21 June, 2008

More than beer and biscuits

Good to see reports in today's Irish Times that the Taoiseach has appointed Prof. Peter Clinch as a special advisor. He has a BA and MA degrees in economics and a PhD in environmental economics as well as a Diploma in environmental impact assessment.

What better man for the job at this point in time than someone who holds the
Jean Monnet Professor of European Environmental Policy! Jean Monnet was the architect of European unity, but I'd imagine that Peter will be dealing with issues closer to home than picking up the pieces from the Referendum.

Peter is 'an outspoken critic of decentralisation' according to the Irish Times, and if that is true, I'd tend to be of a like mind.
Two years ago I stated that decentralisation threatened the National Spatial Strategy, and I also suspected that pork was being doled out from the barrel. Devolving power to a proper system of regional governance would be great, but shifting jobs around can be counter-productive, particularly when the need for senior officials to meet face to face may result in mileage claims hitting stratospheric levels.

What annoys me most about the decentralisation programme isn't the 110% parking requirements for new government offices, or the so-called sustainable offices at Ireland West Airport Knock, or the way McCreevy slipped it into a budget speech, but the lack of any enthusiasm for cities having a place in Ireland's future. In my mind cities are the powerhouse for Ireland in the twenty-first century.

Back when I was at school, our geography book -'The World' by Sir Dudley Stamp highlighted Dublin for its production of beer and biscuits. Even then that sounded dated. Since then Dublin has played a crucial role in the development of Ireland's economy. It would be foolish not to ensure that cities like Dublin, Cork and Galway benefit strongly from government planning policies, and not just the Gateway Cities initiative. Since decentralisation was announced, I've been to packed-out meetings of angry Bord Iascaigh Maire staff who don't want leave Dún Laoghaire for Clonakilty, and architectural staff from the OPW who aren't impressed with plans to move them to Cork, Meath and Mayo. As the Trim Co. Meath information from the OPW puts it -
"There is no active rail link between Dublin and Trim at this time." For BIM, the quote in the info pack about Clonakilty must have rubbed salt in their wounds: -"A place of choice for the many and home to the lucky few". I can understand why DIG the Decentralisation Implementation Group (awful acronym) stated last year that "some elements are continuing to prove challenging, especially those relating to the State Agency sector."

Minister Éamon Ó Cuív appears to be no great fan of urban life, and in his
speech two days ago to the Rural Development Forum in Charleville in Cork, he quoted Professor Seamus Caulfield, "…'Perhaps the most unsustainable thing about rural housing is the case that is made against it.' " He also states that "rural residents expend less energy and produce fewer carbon dioxide emissions than their urban counterparts." Harry Magee cites Clinch as stating that greenhouse gas emissions reductions are one of the government's biggest challenges, and that Mr Cowen is very committed to making decisions based on sound evidence and research. Somehow I don't think that if we all head off to the dispersed village or baile fearann it will reduce emissions, unless we're all growing our own, and not driving anywhere, an unlikely prospect for the foreseeable future.

Some number-crunching is clearly required to produce clear figures for urban and rural commuting times and CO2 emissions, and maybe that'll come under Prof. Clinch's job spec. Government clearly has a role to play in ensuring that
citizens are encouraged to make the choices that are best for the environment.

There can be a thriving future for rural Ireland, but in my mind employment growth lies in areas such as agricultural diversification, forestry, properly resourced and marketed farm tourism, and vibrant towns and villages creating jobs and providing services. It's a bleak future were it to rely unduly on the back of jobs reliant on long distance car commuting to distant towns, agricultural subsidies, or the construction of one-off housing. There is a touch of irony to Ó Cuív's contention that
pressure is "forcing rural people to move to towns and cities" when the reality of decentralisation for urban dwellers is the exact opposite. In my mind it shouldn't have to be an 'us versus them' debate, and with the right policies in place both urban and rural areas can thrive.

Clinch is also the co-author of 'After the Celtic Tiger',published back in 2002, and well worth a read, '
as the building boom is coming to a shuddering end'. It wasn't the Greens what talked down the economy, it was the Fianna Fáil Minister for Finance! in fairness, I'm taking Brian Lenihan's quote out of context, and he did correct his quote to suggest that only the housing sector was suffering.

I wouldn't be downbeat, and from our perspective, I'd be talking up the new green economy. There's going to be more sunrise than sunset industries over the next few years, and a lot of green collar jobs will come our way if we play our cards right. To do that though we need to rethink decentralisation, and put cities, and improving the quality of urban life at the heart of Ireland's future.

16 June, 2008

Now What?

The omens weren't great. A pal sent me a text on Thursday morning saying 'it's probably going to be a train wreck'. Later on, when I walked into Jim's Barber Shop on Patrick Street in Dun Laoghaire, Jim said everyone who had come in the door that morning had voted No.

