November 2004,the Irish Minister for Arts, Sports, and Tourism, Mr John O,Donoghue appeared stark naked before a gathering of personalities assembled for the opening of a 25 million euro,venture called The Brehon Hotel, owned by some of his country cuzzins Patrick O,Donoghue and family.
Patrick is also director of "Failte Ireland" the state sponsored body that spends up to 200 million Euros a year-of your bin taxes- enticing wealthy golf players to come and visit the numerous new Golf/hotel complexes financed by lavish tax breaks paid for by the ordinary workers,and built by "Friends Of Fianna Fail".
These hostelries now circumscribe the coastline,and hinterlands of the Emerald Isle.You the taxpayer paid for them but you will never see a red cent of the profits they make because the money will be recycled into private hospitals, nursing homes or refuse collection companies to add to your woes. Some of it will end up buying shopping centres in Moscow(Liam Lawlor style), Poland, Hungary-(that they are) or elsewhere.
At the gathering he announced that the Myth of " Rip-Off Ireland",was no longer to be spoken of because the bad news was spreading, and endangering our tourist industry.He declared that moaning in public-particularly in front of foreign tourists- was an unpatriotic act,and publicly reprimanded those of us who do so.
For many years visitors to Ireland used to be quietly mugged on the streets, robbed of their money and possessions,and their car or campervan set on fire,stolen or vandalized,with little or no publicity. Nobody spoke about it, lest the tourists be scared away.
When the Continental/German newspapers finally got around to counting their war wounded returning from Ireland they declaring Ireland a "no-go" area for prudent tourists who had neither martial arts skills,nor machine guns mounted on their campervans. The irish police were eventually persuaded to send a few of their scarce numbers out on to the streets of Dublin and elswhere, to look for the culprits (who were not too hard to find.).
"Just look for the guys with the glazed eyes ,who live in some of Dublin,s worst tenements,at the back of the Guinness Brewery,officers.!"(The police were otherwise engaged in the wilderness of Donegal....)
Todays headache is a trifle different.
Today young people visiting Ireland for a holiday, or an english language course are likely to end up kicked to death on the streets of Dublin, or raped and murdered in a boreen in Kerry or Galway. Gangs of mindless thugs nightly roam our cities sand towns nightly, their ears attuned in particular for individuals or even groups of youngsters speaking a foreign language, or heavily accented english. The raw savagery of these assaults is neither drunken hooliganism nor heroin related-but more often sober barbarism-a peculiarly irish form of barbarity which brings shame to the nation of Ireland.there are no prison spaces for these thugs when caught,-many of the scarce prison places are occupied by people who fail to pay fines for not paying their TV licences etc.
the irish prison system has the highest warder/prisoner ratio in Europe and the western world. in america it varies from 1warder to10 prisoners to as little as one warder to 100 prisoners in the most automated correction institutes.
In Ireland there is an incredible one-to-one ratio.One warder (earning on average 100,000euros per year) for every prisoner. Given that most of the inmates are docile and permanently stoned on drugs-this is an incredible achievement for the branch of the Civil Service represented by the Irish Prison Officers Association.!
The heroin addicts, of yesteryear who once gently mugged affluent looking american tourists, are presumably either deceased,-or happy with their Methadone supplies,-or reformed and prosperous Celtic Tigers selling hamburgers (or whatever), instead of breaking into foreign registered camper-vans. the new brand of mugger is a more vicious and deadly mutant of the old style thug. He attacks and mutilates his victim for pleasure-not for profit.! He assaults and rapes and murders on similiar lines.
The Germans (60 million of them) take to the Autobahns of Europe every summer,in their campervans and travel as far south as Croatia,and Crete.they are not seen here in ireland anymore though. No loss.Not profitable enough for the "Soldiers'. They don't occupy luxury hotels and play golf all day.!
The statistical data office of the European Community,has been instructed by Minister O'Donoghue to remove Ireland's name from the head of the new "price muggers list",when it replaced Finland as Europe's most expensive holiday destination.It is not to be listed in any statistics-anywhere-relating to how expensive it has become!
Bury the bad news like always. A Fianna Fail solution to everything.
