Tag Archives | The Irish Independent

Our country is being run by clowns

Two newspaper articles this weekend drove me mad this weekend.

Firstly, from Louise McBride in the Sunday Independent, Lenihan’s new property tax is hit by snarl-up, has this classic line as to why we can’t (thankfully) have a property tax for 2-5 years.

A property tax based on the value of homes would initially involve compiling a database of each home in the country — and then valuing each property.

As a database of homes across the country would also need to be put in place, this could bring the wait up to at least two years.

“There’s no database of individual properties in the Republic,” said Lavelle. “It would take a few months to put a database like that together. One-off housing causes problems.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds have this information already – the Property Registration Authority?

The second frustrating item was in a story by Ian Kehoe in the Sunday Business Post under the heading “Government subsidy to stop firms laying off staff”.

This story details plans within the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to subsidise “at risk” jobs. According to the story:

With unemployment soaring, the government will move to try to protect jobs that are under threat, by diverting funding that would otherwise go on dole payments to a special subsidy. The scheme would effectively subsidise some of the wages of employees in threatened jobs, cutting the cost to the employer in return for the employee remaining in work.

How many times have we heard from our Governent that “Ireland Inc” had become uncompetitive and that one of the side benefits of the current economic climate would be that our costs would fall, wages would be cut and we would regain our competitiveness.

Businesses are cutting jobs now because their sales and income is falling.  Their customers aren’t buying anything, so they have excess capacity, so they don’t need so many employees and are cutting back. If businesses still had customers in sufficient numbers and were still making money, they wouldn’t be cutting staff.

So can someone please tell me then how can we regain our competitiveness by subsidising the jobs that a business owner deems unnecessary?

This is such a ridiculous idea – how can we justify paying businesses to keep on workers when they very likely would have nothing to do?

Competitiveness my arse! Clowns!


BeThrifty.ie – Beware!

I’ve noticed some publicity in the last week or so for a new website called BeThrifty.ie, which describes itself as “Ireland’s Online Cashback Community”. The site works in a similar way to the rewards website Pigsback.com except that they’ll pay you back cash rather than PiggyPoints.

Last Sunday, Gareth Naughton featured it in a short piece in his Personal Finance column in the Sunday Tribune.  According to the article, available here:

The average Irish person spent €1,700 online last year, and that is set to increase as people turn to the internet in search of better bargains. Recently-launched website www.bethrifty.ie offers shoppers the opportunity to buy online and receive cash back on their purchases.

When someone logs into the website and starts shopping with one of the retailers featured (companies include HMV, Qantas and Eircom), they qualify to receive cash back – either a straightforward payment per purchase or a percentage of the money they have spent. The website acts as a referrer but, instead of keeping the commission from the retailer, it is passed on to the consumer.

Then yesterday, Tina Leonard gave the site a glowing reference in her Smart Consumer column in the Irish Independent:

Our current favourite is www.bethrifty.ie.
Launched in April, and already boasting 8,000 members, this is a ‘cash-back’ website like the type popular in the US and UK, where you actually make money.
Basically you become a member, which is free, and then you can link through the site to around 2,000 companies to make online purchases.
For each purchase made you get a cash amount or percentage of the sale price sent to your bank or PayPal account by Bethrifty.
Honestly, there is no catch.

Unfortunately, there is a catch. And quite a big one as far as I’m concerned. In order to get your cash rewards, you have to either provide BeThrifty.ie with your PayPal details, or your bank account details.

However, nowhere on the website do BeThrifty.ie provide any details of who’s behind the website, where they’re based, or how to contact them in person. There are no physical addresses, no phone numbers and no e-mail addresses.

I’d be wary of providing any financial details such as bank accounts to a website that doesn’t provide you with such details.

Consider what position you’d be in if a sum of money went missing from your bank account and you needed to contact them to find out what the problem was?


