of a smaller town, in a simpler time. It is the strong human element that ties it all together, from the identification certificates of fishermen now long dead, to the slips of laminated card which accompany the items on display, giving the details of those whose private collections now stand liberated before us.

Exhibition replica

Exhibition replica

There is a lot of history in a quarter-millennium, but its cyclical nature ensures that while the antagonists may change, the same threats re-emerge. In 1777, the United States Ship (USS) Lexington, anchored close by, effectively held Balbriggan to ransom, threatening to turn its guns on the town if fresh water was not provided. All these years later, Balbriggan is once again under threat, but this time the enemies are less visible.

Once one of the fastest growing towns in Ireland, Balbriggan became the bottom rung of the property ladder for many. As one of many who came, my 5-year plan was to prove far from recession proof. Vast estates of duplexes and one-bedroom apartments with little resale value have forever altered the town’s landscape and makeup, leaving it with an unsure identity but an unaltered history.

The once sleepy town may be no more, as the short-term dreams of Balbriggan’s recent residents’ transition into long-term realities, but the wide variety of ethnicities present at the exhibition is proof of a growing, inclusive community. The irony of the town’s single nightclub being called Home may, in time, cease to be so ironic. While the cessation of commercial shipping in the 1960s may have resulted in Balbriggan’s boats no longer reaching the far-flung destinations they once did, the town has now found itself home to citizens from many of those same places.

A single place with the ability to bring all this together has the potential to give rise to the ties that bind, especially in a town with an ever-increasing daily exodus. The recent curtailment of Fás training courses in the town has forced the over 5,000 unemployed to cast their nets further afield. Combined with the employed commuters, vast numbers leave the town each day only to return again during the hours of darkness – the economic fisherman of a modern age.

In a cruel paradox, the growth of Balbriggan has left it with less. Its maritime history, however, remains unaffected and unaltered, with an ability to shine a positive light on the town much brighter than its lighthouse, built by the Hamilton family in 1796, ever could.

Balbriggan lighthouse, built by the Hamilton family in 1796

Balbriggan lighthouse, built by the Hamilton family in 1796

Balbriggan harbour is a piece of living history, coming into existence at a time when Ireland was still recovering from The Great Famine and America was still a British colony. The changes it has lived through acts as proof that things do end, just as history will one day detail the end of the current recession.

Ireland’s troubled economic climate may continue to leave Balbriggan’s history without a home. Should this transpire, the living accounts of those who have played a major part in it will reach a much smaller audience before vanishing forever, leaving only the artefacts remaining and the dots disjoined.

Balbriggan beach and harbour

Balbriggan beach and harbour

In the few short hours that it existed, my visit to the pop-up museum taught me everything that I have now told you. Balbriggan has, up until now, asked for very little and in return lost a lot. The 9th of February 2012 marked the day when the town asked for this one thing. It will be interesting to see what tomorrow’s catch brings.

Cloyne report uncovers many broken systems

The main thing which has come out of the Cloyne report is also the least surprising one. As if it needed confirmation, we now know that there is something fundamentally wrong with the concept of reporting abuses perpetrated by members of the Catholic Church to other members of that same church. In an ideal world, where men of the cloth held themselves to the same moral standards that they preach from the pulpit, it shouldn’t make a difference. The findings of the Cloyne report, however, prove that we live in a far from ideal world.

If you were mugged, would you report it to a family member of the accused, in the hope that their moral compass would direct them towards the local Garda station? Of course not. So why should the Catholic Church act as the middle man for such heinous offences?

What is equally as worrying is the apparent inability of state services to communicate with each other. How did alarm bells not sound when 6 of the 15 complaints were reported to the Gardaí and none to the HSE? Simple communication between the 2 bodies could have uncovered this sorry mess years ago.

It is clear to see that there is something very wrong with the Catholic Church. As a practicing Catholic whose religious beliefs have survived intact into adulthood, it’s a sad thing to have to admit. But it’s true, and obvious. Anyone who calls themselves Catholic should have a genuine interest in rescuing their religion instead of continuing to hide its indiscretions, further dragging it into the abyss. And yet the Catholic Church appears happy to do so.

While Pope Benedict may believe that gay marriage poses an “insidious threat” (to exactly whom I am unsure), far more harmful is the churches reluctance to clean up its act. As long as the church fails to practice what it preaches, its numbers will continue to dwindle, and this Catholic will find it harder and harder to remain one of the faithful.

The PIGS!

Who put the ‘I’ in PIGS? We, the Irish did – along with Italy, apparently. As one of the more insensitive acronyms to come about as part of the financial crisis, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain have found themselves in the trough together, sniffing desperately for the truffles that will lift them out of the mess in which they find themselves. In the meantime, however, perhaps us swine can help make each other’s lives more bearable until we strike gold?

In an unfortunate case of life imitating art, or more accurately, an iPhone app, the walls around us are beginning to cave in, as the Angry Birds of Europe and further afield are hell bent on our total destruction. Far from wanting to huff, and puff, and blow our houses down, the wolf in the modern day version of the Three Little Pigs (the fourth one doesn’t pay any rent and therefore isn’t officially listed) is more concerned with repossession. And what are we pigs managing to do about it – little more than to survive by the hair on our chiny chin chins.

