Author Archives: Dan Boyle

From top: Scott Joplin school formerly ‘The Little Flower’ in Chicago’s southside, the neighbourhood where Dan Boyle (above) spent his earliest years.

I was eight years of age when my family left Chicago. We lived on the Southside, the baddest part of town. I never felt particularly threatened, but my Mother was sufficiently uncomfortable to want to bring us to Ireland at the earliest opportunity.

Although I was young, there are memories I will always carry with me. Memories like my Dad coming home with his car windscreen smashed, having been at the wrong set of traffic lights on the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered.

I would have been aware of the tension, if not the context, of the Yippie riots at the Democratic Party Convention.

Despite these triggers, my parents always stressed the importance of accepting people, all people, as being equal. Although sadly, others in the Irish community, would indulge in a more knee-jerk response.

The school my sisters and I went to, was the local public school – secular, ethnically and gender mixed. My memories of there were largely happy.

I have visited Chicago twice since. The area, where we lived, now has an African-American bias, but physically has changed little.

The school has become fortified. This had happened after the principal was shot dead by a white student.

The local high school has had a name change. What once had been called Little Flower, after St. Theresa, was now named after the ragtime pianist, Scott Joplin. That made me smile.

Less mirth=inducing is the fact that Chicago now boasts more gun deaths, per annum, than Afghanistan.

While many of these deaths are drug related, itself a symptom of years of economic and social isolation, there are those who argue that failure to accommodate racial differences lies at the heart of this tragedy.

Many who make these arguments see themselves as victims – the great lost white tribe of the Western plains. Some of these were present at the ‘Friends of Donald’ rally at Charlottesville, Virginia.

Their victimhood has been enhanced, particularly by the King of Inarticulacy’s inability, but more likely unwillingness, to call out the vile creed they promote.

I feel for the country where I was born, the country that gave my family opportunity. It will, eventually, see a return to more wholesome values.

The fear is what damage, what real terror, will it inflict on itself before then.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Cars queue at Belleek, County Fermanagh border crossing , 1960s. ; Dan Boyle

When I was a child, going on our annual family vacation in Donegal, we would vary our route to get there. The western seaboard route always seemed the most direct.

When travelling by public transport, the V shaped route, via Dublin, would take us through Northern Ireland.

We would travel through Fermanagh and Tyrone, exiting in Strabane. British soldiers would board the bus. They would frighten me, although not for the obvious reasons. The bravado of these men, some still teenagers, was misplaced.

Their fear of their situation only added to the tension. I could scarcely imagine living with such tension, on a day in day out basis.

Thankfully now, the past has become, definitively, another country. Travelling to, from, and through Northern Ireland has become pass remarkable. Normalisation, superficially at least, is now the new normal. But superficial is what it is at best.

Old animosities have been sidelined, and where possible, somehow buried. The distaste that dares not speak its name, is never that far from the surface.

Some have dreamt of a Brexit benefit. The fourth green field can now be reclaimed. The long held, mythical, wish to unify the island, has never been closer to attain. Except that a unitary Irish state won’t be because of a take over or a surrender.

Whatever the Republic/Irish Free State has been; whatever the Northern Ireland statelet has believed itself to be, a new Ireland can only be created by jettisoning the key elements of both jurisdictions.

While we, in the Republic, seem to have run further from the pulpit than our northern brethren, uber liberal we are not. A new Ireland would have to be pluralist, secular and tolerant.

It will, at least initially, be a poorer Ireland. New, blood is thicker than water, taxes would have to be levied in the Republic, to help meet the subsidy gap that would be created through the departure of the British government.

The other part of this fiscal concordant would be that in Northern Ireland, the level of such subsidies expected would also have to be less.

If the dream survives this reality test, then maybe change is possible. If not then we all need to get used to shouting louder at each other again.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top: Kevin Myers (left) and Major Gen David O’Morochoe, of the Royal British Legion at the 90th Anniversary Commemoration, of the Battle of the Somme, in the Irish National War Memorial Park, in Dublin; Dan Boyle

I was considering presenting a defence of Kevin Myers. Not a particular defence (I’ve never really been a fan), more of a general defence on the role of contrarians in helping to provoke a better, more democratic discourse.

