January 29, 2010 § Leave a comment
Earlier this month, I met some young people from the constituency at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. The projects were all very impressive. Above, you see me trying out an exhibit from Andrej Pacher of Rockbrook Park School. His exhibit was a ‘General Use Augmented Reality Project (GUARP)’.
Below, I meet Kate Lally and Lauren McCauley from St Colmcille’s Community School whose project was entitled ‘The Fear Factor: Who is more daring?’
January 28, 2010 § Leave a comment
The Seanad discussed the plans for a banking inquiry. Labour is very much against the idea of a private inquiry and I had an opportunity to put my views to the Minister of State, Martin Mansergh TD.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House to talk about the promised inquiry that is to be instigated into the banking system and related issues that have brought us to this position. I have had the opportunity to read his speech but I do not know if he spoke also perhaps impromptu about whether the investigation of the commission – most people accept that the preliminary stages ought properly to be held quickly and therefore in private – should hold public hearings. That would be a matter for the terms of reference but these should be set by the Oireachtas. There is some suggestion that will be the case. I invite the Minister of State to agree that it would be appropriate for the default position to be that the commission of inquiry would hold its hearings in public. There could be circumstances in the course of its investigation that it might decide a particular hearing should be held in private but the default position should be that proceedings would be in public.
The question of trust is at the heart of this whole controversy and debate. One cannot restore trust by simply asking people to trust. It does not work that way, certainly not in view of what happened in this country in the past two years. Far too much of what has gone on has occurred behind closed doors. People do not trust a whole range of actors, from politicians and the Government in particular to the banks and the construction industry. People cannot be expected to trust an inquiry held predominantly in private. People argue against this by suggesting we want a public execution in St. Stephen’s Green and that we will bring on the guillotine, as if this is the only basis for calling for it to be heard in public. I disagree with some members of the Opposition who give the impression, perhaps unwittingly, of wanting an inquiry that would be a public execution, whether of the Taoiseach or anyone else. If the Taoiseach is to be executed politically it will be done at the time of the next general election. I very much hope it is done but that is a matter for the general election. That does not undermine the proposition that a commission of inquiry ought to be held in public to examine the grave issues the Minister of State touched on in his speech. Why should there not be a presumption of hearings in public, with perhaps some allowance for the inquiry to make an ad hoc decision on a particular part of the inquiry to be held in private? I will not re-engage with the differentiation between private and secret drawn on some radio programme, where the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, got himself into trouble.
What is the problem for the Government? The Minister for Finance made some reference to it costing €150 million for lawyers. I do not accept this. If people seek to have lawyers representing them, this will be true whether the inquiry is in public or private. If it is contemplated that there should be a cost, there is no way around the argument that if this is not held in the public eye it will not deliver the restoration of trust we all wanted to see. This is an argument the Green Party made, unsuccessfully as it turns out. If this is not held in public, it will not deliver the restoration of trust we all want to see. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
Will the Minister for Education and Science explain why it appears that within the next few days, the system is to lose 1,200 special needs assistants? This has not been denied or confirmed but can we have an indication that the report is wrong? Will Senator Dan Boyle tell us if it is wrong as his colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was on radio no more recently than at the weekend again emphasising the importance of education to the Green Party?
Will the issue be clarified to this House if it cannot be clarified on radio or to anybody else? Special needs assistance is one of the small number of things we have achieved in the past ten or 15 years of prosperity. It is a genuinely progressive step that has occurred in our schools. It would be a most serious backward step for people who are genuinely needed in the system, special needs assistants, to be made redundant at the end of this week or anytime soon. That appears to be what is contemplated by the Department.
The Department’s evaluation paper on these matters, submitted to the Department of Finance, stated in a rather prescient manner that there is a redundancy scheme in place. The document states:
However, removal of SNAs, even on a moderate scale, is likely to result in significant rearguard action by schools. It may result in schools refusing to continue to retain pupils with special needs and will undoubtedly attract significant adverse public and media reaction. Previous experience in the special needs area indicates that even where criteria are not met, removal of resources can be very contentious.
This is a genuinely contentious issue and it should be dealt with in this House.
January 25, 2010 § Leave a comment
I would to congratulate the Children’s Rights Alliance on their Report Card 2010, published today.
The report shines a light on how the Fianna Fail/ Green Government is meeting their commitments to children, or to be more precise, how they are failing to meet them.
In three of the four headings: health; material wellbeing; and safeguarding children, the government’s performance this year is worse than last year. Only under the heading of education has there been any kind of improvement, and even that is a very modest one.
Safeguarding Children receives a D grade this year, compared to a C grade last year, while Health is downgraded from D- last year to E this year.
Perhaps of greatest concern is the Government’s performance with regard to Material Wellbeing. Their grade has gone from a mediocre C- last year to a shockingly poor E this year. Indeed under every sub-heading of this category; financial support; access to education; access to healthcare and access to housing; Government performance has deteriorated.
In other words, not only are children worse off financially compared to a year ago, they are also finding it more difficult to get access to vital services.
Each time the government rolls out its latest wave of cutbacks – from sacking hundreds of Special Needs Assistants, to slashing Child Benefit, to ending support for homework clubs in disadvantaged areas – they claim that they do so with a heavy heart, and that they have somehow managed to ‘protect the vulnerable’.
