Villagers: Letters to the Editor 2006-03-09

Fishermen's livelihood - Salmon fishing a political football

As a commercial salmon fisherman for the past 30 years, I believe I now know what it was like for the native Indian population in America who were kicked off their land and put into reservations.

That might sound dramatic, but the same scenario confronts my community. Hundreds of fishing families like me, living along our coast are facing this prospect.

They get married, raise their kids and are part of small communities who make a living from the sea. Our incomes will tell you that fishing is not about money, it's a way of life, it is about self-esteem being part of the community and having a place.

It looks likely the Minister of State John Brown will soon do a Pontius Pilate and will announce in the Dáil that he will close down our traditional livelihoods on the advice of the Salmon Commission, of which I am a member.

My livelihood and that of my fellow fishermen has been made a political football. Almost all political parties are influenced by what is a highly-organised, well-funded media campaign. They have abandoned for political gain the traditional rights of our fishing communities, allegedly to protect salmon. Present Government policy seems intent on transferring point of kill of these salmon elsewhere.

What is at issue here is the privatisation of a regulated public fishery and the transfer of wealth from communities who traditionally harvested this wealth to a cartel of private individuals who own our rivers. This free bonanza to these private fishery owners will make them millionaires overnight at the taxpayers' expense. If what has happened in Scotland is anything to go by, the fishing rights of these rivers will be unaffordable by the ordinary angler and will once again become the "sport of kings".

For the past 10 years we fishermen have watched our incomes plummet as savage cuts in length of time fishing and amounts of fish caught have been imposed on us. Our catches have been reduced from 257,000 fish in 2000 to 91,000 this year.

During this time we were assured by successive ministers, from Frank Fahy onwards "if we took the pain we would eventually get the gain", it now appears that our pain is for the benefits of others.

All of this time the fishery owners and angling bodies have been allowed to wrap the flag of Salmon Conservation around themselves without any critical comment from the media. Whether a salmon is caught on a hook or a net he is still a dead salmon. What have they done for conservation?

At the last commission meeting, angling representatives who have a majority on the board refused to accept a catch and release programme for the month of September recommended by scientists, when everyone knows that at that time of year salmon are heavy with spawn and by killing these fish they are potentially killing hundreds of fish and jeopardising the future.

However the "powers that be" dropped this recommendation so they could vote us out of existence. It beggars belief the arrogance they portray and what they get away with. It will be a terrible day if these small fishing communities that are as tenacious and proud as the salmon are forced to disappear.

Seamus de Burca, Member of National Salmon Commission, Member of South Western fishery Board, Clonakilty, Co Cork

Publishing the cartoons - An Irishman's diatribe

I was most surprised to see Kevin Myers display uncharacteristic temperance and an apparent grip on reality in the Irishman's Diary in the Irish Times of 3 February. He wrote that "in any normal circumstances", he would "love to publish" one of the cartoons which have offended Muslims worldwide. "These are not normal circumstances", explains Myers as the rationale for his restraint.

As one who visits An Irishman's Diary as a receptacle of the abnormal when Myers is in charge – not least in terms of its analysis of the origins of this State which Myers seems to view as some kind of tragedy – I feel cheated that on this occasion he lacked his customary fortitude to go "over the top" from the trenches of his column, from where he sends forth thousands of words into battle with the same indiscriminate abandon as the British First World War officer class sent troops to their doom.

While personally I oppose cartoons insensitive to hundreds of millions of people, I would have expected more from this standard-bearer and warrior of free-speech. Never normally afraid to use his column as a weapon of controversy, why has he chosen to pass up the opportunity to offend more people than he has ever offended before in one single Irishman's Diary alone, especially given the ready availability of a weapon of mass desecration in the form of the cartoons? Never one to shirk taking on targets, ranging from the executed 1916 leaders, to the President or unmarried mothers, what has he to fear from this "idiotic nonsense"?

If one is seeking to view material which appears to be produced in a spirit intended to provoke and offend a wide group of people, then I can think of no better home for the cartoons than Myers' column – which I suggest in the interests of accuracy might be more aptly described An Irishman's Diatribe when Myers is in residence.

I thought Kevin was made of sterner stuff, just as the pen is mightier than the sword. Perhaps it is not, when in the hands of cartoonists like Myers.

