Word of the Week
“Special” – Ireland is “special” according to the joint statement by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and German Chancellor Angela Merkel last Sunday evening. Alas “special” is a word which has a wide variety of meanings in different contexts. “That child is special” used to be a euphemism for indicating some disability. Britain has a “special relationship” with the US, but then again US presidents say that to every country’s head of state who turns up at the White House. During World War II, “sonder”, one of the German words for “special” had a sinister meaning as testified to by the many “sonderaktion”s in former Nazi-occupied territories. “Special” might mean that Ireland has shouldered an extraordinary amount of bank debt with a side effect of protecting the EuroZone banking system. But then again, Germany might claim the €1-2tn cost of reunification in the 1990s and 2000s was “special” and the “legacy” being addressed had nothing to do with most of the current generation of German people. And although it might be an uncomfortable truth, other EU countries have shovelled more euros into their bust banks than the Irish, it’s just their economies and banking sectors were larger so as a per cent of their GDPs, the figure was smaller.
Mobile Phone Service of the Week
The former Independent News and Media director, Karl Brophy may have settled his case at the High Court during the week, against what is now his former employer, but not before revealing in open court the content of text or SMS messages received from Denis O’Brien’s spokesman James Morrissey, one of which said, according to the Irish Times “Karl – truth comes hard to you . . . ask Samantha McCaughren, Paul Cullen . . . When you stop telling lies about me I will stop telling the truth about you . . . Just remind your father of the day he visited Fleishman [where Morrissey works] to enquire about digging the dirt on Denis O’Brien, you want the day and time? history dear boy! James.” We might recall that earlier this year, the former chairman of INM, James Osborne claims to have received a telephone call from INM’s biggest shareholder Denis O’Brien, where James claims Denis said “they’ve been on to me, there’s an article in tomorrow’s paper and I want it withdrawn”. And of course, former INM CEO Gavin O’Reilly was himself the recipient of text messages and phone calls from Denis O’Brien associate and current INM chairman, Leslie Buckley including ones which, according to Broadsheet.ie reproduction of Gavin O’Reilly’s emails and memos, sought the removal of journalist Sam Smyth from reporting on the Moriarty Tribunal proceedings. Even veteran journalist and broadcaster Vincent O’Brien has been on the receiving end of unpleasant correspondence from Denis O’Brien which included an intimation of legal action against Vincent personally, as opposed to the publication for which he writes, the Irish Times. This pattern is really too good an opportunity a pass up, so will some enterprising mobile phone entrepreneur introduce a service where you can text 68880 and a [telephone number] and a series of bizarre and slightly threatening text messages will be sent to the [telephone number], all for just €2 a pop? You’ll might find templates for such messages in the reported writings and telephone calls of Leslie Buckley, James Morrissey and Denis O’Brien.
Spot the Difference of the Week
With the CSO confirming during the week that Irish residential property prices have risen for the third month in a row, with the imminent abolishment of mortgage interest relief for first time buyers and with some isolated rays of hope in the economy, there is a tentative feeling of normality amongst estate agents. Competition between agents can’t be far behind, but since the awful crash in 2007 followed by a moribund market for five years, the game has changed and there are new players in town…
Graph of the Week
During the week, Eurostat, the statistics agency for the EU released debt figures for EU for the second quarter of 2012. Ireland is in the Top 4 at 112% just behind Portugal. Next year we should rival Italy and Portugal for the second place. Coincidentally this week, NAMA announced that the 17% stake in the Agency formerly owned by Irish Life and Permanent had been sold to a little-known UK outfit founded just over a year ago, Walbrook Partners LLP. The transaction was driven by ILP, which is now 99.5-100% owned by the State and which needed to divest itself of the stake lest the State’s stake in NAMA exceed 50% which would mean that the bonds which NAMA used to pay for the loans it acquired from the banks would come onto the State’s balance sheet, and would have increased our Eurostat-reported debt:GDP for Q2,2012 from 112% by €27bn approximately or another 18% bringing our debt:GDP to 130%. Since it is the State that is ultimately on the hook for NAMA’s losses, some might say that this accounting would be more accurate, though it should be remembered that NAMA has assets backing up its bonds and NAMA maintains it is still “confident” it will break even. Minister Bruton seemed to let to cat out of the bag a month ago when she conceded that a loss of up to €15bn may be on the cards at NAMA.