Friday morning I took an early train to Cork for a friend's wedding near Bantry. Enterprise Rent a Car picked me up at the station, and half an hour later I was negotiating roundabouts heading west in a Ford Fiesta. Posters of Kathy Sinnott MEP still stared out from every junction asking 'We give up power, in exchange for what?' A rhetorical question, but interesting to note that according to the website that she flags, the independence / democracy group is sponsored by 'EU-critics, eurosceptics and eurorealists'. The Workers Solidarity Movement had pasted their posters to lamp posts with a large anarchist A in a circle and the slogan - 'If you trust liars, vote yes, if you don't then vote no.' Their website cites Mikhail Bakunin's maxim that "Socialism without freedom is tyranny and brutality". Incidentally Bakunin held that the state should be immediately abolished because all forms of government eventually lead to oppression.

By the time I got to Bandon, Pat Kenny had some early tallies indicating a No vote. When I got to Dunmanway it was clear, the Treaty had been rejected.

-The Yes campaign started late. Cóir hit the ground running. The monkeys worked.
-Certain high profile individuals bizarrely stated that they hadn't read the damn thing.
-Cabinet pay hikes didn't exactly install fervour for politicians telling us what way to vote.
-People are concerned about the Mutual Solidarity Clause and European Security and Defence Policy.

Too be honest, I'm not a great fan of the line stating 'Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities' in Article 42 of the Treaty. I guess that could mean making sure that Irish army radios can talk to other troops in Chad or elsewhere, or it could mean something more sinister. I do feel uneasy about other EU member states with large defence spending, but I certainly don't think that an arms race is at the heart of the Treaty. In fairness, Carol Fox and others from PANA put these points across in a level-headed way.

I made my own pitch for a yes vote in this week's Dún Laoghaire Gazette, and I'm glad to see that the Dún Laoghaire constituency delivered the highest Yes vote in the country. Interestingly, all the constituencies with a Green TD voted Yes, bar Dublin Mid-West. I'm disappointed that the strong lead that the European Union has taken on climate change may be diminished by the impasse over the treaty.

Saturday morning I drove back from Bantry to Cork, slightly the worse for wear from the celebrations of the previous evening. A wide-awake Declan Ganley from Libertas was on Radio One with Dunphy. He seemed to suggest that he had made most of his money in two-radios, and that really it was all about defending freedom. I'm not so sure. The car hire guy drove me back to the railway station, saying that he and his family voted no, because they didn't have enough information.

Sunday evening I went to hear Leonard Cohen up at IMMA. His voice was, well, as good as ever, but even there I couldn't stop thinking about the future of the Union. It must have been something to do with the roadies' truck, parked beside the big screen. Four bright yellow stars in an arc, reminding us that the Union is still there, and that disengaging is not an option. Where to from here? I don't think we can walk away and pretend Lisbon can't or won't happen. Hopefully we can negociate protocols that addresses the concerns both real and imaginary that people have about the EU's future. I'd hate to think that we might be left to one side as the other 26 countries chart their common future without us.

10 June, 2008

Yes! Environmentalists for Europe

Well that's where I'm coming from.

No, I haven't read every line of the Treaty, but I do know that Brussels has led the way in most of the improvements for the environment that we've seen in Ireland since 1973. Plus I like the idea of a greater role for the European Parliament in shaping laws.

The size of the small print (and the large print) on the Cóir posters annoyed me. Interestingly, though I disagree with their arguments I just donated one cent to their campaign via PayPal to see if they asked me my nationality. They didn't, and I wonder whether that may create difficulties when it comes to oversight of their campaign accounts to SIPO. Cóir's campaign premises at 60a Capel Street - 'the Life House' (not to be confused with 'Outhouse' across the road) seems to be up for sale at the moment.

The Green Party held a special convention back in the Spring to see if we'd take a view on the Treaty. As less than two third of the members present (although it was a decent majority) voted for the Treaty, the Party didn't take a view, but that hasn't prevented individual Party members from campaigning, and that's what I'm doing here, I'm voting yes.

03 June, 2008

Green Energy Fair

Sunday 8th June 2008, Leopardstown Racecourse in Dublin, 11-6pm, and a mere €5 admission; free if you're a senior citizen or a child.

Stallholders will be mostly in the Tote Hall, underneath the main stand, with some venturing outside if the weather remains as good as it's been for the last few days.

All sorts of goodies will be on display, solar panels, insulation, windmills, the whole bit.

Senator Deirdre de Burca, Eamon Ryan, and myself are organising it with the help of Nicola Browne and a raft of volunteers currently baking furiously and practicing their "lock hard" skills for the parking, though we're hoping people will take the 46A or Luas and enjoy the 25 minute walk up to the race-course. Interesting exhibitors ranging from Greenpages to Femmecup will be there, and there'll be an art workshop (accompanied by an adult) for the kids and run by Eco-Unesco and lot's of food ranging from pig on a spit for the die-hard carnivores to organic produce for those who seek a slightly smaller carbon footprint (or should that be hoof-mark) for their dinner.

There'll be workshops throughout the day hosted by Eamon, myself, Duncan Stewart, Davie Phillips from Cultivate, and others. Minister John Gormley will formally open the fair at 12, Here's a link showing you how to get there and you'll find more information about it all on the Green Party site here.

Hope to see you there.