I read a lot of news articles, blogs and email newsletters relating to the economy and investing. Recently, Ireland has been mentioned more and more often. The general opinion outside of Ireland seems to be that we’re balancing on the edge of a cliff, and looking more likely to fall off than regain our balance.
Everyone has heard about the banking system collapse in Iceland, followed by protests and riots, the demise of the country’s currency and eventually the dissolution of its government. You’d think Ireland must be in a better position than this – after all, we’ve yet to even have the public services go on strike! But, as it turns out, Iceland’s estimated 2008 current account deficit is $3.25 billion; Ireland’s is over $8.6 billion (information taken from the CIA Rank Order – Current account balance). Out of a total of 188 countries ranked, Ireland comes in in 167th place.
So far in 2009 we’ve seen Anglo Irish Bank nationalised, followed by a spate of controversy over concealed director’s loans and loans to investors from Anglo Irish used to purchase shares of Anglo Irish. Whatever about the controversy, this piles another huge amount of debt onto the Irish current account, pushing our deficit even further. Following this, we’ve seen downgrades of Irish bank debt (eg. Irish Life & Permanent), further recapitalisation of Bank of Ireland and AIB and a letter from the former chairman of Nationwide Building Society saying the institution cannot survive without Government support.
On top of this, the European Commission has criticised the Government’s recovery plan, calling it too optimistic and saying it lacks clarity. The commission is recommending that Ireland face excessive deficit procedures, which amounts to a kind of peer pressure imposed by the rest of the EU on Ireland to sort out its balooning deficit. The two largest economies in the EU, France and Germany, believe they may need to bail out some of the smaller more “cash-strapped” members (one of those being Ireland).
What got us here, I believe, can not just be blamed on the worldwide credit bubble which built up after the dot-com crash. I believe blame lies also with a loose fiscal policy by the ECB coupled with a greedy Government that did nothing to subdue a rampant housing market. As well as this, the money the Government made from allowing this boom to continue was wasted (eg. Electronic Voting Machines, among other half-baked badly researched plans), and now when we need it, we don’t have it.
In the last few days I saw another article about Bank of Ireland offering low rates for the first year for first time buyers. Though not specifically stated in this article, I believe this decision was influenced by the agreement on the €7 billion bailout agreed with the Government. What happens after the first year, when the interest rate “would increase by a minimum of 75 basis points”? What happens over the next few years as inflation really takes hold, and we see interest rates above 5 and 6 percent? It looks to me like we’re just setting up the next round of foreclosures. After all, in America they called these “Alt-A Mortgages”. You get reeled in by the attractive rate for the first year or two, then get hit with much higher payments when the interest rates reset. We’d be better off leaving the market to decide a more appropriate price for our houses than trying to sustain a level of pricing above fair value by attracting people into the market. Anyone considering buying a new house should feel confident that they’ve paid a fair price for what they got and ignore what it was worth at the peak of the market. Just because you got something for half the price it used to be doesn’t mean you got a good deal!
I also believe that the bank rescues are a bad deal for taxpayers. Our Government has already shown that it can’t manage money well, by wasting billions of euro over the last 10 years. What makes them think they can run a profitable bank? And, of course, if they can’t (that should be when they can’t), it’s the taxpayer who has to support it. The banks should be let fail, and the viable parts sold off to pay off some of the bondholders. The shareholders and bondholders knew, or should have known, the risk they were taking in buying the shares and bonds. They should have to realise the loss from their bad investment decision, not be supported by taxpayers.
As a last point on this, I think the Government’s method of trying to recoup some money by imposing a pension levy on public service workers is unfair. The public service in Ireland, by and large, is badly run. The proper levels of accountability are not present, allowing people to get a “job-for-life” in the public sector, and do very little work. I believe if there was proper accountability, from the level of minister down to desk-jockey, we’d have a better run and cheaper public service. I do believe that the public service pension is a huge bonus (I heard figures quoted to say a private sector employee would pay 25% of their pay for a similar pension plan) and should either be taxed or removed, but the way the Government is implementing this now is wrong. They’d be better off to reduce numbers and improve productivity in the public sector. The pension levy can then be included in future employment contracts, and can be made sustainable through the contributions of those who will be receiving it.
