Time to start building Limerick’s cycle network

In the morning I often think of a woman I never met. Natalia Jimenez Martinez was 30, living on the quays like me, and working in Castletroy. And like me and quite a few of my friends, she would cycle into work, crossing town and turning right at the Hunt Museum to head east on her bike. Except for one morning in 2014, when she was turning right like I do every morning, and she was crushed by a truck carrying medical supplies, and killed instantly. I think about Natalia, because I think about me and many of my friends who cycle every day along the same route, and I wonder when it’ll be me or someone I know who will lose their lives to a careless driver.

It’s time we acted.

We have a great cycle path along the canal and river out to UL. I use it every day, as do many others. We need to build on this and build a safe cycle network in Limerick. First step is an east-west spine through the city – a safe and segregated route through the city that you would let your child cycle on. There is a route that would connect primary, secondary and third level education establishments. There would be some inconvenience for car owners as the cycle route would take some road space away from cars, but there would be many benefits, and there are opportunities to improve facilities for pedestrians too by making footpaths wider.

The route would be a straightforward one, starting at the beginning of South Circular road and extending the entire length of the road on the left hand side, past Mary I, Scoil Mháthair Dé, St. Clement’s and Laurel Hill (and a block away from Limerick School Project and The Model), down Henry Street and around Arthur’s Quay, then turning right at the Hunt Museum along Charlotte’s Quay, joining up with the canal path out to UL.

It would need to look like this:

A two-way, fully segregated path that cannot be parked on. Wide enough that you can go two abreast and chat to your friend on your way to work. With signage that tells motorists to yield at junctions, with a raised level and tightened corners for crossing car traffic, and traffic lights where necessary. A quality piece of infrastructure that would get kids out of cars and onto bikes, solving much of Limerick’s traffic problems in one swoop.

More female secondary school students in Limerick city drive themselves to school than cycle according to the Central Statistics Office. This statistic saddens me. This route could change that.

There would be some outrage too of course. Some residents on the South Circular Road would no longer be able to park their cars right outside their houses. Most of the road would have to become one-way. Nobody likes change. There would be familiar calls for the cycle lane to go somewhere else (O’Connell Ave needs to be a priority for public transport and has a massive hill in the middle, going down the Dock Road would make no sense), or that it would be a waste of money, and a thousand other reasons. But if we’re serious about Limerick, if we want our home to be a serious European city that can attract people to work and to come on holidays, we need to stop the 1970’s thinking about roads being just about getting cars through as fast as possible, and think about all those secondary school students driving themselves to school.

I’ve spoken to a lot of families in Limerick who would love to cycle to work or school, and who would love to leave the car at home and cycle into the market on Saturday morning with the kids. Many don’t because they feel it’s too dangerous. With the right infrastructure we can change that. And once we build it we can extend it out all the way to Raheen Industrial Estate, and start work on a north-south spine between LIT, Caherdavin and Moyross, and Roxboro and Southill.

I’d love to work with anyone I can to make this a reality. Drop me an email (contact details here) if you’re interested in helping, and also check out Limerick Cycling Campaign’s ongoing work to make Limerick a better place for cyclists.

The young people of Limerick have spoken, it’s time to act on climate change

Young people marching for climate action in Limerick. Thanks to Karen Sugrue for the photo.

The young people of Limerick who marched demanding action on climate change deserve more than empty platitudes. We owe it to them to get serious about climate change, and to take action to lessen the burden on future generations. It’s shameful that our young people have to march because we as adults have neglected our obligations. With that in mind I’ve jotted down a few things that I think we can do right now here in Limerick, to answer the call from our young people to take action.

Dump the M20

The road between Limerick and Cork does not have enough traffic by European standards to merit a motorway. The M20 would cost a billion euro, money that we would borrow from future generations saddling them not with the bill for a misguided monument to regional aspirations, but the bill of dealing with the increased emissions that would result. The M20 would encourage unsustainable long-distance commuting by private car. We could use some of the money to upgrade the rail service between Limerick and Cork – the first train doesn’t get in to Cork until 9:30 and involves a 40 minute wait at Limerick Junction. To be clear, you cannot credibly support climate action and also support the building of a €1 billion motorway that isn’t needed.

Build houses where kids can walk to school

If you build homes near schools (and shops, workplaces) you give people a choice. You don’t force people into a car. You allow people who can’t afford a car the same access as those who do. We will strengthen our towns, villages and cities by building homes in the centre of them, not in the outskirts. If we are to drastically cut our transport emissions we need to rethink the way we plan communities. Increasing density in the villages of County Limerick will make it easier to provide bus services, fibre broadband, and will make local shops more viable.

Stop car-dependent developments on the outskirts of the city

Limerick and Clare County Councils are planning a “Northern Distributor Road” to open up development north of Limerick City in Clare. UL are planning a “new town” in the fields of south-east Clare. LIT want to convert an abandoned Celtic Tiger shopping centre into a remote campus. These would all be car-dependent, emissions-heavy developments that would hollow out our city and be unserviceable by effective public transport. We’ve lots of free sites in the centre of our city. Let’s use them to build houses, shops, offices and educational facilities.

