Author Archives: Dan Boyle

From top: Ballot papers from the European and Local Elections, May 24, 2014 at the count centre in the RDS, Dublin 4; Dan Boyle.

Since 1999 Local and European elections in Ireland have been held on the same day.

Returning officers at count centres have liberally interpreted our electoral laws, as many voters continue to mark one ballot paper 1,2,3 and 4 in expressing their preference; then marking the other paper 5,6,7 and 8, as if there is meant to be some symbiotic relationship between the two elections.

To some extent there is, if only through holding the two sets of elections on the same day. Both are mid term elections that each have the capacity of making life uncomfortable for the sitting party of government.

The local elections, however, operate to a different set of conditions. These elections are the most candidate centric of elections held in Ireland.

While fewer voters participate in local elections, as opposed to elections to the Dáil, those who do participate make greater demands of the candidates. The reality is that at what we have in Ireland is not local government, but a glorified form of local administration.

Despite this we place expectations on candidates, who seek to become local councillors, that can never be met through the structure local government in Ireland.

Ireland is one of the, if not the, most centralised countries in Europe in relation to local government. Many myths persist about the level of powers that exist, and on whether we involve too many elected people in our local councils.

Too many decisions are made at a national level that can, and should more properly be made, at a local level. Any of the changes that have occurred in Irish local government, over the past twenty years, have been negative. Powers have either been taken away from local councils, and more particularly from elected councillors.

The removal of town councils in 2014 by the Fine Gael/Labour government, pushed through by then Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, was probably the most undemocratic decision in the history of our State.

There has never been any sincere attempt to bring about democratic reform of local government. We have seen several attempts of deck chair rearranging.

These changes have been instigated largely at the behest of senior civil servants at the Department of the Environment/Local Government, who zealously guarded the administrative aspect of local government while keeping any hint of improving local democracy underfoot.

The wrong arm of local government was dismissed in 2014. We should have kept town councils, expanded their geographical boundaries and decision-making powers, so that they would become District Councils, based on natural hinterlands.

What we need to be rid of is the County system of government. The 1899 Act, passed in the Westminster parliament, remains the main basis for local government in Ireland. The other jurisdictions where this legislation also applied – England, Scotland, Wales, even Northern Ireland have long since jettisoned county government. We should too.

Because the GAA organises itself on an inter county basis, has meant there has been a reluctance to address this necessary change. English cricket still clings to the myth of now disappeared counties. There is no reason why the GAA can’t do the same.

What we should have is a layer of regional government where, under suitable economies of scale, and where appropriate powers have been devolved from national government (in areas such as health and education) better accountability and improved public participation can be achieved.

It would be nice if this were to form what gets debated during the local election campaign. I wouldn’t be holding my breath though.

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


From top: Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes (centre), who is leaving politics, canvassing in the 2014 European Elections; Dan Boyle

There probably won’t be a general election this year. There would need to be some clarity on Brexit, along with a belief in Fianna Fáil that it can advance in some way. Neither are likely, but if they were to come to pass, an election could take place in September/October.

A decision to hold a general election will be informed by the definite holding of local and European elections in June. Mid term elections are usually not good news for a party in government. Voters are more likely to use these elections to give parties in government a good kicking.

The European elections are those in which independents and smaller parties can make hay. There are three independent MEPs currently representing Ireland, four if you include Brian Crowley (currently in exile from Fianna Fáil).

There is also a strong tradition of electing independents – TJ Maher, Pat Cox, Dana and Kathy Sinnott, all of whom sought to present themselves, in varying degrees, as something apart from traditional politics.

Similar voter volatility has benefited smaller parties from The Worker’s Party winning a seat in 1989; through Joe Higgins winning a seat for the Socialist Party; to the Greens electing two MEPs in successive elections (1994/99).

Sinn Féin made its big impact in 2014 winning three seats, although Mary Lou McDonald had earlier served as a single term MEP.

This time it is difficult to predict what might happen, there are so many variables at play. In the Dublin euro-constituency there is an additional fourth seat to be contested.

