Thursday, 31 May 2012

Bankers' ramp

From  Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey, a superb book on the Fitzwilliam family of coal magnates; here, she writes about the coming of the Great Depression to Britain; it is starkly similar to what Ireland now faces:

ON 11 JULY [1931], Clive Wigram, George V's Private Secretary... wrote a stark letter to the King: "We are sitting on the top of a volcano, and the curious thing is that the Press and the City have not really understood the critical situation..."
The eruption came exactly one month later. On 11 August there was a dramatic run on the pound as foreign investors scrambled to remove their money from the City of London. Ramsay MacDonald's government was already grappling with a deficit in the forthcoming autumn budget; the flight from sterling threw it into crisis...
Hitherto, it had been assumed that the country lived by trade, exporting manufactured goods and raw materials which paid for the foodstuffs and other imports that came in. In fact, Britain's trading account had not shown a credit balance since 1822. It was the 'invisibles' - shipping and banking - that had always put the balance right. These were the very things that had been hit by the global Depression... in the same period the volume of Britain's exports had almost halved...
As the country's gold and currency reserves continued to drain away, the government collapsed...
Once again labour - the impoverished working class in Britain's old industries... was being asked to pay the cost of capital's mistakes.
Historians would condemn the crisis of the summer of 1931 as the 'bankers' ramp'. The flight from sterling on 11 August was not precipitated by the budget deficit - the millions being paid out in unemployment benefits - but by the speculative activities of London's bankers.
In the years after the Great War, striving to restore the City's position as the financial centre of the world, the bankers had borrowed money from French depositors at 2 per cent and lent it to Germany at 8 or 10 per cent. In the summer of 1931, a period of political tension between France and Germany, the French, objecting to the fact that their money was being used to help Germany, withdrew it from London. Simultaneously, a financial collapse in Central Europe caused the German banks to renege on their international loans. The London bankers were caught out, facing short-term foreign liabilities estimated at £400 million. It was the Bank of England's decision to allow them to draw on the gold reserves that had caused sterling to run down.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Dogs on buses

When did it happen that you couldn't bring dogs on Dublin buses? Apparently it's "at the discretion of the driver", but drivers are resolutely-anti-pooch, except for a grudging okay to guide dogs.
It certainly wasn't the case in the 1920s, when my mother and her brother and their dog Bran toured the city on trams - unwillingly in the case of Barbara and Don. Bran was an Irish terrier with a mind of his own, and if he saw the No 19 tram passing by, he would set off, the two small children towed behind him, and get on and go upstairs using the stairs at the back. (Dogs were always allowed, but had to be brought upstairs, the same as cigarettes, in those days.) Upstairs, then, often meant in the open air, and Bran didn't mind if it was raining.
When Bran felt like getting off, off he'd get, the two children gripping the lead behind him as he went down the second set of stairs at the front of the tram.
On the way home, Bran might take a vagary to have a walk in the Green Fields, beautiful drumlins now long lost, which were accessed by way of the Dark Lane, a winding, lovely lane overarched by the branches of the trees that lined it, now subsumed into Sundrive Road.
In the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s there were always dogs upstairs, on their way to their walk in the park. When did this end? Perhaps when conductors were ousted and Dublin's buses became driver-only? Or when cars started to be a thing everyone had?
You can blame the no-dogs rule for a certain amount of climate change; how many car journeys would be saved (and how much income added to the public transport purse) if dogs could take their place on the top deck again?

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Gini mac

How I imagined it would be: Enda Kenny, as leader of the new government, would stand up in the Dáil on his first day and announce: "We're all in this together. We have to solve it together. For the duration of the crisis, all government and public service and semi-state salaries are being cut to €50,000. No expenses, no increments, no massive pensions, no double pensions, no free bars or canteens."
He would say: "We were a poor country until the 1970s, then we began to climb out of it. The reasons were education - we opened free, State-supported education for all to the Leaving Cert, and then university - and a new egalitarianism that allowed talented people to follow their gift, and brought investment flying into the country.
"So now we're going to follow the same plan. We will keep and use our assets, foster our talent, grow our industries. Like Japan, we will become a country of SMEs, exporting to our neighbours; like Iceland, we will send the gambling banks off with a flea in their ear."
I expected him to fight to take back the fishing grounds that horrifyingly stupid EU policies have ruined - we have some of the best marine expertise in the world in Ireland, who could save the species now threatened with extinction. I expected Enda to keep our forests as a national heritage, to foster our arts, to put the best brains in the country to work in our enterprise management.
Ireland's Gini Coefficient, Corrado Gini's measure of statistical dispersion, which measures equality of income, and which is a reliable indicator of the future success of a society, has been getting worse. A low Gini figure means an equal society, and also indicates a society where people have equal chances, resulting in better healthcare, lower prison numbers, higher educational attainment, more overall wealth.
Here's a graph of how countries have been doing since World War II (being at the bottom of the chart means you're more equal, being at the top of the chart means you're less equal; if the Gini ratio is 100, one person has all the wealth, if it's 1, everyone has the same amount):

In Europe-wide figures Ireland in 2009 had achieved a Gini Coefficient of 28.8, creditably below the EU average of 30.4. Just a year later it had soared to 33.2. Figures are not yet available for 2011 and 2012, but there is no doubt that inequality is getting worse.
Our unemployment figures are rising, poverty is increasing - even though the real effect of this is concealed by the haemorrhaging emigration that removes huge numbers from the register of unemployment and the need for state support. 
I voted the straight left ticket in the general election, or so I thought. I was ecstatic that Labour would be in government - they would stand up for the poor, I thought, they would foster equality. I was happy that Fine Gael would lead the government; I thought they were straight and decent, and would understand that an equal society, a just society, is best for all. 
Better get back to writing fiction now.

