There are few things the Irish media likes better than being told how rubbish we are by a high-profile visitor.
Hence the media kerfuffle when a New Zealand tourism expert last week assured us that Dublin is a rip-off. Michael Hall claims to have been charged €400 for a Saturday night’s stay in a Dublin hotel – twice the rate being quoted for a night in the same hotel chain in Helsinki.
Hall’s other reported complaints included the delays he experienced at immigration control at Dublin airport, the ubiquity of old-style traditional music, the blasphemy charge briefly levelled at Stephen Fry, and the preponderance of stag weekends in the capital.
This all sounds a bit scattergun. A more systematic analysis, however, suggests Hall may be onto something. Ireland is, according to recent reports, the second most expensive country in the EU.
Based on a Europe-wide survey in 2016, our prices are, on average, 25 per cent above the EU average, with only Denmark coming in as costlier. (In fairness, Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway are more expensive than anywhere in the EU.)
In the case of alcohol and tobacco, Irish prices are an eye-watering 175 per cent of the EU average (making us the most expensive EU country in that category). For restaurants, hotels and food, we come in at 120 per cent of the EU average.
If you are a tourist paying above the odds for a hotel room, a meal, and a few pints, this does all make for a nuisance, and possibly a deterrent to visiting at all. But if you are a resident, and especially if you are a resident of Dublin, it is something more than just a nuisance.
Moreover, the Eurostat data on which the survey was based does not include the cost of ordinary accommodation rather than hotels. And, as we all know, those costs have been rocketing upwards of late – by as much as 15 per cent per annum in the case of rents in Dublin.
The poorer you are the more of your income gets eaten up by rising rents before you even have a chance to think about buying relatively expensive food and drink. For someone in Dublin on the national minimum wage, paying for private rented accommodation – even a one-bedroom dwelling at 90 per cent of the average market rate – can eat up two-thirds of your net salary.
The main government response to these issues is to point to rising levels of employment and wages, though this record is uneven – certain sectors (especially information and communication technology) have accounted for a disproportionate share of that growth. Whereas those reliant on below-average wages and/or on social welfare feel the price pressures much more intensely.
This last point is taken up by Tom Healy of the Nevin Economic Research Institute, who also highlights the fact that the publicly provided services on which lower-income households depend tend to be below par in Ireland – and these are precisely the people who cannot sidestep the problem by paying for private healthcare, education, and so on.
For people at the lower rungs of the ladder, “rip-off Ireland” (especially for the essentials like accommodation) is more than an irritation – it is a full-blown crisis.
And nowhere is this more true than in the case of asylum-seekers living in “direct provision”, whose weekly allowances have just been increased by a measly €2.50 for adults and by €6 for children, the first such increase in the case of adults since the system was established in 2000.
This brings the adult weekly allowance from €19.10 to €21.60, well short of the €38.74 recommended by a report to government in 2015.
The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (“visitors” whose views tend to count for less than those of a single tourism expert) has described the increase as an insult and “totally unacceptable”, and is instead demanding the right to work, which the government may yet be forced to partially concede in the wake of a recent Supreme Court judgement.
In the meantime, if you are a tourist paying what you think is €2 above the odds for a cup of coffee in Dublin, you have a right to feel aggrieved – but if you are an asylum-seeker for whom that €2 is the entirety of what “extra” the government feels you can get by on for a whole week, you have a right to feel deeply, deeply angry.