Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dublin slow down

From tomorrow morning a 30kph speed limit will apply around the centre of Dublin. It will be in affect 24 hours a day roughly between Gardiner St and Church St, and from Dorset St to Cuffe St. The main additions to the already existing 30kph zone are the quays, Dame St, George's St, Parnell St and O'Connell St as many of the side streets in this area are already have a reduced limit or are at least partially pedestrianised already.

Already the usual suspects are out moaning about this infringement to our civil liberty to drive our cars wherever we want at whatever speed we want. Of course, what they are forgetting is that between about 630 and 1900 every weekday it is impossible to get above an average speed of about 15kph in the city centre anyway. Add to this the need to drive extremely slowly on the quays and Dame St at night due to the large number of intoxicated pedestrians who randomly jump out in front of you and the massive number of taxis and it is clear that this new limit will barely affect driving times in town at all.

The policy of Dublin City Council towards private car traffic in central Dublin over the last few years is to be commended. They are trying to force a modal shift towards public transport, cycling and walking. Starting with small measures like no left turn from Dawson St on to Nassau St, the re-landscaping of O'Connell St, Busgate and now the reduced speed limit they are slowly but surely turning Dublin back into a living space rather than a glorified car park. Now it is up to central government to provide the required funding to complete the picture with the Interconnector, Metro North and retaining Dublin Bus services despite the economic down turn.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fintan O'Toole for Mayor

Let me get this right out in the open - Fintan O'Toole is one of two men in the world that I might have a bit of a crush on. The other is rugby legend, Rocky Elsom but that is definitely a topic for a different blog! I agree with almost everything Fintan writes and whenever he is on Vincent Browne, Late Debate or Marian Finucane I find myself cheering him on as he fights the corner for social justice. As the liveblogs during these shows demonstrate, I am not alone in my Fintomania.

So about two weeks ago when Gormley announced his plans for elections to Mayor of Dublin in June, a brief flurry of tweets led to the creation of the Facebook group supporting Fintan for Mayor of Dublin. I posted a link to the Irish Times article announcing the race, Christine uploaded a few photos and we sent out a couple of invites to our nearest and dearest and left it at that.

Then yesterday evening, news came through that Fintan was going to be a participant in Late Debate discussing the Mayor of Dublin and his potential candidacy. I'm still waiting for the show's podcast to appear on the RTE website but apparently Fintan is interested in running if Bertie does just to scupper the disgraced, former Taoiseach's chances or if we can get 100,000 people to join the Facebook group. Now based on Bertie's statement last week it is unlikely that he will run for the position, so it is up to us, the grassroots supporters, to convince Fintan of the merits of his candidacy.

In reality, nobody expects Fintan to actually run, but it is fun to see a little bit of social networking hijinks ending up on the airwaves of the national broadcaster. So keep recruiting supporters. We're already at 28/1 on Paddy Power ahead of luminaries such as Bono, Shane Ross, George Hook and Dustin the Turkey. I'm putting a tenner on to help bankroll the victory party.

Update - 29 January
The podcast is now up on the RTE website.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Freedom of Speech?

This evening I was reminded about why I'm glad I graduated from student politics when I attended a meeting of the Central Societies Committee in TCD. This body oversees the student societies in College and is one of the five capitated bodies in College. At various points in history I served as Secretary, Chair and Treasurer but I now just attend the thrice yearly general meetings as the representative of the Choral Society.

On the agenda was a motion to mandate the CSC representatives on another committee to vote in a certain way if a motion were proposed on a certain topic. The back story to this is long, complex and I don't really know many of the details and nuances, but the long and short is that the Senior Dean wanted the right to pull student publications if they were likely to get the College in to serious trouble over their content. The members of the Publications Committee were trying to build support for their "freedom of speech" campaign by passing these motions at meetings of the other capitated bodies.

The problem was that it was clear from the outset that the CSC was not in favour of passing the motion. Many people wanted to speak against the motion but only two for which meant that under the rules only two speakers against were allowed. Talk about a restriction of freedom of speech! While in the end the motion was soundly defeated by about 2-1 the proceedings really made a mockery of the system. Surely if a group want a motion passed they should be able to bring along speakers in favour of their position. Why should opponents be silenced to keep up the pretence of a McKenna style, fair and balanced debate?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

ATC strike

Yesterday there was widespread travel disruption as Irish air traffic controllers went on strike. Over 100 flights were canceled because of the four hour disruption and many more were delayed as a knock on effect. The usual suspects came out demanding heads on pikes and Ronald Reagan type action to fire all of the strikers, the unions were just as belligerent in their interviews with the media and the government arriving on the scene far too late to be of any help.

