U.S. VETERANS STILL FIGHTING – BUT NOW AGAINST THE MACHINE

Clive Sulish

DUBLIN AUDIENCE AT AFRI PUBLIC MEETING CHARMED AND INSPIRED BY FORMER MEMBERS OF USA ARMED FORCES WHO ARE ON TRIAL FOR BREACH OF SHANNON AIRPORT SECURITY ZONE.

Veterans for Peace Members Ken Mayers and Tarak Kauff, US-based anti-war campaigners, last Wednesday evening clearly impressed members of a Dublin audience by their dedication. Both men are awaiting trial in Ireland for exposing U.S. war crimes and the violation of Irish neutrality at Shannon Airport and are at liberty only within the jurisdiction of the Irish State on a combined bail of €5,000.

          The bail was paid by anti-war campaigner Ed Horgan, a former army commandant and UN peace keeper and the sum is twice the amount of criminal damage they are accused of having caused to the airport’s perimeter fence, as well as unlawfully trespassing into a taxiway. They did so in order to inspect a US plane to ensure it was not carrying war material or personnel, in violation of Ireland’s Constitutional neutrality. Campaigners have long demanded that the Irish State itself carry out these inspections but despite evidence that the State’s neutrality is indeed being violated by US Planes landing at Shannon, successive Irish governments have insisted in taking USA Government denials on trust.

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Tarak Kauff addressing the audience at the public meeting organised by Afri.

The public meeting was opened by Joe Murray, Coordinator of Afri and Emer Lynam, newly-elected Vice-Chairperson of Afri Ireland, introduced the speakers.

The elderly campaigners, in their “Veterans for Peace” sweatshirts, addressed the audience about the reasons for their actions and their commitment to opposing US militarism which they stated was a major cause of misery around the world, including to serving members of the military themselves (quoting a figure of 22 suicides per day), along with being a major cause of world pollution. Ken Mayers explained that the USA has 800 military bases around the world in addition to its 400 on its own territory, the infrastructure, fuel expenditure and waste of the total which he stated is a major cause of pollution. (This is presumably without even taking into account the use of nuclear-generated power and disposal of radioactive material, or depleted uranium projectiles, such as used in Iraq or the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.)

Both men belong to an organisation called Veterans for Peace which campaigns against the US militarisation of the economy, war, interference in the affairs of other states and for better treatment of veterans. Recently they also supported a campaign against concentration camps for migrants along the US-Mexico border.

13 DAYS IN JAIL THEN BAIL ON CONDITION THEY DON’T APPROACH ANY AIRPORTS

          Ken Mayers, 82 years of age and Tarak Kauff 77, spent 13 days on remand in Limerick jail, where their toilet did not flush unless they poured buckets of water into it. Other than that, they said they were treated well and the other prisoners treated them “like celebrities”.

The reason for their bail being refused during that period was Garda objections that they would flee the jurisdiction. Tarak Kauff exposed the illogicality of this fear to the Dublin audience, explaining that they had taken their action at Shannon knowing that they would be arrested and wanting to use the trial to expose what was going on at Shannon airport: “For us not to attend that trial, they would have to physically drag us away from there!”

ken-mayer-standing-speaking.jpg
Ken Mayer of US Veterans for Peace, addressing the public meeting

They were eventually granted bail on condition they remain within the Irish state and having to surrender their passports, due to Garda objections again that they might flee, also not to approach any airports. On July 10th the High Court turned down their appeal against these conditions, though the judge said that he might review that decision if the case were to be moved to the Dublin District Court, where the waiting list was much longer. The defendants and their solicitor, Michael Finucane, will be seeking to have the case heard outside Clare, where it is believed a fair trial relating to a Shannon protest is unlikely. A trial date is expected in September or October.

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THEY POSTPONED MY HONEYMOON”

          Ed Horgan took the floor after Mayers and Kauff to speak about the one million total of children killed in the Middle East as a result of war and sanctions and urged action to prevent further loss of children’s lives.

Then Emer Lynam opened the meeting to questions.

In reply to questions from the audience about the cost to themselves, Ken Mayers revealed he was due to be on his honeymoon by now with his bride.

Ken Mayers was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island. From Princeton University he entered the US military as a Second Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, rising to Major until he left the organisation in 1966 in disgust with US foreign policy. In Berkeley University, California he gained a PhD in political science where, according to the AFRI event page, he became a peace and justice activist, which he has been ever since and six years on the Veterans For Peace (USA) Board of Directors, five of them as national treasurer.

Tarak Kauff, ex-military too and also from New York, said that he missed his wife and daughter but both were supportive of what he was doing, being activists also (see short letter from his wife in Links and References). According to Afri’s FB page, he’s a former U.S. Army paratrooper (1959 – 1962), a member of Veterans For Peace, the managing editor of VFP’s quarterly newspaper Peace in Our Times and was a member of the VFP National Board of Directors for six years. He has organized and led delegations of veterans to Okinawa; Jeju Island, South Korea; Palestine; Ferguson, Missouri; Standing Rock …. and Ireland.

Asked what kept them going, they stated the importance to act against injustice. Kauff in particular declared that “to resist is human” and that he wished to be fully human. He said that no-one could tell another what he or she could do but one only had have the courage to ask oneself that question …. and then the courage to act upon the answer.

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Section of audience at the public meeting

IRISH PEOPLE JUST COME UP AND SHAKE OUR HANDS, THANK US FOR WHAT WE ARE DOING”

          Both expressed gratitude and a degree of amazement at the warmth of their welcome and appreciation by members of the Irish public. Kauff gave an instance of the Lisdoonvarna pub where the management would not accept payment for their food and drinks. “People just come up to us and shake our hands and thank us for what we’re doing,” the veteran said, “and we don’t get that in the USA.”

Donations from the public fund them and, at the moment, they live in student accommodation at Limerick University, rent free – though they will need to find alternative accommodation in September.

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Emer Lynam, Vice-Chairperson Afri.

Asked about popular feeling in the USA, Ken Mayer explained that the US public are exposed to a systematic system of propaganda and misinformation. However their anti-war organisation is very wide with many members and that there were optimistic signs with popular protest about the treatment of migrants along the US-Mexican border and fuel pipeline resistance in New York State and in Standing Rock. However, a little later, Tarak Kauff said that the outlook was not promising but that not resisting was no choice — even if he knew the world was going to end next week, he would feel he had to resist in order to fulfill his human potential.

Earlier in their presentations, Kauff alluded to Ireland’s historic struggle to overthrow its powerful oppressor and called people to oppose the most powerful enemy in the world today – the US State. He said that a stance taken by the Irish Government today would have a strong progressive ripple-effect around the world.

RESISTANCE IN MUSIC AND SONG

          Music for the evening was provided by veteran campaigner John Maguire who sang a song he had composed back at the first demonstration at Shannon airport, with a chorus that the audience soon got the hang of and joined in.

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Musical accompaniment on the evening, l-r: Paul O’Toole, Nimal Blake, RoJ (Roger Whelan).

