22 December, 2009

Cold comfort in Copenhagen

The Gods were laughing at us as the Climate Change talks finished up in Copenhagen. 

The temperature kept dropping and heavy snow fell not just over Denmark, but over northern Europe and the United States. That's a pic I took of the 'Hopenhagen' globe that hosted various events just before I boarded a night-train back home to Ireland.

Oxfam described the deal as a 'Cop-out', and as a 'triumph of spin over substance'. Sure there is a mention of the need to keep world's temperature increase to under 2 degrees, and a fund of $100 billion is mentioned, but that's a goal, not a commitment.

I'm beginning to think of the Climate Change issue as being similar to the layers of an onion. The outer layer consists of the need to convince people that the world is warming. Given the amount of conspiracy theorists out there, combined with some poor academic standards from the boffins at the University of East Anglia, a lot more work is necessary to argue the science in a clear level-headed way.

The second challenge is to adopt the two degree target. Some countries, particularly the more vulnerable ones are arguing that the limit should be lower - 1.5 degrees, and the debate over the limiting the average temperature increase isn't fully resolved.

That brings us on the 'parts per million' (ppm) argument. That's a measurement of how many ppm of carbon dioxide we wish to limit emissions at. Bill McKibben from 350.org was lobbying hard for a limit of 350ppm, and we're currently at 387ppm, so that would involve significant reductions. Charles David Keeling's pioneering work at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii showed how levels of carbon dioxide have risen rapidly over the last fifty years as illustrated in the Keeling Curve

Given that different countries have varying levels of emissions per capita the principle of 'contraction and convergence' encapsulates a sensible  approach to lowering global emissions. The more developed countries need to reduce their emissions and the developing countries should be allowed to increase emissions, ultimately resulting in the same level in all countries that would stabilise average global temperatures.

Ireland's emissions increased dramatically during the Tiger years to between eleven and seventeen tonnes per head of population depending on the source you use, highr than most other countries. That's why we set a target of reducing emissions by around 3% per year in the Programme for Government, and we're bring forward a Climate Change Bill to ensure that all branches of Government play their part in achieving this.

Government policies can help to limit emissions. We've changed the road tax regime so you pay €100 per year on a cleaner vehicle and €2000 for a high-polluter. We've also racked up the building regulations by 40% and intend to go further in a couple of years time. Home energy grants  help encourage people to upgrade their home and save money on heating and emissions. The new carbon levy at €15 per tonne will help motivate people to reduce emissions

At the heart of the onion is the way we live our lives. Government must provide carrots as well as sticks to help us change our ways. A lot of the side-events that I attended in Copenhagen were focussed on low-carbon jobs and I'm fairly confident that much of the new jobs in Ireland will come from solutions that help limit emissions in energy, agriculture, construction and transport.

The journey back from Copenhagen was a slow one. I seem to have been luck enough to have caught one of the few Eurostars that made it through from Brussels to London on Saturday, but all the trains were delayed. I met a  great guy from Nobber, Co. Meath on the night-boat on his way back from selling christmas trees in England. His last name was Gogarty and we joked about how between the sound-bites from James Gogarty a few years ago and Paul Gogarty in the last few weeks, he couldn't open his mouth without people expecting colourful language.

The Copenhagen process will continue, with another Conference of the Parties (COP16) scheduled for Mexico next December. Hopefully by then we'll have more commitments on the table from China, the United States and other pivitol countries so that meaningful action can take place to tackle the challenge of our changing climate.

18 December, 2009

Pushmi-pullyu politics

The pushmi-pullyu is a mythical animal that features in Hugh Loftus's children's stories.

It is a gazelle-unicorn cross with two heads (one of each) at opposite ends of its body. When it tries to move, both heads try to go in opposite directions. That's not unlike the negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference Conference here in Copenhagen. COP15 stands for the fifteenth Conference of the Parties Parties, and the next twenty-four hours will make or break a deal.

At the Plenary this evening there were signs of optomism that may result in negotiations through the night that would push the texts along for the final work by national leaders in the morning. 

Fingers crossed.

Today I attended two sessions hosted by the Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian Environmental research body. The worhshops should have taken place in the Bella Centre, but because most NGOs haven't been able to gain access, they had moved into the basement of a cafe in central Copenhagen, which gave me a chance for a brief but enjoyable walk through the city centre where I You-Tubed a few bikes.

The first session was on clean jobs - what we used to call green jobs. The speakers from India, South Africa, India and the UK showcased a report 'Low-Carbon jobs in an Inter-Connected World' published by the Global Climate Network.

The second workshop was entitled Fair Climate: US Constituencies perspectives. Gloria Reuben (aka Jeanie Boulet of ER) gave an emotional account of her visit to the coal-mining areas of West Virginia, and spoke about the lobbying power of Big Coal. Jacqueline Patterson from Women of Color United for Climate Justice ticked all the boxes, and spoke well about issues ranging from gender vulnerability to community gardening programmes in the United States. She's just back from an eight week, fifteen state  'Road Tour and Mobilization' where she heard the views and experiences of U.S. women of color in this pivotal era of climate change.  

Jerome Ringo from the Apollo Alliance spoke in words that seemed inspired by Dr. King as he stated:

"Today must be the beginning of the answer to your grandchildren when they ask you in fifteen or twenty years time,'what did you do in Copenhagen?'"

 It loses something when written down, but he spoke beautifully, and from the heart. 

John Grant from an organisation with  brilliant name - '100 Black Men of Atlanta' spoke about empowering young people and wanting his kids to be able to see the stars in a sky free from light pollution when they grew up. The speakers were strong on rhetoric, but they were a great counter-point to the dry research and turgid negotiating texts that dominate the Conference.

We went back to the Bella Centre and met Niamh Garvey from Trócaire (blogging here), John Sweeney from NUI Maynooth, Colin Roche from Oxfam and Pat Finnegan from Grian. Niamh talked about how a seventeen year old at the opening session last week talked about how negotiations had started in 1992, the year she was born, and that it was about time negotiations concluded.

We left for our train back across the bridge to Sweden where we're staying at around 11.30pm, leaving John Gormley and his staff from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to burn the midnight oil and prepare for his speech to the Environment Ministers' Plenary around 1 O'Clock in the morning. It had started snowing on the way back, and there were some very Christmassy looking bikes outside the railway Station in Malmo.  

