MORE TAXATION PAIN ON THE WAY FOR IRELAND
A number of new taxes are being introduced in Ireland this coming week with the most significant being an increase in sales tax (VAT) from 21% to 23% and the introduction of a property charge.
The continuing attempts to balance the economic books have led the Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition government to implement some very unpopular policies. The honeymoon period is well and truly over for this government as they continue to face criticism for their handling of the Irish economy. The huge degree of anger at Fianna Fail for the collapse in the Irish economy since 2008 has been replaced with an increasing tide of anger at the new government.
The 100 Euro property charge that is being introduced was a condition of the EU/IMF/ECB bailout fund and is set to be deeply unpopular while also facing a campaign of civil disobedience. The issue of a property tax is very contentious in Ireland with the old system of rates being abolished a relatively short time ago. This new property tax is set to be increased dramatically in the years to come and will potentially place a bill of hundreds of Euros annually at the door of households who simply cannot afford to pay it. Already some members of the Irish parliament have stated that they will refuse to pay the charge and will even go to prison if necessary. This is the sort of issue that can bring down a government so it will be very interesting to see just how Enda Kenny and his Fine Gael colleagues handle the pressure.
TOURISM GIVES THE ECONOMY A BOOST
One of the mainstays of the Irish economy looks to be on the road to recovery. The Irish tourist sector has reported an increase of 7% in the number of visitors to the country in 2011, which is the first rise in four years. It has been speculated that the visits by the English Monarch as well as the visit of President Obama have helped to raise the profile of the country. An overall reduction in prices as well as some fantastic hotel deals on offer to tourists has also helped. Sales tax on tourism products has been reduced to 9%, helping greatly. Over 6.3 Million visitors arrived into Ireland in 2011, compared with the 7.7 Million in 2007. Visits from the US were up by 8% and by 5% from the UK.
PROPERTY MARKET STILL HAMSTRUNG BY LENDERS
The continuing decline in the Irish property market is being blamed not only on the excessive prices still being demanded by some sellers but also by the newly configured banking sector who seem very reluctant to lend for mortgages. This theory is somewhat borne out by the fact that in recent years there has been a significant rise in the number of transactions for property purchases being made using cash.
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Note: This is one of the last stories in my book, Paddywhackery. By this time, I had been a regular columnist in our local paper, the Door County Advocate. The 'Irish presence' had become a full-blown saucy character from old Ireland - in my imagination I could see her with her shawl crossed and tied behind her back, smudges from the peat fire on her face, and pampooties on her feet.
In some parts of old Ireland, the body of the deceased person was placed on the ground or in a bed, but with a board resting upon two stools or chairs over them. This was covered with a clean sheet, so that the dead person was concealed. Over the sheet, upon the board was placed plates of tobacco, pipes, snuff and other refreshments for the wake. So the term 'underboard' meant very low indeed. When the Christmas holidays roll around, lot of people feel 'underboard' including myself.
SINGIN' THE BLUES
The hidden light the spirit owns
If blown to flame would dim the stars
Damn! I ducked as the Christmas gift wrap rolls came tumbling down from the closet shelf and bounced around me. Good thing my hubby wasn't here to see that, I thought crabbily. Another Irish trap, he'd say. Alvin and the Chipmunks were singing chirpy Christmas songs. I thought that would make me happy but I was wrong. Wearily I picked out a few rolls and jammed the rest back into the closet helter-skelter. Then, seeing a piece of paper lying on the floor that had floated down with the rest of the avalanche, I picked it up. And blinked.
It said in scrawling writing: To a certain newspaper columnist: Have y' ever wondered how many hundreds o' grateful gerbils yourself has saved from certain insanity? Sure they must be happy chewin' th' thoughts an' feelin's in your column –happy to have an activity that can keep them from bustin' out of that claustrophobic plastic hellhole modern humans call a 'cute habitat.'
An' think of all the puppies an' birds who are glad t' see a new newspaper issue. Yes, Virginia, your work does make a difference. It keeps people warm an' happy –especially when it's in the fireplace helpin' to roast chestnuts an' wienies! Merry Christmas.
That was it. The last straw. Tears stung my eyes. Turning the corner, I bumped right into that she-devil. Taking one look at my face, she said, 'Looks like there'll be neither song nor story in this house the day.'
