31 December, 2006

Alarmed, distressed, fearful or intimidated anyone?

Let the ASBOs begin…! It is Fine Gael that has me worried, though. Not the individuals themselves who are for the most part charming and pleasant, but the policies. Boot camps and drink tanks are my concern, and of course playing the fear card in politics. It has been done before of course, but let’s not forget about the causes of crime.

I can’t believe that Lucinda has fallen for the idea of military service for young offenders. Captain Billy Timmins TD (a former army man) first mooted the idea, but Lucinda? Please. Of course, Fianna Fáil is at it as well, with Senator Cyprian Brady’s suggestion that we call in the troops.

I did like her quote from Fr Peter McVerry describing St Patrick’s Institution as a place where time is spent “mindlessly walking up and down a dreary, depressing yard with nothing to do except to scheme how to get drugs into the place to kill the boredom.” That’s not 1000 miles away from a description of Leinster House for some of the inmates serving their five years, with the Member’s bar substituting licit for illicit substances.

Gangland crime is a messy business though, as is anti-social behaviour, but I’d like us all to think about how to make prisons rehabilitate, how to reform the Garda Síochána, and how to address the needs of disadvantaged communities in 2007.

My new year’s resolution is to try and keep fear out of the equation, apart of course from the occasional rant about climate change.

I’m ruling out Lucinda’s suggestion for Military service for young offenders in 2007, and I’d like to see the 2001 Children’s’ Act implemented instead... I’d also agree with Michael (for once) on the issue of café bars, better them, than super-pubs with all the atmosphere of an airport Departure Lounge, and I’d say it would reduce the need for drink tanks as well.

May you all have a lively and enjoyable 2007, free from fear!

21 December, 2006

High Rise in Suburbia

Ahh, lads. You can't be serious. This is the latest high-rise proposal for Booterstown. I was just getting used to the madness of knocking down the Tara Towers Hotel and replacing it with a twenty five story building when along comes this proposal for the old Shell Garage on the Rock Road. It's 'town cramming' as far as I'm concerned, these attempts to shoe-horn massive developments onto suburban sites where the context is two storey semi-detached housing.

I'm all in favour of increasing densities but these recent Planning Applications are over the top. Even the ducks on Booterstown Birdmarsh should be nervous at this stage. Here's my release on the issue.

Hopefully the High Buildings Study being undertaken by Urban Initiatives will shed some light on the issue of suitable heights and densities. We'll see what Kelvin and his team come up with. I'd be happy to increase densities around fixed-line public transport stops, but I'm worried that it's a bit of a free-for-all on every suburban corner site at the moment. Design, as always is crucial on these sites, but no amount of good design can dissipate the anger that many feel at watching proposals for ten or fifteen storey buidings popping up in the next door neighbour's garden!

08 December, 2006

Garda Patrol

24 November 2006

Re: Parking on Bicycle lanes

Dear Superintendent Leahy,

I write to request that you dedicate more resources to ensuring that vehicles do not park on bicycle lanes. I cycle with my two young children to school every morning, and almost every morning vehicles are parked in the cycle lane on the way.

This morning a Garda vehicle parked in the lane and the driver remained in the vehicle while his colleague went into the adjoining delicatessen. I tapped on the window of the vehicle and asked the driver not to park on the bicycle lane. The driver told me he had the right to park there, and asked me did I have lights on my bike (which I did!).

Superintendent, your men and women deserve respect, but they have to earn it. My boys learnt a lesson this morning that will remain with them for some time to come. They appreciate the value of bicycle lanes being kept free of vehicles, but on a regular basis vehicles (including Garda vehicles) park in that lane in order to go into the shop.

Can I make a plea to you that you will discuss the issue with the driver of that car, and that you will try and ensure that bicycle lanes are kept free of vehicles?

I look forward to hearing from you.


Ciarán Cuffe


6 December 2006

Re: Parking on Bicycle lanes

Dear Mr. Cuffe,

I am in receipt of your letter of 24 November 2006 and I thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Inspector Gerry Donnelly has spoken to the member concerned and I have issued appropriate instructions to all drivers in this District.

Yours sincerely,

John Leahy Superintendent

28 November, 2006

Borat Buyout

The Economist engages with environmental issues regularly, but it was last week's issue of Hello that took me by surprise. In their comment section they had writer Paul Brown engaging with the challenging issues of the day - Climate Change.

"Climate change has to be tackled urgently ... The days of making the School run in a 4 x 4 down crowded suburban side streets and taking cheap weekend breaks in Eastern European Cities are numbered."

Well, there you have it, if that isn't a tipping point I don't know what is.

The Economist piece was fairly positive as well, even if they did use a nasty variation of this pic of a fallen turbine in Lichtenau, Germany as part of their piece.

