Villager: March-April 2010

Villager thinks Michael O’Leary is great gas and a business superhero and he loves to see senior political figures and journalists fawning over him. Fawning over him. He believes everything he says, thinks (f)lying is brilliant, laughs at all his jokes, always, always refers to Ryanair not just as the biggest international airline but as the biggest airline in the world and always prints stories like that O’Leary is going to charge for use of the lavatory and that someone ate a winning lottery card (Villager thinks any lottery card sold by Ryanair is likely to be great value and that unnamed charities benefit abundantlly). So he loves what Micko is doing to Mary Coughlan over Hangar 6 at Dublin airport, and does not think it is bullying of the most macho and sexist kind. It reminds him of what Micko did to Mary O’Rourke. Nothing funnier than a seventy-year-old woman in a bath. In an ad for flying.

Brown Greens
Interesting that Trevor Sargent met Micko “to find a way to ensure Ryanair does locate 300 new jobs in the vacated SRT premises” and even referred to Ryanair as the biggest airline in the world. Air travel, remember, is overwhelmingly an activity of the middle classes, probably causes more than seven percent of global warming, and is the one carbon-profligate sector where there is unlikely to be a technical fix. There is no alternative to reducing it even if the Greens, especially ones with airports in their constituencies, cannot see it and have done nothing whatsoever about it. At least Sargent’s demise will put an end to Miriam Lord’s tiring attempts to document his horticultural efforts in the second best political miscellany in Ireland, in the Irish Times.

Ryan and de Burca up a tree
Although John Gormley and Trevor Sargent took pot shots at the inconvenient Ms de Búrca on the occasion of her resignation, Éamon Ryan kept remarkably silent. Ryan and de Burca have been friends dating back twenty-five years to when Ryan was a close buddy of the departing Senator’s brother, Fergus. Ryan, both De Búrcas and Village editor, Michael Smith, fronted a campaign in the early 1990s against a rezoning in Cherrywood, Co Dublin, on behalf of a renegade outfit called the Shanganagh Protection Committee. Also prominent in the small committee was Gavin O’Sullivan, a music impresario. Ironically for de Búrca, O’Sullivan’s long-term partner, Patricia Reilly – a senior policy analyst in the Department of Agriculture – took one of the three positions available to Irish people in Máire Geogeghan Quinn’s cabinet. Failure to net one of these positions led to Ms de Búrca’s resignation from the Seanad.

Yakkity yak
Where is the David Mc Williams report from Farmleigh? Six months on from the “Irish Davos” think-in of our business élite that cost 300,000 Euro, where are the five business plans he promised? O’Leary hilariously dismissed it as “a bunch of yakkity-yaks talking shite”. Shite – Villager creased himself. Could it be that the Department of Finance loathe our hero (McWilliams mind, not Archangel Michael) for recounting Brian Lenihan’s garlic-breathed confession that he couldn’t rely on his civil servants? Could it be that they won’t help him get his bloody business plans out? McWilliams told Ireland’s finest at Farmleigh: “I went on the Late Late last night – there was a million people watching – and I said that we would have five coherent business plans at the end of this forum”. We have to hope Tubridy’s audience is as unremembering as it is, or the producers assume it is, moronic. So … where is the brilliant and original plan from financier Dermot Desmond for “a university of the arts” (the Irish Times noted that this got a round of applause from the brilliant and original audience at Farmleigh). Where is the brilliant and original plan for a government-backed “recovery” bond that would be marketed to the 60-70 million Irish diaspora? Or for the “super”-website, “selling the country and linking with, say, the top 1,000 Irish movers and shakers abroad”? And what happened to what the Irish Times so discerningly described as the “tacit agreement that delegates, where possible, would offer Irish graduates employment in their companies”? Or the plan for effecting the brilliant and original idea of Denis O’Brien (may the Gods bless him and make fecund his tribe) to nationalise Eircom? The Irish Times, adopting that tone that it, uniquely among serious progressive media worldwide, reserves for businessy stars like O’Leary and McWilliams reported that “underneath his usual blasé tone, there was a serious edge – it was now up to the participants to step up to the plate”. Well it seems they haven’t. Can we have our money back please?

