Category Archives: General

The People’s Conversation – Rethinking Citizenship for 2016

I have been working with The Wheel and the Carnegie UK Trust on a project about citizenship in Ireland, called The People’s Conversation. We recently launched the web site for the project and below is a guest blog I wrote for Carnegie, which sets out some of the background.

PrintWhy open up a conversation on citizenship in Ireland? What does the term even mean to Irish people today?

At the most basic level “citizenship” simply means membership of a society or adherence to a state. However the concept of citizenship also includes the complex of relationships, roles, rights and responsibilities between individual citizens, the State, communities and families. In Ireland, as elsewhere, these roles are evolving and the extent and nature of these rights and responsibilities can be poorly understood and indeed contested.

The Carnegie UK Trust, in its Enabling State project led by Carnegie Fellow Sir John Elvidge, has been mapping the evolving relationship between citizens and state in Ireland, the UK and beyond. The Wheel, a network of 1,000 non-profit organizations in the Republic of Ireland, co-hosted an Enabling State roundtable in Dublin in early 2013, at which a number of unresolved questions specific to Ireland’s concept of citizenship were drawn out.

There are questions over our shared understanding of the common good – do we treat the public realm as something to be exploited or do we truly feel ownership of it? In our democracy is it enough to cast a vote every so often or do we have the right and duty to participate directly on an ongoing basis in the decisions which affect us? While we have high levels of participation in community and voluntary activity, engagement in the democratic process is low and, despite welcome initiatives such as the recent Constitutional Convention, we could do more to support citizens to participate in decision-making.

The Wheel, in partnership with the Trust, is now seeking to address these questions through a project called The People’s Conversation – Rethinking Citizenship for 2016, building on our collaboration on the Enabling State in Ireland.

The timing is significant, not just because we’re approaching the centerpiece of the “Decade of Centenaries”, prompting reflection on the first hundred years of our state’s existence and the changes in our understanding of citizenship over that time. With the departure of the Troika we are emerging from a difficult period, one that has raised questions about the meaning of our sovereignty and our ability to look after each other fairly. The Irish public has demonstrated an appetite for reform of our democratic structures, but a clear way forward has not been mapped. There is a window of opportunity before the next general election, expected in 2016, to put these issues on the political agenda and set out a new vision for citizenship.

To shape this new vision we’re placing a bet on the power of conversation. Rather than starting a consultation, we want to engage people in a creative process, using conversation to bring to the surface ideas about how we can better understand and support citizenship in Ireland. Working with a number of partner organizations, we will get people talking in small, diverse groups. Each group will sustain a conversation over a number of months, asking each other to consider the forces shaping our future, what do citizens expect and what is expected of citizens. These groups will also be look at the emerging conclusions of the project, helping to shape the outcome.

We want everyone to have the opportunity to take part in the conversation, so we will encourage other organisations and members of the public to set up their own groups and submit the ideas and common themes that emerge. We sense there is an appetite amongst the public to talk about these issues, and the process of conversation can be empowering, inspiring people to action.

Creating a new vision demands an imaginative, creative process. But it also requires the means to turn that vision into reality. With the help of experts we will shape the content of the conversation into a document that not only describes a new vision for citizenship but also sets out a series of practical policy recommendations. Our task will then be to advocate for these recommendations to be adopted by the political system and policy makers.

We believe it is possible between now and 2016 to forge a new understanding of citizenship, not through contestation but through conversation. The People’s Conversation starts this month.

Climate Adaptation and Water

“Climate change adaptation is mainly about water” – UN-Water brief on climate and water management.

“It is impossible to talk about adaptation to climate change without talking about water and water related issues.” – Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard speaking to the European Parliament Water Group in 2010.

“If climate change is the shark, then water is its teeth” – Paul Dickinson, Chief Executive Officer of the Carbon Disclosure Project.

In the past, mitigation (reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to avoid the worst warming scenarios) and adaptation (changing the way we do things to cope as best we can with a warming world) have sometimes been seen in opposition to each other as mutually exclusive pathways the world can take in response to climate change. Now it is generally recognised that they must be complementary: we will certainly have to adapt to a certain amount of warming that is no longer avoidable, but through mitigation we can still hope to avoid dangerous warming scenarios at a lower social and economic cost than adapting to them.

Water is top of the list when it comes to climate impacts with which we must grapple. In Europe the likely impacts on water include:

  • Larger areas and populations will become subject to water stress and scarcity, particularly in southern Europe.
  • Increased rainfall and extreme rain events will make flooding more frequent across much of the rest of the continent. The same effect will lead to greater erosion and risk of landslides.
  • There are also challenges for water quality, with flooding as well as warmer water leading to increased microbial loads.
  • Economic impacts are likely to be felt particularly by the agriculture, energy and tourism sectors.