Expand community-run insulation programmes

Climate protesters in Limerick. Thanks to Sean Hartigan for the photo.

Tait House Community Enterprise in Southill is a community-owned social enterprise that does free home insulation upgrades for people receiving certain welfare payments, and provides commercial insulation services for private homeowners, providing jobs and keeping money in the community. We need to find more ways to support organisations like this, giving people warmer homes and more prosperous communities.

Get serious about sustainable transport

The bus service in Limerick is of woeful quality, and although many of us gripe about Bus Éireann, the fact is that we have designed our city to facilitate the private car, and it’s no surprise when buses get delayed for hours in traffic jams. We need to take space away from the car and give it to buses, bikes and boots. A Luas-style service could easily be run between Raheen, city centre and Castletroy, if we reduce traffic lanes and give buses segregated space.

Complete the transition to wind energy

We can no longer justify burning dirty coal for electricity up the Shannon Estuary at Moneypoint. We need to expand windfarms, giving communities ownership so they have a stake, and further reduce our emissions from electricity generation.

Support local food enterprise

Agriculture is a huge source of emissions in Ireland. The main cause of this is a misguided national agriculture policy, but there are still things we can do about it in Limerick. We have some of the best grazing land in the world down this part of the country, and yet much of it is used to produce generic powdered milk for export, some of which is made into breast milk substitute and sold to developing countries. This is emission-intensive, low-value and low-employment agriculture. We can change this by encouraging local food businesses, especially in the dairy sector, to produce high-value desirable products such as cheese. This will provide more income, more local employment, and reduce the emissions per euro earned by agriculture in Limerick.

Listen, and act

The youth of Limerick have spoken in their numbers. We need to listen. They have asked us to act and we need to act. The time for whataboutery and dodging responsibility has gone. Let’s listen to the young people of Limerick and give them a better future, before it’s too late.

Memories of the abortion referendum campaign in Limerick

I played a small part in the 2018 abortion referendum campaign in Limerick. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to take part. My memories are imperfect, but six months on  feels like a good time to get some of them down. They don’t represent a comprehensive account of the referendum campaign in Limerick, just my personal experience.

I attended my first campaign event in February. I was invited to talk about my experiences canvassing for the Marriage Equality referendum three years previously. I don’t think anyone was in any doubt that this was going to be a very different campaign. I was pretty sure we were going to lose. That marriage referendum made waves around the globe but the margin of victory wasn’t exactly emphatic in the end: 62/38. At the start of 2018, the polls showed some indication of support for repealing the eighth amendment, but Irish referenda tend to narrow significantly in the last two weeks of campaigning. Chatting with political friends from various parties I couldn’t find anyone who was remotely confident this was going to pass.

First canvass on a cold, wet and dark Thursday evening in March

I remember thinking how lonely the campaign was going to be. I was determined to play my own part, to knock on doors and ask voters to show compassion for people in difficult situations. But I certainly couldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to come out on cold evenings to talk with strangers about the termination of pregnancy. It seemed especially cruel to ask women to knock on doors to ask for basic reproductive rights that would be available to them in the majority of countries around the world.

And yes it was small at the start. About six to ten canvassers for the first few nights. Not many canvassers for the third largest city in Ireland. The task felt impossible. We started two months out from the vote because we knew we had a lot of ground to cover. But at that stage in a referendum campaign, many voters aren’t fully engaged, they might only have a vague sense of what they’re going to be asked to vote on, and with a contentious issue like abortion, many were understandably reluctant to discuss it with strangers.

Thankfully daylight savings time kicked in pretty early in the campaign, so we got to canvass in daylight

We trudged on. Three political parties had agreed to split the organising of the canvassing in the city into three: Jimi from the Social Democrats organised canvasses in the west of the city, Dave from Labour co-ordinated the east, and with my Green Party hat on I co-ordinated the north city. This involved an inordinate amount of poring over maps and spreadsheets which I think the three of us enjoyed more than we liked to admit, even if we did often find ourselves in the small hours of weekday mornings entering canvass returns or tracing an efficient route through an estate for the next day’s canvass. Members of Sinn Fein and Solidarity also joined us on the canvass. But most of the canvassers in Limerick were not party political and for most it was their first involvement in political action. 

We were christened “The Three Men Of Repeal”. Mostly we just stood around with clipboards nerding about maps.

Canvassers knocked on the door in pairs, with at least one female in the pair. All canvassers had to attend training. We were as obsessed with not losing votes as much as gaining them. The people of Limerick are a polite and friendly lot, and the majority who answered their doors were lovely. But every canvasser experienced a small amount of uncivility, hostility and rudeness. And without exception our canvassers were polite, calm and dignified in return in response. We were not going to be provoked into losing a single vote. I should add that the vast majority of No voters we met were polite and reasonable. I respected (and still respect) their point of view.

There was lots of poring over maps

A month into the campaign, numbers had risen a bit, we had gone from three canvasses a week to six. It was clear that this campaign was going to be a lot bigger than we thought. We kept totals of everything, number of doors knocked on, the proportion that answered, the number that were “hard” yeses and nos versus the “softer” voters and the undecideds. I remember the first time we had more than twenty canvassers in the third week when we canvassed Ballynanty, I think that was my first time thinking that this campaign was going to be something really big. 

