Author Archives: Dan Boyle

From top: Protestors in Skibbereen opposing plans for a plastics factory manufacturing polymer pellets in the town last February; Dan Boyle

When our family moved from Chicago to Cork, my Dad stayed there for a further five years. He worked as a merchant seaman on the Great Lakes. His intent to build up a nest egg.

During this period we would have see him for a few weeks in and around Christmas time.

At other times we would record cassette tapes we sent to the US/Canada to let him know we were thinking of him and missing him.

As a 10 year old I would have performed my party piece, which found it way onto one such cassette. It was the somewhat mawkish yet still somehow anthemic famine song, ‘Skibbereen’.

The open lines of the song continues to be evocative for me, precisely because of how it came to exist in my life.

“Oh Father dear I often hear you speak of Erin’s isle”

Several verses later while ranging from the near piteous to the near militant, the song ends with a rallying cry ‘Revenge for Skibbereen’.

I think of the song as a link in my relationship with my Dad. It has also given me something of an affinity with the town of Skibbereen.

The place that suffered the worst ravages of the Potato Famine has lot going for it now.

The gateway to the glories of West Cork, the town is surrounded by a necklace of incredibly beautiful coastal villages. Add to those locations the wonderful Lough Hyne, and you have a region that compares with any of the visually stunning parts of the World.

West Cork isn’t without the economic difficulties other regions experience. Despite many persistent obstacles, great efforts have been made to make Skibbereen more economically diverse.

The development of a globally rated local food culture has been part of that process. As has been the establishment The Ludgate Hub, named after a turn of the 20th century computing pioneer, Percy Ludgate, a Skibbereen native, who developed an analytical machine.

This Centre is attempting to provide a template for IT companies to exist and thrive in small towns in Ireland.

Into this mix someone somewhere has decided that Skibbereen needs an industrial component to its economic development.

Over the past year a proposal to construct a plastics factory in the town has been making its way through the planning system.

There has been practically no support for this factory in the town. It is felt it is in no way complementary, and is thought to be openly compromising, of the economic development that has been occurring there.

The opposition has turned into justified anger as planners in Cork County Council, and subsequently Bord Pleanala, have flexibly interpreted planning regulations so that the plastics company has not been obliged to provide an environmental impact statement, or seek an air pollution licence.

Last week Bord Pleanala chose to approve the application, ignoring the need for such safeguards. Tonight another in a series of well attended public meetings will be held in Skibbereen, to consider what further opposition will be made. Details here.

Time to add a few more verses to that song.

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

Pic via The Southern Star

US President Donald Trump (top) has ‘wisely has identified climate change mania as the communism of our time,’ writes Dan Boyle (above)

Over the past two months there have been a slew of reports informing us of the ecological crisis we supposedly collectively face.

For climate change deniers, and the more cynical among us, these reports represent a conspiracy to eke out an ever more demanding amount of tax from an already overburdened populace.

First to emerge in the scare and pay fraud were the mitherings of the International Panel on Climate Change. A shadowy United Nations front which shamefully has used accumulated scientific data to claim that as a planet we have only 12 years to ensure that the growth in global temperatures does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. Otherwise as a planet we are locked into the unavoidable consequences of climate change.

The second attempt to undermine life as we know it, were the mumblings of the World Wildlife Fund suggesting that 60% of animal life has been diminished since 1970. What a pity we couldn’t have eaten them all.

The misery guts of the World Meteorological Organisation then sought to frighten us by saying that carbon emissions on having passed 400 parts per million in 2015 were now 405 parts per million in 2017. What’s 5 parts per million between friends? And that’s while ignoring the increase in methane and nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases.

Then we have the attempt of the US Deep State to undermine the legitimately elected President of the country, the stable genius that is Donald J. Trump. This particular work of fiction claims that US economy in 2100 will be 10% less in value than it is today because of climate change.

With this level of deceit it is reassuring to realise that the religious right opposition to the lies and deceit of the climate change demonology still holds sway.

We should be grateful that President Trump has wisely and successfully identified climate change mania as the communism of our time.

This Trump Effect is recognised by yet another rainforest diminishing report, this time by the Dublin based, pretentiously named Institute of International and European Affairs.

While not its intention, this report shows the Trump strategy on climate change to be brilliant.

Firstly it creates a competing, alternative truth to the hysteria of climate change. Secondly it decries the amount of public money being spent on compiling useless data on the concentration of this or that gas in the atmosphere. It goes on to suggest that it creates a welfare system for scientists.

