Sunday, June 29, 2008


Brian Collins becomes Cathaoirleach in Kells

I had the pleasure of going to a shindig in Kells on Monday night. Cllr Brian Collins had just been elected Chair of Kells and so friends, family and members of Labour Party branches from across Meath attended to celebrate the event.

Cllr Brian Collins

Cathaoirleach of Kells, Cllr Brian Colins at his election party

We all wish Brian the very best for the coming year.

On Wednesday I raised the topic of broadband speeds in the Seanad. The Japanese have speeds of up to 30 time the speeds in Ireland. I was interested to note that some new entrants to the market are now offering significantly increased speeds and that indications are there that prices might start to come down. Let's hope this materialises.

I brought up the subject of computers for schools in the Seanad during Thursday's Order of Business. A video of this is below:

I also spoke about the proposed move to the Abbey Theatre and the new prison in North Dublin.

On Friday I travelled over to Galway for the annual Tom Johnson Summer School, which is organised by Labour Youth. I had a cracking Friday night and stayed up rather late. On Saturday morning I was up bright and early as I was the first speaker of the day. My topic was "How to build and grow in 2009". I spoke about my plans as Director of Elections for Meath. Although it was the first event of the day there were about 150 in the Hall, and there was plenty of interaction from the floor.

That evening Eamon Gilmore gave a speech in advance of presenting the Jim Kemmy Award to Mike O'Reilly. He spoke about the challenges facing us over the next year.


The Party Leader addresses the conference. Party President Michael D is in the foreground

Another late night was followed by an early start, but the sleep deprivation was well worth it. Once again, a very enjoyable event and congratulations to Paul Dillon, Cian O'Callaghan and all at Labour Youth for their efforts.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Meath East gets extra Council seats

This week saw the publication of the new report on the representation on local councils. The report has major implications for Meath County Council. The Slane electoral area (where I was a Councillor before I became a Senator) has increased from five seats to six seats. The Kells area has dropped from six to five seats and the Dunshaughlin area has increased from six to seven seats. This more accurately reflects the populations within each area. Our constituency council will meet very shortly to discuss our strategy in the light of these changes.

The changes are welcome and reflect a movement to improve and reform the whole electoral system. One key element in the reform will be the setting up of an Electoral Commission. I got a chance to ask Minister Gormley about the proposed Electoral Commission during the week. He was attended the Environment Committee, of which I am a member, to outline his response to our report on how to improve the election system in Ireland.

I queried the amount of time it is talking to set up the Electoral Commission. His response was that he will make sure that this is done as quickly as possible. I will keep an eye on this!

The prevalence of drugs in Irish society is a concern of everyone. This week the Progressive Democrats tabled a motion in relation to the new National Drugs Strategy. I am my party's Seanad Spokesperson on Crime and in my speech I concentrated on harm reduction strategies, such as needle exchange programmes.

The disparity between supermarket prices in the north and the south was highlighted in a report this week. I raised the issue in the Seanad on Thursday morning, and my contribution was subsequently broadcast on that evening's Oireachtas Report. The price differential is having a major impact on shopkeepers and shoppers in the Louth / Meath area.

I also raised the subject of trade agreements between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific bloc countries. These agreements are meant to be signed off within the next few months but there is still a lot of disquiet about the impact they will have on the developing countries. I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs to consider making changes to them.

Discussing Trade Agreements between the EU and the ACP countries

That evening I attended the AGM of Lagavooren Manor Residents association in Mother Hughes pub in Drogheda. I am more used to being in Mother Hughes apres match - it's the main watering hole for the Drogs fans - so it was a new occasion to attend a meeting there. Despite the German / Portuguese match there was a fair crowd, and I ended up with a number of actions to chase up in relation to the estate.

Saturday saw the annual Pride parade in Dublin. The Labour Party had organised a bus for the event and I dropped up to join in for a while. Despite the awful weather there was a reasonably sized crowd, including my colleague Senator Deirdre de Burca (a Wicklow Green) and Deputy Joe Costello.

