Author Archives: Dan Boyle

From top: The Irish Hotels Federation is attempting to block a large student accommodation facility in Cork being rented out on a short-term basis ; Dan Boyle

Recently Bord Pleanala upheld an objection from Cork hoteliers that a student accommodation centre should not be allowed to offer short term lettings during its off season.

An economic interest group was protected. A competing interest was denied the opportunity to maximise use of its rentable space.

To me this decision should ordinarily be filed under a two bald man fighting over a comb category. It could even be placed into a how many angels on the head of a pin debate.

For what the main planning arbiter in this country is judging on here is not best the interests of a community where such buildings are located, but the consequences of when particular types of, encouraged, development occur more quickly than other more necessary built infrastructure.

In Ireland we place a great emphasis on new construction as a driver for the economy. Because of this we have become more concerned with the scale, rather than the type, of construction that occurs.

Those who develop, those who build, do so in Ireland on those projects that can be constructed quickest that then can realise profits at the earliest opportunity.

Often investment in particular types of development is encouraged through our taxation policies. Many of these tax policies have been lobbied for by developers who argue that it is the number of cranes on the skyline that matters, not so much if the right type of building is being built in the right location.

And these tax incentives help to subsidise the profits of those who lobby exactly for this.

The type of development that has risen, most recently, most quickly, has been commercial property and defined developments such as hotels and student accommodation.

The moribund area of construction is housing, particularly the lack of social housing development.

This is dangerous in a number of respects. Firstly, the construction industry has a limited capacity. The more this capacity is directed towards developments on which there is an overemphasis, the lack of capacity there will be for housing developments.

Secondly, non housing developments get concentrated in and the around the centre of our towns and cities. This reduces the space available for housing developments in these locations.

Housing developments, as and when they occur, are forced to become more and more suburban based, with consequent environmental cost.

Ultimately we risk creating transient communities made up of office workers, tourists and students. We are losing hope that we can create living city and town centres made up of more sustainable population bases.

The point of our planning processes should be that they achieve appropriate and balanced development. Any development isn’t necessarily good development.

We should be regulating infrastructural need ahead of industry preference.

If current trends continue as they are, supply for buildings with transient use will far exceed demand. Then we are likely to hear calls to convert such buildings into residential use. Too much too late.

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: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton at the launch of the First Progress Report on the Climate Action Plan 2019 in the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin last week; Dan Boyle

I’m beginning to understand An Taoiseach’s alternative thought patterns that bit better. The need to be popular sees him promote alternate realities, actual reality being too hard to sell.

In these alternate realities we should be happy that as a country we have Direct Provision for asylum seekers, rather than giving them tents, which apparently is an option.

The number of asylum seekers, as stated in the gospel according to Leo, has not yet reached ‘swamped’ levels in Ireland.

However eternal vigilance is needed, says An Taoiseach, to avoid such ‘swamping’. He has then gone on to identify which asylum seekers from where are to be least trusted. A vital public service.

But it is his cheery take on climate change that has me most convinced. How we have lacked having such a visionary in our lives? Our priorities have been askew. Ireland’s far higher than average carbon emissions should be seen as a route to a better future.

Balmier winters producing a longer living, healthier, population is an idyll we have been avoiding for far too long.

With this as the new focus of government policy, why bother needing to take responsibility for the existence and the level of fuel poverty?

What further pearls of wisdom then await us? Perhaps a devastating put down of the risks of sea level rises on the basis that it will create shorter distances to the beach (new beaches, that is, without sand)?

As a country we could do with more of the unfettered optimism that An Taoiseach, along with some of his cabinet colleagues, are giving when delivering a progress report on their National Climate Action Plan.

The report is claiming that an 85% success rate is being achieved. How brilliant it is to be so tantilisingly close to perfection, and yet to continue to be so badly failing in the main reason for having a Climate Action Plan – ever increasing carbon emissions from Ireland.

Not only is An Taoiseach a master of alternate realities, he is also a genius of counter intuitive thinking.

