Author Archives: Tony Groves

From top: Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal Damien English TD; Tony Groves

I’ve been feeling very Russian this week; not in the Tolstoy verbose way, or in the cool Constantin Gurdgiev way. I’ve been feeling like a Babushka Doll. You know the ones, the Russian nesting dolls that you open up to reveal a smaller identical doll inside of it, and so on.

I feel like a tiny little Babushka Doll.

A recent Research Report on Leadership of Corporate Culture, conducted by one of the largest professional services firms in the world, delivered what the most unsurprising results of all time..

The report covered 450 CEO’s, CFO’s, board chairs, executive and non-executive directors, company secretaries, risk officers (shoutout to Jonathan Sugarman) and investment managers. The respondents represented both private and publicly listed companies and were drawn from the UK and across Europe.

It’s a very detailed report, but it really just put in writing what many of us already know. Tone, cultural tone, is set at the top of organisations.

This is important in an Irish context. No, it’s not only important, it’s a matter of life and death. As the Director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, Eileen Gleeson tried to walk-back her comments on homeless people on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show, she made another telling Babushka Doll moment.

When asked by Sean to respond to the criticisms of Fr Peter McVerry she replied that she would not be getting into a slagging match with the “service providers”. I listened agog.

Fr Peter McVerry was clearly seen as a service provider and not as a humanitarian, or a altruistic man, or any other way you might describe a man of such generosity. Nope, in the eyes of the state he is a service provider.

Tone from the top. Almost a month ago the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar referred to homelessness as normal at a Fine Gael dinner.

Since then he’s repeated these claims. Even when presented with the statistics that show our “normal” level of homelessness is in the range of 1,500 to 1,650 he still persists with the normalising of the abnormal.

Then yesterday the junior housing minister Damien English, launched an impassioned plea for us all to stop (as Bertie might have said) cribbing and moaning about what is a normal phenomenon.

He said:

“Some of this narrative has seeped into international coverage of our housing system and is damaging to Ireland’s international reputation, that our social response to this issue is being portrayed as dysfunctional.”

The system that created the situation that finds 3,124 children homeless isn’t dysfunctional. That’s normal according to Damien. No, what is dysfunctional is people thinking it’s abnormal.

The junior housing minister also said something very interesting. Something that nobody has picked him up on.

When he said “assertions have been made that homelessness in Ireland is at such crisis levels that we should be excused from the requirements of EU in responding to the issue”, he meant that the government have accepted a level of homelessness is acceptable.

He is saying that, despite EU law allowing for individual states to act to protect their citizens, that this Government will do no such thing.

It was a startling admission that this government values our international reputation more than the well-being of our citizens.

The 8,200 people who are already homeless need to accept this at the new normal. The tens of thousands of families currently at risk of homelessness should accept their plight as the new normal. People barely clinging on need to accept this as the new normal.

Those of us lucky enough to be secure can’t be seen to be talking down the country. Sure isn’t it the new normal.

Tone from the top. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has made the immoral moral and the abnormal normal. And when you open him up Damien English pops out, and when you open him up Eileen Gleeson pops out. That’s normal these days.

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld.

Earlier: “Years Of Bad Behaviour”

Rollingnews

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Tony Groves

If Enda Kenny was considered by many to be the Accidental Taoiseach, then Leo Varadkar might be considered the first Occidental one. Occident derives from the latin occidens “sunset, West” and has evolved to simply mean the Western World or Western Culture.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is the biggest proponent of Western Culture ever to hold the highest office in Ireland. But in reality we couldn’t have a worst time to be led by such an individual.

Western Culture, ignoring imperialism and the hollowing out of the (horrible term) Third World, was historically about raising living standards, improving social mobility and creating economic opportunity.

But sadly, those parts of the culture are long in reverse. Every economic indicator tells of lowering living standards, less social mobility and an economic model of feudalism.

It is to this Culture that the Occidental Taoiseach belongs. He is part of the Kardashian Culture. He takes selfies, shoots videos from his private jet, waves socks and has a Strategic Communications Unit who have reduced the value of any words he speaks to less than a marketing slogan.

I saw the hashtag #NotMyTaoisock last week and, rather than laugh, I grimaced. This is what he has turned the highest office in the land into. I’m all for fun and I don’t think the offices of power need to be a sense of humour free zone, but it’s deeply unfunny when he’s paying people to make jokes with our money.