Irish Independent advertising sleight of hand

I thought I noticed over the weekend a banner advert on Independent.ie for the IdeasCampaign. I thought it strange that, as a grass-roots campaign, they’d be advertising now that the campaign was over – at least the part where the “ordinary people” are involved. I saw it on the Opera browser on my phone, so went back in today to try to get a screenshot, but then discovered something else.

The top left of the banner on the Irish Independent used to always be a featured story – much of the time it would relate to the consumer affairs items that would interest me most.

But it seems that it’s now being used to redirect users to advertising now rather than to content – and the change isn’t obvious at all.

Here are two images from the same part of the page from earlier today – which one is the advert?

Much of the Irish and Sunday Independent personal finance articles, such as the “Make Me Richer” features, are focused on money saving tips and tricks, so the above text on either image isn’t unusual for a heading to a proper article.

It’s just a little bit sneaky now to have these links randomly redirect to advertising rather than proper content. Sneaky from a readers perspective – smart business I suppose on the part of the Irish Independent.


Should we bail out fixed rate mortgage holders? I don’t think so!

I’ve been reading some coverage recently, including more yesterday, about people on fixed interest mortgages and how they’re feeling the pinch these days now more than most. With falling interest rates, those who have tied in their mortgage for a period of time at a fixed rate are not getting the same benefit that those on variable or tracker mortgages might be.

One of the recent newspaper coverage, Fixed rate loan holders ‘abandoned’ in the Irish Independent, quotes James Doorley of the Consumers Association of Ireland. In very emotive terms, Mr. Doorley “accused the Government of abandoning people stuck with uncompetitive fixed rates.”

A more considered view on the topic was published by the financial broker Liam Ferguson on his blog last week where he questioned whether the stiff fees that those on fixed rate mortgages are charged if they wish to break free from their contract and change to a variable mortgage (since trackers are no longer available).

But on this issue, I feel there is some merit in a proposal for a once-off amnesty where owner-occupier mortgage-holders get a brief “window” of time to break out of a fixed rate entered into prior to October 2008 without penalty.

However, both Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Doorley acknowledged that those on fixed rate mortgages had signed contracts and would have been fully aware of the implications of entering into such fixed rate deals at the time.

To add my 2c worth, I don’t believe that any leeway should be provided to those on fixed rate mortgages for precisely that reason – they’ve signed into contracts. No more than the banks or the property developers should be bailed out of their problems either. If you sign up for a contract with your eyes open, it’s not right that you should be bailed out – no matter who you are.

Referring to banks being bailed out and using that as a precedence for bailing out home owners, as advocated by Mr. Doorley, is an extremely dangerous suggestion and hints that we proceed down the road of two wrongs making a right when it comes to the dire financial affairs that we’re in at the moment.

I would hazard a guess that many of those who entered into fixed rate mortgages in the past number of years did so on the basis that such mortgages provided a discount on repayments for the first couple of years. If it were not for this discount, those mortgages that should really have been unaffordable were made affordable.

Many of us will be familiar with the bankers speil of “well, you can’t really afford mortgage x, but if you get the fixed rate with a discount for the first couple of years, when things get better, you’ll be able to switch to something more affordable”.

This is essentially some evidence of what we’re told got the country into the position it’s in now – irresponsible lending. Just because it’s irresponsible in favour of home owners rather than developers doesn’t make it any irresponsible.

But really, such an approach was a gamble on things getting better, which obviously we’re finding that they’re not going to for some time to come. None of us who weren’t lucky enough to bet on Mon Mome at 100/1 in the recent Grand National got our losing bets back, so why should people who bet on what the banks told them when taking out a mortgage get such special treatment? Just because they were irresponsible enough to gamble with bigger stakes?

Definitely not!


Prize Bonds – Are they worth it?

I was inspired to write this article following some recent publicity regarding the large increase in money invested in Prize Bonds towards the end of 2008. This article from Tina Leonard broaches the subject in the Irish Independent, but doesn’t really answer her own question.

The answer to the question really depends on why you’re saving and what you’re hoping to get from your Prize Bond investment. As the bonds pay no guaranteed return, then they’re not worth it if you’re trying to make some cash.