I waved the paper angrily in her face. 'How can you do this to me? And, for your information, GERBILS DO NOT EAT MY COLUMN! They sit in their lonely cages and chew their wood chips…' I broke off in a sob. She drew back. 'You're right. 'Tis the frustrated parakeets that are a burpin' your words up. Yourself looks as mad as Padraic MaGinnis when they ran over his nanny goat with a dray cart.' I burst out, 'This isn't funny at all! I don't want ….to think…that p-puppies might be p—p-eeing on my column, on my hard work!'
Catherine looked deep into my eyes and soundlessly took my hand and led me like a child to the sofa. She made room, set me down and handed me a mug of tea. Then she said gently, 'Everything bothers ye and the cat breaks your heart?'
'The cat didn't break my heart, Catherine, YOU did with that note.' I gulped my tea, then admitted, 'I miss my wonderful friend who died this year…it's so hard to think I'll never see her again--- It is so hard, this supposed season of JOY JOY JOY! Catherine, the way the world seems to be going – with people blowing each other up -we need a saint like your Brigid and my Mother Teresa ---I still miss her! If that dear saint was depressed being so close to God, then where does that leave us??'
'Summer stars never shown on any better,' Catherine said wiping a tear herself. 'Sure, we have a sayin' y' know....'
'That the Irish have a saying about everything under the sun is about as guaranteed that as a writer, I won't ever appear on the New York Times Bestseller list,' I sniffed. She looked deeply at me for a moment. The only sound was the clock ticking. 'Th' stars make no noise.'
I took a sip of tea and stared at her for a full minute.. 'You know, that reminds me of what Kahlil Gibran said:
'And there are those who give, and know not pain in giving.
Neither do they seek joy nor give with mindfulness of virtue.
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance out into space.'
I warmed my hands on the steaming cup and smiled, remembering my favorite poem. Catherine was frowning, holding a man's V-neck jacquard sweater with blue, white, green and red diamonds. 'Loud as a donkey's roar an' ugly as a hen's rump! What were y', drunk as a piper when you picked this out?!'
'I can't help it. My mind hasn't been on presents, lately.' I heaved a big sigh and picked up a woman's magazine. 'This doesn't help my mood any, either. Look at what's listed on its cover: 'Party Issue: 200 Rule-the-Night Looks.' 'Shimmering Eyes, Nails, Hair that Draw Men Like Moths to a Flame.''
I picked up another one: ''Bring Home the Joy.' As if, Catherine, you can go right out there with your charge card and bring home all the happiness that you can. How stupid. How shallow!'
'I don't like this season at all. We're buried under tons of snow and everybody's got cabin fever here already! I went by my room the other day and saw my two frustrated cats trying to mate. They're both male, and they're both fixed! The sun hasn't come out in weeks, it is so cold here in Wisconsin, and it is making me so blue... Catherine,' I grabbed her arm, 'Life….what does it all mean?'
'Tis yourself the only one can give meanin' t' your life. Looks like you're falling over Hag's Head fast,' she said matter-of-factly as she lit up a small clay pipe.
I looked at her incredulously. 'Since when did you start smoking??'
'130 years ago. I'm going to drink me whiskey an' smoke all day til I stink like a goat. Life? It's how y' see it. Remember lass, A cat can look at a king.'
I stared glumly at her in the blue haze.
'Y' don't need singin' rodents t' make yourself happy!'
I sighed, got up and switched the player off. But when I turned around, Catherine was gone. As I put some of the wrapped gifts under the tree, my eyes happened to see a small book sitting off to the side. Where did that come from? I picked it up. It was a book of poems by George Russell, the Irish mystic.
I settled into an overstuffed chair, and was carried far away, back to another, quieter time. As I read a poem called 'Dusk,' a peaceful magic stole over me and I could see the small Irish village in the early evening, cottages huddled together in the deepening aquarmarine light, the chill air so calm the smoke from the chimneys flowed endlessly upwards forming soft, high columns.
I turned the next page and came upon this...
The gods have taken alien shapes upon them
Wild peasants driving swine in a strange country.
Through the swarthy faces, the starry faces shine.
Under grey tattered skies, they strain and reel there,
Yet cannot all disguise, the majesty of fallen gods,
The beauty, the fire beneath their eyes.
They huddle at night within low clay-built cabins
And to themselves unknown
They carry with them diadem and scepter
And move from throne to throne.
The peace of Christmas descended upon me. I sighed gratefully and leaned my head back, eyes closed. Eventually I reopened my eyes to see that gaudy sweater draped on a chair and laughed outright. Even the poorest peasant wouldn't wear that ugly thing!
Mary McGinnis Bosman