This rant has been building for a while – apologies for the length of this post! If you have any comments on it, email them to me. I’ll update the post with any comments I receive.
…or at least according to Microsoft’s latest patch count!
I read this article, titled “Microsoft: Vista Least-Flawed OS” this morning. Microsoft counted the number of patches required to a variety of different operating systems, and claim that, because Vista required the least number of patches in its first year, it must be more secure than everything else out there.
This, of course, completely ignores the criticality and exploitability of the vulnerabilities in question, as pointed out by Rich Mogul in the above article.
Also, Microsoft have always been in the habit of counting every single bug that shows up in the GNU/Linux distros they’re using for comparison. This is pointless, as the distros contain thousands of packages, some of which are core requirements (like the kernel, shells, core utils etc.) and the rest are optional extras (eg. OpenOffice.org, XOrg etc.).
I use Debian Linux on my desktop, my laptop and a few servers. I use Debian Stable on the servers, and the number of security updates to these servers is quite low and infrequent. As well as this, in the recent past I can only recall one instance where an update required downtime to complete. I installed server specific packages, omitting a GUI and GUI applications for the servers, since they’re not required. On my desktop and laptop, I use the Gnome desktop environment, but KDE is also available as an option. I generally install OpenOffice.org as the office suite, but again, there are other packages provided to choose from for this. Basically, what I’m trying to illustrate is that Linux distros provide much more choice than Windows does, and include packages that Windows doesn’t (eg. office suite). Microsoft try to hold this against the distros by counting bugs identified in every single package, and not taking into account the number of affected users.
These security analyses that Microsoft do aren’t comparing like with like, and shouldn’t be considered as anything more than marketing fluff.
If you have a Hotmail account for email, then you’re probably not receiving some legitimate email that’s being sent to you. This is because Microsoft think they know better than you what email you should be receiving.
I ran into this problem recently. I had emailed a friend at his Hotmail address, and heard nothing back. I thought about it a few times, but just figured he hadn’t the time, or had nothing to say or whatever. Except my fiancee told me that email she was sending to someone at a Hotmail address wasn’t getting through either.
I started looking it up online, but couldn’t find any conclusive proof. So I set up a Hotmail account to test it, and confirmed that legitimate email sent to Hotmail addresses from jmadden.eu doesn’t get delivered. The Hotmail servers accept the mail for delivery, but then dump it. Neither the sender nor the intended recipient get any notification that the mail has been dumped.
Looking online a bit deeper, and talking to a friend who works for an Irish ISP, there’s some mutterings of SPF possibly helping the situation. I set up an SPF record for jmadden.eu yesterday, and so far, tests have still failed. I’m waiting for DNS caches and TTLs to time out before confirming whether this has affected delivery.
The only time email gets through is when it’s an immediate reply to an email which originated from Hotmail. I’m not sure if there’s a timeout on this or anything (since the email I sent to my friend seems to have gone missing, and was a reply to an email from Hotmail).
For further reading, check out the Hotmail Friendly Fire article on The Register written earlier this year about this same problem.
The message to Hotmail users is to switch to a provider that won’t drop your legitimate email, and still has a good anti-spam defense (eg. GMail). To everyone else, don’t sign up to Hotmail for primary email. And finally, to mail admins, test that mail from your domain is actually delivered to Hotmail.
Update 1: I continued testing this. The SPF records have made no difference. I tested them with this SPF Query Tool and they passed. Still, mail to Hotmail is dumped.
Item number 4, “Authenticate your outbound e-mail: Publish Sender Policy Framework (SPF) records”, on the Hotmail technical standards webpage says :
We encourage you to e-mail Microsoft upon posting your SPF record to the DNS. This will help ensure your record is automatically included in our SIDF cache. Send an e-mail with your domain name in the body of the message (for example, mydomain.com) to email@example.com. If you have multiple domain names, please list each domain on a separate line in the body of the message.
I did this after setting up the SPF records, but it hasn’t made any difference.
I also looked into replying to Hotmail mail. It seems to keep a record of the message id and the from address (ie. the Hotmail address sending the message), so that when a reply comes in, the to address and message id (in the In-Reply-To header) are checked and if it’s a reply, the message is delivered. This can be fooled, by taking a valid message id from a previous message and putting it into an In-Reply-To header in the mail. This only works when delivering to the person who sent the email you’re using the message id from though – in which case it’d be easier just to reply!