Thirdly it seeks to hide or block access to this useless data, lest its importance or context be misunderstood.

The holding of the latest iteration of the climate change circus #COP24 in Katowice, Poland is a masterpiece of contrived subtext as well as context.

Sited at the heart of the country’s coal reserves, what better celebration could there be of the fossil fuel that has helped bring real prosperity to those of us living in the developed World.

In Ireland we should also acknowledge the government of a country, that has been even more successful than ours, in refusing to comply with European Union requirements to reduce carbon emissions.

We need to be vigilant to the danger that climate change fraud places on our way of life. We need to prevent its attempt to place prohibitions on life, and on business (as usual), as we have known it.

Let us embrace the motto for the Trump Effect – Burn Baby Burn.

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

Dr Swift?

Pics: Getty.

From top: Tents used by the homeless in downtown Los Angles; Dan Boyle

Last week I found myself in Los Angeles. It was a nice break, although I was more there as support for a friend who was engaged in a ‘project’.

It was those circumstances that brought me there. That and an ongoing curiosity on whether my prejudices of LA held any water.

Disappointingly they did. LA is every bit of every cliché of the worst of urban planning. A sprawl utterly in thrall to the motor car. There are few buildings of any architectural interest or of great antiquity.

Looping and overlapping roads that once were looked upon with wonder, now look pretty silly. Infrastructure constructed over fifty years ago, shows little sign of being replaced.

The public transport system seems to also reflect this. It is relatively inexpensive but has poor connectivity. We took a 45 minute bus ride from our hotel, straight into Compton, to connect with the Metro.

This had one advantage of getting a better feel for the city. It is hugely segregated with economic disadvantage merging with ethnic status.

There is an army of homeless there. At many street corners individuals can be seen perched on park benches next to purloined shopping trolleys filled with plastic bags containing the worth of their lives.

In the older part of the once industrial part of the city centre, there exists a fairly large tent city. This same area is experiencing some gentrification and an influx of new technology businesses, for whom I suspect, the inhabitants of tent city are something of an inconvenience.

You also become struck by how disproportionate homelessness is among minority groups. A vivid image, that will remain with me, is that of an enormous black man at a Metro station, who along with carrying his life belongings, was also carrying what seemed to be his body weight in plastic bottles. Trying to monetise what he could how he could.

Internally I thought not only ‘there for the grace’ but on how this man seemed to have a better work ethic than I ever could have.

I’m not trying to portray the place as being more dystopian than utopian, nor am suggesting its social problems are unique to it. What I am challenging is the idea of a place that styles itself as a ‘City of Angels’ is anything but.

Its acknowledged tourist meccas also seem to give a hollow glow these days. The golden age being celebrated, is recent in its existence, but now seems to lack depth.

The relationship with food is especially horrible. Practically every street junction has a fast food restaurant, invariably drive in. I constantly struggle with my own weight. In the US I dread to think what I size I would become.

Would I go back there? Possibly. A second visit would be informed by doing things differently. I didn’t grace many pleasure spots and would engage in more guilty pleasures.

I would still want to come home. To Cork, of course.

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

Top pic: Associated Press

From top: The curlew population in Ireland has been diminished by 96%; Dan Boyle

It’s getting more and more difficult to find a decent environmental scare story. It’s hard to overcome that great wall of indifference, (largely made up, sadly, of decision makers) who instinctively feel that things are not so bad and if they become worse that will be then.

The increasing number of extreme weather events is shaking some out of their torpor. The intensity of the Californian wildfires may be leading some officials to declare that ‘abnormal is the new normal’, others choose to see it as a failure of forest management.

Actual evidence of damage being caused by climate change continues to be ignored because it largely lacks a visual manifestation.

An example of this would be the publication of a recent report showing a decrease of 60% in animal populations in an under fifty year period since 1970.

The indifferent may continue to sway away from statistics like this, thinking we’ve survived the passing of the Dodo and its ilk, what’s another few species?

Slowly the realisation may dawn that we are an animal species. There for the grace of whatever divine presence, that may or may not exist, go us.

Even the most selfish of us should recognise the extinction of any species as a series of canary in the coal mine moments for the human race on this planet. And yes the coal mine reference is deliberate.

We all are component parts of a wider ecosystem. The disappearing parts of that means the rest of us have to work that bit harder. It could be that an extinct species is responsible for something that can’t exist after them. Once gone it may never return.

Yaboo sucks deniers may chorus, in ways that makes me feel that the wrong parts of particular animal populations are being sustained.

