Category Archives: living in ireland

the loss of CLerys

I read last night that Clerys had closed yesterday. I never saw that coming.

When I drilled down and thought about it more, I realised that, well, I hadn’t been in there in years. And if I wasn’t alone, well then, I should have seen it coming. Running a business in the centre of Dublin is a risky and high cost endeavour. Clerys was a big shop and it needed people to buy a lot of stuff in there to keep it going. RTE reckon about 400 people will have lost their jobs from this. In an economy which is theoretically growing again, that’s a lot when we measure changes in the jobless rate in the low thousands.

The problem is, even if I hadn’t thought about Clerys specifically, I had thought about the problems which probably have befallen it. Basically, it’s on O’Connell Street and this is, in fact, a major problem for Clerys. No one goes to O’Connell Street to do much shopping. The other two big stores on the street profit from proximity to Henry Street and the General Post Office. Otherwise, O’Connell Street is a bit tumbleweedish. Mostly when I get a bus into town now, it’s to run quickly to Henry Street and then, when I come back, the trip to the bus stop home doesn’t take me past Clerys. And why would it? There’s nothing much else there.

I was at the Road to Rising event on Easter Sunday this year and for the duration of that, O’Connell Street was pedestrianised from Abbey Street North. The weather was stunning, and there was a lovely atmosphere. It really was wonderful. And unique. Most days, even when the weather is good, the atmosphere on O’Connell Street is one of people passing through. You’d hardly know it existed really.

But O’Connell Street is a beautiful wide street and if, dispassionately, we considered reconfiguring the city to pedestrianise it, and reconsidered the businesses which open there – very few of which are attractive businesses for footfall – and turned into into a genuine city centre plaza, we could do a lot to open up the heart of the city. It would be a huge job and the sad thing for Dublin is that they take huge jobs with a lot of reluctance. In some respects, I’m amazed Grafton and Henry Streets ever got pedestrianised. The idea that you’d shut down O’Connell Street to motorised traffic, including buses, is something that would cause heart attacks all across the way. A city with a bunch of lovely, well presented shops, and nice café (and not just the fast food chains and a few pharmacies) and terraces. Instead of making O’Connell Street a arterial thoroughfare, which is basically what it is now, we could make it into a central civic square that people go to for the same of going there, to meet friends, have coffee and do some shopping.

In that context, a store like Clerys might have a future, and the rest of the small shops around O’Connell Street might be more interesting shops. In many respects, it could probably draw more shopping around it because Henry Street is already a decent store.

But even if we started to do it today, it’s too late to save Clerys and it’s too early to draw someone like Brown Thomas or even Marks and Spencers to the Clerys building.

Most of O’Connell Street was built in the early 20th century because lots of it was levelled between the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence. A lot of the buildings, with some notable exceptions, are actually beautiful building. There is also some thought going into development around Parnell Square, another vaguely grimy part of town.

It seems to me sometimes, we have no vision for Dublin as a city. Dublin people seem to get very defensive about the idea that the city isn’t already perfect, which it isn’t, as anyone who navigates the public transport system would attest, and so discussions are often inconclusive.

Owen Keegan, the city manager, is looking at traffic and moving people around. I wish we would start the dialogue in terms of what we want the city to look like, rather than how to move people around. The second might come easier then. I just can’t see it happening.


2015 – Dublin International Piano Competition

This is just a brief note. I was at the finals of the Dublin International Piano Competition the other evening.

There were four finalists, including one who had been in the finals three years ago. I missed most of the early rounds so my judgment really is based on what I heard in the finals.

My personal view is that the most promising of the four was a 20 year old American called Alex Beyer who played Beethoven. After that, I would have given a toss between Catherina Grewe and Nathalia Millstein. In the end, the jury went with Ms Millstein. I hope I am spelling the names correctly.

In terms of the music we heard, there was a preponderance (as usual) of Russian concertos, with only Beyer venturing too far west to Beethoven. In general, four very good performances, and to be fair, Nathalia Millstein did a technically very precise rendition of Prokofiev 2. I am not a fan of Prokofiev’s piano music, it must be said.