Take just the last few days of the Occidental Taoiseach’s Accidents; he (or TCD History Professor Patrick Geoghegan) plagiarised a JFK quote and tried to pass it off as deep, he tweeted an image of novelty socks (containing the caption You’re A Ride), then he had someone take a picture of him filling a dishwasher, with the caption “no-one gets away without packing the dishwasher around here”.

On November 10, he told the Fine Gael National Conference that “every child deserves a childhood”.

On November 11 he told the media (and a Facebook Live Audience) that Ireland has “one of the lowest levels of homelessness”.

It took him less than 24hrs to forget about the 3,124 homeless children.

Then on November 12, rather than be quiet he opened his mouth (or his now Trump Like Twitter Account) simply to exchange his feet, tweeting:

“Context matters. Was asked a question…about homelessness levels. We don’t by international comparison. That’s a fact.”

Let me give you some context, Taoiseach:

In 2008, at the death of the Celtic Tiger era, we had approximately 1,522 homeless people in Ireland. Today we have over 8,371.

In 2008 we had approximately 16,000 millionaires. Today we have over 116,000.

Taoiseach. Your attempts to contextualise and normalise homeless children are disgusting. Your party is in power since 2011 and has overseen this huge growth in inequality.

The Occidental Taoiseach has had more Enda Kenny like faux pas in the last fortnight than Enda Kenny himself had in over 40 years in politics. Please Taoiseach, put the phone away, pull up your fancy €9 a pair socks and get on with the real and difficult challenges that are facing the country.

Many people think you are the most Right Wing Taoiseach in the history of the state, I myself have some sympathy with this belief. But I’m starting to think you’re more dangerous than that. I think you have already made a calculated assessment that you can fool enough people via PR, Tweets and Facebook to get re-elected.

You know, in your less vacuous moments, that you’ll never persuade the many who see the lack of substance beneath the handsome veneer, so you won’t even bother trying. You’ll simply send a tweet on Monday saying you’re tackling the latest crisis and then explain it away as normal on Facebook Live on Tuesday.

If that doesn’t work you’ll get your Varak-ops department to follow you around on a bike ride.

The Occidental Taoiseach is banking on fooling enough of us so as he doesn’t have to reach out to those left behind. You can fool some of the people some of the time. The rest, in this context, don’t matter. Isn’t that right, Taoiseach?

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld.

Tony Groves

I’m not even angry anymore. I don’t know what I am. I do have all this rage inside me, but that’s not the same as anger. I’m not great at explaining myself and when I try to I just get in a bit of a mess. Sure, there’s no point looking back.

Closure, everybody wants closure. The kids therapist always says closure. There’s no such thing as closure. There’s only right now and right now is very fucking hard.

Right now I’m reading how the Minister for Finance is going to admonish the banks. I’d say they’re bricking it. I’d imagine they’re taking the big apologies they used at the banking inquiry out of a safe, blowing off the dust and making their way towards the Dail whistling away to themselves.

Admonish? I’d admonish the heads off them. But that’s not the answer.

I always had a bad temper, got into too many scrapes and had a few too many near misses with the law. I remember, back when myself and herself first moved in together, coming in late one night with blood on me.

I remember her fussing over me, making sure I was alright. Then, I remember her going berserk when she realised it wasn’t my blood. She made me promise no more fighting that night. And I’m not sure if that was for the best. I’m not sure of anything now.

I do remember getting my wages cut, and I do remember baby number 2, tweedle-ella, arriving as the last happy day we had.

I remember needing help on the mortgage and I remember asking the local branch to see what could be done. I remember that I was lucky because I had plenty of equity in the house, even as the prices fell.

I remember them saying that the problem wasn’t the mortgage, it was the Credit Union loan and the Credit Card, the fucking Credit Card that they gave me and that they put up the limit on every six months. Jaysus, I was fucking eejit.

So they bundled the debt together and threw in the last few bob I owed on the car and offered me a Mortgage Top Up. Save me hundreds per month, I was told. And it did. The top up got rid of the short term debt and stuck it on the never-never.

What I don’t remember, and what I still don’t remember is how they managed to use the Top Up to take away our Tracker Rate. I mean, I remember them telling me that the Top Up was at a Standard Variable Rate, and that was cool. Jaysus, 6% is a lot better than Credit Card Rates of 16%.

But I don’t remember them saying that the Tracker was part of the deal. But when I complained later they sent me out copies of the agreement, and there, highlighted, was my signature and her signature above the manager’s signature. Buried it the waffle above; in point 7 was our consent to removing the Tracker Rate.

