Canvassing for a Yes vote in Dundrum

May 30, 2008 § 1 Comment

Alex (Right) speaks with Taoiseach Brian Cowen (Left) and Labour Leader Eamon Gilmore (Centre) at Dundrum

Last evening, I joined the Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Olivia Mitchell of Fine Gael in a visit to Dundrum Town Centre to advocate a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

There is no doubt that while the Labour party has been very vocal in the past number of months regarding the referendum, a joint canvass by ourselves, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can only serve to show the Irish public how strongly we all believe in a Yes vote.

As we enter the final straight in terms of the campaign, it’s time to focus on getting people out to vote. It’s not too late to get up-to-date with what the Treaty is all about. There is still time to make an informed decision – and not to get caught up in many of the myths being pushed regarding the Treaty.

More :: You can view more photos from the Dundrum canvass by clicking here
More :: Watch the RTE report from Dundrum
More :: For more information on the Lisbon Treaty and to download a copy of the full text, visit the Labour Lisbon Treaty website. Alternatively visit the Referendum Commission website.

Government parties vote against Labour’s HSE proposals

May 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

Labour's HSE proposals voted downLast night, Labour’s motion to reform the HSE were voted down by Fianna Fáil, the Greens and the PDs. Minister Harney was present for most of the debate and defended the HSE’s slow moving reforms by explaining that it was merely in its infancy.

The proposals would have sought to establish clear lines of authority in the HSE, made the Minister for Health and Children more accountable to the Oireachtas and implemented parts of the HIQA report into the Rebecca O’Malley case.

The health service is a subject which is brought up again and again in the Seanad, with members complaining of bureaucracy and that the HSE is an impenetrable organisation. It was a pity, therefore, that the government side of the house voted against the Labour proposals. I have no doubt that the complaints about the HSE from government senators will continue.

Below, you will find my speech from last night.

It is my pleasure to second this motion and welcome again the Minister for Health and Children to the House. I am interested to hear her response and those of our colleagues opposite in respect of the proposals we are bringing forward.

I will repeat a challenge I threw down to the colleagues opposite yesterday. Hardly a day or week passes without one or other of our colleagues opposite coming into this House and quite correctly criticising an aspect of the health services that has come to their attention. Time and again they make the point about the system being dysfunctional and there being a lack of clarity in terms of responsibilities and management lines. They express their frustration in this House in respect of particular problems that arise and, more seriously, the inability to obtain clarity and answers to genuine issues which arise.

The picture inevitably painted by colleagues on all sides of the House is of an almost Kafkaesque system which is impenetrable to public representatives, to say nothing of members of the public or citizens who seek to make sense of it. The frustration people have in trying to make sense of it has been echoed at the highest level in Government, as we know. A number of the Minister’s colleagues have reflected this in recent months.

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Listener and viewer must be central to our broadcasting regime

May 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

Broadcasting Bill 2008Today, the much anticipated Broadcasting Bill 2008 was at Second Stage in the Seanad. Below is my speech on the Bill.

I welcome the Bill’s publication. As the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources stated last week, it is detailed and comprehensive legislation that proposes to amend and repeal broadcasting legislation dating back more than 50 years. It is a significant and unprecedented achievement and I congratulate the Minister and his officials on putting together in one Bill all of these initiatives and regulations in respect of the independent and public broadcasting sectors.

I agree that the listener and the viewer should be central to the debate and our broadcasting regime, an aspect of the Bill that the Minister emphasised. It must not be a matter of the promotion of individual interests, including those of public or private sector broadcasters. I will revert to this issue when I address the Sound and Vision Fund referred to in the Bill. It is a question of putting the listener and the viewer centre stage in determining what type of broadcasting regime we desire.

The Bill contains a number of welcome innovative provisions. For example, section 8 proposes to involve the joint committee in the appointment of members of the authority’s board and the RTE board. The Minister stated that some Members – he seemed to refer to Fine Gael Members, but they can speak for themselves – may have favoured a procedure for vetting proposed board members as opposed to a formal proposing role. He indicated his preference for the latter, in respect of which I support him. The committee should have a more proactive role in the appointment of board members of the authority and RTE and its involvement should have substance.