What annoyed me most, however, was nothing to do with the stage, but the behaviour of the audience. One pair got up and left – from the middle of a near front row – in the middle of the first performance. Someone else had a mobile phone text message in the middle of the third performance. A significant number of people arrived sufficiently late that they were not allowed in until the second performance. Over the course of the evening, a lot of people saw fit to leave mid performance.

Dublin has one of the finest piano competitions in the world. It would be nice if it wasn’t taken for granted. John O’Connor has ended the last two pleading for money.


Open days in Ireland

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Brussels to have a look at some of the European institutions’ open day events (mostly I stayed with the European Commission). You had to queue to get in but mostly, the queues went quickly and there was a lot to see and visit. One of the things which struck me is that perhaps, we could look at doing something like this in Ireland. We sort of do already but I don’t think many Irish people seriously buy into it.

On Saturdays, if you are so minded, you can go to the National Gallery, pick up a ticket and go and have a tour of Government Buildings and the Taoiseach’s Office. It wasn’t said, but if I remember rightly, those tours were instigated by Albert Reynolds when he was Taoiseach. Basically, you get an introduction and brief history of the building, a look at some of the noteworthy art pieces, a tour of the Taoiseach’s Office and a visit to the Cabinet Room. When I did it, only 8 people were on the tour and apart from the tour guide, I was the only Irish person.

Something I discovered during the week is that when the Dáil is not sitting, on weekdays, you can go to Leinster House for a tour. There are tours at 10.30 and 2.30 on non-sitting days. You need to go to the Kildare Street entrance 15 minutes ahead of tour time. I plan to do that some time soon as one of the things which struck me when I did the Government Buildings tour was that a similar tour of Leinster House would be desirable. But again, I am not sure how many people take up this opportunity. It is something which might be interesting to know.

That aside, however, I wonder what the impact on citizen political engagement might be if there was more access to the governing institutions; not just the Dail and Government buildings, but the various county councils and city halls as well.

Open days at the European Institutions

Around 9 May every year, the European Institutions run an Open House event. If you’re in Dublin, you’ll find some events (this year food related) on the nearest work day (which on this occasion was Friday 8 May). If you can go to Brussels, and have an interest in the European institutions, it’s worth a trip.

Via Facebook, I was sent the SCIC agenda for the day. SCIC is that part of the European Commission which is responsible for conference and meeting organisation, and, for my purposes, the interpreting service. There were a few discussions on the table which I wanted to hear, and there also was an opportunity to hear a few Commissioners speak. We hear a lot about how distant Europe is and, if you never seek it out, it can be.

What struck me most about the day is this is something we could do in Ireland in some respects as well, not just from a European perspective, but from a civic interest in our country perspective.

A couple of talks stood out for me. I was impressed with Maroš Šefčovič’s discussion on energy policy unity. Marianne Thyssen also spoke comprehensively about youth unemployment. Both Commissioners took questions from the floor and in particular, an organisation with a specific interest in youth unemployment in Belgium took the opportunity to engage directly with Ms Thyssen. This is the sort of access which is often really not possible and yet I think there is a lot to be said for it.

However, possibly one of the more important ones was the presentation on the European budget. The budget for the European Union as a whole, is 145 billion euro. This compares very well to most national budgets (it’s less, for example, than the budget for Belgium itself). One of the key points this presentation highlighted is that we do not really know enough about how Europe works. I’d tend to agree with this for various reasons and I’ve wondered how we fix this when people are unwilling to recognise the difference between Europe, the European Union, The European Commission, The European Parliament, and the different pieces which make up the jigsaw.

Apart from that, the question of machine translation and the possibility of automated interpreting were discussed. As someone with more than a passing interest in both, I found those two presentations interesting although I had expected something different from the interpreting. In simple terms, we are closer to automated translation than to automated interpreting, and this does not surprise me based on my knowledge of artificial intelligence in both fields. A lot more work is required for voice/language recognition to even get automated interpreting off the ground and although there have been signal advances in machine translation, arguably, it is still somewhat limited in quality terms. It is very heavily dependent on a body of translation done and corrected by humans. Much of that is linked to our approach to natural language processing.

