Power

I have been thinking a lot about power lately. We are all familiar with the saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. But it’s not as simple as that really. I read a summary of a study in the Journal of Applied Science. It was interesting and it made sense to me. In summary the conclusion was that power doesn’t corrupt, it “heightens pre-existing tendencies”. (A bit like a benign dictatorship and a malevolent dictatorship). As Abraham Lincoln said “if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Think Donald Trump and Jacinda Ardern. Need I say more!

Image: https://www.thecut.com/2018/04/jacinda-ardern-is-furious-about-being-compared-to-trump.html

Michael and I have first hand experience witnessing power at play over the years. Most particularly when we attended meetings with the senior planning executives in our local council offices. Of all the meetings over the years one meeting in particular stands out in our minds, even ten years on. We had been trying to get this meeting for almost four months because we wanted an explanation as to why the council (the senior planning executives) had done a complete U-turn on Holmpatrick Cove. To make a long story short we had put our proposals for Holmpatrick Cove to the executive planners almost a year earlier, in the Summer of 2009. And they liked it. There were meetings and exchanges over a six month period. The final meeting included a site visit where the County Manager and his top planning official said they were going to include the Holmpatrick Cove proposal in the Draft Development Plan. We agreed to send the details: maps, layouts etc. in before Christmas so they could include it in the Manager’s Report in January.

January came and there was no Holmpatrick Cove in the Manager’s Report. Attempts by the local councillors to get answers were met with silence. The shutters had come down. Finally, in late April we were granted an audience. I will never forget it. Myself, Michael (and a planning consultant that we brought along with us), were ushered up in the lift. We were brought to a room where three senior planning executives were sitting at the far side of a large table. To say the atmosphere was tense is an understatement. What we witnessed in that meeting was a demonstration of power in all its glory. Our questions went unanswered. The message was that Holmpatrick Cove was going no-where. They wanted it closed down. They had changed their tune completely. How odd, given that these were the people who we had spoken to and who supported Holmpatrick Cove months before. One of them had even gone so far to say in the field, “sure I’d buy one of the houses myself”.  

Michael and I refer to that meeting as ‘The High Priests’. Which given our experiences in the planning system, is a fair analogy.  It is the modern-day equivalent of the power of the Catholic Church in the last century when bishops and priests called the shots. That power enjoyed by the church is as potent as the power that planning executives in County Councils, in Government Departments and in An Bord Pleanála enjoy. And as for the powers transferred to the new Planning Regulator: now that power is eye watering. 

The planner we had along with us at that ‘High Priests’ meeting did not hang around. You can’t blame him. Planning consultants working in the private sector depend on executive planners’ decisions for their bread and butter. They cannot afford to get on the bad side of them. This is how the system works. Developers too depend on the planners and know only too well where the real power is now, post Mahon Tribunal. As recent as last year we lost a sale because a council planning official told the developer that he was against Holmpatrick Cove and wouldn’t have given planning. (The council had given planning permission). The developer walked, based on this personal opinion. Needless to say if this hadn’t happened we would not be where we are today. That’s pretty powerful stuff really considering the collateral damage. But that’s only one example of damage done to us over the years. For example the twelve months that followed on from the ‘High Priests’ Meeting’ shocked us to the core. But that is another story.

It’s important not to confuse the local councillors with the planning executives. Councillors are elected and if you don’t like them, they will lose their seats. They are accountable. That’s democracy and generally it works. We all know what went on in the ‘bad old days’ but it would be remiss not to say that the vast majority of elected representatives and civil servants in the executive are good hard-working people who carry out their duties in the public interest. We can only hope that the right people end up in power. (I’m thinking of the ‘pre-existing tendency theory’) Here in Skerries and Balbriggan we are lucky with our public representatives, especially the fresh voices in the area. Michael and I are grateful for their support now and in the past. 

So, in conclusion. The big question (and one we and our local councillors never got an answer to) regarding the ‘High Priests’ Meeting’ is, why the change of mind? Why go from supporting to attacking a plan overnight?  We know there were powerful forces working against us. We believe more from the Trump than the Arderne playbook. Quoting from the barrister in the famous Mr Moonlight trial (the one with the slurry pit) “The human condition can only withstand so much co-incidence until it says. That’s not co-incidence. That’s planned.”  Now where would I get a good deal on a box of whistles? I can think of a few places I would like to send some………

Those Who Walked the Land

About seven months ago (or maybe longer) I was lying awake at about three am. My mind was racing.  It was a time when we had a bit more hope about keeping our planning alive because we were, or so we thought, about to sign a deal with another funder which would allow us to move forward and go back in for planning. Most importantly we would get our home and the land around it, out of the security. However, just like numerous other deals that came before that, they pulled out at the eleventh hour because a planner advised them to. (That happened a few weeks before Christmas). 

I couldn’t get back to sleep that night and didn’t want to wake Michael up because unusually he wasn’t awake and to be honest, it is a rare occasion that we get a full night sleep. So, I decided I would make myself a cup of tea and go out and sit on the deck for a bit. It was a cold night and I was wrapped up in a big blanket.  The tide was fully in and I could hear the sea. It wasn’t roaring as it sometimes does when it funnels in between Lambay and Shenick Island.  It was a gentle lapping sound. It was pitch black too but I was conscious of what was out there…. the islands and the Rockabill lighthouse beyond. 

I grew up looking out at Shenick Island. Of all the islands it is my favourite. It’s the boss. It’s monumental. The other islands seem to fall in line behind it. Now, a modern-day planner might take issue with the Martello Tower, describing it as “Visually Intrusive’. They probably would have refused planning permission. But I like it. I missed Shenick when I lived away from it and I don’t know how many times a day I look out at it. Depending on the tides, the light and the time of day, the view is never the same. I never tire of it.

It was really peaceful out on the deck in the darkness. I was thinking about the land of course but for a change I was thinking about the people that lived there long, long before we ever walked this earth. We had done an archaeological study as part of our planning and I was fascinated to learn that what we had a Bronze Age Industrial site on our land. I was thinking about the glamping we were hoping to do in front of the house and how it would be great to echo the Iron Age villages in our design. I was wondering about these people, what they looked like, how they lived. They would have lived a very tough existence. 

As part of the archaeological study a series of test trenches were dug. The test trenches and the imaging unearthed a circular ceremonial type enclosure on the upper field and some fire pit remains. On the lower field there are remains of a large rectangular Fulacht  Fiadh – a large pit that was lined with stones, filled with water and heated by hot stones. I’m not a historian so I’m open to correction, but it was explained to us that this would have been used for dying skins and cooking food. The archaeologist explained that, just as you wouldn’t want to live in an industrial site today, the Iron Age people’s homes were probably located on the flatter ground where I grew up and where the Holmpatrick Estate is today. (better not mention the National Planning Framework’s plans for Industrial Estates so!). He gave me a lovely flint scraper (the archaeologist). I love flint. Michael got our friend Ed Cook to make it into a necklace for my birthday. I love the necklace. It’s my lucky flint!!

Flint Scraper by Edward Cook- Wayland’s Forge

I once thought I might study archaeology just as my uncle and grand uncle had done before. During the heatwave in 2018 there were great archaeological discoveries made thanks to the dryness of the earth. I thought I would have a go at it myself. I discovered a circular shape just beside our field in the Nun’s Field and I was very excited by it. I showed the Google Earth Image to my father and he said two words; Fosset’s Circus!  We got a good laugh out of that. Of course, that was where the circus tent goes every year. I think I should leave the archaeology to the experts. 

So back to sitting on the deck in the dark. It got me thinking about how insignificant everything we were going through is in the greater scheme of things. That we are only really borrowing the land. (Mind you at that time I thought it would be for a bit longer!)  But I felt close to those souls that came before us. It was very peaceful and I slept well afterwards.  

Hanging and Other Fish

Once I went up to the field. It was sometime in 2010, before our court case. (I will go into the court case another time if only for its comedic value). I went up to check the entrance because strange things were going on up there. A new fence arrived in the middle of our entrance courtesy of six of the neighbours that lived the far side of the hedge. (After two decades living there, they had suddenly decided that they owned half of our entrance). Very strange, especially as we had all bought our land from the same lady: the lady of the poker game. Also, furious planting of giant laurel hedging was going on at their entrance and magically a giant hole appeared further down the hedge (another story too).

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So, when I arrived up I saw a plastic bag placed hanging on the hedge inside the newly erected fence. I had to climb over the new fence to retrieve it.  It was a bag full of dead fish. Now, if I lived in Chicago in the 1930s I would have been very worried. Something along the lines of …if you don’t stop what you’re doing, death was at your door……you will sleep with the fishes…..you’ll be swimming with the fishes. Lovely. But this was 21st Century Skerries.

I binned it of course. I don’t like litter. 

It’s not the only time something sinister happened. A councillor told us that he was approached by a little fish in the council headquarters. This little fish is someone who tells everyone he has an awful lot of money in the bank (last I heard there was 2m ). What was said to the councillor and referring to my husband Michael, “one of these days someone is going to take that fella out”. Lovely. 

So back to fish. We know there are very big fish who have influenced our planning. We are only small fish and as a local councillor told us (after our planning was refused by the big fish in An Bord Pleanála), that the council had “bigger fish to fry” and therefore couldn’t intervene with regards our situation. Something to do with a new National Planning Framework and the M50 restriction that was causing the council a bit of bother……

Enough about all of that and speaking of fish I think I will go for a swim to the Springboards later, it’s not a bad day in Skerries and from where I’m sitting (for the moment) the sea looks nice. It’s good to be alive. 

The Springers today

The Poker Game

It all started way back with a game of poker. John’s Mum played poker every week with a group of friends and heard that one of her friends was selling her field. John had an idea to buy it. He and his young family lived in America and he wanted to come home to Skerries to build a home. His family had lived in Skerries for generations. He brought Michael up to the field and they both saw the vision. Michael’s family also were centuries in Skerries and he never knew this view of Skerries existed (apart from a glimpse from the top of the 33 bus). The view was closed off to the town. So, the plan at that time was to buy the field and see if they could build two homes and make the rest a public picnic park with a spectacular view. 

John went to the auction but the field was sold to someone else. That sale ultimately fell through and all of a sudden John and Michael owned a lovely field with a view. Ciara and I joined the boys at the field to celebrate, along with two friends, also home from America.   

We were being watched from behind the hedge. Little did we know that a devious and shady force was about to be unleashed into all our lives that would change all of our paths.

John and Ciara went back to America after a couple of years. They saw enough of the the begrudgery and its malignant influence on planning decisions. They didn’t know at the time but they must have foreseen,( just as in the game of poker), that the cards were marked by the dealer from the very beginning. Wikipedia tells us that cheating in poker can be done in many ways, “including collusion, sleight-of hand (such as bottom dealing or stacking the deck”). The same appears to apply to planning. John and Ciara thankfully have made a great life for their family back in America. 

Michael and I stayed. The field was sold last week by a receiver.

Where are we going to put the SUP Board?

The Board

Where are we going to put the SUP Board?

Why did the seagulls hovering turn to vultures?

Where are we going to put the bikes?

Why does deception and indifference corrupt power?

Where are we going to put the furniture?

Why did doing your public duty get replaced by doing favours?

Where are we going to put our five children?

Why did protecting the system become more important than doing the right thing?

Where are we going to put the SUP, Board?