An estate agent’s board stares mockingly down the road, “Ready to go sites with full planning permission for three stunning detached houses”.
Walking the dogs on an evening when Iceland’s name is associated with volcanoes rather than banks, the board seemed like a torn up slip on the floor of a betting office, or a discarded ticket at the foot of a bookmaker’s racecourse pitch. It was a reminder of a bet that has gone badly wrong.
Memories again surfaced of a television play; perhaps a BBC Play for Today or something from the days when ITV did drama. It was from the late 1960s, it couldn’t have been much later because Britain went decimal in February 1971.
An older man comes into a betting office. A couple of shillings in his pocket – he is looking for someone to lend him the eighteen shillings he needs with which to buy his grandson a train. He decides to place a bet on a horse, which wins; then the winnings are placed on another horse; and then the accumulated sum is placed as another bet. He continues the winning run, each time being exhorted not to place the full amount, until his winnings stand at £10,000, which he places on a dead cert, which loses, and every penny is gone. At the end the bookmaker offers him the eighteen shillings he needs to buy the train. It was a piece of adult drama that had a profound effect upon a childhood mind, for it is recalled again and again.
No-one would be stupid enough to lose everything in a single bet, would they?
Ireland has lost its new found wealth betting on property. Half finished estates dot the country; half empty developments are mocked by the overblown descriptions on the billboards announcing properties for sale. Did even the bankers, and their paid economic experts who repeatedly declared in the media that ‘nothing could go wrong’, believe that the price curve could rise forever? Questions raised were treated as heresy; dissenting voices were described as people who knew nothing. It turned out that the ‘know nothings’ were working all along for the financial institutions.
Ireland has lost years of what might have been a good future in a single disastrous bet on the property market. Like the man who had come into the betting shop looking for eighteen shillings; there was not the wisdom to invest the money in different ways. In 2006, David McWilliams warned us on RTE television that apart from the growth in the property market, there was not a lot happening in the economy; but we carried on pouring money into bets on an old steeplechaser that finally came up against one fence too many.
Maybe we have eighteen shillings left, but even that is going to be spent on further losing bets on NAMA property. We persist in the belief that one day one win will recoup our losses. Look at the losing slips on the floor; look at the pathetic cry of the agents’ boards..