Category Archives: Drivetime

Who’s to blame for Dublin’s water blackouts

Future Shock: The Last Drop

Future Shock: The Last Drop

I am afflicted with the need to bore people about Dublin’s strained relationship with water. I do it a lot. In fact I do it to an olympic level, I could bore for my country about water and take gold in all disciplines. I’ve been doing it for a long time too, above is a picture of me blathering on about Dublin’s water supply in a Future Shock documentary back in 2007.

Most of the time I’m just boring but for a few brief days every year when there’s shortages of supply in the capital city I am an all knowing seer. A prophet, a futurologist even. Except I’m not because everything that I have been reporting for nearly ten years was identified as a problem 20 years before I ever stumbled upon it.

The problem in a nutshell is that for an uncomfortable amount of the year the demand outstrips what the system can comfortably supply. In the graph below you’ll see the red line (demand for water) matches and regularly exceeds the blue line (what’s produced).

Water Supply

The system is forced to work beyond its maximum capacity much of the time leaving no wriggle room, no margin for error and certainly no room whatsoever for unforseen climate/weather related events. The cities of most developed countries operate with a spare capacity of at least 20%, in Dublin that figure is officially 1% but is actually a minus figure when the system is working beyond what it was designed to do.

We can’t fix the problem anytime soon so “water blackouts” and constriction of supply will be a feature of life in the capital for a long time to come. But on the upside at least it is crystal clear who’s to blame.

A GENUINELY HAPPY AND RELAXED  BERTIE AHERN IS PICTURED YESTERDAY(SUNDAY) . PIC MAXPIX.

Engineers have been saying for a very long time that what has happened was going to happen. The European Commission was telling us back in the 1980’s that we needed to invest in water services. But at a time when the rest of our European neighbours had the foresight to recognise that Water Rates was an evil necessity they should get on with implementing Bertie Ahern thought otherwise. He and Noel Dempsey returned from a European summit in Lisbon in 2000 with a “major political victory” – a derogation on the implementation of water rates.

Cogent arguments can be made that it was actually Fianna Fail’s scrapping of rates in 1978 or Brendan Howlin’s abolition of the Domestic Service Levy in 1997 that did in investment in water infrastructure. The real scapegoat is probably every government that ignored the engineers over the last 40 years. But Bertie deserves special mention for hitting upon the idea that we needed to be saved from this insidious Euro tax, so that we are now the only OECD nation without water rates . . . for the moment.

Now at a time when households and businesses can least afford it the nettle has to be grasped anyway, but we’ve 20 years catching up to do on that lack of investment. So we’ll be paying through the nose for something we’ve foolishly got used to thinking is free. And we’ll be getting a really poor quality service too until the fruits of that investment will be seen ten or more years from now.

You can listen to a podcast of my report on the specific difficulties being encountered at the Ballymore Eustace treatment plant here. If you’re Bertie Ahern, Brendan Howling or even Joe Higgins you can reflect on a picture of this statue on O’Connell Street.

Sir_John_Gray

That is Sir John Gray. You’ve probably never noticed him nestled in between Daniel O’Connell and Jim Larkin. The cities fathers decided to commemorate him because in the middle of the 19th century he had the foresight to realise that Dubliners couldn’t continue to source all their drinking water from the Liffey and the Royal and Grand canals. He set about raising funds for the Vartry Reservoir at Roundwood which to this day supplies about a quarter of Dublin’s needs. He was a contentious figure but for this act of statesmanship, public service and timely addressing of a looming problem he is now a permanent part of Dublin’s landscape. Can I make my point any clearer.

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“Lainey and Chloe’s” Story

Child Mirror

When I started reporting on the cases of the children I have been referring to as Maggie and Emma it wasn’t clear if they were representative of anything. In the literally thousands of disclosures of abuse made every year there had to be cock ups, and perhaps these cases were just “outliers”. Egregious examples of incompetence with a bit of possible official malice thrown in. I made no initial assumptions about them being anything other than terribly tragic instances of the state failing vulnerable children.

The volume of similar cases that I now have on my desk suggests strikingly similar patterns of official action. Concerned mothers lobbying for their children getting labelled “difficult”. Those mothers being forced to undergo psychiatric assesment. Their fitness to parent called into doubt on the say so of an allegedly abusive spouse. Incomplete or haphazard consideration of the evidence of abuse.

And most disturbingly  – fathers who have been deemed abusive by Gardai, by independent Psychologists, by paediatricians getting access to their children on the recommendation of the HSE.

Birds of a feather flock together and it may well be that by discussing these cases so publicly I have encouraged the handful of other similar cases that exist to come forward. So it is still too early to draw any hard and fast conclusions about the extent of this. My instinct however is that the women who have identified themselves to me and provided documents to support their allegations are the courageous few not afraid to move to the front of a long queue of  silenced grievance.

ChildrenFirstLetterhead

There are more stories coming to my attention. There will be more reports on Drivetime. This from yesterday’s programme is Lainey and Chloe’s story.

