Tag Archives: Dan Boyle

From top: construction work in April on the Elsmore housing estate at Naas Co Kildare which includes social housing; Dan Boyle

One of the favourite jobs I have had, now reduced to a single line reference on my CV, was three years I spent as the manager of a Housing Co-op in Cork.

The Co-op, as well as seeking to meet housing need, took a particular interest in sourcing neglected buildings of architectural interest. This project operated in a barracks square that had once been an arsenal. A subsequent project brought back into use the re-development of seventeenth century almshouses in Cork city centre.

Another goal of the Co-op was an emphasis in housing allocation that sought to develop a concept of community.

Of the eight units I managed, two single men had apartments. One was a wheelchair user, a Paralympic sailor. The other was a leading light in Cork’s Gay community, and also the main mover in this and several other co-ops in the city.

A pensioner couple occupied another unit. A family with teenage children contrasted with a two sets of couples with young children. A couple without children and a single parent family made up the complement.

While this come may across as the casting of a TV reality show by a production team that think themselves really clever, the actual reality was the variety of tenants helped bring about a real, cohesive sense of community.

Voluntary housing, like this, has been and remains the spare wheel of Irish housing policy. As far as successive governments, and state agencies, have been concerned, it has been known that the voluntary housing option existed, that very occasionally use has been made of the option, but it really it has been preferred not to use the option at all.

Throughout Europe voluntary housing represents a far higher percentage of housing stock than it does in Ireland. The reason why is obvious. In other countries housing policy is more holistic in approach. In Ireland policy is viewed though a very narrow prism.

Land, castles and profit is the Trinity that informs Irish housing policy. The desire to own, inculcated in the Irish psyche since the days of the Land League in the 19th century, has long passed its passion as the weapon to achieve a more equal society, to now being one of the instruments that is bringing about greater inequality.

Social housing gets a bad rap. Our main party of government seems to have a particular allergic reaction to the concept. This has probably been informed by attitudes shown by radio show text responders, whenever the subject gets mentioned.

Why should some people get houses for ‘free’ when I work hard to pay my mortgage – is a view that constantly gets aired. Such reductionist views conveniently ignore that those in social housing don’t get to own their homes.

Those who who buy houses acquire guaranteed long term appreciating assets. This on its own is one of the biggest factors in a widening wealth gap, generational in nature with an older generation owning, and a younger generation finding it impossible to own.

Only an ambitious social housing programme, State funded, and managed by local authorities and voluntary agencies, can kick start supply, reduce costs (especially social costs) and especially bring about a community approach to housing allocation, we have so sorely lacked to date.

Instead this government will continue to put its faith in the Construction Industry Federation, and with them a belief that the market will solve everything. It won’t. Some will become even more wealthy. Most will find it ever more difficult to be housed.

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

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From top: protests in Carragiline, County Cork ahead of oral hearings into the proposed incinerator in 2016; Dan Boyle

Recently the twelfth deferral of a decision took place, on whether Bord Pleanala would make public its decision on whether or not it would approve its decision to grant permission for a toxic waste incinerator for Ringaskiddy in Cork Harbour.

That deferral happened on May 25, the day of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to The Constitution. In PR terms it was a clear attempt to present bad news when thoughts were elsewhere.

There wasn’t too long to wait for the next possible opportunity, the Thursday before the bank holiday weekend. It was the expected bad news.

The reason for the previous 11 deferments, in the 27 months since the holding of a public oral hearing, being the inability of Bord Pleanala to spin its decision on planning grounds.

In the 18 years since this proposal was first mooted, this was the fourth planning process. The previous three applications also resulted in public oral hearings. A fifth oral hearing took place over the question of granting an EPA pollution licence, which illogically but unsurprisingly was heard first.

In the three of the four planning oral hearings, the appointed planning inspector recommended that the application be refused.

There are, and always have been strong planning grounds, to refuse this application. The proposed site is subject to both flooding and coastal erosion. At the most recent hearing the Defence Forces argued that the plumes from the incinerators would impact on the navigation of helicopters in and out of Haulbowline Naval Base.

The other telling feature of the most recent oral hearing was the proposing applicant, Indaver, being called out by the planning inspector for having presented falsified figures.

The successive public hearings have shown that is not even a pretense that consultation on the issue of planning exists. Bord Pleanala is now not pretending it is deciding on planning grounds. The reasons it gave for its decision was EU and Irish government ‘policy’.

