Sunday, February 28, 2010


The Coursing of Gormley in the Seanad

The Dog Breeding Establishments Bill continues to work its way through the Seanad. It’s now at committee stage and on Wednesday we held the second committee stage session. The Minister representing the government on Session One was Minister Finneran. This time we had his boss, Minister Gormley in the house.

In principle, we are in favour of the legislation, in that it regulates the operation of Puppy Farms – Ireland is seen as the puppy farm of Europe. But it appears that Minister Gormley is using the opportunity of the new legislation to include regulation of hunting dogs and greyhounds within the remit of the act. This has made the legislation contentious, with organisations such as RISE, the Greyhound Board, the Dog Breeders Association and others contacting politicians to discuss the issue.

A number of amendments have been tabled to try and improve the legislation. One of them would give breeding establishments 12 months to register, as opposed to the 3 months specified in the Bill. We all think that 3 months is too short, in that establishments may have to seek planning permission for improvements, or might have to get finance from the banks to upgrade their premises. In the current climate this takes time. However, the Minister seems unlikely to accept the amendment. The most he would do is agree to go away and think about it again, and tell us what he intends to do at the next (Report) stage of the Bill.

His main point in response was that the legislation has been in gestation for the last 5 years, so establishments have had lots of time to get their houses in order.

Later on we had a discussion about greyhounds, and whether this new bill would supersede previous legislation (the 1958 Bill) or would the new legislation be in addition to the regulations already in existence. Greyhound owners already are subject to inspections on their properties – would this new legislation mean additional inspections? I put that to Gormley and for some reason he refused to give a straight answer. On the one hand he tells us that owners had 5 years to prepare for the legislation and on the other he can’t answer a simple question about whether the number of inspections is going to be doubled!

The Minister was like a chased hare at a coursing event. He was getting attacked and questioned from all sides on this. This session of committee stage had to finish by 1:30pm and I reckon it couldn’t come soon enough for the Minister. He was taken away by his minders and we all went back to our kennels. He returns to the house next Wednesday for the third session and I’m hoping that he will have had time to gather his thoughts in the meantime.

That evening I attended the re-opening of the Conradh na Gaeilge premises on Wednesday evening at Harcourt Street. I got a tour of the building and got to meet many of the staff. They seem all geared up to Irish fortnight, which starts next week.

It was a good opportunity to practice my Irish. Also, as it turns out there will be an attempt in the next few weeks to set up an Irish circle in Leinster House. I’m intending to join it and will attend as often as possible.

On Friday morning myself, Joanna Tuffy and Bronwen Maher hosted an event on Sustainable Planning in The Mansion House. We invited Non-Government Organisations from the Environmental sector to come along and discuss issues in relation to sustainable planning. I spoke about the issues facing development in the commuter belt, along the way describing the lack of school places, the lack of playgrounds, Garda stations. I also suggested some changes that could help to improve the live of people in the commuter belt.

We sat through presentations from organisations like FEASTA, Just Forests, An Taisce and others, all talking about key issues in relation to their organisations. I think it was a worthwhile event and in my view we should continue with events such as these to deepen our mutual understanding of how best to move ahead on these issues.

I had some good news during the week, in that my blog has been nominated for an award at the forthcoming Irish Blogs Awards. I had a nomination a few years back but didn't win then. That was when the field of blogging politicians was quite small. There are a lot more on the nominations list now, some of them big hitters, so I don't fancy my chances. However, it's really nice to get considered :)

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Coughlan - time to move on?

I’m already bored of the O’Dea resignation. Enough of that. What is still simmering at the surface though is the clear need for change at the top. I’d love a complete change of government, but it’s unlikely that we’re going to see that too soon. In the meantime, Cowen simply has to replace some of his senior ministers.

The most obvious of the lot is the Tainiste, who appears to be totally out of her depth. She just doesn’t seem to get it at all. Take the case of SR Technics. Others have talked about the Hanger 6 issue, but one other matter that she may think is too small for her, but yet affects scores of people, is access to the EU Globalisation Fund. This is a pot of money which goes towards paying for back to education courses to retrain people who have lost their jobs to places outside of the EU. Recently the former DELL workers in Limerick were able to access this fund; we’re all hopeful that this will also be the case with the former SR Technics workers.

Over 60 former workers had signed up to do a degree in Engineering Maintenance at DIT. The college was all set to start this new course, tailored to the past experience, skills and needs of the former workers – all that was needed was the EU Globalisation Fund. But because of delays in the application (where the blame rest on this we don’t know, but it appears that the government is at least slightly to blame) the fund has not yet been approved. In the meantime the DIT asked for some sort of guarantee to be put in place until the money comes through. This is where Mary Coughlan could have helped. Surely, everyone thought, she could work out some sort of guarantee deal?