  Lucille Redmond's ebook of short stories, Love, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Friday, 25 May 2012


Money as the only value seems to be coming into its own. Every time it's suggested that terrified people in mortgage arrears should get help, some little fuck is going to start whinging "But what about me, I paid four hundred grand for this shoebox. I was thrifty. I didn't spend. Why should they be helped?"
Every time some new law or treaty or decision is mooted, every time people look at a work of art, it's "But how much will it cost?"
Kids, it's not all about money. There are other values that are more valuable, more vital, more immortal, more decent.
Money's important, but it's not the thing we should be looking to to decide our moral decisions.
Which thought comes to me from a selfish place; I've been wandering around the gaff distributing flyers for an ebook of short stories I've published on Amazon and iTunes.
To my surprise, Dublin's more elegant areas are giving up the old Irish custom of having boards in shops and cafes where local theatrical groups and plumbers and dog-walkers could bestrew their flyers and cards and leaflets. Probably doesn't bring in any business.
Even the supermarkets, where you used to be able to snaffle up an ad for guitar lessons or Swedish massage as you stood in the queue, have banished the leaflet board to some lonely pillar.
One comfort: if you do find a cafe with flyers and leaflets, it's going to be an arty place where other writers and painters hang out, gazing thoughtfully at their notebooks as they sickle off an Americano and a slice of lemon drizzle cake.
Hope is not lost, though, even in the non-arts-cafe life; there are still places that will kindly take a flyer and post it up; my heartfelt thanks to Laser DVDs and Books Upstairs and Grogan's and Accent cafe, and the many other places who have stuck a flyer up to lure those eager to read surreal stories that will haunt your dreams and nightmares through the years.

Commemorating 1916

The time is closing in until 2016, when every TD and councillor will be shouldering onto platforms to claim allegiance to the flag. Will we then have a proud tourist trail where schools and visiting foreigners and Dubliners and country folk can proudly walk the battlefield where the brave men and women of the Rising fought?
If we want to do it, we'd want to get on our bikes; there's only three-and-a-half years to turn the dereliction of the streets around the GPO (almost the last site remaining of the founding battle of the War of Independence) from a slum into a heritage.
Up to now, we have commemorated 1916 in two ways: by tiny military parades, and by religious ceremonies. I'm not that wild about either, personally - though I love our Army and their butty, determined marching style.
The annual ceremony in memory of the leaders is in Arbour Hill. Here, at a military Mass, you can hear a slight grinding noise from the back of the church as the sermons go on (in English for the last few years; by bishops; sometimes taking the view "Well, it wasn't really a good idea, but they were all good people", to paraphrase), and the choirs sing hymns. This is my grandfather, Thomas MacDonagh, and James Connolly turning in their graves - neither was a fan of any church.
Formerly this was followed by a slow march to the graves, led by the President and army and relatives of the leaders; this year, I'm told, the politicians eagerly rushed forward and the relatives waited politely and fell in at the back.
The relatives of the 16 dead line up behind a function-style rope. The Last Post is played, the President lays a wreath; formerly there was an army gun salute over the graves (after which all small boys and most small girls rushed forwards to pick up the spent cartridges), but this stopped in the 1960s. More priests are wheeled out from different denominations to do some more praying over the helpless dead.
It's a moving ceremony, though I could do without all the priests and the praying; the Army run it beautifully.
The main ceremony, revived in the last couple of years, is in front of the GPO. Here, where huge crowds line the streets, you may listen and hear the zeitgeist. Here, for instance, in the year when a Fianna Fail government of good old boys disastrously believed the lies of bankers and pledged our country's prosperity against payments to ethics-free gamblers, cold silence greeted each minister as he or she got out of the ministerial Merc and waddled over to the politicians' enclave, but when the President arrived there was a storm of cheering and clapping.
Here, with the relatives unwillingly roped off in a special section (after their bags being searched in case they might be smuggling in a revolution), the crowds listen as the Proclamation is read by a young Army officer at the front door of the GPO where PH Pearse read it in 1916, then erupt in cheering. The Army march by, their bands playing Step Together, to respectful and affectionate applause. There's a little fly-past. Again, the Last Post is played and the flag raised from half-mast; again, the President lays a wreath to the fallen. Amhrán na bhFíann is played, and the crowds roar into song, singing our national anthem.
And what of 2016? Will we do it like the French, whose elegant army uniforms include pleated skirts for the women soldiers, with the inner pleat red, so that there's a daring flash of scarlet at every step; whose dedication to their revolution is absolute, whose singing of the Marsellaise echoes with passion?
Or like the Americans, whose commemorations are a silent dance with every fold of the flag and every step of the Marines a choreographed semiotics of meaning?
If it were up to me, I'd have parades all over the country like St Patrick's Day in Dublin, a happy riot of inclusion, celebrating what we are and what we could be, with floats from Ireland and all over the world, dancing and drum majorettes and bands, and a joyous plan for the future.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Thursday, 24 May 2012

How to talk about a Budget

  I say their day of reckoning is at hand - David Lloyd George speaking at Limehouse, 30 July 1909, before he introduced a radical Budget

A few months ago a meeting was held not far from this hall in the heart of the City of London, demanding that the Government should launch into enormous expenditure on the Navy. That meeting ended up with a resolution promising that those who passed the resolution would give financial support to the Government in their undertaking. There have been two or three meetings held in the City of London since, attended by the same class of people but not ending up with a resolution promising to pay. On the contrary, we are spending the money, but they wont pay. What has happened since to alter their tone? Simply that we have sent in the bill. We started our four Dreadnoughts. They cost eight millions of money. We promised them four more. They cost another eight millions.

