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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Wooden Heart?

We have one of the lowest percentages of forest cover in Europe (and it’s mostly Sitka spruce, though broadleaf trees now make up 20 per cent of new planting) though we’re supposed to be increasing from the current 7 per cent to 17 per cent cover by 2030. What we do have is owned and operated by Coillte. Two summers ago, the McCarthy (An Bord Snip Nua) report suggested a combination of asset disposal and privatisation of Coillte. Coillte was valued at e1.2bn in 2010, and, according to the Woodland League, a Swiss owned forestry company, The International Forestry Fund, has expressed interest in buying the lot. The chairman of the International Forestry Fund is Bertie Ahern, and his involvement, and the proposed sale, were well covered by the good old Sunday Tribune last year. Last month, the eTenders public procurement website carried a notice inviting tenders from economists to evaluate the assets of Coillte, so clearly it’s been decided that the maths have to be right before any further negotiations kick off.

The Woodland League is asking people to sign a petition against the proposed sale. But what would it mean for Irish forests if they were to be managed privately? When will we find out what’s going to happen to Coillte? At the moment, they have an Open Forest Policy, which means mile upon mile of hiking, cycling, dog-walking, orienteering, picnicking, birdwatching, swimming, tree-climbing, kayaking, canoeing, mushroom-spotting, all open to everyone. Could that really be threatened?

Sunday, March 6th, is the start of National Tree Week, so if you fancy willow-weaving, archery, den building and face painting down at Parnell’s house at Avondale in Rathdrum, get out and enjoy yourselves courtesy of Coillte. Leave no trace – as it says at the entrance to Avondale: leave only footprints, take only memories. Fingers crossed you’ll have the chance to be back again.

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I once bled onto a Flintstone sock for four days in a Ballsbridge bedsit ’til it was hard enough to slash through human flesh or qualify for a Garda weapon’s seizure. Another time the man I was sleeping with just plain refused to crawl into my bed: ‘June, I can’t…there’s a phone in there and a half-eaten plate of pasta, beer cans and what looks like a piece of an ironing board.’ He was very sweet not to mention the month’s worth of dirty clothes, unread books, loose wires, odd shoes, an upturned lamp and decorative wooden salad fork set I bought as a present but was too lethargic to pass on.

While not very apt descriptions of prototypical depression, these two scenarios sum up the cloisterphobic clutter and superglue awfulness of an internal mood shift that can recalibrate your customary life into a bizarre orgy of silent dislocations. So much so that if you turned your head slightly to the left and saw your severed arm stuck rigid to the wall like a haphazard slot-machine handle, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Human voices become sloppily muffled, the tiniest of bureaucratic tasks: a crippling run between two lines of people facing each other and armed with clubs…days shadowed by sincere lack of interest in anything that breathes, moves, shivers, while all is accompanied by chronic tiredness the likes of which only a cat by a coal fire in January should ever experience. Here’s something your €75 an hour artificer of niceness in open-toe sandals won’t tell you: life is a throbbing bore. Inbetween the obvious bouts of anthropoid beauty − falling in love, exciting sex, University, babies, a glowing career, warm-hearted friends, laughter, cream cakes, awesome holidays, general milestones, packaged peace − there’s incessant stress, tragedy, ill-health, violence, sadness, rape, heartache, unworkable families, emotional abuse, lack of opportunity, dreadful dysfunction, absence of love: an entire giant wheelie bin of dispiriting melancholic glupe. Even just coping with people constantly is a colossal pain in the arse.

When I’m on top of things, in good form, I’m pretty good at sifting through the annoying bits, being diplomatic or even at times, being nice/kind/functional! But when feeling low, the prying bag at the bus-stop demanding all kinds of insights into my life or the wanton perv in the pub who refuses to let me sit and drink a pint & read the paper in peace (this happens a lot if you’re a woman out in public alone) can be a dreadful chore. ‘Why don’t you stick your hand down my knickers, it might be less intrusive’, I feel like roaring, sometimes. Come to think of it − now that I’m being randomly honest − I don’t think I’ve ever had a boss either who wasn’t a complete megalomaniacal gobshite. Relationship embroidery is pretty much set up this way. Predisposed patterns for sibling rivalry, petty jealousy in the workplace, power play, naturally opposing or defensive positions (“I can’t stand the mother-in-law”), competitive friendships, family feuds, what seems to be a natural urge for unflagging conflict both big and small, raining down around us all the time, with no hope of a brolly for protection. Layered on top of this is the earthly tendency for chaos and all that we can’t control, from tsunamis to car crashes, redundancy, breast cancer and beyond. I would argue that if you didn’t find life sporadically tough, tormenting, dull, painful and bleak, you’d be a complete and utter moron. You’d belong to the Louise L Hay School of Grinning Cliché and you’d probably find yourself dancing up O’Connell Street wearing a salmon pink sheet or belonging to some other sesame seed based cult.

