Sunday, May 25, 2008


Visit to Ratoath School

There's been much debate nationally as to whether the HSE is fit-for-purpose. The Labour Party launched a six-point plan for how it could be improved. I spoke on the matter in the Seanad on Thursday.

HSE needs to be re-structured

The roadworks to prepare for the new sewerage scheme at Duleek continue. After the Council closed roads a few weeks back we sought confirmation that there would be no more closures without advance notification.

However, I got calls again this week about further closures. People were complaining that they had not received adequate notification.

Station Road, Duleek

Station Road Duleek, closed again with little notification

My understanding from talking to some essential service providers is that they also received no notification. I have raised the subject again with the local council office and subsequently received a draft letter from them which will be sent to all residents outlining them of the closures.

I met with Dick Fearn, Chief Executive of Irish Rail on Wednesday to talk about rail services. I brought up the subject of crowded commuter carriages, something he is working to improve, and also we discussed the issue of fares from Laytown and Gormonston stations. From what Mr Fearn said I'd be confident that the fares anomaly (whereby people from Laytown and Gormonstown pay more per passenger mile than commuters from Balbriggan) will reduce in the future.

In the Seanad the next day I brought up the subject of train car parks. Although it's possible to reclaim tax on rail fares to work, the car parking charges incurred at train stations do not fall within the tax rebate structures.

I asked the Minister would he consider the matter during the preparation for the next budget.

Car parking charges at Stamullen station

Minister Martin Mansergh from the Department of Finance came into the House. Here's his response.

On Friday I went into Ratoath Primary school to talk to the senior classes about politics. The students have their own government structure in the schools, and I was introduced to their Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and the Cabinet. They have several Ministries, including a Minister of Entertainment and a Minister of Culture. I spent an hour debating local and national issues with the class.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Des Bishop in da House

Our Ranganna Gaeilge had a special visitor on Wednesday morning. The comedian Des Bishop came in to tell us about his experience of spending a year in the Gaeltacht to learn Irish. The class had a slightly larger attendance than usual and Des gave a very positive, uplifting experience. Afterwards he came into the Seanad Chamber with Maire Breathnach, our teacher, to view proceedings. I welcomed him on behalf of my party.

I've been going to the class since last September and my Irish has certainly improved, although I'm still nowhere near as comfortable with it as I was in my schooldays. However, I was just about able to struggle through an interview with Foinse, the Irish language newspaper, on the subject.

The need for a plan for Rural development was debated in the Seanad on Wednesday. As the Seanad Spokesperson for Community and Rural Affairs I put forward our views on what could be done, focusing on development of tourism and agriculture, along with strengthening and supporting local communities, particularly through the retention of post offices and rural schools.

I attended the AGM of the Millmount Abbey Residents Association in Teach Mhuire, on the Dublin Road in Drogheda, during the week. There was a good turnout on the evening, despite the fact that it clashed with the Rangers UEFA Cup Final match. One of the areas of interest was the proposal for the new Drogheda United football stadium down the road in Beamore, which I updated people on. Another area of interest was the pending review of the boundaries in this area. Millmount Abbey is on the border of Meath County Council / Drogheda Borough Council and there is a possibility that it may be moved into the Borough Council administrative area. The report is due out next month.

The Campaign for a Yes Vote for the Lisbon Treaty is now well underway. I was canvassing for it during the week in Duleek, Kentstown and Yellow Furze. The level of awareness about it has certainly picked up since the previous week. For example, I was having dinner in a restaurant in Ashbourne during the week and just after we paid the bill our waiter asked me could I explained briefly what the Treaty was about. I did my best to summarise the main points into a three-minute snapshot of the Treaty. From instances such as this it's clear that people want information are very willing to engage on the issue.

In the East Meath area Councillor Eoin Holmes was out putting up his "Vote Yes to Europe" posters.

Eoin puts us his Europe poster

Eoin Holmes puts up his "Vote Yes to Europe poster"

With just over three weeks left to polling day there's still a lot of ground to be covered if the Treaty is going to be passed.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Sherpa Hannigan

The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre officially opening on Tuesday. I was one of the lucky ones to get an invite to go along to this historic occasion.

It was especially meaningful to me because as a teenager I spent a lot of time walking and cycling around the area. I had friends who had a place just beside Oldbridge and many evening and nights were spent around the area. I've also travelled by canoe and currach on the Boyne at this location, so I am delighted that this centre has been completed. The Boyne Valley is a special place and I think that it's wonderful that more people will now come into the area to enjoy its many delights.