Somebody has got to pay; and then these gentlemen say: Perfectly true; somebody has got to pay but we would rather that somebody were somebody else. We started building; we wanted money to pay for the building; so we sent the hat round. We sent it round amongst the workmen and winders of Derbyshire and Yorkshire, the weavers of High Peak and the Scotsmen of Dumfries who, like all their countrymen, know the value of money. They all dropped in their coppers. We went round Belgravia; and there has been such a howl ever since that it has completely deafened us.

Taxes that will bring forth fruit

But they say 'It is not so much the Dreadnoughts we object to; it is Pensions'. If they objected to Pensions, why did they promise them? They won elections on the strength of their promises. It is true they never carried them out. Deception is always a pretty contemptible vice, but to deceive the poor is the meanest of all. But they say, 'When we promised Pensions, we meant Pensions at the expense of people for whom they were provided. We simply meant to bring in a Bill to compel workmen to contribute to their own Pensions'. If that is what they meant why did they not say so? The Budget, as your Chairman has already so well reminded you, is introduced not merely for the purpose of raising barren taxes, but taxes that are fertile, taxes that will bring forth fruit - the security of the country, which is paramount in the minds of all.

The provision for the aged and deserving poor - it was time it was done. It is rather a shame for a rich country like ours - probably the richest in the world, if not the richest the world has ever seen, that it should allow those who have toiled all their days to end in penury and possibly starvation. It is rather hard that an old workman should have to find his way to the gates of the tomb, bleeding and footsore, through the brambles and thorns of poverty. We cut a new path for him, an easier one, a pleasanter one, through fields of waving corn. We are raising money to pay for the new road, aye, and to widen it, so that 200,000 paupers shall be able to join in the march.

There are so many in the country blessed by Providence with great wealth, and if there are amongst them men who grudge out of their riches a fair contribution towards the less fortunate of their fellow-countrymen they are very shabby rich men. We propose to do more by means of the Budget. We are raising money to provide against the evils and the sufferings that follow from unemployment. We are raising money for the purpose of assisting our great friendly societies to provide for the sick and the widows and orphans. We are providing money to enable us to develop the resources of our own land. I do not believe any fair-minded man would challenge the justice and the fairness of the objects which we have in view in raising this money.

But there are some of them who say, 'The taxes themselves are unjust, unfair, unequal, oppressive notably so the land taxes'. They are engaged, not merely in the House of Commons, but outside the House of Commons, in assailing these taxes with a concentrated and sustained ferocity which will not allow even a comma to escape with its life. Now, are these taxes really so wicked? Let us examine them; because it is perfectly clear that the one part of the Budget that attracts all the hostility and animosity is that part which deals with the taxation of land. Well, now let us examine it. I do not want you to consider merely abstract principles. I want to invite your attention to a number of concrete cases; fair samples to show you how in these concrete illustrations our Budget proposals work. Now let us take them. Let us take first of all the tax on undeveloped land and on increment.

The fraud of the few and the folly of the many

Not far from here, not so many years ago, between the Lea and the Thames you had hundreds of acres of land which was not very useful even for agricultural purposes. In the main it was a sodden marsh. The commerce and the trade of London increased under Free Trade, the tonnage of your shipping went up by hundreds of thousands of tons and by millions; labour was attracted from all parts of the country to cope with all this trade and business which was done here.

What happened? There was no housing accommodation. This Port of London became overcrowded, and the population overflowed. That was the opportunity of the owners of the marsh. All that land became valuable building land, and land which used to be rented at £2 or £3 an acre has been selling within the last few years at £2,000 an acre, £3,000 an acre, £6,000 an acre, £8,000 an acre.

Who created that increment? Who made that golden swamp? Was it the landlord? Was it his energy? Was it his brains - a very bad look out for the place if it were - his forethought? It was purely the combined efforts of all the people engaged in the trade and commerce of the Port of London - trader, merchant, shipowner, dock labourer, workman, everybody except the landlord. Now, you follow that transaction. Land worth £2 or £3 an acre running up to thousands.

During the time it was ripening the landlord was paying his rates and taxes, not on £2 or £3 an acre. It was agricultural land, and because it was agricultural land a munificent Tory Government voted a sum of two millions to pay half the rates of those poor distressed landlords, and you and I had to pay taxes in order to enable those landlords to pay half their rates on agricultural land, while it was going up every year by hundreds of pounds through your efforts and the efforts of your neighbours. Well, now, that is coming to an end. On the walls of Mr Balfour's meeting last Friday were the words: 'We protect against fraud and folly. So do I. These things I am gong to tell you of have only been possible up to the present through the fraud of the few and the folly of the many'.

We mean to value all the land in the kingdom

Now, what is going to happen in the future? In future those landlords will have to contribute to the taxation of the country on the basis of the real value - only one halfpenny in the pound! Only a halfpenny! And that is what all the howling is about. But there is another little tax called the increment tax. For the future what will happen? We mean to value all the land in the kingdom. And here you can draw no distinction between agricultural land and other land, for the simple reason that East and West Ham was agricultural land a few years ago! And if land goes up in the future by hundreds and thousands an acre through the efforts of the community, the community will get 20 per cent. of that increment.