In the right hands, a well aimed epistle can expose any amount of sanctimony or complacency that would exist around an issue.

There is an honourable tradition in stand up comedy that has causing offence as a pre-requisite in bringing about laughter. The acts of Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks and the earlier career of Tommy Tiernan, revolved around this premise.

Getting the tone right, so that it is understood that a subject is being lampooned not emulated, is an advantage that live performance has over the written word.

If Myers’ earlier work carried a hint of satire, that would soon dissipate. His scribblings became a parody of the parody he may have thought he was creating.

His cultured tone, combined with his stylised writing, allowed him to coast for several years. Both combined to create an impression that he possessed a keen intelligence, which gave him a credibility to write what he liked, how he liked.

The more blatant the allusion, the more generalised the insult, the more pleased he seemed to be that he was advocating a ‘truth’. The real truth was that he was far from the iconoclast he believed himself to be. He has been one of many participants in a tired and tawdry genre.

He and his ilk have constructed a colour by numbers approach to controversy. The easy target in their eyes being the existence of political correctness.

This code, this voluntary code, has been exaggerated as being the enemy of our time, by right wing contrarians. PC, to my mind, is an ethic to try to avoid the demonisation of entire groups of people on the basis of generalised prejudice.

To the ‘freedom mongers’ of right wing contrarians, PC is the slippery slope towards equating any type of sensitivity as being the same. This reductio ad absurdum approach has become the most boring aspect of this type of writing. It has pushed no barriers. It has merely succeeded in digging deeper holes.

It is sad, as Myers could once have been described as being a good journalist. His earlier work in Northern Ireland has been rightly praised, even if his memoir of the time concentrated as much on his sense of priapic brilliance.

The diminishing returns of his subsequent career has been enabled by several publications and by many commissioning editors. A media more intent on provoking a response, rather than informing and subsequently reflecting public opinion, will unfortunately always have room for a Kevin Myers.

The problem isn’t really with the prejudices being peddled, but with the ‘truths’ being asserted. A recent Myers article, that was probably more nodded on than saw fists shook against it, saw him fulminate against wind turbines.

Every ‘fact’ he presented in the article, every single fact, was incorrect. Facts, real facts, undermine prejudice. The truth undoes us all.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews

From top: Fire officers prepare a water station in Ratoath, County Meath on Tuesday; Dan Boyle

The water charges campaigns, over four decades, have been Ireland’s brush with populism. They haven’t (thankfully) produced the consequences of Brexit or Trump, but consequences there are.

We see them now in Louth and in Meath. We will see them in many other parts of the country for several years to come. Our water infrastructure is crumbling, all due to decades of under investment.

Those who believe the myth that we have always paid for water, conveniently ignore the fact that however much has been collected, through whatever collection method, it has never equalled what has been spent, nor come close to what has been needed to be spent.

The other myth is that the current anti-water charges campaign, unlike its predecessors in the eighties/nineties/noughties, has killed the prospect of direct payment for the usage of water, ever being put in place. It hasn’t. Like the previous campaigns it has merely, once again, kicked the issue into touch, possibly for another ten years.

In the meantime, our water infrastructure continues to deteriorate. Meanwhile, the political attention is being given to returning money, which while grudgingly given was legitimately collected. The cost of giving money back is itself an added expense.

Let me make a modest proposal, I suggest that the money paid to Irish Water should be converted into a tax credit, available over a number of years. For those without a tax liability, this credit could be refundable. The credit could be linked to the existence of a water meter. For those without a meter, the tax credit could be applied for, along with installing a meter.

Meters are an essential part of any water infrastructure. Meters are most beneficial to the consumers of water. How we use water. In what ways do we use water. In what volumes and for what purposes are the questions we should be asking ourselves as consumers.

