Villagers: Letters To The Editor 2004-12-30
In considering the type of Ireland we would like to live in in 2005 and into the future, we have to examine what type of society we currently live in. I would like to deal with just one aspect of current Irish society: the concept of "freedom".
We're told we live in a free society. We have freedom of speech, we can work where we like, travel where we like, and can vote in elections. But how free are we?
Speech isn't "free". Opportunities for ordinary people to put forward their ideas in a forum such as this are extremely limited. Generally, for your voice to be heard, you need the money to print newspapers or hire billboards, or the power to have your opinions reported.
How often do we hear real political alternatives being discussed on our national airwaves or in our national papers? A small number of wealthy people, the owners of newspapers, control what passes for political discussion.
The political establishment can use seemingly innocuous legislation such as litter laws to prevent the erection of posters in the city centre, thus making the dissemination of alternative ideas all the more difficult.
We can work where we like, but in every job there is a boss making his profit from your work. The only alternative is to try living on the miserable pittance that social welfare recipients must survive on.
For many in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland the only freedom is the freedom to work 40 or more hours a week for minimum wage. Even people in better paying jobs find themselves having to work longer and longer hours simply to earn enough money to meet the ever-spiralling cost of accommodation.
We can travel where we like – in theory – if we have enough money to afford it. But people with a different colour skin are likely to be stopped and harassed by immigration officials. The 'war on terrorism' is used to place more and more restrictions on people's rights to travel freely.
And we have the freedom to vote. In Ireland we can choose anyone from Joe Higgins to Ian Paisley to sit in the Assembly or the Dáil. But, it's basically a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber.
Our only choice is to hand control, over practically all of the important decisions which affect us, to a small number of people. Some freedom.
But what's the alternative? A "socialist" state like what the USSR used to be, like China, or Cuba?
A Party running the state and ruling our workplaces, telling us to take pride in our poverty while they enjoy the trappings of power? Executions and psychiatric wards for political dissidents, and glorified slavery for the rest of us?
Some alternative. But there is a real alternative - anarchism. Anarchism means a society run from the bottom up, a society without rulers, a society where all are equal.
A society based on the equal freedom of all people, without a boss in the workplace or a politician in the Dáil telling us what to do but doing nothing useful themselves, a society where we decide ourselves how we are going to live and work together.
That's anarchism, the only alternative worth fighting for.
Workers Solidarity Movement, Dublin
The website of the Workers Solidarity Movement is www.struggle.ws/wsm.html
Enough and no more
"Where there is excess, there is lack". These words, first spoken by the Benedictine Joan Chittister on Crosscurrents on RTÉ Radio 1 in 1992, are increasingly relevant today.
In recent months, many commentators have deplored the increasing stranglehold of unrestrained materialist values in Irish life and the absence of meaning and human values. But there has been few concrete suggestions about how we could begin to address this.
Most Irish people see only two paths. On the one hand is the free-market path where everything is for sale or for purchase. This is often seen as "progress", viewed as unstoppable and those who question it are called revisionist, irresponsible or mad.
The alternative to this path is most commonly seen as a return to "basics", to traditional moral values imposed by religious authority. But imposing external moral dogma is not sufficient for the complex issues that we face every day.
We all need to take the lead in this matter, through personal reflection and in public conversation about moral issues. Morality questions encourage us to reflect on what is right and wrong, what promotes human well being, and of what happiness and liberation consist.
Too often in Ireland, we associate morality with external authority handed down to us, with rules, regulations and oppression. We have reacted to that by seeking freedom in the breaking of taboos. We have equated morality with sanctimonious preaching and with the hypocrisy of powerful people who try to impose a moral code on ordinary people.
Following a moral path does not have to be like that. It is a way to find out who we are. The moral life, is a life of well-being and happiness. It is also a life of connection to other people and to the world.
We need to start asking questions about how we can develop morality in ways that take the good things from traditions we once followed, but where each person also takes responsibility for their actions in the world.
We can also view things through nature's lenses, asking questions about the complexity of relationships that govern the living earth and how we might learn from them in our moral quest. Scientific insights into the natural world have shown that nature does not waste. It does exactly enough, no more; it "elegantly and spontaneously observes limit"', as Bill McKibben puts it in his book Enough.
"Enough" has a negative ring for many people. It is often interpreted as limiting our potential and depriving ourselves. It is considered to be about mediocrity instead of excellence, deprivation instead of our rights to free choice to consume. It sounds so much more attractive and dynamic to talk of always going forward, pushing ourselves harder, expanding markets, exploring the world 'out there', expanding choices.
But in this mindset, potential is automatically taken to mean the potential to be bigger, better, faster, to have more money and material things. We are offered more and more choices but they are ultimately meaningless.
