Saturday, May 27, 2006
De Bert visits town
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.
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.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Meath’s Settlement Strategy
I attended a Constituency Council Meeting in the Ashbourne Court Hotel on the night the article was published. Two of the local members were concerned about the policy. I explained the policy as best I could. They were reasonably happy when it was explained to them, but suggested that I should try to clarify the policy on the airwaves as soon as possible.
The meeting finished at 11pm and as I was driving home I was surfing the stations in the car. I came across the Adrian Kennedy show on FM104 and, lo and behold, sure weren’t they talking about the Settlement Strategy. I did a “Will I , won’t I” for about ten minutes and by the time I had decided to go on I was home.
I got out my contact book and dialled the show. They established my bona fides and put me through to the studio. I could hear the other callers in my earpiece:
“All you dubs do is bring drugs into our villages. We don’t want any more of yis down here” opined one of the caller.
“Are ya mad or wha?? Yis er all taking our jobs in Dublin. Why can’t we live in Meath, ya big snob ya!” replied aggrieved from Dublin.
They were tearing strips off each other! I hesitated about going on: it reminded me of the interview I did on LMFM with Fergus O’Dowd and Dermot Aherne about the budget, when they were at it like cats and I was about to join them to debate the finer aspects of post neoclassical endogenous growth theory.
I got my breath and went on and said my piece for ten minutes. I think that I managed to clarify things in the process.
On Friday I walked across to Millmount Abbey, whose residents are suffering increased congestion since the opening of the Bryanstown Cross route. I watched with the residents association as traffic started to pile up. A few days later I spoke about the congestion to the Area Engineer, who has agreed to try do something about it.
The Local Area meeting in Duleek was quite eventful. We discussed the closure of Laytown Library and also the road safety outside Laytown school. I brought up the issue of lighting and speed ramps within Mill Race, Duleek. Speeding within estates is a big issue for many residents. Over the last month I have been contacted by residents in other estates, such as The Highlands, Drogheda and Alderbrook, Ashbourne in relation to traffic calming measures within their estates.
I also brought up the issue in relation to the footpath at Silverstream Close, Stamullen, which connects Glasheen and Kilbreck to the village centre. Work is about to start on the footpath. One of the local residents is also keeping the pressure on to finish works at the culvert in Stamullen. I mentioned to the Area Engineer that the current railings beside the culvert are potentially unsafe.
Our office works are continuing. At the moment the refurbishment job is taking quite a lot of my time. At this stage I am calling out every day to view progress. We are hoping to be in at the end of the month.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
“Effing Anti-Social behaviour”
I plopped myself down beside Ged Nash and we listened as Brendan outlined the problems of anti-social behaviour in Louth and Meath. It was all fascinating stuff but then a fire-alarm went off and we had to vacate the building.
After 5 minutes we got the “all clear”. I tried to beat the crowd but once again by the time I got back in the chairs at the front had already been taken. The top team finished off the presentation. I mentally prepared a few words to say about the experiences of some of my constituents in Meath, but unfortunately the conference finished before any candidate got a chance to talk about local findings. I thought that Pat and Brendan came across well, though.
I wanted to mention that in the smaller villages in north and central Meath there is little or no anti-social behaviour. However, in certain areas in our larger villages and smaller towns there are some localised instances of anti-social behaviour which are having a serious impact on the quality of life for the residents of that community. Particular problems include:
· Littering in the countryside;
· Car burnings and car thefts in car parks, and joy-riding;
· Broken trees within estates;
· People loitering in laneways and in dimly-lit public spaces; and
· General vandalism
The surveys are ongoing and I will continue to explore measures to improve the situation.
On Saturday we did a canvass for three hours at the Tesco store in Ashbourne. I was joined by Pronsias de Rossa, the MEP, who is a firm favourite with Ashbourne folk, many knowing him from their days in north Dublin. I spoke to loads of people and one of the biggest causes of concern at the moment is that the council has withdrawn the road tax office from the town. People just can’t believe how they can do that in a town that is growing so quickly, and frankly I can’t make much sense of it myself. It’s all very well to talk about being able to tax your motor on-line, but the fact is that there is a digital divide out there. Coupled with that, you have to wait for your disc to be posted out, and given the drastic state of postal services in Ashbourne and Ratoath many people don’t want to go down this road!