Two of the outgoing MEPs will not be standing again. These two, Brian Hayes and Nessa Childers had won the second and third seats on a margin of one third of one per cent, with Eamon Ryan narrowly missing out.

Lynn Boylan for Sinn Féin will likely be re-elected, albeit on a smaller vote. The other three seats could go anywhere.

Senator Neale Richmond is likely to seek selection for the seat held by Brian Hayes. He has received a great deal of media attention as a Brexit spokesperson, although he is unlikely to improve the vote Brian Hayes got last time, a vote that was barely enough then.

Conor Lenihan is seeking a nomination to be the Fianna Fáil candidate. He certainly has a profile, even if in Dublin the FF vote remains its weakest in the country.

These two, if and when selected, would be fighting it out with Ciarán Cuffe of The Greens, Alex White of Labour and Gary Gannon of the Social Democrats, for those final three seats.

The situation seems more clear cut in the Midlands/North West euro-constituency. Matt Carthy should be re-elected for Sinn Féin, although he may suffer from an impression that he may not serve a full term, as he much prefers the prospect of becoming a TD for Cavan/Monaghan.

Mairead McGuinness will I suspect top the poll. Only one of two current independent MEPs Marian Harkin and Luke Flanagan is likely to get elected, with Harkin being in the stronger position.

A dual threat exists for Flanagan – Fianna Fáil with the right candidate will be in the frame for a seat in the region where the party picks up its strongest vote.

Should he choose to run Peter Casey, with sufficient momentum from the presidential election, would amass enough votes to be elected, unfortunately.

In the Ireland South euro-constituency, now with an added fifth seat, Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly should be re-elected. Sinn Fein’s Liadh Ni Riada has had her name recognition enhanced after a far from successful presidential campaign.

Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheál Martin has given his imprimatur to Malcolm Byrne from Wexford. Malcolm and I worked together in the National Youth Council of Ireland. He has a capacity to be a very effective MEP.

What may hinder his prospects are the plans of outgoing MEP Brian Crowley, perhaps the greatest vote gatherer in Irish politics, on whether he will seek to defend the seat he holds. He is unlikely to be given a FF nomination having had the whip removed in 2014.

Even if he were to run as an independent candidate he would face uncomfortable questions on why he wants to extend his mandate, given that due to illness he has not attended a single session of the European Parliament since 2014.

Deirdre Clune‘s ability to retain a second Fine Gael will depend on how the party manages its vote. Labour doesn’t seem to have identified a strong candidate here. This opens the door for the Greens, with Grace O’Sullivan who looks set to add upon what had been a substantial vote in 2014.

These votes will not be replicated in a general election, but they will be analysed to see where the next slippage in our traditional voting patterns occur.

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


From top: Lough Meelagh County Roscommon on St. Stephens Day ; Dan Boyle

I remain an optimist about life and the World we live in. I don’t expect bad things to disappear, but I do expect they can be overcome.

It has been a god awful decade. A time when the individual became king. Where we replaced what we had considered greed with the more agreeable concept of realistic expectation. Where the notion of the ideal of a common good has been disparaged to near death.

The negative turns that have been taken won’t ever be completely reversed. Nor should they be. Part of the right/left societal shift at any historical point is corrective. The problem is where change goes beyond the corrective.

We are, and have been living, in such a period. A period in which global wealth (at least in how it is measured) has never been greater, nor has the distribution of that wealth been poorer.

A time where the planet we collectively share, has become an afterthought in our pursuit of what we have foolishly been sold as ‘happiness’.

A space where we selectively decide on what is ‘truth’, preferring to confirm our biases than accept that views other than our own may have greater validity.

A dark age, not yet our darkest hour, but many dawns still await us. Those dawns arrive when we realise we can properly critique the badness that stymies our progress.

And we can recognise that the goodness in what we have rejected, the neglected strengths that have made us who, and what, we are.

In this age of demagogues and demagoguery it has because de rigeur to assail social democratic societies and what they have represented.

It can’t be denied that the era of social democracy has ended with an air of smugness and complacency. It can be argued that there has been much to be smug about.

The twentieth century has been erroneously described as the American century. It should be more properly seen as the Social Democratic century.

