‘The dolphins may save us’ said the farmer, the wind farmer, the former wind farmer with whom I shared a bizarre sighting of three mallard. We sometimes walk the same park path, shuffling past one another, maintaining an exaggerated social spacing as befits the age.
‘What was that?’ he asked as three squabbling mallard flew out of cliff-face undergrowth, passing a metre or two above our bobble-hatted heads. It was a frosty, clear skied morning and I could see mallard breath as one squawked above me, legs and wings akimbo, flying out from where there is no obvious reason for a mallard to stop for the night.
We got chatting, the former wind farmer and the geophysicist. He told me how the blades of his turbines brought him surprising legal challenges. It was alleged that his blades were generating sub-sonic noise that interfered with brain development in local children. What bothered the former onshore wind farmer was that lawyers got involved on behalf of the brain damaged children before construction began.
I’ve learned that the collective word for lawyers is a huddle. A legally gutted friend in Texas once said a collective of lawyers was a depravity. Perhaps he was just a sore looser. Then again, Dickens raised several questions over legal ethics in his 20 episode Bleak House serialised in the 1850s. At issue was the family rivalry over inheritance that brought about the Jarndyce v Jarndyce action which consumed the entirety of a substantial estate in legal fees.
Sometimes I’m uncomfortable among the litigious Irish. I’m often disappointed by the endless legal wranglings and sometimes the skeptic in me wonders if the compensation culture masks a form of kleptocracy. There’s something amiss when claims for damages are started because the cost of defence is so large. Contingent earnings may be compromising democratic ideals. And it makes me wonder about crumbs falling from the big table.
Insurance settlements are often made according to a schedule. Normally I’d point you to a claims calculation website to support my argument but that seems to defeat my position. If a dental injury, such as the loss of a milk tooth is worth between €4,400 to €7,000 to the child under seven, and a settlement is inevitable because defence is too expensive, surely guilt is being presumed? The concept of a no fault settlement guarded by non-disclosure agreements seems to me like a breeding ground for corruption. What does this mean for the presumption of innocence? Sure why would you care so long as there’s a personal windfall that lets you compare windfall by count rather than value with the billionaires who perhaps shed the crumbs (think cake not bread) that complete my circular suggestions.
My encounter with the former wind farmer reminded me of Fintan O’Toole’s Enough is Enough. His was a tale told in 2010 of the grim death of the Celtic Tiger and the even grimmer consequences. He told the story from the perspective of how a proper republic might operate. He framed the story around what he called five myths and five decencies. And he concluded with Fifty Key Actions. It was a book a worth reading if you like the kind of horror that makes your skin-crawl.
- ‘When the New York Times reported in 2005 that ‘Dublin has become known in the insurance industry as something of the wild West of European finance, it was not exaggerating’.’
As to the Fifty Key Actions, perhaps it’s a book worth re-reading just so you can get a checklist and see what’s changed in a decade. Certainly the five decencies seem more indecent than ever.
- Social security is increasingly personal insecurity.
- Our low per capita spend on national healthcare was exposed by the pandemic. That has masked the hideous truth that we are building perhaps the second most expensive hospital in the history of mankind. Perhaps the overspending National Children’s Hospital will displace The Royal Adelaide Hospital from #1.
- Education is harder to criticise but if the school teachers union representatives are any measure … We overlook that literacy and numeracy remain at or below the EU average. There’s just one university in the top 200 yet we have among the highest percentages of third-level graduates in the EU.
- Equality was exposed as flexible by the pandemic. ‘Sacrifices’ had to be made. The recent successes of jockey Rachael Blackmore suggests that what men had to fear was that women are simply better. At everything. The gender pay gap has been getting narrower over the last decade. More women have been reaching senior roles and running successful businesses. Then came the need for ‘sacrifices’ and it was generally the women that stepped up. Perhaps we should group all equality issues as human rights. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN of human rights issues among all UN Member States was last completed in 2016. We weren’t so bad according to the Department of Justice. The next review is underway. One wonders how Ireland will fare.
- Citizenship obligations and ethics remain complicated in a nation that is only a century old. As O’Toole wrote, ‘In the second decade of the 20th century, many Irish people decided that a republic was worth dying for. In the second decade of the 21st century, many more can decide that a republic is worth living in.’
Half a dozen his ideas for action:
- 21 End all property related to tax breaks
- 25 Introduce a national system of social health insurance
- 26 Radically reduce the size of the health service executive.
- 28 Increase the number of GPs to European levels
- 41 Give coherent legislative protection to bonafide whistleblowers.
- 48 Ban all significant private donations to political parties.
As to the dolphin saving us, that was a reference to the contentious offshore wind farm proposed for the Kish bank.
We’ve been watching a Fugro geophysical vessel conduct a bathymetry survey over the Kish bank for the last few months. They’re checking the sea floor integrity because the Dublin Array consortium wants to place a large wind farm on the sand bank, barely ten kilometres from our coast. I’m not a fan of offshore wind farms if only because the effects of offshore wind farms on avian and marine life and birds are not comprehensively understood. And the levelised cost of energy, a metric in common use, scares me. I worry that some of the assumptions in LCOE hide motivated and conflicted reasonings. There might be tax breaks, subventions, energy security imperatives, carbon reduction promises, construction jobs and more that raise the apparent efficacy. Net present value and returns on investments are hard to assess when the emotive climate change arguments are consuming so much of the oxygen. Why do you think an offshore turbine is better than one placed onshore?
And by the way, where exactly does your sorted waste end up? Recycled, exported, stored, buried, burnt or digested? Shouldn’t your waste disposal company give you a receipt for the garbage you pay them to haul away? Perhaps regulation to standardise the domestic waste process will give us the comfort we should demand for the effort we make in carefully separating our discards.
I have been rambling without proposing many alternatives. Sorry, call it food for thought rather than a recipe for change. As O’Toole re-quoted in last weekend’s Irish Times (from Tancredi in Visconti’s film The Leopard): ‘For everything to stay the same, everything must change’.
Caveat emptor: my daily musings may not be complete let alone correct.