Diarmaid Pléimionn, Ráth Fearnáin, Baile Átha Cliath 16

Remembering 1916 -Rising was not a mandate for anything

Maurice O'Connell's contribution (23rd February) is useful as a demonstration of the confusion which occurs when British war propaganda is allowed to direct the debate of important issues.

I did not suggest that "Redmond's mandate had miraculously expired" in 1915, but that the British government's did. Britain's 1911 Parliament Act provided for a five-year term of office; only in 1949 was there a temporary provision for ten-year government. Those interested in how the Oireachtas works might consult the provisions of the Irish Constitution, and the absence therein of any provision for the arbitrary suspension of elections. A defence of the British government's behaviour in 1915 has no democratic basis, if "democracy" is understood as the right of an electorate to choose representatives and influence policy, but rather depends on an ideological commitment that whatever Britain decides to do is unquestionable, indeed a moral imperative.

It is odd for O'Connell to accuse others of engaging in "speculation" and "fantasy", and then claim that "Redmond retained his mandate to speak for Nationalist Ireland (sic.) until 1918". The decline in recruitment figures between 1914 and 1916 clearly indicates the turning of Irish opinion against the war. Redmond's self-appointed function as recruiting agent for the British war of aggression against Germany continued even after he knew that the cause of Home Rule was lost, and lost also therefore the motivation for large numbers of Irishmen to die in Britain's war of aggression against Germany. The 1916 leaders knew exactly what Dillon and Redmond themselves had conceded: that there was no prospect of securing Home Rule, and that its existence on the statute books was a fraud for the purpose of securing Irish cannon fodder. This message was delivered decisively by the inclusion of two UVF members in the 1915 War Cabinet. The UVF declared themselves prepared to fight for Germany sooner than allow Home Rule, and armed themselves with German weapons with this object. So one could conclude that Redmond would certainly have retained his mandate to speak for nationalist Ireland, were it not that reality intervened, as it tends to, spelling the permanent end of nationalist Ireland.

O'Connell is again in error in stating that the Civil War "[derived] its mandate from 1916". Apart from the fact that, in its nature as an armed insurrection, the Rising was not a mandate for anything, the Civil War was the result of the "Treaty" imposed under threat of war by the British, and the decision of the pro-Treaty faction to impose British policy in Ireland using British arms. O'Connell bemoans the fact that a functional democracy emerged from the Civil War; he does not complain about the two-party system that emerged from the American Civil War, or for that matter the British, or any other country whose civil war politics have yet to cause it to founder.

As for the burning question of whether "our planet is to be governed" by the contextless, unspecified rule of law, and whether people are not entitled to choose the form of government that suits them regardless of the advice of those who think they know better, the British have always been pre-eminent in playing the role of the "lads with the pickaxe handles": witness the destruction of the German and Turkish empires (with consequences in recent history that surely do not need to be spelled out), concentration camps and death for thousands of women and children during the wars against the Boer Republics, the genocide of the native populations of Tasmania and Australia, and the support and funding of Indonesia's genocide in East Timor, to mention just a few of Britain's achievements in the name of democracy and the rule of law. Let us not forget either the Amer-Anglian atrocities against Iraq, the inhabitants of which were once described by Churchill as "uncivilised tribes" whom it was a moral duty to teach their proper place in the scheme of things by means of bombs. It seems old habits die hard.

The reason the 1916 Rising causes such vapour among those who ache to genuflect to a British monarch is not far to seek. It assuredly has nothing to do with the destruction and loss of life caused by the British response. The same apologists view Britain's self-appointed right to massacre lesser beings who stand in their way as morally unproblematic, indeed as unquestionable, a fact of nature. What causes such anger is that the Rising gave birth to an independent Ireland, one in which the people are sovereign and not a power-hungry, racist elite. The great sin is that the unthinkable happened: a small group of men and women took up arms to defy British policy, and examples such as this tend to give other lesser breeds ideas above their station.

Andrew McGrath, Dublin 7

Remembering war crimes - The Somme commemorations

The Government proposes a new postage stamp and other steps to commemorate the Battle of the Somme. But unless this experiment is finely calculated it could, like the attempt to put a loyalist parade through O'Connell Street, go horribly wrong.

