Sep 242010

Back in February last year Cork County Council came up with the brilliant plan of charging people to recycle their rubbish.

It appears that nothing much has changed — because the same short- sighted civil servants who decreed that charging people to do their recycling was a stellar way to encourage responsible waste management, now seem hell bent on making things more difficult in Skibbereen too.

Reduce, reuse, recycle? Not in County Cork!

Reduce, reuse, recycle? Not in County Cork you don't!

I arrived at Skibb recycling centre this afternoon to be greeted by an array of perfectly serviceable recycle bins — all seven of them cordoned off, with a liberal sprinkling of warning signs around the periphery.

Wondering what was going on I asked one of the yellow-clad attendants. It seems that the powers that be in charge of waste management have decided that they don’t need seven recycling bins (even though they’re filled to bursting point on a weekly basis, and there are often crowds of people waiting to deposit their recycling).

Instead, they’ve decided, the people of Skibbereen and the surrounding area can make do with a waste crushing / compacting machine, depositing their recyclable waste through a single, relatively small grill.

If you’ve used Skibbereen Recycling Centre at all you’ll know that it can get very busy. The “old” way provided fourteen different locations to get rid of your recycling (seven bins, a slot on each side). The “new and improved system”, with it’s single point of entry, was congested today with only four of us there. Imagine what it will be like when twenty people turn up.

The "New and Improved" recycling system in Skibbereen.

The "new and improved" recycling system in Skibbereen.

It’s madness!

It also makes me wonder what exactly is happening to our “recycling”. Plastic, cardboard, paper, etc. all gets bundled into the crusher together and is presumably compacted into a unified mass of different materials. Is that really being un-compacted, sorted and recycled… or is it going straight to landfill or into an incinerator somewhere?

There’s no way to tell for sure… but talk about fanning the flames of doubt.

My main concern here is that, again, this is making it less convenient for people to recycle their waste… which means that people on the waste management margins — the ones the County Council really should be encouraging to recycle more — will be put off.

Illegal dumping and backyard burning are real problems, and seem to be on the increase around rural Cork. It’s something Cork County Council should be addressing. Stunts like this though — that make recycling more difficult — only add to the problem.

Unfortunately, in the race against waste Cork seems to be heading in the wrong direction!

Jan 102009
Batt O'Keeffe
Image via Wikipedia

With the excitement of Christmas and New Year behind us the kids are gearing up to going back to school. Their partly looking forward to seeing their friends again, and partly mourning the fact that the holidays are coming to a close.

I can sympathise with them, in part because I still recall the conflicting emotions of going back to school after the Christmas break from my own childhood… but mainly because of the clash of sentiments it causes for me now as a parent.

Back to school means back to routine: getting up early, making school lunches (a personal pet peeve of mine), organising the kids, getting out of the door on time. The return to school imposes structure on the fluidity of life… and on one level that’s a good thing. At the same time structure and routine are always going to be more boring and mundane than disorder and spontaneity, and part of me riles against the conformity of it all.

But back to school they must go… and while spending lots of time with them over the holidays has been wonderful, for the most part I’ll be happy to reclaim the bulk of my working week as we head into what promises to be a very challenging year.

Talking of challenging years, I guess I should be grateful that the children have a school to go back to in 2009, given the cutbacks our esteemed Government is imposing on our education system. Faced with the cost-cutting initiatives spearheaded by Cork TD and Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, financially embattled schools across the country are facing a very tough 2009 on the fiscal front, and will no doubt be looking to parents for fundraising and direct financial contributions. The Government will bail out the banks, it seems, but bailing out the schools falls to mums and dads.

I’m all for parents getting involved and raising money for schools — but for my money (if you’ll pardon the pun) such funds should surely go towards equipment, facilities and resources over and above those demanded by the standard national curriculum. Schools should be adequately funded by Government to cover all of the basics. When parents have to raise money to subsidise things like the school’s heating bill there’s something seriously wrong with the system.

Nobody questions the need to cut Government spending in the wake of the economic downturn, but the approach the Government has taken speaks volumes about the character of those we choose to lead us. When the going got tough, they  chose to target the most vulnerable in society: the very old and the very young, or to put it another way, those least likely to fight back. Of course they underestimated the backlash (they seem to underestimate most things, with the notable exception of their own competence to govern).

The irony here is that health and education are probably two of the last places a Government should look to reduce funding: the first is vital to maintaining a healthy and productive workforce today, a workforce that will help our beleaguered economy push through the recession; the second is the foundation stone on which all future prosperity will be built.

Now, Mr O’Keefe, perhaps you can explain to parents, teachers, and most of all to children, how undermining the stability of that foundation could possibly be considered a good idea.

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Nov 122008
the 44th President of the United States...Bara...

Image by jmtimages via Flickr

On the 4th of November 2008 Barack Obama made history when he was elected as the first black president of the United States of America. It’s an achievement that is remarkable for a lot of reasons… and one that has far reaching implications not just for Americans, but for people around the globe.

One of the most striking things for me about Obama’s election has nothing to do with race. It is the overwhelming impression I get that here, finally, is a politician who has been elected into office on merit. That may not sound like such a revolutionary a concept – but here in modern Ireland it’s practically unheard of. Our incumbent administration endures because a large chunk of the electorate has zero confidence in the competence of the opposition to govern. It really is that simple.

Back across the Atlantic (I refuse to call any ocean a “pond”) you could argue that the same thing applied last week. The alternative to the Obama / Biden ticket was hardly a compelling proposition. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could convincingly dub John McCain a dynamic force for change, and as for Sarah Palin… well, I think enough has already been said on that score.

But despite the fact that Obama would probably have won the election anyway, through lack of viable opposition… I’m still left with the very strong feeling that he won the votes of the undecided masses largely on the merits of his policies, and the overwhelming belief that here was a man who had the best interests of the American people at heart.

That last point is an important one… but one that seems to have been overshadowed by the “Obama Mania” that’s gripped the world over the last week. Buoyed on a wave of euphoria that spread from its epicentre in Chicago to engulf the globe, people seem to have lost sight of the fact that Barack Obama is, in fact, President Elect of the United States of America. He is not President Elect of the World at large.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Mr Obama will make an excellent president. His biggest obstacle will be the incredible burden of anticipation that now weighs heavily upon him. People expect incredible things from this man, and I’m sure he’ll prove a force for long-overdue change in the US. The knock on effects of that change will ripple out to impact many nations around the world – our little island state included. Much of that impact will be positive; some of it won’t. Whatever changes the new president decides to implement, you can be certain of one thing: those changes will be driven by policies forged around the best interests of the American people. The wellbeing, economic or otherwise, of Ireland, Europe and the rest of the world, simply won’t factor into the equation.

I always find it amusing when blockbuster Hollywood disaster movies – the likes of “Independence Day”, “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Armageddon” – portray the rest of the world waiting with baited breath for America to save the day, save the planet and save humanity. The truth of the matter is that, despite the hype surrounding this election, we are not beholden to the US or any other nation.

The US president is not, in fact, the “Leader of the Free World”. The independent nations that constitute “The Free World” are, and always have been, free to make their own decisions, based on what’s best for their own people. What it ultimately boils down to is this: Barack Obama will do a great job of looking after America’s best interests… here in Ireland we’ll have to make do with Brian Cowan!

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May 212008

Published in the Evening Echo 21/05/2008

Watching “Wild China” on the BBC tonight was amazing. I never knew, for example, that wild Asian elephants still survive in the forests of central China, or that gibbons – which I thought confined to South East Asia – still roam the canopy in some of China’s forests. The sheer diversity of life unfolding on the screen was staggering – plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals.

But like so many of the world’s wild places, the amazing biodiversity of these Chinese forests is under threat. Much of China’s virgin rainforest has been felled to make way for rubber plantations – rubber that’s helping to fuel the inexorable rise of one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The economic imperative, as so often seems to happen, overrides the environmental one: short term gain taking precedence over long-term vision.

National Biodiversity WeekMuch closer to home, we’d spent much of the day looking at biodiversity on a much smaller, but equally fascinating scale in one of Ireland’s wild places. Ireland’s National Biodiversity Week is running from 18 to 25 May this year, scheduled to coincide with the United Nations International Day for Biodiversity on 22 May.

“Biodiversity Week is Ireland’s contribution to a global celebration of biodiversity which aims to increase awareness of the importance of biodiversity and promote action to tackle the loss of many of our species,” said Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley, TD, as he unveiled the nationwide programme of events last week. “This is the second year that my Department has supported Biodiversity Week and already it has developed to the extent that we now have over 200 events taking place throughout the country.” And I have to say it’s a laudable effort in a country where we have plenty to redress when it comes to our environmental credentials.

Keen to get involved, and to expose the children to more of the wonders of Irish nature, we headed out to a Biodiversity Day event at the Irish Natural Forestry Foundation’s headquarters in Manch Estate, Balineen.

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Apr 252008

Ah America — leaders of the free world — a model for other governments to emulate… or perhaps not.


Pretty unreal stuff — and the scary thing is, most of it’s utterly believable.

Kind of makes you wonder about the much touted public/private partnerships the Irish government’s so fond of, and just how much priorities get skewed when you outsource public services to commercial entities out to make a fast buck.

Outsourcing the Government on Yahoo! Video