This government promotes a National Development Plan and a Climate Action Plan, as flagship elements of policy that the government claims are mutually compatible.

They are not. Given that the Development Plan is seen, by the government, as being more equal, it is clear that it carries more deeply the government’s imprimatur.

The prioritisation within the Development Plan will see favoured infrastructure projects becoming fast tracked, the completion of which, of each, will see additional carbon loadings being placed on already vastly exceeded levels.

Maybe this is disjointed rather than counter intuitive thinking.

And yet….

I don’t think An Taoiseach has properly thought his pleasant Winter scenario through. More people living longer because of warmer winters, means more pension payments, greater use of free travel, and more stress on the health service.

The people who get up early in the morning to go to work may not be so happy about that.

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: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: Dan Boyle

Having painfully discovered that asking a binary question does not, of itself, extricate a country from forty plus years of international treaty commitments, our friends across the water (and up North) are now facing a fourth general election in nine years.

In a bitterly divided country, reliance will now be put on one of least democratic voting systems in the World, where victory can be claimed with only one third of the vote.

The value of the votes that get cast in an UK election are but one thing. How votes are informed is a far more important aspect altogether.

Britain possesses one of the most pernicious ‘free’ media in the democratic World, one that isn’t countered in the slightest by public broadcasters there.

It is a media goverened almost entirely by proprietoral interests. No exaggeration is ignored in pursuit of these interests.

A bought and sold for media has managed to convince many in Britain that they are the victims of others, the EU and assorted other foreigners, rather than the destiny makers of those elite and established British privilege holders whose look over there politics has helped them hold sway for far too long.

More than likely this established Brexit narrative will take hold in this election. Boris Johnson and the Tories seem on course to achieve a majority in the next House of Commons.

Whether this majority will be used to quickly process the currently agreed deal with the European Union, or instead pull another rug then steam towards a No Deal Brexit designed to create the dream of Singapore on the Thames, we will yet find out.

The Tory majority, if it comes, may not be that substantial. The party will lose seats in the south of England to the Liberal Democrats. In Scotland to the Scottish Nationalists.

The key to the election will be in how many seats the Tories can win from Labour in Leave voting constituencies in the English Midlands, or in the North of England. A North of England that previously was forbidden territory for the Tories.

Once again Jeremy Corbyn will be the key figure in the election. He is neither the Maoist terror figure he is often portrayed by the Murdoch led press, or the hapless fool is sometimes seen as, at times even by his own party colleagues.

He has though been the author of his own difficulties. His ambivalence, in leading a Europhile party against his long standing opposition to the EU project, was one of the biggest contributory factor in bringing about a Brexit yes vote in 2016.

If a policy led narrative takes hold in this election, then Corbyn could yet make the recovery he made in 2017.

But he will be up against a far better opponent than Theresa May. Johnson maybe incorrigible and more corrupt, but he is a substantially better campaigner.

Victory for Corbyn in this campaign would be to stop a Johnson majority. In this he could be helped by Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party, whose search for a perfect Brexit may siphon off key Tory votes.

Up North a Remain alliance could see DUP come back with less MPs. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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

From top: Fianna Fail TDs Niall Collins and Lisa Chambers have became embroiled in ‘Votegate’; Dan Boyle

When I was first elected a TD electronic voting in the Dáil was on the cusp of being introduced. For the first few months of that Dáil the traditional method of walking through the lobbies was used

It didn’t matter what was being voted on. It could be on the Budget. It could be on challenging the Government’s order of business of the day. Regardless of the importance of the vote, and with repeated votes, often two hours of each sitting day were wasted through this arcane procedure.

I thought the electronic voting to be a huge advance, although the option of calling a walk through vote still exists in the standing orders of the Dáil.

It doesn’t take long for the novel to become commonplace. Seventeen years later many TDs seem to have become blasé about their voting procedures.

With any procedure mistakes can and do happen. Much of the mitigation that has been spoken of in recent days can be put in such a category.

