Saturday, May 27, 2006

 

De Bert visits town

The news that Meath is to lose half a million euro in lost revenue from the toll company has caused a lot of worry at the council level. It means that our combined year-on-year deficit is over 10 million euros. When it comes to getting things done, roads repaired, the first thing that the area manager always says is “we don’t have the money”. A half a million is going to cause us problems.

I sat down with our Director of Finance and she went through the numbers with me. Having studied the court judgement , I can see what the tribunal is doing. However, it struck me that The Valuations Tribunal used the income and costs for 2004 and worked out the profit based on that. However, I have since learned from the National Roads Authority that the incomes in 2005 were almost 30% higher than in 2004. This is to be expected: traffic levels on new roads take a couple of years of build-up to reach their steady-state.

However, my view is that the costs will not have risen by anything like this. The toll company has a fixed maintenance charge, fixed administration costs, and therefore the costs in 2005 are unlikely to be more than a few per cent higher than in 2004.

So, the 30% rise in incomes is sheer additional profit, and in fact has the effect of almost doubling the profit of the company and therefore almost doubling what they should pay in rates. That’s the argument I put to the County Manager, asking him to follow it up with the Valuations Office.

The Council often get is wrong, and another occasion was highlighted to me in relation to Crestwood Estate in Ashbourne. Here residents were appalled to discover that the roadway at the bottom of their estate has been opened up and gravel and stones placed on it to make a temporary roadway. I attended a meeting with about 50 local residents and one of my council colleagues, Joe Bonner, to discuss the issue. It looks like a solution can be found, which will certainly be a relief to the local residents.

I went along to United Park to watch Drogheda United put four goals pass their hapless opponents. Along the opposition was not in top form, I have rarely seen a Drogs side so composed and so in control. The win puts the team at the top of the league. These are certainly heady days for Drogs fans in the region.

Our survey of Duleek village continues. The County Development Plan is up for review and before I am going to vote on what happens I am trying to get a view from families in the area. I’ve been doing a fairly comprehensive canvas of the area and on Friday and Saturday I went around many homes with a few of the local branch members. People are very well disposed to talking and it’s a much more relaxed and nicer way of getting to hear people’s views than in the mad manic rush of a three week campaign.

For instance, during the Meath by-election, I would rarely get to speak to people for more than 5 minutes before it was time to move on; otherwise schedules would be missed and appointments would be broken. Now, I can take as long as I want. In one particular hour I spoke to only three different people, well worthwhile, because in the process I got a very clear understanding of the concerns they have and the issues they face.

At the end of the canvas I drove across to our new office at Laytown. It is nearly finished and we hope to be in it in a week or so. It’s “all hands on deck” now and I got the task of painting the kitchen and toilet doors.

Dom Painting in Office

I’m not a great painter but at least I did my bit. At one stage we had six members in the place, all doing some job or another.

Our Dunshaughlin branch has been organising a survey of local bus users for some time and this tool place on Wednesday. Five of us took turns throughout the day (I got the 6:30 shift!) to count users of the services. A selected number of passengers were also interviewed to establish usage patterns. Questions asked included:

§ Final destination
§ Likely journey time
§ Suggestions on how the service can be improved

We got a great response. It was also a chance to talk to users about other issues, which I can follow up on at council level.

On the invite of the Labour party Secretary General, Mike Allen, I attended a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party in Dail Eireann. Apart from the Deputies and Senators, a few non-PLP members attended, including Ged Nash from Louth, Jim McGarry from Sligo and Brendan Ryan from Dublin North. It was interesting to watch the dynamics of the meeting and to see how various members interacted with each other. The room itself was full up. Here’s hoping that we’ll need a bigger one in a year’s time!

The Ashbourne Bypass was opened to traffic on Thursday afternoon by An Taoiseach. It means that drivers can go from the M50 to Slane bridge without hitting a traffic light. The Ashbourne bypass is predicted to save about 20 minutes for the average driver.

I was in great time for the event, so much so that I decide to stop off in O’Brien’s sandwich bar in Ashbourne. I parked in the Tesco car park, had a great sandwich, but arrived back in the car park to discover that I had been blocked in because of a truck laying tarmac.

It really delayed me and by the time I got to the opening ceremony De Bert was in full swing, telling us that “delays from de nortside to meat will be a ting of de past

I had to go in at the front of the crowd and managed to find a spot beside Cllr Noel Leonard. The RTE camera was right in front of me and I decided that I’d offer them a piece to camera after De Bert had finished (to give the perspective of a local councillor).

I prepared myself to approach them when out of the blue I heard “Dominic Hannigan!”
Turning around I immediately recognised one of my classmates from Engineering in UCD, who I hadn’t seen for 20 years. I knew her straight away and greeted her by name instinctively.

We started gassing about old times and what we are doing now (she worked for the National Roads Authority). Out of the corner of my eye I could see the RTE crew packing up and Noel Leonard and the other councillors moving over to the photo-journalists at the opening ribbon. Do I cut the conversation and run after Noel Leonard or do I stand and reminisce? I chose to stand and chat. After about five minutes she asked “Shouldn’t you be over there getting your picture taken?” I looked across to see De Bert in camera shot with all of my council colleagues. Ribbons were being cut and hands shaken. It was now too late to get in shot. I was going to have to sit out this photo-opportunity, but there’ll always be others. We chatted some more and agreed to try and arrange a 20 year reunion for later on in the year.

When I told my Director of Election afterwards he was less than amused and suggested that my over-riding priority should have been to follow the camera, and not to let it happen again!

The most pleasant engagement of the week was at Bellewstown School. I went there to observe traffic safety at the school during the morning peak. Afterwards the Principal asked me to address the 5th and 6th Years. I had expected to be in front of them for about 5 minutes, but I ended up fielding questions for about 40 minutes. I was surprised to learn that there were children from Duleek, Stamullen, Beamore and even Drogheda attending the school. There was even a schoolgirl from my own estate. It was great fun and we covered questions ranging from cycle lanes, traffic speeds, litter on roads, illegal trespass and school places.

Many of my secondary schoolmates from my time at St Mary’s CBS would have gone to school in the classrooms here, and I could see that these children were going to keep on the great tradition and live up to the reputation of the school. The visit put me in a great mood for the rest of the day.

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