If you just have some money to set aside, and you want a little risk free gambling, then you could invest in Prize Bonds. The people behind the prize bonds say that you have a 4/1 chance of winning something in any one year – but that could be a prize as small as €75. So, if you’re putting large amounts of money into Prize Bonds, those odds and those potentially small prizes wouldn’t be worth it.

However, I do have some money in Prize Bonds, and have had for years. I probably haven’t made anything close to a decent interest rate of return on my investment, but that’s not my reason for investing.

I invest a small amount of money in prize bonds every month via direct debit because it’s a “locked away” form of saving – it’s money that I’ve put away that’s hard to get at and cash in.

So, if you need to make a return on your money, prize bonds aren’t worth it. But if you’re saving with some other purpose in mind, then as long as you don’t have too much money in there, it can’t do any harm.

On a more topical point, given recent deflationary months, holding money in prize bonds where there’s no guaranteed return isn’t as bad as during inflationary periods. At the moment, technically, putting your money away means it’s worth more because of deflation (you’d have bigger spending power) than during inflationary times where your spending power is less because of rising prices.


Getting around paying the Ryanair credit card surcharge?

There’s an e-mail doing the rounds at the moment with some advice as to how you might be able to get around the Ryanair credit card surcharge fee which is normally €5 per passenger per flight – €10 return. This is what I received earlier this week:

Just a tip for those of you who use Ryanair often. The airline charges 10 euro per person when booking flights by credit/debit card . There is a way around it though.

If you buy Ryanair vouchers on the website (very easy process) and then use the vouchers to buy your flights, there’s no extra charges for using your card.

When you buy the vouchers – You get the code immediately and then you just use that to pay for your flights therefore dodging the extra charges for use of debit/credit card.

You’ll have read previously that we’re not big fans of vouchers here at ValueIreland.com, so we checked this out a bit more.

This tip was mentioned on the UK MoneySavingsExpert forum before Christmas last year with no negative comments.

However, during 2008 there were a number of bad reports about consumer problems trying to redeem Ryanair vouchers – Pricewatch and Irish Independent – but that seemed mainly to do with the fact that it cost €1.75 per minute to call a number to actually redeem your vouchers. This is no longer now the case as you can redeem your vouchers online as part of the normal booking process.

So far so good then, until you read this account of problems in January of this year amongst readers of AskAboutMoney.com when trying to redeem vouchers.

So, some positives and some negatives. If you think it’ll be worth your while availing of this loophole, the you should at least finally check out the Terms and Conditions associated with the Ryanair vouchers – available here.

And after that, just remember, “buyer beware”.


Value for Money – Ann Fitzgerald of the National Consumer Agency?

This article from Shane Phelan in the Irish Independent told us how the Chief Executive of the National Consumer Agency, Ms. Ann Fitzgerald, received a performance bonus of nearly €25,000 for her 2007 performance. That’s €25,000 over and above her near €187,000 salary.

Let’s just remind ourselves of the performance of the National Consumer Agency in 2007. As I highlighted back in November, the NCA received 2250 complaints from consumers that were specifically related to suspected breaches in legislation – there were 70,000 calls in total.

And what was the prosecution rate for these 2250 complaints – a mind numbing 1%. That’s 19 prosecutions out of 2250 consumer complaints.

Definitely getting value for money out of our NCA Chief Executive there.


Why this country will continue to struggle for a while more

This article was in the Irish Independent last week. It details how a Dell employee who will soon lose his job is about to lose his wedding reception deposit paid to the Castletroy Park Hotel because they’re closing down. This article from last weeks Sunday Times has a similar story related to Kinnitty Castle – it details a warning from the National Consumer Agency that couples planning on getting married could risk losing their deposits if hotels close down before the reception is held.

