25 Feb 2009

It didn’t make the TV news as far as I know, but Junior Minister for Health, Máire Hoctor, was booed off the stage by a very large and very angry crowd in Nenagh on Saturday when she tried to defend the Government’s decision to (effectively) slowly shut down Nenagh General Hospital.

It was a serious situation and not the kind of thing you witness all that often. What happened was that Hoctor, who had barely managed to introduce herself to the crowd (of average, everyday, middle-income, buggy-pushing folk) – a crowd which only moments before had warm-heartedly and good naturedly applauded the likes of Eamon Gilmore and Morris Nelligan – before the mood changed so quickly and so radically that event organisers appeared to advise the Junior Minister to step back from the microphone and slip quietly away into the background, which she did. The following speaker, government-supporting-independent Michael Lowry, suffered the same fate.

You’ll get some idea of what happened from the video below. The Hoctor situation begins around 7.30, the Lowry situation directly thereafter. The clip doesn’t give the full flavour of what went on – the cameraman was obviously very near to the PA system so you get the sense that Hoctor could actually be heard above the din which, in fact, she couldn’t. You also don’t get the sense of how vigorously the the crowd opposed her. Nor do you see how ignominiously she shuffled away from centre stage. 

Is this a planning issue? Sure it is. First, the gradual phasing out of smaller hospitals in favour of larger (sort of privately run) medical factories in the big cities is the logical conclusion of the government’s National Spatial Strategy which, in all but name, discriminates against people who don’t live in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. It also might be considered a planning matter in that, in order for the plan to succeed, a considerable amount of infrastructure needs to be in place before the services currently being provided in hospitals like Nenagh and Ennis can be shifted to Limerick Regional. The infrastructure in question - by everyone's estimate - will not be ready by April 1st, the day on which Nenagh Hospital’s gradual demise is set to begin.
Meanwhile, getting back to the Junior Minister, there is some discussion that Hoctor (allegedly) told interested parties early last week that if opposition to the proposed, eh, hospital reorganisation were to receive the kind of reception it ultimately actually did receive at Saturday’s  demo, then Nenagh hospital might be spared at the expense of Ennis. If this is so, then Tony Killeen and Timmy Dooley might want to avoid Ennis on the day the inevitable demonstration takes place when the Clare people figure out the Government's exit strategy.

Meanwhile, meanwhile, why are these people still in government?

19 Feb 2009

People are forever saying to me ‘Garry, in these difficult times, what is there to laugh at?’

To which I reply:  ‘Skeletons’.

A skeleton goes into the bar. He asks for a pint and a mop.

Now, technically that joke should work for ghosts as well, but it doesn’t because ghosts aren’t funny whereas skeletons are.

Then there’s penguins. Penguins are always funny: bustling along in their pairs, as they do, like overly-married couples in late middle age rushing across the apron in the hope of getting seats beside each other on a mid February Ryanair flight to Malaga…

Watch closely...

As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, it seems to me that most black and white things which are small are also almost always quite funny.

For example: nuns. Little old nuns are always funny. The smaller and older they are, the funnier and funnier they are. They’re especially funny when they’re running across the main street of a busy town trying to avoid being run over by a HGV. I seem to remember that, once upon a time, there was a video game the very object of which was to see how many little old nuns with oversized wimpoles you could run over as they sprung out from between buildings and dashed across the road during rush hour. It was of course, rightfully, banned (but if anyone knows where to find it on the internet you might just let me know). 

In the meantime, we’ll just have to make do with this: Bowling for Nuns (click 'play').

If penguins or nuns don’t do it for you, then try camels, because camels almost always do it for me. There’s something so…  I don’t know, so very ‘local authority’ about them – all stubborn and obstinate and self obsessed and not nearly as consequential as they’d like to think they are.

If, like me, you find camels a hoot then you’re already a fan of camel racing. And if you’re a real connoisseur, then you already know that when it comes to camel racing there’s only one type worth watching: Niger Camel Racing – it’s the National Hunt of camel racing, as opposed to the Dubai form of the sport which is more sort of ‘2000 guineas’. (Sorry, I couldn't find a video, the photo will have to do.)

If camels don’t float your boat there are always meerkats. I love this guy.

And finally, when absolutely everything else fails, the one thing which always gives me a chortle is English People Overreacting To Something Which Isn’t Really A Crisis. Take, for example, the recent spell of cold weather. You’d swear snow had never fallen anywhere else, ever in the whole history of time.