Mention of EU policy is overblown. Incineration, even under its pseudonyms of ‘thermal treatment’ and ‘waste to energy’, is well down the pecking order in terms of the EU Waste Directive. It is seen as a diminishing and inefficient technology, one of the most expensive and dirty means of producing energy.

What Bord Pleanala is really saying with this decision is that incineration is Irish government policy.

When the Tánaiste, and local TD, Simon Coveney, says he is disappointed in this decision he is the person who is best positioned to do something about this.

He could start by re-introducing an incineration levy, designed to measure the true environmental cost of incineration co-inciding with an existing landfill levy. The emphasis in waste policy must be in reducing the creation of unnecessary waste, while also promoting the greatest possible take up of Recycling. Incineration discourages both.

Opposition to this facility is as far from NIMBY as it is possible to be. For almost half a century the village of Ringaskiddy has been an industrial sacrifice area.

The community has already taken on more than its fair share. It should not have to take a puff of smoke more.

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

Top pic: Mother Jones Cork

From top: Thousands returned home to vote in last week’s referendum: Dan Boyle

There’s a huge temptation to read too much significance into the results of the Repeal the Eighth referendum. However, as giving into temptation is pretty much what we do these days, I will stand first in line in the queue for Bishop Kevin Doran’s confessional, to ask what I see as some pertinent questions.

The first is whether our Constitution continues to be fit for purpose. There is a slew of proposals that have come from the Citizens’ Assembly that deserve, even demand, answering.

As I was a one time member of the All Party Oireachtas Committee on The Constitution, there are plenty dusty reports on a shelf somewhere that contain many similar, good, recommendations.

Given the scale of change being suggested, would this demand best be met through drafting a new Constitution?

I think probably not. It would be a mistake to assume that largely the same coalition of voters will fall in line for every subsequent proposed change.

Besides, outside of some glaring provisions, Bunreacht na hÉireann is not such a bad document. It is progressive in many respects, let down by the inclusion of some provisions included to placate those who were once given too much deference in our country.

Before considering the architecture of our Constitution should we not be asking who The Constitution is for?

The image of returning emigrants, during the last two referenda, fed into a change is possible narrative. It was an encouraging narrative fuelled by thousands of inspiring images. Given the scale of the victory margin in each referendum their presence wasn’t strictly needed, although their visual support was vital.

Technically many of these were illegal votes, as some of the people involved didn’t fulfil the necessary residency requirements. Shouldn’t these provisions be the next legislative/constitutional changes to be considered?

Irish citizens should have a right to engage in these discussions, and then act upon, any change mooted in our Constitution, from wherever on the planet they find themselves at any given time.

Such a change would present a huge logistical challenge. More Irish citizens live outside our State than within it. Some may never have physically lived here. Of those who did emigrate, the longer the time away the further will be the ability to know and understand our country as it is today. Those Irish citizens who voted for Donald Trump could be contributing to shaping a very different Ireland in the future.

And yet these provisions seem to operate without much difficulty in other countries.

With an appropriate time stipulation, say no more than five/ten years living outside the State, any Irish citizen should be able to register and vote at their nearest embassy/consulate.

This should give a right to vote on The Constitution, vote for their choice as our first citizen, and possibly even for emigrant representation in the Seanad. I think that most would agree that the taxation/representation axis will continue to hold true for elections to Dáil Éireann.

We need to do is better recognise our history as a migrant nation, while attempting to hold on to the link that binds together our citizens throughout the World.

I believe we could hold a civilised debate on this subject. That is if you ignore the fact that I make this argument as something of a Trojan Horse, being more eager to revisit the 27th amendment to the Constitution on Citizenship made in 2004.

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

Pic: HAWK

From top: Anti-divorce rally in Dublin, 1996; Dan Boyle

I got married on the first day of June in 1987. A friend of ours was convinced I had contrived the date. Knowing me to be a massive Beatles fan, he believed I had picked the 20th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Peppers, so I would have the wedding coincide with the opening line of the opening song on that album. He was wrong. I was not that clever. I still am not.

A more poignant time for us to observe would have been the events of June 1986, then nearly twelve months previously.

That was when the first attempt to remove the constitutional bar on divorce was made. It failed ignominiously. It was such a failure that almost two in every three of those who voted insisted that the constitutional bar remain.

