Government ignoring Forum’s recommendations on Pre-School Education

July 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

The release of the National Economic and Social Forum’s Periodic Report this week highlights the Government’s neglect of pre-school education.

During the general election campaign in 2007, Labour committed itself to offering one year of free pre-school education for every child regardless of income. It was part of a child-centred learning-focused system of childcare.

The NESF Report is damning of the government’s inaction in this area. This is their own advisory body labelling government policies as ‘weak’ and the report paints a picture of too many departments sharing responsibility for children.

It was the same body whose cost-benefit analysis showed that for every €1 spent on early childhood education the State would receive €7 later.

Labour took the analysis of the NESF and incorporated it into the Putting Children First document. Ireland spends less than 0.2% of GDP on our children when the EU average is 0.5%. A commitment to pre-school education is not in the current Programme for Government.

At a time when the Government is telling people to tighten their belts and look towards cost-savings, it would benefit the State to invest in pre-school education. The estimated €136 million annually it would cost to run the Labour-backed one year of free pre-school education is significantly less than the current early childhood care supplement.

As this report demonstrates, children were not a priority during the boom times. But it would be profoundly short-sighted to target childcare support in these more uncertain times.

More :: Click here to download the NESF’s Fifth Periodic Report (PDF)
More :: Click here to download Labour’s Putting Children First document from Election 2007

Alex on Drivetime

July 21, 2008 § Leave a comment

I was invited to join Mary Wilson on Drivetime on RTE Radio 1 last Friday evening. The other guests to review the week’s news were communications specialist Terry Prone and journalist Sean Donnelly. The discussion included the Supreme Court ruling on Risk Equalisation and the visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy this week.

To listen to the show, click here. (Discussion begins at 39mins 45secs)

‘Visionary’ economic plans are simply a list of cuts

July 10, 2008 § Leave a comment

Yesterday evening, the Seanad had an opportunity to discuss the current economic situation we now find ourselves in. We briefly discussed the subject last week and were told that a ‘visionary’ plan would be instigated this week. What Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan brought forward this week was a list of cuts that were hiding under the term ‘savings’.

Where is the vision we were promised?

For weeks now, we have been told that the economic woes which we are now experiencing have been internationally generated. How can a government claim credit for a good economy but blame the international situation for a downturn? In development after development, whether large or small or in urban or rural areas, it massively over-incentivised the construction sector and failed to direct prudent investment into areas which would have yielded long-term results for the economy.

Above, you will find a video of my contribution to the debate.

More :: You can read the full debate by clicking here
More :: ESRI report shows that this year’s recession is homegrown (The Irish Times)

Rushing through of Intoxicating Liquor Bill undermining integrity of the Seanad

July 9, 2008 § Leave a comment

Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008

The Seanad discussed the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008 this afternoon. This piece of legislation is somewhat unusual as the bill only passed the Dail last night and the government is seeking to have it passed in the Seanad by tomorrow evening.

At Order of Business this morning, a number of senators raised concerns regarding the rushing of this Bill. I stated that it was undermining the independence and integrity of the house.

What concerns me also, is the fact that I have received letters and emails by the dozen in the past 48 hours from people concerned about what effect the legislation will have on them – not only members of the nightclub industry but youth groups and organisations. I have not yet had an opportunity to consider fully what each one states.

Below is my contribution to the second stage of the bill in the Seanad:

No one can doubt the background against which we are having this debate. We discussed it on a number of occasions in this House and it was discussed elsewhere. I refer to the abuse of alcohol, the problem of binge drinking, and the knock-on effect right across a range of social and personal problems such as mental health problems. All of these issues and their impact have been documented and elucidated in this House many times over.

No one questions the commitment of all of us, Senators on both sides of the House, to address this fundamental problem with which Dr. Gordon Holmes, in his insightful report, assisted us so much. The fact that all on this side of the House are complaining that this is, as Senator Quinn stated, “rushed legislation of the worst kind”, are criticising the legislation and the manner in which it has been introduced, and the speed with which it is being forced through both Houses, can not be taken for one minute as indicating any less of a concern on the part of those of us on this side of the House who would make that point with addressing this issue.

The question really is; does it address the issue? Dr. Holmes, in his report, wrote of the need for a comprehensive approach to this problem right across society but that is not what is in this Bill. The Bill contains a number of welcome provisions, but this is not the comprehensive attack on a serious social problem that we all know is needed. It is not consistent with debate, analysis, careful scrutiny of the problem and then the bringing forward of solutions to have legislation in this House, for the first time in my relatively short period here, where the deadline for amendments on Committee Stage came before the Second Stage, although there was some flexibility indicated for later today. It is ludicrous for us who are expected, as I stated on the Order of Business, to carry out the important constitutional function, to scrutinise legislation and to decide whether it is appropriate that it should be passed, to be faced with such a situation.