Should all of the foreign wars in which Irish people participated be commemorated, whether or not there is now a consensus in favour of the objectives for which they fought? Should we commemorate those Irish who fought on the pro-slavery side in the American Civil War? Should we commemorate the battles of Cremona, Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudinard, Malplaquet and Fontenoy? The first question we must ask is whether we understand what was at issue in the Irish involvement in these battles.

War is about killing people. Killing people is a serious thing and there has to be a very good reason for doing it. Though the issue continues to be debated, the political consensus in favour of the 1916 Rising has been confirmed.

But what about the Somme? By that point in the Great War, the decision had been made by the Irish General Kitchener (are we going to honour him?) and others on the British side that Germany could not be beaten by military science, and the only way to win the war was by attrition. This meant that the fighting had to be arranged, not to obtain a strategic advantage which would bring the killing to a stop, but to maximise killing on all sides. The calculation being that the Central Powers, the European Union of the day, had a smaller population than their enemies to draw from, and would be exhausted first. Thus the purpose of the planned conscription in Ireland was to provide raw material for butchery. This is Britain's Crime Against Europe, accurately predicted by Roger Casement in his book of that name.

The Somme is a prime example. In 24 hours of fighting there were about 10,000 Irish casualties. On a one-for-one killing ratio, the Irish must have been responsible for about 10,000 Bavarian, Pomeranian, Saxon and other casualties. Do we now stand over those killings to the extent that we wish to publicly honour the killers? Were those deaths justified? What was it all for?

About half of the 10,000 Irish casualties were for King and Country. In other words they were fighting for the British Empire, the 300-year project of world conquest, colonisation, ethnic cleansing and genocide which reached its apex in the first half of the 20th century. This part of the Irish war effort was supremely successful, as the British Empire gained vast territories in Africa and the Middle East from the Great War, and went on to pile horror upon atrocity right up to Palestine and Iraq today.

The other half thought they were fighting for the freedom of small nations. It became increasingly obvious that they were the unfortunate dupes of Imperial politics. So their killing of others, and their own deaths, were a tragic mistake to be lamented, not celebrated.

By glorifying the tragedy as a positive event in history we are in danger of a miscalculation which would make the recent events in O'Connell Street look like a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park. Perhaps the way ahead is, like Holocaust Day, to acknowledge the Great War as a Crime Against Europe, in the tradition of Irish foreign policy pioneered by Casement and Connolly.

Pat Muldowney, Derry

Dublin riots - Flames of rage

Your reportage and comment, (Village 2-8 March), on the Dublin riots of 25 February 2006, seem accurate and very balanced.

I was not in Ireland but, ironically, in Algiers on Boulevard Frantz Fanon, (remember him?), participating in a substantial congress aimed at promoting a dialogue between the North and South Mediterranean, and eventually, we hope, between Europe and Islam (including Islam within Europe).

I cannot agree that an apparent inability to anticipate the "participation" of disadvantaged young men of all ages (on a Saturday afternoon), is excusable. Anybody who has been involved in, (or organised), a demo of any kind always factors in the possibility of gurriers getting in on the act. Anybody who has dabbled in the politics of social concern, (even canvassed), been a community activist, or had a professional interest in youth, knows that there is deep, structural disadvantage, "disaffection" and nihilistic, sadistic violence in our society. You carry an article by John Bruton (Village 2-8 March 2006). Remember the hysterical vituperation which Finola Bruton attracted when she pointed to the time-bomb of alienated young men a decade ago?

It would be complete nonsense to attempt to draw a direct connection between President McAleese's speech to academics in UCC and what happened on 25 February. Nevertheless, both events – and the Taoiseach's ill-thought-out intention to "reclaim 1916" – all exist in the same continuum of Ireland 2006. There is a huge triangular contradiction between the iconic "cherish all the children of the nation equally" of the 1916 Proclamation, the "best of all Republics" depicted by the President and by the parties which have been in power for almost all of the past 20 years – and the reality of 2006 Ireland.

Massive changes for the better have taken place since 1966. However, there is a profound and corrosive disillusion, not just among dispensable hoodies from the "favelas" of the inner and outer city, but among the svelte and suited cubs of the Tiger as they sip their Frasier-nuanced caffé lattes and tequilas south of the river this Friday afternoon after work – and before they commute.