As we celebrate the centenary of the partial franchise for women, we are tending to forget the more complete journeys that have been made.

The forty hour working week, paid vacations, maternity leave, largely universal education and health care. Add to this development of welfare safety nets, consumer rights and consideration of environmental wrongs. All advances made, and achieved, during the social democratic century.

Whether this was by the FDR administration, the Attlee government, or the Nordic approach, the intent and the application were largely the same.

These achievements were all the more telling because they were achieved against the competing absolutes of communism and capitalism (red raw in claw and tooth).

Where social democracy lost its way was in being too wedded to the industrial and the utilitarian.

All modern economic theories coalesce around the myth of bigger, faster, stronger, more, believing that all consequences that follow are beneficial. The environmental crises we are experiencing shows that that is evidently not the case.

Perhaps the greater failure of social democracy has been its belief that the greater good of the many, though not all, has been good enough.

We can do and must do better.

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



From top: Protestors in Skibbereen opposing plans for a plastics factory manufacturing polymer pellets in the town last February; Dan Boyle

When our family moved from Chicago to Cork, my Dad stayed there for a further five years. He worked as a merchant seaman on the Great Lakes. His intent to build up a nest egg.

During this period we would have see him for a few weeks in and around Christmas time.

At other times we would record cassette tapes we sent to the US/Canada to let him know we were thinking of him and missing him.

As a 10 year old I would have performed my party piece, which found it way onto one such cassette. It was the somewhat mawkish yet still somehow anthemic famine song, ‘Skibbereen’.

The open lines of the song continues to be evocative for me, precisely because of how it came to exist in my life.

“Oh Father dear I often hear you speak of Erin’s isle”

Several verses later while ranging from the near piteous to the near militant, the song ends with a rallying cry ‘Revenge for Skibbereen’.

I think of the song as a link in my relationship with my Dad. It has also given me something of an affinity with the town of Skibbereen.

The place that suffered the worst ravages of the Potato Famine has lot going for it now.

The gateway to the glories of West Cork, the town is surrounded by a necklace of incredibly beautiful coastal villages. Add to those locations the wonderful Lough Hyne, and you have a region that compares with any of the visually stunning parts of the World.

West Cork isn’t without the economic difficulties other regions experience. Despite many persistent obstacles, great efforts have been made to make Skibbereen more economically diverse.

The development of a globally rated local food culture has been part of that process. As has been the establishment The Ludgate Hub, named after a turn of the 20th century computing pioneer, Percy Ludgate, a Skibbereen native, who developed an analytical machine.

This Centre is attempting to provide a template for IT companies to exist and thrive in small towns in Ireland.

Into this mix someone somewhere has decided that Skibbereen needs an industrial component to its economic development.

Over the past year a proposal to construct a plastics factory in the town has been making its way through the planning system.

There has been practically no support for this factory in the town. It is felt it is in no way complementary, and is thought to be openly compromising, of the economic development that has been occurring there.

The opposition has turned into justified anger as planners in Cork County Council, and subsequently Bord Pleanala, have flexibly interpreted planning regulations so that the plastics company has not been obliged to provide an environmental impact statement, or seek an air pollution licence.

Last week Bord Pleanala chose to approve the application, ignoring the need for such safeguards. Tonight another in a series of well attended public meetings will be held in Skibbereen, to consider what further opposition will be made. Details here.

Time to add a few more verses to that song.

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

Pic via The Southern Star

US President Donald Trump (top) has ‘wisely has identified climate change mania as the communism of our time,’ writes Dan Boyle (above)

Over the past two months there have been a slew of reports informing us of the ecological crisis we supposedly collectively face.

For climate change deniers, and the more cynical among us, these reports represent a conspiracy to eke out an ever more demanding amount of tax from an already overburdened populace.

First to emerge in the scare and pay fraud were the mitherings of the International Panel on Climate Change. A shadowy United Nations front which shamefully has used accumulated scientific data to claim that as a planet we have only 12 years to ensure that the growth in global temperatures does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. Otherwise as a planet we are locked into the unavoidable consequences of climate change.

