Author Archives: Dan Boyle

From top: Irish schoolboys, 1940s; Dan Boyle

The Irish education system threw back my proper socialisation by a number of decades. My school in Chicago was secular, integrated and most importantly was mixed gender.

The religion, race or sex of my classmates was a matter of complete indifference to me.

Proximity, though, made my still enlarging heart grow fonder. At eight years of age, a classmate, a young lady of Czech extraction, named Anna Cervinka, had me all a flutter.

Within months my mother had planked our family in Cork, where I was sent to a Presentation Brothers (GAA) Boys school. From then I was encouraged to consider the female gender, not only as an opposite sex but as more of a different species.

In secondary school céilís were offered as an alternative to the licentiousness of discos. Held in ballroom style with boys on one side and girls on the other; lights were left on full glare, with teachers never more than ten feet away.

Conversations were often stilted with little being offered lest idiocy, hesitation or spittle became too prevalent. Issues of closeness, to touch where, how and with what intensity, plagued us with insecurities.

In a parallel universe we lads, when among ourselves, would be consoled through locker room talk. Most of us knew this to be over compensatory twaddle. Many sadly didn’t. What was meant to be the language of insecurity became, for some, the practice of misogyny.

Most of us got over our hang up. Learning, if often far too late in the day, that our lives would be enriched when able to relate to strong, independent, ballsy women.

Others saw their verbal and psychological bullying of women as banter; their physical assault of those they perceived as underlings, as a bit of slap and tickle.

All power systems – political, commercial or artistic attract these ill formed versions of masculinity. Many have colluded with these power plays. The worst perpretrators have been lauded as ‘Ladies Men’. We learn too late how poorly their seduction methods are.

For those knuckleheads who believe they have arrived, they see the prestige and privilege bestowed on them as conferring a droit du seigneur. How hollow must their lives be that their relationships with the other half of humankind on this planet, can only be determined by their ability to implicitly, or tacitly, intimidate others into submission.

However pathetic the tongue twisted and floor gazing adolescence (and early adulthood) that many of us have had was, it could never scrape the barrel of those who while believing themselves to have had it all, in human terms have had nothing at all.

With the recent death of Hugh Hefner, perhaps this is a good time to dissolve the chimera his fantasy lifestyle was meant to provide. It seems that too often that what has happened in various corridors of power has been more Marquis de Sade than Mills and Boon.

We need to stop lionising these tawdry heroes of a tired and spent masculinity. We need to emerge from our emotional ghettos. We, men, need to cop ourselves on.

We still have a lot of growing up to do Lads.

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

Pic: Walker Harrison Howell

From top: Dublin Airport; Dan Boyle

It may not be attracting the attention of the Jobstown case, but judicial activism in environmental campaigning has been increasing.

Recently, the High Court heard an action taken by environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) and residents of St. Margaret’s against Fingal County Council and the State over its decision to grant the Dublin Airport Authority an extension of a planning permission to build a second runway at Dublin Airport. This is one of two significant cases underway in the High Court which challenge the State’s role in climate policy.

Arguments are being made that increased emissions would lead to an increased pace of climate change. Based on the reports of the IPCC, there is no doubt that increased emissions will lead to greater risks to human health and the environment.

Senior Counsel for FIE John Kenny BL has argued that

‘there is and should be recognised by this honourable Court as a constitutional right to an environment which is consistent with the bodily integrity, right to life, water, food, and dignity of the Applicants’ members and the citizens at large’.

Kenny argued that key Supreme Court decisions in the infamous McGee and Ryan cases relied upon an interpretation of existing texts to set out new rights under the constitution to bodily integrity and privacy. This is what now needs to be done to guarantee citizens environmental rights.

Counsel for the State robustly denied such unenumerated rights exist in the constitution. Of course these arguments would have been made for the McGee and Ryan cases.

What the State’s arguments show are the challengesfor environmentalists in seeking a constitutional remedy to protect against poor climate governance.

FIE, through its counsel has argued that there is now an emerging jurisprudential, philosophical and theological consensus that climate change represents a serious threat to human well-being. Because of this, shouldn’t the courts act to protect the right to bodily integrity of Irish citizens?

