Tag Archives: Dáil

Shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic

Fianna Fáil, an Irish political party, has published what it describes as a “new Bill to help tackle River Shannon flooding“.

In fact, of course, the bill, if enacted, would do nothing of the sort, as the party itself admits. It proposes to add even more idiotic measures, including subsidies to encourage people to live in flood plains. But at the core of its thinking is that no interests, other than those of the inhabitants of flood plains, should carry any legal weight, and that that can be assured by placing a single body, the Electricity Supply Board, in charge of everything to do with the Shannon. Perhaps it was inspired by the ESB’s success in dealing with the salmon and eel fisheries — although some might prefer that the ESB concentrate on reducing electricity prices instead.

Blithering idiocy of this kind is not confined to Fianna Fáil and it is, I suggest, a reflection of the generally low level of ability and experience of Irish politicians. They are, I suggest, simply unable to think usefully about large and complex problems.

I tried to find CVs for all members of the current Dáil. I looked at Wikipedia entries, personal websites and party websites, as well as a few other sites that I hoped might have information.

I was looking for TDs whose CVs indicated significant experience in running large organisations or large projects: projects as large and complex as, for instance, managing Shannon floods, hospitals or the water supply.

I found nobody whose experience came anywhere near those levels (although it is of course possible that some TDs have such experience but choose to keep quiet about it). There were a few who had worked in medium or large organisations, but at junior levels, and some who had worked at senior levels in small organisations. Some of those with relevant experience had gained it in public or third-sector bodies: I was not looking solely for private-sector experience. But there were far too many who had worked in “professions” or as lobbyists of one kind or another, whose proudest boasts were of involvement in local bodies and of a desire to help individual constituents.

I’m sure they’re all very nice people. But I don’t believe that they have any conception of what it takes to analyse complex data, cost alternative policies or set up and run large organisations carrying out difficult tasks. Hence their focus on nit-picking and on the personal: they are simply unable to cope with anything more difficult. And  hence too their fondness for setting up new organisations, reallocating functions and passing laws: they can do all of those things (and perhaps find places on boards for their mates) without having to get to grips with the real, the complex issues. They don’t even have to cope with the chaos their meddling causes — and they then have a new set of people they can shout at.

Some of them might just about be able to organise a piss-up in a brewery; few if any of them could organise the construction and fitting out of anything as complex as a large brewery or could manage the operations of such a brewery. That might not matter if they worked on policy analysis instead, but few of them seem to have any abilities in that sphere either. The problem is one of scale: organising a successful parish bingo night, or an election campaign, is not sufficient preparation for running a large project or organisation.

I see that wiktionary defines “shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic” as

To do something pointless or insignificant that will soon be overtaken by events, or that contributes nothing to the solution of a current problem.

That about sums it up.

More say he rose again

Last September, I noted that the excellent KildareStreet.com website had been crippled by a change to the software used on the Oireachtas debates website. Life is too short to be spent ploughing through the witterings of politicians (unless you’re being paid to do so, of course), so KildareStreet.com’s search facility was invaluable, as was its emailing of alerts when my chosen keywords were mentioned. That flow of information ended in September.

Happily, though, the KildareStreet.com folk did not give up, readers donated funds, the rebuilt parts of the site are being tested and, yesterday, I got my first alert in over six months. Here, then, is the news about the Clones Sheugh, as seen from Kildare Street.


Kildare Street

In the recent past, I have made several postings referring to debates or parliamentary questions in the Dáil or Seanad. I was able to do do because of the service provided by the excellent KildareStreet.com website. The site allowed me to identify and set key words for topics that interested me (waterways, for instance); it then sent me alerts when any of those topics was mentioned. Simple, pain-free, efficient — and an excellent way of making the Oireachtas seem slightly more important. KildareStreet also provided a search function and a facility for reading and commenting on recent debates. I found the Oireachtas’s own debates website far less user-friendly.

The Oireachtas has now decided to change its system — and to make it worse. Not only is its own site inadequate (no alerts, no search, despite there being a search button) but it has ceased to supply the XML-formatted data that enabled KildareStreet.com to work and has thereby crippled what was a really useful service.

If there are any computer-literate politicians in Dáil or Seanad, I would be grateful if they would enable the KildateStreet.com service to be restored.

Buried at the crossroads …

… but without a stake through its heart. The Ulster Canal is dead, but it’s spinning in its grave. Its parent department has admitted some of the truth about its funding, but Waterways Ireland will be applying for planning permission for the scheme: there’s enough money for that, but not for digging. Nonetheless, Fine Gael TDs have managed to distract attention from the absence of funding by pointing to the planning application, while Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil have not realised that a scheme’s benefits should outweigh its costs. Return of the Son of the Ghost of the Bride of the Ulster Canal on view here.