I heard one of my colleagues state that he was lobbied by one of the associated bodies, I think it was the nightclub association. I have not had time to be lobbied by them. There is not enough time to meet the people who have expressed an interest and an involvement. Certainly, people who are involved in it are just as entitled as anybody else to raise their concerns with legislators. What we do about that is another matter, but we should have an opportunity to listen to them and to think and consider carefully what they have to say.

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Seamus Brennan

July 9, 2008 § 1 Comment

On behalf of the Labour Party, I express deepest sympathy to the family of Séamus Brennan and to the Fianna Fáil Party on the sad and untimely death of Séamus this morning. As others have pointed out – although it is an understatement – Séamus was an exceptionally successfully politician over 30 years. To die at such an early age of 60 years having achieved so much in life is extraordinary. I have no doubt his family and colleagues will hold this thought dear in the years ahead.

I first came across Séamus Brennan when I was a current affairs producer in RTE many years ago. I always found Séamus to be a most amiable, personable and likeable man. Although politicians are not performing a charity when appearing on radio and television programmes because they benefit from such appearances I always found Séamus, of all his colleagues across all parties, to be immensely approachable and very careful and considerate in terms of acquaintance with and knowledge of individual journalists and people around him. Many people from across the political spectrum ascribed this attribute to him. He was a most decent and personable man.

More recently, when I became a constituency colleague of Séamus, I found the same level of kindness and I appreciated very much the genuine interest he showed in persons of an opposing political point of view. It has been noted the extraordinary number of votes Séamus Brennan won in Dublin South. Even in this period of success and endurance for the Fianna Fáil Party, it is an extraordinary achievement to have obtained more than 13,000 votes in a constituency in which other party colleagues were also successful. One must get up very early in the morning to take on that formidable operation in the Dublin South constituency. It was a testament to Séamus that he was such a success and so well liked in the constituency.

I join the heartfelt sympathies which have been extended to the family of Séamus Brennan. Séamus’s family are uppermost in all of our minds. We have lost someone who made a major contribution to public service. We should not forget the noble opportunity we all have to give public service and Séamus Brennan did that to a very considerable extent.

More :: Safe pair of hands exercised quiet influence (The Irish Times)

Tax revenue down due to collapse in ‘holy grail’ of construction

July 2, 2008 § Leave a comment

Tax revenue down due to collapse of \'holy grail\' of constructionA debate on the economy needs to be based on the facts. We can see clearly what the facts are. While we may differ in our opinions, we must have some level of shared understanding of the facts. I am less than hopeful in that regard when I hear some of the statements made in the Seanad and elsewhere as to what the facts really are.

What the Taoiseach said yesterday shows that he is persisting in the sham and untruth that our economic difficulties at the moment are wholly based on the international situation. He again said in the Dáil yesterday that tax revenues were down because of the international situation. Tax revenues are not down because of the international situation. Tax revenue is down and will continue to be down because of the collapse in the holy grail of the construction industry into which so much trust was placed by his colleagues and him in recent years. That is not an opinion; it is a fact. I raised this matter last week and some colleagues on the government side described it as an idiotic idea. It is not an idiotic idea because it is factual to point to the reality that our economic difficulties are almost wholly domestically generated.

We had a difficulty during the Lisbon treaty referendum campaign, when certain Ministers and others said they had not read the treaty. I ask Ministers and Members of this House to read the documentation available to them before the debate next week. I ask them to read the ESRI medium-term review, which makes clear that these difficulties are domestically generated. They are not based on what is happening internationally. If colleagues read the information first, we can then have the facts-led debate.

More :: Returns expected to show tax shortfall of at least €1.5bn (The Irish Times)

Mugabe has no respect for rule of law in Zimbabwe

July 2, 2008 § Leave a comment

ZimbabweYesterday, a debate took place in the Seanad on the current situation in Zimbabwe. Below is my own contribution to the proceedings:

On behalf of the Labour Party in this House I join my colleagues in what has been said. I especially welcome the clarity of the Minister’s address to the House when he rightly described the election as an obscene charade and stated clearly and without equivocation the Government’s rejection of this sham election. He correctly stated that the Members of the Oireachtas and the Irish people are rightly appalled by what has happened in Zimbabwe and the Government’s unequivocal position is that the results of last Friday’s vote cannot be regarded as legitimate or in any way constituting the democratic and free expression of the Zimbabwean people’s will. This is important point for us as politicians giving leadership.

