Villagers: Letters to the Editor 2006-04-13

Sustainable development - Rural sprawl

The decision of the British Government to limit one-off housing in open countryside in the North should be welcomed by everyone interested in sustainable development on the island. The recent habit of building one house after the other along the roadside respects no Irish tradition. (This pattern of house-building mushroomed in the early 1960s – a point noted in a 1975 housing report).

The idea that the "dispersed village" is the main characteristic of the rural landscape is simply not true. The rural Irish landscape in the main is characterised by farm villages surrounded by fields and distant from one another by a mile or two. Small towns and villages are also a vital part of rural Ireland. Unfortunately, formless suburban estates are destroying many of these small towns. The traditional street structure of our towns and respect for scenery in the countryside has been abandoned in favour of relentless sprawl.

Bad planning has bedevilled this country. Yet our landscape's beauty remains a major economic and social resource. Our politicians' leadership in protecting this resource has been dismal. They have chosen to follow an emotional approach which has seen landowners and developers determine planning policy.

It is a fundamental point of planning that different landscapes have a varying capacity to absorb development. At the very least we should be developing a landscape policy to put this into effect. A North-South body committed to this objective would be welcome.

Seán Brosnan, Dingle Sustainable Development Group

First Dáil's Democratic Programme - First Dáil more subversive than today's

Village is to be congratulated for printing the Democratic Programme of the First, all-Ireland, Dáil Éireann in the 30 March issue. It makes inspiring, exciting and subversive reading. Sadly, your editorial is all too correct in suggesting that a rededication to such ideals is too much to ask for from our modern Leinster House parties. The truth is that entry to the 26-county Dáil has, from the establishment of the Irish Free State, been dependent on a rejection of those ideals. Much as we may try to elude the fact, and difficult as it is, for many, to accept, our modern Dáil Éireann has evolved, not from the revolutionary First Dáil Éireann, but from the Irish Free State, established, not by the unfettered will of the Irish people, but, by a British act of parliament.

Those who accepted the Treaty in 1921 made a sacrifice when they accepted a limitation on / castration of the revolution, imposed by the British state. The British Empire laid down its law as The Law. The oath of allegiance was not an "empty formula," but a symbolic castration, an integration into British law and a profound turning away from and deligitimisation of the principals on which the First Dáil was founded. The refusal of a large portion of the revolutionaries to accept this sacrifice pushed those who had accepted imperial law further into dependence on British structures and discourse than might have happened if all had accepted. This sacrifice was elevated to the level of a rite of initiation by those who had accepted it, much the same way as circumcision is among certain peoples. Those who remained outside castration and The Law were and are hated as unclean outcasts who subvert the legitimacy of The Law. The depth of hatred shown by those who had accepted what they regarded as a necessary sacrifice for those who had not can be gauged in the ritualistic killings at Ballysheedy, Co Kerry during the civil war. The breaking of the hands with hammers before the victims were butchered must be regarded as an attempt to impose symbolic castration.

Today a large class of people are employed, very lucratively, in the manufacture of legitimisation for the dominance of Anglo-Saxon, neo-liberal cultural and economic discourse and structure in Ireland. Only membership of the European Union has provided some relief from their efforts. Their control of the media and academic institutions, and their consequent influence over Leinster House political parties, is such that the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil Éireann reads as subversively today as it did in 1919 and has even less chance now of being implemented.

Donnchadh MacGill, Chapelizod, Dublin 20

Loss of a cultural asset - Closing of an art space

Like many writers, especially those who have read there, I was appalled to learn in the past few days that the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre in College Green, host to the marvellous "Out to Lunch" readings organised by John McNamee, is to close, most likely by June.

This appears to have been a sudden decision. I would urge that some sort of favourable accommodation be arrived at which would permit this programme of readings to continue.

We need more venues, not fewer, and this news comes not long after the Arts Council have refused the Western Writers' Centre in Galway grant-aid for the eighth time; I know that many writers are appalled by this ongoing policy and have said so in print. I would hope they will continue to protest about it.

