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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Moneylenders are the real winners

With Christmas fast approaching the country is bracing itself for a savage budget. The Government has sent a very strong signal that the low-paid, those out of work and middle income earners will bear the brunt of harsh spending cuts and tax increases. The country’s top earners and the wealthy will be spared yet again. Undoubtedly we will see further hardship and more citizens living in poverty.

While canvassing recently I met a sixty-one year old woman who was shivering at the door. She ran out of heating oil and had no money to fill the tank. My heart sank as she told me she was a recovering cancer patient and I watched her tremble with cold before my eyes. Thanks to a local charity she received some assistance. I met another family of four children where both parents lost their jobs. They are unable to pay the mortgage. They cried as they showed me dozens of unpaid bills and talked about their fears for Christmas. These are the people who will get squeezed further in the budget while bondholders who invested in private banks will get billions from the Government. It is immoral and sickening.

Tens of thousands of families across the country face similar hardship. Many will be driven to unscrupulous moneylenders just to survive. The cost of Christmas will add to the pressure. The impending budget will push many over the edge. Moneylenders thrive in such circumstances. It is not the solution for these families but many are left with little choice. The answer to a debt problem is not to incur further debt.

And yet this is exactly what the Government is doing. Tonight they have concluded a very bad deal for the Irish people. They will incur further debt to pay existing debt. They will pay unrealistic and exorbitant interest rates and will ensure that a quarter of all state income will go to servicing our debt. Meanwhile they will continue to honour private banking debt that has nothing to do with the Irish people. For struggling families and Irish taxpayers generally the only winners in these times are national and international moneylenders. And how shameful is that?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New politics not old arguments

The Irish economy has suffered the equivalent of an earthquake. The aftershocks are being felt by ordinary working people and the unemployed every day. People feel betrayed by a Government who has sold its soul. They are looking for leadership and hope. They are looking for people to bring forward ideas about the future. They want real solutions and are demanding new politics.

We need a seismic shift in Irish politics. The old civil war politics needs to be laid to rest and new ideas and new opportunities emerge. This can come from the political parties. It may however come from the people. Opinion polls carried out over the last year have shown a consistent moving away from the two big parties. For the first time in the history of the state the combined vote of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has dropped below 50% in back to back polls. The combined Labour, Sinn Féin and Independent vote climbed to an historic high of 42%.

The recent Donegal by-election poll provides another glimpse of this ground breaking shift. Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty polled 40%. Who would have thought six months ago this was possible? While a lot of this can be attributed to the excellence of Pearse as a candidate and weaknesses in others, it does not tell the full story. In my view Sinn Féin is now being seen by more and more people as a real alternative. People know the big parties have failed them and lied to them. They know the cosy consensus between the big three is wrong. They are looking for something different.

And here lies the opportunity. The Labour Party has a choice to make. They can defend the status quo and seek to hold back the tide of change or they can embrace it and lead from the front. All of the signs point to them opting for the former. The real question is whether people will move ahead of the politicians. Will the voters continue to abandon the big two and embrace new possibilities? The option of a left coalition of Labour, Sinn Féin and Independents has always been dismissed as fanciful. But we are in uncharted waters and the impossible now seems possible. The decision rests with the Labour Party and its leader Eamon Gilmore – will he continue to defend old arguments or embrace new politics? Maybe the people might make his mind up for him.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Politicians must lead by example

The issue of politicians pay and expenses has always been a contentious one. The common perception is that all politicians are on the make and sure aren’t ye all the same. People’s attitudes have been soured by endless scandals involving un-vouched expenses, exotic foreign trips, first class travel, limo’s, merc’s and five star hotels. The corrupt few have damaged the many.

Most of the corruption has come from the top. TD’s and Senators have been creaming it for years. Massive salaries and bloated expenses were the order of the day. It was wrong in the good times and it is wrong in the bad times. It is now time for politicians to lead by example. National politicians need to take sizeable pay cuts. Sinn Féin is proposing that Ministers have their salaries cut by 40% and TD’s and Senators by 20%. The expenses system needs to be overhauled and replaced with a transparent properly vouched system.

