Category Archives: Society

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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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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“Weetabix is a treat”

Podcast: http://t.co/rhmiB6QK The impact of cutting Children’s Benefit

I’m blogging this from my phone so excuse me for being brief but my fingers are just too big to be typing at any great length.

I met three unremarkable yet absolutely remarkable people today. Unremarkable because they are like many of the 92,000 people receiving the One Parent Family payment or living very similar lives to some of the other 470,000 on the live register.

Remarkable because they  . . . well just listen to Jacqueline Kelleher in the Drivetime podcast. She spends her son James’s entire Children’s Benefit on childcare so she can work part time. A €10 cut in that Benefit means it is no longer worth her while financially to work. But she will continue to work and will cut back the food budget.

We walked around the supermarket figuring out what she was going to cut back on from now on. “Milk” was the depressing answer. How do you tell your four year old son he can’t have a glass of milk? “He’s a smart boy, he understands things are hard”. He also understands that Weetabix is a treat that he only gets on months when there’s a little bit more wriggle room in the household budget.

The text and twitter response to this report was noteworthy. “Irritating” to listen to dole scroungers “whining”, said one. Giving these people Child Benefit was like “rubbing lard onto a fat pigs backside”. I said noteworthy, but not worthy of further comment. Jacqueline told me if you got pregnant to claim benefits it wouldn’t be more than a few months before you realised that you had made the “worst decision of your life”.

James would love a Batman Castle for Christmas. His remarkable mum is going to make him one instead.

Please listen to the podcast and tune in tomorrow to hear Aisling.

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Filed under Drivetime, Economics, Politics, Society, Unemployment, Welfare