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27 May 2010

Ireland; financial meltdown.

By; Latif Yahia

As my adopted homeland (that would be Ireland, and I have adopted it, it as yet has to adopt me) braces itself against the latest round of closures and redundancies, I’m taking a minute or two to look back at the good times and remind everyone that I was the harbinger of doom. Yes, it’s true that I did not say this publicly, but I did say it to several of my friends who in 2006-2007 looked at me and said “Yeah, right!”

Back then I knew Ireland would go into meltdown and said so, I think it was a heady mix of finding out that our properties were now like our personal banks and the banks treating us like we had our own personal banks that lulled us into a false sense of ‘Bill Gates-ness’, well that and the fact that we were all enjoying it so much and were encouraged to.

The Celtic tiger was roaring and we roared along with him in our BMWs, three holidays a year, new extension on the house and maybe even a bit of cosmetic surgery, because if your going to have a Bill Gates lifestyle, well, you have to look the part don’t you? We didn’t quite manage the private jet, but if we had been given just another year we might have worked our way to a two-seater helicopter to park on the front lawn.

So, with so much happiness and dreams being fulfilled why was I the harbinger of doom? Well, I have been around a while, I have seen life from the streets (I was homeless on the streets of Dublin for 21 days in 2000) to the dizzying heights of the super-rich, I have what you might call ‘A bigger picture viewer’.

Ireland’s boom was built on construction and foreign investment but we failed to keep ourselves competitive in the labour market and lost sight of our historical and cultural strengths. The hospitality industry was all but handed over to the immigrant population, I have no problems with immigrants I, as you all know am an Immigrant to Ireland. Suddenly, the Irish decided that there were certain sectors that they were too ‘posh?’ to work in, farming was another area that took a blow, imported meat was of course cheaper and had that all alluring ‘Imported’ tag. Let me tell you, I have eaten meat all over the world and I have never tasted beef and lamb as good as the Irish produce. So why, oh why, just because ye all got a few euros in your pockets did you give up on what was already the best the world had to offer in favour of something inferior to your own product because it had an ‘imported’ = ‘exotic therefore better’ sticker on it?

Latif Yahia and EX Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern

Our house if famous among family and friends for our ‘roast beef dinner’ and I am proud to say that our loved ones travel on average for two hours just to sit down with us and a big piece of homegrown beef, I don’t think that a piece flown in from 2,000 miles away would have the same flavour somehow do you?

I rest my case.

Buy Irish, it tastes better, it’s better for your country and community and soon enough the ash cloud will make sure it’s the only produce you can afford, or get for that matter.

But what really killed the Irish Economy? America.

No really, it did.

Sometime in the height of our happiness, a certain Minister (you know who you are) decided that it would be a “f**king terrific idea” to take all the extra cash that we had and invest it in America. Ireland invested billions, on the presumption that the dollar would never crash or we would at least have enough warning to pull out as much as possible. WRONG! Before the crash I had spoken with a few “high level” politicians that I know and told them of my fears, I was told that I was ‘Crazy’ and that “America owns half the world, it’s not going to crash”.

The dollar did indeed crash and took more than half of our investment with it, and because Ireland models it’s banking and business structure on the American model more than others what was happening with American housing started happening here too. Banks started going bust, mortgage lenders were up to their necks in it, people of a certain age that had paid off their mortgages, now found that their ‘personal banks’ were bankrupt! What has happened, has forced much of our youth to emigrate once again, but this time it is not just their families that they are leaving behind, this time they are leaving behind massive debt, debts that have in some cases been left to their aging parents, people who were once secure are now in very precarious situations having ‘guaranteed’ mortgages for their offspring, only to find that they no longer can pay and it now rests on the parents shoulders, people who in their 50’s and 60’s should be looking forward to their retirement are now looking at ways of increasing their incomes to make the repayments.

And don’t even get me started on NAMA.

Let us not be fooled, if Ireland goes the same way as Greece, which is a possibility, Europe will not bail us out. They have already said it and we have no reason to believe that they ‘were just fooling around’.

From my perspective; and of course you are all free to disagree if you wish. Ireland just has the name of being European but is actually a wannabe state of America, Ireland takes what it wants from Europe but when America says jump Ireland says “how high? And would you like ketchup with that?” I could give you examples ‘Shannon” being the prime, but today I am not writing for a political debate but an economic one, even though the two are linked to the core. It has been said that ‘you get the government that you deserve’ people, are we all really that stupid? Ireland needs new representation and I don’t just mean a change from Fianna Fail to Fianna Gael! I mean new blood, new ideas and new faces, this is a very different country to the one I encountered in 1997, the Irish people I met on the streets were kind, happy and helpful and that was before they had one hundred euros in their back pockets and room for a pony.

Understand this, America does not have ‘friends’ when things go bad in the American economy they have no qualms about pulling out of external locations to maintain profits. It is business, big business and already we have heard that American companies have left Ireland and set up in Poland or Romania, because the labour is cheaper. We gave them the ten years tax free incentives and built them state of the art premises, but the ten years is up and it is ‘more profitable’ to relocate than to remain.

I can only hope, that Ireland will rise like a phoenix from the ashes, we should now look at our talents and attributes. We have a fertile and beautiful land, an educated and skilled population.

We can be self sufficient if the government would do what is right as opposed to what is easy. I give you the gas field offshore as example, if Ireland had developed the gas field as opposed to selling the rights we could have secured our future financially and been more self reliant for our energy needs.

A great asset in these times. If I was to project further, maybe this financial crisis could have been lessened by the independence that having our own extra income would have afforded us.

Let’s look at what we have and work with it, not against it, every week I see what the people at the farmers market produce, I know that I am surrounded by intelligent and talented friends and family, Ireland has changed let’s take new ideas and talents brought to Ireland by Immigrants and make use of them. If Ireland is to get through this and emerge stronger and happier then we have to stop laying blame and start thinking about making this the country we can all be proud of no matter what our background. I look forward to the day that I see someone who represents me as an Immigrant in the government, the Gardai or Civil service, then, I will know that Ireland loves me as much as I love it. We the Immigrants are not the problem but we can be part of the solution.

I was once told by a politician that I would never be granted citizenship in Ireland because a small contingent believed that I may set up my own political party, I don’t believe that the fear is that I would set up the party, I believe the fear is that people might just listen to me.

Would it be such a bad thing? Well, that’s for you to decide. Whether or not I would set up a political party is a moot point as I am not a citizen, but I guarantee you if I was an Irish citizen I would do my utmost to bring business to this country and to make sure that that business utilized the existing resources and unique talents that Ireland has to offer. But, I think Brian cowan is just going to have to do it without me.