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Person of the Year
As Time magazine names Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman its person of the year – famously with no comment on whether the winner is a good or bad force, Villager bestows his Irish honour on Brian Lenihan.  Lenihan topped Village’s most influential person list last month and is clearly the driving force behind much of what passes for politics in this jurisdisdiction. He will probably be proved injudicious with the bank guarantee and again overgenerous to the Banks and developers through his vision of NAMA.  His recent budget will be remembered for savaging public-sector pay. It also finally  introduced a carbon tax (ironically, days after gas prices went down).  Villager thought the  self-justifying post-boom ultra-rich could have had a few more Euro extricated from their shaking fists in income and capital taxes; and was reminded of the anti-public-interest excesses of Charlie McCreevy with the nonsensical anti-environmental car-scrappage scheme. Interesting too how no employment-creating measures emerged. Overall Lenihan, on grounds of straightness alone, is one of Villager’s favourite FFers – and certainly his favourite Lenihan.

Doing a lot
So Fianna Fáil have dealt with Lisbon, NAMA and spending cuts. The dream team delivering the dream platform. And unemployment only up 75.5% year on year.  Brilliant. Villager’s amnesia about FF causing all the problems in the first place has set in again – as it always does mid-term and he reckons he’s good to vote  FF in 2012.  When he gets into the polling both he always remembers what his auntie (the one with the Ansbacher account who used to pass two and a half hours every morning in confession with Father) said about this country needing strong government (and fairness waiting for the after-life).  She would have loved Brian Lenihan, Villager sometimes fondly thinks.

Heaping fact upon fact
Alternatively the budget could have focused on some of the facts central to an agenda based on fairness.  Equality think-tank TASC and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions recently launched the Hierarchy of Earnings, Attributes and Privilege (HEAP) report, designed to present the facts about income inequality in Ireland in an accessible form. The report – which was authored by NUIG academics Professor Terrence McDonough and Jason Loughrey – comprises a poster illustrating the numbers of households at different income levels, broken down by occupational category and household type, together with an explanatory booklet.
The report shows that:

  • Five per cent of families live on incomes exceeding €134,000
  • 58 percent of families live on less than €40,000
  • 26 percent of families live on less than €20,000
  • When analysed in terms of occupation, only the managerial/professional occupation category makes its way to the very top of the HEAP (an annual income of €600,000)
  • Income distribution became more unequal between 1987 and 2005. The distance between those at the top and those at the bottom widened.
  • Conventional measures of income inequality, such as the Gini Coefficient or quintile share ratios, fail to capture the increase in inequality
  • Relative poverty levels before Social Welfare transfers increased from 35.6 per cent to 41 per cent from 2001 to 2007. Social Welfare played a critical role in reducing poverty levels from 21.9 per cent in 2001 to 16.5 per cent in 2007
  • Women’s income was around two-thirds of men’s income; adjusting for differences in hours worked, women’s hourly earnings were around 86 per cent of men’s. Women were also more likely to be at risk of poverty.
  • There is a striking ‘education premium’: the median gross income of those with no formal education, or primary education only, was €13,489, while those with a university degree had a median income of €45,707.

9/11 24/7
Governor  of the Central Bank, Dr Patrick Honohan, has called for an inquiry into the causes of the banking crisis similar to a US congressional hearing into the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.
Villager suggests that we may as well take a look at the church crisis, the planning crisis, the corruption crisis, the environmental crisis, the fairness crisis and the general political crisis at the same time.  Or we could look for a bit of leadership.

Dublin to become Belfast

Villager always tried to like Dublin City Councillors even if he could never really like Dublin.  He always liked the stance of the management – most of whom come from Villager’s neck of the woods but who now live in Dublin’s suburbs – which was to leave development to the private sector. The builders have done so much for us.

Anyway … after years of cat and mouse when it appeared the councillors (scared of the electorate who viciously opposed it at a series of meetings held before the local elections) were not going to go for management’s increasingly deranged attempts to foist Belfast-style high-rise on an unyielding human-scale centre, Fine Gael and Labour Councillors have voted to run with the Bladerunner vision.

This would allow future developments in excess of 16 storeys in three city-centre locations – at Heuston and Connolly railway stations, and in  Docklands. Villager doesn’t mind that too much, though  more care was needed with the details.

More problematic is that “mid-rise” buildings of up to 16 residential storeys would be allowed in Phibsborough and residential developments of up to eight stories would be allowed across the inner city. That seems bonkers to Villager, though fine in a taller city like say Madrid. Blanket heights are silly in a city like Dublin of variegated heights.

In the outer city, residential developments would be up to six storeys for residential and four storeys for offices.

