Tag Archives: Dan on Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top pic: Rollingnews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But damage has been done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top pic: Rollingnews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top pic: Revenue.ie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Student accommodation hoarding in Thomas Street, Dublin; Dan Boyle

Last weekend I spent a night in on campus student accommodation at Dublin City University. It was basic but comfortable and near where I needed to be.

DCU management seem to work their asset well, an asset I now presume has since fully reverted to use as student accommodation.

I cite my experience because I believe this is something we need to have a conversation about.

Student housing is a land use issue, not a housing issue.

There is no formal policy in local development plans for student housing.

On average the cost per month of a room in a student housing complex is the same per month as a 2007 tracker mortgage for 90% of a 320k mortgage (for a room in shared apartment complex).

The argument that student housing frees up much needed housing stock is spurious and unsupported. Evidence exists that seems to show that the opposite seems to be the case.

Student housing built on serviced and well connected land in city centres displaces residential accommodation elsewhere.

Because of the rents attainable cash investors are now more inclined to buy houses in residential areas then gearing them for student, rather than residential, use.

This is turn is causing serious local planning issues with most of these conversions being carried out without proper applications for change of use

The supposed ‘freed up housing’ is often older stock that has been poorly maintained and is in need of major renovation. These levels of cost and investment put them well beyond the normal first time buyer.

The approach to student accommodation at each third level college differs wildly resulting in differing affects.

Colleges that build on campus and/or through outreach seek to best co-operate with nearby community, seem to achieve a better sense of cohesion.

Those that project off campus, with privately constructed and managed facilities, invite a distance in community response that can often encourage hostility from the existing community.

What then are the effects of Student housing? It is short term let accommodation in principle.

Anecdotally there is evidence that suggests that it dilutes and divides local communities into which they are placed.

In Cork, as I suspect in it is with other colleges, current proposals were originally mooted as apartment or residential development sites with a mixed use aspect.

There is no social and affordable housing aspect to any of the developments. In terms of adaptability the only likely alternative use for this housing are co-living centres or as hotels. They will never be suitable for housing families.

Student accommodation should no longer be given strategic planning exemptions, simply because they create more problems than they solve.

Where a more permissive approach can be taken is in developing residences on campus. Even with this no student residences should be developed on infrastructured land that is not adaptable for long term residential use.

There should be a social and affordable element to student housing.

These residences should be taxed accordingly for use as short term lets during summer months, and be required to have stand alone planning permission for that purpose.

The Dutch approach of matching students with older single occupiers, would carry far greater social benefits at a far lower cash outlay.

Instead we see a total overdevelopment of student accommodation far in excess of more needed other types of housing development.

This is being subsidy led. It is an area where developers see that profits can be quickly and easily got. Remove the subsidy and that will soon change.

Building activity, such as with student accommodation, does not a housing crisis solve. In truth it has helped make that crisis worse.

It is something of a tasteless irony that in catering for those whose minds we try to strengthen, we seem to be doing so in the most stupid way possible.

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

Top pic: Rollingnews


From top: Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro (left) greets President of Bolivia Evo Morales; Dan Boyle

I have been reading an interesting article on the wider implications of the Amazonian rainforest fires.

The article is unstinting in its portrayal of Brazilian President Bolansaro as an ignorant oaf dedicated to inflict as much environmental damage as possible, whilst encouraging others to do the same.

But Bolonsaro is far from being the only villain of the piece.

Dozens of rivers comprise the Amazon drainage basin. The furthest away of these reach as far as Bolivia.

There an equally demagogic President (Morales) is encouraging proportionately greater clearing of the rainforest.

Morales has been something of poster boy for progressive politics. His record since his first election has been spotted. He can point to some economic growth during his reign, but also a dimunition of democracy.

A new Constitution introduced in 2009 contains several clauses that speak in glowing terms of protecting natural resources and the environment. There doesn’t seem to be any real application of these warm words.

The same Constitution placed a restriction on the number of terms that can be served by a President. Morales wants to increase this to three terms from the current proscribed two term limit.

