Review of ‘Beauty through Broken Windows’ on the World Day of the Poor

Today is the ‘World Day of the Poor’, observed in the Catholic Church since 2017 when it was established by Pope Francis. It’s a day to remind Christians of their obligations to follow Christ’s example to pursue justice for the poor. A new book, Beauty through Broken Windows: Empowering Edmund Rice’s Vision Today, edited by Aidan Donaldson and Denis Gleeson, is an excellent resource for learning more about how Christians around the world are living out such a vision. The …

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Be Careful Where You Tread – A Cautionary Tale for Halloween…

birds on sky

Not quite as large as a used tea bag but much the same shape and colour, the tiny thing lay, helpless, on the concrete just below my front doorstep, ideally positioned for an approaching foot to unknowingly flatten it. If it hadn’t been for the ever-questing eye of a visiting artist friend it would never have been spotted in the midst of our morning’s comings and goings. Bats have been visiting our house since the first night we came to …

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Hard borders on the Island of Ireland are nothing new…

Hiking to the top of a rocky outcrop right before a heavy rain storm came in and caught the very last glimpse of sun making way through the clouds.My work is 100% community-supported. You can fund my next photography adventure at Patreon.com/rvrmakes

Half a billion years ago the land mass that makes up the island we recognise today as Ireland belonged to two primordial continents separated by an ancient ocean. The northern portion belonged to the continent of Laurentia, now preserved as parts of North American, while the south belonged to the supercontinent of Gondwana, which would form large parts of Europe, Africa, and Australia. About 470 million years ago, the process of plate tectonics caused these two ancient continents to drift …

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Revisiting Nuclear Power : Part 3 : Can it be weaponised ?

Nuclear explosion mushroom cloud

Following on from my previous articles on how nuclear power works, and why we need to rethink the dangers posed by it, it’s time to talk about the other safety-related concerns that are often raised in the debate about the viability of nuclear power. Can a nuclear power station explode like a nuclear bomb ? What happens if a nuclear power station finds itself in the theatre of military conflict, as is currently happening in Ukraine ? To deal with …

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Can we save Belfast City Centre?

Before the pandemic, I visited a client’s office in Belfast City Centre. They were on the 7th floor of a building near City Hall. While waiting in reception, I could look over Belfast and marvel at all the construction work. At that time, Belfast was buzzing with many new companies investing in the City Centre.  I did not go near the City Centre during the pandemic as I had no reason to. I had seen reports on social media that …

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Dealing with the fat cats…

follow @mr.toobs for more pics

The vet thrust her hand into the cat basket to extract the angry, growling, spitting, claws-out-creature I had painfully put in, pulled out a docile lump of black fur and, after a brief assessment, plonked it on a set of scales placed handy to the examination table. “Felicity, this cat is not overweight, no, she is grossly OBESE!” This shocked me to my core. The vet’s normally pretty mouth was set in a grim line of disapproval. My cat, frozen …

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My Terrific Tadpoles: A Fond Farewell…

tadpoles in small pond

Last Tuesday evening, torrential rain ripped out of the sky. My mother hung behind me, trying not to get washed away on the trails of Tollymore Forest Park. The place was empty as we made our way towards the lake, carrying a small kitchen bin. Inside were two tadpoles, practically jumping up and out to feel the cool rain on their slimy faces. Their day had come. There had originally been five of them. Discovered in a dried sheugh outside …

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The untapped tourist potential of Tyrone…

Ulster American Folk Park

Having recovered from being effectively a no-go area for tourists for the best part of three decades Northern Ireland now has much to offer the discerning visitor. Although I seem to be one of the few people on the planet who have never seen Game Of Thrones, the show seems to have worked wonders for the local tourist industry now that places like the Dark Hedges and the Giants Causeway have become popular must-see destinations. There are of course the …

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Little Shrew…

shrew, mouse, animal

I hadn’t noticed it hiding underneath the car, its tiny form camouflaged perfectly among the gravel as my daughter moved off down the driveway. Our collie Meg on the other hand, was rather more astute and in one pounce she had it in her mouth – a little shrew. I couldn’t bring myself to blame the dog. No malice was involved in this playful display of normal canine behaviour, but as I extricated the tiny insectivore from its confinement, I …

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It’s official: The planning system in Northern Ireland is broken (in so many ways)

Prehen Ancient Woodland

You would think that in a small place like Northern Ireland prioritising the environment would be a critical government concern, but seemingly it is the opposite.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) review of planning in Northern Ireland published this month is damning, to say the very least. The PAC was “alarmed” and “appalled” by the planning system. It is failing in its role to protect the environment, be an economic driver or deliver places that people want to live and work in.

The review vindicates the views and experiences of all the campaigners who have raised problems with the system over the years. The report notes that the planning system in Northern Ireland is not working, suffering from entrenched problems.

Like my father-in-law George McLaughlin, some have been trying to get these issues recognised for decades, particularly in relation to the Prehen Ancient Woodland. Finally, some acknowledgement.

Some specific findings include:

  • the planning system lacks transparency and public trust; the PAC was “alarmed by the volume of concerns around transparency”
  • the PAC was “appalled by the performance statistics”
  • there is a lack of accountability for poor performance; the PAC was “alarmed by the Department’s misunderstanding of accountability”
  • the planning system is one of the worst examples of silo-working within the public sector
  • the Department’s leadership of the planning system has been weak
  • members of the public feel excluded and often believe they have no choice but to launch legal proceedings
  • the planning committees appear “to take an interest” in particular developments; the PAC was “alarmed to hear that lobbying is happening, even though it shouldn’t be”.

The PAC recommends that a Commission is established to undertake a fundamental review to ascertain the long-term and strategic changes that are needed to make the system fit for purpose.

Let’s hope this Commission is established, and proper planning can be put in place that protects the environment. The current dysfunctional bureaucracy with its unaccountable and untransparent governance that routinely supports destructive (lobbied-for) development must go.

Well done the 60-strong group, the Gathering, who have shone a light on this failed system.

High Schools: Casualty of a new Northern Ireland?

school, study, education

My son attends the local high school. This seemed like a logical choice when he was in P.7. The school is on our street. Petrol is a finite resource. If you’ve been out of the education loop for a number of years, rest assured that we have a good education system here in Northern Ireland. The number of choices, however, is mind-boggling for parents, stress-inducing for children and not great for the planet. I grew up in a ‘mixed’ working …

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The North finally has a Climate Act – now what?

Sean Fearon is a post-growth political economy researcher The passing of a Climate Act in the North comes in a month during which even the most pessimistic members of the climate science community were profoundly shaken by developments at our planet’s northern and southern poles. Temperatures in Antarctica peaked at a staggering 40 degrees above normal levels this week, in a jolting reminder of the climate and ecological crises looming over us. It’s clear then that recent, albeit modest, advances …

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Home heating oil now over £1000 for 900 litres…

truck, tanker, fuel

Get your thermals on, the price of home heating oil continues to soar. I was looking at the prices of my last 2 fills of 500 litres: 9th Sept 2021 – £210 18th Feb 2022 – £315 Now the same oil quantity would cost me over £600, nearly 3 times the price of 6 months ago. Every week we survey home heating oil suppliers to provide you with the average cost of 300L, 500L and 900L in your local area. …

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Why we need to invest in insulation and renewable energy projects…

solar panels, placement, green energy

I was chatting with the principal of my son’s primary school this morning. He was telling me that the school’s gas bill has gone from £3000 to £10,000 a month. This is in line with the Department of Education forecasting an increase of 13 million for school energy costs in Northern Ireland. As we were chatting I was looking up at the huge roof of the school and thinking you could get a whole pile of solar panels up there. …

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At several stages over the past few days over 90% of NI energy needs came from renewables…

windmills, rainbow, fields

A stunning example of the potential of renewable energy. Yesterday at 11am wind generation peaked at 1048MW while this isn't a new wind generation record it is still a terrific achievement. At that time wind power was fulfilling more than 90% of Northern Ireland's demand for electricity. (1) pic.twitter.com/GUPOT1LYKx — SONI Ltd (@soni_ltd) February 17, 2022 Currently over half of our energy needs is being met from renewable power, here is today’s fuel mix from SONI. Obviously, this is due …

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Thanks for giving us Whitey. She made us happy and she made me smile…

cat, pet, eyes

She was already stiff when I found her lying dumped beside a ditch not twenty yards from my home, her beautiful white fur marred only by a spot of red at the temples, those unforgettable green eyes forever shut to the living world. I got a sheet from the house to wrap her in and pleated it round her carefully so that she was safe and wouldn’t fall out. Her corpse was surprisingly heavy for a cat but I did …

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Should we speed up or slow down our roads?

highway, construction site, narrowed

Last summer we spent a few days in Enniskillen. We drove down from Belfast on a lovely clear summer morning. The roads we pretty empty and it was very easy to give in to the temptation to speed. Most drivers were driving over the limit, at one stage a police car passed me and even they were doing over 80. It got me thinking about speed. In most of Europe, the limit is 74-80mph on a motorway. The Republic is …

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A Wonderful Wander Through Belfast

Belfast’s tenth annual 4 Corners Festival (30 January-6 February), begins in a week’s time. One of the aims of the inter-church festival is to inspire people to visit and explore all four corners of the city, especially areas they have not ventured before. The festival’s popular ‘Wonderful Wander’, which takes place this year on 5 February, is a guided walk that encourages people to see Belfast in a new light. Caroline Clarke from Belfast shares her experiences of last year’s …

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Slugger Podcast: Greg Keeffe on How the pandemic is changing how we live…

It has been over a year since I last did a Podcast. I wish I could say I was doing something constructive with my time but it was mostly doom scrolling – I imagine some of you can relate. To get out of my funk I turned to Greg Keeffe. Greg Keeffe is an academic and urban designer with over 30 years experience in sustainability, energy use and its impact on the design of built form and urban space. He …

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Take me to the river…

Macro photography of water waves

Not just any river. In the well-known song by Al Green, the river alluded to is the Jordan, the lowest river in the world, and because of the area it flows through, it is regarded as holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. The song references baptismal cleansing and what could be interpreted as less spiritual as it alludes to teenage lust. It was covered by many bands seeking to emulate the soulful voice and style of Green, and it …

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