However, developments within 1km of a mainline, DART or Metro station could have an extra two storeys. Er .. Villager thought most of the city is or will be within 1km of these transport delights (even if the Economist Intelligence Unit has just pronounced Dublin the worst city in Europe for public transport).  Make no mistake this is a charter for an incoherent city-centre skyline. Where it fits – including in many suburbs – high-rise is just fine.  But it doesn’t work in the historic city centre.

The building height policy amendment was proposed by the Labour Party and agreed by 28 votes to 18 against with six abstentions. The likes of Emer Costello and Mary Freehill did the honourable thing as usual but Villager was frightened by the volte face performed by Fine Gael’s leader on the Council, Gerry Breen.  Mannix Flynn, who you would think would know a thing about questioning the establishment, gave a ridiculous tour de force of a speech saying the city had always been crap and now we needed something completely different.

Fianna Fail, driven by the increasingly-assured Jim O’Callaghan, amazingly opposed the  policy.
The new policy is now part of the draft city development plan 2011-2017, which goes for public consultation in early 2010. If the citizens  want Dublin to look like Belfast, this is their chance.

Nepotism in Limerick
Closer to home, Villager was amused to see John Fitzgerald, former City Manager in Dublin getting himself and the Limerick Regeneration Agency, headed by former Dublin City Housing Manager, Brendan Kenny, in hot water for indulging nepotism to the serious displeasure of Limerick City Manager, Tom Mackey.  Kenny employed his daughter on a large salary without bothering with anything as tedious as an interview process. Claire Feeney, girlfriend of Southside Director, Brendan Hayden, was recruited on a salary of €90,000 without competitive interview. She had no third-level or other  relevant qualification. And Brian McElligott , son of Regeneration Agency Director, Liam McGelligott was recruited in Autumn 2007 without competitive interview. He had no third-level or other   relevant qualification, thought the agency is now paying his way through a University of Limerick project-management course.

Fitzgerald noted that the Limerick Regeneration Agency didn’t have to comply with normal public-sector norms.  Funny then that this is the same John Fitzgerald who so rigorously – including with the benefit of a fat legal opinion – hounded residents’ representatives on the Grangegorman Development Agency (which he also chairs) to comply with normal company law.  They were not to report back to the communities that chose them but to observe the niceties of company law – i.e. silence. Fitzgerald reckons the Limerick agencies’ boards are “not boards of governance”.
Villager was amused too to see Jim Barrett resurfacing in Limerick.

Barrett, whose every post-democratic impulse  (high-rise, no greenery, no functionality, no consultation, no community benefit – see for example O’Connell St’s spike) was wrong for Dublin  where he famously worked very closely with Fitzgerald, is now benefiting from exorbitant per diem architectural-consultancy fees in Limerick. Fitzgerald puts the problems down to “destructive feuding” between Limerick development agencies. Fitzgerald says he “loves” the public service but they’ll need to do things properly in Limerick if they’re not to go the way of some of the more challenged of Dublin’s development authorities – like Docklands for example.

On that note Villager is sponsoring an award for ideas for a replacement for the spike.  It was funny for a few years but now we need something that reflects the Zeitgeist of a new decade.  Ideas to the editor please.

Monsanto wins baddy  award
The winner of the Angry Mermaid Award 2009, announced by Naomi Klein, at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen on 15 December was the biotech giant Monsanto with 37 per cent of the total vote. Monsanto is the world’s largest seed   which has controversially been promoting genetically modified (GM) crops for over a decade. According to Monsanto, GM crops are not just the solution to world hunger, GM biofuels can also help tackle climate change. The voters on the other hand noted that expansion of GM soy in Latin America is contributing to major deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Gratifyingly for Irish environmentalists, oil giant Shell took second place (18 per cent) in the Award for lobbying to sabotage effective action on climate change, followed by the American Petroleum Institute (14 per cent).

Ten thousand people voted in the Angry Mermaid Award, named after the iconic Copenhagen mermaid who is angry about corporate lobbying on climate change.

The eight nominees for the Award were:
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE)

  • American Petroleum Institute (API)
  • European Chemical Lobby (Cefic)
  • International Air Transport Association (IATA)
  • International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) Monsanto
  • Sasol
  • Shell

Carrickmines Valley going further West
Six months after the wipe-out of Green Councillors   on Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council the Fine Gael councillors are, according to Ciaran Cuffe TD,  back to their old tricks. They’re rezoning 30 acres of land of high amenity lands at Fernhill beside Three Rock Mountain for 660 houses. Two Fine Gael councillors proposed the rezoning to residential of lands adjacent to Fernhill Gardens at Stepaside. They’re currently zoned for amenity and agriculture.  Further down the road in Kilternan Councillor Tom Joyce from Fine Gael also wants to rezone twenty acres of lands at Droimsi from agriculture to residential. Cllr. Joyce is also busy removing proposed rights of way for walkers from the Plan.

