Manchán Magan

 

General Election 2016

Email me
 
 

About me: I've lived by the shores of Lough Lene, near Collinstown, Co Westmeath since 1997, and my father's family has farmed in Killashee, Co Longford (and before that Edgeworthstown) since the 18th century. In 2000 I planted a 6-acre oak & larch forest and built the first straw bale house in Ireland. The larch now provide all my home-heating needs. The straw bale house was a temporary research building, which Westmeath County Council kindly tolerated. My current house has block walls and a grass roof. 

Seeing the transformation of my under-grazed field into a woodland that now supports 5 free-range pigs  and shelters a 40 fruit tree orchard and a colony of honey bees, brings home to me the potential of our temperate, midland landscape to offer a phenomenally rich and sustainable quality of life at little cost.

In Westmeath, I’ve been chairman of Co-motion Youth Film Festival, an advisor to Shawbrook Dance School, Longford and board member of Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre Company, Longford. I also contributed to (and occasionally edited) the Midlands Arts and Culture Magazine for 7 years, as well as writing for the Guardian, LA Times and the Washington Post.

Abroad, I’ve been a medical supervisor to an Indian leper colony and managed an Ecuadorian organic fruit farm and guesthouse. I’ve written books on my travels in Africa, India and South America, as well as two novels, and have made dozens of documentaries on issues of world culture for TG4, RTÉ  & Travel Channel. I write occasionally for The Irish Times and report weekly on travel for The Right Hook.  

AGRICULTURE: The UN COP21 Climate Treaty signed in Paris, 2015, heralds the end of intensive, cattle-dependent, mono-agriculture in Ireland. Consolidating the majority of our land in the hands of a few super-farms is of little benefit to communities or the environment, but only to those with the resources to expand.
 
The Kerrygold of Frozen Organic Vegetables: Instead, we must diversify, making Longford-Westmeath a centre of pioneering horticulture: growing vegetables, fruit, flowers and nuts; and profiting from some of the €850m spent annually on imported vegetables and fruit. We can gain world renown as a premium brand of organic frozen vegetables grown in the heart of Ireland – the Kerrygold of vegetables.
 
Walnuts and Asian food: Likewise, we can supply some of the 50 million apples, pears and plums bought here each year; not to mention the walnuts, hazelnuts, Spanish chestnuts and Omega-rich super-foods (aronia, Saskatoon berries, sea buckthorn) that can now all thrive here, thanks to new locally-suited varieties. Currently, all Asian and exotic vegetables sought by our immigrant community are imported: we can serve this market.
 
Farming as flood protection: Diversification from cattle and sheep will not only increase profits, employment and resilience to wavering commodity prices, but most of all it will avoid the ecological damage of mono-agriculture which demands ever more inputs for smaller yields. We will reinvigorate our flood-prone fields into biodiverse, multi-crop patchworks of trees, orchards, vegetables and polytunnels, with pigs and rare-breed cattle grazing free range in our woodlands and wetlands. All of which helps counteract flooding.
 
Fair prices: To ensure adequate prices, our harvest would first be sold in farmers’ markets and artisan shops, while a media campaign and subsidies encouraged people to buy local produce. In time the quality and integrity of the Midlands brand would earn it a premium on the international market, just as so many Irish products have done before.

Artistan food: This supply of ecologically-produced farm produce will attract artisan food producers, chefs, fermenters, smokers and distillers who will create a thriving secondary market in artisan food products. Some of which will go global, just as the products of Cully & Sully, Glenisk and Nature’s Best have done. Irish artisan products (cheeses, sauces, crackers, etc) are encountering eager international buyers keen to taste the fruits of our ‘green’, healthy land. Bord Bia support the big conglomerates, we need a Bord Bia Beag to aid individuals and communities.