Change in annual and summer precipitation for 2071–2100 vs 1961–1990 (%) : 

Following up on its 2009 white paper, the European Commission has just published an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change. The proposed strategy is not prescriptive. Instead it focuses on providing guidance to member states, building knowledge and capacity, and mainstreaming adaptation action throughout EU programmes. There is no call among member states for a harmonised approach to adaptation, and the Commission does not propose at this stage to set binding targets in this area. However it will monitor the quality and effectiveness of national adaptation strategies and in 2017 assess whether a legally binding instrument is necessary.

Eight main actions are identified in the strategy:

1. Encourage all Member States to adopt comprehensive adaptation strategies.

The Commission will provide guidelines for the formulation of these national strategies and will create a set of indicators to assess readiness. To date 15 member states have already adopted adaptation strategies, although many, including Ireland’s, are high-level frameworks that will require a great deal of additional work before they start to drive concrete actions. The European Environment Agency tracks the status and content of national plans on the Climate-ADAPT web site.

2. Provide LIFE funding to support capacity building and step up adaptation action in Europe. (2013-2020).

The LIFE programme already funds a large number of water projects across Europe, including wastewater treatment, water quality and water saving projects. It also has as a specific objective the adaptation of water resources to the adverse impacts of climate change. However the programme is most effective at enabling innovation and demonstration projects, and large-scale adaptation projects including flood defences and water infrastructure will have to be funded elsewhere: from national resources, cohesion funding or the Rural Development Programme for example.

3. Introduce adaptation in the Covenant of Mayors framework (2013/2014).

The Covenant of Mayors is a Commission-backed initiative whereby more than 4,000 regional and local authorities have committed to increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources.  Adding climate adaptation to this voluntary movement makes a lot of sense, given the degree of responsibility these authorities have for management of water resources, infrastructure development, and emergency planning.

4. Bridge the knowledge gap.

5. Further develop Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe.

These linked actions are aimed at meeting the needs of member states and other actors for better information on which to base their adaptation programmes. Research to fill gaps in knowledge on climate vulnerabilities, the costs and benefits of adaptation, risk assessments, adaptation frameworks, models and tools will be funded as part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, due to run from 2014 to 2020.

6. Facilitate the climate-proofing of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Cohesion Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Delivering this action effectively would possibly do most to ensure the success of the strategy, as it will mainstream climate adaptation throughout the Union’s biggest spending programmes. However each of these programmes is heavily contended politically and has to work its way through its own tortuous process.  It will not be easy to ensure the finished articles are robust in terms of meeting adaptation needs, although the proposed earmarking of 20% of the EU’s budget for climate action, including adaptation, may help.

7. Ensuring [sic] more resilient infrastructure

This is another mainstreaming action, with the aim of ensuring that standards for infrastructure development include adaptation considerations. The issues paper on infrastructure accompanying the strategy focuses on transport, energy and buildings, with a promise that water and other sectors will be addressed during the implementation phase of the strategy.

8. Promote insurance and other financial products for resilient investment and business decisions.

The aim here is to improve the market penetration of insurance against major disasters and is being advanced through the simultaneous publication of a Green Paper on the issue.

Overall, the strategy is welcome as a high-level plan for mainstreaming adaptation in the EU’s programmes and activities. A possible criticism is that it is reminiscent of the traditional “predict-and-provide” model of planning, whereby researchers are funded to uncover the best possible data about future needs, policy makers are mandated to produce plans based on these data, and big infrastructure developments are rolled out in line with these plans. In reality climate adaptation calls for an iterative approach that is sensitive to change over time, both in our understanding of the impacts and in our social and economic circumstances.

In respect of water, a 2012 paper by researchers at NUI Maynooth calls for a switch from “impacts thinking” to a process-oriented “vulnerability thinking”.  “Adaptation strategies should be evaluated according to the best available knowledge on climate change on a regular basis and be reconsidered if necessary. This adaptation approach ensures flexibility and the ability to respond to changes as revised climate scenarios emerge.” This calls for mixing “soft strategies” such as demand management and leakage reduction with the “hard” responses such as infrastructure renewal and flood risk management.

This theme is echoed in the European Environment Agency’s just-published “Adaptation in Europe” report, which divides possible adaptation responses into “grey” (engineering and technology projects), “green” (ecosystem-based approaches) and “soft” (policies and projects to change governance and behaviour). EEA Director Jacqueline McGlade, in her foreword to the report writes, “It is important to adopt an ‘adaptive management’ approach, which means adjusting our plans to these conditions as they unfold, taking account of uncertainty over future developments, and constantly updating our adaptation policy with new information from monitoring, evaluation and learning.”

In the water sector it is clear that all categories of response will be required, but environmental NGOs feel that ecosystem-based approaches are not getting the attention they deserve. Sergiy Moroz, Senior Water Policy Officer with the WWF points to projects such as floodplain restoration along the Danube as examples of responses that, through helping make existing ecosystems more resilient, have benefits for drinking water, biodiversity and flood protection.

Although much adaptation action will take place at a local level, the impacts of climate change on water quality and availability clearly won’t respect national borders. Fortunately, the EU already has an instrument in place for addressing water issues on a cross-border basis in the Water Framework Directive. What’s more, the WFD reflects nature in being river basin oriented, and works on an iterative basis with river basin management plans being reviewed every six years. This existing and mature policy regime might provide the best potential for a robust, mainstream European climate adaptation programme that works with nature and allows us to iteratively grapple with the uncertainty inherent in the climate arena.

This post was written for the IIEA‘s Environment Nexus web site. View the original post

Keats and Chapman

Don’t even bother reading the below unless you’re familiar with Myles na gCopaleen’s Keats and Chapman stories.  I was moved to write this by the discovery that Google only records two hits for the concluding pun, although I would have thought it was quite an obvious one.

During a spring sojourn in the south of France with Chapman, Keats conceived a powerful affection for a local beauty. The object of this amour fou, however, was a sensible girl of good upbringing who had been warned off poets in general, and Keats in particular. No matter how thick he laid it on, the young lady remained unmoved. His entreaties were invariably met with a polite but emphatic “non“. Unused to rejection, Keats met each “non” with renewed determination to succeed, resorting to ever more desperate schemes to break through his loved one’s hauteur.

As spring turned to summer, and Chapman threatened to transplant the poet back to London for the sake of his own sanity, Keats began to despair of ever attaining fulfilment. He resolved to stake all on one last assault, and arranged for the girl to fall under the misapprehension that he was terminally ill with a condition known as “obfuscated bladder”. Chapman was enlisted to explain the symptoms of this pernicious ailment, which was supposed to cause a complete breakdown in urinary function before death set in in earnest. For his part, Keats essayed a convincing performance of picturesque suffering. He hoped that their combined efforts would speak to the girl’s innate sense of charity and lead her to view the poet in a different light.

Believing he had won her sympathy, Keats once again sought her affection, this time as a dying man seeking only a little happiness before being overtaken by a painful end. Unfortunately he had once again underestimated his loved one, who had quickly seen through his deep sighs and melodramatic leg crossing. She confronted him with the fact that “obfuscated bladder” was to be found in no medical textbook, and that he had surely invented the whole notion by way of deceiving her into a liaison. His charade being exposed, there was nothing for it but to flee back to England, knowing that this “non” would be the girl’s final word.

On the journey home, Chapman commiserated with his friend but chastised him for the convoluted nature of his plan. “Why did you have to pick such an obscure disease? What was with all that eye-rolling and leg crossing? And was it really necessary for the condition to be terminal?” Keats slung himself listlessly athwart the deck rail and, speaking into the ship’s wake, answered, “I was dying for a ‘oui‘.”

A little “Pick Me Up”

Cover of Pick Me Up magazine I recently had occasion to shop for a light read to divert somebody who was in hospital to, let’s say, have a baby. My eye was drawn to the bright colours and cheerful aspect of UK weekly Pick Me Up, which looked suitably fluffy. I wasn’t aware, however, that the purpose of this particular journal is in fact to offer its readers a weekly glimpse into the abyss. The headlines arranged around a picture of an adorable bunny rabbit saying “Have a hoppy Easter” included the following:

My fiance dropped DEAD after seeing me RAPED

Locked up and sent to an orphanage on our dream holiday

My sister killed our mum and buried her in the woods

A happy family until my husband FORGOT our baby

In case you think I just caught it on a bad week, these are some of the headlines from the previous week’s edition (also on display):

Enjoy the weekend… You’ll be DEAD on Monday

My eyes EXPLODED while I was SHOPPING

Stabbed 80 times and dumped in a bath of bleach

Quite a pick me up.

The text of all my posts has disappeared. I don’t know why and I don’t have time to fix it. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

The text of all my previous posts seems to have gone AWOL. It’s still there when I edit the post, it’s just not showing up on the site. At the moment I have no idea why this might be, nor do I have any time to try and figure it out. Normal service will be resumed at some future date.

Update: Yes, it was just an unruly plug-in. All fixed now.

Comment spam

The site has started to get some comment spam, so apologies if you see a lot of comments about online poker and such like. I’m hoping to put a plugin in place to filter comments based on a spammers blacklist, but please bear with us in the meantime.

Jacques Derrida 1930-2004

Jacques DerridaJacques Derrida died on Friday, October 8th 2004. The Guardian has a good obituary, which includes a lot of discussion of his theories and how they have been received. I’ve always found his work fascinating, but generally only when it is being explained by another writer; Derrida’s own texts I find impenetrable and rarely worth the effort involved in reading them.

In any case, in honour of the great man I am republishing below some silliness I wrote about Derrida on another web site.
Continue reading