The presentations were in a number of languages and SCIC had a couple of teams of interpreters on hand to handle the meetings and presentations. Without wanting to go into that detail too much, they provided language channels in French, German, English and Dutch, and accepted speaker input in Latvian and Slovakian in addition. The conference room in question, the Schuman Room in the Berlaymont which is that iconic EU building which has been in geography school books since the 1980s, is a gorgeous room to work in (you can trust me on this), and they opened up 9 interpreting booths for people to have a go. If you know anyone who has even the remotest interest in interpreting, it is a golden opportunity. I did it although strictly speaking, I already knew how it was going to go. Which is basically fun.

Apart from the conference stuff, in the Commission, every DG had a stand with information. If you wanted to collect informative leaflets, books, and other bits and bobs, it was terrific. I was limited by hand luggage considerations so didn’t go completely wild. I favoured Eurostat’s publications however.

This was all the European Commission. It’s worth knowing that a 10 minute walk away, the European Parliament was running events for the day and across the road, the Council of the European Union had opened up access as well. I just didn’t have time to do it all.

I think there’s a lot to be said for events like this; events which open up access for European citizens. I found it interesting and informative, and it offered experiences that I think would benefit most young Europeans.

Neolithic monuments in Ireland

Newgrange is one of the highest profile historic sites which we have in the country and when most people talk about going to Newgrange, they mean they want to see this one.

When I go to Newgrange, I always go to Knowth as well. Yes, you can actually go into the passage in Newgrange, and yes, it’s extremely well done but it’s always very busy.

Knowth is generally much quieter and, on occasion, no matter how busy Newgrange might be, you might have the site at Knowth more or less to yourself. There’s a lot to be said for this.

Knowth is bigger than Newgrange, but it does not look anywhere near as perfect. It hasn’t been restored (or reconstructed) in the same way as Newgrange was, and some different decisions have been made about the site. A key one is the question of the quartz stone. At Newgrange, this was built up as a wall. At Knowth, the view was taken that it was probably a terrace around the entrances. I’ve mixed feelings. Certainly Newgrange looks more complete but….

That aside, the reason I would still favour Knowth over Newgrange is the art. Knowth has significantly more external art than Newgrange and it is stunning.

Yes, the entry stone for Newgrange is iconic:


but then, there’s this:


and this:

20150415_160718I find what’s around the base of Knowth simply to be on a scale which is borderline unimaginable at Newgrange.

I didn’t have time to go to Dowth yet and it’s not included amongst the options you can get to from Bru na Boinne. However, if you are interested in neolithic art in Ireland in that area, I would strongly recommend Knowth as a seriously underrated site. It is wonderful. You can actually look down the passageway although access down it is not permitted to the public and you can see some public access work done on the eastern end. You can also walk to the top of it and the view from it is quite impressive.

I find the whole idea of pre-history in Ireland fascinating. If you go to the National Museum on Kildare Street, you’ll find examples of 3 and 4 thousand year old jewellery which contains carvings not dissimilar to some of the carvings on these stones and it’s extraordinarily beautiful. I really do wonder about the societies that were able to access the gold, shape it, carve it. It seems to me those societies, however on a smaller scale than is currently on the case, must have been extremely sophisticated, particularly with respect to their ability to use tools to achieve tasks which would probably challenge us today.




a Vision for Dublin


RTE ran a kind of re-enactment historical event in Dublin City Centre today to have a look at what life in Dublin might have been like around 1916 and in the run up to the 1916 Rising. I went into it really to see the tram (I love that tram) and maybe take a few photographs for sketches I might do later. I haven’t decided yet.

