All I needed was to have my gas metre moved by a couple of yards. There was nothing complicated - just a trench and a short pipe. So I phoned Bord Gáis. I gasped when the agent told me how much it would cost: a thousand euro!
I thought I had misheard and asked again. Yes, a thousand euro, said the agent.
I took a minute to recompose myself, took a deep breath, then, knowing I had no choice if I wanted my porch built, I begrudgingly agreed.
Ok, I asked, so will the Bord Gáis people have my gas working again when they leave? Oh no, the voice said, in a tone somewhere between surprise and contempt, you will have to call a registered gas fitter to reconnect you.
Why, that is absurd, I protested, I'm paying you, the gas company, a thousand euro, to move a box two yards, and you wont even connect me? No, that is not our responsibility.
But a thousand euro, I cried, this is obscene. Well, in any case, the voice said wryly, we need to have your gas installer certify it for safety. Wait a minute, I said angrily, are you telling me that the only major gas company in the country cannot move a pipe by two yards and verify that it's safe? That's ridiculous, I said.
My protestation was to no avail of course. This is what monopolies do: rip people off. What I had experienced was a taste of say, 1986. Back then most of the big service and utility providers were monopolies. It could take months to get a phone installed and when you did the costs of using it were astronomical. But Telecom Eireann didn't care - the last thing that mattered to them was happy customers.
So far, however, Bord Gáis has managed to maintain its monopoly over gas supply. They can defend their position under the pretense that there is competition by virtue of the fact that people can choose coal or oil. But this falls apart simply because coal and oil aren't gas. Bord Gáis and BP and Topaz and Bord na Móna now call themselves 'energy providers' as if a customer rings up an asks for three thousand kilojoules. It's absurd. For a start, coal and oil are far dirtier than gas. Plus Bord Gáis has an installed base of pipelines to houses in cities. And finally, the raw materials are priced differently. So Bord Gáis saying that users have choice is patently false. It would be like Telecom Éireann saying in 1986 that as an alternative users can choose carrier pigeons.
But anyway on the appointed morning my Bord Gáis team turned up to move the metre. (And nice chaps they were too). I asked one of them if they would be finished that day. Today, he laughed, I expect to be out of here in an hour. I have seven of these jobs to do today.
So there we are. Bord Gáis charged me a thousand euros for what it took these two men to do in an hour. Now I don't know what those men were paid, but I would presume it falls considerably short of 500 euro an hour.
To finish the job, I had to pay a gas installer a further three hundred euro to reconnect my metre to my house - along the path which Bord Gáis had just dug up.
Overall 1300 euro to move a pipe by two yards. The Celtic Tiger might be gone, but Rip Off Ireland is alive and well.