Category Archives: living in ireland

Whither constitution

So, moving on from the debacle that is Irish Water, there are now calls for a constitutional amendment to make sure that Irish Water can’t be privatised.

This is idiocy of the highest order and it is not what the constitution was designed for. Although to be fair, it’s hardly new to abuse the constitution to try and prevent legislation some people don’t like so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

Irish Water is now a completely poisonous mess; not because many thousands of people marched in the streets on Saturday; it was a mess before that.

So, what needs to be changed to fix it? Well in the real world, the one inhabited by the people who vote and are supposed to pay this, it’s possible that it cannot, at this point in time, be fixed in such a way as it can start charging.

Here’s what I wouldn’t have done.

  1. I wouldn’t have hired John Tierney.
  2. I wouldn’t have allowed Irish Water to have access to PPS numbers.
  3. I would have had a lower flatrate per 1000L charge and no messing with household and children’s allowances.
  4. I would not have panicked and implemented a tax credit.
  5. I would not have panicked and talked about 100E rebates.
  6. I would not have done an about turn on household allowances if people don’t fill in the form. I’m not in favour of the allowances but if someone is going to be determined to implement them, they should be house related.
  7. I wouldn’t have given Phil Hogan the nomination for Ireland’s representative on the European Commission. But it’s fair to say I wouldn’t have done that anyway.

Here’s what I would do now.

Right now, the problem with Irish Water is NOT the risk of privatisation; it flatly doesn’t matter if it is or not because regardless, the problem is how usage charges were implemented, which is basically with all the finesse of an approaching fireball. Damage everywhere.

Updating the constitution really should be for key visionary changes in how we want this country to operate. Being nice to people. Banning capital punishment. It really shouldn’t be a political football used by one or other organisation, like SIPTU or the Labour Party, to stymy administration.

Fixing the problems with Irish Water now will be reputationally difficult but sometimes, hard decisions have to be taken. Fine Gael keep telling us that so it’s about time they learned that reality as well.

Irish Water, as is, needs to be abandoned. Closed down. Liquidated. It has cost money and it will cost money. But there is no way of fixing this.

Blundering on with a bad product without having the guts to deal with the reality of it being a bad product closes down companies as they throw good money after bad.

And maybe then, we can start from scratch and do it properly and efficiently.

Irish Water

I am but a simple person but if I wanted to implement a user pays system for water charges in Ireland, here is how I would have done it.

  1. Sorted out the infrastructure
  2. Install household meters
  3. Send usage notices to house holders
  4. Do this over a period of at least a year
  5. Set up a utility company to charge per usage in a similar manner to the other utilities: ie every two months rather than every three.
  6. Implement an over time diminishing tax credit.

In other words, before founding Irish Water or some equivalent, I would have fixed the principal problems with the water network. Irish Water’s twitter feed is a daily litany of things being fixed. This really shouldn’t be happening. There is no way that the infrastructure should have been handed over in the state it appears to be in.

Additionally, as the more sensible approach to water charges is to base it on usage, over time before charges fall due, users should get a picture of their usage.

Then, when the network is okay, and we the people are familiar with our usage in actual terms, implement charges.

This, in my view, would have been the sensible way about doing it.


  1. a lot of people are unhappy about how the meter install company was selected. More information on the rationale would be helpful
  2. a lot of people have pointed out that they are having trouble reading their own meters. Irish Water has suggested people will never have to do so. However, the vast majority of people in this country are well acquainted with the idea of checking their electricity and gas meters, some because they do it be default, some because they move house every once in a while. According to a conversation I had with someone on Twitter, by the end of September, Irish Water had not yet figured out what process would be in place for someone moving house.
  3. Because of the way Irish Water was set up, and the lack of transparency about usage, a system of allowances was set up, to be administered by Irish Water. Who decided that they needed the PPS of the accountholder and their children (but not any other adults) to ensure people got the right allowances. The only allowance which is linked to an individual is the allowance per child. The other allowance is household linked. It should not need a PPS number.
  4. Because of the screaming and howling about all this, a terrified government appears to have come up with the idea of a tax credit as well. The implementation of said tax credit doesn’t look to be exactly clear yet. But we do now apparently have a water charges system that a) involves usage allowances and b) tax credits. This doesn’t strike me as an efficient way of arranging things. Most other countries get by with a simpler set up.

So, what would be the best thing to do? Well, the Irish Government are in a bind, really, because they have to do this. It is not unique to them – I had correspondence with John Gormley on the matter and at that stage, the Green Party at least, when they held the Environment ministry, had no intention of reducing income tax to cater for the fact that water which we had previously been paid for through taxation was now planned to be charged via a utility. It is hard to say how Fianna Fáil and the Green Party would have implemented this (because I am certain they would have (my contact with John Gormley dates back to March 2010)), and it is evident at the time, John Gormley’s expectation was that the central coffers would not necessarily suffer by people paying water charges directly to a utility.

The issue for me is not that it’s happening. It is that if there was possibly a way to do something badly, the Irish Government appear to have managed to choose every possible poor decision in so doing.  This is what I find irritating. We were starting a water utility from scratch and we could have made it work if we’d tried.

It would help if some people with the power to change things – presumably we do have some – had the guts to recognise this and fix things. I’d prefer they avoided cosmetic things like firing half the managers. It is the whole way the system was set up from the outset which needs review, and not just the current people in charge.


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.