Category Archives: living in ireland

Mortgages

During the past week, the Central Bank made noise about implementing rules around minimum deposits and maximum salary multiples for mortgages.

In summary, this is a good thing. If we had this in place 15 years ago, or more to the point, enforced it, it is possible that a lot of people who are in negative equity now would not be, a lot of houses built in places where we don’t need houses would not have been built, 15% of our economy would not have relied on construction, thus skewing employee skillsets, and we would not have had to bail out the banks. So much.

There is screaming and howling about this because of house prices now. House prices in Dublin, in particular. In summary, house prices in Dublin are clinically insane.

When this becomes a problem, what the people of Dublin, and Ireland, do, appears to be to scream at people in charge to find ways of giving housebuyers more money. Sort out affordability.

Sorting out affordability always seems to mean bending the roles to give people more money. It NEVER seems to involve chopping down the cost of housing. The interesting thing is, a lot of the people screaming about this and how will they ever afford their own home don’t appear to have the financial nous to understand that a net impact of a policy like this will be that prices come down. Whereas saving 100KE for your 500KE house might look horrifically impossible from here, if your house collapses in value to something more reasonable like 100KE, all you have to save is 20KE. It’s still a lot of money of course. Simple truth is that if a lot of people suddenly can’t afford extant house prices, house prices are going to come down.

Of course, this means that a lot of people who own houses will shout about their losses.

What it boils down to, however, is a choice between them – and they contributed to the financial collapse here by overpaying for their houses – and the future of the country. Sorry, but that’s how it is.

Discussions around the property market in Ireland have always featured a lot of discussion on blame. Whose fault is this current disaster? A lot of people like to blame the generation older than mine because they benefitted. But they benefitted because many people in my generation lost the run of themselves and over extended themselves. No one was ever forced to do this except by themselves. Simple truth is if people aren’t buying property, property prices will come down, probably slowly as people try to catch falling knives.

I read a rant on the subject this morning which depressed me. Firstly, home is not linked solely to owning property; it’s how you live in it. Secondly, the person writing it seems to think that having a massive debt around her neck was a good thing.

Instead of screaming for more money, the priority should be to reduce the cost of housing. Let me put one example on the table: a two bedroomed apartment in Brussels to rent will set you back somewhere around 900E. It will be far better serviced by helpful things like transport infrastructure and healthcare and commerce and it will not be out in Ashtown or Ratoath which is probably where you’d have to go to pay similar rent in Ireland.

I don’t know how you fix some of the structure problems of property in Ireland: I think you’d need to knock a whole pile of buildings and build properly designed accommodation (not the apartment complexes we’ve built, that’s for sure) and start over. What you don’t do is feed more money into the system. We’ve already had one huge, economy killing fiasco. It would be nice to have learned from the experience.

Let them eat 2G

Yesterday, many thousands of people held up traffic in Dublin city centre to voice their displeasure at Irish Water and water charges.

On Thursday, social media blew a fuse about comments Joan Burton made about protesters.

Per the link above:

All of the protesters that I have seen before seem to have extremely expensive phones, tablets, video cameras

It’s hard to know what her point is. Probably the obvious one is an implication that the protesters are probably poor so how do they have such expensive stuff?

But that relies on a bunch of assumptions: that all the protesters are poor and I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption. Also, anyone who has tried to negotiate the Byzantine array of phone options available in Ireland will be aware that it is possible to get a very good phone for not very much money.

The issue, as far as I can see it, is that the protests are being filmed. So the question I would like Joan Burton to answer is this: why does it bother her that protesters are recording the protests?

It doesn’t bother me too much. And the thing is, I am not actually against water charges per se; I just think they way they have been implemented here has been unnecessarily complex and disorganised. Our water authority is playing fast and loose with semantics – what is a bonus if not a performance related reward? The messing around with the idea of allowances has enabled Irish Water to request PPS numbers. In principle, I am against factors which make a system complex – and the system of allowances does. What would be more useful is a lower usage charge and none of this messing around with household allowances (which are house related) and child allowances (which are individual child related). I’m tired of being told that if I live alone the allowance will cover X of my needs when a) I don’t live alone and b) the vast majority of adults who don’t have children don’t either. This is meaningless.

At the end of the day, it should not be difficult to set up a utility to charge for water, reduce income tax to cater for that and then make sure we have a simple usage based model. After all, we already have gas and electricity utilities.

I apologise in advance

This annoyed me. For a bunch of reasons.

This was the number one reason.

