Halloween Bonfires: Right or Wrong?

 

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Bonfires, including Halloween bonfires are (we are told), dangerous, illegal and bad for the environment.  They should not, and must not, be tolerated.  Yet still they persist.

Monday was Halloween and I posted on Facebook and, without expressing an opinion, reported that the local kids were building one anyway and that they seemed damned well organised in the way they were going about it.  Of the responses 90 per cent appeared to ‘like’ the fact; 10 per cent were ‘angry’.  So what are the rights and wrongs?

First the negatives:

  1. Anyone who puts out old mattresses, sofas, or MDF for collection might be doing themselves a favour by avoiding recycling charges and letting kids do their dirty work for them by taking them away to be burnt in the open air, but they are ultimately doing none of us – or for that matter themselves – a favour.
  2. Someone must clean up the mess the day after. This particular pleasure falls to the cash strapped Local Authorities, which is a waste of valuable resources and your and my taxpayer’s money.
  3. There is a very good chance that someone might get hurt or burnt.

All very valid arguments which can’t be faulted, but is there another side?  Could the pros actually outweigh the cons?

The first thing to understand is that as a species we have a deep grained affinity with fire; there is something deeply primeval about it that resonates with the innermost exhortations of our souls; and it’s not going to go away anytime soon.  Ever since our distant ancestors learned how to use fire to keep warm, chase off scary animals with larger teeth than their own and – later – to cook, it’s been an integral part of our lives.  The most common modern day manifestation is the summer barbeque, safer and more sanitized than a fire at the entrance to a cave, but nonetheless an opportunity for the male of the species to get back in touch with his inner Neanderthal and impress his mate by displaying his mastery of fire.

We like fire and are determined to have it occasionally in our lives, despite what we are told we can or can’t do; the kids who built the bonfire, like all those before them, certainly were had a view on the matter.

There were twenty of them here this year, ranging in age between ten and eighteen years.  Over eighteen and they are vulnerable to the full weight of the law; below it they’re not.

And they’re smart enough to know it.

Apparently there are always up and coming members ready to step up and take on an organisational role when their elders are forced to retire on reaching the legal age of adulthood.

And organised they are.

They have learned by experience that a prematurely prepared bonfire will be removed, so they stash material in back alleys and out of the way places where hopefully it won’t be found, and leave everything else to the last minute.

This year they acquired a load of pallets and a pallet truck to transport them on.  The truck was loaded twenty pallets high, carefully roped down and pushed down the road, one lad in front steering, four behind pushing.  Every now and again they pulled in to the side of the road to let traffic past.  A couple of smaller kids brought up the rear staggering under the weight of a pallet each, both bigger than they were.

Others were scurrying around collecting combustibles left out in front of local houses that afternoon.  The householders have also learned to leave leaving things to the last minute.  Sadly a good few three piece suites and sofas were involved and made their way onto the fire.  This is totally wrong on all levels, but who is mostly to blame, the kids who took them or the adults who cynically and irresponsibly left them out to be taken?

Gary, and of course that is not his real name, is the current de facto leader.  A likeable and intelligent street-wise individual, he’ll be retiring this year.  He is proud of the community bonfire’s record.

”Unlike a lot of the fires in Dublin”, he says, “there is never any trouble here and we’ve never had an accident.  The Guards know it and, while they keep an eye, they tend to leave us alone.  We have a fire and everyone has a good time.

“The one thing I insisted on to the lads was, don’t even think about aerosols or gas canisters.”

They didn’t, and there weren’t.

When I suggested to Gary that his troops could earn civic brownie points to be stored against future celebrations by cleaning up some of the inevitable mess the next day I was met by a blank look.

————————

By nightfall there was an impressive pile in the middle of the Green; by eight o’clock it had been torched and was an even more impressive blaze.  Cars lined the road as hundreds of people turned up to enjoy the spectacle: kids, adults and young families alike

There were no incidents and no accidents.

The Gardai inevitably arrived with obligatory flashing blue lights but attended without interfering, which was the right thing for them to do.  Once the fire had burned down to a safe level (more or less) they departed, leaving about a hundred people, mostly young adults, standing round the embers talking and drinking.   A few young families remained with the kids, under parental supervision, racing round searching out overlooked scraps of wood to throw on the glowing ashes.