The second attempt to undermine life as we know it, were the mumblings of the World Wildlife Fund suggesting that 60% of animal life has been diminished since 1970. What a pity we couldn’t have eaten them all.

The misery guts of the World Meteorological Organisation then sought to frighten us by saying that carbon emissions on having passed 400 parts per million in 2015 were now 405 parts per million in 2017. What’s 5 parts per million between friends? And that’s while ignoring the increase in methane and nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases.

Then we have the attempt of the US Deep State to undermine the legitimately elected President of the country, the stable genius that is Donald J. Trump. This particular work of fiction claims that US economy in 2100 will be 10% less in value than it is today because of climate change.

With this level of deceit it is reassuring to realise that the religious right opposition to the lies and deceit of the climate change demonology still holds sway.

We should be grateful that President Trump has wisely and successfully identified climate change mania as the communism of our time.

This Trump Effect is recognised by yet another rainforest diminishing report, this time by the Dublin based, pretentiously named Institute of International and European Affairs.

While not its intention, this report shows the Trump strategy on climate change to be brilliant.

Firstly it creates a competing, alternative truth to the hysteria of climate change. Secondly it decries the amount of public money being spent on compiling useless data on the concentration of this or that gas in the atmosphere. It goes on to suggest that it creates a welfare system for scientists.

Thirdly it seeks to hide or block access to this useless data, lest its importance or context be misunderstood.

The holding of the latest iteration of the climate change circus #COP24 in Katowice, Poland is a masterpiece of contrived subtext as well as context.

Sited at the heart of the country’s coal reserves, what better celebration could there be of the fossil fuel that has helped bring real prosperity to those of us living in the developed World.

In Ireland we should also acknowledge the government of a country, that has been even more successful than ours, in refusing to comply with European Union requirements to reduce carbon emissions.

We need to be vigilant to the danger that climate change fraud places on our way of life. We need to prevent its attempt to place prohibitions on life, and on business (as usual), as we have known it.

Let us embrace the motto for the Trump Effect – Burn Baby Burn.

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

Dr Swift?

Pics: Getty.

From top: Tents used by the homeless in downtown Los Angles; Dan Boyle

Last week I found myself in Los Angeles. It was a nice break, although I was more there as support for a friend who was engaged in a ‘project’.

It was those circumstances that brought me there. That and an ongoing curiosity on whether my prejudices of LA held any water.

Disappointingly they did. LA is every bit of every cliché of the worst of urban planning. A sprawl utterly in thrall to the motor car. There are few buildings of any architectural interest or of great antiquity.

Looping and overlapping roads that once were looked upon with wonder, now look pretty silly. Infrastructure constructed over fifty years ago, shows little sign of being replaced.

The public transport system seems to also reflect this. It is relatively inexpensive but has poor connectivity. We took a 45 minute bus ride from our hotel, straight into Compton, to connect with the Metro.

This had one advantage of getting a better feel for the city. It is hugely segregated with economic disadvantage merging with ethnic status.

There is an army of homeless there. At many street corners individuals can be seen perched on park benches next to purloined shopping trolleys filled with plastic bags containing the worth of their lives.

In the older part of the once industrial part of the city centre, there exists a fairly large tent city. This same area is experiencing some gentrification and an influx of new technology businesses, for whom I suspect, the inhabitants of tent city are something of an inconvenience.

You also become struck by how disproportionate homelessness is among minority groups. A vivid image, that will remain with me, is that of an enormous black man at a Metro station, who along with carrying his life belongings, was also carrying what seemed to be his body weight in plastic bottles. Trying to monetise what he could how he could.

Internally I thought not only ‘there for the grace’ but on how this man seemed to have a better work ethic than I ever could have.

I’m not trying to portray the place as being more dystopian than utopian, nor am suggesting its social problems are unique to it. What I am challenging is the idea of a place that styles itself as a ‘City of Angels’ is anything but.

Its acknowledged tourist meccas also seem to give a hollow glow these days. The golden age being celebrated, is recent in its existence, but now seems to lack depth.

