Sunday, November 23, 2008


Blackberry Storm users set to be ripped off

On behalf of the Labour Party I had the responsibility and honour to speak in tribute to the late Seamus Brennan last week. Seamus' wife Ann and family were in the public gallery at the time to hear the tributes. You could tell from the heartfelt comments how much respect and warmth he generated in those who knew and loved him. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I took the Order of Business in the Seanad on Wednesday. I spoke about the fact that the new blackberry storm is about to come out and that once again the Irish are going to be ripped off. In the Netherlands the phone is free. In Newry the phone is free. In Navan it will cost €110. And the ongoing contract prices are higher too. In this climate where every cent counts these multinational phone service providers take the biscuit!

Afterwards we had the Committee Stage of the Housing Miscellaneous Bill. Whilst we join with others in welcoming the Bill, the Labour Party has tabled plenty of amendments to the Bill in an attempt to improve it. I was glad to see that the Minister did accept a small number of our proposals, but on others he didn't budge. As a result ourselves and the Fine Gael Senators called several votes. On one occasion we came remarkably close and lost by only two votes (usually we are nowhere near as close as this). It turned out subsequently that some government Senators had failed to hear the Division Bell going around the house. Could it be that their ears have received too much of a bashing recently?

Later I travelled up to Croke Park to watch the Ireland vs Poland game. The only tickets available were for the Polish end, which we took. Initially I thought that I was in the Cork end - everyone was in red and white scarves and I couldn't understand a word that anyone was saying.

The spectacle was amazing. Of the crowd of 75,000 the vast majority were Polish.


The atmosphere was great and despite being surrounded by so many opposing fans we felt in no way threatened.

As an example of how Ireland has changed it was very telling. Here we had 75,000 Irish residents of different nationalities and different ages watching a team of 11 players resident in Poland and 11 players resident in England, managed by an Italian. Who says we haven't embraced Europe!

On Saturday I heard the news that we are to run three candidates in the Dunshaughlin Area. New candidate Michael McLoughlin of Dunboyne will join with new candidate Niamh McGowan of Ashbourne and Ratoath along with John King of Ashbourne. We will certainly be doing our utmost to try and win seats in this 7-seater ward.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Ag deanamh mo obair baile

I go to Irish classes at 9am every Thursday morning in Leinster House. Our obair baile this week was to find an occasion before Christmas to give a speech as gaeilge. I managed to get my homework done on Friday night, at the launch of the Strategic Plan for Gaelscoileanna in Bettystown.

I know some of the driving forces behind the event very well. I was at school with the organiser, Michael O'Broin and when he asked me to say a few words I was delighted to accept. I kept the address short - about three minutes in total. The audience was made up of about 100 muinteoiri, so I was suitably nervous! I knew a few others in the audience, including our own Councillor Sean O' Hargain from Kilkenny and Seosaimh, who was my muinteoir when I went to Gleann Finn in the Donegal Gaeltacht during an samhradh.

I got a clap at the end of the speech, and one half-way through when I told them that there are many TDs and Senators that are taking lessons to try and improve our Irish, so I think they managed to understand me!

The announcement of the new funding programme for Meath Partnership offers some positive news for rural life in Meath. From my time on the board of Meath Partnership I know that this will mean that more residents of rural Meath can be helped, and more rural projects will get underway. I mentioned this in my speech in the Seanad on Wednesday.

I also raised the issue of new Post Offices to Minister O Cuiv. I am pushing for an assessment to be carried out to see whether one could be opened at Donore - I believe that it would be of great benefit to the community in and around Donore. I asked that the Minister should look again at how we support rural post offices.

We had an interesting debate on Thursday about the effects of radon gas. It's the second highest causes of lung cancer (after smoking) in Ireland, and claims the lives of about 8 Meath citizens every year. Certain pockets of the county, such as Ashbourne, Stamullen, Ratoath and Dunshaughlin are more likely to suffer from radon contamination. I called for a major communications campaign to be launched to alert homeowners of the dangers. A test cost just €56 but could help to save lives.