No, I’m not angry. Not anymore. The Central Bank did nothing in 2010. I don’t see them doing much now. There’s talk that I’ll get a few bob back, I won’t hold my breath.

Whatever Paschal does won’t amount to anything. They’ve known about this for years. And as for Leo Come Lately; don’t make me laugh.

No, I lost more than most, but not as much as many. I have the house. I have the kids, the Tweedles. And I’m going to visit the wife this evening. She’s doing a bit better and might even be up to seeing the Tweedles, so there is that.

I hope no one tells her about the stern talking to the bans are going to get.

I’m also going to have to go through the rigmarole of meeting her “care team”. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great people, but I always feel like they’re evaluating me, like it’s my fault, or that something in me is broken and their eyes are trying to spell it out to me. They look at me almost as if they are admonishing me.

A few bob won’t fix that.

[The above is a fictional account of how people in difficult situations wound up being taken advantage of in the tracker scandal. This is something that is contrary to Central Bank rules, which state the onus is on the bank to act in the best interests of the customer. It is an example of how the cost of reimbursing people won’t ever come close to compensating them]

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld.

Meanwhile…

From top: Rock, paper,scissors; Tony Groves

I was in Great Britain yesterday. I thought it was Belfast, but the radio blokey-bloke assured me that it was, in fact, Great Britain. It struck me as odd that a local station might would talk in the language of empire.Perhaps, I mused, it was just my little islander mentality and natural dislike of colonialism.

There’s a difficult reconciliation between an economic education and life experiences. Brexit, thus far, has been a disaster. The UK has spent months saying they have a plan. They keep saying the ball is in the EU’s court. Someone might want to tell them that while they’re playing tennis, the EU negotiators are playing chess.

Eurostat, they of Irish Water fame/infamy, have Britain as the worst performing economy in the EuroZone European Union. A GDP growth rate of just 0.2% has Britain rooted to the bottom of the 28 country league table. Even Greece is twice the UK’s rate, at 0.4%.

The OECD has also weighed in on the Britain bashing. They’ve predicted that while things are bad now, they’re likely to get worse. They’ve forecast that Britain will have the lowest growth levels of all the 47 countries they monitor in 2018. They conclude, worryingly, that “the UK faces long-standing decline”.

Even the Bank of England has waded into the mire. They announced yesterday that the rate of inflation, that has already reached 3%, hasn’t yet peaked. This in a country that has had five years of wage stagnation and an inflation target of 2%. Everyone is, in economic terms, poorer.

Throw in the decline in purchasing power of the £ Sterling and you have an economic broth that might kill the patient.

On my drive home yesterday I was listening to the radio. Knowing all of the above and understanding the effects economic decline had on our little country over the last decade, I was taken aback by what I was hearing.

Caller after caller said they were feeling the pinch, but that it was a price worth paying to “take back” their country. The phrase “make Britain great again” came up twice in one 2 minute segment.

An elderly lady, who started on the basis that her pension wasn’t enough to provide the basics anymore, concluded that “I’m very happy with how things are”. Talk about wrapping yourself in the flag!

Another rapscallion said that having just spent £103 to buy €100 that he felt he’d finally taking back his country. The satirists, as always, are our only hope!

Dan Snow quipped this morning that Great Britain was to stride “back onto the world stage by deploying more of our army at home”. This was in reference to UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd, saying troops might be deployed to protect the UK’s borders should no deal materialise.

Who speaks of no deal is better than a bad deal now?

If I was to make a prediction it would be that at the end of March 2019, we will all wake up to the biggest April Fool’s day joke ever. A complete Brexit omnishambles.

The game of Rock, Scissors, Paper is commonly known as Roshambo. We’ve all played it and we all have a strategy. But there’s another laddish version of the game, perhaps not as well known.

In the chest-thumping male version the participants kick each other in the balls and the loser is the guy who takes the longest to get to his feet. Brexit looks a lot like this Roshambo.

Except the EU is up and walking away in a muted and sad victory; while the UK is rolling on the ground, clutching their balls and yelling how this is a great victory for Great Britain.

I hope I’m wrong.

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld.

Illustration: Pixaby

Tony Groves

Storm Warning: Only I think I’m funny and I’m indulging myself in this compilation while I wait on news of the passing of Cork.

This is a selection of my Twitter bar jokes, which started with the Fine Gael leadership ‘heave’ and got steadily worse from there.

Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar walk into a bar. They each order a pint of Guinness and wait for it to settle. That was February 2016.

Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Simon Harris walk into a bar.
Nobody orders anything and nothing happens.

