Are there any electoral laws that we can smack down on Anne Sweeney in Donegal South West

Let’s face it, Anne Sweeney was never serious about running for election in the Donegal South West by-election recently. She was taking the lazy easy way out by declaring she’s be running a “social media only” election campaign. I don’t even know that here New Ireland / New Island Party is even officially a party. Doing a google search, I’m not even able to find anything to do with her campaign. Was she just doing it all as a stunt to publicise the hotel she owns?

Whatever the reasons for declaring, or her reasons for running in a half-arsed manner, there’s no reason that Anne Sweeney should be allowed disrespect the electoral process in the way that she did only days before the by-election.

Firstly, she pulled out of the election – AFTER people had already begun casting their vote. Some islanders had already cast their ballot prior to her jumping ship. To anyone who gave her their vote already, she gave them a big fat two fingers.

Secondly, and more disgracefully, she then urged the Donegal South West electorate to stay at home on polling day. According to this article in the Irish Independent.

I’m calling on the 62,000 people in this constituency to boycott this by-election as a protest as to how our time, our money and our democratic rights are being completely railroaded.


As bad as our current politicians are acting once they get into Dail Eireann, at least they all follow and respect the electoral process.

This woman says that she’ll stand whenever the General Election is called. I hope that the people of Donegal South West will see through her “collective for independent thinkers” bluster and see her for the opportunist that she really is – it’s rare that an electorate is given that insight before a politician enters the Dail.

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The National Consumer Agency don’t do rogue trader prosecutions…

That might sound like the start of a Carlsberg themed advert, but there is no punch line. The National Consumer Agency don’t. If I’m to read things correctly from a recent court case, only the Gardai do, properly at least.

I was particularly interested to read this story recently in the Irish Independent, Car dealer is jailed for ‘clocking’ UK imports.

Regular readers will be familiar with how the National Consumer Agency deals with those who sell clocked cars – they “work” with them, slap them on the wrists, and politely asks them not to do it again.

This story then, where someone is jailed looked like it was the first time, in any way, that the National Consumer Agency was getting tough on behalf of hard pressed consumers.

But I think, unfortunately, we don’t have the NCA to thank for this prosecution.

At least, after reading the story and checking the news section of the NCA website, it looks like our consumer protection agency had nothing to do with this prosecution, and that it was all down to the Gardai.

This version of the story seems to support my theory also – no mention of the NCA.

Interestingly, according to that article, the accused brought out this peach of a defense:

caveat emptor [let the buyer beware]

It looks like, then, that our statutory consumer protection organisation is seriously shown up by the Gardai and the courts on how to treat businesses that take advantage of Irish consumers. Obviously, if the NCA can claim a part in this action, I’m open to correction.

So why then do we need them?

If all they’re doing now is publishing “top tips” on the internet any more (a role I’m happy to take from them for free – they are using this site for inspiration already anyway) rather than prosecuting rogue traders (which the Gardai are having much more success at) then maybe they can be disbanded straight away for being a pointless, useless waste of money.

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Businesses with websites misleading visitors about costs of calling

Over the past couple of days, I’ve noticed two websites where the businesses behind them are misleading their customers, or potential customers, about the costs of calling to make inquiries.

Misleading 0818 Numbers |

Misleading 0818 Numbers |

The first I noticed is the website. This business publishes an 0818 number on their website, but describes it as a “lo-call” number.

When you call an 0818 number from a landline, it can cost 8-9c per minute, while a “lo-call” number should only cost about 4-5c.

If you’re calling from a mobile, that same call can cost you up to 35c per minute depending on which mobile company you’re with.

Worst of all, with an 0818 number, you’re actually contributing directly to the pockets of the company themselves – an 0818 number allows the company to share part of the revenue of the call with the telecoms company.

Misleading 1890 Numbers | Rentokill

Misleading 1890 Numbers | Rentokill

Rentokill have taken a different approach on their site. They’re providing two different 1890 numbers for visitors to their website – one business and one consumer. Their website invites visitors to call “for free” on either number.

As above, calling a 1890 number from a landline will cost you 4-5c per minute. But calling from a mobile phone will cost you up to 35c per minute depending on your mobile provider.

Yesterday evening, I e-mailed Rentokill to let them know the issue with their Contact Page, and suggested they either provide alternative numbers, or confirm the costs to people calling the numbers provided.

With regards to whomever is behind, I can only surmise that those behind the website are intent on misleading anyone visiting their website and deciding to call.

Even after being informed of the issue with describing an 0818 number as “lo-call” over the weekend, they have kept the 0818 number there, and have kept the “lo-call” description also.

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Can you help save money on phone calls via

As well as and, another website that I maintain is the site.