Having gone home for an hour or so earlier I had returned myself and was happy to accept a random can of lager in the spirit it was proffered.  No-one got ridiculously drunk, no-one became abusive or aggressive and there was no anti-social behaviour; truth to tell the prevailing air was that of a sense of community.  It’s just a pity that the drinkers, having taken the trouble to carry full cans down, couldn’t manage to take the empties home.

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Morning after the night before.

One thing I took from all this was that twenty kids effectively organised an evening’s entertainment for several hundred people.  What’s more, they managed it in defiance of the law and the dictates of the State.

It really is like that old story about the bumblebee:  For decades it was declared that, according to all the laws of aerodynamics, bumblebees couldn’t fly.  The insects in question, blissfully unaware of said laws, happily carried on doing so anyway.  Then science realised where it had been going wrong all along and aerodynamicists finally conceded that, yes, bumblebees could fly.

Just as well for the bees that they didn’t listen.

Could there be some sort of societal analogy here?  As responsible adults we are given to understand that ‘yes, we must do this’ and ‘no, we cannot do that’.  And we believe it so we comply.

These kids didn’t know they couldn’t do it so they got right on and did it, and where was the harm in that?

 

 

 

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It really is time the Left got its act together.

 

election

Ho hum, we feel another election coming on.

Back in May the call of the first cuckoo innocently heralded the onset of summer; now in September Micheál Martin, the cuckoo in the Fine Gael nest, portends a return to the polls by demanding that water charges be abolished, thus distancing himself from his mismatched siblings in the Daíl in order that they get thrown out and he remains.

Well you can’t blame a guy for trying, but how stupid does he think the electorate are?  Even we haven’t had time to forget that it was Fianna Faíl who introduced Irish Water in the first place, that his party pledged at the last election to scrap it, and that they then colluded with FG to set up an ‘Independent’ Commission to determine how best it should continue.  Maybe he’s right when he says he hasn’t made a  U turn; more accurately he’s made several.  In fact he’s made that many he hardly knows which way he’s heading anymore.

Except, of course, he does.

Micheál Martin is heading to get his party back to where he knows it belongs and always has belonged: in power.

Micheál Martin knows full well that the present administration has taken battering after battering over the past few months and that now is the time to strike.

Micheál Martin calculates that if a general election were to be held tomorrow it would be FF, not FG – or anyone else for that matter, who would top the poll.  And he’s almost certainly right.

And the Left must take their share of the blame.

Left wing, Independent and left leaning politicians have been doing sterling work exposing corruption and calling the Government to account.  Without them much of what has been uncovered would have passed by unnoticed.  Whether it was Catherine Murphy upsetting Denis O’Brien in the Daíl; Stephen Donnelly digging dirt on the vulture funds; Richard Boyd Barrett on the Apple fiasco; Clare Daly, who always seems to be everywhere at once; or Mick Wallace exposing NAMA corruption.

All good stuff, and plenty more besides but what this is doing, and quite rightly so, is calling the Government to account.  What it is not doing is offering an alternative. Micheál Martin knows this and that is why he knows he will win the next election; the people simply do not know who else to vote for so they will return to doing what they’ve always done and vote Fianna Faíl.

How different would it be if we had a strong and united Left; a force that the electorate could not only have faith in but, equally importantly, understand?  Sadly we are not about to find out because getting the Left to pull together is about as easy as harnessing cats to pull a sledge.

I am a grassroots member of one of these political parties, and I regularly canvass or distribute leaflets.  I know at firsthand how confused ordinary voters are, not only about who they should be voting for, but about who’s actually who, what they represent, and what they are calling themselves this week. When asked I find myself spending so much time trying to explain the complexities that the recipient’s eyes glaze over and they walk away with a bemused smile on their face before we’ve even got around to discussing policy.

Clare Daly doubtless knows perfectly well the difference between the Independent Alliance and Independents 4 Change, Stephen Donnelly might give a (retrospective) definition of the Social Democrats, Richie Boyd Barrett and Ruth Coppinger could tell you why PbP and AAA are the same party but not quite; but the voters can’t.  So the vote is lost.