The Irish Times this weekend published a heart-rending and beautifully written piece by Carl O’Brien on suicide. Phyllis MacNamara’s personal story about how she lost her best friend, life companion, lover, hubby, soul-mate, was so incredibly moving because it was also the re-telling of a 24-carat love story running parallel to a desperate man’s clamorous attempt to understand what was happening to him. In the terrible business of do-or-die, solicitor Michael MacNamara could not negotiate a way out of the extreme debilitating emotions he was experiencing. Although his symptoms were at the ‘severe’ end of the depression spectrum: ‘In the final three days his speech deteriorated badly. His words were jumbled…When he went to the supermarket he looked through a hand-written shopping list, came to the word “rosemary” and stopped. He didn’t understand what it meant’…he felt too ashamed to seek psychiatric help and his wife never thought for a nano-second he was capable of killing himself. He told her she was the best wife any man could have, that he loved her completely. Then he went to the barn and hanged himself.

Phyllis MacNamara with her late husband, Michael, whom she met at Trinity College © Irish Times

We are as ill prepared to deal with deep/severe depression as we are with tackling the current economic crisis. Except worse. The entire linguistic system girdling mental anguish is wholly redundant. When was the last time you saw a ‘pit’ for real (in a Gulag or Paddy field maybe) or craned your neck skyward to look at the always mentioned ‘dark clouds’? People all along the chromatic spectrum of off-kilterness need to be able to recognise where they’re at and to talk about it. In the early stages of depression, a navigable ear or a gesture of simple kindness, can pull a person back to where s/he is capable of being well, far better than any faux-pharma offering. In the mid-stages even knowing there’s plenty of functional sad folks out there getting on with life very well, with just a smidgen of guidance, could be a massive relief. At the late stages, recognising that intervention is needed and is not a contender for any kind of shame game, is the difference between life and death. We need to shear off the shite language and start expressing our sad selves for real, and know it’s just as ballsy to do so as it is to rant about our flagrant successes in the gilded good times.

Ten years ago I sought the help of a psychotherapist when I was in a bad way. The experience was an unfettered disaster. I was so solidly depressed I could barely speak or monkey-perform to his humanistic-integrative liking. I was totally incapable of crying into the plentiful supply of tissues like the ‘here’s a seashell for your window-cill’ attendees before me. He was clearly gifted at his job and incredibly intuitive and talented but that meant nothing, given the state I was in. I sat pulling the loose threads on a small black button on his Freudesque leather chair, week after week, boring him rigid. He battled long to get any reaction out of me at all. He also ate too many rashers and burned essential oils like a crazed hippie. There was a biography of Bruce Springsteen on the shelf and a book on iChing. If that wasn’t bad enough, I had an overwhelming urge to unzip him and star in my own private Flake ad. In between the imagined sex and the approaching breakdown he said some interesting stuff. “You’ve turned self-abuse into an art form…anger & sadness are on the same axis as fear and love”. When he did eventually begin to defrost me for real, it was all a bit nuclear-horrific. “I can’t help you anymore, there’s a lot of transference [and counter transference], it’s too difficult for you, it’s not working,” he said. Off I raged, unravelling to the level of Hitchcock’s Marnie for too long a time. An experience I hugely regret, on all levels. However, I still recognise the benefit of seeking professional help and would always encourage anyone dipping a toe into Dante’s Inferno to do so. Being alone isn’t worth the torture rack when everyone around you is similarly alone and creaking too.