First night we had over 20 canvassers

We were blessed with two incredible leaders, our chair Yvie and our deputy chair Jennifer, who worked absolutely tirelessly behind the scenes. They never once sought to be front and centre of the campaign, always wanting to empower others. They made sure a dizzying amount of small things got done, and made sure that we were always focused on the bigger picture. We would not have been half the campaign we ended up being without their leadership, and they taught me some very important lessons about leadership without ego.

There were an army of people behind the scenes too, whose work was often invisible yet vital. Fundraising, social media, volunteer management, designing badges and flyers, canvass organising, messaging and policy, training, much-needed aftercare for canvassers, there were so many jobs that people took on and gave up their evenings and weekends to undertake.

Organising

Everyone was stretched to breaking point. Most of us managed to burn out at least once during the campaign. The numbers of amazing people willing to campaign kept rising. We also had a fantastic group canvassing the rural areas. Canvassing with them made me realise that the old clichés of the rural/urban divide on social issues in Ireland was redundant – people in country areas were just as engaged, informed and willing to listen to our arguments.

Newcastle West

We also joined up with groups from other counties: we ran a joint canvass with the Clare campaign on the northern outskirts of Limerick, we helped a group in Charleville get started and canvass around South Limerick and North Cork. Paul Bowler from Kerry came up and helped to run training for male canvassers (which we quickly christened “manstraining”, to rhyme with “mansplaining”). 

Manstrainers for repeal

As a group we were from very different backgrounds and age groups, but I think we were similar in surprising ways. Most of us were quiet, and maybe even a bit shy. Most of us were incredibly nervous the first time we went canvassing and very few of us were ‘naturals’ on the doors. Yet I think we were all deeply motivated by a sense of justice and empathy for people in the most difficult of situations.

My mum was much better at canvassing than I was

 

I can’t imagine how difficult it was for campaigners whose lives had been directly affected by the eighth amendment. Whether they chose to disclose their stories or not, I cannot begin to imagine the courage it took to open up their hearts to strangers, to encourage them to think about people in impossible situations.

We didn’t only just have our own fears to deal with, we had the fears of voters to deal with as well. Fear of sexuality, fear of women, fear of talking about anything that goes on “down there”. The taboos and silence that surround so many aspects of sex and pregnancy. The grief of people who had suffered miscarriages. The voters who found themselves, unexpectedly, talking on their own doorstep about their own abortions, sometimes after decades of silence.

On the canvass

Through it all we trudged on. Over 25,000 doors knocked across Limerick City and County in two months. Hundreds of amazing canvassers, young and old, men and women. At the end we were an army. The last week of the campaign, we almost ran out of areas to cover. We organised a leaflet drop of every door in the Limerick City constituency. For the last day of the campaign, I took the day off work with my friend Niamh to cover the few corners of the county that we hadn’t reached, starting at 9am and 30,000 steps later finishing half-way up a mountain at the opposite end of the county at 7pm.

Up a mountain in West Limerick on the last day of the campaign

Of course we won, after the profound shock of the exit poll, which nobody quite believed. Some people even tried to claim that the result was a foregone conclusion. But in Limerick, like around the country, we knew it was a victory hard-won, by the some of most incredible people I’ve ever met.

I am deeply thankful to all the repealers in Limerick for the privilege of being able to campaign with them.

Drinks after one of the last canvasses

What’s next after Repealing the 8th? I’d like to help get a woman elected to Limerick Council

what's next badge A West Wing-themed badge that a Repealer gave me towards the end of the referendum campaign, which I will treasure always.

I want to write down properly my memories of the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment sometime. It was an exhausting, yet special time. I met a huge amount of wonderful people, some of whom I’m quite sure I will be friends with for life. But right now, nearly three months after our historic victory, it’s time to think about what’s next. And for me, the answer begins with politics. I’m one of those (possibly naïve!) people who believes in the power of politics. Those of us involved in the Repeal campaign who were members of political parties may have been vastly outnumbered by those who weren’t. But I believe we were involved in a fundamentally political activity: changing the minds of voters.

Less than 20% of Limerick’s councillors are women (the Dáil has a roughly similar proportion of women). Possibly related to this statistic: many of our councillors are not doing a good job at working towards an ambitious and inclusive Limerick. If I can do anything with what political experience I’ve gained through the years, I’d like to help get a woman elected to Limerick Council.

The good news is that I’ve found an amazing candidate to support for election in Limerick City: someone who is serious about the very serious task of representing voters: someone who is willing to work hard for families in our city and who wants to do their bit in bequeathing a better city to future generations. And even though I can’t say who she is at this stage because of the need for Green Party selection conventions and other procedures, I’m excited at the prospect of doing what I can to help her meet with and listen to the voters of Limerick.

Why write about this now when I can’t say who the candidate is? One reason is that I wrote pieces very early on about why I got involved in the Marriage Equality and Repeal the 8th campaigns as well as the last general election: getting my thoughts down was helpful early on before the maelstrom of the campaign took over. And the second reason: maybe you’d like to help. Political campaigns don’t always just reflect the minds of voters: as the Repeal the 8th campaign showed, sometimes they can change them. Being involved at the start of a campaign, when numbers are still small, can be a really special thing. We need more women in politics, and we need better representation in Limerick if we want a better city. If you feel the same, and you’re also wondering what’s next after Repeal, I’d love to work with you. And if maybe you’d prefer not to work with me, or you support a different political party, the good news is that most political parties will be running at least one female candidate in Limerick. I’m sure they, like us, would be very grateful for your help.