A sustainable living: These forms of farming are labour intensive and may not earn millions, but ensure you of a sustainable living and guarantee the viability of the community. Such work can, and probably should, be supplemented with interior work that is less physically demanding. The rapidly spreading GIY movement of home growers attest to a desire among households to secure a healthy, traceable food supply (and perhaps a supplementary income). Polytunnels, irrigation/drainage and increased awareness of composting have made it simpler and more efficient than ever. All that is needed is increased training and support. New varieties of fruit and nuts trees reared for this climate provide richer harvests, without added fertilisers.
 
Training: The pioneers of small-scale farming and artisan food production need to be put in touch with those willing to learn the skills for themselves: ultimately beef-orientated agriculture colleges will be refocused towards sustainable horticulture and permaculture course, such as those at KInsale College and the Organic Centre, Leitrim.
Land-purchase is not necessarily a requirement: so much ground remains under-utilised in the form of idle fields and overgrown gardens, all that is needed is a framework by which land owners and cultivators can agree to share resources and harvests.  
 
FARMS AS SOCIAL NETWORKS: The potential  of communty-owned or supported farms to deliver educational, social and health benefits is well represented by Moyhill Community Farm in Co Clare (run by Green Party candidate & pro surfer, Fergal Smith.) Rather than having private individuals from outside our communities profit from childcare and eldercare, we as communities can offer these services locally. Siting them on community farms provides an opportunity for the entire neighbourhood to unite around a natural haven that would provide sustenance and support to all. Men's Sheds and mental & physical health support programmes can also be housed on the farm. The funding would come from central government, our own local investment through a public banking scheme (modelled on the Sparkasse in Germany) and EU Rural Development funding.
 
HOUSING: Government attempts at retrofitting homes with insulation, damp-proofing and double-glazing have not succeeded. New schemes need to be more intensive, with grants that cover at least 75% of the costs involved – a once-off Government expense that will reap dividends for decades. Home heating boilers than then be replaced by carbon-neutral heat pumps.
European co-housing initiatives need to be introduced, where a number of families cohabitate in a well-made building, sharing a super-efficient heating system, professional laundry, office-space, childcare and recreational features, but with their own private space. This has social, practical, economic and environmental benefits, and leads to more creative, cohesive and collaborative communities.
Addressing housing shortages by building estates or lessening restrictions on one-off rural housing is no longer sustainable nor socially constructive.
 
ENERGY: Wind: The threat of foreign-owned, industrial-scale, wind turbines brought fear to our counties, yet the fact that we are regarded as ideally suited to wind-generation can be exploited by communities to create locally-owned, small-scale turbines, as has been done in Templederry, Co Tipperary, in a similar model to cooperative water schemes. At the very least all future wind turbine sites must be partically community owned as is the norm in Denmark and Germany, where locals living within 4.5km of the turbines have the opportunity to purchase a minimum of 20% of the shares in the wind farm, those profitiing directly with each turn of the turbine.
 
Biogas: Westmeath was selected by the EU BioRegions project as a prime location for the introduction of anaerobic digesters and biomass heat and power plants. The potential exists for local cooperatives to adopt the Austrian/Swiss model of local anaerobic digesters producing heating from biogas extracted from farm and commercial waste. Biogas can be further refined for use in vehicles as is done in Scandinavia.
 
Solar: Solar photovoltaics are now so cheap that with a minimal government-set feed-in tariff, of around 14c per kw they could return the installation costs for householder within 6 years. The ESB phased out their feed-in tariff as the government wasn't forcing other energy operators to offer the same scheme.  Legislation could make solar a viable and attractive proposition overnight, providing yet more local employment.
 
Forestry: No matter how cheap oil gets it can’t match the savings from heating your home with native Irish timber. Forestry in Ireland has doubled since 1981 to 800,000 hectares and there are vast supplies of sustainable, seasoned, carbon-neutral firewood in the Midlands as farm-foresters thin their plantations. Heating with timber diverts money from shady oil sheiks and funnels it to your local community. It improves the forest’s health and the ecological diversity of your locality.  One-off grants to convert planet-polluting oil-powered boilers to efficient wood stoves or solid fuel boilers will pay for themselves, with savings through decreased purchases of petroleum, and lessen reliance on corrupt oil regimes.  
 