They might also be troubled to learn that the Arts Council will no longer, under the Freedom of Information Act, produce documents such as assessors' or officers reports or individual decisions on grant applications, and that the decisions of officers and assessors are now made without written notes or minutes.

The closure of a valued and proven cultural asset in the centre of Dublin city; an increase in secrecy around Arts Council grants' decisions. What precisely is going on? What should our writers protest about first?

Fred Johnston, Galway

Adopt the Principal Earner Clause - Discrimination against single mothers

Lao Tzu once said: "When the best leader's work is done, the people say, 'We did it ourselves.'" When the political parties fail to act on issues, sometimes we must go after these issues for ourselves. We would like to highlight a protest successfully organised in Bray, Co Wicklow last month against what we believe is discriminatory treatment towards single mothers. Single mothers who go back to work or education are being charged high rents for living in their parents' council houses. Our campaign is to abolish what is known as the Principal Earner Clause.

The council's clause stipulates that the person living in a council house who earns the highest amount must pay rent regardless of whose name is on the tenancy agreement. Often this is a single mother living in the family home trying to do the best for her child. However, the clause forces many to take big chunks out of their salary, while they are already paying costs such as childcare. According to the lobby group ISME, childcare costs in Ireland are the highest in Europe. This is a real crisis for many single mothers and indeed others.

The Principal Earner Clause acts as a disincentive for single mothers to go back to work. How will paying excessively high rents on top of losing the lone parent's allowance and the medical card encourage single mothers to enter employment?

We believe single mothers have no chance of saving to purchase affordable housing as they are forking out so much money on rent all to live in their parent's council house and often in overcrowded conditions. Furthermore, why would the council want to house these individuals when they are already getting rent from them? We are calling on Bray Town Council and other councils to abolish the Principal Earner Clause and adopt a similar policy to Sligo Town Council, which only charges rent "on the tenant or tenants who have signed the letting agreement" (Sligo County Council Tenant Handbook).

Our protest, which was held outside the council meeting, received support from some local councillors as they entered the council chamber, but little has changed. There is no point in us moaning about the councillors as they are powerless and as usual can do little or nothing.

It appears power lies in the hands of unelected officials and town managers who just don't want to know. But we will continue to campaign on this issue.

Catherine Hannon-Kennedy and Wayne Tobin, Bray, Co Wicklow

Privatising bin collections - Council must clean up mess

Thousands of Limerick people who have paid money in advance to have their refuse removed are now left without a service because of the liquidation of the company appointed by the City Council.

It is a scandal that a company contracted by the Limerick City Council to collect waste has gone into liquidation leaving people owed money. Now they are left without a service and City Hall is washing its hands of the whole debacle.

The fact is the company was under contract to City Hall: surely the Councillors have a responsibility towards all those people who are now owed money.

Limerick people who are struggling to survive in these difficult financial times paid this company in advance – and now these law-abiding and conscientious people are left without a refuse collection service and City Hall, who appointed the contractor, says it has nothing to do with them.

My view is that City Hall and the City Councillors who engineered this refuse service must take some responsibility. They must clean up the mess.

Sean O'Neill, Prospect, Limerick

Downloading from the web - Music piracy misunderstood

I was very disappointed to see that the article titled "Online music piracy targeted" (Village, 6-12 April 2006) was an uncritical piece which made no attempt to examine the basic issues. The biggest problem with the article is that it did not state whether or not these uploaders have been making a profit. Within public discourse this is the major determinant of fair use as this, it could be argued, would be non-commercial sharing.

Secondly, the article cites IRMA's claims that illegal downloading has cost the industry €28 million since 2002. This is problematic as, while the figures for the decline of sales are accurate, it has never been established whether there is a causal link between this decline and illegal downloading. An alternative explanation is the price of the average CD. This point is important as, if it can be shown that the commercial value of the original product has not been adversely affected, then it would be possible to argue that this is fair use.

Thirdly, the article fails to address the implications of the recording industry's reaction to the challenges of technology. Most people download from the web. This is not necessarily music downloading but could be web-pages, video files, books, games, etc. By applying the same logic as has been applied by the recording industry, all those who download any material from the web could potentially be classed as pirates.