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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On Thursday night I accompanied a pal to a debate at Trinity College just as the government announced free cheese for its citizen mice and Met Éireann breezed on about an approaching hurricane. Most definitely the start of winter: clouds skirted by much too fast, cobbles were drenched in drool, the wind did its Kate Bush thing and the LaDiDa of prospective academia darted about in dickie-bows and rough silk dresses. I met a young woman applying quantum physics to the mechanics of decision-making on the Iraq War and a guy who belittled as foolish, all forms of modern poetry. In the Commons Dining Hall – with tables of free Guinness, wigged men on walls and prayers bellowed out in Latin – Terry Pratchett sat with a tall hat surrounded by a Praetorian Guard of cloaked Professors. It was time to breathe deep and carry on blinking.

A Canadian student put forward a few general pointers to get the, errrr, mud throwing. The United States, she said, is probably the world’s most successful democratic experiment. Its political system has been allowed to luxuriate in discourse, a party system laced in freedom of expression, political processes that allow for pragmatic policy making, etc., all hugely successful. However, when a party subverts that balance through the abuse of this political system, it undermines the very principles it claims to defend. The Republican Party (RP) has constructed a system that can only lead to systematic disadvantage for America’s working class…it is guilty of bringing class back into politics. Uncontrolled trade with China, reckless borrowing, low wages, mortgage debt, are also laid squarely at its door. The speakers on the night included politics students, visiting academics, journalist, human rights campaigner, political activist, and several fuzzy heads with strong opinions. Below is a much abridged version of what the gobs had to say:

Gob One: It’s not about where the Republican Party (RP) say they were at the time of Abraham Lincoln or even 15 years ago, it’s about where they are now. They are trying to turn back the clock, it has become a party of incessant “no no no”. You need more than ‘no’ to run a country. You need to put forward viable ideas, to show that you’re willing to work with the other side, etc. The party’s policy on illegal immigrants is grotesque, its members have openly said gays are an abomination, it is riddled with hypocrisy and is sinking America further and further into the abyss.

Gob Two: The Republican Party’s tactics are necessary, it is a party of genuine principles trying hard to simply bring those forward. However, as an opposition party, they don’t have the Presidency, the Senate or the House this time, which means it has not been able to put forward any policies in practice. It is also a party of widely varying views, a huge coalition of business people, crazy Evangelicals, and people who just pathologically hate Democrats. A Republican in Maine will probably have more in common with a Democrat in Maine than he would with a Republican in Alabama. This is what makes the current state of play so complex. America is a large enough country to accommodate such diverse viewpoints. This debate is also not about the Democrats. Barack Obama is not a Republican, he can’t control what the Republicans do and don’t do, and vice versa. What this debate is about: the main criticism of the party in the last two years is directed at their instruction. The RP had to shout and shout and shout in order to stop the Democrats bringing forward certain ridiculous legislation. Democrats did the exact same thing when they were in the driving seat too, for instance, speaking out against Bush. No-one had a problem with how the political system [speaking out in opposition] worked then.

Gob Three: One of the salient facts about the Democratic Party is that we beat the alternative. Let’s remember what the RP has done in history: it opposed Medicare, the highering of the minimum wage, social security, the Clean Water Act, basically any piece of progressive legislation. It’s not a pretty legacy. What do they favour? This idea of ‘freedom’, the rugged individual. It sounds great, but let’s look at the downside of that so-called freedom and limited government. You lose your job and you need an extension of unemployment benefits: tough luck, that’s freedom. You don’t have health insurance but you get sick and incur huge medical bills: tough luck, that’s freedom. You get over your head in credit card debt, tough luck, that’s freedom. On the plus side, if you earn over $200,000 a year and you want more tax cuts, sure the RP can help, that’s freedom. If that’s their version of freedom, I’d rather be a slave. The second theme that runs through a lot of  the RP’s invective is Jesus Christ. At a debate when George Bush was seeking RP nomination, he was asked who his idol was and he said “Jesus Christ”. A man who hasn’t lived on the planet for 2,000 years. Very useful. Such a Christian man, allegedly, but Bush’s war doctrine has done huge damage to America. Thousands and thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars in debt. The American people turned against Bush due to their frustrations with incessant war and the dire state of the economy. They took a chance on someone new − Barack Obama − who came to office with ideas of hope and change, exciting people not just in US but around the world. In the past two years, what’s happened? Unfortunately the US is in grave difficulty, it looks like for the first time in America’s history, kids are destined not to have a debt-free progressive life that their parents enjoyed. People are frustrated and scared. What do the Republicans do in response? They play to people’s worst fears and expectations. They destroy Obama’s record on spending, and also his reputation on healthcare. They are calling him a socialist, saying he wasn’t even born in US, and so on. When you have a prominent Republican who will constantly give succour and comfort to the ridiculous allegations that Obama is not a true American, it starts to catch hold. It’s a hate campaign that’s going on 24 hours a day. A disgusting dangerous senseless tactic.