The draft Dún Laoghaire Rathdown development plan rezones land in Carrickmines as a ‘district’ retail centre. The decision by a narrow majority of councillors to pass the motion for the rezoning was made against the recommendation of county manager Owen Keegan, who was concerned the move would lead to retail space well in excess of the area’s needs. “The inclusion of the lands in Carrickmines as a district centre with a 25,000sq m retail cap is in direct contravention of Greater Dublin’s retail guidelines”,  Mr Keegan said. In his report Mr Keegan also noted there was no need for the amount of retail space proposed at Carrickmines because the site is near a recently developed shopping centre at Leopardstown Valley and a large town-centre development proposed for nearby Cherrywood.

Planet Green
The recent admission by the Environmental Protection Agency that the decline in Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions was “disappointingly small” at 0.3% over 2007 in spite of the Depressions that replaced the economy with a sucking noise highlights the intractable nature of the problem in a country wedded, like Villager, to driving to the garage to buy the frozen microwaveable burgers for dinner. And the excruciatingly inadequate response of the Greens whose reason for putting up with Planet Bertie was that there was a moral imperative to deal with our emissions. The Greens promised average annual reductions of 3% but instantly forgot them in the excitement of being allowed by the big boys to present a (useless) after-Lenihan “carbon budget”. Think transport, cattle, planning lads.

Pedantico-Legal bit
Villager is calling for the resignation of know-it-all Supreme Court Judge Adrian Hardiman, famous for being able to recite the Book of Ecclesiastes backwards from memory while writing Joycean prose about the illiberal decadence of the Equality Authority – all  to the adulatory delectation of Law Library groupies and awkward, preppie PD types.  His Portmarnock judgment appears to indicate definitively that the man cannot spell.  “Womens’”. “gentlemens’” and “mens’” all deface his acrid Phillipic (ed’s note: shouldn’t that be Philippic?).  There is no point in being able to recall verbatim the Thom’s directory entry for every solicitor mentioned in Finnegan’s Wake if you’re only half-literate – or at least somewhat untutored. He should have got Fidelma Macken, who was too busy to contribute a judgment on an issue that might be expected to have been of some little interest to women of her generation and caste, to proof-read it. As Rickie Johnson would say, “off with his head”.

Public Sector
Villager is fairly  clear where the problem with public-service pay originates.  Bertie pushed benchmarking to improve the efficacy of civil servants to undertake a fundamental examination of the pay of public service employees vis-à-vis the private sector.but bottled out of implementing the lessons.  Public sector – like private sector- pay got somewhat inflated and inevitably there’s a painful adjustment.    Mind you the handling of the Unions’ desire for time off in lieu of pay cuts; and the cuteness of the Lennihan/Cowen Mr Nasty/Mr Nice double act now being played out again for semi-State pay reminds him of nothing so much as the Laurel/Hardy days of McCreevy and Ahern.

Pat Kenny’s eccentricities
Villager feels there’s just no end to Pat Kenny.  He worries that he’s vulnerable to his lively new TV show being interrupted every week by folk agitated by his gargantuan salary.  He risks becoming the story himself.  But most of all Villager is amused by Pat’s tell-tale hobby-horses.  Pat doesn’t seem to like Unions or the public sector much.  Most of all he seems to loathe the environment or at least environmentalists.  Villager considers his treatment of climate-change where he takes a counterfactual position to be  dangerous and in fact unprofessional.  Broadcasters of his stature should feel free to ventilate opinions but not to get the facts systematically, deliberately and repeatedly wrong.  Pat believes in climate change but thinks it may well not be caused by human activity.  He persistently falsely alleges that a serious debate is raging. His choice and treatment of guests on the issue is eccentric.  He indulges Philip Stott and David Bellamy’s contrarian perspectives. He shut poor precocious Oisin Coughlan of Friends of the Earth up smartly on a recent ‘Frontline’ with a jibe that his linking of floods to climate change was just “taking the moral ground”.  It all reminded Villager of  Kenny’s stultifyingly abnormal treatment of  stupefied non-singer Pete Doherty in his last season of the Late Late Show.  Next he’ll be denying the link between smoking and cancer and saying the world was created in a week with all life pre-evolved.  It is as unprofessionally eccentric to deny that climate change is anthropogenic  as to make the case for the sun travellng around the (presumably flat) earth.