Author Archives: Dan Boyle

From top: Attorney General Paul Gallagher’s advice on the Mother and Baby Homes Commission file sealing asserted that Commissions of Investigations were excluded from EU data protection laws; Dan Boyle

One of the briefs I covered, when a TD, was as an opposition spokesperson on Social and Family Affairs. A bill that came before the house was the Civil Registration Bill. This was seen as a tidying up in how births, deaths and marriages were being recorded.

Someone close and important in my life had been adopted. There were many things that bothered her about not having even the most basic life information. Among them was that all her public documents recorded her as being born in Dublin. All adopted people were recorded as being Dublin born.

One of the few facts she had ascertained about her birth was that she was born at the now infamous Bessborough centre in Cork. One of amendments I sought to have accepted was to correct this wrong. I was surprised, perhaps I shouldn’t have been, at the unwillingness to accept an amendment.

The Minister, supported by Fine Gael and Labour spokespersons, argued that to list place of birth on the documentation of an adopted person would give them a tool to discover who their birth parents might be.

Into the twenty first century such thinking continued to inform official thinking on this subject. Sadly to a large extent it still does. Adoption in Ireland has always been implied as a social rescue process.

Removing the young ‘fallen’ woman from the fruit of her ‘sin’ was the first purpose of this process. The child available for adoption was to be given a new identity, as if a participant in a moral witness protection programme.

During that same parliamentary session the Oireachtas also finished its consideration of the Commissions of Investigation Bill.

Introduced by the then Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, the bill’s intention was to have a more focused, more streamlined approach to investigations on matters of public concern.

Patience had been overly tested by the open tap to costs approach, that had existed with the Beef and Planning tribunals.

The bill outlined the establishment and more particularly the procedures that would be involved in the setting up commissions of investigation.

Among these procedures were processes to collect testimony confidentially.

A thirty year rule to archive the procedings of any established commission was put in place to protect this confidentiality.

This putting beyond use, and its length, could also be construed as protecting the guilty as well. The Oireachtas felt otherwise. The bill was passed without a vote.

Along with me in that Dáil are several current members of the Oireachtas – Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrat and Independent TDs.

Excluding Commissions of Investigation from GDPR, done through legislation passed in 2018, was a far more contentious matter. The opinion of the Attorney General that they can be and should be, is not an opinion I share, nor do I suspect do most people.

I’m hoping that the imminent publication of the report of Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes can become the key to unlock those rusting chains of shame that have denied so many for so long.

The pain of those denied is too deep and has been too prolonged. Only those who continue to experience this hurt know how this pain feels. The rest of us can only speculate. I fear that much of that speculation is intensifying the hurt. We need to be ending this hurt 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

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From top: Fine Gael Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe (right) and Fianna Fáil Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath on the steps at Government Buildings for their joint press conference for Budget 2021; Dan Boyle

I have had the dubious privilege of responding in the Dáil to five budgets. Two were presented by Charlie McCreevy, three by Brian Cowen.

Then there were far less organised leaks as to what might be in a budget. Those who had to respond were given no prior briefings. The budgets documents were given to all TDs only when the Minister rose to speak in the chamber.

I was the third responder coming after Richard Bruton and Joan Burton. This at least gave me an opportunity to scribble down a few notes.

Who I would be talking to and who might be listening were different matters again. Political etiquette only obliged the Minister for Finance to listen to the main opposition speaker. He (and it was always he) would leave the chamber during the Labour spokesperson’s contribution.

I didn’t take it too much to heart. The ministers would have had media engagements, and I doubt if they would have paid that much attention to what I would have been saying if they had stayed in the chamber.

I still would have had an audience to address. At that time RTÉ television showed the budget debate live, including all the contributions from the opposition spokespersons. My speaking slot was usually around 6pm. By that stage coverage would have moved to RTÉ2 where ten of thousands of viewers would have had to put up with my ramblings.

My experience of budgets is that the flagship elements were overblown, while unpopular elements tended to be slow burners that explode after budget day, when their ramifications became more easily understood.

The introduction of medical cards for all citizens over seventy years of age in 2001, the workings of which were suggested to have been made on a cigarette packet, is an example of what was thought might be sexy turns out to have been ill considered.

The relocation of government offices from Budget 2004, dishonestly referred to as decentralisation, is another obvious example.