Limerick (County) 8th Amendment Referendum Tally 2018

Thanks to everyone who helped with the tally. The tally for Limerick City is also available.

Results are also available as a CSV file.

Box Yes No Yes No
Postal 159 106 60.0% 40.0%
Ballybrown N.S.1 129 102 55.8% 44.2%
Ballybrown N.S.2 153 10 93.9% 6.1%
Ballybrown N.S.3
Patrickswell N.S.1 191 114 62.6% 37.4%
Patrickswell N.S.2 146 115 55.9% 44.1%
Patrickswell N.S.3 120 83 59.1% 40.9%
Anglesborough N.S. 126 73 63.3% 36.7%
Ballylanders N.S.1 157 135 53.8% 46.2%
Ballylanders N.S.2 92 82 52.9% 47.1%
Galbally Community Centre1 138 102 57.5% 42.5%
Galbally Community Centre2 157 107 59.5% 40.5%
Ardpatrick Community Centre 140 124 53.0% 47.0%
Kilmallock Girls N.S.1 313 154 67.0% 33.0%
Kilmallock Girls N.S.2 191 140 57.7% 42.3%
Kilmallock Girls N.S.3 137 113 54.8% 45.2%
Kilmallock Girls N.S.4
Athlacca N.S. 95 85 52.8% 47.2%
Effin N.S.1 105 107 49.5% 50.5%
Effin N.S.2 215 140 60.6% 39.4%
Doon C.B.S.1 152 130 53.9% 46.1%
Doon C.B.S.2 205 130 61.2% 38.8%
Bruff N.S.1 284 202 58.4% 41.6%
Bruff N.S.2 247 153 61.8% 38.3%
Bruff N.S.3 181 142 56.0% 44.0%
Bruff N.S.4 177 102 63.4% 36.6%
Bruree N.S.1 230 201 53.4% 46.6%
Bruree N.S.2 235 169 58.2% 41.8%
Martinstown N.S.
Knocklong N.S.1 184 97 65.5% 34.5%
Knocklong N.S.2 158 97 62.0% 38.0%
Caherline N.S. 175 130 57.4% 42.6%
Cloverfield N.S. 108 89 54.8% 45.2%
Herbertstown N.S. 236 168 58.4% 41.6%
Knockadea N.S. 60 36 62.5% 37.5%
Glenroe N.S. 130 90 59.1% 40.9%
Dromin Comm. Centre 155 125 55.4% 44.6%
Glenbrohane N.S. 109 83 56.8% 43.2%
Pallasgreen Comm. Centre1 175 146 54.5% 45.5%
Pallasgreen Comm. Centre2 116 106 52.3% 47.7%
Hospital New School1 107 66 61.8% 38.2%
Hospital New School2 197 152 56.4% 43.6%
Kilbehenny N.S. 139 107 56.5% 43.5%
Kilfinane N.S. 192 39 83.1% 16.9%
Kilfinane N.S. 161 103 61.0% 39.0%
Ballyorgan N.S. 182 94 65.9% 34.1%
Kilteely N.S. 181 139 56.6% 43.4%
Knockainey N.S. 224 162 58.0% 42.0%
Oola N.S.1 171 136 55.7% 44.3%
Oola N.S.2 181 126 59.0% 41.0%
Garrydoolis N.S. 73 82 47.1% 52.9%
Meanus Community Centre 220 128 63.2% 36.8%
Adare C.B.S.1 273 158 63.3% 36.7%
Adare C.B.S.2 220 120 64.7% 35.3%
Adare C.B.S.3 224 162 58.0% 42.0%
Askeaton NS1 211 170 55.4% 44.6%
Askeaton NS2 255 182 58.4% 41.6%
Foynes NS1 120 175 40.7% 59.3%
Foynes NS2 173 141 55.1% 44.9%
Ballingarry Boys NS1 177 126 58.4% 41.6%
Ballingarry Boys NS2 155 100 60.8% 39.2%
Ballingarry NS3 117 100 53.9% 46.1%
Rathkeale Girls NS1
Rathkeale Girls NS2
Rathkeale Girls NS3 115 146 44.1% 55.9%
Coolcappa Comm. Centre1 170 102 62.5% 37.5%
Coolcappa Comm. Centre2
Caherelly NS 129 77 62.6% 37.4%
Kilfinny NS 241 152 61.3% 38.7%
Banogue NS 104 83 55.6% 44.4%
Kildimo NS1 297 148 66.7% 33.3%
Kildimo NS2
Ballysteen NS 119 89 57.2% 42.8%
Pallaskenry NS1 267 123 68.5% 31.5%
Pallaskenry NS2 230 123 65.2% 34.8%
Granagh 119 103 53.6% 46.4%
Croom NS1 165 105 61.1% 38.9%
Croom NS2 210 117 64.2% 35.8%
Croom NS3 190 151 55.7% 44.3%
Croom NS4 194 142 57.7% 42.3%
Croagh NS1 189 115 62.2% 37.8%
Croagh NS2 197 147 57.3% 42.7%
Kilcolman NS
Ballyhahill NS 219 132 62.4% 37.6%
Fedamore Community Centre1 189 111 63.0% 37.0%
Fedamore Community Centre2 149 114 56.7% 43.3%
Kilcornan NS 262 164 61.5% 38.5%
Crecora NS 295 197 60.0% 40.0%
Loghill NS 120 72 62.5% 37.5%
Cappagh (Nantinan) NS 228 180 55.9% 44.1%
Shanagolden NS1 99 78 55.9% 44.1%
Shanagolden NS2 140 119 54.1% 45.9%
Shanagolden NS3 119 87 57.8% 42.2%
Abbeyfeale NS1 234 200 53.9% 46.1%
Abbeyfeale NS2 260 157 62.4% 37.6%
Abbeyfeale NS3 163 120 57.6% 42.4%
Ardagh NS1 194 102 65.5% 34.5%
Ardagh NS2 160 88 64.5% 35.5%
Ashford NS
Raheenagh NS 101 80 55.8% 44.2%
Ballyagran NS 150 66 69.4% 30.6%
Kilmeedy NS 173 99 63.6% 36.4%
Cloncagh Library 159 159 50.0% 50.0%
Broadford NS1 140 131 51.7% 48.3%
Broadford NS2 114 117 49.4% 50.6%
Caher NS 87 95 47.8% 52.2%
Mahoonagh NS1 193 152 55.9% 44.1%
Mahoonagh NS2 141 100 58.5% 41.5%
Dromcollogher NS 217 196 52.5% 47.5%
Feenagh NS
Dromtrasna NS 61 69 46.9% 53.1%
Templeglantine Comm Hall 267 200 57.2% 42.8%
Killaghteen NS 80 78 50.6% 49.4%
Athea NS 222 187 54.3% 45.7%
Athea NS 166 155 51.7% 48.3%
Glengort NS 143 209 40.6% 59.4%
Carrigkerry NS 238 157 60.3% 39.7%
Gin Halla Ceol Corbri1 224 167 57.3% 42.7%
Gin Halla Ceol Corbri2 193 195 49.7% 50.3%
Ballygiltenan NS 99 113 46.7% 53.3%
Knockaderry Comm Hall 155 128 54.8% 45.2%
Monagay NS 235 123 65.6% 34.4%
Ballykenny Dispensary 129 133 49.2% 50.8%
Mountcollins NS 129 147 46.7% 53.3%
Courtenay Boys NS1 236 157 60.1% 39.9%
Courtenay Boys NS2 138 90 60.5% 39.5%
Courtenay Boys NS3 226 152 59.8% 40.2%
Courtenay Boys NS4 144 87 62.3% 37.7%
Scoil Iosaf NCW1 212 154 57.9% 42.1%
Scoil Iosaf NCW2 281 203 58.1% 41.9%
Scoil Iosaf NCW3 256 128 66.7% 33.3%
Knocknasna NS 92 68 57.5% 42.5%

