Saturday, July 29, 2006
Church gate collection Sunday
"You have a cheek coming up to this church and collecting here"
"Why's that?", we replied, not really knowing what to expect.
"You supported Mao in China, you did", he spat.
He sauntered off into the church, leaving us to wrack our brains trying to remember what our Asian policy was in the '50s. That's one of the problems about having policies. There's always one smart-alec who'll disagree with them.
The playground at Dunshaughlin opened a few weeks ago. It's a fantastic facility and is probably one of the best in the country. Certainly, when the issue of ownership is sorted out at Laytown, we should put something of the same quality there.
I spoke to many residents in the area around the playground (estates such as Greenane, The Downs and College Park) to get their views on the area.
"You need more bins there, because more people are around the park now" I was told by one resident.
"It's grand during the day, but at night time it's a disaster. Could you not have thought about sealing it off and putting in gates?" asked by a lady in Greenane.
"Are you getting a lot of hassle from it?" I inquired.
"They're using the skateboard park all night, until five in the morning, and with the warm weather I have to have the windows open. I didn't get a wink last Friday night!" she complained.
Of course, just after she mentioned the warm weather the heavens opened. Myself and the team were caught off-guard without jackets and started to get very wet.
Shelter from the storm - Who said that canvas leaflets were useless?
The storm only lasted ten minutes before we were able to resume our canvas. Many people commented in a similar vein. People in general welcomed the playground, see it as a great boost for the youth in the community, but wanted a more secure design and a higher lever of maintenance and cleaning.
On the way to our advice centre the next day I got a phone call from one of my constituents at Tower Cross, Mornington. He had come across the scene of a serious crash on the Garra Road.
I was in the area so I dropped by and met "Mojo" at Tower Cross. The crashed vehicle had missed a 90 degree bend, gone straight ahead and the car had flipped over and hit an eircom pole and a speed limit sign.
Eircom workers reinstate their services - within an hour of the crash
Mojo informed me that this happens every four months or so. When I got back to my advice centre I wrote to the engineer, telling him about the crash and asking him to erect another warning sign and road markings on the approach to the junction.
That evening I went to Dalymount Park to see the 2nd leg of the UEFA match. The Drogs were playing Helsinki. The match started brightly enough, with Drogheda on top. Close to the end of the first half the Finn's went ahead, against the run of play.
The second half was nail-biting, and Drogheda went level with about 20 minutes left. From then on there was only going to be one winner. In extra time we stuck two penalties past the hapless Finns.
Guardian-referenced local historian Tom Reilly celebrates the Drogs third goal
The result puts us through to the next round. A fantastic result for the team. The first time we have won a match in Europe.
After quite a bit of delay we finally got started on Donacarney junction this week. The fist step is for the ESB to make some connections. Once that is done the council will begin remedial works at the junction.
ESB staff tackle their backlog of work in East Meath
The ESB have come in for some stick in the area recently. For instance, there have been months of delays waiting for poles lights to be turned on in Donore and for the toilet to be connected at Laytown. It's probably a function of the sheer workload they are faced with in this part of the county.
The engineers have told me that the roadworks at the junction will be finished by the end of August, in time for school re-opening (and the Laytown Races!).
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Maelduin gets another entrance point
Maelduin second access point
The opening of the roadway has also meant that cars are using the estate as a parking area. I spoke to the area engineer and it transpires that the new access point is just a right of way, and the council has got some concerns about it. I have contacted the enforcement officer and asked him to contact the developer to talk about how the situation can be regularised.
The residents of Cushenstown organised a public meeting to discuss the proposed graig (small village) for the area. I was invited along to give an explanation of the graig policy, and to provide some background on the draft County Development Plan.
A crowd of around 80 turned up on one of the hottest evenings of the century. The Athletics Hall was too warm so we all carried our chairs outside and gathered around in a large circle.
I was introduced to the audience (although I would have known many from my time at the school a quarter of a century ago). I gave a ten minute overview of the draft plan and invited questions. The crowd was eager to discuss the graig proposal and was well-informed about aspects in relation to rural planning. I fielded questions for almost an hour and by the time I had finished the sun was going down.
