30 December, 2007

Waiting in Hope

Checking "Clara Rojas" on Google News, hoping that there will be some good news for her and all those kidnapped in Colombia. Clara was on the ticket with Ingrid Betancourt running for the presidency of Colombia on a Green Party ticket almost six years ago when they were kidnapped by the FARC while travelling through a demilitarised zone on the campaign trail.

Chavez is central to it all. The flamboyant left-of-centre President of neighbouring Venezuala waved off the rescue helicopters two days ago. Needless to say, film director Oliver Stone was beside him, to record the moment for posterity.

It's a cat and mouse game, with Venezuelan ex-Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, direct representative of President Hugo Chavez acting as the go-between as the bearer of the co-ordinates to the pick-up point. He is reporting to the International Committee of the Red Cross, in order to to immediately execute the last phase of the Emmanuel operation, as Chavez called it, named after the name of Clara's three year old son, conceived and born while in captivity.

If Clara is released it might reduce tensions in the region and pave the way for the release of Betancourt and others kidnapped in Colombia.

Now there's a report coming through of rockets being fired at a Colombian plane at Neiva. Let's hope that there's good news for the start of 2008.

02 December, 2007

Sound the Alarm

On climate change, that is.

I know, I'm becoming a climate change bore, but mark Saturday 8th December in your Diary. There's a public PARADE FOR THE PLANET for action on climate change from the amphitheatre at Dublin’s Civic Offices to the Custom House at 1pm. It's great to see all the Development Aid NGOs as well as Environmental NGOs involved.

December 8th marks the GLOBAL DAY OF ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE. As the Bali talks on climate change proceed, ordinary people around the world will be finding different ways of sounding the alarm on climate change so their politicians wake up and do much more about it.

Stop Climate Chaos is hosting a PARADE FOR THE PLANET which will see supporters making their own carbon-neutral way along the route, by foot, bike, skateboard and buggy, ringing bells and blowing whistles to SOUND THE ALARM FOR ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE!

No, I'm not heading to Bali, I figure I've a fair understanding of the science, and the politics of it all at this stage, and I haven't figured out a quick low-carbon route. I'll leave it to John Gormley, and his delegation to beat the drum for Ireland.

I was lucky enough to get along to the Al Gore gig at the RCSI on Saturday. The great man seemed a tad jowly, and not having seen him live before, I wouldn't have an opinion on whether he's running next year. I'll leave that to others. It was an interesting event, Eamon Ryan was as evangelical as always, and even Willie Walsh from British Airways agreed that we need to include global aviation emissions in the post-Kyoto climate agreement.

Al quoted an old African proverb that loosely stated that if you want go quickly, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with others. That's not a bad analogy for the Greens in Government, come to think of it. He said the problem of climate change is that we need to go far, quickly. That's the challenge.

He was an inspirational speaker, talking without notes or even a single power-pointed polar bear. He also sounded the alarm bells, mentioning recent research which suggests that the polar ice caps could melt fully in around 22 years time, or as little as 7 years.

The questioners afterwards were to polite to ask him about his rather large home, back in Tennessee. He ended by urging us to live our lives in a way that reflects well on the source of all life, and suggesting that more of the 'peace-force' or 'Satyagraha' is required. I'm not quite sure what the employees of Merrion Capital who hosted the event made of that.

Let's mobilise the peace forces. Bring along your whistles to Dublin's Civic Offices next Saturday 8th December 2008 at 1 pm.

30 November, 2007

Skate Tough!

Well, It's not quite California, but it IS a great new skateboard facility as part of the Blue Pool complex in Monkstown.

One of the magical things is that it was partially funded by development levies. It's nice to think that we're putting money into more than sewage pipes and roads, when it comes to charges attached to planning permissions.

It was a while since I'd been on a board, and I'm grateful to Cllr. Tom Kivlehan for deleting the shot after this, which shows me in a heap on the ground! It's almost six years since I wrote to the former County Manager Derek Brady asking him to build a skatepark, and, it has been a slow process ever since as you can see from my fairly outdated Campaigns page. However I'm delighted that Cllr. Niamh Bhreathnach and many senior officials in the County Council took up the cause.

Admission is €3 for under 18s, €5 for aul' codgers like myself, and for the moment you can bring along your BMX bike, in-line skates or board, and experiment. Monkstown Pool will throw in a helmet, and there's also a mini-climbing wall, but I wouldn't recommend doing all of this at the same time!

26 November, 2007

Proper planning and the public good...

Touchy subject, planning.

Just watched the new Prime Time Investigates -'The Pressure Zone'. Bad planning, dodgy councillors, conflicts of interest, no records of meetings.

Well, as I said to Kathy Sheridan last month: - "the skulduggery that went on in Dublin in the past is now happening around the country", in the form of "councillors who are also auctioneers, who one day are rezoning land in one part of the town and the next are selling land".


Cllr. Lorcan Allan (FF) and Cllr. Hughie McElvany's (FG) contributions made for good television, and our own Cllr. Vincent P. Martin (GP) gave a clear overview of his own county.

To be honest, the reason I did a masters in planning in UCD in the mid 90s was because I felt awful planning decisions were being made for all the wrong reasons, and that was only Dublin. Plus ca change! Car based long-distance commuting from haphazardly rezoned land in the wrong locations is simply unsustainable. The alternative is far from easy. The challenge is to provide decent and affordable homes with amenities within walking distances of the school, shops, pubs and work. If we can make a start on that within the next five years, I think we'll have done well.

The Programme put it up to Minister John Gormley to rectify the planning process, and suggested that we aren't as keen to make radical changes now that we're in Government. Well, it's early days, and we didn't want John, or Vincent for that matter to be lynched before we were a wet week in Government.

Watch this space...

21 November, 2007

Road to Copenhagen

Hopefully the weather won't be as stormy on Thursday when I head off on the 11 am HSS to Holyhead, en route to Brussels for a Climate Change conference on Friday.

I took this pic of Dublin Bay with Howth in the distance from beside the Martello Tower at Seapoint at the commemoration last Monday of the 200 year anniversary of the Prince of Wales and Rochdale shipwrecks in 1807. The weather was awful, and probably not that dissimilar to the storm that led to the building of construction of the breakwaters that now protect Dún Laoghaire Harbour.