"Clean-energy fever is being fuelled by three things: high oil prices, fear over energy security and a growing concern about global warming."

Meanwhile our man Eamon Ryan is back from Nairobi, leaving his blog behind him, I'll pester him to update it. Dick Roche didn't add much to the debate about Climate Change there. Interesting to see the Climate Change page on the Environment website was last updated three years ago. Now he's encouraging Ireland to exercise the "Borat Buyout". We're about to purchase €5m worth of shares in greenhouse gas reduction projects in countries like Kazakhstan. That probably beats buying carbon credits on the international market, but shouldn't we be investing in climate change reductions here at home such as public transport projects, renewable energy and better building standards?

08 November, 2006

There Are Reasonable Alternatives

"TARA" he said, "There are reasonable Alternatives." The speaker was Dr. Herbert Rauch at a conference on the theme of energy conservation that I attended as part of the Austrian EU Presidency.

I felt bad about the air miles, but I was at least able to point out to the attendees that the Austrian Parliament might consider changing to low-energy light bulbs in their Conference Rooms. I did buy some Carbon from Tony Lowes to salve my conscience for the travel to and from
Vienna, though I'm not so sure that that's the best idea either.

Anyway, here's one of those alternatives. I'm standing on the rail bed of the former Navan rail line close to the heart of the town, just before the march to Save Tara last Saturday. If the Navan rail line was reinstated for a commuter rail service, it would take some of the pressure off building a Motorway through the heart of the
Tara Skreen Valley.

At the moment it seems like Fianna Fáil is high on promises but a bit slow on the delivery end of putting back the rail link.

I told the protesters that
Tara had been a "holy place and a sacred space" for thousands of years. "Before Christ was born, Tara was sacred. In the 19th century, Tara was sacred, and in the 21st century we have to keep Tara as a sacred place. I would be an act of sacrilege to drive a motorway through the Tara Skreen valley. It would be the most disrespectful act to our history, to our heritage and to future generations."

It's the eleventh hour at this stage, but moving the route is on the Green Party's shopping list for a Programme for Government. Well done to Rosaleen Allen and Heather Buchanan for organising the March.

29 October, 2006

Howie or Hillary?

One of the great things about being involved in politics is that you get the chance to vent your spleen on the issues of the day. There's great satisfaction in haranguing a Minister on his or her incompetencies in the Dáil chamber, and pointing out how things could be done better.

Of course voting also allows you to give your opinion, and can be equally effective in putting a stop to the gallop of politicians that you don’t agree with.

When it comes to international issues it can be difficult to make your views known. However, I’m fortunate enough to have a vote in the forthcoming Senate race in New York. My mother was American and that allows me to hold both an Irish and a US passport. I remember a Guard at a rowdy party back in the 1980’s threatening me with the loss of an ‘American visa’ if I didn’t pipe down. Little did he know that I had a passport available to me if I needed it. As it happened I did spend a fair amount of time in the United States back then, and lived in New York and San Francisco at different times.

I've held on to my dual citizenship, though at times during the Bush presidencies I've been tempted to give it up. The US Government seem OK about me holding on to it, (unless I'm actually serving in a 'foreign'' government), and the Irish Government seems happy enough about it, and even Michael has acquired a certain taste for Jus sanguinis in the last few years.

My time spent living in Brooklyn back in the 1980’s allows me to choose between voting for Hillary Clinton (Democrat) and Howie Hawkins (Green) in the forthcoming New York Senate election. I’ve enormous admiration for Hillary and her attempts to reform the American healthcare system, but at the end of the day she’s been hugely supportive of the war in Iraq. I wouldn't be a huge fan of Howie, for one thing he also seems to be a member of the US Socialist Party and the US Labor Party as well as the Greens, but I feel it's important for Hillary to know that there's concern out there about the War as she coasts home. That’s why I’ve filled in my ballot for Howie Hawkins as my choice for New York Senator in the mid-term elections on November 7th 2006.

16 October, 2006

Ideas for Blackrock Baths

Nessa Childers and I are holding an ‘Ideas’ meeting for Blackrock Baths on Wednesday 18th October at 8 pm in the Church Hall on Cross Avenue close to the junction with Mount Merrion Avenue.

Alanis Ltd controlled by the McCormack family and Treasury Holdings apparantly own the Baths and Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is the tenant.

We’d love to see a Baths back on the site, but nobody’s jumping forward with a wad of cash to make this happen. It's a practical example of the the issues we discussed at our Dublin Bay Futures Conference last April. Ideally many of the Baths around the bay should be restored now that the water quality of the Bay itself is improving because of the new Ringsend Sewage Treatment Works.

The Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Plan says they want to “secure the re-development of Blackrock Baths for tourism and amenity purposes and improve the pedestrian linkages and visual amenity at Blackrock Baths, DART Station, Bath Place Car Park and the Main Street.”