Noirin O’Sullivan, Frances Fitzgerald and Josephine Feehily walk into a bar. Versions of events differ, but the barman has been arrested.

Leo Varadkar and a crocodile walk into a bar.
Leo: Do you serve poor people here?
Barman: Yep
Leo: I’ll have a pint so, and a poor person for my friend

Noirin O’Sullivan and Paul Williams walk into a bar. Everyone is made eat their SIM card and then forced to sign Non Disclosure Agreements.

Micheal Martin, Mattie McGrath and Ronan Mullan walk into a bar. “What’ll you have asks the barman?”
“It’s not that simple”, they dither. #RepealThe8th

Roisin Ingle, Tara Flynn & Anna Cosgrave walk into a bar.
“What’ll it be?” asks the barman.
“Free, safe & legal” they reply.
But that’s not on the menu…

Leo Varadkar and Máire Whelan walk into a bar. 3 Judges are ahead of them in the queue, but only Leo and Máire get served.

Joan Burton, Paul Murphy and 50 Gardai walk into a bar. They order lots of food and drink. Paul Murphy gets charged for everything.

Leo Varadkar and Justin Trudeau walk into a bar.
I only know because Leo is live streaming the ‘event’.

Ian O’Doherty, David Quinn and Kevin Meyers walk into a bar and order 3 pints of water. Miraculously all 3 glasses turn into whine.

A Shinner, a Muslim and a Cyclist walk into a bar.
George Hook faints.

Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill walk into a bar. The punchline is not funny, but is available in English, Irish and Ulster Scots.

A citizens assembly, an emergency summit and a public forum walk into a bar. They pass the drinks round and round, but nobody gets to drink.

Phil Hogan, Alan Kelly, Simon Coveney and Eoghan Murphy walk into a bar. They order nothing and the crisis gets worse.

Leo Varadkar and Justin Trudeau walk into a bar. Again.

3 academics walk into a bar. They get government funding for their drinks and call themselves a think tank.

Cerberus, Michael Noonan and NAMA walk into a bar. No notes are taken, but the bar closes shortly after and reopens as a Starbucks.

3 political stereotypes walk into a bar. Sure you know what they’re like.

A libertarian walks into a bar. The punchline is none of your business.

Dan O’Brien and Lorcan Sirr walk into a bar. Dan says the punchline is economic populism, Lorcan throws an empirical data insult at Dan.

Enda Kenny, Brian Cowan and Bertie Ahern walk into a bar. Denis O’Brien orders the drinks. From Malta. We get the bill.

A landlord, a politician and a teacher walk into a bar. “The usual, Minister?” says the barman.

Three Irish Times Op-Ed writers walk into a bar. None of them can articulate a decent punchline.

Cultural Appropriation walks into a bar and sits down next to Subculture. “I’ll have whatever Subculture is having”, he says.

A retweet and a quote tweet walk into a bar. Nobody follows them.

Actavo walks into a bar. “Didn’t I tell you you were barred?” asks the barman.
“No, that was my evil twin, Siteserv”, he replies.

Truth and Power walk into a bar. Nobody speaks.

A Public Services Card walks into a bar. The barman has already prepared his drink and arranged his prefered seat.

Leo Varadkar and Justin Trudeau walk into a bar. This is getting awkward now.

Tony Groves walks into a bar. Swung by those who want their 5 minutes back…

Stay safe, folks.

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld.

 

Tony Groves

In a land far, far away and in a time long, long ago there was a financial liquidity crisis. Now, the Banks, who were the pillars of this land, knew there was a problem. But they didn’t want to scare the All Powerful Boss, Mr Market.

No matter what, they had to retain his confidence.

Now the Banks had given out loans to people in what were called Tracker Mortgages. Theses, while things were good, were the engine of the bubble factory. But, when things went bad, these all burst leaving liquidity stains all over the balance sheets.

Luckily a White Knight, in the shape of (their equivalent of the ECB) Interest Rate Increases, rode into rescue our Pillars of Stability.

The Banks, quick as you like, seized on this opportunity and advised holders of Tracker Mortgages to protect themselves against the Rate Increases by signing what they called Fixed Rate Appendices. These were typically of between 3 and 5 years.

The holders availed of these more secure rates in their thousands. Wasn’t it the best advice and sure, didn’t the original loan offer that they had signed say that the Tracker Rate was “the underlying rate for the full term of the mortgage”?

Anyway, the White Knight of Rate Increases turned out to be a fraud. He was blindsided by a Dark Knight who gave himself the ungainly name The Global Financial Crisis, GFC for short.

