26 March, 2009

Release the Pearse Street Two - #Picturegate and all that

Thanks Gary for the screenshot from the Simpsons' view of Irish planning as they flew into Ireland for St. Patrick's Day.

This Picturegate business has gone beyond a joke. I've heard on the grapevine that the Guards have pictures of Trevor Sargent and John Gormley in custody in Pearse Street Garda Station, and I think that its high time they were returned to the Artist. It's time to release the Pearse Street Two.

Look, it's beginning to turn into Scrap Saturday on steroids. Sure, we can argue the pros and cons of whether RTE should have run with the prank in the first place, and indeed how they handled the story in the first instance. Personally I don't think it should have involved a full apology the following evening, but this whole sending in the Guards business brings it into the realm of high farce.

Public life is never that easy, but there is always a danger if you take yourself too seriously. It's not exactly a re-run of the Geraldine Kennedy / Bruce Arnold phone tapping episode, but it certainly doesn't look well for guards to be heading off into a radio studio looking for the artist's email addresses. It's probably all a bit too much publicity for the artist Conor Casby, who I'd imagine was only trying to raise the Nation's spirits in the midst of difficult times.

It's worth remembering that political satire has a long history, all the way back to the Greek playwright Aristophanes, and before.

I can only imagine that the Gardaí investigating whether the display of the paintings involved offences such as indecency, incitement to hatred or criminal damage have much better things to be doing with their time, and that's what I feel they should be doing. I feel we're slipping into dangerous territory when a member of the Oireachtas is calling for the Director General of RTE Cathal Goan to consider his position. I just wish RTE had an editor's blog similar to the BBC where we could forensically examine the decision-making process around the screening of the news piece and subsequent apology earlier in the week.

Meanwhile I've just heard that mobile and munchies are to be banned from Dáil Committees. Nothing like a bit of light relief in these troubled times.

22 March, 2009

The Eastern Bypass is back, and it's nasty











I'll write a more opinionated piece tomorrow, but for the moment here's my press release...
Greens say Metro-North a better option than €4Bn. Eastern Bypass

The Green Party has criticised a new report on the Eastern Bypass as being out of touch and out of date. The Report from the National Roads Authority costs the proposed motorway at €4 billion, and proposes the construction of a new bridge across Dublin Bay from the Dublin Port to Booterstown.

Green Party Transport Spokesperson Ciarán Cuffe TD stated:
"This Report lacks any sense of vision for Dublin. Instead it simply throws out more roads as a solution. This approach was out-dated twenty years ago, and it beggars belief that such an approach can still hold currency today.

Local Green Party Election candidate for the South East Inner City Claire Wheeler stated:
"We are facing catastrophic climate change as well as economic depression. Now is not the time to spend on more infrastructure for cars. We need proper public transport. In any case as a tunnel would be prohibitively expensive given the geology, and a bridge would ruin Dublin Bay. Such a bridge would often be closed to traffic due to high winds."

Deputy Cuffe went on to say:
"Instead of more roads in urban areas we must invest in public transport. The Metro-North project between the city centre to Swords, and the rail inter connector between Connolly and Pearse station would allow more people the choice of using high quality public transport and would represent better use of public funds.. The success of the two Luas lines show that if high frequency public transport is provided, it will be well used.

"It is incredible that the NRA can produce a Report almost one hundred pages long in 2009 with only a passing reference to climate change. The Report also acknowledges that the Eastern Bypass may lead to the transfer of people from public transport into cars (Page 79). How many more Reports do we need to show that more roads are not the solution to transport issues in urban areas.

"This report deserves to be binned. I intend writing to my colleague Noel Dempsey, the Minister for Transport, and request him to look again at the terms of reference of the NRA so that this type of approach is not repeated. It is anachronistic that tax-payers money has been spent on such a document.

"Both the Labour Party and Fine Gael supported the Eastern Bypass and inserted it into the Dublin City and Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Development Plans. As both of these Plans are currently being reviewed I call on their their councillors to reconsider their approach and back public transport instead.

Note
The NRA Report may be found on their website at the following link
http://www.nra.ie/News/NewsAnnouncements/htmltext,16121,en.html

16 March, 2009

Bad Day at Blackrock

That got everyone talking.

It looked like a bomb site, but thankfully no-one was seriously injured in the explosion in Blackrock last Friday. By the time I got there, everyone had piled in to Sheehan's pub across the road and was telling each other what had happened, and where they were at the time. I met one women whose brother was walking past St. Anne's Square and was hit by a piece of rubble but luckily he wasn't badly hurt. All she heard was the bang of the explosion, and then the phone went dead. About a dozen cars got caught up in the explosion and the tow-trucks were kept busy.

Someone else told me the story of a women in the house next door who had fallen down the stairs, and had been carted off to Hospital hours BEFORE the explosion with a broken ankle. That was another lucky escape, if you could call it that. Someone else was offering lunch courtesy of the Council for anyone who was living in the Square, and I wouldn't be surprised if a few texts were sent out in a hurry, advertising free lunch in Sheehans.

I met Fr. Eric Conway on the steps outside Blackrock Church, and said to him that his boss was clearly keeping an eye on things from above. Cllr. Ruairí Holohan was talking to the head of the Residents Association, saying that it was "some Friday 13th". County Architect Andreé Dargan was trying to ensure people got back to their homes in St. Anne's Square that evening, or were at least able to retrieve their belongings. Certainly looking at the damage it appeared as though three or four of the buildings will have to be demolished. Hopefully they can rebuild and incorporate the same attention to detailing that you can see on the existing Victorian buildings. They are, or were an attractive part of Blackrock's character.