The weather was stunning. The sky was a glittering blue, a lot of people came out and there was a terrific atmosphere around the city. Many people were clad in period appropriate garb which looked fantastic, but which must have been stultifyingly warm. There was an Edwardian music stage, a wedding, a funeral, the occasional march of would be rebels. In a way, it was very like those sliding photographs you get today where you can slide from 60 years ago to how a place looks now. You could not get into any of the talks for love nor money. I think, arguably, RTE could call it a major success. I’ pleased for them, and I’m pleased that there was a focus on social history like what were people wearing, what were the talking about, how were things like funerals and weddings organised by people at the time (the wealthier ones anyway). That it wasn’t just a militaristic event.

One of the things which struck me yesterday and which was reinforced by today’s experience is that perhaps, we could pedestrianise O’Connell Street permanently from Abbey Street upwards. It’s a fine wide street and we could, to some extent, turn it into a plaza.

Yes, I know we’d have to re-engineer some of the bus routes but – why not. We are re-engineering the city centre at the moment anyway for Luas re-configuration, and there will be more re-engineering if BRT actually happens (I might not necessarily be in favour of that directly).

Dublin has a dearth of open spaces like squares with cafés. Where we have squares, they tend to be garden squares, like Merrion Square. I’ve long wondered if we could pedestrianise a reasonable swathe of the city centre – there are old pictures of the area in front of Busaras where the Amnesty International Gas Candle currently stands, behind Custom House and the IFSC. But these open spaces, like College Green just have cars and buses going through them.

O’Connell Street looks like it could work though. We could pave it properly as a square and be a bit more careful about who we let open businesses in there and turn it into an amenity for the city. We don’t have to make it the main thoroughfare any more. There are a load of bridges built and if we re-engineered public transport effectively, we wouldn’t even be dealing with as much car transport.

And if we got it to work there, how about making it work in College Green, for example. I’m open to suggestions.

We rely too much, sometimes, on the Phoenix Park for the lung of the city. I just think we could reconfigure the city so that it becomes much more attractive to walkers than to avoiders.


little gems we should value more

I went to the National Museum in Kildare Street yesterday. It was busy enough, and a significant number of people were tourists, so I guess that is all good.

If I had to leave Dublin in the morning, the National Museum in Kildare Street, and possibly the National Gallery, would be in the top five list of things I would miss. Entry to both is free, and both have places of peace where I can go and find an escape from the messy city outside (seriously, have you seen the condition of the road surface at College Green? The city is aching and in pain  these days).

My favourite individual exhibit in the National Museum on Kildare Street is in the Treasury. It’s a little gold model of a boat and it dates from around the first century of the common era. That’s what we used to call the first century AD but anyway. It is a beautiful delicate little piece, with I think, 7 pairs of oars, and a tiller, and a cross hold for a sail. It is lovely. In my view, for beauty, it out does everything else in this room.

The main body of the museum is made up of Or, Ireland’s collection of historic gold items. Much of that display is up to 4000 years old, particularly some of the torcs, the sun discs and some of the earrings and dress clasps. I never fail to be utterly amazed by the work, the delicate tooth engravings. I could walk down Grafton Street and look at some of the jewellery in our high end jeweller shops and nothing even comes close.

I remain amazed that 1) these things were created and 2) these things might even survive so many years.

I dip into the museum as and how I wish, and while I’ll admit I’m strongly attracted to the Or and Treasury pretty, the point is, we’re very lucky to have it, and have that extent of a collection here.

Education in Ireland

Eilis O’Hanlon has a piece in the Sunday Independent today which irritated me quite a lot. I don’t usually read her pieces so it’s entirely possible she usually delivers her pieces in this well-shot manner. The problem is, as a contribution to the debate, it is shallow, it misses a lot of core points, and instead of dealing with the underlying issue which is how do we best do education, she just lobs criticism after criticism at the teachers. In every sense of the word, she personifies the lack of respect which is common in Ireland for teachers.

There are coal miners in China who complain less about their workplace conditions than Irish teachers. Trawlermen in the North Sea don’t feel so hard done by. Listening to members of the teaching profession in Ireland, one could almost be forgiven for thinking the TV series World’s Toughest Job was devoted entirely to their ordeal.

