Monthly Archives For December 2013

Irish Landscape Institute Lecture given by Brendan McGrath -Viewing Landscape in all its Complexity: 12.12.2013

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Viewing Landscape in all its Complexity: The Planning Perspective

Thursday 12th December 2013 at 6.30pm
Goethe Institut, Merrion Square East, Dublin 2

The Irish Landscape Institute present an evening event to explore the special relationship between landscape and planning with Brendan McGrath, speaking about his new book Landscape and Society in Contemporary Ireland (Cork University Press, 2013).

All welcome, please rsvp to:

About Landscape and Society in Contemporary Ireland:

Ireland stands out as a country which has landscapes that are admired the world over and a society that is ill at ease with the places it inhabits. We tend to assume that when we look at a hill or a valley or a row of houses, our neighbours see much the same as we do, but this is often not the case.

The book outlines the country’s outstanding landscape heritage. Changes to that heritage are then explored from different perspectives, with landscape viewed as commodity and symbol and as an expression of beauty. Three especially contentious types of development are described in detail; wind farms, rural housing and the designation of countryside for public recreation and enjoyment.

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Labour Throws 30,000 Unemployed and Low-Paid Mortgage Holders to the Wolves!

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Statement from Seamus Healy TD 087-2802199

There is a special category of up to 30,000 low-income distressed mortgage holders who do not have sufficient income to enable them to avail of the personal insolvency procedure put in place by the government.

Labour has abandoned them to repossession and eviction. The Irish people have a long history of resisting evictions. Workers and Unemployed Action, in accordance with this noble tradition, will support these families in resisting repossessions and evictions.

On December 3, at Leaders Questions in the Dáil, I asked the Tánaiste and Labour Party Leader, Eamonn Gilmore, the following questions:

(1) Last week the Taoiseach refused to answer my question on the issue but he repeatedly stated that there is a solution for everyone in mortgage distress. Does the Tánaiste regard bankruptcy and repossession of the family home as a solution for those blameless families? Is that the reason the Government removed the legal ban on repossessions? One could ask whether that is the reason the indefensible situation has arisen whereby the Government has allowed the Central Bank to reduce the moratorium on repossessions from 12 months to two months. Will the Government ensure that the families which have fully engaged and have modest mortgages that are not buy-to-let properties, who are not strategic defaulters – will the Tánaiste ensure that these families will be allowed to remain in their homes?

(2) The Icelandic Government announced today that it will defy the banks by writing off up to €24,000 of household mortgages. Iceland obviously has real sovereignty. Will the Government exercise sovereignty by preventing reckless bailed-out banks, some owned by international vulture capitalists, from evicting 30,000 families in this country?

Mr Gilmore did not answer either question but continued to assert that these families do not face repossession despite the evidence. He expressed meaningless wishes such as: “We want every family and householder in mortgage difficulty to have that difficulty resolved and to avoid up losing their home” He said that each distressed mortgage would have to be dealt with “on a case by case basis”. He is clearly refusing to take any action to protect this special category of low income mortgage holders. His “case by case basis” places the individual mortgage holder at the tender mercy of the banks.

My question was based on a Report by the company Grant Thornton Debt Solutions which showed that thousands of distressed mortgage holders, unemployed or lowly paid, did not have sufficient income to avail of the Personal Insolvency procedure put in place by the government. This is because their income is below the minimum permitted living expenses for their household and consequently have no money to give to the bank each month. An interview with Michael McAteer, senior partner with Grant Thornton, can be heard by clicking here.

Mr McAteer makes clear that the only option for these low income families is to seek bankruptcy. Under bankruptcy law, which has recently been revised, ownership of all assets of the bankrupt person including the family home are transferred to the Official Assignee for the benefit of the creditors (the bank). In the last 12 months, Mr Gilmore’s government has removed the absolute ban on repossession of the family home. The Government has also reduced the one year delay before a bank can take legal action for repossession against a person who can’t pay a mortgage to a mere two months.