Other more savvy voters say, understandably, that a ragbag collection of independents who can’t even agree amongst themselves have no mandate to govern.  So the vote is lost.

Some of these lost votes go to Sinn Féin, a party that currently, rather like the Micheál Martin of today, sports leftwing colours.  Some don’t because Sinn Féin is a Republican (as opposed to Socialist) party with a proven track record of rebranding itself as the occasion demands for as short or long a time as suits its purposes.

And this is the root of the problem: who is Left and who is not?  One or two readers might already be apoplectic to have seen a bankrupt property developer and TD mentioned in the same breath as socialism, but Mick Wallace has done much good in office.  As others have said before, we should be looking for our similarities; not our differences.  It is only when those differences have been reconciled and individual egos set aside that socialism will succeed in this country.

Meanwhile Fianna Faíl will win the next election.

On the bright side, I look forward to walking shoulder to shoulder with Micheál Martin on Saturday’s water march.

 

 

 

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Brexit: The British have done the Irish people a huge favour.

Brexit

Image courtesy of Rlevente

 

Europe over the past few weeks has waited in trepidation for the result of the Brexit vote, and of all the EU countries Ireland has had perhaps the most cause for concern.  If Britain leaves who do we side with?  Who do we trade with?  What will become of us all?

There have been growing calls here from the Left for us to follow suit and leave; calls that I personally resisted, arguing that while the EU is indeed a rotten neo-liberal dictatorship that has the best interests of corporate cartels and political cronyism at heart, we would be better off remaining and fighting for change from within.

I now believe that I was wrong.

Actually I was wrong about two things.  I never really believed that they would vote out; so the result came as a bit of a surprise.  Come to that it came as an equal surprise to a lot of Brits who, rather in the way of those who wake up the next morning after a particularly good party, put their heads in their hands and wondered what they’d done.

But then this came into my inbox this morning.  It’s a twelve minute video and I strongly recommend anyone to take an equal twelve minutes of their life to watch it.  In any case, the rest of this blog will make precious little sense if you don’t, so do it now.  Please.

Done that?  Good!

Many of you reading this in Ireland will have hopefully overcome your instinctive hatred of an Oxford accent sufficient to hear the words themselves.  You will also be interested to know that this, as I’m delighted to be able to report, came to my page recommended via Right to Change; the irony of which will no more be lost on you than it is on me.

Those reading in the UK or beyond will probably not know who Right to Change are.  Suffice to say that they are a left wing political group here in Ireland who oppose austerity, political cronyism and corporate greed and are fighting for a more equitable society.

It is hard to fault what Daniel Hannon says in his speech.  What’s more, as an MEP he has seen at first hand the workings of the European Parliament so he knows what he is talking about; he comes across as very credible.  And he slates them.

Let us recap what he says:

Who bankrolled the Remain campaign?  Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, City Group and City hedge funds.

Why?  Because they are protecting their own best interests: profit, and an obscene amount of it at that.

What’s the best way to ensure that people vote Remain?  Scare tactics and dire warnings of economic chaos and reduced living standards if they don’t.

Do politicians, corporations and big business collude to maintain the status quo and keep the money at the top?  Your call.

The other issue under discussion regarding Brexit is xenophobia.  There are those who would have us believe that 51.9% of the population of Britain are racist bigots who are only interested in closing their borders and keeping the foreigners out.  This is, of course, patently absurd.

Oh sure, there are most definitely some; we have a like minded minority who think that way in Ireland.  Or France.  Or America.  Or anywhere else you care to name.  But what better way to discredit a group of people and their opinions than to tar them all with the same racist brush?

Meanwhile heads are rolling in British politics and the Union looks set to quite possibly split in two.  What will be the outcome?  Will Europe itself fragment?  No-one knows; this has never happened before.  Everyone, politicians, financiers and the man or woman on the street is on a steep learning curve here.

Will the British adopt the tried and tested Irish strategy of holding as many referenda re-runs as it takes before the people manage to get it right?   If they don’t, will a self governing Britain free of Europe and ruled by Westminster be any less corrupt?  (The Irish might also wish to ponder the same question in relation to their own Government).

We don’t know.