If Sinn Féin makes electoral gains at the expense of Fianna Fáil at the next election (particularly among the under-40s), it will have little to do – directly – with 1916 but with a distaste for all the mainstream parties. Also with the happy fragmentation of the Left. Despite the best efforts of your bête semi-rouge, Pat Rabbitte (and I do not disagree with his project of an alternative Government with my old playmates in Fine Gael), we lack a clear alternative national philosophy. The yobboes who were 'out' re-enacting in farce the less savoury aspects of the tragedy of 1916 might have difficulty in recognising a philosophy if it came up and bit them in Parnell Street, Killinarden or Coolock. Nevertheless, we are not offering them a vision which includes them. As Milton put it: "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed."

Maurice O'Connell, Tralee, Co Kerry

Healing the wounds of conflict

Rioting in Dublin on Saturday 25 February was truly appalling. Thankfully no one was killed, due largely to the bravery of the gardaí present, but the events surrounding the abandoned march? Not only the violence threatened and carried out on the day, but also the trivialised and uninformed radio debate beforehand, the misunderstanding of the reasoning behind the march, disturbing attitudes which came to light in various radio programmes, and the whole ongoing stalemate in the peace process – should surely make it clear that what is needed now is: 1) a re-assertion of, and re-commitment to, the fundamental values of this Republic – values, rights and freedoms developed and won over a long period of time and enshrined in our Constitution, and 2) a re-commitment to the long-term task that lies before this generation of Irish people: the task of healing the wounds of conflict and division, addressing the legacies of the past, building respect and understanding, removing the fear and the misperceptions and empowering our young people to play their part in bringing about a truly peaceful and just society throughout the island, something which we committed ourselves to in the Good Friday Agreement but which has eluded us all for so long.

Julitta Clancy, Meath Peace Group, Batterstown, Co Meath

Lose-lose situation

Questions & Answers (Monday, 27 February) presented Jeffrey Donaldson with an Irish platform which would not be reciprocated to a correspondingly bigoted anti-British spokesman from "Eire".

He made a statement, roughly paraphrased: "the people of Ireland should stop harping back to events of 30 years ago" It is to be hoped that his leader won't get to hear of this slip as he makes a point of harping back to the early 17th century.

Jeff also informed us that on Sunday, 26 February the DUP entertained six or eight members of our Government to a pleasant dinner in Belfast without any acrimony – "and that's the way it should be". I couldn't agree more; but it must be stated that our six or eight did not arrive with a backup of half a dozen Republican marching bands, associated banners, Tricolours, service medals and all the regalia which could indicate that the underlying motives might be less innocent than purported.

But where lies the blame for Saturday's scenes? One must question the reasons behind the march. Why was it necessary for the DUP (under the cloak of FAIR) to march in Dublin about events – no matter how harrowing – in the six Counties, when the stated objective was to meet with the "Southern" government? Why not pick up a telephone?

Who stands to gain the most from seeking such a march (even a "non-swaggering" type as referred to by our men of the DUP)? There are three scenarios:

(1) Refusal by the authorities here to grant the go-ahead. (Didn't we tell ye all along that the people of Eire don't want anything to do with us?)

(2) Permission granted; no confrontation. (Didn't we tell ye all along that the people of Eire embrace Unionism, all that it stands for, Orange Order, etc?)

(3) Permission granted; the gurriers take advantage, move in, loot, wreck and so forth; (Didn't we tell ye all along that these so-called Republicans are only a bunch of thugs?).

Thus the Unionists are in a win-win situation even before they start. They succeed in prolonging the awful day of power-sharing with the dreaded Sinn Féin...

But who else stands to gain? Bertie Ahern is just as worried as the DUP about power-sharing with Sinn Féin; last Saturday's shenanigans are precisely what his doctor ordered.

Finally; the unfortunate Garda were disgracefully exposed to a horrifying ordeal by their desk-bound superiors. Had they faltered (with predictable results) whose heads would roll?

Seamus O Dunlaing, Bray, Co Wicklow

Need for a truth recovery process

I listened to the radio with horror as events unfolded in Dublin on Saturday 25 February. Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) and the "Love Ulster " tour had come to the capital and, as a republican, I support their constitutional right to assemble peaceably and without arms. I had hoped that those protesting would do so as well; after all, they weren't trying to parade through an estate to antagonise the residents. But alas, a substantial element was intent on trouble. FAIR's reason for marching would not be looked at. Genuine voices of protest would not be heard.