I couldn't stay long because I was invited to a Family Fun Day in Dunboyne Castle Estate. When I got there the rain was bucketing down and everyone was indoors. It's always a pity when events fall foul of the weather. Just as long as the whole summer isn't like this!

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Work needed in Headfort Grove

The Leaving Certificate examinations are underway. One of the statistics that I picked up on is that the participation rate of young males undertaking the Leaving certificate exams is lower than that of young females. We need to examine why this is happening, and see whether there are ways of keeping young males at school for longer. Leaving school early can lead to under-achievement in later life, a point I made in the Seanad on this issue. We need to address the issue and see what can be done to increase rates.

The lead-up to the local elections continues and on Tuesday night I dropped up to Howth for a fundraiser for one of our local candidates there, Brian McDowell. The local GAA club was fairly busy and there were many faces I knew present, including former Deputy Sean Ryan, Deputy Tommy Broughan and Councillor Aodhan O'Riordan.

My team put in a great performance and finished joint first, but we were pipped at the post when we lost the tie-breaker. Congratulations to Bernie and Angie (from Head office) and Councillor Brian Collins from Kells, who were on the winning team.

Myself and Brian had a quick chat about Headfort Grove in Kells, and so on Thursday I went over to Kells to meet Councillor Tommy Grimes and to have a walk around the estate. The works have been promised for some time now, but there are fresh concerns about whether sufficient funding will be made available for the project.

Headfort Grove
Myself and Councillor Tommy Grimes in Headfort Grove, Kells

During the walk Tommy introduced me to several local residents, who briefed me on the situation within the estate. We have a Dail question tabled to seek to get some more information on the funding issue.

After a long campaign the Lisbon Campaign was turned down at the polls. It was a very strange campaign to be involved in. I can't say it was very enjoyable at all, and there will be few moments I look back on with any fond memories. The big question now is where next. We need to take a bit of time at this stage to think about what the next step should be, because it's important that we get it right.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Accident Clear-ups are taking too long

Many people will have been stuck in their cars on Thursday morning on the way to Dublin. Because of an accident on the M1 at 2am, there was a closure during the rush-hour period. I don't know the exact details of the accident, and sympathise with the vehicle occupants, but I am concerned about the length of time it takes to clear up after accidents in general. Other countries seem to manage much better. This is a point I made in the past, and repeated again during Thursday's Order of Business.

We need to improve our Emergency Response Procedures

Everyone knows that Ireland is one of the largest givers, per head, to aid for the developing world. However, we still have not reached the target of 0.7% of GNP. Although all parties are committed to reaching that figure within a short number of years, there is a worry that the downturn in the economy may in some way affect the timescales. I spoke on the matter at the Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee during the week.

Our campaign in favour of the Lisbon Reform Treaty continues. An increasing number of people are engaging with us on the matter, whether its at their front-doors , over dinner, or at supermarkets. At this stage I think it's going to be a very close vote. Turnout will be the deciding factor.

There's a lot of confusion out there about what the Treaty means. Lots of people have been asking whether the result will affect fuel prices. Many want to give the government a kicking over the level of petrol and diesel prices. We're telling people to refrain from kicking the government on this occasion and to vote for the Treaty.

I raised the issue of prices in the Seanad on Tuesday. It's clear that the issue is of major concern to people across the country.

The proposed prison at Thornton Hall was discussed in the Seanad during the week. I've been attending meeting about the proposal for over three years now, and so I was glad to have the opportunity to speak about it. I am not convinced about the decisions to co-located the Women's prison and the Central Mental Hospital on the site. However, when it comes to the size of the prison, I have heard strong arguments from both sides of the debate. Some say a maximum size of prison should be about 700 (the proposal is for 2,200). Others point to the success of prisons like Riker's Island and the proposed Titan prisons in the UK. I asked the Minister for a justification as to why the proposed size was optimal. I'm posted up my speech on my homepage and on youtube.

The weekend brought some fantastic weather and it gave me an opportunity to get out and do some leafleting for Lisbon. I delivered to lots of houses in Duleek on Friday and finished off the last of the Kentstown houses on Saturday. My legs haven't seen his much work on ages - I was exhausted at the end of both days. But it did guarantee an uninterrupted sleep on both nights!