The nouveau muggers wear pin stripe suits.They own hotels and golf courses all over Ireland! They are well connected in Soldier of Destiny circles.And you the worker pay the huge bill for advertising their attractions, worldwide.
Most of these luxury hotels ,which receive huge tax breaks to build new swimming pools,golf courses, and leisure complexes etc, all financed with taxpayers money-never pay a penny in tax. Like the former(deceased) owner of the P.V.Doyle hotels chain, who amassed a tax free fortune offshore all of his life..Those hotels that are not owned by an offshore family trust, use creative accounting or retention of profits within the business for further expansion,or similiar stratagems to avoid the problems that salaried workers have with a government pilfered wage packet every month . "Failte Ireland " can spend up to 200 Million Euros yearly of your money enticing well heeled visitors to these "TouristTraps"
.As most of those employed in the hotel industry today ,are indentured slave labourers/cleaners/maids from Latvia or the Philippines,their paltry wages benefit the exchequer hardly at all.Many do not pay tax at all as they are hired out by independent foreign employment agencies who cream off a percentage of their wages.(Even the Irish ferryboats have philippino hairdressers working for 1 Euro an hour.)
There was outcry and horror however,when Mr O'Donoghue exposed himself before the elite gathering .Yes,you read right,- he e-x-p-o-s-e-d himself!
Ladies fled from the room at the sight of this Soldier of Destiny,warriors manhood,on display for all the world to see.However John O'Donoghue was not taking the mickey.Somebody else was to blame.
The incident was explained afterwards as being the result of a scam which had been perpetrated earlier in the week by a prestigious,and world famous,bespoke tailor,named Hans Christian Anderson.
Hans arrived in Ireland,and visited Leinster House ,the seat of parlimentary democracy ,to measure Mr O'Donoghue for a new suit of clothes.He informed him that he was in possession of the finest suit ever made-and further declared that it was, incredibly, an invisible suit.!
When he went through the motions of dressing Mr O'Donoghue for a first fitting,before the assembled Cabinet Ministers,Press Gallery, and spectators, the clever taylor declared it to be the best,most expensive suit he ever made with threads of gold,and cloth of the finest silk,and such like.
Naturally the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern,not wishing to appear a fool,admired the cut and style.His entire Cabinet nodded their approval in like manner ,and all the people,not wishing to appear idiots, declared they had never seen anything like it for splendour and workmanship.Likewise the people on the streets,and everywhere John went admired his sartorial splendour profusely,having already heard of the wonderful suit through the media and the government press office,and everyone they had spoken to -word had spread so fast throughout the country.
One little boy,the son of the hotelier however had been abroad,and only returned on the night of the hotel opening.He knew nothing about the magic suit.When he saw Martin cross the stage to address the assembled multitudes he was aghast..horrified.He shouted loudly "The Minister is in his all-together!-he is stark naked.!"
Suddenly the rest of the crowd realized it too.There was pandemonium. Ladies covered their faces and scrambled for the exits.Chaos ruled.One of the Ministers police driver/bodyguards threw an overcoat over him to shield his nakedness from the cameras flashing in the press gallery.The following day Fianna Fail issued a press release,admitting that while they had been deceived,the tailors bill had not yet been fully paid by the exchequer,and a substantial amount of taxpayers money had been saved during the period when Martin had been going around just as Marlyn Monroe,s body had been found;...in the nude.!
Ireland is a nation full of contradictions, great prosperity and wealth for a minority;-a continuation of oppressive taxation and struggle for a majority.A vast influx of immigrants arrive weekly from countries such as Nigeria and Romania, seeking a share in its new "Klondyke".Yet much of the indiginous population struggle with a lack of basic services; such as housing.The public health service is being demolished before our eyes.The schools no longer provide proper education for working class communities. Private schools educate the rich. And of course there is the lousy infrastructure..What has it really done for anybody, but the propertied and the monied classes: the businessmen, the developers, the farmers, the speculators.? It´s the Rip-off Ireland Phenomenon.
But for how long.?