Hopefully there'll be progress in the talks overnight. 

15 December, 2009

Can Copenhagen save the world?

"I can promise you a first class ticket to Heaven, but don't use it straight away"

That was Archbishop Tutu speaking earlier this morning making a plea for action on behalf of the most vulnerable countries that are being affected by climate change. He and Mary Robinson bookended an emotional session where we heard from citizens of Uganda, Bangladesh, Peru and Tuvalu discussing the challenges facing their countries.

Of course countries like Bangladesh have always had natural disasters that claimed lives, but climate change can increase storm surges in the Bay of Bengal that can swamp low-lying areas and kill tens of thousands. Low-lying nations like Tuvalu face increasing salinisation of farmland from storms and rising ocean levels. The guy with the hat on in the picture is Cayetano Huanca, a farmer from Peru. His village is prone to water shortages and hunger due to melting glacier. Mary Robinson pointed out that "300,000 died from the effects of climate last year."

They were speaking at an event hosted by Oxfam billed as the world's first international climate hearing at COP15 the United Nations Climate Change Conference here in Copenhagen. Thankfully I missed the eight hour queues in the freezing cold yesterday and got in early enough to catch the Oxfam hosted meeting.

I went on from there to a discussion of family planning and climate change, and met delegates from Ethiopia, the Maldives, Croatia and New Zealand. There was broad agreement that access to reliable family planning methods was the key to lifting many out of poverty.

After lunch I went on to a discussion on the 'Transition to a Green Growth Economy'. The panel included the Danish Minister of Economics and Business Affairs Lene Espersen, Nils Smedegaard Andersen from Maersk and Thomas Friedman, NY Times columnist. Thomas is trying to persuade Americans that green isn't a 'sissy' topic, and he appears to be succeeding. He said "I don't want it to be all about taxation and regulation, I want to encourage the engineers and innovators who'll help us tackle all of this."

There's 192 countries represented here this week, and the negociation gradually shifts from civil servants and scientists to the political players in this second week of the conference. I suspect the Copenhagen Conference won't save the world, but it will help focus attention on the necessity and the opportunities for change. From my perspective its an opportunity to explore the key issues and hear about the approaches that other countries are applying to the challenge.

13 December, 2009

Bound for Copenhagen

That's the Dún Laoghaire Greens giving me a send-off in the picture.

I'm headed for Copenhagen, and I set off on my 'slow travel' trip on Sunday lunchtime, after a coffee and a 'danish' in the Ferry Terminal in Dún Laoghaire. Tonight I'm in a hotel on the Euston Road, and tomorrow I'll travel by Eurostar to Brussels, then on to Cologne where I'll board a night-sleeper to the Danish capital, hopefully in time to hear Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu address the United Nations Climate Change Conference. I'm also hoping to attend a session on family planning and climate change - a thorny subject, as well as workshops on planning and transportation

It'll be good to have some time to think, and to read on the journey, both of which seem to have become luxuries in the last few years.

I found my 1977 copy of Amory Lovin's "Soft Energy Paths" behind the washing machine the other night, and that's part of my reading material. I've also brought John Houghton's fourth edition of "Global Warming, the complete briefing". Herman Daly's "Beyond Growth" is also packed, along with David MacKay's "Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air". The Clerk from the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security has also provided me with extensive briefing material, ranging from a Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government summary, to the UN Review of Ireland's most recent submission, as well as the current US Senate position on Climate Change.

It's been a good week for tackling greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland. John Gormley delivered his third Carbon Budget, and published the framework for the Climate Change Bill 2010. Brian Lenihan's budget also introduced a carbon levy at €15 a tonne. That'll add around 5c to a litre of petrol. It won't change behaviour overnight, but it will send a market signal that we're beginning to take the issue seriously

The 1330 Dún Laoghaire-Holyhead ferry arrives into Holyhead just after the 1530 express train to Crewe leaves the platform. It's an annoying example of a lack of joined-up thinking, and helps explain why the sail-rail trip to London takes a similar amount of time as it did 100 years ago. Still, the trip was sociable: I ended up talking to a truck driver who was on his way back to Newport after delivering a second-hand driver unit to Holyhead for shipping to Ireland. There's great demand for them in Ireland in the last year or so, and apparently they sell for around £25,000 sterling- a bargain, or so I'm told.

The HSS ferry is scheduled to be withdrawn though from early January, and hopefully will be replaced with a decent alternative. Cheap air travel has sucked the passenger numbers off the ferries, partly because aviation has up to now been exempt from taxation. This is due to change though due to agreements hammered out at predecessors to the Copenhagen conference, so hopefully there'll shortly be a more level playing field between different types of travel that will take into account the carbon footprint. Interestingly the Arriva train down to Chester advertised its green credentials, as does the Virgin train service from there to London.

We may not get a binding political agreement in Copenhagen, but the presence of thousands of delegates (as well as protestors) shows that climate change has to be taken seriously.

25 November, 2009

Flooding, planning and climate change

Cold, wet and windy in Dún Laoghaire today.

That's the view looking out from the Coal Harbour in Dún Laoghaire on a blustery afternoon. At least we're fortunate enough not to be flooded, or have the roof blown off as has happened with the unfortunate residents in Carrickmines Manor on Glenamuck Road. Thankfully no-one appears to have been injured. Hazel Melbourne said she felt like she was in a scene from the Wizard of Oz when she saw the roof fly past her second floor apartment at 8.30am. according to the Irish Times website.

The floods in the south and west sound appalling. Our own home was flooded several years ago when our youngest was only a few weeks old and we had to escape over the back garden wall and pass the children to helpful Gardaí on higher ground. That brutal combination of damp, fear, destruction and uncertainty for all those affected by flooding can be soul-destroying. I'm glad to say that the Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea told me today that he's instructed the Army's Chief of Staff to ensure that troops will help with the initial household clean-up as well as the emergency works prior to, and during flooding.

The National Flood Hazard mapping website was set up after the floods back in 2002 and provides information about places that are at risk from flooding. The OPW's Flooding website also contains a lot of useful information, particularly on practical information if you're currently at risk (and have access to the web).

I'm still not convinced though that there's enough joined up thinking between planning authorities and the OPW. Minister John Gormley has brought forward the draft "Planning System and Flood Risk Management Guidelines", but the stable door had been left open long before.