Anyway, Friday's conference will be led by three great women: Gro Harlem Bruntland, Mary Robinson, and Margot Wallström (a fellow blogger). It's worth checking our their avatars on the website. For some reason you can get Mary and Margot to talk at the same time, but Gro seems to remain aloof from it all. On a more serious note you can register online and make changes in the Wiki of the communiqué. There doesn't seem to be much interest in making changes, but I I've increased the carbon emission reductions by the year 2050 up to 60-80% instead of the 50% that was previously listed, after all, that's what the European Commission has as a target. We'll see what happens to it on Friday.

The "Road to Copenhagen" refers to the cycle of conferences hosted by the IPCC leading from Bali this December to Poznan in 2008 and Copenhagen in 2009, and what's becoming increasing clear is the need to have clear plans for the post-Kyoto period. Their latest warning last week of the possibility of "abrupt and irreversible" impacts made for a scary read.

John Gormley's 40% improvements in the Building Regulations will hopefully kick in for all new planning applications from the middle of next year, but every other sector from agriculture to industry will have to play its part. The low-hanging fruit is easy, but the scale of the reductions needed requires significant changes in how we go about our lives, such as not flying, if there's a reasonable alternative.

I'll know on Saturday whether the low-carbon alternative was that reasonable this time round. If you see a tired, sea-sick and dishevelled TD crawling off the boat at five in the evening from a journey that began at seven o'clock that morning in the Brussels Eurostar terminal, I may be having second thoughts.

20 November, 2007

A New Library for Dún Laoghaire?

What you think?

Here's some pix that I took of the exhibition in the County Council offices on the Marine Road. The objective of the competition was  to find a design solution for both building and site that:

* Displays innovative architecture
* Is contemporary in design
* Is sympathetic to its context
* Respects and contributes to the reinvigoration of Dun Laoghaire waterfront.

I think the view from the interior and the main hall would be amazing - quite like the main hall in the Tate Modern in London. The building is bulky, but it seems appropriate that public rather than private buildings should dominate Dún Laoghaire's skyline.

Carr Cotter Naessens from Cork submitted the winning entry, and you've got until the 21 December (from what I can gather) in which to make your views known to the Council. Then it is up to the councillors to vote on whether or not to proceed with construction. Have a look at the display in County Hall, and I'd love to hear what you think.

I'd like to see the Local Area Plan for Dún Laoghaire in place before projects of this scale go ahead, but I have no doubt that my colleague Cllr. Gene Feighery will be making that point. I'm pleased that the winning entry leaves open the option of retaining the Bowling Green on site, even though Andrew O'Connor's Christ the King Statue gets moved northwards. The new building would also be located just beside the Maritime Museum, creating a nice confluence of culture for the heart of Dún Laoghaire.

A modern Library is long overdue for the County, and I'm looking forward to a lively debate about the project.

14 November, 2007

Bus Strike - 60,000 stuck in the rain

Joan Burton said she was having a bad hair day in the Dáil this morning, and even Bertie was expressing his sympathy for commuters stuck walking to work in the rain today.

Interestingly, the bus drivers simply want to start their routes at Harristown Depot, rather than in the middle of town. It seems like a reasonable request to me. Mind you, we do need a bus regulator to make sure that Dublin Bus and other companies are doing their job.

If I had my way I'd sell off Ringsend, Summerhill, and Donnybrook Bus Depots, put new bus garages on the outskirts of Dublin, and use the money to invest in new buses and routes. It seems crazy that buses are parked on some of the most valuable land in Dublin. Broadstone? I'd hang onto that, and put put back the rail link that used to be there until the middle of the last century.

05 November, 2007

Civil Partnership

Not an easy week, and that was before I saw Una Mullally's piece in the Tribune yesterday. It started of fine with Noel Dempsey's 'L-turn' on the provisional licenses, but Labour's push on their Civil Union Bill on Tuesday put us all under pressure.

The only consolation is that we'll see the heads of legislation on Civil Partnership by the Spring. Do I want to go further? Of course I do. The Green Party's Marriage Policy states that we want to make all terms connected to marriage gender neutral, thus permitting same-sex marriage. That's still what I want to see. Did we get this written into the Programme for Government? Nope.

The views I had before the election haven't changed. However political reality means that the members of the Government Parties vote together: week in, week out. If we do that, we get to enact what we put into that Programme. Sometimes, and it's not that often, we can go further. Would it be any different had we stayed out? I think it would. - I doubt that we would have the March 20098 date for the Heads of the Bill.

I was pleased with Charlie O'Connor's speech. He is a Fianná Fáil TD for Dublin, and he stated:
"I am not in favour of a watered down or lesser status union for same sex partners. There is a major difference in the status of same sex cohabiting couples and heterosexual or sibling cohabitees. The latter can, if they are single, marry under Irish law but gay couples cannot."

However I was concerned when Deputy Martin Mansergh, a Fianná Fáil TD for Tipperary started talking about costs to the revenue, and the red herring of what he termed "interesting clashes between a radical equality ethos and the ethos of the vast majority of our schools", though I nodded in agreement when he accused Fine Gael of making tedious and repetitious jibes at the Green Party for not remaining in pristine opposition. Martin concluded by stating that we need detailed, workable legislation that addresses all the issues and the wide variety of situations equitably.

I'm constantly surprised at the inability of the legislature to keep pace with social change. A Sunday Tribune poll in October last year showed that: "64% . . . support the right of same-sex couples to equal financial and legal rights as heterosexual married couples", and 37% believed that gay couples should be allowed to adopt. Meanwhile, when I sat on the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in the last Dáil discussing family rights if felt like drawing blood from a stone to get a minority report agreed that suggested that the following section be added to Article 41 of the Constitution:
"The state also recognises and respects family life not based on marriage. All persons, irrespective of their marital status, have a right to family life. The Oireachtas is entitled to legislate for the benefit of such families and of their individual members.

What I found most difficult to defend last week was the Attorney-General's advice that the Labour Party Bill could be unconstitutional. I hate standing over documents that I haven't had sight of, but that's the joy of being a back-bencher.

