On the collusion report

I see in today's Examiner that Enda Kenny thinks the Taoiseach "should demand of Mr Blair that he give the necessary co-operation" into the investigations of crown force collusion in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.


Equally, Enda Kenny should demand of his former party leader, Liam Cosgrave, that he give the necessary co-operation into what the Brits were up to in the 26 Counties under his watch. Cosgrave has consistently refused to do so.

If Fine Gael want to be in Government it is essential that they give their full backing to investigations of this nature, including calling on all their members and supporters to come forward with any information they have that may be of use in solving these heinous crimes.

Isn't it?

Unionism gets cold feet ... again

Is anyone surprised? It's only the third time in as many years that we've been on the brink of an agreement, only to have the unionist leader announce at the last minute that republicans haven't done enough. It's beginning to look like a bit of a pattern!

I have increasingly little doubt that when SF finally endorses policing there will be some other excuse. It really doesn't bear thinking about what we might be required to do next - the one thing you can say for certain is that the Governments and the so-called 'nationalist' parties on this island will fall into step behind the unionists to insist that progress depends upon our doing it. Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider that back when I made this prediction, Peter Hain was still saying that policing wasn't a prerequisite.

I wonder if we mightn't be better off if the Governments just pulled the plug on this charade now.

The failures of 'Affordable Housing'

Readers in Ireland may have seen yesterday's Irish Times story (paid registration required) in which the head of Dublin City Council's housing unit branded the Affordable Housing strategy a failure.

Having been on the Council's affordable housing waiting list for a couple years now, I'm inclined to agree, although for rather different reasons than those Mr Kenny gives. I'll take the article's points individually:

Affordable housing was developed by the Government to allow families and workers such as teachers, gardaí and nurses who had been priced out of the housing market to buy their own homes at a reduced price with the assistance of local authorities.

However Mr Kenny, the council manager with responsibility for housing, said that these "key workers" are not applying for affordable housing and up to 85 per cent of people on the waiting list were single.

I can't speculate on the "key workers" issue. But in the latest list of affordable properties available from the Council, roughly 85% are one- or two-bedrooms. Hello? Any wonder families aren't applying?

Applicants were frequently "too fussy" about the locations of the housing schemes.

I wonder what exactly Mr Kenny means by this. If it's postcode snobbery that's one thing. But it's not for nothing that the real estate agency's mantra is "location, location, location". You really cannot overestimate the importance of this factor in the suitability of a property.

Take my own situation. I work in the city centre; I don't drive; I come and go quite a bit outside normal Dublin Bus hours. Thus it would obviously not be suitable for me to live way out in the suburbs. I resent the implication that that's me being "fussy" - I think it's me being realistic about the impact that location would have on my life. I'm willing to make the sacrifice of paying a bit more for a smaller place in town, which would not be appropriate for all other applicants. It's horses for courses really, and what is Mr Kenny's problem with that?

Of course it also goes without saying that if we had anything approaching an adequate public transport system here, this wouldn't matter so much. And there are also serious issues with infrastructure around a lot of the new developments going up - is it "fussy" to not want to move to an area where there are virtually no essential resources or local amenities? Why doesn't the Council make more of an effort to deal with those issues?

It's also worth pointing out that this so-called fussiness isn't preventing people applying for all these properties. According to the Council, in the last draw there were roughly ten times as many applicants as there were properties available. The least popular location attracted 141 times more applicants than it could accommodate. Obviously we're not really that fussy after all.

The homes on offer were also generally apartments and "key workers tend to want to live in houses", Mr Kenny said.

Personally I'm grand with apartments but whose fault is it if they're the only properties being built within city limits? Not ours surely!

People were backing out when they realised that there was a "claw-back" in place to allow the council to recover money if the house was sold within a 20-year period, he said.

"This raises the question of why some people are getting into this: is it because they need a home or they want to get into the business of property development?"

Or a third reason: because most single people don't expect to be single forever and have genuine concerns that they may have a need to "trade up" within 20 years - and there is no provision to trade up to a larger affordable unit (as affordable housing is only available for first-time home-buyers).

"They apply for the affordable housing, then they don't have the money for the mortgage"

Not really "affordable" then is it?

"a lot of them might be better fared concentrating on the private rental sector."

Translation: "It's your problem, not ours".

The council previously had a weighted system that allocated a priority to people according to their circumstances. For example, those with children were placed high on the waiting list. However, this was discontinued last year in favour of a lottery system.Mr Kenny said it may be time to reintroduce a system that would give greater priority to couples, households or older applicants.

I cannot fathom the logic of de-prioritising the group that makes up 85% of those on the list. Maybe one of my readers can explain this to me.