RoJ performed a song also of his own composition, accompanied by Paul O’Toole on guitar and Nimal Blake on cajón. Later, O’Toole also sang a song of his own, about the child who lost both his arms to US imperialist ‘smart-targeted’ bombing, then going on to sing one of Dylan’s numbers. Both RoJ and O’Toole are long-time professional performers and have produced CDs of their material.

All performers were warmly applauded.

The evening was a fund-raiser and it could be seen that the collection bucket, although covered, was stuffed with notes. Ken and Tarak also have a Fund Me appeal and Afri is also receiving some donations for them through the Internet.

End.

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A line up of activists, military veterans and musicians

LINKS AND REFERENCES:

Event notification by Afri: https://www.facebook.com/events/344492786248155/

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/surprisingly-humane-elderly-us-veterans-arrested-at-shannon-describe-their-prison-stay-1.3843401

http://www.stopthesewars.org/kenandtarak/

Letter to the Broadsheet by Ellen Davidson, wife of Tarak Kauff: https://www.broadsheet.ie/2019/04/03/story-of-why/

Summary of events and explanation by Ken Mayers: http://claredaly.ie/us-veterans-for-peace-forced-to-remain-in-ireland-pending-trial/

US Veterans for Peace: https://www.veteransforpeace.org/

Suicides in US Military: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_veteran_suicide

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The huge banner “US War Machine Out of Shannon” (sadly, out of focus)

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GREENS ELECTED — MORE OF THE SAME

 

(Reading time: 3 minutes approximately)

Diarmuid Breatnach

I am rubbish at predicting broad election results.  But the mass media is predicting, on early returns, a huge electoral swing in Ireland towards the Green Party — at least in the municipal elections.

(image source: Internet)

 

 

As I type these words the other candidates who failed to get elected as municipal councillors in the Irish state — or barely scraped through — will be licking their wounds.  The Greens will be celebrating, of course, spouting their analysis of what this means, of a huge change in the Irish people, of climate change awareness ….

 

And the media will be parroting them.

 

MORE OF THE SAME

I don’t believe the voting results are because of any great change in the consciousness of the Irish electorate — in fact I think it’s basically more of the same.

 

Why then the electoral surge towards the Greens? I don’t think that climate change issues — or more accurately the public perception of them — are enough to explain it, though it will no doubt have influenced some voters. I think the fundamental reason is that the Greens are not Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour or Sinn Féin. True, they are tainted from partnership with FF in the past but that was only a couple of them and a lot of water has gone under the bridges of Irish rivers since then.

I wouldn’t trust the Greens in power as far as I could throw an iceberg but I think what I’ve said above is the reality.
The 26-County electorate has traditionally voted either FF or FG into power. The latter normally needed another partner to form a majority, which Labour opportunistically gave them and later the party always paid the price, while a few of its leaders got fat pensions out of it.

Apparently every Irish government since the intervention of Hunger Strike candidates in 1981 has been a coalition, which testifies to an electorate generally unconvinced by either main party. But since the bank bailout, the electorate seems to have been even more disenchanted, voting for outsiders in the race and hedging their bets between parties, like spreading the risk in investments.

 

In the 2011 General Election, the voters kicked out FF to the lowest vote in the party’s history along with wiping out its Green party partners and, apart from voting in a lot of independents (mostly left-wing ones), they gave most votes to the party most likely to dislodge FF, which of course was FG.  And they spread the risk by giving Labour a lot of votes. Despite the hopes of the electorate this coalition basically gave us more of the same — privatisation of lucrative state services, mismanagement of others, expanding housing crisis and austerity measures.

So they put in a lot of SF in another year and what do they get? A party that votes in Dublin to hand over Council land to speculators because SOME ‘social housing’ will be built on it. Resignations of elected representatives through alleged internal party shenanigans. A party that has long ago lost interest in organising a base for anything except voting — a mirror, in fact, of FF in the past. And which, while playing sectarian politics in the Six Counties has supported — and implemented — austerity measures of the British State.

 

Media commentators will search for many reasons for this change — youth vote, middle-class vote, climate change consciousness and general environmental awareness.  I think there is a more fundamental reason which the commentators would probably rather not acknowledge, since it questions, not the viability of this or that party, but the whole system.

I don’t believe the people have any great faith in the Green Party and this elections seems more of the same behaviour of the electorate. Change the faces every so often — and spread the risk.
Nor do I blame the electorate — for what visible and realistic alternative has presented itself?

End.

 

REFERENCE

UNION SPOKESPERSON ARRESTED FOR INSULTING THE MONARCH

Diarmuid Breatnach

According to his trade union and other sources, Oscar Reina, spokesperson for SAT (Sindicato Andaluz de la Tierra — Andalucian Workers’ Union) was arrested at midday in Granada today while lunching with some of his colleagues, taking a break from preparations for the big demonstration on December 4th, the National Day of Andalucía as well as postering for a festival against repression planned for December 8th in Marinaleda, at which the band Ska-P will launch their most recent CD.

Oscar Reina, spokesperson for SAT, who was arrested today on a charge of “disrespect for the Monarchy” (the union flag seen nearby bears the traditional colours of Andalucia).
(Image sourced: Internet)

Reina has been required to attend court since being ordered to do so to answer charges of sending a “disrespectful to the Monarchy” tweet in 2016. H

According to trade union colleague José Caballero, communicated to the newspaper El Salto, he had not presented himself voluntarily to answer the charges in line with his union’s policy of disobedience for the leadership, adopted unanimously some years ago against the rising repression suffered by SAT, with a million in government fines and demands for imprisonment of more than 300 years with nearly 500 trade unionists charged.

The tweet for which the trade union leader is to be tried: “You must feel little shame Felipe de Borbón; you are a disgrace. Your position which nobody has voted for is inherited from an institution that was maintained as a result of a Francoist and terrorist coup.

I would award you the Prize for Lack of Decency and Hypocrisy, with a trip into exile.”

The SAT (Andalusian Worker’s Union) is a trade union operating within the Andalusian autonomous region within the Spanish state and claims a membership of 20,000. It was founded in 2007 and describes itself as: a trade union of class, alternative, anti-capitalist, assemblyist, of solidarity, internationalist, pluralist, anti-patriarchal, confederal, republican, Andalusian nationalist, of the Left and communist. Its General Secretary is Diego Canamero. The union is known for actions such as occupations of unused land and a 2013 raid on a supermarket to distribute school materials on families in need.

A recent protest of the union has been against the proposed Lands Law which they say will “sink forever the dream of our Andalusian working population for Agrarian Reform. One cannot understand Andalusia with the struggle for the land and that is more recent than might appear ….”

Andalusia has an unemployment rate of 24.4% (2017 official figures), with male unemployment at 21.6% and female unemployment reaching 27.9%. According to SAT’s figures, 50% of the land is in the hands of 2% of the population and that concentration is increasing. That is an average and in some areas the situation is much worse. One worker a day dies on the land, according to the union and 60% of Andalusians earn less than 1,000 euro a month. Around 40% are so poor they cannot afford educational materials.

The union spokesperson denounced the PSOE (which has the majority in the autonomous government) and put forward a six-point program of reforms demanded by the union which they say will address all these issues.

