24 Dec 2008

It’s Festivus (actually, yesterday was Festivus. I would have posted except I was tempted by a delicious little Australian red a bit too early in the afternoon which meant I was stinko by the time the guests arrived, which meant that I couldn’t keep my shirt tucked in, which meant that, to the disgust of herself, guests were treated to views of my expanding Buddha, which meant I was sent to bed in disgrace) – that non-denominational holiday which was created on an episode of Gerry Seinfeld years ago where people participate in the ‘Airing of Grievances’, a ceremony in which everyone gets to complain about the various ways in which everyone else got up their nose in the previous year. The festival is now celebrated for real in the US and this year I’ve decided to participate. So instead of the annual ‘Things That Sucked’ list, from now on we’ll be having Festivus For The Rest Of Us. Here goes. 

8    Bono's interest in architecture.
We’re all entitled to our opinions, etc., but oh how I wish that Motivational Speaker for Starbucks and habitual leaver-of-the-country-before-midnight would just get into etchings. That's the back of his head, by the way, as he greets the 'awesome' Tadao Andao... 


7    Practically Useless TV Commercials.
When was the last time we had a really good television commercial? Sure, it’s no wonder the country’s freefalling into a recession when the capitalists have lost the power to entice us into wasting our money on completely useless things. It’s gotten so bad that Duncan’s public service announcement actually makes carbon monoxide sound like something I might want to try (only joking! – go out right now and check your boilers for signs of soot or condensation!).

I can remember a time when TV ads were as good as Proust. For example, it’s hard to believe that this pure-class ad for Metz schnapps is more than ten years old. Get past the fantastic imagery and focus on the story: what the admen are telling us here is that from the moment you get your very first taste of their alcopop you’ll be so hooked that you’ll immediately abandon you're wife and kids and join the other Metz addicts juddering with delusions in an evil den. Naturally, I didn’t fall for a single word of it, but I was tempted to taste their product. And glad I am too – it gets you off your head far cheaper than wine and makes a great hair of the dog.


6    The ‘Bertie’ TV series.   

A four part, historic television event about a nickel-and-dime chancer who, because of a gammy election system, finagles his way into the top job. It featured Matt Cooper hinting that some serious questions should be asked about something of someone at some stage. It was sort of like an episode of ‘This Is Your Life’ with the production values of a youtube 911 conspiracy theory video.   

5     The Irish Times/RTE campaign to prove that we would never have voted ‘No’ to Lisbon if we’d known where Declan Ganley got the money from to fund Libertas.

Billions of euros missing, burnt or gambled, and IT/RTE continue to fixate on where Ganley got that whole ginormous €150K from? 


I couldn’t think of anything for no. 4


3     ‘Ireland is an open economy’
A euphemism for ‘Ireland is a teenage drug addict forced to work the streets’ which is what years of Fianna Fail domination of political life have made of our society. 

Here’s my version of the Celtic Tiger. Tens of thousands of young Irish people went to the US in the 1980s and made being Irish so popular that when editor of the Irish Voice newspaper, Niall O’Dowd (brother of Fergus), had the audacity to name Bill Clinton Irish American of the year in his, up until then, little known Irish American Magazine, Clinton actually accepted. Then the 12.5% thing happened, followed by the peace process (again, O’Dowd influenced). While all this was going on, successive Fianna Fail governments, in the belief that the soaring economy had something to do with their lack of ability, flittered away our self esteem.      

And that’s the story of the Celtic Tiger.

The End.


2    BBC breakfast television
As I tried to establish if a single one of the thousands of sports people attending the BBC’s Sports Personality Of The Year last week actually had a personality (or, indeed, if cricket can be counted as an actual sport why, then, didn’t the woman who dances with the dogs in Krufts not qualify for a nomination?), I suddenly found myself wondering if people still watch the BBC?