For me it was a very enjoyable experience. In many ways I suppose it was like the soap box politics of old. Standing outdoors for an hour, on a balmy July evening, having an in-depth conversation about the future of a community is part and parcel of the democratic process that shouldn’t be lost.
Our monthly Slane Area meeting started a half a hour earlier this month, to enable us to go “into committee”. The council goes into committee to discuss live planning files and other proposals. Personally I am against the concept. I can’t see whose interests it serves. Also, I know that not all councils behave like this. However, the support isn’t there to get it changed.
The meeting in proper was due to start at ten, but due to particularly bad agenda management we actually stayed in committee until noon. The impact of this was that members of the public who had come along to see local democracy in action had to wait outside from ten until twelve before they could come in.
I raised a numbers of issues, including road safety at The Apple Service station outside Julianstown and the taking-in-charge of The Cloisters estate in Bettystown. The engineer has agreed to meet the developer of The Cloisters estate on site next month, so hopefully this will expedite matters.
One of the main issues at the meeting was the proposal to adopt a framework plan for an Eco residential development of 1,300 houses at Laytown. The land, which was zoned before my time in the council, lies just beside the train station. I voice my concern about the impact of the development on the local network. Granted, the developer is putting in place schools and community facilities, but my worry is that the development will place unbearable pressure on an already creaking transport system. I estimate that there could be up to 800 additional rail users in the morning peak period (passengers are already packed like sardines) and another 1,200 vehicles on local roads through villages like Julianstown. I will be pushing for improvements to our local infrastructure before such a development is given the green light.
Julianstown village suffers from heavy traffic flows at the moment. Before the M1 opened there were up to 24,000 vehicles passing through the village every day. This dropped to 16,000 when the M1 opened, but has since risen back up because of car ownership growth, car usage growth and additional development in the area. It now stands at 20,000 vehicles a day. It’s a big concern for local residents and one that was raised when I attended a meeting organised by the Julianstown Residents Association in relation to the Pride of Place competition. A crowd of 50 turned out and listened to a presentation on community involvement in the village.
Julianstown Residents Association Pride of Place competition
I spoke to a few of the other councillors after the meeting. I also met Sirena Campbell at the meeting. Sirena, who ran in the local elections in 2004, continues to be involved with the Julianstown residents association. Herself and the other association members are doing a marvellous job for the village and deserve the full support of the council.
Improvement to our road network are needed to improve safety. I met with our local engineer Shane Satell at Bellewstown Hill to talk about what can be done to improve the safety outside Bellewstown School. While we were chatting the local priest Fr David Brennan arrived to open up the church. The three of us discussed possibilities for improving road safety. Shane agreed to have a look at what can be done.
I met with Castle Glen residents association to discuss child safety at this new estate in Donacarney. For whatever reason, the council allowed the developer to build a very low wall at the front of the estate.
Van driving past Castle Glen, Donacarney
This has created a danger for children, because toddlers can easily climb over the wall and potential wander onto a busy road. I promised to raise the matter with the engineer.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
There may be a possibility of some development on the issue shortly. The County Engineer is introducing traffic byelaws for Enfield town. If there aren’t challenged and pass into law then he has said that he will use these “test case” byelaws in other locations, such as Dunboyne. We will keep on at him to do this.
The County Development plan proposes to rezone Cushenstown as a graig (small village). Cushenstown is currently a tiny hamlet of about 15 houses and a school. I attended the school, as did the late CJ Haughey.
One of the local Councillors proposed to rezone the area as a graig, to allow further residential development in the area. The planners advised against the move. All the other councillors voted for it, but I abstained, as I wanted to get a view from the local community.
Standing in the field proposed for housing at Cushenstown
I dropped out to have a chat and spoke to a few families about their fears and worries about the proposal. It turns out that there is over 300 acres of proposed rezoning within a mile of the school. This is in the middle of the country, six miles from the nearest village or town. Crazy stuff. I’ve promised to come back out to the residents with some more information, so that we can work out how to respond to the proposals.