Budget 2021 is a budget that has never before been experienced. Unlike the fallout from 2008, or the rectal fiscitude of the late eighties/early nineties, it has suddenly become possible to borrow again and to borrow significantly.

Much of this is out of necessity. Too many businesses and their employees are facing uncertain short term futures. It is not only right, it is an obligation for the State to intervene in the way it has.

The result of this is that we have all become Keynesians, and not just Keynesians but green Keynesians as well.

The one positive confluence of the situation that we would prefer not exist, is the access to borrowing money at ridiculously low rates of interest. This coupled with a belated acceptance that austerity does not and cannot work, will begin to see us spending much more in an effort to bring about a better tomorrow.

The political questions we should be debating are whether investment is being directed in the right direction, to an appropriate level, with an expectation that infrastructure can be delivered in the timescale expected.

There will be overspends. There will be missed deadlines. The degree to which mismanagement could bring about lost opportunities will determine whether Budget 2021 can be the leap forward it promises to be.

For all our sakes let’s hope it can be.

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

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From top: In 2010, from left: then Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Minister for the Environment John Gormley; From left: Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Transport,The Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan launching the draft text of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 last night in Government Buildings, Dublin

It has taken thirteen years but now, at last, we have a Climate Bill that is time and value specific as to how as country we should be reducing our carbon emissions.

It identifies sectors of the economy whose performance needs to change. Most important of all its provisions are judicible.

In 2010 then Green Party Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, introduced such a bill. It had a second stage debate in The Seanad before the bill fell with the government.

John Gormley’s successor as Minister, the antipathetic Phil Hogan, set about dismantling that bill of anything that would resemble achieving an effect. Goals were turned pieties, targets into aspirations.

A new bill, a limp toothless piece of legislation, was introduced by Alan Kelly in 2015, into an Oireachtas that by then had no elected Green Party representatives.

The context of where Ireland lies with carbon emissions has to be understood. We are the third worst performing country in the European Union, on a per capita basis. We are only being worse performed by Estonia and Luxembourg, two countries whose populations when added together is less than that of County Dublin.

Since 2011 Irish carbon emissions have been increasing on a year on year basis. That is up until 2018 when a 0.1% decrease was recorded.

There has no been no serious attempt to tackle Irish carbon emissions over the past decade. It has taken a Green return to government to again make this issue a political priority.

Its introduction now in the time of a pandemic, with many social and economic inequalities persisting, will be presented by some as a wrong sense of political priority.

It isn’t. Taking seriously then acting with intent on the climate emergency is the political imperative of our times. Pursuing the issue does not and cannot mean inaction on any other political priority.

Indeed an innovative approach to the climate emergency could be a better means to tackle ongoing social and economic inequalities. I know it is a matter of contention, even within the Green Party, but climate justice has to mean social justice.

Finally getting our act together on this could see the Irish economy become better positioned in becoming a go to place to reflect new best practice in a decarbonised world.

Social Justice will come about through a better allocation of scarce and finite environmental resources between developing and overdeveloped countries.

The same should occur within societies as those most affluent tend to be those who are most wasteful of environmental resources. In that sense a carbon levy is a progressive tax, as those who consume more pay more.

After years of running into walls I’m suddenly becoming possessed with a strange sense of optimism. I’m thinking this is something we can do. The necessary resources will be provided for it, and that those resources can be used productively.

For now that optimism is overcoming the green devil sitting on my other shoulder. He keeps telling me that others don’t want to know, that they can’t change what they are or their need to benefit from a depleting planet.

He may be right but damn him anyway. Nothing can change unless we try.

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

Julien Behal Photography / RollingNews

From top: Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe (left) with former Junior Finance Minister Michael D’Arcy, who resigned his Seanad seat to become the Chief Executive of a lobbying group for the funds sector, the Irish Association of Investment Management (IAIM); Dan Boyler

Only once have I received an unsolicited offer of a job linked to my being in political life. In 2007, after I had not succeeded in being re-elected to Dáil Éireann, I received a phone call.

It was from someone, representing a company, with whom I had never before had contact. An Irish wind energy company whose main operations were in Spain. I was asked if I would consider becoming a director of their company.

I was flattered and intrigued. I had been an opposition TD. I had not held ministerial office. I wasn’t even a spokesperson on energy.

I didn’t give much consideration to the offer. We didn’t even get to talk about money. I had resolved I wanted to stay in public life and didn’t want to complicate that by doing ‘nixers’.