"Nobody should underestimate the importance of our low Corporation-tax regime in helping to generate and sustain wealth in Ireland. (Editorial ;"Irish Independent")
Ireland has become an expensive and hostile environment for its own citizens.It is ,in effect ,a threathening aircraft carrier, lying off the coast of Europe and crewed by minimum waged foreign workers and overtaxed irish citizens who pay the bill for a free lunch, for foreign multinational corporations. Imported jobs are stolen from our european partners.Increasing stealth taxes are directed at the low paid, and wages continue to diminish in much of the private sector.
State employees,and politicians,lawyers, builders,and farmers benefit, while the quality of life for the vast majority,has deteriorated enormously.
An article in the business section of the Irish Independent argued that the maintainance of Ireland,s low corporation tax rate must be fought for in Europe, where our co partners in the E.E.U. are irritated by our thieving companies,and jobs, from as far away as the U.S.A.
What wealth has this policy brought to the average worker.? A few citizens have become obscenely wealthy as property and land prices soar beyond credulity.The benefits for ordinary people are less obvious.Crippling mortgages.Traffic chaos.Price inflation across all service sectors, fuelled by high taxation,such as V.A.T. Indirect taxation by stealth across the board.
A massive influx of low paid foreign job seekers, puts pressure on our already shambolic public health service.Companies like Irish Ferries race to capitalize on the availibility of cheap labour.
Wealthy Fianna Fail sponsored developers, hurry to rezone much of the countryside for development. They build and rent office accomodation to cater for a chaotic government sponsored decentralization scheme,which will double the cost of our Civil Service wage bill within a few years. Many speculators,with offshore registered companies, continue to pay nothing of their profits back to the state.
21% V.A.T. is levied on all essential services such as waste collection ; Electricity; Telephony; home gas and heating oil.etc. Stealth taxes heaped upon overpriced essential services such as Electricity, and natural Gas, by ill-managed state companies, such as "An Bord Gas". A wave of new private sector buccaneers, such as Larry Goodman, emerge from the shadows of Charles Haughey's coffin, to cater for the sick,and the old.
Private hospitals, and incinerators .Toll roads and decentralized civil servants accomodation alike; all are sponsored by cronies of Fianna Fail's new "Public -Private Partnership- in reality the prelude to wholesale plunder by corporate interests, and punitive taxation, for decades to come.
Once again, ordinary working folk pay dearly for the corporate sector's free lunch, and the farming communities life "pensions" from the "Common Agricultural Fund", much of which is reinvested in the aforementioned scams.
A LANDMARK European court case could greatly reduce Ireland’s ability to attract foreign direct investment.
The European Court of Justice will in December 2005 adjudicate on a dispute between Cadbury Schweppes and the British Inland Revenue on whether the company can avail of a lower tax rate on profits in Ireland.
According to the Inland Revenue, the confectionery giant set up two subsidiaries in Ireland purely to avail of the lower corporation rate.
The case, which is scheduled to be heard next Tuesday, could have huge implications for Ireland. The low corporation tax rate has not only attracted a large number of multinational companies setting up in Ireland creating jobs, but also in the development of the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin. Many foreign subsidiaries are set up in Ireland, and the IFSC in particular, to provide finance operations to their parent companies. This allows them to avail of the low corporate tax.
However, other countries with higher tax rates have moved to clamp down on this perceived disadvantage by introducing laws to ensure that companies are liable to pay tax on the difference.
Cadbury Schweppes set up to subsidiaries in the IFSC Cadbury Schweppes Treasury Services (CSTS) and Cadbury Schweppes Treasury International (CSTI) to provide intra-group finance to the companies various operations. These were subject to the then Irish corporation tax rate of 10% (now 12.5%) and not the 30% in Britain.
Some years ago Britain decided to close down loopholes in its tax code and ensure that companies were not using low tax countries.
The British Inland Revenue went after Cadbury Schweppes for the tax, worth around 13 million in 2000. Cadburys appealed this to the Special Commissioners (which presides over tax disputes). The Special Commissioners determined that the reason for incorporating CSTS and CSTI as tax resident indirect subsidiaries in Ireland was solely for the purpose of ensuring that the profits arising from their intra-group lending treasury activities could benefit from the International Financial Services Centre tax regime for group treasury companies in Ireland and would not be taxed in Britain.
