Author Archives: Dan Boyle

From top: Lockdown measures in O’Connell Street, Dublin 1 yesterday; Dan Boyle

This week my daughter gave birth to a son. What a world he is being born into. A world whose future is more uncertain than perhaps it has ever been.

He has the advantage of coming into loving family. His two bigger sisters will certainly help. Even at their still young ages, they’ve already experienced much in their short lives.

As a family, like thousands of other families these days, they have been bobbing and weaving especially when trying find long term accommodation for themselves.

This is a generation that will struggle more with less than their parents have had. I worry, three days into his life, that my grandson’s generation will find itself another generation that is part of this ongoing trend.

This would be a worry if we end up going back to way we used to do things. I would be hoping my daughter’s generation, on behalf of their children, that will hit the reset button on this badly misshapened world of ours.

We badly need a better set of values. We need a more profound sense of worth.

In worrying about future generations having less, we should be asking if our generation in having more have had too much of what we may never have needed.

And we will have start doing things differently. Probably everything differently.

We need to critically evaluate how we have done things before now. We need to question the very basis of the society we have created.

I’m not talking about indulging in utopian fantasies. This isn’t about imagining a better future. It should be about challenging those shibboleths of how we have been living our lives, recognising what we thought to be rewards have been anything but.

We should be living our lives more in the local. Meeting most of our needs within the shortest possible radius from where we live. This should include where and how we work.

We need to do more for ourselves, by ourselves, within ourselves.

Given this period of other worldliness we should be able to more easily identify that which has been superfluous.

This isn’t about appealing to our inner hippy. What we leave behind will be difficult to agree and even harder to let go of. We need a better definition of creature comforts.

Nor is this about some retreat from technology back to some romanticised rustic idyll. We will need new and better technology to help us to get to where we need to get to.

We may still become more urbanised. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. What we will need to do is to target our urban growth. In Ireland that should require restricting growth of Dublin, helping to grow other Irish cities and large towns.

To bring these changes about we will need greater democracy with more decentralised, local decision making. These may be the hardest changes to bring about.

These are changes that have long been required in any case. Crisis may be helping to concentrate our minds, but the change has always been necessary.

Mammon has never been the hero we have latterly portrayed him to be. It is time to put him out of existence.

By the way the child’s name is Jack. I think he’ll be all right.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews


From top: Cork County Council meeting on March 23 with representatives practising social distancing; Dan Boyle

There should not be a pecking order in these things. Most of us are in awe of the work being done, and the risks being faced, by our healthcare workers.

Similarly those workers in food retail, often the lowest paid of workers, have exhibited how essential they are to us in a time of crisis.

I would like to give a particular shout out to public sector workers. The latest phase of the shutdown has seen the suspension of over the counter services at City and County councils.

The public still can, and will, be met through appointment. Services are being prioritised but with the intent to see them being delivered to meet the growing need.

Many public sector workers are not particularly well paid either. They may possess a greater job security than other workers, but at times like these their importance to the social contract comes to the fore.

Local authority workers sometimes suffer from poor perception from the public. The individual at the counter is seen as the bureaucracy. An impediment to prevent progress, indifferent to all things human or humane.

As an elected councillor I have long known this to be a lazy stereotype, but stereotypes have been known to stick.

What has surprised me has been to see elected representatives being listed as essential workers.

When I think of the three categories of workers I’ve listed here I’m glad that there isn’t a pecking order, because none of us public representatives would come anywhere close to what these workers are doing and achieving.

If there was a category of being of potential use then we might sit more comfortably there. Those of us who meet, sit and talk, occasionally to think, can feel especially useless at times of crisis.

By necessity decision making channels become more narrow, responsibility become better focused on those with specified expertise.

There is a role in ensuring that resources are made available and seeing they are being fairly distributed.

The actual role is to act as a conduit to connect those who wish to help with those who have a need.

This week I had the opportunity of linking of someone providing quantities of a much needed product, for free, with a group providing a service to those most in need.

My role was peripheral, the least important part of a chain that included two hugely important social actors – the generous provider of the product, and the service provider giving service to those in our society who are excluded far too often. It was good to be able to make a contribution, however small.

We seem to be rediscovering things that have been hidden deep within ourselves. A sense of us. A willingness to abandon much of what we had treasured but have since found to be useless in a crisis.

There will be conversations after this. These will be critical in tone and raised in expectation. There will be much to repair, socially as well as economically. But there is also much that we can leave behind.