Still damp down south
Great to see the Red Cross is getting around (in March) to distributing the €1.4m it raised for the floods in the South of the country before Christmas. It also has a 650,000 Euro deficit on its domestic books. And it hasn’t got around to addressing the issues of a long-undeclared bank account, exposed in recent editions of Village and of the spending of funds on an apparently unwarranted number of ambulances, formerly without even a proper competitive tendering process. We can only hope the Irish Red Cross is more efficient in distributing funds abroad than at home. The issue is now the responsibility of the Taoiseach, who has assumed Willie O’Dea’s responsibilities as Minister for Defence, including those relating to the Red Cross, without – by all accounts – having to set the alarm clock any earlier in the morning.

Denis to swoop?
Malta-tax-resident, Denis O’Brien may have a little time on his hands over the next couple of months as the Moriarty Tribunal report has yet again been delayed, this time pending interviews with officials in the Attorney General’s office. Since he is set to net in excess of €500 million from the proposed sale of Digicel Pacific to its sister company, Digicel Group, perhaps it’s time for him to finally buy out Independent News and Media. His stake was recently reduced to 13.5% while Tony O Reilly’s went to 14.82% as part of a debt-for-equity swap with pesky bondholders late last year. Since the London Independent has been sold for a pound to Alexander Lebedev, the former KGB agend and owner of the now-freesheet, London Evening Standard, the whole deal seems teed up for the once-again pocket-bulging Irish mogul.

Hope for Cowen
In Britain, a Sunday Times /YouGov poll has put support for the Conservatives at 37 per cent, with Labour on 35 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 17 per cent. In May 2009 the Tories had a lead of 16%. With volatility like that even Brian Cowen could still make it back.

Bores for Mayor
Villager was stricken to receive a “Facebook” request that he join the campaign to draft Fintan O’Toole, Deputy Editor of the Irish Times and King Liberal. O’Toole has said he’ll join the race if Bertie Ahern runs or 100,000 people join the Facebook campaign. George Hook has also said he’ll run against Ahern. Among others supporting the campaign – O’Toole’s not Hook’s of whom he is disdainful – are Vincent Browne. Otherwise, Paddy Power makes Labour’s Ruairi Quinn favourite at 5/2, FG/s Gay Mitchell 3/1, FF (perhaps)’s Royston Brady 8/1, Dermot Lacey 8/1 and Bill Cullen 16/1. Boring, Boring, Lightweight, Earnest and Hyper-egoed. Villager thinks the down, and yet up, Trevor Sargent could be worth a punt at 20/1. Organic.

Great little builders
Villager was always confounded by the pace of construction in our glorious boom. In 2009, English housing construction starts were just under 88,000 – 16% down on 2008 and some 40% lower than the long-term average of around 150,000 per annum. Interesting to compare this with the tiger peak of 2006 in this great little Republic when we built more than 90,000 units. Outside of our then national ego we’re actually a lot smaller than England, after all.

Great little inverstors
Perhaps, however some of the houses in England will retain their value. No such luck here. Development lands in Athlone, Co Westmeath, valued in 2006 at €31 million have a current value of €600,000, Bank of Ireland told the Commercial Court recently in a dispute with a developer over unpaid loans.
The bank was rejecting arguments by developer Pearse Gately that the sale of these and other lands offered reasonable potential for the bank to recover €17.4 million from the developer under his guarantees of loans.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said the €600,000 figure was “even more alarming” and put “into a cocked hat” the judge’s own view, from his experience in the Commercial Court in recent years, land values had fallen between 70 and 80 per cent.

Great wealth
So surely – even if we screwed up monumentally on housing – there must be some upside to the legacy of the boom? Some.. surely? Well, not really. Ireland in 2010 is not a wealthy country and our high incomes over the period 2000-2008 were largely wasted, according to a recent report by Davy Stockbrokers.

Okay, Ireland does fare reasonably well on income per capita tables. At the end of 2009, it was probably ranked eighth in the euro area. But years of high income must be invested wisely for a country to become wealthy.

Estimates of capital stock show Ireland lagging behind. Irish residents would hardly claim that this country is wealthier than other small euro-area countries such as Finland or Belgium. Infrastructure – roads, rail, schools, hospitals and telecommunications –

is far superior in those nations.