Men of Limerick, please help to repeal the 8th

We’re just starting week 4 of the Limerick Together for Yes campaign and it’s going great. We have canvasses 5 nights a week and stalls in town at the weekend. The people of Limerick have been warm and welcoming and open to our message.

But there’s been an absence from the campaign. An absence of men.

Here’s a photo from one of our canvasses in Limerick. Only one man, and he travelled in from Clare that night (you’re a legend Ronan!). We urgently need to correct this gender imbalance. Although we’re campaigning for a woman’s right to choose, we shouldn’t just leave it to women to make the ask to change the constitution. By standing with our sisters we can show our support and solidarity, and help knock on as many doors as possible to ensure safe healthcare for women who are pregnant.

I’m running a men’s training session on Wednesday 11th April at 7pm in the Absolut Hotel with the legendary Paul Bowler from Kerry. Our goal is to ensure all men attending will feel more confident and prepared when engaging with members of the public/friends/family/partners in discussions about the campaign to repeal the 8th. To come along, just email repeallkvolunteer@gmail.com – and while you’re at it you can sign up as a volunteer on the Repeal LK website.

Women of Limerick are knocking on doors asking their fellow citizens for control over their own bodies. As men, the least we can do to help is to stand with them.

If you’re lucky, like me, then campaign for Repeal

I’d like to see the eighth amendment removed from the Irish constitution. I feel strongly enough that I’m going to be out knocking on doors and campaigning as much as I can on this referendum.

In some ways I’m completely unqualified to have an opinion on this, let alone go out campaigning on it. I’m a straight white man in his late thirties. I’ve been married for 11 years, but my wife and I can’t and won’t have children.  I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone less qualified to write or speak about women’s reproductive rights than me. Yet it is precisely for that reason that I want to stand with women who are campaigning for this referendum.

