Ten Greatest Irish Consumer Rip-Offs

The Sunday World
Des Ekin – July 18th, 2004

Imagine a land where a pint can cost over a fiver, a cup of tea cost €3 and a plain unheated scone in a self-service cafe can set you back €4.50.

A crazy place where it’s cheaper to fly to Paris to do your gift shopping than it is to hop on the Luas and do it in Grafton Street.

A country where people suffering from toothache are forced to fly to Hungary to find realistic prices for dental work.

Welcome to Rip-Off Ireland, where true competition is virtually unknown and the fat, greedy millionaires of the business world are given free rein to rob the consumer blind.

Welcome to the only country in the civilised world where the Government actively pins the consumers arms behind their back while the robber barons beat them up.

This week, as yet another survey shows that Irish people are paying the highest prices in Europe, the SUNDAY WORLD identifies the Ten Greatest Consumer Rip-Offs in Ireland today.

1. Drink

You know the world has gone mad when you order two pints of lager in an ordinary Dublin bar and hand over a tenner – and you’re asked for more.

Throughout the country, horrified tipplers are reporting that bar prices have gone crazy. More than €7 for a vodka and mixer, a tenner for a rum and coke, €5.60 for a bottle of lager, and even €7 for a small bottle of Ballygowan are just some of the horror stories that are being logged by consumers.

One of the greatest rip-offs focuses on soft drinks. A Fine Gael survey reveals that pubs in the capital were charging up to €4.70 for a mineral water and lime – €2.70 for the water and €2 for the lime. (Other typical prices were €3.60, €3.45 and €3.40).

And the Director of Consumer Affairs has uncovered disturbing evidence that some publicans hike their prices by €1 for major sporting events.

Last month, a 15c price increase from Guinness pushed even the price of the humble pint of plain into the stratosphere.

(Note: Dublin pubs change hands for an average of €3.2m and the price is usually two to three times the annual turnover in sales).

2. Eating Out

These days, even the humbles caff or diner thinks it’s Patrick Guilbauds. A simple cup of tea or coffee costs 46% above the EU average.

A tenner for a pizza has become standard. One subscriber to the website ValueIreland.com reports being charged €4.50 for a plain, unheated scone in a hotel self-service bar.

Ripoff.ie, the Fine Gael website, records such jaw-dropping cases as a €7.75 slice of quiche (in Galway), the €3 cup of tea (Donegal) and the 30c dollop of ketchup (Dublin). One parent had to pay €6.25 for a kiddies meal of three sausages and chips.

A formal meal for two in a reasonable restaurant has leaped in price to the €70 mark…more than most couples can afford.

3. Shopping

It’s official. Ripped-off Irish consumers pay more for their trolley load of shopping than anyone else in Western Europe or the U.S.

A new survey from the European Commission shows that Irish shoppers pay €1.40 for every 80c paid by their counterparts in Spain or Germany. Pampers nappies cost a staggering 164% of the Euro average here, compared with 63% in the U.K. We pay FOUR TIMES as much for fresh, ground coffee than they do in in high-priced Finland.

Meanwhile, the ripoff.ie website reports that supermarkets are charging a mark-up of up to 300% on fresh foods. For instance a farmer will be paid 20c for a kilo of spuds that will cost 80c at the supermarket till.

4. Banks

Quite apart from the overcharging scandals, the big banks are ripping us off on a day to day basis. Even in this electronic age, some banks claim it takes five days for a lodgement to go into your account. Meanwhile, they enjoy the interest.

Last year, an Oireachtas committee heard consumers had to fork out €1bn extra interest charges because some banks had failed to pass on European rates cuts. Banking watchdog Mary O’Dea described the difference as “substantial” and was “certainly not good for customers”.

A typical punter will pay €70 a year to run a current account – that’s 17% higher than in the U.K. Although switching to a different account can save you up to €220 a year, the banks make it hard for you to change. The cost of setting up new direct debits – up to €30 for a simple six orders – can outweigh any savings you make. This hurdle is about to be removed but it’s too late to repay the moment we’ve lost over the years.

5. Credit Cards

A recent survey by Consumer Choice magazine found that the average interest rate of our flexible friends was nearly 40% higher than in other European countries. They found an average rate of 16.7% – nearly 2% higher than the U.K. rate.

We could always switch around to find the cheapest rate…except that Charlie McCreevys €40 levy prevents us from enjoying any competition.

6. CDs and DVDs

On the website CDwow.ie, you can buy chart albums by the Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand and Damien Rice for €13.99 each, delivered to your door. Non-current albums by major stars can be €10.99. In Irish high street stores, the same albums could cost you €16 to €22.

A recent survey by the European Consumer Centre found that a batch of five top DVDs cost €50 more in Dublin than online from Amazon.co.uk.

So, buy online for the best prices. But hang on… we need plastic to do that. And, oh yes, there’s that small matter of Charlies €40 tax, which cancels out any savings.

7. Insurance

Whether it’s car insurance, home insurance or health insurance, you can count on being ripped off in Ireland. Despite promises, motor insurance premiums remain sky high. Fine Gael claims that it’s become THREE times as expensive to insure your car in the past three years.

These days, a 22-year old nurse will be asked to pay more than €3,400 to insure a Renault Clio.

Plus, VHI prices continue their inexorable rise, and homeowners seeking home insurance are often charged more by their mortgage provider than by competitors.

8. Medical

Doctors and dentists were identified in a Forfas survey as among those who took advantage of the euro changeover to seriously hike up their charges.

The cost of a typical visit to a GP shot up by nearly a fifth, to €38, and since then has risen to €40.

Meanwhile, a survey by the Director of Consumer Affairs has shown that customers can be ripped off by as much as €1.43 on a basic pack of Alka Seltzer (dearest €3.99, cheapest €2.56) and 81c on a pack of Disprin.

And Fine Gael reports that dental work costing €1,600 in the Republic was performed in Enniskillen for only €270. Others are forced to go as far as Hungary and Cape Town to get realistic dental prices.

9. Retail

Repeated surveys have shown that U.K. chain stores with outlets in Ireland are ripping off their Irish customers across a range of products.

One survey by the European Consumer Centre showed that Irish customers of Argos were paying from €3 to €25 more for identical goods than their counterparts in the U.K.

And another recent survey by Fine Gael showed that Irish prices were up to 87% more expensive. A basket of five goods in Tesco in Ireland was 43% dearer on average than in the U.K.

Habitat was 25% dearer and Dublin customers of Argos had to pay up to 18% more.

10. Phones

Regulatory body ComReg reports that Irish mobile phone rates are among the highest in the world and are more expensive than in Sweden, the U.K., the U.S. and France. One major gripe is the punitive cost of roaming abroad.

As for fixed lines, greater competition should theoretically bring lo
wer prices to home phone calls. But much of the savings have been snatched back by companies with a series of stiff increases in line rentals.

Long distance calls to Australia and the U.S. are dirt cheap now (as little as 5c or 3c a minute), but you won’t find this reflected in your phone bill.

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