Sunday, December 21, 2008


Dodgy bankers gone, hand-guns on the way out...

The Seanad finished its Autumn / Winter session this week. It was another roller-coaster few days, culminating in the resignation of the Chairman and Chief Executive of Anglo-Irish Bank.

I was doing a lot of reading around the subject and from what I've seen nothing would surprise me about the behaviour of the bankers anymore. They seem to live in a completely different world than the rest of us. We rightly worry about the dangers of secret societies, of the spread of nepotism and cronyism in society, of corruption by some politicians, but these guys take the biscuit! We clearly need to take control of this situation. We need to get to the bottom of what's going on across the banking sector and we need to do it quickly. Without wishing to appear partial on this, these are exactly the reasons why we pushed for so many amendments to the Banking Bill a few months ago.

This week the Minister of Justice, Dermot Ahern, came into the Seanad to outline his plans for the regulation of handguns in Irish society. He proposes to re-instate the ban that existed from 1972/1973 until 4 years ago (in 2004 the ban was successfully challenged). As our Seanad Spokesperson on Crime it fell on me to make a speech.

From talking to people across all parties, as well as most of the lobby groups, I would think this ban will be re-introduced in the New Year. I read the Garda Review magazine on Saturday - they are also in favour of a ban.

I don't think the ban will be the end of the matter, though. The argument is that there's no need to provide for handgun use to be legitimised (subject to certain sporting exceptions). It's important to remember though that there has been virtually no crime by the owners. Also, handguns from legal owners are not being stolen in any great numbers. In fact, of the 1,300 guns stolen from legitimate owners in the last few years only 30 were handguns. Therefore, even with a new ban, we can still expect to see about 300 firearms a year being stolen from their owners and entering the criminal underworld. This is certainly something that needs to be tackled by the provision of more Gardai resources.

The Motor Tax Bill was also discussed in the Dail and Seanad this week, and was passed into law. As our spokesperson on the Environment I was responsible for delivering a speech on this, which was broadly in favour of the Bill - although we don't think it goes quite far enough in many areas.

This will be my last blog for 2008. Whilst I am working up to Christmas Eve, I will then be taking a short break over the Christmas period. However, if there are any issues over this time, please give me a call and we can sort something out.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


The Bells, The Bells!

As a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Body I attended a meeting in the House of Parliament in Westminster on Monday. The body meets in full session twice a year (either in the UK or in Ireland) and there are a couple of other committee meetings at other times of the year.

The purpose of the session was to discuss the issue of apprenticeships, and see whether there were things that could be learned and shared across both jurisdictions. We started off in the basement levels of the Palace of Westminster, where we were introduced to several workers who were on the House of Parliament’s own apprenticeship system. They explained how it worked and extolled the virtues of the process.

We also met with a Professor with specific expertise in the area, and with the Chairman of one of the Committees with responsibility for the issue in the UK. At the end of the meeting we agreed terms of reference for a study into the area, the purpose of which will be to improve and extend the system of apprenticeships in both countries.

In the Seanad I experienced the most bad-tempered week I have yet seen. The aftermath of the government’s defeat on Thursday last (see previous blog) meant that almost all of the government senators were whipped into being around for the whole week.

One major bone of contention is in relation to the Friday sitting. By tradition the House meets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. At the start of each day there is a one hour slot for the “Order of Business”. This allows Senators to rise from their seats and bring up an issue of topical and general importance. The Leader of the House, Senator Donie Cassidy, has now organised business on four consecutive Fridays and yet has not allowed us to have an “Order of Business” on any of them, claiming it was unnecessary. We disagree with him and think there should be a slot for this every Friday.

We had thought that the Leader had agreed to take our concerns on board and allow some time – he had intimated he would do this on the previous week. However, when he spoke on Tuesday he informed us that he would not be allowing an “Order of Business” on Friday. The Oposition was united in its objections. To force the point home we raised the issue as often as possible throughout the week. Eventually he relented and now from next week we will have an "Order of Business" on Friday, along the lines that I suggested.

I also covered the Report and Final stages of the Housing Bill on Wednesday and the Charities Bill on Thursday. Both Ministers took on board some of our amendments, which I was quite happy with. Thanks must go to Richard Humphries, who is responsible for putting them all together for the Party.

