Well, hopefully spring is on its way though the weather recently has been as cold or colder than heretofore in the winter, and March can be winter-in-spring. But that ain't nothing compared to the southern electorate's response to the Labour Party in the February general election. It'll be fascinating to see how that one pans out in terms of government and governmental sustainability.
From vilification to vindication
The story of the Corrib Gas project in north Co Mayo is a sorry tale from beginning to end. Gas now comes ashore but at what cost to the local community, and indeed to the state? Security costs have have been ginormous, speaking of which I wonder was there any gin in the alcohol which Shell was buying the Gardaí locally? Bad publicity emanated in bucketfuls too. The state is meant to protect and assist its citizens, their wellbeing, welfare and security; instead it vilified them and backed multinational petroleum companies to the hilt, on the basis of 'jobs and fossil energy at any price'. And the deal which the state gets from the gas is an extremely poor one. Meanwhile, as happens, the local community is left battered, bruised, divided and even traumatised by the whole experience. Nasty work.
If this gas project was to proceed, obviously what was needed was a community consultation and development process; listening, learning, adapting, tweaking and involving until local people were satisfied, and not proceeding without that. One of the best summaries of What Went Wrong is given by Ruairí McKiernan in The Irish Times of 5th January 2016. In this piece he quoted from a senior An Bord Peanála planning inspector in 203 who said "From a strategic planning perspective, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of government policy which seeks to foster balanced regional development, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of minimising environmental impact, this is the wrong site; and consequently, from the perspective of sustainable development, this is the wrong site." But the government and powers that be steamrollered it through. As a result, for a variety of reasons associated with it being The Wrong Site, the whole project took inordinately long and must have been massively over any concept of a budget.
Those who felt obliged to protest, from home and abroad, did their bit to challenge the project, to raise the issues, to point out the abuses of human rights which were involved. Of course these protesters were vilified in various ways, as professional protesters or blow ins, or whatever, because the state and establishment wanted to get the man and not the ball, to target and scapegoat individuals rather than examine the whole basis of the project and their role in making a complete mess of it. Those in support of local people contesting the project also felt the wrath of the establishment, and in some cases there were attempts to Get Them (penalise them elsewhere for their support to those protesting against the development).
Vindication has come eventually although the project is now complete. The British Institution of Civil Engineers has concluded that the project was a template for "how not to undertake a development". (Irish Times 26th January) This report advocates a conflict-avoidance and genuine consultation approach.
The official opening of the terminal was deemed to necessitate a strong Garda presence so the idea that everything has blown over is a myth. An Irish Times editorial of 1st February agreed with the quote above about it being how not to undertake a development, and concluded "A commitment to genuine consultation with the local community from the outset, when the Corrib Field was first discovered nearly 20 years ago, would have saved a lot of grief for both Shell and the community." But a further point here is that the grief for the local community is not over; the rancour and division remains. That is the result of such a Divide and Rule policy on the part of a centralised state and its controllers who cared little, if anything, for its individual citizens. And then some politicians and other wonder why people feel alienated from 'politics'. People were engaged in politics but the state and its servants did not listen.
Woodburn: Pouring oil on blazing waters
Meanwhile, in another jurisdiction on this small island, namely Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus in Co Antrim, an oil company is trying to go ahead with drilling for oil. There is of course the argument to Leave It In The Ground. Should we be looking for new sources of oil if we want to avoid the very worst effects of global warming? Eh, no is the answer to that one.
But what beggars belief is that the company concerned, Infrastrata, was given a long lease for a song by Northern Ireland Water. NI Water, it should be said, is a publicly owned utility whose job it is to produce clean, potable water for the people of that part of the world. So what is it doing giving a lease to an oil company, not just to drill for oil but to inject back in basically whatever it wants? And all of this just a few hundred metres from a reservoir serving over 130,000 people? See lead news item in this issue. It is just incredible and an incredible lapse of judgement on the behalf of decision makers within NI Water.
Meanwhile citizens are mobilising and resisting. Stop the Drill have been doing an excellent job in raising the deficiencies in the project, and hopefully drilling will never get off the ground, or should I say into the ground? But Infrastrata wouldn't have bothered to clear the trees in the area before birds started nesting unless they had hopes to proceed this year. Sensible arguments do not always win the day. So I hope whoever can support Stop the Drill, in whatever way, will do so.
[Did nobody tell NI Water that oil and water don't mix? – Ed]
There is only one Earth
There is only one earth so far as we are concerned. No, I am not making a judgement about the number of habitable extraplanets in the universe, there may well be billions. What I am saying is that so far as we are concerned we only have one planet; the cost, in all sorts of ways, of reaching or reaching let alone exploiting (what an interesting and ominous word!) other planets, even the uninhabitable ones in our own solar system, is so high as to be ridiculous. Yes, let's understand the universe, the origins of the universe, the origins of life in the universe, and so on – but first of all, more importantly, let us take care of those people who are our neighbours – all the inhabitants of this planet we call Earth.
So what happened or is happening in China where they have built a supersized 500 metre radio telescope to look and listen for life on other plants? Why, displace people of course. 9,000 people within a 5 km radius of the new 1.2 billion yuan (£127 million) radio telescope in Guizhou are being thrown out of their homes before the project opens in the autumn. All to create a 'quiet space' or "a sound electromagnetic wave environment". OK, those displaced will be rehoused and get some compensation but to be forced to relocate some miles from your home? Damn those aliens.
The 'flag dispute' issue arising from a change of policy on flag flying in Belfast and at Belfast City Hall has burnt itself out in terms of popular protest on the streets of Norn Iron but that doesn't mean the issue has gone away, it hasn't. If you want to get up to date with the issues, challenges and possibilities on this thorny flagpole – symptomatic of the divisions in the North – then Paul Nolan and Dominic Bryan's new publication, "Flags: Towards a new understanding", mentioned in the news section of this issue, is the one for you.
However it is worth quoted a sentence from their conclusion; "The flags problem in Northern Ireland is complex. And, as the American newsman H L Mencken once pointed out, for every complex problem there exists a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong."
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That's me for now, there is clear blue sky and a cold wind as I write, and the first of our larger narcissi (daffodils) are starting to flower. I have started sowing seeds indoors for which I use tofu containers filled with potting compost – one in which I have put holes in the bottom for drainage set inside another. For me they are just the right size but I still need to prick out little seedlings when they get a bit bigger into yet more tofu containers before they can be planted out when the 'big' cold is gone. In our climate, starting everything outside is a recipe for very late flowering and harvests so I put planks across a bay window to form my very own indoor greenhouse. Hope springs eternal for great flowers and great crops.... Until we meet again in April, the driest month (on average!) in Ireland, Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).