But what we do know is that Britain, at no inconsiderable risk to itself, has delivered a huge wake-up call to the EU.  French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is quoted as saying that Brexit “has exposed a deep malaise within the EU”, and he’s absolutely correct.

Only a country with the political and economic clout of Britain could have done this.  Greece considered it and was beaten senseless by the big stick of Merkel and the Central Bank.  Ireland considered not bailing out the bondholders for a full agonising five minutes before acquiescing.

Ireland feared a Brexit and wondered who they would trade with in the event of it happening.  But now Ireland has a breathing space in which it can sit back and watch how things pan out.

Britain is Ireland’s biggest single trading partner.  Forty per cent of our beef goes there and Irish farmers are understandably anxious about that.  But if Britain is out and stays out it will have paved the way for Ireland to join them and the market will be safe.  And as Daniel Hannon says, leaving a moribund and stagnating Europe might close some doors but it would open up others worldwide once we were able to negotiate our own trade agreements again.

There would be other advantages, not least that the horrible spectre of the resurrection of the Northern Ireland border would immediately vanish.  We could reclaim the fish in Irish territorial waters that we gave away on accession; that would be a huge boost both for the economy, coastal communities and disadvantaged areas lacking in employment.  Without the constraints of the Fiscal Compact tethering us maybe, just maybe, we could build the Local Authority housing that this country so desperately needs.

And if Britain stays out and Ireland stays in?

Well, at the very least we’ll be in an EU that has learned to its cost that it has to behave itself or members will leave

 

 

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Bin companies, blatant profiteering or simply useless at maths?

Wheelie-bins

The introduction of pay by weight waste charges is generating a lot of media and public interest, which is hardly surprising to say the least.

An article in today’s Independent, which you can read here if you wish, reports on householder’s concerns about massive hikes in charges and the almost total lack of information as to the scale of said charges coming from the bin companies.

The part that caught my eye was this:

“One City Bin customer told the Irish Independent their bin charges would almost double from €170 a year to just over €300, based on the new system.

“However, a spokesman for the company said the customer would have to be a “huge” generator of waste to run up such fees, adding that the changeover to the new system required customers to change their habits.”

So who’s telling the truth and who’s trying to pull a fast one?  Is that City Bin customer a “huge generator of waste” who gets what he deserves or not?  I suspect he very probably isn’t.

I don’t know this particular person or how much they throw away and I am not a City Bin customer so don’t know what their charges, present or intended, are, but I do at least know that all the waste companies are planning similar escalations in charges, and that the word “cartel” has been used recently in the Dáil;  I do not have Dáil privileges protecting me from litigation so I will not.  I also know how much we ourselves throw away and how much it costs to do so and therefore feel qualified to make a comparison, a comparison that turns out to be remarkably similar.

 

It would be fair to say that ours is a low income household, but we’re not complaining.  Like many others we do what it takes to get by and we haven’t starved yet.

“What it takes to get by” includes living modestly and within our means, running a small car and shopping around for the best deals, be it on food, goods or services.  We have even managed to keep our waste collection charges down.  Until now.

We have always supported waste segregation, primarily because it is the right and “Green” thing to do, but also because we found we could save money by doing so; a win-win situation.  Again, until now.

We have always used the brown bin for organic waste and this gets recycled.  The service was free; soon it will not be.

In fact not all of our organic waste goes into that bin; much of it we recycle ourselves to the benefit of all, including our allotment vegetables.  But while we can compost the likes of vegetable peelings we cannot do the same with meat, bones or cooked foods; the rats would love it and our neighbours would not.  A certain amount will still have to go in the brown bin and be collected fortnightly, otherwise the smell will be unacceptable, and now we will be charged not only by weight but also per lift.  Every two weeks we will be charged for collecting a practically empty bin and there’s nothing we can do about it.

The green bin apparently remains unchanged; it and its contents are free of charge.

The black bin is another matter.  Up until now it has been charged on a per lift basis using the old tag system.  This has actually suited us very well because we’d put it out very infrequently and were charged a flat rate when we did so: €9.50 or thereabouts a time.  Many people might find this hard to credit, but the bin went out a mere four times a year. It can be done.

That meant that we were paying €38 per year for black bin lifts.  With the annual standing charge for all three bins set at €110 and no lift fee for green or brown, our total waste bill was €148.  But now things are set to change.