The relationship with food is especially horrible. Practically every street junction has a fast food restaurant, invariably drive in. I constantly struggle with my own weight. In the US I dread to think what I size I would become.

Would I go back there? Possibly. A second visit would be informed by doing things differently. I didn’t grace many pleasure spots and would engage in more guilty pleasures.

I would still want to come home. To Cork, of course.

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

Top pic: Associated Press

From top: The curlew population in Ireland has been diminished by 96%; Dan Boyle

It’s getting more and more difficult to find a decent environmental scare story. It’s hard to overcome that great wall of indifference, (largely made up, sadly, of decision makers) who instinctively feel that things are not so bad and if they become worse that will be then.

The increasing number of extreme weather events is shaking some out of their torpor. The intensity of the Californian wildfires may be leading some officials to declare that ‘abnormal is the new normal’, others choose to see it as a failure of forest management.

Actual evidence of damage being caused by climate change continues to be ignored because it largely lacks a visual manifestation.

An example of this would be the publication of a recent report showing a decrease of 60% in animal populations in an under fifty year period since 1970.

The indifferent may continue to sway away from statistics like this, thinking we’ve survived the passing of the Dodo and its ilk, what’s another few species?

Slowly the realisation may dawn that we are an animal species. There for the grace of whatever divine presence, that may or may not exist, go us.

Even the most selfish of us should recognise the extinction of any species as a series of canary in the coal mine moments for the human race on this planet. And yes the coal mine reference is deliberate.

We all are component parts of a wider ecosystem. The disappearing parts of that means the rest of us have to work that bit harder. It could be that an extinct species is responsible for something that can’t exist after them. Once gone it may never return.

Yaboo sucks deniers may chorus, in ways that makes me feel that the wrong parts of particular animal populations are being sustained.

Like Climate Change itself, the scale of what’s happening discourages many to do anything. As with general environmental action, it’s the local where effect starts to take place.

Ireland’s record on species protection is nothing to write home about. The Curlew population has been diminished by 96%. The government’s response to this has been to pass a Heritage Bill that allows hedge cutting during breeding periods, a new form of contraceptive for our breeding birds.

The current mania for dredging our rivers in the middle of spawning season is another form of genius.

This weekend a number of events (see below) are happening hoping to improve awareness of species extinction. The main event will be held in Dublin at 2pm outside the Dead Zoo (the Natural History Museum). Other events will be held in Cork (outside of its GPO) and Galway (alongside Salthill promenade).

Awareness is only part of the story. It’s anger that needs to be harnessed. In a focussed and direct way. The lack of appropriate political action is creating growing reserves of anger among environmentalists.

We will, I feel, see growing civil disobedience among environmentalists, weary at the lack of any substantial change on these issues. It’s a change of approach that should be welcomed.

Much better than playing at being dead.

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

Pic: BBC Wildlife


From top: Tobercurry Train Station, County Sligo in the 1950s and the site as it is today; Dan Boyle

I should have taken a picture but I was driving on a busy road, and there was no place to pull in.

Having just driven past Tobercurry, I caught a glimpse of a disused rail line. It was part of the Western Rail corridor that had once connected Sligo with Galway.

It was only a glimpse but the rail and sleepers didn’t seem to be in too bad a nick. It was very overgrown. In the picture were two ponies claiming grazing rights from the mechanised horse that had superseded their ancestors as the main means of transport.

Once I had gotten out of my own mechanised pony, I went to find out what had happened to Tobercurry and its status as a railway town.

I travel frequently in North West regularly passing through Tobercurry. I would be familiar with the short bypass road that ensures that the passing through is as limited as possible

I was saddened to learn that the construction of this road brought about the demolition of the train station and its ancillary buildings.

While learning this information I also came across a press release from 2003 calling for the re-introduction of the Western Rail corridor. It came from then Fine Gael spokesperson on Transport, Denis Naughten.

Too many ironies for me to handle.

Despite that I don’t see political inconsistency or resultant hypocrisy as being the main problem here. Who I consider most guilty of failing to redevelop Irish railways is Irish Rail.

Of course there is political responsibility in failing to provide a sufficient public transport subvention, or anything like an adequate capital budget.

What angers me about Irish Rail is that it doesn’t even try to be an advocate for an expanded rail service.

Throughout its history it has shamelessly overseen the closure of dozens of rail lines throughout the country, never questioning the Department of Transport’s aping of Britain’s Beeching Report.

The handful of lines that have been restored – Limerick/Galway; Cork/Midleton and the repurposing of the Harcourt Street line, have happened despite and not because of Irish Rail.

Even with low hanging fruit like seeking the reopening of the Navan line, an obvious safety valve for the commuter problems of Dublin, the silence of Irish Rail is sadly all too typical.

This inertia has created a vacuum that unused rail lines will remain perpetually unused. Into this void has come the reinvention of discontinued rail lines as greenways.

As a concept it has inherent logic. In practice, when produced, they are increasingly becoming important pieces of social infrastructure.

In Cork the former Cork Passage railway has been magnificently reimagined. The Great Western Greenway in Mayo was encouraged and supported while the Greens were in government. The Waterford/Dungarvan greenway has taken the spec to a new level.

The problem is that this type of planning must eventually reach saturation point, bringing about diminishing returns.

What’s worse is that it brings about lazy thinking that greenways should always be disused rail lines, and that all such unused lines should become greenways.

Along with others I’ve made a submission that a proposed greenway from Youghal to Midleton should not replace the existing rail line. Cork County Council laughably suggests that a greenway ‘futureproofs’ a railway there.

I’m not confident that this mindset can be challenged. If it can, or when it does, we then might have an Irish Rail that seeks to expand its network, and not the moribund vehicle of today whose summit of ambition is to decommissions much of the network it has for the sake of an easy life.

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

Pics: SligoGreenaway

From top: Peter Casey at Dublin Castle last Saturday; Dan Boyle.

I wouldn’t say that the 342,727 voters who indicated support for Peter Casey in our presidential election are racists, but I suspect that many who have tendencies to be racist did vote for him.

There were many factors that contributed to a tenfold increase in his support over a period of one week.

One was the assumption, fuelled by opinion polls, that Michael D. Higgins would be easily elected. While always a dangerous assumption, this seemed to free many voters into making a statement; or statements, to give a collective two fingers to the political establishment.

The second factor is that like Dáil by-elections, in presidential elections most votes gravitate towards the successful candidate and then towards the most viable challenger.

My highest vote (16%) was achieved in a by election. I estimate I got at least half those votes by being seen as the most viable ‘protest’ candidate.

However the third factor is political serendipity – being at the right place at the right time saying a perceived ‘right’ thing.

Undoubtedly Peter Casey touched a nerve. In doing so he caused an extraordinarily large number of voters to change their opinions over a blink of an eye time span.

This is worrying that so many people could at the drop of a hat, express support for a candidate they did not know, and whose wider policy platform was so nebulously incoherent.

The most publicly expressed reason why the new found Casey supporters became attracted to him was because, as they said, he said things they often are afraid to say themselves.

While politicians are regularly castigated for resorting to cliche, this statement meant to be evocative of an electorate not being listened to, is among the worst of all political cliches.

When it is said that people are afraid to say things, it means they feel they are being deprived to say things that are wrong. Very wrong. What is being sought is the right to be intolerant.

For many in the electorate, or at least those who bothered to vote, Casey has been a mischievous cipher to somehow communicate the supposedly desirous state of being politically incorrect.

PC is not a legal code. It’s meant to be about positive ways in how we consider each other, how we speak about and refer to each other. It is open to exaggeration and thus likely ridicule, but it remains a better alternative to that of being nasty and ignorant towards each other.

I wouldn’t be of the school of thought that would want things not to be said. I think it is more rewarding when the distasteful gets said, once it is immediately reacted to and challenged.

While writing this I have been attending an event in Cork. Speaking there was a young traveller woman, an artist. She pointed out she was the only traveller in the room among a crowd of people, who after events of past weeks she would assume one in five of those sat there could not recognise her for who and what she was. Would that Peter Casey could speak with such assured eloquence.

