December 2012


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Outside is warmer than the air-conditioned car and my feet begin to thaw as I cross the dirt-road with camera in hand.  The sign reading ‘wedding’, a wooden plank shaped into an arrow and adorned by a glass bottle dangling from a nail, points to a ramshackle barn with rusted corrugated iron roof standing next to some scattered trees.  Behind this I can just make out the substantially more salubrious premises within which, presumably, said weddings are to take place.  My companion has pulled over the car so that I can get a shot of what she assures me is a pretty regular sight in this part of Australia.  We have been driving around the Hunter Region of New South Wales, an area that extends from 120 km to 310 km north of Sydney.  The Hunter Valley is famed for, amongst other things, horse breeding and wine production, and we are currently on a stretch dominated by the latter.  While many notable Australian wine brands are still produced in the region, since the 1990s a co-dependent tourist industry has been developed around the vineyards, attracting streams of Sydneysiders north for weekend breaks that encompass wine tasting in carefully sculpted landscapes of rolling hills, winding dirt roads, and miles of vines housing upmarket hotels, along with faux-rustic venues like the one that I have stopped to photograph.

The Australian summer has been tentatively announcing its presence this year and today is cloudy but warm.  I finish photographing and we resume our journey, the air-conditioner summarily resuming to freeze my feet. We’ve been driving through ‘blink and you miss it’ towns filled with detached houses, convenience stores that have seen better days, and oddly ubiquitous hotels that all look like replicas of Wild West Saloons.   We pass through the sanitised vineyard territory into the slightly less manicured landscape of smaller growers.  These too peel away to reveal a stretch of highway through the bush, upon which road-kill kangaroo carcases are strewn every hundred meters of so, and we are marveling at the levels of carnage when the Hunter’s other defining feature creeps up on us unawares: as we turn a bend on the road an open-cut coal mine comes into view. (more…)

The Anglo: Not Our Debt campaign have posted this funny/crushingly depressing video satirising the Irish Government’s approach to the bank bailout.  As a means of raising awareness about the cost to the taxpayer of repaying the Anglo bondholders, the group proposed to apply to the Guinness Book of World Records to help “Ireland gain international recognition as a world-beater”.  They are urging people to send the link to their local TD.  You can find out more about their campaign here.

Cian O’Callaghan

The AIRO team have produced an interactive data visualization of the initial results of the Northern Ireland census 2011.  The data visualization shows the results at district and province level for religion, economic status, national identity, country of birth, and age groups.

With respect to religion the headline statistics was that the percentage of the population who self-declared themselves Catholic has risen to 45.1%, just three percent less than self-declared Protestants (48.4%).  5.6% declared no religion and 0.9% other.  However, it one looks at the data at district level it is clear that very few districts have such a near 50/50 ratio of Catholics/Protestants.  Rather, most districts have a clear religious majority.

NI census

The economic status shows that 467,805 people are in employment, but also that 10,957 people who are unemployed have never worked and 29,324 are classed as long term unemployed.  Worryingly, of those unemployed over 40 percent in all districts are long term unemployed, illustrating the difficulties of re-entering the labour force after job loss in the present recession.

38.9% of the population of Northern Ireland declare themselves to be British, 25.3% Irish, 20.9% as Northern Irish, 6.1% as both British and Irish, and 5% as other.  Clearly the declaration of British maps somewhat imperfectly onto Protestant and the relationship between religion and nationality is by no means synonymous.

More than ten percent of the population were not born in Northern Ireland. 3.6% were born in England, 2.1% in the Republic of Ireland, 2% in EU Accession countries, 2% other, 0.85% Scotland, 0.54% elsewhere in Europe, 0.14% in Wales.

The population is quite youthful with 20.9% of people aged 0-15 and 12.6% aged 16-24.  27.5% are aged 25-44 and 24.4% aged 45-64.  14.6% of the population is at retirement age or older (65+) (the EU average is 16%).

Rob Kitchin and Eoghan McCarthy

Budget 2013 has been widely criticized as an attack on women. It follows on from – and indeed is only comprehensible in the context of – the ‘tardiness and utter lack of urgency’ shown by Ireland’s political society to deal with the fallout of Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death. But in an odd way, the Budget seems to map onto another (peculiarly) gendered issue right now: the debate about how TDs Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Mick Wallace dress.

Apparently, the conventional and appropriate way for men to dress in the Dáil is to wear a jacket, a tailored shirt with a collar, and perhaps even a tie. Only men with such an appearance will ‘respect the dignity’ of Leinster House; other attire, such as denim jeans, is simply not good enough. That some of the new TDs do not appear dressed in such a dignified (read: honourable, upstanding, proper, manly) way is therefore cause for alarm.

I think it’s an obvious point to make here, but it’s nevertheless worth noting, that a dress code is a spatial technology, one that marks out a territory by excluding those who don’t (or won’t) adhere to it, and indicates how those who want to come in should appear when they are within that particular space. As a code, it sends a message that should be interpreted by potential entrants. It says, ‘We are here and we belong here and if you want to enter then abide by our norms.’

It should go without saying that such dress codes have no place in a democratic forum because of this explicitly exclusionary purpose. A democracy should be inclusive because, as Iris M. Young (2000) noted, ‘Inclusion increases the chances that those who make proposals will transform their positions from an initial self-regarding stance to a more objective appeal to justice, because they must listen to others with differing positions to whom they are also answerable’ (p.52). The focus here is on listening, not seeing. It is about communicating, persuasion, explaining why a wrong exists and how a remedy might correct it. By pursuing and then agreeing upon a particular dress code, a democratic forum such as the Dáil burdens representatives with unnecessary concerns that limit their scope to pursue ambitions in a manner that suits them. Appearances should not matter. On this principle alone, then, attempts to introduce a particular dress code are anti-democratic (and should be opposed).

What also needs to be said here, however, is that, in trying to enact rules about how public representatives should appear in our most important political forum, the men who seek to dominate the Dáil’s culture regarding attire are staking a claim over the democratic process as a whole. They are saying to the abstract citizen, ‘this is our space and we want it to stay the same’. After all, a dress code is intended to re-produce a space according to the wishes of those who already belong. It says to the potential entrant, ‘this space is stable and enduring: you have no right to unsettle or change it.’

Given the building up of pressure outside Leinster House to see it reformed, to see its practices change, it is by no means coincidental that such a debate is occurring right now. The very stability and enduring power that people like Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett believe they deserve is under threat. There is, for example, the election of TDs who challenge the dress code; an emerging debate about the need for a new republic; the Troika’s undermining of Leinster House; and public exhaustion with an austerity programme that often seems to have been implemented with too much enthusiasm. But there’s another threat out there: it’s the call from women such as Clara Fischer to be ‘included as authoritative knowers in discussions concerning us’ and the much broader pressure on our male representatives to take seriously the needs of women, especially during this crisis, but also generally.

Thus, against the backdrop of forces looking to undermine the stability of the Dáil’s culture and the power of its most influential players to shape its ways of being, it seems that one form of the backlash is to tighten up some of its rules in the hope that that very stability can be re-produced. In this sense, the dress code debate is intended to remind the citizen that dominant representatives in the Dáil are intent on retaining their territorial power over that chamber. They are saying: ‘By all means exert pressure on us to reform – even elect new TDs who you think will achieve that – but beware our tenacious capacity to survive just as we are and have been.’ Although concerning a seemingly mundane issue of men wearing jeans or collared shirts, it seems to me that this debate speaks volumes about the extent to which we can expect to see real change in Ireland so long as the current political class remains in place.

Alistair Fraser

 

REGIONAL STUDIES ASSOCIATION IRISH BRANCH

One Day Conference

New Regional Governance in Ireland: Perspectives And Challenges

 Renehan Hall, NUI Maynooth

Monday 21 January 2013

 

Keynote Speakers (for full program, see below):

Mr. Phil Hogan T.D. – Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government

Professor John Tomaney – Professor of Urban and Regional Planning in the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London. (Speaker sponsored by the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis)

Professor Michiel de Vries – Radboud University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Conference Theme

The recently announced Action Programme for Local Government includes substantial changes to the organisation of regional government and governance in Ireland. The current eight regional authorities and two regional assemblies will disappear and be replaced by three regional assemblies. The Irish branch of the RSA invites you to a one-day conference on the theme of “new regional governance in Ireland: perspectives and challenges”.

 

Registration and updates

Registration fee: 50 Euro including lunch.

Online Registration at: http://www.bookyourplace.ie

For conference updates see: http://www.regionalstudies.org/events/event/new-regional-governance-in-ireland

 

New Regional Governance: Provisional Program

09:00-9:30 Registration Coffee

09:30-09:40 Welcome

09:40-10:00 – Dr. Chris van Egeraat (Chair Regional Studies Association, Irish Branch) – Setting the scene.

10:00- 10:45 – Professor John Tomaney, UCL (Speaker sponsored by NIRSA, NUIM) – Regional government restructuring in England: lessons for Ireland.

10:45-11.30 – Professor Michiel De Vries (Radboud University the Netherlands) – Perspectives on recent developments in public sector reform in the Netherlands.

