Author Archives: Dan Boyle

Dan Boyle: “Paradoxically we remain comfortable in t-shirts and jeans, however ridiculous we may look to others.”

The daughter’s daughter has entered the State education system for the first time. It won’t be a bother to her. She is clever enough to absorb what she has to, but also confident to challenge when she will need to.

As a life marker, for me, it has arrived about ten years earlier than anticipated. I don’t beat myself up about it. A sight of her cheeky grin, or to glory in the bliss of her making an utterly, unguarded comment, banishes any negative feeling.

As long as she, and others like her, maintain that untamed confidence, I have less fear for their future. Collectively, I feel, they will possess the wherewithal to deal with much of the mess we are bequeathing them.

The lost generation I’d like to identify is that of my own. Those of us over fifty years of age hurtling towards the time of prohibited employment (currently projected at about seventy years of age).

I realise it is difficult to elicit any sympathy for this generation, the generation who have been co-conspirators in creating many of the global and societal problems we face. This also being the generation that has acquired the highest levels of individual wealth, more than any previous generation.

The bias I speak of isn’t economic. Very often it isn’t even conscious, but it is attitudinal. It is based on the assumption that ageing causes more progressive diminution of a person’s faculties than is actually the case.

This in turn fosters a commonly held myth, that experience is not such an important component of ability.

Many in my generation repudiate the uniform acceptance of our predecessors. Paradoxically we remain comfortable in t-shirts and jeans, however ridiculous we may look to others.

Hearing The Clash or The Jam on the radio transports us back to a time many of us never really left.

In our twenties we really did know it all. Until, that is, we slowly came to learn that wisdom is realising how much there is to know, and how much of that can never be known.

I no longer want to be down with the kids. Occasionally I want to shake a few of them, when I see them repeating so many of the mistakes that we had made.

Our’s was the generation that came after peak Dylan. He was never our spokesperson. However, for us post baby boomers, in his song ‘My Back Pages‘, he comes closest to defining where we see ourselves in life.

“Ah but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

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

From top: Heuston Station, Dublin; Dan Boyle

The rail network inherited by the Irish Free State in 1922 was the most densely networked system that then existed in the World.

Partition brought an end to railways in Donegal. It’s West/East emphasis was part of its divorce from its obvious economic hinterland.

The Civil War brought about further destruction. Anti Treaty forces concentrating their efforts on blowing up lines, to undermine their logistical uses.

The Second World War, or its more serious counterpart in Ireland, The Emergency, meant a restriction on services through an incapacity to import coal.

The founding of a State Transport company, CIE, (a Labour Party success of the first inter party government) gave brief hope that the potential of public transport in Ireland might be realised.

New rail stock carried by modern diesel engines, seemed to indicate a country wanting to embrace modern transport policies.

It would be a short lived show of independence. Almost fifty years into the life of the new State, the yoke of British oppression continued to linger. Irish administrators opted to slavishly ape policy changes on John Bull’s island.

The Beeching Report, which brought about the closure of many British rail lines, was mirrored and furthered in Ireland.

A story is told of Todd Andrews, then chair of CIE, meeting with a delegation seeking the protection of the West Cork railway. He asked how they had travelled. Invariably, they had come by car.

In Irish politics this has been taken as the classic way in which to deal with ‘whingers’. The truth was that the service had been progressively, and deliberately, run down.

Political antipathy towards railways continued into the 1980s. Then Fine Gael’s Jim Mitchell brought a proposal to Cabinet to close most rail lines not connecting to Dublin. It didn’t fly.

After that there was something of a renaissance on investment towards rail, even if much of this was centred around the Greater Dublin area – DART, Luas, re-opened lines and new stations; the penny seemed to be dropping.

Until now. It is hard to know who the Irish rail management is trying to blackmail most with its current proposals – its workers or the government?

Whichever, the management of Irish Rail should be faced down.

I would go further.

Two new companies should be established – one for commuter services; the other for rail infrastructure. If the commuter company abandons a service, the infrastructure company could make such lines available for other companies.

For joined up thinking on Irish railways, this disconnect needs to be made.

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

Rollingnews


From top: vintage image of Coal Quay market, Cork; Dan Boyle

Lil Underhill was an atypical supporter of mine. She lived in Corporation Buildings, near Cornmarket Street – Cork’s Coal Quay market.

These three storey red bricked buildings were an early, and successful, attempt at providing social housing in Cork. In this 50sq metre patch Lil lived most of her life.

Near adjoining doors led on one side to a ground floor apartment, with the other door leading, up a near perpendicular stairway, to a duplex overhead apartment.

Lil’s mother had been a shawlie, one of the women who were the heart and soul of Cork’s Coal Quay, and for many the city itself. As a young woman Lil worked on the stalls with her mother, making her a last link with a now vanished part of Cork life.

Lil would have been in her eighties when she first cast a vote in my favour. My office had responded when Corporation Buildings had been badly flooded. Lil, and other residents, appreciated the effort.

In fact, Lil was the most effective community worker at the time, making sure those less capacitated (although frequently younger than her!) were looked after.

This also involved many visits to Lil’s home. There were found few concessions to modernity. Most of her photographs were black and white, including a gorgeous picture of her in her twenties as a flapper.

Her concerns were centred around her local community. She never asked about the banking crisis, never expressed an opinion on any social issue. Her only expectation was that effort was put into meeting what was needed in her community.

She expressed support in the most affectionate way. Standing at less than than five foot tall, she would reach to pinch my cheek, saying ‘Danny Boy’ as a friendly greeting. Then I would know I had done something good for someone who was good.

She died, aged ninety one, a few weeks after I had taken her to vote for 2011 general election. While I valued the vote as I had always valued the support, I would have been aware that the vote would make little difference to my electoral fate. Nevertheless she exhibited on that day, the same effervescence and joie de vivre, she always had done.

Having had one Lil Underhill in my political/public service life, was worth far more to me than the thoughts of any number of anonymous critics, with their unrealistic expectations, who only ever sought to diminish.

It’s easy to categorise all politics as being about self aggrandisement, doing over political opponents, or seeking vanity projects on which to hang a legacy. But that isn’t all politics.

To have known someone like Lil Underhill made life in politics worthwhile for me.

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

 

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