Strange as it may seem seats in the Oireachtas are allocated for voting but not necessarily for sitting.

In an usually near empty Dáil chamber party spokespersons tends to speak from their party leaders seats. Whenever a vote was called seats would be filled as space allowed.

With the Green group of TDs we would frequently push each other’s buttons. (I’m thinking that last sentence can be read in a particular way…).

As a party whip I remember calling into the Debates Office to correct a vote that had been misrecorded. The wrong button was pushed. I can’t remember if the mistake was mine, or that of one of my colleagues.

It is probable that public feeling, where it exists, takes this into account. The unease that is being created is because of an impression that the act of voting, a key role of any elected representative, is being treated in a cavalier, practically contemptuous way.

What I don’t remember then, what I am sad to see has developed since, is this seemingly prevalent practice of voting for someone else while also casting your own vote.

It is difficult to envisage any situation where a TD in a chamber would be doing something more important than having to push a button to record their vote.

Maybe it’s a throwback to the time of the walk through vote? When these happened, especially for backbench government TDs, they represented one of the few occasions where rarified space was shared with ministerial colleagues.

Maybe it’s time for a further tecnhological change? Maybe we should be considering votes not being registered unless accompanied by fingerprint recognition?

It is sad to think that an honour system can no longer be relied on in our parliament. Even sadder to think that a techological fix might be needed to restore confidence.

Most frustrating is the amount of political time and space being given to this issue, an issue that undoubtedly is part of the circus element of public attention.

When deeper and more real concerns exist, nationally in the form of a lack of access to housing and to effective health care, globally in trying to deal with the climate emergency; #votegate is an irritating distraction.

The wrong buttons keep getting pressed.

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

From top:  Members of RISE (Rural Ireland Says Enough) in Birr, County Roscommon in 20102; Dan Boiyle

I allowed myself a wry smile when I learned that Paul Murphy’s new political vehicle would be called RISE.

I wasn’t smiling at the another amoeba on the outskirts of the Irish Left. I find that not only sad but also sadly predictable.

My mirth was in remembering another recent Irish political movement, also stylising itself RISE, an acronym that then stood for Rural Ireland Says Enough.

The well resourced and organised group set up to oppose the Green Party for what it claimed were attacks on the rural way of life.

What annoyed me then was that the 2010 RISE agenda actually quite narrow.

As expressed by the two thousand protestors who gathered that year outside the Tower Hotel in Waterford, where the Greens were holding its party convention, the main attack on the rural way of life seemed to be the audacity of introducing a bill to prohibit stag hunting.

Of course this was conflated as being the thin edge of the wedge, the start of a process that would see all ‘rural’ pursuits being eradicated.

My own tolerance on this is less than what it should be. The use of rural as a prefix meant to always assume goodness or wholesomeness is something I have never understood or accepted.

My intolerance extends to the identification of any pursuit as being specifically rural or urban or suburban. It is the pursuit itself that should be examined and/or criticised, not its locale.

Rural Ireland has and has had much to complain about. It has seen decades of dimunition of services. It has suffered a myriad of closures of railway stations, garda stations, post offices and schools.

What angered me in Waterford in 2010, when as chair of the Green Party I met with some of those participating in the RISE protest, was why was there such manufactured anger over something quite trivial, when rural communities have had so much to be actually angry about?

The Greens were the focus of rural anger then. We continue now as we have been since our being founded, to be seen as a bogeyman intent at undermining Rural Ireland and what it represents.

The irony here is that rural voters vote in larger numbers for the traditional centre right parties, the parties that in government have overseen the death by a thousand cuts that have occurred in Rural Ireland.

Where voter rebellion has occurred it has been in a slippage of votes towards gombeen independents, those otherwise intelligent people who resort to stereotypes to get and stay elected.

Those of us who live urban areas are not as removed from Rural Ireland, as the keepers of that flame often portray us as being. Many of us have parents or grandparents brought up in rural communities.