I am an incredibly lucky person. I am a straight, white male. I was born in a relatively rich country. I received a good education, most of it free of charge. I am a beneficiary of most of the structural inequality in this country, because I am on the winning side of it. I live in a country where women are paid less, where people who grow up in disadvantaged families are themselves more likely to suffer disadvantage as adults, etc. etc. And (bear with me!) sometimes that’s difficult. It’s not my individual fault, right? I’m doing the best I can to be a decent person, occasionally succeeding, and while I didn’t create my genetic, historical and social good luck I can’t really do anything to reverse it either. But I can empathise, and imagine. Imagine what it is like to not have the rights and privileges that I enjoy by accident. And, in particular, imagine what it might be like to have the fricking constitution inserting itself between me and my doctor on what is the best for my health, life and well-being.

It is just awful that Irish women not only have had to put up with an incredibly draconian reproductive rights regime, but that, over the next two-and-a-bit months, they have to go out to the Irish people and ask and say please. Ask and say please for rights that they would enjoy in almost every other developed country.

I think it is time for Irish men like me, with our privilege and our luck and our sorry-but-what-can-you-do demeanour to stand up. Stand beside the women who are campaigning for control over their own bodies. Stand up and say please to the Irish voters who will ultimately decide on their rights.

If you’re lucky like me, then I hope you’ll join me. I’m involved in Repeal LK, the local campaign in Limerick to repeal the 8th amendment.  There are similar campaigns starting up all around the country. I somewhat gingerly came to the first few meetings, not sure if I’d be welcome to join the fight, and worried that I might say the wrong thing. I met a group of funny smart courageous people, mostly women, who are operating with no funding, affiliated to a national campaign which is also short of people, time and money. I was welcomed, and educated, and encouraged. We have an introductory event in Limerick on Monday March 12th. Maybe you could canvass, fundraise, or even just donate. It’s going to be a tough campaign. All support will be gratefully appreciated.

I know there are many people, some of whom are my friends, who disagree with my views on abortion, and I want to do my best to respect those views. I’m sure what I’ve written here may sound tone-deaf, patronising or even insulting to women. I know I’ve a lot to learn.

With rights and privilege come a responsibility to fight for those without. Offering to help out in this referendum campaign may not atone for the rights and privilege that I have been gifted, but it feels like a start. If you’re lucky, like me, you’d be very welcome to come and put your shoulder to the wheel.

We need to stop this nonsense about teaching coding in primary school

Today there was a story in the Irish Times, headlined ‘Bruton wants lessons in coding for primary school pupils’, announcing that the Irish Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, was considering the introduction of programming into the national curriculum for primary schools.

I’m passionate about programming. I run a software company. I program in my spare time, for fun. I co-organised a hackathon in Limerick  with the sole purpose of programming for fun with other people for an entire day.  I am a host on a podcast with two other programmers where we talk about, among other things, programming. I’ve also spent some time teaching maths and science in secondary school. And I am convinced that the idea of teaching primary school children to program during the school day is nonsense.

The assertion by tech companies that they can’t find programmers is a myth

The Irish Times articles cites lobbying by some tech companies that they can’t find good people. This is a complete myth, a combination of (a) tech companies not wanting to pay programmers decent wages (b) tech companies being really bad at recruitment and (c) tech companies not being willing to take graduates on and help them develop appropriate modern programming skills. I recruited a graduate developer two years ago for my company Reg Point of Sale, and I came across countless IT graduates who still couldn’t find a job six months after graduating, because all the job adverts were looking for 2 years experience. If tech companies would spend their own money investing in people, rather than whining at the government to spend our money, they wouldn’t have a problem.

It’s also worth noting that even if the plaintive cries about a skills shortage from the tech industry were true, it’s not clear how teaching a bunch of eight year-olds how to write for loops would help.

Teaching programming would require a huge continued capital investment

Compulsory programming on the primary school curriculum would be incredibly expensive.  I’m sure some of these tech companies are salivating at the prospect of juicy hardware, software and support contracts, involving proprietary solutions that will obsolete quickly.

We will be teaching skills that will be obsolete by the time these kids graduate

Take the average ten year-old in primary school: the twelve years that will pass before this kid graduates from college is an aeon away in tech terms – especially in programming languages. The concept that a primary school kid could learn skills now that would be useful to the tech industry in twelve years time is not consistent with the rapid change associated with tech and programming.

We could actually end up with less people in tech

Consider a child who has a natural aptitude for problem solving and logical thinking that suggests they might enjoy programming. But what if the teacher doesn’t have a strong grasp of the material, or the myriad of other reasons why a young child might not have a good experience learning a difficult technical craft like programming. Suddenly this child gets it into their head that ‘programming is hard’ or ‘not for them’, even though if they had been exposed to it at a later age, they might have found some of the joy that some of us derive from programming.

We do need investment in primary education, but in things that are useful to a child’s development

If the Minister for Education has some spare cash burning a hole in his pocket, it’s not as if other priorities don’t exist – for example investing in teaching core literacy and numeracy in primary school which has only marginally improved in 35 years, or doing something to attacking the unconscionable difference in education outcomes for kids from poorer backgrounds compared to those from more comfortable backgrounds.

Programming is great and you should try it right now!

