October 2013

Ever since the collapse of the Celtic-tiger in 2008, almost every aspect of political, economic, social and environmental governance in Ireland has come in for some degree or critical retrospection. This critique has largely taken two forms i.e. to what extent did our governance contribute to the circumstances we now find ourselves in; and how can it be reformed to get us out of them?  For reasons which will need little explaining to regular readers of this blog, planning governance has quite correctly been fingered as a major cause of our current problems and since 2010, on paper at least, has been the subject of significant reform efforts.

One issue, however, which has clearly evaded any form of genuine rational analysis, has been rural settlement policy.  For decades, this political hot-potato has been gingerly fumbled by populist governments and manipulated as local political currency. The 2005 Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines, which were intended to bring some clarity to what exactly the policy is, are a near perfect illustration of ‘win-win-win’ policy fuzziness leading to highly incoherent implementation across the country. According to Census 2011, the stock of ‘one-off’ dwellings in the State currently stands at 433,564 (26.3% of the total housing stock) with 417,094 (96%) located outside towns or settlements. Remarkably, one-quarter (104,000) of these dwellings have been constructed within the past ten years and since 2001 councils across the country have collectively granted planning permission for 174,000 new dispersed dwellings.  52% of the total stock of vacant housing units are located in rural areas.

While the number of planning permissions for ‘one-off’ dwellings has fallen from the heights of over 23,000 per annum in 2004, in 2012, 60% of all planning permissions in the State were for single dispersed houses.  This is despite the clear intention of national policy to direct new housing development into settlement centres. While it is true that this high proportion is as much to do about the collapse of the multi-unit development sector, the absolute numbers are, nonetheless, striking. Since 2010, 14,500 new ‘one-off’ dwellings have been granted planning permission as compared to 14,900 multi-unit houses and 11,100 apartments.


The divisive debate over who should be permitted to self-build in the countryside tends to take place in abstract purity, completely divorced from both the public and private economic, social and environmental costs. Dispersal is considered a completely normal and benign feature of the Irish cultural landscape and recourse to statistics and facts will typically fall on deaf ears. Several intrepid commentators have from time to time poked their head above the parapet to question the wisdom of the spatial patterns taking hold across the country only to be instantly shot down with an emotive barrage of ‘anti-rural’ polemic.  While politically, this is certainly an issue best ignored in the customary Irish fashion, in official policy circles at least, the very serious cumulative problems and hidden costs presented by Ireland’s highly dispersed settlement patterns have long been acknowledged.

Now, without being directly attributed, this legacy is manifesting itself in contentious and costly disputes over such issues as the development of large wind energy and grid infrastructure projects; the closure of rural post offices, schools, pubs, hospitals and garda stations; rural cost of living, car dependency, lack of public transport and social isolation (and even drink driving laws); the challenge of an ageing society and the obesity crisis; climate change targets; septic tank charges; and deficient rural infrastructure, such as broadband and roads. These issues will no-doubt continue to become more acute as government pursues an austerity agenda in parallel with spatially blind productivist policies (e.g. National Renewable Energy Strategy, Grid 25, Food Harvest 2020). To date there has been no acknowledgement whatsoever that rural Ireland is a finite, congested and contested space where multiple sectoral policies are operating at cross-purposes and which simply cannot continue to accommodate the competing demands being placed upon it.


The dominant common-sense is that anyone who questions the wisdom of the unfettered right to build anywhere in rural Ireland is somehow ‘anti-rural’ and has a ‘pro-urban’ (i.e. Dublin) agenda. I would offer the counter-narrative that, far from maintaining local populations or providing an economic stimulus, it is in fact settlement dispersal which is a key driver of rural economic decline, out-migration, housing vacancy, isolation, higher costs for rural families and the under-provision of critical infrastructure, employment opportunities and public services, particularly in peripheral rural regions. Furthermore, the often phoney debate on this issue, reinforced by the popular media, assumes there are homogenous ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ spatial entities. I grew up and spend the most part of my life in a 1960’s ‘one-off’ bungalow. However, my parents, like great majority of my neighbours, are not rural. They instead would be more aptly classed as ‘rurban’, commuting long distances daily to work in urban centres. Data from Census 2011 is indicative of clear spatial trends towards acute counter-urbanisation and ex-urban sprawl where householders are electing to self-build in ‘rurban’ locations in search of larger family dwellings, higher quality affordable homes (unlike some of the disastrous build quality in urban locations), a rural environment and a perceived better quality of life close to kinship networks. Of the 417,094 ‘one-off’ dwellings located outside of designated settlements, 350,000 (84%) were located within 5 kilometres of a town. Just 1% of occupied ‘one-off’ houses did not fall within a 10 kilometres radius of any town in 2011, and the majority of these were built before 2001. These trends are tacitly supported by fiscal policies where ‘one off’ housing has always been an unspoken component of national housing policy and where the government has conveniently shirked its responsibilities in this area.

While the horse has largely bolted and our costly spatial legacy is now ‘locked-in’, I would argue that questioning settlement patterns of rural Ireland remains relevant and is entirely consistent with a ‘pro-rural’ agenda. The government’s decision to establish a Commission for Economic Development in Rural Areas (CEDRA) is explicit recognition that large parts of rural Ireland have been unequally affected by the recession. However, the diffuse spatial structure of rural areas and its impact on economic opportunity continues to be utterly ignored.  If we are ever to have a possibility of providing a counter-balance to the accelerating dominance of Dublin, Cork and Galway and provide some basic level of spatial equity then the challenge for regional planning is to deliver workable and socially acceptable alternatives to the current failed model of ‘one-off’ dispersal.

Gavin Daly


Why have the Irish not protested the crisis and austerity in Ireland?

People are debating why the Irish have not been more like the Greeks and Spanish protesting against unemployment, the bank bailouts, austerity Budgets and cuts to public services? This article delves into that subject and offers some suggestions as to why this is the case and some indications for progressive social movements in Ireland. Firstly, it provides a short overview of the history of protest in Ireland and how this, along with successful state strategies of control, and the decisions of key political forces of opposition have stopped us from protesting the biggest economic collapse in the history of our state. This article is based on my practical experience and academic research into the politics of protest*.

Austerity Kills

History of Protest in Ireland

Protest and opposition has had varying aims and forms and involved a range of groups and classes in Ireland. This has included the poor, working class, the Catholic Church, middle classes, tenant farmers, factory workers, women, teachers etc. Here is a snap shot of some of most well-known protests in the last three centuries of our history.

1840-1880s: Daniel O Connell and the struggle for catholic emancipation which involved ‘monster meetings’, where it is reported between 100,000 and one million people attended one such meeting on the hill of Tara.  There was also the Fenians, the Young Irelanders and the Land League in this period. The Land League fought for the right of tenant farmers to own their own land and organised resistance to evictions, withheld rent, and held monster meetings of tenant farmers with 15,000 to 20,000 reported to have attended some.

1890s-1920s: There were campaigns/movements/armed insurgency for Independence and alternative structures set up parallel to the colonial state administration including the Gaelic League and community co-operatives. Alongside and within these independence struggles was action by the working class for social rights, against exploitation for a fair distribution of wealth. Through trade unions and the Labour Party workers organised the 1913 Lock Out, a General Strike in 1918 against conscription, workers councils (soviets) in Limerick and Belfast in 1919, and a General Strike in 1920. Many were motivated by Connolly’s argument that an independent republic of Ireland would be worthless unless it was built on freedom from exploitation – a socialist republic.

1930s to 50s: The newly independent state was controlled by conservative middle class nationalists and the Catholic Church.

1960s & 1970s: Emergence of civil rights movements; particularly the ‘Free’ Derry (‘Battle of the Bogside’) in relation to housing discrimination against Catholics in 1968, there was the 1971 ‘contraception’ train involving former President, Mary Robinson, and others, then in 1978 over 20,000 people marched against the destruction of Viking Dublin Wood Quay and city council tenant held a series of rent strikes.

Early 1980s: The Dublin Council of Trade Unions organised the massive tax marches and general strikes with150,000 marching in Dublin in 1979. In 1980 350,000 attended in the probably the largest demonstration in the history of the state. There were also the Hunger strike marches in Dublin in 1981 and protests at the British embassy. In 1984 10,000 protested at the visit of US president Ronald Reagan protests. Between 1978 and 1981 anti-nuclear protests and festivals were held at Carnsore Point in Wexford. While in 1984 and 1985 the Dunnes stores worker’s held the anti-apartheid strikes and protest.

Then in 1987 the trade unions entered social partnership agreements with the Government led by Charles Haughey. The unions agreed to ‘industrial peace’ and wage restraint in order to achieve economic development in Ireland and to try avoiding an Irish ‘Thatcherism’ attack on the trade unions.

1990s: There were the on-going Dublin inner city drugs and poverty marches, the anti-water charges campaign from 1994 to 1996 and the X case abortion protests.

2001-2003 There was a significant working class protest against the inequality of the Celtic Tiger through resistance to the imposition of bin charges but social partnership dominated at a national level.

2003: Anti- Iraq war march with 150,000 in Dublin

2004: Anti -globalisation EU summit protests in Dublin & May Day protests with 5000 people attending

2005-present day: Corrib gas, ‘Shell to Sea’ community campaign and protests. The Jailing of the Rossport 5 led to thousands marching in Dublin. Also protests by Ringsend community against a proposed incinerator and similar in Cork.

2005: December. 100,000 people took part in protests and strikes across the country in support of Irish Ferries workers and against outsourcing and exploitation of workers.

2008: First austerity protests: Senior citizens protested against the withdrawal of the medical card

2009: In February 100,000 people protested at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions ‘There is a Fairer Way’ protests. A public sector General Strike was held in November and Community, youth and drug projects held a massive 12,000 demonstration in September.

2010: November 40,000 students march and 100,000 attend ICTU protest.

2011: Election of Fine Gael/Labour government. Ballyhea ‘anti-anglo debt’ protests start, Occupy Dame Street commences, Vita Cortex workers organise their ‘sit-in’ occupation, and the Roscommon Hospital Action campaign protests.

