Speaking today at the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis economist Dr Peter Bacon said the government contributed to the run-away property price rises. The government had asked Dr Bacon for recommendations on how to deal with the rapidly over-heating property market they then reversed a number of his key recommendations including cutting stamp duty for investors.
The line I love best in his contribution today was when he spoke of been called to a meeting with the Minister for Finance in Nov/Dec 2008 to give his thoughts and advice on the crisis then unravelling he says ““The meeting happened. The meeting ended. I walked away scratching my head.” Isn’t that just beautiful? That line just about sums up the whole crazy affair.
One welcome development in general household food purchasing and consumption is how much more questioning we are of food provenance. Most of us also make some effort to eat a healthier diet (more fruit and veg, less red meat, less fats, more fibre). And most of us prefer to buy locally grown/produced rather than imported foods. When it comes to organic v non-organic most discerning shoppers would go for the former as long as the price difference is not a deterrent (and definitely the former if you grow it yourself). A few years back one of our members asked a local green-grocer if he would consider stocking organic foods. He responded in the negative saying that he felt it would be too risky and that more than likely he would be left with too much spoiled organics at week’s end. When asked if he stocked much locally produced food he was happy to say that if it could be grown locally he stocked it. Top marks then for making the trip from field to store as short as possible (meaning very fresh produce and small carbon footprint) and buying directly from local producers. “And sure,” he was asked, “that food would be close enough to organic wouldn’t it?” “It would,” he says. “That veg there wouldn’t get sprayed more than half a dozen times.” Our crest-fallen colleague picked up his bits and pieces and went on is way, the oft-repeated “We are what we eat” mantra repeating over and over in his head. The subject of pesticides in food was discussed at the Environment Ireland conference held in September 2014. At that gathering An Taisce proposed that Ireland introduce … “… a pesticides levy similar to that in place in Denmark and Norway. The tax would be based on a harm matrix and would encourage reduced chemical use, greater crop rotation and alternative weed control strategies.”
An Taisce went on to say that …
“… the detection of weedspray residues in humans was troubling … and steps were needed to lower the amount being applied to crops. In a study last year by Friends of the Earth, 44% of people tested positive for glyphosate residue. Ireland was not one of the 18 European countries analysed but the detection rate in the UK, Germany and Poland was 70% while Switzerland and Austria were much lower at 17% and 20% respectively. Earlier this year glyphosate residue was found in a high proportion of breastmilk samples given by mothers in the US, while in Europe, leading Danish bakeries have stopped taking wheat sprayed with products such as Roundup before it is harvested.”
If “we are what we eat”, many of us who think we are way ahead of the posse in eating our greens and our brightly coloured fruits, without questioning the provenance of that food, might need to think again.
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White decided to end the old year on a low by pushing the nuclear power option back onto the agenda. We could say “Fair enough so: let’s look at nuclear power, let’s compare it with the alternatives and let’s go for the solution which offers the country a clean, safe, reliable, renewable and cost-effective form of energy”. But you know what? One cannot help feeling that if the government cannot go about the task of putting in place a system to provide the public with a clean, safe, reliable and cost-effective supply of potable water without pushing the country to the edge of open rebellion can they be trusted to get stuck into the nuclear power issue.
Green Party Energy Spokesperson Ossian Smith says: “The last few years have been disastrous for our energy development. Instead of promoting a cost-effective and homegrown renewable energy industry, the Government have been chasing pipe dreams and hesitating on pivotal decisions. Any debate on energy policy needs to recognise that genuine community gain must be at the heart of developing our resources. We need to debate more than just how we generate power, looking also at ownership of assets and distribution networks, and how profits are returned to communities.
The latest anti-water charges march happens in Dublin today. We will not be there. Notwithstanding the government’s ham-fisted efforts in bringing in water charges we believe that we should pay – and not a general, but a specific, tax – for the provision of potable water and the disposal of our waste water. That said we respect the right of others to protest so as to make their own feelings known.
Here’s a link to an interesting article by Independent TD Stephen Donnelly entitled ‘Traditional Parties Have led Ireland into the Abyss’: http://stephendonnelly.ie/traditional-parties-have-led-ireland-into-the-abyss-a-new-party-can-help-rescue-it
All across Europe trust in the established parties is at an all-time low. Ireland is no exception. According to this week’s Red C poll FG is experiencing its lowest ever Red C poll rating (22%). Labour is at 8% and FF 18%. SF is up to 22% while the Greens are up 1% to 3%. Inds/Others are at a massive 22%.
