Old habits die hard. One of those old habits emerged last week from two very different instances. Exhibit A: On Tuesday the Irish College of General Practitioners threw a major strop after the pharmacy chain Boots announced it would be providing the morning after pill. The ICGP led the charge saying it was concerned about the quality of care women seeking the morning after pill would get. Of course, its argument doesn't exactly wash with that annoying little thing called reality.
Mary Rose Burke, who is the chief pharmacist at Boots, talked about what will actually happen: a woman seeking to avail of the morning after pill will have a consultation with a health professional, and will be given advice on contraception and sexually transmitted infections and diseases. As Burke said, "This emergency contraception service has been introduced as part of Boots' objective to provide responsible, accessible and affordable healthcare to its customers." Gah! How dare you be so goddamn reasonable, Boots! The Irish Family Planning Association is in agreement with Boots' initiative. Meanwhile, the poor indignant GPs lose their unnecessary €45 consultation fee.
Exhibit B: sister restaurants Gruel and the Mermaid Cafe, two of Dublin's most beloved restaurants on Dame Street, closed down just before Christmas. When the owners, Mark Harrell and Ben Gorman, opened Mermaid Cafe in 1996, they were paying £15,000 a year in rent. By the time they were forced to close both restaurants on 23 December 2010, they were paying €190,000 in rent. That's €190,000 a year before you take into account rates, staff salaries, electricity, gas and heating, maintenance, and stock. Thirty jobs were lost.
"It will be the small, interesting restaurants that go. It's not going to be the Starbucks and the McDonald's. But then what's left? Where's the interest? Where's the joy?" Harrell told The Irish Times. Harrell and Gorman were locked into an 'upward-only' rent review clause. Such clauses have now been prohibited, but that's cold comfort to the thousands of businesses already shackled by those leases and paying rent based on a fantasy market.
The courts are beginning to recognise how unrealistic such leases are. A few days before Gruel and the Mermaid were closed, the president of the Dublin Circuit Court made a landmark decision on rents in the city centre. The Irish franchisee of Burger King on Grafton Street couldn't agree the rent conditions of its new lease with its landlord (the Aviva pension fund), so it went to the Circuit Court to see if its rent of €436,750 could be decreased. In court it was decided that the rent, set in 2004, was completely unrealistic and was slashed to €205,250. That's just €15,000 more for three storeys on Grafton Street than what Gruel and Mermaid were paying for a much smaller space.
Luckily for Burger King, it was negotiating a new lease, something that many small independent businesses in Dublin don't have the luxury of. Landlords are commanding ridiculous rents based on a bygone era, and businesses have little recourse. They either put up, or close down. Unsurprisingly, many are forced into the latter, and every day, shutters are clattering to the pavement over windows of once prosperous independent businesses, which continue to do reasonable trade but are being forced into closure by ridiculous rents.
We can talk ourselves in circles and knots about people who screwed up, about dodgy regulation and complacent politicians, about ignored economists and international crises, about unprecedented events and 'losing the run of ourselves', but ultimately, all of these instances and mistakes come from one old habit dying hard, and this old habit only has one name: greed.
Greed is a virus that infected and continues to infect this country. And greed is a runaway train. Its trajectory is very hard to halt once it takes off. Have a gaff? Buy another one. Have a reasonably successful business? Expand, expand, expand. Have four handbags? Covet four more. Customers buying your coffee at €2.50 a cup? Make that €3.50. Approved for a giant loan? Get another one.
People reflect on cocaine's dominance as the addictive drug of choice for a generation, but greed is more dangerous, more damaging, more devastating, more intoxicating, and its repercussions are longer lasting. If we're building a new society then it has to be free from the shackles of our last. Local businesses need to be supported, and proponents of greed, be they some landlords or some GPs, need to be told to shut up.
Congratulations to all of the Choice Music Prize nominees last week, and especially to The Cast of Cheers, who became the first band to have a free album on the list. The band, on the roster of independent Irish label Richter Collective, uploaded their album 'Chariot' for free here: thecastofcheers.bandcamp.com
The images of floods in Australia in recent days have been frighteningly breathtaking, especially those involving wildlife. From a man trying to rescue a horse up to its nose in floodwaters, to reports of a bull shark swimming around the streets of Brisbane, they've also become increasingly surreal. But by far the most incredible is the photo of a frog riding a snake's back to safety. Remarkable.
Television is a better place now that the lovable ridiculousness that is Fade Street is back on RTÉ. And an even better place now that my own Ceol ar an Imeall is back on TG4 – that's Wednesday at 11.25pm and Friday at 6.25pm, people.
My iPhone had a complete meltdown this week refusing to exit recovery mode and shedding three months' audio, photos, notes, texts and contacts. Despite my harassment of Apple helpline people and dubious phone unlocking shops, nothing can be done. On the upside, I now know everything about restoring and recovering your iPhone, so any problems, just give me a shout. I don't charge that much.