Sunday, December 30, 2012

Restoration Work in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin

Glasnevin Cemetery is probably the most well-known cemetery in Ireland due to the many famous figures in Irish history who are interred there. It is the final resting place for over 1.1 million people. According to the Glasnevin Cemetery Trust website:

"Glasnevin Cemetery was established in 1832 under the direction of Daniel O’Connell for the purpose of burying “people of all religions and non”. The cemetery encompasses 124 acres and 1.5 million burials. Glasnevin has great national heritage through the social and historical history of the people buried there from all walks of life over 178 years. Famous people interred there include the founder of the Cemetery - Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, O’Donovan Rossa, Eamon De Valera, Michael Collins, Countess Markiewicz, Maud Gonne McBride, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Brendan Behan, Christy Brown, Jimmy O’Dea, Luke Kelly, Alfred Chester Beatty, Michael Cusack and Liam Whelan. Less acclaimed people include victims of the Great Famine, the Cholera outbreaks and the Air India crash as well as the babies in the old Angels plot which was renovated and inaugurated by President McAleese in 2005."

What many people may not realise is that there is a major restoration programme going on there at the moment. Their website gives some details:

"Glasnevin Trust has an ongoing Restoration Programme funded by the National Development Plan through the Office of Public Works (OPW), making an important contribution towards restoring this great necropolis to its pristine glory of the early 1900s."

This is an extraordinary project for such a large site with so many monuments. Walking around the cemetery one can see the great work that has been done and the areas which have not been restored yet only highlight this further. The process involves moving most of the kerb stones, straightening and fixing broken tombstones, painting old railings and finally putting in a layer of topsoil which is then sown with grass seed.

Unrestored section (29-12-2012)

Unrestored section (29-12-2012)

Restored railings (29-12-2012)

Recently restored section (29-12-2012)

Restored section (29-12-2012)

Restored section (29 December 2012)

These sample photos show the extent of the damage over a long period of time in some sections and the quality of the restoration undertaken by the Trust. According to the Trust website, "this undertaking commenced in 2007 and will take an estimated 10 years, it is due for completion in time for the 2016 Easter Rising centenary celebrations."

The Trust website has very few photos of this ongoing great work and nothing of the restoration project on Facebook or YouTube. For those who are fans of the different restoration processes that are undergone on the castles, stately homes and other historical sites in Ireland, more photos, detailed descriptions and videos of the process would be very welcome.

Coastal Erosion in Donabate, Dublin, Ireland

Coastal erosion is a slow process as winter high tides take a few more feet into the sea every year. However, if climate change is not tackled we could see a sudden increase in the rate of coastal erosion in the years to come. Every year coastal sand dunes are undermined. Frontal sections collapse and are then swept into the sea. At Corballis Beach in Donabate large sections collapsed in December, 2012.

Corballis Beach at high tide on December 14, 2012

 Corballis Beach on Sunday 30 December, 2012

Corballis Beach on Sunday 30 December, 2012. Most damaged section.

Corballis Beach on Sunday 30 December, 2012. Height of the most damaged section.

The most damaged section had a 'cliff face' of at least 3 metres in height showing the amount of dune that has been lost to high tides. According to Derek Evans, writing in a letter to The Irish Times on December 11, 2012, about a nearby beach, Portrane:

"Up to 10 metres of sand dunes spanning almost 1,000 metres of coastline have been lost at Portrane beach in Co Dublin due to coastal erosion. Lifeguard signposts, access points and fencing have collapsed and the scene today is one of destruction and devastation."

Evans calls on Fingal County Council to reinforce the most vulnerable areas of the beach or the dunes will be gone in less than five years. He further states that "Portrane beach was one of only four beaches in the Fingal County Council region to be awarded Blue Flag status this year [Corballis also got the Blue Flag in 2012] for its excellent water quality, environmental education, management of the environment and safety." It is ironic that at the point at which these environmental aspects are finally being dealt with, the very structure of the beach is being seriously challenged. If measures are not taken soon, Corballis, too, will soon have no dunes worth speaking about.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ireland: The Devastating Social Impact of Economic Austerity Measures

Targeting young families, the elderly and the sick, as the government slashes child benefits, triples prescription charges and rubber-stamps controversial property tax.

Another political party is selflessly sacrificing itself to the ‘preying’ mantis of the Irish establishment. We are seeing the Labour Party (in coalition with the conservative Fine Gael) being slowly ingested before our eyes as they struggle to justify their support for the recent right wing austerity budget to an increasingly angry populace.

Even the usually calm and collected silver tongues of the party are starting to get nervous. The last political victim of the establishment mantis was the Green Party who were coaxed into a coalition by the establishment’s Fianna Fáil party in 2007. The angry public had its revenge in the 2011 election when the Greens lost all their seats in the Dáil (Parliament) and Fianna Fáil itself succumbed to exhaustion and had its own meltdown after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy.

There were demonstrations and scuffles with Gardaí during the budget debate (5/12/2012) and more recently (7/12/2012) a group of about 250 carers and their families protested outside Leinster House against the cut of €325 to the annual €1,700 respite care grant announced in Wednesday’s Budget.