Nor are rural communities themselves as homogeneous as they are portrayed. Scale of population and distance work against the development of rural communities, but there is no shortage of people willing to think and act differently to bring about such change.

But sure it’s all The Greens fault anyway.

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

Top pic: Rise

From top, left to right: Green Party Deputy Leader Catherine Martin TD, Finance Spokesperson Neasa Hourigan and Leader  Eamon Ryan TD launching the party’s pre-Budget 2020  submission in the Irish Georgian Society, Dublin last week; Dan Boyle

It has been ever thus. For thirty years I have listened to commentary that there isn’t any need for The Greens to exist, as other political parties have always been prepared to steal our ‘clothes’.

The problem with this often facile type of analysis is that it disregards the indifference, and more often contempt, the wider political system has displayed towards environmental issues during that period.

Sure pieces of clothing have been stolen, but the scale of environmental crises has sadly seen the Green wardrobe increase disproportionately.

And those stolen items have often been worn quite badly. Sometimes inside out. Sometimes back to front.

Much the same with the lack of depth in those clothes stealers having any real understanding of the crises we face.

Buzzwords get seized upon by those who want to don green apparel. Such terms get repeated ad nauseum to convey the impression of understanding, because in politics it seems perception is far more important than action.

Early in the lifetime of the Green Party in Ireland, a debate occurred on whether it should become a political party, or not. Far better, it was argued by some, to be a campaigning group seeking to ‘green’ political parties from outside the political system.

The political party argument won out for a number reasons. One fairly obvious factor was the prior existence of campaigning organisations.

A more persuading reason was a prevailing belief that the political system, with existing political parties, were beyond persuasion and had to be challenged.

Any movement needs to weave several threads together – the political, the educational and the campaigning. The past ebbing and flowing of Green support can partially be put down to these threads never pulling together strongly at the same time.

That isn’t the case now. Against that it may be the case we are now living in a period of peak environmentalism. If we are then we so badly need to make that count.

Pennies are beginning to drop, when pounds/dollars/euro need to. Public goodwill is at its most disposed towards taking necessary environmental action.

The political debate has been won to a certain extent. We continue to have a problem. The ability/willingness to address that problem has become a problem in itself.

A business as usual approach is incompatible with addressing our environmental crises. Saying the right thing, and being more concerned with the superficial, when not accompanied with appropriate action, makes those politicians, who choose this approach, to be very much part of the problem.

The climate deniers will always be with us. Far more dangerous are contrarians, agnostic on the science, but possesed of some pathological distaste for Greens, who they identify or engage with in stereotypical terms.

Often they can’t even agree on the stereotype. Terms, always used perjoratively, like naive, effete, middle class, or when the context demands it ‘crusty’, interchange solely as means to undermine the existence of environmental problems or to avoid necessary policy choices.

In this era of fake news contrarians tend to, conveniently, ignore that addressing climate change can only occur while social and economic fairness is also pursued.

The other weapon of the contrarian is to exaggerate the emphermal and represent that as typical.

This I have come to categorise as Reverse Cry Wolf Syndrome.

Either the tide is turning or it is about to engulf us all. I’m really weary of it.

But, with others, I intend to keep trying to work to wear down the petulant sulks of those whose indifference, hypocrisy and outright denial, has brought us to where we are now.

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

Top pic: Rollingnews

Recent legislation has weakened the value and the values of Ireland’s Credit Unions, writes Dan Boyle (above)

A couple of years ago my local Credit Union decided to give up its distinct identity to become part of a larger, merged entity. This saddened me. Five credit unions now operate as one, under a new single banner.

Two of the five credit unions have no geographic connection at all, with the area that had been served by the three core credit unions.

More worryingly still there is no obligation to have the original communities represented on the Board of the new entity.

The drive for less but larger credit unions has been the result of a decades long campaign of harassment, I would argue, by other financial institutions abetted by financial regulatory bodies, underlined by the Department of Finance.

This climate of competing with banks by achieving economies of scale has led to recent moves by credit unions to request that the interest ceiling on loans given by them, currently and traditionally 1% a month, around 12.8 % APR. should be raised to twice that amount.

