Tag Archives: Dan on Thursday

From top; EPA’s State of the Environment 2020 report; Dan Boyle

The tone of the Environmental Protection Agency‘s State of the Environment 2020 report, released this week, is extraordinary, if ultimately highly depressing.

There are many fine people within the EPA, people motivated in wanting to bring about a better environment. Their ability to do so has been limited by a legislative straitjacket jacket that compromises the EPA’s ability to engage in actual environmental protection.

For most of its existence the agency has been a pollution permitting authority. In issuing Integrated Pollution Control Licences to different industries, the EPA has been sanctioning levels of pollution based on perceived economic need rather than protection of the environment.

Lacking capacity in its early years the EPA issued these IPC licences in ways that the industries issued with these licences tended to be largely self regulating.

In its governance, particularly at board level, the agency has been almost entirely influenced by industry interests. Since its foundation there has been a total exclusion of environmental campaigners at board or policy level making levels within the EPA.

Knowing this history, the strength of the language contained in the State of the Environment report comes as a pleasant surprise.

Maybe it’s because of a Green Party presence in government that we have a report that has not been written in the usual timid, evasive terms previous reports have been. Maybe it’s the realisation that damage caused to the Irish environment can no longer be denied.

Whatever the reason this report is a damning indictment of how damaged Ireland’s environment has become.

It isn’t churlish to point out that this has happened over a nearly thirty year period that we have had an Environmental Protection Agency. Granted, during that time, the agency has been hamstrung in term of resources, and in the type of political support that would help it achieve.

The tone and content of this report gives me some cause for hope. We are finally being honest about the extent of the damage caused. This can only be helpful in making us finally address the decades of negligence.

There are many metrics to measure the effects of Green Party participation in government. High among these should be our ability to police the environment.

Undoubtedly the capacity of the EPA has increased. Many skilled people have come into the organisation and have helped map the extent of our failure. What has continued to be lacking is any serious political consideration for if this was a problem, and if so how it should be responded to.

If this report is a statement of intent of a properly focused EPA, I would very much welcome that. I feel there is a particular responsibility for the Green Party in government to ensure that this represents the future role and direction on the EPA.

The first step in helping to make things better is to stop making them worse. It may not be politically wise to say so, but for much of the past thirty years the EPA has been part of the problem.

An Environmental Protection Agency that is structured not only to record, but more importantly to counteract, is what we should be aspiring towards. With this report we may be beginning to see 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

EPA report here

Dan Boyle

Politics to me has never been about getting one over, or doing down, perceived opponents. I accept that for many people, maybe even most people, it tends to be. The worst motivation is always assumed. The worst possible construction is placed on any issue. Our politics are ill served by being almost entirely reactive and rarely proactive.

Movement, even in an agreed direction, is invariably criticised as being too late and/or too slow. Sequencing is particularly viewed poorly. Do it all and do it now, is the expectation that never be met. Part of that expectation is that legislation should be delivered in a ready to go fashion, as if there should be no role in a parliamentary process that scruitinises and amends.

The sclerosis that reactive politics creates is a culture where nothing clear gets stated, lest the words get misconstrued with the actual context lost.  Analysis and real accountability disappear when we rely on memes and tropes, repeated endlessly, to establish narratives that help explain nothing.

To govern is to fail. To seek to do things differently is an admission of failure. This helps create a politics that is not only risk adverse but is also change repellent.

Because of this change happens far more slowly than it needs to. Despite all this change does manage to occur, even if we often fail to acknowledge such change.

How we measure change exacerbates this problem. Gains are there to be won not shared. Wins need to be gained in order to create certain losers so that they appear real. Battle lines have to be absolute. There is government and there is opposition. The idea of shifting coalitions that are issue dependent is seen to be heretical.

Considering government as an amorphous whole is a particular conceit. Shared government means just that, an ability to achieve but only partially. It doesn’t mean absorption. It shouldn’t mean loss of identity. The lines of attack seem to indicate otherwise.

In a mature political society it should be possible to pursue agreed approaches while stressing distinctiveness. These are unnatural divides that exist within political parties and within government as much as they exist within politics itself. While acknowledging these divides we don’t have accept them as being the only way we operate.

We need to stop behaving as if the holding of political beliefs are akin to being part of a religious cult. We can and should be able to disagree without having to reduce to invective. Views can and should change. Being persuaded by others’ arguments is not a weakness.

Since coming back to local government I’ve tried to turn my back on the point scoring, name calling, character assassinating aspects of Irish politics. I can’t see the point of it. I’ve certainly come to believe that it achieves little. I’ve learned that it’s best to concentrate on trying to achieve things. So much energy is wasted on the circus element of politics.

The most pointless aspect of our politics is that of the kneejerk response. Because it has been determined that adversarial politics are the only type we can practise, we are similarly expected to have pre-determined responses to any given situation.

Proof of this is how I expect many will respond to what I am saying here. I am expecting some pejorative comments about me and my party attributing many of the ills of the World to our existence. I’m expecting some amount of whataboutery, where unconnected or very tenuous facts will be presented to undermine the context I seek to make with these observations.

Once I would have reacted and would have done so badly. Now I have to interpret what is real and what is contrived. Because so much of our politics has been reduced to background noise, perhaps we have to learn to listen less in order to be able to listen better.

Then, perhaps, we can learn to respond better instead of trying to react more.

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

Dan Boyle

This week Cork City Council moved into the twenty first century with our first ever live streamed council business meeting. It was an interesting experience, not without some gremlins, but still an useful exercise in public access.

Previous meetings had been time restricted, because of COVID, leading to a forty eight page agenda. Five hours later we had more than tested the patience of anyone who had chosen to link in.

For those who came on to identify elements of Ballymagash in the deliberations of the Council, there were some items that could be portrayed in that way.

The longest debate of the night was on whether statues of War of Independence figures – Collins, MacSwiney and MacCurtain – should be erected on Patrick Street. I found the amount of time discussing this to be frustrating, as I suspect did many of those watching.

Despite that some that useful thoughts came from the discussion. The role of statues as tools of commemoration was rightly questioned. More seriously, arguing for further acknowledgement of male heroes, from a period in history that has yet to reflect at all the role of women, was more marked.

Earlier in the meeting we had approved planning for three infill housing projects. These had all involved a period of public consultation. As these applications often are, they were not without controversy. The consultations, with each of these projects, brought about considerable changes. The public interaction of these consultations was the catalyst for those changes.

Some objections would have remained. They probably never could be met. It is to the credit of local area councillors that they rose above continuing objections to make their decision solely based on housing need.

In my local electoral area another planning decision was in facilitating a pedestrian/cyclist access to an amenity park, where such access has been severely restricted.

On the surface this might not seem the most important issue. When our political debates are more influenced by what happens at a national level, we often forget that it is the small physical changes that can matter more to people.

Local government can be mundane. It’s activities can often invite justifiable derision. Without it, however, many everyday essential public services would become harder to provide.

Our political system is evolving. It is tentatively moving towards better public access and engagement. We need to be going further and faster in making these changes. The further we go in making these changes the better we can make our systems of government.

The speed of these changes will depend on how soon we are willing to put those elements of administrative culture, which have prevented change in the past, aside.

Administrative change in Ireland is still overly influenced by a philosophy of being risk adverse. An overriding attachment to secrecy still remains. A greater need level of trust, especially of the general public, needs to be created. A willingness to try and sometimes and fail has to become accepted.

Over my thirty years in public life I have seen some changes, but they have been far too few. I’m encouraged that there is now a greater capacity for change that is coming as much from council officials as it is from elected councillors.

Most of the work will remain mundane, necessary, occasionally worthy. But we can do it better and we should want to.

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


From top: US President Donald Trump; Dan Boyle

I chose not to register to vote this time. I have voted in three previous presidential elections. My vote on neither of those occasions made any difference at all. Despite that I enjoyed the opportunity of taking part.

It is likely that the votes I sent at those elections were never counted. The state where I registered, Illinois, had a rule not to count overseas votes unless and until the counting all other votes was done, and only then until if the amount was greater of any difference that existed.

That never happened with any of my votes. It wouldn’t have happened this week either. If my vote was registered in Wisconsin or Michigan it might have done.

Not fully participating this time hasn’t diminished my interest in the outcome of this election. Despising Trump hasn’t been my only motivation.

Despite detesting almost every aspect of his being, I find myself oddly in admiration of Trump’s campaigning skills. Outside of his contempt of not exposing anyone to unnecessary COVID risks, the gusto with which he threw himself into the last ten days of the campaign undoubtedly helped him regain lost ground.

His tactics were as reprehensible as ever, but resonated with his supporters. He successfully portrayed Biden (someone who politically is to the right of Fine Gael!) as a rampant socialist. As a reds under the bed scare it worked.

Another scare that seemed to work was portraying Biden as an anti-fracker. It was a crude caricature of someone who in his eight years as Obama’s Vice President did as much as anyone to promote fracking.

In Trump’s World green is as bad as socialist. Both seen as good dog whistles for his base.

Trump’s innate anti-environmentalism won him his biggest prize of green disdain, the day after votes determining his future were cast. On this day the US became the first country to turn its back on the Paris Accord on climate.

For that alone Trump deserves all the contempt in the world. I had hoped for a Biden landslide, but I think how it is working out might be even better.

For someone who is so cruel in nature and character, there is something quite piquant in having Trump coming so close to retaining office. Being so near but so far is a deserved cruelty.

He ain’t gone yet nor is he likely to go quickly or willingly. His exit will prolong all our agonies. It may the last indignity the US and the rest of the world might have to put up with. Soon he can be placed on the proper side of history.

His impact won’t be as easily eradicated. Others will follow his template. That patented mix of narcissism and arrogance will be emulated by many as the way to get ahead.

I’m thinking dignity can make a comeback. I’m hoping it will. What Trump has personified in the American character will continue to linger.

Biden won’t be a panacea but he can help bring about a kinder, gentler America. That’s a deliberate reference, being a speech note from George Bush Snr. For Biden to help bring the US together, philosophically at least, he needs to reach out to sane Republicans.

This wouldn’t be about establishing a new coalition. It would be about helping to establish a more humane discourse. We not only have to end the madness, we have to make it go away.

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


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


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


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


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