Update 2: I think I’ve managed to find my way through Hotmail’s ridiculous spam filter . What I had to do was update Bind9 to a version greater than 9.4, to support SPF RR records. Before this, I had created my SPF records in TXT records. After this, I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org again, with my domain name in the body and subject of the email. After about 24 hours, I sent another test email, and low and behold it got through.
The first one I sent got marked as junk, and put into my Junk folder in Hotmail. I sent another couple after this, with a bit more content, and they got through to the Inbox (though, I reckon this could, in part, be due to me marking my previous email as safe to read in the Junk folder).
So, basically, it looks like you need SPF records, in an SPF resource record (TXT RR won’t do), and have those picked up by Hotmail to get email through to Hotmail recipients.
I still recommend people don’t use Hotmail – I still have no faith that my emails will get through, and anyone with a Hotmail account should know that legitimate mail to them probably has been, and will be dumped.
Aer Lingus, Ireland’s recently privatised national airline, has decided to drop a route between Shannon airport in the southwest of Ireland and Heathrow airport in London. It argues that a route between Belfast airport, in the northeast of the island in Northern Ireland, and London Heathrow would be more profitable.
As a private company, it is now answerable to its shareholders, and no longer to the Irish government (excepting that the Irish government is a shareholder). As a resident of Limerick, I’m sure the removal of a Shannon – Heathrow route will affect tourism and business in the area. However, this leaves an opening for another airline to fill this profitable route.
The latest twist in this tale is that Aer Lingus pilots are going to strike for two days next week. They’re unhappy that Aer Lingus will be hiring staff under different terms and conditions in Northern Ireland as those under which they hire pilots in the Republic of Ireland. There was mention also on the news this evening that Aer Lingus want pilots that they currently employ to re-apply for their jobs when Aer Lingus move to Belfast.
Whatever case the unions think they have, I do not think they have any right to force their employer to use the same employment conditions across country boundries.
Lately, when the trade unions have made it into news reports, it looks more like they’re trying to prove they’re worth the subscription fees than actually fighting any just fight. The case here is the same. The pilots’ trade union has no jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, but they’re trying to force Aer Lingus to use the terms and conditions agreed for the pilots Aer Lingus hired in the Republic of Ireland for the pilots they plan to hire in Northern Ireland. And, to do this, they’re upsetting the travel plans of 50,000 people due to travel with Aer Lingus next Wednesday and Thursday.
Basically, I understand the requirement for trade unions under unfair employment regimes. However, these employees are being treated and paid well. The unions have become too powerful, and are simply wielding strike threats to force the hand of employers to do what they want. Often times this is looking for large pay increases or reduced working hours (or both, like the nurses!). Now they’re trying to force employers to deal with staff in other countries under their terms and conditions.
It’s gone too far. In my opinion, trade unions in Ireland aren’t worth the money. Take your subscription fees, save for a while and take a holiday or something! Just don’t allow these institutions to wield this power for no good reason.
The count is in, the seats are filled, and all that’s left is for the government to be formed. The official tally at the end was
- Fianna Fáil 78 seats
- Fine Gael 51 seats
- Labour 20 seats
- Progressive Democrats 2 seats
- Green Party 6 seats
- Sinn Féin 4 seats
- Independents 5 seats
So, once again, it looks like the majority of the country have turned to Fianna Fáil for government, though why I cannot fathom. What remains to be seen in the short term is who they will go into government with, and over their next five years in power, how they will deal with the increasing problems in the country, and the economic slow down which has started.
What is heartening though is that nearly half the country voted against the outgoing government and voted for the alliance of Fine Gael and Labour. If nothing else, it’s a positive indication for the next election, if they can hold that momentum.
The major questions I see for Ireland going forward are initially the health system and infrastructure, and longer term how to increase the knowledge base in the country and attract and fill high worth jobs.
