Sunday, February 22, 2009


Time to join the Facebook Generation?

The big news of the week was the continuing scandal in relation to the Anglo Irish Bank. It reached its height on Wednesday and Thursday, when talk of an election surfaced. It was certainly news to me. As I arrived in Leinster House I was listening to Roisin Shorthall on Morning Ireland and next thing she told the nation that we in the Labour Party are on an election footing. I was feeling very left out of the loop – no-one had bothered to tell me in Meath East. My averagely paranoid mind started to wander. Perhaps I was about to be replaced by one of our excellent local election candidates? Luckily I bumped into Jan O’Sullivan ten minutes later. She hadn’t been told we are on a election footing either. The Central committee must be out to get the two of us.

In case the party apparatchiks are have trouble reaching me I am thinking about joining Facebook. The power of the brand is quite startling. More and more of my friends and family seem to have joined up over the last few months in particular. I’ve resisted up to now, but I may have to re-consider. I dropped in to see my dad yesterday, who is in his ‘80s. He was desperate to show me his new Facebook site. He had spent the previous hour writing on other people’s walls – as an ex-Garda he has frowned on that practice for the last 80 years. I am now seriously thinking that if I don’t get one then I’ll be left behind.

I had a rather busy day on Wednesday in the Seanad chamber. Some days are heavier than others; last Wednesday was one of those days.

I spoke on the Order of Business first thing in the morning. This was then followed by the Committee Stage of the Electoral Amendment Bill. We had an amendment down to limit the number of 3 seat constituencies – we believe that three seat constituencies make it harder for smaller parties to win seats. I spoke on the Bill on and off over a two hour period and I called a vote on the matter (which we lost heavily!).

Afterwards the House debated the situation in the Middle East. Myself and Seanad Leader Alex White have divided External Affairs between each other. Alex does anything in Europe and I do anything outside Europe. So, the Middle East is something I have to cover. (I am sure we will have a fight when it comes to debating something like French Guyana, and if the Indian Ocean island of Reunion is ever invaded by Madagascar then Alex gets to cover it, not me).

I listened in to the debate and waited my turn for my slot, only to be told that the Leader was guillotining the debate early. As a result, I never got to make my contribution. I was pretty annoyed because time had gone into the preparation of my speech.

The House moved directly on to debating the new Home Insulation Scheme. As the spokesperson on the Environment I also had to speak on this matter. When it finished at 7pm I had a matter down on the Adjournment Debate. By the time I finished I had been in the Chamber for a large amount of the day. I spent most of Thursday catching up on the office work that had built up during my time in the Chamber!

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Bleak day for SR Technics

On Wednesday the Labour Party introduced a motion on Child Poverty. We are concerned that there are still almost 80,000 children living in families with poverty. The debate was well attended, with many Senators from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the independents contributing. I opened and closed the debate on behalf of the Labour Party.

I got back to the office in time to catch the Ireland vs Georgia match. I had hoped to get along to the match but couldn’t because of the debate. The last time I saw Georgia play was in Tbilisi during the 2002 World Cup campaign, in May 2001. They were playing at home to Italy and I was working in Tbilisi at the time. They have a toughness of spirit which, matched with their skill, makes then tough opponents to play.

One of our candidates for the Ashbourne area, Niamh McGowan, held a fundraiser on Thursday night. There were about 60 people there, including Deputy Eamon Gilmore and Senator Alex White. Alex, myself and Eamon said a few words to the audience as did Niamh. While we were speaking the news came in that the latest poll has us at 24%.

As someone who did a lot of statistics at college, and who uses them on a daily basis, I don’t get too excited by polls. At the moment the country is in the middle of the eye of the storm. Thousands are losing their jobs, workers are facing new levies on their income and the behaviour of the banks has infuriated the Irish people. It truly is a GUBU moment and I think that’s being reflected in the poll.

The loss of almost 2,000 jobs on Thursday was one of the bleakest days on the jobs front that the country has experienced. SR Technics employ 1,200 workers in the airport and the closure will have serious repercussions for local economies across north county Dublin and south and east Meath.

I spoke to workers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and it’s clear that things are not over yet. The workers firmly believe that the company can be saved and I’ll be doing what I can to help explore alternatives to the current drastic situation.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Proposed cuts to Irish Aid are disproportional

The announcement that Overseas Aid will be hit in the the most recent cutbacks announced on Tuesday has generated a lot of concern in the Irish Aid community. As Hans Zomer of Dochas pointed out, the cuts to the aid program represent 5% of the total cutbacks announced, yet the percentage of government expenditure on aid is significantly less than that. The disproportionality is something I would like to see addressed, a point I made in my speech on Human Rights on Wednesday night.