Mr Gilmore and the Labour Party have removed the protections for unemployed and low income distressed mortgage holders. They are clearly on the side of the banks.

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New LookLeft in shops now!

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Ireland’s leading magazine for progressive news, views and solutions – available in Easons stores and selected newsagents across the country – 48 pages for just €2/£1.50. The new issue of LookLeft (vol.2 no.17) includes:

News Features 

All Politics are Local

The 2014 local elections in the Republic should offer an opportunity for the left to make major gains but are they capable of taking advantage? Dara McHugh and Kevin Squires report.

Thinking of a Better Way

Justin O’Hagan examines the work of progressive think tanks in mapping a better economic and social future for Northern Ireland.

Bringing the Vote Home

Irish citizens forced out of their homeland by economic mismanagement are organising to demand a say in the country’s future, reports Hilary Rock-Gormley.

A Comradeship of Heroes 
Kevin Brannigan reports on efforts to maintain the memory of the Irish Brigadistas.


Denis O’Brien linked to company installing water meters

Overwhelming support for neutrality


Places of learning or profit?

Barriers in access to the pill

And much more…

The Forum

Ireland – NATO’s Next Target – Padraig Mannion
Ending the long night for women – Fiona Dunkin
Building a fair city – Paul Dillon
Does Ireland need a new Left party? – John Lowry
More than a morality tale – Conor McCabe
Showdown in the classroom – Anne Finnegan

Plus international features on the Left and Scottish Independence, interview with the Iraqi Communist Party, the Rise of Republicanism in Spain, culture and history and much more…
Buy it now only €2

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We’re Starving Public Services and Social Protection But All We Get is Demands for Tax Cuts

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The drums are beating.  Throughout the nation we hear a growing chorus demanding tax cuts (including the leader of the Labour Party) to relieve ‘hard-pressed’ families.  And this demand is being buttressed by some highly misleading claims that Ireland is a high public spending country.

According to Brendan Keenan, using recent OECD data, we are a high-spender.  There’s even a cartoon in the article showing Ireland ‘fat’ with too much public spending, compared to ‘lean’ European countries.  Is Ireland a high spender compared to European countries?  Of course not.  One has to know how to read these figures.

For instance, the OECD data for 2011 includes special bank payments arising out of the financial crisis.  When this is removed (and it represents some 5 percent of GDP), Irish spending falls well down the table.  It is highly misleading to claim that Ireland is a high-spending country while including payments to banks; unless one wants to make the argument that Ireland is a ‘high bank-subsidising’ country which is certainly true.

So, can we assess Ireland’s ranking in the EU-15 spending table?  Yes, with the help of the EU’s AMECO database.  We’ll look at 2014.  Even though this money hasn’t been spent yet, AMECO is working off of country’s estimated expenditure under their individual Stability Programme updates.  Any change would be marginal.  We’ll also exclude interest payments since we want to focus on spending on public services, social protection, subsidies and investment.  Further, we’ll exclude defence spending.

So what do we find when we examine government spending per capita (after all, Keenan says ‘spending per person tells its own tale’)?


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and yet /we must live/ in these times

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and yet /we must live/ in these times

In the housing office the woman says
if I need a house that I’ll have to tell the council
I’m homeless  or else bunk in with my parents
and I feel  the heat of tears in my eyes and let me tell you
it’s not sadness I’m feeling it’s anger;
after all of my years insisting that no one
will ever call me victim in they come
and do it from a whole different angle I didn’t see coming
and they call it helping,
these are the times that I live in
still paying the tail end of my mortgage
with no home to show for it
and I wonder what I’ve absorbed that means
even with all of my theories, my politics
this, the oldest human endeavour;
seeking out shelter
has become shame-filled
and on my way down through town
Rosaleen asks for a fiver, I give it
it’s easier to offer than to ask I reckon
she says I am beautiful showing the limits
of her English vocabulary, I am not
what I am is damaged and raging,
on days like this I seek the sea out and breath it,
or I’ll write love poems to someone
and you what do you do to get through it?

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A Progressive Tax System? The Poor Pay as Much Tax as High Income Groups?

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Remember all those observations?  About how the highest income groups pay almost all the tax and how terrible it is that begrudging lefties want to tax them more?   About how Ireland has the most progressive tax system in this quadrant of the Milky Way?  The Government has lead the chorus making this claim but in truth it is not based on comparative measurement of tax progressivity (see Note at the end of this post for a discussion of the Government’s claim).

So along comes a study that blows those arguments away.  Dr. Micheal Collins and Dara Turnbull investigated the issue in a working paper published by the Nevin Economic Research Institute, based on the CSO’s Household Budget Survey 2009/10.  They found that, contrary to the received wisdom, the poorest 10 percent income group pays as much tax as the top 10 percent tax and that our tax system is far less progressive than some have claimed.

Here’s the bottom line chart.


Oh, my.  The poorest 10 percent income group pays a tax rate of 28 percent – that is, their tax payments make up 28 percent of total income (which includes income from work and social transfers).  The top 10 percent pays a tax rate of 29 percent.  Doesn’t look that progressive to me.

How could this be?  Micheal and Dara estimated the impact of all taxation – income tax, USC, PRSI, and (and this is the key innovation of this study) indirect tax such as VAT and Excise, and levies such as TV licenses and vehicle taxes.  Previously, claims about the tax contribution of high income groups narrowly focused on income tax and, sometimes, PRSI.  But these make up only part of the tax system.  Over 40 percent of tax revenue comes from indirect taxation.  The following shows the extent to which indirect taxation undermines the progressivity of the tax system.


Unsurprisingly, the lowest income groups pay substantially more of their income on VAT, excise and levies than higher income groups.  So when this is combined with direct taxation – income tax, USC and PRSI – we get only an overall marginally progressive effect.

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The Bombing War

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Book Review: Three new books about World War II: 

The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945, Richard Overy (Allen Lane)

Year Zero: A History of 1945, Ian Buruma (Atlantic Books)

Sandakan, Paul Ham (Doubleday)


Richard Overy’s subject is the bombing campaigns of WWII that were not part of ground or sea operations. The rationale for these campaigns was the belief that the enemy’s capacity to continue fighting would be undermined by demoralizing non-combatants, hopefully precipitating a surrender by their rulers. The first bombings by Germany in WWII, of Warsaw, the Low Countries and France, were tactical operations in support of ground movements. The bombing of Britain that started in the summer 1940 was part of an invasion plan but by mid-September it was clear that the RAF was not defeated. The bombing continued because to do otherwise would be seen as a British victory and, anyway, Stalin had to continue believing that an invasion was about to commence while Germany planned its surprise attack on the USSR. Targets in Britain became economic ones like ports and industrial centres, with London being hit 57 nights in succession. When Germany switched to nightime raids there was no effective deterrent to these attacks, yet little of lasting importance had been achieved (though 43,000 people died).

Overy devotes a chapter to the British civilian experience, more or less confirming the commonplace view that the existential threat was accepted by the public with fortitude. Public shelters were not used as much as expected; Londoners trusted more to the Underground even though it was not official policy at first. Communist Phil Piratin led a protest group of 70 from Stepney to the Savoy and occupied the basement, where they found colour-coordinated shelters with armchairs, but he led them out again the following day.

Another chapter covers the relatively unexplored area of German bombing of Russia, reflecting what at times has become a general indifference to the mighty and hugely decisive part that the USSR played in the defeat of Hitler. In contrast to London, Moscow’s subway system was wholeheartedly utilized from the start and Stalin’s HQ was based in one part of it. Another area that benefits from Overy’s research is Italy’s role in bombing and being bombed.

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