The Fine Gael pro-developer planning system in action: we on Dublin City Council rezoned the old Chivers’ factory site in Coolock from industrial to residential in October 2017 on the advice of the following assessment from DCC’s planners:
‘It is acknowledged that this unit has been vacant for a significant period of time and that the site may not have future potential as an industrial factory type unit. Give the location of the site, particular adjacent to the Santry River and conservation area, and current access off a residential street, a residential redevelopment of the site is considered appropriate in principle.’
Myself and all other North Central area councillors rezoned the land to allow for residential development but we were promised affordable housing and sensible density: 350 affordable units at reasonable heights.
The developer briefed local councillors and held meetings in the local community to inform people of their plans: 350 units at appropriate heights of no more than five storeys.
Fine Gael, however, made two significant changes to the planning system during this time, namely the fast-tracking Strategic Housing Development process which facilitates developers building more than 100 units by-passing the local authority as the planning authority and going straight to An Bord Plenala, which leaves no room for appeal once a planning decision has been reached.
The second change to the planning system was the issuing of new departmental guidelines on building heights, released in December 2018 which totally ripped up our City Development Plan regulations on heights and opened the door to developers to lodge planning applications involving outrageous new heights, like the one at the Chivers’ site.
When we were presented with the proposal, the idea was that the developer would build four apartment blocks, none of which would be more than five stories high. Now, the developers, Platinum, have announced that the maximum height of the apartment blocks will be ten stories high. This has come about as a result of the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, removing height restrictions on plans, rendering our efforts to ensure a sustainable and reasonable development meaningless.
It is a very poor planning decision, allowing blocks of apartments eight and nine storeys high in a low-rise residential area.
Yet the only recourse available to anyone not happy with the decision is a judicial review in the courts, which can only challenge how the decision was reached and can costs tens of thousands of euros.
Fine Gael is quite clearly allowing Dublin to be shaped by the interests of private capital, and to hell with the communities.
I was in the Glin Sports Centre in Coolock on 11 August to watch the fantastic young boxer from Kilmore, Ava Henry, fight in the final of a European Championship in Georgia.
Ava is an incredibly talented young person, hardworking and dedicated too. She won the silver medal although we all thought she had won the fight.
An amazing achievement for a twelve-year-old, who will only get better. An All Ireland champion boxer who today became a European silver medalist. Fantastic.
The tremendous success generally by Ireland’s young boxers and the enthusiasm and inspiration that brings to their peers is evidence that even modest amounts of state investment in sports goes a long way. What a shame though, that our ‘independents’ in government go along with the way that Fine Gael favour middle and upper-class kids when it comes to these investments.
Last year, not only did Shane Ross give Wesley, a fee-paying school in his constituency, €150,000, he did the same for Loreto Beaufort, another elitist school. This at a time when many state schools don’t even have a sports area. How often do we see schoolkids playing on the tarmac of car parks?
Wesley College, by the way, has two resurfaced hockey pitches, along with two cricket pitches, one for soccer, four for rugby, two more basketball courts and for indoor sports: a gymn and a major hall.
As I said at the time of an upsurge in local gangland killings in Coolock: “We need a task-force established that will be responsible for monitoring the work of the various government departments, state agencies and community groups that have a role to play in tackling the many problems faced by people in the area.” And part of that solution is to invest at least as heavily in the facilities for working class kids as the state does for the rich.
Across most of Europe, far-right parties have a strong presence, with parties like National Rally in France (formerly the Front National), Matteo Salvini’s League in Italy, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the anti-Islam Freedom party in Holland and Golden Dawn in Greece. In Ireland, despite several attempts to get a racist project off the ground, the far-right have so far faltered. In part, this is because historically the racist agenda in Ireland has been linked to a very conservative Catholic agenda, which is in retreat from the spirit of our recent times.