But no more I say! Us pigs must formulate a plan, and work together to see it through. While we Irish had, for many years, demonstrated great foresight in trying our best to keep the economies of Portugal, Greece, and Spain afloat as part of our annual search for the sun, the Celtic Tiger gave us the gall to want more. No longer content with San Miguel, Linekers Bar, and headaches by the pool, the words “budget”, “package”, and “holiday” found themselves in fewer and fewer sentences uttered by the “new” Irish.

As the snowboarding and scuba-diving equipment from holidays past gather dust in the attics of homes throughout Ireland, us pigs need to band together, and create holidays for each other “on the cheap”. We need to open our homes to our struggling European neighbours, ensuring they have a holiday that they will never forget. And what should this new venture be called? “When Pigs Fly”, of course!

I can see it now! For a fee not much greater than one of those “special price” watches we Irish bought many a time in P, G, or S; visitors to our shores can enjoy such Irish delicacies as boiled pig’s feet, washed down by our finest Poitín. This homemade paint stripper of a drink will not only cleanse the palette of the taste of trotter by stripping a layer of skin clean off the inside of the mouth, it will also render our visitors incoherent and comatose until the plane comes to take them home. Cost of holiday – €10 plus flights and medical bills.

Our Portuguese neighbours could repay the favour with their own budget dalliance. For an ultra low price, the Irish traveller can be dropped into the countries capital, Lisbon, where they can learn firsthand what it is to protest against government. For the particularly budget conscious traveller, accommodation can be booked via the Portuguese Police. Cost of holiday – €10 plus flights, solicitor fees, and a notebook and pen.

Greece can put together a nice island hopping package, which skimps on costs by having visitors swim between them. Long periods in the water will not only improve fitness considerably, but will increase the chance of catching some fish, thus reducing the food bill significantly. Cost of holiday – €5 plus flights and a fishing net.

Last but not least, Spain can offer the festival feeling of Oxygen or Electric Picnic to Irish visitors at a fraction of the cost, and with considerably less music. With little more than a tent and a healthy dose of patience, visitors can experience firsthand what it is to be an “Indignant One” by camping out for long periods of time until something happens. Cost of holiday – €5 plus flights, tent, and a good book.

So there we have it! Being one of the PIGS doesn’t mean that you have to go without a holiday this year, it just means you’ll have to do without all the unnecessary nonsense associated with holidays of old, such as having a good time and enjoying a safe return. Mine’s a San Miguel! Cheers!

Dying to beat the recession

While economist Morgan Kelly may view Patrick Honohan, Governor of the Central Bank, as engaging in the “costliest mistake ever made by an Irish person”, the brother Edmund, Master of the High Court, recently highlighted a cost much greater, and one which cannot be righted by a thousand bailouts. Ireland’s recession, and the resultant pursuance of those in debt as a result of it by the banks and other lending institutions “to the bitter end” is causing some to take their own lives; a tragedy which will only get worse if left unchecked.

Never before have so many been affected by a recession in this country. While the lower classes will always be hit the hardest, no one has been spared this time around, and never before have so many sections of society been tied down with such enormous debt. While there are those who may feel that the Celtic Tiger roared by them at the time, never getting to share in the benefits it afforded many, those who gained significantly, and subsequently lost, are equally, if not more at risk from the comedown after the artificial high.

Ireland has always suffered from a disproportionately high level of suicide in comparison to other countries, with young males being especially susceptible. Despite our increase in wealth and greater ability to distract ourselves during the boom time, this problem never went away. Now that the money has run out and the realisation has hit many that the only thing they ever truly owned was their debt, things are getting worse, with our national rate of suicide rising by a quarter over the last three years.

Recent statistics released from the Central Bank shows that nearly 50,000 residential mortgages are now in arrears of 90 days or greater. While this number does not equate to 50,000 families affected, due to some having multiple properties, this remains a worryingly large number. The fact that some households now have multiple mortgages that they cannot repay acts as an almost unbelievable reminder to a time when people who would never have dreamt of owning more than one property started to collect them like kiddies’ football cards, having gotten caught up in the buzzword that was the property “portfolio”.

The emotional turmoil and distress suffered by many in this situation starts long before the first mortgage payment is missed. When the boom ended and negative equity reared its ugly head, the struggle to keep their heads above water began. Bills were still being paid, just, as discretionary expenditure became a thing of the past. Treading water for so long soon grows tiresome, however. Then came the dreaded day when the financial calculations no longer added up, and mortgage payments started to be missed. It is at this time, when already at their lowest ebb, that the banks typically step in.

