Monday, October 30, 2006
Gardai numbers on the Coast
We met with the local Superintendent to discuss the problem. Garda responsibilities on the East Coast fall under the Drogheda division, so the meeting took place in Drogheda Garda station.
My father served with Drogheda Gardai for many years, so I often made trips into the station when I was a kid (he also served in Duleek, Slane and Dunshaughlin, so he’s forever filling me in on past history!). The local Super was very generous with his time and myself and a couple of local residents outlined our concerns about the area. I’d be fairly hopeful that the numbers of Gardai will increase over the next while. After the meeting I wrote to the Garda Commissioner, Mr Noel Conroy, asking him to provide more Gardai for the Louth Meath Division – population growth in the area has been significant over the last few years.
I've just signed up for You Tube and will incorporate a short video on my blog each week. Here are some thoughts on Laytown bus fares....
I hope to improve the quality of next week's video!
On Thursday I met with Deputy Ruairi Quinn for lunch. He gave me some advice on local electoral strategy, which I intend to put to use. Prior to the meeting his assistant, Keith, informed me of a dodgy road sign on the way to Kells (his dad lives locally).
Of course, it’s not just that the letter are missing from Kells, it’s also that local residents spell Drumconrath differently to that north Dublin suburb of Drumcondra. Hopefully the engineers will change it soon!
This week’s meeting of Meath Leader was a short one, due to tragic circumstances. We just dealt with urgent business. I was particularly pleased to see money going towards Dyslexia workshops in Navan. Afterwards, Marian, the project appraisal officer, informed me that a case has also been put to the department for a grant for works at the Laytown Pitch & Putt club. Hopefully, the department will sanction the grant. The club is a great resource for young and old alike in the area.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
A Different type of Performance for the Crowd
Key issues arising were the need for the bypass to be brought forward, for parking to be provided in the village centre and for changes to the road signage in the area, so that people coming to Newgrange would also call to the village. Since the opening of the Bru na Boinne Interpretative Centre the number of visitors to the village has dropped by 75%. We want to get them back. Next year sees the opening of the Battle of the Boyne site at Oldbridge. We expect 100,000 visitors a year. That’s over 300 a day. Slane needs to get some of these visitors into the village.
To get more tourists to visit we need to reclaim the centre of the town and provide additional facilities. Hats off to Lord Mountcharles, who is in the process of providing a site at Cavan Row for a heritage centre. Now we need to get the parking sorted. Slane can be the Adare of the north. Its location is fabulous; its setting is perfect. It should be the Jewel in the crown for tourism in the Boyne Valley.
This month’s area meeting went on from 9:30 until 2:30pm. That’s five hours! It’s a ridiculous way to manage things; most of the other area meetings conclude within a couple of hours. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of attending a meeting, the procedure is that we discuss certain matters in turn. For instance a report is given by the council engineer on water, and then each councillor makes a contribution in turn. Then we move on to sewerage, then roads, then amenities, etc., etc. Quite often there are about fifteen things on the agenda, and each councillor has a chance to speak on each issue. So, unless well managed, the meetings can go on for hours (as happened this week).
Luckily the Cathaoirleach is on the case. She timed one Councillor’s contribution on one issue at ten minutes. The same councillor probably waffled on for twice or three times as long as any other councillor throughout the whole meeting. That kind of behaviour is pointless, inconsiderate and self-defeating. His best points (and in fairness there are some good points) are lost in the thick fog he casts over his outpourings. The Cathaoirleach warned that in future she would truncate over-lengthy contributions.
I brought up the subject of the proposed Laytown playground again. The situation is that the land opposite Gilna’s pub is being registered by the council. Until it’s registered the construction of the playground can’t start. The registration process is that we instruct our solicitors to prepare a registration claim, then this is sent to the Land Registry and then they go through the motions. Last month I was promised an update on the situation, particularly in relation to where we are in the process.
“It’s going through the registration process” was the rather vague answer I got again.
“Last month I asked for a timeline of where we are on this” I responded. “You were going to tell us if it was with the solicitor or whether it was now with the Land Registry”.
“Oh, it’s with the Land Registry” came the reply from the official.
“That’s strange” I responded. “I called in to the Land Registry last week and they have no record of any attempt to register this land. Please prove me wrong, but it would appear that 18 months on this issue is STILL with our solicitors, and hasn’t even reached the Land Registry.”
The officials clearly hadn’t managed to get an update on the situation from the solicitors.
“We’ll look into it and get back to you next month” replied the official.
I’m going to keep at them on this issue. We have a fund of over half a million euro for playgrounds sitting in a bank and we have one tiny playground in the whole area for a burgeoning population.
The annual Council housing awards took place this year in The Newgrange Hotel, Navan. Estates like Mountain View in Stamullen, St Cianan’s Villas in Duleek, St Mary’s Villas in Donore and Alverno in Laytown all won prizes.