According to author and campaigner Paddy Doyle:
“There’s no question or doubt about it that any vulnerable group, be they elderly, be they carers – the few I’ve met here are exhausted. You can see it in their faces that they’re just worn out. They’re saving the State a fortune,” he added.
The campaign group Social Justice Ireland director, Fr Seán Healy, said that for the second year in a row the Government had perpetrated a transfer of wealth from the poor to the prosperous. He noted that:

“Budget 2012 saw 40 per cent of the population on lowest incomes take a far higher proportionate ‘hit’ than the richest 10 per cent. Budget 2013 continues this process.”

And it looks like some people won’t be just reading Dickens this Christmas but will be experiencing a Dickensian one as well. According to the president of St Vincent de Paul, Geoff Meagher, there are families that “are choosing to go without heating their homes as they struggle to afford the basics.” He also said that:

“It’s not just this budget, it’s the result of a cumulative effect of tough budgets that have happened in the past few years. They are pushed into poverty when they cannot afford the basics such as food, heating and education, with fuel being the first thing to go as it is usually most expensive.”

Anger is growing at a budget which is targeting young families, the elderly and the sick, as the government slashes child benefits, triples prescription charges and rubber-stamps the hugely-controversial property tax.

What is galling many people in Ireland is that this is all being facilitated by a Labour Party which according to one of the tenets of its Principles states: “Equality implies reorganising society with the specific object of creating a more equal distribution of wealth and power, and not just opportunities for individuals to become powerful or wealthy.” Under another Principle it is stated that “the spirit of Community places Labour on the side of the oppressed.” However, it is beginning to look like if these austerity measures continue much longer, the community is going to place Labour on the side of the unemployed.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ireland’s Economic Chickens Come Home to Roost

Since the formation of the Irish State in 1922, financial sources for the maintenance and development of the state as an independent entity have been in decline. This has arisen through Ireland’s joining the EEC in 1973 and subsequent Treaties of the EU, to successive governments’ neo-liberal economic policies that gradually reduced the role and income of the state. Contributing to these problems was the loss of fiscal autonomy when Ireland joined the eurozone in 2002.

Sources of income such as customs duties and charges, fisheries, agriculture, oil and gas, and minerals were all affected in different ways, leaving the increasing taxation of the people as the main plank of the government’s policy to extricate itself from the economic crisis. Since the banking crisis of 2008, government borrowing has increased the national debt from € 50.4 billion to € 119.1 billion in 2011, more than doubling it in a few short years.

The establishment of a customs union (a free trade area with a common external tariff) was one of the main aims of the EEC. On joining the EEC in 1973, the Irish government lost import duties as a source of income from its main trading partners. Three years later, in 1976, the EEC extended its fishing waters from 12 miles to 200 miles under the Common Fisheries Policy when it was agreed that fishermen from any state should have access to all waters. Thus, while Ireland owns 23% of the fishing waters in Europe, it is only allowed 3% of the European fish trade quota.


Since joining the EEC there has been ongoing change in Irish farming but “with fewer and larger farms, less employment, more specialisation and concentration of production and growth in part-time farming” yet “agricultural output remains at about the level of 20 years ago”. As a source of employment farming has been in decline for a long time, about 24 per cent in the period from 1980 to 1991 and a further 17 per cent between 1991 and 2000. Recent demonstrations by farming families in Dublin have shown the negative effect of government cutbacks, increased costs and taxes.  According to a recent Irish Times article, “the protest was called to highlight concerns about planned reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy and the upcoming budget. It also highlighted the margins being taken by supermarket chains at the expense of farmers. Placard messages included ‘No Cap cuts; no farm cuts; no extra costs; regulate the retailers.’”

More short-sighted policies can be seen in reports that the State is “also considering selling off some assets of the forestry body Coillte (The Irish Forestry Board)” to private investors. Coillte was established under the Forestry Act 1988, and the company is a private limited company registered under and subject to the Companies Acts 1963-86. All of the shares in the company are held by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for Finance on behalf of the Irish State. Profits have increased from a loss of €438K (1989) to profits of €4.2 million (2009). Moreover, the company employs approx 1,100 people and owns over 445,000 hectares of land, about 7% of the land cover of Ireland.

More state assets
In the same article, plans to sell off other state assets such as parts of Bord Gáis (Gas Board) and ESB (Electricity Supply Board) and “its 25 per cent shareholding in Aer Lingus” were also being considered.

According to Sinn Féin’s deputy leader and spokesperson for public expenditure and reform, Mary Lou McDonald, “Both the ESB and Bord Gáis are wealth generating self-financing companies that have invested heavily in first world energy infrastructure across the island and created thousands of good jobs benefiting hundreds of thousands of families over the decades”. She added, ““Fine Gael and Labour’s decision to treat the profitable elements of these companies as a cash cow for bank debt reduction makes no economic sense and reflects the kind of short term policy and political decision making that got us into this economic mess in the first place.”

The extent to which the Irish Government has bent over backwards to attract foreign investment in mining - and in the process delimit its share of potential income - can be seen in an extract from a Government Report titled ‘Land of Mineral Opportunities’, published in May 2006. “Tax incentives relevant to exploration and mining in Ireland include:

*No State Shareholding in the Project and No Royalties are Payable to the State.
*Immediate write-off of development and exploration expenditure
*Corporation Tax of 25 percent (reducing to 12.5% for downstream manufacturing)
*Capital Allowance of up to 120 percent
*Expenditure on rehabilitation of mine sites after closure is tax-deductible
*There are no restrictions on foreign investment in Ireland,
*There are no restrictions with capital repatriation from the State.”

Oil and Natural Gas
Over the past 15 years gas and oil have been discovered under Irish waters in the Atlantic Ocean. However, the government’s “Minister Ray Burke (later jailed for corruption) changed the law in 1987, reducing the State’s share in our offshore oil and gas from 50% to zero and abolishing royalties. In 1992, Minister Bertie Ahern reduced the tax rate for the profits made from the sale of these resources from 50% to 25%.” In May of this year [2012], an article by economist Colm Rapple stated that a committee that included 12 TDs [MPs] and senators from Government parties and nine from the opposition thought that “the terms at which we give away rights to potential offshore oil and gas reserves are far too generous. […] They want far tougher terms applied to all new licences.”

          Patrick Pearse (1879-1916)

So how will the government square this dismal history of giveaways with the upcoming centenary of the 1916 Rising in 2016, an attempted revolution which was initiated with a proclamation read out in the centre of Dublin declaring “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.”
This declaration was followed up in 1922 with The Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) Act, 1922 which stated in Article 11 that “All the lands and waters, mines and minerals, within the territory of the Irish Free State hitherto vested in the State, or any department thereof, or held for the public use or benefit, and also all the natural resources of the same territory (including the air and all forms of potential energy), and also all royalties and franchises within that territory shall, from and after the date of the coming into operation of this constitution, belong to the Irish Free State”.

The future?
There seems to be no limit to the government’s sticky fingers. The National Pensions Reserve Fund has seen its total value reduce from €24.4 billion in 2010 to € 15.1 billion in 2012 with €20.7 billion of the fund spent on preference shares and ordinary shares in Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland since 2009. As the government props up the banks and pays off unsecured bondholders, it is likely that the forthcoming significant national commemorations will refocus the Irish people on past conceptions of national democracy. Chicken, anybody?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ireland’s Booming Economy in the Midst of Austerity and Cutbacks

Despite the fact that the Irish people are currently enduring endless austerity and cutbacks, exports are booming. The Irish Exporters Association (IEA) reports a 10 percent rise in the export of goods and services in Ireland between July and September compared to the same period a year ago. Exports are set to hit a record €183.7bn this year and with the corporate tax rate at 12.5 per cent business elites are doing nicely in Ireland. Meanwhile, the Irish government is handing out a large percentage of the budget to unsecured bondholders to the tune of €18 billion this year with a couple of billion more to go before year’s end. According to Diarmuid O’Flynn writing in his blog bondwatchireland:

“Please know, we are being betrayed by our own. We are betrayed by our own government, who are colluding with the ECB in implementing a policy of private interests over public good, of the primacy of banks over people; we are betrayed by a national media who have abandoned their primary duty of objectively and honestly informing the people of what’s happening.”

However, the media has been busy reporting the jailing of Sean Quinn who was formerly Ireland’s wealthiest man. He was sentenced to nine weeks in prison for failing to comply with a court order having been previously found guilty of contempt of court, for hiding assets from the former Anglo Irish Bank. It is a sign of the desperation of the Irish people for work that the disgraced businessman (along with his son and nephew) has been the subject of large demonstrations in support for the Quinn family.

Meanwhile the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) is showing that with all the cutbacks and money being diverted into private interests, household savings are falling, banking business is shrinking and the Government’s finances is deteriorating. In the area of education and health, working conditions and cutbacks are having demoralizing effects on society as a whole. For example, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) commissioned a new independent survey which showed “the massive impact that cutbacks have had on schools all around the country. In particular, the loss of posts of responsibility such as year head have severely damaged the support framework so important for marginalised students” and that “reduced family incomes have had a significant detrimental impact on students’ capacity to purchase school books and other general classroom materials.” In a recent article Consultant Dr Altaf Naqvi “warned that morale among young doctors — both Irish and from overseas — is at ‘rock bottom’.” He states “I have worked in other countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia but conditions are far worse here and doctors — both national and from overseas — are on the verge of nervous breakdowns, things are at crisis point”.

Business and political elites are determined to make ordinary Irish people pay for the financial crisis with a whole raft of new taxes and charges coming down the line over the coming year. New annual water and property charges of up to €800 a year combined with a ‘gathering tsunami of mortgage arrears’ whereby “about 23 per cent of mortgage holders were either in arrears or had their mortgages restructured following consultations with the banks” may soon create the kind of vocal reaction and demonstrations perceived to be strangely lacking in Ireland up to now.