The reason for copyright in the first place was to prevent the monopolisation of cultural products which, considering the oligopoly in the recording industry (and other parts of the culture industries) is an ethos now under threat.

Christopher Lowe, Co Kildare

Cinema - Who believes the movies?

Whoever said that art reflects life? While watching the movies recently I discovered the following scenarios that nobody would ever believe:

1. The American president or vice president is always black.

2. The rebels are the good guys. The big empire they are attacking is always bad.

3. A young idealistic politician, while addressing a huge audience for the first time, will declare that the whole system is corrupt and will walk off the platform to cheers and applause.

4. Soldiers, after being shot in battle, will always take a long time to die and will make long speeches while doing so. Their lifelong friend from boyhood is always there to witness this.

5. When storming a building where hostages are being held, the storm troopers can easily tell the difference between the hostages and the terrorists. The hostages' loved ones are always allowed to accompany the storm troopers and there is much hugging and stirring music.

Now who would believe that?

John Hanamy, Dublin 6

Rossport vs Shell -Shell should go to sea

The scathing and threatening judgement of Mr Finnegan, President of the High Court, in the Rossport Five case seems to blame the five men for many things. The judgment seemed to me to portray the men as some class of criminal. Verbal reports from people, including journalists, who were in the court suggested that the judge treated the men like children. But the whole country knows that they are neither criminals nor children.

I was outside the court on Friday 7 April. My placard invited Shell to go to sea, that is, please take your experimental and potentially lethal pipeline away from Rossport homes. You can afford it. Last year you made a profit of £1.5 million sterling per hour. That also is what the Rossport Five want. That also, dare I suggest it, is what Mr Finnegan would want in different circumstances. But I think that powerful commercial interests only tangle with powerless people who have nothing to support them but conviction and connections to their neighbourhood that go back generations.

The people who stopped to talk to me outside the court merely repeated what I and most of the country already know well. The Rossport Five are models of great integrity and honesty.

I wonder would Mr Finnegan have spoken in the same harsh terms to Royal Dutch Shell or to other powerful groups? Of course he would, the law is impartial. I know a lowly district justice who said to me recently that he tries to ensure that nobody departs from his court feeling worse about themselves. Saint or sinner they must feel better about themselves. Perhaps my friend could give lessons. I feel extremely insulted by Mr Finnegan's belittling judgment of five upright men.

Seán O Riain, Baile Átha Cliath

STATEMENT - The biggest story not yet told – 25,000 kidnapped children in northern Uganda

It is a regrettable feature of the times we live in that it takes a special visit by a senior UN official (Jan Egelund) to draw (some) media attention to what he has described as, "the biggest story not yet told – 25,000 kidnapped children".

For 20 years the arid wastes of northern Uganda have seen brutality and death on a grand scale. The statistics put it ahead of Darfur and similar killing grounds: violent deaths are three times those following the 2003 invasion of Iraq; a quarter of all the children have lost at least one parent; two million people have been forced out of their homes to live for years in wretched camps; half the children in Kitgum district are stunted from chronic malnutrition; an area the size of Belgium has been stripped of its entire, terrorised population.

The kidnapped children are boys and girls who are lifted at night from their home villages. They are marched away and forced to become soldiers and sex slaves in Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) paramilitary bands. The most unspeakable atrocities are committed upon their young bodies and minds. Boys are compelled in groups to kill reluctant companions, sometimes with their bare hands. Girls are repeatedly raped, and forced into domestic slavery, often bearing children while trekking through the bush and hunted by the Uganda army.

This millenarian lunacy has been cynically used by neighbouring countries to stir up trouble for Uganda. And nobody from the rich world has done much, if anything, to stop it; the semi-desert of Karamoja holds no vital interest.

Trying to set up a relatively simple United Nations "fire brigade" to deal with earthquakes, famines, and other emergencies is proving enormously difficult for the international community. So, it is not surprising that the leading "civilised" nations have, for more than a generation, quite failed to come to grips with this man-made, systematic, and ongoing destruction of lives and whole communities in a remote part of Africa

When the children of northern Uganda cry out for bread, they are being given stone – and worse.