Lainey and Chloe’s Story – Listen here

Two young children made disclosures first to their mother, then to other adults, of stories that backed each other up. The level of detail they offered in those stories is in the minds of several psychologists – who have independently examined their testimony – proof of grooming and abuse by their father. But the HSE arrived at a different conclusion and have recommended that the father regain unsupervised access.

That decision was reached with considerable input from one psychologist. A professional who had not interviewed Lainey or Chloe since they made their disclosures. This did not inhibit the psychologist from concluding that no abuse had taken place. A conclusion the Social Workers agreed with in making their recommendation that the father regain access which did not necessarily need to be supervised.

After the HSE reached its conclusion Lainey’s mother video recorded her making a disclosure of abuse. She has played it for two different psychologists. You can raise quite legitimate objections about possible coaching by a parent  – but notwithstanding that possible influence those psychologists concluded that it could not be ignored.

I have watched it. It is horrifying. If you saw it you would find it very hard to understand how the HSE could have closed the file on Lainey and Chloe let alone made the recommendations it has. But the mother said that her attempts to get the HSE to consider it have been rebuffed.

Lainey and Chloe’s mother has since then had to hand her children over to their father for unsupervised access. They are daytime visits in public places and of relatively short duration. So at present she is relatively reassured that no further abuse is taking place, but her ex husband could yet petition the courts for greater access. As things stand there would be little reason for the judge not to award it.

HSE response – Listen here

The only formal response we have had from the HSE until now is to draw our attention to our obligations under Children First. In other words  – no acknowledgement of the possibility of any problem but a warning that in highlighting these cases anonymously we were failing to disclose to the HSE the identity of  victims of sexual abuse. We have responded that everything that has been reported on by this programme is information that the HSE has too.

Children First Guidelines

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Politics, not overfishing, devastated fish stocks.

Trawler

The Hague Preference.

Robert Ludlum really should have come up with that one before Fisheries Ministers did. It would have been a perfect fit for his tersely titled, spy thrillers. Since 2002 though it has been a small part of the complex architecture of the worst piece of policy making currently implemented by the EU – The Common Fisheries Policy.

The worst piece of policy making? Really?

Well, when the commissioner responsible for its enforcement, Maria Damanaki, apologises for it you can assume that it is not actually fit for purpose.

The Hague Preference is a codicil to the policy that depending on your point of view has either kept fishing communities in Ireland and Scotland alive or has contributed to the depletion of fish stocks to close to the point of no return.

The Hague Preference, incredibly nothing to do with Robert Ludlum

The Hague Preference, incredibly nothing to do with Robert Ludlum

The CFP was supposed to apportion quota on a basis that would sustain an economically viable industry and increase fish stocks side by side. It failed miserably at both. In reality marine biologists were presenting their warnings to the fisheries ministers every year. The ministers would thank them, make some of the right noises about preserving fish stocks and then get stuck into extracting every last kilo of quota possible at the negotiating table. Fishermen were spending more and more time at sea and extracting less and less fish because the stocks just weren’t there. The increased costs associated with fishing this way were pushing them to the wall. Fishermen and fish were losing out because policy makers couldn’t change their way of doing business.

You can read the Euro speak definition of The Hague Preference here if you want to give yourself a headache. In plain English though it allowed Scottish and Irish fishermen to ignore reductions in the Total Allowable Catch because their financial situations were so precarious. The Hague Preference alone isn’t responsible for depletion of North Atlantic fish stocks (they’re actually on the rise) but it is a good illustration of how the CFP served nobody’s long term interests.

Fishing net

Though Fish Discards is only a single aspect of the CFP it is the one that has forced the pace of all the other reforms. There’s a handful of celebrity chefs and NGO’s that should take a bow here. Highlighting the stupidity of chucking a quarter of everything that has been caught back into the sea to die made it profitable for some politicians to push CFP changes up their agenda. Regrettably though as an unsustainable system was left to run for so long change will bring upheaval. Everybody claiming authorship of the reform process is pushing a long term increase of 37,000 jobs in the sector across the EU. It is hard to see in the short to medium term, though, how allowing stocks to replenish won’t also see further job losses.

I explored more of these tensions in a radio piece you can podcast here. Inevitably now though whatever distress is caused in coastal communities will be painted as a clash between environmental and social priorities. But if you need a scapegoat – decades of a “slice of the pie” approach to politics would be a far more fitting suspect.

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If you go down to the woods today …

Crone Woods

… you’re in for a big surprise. Four years after Bord Snip first suggested privatising Coillte. Three years after Brian Lenihand and Brian Cowen agreed with the Troika that we should sell off state assets to clear the debt. Two years after the current government started trying to put a price on what the harvesting rights of the trees should be sold for. Two weeks after Simon Coveney promised that the cabinet was going to make a decision within two weeks  … the whole idea is going to be quietly shelved.

Simon Coveney was previously reported as being scheduled to bring the matter to cabinet for debate and a decision yesterday. That didn’t happen, and I understand while it has officially been long fingered for several more weeks, some in government are suggesting that this will be the first step in just quietly shelving the proposal.