There is a cozy comfort in how we form our opinions of others through generalisations, myths and common misconceptions. Instinct allows us to avoid needing to think or to have to inform ourselves.

This might seem a bit too PC for some. To such people I say FU. That might give some sense of how those we choose not to understand, or engage with, feel.

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


From top: The stoning scene in ‘Monty Python’s The Life of Brian’; Dan Boyle

Instead of my usual contribution I submit instead my Seanad speech on the Blasphemy section of the now Defamation Act. I do so to illustrate how ludicrous the offence of Blasphemy is, and why it imperative that it be removed from the Irish Constitution in tomorrow’s referendum.

Speech on Final Stage of Defamation Bill. Section on Blasphemy. July 9th 2009

Senator Dan Boyle: “The offence of blasphemy is archaic. It is borne out of a jurisprudence which saw the development of events in an era where church and State were seen as a single entity. It is an offence that should be made obsolete and has been made so in other jurisdictions. It cannot be confused with the right of people to believe and to have that right respected.

The difficulty in continuing to legislate in regard to an offence of blasphemy is that it is open to all sorts of reinterpretations and may be used for purposes that might not be the reasons for which those with strong religious beliefs would wish to see such an offence enshrined in legislation.

The concept of blasphemy was brilliantly satirised in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)” where a Pharisee was unintentionally stoned to death for repeatedly, although unwittingly, saying the word “Jehovah”.

Much of the debate on this issue is a political equivalent of repeatedly saying the word “Jehovah”. It is something we need to get out of our political system as soon possible.

I accept this Bill is a development of something that is included Bunreacht na hÉireann and that subsequently will be included in legislation.

The advice of the Attorney General is that because of the amending of the 1961 Act, it is necessary to have a clear offence in this legislation as regards the current provision in the Constitution.

Therefore, such provision is necessary in this legislation, although ultimately and in the short term the question of having such provision in the Constitution must be addressed.

As a member of the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, of which [Fine Gael] Senator [Eugene] Regan is also a member, I accepted the committee’s findings in this respect.

The Minister [then Minister for Justice, Fianna Fáil’s Dermot Ahern] pointed out that in the short term the committee recommended that the change does not occur, but in the medium and long term its members are of one mind that it must occur. It is also the view of the committee that legislation of any form in regard to this offence cannot work. It would be inoperable.

Not only did we see that in regard to how the offence has been defined in this jurisdiction and how it has been subsequently brought before our courts, but Senator Regan has quoted the City of Westminster case in England, and other legal advice given to the Oireachtas committee included how other blasphemy laws, for instance those in Austria, have not been seen to work. On that ground, we need to examine how we address this issue in the medium term.

The original amendment, which more strongly defined the offence and offered no defence on any grounds, was not an amendment I could or would support.

The subsequent amendment that outlines grounds of literary, artistic, scientific, political or academic defence makes a nonsense of the offence but it is an offence that is a nonsense.

I am prepared to accept that particular amendment nullifies the existence of blasphemy even though it is codified in our system.

To move forward from here, we need to address the wider issue. This measure is nothing but a legalistic repair job in regard to a short term political expedient. We need to examine the wider constitutional issue.”

Senator Ivana Bacik: “Is that a Government commitment to introduce a referendum on this issue?”

An Cathaoirleach: “The Senator is not allowed to interrupt.”

Senator Dan Boyle: “I am giving my view on these amendments and how I would like to progress this issue.”

Senator Dominic Hannigan: “Will the Senator insert that in a revised programme for Government?”

An Cathaoirleach: “No interruptions, please.”

Senator Dan Boyle: “Members can take that whatever way they like. Ultimately, while I accept the reasons this is being done in this way, the effect of it will be that we will codify an offence that most people do not believe in on grounds that people will not be able to bring actions and even if they were able to do so, it is unlikely there would be prosecutions on foot of such actions.

That makes a nonsense of our process of defining laws. I will be supporting the amendments. I will also be supporting the Bill, but I put down a clear marker that for me and my party this is not an issue that we can avoid and it must be dealt with in the medium term.”

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