Watermills: Westmeath and Longford abound in streams, rivers, gullies and lakes all of which can generate energy through small, super-efficient, hydro turbines. While the technology has improved it is not new; Ireland has, after all, the largest number of pre-10th century water-mill sites in the world.  www.microhydro.ie will provide a free map survey and estimate of hydro-energy potential for any location.
 
ARTS: artists are always the first to sniff out the potential for creativity and vibrant opportunity in overlooked areas, as witnessed in Berlin, San Francisco, Brooklyn, Temple Bar and Copenhagen. The last decade has seen a move of artists to the Midlands, taking advantage of the cheap accommodation, large spaces and easy transport links.
The Good Hatchery in Offaly is now considered the most vibrant and coveted artists residency in Ireland; Hilltown New Music Festival in Westmeath is the most innovative festival of experimental music; Athlone’s Poetry in the Park initiative won Britain’s Epic Award for Cultural Innovation and the productions that Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre created in Longford tour the most illustrious international venues. The former dairy farm at Shawbrook Dance School in Legan is internationally recognised for spearheading contemporary dance in Ireland over for 30 years.
The truth is that the Midlands are undergoing a cultural renaissance. As always, the creative pioneers will be followed by other early-adapters and entrepreneurs. This new generation of trail-blazers are only too aware of the latent potency that lies beneath our flat black bogs, wide lakes and dense forests.
Already, many of them choose Body & Soul in Westmeath and Electric Picnic in Laois as their annual gathering point. A perfect example is YouTube media and games commentator, Jacksepticeye, (aka Seán William McLoughlin) from Athlone who has over 8 million subscribers and over 3 billion views of his Westmeath-made video. He is currently the 86th most subscribed channel on YouTube.

 

TOURISM, the Midlands are gradually becoming an alluring tourism destination for those keen to engage with Real Ireland. Waterways Ireland’s tourism infrastructural developments along the Shannon River, the Royal Canal and our numerous lakes, along with the construction of the Mullingar to Athlone cycleway on a disused railway line are diverting tourists to our area. We can either allow impersonal, corporate hotel chains to capitalise on this, or else come together as community to create small-scale personalised services offering outdoor activities, affordable boutique accommodation, the finest locally-sourced food and opportunities to engage with communities in a genuine way.  We have such rich traditions, stories and customs in this region that would be an irresistible allure to discerning tourists who would be happy to pay a premium for locally-sourced, artisan food products, services and community engagement. The pristine unsullied landscape and infrastructure already exists, all we need do is allow cycle and walking tracks across our land, and permit camping and access routes to rivers, lakes and the Canal.

 

FUNDING: With the European Central Bank currently eager to flood the EU with quantatitive easing, there is no shortage of funding for sustainable, environmental projects that will help boost business and the viability of rural areas. All we need to do is draw up sensible, feasible projects that we ourselves are willing to invest in and we can draw down substantial funding.  (With deposit interest rates now less than 1%, it makes sense to invest  in the future of our locality than the vagaries of disfunctional banking system.)

Already the EU had distributed €3.4 billion through its Life Programme, and we in Ireland have hardly ever applied for this fund. There is also the EU Rural Development Programme which is specifically aimed at  promoting social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas.

Key Campaign Issues

I am running for the Green Party in Longford/Westmeath, purely, as a way of offering fresh perspectives on the potential of this region. There is a desire for living creative, fulfilling and sustainable lives in this area, and yet rarely are alternative positive proposals brought forth. By uniting as a community we can become a vibrant and prosperous Eden... a return to our former role where the Midlands were considered the core of Ireland: Mide, the place from where all life and energy radiated.