The Council sent out an update just an hour ago, and I've included it below

"Update: Explosion at house in Temple Hill, Blackrock, Dublin 5.00pm 16/3/09 - The Council can confirm that Bord Gais and An Garda Síochána have completed their initial investigations at the site in Temple Hill, and the Council is continuing with its assessment of the structures. Due to the instability of the buildings, much of the stabilising works must be done by hand. The majority of personal belongings have been removed by residents and the Council has facilitated those tenants and private householders who have been impacted by the explosion with storage facilities. Temple Hill Road remains closed to traffic and it is hoped to have a stop-and-go system in place by Wednesday.
ENDS"


Enjoy St. Patrick's Day, by the looks of things there may even be some sunshine around tomorrow for the Parade.

08 March, 2009

Towards a Green New Deal in Wexford

They'll go far.

That's a snap I took just a few minutes after John Gormley finished his speech to the Green Party's annual convention in White's hotel in Wexford last night. Leading change from within Government has been one of the key themes of the Conference.

Interestingly, for the first time I noticed that there was a fringe event for older Greens yesterday. We are getting older. I'm 45 and I joined the Party 27 years ago, when I was just out of short trousers. It's crucial that the Party continue to pass on the baton to a younger generation. There are a lot of younger candidates running in the local elections, people like Adam Douglas and Niamh Fitzgibbon. I think they'll do well. It is a real challenge though, particularly for smaller Parties to reinvent themselves and not fall into the family dynasties trap. The Progressive Democrats had their difficulties in passing the torch, and Labour will have to work hard to bring on the next generation. Dún Laoghaire continues to have its fair share of poltical dynasties, as does the current cabinet. Some politicians have succeeded in taking over the 'family seat' and creating a seperate identity to the family member who preceded them, but it's always a challenge. One analysis of George W's term in office is that he suffered from the need to finish the war his father started.

New thinking is required though to make the green recovery successful. Political parties like ourselves need to ensure that we continue to attract new ideas, and new blood to the party. We're changing the system from within, but often some of the best thinking can be found far beyond the railings of Government Buildings.

03 March, 2009

Governance and the Citizen

It was one of those hare and the tortoise moments.

I had headed out from the Dáil to peddle up Dame Street to the 'Governance and the Citizen' conference in the Coach House behind Dublin Castle. Halfway down Dame Street I hear this loud roar behind me and a Ferrari shoots past. By the time I arrived at Dublin Castle our pal in the red car was stopped and discussing the lack of a tax or insurance disk with a guard just beside City Hall on Cork Hill. Meanwhile those of us on bicycles (and you can see Duncan Stewart on his trusty stead) arrived in good time for the Conference, although I'm sure Ferrari man perhaps had another destination in mind.

The Conference was about Dubliners and their City, and focused on new thinking on citizen engagement in the governance of cities.

Minister John Gormley discussed the options Government faces in providing a directly elected mayor, as provided for in the Programme for Government that we negotiated with Fianna Fáil almost two years ago. In late 2007 the Green Party responded to the call for submissions and put forward our model of local government reform. The Department of the Environment published their Green Paper on Local Government entitled 'Stronger Local Government Options for Change' last year, and I'm looking forward to a White Paper, followed by legislation some time this year.

I want to see a Metro-Mayor for all of Dublin, including Dún Laoghaire, Fingal, South Dublin and Dublin City. The job specification would include strategic planning for water, sewerage, transport, planning, and development. Checks and balances would be provided by the councillors' annual approval of budgets, and of course this would require that councils had greater financial autonomy from central government. If you liked the mayor's track record over five years then you'd re-elect her. If weren't impressed, she'd lose her job. Currently we have a revolving door with mayors in each council selected by their fellow councillors. They only serve a twelve month term of office, and mostly have more of a 'show up at the function' role rather than strategic leadership and direction.

Svend Auken from the Danish Social Democrats gave a great speech about the Aaurhus Convention - a document and process that increases citizens access to information and decision-making. He suggested that Dublin was the Bangkok of Europe in traffic terms, and talked about how one third of the journeys to work in Copenhagen are made by bike (and don't they know how to do it in style)! He described how the Convention is NOT a power of veto, but what it does do is empower citizens. He neatly finished his contribution by stating we must do well by doing good.

Gabriel Metcalf from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) spoke about the future of citizenship. I've heard about their work for years, and their website looks great, but I had to high-tail it back to the Dáil for a vote at that stage and missed the other speaker's contributions. I would like to have heard Labour Councillor (and former Lord Mayor) Dermot Lacey's contribution, but I'm sure he'll pick it up in a blog alert and summarise it for me. Dublin City Manager John Tierney also spoke, and I'm sure he considered the positive potential of a mayor for all of Dublin who would give additional vision, leadership and direction to the city.

WendyLimerick on Twitter pointed me in the direction of Aodh Quinlivan's paper on 'Reconsidering Directly Elected Mayors in Ireland: Experiences from the United Kingdom and America. I'm hoping to read that this evening, before the vote on the National Pensions Reserve Fund (Amendment) and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2009 at 10 O'Clock this evening. If you see me on the Dáil feed with my head submerged in reading, you'll know what I'm up to.

All in all, a great conference from all reports. Well done to Dave O'Gorman, Raymond Sexton, Ciaran Fallon and Geraldine Walsh for the organisation, great to have an upbeat discussion in these troubled times about the future of our city.