Style before substance
Leo Varadkar annoys Villager. Jogging, showing his socks, in a wet suit, overawed by the Houses of Parliament, gooning with Macron and endlessly with Trudeau; establishing a parallel government information service.
We don’t know the new Taoiseach, and he was lucky to get elected leader of Fine Gael on the back of an open persona and a penchant for successful blunt media salvos. The problem is that outside his sharpness and apparent openness, we never saw much of Leo. He appears to be pursuing a sense of his own cult (see for instance this Sunday’s interview with Maureen Dowd of the New York Times) before we have a clue what he represents, though we do know that he has achieved little in his ministerial briefs.
This is putting the reputational cart before the horse. It reeks of unforgiveable vanity. We’re still waiting, not just for a sense of the man, but for some political substance. And, as Pat Leahy of the Irish Times points out “novelty is a wasting asset”.
A hundred worthies turned out in the Little Museum in early September for a memorial celebration of the late Terry Kelleher, one-time deputy editor of
Hibernia Magazine and Producer for Thames TV of the documentary ‘Murder at the Farm’, which led to the exoneration of the men jailed for the 1978 murder of newspaper boy, Carl Bridgewater.
Dignitaries including Vincent Browne, Kevin Myers, Press Ombudsman Peter Feeney, and former Sunday Business Post Managing Director and National Museum Chair, Barbara Nugent, heard eulogies from a swarthy looking Charlie Bird and Terry’s brother John, director of Eat the Peach and former Film Censor. Vincent Browne, close mate of John Kelleher, and Kevin Myers, former colleagues on the 1970s ‘Troubles’ beat and in the Irish Times, stood within feet of each other but their eyes did not meet.
Brands you have to hate
The Irish Times has found its key clickbait demographic. Tasty headlines about Starbucks drive its readers wild; for coffee, green fascias and social homogenisation in equal measure are the chosen preoccupations of today’s unexciting Times reader. Meanwhile, its latest property section is a record 34 pages, symbolising the paper’s failure to have a single new commercial or editorial idea since the onset of its beloved boom fifteen years ago. And its ‘news section’ on ‘Property Day’: 21 pages only, including – Villager imagines – features such as: “How Starbucks speaks for all of us”, “Starbucks: the brand we love to hate” and “Ten ways you know you prefer Fallon and Byrne to Starbucks”.
Councillor Fiona McLoughlin Healy lost the Fine Gael whip in Kildare County Council after she promoted a no-confidence
vote in her party colleague, the then-Mayor, Brendan Weld. She felt she was being sidelined after she raised concerns about 1916 commemoration grants going to an organisation where there was a conflict of interest for Fianna Fáil’s then-Councillor Fiona Ó’Loughlin. Fine Gael’s national organisation, in the person of Party General Secretary Tom Curran, now claim to be dealing with her concerns, though there still seems no indication that Leo Varadkar is any more concerned about the clear ethical issues she has highlighted than was his predecessor. In Village’s last edition we aired McLoughlinHealy’s concerns about the way town-twinning funds are administered by the Council. Now the Comptroller and Auditor General has initiated an investigation into procurement contracts at the Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board, a body on which McLouglin Healy sits and about whose transparency she has repeatedly expressed disquiet.
Tom Oliver was a farmer with no connections to any paramilitary group or the security forces – a 43-year-old father of seven, from the Cooley peninsula, who was kidnapped by armed Provos near the border in 1991. His body was found the following day in County Armagh after he had been shot several times in the head. The IRA, through An Phoblacht, claimed he had been passing information to the Garda Síochána Special Branch.
Village has claimed that the Smithwick Tribunal committed to finding collusion by the Garda in the murder of RUC officers north of the border, but that in the end it found no plausible colluders and so made an implausible finding of collusion without naming the colluder. Smithwick always focused on Owen Corrigan as the colluder because the Cory Inquiry, which prompted the Smithwick Tribunal, unduly relied on the 2003 evidence of a dissembling double agent known as ‘Kevin Fulton’ – challenged by a source who spoke to Village reporter Deirdre Younge last year – that Corrigan gave deadly information to the IRA about the RUC men. In its report the Smithwick Tribunal stated “This statement was a key factor in Judge Cory’s decision to recommend the establishment of this Tribunal, and Kevin Fulton was therefore an important witness before this Tribunal”.
In any event Fulton actually seems to have later changed his story (when giving evidence to Smithwick in 2011) to say that Corrigan gave information to the IRA only about Tom Oliver. The changed story was that Corrigan gave information about Oliver, not about the doomed RUC men; but even the changed story was expressly and ignominiously disavowed by Smithwick, under pressure in a High Court case last year, to the extent it implied that Corrigan’s information led to Oliver’s death.