2012: Over 50% non-payment of the new household charge. 15,000 protest at pre- Budget march against austerity, teachers protest over cuts and salaries, in Waterford 15,000 march against hospital downsizing.

2013: In February 80,000 protest across the country in the ICTU organised ‘Anglo Not Our Debt’ protest.  Public servants oppose then agree to Croke Park wage agreement, the Wood Land League protest against sale of our Forests, Special Need Assistants, parents and teachers protest education cuts.

Understanding Protest in Ireland

This short snap-shot of protest in Ireland reveals a number of features of the nature of protest in Ireland and helps explain our (lack of) response to the crisis since 2008.

This history demonstrates clear evidence of significant protest and rebellion. For example, Ireland’s population is 4.6 million, France’s 65 million and the UK 63 million. This means that the 100,000 people on the streets of Dublin marching against austerity are equivalent to 1.5 million in Paris or London, so ours are relatively, extremely large.

However, given the extent of oppression and famine as a British colony and then poverty and economic stagnation as an Independent state culminating in austerity and crisis in recent years, it is surprising there hasn’t been a lot more rebellion. This can be explained by the various strategies adopted by both political forces and individuals in Ireland. There is evidence both of strong solidarity and extreme individualism.


A new paper by Julien Mercille has been published in Third World Quarterly. The paper, which looks ar European media represnetations of Argentina’s 2001 debt default, should be of interest to readers of this blog given debates about Ireland’s ongoing ‘bailout’ programme.

A pdf is available on this link Mercille 2013

Registration Now Open

Regional Studies Association

Irish Branch


A One-Day Conference

Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford

Wednesday 30 October 2013, 09.00-16.30

Opening Address

  • Professor Tom Boland, Higher Education Authority

Keynote Speakers

  • Professor Paul Benneworth, Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS), University of Twente, The Netherlands.

  • Professor David Charles, European Policies Research Centre, School of Government and Public Policy, University of Strathclyde (Speaker Sponsored by SERA).


For full program and updates: http://rsa-ireland.weebly.com

For registration: http://rsa-ireland.weebly.com/register.html

For further information: chris.vanegeraat@nuim.ie








NUIM Department of Geography Seminar Series, 4.15-5.00pm  3 October 2013, Rocque Lab, Rhetoric House, NUI Maynooth

Meanwhile Spaces and Pop Up Parks: Dublin’s Granby Park as Urban Experiment

Karla Healion, Upstart Artistic Collaborative

Niamh Moore-Cherry, UCD Geography

Stephen Rigney, NUIM Geography

Karen E. Till, NUIM Geography

Discussant and Chair: Cian O’Callaghan, NUIM Geography

Upstart, a non-profit voluntary arts collective, recently transformed a vacant site on Dominick Street in north Dublin into an urban ‘pop-up park’. By transforming a vacant site into a place of creativity and community engagement, Granby Park stimulates us to think differently about familiar urban environments for temporary and longer-term uses. Panellists will discuss the Granby Park initiative and its impacts on the landscapes of Dublin. In the context of the ongoing economic crisis, they will discuss the emergence of ‘meanwhile space’ and ‘pop up parks’ – the use of and occupation by artists, communities and volunteer sector of empty commercial spaces through short-notice free lets – locally and internationally. Granby Park challenges the dynamics of uneven development in the city, located the ownership of Ireland’s ‘toxic bank’ NAMA, which houses impaired property loans. At the same time, critics argue that such arrangements streamline austerity, normalise the precarity of employment, and support the interests of property owners over those of the community/voluntary sector.  As an urban experiment, Granby Park therefore raises interesting and important questions:

  • How can creative interventions in the urban realm shape people’s perceptions of the city and stimulate new directions in policy?
  • Do ‘meanwhile spaces’ challenge neoliberal approaches to property and development?
  • How does the experience of Granby Park intersect with ongoing planning and artistic debates about the (re)use of ‘derelict spaces’ and ‘brownfield sites’ in the city?
  • In what ways does Granby Park succeed as an artistic urban project? Has the project been more successful in some areas over others? What lessons can be learned?
  • What role should creative interventions play in involving local communities to shape environments and policies in their neighborhoods, and to what extend are these successful?


Karla Helion is a core member of the Upstart artistic collaborative. She has worked for national media outlets and has co-directed a women’s collective. Her interests include social justice, feminism & grass roots activism.

Niamh Moore-Cherry is an urban geographer whose research examines brownfield regeneration, sustainable development and the role of the public sector in urban regeneration in Ireland.

Stephen Rigney is a PhD student in the Department of Geography at NUIM. He is currently involved in a research project that aims to map derelict and vacant spaces around Dublin’s north inner city.

Karen E. Till is a cultural geographer at NUIM and director of the Space&Place Research Collaborative. Her book in progress, Interim Spaces, explores artistic interventions of redundant spaces in Berlin.

Cian O’Callaghan’s research connects urban economy and governance with practices of everyday urban life. His work examines the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger on Irish cities, including through ‘ghost estates’.