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  • The last man standing, Lenihan completes the household names in Dublin West

    February 27, 2011 @ 1:10 pm | by Laura Slattery

    It was Joan Burton’s day in Dublin West – her turn to glide to a quota-beating first count. “I never count my chickens,” she said, arriving at the Coolmine leisure complex in the early afternoon. But after the early tallies (of votes, not poultry) placed her on 24 per cent, she had been confident enough to take a stroll into town that morning “to do what female politicians do in these situations” – go to the hairdresser. She felt “a little sweetness”, she said, when she was the first TD to be elected to the Dáil on Saturday.

    “It is a great pleasure to represent Dublin West for no other reason that you know your fate with great speed,” joked Brian Lenihan later – a good deal later, as the 2007 poll-victor had to wait until the fifth count to add his name to the constituency’s roster of high-profile TDs. It was less than four years since Lenihan was giddily hoisted atop the shoulders of his triumphant supporters, modestly shushing the accurate predictions from his men of an immediate Cabinet promotion.

    This time around, everyone agreed that it was Lenihan’s local popularity that carried him over the line. As the only Fianna Fáil TD in the capital not to be rejected by the electorate (assuming Mary Hanafin is too), count wags proposed that the constituency party organisation, Fianna Fáil Dublin West, should now simply rename itself Fianna Fáil Dublin.

    Lenihan’s successful seat-clinging, made easier by the fact the constituency has added a seat since 2007, was “more a testament to Brian’s personal vote than anything else”, said Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar, who came second. “It’s hard to begrudge Brian that. He does have a good personal vote.” In truth, neither Varadkar’s running mate Kieran Dennison nor Labour’s Patrick Nulty ever looked like capitalising on the electoral poison that Lenihan might have suffered from, say, being voted the worst finance minister in Europe by the Financial Times, or, even more dangerously, from being a member of Fianna Fáil.

    No escape from local election issues at the Dublin West count centre

    Lenihan insisted it was national rather than local issues that swayed voters. The third-placed Joe Higgins was eager to make the obvious links between the two. Higgins promised that the United Left Alliance would form a “relentless, unremitting Opposition”, fighting a programme of EU-IMF cuts that could lead to the downgrading of Blanchardstown hospital. Copies of the Dublin 15 freesheet Community Voice were strewn around the gym hall, emblazoned with the headline “Connolly A&E Under Threat”. Lenihan’s departure as Minister for Finance, it was speculated, could hasten the HSE’s axe.

    There was one glaring feature of the Dublin West candidate list – it only had one woman on it. “Was there a bit of girl power?” a reporter asked Burton. She agreed there had been. Young women, and young men who appreciated the need for more female politicians, had given her strong support. “And Mario Rosenstock didn’t do me any harm either.”

    She had long since left the count centre when Lenihan, explaining how Fianna Fáil would “co-operate” with the election result, could still be heard uttering the words “export-led recovery” down a radio mic.

  • Crackbird: The tweet-to-eat Temple Bar pop-up restaurant that’s all gone on the credit card

    February 19, 2011 @ 12:31 pm | by Laura Slattery

    “This is on a credit card,” says Joe Macken, owner of Rathmines restaurant Jo’Burger, of his strictly temporary new Dublin chicken eaterie. He doesn’t mean a solitary meal at Crackbird has been put on plastic – he means the entire operation. The 12-weeks only casual diner, housed in a trendily dingy Crane Lane premises in Temple Bar, has a total card-financed investment of €15,000, confirms Macken’s business partner John Roberts.

    “I spent double that on the tables in the last restaurant,” observes Macken. But that was then.

    The “pop-up restaurant”, which opens on Monday and will allow up to 36 Twitter-bookers to eat for free each day, is Macken’s first venture since the failure of the Blackrock branch of Jo’Burger and Orange Square, a sandwich shop on Baggot St, which are now both long gone.

    As was reported at the time, debts run up during Macken’s attempted expansion forced Jo’Burger into examinership in September 2009, owing €350,000. The original Rathmines burger bar traded successfully throughout, however, and the company restructured its debts and survived.

    With new investor Roberts on board, Macken was itching to “do something different” again. He’s found his hook. Tweeters who follow @CrackBirdDublin and send them a reservation request using the #tweetseats hashtag will – if their requested booking is available – eat for free at a special six-seater booth at the back of the restaurant. There are six “free” sittings per day, starting every two hours from midday, and the #tweetseats stream shows they’re already filling fast. The other 54 seats are intended for paying customers.

    This time around, there are no boom-era rents to contend with. Excluding rent (at €27 per square foot), Crackbird cost just €8,000 to set up. The fitout, to be completed this weekend, is all being done “on a shoestring”, Macken declared proudly when I met him on Thursday. His task for the night ahead was upholstering the picnic bench seating himself, while students from the National College of Art and Design have been put to work hand-sewing table linen in exchange for a nominal sum and a party. “Bartering”, Macken explains.

    It has to be this way, he says, as he recalls the ”really hard 18 months” at Blackrock. On a high from the success of Rathmines, he signed up to pay top-end rents at a second Jo’Burger just as Ireland went bust and the young heavily mortgaged locals were losing their jobs.

    Outgoings adjusted to suit the times, Macken is now taking advantage of the latest economic phenomenon – retail market turbulence – by securing a temporary lease on an unloved premises that he estimates has only been occupied for 18 months over the past decade. He’s actually cheerful about the atmosphere among city centre traders. “Everyone is pulling together, it’s great. People are really trying to help each other out.”

    Crackbird, incidentally, refers to the “addictive chicken” varieties on the menu, cooked from scratch on site. And, yes, they have thought that name through. “It’s irreverent,” Macken laughs, claiming his mother and granny approve. He seems unfazed by the possibility that paying Irish diners might not go as wild for buttermilk-marinated, skillet-fried chicken as they do for Jo’Burger’s award-winning offering – or that they might get lost on the way down Crane Lane and end up in the strip joint next door.

    Even if the pop-up restaurant thrives, he insists it will close down anyway after 12 weeks and that he and Roberts will try another one somewhere else. But they do – “please god”, says Roberts – hope to be able to pay off the credit card bill.

  • Manifesto promises that allow fathers share maternity leave are good for all women

    February 18, 2011 @ 3:33 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Speaking as a non-parent, if someone was to ask me what my favourite manifesto promise is – one that I think that I would personally benefit from were it to be introduced this side of 2020 – I’d instinctively plump for Fine Gael and Labour’s pledge to allow paid maternity leave to be shared between mothers and fathers. I may never have kids, yet as a woman I still have a vested interest in the idea that fathers would be able to get paid (or partially paid) time off during the first year of their baby’s life, while their partners take their breasts back to the office.

    Specifically, Fine Gael says: “We will review maternity leave to permit parents to share leave entitlements, recognising the changing needs of modern families.” The party’s potential coalition partner sounds slightly more cautious: “Labour favours moving to a paternity leave model, where parents can share paid leave when a new baby is born, as resources allow. [my italics]”

    It’s a remarkably simple concept that already exists in the divinely woman-friendly Sweden and will be introduced in the UK from April. Under the new UK system, if a mother returns to work without taking a full year’s maternity leave, the father will be able to take leave for the remaining time, up to a maximum of six months. It’s a measure that was pushed through in the dying days of the Labour government by its deputy leader Harriet Harman, who is that lesser spotted creature in politics these days: a feminist.

    To the horror of the business lobby, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg – who himself took time off after the birth of his first child so his wife Miriam could return to work – says he wants to bring in further flexibility from 2015. He describes the current rules as “Edwardian” , saying the “paltry” UK rules granting two weeks’ paternity leave on statutory pay “patronise women and marginalise men”.

    Imagine how it feels then to be living in sub-Edwardian Ireland, where paternity leave, either paid or unpaid, isn’t recognised in employment law – at all. Bibs and beakers and buggies are for women only as far as our legislators are concerned. Too bad if you belong to a family where the female partner is the higher earner or the sole earner, or where it’s the father who wants to submerge himself in Monday-to-Friday baby bonding.

    The new government would ideally start by introducing a period of paid paternity leave, to be taken after the baby’s birth. The next step is the introduction of flexible maternity leave transfers, which in my view is no longer a question of encouraging the greater involvement of Irish fathers in their children’s lives – it’s actually about facilitating a desire that’s already there. To paraphrase the Fine Gael manifesto, it would mean catching up with the needs of parents. It’s not compulsory; it’s just about what suits, what fits.

    Why would maternity leave transfers benefit all women, not just mothers? Employers like the rules on leave to be as gender-rigid as possible, so they can “plan ahead”, which is a phrase that’s cropped up in the UK debates on the issue. This “planning” essentially means cost-based discrimination against women in the workplace – and by cost-based discrimination, I mean the practice whereby companies limit the number of women they appoint and promote primarily to minimise the risk that they might all decide to breed their own Von Trapp singing troupes.

    Even if you work for an employer that doesn’t stipulate “Y-chromosome necessary” on the application form, the current rules perpetuate a state-sanctioned culture of motherhood that means legions of your female colleagues – whether they want to or not – will not only disappear from view during their maternity leave, but follow a well-trodden path that starts with job-sharing and ends with the disillusionment of under-promotion. The disillusioned ones may not necessarily be the mothers – after all, they’ll have their children to pour their creative and administrative energies into – but the full-time women stuck in a work atmosphere of intensifying machismo.

    The sooner Ireland follows the UK and allows the transfer of leave entitlements, the better. Affordable childcare options are probably going to be another decade’s work.

  • Spin spin sugar

    February 14, 2011 @ 8:00 am | by Laura Slattery

    Overdosing on sugar may be a traditional Valentine’s Day celebration / survival strategy, but lately the world’s supply of the sweet stuff has slumped like human energy levels – ooh – approximately 20 minutes after chocolate mallow consumption.

    Prices hit a 30-year high recently after Cyclone Yasi was estimated by the producers’ group Canegrowers to have obliterated at least a quarter of Queensland’s sugar cane crop. As a result of the damage in Australia – the world’s third largest sugar exporter – commodity forecasters including Rabobank have warned that global sugar output will probably fall short of demand this year. For its part, the European Union is mulling higher import limits following the panicky clearing of supermarket shelves in Portugal in December.

    Before the birth such complicated deficit-enhancers as CFDs, CDOs and CDSs, there was a time when commodities occupied a more central part of the financial news. This “Dublin Weekly Sugar Report” from the Irish Times of April 15th, 1889, could easily be used to describe last week’s frenetic global sugar trade: “The market has continued to move upward, with considerable rapidity and with some excitement, broken only by momentary pauses… Business has been very large and has partaken a good deal of a speculative character.”

    Updates from Liverpool produce markets into the 20th century went into superfine detail on “Messrs. Tate and Lyle’s” quotations for crystals, granulated and yellows, even citing a price for “Afternoon tea” cubes. Today, raw sugar is the most commonly quoted benchmark, though white sugar futures are studied carefully by food analysts eager to calculate margins and growth prospects for companies, including Tate & Lyle, in the refined sugar and sweetener business.

    The sugar rush in Portugal – the first European country to face a shortage of sugar in more than 30 years – was a brief, temporary affair and some forecasters predict that greater output from Brazil could actually prompt a swing into a world sugar surplus. Still, life without cheap-and-ready access to glucose is something to ponder next time the winds gather up in a crop-destroying frenzy: Valentine’s Day 2012 could be a bitter one for more than just the broken-hearted.

  • Election 2011: What the Haskins is going on?

    February 8, 2011 @ 12:30 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Until last weekend, I was as far away from Ireland as it is physically possible to go without counterfeiting a Virgin Galactic boarding card, with the result that I missed the opening credits of Election 2011. Already it’s feeling like one of those shows you’re either supposed to watch from the beginning or wait for the DVD.

    Walking through Dublin city centre yesterday, my eyes gazed inexorably up towards what seemed to be photographic evidence of the fact that not only has human cloning technology been successfully developed, but a single strand of Jason Donovan’s combed blonde Eighties hair has proven enough to manufacture an entire independent candidate for Dublin South East.

    I’d always assumed that when most people groaned that they wanted more young people to run for office, there was an unspoken coda: “not if they’re younger than me, obv.” But since then I’ve been reliably informed by several usually reliable cynics that not only is Dylan Haskins old enough to vote for himself, but his desire to hang out with the fetid lifers at Leinster House is generally a good thing for democracy. Breaking into the chorus of Too Many Broken Hearts in his presence is probably already a tiresome cliché.

    The sight of Haskins was so unexpected, I arrived at yesterday’s “Jobs Manifesto for Election 2011” briefing by business group Ibec primed for another surprise. Perhaps they would be in favour of increasing the minimum wage back to where it was before the grim swipe of the “National Recovery Plan” (a reversal favoured by Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin). Or maybe they’d turn around and declare: “Forget everything we said before, actually we don’t give a flying FitzPatrick about corporation tax rates. Do what you like, Sarko.”

    None of this happened, of course, and instead I spent some time pondering the semantic differences between the phrase “the next government” and the favoured expression of Ibec director general Danny McCoy – “the next administration”.

    Yesterday also saw the launch of Fianna Fáil’s election manifesto, and soon it will be the turn of the major political parties. Jet lag, however, means I’m having even more trouble concentrating on the meaning of words and pictures than usual, which is quite alarming in a world where you can open a copy of Vanity Fair and find a portrait of Brian Lenihan captioned “Of Human Bondage” mere pages away from a shot of House actress Olivia Wilde wearing a gown that looks like a seatbelt accessorized with a hanky. In this highly caffeinated state, my main “take” from the Vanity Fair dissection of Ireland by long-term financial-voodoo demolition man Michael Lewis was his brilliant description of economist Morgan Kelly as “puckish”. It peaked right there, for me.

    Luckily, I’m not the only one in a haze – even seasoned campaign watchers admit to being stumped by the ever-twisting, beyond-satire logic of Enda Kenny’s stance on television debating. Over the last 24 hours, I’ve also managed to absorb three further – albeit useless – election facts: that Fine Gael has taken an early lead for the cringe award by launching something called a “twolicy”; that Fianna Fáil Dublin Central candidate Mary Fitzpatrick favours the landscape format for her posters; and that not even hardcore sea swimmers are safe from the clutches of canvassers anymore.

    I’m off to the Irish Times Election 2011 blog now to find out the rest.

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