Spring cleaning

January 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last Saturday we canvassed some of the estates that nestle at the foothills of the Dublin mountains. It’s a backdrop that creates a very special sense of place in this part of the city. On Saturday you could actually feel spring in the air. The sun struggled to break through the clouds. People pottered about their gardens, readying the ground for planting or washing cars. We came across one young man out batterin’ a large rug into submission.

This election is about doing some long overdue spring cleaning. Think political version of “How clean is your house”. To get our political house in order we need to sort out what is worth keeping and what needs to be turfed out. We need to identify strategies for making the house work better. We need to work systematically, cleaning, repairing and renewing, room by room. Only then will the house begin to function properly again.

One woman with whom we spoke on Saturday provided an astute and incisive critique of what is wrong with the system. A public service worker herself she observed that “if I ran my home the way the HSE is run, I would be homeless years ago.” She feels strongly that bureaucratic layers absorb resources that should be targeted directly at service delivery. “Why should seriously ill people have to go through A & E in order to access hospital services when they require them?” she asked. Why indeed. It is a serious dysfunction in our system that the route to accessing quality health care is often experienced by users as a veritable minefield.

The same woman has also had experience of accessing services for children with disabilities and her encounters with Department of Education officials over the years did everything but inspire confidence. Through persistent advocacy she managed to improve the situation for her own child, but she remains outraged that so many of our educational services continue to fall short of optimal standards of professionalism.

This woman and her like are the backbone of our country, the unsung heroes who through their work, home-making, advocacy and volunteering immeasurably improve the quality of life of others. If she was in politics- if she was your public representative or mine- I have no doubt that this country would be a much, much better place.

Issue of health funding must be tackled

January 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, Aviva announced its plans to increase its health insurance charges. While we can all rail against this and the fact that people are being obliged to deal with increased charges at every hand’s turn, we must highlight the fact that it again points to a serious policy failure on the part of the outgoing Government with regard to the funding of health. The Government has flunked the test in respect of this matter on every occasion. The issue to which I refer was brought before both the High Court and the Supreme Court, where the Government lost. I was sorry it lost in the Supreme Court because the position it took in respect of risk equalisation was correct. However, the matter was then just abandoned and no action was taken. It must be two years ago since the decision of the Supreme Court was handed down. The Government applied a sticking plaster in successive Finance Acts in the context of tax relief.

The issues of health insurance and the funding of health must be tackled. The Labour Party will be publishing policies on these matters in the next couple of weeks. I accept this is a political matter which will be dealt with during the general election campaign. I will, however, be interested to discover the policy of the Fianna Fáil Party on health. That party has had nothing to say on this issue for many years. It left it to the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, who has not been a member of Fianna Fáil for some years, to speak on the matter. What is the Fianna Fáil Party’s policy on health? Does it have a policy? We have not seen such a policy but we would be interested in seeing it in the coming weeks.

Lessons of 1916

January 28, 2011 § 3 Comments

Yesterday my daughter came home from school.  She’s doing the Leaving Cert in a few months and had been covering the 1916 Rising in her history class.  “Dad”, she said, “I felt so sad in school watching a documentary on the leaders of the 1916 Rising. They knew it was a futile gesture, but they went ahead with their plans because of their commitment to the idea of a Republic. And did you know that when they were being led away afterwards by British soldiers, the people in the streets spat on them and shouted at them. They didn’t live to see that their efforts were not entirely in vain.”

 

My daughter’s ready engagement with the Rising of 1916, her empathy with the lost leaders of that botched revolution, got me thinking.

 

Once again, we are at another crossroads in the history of our country. The people are rightly angry, they are disaffected.  I know this from talking to them, and from encountering those who are beyond talking.  Whose stony silence and averted eyes speak volumes. People who just want the whole debacle of the last few years to go away.