TV format of the Week
This was a landmark week for television in Ireland with the analogue signal being switched off on Wednesday as the new digital service, dubbed “Saorview”, became the only signal available to TVs. “SaorView” means “FreeView” in English and of course, the UK has had a digital service called FreeView for over a decade. Unless the miserable offering of channels on Saorview, Freeview had nearly 100 channels with a strong line-up of entertainment, films, news, current affairs. Here’s the FreeView schedule for today, there doesn’t appear to be a Saorview schedule yet but since the only channels on it are RTÉ One, RTÉ Two HD (in high definition), TV3, TG4, 3e – a second service offered by TV3 currently only available to cable TV subscribers, RTÉ News Now – a dedicated news channel, RTÉjr – a kids channel, RTÉ One +1, it wouldn’t take long to find out what was on. Feeling short-changed? The licence fee in Ireland is €160 and is GBP 146 (€182) in the UK. A FreeView set-top box in the UK costs €23 at Argos, in Ireland the lowest cost for a SaorView box at Argos seems to be €60.
On a separate but related point, RTE this week broadcast a TV programme on the future of TV, but as regards the present day, it is a wonder that Ireland, the land or musicians and poets, has seemingly failed to ever produce a single TV format that was successful on a global stage. Yes, we use X-Factor, Come Dine with Me, Family Fortunes, Come Dance with Me, reality TV and other formats from the US, UK and Holland but what format have we ever created? I stand to be corrected but I can’t think of a single one, except…
The vastly overpaid and slightly mediocre TV personality.
This week, we learned that Ryan Tubridy has signed a new contract with RTE which will see him, or his company, earn €373,333 per annum. This, in a TV market that is 1/15th the size of the UK’s. This, at a company which lost €70m in 2011. “€70m?!!!” I hear you say, but that can’t be right and didn’t RTE itself say it lost just €17m.One. Seven. But no, when taking the increased provision for pension payments into account, RTE lost €70m, including a €50m provision for pensions. Ryan Tubridy wouldn’t be my cup of tea – that would be more Sean O’Rourke, there’s no accounting for tastes – and you can’t blame Ryan Tubridy for the salary others chose to pay him. The managers at RTE are more to blame and indeed they know that if Ryan’s salary is cut too much, then their salary will also be in line for a chop.
Yes, we most certainly have created at least one TV format in Ireland.
Quote of the Week
Okay, it’s just over a week since junior minister Brian Hayes dropped the clanger that Official Ireland believes our debt to be unsustainable, this despite the minister having previously expatiated until he was nearly cross-eyed that our debt was in fact sustainable. Minister Ruairi Quinn chipped in on Monday this week on RTE Radio to reaffirm the change in the official position. I wonder were people as confused when the Church decided that it was okay to eat meat on Fridays?
“It’s not sustainable to have a debt to GDP ratio of 120%. A fifth, 20%, of all taxes that we’re taking in this year are going towards payment of the interest on our national debt, that’s not sustainable. We know that, our national funders know that and we’ve got to ensure the deal we get deals with that” Junior minister at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Brian Hayes on Prime Time 18th October, 2012
“Ireland is not Greece. We do not have a debt to GDP ratio of 160%. It is 100% at present and we expect it to top out at approximately 118% by 2013. It will be enormously challenging to service that debt for the foreseeable future. In the 1980s, one third of all tax received in this economy was used to make interest payments on the national debt. In our worst position — in 2013, when our debt to GDP ratio will be at its height — the proportion of taxes being spent on interest payments will be no more than 120%. We need to ask whether that is manageable. I contend that it is. We did it in the 1980s.” Junior minister at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Brian Hayes in the Seanad in July 2011