The case was then referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which will have to decide whether the Special Commissioners' decision breached EU guideline's on freedom of establishment.
If the ECJ decides that the Inland Revenue were right in pursuing Cadbury, the case could have major ramifications for Ireland. It would mean that many hundreds of companies here could face similar claims, and hitting the attractiveness of Ireland as a place to do business.
Is so expect more and more bin taxes...
THE Government is dipping into your pocket more regularly now than at any time in the past 10 years. While trumpeting the merits of Ireland's low-tax economy, the Government has in fact been shifting and gradually increasing the tax burden, rather than reducing it.
No matter how the figures are spun, we will hand over more of our incomes in tax this year than we did when the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrats coalition came to power in 1997.
Indirect taxes are the new monster, replacing income tax as the main income source for the Government. The combination of the two is taking more tax out of every household than historic levels of high income tax.
Last year, the Government's income from VAT and stamp duty matched the total amount of tax raised from all sources in 1997, bringing in more than €17bn between them. It has been a startling transformation. Since the Government's first year in office the amount of money generated by indirect taxes has quadrupled, while income tax receipts, despite the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the private and public sectors, have only doubled over the same period.
The headline policy of tax reduction has actually been one of tax replacement, and the impact has been an increase in the tax burden borne by every household. Since 2002, the average amount of tax paid by every household has risen by almost 40 per cent to €27,644, and the percentage of personal income spent on tax by each household has risen from 31.6 per cent to more than 38 per cent, with the vast bulk of that increase coming from indirect taxes.
Not surprisingly, the total tax burden - the amount of tax paid expressed as percentage of the total national output - has also risen, climbing above 38 per cent. So how does the Government pick your pocket while claiming to reduce taxes? One of the simplest examples is the cost of buying and running a car. A relatively modest new car will cost €22,000, and a three-year car loan will cost in the region of €650 a month. The Government's take, in VAT and registration tax, is €7,400 - taxes that will cost you about €260 a month to fund over the three years.
Drive a modest 16,000kms a year and you will give the Government a further €1,000 for your fuel, as well as another €400 for your tax disc. In three years, the Government will take more than €12,000 from your pocket, and that's before you have paid for a single service, or insured the car (and it will take its slice of those costs, as well).
If, of course, it happens to be a company car, the Government will take all of that, and then some, because benefit-in-kind taxation will kick in on top of the other taxes that have already been paid.
Buying a house? If it's new, the Government's average take in taxes and charges will be €100,000, and then you may have to pay stamp duty on those taxes if the total cost of your new home exceeds the thresholds.
Building an extension? The Government will take 13.5 per cent of the cost. With a few exceptions - food and childrens' clothes being the most prominent - the Government takes its bite from every item of expenditure, and not surprisingly the lowest earners in society are hit proportionately much harder than the highest earners.
Ireland's VAT rates are also among the highest in Europe. Whether it's the price of cut flowers (we pay 13.5 per cent VAT, the French just 5.5 per cent), or mineral water (we pay 21 per cent, the French 5.5 per cent), or pay TV (we pay 21 per cent, the French 5.5 per cent), our VAT rates are high, and often punitive.
The top rate, after a brief reduction to 20 per cent, was restored to 21 per cent in 2002, while the lower rate was increased from 12.5 per cent to 13.5 per cent the same year. The flow of money from indirect taxes was already swelling, so the increases were as unnecessary as they were inflationary. On went the extra percentage point, and in poured the cash. Yet increases in indirect taxes sneak beneath the political radar, while decreases in income tax grab the headlines, even though their benefits are far outweighed by the additional costs imposed by indirect taxes 'Since 2002, the average amount of tax paid by every household has risen by almost 40 per cent'
There is, of course, sound logic to the shift from direct taxation of income to indirect taxation of consumption, because the more disposable income we have, the more we are likely to spend and save for future spending. By boosting our consumption, we boost the economy. It is a virtuous circle, or at least it has been for the past 10 years. The booming economy has delivered every greater tax receipts, and that, in turn, has funded ever greater Government spending, which, in turn, has boosted the economy.
