I judge this to be a time for change

Bonjour. This column comes to you from Paris, France, as the Americans might say, in case you mix it up with Paris, Texas or any other Paris. The weather is fair to middling. Sunny spells and scattered showers were not invented by the Irish met office.

As you may have seen on other pages this morning, I was covering the Ian Bailey murder trial in Paris. The only observation to make about the case on this page is that French judges are mad for work. On Monday last, the trial opened at 2.30pm and the court sat until 10.30pm.

On Tuesday, it kicked off at the normal sitting time of 9.30am and motored all the way to 8pm. By Wednesday everybody was sagging and judge Frederique Aline had mercy and rose just before 6pm. It was exhausting, and the judge herself was doing most of the talking throughout the day. I mentioned to a French journalist that you’d have a job getting a judge in Ireland to sit past 4pm.

She smiled and replied: “That’s why we all want to move there.”

The French public service has a reputation for being obstinate and heading for the pickets at the drop of a hat. But unless they were in a fierce hurry to get this case out of the way, the approach to the Bailey trial demonstrated that courts can function on more than four or five hours sitting a day.

They have their own way of doing things in Paris, France. One morning during the week, out for a crack-of-the-dawn-walk down by the Seine to prepare for a long day’s scribbling, I passed a jogger. He was togged out in luminous running gear apart from a red woollen scarf he wore around his neck.

The scarf is something of a status symbol in these parts. But this chap couldn’t go for a morning run sans the scarf in case he’d be mistaken for a commoner. Class snobbery is a feature of Irish life as it is in most societies. But, in that respect, the French and particularly Parisians, are out on their own.

As in Ireland this week, they were rummaging through the European election results in France. Marine le Pen’s new National Rally party won one more seat than Emmanuel Macron’s centrist outfit. While this showing for a right-wing immigrant-baiting entity might be alarming back home, they are relatively relaxed about it here. Some commentators had expected the National Rally to sweep the boards. Le skids have been put on Le Pen.

Still, she can rally to her standard around a third of the vote on a good day in France, which is not something to be sniffed at.

Back home, the only thing anyway approaching a right-wing immigrant-baiting entity in the European elections was the former dragon and Presidential contender, Peter Casey. To be fair to him there is nothing to suggest he is personally anyway ill-disposed towards immigrants or minorities. He just stumbled on a gap in the market.

What was highly entertaining was to listen to his pitch in the election debates. A radio presenter or moderator might ask the candidates about the size of the national beef herd or climate change or the prospect of a European army. And whenever it was Peter’s turn, irrespective of the topic, it appeared as if he had a few stock answers which he was programmed to repeat.

If asked would he be in favour of reducing the herd, he might reply: “Freeloader”. When the topic of a European army came up, he could just say “open borders”. And as for climate change, there was only one answer to that: “native Irish”.

While he has a nose for a gap in the market, policy detail didn’t appear to be a strong point, or even a concern at all, with Peter. He did garner around 70,000 votes and declared that he will contest the next general election. Although at one point he left open the possibility that he might run to be the first elected mayor of Limerick. Perhaps he could take his caravan on the road, move to France and hook up with Marine. She could do with a little softening of her image and Peter has a lovely smile.

France also turned out for the Greens in the election. As in Ireland, the party is surfing the heightened concern over climate change. Pre-election polls put them at around 8% of the vote but they pulled in 13.5%.

This surge for the Green Party was not replicated in Southern Europe. In Italy, Spain and Greece, the Greens only managed around 2-3%. What this will mean in terms of the EU taking on a deeper shade of green remains to be seen.

Also as in Ireland, other left-wing parties in France — particularly the Socialists — suffered losses. The result has been that the Socialists have already begun to woo the Greens to form a loose alliance.

Whether it was a coincidence or not, this week, in the aftermath of the elections, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, made a major announcement. In the name of curbing pollution, she revealed that she intends to reduce the speed limit of Paris’s ringroad to 50km/h.

The ringroad is known as Le Périph. Can you imagine the reaction if plans were announced to reduce the speed limit on the M50 in Dublin or the N25 to Cork to 50km/h?

Yet in the grand scheme of saving the planet this kind of thing is among the more benign measures that might be required. Everybody now likes to feel green. Living green is going to involve disruption and it will be interesting to observe the reaction if the body politic tries to walk the walk.

Madame Hidalgo got a taste of that on Wednesday when negative reaction to her proposal came fast and hard. She said she’d modify things by proposing that the limit could apply to one lane and she mentioned measures to free up a lane for car-sharing.

One thing that has not yet been tried at home is car-sharing. The concept has been around in some countries for more than 30 years. Allow vehicles with more than one occupant to use the bus lanes. As an incentive, it could certainly free up traffic and cut down on volume and emissions. Every little helps, even when it hurts a little.

The only logical reason why car sharing hasn’t kicked in at home is that it would be too much bother to police it and would therefore quickly end up in disrepute. It’s either that or begin contemplating the lowering of speed limits on major motorways around the country. One way or the other, change is on the way and we better get used to it. Au revoir for now as they say in Paris, France.

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