It appears that the dispute came about because of the introduction of new technology in the air traffic control centre and the union demands for a pay increase. The dispute had been referred to the labour court for judgment but before the hearing it appears that the IAA suspended 14 members of the union causing all the others to walk off the job for a four hour meeting.

Now in a time when man people are losing their jobs it is hard to feel sympathy for people on six figure salaries who are looking for a pay increase. Sure the job is stressful but they are financially well looked after and I'm sure that many others would be more than willing to take on the role. On the other hand, the heavy handedness of the IAA in suspending staff without waiting for the outcome of a process that both sides agreed to cannot be condoned either.

All this disruption has managed to do is blot our reputation abroad, cost the economy money and inconvenience thousands of passengers. Oh, and give Michael O'Leary even more air time to pontificate in his terribly obnoxious manner. All in all, a pretty bad day for Ireland Inc.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Candidates by Consensus

This evening is the AGM of the Dublin South East Constituency Council of the Labour party at which the executive officers for 2010 will be elected. I have been nominated for the position of Treasurer, which like all bar one of the positions, is uncontested. In fact the only contested position is that of Assistant Secretary, and one of the candidates has indicated that he doesn't want to stand effectively leaving no election to be held for the entire constituency organisation.

This got me thinking about other organisations that I have been involved in and how their committees and boards are filled. As a student I was quite involved in several societies, the Students' Union and the Central Societies Committee but in all my involvement I only had to face a ballot three times - once for auditor of the Maths Society which I lost, then joining the executive of the CSC where I was elected 5th out of 8 positions and the following year heading the poll for ordinary exec members in CSC. For every other role I was elected unopposed or re-appointed as the incumbent.

It really appears to me that in most organisations, the appointment of officers is one part stitch up by inner cabal and one part grabbing anyone who appears even slightly interested in being involved. I would have thought in a political group like a Constituency Council there would at least be more than 10 people wanting to get more involved but it seems that even there apathy holds strong.

In fact the same could also be said of selection conventions for candidates. In the European election there was no convention as the sitting MEP wanted to run again and the organisation deemed only one candidate should run. There was a bit of a scrap over the alternative list. For the locals, in Pembroke-Rathmines the three existing Councillors all stood again and nobody thought to challenge at the convention stage. In SEIC, where there was only one existing Councillor, only one name was put forward after the organisation determined that a two candidate strategy was to be followed.

Between now and June there will more than likely be two selection conventions. The first will pick two candidates for the next General Election of whom one will be the incumbent Ruairí Quinn. Other names that could be put forward include Bacik, Humphries and Quinn but will the membership actually end up voting? The second will chose a candidate for the Mayor of Dublin election which may happen in June. Following Dermot Lacey's self promotion in the last week or so, it will be interesting to see if any other name is put forward to be the party's candidate - I wouldn't hold my breath.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Upcoming contests

Over the last five or so years I have become more active in political campaigning, whether leafleting, canvassing or policy debate. Initially it was just at branch and constituency level within the Labour Party but since 2007 there has been a lot of doorstep work starting with the General Election in 2007, Lisbon in 2008, Local and Europeans in June and Lisbon II in October 2009. Several pairs of boots and runners were worn out over this period, walking the streets of Dublin South East.

But now there is a big gap looming. It is looking more and more likely that the current government will last until 2012 so no election there. The next Local and European elections won't be until 2014 and unless the Child Protection referendum (which I disagree with) is brought forward it doesn't look like there will be any changes to the constitution. This leaves two upcoming contests, neither of which is particularly exciting to me at the moment. First up is the potential Dublin Mayor election later on this year and then in October 2011 the Presidential election.

At the moment it is still very unclear what the role of Dublin Mayor will be, what powers will be delegated to it, whether the GDA will be extended to include places like Bray, Maynooth and Ashbourne and so it is hard to see what sort of candidate will be required. If the role is a behind the scenes, local government advocate then Dermot Lacey may be the right person. However, if the position will be more managerial, knocking heads together like the London Mayor then it may require someone with more political experience like Pat Rabbitte or Ruairí Quinn to be nominated. The lack of information has made it difficult to become enthusiastic about this contest but I'm sure come the summer it'll be all hands to the pump.

As for the race to the Áras, who knows what will happen for that. In a few months time, having thought about it some more, I'll write a full post but at the moment it is hard to see past whoever FG put up being the eventual winner.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cllr Forde jumps ship

Like the Government with TDs, Sinn Féin aren't having the best of luck with their councillors on Dublin City Council. Seven councillors were returned for them at the June elections but after this weekend's announcement that Killian Forde from Donaghmede has left the party they are down to four. He has followed in the footsteps of Louise Minihan (Ballyfermot) and Christy Burke (North Inner City). This isn't overly surprising when you consider that Forde was the Councillor who proposed the 2010 budget at the Council meeting before Christmas taking a position contrary to the other SF councillors.

To my mind this is just the latest sign of a continual downward trend of support for SF south of the border. First they lost Mary Lou McDonald as MEP in the Dublin Constituency. Now SF will argue that with the constituency going from four to three seats that they were always going to be the ones to loose out but this not true. With Eoin Ryan losing his seat and Joe Higgins taking one, it shows that there was a leftish, protest vote in the city and SF were not the party to attract it.

The story was the same in the local elections where nationally SF returned exactly the same number of councillors in spite of the continued collapse of the Fianna Fail vote and the gains of other left leaning groups like Labour and PBP. After June's elections, Toireasa Ferris came out and slammed the party leadership as being too Northern focused and that the party was not suitably set up to contest elections south of the border. She demanded a review of operations and priorities in the south but that seems to have been ignored by the Adams/McGuinness power block in the North.

So where to from here for Sinn Féin? If they continue on their current path the are facing a complete meltdown in the Republic. They are being torn between the traditional, 32 county republicans (mainly rural) and the left wing, community activists (mainly urban) and a jump to either one will loose the other to FF or Lab/PBP. While it would go against everything they stand for, they should separate the party into a Northern and Southern section and let someone like Ferris take over down here. If we have another general election with Adams turning up for leaders' debates and McDonald failing again in Dublin Central, then SF are a spent force this side of the border.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Public Sector pay non-cuts

So yet again the people at the bottom of the heap are stiffed while those at the top are kept pretty. After the announcement just before Christmas that the top public sector workers wouldn't be suffering the 15% cut mentioned in the Budget speech, it now turns out that staff in NTMA, which raises money for the state on the international markets, are exempt from any pay cuts. Also covered by this exemption are NAMA staff.

Is it any wonder that Blaire Horan and Jack O'Connor were so cross when they appeared on Vincent Browne's show last night on TV3. The lack of equity in the system is starting to reach epic proportions. The sooner to debate turns from public versus private to haves versus have nots the better for all of us.

Hat tip to Irish Economy and Irish Examiner for the story.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Dublin Bikes usage

A few days ago (last year!) I picked up a snippet in the Irish Times about the success of the Dublin Bikes scheme. In it, figures from the council are quoted showing that almost 16k people have signed up for the annual pass with another almost 7k short term tickets were sold.

So far, so good. But then the really odd number is quoted - over 200k journeys have been taken since September. If we assume that the short term ticket users only used them once each, that gives us about 12 or 13 trips per annual subscriber over the three month period. If the short termers are bigger users, that average falls even further.

Now I personally use the bikes about 5 times per week, depending on which buses I get to and from work and whether I want to do some lunchtime shopping up town. Unfortunately, the online system only allows me to see my last 3 weeks of use which includes Christmas when I wasn't in town at all so I don't have lots of data to back it up but between 15th and 23rd Dec I took 7 trips. So that means I'm probably using the bikes about 4 to 5 times the average.

The other interesting figure given is the number of bikes (450) which means the average bike has been out on over 400 spins around the city centre. I'm sure that there are lots of other bits of information you could extract if you had access to the entire trip database - profiles of users, locations of hotspots, tidal shifts of bikes over the day. Damn you, data protection act, for keeping this information from a data mining nerd like me.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Christmas Reading

As usual the Christmas break has given me a chance to catch up on a bit of reading. It also adds substantially to the backlog as I tend to receive books as gifts. Here are the books that have been entertaining me over the last couple of weeks.
Richard Dawkins - The Greatest Show on Earth
The usual Dawkins fare, with relentless hammering home the point, this time that evolution is fact and not theory. Got a bit preaching to the converted towards the end but plenty of in depth discussion of experiments carried out to prove evolution is real.
Dan O'Brien - Ireland, Europe and the World
A collections of articles published mainly in the Irish Times by Dan O'Brien over the last 10 years. Some of them are remarkably insightful given what we now know, others less so but there is a lot of quality writing in this book.
Mike Soussan - Backstabbing for Beginners
What can only be called a romp through the UN Oil for Food programme in Iraq. Hilarious, depressing, insightful, outrageous, Soussan's story hits pretty much every emotion and shows the UN in a pretty grim light.
Victor Stenger - God, The Failed Hypothesis
A pretty comprehensive collection of thoughts all leading to the proof that the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God cannot exist as he is portrayed.
Other books that I still have to get stuck into include Stephen Kinsella's Ireland in 2050, Susan O'Keefe's The Candidate, The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and about a dozen other titles, not to mention a heap of Lucky Lukes and the latest Fiona McIntosh. Might be a lot of late nights catching up.