The problem, though, is that the Government has gone out of its way to take more of our money, while claiming that it has been committed to lower taxes. And as Michael McDowell, the Tanaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats, said last year, the Government is taking more money than it actually needs.
How has it managed to get away with it? The answer is stealth. Classic stealth taxes are not new charges, snuck in among the budget small print, but old ones left unchanged, even though circumstances have changed dramatically. Stamp duty is a classic stealth tax: by keeping out-of-date thresholds, the Government swept more and more house buyers into its net, and into the higher level of stamp duty.
Since 1997, total stamp duty receipts have soared from €500m to last year's €3.7bn, and no one noticed for nine of those 10 years. Stealth tax theory also applies to income taxes: if tax bands are not adjusted in line with wage inflation, more and more people get caught in the higher tax bracket, and since 2002 about a quarter of a million more people are paying tax at the 42 per cent rate.
Stealth has played a role in all the main areas of tax buoyancy: receipts from capital acquisitions tax (death duties by any other name) and capital gains tax have climbed because thresholds have not kept pace with asset price inflation. Increases from excise duties and customs have been much more muted, because they attract headlines.
So by consciously doing nothing Charlie McCreevy and then Brian Cowen, the ministers for finance, could ensure that money kept on rolling into the Department of Finance in ever greater amounts, and all the while claim that Ireland was a low-tax economy.
Stealth, though, does not just apply to the conscious decision to leave thresholds unchanged. By failing to recognise lifestyle changes that have been forced on people because of our economic growth, the Government also accrues cash by stealth. Ten years ago the two-car family would have been an indulgent luxury: now it is a prerequisite for working families who have to commute to work from far-flung suburbs and dormitory towns. Reform of taxes on car ownership is not only resisted: the burden is likely to increase further as environmental taxes arrive to punish owners more heavily, even though ownership is a necessity, not a luxury, in a country bereft of adequate public transport.
Politicians, though, remain wedded to the easy concept of marginal reductions in income tax when setting out their stall for taxation reform. A point or two off the top rate of tax and another point or two off the standard rate are dangled in front of voters with the disingenuous message that they are all committed to lower taxes.
Beneath the surface, though, the gouging continues unabated. There are a few exceptions - the outcry about the level of stamp duties has prodded a number of parties into tinkering with a system that is badly in need of total overhaul - but significant reform of the indirect tax burden is hardly mentioned.
The imbalance between direct and indirect taxes will prove problematic for any government once the economy slows - revenues will dry up just as fast as they grew in the first place - but it is the scale of the burden that remains the core problem. By continuing to take more money than it needed, by increasing its tax take by stealth, this Government has allowed itself to fritter money away.
Billions of euro have been poured into health, education and roads without any sense of accountability: as fast as the money came in, out it went again.
Government spending has been unrestrained by any sense of prudence or long-term planning: it opened its wrists ahead of the last election, bloating the public service pay bill in a hiring binge and announcing scores of capital projects, knowing that the cash to pay for its profligacy could be extracted painlessly from a mute population.
As well as allowing indirect taxation to rise and rise, the Government has thrown in a range of extra charges - on prescription drugs, by raising the allowance, on third level registration fees, on hospital charges - that have contributed to a significant increase in the cost of Government services. According to figures compiled by Richard Bruton, the Fine Gael spokesman on finance: "Prices for services directly controlled by Government have increased by 52 per cent since the end of 2001 - 10 times the rate of price increase for goods in the same period, and well over three times that of private services."
The combination is a potent one: higher service costs, higher utility costs and higher indirect taxation, as people are forced into a lifestyle that exposes their spending to the Government's tax net. A rising proportion of income is spent on tax, and then the Government wastes the proceeds.
The monster must be tamed, and the first place to start is with legislative restraints on Government spending. Cap the outflow of funds and focus will shift inexorably to the inflow - forcing governments to trim the overall tax burden, rather than letting it swell out of proportion. Tight spending limits would enforce greater efficiency and productivity on the public sector and, by extension, would start repairing the damage caused to our competitiveness, by the rising costs of labour, goods and services.
