Friday, June 21, 2013

The Sale of Coillte Harvesting Rights - Kudos to Simon Harris TD

When it comes to politics and politicians in Ireland, I am as disillusioned as anyone out there. The post-election performance of the occupants of Leinster House - most of whom very quickly forget who put them there and who pays their wages and outrageously inflated expenses - typically leaves a lot to be desired. However, I am a strong believer in credit where credit is due.

Some months ago I wrote via email to one of my local representatives, Simon Harris TD, to express my concern at the proposed sale by the Government of the harvesting rights in Coillte. My letter was prompted by a video I had seen on Facebook (where, of course, everything you see and hear is true) which told of the impending sell-off by the current Government of the harvesting rights in our national forests to overseas interests. I asked Simon is this was true. If so, then I wanted to object in the strongest possible terms. "As a nation", I went on, "we are being bled dry by Fine Gael and Labour and the time has come to say enough is enough."

At this stage, I was just warming to my task. It had taken me many decades to find the passion in me to write a letter to a politician so I was bally-well going to make the most of the opportunity. "For the record", I added, "I voted Fine Gael in the last general election and I have rarely regretted anything as much as I regret that vote. The lack of true leadership from Enda Kenny is astounding. Our country and it's citizens have been hung out to dry. Now it looks like our treasured forestry and the wildlife it supports is next on the list to be sacrificed."

There. That told him. And for my grand finale I decided to add a cameo mention for the decimated Fianna Failers. "While I accept that Fianna Fail landed the country in the financial scenario it faced, the way that Fine Gael and Labour have chosen to sell out the citizens of this country to right the wrongs of the past is nothing short of criminal and will be judged by history as such."

Satisfied that I had gotten it all off my chest, I hit 'send'. I had heard several stories of people who had taken the time and trouble to write to their local TDs on issues of concern to them, only to have their efforts disappear apparently into black holes. So I wasn't holding my breath.

Fast forward three hours and an email arrives in my inbox - from Simon Harris TD. While I held out a glimmer of hope for a reply at some distant time in the future, the fact that one arrived so swiftly certainly caught me unawares. But is was not the swiftness of the response, impressive though it was, that grabbed my attention the most. Simon responded on all my points, in a level-headed, clear and respectful way. He outlined that he had met with many people who shared my concern on harvesting rights and reassured me that he was raising these concerns, which he himself shared, through Parliamentary Questions.

He could easily have stopped there. But to his great credit he did not shy away from my attack on his Government's performance. He was not defensive about it - which so many of our politicians are when it comes to both their personal and party performances. Rather, he urged patience and asked that the government be judged at the end of their term. He briefly outlined some of the focus areas for the next 3 years.

So, all in all, a very decent reply from Simon Harris TD. That was that, as far as I was concerned. Or so I thought.

Fast forward to today. A letter awaited me on my return from work. Not an email - a proper letter, from Simon Harris TD. Yesterday, the Government took a decision not to proceed with the sale of Coillte harvesting rights. The letter was to inform me (and presumably others who had expressed their concerns to Simon) about the Government's decision. The letter included the full statement on the matter by Minister Coveney. Now, I am impressed at this level of follow-up, not only by Simon but by his office - someone had to take the time to look up my mail address as I had not provided it in my email to him.

I am delighted at the Government's decision. But I am probably even more delighted at the performance of Simon Harris. I remain very angry and very critical of both this and the previous Government for what they have done to our country in the cack-handed way they dealt with the financial crisis and for the corresponding financial punishment they have meted out to the innocent citizens of Ireland. However, criticism is only valid if we are also prepared to recognise when the Government and individual politicians actually get it right.

Well done to the Government on what I believe to be the right decision on harvesting rights. Let's hope that remains the situation for the long term. But even more so, congratulations to Simon Harris for the way he conducts his business. If you are not careful, Simon, you will end up giving politicians a good name.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zenith

How often do we come across a word that in one sense sounds 'difficult' yet can have quite a simple meaning behind it? Zenith is such a word. We do not encounter it regularly in daily speech, yet most people will have an inkling of what it means. A dictionary will tell you that it typically has two meanings. On the more technical level it means that point in the visible celestial hemisphere which is vertical to the spectator; the point of the heavens directly overhead. On a more figurative level it also used to refer to the point of culmination; the greatest height; the height of success or prosperity. Perhaps the best summation of these meanings that I came across was 'the highest point'.

Whenever I hear the words 'the highest point', however, it is not 'zenith' that comes to my mind. The phrase is far more evocative to me than a mere technical term. Let me explain. For a number of years a group of us have met in various places (usually but not always one of our homes) to share some food and wine, inevitably followed by a late night session of music and song. Typically as these evenings draw to a close a call will come up for Donal to give us his rendition of Jimmy McCarthy's "The Highest Point". He will occasionally protest, but will eventually reach for the guitar, check his DADGAD tuning and deliver passionately. For me the song is hauntingly beautiful, and only Donal's version will do.

It is a love song, a terribly sad love song:

I was dreaming of my love,
With her hair tied up above,
That fair face that lights my soul
She must have stolen it from an angel.

We were dancing by the sea,
Said how she'd been missing me,
The sweetness of a song set free,
A song sung over and over and over.

Nights in dreams of heaven blue,
Stitched and fused as one we flew,
Till I awoke again a knew
That my heart is always waiting.

Still I wonder why I follow her
And I wonder why I care,
As I lift my face up from my hands,
Still I find her there.
She's the dread of my nightmare,
She's the love of my life.
You see, a dream can be the highest point
We reach within a life.

What a powerful statement - "a dream can be the highest point we reach within a life." Whether it is unrequited love, or failed ambition, or a myriad other possibilities in life that will only be achieved within our dreams.

I've been fortunate in my life to have so many dreams come true. Important to remember too that it doesn't always happen exactly as in our dreams or ambitions. Just because something doesn't work out as you envisaged does not mean it's working out badly. For me, it's about recognising when good things happen to you and being grateful for that. Family, friends, achievements - all of these bring their own 'highest points', if we let them.

Still, I guess it's good to dream, though there has to be a devastating sadness for a person where the the 'highest point' remains within their dreams. Unattained and perhaps unattainable.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Young at Heart

I recall as a youth being what you might call 'conservative'. I'm referring here not to conservatism in the political or religious sense but more in relation to the sort of things you might have expected an average teenager in the 1970s to be getting up to. I dabbled in neither smoking nor drinking. Other substances were completely out of the question too. Dating only really kicked off when I got towards the back end of my college degree. Not that I was a stuff-shirt by any means - I enjoyed a laugh and a prank as much as the next lad or lassie - but overall I would have been regarded as a responsible, upstanding, sensible young person.

So where am I going with this? I'm sure you have often heard the phrases "you can't put an old head on young shoulders" and "youth is wasted on the young". Well I'm probably the exception to the first phrase and as a result the second phase is probably true for me. I don't mean I wasted my youth in a bad sense - in many ways it was a wonderful time - but I often wonder could I have done more or spent my time differently. To give one example, as I exited college, top of my travel bucket list was to visit China - and I wanted to do it quickly while it still had the air of a forbidden destination. I did all the research, spoke to people who had visited but to cut a long story short the procrastinator in me won out and I have yet to realise my dream of going there.

Another phrase you often hear is "you're never too old" for whatever. While I agree with the sentiment behind this, the reality is that options do become more limited the older we get. Don't get me wrong - there is still much to be done, much to be achieved and plenty of opportunity as we get older. However, physical constraints do begin to kick in at some point (dodgy knees and a long-term bad back in my case).

What I am driving at is - if you have an inkling that you want to live life to the full, do it now. If you are young, appreciate the fact that you are most likely in the prime physical condition of our life. Take advantage of that to live out your dreams that may become a little more difficult as your joints stiffen up. If you are a little more 'senior' like myself, accept the fact that perhaps you can't physically do everything you could do 20 or 30 years ago but there is nonetheless a lot still to be experienced and achieved.

And one of the secrets to that is remaining young at heart. Don't lose the inner child. Sure, you can't put an old head on young shoulders but an old head can and should learn something from the exuberance, the abandon, the risk-taking of youth. It just might hold the key to some of the best experiences of your life as you get older.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for X-Factor and X-cuse

Owing to being very under the weather today, I've been unable to get a decent post written. I had settled on X-Factor as my topic but my thoughts on that require my brain to be in a less muzzy state in order to articulate them with any compositional skill.

So, I feel I have a reasonable X-cuse for taking the easy way out today. As tomorrow is a day off from blogging I may use that opportunity to write a better X post. Either way, normal service (whatever that is) will resume for Y and Z next week. I can't believe we are so close to the end. Where did the month of April go to?!!