Most Irish public representatives, unlike their British counterparts, devote themselves solely to their legislative roles. Where an imbalance exists is in the professions practiced by TDs and Senators.

Teachers, farmers, publicans and auctioneers are found in the Oireachtas in greater numbers than is found in wider society. Particular professions like those of law and financial services seem to gravitate towards the traditional parties.

By becoming embedded in political life, these professions have a gained a deep and enduring influence in Irish society. Part of this influence has been culture of ‘looking after our own’.

Within these parties, facilitated by these professions, easing the post politics lives of ‘their own’ has been something of a preoccupation.

This is the context in which many revolving door appointments, into the private sector after politics, have occurred.

While being ethically little different from each other, there is a distinction between the transition of civil servants and that of politicians into the private sector.

Civil servants tend to be more specialised and longer established in the regulatory role they perform. Politicians are far more transient in such roles, and usually do not have previous experience in those areas of public policy they get appointed to decide upon.

Because of this, despite the ethical concerns I hold, I often wonder why many of these post politics appointments get made at all. It isn’t as if the talent pool in The Oireachtas is particularly deep, especially in specialised areas of expertise.

What is being sought is perceived influence. Being able to meet with and talk with and persuade the ‘right’ people. It may get dressed up by an acquiring company that they are appointing a person of ‘proven’ ability, who is possession of an ‘outstanding’ track record. The real reason why is better understood by the contracting parties.

Now we are being promised new ethics legislation. It will be horse out the stable door legislation. Hopefully it will be brought about. If it does it will only be catching up with years of requests from the Standards in Public Office Commission that the legislation be tightened up.

One real and effective change that should be made is to give SIPO the right to instigate investigations in this area. Waiting for the lodging of complaints on the basis of powers that do not exist, does nothing to improve ethics or instill any public confidence.

In the meantime I’m not expecting any further offers from Spain. I suspect that was always up in the air 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

RollingNews

From top: Youth volunteer and Cork City FC stalwart John Kennedy; Dan Boyle

Thoughts of mortality often occur on the passing of a loved one, of a family member, or of those who presence in your life made it seem more complete.

There are others whose passing makes you aware not only of a void in your own life, but more consciously makes you consider the gap that has been created in the lives of others, by the death of a person whose life has been shared so widely.

John F. Kennedy of Skibbereen, of Mahon, of Ógra Chorcaí/Foróige, and most identifiably of Cork City FC, has been such a person.

John and I are of the same vintage. We made similar life decisions. Both of us involved ourselves in youth work and in community development. Initially as volunteers, then subsequently as a far from secure career choice.

I went in politics wanting to advance the values I believed we shared. He remained at the coal face probably being more effective at achieving change.

I engaged in in the theatrics, the histronics, that I thought were required to convey caring enough. John remained his easy going self, upsetting it seems no one, bringing and keeping everyone on board.

That easy going nature was never thought of as a lack of steel. I can never remember John being angry. He had this great skill of being supportive while being able to express hurt and disappointment that became impossible to argue against.

John’s great passion, outside of his wife and family, was Cork City FC. He had been instrumental in rescuing the club by becoming an active shareholder in the co-op set up to allow the club continue to compete.

The club became John’s instrument of blending every aspect of life, working and social. When I was a member of the Oireachtas he gently cajoled me to support the club’s match mascot.

As was his way he didn’t stop at seeking the financial sponsorship. He went to suggest a school whose pupils would best benefit from the experience of being given a set of the club’s strip, then walk out with the team at Turners Cross. I readily agreed. How could I not?

John ran the family enclosure in Turners Cross. It was the place was banners flew, fog horns blared and more polite type of chants were sung. What it represented was totally in line with John’s personality.

It was also at the other side of the ground from The Shed end, where the chants were more lacking in politeness.

John also organised and travelled with the supporters bus for practically every away fixture the club ever played. These were rarely overnight trips, even if the venue was Ballybofey or Derry or Dundalk or Sligo.

This extended to the many European adventures Cork City FC enjoyed. The club and the city never had a finer Ambassador.

If John had an ambiguity it was the craft he showed in becoming so identified with Cork City while maintaining his love and attachment towards his West Cork home and his native Skibbereen.

But then omnipresence seemed to be his thing. A committed and effective Community Youth Worker, time seemed to expand to meet everything he did. How I envied that.