From the late 1950s’, the 12% rate has proved a simple maximum rate for the credit union model. When combined with an established savings habit it gave confidence when granting a loan.

While the loan was nominally 12 %, the rules allowed for a rebate of interest as well as a dividend, the actual interest rate, depending on the credit union, could be as low as 5% or less.

70% or 80% of the funds could be out on loan. The size of the loans were modest, and typically short term. Loan repayments and savings refilled the coffers anxiously awaited by a queue of further loan applicants. Borrowings that went to improve their lot made possible by a union, they themselves owned.

The model, comprising volunteer oversight, together with some paid staff, worked incredibly well.

During times of high inflation that drove high interest rates in banks, credit unions continued to provide loans at ‘affordable’ rates.

From local credit unions came the need to set up a representative body, on a national/all island basis. This helped in creating loan insurance products, death benefit entitlements for members, along with generous pension funds for staff.

More importantly, it set up a monitoring service to ensure the member credit unions stayed financially on track, combined with training programmes, while crucially acting as guardian of the Ethos of the movement.

Recent legislation has weakened the value and the values of the credit union movement in Ireland. It is helping quickly to diminish its community role. Not only geographically but also communities that can be formed, and informed, by a common bond. Groups, communities, made up professions or trades or involvement with a government agency, for instance.

Increasing prosperity has seen access to other sources of credit become available. The demand for credit union loans began to fall. Despite this membership has continued to grow. None the less, the increasing staff and managerial costs have been becoming a factor.

The traditional Credit Union has been trying to hold to operating principles and the social strength it gives. The representative body, and larger credit unions, have become increasingly disconnected from the founding community ethos.

This bigger is better approach is mirroring pretty exactly the process that saw the formation, before the Millennium, of many Saving and Loans, banking light, in the United States. These more ‘competitive’ entities were the canary in the coalmine that previewed the global banking collapse of 2008.

The goal must be to keep community banking parallel and not to integrate with other financial institutions. One forgotten aspect of the Irish banking crisis was the amount of credit unions who banked with Anglo Irish Bank.

But damage has been done.

Credit unions are now labelled as financial institutions. Legislation has created a new kind of credit union manager. The mantra is now on growth. Boards have been sidelined through the setting up a ‘managers’ forum’. The members have seen their role reduced to that of stakeholder.

There has been little change in the take up of loans. They grow more expensive, while members can borrow elsewhere. Desperate for income the old operating principles are being abandoned.

Now, instead of promoting thrift and sensible lending, some of these new ‘improved’ credit unions are promising money for any and every need.

Now it seems they sidle up with their lobbyists to government, as if they were the pigs leading the other animals in taking over Mr. Jones’ Farm. If they secure approval to charge the higher rate who will pay it?

Not those better off, they have other options. It will be the poorest. It will be like that final scene in Animal Farm, except now we won’t be able to tell the difference between the credit unions and the money lenders they were supposed abolish.

The Central Bank encourages this. They seek to weaken the volunteer board by promoting the role of the manager/CEO. There is a telling line in the ‘Report of the Commission on Credit Unions’ which says

“For all their distinctive features, credit unions are, first and foremost, financial institutions, which primarily accept deposits (or shares) and make loans. In this regard they are similar to commercial banks”.

This lack of recognition of the community credit union with its unique facility to draw on the shared honesty and integrity of the community to build a local efficient economic bubble, risks losing this great resource when we need it most.

There is almost a black humour in the central bank pledge to secure ‘strong credit unions in safe hands’. It is vital that the traditional community credit union be allowed to operate as a counterpoint and not as an adjunct to the banking system.

We don’t need US style Savings and Loans, with the chaos that came from them. We need, and should insist, on community banking.

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

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Revenue’s Local Property Tax values for Cork City; Dan Boyle

Today Cork City Council holds its annual meeting to determine its local property tax rate.