The GFC went through the Bank’s Balance Sheets faster than Rating Agencies could downgrade Sovereign States. It was carnage. Interest Rates hit historic lows that would make a Trump approval rating seem good.

But remember those Fixed Rate people, with the underlying Tracker Rate?

What to do about them. The Banks were losing money hand over fist. They couldn’t afford to give people the Rates they’d agreed and the State sure didn’t want to have to put more money into the Banks.

I mean, these tens of thousands of people were on an average Rate of 4.75% and the Rate they were entitled to was about 1.15%; the Banks had a problem. Or did they…

You see, some clever clogs devised a way of removing the underlying rate issue. They came up with the “Suite of Options” letter.

This was a letter that went out to people about 30 days BEFORE their Fixed Rate expired. In the “Suite of Options” was a very basic offering:

Dear Sir or Madam,

You’re fixed rate is due to expire on date x

Please see our current rate options:
1yr Fixed at X%
2yr Fixed at X.X%
3yr yada yada
5yr jazz hands
Standard Variable at a little less than the fixed X.X%’s

Please tick the box you like, sign the bottom of the page and send it back to us in the prepaid envelope.

Many Thanks

Mr/Ms Pillar Bank

PS terms and conditions apply and there’s a brochure full of them and small print jargon etc etc. You look great, by the way. Have you lost weight?

So the letter went out and the Tracker Rate never even got included as an option. In fact, the Tracker Rate WAS the Do Nothing Option. If the customer didn’t complete the form their mortgage would automatically revert to the Tracker. This wasn’t in the Suite of Options.

Clever, no? It gets better, in the small print was a condition that allowed the bank to remove the original loan offers Tracker Rate “for the life of the mortgage” condition.

Now we had people, badly advised, voluntarily giving up their Tracker Mortgages, without ever knowing they’d volunteered. Genius, you can’t be up with them Bankers, I tells ya.

I’m not sure what happened next. I’d guess that everybody lived happily ever after.

I did read something about some people losing homes, having heart attacks and committing suicide over something to do with our Banks. But that’s not related to my fictional story. Not even a bit.

Besides, our stuff was just an administrative error? And sure, isn’t a 2 Bed portacabin in Ranelagh going for €600k nowadays. So, we are all sweet.

Aren’t we?

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly aTrickstersworld

Tony Groves

I’ve got Man Flu; proper light sensitivity, aches and pains Man Flu. It’s the type of lethal virus that would slay lesser mortals; but not your brave Monday afternoon crank.

I will, perhaps deliriously, snot and splutter my way through this tirade for you, my loyal readers. If I don’t finish this piece remember me fondly.

Many people don’t believe in Man Flu. In fact, several think it’s a male construct designed to deflect from that other rumoured male trait of Mondayitis. As if men, like me, would do something like that.

I assure you that Man Flu is very real, and that the best way to treat it is to moan about it until it relents. It is said that the Witch Doctors and various healers in ancient cultures gained their prominence by complaining about the Man Flu of their people, and driving out the evil spirits.

It is in incoherent state that my mind drifts to tomorrow; Budget Day. Paschal Donohoe will fulfill his life’s ambition by commending his budget to the house and Leo will walk even taller than his 6ft 3” frame allows.

We will all be better off and we will all be worse of. A little bit of everything budget that was supposed to be a €300 million give away is to be a €1 billion a la carte, sure whatever your having yourself, breakfast buffet budget.

As concerning as these budgetary sleights of hand are – not to mention the Celtic Tiger similarities – I’m too fuzzy headed to breakdown numbers at the moment. No, I’m looking at the way this budget is to be delivered.

There’s a media trick, popularised by Fox News, that allows for the placation of people by getting people very riled up. You offer up to the viewers a “fair and balanced” debate, sprinkle in passionate contributors WHILE carefully controling the parameters of the debate.

Think having a panel debate show on Irish TV hosted by 2 people, who work for the same media company, share similar political views and calling it a unique take on events of the day…

This is New Politics and never has that been more clear than this week in the run up to the Budget. The Oppostion, in this case the unofficial Coalition Partner, Fianna Fáil, didn’t even bother putting forward an alternative budget.

Nope, no alternative vision for Ireland from the supposed alternative party of government. Instead, Fianna Fail published a 22 page brochure, 4 were its priorities, 11 were their thoughts on the fiscal environment and 7 (yes 7) were just a reprint of the Confidence and Supply arrangement that they have with Fine Gael.

