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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 30, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

    We are all Germans now

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    We have had crises before and recessions which resulted in mass lay-offs. But as Social Protection Minister Joan Burton pointed out to me this week, in an interview, we have never had the level of personal debt that abounds in this State.

    Looking back to my parents’ time, I don’t think they even knew what a credit card was – such exotic items did not exist at the time except in barely-noticed advertisements in Life magazine.

    In more recent times, it seemed on occasion that credit-cards were being forced down our throats. It is now apparent that many citizens went over the top with this “free money” and now they are paying the price, or, worse still, are unable to pay the price.

    I am not sure if my parents even had a mortgage. Their philosophy and the outlook of that generation was to “pay as you go”, shelling out cash on the table for every purchase.

    Great mirth is aroused these days when anyone mentions De Valera’s St Patrick’s Day address from, I think it was 1943, where he extolled the merits of a society based on “frugal comfort”.

    Now many people are getting used to the idea of frugality – without the comfort.

    It seems that, in Germany, people would rather cut their hands off than owe money on their credit-card. That’s no doubt a legacy of the hardship years after the first and second World Wars.

    It looks as if we have no other option in the future but to adhere to these Teutonic standards. “We all partied,” said the late Brian Lenihan. Now we must all become Germans. Oh, and here’s Dev’s speech from all those years ago:

    The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age.

    The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live.

    With the tidings that make such an Ireland possible, St. Patrick came to our ancestors fifteen hundred years ago promising happiness here no less than happiness hereafter.

    It was the pursuit of such an Ireland that later made our country worthy to be called the island of saints and scholars. It was the idea of such an Ireland – happy, vigorous, spiritual – that fired the imagination of our poets; that made successive generations of patriotic men give their lives to win religious and political liberty; and that will urge men in our own and future generations to die, if need be, so that these liberties may be preserved.

    One hundred years ago, the Young Irelanders, by holding up the vision of such an Ireland before the people, inspired and moved them spiritually as our people had hardly been moved since the Golden Age of Irish civilisation.

    Fifty years later, the founders of the Gaelic League similarly inspired and moved the people of their day. So, later, did the leaders of the Irish Volunteers.

    We of this time, if we have the will and active enthusiasm, have the opportunity to inspire and move our generation in like manner.

    We can do so by keeping this thought of a noble future for our country constantly before our eyes, ever seeking in action to bring that future into being, and ever remembering that it is for our nation as a whole that future must be sought.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Yes, it was all so good in the good old days and I’m sure if you ask someone who lived in the good old days if they’d like to go back – ‘I would in my ….’ would be the answer. I’m sure your parents did have a mortgage if they owned a house and you can be sure your parents lived off credit with plenty of things ‘on tick’ with someone and plenty of trips to the pawn shop or the local money lender – it’s not that people didn’t have credit it’s that they feared uncontrollable debt and they understood their finances and how to run a household.

      Also, the vast majority of people now are perfectly capable of paying all their debts and are not in arrears on anything. All that’s happened is that people now have to sit down and pay down the debts they have as they can’t refinance them as they can’t rely on never-ending house price rises. That’s no bad thing at all as the less debt you have the more freedom you have and the knock on effect is that the people who would have been redoing kitchens or decking or changing cars are now paying off credit union loans, saving money and changing their ways which means all the businesses set up to cater for the constant spending need to find a new reason to be – that won’t be easy for the business owners.

      When people get used to saving for a few weeks/months or years for things instead of buying them and paying for them afterwards, then people will start spending again. It needs a change in attitude.

      As well as people facing the day after the party, there also needs to be strucural reform in Ireland where a house is a home and where everyone can be sure that when they retire they’ll have a decent pension, where raising a child doesn’t cripple you financially – who’s worse off: the old couple in Germany who never owned a house but rented all their life and were able to save €350k and have proper public services to rely on or the old Irish couple who worked themselves to the bone to pay off the mortgage on a house and have equity of €350k and poor public services and no pension?