Ah! What a misfortune it is that there was not a Chancellor of the Exchequer who did this thirty years ago. Only thirty years ago, and we should now be enjoying an abundant revenue from this source.

Now I have given you West Ham. Let me give you a few more cases. Take cases like Golders Green and other cases of similar kind where the value of land has gone up in the course, perhaps, of a couple of years through a new tramway or a new railway being opened. Golders Green is a case in point. A few years ago there was a plot of land there which was sold at £160. Last year I went and opened a Tube railway there.

What was the result? This year that very piece of land has been sold for £2,100 - £160 before the railway was opened - before I was there - £2,100 now. I am entitled to 20 per cent. Now there are many cases where landlords take advantage of the exigencies of commerce and of industry - take advantage of the needs of municipalities and even of national needs and of the monopoly which they have got in land in a particular neighbourhood in order to demand extortionate prices.

Take the very well known case of the Duke of Northumberland when a County Council wanted to buy a small plot of land as a site for a school to train the children, who in due course would become the men labouring on his property. The rent was quite an insignificant thing.

His contribution to the rates - I forget - I think it was on the basis of 30s. an acre. What did he demand for it for a school? £900 an acre. All we say is this - Mr Buxton and I say - if it is worth £900, let him pay taxes on £900.

There are several of these cases that I want to give to you. Take the town of Bootle, a town created very much in the same way as these towns in the East of London - purely by the commerce of Liverpool. In 1879, the rates of Bootle were £9,000 a year - the ground rents were £10,000 - so that the landlord was receiving more from the industry of the community than all the rates derived by the municipality for the benefit of the town.

In 1898 the rates had gone up to £94,000 a year - for improving the place, constructing roads, laying out parks and extending lighting and opening up the place. But the ground landlord was receiving in ground rents £100,000. It is time that he should pay for this value.

A case was given me from Richmond which is very interesting. The Town Council of Richmond recently built some workmen's cottages under a housing scheme. The land appeared on the rate-book as of the value of £4, and being agricultural the landlord paid only half the rates, and you and I paid the rest for him. It is situated on the extreme edge of the borough, therefore not very accessible, and the Town Council naturally thought they would get it cheap.

But they did not know their landlord. They had to pay £2,000 an acre for it. The result is that instead of having a good housing scheme with plenty of gardens and open space, plenty of breathing space, plenty of room for the workmen at the end of their days, forty cottages had to be crowded on two acres. Now if the land had been valued at its true value, the landlord would have been at any rate contributing his fair share of the public revenue, and it is just conceivable that he might have been driven to sell at a more reasonable price.

I do not want to weary you with these cases. But I could give you many. I am a member of a Welsh County Council, and landlords even in Wales are not more reasonable. The police committee the other day wanted a site for a police station. Well, you might have imagined that if a landlord sold land cheaply for anything it would have been for a police station. The housing of the working classes that is a different matter. But a police station means security for property.

Not at all. The total population of Carnarvonshire is not as much - I am not sure it is as great - as the population of Limehouse alone. It is a scattered area; no great crowded populations there. And yet they demanded for a piece of land which was contributing 2s. a year to the rates, £2,500 an acre! All we say is, If their land is as valuable as all that, let it have the same value in the assessment book as it seems to possess in the auction-room. There are no end of these cases.

There was case from Greenock the other day. The Admiralty wanted a torpedo range. Here was an opportunity for patriotism! These are the men who want an efficient Navy to protect our shores, and the Admiralty state that one element in efficiency is straight shooting, and say: We want a range for practice for torpedoes on the coast of Scotland. There was a piece of land there. It was rated at something like £11 10s. a year. They went to the landlord - they had to pay for it - well now, just you guess, whilst I am finding it out. It had a rating value of £11 2s., and it was sold to the nation for £27,225.

And these are the gentlemen who accuse us of robbery and spoliation! Now all we say is this: In future you must pay one halfpenny in the pound on the real value of your land.

In addition to that, if the value goes up - not owing to your efforts - if you spend money on improving it we will give you credit for it - but if it goes up owing to the industry and the energy of the people living in that locality, one-fifth of that increment shall in future be taken as a toll by the State. They say: Why should you tax this increment on landlords and not on other classes of the community? They say: You are taxing the landlord because the value of his property is going up through the growth of population, through the increased prosperity for the community. Does not the value of a doctor's business go up in the same way?

The landlord is a gentleman who does not earn his wealth

Ah, fancy their comparing themselves for a moment! What is the landlord's increment? Who is the landlord? The landlord is a gentleman - I have not a word to say about him in his personal capacity - the landlord is a gentleman who does not earn his wealth. He does not even take the trouble to receive his wealth. He has a host of agents and clerks to receive it for him. He does not even take the trouble to spend his wealth. He has a host of people around him to do the actual spending for him. He never sees it until he comes to enjoy it. His sole function, his chief pride, is stately consumption of wealth produced by others.

What about the doctor's income? How does the doctor earn his income? The doctor is a man who visits our homes when they are darkened with the shadow of death: who, by his skill, his trained courage, his genius, wrings hope out of the grip of despair, wins life out of the fangs of the Great Destroyer. All blessings upon him and his divine art of healing that mends bruised bodies and anxious hearts. To compare the reward which he gets for that labour with the wealth which pours into the pockets of the landlord purely owing to the possession of his monopoly is a piece - if they will forgive me for saying so - of insolence which no intelligent man would tolerate. Now that is the halfpenny tax on unearned increment.