Obviously any ideas for the site should respect the Protected Structures of Idrone Terrace. Clearly Irish Rail is also a key player in all of this. I’d like to see changes to the mess of surface car-parking at Bath Place itself. Shops on the ground floor with apartments overhead and a couple of levels of parking with a courtyard on top might be one way of doing it. Another would be to extend Blackrock Park southwards by widening the measly strip that provides pedestrians with a link to the Park from the Railway Station. Anything is possible if the will is there. The Sutton to Sandycove group also has great ideas for a cycle and pedestrian route around the Bay.

Hope you can make it along.

13 October, 2006

Valuing Families

It's about equality.

That sums up our policy on marriage and partnership rights that we launched yesterday. The Pic shows myself, Eamon Ryan and Trevor Sargent and members of the USI LGBT Campaign in front of the Dáil supporting Dr. Katherine Zappone and Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan in the court action to have their Canadian marriage recognised in

Roderick O’Gorman our candidate in Dublin West (grinning from ear to ear behind Trevor's shoulder) put a lot of time and effort into making this policy a reality.

The Policy concentrates on three issues:

-providing legal rights for partners that have been living together for three years or longer (co-habiting couples)

-putting in place a Register of Civil Partnership for those who wish to have the State recognize their relationship, and

-recognising civil marriage between same sex couples.

I’d love to see the State give a bit more recognition to civil marriage in the first instance. Here in Ireland you’re lucky to find the Registrar of Civil Marriage in an office at the back-end of a suburban office park. In Rome you can indulge yourselves in the City Hall beside Michelangelo’s Campidoglio.

If I had my way I’d install retired City Managers in the Rotunda of City Hall on Dame Street beside Dublin Castle, and give them purple robes to perform the ceremony.

Dream on.

10 October, 2006

Blogging the Election

Hope I didn't send out too many mixed messages in my stream of consciousness at the 'Blogging the Election Conference in the Digital Hub last Saturday. Blogging is one of the saner ways of campaigning, and yes it is like looking for votes in a bar.

Thank you John for your thoughts on time poverty as noted by Semper Idem.
Thanks for the pic from Red Mum. Am I allowed use that?

Damien Blake
is far too nice a guy to be in Fianna Fáil. His reference to knocking on doors when nobody's home struck a chord. Dominic Hannigan should do well in east Meath.

I liked Damian Mulley's suggestion that we should follow politicians around for a day. Here's my last twelve hours or so.

Watch the news about the Gort stand-off and issue a press release at 10h30 pm stating:
"The use of non-lethal weaponry by the Gardaí appears to have been a crucial factor in avoiding serious injuries."
Then listen to Vincent Browne and go woops! Issue an update at 11 pm saying:
"I earlier welcomed the use of non-lethal weaponry by the Gardaí. However in the light of more recent media reports that conventional weapons were used, we urgently need a clear report on the efficacy of such bean-bag weapons, and on the decision to use a Garda sniper to disable the man. Given that there may not have been independent witnesses, it may be appropriate for the Minister for Justice to direct the new Garda Ombudsman Commission to perform an investigation under Section 106 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and review the practices, policies and procedures used by the Garda Síochána in connection with this incident.

Wake up this morning; get feedback from Nessa, Tom and Kealin on the Monkstown Ring Road. Our proposal to drop the road was lost 11-16 with the usual shenanigans of councillors from the Blackrock ward voting with us, and their colleagues from other areas in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown voting against us. Good thread on Politics.ie on the issue. Then wrote up notes from the Leopardstown and Brewery Road Residents Association, who are being driven around the bend by the plethora of Planning Applications and Appeals for the Grange development on the old Esso Site.

Brief meetings of the Parliamentary Party and Party staff, and then with help from my Parliamentary Researcher drafted up a "Standing Order 31" motion on the plight of Mary Ucheh who was deported to Nigeria without her five-year-old son. Rosanna Flynn of Residents Against Racism had tipped me off on that one, and I had faxed in a letter to Michael McDowell asking him not to proceed, while Ms. Ucheh was being held in the Garda National Immigration Bureau on Burgh Quay in Dublin, but to no avail. This appears to have been the third time that this has occurred, and this week's Village also covers the story. The SO31 allows me to ask for a discussion of the issue on the floor of the house, but the Ceann Comhairle (chairman) Rory O'Hanlon TD has only granted this once in the four years that I've been a TD. You can watch it live if you've nothing better to do this afternoon.

Then off to a meeting of the All Party Oireachtas Committee of the Constitution where we discussed amongst other things letter from Sean Aylward, Secretary General in Justice regarding an OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. If that doesn't put you to sleep I don't know what will!

Bertiegate will continue in the Dáil later on. That was an interesting list in the Sunday Tribune of the attendees at a Fianna Fáil Dinner. Jerry Beades - not the same guy who had trouble with the Planning Authorities over unauthorised development in the North Inner City? Bernard McNamara - not the same guy who was landing his helicopter without Planning Permission beside the Booterstown Birdmarsh. Jim Mansfield - not the same person who was building a Conference Centre without Planning Permission in Lucan. Noel O'Callaghan - Surely not the same fellah who knocked down Archer's Garage, a listed Art Deco Building, and was forced to rebuild it. I could go on... And then you wonder about the lack of Planning Enforcement in this country.

Then, if I can escape from the Dáil I'm off for a couple of hours knocking on doors. That's a busy day, usually there's a bit more sanity to the whole thing.

Yikes, there's a call from someone saying that one of our councillors is issuing a press release criticising An Taisce for being a secret society, because they don't release their membership lists. Ever heard of the Data Protection Register? Never a dull moment. If politics doesn't work out there's always Crisis Management!

06 October, 2006

Time out with Leonard

Some times you just need to get away from the world of politics.

A bunch of us headed down to the Point for an incredible four hour long tribute to Leonard Cohen. That's a whited out Lou Reed in the pic - 64 and still rockin'.

Gavin Friday was sublime, as was Antony. Laurie Anderson was so-so, but having listened to her five LP set 'United States' to keep me awake through all-nighters in College, it was great to see one of my heroes perform live.

Nick Cave, was well, Nick Cave, complete with a drooping cowboy moustache, and Jarvis Cocker was chilled out and looked like he was enjoying the evening.

Another night out tonight ....I'm off with Eamon to the Alma Mater to see whether the 'Sulk Coalition' partners are still on speaking terms. Michael should be there, and An Taoiseach is the after-dinner speaker.

I'll update you if they start throwing bread rolls at each other!

01 October, 2006

Madness in Monkstown

It rained, it lashed, it poured,

We marched through the downpour.
It seems crazy that in 2006 a Local Authority believes that throwing more roads at the traffic will solve our transport problems. The amazing think is that that it's not a road like the new road between the Glenageary Roundabout at Sallynoggin and Church Road in Killiney. This thing is a monster. It will bring tens of thousands of cars past people's driveways every day. It will exceed the noise levels for National roads. It'll have the same amount of traffic as the Arklow Bypass, but it'll bring them on to what is currently a series of cul-de-sacs.

Well, the inspector said in his report that:
"...the proposed road development would represent an inappropriate form of development which would encourage increased car usage and would conflict with national, regional and local policies for the sustainable development of transport."

He also stated that:
"I am satisfied that the proposed road would be likely to lead to a modal shift away from walking towards short-hop use of cars, on grounds of safety. This would, in my judgment, be particularly likely in relation to school children, who currently have safe routes to walk to the local schools within a 300m - 500m distance, being driven to school in the future. This is totally contrary to the emphasis and policy direction of the Platform for Change Strategy (and indeed other Government policies in relation to health and children generally."

The solution is for Government to provide more buses, and better routes in Dublin, instead of endless wrangling between Government partners; improve DART frequency; and extend the Luas to Bray, as well as providing Safe Routes to School at a local level.

After spending days at the Oral Hearing held by An Bord Pleanála in the Gresham Hotel last spring I was delighted with the Inspector's Report but bitterly disappointed that the Board itself over-ruled his decision. Matters will come to a head on Monday week 2nd October in the Council Chamber of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, and it could turn nasty. The Green Party councillors led by ward councillor Nessa Childers will be voting not to proceed with the works under section 139 of the Local Government Act, and it's up to the other groups on the Council to decide what to do.

There's a lot of lobbying going on, as there'll clearly be winners and losers in all this. I've been receiving lots of texts and emails, and I do my best to win them over to my way of seeing things. Text lobbying seems to have emerged over the last few months. It's invasive, but effective. I just don't see the logic in spending €20 million plus on saving 30 seconds on a journey and reducing congestion by 1%, but as I said in my own evidence at the Inquiry even those figures are suspect. If more kids are going to be driven to school, it simply doesn't make sense.

Well done to Sean Mulvihill (shaking hands with Nessa and myself in the pic) and Barry Troy of the Rowenbyrn and District Residents Association for the time and effort that they've put into all of this. We'll see how it all pans out in the Council chamber on Monday week.

29 September, 2006

Shanganagh Castle for Sale

I think they're selling the family silver. Michael McDowell has put Shanganagh Castle in South Dublin on the market.

Growing up near Shankill we used to climb Katty Gallagher, all 912 feet high and look down on the lands between the Dublin Mountains and the sea. Between the village of Shankill and Bray were farms, and in the middle of it all was Shanganagh Castle. It was built in 1408 for the Lawless family.