From the Dáil

Questions – Northern Ireland Issues, Dáil Éireann Debate Vol. 729 No 2 Unrevised

Deputy Gerry Adams:

[…] The Taoiseach might update us on other flagship projects such as the Ulster Canal — at least, it was described as a flagship project at the time it was launched. […]

The Taoiseach:

[…] A number of issues were identified which clearly, from any political point of view, would be of interest and benefit to the infrastructure and the economies North and South. The Deputy mentioned some which have been under discussion for a long time. Were we not obliged to pay €3 billion to Anglo Irish Bank for the next ten years, it would be great to be able to tell the Deputy that the Government could now deal with the Ulster Canal or a number of other issues. Unfortunately, that is not the way it is at present. Consequently, from that perspective the Government will continue to commit itself to working diligently in the interests of the development of the economies North and South and, in consequence, of the entire island. […]

[…] Deputy Adams knows we could deal with the Ulster Canal and many other issues in the north west and elsewhere in the country if we did not have this imposition and burden, but that is a fact of life. […]

[Emphasis mine]

Northern Sound News Details Jul 07 2011

[…] The Project Co-Ordinator for the regeneration of the Ulster Canal says he is not concerned about the funding issue. Gerry Darby says he is still confident that the Ulster Canal regeneration is on track.

What is the basis for that confidence?


Saving the banks

The banks, the Fergus and the lost island of Islandavanna.

Rockville navigator elected to Dáil

Ming Flanagan was the first to be elected a TD in the Roscommon South Leitrim constituency in the 2011 general election.

Ming launching himself on the Rockville Navigations

His sterling qualities were shown when, in September 2010, he kayaked down the Rockville Navigations, with a companion, to check this tourism and recreational resource (which I had brought to his attention in his capacity as Mayor of County Roscommon).

Another person on the side of righteousness is Paudie Coffey of Portlaw, mentioned favourably here; he was first home in Waterford, where he stood for Fine Gael.

The Ulster Canal: abandon it now

I have now completed an examination of the proposals for the reconstruction of a section of the Ulster Canal from Lough Erne to the town of Clones in Co Monaghan. My conclusions are linked from this page, which also contains a brief summary of my views.

Ulster Canal 0: overview presents the main points of the argument in about 3,600 words. It does not contain most of the quotations and omits the references; it also omits some sections of the argument. However, it’s about one fifth of the length of the whole thing.

Ulster Canal 1 to Ulster Canal 10 present the argument under ten headings, amounting to about 18,500 words in all. That may be too much for most people. There are no photos or other illustrations, and most of the argument is about economics or politics.

It will be clear that I do not have full information; I will be glad to have Comments from anyone who can fill the gaps or correct anything I’ve got wrong.

For anyone who can’t wait, here is a copy of the summary of my views.


The Irish government has been pushing, since the 1990s, for the restoration of the Ulster Canal. Several studies have been commissioned; all of them show that the project is uneconomic. At no stage has either the UK or the Northern Ireland administration shown any willingness to commit funding to the project. As a result, the Irish government has scaled back its ambitions, proposing to fund the construction of a canal from Lough Erne to Clones in Co Monaghan: it would cross the border several times, but it would pass through no significant conurbation on the northern side.

However, this scaled-back project makes even less sense than the proposal for full restoration, and there is no reason to believe that the canal will ever get any further than Clones. The Irish government might, I suppose, decide to dig on to Monaghan, as a form of famine relief work, but there is no evidence that the Northern Ireland Executive will ever put money into completing the route to Lough Neagh.

The costs of the proposal have not been reexamined for many years (or, if they have, the results have not been published), and the economic analyses may overstate the likely benefits. Even if they are accurate, though, the main benefits seem to come from casual visitors rather than from boaters. The benefits will go to service providers in the area, rather than to the waterways authority, but even if they went to Waterways Ireland they would not pay the running costs, never mind repaying the capital cost. The project has failed every economic test to which it has been subjected: it simply does not provide the sort of return that would justify the project.

There seems to be some doubt over the source of the proposed funding. The Irish government said that it canal to Clones would be paid for by the Irish Exchequer, but it later said that Waterways Ireland would sell surplus assets to pay some or all of the cost. It is not clear that Waterways Ireland’s surplus assets would, in current economic conditions, bring in enough money; nor is it clear that the Department of Finance is willing to make up any shortfall.

There might be something to be said for acquiring the land and creating a walking and cycling route, but the current proposal for a canal to Clones is utterly unjustifiable and should be dropped.