There's been far too many images on the news in the last few days of recently built buildings under water. This week's floods may not be due to climate change according to Paul Cunningham's Tweet referencing UCD Professor of Meteorology Ray Bates. as the North Atlantic is apparently experiencing a cooling period. That doesn't take away the higher air temperatures that increased rainfall, though. Regardless of this week's weather, Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele's pointed out last night in his excellent EPA sponsored lecture in the Mansion House that the risk of extreme weather events is set to increase, and that's a good reason to do something about climate change. He is the Head of Climatology and Environmental Sciences, University Catholique de Louvain, and is also the vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so he should know!

IFA President Padraig Walshe has been hitting out at Government spending millions of euro on flood defences, saying the money would be bettter spent on drainage. Actually, I'd feel that more money should be spent on encouraging 'soakage', rather than drainage as this can reduce the risk of flash flooding. More forestry can also absorb high rainfall before it sluices into rivers, and that's what Trevor Sargent is working on through the new Programme for Government. One thing is certain though: the unprecedented levels of development over the last decade resulted in more concrete, tarmacadam and other impermeable land surfaces, and that has contributed to the floods.

Good planning is an important tool that can be used to tackle the increased risk of flooding, and is an issue I've raised before. It's something that our Councillors in Bray -Ciaran O'Brian, Caroline Burrell and Deirdre de Burca used to challenge the rezoning of the flood plain in Bray beside the River Dargle when a combination of councillors from Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail voted to rezone the Bray Golf Course lands. Ciaran O'Brian is currently challenging the planning application on the rezoned lands at An Bord Pleanála.

Meanwhile Bill Nolan is worried about John Gormley's plans to place a windfall tax of 80% on rezoned lands. We see it as a way of implementing the recommendations of the Kenny Report on Building land some thirty-five years after its publication. Mr. Nolan writes that that implications for the banking, property and planning industry may be far reaching. So they should be. Phil HoganTD from Fine Gael speaking at a meeting of Carlow County Council's Strategic Policy Committee has described John's proposals as "social engineering at its worst" and went on state:"I am sure the Minister means well but it reminds me of Soviet dictators."

Phil, business as usual is not an option. The laissez-faire approach that the two major parties have espoused has contributed significantly to the poor quality of development and planning that has left thousands of families flooded over the last week.

The Green Party is working hard in government to raise the bar for planning and development, and to tackle climate change. No-one ever said it would be easy.

12 November, 2009

Shenanigans in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown

They're at it again: rezoning, that is.

Six months after the Green Councillors lost their seats on Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council the Fine Gael councillors are back to their old tricks. They're rezoning 30 acres of land of high amenity lands at Fernhill beside Three Rock Mountain for 660 houses. My view is that we've more than enough land zoning for housing already. Councillor-led rezoning became a debased currency a long time ago in Ireland.

You can get a good feel for what they're up to if you go to the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council website. Click on 'Councillors', and then on 'Council Business'. If the 4th November 2009 link is still up there you can delve into the belly of the beast and determine for yourself whether you approve of the motions that the councillors have submitted. Motion number 221 is signed by two Fine Gael councillors and allows for the rezoning of lands adjacent to Fernhill Gardens at Stepaside. They're currently zoned for amenity and agriculture, and the Fine Gael councillors want to change that to residential. Mind you, Minister Martin Cullen said in a submission that he supported an arts cultural and heritage amenity facility there, but I'm not sure about his views on the rezoning itself though Cllr. Jim O'Leary feels that he's supporting it. If you go this page, click 'register' then search for 'd1393' in the search box here you'll find Cullen's submission.

Further down the road in Kilternan Councillor Tom Joyce from Fine Gael also wants to rezone twenty acres of lands at Droimsi from agriculture to residential, and I hear on the grapevine that at least one former senior Fine Gael figure is lobbying hard on these issues. Cllr. Joyce is also busy removing proposed rights of way for walkers from the Plan.

Not that Fianna Fáil councillors are above reproach either. While FG are trying to up the amounts of retail floor space in some shopping centres, FF are doing itelsewhere. Even independent Councillor Gearoid O'Keefe is pushing for the expansion of retail uses at Carrickmines, off the M50.

Meanwhile at last Wednesday's Special meeting of the Council to discuss the County Plan Cllr. Barry Saul from Fine Gael was calling the Sutton to Sandycove cycleway a 'sop to the Greens' and a waste of money, and Cllr. Richard Boyd Barrett voted against the proposal.

There were 269 submissions that referenced rezoning, and in the 433 motions from councillors that are tabled on the County Council agenda rezoning is mentioned dozens of times.

Everyone is pushing for the expansion of shopping centres in what they believe will create much-needed jobs, but there is little realisation that expanding the floor are devoted to shopping
does not in itself create sustainable jobs

I suspect if some councillors were to get their way it would be a recipe for suburban sprawl from the Three Rock mountain to Dublin Bay. In one sense it is an ironic reworking of the Council's motto "ó chuan go sliabh- from the mountains to the sea". Sprawl is bad for business, bad for job creation, and bad for the planet. We'd be better off building mixed-use well-planned walkable communities. My fear is that many of the Councillors don't realise that their actions will increase car dependency and leave families a long walk away away from public transport connections. It will also hasten the decline of established retail centres such as the town of Dún Laoghaire.

The Labour Party has taken a much more considered approach to the County Plan. Cllr. Niamh Breathnach and Cllr. Dennis O'Callaghan come out of this as well, as does Cllr. Aidan Culhane who is going down the path that I took fifteen years ago- he's studying for a masters in urban and regional planning at UCD while attending to his duties as a councillor.

Look, I believe that many of the councillors proposing rezoning motions believe that they are doing so for the greater good of the County, but I just wish they had a wider understanding of the principles of 'proper planning and sustainable development'. There's a series of lenghty Council meetings scheduled for the week starting 16th November 2009. We'll see what emerges.

Maybe we should borrow an idea from the UK where the Royal Town Planning Institutes runs a Summer School for county councillors that is held back-to-back with the annual conference for professional planners. I suspect both groups could learn a lot from each other.

21 October, 2009

Driving to drink

There's no getting away from alcohol in Ireland.

