Tuesday, March 24, 2009


We need to talk about Donie


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I was contacted last Tuesday by the Late Late Show. They wanted me appear in the studio on Friday’s show. I had to turn them down because I was away. As it turned out the invite was just to sit in the audience and speak for about 30 seconds, so I was glad I wasn’t around.

I managed to watch the debate online later. It turned out that the show was just a hatchet job. Considering that Pat Kenny gets paid about 700k a year (equal to the salary of ten senators) I would have hoped that he could have put on a more balanced show.

Let’s face it, everyone in both chambers of Leinster House believes that fundamental reform of the Seanad is necessary. I spoke about the issue of reform a few weeks ago. My view is that unless we have fundamental reform then the whole place should be scrapped. I’d like to see three key reforms:

1. We need to expand the franchise to every Irish person over 16. Candidates would be nominated by the nomination groups as currently exists (nursing associations, Institute of Engineers of Ireland, etc.). They would be placed on a list system. Voters would be able to choose to vote for candidates and / or professions. Minor changes to the system such as extending the franchise to University of Limerick graduates is not enough. Many of my friends didn’t go to university because they couldn’t afford it or didn’t want to. Why should they have no vote? If we just extend the franchise to other universities then we are just making an undemocratic institution slightly less undemocratic.

2. The work of the Seanad should be reviewed. At the moment we spend too much time making statements of little worth across the floor of the chamber to each other. Senators should have specific roles and powers, for instance the examination and scrutinising of new European legislation. At the moment it’s clear that we are not providing the value to the state that we could provide. This has to change.

3. Transparency of expenses should be introduced. We need to move away from the multitude of allowances to a single allowance, payable on the basis of days attended. People need to know that we are earning the money we get.

If the Government doesn’t implement these proposals then I think we would be better off abolishing the Seanad and introduce the necessary legislation to allow the Dail to pick up the pieces.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Eamon Visits Meath


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Eamon Gilmore spent Friday in County Meath, his first official visit to the Royal County since his election in Autumn 2007.

The purpose of the visit was to see at first hand our preparations for the local elections in June. Eamon started the day in the offices of LMFM, where he did a 30 minute interview with Michael Reade of the Loose Talk show. He was preceded by Fionnan Sheehan, political commentator with the Irish Independent. Fionnan was critical of the Labour Party’s approach to the current economic climate, but I feel that Eamon more than answered the criticisms he raised when his turn came.

After the interview the visit started in earnest. Myself and Cllr Eoin Holmes brought Eamon into the council offices in Slane, where we met several staff. Eamon then did another interview in the Jumping Bean café in Duleek (I opened the coffee shop four years ago this week, during the Meath by-election campaign). Then we travelled into Navan and had a walk around the Fair Green market place. It was quite busy for a Friday afternoon and we managed to meet lots of Navan residents. Eamon concluded the Navan visit with an interview with the Meath Chronicle.

In Kells the local branch put on a big show with a social event in the Headford Arms. We were tight for time so we had to leave just as things were getting going, and we travelled down the backroads to call into Ballivor Community Centre, where we met with Tracey McEhinney and her supporters. The day finished with a walkabout in Trim with local election candidates James O’Shea and Donall O’Brien.

No doubt Eamon will be back down to Meath before the local elections take place. We have great candidates in place and the more support we get the better our chance of winning.

In the Seanad this week I spoke about the need for a national strategy on apprentices, particularly in the light of so many companies closing down. It followed on from a meeting myself and my colleagues held on Wednesday evening with about 30 of the apprentices from SR Technics. These apprentices are over half-way through their training and are in danger of being left in a situation where they are unable to complete their courses. We will be working to try and find a way forward on this in the next few weeks.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


Childers Launches Meath Euro Campaign


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Monday night saw the launch of Nessa Childers' European election campaign in Navan. A large crowd gathered in the Ardboyne Hotel to welcome Nessa. I chaired the event and addressed the audience. So too did Nessa, Cllr Brian Collins and the Meath area local elections candidates, including Eileen Drew, Anton McCabe, Michael McLoughlin and Tracey McElhinney.

Nessa Childers MEP Campaign Launch in Meath
Nessa Childers with Meath local election candidates

Nessa faces a difficult battle to win a seat for Labour. The East constituency is a 3-seater, with Fine Gael holding two and Fianna Fail holding one. The retirement of Avril Doyle and the absence of any other candidates at this stage bodes well for Nessa, as do the recent poll results showing the party at 22%, but really we all know that the only way to win this seat is through the hard work of the candidate and the support of the local election campaigning teams. The people at the Ardboyne Hotel were given that clear message: when you are canvassing for your councillor make sure that you also ask people to vote for Nessa.

As the party's Spokesperson on Community and Rural Affairs I got to speak on the debate about life in Western Ireland on Tuesday. The debate referred to a report published by Senator Pearse Doherty from Donegal. I complimented him on the work he had done (which was considerable) and stressed the need for better broadband in rural areas.

I also attended the Joint Committee on Transport meeting on Wednesday night. Although I am not a member, I am able to attend if I so choose. The Committee was being addressed by representatives of SR Technics, so I was keen to take part. The representatives gave us an update of the current situation and briefed us on the ongoing developments in relation to their negotiations with the Swiss Parent company. The 30 day notification period is now underway so the workers and representatives are working hard to try and find a way of saving jobs.

Later in the week I spoke on an All-Party Motion in relation to Gaza. My debate clashed with the meeting of the Overseas Development Aid Committee, of which I am a member, so unfortunately I had to miss that. These clashes are a regular occurrence for all members in the house. Last week one of my colleagues had three meetings at the same time. One can either try and attend all three, in the process spreading oneself very thinly, or just pick one and send apologies to the others. I tend to choose my approach based on the subject matter of the meetings - sometimes I attend them all briefly, on other occasions I stick with one. Either way I fear that one's absence or one's brief attendance looks bad to the observer.