At this stage we have the reports: The All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution's Report on The Family and the Domestic Partnerships Working Paper, and the Law Reform Commission's Report on the Rights and Duties of Cohabitants. I'll be writing to Lenihan today, to try and ensure that the timetable stay on track.

I still can't get the Nina Simone track 'Mississippi Goddam' about people saying 'go slow' out of my head, but at least I can keep reminding myself that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed the year after Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech on the mall.

22 October, 2007

Dún Laoghaire Express


No, it's not the Patton Flyer, but a new weekly paper for Dún Laoghaire. Congratulations to Editor Chris Macy and his team on their first issue.

At 48 pages, there's more than enough room for news from Little Bray to Booterstown, and I wish it all the best for the future.

While many are Twittering and Facebooking their way to the future, I'd say that there's still room for new dead tree media to connect us.

Oh, and me down at Sandycove? Well I was being photographed at one of my five favourite places in Dún Laoghaire. To find out the other four, and to see which building I want to plant a bomb under you'll just have to buy your copy of the next issue!

07 October, 2007

What's the Left's gotta do...

Thursday night, people rushing past, and a retreat from the traffic into the Ireland Institute on Pearse Street. I was worried that Finian McGrath and myself would be savaged by Aengus O'Snodaigh and Tommy Broughan, whatever about the audience, but in the end we all received polite applause for our few words. I hadn't known that Tommy describes himself as a Marxist Republican before, but maybe that's what the audience wanted to hear.

I felt it might be useful to attack a few sacred cows, and here's a tidied up version of what I said...

'What future for the Left in 2007?', a speech to the Ireland Institute, Pearse Street. Dublin, 4 October 2007

Tony Benn I see from the newswires on the BBC is back. Veteran left-winger Tony Benn is planning to stand for Parliament again. The 82-year-old, a Labour MP until 2001, wants to be the party's candidate for Kensington in west London. All is not lost.

I came into politics shouting and roaring. I campaigned to try and save Viking Dublin at Wood Quay, and a decade later I marched to City Hall with a megaphone to reverse the devastation and destruction of inner-city communities. It was Dublin Corporation’s crazy road-widening plans that were destroying our built heritage and our communities. It was a campaigning issue. Neither the Left nor the Right had a monopoly of wisdom in tackling these issues. While the forces of development were behind this obliteration of parts of our city, the local authority and its workers were acquiescing in the destruction. The lesson I took from those days is that we need to campaign.

Back in June the Green Party decided to go into government with Fianna Fáil. We decided to go into Government because we felt that the issues (such as Climate Change) could not wait for another five years.

We didn't get all we want because we didn't have the numbers. They have 78 seats; we have 6. That having been said there's a lot in the Programme that we can deliver on. Just last week John Gormley published his intention to rack up the Building Regulations for new construction by 40% from the middle of next year.

Our representatives voted overwhelmingly (87%) at a party convention to enter government, and we have two influential two cabinet seats--the environment and energy ministries - out of the 15 in total.

The Economist gave a good synopsis of our position:

“The new administration is expected to support a more radical policy on climate change, including the introduction of a carbon tax which the outgoing administration had abandoned following pressure from business leaders.

The government also agreed to carbon emissions reduction targets of 3% per year; to set up a commission on climate change; and to set more energy efficient standards for new buildings.

The Greens also demanded reform of local government, including a directly elected mayor of Dublin, and the establishment of an independent electoral reform commission to investigate party financing, which was agreed.”

I have no doubt that we will also make progress in other areas such as proper planning, an issue close to my heart.

Some people want the Greens to be the moral guardians of Fianna Fáil. If we were to do that we would need to threaten to leave Government every second day. No-one will take us seriously if we were to do this, and besides it would distract us from implementing our Programme.

After 25 years in the Party I didn't make the decision to join Government lightly. I don't think anyone of us did. On balance I do believe that Ireland will be a better place with the Greens in Government than not.

I received a fair amount of attention over a blog posting where I described a deal between Fianna Fail and the Greens as a deal with the Devil or a Faustian pact. Well I found out recently that in Goethe’s version of the Faust story, Faust gets the girl, cheats the devil in the end, and lands up in heaven. There’s hope for us yet!

On a more serious note, The Left is in trouble. It has become a vehicle for vested interests, and it has been lost its voice by the rush to the centre by former left-wing parties all over Europe. The Left is in trouble because people have become distrustful of Government. Many believe that they are the best judges of what to do with their money, and they are not willing to give money to central government to do the same.

The Left is in trouble because it has become a receptacle for vested interests. I note from front-page article in the Irish Times today entitled ‘New Plan tabled to deal with problem teachers’ that: ‘For years, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland would only allow members to be inspected if the teacher agreed. Those of us with children, and indeed those without know that there are under-performing teachers out there. I don’t believe that the ASTI’s behaviour is appropriate. It seems typical of vested interests.

In Dún Laoghaire green bins were introduced for householders. After a year the amount of grey bins being presented had halved. I asked the question had the staff been re-assigned. They hadn’t. Negotiations with the Unions had stalled. In my ten years as a Dublin City Councillor the Direct labour crews in the Housing Department virtually ceased to exist. Part of this decline was poor management, but I have no doubt that archaic work practices contributed to their demise. Work practices in the private sector and the State sector have dramatically diverged in recent years. Unless The Left realises that its job is not about protecting vested interests, but about assisting the excluded and the disadvantaged in society, The Left will continue to decline.

The Left is in trouble because it wants power too badly, and in doing so it has lost its voice. Pat Rabbitte linked up with Enda Kenny. Tony Blair became a Cheshire cat caricature for the UK Labour party in order to appease voters. In the end there was nothing left but his smile, and that too disappeared in the end.

The Left is in trouble because it won’t detach itself from the vested interests of unionised workers. In France Ségolène Royal wouldn’t face up to out-dated work practices in France for fear of losing the Union vote.

There’s a certain envy and mistrust of The Left from the Greens. Sure most of us have a left of centre bias in our social and economic leanings, but we worry when the posters of the Labour party are draped across Liberty Hall, or when environmental organisations are exclude from the partnership process.

Even the Lisbon agenda within the European Union was based on three pillars – social – economic and environmental. It is only in the new Programme for Government that environmental organisations are poised to have some recognition in the Partnership process.