Not all of our amendments were accepted by the Ministers and as a result we called quite a few votes on them. Every time a vote is held the bells go off around all of Leinster House to alert Senators to the upcoming vote. There went off non-stop on Wednesday and Thursday. By Thursday evening I was hearing them everywhere I went - in the shop, in the car, at home. I can now sympathise somewhat with Quasimodo's predicament now.

"Don't tell me that another amendment is being pushed!"

In principle both Bills are positive and progressive, so I wished them well in my concluding remarks.

During the week I attended two meetings in our Ashbourne office to discuss next year’s local elections. The first was on Tuesday night with the three area candidates and their Directors of Elections. The meeting was positive and we agreed some aspects for how the overall campaign will link up with individual campaigns. It did, however, go on for hours and it was past midnight by the time I got home.

On the following evening I attended the Ashbourne branch meeting with our recently unveiled candidate there, Niamh McGowan. The local branch were keen to meet her and to discuss issues in relation to how we can win in the local elections next June and generally in improving the quality of life and facilities (such as creches etc.) in the Ashbourne area. The meeting was lively and almost all of the branch members contributed to the discussion. Once again it was gone midnight by the time I got home to my dinner.

I got out with local election candidate Michael McLoughlin on Thursday evening. We met and greeted shoppers in Dunboyne in the evening. Despite the appalling weather there were quite a few people out shopping.

I also went “shopping” with our European candidate Nessa Childers and East Meath Councillor Eoin Holmes on Saturday at the new Tescos in Bettystown. The store has now been open a few months and seemed to be doing a reasonable business. Both Nessa and Eoin got to speak to quite a few local shoppers. We managed to last a couple of hours before our hands and toes were frozen from the cold weather.

Monday, December 08, 2008


We win a vote in the Seanad

On Thursday we managed to defeat the government and its partners on a vote in the Seanad. It's the first time we have been able to do this in this parliament in either the Dail or the Seanad, so we were very pleased with the outcome. I was particularly pleased since it was my amendment (and Jerry Buttimer's) that we won the vote on.

The way it works is that if we decide to push something to a vote, the Cathaoirleach asks "is the amendment carried?" We shout "No" and then he automatically announces that "the vote has been carried." He does this because there is a built in government majority, so even if we shout higher, he knows that the government is almost certain to win. The opposition then calls for a vote by saying as Gaeilge "Votail!"

Once we say that the clock starts ticking and senators have seven or eight minutes to get into the chamber before the doors are locked.

Generally the government side wins by 6 or 7 votes. However, after the doors were locked it became apparent that we had the numbers. My colleague, Senator Brendan Ryan was beside me and he moved over to me and said "we're going to win this!" I did a quick count and sure enough there were more on our side than on theirs. When the electronic vote concluded we had won by 19 votes to 18.

As a Whip I had to go to the back of the room to sign the result sheet. Senator Diarmaid Wilson, the Fianna Fail whip was there, and I heard him say that "we will win a walk-through vote". I must admit, I didn't really grasp the significance of this at the time - as a rookie Senator I am not an expert in parliamentary procedure.

It turns out that if a Government is defeated on a vote they are entitled to call for a walk-through vote - a recount if you like. However, if one is granted the locked doors of the chamber are unlocked and other Senators are allowed in. The outcome is that any Senator who was late for the initial vote is then able to enter the chamber and vote with the government.

When the Cathaoirleach rose to make the announcement of the electronic vote known he did not notice whether Diarmaid Wilson was standing to call for a walk-through vote. As a result, he declared the amendment carried.

The place went wild! On our side people were cheering. On the government side there was huge consternation at the Cathaoirleach. Some of their members were almost intimidatory in their attempts to get the Cathaoirleach to reverse his ruling, claiming that he should have allowed Diarmaid Wilson to call for a walk-through vote. The Cathaoirleach was adamant that he didn't see Diarmaid rise and therefore he felt that he was right to announce the result.

I didn't notice if Diarmaid rose or not. All I know is that:

1. The Cathaoirleach was sure that he didn't notice Diarmaid rising and once the Cathaoirleach makes a ruling the we have to accept it; and
2. Diarmaid had clearly told me of his intention to call a walk-through vote, so I'd be fairly sure that he was trying to call one from his place in the Chamber.

I can only suppose that in the general melee his signals were not noticed by those at the top table. One thing is for sure, I don't think any of the blame for the lost vote rests with him.