Today’s publication gives lie to that and would actually suggest that when it comes to wielding the axe, services for children are seen as very easy targets
January 20, 2010 § Leave a comment
The type of inquiry into the banking system a committee of the Oireachtas may undertake is a live issue in the country. The Supreme Court decision in the Abbeylara case is in place, on which I have two brief points to make. First, there is the question of the restrictions on the Oireachtas in making findings of fact which could touch on the personal culpability of individuals. I understand clearly that there is such a caveat contained within that decision. Second, there is the issue as to whether the Oireachtas ever had lawful authority to carry out such inquiries. These issues are very much on the table.
My party brought forward legislation in the other House to deal with the second of these two issues, but it was rejected by the Government. On the first issue, I do not accept that it is not possible for a committee of the Oireachtas to hold a meaningful inquiry into what went wrong in the banking system without touching on the personal culpability of individuals because there are other places in which that matter should be dealt with. I am a strong supporter of those who say the criminal justice system is where criminal charges ought to be dealt with.
However, this does not prevent serious politicians who claim to have credibility from having an inquiry into the lending practices of the banks to determine what strategies were in place, why AIB and Bank of Ireland now proclaim they had a difficulty because Anglo Irish Bank was doing certain things and they had to follow suit. We need to know what strategies were employed and the history of regulation, including that by politicians. These issues do not turn on the personal culpability of individuals in terms of the level of criminality, rather they are legitimate questions which ought to be pursued in a public inquiry. I believe they could be dealt with, without any worries on a constitutional level, by a committee of the Oireachtas.
The second issue I want to raise can be addressed by the Government, that is, the extraordinary statement or indication to the effect that the commission of inquiry will hold its investigations other than in public. What is the reason for this secrecy? What is the exact position? Last Monday, the hapless Senator Boyle was telling the country that the Green Party was going to a deliver a public inquiry. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, has learned a great deal since he went into Government because he is telling us that black is white and that the inquiry will be held in public. It is a question of saying, in effect, “Well, we are a small party in government; we tried and pushed, but could not deliver.” However, the Minister does not say this, rather he says it will be held in public. What exactly is going on?
Apparently, the Taoiseach said this morning that the commission of inquiry could decide to hold hearings in public. That is a different line. If he is prepared to contemplate the commission of inquiry deciding to hold hearings in public, what is stopping the Government from including it in the terms of reference that the inquiry will be held in public? There is an overwhelming public interest in this inquiry being held in public. The impact of what has happened to the banks and those to whom they loaned money is in the public domain. The 300,000 empty houses are there to be seen plainly by everybody and the impact on people’s lives is also there to be seen. There should be an inquiry and it should be held in public.
January 15, 2010 § Leave a comment
Constituents continue to have problems with water supply in Dublin South. While the problems are not as widespread as they were earlier in the week, they continue to be a hindrance to households. The following is the latest information at 1500 on Friday.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council
Central Park, Leopardstown area, Balally, Sandyford Industrial Estate, South County Business Park will be without water or suffer a severe reduction in water pressure until 11 am on Saturday January 16.
Mount Merrion/ Stillorgan/Kilmacud/Goatstown areas will be without water or suffer a severe reduction in water pressure until 11 am on Saturday January 16.
Pine Valley, Kilcross, Kingston, Kellystown,Ticknock Hill, Simons Ridge, Woodpark, Ludford, Ballinteer Avenue, will be without water or suffer a severe reduction in water pressure until 11 am on Saturday January 16.
Further updates on www.dlrcoco.ie
South Dublin County Council
The council say that supplies in the local reservoir are still critically low and they will continue to stop or curtail supplies over the weekend.
The burst water main on the Knocklyon Road will be repaired tomorrow morning, however, there should be no interuption to supply.
Further updates on www.sdcc.ie
January 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
**Latest update: Wed 13 Jan at 1600**
Since Monday, I’ve been receiving calls from concerned constituents on the cuts or curtailments to water supplies in Dublin South. The latest information I have is as follows:
Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council:
Water supply to the Nutgrove area was turned off yesterday because of critically low water levels at the supply reservoir. The areas affected include:
Upper Churchtown Road
Oakdown / Nugent
DLR say that supply to this area is back ON, although problems remain in Hillside Drive , Landscape Road and Loreto areas and these are being investigated.
Water supply to Kilmacud Area including Mount Merrion, Stillorgan, Kilmacud, and Pine Valley has been turned back on this morning and continuous supply should be available until 7pm this evening, when it will be turned off again.
Water supply to the Stepaside area, including Cairnfort and Kellystown, has had to be turned off because of critically low water levels at the supply reservoir.
The water will be restored at 5pm this evening.
Sandyford Road and adjoining estates off it including Ballally (parts), Moreen and Kilcross estates, Ticknock Hill, Simons Ridge and adjoining estates will also be without water until 5pm this evening.
Full details can be found on www.dlrcoco.ie
South Dublin County Council:
Water has been turned OFF until 5pm in the following areas:
SDCC say that water pressures in most areas have returned to normal. Any residents who still have no water have been asked to remain patient! There are burst water mains in Knocklyon and the situation is being investigated at the moment. However, it should NOT affect local water supplies.
Supplies in Ballyboden and Edmondstown have been cut off because of low levels in the reservoirs. It is hoped to turn the water back on between 5 pm and 7 pm this evening.
SDCC will be turning supplies OFF gradually from 4pm this evening in the following areas.
All areas will have a full water supply by mid-morning tomorrow.
Further details can be found on www.sdcc.ie