Baron Wince, Tara and the lords of incompetence

Sunday Tribune 16 August

Tenner for the first person who guesses what ‘Carbon Wine’, ‘Brace In Now!’ and ‘Bare Cow Inn’ have in common. My travelling companions didn’t make the connection. One threatened to connect his fist with my gob if I didn’t shut up, though.
On Tuesday we headed to Tullamore for a lads’ night out with a friend who has swapped the Liffey for Offaly (he’s a ‘Liffo’). I spent the journey shouting out stupid anagrams of people’s names to irritate the other passengers. I can be really, really, really annoying when I’m bored.
Brian Cowen’s name is stuffed with good anagrams, like the ones above, but I discovered one that describes him perfectly. It’s ‘Baron Wince’. You know the way you wince at your bills these days? That’s down to Baron Wince – Ireland’s Lord of Pain.
We headed to the Baron’s local, the Brewery Tap, because I wanted to ask him what he knows about bi-location – being in two places at once. Noel Dempsey got me wondering about this last week as he defended the latest news from Tara. The Baron wasn’t about, so my question had to wait. (We’ll return to it later.)
The news from Tara is that we will have to compensate the operators of the M3 if the number of cars using it falls below a target agreed by the state. So what’s that target? Don’t ask the National Roads Authority. It would only say last week that it was “competitive”.
Don’t ask Dempsey either. Newstalk’s Eamon Keane asked him if the public will ever be told. Not if it’s commercially sensitive, he replied, adding “what we WILL know is if the target is NOT reached”. So there you have it. How many cars make the M3 viable? Answer: mind your own business.
Even after all the crookedness Fianna Fáil has displayed towards Tara, this latest revelation stopped me in my tracks. What next? Are they planning to sell the rights to Tara’s name, like The Point did to 02? Will we see ‘Welcome to The Hill of Eurolink’ as we approach Tara? It wouldn’t surprise me.
The M3 scandal embodies all that is wrong with Irish politics: greed, wastefulness, ignorance and a total disregard for democracy. Nobody wanted it in Tara/Skryne bar Fianna Fáil, which was so eager to destroy the valley that it paid almost €69,000 an acre for it. So eager, that it bulldozed the national monument at Lismullen, sparking an expensive European Court case. If/when we lose, we could be ordered to do a new environmental impact study and go back to scratch on the site.
Unesco may also order the road to be moved if it deems Tara a World Heritage Site. Environment minister John Gormley is afraid of this so he delayed presenting it for consideration. The obvious thing to do now is halt the M3 pending Unesco and the court’s decisions. ‘Green’ Gormley, however, is hell-bent on completing a motorway that is destroying a heritage site, may have to be moved and may not prove viable.
A shortfall is highly likely. Last April it was predicted that almost 23,000 vehicles would use the M3 daily when it opens next July. Those numbers need to be readjusted because of the recession. Last month, Meath experienced the largest increase in people signing on – an extra 17,000 people, or 4%. That means a lot of cars off the road until the gloom recedes. On top of that, the remaining workforce won’t want to pay €11.20-a-day in tolls when the rail service to Navan opens. Incidentally, neither Dempsey nor Gormley will have to pay the tolls – ministerial cars are exempt.
The pair’s record with sums is appalling: last year Dempsey spent €70,000 on a new logo for Transport 21. The existing one had been developed in-house… for free. At around the same time, Gormley spent €15m on a climate change advertising campaign and only €5m on the Warmer Homes Scheme.
Two men, two things in common: the M3 and financial incompetence.
Remember I wanted to ask Brian Cowen about bi-location? The M3 bail-out has made it theoretically possible for me to be in two places at once – driving through Meath while at home in Dublin. Here’s my question: why should I pay a toll on a road I don’t want, will never use, in a county I don’t live in, to a foreign consortium – for the next 45 years?
Fianna Fáil has secretly shackled us to a road that’s in the wrong place. It agreed to underwrite a bad development that was in trouble from the start. How many other similar deals has it done? After this, how can we trust its judgment on Nama?
Last week, the Greens made noises about holding a convention on Nama. Under party rules, Gormley and Co can be ordered to vote it down, effectively ending the coalition.
Here’s another question about location: where were the Greens’ grass roots when the rest of us were discussing Nama? Why have they suddenly discovered their voices when the Dáil is on holidays? Are they serious or just posing?
Considering the Greens’ hypocrisy to date, another two-word anagram comes to mind. It’s of ‘T-a-r-a’ and is normally preceded by “I smell…”
It’s also always associated with sinking ships, Mr Gormley.


A word to Gormley about his new archaeology code: Tara

Sunday Tribune 28 June

This boys,” said Mr Halpin, “will stay with you forever. I hope it makes a big impact.”
Ordinarily, whenever a teacher spoke of making an ‘impact’ at St Joseph’s National School in Glasthule, you started sweating. It normally involved the crack of a bamboo cane. Not on this occasion though. We were about to see something historic. Besides, Halpin always preferred sarcasm to brutality.
He was a bit of a hero. He played Mungo Jerry records in class and showed us how to make free plectrums out of detergent bottles. He also liked cartoons and had a wit as dry as a pub on Good Friday. He seemed to actually like us.
The historic occasion took place on a trip to the National Library in 1979. Myself and two other 11-year-olds, Cianán and Mick, were to choose books for the school. The four of us clowned the day away with Mr Halpin leading the laughter. Afterwards, he took us to see a part of Dublin he hoped we’d remember forever. He hoped seeing it would make an impact on our young minds. It did.
I can still see, through a gap in the hoarding, the muddy timber steps of Wood Quay. “This is going,” he said. “The council is covering it with concrete.” All the way home we simmered with anger, fuelled by his. He told us how protestors had found swords in the builders’ rubble and how the city walls had been razed. He explained how the quay had been named a national monument but the government destroyed it anyway. He told us the only people who wanted the ugly new buildings were politicians.
I still get angry when I pass Wood Quay. Halpin had given us a mental snapshot of our disappearing history. I’ll always have it in my head. Last week, I saw Wood Quay again when John Gormley announced a new archaeological code of practice to protect our monuments. There was the clang of a rusty gate being bolted and the distant neighing of a horse. This is the man who sold Tara to get into bed with Fianna Fáil – the party which was responsible for Wood Quay.
Despite being ‘Green’, he has done nothing to halt the M3 ploughing through the Tara/Skryne valley. Instead he has concentrated on defending his predecessor’s demolition of the Lismullin national monument which lay in its way.
Dick Roche contravened European law by failing to commission an environmental impact study on the site. The government has now spent huge sums fighting the European Commission over the issue.
Gormley also spent a bundle drafting last week’s Eirgrid Code of Practice. If the European Court finds against Ireland, the National Monuments Act will have to be amended and the code will have to be redrafted. More money flushed away.
The M3 tolls will go out of Meath to a multinational. More waste.
The mishandling of Tara proves, conclusively, that we are being governed by profligate idiots. The M3 should never have been routed through Tara/Skryne. It was always going to throw up monuments like Lismullin and lead to costly court battles. The obvious thing to do was route it west of Tara, avoiding the valley.
The Greens campaigned against the M3. The World Monuments Fund and Smithsonian Institution have placed it on their ‘endangered’ lists. Gormley is still pushing ahead with it, though.
In December, he hired 15 experts to help draft a list of sites, including Tara, to nominate to Unesco for world heritage status at its annual meeting last Tuesday. No list was delivered.
Tarawatch is continuing its campaign to re-route the road with a protest at the Dáil this Wednesday (1pm). They will ask Gormley why the Unesco list wasn’t submitted as it would have tested the M3’s impact on Tara’s heritage status. They will also tell him that his new archaeological code of practice is meaningless while Tara/Skryne is being vandalised.
Gormley’s betrayal of Tara/Skryne is endorsing Fianna Fáil’s traditional approach to the environment – “cover it over with concrete”. That party’s love of unbridled development is the reason why places like Meath became an overspill for Dublin and why its roads desperately need to be improved. They mustn’t be improved at the expense of Tara. It’s bound up with our history. For 800 years it tied our ancestors to a legendary past which was ultimately used to stir up revolution and create our Republic.
The world sees Tara as our spiritual centre. It even features in one of the most popular novels/films of all time. Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation is named after it in Gone With The Wind. Her fictional Tara represents the Irish emigrant’s longing for home. Our real one now stands for longing to get home from work quicker. We need Unesco to protect Tara from ourselves.
Our generation stood by as the government over-developed our country. What will our legacy be? Some Nama-esque hulks of buildings? Some half-built estates? A concrete dagger through the heart of Tara? Is this what we want to leave behind for future schoolchildren and young teachers like the late Mr Halpin?
I can imagine him surveying the M3 and sardonically quoting Scarlett’s famous line: “Is Tara still standing or is it also gone with the wind?”
Scarlet? He’d be crimson with anger.