Like those false of Gods of consumerism who have let us down badly when our need has been greatest. We have learned that the simplest of pleasures can represent the greatest of wealth.

I don’t want to be a hero. I don’t ever expect to be one. We are well served with the heroes we have.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Piv via Cork County Council

From top: The Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin on Tuesday; Dan Boyle

Among the many jobs that my Dad had,  possibly the one he enjoyed the most, was when he was a merchant seaman. For a number of years he worked on the Great Lakes between the US and Canada.

The rest of the family had moved from Chicago to Cork. We got to spend Christmases together. For the rest of the year we would make and send cassette tapes for each other to remind ourselves that we were a family.

My Dad was a gregarious man. I’m sure he would have had many friends on board the ships he worked. Nor would he have lacked for company. Despite knowing that I always imagined him being mainly alone in his berth.

One Christmas, and possibly by way of compensation, he brought me home a ship’s radio. It had five short wave bands. It was to become my window to the World.

Sometimes that World could be quite narrow. Police and ambulance communications could elicit a certain thrill, but that novelty would soon pass.

It was the global battle of the airwaves that fascinated me. Competing doctrines that would demand my attention – Voice of America, Radio Moscow, Radio Prague, Vatican Radio.

Like I imagined my Dad to be, I too was alone in my room. With my radio though. It allowed me to feel a citizen of the World.

Another present I got from my Dad seemed a lot more prosaic. It was a book, more of an instruction manual, called ‘Know Your Flags’. The book outlined the use of flags and their importance in seafaring.

It hardly thrilled me. My Dad did try to impress on me why he thought it important. He would explain the pennants that would be hoisted when a ship had docked, highlighting the status of the ship.

He tried to sell me on the value of semaphore, the visual Morse Code of the high seas. My short attention span and low boredom threshold would never have had the patience of reading messages made up of words where each letter had to be spelled out.

It took me many years later to realise that my Dad was trying to impart a life lesson to me. As I have come to understand it was never to be short of ways to communicate, especially if you find yourself alone and isolated.

There will be others on your wavelength waiting to connect.

I will always be grateful for that homespun wisdom of his. I miss him. This summer it will twenty years since he passed away.

With our current predicament I suspect he would be in his element. He might even be building a nuclear bunker. Partly because of his need to keep himself constantly busy, but also as an exaggerated response to the problems we are facing.

Besides a bunker mentality would have come from those many years he spent alone in his berth.

He was loud in voice. That sometimes had others ascribe an overconfidence in him. He spoke loudly because of hearing loss. I suspect this began from a time when he worked as a dynamiter at an uranium mine in Canada.

Loud of voice. Hard of hearing. Fond of flags. That was my Dad. It took me so long to get him.

Could do with him now to learn from what he might tell me of how we should survive this time of being apart from each other. How to let each other know how we feel. How to use whatever means we have to convey that and other messages.

Maybe I should start learning semaphore?

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top: Dublin city centre yesterday; Dan Boyle

Two distinct political approaches have accompanied the international reactions to the novel coronavirus crisis.

The political philosophy holding most influence in how responses are being determined can be identified by which of these two questions are being asked, in what intensity, and to what degree of prioritisation.

The questions are ‘How does this crisis affect our people?’ or alternately “How does this crisis affect our economy?’.

It is fairly obvious that the administrations in the US and in the UK, have been asking themselves the second question first, most loudly and most regularly.

Any policy response to a pandemic will bring about huge societal adjustments. To anticipate such responses in purely financial terms is particularly misanthropic.

The follow through questions asked by these administrations seem to have been solely based on economic impact.

In the circumstances we all find ourselves now, no approach is going to be without difficulty. To make achieving success that more difficult because of ingrained philosophical hang ups, will rightly be seen as especially wrong.

The first response to this public health crisis in the US and UK has been to seek to limit the role government can and should play.

The underlying ‘values’ behind this belief is a perverse understanding that the more government/public agencies become involved, the greater the damage they are likely to cause.

The definition of this damage is informed by a secondary principle – the business of business should be largely unaffected.

While they will proclaim otherwise, these theories are callously indifferent to human health and life.

Few would argue that we be indifferent to the economics of any health crisis. But to give potential economic consequences such a priority is unfair to most people in those societies.

In Ireland we have had a government, now in a caretaker capacity, that has been similarly wedded to market principles. This adherence has seen housing provision become further and further detached from public need.

It has also made the achieveing of a health service, which was truly public and which the public has confidence, much more difficult to attain.