Pushing the boat out further, I would suggest that water consumers should be virtually billed. I’m not expecting anyone to pay anything for a long while yet. What virtual billing would do is illustrate the cost of directly producing water, as well as the embedded costs of meeting current and future infrastructural costs.

This would increase public awareness, but on its own it will do little to restore public confidence. Putting to bed any fear that water would be anything other than a public asset, is a necessary first step in that process.

Water needs a regulator. It doesn’t need a quango like Irish Water. The maintenance of our network should be decentralised.

Local government can and should be enabled to undertake this work. There may be a role for a national organisation for the provision of new infrastructure, Irish Water does not have the public goodwill to do that.

I suspect there will be many who disagree. Those who see the anti water charges campaign, as a great bringing together of the long neglected in our communities. That is arguable. What other social issues have been advanced because of it?

More likely the way the issue has been dealt with has been the same as many other Irish political issues – given not the necessary but the Irish solution. We have had too many of those.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top: The Highland Hotel, Glenties, County Donegal; Dan Boyle

This week sees the holding of MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co. Donegal. It maintains its, largely self generated, reputation as the summer school that receives the most media attention.

There is a busman’s holiday aspect to the school. Coming immediately upon the Dáil going into recess, it seeks to bring together the great and the good to float new ideas, and pontificate on the state of the nation.

For some reason this newly created sense of innovation and passion isn’t possible to be evoked in our national parliament.

The inputs are treated with the upmost seriousness. The serious business of school, though, lies in its social activities. The long evenings at the Highland Hotel are where the antipathies between politicians, and between politics and the media are put to one side. There’s nothing wrong with people enjoying themselves.

Many of the contributions are exercises in political kite flying. Some are attempts at self aggrandisement, to create a statesman-like profile needed for that next step on the ladder. Little of what is spoken there ends up in legislation or in policy changes.

It gives the impression that politics as usual is continuing . It creates copy for an ever desperate media.

Much of verbiage expounded is like how an English teacher of mine defined futility – like wasting your sweetness on the desert air.

Occasionally, quite occasionally, a germ of an idea takes hold which can justify the exercise.

I spoke twice at MacGill in 2009 and 2010. Both times on the banking situation. In 2009 I sat on a panel with Patrick Honohan, then professor of economics at Trinity, and Alan Dukes, who had been appointed a director to the board of the zombie bank, Anglo Irish.

I gave what I thought was a hard hitting speech. Much of what I hoped for, and expected, would never come to pass. There would be no prosecutions of those in the banking sector who had created the catastrophe.

No crime of economic treason would be created. The legislation that was passed, while an improvement, has been nothing like strong enough to avoid a reoccurance of the events of 2008.

Some of the things I said had an effect. I called for the end of the Buggins turn arrangement where the Secretary General of the Department of Finance assumed the position of Governor of the Central Bank

. I also called for the Financial Regulator to come from outside the State. It also was an opportunity to publicly outline the changes the Green Party wanted to see to the NAMA bill.

I told Eamon Ryan I was impressed with Patrick Honohan’s analysis and his prescription of what should follow. We met with him in Eamon’s ministerial office, where we continued to be impressed. Eamon spoke with Brian Lenihan, which set up a process that would eventually see Professor Honohan appointed as the next Governor of the Central Bank.

It was the right choice, even if he eventually bounced us into the Troika. That too was the right decision. Sometimes what happens in Glenties doesn’t stay in Glenties.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic: Macgill Summer School

From top: Commuters in Dublin; Dan Boyle

The most recent unemployment statistics saw a return to the type of figures that existed pre 2008. That in itself is very welcome. I don’t hold with the view that these statistics are somehow contrived, or are laced with political spin.

The Central Statistics Office is a credible, neutral organisation. Its presentation of data has to conform with Eurostat rules. The trend is that more people are engaged in positions of employment.

Despite that, what we measure in relation to work, is often deficient.

We measure the number of work positions but not specifically the number of man hours worked. There is little precise information on the amount of wages accurately being paid. There is no measurement being taken on the degree of job security that exists.

Significant groups of people are not include in these statistics – students, those engaged in employment schemes, and many thousands who are in receipt of pre-retirement dole.