It would be a mistake,
however, for the left to be complacent. It is clear that the fears of a fragile
middle class and the misplaced anger of marginalised working class communities could
potentially provide a constituency for an Irish far-right movement.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim
Community offer a version of Islam that rejects terrorism and advocates
the separation of mosque and state. They own a mosque on the Old Ballybrit
Road, Galway and this has been a focus for racist activity for some years. Early
on Monday 29 July, an incident took place that demonstrated the existence of people
who would organise a far-right party here and what that would mean for Muslims
and other minority groups in Ireland. The Iman’s office was broken into and
wrecked, with his family photographs and books scattered onto the street. The attackers
were careful to take the security equipment.
has, according to M.A. Malik, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of
Ireland, terrified the local Muslim community.
Two years ago, on 5
June 2017, Just after eleven p.m., while many of their members were inside for
prayer, the windows of the same mosque were smashed in by rocks. This attack followed
a spate of anti-Muslim graffiti in the city.
The link behind these
attacks was made explicit to the Iman, Ibrahim Noonan, who received an anonymous
call three months ago in which two far-right groups operating in Ireland were
mentioned (along with the name of Tommy Robinson).
Currently, such sinister
figures are relatively isolated and after both attacks, a broad swathe of the local
community rallied around the Ahmadiyya Community. Galway Anti-Racism Network is
an important force for organising the support that exists for Muslims and
asylum seekers. And for those wanting to donate to the mosque, there is
currently a charity 5k event that you
In response to the recent attack, on my Facebook page I said:
Last November a hotel earmarked for those seeking international protection was burnt out in Moville Donegal, another in Rooskey Roscommon last January and now an attack on a mosque in Galway. Hateful crimes each one of them, and the target in each instance were minorities – refugees and a Muslim community – often attacked by mainstream politicians and the far-right right across the world as the source of their particular society’s ills. Nothing could be further from the truth but hate never lets facts get in the way. We must condemn every attack, verbal and physical, we must stand with our sisters and brothers against the forces of division, hate and violence.
It was quite
incredible but yet somewhat inevitable how quickly my post yesterday in support
of those at the receiving end of anti-immigrant and anti-Islam attacks
degenerated into a thread of nonsensical, ‘Look After Our Own First’ crap.
Admittedly, it was only a handful of Facebook users but enough to distract from
the main message of my original post.
To diminish or dismiss the lived
realities of people facing attacks because of the colour of their skin, place
of origin or religious faith is a kind of violence that can slowly corrupt a
The problems people
face in the twenty-first century, in Ireland and elsewhere, in securing decent,
affordable housing, having a job that pays well and is secure, getting their
kids through school, accessing high quality health care when needed, are
problems created by a capitalist economic system that benefits a tiny elite and
leaves the rest of us fighting over the scraps.
Focusing your anger at
austerity and the gross global inequalities in wealth and income on immigrants
or Muslims lets the billionaires and millionaires, and their politician
flunkies, off the hook.
We need to unite and
fight for a better world for all.
On Monday 22 July 2019, about a thousand Israeli soldiers and border police entered the village of Sur Baher and set about demolishing buildings in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Wadi al-Hummus. Two families, totalling 17 people, of whom 11 are children, lost their homes.
Ir Amim, is an Israeli NGO that believes there has been an increase in this kind of destruction of homes. Their figures are that Israel demolished 63 Palestinian homes in the first half of 2019, while the same period in 2018 witnessed 37 demolitions.
The EU did make a statement on the matter, making the point that this policy undermined the prospects for a lasting peace.
As I responded on Facebook:
For decades the state of Israel has been violating the human rights of Palestinians and consistently breaching international law as it does yet it has never faced any serious consequences for its illegal actions so its latest act of brutality was never going to be stopped by the EU “urging” Israel to halt the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. They just went ahead and did what they do best, destroying the homes and lives of ordinary Palestinian families without fear of sanction.
These incidents help explain why Independent Left give wholehearted support to Senator Francis Black and her Occupied Territories Bill.
The bill seeks to prohibit the import and sale of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied territories. Such settlements are illegal under both international humanitarian law and domestic Irish law, and result in human rights violations on the ground. Despite this, Ireland and other EU Member States provide continued economic support through trade in settlement goods.