The pic shows a two and a half storey high ad for Jameson whiskey facing a local authority flat block in the centre of Dublin. In other parts of the city alcohol advertising is even more pervasive. The controversial JCDecaux billboards that went up earlier this year target drivers and are dominated by ads for Heineken and Southern Comfort, and in recent weeks lamp-posts in town were draped in banners announcing Guinness's 250th anniversary. Some days the smell of fermenting hops from St. James's Gate even reaches as far as Kildare Street.

Wasn't it Diageo that found themselves in difficulty a few years ago when they started giving away tricolours with a pint of plain plonked in the centre of the flag? That company sends Oireachtas members an occasional newsletter celebrating their alcohol products, and take care in ensuring that public representatives know about their tips for responsible drinking through sites such as DrinkIQ and MEAS -the 'Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society'. Worthy though those initiatives are, I suspect their total budget is less than 1% of what the drink industry spends on advertising their products. The Licensed Vitners also sends an invitation every Christmas to their annual knees-up for TDs and Senators, but so far I haven't taken them up on their drinks offer.

Don't get me wrong, I'm fond of a drink myself, but I do think we need to move alcohol away from centre-stage. I don't think alcohol should be tied into sports sponsorship - I'd much prefer if such funding came from general taxation.

Drink driving has hit the headlines in the last few days, with Noel Dempsey's proposal to reduce legal blood alcohol limits to the norm in other European Counties. The rate is proposed to come down from 0.08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.05 BAC for most drivers, and 0.02 BAC for professional drivers, learner drivers, and for the first two years after you've passed your driving test.

Apparently Fianna Fáil's Parliamentary Party had an animated discussion of the issue last night with a fair amount of support for maintaining the status quo. I can understand that feelings run high on this issue. There's even one or two Green Party members in Dún Laoghaire who have voiced their concern to me on the Bill, and that's in a constituency where most residents have a pub that's a short walk away. They have pointed out that we should enforce the existing laws rather than extending them, and feel that there should be a graduated system of penalty points that might start at 2 points for being slightly over the limit and extending to losing your license for much higher blood alcohol levels.

The Oireachtas is a predominantly male institution, and it tends to concentrate on very male concerns. Any proposal to cut down on drink-driving gets a chorus of male disapproval, but I don't recall hearing too many TDs talk about the need for more mini-buses to get older people (mostly women) to and from Bingo.

I haven't got too many representations from constituents on changing the law on drink driving, but I can see that for many non-Dublin TDs and Senators the issue has loomed large. I'd hope that any debate around this issue might concentrate people's minds on the need to have decent planning. This can ensure that more homes are within walking distance of the pub, -and indeed the church and school for that matter. However, if you have a laissez-faire approach to planning that allows you to build houses almost anywhere, then you shouldn't be surprised if high numbers of people are killed driving to and from the pub. Thankfully the Public Against Road Carnage (PARC) group have done much to raise awareness and tackle driving deaths on Donegal's roads, a county that has one of the highest levels of road deaths.

Road conditions, fatigue and speed also contribute to road deaths. Sgt. Colm Finn, head of the Forensic Collision Investigation Unit based at Dublin Castle, said in 2007 that the normal speed limit of 80kph is quite often too fast on rural roads in places like Donegal, and mentioned road conditions as a factor. Lowering speed limits can reduce accident rates, and has the added benefit of improving fuel consumption and lowering carbon emissions. Fatigue has also been identified as a contributing factor in road deaths.

There's a lot we need to do to reduce the role of alcohol in Irish life. One of the areas where I found agreement with Michael McDowell was on the issue of small café-bars that could counter-act the rise of the super-pub, but even his limited proposals were easily defeated by the drinks lobby. Eamon Ryan in his role as Minister for Communications and Mary Harney as Minister for Health are working on measures to further tighten and refine existing codes to protect the nation’s health from excessive alcohol advertising. I'd be happier if they completely banned alcohol advertising and sponsorship, and put a health warning on the label. I don't believe that the voluntary codes are working. As least we now have random breath testing, which is a step in the right direction. Dr. Gerry Hickey from Alcohol Response Ireland has done good work on raising public awareness of problem drinking and is well aware from his own work of the damage that alcohol can cause.

As I write it seems that the Taoiseach has kicked the issue into touch, saying that any change might have to be looked at in a cross-border context. That will probably remove any imminent threat of revolt from the back-benches. Personally I'd favour the proposed reduction, and I suspect that we'll return to the issue early in the new year, if not before. The UK and Ireland are out of step with the rest of Europe, and I'd like to see the limits lowered.

12 October, 2009

Deireadh seachtaine maith

"Deireadh seachtaine maith?" asked the teacher as I dropped the kids into school this morning. "Go h-an mhaith!" I replied.

Looking back, there were five intense challenges over the last ten days, and we got through them all. The Lisbon vote was followed by the hiatus over the Ceann Comhairle, then came the final hours of the Programme for Government negotiation on Thursday evening and approval from the Reference Group, followed by the two crucial votes of Green Party members on Saturday - one on the Programme itself, and then one on NAMA. We got through them all.

I took this pic just after 8.30pm on Friday evening. At that stage the Green Party Reference Group and our negotiators were holed up on the third floor of Agriculture House. Mary White is in the foreground and to her left are John Gormley, Colm O Caomhanaigh, Cllr. Mark Deary, Paul Gogarty, Elizabeth Davidson, Cllr. Vincent P Martin, Roderick O'Gorman, Dan Boyle, Trevor Sargent, Andrew Murphy, Trish Forde-Brennan, Stiofain Nutty and Damian Connon. John Downing's reflection is in the window and Eamon Ryan is just out of shot. It was a crucial moment, did we have a deal or not? John Downing was counting down the minutes to the news, yet we knew that crucial parts of the small print had not been signed off on. Like any agreement there has to be trust, and we went with the line that the deal was done in time for the 9 o'clock news.

The line by line work went on until ten. At that stage the Oireachtas staff were locking us out of the third floor and we had to go up to the fifth floor to continue till near midnight in a Department of Agriculture Conference Room that Trevor allowed us to use. Stiofain then took our edits back to Government Buildings where Noel Dempsey and Eamon Ryan worked with their teams till after 7.30 am. By the end of the night Fianna Fáil and the Green Party were eventually working off a single PC on the master copy. That was followed by a logistical nightmare of trying to print 20,000 pages by 10am. Copiers in Government Buildings and Leinster House were cranked up, and someone from John Gormley's office headed down to Reads and took over four copiers. There was even someone sent out to Stillorgan to a copy shop. That's why the documentation was delayed in getting to the Convention in the RDS until after 11am. Never again! The Programme was given first directly to the members so that they could see it first-hand, rather than through the media lens. The Sunday Tribune carried criticism from eco-socialists saying we had sold out, while the Irish edition of the Sunday Times led with the line that new taxes were on the way. I guess if you're getting equal and opposite criticism when you're in Government you're probably doing OK.

Look, let's have no illusions about it all. There is an avalanche coming down the hill in the December Budget. We have committed to cut €4 billion off current spending next year, the year after and the year after that. The next few years will be tough, and as the man with the green mohawk put it: "I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."

Interesting to think that facing across the table from each other at the negotiations were a business women, a former businessman and former Community Youth Worker from the Greens; and two former teachers and a lawyer from Fianna Fáil. They were well matched.

The Programme is transformational and here's a few highlights:

-we're establishing a €100m Enterprise Stabilization Fund and €200m Green Fund in AIB and BOI as well as a deposit account that will be ring-fenced for lending to Green projects. Recommendations from the Farmleigh Global Irish Forum will be implemented, as well as continuing the work laid out in the 'Building Ireland's Smart Economy' Framework;

-promotions within the Public Service will be on the basis of merit, eliminating seniority as a determining factor in public appointments. Senior appointments from Principal Officer upwards will be open to applicants from the the private and other sectors, and someone from outside the Civil Service will chair the Top Level Appointments Committee;

-limiting restrict direct political donations to political parties or candidates to individual Irish citizens and residents only and facilitate a system where donations from private bodies, including businesses and corporations, can be made to a political fund which will be distributed to political parties in accordance with their electoral performance in the previous Dáil election;

-reforming the system of expenses for members of the Oireachtas to ensure the system is transparent, vouched and open to scrutiny, including the regular publication of such expenses. This system will be verified and verifiable;

-reforming local government in Ireland to strengthen the strategic role and function of regional authorities in planning, transport, water and waste management;

-moving from taxes on labour to taxes on resources. That will include site value taxation, a carbon levy and charging for treated water, with a free basic allowance;

-spending twice as much in future on public transport projects as on roads;

-an end to stag hunting and fur farming, and the adoption of the principles and 5 freedoms set out in the Scottish Animal Health and Welfare Act;

-a Climate Change bill that will give a statutory basis to the annual carbon budget to reduce emissions by 3%;

-honouring the commitments to our children given in our 2007 Manifesto with good news on class sizes; Capitation Grants, no third level fees and a referendum on children's rights.

Sure, I'd like to see firmer time-lines and detailed costings, but often political documents are more poetry than prose. The budget will make the costings clearer. Changes in demarcation and work practices can save billions. I think it is a decent Programme, and given that we've implemented half of the original Programme for Government from when the Government was formed over two years ago, I think we should do fine.

October's been a pretty crazy month so far. Let's see how things fare between now and Christmas. As the introduction to the new Programme states:
"Teastaíonn spiorad an Mheitheal anois níos riamh. Spiorad an chomharsanacht, spiorad an chomhoibriú."

08 October, 2009

Eleventh Hour

It's late, and I'm tired.

It's been a tough year for the Country, for the Government and for the Green Party.

This week has been one of the most difficult I've faced in my 27 years in the Party. If we don't conclude talks tomorrow morning with Fianna Fáil on transforming the Programme for Government we walk.

I was on Late Date on RTE Radio One earlier this evening saying all of this. It was curiously cathartic to talk about how I felt and outline where things are at. Our team -Mary White TD, Minister Eamon Ryan and Senator Dan Boyle, have had over forty hours of talks over the last eight days with Ministers Dermot Ahern, Mary Hanafin and Noel Dempsey. I don't know if we can reach agreement. From the start we've been emphasising jobs, political reform and eduction as being key areas where we need to transform this government. There's been progress, but the clock is ticking.

Our membership have called a special convention this Saturday in the RDS in Dublin to decide whether or not we stay in government, and whether or not to support the NAMA legislation. We require a two-thirds majority to stay in government. A motion to vote down NAMA and end our participation in government would also require a two thirds vote. The bar is set high to stay. This will be the fifth time this year that members have met to discuss crucial issues for the Party.

The strains and stress take their toll. At a personal level its becoming increasingly difficult to manage the huge demands that are being made on all of us. There's a balance that has to be struck between family life, responsibilities to the constituency, to the Green Party, and to Government. You can never get it all right, but between the normal demands of a Dáil constituency, the responsibilities to attendance and participation in Dáil committees and votes, and the concerns of the Party it can be a mountain to climb. Oh, and I left out the work life-balance part.

I'm trying to be fairly philosophical about it all, but it's not easy. I really believe that green ideas are crucial to getting us through the current economic and environmental challenges. We've got to move Ireland from the boom-bust buildings and big cars fixation into an Ireland that's better planned with a more diversified economy. It'll involve green jobs - in the digital economy, agriculture, renewable energy, sustainable construction and smarter travel. It will be based on confidence in the political system, investment in education and proper planning. There has to be a move to resource taxes, and away from taxes on labour. I believe the Green Party is best placed to help guide, lead and transform politics through the tough decisions that lie ahead for several years to come.

I met someone from the Labour Party today. She talked about how necessary it is to have Green Party as a force in Irish politics, to tackle energy and climate change issues. I also bumped into a Fianna Fáil back-bencher who spoke in desperation about the need to be relieved from the necessity of almost daily funeral attendances of constituents to allow him to concentrate on policy and legislation. The political system requires systemic reforms.

There's a yearning for so many of the ideas that the Green Party brings to the table, whether it be on environment challenges, local government reform, or matters as simple as Safe Routes to School. Its a tough, tough time to be in Government. The John O'Donoghue issue was the straw that almost broke the camel's back for the Greens. I'm hoping that it will act as a catalyst for all of us to reform, and transform the politics of business as usual.

Politics is never easy. I remember having intense debates and rows twenty-five years ago about whether the Greens should be a campaigning NGO or actually contest elections. We chose the latter, and entered a world that is rarely black or white, and that has many shades of grey. Looking back, I think that was the right choice.

I've been on the phone a lot in the past few days talking with Party members. I'm telling them that if we do get a deal that transforms the Programme for Government, then we'll put it to our members on Saturday and ask them for supoport. I'm saying that the NAMA vote is a tough one, but that we have got changes in the Bill, and there are more to come, and that on balance I believe it is the best option to deal with a banking crisis that was not of our making.

A lot depends on what happens over the next 12, and perhaps 48 hours. I'll try and keep you posted.

25 September, 2009

We can't fight climate change alone

The Welcome Inn on Parnell Street seemed like the right place to retire to after a discussion last night on Lisbon in the Institute for International and European Affairs up on North Great Georges Street.

Sean O'Laoire, the President of the Institute of Architects had organised a colloquium to discuss the Lisbon Treaty. Eoin O Cofaigh author of "A Green Vitruvius Sustainable Architectural Design" kicked things off by talking about his work within the Architects Council of Europe and the European Forum for Architectural Policies. After that Ruairi Quinn, Frank McDonald and myself spoke for a few minutes each, followed by contributions from the floor.

Eoin pointed out the Secretary General of the European Commission is an Irish women, Catherine Day, and that her predecessor was Irish as well. I thought that neatly tackled the concern that Ireland will find it hard to have influence in Brussels.

I talked about the
economic benefits of Lisbon. The case for greater involvement in the European project has never been stronger: the internal market of 500 million Europeans will be where we’ll export the goods and services that will help our economic recovery and our membership of the euro has provided crucial assistance in our banking crisis.

As an environmentalist, I think we need to remain engaged with Europe because of the lead it has taken on issues such as climate change and energy security. Promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy is a new feature of the European Treaties, contained in Lisbon. There's a cheap shot doing the rounds at the moment that there's only five words ("and in particular combating climate change, At. 191.1) in the Treaty, but actually Lisbon goes much further than that. Article 3 specifies a "high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment", and Article 192 builds on Article 191 in specifying how the issues referred to in Art. 191 can be achieved. I like the references to town and country planning in that article; the management of water resources, and measures affecting land use.
As John Gibbons points out the EU has been the only show in town on climate for practically the last eight years.

The Treaty also incorporates the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which sets out a range of civil, social and political rights and freedoms recognised by the European Convention on Human Rights and the constitutional traditions of Member States. I think the legally binding nature of it provisions, which will guarantee these rights, is a hugely positive aspect of the Treaty

I spoke about my concerns over Articles 42 and 43 that formalise the European Defence Agency, and particularly the obligation of Member States to offer "aid and assistance by all the means in their power" if an other "Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory." I am unhappy with these aspects of the Treaty, but ultimately I believe that the European Union has been the most successful political project on the Continent in the twentieth century. I remember going to France on a school exchange in the 1970s, and listening to children's parents talking about the horror of a war between French and German soldiers. Frank McDonald talked about how the siege of Sarajevo in the early 1990s had lasted longer than the siege of Leningrad, and about how ultimately it was the fighter jets from the
United States rather than the European Union that stopped the violence.

Jim Roche of the Irish Anti War Movement spoke from the floor and echoed my concerns. He expressed concern at the presence of European troops in Afghanistan where recently a US CIA drone killed 147 civilians. He also asked why the Treaty didn't give the same emphasis to issues such as education. I pointed out that Article 165 and Art. 166 dealt in detail with education, and that the principle of subsidiarity
(some things are better handled by the individual countries) limited the EU's scope in this area. Ruairi pointed out that the EU can't declare war, that a UN mandate is required, and he carefully differentiated the actions of individual member states from the actions of the EU.

The European Council also agreed on a Solemn Declaration on workers’ rights which confirms the high importance that the Union attaches to: social progress and the protection of workers' rights; public services; the responsibility of Member States for the delivery of education and health services; the essential role and wide discretion of national, regional and local authorities in providing, commissioning and organising services of general economic interest.

I spoke about the advances in equality that had come from Europe, and I think European action has ensured and will continue to lead advances for women; people with disabilities, gays and lesbians, and improvements in the environment
. The European Commission and the European Courts have been to the fore in protecting the vulnerable.

Time was running out and I wasn't able to talk about the legal guarantees which clarify that nothing in the Lisbon Treaty makes any change of any kind, for any Member State, to the extent or operation of the Union’s competences in relation to taxation; the Lisbon Treaty does not affect or prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of neutrality – it confirms that there the Lisbon Treaty does not create a European army, nor does it provide for conscription; and nothing in the Lisbon Treaty or the Charter of Fundamental Rights affects in any way the scope and applicability of the provisions of the Irish Constitution relating to the protection of the right to life, family and education. |Some people have belittled these guarantees, but I feel if you're doing that you might as well make light of the Good Friday Agreement!
I also think the guarantees the Government sought and got on abortion, taxation and neutrality will help clarify the decision in people’s minds. These are all matters for the Irish people to decide, not the EU. If we vote Yes, we’ll keep our Commissioner which will give the Government a direct line to the top table in Brussels.

After the debate we walked down the road to the Welcome Inn, a pub that hasn't changed since it was rebuilt after the Dublin Bombings in 1974. Being the day that was in it we continued the discussion over several pints of Arthur's finest, to celebrate Guinness's 250th anniversary

I believe the presence of the European Union has allowed us to get over the historical challenge of getting on with one neighbouring country with which we've had an uneasy relationship for 800 years. I'm amused that it took a referendum to get Sinn Féin to put a Union Jack on their posters, to illustrate their concerns about a loss of voting strength in Europe. To be honest, I'm happy about Ireland's voting
strength in Europe post Lisbon. I believe that an elegant formula has been found to ensure that smaller nations are well represented, and I believe we're well capable of punching way above our weight. As we downed pints of a local brew that has become a global brand I felt proud to a Dubliner, proud to be Irish and proud to be part of a European Union that continues to change, adapt and progress to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

I'm voting yes on Friday October 2nd. I believe the people of Ireland should ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

22 September, 2009

Lisbon thoughts from ten days out

It was good to get away from the goldfish bowl of Leinster House last night and knock on doors around Dún Laoghaire, seeking a Yes vote.

There's nothing more valuable than direct feedback from people on their doorstep. Last Friday, I was getting a very strong Yes vote, but last night it was more 2/3 Yes, 1/3 No. Coming from the heart of a constituency that has voted consistently in favour of every European Treaty since 1973 that's worrying. I suspect it's still all to play for at this stage.

People are concerned at the defence aspects of the Treaty and I can't blame them. That phrase about 'improving military capabilities' is a hard one to swallow, and I can understand the concerns expressed to me about this issue. In response I've stated that the European Union has been the most successful peace project that Europe has seen in the twentieth century, and that this can and should continue. I believe the EU force in Chad is a force for good in a volatile region. I believe that on balance, the Treaty is a good one. Did the EU arms industry get the fingerprints on the Treaty? Yes, I think they did, but on balance the emphasis on conflict prevention and peace-keeping trumps their lobbying.

One women mentioned to me her concern about Michael O'Leary's contribution to the Lisbon Debate, and I have to say my heart sank when I heard that he was entering the fray. With friends like that... It is now wonder that the CAEUC are putting up 'No to Ryanair Health Care' posters around town. Michael, go easy. (Although one side of me is looking forward to the Michael O'Leary vs. Declan Ganley debate tomorrow.)

Actually, I felt the most thoughtful observation of the evening came from a women who expressed concern at the lack of respect from each camp for the other side. It is true - the worst thing you can do is blindly criticise the other side, without understanding their motives or their reasons for campaigning.

That's why I did a little bit of archive searching on Richard Greene, spokesperson for the Cóir campaign. I got a shiver down my spine when I saw that Cóir is using a quote from my blog on their homepage where I had stated that "Cóir hit the ground running, the monkeys worked." I remember Richard Greene from his period in the Green Party, and I had a look through the Irish Times digital archive to see where he is coming from.

One of my memories is of him telling a great environmental campaigner Mary O'Donnell from West Cork to shut up and sit down at a Green Party Conference, and I also remember him as holding anti-Traveller views. I had forgotten that he had been In Fianna Fáil before he joined the Greens and that he also set up his own political party in the mid 1990s. In the late 1980's he campaigned against the extradition of those who conspired to murder the Northern Secretary Tom King.

In 1990 he was on the executive of Irish National Congress, the aims of which were to seek Irish freedom, unity and peace, seek British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, full access to Irish culture and neutrality. Shortly afterwards he joined the Green Party and was elected in the 1991 local elections.

Later that year, when The Rape Crisis Centre expressed concern about their lack of funding he wrote to the Irish Times to state that "funding for the Rape Crisis Centre above that authorised by the Minister was not a priority for the Eastern Health Board."

In 1992 he wrote to the papers to state his concern that Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution might be up for ‘barter’, and accused the British of occupying part of the National territory. Later that year he was reported as having called for street demonstrations against the ‘murderous’ decision of the Supreme Court in (an) abortion case. By this stage Trevor Sargent stated that “It is no secret that Mr. Greene is marching to a different tune to the other Green Party Councillors, and has put down motions on Travellers and 1916 which have embarrassed them." In March of that year he was writing to the Irish Times seeking to undo the ‘evil wrought by these supposedly learned judges.” He wasn't above picketing judges' home, either. In April he resigned from the Green Party, claiming it was a "totally dangerous totalitarian party which did not allow its members free speech."

Later that year he became Chairman of the Friends of Youth Defence, and later that year of the National Right to Life Federation. He also appeared as the head of the Christian Centrist Party, and ran unsuccessfully in Dublin South. At their candidate launch their chairman Matt Ascough stated that the party “takes its principles when making legislation from the Gospels.”

In 1993 he tried to stop then Minister Howlin from launching an AIDS education ad that contained the “erroneous message that the use of condoms would help to reduce the spread of AIDS." He lost a Court Action. In that year he also supported all rezonings on Dublin County Council.

In 1994 he was identified as the head of a new political party Muintir na hEireann. At the time of the Maastricht Treaty he stated “On June the Second a death occurred. Maastricht died. Maastricht is going to be buried on June 18th. We beat the Danes in 1014, and we can do it again on June 18th”.

Later that year he wrote to the papers, concerned that "population control lobbyists have penetrated the UN’s policy-making committees. More people means more economic activity and more markets, and less people obviously means less markets and declining economic activity."

In a subsequent letter wearing his hat as Chairman of Muintir na hEirinn he viewed Youth Defence as "the great hope and future of the pro-life movement in this country …(we) continue to support Youth Defence in order to help it become even more effective in the struggle to keep the evil of abortion out of Ireland."

In 1995 wearing his anti-divorce hat he demanded that Jewish members of the Oireachtas be sensitive to the majority Christian view in the Country.

Cóir's spokesperson Richard Greene has used various political parties to further his nationalistic, anti-traveller, pro-life, right-wing views. He is a serial rezoner and party joiner. It is important that we know about his chequered past.

Cóir states that their concerns are wages, jobs and taxes.I don't believe that this is the case and I believe they should state where their real interest lies. Last year the mask slipped when they issued a leaflet claiming that under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Court and the Charter of Fundamental Rights could force Ireland to change its laws on issues such as prostitution, abortion, drugs and euthanasia. They also warned of changes in "how we raise and educate our children".

Tellingly under the "Who we are" section of Cóir's website they neglects to give the names of anyone in their organisation. I suspect that Mr. Greene is at the heart of the Cóir project.

09 September, 2009

Doing Nothing is not an Option

1597 pages worth of reports. I'm swamped.

They're coming out my ears, and starting to take over over the desk. 136 pages of NAMA, 388 pages of the Lisbon Treaty, 397 pages of the McCarthy Report and 551 pages of the Commission on Taxation. Oh, and the Kenny Report from 1973, 125 pages: That's a lot of reading.

The current crisis is a huge challenge, but it is also an opportunity to address the 'never again' side to the property bubble. I'm fairly confident that we'll strike the right balance on paying a fair price for the NAMA loans. Improving regulation and ensuring the mistake of 110% mortgages is not repeated is also part of the necessary reforms.

A key challenge lies in removing the incentive to rezone land for all the wrong reasons. Some Planning Authorities around the Country zoned enough land in the last few years to take care of growth for the next 60 years. iIn doing so they accelerated the bubble's expansion , and facilitated sprawl. It is now time to row back on those rezonings and capture the betterment that flows from rezoning decisions. In 2004 the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (Ninth Report, p143) endorsed Kenny's conclusions from thirty years previously and outlined four mechanisms for recouping betterment: development levies; planning gain; taxation (such as a site value tax) and compulsory acquisition for the public good. If NAMA is approved we'll be going well down the road to implementing the latter, but it was disappointing that the Commission on Taxation recommended an annual property tax rather than a site value tax. Don't get me wrong - I feel a shift away from the boom-time tax of stamp duty on property is long overdue, but taxing rezoned land (as well as property) would be a decent incentive to stop bad rezonings in the first place. However at this stage much of the damage is done, and we should be discouraging future inappropriate rezonings by placing an annual tax on undeveloped rezoned land.