It’s probably fair to say that many Irish women’s hair is overprocessed, heat-styled to within an inch of its life, dyed to smithereens and highlighted beyond recognition. And even if it is still in a relatively natural state, Irish hair tends to be quite coarse in texture – compare it, for example, to the silky manes of our Asian sisters.

So it is probably fair to say that if you’re Irish, you should be feeling bad about your hair.

This will explain the next blog entry which I will link here when I have written it, shortly.

The wearing of the hairshirt and we are all complicit

Here’s a thing.

This morning, via twitter, an assertion that we are all complicit; we all knew what was going on.

I am sick to the teeth of sentences the key objective of which is to suggest that everything that happened is all our faults. IT IS NOT. In many cases, it cannot possibly be. The Children’s Home in Tuam closed years before I was born.

Collective responsibility is a way of ensuring individual responsibility goes ignored. When Michael Noonan or some other politician pops up and says we all partied we did not. I’m not sitting in an undervalued negative equity apartment I can’t quite afford to pay for because I did not party. Saying we all partied is only a comfort to those who did; it is absolutely no help to those who did not.

When a story like Tuam pops up, there is nothing to be gained by suggesting We Are All Complicit. Maybe half the population wasn’t even alive. How can they be complicit? Oh, let’s conflate it with some other social attrocity – “we permit it to happen”.

This is wrong. This is so wrong, and dishonest. Until we stop this nonsense of forcing collective responsibility, we will never stop things like this happening. Collective responsibility and the hairshirt allows the genuinely responsible to hide behind “We all knew about it, we all tacitly agreed to it”.

We didn’t. But some people made decisions, key operational decisions that are not the result of collective responsibility. Some organisations, likewise. These are the people who need to be taking responsibility; we do not need to be shoving hairshirts onto the population as a whole.

Living the life

The Journal wrote a piece the other day or today or something on a piece of property in Dublin, for sale, asking price, 12 million euro.

Let’s just clear up one minor detail and it’s this: if I had 12 million euro, I would not be buying that house.

Now, I don’t actually have 12 million euro which is of secondary importance here but fine. If I did have 12 million euro, I’d be sitting down with a lifestyle shopping list. And I’d be buying this. I could then, more than likely, live off the interest of the remaining, oh, six million euro change I’d get. Windsurfing in Maui every winter. Access to decent waves.

Way to go.

A directly elected mayor for Dublin

Fingal County Council recently voted against the holding of a plebiscite for the possibility of a directly elected mayor for Dublin and campaigners who have been fighting for such a referendum (ie, let’s vote to see if we want one, and then vote for one) were roundly furious with them. The reason for that is that Phil Hogan, a politician who is on the list of politicians I’m glad I never have to make a decision about, told them that they could have a referendum only if all of the councils agreed. Fingal was the only council to reject a motion to have said referendum.

The city of Dublin has a lord mayor, and the council and various incumbants could probably do a lot more with the role than they do already.

I have problems with this campaign. If you read the twitter feed for the campaign, it very much operates on the city being the focus of any mayoralty. The city needs a voice for this, the city needs a voice for that. The twitter feed for the campaign is here.

The problem is that Dublin isn’t just the city. It is the county as well, and when you see a city focussed campaign being run, and you’re expected to take on board this mayor that the campaign wants for Dublin, then if you’re in Fingal, which the largest population of the three non-city municipal localities (Census, 2011, via CSO), you’re probably right to be very concerned that this person will get elected, but not really care that much about the non-city areas.

This is the tweet that caught my attention this morning:

 Emotive debate on homelessness is missing a voice for the city, on behalf of the city- a touchstone for Dublin.

If you look at some of the comments by some of the people that this account retweets (the account is letdublinvote by the way), it’s not something I can get around:

Catherine Heaney, for example.

Fingal needs to be part of the City region

When you look at it in that context, it’s perfectly understandable that Fingal authorities would want nothing to do with this.

I live in the Dublin city area at the moment. I have also lived in the Fingal County area as well. I honestly don’t believe that a mayor directly elected would be able to serve the interests of both areas to the best benefit for both areas, not when so much of the support for a direct mayor focuses on the benefits to the city.

Dublin is much more than a city. Campaigns like this seem to forget this when they focus so much on the city.

the small pleasures

Following on from my previous, one of the things I did want to do is list the small local pleasures that are absolutely unique to Dublin.

So, here are mine and I’m open to suggestions.