Like Climate Change itself, the scale of what’s happening discourages many to do anything. As with general environmental action, it’s the local where effect starts to take place.

Ireland’s record on species protection is nothing to write home about. The Curlew population has been diminished by 96%. The government’s response to this has been to pass a Heritage Bill that allows hedge cutting during breeding periods, a new form of contraceptive for our breeding birds.

The current mania for dredging our rivers in the middle of spawning season is another form of genius.

This weekend a number of events (see below) are happening hoping to improve awareness of species extinction. The main event will be held in Dublin at 2pm outside the Dead Zoo (the Natural History Museum). Other events will be held in Cork (outside of its GPO) and Galway (alongside Salthill promenade).

Awareness is only part of the story. It’s anger that needs to be harnessed. In a focussed and direct way. The lack of appropriate political action is creating growing reserves of anger among environmentalists.

We will, I feel, see growing civil disobedience among environmentalists, weary at the lack of any substantial change on these issues. It’s a change of approach that should be welcomed.

Much better than playing at being dead.

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

Pic: BBC Wildlife


From top: Tobercurry Train Station, County Sligo in the 1950s and the site as it is today; Dan Boyle

I should have taken a picture but I was driving on a busy road, and there was no place to pull in.

Having just driven past Tobercurry, I caught a glimpse of a disused rail line. It was part of the Western Rail corridor that had once connected Sligo with Galway.

It was only a glimpse but the rail and sleepers didn’t seem to be in too bad a nick. It was very overgrown. In the picture were two ponies claiming grazing rights from the mechanised horse that had superseded their ancestors as the main means of transport.

Once I had gotten out of my own mechanised pony, I went to find out what had happened to Tobercurry and its status as a railway town.

I travel frequently in North West regularly passing through Tobercurry. I would be familiar with the short bypass road that ensures that the passing through is as limited as possible

I was saddened to learn that the construction of this road brought about the demolition of the train station and its ancillary buildings.

While learning this information I also came across a press release from 2003 calling for the re-introduction of the Western Rail corridor. It came from then Fine Gael spokesperson on Transport, Denis Naughten.

Too many ironies for me to handle.

Despite that I don’t see political inconsistency or resultant hypocrisy as being the main problem here. Who I consider most guilty of failing to redevelop Irish railways is Irish Rail.

Of course there is political responsibility in failing to provide a sufficient public transport subvention, or anything like an adequate capital budget.

What angers me about Irish Rail is that it doesn’t even try to be an advocate for an expanded rail service.

Throughout its history it has shamelessly overseen the closure of dozens of rail lines throughout the country, never questioning the Department of Transport’s aping of Britain’s Beeching Report.

The handful of lines that have been restored – Limerick/Galway; Cork/Midleton and the repurposing of the Harcourt Street line, have happened despite and not because of Irish Rail.

Even with low hanging fruit like seeking the reopening of the Navan line, an obvious safety valve for the commuter problems of Dublin, the silence of Irish Rail is sadly all too typical.

This inertia has created a vacuum that unused rail lines will remain perpetually unused. Into this void has come the reinvention of discontinued rail lines as greenways.

As a concept it has inherent logic. In practice, when produced, they are increasingly becoming important pieces of social infrastructure.

In Cork the former Cork Passage railway has been magnificently reimagined. The Great Western Greenway in Mayo was encouraged and supported while the Greens were in government. The Waterford/Dungarvan greenway has taken the spec to a new level.

The problem is that this type of planning must eventually reach saturation point, bringing about diminishing returns.

What’s worse is that it brings about lazy thinking that greenways should always be disused rail lines, and that all such unused lines should become greenways.

Along with others I’ve made a submission that a proposed greenway from Youghal to Midleton should not replace the existing rail line. Cork County Council laughably suggests that a greenway ‘futureproofs’ a railway there.

I’m not confident that this mindset can be challenged. If it can, or when it does, we then might have an Irish Rail that seeks to expand its network, and not the moribund vehicle of today whose summit of ambition is to decommissions much of the network it has for the sake of an easy life.

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

Pics: SligoGreenaway

From top: Peter Casey at Dublin Castle last Saturday; Dan Boyle.

I wouldn’t say that the 342,727 voters who indicated support for Peter Casey in our presidential election are racists, but I suspect that many who have tendencies to be racist did vote for him.

There were many factors that contributed to a tenfold increase in his support over a period of one week.