This system is not business, it is blackmail

Now I come to the reversion tax. What is the reversion tax? You have got a system in the country which is not tolerated in any other country of the world, except, I believe, Turkey; the system whereby landlords take advantage of the fact that they have got complete control over the land to let it for a term of years, spend money upon it in building, in developing it. You improve the building, and year by year the value passes into the pockets of the landlord, and at the end of sixty, seventy, eighty or ninety years the whole of it passes away to the pockets of a man who never spent a penny upon it.

In Scotland they have a system of nine hundred and ninety-nine years lease. The Scotsmen have a very shrewd idea that at the end of nine hundred and ninety-nine years there will probably be a better land system in existence, and they are prepared to take their chance of the millennium coming round by that time. But in this country we have sixty years leases.

I know districts - quarry districts in Wales where a little bit of barren rock where you could not feed a goat, where the landlord could not get a shilling an acre for agricultural rent, is let to quarrymen for the purpose of building houses, where 30s or £2 a house is charged for ground rent. The quarryman builds his house. He goes to a building society to borrow money. He pays out of his hard-earned weekly wage contributions to the building society for ten, twenty or thirty years. By the time he becomes an old man he has cleared off the mortgage, and more than half the value of the house has passed into the pockets of the landlord.

You have got cases in London here. There is the famous Gorringe case. In that case advantage was taken of the fact that a man has built up a great business, and they say: Here you are, you have built up a great business, you cannot take it away; you cannot move to other premises because your trade and goodwill are here; your lease is coming to an end, and we decline to renew it except on the most oppressive terms.

The Gorringe case is a very famous case. It was the case of the Duke of Westminster. Oh, these dukes, how they harass us! Mr Gorringe had got a lease of the premises at a few hundred pounds a year ground rent. He built up a great business there. He was a very able business man, and when the end of the lease came he went to the Duke of Westminster, and he said: Will you renew my lease? I want to carry on my business here.

He said: Oh yes, I will; but I will do it on condition than the few hundreds a year you pay for ground rent shall in the future be £4,000 a year. In addition to that he had to pay a fine - a fine, mind you! - of £50,000, and he had to build up huge premises at enormous expense according to plans submitted to the Duke of Westminster. All I can say to this - if it is confiscation and robbery for us to say to that duke, being in need of money for public purposes, we will take 10 per cent. of all you have got, for that purpose, what would you call his taking nine-tenths from Mr Gorringe?

These are the cases we have got to deal with. Look at all this leasehold system. This system - it is the system I am attacking, not individuals - is not business, it is blackmail. I have no doubt some of you have taken the trouble to peruse some of these leases, and they are really worth reading, and I will guarantee that if you circulate copies of some of these building and mining leases at Tariff Reform meetings, and if you can get workmen at those meetings and the business men to read them, they will come away sadder but much wiser men. What are they?

Ground rent is a part of it - fines, fees; you are to make no alteration without somebody's consent. Who is that somebody? It is the agent of the landlord. A fee to him. You must submit the plans to the landlords architect and get his consent. There is a fee to him. There is a fee to the surveyor; and then, of course, you cannot keep the lawyer out - he always comes in. And a fee to him.

Well, that is the system, and the landlords come to us in the House of Commons and they say: If you go on taxing reversions we will grant no more leases? Is not that horrible? No more leases! No more kindly landlords with all their retinue of good fairies - agents, surveyors, lawyers - ready always to receive ground rents, fees, premiums, fines, reversions - no more, never again! They will not do it. We cannot persuade them. They wont have it. The landlord has threatened us that if we proceed with the Budget he will take his sack clean away from the hopper, and the grain which we are all grinding our best to fill his sack will go into our own. Oh, I cannot believe it.

There is a limit even to the wrath of outraged landlords. We must really appease them; we must offer up some sacrifice to them. Suppose we offer the House of Lords to them? Well, you seem rather to agree with that. I will make the suggestion to them.

I say their day of reckoning is at hand

Now, unless I am wearying you, I have just one other land tax, and that is a tax on royalties. The landlords are receiving eight millions a year by way of royalties.

What for? They never deposited the coal there. It was not they who planted these great granite rocks in Wales, who laid the foundations of the mountains.

Was it the landlord? And yet he, by some divine right, demands as his toll - for merely the right for men to risk their lives in hewing these rocks - eight millions a year. Take any coalfield. I went down to a coalfield the other day, and they pointed out to me many collieries there.

They said: 'You see that colliery there. The first man who went there spent a quarter of a million in sinking shafts, in driving mains and levels. He never got coal, and he lost his quarter of a million. The second man who came spent 100,000 - and he failed. The third man came along, and he got the coal'. What was the landlord doing in the meantime. The first man failed; but the landlord got his royalty, the landlord got his dead-rent - and a very good name for it. The second man failed, but the landlord got his royalty.

These capitalists put their money in, and I said: 'When the cash failed what did the landlord put in?' He simply put in the bailiffs. The capitalist risks, at any rate, the whole of his money; the engineer puts his brains in; the miner risks his life.

I was telling you I went down a coalmine the other day. We sank into a pit half a mile deep. We then walked underneath the mountain, and we did about three-quarters of a mile with rock and shale above us. The earth seemed to be straining - around us and above us - to crush us in.