The Human Rights debate was tabled by Senators David Norris, Joe O'Toole and Ivana Bacik. The debate covered issues such as the attacks of the Equality Authority, Prison Rights, and the international situation in Gaza, Tibet, Burma and Sri Lanka.

I returned to the issue on Thursday morning during the Order of Business. I was disappointed to hear Senator Dan Boyle, who I agree with on most things, refer to the cuts as "unfortunate". It's not the word that the Irish Aid Community is using to describe the cutbacks. I asked Senators Boyle, O' Murchu and Ormonde, who are all fine contributors on Irish Aid matters, to use their influence with Ministers to get the proposed cuts reduced.

I also raised a matter in relation to the Irish Film Board. The authority of the current Board ran out in mid-January and the members have not been reappointed. As a result no funding decisions can be made. The Irish Film industry is now getting worried about what is going on. I asked for the Minister to clarify the situation. At this stage he hasn't done so, but at least the issue is now out there in the open - my concerns were reported in Screen Daily, the international film community's online newsline.

Later I travelled over to Trim to meet our candidates there for the Town Council elections in June. Both James O'Shea and Donal O'Brien have excellent chances of winning two of the nine seats on the Council. We talked about the issues facing Trim - unemployment rates have risen significantly in the last year. They will both be fighting to encourage more jobs into the area.

On Friday and Saturday I called to people in a few places around the county. On both days I met people who had recently been affected by unemployment. Many people are not aware of what they are entitled to or where to go, so I hope to get back to them with some information on their rights and on organisations (such as MABS) who can help them through their current crisis.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


Kilmoon Cross toget €100,000 for safety improvements

It was late on Monday when a phone call came through from the Housing Minister’s Office. He called in person to tell me that he was introducing emergency legislation to cover an anomaly in the Residential Tenancies Act of 2004 and that this would be introduced on Tuesday evening.

I made some changes to my plans for Tuesday evening (moving meetings etc.) and proceeded to do some research on the Bill. As it turned out it was pulled on Tuesday evening, because of an issue raised by Labour TD Ciaran Lynch. Instead, it came into the Seanad on Wednesday morning, when I spoke on the issue.

We would have liked the Minister to improve the legislation by allowing Councillors to serve on the Private Residential Tenancies Boards and also to put them within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, but the Minister refused to allow our amendments to do so. Nevertheless we supported the Bill in its passage through the House.

Later in the week I was glad to receive a letter from the National Roads Authority informing me that they would be spending €100,000 on safety measures at Kilmoon Cross. Many people either drive through Kilmoon on a daily basis or they catch a bus into town from there. Traffic flies through on the N2 at about 100kph and when it’s dark and you are walking or waiting on the road it can be a scary place. So, hopefully this money will be spent and the facilities in the area improved.I know that it’s something that will be welcomed by many people around the area. Our local representative Eileen Drew and myself have had many people expressing concern about the junction in the past.

In the afternoon I got to talk to a few Ashbourne people at their houses with one of our local candidates, Niamh McGowan. Although she is from Ratoath, Niamh has lived in Ashbourne for the last decade and is campaigning for better facilities for people in the town. I was surprised by how well she is known in the area. The reception we got was very positive. People are worried about their futures and aren’t convinced that the current government has the answers. They were glad to hear that we were offering a clear strategy for how to get us out of the current crisis.

That evening I travelled up to Kells to chair the selection convention for Kells Town Council. Although the convention was uncontested, the convention was packed out. We selected sitting Councillor Tommy Grimes and current Cathaoirleach Cllr Brian Collins to run for the Town Council. I addressed the convention and told them that we have an excellent chance of holding our two seats, but only if they all help out. I also told them that earlier in the day I had spoken on the Electoral Amendment Act, which will move Kells into the constituency of Meath East. The Act should become law in the next few weeks.

That completes our candidate selection for the local elections in Meath. Earlier that week we had chosen our candidates for Trim Town Council. They are Donal O’Brien (Cllr Danny O’Brien’s son) and James O’Shea. Our competed list of candidates is as follows:

Meath County Council

Dunshaughlin Electoral Area – 7 seats – John King, Niamh McGowan and Michael McLoughlin
Kells Electoral Area –5 seats - Councillor Brian Collins
Navan Electoral Area – 7 seats - Eileen Drew
Slane Electoral Area – 6 seats – Councillor Eoin Holmes
Trim Electoral Area – 4 seats – Tracy McIlhinney

Kells Town Council – Councillor Brian Collins and Councillor Tommy Grimes
Navan Town Council – Anton McCabe
Trim Town Council – Donal O’Brien and James O’Shea

Good luck to them all!