When the Government originally planned pay by weight it set a target of 11 cents per kilo for black bin waste and 6 cents for brown.  We use Panda recycling, not so much from choice; more because they’re the only operator in our area.  Panda have been as unforthcoming as the rest in announcing their new charges but now it has emerged that they plan 16 cents per kilo for brown and a whopping 27.7 cents for black.  There will also be a lift charge of €3.20 per black bin and €2.56 for brown.

Meanwhile they are delighted to tell us that the annual standing charge will be reduced to €86, thus saving us €24 per year.  Whoopee!

Now let’s do some maths.

 

Last year.

€110 standing charge + (black bin, €9.50 x 4) =                                                      €148    

This year.

Standing charge,                                                                                                                 €86

Brown bin, (26 lifts @ €2.56 = €66.56) + (est. 5kg/week @ 16c = €41.60) =     €108.16

Black bin, (4 lifts @ €3.20 = €12.80) + (est. 400 kgs* @ 27.7c = €110.80) =     €123.60

Total                                                                                                                                         €317.76

 

* Yes, our bin is heavy when it goes out because it contains no light paper or plastic and is full to the brim.  This saves lift fees.

 

So even though we’re doing everything we can to reduce, recycle and economise our bill is set to double; exactly the same as City Bin customer’s in the Independent.  Is he and are we “huge generators of waste”?  I don’t think so.  Will we have to rethink our waste management habits?  How can we, we’re already doing all we can.  I challenge any waste company to accuse me of being a “huge generator of waste” and absolutely defy them to tell me how I can manage said waste and charges better.

We are left with three possible conclusions:

1) Either my calculations are way off, but I really don’t think they are.

2) The waste companies calculations are way off, I really can’t say.

Or

3) There is attempted blatant profiteering going on here, I know what I think.

 

Thankfully things are not likely to turn out quite as badly, for the time being at least.

There has been a huge public backlash already and the Government are rightly concerned about the possibility of a repeat of the water protests.  Simon Coveney is being forced to take the companies to task on the issue both as a result of this and the intention of opposition parties to table motions in the Dáil on Monday.  AAA/PBP and Sinn Fein have and are genuinely opposing the hikes and Fianna Fáil, mindful of votes and public sentiment, are jumping on the bandwagon.

But it was public resistance and public protest that really forced the issue.  The previous FG/Labour administration learned to its cost the consequences of arrogantly and imperiously foisting whatever they saw fit on the electorate.  Politicians now realise they cannot any longer ride roughshod over the people because the people are waking up to the fact that it is they, not the politicians, who ultimately have the power should they choose to wield it.

Coveney will face down the waste companies this coming week on behalf of Fine Gael, but only because he and his party now have no choice.  Charges will be reduced for the present but there will be a tacit understanding that they will be allowed to slowly creep back up over time once public anger has dissipated, we’ve seen it all before; we should not let it happen again.  It is now up to all of us to be vigilant and watchful.

People power can and should prevail against injustice and profiteering, thanks to those who were prepared to stand up and make themselves heard the last few days have shown that it can.

 

 

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Should poor people be made to live in modular housing?

kibera slum nairobi

There has been, and will continue to be, much debate about modular housing and its role in solving the present Irish housing crisis.

So let’s set a few things straight:

  1.  There is nothing wrong with modular housing per sé.  Period.
  2.  The twin problems lay firstly in our attitudes, prejudices and misconceptions of  same, and secondly where they should be built.
  3.  If previous governments had properly managed housing policy in this country  there would be no need for discussion; but they didn’t, so there is.
  4.  As a result of this neglect urgent action is required to address the problem.

Point 1 first, what exactly is modular housing?

Somehow we seem to have come up with the idea that it is some sort of inferior method of creating instant slums out of second-rate materials: “Ah sure, throw a few empty shipping containers together, it’s the best we can do.”

Of course, you can do just that and the result might look like this:

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Possibly not to everyone’s taste; some might love it, some might hate it, but nobody could call it slum material.