One was the assumption, fuelled by opinion polls, that Michael D. Higgins would be easily elected. While always a dangerous assumption, this seemed to free many voters into making a statement; or statements, to give a collective two fingers to the political establishment.

The second factor is that like Dáil by-elections, in presidential elections most votes gravitate towards the successful candidate and then towards the most viable challenger.

My highest vote (16%) was achieved in a by election. I estimate I got at least half those votes by being seen as the most viable ‘protest’ candidate.

However the third factor is political serendipity – being at the right place at the right time saying a perceived ‘right’ thing.

Undoubtedly Peter Casey touched a nerve. In doing so he caused an extraordinarily large number of voters to change their opinions over a blink of an eye time span.

This is worrying that so many people could at the drop of a hat, express support for a candidate they did not know, and whose wider policy platform was so nebulously incoherent.

The most publicly expressed reason why the new found Casey supporters became attracted to him was because, as they said, he said things they often are afraid to say themselves.

While politicians are regularly castigated for resorting to cliche, this statement meant to be evocative of an electorate not being listened to, is among the worst of all political cliches.

When it is said that people are afraid to say things, it means they feel they are being deprived to say things that are wrong. Very wrong. What is being sought is the right to be intolerant.

For many in the electorate, or at least those who bothered to vote, Casey has been a mischievous cipher to somehow communicate the supposedly desirous state of being politically incorrect.

PC is not a legal code. It’s meant to be about positive ways in how we consider each other, how we speak about and refer to each other. It is open to exaggeration and thus likely ridicule, but it remains a better alternative to that of being nasty and ignorant towards each other.

I wouldn’t be of the school of thought that would want things not to be said. I think it is more rewarding when the distasteful gets said, once it is immediately reacted to and challenged.

While writing this I have been attending an event in Cork. Speaking there was a young traveller woman, an artist. She pointed out she was the only traveller in the room among a crowd of people, who after events of past weeks she would assume one in five of those sat there could not recognise her for who and what she was. Would that Peter Casey could speak with such assured eloquence.

There is a cozy comfort in how we form our opinions of others through generalisations, myths and common misconceptions. Instinct allows us to avoid needing to think or to have to inform ourselves.

This might seem a bit too PC for some. To such people I say FU. That might give some sense of how those we choose not to understand, or engage with, feel.

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


From top: The stoning scene in ‘Monty Python’s The Life of Brian’; Dan Boyle

Instead of my usual contribution I submit instead my Seanad speech on the Blasphemy section of the now Defamation Act. I do so to illustrate how ludicrous the offence of Blasphemy is, and why it imperative that it be removed from the Irish Constitution in tomorrow’s referendum.

Speech on Final Stage of Defamation Bill. Section on Blasphemy. July 9th 2009

Senator Dan Boyle: “The offence of blasphemy is archaic. It is borne out of a jurisprudence which saw the development of events in an era where church and State were seen as a single entity. It is an offence that should be made obsolete and has been made so in other jurisdictions. It cannot be confused with the right of people to believe and to have that right respected.

The difficulty in continuing to legislate in regard to an offence of blasphemy is that it is open to all sorts of reinterpretations and may be used for purposes that might not be the reasons for which those with strong religious beliefs would wish to see such an offence enshrined in legislation.

The concept of blasphemy was brilliantly satirised in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)” where a Pharisee was unintentionally stoned to death for repeatedly, although unwittingly, saying the word “Jehovah”.

Much of the debate on this issue is a political equivalent of repeatedly saying the word “Jehovah”. It is something we need to get out of our political system as soon possible.

I accept this Bill is a development of something that is included Bunreacht na hÉireann and that subsequently will be included in legislation.

The advice of the Attorney General is that because of the amending of the 1961 Act, it is necessary to have a clear offence in this legislation as regards the current provision in the Constitution.

Therefore, such provision is necessary in this legislation, although ultimately and in the short term the question of having such provision in the Constitution must be addressed.

As a member of the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, of which [Fine Gael] Senator [Eugene] Regan is also a member, I accepted the committee’s findings in this respect.

The Minister [then Minister for Justice, Fianna Fáil’s Dermot Ahern] pointed out that in the short term the committee recommended that the change does not occur, but in the medium and long term its members are of one mind that it must occur. It is also the view of the committee that legislation of any form in regard to this offence cannot work. It would be inoperable.

Not only did we see that in regard to how the offence has been defined in this jurisdiction and how it has been subsequently brought before our courts, but Senator Regan has quoted the City of Westminster case in England, and other legal advice given to the Oireachtas committee included how other blasphemy laws, for instance those in Austria, have not been seen to work. On that ground, we need to examine how we address this issue in the medium term.