The legislation has been prepared with the support of Trócaire, Christian-Aid, Amnesty International and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), and applies to settlements in occupied territories where there is clear international legal consensus that they violate international law. The clearest current example is the Israeli occupation and expansion of settlements in the Palestinian ‘West Bank’, which have been repeatedly condemned as illegal by the UN, EU, the International Court of Justice and the Irish Government.
Frances Black speaking at the UN on behalf of her proposal to sanction goods, services and natural resources from the Occupied Territories in Palestine.
As Right2Water have recently posted, the announcement on 17 July 2019 by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities that excessive usage charges will be imposed on households that waste water is the beginning of a new battle which will see the government attempt to reintroduce the hated water charges in a new form.
Do they really want to go there again? The people have spoken, marched, boycotted, voted, marched and then marched and boycotted some more.
The Irish establishment, the supposed elite group of middle and upper class professionals and politicians, legal minds and media folk, despised the water movement because it was a great movement of the working class, middle and low income people fighting back and winning.
So they are sore, are coming back at it and are determined not to be dictated to on this issue ever again by the “ordinary people”.
They think the sting has gone out of the issue: yes, the political class paid a price in the local and European elections in 2014 and the general election in 2016, but they now feel that they have recovered and to a certain degree they have.
The Greens did well in the recent local and European elections and they favour water charges; the Labour Party did alright for themselves and they are in favour of water charges; Fianna Fail and Fine Gael had good local and European election results and are most certainly in favour of water charges.
Meanwhile the political parties of the Left and Sinn Fein, those that fought hard opposing the water charges, performed very poorly in the recent elections.
So the establishment think that the people have fallen into a slumber, are ripe for a little bit of “water wasting” propaganda, will accept the introduction of a charge for “excessive usage” and will ultimately see as inevitable the re-introduction of water charges.
They think this is their time, an opportune moment in which to begin a new battle to introduce water charges and ultimately privatise our water.
They are mistaken. Being out of touch with working class communities, they think we will be easily deceived as to the true nature of ‘excess usage charges’. Having underestimated the insight and determination of Irish workers, they will lose this battle. And Independent Left looks forward to playing our part in ensuring this.
The final report from the Central Bank’s Tracker Mortgage Examination makes grim reading. The tracker scandal reveals yet again the power of Irish bankers, as not one single individual banker will be held responsible for the decisions they made to rip-off their customers. And when finally forced to admit their wrong-doing, their criminal behaviour, they did their best to minimise the amount of compensation they would have to pay out.
And some consumer affairs organisations claim that the report does not go far enough: that there are still hundreds of families who have not be restored to the correct tracker rates.
Will there be any legal consequences for those individuals in the banks who made the decision to rip-off their customers? It appears not.
And the 99 families who lost their homes through no fault of their own? No amount of money can compensate them for the stress and strain they must have endured.
By the end of May, the banks had paid out €683m in compensation. Overwhelmingly the banks involved in robbing their customers are the big five, 98% of those affected were customers of AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC Bank Ireland, Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank.
We are talking about at least 40,100 customer accounts affected. And while it might seem that the banks are now contrite, effectively, they have gotten the taxpayer to recompense the victims of their cynical practices, since the State remains a significant owner of AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB. To the €64 billion bailout bill, we can add most of this one.
When you think about the stress of having a bank chase you for additional money that you never calculated on owing, when you think about the relationships that could not cope and especially when you think about the slick way in which these burdens were imposed, totally without justification, then the payouts are in fact low. This is especially the case for the 99 families whose average recompense was €194,000.
The problem for the banks, post-2008, is that they had made a mistake with tracker mortgages. For once, the deal favoured the customer. But the customer can’t be allowed to win. ‘Choice’ in the marketplace of mortgages is illusory. It is only a matter of minor variation and in all circumstances, as far as the bankers were concerned, they must be able to squeeze the mortgage holder.
So they broke their own contracts and their own rules and by bullying or by sleight of hand, forced thousands of people off their tracker mortgages.
There are so many lessons in this scandal about how Irish capitalism really works, it is hard to know where to start. But the takeaway is surely this, that when we lift the rock, we can see the insects crawling around. The report might not go far enough but it does allow us to see how the financial elite operate. it has exposed a world that we don’t normally get to see and which is one where the drive for profit is dominant, even if that means theft by people who pose as utterly respectable.