Local public representatives must also clean up their act. The vast majority of councillors act responsibly and earn modest incomes. However others abuse the system and this must stop. All expenses drawn down by any public representative or official should be fully vouched. I was elected in 2004. Over the six years I was in a position to avail of €33,266 in conference expenses. I claimed €9,970.72 leaving behind €23,295,28. Upcoming national and local budgets are being framed as I type. Politicians need to lead by example and nothing less should do.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

All changed, changed utterly

We all knew it would happen as the writing was on the wall. The great bailout has arrived. The Government’s blanket bank guarantee coupled with its reckless deficit reduction strategy has left us without any credibility. The international money lenders deserted us. Our European partners closed ranks. The noose was tightened around our country’s neck. A decision was made to save the Euro and sacrifice Ireland. And all the time the Government lied to us.

As a citizen, a taxpayer and a parent I am angry. I am proud to be Irish and of its people. I am proud of the talent, ingenuity and ability of the Irish people. I am angry that such a proud nation has been sold out by its political leaders. The word sovereignty is being bandied about as if it means nothing, as if it’s of no importance. Sovereignty is about having the power to make our own decisions. A Republic is about the people being sovereign and Government acting in the best interests of its people. How hollow that sounds when you consider the sense of betrayal that Irish people will now undoubtedly feel.

The government, certain economists and sections of the media will begin the job of convincing us that a bailout is our best and only hope. They will ridicule suggestions of an alternative just as they have done throughout this crisis. They will seek to convince us that there is no other way. This needs to be tackled head on – an EU/IMF bailout will further indebt the Irish people. It is not in the best interests of this state. It is not in the best interests of working people and those out of work. We need to stand up for Ireland and start making the right decisions.

What this country needs is a credible recovery plan. The first step on this journey must be to rid ourselves of this Government. We need a General Election and fast. We need to abandon failed slash and burn policies and change course. We need a plan that will save existing jobs, create new jobs, stimulate the economy and protect front line services. We need a more realistic and credible deficit reduction strategy that increases revenue and achieves savings in public spending. We in Sinn Féin have put forward an alternative. Today the party’s election candidates gathered in Dublin to discuss the crisis. Events are changing by the minute. Today all changed, changed utterly. It remains to be seen whether a terrible beauty will be born.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A leadership decision at a time of crisis

Few events shock me in politics. However I have to admit to being a bit taken aback when I heard the news that Gerry Adams was to resign his assembly seat and later his Westminster seat to contest the General Election in the South. Gerry will seek the nomination in the Louth constituency and will challenge for a Dáil seat. This is a brave and courageous move. He is resigning from one of the safest seats in Ireland and one he fought so hard to win. It is the type of decision only leaders make and it is not without its risks.

Some will question his motives while others will seek undermine his campaign. Sections of the establishment media will go into overdrive and let’s not rule out character assassination. The real issue is that Gerry Adams MP, leader of the largest nationalist party in the North and Irish republican is seeking election to the Dáil on republican politics. While some may seek to be dismissive, he and Sinn Féin will focus on the future.

We are already shaping the debate. Fianna Fáil, the Greens, Fine Gael and Labour are part of a cosy consensus for cuts and economic contraction. Sinn Féin is standing for economic growth and recovery. We have provided fully costed and practical proposals that will turn this economy around. We will not allow the Government and so called opposition parties to shape the debate. They did so in 2007 and lied. They did so on the Lisbon Treaty and lied. We are fighting back and taking a stand. Maurice Quinlivan took a stand in Limerick. Pearse Doherty took a stand in Donegal. Gerry Adams is taking a stand today. I am taking a stand in Waterford – the next election will not just be about more of the same. Sinn Féin will provide an alternative.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For what died the sons of Róisín

For the Government the game is up. Those who lend us the money are sending the Government a resounding message – your four year strategy of cuts will not work. Quite simply they are not buying what the Government is selling. And who would blame them. The Government is promising a four year programme of austerity measures and cuts that will contract the economy. Our public finances are massively skewed towards spending, our economy is collapsing under the weight of bad policies and investors see Ireland as a busted flush.

We need to change course and fast. We need to send a signal to International investors that we can grow our economy. We need to stand up to Europe and not allow Ireland become a sacrificial lamb at the alter of the Euro. We also need to cut a deal with the bondholders. We need a consensus for recovery that is based on investment and growth and not slash and burn. We need to convince the lenders that we will grow and not cut our way out of this mess.

