THE FACT OF THE MATTER
I’m in my local when he spots me and there’s no escape. It’s Yer Man at the bar, he who has an opinion on all and sundry. “I’ll get that,” he says as the barman places the blonde in the black skirt in front of me.
“So, it’s a wet weekend with herself in Courtown in the caravan,” he quips. “Benidorm is off the skedoolie. I mean, mother of God, putting people in pens at Dublin Airport. Off on your horror-days. DAA-de-da me foot.”
I take a sip and nod.
“Ireland is in a state of chassis, and now you can’t even get away from it. Airport crisis, passport crisis, housing crisis, health crisis, refugee crisis, fuel crisis, prices crisis, mental health crisis, Nord Iron crisis. I could go on…”
Please don’t, I say to myself, gulping down a good part of my pint.
“Monkeypox, how are ya,” he chides.
“Ah, remember the Great Recession? Some don’t. They were chiselers at the time. It was 14 years ago. Well, guess what? That’s where we’re at again — or heading towards. Heat or eat.”
I say: “You mean, after the 2008 collapse, a new phenomenon took off in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland — two-for-one offers, meal vouchers, coupons, and supermarket deals.”
Yer Man at the bar: “Exactly, me auld flower. What people are doing again — signing up for loyalty schemes and bulk-buying bargains. I have it on good authority that 53% of us are actively seeking out supermarket promotions, 41% are collecting coupons and bulk buying, and 30% have signed up for loyalty schemes.”
I gather he is referring to the survey from Permanent TSB.
“You’re right,” I say. “We are all feeling the squeeze from inflation, from the supermarket and the petrol pump to rising bills for electricity and heating. Indeed, household budgets — especially among lower-to-middle income earners — are taking a hit as consumer prices are running at a 40-year high of more than 8%.
“That said, inflation has been proving a very different story for a fortunate few in the economy: big Irish corporates in sectors like food manufacturing, energy to mining. All of these are benefiting from soaring but volatile commodity prices on global markets and passing on higher supply-chain costs to customers with price increases, thereby protecting their margins.”
He looks at me, agog, as if I have just spouted chapter and verse of an ERSI report.
Then he says: “Oxfam has found that companies in the sectors you, eh, allude to, are posting record-high profits around the world, even as wages barely budge and workers wrangle with inflation and the impact of the Covet [sic] pandemic.
“Your twist,” he says as his drains his pint.
“And, get this, in Ireland, the combined annual profits at the five biggest energy utilities doubled to €560m in a year, while profits at the five largest Irish food companies increased by €174m, according to Oxfam. Chassis is right. A them and us world.”
Where does he find this stuff, I muse as I nod at the barman for two more pints.
“And here’s another thing,” says Yer Man at the bar. “How come there are 150,000 people claiming the dole and at the same time there are around 40,000 vacant jobs in pubs and restaurants? I ask, simply because yer Restaurants Association has been banging its head about this for some time. And the pubs, too, cheesed off that people would rather take the dole than work in their pubs. Am I right there Dermo’?
The barman just smiles, faintly.
“They’re, God love ‘em, ‘terribly upset’, the so-called hospitality industry and the prices they’re charging post-pandemic. I’d be afraid to tell ya what Cabra Castle is costing me. Sure, I could buy the place for that. But herself is insisting. Wants to ravage me for the weekend.”
The fresh pints settle.
“Housing crisis?” he says, giving me dagger looks. “Drive from here across Cavan and Monaghan and see all those ghost estates. Brand new vacant houses lying idle since the crash. But, no, everybody wants to live near the airport so they can make a run for it.
“Health? I’m waiting three years now for a job on the big toe. And baggage handlers? Who’d blame them, when they’re better off on welfare?”
And, then, he’s gone. In a flash.
I take a deep sigh and say: “Dermot, give me a large small one. I badly need it.”