Adults have infinitely more problems that can be solved by simple computer programs than children do. So why don’t you pick up Learn Python the Hard Way, and if you get through that, start on Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. If you’re lucky you’ll experience an enormous thrill as the computer starts to do your bidding. Maybe the Minister himself might try his hand at a few if statements while considering whether to foist this stuff on our nation’s children.

I think programming is a great thing to learn. Just not for all primary school kids during the school day. I hope the Minister reconsiders his plan.

Supercalifragilis-HibernoCaledonia

HibernoCaledoniaLike others, I’ve spent the last week in shock over the UK’s vote to leave the EU. I was born and raised in Ireland but my parents are British, and I have lots family and friends over the water. I was just so gutted and saddened when the Leave result was announced early in the morning. In fact the next day I drove over to South Wales to exhibit my Reg point of sale app. Staying for a few days in a part of the UK knowing that the majority of people around me wanted to Leave was just depressing.

Over the last few days, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been making brave attempts to ‘keep Scotland in the EU’ – but even if there was another independence referendum, it’s difficult to see how Scotland can Remain. Spain will always veto any attempt to admit what they would view as a ‘sub-nation’ to the EU because of concerns about Catalonia’s independence ambitions. Meanwhile over in Ireland we are worried about an uncertain future.

But for those of you in these isles who are full of despondency: don’t worry. I have a plan.

(Your post-Brexit despondency will be lifted if you sing along with the headings. Trust me.)

A country that’s part-British but without the xenophobia

What if Ireland formed a union with Northern Ireland and Scotland, which would then enjoy continued membership of the EU by inheriting Ireland’s seat? We could be one nation together, with significantly devolved powers as currently exist in the Stormont, Holyrood administrations, complemented by a new devolved administration for Dublin. We’d have to have a new federal parliament for HibernoCaledonia, probably in Belfast.

With one stroke we could solve the political status of Northern Ireland. Unionists would not be smothered by a perfidious South intent on dismantling their culture. Nationalists would see a ‘nation once again’, just with an extra bit added on.

If we joined together we’d be bigger than Bulgaria

Population of the Republic of Ireland: 4.6m
Population of Northern Ireland: 1.8m
Population of Scotland: 5.3m

Total population of HibernoCaledonia: 11.7m

HibernoCaledonia would have a GDP of over $567bn, making us the 35th largest economy in the world by that measure. We would be the headquarters of some impressive international companies such as Ryanair and Royal Bank of Scotland, and the new country would be able to challenge for significant inward investment.  We would be the pro-European powerhouse of North-Western Europe, showing the world that internationalism and tolerance is still alive and well in these isles.

Supercalifragilis-HibernoCaledonia!

I know it sounds like a joke but I’m deadly serious. Our three countries face an immense threat with the prospect of Brexit. In our own ways, we would all benefit from the more pluralistic administration that a union would bring. It would put to bed once and for all the Northern Ireland question, which otherwise will continually threaten the peaceful future of the province. The Remain side were right, we are Stronger In. Let’s join our hands and work for a shared European future.

Limerick City candidates answer my questions

I posted a list of all the candidates running in Limerick City, together with a list of questions. Only three candidates responded: James Gaffney, Jan O’Sullivan and Michael Noonan. Here are their answers.

James Gaffney, Green Party

1. How seriously should we take climate change, and what specific policy measures do you think we should take to combat climate change? I’m particularly interested in measures you think that might slow economic growth in the short term but which would have long-term positive effects for our country.

We are the first generation to feel the effects of Climate Change, and the last who can do anything meaningful about it.

The need to address long-term problems, such as climate change, is an overarching value of the Green Party. We support the enactment of national legislation to respond to climate change and transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. This will reduce our over-dependence on imported sources of fossil fuel energy. Global events related to extreme weather, such as storms and droughts, could compromise our food security and lead to increased immigration into Ireland by ‘climate refugees’.

By 2050, Ireland’s power, heat and transport systems should no longer rely on fossil fuels and our agricultural system should achieve carbon neutrality. This is technologically possible, and would result in greater employment, energy efficiency, security, an improved economy, and improved public health, in addition to contributing to a healthier climate
We need to establish ambitious but realistic binding national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2030 and aim for 100% decarbonisation of the power system and an 80% overall reduction in national emissions by 2050

You mention measures that might slow economic growth in the short-term, however I believe that an Irish economy that is carbon-neutral will be a stronger one. The €5.7 billion a year that we spend on fossil fuels could be kept in our economy rather than going to oil-producing nations. We will also gain a competitive advantage from moving faster than other nations on climate change.

2. Our regional towns and cities are suffering. Here in Limerick we’ve seen our city as well as the villages in our county undermined by ribbon-development and one-off housing in the countryside. How do you think we should balance people’s desires to build where they want, with the need for better planning that avoids sprawl and strengthens our villages, towns and cities?

We need a National Spatial Plan with climate change as a foundation stone.  Any plan that relies on fossil fuels as the driver of an economy will see us falling behind, as the rest of the world switches to a cleaner renewable future. Any plan that thinks Ireland can set the course of our own destiny without an appreciation of global trends is fraught with risk.

In my manifesto I talk about the need for a Regional Authority which would have responsibility for leading on a spatial plan for the Mid-West that would focus on Limerick City as a destination for families and businesses.

The only plan that can succeed is a truly long term one.