I advocate that we take the following steps.

(1) We start telling the truth about the deficit. It cannot be cut to the stability and growth pact levels by 2014. It simply will not happen. Investors know this. So let’s start telling the truth. It can be done by 2016 but only if we have a plan to grow the economy.

(2) We abandon plans to reduce the deficit by cuts alone. This is self defeating and will fail. If cuts are the solution we would have recovered by now. We need to raise revenue by increasing taxes on those who can afford to pay more and achieving savings in public spending through eliminating waste.

(3) We stimulate the economy. We need to have a stimulus plan running concurrently with a more realistic deficit reduction strategy. An economic and financial stimulus will create jobs, provide good value for money and position the economy to recover. International investors are more likely to respond to a growth based strategy.

(4) We need to cut a deal with the bondholders. The crisis in our banks has not gone away. They will most likely come back looking for more cash. Our immediate priority should be to cut a deal with the bondholders. These are people who took a risk. They, along with the banks and developers took a gamble and lost. Investors are not stupid. They know cutting a deal is smart. Trying to pretend you can pay when you cannot will not fool them. Let’s cut a deal and emerge with some integrity and ability to borrow again.

The country is at a cross road. We need to wrestle it back from the people who have sold us down the river. I am reminded of that famous Luke Kelly ballad ‘For what died the sons of Róisín’. It is worth reciting as we ponder a better way forward..

To whom do we owe our allegiance today?
To those brave men who fought and died that Róisín live again with pride?
Her sons at home to work and sing,
Her youth to dance and make her valleys ring,
Or the faceless men who for Mark and Dollar,
Betray her to the highest bidder,
To whom do we owe our allegiance today?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Positive Supreme Court judgement would make future challenges irrelevant

I welcome the statement from Government today that it will move the writs immediately for the by- elections in Waterford and Dublin South if it loses its Supreme Court appeal. Sinn Féin has made it clear that it will seek to defend the recent high court judgment.

This development makes any action taken by Fine Gael against the Government irrelevant, as it will be the Supreme Court challenge against the High Court judgement in favour of Pearse Doherty that will determine the holding of by-elections in Waterford and Dublin South and not any subsequent legal action taken by Fine Gael.

If the Government loses the Supreme Court appeal, the judgement will have implications for Dublin South and Waterford. The Government has stated that it will move the writs immediately for both constituencies. I welcome this development.

From the outset Sinn Féin was determined that its court case would force the Government to hold a by-election in Donegal South West before Christmas and would also force a by-election in Dublin South and Waterford. The Government’s statement today clearly shows us that the court will leave no wriggle room for more delaying tactics on the other two.

It is unfortunate the Government has chosen this path. I am pleased to hear that it has finally made a clear commitment to moving the writs if it loses its case.

It is therefore evident that any further action by opposition parties will become irrelevant. The belated actions of the Fine Gael party to mount a similar court challenge will be seen by an increasingly discerning public as no more than an opportunistic media stunt. The Sinn Féin strategy of forcing the by-elections is working. We are leading as others in Fine Gael desperately follow. Our strategy is simple – to force the holding of all outstanding by-elections and bring down this discredited Government.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Victory for democracy

Well done to Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin on a very important high court victory. The courts decision today was clear and decisive. It supported our view that the Government was acting in breach of the constitution. Fianna Fáil was showing itself to be a slightly constitutional party. The Green Party was equally as culpable and was today involved in a desperate face saving exercise.

Sinn Féin was forced to bring the Government to court. This could have been avoided if the Government sided with democracy. Instead they chose to ignore the rights of voters in a desperate attempt to save their own necks. Thanks to Pearse and Sinn Féin their anti-democratic and unconstitutional acts have been exposed. This is a victory for democracy.

A precedent has now been set. If the Government only moves the writ for Donegal South West and ignores the rights of the people of Waterford and Dublin they will again expose themselves to a legal challenge. Sinn Féin will fully study this high court judgement. If the Government seek to frustrate the rights of the voters of Waterford and Dublin South we will seek legal advice. If we have to bring the Government before the courts again we will do so.