Being who he was I think he may have been embarrassed to have had two guards of honour, involving several hundred people, at his funeral at the church in Mahon and outside of Cork City Hall.

He need not have been. We would have embarrassed had we not thanked him for who he was and what he did.

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: @sendb

Pic: Cork City FC

From top: Significant cuts to services are on the cards at Cork City Council; Dan Boyle

There is no public manifestation yet, but the effect of the necessary additional Covid payments will most readily be felt in the level of public services being provided in the coming year.

It isn’t being acknowledged that among the largest levels of cross subsidisation has been in the amount of income foregone by local authorities, mostly on the basis of decisions made by the government.

The deferral of business rates has been an appropriate response. It has, though, brought about a huge hole in the finances of local councils. There is promised government compensation, but no one believes this will come anywhere close towards meeting the income gap that has been created.

Consideration of the estimates of local councils, difficult enough at most times, will this year become near impossible to make the figures add up.

Budget preparations in most councils tend to be farcical in any year. Elected members want neither to increase income or decrease expenditure. Sometimes this is due to political posturing, most times it’s an unwillingness to assume any type of responsibility at all.

The ability to run away from these responsibilities will be less available this year. One of few direct powers of elected councillors, that of producing a fair balanced budget is about to be tested.

The likely result in most cities and counties will be unwanted and unloved half way house of both increasing charges and instigating severe cuts. This will please no one.

The income base of local government is unsustainable. It has been since 1977 with the election promise of the last single party majority government (Fianna Fáil), when domestic rates were abolished.

Every single attempt since then to ‘reform’ local government finance has spectacularly failed. The main effect of each initiative has been to further weaken local government, making it ever more reliant on national government.

A second outcome has been the willingness of many local councils to outsource the provision of their services and the management of many of their facilities.

This has created an unnecessary distance between the public and their local councils. It has also produced more than a few false economies.

This will be a persistent and perennial problem until we have real local government reform.

This should mean a system of local government that has actual autonomy. The system of local government that exists in every developed democracy.

I don’t have much hope that this will happen. The organ of the State that should be providing the most necessary public services is most incapable of doing so.

The funding mechanism for most countries centre around property. For us in Ireland we have never had the stomach for a proper property tax to fund our local government services. It seems a particular bugbear for our ‘socialist’ parties.

It’s an ideological pincer movement. An administrative system that doesn’t want change and will obstruct its happening, helped by student politics that exist to avoid anything that resembles responsibility.

Bring back the Limerick Soviet I say.

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: 96FM

From top: A ‘Parklet’ in Douglas Street, Cork. Cork City Council is seeking to provide up to 10 more parklets in the city centre and wider city; Dan Boyle

Douglas Street is in the heart of my electoral area. As a child I played there. Growing up it was part of my etched out route in and out of town.

One of its spokes, Nicholas Street, was our Alpe d’Huez that I conquered on a tiny Triumph bike. These days the breathlessness kicks in a quarter the way up when I am walking.

For fifteen years I ran an office there as a councillor, a TD and senator. It was a good location, close to the city centre. It was a microcosm of city life where people lived and businesses sought to prosper.

As someone who grew up in the inner city, my choice of office was deliberate. Not only did I want it to reflect what I believed I was, I saw it as undermining a perception by some of who The Greens were seen to be.

Once there were twice as many pubs as are there now. Those that remain, Coughlans and Fionnbarras, are iconic. The space that once was the trend setting gay bar, Loafers, stays sadly empty waiting its next social challenge.

The imposing convent and girls secondary school that bookends one end of the street, has been spectacularly reimagined as Nano Nagle Place. What once had been inward in its structure and its approach, has now been made into a public space of myriad use.

Douglas Street has at times been neglected. It struggles with rat run traffic due to its closeness to the city centre. Despite this, for those who live and work on the street, there is tremendous pride and spirit.

Every year a street festival is organised, where the traffic is removed, showing the fantastic potential of the area.

Last year into this evolving community an art project was mooted. The support of Cork City Council was necessary to progress the idea. Initially that support would not have been total.

Some local councillors bemoaned the loss of parking spaces to facilitate the project. To meet these objections the installation was defined as a pilot project, meant to have a short shelf life.

The project was the creation of a parklet. This was an elaborate wooden bench strewn with compartments to allow for the growing of plants.