Against that, the way employment data is collected is very wide, but it isn’t particularly deep. The statistics cover the age range 15 years to 74. This includes some meant to be in full time education, and others who otherwise should be well ensconced in retirement.

42,000 people, year on year, have acquired employment that previously was beyond them. That is welcome. When we look at secondary sources of information, the implication created by this movement, isn’t necessarily that rosy.

When we look at income taxes receipts, a different picture starts to emerge. Year on year these have increased by €82 million. This gives an average tax liability of under €2000 for each new entrant to the workforce. This abstracts to average wages that would be somewhat under the average industrial wage.

If we had access to the wage increases given to those already in the workforce, this would further reduce the figure we could attach to what average wage new workers are receiving.

Further proof is the disconnect that is occurring, since the start of this year, between income tax receipts and universal social charge receipts. USC receipts are increasing at a far slower pace than those of income tax.

Because of the income threshold that applies before payment of USC is required, we can surmise that many of the new jobs being created, must be paying wages in or around this threshold.

One CSO statistic we should question is the assertion that wages in the public sector are considerability higher than those in the private sector. The CSO admits that no accepted international comparator for this statistic exists.

There are many factors that distort direct comparison. There are very few part time jobs in the public sector. Invariably these are mostly found in the private sector.

What we can work out is that many of the new jobs created are part time, low paying, and are lacking in security. If we are honest with ourselves, we should admit that this glass isn’t even yet half full.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top: Jobstown protest; Dan Boyle

Recently I met up with the woman who ran my constituency office. We meet far too infrequently these days. There’s often a lot of catching up to do, and many memories to reignite.

Those memories, for the most part, have been good. Recollections of characters whose personalities often frustrated us, but always entertained. Few of these people brought with them any political benefit, but that rarely mattered. We had determined that whoever came to the office we would try to help, however we could.

She was excellent at her job. I couldn’t ask for a better representative for whenever I wasn’t there. Nor could I have gained anyone more expert in those areas where we would get frequent requests – health, social welfare or housing.

Of course the memories weren’t always idyllic. Towards the end of our time in government, she became the receptacle of the public anger, and frequent abuse, for things that were not, at all, of her making.

On one occasion that anger, or use of that anger, turned into a physical threat for my Secretary. A group of Social Justice Warriors (I can’t remember which posture politics collection it was) decided one day to occupy my office. They chose to do so on discovering I wouldn’t be there.

I was elsewhere at a Green Party think-in (phones off and on the table), when events started at my office. A gang of four or five invited themselves into the building, proceeding to intimidate my secretary.

Outside of their general ignorance, they had an extremely poor understanding of who a public person was, or indeed what a public place was. My secretary felt threatened and certainly felt imprisoned, during what ended up being a six hour ordeal.

I continue to feel guilty about my negligence to her, as her employer then, in ensuring that she operated in a safe work environment. I decided not to contact the Gardaí, feeling that drawing attention to this would have been to justify the action in the eyes of the perpetrators.

I now regret not having done so. There are many legitimate reasons to protest. There are similar number of ways to engage in protesting. This flexibility should not presuppose that any form of protest, using whatever form of trite sloganeering, in whatever location, is always acceptable.

I recount this experience so that it can be contrasted with events, that have followed in the aftermath of the Jobstown trial.

There’s no denying that the response of the State in this trial – the investigating and arrest procedures of the Gardaí and the direction by the office of the Director of Public Prosecution – was completely over the top. Nor can it be argued that a certain level of vindictiveness accompanied this decision making.

The purpose of protest should be firstly to identify inequity. To highlight the failure of those with the means and resources to tackle such inequities. Ultimately the aim should be towards eliminating such inequities.

Those who engage in posture politics seek to freeze their protest at the intermediate level. Ending inequities removes the need for permanent protest.

It also eliminates the ego driven nature of some organisers of protests, where their self perception sees themselves as enemies of the establishment, but the establishment often views them as useful idiots, used to deflect more serious damage being caused to the body politic.