However in its approach to how this virus is impacting Ireland, the government is operating a far more people centred approach.

It is an approach that hasn’t been without flaws and won’t be without difficulties, but it is an approach that it is founded on better principles.

It would be better if our new government could be formalised. Like Eamon Ryan I believe that a national government would be best placed to deal with the scale of the predicament we face.

Even if not possible, the default setting should be to continue to support the government as it is constituted on the course it is currently following.

To seek to create a new government, formed on a crude majoritarian basis, that would divide rather than continue to involve the Dáil, would be precisely the wrong action to take as we seek to collectively tackle this crisis.

The approach to date has been, thankfully, politics free. The support our public services and agencies need has to engage our entire political system acting unambiguously towards a single focused goal.

Forming a new government in Ireland, especially a government that could be tempted to reassert market principles to social policy areas, is something that shouldn’t be encouraged until we can get this virus under control.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top: Light rail on Washington Street, Cork; Dan Boyle

It was a press conference not a launch. Hosted by the National Transport Authority (working in ‘conjunction’ with Cork City and County Councils) it was to announce the final version of the Cork Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (CMATS)

This was following a period of public consultation, which in the typical style of Irish consultation, saw little change from the original draft despite considerable new input.

The document was prepared on behalf of the board of the NTA. Input was sought and given from officials working with the two Cork councils.

At stake is a twenty to thirty year transportation strategy for Cork. A strategy meant to have sustainability at it heart.

On the surface the presentation of the strategy, graphically and in its use of language, seems to tick all the right boxes.

However after a cursory reading it becomes obvious that no amount of right on terminology can hide such a lack of desire to achieve any real change.

CMATS is the third generation of similar studies designed to bring Cork’s transport infrastructure into a modern era.

I am old enough to know of each of the previous incarnations – the Land Use and Transportation Study (LUTS) from the 1970s and the Cork Area Strategic Plan (CASP) from the 1990s.

Each was structured along similar lines. Radical thoughts were written about trying to achieve a less car dependent society. The implementation of each plan was accompanied by a plethora of new road projects, with practically zero sustainable transport infrastructure being put in place.

So it is with CMATS. Some teases are placed to tantalise and suggest what could be done differently.

Light Rail is spoken about favourably. The caveat is that is to undergo a feasibility study (several have already been done) and would depend on ‘densification’.

Densification is the chicken and egg of urban planning. According to our stolid decision makers, infrastructure cannot be provided without a critical mass of population existing to justifying its use.

More likely is that proper sustainable development cannot occur without infrastructure being provided first, of a type that can help encourage such development.

Seeking prior development prior to providing infrastructure is always a formula for never providing such infrastructure.

Similar warm noises are being made about extending the suburban rail network in Cork. Being talked about are new rail stations for Blarney, Kilbarry and Tivoli.

This is something of a reheated proposal. All were suggested in the LUTS plan in 1975.

Most of what’s new in this plan centres around a Cork Bus Connects. There is something of a logic in this. Bus investment is more cost effective and easier to deliver. However in the context of this plan it is being overemphasised at the cost of a more balanced approach.

The most depressing aspect of this plan is an appalling lack of ambition.

The present travel mode split sees about two thirds of all journeys are made by private motor vehicles. One in ten journeys are by public transport. One in a hundred are bike journeys. The rest are walking journeys.

By 2040 this plan see about 10% less car journeys occurring mainly being transferred to greater levels of public transport, with a miniscule increase in cycling.

This would see Cork having a higher level of car usage than Dublin has now, whilst continuing to have a lower rate of cycling.

It takes a particular type of genius to suggest slowing down the speed of necessary change.

And don’t tell me it must be a Cork thing.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

CMATS 2040 document.

From top: Fine Gael’s Director of Elections for the 2013 Seanad Abolition Referendum Richard Bruton  (right) with Regina Doherty and Simon Harris on September 9, 2013; Dan Boyle

The constitutional referendum held in 2013 on the government’s proposal to abolish The Seanad was lost through indifference.

Certainly it wasn’t defeated by any overwhelming affection in which our second chamber of parliament was held. Less than 40% of voters participated in the referendum dividing on a 52% No 48% Yes vote (sound familiar?).

I took an active role in that campaign. As a former member of the Seanad I could see it had value, even if it has never operated to anything like its potential throughout its existence.

To be honest I much preferred my time as a Senator to that I had spent as a TD. I found the debates more engaging. I found the scrutiny of legislation to be more thorough. The pity is that too few Senators allow the Seanad to be the powerful parliamentary tool it can be.