The original amendment, which more strongly defined the offence and offered no defence on any grounds, was not an amendment I could or would support.

The subsequent amendment that outlines grounds of literary, artistic, scientific, political or academic defence makes a nonsense of the offence but it is an offence that is a nonsense.

I am prepared to accept that particular amendment nullifies the existence of blasphemy even though it is codified in our system.

To move forward from here, we need to address the wider issue. This measure is nothing but a legalistic repair job in regard to a short term political expedient. We need to examine the wider constitutional issue.”

Senator Ivana Bacik: “Is that a Government commitment to introduce a referendum on this issue?”

An Cathaoirleach: “The Senator is not allowed to interrupt.”

Senator Dan Boyle: “I am giving my view on these amendments and how I would like to progress this issue.”

Senator Dominic Hannigan: “Will the Senator insert that in a revised programme for Government?”

An Cathaoirleach: “No interruptions, please.”

Senator Dan Boyle: “Members can take that whatever way they like. Ultimately, while I accept the reasons this is being done in this way, the effect of it will be that we will codify an offence that most people do not believe in on grounds that people will not be able to bring actions and even if they were able to do so, it is unlikely there would be prosecutions on foot of such actions.

That makes a nonsense of our process of defining laws. I will be supporting the amendments. I will also be supporting the Bill, but I put down a clear marker that for me and my party this is not an issue that we can avoid and it must be dealt with in the medium term.”

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

From top: Climate change ‘Ecofeminist’ activists outside Leinster House last Tuesday; Dan Boyle

Thirty years ago, this week, I experienced one of the more significant weeks of my life. My grandmother died. The last of my grandparents to have passed away.

For a young adult, like me, it was a life marker, an acknowledgement of mortality if still a generation away.

I was offered a job, of sorts. Under community employment like conditions I became an Assistant Supervisor at a Glass Recycling Unit run by the Rehabilitation Institute.

It was called sheltered employment, but it was far from sheltered. We worked outside for most of the time, throughout the year.

It was all very low tech. We stood around a large riddle, armed with goggles, gloves and an awl, to take off the metal rings found at the top of bottles.

My manager was Conor Counihan, then also captain of the Cork Gaelic Football team. Conor was a hard man on the football pitch. At work he was firm but calm. From him I learned a lot about the art of grace under pressure.

As these things happen in threes, this was I also the week I joined the Green Party. I had engaged in a prolonged correspondence (handwritten letters) with the person who held the main officership in the party.

A party then, and still to a large extent, that had something of a distaste for leader figureheads, had one first among equals position known as the Co-ordinator. This position rotated every six months.

My correspondence with the then Co-ordinator was arrogant in the extreme. It went beyond me seeking from them reasons as to why I should join their party. To somewhat paraphrase myself I wanted to know how the party would make use of my obvious brilliance!

On the surface these three events would seem to have little in common, other than occurring at the same time in my life.

In retrospect they each represent significant signposts. It helped me recognise and deal with inevitability. It taught me the value of work, particularly physical work. It ingrained in me an invaluable lesson of working with other people.

And I have gained by being with those with whom I share values. Those values ever so slowly have informed wider public debate, and in some respects have helped change public behaviour.

Frustratingly the realisation that such change has been too little, needing so much more change to be made, hasn’t diminished the holding or strengthening of those values.

This week I attended a Climate Change Action protest outside of Leinster House. A whole new generation are now taking up the cudgels, being brilliantly led a cadre of young women.

They are asking the why of change with the same vehemence we had, but they are addressing the how of change in a far less circumspect way than we have done.

If I’m lucky, and if I achieve my Mother’s level of longevity, I may yet see another thirty years of life. I’m hoping that many life lessons lie ahead of me yet. I’m praying, to Gods of no particular religious denomination, that they can be collective lessons.

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

Pic: Irish Ecofeminists Coven

From top: Activists highlight the government’s ‘attitude to Climate Change’ on Sandymount Strand, Sandymount, Dublin 4 in 2015; Dan Boyle

It’s no biggie. Only the most important issue of our time. A planet defining issue on which the long term, accumulated scientific research is ever more accurately and specifically describing what collective inaction will bring about.

The targets have become tighter and thus more difficult to reach. The timeline to be doing something is becoming ever shorter.

At a time when data has never been clearer nor the choices that need to be made known, we remain static continuing to give credence to those whose opposition is instinctive, irrational and strongly rooted in self interest.