 

But we can’t afford to give up.  In five years time we celebrate the centenary of 1916.  Will we do so as a failed democracy? Or as a country that, brought to the brink of disaster, found a way back?  We need to re assert the principles that underpinned our founding democracy. We need to restore the belief in the virtues of a Republic where all are cherished equally and where trust, honesty and dignity are hallmarks of how we do business in government and beyond.

 

Sometimes, even when things seem futile, we have to keep going.  We don’t really have a choice.  When the history of this era is written are we to be the people spitting from the footpaths, or the people who committed to building an alternative?  Let’s pledge ourselves to building a new Republic, one that my children and your children can be proud of.  Hope must triumph over despair in 2011.

Time to check the register!

January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

With the General Election now imminent, it is time to make sure you are registered to vote.  Checking couldn’t be easier.  Simply visit www.checktheregister.ie and click on your local county council.

From there, fill in the relevant details and it will tell you if you are on the register to vote.

If you find you are not on the register, you will be able to apply for the supplementary register. Fill out the RFA2 form and send it to your council – the form is available by clicking here.

If you have moved and find you are registered under your old address, you can fill out the RFA3 form, available here.

If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Taoiseach has sought to abuse his constitutional prerogative

January 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

From yesterday’s Order of Business in the Seanad…

The other night a lady asked me whether I believed Fianna Fáil’s vote of confidence in the Taoiseach was part of an elaborate manoeuvre for the public. That people would be positioned in a particular way and look like they were resigning when they were not. I told her I did not believe even Fianna Fáil would engage in such an activity and that, in my experience, members of the party did not resign from public office unless they had to or were forced to do so. However, I am beginning to wonder. This is a shambles of unbelievable proportions and it is relevant to Seanad business, given that we will expect Ministers who attend the Chamber to deal with legislation in the coming weeks to show a certain amount of experience and application to the job.

Let us consider what has occurred within the Government. First, Green Party Ministers stated they were leaving. We must take them at their word that they will be gone by the end of March. The Minister for Foreign Affairs then resigned because he did not have confidence in the Taoiseach. Yesterday four more Ministers retired or deserted, depending on which word one wants to use. Another Minister retired this morning. Apart from the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, this leaves seven members of the Government. Of these, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, has been throwing shapes in the past week or ten days as to his intentions, where he wants to be and what he believes should occur. It is difficult to believe he gave anything like a full-blooded endorsement to the Taoiseach. The Minister for Finance has been accused by members of his own party, not the Opposition, of engaging in the black arts in respect of what he believed about the Taoiseach and whether he should remain in office. By the time we get to the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport we are down to the last two or three Ministers who have given the Taoiseach the impression that they will stick with it. The Government is a complete shambles and falling apart in front of our eyes.

For the purposes of procedure, I will put my comments in the form of questions. Does the Leader agree that what the Taoiseach has done amounts to a gross abuse of his important and solemn prerogative under the Constitution to appoint members of the Government? He stands accused of abusing this prerogative for naked political and electoral gain. He can chuckle away all he wants, as he did in the Lower House yesterday. Clearly, that is what he intended to do and what he is doing. It is a disgrace that he should be allowed to do so by Fianna Fáil or anyone else.

Alex on Prime Time

January 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last night I appeared on the panel on Prime Time on RTE One to discuss the fallout from the Fianna Fail confidence vote.

Also on the panel were Leo Varadkar TD and political analyst Noel Whelan.

See it again by clicking here.

A Fair and Effective Penal System

January 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

This week, Labour launched its plans to overhaul the penal system in this country.  It is quite clear that the current system doesn’t work and is not effective – least of all it is not cost-effective.

In the past ten years the prison population has almost doubled and at an average cost per prisoner of €79,307, it is the most expensive in the world.

Labour want a cheaper and more effective alternatives to prison be provided for.  The current system only exacerbates the problem.  By adopting the policies in this document, we believe it will provide both social and economic benefits.

I would encourage you to take a look at the document by clicking here.

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