Everyone goes through a crisis of belief at some point in their lives. We grow up with certain views of the world presented to us and when they don’t fit experience, have to revise or abandon them. This process can be incredibly painful and in the case of Helena Sheehan, it’s hard to imagine a more total collapse and rebuilding than her journey from nun to communist. Her autobiography, therefore is an important book, not just for documenting her times and the very interesting circles she moved in but in allowing the reader to explore in some depth a crucial question for us all: how do I know my current belief system is right?
That’s a big question
for anyone, but it’s especially important if you are going to devote years of
your life to a particular political strategy and try to persuade others of it.
Helena Sheehan’s political
trajectory, charted with complete honesty in this book, was from conservative
Catholic, to the US New Left of the late 1960s, to Official Sinn Féin on her
arrival in Ireland in 1972 and to the Communist Party of Ireland in 1975, which
she left early in 1980. Joining the Labour Party in 1981, Helena helped found
the Labour Left group and was close to Michael D. Higgins.
There’s plenty in the
autobiography for those wanting to cherry pick her insights into characters
like Seamus Costello, Tomás Mac Giolla, Betty Sinclair and Michael O’Riordan,
but my interest is in the deeper story.
In 1965, having committed
herself to the Sisters of St Joseph in Pennsylvania, Helena found herself at
odds with the lifestyle of the order. In particular, watching news broadcasts
on the march from Selma to Montgomery in spring 1965, she saw nuns participating
and wondered why she couldn’t do the same. She taught, ‘We shall overcome’ to
the kids in her class. In other words, it was waves of history (as she puts it)
that tore her away and while a few years later, nuns left the order in droves, Helena
was one of the first to do so.
The intellectual crisis this brought about, compounded by losing her teaching job for being too ‘controversial’ and falling out with her family, was nearly fatal:
I was alone and desperate as it was possible to be. My world was in ruins. In time, I would rebuild on new foundations. But between the collapse of one worldview and the construction of another, there was only an abyss. I often wonder where I found the strength to endure that emptiness.
Eventually, Helena found a way forward via philosophical existentialism to the radical left in Philadelphia (she was studying at Temple University) and by 1970 was deeply involved with city politics. This is a fascinating part of the book, depicting a non-stop lifestyle and a feverish intensity of revolutionary discussions and actions that has rarely been seen since. Helena was in constant discussion with Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, anti-Vietnam protestors, members of the Weather Underground movement, Feminists, Gay rights activists, etc. Her background and intellectual rigour seems to have made her an extremely valuable activist, more able to connect the revolutionaries to wider audiences than many of her peers. And also to spot nonsensical posturing.
This is also the part
of the book that in my view, most meets a challenge that she states in the
preface, of wanting to connect the social and economic changes of her times
with the experience of an individual. Her grasp of the totality of US society,
allows her writing to be both wonderfully vivid at a personal level and at the same
time to portray a massive systemic crisis. The same strengths are not evident
in the sections on Ireland and the USSR, not because her beautiful writing
style falters but because I don’t think, even now, reflecting on her life, she’s
as clear about the nature of the social systems she’s writing about. These chapters
lack her ability, for example, to juxtapose popular culture and sub-culture the
way she does so brilliantly with the chapters on the USA.
And this brings me
back to the question of belief systems. For a long time Helena was, to put it
bluntly, a Stalinist, even after leaving the CPI. Since ‘Stalinist’ is an insulting
term that evokes dictatorial practices and bullying, I need to state that Helena
comes across as never anything but totally honest and someone who does not
believe (as, alas, so many on the left seem to, even today) that there are
situations where the ends justifies the means. As she quite rightly observes,
ends and means are connected. Helena’s loyalty to the USSR was one of genuine intellectual
conviction. Having studied Marxism of a certain type, seen its power, coherence
and strength of insight, especially when compared to the anaemic philosophy she
encountered while working on her PhD at TCD, Helena sincerely accepted that the
USSR was socialist.
How does it happen
that someone who has struggled to pick herself up from near death for having
invested herself in one ideology (Catholicism) that came crashing down upon
her, then adopted another that would do the same? The book stops in 1988, just
before the fall of the Berlin wall, with a signal that this would be the second
great intellectual crisis of her life. The cheap answer, which seems to have been
thrown at her several times, is that this is just her nature, to uncritically commit
to a big-picture ideology. From nun to communist is not such an extraordinary
journey from this perspective.
Helena’s own rebuttal
to that is that she’s acquired her second, communist, worldview after years of effort
to achieve intellectual and moral clarity, whereas she stumbled into the first,
unformed and driven by forces of which she was largely unconscious.
Let’s agree that, broadly
speaking, to be a socialist is a fine thing. Really, this is an inspiring book
because it is about a life spent largely in causes that have improved the position
of working people, of those nations resisting empires, and especially the
position of women. Nevertheless, as soon as you think you have the full
picture, worse, if you defer to someone else in your party you think has the
full picture, you’re doomed to one day finding yourself articulating a view
that no socialist should hold.
In Helena’s book, I
don’t think she ever defers to someone in authority, except perhaps the dead
authorities of brilliant thinkers. But I do think her model of Marxism is (at
least for 1975 to 1988), ultimately, a sterile one, by which I mean the
categories that Marxists use to discuss social structures (mode of production,
surplus value, etc.) have been imposed on history rather than derived from it.
How do I know my
current belief system is right? Because I’ve
studied; I’ve fought; I’ve struggled to change the world; I’ve tested it
constantly against unfolding events; I’ve had to build it up from the ruins of
previous belief systems. That’s all impressive but it’s not enough. My view
is that you also have to be open to the possibility that this hard-fought for model
is wrong. It’s difficult, because the path to becoming a post-modernist
(something that Helena despises, with good reason), begins with surrendering
the primacy of your belief system.
Yet when I see a human being who clearly has great honesty and integrity fail to mention the Hungarian uprising of 1956 in her discussions of Eastern Europe; fail to support the Prague Spring or the early days of Solidarity in Poland and instead, describe her sojourns in the USSR largely in halcyon terms, I have to shake my head in dismay. Now the book only ends in 1988, so Helena’s current views might be much closer to mine on these issues (i.e. on the side of those who rose up against the rulers of Russia and the eastern block). But for me the most fascinating aspect of this candid auto-biography is that it makes you question your own understanding. Readers will ask themselves: if someone with Helena’s strengths can end up a Stalinist, then where am I heading?
It’s not easy, being ambitious
and determined enough to believe the whole world can become a place of equality
and freedom, yet modest enough to accept your current approach to achieving
that goal could be flawed. Yet on reading this entertaining autobiography, it
seems to me that’s the fast-flowing contradiction that socialists have to
Two superb artistic creations were unveiled in Kilbarrack on 10 July 2019, with Roddy Doyle on hand to add some literary flair to the launch of the two murals.
One of the murals was created by the Reach Out Project, a programme designed for 18-25 year old young adults. These individuals are likely struggling with one of a number of issues relating from a variety of psychosocial pressures. Addiction, mental health conditions and/or people just stuck in a rut are the main people who are the focus of “Reach Out” interventions.
They have created a piece of artwork with the internationally renowned graffiti artist “Solas”. This was facilitated with the support of Laura Larkin from DCC Culture Company and Iarnrod Eireann. It’s been an honour working with an Artist as brilliant as Solas and the young people in the Reach Out project have really enjoyed it: to the point that they were inspired to create and are now finishing their own separate graffiti mural, which was also unveiled on the day. Solas’s art piece celebrates Kilbarrack’s links with Roddy Doyle’s novels and the fictitious “Barrystown” which essentially represents Kilbarrack. It is also an effort to capture the struggle and spirit of those from Kilbarrack who would never give up. In particular we focus on three strong women: Brenda O’Connell, Ann Murnane and Kathleen O’Neill who represented the heartbeat of the community.
The second art piece completed by the young people celebrates the significant amount of successful people who have originated in the North Bay community of which Kilbarrack is a proud member. The young people felt it was important to highlight the amount of successful people in the mural, who have come from their communities. It was especially important that the mural is placed in the local rail station for a couple of reasons. The first being that the station is often the only feature some people see when commuting through Kilbarrack on the train. The second is that the train station has in the past, been a place of some antisocial activity. The mural is a positive, hope-filled artwork, strategically placed to have a maximum impact for vulnerable people who congregate around the station. But also, to educate others unfamiliar with the area. To visually show that the Kilbarrack community has a strong heritage with a proud and wonderful people residing within the area.
Reach Out Project is part of Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme. (KCCP). In the
1990s Kilbarrack suffered from social disadvantage with high levels of
unemployment and little or no history of young people going into third level
education. KCCP was set up in 1997 in response to the “second heroin epidemic”,
which was devastating our community. Year on year KCCP has increased the range
of services and the numbers using the services e.g. our community counselling
service worked with 150 people from the community last year. In 2018 the Health
Services Executive conducted an evaluation of our services and concluded that
we are an “exemplar Project” and that all our services are delivered to the
When young people from working class
communities are drawn towards crime gangs, tragedy is never far away. And that
is clear from the recent murders of Hamid Sanambar (42), shot on Kilbarron
Avenue, Coolock, the home of Sean Little (22), who was shot dead on Tuesday 21
May 2019. Jordan Davis (22) was shot dead in Darndale on 22 May, while earlier
in the year, in a related assassination, Zach Parker (23) was killed in Swords.
The fact that these lives were wasted is tragic and clearly too there is the
risk that bystanders including children and the elderly will get caught up the
feud, with the murders taking place in daylight on busy streets.
What have the government to offer a traumatised community and a youth culture that celebrates gangsters? In the case of the Taoiseach, nothing at all. He said that, ‘as soon as I can find a little time’, he would visit Coolock and Kilmore West. When he wants to move fast, Leo Varadkar can make room in his diary, such as to meet with Donald Trump. Clearly, this crisis of gangland feuding is not a priority for him, nor for his ministers.
Although Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan came to Coolock Garda Station, he had nothing to announce by way of a new package of assistance for the community. A small amount of investment in sports clubs, for example, goes a long way in terms of giving young people inspiring, constructive role models. We only have to look at Katie Taylor to see that.
Instead of bringing welcome news on the community support side, Flanagan told young people to ‘drop the bling’ and that criminal gangs were ‘all losers.’ If I were a teenager being told by a landlord worth over €3m to drop the bling and stay away from criminal gangs, my fury at his privileged arrogance would have me reaching for a milkshake.
This is why Councillor John Lyons was
absolutely right to describe the visit of Flanagan (and Richard Bruton and Finian
McGrath) to Coolock as a shameful public relations stunt.
John Lyons called on the government to establish a taskforce for the Coolock area to address the ongoing gangland violence, and the many economic, social and educational inequalities that give rise to such activity: ‘It is hugely disappointing that the three government ministers had nothing of note to announce. We need a task-force established that will be responsible for monitoring the work of the various government departments, state agencies and community groups that have a role to play in tackling the many problems faced by people in the area.
‘I am sure that if the recent murders in
Darndale and Kilmore had occurred in Dalkey or Killiney we would have seen a
much swifter and more serious response from the government; instead, it takes
government ministers a full week to visit the area and when they visit, they
have nothing of value to say or announce. Shameful really, and not good enough
for the communities directly affected by the recent violence.
‘So I am once again inviting An Taoiseach to find “a little time” to visit the area, meet with the various stakeholders in the community with a view to establishing a task-force for the area. The communities deserve a serious response from government, a response sadly lacking to date. The government must step up.’
In the coming days Councillor John Lyons
and Niamh McDonald will be working together with community groups and sports
organisations to formulate a serious response to the gangland crisis, one that can
make a significant impact in the life paths of young people instead of attempting
to dismiss them. To paraphrase the Sex
Pistols, if you treat kids as morons, you create H Bombs.
While the contempt of millionaire, landlord
politicians just makes the situation worse, Independent Left seeks to create a
constructive path for the energy and passion of the young people of our