As well as addressing the broad sweep of requirements in a broadcasting regime, the legislation maintains RTE and TG4 but deals with them separately. The relevant sections seem faithfully to repeat what has gone before while also seeking to modernise and streamline many of the provisions relating to public broadcasters. The legislation includes several significant and innovative changes. The Minister referred to the introduction of an Oireachtas channel. This is something we have raised in the House on previous occasions. It is an important development and I hope it will be operational sooner rather than later. There was a suggestion that it would be launched next year. I urge the Minister to do what he can to expedite it.

I reflected on the Minister’s statement on the last occasion that one of his objectives in bringing forward this legislation is to shift the legislative basis of the television licence regime from wireless telegraphy to broadcasting legislation. One may wonder what that means. For many years, we have had an anachronistic approach to broadcasting, although there has been some change in this regard in the last ten or 20 years. For a long time, however, the attitude of the Government, Civil Service and of many politicians was proprietorial.

It is not so long ago that the Taoiseach’s hero, Mr. Seán Lemass, declared that RTE had been set up by legislation as an instrument of public policy and, as such, was responsible to the Government. He further stated that the Government rejected the view that “RTE should be, either in general or in regard to its current affairs and news programmes, completely independent of Government supervision”. Mr. Lemass made that statement in the 1960s in reference to the 1960 legislation which will be repealed by this Bill. There are echoes of this attitude from time to time in this Chamber when Members are upset by something they see on RTE. However, in general, the view put forward by Mr. Lemass is no longer part of our culture. It is important that we have put our view of broadcasting onto a new plane, one that is more intelligent and more faithful to the purpose of broadcasting. Public service broadcasting should not be an instrument of public policy – and especially not of Government policy – but rather a vital aspect of our democratic system and culture in the broadest possible sense.

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‘Let’s move on from this nonsensical sideshow’

May 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

Signatures on Lisbon TreatyThere has been a sideshow skirmish revolving around the question of who is doing more in terms of the Lisbon treaty debate. I appeal to all sides of this House and elsewhere to move on from this nonsensical sideshow.

This is the first reference made by myself or my colleagues in the House and we make it in a positive sense, something with which colleagues on the other side of the House might not be familiar.

The Taoiseach made an ill-judged remark at the weekend and appears to want to move on. Yesterday, the Leader did not sound like he wanted to move on.

If the treaty is to be passed, as desired by most Senators, engaging in a sad, sorry skirmish as to who is doing more in the midlands or elsewhere will not get anyone anywhere.

What needs to be focused now is getting people to vote Yes, no matter what political creed they subscribe to. Let us get the facts out there. And let us resist the temptation we feel, as Eamon Gilmore said yesterday, to give each other a kicking.

More :: Opposition anger over Cassidy’s accusations (The Irish Times) *Subscription required
More :: Remember to visit Labour’s Lisbon Website

Seanad to discuss Labour motion on HSE

May 27, 2008 § 1 Comment

HSE LogoTomorrow evening, the Labour party in the Seanad will raise an issue that has been talked about ad nauseam in the House.

I refer to the future of the HSE. I invite all my colleagues on the opposite side of the House, who have expressed their frustration regarding the operations of the HSE on many occasions, to support the motion the Labour Party will be tabling.

I invite the Leader of the Seanad and the Deputy Leader not to put forward the usual amendment that is tabled in respect of such a motion and which essentially involves deleting everything after the term “Seanad Éireann” and replacing it with something anodyne. I call on them to genuinely support what we are proposing, namely, a serious set of reforms regarding the HSE.

The motion is not a personal attack on the Minister, the Government or anyone else, nor is it a retreading of old arguments; it is comprised of a positive set of proposals regarding how the HSE can be reformed. This issue has been raised on numerous occasions by Senators on the opposite side of the House and I invite them to support the Labour Party motion.