Our new national plan puts proper spatial planning at its core. Where we think ahead and plan our public infrastructure so that people from all over Ireland can live and work where there are services and communities. Where we focus on what we can do best at home – in tourism, agri-food, energy, manufacturing and new digital services; where we restore the traditional values of banking to every part of the country so we support sustainable, well paid jobs.
Ours is an investment plan for the next generation.

This election debate is about much more than the fiscal space. It is about the public space.
Whoever is in power in the next Dáil will put resources into the areas that they value. So that’s the question people need to ask of themselves and of politicians as we near polling day.

3. Do you agree with tougher sentencing for criminals, or more rehabilitation? I’m particularly interested in your position on how we should approach drug addiction within the justice system.

We need an after prison support system, with one agency coordinating fully integrated supports for accommodation, education, employment.

We should increase crime preventative measures, e.g. increasing the age limit for the application of the Garda Youth Diversion to 18-24 year olds.

On drug addiction, I feel strongly that this is a medical issue, not a criminal justice issue.

Jan O’Sullivan, Labour Party

1. How seriously should we take climate change, and what specific policy measures do you think we should take to combat climate change? I’m particularly interested in measures you think that might slow economic growth in the short term but which would have long-term positive effects for our country.

I think climate change is one of the most serious issues facing the global population today. During my time as Minister for Trade and Overseas Development Aid I saw at first hand the damage it visits on some of the poorest communities on the planet. I was also proud to work with NGOs and Departmental officials to ensure that tackling climate change had a central role in our Overseas Development Aid policy.

Of course climate change is not just an issue that effects the developing world. Long-term analysis of data demonstrates that our climate is warming with all that this entails, including rising sea levels.

I fully support the climate change legislation that was passed (with all-party support) in the Oireachtas last December. The statutory frameworks established by that legislation (including five yearly national mitigation plans and five yearly national adaptation frameworks) will provide a clear roadmap on what we need to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also the steps we need to take to plan for a changing climate.

The legislation will also establish the Climate Change Advisory Council on a statutory basis.
In relation to economic growth I don’t think the issue actually revolves around the rate of economic growth. I think that all activity needs to be sustainable and that smart, green solutions can ensure that economic growth and job creation can go hand-in-hand with good environmental practices.

2. Our regional towns and cities are suffering. Here in Limerick we’ve seen our city as well as the villages in our county undermined by ribbon-development and one-off housing in the countryside. How do you think we should balance people’s desires to build where they want, with the need for better planning that avoids sprawl and strengthens our villages, towns and cities?

The points you raise are very valid. Poor planning decisions can blight a community for decades, even generations.

Planning and development needs to be driven by a long-term vision for a community – not just the demands of one particular sector.

As a former Minister for Housing and Planning I think my track record shows I deliver on these principles.

I oversaw a process that dezoned land which could have accommodated more than 500,000 houses. This was done to limit urban sprawl and to ensure that future development is concentrated in our towns and villages.

Also, in my first nine months as Minister I used my powers under Section 31 of the Planning and Development Act on three occasions to overturn decisions contrary to good planning. The specific issues involved zoning for development on flood plains, in areas isolated from towns and zoning that threatened wildlife habitats. In the 10 years before I took office this power was only used eight times.

I also dedicated a significant amount of time and energy to tackling the legacy of unfinished housing developments across the country, a process that has resulted in a 75% reduction in the number of these estates over the past five years.

In my opinion that Development Plan is the most powerful tool to ensure proper planning and development. New planning legislation which is in the pipeline will establish a planning regulator which I fully support. In addition to its investigative functions the regulator will have an education role which I think is vital. At local authority level and in our communities we need to have the knowledge and tools to make locally-based, informed decisions about plans that will impact on our community for decades.

3. Do you agree with tougher sentencing for criminals, or more rehabilitation? I’m particularly interested in your position on how we should approach drug addiction within the justice system.

 

I support judicial discretion in sentencing. While sometimes this can be frustrating I acknowledge that judges hear all the facts of a case during trial and post-conviction details and I think that they are best placed to decide on the length of sentence.

I also fully support acknowledging the medical as well as the criminal aspect of addiction and that this needs to be tackled if individuals and communities are to get relief from the tragedy that alcohol and drug addiction can inflict.

In that regard I have supported my colleague Minister Aodhan O’Riordain’s efforts to establish safe facilities for those who are addicted to drugs where they can also come in contact with services that can assist them.

Michael Noonan, Fine Gael

1. How seriously should we take climate change, and what specific policy measures do you think we should take to combat climate change? I’m particularly interested in measures you think that might slow economic growth in the short term but which would have long-term positive effects for our country.

2. Our regional towns and cities are suffering. Here in Limerick we’ve seen our city as well as the villages in our county undermined by ribbon-development and one-off housing in the countryside. How do you think we should balance people’s desires to build where they want, with the need for better planning that avoids sprawl and strengthens our villages, towns and cities?

3. Do you agree with tougher sentencing for criminals, or more rehabilitation? I’m particularly interested in your position on how we should approach drug addiction within the justice system.

I attach a copy of the Fine Gael Election Manifesto which I trust clarifies the matters you have raised in your correspondence.