Michael McDowell told me in a Dáil reply back in 2002: "Shanganagh Castle was opened in 1969 as an open detention centre for males aged between 16 and 21 years of age. The centre, which stands on grounds of 24 acres, has accommodation for 60 inmates. However, it has been increasingly difficult to identify young male offenders suitable for this type of open prison accommodation. Shanganagh Castle had an average offender occupancy of 30 inmates last year and this has fallen again this year, with only 16 inmates being detained there at present. In addition, the full implementation of the provisions of the Children Act, 2001, will mean that 16 and 17 years old inmates must be completely segregated in the prison system, resulting in a further drop in those offenders who might be found suitable for transfer to Shanganagh Castle, and was acquired by the State for young offenders in 1969.

He went on to say that it cost €127,000 to keep an offender there for a year, but that kind of a figure always sounds a bit odd. I'd have thought it would be a perfect location for young offenders. There's a farm attached to the lands, and what better location for young offenders than a place in the country, right beside a proposed DART station? Well, the guide price is €15m, but the Indo thinks it'll go for closer to €30 farm.

If young offenders lose out, how about offering it to first time buyers?
The agents CB Richard Ellis tell us that
"the site offers an excellent opportunity to construct a high quality residential development in a prime location, subject to the necessary planning consent... The proposed DART station at Woodbrook will undoubtedly ameliorate the sites potential even further."

It's a curious use of the word 'ameliorate' methinks, but perhaps modern English isn't on the curriculum in Property School.

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council has bought some of the lands at the front of the site but perhaps the Department of Justice could have offered the Castle and the 6 acres of grounds to Des Geraghty's Affordable Homes Partnership to assist first time buyers. There's also a need for more educational facilities in Shankill.

Maybe some canny investor will put a five star hotel on the site, but for the State to sell such lands all seems a bit short-sighted to me, particularly when the Council hasn't even finished drafting a Local Area Plan for the area.

10 September, 2006

Affordable Homes

Dear Minister Roche,

In past few weeks there has been much debate about affordable housing provision in Ireland.

I would like to bring a new idea to the debate.

I believe that the Government and specifically your Department should hold a manufacturing and design competition for affordable housing.

Such a competition would utilise the market to get the highest possible performance out of our construction industry.

The idea of the competition would be that your Department would call on housing designers and manufacturers to team up and come up with a high quality, sustainably constructed house design that could be produced for under €100, 000.

Such a competition was successfully run in the UK last year by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Unless we have fresh thinking on housing affordability I think that owning a home will soon cease to be a realistic ambition for many young people.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss my proposal further.

More information on the Department for Communities and Local Government can be seen on this website:

Best regards,


Ciarán Cuffe TD
Dún Laoghaire Green Party
Spokesperson for Environment, Heritage and Local Government”

27 August, 2006

Silence Please

Sure it's a silly pic, but any photo-op is better than the kiss of death of a press conference in Buswell's Hotel. Our Neighbourhood Noise Bill is simply a way of making it easier to tackle noise in our everyday lives. The effects of pollution can be obvious like a fish-kill, or less easy to detect like greenhouse gas emissions. Many people simply don't get it that noise is also a form of pollution and deserves to be treated as seriously as any other type of pollution.

Councillor David Healy pointed out that the noise is not simply a nuisance but has significant effects on human health, stress levels, memory, learning, attention and mood. We want to put in place a single point of contact for noise nuisance within local authorities, plus a freephone number and the powers to actually do something about the problem. There's nothing worse than waiting weeks or months for a hearing in the District Court and than not having the other side turn up.

Years ago, I had a friend who took a hammer to an alarm on a wall beside his apartment, but what he didn't realise was that it had an internal battery that kept sounding until he had silenced it with a lump hammer. We'd give Noise Control Officers the right to remove a building alarm if it isn't registered, and if the key-holder can't be contacted, and give the Guards power to tow a vehicle if the alarm keeps on sounding for hours.

As Ireland becomes more urbanised noise is becoming a bigger problem. There are some great sites devoted to noise pollution, from the Site of Silence in the Netherlands to the US clearing house No Noise, and the Right to Quiet Society in Canada. Our Bill would help, but we also need to tighten up the Building Regulations and ensure that they're better monitored, as many apartment buildings don't seem to be up to spec on this front.

Essentially it's a quality of life issue that the Greens feel requires action, and yes, it is on our shopping list for Government.

14 August, 2006

Travelling Smart

Few things get people more animated than talking about traffic and transport. Spike Milligan once observed that by virtue of having children he had made his own traffic jam.