Lower indirect taxes would ease inflationary pressure, and might also prove as much a spur to the economy as the initial fall in income taxes did more than a decade ago. Above all, though, this Government should stop perpetuating the myth that it has created a low-tax economy. Each year the tax burden rises rather than falls, with more, not less, of our money is picked from our pockets. The balance of our tax system has changed, but not its reach.
Alan Ruddock(Sunday Independent)
Saturday October 06 2007
THE current system of paying junior ministers' mileage has been described as a "farce" after it emerged a TD in Dublin claimed 100 times more in petrol expenses than a TD in Galway.
Figures seen by the Irish Independent show that Noel Ahern, who represents Dublin North West, ran up mileage expenses of €19,710 last year and €20,390 to date this year.
This is 100 times more than the €190 which was claimed last year by Noel Treacy, who represents the people of Galway East.
But last night, Mr Ahern claimed the figures supplied by the department about Mr Treacy were "ridiculous" and "wrong". He said he is usually at the lower end of claims when a full list is compiled adding: "I don't think that (€19,710) is necessarily that much."
Figures show the Department of the Environment -- which is headed up by the Green's John Gormley -- has covered the most road miles.
The biggest claim last year was lodged by Cork's Minister of State for Environment, Batt O'Keeffe -- who ran up a travel bill of €62,638 and has already run up expenses of €32,240 so far this year.
Opposition members last night launched a scathing attack on the Government. Fine Gael TD Leo Varadkar pointed out the mileage costs are on top of their already large ministerial monthly allowance.
Labour's Joanna Tuffy said that in light of the the recent move to increase the number of junior ministers from 17 to 20, the situation "is a farce".
Deputy Varadkar -- who tabled written questions to all departments on the issue -- is now calling to close this loophole and allow junior ministers the use of state cars.
Junior ministers were allowed to claim expenses following a Government decision in 1983 barred ministers of State from using a state car. Junior ministers do receive a civilian driver -- but in a bid to cut costs, the Government allowed them to claim travel costs on up to 60,000 miles.
As long as ministers can prove that they used their car for official State business they are covered -- and can claim travel allowance like any public servant on official business.
Only the Department of the Environment, the Department of Finance, the Department of Justice, the Department of Education and the Taoiseach's office released figures when asked.
Minister of State for Finance, Noel Ahern, saw his expenses rise by €4,459 over five years -- with expenses of €15, 931 logged in 2003 rising to €20,390 to date in 2007.
Minister for State at the Environment Department, Batt O'Keeffe, saw an increase of €51,667 over the three year period -- with expenses of €10,971 in 2004 rising to €62,638 in 2006.
Figures for only two years were provided for Minister of State Pat "the Cope" Gallagher. However, they show expenses of €53,483 were claimed in 2003, dropping slightly to €35,477 in 2004.
The Taoiseach's office had a tighter rein on its finances -- with expenses only logged when Mary Hanafin was a junior minister between 2003 and 2004, totalling €8,466.
Minister for State and Chief Whip Tom Kitt claimed a total of €2,577 from the same department in 2005 and 2006.
Fianna Fail declined to comment on the figures last night. However, the Government press office said that the amount that could be claimed was limited and therefore not open to abuse.
Labour environment spokesperson Joanna Tuffy said that the figures "bear out the fears that we have, that the costs related to junior ministers are spinning out of control.
"The additional junior ministers was nothing more than a move to allow Mr Ahern to offer consolation prizes to disappointed Cabinet aspirants.
"Staffing alone for the additional three will cost the taxpayer in the region of €1.2m per year. Looking at the expenses already being claimed it is a drain on the taxpayer," she said.
By Martin Frawley
DELIVERING his last budget in January 1997 before Bertie Ahern took over as Taoiseach, the then finance minister, Labour’s Ruairi Quinn, issued the words nobody who had lived through the bleak decades of the ’70s and ’80s ever thought they would hear. With bated breath Quinn said his “target for 1997 is a budget surplus of 193m”.
“This is the first time ever that a Minister for Finance has planned for a significant budget surplus, ” Quinn proudly announced before losing office in the general election four months later.