Although our capital stock soared by 157% in real terms in 2000-2008, but housing accounted for almost two-thirds of increase

According to Davy, the upgrading of road infrastructure was the greatest triumph, boosting productivity in the economy. In contrast, the private sector productive capital stock (excluding housing, public sector and semi-states) rose by only 26% in eight years. Under-investment in the communications network and software was a concern. Ireland still has the second-highest number of graduates in its 25-34 age cohort in the EU and the quality of human capital probably has not been diluted too much by emigration of low-skilled workers. The country must continue to make investment in education a salient priority according to the gnomes at Davy. Villager has two questions: what was the boom about then; and what the hell sort of a place is this going to be to live in for the next thirty years.

Publishing contracts
David Cameron has said he will, if elected Prime Minister in the UK, save taxpayers millions by ensuring all the details of public contracts valued at more than £25,000 are made public. Irish government agencies and local authorities revel in being able to shelter behind the rubric of “commercial confidentiality” to avoid information requests. The JC Decaux bike scheme for Dublin City, the M3 PPP motorway through Tara and co-located hospitals are just three issues where the taxpayer might have been able to find out if it was obtaining value for money and if the public interest was being recognised contractually. Villager would allow fifty years before this one hits the statute book in Ireland.

Wrecking Carton House
An Taisce went ballistic when the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment under the Chairmanship of Labour TD, Willy Penrose, met in the magnificent though now much adulerated Carton estate, Co Kildare – until recently one of the five or six most important country house estates in the country – at the behest of its developer and agreed to write to An Bord Pleanala suggesting it note the committee’s distaste at its refusal for a huge mixed development, including a Smart Park to be associated with nearby NUI Maynooth, in a wood on the estate. Councillor Brian Fitzgerald, who organised the gathering, had introduced the promoters of the scheme to all of the political parties in the Dail said that “

The message was got through to the Oireachtas members that this is an extremely important project, not just for Meath and Kildare, but for the whole country. These SMART parks are the way to go”. The Bord had turned down development there on grounds of the development being unplanned and car-dependent. Its inspector had noted that even disregarding the residential units (where only twenty percent of the units were associated with NUI Maynooth), only 26% of the floor area of the overall development was space associated with the NUIM, or could be described as anything to do with a “Smart Park”

In reality the application was for a speculative office and residential development , with the NUIM-linked portion being used as a front to justify the location of a development in the middle of nowhere. The councilors live in a fact-free world of unstrategic, parochial bliss.

Au revoir, Cullen
Bye Bye Martin Cullen. Your back is not long but it is sore. Villager once went to a meeting with Cullen in his government department. He smoked throughout the meeting and at one stage left the room saying he would be coming back. He never did.

Adieu, Paisley
Farewell too to Ian Paisley who will not be a candidate at the next general elections. He once said of Catholics that “they breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin; he launched a campaign to Save Ulster from Sodomy” in 1977; and in 1988, when Pope John Paul II delivered a speech to the European Parliament, the Reverend shouted “I Denounce you as the AntiChrist!” and held up a red poster reading “Pope John Paul II ANTICHRIST” in black letters. But inexplicably he became a smiley old geezer, beloved by all: grandad to Northern Ireland. If even Villager can empathise with this revamped dinosaur, there could be hope for George Bush, Bertie Ahern …perhaps Martin Mansergh.

Sindo doing just fine
ABC’s Irish circulation figures released for 2009 revealed year-on-year declines in the following newspapers: Belfast Telegraph -4.6%, Irish Independent -3.0%; Evening Herald -7.4%; Sunday Independent -0.8%; Sunday World -5.2%; Irish Times -7.4%; Sunday Business Post -4.9% and Sunday Tribune -9.5%. Some justice then (except for the Sindo).

The Spite
Villager has adjudicated on December-January’s competition to replace the aspirationally-soaring Millennium Spike on Dublin’s O’Connell St with something more appropriate for the bankrupt 2010s. It is the Spite, taller than the Spike and made out of murdered bankers.

Village: if it’s not rats it’s porn
Villager if anything preferred Village’s Rats cover to that hypocritical semi-pornographic cover that fronted a so-called anti-objectification-of-women edition of Village last time out. Not only could Villager not read it on the bus, lest he be mobbed by pubic urchins, he heard more than one newsagent mistakenly consigned it to the wrong, i.e. top, shelf. And he doesn’t think much of page 21 of this issue either.