Nor this…

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Traditionalist fans of the ubiquitous white Irish cottage might prefer this…

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Whatever about the last example, it’s pretty obvious that no Government housing scheme is going to provide anything quite like the first two.  But all show what can be done by people who choose to do so, and number 1. in particular shows the effect that can be achieved by literally throwing a few 40′ containers together.

The reality is probably going to look more like this…

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Environment Minister Alan Kelly proudly poses outside the newly completed modular housing in Ballymun, Dublin.

And well might he look proud.  While the houses themselves might not be anything special to look at they look no worse than a great many of the houses thrown up by the private sector during the boom, houses that private buyers fell over themselves to purchase, only to see their equity disappear down the drain of the bust.  The Ballymun houses were desperately needed and finally getting them built is one of the few things he can belatedly take credit for during his term of office.

So what exactly is it with us and our prejudice against modular homes?  Maybe we should re-evaluate.

After all, no-one objects to the component parts of their car, washing machine or computer being stamped out in a factory and assembled afterwards; it makes perfect sense, production costs are low as a result and yet the finished product can be customised to individual taste.  No two iphones look the same once they’ve been accessorised; why should housing be so very different?

Perhaps we cling to the idea that only brick and concrete are permanent and therefore the only option;  householders who bought during the boom and now have pyrite in their walls and foundations have learned to their cost that this is not necessarily the case.

In other countries the view does not prevail.  Germans and Scandinavians are more than happy to live in modular homes and the iconic champion of the furniture flat-pack that we all know and love, Ikea, has set its self-assembly sights even higher.  For the past twenty years Ikea, in partnership with a company named Skanska, has been delivering   affordable housing in Sweden.

In our current situation modular housing meets two essential bottom line requirements, it is cost effective and it is quick.  And speed is of the essence.

It is difficult to establish exactly how much is being spent on short term solutions, but if a report in the Irish Independent of July 2015 is anything to go by, the various Dublin Councils are at present spending somewhere in excess of €28 million a year on keeping families in temporary and hotel accommodation.  Not only is this entirely unsatisfactory from the point of view of the families involved, it is a huge financial drain on hard pressed local authorities and the taxpayer.

In Dublin alone €28 million a year is going out of the public purse and into private hands as local authorities are forced to pay the going commercial rate.  Were these families to be housed in local authority housing, of whatever kind, this money would be saved immediately as rents were returned to the councils instead of being paid to private interests.

Critics claim that modular houses do not come cheap.  This is not true.  Sure, they don’t come for nothing, and the same Minister Kelly is quoted as saying anywhere between €75,000 and €100,000.  This might sound expensive but Dublin City Council has announced a long overdue building development of 13,000 homes on land it owns within the city, affordable housing is part of the mix and the Council reckons that a two bed home could start from €240,000.  Good stuff, but by my simple reckoning that’s two to three times the price of modular.

Modular homes are sub-standard.  Again, not true.

They are perfectly capable of being built to the same high standards of safety, durability and energy efficiency as any other home.  And so they should be.

What is needed has already been widely suggested: an independent working group to oversee development, ensure that standards are indeed met, that money is well spent and, last but not least, that the homes are put in the right places. This last is a contentious issue which has already caused heated debate in certain circles.

There is an unfortunate tendency by local authorities to plant this type of development in the most disadvantaged areas.  The official reason being cost, land is cheapest there.  One suspects that the unofficial, and never admitted, reason is that residents of wealthier areas do not want them on their doorstep thank you very much.  Money talks, sometimes loudly; sometimes a quiet word is enough.

Of the 60 units allocated to Fingal County Council (in North Dublin) 40 are scheduled to be built in Balbriggan.  The locals are not happy, and with good reason.  The once small town has expanded out of all proportion in recent years because it has good road and rail links to Dublin but is far enough out to be relatively cheap.  This was perhaps its downfall.

More and more greenfield sites were rezoned as estates flew up but the infrastructure could not keep up.  Social housing was relocated from upmarket Fingal towns such as Malahide and built here instead.  Why?  Because the land was cheap.  In this way the town acquired a whole new high density estate on its outskirts.  Whether palms were greased in the process it is impossible to say.

Today the town struggles with entirely inadequate resources; there are no GP places to be had, schools are overstretched and many parents have to drive their children to school in neighbouring towns, a long promised swimming pool and leisure amenity has never materialised.  Social tensions run high as Balbriggan does its best to accommodate and integrate an ever increasing population.  And Fingal CC wants to plant an extra 40 disadvantaged families here.