The following year the new Minister for Finance, Charles McCreevy, said he was operating with a current budget surplus of 1,109m. The boom was well and truly underway.
This week, finance minister Brian Cowen will officially announce the end of the golden years when he is expected to return to a budget deficit.
So have successive governments wisely invested the billions that have poured into the economy over the last decade in much needed infrastructural projects like hospitals, schools, railways, roads etc? Or have they frittered the money away on shiny showcase projects like the Luas which, like so many projects, was completed late and way over budget?
Has the government missed the ‘10-year window’ to invest in the country’s future? Below we list the many lowlights and few highlights.
1. Transport Although Luas is the obvious success story here, minus points must be awarded for the project coming in years late and at a final cost of 800m. This was almost triple the original budget of 288m. Detractors also complain about the decision to build two lines that don’t intersect. Joining them up is a project which is only now on the drawing board at an estimated cost of 100m.
Vital transport projects which were promised years ago but are still not built include the Metro at an estimated cost of 2.5bn and the new terminal at Dublin Airport, which has already soared from a 2005 estimated cost of 270m to 395m.
Investment in our railways has been non-existent with not one extra yard of rail added in 10 years despite promises about the Western corridor and the proposed line to Navan. Even new engines are rare and while new carriages are on the way, Iarnrod Eireann still has to lug around boxcars that you wouldn’t put cattle into.
There has been a similar lack of investment in buses, despite the surge in population in our cities, particularly in the greater Dublin area. Of the 510 new buses purchased by Dublin Bus under the National Development Plan (2000-06), 417 were replacement buses and even then the exchequer only paid for half of them. Similarly, of 421 new buses bought by Bus Eireann, 356 were replacements.
Painting ‘Lana Bus’ on the side of the road hardly constitutes investment in public transport.
2. Roads, Bridges and Tunnels The Port Tunnel is the trophy project here. Like the Luas it opened over three years late and, at a final cost of 725m, it was three times the government’s original estimate of 260m.
Investment in roads has been far better with 527km of roads built under the NDP at cost of over 8bn. But of the 527km of roads, just 173 were motorways. Vast tracts of the country, particularly in the north west, remain effectively unreachable by any mode of transport. Also, with the huge increase in the number of cars on the road over the boom period, the National Roads Authority appears to be working frantically just to stand still. The M50 took so long to complete it was almost irrelevant as soon as it opened.
3. Public Services The government’s own Junior Minister of Trade and Commerce, John McGuinness, lashed out last week at the so-called public sector reform describing it as “the elephant in the room that no one looks at for fear Liberty Hall will fall on top of them”.
In the 10 years since the first budget surplus, the number of public servants has soared from 218,000 to almost 300,000 today while the paybill has more than doubled from 7.4bn in 1998 to 18bn today. But despite the billions invested, the service remains largely unreformed to such an extent that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has called in the Paris-based economic think tank, the OECD, to do a root and branch review and see if we can get any value for money. Very poor return on such a large investment.
4. Health and Hospitals Even ignoring the operational quagmire that is the HSE at the moment, there has been no real investment in much needed major acute hospitals. Tallaght was the last major public hospital to be opened in 1998.
In effect, the 3,000 beds taken out of the system by Charles Haughey’s government in the 1980s have never really been put back in.
Proposals put forward in the Hanly report in 2003 remain unimplemented.
These include an extra 1,0001,500 hospital consultants.
The Children’s Hospital, promised years ago, is today the subject of a political turf war.
5. Sport Despite the desperate eforts of Bertie Ahern and the FAI, Ireland is still without a national stadium. While poorer countries like Portugal can manage to build four stadia to host the European Championships in 2004, the Irish soccer team recently faced the embarrassing prospect of having to play ‘home’ international matches in England.
The GAA saved faces by deigning to open the gates of Croke Park. And although Cowen chose Croker to launch the next National Development Plan up to 2013, the venue is not a national stadium. Lansdowne Road is expected to be completed in two to three years but the government has only agreed to part-fund it, with the FAI and IRFU putting up half the money.
