5 October 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

It has traditionally been almost a defining characteristic of Irish people in general, and perhaps Co Monaghan people in particular, that they live in particular intimacy with their natural environment.
Lest we be accused of advancing an overly romantic concept, it should be acknowledged that in the practical business of human conduct this relationship has not always been a happy or harmonious one historically, and there are many examples in the contemporary world of self-interest being pursued to the detriment of our heritage and our environment.
But the affinity is there, so deeply rooted that it has given defining expression to some of the best of our literary, musical and artistic culture.
Two events at Monday’s meeting of Monaghan Co Council showed local consideration for the world in which we live in, in the lay of the land, in its best light.
The meeting acknowledged the achievement which the Co Council has shared in as part of the East Border Region in winning a prestigious Sustainable Ireland Award for the Action for Diversity project which is promoting a series of activities to foster greater awareness of the need to protect and nurture the ecosystem that sustains us, and to encourage participation at local level to this end.
As lead partner in a project that encompasses involvement from ten local authority areas, the Monaghan authority have the key guiding hand in ensuring it yields practical results – and their efficacy in this regard can be gauged from the awarding agency’s comment that the East Border Region initiative “has made great strides in demonstrating the importance of protecting our natural environment”.
They have certainly, in the county’s Project Officer Dr Carmel Brennan and Co Heritage Officer Shirley Clerkin (a Co-Chair of the project), two skilled and knowledgeable advocates of best practice in this particular field, and the efforts of both to make the project succeed received deserved acknowledgement on Monday.
Any undertaking of this kind – particularly one encompassing such a large geographical area – relies crucially on buy-in from local communities that goes much further than the contribution made by those groups with a particular interest or stake in wildlife and botany, or a particular form of outdoor sport or recreation.
The commendation received by the Action for Diversity project testifies to a depth of commitment to its precepts by a significant section of the population, many of whom, it would be fair to estimate, would have brought more good will and enthusiasm to the table than prior expertise or knowledge.
This is perhaps the most heartening element of this particular success story – it tells us that local communities are only too willing to become practically engaged with the protection of the environment if they are given the proper guidance and encouragement: the old affinity is still there, it seems.
Such receptiveness is also integral to the success of the other element of Monday’s meeting that pertains to this area of activity – the formal adoption by the Co Council of a new five-year Heritage Plan.
An ambitious remit, involving 31 separate actions spread over the broad themes of information collecting, conservation and management, and educative activities, has been laid out – and these will take a high and sustained level of public commitment to achieve.
Thankfully the ground in which the plan is to be seeded is of proven fecundity – a great many local heritage organisations have sprung up across the county in the past decade or so and are already busily engaged in work which, if not always cast into the full glare of the public gaze, is playing a vital part in ensuring that the physical language of our local history that is inscribed in the stone of built heritage is kept legible for future generations.
In this work local bodies face two formidable obstacles that Monday’s Council discussion on the new Heritage Plan brought into sharp focus.
One of these is the very major one of funding.
It is often a forbiddingly expensive undertaking to conserve or restore important structures of antiquity that have experienced neglect – the need is much greater than the resources that have traditionally been made available by the State even in relatively stable times economically.
Suggestions were made at Monday’s meeting about identifying and prioritising a couple of heritage projects annually in each Road Area of the Co Council that could be allotted some degree of attention.
While collation and prioritising of at-risk structures or natural features throughout the county is an excellent practical idea, it is very unlikely that our local authorities are going to have the resources to do much about them – and the idea of spending money on them to the neglect of local road repairs would in the final analysis be anathema to public representatives and the people who elect them.
This fact-of-life truth leads on to the other impediment that local heritage activists are traditionally confronted with, what might be diplomatically described as the human factor.
Built and natural heritage features are wont to suffer at the hands of people when they get in the way of economic objectives – sometimes through a lack of appreciation of the value of the heritage concerned, sometimes in premeditated disregard of it.
There are of course legal protections intended to deter abuse or destruction of such features, but the fact that abuse and destruction continues suggests that these provisions are either porous in their wording or are not backed up by the substance of consistent enforcement.
We are perhaps in the final analysis inconstant suitors of our heritage and environment – we profess our love for them often, but we are sometimes spendthrift on them, and sometimes neglectful for our own selfish ends.
Yet, as Monday’s meeting of the Co Council demonstrated, the love affair is an enduring one – the desirability of preserving and enhancing our heritage, the vital life-sustaining importance of cherishing the eco-system, is embedded in our identity, and with the proper stimulus and guidance it can still be awakened to very productive ends.

It will not matter overmuch, one suspects, to Minister for Health Dr James Reilly that he was this week the subject of a no confidence motion passed by Monaghan Co Council.
Given that he has come through a similar trial successfully in the more significant crucible of Dáil Éireann, the good doctor will probably pay little if any significant heed to the fact that he has lost the trust of the majority of the Council’s elected representatives, and by extension the majority of those who elected them, by his refusal to meet a delegation to discuss Monaghan General Hospital and other health issues, and by his failure to deliver on some admittedly rash promises made in relation to services at the hospital prior to the General Election.
Although the Council itself seemed resigned to the impotence of their gesture – witness the relatively little debate, and the sequel of comedic comments, it provoked – it is by no means an insignificant thing that such a proposal was passed by a local authority.
Dr Reilly can choose to ignore it, just as he can choose to cloak himself in the closed ranks of the Cabinet following the resignation of one of their number on an important point of principle, but the passing of the motion, added to the public view of the many recent mishaps of this most accident-prone of Ministers, is eloquent of widespread unease at the manner in which the health services are being run.
All that is wrong is not Dr Reilly’s fault – but he has proven just as powerless as any of his recent predecessors to correct it, and just as resistant to self-correction when the situation demands it.
It all begs the questions, When the doctor is sick, who treats the doctor? And when the health service is chronically sick, and Dr Reilly can do nothing about it, who is there to supply the cure?

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