I was in a hotel a couple of weeks back and woke up to some discussion on BBC breakfast TV about whether or not home owners should sweep the snow from the footpaths outside their house. It seems that, in England, if you clear the snow from the footpath in front of your house and someone slips you could be held responsible: on the other hand, if you don't, you might feel a little bit queer. How confusing it is to be in England when it snows! More Government guidance please! 

Keith, tell me this isn’t funny…   

(It's a classic from Bill Hicks so, if you're offended by bad language, don't hit 'play'.)

13 Feb 2009
In one of the various strands of the planning and democracy mess that is Carrick on Suir, An Bord Pleanala reached an interesting decision a few weeks ago which you might imagine having serious implications for retail developments all around the country (but won’t).
13 Feb 2009

Owners of capital will stimulate the working classes to buy more and more expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debts become unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to the bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalised and the State will have to take the road which eventually leads to communism."  

Karl Marx, 1867.

Thanks to Colm Cantillon for supplying the apropos quote (Colm, it is a real quote, isn’t it? You’re sure its not you pretending to be Karl Marx?)

There’s a thing on the radio over here (I’m in France) about Prince Harry (that's him above). Apparently he went to see some black comedian perform at a comedy club recently? Well, when they met afterwards it seems that Harry told the comedian that ‘he didn’t sound black’.   !

I wonder what he’ll think of to say when the current US President shows up for dinner at Buckingham Palace. (‘Pity you can’t rap.’)

This is rich: Roisin Shortall, the Dail Deputy whose participation in the Public Accounts Committee’s multi-million euros Ballymun Regeneration Project non-investigation was particularly notable, is moaning about the Government’s ‘sham investigation’ of Anglo Irish Bank! Now, I call that ‘Damning with faint damnation’.  

After a false alarm, which involved me momentarily believing the Carlow Nationalist would run an ad on my behalf asking folks to contact me with their planning stories, turns out the Nationalist isn’t in a position to help me out after all. But as more stories continue to swirl around about planning weirdness in Carlow, I’m sure some of the stuff that you’ve been emailing me about in the past few months will eventually find its way into the media. We live in hope.  

12 Feb 2009
I just discovered what I did wrong on that project I was involved in in Limerick City recently where a planning application for some relatively minor changes to a Protected Structure took two years to get approved because the planning department hadn’t the remotest idea how to handle it and, under pressure from highly active extremists in low level positions within the Department of the Environment, ended up burying their heads in the sand.
12 Feb 2009

Unil a few minutes ago, all I knew about this Joaquin Phoenix guy was that he was the brother of (O.D. famous) River.

Now, I'm not one to promote substance abuse, but this is what Dunphy really needs to do if he wants to get my attention.

11 Feb 2009

Last week I referred to some chatter which was doing the rounds about a High Court ruling to the effect that you can’t 'materially contravene' a Local Area Plan. At the time I was sceptical about the gossip, thinking it was just the latest attempt by a local authority to frustrate some planning application or other. But from what I can make out it appears to be true. I haven’t read the document myself (does anyone know of an easy way to access High Court documents?) but speaking to others who themselves also haven’t read the ruling but who have spoken to others who may have, they say some sort of High Court action went down.

You see, the planning legislation specifically says that you can make a material contravention (a relatively easy procedure) to a Development Plan. However, it does not specifically say you can carry out the same procedure to a Local Area Plan. So the High Court has decided that LAPs cannot be materially contravened. This means it’s not lawful to make minor changes to a LAP by simple vote of the Council. In order to make any kind of change at all to a LAP, Local Authorities must now pursue the much lengthier procedure of modifying the Development Plan.

As we’re all aware, material contraventions have been carried out to Local Area Plans all over the Country in the past few years – two were implemented at the end of 2008 in County Clare alone. Presumably, these changes no longer have legal standing which means that development which took place on foot of their implementation should never have been allowed.

Solicitors facing redundancy because the of the property slump, your careers have just been jump restarted.

2 Feb 2009
When his Ballsbridge development was refused planning permission by An Bord Pleanala Friday, Sean Dunne blamed it all on the Irish planning system. He said that the planning process in this country took too long, was too complicated, cost too much money, was too confusing, etc., etc., and likened the system to a game of roulette. Interesting choice of words.