It was meant to be in place for a number of months. Affection for the parklet, and what it represented, soon grew. A petition was gathered to argue that it be made permanent. As a local councillor I tabled a motion to the City Council to the same effect.

A nearby flower shop cum coffee emporium gave value to the parklet. It became extremely adaptable in how it was seen and being used. It was a place to go to meet people. It was place to be on your own. A place to literally smell the roses. Perhaps read a book.

The sense of community that has been built up by skillfully putting together a few pieces of wood, has been a wonder to behold.

The parklet has become part of the furniture of Douglas Street, in the very deepest sense. It is no longer thought of as being ephemeral. It has become a pioneering piece of social infrastructure that many other places want to emulate.

This week Cork City Council is responding to this demand by offering to construct ten new parklets throughout the city.

Soon the parklet on Douglas Street will no longer be unique. But it will always be special. It will be so much better having parklet problems in the city than having parking problems.

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: Clare Keogh


From top: The demolition of the historic Sextant Bar in Cork last Friday; Dan Boyle

Last weekend a landmark building was demolished in Cork. Its demolition was met with some surprise and a great deal of unhappiness by many people.

Not by me. I had anticipated its demise despite being vehemently opposed to its inevitability.

Its destruction is indicative as to why, and to whom, laws on development benefit for what purposes.

The Sextant Bar was not a protected structure. It was listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. Within the existing Cork City Development Plan it was included as being part of an Architectural Conservation Area. It formed part of a significant streetscape.

The legislation that has allowed this vandalism is that which allows for Strategic Housing Development. This sees developments, which are for one hundred or more units, go directly to Bord Pleanala for decision. The role of the local authority being circumvented in this process.

That said, in relation to the Sextant Bar, Cork City Council has not been discouraging in allowing the destruction of this building.

With previous developments the Council had encouraged a practice of facadism, where the front elevation features of previous significant stand alone buildings were incorporated into new buildings. They have been horrible.

Instead of encouraging to build around rather than build upon, we see instead a policy of building without.

The economic foundation of encouraging any development for any reason has always been shakey. In a post COVID World it has become even more so.

Development at what was once was the Cork Docklands has been stop start. Recent years have seen a flurry of activity. This has been mainly office development, which lately has been followed by high end apartment accommodation.

Where this strategy is becoming undone is through anticipated office tenants not being available to the extent that was thought possible. An immediate uncertain economic outlook, joined with the emergence of working from home as a viable option for many, has undermined these projections.

Less companies occupying the provided office space means less well paid employees seeking nearby accommodation. We may be, and most probably are, disregarding buildings of interest being replaced by mausoleums of steel and glass, for no actual purpose.

At what price to the character of our city? The destruction of The Sextant Bar has come at a price, but perhaps it might also be a down payment towards a more sane policy of better integrating new development with existing built heritage.

In 2022 there will be a newly agreed Cork City Development Plan. As we work towards its drafting this plan, the challenge is to achieve the type of public engagement where demolitions like this not only do not surprise, they do and should not happen.

One way around this unacceptable approach to town planning would be to introduce a site value tax, that would help inhibit the incentive to remove or replace.

What we are losing is not being improved by is being proposed in its place. In terms of learning from our architectural history we seem intent to reduce it to rubble. Damned if I can see the value in 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

Pics: Twitter/Larry Cummins

From top: Phil Hogan (right) with Michael Noonan at the Fine Gael ard fheis in 1999; Dan Boyle

I try not to let personal feelings sway me too much when making political assessments. Character is important, so is competency. So is achieving.

The motivation of most in politics is to try make a difference, bring about change, make the world a better place.

Few get the opportunity to make that difference. Of the few who do many of us will fail miserably. If honestly attempted there should no shame in that. We dream that change can be revolutionary when circumstances often show us otherwise.

As a counterpoint to constant failure, achievement for some in politics has been to equate success with position.

I see Phil Hogan as an exemplar of that sort of politics. He has achieved significant positions in his political life. That is up until now.

I take no pleasure in anyone’s resignation but many will be relieved that this resignation has been eked out eventually.

It was only a number of weeks ago that Phil Hogan went on a career fishing expedition, announcing he was investigating the possibility of putting himself forward, for consideration, as head of the World Trade Organisation. Could he have been more coy?

Now he will not be able to hold onto his current exalted status. The argument that he be allowed to remain centred around his apparent importance.

Not his ability, not his capability, his importance. Being in a position makes you important. Any analysis of what you have done gets deemed superfluous when you are The Man, it seems.