In other words everything related to Fulton collapsed, including his implication of Corrigan in Oliver’s murder, despite Smithwick’s paean to him.
In a ‘Prime Time’ interview in 2015, the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who coincidentally was holidaying in the Cooleys at the time of the murder, reacted with anger when it was put to him by Miriam O’Callaghan that he was the “court of appeal” that sanctioned the murder. More recently, Adams told LMFM broadcaster Michael Reade in early September that jailing the IRA murderers of the farmer would be “absolutely counterproductive”.
Opera without tune
The proposal for a €150m scheme for Limerick City’s Georgian ‘Opera Site’ proposes “regeneration” of the 500,000 square-metre historic site including the insertion of three towers, one of which is fourteen-storeys high, in the pristine Newtown Pery Georgian area. It is arguably the most important planning application in the history of Limerick. An Taisce argues that it is clearly unsustainable on grounds of use, design, height, car-parking and lack of community engagement. It also attacks the scheme as illegal on three grounds, two of which relate to the peculiar ‘Part 8’ process whereby a local authority can apply to itself for permission – in this case the process has been used though the application is in the name of something called Limerick 2030.
Even more ominously, An Taisce says that an environmental impact assessment has been omitted. An EIA is required for schemes that by virtue inter alia of their “nature, size or location” are likely to have “significant effects on the environment”. With the Opera site the nature is the most important scheme for the future of Ireland’s third city – and one that affects its historic core; the size is, at 3.7 acres, nearly 2 hectares (and some of the buildings high) and the location is ancient and central”. It seems difficult to deny that the effects on the environment are “significant”. An Taisce then notes: “In this respect please note that some years ago Kildare County Council approved a bridge project in Athy by Part 8. An Taisce requested An Bord Pleanála to consider whether EIA was required. The Bord ruled an EIA was needed. The Council decision was quashed. The Council then had to apply to the Board – which refused permission”. Villager allowed himself a little mutter, about timeservers and lessons never learnt.
Reaction where action is needed
Villager has long taken the view that the homelessness agencies must share a little in the culpability for the homelessness crisis, suffering as they do from agency capture and rarely offering clear or concerted messages, or stringent long-term vision, as opposed to soundbites for the short term. PublicPolicy.ie, a useful if insidiously quite right-wing commentator on economics, has produced a report showing that actual spending on homelessness last year was €7.2m or 5.7pc below initial projections. Most of this underspend (81pc) was associated with emergency accommodation expenditure (category 2) – amounting to €5.8m less than anticipated – with total spending of €85.5m. The largest percentage variance in spending outturn versus projection was 11.4% in ‘homeless prevention, tenancy sustainment and resettlement supports’ (category 1), where expenditure reached €8.75m.
Gratuitous Trump image section
Yesterday with Sean O’Rourke
Sean O’Rourke seems to be mirroring the longstanding indulgence accorded by his colleague, former architect, Marian Finucane to developers. In a recent interview he failed seriously to challenge Martin Keane, the old seadog who has let Dublin’s Iveagh Market dilapidate to the point of ruin and is seeking interest-free loans from state-owned AIB to subsidise his renovation, even though he is a very rich man, in partbecause, as he admitted to the uninterested O’Rourke, he was given advance notice by PJ Mara that Charlie Haughey was going to provide generous tax incentives for renovating buildings in Temple Bar. Way back, he duly and corruptly invested in the appalling Oliver St John Gogarty superpub.
O’Rourke, often acute, seems to have little interest in heritage, Dublin, or even corruption.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has revealed that no progress has been made in meeting EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) targets to improves the quality of Irish rivers, lakes and estuaries.
The overall 13% improvement proposed for 2010-2015 did not materialise, with little change in water bodies in an unhealthy state: at 45% for Irish rivers, up from 43%, the 54% figure for lakes unchanged, and estuaries marginally dropped to 69% from 70%. The report also reveals an increase in fish kills in 2013-15 in comparison to previous periods.
While there has been continued reduction in the level of seriously polluted waters – only six river water bodies were categorised as “Bad” in 2010–2015 compared to 19 in 2007–2009; at the same time there has been a continued decline in the number of pristine rivers – “only 21 sites achieved the highest quality rating from 2013-2015 compared to over 500 sites in the late 1980s”.
