Seanad to debate Labour Freedom of Information Bill

April 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

Leinster HouseLabour Senators will introduce the party’s the Freedom of Information Bill in the Senate next Wednesday during Labour Party Private Members Time.

Senator White said: “This Bill is designed to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to a number of key bodies including the Garda Siochana and to repeal the regime of charges for access to information introduced by the Fianna Fail/PD government in 2003.

“The Freedom of Information legislation enacted by the Rainbow government was grounded in the belief that public bodies must be accountable to the ordinary public they are there to serve and that accountability requires openness. Freedom of information overturns the presumption of official secrecy set out in the Official Secrets Act and replaces it with the legal presumption that the public has a right to know.

Senator Hannigan said: “Freedom of information, everywhere it has been introduced, has brought about more open government and better administration of public services. Doing business in the open is the best guarantee of efficiency.

“However, this government has always been hostile the concept of freedom of information and has done its best to undermine the original Act by introducing legislation in 2003 that severely restricted categories of information that could be applied for and by imposing a series of heavy charges designed to discourage people from using the Act.

“This Bill seeks to undo some of that damage and to extend the scope of the Act to key public bodies that this government has so far refused to have included.”

More :: View the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2008 by clicking here.

A lively start to debates on Lisbon Treaty

April 25, 2008 § Leave a comment

We had the first of four planned information meetings on the Lisbon Treaty, on Thursday, April 24th at the Taney Parish Centre, Dundrum. All of these meetings are open to the public and we hope that people come along to inform themselves and debate the issues.

Liz McManus T.D. and Blair Horan of the Civil and Public Services Union got the ball rolling on Thursday night. Liz pointed out that the core values of the Treaty are in alignment with the core values of the Labour Party emphasising as they do equality, democracy and social justice. The Treaty will make the European political process more transparent. It will also allow for a Citizenship Initiative, whereby European citizens can mobilise to put an issue of concern to them on the political agenda.

Blair focused more on the role of the Lisbon treaty in fleshing the social and economic rights of European citizens. The Lisbon Treaty, he said, introduces for the first time the prospect that citizens can look to the European Union to vindicate social and economic rights. He said he was optimistic about the potential benefits of this for European workers into the future. A lively discussion ensued.

Barry Desmond, former T.D. and M.E.P. expressed his concern about the changing political landscape in Europe, particularly the possibility of an emerging right-wing bloc lead by Silvio Berlusconi in Italy and Nicolas “Starkozy” in France, and potentially supported by euro-sceptics in Poland, and the U.K. Desmond said that Ireland and other European countries needed to remain vigilant as the EU has the potential to fragment politically.

The meeting also discussed Ireland’s role within the EU peace keeping initiatives, the arguments being put forward by Libertas and the tardiness of the government in getting out and joining in the debate on the Lisbon Treaty.

The next information meeting will take place at the Community Centre, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham on Tuesday, May 12th. I hope to see you there.

White expresses frustration at slow progress of Knocklyon School

April 23, 2008 § Leave a comment

Senator Alex White has expressed his frustration and disappointment with the lack of progress of extension plans for St Colmcille’s Junior School and Senior School in Knocklyon.

Senator White was speaking in the Seanad yesterday where he highlighted the situation the staff and pupils now find themselves in.

“The difficulty is that the schools wish to apply for planning permission but so far the Minister has not seen fit to permit the school to proceed with this application,” Senator White told the Seanad. “The schools have slightly fewer than 500 pupils in prefabricated accommodation with a total of 16 prefab classrooms and 14 prefab resource teacher rooms. Most of these prefabs were installed 20 to 25 years ago.

“It is vital that this project proceeds,” he explained. The School is awaiting permission to apply for planning permission since last November.

In response, Minister of State Máire Hoctor told Senator White that the school has “a significant amount of accommodation but still has a shortfall” and failed to set a date to allow the school to apply for planning permission.

Minister of State Hoctor cited the current economic situation of the country for the slow progress. She told the Seanad that “further announcements will be made as the budgetary position allows. This school project will be considered in that context.”

Senator Alex White said that describing the school’s accommodation problems as a ‘shortfall’ was “the greatest understatement I have heard for a long time” and was quick to point out to the Minister of State that allowing the school to apply for planning permission would not cost the Government a cent.

“I do not understand why, in circumstances where costs are not entailed, the Minister could not see her way to giving the green light to the schools. The momentum exists in the schools and in the local community which provides fantastic support for the schools,” he said.

More :: Read the full transcript of the debate here.

Welfare of children at risk thanks to penny-pinching HSE

April 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

Reports that the HSE is unable to respond adequately to hundreds of cases of vulnerable children because of staff shortages and under-resourcing is a further indication that our health services, and our child protection services in particular, are run on the basis of profit and loss accounts and balance sheets, rather than on the basis of the needs of vulnerable children.