More :: The Seanad debate on the HSE will take place at 5 p.m. on Wednesday May 28. You can view the proceedings live by clicking here.
More :: You can read the wording of the Labour Private Members Motion by clicking here.
More :: Learn more about Labour’s plans for reforming the HSE by clicking here.

Communities abandoned as housing PPPs collapse

May 20, 2008 § 1 Comment

PPP CollapseIt is not an exaggeration to describe this event as a parable of our times. It tells us a number of things about where we are at this stage of our development.

First, it tells us that at the time of an economic downturn, the first people to feel the brunt are the most vulnerable in our society, those whose communities have been ravaged by under investment, drug abuse, social exclusion and the lack of basic facilities. It would be no exaggeration to say that when we talk about schemes being abandoned, we are talking about communities being abandoned.

Second, it demonstrates the folly of our over-reliance, particularly in recent years, on the private sector to address pressing social problems and concerns. We have become completely obsessed with outsourcing everything to the private sector and have little or no confidence in our ability or the ability of a properly funded public sector to take the lead in issues such as this. I am tempted to suggest that instead of denoting public private partnerships, the acronym PPP should denote private profit prevails. That is clearly what it means in the current situation.

The third thing demonstrated by the collapse of the PPP should be of urgent interest to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and to Green Party Senator Dan Boyle. It relates to the reason given for the abandonment of these projects. We have been told it relates to the downturn in construction, but what was less well noticed were the other reasons proffered by Mr. McNamara for walking away from these projects, namely, that he must, quite rightly, observe the reasonable and necessary building regulations with regard to energy conservation and apartment size that have been introduced in Dublin City. What kind of shoeboxes did he propose to build on those sites?

There are sighs from those on the Government side and no doubt this will be an issue at the famous event in Galway at the end of July. Certain elements of the construction industry, bigger builders and those who find themselves in the top two or three in the CIF’s recent publication, do not take the standards seriously. That is where the Minister’s attention should be directed.

More :: My contribution was featured on Oireachtas Report – watch it here. (From 15mins  45secs onwards)

Debate heats up in Mount Merrion sunshine

May 16, 2008 § Leave a comment

Last night was the last in our series of meetings on the Lisbon Treaty. The series really has worked out very well for myself and the constituency of Dublin South. I opened the meeting last night by saying that the most important thing about the Treaty was to publicise information on the Treaty.

My guests were Peadar O Broin author of ‘The Consolidated Version of the Treaties’ and Blair Horan of the CPSU. Peadar told the audience that the Lisbon Treaty was about making the EU work more efficiently and transparently.

“We have to remember that when this project started they were working from a model that suited six countries. In 2008, we have 27 countries working under that same project. The Treaty aims to tidy up and clarify the workings of the EU,” he said.

Blair told the audience that the Treaty would result in the Charter of Fundamental Rights becoming legally enforceable.

“People are right to say that the rights contained in this are nothing new, but what is new is the fact that the Treaty will guarantee those rights for every citizen. I think that that is important to stress. What we are dealing with is not just an economic market but a social market, too.”

An interesting and comprehensive Q&A took place following the addresses. There were some very strong and passionate views brought forward from members of the audience, with both the Yes and No sides represented.

One thing that struck me was the concern that some in the audience had regarding the Treaty, and the element of fear associated with it. I believe Peadar dealt very well with the crux of some of the arguments.

In response to questions on our neutrality, all three speakers stated that the ‘Triple Lock’ mechanism stays in place, whereby any military participation needs to be accepted by the Government, the Oireachtas and there needs to be a UN Mandate allowing us to enter. Peadar gave an example of the EU peacekeeping presence in FYR Macedonia and said that Ireland could not get involved because there was no UN Mandate for such peacekeeping.

Concern was also raised about the fact that only one mainstream party was against the Treaty and what this meant for democracy. I was quick to point out that the Labour Party had gone through the entire document and weighed up the pros and cons. If the party were to decide against the Treaty it would be dishonest to the people of the country.

Nonetheless, the beauty of Irish democracy is that it is a peoples’ vote and not a political vote.

More :: Please take some time to go to the Labour Party’s website on the Lisbon Treaty by clicking here

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