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Tag Archives: Orwell

The damage done to Maebh’s tomb at Knocknarea, County Sligo, is an example of what can be wrought when lack of thought has a budget.* It is an example of what passes for development and opening up access. It is a result of the belief, widespread in Ireland, that it is acceptable to destroy an existing amenity in order to build another.


Let’s be clear about Knocknarea. No one argues against the preservation of a burial cairn that has been on top of a mountain for five thousand years. It must be emphasised too that getting up there for anyone interested has never been a problem. The problem begins when someone with public money to spend and a bizarre understanding of development decides to build an easy pathway for casual walkers. A thinking person could not possibly be surprised by the outcome. Firstly, preserving the new footpath in such exposed, elevated terrain means preventing it becoming a water course and so a deep drain has been gouged down the mountainside. Secondly, the increased traffic, the messers and the vandals have and will cause damage.

What’s to be done? Well, the person with the budget and the bizarre understanding of development will further the destruction by starting their response with information and appeal signs – probably lots of them. When that doesn’t work, the signs threatening consequences for walking on or removing rocks from the cairn will appear alongside the earlier signs. When that doesn’t work, fencing will appear, most likely along with an encircling footpath.

Having reached that stage, something new will have been created, something quite unlike the very reason that people wanted to go up there in the first place: atop Knocknarea there will be signs, fences, rules – and at the centre of the mess will be Maebh’s tomb which resisted millennia of weathering and visitors but was powerless against a budget under the control of a person bent on destruction.

Incidentally, the whole mess will be topped-off when the walkers are “protected” by a further set of signs, forbidding dogs, cyclists and horses.

The conscious destruction of the existing Knocknarea amenity and its replacement is by no means unique or even rare.

23Kms of the disused Middleton to Youghal railway is to be buried under a cycle road, described in Orwellian terms as a Greenway. The ridiculous point has been made that the cycle road/greenway is designed so that the railway could be excavated should it be needed in the future! No doubt the new cycle/walking route will be advertised as travelling a disused railway. People so attracted will be disappointed to find a mere road with little or no evidence of a railway. The thing is there’s no need for a road and no need to sacrifice the existing railway amenity. Other countries make old railway lines attractive and accessible by building a pathway to one side or a boardway right down the middle of the line. Here in Cork, as at Knocknarea, the amenity – that which makes the thing attractive – is to be unnecessarily destroyed.**

Sadly, the creation of these bogus Greenways is based on a very good idea. The problem is that its implementation is half-assed (i.e. is being done with too little effort or care). The good idea is a network of roads specifically for cyclists and pedestrians. The half-assed implementation begins with a look around for handy existing routes that could be paved, tarmacked or otherwise covered over, destroyed. There seems not to be the slightest clue among the developers that the existing routes are amenities. They are not unused, vacant corridors, handy for bits of cycle-roadbuilding. They range from old railway lines to river and canal banks that are used by those who love them.

A few things need to be said. No one at all wants to deny access to a canal towpath to a cyclist on a road bike, a wheelchair user or a parent with a baby buggy. No one is predicting a lot of traffic, so a relatively narrow, shared footpath would suffice. The very reason people walk, cycle and horse-ride towpaths and river banks is not merely to get away from motorised traffic but to get away from roads – and indeed signs/notices. If the developers destroy their amenity, most will go elsewhere.

Here’s the tolerant and decent proposition: a public amenity is not to be destroyed in the creation of another public amenity.

* https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/hikers-putting-5-000-year-old-co-sligo-cairn-at-risk-1.3756379

** One of the more bizarre reasons given for the wide cycle roadway is that it has to be that wide as that is the width of the construction equipment!

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Had today been April 1st I would have smiled and remarked, “Good one!” RTE news this morning had an item about controlling dog shit on beaches in Clare.* The council there has spent money to install a system which will talk to the owners of the offending animals. If you think that’s nuts, the truth is more bizarre. As the interview progressed it emerged that this had little to do with dog shit and more to do with reminding people to obey the byelaws. **

It works like this. When a dog and owner approach any one of a number of detectors on the promenade, an audio announcement is triggered.*** It was when the interviewer asked a crucial question that the true madness began to emerge. He asked how the detector could distinguish between a person with a dog and a person without a dog. It can’t. It is triggered by all. The next question was obvious. He asked if this meant that people without dogs would be subjected to a dog-shit announcement. The reply was beyond Orwell. In order not to annoy those without a dog the message is tailored as a general reminder of and encouragement to obey the bye-laws. It is to be “a positive message”.

What it amounts to is this. In order to gain public acceptance of intrusive bullshit-announcements imposed on citizens out for a stroll, the initiative has been smeared in the familiar preoccupation with dog shit.