Sometime I live in hope that Climate Change can be presented as it is and not how others want it to be.

This week I watched Evan Davies on BBC 2 eviscerate a former Trump ‘environmental’ advisor, Myron Bell. It made a pleasant change of approach to see a climate change denier being challenged strongly to justify their scepticism.

Certainly different than, for the sake of ‘balance’, pretending that that there has been some kind of intellectual equivalence between accepting the reality of Climate Change or not.

Listening to comments on Ivan Yates’ Newstalk radio programme, my mood become less sanguine.

One thing that became apparent is that the programme, and the station, seems to have wrapped up the audience of angry BMW drivers.

What about China and India?”, the texters shriek. “How can a small island like ours ever make a difference?“, is asked as if it represents some great wisdom.

In Ireland we consume more CO2 per person than either of those countries. With China, in particular, its population is equal to that of Europe and North America combined. The European/North American axis produces far more CO2 than China does.

We have a moral obligation to act first and act quickly. The Duke of York routine being shared by An Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance of marching up the hill of environmental righteousness, only to skulk back down again, is not only tiresome it is quickly becoming close to criminal.

Ireland has agreed to meet certain targets under an agreed EU programme of carbon reduction limits.

Despite being given very advantageous terms, Ireland will spectacularly fail to meet those targets. Ireland currently lies 27th of 28 EU countries in our response to carbon reductions.

This will result in Ireland having to pay hundreds of millions of euro in fines to the EU in lieu of our failure to live up to our climate responsibilities. These payments will make moot the raising of any carbon levy, or the establishment of any rainy day (pardon the pun) fund.

We get only one crack at this. We need leadership rather than political spinelessness. We need rigour and commitment in place of lethargy and indifference. We need long term decision making instead of short term contingencies.

At the end of it all, before the end of it all, we need to stop treating the issue of Climate Change as if it were all just one big inconvenience.

To paraphrase Bill Shankly when talking about football – It’s more important than that.

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


Save Poolbeg

From top: Cork Simon Community’s emergency shelter day centre last month; Dan Boyle

I was surprised to be asked but flattered to be so. This week I launched a report titled ‘The Last Resort‘ put together by Joe Finnerty, of the Department of Applied Social Science in University College Cork, commissioned on behalf of the Cork Simon Community.

The study sought to learn more from the experience of homeless people in ’emergency’ sheltered accommodation.

The findings, in general, are not so surprising. They indicate a worsening of an already unacceptable situation. It is the intensity and prominence of particular variables that give rise to the need for future thinking.

Immediately a statistic that jumps out is that more than half of those who have been surveyed, have spent six months or longer in an emergency shelter.

That such a significant number of people are spending lengthy periods in what is meant to be emergency accommodation, belies the fact that it is emergency accommodation. It’s almost as if we are being made feel inured to the notion of shelters being settled accommodation.

The second set of variables show how the failure to provide earlier, and supported, interventions are resulting in continuing high costs for the State, whilst perpetuating the poor life circumstances of those in need of care and support.

While the circumstances of each homeless person is unique, a high proportion of those homeless already have undergone a series of debilitating negative consequences.

One third of those interviewed for this study had been in care while children. Many had been early school leavers having been offered little or no vocational support. Those who had been in prison have found themselves marked for life.

These conditions co-exist in parallel with more likely negative factors like damaged mental heath, social isolation, and for some family break up.

Those factors that many of us would have traditionally associated with homelessness, economic deprivation or substance abuse are consequences not triggers.

The vast experience of The Simon Community has shown that none of these issues can be dealt with in isolation.

Strategically there can only be a holistic and integrative approach. It needs to be a person centred approach, based on a whole life experience in which those without can dip into a series of interconnected services as need arises.

Yes resources have improved. Yes more infrastructure has been provided. Yes expertise and professionalism have also been developed.

But the scale of the nature and incidence of homelessness has increased far beyond the additional resources being provided.

Despite the crosses being carried by those who are homeless, the overwhelming number of them can and should be living independently in the private rented sector.

Many have become homeless having had their lives undermined by socially irresponsible landlords.

The solutions seem obvious but also are as intangible as ever. More and better focused resources; defined legislative responsibilities; but most importantly a change of culture that see the homeless as something other than an afterthought.

The Last Resort won’t be the last report. Let’s hope that those that follow might tell a more positive story.

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

The Last Resort report (Cork Simon Community)

Top pic: Cork Simon Community