Of course the Left has its founding principles and writers like Gramsci and Marx, but so do we. It would be useful if commentators on the Left explored the writings of Arne Næss, Rachel Carson and others. When we sat down in the Glencree Reconciliation Centre back in 1982, we thought long and hard about our own principles. We agreed that all political, social and economic decisions should be taken at the lowest effective level. We stated that as caretakers of the Earth, we have the responsibility to pass it on in a fit and healthy state. We said that the poverty of two-thirds of the world's family demands a redistribution of the world's resources. I believe that those principles have stood the test of time.

Maybe the Left has been around for longer, but that is all the more reason for the movement to consider its raison d'être in 2007.

I believe that the Left must keep its distance from vested interests. It must also ensure that it is not swayed by parochial interests, whether in Meath or Shannon. It also needs to allow itself to be affected by the green winds that are sweeping across the political landscape.

The Left must protect the marginalised, not those who are most secure. Not much more than a stone’s throw from where we speak on Pearse Street are two large flat complexes; Pearse House and Markievicz House. Conditions there may have been fine in the 1950’s but they are not today. The same applies in parts of Ballybrack and Dún Laoghaire. The Left should be screaming for improved housing, access to education and training and facilities for children. It is not.

The Left must recognise that the State is not always the most appropriate vehicle to assist those who have been left behind. In this day and age it is most often the private sector that provides employment. Permanent pensionable jobs should not be the knee-jerk reaction to economic difficulties.

The Left must disentangle itself from being in bed with the trade union movement.

The Left must be wary of ‘green-washing’ itself by taking on board token environmental concerns. The Left in Ireland has not yet realised that Climate Change is the greatest threat to humanity of our time.

The Left must campaign. I believe if these changes were to happen, both Connolly and Pearse would be proud.

05 October, 2007

Will it be the Citroen C1?

Dear Michael,

Would you consider showing the carbon emissions of each vehicle the next time you have a supplement showing all the cars that are currently on the market in Ireland?

You could also show the top five of the greens cars on the road, the greenest MPVs, and maybe even the five worst emitters!

It's just a thought.

Ciarán


Dear Ciarán,

…I certainly agree with your points on carbon emissions and we will run them alongside prices when we do that feature next. Your idea of a top five is very relevant and we are producing a "buyer's guide" series to run from Oct 31st until end of November. I will include top five "green" cars in these features.

Thanks for the input.

Kind regards,

Michael

07 September, 2007

Back to the future

I'm in the Ulster Room of the Burlington Hotel at the Environment Ireland® 2007 Conference. 'Towards 2020: The Environment in Ireland's Future'. Let’s not mention the lack of bicycle parking… Dave Fadden, a civil servant at the Department of Transport is speaking at the 'Towards a Sustainable Transport Future Workshop'. He tells a story. His brother-in-law has a garage. Last week a fellah came back with a 4.5 litre Range rover to the workshop; too embarrassed to drive it any more. Well that's some progress, but for the most part, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. The Transport 21 white paper didn't mention cycling & walking in detail. He said the trend is not sustainable and that political leadership is required. Traffic congestion is going to get worse. Some kind of a champion at a political level is required, with the Green Party in government there’s quite a momentum. It's early days, but he's confident Noel Dempsey will rise to the challenge. .. He said it galls him that cycling is at 2% in Dublin, but in Copenhagen it's 33%.

Henk van der Kamp, head of the school of spatial planning at DIT made a pertinent comment about by-passes: why don't they institute traffic calming and car-free areas at the same time as building by-passes? As he pointed out, if you don't integrate transport and land-use you can forget about it. He lists the studies over the last forty years - Myles Wright 1967; Dublin Transportation Study 1971; Eastern Region Development Guidelines 1988; Dublin Transportation Initiative 1994; Strategic Planning Guidelines 1997; Platform for Change 2001;Regional Planning Guidelines 2004; Transport 21 -2005. Some looked at transport, some at land-use but never the two together. I sat on a DTI panel back in the early 90’s and I do remember Peter Ryan from Consultants Steer Davies Gleeve talking about this, but it just didn’t happen. One thing is certain, there has to be a meeting of minds between the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment to put us on a sustainable course.

Henk emphasised that spatial planning policies need to be in place prior to the provision of infrastructure. Land use and transport planning policies have to be integrated. Henk ended on a poignant note. Its twenty years since An Foras Fórbatha was abolished. Maybe it’s time for a new environmental research agency to guide us through the twenty-first century.

17 August, 2007

An evening in Kilkenny

I headed down to Kilkenny for an evening last week. That's Samantha Power giving the inaugural Hubert Butler lecture as Fintan O'Toole looks on. The talk was moved to St. Canice's Cathedral due to its popularity.

She 's currently advising Barack Obama, and having read his 'Audacity of Hope' on holidays I was looking for some insight into the state of the world, from an American perspective.

She spoke about the erosion of US influence against the backdrop of the rise of US power. She also mentioned the basic incompetence of the US in certain areas such as Hurricane Katrina, and the war in Iraq. Her scariest statistic related to the virtual absence of Arabic speakers amongst US army staff based in Iraq. She also addressed the stagnation within the UN Security Council, and the rise of the petro-authoritarian powers such as Iran, Russia and Venezuala in recent years. She discussed the American obsession with democracy as epitomised in the blue-stained fingers of those who have voted, and suggested that the 'four freedoms' of FDR were of under-estimated importance: freedom from want; freedom of worship; freedom from fear; and freedom of expression.

Barack seems to have got into trouble on the far side of the pond for suggesting that he would talk to the bad guys. Apparently this is seen a sign of weakness over there. On this island talking to the bad guys was the first step towards having a Peace Process. Mind you, I wouldn't be enamoured of Barack's apparent interest reported in the Economist this week in sending American troops in against al-Qaeda in Pakistan. It's not easy to be a presidential candidate in the US and show weakness. She ended with a discussion of Paul Cuddihy, the former Mayor of Kilkenny's apology for the City's treatment of Hubert Butler after his criticism of the Catholic Church's hierarchy for their role in the Balkans during the second World War. Cuddihy stated "I'm saying we were wrong because we were wrong." It may be some time before either Barack or others closer to home will be able to say the same about the disastrous war in Iraq. Meanwhile I'm busy reading up on where Mick Fealty feels the Green Party's foreign policy should be headed.

