Saturday, April 22, 2006
German road signs....
Wednesday saw the five East Meath councillors meet for the monthly area meeting. I was particularly annoyed about the lack of action on schemes to improve Donore village, and referred to a few examples of how the council was inactive. Because of my driving experience of German road signs a few days previously, one example I used was the failure to implement the recommendations of a signage study to Newgrange, and the fact that a local estate, St Mary’s Villas, was suffering because one sign virtually directed people into their estate. A local resident OM, had told me that coach loads of German tourists had ended up in the estate and asked me to do something about it about 18 months ago.
Every month for about six months she reminded me about the problem. Every time I’d ask the engineer to do something, but I always got the reply that “we’ll have to wait for the signage study to be completed.” Eventually, OM got fed up and stopped asking me about the sign. Every time I meet OM now we have a very courteous conversation, but both of us know that I haven’t managed to get the offending sign relocated. So, on Wednesday I demanded to know why nothing had been done about it.
In the public gallery at the meeting was a national journalist with a whiff for a story and next thing she had the article printed in The Irish Times, the Irish Examiner, the Irish Independent, the Star, the Sun and the Mail. On the back of it I did a piece for LMFM, the RTE lunchtime news and the BBC Friday evening Drivetime show. It kind of took over my Friday, but one million people found out about this issue and now hopefully the end result is that something will be done about it.
This week also saw the anti-litter award presentation for County Meath. It was held in the Newgrange Hotel, Navan. I was attending a Meath Leader meeting in the same hotel so it meant that I was able to get to both events. There were hundreds of citizens there, each of them actively involved in making their villages and estates nicer places to live in. The council put on a very good evening including a sit down dinner for all attendees. I thought it was a great way of showing these local residents how much their work is appreciated; if everyone in the county was to give just a little of their time to community-based activities then Meath would reap the benefits.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
The need for new Local Councils in East Meath
On Monday I attended the launch of a new report called “Civic Engagement and the Governance of Irish Suburbs”. It was drawn on evidence-based research carried out in Ratoath. The report was launched by Dr Maureen Gaffney, Chairperson of the National Economic and Social Forum, at Trinity College Dublin’s Policy Institute.
The study recommends that local voluntary associations be given a statutory role in local government and that community fora be established to support the involvement of residents in decision-making. How apt that the report should be published in the same week as the Inse Bay planning decision mentioned above. If we had a local council for the Laytown / Bettystown area then there would be more accountability in the planning process, with planners working on the ground and based in the area, not 20 miles away in Navan. Areas such as Laytown / Bettystown, as well as Ashbourne, now have populations of over 6,000 – in excess of towns such as Kells and Trim which already have local town councils. My view is that we should extend local democracy by providing statutory authorities for our growing East Meath towns. This might help to get more community-minded decisions from the planners.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
It started with the Annual Labour Party Conference, which went well. We managed to raise €800 euro from a fundraising draw, which will help with our ongoing expenses. My speech was well received and they showed fifteen seconds on the RTE1 evening news. It’s amazing how many people see the news on a Saturday night. All week people were telling me that they had seen it. One Fine Gael Councillor, Jim Holloway, said he liked it and he even managed to repeat the line played (“tackling health is the last thing Fianna Fail will try, but the first thing that Labour will do”).
I was totally drained afterward and went straight on the John Bowman lunchtime show, live on RTE 1 radio. I felt that I didn’t do well. I was still coming down for the earlier speech and my focus was elsewhere. Lessons to be learned there!
I joined Councillor Brian Collins and Councillor Des Cullen, our candidates in Meath West and Cavan-Monaghan respectively, at a very interesting session on Election Strategy, presented by Adrian Langan and Colm O Riordan, two of the party’s bright stars. I reckon if every candidate had them on their election team then we’d all get in on the first count!
Myself and the future Deputy for Louth, Ged Nash, sneaked off to watch the Leinster rugby match in a pub in Drumcondra. A great move and a great result for the province. We returned to the conference in good form and watched the leader deliver a fine speech. Before we left the hall I gave another interview to the RTE 1 “This week” show, which was played at Sunday lunchtime.
The first Monday of the month is the day when the full council meets in Navan. I am Chair of Planning & Economic Development, so I am a member of the Corporate Policy Group (the local cabinet) which meets in the morning of the full meeting to discuss the agenda of the full council. I haven’t been at such a badly tempered meeting in a while. It culminated in one of the councillors and an official calling each other liars, because of representations in relation to one-off rural housing. The full council meeting had no such sparkle. The day was brightened up by a good review of my Conference speech by the Irish Time (plus picture) and a middling review from the Irish Independent (who quoted from a speech provided to them by HQ, and not the one that I actually gave to Conference), who said that I had an 80% chance of taking the seat and that “anything less is a failure”. No pressure Fionnan Sheehan!
In the middle of the week I found out that I was awarded the runner-up in Magill’s “One to Watch” awards (“More glory for Meath”, according to the Drogheda Independent). I was quite happy. My Director of Elections was of a different view. He suggested that if I had spent more time canvassing then I might have won it and that would have been something to be proud of. Of course, he was sitting in his central-heated sitting room when he said that.
I had my advice clinics all week. They are good fun, but run to very tight schedules. My Stamullen one over-ran and although I had dinner arranged with friends for 9:15, I had to cancel it because I was too late. I hate doing that, but it’s very hard to cut people short, especially if they have made an effort to come to see you about a problem. Luckily I have very understanding friends!
Our local branch met on Thursday and spent most of the meeting talking about issues in relation to in-fill housing in settled estates. In East Meath the settled estates of Alverno Heights and Inse Bay are both under threat of having additional houses imposed on them. We discussed ways of changing legislation to prevent this happening without the agreement of the majority of residents. We’re going to submit something to HQ and ask them whether they could incorporate this into party policy.
The good news of the week was that the Council and Iarnrod Eireann are inviting submissions for the Terms of Reference for the Dublin to Navan rail study. I am encouraging local residents to make submissions on what should be included in the study. I’m particularly keen on making sure that the study considered how to serve the south Meath villages of Ashbourne, Ratoath and Dunshaughlin. If people from these towns can be included in the catchment area of the study then it can increase the economic viability of the route.
At the end of the week I visited the premises of our new offices. It will be a few weeks before we are ready to move in, but it’s great to be getting to the stage where we will have a clear physical presence within the community.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
Morning of the Party Conference
My nerves are not so bad. A few years ago I dreaded public speaking, but then I confronted the worst fear I had (I jumped out of an airplane in New Zealand) and that really helped me to face days like today.
I had hoped to get a good night sleep, but Friday evening was busy. I was at the Eircom League Drogheda United match (1-0 win) and watched them go top of the table. Then I went to the Lourdes Hospital A&E Department to observe the situation there (my speech is on A&E). By the time I joined my friends for dinner in a local restaurant (Bru - great food, takes a bit of waiting around 'tho) it was ten o'clock. However, we didn't get to order 'til half past, and so it was 1am before I got home.
Unfortunately I made the mistake of leaving my mobile phone in the bedroom. Bad mistake. A wellwisher texted me at 6:30 to wish we the best for the speech. I was awake in a shot and didn't manage to get back to sleep.
I'm reasonably happy with the speech. It will all be in the delivery. I got to deliver 1 minute of it last night in the theatre (the party was doing a dress-rehearsal) so I feel alright about it.
Then at lunchtime I am lined up to go live on John Bowman's radio show. I'm not even thinking about that at the moment - the speech comes first...