This could be dismissed as a laughing matter but it is evidence of something quite serious. It is clearly misuse of public money and an intrusion into the lives of citizens. However, it is an example of something more serious. It brings public service into disrepute. It is very common now to hear people complain about having to pay for non-existent or poor services for which there is little or no demand. The complaint is that public service – or at least some parts of it – has become an elite imposition with its own particular values, aesthetic and perspective on citizenship and that it is willing and able to impose.

As a retired public servant and a socialist, I might be expected to defend public service and that’s precisely what I’m doing. Public service should preserve and expand the freedom of citizens. It certainly shouldn’t annoy them and bind them up in petty controls and intrusions. Socialist policy relies on public provision. Socialists cannot allow the concept to be undermined to the extent that all progressive policy is likely to be resisted as an encroachment by the nanny state. Socialists must do something which seems counter-intuitive: they must resist nanny – send her and her supporters packing. Very many ordinary people see public service and the state generally as an opponent to be fought. Socialists should realise that far too often it IS oppressive and usually on petty matters.
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* http://www.rte.ie/radio/utils/radioplayer/rteradioweb.html#!rii=9%3A20621087%3A48%3A23%2D07%2D2014%3A

** Here’s the Irish Examiner failing to identify the bullshit: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/siren-to-tackle-dog-fouling-on-beaches-276324.html

*** Promenades – even crowded ones – don’t have to be like this. The Irish seem to be particularly intolerant. https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/thinking-about-the-promenade-at-monte-estoril-and-irish-lack-of-freedom/

Journalists have become far too prone to cooperation in the development of  Orwellian Newspeak. An example is the use of “political class” in public discourse about Ireland’s economic crisis. Firstly, talk of a “political class” is an evasion of a responsibility to take sides. It is support for an old, old FF stance: “Sure, we’re all rogues and you may as well vote for us because we’re affable rogues.”  This is dangerous nonsense and SF etc. are clearly aware of its possibilities.

Secondly, to place blame exclusively on any group of politicians – even FF – is to suppress what really happened in Ireland and make the necessary degree of reform less likely. A very real danger is that far too few people will fall in the process of change. Look at it this way: What if most of the prominent FF TDs lose their seats and a banker or two goes to jail, and the Irish rest happy that sacrifice had been offered? Well, then the army of fools and rogues who created and contributed to this mess could hold on to their positions and inflict their stupidity on Ireland in the future. I am not saying this as a socialist advancing an alternative. I am saying that as liberal/capitalist policy goes the FF creation of a construction bubble was foolishness on a hitherto unimaginable scale, BUT they were far from alone in its creation.

Ireland is suffering the consequences of a global problem but is also suffering the consequences of a carefully considered, willfully created boom based on building. The problems have been plain for years. Anyone with an eye in their head could see the rash of houses in under-populated areas, the crazy number of furniture stores along major roads, the glut of hotels and the competition to buy “development” sites at virtually any price. Only a complete fool could have failed to see that this was unsustainable madness. Now, over those years it was possible for people with different degrees of public profile, power, influence etc. to speak out. (No, to scream out and repeatedly!) Why would those in such positions stay quiet? Well, if they didn’t see the problem, they’re too stupid for any position of responsibility; and if they did see it and remained silent – say, for a quiet life or career reasons – they lack the integrity necessary for any position of responsibility.

There should be a clear out well beyond the fall of a few FF politicians and the sacrificial jailing of a banker or two. I’m not talking about ordinary people who behaved foolishly and invested their savings in property and other scams, or bought houses at prices they could ill-afford. I’m talking about those who are PAID TO THINK. Let’s take the management of banks for example. It’s not unreasonable to demand that banks be run by people of moderate intelligence and integrity. We certainly should not tolerate anyone – from branch manager and upwards – who did not speak out. “Sensible people in the banking and finance industry must have felt intimidated by the tide of nonsense in support of the clearly unsustainable; they must have had to weigh good conduct against career prospects.” Oh, here’s the complete blog entry (it’s short, I promise): https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/appointments-in-irish-banking-and-finance/

Let’s take journalists and broadcasters as another example. I recall the constant urging of young people towards ruin (to “get on the property ladder” as soon as possible) and the urging of ordinary people to try to acquire a property “portfolio” because it was a “no-brainer”. No, I’m not referring to the property supplements.

Similarly, it’s not unreasonable to demand that other categories be people of moderate intelligence and integrity. Make a list starting with senior civil servants, teachers, commentators, senior managers . . .

It’s possible to salvage a test from this Irish-made fiasco. Prominent people were tested for ability and integrity. Those who failed should leave the stage and live quietly in modest comfort – and have the decency to remain silent.