A White Christmas in Dundrum!

December 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

Members of the Labour Party in Dublin South sing carols in Dundrum Town Centre

Yesterday evening, members of Labour in Dublin South filled the air of Dundrum Town Centre with carols!  All the songs were there and some even brought the guitars! It was great fun and thankfully, it was all for a good cause, as we plan to give the money we raised to St. Joseph’s House in Stillorgan.

St. Joseph’s House is a facility for deaf and deaf-blind adults and has been part of the community for over 40 years. We have no doubt it’s a worthwhile cause!

Happy Christmas!

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Courts left to ‘plug the gap’ in assisted human reproduction law

December 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

We need to clarify the Minister for Health and Children’s comment on Tuesday in respect of a commitment on the part of the Government to introduce legislation to regulate assisted human reproduction. The Supreme Court made an extremely important decision in which it again pointed to a failure on the part of the Houses of the Oireachtas to implement legislation in this area. Once again, the Supreme Court has had to plug the gaps outrageously left by us, the legislators. The Government is primarily responsible for introducing legislation in this area.

When decisions such as the Supreme Court ruling of yesterday are made, it is often argued that there are many views and significant disagreement on the issue in question. I anticipate that government members may make the perfectly reasonable argument that assisted human reproduction is a complicated issue. While there are many views on it, the responsibility of legislators is not to sit back and do nothing, as we have done many times when it became clear there were many views on an issue, but to face up to the fact and work out carefully and meticulously, perhaps in committee, how precisely we should legislate. Assisted human reproduction is an important and sensitive issue on which legislation should be introduced at the earliest possible time.

Banking Crisis needs Public Inquiry

December 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

In his statement before the Joint Committee on Economic Regulatory Affairs on Tuesday, the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan argued that an inquiry into recent developments in the banking sector was required. I strongly support the Governor’s position. Professor Honohan also stated he was sure the average discount to be applied to the €77 billion loans acquired by the National Asset Management Agency would be different from the 30% estimate provided in September. We know already that the basis on which we are operating is wrong and will need to be updated. We have been informed by Government spokespersons that it will be necessary to invest further State money in capitalising the banks. We must, therefore, conclude that in analysing the budget this week and last week we were operating with sight unseen, as it were, in terms of what will be the true budgetary position in the coming months. It is vital that the Government confirm and clarify precisely what is in store in terms of further State moneys being invested in the banking system.

I concur with others on the urgent need for a full-blooded inquiry into what led to the banking crisis. Most of us have suspicions, for which there is significant supporting evidence, about what occurred. The matter should be investigated carefully and meticulously in a public manner, as has been done in other countries. For example, in the early 1930s one of the reasons public discourse in the United States turned around and members of the public were prepared to countenance difficult measures was the decision to hold a public inquiry into what had occurred, with full public disclosure and scrutiny.

Budget cannot be viewed as fair

December 11, 2009 § 1 Comment

Last night, I had an opportunity to speak in the Seanad in reaction to Budget 2010. Below is my own contribution.

I am grateful to Senator Boyle for his acknowledgement, which members of the Government find it difficult to make, that at least part of the deficit problem the Government, and by extension the people, must deal with is attributable to what has occurred in the banks. That is unquestionably the case. From time to time and mainly in the context of NAMA, Ministers attempt to suggest, in a roundabout fashion, that the NAMA borrowings are not real money or real borrowing. However, the borrowings are real and will constitute an exposure for the people in respect of the bonds that banks will be given in exchange for loans.

More immediately, the deficit has increased since September when the Department of Finance acknowledged that it amounted to just over €20 billion compared with €9.4 billion at the end of September in the previous year. The statement reads: “The year-on-year deterioration in the deficit of some €10.8 billion is primarily explained by a decline in tax receipts of €4.8 billion, the €4 billion payment to Anglo Irish Bank and €1.7 billion in respect of the frontloading of the annual contribution to the National Pensions Reserve Fund.” It is no use that Government spokespersons attempt to convey the impression that the issue of the banks and the extraordinary exposure of the taxpayer in that respect is off line and has nothing to do with the budgetary crisis. These matters are connected in a substantial way, meaning that there has been an element of dishonesty in the remarks of some Government spokespersons.

Senator Boyle, similar to Senator MacSharry, stated that these budget decisions would have been made by any political party in power, but I do not accept that the decision to reduce the pay of public servants earning €30,000 per annum would have been made by any party in government, certainly not mine. I do not accept that the decision to cut child benefit or social welfare would have been made by any party in government, as was suggested by Senator Boyle more in hope than in a belief that it was the case.

This is about politics. Perhaps I am approaching politics from a slightly different perspective than Senator MacSharry who stated that the issue has gone way beyond politics, which is an extraordinary phrase. The current situation signals the arrival of politics, not its departure. I do not know what my colleagues understand or believe politics to be, but it is my belief that politics is about making choices and deciding, for example, whether one agrees, as parties did in recent weeks, on the appropriateness of reducing the 2010 deficit by €4 billion. Politics is about where to make the savings and what choices to make, be it on cutting public expenditure and, if so, where, or on increasing taxes and, if so, where. People should not be afraid of this. When there is an argument on these issues, people refer to it as being “all politics”. In my respectful submission, the problem with the current system is that there is not enough politics or calm, measured and careful debate, contest and disagreement on issues. I am not calling for disagreement for its own sake, but the only way to determine what will next occur in any society, particularly one in paralysis and crisis like ours – I am referring to wider society, not just the economy – is to have a free flow of debate and interaction. This is called politics. I am not looking to get away from this fact. Rather, I am looking to embrace it. « Read the rest of this entry »

‘There was no cave-in and the trade unions have not won a famous victory’

December 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

It is interesting to read reports in newspapers which in the past have stated – perhaps hoped – that public service unions were beaten. They are now leading with headlines that the Government has caved in to the public service unions. It cannot be both and in my view it is neither. One newspaper stated that trade union leaders were jubilant at this agreement last night, which is quite fanciful, and the union leaders certainly do not look jubilant in the photograph beside the article.

They have no particular reason to feel jubilant and they are not looking for jubilation. They are not looking for humiliation and defeat either, which appears to be what some commentators and politicians want. It seems that the only way some people think we can make progress is through confrontation, with people being beaten and shot down. I do not agree with that or see it as the way forward for our country or the public service.

As somebody who absolutely supports the need for radical reform in the public service, I know that nobody in their right mind believes it can be achieved in two weeks of negotiation. How could all the issues we have debated in here be addressed in that short time? It is nonsensical or daft to suggest that was possible.

There was no cave-in and the trade unions have not won a famous victory. One report in a newspaper had a trade union group describing what happened yesterday as “the greatest betrayal in the history of the Irish trade union movement”. Which is it? My party has called for negotiations with a view to reaching agreement and yesterday’s developments represent a small but welcome advance. It is only an interim measure and it’s not a solution to the problem. I do not know if it will work.

Others may be right in raising how the 12 days of unpaid leave will work. Perhaps we will describe them as the 12 days of Christmas 2009 in a couple of years. We do not know how it will work out. The idea should be considered further and thrashed out in the next couple of weeks. Do we want confrontation or progress? People must decide what they want; do they want to see people beaten down or do they want a national recovery effort involving all of the country’s people in order to turn around our current economic position?

For that limited reason, yesterday’s developments are welcome. In the Labour Party we have argued that the public sector pay bill must be reduced and serious efforts should be made to achieve that without cutting people’s basic pay. The interim agreement seems to suggest that is possible. I do not know if it will ultimately be possible to reduce the public sector pay bill without cutting basic pay but I hope it will. This represents a small step forward in that regard.

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