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Villager March 2018

News Miscellany

Cut off

Villager is in favour of water charges so he doesn’t see why the water in the Village building was cut off for three days after the snow, even though next door is like Niagara/Poulaphouca. And why are they cutting it off anyway: it was snow not drought. Whatever, a hand hasn’t been washed in the office since the beginning of March.

Tarmac on the hillsides

Villager likes to bound around the hills and mountains of Wicklow when he can get out of the waterless dust and smoke of the Village office, particularly of a Sunday. Favourites are Luggala and the forgotten Kilruddery area between Bray and Greystones. He was shocked recently to see that many trees in the foothills near Kilruddery, where the Earls of Meath own the famous house, have been cut down. Just as bad, some of the verdant hillside has been tarmacked over, apparently for film studios, whose activities, being artistic you see, clearly do not concern Wicklow County Council. The same grey movie lorries and vans collected until recently on lands adjoining the JB Malone walk up above Garech de Brun’s land over Luggala, again with tarmacking the favoured terrain.

Luggala

Of course the Luggala estate is for sale and Denis O’Brien who famously liked to jog there with his so-called mates has been linked to a purchase, though it seems he has not bitten. Now there seem to be signals that Department of Culture and Heritage discussions with the trust that owns it may be going somewhere.

Josepha Mardigan: elusive on Luggala

An elusive Minister Josepha Madigan told Richard Boyd Barrett in the Dáil that the sticking point is price. Unfortunately it’s probably a mistake to think the State would improve this wilderness – it would probably install car-parks and other sterilising paraphernalia, though – despite Boyd Barrett’s fears – since the right of way down to Lough Dan is longstanding, any mogul buying the estate would have to observe it.

Siteselfserving

Taxpayers face a potential €100m bill for the investigation into the sale of building services group Siteserv to a Denis O’Brien company, according to a statement released by Mike Aynsley former IBRC chief executive – according to reports in the Irish Independent, Irish Times and RTE.ie.

A commission headed by Judge Brian Cregan, apparently aided by up to 30 lawyers, is investigating the sale of Siteserv to the Denis O’Brien-controlled Millington in 2012 for €45.5 million. The State-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) wrote off a €110m loan to the company following the deal.

According to, Aynsley, the inquiry’s spiralling legal costs could leave taxpayers with a €100m tab.

Aynsley was CEO of IBRC when it sold Siteserv. His views seem utterly self-serving. It is a tribute to press paranoia over Denis O’Brien that anyone would even report his comments.

Aynsley now runs a consultancy called Prospera Associates in London.

There’s a history of this sort of agenda-driven tribunal-mongering. In February 2007 the Irish Times reported that then Minister for Justice Michael McDowell was predicting the planning tribunal would cost “€1bn”. In fact the best current guess is that it cost €159 – not of course that it was worth it.

More of the same an INM

The new chairman of INM, whose largest shareholder is Denis O’Brien, is Glaswegian Murdoch MacLennan, former CEO (2003-2017) of Britain’s Telegraph group. Among other baubles, MacLennan is chairman of the Scottish Professional Football League and served on the Commission on Scottish Devolution. At the Telegraph he had a reputation for speaking the jargon: “smart working”, hot-desking” and “employee-friendly working practices” while pursuing a ruthless cost-cutting and employee-shedding agenda on behalf of the avaricious Barclay Brothers who own the newspapers. He made over 100 journalists redundant in 2006, nearly, but not quite, provoking a strike. The Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson was sacked and replaced by Sarah Sands in June 2005, but she lasted just nine months. They may miss Leslie Buckley yet.

Hypocr/Tical

The Irish Times castigated the dubious expediture of €1.5m by the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit on ‘Project 2040’. However, it has questions to answer about its own coverage under headlines including ‘National Development Plan’, ‘A Special Report in association with Project Ireland 2040, an initiative of the Goverment of Ireland’ and (in one small-print reference, ‘A Special Report’, over a page). Readers will make their own minds up as to whether the type sizes implied complicity. Certainly the usual Irish Times smugness masked a dollop of impurity.