Love Ulster is an anti-Agreement campaign that sought to lobby southern opinion by hiding behind the dead. The violence witnessed on the streets of Dublin allowed them to go unchallenged.

FAIR's Love Ulster tour is not about victims, or achieving closure for their relatives. The Love Ulster campaign wants to turn back the clock to the good old days, before civil rights, a time where the taigs knew their place and the B-Specials roamed wild and free. (

FAIR's head and Love Ulster organiser, Willie Frazer, was recently denied a gun licence by the PSNI because of alleged links to loyalists terrorists.

FAIR was also denied funding for a victims memorial by the Victims Unit because "There was concern in the regard that the project was focused on memorialising 'innocent' victims of terrorism rather than assisting an environment in which all victims could be become survivors, without denying the reality of their suffering."

FAIR's attitude to nationalist victims of State and Loyalist violence is best understood by visiting their website to read an attack on the character of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, or to read an attack on Relatives for Justice.

According to FAIR, "In Northern Ireland 3,523 people lost their lives as a result of the troubles. Out of this number 2,054 have died directly as a result of actions perpetrated by the Republican Movement – the prime constituent being IRA/Sinn Féin – in their sectarian campaign against the pro-British people of Northern Ireland. Of these 2054 people murdered, 279 were aged under 20, 183 were women, and a colossal 446 were Roman Catholics – a staggering total 47 per cent higher than that killed by the Police and British Army put together (304). Overall, Republicans were responsible for two thirds of all terrorist killings during the troubles". FAIR also refers to those victims as "The victims of Roman Catholic terrorism…" No mention of Loyalist terrorists!

In contrast, Lost Lives, the book that chronicles the deaths of people killed in the Troubles from 1966 –1999, gives a detailed account of all the victims. The first recorded victims are Catholic civilians John Scullion and Peter Ward. The UVF member, Hugh McClean, who murdered them in the summer of 1966 said: "I am terribly sorry I ever heard tell of that man Paisley or decided to follow him".

Between 1966 and 1999, the total number of people killed was 3,636. Of the civilians killed, 1232 were Catholics and 698 were Protestants. The breakdown of combatants killed is as follows: RUC/UDR/RIR: 509, British Army: 503, Republican paramilitaries: 392, Loyalist paramilitaries: 144 and Others: 51.

Republican paramilitaries were responsible for a total of 2139 deaths. Of those killed, the IRA was responsible for 1771, of which 198 were Catholic and 358 were Protestant civilians. Pro-British forces were responsible for 1497 deaths, of which 1105 were civilians. Loyalist paramilitaries were responsible 1050 deaths, which account for the majority of Catholic and nearly half of Protestant civilians killed. Horrendous atrocities were committed by all sides.

Since 1999 there has been a further 82 killings, the vast majority of these were carried out by Loyalists. The most recent was that of Thomas Devlin, aged 15. He was stabbed to death by Loyalists from the Mount Vernon estate in North Belfast on 8 August 2005. His parents were of "mixed marriage".

Earlier this year, at the Bloody Sunday Commemoration weekend in Derry, Alan McBride gave the annual Bloody Sunday Lecture, his wife and father-in law were killed by the IRA in the Shankill bombing. He called for the establishment of a "truth recovery process", the restoration of power sharing and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

In conclusion he said "The best memorial we can have to those who died is to create a society where these things never happen again, a society where we as republicans and unionists can share what we have in common and build a better place for our children".

Cathal Óg McCarthy, Rosbrien, Limerick

Secular values for all - Together facing the new totalitarianism

After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.

We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.

The recent events that occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.

Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.

We reject "cultural relativism", which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia", an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.

We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas.

We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Chahla Chafiq, Caroline Fourest, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Irshad Manji, Mehdi Mozaffari, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie, Antoine Sfeir, Philippe Val, Ibn Warraq,,

State brutality - Time for Mc Do-Well to earn his name

For the sake of the majority of Garda who do a difficult job well, we need to put in place a system that deals effectively with complaints against those gardaí who abuse their power. In Cork a litter bin has been sprayed with the words "Garda complaints box". This would be funny if it were not true. The photo enclosed is from a peaceful demonstration that took place two years ago. A state that ignores the people it claims to represent is the root cause of the Dublin riots. A chance for Mc Do-Well to earn his name?