Gob Four: The proposition here is that the RP is hurting America. Firstly, we have ‘primaries’ which is a very open democratic process and out of that comes a mix of people who are umbrella’d under the RP. Opinions differ on almost everything from state to state, as do opinions on the current Tea Party malarkey for instance, which is being solely associated with the RP and not as an entity on its own right. So this is all important. Secondly, what have we done? We’re responsible for virtually every boom era since the 1950s, the internet revolution, technological advancement, etc. OK, so 9/11 happened on Bush’s watch and that was dealt with as he saw fit, with a huge surge of support from the American people at the time. He also managed to avoid a repetition of those events, whether you agree or not! The current breakdown in social programmes, infrastructure, and so on, is directly related to how the Democrats are handling and implementing policy. Thanks to last Tuesday’s results, the Republicans can now have a lot more say in the shaping of these policies. We need to start agreeing on our real problems. We need to put a halt on the political logger-heading and get the important work done to restore faith in America for Americans and in our reputation worldwide.

Gob Five: When Barack Obama took the presidency in the middle of global meltdown and a budget deficit that was spiralling out of control, he said one thing to the opposition: “I will shake your hand if you will unclench your fist.” That call which was made after Bush’s many failed policies, has still not been met. Instead of helping to clean up the mess caused by the RP, the opposition continues to exploit the pain, anxiety and fear of the American people. Every ounce of energy goes on opposing absolutely everything, some pieces of legislation argued against up to 112 times. The damage is the likes of my father’s job, which he lost earlier this year. Ordinary citizens like him are finding themselves in unimaginable situations at a time in life when things would’ve been secure. The vitriol that they spout, making politics an arena for the angry mind, a place where hatred can incubate. This is an apt description of RP’s contribution in recent times to political dialogue. Bigotry, hatred, prejudice, scaring Americans into thinking that the country is under attack. The leader of the Tea Party called Obama a ‘Indonesian turned Muslim welfare thug!’ The party, hideous and hilarious as it seems at first, has managed to raise tens of millions of dollars to support its hateful outcry. We need to stop this type of hatefulness if we’re going to move forward. The stakes are too high, the problems are too big, the divides are too great. Abraham Lincoln once said: “We’re not enemies but friends”. So why is it that my country is now a house divided? The RP stands in the way of progress.

Gob Six: What have the RP done I hear you ask? We ended slavery, opposed segregation, founded the environmental movement…oh God, do I really need to stand here and list off all that the RP have achieved or can I assume that you all know it already, even begrudgingly? Yes we did oppose Medicare as it was an intensely flawed piece of legislation. We believe that the RP serves a real purpose, it represents the real views of the American people, such as freedom, yes, even unpopular rights like guns and religion! It’s the Democrats who stoke the fires of class war and racism constantly accusing RP members of being anti-black and anti-hispanic, and so on. They are obsessed with race! When Democrats were in opposition they talked endlessly about war mongering too and fear, and yet we are being accused of the same thing now. We don’t think the government should be telling you what to do, taking your hard-earned cash and spending it on what they want to do. We believe that you should be able to hold onto your money and so what if that means reducing taxes!

Gob Seven: The media in America is very anti George Bush. They quoted him! A couple of those quotes are worth mentioning again. ‘The problem with the French is they do not have a word for entrepreneur.’ Another one: ‘I think we ought to raise the age at which juveniles can have a gun.’  Or how about: ‘I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family’. These folks, were real statements. They are a symbol of the RP, of idiocy, division, hatred. When I started in politics in 1965, the Democrats supported gay, lesbian & transgender rights, the farm workers of Central Valley, environmentalism, multi-cultural society…we were the first to talk about a global village with Robert F Kennedy. It was the Democrats that took leadership on domestic issues. But I am ashamed to admit that we sold ourselves short with Republicans on foreign policy, engaging in several illegal wars. Yet I’m proud to be a Democrat, they at least have a look into the future. By contrast the RP is concerned with promoting division, hatred and anger. When will we learn that US foreign policy cut the world into units from sub Saharan Africa to new nations in Eastern Europe that we now control: a bully policeman mentality, the world has stood by idly. Shame on the EU and Ireland, for not speaking up. America has invaded a sovereign nation every nine months since its 200 year history. Republicans and Democrats are both responsible. But I do think that at least the Democrats represent passion, hope, cohesion, not constantly dividing by class, bank account or education. The RP victory of last Tuesday is worrying, yet they can no longer blame the Democrats when it comes to the next general election.