We were relatively young. Itself a factor on how our lives transpired. I was twenty four years of age, she was twenty two. The first in our peer group to make this commitment.

Together we never thought we were entering into a constitutional straitjacket. In Corkspeak we were mad about each other. We cared deeply for each other. I like to think we still do.

The mood music from 1986 continued to prevail. It would maintain its effect until in 1995, when the same exaggerated argument, the same reductio ad absurdum comparisons were made, almost managing to persuade again.

Myles na gCopaleen would have had a field day with these arguments. I would have loved to hear his take on that much feared monster, the ‘Floodgates’. The opening of these fabled gates which would wreak havoc upon the fabric of Irish society we were told.

Ireland, it was said, would soon match our amoral cousins in the US and the UK in adopting a frivolous attitude towards the institution and commitment that is Marriage.

It never turned out that way.

For every relationship that descended into ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ theatrics of name calling and plate throwing there were half a dozen other relationships which slowly disintegrated due to the two people involved wanting to live other lives.

Such was our story. We divorced in 2014. We would be grateful, that having come late to the concept of divorce, Ireland would develop a model that would be far more humane but that never overwhelmed.

No fault divorce is more aligned to reality of most relationships that have run their course. Responsibility though is different from blame. I accept responsibility for making choices that meant I wasn’t there when, and as often, as I should have been.

Divorce Irish-style has not meant that ending a relationship means a rejection of all that was good within it. I’m proud of what my then wife has since achieved (a doctorate from Cambridge no less!). I’m happy she has found happiness with someone else.

In a few short weeks our daughter will, hopefully, give birth to a second child. Our hopes for her have been that she would enjoy more choice in life than we enjoyed. We hope her children can enjoy that and more.

I offer our family story as a parable. On Friday we will be revisiting a question that has bedevilled Irish society for the best part of half a century. The same risible arguments will be made about the end of life as we know it.

Ignore them. Abortion Irish-style can be a more kind and gentle approach than anything we’ve experienced before. It is time to wrench the clenched fingers from our basic law. We can sculpt a better Ireland away from our doomsayers and hypocrites.

Change is possible. Change is necessary. Change is now. Vote Yes. You know you really want to.

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

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From top: O’Connell Street, Dublin on Tuesday night following the deaths of protestors in Gaza; Dan Boyle

I have come to the conclusion that I must be something of an anti-Semite. It is a difficult thing to define. Most dictionaries describe Semite as a grouping of languages from the Middle East, spoken by now long disappeared peoples such as the Phoenicians and the Canaanites. In the present day largely only Hebrew and Arabic survive.

While I have no animus against these historic cultures, it seems that the evolution of anti-semitism has become directed solely at one linguistic group and their faith/belief system.

There can be no doubt that, despite having contributed positively, and hugely out of proportion to their numbers, to global culture and history, the Jewish people have seen their fate to have become the most demonised, prejudiced against, and persecuted of people.

In the period of World history that has been dominated by adherents of Christianity, Jewdom has been horribly discriminated against. Culminating in the unforgivable and unforgiving Holocaust of the Second World War.

A level of Christian guilt saw the making of The Balfour Declaration of 1917. This was a well-intentioned initiative in recognising the need for a Jewish State. Once put in place after the Second World War, its application to address a colossal, horrendous wrong, created a whole new series of further wrongs, now against the existing inhabitants of Palestine. The British brilliance with borders reached new heights here.

The basis of any religion is that its adherents are a chosen/special people. The fervency of such beliefs when linked to a national identity is a particularly potent mix.

That said the emerging State of Israel came through its beleaguered beginnings, when all around it sought to prevent its establishment, with additional strength. The new State sought to be more democratic and somewhat more diverse than its neighbouring countries. Credit should also given to the level of innovation that was created in the new State, in the least auspicious of circumstances.

However, somewhere along the line the justified sense of siege felt by Israelis has been transformed in hubris. Going beyond thinking themselves as ‘God’s Chosen People’, they began to see other people, with whom they shared the same space, as a sub species. Creatures to be corralled, caged, interned, interred, kicked and spat upon. All in the name of National Security.

This term has replaced patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels. Any angry waving of arms, or throwing of sticks and stones, provokes a ‘justified’ shoot to kill response from those with the superior technology and weaponry. When the opposing arsenal includes Swiss Army knives and Molotov cocktails, an even more vicious response is evoked.