On Thursday evening I accompanied our Navan Area Representative, Eileen Drew in Kentstown. We wanted to get peoples' views on the dump at Knockharley, and about general issues in relation to the area. We spoke to quite a few villagers. Many have concerns about the dump, as well as traffic speeds through the village. This is something Eileen intends to follow up on.

Councillor Brian Collins, Joe Rourke and myself went into Carlanstown on Saturday to ask for views on life in the village. We got a very warm welcome from the doors - even at those who were looking at the rugby match. Of course Carlanstown has always had strong links with the Labour Party - Meath Labour TD Jimmy Tully hails from the village.

Later that evening I met Jimmy Tully's daughter, Margaret, at an event in Drogheda. Margaret was one of the exhibitors at a painting exhibition organised by Richard Moore in St Peter's Church. I was under strict instructions to leave by 7:55pm as I had to meet family for a family event. I was just about to leave when a glass was chinked and the Mayor moved forward to make an announcement. I decided to make a dash for the exit, moving swiftly past Mayor Frank Maher, who gave me a somewhat quizzical look. I hope he didn't think I was leaving because of his impending speech. I would have loved to have stayed but would have been murdered if I was late for my sister!

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Active Citizenship in Action

Tuesday night saw our selection convention for the Dunshaughlin area of Meath County Council. Party HQ decided to go for a one candidate strategy for this 7-seater ward. By the close of nominations it was clear that there was going to be a competition for the slot, so both candidates were called on to give a speech to the members assembled at the Dunshaughlin Country Club.

I'm not taking sides in the contest, so we got an external Chairperson in, Senator Brendan Ryan from Dublin North. When both candidates votes were tied Brendan was called on to draw names out of a hat. Unlike most cases, the name we draw out of the hat loses, rather than wins. It makes no great difference really, as long as that rule is known in advance of the draw, which it was.

Afterwards I spoke to many members and the general feeling is that HQ should think again about just running a single candidate. Many felt that in the current economic climate we should be running two or three candidates. I believe that this point has been made to HQ by the Ashbourne branch, so we await the feedback from HQ.

After all the excitement at Dunshaughlin I headed off to watch the US Presidential Election. I had been invited to the Amercian Embassy bash in central Dublin, but I'm not a big fan of events like those. Generally they tend to be full of well-meaning amateurs who tend to talk through the announcements of the most important results. Can't have that!

Next morning I was surprised by how many Senators made it in for the start of business. There were a few bleary eyes there, but the Seanad is made up of a hardy bunch and a late night of TV doesn't affect us that much.

I mentioned how great it was to see the huge turnout at the US election. Almost 140 million people voted and the turn-out was the highest in 100 years. I suggested that it was a clear example of active citizenship in action.

I compared it to progress on our own active citizenship taskforce. Since the publication of the report by the taskforce in March 2007 very little has happened. The budget for 2009 has been cut from €200,000 to €56,000. One wonders how the taskforce will be able to implement any of the recommendations on such as reduced budget.

Before I left for a few meeting back in Meath on Thursday I thought I would drop up to the Chamber for a quick chat with Senator McCarthy, who was representing the party during the Harbours Bill debate. I said a few words to him and left, but was caught on the way out by one of the Seanad staff, who asked me to Chair the adjournment debates. It was something I've never been asked to do before so I decided to take the opportunity.

Each day there are three adjournment debates allowed in the house. These are heard directly after the close of regular business. It's an opportunity for a Senator to raise a local or national issue directly with the Minister. Typically people raise issues about schooling (I raised Le Cheile, Mornington, last year) or immigration cases, or general policy (I have spoken about subjects from Economic Partnership Agreements to car parking charges).

As the Acting Chair my job was to make sure that the correct speakers were called and that they stuck to the time limits allowable. Fairly straight forward really. The session went well, and it was nice to see the chamber from the other side of the fence, so to speak.