The Laytown Races will take place on the strand in the first week of September. I attended the launch night of the Laytown Races at the new Bettystown Court Hotel. The night was a chance to get an advance briefing on the event, and the reception was attended by local residents, politicians and journalists. From the sounds of things the day at the races promises to be as good as ever.
I met Irish Independent journalist Willie Dillon there. He commented on the letters in the Drogheda Leader in response to the previous week’s letter. Each of this week’s letters was very supportive of me and it was really nice to see that people took the effort to write in. Willie informed me that he was writing an article on gay politicians in Saturday paper (which duly appeared).
Meath has a small budget for public works of art and this week one of its newest, the kite flyer of Bettystown, was unveiled in Bettystown Square.
Myself, Cllr Tom Kelly and Denis Boyle in Bettystown Square
I attended with my fellow councillor, the Arts Officer and the Area Administrator. It’s an unusual work, but form talking to a few locals I think it’s quite well liked. The only adverse comment we got was from some passer-by, who wanted to know whey we were spending money on sculptures and not on hanging flower pots.
The village of Dunshaughlin is another location where traffic volumes choke the centre of the village. A bypass is coming in the next few years, and that should alleviate traffic problems. It was one of the main issues raised with me when I canvassed the area this week. I also got feedback on the new park in the village. It opened three weeks ago and so far so good. The locals like it and it looks like it is being well used. Now we just need to build some more of them!
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Lagavooren Manor gets its long awaited wearing course
The turning point was the appointment of a new area engineer, Barry Hanley, who basically told the developer that if wanted to do any more business in Meath, he’d have to finish the estate. Hats off to Barry!
Another estate I’ve been working closely with over the last two years is La Mare in Stamullen. The developer sold off a house to a third party, and also included in the sale the estate’s open space (the open space had never been “handed over” to the council). Of course, the developer neglected to tell the new owner this. Next thing the residents see a notice for a Chinese take-away appearing on the open space.
I worked with them to get the application turned down and now the owner has agreed to transfer the open space to the council and his solicitors and the council solicitors are working together. It finally appears that we might get a result on this in the next couple of months.
The Drogheda Leader newspaper published a letter this week which attacks me for my sexuality. It was unsigned, and quite nasty. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the amount of people who have contacted me or come up to me in the street to voice their support.
On Friday evening I attended the opening of the Drogheda Samba festival at the D Hotel. The Samba festival has run now for years and is a firm fixture in the town. Brian & Phil Conyngham and a few others put it together on a shoestring budget and every year manage to put on a great show.
I headed from there up to Bellewstown Hill, where I joined my fellow councillors for dinner with the race committee. The race festival is going from strength to strength. I manage to lose on every race I bet on.
Bellewstown Races, July 2007
I had to leave before the end as I had another appointment. The Drogs were playing at United Park. I arrived slightly late to find that we were 2-0 up.
The view from the top of the League
It was a lovely evening for the match. Unfortunately, the team made hard work of it and St Pats managed to fight their way back into the game, scoring from a very marginal penalty decision. The Drogs just about manage to hold on for a 2-1 win, although in fairness St Pat’s would have been deserving of a point. The win puts up back at the top of the league, a nice position to be in as the team travels to Helsinki for the first round of the UEFA match on Thursday.
I drove home to dump the car and started out to walk back into town for a few drinks.
When I arrived in McPhails pub the Samba band was just playing its last few tracks. I spoke to Phil Conyngham, who despite having to manage the whole affair in venues right across the town, still looked as fresh as a daisy.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
Broadband for Stamullen
I was contacted by people from Newgrange who were complaining about the state of the bins at one of Meath’s premier tourist attractions. I was told that the bins had only been emptied twice in the last month. I went out shortly afterwards to have a look for myself but by then the bins had been emptied and everything was spic and span.
I got on to the council and asked them to set up a system of checks to ensure that a schedule is put in place to empty the bins regularly.