Gob Eight: Quite a few people here tonight have made reference to RP’s so-called woeful foreign policy. And yet I think back to moments such as Ronnie Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall and insisting it be torn down years before it was. George W Bush liberated Iraq too, however unpopular you may feel that is. But in any case, this proposition put forward tonight is unfair because it questions democracy. It’s arrogant. The people have voted, there is also now a huge surge of RP support. There are vital issues ahead too. The Obama administration is fundamentally naive re: global security issues. We now face the most serious global threat we’ve ever faced: Iran’s nuclear capability. The leader of Iran is the most dangerous politician the world has ever seen. That regime has a maniacal drive towards arming itself with nuclear weapons. We need more Republican might in Capitol Hill to inject some reality into this issue. I believe the alternative is far too dangerous. On domestic issues, let’s just look something closer to home: the Northern Ireland power-sharing coalition − it would not exist without the RP. In 2006, it was the Bush administration and Mitchel Reece’s (US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland) hard-headed realism that brought our country forward into a new era of workable peace. They insisted that the agreement would not be signed without the important issue of policing being included. The DUP would never have got into government with Sinn Féin unless these issues were thrashed out. The RP played a very important benign part in this process and that shows me what they can do. The RP is an integral part of America, it complements the Democrats, and should be taken more seriously.

The night’s essayist concluded by saying: “I don’t think it’s arrogant to question a party’s right to exist: that’s how democracy works. I question if a party is really upholding the principles they defend. The democratic process is a great thing and in the US it’s starting to break down. The summation of this debate has been an awful lot of mud throw. We’ve basically concluded that Democrats and Republicans have screwed up at least five times. However, it’s not about proving one another wrong. The strength of a political system comes from the idea that most successful legislation that has ever gone to the American house or senate, has been put in place by compromise. An idea being put forward by one party and supported by another. I take issue with the Republican Party because it is undermining this very process by creating policies that are manipulative.”

The motion was carried. We drank a rake of Bavaria beer, crawled home.

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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I have tried to picture the child estate agent to be: pasty and sulky, selling on satchel-warmed lemon curd sandwiches or a half-eaten Mars bar in the school playground for a stupidly inflated price. Failing English grammar and spelling tests…dreaming of a commission-loaded life with a leatherette clipboard and a Smart car. A life of ‘gently urging’ people to buy poorly constructed plywood homes without gardens, not far from a motorway, but still managing to share the same sewerage pipe as a once-famous now-dead Irish person of vague literary worth who managed to pen a novella drunk.

Now after a decade of unprecedented smarminess, the grown-up estate agent is no longer nestled in a good place at all. “Rare as hen’s teeth!” s/he hollers out about a dormer bungalow for sale in Dublin 15 – one of the capital’s slowest selling enclaves. ‘Rare’ opportunities abound, a chance to snatch up a bungalow, for instance, even though there’s 5,570 bungalows for sale nationwide at the moment. In an attempt to ambush the flimsy heartstrings of hapless arty types, there’s a deluge of property specs marketed at the budding poet, artist or fisherman ‘where you can also enjoy the panoramic views over lush green surrounds’, in the middle of nowhere. The desperation is quite staggering. ‘One of the last opportunities to purchase a “raw” house on this salubrious road’. What exactly is a ‘raw’ house? One with its walls removed? If we’re not permitted to lie about the contents of food, why is it admissable for a house purchase? In essence, do we need to read such brainless turgid crap three years into bust?

