OUR 3,000 th POST
Back in Dublin after a 6-month gap - and there are striking and visible signs of turn-around to accompany the departure of the Troika.
Yes, after 3 years of their stern bail-out regime, the hated Troika have almost packed their bags. "The Troika has done more damage to Ireland than Britain ever did in 800 years," said David Begg, head of the Irish Confederation of Trade Unions. Well there you go, mate: but in a show of bravado the Irish have decided not to have a stand-by credit facility when the bail-out comes to an end a few days before Christmas.
And just hours after all this was announced, the Irish government felt able to call a halt to the big asset sale that was one of the planks of the recovery programme. The supply business of state gas company Bord Gais had been on the block: but they only received low-ball bids - notably from Centrica, always in the market for fire-sale opportunities - and have decided not to bother.
The feeling is very much of a people less crushed than they have been for quite a while. And there are plenty of visible indications of a turn-around. More traffic on the Dublin streets (though not yet back to the permanent gridlock of the manic Celtic Tiger years); Boris-type bike-racks being installed everywhere, and digital indicator-boards at bus stops. In a short walk through a scruffy area just south of the river I encountered two brand-new, well-patronised gyms, and a very up-market new kitchen showroom.
And yes, of course, the property market has turned. Ireland famously saw one of the more dramatic European bubbles expand and burst: for several years property price small-talk replaced the horses as the main topic of conversation - both on the way up and, bitterly, on the precipitous way down. The number of high-profile bankruptcies and criminal prosecutions that followed in its wake was impressive, day after day in all the papers.
Now, glancing at the property pages over breakfast I see an unremarkable modern 5-bedroom house (southside) at EUR 2.75 million. And EUR 835 k asked for a 3-bed terrace, - "even if it is on the northside" as the blurb endearingly admits.
It's not all over yet. The non-sale of Bord Gais, ditto Aer Lingus and state-owned forestry properties leaves them with a funding gap of several billion. And in a feisty festive move, employees of the state-owned electricity company ESB are threatening to have the Christmas lights off across the country in a strike over the funding of their pension plan.
And then there was the narrow failure to beat the All Blacks ten days ago, which has everyone down in the mouth. But hey, that was a glorious and spirited effort. Probably a metaphor, too. Fair play to the lads - hope they remember who their friends were.