Oxfam Ireland is a member of Oxfam International, a confederation of 13 Oxfams worldwide.

The Easter Rising of 1916 - Vanguard of the rebellion: the Irish Citizen Army

As the debate among the chattering classes about celebrating the 1916 Rising fizzles out for another year, or possibly another decade, and the legions of academics prepare to move on to the next issue, the overwhelming majority of Irish people remain unmoved and uninfluenced by their sterile contributions.

As at all critical periods in history, the elites have attempted to interpret their role in historical events so as to control and shape the future and thus to sustain and reinforce their power. Arguments about the past are in reality arguments about the future. Over the past few months we have witnessed attempts by the establishment to shape the debate about the motivations of those who put their lives on the line 90 years ago and marched out to challenge the might of the British Empire.

One of the main components of the revolutionary forces that took up arms in 1916 was the Irish Citizen Army, led by James Connolly, yet its role has received scant attention. This army of workers from the slums of Dublin was made up of men and women who had combined a few years earlier to defend themselves from attack by the Dublin Metropolitan Police during the great class struggle of 1913. They risked what little they had in the belief that, to advance their own social conditions and to lay the basis for a better future for their children, they had no option but to take up arms.

The next public meeting in the current series organised by the James Connolly Education Trust to celebrate the 1916 Rising will feature an illustrated talk by Dr Ann Matthews, author of The Rise and Demise of Women in Irish Politics, 1900-1914. The talk, "Vanguard of the rebellion: the Irish Citizen Army, 1916", will explore what motivated the members of this revolutionary army. It will take place in the Ireland Institute, 27 Pearse Street, Dublin, on 18 April.

Eugene McCartan, James Connolly Education Trust, Dublin 1

Rising was noble but undemocratic

Dessie Ellis, (Village 6-12 April), claims that we did not get the "backward society which followed the Civil War" north as well as south because of 1916. Pearse, Constance Markiewicz and Connolly were nice people with nice ideas. Whatever went wrong was not their fault but was due to "the defeat of the ideals of 1916 caused by partition and the Civil War".

1916 was not a game of Red Branch Knights. It was a serious political act of the greatest significance – with immediate as well as long-term practical consequences. Did Pearse understand at any stage prior to the Rising what a great many ordinary Dublin families could have told him from what their men-folk knew of 20 months of real war? That old men and children would die in the streets in "collateral fire"; that central Dublin would be doing a very passable imitation of bombarded Ypres or Mons. Did he and Connolly understand that the killing would still be going on 90 years afterwards?

For 100 years or more, it has appeared to most Unionists, (to the delight of their more unscrupulous leaders), that we are offering them a simple choice: submit meekly to the will (and ultimate strength) of the majority in this island – or "go home" to Britain.

How did the Civil War happen? Not only was the actual decision to go ahead with the Rising itself an act of insubordination within the Volunteers, but the figures show beyond any reasonable doubt that a rebellion was patently not the preferred option of the overwhelming majority, even of Nationalists. Is it surprising therefore that sections of the National Movement should, in 1922, have taken the view that the decision of the Dáil (64 votes to 57) to accept the Treaty, and the clear support for it, and for peace, in the June election (two thirds to one third of votes cast), was irrelevant?

1916 programmed into a corner of the Irish political psyche the doctrine that any individual or group, however small, has the right to decide the future of the Irish nation – unilaterally and without a formal mandate. And to take lives if tactically appropriate, say, for fund-raising or punishment purposes.

We must – and can – distinguish between the nobility of the aspirations and participants of the Rising and the fact that it was a profoundly undemocratic and anti-democratic act which has left a gory albatross hanging around all our necks.

Maurice O'Connell, Co Kerry

M3 through Tara, no legacy for those who died in 1916

In the week leading up to the re-celebration of the 1916 Easter Rising, the Taoiseach ("first", "leader") urges us to begin "a great national conversation" on what it means to be Irish 90 years later. Surely, being Irish does not include the building of a motorway through Tara's landscape? I doubt that those who died 90 years ago intended that their political descendants would drive this project ahead – now considered by many as a sick joke gone terribly wrong.

Recently the Taoiseach stood with Tony Blair at Eamhain Mhacha and recognised it as the ancient capital of Ulster. Surely he can recognise Tara as the ancient capital of Ireland?

The Taoiseach has the opportunity to give the Irish State an unforgettable 90th birthday present and to enter the history books himself. Let him bring his renowned negotiating skills to bear on this disaster, admit that Noel Dempsey, the NRA and Meath County Council have made a mind-boggling mistake, move the M3 and leave this virtually intact landscape for those who may celebrate the 190th and 200th anniversary of the Rising.

Our Taoiseach has a choice. He can be a real leader and be commemorated as the man who saved Tara at a crucial time in our development as a nation or as the man who destroyed her.

If 1916 had not occurred, would we be fighting to save Tara? After all, the DUP are trying to save the Boyne Valley.

Muireann NÍ Bhrolchain, Maynooth, Co Kildare

Taoiseach's 'risible apologia'

The Taoiseach's risible apologia for the 1916 insurrection on RTÉ's This Week on the ninth of April, if nothing else, served to illuminate the extent of the egotistical anti-intellectualism and counterfactual historical parlour game that lies behind the State's desire to celebrate this terrible event. The Taoiseach is an avowed anti-revisionist, which means in fact that he has no respect for conventional historical inquiry, and views history simply as an instrument of nation building.

The desire to incorporate 1916 into a liberal, democratic, social and political culture in 2006 as a morally legitimate "unmandated" violent iconic event, that commenced a further bloody narrative of so-called national liberation, culminating by 1923 in the death and wounding of 10,000 people, a wholly partitioned polity, a broken economy, a nation that was dying in the 1950s, and remained in ill-health until the arrival of the so-called "Celtic Tiger", at the close of the century, presents an obvious insuperable obstacle for any "democrat". However, Mr Ahern can juggle this by being a Sunday constitutional democrat, and a rhetorical Easter Monday republican; no contradiction there of course, if one lives in JM Barry's Neverland.

Mr Ahern's anti-revisionism affords him convenient protection from any consciousness of the horrors of modern urban warfare during Easter Week; this moral luxury allows him to concentrate on the politics of the insurgent heroics of 1916, and like McAleese, he shows not a scintilla of compassion for the innocent killed or wounded during the insurrection, be they Irish or British. Their deaths do not "rise above the clammer", their voices in a limited way only find mute expression in Sean O'Casey's recollection of the rising in his autobiography.

Bertie Ahern is steeped in another great oblivion, to borrow and re-contextualise for the moment FX Martin's term relating to our great war amnesia. The Taoiseach's refusal to accept that another Ireland existed before the revolution, one that produced infinitely more patriots and heroes, though of a very different sort, the kind who would never have contemplated subjecting their fellow countrymen and women and children to a violent revolt, an action that the grandfather of his present minister for justice described as "an act of criminal lunacy".

Bertie Ahern and his powerful cohorts desire that we should efface from history the truly Irish and intensely patriotic generation of Home Rule, many of whom, having survived the great war, were murdered by Collins' assassins; we again remember the names of their killers, but not their victims.

We have carved the names of Barry, Breen, Brugha etc and cast a cold indifferent glance at those innocents who died at their hands or upon their orders, and then expect the British and Ulster Unionists to join in the celebration of such sacrifices as we release from the attic the mad relative from 1916 and parade the demented creature before the world as Cúchulain the resurrected; the saviour of Ireland from cultural annihilation, proving that the line between idealism and pathology is a very fine one indeed; or is there a more down to earth explanation for this grotesque pantomime of celebration of an act of treachery 90 years ago? Is it not really an electoral strategy to keep the Sinn Féin wolf away from the door of the GPO? Perhaps it is a mixture of both, combined with an arrogance that power confers upon those who possess it, one that persuades them to imagine that the people are so stupid that they will buy anything. That is a very serious mistake to make Mr Ahern.

Pierce Martin, Celbridge, Co Kildare