The questions we should be asking isn’t whether protest is legitimate, but whether it is effective.

Neglected communities in our society have seen their labour, their access to opportunities and need for resources undermined. These days it is their anger that is being abused, and not for their betterment.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top: Unionist Clubs of Ireland Anti-Home Rule poster, c1912; l Dan Boyle

 

In Britain, two general elections had been held within a short time period of each other. The party in government had sought a stronger mandate. The attempt backfired badly, with that party returning to the parliament in a minority situation. Government would only be possible, if support could be gained from an Irish party.

The year was 1910. The party was the Liberal Party, which would never again win a majority of seats in the British parliament. Its lifeline was provided by the Irish Parliamentary Party, led by John Redmond, leader for almost two decades since the regicide of Charles Stewart Parnell.

The price sought for the Irish Party’s support would be the introduction of a third Home Rule Bill.

After these elections, the main opposition party the Tories, chose a new leader. The job fell to a candidate who was without a large support base in the party, who was thought of as a compromise candidate. He was Andrew Bonar Law, who had an Ulster Scots background.

Already under the Tory tent were prominent Irish Unionists Edward Carson and James Craig. This Tory leadership developed and used tactics, meant to undermine the Home Rule Bill, which over the following century created the conditions that have caused the unnecessary deaths of thousands of people on the island of Ireland.

Under Law’s leadership, spurred on by his unionist friends, Tories talked up the position of Ulster, as being deserving of a special status.

Direct Tory support was offered to initiatives like devising and signing the Ulster Covenant; and the establishment of the Ulster Volunteers, leading to the gun running at Larne.

Each of these measures would/should have been considered treasonous, but because of the support of the main opposition party, they were thought of instead as actions that were necessary in defence of the realm.

The political intent of Law and Irish Unionists was less than certain. The definition of Ulster itself was proving difficult to agree.

Different amendments to the Home Rule Bill suggested the four counties with the largest unionist majorities could opt out. Edward Carson preferred the actual nine counties of Ulster, but no unionist majority existed for that arrangement. The six county formula was settled on, when it assured there would be a guarantee of an overall unionist majority between those counties.

The Home Rule Bill became law in 1914. The Great War intervened. Ireland was set on a course that has determined our political history since.

As leader of the Tories, Bonar Law, also had to deal with perennial Tory preoccupations of free trade and Britain’s relationships with the rest of the World. He stood down as party leader having disturbed much, but achieved little.

Lloyd George’s coalition government continued post war, overseeing the Treaty of Versailles and the Anglo Irish treaty. The coalition fell over a desire for ‘normal’ politics.

Contesting the election would be two Liberal factions and two Tory factions. This allowed Labour to become the main party of opposition for the first time in its history.

The main Tory faction turned again to Bonar Law to become party leader. This saw him become Prime Minister. Due to ill health he would only serve 211 days in office. For this he would receive the soubriquet of the Unknown Prime Minister.

His story is interesting to the extent that the themes that predominated then, continue to do so today. Tory obessions on trade and Britain’s role in the World seem to be as wearily cited as ever.

The willingness of the Tories to lean into Irish politics to vampirically sustain itself, regardless of the consequences, as a political tool to be used whenever desperate times require, remains unchanged over 100 years on.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top: Grenfell Tower in West London; Dan Boyle

A political argument has already been lost, when a protagonist states that an issue shouldn’t be ‘politicised’. To politicise an issue is to cause embarrassment, even to evoke shame.

There are times, however, when shame, guilt, and responsibility, not only need to be evoked, but also constantly need to be put before those whose actions (often lack of action) have created crisis and havoc.

Those who have died so needlessly at Grenfall Tower in West London, those who will endure such horrible injuries, and those who have lost family and other loved ones, have to be seen as more than victims. Collectively they are human sacrifice on the altar of political expediency.

The Conservative Party controlled Kensington and Chelsea Council sees public services as a distraction, from its real business of business itself. A more ugly exponent of the mantra of New Public Management, would be difficult to find.