Irish history continues to infect the bijou mind of our more-than-happy-to-help estate agent as well. You can nab a semi-derelict cottage in Leitrim that’s handily positioned ‘near’ Sean McDermott’s Cottage, a well-known tourist attraction and the birth place of the 1916 leader, but nothing whatsoever to do with the house for sale. The sales hunger for famine cottages hasn’t abated either – perfect for a ‘lifestyle change’ the estate agent assures us. Or how about Gordwin Swift IV’s gaff? Never heard of him? That’s OK. Another spec reads: ‘Behind its funky facade…the lavish and stylish art deco foyer provides a unique atmosphere that perfectly complements the building’s history.’ Yeah, how so? It’s an apartment refurb in Dublin 3 that’s not selling and is being flogged for half price. ‘Hurry hurry hurry, before it’s too late’, the man with the white towelling socks says.

Then there’s the almost generically applied *** WOW *** WOW *** WOW *** category which some estate agents are using for every house sale: a 3-bed in the heart of Poppintree Ballymun or a terrace in deep downtown Finglas. ‘Wow what a stunner!’ the agent says about this Tyrrelstown house in a hideously inglorious part of Dublin no-one wants to live in. Wilson Moore is one such estate agent that uses this ‘wow wow wow’ insignia on almost all its sales briefs, regardless. Let’s not forget too the estate agent’s excruciating post-boom rewrites…houses like 19A Long Lane dubbed the perfect bachelor’s bolthole at €425,000 in the grip of boom. This week it’s eventually ‘sale agreed’ after being unashamedly flogged as a ‘low maintenance home’ for €155,000. The reason why it suits a single gent or a sociopath is because the house is only two metres wide (around 7ft), being an old laneway that was filled in to create a uniquely anorexic house that has nose-dived in price by at least 68%. You absolutely could not swing a cat and you’d definitely have trouble energetically shagging your Mrs.

19A Long Lane: originally a laneway

From the peak of the market in 2006, Dublin house prices have fallen in real terms by 45.7%, while nationally, prices are down by 40.2%. This and a whole host of other stats we’re already laboriously aware of. But where and how did we lose our minds so utterly? There’s an apartment block in Parnell Street with a ‘putting green for the golf enthusiast’ – directly opposite alleyways where the city’s crack cocaine dealers do a roaring trade. Wyckham Point in Dundrum is an apartment complex which offers an ‘on-site gym, sauna, steam room, cardiovascular & resistance gym equipment and heated relaxation zone’. Tullyvale in Cabinteely has a resident’s swimming pool on site although a lot of the apartments are now being sold at a substantially reduced price. I imagine the swimming pool is fast draining of chlorine and charm. Did they really think the luxurious gimmickery could last forever?

Remnants of boom-based mentalness still exist in some high end properties too. ‘Things only happen when we dream’ the intro reads, for a multi-million euro apartment overlooking the River Liffey. The 2-bed [plus guest accommodation as extra] apartment is decked out by a ‘revolutionary stylist’ we’re told, to include none other than a three and a half carat andrée putman lacquered oak coffee table, floors custom-made from antique oak cobbles, a “Vous de Jouer” mirror [one of only 20 in the world], ‘cupboards concealed behind felt-coated doors whose colour and texture mimic the heather and granite tones of the Irish countryside’, a hammam steam room, and a Gien Polka tea set that the designer ‘noticed’ during an official trip to Soviet Russia…It was on originally for excess of €4 million in April 2007, but later dropped to €3.74m and now it’s a straight forward ‘price on application’, though you might nab it for a bit less if you ask for some of the 45 bespoke designer items to be taken out of the loop.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the current estate agent invective is the ‘Reduced To Sell’ signs flung up in gardens all around Ireland over the last year or more. We’re expected to believe prices are reduced only as a favour to us and not as a result of a totally impacted market. An ‘exceptional opportunity has arisen to acquire a unique and attractive property’. Except there’s nothing exceptional or unique about it at all. Where were the equivalent ‘Inflated To Sell’ signs during the boom?

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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As  Mosney residents continue to protest against the transfer of 111 people to different hostels across Ireland, an Irish Facebook group is migrating its own brand of racist invective. [Atrocious grammar in the following is not my own]:

Stop scaming the State, GET THEM ALL OUT, And reopen it for the Irish! – Janice Smith, Baldoyle.

There money grabbing foreıgners tat are responsıble for mst of the problems in tis country – Ray Kelly.

