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Dublin: 17 °C Friday 31 October, 2014

Nick Leeson: On Mick Wallace and his ‘false economy’

The Wexford TD is symptomatic of the move from delayed gratification to credit consumerism which we are still struggling to shake off, writes Nick Leeson.

Nick Leeson

EURO 2012 HAS provided a useful distraction over the last couple of weeks. As the Irish football fans receive awards for being the best fans in Poland, the largest in number, the most approachable and certainly those most likely to have a laugh, they are all now going to have to confront the elephant in the campsite; life at home.

The Euros have thrown up some strange metaphors. From the beginning of the competition I was struck by the fact that all of the financially beleaguered European nations were present – Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and of course Ireland. Rather a strange coincidence considering the mess that each nation finds themselves in, further proof that the world of football exists on a different plane to the majority of us.

The Irish team themselves lacked direction, were pushed around and ultimately were unable to change in the time required to prosper; not dissimilar to the current government. Now the country that has everything, Germany (political clout, finance etc) has played the country Greece, that comparatively has nothing.

So whilst the Wexford TD Mick Wallace may have come home to more questions than most, the enormity of the stark contrast between life in Poland and the reality of life back home in Ireland will start to hit home for pretty much everybody. Not much has changed since they left for the campsites and hotels of Poland. One referendum has been and gone but now politicians are talking of a further one. There is much talk of amendments to the bailout package but it is nothing more than talk. Receivers continue to be appointed to companies that have either given up or can longer continue the fight, goods are being seized and jobs lost.

It strikes me that we all deal with tough times and adversity very differently. More specifically we all deal with our financial indebtedness very differently. I grew up in very different times to those that we have experienced over the last couple of decades. I lived on a council estate in a very working-class suburb of Watford. There was never much money around but at the same time I cannot really remember going without anything.

“The idea that you save and delay the purchase is one that has long passed us by”

Very possibly my expectations were very different – I certainly wasn’t one of the first kids to have the latest trainers or computer game but it usually wasn’t too long after that we managed to catch up. But we certainly weren’t able to click our fingers and get the latest gadget on credit: delayed gratification was the norm. The idea that you save and delay the purchase until such time as you have saved sufficient money is one that has long passed us by.

One of my earliest memories is hiding behind the kitchen door as the ‘telly man’ knocked on the front of the house. We huddled in the corner, had to keep quiet and wait until he had gone. My mum had obviously been looking up and down the street waiting for his arrival. As far as my younger siblings were concerned we were playing an impromptu game of hide-and-seek.

It sounds strange in this day and age but we didn’t own a television, it was rented, operated on a meter and there was a slot in the back to feed fifty pence pieces into. We had a key to open the back of the television, retrieve the coins and either feed them back in or buy food. The same coins would be used two or three times before the week was out. I don’t know how it happened but we always managed to see the week out.

“Some people have become very blasé with how they deal with debt”

So the false economy of the Wexford TD is nothing new. Parking illegally at the airport, swanning off to the Euros to watch a football match does however show an audacity and blatant disregard for your responsibilities that is difficult to rival. There is no association with reality.

The move from delayed gratification to credit consumerism over the last twenty five years has obviously changed the way that we deal with debt and clearly not for the better. Some people have become very blasé about their financial affairs. I hear some very worrying anecdotes of how people are choosing to deal with their obligations.

I’m told that it is still virtually impossible to book certain restaurants at short notice in Dublin. Mortgages are not being paid but restaurants are being booked. The game, as it is called by a career professional in Dublin, is to see how long you can go without paying your mortgage. When you receive a couple of threatening letters from the bank, make a payment or two to get them off your back for a while and then revert back to fine dining. With negative equity more the norm than the exception, a selection of people are accepting that they will likely lose their house but they will see how long they can stay in the family home rent-free and continue with the trappings of their former life, it seems.

Yet there are many people in this country who, like my mother years ago, cannot make the money stretch as far as it is needed. There is a constant struggle and battle each week between buying food, paying the bills and either making a mortgage payment or paying the rent. The sums don’t add up and it means there are few luxuries. It is, however, dealing with reality – a polar opposite to Mick Wallace and his ilk.

Read previous columns by Nick Leeson>

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