Maybe the time is ripe for a new political party in Ireland. We have been here before: The PDs were supposed to offer an alternative to the existing parties. However their raison d’être was never unique enough for the party to be seen as a viable alternative. So they imploded. What would a new political party offer at this time? Would it be to the right or the left? Or both? Would it be pro or anti EU, looking to Boston or Berlin? Would it be pro big business or pro union? Would it perhaps find that it is not so different from the established parties, that the policy routes open to it are fewer than it ever imagined?
We know that FF, in its time in charge, really did march the country up to the edge of the abyss, that elements of the party were corrupt and that the party could no longer be trusted to govern. We know that FG and Labour have done their best to meet the fiscal demands of the Troika, that they have subsequently behaved somewhat recklessly in moving away from the fiscal rectitude script, both no doubt spooked by the continued haemorrhaging of their traditional support base. We know that they have continued to play old-style politics instead of responding to public demands for greater honesty and transparency in how we are governed and how our resources are managed. This government has played its part in further tarnishing the image of old-school politics.
Maybe we need revolution!
So the government thought it was going to placate the masses with a relatively benign budget and what do we do? We snub our noses at it and say “too little, too late”. We cannot forgive them for asking to tighten our belts and then watch as the Irish Water story unravels. The waste, the ineptitude, the arrogance. Too much! And guess what, both government parties have been here before – they are no strangers to going into it up to their oxters.: remember the failed 1982 Budget when a FG/Lab coalition fell because of a proposed tax on children’s shoes?
It is not entirely comfortable viewing watching a government slowly imploding before your eyes. The sad fact is that, much and all as they have tried to do what they think is best for the country, both FG and Lab have not managed to disentangle from this what is best for the party. When the banking crisis hit and brought us to our knees we all presumed that the “never again” from the incoming government parties was a sign that things would be done differently in the future, that cronyism and sloppy practise would no longer be tolerated. The momentum behind any potential changes to the system is now all but gone and we find that nothing has changed.
This government will either limp to the end of its term or fall apart amid acrimonious internal bickering and ideological differences. You can also expect to see TDs jumping ship in the hopes of winning back some support in their constituencies. What then? Can we expect the incoming government to be completely different, a reforming government, one with a social conscience, one which cares for the small guy and is not afraid of the IMF, the ECB and the multi-nationals? And just who will make up this government: FF/FG – not likely, FF/Lab – very possible, FF/SF – gonna happen sooner or later. Maybe it will be much simpler than that: FF!
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
You can find out at St Iberius Church, Wexford on Thursday, Oct 30 (7.30pm). The occasion is International Day of Prayer for Climate Justice. What better time could there be to take an objective and reflective look at an issue which is going to affect us all to a greater or lesser degree in the decades to come. A service of music, prayer and discussion will look at how we can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
With Wexford’s Opera Festival in full swing at this time most of you are likely to be struggling to fit another event into an already packed schedule. That said, we encourage you to pop into this service even if just to show your support. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Listening to the news today it feels like the good times are back. One hears that unemployment continues to fall (now at its lowest level since 2009), job creation is going up, the economy is performing strongly and “could bounce back more quickly than expected” (Davy Stockbrokers), house prices are going back up, ghost estates are seeing the ghosts banished as they are finally brought to completion, Dublin Airport is jammed again and the traffic reports on radio are getting longer as the queues get longer, retail sales are up while new car sales are a full quarter up on last year. And the banks are making money! And yet for Fine Gael things appear to be going from bad to worse with disillusionment, confusion and anger breaking out among the troops. Why is it always the little things that trip our blue-shirted friends up? On the one hand they really do appear, with their partners in government, to be doing their best to do what they think is best for the country. On the other hand they go and do something stupid and before you know it everyone is talking about ‘McNulty-gate’. Boys that is really not the kind of thing you want people to be saying about you! The ham-fisted way in which the McNulty affair was handled has done nothing to counter the image of a regressive, misogynist and self-serving bunch of lads who appear to have let power go to their heads. And then to have the ultimate insult thrown at you – that this is something you might have expected from FF in the bad old days! Look at these headlines: “Minister’s driver resigns from Irish Water” “FG TD thinks McNulty appointment is ‘stroke politics at its worst’” “Jobs Minster Bruton defends crony appointments to State boards” “Public still left out as state board jobs go to ministers’ candidates” “Coalition breaking own rules on State boards” The truth, of course, is that the practise of appointing people to state boards is something that parties in government have done with impunity for decades. And in many instances those appointed are about as useful to the board to which they have been appointed as the proverbial spare tit on the bull. Anyway now that all the appointments have been made the Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform is going to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again.