A fat arse politıon open the gates gve them houses for FREE money FREE taxis FREE dıd ya see the cars at mosney i dıd my mate lives near it oh and childrens allowance for theır NONE irish brats – Janice Smith (again).

They will be relocated to somewere else with beds, water, cooker, food, clothes. The homeless Irish in Dublin do not have it this good…They should be forced out, Its not their land – Shane Donnelly, Dublin.

The country barely has a pot to piss in yet they are probably spending millions of taxpayers money on this group of people to be shacked up in mosney - John Clarke, Artane.

The Irish Government gave away a great amenity when they gave Mosney Holiday Camp to asylum seekers without any consultation with the Irish people – Anne Donnelly.

What about the normal irish person out of work now with kids that need a summer holiday we should have it back to ourselfs now and let them look after themselfs – Michael Murphy, Limerick.

What started out as a ‘happy memories’ lament to the traditional Irish holiday of the 1970s/80s, soon turned to racist rants from some of the 5,000-strong Support The Reopening of Mosney group. Since news broke about the Monsey residents last week, a dangerous herd mentality began stomping and tail-swishing in the Irish breeze. Back in 2000, when Mosney’s doors shut for good, hardly anyone ranted and raved or protested at all. They were too busy sunning themselves on cheap package holidays in Majorca, Ayia Napa, Turkey and Bundoran. Of course there were the odd few…like Alderman Frank Godfrey, Mayor of Drogheda, who expressed ‘concerns’ about the local area turning into a ‘ghetto’, and a couple of letters from locals were published in the Irish press.

No-one questioned Fianna Fail’s decision, for instance, to award Mosney owner Phelim McCloskey £15 million [Irish pounds] for leasing the 300 acres and its facilities to the Department of Justice for a five year period. The most pressing concern was where to accommodate the much-loved Community Games that had always been held at Mosney. Bertie came to the rescue and ordered alternative venues in case the housing of ‘refugees’ meant the holiday camp was not available for the games. Apart from that, the transition to a holding camp for asylum seekers barely lasted the month as a news or feature item.

The dour relationship between recession and racism is not new or even news. Since the recession has cosied down like an evil-smelling blanket over Ireland in the last two years, racist incidents (and attacks) have increased at an alarming rate. Just yesterday a new Racist Incidents Support and Referral Service was announced. One of the founders, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy told the Irish Examiner: “For too long, Ireland has been in denial about the racist incidents occurring in our communities and our collective responsibility to combat racism. We know from our experience working with migrants who have experienced racism that people are subjected to violence and threats of violence, have their property damaged and are subjected to racist taunts and discrimination”.

It is the usual yack, that when recession worsens, those who feel most vulnerable look for people to blame and immigrants, foreigners, asylum seekers, basically anyone marginalised, become easy targets. The result is a virulent undercurrent of social unrest and tension, leading to the type of brain-dead rants found on the Mosney Facebook group. Interestingly, there is a total absence of cussed comments towards the real originators of the bust: property developers, banks, politicians. Let’s also be fair here: the Facebook group’s admin are folk with good intention whose message is quite simple: ‘please join this group to share happy memories of the camp and let’s hope one day it [Mosney] reopens’.

Recently, through its membership, the Irish section of the European Network against Racism had cause to insist that Facebook remove a similar group that was using the platform to racially abuse members of the Travelling Community. “Eventually Facebook complied and deleted the group,” explains Ken McCue, International Officer of Sport against Racism Ireland (SARI). “We’ve asked the Gardaí to investigate the Mosney group on Facebook but their powers are limited as it’s published in the US. However, I have reported this hate attack to the Gardaí and ENAR.”

Yesterday after reading the comments on the site I phoned a journalist pal who’d recently been to Mosney to interview some of the residents for a UK paper. He was incensed as I read out some of the malevolent messages splattered all over the group’s wall. “While I was at Mosney I met doctors, engineers, all kinds of professionals that would do anything to work and contribute to Irish society but are not being put to good use because the bureaucratic process is a mess,” he said.

He also talked about a footballer from Africa who coaches young Irish kids for free, using his own pittance to get out and train them. “I was also hugely impressed at how clean the Mosney flats were, even the stairwells were spotless unlike native Irish ones which are reeking of piss, covered in graffiti and strewn with used needles.”