The problem with the Affordable Housing Scheme is simple: there aren't enough affordable properties available. Everything else flows from this one fundamental issue. Now it's not entirely the Council's fault. The Government bears a large share of the responsibility - for giving into its developer friends and gutting Part V of the Planning and Development Act, which required that 20% of all units in new developments be set aside for social and affordable housing; and for grossly underfunding local authorities such that they cannot afford to build anywhere near the number of units needed. But there is clearly also a lack of real commitment at local authority level to fixing this problem. You can't hide this fact by trying to shift the blame onto those thousands of us competing for the relative handful of properties on offer, Mr Kenny.
The first thing that has to be acknowledged is that the Baby Ann case is a terrible one whichever way you look at it. All participants in it deserve sympathy and recognition of the difficulties they have faced, and will continue to face, because of it.

That said, I am going to break the consensus that’s emerged and say that I think the Supreme Court made the correct decision.

From a legal perspective it was really the only choice the Court could have made. The previous High Court decision, however logical it may have appeared, was clearly in contradiction of the 1937 constitution. But that’s not my argument. I don’t believe that those who sided with the adoptive parents proved the case that it was in Ann’s best interest to remain with them, and particularly not to the extent where it should have overridden their rights as her parents.

The argument for her staying where she was was that it would be disruptive to her life to remove her from the only parents she’s ever known. Undoubtedly this is true, in the short term. But two-year-old children are remarkably adaptable and it seems unlikely to me that she will suffer ill effects from the change in the long run. It’s just as possible that she would have suffered from knowing that her birth parents wanted her back and were not allowed to have her back.

I’m also not convinced that those who supported the adoptive parents were entirely motivated by the “best interests of the child” argument. Let’s consider a scenario in which the birth parents hadn’t willingly given her up at birth, but lost her through, say, a kidnapping. Assume that the adoptive parents knew nothing of the kidnapping and believed they were adopting through proper legal means. Would there still be a consensus that the child should remain with them? I very much doubt it. Many would agree that the birth parents should regain custody on the basis that they hadn’t chosen to give the child up – although this would hardly make removing the child from her adoptive home any less disruptive. Now admittedly I’m only making an assumption here on how people would react to this scenario but it’s an assumption I strongly believe is correct and if it is, it demonstrates that there is more than the mere “best interests” argument at work here (in much the same way that many people who claim to oppose abortion on the basis that they believe it is murder are nonetheless willing to make exceptions when women don’t choose to have sex).

And what that points to is an issue I raised earlier in this blog at the time of the Jehovah’s Witness transfusion case – the risk of the “best interests of the child” being used as a convenient cover to pursue a different, sometimes more sinister agenda. Such cases have already emerged in the US, where right-wing judges have used that excuse to deny custody to lesbian mothers or practitioners of minority religions, or where women have been jailed for not adhering to prescribed standards of behaviour during pregnancy. If you recall the Elián Gonzáles case, his uncles were only prevented using that argument in their custody battle by a Florida law which states that the “best interests of the child” are relevant only in a battle between two fit parents, not between a fit parent and a non-parent. You can bet that if it wasn’t for that law, the anti-Castro mafia which controls the state of Florida would have ruled that the boy’s best interests lay outside of Cuba.

Which is why I’m also hesitant to join in the consensus over the upcoming referendum to enshrine the rights of children in the Constitution. I support it in theory, because I have no basic disagreement with the notion that children should be given more constitutional protection - not least from this Government giving its appalling record on many children's issues (poverty, education etc). But I do think we need to recognise that there is negative potential in this constitutional amendment as well – potential for children to be turned into political footballs and for “children’s rights” to become just another vehicle by which reactionary forces can exert control over adults’, and in particular over women’s, lives. The wording of the proposed amendment will be extremely important and needs to be given due attention by the progressive parties in this State. We should not simply be falling over ourselves to welcome the referendum without any reference to this very real concern.

St Andrews, again

I know it's almost too easy to attack the Indo for its sloppy reporting but even by its own standards, its report yesterday that SF "fully" support the St Andrews agreement is appalling. So appalling that one must suspect a deliberate attempt to unsettle our base. Wouldn't be the first time.

My reading of the actual SF position on the matter is fairly simple: we've agreed to the good parts and will continue to negotiate on the rest.

My position hasn't changed, but I think this is a fairly accurate reflection of what the grassroots have been saying. Most of the membership want "progress" as it's come to be defined - i.e. restoration of the institutions - but aren't happy with a lot of the details in the proposals. So it is important that work continues on ironing out those issues.

In the meantime, attention needs to be drawn to the findings by a panel of international investigators of widespread collusion in loyalist murders, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

It is really past time for the Dublin Government to take action against London for its continuing refusal to co-operate in the investigations.
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