Reina ended the communiqué by calling on the working population of Andalusia to mobilise militantly and to demand “Tierra y Libertad!” (Land and Liberty).

LINKS:

News story: https://www.elsaltodiario.com/injurias-a-la-corona/detienen-granada-oscar-reina-miserable-a-felipe-vi?fbclid=IwAR1J9olUJkF1X9SLVGDBVTO6iTuzyqMlH7M1uh_harxL9zmHb433_DYDKHw#

S.A.T. Site: http://sindicatoandaluz.info/

S.A.T Sevilla (lots of union struggles, marches): https://www.satsevilla.org/

Video discussing unused land occupation in Andalusia and collaboration with the Red de Semillas (Seed Network), promoting older seed types more in keeping with the local environment, not relying on chemicals, etc: http://sindicatoandaluz.info/2016/12/19/somonte-vs-monsanto-semillas-de-dignidad-por-la-soberania-alimentaria/

 

A BASQUE COUNTRY REGION – BIODIVERSITY AND CULTURE

Diarmuid Breatnach

          People visit the Basque Country for different reasons — among the touristic reasons are cuisine, folk culture and beach-type tourism including surfing. For some there may be business reasons and possibly on the other end of the spectrum from them there is the political aspect – interest in and solidarity with their struggle for independence and to a lesser extent perhaps, socialism. Eco-tourism and archaeological interest are probably not high on the list for most people but I’d suggest it would be worthwhile to include sites dealing with such aspects in any itinerary.

Many Basques would tell you that their country has a long way to go in environmentally-friendly practices – or at least in those less harmful to the environment; if true, it serves to illustrate just how far behind the desirable are the practices common in Ireland. Everywhere in Basque village or town, one sees the recycling containers in their five different colours for paper, plastic, metal, glass and organic waste. One frequent complaint is about timber-production forestation practices and though much of the Basque country is green with trees, many of those trees are conifers or, even worse, Basques will say, eucalypts in mono-cultural acres. The latter are indeed widespread and are said to suck the moisture out of the soil so that after they are felled, little else can grow there.

Environmentally-friendly timber production is less intensive and more diverse in species, less harmful to biodiversity of plant and animal life and more protective of the soil from erosion, flooding and desiccation. But to business — and therefore mainstream political interests — it is slower in turnover of profit. The perils of this concentration on early profit gain have been underlined this year with the infestation of the main crop pines, the “Monterey pine” (Pinus radiata) by the ‘Mycosphaerella dearnessii’ fungi and ‘Mycosphaerella pini’, said to have originated in Central America, which turns the foliage (needles) brown, eventually leading to the destruction of the tree.

Pines infected by fungi in the southern Basque Country (Photo: El Correo)

That all said, at grassroots (forgive the unintended pun) and often municipal level, there is great interest and support for biodiversity in the Basque Country and discussion around the subject is much more socially widespread than one would find in Ireland or in most of Britain (though perhaps not in some other parts of Europe). There are many national parks and reserves of great beauty and even city Basques tend to have a culture of collecting edible fungi in the woods in the autumn and of hill-walking or mountain-climbing at various times of the year. And small farms can be found dotted throughout the countryside.

Education about the environment for adults, children and even tourists is taken seriously and, apart from schools, centres promoting environmental care can be found in many areas. One such site of interest is the bio-diversity and heritage centre of Madariaga, the Ekoetxea, in the Axpe de Busturia area between the towns of Bermeo and Gernika These are interesting towns in themselves of the coast of Bizkaia (Biscay) province and Gernika was of course made famous by its bombing by the Nazi Luftwaffe, in the service of the fascist generals (Franco et al) in 1937, during what probably most people call the the Spanish Civil War and others, the Iberian Anti-Fascist War. Bus and train services connects both towns and pass through Busturia, both services having a stop or station in Axpe. The bus and train services run at mostly half-hourly intervals, the train all the way to Bilbao, on a single track for much of the line, up and down trains alternating.

I dropped in to a charming tavern in Axpe named after the Basque flower, Eguzkilore: literally “Sun Flower”. This is not the “sunflower” which Van Gogh famously painted, so named because it turns to follow the sun through its journey across the sky; the Basque flower (Carlina acaulis) is a member of the thistle family and is thought to resemble an idealised image of the sun. Dried specimens are often found hanging over the front door of Basque houses as a good-luck symbol, quite probably a remnant of pagan sun-worship (like the Irish “St. Bridget’s Cross” and indeed the traditional Basque symbol of the lauburru is very like that Irish symbol too and interestingly, the Basque tradition related to me was that it was borrowed from the Iberian Celts).

Dried Eguzkilore attached to the outside of a Basque house near the front door (Image sourced: Internet).

The Eguzkilore tavern is owned by a friendly young couple, a Catalan woman and Basque man: he of course speaks Euskera and Castillian (Spanish) fluently, whereas she is fluent in Catalan, Castillian and English, speaks Euskera well and smatterings of other languages. Although I know from experience that their cuisine is excellent, I ordered only a simple kafe esnea there and after finishing it and a chat, set off up the road to the Madariaga Ekoetxea (“eco-house”), an easy walk of perhaps fifteen minutes. Turning left at the roundabout at the crest of the hill the centre was easily visible by the clock-bell tower and the taller viewing tower.

This latter was a defensive construction quite similar to the keeps constructed in Britain and Ireland by the Norman invaders, livestock quartered below and people living on floors above; one of the staff told me that it had been inhabited until the 1930s. Now the floors have been ripped out except for the top one, accessible by a short journey in a lift and once there one can view around something like 160 degrees: steep hills close by beyond the road, land sloping away towards Gernika and distant mountains on another side, beach of the estuary and some marshlands on another.

A view of estuary and marshlands from the Tower observatory — it was a rainy day and the photograph is taken through glass
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Closeup view of estuary and marshlands from the Tower observatory — it was a rainy day and the photograph is taken through glass
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
A view of river/ inlet mouth and headland eastward from the Tower observatory — it was a rainy day and the photograph is taken through glass (Photo: D.Breatnach).
The view southward from the Tower observatory is not so appetising but shows the steepness of the hills there. From those wooded slopes owls hooting may be heard night after night.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Tower was in fact the last part of the centre which I experienced. It was a showery Sunday in mid-October and the centre was fairly quiet, less that ten vehicles in the car park and nobody but a receptionist immediately available upon entering the building. I used my limited Euskera in addressing her, which is my practice in the Basque Country, and which is usually – but not always – appreciated. The native language has become “politicised” here (as some say it has also in the case of Irish in Ireland), which is another way of saying that it was banned under the Franco dictatorship, that people of a Spanish unionist turn of mind often resent it and native speakers, learners and independentists want to encourage its spread and use in everyday life. Of course in a cultural type of centre in the Basque Country I would not expect any negative response and I was answered politely in Euskera with a quick conversion to Castillian when my limited store of Euskera ran out.