I'm looking forward to reading Samantha's forthcoming book about Sergio Vieira de Mello, the man who succeeded Mary Robinson as UN Commissioner for Human Rights and who was killed shortly after taking on the job of Special Representative of the Secretary in Iraq. it should make for interesting reading...

20 July, 2007

Go West

Well, we're taking Seamus Brennan's advice. He appealed to Irish People "to hold their nerve" in the face of the current weather and to holiday as planned in Ireland this late July and August, according to the Irish Times today.

The cottage had been booked for the last six months, an cursa Gaeilge criochnaithe, agus taimid ag dul siar amarach le trí seachtaine.

May the weather be gentle on us.

19 July, 2007

That other election, again

Members of the Irish Senate are selected by three different methods. An Taoiseach directly nominates 11 members, NUI and Trinity graduates elect 6 between them, and councillors and members of the Oireachtas (incoming TDs and outgoing Senators) elect 43 members. It could be quite an interesting election this time round as the Government may have a slim enough majority.

Councillor Tom Kivlehan pointed out to me a curious aspect of the Senate Election. Each ballot is marked with a unique number on the back. Before I told him my number, he was able to guess it to within a few numbers. You can see the full list of 1096 electors here, but it seems that the identifying numbers aren't completely random.

I spoke with Deirdre Lane, Clerk of the Seanad yesterday and she tells me that they start with a random number, and then every thirty or forty names they add a few numbers to the series to put you off the trail. It still seems to me though that anyone with a sense for numbers and a copy of the electoral roll can identify a ballot from the back with a fair degree of accuracy, particularly if they are from a larger Party and had access to several electors' numbers from their ballots.

The rules for the conduct of Senate Elections state shown in the First Schedule of the 1947 Senate Electoral (Panel Members) Act emphasise the need for secrecy, but it seems to me to be easy enough to come close to identifying the elector from the number on the back of the ballot. Although the 'precautions for preservation of secrecy' in the Second Schedule states under 13 that "...ballot papers shall so far as it is practicable be kept face upwards..." it does seem that parties and candidates have a good sense as to who voted for whom. You would expect a good level of party allegiance in all of this, and this makes it easier to find out where most of the votes are coming from, but perhaps the individual ballot numbering should be made 'more' random in future.

Incidentally the Panels that select the candidates under this Act could perhaps benefit from a review. I've nothing against the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders , or even the Vintners Federation of Ireland , but maybe we need to reflect more of the creative, urban, environmental, and small business side of modern Ireland in the nominating bodies.

16 July, 2007

On the Senate Trail

I'd be a Green Reform Candidate voter myself on the NUI Panel, and unlike Kevin Rafter in yesterday's Tribune, I will not be selling my votes to the highest bidder. No, I'll be giving Martin Hogan my number one vote on the NUI Ballot sheet.

The five ballot papers that I'm entitled to as an elected representative landed on the desk the other day, but the pleas and supplications have been arriving for months now. Whatever about Francie O'Briens's pens which I've mentioned before, I was a tad surprised at the offer from Luke Moriarty. He tells me in the accompanying letter that he is impressed with the hard work and dedication that I display everyday in my role as a public representative, but a voucher for two night's accommodation at the Moriarty Group Hotels - including breakfast? Please, you're spoiling me. We're all used to chocolates from the other Mary White (not our own) , but this is another league altogether. My copy of Iris Oifigiúil from the 29th June tells me that Luke is nominated by the Irish Hotels Federation. For a moment I thought this was some sort of a stunt by Luke Flanagan, but no, apparently Luke Moriarty does exist, and is running for office. There is a touch of the rotten borough about it all, and this form of inducement rules the bearer of such gifts out, as far as I'm concerned.

There are some great candidates running though, I've a lot of time for Mark McSharry, Ivana Bacik, Rosaleen McDonagh, Dominic Hannigan and Colm MacEochaidh. Let's hope they clear the hurdles and make their way into the Senate this time round.

13 July, 2007

Water is Precious


...Provided that you have a sense of humour. I took this pic of a water conservation banner half covered in water hanging off the side walls of the Liffey Quays this morning in the lashing rain. The light patch to the right of the leaflet was rain water pouring into the river from a pipe half-way up the Quays wall, though the image quality is a bit under-pixellated on my camera phone.

One of those days, I guess. Friday 13th, full moon this evening and as anyone in LH2000 can tell you the constituents go crazy if there's a full moon.

Well, if I was running a water conservation campaign I'd make damn sure that I booked the slots in combination with a rain gear or cinema blockbuster campaign . That way if the heavens opened they could pick up the tab and run their own campaign, and there wouldn't be egg on any one's face.

In fairness the Dublin City Council campaign is a good one, but I'd hope that we could do more at national level to reduce water consumption. We could change the Building Regulations to bring in low-flow nozzles on taps and dual flush toilets,which would be a practical step towards reducing water use in new buildings. It seems crazy that the four County Councils in Dublin are thinking of building a pipeline to the Shannon or the Boyne. I'm with Mary O'Rourke on this one when she says hands off our water. I'm not sure that her Arcadia would quite become the arid desert that she claims, but who knows what water extraction, along with climate change might bring. Of course the city fathers and mothers are working on on reducing leaks as well, though I'm not sure if the translation of their literature into Arabic was the wisest use of resources, a touch of selling coals to Newcastle there.

Unless we can get our own leaks under control we shouldn't contemplate spending a fortune on pipelines halfway across the country.

27 June, 2007

The Joys of Government


Well, we've lost our innocence, and that's for sure. The memories of that day of debate and discussion in the Mansion House will stay with us all for a long time.

I think being part of Government is positive. The issues can't wait, and despite the long list of what we didn't get, I think the deliverables are many.

The Programme for Government can also be the starting point for other initiatives that individual Ministers take. Much of what a Minister does isn't headline news, but indicators such as John Gormley's appointment of Dr. Conor Newman to a Committee to provide advice on the Lismullin archaeological find close to Tara is welcome. For me, the big issue there, if we can't move the road, is to ensure that the surroundings of the proposed Blundlestown interchange don't become an American strip-mall, and that requires determination from both John and Meath County Council.