Any criticism of this is refuted not as being an expression of revulsion, but as an extension of an age old sectarianism, irrationally and hatefully aimed towards Jews and Jewishness.

Questioning the actions of the Israeli State through its government, now apparently, constitutes the height of prejudice.

This redefinition has passed many of us by. Nonetheless some of us must now redefine ourselves, through our audacity in calling out murder is as murder does, as being anti-Semites.

We inhabit the same space as the Ku Klux Klan and the most crazed of Islamic fundamentalists. In the Middle East there can be no nuance. Only the righteous can prevail.

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

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From top: From January 2010, then Minister of Health Mary Harney (left) and then CEO of the National Cancer Screening Service, Tony O’Brien, announcing  plans to establish a national colorectal screening service; Dan Boyle

A secondary issue of concern that seems to have arisen, and has gone on to be sidelined, from the CervicalCheck scandal, has been the extent that the career progression of the HSE’s Tony O’Brien is being facilitated by the government on behalf of the State.

In more progressive jurisdictions legislation exists that insists on cooling off periods (of at least two year’s duration) that should apply to retiring government ministers, senior civil servants, and higher executives of State agencies, before taking up private sector employment in areas that were parallel to their decision making roles.

The prestigious appointments that often follows these public sector departures are usually spun as the head hunting of people of unique ability. Sometimes a nod is made towards the unique experience that these sage public servants hold.

While it would be churlish not to admit that for many in this situation, who find themselves in demand, some degree of experience and ability does exist; it would be equally churlish not to accept that many are being chosen for who rather than what they know.

The recent to do surrounding Communications Minister, Denis Naughton, saw very little media analysis of the lobbyist who had compromised the Minister.

As a previous head of the Government Information Service, under two Taoisigh – Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny, Eoin O’Neachtáin had established an access network few could lay claim to.

The most recent Chief Executive of the National Treasury Management agency, John Corrigan, took up a position as Chair of Davy Stockbrokers, eight months after his public sector retirement.

In January 2011, Mary Harney resigned as Minister for Health and Children. By the end of 2012 she had joined the boards of one healthcare start-up and and a multi-national pharmaceutical concern in India.

The acceptance of such positions is not illegal and for the most part should be not be taken as being automatically ethically suspect. However they are compromising. They should not be seen as being seamless or easy.

The indifference towards producing binding legislation on cooling off periods, is now being more contemptuous that post public sector career opportunities should be directly facilitated.

Tony O’Brien seems to have been allowed by An Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, to begin a lucratively paid internship with a US pharmaceutical company, while continuing his role it what is meant to be one of the most important, and absorbing, public sector positions in Ireland.

Aside from bringing in the idea that such an important role can be undertaken on a part time basis, the direct conflict of running a health service which exists to promote lower costing and more generic drugs, with company which exists to bring about an opposite set of circumstances, is surely a tolerance too far.

This is happening because of the political choices being made by An Taoiseach and the Minister for Health. Choices that are taking us very much in the wrong direction on the wrong road in this area of policy.

Given their relative youth, they couldn’t possibly be thinking of their own future career prospects. Could they?

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

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From top: Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Director General of the HSE Tony O’Brien; Dan Boyle

I’ve long been a fan of RTÉ’s ‘Reeling In The Years’ (and the earlier BBC programme ‘Rock and Roll Years’ from which it got its inspiration). The marrying of songs of the time linked with stories and issues of an era, proves to be an excellent memory trigger.

Soundtracks can be even more effective when conveying mood rather than chronology. A somewhat obscure song that has been playing in my head is ‘Only Women Bleed‘. The version I remember is that by English actress Julie Covington. It was years later that I learned that the surprising writer of the song was Alice Cooper of ‘School’s Out‘ and ‘Poison‘ fame.

The song seems apposite as we deal with yet another women’s health crisis in Ireland. A sadly repetitive tale where no memory triggers seem to work.

The litany of crises from Anti D, Hepatitis C to the current CervicalCheck scandal, with many, many controversies in between, has created a culture where women have been condemned as second class citizens in our health system.

If the State had contrived to create a health service that treated a sector of society with callous indifference, it could not have done better.

Except in Ireland, in relation to our health service, we don’t do contrivance. We do balls up followed by cover up. Few are ever responsible or accountable.

Perhaps this a carry over from the Catholic Church influence in managing our hospitals. Events of this type have been culturally treated as ‘God’s Will’. Better to have the lack of divine intervention than human negligence or incompetence, as an explanation for these scandals.