Sinn Féin will take a stand for the rights of voters. This Government does not have a mandate for its current policies. Today’s judgement has struck a fatal blow to the lifetime of this Government. I commend the efforts of Pearse Doherty and his legal time and I wish Pearse well in any upcoming election. He has proven himself to be a real leader and man of the people.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A roadmap to recovery

Tomorrow Sinn Féin will launch its pre-budget submission. The proposals are fully costed by the Department of Finance and leading economists. It is a roadmap to recovery. We are standing against the cosy consensus of the Government and the main opposition parties and their ‘consensus for cuts’. There is another way and a better way.

Our plan will reduce the deficit by €4.671 billion and provide for a financial stimulus of €595 million in 2011 and a three and a half year economic stimulus package of €7.595 billion. The plan exposes the Government myth that cutting social welfare, introducing water charges, bringing the low paid into the tax net, doubling college registration fees and cutting child benefit are all necessary. They are not. They are the choices of a bad government and a poor opposition.

Revenue raising

The Irish economy is like a sinking ship. We all need to work together to get the ship to port. What the Government and the other parties want to do is to throw the weak, vulnerable, low paid and those out of work overboard. Bankers, bondholders, speculators and the wealthy will be safely lowered into the lifeboats. They want to take more from those who don’t have it while protecting those who can afford to pay more.

We are proposing a third rate of tax on incomes in excess of three times the average industrial wage (€100,000), standardising all discretionary tax reliefs, introduce an income-linked wealth tax, increase capital gains tax from 25% to 40%, increase Capital Acquisitions Tax to 35%, increase DIRT tax, reduce the earnings cap for pension contributions for high earners and increase tax on multiple housing units.

Abolish exemptions

There are far too many tax exemptions available to the wealthy in this state. These are regressive in the best of times. They are immoral at a time of deep recession. We are proposing the abolition of mortgage interest relief for landlords, abolishing the PRSI ceiling, abolishing PRSI exemption for share options and abolishing a raft of property tax reliefs. The state cannot continue to subsidise the wealthy as the less well off see their income cut to the bone.

Public Spending Savings

This state is facing bankruptcy and we need radical proposals. Taxing the wealthy is a radical proposal and is right. Cutting child benefit is not radical and it is wrong. Senior civil servants and Government Ministers, TD’s and Senators are overpaid. The Government is considering taking €5 a week from someone on social welfare who survives on €196 a week, while paying the Director of the HSE over €300,000 a year. This is not fair or sustainable.

We are proposing that Ministerial salaries be capped at €100,000, TD’s at €75,000 and Senators at €60,000. We seek to cap the maximum salary of public servants and employees in semi-state bodies at four times the entry level rate (€100,000 per annum). We also propose the introduction of a proper vouched expenses system for all public representatives and senior civil servants and reducing the states professional fees by 25%.

Stimulus

Attempts to address the deficit without providing an economic stimulus is economically illiterate. Government policy to date has been to cut and it has failed. Every time they cut they deflate the economy and the tax take drops. Doing more of the same is not going to work. They are joined in this thinking by Fine Gael and Labour. These are the parties who said a vote for Lisbon was a vote for jobs, investment and prosperity. They all believe that to grow a little, you must cut a lot. We believe that to grow at all, you must invest. Without a stimulus the economy will sink faster and deeper.

We are proposing both a financial and economic stimulus plan. We will use €595 million saved in 2011 to provide a financial stimulus to the less well off. This will include making tax credits refundable to the low paid, return the additional social welfare payment to those out of work, remove all those under the tax bracket from the Government levy and also remove the 50 cent levy on medical card prescriptions.

We would also transfer €7 billion from the National Pension Reserve Fund for a state-wide investment programme. Last year the NPRF invested in a champagne house in France. Why not invest in new schools the new geriatric unit at St Patrick’s Hospital and Waterford Regional Airport instead? Let’s invest in the Irish economy.

An economic stimulus is good as it will create jobs, provide good value for money and position the economy to recover. At the moment the Government is putting our money in the black hole that is Anglo. They are investing in banks. We will invest in the state and people. Let nobody say there is no alternative to the consensus for cuts. We in Sinn Féin are providing it

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Government sinks to a new low in subverting democracy

On Monday I was joined by party activists in a protest coinciding with the party’s high court challenge to force the outstanding by-elections. Sadly this government is continuing to waste taxpayers’ money defending its refusal to hold the by-elections.

