Saturday, October 25, 2008


Grey Matters

I was on Q102 radio on Monday afternoon to talk about price differentials between Ireland and England. In advance, I did a bit of research over last weekend. Here are some comparisons.

Big Mac: £2.09 in London compared to €3.70 in Ashbourne - 50% higher when you take account of the exchange rate.

Sub of the Day: £1.99 in London compared to €2.99 in Ashbourne - 20% higher wen you take account of the exchange rate.

Other stores were also a lot higher: some goods I checked in Tesco were 20% cheaper in London, taking account of the exchange rate and some stores like New Look and Argos were also charging 20% more than in the UK.

Rip-off Pricing in Ireland
£25 in Islington but €40 in Ashbourne - 60% higher!

Why is this? Transport costs? Cost of Wages? Is it just profiteering? I can't be sure about that, but it's clear that they have a case to answer!

On Wednesday outside Leinster House I experienced what was one of the strangest sights I have seen. Tens of thousands of our elderly took to the streets to defend their hard-earned rights.

I went out to join them. I could hardly move through the crowds, they were so big. It was actually a bit frightening, and I know from talking to people that some of the elderly marchers people were beginning to feel a bit crushed, particularly in the centre of the crowd.

Is this government so short of brains that they failed to see the furore that they were going to cause by withdrawing universality for medical cards? You would have to wonder. Last week saw scenes on our streets not experienced since the foundation of the state.

What's more, some of the government seem to think that we were orchestrating pensioners to come up to Dublin and protest, a point I tried to debunk during the Order of Business in the Seanad on Wednesday. These people are the salt and earth of Ireland, not some cabal of Trots that have been hiding in the woodlands of Tipperary, waiting for the right time to start the revolution.

Pensioners 2
"After 60 years of planning for global revolution, the Borrisokane branch of the Lev Davidovich Trotsky Party sensed their time was coming" -----NOT!

The continued presence of The Greens in government is surprising, given that they seem to be getting so little of their agenda onto the statue books, something I took up with the Leader in the Seanad on Thursday.

Pensioner 1
This man seems to know where to put the blame

Next week sees the turn of the teachers to come up to Dublin. My phone has been hopping on the subject for the last few days. I would have little doubt but that the crowd will be huge. The Labour Party has a motion down on the Order of Business seeking to reverse the cuts in education. The question now is whether the government is forced into another u-turn - losing whatever is left of their shattered credibility in the process.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Medical Card Madness

The budget dominated the week, particularly the decision on Medical Cards. I had calls from some very worried and anxious pensioners who needed details of the scheme. Of course, the scheme details seemed to change by the minute so there was a lot of confusion out there, a point I made in the Seanad on Thursday.

I also spoke about Volunteering in the debate on Tuesday. I called for the introduction of a nationwide insurance scheme for resident associations and community groups, something the Minister agreed to consider.

Later in the week I spoke about Climate Change and about the need for a bit of urgency. Compared to some European countries we are still lagging behind.

On Tuesday evening I went over to the Castle Arch Hotel in Trim to chair the Trim Electoral Area convention. We choose Tracy McElhinney from Ballivor. Tracy used to work for the NEC factory there and has been active in the community in a range of areas. The Trim area has four seats and we will be gunning to win one of them.

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Tracy & myself after the Selection Convention in Trim

I also chaired the convention for Drogheda Borough Council on Thursday night. The convention was attended by Eamon Gilmore and Nessa Childers. We picked four candidates. They were existing Councillors Paul Bell and Gerard Nash and two new candidates, Linda Bell and Gareth Fitzpatrick. We have an excellent chance of winning four seats of the twelve on the council.

The Seanad was convened on Friday to pass the rescue scheme for the banking institutions. I spoke on the debate on behalf of the Labour Party. We were concerned about a few things, including the whole area of banking responsibility, and the inclusions of subordinated debt. Although I was wearing a suit, I wasn't wearing a tie (I usually don't on a Friday). It was a point picked up by a few people, including Miriam Lord in the Irish Times on Saturday.Semminlgly although wearing a tie isn't a rule, it is custom and tradition to wear one.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Our new Ashourne Office opens

We opened our new Ashbourne office on Friday, which we are all very pleased about. The Party Leader, Eamon Gilmore, came down from Dublin to cut the ribbon.

It's surprising how hard it was to get suitable office space in the area. We went on quite a search before we found this office, which is perfect for us. It is sizeable, can accommodate a large meeting, and is accessible for people with mobility difficulties. It is located smack bang in the middle of Ashbourne, just beside the library, the citizens advice centre and the offices of Meath County County. The only drawback is its proximity to ladies fashion stores, which are already experiencing more custom from my staff at lunchtimes.

The office will be open Monday to Thursday mornings and afternoons, and on Friday morning. We are also looking at the possibility of an evening opening during the week. More of this in a future post.

On Monday I gave a speech and presented the graduation awards at the Dunboyne College of Further Education in Dunboyne Castle Hotel. The event was atended by about 200 people and was a very happy occasion. The following day I made the point that Post Leaving Certificate courses need to be supported by the government.

I also brought up the issue of students appealing their Leaving Certificate results and in particular the fact that there is a 30% chance of getting a higher grade in geography if one appeals. The problem with such high levels of appeal success is that any student who does not get the grade that he or she hoped for will appeal, as this is now the sensible thing to do. I worry that this might clog up the system and I asked for a review of the marking process so that we restore confidence to the system.