The book-keeping culture that prevails in the HSE has led to a situation where the protection afforded to children is largely confined to emergency action. Local child protection teams simply don’t have the resources they require to make early interventions, in order to prevent a problem in a family escalating into a crisis.

Social work teams are hugely under-resourced, and thanks to the HSE staff recruitment embargo, just about every one of them is operating well below full staff complement.

When you consider the massive backlogs in many areas of the country, the lack of an out-of-hours service, and the lack of specialist residential places for children with challenging behaviour, the scale of the problem is massive.

In addition, it is unacceptable that the information which emerged today is three years old at this stage. Under the Child Care Act 1991, the HSE is obliged to report on their child care activities on an annual basis. There is little value to this requirement if the information they provide is not delivered in a timely basis, so that problems can be identified, addressed and resolved quickly.

It is also extraordinary that the report referred to in today’s Irish Times appears to have been sent to the Minister by the HSE in late February, but is only coming to public attention today. While the report was placed on the HSE web-site some weeks ago, both the Minister and the HSE must ensure that there is immediate publication of such reports in the future, especially where their contents are already years out of date.

Discussion Session on Lisbon Reform Treaty

April 16, 2008 § Leave a comment

The constituents of Dublin South and beyond will have an opportunity to discuss many of the issues surrounding the forthcoming referendum on the Lisbon Reform Treaty. Along with my colleague Liz McManus TD and Blair Horan, General Secretary of the Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU), I will be fielding questions on the Treaty and providing a forum for the general public to air their views on Thursday 24 April.

The venue will be Taney Parish Centre, Dundrum and the event starts at 8.15 p.m.

This event is a public meeting so everyone is welcome. I look forward to seeing you all then.

More :: Find out more on the Lisbon Reform Treaty by clicking here.

Athlone report raises serious questions about operation of child protection guidelines

April 15, 2008 § Leave a comment

The report of the Independent Inquiry into how a lecturer in child care policy at the Athlone Institute of Technology was able to remain in his post two years after his conviction for serious sexual offences in Holland raises serious questions about the operation of child protection measures in this country.

Parents will find it hard to understand how no action was taken despite the then Midlands Health Board and the Gardai being notified of it within days of its occurrence in Holland in June 2004.
This was a serious incident involving violence and indecent acts.

Surely we should have accepted by now that when it comes to the welfare and protection of children no avoidable risks should be taken.

In this case it appears that proper procedures were followed and that the appropriate authorities were notified, but no action was taken but for reasons that were not entirely clear.

We must now learn the lessons of this affair and ensure that not only are appropriate procedures in place, but that they are acted upon when incidents like this occur.

The recommendations made by Mr. Devine in his report should now be placed for consideration before the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children.

More:: Read the full McElwee Report by clicking here

White pays tribute to Dr. Paddy Hillery

April 15, 2008 § Leave a comment

From today’s Seanad sitting:

On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish to be associated with the tributes to the former President, Dr. Paddy Hillery. His death represents the passing of another member of an extraordinary generation of politicians, namely, those who were born immediately after independence and who came to prominence in the middle part of the previous century. Members of that generation are characterised by a particular kind of commitment to public service. Different generations have various ways of expressing the commitment to which I refer. The type of commitment displayed by Dr. Hillery could be almost described as a form of sacrifice.

This is a recurring theme with regard to Dr. Hillery. He said himself he felt he did many things out of a sense of duty. There was a sense of selflessness about it. It can absolutely be said of that generation, and particularly of him, that his commitment to politics and public service was motivated by nothing other than a sense of duty and of honour at serving one’s country. There was never any question of its being done for personal gain or opportunity. This is something that characterises that generation of politicians and public figures which, in a sense, is now passing. His passing is a particularly poignant example of that.

As others have said, Paddy Hillery distinguished himself in a number of different positions in Government. In particular, as Minister for Education, he laid the groundwork for much of the work that was done later. He was essentially a progressive Minister for Education and did a large amount of work in that position. For a short time he was Minister for Industry and Commerce, but he was particularly important in his post at the Department of Labour, introducing industrial legislation in the late 1960s which is still an important part of our industrial relations infrastructure.

Others have referred to Dr. Hillery’s work on Northern Ireland. I endorse the remarks of Senator Fitzgerald with regard to his contribution to the major issues of peace in this country and our involvement and commitments in Europe. I remember when he stood up to the Irish Government in respect of equal pay, which I welcomed. It was vitally important in those early years of our membership of the EEC that we did not see the benefits of our involvement as flowing in one direction but that we also made a commitment to a fundamental right to equal pay, which was then expressed in legislation in 1974. This was a vitally important, progressive move. He was clear that it had to be implemented and he did the country a great service in this regard.

I join with my colleagues in conveying my sympathy and condolences to Paddy Hillery’s family, Dr. Maeve Hillery and Dr. John Hillery, and recall his great personal warmth as a human being as much as a politician. His loss will be felt greatly in this country. I wish to be associated with today’s tributes.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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