The health system is currently under a lot of pressure. Ireland has seen a massive amount of immigration over the last number of years, and this has increased demand for hospital beds and for A&E services. Neither the nurses nor the consultants are happy with their lot, and both have undergone industrial action in the last couple of months. They aren’t happy with their work conditions or with facilities. The Progressive Democrats, whose previous leader, Mary Harney, was the Minister for Health, want to apply a quick fix and allow private hospitals to be set up on public land, co-located with public hospitals. They claim this will quickly free up 1,000 beds in public hospitals, and will essentially be the same situation as we have now, where a certain percentage of beds in public hospitals are given to private patients. However, this doesn’t take into account staffing of both hospitals side by side, and the increased distinction between those who can afford health care and those who rely on the public system. This division is already there, but private co-located hospitals would certainly increase the visibility of it, and I’d hazard a guess that working in the private hospitals would probably have better conditions and pay than the public ones, eventually leading to a more Americanised system where the wealthy get the best care and the underpriviledged fight for the scraps left over.
The infrastructure in the country is slowly improving, but is still (in my opinion) very Dublin focussed. Even the new motorways being built at the moment are between Dublin and somewhere else (eg. Galway – Dublin, Limerick – Dublin and Cork – Dublin). What we need is increased development of the infrastructure around the other cities, ports and airports in the country to entice a better spread of industry across the country. What would result from this is a slowdown, and possibly a reversal of the overpopulation of the Dublin area, and all the problems it has brought with it.
What also needs to be dealt with is the provision of local services in the areas where large housing estates have cropped up over the past number of years, but where services weren’t required alongside them. So, schools, recreational facilities and planning for retail outlets all needs to be looked at.
Lastly, since Ireland has become an increasingly expensive place to do business, the government needs to work on upskilling a large proportion of the workforce in order to attract the high worth jobs which our “knowledge based” economy will require to keep going. This means increased funding for FÁS and other such organisations, incentives to employees and employers to upskill themselves and their staff, increased funding for research in universities and companies and a concerted effort to attract research and development jobs into Ireland.
So, it remains to be seen what parties will make up our next government, but at least in five years time, we can look back on this post and decide if the government that was formed managed to keep the country going forward, or if we’re in the same state again!
I just read this article titled “Call for improved infrastructure for Dublin”. In general, I would agree that the infrastructure across the enitre country does need improvement and extending.
But, in the article are the following two paragraphs
The chamber says there is an anti-Dublin bias in Government funding.
It says, because it provides half of all national output, the greater Dublin area should get half of the country’s capital investment under the National Development Plan.
This quote is attributed to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.
In recent years Dublin has gotten both the Luas and the Port Tunnel. It has the only two commuter light-rail services in the country (the Dart and the Luas), and plans are underway to install a metro service also. It has the most extensive commuter bus network in the country, it is the primary railway hub, has the central bus station and has hundreds of kilometers of motorway leading into, and around, the city.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country has had to put up with substandard national roads, under-equipped and not very punctual commuter bus services and pathetic commuter rail services. Yet, there is an “anti-Dublin bias” in the Government.
If there was as much investment in the infrastructure of the rest of the country, then Dublin wouldn’t need “half the country’s capital investment” because businesses would have other choices on where to locate. By focussing infrastructure investment on Dublin, you are only increasing the scale of the problem. The better Dublin’s infrastructure becomes, then the more likely businesses are to locate in the area rather than elsewhere in the country. This causes the knock-on effect of requiring yet greater infrastructure to cope with the increased traffic. And so the cycle continues, to the detriment of the rest of the country.
Obviously, Dublin’s infrastructure isn’t perfect – in fact, it’s far from it. It will require investment and updating. However, if the Government put more emphasis on relocating, and attracting, businesses to other areas of the country, it would take some of the strain off the Dublin infrastructure. This would allow a gradual upgrading of the infrastructure around Dublin to meet its requirements while increasing jobs and productivity elsewhere in the country. This would then have a knock-on effect of improving the infrastructure around other cities in Ireland, and eventually lead to a somewhat decent country-wide infrastructure for commuter, pleasure and business travel.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a flying pig to catch for breakfast!
Another bank holiday weekend, and the latest figure I heard (from this morning) was eight people killed on Irish roads over the three days. Five of those killed were in Donegal.
I personally think that the Irish government and media put too much emphasis on slowing drivers down, and not enough on the horrendous state of the roads in Ireland. Once you leave any main road, themselves often not in great condition, you’re into a world of blind bends, bone-shaking pot-holes, sloping bumpy roads, and overgrown ditches. And, lest we focus too much on the driver, these roads are even worse for cyclists and pedestrians. Paths are unheard of along these roads, let alone cycle lanes or anything else.