Think about it, folks. A lively debate hosted by 2 parties with similar views is been pitched as New Politics.

Things don’t get much better on the Left. We had Sinn Féin produce an Alternative Budget. It was derided as Populist and a threat to (the old chestnut of the well paid) attracting talent.
Labour (who speaks of Labour now?) produced an Alternative Budget, borrowing largely from the Sinn Féin proposal and numbers.

Luckily for them, as the acceptable face of the Left, theirs wasn’t greeted with the same scorn as the Shinners, merely ignored.

The Social Democrats went so far as to produce a range of alternatives across the spectrum of economic and social needs. Sadly, as they are but a pebble in the shoe that is kicking our democracy in the arse, they were also widely ignored.

Nope, the only game in town is the Fine Gael/ Fianna Fáil one. The game is no more than a children’s nursery rhyme; the Grand Old Duke of York. There is sure to be marching to the top of the hill; perhaps even up to the precipice.

But don’t be fooled by this brinkmanship, our leaders will be marching back down the hill as quickly as you can say “budgetary concessions”.

A few months back Paschal Donohoe and Leo Varadkar advocated for tax breaks for developers at a industry meeting. Then, when the public got annoyed at the Fianna Fáil suggestion of the very same thing, both men ruled it out and accused Barry Cowen of building a new Galway Tent. New Politics.

To give Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael credit, they’ve done a remarkable job of maintaining the pretense of oppostional democracy. They have also, largely supported by our media, marginalised the voices of real political opposition.

That does not absolve the smaller parties of blame. They’ve had months to get their sh1t together. They’ve failed to make any inroads and have, if polls are to be believed, lost ground.

But we are where we are. Stuck in a TV Studio where 2 men, of similar political views, engage in a lively debate about the topics that don’t matter. They are working assidously to compel us into believing that this is democracy in action; rather than democratic inaction.

As phoney wars go, this Fianna Fáil vs. Fine Gael one is as blatant a fallacy as Man Flu.

Pray for me.

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly aTrickstersworld

From top: Protest in Catalonia; Tony Groves

The little girl was not impressed. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but I knew she was annoyed. Why wouldn’t she be, no one likes to be the impromptu party piece at a party you don’t want to be at.

Her parents, and her uncle, were cajoling her. Her father explained to me that she had just returned from two weeks in London and that she had really good English. The girl’s face was half pride, half outrage.

“Talk to our guests” said her mother. Finally, and not with a little defiance, she stepped forward; a tiny little thing, all brown hair and big brown eyes.

“Hello”, I said, with a big eejit grin on my face, thinking that might de-escalate the situation. She didn’t reply. Her parents commanded her “Talk!”

“I know one sentence in English” she said, almost tentatively. Everyone went quiet, a mix of relief and interest. A room of about ten adults turned to watch the little girl. She looked me straight in the eye and seemed to grow about six inches.

“Catalunya Is Not Spain”, she declared.

That was nearly 15 years ago and I couldn’t help thinking of that trip to L’Escala yesterday as I watched the scenes unfold on the streets of the city that I love and think of as my second home.

I have made many friends in the region of Catalunya over the last two decades. Many of them have different views on the secessionist question. All of them agreed that they had the right to vote and express those views.

The Spanish Constitution deemed them criminals. Prime Minister Rajoy hid behind lawyers and legalese. Our leaders, here in Ireland and across the EU, fell silent.

We have a Taoiseach who comments on LCD Soundsystem, but not on the violent suppression of the democratic will of a nascent nation. The EU has limped from the financial crisis, to force feeding austerity, to Brexit and now to looking the other way when stuff, that we criticise Middle Eastern dictators for, happens on the streets of one of the great cities of our Union.

Yesterday, whatever your views, shames us all.

Catalonia has many justifiable reasons to be aggrieved, culturally and economically. Their symbol, in the land of the Bull (Torro), is that of of the Ass (Catalan Donkey). Their sense of oppression is both historic and contemporary.

I am not in favour of Catalonia seceding from Spain, much to the chagrin of my friends. But I fully support their right to decide. Yesterday, friends of mine tried 3 times to vote. They did so eventually, defiantly. I cannot say how many were dissuaded by the brutal acts of police violence.

A friend of mine, who felt fearful of posting some of the images that she was witnessing, WhatsApp’d me throughout the day. I posted many of these to twitter. Some of them have gone across the world; one has been viewed 500k times from my tweet alone.

People saw what happened on the 1st of October 2017. My friend did that.