But out of Coughlan’s office came nothing. Silence. I wrote to her during the week to explain the urgency of the task. No response yet. Meanwhile, the college can’t wait any more and has had to cancel the course. That’s dashed the hopes of the 63 former SRT workers who had hoped to do the course. No doubt many of them will go on to find other suitable courses, and the best of luck to them. But for me the worrying thing is her seeming inability to want to involve herself or her office in an attempt either here or elsewhere to stem job losses or improve retraining opportunities.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Water Works Day in Ashbourne

The resignation of Deirdre de Burca came as a bit of a surprise on Friday. Up until recently she had been an active member of the Seanad. Sure, in the run up to the European elections (when she was a candidate in Dublin) she was not around all of the time, but apart from then, NAMA week (when if memory serves me correctly she was absent for all 18 NAMA related votes – she was ill I believe) and the last week or so, she was a regular contributor.

On a personal level I also found her very pleasant, and I wish her well in her future role. Now that she is gone it makes the numbers a bit tighter for the government in the Seanad. However, speaking as the Labour Whip, It won’t have a huge difference on the outcome of any votes. When Alan Kelly won the Ireland south European seat his Seanad seat was captured by the government parties. Realistically, it will be extremely difficult to win any more Seanad votes – it will require an almighty mess-up on the part of the government whips.

The bigger question is what this tells us about what’s going on inside the Green Party. I don’t buy the spin being put around that she was miffed about not getting the European job. That might be part of the picture, but it’s not the full story. It’s clear that there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction within the Green Oireachtas members. It can’t be nice for them to see the party they joined and built be one election day away from disaster. For a few of the oireachtas members there can be little hope. However, for a few others there’s still a chance of retaining their seats. Paul Gogarty has a fighting chance. So too does Eamon Ryan with George Lee now off the pitch. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if either or both of these decided that their future is best served by pulling the greens out of government. I think that ministerial pensions kick in after three years in office, which is in just four months time. Could we see them break out soon after then?

My time in Leinster House this week was filled up with various meetings and speeches. I took the committee stages of the Dog Breeders Establishments Bill on Wednesday, I spoke about unemployment on Wednesday evening. I also spoke about the reconstruction of Haiti, Greece and the Euro and the need to protect mature students from the swingeing cutbacks being proposed by the government. The last contribution was on the back of a meeting I had with some students from NUIG, who explained to me that because of the proposed changes to the grants system, many access students have lost several thousand of euros in maintenance support.

On Friday I dropped over from my Ashbourne constituency office to visit St Declan’s school. The children were holding an Open Day to highlight the need to conserve water. This Water Works Day consisted of plays, a fashion show, as well as songs. The children were pressing the message that with just ten small changes we could make significant water savings at home. These included checking for leaks, taking quicker showers, not filling the bath and using a basin to wash the car, not a hose. The kids seemed to enjoy themselves. I got the opportunity to talk to the teachers and some parents. I’d say that any Ashbourne parent who mistakenly leaves a tap on this weekend will get a right telling off from the kids!

Sunday, February 07, 2010


We visit Dunshaughlin Community College

The Leader of the House, Donie Casssidy, made one of his (not unusual) slips of the tongue during the week on the Order of Business. The subject of the Jack & Jill Charity had been raised by several Senators. In response Donie referred to it as the “Jekyll & Hyde Foundation” A few of us picked up on it and corrected him.

Poor Donie, he was slated in the press for the following few days. He’s also doing something similar in the past – constantly referring to the LISBURN Treaty as opposed to the LISBON Treaty, and to LAMA rather than NAMA (LAMA is the representative organisation of councillors across the country – his electorate!). Sometimes I wonder if he makes these mistakes on purpose, because it’s guaranteed to get publicity.

I spoke a number of times during the week. I brought up the issue of the increase in the applications for CAO places, I brought up the delays in bringing in legislation to regulate management companies (people in Ashbourne, Dunboyne and Ratoath were on to me about this) and I spoke on Lessons to be learned from the extreme weather in January. I also spoke with Minister Sean Haughey about the Dunboyne College of Further Education – I put videos of both of those speeches on my website.

I also got around to setting up my twitter account. So, from now on I am going to try and tweet at least 3 times a week. I’ve been warned against overdoing it - let’s see how it goes.

On Friday I was in Dunboyne Community School with local MEP Nessa Childers and local Councillor Niamh McGowan. It was the first time I can remember when there was an address by the local Labour MEP, the local Labour Senator and the local Labour Councillor in the same place. It shows how far the party has come in Meath in the last few years.

The students were great and asked some interesting questions. We had a bit of a debate about the benefits / disbenefits of nepotism in politics. Myself and Niamh have no family histories in politics, and Nessa does, so there was a range of opinion on this one. We also dropped into the staff room. I was shocked about the cramped conditions that the teachers have to put up. The room was far too small for the amount of teachers working in the school. I was glad to hear that there are plans to extend facilities at the school in the near future.