The inter-twined issues of climate change and energy are two of the biggest issues that we have to face over the next five years. While I don't think that we'll convert Fianna Fáil to the cause overnight, I do think that we'll be able to nudge the wheel of the ship of State onto a slightly more sustainable course that could steer us clear of some of the shoals and shallows that lie ahead. We were never going to get everything that we wanted, but I think for a Party with 6 out of the 166 seats as opposed to Fianna Fáil's 78 we got an OK deal.

One of the big challenges is changing focus from being a small campaigning party of opposition to being a party of Government. When I heard of the latest killing in Mountjoy Prison I immediately went back to my press release from five weeks ago , with a view to saying I told you so. However, as part of the Government, albeit a back-bencher, what I need to do is ensure that the new Minister for Justice addresses my concerns. I have high hopes that Brian Lenihan will make a decent go of it.

In the months and years ahead we'll have to ensure that our Programme gets implemented, but also continue to put issues on the agenda that are often seen as peripheral to mainstream politics.

We won't always get what we want, but on the issues where we disagree, we'll do our best to try and bring our partners around to our way of thinking.

13 June, 2007

Is é seo an t-am

It's time.

What a long strange trip it's been, to quote Jerry Garcia.

It's a good deal, not a great deal. Eamon Dunphy would be proud.

Twenty five years ago we sat down in the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation to draft our core principles. Regardless of whether we're in government or not, they'll still be there as a reference point. I'm not a fan of unrealistic expectations and I'd be the first to admit that we could not deliver our entire manifesto by being in Government. However, on climate change, on housing, on planning and on local government reform I believe we can deliver.

The question for me is this: Would Ireland be a better place in five years time with ourselves in Government than if we stay out? At this stage I believe we can deliver changes that would be visible both locally, and on the international stage. It wouldn't be a marriage made in heaven, but few are these days. And besides, sometimes opposites attract, and maybe a marriage of pragmatism and idealism could last the test of time.

I don't believe that we're 'an opportunistic party seeking to appropriate the Fianna Fáil mandate to impose its faddish obsessions on the country.' as John Waters suggested in a newspaper article a few days ago. I believe we're here for the long haul, and that environmental issues are one of the few genuinely new ideas that have emerged on the political horizon in recent years. Perhaps, after 25 years our times has come.

I think it's worth it. I intend voting for it, and as I'm sure Senator Camillus Glynn would attest to on his squeeze-box, sometimes the devil has all the best tunes.

28 May, 2007

Great to be back

Ouch. That was close.

Let's be clear. A deal with Fianna Fáil would be a deal with the devil. We would be spat out after 5 years, and decimated as a Party. But, ... would it be worth it? Power is a many faceted thing. I met a few pals this evening and we discussed it all. One is in IT, another works for the fourth estate; another works for the UN and the last guy is an Astrophysicist who is used to looking at far-away galaxies.

Can you change Fiannna Fáil? No, if their only measure of success is cranes on the skyline. Bertie has got to move on from that benchmark. I worry about his moral compass. How can you lead Mary Fitzpatrick down the garden path by running her on the ticket and then apparantly leaflet every house in the Constituency ('in this area' mar dhéa), saying vote Ahern1, Brady 2 and Fitzpatrick 3?

Sure, Cyprian had to be rewarded after 17 years or so as the fixer, but dumping Mary in it on election morning? That ain't right. I still worry about a story told about Bertie when the old Sorting Office on Sheriff Street was still operating. A small crack in a pane of glass was letting in a draft and the Super wasn't prepared to fix it. Bertie's advice was to advice the post sorter to throw a brick through the window and ensure that the whole window got fixed. The advice worked, but no-one reprimanded the Super for not doing his job.

In Dún Laoghaire John Bailey has a bit of explaining to do to Fine Gael about a letter that allegedly came from Fine Gael urging voters to give their number one to himself. At least the highest spenders (as far as I can see) didn't appear to have been elected in Dún Laoghaire and that shows that money can't necessarily swing the election for you. Lorcan Allen would be proud.

On another note, roll on legislation that limits election spending by including the year before the election, rather than the artificial period of the three and a half week campaign.

Anyway our UN friend, just back from the Balkans is well used to dealing with fellahs who were carving their initials on their enemies' chests 15 years ago, so he gave us all great insight into the art of dealing with people who aren't your best of friends. He's as political as they come, and has great influence, but he's not in Government. My media pal seemed appalled at the prospect of a smaller party taking the silver, but I assured him that no-one was rushing into that sort of an arrangement. Our astronomer friend added a sense of perspective to it all. Give things time to settle down, and then take soundings.

Well, I've still got a lot of posters to take down over the next few days. I won't be rushing things. Maybe I'll even take some time off to see how the Mahon Tribunal unfolds.

Oh, It was of course the Pirates of the Caribbean III that I went too with the kids on Friday, not the Pirates of Penzance as I mentioned on RTE. I hope no-one was expecting me to think straight at 1 in the morning!

Dan, commiserations; Mary, welcome on board.

We're currently taking soundings; Mark Twain would be proud of us!

Postscript...
Coffee in Hughes and Hughes on the Marine Road this morning, and I'm absorbed reading the election results
"Look at this"
I keep reading.
"See this, see this thumb? That blister is from counting your votes all day Friday."
Well, said I, aren't you lucky that I didn't win by a landslide?

13 May, 2007

Oh Dear, Prudence


Ten days, and counting. The 'prudence' tag stuck in my craw slightly though. "...the Greens emphasise their prudence and sense of responsibility at every turn. ..." That was from Mark Hennessy's coverage of our Economics Policy launch a fortnight ago. Well, I guess it is prudent to save the planet, so maybe I'll just have to live with it. It sits uneasily with my introduction to politics while roaring through a megaphone at an angry crowd outside City Hall, but that was twenty years ago, and sure even Ruairi Quinn has mellowed somewhat with age.

It's easy to list the highlights of the campaign so far

1. Fianna Fail launching their Plan for Dublin Bay over the weekend. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, and all that.

2. Being asked for my autograph twice today (admittedly by two twelve year old children)

3. Seven days of fantastic sunshine after the election was called, and most of the posters up by that Wednesday, thanks team!