No Minister for Health has ever resigned over a health scandal. Political responsibility should certainly be accepted where policy has led directly to negligence. Even a prevailing political philosophy, such as putting fiscal prudence ahead of public safety, puts culpability firmly at the feet of the political decision maker.

As absent as political accountability has been in relation to public health, there has been a greater absence of administrative accountability.

We have seen the stepping down of the director of CervicalCheck (ironically a woman), in a rare resignation within the health service. Is that in itself enough or has the person or people responsible stepped up and accepted their responsibility?

I have listened incensed, as many have I suspect, to several recent radio interviews given by the Director General of the Health Service Executive, Tony O’Brien.

Mr. O’Brien is due to step down from his position, in a matter of months. A retirement brought about by natural events. While his resignation for the direct involvement he has had with CervicalCheck, would seem pyrrhic, responsibility should be taken whether failure has occurred on the first day in a job or in the final weeks of employment.

His resignation, while doing nothing to reduce or eliminate the damage that has been caused, would at least address the flawed culture of lack of accountability in our administrative systems.

It may even help produce a health service where women aren’t treated as second class citizens.

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

Rollingnews

From top; Dublin city centre; Dan Boyle

I have never really had a lot of time for opinion polls. This hasn’t been because I have often found myself on the wrong side of their prognostications. Rather I have come to form the belief that opinion polls can be used to lead, rather than reflect public opinion.

A requirement exists in some European countries that opinion polls cannot be publicly published within a set time of an election date. An attempt several years ago to introduce such a provision into Irish law, was defeated in Seanad Éireann, which then was displaying a rare display of independence.

As former member of the Seanad I would like to see the independence of the Upper House being asserted more frequently. However, in this instance I believe the view of the Seanad was wrong.

The influence of opinion polls is not in persuading voters favouring one candidate or proposition over another. They don’t telegraph an assumption that voters should get in line with a trending ‘winning’ candidate or proposition.

What they can do, and do do, is create an impact on likely turnout. Polls which show large margins, induce complacency and make it less likely that supporters of a candidate/proposition deemed to be ‘winning’ will come out to vote.

Polls on the upcoming referendum seeking to rescind the Eight Amendment to the Constitution, should be looked at in this light.

It is highly unlikely that the final results of the May 25 vote will be anything like what is currently being portrayed. The suggested Yes vote should be looked at as being particularly suspect. In no respect should a successful Yes vote be taken for granted.

Part of this would be because of the established trends over the past 35 years of constitutional debates in this country, debates that have taken place between liberal and conservative viewpoints. Experience shows that invariably conservative opinion strengthens and solidifies during the course of a referendum campaign.

The different criteria used by polling companies to weight the don’t know/don’t care responses received, often fail to catch the nuances of these responses. Follow through questions on whether those polled are very likely, less likely or not likely to vote do little to catch these nuances.

Allocating don’t know opinions in the proportion of those who have expressed an opinion, even with weightings on who is and who isn’t likely to vote, distorts rather than confirms the prevailing opinion.

These misgivings aside the declared intentions seem, at this remove, to favour the Yes side. Support, while receding, seems closer to the 50%+ level needed. The receding Yes vote does not seem to be translating into new No support. Indeed No support also seems to be receding, albeit at a slower rate than that of Yes.

What is being recorded is a growing number of don’t know voters. This doesn’t represent good news for the Yes campaign. That campaign has to produce the reasons for positive change. The more uncertainty that is created the less likely voters will be to vote Yes.

Turnout will be key. The higher the turnout the more likely a Yes vote will prevail. It can be done. I’m hopeful it still will be done. None of us can or should assume that it will happen.

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

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From top: cycling in Copenhagen, Denmark; Dan Boyle

Maybe the Little Englanders are right and Brexit does represent an opportunity. For us not them.  With John Bull’s Island shamefully obsessed with a don’t darken our shores attitude to migrants (or just others in general), and with the man-child firmly ensconced in the Oval Office, maybe the real opportunity is ours in Ireland, to distangle our involvement with the Anglo American economic model.

It is only an economic model and a very poor one at that. A model that seeks to pump prime an economy for short term benefit and often to a very shallow extent. It is a model that we have convinced ourselves no longer needs to make things, just as long we can provide appropriate ‘services’.