In case you’re not familiar with the website or the money saving idea behind it, here’s the blurb from the site:

For many people who have inclusive bundles of minutes with their landline and mobile phone packages, you’re still charged extra to call 1890, 1850 and 0818 numbers. The calls sometimes cost more than you’d expect given they’re called Lo Call or Call Save numbers, especially when calling from mobiles.

This website will provide you with geographical alternative phone numbers for the many companies that insist on still using these phone numbers – even though they’re costing their clients more than it should to get in contact with them.

A geographical alternative phone number is a local telephone number, which when called is normally subtracted from your minutes bundle allocation instead of you being charged extra.

Right now I’m in the middle of trying to make the site a lot more user friendly and easier to search than it is right now. However, while that’s being done, if you’re able to provide a geographical alternative for any of the following 1890, 1850, or 0818 numbers, please e-mail me here and I’ll publish them on the website for all to use.

  • Aviva Health 1850 717 717
  • UTV Internet & Telephone Support 1890 926 000
  • Nokia Ireland 1890 946 245
  • Apple Ireland Customer Service 1850 946 191
  • Nononsense Insurance 1890 252 737
  • HSE Helpline 1850 241 850
  • Boots Advantage Card 1890 200 085
  • Eircom Broadband Technical Support – 1890 260 260
  • IKEA Dublin 1890 987 938
  • Halifax Credit Card 1890 818 181
  • Bank of Ireland Mortgages – 1890 365 345
  • Emergency Doctor – NOWDOC, Oldtown, Letterkenny – 1850 400 911
  • BMI Baby(Ireland) – 1890 340122
  • Aviva (Car and Home Insurance) – 1890 33 22 11
  • Aer Lingus (Baggage Tracing) – 0818 365 888
  • Setanta Sports – 0818 20 30 40
  • AON Personal Insurance – 1890 818 852
  • Driver Theory Test – 1890 606 106
  • Energia – 1850 363 744
  • – 1890 990 707.
  • Hotpoint and Indesit Servicing – 0818 313413
  • Omniplex Cinema, Limerick – 0818 719 719
  • Bord Gais Networks Leak Reports – 1850 20 50 50 .
  • ESB Networks Fault Reports – 1850 372 999
  • Omniplex Cinema, Galway – 0818 719719
  • BT Technical Support – 1890 923 111
  • Revenue Tax Relief at Source (TRS) for Mortgage Interest Relief- 1890 463626


Click here for the Website.

Click here for the Website.

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Why I’m calling the end of Irish consumer writing in Ireland

I wrote last week that I believed that we’d reached the end of Irish consumer writing and that unless businesses and service providers innovated by changing and increasing their service offerings, nothing much would change.

Because our economy is being squeezed from all sides, business are likely to contract and consolidate rather than expand and innovate in the near to medium term, so until then, we’re going to continue to get recycled “top tips” and “how to” articles.

Three things happened in the past couple of weeks that have reinforced this belief for me.

Waste of time

First of all, the National Consumer Agency were searching the internet, hoping probably, to copy other peoples hints, tips and advice in their preparations for this article published during November – “Christmas Value”.

This, as I’ve said before, is the statutory agency who has the ability to prosecute businesses for taking advantage of consumers but who decide their time is better spent googling for other peoples Christmas tips and advice and then publishing on their own website.

Waste of money

Secondly, the other useless bastion of faux consumer protection and representation, the Consumers Association of Ireland, published this gem in a press release announcing their November issue of Consumer Choice (cost €7, but you must buy all 12 for €96 in a year):

Keeping hens
Never buy another egg again with our complete guide on how to keep hens.
Consumer Choice also features an in-depth look at keeping hens. We publish a complete guide for anyone interested in having their own eggs including information on how too source the hens, as well as a survey of what’s on offer from companies that operate in this area.

Use this information wisely!

Waste of effort

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, the normally wise Conor Pope, managed to get this published for his large audience through a national newspaper:

FREEZE YOUR ASSET Okay, we appreciate this may sound a little mad but we have heard of people who have done this with great success. Immerse your credit card in an ice tray full of water and freeze it. This is a great way of stopping spur-of-the-moment online spends as you have to wait until the ice melts before you can access the card. There is no point in trying to chip the card out as you’ll damage it and as for trying to defrost it in the microwave, don’t even think about it.

For someone who has such an audience with his weekly column (I’m assuming), such advise is more than a little mad – it’s downright idiotic – even if his audience is an Irish Times reader who’s scoffing at the premise that one would only have a single credit card.

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Dear future Fianna Fail leader, how to secure a future for your Fianna Fail party!