      I think every single person with a residential mortgage should formally ask their bank to redo it to take into account of the fact their house will never ever be worth the amount it was again; when the bank refuse, to then make a formal complaint to the bank, then to the regulator and to the financial ombudsman and to the minister for finance because it cannot be right that a person borrows €400k, it costs the bank €50k to raise the money, it then charges you a €800k mortgage, then it goes to the government saying we’ve lost’ the €350k profit we were going to use for other lending so can you give us that money from NAMA and still the mortgage holder is paying back a €800k mortgage so the banks gets its money twice – it’s simply astounding that the banks are not required to publicly explain where every cent of the NAMA and recapitalisation money has gone and also the details of every single loan that has been altered be it from a repayment to interest only morgage or where terms have been changed or the interest rate etc and the commerical decision argument simply doesn’t hold up as the Irish banking system is in no way fit for purpose to operate in a commericial environment at the moment – the idea that BOI or AIB or NIB providing information in public will cause a collapse is nonsense – no one trusts any of the banks and until there is absolutely no doubt about whats what in Irish banks then there’ll be no confidence that they are not still lying and hiding things from the public. We’re still getting a drip drip of bonuses and expenses and pensions, so if they can’t even be honest about those and explain the need for them (where exactly is someone in BOI or AIB going to go if the bonus is stopped or their salary reduced?) how can we trust them to be honest about anything else?

    • jaygee says:

      And all the while young women were slaving away in the Magdalene Laundries . The children of the poor were being tortured and abused in the Industrial schools . That’s the real Ireland that Dev and the Church were ruling over. Happy days indeed !

    • You are right, Desmond, instead of the credit card there was the pawn shop and the moneylender. But people in general were more careful and more prudent than nowadays. And jaygee is correct in saying that terrible things were happening in industrial schools and the Magdalene laundries but I don’t think today’s society can claim any moral superiority with gangland killings, drug epidemics, people-trafficking, etc. In former times a murder was a rare occurrence and caused a national sensation for weeks if not months. Now the latest gangland shooting barely makes the front pages.

    • Richard says:

      Are we all Germans now? I only ask because Germans (to generalise) have a number of neat habits. One is that they work hard and do the job properly because they take pride in it. You never see half-baked solutions in Germany and that runs from people´s DIY to their infrastructure. Having worked hard they actually like to enjoy themselves and can do so with a clear conscience. Anyone who´s looked into the bars, restaurants and pubs of Germany can see people who are having a fine time but one without that sense of violent panicky merriment the Irish do. We like to sneer at the Germans who are still orderly when they are having time off. But look at their country and look at ours. Who´s getting ahead? Credit cards are a great way to party now and pay later. Germans do it the other way around and they only have fun when they can afford it. In that way they´re grown up and we are not. De Valera´s Ireland was a romantic fiction. Look instead to the German way of doing things: defer your gratification and do your work well and don´t spend what you don´t have.

    • Lorraine G says:

      Deaglan, if that nutter had not forced Ireland into economic isolation during the thirties and forties, so as he could create his own private Arcadian pastoral, the country might have had a functioning industrial economy to grow in the decades following the war. Ireland might not have been so dependent on its domestic service economy in recent years, and its implosion might not have wreaked the havoc we are experiencing right now.

      Also, if he had not been in charge of designing the electoral system, we might have ended up with one (like in Germany) that made it easier for people with the right skills to be involved in government and had a few ministers that weren’t school teachers (no offence to teachers, but they are not economists usually). Instead we got one that mirrored the FF cumann structure, so as to ensure their ownership of it.

      And the maidens were happy? I thought they were comely!

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @ 3 – was murder so rare in the ‘olden days’ or was it just brushed under the carpet along with all the other horrors that went on – I wonder how many women or children were beaten to death, or how many were kicked to death in police stations and no one was ever held to account?

      I still think things are vastly better today, even with the mess Ireland is now in, and there’s no time in history I’d rather be alive in. The gangland killings only really impact on the type of people involved in that world and if you buy or sell drugs and get your head blown off or overdose, well, to be frank it serves you right.

      I remember in the 80s being taken out in the car with my sister by my father and he drove through places like Fatima Mansions and Sheriff Street to show us how lucky we were to live were we did and to show us that other people lived in appalling conditions and that we needed to appreciate what we had – it was usually if we’d been whinging about not getting something we wanted. I don’t think even Limerick is as grim as Dublin was in the 80s when heroin seemed to take over and the FG/L government just walked away and did nothing to help.

      So I think on balance even with all that is wrong today our lives are far and away better than at any time in history and again. Ask someone in their 80s if they’d like to go back in time to the past and they’ll tell you no way.

    • Peter Barrins says:

      The speech by DeValera was made when Ireland was in dire poverty and many had no comfort, frugal or otherwise. There was mass emigration and, I’d imagine, general misery. Certainly film footage from the post-independence era always makes me glad that I wasn’t around then. As for the saints and scholars lark, what a load of rubbish – complete and utter fabrication and illusion, propagated by DeV and the RCC. A read of Diarmaid Ferriter’s ‘Occasions of Sin’ – provides plenty of food for thought and highlights what a dirty, hypocrisy-ridden place “saintly” Ireland really was!

      In modern Ireland there is indeed a debt issue but there is also a wealth issue and most people enjoy a standard of living previously unknown on these shores. Also, negative equity is not a debt issue, per se. I think that materialism and spending became godlike during the celtic tiger period fuelled by a lot of reckless borrowing and lending, zero regulation and absurd Government policies. In terms of credit cards, I know from people working in the industry that some companies (now being sold) issued cards with astounding credit limits (€20,000 or more was not uncommon). How any person, even a professional on a decent salary of say €80K, could ever be expected to service a credit card debt of this value is beyond me. While there was reckless lending, people also borrowed in a similar manner and spent what they borrowed on things of no intrinsic value. When David Norris said that as a nation we went to hell in a handbag, he was spot on. Hopefully a little Germanic austerity might force people to ponder on what really matters in this life – and it isn’t money, wealth or designer garb!!

    • Peter Barrins says:

      I also think a lot of people aren’t trying hard enough to pay their debts. I recall in the ’80′s my parents had little money yet they scrimped and budgeted so that their four children had uniforms, books and so forth for school. I always remember the strain and the endless demand for money at this time of the year. Now it would seem that parents apply to the DSW and instead waste their money on rubbish in McDonalds and other such places. Those who need to budget and economise the most seem to do it the least and therein lies a problem – as far as I can see. As I waited in a takeaway recently I observed a rather chubby kid of about ten, paying €32 for a bag of take out burgers, chips and other junk food – parents are just too lazy to buy decent food and cook it which apart from the cost issues is making the children of this country fat and unhealthy.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Peter, I’m sure your parents did work hard and plan and budget and scrimp and I’m also sure they claimed whatever welfare they were entitled to at that time. It’s unlikely they discussed their finances with you first. I bet the child beneefit paid to your mother wasn’t invested in a bank account and give back to you when you were 18 or 21 or used for college – it went on topping up your father’s income to pay general household bills? The principle is the same now except that the system has more red tape and rules and I wouldn’t say it covers more things but that the same things re categorised more now.

      Also, the vast majority of people are not up to their neck in debt, are paying their bills and are working so keep some perspective and the majority of those not working will do so again. But what we need to do is make sure that whatever recovery there is is fairly and evenly spread – we don’t want to create a feral underclass the way the Tories and New Labour did in the UK.

      It remains to be seem if the political class have the wit to do so – the omens are not good when six months in we hear drip drip of the perks for ESB staff and the relevant Minister does nothing – does he not know of thesep erks? Was it not the first thing he asked when he took over to get a list of all the perks and benefits of every single member of staff across the entire department and all its offshoots and why is it six months in the FOI doesn’t apply to a semi state like the ESB and the others?

      For anyone deluded to believe there was some golden age in Ireland, they need to read Des O’Malley’s piece – if only he’d been Justice Minister and gone on to set up a new political party – oh hang on … Then we have Ahern who seems to have some sort of mental imbalance to be clinging to the delusions he has, then again I suppose facing up to the horror of what he did in office would make you lose touch with reality. I suppose the cummann he had a go at were the ones who supported George Colley – so it makes sense someone like Ahern wouldn’t like them and would want to destroy them. Thankfully Ahern’s still around to see Fianna Fáil destroyed.

      I’d also finished reading The Reluctant Taoiseach about John A Costello and the greyness of the men and that period is overwhelming. I thought I would come away feeling sure JAC was a worthy role model but he isn’t – he’s just another member of a deeply corrupted and visionless political class- it’s no wonder people of vision in Irish politics like Declan Costello and Justin Keating or TK Whittaker or the exception rather than the rule. I can’t even think of a single politician in the last 25 years who could be compared favourably to people like them. Can anyone else?

      The problem is going to be that most people will get on with their lives and families will rally round to help each other and communities will as well. Which is great but it will widen the gulf even more between the people and the state and as the state (as in the form of the political class will have failed to be held to account for its failings or provide the solution) and the issues the late Peter Mair addressed recently, that we need to form a mental link to the Irish state itself, will be as far from being resolved as ever.

      Anyone with half a brain can solve any problem the country faces, none of it is rocket science, the problem is having people in position to actually implement decisions with the guts to do what needs to be done and not weaken at the first sign of short term unpopularity. The perenial weakness of an elected politician and then you add in the spilt personality of the voter – the one who moans about cronyism etc and the same one who fights to keep their perks at the expense of others and sure why wouldn’t they when yet again it all comes back to those at the top still failing to lead by example on cutbacks.

      Which is worse: Ahern claiming all those pensions and expenses or the fact that he is able to do so still – six months into a new government why are these pensions and expenses still being paid, why hasn’t Noonan done anything to stop them?

    • All very thought-provoking but I am still in mild shock over the following, from an earlier comment of yours:
      “The gangland killings only really impact on the type of people involved in that world and if you buy or sell drugs and get your head blown off or overdose, well, to be frank it serves you right.”

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @ 10 -Why? I can’t say I feel any sympathy when I hear a drug dealer has been shot dead by another drug dealer.

      The person whose death was horrific and for whom I feel sorry was that young plumber shot dead in cold blood just because he opened a door. When it comes to drugs I wish more effort went into targeting drug users than the drug dealers, especially middle class ones and famous people, because if you tackle the market demand, you remove the market which drug dealers profit from.

    • BB says:

      Speaking of Germans and given his recent faux pas concerning Pope Benedict XVI and the Holy See, displaying, not least, a wanton lack in diplomacy, Enda Kenny should now resign. Knowledge of and adherence to international diplomacy is something that a government — especially a leader — should be well acquainted with and adhere to. The leader of this coalition government has put Irish Roman Catholics (one of which he purports to be) in a most awkward and unwarranted position of conflict with the Holy See. Pope Benedict XVI is our spiritual leader and that in my book supersedes anything else. How very dare he.

    • Fergal says:

      I have absolutely no doubt that people in the Ireland of yore could not even begin to fathom the amount of debt that we’re currently saddled with. I agree that people in this country back in the day made ends meet but a lot of that was possible in rural Ireland anyway due to self-sufficiency and a complete lack of capitalism as we know it in its current, carnivorous form. If you want anything consumable now you have to go to a shop (or online) to get it. De Valera in my opinion really failed this country and pummelled us into the dark (matter) ages with his limited vision. Lemass was the only man to grab the bull by the horns and try and get things back on track. The only great Fianna Fáil Taoiseach. In the early 1970s my father, a national schoolteacher in the West of Ireland, couldn’t get a mortgage for love nor money. He had no debt, a full-time job and wanted to build a house. He was turned away by everyone. In the end the only thing that swung it in his favour was a letter he asked for from his solicitor guaranteering the loan. The solicitor had no trouble in writing up the letter as he knew there would be no comebacks. The banks in this country have always treated people like they were rubbish – pawns in their monopoly game or cannon fodder for bailouts in 2011 when the guns should’ve been turned on themselves.

      As for the Germans! Well this doe-eyed and stereotyped version of their industry, prudence and comfortable frugality is all a bit cloying. Particularly when it’s used as another excuse to add to the collelctive Irish shame at our perceived character flaws. Richard above refers to the “sense of violent panicky merriment the Irish do” when socialising. I’m sorry but that just doesn’t stack up for me as being a statement of fact. Why is our default position constantly one that results in an inferiority complex? I didn’t buy a house, go mental on the credit card or become a hostage to “free money” during the boom or during any time yet i still partied as the late Brian Lenihan said and i’m supposed to feel inferior by virtue of my identity as an Irishman? Absolute garbage. Anyone who thinks the Germans are paragons of virtuousness should take a closer look at the facts.

    • Peter Barrins says:

      @9 There is a distinct lack of humanity in your comments Desmond and definitely a strong cynicism towards the prospect of any human being doing the right thing or improving. When you toured the deprived areas of Dublin in the ’80′s and you felt ever so grateful, did you feel no empathy, or even a sense that as one of the more fortunate you had some responsibility to help those whom you perceived to be less so – or is that the job of someone else like the politicians and government? Perhaps the orphanages and cynically named industrial schools should be re-opened for this segment of society? ‘It serves you right if you’re killed because you have stupidly chosen the wrong path’… how crass and disappointing.

    • Scarecrows of the Stipe says:

      and yet there is 650 Billion Euro worth of gas in the Corrib gas field that will impact on taxpayers

      the impact being : the Irish taxpayer sees none of it , while the Norwegian taxpayer reaps the rewards

      This money is enough to get us all out of the mess we’re in but all in FG, FF & Labour are strangely slient

    • RPE McCarthy says:

      You are right BB of course you are.

      Even Jacques Chirac who regarded political convictions as something akin to a disease drew the line at illegal invasions. His personal experience (like that of his contemporary – the reviled Jean Marie LePen who adopted the same line as him on this issue) in Algeria where most of his platoon was wiped out in front of him and he had to fight a rear guard action to escape with two of his men led him to believe “la guerre est toujours l’option pire” (war is always the worst option).

      For that very reason, he stood up to the US over the dodgy dossiers in Iraq and endured the brick bats and racist jingoism that followed not just from the ignorant donkeys braying on right wing and mainstream programmes in the United States but by politicians in the Europe Union also like Berlusconi, Tony Blair and the arch-Patsy from Denmark Mr. Rasmussen (now Head of Nato).

      The notion the any Head of Government should kow-tow or defer to a Head of State that is meant to be their equal is ridiculous. The Pope is both Head of Government and Head of State.

      De Valera stood up to Churchill’s demands for Treaty Port access – was that craven or displaying a lack of nuance? De Valera was Secretary of the League of Nations at one point so he probably had a reasonable grasp of the principles behind the Treaty of Westphalia and modern international relations.

      I can only assume you imbue your point with irony as it is not grounded in reason, logic or facts.

    • Scarecrows of the Stipe says:

      “When it comes to drugs I wish more effort went into targeting drug users than the drug dealers, especially middle class ones and famous people, because if you tackle the market demand, you remove the market which drug dealers profit from”

      No , you dont . You can try however ,but the demand/market for drugs , both legal & illegal , has always been there and always will. Look at the state of Mexico since Calderon’s so called war on the drug cartels . Prohibition has never worked and never will….

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @ 14: I think you may have chosen to misunderstand my point. Me. A lack of humanity toward drug dealers? They are the scum of the earth so I can live with no humanity to them.

      Do I feel sorry for their victims? Absolutely. I can’t imagine the horror a family goes through when a loved one is addicted to drugs especially a flithy dirty drug like heroin. Do people think these drugs arrive in Ireland out of magic – do they think Irish drug dealers are not as vile as the drug dealers they do ‘business’ with who are involved in child soldiers and people-trafficking and God only knows what other horrors in all parts of the world.

      The vast majority of people who come from deprived backgrounds, be it financially or emotionally, do not steal, deal drugs and are not violent. They work hard and raise their families to the very best of their ability. Some of those people fight the demons of their childhood their entire lives and some manage to rise above the start they had in life. Some try and never succeed and pass the same problems onto the next generation. The fact they tried to break the cycle is enough to hope one day it will be broken.

      But at some point every adult has to stop blaming someone else for whatever is wrong in their life. You can’t undo a horrific childhood but you can do something to have a better future. Look at the people who kick drug habits, or who leave violent relationships or who go back to school.

      Just think how much money has been wasted on all the legal costs for that G—- family and imagine how much of a difference that money could have made if spent on getting help for their victims.

      My understanding is that all of the people who are shot in a car or in bed or wherever have been drug dealers, not an innocent person minding their own business and I pointed out I save my sympathy for the likes of that young plumber who was shot and his family but for the drug dealer who was upstairs in bed in that house or the leeches who live off them, knowing full well where the money comes from, well, sorry I couldn’t care less if they get a bullet in the head. One less to worry about. If that lacks humanity toward drug dealers, then so be it.

      I personally have no aspiration to have a TV on the wall that’s nearly the same size as the wall or to fill my wardrobe with white trainers and items from JD Sports but as long as those who do, pay for their goods with their own honestly-earned money, more power to them, each to their own.

      So do I feel sympathy for drug dealers like that G— thing and his family. Not an ounce.

      His children had a choice that they could have walked away from that life when they became adults. I’m not saying it would have been easy. I suspect it would have been awful given he made his own children drug addicts, but he most certainly made sure we were never snobs and I bet he did more than most parents at that time – I bet very few children from the plenty of ‘posh’ residential areas all over north and south Dublin were instead sheltered from the reality of how so many people live in the Dublin of the 80s. At least my father made an effort to show us that it wasn’t all leafy avenues and well kept local parks and the seaside and Bull Island or the Estuary.

    • Peter Barrins says:

      @12 – BB I’m not sure what your point has to do with the original topic but as a practising Irish Roman Catholic I do not feel in the least bit awkward about Ireland being in conflict with the Holy See – in fact I couldn’t care less. The Holy See and the supposedly holy Irish Catholic Bishops need to realise that they cannot sit in their impervious ivory towers while those they are responsible for do whatever they like. Enda Kenny made this point in no uncertain terms and correctly so, and it should have been made long before now. Yet again the response of the Holy See and the Curia was legalistic and missed the entire essence of Kenny’s speech – not to mention the general mood of the Irish people. They are essentially – yet again – playing with semantics to defend that which can never be defended. The Irish Bishops and the Vatican make it very difficult to be an Irish Roman Catholic and have done an enormous disservice to Roman Catholicism and Christianity.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @ 18 – obviously I was making a completely new point at the end from after ‘made his own children drug addicts’ – I’d hate to contaminate my own father by mixing him up in the same sentence as that G thing. I also wish this blog had automatic spellcheck and a preview option before you click submit!

    • Paul says:

      Beware the men who speaks of what God wishes for people: Dev, Cromwell, Koresh….

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