Friday 19 December 2014

Eoghan Harris: Labour hares intended to hide deeper problems

Published 14/10/2012 | 05:00

DOG-POOP distractors. That's my new term for pseudo-issues which deflect public attention from deeper problems. It derives from Dun Laoghaire -Rathdown Council's unhinged new by-laws against unleashed dogs on long tidal beaches between 10am and 7pm, even on the darkest days of winter.

Supporters of the by-laws believe they will prevent dogs like my two small terriers -- whom I always clean up after anyway -- pooping on the long rocky tidal beach at Seapoint. This is a brazen dog-pooper distractor, given that last week I had to swim in human slurry at Seapoint when the pipe at the West Pier overflowed. Be back to that later.

At a national level, there were two Labour-led dog-poop distractors. First, Minister of State Alan Kelly's proposal to cut subsidies to private schools.

Second, Brendan Howlin's messing with measly allowances, rather than taxing public sector pension pots or taking on serious fat cats like the consultants.

Labour's motive in spinning these two stories was to distract attention from Eamon Gilmore's complicity with Dr James Reilly in the shafting of Roisin Shortall.

The Week in Politics lent a hand with a prepared film on private schools, presumably following a tip-off from Labour. But Sean O Fearghail (Fianna Fail) reminded a discomfited Kelly that Labour in Dublin was more likely to have private schoolers among its supporters. Labour's hare fared no better on Morning Ireland next day.

Chris Woods, the principal of Wesley College, forensically demolished Labour's financial case, showing it would end up costing the taxpayer more.

He pointed out that Labour's proposal would particularly punish Protestant schools serving scattered Protestant communities.

Finally he refuted claims of elitism, pointing out that 30 per cent of students are subsidised in Wesley College.

Morning Ireland returned to the subject next day with Labour TD Robert Dowds, a Dublin Protestant, who loyally followed the Labour line. So Fine Gael's Mary Mitchell O'Connor had to make the case for continuing the subsidy, especially to Protestant boarding schools.

She made three tersely effective points. Schools would be shut down if funding was withdrawn and the State would have to foot the bill.

Parents are already struggling in a recession and cannot take another financial hit. Protestant schools would be disproportionately affected by cuts.

Possibly because he represents Dublin Mid-West, Dowds did not seem to understand the problems of rural Protestants of modest means. Charlie Flanagan of Fine Gael, who represents many of them, could enlighten him.

Meantime Mary Mitchell O'Connor cogently pointed out that Dowds' ideological case was not convincing in current economic circumstances.

In passing, I must say it was a good week for RTE presenters. Cathal Mac Coille conducted the private schools discussion with commendable sensitivity to the Protestant position.

Pat Kenny pulled up Pearse Doherty on Sinn Fein's funking a tax on public sector pension pots. Ryan Tubridy treated a battered but unbowed David Norris with the proper mix of probing and personal sympathy.

That said, the PPI jury which failed to give first radio prize to Newstalk's Breakfast Show is a joke. Chris Donahue, Nora Casey and Shane Coleman are the sharpest trio in Irish radio broadcasting. Last week, they continually sank their claws deep into public sector fat cats like the consultants, with Donahue in particular showing a prodigious grasp of detail.

Amazingly, the private sector TV3 has no presenter prepared to initiate an examination of public sector pay and pensions. Nora Owen, drawing down a ministerial net pension of €57,287, is not in a position to credibly lead the charge. But given his garrulous speeches about social justice, Vincent Browne's lack of passion for public sector reform is remarkable.

Last week he hectored Patricia Callan of the Small Firms Association, almost preventing her making her cogent case for the private sector. Does Browne not see the difference between the treatment of Olhausen's workers, cast adrift without adequate pensions, and the cosseted public sector employees who will never come into work to find their job gone ?

* * *

Last week the BAI turned down Tom Cooper's complaint against the RTE film An Tost Fada (Canon George Salter's account of how his Protestant parents had been driven out of Ireland by the Old IRA) accusing its makers, including me, of bias and suppression of facts.

While waiting for the BAI report I refrained from commenting on Cooper's politics. Let me now let in some light. Cooper is a founder of the Irish National Congress, which, according to its website, campaigned against the visit of the Queen of England.

After the visit, in a letter to the Irish Examiner on Monday, May 22, 2011, Cooper let in some more light. "It has been a good week in Ireland for post-colonial southern unionists and those who have yet to shake off the generations of British cultural and military subordination."

Cooper's complaint -- and the reasons the BAI rejected it -- can be found on the latter's website. I beg you to read Cooper's complaint and the BAI's decision. When you have done so I bet three words come to mind: tendentious, nit-picking, carping.

* * *

Back to the source of 'dog-poop distractor'. Last Monday, Dun Laoghaire Council passed new by-laws, which, among other things will ban dogs from beaches like Seapoint, even in winter. In doing so they ignored the Dogs Unleashed campaign, which secured 5000 signatures and deferred to the Seapoint Swimmers' Association, which gathered 300 signatures.

I watched the webcast of the debate because I am both the owner of two small terriers and a regular swimmer at Seapoint.

I refused to sign the Seapoint petition because I consider pipes pumping human waste into the water at Seapoint far more polluting than a few dogs running off the leash in winter and possibly pooping on a long rocky tidal beach.

And this matters to you how? Because it is another blow against the pet dogs which play a huge role in the health and happiness of thousands of Irish people, particularly the old, the lonely and the unemployed during this dark recession.

This aspect never seemed to strike the 19 councillors who voted down the six courageous councillors who had clearly considered the matter as being more than merely environmental.

Councillor Victor Boyhan, opposing, focused on Seapoint, which he knows well. He pointed out that historically people have always walked dogs on the long beach, which is both tidal and self-cleaning.

He pointed out the pipe at the West Pier was more dangerous than dog poop, spewing sewage, condoms and sanitary towels into the sea after heavy rain.

Councillor Richard Humphreys of Labour, the chief advocate of the new by-laws, adopted a flippant tone as if addressing a UCD debate.

Weirdly, he described as "Stalinist" Victor Boyhan's argument about respecting the majority opinion as revealed in the Dogs Unleashed petition.

However, his rich rhetoric seemed to impress Richard Shakespeare the Director of Environment Services, who brusquely curtailed a call for further time to consider the matter.

This bad by-law, which comes into effect on New Year's Day 2013, will cause continual confrontations. But the 19 councillors won't have to deal with them. That will be left to the decent dog wardens. Let's hope they get a special aggro allowance.

Sunday Independent

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