First of all, to declare my hand here. I’m not a Fianna Fail party supporter, but nor am I tied to any other party. In the last local elections I voted ABFF, and will vote that way again.

This post, however, is inspired by what I see as being a huge opportunity for whomever may become the future leader of Fianna Fail.

I’m not all that bothered whether he or she may do this, but I’m intrigued by the possibilities available to some senior Fianna Fail TD right now to secure something of a future for the party – even in the short term (since we know, long term, Fianna Fail are likely to be as easily destroyed as a cockroach by a nuclear holocaust).

Bear with me! My assumptions here are the things will go as we’ve been most recently told by Fianna Fail (and we know how much we can believe in that). They’ll try to pass the budget, they’ll put the 4 year plan in motion, they’ll dump Brian Cowen early in the New Year just before they call a General Election.

Crying out

As far as I see right now, the opportunity is there for a Fianna Fail TD with true integrity (another assumption, I know) to stand up and say, ENOUGH!

While some of this might just be semantics, picture the scene if Michael Martin (for example, could be anyone – Mary Hanafin to throw a real spanner in the works) was to take over from Brian Cowen right now. Whomever takes over from Brian Cowen now has 2-3 months of an almost free hand that they won’t get for maybe another 4-5 years.

Lets say that person takes over now, seizes the opportunity to actually cause some real change – change that’s been avoided by Fianna Fail for the last decade. Not only could they do the party some potential good in the shorter term, it could also make that new FF leader a viable and almost credible leader of the opposition for the next couple of years.

What to do?

Lets say their first action is as leader of FF and Taoiseach was to issue a full and honest mea culpa.

“Yes, we fucked up. Yes, we looked after our own interests first. Yes, we also got carried away on a wave of money, distracted with a sense of our own importance and our own personal needs and desires, and the needs of our friends in the Fianna Fail tent. But it all ends here.”

Damn it, they don’t even have to mean it, they just have to say it and duck the shitstorm for a while. It’s done. There’ll be a lot of people out there who’ll hear it, and be happy. Never mind that it’s just optics – as a party political ploy, it’d work. They’re not going to win an election anyway, so saying it won’t damage them any more.

But it would give the new leader a very strong start.

What else?

There are, in my opinion anyway, a number of things that a new Fianna Fail leader could do in the next 2-3 months before an election that would put them in excellent standing, personally, during their period as leader of the opposition.

There is probably some clarity and honest needed on the forthcoming budget and the 4 year plan, but there are those more qualified than me to comment there. However, there are four very simple things that could be done:

  1. Immediately cut pay, pensions and expense entitlements of government ministers, TD’s, and senators. For some, cuts of up to 50% of salaries should be instated. Make the Taoiseach be paid the same as some other IMF bailed out countries.
  2. Scrap the “Croke Park” agreement and start cutting salaries and staff in the civil & public service, and in the semi-state organisations and quangos. Given our situation now, there’s scope for pay cuts of up to 50% possible here across many senior people.
  3. Reinstate the Freedom of Information Act to the format that it was before it was savaged by Fianna Fail previously. Not only that, but expand it to the critical areas that it currently excludes – such as the Gardai, NAMA, and a personal bugbear, the National Consumer Agency. In fact, anywhere that depends on the State for it’s continued operation should be included – “he who pays the piper, calls the tune”.
  4. Finally, open up all cabinet documentation right up to 31st December, 2010. Don’t wait for the 30 or 20 year rules to make the documentation available. Make the information available now to allow anyone who wants to dig into what really happened.

Then pass a budget. And call an election.

The Fianna Fail leader that does even these four simple things wouldn’t negate everything from the past 10 years, but they’d definitely distinguish themselves as being different to those that went before.

It’d also, more importantly for all of us, actually give us a leader of the opposition of some substantial standing for the next few years.

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There were warnings about our current difficulties as far back as 2000

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Calling the end of consumer affairs writing in Ireland as we know it

I’m starting to come to the conclusion that writing about consumer affairs matters in Ireland has come to a sort of crossroads, possibly even a dead end. This is nothing new, nor has been for some period of time. As regular readers will know, the content here has changed from being “top tips” and “how to” type articles in the early days to having to become more comment and opinion articles in the past couple of years.

It’s come a long way

When started in 2003, there was very little written in Ireland related to consumer affairs matters.

The Irish Time, publisher of PriceWatch now, didn’t deem consumer affairs matter worth their while covering. The Irish Independent and other papers were only beginning to awaken to the possibilities. Online, there was only the Rip Off Ireland forum.

Since then, we’ve all seen the explosion in consumer related information that is now made available in print, online and on tv and radio.