Spend less. Tax less. Where possible commodify. When necessary avoid activity that promotes a common good. Insist, whenever possible, on the necessity of individual responsibility. Create new structures, and with such structures put in place new bodies, to which responsibility without power can be ascribed.

This council treats its residents like shareholders. Householders are supplied with a statement of account, which in the most recent year saw the council making a ‘profit’, rewarding each householder with £100 cash back.

The implication of this reward is that at all publicly provided needs were met. Of course they haven’t been. The ability of residents being bribed with their own money has been bought at the expense, of the use of cheap materials, and with many deep cuts to basics services.

These are cuts made with callous indifference, knowing that those most affected – the poor, the unemployed, ethnic minorities – provide little shareholder capital for a Tory council in the richest borough in Britain.

Irish local authorities have tended to ape policy changes in the UK. While Irish councils are structured differently, and carry significantly less powers, than their UK counterparts, worrying signs of these attitudes have begun to be seen.

If any kind of hope can be gained from such an awful event, it should be to act as a wake up call to stop travelling down this road, or to think it a route ever worth taking.We can only pray that those who have argued that a Michael O’Leary business model, best provides for Irish social services, will now shut the feck up.

The metrics for good performance in Irish local government should be in the meeting of needs as they exist. It should be in acquiring, and never apologising for acquiring, the resources necessary to meet such needs.

Those with least require most. Meeting such needs should be the prime purpose of local government. To demean such needs, while virtually criminalising those who require services, will only bring us events like the London conflagration.

Never again with never again.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaves Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday after receiving his seal of office from President Higgins; Dan Boyle

Yesterday, June 14th, 2017, Leo Varadkar became the fourteenth head of government of the Republic of Ireland/Irish Free State.

Being caught up in his own history, he was probably blissfully unaware, that the day was also the tenth anniversary of when the Green Party became part of an Irish government.

While not being directly comparable, there are parallels that apply to anyone whose accesses power at a higher level. Chief among these would be two factors, those of opportunity and chance, factors which impact on the ability to achieve.

The opportunity of achieving office only has value, if the chance that accompanies it is favourable. Chance is that combination of circumstance and durability. Neither you get to choose. Neither can ever really be controlled.

You are either an agent of continuity or an agent of change. Pretending to be a bit of both only hastens an end to opportunity.

How capricious, how ephemeral, politics can be, can be seen from noting who else held office where, this time ten years ago.

In Stormont, the Chuckle Brothers were still only rehearsing their new routine, after their respective parties, Sinn Féin and the DUP, became kings of their castles.

In Westminister, Tony Blair was about to hand over to Gordon Brown who had brooded over that office for several years.

In Paris Nicholas Sarkozy had been President of France only for a matter of weeks. In Washington, George W Bush still had eighteen months of his lame duck term to serve.

The only constants are Putin in Russia and Angela Merkel in Germany (then only eighteen months into her first chancellorship).

If Leo achieves the six years in office that Enda Kenny has, he will have done very well. His first priority will be to use the time he has to buy more time. Failure to do so will consign him to the club of short term Taoisigh, with members like Albert Reynolds, John Bruton and Brian Cowen.

On a personal level I wish him well. Given our policy differences, my expectations wouldn’t be high, but that should never be a reason for wishing him, or anyone, ill. He is competent enough, confident enough, and as far as can be ascertained possessed of a sufficient integrity, to make a fair fist of the job.

I hope he is lucky, without being too lucky. His predecessor carried huge reserves of luck with him, even if he achieved little with the use of his good fortune.

He will soon be disabused of whatever expectation he has held about his office. The power bubble, he will become absorbed into, is a sealed vacuum which becomes detached from the reality and routine of everyday life.

Politicians who reach a high point in their career, run the risk of becoming further and further detached. Surrounding themselves with political friends and advisers, who have become similarly afflicted, only helps to increase their isolation.

To avoid becoming an actualised Pac Man, avoiding regular asteroid showers, our new Taoiseach should give a lot of thought towards doing most things differently. That should buy him a bit more time.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews