Author Archives: Dan Boyle


From top: Voting in the last General Election in 2016 at St Joseph’s National School, Navan Road, Dublin; Dan Boyle

One of the colourful phrases made by Brian Lenihan Senior, the perhaps unwitting wing man of the Haughey era, was his opposition to what he called ‘the futility of consistency’.

By his logic to be consistently consistent was to be closed to the need to be adaptable, to be flexible, to be pragmatic. To him, the essential tools of the modern politician.

To others it highlighted the vacuousness of his and his party’s philosophical approach to politics.

That of the catch all political party unencumbered with principles, free to move with prevailing winds, seeking the support of most whose collective opinion they sought to reflect, whilst seeking to cause the least offence (or alienation) to others.

Principle should be immutable. Almost. There has to be some room for Damascene conversion.

Strongly held, lifelong principles, shouldn’t be easily jettisonned. When they are it is for the holder of such principles to realise that they are wrongly held, that they may lack a sufficient basis in reality, or if ever applied they may result in unintended consequences.

Policies should always be adaptable. They are dependent on resources and conditions. They are prioritised against other policies. They have to be timetabled in terms of their implementation.

Prioritisation and implementation depends on negotiation. This occurs within political movements, about the political system, and should most importantly exist among the general public.

Strategy is the third part of this political Trinity. It is the means to the ends. The ends being implementing policies to widest possible degree in the quickest possible time.

This can be done through creating awareness, informing public debate, swelling a groundswell of concern leading to calls for action. This is more effectively done by campaigning organisations than it can be by political parties.

Those, individually and collectively, who seek and attain public office comprise themselves by doing so. In democratic societies it is necessary that they do.

In the two and half thousand years of modern democracy we have evolved far too slowly. We have yet to see one hundred years of universal sufferage, and that only in limited parts of the World.

Along with the right to choose, the right to be given an adequate choice should also exist. Again this is limited to far few places on the Planet.

Maintaining power, with the ability to make most decisions on 50% of the vote, remains a perverse Interpretation of what democracy should be about.

The more we weight majorities, and the greater use we make of such mechanisms, the more engagement with others has to be entered into. Surely the essence of democracy.

These are the principles that matter. What matters is the ability to engage the maximum number of people, making as many decisions as possible, in the most informed way, with the widest availability of choice, to the deepest degree of agreement.

By seeking to eliminate winner takes all democracy, we begin to question our hard core beliefs. We increase the need to co-operate with others, especially with those with whom we agree with least.

Politics that is more diverse is also more competitive. More competition on ideas places more threats upon the existence of traditional all things to all people political parties.

How does this lead on from Brian Lenihan Senior’s glib pronouncement? Let’s say he was half right but in the wrong way.

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

Dan Boyle

I am sceptical about any Ism, religious or political. I don’t believe that there exists a collective system of belief, that somehow encapsulates an analysis of how we should behave in any given circumstance.

There is no cohesive collection of values, held by anyone, that can guarantee happiness.

At best, in the marketplace of ideas, Isms compete with each other. They test their most valued tenets through the lens of public engagement.

Success is sometimes a short term popularity. Real success is when tested ideas become established values, especially among the secular or the apolitical.

Where Isms are least successful is when they define themselves by what, or who, they are not.

Some Isms, those whose confidence seems to depend on it, exist by defining a mortal enemy, a polar opposite.

Where the defining energy of any movement is not about what you are but what you are not, not about what you are for but what you are against, any ability to persuade has already been lost.

The undermining of any movement occurs when negative traits dominate its thoughts and actions.

With religions the fault lines are when headline teachings, such as encouraging people to be kind and generous to each other, get sidelined by more obscure positions on dogma, such as proscribing sexual expression. Often hypocritically.

With political movements it occurs when popular policies get pursued less vigourlessly, because adherents over concentrate on strategy at the expense of implementation.

For sex with religion read prospective participation in government with politics.

Apparently it isn’t what you do, it’s who you decide to do it with.

Of such Augustinian philosophical contortions have many, invariably left wing, political movements foundered.

The price of losing the precious, ephemeral, quality of political purity matters more to some than having an ability to achieve change.

But purity may not be as pure as it is seems. What is displayed more often is a rigidity of opinion that reveals an incapacity to work with others.

Being rigid. Being prepared to preclude in advance those who need to be persuaded, hardly represents a strategy. Certainly not any effective one.

When urgency demands that the need to persuade be most immediate, refusal to engage is hardly principled. At best it is bloody minded. At worst it is horribly self indulgent.

Being holier than thou can sometimes be a successful political tactic. That doesn’t make it a valid one. Demonisation of others, can help achieve distinctiveness. But it is, ultimately, a hollow exercise in deceit.

Notoriety fades. Popularity mutates. Stand offishness creates it own sense of unfulfilled expectation.

Those who cheerlead from the sidelines tend to be the most faithless of suitors. When fickle enablers are gone, those who remain still need to be convinced.

That may be the only, actual, article of faith.

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: Denis Minihane

From top: Minister for Finance Paschal O’Donohue (left) and Department of Finance Chief Economist John McCarthy outlining the Stability Programme, which sets out revised macroeconomic and fiscal forecasts for the period 2019-2023; Dan Boyle

I’ve been mulling over a few figures. Ireland’s Gross Domestic Product has a value of around €300 billion. General government expenditure is little more than a quarter of our GDP. Total taxes collected are at a similar level, as we are balancing budgets.

Our general expenditure and overall taxation figures are the lowest among the OECD group of countries.

Much of our political debate centres around how money gets spent, often justifiably. Where we have a near absence of debate is on the efficacy or the efficiency of our taxation system.

Of course there are no shortage of all taxation is theft nuts. Nor those who see the proposal of any new measure as an assault on some exaggerated liberty.

What we have never properly have had is a debate on the advantages/disadvantages of high/low tax/spend policies.

For me public services are always better in high tax and spend countries. Conversely economic inequality is always worse in low tax/spend countries.

In Ireland we seem to want it both ways. We admire the sensibilities of the Nordic countries yet practice the fiscal aloofness of the US and the UK.

This is something we should be confronting before the start of the next (negative) economic cycle.

Not only are we on the wrong side of the tax and spend debate, we are to continuing not to learn the biggest lesson from 2008 the need to widen the tax base.

More than a decade on from then we remain over dependent on particular taxes that are hugely exposed in the event of an economic downturn.

We should have a larger basket of taxation measures. The more taxation measures that are in place, and the wider their application, the better the economy would be able to withstand any putative collapse.

Aside from what we tax and how we tax, is truly unasked question – from where do we tax?

Ireland’s city and county councils spend about €5billion every year. While this might sound an impressive amount of money, it really isn’t.

As proportion of our GDP our local government spending is miniscule, putting Ireland again at the unacceptable end of international comparisons.

When compared to national government spending (itself poor by international standards) our local government spending is especially lamentable.

Contrast Ireland with Denmark. There, by a factor of almost two to one, most public expenditure occurs (and taxation is collected) through local rather than national government.

Denmark is a country that is smaller in size but is comparable in population to Ireland. There is no reason that what is done there can also be done here.

So the questions we should be addressing are, firstly, can we as a country ever have the maturity to accept that we cannot have high quality public services with low levels of taxation?

Secondly, can we increase the spread of taxes, reducing reliance on particular taxes, to better protect public spending in the event of a downturn?

Finally when will we realise that taxes collected (and spent) locally gives us a bigger bang for our euro?

We obsess too much on headline rates rarely considering effective tax rates (which are rarely that effective).

Smarter taxes would be better taxes. Never the most popular thing to say. Never enough to convince those for whom tax will always be a four letter word.

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

Sam Boal/RollingNews


From top: Plans to demolish buildings in North Main Street, the medieval heart of Cork city, have caused outrage; Dan Boyle

I can’t say I didn’t know what I was getting into. I’m not lacking for things to do, or issues to respond to. A re-baptism of some heat, if not exactly fire.

My electoral area contains the island City Centre. At its core is the historic spine of the city. Joined on the northside by Shandon Street, led out on the southside by Barrack Street.

In between are North and South Main Street. Once the beating heart of a proud city, years of neglect have reduced the streets to a shabby shell.

North Main Street had carried a particular pre-eminence. The city faced northwards. The North Gate its imposing portal. Here stood Skiddy’s Castle. A seventeenth century stone carving of the City Coat of Arms, its only remnant.

Here is the birthplace of Terence McSwiney, the commemoration of whose death we are meant to be marking in 2020. The plaque identifying the house where he was born, is now semi obscured by a defunct neon sign.

Where North Main Street begins, and South Main Street ends, there are a number of Eighteenth century buildings. Each has had various stages of uses. One through embossed lettering on its frontage, continues to boast its once much loved status as Hosford’s Bakery.

Like much of North Main Street these buildings, and the streetscape they compose, have been listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

However there has been no parallel listing of these buildings as protected structures in the Cork City Development Plan.

In December 2015 these four buildings were placed on Cork City’s Derelict Sites Register. Joining them was a large site further up North Main Street which housed a business known as the Munster Furniture Centre.

Unfortunately that business would soon become the victim of a curious fire that would raze its premises to the ground.

Also joining these properties on the register on that same day in December 2015, were two further buildings on Barrack Street. All these properties have/had the same beneficial owners.

Not a penny of the Derelict Sites Levy due to Cork City Council, for these properties, has been paid since.

Last week a partial collapse occurred in one of the buildings. The owners of the building, who prior to this had shown complete indifference towards maintaining them, moved with great alacrity to commission an engineer’s report suggesting demolition.

Soon a demolition company were on site. The expectation being that the City Council would pay for the demolition work, creating a newly cleared site that would be infinitely more commercially valuable.

The narrative being created of entrepreneurial souls who had taken a punt, at the wrong time, is utter bollocks.

Greed has been the only motivator throughout this saga. Negligence and contempt of the City we love, the only tools that have been operated by these sleeveens.

In a dramatic change of tack Cork City Council has been facing down these ingrates. By making it clear that no public money would be used to demolish these buildings, we may have crossed The Rubicon (or at least the North Channel of The Lee) in how we deal with dereliction in Cork.

Let’s be having more of it.

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

Pic: twitter

Previously: Get Medieval

From top: Minister of Communications, Climate Action & Environment Richard Bruton addresses a  ‘town hall’ meeting last week in UCC to promote the government’s Climate Action Plan; Dan Boyle

I wasn’t going to go but decided to anyway. It was billed as a ‘town hall’ meeting but was anything but.

An opportunity for the government to present its green credentials, to sell their plan.

And it was going well, at first. Richard Bruton and Simon Coveney are people I get on well with. I admire their political skills. They were even sounding plausible until the inconsistencies they were juggling began to be exposed.

The first glaring error was the attempt to stage manage the meeting from the offset. Attendance at the meeting was by invitation. Many who should have been invited weren’t, some by oversight, others for the sake of having a quieter night.

Most of those from the environmental sector were kept in the dark about the event happening, where it was going to happen, or what the purpose if it was.

The local media were told to leave once the set piece speeches were made.

On the stage with the Ministers were representatives of State agencies. There to amplify the government’s supposed wonderfulness, but never to critique it.

There to placate us were representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, and because someone thought the organisation had some climate emergency credibility – Teagasc!

Within the hall were environmental activists who, long before this, should have been involved in this process since its inception.

All this before an argument was made. When asked how the government could be arguing for a National Development Plan, dripping with new roads projects, each one of which will add enormously to the country’s carbon load, could be compatible with a climate action plan, I was told it just could.

Direct denial was one thing. Making claims that weren’t and couldn’t be true another. We were told that the NDP prioritises public transport over new roads by a factor of two to one. It doesn’t.

The most depressing part of the evening was that more than half of the questions were from farmers engaging in special pleading, that they were already doing all they could be doing on climate change.

Repeated by these pleaders was the hoary, supposed fact that in Ireland we produce beef in a far more sustainable way than elsewhere in the World. As if that mattered in any way at all.

The comparison isn’t about the different methods or effects in raising cattle. It’s about the extent that greenhouses gases are being created by too many cattle being bred, wherever such cattle are being bred.

The fact that these questions were being asked in the way they were being asked, highlights the major difficulty Fine Gael faces when it comes to being seen as credible in relation to the climate emergency.

Since coming into government in 2011, Fine Gael has overseen an expontential increase in Irish emissions. Fuelled by policies that are antithetical to reducing carbon risk.

Having failed to achieved credibility to date, it’s hard to see how Fine Gael can do so now, especially when to do so would mean to challenge the core of its political support.

That I can’t see happening.

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: merrionstreet

From top: Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton (centre), Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Minister for Finance Paschal Donoho (right) at TU Dublin Grangegorman, to launch the government’s Action Plan to Tackle Climate Breakdown last week; Dan Boyle

A government which has overseen year on year increases in this country’s carbon levels since 2011, wants to be taken seriously as a Climate Emergency champions. Excuse me while I shoot a cynical glance in its direction.

We need a coming together of political actors to work to meet the challenge of the Climate Emergency.

While this plan represents the best attempt yet from a government still too wed to the concept of a market economy that can, and it believes will, solve all society’s ills; it continues to show, negatively, a government that either doesn’t or doesn’t want to get it.

There are certainly targets in this plan, which if reached, would make for very impressive achievements. The problem is that this government have never shown any previous inclination to move in this direction, often and continuing to frustate necessary actions from happening.

The plan is short of, and deliberately vague, on the details required to achieve these targets.

Some areas of necessary policy areas, such as dealing with the agricultural sector, are totally avoided in this report.

Agriculture is responsible for a huge proportion of Ireland’s carbon emissions. To produce a plan of this nature without any proposal to reduce the size of the national herd, is politically pandering of the worst kind.

Sins of omissions are one thing, muddled thinking another. This government’s thinking on transport in this plan seems particularly muddled.

The bias on transport spending still weighs far too heavily towards new roads projects. It is the ultimate irony that mainstream political thinking in Ireland clings to the belief that capital/infrastructural spending that is concrete reliant, and thus carbon emission increasing, represents the only hope for continued economic prosperity.

The National Development Plan, is as much a political manifesto as it is an economic strategy

Replacing an environmental bad with another environmental bad hardly represents progress.

The ‘debate’ about electric cars typifies this.

If every fossil fuel car gets replaced with an electric model, such a change will do nothing to tackle traffic gridlock. The electricity required to charge a replacement fleet of cars, will still to some extent into the immediate near future, require the burning of fossil fuels . to generate that electricity.

The issue isn’t really car type. It isn’t even car ownership. The real issue is that of car usage. What has probably been the most personally liberating invention of the twentieth century, has become the noose that chokes the life out of our towns and cities.

Any government that is serious about tackling the climate emergency would need to be investing massively and immediately in public transport.

Especially outside of the Dublin region. There is little in this plan that has given any indication of that.

The aftermath of publishing this plan has seen Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil revert to type, in squabbling over which road project the other would be prepared to jettison in order to appear more Green.

The implication being that cancelling any road project would be an act of political madness. Only when new road projects become the exception rather than the headline of transport plans, will it be seen that the Climate Emergency is being taken seriously.

We will still need to spend money on roads, but the emphasis should be almost entirely on repairing the existing road network.

The mania that has seen more and road projects being developed, has also led to existing roads being repaired less frequently while often to a poorer standard.

To change minds this government first needs to change its mindset.

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 left: Dan Boyle, Grace O’Sullivan MEP and Green Part Leader Eamon Ryan

I would be lying if I said I saw it coming. I was confident there would be an upward trajectory in the number of votes we would win, and with that the prospect of gaining some additional seats.

The mood at the doors was relaxed and friendly. Negative responses were more about indifference than anger.

As a party we had approached these elections with a better sense of strategic purpose and organisational focus. With each election we distance ourselves further from the enthusiastic amateurism that use to characterise Green election campaigns.

The mood music was helpful. The concentration on the words of the now totemic figures of Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough, were being communicated to more people through a less sneering media.

The results astounded us as much as anyone.

More than 200,000 Green votes were won across the island of Ireland in the European elections. 11.4% of the Euro vote in the Republic, nearly 50% higher than the previous Green peak of 7.9% from 1994.

Two MEPs elected and almost a clean sweep of three, after the phenomenal campaign of Saoirse McHugh.

The average vote of Green local election candidates was in double digit percentages. The final tally of local election seats more than quadrupled the previously held number of seats the party held.

This, in turn, was over 30 more local authority seats than the previous peak achieved (18 seats in 2004). The biggest increase in seats of any Irish political party, almost by a factor of two, in 2019.

Was it a wave? Was it a ripple? Was it a rip tide? Whatever force of current it was, it represented the greatest Green political advance in the 37 year of the party in Ireland.

There have been other Green breakthroughs but never of this scale. We need to celebrate the victory while being wary of the expectation it has created.

We should take credit for the better organisation and stronger effort. We should also give a nod towards more favourable media coverage.

If we are totally honest with ourselves, we need to admit that there is also a touch of political favour of the day about the recent election.

The challenge for The Greens is to consolidate these advances. We are now being set up to fail, communists to those on the right; sellouts to those on the left.

We need to work even harder now to justify the renewed trust that has been placed in us.

Part of this consolidation should be to recognise that the right/left axis is no longer relevant to modern democratic policies.