I bought my Smart car just as they started to appear in Ireland. A friend told me that someone had just bough a car off the internet, and I was hooked. Six years later and 30,000 km down, it's working just fine, although I did have to replace the battery after ambitiously using it to jump-start the station wagon. It's always enjoyable finding a parking space too small for other cars to use. We got rid of that second car a year ago, and are happy with the decision. The teenagers didn't particularly want to travel with us anyway, and the younger kids hated being trussed into baby-seats for long periods at a time. They're much happier running around the DART or Luas. A few years ago it cost €20 to fill the tank. These days it's closer to €25, but that only happens around once a month.

Most days I cycle though. It's a good way of arriving on time and it beats the heck out of being stuck in the roadworks on the Rock Road. Unlike David Cameron I tend to cycle alone, that is, apart from a child or two on board during term time. Speaking of the Rock Road, it would be no harm if the PD's and Fianna Fáil could sort out their ideological differences and ensure that we get 200 instead of 20 new buses for Dublin and ensure that there will be at least a few buses on that Quality Bus Corridor when it eventually opens. Joined-up government how are you!

Reducing the need to travel or travelling by slow mode is part of the approach to tackling climate change emissions. The author and visionary Mayer Hillman, however introduced me to the concept of the 'no mode' or telecommuting in the early 90's, an even greener approach, unless the server farms' electricity bills get too high.

Of course you can always buy your way out of it, but creating vibrant mixed-use communities where you can live, work and relax in the same area can reduce emissions, even if it would make the architect and planner Le Corbusier turn in his grave. Corb felt we should live in areas strictly segregated by zoning, and while that kept the people away from the polluted industrial areas of his day it simply increased the need to travel in the first place. There's few things better than not having to travel at all by having what you need located close by.

Alternative fuels will help reduce our oil dependence, but even an acre of soybeans only yields 60 gallons of biodiesel, according to Chevron's ads. Anybody for a one off house with 5 acres of soybeans or sunflowers? I was much more impressed with Arnie's test drive of the Tesla, a funky new electric motor. It wasn't the 0-60 in 4 seconds that did it for me, but the idea that you could simply cover your garage in photo-voltaic cells in order to charge the thing, even if that only works with California's sunshine.

Higher density living in apartments and terraced housing will provide alternatives to travelling long distances to and from work, particularly if there's jobs close by. However people are understandably annoyed if they feel that their open spaces are being taken away from them, particularly if there's an absence of consultation or local plans.

Meanwhile Victoria in Australia has a nice site that shows how to reduce your load on planet Earth, Martin Cullen please copy; although we may need to infiltrate the Cumann in order to sway his hand.

26 June, 2006

Green Energy at Leopardstown

We were swamped! On Sunday 18th June we held our Green Energy Fair in the Tote Hall at Leopardstown Racecourse. Eamon Ryan, Deirdre deBurca and myself organised the day that brought over 3,000 people interested in low energy solutions to Leopardstown to see our forty exhibitors dispalaying their wares. Sustainable Energy Ireland went through three days worth of leaflets in the first two hours, and it really showed that there is a hunger for solutions out there.

There was some irony in the fact that your local Green Party TDs spent much of the day directing cars into the overflow car park after the first two car parks filled up by lunchtime, but it was worth it in the end.

Much of the technology on display consisted of products such as solar water heaters, wind turbines and lambswool insulation. Several people seemed overwhelmed by the bazaarlike atmosphere of the Tote Hall and asked me for my relatively impartial advice on the subject. Insulation, insulation, insulation was my response, oh and if you're replacing your boiler think about a high-efficiency condensing one, or perhaps a wood pellet model if you have the space.

In the longer term we need to dramatically improve standards in the Building Regulations. Ireland has no energy efficiency standards for lighting, even though California has them in place for years. Meanwhile Grant Engineering in Co. Galway are exporting most of their Boilers to the UK where they tightened up their building standards years ago.

02 June, 2006

White Lillies on Kildare Street

I never thought I'd be sitting in a room discussing sexual positions with Michael McDowell. Politics is a strange calling though, and along with Jim O'Keefe and Brendan Howlin and a clatter of advisors (all male) I found myself in a ministerial meeting room, not once but three times over the last few days. It all felt like a bad dream, and in the end we differed over the criminal penalties for sexually active fifteen year olds. Rushed legislation is bound to be flawed, and that's why I proposed a 'sunset' clause of two years for the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2006.

The crowds outside was angry but it feels a bit odd to have a state broadcaster egging them on. We TDs were damned if we showed our faces there and damned if we didn't. Someone said to me that there were very few of us there, but someone else was giving TDs a hard time for showing up. Curious having a PD candidate addressing the crowd when their own Minister had forseen stormy waters as long as ten years ago.