Change in Italy

Just as Germany cobbles together an unexcited national unity government, a hung parliament seems likely in Italy. The Five Star Movement (M5S) secured an impressive victory in its parliamentary elections in early March. Everyone inVillage is drilled with the mantra of equality, sustainability, accountability: Five Star’s version and the agenda underpinning it is: public water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, right to Internet access, and environmentalism – the ‘five stars’. Purporting to be neither left nor right and Euro-sceptic, it won more than 30% of the vote as the traditional centre-left and centre-right political parties flopped: Matteo Renzi’s Democratic got 19% of the vote, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia 14% though it is tied to several other right-wing parties, notably the anti-immigrant and anti-EU League, with 18%. It falls to the president, Sergio Mattarella, to knock heads together.

Macau: Miaow

Speaking to Parliament’s extraordinarily named ‘Exiting the EU select committee’ in Westminster, Pascal Lamy, former Director General of the WTO, the global capitalists’ trade union, said the UK’s decision to leave the customs union and single market, “will necessitate a border”. Lamy told MPs the idea the UK could operate an invisible border on the island of Ireland while also having different trade tariffs with the EU was unworkable.

Lamy shot down the Government’s plan for a “virtual border”, saying such a customs arrangement does not exist anywhere in the world. He suggested one solution would be for the UK to give Northern Ireland the power to operate its own trade policy.

He cited the example of Macau in south-west China, which has a seat at the WTO as Beijing has allowed it to operate its own trade and customs policies.

And Villager thought Macau was an unenviable den of unhappy gamblers with little to offer, even to desperate Brexiteers. Mind you, it may all have been mischief: Lamy is a Europhile who was once zealous Jacques Delors’ chief of staff.

Coming down the line

In February the authoritative Economist Intelligence Unit predicted Grexit: “The government faces a potential backlash for imposing austerity measures without securing a deal from its EU creditors. Doubts about the country’s ability to remain in the euro zone will therefore persist”. The venerable prognosticators concluded: “We think it more likely than not that Greece will leave the euro zone in the medium term”.

Clue in the name

In all the angst and vituperation between Dublin City Councillors and the National Transportation Authority over the pedestrianisation of College Green and the associated missed deadlines, social regressiveness and threats to exclude various modes of transport, Villager quietly concluded that they’d be best off grassing it over, as in the eighteenth century. But then that’s his solution to Dublin’s quays too. If cars had not been invented we’d be travelling on something far more communitarian and have much more fun.

Rehabilitating Myers

Villager went to see Kevin Myers talk about the role of contingency in history at the Little Museum (soon to be not so little), one of his favourite places. There must have been concerns about security given Myers incendiary recent record but everyone was well behaved. He used the opportunity to review how different things could have been if World War 1 had happened differently. The Little Museum never fails to entertain and attracts multifarious crowds depending on the event. The Myers event was attended largely by the First World War, probably poppy, brigade. And Villager. There was no sign of anyone from the Sunday Times, which fired Myers, though they do sponsor the Museum. Councillor Mannix Flynn introduced Myers noting that he’d been good to Mannix in the hard times and that everyone deserves a second chance. But it would be Myers’ fourth.

Hook Hokey

Talking of right wingers who’ve been taken out by the politically correct, George Hook recently tweeted “I see Lisdoonvarna has voted to keep immigrants out. Race, language, colour, religion and history are stubborn things that do not disappear with the waving of a Marxian wand”. This was a misconstruction: what Lisdoonvarna was objecting to was Direct Provision, not immigration.

Lisdoonvarna

Lisdoonvarna has a population of 750 and is being asked to take 115 refugees. It has no health facilities, no dentist, no leisure centre, little or no public transport, no supermarket and is essentially closed for most of the year. George, whose stock and schtick are tiring, should really retire before someone does it for him.

 

 

AXA axes Dublin’s Georgian heritage

Having demolished its neighbours in recent years, Axa quietly demolished this Georgian building on Upper Abbey Street in Dublin, a former barber, in February.