I was also asked to examine the situation in relation to a potential roadway being opened up at Alderbrook, Ashbourne. Residents are concerned about the impact such a step would have on road safety.
Loose talk, the popular radio show on LMFM, asked myself and Ged N to go on the show on Monday to discuss the anti-social survey. We both joined the presenter , Michael Reade, in the studio. Michael made a few quips about Pat R getting caught saying “for f**k’s sake” into a Today FM live mike at the launch of the study, and warned us not to do the same. We spoke about the subject for about 25 minutes, and I think it was quite a good discussion. I was told afterwards that once again I was speaking far too quickly. I need to slow down when I speak (I’m putting it down to the fact that I’d been up since 4am and had consumed a barrel of coffee by the time I had reached the studio!)
Later on at the Meath County Council meeting in Navan we debated a motion from Tom Kelly of the Meath Green Party as to whether GM crops should be allowed in Meath. All Councillors agreed to oppose the proposed trials. Hopefully that will stop the company in their tracks.
On Wednesday I attended the Millmount Abbey Residents Association Annual General Meeting. Millmount Abbey is an estate of about 250 houses which lies just on the Louth Meath border. We discussed the provision of litter bins, dog foul bins and traffic calming measures. It was a well-attended meeting and I was given a number of items to follow up on. One particular issue raised is that school traffic flows in the morning are so heavy that long queues build up as cars try to get onto the main road. I was asked to see if a left-turn filter lane could be put in at the junction.
“That’s strange, I popped down one morning a few weeks ago at about ten to nine and there was virtually no traffic at the junction at all” I said.
“A few weeks ago? Was it during the mid-term break?” asked one lady in the front row.
“Actually, it was” I replied, the penny dropping.
“Well that’s just bloody typical of you politicians. You can’t even get the day right to look at school traffic problems!” she retorted scornfully.
I grinned sheepishly and agreed to return later on this week to look at the problem again, and promised that it wouldn’t be on Saturday.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Setanta Cups and Laytown Races
I headed up from Rath Lodge to see the mighty Drogs overcome Cork in the final of the Setanta All-Ireland Cup Final at Tolka Park. That makes two cups inside 5 months and is a tremendous boost for the sporting morale in the East Meath area.
Another sporting event on its way to East Meath is the yearly Laytown Races. The fact that there are no public toilets at Laytown to cater for the visitors to the Races is a concern for all of the Councillors. I raised this issue at the last meeting and was told that although the council has now put a portaloo in Laytown (which has been there since last Autumn) the ESB has still to connect it. I put out a story to the press, calling for action and the story was picked up by The Star, the Irish Times, the Irish Examiner and the Mirror. I have since heard back from the council that there has been a bit of movement on the issues, so hopefully Laytown will have a functioning public toilet soon!
The lack of public facilities came up again in our review of the County Development Plan. We are still considering the strategic issues for the plan, and have yet to get to the stage where we examine individual rezoning applications. At our meeting yesterday there was much debate about where to concentrate any additional growth. Many of us feel that any more residential zones should only be countenanced if community facilities come first.
Some debate revolved around the town of Dunshaughlin. The draft plan suggests that it is classified as a small growth town. That means that only a certain amount of extra zoning would be recommended by the planners. However some councillors suggest that the town should be classified as a moderate growth town. The rationale is that only by allowing the town to grow further is it likely that the council can raise sufficient development levies from the houses to fund the Navan to Dublin Rail line. It’s an interesting debate. If Dunshaughlin is a small growth town then the number of houses is likely to be constrained to about 3,000 houses by the end of 2013. If it is a moderate growth town then the total houses might be up to 5,000 (these numbers are “ball-park” at this stage). These extra 2,000 houses (paying maybe €20,000 a pop) will contribute up to €40 million to the costs of the rail line. The key question is will this increase be sufficient to make the necessary difference to proceed with the rail link, in a project likely to cost a few hundred million, or will it just add more housing to Dunshaughlin? We discussed it at our Dunshaughlin branch meeting last night and we will be giving the matter further thought before we decide on our stance.