In the same way as we’ve warned against gift vouchers, savings clubs, Christmas Clubs and lay aways, giving deposits to businesses can be a risky proposition these days. In all these situations, you’re giving a business you’re money without actually getting something in return – at least for a while anyway. And in each of these situations, as an unsecured creditor, you’re likely to be the last person to get your money back – if at all.

However, that’s not the reason for my post. This statement at the end of the article is:

I’m working in Dell and still have a wedding to pay for.

This is from the main character of the story who confirmed that he was due to lose his job next January. The average wedding in Ireland costs upwards on €40,000. And the maximum payout, I understand, from Dell will be 1 year of salary. Around the same amount maybe?

Why the hell would you go ahead with paying for a wedding when you’re unlikely to have a job? I realise it’s what many couples would like, but if you’re future is uncertain, and you’re living somewhere that’s taking a huge hit on job losses recently, maybe there should be some second thoughts about spending the money?

But that’s not been the Irish way for the past number of years. We don’t care where the money comes from (ours or the banks) as long as we can spend it on exactly what we want, whenever we want.

This statement shows that that attitude isn’t changing all that quickly despite everything that’s happening at the moment.


Does CAI mean “can’t agree internally” or “confused and incoherent”?

The Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI), which we found out in Mondays Pricewatch is in terminal decline now seems to not even be able to co-ordinate their pithy soundbites for the media. You’d think that €60,000+ in government grants from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment could at least have funded a couple of mobile phones between them.

I mentioned earlier today that the Tánaiste, Mary Coughlan, had mentioned the possibility of bringing back price controls on Sunday.

First up from the CAI spokespeople was Dermott Jewell, the Chief Executive, quoted in this article from yesterdays Irish Independent, who said:

Price control was the last thing consumers needed, especially in a recession. “Once that happens competition goes out the window,” he said. “When that happens all prices find the one level at whatever is the highest possible price.”

Then, later on in the evening, on The Last Word with Matt Cooper on TodayFM, Michael Kilcoyne, the vice-chairman of the Association had the absolute complete opposite to say:

Well, I think that there is merit in the suggestion and it certainly should be examined. It’s an issue that I have raised on a number of occasions in the past. There is no justification for example for why some product should be up to 30% more expensive in the Republic of Ireland than it is in Northern Ireland. It quite simply is greed and a rip off.
Well, price controls would work, for example, where there’s a maximum price imposed on something. For example, it seems to me to make great sense that when you transfer the rate in sterling to euro and maybe allow a margin for fluctuations that it shouldn’t be any more than a difference of 2 or 3% rather than in some cases up to 30 or 40%.
What has happened is there are huge prices, that we all see evidence of great rip offs. There should be in some cases be a maximum price. There is no doubt about that. While the Tánaiste in the past has refused to consider that, I think that it’s one of the things that has to be considered.

So, one for and one against amongst the jokers at the Consumers Association of Ireland. Just as well the government isn’t trying to save money anywhere at the moment!!!


What a pile of ‘bolics

Symbolic gestures that is!

My post last week, When the going gets tough, the junior ministers start walking, was a bit of a rant against politicians and the pointless proposals to reduce the numbers of junior ministers “in the national interest” in the “current economic climate”.

It seems, following last Saturdays editorial coverage of the story, that not only do our politicians take the Irish people for complete idiots, but it seems that the opinion writers of the Irish Times and Irish Independent think we’re dumb enough to believe that such gestures would actually make us think that the politicians were doing something positive.

The Irish Independent thinks that the whole thing is “A cause for cheers not jeers” while the Irish Times told us that “Cutting Ministers of State would be important symbolic gesture“.

‘Bolics is right!

Lets be clear about this, as I said last week and repeated by Junior Minister for Labour Affairs, Billy Kelleher, (who believes he should keep his job, and salary, and staff, and perks and privileges) – “I really do think we are getting side-tracked from the real issues.”

Show us that this government can make the right and hard decisions in the countries interests (and not just the banks and developers) and we’ll appreciate the gestures, and then we can come back to getting rid of junior ministers and unvouched expenses and all the rest.


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