  • sitting on the boardwalk on a sunny day
  • sitting in St Stephen’s Green on a sunny day
  • Fish and chips from Beshoffs
  • Sitting on the pier in Howth
  • (combining the fish and chips from Beshoffs with the sitting on the pier in Howth)
  • Wandering around the Botanic Gardens
  • Wondering who designed the Met Office
  • Wandering around the National Museum in Kildare Street
  • White hot chocolate from Butlers
  • Taking the Dart all along the coast
  • Browsing the magazines in Easons
  • walking Dollymount Strand
  • Walking Sandymount Strand
  • Walking the piers in Dun Laoighaire.
  • Walking along the seafront in Blackrock
  • Walking around Phoenix Park
  • Checking out the National library
  • Tea in the bar in Brooks Hotel
  • Tea in the library bar
  • Queen of Tarts (not the biggest fan myself)
  • Foodmarket in Temple Bar on a Saturday, Howth on a Sunday, and Dun Laoghaire on a Sunday
  • The National Gallery
  • The Science Gallery
  • Wandering around the quadrangle in Trinity
  • Meeting friends under the clock at Clerys.

One thing we can learn about making Dublin a better city…

Niall Harbison wrote this piece on his LovinDublin site and some joyous person shared it via my twitter feed last night or this morning or some time. I’m not absolutely certain as I am in exam prep mode and the days and nights just blur.

If you’re reluctant to click through, basically he’s listing 7 things we should copy from San Francisco so that Dublin keeps learning.

Dublin, in my view, could be a fantastic city if – and only if (we express this as IFF in mathsy terms) – it stopped trying to be somewhere else. When Niall Harbison lists 7 things we should copy from San Francisco to make Dublin better, he’s missing that point.

Dublin, in certain parts, is a stunning looking city. Walk down Grafton Street and look UP at the buildings above eye level. They are stunning. Look at Georges Street Arcade. It’s a masterpiece of gothicry. Look at the Pen Corner, look at all the stunning buildings on O’Connell Street. Building a bunch of street food stalls and opening a branch of Whole Foods doesn’t answer the right question. Are we making the most of our assets? I don’t think we are.

When I consider the question “How can we make Dublin a better city”, I don’t think of real drip coffee (seriously, what the actual hell). I think of “How do we make Dublin an easy city to live in”.

My number one item – above all else – is pour money into a coherent, integrated public transport system. Yesterday, I was waiting for a bus on Westmoreland Street, when a taxi parked in a bus stop to do what looked like a pre-arranged pick up. The bus stop in question is used by 6 different bus companies.

There are several problems there. 1) no one other than a bus should be stopping at a bus stop 2) six companies at a single bus stop including the main city service with about 7 routes is not evidence of a coherent well thought out transport system.

Now, I could write a complete essay on public transport in Dublin, but really, I wanted to use this to illustrate a single point: living in Dublin can be hard. If you drive, you spend hours in traffic (took me 90 minutes to get home on Friday) or you plan massive amounts of time to cater for changing buses in town (2 hours yesterday for a four mile journey). Ultimately, the point is, when we look at improving Dublin, our singular question shouldn’t be “what can we copy from somewhere else” but “how can we make life easier for the inhabitants in Dublin”. May god forgive me for this but “what are the painpoints of living in Dublin”.

When I think of the problems I experience on a day to day basis of living in Dublin, they aren’t the sort of problems you solve by making more hipster food joints available. To be frank, if you want a decent food market, Dublin City Council is working on that and you don’t need Wholefoods.

What we need is less expensive accommodation (rents are up, house prices are up, salaries not so much). What we need is a comprehensive effective public transport system whose remit is not to be as cheap as possible but to be as comprehensive as possible. What we need is a change in how we approach high density housing.

Most of the stuff that Niall Harbison is on about is the sort of stuff that happens if the infrastructure of your city is working effectively and it’s not specific to any city in particular.

But mostly, the problem with Dublin that I can see – and it hasn’t changed much in 15 years – is it wants to be somewhere else. It wants to rub shoulders with London and New York, and San Fran and Berlin and all those other hip places without realising that it’s the annoying school friend who wants to copy everything you do.

All these cities, they aren’t great because they have street food. They’re great because to some extent, all of them answered a question of “how do we make life easier for our inhabitants” at some level and at some stage, and they answered it in different ways. Here, the answers would be different as well. And they all started from the premise of being themselves. No one in Berlin woke up one morning and said “you know the place would be a whole lot better if we were a bit more like San Francisco”.

When you look at the other cities in the country, the Galways, the Belfasts and the Corks, they aren’t sitting there working out how they can be more like Dublin. They’re working out how they can make themselves better rather than aspiring to be somewhere else. There’s a subtle difference, absolutely but it matters.