The devil is in the detail, and perhaps Part 5 of the Act is the most contentious. Stigmatising fifteen and sixteen year old boys for having sex, while saying to girls of the same age that they won't be criminalised for having penetrative sex, but will be for other kinds of sexual act must be one of the most bizarre pieces of legislation in recent years. It seems doesn't seem like the right kind of message that the Stay Safe Programme is teaching in schools, but even that is hard enough to get details on from the web.

Perhaps some sort of Romeo and Juliet clause that wouldn't criminalise 15 and 16 year old teenagers who have sex with persons less than two years older than themselves would have been a better way to go. The Green Party tabled various amendments, but even the seemingly uncontentious suggestion that the rights of the child should be a primary consideration was opposed by Government. Doubtless the Sunday papers will have a field day.

16 May, 2006

St. Patrick's People

Tough times in St. Patricks. The Dublin Ambulance crew are worried about the men. They say that organ failure can happen as quickly as a heart attack.

The UNHCR says "the significant upsurge in violence in some parts of the country has limited the access to those areas by both international humanitarian actors and Government representatives, denying the population access to entitlements, services and protection." Meanwhile the Department of Foreign Affairs tells us not to visit.

Above the men hang the regimental flags from long ago. A plaque on the nearby walls states "Sacred to the memory of James Slator Cummings Esquire, Liutenant in the 9th Regiment of Foot who was killed in action in Afghanistan at the forcing of the Kyber Pass on the 5th April 1842 aged 23 years while gallantly leading a company of that regiment, a brave soldier and a sincere christian."

As a friend of St. Patrick's Cathedral I never thought I'd see a scene like this within the walls. I'm glad to hear reports that the hunger strikers are taking water. The children should give up their strike now. It is heartening that the Department of Justice will meet with the men.
This case highlights the difficulties of the refugee appeals system in Ireland.

The Refugee Appeals Tribunal is famous for the secrecy under which it operates and the lack of transparency surrounding its decision making process. The Minister appoints the members of the Tribunal and there is no independent selection or interview procedure. Only one case in five cases of those who have sought asylum here has been granted. Of course the system can be abused, but these men are desperate and we need transparancy to ensure that these mens' applications are carefully considered.

03 May, 2006

Yellow journalism

The politics of colour showed through in John Lalor’s piece in this months Magill magazine. Headed ‘Green for Danger’ the author attempted to show that the Greens are for the birds. The piece mocks the environmental movement, and suggests that environmentalism creates the mirage of ‘community’. Although the writer states that the statements from the likes of Dave Foreman have no official connection with the Irish Green Party, the strawman is carefully positioned for maximum effect. Joschka Fischer’s behaviour is also ridiculed, but Lalor heads back almost forty years for that particular piece of mud-raking, and ends up by suggesting that under the camouflage of Green policies red hearts are beating strongly.

Not in Vanity Fair I suspect. Editor Graydon Carter suggests that ‘Green is the New Black’. In the Green Issue George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Robert F Kennedy Jr. and Al Gore contribute, and call for a new environmental revolution. I particularly liked Al Gore’s article where he quotes General Omar Bradley who said at the end of World War II: ‘It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of each passing ship’. It is also important to stress as Al Gore does that a more environmentally sound future can be a good news story. If we want to, it can include better planned neighbourhoods, more Brownfield rather than Greenfield sites; homes that are better insulated and cheaper to heat, more time with your kids. It does involve government support and intervention though, and a laissez-faire approach just won’t deliver the goods.

21 April, 2006

Up the Republic!

That phrase felt like the right greeting last Sunday evening at the post-parade bash in Dublin Castle. I used it a few times, but after a few raised eyebrows I kept it to myself. Someone suggested that it was more appropriate to a drunken fan during a Munster Final, so that shut me up. The parade seemed too militaristic for my liking, and more of a cynical attempt to reclaim the votes lost to Sinn Fein, rather that any serious attempt to honour those of 1916. I’m not quite sure whether the fallen heroes would have appreciated the three Government jets.

The post-parade party in Dublin Castle was another thing entirely. It was a celebration, and a good one at that. I met Michael Collins’s grand nieces, and they seemed delighted with the day. One corner of St. Patrick’s hall seemed jammed with de Valeras of various descriptions. The outside corridor was packed with army top brass at one end, facing off the diplomatic corps at the other. The State Apartments were open, but it came as a shock to enter the room where a wounded Connolly had spent his final days prior to execution.

We held an American wake on Easter Sunday for my brother who was heading off to work in Connecticut. My sister was concerned that the next generation weren’t up to speed on their history and had made up a series of sketches to introduce them to their past. Important to stress the German connection to my nieces whose mum is from those parts, but more confusing to explain how my great-uncle Ignatius was in the British army while another great-uncle Patrick was busy setting up the Irish National League, and editing An Phoblacht.