The opening ceremony was an interesting affair. Historic - because of the symbolism that it represents for the communities on our island, but no doubt tinged with a bit of sadness too for the friends and supporters of the departing Ahern and Paisley. The local Fianna Failers has certainly turned out in numbers for the occasions. I chatted to cumann members from across the county. In fact, at one stage I wondered if I had taken a wrong turning at Donore and ended up at a Fianna Fail Ard Fheis.

Paisley addresses the crowd.

The following day Leinster House was packed out,with people up from Offaly and other places to join in the celebrations for the election of Taoiseach Cowen. I met and chatted to a few Fianna Failers from County Meath who had travelled up for the day.

I also brought up the subject of post-primary funding. The government has been accussed or reneging on promises it made just before the election, which was something I mentioned to the Leader of the House during the Order of Business.

Later I went over to Navan, where I chaired a Selection Convention for next year's town council elections. We are pursuing a one-candidate strategy and with two contenders a vote was necessary. The successful contender was Anton McCabe, who will be aiming to win one of the 7 seats on Navan Town Council. I wish him well.

Hannigan & McCabe in Navan
Dominic Hannigan and Anton McCabe outside Ryan's of Navan

On Saturday I was out in Kentstown to talk to people about the Lisbon Treaty. As I arrived I started getting texts from a few people who has seen Miriam Lord's article in the Irish Times. She referred to me as Sherpa Hannigan after my "roundabout" congratulations to Brian Cowen during the week.

It's obviously a popular column, because I continued to get texts on the matter throughout the day. Just as long as it doesn't stick...

Sunday, May 04, 2008


British-Irish delegation meets in Wexford

I travelled down to Wexford on Sunday for the bi-annual meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Body. The body is an opportunity for parliamentarians from both sides of the water to talk about issues or common concerns.

Once a year the event takes place in Ireland, once in Britain. This session (the 36th) took place in Whyte's Hotel, Wexford.

I travelled down via Dublin, where I stopped off at Leinster House to collect my briefing papers. I got there just after half past five on Saturday to find out that the whole building goes into shut-down mode at 5pm on a Saturday. When I explained that I needed the papers for Sunday the Gardai let me in, and arranged for two soldiers to accompany me to my office. Unfortunately, the door was locked and despite trying about 100 different keys we couldn't get in. Whilst the soldiers were armed, I decided that I'd leave it rather than get them to shoot the locks.

I worked in the private sector for many years, and I was able to come and go as I pleased. Often I'd go in to my office on a Saturday evening for a few hours, or on a Sunday morning. It's a bit strange that I can't do that in Leinster House.

Whyte's hotel was buzzing with politicians when I got there. There was a good turnout from our side of the water and a smattering of familiar faces from Britain. For instance, I came out of my bedroom on the first morning at the same time as Peter Hain came out of the adjoining room.

The main focus of the session was in relation to drug problems on these islands. We received presentations from various experts about what is being done to tackle the problem. I got chatting to a member from Guernsey - from what he was saying they certainly have a tough regime there when it comes to sentencing for possession.

Attendance at the session is a great opportunity to meet colleagues from across the political divide and I got a chance to chat to quite a few before the session closed on Tuesday afternoon.

I drove from Wexford up to Ardcath, to a meeting in St Vincent's GAA clubhouse to discuss road safety issues in Ardcath and Clonalvy. There was a crowd of about 40 there, including local Councillor Eoin Holmes, who lives in the Ardcath / Clonalvy / Stamullen area and Cllr Jimmy Cudden, along with Shane McEntee.

The schools at Ardcath and Clonalvy are both looking for additional traffic safety measures at the schools. The Council claims to have limited funds and this year only three schools will receive funding: Lobinstown, Stackallen and Knockcommon.

Residents are also concerned about cars speeding through the village late at night. This is clearly a case for additional garda enforcement and I will be making this point to the local gardai.

I met a delegation from the Union of Students of Ireland in Buswell's Hotel on Wednesday. They were lobbying for something to be done about the costs of accommodation for students and for a removal of the means testing for part-time students. I brought up this issue that day in the Seanad.

Order of business in the Seanad

During our private members time this week we introduced a Bill on Freedom of Information. the aim was to reverse the restrictions brough in by the current government. I opened the debate in the Seanad, and was followed by Senator Phil Prendergast.

I had to shoot off early to meet a delegation from Amnesty Ireland, who came in to discuss the ongoing situation in China. They asked me to raise the recently published report on Human Rights in Ireland, which I did the following morning.

Dinner was an interrupted affair - I had to rush of half-way through for a vote on our Bill (which was defeated). However, I did get back to my guests in time for coffee!