While most towns on the island have put Summer well behind them and, with ever shorter and cooler Autumnal days, have begun to batten down the hatches for the Winter. They will keep the heads down until Christmas. Not so in Wexford. For come mid October we will be dusting off our glad-rags and getting ready for the annual knees-ups that is Wexford Opera Festival. And it’s not all opera and classical. The festival has always had a very lively Fringe with a high quality Singing Pubs competition, theatre, readings, concerts, exhibitions, etc. For the past couple of years the Fringe has gotten even bigger with the arrival of the Spiegeltent Festival. The guys behind this have put together a hugely diverse, exciting (and brave!) programme of music, theatre, comedy, burlesque and vaudeville. Where else would you get Beautiful South and Brendan Grace on the same programme? Or Panti and the Lambert Puppet Show! Full details at http://wexfordspiegeltent.com
The Opera and Fringe Festivals are the high point of the cultural year in Wexford. They are also very important to the local economy with beds in short supply and restaurants, pubs and hotels filled to the rafters. So while the rest of the country sits in by the fire waiting for Christmas we will be burning the candle at both ends and making merry!
Well done to Wexford Tidy Towns in winning bronze at the recent Tidy Towns Awards. Many man (and woman) hours have gone into getting us to this point. The weekend cleanups regularly attract in excess of twenty volunteers. There are also smaller midweek groups who tackle the towns streets, and satellite groups who take on responsibility for various parks, estates and approach roads around the town. The Council has, over the past few years, worked very closely with WTT to help keep momentum going. This relationship has been very successful and, for all concerned, it is gratifying to see one’s labours bringing such positive results. Onwards and upwards! www.wexfordtidytowns.com
For house prices the only way right now seems to be up. According to the latest report from the Economic and Social Research Institute the Irish market still appears to be undervalued. While the upward trend is partly down to natural correction much of it is down to poor supply, especially in and around Dublin. The ESRI says there is no suggestion that we are heading for another boom. They also say that they do not see rapidly rising house prices as a good or healthy sign. “As the economy continues to emerge from the recent recession, keeping key cost of living factors affordable, such as housing, is imperative as the economy seeks to maintain the competitiveness advantage that has been gained in recent times.” Of course there is nothing to stop an Irish government from screwing up again. http://www.thejournal.ie/house-prices-irish-market-esri-1606629-Aug2014/
We hear today that the National Development Finance Agency has cleared the way for the controversial incinerator to go ahead in Poolbeg. What a shame. Dublin City Council has, from the start, made no bones about its commitment to the project regardless of cost and the impact on the environment. Having thrown so much money at it over the years one could be forgiven for thinking that the only reason they have stuck with it is to try justify the expenditure to date (much of it consultant fees). There is also the fact that the current government is more than likely giving its own support to the project. No surprise there as they have displayed a real lack of commitment to follow through on environmental policies introduced by their predecessors. Expect to see hordes of angry residents, in the Ringsend and Poolbeg areas especially, coming together to fight the authorities on this one.
If you have been to the Council’s new offices in Carriglawn you cannot have failed to notice the multi-coloured splash of colour coming from the wild flowers and grasses near the main entrance. This is a very positive statement of intent from the Council that the whole area of biodiversity is one they are taking seriously. With flowerbeds in the Wexford town area now containing a greater percentage of bee-friendly flowers we hope that the Council’s planting policy county-wide will move in a similar direction. Wexford County Council’s biodiversity page contains a wealth of information on the subject: http://www.wexford.ie/wex/Departments/Environment/Biodiversity Visit www.wexfordtidytowns.com to see how Wexford Town is nurturing its biodiversity side. While there read up on the “Let’s Bee Friendly” campaign and pledge your support to the bees!
We know that with the effects of climate change ever more visible and that, with current political inaction and general lack of political will, we can expect those effects to continue ever upwards we cannot continue to behave and consume as we do. Prof Timothy Lang gets the point across very nicely in this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gl00pKzARE
One of the unfortunate impacts of the government’s austerity programme is not only that standards fall but that things simply do not get done. Check the newspapers on any day and you will find examples of this in one or other sector: hospital operations not happening, medical cards not getting issued to those entitled to them, university grants not getting processed, streets not getting cleaned, EU emissions limits not been adhered to, and so on.
We have already seen several examples of Environment Minister Phil Hogan’s rather indifferent approach to how he deals with his brief. He is not only not getting things done, he is rolling back on much of the good work done by the Greens in government. The unfortunate end result is that the environment is the loser. We have learned in the past week that Ireland’s Nitogen Oxide emissions through 2010-2011 exceeded EU targets. We are failing to meet the MINIMUM targets set by the EU for Irish air quality. Not only are we setting ourselves up for hefty fines, we are endangering the lives of many by not maintaining good air quality.
In pursuing an austerity programme this government can always say that it is only doing what must be done, what the Troika has told use must be done. However, not doing certain things, such as maintaining a clean environment, is going to cost us more in the end both in fines and in the negative impact on our health.
The IMF has stated that Ireland should continue with plans for a €2 billion budget adjustment next year notwithstanding strong economic growth here. Joan Burton, the likely new leader of the Labour Party, “has indicated that her intention is to remain in the coalition and to maintain the fiscal targets for 2015, while also emphasising the need for social repair alongside economic repair”. Sounds like she wants to have her cake and eat it! The view of an increasing number of top economists is that the present austerity drive across Europe is not in the best long term interest of the EU or its citizens. If we continue on this path it will take more than a little “social repair” to get us back on our feet.
The government’s U-turn on discretionary medical cards along with the announcement that eligibility may in the future be determined by medical need is further evidence that Fine Gael & Labour do not have the stomach to change our unfair two-tier health system.
Green Party Health Spokesperson, Oisin Ó hAlmhain, says: “Allocating resources simply on the basis of medical condition continues the policy where illnesses with a strong emotional appeal receive more funding, while those conditions which are thought to be less deserving, such as psychiatric illness or chronic pain, do not. Evidence of this can be seen in the recent cuts to gastric banding surgery for obese patients, and in the growing waiting lists for ENT and dermatology services throughout the country.
“The Green Party is committed to the goal of equity of outcomes in health, as well as to fairness in opportunities and services for health. Medical cards must be allocated to those in greatest need, and not simply to those with the most vocal lobby group. Measures are needed to ensure that some discretion remains, but only in a transparent and equitable system, where those with greatest medical need are cared for.”
With the elections almost upon us politicians up and down the country are growing ever more frenetic in their efforts to convince you that “I AM THE ONE”! The last minute attempts to ensure all bases are covered has more than a few in a dervish-like trance-state of near exhaustion. The whole thing is a great game, dirty tackles and all! Not that you can expect any dirty play from your Green Party candidates. We are not ones for petty off-the-ball harrying or name-calling even if we do not shy away from going in with the shoulder! We leave gratuitous mud-slinging to others. I am listening to a panel on Sean O’Rourke’s radio show (|RTE 1) discussing the good, the bad and the ugly of local democracy and the doing away with our Town Councils. Will we miss them? The general feeling is that their days were numbered way back in the 1970s when much of their power was transferred to County Councils. One thing is certain: with Town Councils gone we will make a big saving on unjustifiable expenses and junkets. What chance we might see reform to present abuses in this area at County Council level? Now, more than ever, people want to know that it is not simply a case of business as usual in the Council. They want public representatives who will do what is right rather than doing what they are told. There is a palpable sense of anger towards politicians of all persuasions, a sense that a promise made is a promise waiting to be broken, and that, for the majority of politicians, party will always come before the common good. No wonder people find it hard to trust politicians. Let us hope that our incoming Councillors can learn to work together, for the good of his constituents, in a responsible and transparent way. Councillors need to have one overriding aim, one which starts with the question: “What can I do to make Wexford a better place to live, shop and work?”. Councillors cannot wave a magic wand and make everything alright. What they can do is lay the groundwork to allow us build a better Wexford whether through better policy development and more careful allocation of scarce resources. They can, and must, ensure that tax/rate payers get a bigger bang for their buck by working more closely with local business and the community. Such an approach can deliver better services, better roads, safer streets, and a Wexford that is open for business.