Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Urgency required to enact climate change legislation

While governments, financial markets and the international media devote endless resources in a attempt to save an unsustainable economic model everyone appears to be ignoring the real and present danger that is approaching. We are all passengers on the metaphorical Titanic as a true human crisis and tragedy unfolds. We continue predictable to ignore at our peril the consequences of our failed high carbon energy economic model. According to the findings of a report just published by the International Energy Agency providing the most thorough analysis yet of the worlds energy infrastructure we are fast approaching the last change to combat dangerous climate change. They are very clear in their observation that if we don’t act now to reduce our carbon emissions the opportunity to limit dangerous climate change will be lost forever.

If a fraction of the money used to bail out the failed private banking institutions in this country alone had been used to create sustainable jobs in developing renewable energy, investing in our energy infrastructure and supporting education and investment in new low carbon technologies, that would provide clean indigenous energy to our communities and industry, the economic future of this country would be secure.

Despite intensifying warnings over the past two decades from academic, scientific, medical and engineering institutions and United Nations organisations including the World Health Organisation, governments around the world are preparing yet again to postpone international agreement on climate change. What we are being told in no uncertain terms is that Economic development takes precedence over environmental protection and the very survival of humanity. Only by protecting our environment and investing in sustainable development infrastructure have we any real security. While Ireland beat Australia in the recent rugby world cup, they beat us in enacting crucial Climate change legislation last week. I plead with the Irish Government as a citizen of this country to follow their example and enact climate change legislation as soon as possible and begin the transformation of this country into a truly smart low carbon economy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Living History Through Film

The Skibbereen Eagle may have been famous for declaring ‘it was keeping an eye on the Czar of Russia’ in the 19th century but it can definitely be said that Russia is now keeping its eye on West Cork based on the experience of noted historian Gabriel Doherty, lecturer in Irish revolutionary history at University College Cork. Mr.Doherty recently presented a lecture in St.Petersburg, Russia, on the Irish War of Independence and Civil War period, incorporating in part the much acclaimed and award-winning Irish independent film The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which won the Palme d'Or for best film in Cannes 2006.

The film as many will recall was largely shot on location in West Cork, most notably in Timoleague, Coolea and Bandon town where Bandon Town Hall, Hamilton Highschool, the Allen Institute and North Main Street were used as key backdrops for the film. Many of the extras for the film came from the local community in the Bandon and Macroom areas.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley is an Irish war drama film directed by Ken Loach and set during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923). Written by Paul Laverty, this drama tells the story of two County Cork brothers who join the Irish Republican Army to fight for Irish independence from the United Kingdom. Many of the events represented in the film are associated with real historical figures based in and around Bandon Town during this historic period. Bandon remained largely at the centre of events that occurred during this period, with noted rebel leaders such as Sean Hales and Tom Barry of the West Cork Brigade and Anna Hurley, the leader of the Bandon branch of Cummann na mBan, all residing in the area. Within Bandon town, the British Army were present in force with two factions stationed in separate army barracks, the Essex regiment commanded by the notorious Major Percival and the Black and Tans who were stationed in the Devonshire Hotel. According to Tom Barry, no Black and Tan atrocity in Cork came close to what the Essex Regiment did; he personally attempted to assassinate Major Percival on at least one occasion for his role in what Tom Barry regarded as war crimes. There is no doubt that the Essex regiment were despised for the atrocities that they committed, on one occasion capturing two close friends of Tom Barry’s ; Tom Harte and Patrick Hales and mercilessly torturing them. The torture itself of Hales and Harte is believed to have influenced a scene in the film The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

Many may not realise that during the period of the War of Independence, Bandon town and its hinterland remained one of the most active regions nationally for republican activity. The West Cork Brigade was involved in successful military engagements at Toureen and Kilmichael just one month preceding and after the tumultuous event of Bloody Sunday in Dublin. Within months of it, the West Cork IRA, led by Tom Barry, carried out a large-scale ambush at Crossbarry. They were nearly surrounded but manage to escape. This was one of the largest military encounters of the War of Independence.

Not shortly afterwards, in the summer of 1921 rebel activity reached a high point with the British garrisons at Bantry, Skibbereen, Drimoleague, Clonakilty, Bandon, Innishannon and Kilbrittain all under attack. The period was one of high anxiety with the countryside griped by violence and suspicion. Reprisals by the British forces involved the destruction of property and arrest, murder or harming of civilians; this in turn led to further reprisals by republican forces who commenced a campaign against Irish country houses. Some 16 country houses were destroyed around Bandon town and Commandant Sean Hales, leader of the Bandon Battalion of the IRA kidnapped James Francis Bernard the 4th Earl of Bandon and Lord Lieutenant of County Cork.