This case is about upholding the democratic rights of the people of Waterford, Dublin and Donegal. Our intention is to force the Government to do the right thing and hold all three by-elections at an earliest possible date. Waterford has been under represented for too long as the Government has been running scared of the electorate.

The announcement from the Government that the by-elections will take place next year is an insult to the electorate in Waterford. The people are demanding an election at the earliest opportunity, not at some vague time next year that suits the Government best.

The Government’s attitude to this case has been arrogant and dismissive and they are now intent on wasting even more taxpayers’ money defending this case when they could easily have avoided it by moving the writs for the elections to take place. Many people on the streets of Waterford expressed their anger at not being able to vote. They feel cheated by a Government clinging onto power.

The truth is that Waterford, Donegal South West and Dublin South are being left under-represented at a time of severe economic crisis, with far-reaching decisions being made and a savage budget being prepared by this Government. As we speak Government departments are busy taking the axe to as many capital projects as they can.

In defending this case the Government in my view has sunk to a new low. To use taxpayers’ money in a desperate attempt to subvert democracy is an affront to the people of Waterford.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Launch of JobFit in Waterford

This week I attended the launch of JobFit in Waterford. JobFit is a new programme funded by the Labour Market Activation Fund of the Department of Education and Skills which provides free support, employability training and recognised qualifications to help unemployed people find a job. JobFit will be delivered by TBG Learning, part of the Rehab Group. The programme provides soft-skills training, work placements, and support into and during the early stages.

The launch was very professional and I was pleased to attend. I spoke to many course participants and they all spoke glowingly of the training provided and of how it lifted their confidence. One of the participants addressed the gathering and spoke about his positive experience and his success in getting a job. It was very satisfying to hear him proudly tell his story.

JobFit is available to people who have been receiving benefits for a minimum of three months who are qualified to Junior Certificate level or below. It may in the future be extended to leaving certificate level. The programme currently operates out of Wallace House in Maritana Gate. I would encourage people who satisfy the qualifying criteria and are interested in improving their job seeking skills to drop in and sign up.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Should we burn the bondholders?

The Government mantra ever since the banking crisis began was that the debt obligations of all banks would be paid for in full. The extended Government bank guarantee included bondholders and subordinated debt. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has always insisted that Anglo Irish Bank’s senior bondholders – those with the lowest ranking debt in the bank – will suffer no losses.

In recent times the language has changed. He seems to be opening the door to cutting a deal with the bank’s creditors, particularly with subordinated bondholders. These are investors at the back of the queue whose debt is paid only after senior bondholders have been paid – who may be expected to share in the “burden” of bailing out the bank. The total state investment in Anglo will reach at least €34 billion and may increase further.

I do not intend to deal with the outrageous nature of this bailout and state ‘investment’ in Anglo. I have done that in other posts. I am however posing questions about the nature of the bank guarantee and in particular the protecting of bondholders. We are constantly told by Government that senior debt obligations rank equally with deposits and other creditors under Irish law. So what – laws can be changed. The total amount owed to bondholders is about €4 billion. Subordinated debt amounts to about €2.4 billion.

I pose this question – would the sky fall in if we burned the bondholders? The Armageddon scenario painted by the Government that it would undermine the entire banking system is without foundation and completely without credibility. The banking system has been undermined anyway despite state guarantees and a recapitalizing of the banks.

I would like to see Anglo wound up as quickly as possible. The terms of the state guarantee should be revisited with the protection of all bondholders removed. This would allow the Government to negotiate with the bondholders on their terms and in the interests of the Irish people. We must remember that Anglo Irish Bondholders invested in a bank that was behaving in a reckless and greedy fashion. Their money was being lent to people to speculate recklessly. The speculators gambled, the bank gambled and in a way so did the bondholders. So why should they be protected from any pain?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Renewing faith in politics

I have been canvassing for the last eight months and I have spoken to thousands of people across Waterford City and County. Feelings and emotions are mixed. Some people are angry. Some are scared. Few are optimistic. Most are apathetic. A huge segment of the population has lost faith in politics. And who would blame them. They elected a Government in 2007 that has dumped 300,000 people on the dole, collapsed the economy, made a mess of our public finances and allowed the banks to act recklessly and then bailed them out to the tune of billions.

