It’s natural to think of winter in Ireland as the season when nature pulls down the blinds. Light fades, leaves fall, vegetation withers and swallows fly south. Natural, but quite wrong for birds. This is the time of maximum abundance for waterfowl – swans, geese and ducks – and spectacular wading birds like curlew and sandpipers.
And these species are remarkably easy to see at almost any estuary, often very near our cities. You can see both wildfowl and waders in very large numbers at the North Bull Island in Dublin, for example, and from half a dozen sites in the Cork Harbour area.
Winter is also the time when some of our largest and most dramatic birds of prey roost together in quite large numbers, sometimes with elaborate pre-roosting flight displays, or are more easily spotted while hunting than in the summer.
This article appeared in The Irish Times on 10 October, 2017. Access full article and images here.
The spectre of the Franco dictatorship has quietly haunted Spain since his death 42 years ago next month. His legacy loomed over the Spanish-Catalan crisis long before many claimed to see the old general’s ghost in Barcelona two weeks ago, inspiring the Spanish police to assault Catalan voters at polling booths.
Undoubtedly some recent accusations from Catalan nationalists (and the Spanish left) about the return of Francoism have been outrageously exaggerated. Franco’s police were, routinely, infinitely more savage than their counterparts in Catalonia on October 1st.
But dog whistles from conservatives in Madrid, attuned to Francoist nostalgia among their voters, have also inflamed the Catalan bonfire. Last week, a government spokesman appeared to threaten the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, with the same fate as Lluís Companys. The latter was a democratic leader, tortured and executed by the Francoists in 1940.
And the roots of the current Catalan crisis can be traced back to flaws in the transition from the Franco dictatorship in the late 1970s.
This article was published in The Irish Times on 14 October, 2017; for full text click link below.
The relationship between industrial production and the environment has very rarely been a happy one.
So it comes as an agreeable surprise to find that an international manufacturing company, Intel Ireland, seems to have an active interest in protecting, and even restoring, biodiversity not only on its own site, but in the nearby communities of Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth, and even further afield.
“We would love to create a situation in which every employee becomes an advocate for biodiversity,” says Mark Rutherford, the company’s environmental health and safety manager.
This does sound too good to be true. How authentic is this commitment? How much of it is simply the familiar PR effort to put a new green sheen on the same old degrading and destructive industrial practices?
This article appeared in The Irish Times on 14 October, 2017. For full text, click link below
Analysis: The monarch offered no olive branches, only the threat of a bigger stick
This article was published in The Irish Times on 4 October 2017
The restored Spanish monarchy has been warmly supported in the past by many democrats, and even by some republicans, for one very simple reason. They have long believed it is the only glue capable of bonding the fractious national project called Spain after the long dictatorship of Gen Franco.
According to this view, King Juan Carlos, although the dictator’s designated heir, skilfully steered the country towards democracy in the late 1970s. He presented himself as democracy’s front-line defender during the attempted military coup of 1981, when he talked his insurgent military commanders back to barracks.
By the time of the king’s abdication, three years ago, his image had been tarnished by his extravagant private life, which contrasted sharply with the austerity suffered by so many citizens. But many Spaniards invested high hopes in his son, Felipe VI. Indeed, some polls showed a public willingness to entrust him with more powers, to forge consensus among Spain’s increasingly polarised and fragmented political parties.
He now faces the severest test of the monarchy’s unifying role, as the rapidly escalating crisis in Catalonia threatens to break up the Spanish nation state.
Perception of authoritarian government denying gallant small nation right to express itself is widespread
Whatever happens next in Catalonia, the Catalan nationalists’ independence referendum campaign had already proved a significant success, from their own point of view, by Sunday afternoon, regardless of the outcome.
This campaign, and especially Spain’s potentially disastrous response to it, has created a widespread perception that neatly reflects the Catalan nationalists’ favoured narrative.
This can be seen both in much international news coverage, and in the ever more defiant mood of many Catalan citizens on the streets. It is becoming common currency worldwide that an authoritarian, even brutal, central government has denied a gallant small nation the right to express itself democratically and peacefully.
This article was published in The Irish Times on 2 October 2017
Articles & Blog
Articles on the environment; Spanish, Catalan and Basque politics; travel; culture; and other subjects; interspersed with personal reflections and images