The Central Bank’s revised code of conduct on mortgage arrears, which came into effect in January of this year, requires lenders to work with those in trouble. According to the Central Bank’s director of consumer protection, Bernard Sheridan, a manageable and sustainable solution can be agreed “where appropriate”. It is these two words that are of great cause for concern, for the failure to help those who are struggling can leave those same people feeling like they have run out of options. Who within the banking institutions are qualified enough to determine the emotional wounds which have been inflicted on those whom they pursue? Who can determine the tipping point at which some debtors can no longer grin and bear it, and can no longer accept the complicity that Brian Lenihans’ idiotic idiom that “We All Partied” implies?

While the chief executive of the Irish Banking Federation, Pat Farrell, accused Edmund Honohan of being too emotive in his description of those who commit suicide under the burden of debt, is it not emotion and compassion that is in too short a supply? The harsh reality is that this time next year there are a number of social welfare and jobseeker allowance payments which will no longer be made. Not because the recipient has managed to “validate” themselves in the eyes of our government and banks by no longer taking but once again contributing through finding work, and not because they have resigned themselves to emigration in order to keep the ember than remains of their hopes and dreams from being extinguished completely. Instead, these payments will remain uncollected because at some point their recipients decided that they had been squeezed just that little bit too much, and that the Ireland of 2011 had not given them an out.

While our economists will continue to debate if the property and financial crisis could have been spotted earlier, Ireland’s crisis should come as a surprise to no one. As long ago as 2009, President Mary McAleese underlined the need to invest in suicide prevention programmes to help those for whom unemployment and debt were taking their toll. Having already heard ad nauseam of the political blame games in Leinster House, of pension levies and the banking big wigs who “escaped”, the level to which ordinary working people have been affected on an emotional level by the crisis still remains largely unreported, and infinitely worse, unresolved.

In 2007, then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern displayed our nation’s laissez faire attitude towards suicide and its prevention as he spoke about those who expressed doubt regarding the future of our economy, saying “I don’t know how people who engage in that don’t commit suicide”. Four years on, we need to remember that our greatest asset is, and always has been, our people. The citizens of this Republic must be protected at all costs, for they are truly priceless.

Sorry Ma’am, but Queen there, done that…

NOTE: A recent assignment as part of my journalism course required me to write a piece which offered an opinion which I didn’t believe. To this end, I wrote as convincing an argument as I could muster for why the Queen of England should not visit Ireland. Below is the vitriolic result. Enjoy!

May is going to be a particularly expensive month for the Irish exchequer as both Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama pay visit to our penniless shores. While I will be the first to extend a céad míle fáilte to the US President, the undoubted leader of the free world, I would be tempted to utter a less flattering Irish phrase to Britain’s monarch.

At a time when we can least afford it, our country will have to outlay approximately €25 million for the pleasure, the majority of which will go towards protecting the Queen, whose 4 days in the Republic smacks of an elderly relative who overstays their welcome. While Joe Higgins of the United Left Alliance may not get his wish that she pays towards her “bed and breakfast” at a time when Ireland is “figuratively, almost sleeping rough”, it should be noted that Barack Obama will only be on Irish soil for a period of hours. Why so short, I hear you ask? Because he actually has a job to get back to!

If our binning of the last Government has shown anything, it’s that Ireland has finally grown tired of useless figureheads which don’t actually do anything. In this regard, why splurge cash we don’t have on England’s equivalent, who recently had the gall to spend taxpayers’ money on the wedding of her grandson, at a time when England continues to deal with its own recession? On the same weekend as the she was happily spending other people’s money with reckless abandon, Barack Obama, our second VIP of the month, was ridding the world of one of its worse terrorists, and helping us all to sleep better at night.

It should, of course, be remembered that whatever the outlay for protecting these foreign dignitaries is, a healthy 5.8% should be added to the bill when we are to consider the real cost to us, the Irish taxpayer, as we are blowing the IMF’s money and not our own, which we are paying top dollar for. Having had to go crawling to the EU/IMF with our begging bowl few will argue that it could be put to better use than on protecting the ageing dinosaur that is the British monarchy.

While a clearly delusional Enda Kenny continues to tell anyone with ears that Ireland is open for business, the working classes continue to suffer. Having recently spotted a bunch of Gardaí hovering over a drain in the city centre, my initial thought was that they had finally been reduced to supplementing their much depleted incomes by searching for loose change. Instead, they were busy spending the majority of their annual budget on sealing manhole covers in preparation for our impending visitors.

While it is only right that the US President is protected from those who wish to cause him harm, especially in the light of his triumphant victory over Osama bin Laden, the arrival of Mrs. Windsor does nothing but expose her and our fellow countrymen and women to an otherwise avoidable threat. The RIRA and their ilk, with the blood of PSNI innocent Ronan Kerr still dripping from their hands, will have no problem adding a few “Free Staters” to their list of casualties if it means getting their shot at their perceived enemy.

While the Queens visit may bolster tourism to Ireland from the UK, we should be aware of the fallout between England and Ireland, should something happen during her time here. The level of anti-English sentiment that still exists in Ireland would leave the Irish government facing an uphill battle in convincing the British that they hadn’t colluded with the paramilitaries in much the same way that many believe the British did in times past.

If I could sum up my feelings for her visit to Ireland, it would be “Queen there, done that, we have bigger fish to fry!”