It is the very global nature of the atmospheric commons, and the all pervasive nature of greenhouse gas emissions, that requires a new way of thinking beyond existing statutory environmental protection.

These are not just procedural rights (to information or to public participation): even the Aarhus Convention recognises that those procedural rights are subordinate to the substantive right ‘of every person to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being’

In 2014 the Constitutional Convention recommended further consideration of including environmental rights into the constitution. Introducing the ideas of stewardship, responsibility, and environmental quality and a concern for human well-being and future generations has had a dramatic effect in countries that have incorporated them into constitutions.

Studies have found that countries (Canada and Argentina being two good examples) with constitutional environmental rights actually have smaller ecological footprints, and have better environmental legislation and litigation.

When substantive environmental rights – such as the right to a clean environment – are combined with rights to information and participation, this has tended to improve overall environmental performance, particularly in the case of water services and sanitation.

The Convention in its 2014 report considered a number of possibilities for inclusion in the Constitution, including a declaration that all citizens have fundamental rights to a safe environment, procedural rights to participation in environmental and planning decisions, and a declaration that the State has a duty to maintain and improve the environment.

The effect of codifying such rights could be a greater role for the courts in raising environmental standards and improving the performance of government bodies generally.

Wouldn’t that be nice.

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

Pic: RTÉ

From top: Spring Lane halting site, Blackrock, Cork; Dan Boyle

Blackpool village has been the historic gateway to Cork City. Once visitors from Dublin as well as Limerick would have entered here. It became famed in song and story. Many Cork City ballads have emanated from, or at least have referenced the place.

Planning changes in recent decades, which have included a shopping centre at the edge of the city, and the creation of an entirely new road infrastructure, have utterly altered the nature of the village. Dublin Hill, Commons Road and Watercourse Road all now interact differently with Blackpool.

Spring Lane has become particularly lost, ceasing to be a road to anywhere. On this road has existed two locations that have been intimately linked with Blackpool and its history. One a metal scrapyard, the other its human equivalent, in the form of a Traveller halting site.

This has been a traditional stopping point for travellers, from a time long before the foundation of the State. Although in its modern guise, the management of the facility by Cork City Council has been less than stellar.

The Council treats Spring Lane as a decommissioned site, where the intention is to move residents away from the area as soon possible. This being by 2020. As a result living conditions on the site are among the worst to be found in the country.

A war of attrition has been waged to pursue this policy goal. Louder voices among the settled community have driven the policy. Upgrading a traditional halting site has been the least pursued option.

Last week, with the visit of Storm Ophelia, for one young couple (both 21 years of age) with an 18 month old child living on the site, a bad situation became much, much worse.

Their caravan, being most exposed to the swirling gusts, was opened up like a sardine tin.

The response of the authorities to the plight of this family has not been particularly impressive. It has proved impossible to house the family together in temporary accommodation. This has seen the family live since then in the back of a transit van.

An argument can be made that unwillingly this family has become Ireland’s first climate change refugees. Unless we are able to change our immediate individual responses to extreme weather events, many others will follow their experience.

Despite the good general response of our emergency services to Storms Ophelia and Brian, it is the humanity of individual responses that should determine our success as a society in dealing with these events.

Budget 2018 spoke of the establishment of a ‘Rainy Day Fund’ of money put aside for unexpected occurrences. As a principle it should be applied more literally. The prime purpose of this fund should be to provide immediate individual relief during climate change emergencies.

Our challenge has become to limit the effects of the damage that will be caused. It is now more about this than in trying to prevent the damage from ever occuring. We are living the legacy of climate change, none more so than this afflicted family.

A family living in the back of a transit van, in this age, is totally unacceptable. Unless we are prepared to think and act differently, we may soon be dealing with a fleet of such families.

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

Top pic: Spring Lane Site Solidarity Campaign



From top: Evelyn Cusack, of Met Éireann, at the National Emergency Coordination Centre in Dublin: Dan Boyle

The candles do create a certain seductive charm, if only there was someone to seduce. Forty eight hours on, I remain painfully in thrall to the perils of living in an all electric house.

No heat, no light, no cooker, no fridge, no shower, no TV and most isolatingly of all, no router. I feel as if I’ve been catapulted back into the 1880s.