I spoke to a few candidates over the last week about progress on the election campaign. Cllr Ged Nash in Louth is finalising his team, and asked me to attend a strategy meeting to share ideas. I met Ivana Bacik at the Gay Pride celebration in Parnell Square. She looks great after having given birth so recently, but has decided not to throw her hat into the ring on this occasion.
My attendance at Gay Pride was picked up by the Irish Times. As a result, the two Drogheda papers contacted me and asked me for comments, which I provided. I felt that both articles were well written and the comments I have received on the back of them have been very positive.
I took a bit of criticism in the local press about missing a vote for Cathaoirleach at Monday’s council meeting in Navan. I got there on time at ten o clock for the meeting. It was scheduled to last for an hour, and so I had arranged other meetings immediately afterwards (the first with my fellow Slane Area Councillors Jimmy Cudden, Anne Dillon Gallagher, Pat Boushell and Tom Kelly to discuss Stamullen). I had also arranged to see a planner directly after that.
For some reason the outgoing chair let the proceedings run and run. Although we were there to elect a Cathaoirleach there was a considerable amount of time spent discussing the roads. One councillor insisted on speaking about the roads in the north west of the county.
“They’re in a shocking state. It would bring a tear to your eye”, was the essence of the contribution, spread over a ten minute monologue.
On sitting down Councillor B stood up “You think your roads are bad? Come over to my village. The roads are a crying shame there” he ventured, and continued to give a detailed description of how much of a crying shame they are.
Councillor C followed, and proceeded to spend ten minutes telling us about the roads in the south west of the county.
“The roads are the worst in the county. Maybe even in the country. They would make a grown man weep!”
Now I am as concerned about the state of our roads as the next man, but to continue on reiterating s***e like this all morning when our purpose was clearly to do something else was a bit irritating.
By half eleven it was still going on and there was no end in sight. I moved around the chamber to speak to each of my Slane area colleagues and we agreed to defer the Stamullen meeting. By twelve there was no sign of a vote. I sit beside Jimmy and mentioned to him that I had to pop out to see a planner.
“Don’t be late, we could be voting in ten minutes” said Jimmy, who I had agreed to support for Cathaoirleach.
“I won’t be late!” I responded.
Well, I fu***d up and got caught with a planner for 15 minutes. By the time I returned I entered the chamber and Jimmy was in the Chair. He had been elected without my support.
I felt very embarrassed, because I know how this could be made to look. I had driven to Navan specifically to vote for him and I had missed it. (If I wanted to avoid it I could have been otherwise engaged on a business meeting in London or New York). There was nothing to do but apologise profusely to Jimmy, and the Chamber for missing the vote.
In my two years as a councillor this was the biggest mistake I made, and if I could have re-lived the day I would have made sure I didn’t leave the chamber at the wrong time.
The County Development Plan was put out for public consultation this week. I attended a meeting on Friday morning when Forward Planner Bernard Green outlined the plan. It sets the framework and context in which the towns, villages and rural areas of the county will progress. It has specific sections and policies in relation to settlement, housing, economic development and infrastructure. It predicts an increase of housing units across the county and suggests how to expand our job base. It has sections on the character of the landscape and also proposes to almost double the number of protected structures across the county, up to 1,400 historic sites.
I will be particularly interested in any proposals for additional housing and how they can be justified given the existing level of infrastructure shortfall. This won’t be just confined to our largest towns and villages. Two graigs (small rural centres) have specific proposals for development: Curragha and Cushenstown. I met with a group from Curragha last week. I had thought that development there was likely to be limited to ten or twenty houses, and was shocked to discover that there are proposals to zone sufficient land to accommodate hundreds of houses.
I will be keeping a close eye on proposals such as these and liaising with the local community to make sure their views are taken into account.
Ashbourne United soccer club are trying to expand their facilities and I held a meeting with them to discuss their proposals. They can build a complete new clubhouse, new pitches and an all-weather facility if the council will allow them to sell off 4 acres for additional housing. The club serves the needs of over 200 players in one of our fastest growing towns. From speaking to the club I was impressed with the dedication of the committee and the enthusiasm they have for improving their club and town. I will be talking to the planners about this to try and get their support.