The Seanad has been allowed to develop into a filter for the wider political system. A crèche for those not yet fully immersed in the ‘real’ World politics of the Dáil, a place of sanctuary for those left homeless by the Dáil electorate, or a rest home for those left battered by a system depriving them of being where they want to be.

I would say that about a fifth of the membership of The Seanad works to make the House a living, active parliamentary chamber it should be. For most of the others it is somewhere where prestige does not require responsibility.

This disconnect is something I sadly see being maintained through many of the candidates being presented to us, a privileged and select electorate, for the election to the next Seanad.

Since 1992 I have participated in every Seanad election (with the exception of 2007, my fallow period between being a TD and a Senator). Disappointingly, for the most part, there has been no great improvement in the calibre of many coming into the Seanad. That said after the 2016 election there have been a few flickers of light that this is beginning to change.

Due to changes we have seen in the composition of the Dáil itself, and before that as a result of the local elections in 2019, we are now likely see in the next Seanad a more diverse chamber than has ever existed to date.

However a more qualified membership of the Seanad will mean nothing unless it is accompanied by long avoided reform to The Seanad itself. The template for that change already exists. It is easily implementable. The coming government, however it is composed, should make it its priority.

A reformed Seanad should be mostly elected by the general public. The Taoiseach’s nominees (of which I was once one) should be maintained but on a smaller scale.

I would suggest no more than five nominees, whose purpose should not be to contrive a Seanad majority for the government of the day, but to help ensure that those elements of society not represented in the political system, begin to be so recognised.

We should place the election of the Seanad on a different electoral cycle to that of The Dáil, impeding the ability of those who seek to jump from one house with the expectation of being able to jump back to the other at the soonest possible opportunity.

When this happens, if this happens, I might be tempted to go back.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top: Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald  (right) with TDs David Cullinane (left) and Pearse Doherty at a rally in the Rochestown Park Hotel, Cork on Monday

A number of people I know attended the first of the Sinn Féin’s ‘I can’t believe it’s not an election’ rallies.

Some went out of curiosity. Others were converts to the idea that Sinn Féin, of itself represents the change that is needed in Irish society.

For the most part the overwhelming number, among a very impressiave audience, there were those already part of Sinn Féin family. A cursory look at registration plates in the hotel car park showed many had travelled considerable distances to be there.

It was a rallying of the troops (if you excuse the military analogy) meant to celebrate what had been achieved and tantalise about what could be.

Nuremberg it wasn’t. Nor was it anything new or novel in Irish politics.

On losing power in 1948 De Valera engaged in a nationwide (and international) tour to solidify and strengthen his party’s support. The chimera was that the meetings were tagged as being anti partition events.

The coming into being of Fine Gael in 1932 was pressaged by a series of open air rallies held under the auspices of the Army Comrades Association/National Guard (The Blueshirts) led by the infamous Eoin O’Duffy (first leader of Fine Gael, since written out of the party’s history).

New parties established between elections, like the Progressive Democrats and more recently Aontú, have engaged in nationwide tours, attracting significant attendances, when trying to establish themselves.

Large gatherings didn’t always ensue, but seeds were sown in ways that showed that another Ireland was possible.

Before I began thinking of becoming politically involved, I was impressed when two friends of mine joined the Democratic Socialist Party, developed by the much missed Jim Kemmy TD, after a low key not very well attended meeting in Cork.

A more justified criticism of the current Sinn Féin exercise is its implied theme of victors as victims.

The only clear result from the 2020 election is that there has been no winner. There are parties that have been more successful than others, but no party has been given the ability, of itself and by itself, to determine what happens next.

What has happened in this election is a rejection of traditional ways of practicing and expressing our politics. The difficulty that has arisen, and it should just as well be seen as an opportunity, is that the direction of change while significant has not been sufficient not to have government that also doesn’t include one or other (and maybe both) of our civil war parties.

The contrived angst of castigating other political parties for having the audacity of engaging with the public, is an example of the many ways we have practiced politics in the past having failed.

The same is true is about the somewhat empty concerns of shadowy figures indirectly influencing the process of government. As far as I am concerned this is a critique that could be applied as much to the Construction Industry Federation as it would to any self styled Army Council.

We are a representative democracy with many participatory elements. Our undervalued Constitution obliges us to politically behave like this.

