Tuesday, April 28, 2009

For Culture Vultures in Fingal

The Skerries Traditional Music Weekend will take place from 15 to 17 May 2009. This is a very good weekend in Skerries with lots of musical events in pubs, clubs, and other venues.The weekend will include music sessions, workshops, dancing and general craic. So come along for a really good time in this lovely Fingal seaside town.

Also ramping up its summer programme is the Seamus Ennis Cultural Centre in Naul. This renowned venue has an excellent programme of events, including the Bluegrass Patriots, Mick Hanly, Kieran Gos and many more.

Away From It All In Virginia

Virginia Park Hotel
Virginia Park Hotel

My wife and I spent a lovely relaxing weekend staying at the Virginia Park Hotel in Co. Cavan. The hotel is in the small town of Virginia and is less than 90 minutes from our home in north Dublin.

We arrived early on Friday evening and were immediately impressed by the beautiful grounds, which are situated on the shores of Lough Ramor. The hotel is a restored 18th century manor house, originally owned by the Marquis of Headfort, a member of the Taylor family. This family also owned Ardgillan Castle, overlooking Skerries Bay in Fingal, north Dublin.

The hotel itself is pleasingly “old world” and I loved the creaky floors; magnificent high-ceilinged rooms; interesting paintings, sculpture and furniture; narrow warren-like corridors, and quaint bedrooms. Our room had a beautiful view overlooking the lawn, Virginia Golf Club and Lough Ramor. The bedroom, although small, was very comfortable and really warm. The bathroom was very well appointed and had a fantastic shower.

Bective Court
Bective Court

We ate in the Marquis dining room on Friday night and our meal was delicious. The wife had pork fillet while I went for the lamb shank. Both were very well prepared, although I probably would not have chosen the tomato dressing with the lamb in hindsight. On Saturday, we just ate in the bar and that was very nice too. Breakfast was as expected – we both went for the “full Irish.”

The staff were very friendly and efficient and we enjoyed talking to the barman, Terry, each evening. He had a very quick, dry wit and entertained us greatly.

Although the weather was not great, we had a lovely relaxing time and managed to avoid most of the rain. We enjoyed pleasant walks along the shore of the lake and in the beautiful wood, which was carpeted with masses of bluebells. It was a delight.

Carpet of bluebells in Ramor Forest
Carpet of bluebells in Ramor Forest

We were interested to learn that the hotel is owned by Baltimore International College and is the Irish Campus for their School of Culinary Arts. They send students over to Virginia to learn the culinary arts and we had the pleasure of meeting some of them during our stay.

Although not far from Dublin, this is a lovely place to escape to and we will definitely return.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Revenue Commissioners Say Tax Evasion Becoming An Issue

As I predicted in my post on 4 February 2009, the Irish Revenue Commissioners have declared that tax evasion is becoming an issue during the current recession. According to the 9 p.m. news on RTE Television on 23 April 2009, the Revenue Commissioners are increasingly concerned at the increasing level of tax evasion and have started targeting cash businesses; this will include shops, pubs and solicitors' offices. They will also visit construction sites to examine books and records.

Despite their efforts, I still predict that there will continue to be an increase in tax evasion and black economy working.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ahern Dropped

Having written so recently about Noel Ahern's amazingly inept interview on Today FM radio, I can't say that I am either surprised or disappointed that he has been dropped from the ranks of Ministers of State in the Irish Government, as I predicted in my previous post.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is The Any Bandwagon That Fine Gael Will Not Jump On?

I listened to Leo Varadkar, Fine Gael’s Enterprise Trade and Employment spokesman, speaking on RTE’s Drivetime radio programme this evening (21 April 2009) and was hardly surprised that he and his party have jumped on a new bandwagon: bailing out people who chose to fix their mortgage rates to protect themselves against rising interest rates. There seems to be no bandwagon, whether it is Eircom shareholders, taxi drivers or people who gambled on interest rates, that Fine Gael will not clamber on as soon as it appears.

People who took out fixed rate mortgages took a gamble that interest rates would rise and they didn’t; they fell. That’s the risk they took when they made their decision and it should not be up to the Government, through the taxpayers, to now support them because their gamble did not come in. This sort of Fine Gael nonsense demonstrates clearly why they are not fit for office, which is a great pity as we really need a credible alternative to Fianna Fail. Sadly, Fine Gael does not offer that alternative.

On the programme, Varadkar was asked if he knew the numbers of people involved but, of course, he didn’t. Nevertheless he said it was higher than he thought (how did he know?) and maybe about a third of people were on fixed rate mortgages (how does he know?). This lack of analysis is so typical of Fine Gael’s and Varadkar’s blathering.

Varadkar wants the Minister to legislate for a capping of exit fees but at this stage, Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, has declined to act in such a foolhardy way. “It’s about time taxpayers got something back and let’s start with this”, said Varadkar. Sorry Leo, let’s get this straight: what you are really saying is that it’s about time a third of mortgage holders (based on your estimate) get a special break, but not the other two thirds and not those taxpayers who do not have a mortgage but who may have paid massive interest rates in the past. Everyone is suffering pay cuts, new taxes and levies too, you know. Financial decisions entail risk and, in their cases, people who opted for fixed rate mortgages must have realised that there was a risk that interest rates would fall. And, of course, they will go up again in the not too distant future.

So here’s a question for you, Leo: how high would interest rates have to go before you would then be calling for those on variable rate mortgages to be bailed out? Your proposition is preposterous but it is in keeping with a long succession of Fine Gael nonsense and special pleading.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Penalty Point Madness and an Equally Looney Minister of State

Listening to the Last Word on Today FM last Wednesday I thought it was either April Fool’s Day or that I was listening to an excerpt from a re-make of Alice In Wonderland. I was reminded of what Humpty Dumpty said to Alice when listening to that buffoon of a Minister of State, Noel Ahern, talking to Anton Savage: 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

Savage was trying to get the MoS to explain why not having a current NCT certificate (similar to the British MoT) attracted five penalty points - the highest that can be given - when, for example, not wearing a seat belt attracts two points; dangerous overtaking attracts two and driving through a red light attracts two. Rather than even try to explain, Ahern simply said, ‘Well, that's the law and that's what was approved in the law back some years ago …’ Savage interrupted to enquire WHY this was the case and Ahern responded, ‘Well, why, why? You can sometimes bother yourself too much asking why. Just accept there are certain facts, and that's one of them.’

I really thought this was a wind-up, but sadly it was all too true.

Next, Ahern started quoting statistics, the source of which he could not identify. He said, ‘…statistics show that if you ..... I don't have the figures in front of me here but ..... if you analyse the different vehicles that are in accidents, a very large proportion of them are cars that are 6, 7, 8, 9 years old ....’

Once again, Savage (who knows a lot about motoring, as it happens) challenged the MoS, ‘Hang on for a minute Minister. The statistics actually show that improperly maintained vehicles contribute to .7 of 1% of the fatal road crashes in the country.’

Here is what the Road Safety Authority's Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012 (pdf) actually says (page 12, figure 5) about Contributory Factors for Fatal Collisions 200-2005:

  • Drivers 81%
  • Pedestrials 12%
  • Road 4.2%
  • Environment 2.1%
  • Vehicle 0.7%

So Savage is spot on in his analysis and the MoS was talking pure rubbish.

It got worse as the interview went on, with Ahern quoting statistics that did not exist and spouting even more balderdash than you could imagine. It was so bad that I made a transcript of the interview and it is well worth reading.

It is simply ludicrous that there should be five penalty points for not having an NCT when other, far more serious offences, carry much less points. For example, driving on the wrong side of the road only carries one penalty point!

Like so many things in Ireland, there is absolutely no logic to this discredited system of penalty points. But, what can we expect with clowns like Ahern in charge of the place. Maybe (and here's hoping) he will lose his job, for which he is clearly not qualified, in Brian Cowen's purge shortly.

You can download a copy of the interview from my Skydrive.