This is just a great start for opening a dialogue, don’t you think? There is so much bad faith in this, any teacher would be forgiven for getting up from the table and walking away. O’Hanlon is not interested in listening if she’s using this sort of hyperpole.

The thing is, in Ireland, we need a dialogue. About the only thing you can say for O’Hanlon’s piece is that she didn’t talk about Finland. That restraint is admirable. It is possible, that unlike David McWilliams, she realises that this would lead to a wholesale restructuring on the financial side. Finland has few to no private schools, and the ones that do exist don’t get to select on their own terms. And it is entirely possible that she understands that Finland actually set out to set up an equality based system, and the high PISA scores were a side benefit.

The dialogue we need is not about teachers, or teachers’ holidays, or even reform of the Junior Certificate. The dialogue we need is around what we expect and need from education. If you step away from ranking tables – which we should – the question remains: what constitutes a reasonable level of education in this day and age. No one in Ireland discusses that in public, it seems, for all the moaning around Irish, maths, religion, funding, computer coding. There never seems to be any debate around whether the cycle system we have in place is still appropriate: we do primary school up to 12, junior cycle for three years, senior cycle for 2-3 years (it still varies). We may or may not have a transition year. We do not discuss the introduction of specialised teachers at an early stage. We castigate teachers when kids do badly; we allow parents to abscond their responsibilities.

Most of my teenage years were spent listening to kids talking about how we’d never need algebra. When would they ever need to factorise a quadratic equation.

It seems to me there is a narrative that suggests Irish people can only really deal with direct return on investment: I learn to factorise quadratic equations only because I will need to factorise quadratic equations in the future. We teach people stuff in university that can immediately be turned into money. In certain respects, the debate around education in Ireland is extremely shallow.

The thing is, I agree with Eilis O’Hanlon on a couple of points:

Our students are terrible at foreign languages. Proficiency in maths continues to slip.

She says other stuff which I don’t agree with which we will come to later. Yes, I think proficiency in mathematics is slipping. And yes, our students are terrible at foreign languages. However, I ran the numbers last week and in absolute numbers – not proportionally – in absolute numbers, we are turning out more students with higher level languages like French and German than England/Wales is at A-level.

In other words, blaming teachers is an all too facile way of looking at issues. I’d like to see a core aspiration for the education system in terms of identifying what we want out of it. Yes, I’d like people to be maths-capable. I’d like the students coming out of our language teaching systems to be functionally fluent in those languages. Where possible, I’d like to see secondary level subjects to open doors to further study, be it structured or independent.

But more on that at the moment. Eilis makes a couple of assertions:

  • Under European directives, the minimum number of days that children must spend in school is greater at primary than secondary level, when all the evidence suggests that it should be the other way round.

  • In 2010, most shockingly, pupils become the first generation in Ireland to have lower levels of literacy than their parents.

A good journalist would actually provide supporting evidence for those. Where is the evidence that children should spend more time in secondary than at primary level? And what is the evidence that the current generation has lower literacy than their parents?

Eilis O’Hanlon writes at length about how journalism has been upturned by technology. Given that I read that piece on the Independent’s website, I’d expect links to the data backing up those assertions.

At no point in the article, does O’Hanlon outline what she expects of an education system; she purely uses the piece to target and criticise teachers,

Here’s the issue: there are some core problems around Junior Certificate reform; the key one being that big bogey I’ve mentioned: how does it fit into a framework for what we want from education when we never have the conversation about what we want from education.

After that, when you read a diatribe against teachers like O’Hanlon’s one, and you understand that a lot of people don’t respect teachers to be able to teach, it becomes easier to understand why teachers particularly respect the independence and arms-lengthness of a central marking system. If we don’t trust teachers to know best how to teach, why are we demanding that they trust us to trust them to know how best to mark what we don’t trust them to teach. 

There are a lot of issues around education right now. When I was going through the school system, Facebook did not exist. Mobile phones and always on internet did not exist. Your average teenager is not spending their time exploring Wikipedia when Instagram exists.