The report noted that: “There has been an increase in the number of reported fish kills, with 97 reported between 2013 and 2015, an increase of 27 on the number reported between 2007 and 2009” and that: “The reason for this increase is unclear, but it may be a result of extended dry spells and/or flooding events, rather than a return to an increase in the number of serious pollution spills that would have been the main cause of fish kills in the past”.
The EPA figures release came a day in advance of the public consultation deadline for the Draft River Basin Management Plan, by the Department of Housing Planning Community and Local Government.
This plan is intended to state how Ireland is to meet the EU obligation to achieve “Good Water Status” for river catchments by 2021.
The draft plan is lacking in ambition and capacity to meet the water improvement targets and measures required.
It does not provide any effective measures to reduce the impact of agriculture, and the 6% annual increase in the dairy herd since the lifting of milk quotas. Thousands of farms are failing to comply with the Nitrates Directive, which limits the pollution impact on surface and ground water.
- It identifies the extent of deficient sewerage infrastructure with 44 urban waste water discharges linked with a high degree of probability to river pollution, but leaves the level of response to meeting of improvement targets to Irish Water, without any specific provision of financial resources.
- With climate change posing mounting flood risk, as evidenced recently in Donegal, the US, the Carribean and South Asia, the draft strategy misses the opportunity to set out an effective river catchment response, including measures to slow downstream rainwater flows through historic flood-plain restoration.
- In every area affecting water management the draft plan evades demanding effective regulation of forestry, peat extraction, water abstraction, aquaculture and other activity.
Freaks of nature
President Donald Trump honestly seems envious of Category 4 Hurricanes which take up news space that could be filled by him.
Readers of a certain age and personal dourness may have enjoyed the Scannal broadcast on RTE last month about one-time Fine Gael Defence Minister Paddy Donegan’s “thundering disgrace” outburst. Donegan made it after President Cearbhail Ó Dálaigh referred the Emergency Powers Bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. Immediately, Fianna Fáil politicians were consumed by spasms of indignation. Ó Dálaigh resigned. However, Villager’s moles in the top secret vaults at the British Embassy in Dublin whisper that the then-fairly-feral Fianna Fáil had even less time for Ó Dálaigh than Donegan had, but handled him in a far more surreptitious manner.
A few years earlier Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Jack Lynch had enacted his own anti-terrorist legislation but Ó Dálaigh, who was then Chief Justice, and his ‘boys’ [i.e. the bench of the Supreme Court] were determined to uphold the constitutional rights of all defendants including those accused of paramilitary activity. Behind closed doors Lynch was at pains to assure the British Embassy that he was serious about curbing the IRA.
On 23 October, 1972, he spoke to the British Ambassador John Peck, who sent a revealing “secret” report back to Kelvin White at the Foreign Office in London the following day. Peck reported as follows: “I said we had all been interested in rumours that the Minister for Justice [Des O’Malley] was going to introduce new legislation early in the current session of the Dáil. The Taoiseach replied, ‘Well, I don’t know about new legislation. Our quarrel is not with the law but with the lawyers. We have a standing group of seven barristers working with us to see how the safeguards in our Constitution need not be used by Ó Dálaigh’s boys to block security measures – anyway you have seen that we have shunted Ó Dálaigh into Europe”.
Ó Dálaigh had felt hugely honoured at being chosen to represent Ireland in Europe. No one suspected such a degree of cynicism lurked behind the appointment. Suffice it to say since Lynch’s discussion with Peck was top secret, the wily Corkman was able to feign outrage at Donegan’s ‘thundering disgrace’ remark a few years later. It also helped him win a landslide victory the general election the following year.
So what would unaffordable look like?
A planning application for four apartment blocks lodged for Harbour Road Dalkey, Co Dublin, on 9 August 2017, proposes to make ‘social and affordable housing’ available to the local authority at a cost per unit of €512,460.
Villager eagerly awaits a hearing in the High Court on 3 October involving the controversial sale of 950 acres of forestry lands adjoining historic Kilcooley Estate in Tipperary.
In July, Village reported the complaint made to NAMA by London-based Jim and Mary Redmond about what they claimed was an unfair sales process involving the receivers Bannon and estate agent Colliers for the Estate which was sold by receivers appointed by NAMA in 2013. The Redmonds were not informed that the Coillte lands were for sale when they bid for the Abbey
Now they have taken legal action under Access to Environmental Information Regulations (AIE) over the manner in which the forestry was sold by Coillte just ten days after the Abbey. The forestry sale was not advertised and there was no public consultation much to the annoyance of local people who sought to have the big house, an historic Abbey and the forestry all brought into public ownership.