Some great stories came out of the last fortnight. I remembered a conversation a few years ago with an elderly nun who described lashing down York Street with her sister to see a woman wearing trousers in Stephen’s Green. Constance Markievicz apparently instructed them to “Go home Children, you might get hurt.” Good advice, as she was no pacifist herself.

I met my aunt Mairín at the opening of the 1916 exhibit at the National Museum at Collins Barracks. She remembers sheltering under the dining-room table in their home on Mary’s Road off Baggot Street as the bullets flew from the shoot-out around the corner on Northumberland Road where many rebels, and members of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment were killed or injured. Meanwhile their mother was off on her bike trying to get the Archbishop to intervene and release her arrested brother Paddy. All in all, it was a fascinating few days, both then and now.

21 March, 2006

Dublin Bay's Future

Dublin Bay. Love it, hate it, ignore it at your peril. For many of us it's on our doorstep. We swim in it fish in it and dumped our sewage in it until recently.. The good news is its getting cleaner. The bad news is that nobody's in charge. That's why I'm organising a Conference - Dublin Bay Futures on Saturday 8th April in the Kingston Hotel, Dún Laoghaire between 10 am and 4 pm. We've a good line-up of speakers - Karin Dubsky of Coastwatch Europe, Dick Gleeson the Dublin City Planning Officer, Michael Collins of the S2S coastal cycleway proposal, even Richard Boyd Barrett from Save our Seafront. Should we build on the Poolbeg peninsula? What future for Dún Laoghaire baths? All of this, and more. You can register online, and its free. Hope to see you there.

25 February, 2006

Love Dublin

From BreakingNews.ie

10:59:07 "… Willie Frazer has played down fears that the march will provoke violence, saying: 'The Gardaí are more than capable of policing parades… and if there’s trouble that’ll be up to the Gardaí to deal with, and they will deal with it, irrespective of who it comes from.'"

14:57:54 "…The organisers of the ‘Love Ulster’ parade have cancelled the event following violent clashes on O’Connell Street in Dublin."


Was the March intended to contribute to a lasting peace in Northern Ireland? I doubt it. Echoes of the Dublin Bombings all over again in this pic of a car on fire on Nassau Street from Indymedia. Thankfully nothing that bad from what I’ve heard so far. Not much fun being in town with the kids, so without much information about what was going on we headed as far away from the action as possible. Shops were pulling their shutters down, and it was time to leave.

Report of chairs being thrown through the windows of the Progressive Democrats Headquarters on South Frederick Street. Possibly the same chairs that Pat Rabbitte and Enda Kenny used for their phot-op at Dunne and Crescenzi a few months previously. Speaking of which, whatever happened to that Programme for Government that they were working on, or was it all froth from their cappuccinos?

Meanwhile I’m wondering how the Garda Reserve would have handled today’s disturbances. I’m sure some of the rank and file at work today would have appreciated some back-up.

07 February, 2006

Publish and Perish

Joe Duffy hosted a great old rant on the subject of cartoons about Mohammad yesterday on RTE Radio One. However I came across a similar rant from the US Senate some time ago:

“I do not blame people for being outraged and angered, and they should be angered at us, unless we do something to change this. If this continues and if this goes unrectified, where will it end? They will say, "This is free speech." Well, if you want free speech, you want to draw dirty pictures, you want to do anything you want, that is your business, but not with taxpayers' money.” That was Senator Alfonse d’Amato speaking about the artist Andres Serrano’s work entitled “Piss Christ” back in 1989. Incidentally ‘Serrano’ draws a blank today from the search engine on the US National Endowment of the Arts website today.

Closer to home, no doubt Frank Duff and the League of Decency would have got annoyed by such things in their day. Burning down embassies brings things to another level, but feelings run high when you feel that your country or religion is under attack, as Jim Tunney pointed out after the Burning of the British Embassy in Dublin subsequent to Bloody Sunday back in 1972. I can only imagine that the militants now attacking Danish embassies are venting their rage against the occupation of Iraq, and the civilian deaths that have occurred.

We should be careful not to be smug about democratic freedoms here, or elsewhere in Europe. It’s not that long ago when women had to wear the mantilla in order to receive communion in the Catholic Church. I don’t think the Mohammad cartoons should have been published, simply out of respect for a religion that sees it as blasphemous to depict a likeness of the prophet. Interesting to see that the Jyllands-Posten had previously declined to publish some Jesus cartoons as they might have offended some readers. In the end it comes down to respect. You might not agree with someone’s views, but perhaps respect is needed in order to engage with an opposing view. Cooling down the argument can lead to dialogue and informed debate.

Oh, and the illustration: It is an extract from the 4th prize winner's entry in the Kids Council Arts Competition run by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council. It’s a drawing by Abdul Hadi of the Muslim National School, Roebuck Road, Clonskeagh, Dublin 14.