Nothing left to say

To a certain extent, by now, if something consumer related (tips, hints and advice) hasn’t been written about now in a newspaper, a magazine or on a website, it’s probably not worth writing about at all.

We’re seeing this with some of the consumer tips and advice published recently where journalists are being paid by certain newspaper publications to tell us how, in this current economic crisis, how we can make money by buying wine, buying art, and even buying property.

The “How to save money on … ” articles are done to death – it’s simply a case of reprinting/republishing the same articles from previous years.

No one was listening anyway

Despite the simplicity and effectiveness of the message to “shop around”, it too is done to death. The fact that it’s ridiculed by much of the general population is disappointing.

We have now left a era when we were plenty able to shop around and make choices of different service and product providers – even if we decided not to.

With businesses closing all the time, we as consumers are left with fewer and fewer options for shopping around – eventually, we’ll be crying out for the chance to do so in the coming months and years.

But still, people with lots to say

In spite of most consumer content struggling to be original any more, and despite the fact that fewer people are listening any more, I still saw multiple new entrants into the “top tips” and “how to” market.

We’ve seen the National Consumer Agency, an organisation with the power to prosecute businesses for taking advantage of consumers, decide that they were better spending their time writing internet articles on “consumer value” rather than enforcing the laws they were set up to uphold.

We’ve seen some people who, despite the plethora of information made available freely online, decided they could make a few bob by turning the provision of consumer tips and advice into a business.

So where to next?

Consumer tips and advice writing as we know it is dead. The only way I can see any future in it is if our businesses and service providers in Ireland begin to innovate by changing and expanding their product and service offerings.

Unfortunately, with the economy still stagnating and likely to do so for another couple of years based on what we’re hearing now, then though the “copy and paste” consumer writers will always have something to write about, there’s unlikely to be anything new for the foreseeable future.

That leaves, and writing comment and opinion on the things that matter to consumers.

This could be at a macro-level – but you’re unlikely to read anything here from me that you’re not going to read anywhere else. Yes, I’m mad as hell about what Fianna Fail have done, and are continuing to do, to our country. I’m probably more willing than most to give Fine Gael and Enda Kenny a go at trying something different – though, I’m resigned to the fact that they’re unlikely to surprise us with anything different.

Or it could be writing about consumer issues at a micro-level. The day to day things that people notice, that people are annoyed by, or that people love and are happy with. I can continue to share my own thoughts and opinions, and whenever anyone is kind enough to e-mail me here, I can continue to share that with you to.

Any thoughts?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the points I’ve raised here.

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Don’t get involved in Christmas Clubs – your money is at risk

I’ve noticed a large number of stores have been advertising their Christmas clubs already – we’re only just into November.

While a Christmas club may sound all nice and positive and you may think you’re doing something good in preparing for Christmas, you should be aware of the dangers of getting involved in Christmas clubs.

When you sign up to one of these clubs, or something like “lay away”, you are giving away your money to a business who is not giving you anything in return – not in the short term.

You’re on a promise to get something closer to Christmas when your pot of money builds up, but if the business fails between now and then, you’re going to be left high and dry without your money.

A Christmas club, or lay away, is effectively like getting involved in vouchers and gift tokens – you’re giving an interest free loan to someone who’s giving you no guarantee that they’ll pay you back. While they may offer you some enticement to get involved, there’s a greater risk these days as business are closing every week.

If you are, encouragingly, saving for Christmas, at least used an institution where your money is protected – a bank, building society or your credit union.

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02 and online vs paper billing – the controversy continues

It seems that the decision of O2 to force all their customers towards online billing is causing a lot of concern for their customers. I wrote about this on Monday already, and here’s another readers e-mail.

You might be aware that O2 are switching to online billing and will no longer send customers a bill by post, unless they ‘opt out’ of the service.

I have no problem with online services personally (I am in my twenties and active online, and have access to high speed broadband) but I am thinking of older people here – my parents are O2 bill pay and do not have access to the Internet at home, how exactly are they supposed to keep an eye on what they are spending now?

They were not even aware this was happening until I told them! I understand this is a cost saving measure for O2 but people should have the option to ‘opt in’ for the service rather than having to ‘opt out’ of it! Wonder am I the only one concerned about this?

I wonder does anyone out there know what, if any, obligations are on O2 to deliver bills to their customers?

If customers are paying by direct debit, O2 is obliged to inform their customer at least 14 days prior to money being debited from the customers account.

If the customer has no way of retrieving an online bill, and didn’t know that they had to opt in to receive a paper bill, then I wonder who’d be seen as to blame?

Given that IPSO lies to consumers anyway, there’d be no surprise when they take the side of O2 rather than the consumer anyway should any queries or issues arise if direct debit rules are broken.

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