There was a large crowd in attendance on the night. I had to leave before the end because I had a dinner date with friends. The dinner was great but when I woke up the next day I felt really bad. My stomach was moving like there was an alien in it.
I got up and had breakfast and almost straight away got violently ill. After an hour of this things seemed to settle down. I got myself ready and headed out to my first meeting, a briefing with the residents of Donacarney.
Myself and about ten people discussed issues in relation to the open space, the footpath and the junction. I had a couple of Notices of Motion down on the agenda for the monthly area meeting and I needed to get back to the residents with an update. The meeting didn’t last too long and I took away some actions. At this stage I was feeling ok. I drove off to my next meeting and when I got there a crowd of about twenty awaited. I felt queasy again, so I told them that I wasn’t well.
We discussed an issue in relation to development and I gave some advice and answered questions posed by the residents.
After about half an hour I started to feel decidedly ropey. “Ok, unless there are any more questions I propose that we finish up here and I'll get back to you with some answers” I said.
The crowd were through with questions, apart from one man with an issue particular to his house:
“I’m not sure if you are aware but there’s a problem with the vents in a number of houses in the estate” he said. “I’ve had no joy from the builder so we’re taking legal proceedings.”
“What about the homebuyers bond?” I asked. The bond was set up so that owners would have recourse to the builders if problems were encountered in their homes a few years after purchase.
“It’s not worth the paper it’s written on, and it’s run by the builders themselves” he opined.
I was feeling worse with every passing second.
“Will you send me an email with the history, and I’ll follow up on it?” I asked.
Just then the alien moved in my stomach.
“We’re going to the court next week, so I’ll let you know what happens.”
I couldn’t hang on any longer. “I’m sorry, I have to go now!” I blurted out. I moved quickly over to my car and threw up on the verge. I heard one lady say in the background “He’s not well, is he.”
“I know, he said he was sick” her neighbour replied.
I finished and turned around, made an apology and got into the car. Just as I started the engine the alien returned. I got out, ran for the gutter and was ill again. When the alien had departed a man came over to me asking “Would you like a cup of tea?” which was very thoughtful. I declined, apologised and moved on.
The only thing for it was to go home. I drove home, where I spent the rest of the day recuperating. I’d guess that incidents like this happen to everyone at some stage. It’s a performance I won’t forget!
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Blogging from Buswells
Residents are also concerned about a proposal to build houses on their open space. The proposal was first mooted about a year ago. All the councillors united with the residents to fight the proposal and the end result has been that the planners have not put forward a final report to the councillors. However, as one resident pointed out they haven’t actually withdrawn the proposal either.
They asked me to push for its withdrawal. Furthermore, as a way of trying to protect the area from housing they asked me to suggest that some changing rooms / play area type facility is put on part of the open space. As can be seen from yesterday’s photo, currently the majority of the space is used by football teams; at the side of the pitch there is room for some changing facilities.
Behind the goals is some open land that could provide facilities
I’ve put a motion down for next weeks Slane Area meeting and will be hoping that the other councillors support me. The land is zoned open space, it’s owned by the council and we have money for playgrounds. It would appear to be a “no brainer”, but then the words “council”, “no” and “brain” often appear in the same sentence around here.
I got a phone call from RTE this week asking would I will interested in doing a piece on blogging for “The Week in Politics” show. The date suited me so on Friday I headed up to the pre-arranged meeting place of Buswells Hotel.
I met up with Cathy and Jim from the show and we spent about 20 minutes discussing various aspects of blogging, including what subjects to cover and also the ease in setting up a blog. The editor will probably cut me down to just a few short sentences, but it was worthwhile experience just to be put in front of a camera.
In the lounge at Buswells
Meath Leader and Meath Partnerships are carrying out a series of community workshops across East Meath at the moment. The purpose of these workshops is to assess what is needed in terms of community development in various parts of the county. As a Board Member, I attended one workshop in Stamullen on Monday night and one in Julianstown on Wednesday night. The organisation is about to get between €12 million and €20 million to spend on projects in Meath. I’d encourage all communities to contact Meath Leader to discuss gaps in community facilities in their area.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Publish and Be Damned?
The whole issue of additional development on the open spaces of settled developments is one that appears time and again across the County. One reason for this was the change in residential density guidelines from the government a few years ago; this increased the number of houses allowable per acre in our towns and villages.
Some might say that was the government pandering to their friendly developers, but it could also be argued that it was simply a reflection of the need to use our urban land more intensively (and sustainably). Personally, I don’t have a huge problem with higher densities per se (I’ve lived on the 23rd floor of an apartment block before), so I am happy for higher densities to be allowable in some locations. However, I have a major problem with higher densities being imposed on settled estates. If houses are not put in at the time the estate is first occupied then we should forget it. Higher densities? Only in the right place at the right time.