There are other economic models, better economic models. Models that portray an economy, and its effective management, as a tool of a wider society, and doesn’t see society as an unfortunate adjunct that distracts from the more important entity of the economy.

The Anglo American model needs and encourages inequality to thrive. It’s mantra is low costs/high profits. It produces jobs but many of these jobs are low paying and have little security. It cares little for social protection and not at all for social infrastructure.

As the UK and the US indulge in their mutual insanity, if Ireland were now to take a different turn, it could be of real and lasting value.

If we need an obvious example on how Irish society has become tainted by the Anglo American model, our housing crisis is surely it. Since 2011 our government has stuck limpet like to a belief that you can’t buck the market; that the State should play no role in controlling housing supply or demand.

Perhaps we could begin to adopt a more humane philosophy that is as approximate to us. We should go Nordic.

The naysayers and the knee jerkers will have arguments at their ready. Ireland doesn’t have the oil or the gas reserves of Norway, they will say. That is true, but then neither do the five other Nordic countries.

We no longer have control over our monetary policy, as many Nordic still do, they will counter. That is also true although Finland is also a member of the Eurozone.

The main misgiving is that the Irish, unlike their Nordic counterparts, are less disposed towards paying high levels of personal taxation. This is to distort the effect of the various systems of taxation in these countries.

In Ireland our tax burden is disproportionately shared. In Nordic countries the principle of earn more pay more is not only more readily accepted, the transparency necessary to show how the social dividend is distributed is far more obvious.

The Nordic model is not perfect and is far from idyllic. But it better, so much better than the Anglo American model. In education, health care, crime prevention, immigration and integration, child care and care for the environment, we lag so far behind our Nordic cousins.

If we could marry the Swedish ability of establishing international companies from within its borders; the Norwegian commitment to re-investment; the Danish attachment to renewable energy; the Finnish standards of education; and the Icelandic stoicism to maximising its economy, how much better we could be.

Certainly better than relying on the arrogance and shamelessness of the Anglo American model. It’s time methinks to engage again in our Viking heritage.

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

From top: traffic at O’Connell Bridge, Dublin 1; Dan Boyle

The most recent statistics released by the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) show a 10.5% year on year decrease in the registrations of new passenger cars. This has got some who claim to be able to read economic tea leaves worried.

For some perverse reason the increase in car sales has been taken as an indicator of improving economic wellbeing.

The theory goes that people purchasing more of these vehicles is a sign that greater amounts of disposable income are swirling about, and that consumers are more prepared to buy the type of good they otherwise would avoid purchasing during a recession.

I’ve always treated this particular statistic with a huge amount of disdain.

Even the acronym SIMI is loaded with ironic deceit. Ireland does not have a motor industry. We do not make cars.

What we have is a motor retail sector. Each car purchased here impacts negatively on the country’s balance of payments. The obsession with this statistic tell us very little about our economic health.

This preoccupation with the motor car has seeped into too much of our official thinking and approach to strategic planning.

In the past number of decades any attempt to more fairly distribute land use, such as by pedestrianising streets, introducing bus lanes and cycle lanes, or providing planning for new apartment units without parking, has evoked knee jerk reactions that the car owner, and by extension the car itself, is being inconvenienced by these changes.

These are end days for the fossil fuel propelled vehicle. It can be argued that the development of the motor car has been the most significant, and most liberating, means of social change in the 20th century. Now we need to move on.

A more honest cost benefit will reveal a price has been paid for this greatly enhanced freedom to travel. That price has come in the form of ever deteriorating air quality, and millions of deaths and horrific injuries from motor vehicle accidents.

The use of cars has had, and continues to have, an enormous value. However, we have tended to over celebrate that value.

In elevating car travel as our primary, and often our sole means of travel, we have produced a lop sided transport infrastructure that has relegated those who choose to walk, cycle and/or use public transport, to the status of second class citizens.

Share the space should be our motto in developing future infrastructure. That means that a collective realisation needs to be accepted that door to door transport, by a single means of transport, will soon become impossible.

With that the very concept of car usage will change. Already growing numbers of people are becoming less interested with the idea of owning cars. Some are renting more, leasing more, sometimes for periods of a little more than an hour.

We should be incentivising and investing in transport alternatives. We need to make those alternatives more convenient, more reliable and less expensive. We must make the cultural shift away from the belief that insists that the car is the epicentre of our need to be.

What it is, is the thing that is holding us back. It’s time to let go.

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

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