Structurally we’ve come through pretty unscathed. It was in the city where the most totemic events occurred – the gymnasium roof of Douglas Community School, or the Derrynane Stand at Turners Cross pitch.

Most gut wrenching was the twenty four trees felled at Centre Park Road. This particularly Cork boulevard, set in an industrial part of the city, will take a generation to regain its former glory.

There was some surprise that severe flooding didn’t accompany yet another extreme weather event. Some relief that threatened pieces of infrastructure survived the experience.

The beloved ‘Shakey’ suspension bridge shook and shook, yet remained above, and perpendicular to, the River Lee. Another win for Victorian engineering.

This time little anger is found alongside the shock of these events. There is a relief, and a sense of gratitude, that those entrusted with seeking to lessen the anticipated damage, have performed spectacularly well.

For this we can be thankful for the army of committed public servants, who seem to have ticked all the right boxes when it has come to public safety.

Some will claim this week’s events as a political success. They shouldn’t. Successive and ongoing governments have responsibility to provide sufficient resources to our emergency services. This particular responsibility has often been missed.

Emergency planning is an activity that demands expertise, both in the devising and implementation of plans. Given the transitory nature of their positions, politicians often lack such expertise. Politicians don’t initiate nor do they co-ordinate emergency plans.

At best politicians become communicators, an interface with the general public. With Storm Ophelia even this role has been rolled back on. Dedicated experts have been performing, helping to instill greater levels of public confidence.

While political credit shouldn’t be accepted, very often political criticism cannot be avoided. Former Labour Party leader (and Fine Gael TD) Michael O’Leary, would forever after bristle at earning the sobriquet ‘The Minister for Snow’ in 1981.

In 2009 then Green Party leader, John Gormley, saw all his Fianna Fáil cabinet colleagues run to the hills rather than be associated with the serious flooding of that year. Then Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, had to be embarrassed into returning early from a foreign holiday.

Previous experience, especially previous bad experience, has helped inform later disaster planning. This time around we seem to have got it more right than wrong.

Here’s to the next hurricane.

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

From top: Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe presenting Budget 2018; Dan Boyle

Listed as the seventeenth topic in his speaking notes for the budget, there are some who believe that very mention of climate change by the Minister for Finance represents progress. It doesn’t.

The reference was one of shortest in his speech. He proposed two small spending measures totalling €53 million. Most of the section dealt with how the government is going to respond to the European Court of Justice judgement on vehicle registration tax in Ireland.

There was absolutely no mention of future events, some little more than three years away, that may yet have as a greater economic impact on the country than Brexit will.

On January 1st 2021, in all probability, Ireland will be hit with EU fines of €691 million, for failing to meet agreed carbon emission targets, or in being able to meet renewable energy targets.

2020 is only a staging post in the EU carbon reduction programme. The 20% reductions to be achieved by then are meant to be followed by another 20% of reductions to be achieved by 2030. By falling further behind in this process, Ireland is likely to be levied further, and strengthened, fines.

The EU programme has itself been overtaken by the Paris agreement. It has been estimated for Ireland to meet the targets defined under this treaty, an annual expenditure of at least €800 million will be required.

These are risks that should have been mentioned and foreshadowed in this Budget speech. Instead we have the usual can kicking down the road, to be dealt with and explained away by a future government.

There is in existence a National Mitigation Plan, but the only thing it seems to mitigate is the indifference of the government to this issue.

This indifference is as much held by senior civil servants as it has been by politicians. The long standing line, outside of the interregnum of The Greens in government, is that we should buy our way out of our responsibility. This with money which should more properly be used in underpinning our public services.

This type of thinking has produced a uniquely Irish problem – current underinvestment on the environment leading to later bloated, unnecessary and unproductive spending.

You might think I would say that, but any fair analysis would show that this approach has been Trump like in its stupidity.

In EU terms we are bottom of the class in our response to climate change. Even if we weren’t part of the EU, we would still have international obligations that we are not even close to meeting.

Most of the damage has already been done. The best we can hope for now is to mitigate our lack of mitigation to date.

