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.

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