La Mare estate in Stamullen is one estate affected by this. In brief, the developer originally held on to a property adjoining the space earmarked for open space. As the estate was never "handed over" to the council he legally retained the ownership of the land designated as open space. A couple of years ago he sold off the property and the open space to another party.
One morning the residents woke up to find that the new owner had put an application in to build on their open space. We fought that application all the way to An Bord Pleanala and won. Since then the council has been seeking to get a transfer of the open space from the new owner.
In fairness to the new owner, it appears that it was never made clear to him that the land he bought was meant to be open space. He now seems to be co-operating with the council in the transfer of land, but it is taking an age to complete the transfer.
Meanwhile, he has decided to sell the property he bought and it’s now on the market again.
House for sale in La Mare, Stamullen
For anyone who is thinking of buying this site, can I advise you to knock on a few of the neighbours doors, or come to me and we will give you the whole story. Don’t buy this site without doing your research!
I attended the first ever “Blogging the Election” Conference in Dublin on Saturday. I was on a panel of three with Damian Blake (FF) and Ciaran Cuffe (Green) to discuss issues in relation to politicians’ blogs. I thought that I’d use the occasion to discuss the issue of “comment management”, or moderation as it’s more technically known as (or “censorship” as some posters on my blog have called it). I asked for the advice of the audience: should politicians moderate their comments or should they allow all posts to be published.
My motivation for this was my recent experience over the last couple of months. I have been getting comments in relation to my performance, behaviour etc. in relation to Laytown school. I removed one person’s comments and got criticised for that. Also, Labour HQ’s IT boffin did some clever analysis of my site’s traffic statistics and seemingly five different negative posts came from the same computer within the space of a few hours. Obviously I want to allow all relevant comment, and am happy to allow negative comments if they are not an orchestrated attempt to “spike” the site, but I have to be careful on some grounds (including libel!).
Speaking at the "Blogging the Election" Conference in Dublin
It turns out that one of the other politicians on the panel does “moderate” comments, and indeed a few people in the audience implied that I was mad to even consider allowing a non-moderated blog. Sure, a non-moderated blog allows political opponents to mix in comments with the genuinely critical, but comment management can go too far - the singer George Michael closed down the comment line on his site because some nasty posters suggested he was getting fat!). I’d like to find a solution that works and keeps people interested. I also love the fact that some people use it to converse with each other even after I have “left the room”.
I’d be interested to receive views on this. I want this blog to be as interactive as possible, but it wouldn’t be right to let a few hackers spoil it. Should I allow all posts, and assume that the reader is sensible enough to spot the mischievous ones from the perfectly valid “annoyed” ones? Should I moderate just those which may be libellous? Should I just allow posts from my mum?
Oh, and any posts that refer to my expanding waist line will instantly be removed.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Blue Flag for Bettystown Beach?
I was impressed by the scope of work that the engineers have completed. All it needs now is money from the County Manager and all of the councillors will be pressing for funds to be made available.
Laytown & Bettystown beaches are a major tourist attraction for East Meath
We agreed to return to the discussion of the bye-laws at the next area meeting. I’ll also be bringing up the subject of drinking on the beach. It’s an issue that concerns a lot of the local residents. I got a phone call at 10pm one night last week from a resident to tell me about a gang of youths breaking bottles against a wall. The resident had called the Gardai but had not at that stage seen a response from them.
I was in my car at the time so I drove over to the beach. There were a bunch of about 30 teenagers drinking just off the beach. I could see that the sheer size of the group alone would probably intimidate people.
Later that evening someone was beaten up in the village centre. It all goes to show that we need extra gardai in the area, something that I will keep on about until we get additional resources. We also need more facilities for our teenagers and young adults as well.
The local political temperature picked up this week with the developing news about Bertie. I was in the Dail on Thursday and had a chat with a few of our TDs. There was general agreement that the possibility of an early election was now more likely.
On the way back to Bettystown I got a call from my Director of Elections.
“Have you got the cable ties sorted yet?” he asked me. The cable ties keep posters up on the poles. We had agreed at our last planning meeting that I would purchase these asap.
“Not yet, but I think I know where we can get them” I replied.
“Well, we might need them sooner than you think. We could be going to the country within a week!” he responded. The last thing he wants is to be a few days into a campaign with all of our posters keeping warm in a shed while he has to frantically search the country for cable ties, as I sip coffee at some local coffee morning.
“Hmm, my sense is that we won’t have an election this side of Christmas. They will want to keep the show going,” I replied; possibly my tone was a bit relaxed.
“What does your sense tell you about what my state of mind will be on Tuesday night, if Bertie calls an election and we have no poster ties?” he bellowed.
It didn't sound like he wanted a lengthy conversation on this one! I made a few phone calls and within a couple of hours I was able to ring him back and tell him that we now have thousands of cable ties and indeed we’ve probably cornered the market on them. So, if any other candidates need some ties, I might be willing to part with a few spare ones, with a suitable profit margin added in, of course.
And the positive thing is .... we are now ready to go!