4. Opening my sister Susan's sculpture exhibition in the Dalkey Heritage Centre last week.

5. Canvassing with my cousin Kathleen on Friday, and receiving a master-class in American electioneering
"You got to work for that vote, compliment them, squeeze their hand, give them a hug." - -"Kathleen, I can't hug a 70 year old women, I'll be arrested."
"It worked for Bill Clinton, didn't it?"
-"Yeh, but look what happened to him"
"But he got to be President"

Eventually my sister pointed out that Americans run for office, whereas we stand for election, so we agreed on a less touch-feely routine.


And the lows...
1. Friday's Parking ticket, enough said...

2. The smell of Polypropylene on my hands from the election posters. (yes we are recycling them, into sewer pipes)

3. The old 'I haven't seen much of you in the last five years" line, and my far too flippant response "Well, we have visited 29,000 homes in the last twelve months, and I suppose I could get to more houses, but it's hard to be in the Dáil as well as call around to everyone all of the time". I should of course have used the line - "Would you like to see me every week?"

4. Canvassing Gordon Avenue in Foxrock. It seemed like half a mile between houses, and all we met were Polish landscapers apologising to us for not having a vote

5. Being turfed off the pier by the Harbour Company for displaying our 'Stop Climate Change' Poster. "This is private property". "But..."

Oh, the pic is of the team taking some time out on the beach at Sandycove last week in the good weather. Trevor's on the left, then Councillor Kealin Ireland my Campaign Manager, myself, Councillor Nessa Childers, and Councillor Tom Kivlehan.

Thank you team, for your trojan work, we're almost there!

03 May, 2007

Surely some mistake

Monday, April 2, 2007 (subscription required)
...Mr Bruton stood by Fine Gael's plans to made significant cuts to house stamp duty, which could cost the Exchequer €450 million annually.
"Fine Gael makes no apology for seeking a mandate to change this perverse, unfair stealth tax. Fianna Fáil's policy is driven by the developer and the speculator. Ours is driven by the interests of the family; the family that wants to buy a home for the first time; the family that wants to move in to a larger home with growing children. "Fianna Fáil does not want to help these people, but we do."

Saturday, 14th April 2007
FG Stamp duty policy to threaten 1,000s of jobs - Cowen
The Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen T.D. has called Fine Gael’s proposals on stamp duty ‘daft’ and said that the proposals will put thousands of jobs at risk.
“I was the first person to point out how daft the Fine Gael stance is. It is poorly thought through and will disrupt the housing market, put thousands of jobs at risk and threaten the value of everyone's house not just those who are transacting.”

Thursday, 19th April 2007
Fine Gael and Labour publish Protecting the Progress -An Agreed Agenda on Tax and Jobs
A Fairer Stamp Duty Regime
We will introduce a fairer system of stamp duty that helps make housing for all families more affordable. Specifically, we will:
- We will abolish stamp duty for first time buyers up to €450,000;
- We will restructure stamp duty for others buyers as follows:
o No stamp duty up to €100,000
o On the next €350,000 a 5% rate will apply
o On the balance a 9% rate will apply

Thursday, 3 May 2007
Fianna Fáil announces stamp duty proposals.
Fianna Fáil has promised to immediately abolish stamp duty for all first-time buyers .... Speaking at the launch of his party's manifesto, Bertie Ahern has said that Fianna Fáil's proposals for the elimination of stamp duty for first-time buyers will not drive up house prices.

...
It all smacks of desperation, and it'll drive up prices. Oh, the picture? That's me in London standing beside a protototype of a house that English Partnerships are building with the aid of Kingspan Century across the water in the UK for €90,000. Now why can't that happen here? Over to you Dick...

30 April, 2007

Herald or Press?

...the flesh that is. Day two, and chatting away to people at the Dart Station in Dun Laoghaire on a sunny evening is almost relaxing after the many intimate encounters with poles of the stationary kind since Sunday morning.

"The Green Party- ah, sure yiz are all lentils and smoking dope, sure you would ruin the country"
was the worst reaction I got today. Dorothy, an older Green Party member tried to explain that she had never tried any of the above, but she got short shrift from our accuser.

As poles for postering become scarcer, the competition hots up. Spying a van and ladders from the opposition drawing near we sprinted towards a prime position in Sandycove yesterday. A face appeared at the window of the house behind -

"Sorry, we're trying to sell our house here, and would you mind not putting up posters, it sort of takes away from the appearance.

"Sure, no problem" I replied and turned around to head back to the car.

"Oh, you're the Green Party, forget what I said, you're fine!"

And I hadn't even told her about our plans for lowering stamp duty on high energy rating homes...

16 April, 2007

In the drink

Sure what else would you be doing but dipping your feet in the water on an April morning?

A picture-perfect sunny morning last Thursday and Patricia McKenna, David Healy and Bronwen Maher joined me in the water after the photographer's invitation to get our feet wet. John Gormley's been around the block a bit longer than the rest of use and he wisely declined their request that he go for a paddle, and remained behind the cameras, although he had almost ended up in the briny after losing his balance for a moment on the old lifeboat slip.

That's the Granuaile behind us. She's the main vessel that the Commissioners of Irish Lights use to service the lighthouses and ships around our coast. I was one of the Commissioners for three years back in my Dublin City Council days. The Commissioners of Irish Lights were established by the Dublin Port Act 1867, but derive their origin and constitution from an Act of the Irish Parliament of 1786 for developing the Port of Dublin. The Commissioners of Irish Lights are a statutory body of 21 members, with perpetual succession, to provide and maintain Aids to Navigation around the coast of Ireland.

Our photo-shoot in Dun Laoghaire was to publish the Dublin Bay Bill, a project that I've been working on for the last year or so. I held a 'Dublin Bay Futures' Conference in the Kingston Hotel here in Dun Laoghaire last Spring, and the Bill was inspired by those discussions. Dublin Bay is under pressure from high-rise building proposals at the moment, but while all this construction is taking place, the Baths at Blackrock and Dun Laoghaire lie derelict.