You could see the pit-props bent and twisted and sundered until you saw their fibres split in resisting the pressure. Sometimes they give way, and then there is mutilation and death. Often a spark ignites, the whole pit is deluged in fire, and the breath of life is scorched out of hundreds of breasts by the consuming flame. In the very next colliery to the one I descended just a few years ago three hundred people lost their lives in that way.

And yet when the Prime Minister and I knock at the door of these great landlords, and say to them: 'Here, you know these poor fellows who have been digging up royalties at the risk of their lives, some of them are old, they have survived the perils of their trade, they are broken, they can earn no more. Won't you give them something towards keeping them out of the workhouse?' they scowl at us, and we say: 'Only a hapenny, just a copper'. They say: 'You thieves!' and they turn their dogs on to us, and you can hear their bark every morning. If this is an indication of the view taken by these great landlords of their responsibility to the people who at the risk of life create their wealth, then I say their day of reckoning is at hand.

The other day at the great Tory meeting held at the Cannon Street Hotel they had blazoned on the walls, 'We protest against the Budget in the name of democracy, liberty and justice'. Where does the democracy come in in this landed system? Where is the liberty in our leasehold system? Where is the seat of justice in all these transactions?

The ownership of land is not merely an enjoyment, it is a stewardship

I claim that the tax we impose on land is fair, is just and is moderate. They go on threatening that if we proceed, they will cut down their benefactions and discharge labour. What kind of labour? What is the labour they are going to choose for dismissal? Are they going to threaten to devastate rural England by feeding and dressing themselves? Are they going to reduce their gamekeepers? Ah, that would be sad! The agricultural labourer and the farmer might then have some part of the game which they fatten with their labour. But what would happen to you in the season? No week-end shooting with the Duke of Norfolk or anyone.

But that is not the kind of labour they are going to cut down. They are going to cut down productive labour - their builders and their gardeners - and they are going to ruin their property so that it shall not be taxed.

All I can say is this - the ownership of land is not merely an enjoyment, it is a stewardship. It has been reckoned as such in the past; and if they cease to discharge their functions, the security and defence of the country, looking after the broken in their villages and in their neighbourhoods then these functions which are part of the traditional duties attached to the ownership of land, and which have given to it its title - if they cease to discharge those functions, the time will come to reconsider the conditions under which the land is held in this country.

No country, however rich, can permanently afford to have quartered upon its revenue a class which declines to do the duty which it was called upon to perform since the beginning. And, therefore, it is one of the prime duties of statesmanship to investigate those conditions. But I do not believe it. They have threatened and menaced like that before. They have seen it is not to their interest to carry out these futile menaces. They are not protesting against paying their fair share of taxation of the land, and they are doing so by saying: 'You are burdening industry; you are putting burdens upon the people which they cannot bear'.

Ah! They are not thinking of themselves. Noble souls! It is not the great dukes they are feeling for, it is the market gardener, it is the builder; and it was, until recently, the smallholder. In every debate in the House of Commons they said: 'We are not worrying for ourselves. We can afford it without broad acres; but just think of the little man who has only got a few acres'. And we were so very impressed with this tearful appeal that at last we said: We will leave him out. And I almost expected to see Mr Pretyman jump over the table when I said it, fall on my neck and embrace me. Instead of that he stiffened up, his face wreathed with anger, and he said: 'The Budget is more unjust than ever'.

We are placing burdens on the broadest shoulders. Why should I put burdens on the people? I am one of the children of the people. I was brought up amongst them. I know their trials; and God forbid that I should add one grain of trouble to the anxieties which they bear with such patience and fortitude. When the Prime Minister did me the honour of inviting me to take charge of the National Exchequer at a time of great difficulty, I made up my mind, in framing the Budget which was in front of me, that at any rate no cupboard should be barer, no lot would be harder. By that test I challenge them to judge the Budget.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Moore Street protected - I hope

Sinn Féin had brought a motion on the houses in Moore Street that were the last stand of the GPO garrison, but the government parties weren't supporting it; they had their own, more anodyne-sounding motion, referring only to the houses from 14 to 17 Moore Street, which were designated a National Monument in 2007 (bad) but saying they were "fully protected" (good). The motion passed, 78 to 38, after a bunch of idealistic speeches and some acrimony over party loyalties.
Every single TD or minister who spoke was in fervent favour of saving the terrace of houses in Moore Street and the surrounding streets and lanes through which the GPO garrison, those gallant 300 charged under machine gun and artillery fire from British posts at Amiens Street, Capel Street and Moore Street, those streets where The O'Rahilly died, where the surrender that was, ironically, the beginning of the War of Independence was decided.
The TDs spoke of the tourism potential, of the urgent need to reject the values of greed and stupidity that were at the centre of Celtic Tiger Ireland. Some took the 'We all partied' line (wrong; most of the country lived quietly and worked, their greatest sin an annual holiday to Marbella - it was only the rich that 'partied', and they're still rich). Mick Wallace, with a brief ass-saving tribute to the need for development, talked vividly about how cities should respect and preserve their historic quarters.
For those of us who weren't used to Dáil procedure, some things were odd - the little bow, like an old Catholic genuflexion, given to the Ceann Chomhairle's chair by deputies as they came in or out - a bit queasily servile and non-egalitarian to me; the way that TDs and ministers chatted while others spoke; the way everyone flooded in for the vote - supposedly they've been listening to the debate wherever they were, yeah, right.
And it was really horrible the way that some people refused even to look at members of other parties while they were speaking. Reminds me, in a reverse kind of way, of Macauley's line Then none were for the party, and all were for the state...
Anyway. Sinn Féin were warning that this might mean that the planning permission for a massive plastic mall full of British high street chains would go ahead, and the houses and streets through which the men and women of 1916 fought will be obliterated. I hope they're wrong. I hope that this means that the Oireachtas is at last waking up to the fact that domesticating and owning these streets of history is vital, essential, if we are to walk on into a new, prosperous, ethical, decent Ireland.
Best moment of the night: when Pat Wallace broke out into a brief ad break for his Italian Quarter, saying how lovely it looked in this evening's beautiful weather.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Dáil debate on Moore Street