WATER AND BIODIVERSITY

I had seen a small charge advertised outside but there was none on that day or perhaps that time of year to see two standard exhibitions, one on water and the other on biodiversity. The one on water informs visitors that water is a circulatory system: 1) most of it falls from the air in rain or humidity, some of it on to land and some on to lakes or on to the sea; 2) some of that which falls on land is taken up by soil and vegetation and excess runs off into streams, rivers and lakes; 3) some also soaks through permeable or semi-permeable strata of soil and rock and forms underwater reservoirs and lakes. 4) The excess runs out in underground rivers and streams, emerging eventually to empty into seas and lakes, where 5) the sun heats up the top layers again, creating clouds, many of which precipitate on to land, renewing the circle.

Photo panel of rock and limestone deposit formations in a Basque cave.

The diagrams, photos and videos demonstrated this process well and attractively and there were samples of varieties of sandstone and limestone to examine at close quarters. For me, the photos of underground caves formed by the water wearing away the limestone and the various and sometimes fantastic formations caused by chemical-rich water dripping for millenia were the most impressive along with the few examples of invertebrates adapted to life without light and mammals using natural caves were the most interesting, while others might have found the supplying of water to the public of greater interest (and certainly this is an important issue in many countries and not least so in Ireland).

Photo panel of troglodyte spider eating something.
Sleeping bat hanging from stalactite in cave.

 

One of the fantastic shapes created by decades or even centuries of chemically-laden drips. (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Photo panel of cave chambers with humans present for scale.

The section dedicated to bio-diversity is divided into different parts, including a room with video screens showing different types of humans (ethnic, gender, possibly sexuality, culture, age) and others dealing with plant, fungi and animal life. Passing through a type of broad corridor with explanations of what is a definition of biodiversity in many languages, one enters a brightly-lit room seemingly constructed entirely of panels, each one of an animal: birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, insects and other invertebrates. Not only the walls but floor and ceiling appear constructed of the panels, a vibrant bright room somewhat evoking the effect of stained glass with light shining through, a church celebrating the diversity of animal life, perhaps.

A kind of foyer before the rest of the exhibition (Photo: D.Breatnach)
The room “made of” panels of bio-diverse life, like stained glass: ceiling and two walls.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Floor in the illuminated panels room.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Walking onwards, one finds a hall filled with large cubes, standing haphazardly upon one another, each carrying the image of an animal or plant. The names of the species are given in Euskera, Castillian and Latin. I find myself at times wishing to see the names in English and then chiding myself for the unreasonableness of this wish. There are images of plants to be seen too, some of plants which we are informed are native to the country and one found only there.

The “Life Cube Hall” (as I think of it).
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

ATTRACTIONS IN THE WIDER AREA

A slim informational folded leaflet is available in a number of languages, one version being in English and French, not only about this centre but about a network of them managed by the “Basque Government” (i.e the Government of three of the southern Basque provinces, Biskaia, Gipuzkoa and Alava). These are visited every year by 100,000 people, the booklet informs us, 25,000 of which are schoolchildren; the ekoetxea which I visited receives 2,000 schoolchildren out of a total of 45,000 visitors annually.

Dragonfly and Water-Scorpion panel. The first lives in the water as infant, hunting prey , before its metamorphosis to flying hunter. The second lives always in the water, usually in the higher reaches, also hunting. Its “tail” does not sting people but its proboscis can, though not seriously.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
A view of the ‘Cube Life Room’ between cubes. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Another, more substantial booklet available in English which shows signs of translation probably from Castillian gives more information on the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, the wider area in which the Madariaga Ekoetxea is located. This booklet advertises nature trails for hiking or biking, restaurants for Basque cuisine, a cave occupied by prehistoric humans, the Gernika Tree and General Assembly building and museum, markets and folk festivals, cider and wine-houses, painted forest, hermitages, bird-watching and sea activities including surfing and whale and dolphin-watching. Strangely (or not), in its caption about Gernika, it has nothing to say about the bombing of the town in 1937 nor, in its references to human habitation and culture of the wider area, nothing either to say about the Spanish Civil (i.e Anti-Fascist) war or about the occupation of the area by the fascist troops and the repression that followed, nor about the suppression of their language under Franco.  

An information panel tells visitors that there are 3,335 different mammal, bird, fish, reptile, amphibian, fungi and plant species etc. in the the Urdaibai reserve and that 85 are in danger of extinction or are of special interest.  Some panels showing examples of these would be welcome as would more about the wildlife native to the area (like what species are the owls one can hear hooting at intervals through the night from the forested hill above Axpe, for example).

End

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Eguzkilore plant: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlina_acaulis

Ekoetxea Urdaibai: info@urdaibai@ekoetxea.eus 0034 946 870 402

Madariaga Ekoetxea: http://www.ingurumena.ejgv.euskadi.eus/informacion/madariaga-tower-basque-biodiversity-centre/r49-madaria/en/

The Monterey Pine and fungal infection: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinus_radiata

The Pine infection in the Basque Country (article in Castillian): 

https://www.diariovasco.com/gipuzkoa/pinos-gipuzkoa-heridos-20180607001828-ntvo.html

 

Extant and Extinct mollusc shells.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Different species’ seeds containers.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
European Mink cube.
The centuries-old clock tower; the clock is on the other side but the bell rings out the hour. Also visible are the solar panels.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
The Madariaga Tower (Photo: D.Breatnach)
The estuary and trees (Photo: D.Breatnach)

COLOURFUL PIONEERS, STRANGE PARTNERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

They are all around us; they live but they are not animals. Nor are they micro-organisms – we see them clearly all in many places. They can grow on organic and none-organic surfaces. We might think they are plants – algae, moss or fungus but they are none of those — they are lichens. There are about 20,000 known species1 and they cover an estimated 6% of the Earth’s surface, able to exist in environments as different as beneath Artic snow, on salt spray-showered seashores and windswept mountain rocks and in tropical rainforest. An estimated 6% of the Earth’s land surface is covered by lichen species.2 Some are long-lived and include the longest-living things on Earth. There are species that require nothing to cling to while others can live inside rock, in the spaces between grains.3 In Ireland, 1,134 separate species of lichen have been recognised, according to the National Biodiversity Data Centre – i.e over 5% of Earth’s estimated total species right here on this little island.4

When we look at some growing on tree bark or rock, we are tempted to think of them as fungus, algae or even moss. Mosses are ancient enough life-forms and are plants, which algae are too and almost certainly much older. Fungi used to be considered plants but are so no longer and in their structure and digestion and also genes, are more akin and more closely related to animals. This will not be good news to vegetarians or vegans but the evidence is difficult to deny.5 Indeed there are some feoilséantóirí (word in Irish for a vegetarian and more apt in the context of this sentence) who already dislike eating many fungi because the texture reminds them of meat.

But lichens are neither fungi nor plants.

White and Map Lichen on rock, Old Kenmare: Killarney Rd Kerry. (Photo source: WikiIreland)

 

Lobaria Pulmonoria lichen, a leafy type, Killarney National Park (photo sourced from Internet)

So if lichens are not plant or fungus, what are they? Another kind of life-form? Well yes … and no. They are a combination of both, fungus and plant. At some point in the evolution of life on earth, logically after plants and after fungi had evolved, somehow some species of fungi combined with some species of alga and/or cyanobacteria6 and produced a symbiont or biont: lichen. Scientists maintain that the 20,000 estimated species did not evolve from one common ancestor but that different species appeared separately at different times during the history of the Earth.