The real cleavage is between progressives and reactionaries. Reactionaries exist as much on the traditional left as they do on the traditional right.

The political tides will continue to ebb and flow, but they will do so on a shifting platform of ideas and policies, rather than set, ingrained traditional political philosophies.

The present is Green. The future may not be. It won’t be if we continue to practice politics as usual.

The problems we face as a planet are so huge that we need to work with whoever, however, to achieve the desired results.

The Greens being different can make a difference. But only if we can make it different. This time.

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: CorkGreens

Top: Local Election candidate Dan Boyle (second left) canvassing in Douglas, Cork this week with Green Party colleagues.

Tomorrow is a day I’ve been working towards for the past six months. It is my fifteenth election.

While I’m experiencing the usual feelings of uncertainity, married with a somewhat obsessive need to do more, this is an election campaign that seems different.

Reactions on the doors have been more friendly. Angry responses have been fewer, and more about disillusionment with politics in general.

I’ve known what it is like to win. I’ve known what it’s like to lose, when I hoped I could win. For the most part I have contested elections as part of a wider and longer process.

I have tried to show that the values and ideas I hold, values and ideas I hold with others, could have a better application; a better way of doing things; achieving better results.

I have chosen to do so from a less traditional, less prominent place.

Politics has been a huge part of my life, but it has not been my life itself. It has dominated, affected me too personally too often, but there are more important aspects of my life involving my family, in particular, that I hold more dearly.

As precarious as politics can be, there are easier ways to navigate its often choppy waters. Who we choose to associate with, how we choose to act and what we choose to say, are the main detriments of political ‘success’.

Conventional wisdom is that you should choose to associate with those who have, or are near power. Once associated you should keep your head down. Do nothing that will rock the boat. Say or do nothing that hinders career prospects.

Not my choices, because of which my political journey has been more rollercoaster-like than it otherwise might have been.

I don’t regret any of it, even if there many things I wish I had approached differently.

What sustains me with these interests? What encourages to keep going?

Watching my colleague Saoirse McHugh perform so brilliantly in an European Elections television debate onTuesday night, has helped crystalise those questions for me.

I also have a daughter named Saoirse. They are both around the same age, half that of my own. I am reassured that the path I have followed will be travelled by others, certainly more assuredly.

I have seen myself as a pragmatist in politics. I have been involved in compromise in attempts to achieve incremental change. These are important political tools but they are, and should remain, secondary tools.

Passion should be the prime motivator in politics. Saoirse McHugh is showing that in spades. Her performance has bolstered my confidence and has hardened my resolve.

At a time when the very idea of a future for our planet is being compromised, never has this passion been so needed.

An increase in public concern surrounding our climate emergency may see more Green representatives being elected.

Hopefully so. However, even if raised expectations cannot be met, the Greens as a political party will have benefited enormously from this election campaign.

The performance of Saoirse McHugh is helping the party renew its soul. Collectively we will face future challenges more convinced we are pursuing the right approach. Our confidence re-established that we can succeed.

I’m more than happy to stand behind a new generation of torchbearers. Their energy giving more of us renewed energy. Their passion helping us to remember the commitment that sometimes we have misplaced.

I am honoured to continue to be a part of this process. I would be privileged to serve in whatever way the public decides.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and is standing in the Local Elections for the party in Cork tomorrow. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic via Dan

Wednesday: ‘Go On Dancing With The Stars If You Want The Attention’

From top: Washington Street, Cork as it would appear under plans for a Luas-style rail system contained in the Cork Transport Strategy; Dan Boyle

So we are to have a Cork Luas (CLUAS), or maybe not. Another launch of a big spending plan spread out over a significant time span, by a government that seems intent to be the cast of the latest remake of ‘Brewster’s Billions’.

Another spin-dominated presentation that is as much about business as usual, than it is about any Brave New World of transportation.

The reasons to be cynical? This plan, despite its PR gloss, is made from the same template of all previous plans that have preceded it.

The biggest tranche of spending will continue to go to the construction of new roads, with payments front-loaded ahead of any public transport options.

The shining bauble of a CLUAS system is presented with a number of caveats. Much will depend, we are told, on whether hoped for demographic changes occur, and in whether other public transport (bus) initiatives will have taken up the slack by then.

When is then? 2031 apparently, the date it projected to begin a CLUAS system. To be finished for operation by 2040.

Twelve years from now, the twelve years that we need to change tack to avoid climate change becoming irreversible. Twelve years when we should be prioritising public transport over roads only initiatives. Après le déluge CLUAS.

As with most spin presentations the main emphasis has been out on the headline figures. €3.5 billion is to be spent over a twenty year period on this plan. This averages out at €175 million each year, a not insignificant sum.

Except that spending won’t be averaged on an annual basis. There will be very little upfront expenditure with this plan, as has been the case with all previous plans.

Early expenditure will go on scoping exercises. These will rarely be in house with consultants being brought in to reinforce the already held biases of the National Transport Authority.

Future expenditure, the longer implementation gets delayed, will see more of the anticipated budget being eaten up by construction cost inflation. Either that, or the costs get layered on. Much like we are experiencing with the National Children’s Hospital.

The belief is that new road announcements are what pleases the punters. The truth is rather different. Most voters would prefer the proper maintenance of the existing road network, especially pavements.

There is a notorious double standard in transport planning. Asphalt carpets designed largely for single user vehicles, which operate under capacity for decades after construction, are created under a build it and they will come philosophy.

Public transport infrastructure always seems to be assessed on justifying its use on existing, not future, population load.

The basis of infrastructure spending should be to provide now to create development, not to respond later, and inappropriately, try to meet uncatered for needs.

Public transport initiatives should now become the overwhelming focus of transport planning. Such projects should be prioritised for soonest possible implementation.

Brian Nolan, as Myles na gCopaleen, once wrote that the Irish roads programme was to build a series of parallel roads, with the construction equipment being left in situ, in the yet to be completed lane.

That was satire. Current transport planning thinking, and how it been historically informed, is much worst than that.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and is standing in the Local Elections for the party in Cork on May 24.  His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top: Clean up started in February at Cork City Council-owned Ellis’s Yard site in Ballyvolane where 200,000 kgs of rubbish was illegally dumped; Dan Boyle

When I last had been a councillor, local government in Ireland had greater powers, that allowed councils to make more direct and more immediate impact in providing services.

Many councils had Direct Build Units that saw public housing being provided efficiently and in large numbers.

At the very least, Works Departments existed in each council, that were better resourced, allowing repairs to done more quickly, and vacant housing units to become more readily available.

A huge component of the work of local councils was in waste management. Each council had a fleet of Waste Disposal trucks, that would call to designated areas at a set time each week.

From the 1990s a new philosophy on public services began to develop. Imported from the UK, it was known as New Public Management.

At the heart of this thinking was the belief that local government was monolithic, making it inefficient. This gospel indicated, when it came to public services, the private sector could do things ‘better’.

Waste management was to be one of the first sacrificial lambs brought to the altar of New Public Management. Councils sold on their fleets, often at bargain prizes, to new private sector providers.

Soon a multiplicity of waste companies would be found on our streets. Each offering different methods of collection, collecting on different days of the week, charging different rates for the ‘service’ that was provided.

The myth that the private sector is more efficient, and thus better, has been badly exposed by how we have organised waste management since then.

I believe we should return to a simpler time, that when there was a single provider of waste collection in each local authority area.

While such a service could be provided again by local councils, it would be naive to assume they could do so immediately, given large scale capital acquisition costs, particularly at a time of other priorities.

I believe local authorities should contract out, over say a five to ten year period, waste collection to single providers.

Local councils could then become more effective regulators of the service in a way that would standardise how waste is collected, when the waste is collected, and what payment should be made for the service.

Government policy in recent years has been to oblige local councils go in exactly the opposite direction.

In an effort to make the excessive number of waste collection companies viable, local councils have passed a series of by-laws obliging householders to prove how they pay for disposing their waste.

This is being done under the smokescreen of dealing with the very real scourge of fly tipping. However, as with companies registering with REPAK is seen as somehow businesses ‘fulfilling’ their responsibilities on recycling, this is an exercise to driving all householders into becoming customers of the waste collection companies.

This is unnecessary. It is possible for most households to restrict the need to have a large scale waste collection service.

I take my recyclable and contaminated waste to a civic amenity site. My organic waste I put into a container where it breaks down in compost. After five years the container is only half full.

There is nothing particularly virtuous in this. As an individual I continue to produce too much waste. Like others I would like better incentives that recognise household efforts to reduce waste and to recycle.

The main focus of any waste collection system should be to encourage householders. It shouldn’t be to subsidise waste collection companies.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and is standing in the Local Elections for the party in Cork on May 24.  His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic via Cork City Council