Another group of friends stood in front of a voting station until the early hours of the morning, afraid that if they left, the police would take the ballot boxes and the votes cast by those who braved the gauntlet would be lost to an Authoritarian Crackdown.

Another story came back to me as well, yesterday. When my Catalan friends were in Dublin a few years back, we all drove up to Glendalough for a day’s hiking. In typical fashion, they were freezing, wrapped in jackets and scarves, while I was basking shorts and a t-shirt. The glorious Irish summer.

As we climbed towards the Poulanass Waterfall we heard a group of Spanish people making their way down. The familiar buzz of voices, a backing track to so many Dublin Bus journeys in the summer months.

As the groups met a few words were politely exchanged. My understanding, a bit better by then, was that pleasantries were exchanged and generalities mentioned. Then, among the Spanish group, a young man asked “Madridista?” – a blunt inquiry as to if you are from Madrid?

“No”, came the reply. “I am a Catalan.” The groups went quiet. The young Spanish man (instinctively?) spat on the ground and we all walked off our separate ways.

I am a Catalan; the very same reply went back to the Madridistas yesterday. It was proclaimed from Figueres down to Tortosa. There’s no putting this toothpaste back in the tube. Madrid can pretend it didn’t happen. But the world saw. On the 1st of October 2017, the world heard the same thing Pablo Casals told the UN in October, 1971, “I am a Catalan”.

And I’m proud to be their friend.

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly aTrickstersworld

Yesterday: Autonomy

Dublin Half-Marathon medal; Tony Groves

 

Standing on the crowded start line of the Dublin Half Marathon, among the people who get up early in the morning, on Saturday was an interesting experience.

Thousands of people, with all manner of motivations and goals crammed together to run 13.1 miles. It was, to my mind, the very opposite of the echo chamber.

It was a true Republic of Opportunity.

The distance was the same for every participant, the hill at mile 5 treated everyone with the same contempt and the pockmarked roads of North County Dublin had no care for variance of stride or stumble. Real free market capitalism.

The Republic of Opportunity that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks of is very different, his vision is based on the American Dream of Big Business and Foreign Direct Investment. There’s no point going on about how the cyclical path of this journey leads to disaster.

The majority of people are aware that the Republic of Opportunity is a two tier society. They know that government allowed Ireland, 1% of the EU population, to carry the burden of 40% of the Financial Bailout Cost.

Most of us know that our Democratic Representatives chose not to represent us when austerity was the EU medicine on offer and we know they stood up for Apple when they were paying an effective tax rate of 0.05%.

Most of us know about the 8,000 homeless people, the 675,000 on hospital waiting lists and most of us, based on the latest opinion polls, don’t really care.

The unpalatable fact for those of us on the liberal left is that the majority are happy enough with the boom and bust cycle we are trapped in.

Most of us are happy to pretend capitalism didn’t flame out in 2008.

Most of us, and this is the kick in the balls, think the way to avoid the mistakes of the past is to double down on the practises that caused it.

We like the Republic of Opportunity guff because it plays to our ego. It let’s us perpetuate the myth of the self made man. It is both the wealth effect and, what economists call, Subjective Expected Utility Theory in one.

Those with wealth, capital or on the property ladder feel better off; they spend more money and take more risks. Unfortunately, their sense of wealth is subjective to the underlying asset; in Ireland that’s mainly land. Land, as an unproductive asset, is the number one driver of inequality.

The homeless crisis, the rental crisis, the increase of property prices by €500 per week are all related how land is treated in the Republic of Opportunity.

The majority of those with capital must know that the price of their current economic good fortune is paid with the misery of those locked out of the market.

Nor is the Republic of Opportunity solely for the landed class. It is also for the Foreign Direct Investment that drives our ‘Leprechaun Economics’ economy.

Ireland is a great place for FDI and FDI capital. Before, during and after the recession FDI was increasing here.

But this good news story is also a driver of inequality in it’s own way. When you have workers, many of whom get up early in the morning, paying marginal tax rates of 50% and huge Multinational Corporations paying a blended average rate of 2.8% then you have a recipe for conflict.

When you factor in that these FDI companies employ little in the way of indigenous workers and most of the labour is in sales, marketing and legal & accountancy then you’re faced with another problem.

While there’s no official data, it is estimated that almost 80% of Google’s Irish Workforce are from outside of Ireland. As an open borders advocate, this represents a conundrum. Ireland needs more diversity, not less.

But how can the average paid, non FDI, worker compete against a high paid Facebook accountant for the 1 Bed Apartment in the IFSC?