A Dáil debate this evening on the fate of the terrace of houses in Moore Street that was the site of the last stand of the GPO garrison in 1916 was the site of more skipping and sliding and sidestepping than anything since the Oireachtas championships at the mass Caip Chúl Áird dance.
The houses, and the streets and lanes around them, are a battlefield site that any capital city would give its eyeteeth for, but they are endangered by a plan for a giant shopping mall, planned to be built by the same developer that brought us Dundrum's shopping centre, and bringing in the same style of shops to compete with the surrounding shopping streets of Grafton Street, O'Connell Street, Henry Street, Talbot Street, Exchequer Street, Wicklow Street, etc.
Sinn Féin's motion was announced in a packed Dáil, which rapidly emptied as the members rushed to more important business (it was 7pm), leaving some 15 TDs sitting. The visitors' gallery, though was packed, with relatives of the 1916 leaders and those who care about Dublin city and history attending for this important debate.
The speakers were mostly thoughtful and sensible, though Eamon Ó Cuív surprisingly called for the GPO to be turned into a museum. Another TD started by rejecting the bloodshed of 1916; d'oh! When you go to Paris and look at the Place de la Concorde, where Marie Antoinette was topped, do you come home and start a revolution? When you go to the Imperial War Museum in London and attend the moving re-creation of the Blitz, does it inspire you to go and kill Germans? When you visit Washington and pay your respects at the wall of names, do you do it with any reflection on the mass murders America has been committed? When will our politicians realise that commemorating the dead of history is not the same as wanting to go out and repeat that history?
Not much of a politico, I don't know who the young TD was who made a wonderful and impassioned speech about the neglect of the city's north side, its Georgian heritage and its historic areas where the battles of 1916 and the War of Independence had been fought. (I'll amend this tomorrow, if I remember, when the Oireachtas report should be online and I'll have his name.) (It never was online; for some reason these after-hours debates aren't noted it seems [nota bene would-be revolutionaries] but his name is Patrick O'Donovan, and he's said to be the blue-eyed boy.)
But the highlight had to be a speech by a young TD, whose name I won't reveal out of solidarity as a fellow-eejit. She awoke the dozing House by a passionate description of the cottage in Mayo that has been sent to New York to become a museum commemorating the Famine.
The gallery slapped their knees and snorted with laughter, as a whisper ran around: "That's the solution - export the GPO Battlefield Trail to America - they'll respect it there!"
The vote is tomorrow. Fifty of the opposition TDs support it - astonishingly, Joe Higgins refused to support the preservation of this piece of working-class Dublin history - but the government parties are apparently afraid to save our country's history. We live in interesting times.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Ill Fares the Land