We're proposing a new Dublin Bay Authority that would properly manage the Bay on behalf of the people of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire. Last Thursday at our launch in the Kingston we stated that this new Authority could carry out the following activites:

1. Regenerating the Baths around the Bay such as Dún Laoghaire, Blackrock and Clontarf.
2. Ensuring that the proposed ‘S2S’ (Sutton to Sandycove) walking and cycle route becomes a reality.
3. Providing greater access to the water for anglers, swimmers and boat users.
4. Protecting low-lying coastal areas from the risks of flooding due to climate change or natural events.
5. Developing the South Docks and
Poolpeg Peninsula as high amenity residential areas as the first phase of Dublin Port’s eventual removal from the City Centre.
6. Creation of a
Marine Park initially in the area between Sandycove and the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire.
7. Extending the Luas into
Poolbeg Peninsula.
8. Utilising the heated water from the Poolbeg Power Plants to provide district heating for apartments along the Liffey.
9. Ending the discharge of raw sewage into the Bay from the small number of remaining outlets while also resolving the capacity and odour problems at the Ringsend Plan.
10. Phasing out the parking of cars on the beaches of
Bull Island.

Ireland's Coast Zone Management Plan is still only in draft format, ten years after it was first produced. Our proposed Dublin Bay Authority would ensure that the Bay is better managed for future generations. It was great to get our Bill published, and it provides a taster for what the Greens would like to achieve if we're in Government after the election in a few weeks time.

14 April, 2007

Expect more of this


I had pushed the bell before I had read the sign fully.

Should I high-tail it before anyone came to the door, or should I stand my ground? Normally I ignore the 'No junk mail' signs, as I'm sure most of us do. I stood my ground. I could hear footsteps. I took a deep breath.

"Hi ya doing, sorry about that, I hadn't read the sign before I pushed your bell."

"Oh, don't mind that sign, that's only the husband, he gets these notions, and printed out the sign."

Phew!

"I'm from the Green Party, I'm Ciarán Cuffe, one of your TDs, and I'm just calling by with a newsletter.

"Oh, the Greens, come on in, this is a green house here. He put the sign up because of that other fellah that keeps calling by, morning, noon and night.

I broke one of the cardinal rules of canvassing and stepped across the threshold.

"What a nice house"

"It's one of these Coillte Griffner timber houses, isn't it lovely?"

And, indeed it was. Rule two of canvassing. Listen to the voter, don't talk at them. The house WAS beautiful; timber-frame, lots of light, a bright stairwell filling the house with light.

"We built it in the side-garden, and then decided to move into ourselves."

And that's why a fifth of the new homes in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown are being squeezed onto these infill sites, alongside existing homes. It's a great solution to providing a house for the son or daughter, and allows them to live close to their parents in the neighbourhood where they grew up. It also beats being squeezed into one of the shoe-box apartments that seem to be replacing houses all around the County. Some guidelines on infill development wouldn't be any harm, but in general these side-garden homes work out well.

Anyway, after the full tour of the house - ("lovely kitchen, but too many windows, and not enough storage...") I made my excuses and headed away. The rest of the team were two roads on at this stage, and reminded me (again) never to spend more than two minutes at a door. A pleasant encounter, and a nice snapshot of canvassing on a sunny Friday afternoon in April 2007

15 March, 2007

Slow Travel

We'd been planning the trip for a while. On screen it looked easy, and we were dying to find out how it would actually pan out. The idea was to farm out the kids to friends and relations and head off on a low carbon long weekend to Paris. It would be nice to get away for a couple of days before the madness of the last two months of the campaign.

Well, we had a great time. The 11h10 sailings of the HSS Stena Sealink started up after the winter break on 1st March, and we were first in line. There had been gales for the few days before we set off, and the memory of trips on the mailboat twenty years ago kept coming back to haunt me - the smell of vomit, the sound of breaking glasses in the swell and the drunken slurred question "Are we near Holyhead?", before another wave sent more drinks crashing off the bar.

Everythink had changed. Even the €42 train and ferry ticket to London felt cheaper than it had been a generation previously. It was a sunny breezy morning as we stepped of the Dart, and into the bright terminal building. As we boarded someone from Welsh Tourism handed us daffodils and a small red stuffed dragon, a nice touch. Twenty minutes later we rounded the East Pier lighthouse, and Ireland was soon a blurred line on the distant horizon. There was only a faint swell once we were out at Sea, and the Welsh hills soon appeared. Our Virgin Pendolino high-speed tilting train was delayed, but a local train brought us to Llandudno, and after an hour's wait in the sunshine trying to decipher no smoking billboards in welsh we were on our way. Soon we sped through Chester and Crewe, before upping our speed down to London, Euston. Without Oyster cards we had to fork over£4 each for a fifteen minute tube ride south to Waterloo, next time we'll be better prepared.

After a two minute baggage inspection we boarded the 19h43 Eurostar on time, and at £29.50 for a one-way ticket it felt like a bargain. We had a quick coffee in the waiting area cafe, and as we boarded someone checked our meal reservations, and brought us to our seats. We had splashed out by pre-ordering a meal on board, and as soon as the train pulled out from Waterloo, the waiter appeared, offering us a glass of champagne to set us on our way. An announcement as we tucked into our main course gently informed us that we were about to enter the Channel tunnel, and our ears popped as we entered and exited from under the sea twenty minutes later. We pulled into Paris Gare de Nord at 23h30 (22h30 Irish time) and after a taxi trip past the Paris Opera and through the Place de la Concorde we crossed the Seine and checked into our hotel and gazed at the lights on the Eiffel Tower at midnight. Truly, the most stress-free foreign trip that I've had in years.

The way back was a different story. We had a great night in London, but there was no ferry that would take foot passangers from either Holyhead from Liverpool or Holyhead connecting with Sunday trains. Only cars were allowed. Sustainability how are you! We joined the masses at Gatwick and queued for 45 minutes for security, with staff telling you to walk faster and removing bottles of water prior to the security check. I'm not totally convinced that high-speed trains or ferries are as light on the planet as we might allow ourselves to believe, but Eurostar certainly think that their service only generates one tenth the emissions of travel by air. Next time I'll do my best to let the train take the strain, both there, and back. You can have a look at our journey to Paris on that Youtube thingy. By the way, it was herself who went for the vegetarian option, before eagle-eyed observers inspect my dinner too closely!