The problem has been that our representative system has behaved for too long on the basis that elections are the consultation. Further consulations, by this logic, would be further elections.

This why the much vaunted talk about change has to be about more than a change of personnel. It has to be more than a change of practice.

Ultimately it has to be about a change of culture.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic: Twitter/SF

From top: June 1927 General Election poster for Cumann na nGaedheal; Dan Boyle

Much in politics is rarely new. What seems novel very often is a variation on a theme. As earthquake seeming as the 2020 election seems, there are parallels with previous elections.

The 1948 general election springs immediately to mind. Then Clann na Poblachta were the surprise packet. Part of the surprise was that party didn’t do as well as expected.

Led by by a former Chief of Staff of the IRA, Sean McBride, the newly formed party had won two of the three preceding by elections, by playing on growing discontent on poorly performing public services being badly delivered by a jaded and too long ensconced government.

However, unlike Sinn Féin in 2020 which ran too few candidates, Clann na Poblachta in 1948 ran far too many. The party finished a distant third to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Despite this the party went into government at the first time of asking, and would never recover its peak level of electoral support.

In 1989 the Progressive Democrats were contesting a second general election. The party experienced a significant loss of votes and seats in 1989 from what would prove its peak support in 1987.

Fianna Fáil continued to be led by Charlie Haughey, ostensibly the reason why the Progressive Democrats existed.

In the aftermath of the election it was constantly stressed that Haughey and Des O’Malley, the PD leader, could never be in the government with each other. They were.

By the next election in 1992, Haughey’s reign as Fianna Fáil leader would be over. The PDs would have another twenty years of existence, more often in government than not.

It is the June 1927 general election that most reminds me of the current situation.

It was the first election contested by the Fianna Fáil party, then little more than a year in existence. The party had absorbed much of the then Sinn Féin members in its ranks.

Despite dividing from Sinn Féin on whether abstentionism was a tactic or a principle, Fianna Fáil contested the election on an abstentionist platform.

The party won a similar share as Republicans had won in 1923, ending up with 44 TDs.

This put Fianna Fáil quite close to Fine Gael’s predecessor party, Cumann na nGaedheal, which ended up with 47 TDs, thirteen down from the number won in 1923.

Labour had quite a good election electing 22 TDs. A number of other parties also elected significant numbers of TDs, The Farmers’ Party winning eleven seats, the National League electing eight.

The League was also a new party, but was actually a hangover from the old Irish Parliamentary Party at Westminster.

Rump Sinn Féin won five seats, none of which would ever be sat on. That version of the party would not take part in Irish elections for a further 30 years.

Fianna Fáil’s abstentionism would soon be tested. One of its TDs, Paddy Belton (soon to sire a Fine Gael dynasty) went on a solo run taking the dreaded oath and his seat in Dáil Éireann.

For his troubles he would be immediately expelled from Fianna Fáil. However he would soon be followed in the Dáil chamber by high profile War of Independence figure, Dan Breen.

After that the jig was up. Fianna Fáil declared that the oath of allegiance was but an empty formula, then entering the Dáil chamber. Such formulations are likely to be referred to many times as we seek to address our current situation.

Once in the Dáil the ability of the minority Cumann na nGaedheal government to continue was threatened.

Discussions took place, and the possibility existed that a Labour/National League government (supported by Fianna Fáil) could be formed.

Cumann na nGaedheal survived after a National League TD, the unfortunately named John Jinks, failed to appear for the vote of confidence.

Legend has it that he was being plied with alcohol at the time. The more likely reason was that he was uncomfortable about being in government with Labour.

C na G leader, William Cosgrave, called a new election held in September 1927. This saw Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fáil solidify their positions, at the expense of all the other political groupings.

Lessons from this? Change when it happens needs to be responded to quickly. If not it can just as quickly fade away.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

President of Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald arriving at the General Election 2020 count centre in the RDS, Dublin 4, last Sunday; Dan Boyle

The only thing that can be said about the current situation with Irish politics is that the normal laws of political physics no longer apply.

The fall in support for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is part of an ongoing and continuing trend. The speed and depth to which that happens will depend on how each party responds to its current status.

At the start of the campaign Sinn Féin’s strategy would have been to hold on to as many of the Dáil seats it had won in 2016, thus the relatively low number of candidates that were put forward by the party.

We have seen a level of volatility never seen before in an Irish general election. We had been given some indication of this in the presidential election in 2017. Peter Casey rose from an opinion poll rating of 1% to an eventual 23% achieved vote, gained over a seven to ten day period.