The demands on young attention have increased massively since I was in the school system, and, I suspect, since Eilis O’Hanlon was in the education system. The extent to which teachers are allowed to be owners of their teaching space has dropped. In an era of data where the vast majority of people are clueless about statistics, there is a greater demand for things like schools tables. But none of this answers the question “What do we want from education?”

Here’s what I’d like. I’d like the product of our education to be young well adjusted people who are numerate, literate, reasonably fluent in at least one foreign language, reasonably able to read a piece of journalism like O’Hanlon’s piece above and criticise its failings effectively. People who are aware of where to find the steps to things which interest them. I’d like them to be tolerant, reasonably fit and healthy. I would like the education system to provide them with options, not limitations.

On the detail side of maths literacy and foreign languages I would suggest that the core supports for that should be in the primary system – I’d tend to suggest we start foreign languages at the age of 10 for example, and specialised maths teaching at around the same age. I suspect that with some discussion, we could look at reconfiguring the primary and secondary schooling stages but that this needs to be seen in the context of what we want each to deliver.

If Eilis O’Hanlon is really interested in improving educational outcomes in this country, starting with teacher bashing is probably one of the least effective tactics to take. A discussion which includes teachers and their concerns would be more constructive than this kind of insulting and dismissive piece of ignorance.

PS – I am not a teacher. Just in case anyone thinks I’m a teacher railing against negative coverage.

We all partied. Again. And Again. And Actually, we didn’t

A couple of journalists have written pieces on the hammering the media got for its role in the crash. Michael Clifford is here at the Irish Examiner and Gerry O’Regan is here at the Irish Independent.  In general, they are defending the media against charges that they may have slipped up in terms of the events before the crash.

Sometime in 2000 and sometime again later, around 2003 I think, I went to my bank to enquire about the possibility of a mortgage. I’m not going to name the bank, because it won’t really matter, but in both cases, they both were happy to give me a mortgage; it’s just the amount of money concerned in both cases came nowhere close to funding any reasonable accommodation that was within a reasonable distance of where I worked.

Around the time, I also variously looked at apartments and have very clear memories of visiting a 2 bedroomed apartment in Balbriggan. I specifically remember it because it was the first showing, it was packed, and while it was at the top end of what I was going to manage between mortgage and deposit, there was always, you know…that hope. That apartment started off at 220,000E when the doors opened. While I was looking at the bathroom and one of the bedrooms, it made its way up to 300,000. I left because what was the point. This wasn’t in 2006 – I had more or less given up looking at places at that stage – it was earlier. And I have to be honest, when I looked at this apartment, it wasn’t really what I imagined my life to be. It was small, massively open plan, the rooms weren’t big, it was dark. The kitchen and the living room were pretty much one. It was designed by someone who was safe in the knowledge they would never want to live there. I wondered was I the only sane person left in the country. Even if I had the 340,000 it was likely to need to secure at that time, I didn’t want it. Especially I did not want it if I had to move fast. Decisions involving multiples of my annual salary are not decisions I like to be making in a snap form. On the only occasion I came close to trying to buy a house, early in around 2010, I think, I visited it 2 or 3 times myself before deciding whether to call in the cavalry in terms of a sanity check.

When I hear people say “they didn’t know” or “it was supposed to be different”, it’s annoying. When I hear peoples way we all partied, or we all lost the ruin of themselves, I feel angry. One of the key reasons for which I didn’t buy property in Ireland in the last 15 years is that for most of it, it hasn’t really been worth the money. The only reason I’ve even entertained the notion is because renting in Ireland is not a walk in the park either. It has been like being between the devil and the deep blue sea.

I have mixed feelings about the media at the moment. In my view, there are times they need to tell us unpleasant truths. A lot of people in Ireland did not lose the run of themselves. They didn’t buy houses they didn’t need, and they didn’t party most of the 2000s. Most of the people I know who did buy were comparatively prudent in terms of what they did buy (as in they haven’t bought 2 bedroomed apartments in Balbriggan). The unpleasant truth which the media has not been telling us is that high and rising house prices are a bad thing. Many people in Ireland have not and still do not want to accept this reality. People who own houses like feeling wealthy; news stories about new paradigms, this time it’s different, tell them what they want to hear.