During the final four weeks of the War of Independence, armed parties of the IRA engaged in military activity in Bandon on eight occasions, the Innishannon Post was fired at on four occasions and Kilbrittain Barracks sniped at five times. British soldiers were wounded at Ballylickey as was a Black and Tan sergeant and an enemy agent in Bandon. Yet another Essex soldier was shot dead within sight of his Bandon barracks and one more Black and Tan was killed in Skibbereen. The successes in West Cork were not without sacrifice as many local volunteers and patriots from Bandon, Kilbrittain, Timoleague, Ballinadee, Courtmacsherry, Dunmanway and Rossmore were killed in the struggle for independence. Not long afterwards, two of West Corks most famous leaders suffered a similar fate. On August 22nd 1922 Michael Collins, Commander-in-Chief of the National Army, was shot dead at an ambush at Béal na mBláth and four months later his friend and comrade Sean Hales T.D. was gunned down outside Leinster House in Dublin. His brother Tom Hales fought on the opposing side and commanded the Flying Column, which attacked the Free State Army convoy at Béal na mBálth resulting in the death of his friend, Michael Collins.

All of this sets the scene for the first screening in Bandon of the award-winning historical film The Wind that Shakes the Barley on Sunday 25th September in the Town Hall by Bandon Film Society in conjunction with the Engage Arts Festival. Of particular interest to many in West Cork and beyond will be the historical talk to be given prior to the film by Gabriel Doherty, lecturer in Irish revolutionary history at University College Cork. Gabriel has edited several volumes on this topic, including studies of Michael Collins, Eamonn De Valera and the 1916 Rising. He has also written and lectured numerous times on the subject. His lecture will no doubt be interesting and insightful with its focus on the historical themes, personalities and episodes alluded to in the film and the extent to which its depiction of the War of Independence and Civil War is faithful to the historical record.

Additionally, to mark the participation of Bandon and its community in this award-winning film a commemorative plaque will be unveiled at the Town Hall on the night at 7.20pm by the Town Mayor.

Booking for the event is highly recommended as places are strictly limited. Tickets for the double bill historical talk and film screening are €10. To avoid disappointment, please call 086-3689939 or 087-1205022 to book tickets. Tickets are also available at the following outlets in Bandon town: An Tobairín, Bandon Books, URRU and Hickeys Newsagents.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Constitutional Challenge to Euro Bailout

Last week the German Constitutional Court made a very important ruling that may have long lasting consequences for Europe and the survival of the euro. What is particularly interesting in an Irish context is that their Courts examined the constitutionality of the Euro bailout with respect to German basic law and the federal powers of the German Government.

Notably the Constitutional Court ruled that the eurozone bailouts were compatible with German Basic Law, since they do not provide an excessive burden on the German budget, do not constitute a significant transfer of power away from the federal government, the Bundestag nor impact negatively on the euro’s purchasing power.

Interestingly the Court also ruled that, in order to conform to the German constitution, “the Federal Government is in principle obliged to always obtain prior approval by the German Parliamentary Budget Committee before giving guarantees.” and“The Bundestag, as the legislature, is also prohibited from establishing permanent mechanisms…which result in an assumption of liability for other states’ voluntary decisions, especially if they have consequences whose impact is difficult to calculate”.

What is evident is that the burden of the euro bailout on German taxpayers can be challenged in their Constitutional Courts and that those same courts can set the legal parameters on which any bailout must comply. How unfortunate that no such Court in Ireland similarly examined the constitutionality of the banking guarantee imposed on the Irish citizen and the transfer of billions of euros of private debt created by voluntary institutions, developers and limited companies both at home and abroad onto the Irish taxpayer.

I wonder is it not too late to still challenge the constitutionality of the Irish Banking Bailout? It is clear given the verdict of the German Courts that the banking bailout imposed on Ireland would be regarded as incompatible with German basic law if it was imposed on the German State given that in Ireland it has created an excessive burden on State and society, the State budget resulting in loss of economic sovereignty and the transfer of power from the nations parliament to the IMF and ECB; violating the very conditions imposed by the German Constitutional Court last week.

What a pity that we do not apparently have laws similar to those of the German legislature despite our common membership of the European Union. It appears that it’s one law of one member state and no law for another. In Germany their parliament is prohibited from establishing permanent financial mechanisms, which assume liability for other states decisions, including decisions to loan to private banks in Ireland. While in Ireland the taxpayer is instructed that we must assume liability for all private banking debt including voluntary decisions made by European banks to loan to private banks in other jurisdictions, an action that has resulted in an unsustainable level of debt burden with disastrous social and economic consequences both in Ireland and other peripheral European countries such as Greece. Impacts we unfortunately are only beginning to witness that will last for perhaps generations to come. In my mind there is no doubt that we must challenge the constitutionality of the Irish banking bailout and where the constitution may be seen to be weak in protecting the rights of Irish citizens it must to be changed to reflect the challenges that we now face.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gulf Stream threatened by Arctic flush

As reported in New Scientist this week RAPID warming in the Arctic is creating a new and fast-growing pool of fresh water in the Arctic Ocean. Measuring at least 7500 cubic kilometres, it could flush into the Atlantic Ocean and slow the Gulf Stream, bringing colder winters to Europe.

The water is mostly coming from melting permafrost and rising rainfall, which is increasing flows in Siberian rivers that drain into the Arctic, such as the Ob and Yenisei. More comes from melting sea ice, says Laura de Steur of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research in 't Horntje, who is tracking the build-up.

Salinity anomalies like this are a regular feature of the Arctic. The last major event occurred in the 1960s. They happen when strong winds circling the Arctic restrict southward water movement. Eventually, the winds falter and the water flushes into the Atlantic through the Fram strait, between Greenland and Europe.

Recent Arctic melting opens up the possibility of increasing the build-up, potentially making the consequences of the eventual breakout more extreme, says de Steur. A dramatic freshening of the North Atlantic could disrupt the engine of a global ocean circulation system called the thermohaline circulation, or ocean conveyor. This system, of which the Gulf Stream forms a part, is driven by dense, salty water in the North Atlantic plunging to the ocean bottom near Greenland.

"In the worst case, these Arctic surges can significantly change the densities of marine surface waters in the far North Atlantic," says de Steur.

Some 13,000 years ago, a major freshening of the North Atlantic shut down the circulation and plunged the Earth into a cold snap, known as the Younger Dryas era, which lasted for 1300 years. That was the result of an influx of fresh water much larger than is building up now, but some climate models do predict the circulation could weaken in coming decades, says Detlef Quadfasel of the climate centre at Hamburg University in Germany. The discovery of pooling fresh water in the Arctic suggests how this could happen.

The monitoring is being carried out as part of Project Clamer, a 10-nation European project into the impact of climate change on the waters around Europe.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Avoiding the mindset of reactionary defeatism

We live is a society that should operate on the basis of co-operation as we all have a stake in what kind of future we want for ourselves and the next generation. For too long we as a society have allowed powerful minorities to dictate the direction our entire economy and society has been pushed into. We are now witnessing the consequences.

What happened in this county in the past ten years is beyond absurd, it’s a tragedy. We have allowed profits to dictate the direction our entire society has been pushed into, with the active participation of a corrupt political system that rewarded the minority, rather than protecting the public good. Until we change the models and system of governance we use to determine what directions our society goes from solely profit motivated to notions of the common good, we will be doomed to repeat the past.

Since the foundation of this State we now face our greatest challenge. How will we as a people react to the current social and economic crisis we face?

In the face of the enormity of the economic crisis the most critical danger to us all is the mindset that equates with being a helpless victim, a sort of reactionary defeatism. Jan. 20, 2011 was the 50th anniversary of a quote by the late President John F. Kennedy on the occasion of his inaugural address given on Jan. 20, 1961. Kennedy quoted the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran when he intoned the famous quote, " Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country”. Has not the time come for each of us as a citizen, a civil member of this country to question what talents, professional expertise or other skills or services can each of us donate to our communities to build a better society. In reality this means what can we do to help our newly elected government (regardless of our status and affiliations) in its responsibilities.

The most critical task our government faces is re-negotiating the terms of the banking bailout, followed by fiscal management, local government and public sector reform. On this note I would end with another quote from President John F Kennedy’s inaugural address when he said “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

Let us hope that our Government are up to the task?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Questions to ask political canditates for the 31st Dail

What do you see as the main difference between the role of a local councillor and T.D ?

How do you see we can improve the service provided by our elected Dail representatives? Should they work on local issues that should be the remit of local councillors or national issues and policy development?

As a TD what would you like to legislate for?

There currently 6000 people politically appointed to over 800 quangos. How do you believe government appointments to state boards and semi state companies should be undertaken?

What level of funding have you received to support your election campaign? and If elected where you are a standing councillor who have you appointed/named to replace you on the Local Authority?

What is your position or your parties position on the State sellling off state assets and privatising utilities and semi state companies such as the ESB, Bord Gais, Bord Na Mona and Coillte.

Do you believe the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) has worked? And what do you see as the future for banking in Ireland?

This Universal Social Charge (USC) is a tax and does not provide a benefit to those paying the charge.
All individuals are liable to pay the USC if their gross annual income is more than €4004 (€77 a week). This will impact most severely on lower income families. Do you support the introduction of the universal social charge.? If elected will you fight to retain or remove it ?

Do you or your party support the recent reduction in the minimum wage, blind pension and carers allowance and would you reverse this decision?

We have entered a period of major upheaval with rising food prices, a growing world population, climate change, peak oil and increasing pressure on natural resources, what will this mean for Ireland and what policies would you or your party advance to address these issues?

Ireland prides itself as a food exporter, yet nearly half the food we eat in this country is imported. How do you explain that imports of food and drink from the UK to Ireland (pop 4.5 million) grew by 6pc in 2010 to €3 billion (equivalent to the average person eating €1000 worth each year) while our exports to the UK (pop 65million) were valued at €3.5 billion? If current trends continue Ireland’s food trade surplus will continue to diminish. What would you do to protect and expand food production in Ireland? (Note: The rise in imports is due to the power and purchasing decisions of retail companies such as Tesco, Lidl, Aldi. Who control the largest market sector in Ireland, Irish food producers cannot compete with the power of large multiples)

What is your position on education? Do you support the existing Government policy decision that fully qualified teachers should work for free to gain work experience? If so what about other unemployed graduate professionals in other disciplines? And why not politicians?

If our domestic economy continues to decline and we must pay the interest on the IMF-ECB bailout and sovereign debt as a result of the bank guarantee how will the state fund future spending on social welfare, healthcare and education?

The national pension reserve fund was established to fund the future public sector pensions; now that it has been used for bailing out the banks what plans have you or your party for the state to fund pensions in the future?

Social welfare spending accounts for 38% of government spending, the main areas of expenditure include old age pensions, widows, widowers and one parent families, Illness, disability and caring allowance, unemployment support and child related payments. With an ever-increasing older population and higher unemployment the demands on social welfare will rise. How will we fund this service in the future? And where do you see cost reductions or savings can be made?

Ireland spends less on education than most other OECD countries. Funding primary education is vital to ensuring access to education for all our children and laying the foundation for future education, growth and development. Spending on secondary and third level students is double what is spent on primary pupils. Do we need to invest more in primary education? Where can we make savings in education spending so we that our investment is more sustainable and long term?

Do you agree that the state should continue to facilitate and fund children being educated in prefabs and temporary accommodation while hundreds of millions was spent on a failed government decentralisation policy including brand new state of the art facilities for public servants? How would you address this imbalance and injustice?

What reforms would you like to see in how Dail Eireann works?

Do you agree with the abolition or reform of Seanad Eireann?

What we have learned from the past ten years is that a government is only as strong as its opposition. Do you believe that a Fine Gael/Labour coalition with a massive Dail majority and weak opposition is in the best interest of the country at this time? And if so please explain why?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Seanad Accountability and the Finance Bill 2011

At a time when the public and political parties are demanding accountability and transparency in the houses of the Oireachtas and when the very future of Seanad Eíreann is being openly discussed one would imagine that the Seanad would have a full attendance for its last and most important act of the 30th Dail, debating and enacting the Finance Bill.

The Seanad comprises of 60 representatives yet the attendance and voting record of Senators for the Finance Bill show that on Friday the 28th January exactly ten Senators were absent for the crucial vote comprising a remarkable 17% of the Seanad.

On Saturday afternoon for the Final Stages of the Bill nine senators were absent.Throughout the debate and vote the Fianna Fáil-led government side had a majority on all divisions tabled by opposition parties, but almost lost a critical vote on one late recommendation made by Labour and supported by Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and the Green Party which would have seen the Dáil asked to vote on whether to force banks to publish the bonuses paid to bank staff since the bank guarantee was introduced in 2008.

The vote was won by a margin of one in favour of the Government with the support of Senator Ronan Mullen of NUI Galway. What may be of interest to voters is that Senator Mullen voted against the Finance Bill at all stages yet for some reason at the eleventh hour supported the government on this recommendation. How is this possible? Where is the transparency and accountability?

What may also interest voters in the forthcoming election are not just the Fianna Fail, Green Party and some Independents who supported the Bill but the absentees voters our public representatives who were required to be present to enact or reject what was one of the most important acts of legislation in the history of the State, one that will have untold consequences for the people of this country. In particular Senator’s Fidelma Healy White, FG Galway West, Paul Coghlan, FG Kerry South, Labhras O Murchu, FF Tipperary, Pat Moyan, FF Laois Offaly and Senator Marc MacSharry, FF Sligo who were absent for all stages of the Bill.

So now the Finance Bill is introduced and we may never know what bonuses were paid to banking staff during the period 2008 to January 2011, thanks in part to some opposition Senators not being present for the crucial vote.

Transparency and accountability indeed.