Gavin and Camilla Ryan, College Road, Co Cork


Soundbites and images of conflicts from all over the world reach into our lives every day. The modern information age provides all of us – individuals, NGOs and governments – with unprecedented insight into global affairs. But what happens to communities and families affected by a conflict once it leaves the headlines? Who is watching when a country falls from the political agenda and who is listening to those who struggle to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives in the midst, or aftermath of violence, intimidation or terror? Who hears the voices of the poor, those who will be most affected by any conflict?

In the Middle East, the real story behind the news is the crippling poverty among the Palestinian population, struggling to eke a living from an increasingly fragmented land. In Afghanistan, since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, reconstruction efforts have been hampered by rising insecurity and it is now one of the poorest countries in the world. In Sierra Leone, a decade long civil war that finally ended in 2002 resulted in thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than two million people. In Colombia, the rise in poverty and economic inequality has been matched only by an increase in human rights violations and a consistently high daily toll of fatalities.

It is the local people affected by these conflicts that listen, watch and work when the cameras have gone. Every conflict exacts a terrible toll on communities, civil society and social infrastructures such as education, health, policing and judicial systems. Each day, in countries divided by conflict, local communities and their organisations work tirelessly to bring about change – long term change to the lives of the most vulnerable sections of their societies.

Since 2003, Christian Aid in Ireland has been supporting the long term development work of local partners in the midst or aftermath of conflict. Our partners on the ground understand that conflict and poverty are inextricably linked, that economic and social development is always among the first casualties of any war. Without development there is no security, as poverty and failing states serve only to nourish violence. And a country cannot achieve sustainable development without the resolution of conflict, as instability feeds on social and economic injustice.

The reconstruction of countries emerging from conflict must be led by and for the local people. This is the first step towards achieving fully participative, pluralistic government and true progress. Christian Aid's partners work to ensure economic and social inclusion in their programmes, as well as addressing the root causes of the particular conflict in their own countries. To support this work, Christian Aid makes long-term commitments to partners to ensure there will be sustainable development for the poorest in their communities. Donors and governments must also make long-term commitments if there is to be real change on the ground. We each have a responsibility to make sure that once the cameras are gone the international community does not forget those who are working towards peace. Everyone has a part to play in securing the future.

Communications & Media Officer, Christian Aid, 17 Clanwilliam Terrace, Dublin

Christian Aid Ireland partners from Afghanistan, Colombia, Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories and Sierra Leone are in Ireland presenting their work to the government, NGOs and the public during a series of events from March 5 to March 12


STATEMENT - Time to double the plastic bag tax

Friends of the Earth are calling for the 15 cent levy on plastic bags to be doubled. On the the fourth anniversary of its introduction, analysis of Department of the Environment figures shows the number of bags being bought is rising steadily. After the plastic bag tax was introduced on 4 March 2002, the number of bags being put into circulation fell dramatically, with visible environmental benefits. In the first year after the introduction of the levy, just under 90 million bags were bought by the public and this fell to less than 85 million in 2003. But since then the number has been on the up again, to 100 million in 2004 and at least 113 million in 2005, a rise of over a third.

The effect of the plastic bag tax is gradually wearing off. Four years ago the 15 cent price tag made people think twice. They began bringing their own bags to the shops. Now it seems more and more people are just paying the tax. The plastic bag levy has been a public policy success story. The best way to protect that success is to restore that original shock value by doubling the tax.

As well as rising sales of plastic bags, the Minister of the Environment has admitted that an increasing number of bags are being given away by retailers in breach of the regulations. The best way to re-focus the minds of retailers and consumers on the importance of the tax is to increase it substantially. This is one of the few taxes you are not supposed to pay, you are supposed to avoid it. The tax was designed to change behaviour, not raise revenue, yet the amount of money flowing to Government from the levy has now passed 50 million euro. There's a danger they will get used to it. Government needs to raise the tax enough to put people off paying it again.

Friends of the Earth, 9 Upper Mount Street, Dublin 2. More: