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UPC flyer2

I just got a flyer in the door today telling me that Chorus and NTL, the two main providers of cable TV in Ireland, are merging. No news there, however it’s how they are trying to market it that has me irked!

According to them this merger is “a new kind of choice”, and inside in the leaflet we are told that with this new arrangement we will have “greater choice”.

No we won’t. We will have less choice. If this renamed service (UPC) is dreadfully poor (and I’m not hopeful, believe you me) then we will have fewer alternatives to seek out. Between them they will hold a huge percentage of the overall market with around a million customers here in the Republic. The only choices we should care about are our options should UPC fail to deliver, or increase their prices on a whim.

The sheer brass neck of this lot. “Greater choice”. Tsk.

The new Irish Rail experience

Irish Rail recently purchased a whole set of super-duper railway carriages as part of a major government initiative to modernise our country’s rolling stock. You can book your train seats in advance, there is plenty of room for luggage and the journey itself is impressive by its relative silence.

One of the things that particularly interested me were the on-board toilets – automatic doors, push-button locking systems, triple action pee sprays for the loo-bowl, infrared systems for hand-washing, hot air blowers for drying. An almost totally hands-free waste management experience. The future has indeed arrived!

Except for one thing.

On my trip down from Dublin, the smell of cigarette smoke emanating from the little room was overpowering. The little room is being used as a smoking room by some of the lesser-evolved members of this society. And what do Irish Rail seem to be doing about it? Smoke alarms perhaps? Spot fines? Throwing the offenders out of the train at high speed? Garotting them on the emergency break cord? Naah. More than their job’s worth I would guess. After all, we are only talking about health and safety laws here..

In addition, what is it with the Irish male species that they feel obliged to bring on-board 12 packs of beer tins, and proceed to get pissed in front of their fellow travellers? Some of my fellow travellers were already stinking of drink before they boarded the train. If this was air-travel these people would never be allowed on in the first place.

I must be getting old, but it just seems that with all the changes in our country over the past few years, some old habits will take a long time to die out.

Irish Nursing Protest

Right, first off, let me state clearly that the nurses are legally entitled to do what they are doing. It’s a free country and protesting is their right under law. Let me also say that they obviously feel passionately about their cause, they obviously have strong grievances that needs to be resolved and they aught to be given a fair hearing. Their union leaders are determined, eloquent, focused on the issues and willing to make exceptions for serious cases, and the best of luck to them.

It’s not towards the the nurses particularly that I’m focusing my displeasure. It’s members of the public who are giving the nurses all their support without a thought that get on my goat. Oh the poor nurses! Such hard working people! They deserve a huge increase in their salary and a 35 hour working week and the big, bad government won’t give it to them. Those bloody politicians! Boo Government! Yay Nurses!

Let’s think about this for a minute, shall we?

Who exactly are the Government meant to work for?

Yes. They are meant to work for us.

And who pays the Government?

Got it in one. You. Me. The Irish taxpayers.

And what do we expect our Government to do with our money?

Yep. You got that one too. Spend it wisely.

And what happens if our Government gives in unconditionally to the demands of the nurses?

As certainly as day follows night, other public unions, e.g. the ASTI, will demand the same treatment. And all this at a time when inflation is going through the roof.

And is that spending OUR money wisely?

I think not.

Let’s think about his. Our health system stinks. For years we have had a situation where people wait for months and months for a diagnosis. For years we have had people waiting on trolleys in Accident and Emergency. For years we have had a dearth of hospital beds, sufficiently qualified consultants and generally a piss-poor service. And yet, for years, billions have been plugged into this ailing system. Why so much money for so little in return? Because, instead of the money going in to make permanent structural changes and improvements, it’s generally been going into the wrong places.

Now we can blame successive governments for this situation and we should, but the problem here has been government weakness, not strength, in trying to manage our money.

There is a process in place to resolve pay disputes and it’s called Benchmarking. Instead of supporting the public unions on the picket lines, the public should be sending the message to them loud and clear that they get involved in the the proper conflict management mechanisms, unless we are happy as a country to slide rapidly into current budget deficits and the curtailment of other important services just so as the public wage bill can be satisfied.

If the nurses want better pay and conditions, fine. However, we should be legitimately asking the question as taxpayers – what do we get as a result? Where is the quid pro quo? Because the money to pay them doesn’t ultimately from the government. It comes from our pay-packets. So, instead of booing the government, we should expect them to negotiate hard on our behalf.

So, if you are on a pension, or unemployed, or are on holidays over here from another part of the world then fire away – you may support the nurses to your heart’s content.

If you are paying taxes here in Ireland though, maybe a moment’s reflection is on the cards.

I hate writing letters. I hate the effort involved in buying stamps and envelopes (they are never around when I need them), finding out peoples addresses, folding, licking, affixing, finding a suitable post box and dropping off the letter. When I discovered email many years ago, my heart momentarily lept with joy that all this might become a thing of the past, only to gradually realise that letters have not yet gone the way of the camera film or the black and white telly. The lead-up to Christmas does my head in for that reason alone! (Bah, humbug).

It gets worse. In the town in Ireland where I live, the local post-office opens late, closes for an hour-and-a-half at lunchtime and closes early too. Long queues are de-rigeur, with the officials hiding behind a thick barrier of bullet-proof glass. You can’t buy stamps over the counter at any shop in the town, and there is no letter box on the outside of the post-office. If you want to deliver a letter you have to find a public letter box. If it’s a parcel you have to get it weighed in a post-office first unless you have the luxury of a franking machine on your premises. It’s a crap service and we put up with it because they have a monopoly in this country. Nothing much has changed in thirty years. It’s a third-world service in a first-world country.

Why oh why do we still need to affix stamps to our letters in this day and age? Why can’t the postmen and postwomen collect letters from our houses instead of us having to traipse all the way to the bloody post-office to send them?

Here’s what I would love to see from a modern postal service. You write a letter, pop it into an envelope, write on the address or just give a name and post-code. (For familiar addressees, maybe all you need to do is to write their name). You then put this into a mailbox outside your door – the same one as where the letters are delivered – and the postal service does the rest. They stamp each envelope with an electronic barcode and then debit an account that you have set up with the post-office previously. You have many different ways of paying, from a pay-as-you-go option to a flat fee, all paid via direct debit or online or even a good old fashioned cheque, a bit like how mobile phone accounts work. The letters and parcels are delivered efficiently and quickly, and you can do all this without the need for stamps or even opening your front door. Maybe for a small extra fee, they would drop some replacement envelopes into your mailbox every so often so you don’t even have to buy these either?

Is this rocket-science? I don’t think so. Could it be done without too much effort? I think it could. Do I think An Post will do anything like this in my lifetime? Ha! Don’t make me laugh.

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