They can’t. But, rather than follow the linkage between a Multinational Company paying 3% in tax and poorly funded social housing issues, it is easier for the fella priced out of the rental market to blame Johnny Foreigner.

There’s a very real risk, at least in Dublin, that a wealthy sector of foreign workers become targets of the anger of inequality. Anger, that should be directed at the establishment, might give rise to the ugliness of racism. You can already see it fraying at the edges, in the comments sections and social media posts.

This is not a kick at the Republic of Opportunity. This is a funeral dirge for the optimism that we’d learn the lessons of the previous crash.

Someone recently pointed out that there’s no point deriding the political figurehead or any political slogan WITHOUT first looking at the electorate.

The outsourcing of democracy via a vote every five years doesn’t absolve the public from responsibility. Sitting in our armchairs, feeling shocked by the latest RTÉ Prime Investigation is not social activism.

Moaning that someone should do something isn’t going to move the Republic of Opportunity mantra closer to an opportunity for all.

The very transient nature of our “democracy”, when viewed through a generational lens, absolves, at least in my eyes, the politicians more than the citizenry.There’s a cheap refrain: “There’s no point voting, sure whoever you vote for don’t the government always get elected?”

The counter (and more truthful response) to that is: “The people get the government they deserve.” Increasing inequality, housing crises and health crises are the responsibility of us all.

You can’t just tick a box every five years and then point fingers for the next 1,824 days. The wasted decade will be truly lost if, as we seem so keen to do, we forget the lessons of the past.

If we want to keep running around in a feudal system, based on haves and have nots, then cry ‘keep the recovery going’ and walk onwards to the looping circuit of the Republic of Opportunity.

Maybe to walk a mile in Leo’s shoes we should all be forced to run 13.1 miles. And just end up where we started from again.

At least I got a medal for my idiocy.

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly aTrickstersworld

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the National Ploughing Championships yesterday; Tony Groves

We are just over the one hundred day mark into the reign of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the only substantial change is that the lack of substance is now communicated as a virtue.

Of the core challenges facing the government, we can only say with certainty, that there are certain plans with less than certain outcomes.

There are also more kites floating around than on Dollymount Strand during a Kite Surfing Contest.

One such kite, that flew from the Taoiseach’s lips, was the proposal to convert NAMA into a Housing Development Agency to help tackle the housing crisis.

That this is considered new and innovative, as part of the new and innovative government, is disappointing.

This is, in fact, old news. NAMA has always had the ability to help in tackling the burden of homelessness. NAMA was created, on day one, with the powers to do just that.

Section 2 (iv) and (viii) of the NAMA Act state that the purposes of the establishment of NAMA are:

‘to protect the interests of taxpayers and to contribute to the social and economic development of the state.’

There it is in black and white. NAMA doesn’t need any new powers, it simply needs to be directed to carry out the task for which it was created. NAMA should already be working to “contribute to the social and economic development of the state”.

The kite of getting them to do so now is not new and innovative. The question, that sadly is not being asked, of this government is, Why Haven’t You Done This Already?

Fine Gael are in power since 2011, for them to not have even suggested this before can only be negligence and/or an ideological choice.

There is nothing new in putting markets before people. There is nothing innovative in falling asleep at the wheel.

The argument that they couldn’t have seen this crisis coming doesn’t hold up either. As early as 2013, the then Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan said:

“Homelessness is an affront to every value that we assign to the concept of citizenship. In a real republic there is an onus on us all to ensure that all citizens have a place they can call home”.

Sadly, there’s not much room for optimism. When Leo spoke of the NAMA possibility he was quickly shut down by his ‘handlers’ and further explorations were closed to questioning.

NAMA is part, and have been part, of discussions on the housing crisis for years now. Foisting it on them now isn’t a solution. NAMA ha shown no desire to enter the “contributing to the social development” stage of their remit.

Leo, who has a history of saying “it was like that when I got here”, needs to step away from the PR for a few hours.

He has said funding isn’t an issue, great. Issue the funds Taoiseach.

Give the Local Authorities the responsibility to get on with building. Make the Department of Housing, and your good friend Minister Eoghan Murphy, responsible for removing roadblocks and expediting building.

Support the Non Governmental Organisations who are on the front line, taking the flack that six years of Fine Gael government has had a hand in creating.

Make the Local Authorities, the Department and the Minister accountable. Do what Section 2 (viii) of the NAMA act says: contribute to the social development of the state; not just the social media side of things.

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly aTrickstersworld