Phil Hogan’s career path has been relentless – a councillor, a Senator, a TD, a Junior Minister, a Cabinet Minister, before becoming an EU Commissioner first at Agriculture latterly at Trade.

I know that it is subjective but I can’t think of a single policy achievement he has had. He was a particular disaster as Minister for the Environment.

His handling of water charges was appalling. He helped rid local government in Ireland of many of its democratic elements. He interrupted and reversed our responsibility as a country in addressing climate change.

His particular skills seem to be having been in the right place supporting the right people at the right time.

He seemed to assume the position of Fine Gael’s fixer, that was once held by Michael Lowry. He managed to keep Enda Kenny in post as Fine Gael leader mere months before he became Taoiseach.

This was despite, it was thought, most Fine Gael TDs wanting Enda to step down.

Success came with a reputation of being ‘hard’. An example of his hardness was a crude, sexist comment to an older women he made at an Oireachtas Golfing Society in 2011. He has also been recorded making bigoted comments on travellers.

He decided if he was to become an European Commissioner. Ruairi Quinn made an attempt to highlight his willingness. Phil wasn’t having any of that.

The two roles he has held could have been utilised to achieve great change. In both portfolios he could have argued for better environmental standards making the European Union the standard bearer it claims to be.

That hasn’t happened nor with Phil in charge was it ever likely to. It’s likely he doesn’t believe in change, except to change back to what was before. For him position and prestige is gained by defending and protecting the status quo. There are still too many Big Phils in our politics.

Neither Ireland nor the EU needs Phil Hogan. None of us need his attitude.

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, Micheál Martin flanked by Minister for Education, Norma Foley (left) and Minister of State Josepha Madigan (right) launching the Roadmap for Reopening Schools; Dan Boyle

We’re being told that over recent weeks that Ireland has the fourth fastest rising percentage in Europe in new developing COVID cases. On first exposure this appears a worrying statistic but ultimately it is a pretty meaningless one.

As a comparison between countries, when countries are operating from different bases, it does not tell us a whole lot.

The seven day and fourteen day averages are more telling. From these we can see that things are going in a wrong direction and that we do need to act differently.

The figures remain far short of the peaks we had seen in April/May, but who of us wants to go back there?

What seems to fraying is the idea of an us. For this political responsibility has to be accepted.

We are now eight months into a global health crisis. We know a lot more about this virus than we did, though not yet nearly enough. The governments of many countries have adopted different strategies, some more successful than others.

Some of the more successful governments, such as New Zealand, have had certain geographic advantages. Failures have occurred, and they have been many, in many countries.

In Ireland we have fought hard but find ourselves at the wrong end of the World table with statistics such as COVID deaths per million population.

These failures, while above the World average, have not been of Trumpian proportions. But failures there have been.

It may be that some time will pass before we learn the extent of these failures. How we have handled nursing homes reflects badly on us. The dangers that existed were not responded to quickly enough. The resources that were needed were not provided sufficiently or in time.

We are in danger of repeating these mistakes with Direct Provision centres. The level of risk we are exposing those in these centres, in a type of provision that should not exist, is unacceptable.

And then we have the meat factories, which seem to be evolving into something of a metaphor for a more meek, bleaker Ireland. Poorly paid workers with even worse working conditions, exposed to maximum risk so that the rest of us have cheaper food.

Post COVID Ireland has to be about more than the elimination of the virus. It has to also be about the elimination of the social and economic viruses these practices represent.

Other problems have arisen because of our reactive response to this virus. Those with other health conditions have been made wait, creating a back log to be cleared that may take a considerable time, causing even greater stress to those suffering.

It is in this context that government is so anxious to see schools re-opening, that some may see as being in haste while not being properly thought out.

There is valid reason in seeking a resumption of education. Learning is an essential and overriding purpose of schools. So is socialisation.

It could be the cruelest irony of all that while for children the health impacts of COVID may be marginal, the mental health effects could be devastating.

I see it with my granddaughter. She hungers for other kids to interact with. The longer we avoid making that happen the harder it will be to catch up.

It won’t be easy. Some openings will be postponed. Some will open then close in response to local outbreaks. It will be infuriating. Despite this it is something that needs to happen. Something we need to make happen.

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

Earlier: “Most Of Our Homes Are Not Controlled Environments But Schools Are”