The Minister also correctly said the principle of free and fair elections is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy. That is true, but another cornerstone of democracy is the rule of law. For years we have known that Robert Mugabe and his Government have no respect for the rule of law. I was in a privileged position this weekend. I have just returned from Belfast where I attended the World Bar Conference of the International Council of Advocates and Barristers, ICAB, which was held jointly in Belfast and Dublin. We had the great privilege of hearing from a Zimbabwean lawyer, Ms Beatrice Mtetwa, as reported in today’s newspapers. She informed the lawyers gathered from all over the common law world of the insanity and complete breakdown of any sense of respect for rule of law throughout the court system and the absence of respect for even remnants of an independent media. She gave an astonishing sense of a society which has completely disintegrated in terms of any recognisable features of a democracy as we understand it.

I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to allow me the indulgence to tell my colleagues of a unanimous resolution passed yesterday afternoon by lawyers gathered at this conference representing the bars of Australia, England, Wales, Hong Kong, Ireland, Namibia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and Zimbabwe, being member bars of ICAB. I will briefly read the resolution because it isolates and identifies the key issues in Zimbabwe and points to something positive that can be done. Despite the despair there are some actions. The question we all asked our colleague from Zimbabwe at the weekend was whether there is anything lawyers, politicians, citizens and media people can do. There is a despair regarding the response that was forthcoming.

The resolution includes a number of points. First, as we have done here, is “to deplore the defiance by the Government of Zimbabwe of its human rights obligations under domestic and international law”. The second resolution is “to call upon the secretariats of the Southern African Development Community, the African Union [most importantly] and the United Nations to initiate all steps necessary to procure the return of the rule of law to Zimbabwe and respect by the Government of Zimbabwe for the rule of law”. This is a crucial point which the Minister’s speech touched on and he is correct. It is unusual to have to call on a government to respect the rule of law, but that is the case in Zimbabwe with a complete breakdown of the courts system and any respect for the rule of law.

The third point in the resolution is “to condemn the detention without trial of our colleague [lawyer and politician] Eric Matinenga, Member of Parliament of Zimbabwe and leader of the Harare Bar and the defiance [by the regime] of the order for his release granted on an urgent basis by the High Court”. The High Court ultimately released him but not before a major struggle to achieve it. Again there is complete defiance by the Government of Zimbabwe.

The fourth point is “to call upon the members and secretariat of the Southern African Development Community to ensure that independent legal observers are permitted to be present at all courts in Zimbabwe throughout the trials of members of the legal profession who are being prosecuted for alleged offences”. These are people who are representing clients in the courts of Zimbabwe and who are being prosecuted for criminal offences literally comprising the defence of citizens of Zimbabwe before the courts of Zimbabwe.

The fifth resolution is “to demand that the lawyers of Zimbabwe be permitted without intimidation or penalty to perform their duty to represent and defend their clients in accordance with the rule of law and ensure the entitlement of their clients to basic human rights”. This is not a cry for special privileges for lawyers. When lawyers are being intimidated and prevented from doing the job they are supposed to do, society suffers.

The sixth point is “to demand that the magistrates of Zimbabwe be allowed to adjudicate impartially and without intimidation on the cases which come before them”. We asked Ms Mtetwa whether she would suggest we include the wider judiciary in Zimbabwe and demand that all the judges in Zimbabwe be allowed to adjudicate impartially, but she said there would be no point because people who know in Zimbabwe have given up on the judges. The judges of the higher courts in Zimbabwe are so locked into this rotten regime that there is no point in asking for an independent approach by them. There is some hope in the lower courts and the magistrates and she agreed that we include this point. However, she said it would be a waste of time to ask for the higher courts of the Zimbabwean judiciary to exercise independence. This is a sad testament to what is happening there. The seventh resolution is “to demand that the Attorney-General of Zimbabwe independently and impartially exercise his powers to uphold the rule of law”.

The Minister made the point that the Government will do what it can through the EU, and I am sure it will, but is vital the maximum amount of pressure is brought to bear on those countries that can have an influence. South Africa has been mentioned many times by my colleagues. While we cannot presume to interfere with the African Union, our views must be made known to it. It must cease being a trade union for African presidents and act as a real organisation in defence of the democratic rights of the people of Zimbabwe.

More :: Read the full debate by clicking here

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