Teloschistes chrysophthalmus on branches (image sourced from Internet)
Another map algae (Geographicus) on rock, a species that in a test has survived exposure to space vacuum and radiation, apparently unharmed. (Image sourced Internet)

Plants draw their nutrients from sun and elements in the soil (or in some cases, in the water). Fungi, like animals, cannot get their nutrients straight from sun or soil and need to break down their alimentation materials, whether flesh or plant, in order to feed on them. In doing so, fungi are important decomposing agents – in fact, the principal ones.

Vascular plants need roots not just to cling to soil but even more importantly, to draw up water and nutrients but algae don’t; when they have any kind of roots, it is to cling to a surface and that is exactly what the lichen needs too. Fungi extend and feed through root-like growths usually under the surface of what they are feeding upon, extending from the tips; they are not roots, however and break off easily. What we see of fungi is usually the spore-bearing parts above the surface, often much the smaller part of the organism.

Plants seem to grow above ground also by elongating their tips but in fact are extending from further back, adding cells to cells to lengthen the body. All plants need a constant supply of water (cacti and succulents store water but still need to draw on the supply to live). Fungi need damp conditions. But when combined into lichens, the new species can live without water for a considerable time. So, a marriage, as they say, “made in Heaven” … or perhaps in a Hell, an environment of very dry and hot conditions alternating with the very wet and cold , where the newly-wedded ancient algae and fungi set out to build their homes.

Some lichens contain not only algae combined with a fungus but also a cyanobacterium; this partner is capable of fixing nitrogen extracted from the air and is a valuable addition to the menage-a-trois.

It has been remarked by some that the marriage of plant and fungus is not an equal one, is not true symbiosis, since the fungal partner or symbiote benefits more than does the algal. The algal symbiote produces sugar through photosynthesis and the fungus only chitin, or hard structure, it is argued. However, if both partners (or three) are content with the arrangement, is that not a happy marriage? More seriously, the fungal partner may contribute other factors to the symbiosis of which scientists are only just becoming aware – for example, chemicals to repel organisms attempting to graze on them and protection from the sun.

And scientists do not treat them equally either, since the species of lichen is always determined and named by them according to the species of fungus, not of the alga or bacterium.

COLOURS IN THE RAIN

Xantheria parietina (image sourced on Internet)

So, if the claim is that we see them all around us, where are they? They may be seen on slate roof-tops, in patches of roughly circular white (not to be confused with pigeon or seagull excrement, which may also be in evidence). Yellow or orange patches are typically seen on stone, as is a black or dark brown one by the seaside. A bright yellow-green one may be seen on fallen twigs or on tree-bark, as may also a tufted-form green one growing on rock or tree.

Alga and lichen on plane tree during rain, Drumcondra, Dublin. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The colours tend to be particularly vivid during or soon after rain when the cortex becomes translucent and, if there were no other reason to be grateful for the precipitation levels usual in Ireland, that would be reason enough, perhaps, should we take the time to admire the little things of beauty. Of course there are other reasons and as a Basque once said to me about the green of his native country and could perhaps even more accurately said about colour associated with the “Emerald Isle” — “It’s not green because we paint it.”

Some of the bright colours in lichens, produced by the fungus, are thought to be of use in protection from the rays of the sun and become more vivid after rain due to rapid absorption of water by the chlorophyl-holding part of the symbiont (or biont).

PIONEERS AND SURVIVORS

Lichina pygmaea – a black marine littoral species, this one photographed near the high-water mark. (Image sourced on Internet)

Lichens are considered “pioneer organisms” by botanists and geologists, i.e organisms that set out to colonise new territories. These maybe new territories in the sense that a geological change has exposed them to air, e.g from the seabed or from under ice, or from inside the earth by volcanic action or by tectonic plate collision.

Pioneer organisms need to be tough and adaptable and they often create footholds for other species, not quite so tough or adaptable, to follow after. However, given that logic dictates that algae and fungi existed before some of them combined to form lichens, the latter could not have been among the earliest colonisers of the Earth’s crust. On Earth then, they are later pioneers of newly-created inhospitable terrain.

May they be used to help create habitable environments elsewhere? It’s perhaps worth quoting these two paragraphs from Wikipedia in their entirety:

In tests, lichen survived and showed remarkable results on the adaptation capacity of photosynthetic activity with the simulation time of 34 days under Martian conditions in the Mars Simulation Laboratory (MSL) maintained by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

The European Space Agency has discovered that lichens can survive unprotected in space. In an experiment led by Leopoldo Sancho from the Complutense University of Madrid, two species of lichen — Rhizocarpon geographicum7 and Xanthoria elegans — were sealed in a capsule and launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket 31 May 2005. Once in orbit, the capsules were opened and the lichens were directly exposed to the vacuum of space with its widely fluctuating temperatures and cosmic radiation. After 15 days, the lichens were brought back to earth and were found to be in full health with no discernible damage from their time in orbit.

Hieroglyphics lichen (Graphis scripta) on rock, Castle Coole, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, October
Cladonia coccifera and Cladonia diversa or Pyxidata on branch in Ireland (also known as Pixy Cup and Devi’s Matchstick but “Pixy” sounds unlikely for a name in Ireland, more likely from Cornwall or elsewhere in south-west Britain).

In some areas, soil lichens help to bind the sand-crust or soil-crust together but lichens have also been shown to chemically attack stone, thereby helping to create soil. Lichens can also help create little environments where soil may be retained and seeds of plants germinate. However, like all species, lichens are out to help themselves and some produce chemicals to restrict the march of mosses (another pioneer species but more water-reliant), with which lichens would have to compete in many areas).

When growing on tree bark, lichens do not parasitise on the tree nor harm it in any way, merely using it as a secure base. Older trees are often covered with lichen and dead trees or branches more so, associating in some people’s minds the ill-health in a tree with the growth of lichen upon it. Circumstantial evidence may suggest the guilt of the lichen but it is completely a case of coincidence: lichen is slow-growing and the older the tree, the more time lichen has had to grow and extend upon it; the tree dies because it grows old.

Green Beard lichen, Usnea species, Cornwall (photographer: Jonathan Billingsworth). Usnea is very vulnerable to polution, particularly sulphur dioxide and will only grow like this when well away from such pollutants.
Lichen-covered apple tree (sourced: Irish Image Collection)

The lichen will survive the dead tree for a period but it is not the killer. Now come decomposers: insects, snails, slugs and especially, distant relatives of the lichens: fungi. Without concern for their relatives, the fungi, along with the other decomposers, will reduce the tree to soil ingredients and thereby deprive the lichens of their base but, in time, providing more soil for more trees to grow and for new generation of lichens to attach themselves to the bark.