I make no apologies for calling these people disadvantaged; if a family without a home is not disadvantaged, what family is?  Nor am I against social housing or modular homes; I’ve spent this entire blog championing both.  What I am against is placing this housing in the wrong areas.  Any community without the resources to do so can only be expected to absorb a limited influx of newcomers; exceed this and we have a recipe for trouble.

It is all well and good for those in affluent areas to adopt a ‘not our sort, send them elsewhere’ attitude, but it does not work in the longer term.  What this ultimately leads to is social division where one area is ghettoised and resentful and the first lot hide behind security fences and electronically gated entrances waiting for the second lot to burgle them.

One of the most important aspects of social housing is that of planning where it should go. Unfortunately this is all too often overlooked and now is the time to get it right.

 

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Is the Left so loony after all?

 

This load of left wing nonsense came into my news-feed recently:

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So who is Ken Loach and what in the name of creation is he talking about?

                                                         —————–

At eighty years of age Ken Loach is by no means finished, but film buffs and those of a certain age might best remember him as the director of Cathy Come Home in the ‘sixties; for Irish people The Wind That Shakes The Barley  may spring to mind.  Loach has devoted his life to film making, championing the rights of ordinary people and fighting social and economic injustice.

Thus, by definition, he has always been hardcore ‘Loony Left’,  a description that he  no doubt feels perfectly comfortable with.

But where is he coming from with “austerity policies are actually designed to dismantle the welfare state, bring down wages and fully marketise the economy, destroying all the social and economic gains of ordinary people since the second world war?”

Strong words indeed, but surely a meaningless rant of socialist rhetoric?  what sort of society does he think he’s living in?

To find out, let’s imagine one.  Let us imagine an Irish version.  Let us imagine an Ireland where, up until a few short years ago, investors and speculators were making a killing on a newly emerged and rapidly expanding property market.  Everyone who mattered was getting rich, and everyone who mattered was very happy and owned a helicopter.  Most of us, with one notable exception, even had a bank account to keep our money in.  In this hypothetical Ireland greed was god and banks, to all intents and purposes unregulated by the State, lent freely and irresponsibly.

Perhaps what happened next was some sort of financial crash, it all fell apart and suddenly the bond holders all lost their money as a result of this reckless behaviour.  Except they didn’t.  In this bizarre parallel universe the government of this now bankrupt country declared that the bond holders would not be allowed to lose their money; the people, the ordinary people, would pay.  And they would continue paying for as long as it took, €26,000 for every man, woman and child.

An election was called and the people, understandably peeved, punished the government by voting for a different party; which turned out, surprise, surprise, to be exactly the same party but under a different name.  Politics and business were as inextricably linked as ever before, and the one continued to make damned sure to look after the other.

There were other forces at work.  This Ireland belonged to a much larger organisation called an EU.  This was just as well because the EU lent Ireland billions of euro so that Ireland could stay afloat and pay its debts – particularly the debts it owed to the EU, plus the new ones thus incurred.  But there were terms and conditions.  National debt had to be reduced and the way to do this was to cut government spending; austerity was born.

Those workers who still had jobs were thankful for the fact and took pay cuts.  Many who no longer had a job lost their homes also.  Cuts were made to social and welfare spending and life became very difficult for those at the bottom.  Private house building had ceased because developers could no longer turn a decent profit and the state was precluded from building social housing because to do so would violate the terms of the EU Fiscal Compact. A country that barely ten years before had had a property boom now found itself with an acute housing shortage.

And yet there was still plenty of money at the top.  This Ireland had for years successfully courted multinational companies with a twelve and a half per cent corporate tax system, and then stood by and watched while they paid a fraction of this.  The government of this Ireland actually refused to collect billions of euro in unpaid taxes from Apple, billions of euro which could have been put to very good use throughout the country and for the benefit of its citizens.

But in this imaginary so-bizarre-you-couldn’t-make-it-up Ireland it was neither necessary or desirable to collect those taxes: the money was going where it was intended to go, the top; austerity was a tool for ensuring that it continued to do so.

Perhaps this is the sort of society that Ken Loach has in mind with his opening statement. If so his ‘Loony Left’ rhetoric looks positively sane against the alternative.  Ken has lived and been involved long enough to realise that social and economic rights are not automatically conferred on society, and even once they have been granted there is nothing to say that they cannot slip away again.

If they are not to do so we must all sit up and take notice of what is happening around us.

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The Housing Crisis, A View From The Bottom.

 

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Geraldine and Chris, house hunting.

 

 

Last Saturday a young couple went to view a house to rent in the County Dublin area. They were not particularly hopeful beforehand; they were even less so afterwards.

Geraldine and Chris are married with three children ranging in age from 12 months to seven years. The family have always lived in rented accommodation and, because Chris is working in a low paid job and Geraldine is a full-time mother, they have not the faintest hope of ever getting a mortgage. They will have no option other than continue to rent, but how can anyone rent when nothing is available?

Geraldine was raised in Skerries, her parents live there still and she would like to live there too. For the first few of their years together she and Chris did in fact live in private rented accommodation in the town; in due course their daughter was enrolled in the local school. But then their landlord wanted the house back to house a family member and they had to move.

Prices had spiralled in the meantime and there was nowhere within their price range in Skerries any longer. They were forced to move to Balbriggan, a neighbouring town which is much less sought after and with rents to match.

Even here they did not find it easy, but eventually found somewhere they could afford and moved in.

All went well for the next two years, they were happy in the house and their landlord was happy to have them in it. Not wishing to disturb the child’s education, and still hopeful of eventually moving back to Skerries, Geraldine kept her in the same school and drove her the four miles in and out every day.

But then their landlord dropped a bombshell: the bank was forcing him to sell and they’d have to get out. They were on the move again.

They are currently living with Chris’s parents in Donabate, even further away and far from ideal. Geraldine now has a two hour round trip twice a day to take her daughter to and from school. The arrangement can only be temporary, so when Saturday’s house came up, also in Balbriggan, they quickly applied.

Prospective tenants were invited to view the house between midday and 1 o’clock, and to bring along references, so Geraldine and Chris did. And so did 45 other families.

Geraldine takes up the story:

“This house is three bedroomed, like our last, but much smaller. Not only are the rooms much smaller but it has no front garden and only a tiny back garden, our last house had a large garden front and back where the kids could play safely. This one’s also €250 a month more.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’ll take anything we can get, and be grateful for it. But we got our month’s deposit of €950 back off the last place and if we get this one we’ll need to find €1,200. Given that we’ll have to pay not only the deposit but a month’s rent up front, that’s an extra €500 we’ll have to find from somewhere.

“It was really disheartening viewing the house and squeezing past four or five other families on the stairs doing exactly the same thing. I hope we get it but it’s hard to stay optimistic.”

The landlord told everyone that he’ll make up his mind and let them know in a week’s time. There will be one happy family and 45 who will be disappointed and who will have to keep going through the same thing time and time again.

To be fair, Geraldine and Chris are not in the worst of positions; it could be far worse, they could, like many, be in hotel or bed and breakfast accommodation. But even though they’ve always paid their rent on time and respected the houses they’ve lived in, they have no security. There is always the spectre of having to move, move kids in and out of school, and the insecurity of not knowing where they might be living this time next year.

This is a damning indictment of governmental neglect of the people it is supposed to be looking after. Housing has been completely neglected and mismanaged for decades in this country. With next to no local authority housing being built and house building being left to private property developers we find ourselves with homes for people who can afford them and none for those who cannot.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the 1950s through to the 70s the State, impoverished as it was by today’s standards, managed to build thousands of council homes across the country. During the boom property developers built thousands more houses, but this time private, and a vast number of these, never once lived in, are now owned by the State again in the form of NAMA, which august body, rather than using them for the good of the people, is currently selling them back at knock down prices to investors and speculators.

Where applicable these housing units, which are owned by the people, or at least nominally so, (after all, it was taxpayer’s money which bailed them out, for what little that seems to count), should be returned to the people and used to house the people.  To continue favouring big business because people do not matter is to continue the whole rotten cycle that created this mess in the first place.

A change of direction is long overdue.

 

 

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