Disappointing. I seized on Tony Judt's Ill Fares the Land, reserving it in Dublin City Libraries' online catalogue after a quick 'look inside' on Amazon which showed a series of interesting charts.
At first it seemed scholarly, well-argued and promising. Then I came to the references to what Judt sneeringly calls "the Irish miracle", and discovered that his arguments are fuller of opinion than of knowledge (in the case of something I know a little about); it makes me distrust the rest of his book.
The so-called "economic miracle" of the "plucky little Celtic tiger" consisted of an unregulated, low-tax regime which predictably attracted inward investment and hot money. The inevitable shortfall in public income was compensated by subsidies from the much-maligned European Union, funded for the most part by the supposedly inept "old European" economies of Germany, France and the Netherlands. When Wall Street's party crashed, the Irish bubble burst along with it. It will not soon reflate
writes Judt with a braces-snapping moral triumph.
I spent the Celtic Tiger years interviewing small business owners ("small" in business terms meaning anything up to millions in turnover), and reviewing the books of the accompanying Irish writing boom, and Judt's picture was not familiar to me.
The IDA (Industrial Development Authority) scoured the world for multinationals from the 1960s on, selling Ireland as the gateway into the European market. It brought in a host of pharmaceutical and technology giants - Pfizer, Intel, and so on - and other firms, their trading partners, followed.
Ireland is an island, which brings its own disadvantages - if you site your manufacturing company in the Netherlands or France, you can use trucks and trains to send your goods around Europe; if you site it in Ireland you must use more expensive sea transport.
Because of this, and because Ireland was at that stage a poor country with enormous unemployment, a 12.5% corporate tax rate was agreed, to compensate for these disadvantages. (Not as exciting as it sounds: this is a single, transparent tax rate, whereas France, for instance, has a series of small, untransparent tax breaks for big business that conjoined make for a huge tax advantage).
Ireland was given funding from the EU (European Union), as other "peripheral" countries were; however, Ireland had given the EU a superb matchmaking present on joining the European Economic Community (EEC), which later morphed into the EU: free access to its 50-mile offshore fishing grounds, then some of the richest fishing in the world, which the EU went on to rape and destroy; this fishing is estimated to be worth €3bn a year to the EU.
The multinationals had other reasons for coming to Ireland - lack of earthquakes and plentiful fresh water, in the case of Intel, for instance. A main reason was the workforce: highly educated, English-speaking, and then (at a time when Ireland was far more egalitarian than now), with a courteous and friendly attitude, and a lack of class distinctions.
The IDA provided huge grant aid to the multinationals, paying them to site in Ireland and bring jobs with them.
In the years after the multinationals settled they brought jobs, especially a chance for technically qualified graduates to work in their own country for good wages. The government had already instituted universal free education to the Leaving Certificate (the examination taken at age 17 or 18, which was generally accepted as the entry criterion for university courses); now free university education to BSc or BA level was instituted. Families of children who would have left school at 14 a generation before were graduating, and as work became freely available, more and more were going on to take masters' and doctorates.
The multinationals started to encourage their most entrepreneurial graduates to hive off small firms that would trade with them, and the universities got graduates and undergraduates to form companies in conjunction with the multinationals.
As these companies became successful, Enterprise Ireland (the trade board that facilitates Irish exports, which has offices and startup units in Irish embassies around the world) boosted them into international trade.
A financial centre was founded, with the prediction that services industries such as financial trading could overcome Ireland's main disadvantage - being an island.
For the first time, Ireland's exports were going to Europe in greater numbers than to Britain, which had always been the country's main trading partner. Exports were rapidly catching up with imports.
I was interviewing entrepreneurs whose fathers and mothers had been milkmen and factory workers. My heart burst with pride for them.
The trouble started with greedy, vicious politicians from the Tammany Hall tradition of Irish gombeen politics, where a politician's job is not to legislate and take care of the country, but to provide favours (often illusory) for constituents. These swines rejoiced in the soaring price of homes - wages and house prices fuelling each other, and no one profiting but the greedy - and the overheating of the construction industry (45% of the economy by the time the crash came).
Ireland had joined the euro, and these dimwits claimed that central financial planning in Brussels (or in reality in Frankfurt) meant they could not step on the pipe and slow down the pointless growth in prices. Some of the politicians themselves were investing recklessly in property, borrowing money from the banks they should have been regulating. They did not choose, for instance, to make it illegal for rezoning of land from agricultural to residential to change the value of that land. Planners and councillors conjoined, in some cases, in a feast of corruption due to the profits offered by such rezonings. They did not choose to change the "stamp duty" - the tax paid on sale of a house. They stopped building State housing. A constitutional case removed rent protection, awarding a higher value to the rights of landlords than to those of the people renting from them.
There was little, if any, real planning. This was government by reaction, and legislation by precedent. No intelligence was applied to any possible future.
They knew there could be a crash, but comforted each other, and bamboozled their voters, by saying the worst possibility was a 20% fall in house prices and a slight contraction in industry.
Ireland was horribly exposed to the American crash when it came - because of our reliance on multinationals, which flooded away to eastern Europe and India and the Philippines and China and all the other countries that were what Ireland had been - poor, peripheral, ready for growth, rich in subsidies. They didn't rush to pay back the IDA subsidies that had supported them.
For most of the history of the Irish State - and long before the State's foundation - emigration had bled the country of its young. It immediately started again; first, the construction workers - skilled builders, electricians, plumbers, architects, engineers, surveyors, even archaeologists, taking the planes from the glossy new airport terminal they had just built in Dublin, fleeing to Australia and Canada.
The government panicked, and signed up to pay back not just Ireland's sovereign debts - the price of bonds issued by the country - but also the debts of the country's banks, banks that were interlinked with the reckless German and American banks that had funded billions in insane loans to insolvent borrowers. It was insane.
The emigration has continued. Unemployment in Ireland is supposedly around 14%; this does not take into account the fleeing graduates in their thousands, still leaving Ireland by every flight - the young, the intelligent; increasingly, now, also whole families; a flight of the middle classes not seen since the Famine of the 1840s-1850s. If these emigrants were included, Ireland's unemployment rate would top Spain's.
So, Judt's parachute-journalism nonsense about the "plucky little Celtic tiger" is facile and flat. What about the rest of the book? I'll never know. I got to the next chapter, and flung it aside.
In the next chapter, Judt talks about how "without knowing anything about OECD charts or unfavourable comparisons with other nations, many Americans are well aware that something is seriously amiss".
They do not live as well as they once did, he writes. Everyone would like their child to have improved life chances at birth: better education and better job prospects. They would prefer it if their wife or daughter had the same odds of surviving maternity as women in other advanced countries.
I stopped here. Women, it seems, are the possessions of these Americans. "Their wife or daughter".  The people doing the thinking are not women; women are a subsidiary class.
Judt, says the blurb, was educated in Cambridge and the École Supérieure in Paris, and has taught in Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley and New York University, where he is currently University Professor and director of the Remarque Institute, dedicated to the study of Europe, which he founded in 1955.
At this stage, 30 pages into his 237-page volume, I was deeply disappointed in a book I had wanted to read for its thesis - like that of The Spirit Level, Wilkinson and Pickett's study of outcomes in advanced nations - that inequality damaged societies. Perhaps Judt proves his thesis. But after reading those first few pages of lazy, opinionated thinking and flabby logic, the book is going back to the library, largely unread. Life is too short.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes