Thursday, February 14, 2013

Carving up Dublin

Following on from the review of Dáil boundaries last year, a committee has been set up to redraw county and city council wards. They accepted public submissions during January and here is the one I wrote. It wasn't as detailed as I wished as I ended up rushing it in the last couple of days while travelling to and from Brussels.


With an increase in representation from 52 to 63 councillors, each councillor will now represent 8375 residents, based on the latest population figures from the CSO. Despite the improvment since the last review, this still leaves Dubliners under-represented by almost 43% compared to the rest of the country. If the figure used in other councils was applied to Dublin, there would be 109 councillors for the City. This would allow the committee to provide real local representation by creating smaller geographical wards, not sprawling semi-Dáil constituencies that it is now forced to do.

General Principles

I note in the terms of reference that wards are to return between 6 and 10 members. This is a very welcome requirement. For proportionality’s sake, it is important to move away from 3 and 4 seaters. Indeed my submission to the Dáil boundary review proposed a scenario where most TDs were returned in 5 seaters.
The second important principle in drawing boundaries is to try to keep natural communities in a single ward. In the current arrangement urban villages like Terenure, Raheny and Sandymount are split across two different wards and this is less than satisfactory. However, given the often competing pressure to define clear boundaries following main roads, rivers, railways etc. it is probably not possible to adhere to this principle at all times.
The final principle is that, where possible, Council and Dáil boundaries should coincide. Again, it is not possible to satisfy this constraint at all times.

South Side

The population in the City area south of the river Liffey is approximately 220k. This suggests a representation level of 26 councillors. Looking first at the new Dublin Bay South (DBS) constituency, the population there is almost perfect for 14 councillors so I propose the creation of two wards entirely contained within that Dáil constituency, each of 7 seats. Drawing a border that follows the canal from Harold’s Cross to Leeson St and then along the N11 to the Council boundary with Dún Laoghaire, creates two wards as required. These are effectively a merge of the old Pembroke and South East Inner City wards (Pembroke) and old Rathmines merged with the areas of Terenure and Harold’s Cross that were recently moved from Dublin South Central (Rathmines). 
The remainder of the south side all lies within the Dáil constituency of Dublin South Central (DSC). I have also included the part of DSC that lies north of the river along Parkgate St and Conyngham Road. This population merits 12 councillors and so I propose creating two wards of 6 seats. This division is not as simple as the one for DBS. The difficulty stems from the fact that the Merchants Quay and Ushers DEDs are far more densely populated than the outer suburban areas. I have tried various combinations of DEDs, none to any great satisfaction – one either ends up splitting the inner city or Crumlin, or else ends up with a sprawling outer ward that stretches from Chapelizod to the KCR. This boundary follows Thomas St, Marrowbone Lane, LUAS tracks, the Camac and finally Walkinstown Rd to the roundabout. The eastern part I call Crumlin and the western part Ballyfermot.

North Side

Moving across the river, there are 37 council seats to be allocated. The area is covered by 4 Dáil constituencies, Dublin Central (DC), Dublin West (DW), Dublin North West (DNW) and the new Dublin Bay North (DBN) with only DC entirely within the City Council area.
Starting with DC, the population merits a total of over 10 councillors. If one removes the Cabra DEDs, one is left with a Central ward with population requiring 8 councillors. DBN’s population entitles it to be represented by 15 councillors. Previous local divisions have split the village of Raheny, so I propose instead to divide the constituency in half using the Malahide Road, a natural boundary, with the eastern portion (Raheny) allocated 8 councillors and the western (Beaumont) awarded 7.
DNW has recently been extended to include the Botanic DEDs as well as Drumcondra South C. If these areas are excluded, the remaining territory has exactly the right population for an 8 seat (Finglas) ward. The remaining areas, namely Cabra from DC, Botanic and Drumcondra from DNW and the Ashtown & Phoenix Park areas in DW can be merged into a single 6 seater (Cabra).


The map below shows the arrangement of the wards as outlined above. The names are not to be taken as definitive in any sense. Finglas could just as easily be called Ballymun and Ballyfermot could be Inchicore. Final place names should probably be agreed by the committee in consultation with the existing public representative from the area concerned.

Ward Summary


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Prom night

This post has been written in 4 goes, each time adding a new bit to the end as things change. Sorry about the lack of coherent style.
According to the movies, it is that amazing time in every teenagers life. The dorky boy asks the shy girl to the dance, they both turn into beautiful swans and the cheerleader falls into the punch bowl in a fight with her quarterback boyfriend. Prom night - it's awesome. Except in Ireland when it refers to the overnight emergency legislation to appoint a liquidator to IBRC, that wonder financial institution that used to be called Anglo.
I got home last night just in time to watch the stage 2 "debate" in the Dáil and ended up not getting to bed until the committee stage was complete and the bill went down the corridor and up the stairs to the Seanad. While it may not have been high drama, you certainly got the feeling at times that you were watching something important. I'm not going to go into the details of the IBRC bill, as there are many more qualified finance and legal people out there. However I do want to make some observations about the events.
The biggest question is why did it happen last night? Well it seems as though our friends in the ECB couldn't keep their gobs shut and let it out that the Government might be about to liquidate IBRC. With so many other creditors, it became crucial that we got to appoint the liquidator rather than have an application heard from, say, Sean Quinn in the High Court this morning appointing a liquidator more amenable to him. So in that sense the government got the tactics right and just played the nuclear option of emergency legislation. But it does question how good friends we really have in Frankfurt.
Another surprise to me was the length and detail of the bill. This has obviously been sitting in a drawer for a while waiting to be dusted off at the right time. You can't announce a liquidation until it is already happening, otherwise people will panic and run to the hills or courts. But the fact that it hadn't leaked from Dept of Finance or AG's office is testament to the tight ship being run there at the highest levels.
On the debate itself, Noonan, Doherty and Donnelly all performed well. Poor contributions from both Taoiseach and Tánaiste and some pretty awful stuff from parts of the technical group. On that, the technical group would actually have been best served by giving all their time to Donnelly as he has the best grasp on the issue and some really pertinent questions and lines of attack on the bill. For example the issue of temporary interference with the property rights of people is a potential pandora's box. This seemed an unacceptable idea when it came to upward only rent reviews but now seems to be fair game.
The worst part of the debate was the continued heckling and jeering at both Sinn Féin speakers by senior members of the government side. Both Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin did themselves no favours by their carry on. I found it quite embarrassing that seemingly intelligent ministers resorted to school yard behavior just because they didn't like what was being said across the chamber.
Then at lunchtime today we had Mario Draghi's non event of a press conference. In his 15 minute speech he didn't mention Ireland or the Pro Notes once. When asked about them he just said that the council had unanimously noted the events in Ireland. I guess that means tacit approval because the deal still lets the ECB get all it's money back, just quicker than they thought.
I missed Enda's announcement as I was in a meeting this afternoon, but the deal seems to be a reasonable one. We get to turn the pro-notes and their 3.1B every year into an interest only loan at about 4% for 25 years and then start paying down the capital. This reduces our annual cost by over a billion and we get the benefit of 25 years of inflation to turn the capital sum into something a bit less daunting. It is still really annoying that we have crystallized privately generate debt into fully fledged sovereign debt and that not a single bondholder has been burned. But given all that, it's probably as good a deal as we can expect. It will certainly make next December's budget easier and/or allow for additional investment in growth strategies.
I'll let the dust settle now and come back to this in a day or so once things are clearer.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Committee hearings on abortion

Since we last mentioned abortion things have come a long way. The death of Savita Halappanavar, the ensuing vigils and protests, the leaking and publishing of the expert report, the reintroduction of Clare Daly's bill and the three days of public hearings by the Health Committee of the Oireachtas have all put abortion back at the heart of Irish politics. So much has happened and been commented upon that I'm not going to rehash old news but I do want to make a few comments on the Oireachtas hearings that have been held over the last three days.
Despite being in work this week, I managed, thanks to the HEAnet stream, to keep up with most of the proceedings in the Seanad chamber. From a bill drafting and parliamentary politics point of view, I feel that the public consultation was a bit of a waste of time. Despite James Reilly saying the contributions from the witnesses would feed into the process, I really get the feeling it was all a bit of a show to let the various groups feel like they had their day out.
That said, what the sessions did show is that is is possible to have a discussion about abortion without degenerating into school-yard name calling and bullying within a few minutes. Much of the praise for that must go to Jerry Buttimer who ran a tight ship as chair of the committee. But also a certain amount of begrudging respect must be shown to the TDs and Senators, especially over the course of the first two days who participated in a dignified and thoughtful way to the debate, Billy Kelleher and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin in particular.
The first two days, consisting of medical and legal opinion was pretty straight forward. I did learn that there are about 30abortions carried out in Ireland every year and that fatal foetal abnormalities could potentially be terminated according to the definition of life in the Constitution and Supreme Court judgements. I particularly enjoyed the session with William Binchy and Catherine McGuinness which consisted of a lot of mutual respect but also pretty direct disagreement between the two witnesses.
Day three, featuring religious and other advocacy groups was always going to be the most pointless and divisive and thus it proved. Yet again the protestant churches came out looking the best, with the strongly entrenched position of the Catholic church looking more and more out of touch with the general population. I was a little amused to catch a glimpse of Ronan Mullen in the camera shot while the representative of the Muslim community was quoting from scriptures. Mullen didn't seem to be too impressed. As usual, Mick Nugent of Atheist Ireland went in a bit too aggressive for my liking but I guess that's just his style.
Having long debates with the pro-life and pro-choice advocates was an even bigger waste of time. Everyone knows exactly where each group stands on the issue and all it provided was an opportunity for some snide remarks and loaded questions from all sides. Particularly unpleasant were the contributions of Terrance Flanagan and Fidelma Healy Eames in the final session.
So now that's out of the way, we have to sit back and wait for a bill to be drafted. Luckily one witness, Dr Simon Mills, has already done the hard work and submitted a draft bill to the committee for their consideration. I imagine the issue will be let lie for a while as the EU presidency gets up and running but we should see some further movement in about March I reckon. We could still have a new law signed by the summer recess bringing some closure to 20 years of X.

PS - I'm waiting for the transcript before discussing the issue of gender selection that was brought up in the final session. I missed hearing the details at the time and have only seen the comments on Twitter.