If, like me, you sometimes stay in hotels you’ll be familiar with that thing that happens to you just after you wake up in the morning: it’s a sort of a weird combination of two emotions where the more you keep remembering you’ve forgotten your toothbrush, the harder it is to stop watching the dreadful BBC Breakfast and its relentless promotion of just released and thoroughly stultifying government statistics.

Look, when I get out of bed and prepare myself to face the day, what I want to see on television is Pamela Anderson being interviewed about her new book wearing something tight and revealing, not some fake-bantering silly billies telling me that, according to some new statistics just released, two in three people are at risk and government guidelines are what’s needed. Only last week someone from The Alliance For Single Parent Families With More Than One Child And Who Like To Go Swimming had a Breakfast TV bun fight with a Government Minister about the new regulations which state that every single child attending a public swimming pool in the UK must have their own individual accompanying adult. And then, after the interview with the environmentalist who was looking for people to sponsor him in a Frostbite-athon to highlight the degradation of the polar icecaps, we had the woman from the People For Ethical Hairdressing toss buns to express her astonishment that, after all we know about the associated risks, unqualified people should continue to be allowed to apply peroxide (all examples cited are more or less true).

(On a related note, those of you with kids of a certain age will be familiar with the excellent new Disney cartoon, Phineas and Ferb. The best episode – ‘A Hard Day’s Knight’ –  sees brothers P and F travel from their home in the US and head to England on holiday, giving the scriptwriters tons of scope to exploit (totally unfair, etc.) stereotypes of English weirdness. The best bit is the part where Phineas, Ferb, Candace, et al, get culture shock when they turn on the TV just as the newsreader declares ‘… in breaking news, the BBC has just announced that it’s about to make yet another series of Jane Eyre...’)


1     Dara O’Brian

For those awful faux-convivial support-your-local-pub radio commercials alone he would have made no. 2 on this list. But his trying to somehow justify that overly-long-liv’d Jonathan Ross for his role in the Andrew Sachs thing puts him into a category all of his own. What the hell was that all about! Ross reveals himself to be the witchery grub we always knew he was and, out of the blue and in answer to no great demand, Dawa wushes to his defence? Like the jokes on Dara Talks Funny, I don’t get it.

Dara, dude, I'm getting a heavy Terry Wogan vibe offa ya.


Merry Christmas to all! I'm off now to buy some larger size shirts.


23 Dec 2008

When I first read about Liam Campion Developments being brought to court by Tipperary South County Council for breach of planning conditions on his tourist resort near the Rock of Cashel, I – like all the nutterboxes on the web boards – thought: ‘deal breakin, money grabbin, heritage destroyin SOB – pull that man’s buildings down!’

Why so? Because at the time when the whole thing blew up, the press reported the Council’s propaganda unchecked. Anyone reading the dailies in mid 2007 would have been forgiven for thinking that Campion was building the fifty two holiday rental dwellings he had received approval for (as part of a larger hotel scheme) with a view to selling them off as private residences. In other words, that in an increasingly tourism unfriendly environment, he was pulling a fast one.

But when I checked out what happened between the disputing parties in the District Court last week I discovered, to my shock, that the court had found in Campion’s favour. This is what shocked me: when the story first emerged, how had I (me, who can’t hear a word that merely rhymes with ‘planner’ without picturing some council official with his limbs tied by chords to horses galloping in opposite directions) not first presumed that a) in stories about planning, the Council is almost always 100% wrong and that b) in stories about planning, the press is almost always 100% wrong? WHAT WAS I THINKING ABOUT!

This is what was reported: Campion Developments lodged their planning application for fifty two rental houses and mid sized hotel with conference centre, etc., in 2001. The proposal caused controversy – for many, it was located uncomfortably and insensitively close to the Rock of Cashel/Cormac’s Chapel complex. Anyway, for better or for worse, planning approval was granted in 2004. In 2007, work was brought to a halt by the Council whose officials, in various newspaper pieces, were categoric in their assertions that Campion was a lawbreaker for changing the design of his scheme for his own gain without consulting anyone and a cad to boot. With the support of every right thinking person in the country, Tipp South hauled Campion into court.