I was taught to drive at a speed that allows me to stop within the distance I can see ahead. In general, rural routes in Ireland have a maximum speed limit of 80km / hour. On a relatively straight stretch of road, doing 80km/hr, you can get thrown from side to side by dips in the road, you’ll have to swerve to avoid pot-holes, and on a lot of the roads, you could have to drive into the ditch to pass another car going in the opposite direction.
I will not defend dangerous driving, but I think too much blame for the accidents on our roads is being put on the drivers. You can argue that there are a lot more cars on Irish roads than, say, twenty years ago, which would obviously increase the occurance of accidents. But, this also means a lot more tax income for the government to improve the infrastructure in the country, particularly on the rural routes where, it seems, most of the fatal accidents are occuring. Instead of being used to improve the country, however, this money is being used to buy elections with promises of decreased taxes.
I firmly believe that people don’t mind spending money if they’re getting value for what they spend. This goes equally for taxes. Why not ensure that tax income is spent efficiently to improve the country for everyone, instead of putting a little more money in the pockets of those who can afford it. Sure, that extra bit of money will be eaten up in car repairs anyway!
Every time this type of thing comes up, someone or some group jump up to defend students. So, first let me clarify. I know that most students are generally good, decent honest people. However, it seems recently that more and more bad eggs have been getting into the basket.
As one of the generally good students, you won’t be exposed to, or possibly even aware of, the actions of the bad students. This can lead to genuine arguments about students being good, hard working etc.etc. However, when you see it from the other side (ie. living in an area heavily populated by students, but not being one yourself), you quickly realise why students get a bad name.
I experienced this personally, and also still have friends living in student areas who are still experiencing these problems. In one case recently, a friends car had the driver’s side wing mirror kicked off one night. The area he lives in is heavily used as a shortcut by students coming back from a local night club.
I’ve seen apartments which were, quite literally, wrecked by students after arriving home drunk. And, I don’t mean wrecked in the just dirty sense – I mean wrecked in the furniture broken sense.
The latest I’ve heard from a friend living in student accomodation is that furniture is now being thrown from balconies, boxes of glasses are being dropped down stairwells from several stories high to smash in the main foyer and, the old favourite, apartments getting completely trashed. Worse than this though, is that the students have no respect for authority any more, and are getting away with doing this a lot of the time. During this week (which is rag week in UL), the police have been out to the campus village this person lives in every night.
UL security staff don’t inspire confidence or respect either. For the most part, they are unwilling or unable to deal with difficult situations, such as rowdy and possibly violent drunken students. This job then falls to others, who have less exposure, experience and training to deal with. In my experience in UL, some security staff were helpful and useful, but others were, and still are, utterly useless. One example would be security not leaving their security hut while on duty to deal with situations like parties in the villages. For the most part, they are meant as a deterant, but this is no longer working.
I would personally like to see criminal charges being brought against students who are caught committing criminal acts, such as wrecking apartments. In the case where the culprits can’t be found, then those who rent the apartment should have to cover the full cost of the damage, as well as being promptly evicted from the property. The reasons, in my opinion, behind what I see as the worsening attitude in students are
- Lack of respect for money
- Getting away with causing damage with little or no recourse
Firstly, students don’t know the value of money, because everything is provided for them. This is particularly true, for the most part, in campus accomodation. The prices for this accomodation are higher than the rental accomodation in the surrounding areas, but it does provide extras such as refuse collection, bills, internet connection and maintainance all included in the price. It is also perceived by parents to be a better place for students to get study done. Because of this, the accomodation is paid for by the students’ parents, and so the students themselves have no sense of the value of the accomodation they’re staying in.
In the second case above, the students are not getting caught for causing the damage (see paragraph on UL security staff above), and so are not being sanctioned for it. In the case of damage to an apartment in campus accomodation, the students living in the apartment are responsible for covering the cost of the damage. Often times, this results in the students losing their deposits, which were paid by their parents. So, without getting evicted (if it happened in your apartment, whether you did it or not) or expelled (if you were caught causing property damage) the student really doesn’t suffer any punishment. This just sets a precedent saying authorities are light on students which just encourages those who would commit these acts to commit them.