The mindset of "enough" arises naturally from an understanding of limits and their value in the natural world. This mindset treats potential as the capacity to create meaning. It promotes the idea that meaning and quality matter more than size, that wrestling with questions of how we should live is more important than external achievement or accumulation.
"Enough" is less a rule and more a way of being in the world. It does not impose hard and fast answers, but insists that we stick with the questions, acting on insights from our reflection and dialogue on the questions, rather than allowing rigid rules to develop.
Every one of us, everywhere, in the public and private parts of our lives, could take responsibility for applying the question of "enough", as part of tackling the issues of material excess and lack of meaning that we now face. We can all be leaders in this quest.
Celbridge, Co Kildare
Dublin, My Dublin
What Ireland should be? I am going to leave that one, to my fellow Village contributors and (given their unfortunate dominance) to the great and the good who lecture, pontificate and broadcast to us every day, from our National Broadcasting Service – RTÉ.
Instead, I want to concentrate on Dublin – our capital city. What sort of Dublin do I want to see in the years ahead? I want a Dublin that is not ignored. Just because something occurs in Dublin it is deemed too often to be about, or for, Dublin. Sadly, in many cases, nothing could be further from the truth. Dublin specific issues and commentary are largely absent from public comment.
I want to see a Dublin that has equal representation in Dáil and Seanad Éireann with the rest of the country. I want to see a Dublin where public pepresentatives "stand up for Dublin" in the same unself- conscious manner as our rural colleagues unquestionably fight the corner for their home areas.
I want to see a Dublin whose local government system is acknowledged as having as democratic a legitimacy, and at least a portion of the powers, as the new Assembly in Northern Ireland. I want to see a transformed local government system in Dublin and for Dublin, that will be a model for the future.
I want to see it given the powers to deliver services and programmes to the people of this great city. I want it to be an agenda setting vehicle for social change and a focus for positive action.
How do we achieve this? Dublin needs a radically transformed system of local government. The division of the county into four artificial council areas is neither sensible nor, in my view, working. There is no logic to the divisions and no identifiable sense of community to the names or administrative areas of responsibility of the new county councils.
There is a pressing need to have one overarching new Dublin Regional Authority. This Authority would be comprised of approximately thirty full time directly elected members covering the entire county of Dublin with some limited representation from the surrounding counties. It would be led by a directly elected Lord Mayor and would serve for a five year renewable term of office.
Running parallel to this would be a series of area-based councils or committees comprised of part-time or voluntary elected members, as is currently the case. Here, decisions could be taken at the lowest possible level, in line with best international practice.
As a central part of this reform I want to revoke the powers of the so-called Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to intervene in the internal affairs of local councils. In that way, councillors elected by their local communities could get on with the job in hand, or face the consequences with the electorate next time round. In the case of failure to agree an approach, fresh elections would be held, similar to the situation at national level
The new Dublin Regional Authority would be responsible for all strategic, planning, housing and transport decisions and would co-ordinate Dublin's response to European Union programmes. It would determine the annual budget, be the driver of a persistent and consistent approach to tackling poverty and disadvantage and be the Garda Authority provided for in the Garda Síochána Bill (2004) currently before the Oireachtas. This list is indicative and not exhaustive. Above all, it will be a voice for Dublin that, for far too long, has been toned down, if not altogether silenced.
When the Irish Government has concluded telling the British Government how much governance needs to be reformed in Northern Ireland, it might turn its attention to this part of the island.
For a start, it might re-consider the decision to abandon the proposal to have directly elected Lord Mayors, which was quietly dropped by Martin Cullen this year. Real change can best be achieved by providing for a Dublin Regional Authority with clout, finance and democratic accountability. An authority that can and will "stand up for Dublin" that will deliver a brighter future for its citizens.
CLLR DERMOT LACEY
Donnybrook, Dublin 4
Beware of the risen people
Ireland in 2005 should be a more joyful place to live and work for those that cannot partake in the Celtic Tiger's daily race. Right now, we are chasing the Tiger's tail and letting the financial bottom line dictate everything.
In the 1970's Ireland was, of course, much poorer, and many young people had to emigrate; however nobody was judged purely on his/her earning capacity.
A certain politician stated that Ireland is "closer to Boston than Berlin"; if this means that we have become a society focused mainly on profit and the bottom line then it is a correct, but not necessarily desirable, situation.
The European Economic Community (EEC) brought substantial benefits to Ireland, to the farming community in particular, and nobody can deny that many social and consumer rights were forced upon successive Irish governments by Brussels. However this EEC has become the European Union, and soon Ireland and many other small nations will have to follow orders from Brussels, rather than from their domestic governments.