In the five years since the Council has had this power, the Council has reduced the rate by 10% for two years, freezing for another three years.

The effect of this has been to further lessen the funds available for better public services. All the worst for being self inflicted.

There are many myths about taxation, that in Ireland have led most politicians and political parties to avoid any mature debate on its efficacy.

Many people are paid wages that are far too low to have them qualify to pay income tax, social insurance or the universal social charge. In many other countries payment of tax begins at even lower rates of pay.

The pay off in Ireland is expecting middle income earners to pay income tax at the higher rate of tax, at far lower rates of pay than exist in other countries.

Surreptitiously the government increases tax take by not index linking tax credits and bands. This is far more dishonest than any proposal to raise taxes.

We badly need to look to many of our incentive based tax credits, especially those that relate to housing. It is clear that the wrong actors are benefiting.

Where are the benefits for renters to match those given to first time buyers? Why is assistance to first time buyers for new builds only? Why not direct incentives to those who renovate empty or derelict buildings, first time buyers or not?

Spending taxes like VAT, excise duties and yes carbon tax, are a growing part of our tax mix. In raising these taxes it can be said that most of our citizens are taxpayers.

We should hypothecate/ringfence particular taxes with a dedicated purpose. When a carbon tax was first introduced in Ireland, with The Greens in government, it was introduced at a rate of €10 per tonne (coal wasn’t included).

We insisted that the social welfare fuel allowance be increased accordingly. We were also able to significantly increase the number of houses that could be retrofitted.

No such measures have been taken with subsequent changes to carbon tax. It is vital that they are done now.

On Corporation Tax we need to finally admit that the jig is up. The creative accountancy has got to stop. In holding our hands up we also have to admit that our room to manoeuvre will become severely restricted.

By stopping our mailing address approach to corporate taxation we will be compromised in being able to change rates.

What we can do, however, is abolish any remaining allowances that have been used to ensure that many MNCs have never come close to paying 12.5% on their Irish operating profits.

One of the most damaging narratives, in recent decades in Irish politics, was promulgated by the Progressive Democrats. That party sought the mantle of being the anti tax party. Its particularly obsession created an impression that a tax increase, in any circumstances, was always a bad thing.

This created a situation in 2009 where our tax base was hugely distorted, unable to respond to economic shock.

The PD’s tax obsession was a perverse representation on the tax marches of 1979 (six years before its foundation) when the highest income tax rate was 60%! The PDs chose to represent the most prosperous in Irish society, hardly those most discriminated in the Irish taxation system.

Tonight, along with my Green Party colleagues, we will seeking an increase equivalent of €7.50 per household per month in the local property tax, to raise an additional €3.2 million for better public services.

This in a budget of over €160 million, most of which cannot be touched. I suspect some of our fellow councillors will be aghast. I’m hoping that others can work with us to create a better narrative.

Taxing bad is good. Better public services cannot exist without better taxes.

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

Top pic: Revenue.ie

From top: Steven Agnew, who has resigned as an MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly, with Claire Bailey, who succeeds him leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland; Dan Boyle

A friend and colleague of mine, Steven Agnew, recently announced his retirement as an MLA at Stormont. He is joining a renewable energy NGO from where he can continue to promote a Green vision from a more secure position.

He and his Stormont colleague, the now leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, Clare Bailey, have experienced huge frustration as members of an assembly now pushing three years in mothballs.

Both have worked assiduously in their constituencies despite that. The quality of their work helped produce significant advances for the Greens in Northern Ireland.

In recent local elections there the Greens doubled our seats to eight. There was an especially strong performance in Belfast, where the party now holds four seats.

The Greens in Ireland is an All Island party. We operate in both jurisdictions under autonomous structures. Our position on the constitutional question is locked into the Good Friday agreement.

It isn’t that we Greens are agnostic on the ‘settlement’, it is that all our energies are being spent in trying to construct a new politics in Northern Ireland.

There are some signs that a new politics might be starting to take hold. The growth in support of The Greens is also being matched by a renewed support for the Alliance Party.