The news that my old college UCD finished in the top 108 universities worldwide was welcomed in the House on Thursday. Of course, Trinity also did very well, a point I made in the Seanad during the Order of Business.

On Thursday I attended the official opening of the new Anglo Printers Plant in Drogheda. The event was packed with people from the area I got talking to a few of them - everyone was of the view that it's nice to see something expanding in the town. We all wish them well.

Not so good were the reports of the financial difficulties at Drogheda United Football Club. It's a bit of a roller-coaster ride at the moment for anyone involved in the club. Let's hope that the club manages to sort out the current problems.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


All-night session on Banking Bill

The Seanad returned this week after the summer recess and what a week it was! We knew from early on Tuesday morning that we were going to have pass new legislation about the banks at some stage. The only question was when.

As the Whip, I made arrangements for our Senators to be ready and able to contribute during the second stage and committee stage. At first it looked like we would be discussing the Bill on Tuesday evening at 10pm. I went off to a meeting in Navan with the intention of returning to Dublin for the 10pm resumption of business. Then I got a call from the Seanad Leader's office at about 7:30pm telling me that it would not happen until Wednesday. I called all the others and told them to stand down.

On Wednesday morning it was clear that we were going to get to the Bill in the evening. Myself and my fellow Senators all put arrangements into place, cancelling previous commitments where necessary. We were clear about the importance of the occasion, and the need for us to be involved.

I've had all-nighters before, but they were usually of a different type. In a few of my jobs I've had rushes on where you have to deliver a project for a client asap. I remember going in to work one Saturday morning at 9am and not leaving my desk until Sunday evening. Now that was bad! So, they don't really bother me. Apart from which it's a huge privilege to be involved in something of such importance to my country. From talking to my colleagues I know they all felt the same way.

I went to a pre-arranged meeting in Rathmines at 8pm and rushed back to the House for 10pm, only to find that we were adjourned again until 1am.

For the next three hours I worked in my office, sorting out correspondence and representations on various matters. I had the House TV on in the background so I could listen to the debate going on in the Dail. I also dropped down to the Dail to have a look at the debate up close. The time flew and at 1am the Dail was still debating the issues, so the Seanad was adjourned again, this time until 2:30am.

I went down to the Members Bar, not a place I spend a lot of time, and had a meeting with a few of the other Labour Senators, just to agree who was covering what issue. I also got talking to some of the other Senators and TDs about various issues. The atmosphere was both collegiate and businesslike.

By 2:30am the Dail had concluded its business and we were ready to go. The Seanad was about two-thirds full, which is about what you would get on a normal day. Minister Mansergh kicked off for the government but was soon replaced by Minister Lenihan, who I thought looked fairly fresh considering the turmoil of the previous days.

The second stage went on for two hours. There were some fine speeches from both sides of the house. Myself, Alex White and Alan Kelly spoke from the Labour bench. Minister Lenihan was in flying form.

By quarter to five we were ready for Committee Stage. After a quick break and some caffeine shots we were back in action. I spoke on a few of the amendments but it was clear that the government was not going to accept any at this stage. A pity really, because I think they would have strengthened the legislation and given some additional safeguards and protection to the taxpayer.

By 8am we were all done. I was fairly tired but decided against going to bed. I had meetings scheduled for 10am, 11am and the House was back in session at noon. So, I talked Alex White into joining me for breakfast in the Shelbourne, after which I was ready to face another day of work.

The Bill is now law. Let's hope it fulfils its objectives and helps avert any disasters in the banking system.

We also considered the second stage of the new Housing Bill this week. As the party's Housing Spokesperson in the Seanad I made a speech setting out our views. We welcome the principle of the Bill, but feel that it could be made significantly better with a number of amendments, which we intend to table during committee stage.

This week saw the start of the public inquiry into the proposed bonemeal incinerator at Nobber. People who are against incineration are a bit perplexed about how Minister Gormley can be against incineration but yet his own department remains in favour of it as a policy, a question I raised in the Seanad on Thursday.

Away from the Seanad we selected our candidate for the Navan Electoral Area of Meath County Council this week. Her name is Eileen Drew and she's a lecturer in Trinity. The Navan Electoral Area is one of the largest in Meath and covers the whole of Navan town and surrounding areas such as Wilkinstown, Kentstown, Baile Ghib, Rathkenny, Skreen and Rathfiegh. Eileen lives in Rathfeigh and is up for the fight. There are seven seats in the area, so we will be in there challenging to win one of them.

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Myself, Eileen and Kirsi Hanifin at Leinster House

It was my second convention of the week. I chaired the Dublin South East convention on Monday night in the Mansion House. We selected 5 candidates for two separate wards. They are all firmly focused on winning. It will be a terrific achievement if we can take five seats out of the ten available. But then you're talking about Councillor Dermot Lacey, Councillor Mary Freehill, Councillor Oisin Quinn, Councillor Kevin Humphries and exciting newcomer Maria Parodi. If any team can do it they can!

Friday night was spent in Bennet's pub in Ardcath at a table quiz to raise money for the local school. I was there with a few friends, including Councillor Eoin Holmes who lives locally. My team was appalling - I was totally off-form and managed to get some basic questions totally wrong - I'm blaming the fact that I was still zonked from the all-night sitting of the Seanad. Anyway, we didn't come last, and we had good fun, and of course, helped to raise some much-needed funds for the local school in the process.