Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wednesday December 13 20.19

The eve of the Dail going into hibernation for Chrismas. The Dail is still sitting. The debate is like one of the minor races at evening's end, a bumper or novice race. Or the undercard at a boxing night. They are debating a Labour party motion on Dublin transport - more buses, less traffic jams, gridlock etc. Not that the main attractions today set the pulse running.

Crime (particulary the terrible double hit job in Dublin yesterday) has dominated this week's agenda in the Dail.

For those not attuned to the niceties and protocol of this august institution, Leaders Questions s is the twice-weekly slot where party leaders have a chance to ask the Taoiseach a question on any subject, without giving him notice. They happen on Tuesdays afternoon and Wednesday mornings. They tend to produce (but not always) the most newsworthy exchanges and (occasionally) some fire-in-the-belly rows. These are the debates that are most likely to be covered on radio and TV and by the newspapers the following morning. And this week, every question has been about gang wars.

(It's now 8.31 and the division bells are ringing, summoning TDs to the chamber to vote on the Labour Party motion. The Government whips ensure there are always sufficient TDs around to ensure a comfortable majority. No vote has been lost since 2002. In Britain though, Government chief whip Hillary Armstrong got the boot earlier this year, as an indirect result of getting the maths wrong and losing a vital Commons vote (on Iraq as far as I recall).

The point I'm slowly getting around to is topic count. While I have not had a chance to tot up the total, I'd guess that crime and health have dominated the discourse during Leaders question almost wholly.

Crime is the handiest weapon of choice in political showdowns. Comparing crime levels in Ireland with that of other countries is very difficult. But as far as I can ascertain, Ireland remains a compartively safe country, albeit with the levels of drug, gang crime, and homicides that one might expect in a developed and largely urbanised society.

But the problem is that is always presented as a crisis, both by politicians and by the media. The best part of Michael Moore's 'Bowling for Columbine' was his section on communal fear, and the cultivation of fear by the American media. And what that gives rise to in an Irish context is politicians outvying each other in the 'tough on crime' stakes. How many clampdowns, crackdowns, draconian measures etc. can be tolerated before it becomes ridiculous? An infinity unfortunately.

Even Bertie Ahern gets in on the act. Miriam Lord has acutely described Ahern in his Bertie the Bystander mode - the man in the anorak who shakes his head in annoyance at the terrible state of chassis.

Being a man of the people, he obviously shares their sense of powerlessness when terrible things happen.

20.58. It's a late sitting tonight. They have moved on to the adjournment debate. Time for this particular debate to be adjourned.

PS. Ciaran Cuffe's blog has a brilliant pic of a Garda traffic corp 4x4 parked on a bicycle lane, while one of the guards pops into a delicatessen. In the debate tonight, the rights of cyclists hardly features. Dublin's cycle lanes doubljob as parking spaces for cars and vans (yes, the hazard lights excuse everything).

Besides the Greens, the only TD I know who regularly uses a bicycle is Dr Dermot Fitzpatrick, the unassuming Fianna Fail representative for Dublin Central.

One of the reasons that cycling is so low on the priority list is that Ministers don't use them. The only time that Martin Cullen has used one recently was for a publicity shot. At least Bertie had the good grace to decline a photo op recently, leaving the honour of wobbling for Ireland to the irrepressible Environment Minister Dick Roche.

I have been cycling in Dublin for 14 years, even though it is beginning to scare the bejasus out of me as I get older. I got 'doored' on the South Quays earlier this year and ended up splayed in the middle of what is a highway with a truck bearing down on me. The lack of roadspace (and respect) for cyclists in Dublin is an abomination.

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