We live in an area rich in resources and ripe for small-scale, sustainable development. All we lack is the impetus to reshape our lives – to choose and implement innovative local solutions that will attract innovators & creatives, and ensure a vibrant future for our children

My goal was to provide a platform whereby communities can explore novel solutions to our current challenges:  

  • community-owned renewable energy: solar, wind & biogas;

  • sustainable farming: fruit/ vegetable horticulture alongside livestock and forestry;

  • developing the tourism potential of our lakes, rivers and peatland wildernesses through small-scale local initiatives linked to international networks;

  • community-supported farm enterprises incorporating Men’s Shed with nature-based childcare/ elder-care facilities… and offering programmes for mental & physical health.

  • enlightened, outdoor-focused, preschool and primary education;

  • flood prevention through planting bands of community-owned woodland and integrated constructed wetlands - in combination with, or instead of sewage-treatment plants;

  • intensive, home retrofitting schemes with grants that cover at least 75% of insulation, damp-proofing and double-glazing costs;

  • cohousing initiatives, where families share heating, laundry and recreational features in carbon-neutral, green buildings.

Green Party candidate                      Longford/Westmeath

The Feb 2016 General Election Campaign: The fact is that we live in an area rich in resources and ripe for small-scale, sustainable development. We are surrounded by a plentiful supply of fertile land, affordable commercial property & accommodation, and with the potential for wind generation, solar electricity, biogas production and biomass plantations that could easily make us energy independent. Farming, our greatest asset, can be thoroughly reinvigorated through increased biodiversity, multi-cropping and implementing the latest breakthroughs in soil rejuvenation using micro-bacterial development techniques; so that our reputation for healthy, sustainable food produced with no (or low, inputs) can withstand scrutiny.
 
The Vision: Longford-Westmeath can be to Dublin what Sonoma County in Northern California is to San Francisco, an area exceptionally rich in resources and ripe for profitable, sustainable development, right beside a thriving metropolis of tech innovation and international commerce. Brandenburg serves a similar role for Berlin, as does Vancouver Island for Vancouver. These rugged, naturally beautiful areas, known for their ecological commitment, provide the breathing room and recreational space for innovative start-ups and creative entrepreneurs to explore new ventures on the threshold of the chaotic urban melee.Longford-Westmeath is ideally suited for this role, once it re-orientates itself towards innovation, sustainability and enlightened social services, just as Sonoma, Brandenburg and Vancouver Island have done.
 
Five strands must be implemented simultaneously:
1.) locally-owned renewable energy;
2.) sustainable horticulture and artisan food;
3.) adventure tourism that is heritage-rich;
4.) start-up hubs for tech, arts and small enterprises;
5.) and a social care system that is enlightened, holistic and community-led.
 
Funding: Where will the funding come from? Primarily, a mix of public/private funding through a new network of regional-based public banks modelled on the German Sparkassen (like credit unions, but for SMEs), whose remit will be to fund local public projects and return the profits to the local area. EU Rural Development Funds and the EU’s Life Programme will be a secondary source: both committed to promoting social inclusion and sustainable economic development in rural areas. (Both are currently well-funded as the ECB tries to flood the market with quantitative easing). In addition to this, investment funds such as Silicon Valley Bank have expressed clear commitment to fund innovative, long-term, sustainable projects here; ideally combining a mix of visionary entrepreneurship with local government support.
 
Furthermore, a series of community-owned public farms in each parish can be the basis for a tightknit, locally run system of social services based in nature: childcare, men's sheds, elder care and offering programmes to support mental and physical health.
Currently, our transport links and infrastructure are far superior to those of much of the island - all we lack is more buses and more trains, particularily at night. 
With some vision and confidenc, and a State willing to support courageous communities implementing innovative local solutions, we can thrive.
 

This campaign seeks simply to highlight paths towards healthy, meaningful lives and to focus attention on some of the more realisable positive possibilities. Our confidence is somewhat battered right now, our communities are unaligned. We neglect our bodies, our mental health and our heritage through unsustainable practises and an ever-increasing disassociation from the land that has nurtured us for eons. But there appears to be a genuine desire for change.