11.30-11.50 Coffee

11.50-12.30 Dr. Proinnsias Breathnach (NUIM) – Regional governance and regional development: implications of the Action Programme for Local Government.

12.30-13.00  Phil Hogan, TD, Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government – Conference Address.

13.00-14.00   Lunch Pugin Hall

14.00-14.30 Stephen Blair (Director of the S&E Regional Assembly) – New Regional Structures – Organising the Transition

14.30-15.00  Dr. William Brady (UCC) – Local government reform in Ireland: an opportunity for effective metropolitan planning?

15.00-15.30  Dr. Vincent Cunnane (CEO Shannon Development) Regional Governance and Economic Development: Change and Renewal in the Shannon Region.

15:30-16:00 Coffee

16.00-17.00 Panel Discussion

 

Chris.vanegeraat@nuim.ie

 

In the clouds

Ahead of what is sure to be another harsh budget tomorrow, there have been a number of news stories announcing the creation of new jobs in Ireland.  The timing of this is of course strategic, offering a glimmer of hope in what promises to be another bleak winter of public service cuts and tax hikes.  The unstated message here is that austerity policy is working; that if we can weather the long winter of discontent the coming spring will be blooming with the new economic opportunities that are slowly beginning to grow again through the permafrost left by the Celtic Tiger’s collapse.

Leaving aside the pertinent issue of the crippling debt that Ireland carries, this message is still deeply problematic and the economic policy that it valorises is rather depressing.

But first: what of the jobs themselves?

The first of these stories was the announcement by the Government that Shannon Airport will be separated from the Dublin Airport Authority by the end of the year and merged with the landbank of Shannon Development next year to form a new State-owned company “NewCo”.  As the Irish Times report, “it was announced that two Shannon-based companies had signed memorandums of understanding to create 1,000 jobs within three to five years in the area on the basis that Shannon would be separated from the DAA” and that up to 3,500 new jobs are expected to be created through the venture.  According to a statement by Fine Gael TD for Clare, Joe Carey, “NewCo… will drive the development of a world-class aviation industry at Shannon, as well as working with tourism and enterprise agencies locally to the benefit of the wider region”.  This all strikes me as more than a little opaque and I’m at pains to see the evidence that splitting Shannon Airport from the DAA will have a decisive impact on its economic prospects in the absence of other market factors that have little to do with economic policy.

The second story, that US cloud computing company Dropbox are to set up their international headquarters in Dublin, was a little more conclusive.  The company’s decision will initially bring in just over 40 jobs, but this number is expected to increase once the company gets up and running in Ireland.  Part of the media allure of this story is that U2 front-man Bono, who was an early investor in the company, was instrumental in persuading Dropbox to come to Ireland.  Dropbox’s Sujay Jaswa is quoted in the Independent as saying: “Bono has been a great investor for us, and he and the Edge were very persuasive in their arguments for setting up in Ireland”.  Meanwhile, Bono himself suggests that “This smart and innovative company will find a smart and innovative workforce here in Ireland, with a creativity and commitment second to none. The Irish Government worked hard on this, and the IDA played a blinder”.

Bono’s comments are particularly telling.  In his rather patronising spiel, the Irish Government comes across as a sales team with the IDA as their star player.  But I can’t help but get a vague sense of an aura of incredulity emanating from Bono; it’s as if this was a game he had expected his team to lose, but by sheer guile and tenacity they pulled off the unforeseen victory.

There is something unsettling here that takes us back to problematic nature of Ireland’s economic policy.  The image that Ireland presents to the world is of a confident, creative, educated and innovative place, “the best small country in the world in which to do business”The hope is that by projecting this image, companies like Dropbox will come and invest here and, by virtue of the employment they create (if not the taxes they pay), Ireland can grow itself out of recession.  Meanwhile at home the budget does the dirty work of austerity hidden from the global spotlight, further eroding public services in areas such as Health and Education, and with them any substantive basis underlying the image of Ireland that the Government likes to project to the world.  And as the structural foundations of the state become weaker, the nation continues to practice the increasingly precarious policy of reliance on foreign direct investment.  The fact that in 2006 U2 moved part of its business to Holland to avail of a lower tax rate makes Bono’s ambassadorial role in brokering the deal with Dropbox seem all the more apt.  He makes a suitable figurehead for the casual indifference the Irish Government gives to the incongruity between its external image and internal policies.  When weighed against the deadening barrage of cuts that the last few budgets have brought, the small victories that these stories highlight, rather than signalling new growth from the ground up, seem more like small kites floating through the clouds, oblivious to the frosty landscape of despair below.

Cian O’Callaghan