THERE are two types of person living in Ireland today, those who believe that the Celtic Tiger was a glorious period when the country reached its full potential and those who believe that it was a time when we partied beyond our means and laid the foundations for the present recession.
Tom Parlon belongs firmly to the first group. He was a cheerleader for the boom as a farming leader in the early years of the Tiger and remained a cheerleader when he became a Progressive Democrat minister and Charlie McCreevy's understudy.
Since becoming the Construction Industry Federation's boss four years ago, Mr Parlon has had ample time to study the effects of the crash on the once mighty building trade -- but he clearly retains a deep-seated nostalgia for the Celtic Tiger, calling the period between 2002 and 2007 a "golden age".
Parlon is friendly and good company but his tired eyes are watchful as he bends a paper clip into a thousand different shapes in his com- fortable but functional office in the CIF's surprisingly shabby headquarters along the Royal Canal in Dublin.
As the CIF gears up for its annual conference, Parlon wants to talk about the stimulus CIF believes is necessary for the construction industry. Like pretty much every other lobby group in the country these days, CIF appears to believe that salvation can only come through government spending in its particular sector.
With employment in the construction trade down to around 100,000 jobs from a high of 269,000 five years ago, Parlon argues that €1bn (or twice the amount which will be raised through the new residential property tax) will go a long way to helping his sector to get back on its feet and creating jobs.
The 59-year-old talks airily of dismantling the Croke Park Agreement to trim spending and dismisses the pact as some sort of Labour Party conceit -- when the record shows it was devised by the same Fianna Fail bigwigs who were supported by Parlon and the PDs from 2002 until the electorate wiped out his party in the 2007 General Election.
The way Parlon tells it, builders did nothing to trigger the boom but were instead innocent victims of the public's insatiable demand for housing who must suffer the consequences now that the "arse has fallen out of everything".
"There was a mania for property," says the man who once described proposals to cap property prices as being a policy something to the left of Stalin.
Today, Parlon seems to have a mania for insulation. At one stage, he suggests it would make sense for the Government to pay for the entire cost of insulating people's homes because it would generate so much in taxes. How this notion would work in practice is never explained.
Again and again, in the course of a two-and-half-hour conversation, Parlon defends the quality of construction work in Ireland. "Generally, we have a very, very good quality of housing," is a typical comment from the CIF leader who likes to spend the evenings cycling around central Dublin admiring the many fine buildings thrown up during the boom.
All this is a useful corrective to those who like to place all the blame for the recession on any one group, but Parlon himself falls into the same trap by blaming banks' refusal to lend for his sector's travails.
His conversation is peppered with examples of unnamed developers who have allegedly been destroyed by unreasonable banks demanding repayment. NAMA, too, comes in for a bashing -- although the long-term critic of the bad bank seems to have mellowed and no longer exhibits the same visceral dislike he once showed. "They don't have a commercial ethic about them," he tuts, but the days when CIF set up a developer-funded sub-committee to fight NAMA in the courts appear to be over.
Parlon appears much exercised by pyrite, the mineral often called fool's gold which has caused cracks in thousands of homes here, in Canada and in the United States.
Endless legal uncertainty about who bears ultimate responsibility for the use of this substance means that homeowners have been left in limbo while quarry owners, builders and sub-contractors argue about who should bear the cost of restoring houses where pyrite was used.
While Parlon is clearly on top of his brief, he offers few suggestions for any solution that could save homebuyers from future problems like pyrite or asbestos. For him, these errors appear to be acts of God while the long wait for justice continues for the poor homeowners who must now watch their houses fall down around them because builders took out insurance with the wrong company.
It can't be easy for Parlon. Most of his former colleagues from the last administrations have retreated into obscurity. Parlon, who has said in the past that he has no pension bar a small government pension from his five years as minister, remains on the front line, the public face of an organisation that still represents about 6pc of economic output and employs 100,000 people.
Like many of his colleagues in the construction sector and the country at large, the challenge for Parlon is to stop looking backwards and start looking forwards. That may require another re-invention but the former farmers' leader, politician and builder's champion is no stranger to re-inventions.