In fact it would be a fourth term for Morales, as he doesn’t count the term he served before a new Constitution was introduced.

Bolonsaro and Morales would be placed on different ends of the political spectrum. Although when it comes to demagoguery, however democratically legitimised, they are no different from each other.

The same can be said of the effects of their respective environmental policies. While Bolonsaro can be said to more honest in his contempt for the environment, the damage being caused in Bolivia is just as bad as that occurring in Brazil.

There should be no surprise in this. Environmental policies have never sat easily in being defined through the traditional right/left political axis.

Throughout the twentieth century smokestacks were just as highly thought of as economic status symbols in communist/socialist countries as they were in the most avidly capitalistic ones.

Political analysis dealt with mechanical change, then subsequently techological change, in the same way. Capital and Labour were the only inputs that were ever worthy of consideration.

Whatever economic system has been in place, particularly during the twentieth century, there has been a shared addiction to a carbon fix, resulting in a shared responsibility for the crisis the planet now finds itself in.

We need now to define the means of production differently and better. We need to collectively manage, preserve and protect the environmental inputs of air, water and soil.

This is what now we should define what we see as economic well being, and especially how we should be bringing about social fairness.

A similar Bolonsaro/Morales axis can be seen with the current holders of the highest office holders in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Trump, in that unique fantasy land he inhabits, declares himself an environmentalist, even though his every action is antithetical to bringing about a health environment.

Johnson speaks a better game, but he and his ilk are dedicated to a deregulated world that will drive environmental degradation ever more quickly.

The moral here is to judge political leaders only by what they do. A lesson that our Taoiseach and his government seem particularly slow to take on board.

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 via YouTube

From top: Young climate change activists protest in Dublin city centre last May; Dan Boyle

I was sent a text this week from a young environmental activist. He wanted to let me know that he had read my book on The Green Party’s experience in government, ‘Without Power or Glory‘, and that he found it illuminating.

I thought it indicative of the many young activists now coming to the fore. For them it isn’t enough to respond to the emotional triggers that permeate the environmental debate. For them to be able to debate with passion it is necessary to become sufficiently informed.

This is so different from the prevailing practice of those two or three times their age. Those with a lazier intellectual disposition, content with static commentary often wrong in context or historical accuracy.

We are beginining to see a generation where the cliche of youth being wasted on the young, may no longer apply.

While we should encourage young people to live and enjoy life, with the fecklessness and recklessness that adolescence was created for, the emergence of a cohort of serious young people is no bad thing.

Of course no generation speaks in a single voice. The best we can hope for is that a preponderance of those, of this generation, match their concerns with ever probing challenges towards those whose failings have delivered such a threadbare legacy.

I identify strongly with these young people. I was first elected a councillor when I was twenty eight years of age. But that was a journey that had only started from my mid twenties.

I greatly enjoyed my rock and roll years that preceded my becoming a conscientious bore.

Where I have less patience is for those who not choose not only to act against type prematurely, but also choose to think old before their time; absorbing everything negative from the ancien régime.

Without having to resort to metaphor or analogy just think Young Fine Gael.

Maybe just maybe, with the very nature of leadership being redefined, we may finally have a generation that can get ahead without having to ape all that has been awful before them.

Especially encouraging to see is the number of young women coming to the fore as activist leaders. It has probably has something to do with the Greta Thunberg effect.

But only slightly. In Ireland a more likely effect, for young women at least, would have been the expectations raised by the Same Sex Marriage and the Abortion referendums. Together these events have helped politicise a generation.

They too will get it wrong. We can only hope that, in the Beckett sense, they will fail better.

It’s almost guaranteed that they can’t get to do any worse, and we can’t afford them to do otherwise.

If I’m truly honest I should point out to them that I am their natural enemy, or at least characteristic of it. Middle aged and male, deeply in fear of having our World about us changed, without us.

Prepared to strike out at those challenging our outdated certainties. Doing so in a far more childish manner than those whose early maturity frightens the hell out of us.

And proper order too. The smugness and arrogance of my generation needs to be set aside by those whose life choices and chances do not need to be further compromised by our failings.

I only hope they can do so efficiently but not so impetuously.

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: Grafton Street, Dublin last Christmas; Dan Boyle

Adam Smith and Karl Marx would have been agreement that wealth was the prism through which we should look at society.

Three hundred years of political economy have been based on variants of their musings on what wealth is, how it is created, and how it is distributed.

It can be argued that the relentless pursuit of wealth, regardless of consequences, has not as has been assumed, been the main determinant in our achieving happiness. Often it can be a huge impediment.

Much of this can be put down to how we define what wealth is. In our ‘developed’ societies we have sought to put a price on everything while denying ourselves the ability to realise the value of anything.

If we are to have a cultural war on anything it should be on how we define what is wealth, and how should it be applied.

Evolved societies should become more preoccupied with the idea of wellbeing. In Ireland we could greatly benefit if we were to follow emerging trends in this area.

As we were still analysing the votes and seats won in this year’s local and European elections, the New Zealand government led by Jacinda Arden was introducing what was being claimed as the World’s first Wellbeing Budget.

While in many ways the budget didn’t diverge too far from a conventional budget, it did prioritise two significant areas of additional public spending.

Spending on measures aimed at protecting and improving mental health was the first priority. The second area of additional spending on family and child welfare.

There is a canniness to this thinking. Under conventional measures of wealth, reactive spending in these areas are deemed to be adding to a nation’s wealth. Spending that seeks to lessen or prevent actions that lead to poor social impact, is currently seen as black hole expenditure. Yet which adds more to a community’s sense of happiness?

New Zealand is a country that has a similar population to that of Ireland. So has Denmark. The Danes are said to live through a philosophy they call Hygge, which they define as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well being”.

Outside of an overemphasis on alliteration, this is not a bad goal to strive for.

Since 2012 the United Nations has been publishing a World Index on Happiness. Through a number of criteria – social supports; life expectancy; freedom to make choices; charitable giving and perceptions of corruption – countries are ranked according to how proactive they are seen to be.

In the most recent report the top four countries were Nordic. Each is also a high tax and spend country. Ireland was listed as 14th in the index.

If we were so minded, and if the political will existed, Irish policies could be moulded in this way. They are being formulated and practiced in countries that are not too dissimilar to ours.

To achieve this we need to devote as much spending to social infrastructure as we do to traditional infrastructure. We have to invest more in people and less in tarmac and concrete.

In doing this we will begin to realise how hollow our obsession with economic growth is. How little of it has to with actual growth, improvement, evolution of who we are or the planet on which we live.

That what is presented as economic growth, is in fact a Kamikaze mission to denude our planet of irreplaceable resources over the shortest possible period of time, is unarguable.


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: A Chicago police officer in the classroom of Dan Boyle’s primary school where a 14-year-old shot the principal dead and wounded three others on January 17, 1974; Dan Boyle

We lived on Southside of Chicago, which Jim Croce had described as the baddest part of town.

The reality wasn’t nearly that bad. My parents were hard working folk who gave their family a basic, but comfortable standard for living.

And yet my Mother had an intuition that it wasn’t the place where she wanted to bring up her children.

Our main playground was a nearby open, unguarded railway line. Our biggest thrill was catching onto garbage trucks to enjoy the ride.

Once some older ‘friends’ encouraged me to break into a neighbour’s house. Not to steal anything, just for a sense of devilment. I was eight years of age.

My Mother’s intuition saw us move to Ireland to live in our Grandmother’s house in the early seventies.

It didn’t take long for my Mother’s intuition to take hold.

Two years after our family had moved to Ireland, we learned that the principal of the primary school my siblings and I had attended, was shot dead by a fourteen year old former student. Three others were also injured.

I remembered him as a kindly man. The eight year old me saw his whiteness (his hair) as his being an elder, someone approaching the end of life. He was fifty two years of age.

Whatever he was he certainly didn’t deserve that.

I have visited Chicago on a number of occasions since then. I have made it my business to visit the old neighbourhood. Each subsequent visit has saddened me further.

My first school, a place of which I had nothing but happy memories of, had been turned into a high security compound.

This sadness has been deepened as I read media reports of the most recent US mass shootings at El Paso and Dayton.

Most depressing of these was the contribution of Fox News (Irish American) propagandist, Sean Hannity. In his, as ever, worthless contribution, he argues that an already fortified society should become more so:

“I’d like to see the perimeter of every school in America surrounded, secured by retired police … have one armed guard on every floor of every school, all over every mall, the perimeter and inside every hall of every mall.”

This is what is what the Land of the Free has become.

Hannity is someone I am happy to wilfully ignore. The problem is that he seems to have the ear of the President of the USA. Not only the ear, but also apparently the space between his ears.

He is but one of the Trump apologists who have moved on from the now tired thoughts and prayers approach, to the pseudo psychology that mass shootings (by white people) should be reduced to a mental health issue, informed solely by an access to and subsequent prolific use of violent video games.

One thing that it isn’t, nor can it be, is the availability or excessive use of guns. The National Rifle Association (NRA) with its generous contributions to, mainly, Republican members of Congress, has assured that it cannot be so.

I hope again to visit Chicago. The city I want to visit is one that has finally left its gun culture behind. For culture is really where Chicago should be, what it should be talked about.

A culture of food, of music, of comedy, of theatre, of visual arts. There is so much more to Chicago than the gun. There is so much of the US that should be similarly acknowledged.

The temptation is to encourage the use of guns against those whose verbal violence has worsened a more enlightened USA to emerge.

But that would be hypocritical and contradictory. We, and they, have to be better than 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

Pic via Chicago Tribune archive

From top: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson; Dan Boyle

Boris Johnson seeks comparison with Winston Churchill. The better comparison would be with Alex Douglas-Home, the rather dull, unelected and ultimately unelectable, Prime Minister, defeated in the 1964 British General Election, mere months after Johnson himself was born.

Churchill was a product of Harrow and the military college at Sandhurst. Hume, like Johnson, was a scion of Eton and Oxford.

It isn’t difficult to see why Johnson wants to invite the Churchill comparison. He has even gone to the trouble of writing a biography of him.

Churchill undoubtedly is a British/English icon, but he was also a deeply flawed individual. Perhaps this is what Johnson identifies with.

Politically promiscuous, Churchill flitted between the Liberals and The Tories. Johnson’s chameleon-like behaviour saw him become a liberal Mayor of London, only later to embrace Brexitism as his preferred route to Downing Street.

Like Churchill, Johnson chose journalism as an entry portal for politics. Although the jingoism both wrote could hardly be described as journalism.

Johnson has practised a politics not based on values but on vanity. His strategic approach not calculated but more informed by fantasy.

Churchill, at least, seems to have had convictions. Even if they were often horribly applied.

If Brexit wasn’t a thing Johnson probably would have another context to define himself. His promise to lie before the bulldozers to prevent an additional runway being developed at Heathrow Airport, was an obvious attempt to add an green string to his bow.

Although in what has become typical Johnsonian logic, his proposal to avoid further environmental degradation at Heathrow was to suggest the building of an entirely new airport elsewhere.

His Kubla Khan garden bridge over the River Thames seems to have come from a similar place.

Subsquently abandoned by his successor as Mayor, this project encapsulates two defining features of his political career.

The first being a tendency to attach himself to the most immediate, most superficially popular cause. The second being an obvious lack of nous to succeed on those areas he has deliberately chosen not to understand.

The carefully cultivated persona of Boris would be considerably undermined if the the British and international media referred to him by his actual name – Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson.

If de Pfeffel was the media tagline instead of Boris, it would be a far more representative of the privilege and entitlement his barmy Brexit army have come to represent.

Stripped to his essence, at the heart of Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson is an emptiness, a hollowness, a shallowness. England deserves better. So do we.

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