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.

quasimodo
"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.

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