I was one of the “students are generally good” category when I was in college, and I would still like to believe that, for the most part, students are decent people. But, this is slowly being eroded by the general lack of respect and bad attitude being shown by a growing number of students. If these are Ireland’s future, then I can see our future being drunken bar brawls, rising crime rates and an even more overloaded justice system.
It’s quiet, so I decided I’d post my Eircom rant!
My now fiancee and I moved into our new house in June 2006. This was in a new estate being built not far from Limerick city. I ordered a phone line from Eircom in July 2006, primarily to get broadband into the house. Having heard nothing, after about a month, I started ringing the customer care line to find out what was going on.
The first thing I was told was that it was a problem with the developer on site. So, I rang the foreman on the site who told me there was a dispute with Eircom over the trunking for the lines, but that it was pretty much resolved and the work should be starting shortly. So, I took that as meaning probably another month’s wait for the phone line.
Again, after no contact from Eircom, I got back onto the customer care line. This was probably around mid September 2006, and the installation date was given as December. I continued on to talk to one of the customer care agents, who could tell me nothing further. I continuously checked, and at one point was told by a customer care agent that the date in December sounded ‘made up’, and that it would probably be installed before the end of November. This didn’t happen.
On another occasion, the customer care representative patched me through to the Limerick engineer’s phone, which wasn’t answered. I left a message and a phone number, but received no response. At this point, I lodged a complaint with Eircom via their online service. I got a few automated responses from this, and one human response asking for my address. I sent back my address, my Eircom account number and my Eircom order number. I heard nothing further on this complaint.
With the complaint to Eircom going nowhere, I submitted a complaint to ComReg, the Irish communications regulator. This was about as useful as submitting another complaint to Eircom, as all ComReg did was forward my complaint to Eircom. Naturally, this was never followed up by either Eircom or ComReg.
The line wasn’t installed before the date in December either. I finally got on to a helpful customer care representative though, who went to the trouble of finding out what the problem was, and when the line would be installed. I got another installation date of the end of January 2007 – nearly 7 full months after the order was placed.
Again, approaching this date I had heard nothing from Eircom, and I was far from expectant of having the line installed by this deadline. However, the media had picked up on Eircom’s customer dissatisfaction around the country. Louise (my fiancee) heard complaints being read out on Ray D’Arcy’s show on Today FM. Not thinking too much about it, she sent in an email roughly outlining our issues up to then. She received a reply from Today FM the following day saying that both Eircom and the Irish Independent newspaper were looking for contact details for everyone who contacted the radio show, and could they pass on our details. We consented to this, and shortly afterwards Louise got another email, this time from Prime Time, a current affairs television show. They requested an interview to air that night with a piece they were planning on running about Eircom’s customer dissatisfaction. Louise was a bit shy, so I said I’d do the interview! This was aired live that night on national tv (now archived online).
I got a phone call the following morning, the day my phone line was due to be installed, from Eircom’s Head of Communications. He looked into the issues which caused the delay in my getting service, and surprise surprise – I got a phone line installed that day! Within a week it was broadband enabled, and within a fortnight I had my modem and was online from home.
I still have an outstanding issue, which is that on Eircom’s Code of Practice they state :
Installation – under the terms of our customer service guarantee if we fail to install your line within 10 working days of our agreeing to do so you can claim a credit of two months free rental.
I received a bill for the installation and 2 months rental. I’ve questioned this twice with the Head of Communications and both times he said he’d get back to me with an answer when someone else got back to him with it. I still haven’t heard back from him on it. I did hear from Eircom though that this credit is usually applied on the third bill. This was from a customer care representative, but I don’t think he was following up on my query. I think it was a followup call after the phone line installation.
Despite the horrendous customer care, the Eircom service has been fine. It’s only been installed a couple of weeks, but I have no complaints. However, Louise’s workplace are having terrible problems with their broadband connection from Eircom (it’s down more often than not), and her experience dealing with them on it is very similar to our own when we were looking for a phone line. So, while an appearance on national tv has solved my issues, it doesn’t seem to have pushed Eircom into dealing with the underlying problem – their terrible customer care.