One government source said to me that Pat Rabbitte would not have told the Dail that the  prospect of a sale was looking more and more unlikely every day if he didn’t seriously believe that was the case. What has to be agreed now I understand is how this would be presented to the Troika – who will need to be convinced that there is a sound financial reason for the government reneging on something previously agreed, and that the are not just caving in to pressure.

The increasingly vigorous campaign to keep our 10 national parks and 150 woodland amenity locations open to the public will claim a victory. That issue was always something of a red herring though. It is virtually impossible to extinguish rights of way and owners/managers of private forestry already let the public roam freely.

This was about what the sale would yield. And as I reported on Drivetime here, the numbers just didn’t add up and the level of investor interest may have been hugely overestimated.

IMPACT on behalf of its 600 members employed by Coillte commissioned Peter Bacon & Associates to study the financial dividend from a sell off. Though their conclusions naturally enough emphasise the downside but rather starkly highlight that the revenue generated would be equivalent to three weeks of interest payments on our national debt. Shrewd campaigning, but it would appear that many in government had already arrived at a similar conclusion.

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No Planet B

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide passed a significant milestone at the Hawaiian monitoring station that has been recording these things longer than anywhere else on the planet. I did a piece for radio where you can hear the officials from Mauna Loa Observatory analyse the significance of this in their own words.

There is little a generalist like me can add to the Climate Change debate that hasn’t already been argued, but allow me to share this graph with you, which you mightn’t have seen.

Climate Efforts vs Global CO2 rise

It charts efforts at a political level to check our carbon emissions and maps them against the unstoppable progress of atmospheric CO2 through the previously unthinkable threshold of 400 molecules for every million molecules of air.

Or rather it charts the redundancy of those political efforts. It is a crude index, but an eloquent way of saying that Carbon Emissions Trading lies in tatters; austerity has brought coal back into fashion with a vengeance; and governments all over thew world are letting themselves off the hook of their commitments.

I could go on, but this is a scientific debate and the scientists say it much better than journalists – so listen here to the significance of another signpost now in the rear view mirror

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A day with a SNA

image

Sneak preview Podcast 

Fionn is in Senior Infants in Gaelscoil Baile Brigin. He relates happily to his classmates, asks his teacher intelligent questions about what they are learning, and does what he is told with a willing smile. All of which would be noteworthy in most six year old boys but Fionn has Asperger’s Syndrome.

He is a poster child for how well the system works …. when it works. The SNA who was working with him that morning told me about the huge strides he had made in just 5 months. Fionn is happily integrated into his class. When he arrived first he would talk to no one other than the SNA. Now he chats to all the other kids and they are completely accepting of Fionn’s harmless little eccentricities.

As the morning I was there wore on he began stimming – a repetitive flapping of his hands – that shows his concentration is flagging. With no fuss one of his classmates handed him a crayon and he re-focussed. As we were walking to the playground a classmate sidled up to Fionn and took his hand into hers. It was an entirely unself conscious display of friendship. In the yard they run off to play in a small group. This generation of Irish children will have a very different attitude to disability, but it wouldn’t be possible if the SNA, Helen Ni Riain, wasn’t there to keep his mind on the job at hand.

This school has 10 Special Needs children in four different classes. All of whom are attended to by one and a half  SNA’s.  If I ever go to war I want this school’s Principal, Clodagh Ni Mhaolchiaran, planning my logistics for my side. She coordinates the movements of the assistants around the classes to ensure the maximum amount of care and attention for each of the children as their minimal resource allows for.

The system has worked for Fionn largely because his parents have done an impressive job of lobbying and pushing for the resource that their son needs.  But also because his condition was diagnosed and his needs attended to before austerity cuts began. Standing outside the playground that morning was another little boy in Senior Infants who couldn’t come in because he is not so happily integrated into his class. His autism was diagnosed first after cuts were imposed. The contrast between the two boys and what you would imagine to be their futures couldn’t be more stark.

In the Podcast of my Drivetime report you will hear Helen talk about Fionn graduating from Third Level in the future. That would be nothing less than what this charming kid deserves, and can achieve if he continues to receive the support he’s getting now. It’s painful to contemplate, though, the agony of any parent trying to imagine what might happen two or three years down the line if the resource is withdrawn. To raise a child’s horizons and then take all that away would seem exceptionally cruel.

The other thing that really impressed itself upon me was the positive impact that “main streaming” Special Needs children has on the attitudes of the rest of their classmates. If we stay the course with resourcing special needs programmes its not unrealistic to contemplate an Ireland one generation from now with one less prejudice.’

This podcast will broadcast this evening on Drivetime as a part of our week long focus on primary education and the state of national schools.

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Promises Promises

PODCAST: http://tinyurl.com/cqx7kmp

The powers that be on Drivetime don’t like to make things easy for me. I dragged myself into work on Wednesday morning after a very late finsih on Crimecall the night before.

“Cut me an archive package on the election promises the government has broken since February …. and keep it under six minutes”, said the boss man. A little smile danced across his face as he knew the time constraint would prove to be the real challenge.

So what follows http://tinyurl.com/cqx7kmp is far from complete and is probably best to think of as a work in progress. Please add comments below on what else you think  should be added when we next return to this excercise.

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