An end to stamp duty on property transactions could encourage people to move to a home that's suitable for their needs, whether it be older persons down-sizing, or younger people avoiding a 70 mile commute by living closer to where they're working. You do need a decent lead-in period, particularly for people who have already forked out chunks of cash on stamp duty in recent years.

There is still an irrational belief amongst local authority members in the major parties that rezoning land will bring back the goose that laid the golden egg f in the years leading up to 2007. Removing the propensity to rezone would allow County Councils to concentrate on providing decent services. Neither George Lee nor Enda Kenny have sufficiently acknowledged the need to rein in the rezoning tendencies of their more maverick councillors, although both Noel Dempsey and his predecessor Michael Smith drew attention to bad planning while in office. Both the NAMA legislation and the Planning Bill that is under preparation can address this issue.

Carbon pricing is contentious. What we've been doing to the environment with carbon emissions up to now is similar to what Bernie Madoff did with his investors, and that's why we need to start picking up the tab. Carbon charging will also have its own teething pains, and I thought Oisín Coughlan from Friends of the Earth did a great job debating carbon taxes with that Daily Mail journalist on Pat Kenny yesterday. Eamon Timmins from Age Action is right in saying that vulnerable older people must be protected from higher fuel prices, and that's where providing cash for upgrading the insulation and heating systems of older peoples homes comes in. However I disagree with Gerry Mullins where he argues that a carbon tax on bus and coach diesel would be a 'greenwash'. Once you start lashing around exemptions, where do you stop? In any event, buses are streets ahead on fuel efficiency compared to cars, and a carbon levy will favour public transport, as well as greener cars.

Charging for water, as recommended by Frank Daly's Commission on Taxation will be a political hot potato over the months ahead. Our view has always been that people should receive a basic allowance, but that a charge should apply for excessive use. If you're filling a swimming pool, washing the car every week, or leaving a tap running then you should pay for it. It's crazy that there's absolutely no incentive to change a broken washer on a leaking tap if you're piped up to a municipal water supply. Some form of charging might allow us to avoid the proposal doing the rounds to pipe water from the Shannon all the way across Ireland to the east coast. Let's conserve water and use it wisely instead of building bigger pipes half-way across the country.

We're heading off for our annual think-in to Athlone for a few days before the new Dáil session, before a members' conference on Saturday. We've a meeting of the Parliamentary Party on Thursday, and meetings with our group of Councillors on Friday. All of these reports will figure in our deliberations. One things is certain, doing nothing is not an option. Let the sleigh-ride begin!

27 August, 2009

Fireworks and Festivals

Back at work this week after a holiday down in Galicia in Spain. It's a magical slightly Celtic part of the world, prone to rain and wind, and everywhere we went there seemed to be wind turbines on the hilltops. We took the slow travel option of a ferry from Portsmouth in England across the Bay of Biscay to Santander, and the journey there was half the fun.

Meanwhile here the NAMA debate has intensified, and it's straight back into the discussion as to what is the best option for Irish tax-payers and the Irish people. As the IMF stated:

"The success of NAMA will depend on a number of very complex decisions that will need to be taken in designing it during the course of the coming months and then in its implementation."

I waded my way through the Heads of the Bill with James Nix and Gary Fitzgerald the other day. We discussed the valuation issues at length, as this is crucial. Writing down the loans to a realistic level from the stratospheric level that they reached at the height of the boom must be at the heart of the legislation.

I was interested in Fintan O'Toole's piece in the Irish Times the other day about NAMA versus the Kenny Report. I sat on the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution as it considered property rights, and the Green Party's submission endorsed the views of Justice Kenny's report from 1973 which recommended that Local Authorities should be able to buy land in specific areas for the existing use value plus 25%. I don't believe that both proposals are mutually exclusive, as I'd imagine that the bulk of development lands have already undergone a massive write-down that brings their value a lot closer to agricultural use. In essence the green field lands will only constitute a small share of the value of the loans that the State may acquire. I'd imagine the real value will lie in assets located in cities such as Dublin, London, and in the United States. Perhaps this is related to the on-going High Court discussions relating to Liam Carroll's Zoe group. I'm hopeful that some of the work that is underway on the Planning Bill will address some of the issues raised by Justice Kenny one third of a century ago.

The challenge for those who reject NAMA is to propose a viable alternative that could cost Ireland less in the long run. The recent contributions by Brian Lucey, Alan Ahearne and other economists to the debate are hugely useful. I'm heartened that Alan Ahearne seemed to call the bubble for what it was earlier than others. One of my concerns about full nationalisation is that it has the potential to raise the interest rate at which Ireland borrows money abroad.

NAMA is only one of the challenges that lies ahead over the next three or four months. We also have the McCarthy Report, the Commission on Taxation, the Programme for Government Review, and Lisbon Two. Each issue in itself will generate heat, and hopefully light inside and outside the Green Party. As Eamon Ryan said the other day, there's a fascinating 100 days of politics ahead. NESC suggested back in March that we need an integrated approach to Ireland's Five-Part Crisis in banking, public finance, Ireland's reputation, and in the economic and social field. I tend to agree.

Meanwhile in Dún Laoghaire the long term weather forecast (as I write) is looking good (if a bit showery) for the Festival of World Cultures this weekend. Trevor is coming out to talk about food at Cool Earth in the County Hall on Saturday at 2.30 pm, and on Sunday, there's a first in the line-up - the Climate Change comedians at 3.45pm!

Looking at the line-up I'd say Dub Colossus at 6.30pm Saturday on the Main Stage at Newtownsmith (between the East Pier and Sandycove) should be amazing, and the following day Oumou Sangare from Mali in the same slot is bound to impress. Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is the main backer of the Festival which has gone from
strength to strength in recent years. They're also organising the Mountains to the Sea book festival from 10th to 13th September.

Between culture and politics there'll be more than enough festivals and fireworks to keep us busy, and entertained over the months ahead.