But, during the eight day hearing, a very different version of events began to take shape. What happened, apparently, was that in July 2006 the developers, who were already on site, met with the Council to approve modifications to the layout of their development so that new roads serving the ‘fifty two house’ element could, for fire truck access reasons, be widened to 6m and, furthermore, that turning hammerheads be made a bit more generous. The folks from the Council told the court that work was halted because there had been no such agreements. The developer insisted to the contrary, pointing out that not only had council planners kept minutes of the meeting, they had also accepted drawings showing the various revisions to be inserted into the planning file. The planners countered that no such drawings existed. The judge temporarily adjourned the hearing to give the planners an opportunity to check their files again…

… and, guess what? The drawings and meeting notes were found. The judge threw the book at the Council and told them to pick up the tab for the half million in legal fees. (It will end up costing them more: Campion is about to sue them for €10 million in losses.)

South Tipperary planning watchers are now, inevitably, engaged in unhealthy speculation. Of the printable intrigues being explored, the most benign (but least discussed) suggests the whole thing happened because the Council suffered a ‘heritage’ related change of heart and began to have serious regrets about granting planning approval in the first place: in other words, the abuse of procedures was necessary to ensure that the right thing happened vis-a-vis the Rock of Cashel.

Other folks are more taken with the possibilities of a ‘nuns' site’ connection. Remember that other Cashel planning story to make it into the papers in the past year or two? The one where some nuns left a piece of land in the centre of town to the people, provided it was used in perpetuity as a public amenity? But which the Council decided to rezone to allow (ultimately, hotel) development to take place? Well, some folks say that in order for the Council-preferred nuns' site hotel to succeed, Campion’s venture had to be knocked on the head.

Then there’s the usual stuff about personal vendettas, political biases, business rivalries and wheel greasing malfunctions, not to mention the old conspiracy theory that Councils keep private ‘shadow’ planning files in addition to the one the public get to see.       

Even if we presume the best case scenario, i.e. that the Council were motivated to protect the Rock of Cashel site, what they’re doing is still wrong. Because what starts out as a serious minded planner setting out to do the right thing, degenerates quickly into something more tawdry: within the local authority system, malignant motives quickly attach themselves to benign ones, and one little corruption leads to another. Much as I’d like to see the Rock and Cormac’s Chapel unintruded upon in any way, I’d far rather live with integrity.  

23 Dec 2008

Just a planning quickie. In these days when the last thing you expect to find in a local authority planning office is a planning application, Tipp South recently invalidated a planning application because there was a teenie weenie typo in the newspaper ad.

Meanwhile, did you know that it’s the nvironmentalists who are screwing up the environment? Yes, my little green kittens, you’re the ones warming up the planet! See those solar panels you’re so fond of? In their manufacture, they use a gas called NF3 which, when released into the atmosphere, is 13,000 times more greenhousey than CO2!

And, apparently (I’m reverting to serious tone now), some of the gas, which is supposed to be 100% sucked up into containers when no longer in use, is actually getting into the atmosphere. I heard an American college professor on the radio last week say that as much as 10 to 20% of NF3 used in solar panel, plasma screen and iPod production goes unrecovered. NF3 use wasn’t widespread during Kyoto, so it wasn’t referred to in the original agreements. Users are supposed to self regulate (pause for a !), but the professor estimated that the total amount of NF3 getting into the environment right now is the equivalent (in its ability to do damage) of one medium sized coal fired power generator. Apparently, most solar panels are currently made in Germany. When the Chinese start making them, we’re fried.    

I’m a sucker for this kind of thing…

22 Dec 2008

The Clare Champion reported during the week that Councillor PJ Kelly who, having pointed out to a council planner that a refusal on a planning application had been issued by mistake, claimed the planner responded to him by saying that the Council didn’t have to give ‘f_g planning permission to anyone, we can tell them all to f off to An Bord Pleanala’. PJ told the Champion that he thought the planner in question had an attitude problem. But the Council’s Director of Planning Services, Bernadette Kinsella (mentioned previously in Dispatches in relation to the most odd affair of the proposed purchase of a hotel in Kilrush for the purposes of creating the least cost effective council offices since someone went somewhere for Fás or whatever) told the paper that she supported her planning staff.

More seriously, the same article reported that on a different planning application, an applicant had been asked (in peculiar circumstances) to post a bond. When the same Councillor Kelly offered – on a point of principle – to post the bond on the applicant’s behalf the Council refused to accept his proposal. So either the Council isn’t really that concerned about whether a bond is posted or not (in which case, what have the Council got against the applicant), or else they’ve concerns about Councillor Kelly’s own finances.

7 Dec 2008

Okay, so I’m putting a Top Ten Things That Sucked, 2008, list together which I’ll be posting in the next couple of days, but I need your help. I have already decided what nos. 10, 9, 7, 5 and 1 are going to be but I haven’t got anything yet for nos. 8, 6, 4, 3 or 2, which is where you come in – I’m looking for suggestions.

But remember now its me you're dealing with here, so if you’re going to make a suggestion and you want me to include it, you can’t just simply propose something that sucked in a blandly obvious way: it has to be something the rest of us hadn’t realised was so terribly annoying until you brought it to our attention in a clever, pithy, ironic and weirdly resonant way. For example, it’s no good saying that Sarah Palin sucked in 2008 when, clearly, she sucked so badly she’d make it onto any ninny's Ten Worst List (along with the likes of ‘The Economy’, ‘Bono’, ‘The Toy Show’, ‘The Banks’, ‘Trapp and Andy’ etc.). Sarah Palin’s awfulness is not interesting. What is interesting is that an Irish Times editorial said that her selection as a running mate for John McCain was ‘inspired’. So, if Sarah Palin got up your nose, your suggestion should read something like ‘Things that Sucked, 2008, No. X: Irish Times Calls Sarah Palin’s Nomination ‘Inspired’ ‘.

I’ll leave you with a little taster.

No. 10 in the 2008 Planning Dispatch List of Things That Sucked is…

Big, brave Fintan O’Toole popping his head over the parapet by as-if-out-of-the-blue announcing in a sharply worded and seemingly original Irish Times tirade that Damien Hirst is a fraud… a week after the world’s most respected art critic, Robert Hughes, had done the exact same thing – except with originality –  in the Guardian. (I know that, technically, Fintan did acknowledge Hughes’s earlier piece, but for some reason the acknowledgement made him seem even more like a copycat.) Cheesy. 

I realise I'm asking for a lot, but please try to think up things which don't involve the Irish Times because, in addition to debuting at no. 10, they also get mentions at nos. 7 and 5 and they were going to be no. 2 until I changed my mind.  

Here's a little something to get you in the mood.


7 Dec 2008
6 Dec 2008
Grafton Street is… well its okay. From an architect’s perspective you might say it’s a little unusual in Dublin terms – slightly twisty and narrow with a funny mix of pastichy old buildings and contemporary shopfronts, some of it good, some of it less successful. I think we all agree that its special character comes from the fact that it sees itself as quite upmarket, proud of the fact that it is one of the top ten most expensive streets to buy or rent in in the world. Which is fine. However, as most of the buildings on the street were constructed or at least gut-renovated within my own lifetime, I found it curious that Dublin City Council decided to designate Grafton Street an Architectural Conservation Area (ACA). The designation of an ACA implies some genuine architectural quality (I’m thinking Merrion or Fitzwilliam Squares in Dublin or The Crescent in Limerick), or real historic significance (mmm…). My personal feeling is that if you take away the polished accents and Trinners scarves all you’re left with is something which could pass for your average English high street.