When people do not want to hear unpleasant truths, that is when I expect the media to step in. You did not need to be an economist in the 2000s to know that repeated loosening of lending standards were a bad thing. They were a sign that houses were getting beyond normal affordability. At the very top of the market, there was anecdotal evidence that people were getting mortgages worth up to 10 times their gross annual income.

This was insane. And yet, people signed up to it.

I can’t understand this. My policy in life, regarding housing, is to pay as little as I can possibly get away with. Here, it seemed to be the complete opposite. People did not want to hear that rising prices were a bad thing because it would have forced them to examine their own behaviour. Most people don’t want to do this.

We didn’t all party. Those who did desperately need the narrative of we all partied because that means, they don’t have to address the fact that maybe they were particularly wrong.

It easier when you can point at all the other people who made the same mistake.

Michael Clifford mentions two people who tried to call a halt. He points out that the difference between journalists and those two people is that they weren’t journalists but economists. One of them was Morgan Kelly. It is safe to say he was not a journalist. He’s a person with no skin in that particular game and his figures were fairly sharp when eventually the media started giving his views a platform. Prior to that, it’s not like the media wanted to give platforms to people who were unhappy with how things were.

The other is David McWilliams. I personally don’t see David McWilliams as anything other than a journalist and the piece he wrote on education which I looked at the other day wasn’t the work of an economist. He is, however, a business man.

There is none so blind as those who don’t want to see. When people claim we all partied, it is because that allows them the nice fluffy thought that they weren’t particularly stupid – every one else was at it.

The problem with that is that, actually, everyone else was not at it. Some of us couldn’t afford to but we’re paying even now for the ones who could.

Windsandbreezes: 16 December 2005: The Dark Art of Economic Forecasting

20 Sep 2006: Just because the internet makes information so much easier

14 Sep 2006: Wobbles or safe





Passport cards

Ireland does not have an official mandatory ID card system. If you have a recent card issued with your PPS number (or RSI, depending on how old you are and what you are used to calling it), it will have a photograph on it as well. But it’s not an official state identity card per se.

Some time ago, Charlie Flanagan made some comments about the possible introduction of a passport card which could be used to travel on. The press release regarding that card is here, was made today.

My early adult years were spent in France, Germany and Belgium, and 9 months in the UK which doesn’t count because they don’t have an ID card system either.  So I have spent time going through the process to pick up residence permits in France, Germany and Belgium. All of them required me to carry one of their official papers along with my Irish passport at all times. From the time I was 21 years old, I have carried my passport everywhere with me.

I have seen a lot of horrified looks on people’s face when they have heard this. Often the same people who were horrified when they were told to carry their driving licence everywhere they were driving.

The response has generally been of the “What if you lose it” variety.

In Ireland, people are terrified of losing their passports. I have had several friends put their passport somewhere safe, so they don’t lose it, who have also wound up having to get passports issued, often at comparatively short notice, because they’ve put them somewhere so safe, they can’t remember where that safe place was.

Charlie Flanagan is aware that we don’t have an official ID card system here, but that there is a requirement by a lot of people to produce an ID, usually, it must be said, for being allowed to buy alcohol or get into a club. He is concerned that people will lose their passports. So he has introduced this passport card on grounds of convenience.

You cannot get this passport card – which costs 35E – without already possessing an ordinary passport. It’s not clear what would happen if you lost the passport card; although already DFA in Ireland has the right not to issue you with a new one if you have a not great record in losing your passport. I really don’t understand why this card could not be issued as a separate card; there’s no obvious explanation for the requirement to already possess a passport.

But at the end of the day, perhaps it’s time we had a wider discussion around identity cards in this country and recognised that we are, de facto, introducing one courtesy of the PPS card system, already require drivers to produce identification, and, the greatest driver for this new ancillary passport card appears to be youngsters being age checked in clubs, bars and off-licences.