It is clear that there is a growing army of voters in Northern Ireland that does not identify with the Two Tribes approach to politics, an approach that has bedevilled the place and its history.

Part of the unravelling of Brexit has created the possibility of a poll on Irish Unity. This has excited some, others view the prospect with more trepidation.

Changing demographics, seen through the filter of a sectarian head count, holds a realistic chance of agreeing to an United Ireland.

More likely it would produce a Brexit type 52-48 result in favour of staying in the UK. Those promoting the poll will purse their lips then claim that inevitable victory will follow at the next poll, that will follow in another seven years.

But what kind of victory would that be? Most probably we will seven years of heightened tensions of the type that has blighted Britain since its Brexit referendum.

The debate we should be having is asking what is the benefit of a referendum on Irish Unity won on the basis of 50% plus one basis?

Creating, in what would be a new country, an instant discontented minority would hardly constitute Unity.

If we are serious about a successful Unity referendum we should be agreeing on mechanisms that more properly reflect consent.

Such a mechanism might be a super majority of 60%, or 40% of those entitled to vote.

If a referendum on Irish Unity was won without the support of a considerable number from within the traditional Unionist community, it would be a victory that be quite Pyrrhic .

That isn’t to discount the reality that Northern Ireland itself was formed without any such democratic niceties. The question I would pose is should we bring about a new Ireland, through the flawed and failed decision making of a dying empire.

Or can we have a new Ireland brought about on a to be sure to be sure basis.

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

Top pic: Rollingnews


From top: A Lollypop Lady guides schoolchildren across traffic in central Dublin; Dan Boyle

I’ve recently tabled a number of motions to Cork City Council. They relate to parking and speed levels outside of schools. I suspect they may prove contentious.

I hope they are. They are meant to stimulate debate, to effect even the smallest degree of cultural change.

On speed I’m suggesting that we have 20km per hour zones within 500 metres of a school entrance. This may sound slow but it could be seen as an increase – the average rush hour speed in urban areas is about 10km per hour.

On parking I’m proposing that there should no parking (other than disability parking) within 250 metres of a school entrance. The intent of this would be to avoid the rugby scrum approach to parking, that is seen around most school gates most days.

Walking that additional half a kilometre may also bring some incremental health benefits for our children.

In my school going days (sometime in the last century) we walked or cycled to school. I was lucky to live no further than seven to ten minutes from the schools I attended.

Spatial patterns have changed enormously since then. Suburban living has forced many to live more distant from, what traditionally had been, adjacent community facilities.

Growing traffic volumes have created greater safety concerns. Because of these fears parents, these days, are less inclined to let their children walk to school. Certainly less inclined to have them cycle.

This has created what must be the ultimate irony. Fears have increased of having young students walk or cycle because of traffic volumes; volumes that have been vastly augmented by cars driving these same students to and from schools.

And we have become a time poor society. The school run in many households has become something of a military operation. Circuitous routes from creches to preschools to primary and secondary schools, and eventually to the workplace, have to be done each day with precision.

We need to make space to lessen this ordeal. Convincing decision-makers that we have to think differently to bring about different results, is proving to be the biggest obstacle in bringing about change.

What should be obvious remains oblivious to many. We can’t continue with policies that do nothing but contribute to the madness.

What is also important is that change is not seen to be imposed, but comes about through proper consultation.

Recently in the Norwegian local elections an anti-congestion charge party achieved a strong vote from a standing start. The Gilets Jaunes in France have shown how reactive people can be when they haven’t been properly consulted.

I’m expecting reports from council officials telling me that this can’t be done. I’m expecting several of my fellow councillors that it shouldn’t be done.

What I’m not expecting is any common understanding that continuing on as we are doing is crazy.

Cars are tools, such tools cannot and should not determine our behaviour. If anything confirms Einstein’s definition of insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, it’s our constant deference to the motor car.

When it comes to making sense of the school run, you would have thought we would have learned better by now.

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

Top pic: Rollingnews