No assurance for Old Ireland

The Irish Times rather boorishly suggested that the new owners of the New Ireland Assurance Company in the brave new world that is fast ascending down Dawson St would probably knock it down as it is not protected. Veteran emotionless property hack Jack Fagan noted that a feasibility study by the now ubiquitous Henry J Lyons Architects suggests there is “substantial scope” to redevelop and extend the New Ireland building and bring the overall floor area up to 6,219sq m from 4,461sq m. That’s the property game in Dublin 2 just now: buy a 1960s office block, constructed with doctrinaire deference to antiquated rules on plot ratio and apply to fill the plot to a greater height, using anodyne if sleek design and high-quality materials. Make a fortune. Fagan didn’t mention that the building is a rare exemplar of the Celtic Revival style of architecture (the Irish House pub knocked down for the Dublin Civic Offices on Wood Quay was another).

The New Ireland Assurance Company, born in January 1918, was bound to the nationalist movement of the day from its instigation. At the unveiling of their distinguished new headquarters in 1964, the company chairman Dennis McCullough (President of the RIB during the Rising; founder of McCullough Pigott, a famous music shop which once also stood on Dawson St; father of one-time chairman of An Taisce, Joe who died last year, and grandfather to Niall, well-regarded partner in McCullough Mulvin Architects), noted that its first meeting was attended by men who included Michael J Staines (Quartermaster in the GPO in 1916; first Garda commissioner; and ancestor of the famous criminal solicitors firm), James Ryan (grandfather of former MEP, Eoin) and Éamon de Valera, all 1916 men. To McCullough, “all New Ireland Assurance’s major decisions in the years since its foundation have been influenced by the spirit of 1916, which inspired its founders”. But the sentimentality dissipated over the materialist decades since.

Villager didn’t like much architecture of the 1960-1975 period in Dublin and would be pleased to see many models, born in cynicism, replaced but it would be sad to see particular typologies, especially those with high aspirations, entirely eradicated.

Trump’s attitude to EU stiffens

Environmental litigant Peter Sweetman has secured leave from the High Court to mount a legal challenge to the planning permission granted to build a sea wall at Donald Trump’s golf club at Doonbeg in County Clare, creating a 38,000-tonne rock barrier to protect three holes at the course with the scruple-free backing of the local community. The application did not include a proper environmental assessment of the impact of the wall, as required under Irish and European law. Essentially sea walls have unintended consequences – just think of Bull Island.

Doonbeg

Sweetman, anarchic scion of a great Fine Gael family does not lack a sense of humour and the case is against Clare County Council with Trump International Golf Links Ireland Enterprises Ltd, An Bord Pleanála and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht as uncomfortable notice parties. He said it was clear from the information submitted to Clare County Council and from reports compiled by its own internal staff there were significant issues with the quality of information in the application and that these deficiencies were not ironed out.

It’s not usual to challenge a local authority decision, even one as inept and egregious as this one, in the courts. It’s usually best to appeal the local authority decision to An Bord Pleanála first. But Sweetman, who has been responsible for a truly extraordinary body of judicial decisions on European Environmental Law, mostly ignored by a hostile body politic, is determined to highlight the recklessness of Clare County Council.

Sweetman said he had read all the documents but could find no appropriate assessment or any reference to an appropriate assessment having been carried out.

But Europe isn’t so bad

Inequality is infamously rising worldwide, but not increasing everywhere at the same pace. In many ways Europe is a positive exception. Despite all the criticism thrown at the EU, it is a global leader in preserving a degree of fairness in the social fabric.

It’s hard to exaggerate the difference between western Europe and the USA when it comes to inequality. In 1980, these blocs of similar population and average income were also similar in income inequality: the top 1% captured around 10% of national income, while the poorest 50% took around 20%.

Things have changed dramatically since then. Today, the top 1% in Europe take 12% of income (in the US, 20%) while the bottom 50% have 22% (in the US, 10%). In the US the real minimum wage has fallen by a third since the 1970s while in France it has risen fourfold.

Put bluntly, the EU has resisted the notion of turning its market economy into a market society, though it has not of yet pursued the possibilities of a social or even quality-of-life, Europe. There are large differences within Europe: the UK and Ireland have followed the American path more closely than continental Europe has. But it’s better than the obvious immediate alternatives.