Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Govt/EU funds hard to find for laid off Waterford Crystal workers

This comes as no surprise: the EU's much heralded relief for Waterford in the wake of the crystal factory closing down has not worked out the way the workers thought it would. The workers say that "nonsensical rules and regulations" have meant that the advertised €4m relief fund has not materialized.

Those who are best at playing political games and making their lives and work fit specific government guidelines will get money, but most regular people aren't like that. This red tape allows the costs of such golden promises to be kept way below the headline figures that appear at the time of an economic calamity, such as in Waterford or Limerick when Dell closed.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Anglo's building a Celtic Zombie economy

Until I read Ian Kehoe's report in yesterday's Sunday Business Post I was unaware of the great nationalization project that we're currently undertaking.

Thanks to the actions of everyone's favorite state-owned bank, Anglo-Irish, we are in the process of nationalizing all sorts of businesses. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a nationalized bank would think nothing of nationalizing other businesses, but somehow I'm shocked that this has been allowed.

Many of Anglo's corporate customers are unable to make their loan repayments so Anglo has been doing debt for equity swaps, which means that they're willing to write off loans in order to become owners in these businesses. They've already taken ownership of Arnotts, a number of hotels, golf clubs, service stations, etc. And, of course, there's the Quinn Group, which is the (sort of) sister black hole to Anglo.

Kehoe says that Anglo is well down the road with other businesses, which means that you & I will soon become full or part owners of the following: Calyx (ICT services), Champion Sports (footballs, Manchester United shirts, etc.) and more hotels and, I think, a chain of pharmacies.

All of this is really disturbing because it means that all these companies' employees are now only a small remove from civil service. Sure, they don't have permanent contracts, but you can bet your life that there are opposition TD's or prospective TD's only waiting to denounce any move to close these state-owned "assets" because of all the jobs at stake and what have you. All the political pressure will be to keep these dead businesses alive via artificial life support.

But, of course, keeping those companies alive artificially only threatens other competing businesses that might well survive the current calamity if the competition is thinned out. So, while we're bailing out Champion Sports maybe we're damaging Elvery's (or whomever).

It's one thing to keep Anglo alive - and I don't agree with that - but we must insist that Anglo stop using our money to breathe life into other dead or dying businesses. Or, as Brian Lucey puts it, "You have a zombie bank propping up zombie companies. This creates a zombie economy."

Zombie economy or (I'm sure it's soon to be known as) the "Celtic Zombie."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

NRA shows they know salt's not the only answer to snowy/icy roads

I should have waited to see more details. From what I read in today's Irish Independent, the NRA is actually thinking more about clearing snow and ice than yesterday's Evening Herald report implied.

The Independent says that businesses will be compelled to clear the sidewalks in front of their buildings and local groups will be encouraged to clear roads and footpaths themselves, with assistance regarding supplies etc.

Sounds pretty good.

Friday, August 13, 2010

We need a plan as well as salt for winter freeze

"Lesson learned" is the message from the National Roads Authority and they are buying 80,000 tonnes of salt for the coming winter. They want to be ready for the once every 40 years event.

I don't know. To me if that's the only lesson they learned then they've learned little. Salt is not the be all and end of all of winter road maintenance.

First of all, salt ruins the road surface. If all the authorities here are planning to do is dump tons of salt on snow-covered and/or icy roads we'll be left with little segments of roadway to connect our potholes come spring time. Salt really ruins the roads.

Sometimes you have to actually move the snow/ice off the road. And the sooner you do that after a snowfall the better. If the NRA and county councils had reacted quickly when the snow first fell, organized work crews to shovel the little bit of snow off the roads at key intersections and off hilly sections of the roads that would have gone a long way towards keeping these issues to a minimum in January.

They didn't do that, however, and simply relied on salt or "grit" (still not entirely sure what that is). Salt melts snow and ice, but it won't work through a fall of several inches of snow. All that will happen in that case is that salt will melt the snow to slush, which will refreeze at night as the traffic dies down and the temperature falls.

You have to move snow. You can melt the ice, but you have to move snow. And, notice above I said they should organize work crews. I'm not talking about full time employees of the county council, but why not ask for volunteers to clear the key roads in a neighborhood and employ temporary work crews to clear more important routes?

We don't have dozens of snow plows and we shouldn't. There would be no point in buying and housing such machines for a once every 40 years event. But, our planners authorities could have hundreds of snow shovels stored for such events. Our planners could have local civic groups prepared to organize the crews - voluntary and paid - to use those shovels to clear the roads.

There is much that should be done to prepare for that rare snow emergency here and we don't have to spend a fortune. Call on the people to contribute. Why is everyone so wary of invoking civic pride and voluntarism for rare events.