The Irish Independent
Kim Bielenberg, December 6th, 2003
Angry Irish consumers are waging war on Ireland’s rip-off culture by naming and shaming the chief culprits on the internet.
There was little surprise among shoppers this week when a report by the National Competitiveness Council showed that we now share with Finland the distinction of being the most expensive country in the euro zone for goods and services.
Now the backlash against rip-off Ireland is well and truly under way on the internet. At its weekend party conference Fine Gael publicised its new consumer website, ripoff.ie. Although the Fine Gael venture has been inundated with complaints about rip-offs, it is still at the development stage and pales in comparison with some of the other Irish websites that are becoming popular.
Often set up by individuals who are appalled by Ireland’s soaring prices, these new consumer sites pull no punches. Disgruntled customers are encouraged to post messages giving details of where they suffered high prices and poor service. Shops, pubs and restaurants are named and shamed and consumers are pointed in the direction of cheaper alternatives.
Pubs and restaurants are top of the list when it comes to complaints at www.valueireland.com, a well-organised web site set up recently by Diarmuid MacShane.
On the site’s message board Aisling describes a named pub in Dublin city centre as a “rip-off” after she was charged €9 for a vodka, soda and lime. The dash of lime reportedly cost €2. Another complainant, Linda, moans about being charged over €25 for a main course of six crab claws and three tablespoons of rice at a Dublin eatery.
A visitor to a named hotel describes the prices as “astronomical”. “The experience was really terrible. The food was mediocre at best, the waiting staff rude and slow and the place was really grubby and stuck in the stone ages!”
Another consumer posting a message on the site tells readers how a computer on sale in one Dublin shop was half the price elsewhere in the capital. Readers are advised how they save over €400 on the price of a particular digital camera by buying it in the US.
Diarmuid MacShane set up the www.valueireland.com website after he returned to Ireland earlier this year. He previously worked in the computer industry in London and New York. “When I came back to Ireland I found it difficult to adjust to the high prices. I don’t just want it to be a site where people complain. I want to help people to find good value as well.”
A less politically correct site, drinkfeckgirls.com, is dedicated to “chasing down Ireland’s cheapest pints”. The cheapest price found so far is €2.50 for a pint of Guinness in The Glan Bar, Glangevlin, Co Cavan. The most expensive pint of beer listed on the site is €5.75 at Lillie’s Bordello in Dublin.
Another specialist site, irishfuelprices.com, points web surfers in the direction of Ireland’s cheapest petrol stations (the Rathass filling station in Tralee is listed as the cheapest in the country at 76.9c per litre).
“The internet helps people to gather information and compare prices,” says Mary Denise Fitzgerald of the European Consumer Centre in Dublin. “It is now much easier to compare prices in a number of countries as a result of the arrival of the euro. This has also helped to expose some of the rip-offs.”
Those who post messages on the consumer sites frequently compare the price of products, including supermarket groceries, in different European countries. At ripoffireland.org readers are advised by a contributor that they can buy 200 Marlboro cigarettes on the internet for a fraction of the Irish cigarette price; but other sceptical contributors to the site warn that the quality may be inferior.
The enormous price of CDs and DVDs in Irish shops is now a hot topic of discussion among the self-appointed consumer watchdogs. The Irish Recorded Music Association may have shot itself in the foot by suing internet music retailer CD Wow. The legal move has given enormous free publicity to CD Wow, which sells CDs for up to €10 cheaper than Irish shop prices.
Fine Gael has received hundreds of messages from members of the public since it set up its website, ripoff.ie. However, the website has not published the specific details of the complaints on the web for legal reasons.
Among the complaints about Irish rip-offs sent by email to the Fine Gael site are:
* A 24-pack of beer on sale in an Irish supermarket was almost €8 more expensive than in a branch of the same supermarket chain in Britain.
* A 22-year-old was charged €5,000 for car insurance despite two years’ accident-free driving.
* A woman who purchased a cooker for over €3,000 here saw the same cooker on sale in Britain for €1,700.
* A young Dubliner was shocked that the make-up he bought for his girlfriend last Christmas is 60pc more expensive this year.
* A pub that charges €2.50 for a pint of tap water with a dash of blackcurrant.
* The same pair of jeans costs €33 in America and €80 here.
“We came up with the idea for the rip-off site because prices have gone mad in Ireland recently,” says Fine Gael Enterprise spokesman Phil Hogan. “We wanted to see how many of the rip-offs were down to the Government’s stealth taxes.”
In truth, the cost of living in Ireland would drive a man to drink – if only he could afford it.
TOP OF THE RIP-OFFS
CDs and DVDs
* Irish shoppers are paying a fortune for these small plastic discs. A survey by the European Consumer Centre (ECC) in Dublin said the 10 bestselling CDs would work out €85 cheaper at website cdwow.com than at a record shop in Dublin or €128.50 compared to €213.90.
Britney Spears’s In the Zone CD cost €21.99 in a music shop in Dublin and €12.85 on the net.
On a selection of five new DVD releases, website www.amazon.co.uk also proved to be €50 cheaper than a shop in Dublin, even when postage was included. Lord of the Rings: Two Towers cost €34.29 on the amazon website compared with €49.99 in an outlet in Dublin.
* Irish consumers pay up to €49 more for their weekly grocery shop than their European neighbours, a recent survey by Forfas found.
Potatoes, eggs, cooked ham, mineral water, apples, shampoo and razor blades were among the items which were more expensive in Ireland than anywhere else surveyed, with a full trolley of goods ringing in at €218. The same shopping trolley of groceries would only cost €169 in Portugal and €177 in Germany.
Another recent survey by BBC Good Food magazine showed that 1kg of spuds was nine times dearer in Ireland than in Holland.
* Still wildly over-priced. Ireland is the fourth most expensive country in Europe for insurance premiums. A 20-year-old German driver can get insured for less than €400 while someone of the same age here may be quoted over €4,000.
In a message to Fine Gael website ripoff.ie, a van driver quoted €4,000 for insurance here says he was charged a paltry €90 in Australia.
* Ireland’s telephone regulator, Etain Doyle, recently said Irish people spent an average of €46 a month on mobile phones, the highest amount in the EU.
Users of prepaid mobiles commonly pay double the charge for an equivalent call in the UK.
Roaming charges for using your mobile abroad can be 20 times dearer than domestic rates, according to the Consumers’ Association of Ireland.
* Don’t come to Dubli
n if you like a pint of Guinness – it’s cheaper in Berlin. Pubs in the capital now charge up to €5.30 for a pint of the black stuff.
If you think pints of beer are expensive, beware of the cocktails – a Bacardi and Coke costs up to €10 in city centre watering holes. A bottle of still water costs up to €2.60.