In starting to act now we may begin to bury the deceit behind Irish political indifference that somehow addressing environmental costs is economically damaging. The opposite is the case. Our indifference in the past has cost us many R/D and manufacturing opportunities.

It may be that the government has in mind to transfer these costs onto consumers. After the water fiasco I would like to see them try. I’m fairly sure they’ll try to blame The Greens anyway.

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

Rollingnews

From top: Catalan independence protest in Barcelona; Dan Boyle

The brutal response of the Spanish Government to the Catalan referendum, like that of the British to the Irish rising of 1916, is likely to help confirm a critical mass in favour of independence, where none may previously have existed.

A similar exercise is about to take place in Kurdish Iraq. It is being condemned in advance by those who consider themselves to be ‘elite’ nations, who see what seems a natural expression of nationhood, as a likely destablising factor in the region.

What defines a nation? Territorial integrity? A dominant language? A dominant religion?

Each and all of these factors have been cited as justifying new nations asserting themselves, even when dominance of belief or language are often the most destabilising of factors.

One of the decisions I was not happy with, while the Greens were in government, was the decision (at the behest of Germany) to recognise, so quickly, the independence of Kosovo.

There were many other options that could have been and should have been considered at the time. Kosovo could have become an international protectorate. The role of Albania (Kosovars being ethnic Albanians) should also have been explored further.

Establishing new nations, particularly the defining of citizenship, has been a fraught process in several countries.

Lativia and Estonia are countries whose independence, in its current form, has existed for little more than twenty five years. Both countries continue to struggle with large Russian minorities within their boundaries. Their second class citizenship, and laws passed against the Russian language, may yet provide a pretext for Russia to invade the Baltics.

Nation building isn’t simple nor is it easy. The 1960s film ‘What’s Up Tiger Lily‘, (a Japanese film dubbed into English with dialogue by Woody Allen) pointed to a more interesting approach. In the movie a character introduces himself as the representative of “a non existent but likely sounding country” who were next on the list for a place on the map, once an opening became available!

On Catalonia I find myself in agreement with the Sinn Féin representatives there, while also being somewhat jealous of their being able to witness history first hand.

Where we probably would diverge, is how we would view the ironic context of people who live in a north eastern territory of a wider national concept.

It would never happen here, of course.

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


From top: Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy *right) at the”Topping Out” Ceremony for Charlemont Street Regeneration Project on Monday; Dan Boyle

We have a government that is philosophically opposed to the idea of The State directly being involved in the provision of housing. Its belief is founded on the understanding, that it is wrong to interfere in a market, that should naturally be able to correct itself.

This might be all well and good, if a housing market actually existed in Ireland. What has existed, for several decades, in the absence of a real market, has been one of the most effective cartels operating in the world.

Land has been sat on. Planning permissions have been rolled over and have been left unused. A growing number of housing units have been left vacant, or allowed to go derelict. All exercises in restricting supply, in order to maximise price, and ultimately profit.

With these circumstances in play, The State has an obligation to directly provide housing, so as to allow an actual proper market be put in place.

Those of us old enough to  remember when The State was last involved in the direct provision of housing, should pause and consider that it was far from being an idyllic experience.

Too often in the past, particularly in the 1970s, these interventions led to institutionalised ghettoes of poor housing stock.

But for most of the history of this State, the record of social housing provision has been good. In the city in which I live, Cork, one third of the housing units were built on behalf of the City Council.

Where the market is always right merchants may have a point is that being a housing provider and a housing regulator, is rarely a good idea. However when cartel economics has taken such deep root, there is a moral duty on The State to intervene.

We should not aspire to recreate the National Building Agency of old, rather we should be establishing a new body, one not solely dedicated to providing social housing alone.

A new State Housing Agency should directly compete with private developers in providing multiple tenancy options – affordable housing, rent to buy,  step down housing, as wall as social housing renting.

By making available wider tenancy choices, The State should in theory be producing a new floor, pardon the pun, on prices in this market.

A way of overcoming the regulator/developer dilemma, would be to make voluntary housing bodies responsible for the management of this new housing stock. Such bodies have shown themselves to be adept, especially in the management of community facilities.

It will still be as a regulator that The State can make its greatest impact, especially in the rental sector. Achieving better rent security through making longer term leases the norm, is what we should be striving for.