Having fought for three hundred years to be sovereign and free from the British Empire we need to examine very carefully the new European Constitution.
The 1916 Declaration on which this State is based is quite clear: "We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of the Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible... nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people."
The 1916 Declaration furthermore reminds us that there is more to Ireland than a Celtic Tiger: "The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the national equally..."
Perhaps Ireland in 2005 does not need to be reminded of its history and past; but those that do not learn from history are bound to repeat its mistakes.
Unless we all ensure that our society becomes a more caring, equal society, we may again face the scenario reflected with such emotion in Pádraig Pearse's poetry:
And I say to my people's masters: Beware,
Beware of the thing that is coming, beware of the risen people,
Who shall take what ye would not give.
Did ye think to conquer the people,
Or that Law is stronger than life and than men's desire to be free?
We will try it out with you, ye that have harried and held,
Ye that have bullied and bribed, tyrants, hypocrites, liars!
(Pádraig Pearse, The Rebel)
Winfried Eamon Scheidges
Calling for a national community programme
As an emigrant returned from London, I have an outsider's view on what Ireland needs for the future. We need simply what every person on their deathbed knows: to experience love and meaning in our existence.
Sadly, back in Dublin, I see the media worshipping the same empty lifestyles and selfish attitudes which will bring about the opposite, and which made it impossible for me to do my job as a GP back in the UK.
Teacher friends here tell me that young people can no longer concentrate at school, and a counsellor colleague bemoans the huge number of fragmented families in Dublin who use her services. She said memorably, "all the unhappy people I know here are millionaires".
In the UK, teachers and GPs are leaving their jobs in droves, and vacancies are being taken up by foreigners who are still learning English. The reason for this is that the aggressive behaviour and selfish attitudes of the public have made our working lives a misery.
Doctors and teachers actually provide a charity service (medical care is completely free in Britain) but the amount of verbal abuse and threats I have received from "patients" and their families has been unbelievable. As social cohesion collapses and some people find themselves without worth or support, they turn up at the only places they are let in (A&E departments and GPs' surgeries) and take out all their rage on the staff. Medical staff are obliged to take each case seriously, just in case the behaviour is actually due to an illness and litigation follows.
Since there is no disincentive for this sort of behaviour, and it is worsening, I have decided, despite the hard-earned seventeen medical letters after my name, that I will not expose myself again to serve the public as a doctor.
This is happening now throughout Ireland. A few years ago, one quarter of the newly qualified doctors from a university class were found to be leaving medicine for the higher status and lower stress levels of just about any other kind of work.
It's not clever to undermine respect for traditional authority figures like doctors, priests and teachers. It's a sign of social self-destruction. Society - especially the vulnerable - needs them badly. That will become clear (as it now is in the UK) when they are no longer available. Of course they weren't perfect, but they needed some authority and co-operation from the public they served to do the job well. And when they were allowed to, they did it miles better than the self-serving politicians, bankers and tax cheats of today.
The love and meaning that people actually yearn for is only found through discipline (often at the cost of suffering) and healthy interdependence with and respect for other human beings. (This must be true because, even in our cynical world, the Christmas film It's a Wonderful Life is still one of the most popular films of all time.)
Therefore it behoves us all to institute creative new measures to train our younger generation to experience this in a structured way, since they're not getting it at home.
Single-parent families, who take up a huge amount of a GP's time and resources, should no longer be financially rewarded. Girls at school should live for a week with one of those dolls who cry and pee all through the night, like real babies, to prepare them to be a parent.
I want to see a sort of National Community Programme lasting at least one year for young people of all backgrounds, where they could see the reality of life that people like me have to cope with. Supported by trained adults, they should visit a morgue to see the bodies of young people after a car accident and see distressed relatives, hear what it's like to deal with a suicide in a family, work on challenging physical projects serving the community with tough Army recruits, talk to people who have turned away from drugs and crime, and ask themselves why.
In short, they need to be faced with reality at an early stage and learn how to take responsibility. They wouldn't get to finish the course until they had persevered and completed certain projects.
This could go some way to cutting the suicide rate of young men here. To me, it's obvious that suicide is an escape from the unfulfilling fantasy world created today by marketing and digital technology, where the authentic and painful feelings of growing up, and just living, have no outlet for expression and no name.
But who is going to implement these daring and necessary new measures so that Article 42 of our Constitution is honoured? (where parents "fail in their duty towards their children")
Not the small-minded politicians I see living in their own fantasy world, who spend millions of unaccounted-for taxpayers' Euro on unelected spin doctors and reports to help them make the sort of decisions which are just part of the daily routine for an overworked doctor.