The fungus is not too discriminating and a particular species may combine with different algae species; the resultant lichens may appear to be different species but (since 2014) will be classified as the same lichen species, i.e containing the same species of fungus.8

The alga can also exist independently in nature but the fungi cannot. Two species in two genera of green algae are found in over 35% of all lichens, but can only rarely be found living on their own outside of a lichen.9

A green frond-lichen, Evernia prunastri
(Image sourced at Internet)

Sex and Reproduction

It is only the fungal part of the symbiote that reproduces sexually. When doing so, it produces spores (as do ferns and mosses) which must find a compatible alga in order to produce a new lichen, a symbiote of the fungus of the parent fungus and a new alga.

Some lichens reproduce or extend asexually, advancing across a surface and merging with another of the same species.

Uses of lichens:

When we discuss “the use” of some thing we generally mean its use for humans; lichens no doubt have many uses for other organisms, whether as food for reindeer during non-growing seasons or as micro-environments for tiny creatures. But for humans, the uses are mostly in the areas of

  • dyes

  • drugs

  • environmental indicators

  • geological age indicators

Dyes and Pigments:

Dyes were made from the orange Xanthoria Parietina and the grey-green branched Parmelia Saxitillis to dye wools used in traditional tweed (Harris) weaving in the Scottish Highlands10 and I myself have had the second of the two pointed out to me by an Aran Islander woman as the source for the rarely-used green wool knitted into a geansaí (pullover or jumper). Material for other natural dyes exist for example in Ireland but the issues are how easily they are obtained, how true they dye and how long they remain the desired colour and shade.

“There are reports dating almost 2000 years old of lichens being used to make purple and red dyes. Of great historical and commercial significance are lichens belonging to the family Roccellaceae, commonly called “orchella weed” or “orchil”. Orcein and other lichen dyes have largely been replaced by synthetic versions.”11

We know that red and purple dyes were much sought after and in some medieval civilisations the wearing of those colours was restricted to certain social classes and even to one individual (e.g the purple for the Emperor). Once Europeans had gained familiarity with indigenous civilisations of Central and South America, the red dye obtained from the parasitic cochineal insect Dactylopius coccus became an important export product to Europe until the late 19th Century, when synthetic pigments and dyes were invented. Despite this development, traditional hand-made textile producers, for example in regions of Mexico, continued to use cochineal dyeing. However, health concerns associated with some or all of those synthetic colourings in food have once again created a demand for cochineal and cultivation of the insect is once again economically viable, with Peru being currently the main exporter.12

Drugs and Medicine:

There is reason to believe that metabolites produced by lichens may have antibiotic effects and usnic acid, the most commonly-studied metabolite produced by lichens, is being investigated as a possible bactericide, in particular against Staphylococcus and E.coli.13

Lichens were also used in European traditional medicine, in particular based on the theory that plants that resembled human organs would be efficacious in treatment of illness of those organs. Some American Indigenous people also used them in traditional medicine treatment.

Lichens as Indicators of Geological Age and of Pollution Levels:

The science of lichenometry is a relatively new one in which measuring the type and size of lichen is used to indicate the age of exposed rock. It takes the known slow growth-rate of different lichens to arrive at an estimate of how long the rock in question has been exposed. This can be used on rock formations, landslides, stone buildings and statuary.

The tolerance (or lack of tolerance) of different species of lichen to certain types of air and rain pollutant can be used as bio-indicators. In general the “frond” or “bushy” types are less resistant to some air pollutants and the flat or “crusty” types more so. Lichens take their water from the surfaces to which they are attached and from the air and are therefore quickly affected by the water quality in rain and air.

In Conclusion:

Readers may find it worthwhile to take some time to examine the lichens growing around us, to think about their unusual ‘domestic arrangements’ and their pioneering habits. Or to inventory them as indicators of the level and content of pollution in a specific area.

And in particular, to put on rainproof or resistant clothing and to view lichens during rainfall or at least very soon afterwards.

End.

 

Links:

http://www.irishlichens.ie/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lichen

http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/projects/biodiversity-inventory/taxonomic-groups/lichens/

http://www.habitas.org.uk/lichenireland/

http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/gardens/loving-lichen-1.1970168

Fungi closer to animals than plants (very short articles):

https://www.scienceabc.com/nature/how-are-mushrooms-more-similar-to-humans-than-plants.html

https://www.naturalnews.com/044200_fungi_animals_plants.html

http://www.brighthubeducation.com/science-homework-help/8061-relationship-between-animal-plant-and-fungi-phylogeny/

About Algae and Cyanobacteria:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microalgae

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algae

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanobacteria

About Cochineal and Social Rank by colour:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochineal

http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/clothing-and-social-status

http://renaissanceclothing.blogspot.ie/2011/02/meaning-of-renaissance-and-medieval.html

http://www.libraryireland.com/Brehon-Laws/Classification-Society.php (last paragraph in this section)

About Drugs from Lichens:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usnic_acid

About Lichens as Environmental and Geological Age Indicators:

See the Wikipedia article on lichens, also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lichenometry

https://staff.concord.org/~btinker/gaiamatters/investigations/lichens/lichens.html

http://www.air-quality.org.uk/19.php

https://myscienceblast.com/myscienceblast/dating-landslides-with-lichen/

 

Footnotes:

1See Wikepedia link to article on Lichens.

2Ibid (as above).

3Ibid.

4See link to Biodiversity Data Centre website.

5See Science ABC link for example.

6A primitive plant form that used to be called blue-green algae; they are believed to have been their first mass oxygenator of the planet Earth.

7This species, also known as “the map lichen” is common enough on rocks in upland areas of Ireland and Britain (see articles on Lichens).

8See Wikipedia article on Lichens (link below).

9Ibid

10Ibid

11Ibid

12See Wikipedia link on Cochineal

13See Wikipedia link on Lichens, Medicinal use and the Wiki link on Usnic acid.

RIVAL MANDARINS FIGHTING IN DUBLIN

Cycling through Griffith Park off the Mobhi Road, after a walk in the nearby Botanic Gardens, a flurry of wings and a flash of colours attracted my attention.  Three birds came down with a splash into the Tolka.

Rival males and female on a rock in the Tolka.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

You don’t need to be any kind of expert to identify the Mandarin Duck, especially the males and that’s what two of those birds were.  The dowdier third one was the female.

I have often noted two male mallard ducks peacefully accompanying one female and wondered whether they had a menage-a-trois going or what the arrangement was.  But there was nothing like that going on with the Mandarins as the males made clear quite quickly.  After briefly circling around one another they were quickly into fisticuffs (or beak-and-wing-cuffs), scuffle-splashing, clucking insult or challenge, until the rival to the established male would take to the wing either for a break or to get next to the female.  In the latter case, the male would take to the air also, in pursuit.

The female?  She swam demurely apart waiting for the victor.

The female Mandarin Duck in the Tolka.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

There was clearly one established male who for the moment was the dominant one but the rival kept coming back while I was watching and they were still at it when I left.  The established one has the psychological dominance factor on his side, which is a strong advantage but it is by no means a guarantee of success.  The rival might wear him down.  Or the established one might become injured.  Being a male and keeping one’s bird is not easy.

Rivals circling briefly in mid-water prior to another scuffle on the river.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

According to Charles Darwin, genders of many species but many birds in particular have become colour-differentiated through part of the evolutionary process described as sexual selection (The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, 1871).  This has reached amazing and one might say even bizarre though beautiful extremes with such birds as the peacock and the bird of paradise.

Darwin’s ideas make more sense than other explanations being proposed but it is nevertheless hard to credit that a female’s appreciation of colour, shape and behaviour would so impress upon the male the need to flaunt gaudy colour and shape in direct contravention of the need to survive predators by NOT calling such attention to himself.  Still, there is no other viable contender explanation around (as distinct from the Mandarin contender, who may still be biding his time or pressing his suit, which if the established male has anything to say about it, is all he is going to press).

Established male with female on rock and the rival that won’t give up. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Aix galericulata is the Latin species name and the only other species in the Aix genus is the North American Wood duck.  A chromosome in the Mandarin makes hybridisation between the two impossible.

Mandarin Ducks originate in East Asia but have been kept in Europe in aviaries and in ponds and lakes.  Stephens Green used to have some, along with many other kinds of wildfowl, until the OPW allowed the Herring Gulls to take over to the extent that they have.  I have not seen them do it but would not be in the least surprised if the gulls ate the chicks of many of the waterfowl species until they died out or took off somewhere else.

However, there have been feral Mandarin populations in Ireland for some time, notably in Co. Down and in Wexford and pairs may be establishing themselves in other places, including in the Glasnevin/ Drumcondra area, based around the Tolka (and perhaps the Royal Canal).

The Mandarin is a perching duck and this kind have feet capable of grasping a branch.  They build their nests in hollows in trees which is good for the safety of the nesting female and the eggs.  But what of the chicks or ducklings?  As we know, ducklings take to the water long before they can fly.  So what can these ducklings in tree hollows, many feet from the ground, do?  They simply jump.  A veritable leap into the unknown.

When they hit the ground, which at first sight seems to ensure they have broken practically every bone in their little bodies or a least concussed themselves and messed up their insides, they bounce a little, get up and waddle to their mother.  Yes, she called them out, which is why they came.

One needs to see the process to believe and I have included some Youtube links.  It would seem at first that they need soft leaf litter or water in which to land but one of the links I have posted shows Mandarin ducklings jumping from a nestbox on to bare stone — and getting up, apparently unhurt.  It is difficult to understand, even with accounting for the relationship of weight to surviving a fall.  We probably know that we can drop lots of insect species on to the ground and they don’t get hurt but the principle goes farther — apparently a mouse can survive a fall from a great height (unless a hawk gets it on the way down, or a cat is waiting below); conversely a fall of four foot on to its feet can kill an elephant (so it is said — I have not actually tried this with elephants but I have inadvertently confirmed the mouse theory).

Often invasive species should not be welcomed as they upset the natural ecological balance.  The grey squirrel in the nearby Botanic Gardens, originally from the USA, may be cute but it is helping to wipe out the native red species.  And that’s just one of the invasive species of animal and plant that are causing problems in Ireland (see https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/the-scent-of-intruders/).  On the other hand, the widely-distributed Red Valerian (also with white and pink varieties) does not seem to be causing any problems and it is difficult to see how the Mandarin can become a serious problem either.  But of course, one does not know for sure.  It can be stated that the populations so far established in Britain and in Ireland do not seem to have caused any ecological problems.  And it is true that we don’t have many dense woods in Ireland anywhere (thanks to certain human invaders in our history), least of all close to slow-flowing water, although some species have shown remarkable adaptability, witness in these climes the rat, fox, pigeon, herring gull and, of course, homo sapiens.

One of the curious things about the Mandarin is the name we have for it.  Apparently, it is a Portuguese word for the Chinese government bureaucrats in existence when the Portuguese first began to trade with them (before they and other Europeans decided to invade China and confiscate areas, in particular ports and islands).  How they became associated with the duck was not revealed in my short internet search.

However, in China and in Korea the mandarin duck is associated with fertility, good fortune and constancy in monogamy, so that it is often presented as a wedding gift, either as living pairs or symbolically in an ornament.  It is not currently considered an extermination-threatened species.

End.

 

Video links (second one is of merganser ducklings and is even more impressive):

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php

Other information sources:

Mandarin duck unlikely invader | Irish Examiner

21 Facts on Mandarin Duck – Tweetapedia – Living with Bird

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandarin_duck

 

 

 

THE MOORE STREET MARKET — A POSSIBLE FUTURE

Diarmuid Breatnach — part of Submission to the Minister’s Moore Street Consultative Group

I have had input to a number of submissions to the Minister’s Moore Street Consultative Group and recently sent in my own personal one.  The submission is divided into sections and this is the one dealing with the market (the others will be published at intervals).

DUBLIN’S HISTORIC STREET MARKET

Historically, the Moore Street quarter deserves preserving in its own right and should have been so. Instead, it has been both neglected and preyed upon. But so has the street market.

20160910_120853
View across fruit stall showing hoarding on the right (In August, before hoarding also erected on the left) and SMSFD campaign stall in the distance. (source: D.Breatnach)
Moore Street, perhaps 1960s or 1970s, from perhaps the roof or upper floor of the GPO building (Source: Internet)
Moore Street, perhaps 1960s or 1970s, from perhaps the roof or upper floor of the GPO building
(Source: Internet)

As the only traditional food street market of antiquity remaining in Dublin, considering also its iconic status to not only Dubliners but migrants through the centuries and to visitors from the countryside, the street market should also have been saved. Such features in cities abroad are promoted for tourists, and indeed both Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland do promote the market to visitors to Dublin. One can see the bemusement of the faces on many as they wander through in groups and imagine their thoughts (or overhear their expression):

This is the famous street market? Are we sure we haven’t taken a wrong turning?”

It is easy to understand their confusion. Had they come a half-century ago, before the ILAC was built, they would have seen a bustling street, with stalls and shops both sides of the road along its length, and some businesses in side streets. Two decades ago, they would have found no difficulty in imagining the market’s former glory, for much of it remained still. Even a decade ago, perhaps, enough remained to imagine it.

People signing the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign petition in Moore Street with the new hoarding for the ILAC's latest extension in the background. (Photo: D.Breatnach)
People signing the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign petition in Moore Street with the new hoarding for the ILAC’s latest extension in the background.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

But now? With shops closed and ugly hoardings squeezing the street? With big business shops pushing out in Moore Street? With independent shopkeepers offered only one-year leases at a time and pushed out willy-nilly? With only 15 street trading licences in operation and only some of those on the street at any one time?

The street market is not beyond saving and I will devote some space to that issue but first let us examine how it has come to this, for overcoming those causes is part of the solution.

THE GUILTY

In a Rogues’ Gallery of those guilty for bringing about this state of affairs, first in line must stand the Planning Department of Dublin City Council, which has made the decisions about what could be built and what demolished.

I know not how much money was placed into how many brown envelopes nor the names of all those who received them (though I have a fair idea of the identities of some of the recipients), nor what other favours were dispensed. But what is clear is that there was massive favour given to big business and speculators, the legendary Gombeen Men, and massive disfavour to street traders, small independent businesses, workers and working class residents. This of course has happened in many other areas of Dublin City and County and indeed elsewhere in Ireland. But one of the most concentrated areas of abuse has been the Moore Street area. And it continues to suffer that abuse.

Part view of LIDL supermarket and junction of O'Rahilly Parade and Moore St.  Most of the market stalls begin from just past the dark blue hoarding at the right of photo.  (source: Internet)
Part view of LIDL supermarket and junction of O’Rahilly Parade and Moore St. Most of the market stalls begin from just past the dark blue hoarding at the right of photo. (source: Trip Advisor)

Who, wanting to conserve a street market, would allow a giant supermarket chain outlet at one end of the street and another next door, in a city centre already abundantly served (if that is the word) by supermarkets? Who, wanting to conserve such a street market, would grant planning permission to huge shopping centre buildings to cover the entire area on each side of that remaining street market? Who, in good stewardship of our city centre, would grant a huge extension on a bad planning permission when the original one of a decade was running out with no work of any significance having been done on it to that point? And what public servants would so callously and nonchalantly ignore the wishes expressed by its citizens and, indeed of late, by the majority of their elected representatives?

Roques map of the Moore Street quarter showing the streets lost under the present ILAC (source: Internet)
Roques map of the Moore Street quarter showing the streets lost under the present ILAC
(source: Internet)

Since no other motivations are apparent, one is entitled to assume either idiocy or rapacious greed; since the men involved on both sides of those arrangements are not idiots in the normal sense, that leaves an intelligent observer with only one alternative. And ask most ordinary people in Dublin and they will freely name the alternative, the real motivation.

One of the Asian exotic fruit and vegetable shops in the street (one was evicted recently to make way for the ILAC extension).  (source: D.Breatnach)
One of the Asian exotic fruit and vegetable shops in the street (one was evicted recently to make way for the ILAC extension). (source: D.Breatnach)

Next into that rogues’ gallery must step the Department of Dublin City Council responsible for Street Trading – it is they that issue the street trading licenses to the street traders, lay down conditions and enforce restrictions, and in conjunction with other departments, provide their facilities.

Yes, well – facilities? One covered stall, open on all sides. No heating. No lighting other than the dim amount in the street. No water supply near to stalls. No toilets or changing rooms for the traders. Year after year, despite promises to the contrary, these disgraceful conditions continue. Some of the current traders are the fourth generation of their family in such work but is it any wonder that few stall-holders believe their children or grandchildren will follow them into the work?

As if that were not enough, around the time the Moore Street campaign was heating up further, when Chartered Land was gearing up to make its ‘land-swap’ offer, a deal promoted by the head of the Planning Department and lauded by Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys, Dublin City Council put not one but two permanent Market Inspectors on the street (at that time I think there were only 16 street licenses in operation there). Previously, one inspector would tour the market perhaps once or twice a day, for an hour at most.

What was the practical need for bumping up to this relatively high level of inspection? These inspectors have no powers other than instructing the shops and traders about street and pavement regulations and fining them for non-compliance. They do not attend to any other matters. They do not even claim to monitor the quality of the produce sold in the street.

There is no reasonable answer to this question, unless the purpose is to harass the small shopkeepers and traders further, in the way that unscrupulous landlords harass their tenants when they want to get rid of them but find it difficult to do so legally.

I do not accuse the individual inspectors of having that intention – only those who conceived of the idea and put them on that street. But employ two men on a street which they can clearly see often contains only ten stalls, tell them they have to enforce the street trading rules or their jobs will be in jeopardy — and what will they do? Urged by employment insecurity and sheer boredom, they will go up and down the street, criticising traders and even shopkeepers for extending some inches outside their allotted space (though there are many empty metres to each side and their neighbours are not complaining), or for continuing to sell some minutes after official closing time, threatening and even fining those trying to make a living with legitimate businesses and stalls on that street.

One might almost suspect that between speculators, big chain businesses and certain Dublin City Council officials, there is a conspiracy to run the street market into the ground, in order to make the whole a rasa tabula, a board wiped clean, upon which powerful financial interests can write their plans. Or an eyesore that few will bother to defend. And I say that such a conspiracy exists. Generally in this world, what looks like, feels like and smells like is indeed the substance one suspects.

Drawing showing how the proposed shopping centre (dark blue) and the current ILAC light green are taking over the quarter and squeezing the Moore St. market (source: Internet)
Drawing showing how the proposed shopping centre (dark blue) and the current ILAC light green are taking over the quarter and squeezing the Moore St. market. (source: Internet)

The Moore Street Market should be cherished, nurtured and supported. Perhaps it is too late to do anything about those already in existence around it but no more supermarkets should be permitted in its near proximity.

The street traders should be given decent working conditions of shelter, heating and light and free from unnecessary official interference (not to say harassment). Small independent businesses should be encouraged in the street and in its surroundings (more on this later). The objective should be to promote a healthy, vigorous, colourful street food market on the spot where such has stood for centuries, with attractive working and earning-a-living conditions for those who work and shop there.

CONCRETE RECOMMENDATIONS

I am not a street trader but I have sold and promoted items publicly on many occasions and I also know something of the conditions in Moore Street, which I attend at least once week and usually a number of other days too.

  • When the weather is fine it is pleasant to have an open-air market but when it rains, snows or cold winds blow, shelter is desirable. The only way to be able to benefit from good weather and shelter from the bad is to provide a removable cover over the whole. I am sure that our present level of technology can provide a retractable, transparent roof.
  • Because the winds can be biting and also to conserve heat in winter, I suggest that sliding doors at each end to of the market should be provided – these can be left open or partially drawn as required.
  • Each stall should have adequate lighting and heating at hand (or foot!). A water supply should be available nearby no more than a few feet distance from every stall.
  • Toilets should be provided for traders.
  • There should be more flexibility in what the traders can sell, without losing the focus on a food market. During the 1916 Centenary year, traders were prevented by market inspectors from selling simple 1916 memorabilia – scarves, copies of the proclamation, flags etc. Such a prohibition in Moore Street was particularly ironic and unfortunate.
  • The refuse collected in the street should be verifiably recycled, the vegetable and fruit refuse in particular making excellent compost for city gardeners (and perhaps for a garden in the quarter itself).
  • The market traders do not work on Sundays and this seems an excellent opportunity to provide a farmers’ market in the street and lanes, bringing more value to the area.
  • The part of Moore Street largely omitted from the Barrett judgement, i.e from the Henry Place/ Moore St. junction to  Henry Street, should be included in the overall plan
  • All of the above should be done in consultation with representation from workers, traders, small shopkeepers, shoppers of Moore Street and with local residents and the process should be transparent and publicly accountable
    Some of the few surviving fruit stalls on Moore Street, half-way down the main stall street, east side, looking northwards. (source: D.Breatnach)
    Some of the few surviving fruit stalls on Moore Street, half-way down the main stall street, east side, looking northwards; standing by, Angela, one of the long-time street traders. (source: D.Breatnach)

     

    Flower stalls at the north end of Moore Street (source: D.Breatnach)
    Flower stalls at the north end of Moore Street (source: D.Breatnach)