The fact that the Mosney residents are not allowed rent or own property, they are only allowed stay in these hostels…that they live on €19 per week, and cannot work, or that the money to accommodate them stems from EU funds, seems to have alluded most of the ranters on the Mosney site. And let’s be clear on this €19 for the plelthora of ignorami out there who’ve never bothered asking how the payment is chopped up or made. On an asylum seeker’s social welfare receipt, there’s the full whack of €196 per week allocated that any Irish unemployed person gets…minus €177 that goes direct to the landlord on behalf of the State. And guess who’s in bed with the state when it comes to choosing/allocating landlords and accommodation? Very good, you’ve guessed right: property developers, investors, business folk, etc., the real ‘money grabbers’ who made handy lucrative deals with government to provide this much needed shelter. Make no mistake, the asylum process here is an enormous business machine and one of the few going concerns in Ireland right now in a constant state of profit.

By contrast to the reams of racist tripe we’ve been hearing of late, a letter in today’s Irish Times mirrors what a lot of ordinary Irish people feel about the plight of the residents: ‘It is bad enough that these most vulnerable of people must put their lives on hold for up to seven years while the Department of Justice decides their fate, but to herd them around like cattle from one holding pen to another is an outrage. Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and his officials should hang their heads in shame,’ it read.

Mags Treanor, a poet from Galway, who has worked with asylum seekers, has reported the Facebook page to the authorities for incitement to hatred. “To hear that people [on this site] actually think asylum seekers are the cause of the current economic situation and not the greedy Irish business people who creamed money from the state for using it as an accommodation facility is absolutely ridiculous,” she said.

Around 96% of refugees in Ireland have their initial asylum applications rejected under a system human rights campaigners have denounced as “inhumane”. Only Greece has a lower rate of accepting asylum seekers in the EU, taking in just 1.2% of refugees, according to the European commission body Eurostat. In the UK, 26.9% of asylum applications were accepted upon application last year. On appeal, those numbers rose to an estimated 30% for the UK, but to only 7.8% in Ireland, Eurostat said. [Source: The Guardian]

While the people of Mosney have yet to find out their fate, the racist underclass in Ireland continues to lobby for the return of their holiday camp, which in my memory at least, was famed for its floating turds in the glass-encasaed swimming pool, karaoke (before karaoke machines) and greasy chips in polystyrene cones. In all reality this latest round of Facebook ‘comments’ is nothing to do with feeling sentimental about a budget holiday destination or about expressing how broke and marginalised, frightened and powerless, people feel during recession. It is about blame and ignorance and stupidity and how the moral impunity of social networking allows hate to thrive.

“The five years given to house asylum seekers is up and that’s that,” writes Sarah Heavey. Her opinion is fairly typical of many who have left messages so far: “Either re-house them like planned or send them home. I am not racist and I truly sympathise with them, but Ireland is in financial ruin now and reopening Mosney will provide much-needed employment, as well as providing holidays for people.”

Please take the time to register your distaste for the racist voices on the Facebook page here

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

 

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On a day when the weather finally appears to have broken I find myself in one of those office discussions you can’t win. This morning the usual tirade against the unfairness of our nation’s over enthusiastic rainfall has been momentarily swapped for sulky mouthed speeches to the effect that it’s too hot, the pollen count is too high, everyone is a mass of blisters due to ill-fitting summery footwear; all a sweaty huff of rash and sunburn. The flip-flop slip slap on office carpet is annoying some while the incessant whirring of a distant grass trimmer proves to be the urban vuvuzela of the soul to the rest.

And my meteorological delight is not going down at all well.

I am an unashamed fan of hot weather. I love it all – the smell of warm concrete and that slight pebbled graze you get on the back of your thighs from sitting on it on long summer evenings in light cotton dresses. Sun tightened skin and damp hairlines, baked earth under bare feet and the unexpected unseen thistle in the otherwise perfect lawn. And those summers when we were kids; licking dried ice-cream off the back of our hands and tasting sweat and sun cream. Poking tar bubbles on roads with bits of sticks and getting it all over your sandals. Blue Mr Freeze stained mouths and forgetting your cardie outside all night where you’d used it as a goal post.

Horrified at the office negativity and their ungrateful responses to the good weather I slump off back to my desk. Amazing how a change of a few degrees can cause such vehement discussion.  Warm weather – another great divider of humankind, where do you stand?

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