A doctor was recently imprisoned in Britain for betraying public trust by falsifying medical test results about vaccinations. Last year, another was jailed because a patient died mistakenly after receiving the wrong injection. I'm not arguing with that. I just note how much more evil and deceitful have been the motivations of Irish politicians and some public servants over the years. I want the same standards applied in Ireland to all who serve the public (not just doctors), in the form of legislation, which will speedily imprison any politician who displays serious incompetence or betrays the public's trust.
As a citizen I demand no less. Perhaps then I might feel motivated to offer my medical services again to serve my country.
Rathfarmham, Dublin 14
Colombia Three - Fianna Fáil cosying up to Sinn Féin
A sinister aspect of the Good Friday Agreement is the establishment of a developing symbiotic relationship between Fianna Fáil and the communist-leaning Sinn Féin.
Earlier this year, Dermot Ahern opened the door to both parties entering Government in the not too distant future. On budget day, our Taoiseach used IRA terminology such as "volunteer", "GHQ", and "army Council", in the Dáil chamber. Subsequently, we learned that this government had agreed that Jerry McCabe's cold-blooded and vicious killers would be released early from already massively reduced sentences, if the IRA decommissioned. This, after many temporary releases for these killers for weddings and conjugal visits from their luxuriously appointed "prison".
Earlier this week, we had Bertie Ahern doing the bidding of Sinn Féin, by cosying up to Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, on the steps of the Taoiseach's Dublin constituency office by saying that "the [Irish] Government" no longer required photographic verification of total decommissioning. Something that was supposed to have been completed four years ago.
Since news of the Colombian Attorney General's appeal against the three Sinn Féin and/or IRA criminals being successful became known, culminating in seventeen year sentences, a succession of Fianna Fáil politicians have expressed sympathy for these fugitives, rather than calling on them to hand themselves up to the Colombian authorities.
Bertie Ahern has mooted a referendum on whether or not to allow Northern Irish personages become Senators. Perhaps we should also be asked whether we agree with IRA and Sinn Féin criminals serving their full sentences, whether it be in Castlerea or a Colombian prison!
Northumberland Road, Dublin 4
GAA - Soccer in Croke Park not far away
The new trial rule changes brought in by the GAA are to be condemmed right away. The idea that the Goalkeeper can "Tee" his kick out and that you can now lift the ball directly from the ground are a disgrace.
There will be no point in opening up Croke Park as the way this is going soccer will be played there soon anyway.
Monica Leech Controversy - Cullen's track record
As you rightly point out in your editorial, Martin Cullen should have been dropped for performance reasons, long before the Leech controversy came to light, because of the Farmleigh and e-voting fiascos.
It may indeed be a tribute to Ms Leech's skill with the media that no-one seemed to question his re-appointment to the cabinet. On the day of the reshuffle, the Irish Times ran a 'puff' piece which could have been written by the Minister himself.
The article mentioned neither Farmleigh nor e-voting but described the National Spatial Strategy as his finest achievement.
This was long after that same strategy was effectively shredded by Charlie McCreevy with his madcap decentralisation plan.
Despite Ms Leech's evident skills, one can't help wondering if €300,000 wisely spent would have been enough, to have prevented some of the disasters that threatened her boss's reputation. You could buy two man-years of IT analysis for about €100,000.
This would be more than enough to design an acceptable audit trail for e-voting. Similarly, an architectural historian could easily have been hired to find better use for the millions wasted on preserving the unremarkable Farmleigh House.
There would be plenty left over to hire some planning economists to prepare a Ladybird-style guide to the concept of a city as an economic entity. If this guide was simple and avoided big words, maybe even Champagne Charlie could have understood that what Ireland needs is more well-planned cities, not more parish pump politics.
For a mere €300,000, Martin Cullen's time at Environment might have been an undisputed success, not needing Ms Leech's skillful spinning.
Tara and the NRA - NRA by-pass reality
Over the centuries, some of Ireland's most eminent scholars (John O'Donovan, George Petrie, R.A.S. MacAlister, to name but a few) have engaged with the history, archaeology, myth and legend of Tara, in a common endeavour to learn more about this extraordinary place and determine fact from fiction.
More recent research, most notably by Conor Newman and Edel Bhreathnach on behalf of the Discovery Programme, have advanced this work to the point where we are now closer to an understanding of Tara than at any stage since the first detailed description of the visible monuments were committed to the pages of the 'Dindgnai Temrach' (The landmarks of Tara) around the year 1000 A.D.
We are none the wiser, however, regarding the National Roads Authority's choice of 'preferred' M3 motorway route through the Tara-Skryne valley despite the recent rash of full-page adverts that purport to distinguish the 'true facts' from the 'myth'.
Are we to understand that the NRA has gone roundabout the truth and by-passed reality?
Department of Archaeology, NUI, Galway