Government unwillingness to tackle these obvious reforms is a whole different basket of self interests.

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

Rollingnews

From top: George Hook and Kevin Myers; Dan Boyle

Ireland is a right wing country. We may have became far more socially liberal, but in terms of economics we tolerate excessive inequality, in order to obsess on our use of property, to maximise our desire for profit.

Our politics reflect this. Our media reflects this. Our two largest political parties are near identical in their philosophies, and are centre right in their inclination.

Our media is also right wing, reflecting its ownership (including state ownership). The four estates are unwilling to challenge an economic consensus that is undoubtedly unfair.

In this environment we have produced a commentariat who live cosily in the centre, never prepared to question the root problems we have produced in our society.

Controversies become contrived. Exaggerated ephemera is gained from far off events and people. These become useful tools that help ignore the real problems in our World.

It is the media stormtroopers of the Right who seek to move consensus, not so much by seeing it challenged, but more by nudging it closer to a preferred location.

Their weapons are the misuse of truth and language. Their three Rs are Rectitude, Revenge and Responsibility (yours not theirs).

To that can be added righteousness, as in self righteousness. Tone is an important part of their tools. Commentary must be loud, brash, and insulting against its targets to the point of hatred.

They present as defenders of the common man. What they are, however, are bullies for the ever present, and privileged, majorities.

And yet it is right wing commentators, even among the most tolerant of audiences, who are more likely to fall on their swords.

This is rarely because of any single event or comment made. Often the final act of these contrarians is less offensive than many events that had gone before.

In Ireland so it has proved with the stories of Mary Ellen Synon, of Kevin Myers, and now of George Hook. While each may differ from each other in terms of intellect, or personality, there is an eerie similarity in their respective stories.

Discovering the niche that saying or writing something vaguely controversial, bestows on you a perverse popularity, informed each of their careers. Each amassed lengthy careers advancing as many offensive comments as they could, until the camel’s back would be broken by one final objectionable action.

Their followers, who have accepted prejudice to be truth, believe them to be martyrs brought down on the altar of political correctness (if only). The truth is more prosaic. By playing with fire, each of these commentators ended up burning themselves.

They have lost platforms on which they plied a questionable trade. They continue to hold the right to free speech, and with that the ability to misinform. Unfortunately.

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

Pic: Newstalk


From top: Former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and former Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald; Dan Boyle

When Nóirín O’Sullivan was appointed Garda Commissioner, it brought to five the number of women who held the highest positions in justice and law enforcement in Ireland.

With Susan Denham as Chief Justice, Frances Fitzgerald as Minister for Justice, Máire Whelan as Attorney General, Claire Loftus as Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as O’Sullivan in the Garda Siochana, a significant milestone had been reached.

With the exception of Fitzgerald, each was the first female holder of their respective offices. Soon only Loftus will be in situ in her appointment.

The quintet would never have acted in concert together, although O’Sullivan, Fitzgerald and Whelan became intertwined in the various episodes of the soap opera that is the Garda Siochána.

Each of these women hold unique stories regarding their ascent. The breakthrough of some involved greater effort than others. Some certainly had Lady Fortune on their side – their being at the right place at the right time.

What had seemed a defining moment for female empowerment in the Irish public service, has turned out to be all too fleeting.

I suppose true equality can only come into being when women show themselves to be as least as incompetent, as the men who precede them in these positions.

O’Sullivan’s retirement/effective dismissal puts her apart from others in the quintet. Denham is retiring after years of distinguished service. Fitzgerald and Whelan have been moved to other positions, most probably for reasons of political expediency.

O’Sullivan could be considered a bit hard done to be so isolated in the manner of her departure.

Her real misfortune was to be appointed in the first place. Regardless of gender, it should have been realised that reform of the culture of the Gardaí, would have been impossible from anyone who had long been immersed in that culture.

Have lessons been learned? Are they ever? This retirement/effective dismissal has a feel of respite about it. Becoming a civilian will not stop O’Sullivan from having to come before the Charleton Tribunal.

We can only hope that with her now being free from responsibility, we might finally get some as to just how bad things are in the Garda Siochána.

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

Rollinenews

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