In terms of parliamentary procedure, I don't think that if I rose at the time to state that I heard him declare his intention of seeking a walk-through vote would have led to the Cathaoirleach reversing his ruling, but I do think it needs to be put on the record, as I have sought to do above.

On Saturday, myself and Niamh McGowan, one of our local election candidates in the Dunshaughlin* area went around various houses in the Hunter's Lane area. Niamh got a great response. Something that came up time and again was the road surface in the surrounding area, as the following picture illustrates.

With Niamh in potholes in Ashbourne in December - the poor crater was frozen

We got a letter off to the Council engineers asking them to look into them.

It was dark by the time we left for Kells, to attend the launch of Rex Lee's DVD on the history of Kells. The roads were treacherous and as a result we had to crawl along all the way to Kells. By the time we got there the event was over. Apologies to Rex.

I drove straight down to Pat Holton's exhibition in Enfield. Pat was our candidate in the Trim area in 2004 and came within a whisker of taking a seat. Since then we has helped out with every campaign in the area and also concentrated on his art and business.

The place was packed by he time I arrived. Pat has spent the last year putting together a collection of works and the result was very impressive. The exhibition runs for the rest of the week and I am sure that it will be a tremendous success.

* John King and Michael McLoughlin are also Labour Party candidates in this area.

Monday, December 01, 2008


We select Cllr Eoin Holmes to continue his work in East Meath

This week saw the passage of the Cluster Munitions Bill through the Seanad. I welcomed the Bill and the positive impact it will have in the world.

Afterwards I got chatting to Minister of State, Peter Power, in the Seanad ante-room, where I complemented him on the good work he is doing on this and other issues.

I was on the Scott Williams show on Q102 later that day to talk about the price of coffee. Scott was pushing for us to do something about providing coffee docks in libraries - people could use the internet for free, read papers for free and look through books and magazines for free over a coffee that they pay for. He thinks it would be great for the libraries (more throughput and more money from the coffee) and great for the public. Afterwards I spoke to Cllr Dermot Lacey, former Lord Mayor of Dublin, and he is going to try and follow this up.

Thursday evening saw the Selection Convention for the East Meath area. It's the seat that I won in 2004 and that I handed over to Eoin Holmes when I moved to the Seanad. Eoin was up against another branch member Greg Curren, for the nomination.

It was a tense event. Both candidates and both of their proposers made fine speeches. When it came to the vote Eoin was chosen to go and fight to retain the Labour seat at the local elections next year. I spoke briefly afterwards, making the point that the party was lucky to have people of the calibre of Eoin and of Greg. It's a very positive sign when we have to choose between two excellent candidates.

Eoin Homes at convention
Eoin speaking at the Convention in the Village Hotel, Bettystown

At the end of the week I drove down to our Annual Conference at Kilkenny. It was a very enjoyable event and I had hardly a minute to myself all weekend. I gave two speeches - the first on job creation and the second on trying to regulate car parking charges at train stations.

I was reasonably happy with both of them. On the car parking one I was seconded by Laytown branch memebr Mohammed AlKabour. We managed to get the car parking regulation issue agreed by all of the delegates unanimously, so that will now become official party policy.

Dominic and Mohammed at Kilkenny

Myself and Mohammed on stage at Kilkenny

During the day I also attended a few fringe meetings. I had lunch with a delegation from the Congo and I went to the Labour Councillors meeting. I also attended a workshop on lessons to be learnt from Obama's campaign. One of the speakers was Keith Martin. I told him that I had raised the issue of the price of the new Blackberry in the Seanad and on my blog - it was something I had read on Keith's own blog. He kindly gave me a quick explanation of "netiquette" - seemingly I should have put a link on my blog back to his. So here you are Keith.

Saturday evening was electrified by Eamon's speech. He was on fire and provided us with a huge amount of energy. If only we could plug him into the national grid we would solve our renewable energy problems overnight!

On Sunday afternoon I drove back from Kilkenny up to the Headford Arms in Kells, where the annual Labour Party Christmas dinner for the elderly of Kells was underway. The event was attended by about 150 people. Cllr Tommy Grimes and his team pull the event together each year, with the help of donations from many local businesses. It's a credit to himself and the team. The atmosphere was very enjoyable, and I'm sure it gave people a lift during these difficult times.