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!

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