Elsewhere, the National Aquatic Centre and Campus Stadium Ireland has been a disaster. And while the government speaks of cashing in on the London Olympics in 2012 by attracting athletes to acclimatise here, a recent report concluded that the athletic facilities we have would be nowhere near adequate enough for professional athletes. Nor, presumably, for Irish athletes.
6. The Arts No real investment in the arts to speak of, with the allocation to the Arts Council just about keeping pace with inflation.
The National Theatre, the Abbey, is still awaiting a new home despite promises made years ago. So is the National Concert Hall. Both projects will now cost an estimated 288m with no firm dates for completion.
Yet the government continues to allow generous tax reliefs to art collectors who donate their works to the state while it only last year managed to close off the tax loophole which allowed impoverished artists such as Bono to avoid paying tax on their artistic work.
Earlier this year, part of the roof of the National Library fell in on startled readers. A few months later, the stone stairs in the Natural History Museum collapsed.
7. The Young, the Old and the Pensioner The 2006 budget move to provide an early childcare supplement of 1,000 a year was a classic case of ‘too little, too late’. According to a National Children’s Nurseries Association survey this year, parents pay an average of 802 a month to send their child to a creche.
On nursing home care for the elderly, the government has effectively passed off its responsibility to private sector homes which charge up to 1,000 a week for a room. The government’s response has been to tighten up on its subvention grants for such nursing home care. It also suffered the embarrassment of having to return an estimated 1bn it levied on the elderly for care in state homes.
Despite firm proposals 10 years ago, nothing concrete has been done to defuse the ‘pensions timebomb’ in which half of all workers and almost two out of three private sector workers have no private pension and will instead rely on the state pension currently worth around 200 a week.
After 10 years, the best we have managed is a Green Paper.
Charlie McCreevy did start up the National Pensions Reserve Fund in 2001 . . . a government-funded savings account which will help pay for state and public service pensions in about 20 years’ time when costs will be at their height. While this is a sound investment, the government has still not stated how much of this ‘rainy day’ fund, which now stands at almost 20bn, will be used to pay out state pensions for all citizens and how much will be used to pay the vastly superior public service pensions.
8. Education Some progress here with 57 new primary schools and 19 new post-primary schools delivered under the 20002006 NDP. But more will be needed to keep pace with the influx of immigrant children into the system and in particular the requirement for English language teachers.
University heads have been highly critical of the lack of investment in the academic side of universities as opposed to research or business grants. They claim that Ireland’s universities have plummeted down the world league as a result.
9. Information Technology In 1998, Ennis in Co Clare was chosen by the then state owned Telecom Eireann to be the first Information Age town in Ireland, with all businesses, houses and schools kitted out with the latest IT technology. The idea was that Ennis was to be the first of many such towns in Ireland.
Today, nobody mentions Ennis or the Information Age town project.
In 2005 Media Lab Europe, the anchor tenant in the government’s much trumpeted flagship Digital Hub project in the Liberties area of Dublin collapsed leaving taxpayers to pick up the 35m tab.
And government efforts to roll out broadband are still well short of targets, largely as a result of the decision to offload Telecom Eireann, which it could have kept in state hands and used to roll out the urgently required broadband. Considering that successive cabinets spent 160m on a sophisticated payroll system for the health service that doesn’t work and 50m worth of voting machines that are dumped in warehouses around the country, perhaps it’s not surprising they haven’t exactly been on top of IT investment.
10 Jobs Leaving the best and perhaps the only bottle of wine until last, the government’s record on job creation over the last decade or so has been a spectacular success, creating over 600,000 additional jobs in the last 10 years. The numbers at work passed the two million barrier earlier this year . . . a figure which amounts to almost half the population.
It is this jobs growth which has been at the heart of the boom, generating millions extra in taxes for the Exchequer as well as restoring a salary and dignity to the thousands who were unemployed during the ’80s.
But a note of caution needs to be added. With the economy heading into more difficult times and unemployment starting to creep up, particularly in the construction sector, the next few years will tell whether those extra 600,000 jobs . . . almost half of which were taken up by immigrant workers . . . were indeed ’sustainable’ jobs or whether they will be blown away by the first chill winds of the economic downturn.