That though was a free hit. It gave a means to protest helped with the knowledge that it would not affect the eventual result. The volatility in this general election has been informed by something different. This time a desire for change is as much about a change of approach as it is about a change of personnel.

The issue of housing, particularly for younger and first time voters, has been the issue that has provided the trigger that has informed this desire for change.

Kudos should be given to Eoin Ó Broin as Sinn Féin spokesperson on the issue. He helped win considerable support from the electorate, whose confidence in a strictly market led approach had evidentially evaporated.

So can a government be formed with the arithmetic the electorate has given us? It ain’t going to be easy.

What isn’t likely to work is any kind of confidence and supply arrangement. There can’t be an us and them situation where in opposition you can’t criticise what they do, because it has been enabled by us.

Nor is there likely to be any coalition of the left. This is because there are some on the left who don’t want to be anywhere near government.

This for them is an article of faith. You can’t be the vanguard for a class revolution when you become a mudguard for the establishment.

There could, and may yet be, a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael coalition that would need the support of up to ten independents. It is not an impossibility.

Eyes may be fluttered towards The Greens and or Labour/Social Democrats to bring about a more stable government. It is hard to see any progressive party agreeing to such an arrangement, with the two traditional parties that have been so roundly rejected by the voters.

The only other possible government would be Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin with a third and possibly fourth party.

There’s no guarantee that this will happen. There are many factors conspiring against it happening.

Fianna Fáil will continue to struggle with the knowledge that old certainties no longer exist.

The new reality is that the result of the election is that Sinn Féin should be in government. The party has earned the right to be in government. That right is now greater than the right of either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

To secure government Sinn Féin itself needs to compromise. Its hunger for office means it is likely to engage. Whether others are prepared to compromise will determine whether a new government can come into being or not.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top; an artist’s impression of The Railway Gardens development on Cork’s South Link which was approved under the fast tracked Strategic Housing Development (SHD) scheme; Dan Boyle

A feature of being an elected councillor again, is the capacity to attend workshops and seminars on policy areas pertinent to local government.

I attended one such seminar, organised by the Irish Planning Institute, on the subject of increasing urban densities, something of which I would be very much in favour.

Making presentations at the seminar were officials of the Department of Housing and Bord Pleanala. They were there to laud the success of Strategic Housing Development zones, in helping to bring about fast track planning.

SHD zones work where developments of 100 or more housing units get to bypass local planning, being sent to directly to Bord Pleanala for adjudication.

In making its decision on such applications Bord Pleanala can, and more often will, ignore the development plan of the local authority where the development is to be located.

Part of the presentation given was extolling a proposed development recently given permission, but yet to begin construction, in my electoral area.

It is for a 17 storey built to rent facility comprising of 118 apartments. Such has been the developer led enthusiasm for SHD zones that critical evaluation of this application was altered from a 15 storey to a 17 storey building mid process, encouraged by Bord Pleanala itself.

This was against the views of Cork City planners, elected public representatives and the surrounding local community. The SHD process contains a veneer of consultation but the experience is that submissions are for the most part ignored as being inconvenient to the process.

Lack of democratic engagement is the prime victim of the SHD process. None of its supposed benefits are being achieved either.

Quicker planning is not leading to quicker development. One of the major contributing factors to the housing crisis in Ireland has been the hoarding of land in order to increase its value.

Having planning permission, sometimes available for a ten year period, has increased the practice of land hoarding.

The other failure of SHD zones is that they are utterly incapable of bringing about better affordability in housing. This is especially true of high rise private property developments.

Buildings over six storeys in height become subject to diminishing returns in cost benefits, resulting in higher construction costs. Higher costs bring higher prices thus less affordability.

This results in a further reduction in the acquiring of social housing units. Legislation allows local authorities to purchase, at market value, 10% of any private housing development for the purpose of social housing.

At one stage 20% was what was allowed for in legislation. For some strange reason this has been diluted in recent tears.

The reduced percentage is somewhat moot as the combination of land hoarding, increased construction costs and no little amount of price gouging, have made purchasing such units beyond the reach of most local authorities.

The most recent response of Cork City Council has been to acquire what are known as Part Five properties, not through purchase, but by way of 25 year leases. This provides a short term benefit to house some people more quickly, but offers no long term solution towards increasing the local authority housing stock.

If we are to have a new broom new government, one of its first priorities should be to immediately reform the SHD zone process.

It would be the best way of getting our house(s) in order.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle