ANALYSIS | John Drennan
RISING TIDE OF 1916 COMMEMORATIONS
Senior government backbencher John Deasy has warned that the commemorations of 1916 must not deteriorate into a series of whimsical poetry recitals, historical theorising, flag waving and parades.
Instead, Mr Deasy told the Sunday Independent: ''If these commemorations are to be worthwhile, they must confront the hard history of 1916.''
We need, he said, to: "Prioritise the telling of the people's stories from what was a brutal age, who was shot, why they were there and what happened to them."
Mr Deasy was responding to the Government's announcement, after a series of embarrassing controversies, of 40 major events for next year, with the centrepiece being a wreath-laying ceremony and parade in Dublin city centre.
There will also be a State reception for relatives of those involved in the Rising, a parade from Dublin Castle to Parnell Square on Easter Sunday, synchronised wreath-laying ceremonies and an event at Liberty Hall to commemorate James Connolly.
Mr Deasy, however, said he was ''deeply concerned that the commemoration would not deal effectively with those who were most intimately involved in the event: namely the casualties''.
He said: ''I do not see here any sustained attempt to properly detail the human stories of 1916."
This, he added, applies to all sides: "Those who were killed in action, the 64 volunteers and ICA members plus the 16 executions, 132 on the British side, 16 policemen, all Irish and 254 civilians; what are their stories?
"What is of particular interest when it comes to 1916 is that far more civilians than combatants were killed; what were their stories?"
The Fine Gael TD added: ''I assumed innocently the focus would initially be on those who died or were wounded. Instead we appear to be planning to have a lot of pageantry, poetry recitals and parades.''
Mr Deasy slammed those politicians who do not want the commemorations to be dominated by the violent events of 1916.
If we are to be truthful, Mr Deasy said, there is no alternative.
"Like every other war or battle in history, the events were bloody and ugly and hundreds of people were killed, mostly in cold blood. Avoiding the hard history of that at a minimum appears to be strange," he said.
''How we operate here will set the template here for further commemorations of the War of Independence and the Civil War.''
He added: ''If we are going to get a sanitised version full of poetry recitals and cottage industries of theorising politicians and amateur historians rather than the harsher truths of what really happens in war, no good purpose will be served''.
Mr Deasy, both of whose grandfathers fought in the War of Independence, added that engaging in the 'futile' attempt to assign meaning to this period will represent a waste of time.
''Remember the dead and wounded as individuals and let the people make their own judgment will be more respectful of those involved," he said.
Should we fail to do this, he warned: ''We open up the unattractive prospect that the commemorations will be dominated by politicians telling us what it really meant.
"Indeed, already a certain malaise has set in when it comes to an excess of amateur historians providing us with their takes on what happened.''
FOOTNOTE | Both John’s paternal grandfather, Mick Deasy from Courtmacsherry (who fought with Tom Barry and was the last survivor of the Crossbarry ambush) and his maternal grandfather, John Keating from west Waterford, fought with the IRA in the War of Independence.
Focus new stimulus package and IDA staff on most-deprived regions
Fine Gael TD John Deasy has told the Dáil that the new Ireland Strategic Investment Fund must be aimed at areas worst affected by, not just the recession, but “our evolving two-tier recovery.”
During statements on the Government’s priorities for the year ahead, the Waterford deputy warned that “undue political influence” mustn’t prevent an objective share-out of the €6.8billion stimulus package. “It cannot end up being a political pie, gobbled up by insecure politicians with one eye on a general election,” he said.
Mr Deasy declared that after three years in office, the Government’s strategy to spread jobs to the regions clearly “has not worked ... I have concluded that as long as the headline figures for the country as a whole are positive, the virtual non-existence of regional investment is considered irrelevant. There is almost a sense of resignation about the fact that so much investment – 82% – goes to Cork, Dublin and Galway and so little goes elsewhere.”
Of the 2014 Action Plan for Jobs, other than plans for a few advance manufacturing facilities (one in Waterford), he’d “heard it all before.”
In Waterford, where the unemployment rate remains at around 20%, “a downward trend is still being experienced,” he said. Any improvement in the Live Register figures needed to be seen in the context of the huge number of jobs hemorrhaged locally over the last six years, including multiple business and industry closures in the past 12 months.
Mr Deasy put forward “two specific suggestions” to address the growing geographical disparity in terms of job creation. The first being the new strategic fund, which, matched with private sector investment, could provide a national economic injection of €12–15bn.
“This is the only show in town. It is the only stimulus package the country will see for the next five or six years,” he said, insisting it “must be predominantly and proportionately invested in those parts of the country which have seen the least investment over the last ten to 15 years.”
Given the key aim of “isolating the fund from political interference”, the FG deputy insisted that policy and legislation “must guard against base political tendencies influencing how the stimulus package is divided up.”
Though focusing it on deprived regions is “reasonable logic”, he predicted it “will not make sense to some politicians who see an election on the horizon and a potential lump of money for their own constituencies.”
On the other hand, targeting areas where the economic indicators of decline are at their highest should make sense “to any government which is interested in balanced regional development.”
Mr Deasy sees the new Regional Aid guidelines for 2014–20, which are due to be published by the European Commission in July, as the ideal framework for distributing the ISIF investment.
If moves to direct aid towards those areas that need it most are not considered in forthcoming legislation governing the fund, “I will attempt to amend the Bill at the very least to highlight the scenario I have just painted,” he said.
Given there are “people at the most senior level in the IDA who believe the policy designed to attract foreign direct investment evenly across the State has failed miserably and must be re-engineered immediately”, Deputy Deasy’s second solution focused on the recent authorisation of 35 additional IDA staff.
With Waterford a notable, negative exception in terms of net IDA job creation among Irish cities last year, he looked at where the agency’s existing staff are based — including five in Waterford, 36 in Athlone, and 148 in Dublin.
Deploying the new staff coming on stream into those parts worst affected by the recession and which have seen the least amount of FDI, would be “a good start” in terms of prioritising recovery in the country as a whole, he said.
“You consistently gave assurances that you would try to bring the ARV to the lowest level in Waterford – the Dungarvan level – and you did that."
Additional rates reliefs have been included in the new Local Government Bill after Minister Phil Hogan accepted proposals by Waterford Fine Gael TD John Deasy and Labour Deputy for Dublin Mid West, Robert Dowds.
The Minister was thanked for taking the thrust of two joint-amendments they put forward and incorporating them into the new legislation as it passed through the Dáil on Wednesday. Deputy Deasy said Mr Hogan had been ‘as good as his word’ when it came to reducing commercial rate levels in Waterford.
The first change the TDs sought and secured was in respect of a planned rates refund mechanism for vacant premises. In taking their arguments on board, the Minister is to give discretion to elected councillors right across the country to allow owner/occupiers who can’t secure tenants a full rates rebate – not a maximum of 50% as the Bill originally proposed (and which is currently applied in Dublin, Cork and Limerick).
Deputy Deasy said: “The Minister accepted there are areas where there is little or no demand for commercial premises. Councillors will now have the authority to tailor vacancy refunds – from 100% down to zero – to best suit the economic circumstances in particular counties or specific municipal districts.
“While I understand how some local authority officials would have seen a need to have a deterrent to people holding onto sites, to have a blanket 50% rebate would have been madness in this economic climate.
“There is a two-tier economy in this country. In some areas, like my own homeplace of Dungarvan, it’s not a matter of choice. In many parts of Ireland owners simply can’t get tenants for commercial premises. And enabling this to be implemented on a district level will allow for the differences between rural and urban areas.”
Work of Waterford Chambers acknowledged in Dáil
The Deputies – who are colleagues on the Dáil Public Accounts Committee – also proposed an amendment dealing with the issue of outstanding rates charges being passed on to new occupiers; something the Minister was anxious about as well.
“He accepted that maintaining the status quo could give rise to an unfair burden on businesses seeking to expand, relocate or start up. In some cases the arrears on a particular premises were holding up the sale,” Mr Deasy said.
“In dealing with and introducing a reasonable variation of our amendment, he is giving city and county managers the authority to write off arrears owed by previous occupiers – meaning property that may otherwise have remained vacant can now be re-let.”
Deputy Deasy said the Minister had lived up to his word in their interactions on commercial rates over the past year. “You consistently gave assurances that you would try to bring the ARV to the lowest level in Waterford – the Dungarvan level – and you did that.
“I’d like to thank you for following through on what you said you would do... I was keeping a close eye on this situation for the past year. But you were consistent with regard to the issue, and it’s turned out to be, in the case of the city, a really excellent result when you consider ratepayers there received a reduction of 20%.”
While county rates were reduced by 5%, some people felt it unfair that the Dungarvan ARV level should remain as is. But “for the most part the feedback I’ve been getting is that they expected it to go up,” Mr Deasy said.
He told Minister Hogan: “I think it’s worth acknowledging the direction that you gave. And everyone’s taking credit for it in Waterford – councillors, officials – but you were consistent”.
This included putting more money into Waterford’s Local Government Fund allocation with a direction that it be used to reduce the rates level locally.
From the floor, Deputy Deasy also said he wanted to acknowledge “the work of Waterford City Chamber of Commerce – Nora Widger and Nick Donnelly – and Dungarvan & West Waterford Chamber of Commerce – Jenny Beresford and Collette Bannon – on this issue.”
Environment Minister Phil Hogan has intimated to John Deasy in the Dáil that business rates could be harmonised “downwards” after Waterford’s local authorities amalgamate next year.
As the new Local Government Bill passed report stage, Deputy Deasy has again argued for changes to be incorporated into the new legislation.
Referring to the harmonisation of rates across councils set to merge in 2014, the Minister suggested to Deputy Deasy that a lowering of rates in Waterford and elsewhere could occur.
“If local authorities are in a position financially to harmonise their rates in one go… we will do so,” the Minister said. “This is about harmonisation of the systems in place downwards, not upwards.
“At the end of the day, it is a matter for the elected members, who have a reserved function on this matter at budget time, to ensure that is the case,” Mr Hogan added.“Any savings that will accrue from the reforms we are undertaking should not impose any additional cost on business.”
Deputy Deasy directly raised the harmonisation issue with Mr Hogan in the Dáil last May, having first addressed it at the Public Accounts Committee a year ago when he pointed to the large variances in annual rateable valuations between the merging councils in Waterford City (€66.22) and County (€69.92), and Dungarvan Town Council (€60.37).
Minister Hogan also indicated he is willing to accept an amendment tabled by the Waterford Fine Gael TD and Dublin Labour deputy Robert Dowds to give discretion to councillors to grant either a full or 50% rebate on rates to owners of vacant business premises. The Bill originally proposed a 50% concession across councils countrywide, “which would be a mistake,” Mr Deasy said.
Another proposal that the Minister is considering is to allow city and county managers waive historical arrears tacked onto a new sale or leasehold.
Mr Hogan agreed with Deputy Dowds at committee stage that incoming businesses shouldn’t be burdened with a legacy debt not of their making, and “I’ve asked the legal people to draft up an appropriate amendment that hits the spirit of what you want.”
A third Deasy/Dowds proposal, namely, a transitional relief scheme that would spread out revaluation increases by rating authorities over three years, is being “constructively” considered by Government officials.
Fine Gael TD John Deasy and Labour Deputy Robert Dowds – both members of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee – are working on proposed changes to new legislation which would allow commercial rates increases to be spread out over a number of years, and alter the planned rates refund mechanism for vacant premises.
The Local Government Bill 2013 was published by Environment Minister Phil Hogan last week, setting down a legislative framework for the new local authority structures being introduced next summer.
One aspect of the Bill relates to how councils deal with commercial rates. However, Deputies Deasy and Dowds – a TD for Dublin Mid-West – are concerned that it doesn‟t take the current Valuation Office review of rental values, nor local economic circumstances, into account.
Consequently, they are planning to submit joint amendments to the Bill when it goes to report stage in the Dáil in the coming weeks.
Mr Deasy said: “For the past number of months I've been highlighting the potentially crippling impact the current revaluation process underway in Waterford – and parts of Dublin – would have. It particularly affects the retail sector, where most businesses locally are facing a significant upward adjustment of their rates bill; a hike of up to 300% in some cases.”
While the Bill provides for phasing in the effects of rates “harmonisation” – i.e. where different local authority areas with different Annual Rateable Valuations will be merged – the proposed legislation doesn't factor in the damaging impact a sudden revaluation hike would have.
Deputy Dowds said: “Even though the Valuation Amendment Bill has been introduced in the Oireachtas and provides for a new system of self-assessment of commercial rates, there needs to be a provision which allows for regular reviews on a statutory basis so that businesses can budget accordingly.”
Mr Deasy added: “What we are looking at is a way of giving councils powers whereby the elected members can decide to allow businesses whose rates bill is being increased as a result of revaluation to spread the 'hit' over a number of years.
“The Bill as published would abolish the refund regime entitling owners of vacant commercial properties to a 100% refund of their commercial rates liability in certain parts of the country. In many cases businesses would not be able to afford that refund regime changing in any respect.
“Once the Minister has given his response in this week‟s second stage debate, we will consider how best amendments might be framed to ease the burden on businesses as much as possible.”
Deputy John Deasy says the Government’s decision to release funding to allow for a limited but vital runway extension at Waterford Airport is a “very significant” breakthrough.
Having been working to secure this investment for a number of months, dealing directly with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, the Waterford Fine Gael TD had argued that a relatively modest outlay by the state could yield major benefits for the region’s economy.
The same capital expenditure grant of €405,000 was originally approved in late 2011 only to be frozen after Aer Arann’s decision to pull out of Waterford from January this year. Following a meeting with the airport board late last month, the Minister – despite the instability within the aviation industry – has now given Waterford Co Council the go-ahead to CPO the required 18 acres of land.
With the agreement being dependent on a contribution from a number of companies, along with local authorities, in the region, “In committing this funding I think the Department feels relatively happy with the private sector involvement in meeting the balance of the project cost, including laying the new stretch of runway,” Deputy Deasy says.
“There’s also an acknowledgement that the people who have worked at Waterford Airport for the past four years have used every cent to try to pave the way for additional expansion to bring in different kinds of jet aircraft, including small jets, and to connect to London in particular.”
“Psychologically it’s very important that we move to ensure that the airport is viable going into the next five or 10 years at the very least."
The additional lands are also needed to comply with international safety standards, including the provision of a runway end safety area. The 150m runway extension itself will, Deputy Deasy expects, “greatly improve the prospects of attracting a carrier to operate the Waterford–Luton service.”
Applauding the airport’s proactive approach despite the challenges it has faced in recent times, Mr Deasy added: “I don’t think there’s anyone in Waterford or the South East who doesn’t realise how critical this piece of infrastructure is for the region, for the city, for the county – an area that is suffering very badly.
“Psychologically it’s very important that we move to ensure that the airport is viable going into the next five or 10 years at the very least. Direct air access to our biggest trading partner is extremely important, and Waterford Airport supports considerable direct and indirect employment – not least in terms of tourism, which accounted for over half the inbound traffic from the Luton route.”
Now, after what’s been a lengthy process of negotiation, Deputy Deasy hopes things can progress swiftly, with a CPO operative and the contracts already agreed. Though the transfer of lands to the Airport will require a Section 183 Resolution by Co Councillors, officials believe this will not be a problem and that work can commence within a matter of months.
::: Brendan Howlin: message
The Fine Gael Parliamentary Party has unanimously supported a motion by Waterford’s John Deasy requesting that the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform conduct an analysis of the potential impact substantial increases in commercial rates may have on struggling businesses.
The proposal, tabled in the context of the ongoing revaluation process, was passed at Wednesday night’s (July 3) meeting of TDs and Senators in Leinster House.
Deputy Deasy, who has alerted cabinet colleagues to the precarious position on the ground, says the message to Minister Brendan Howlin couldn’t be clearer – and insists the prospect of pushing businesses beyond breaking point can’t be ignored any longer by Government.
“We can’t sit back and allow businesses go to the wall because of rateable valuation increases introduced on our watch,” Mr Deasy said afterwards.
“There are countless examples of how this is affecting retailers in my home town of Dungarvan – a situation mirrored elsewhere in Waterford, not least in the city.
“You’re talking about petrol stations needing an annual turnover of around €1.3 million just to remain viable – or a newsagent needing to put €1.2m through the tills just to cover its €50,000 rates bill. It’s simply unsustainable.”
Deputy Deasy added: “There’s new legislation due to come before the Dáil later this year that will pave the way for self-assessment and hopefully a fairer system that reflects business realities. I’ve already called on the Taoiseach to have the Valuation (Amendment) Bill, 2012 expedited through the Oireachtas.
“In the meantime, given the knock-on effects this revaluation process will have in terms of a lower tax take, and unemployment benefit payments, in my view the Department is now obliged to examine the consequences of the current valuation review at both a micro and macro level.”