New Economy:

We need a change. We need a new economy. We need fresh thinking and a fresh approach. We need to have a real national conversation about what went wrong and why. We need to discuss what kind of economy we want and the values which underpin it. I believe in building a strong economy that serves the people and all the people. Not one which protects and represents special interests. Not one which sees greedy bankers and speculators rewarded when they make massive profits by not being asked to give anything back and rewarded again if they mess things up by being bailed out. We also need an economy built on solid foundations. This means going back to our roots, using our natural resources to best effect, tapping into the skills of our people and recognising the critical importance of indigenous industry and sustainable enterprise development.

New Society:

The core values which underpin our economy must also underpin society such as decency, honesty, integrity and a sense of fair play.Sadly these are values which some lost sight of during the Celtic tiger years and were absent in many corporate, banking and political board rooms. A lack of values at the top has a trickle effect and seeps into other sectors of society. One of the big lessons of the last ten years is that we all have a responsibility to each other. That goes for politicians, bankers, developers and speculators as it does for the rest of us. Corporate piracy, greed and irresponsibility are deeply anti-social and scar communities.

Just look at what happened with the banks – greed and reckless lending and speculating is being paid for by ordinary working people and those unemployed. Wages are cuts, jobs are lost, taxes for working people increased and benefits cut. Prescription charges for those with a medical card, cuts to child benefit, water charges, property taxes and social welfare cuts have either arrived or are on the way. Where are the cuts for those at the top? Where is the targeting of wealth? Where is the decency, integrity or a sense of fair play?

New Politics

So it is easy to see why people are apathetic and fed up to the back teeth with politics. They are getting shafted and feel helpless. They know the main opposition parties are not going to be much better. They have no faith in Fine Gael and Enda Kenny to turn things around. They know if anything they will cut deeper and worsen the recession.

We need a new kind of politics. We need to convince people that there is an alternative. What happened in the Irish economy was not as a result of politicians in power making a few mistakes. It was because of deliberate, calculated and thought out policies which delivered for an elite and vested interests. Light touch regulation was no accident. Tax breaks and shelters for the super rich did not emerge by accident. The creating of a property bubble, the driving up of the price of land and political corruption all went hand in hand.

The task of convincing people of the need for a real alternative is not going to be easy. Renewing a faith in politics is going to be a big challenge. In the time ahead the national media will focus on the main political parties and opinion polls. They will attempt to turn the next General Election into a popularity contest based on personalities. The people must not accept this and demand a real debate. Apathy must turn into action. The next election must be about what kind of country we want to build – it has to be about a new economy, a new society and a new kind of politics. It must also be about a new Government but not more of the same. And that is up to the people. As for this Government - their represenatives should read the 1916 proclamation and what it promised and examine what they delivered. I am sure it will be red faces all round..

Sunday, September 26, 2010

To privatise or not to privatise?

Waterford City Council management are currently looking at all options in relation to its waste collection service including privatisation. While no decision has been made it is clear that privatisation is a real option. The council management are tendering for professional legal and financial services so as to advise on the full implications of ceasing waste collection services. A full asset valuation is being sought so as to value the council’s current customer base.

Ever since waste charges were introduced privatisation was on the cards. Charges led to a private collector entering the market competing with the city council. In 2007 the city council had 16,635 customers while today it has 11,300. The cost of disposing of waste has increased dramatically with the current landfill levy standing at €50 per tonne up from €15 a Tonne in 2008. It is expected to climb as high as €75 a tonne by 2012. A new national waste policy, the introduction of VAT at 13.5% and the prospect of a second private operator entering the market makes it more costly to continue to provide the service.

I have already put my cards on the table. I have told the City Manager I will not support the council privatising the service. Despite leaking householders to a private operator we still have a very loyal customer base. Waterford City Council has provided a high quality service for decades providing good and sustainable employment. We also have 4,400 people in the city who avail of the waiver and these people need to be protected. The best way to do this is for the council to maintain the service.

The council staying in the game will not be easy. Tough decisions will have to be made. Sitting on the sidelines and blaming others will not save the service. I will do my utmost to protect the council service. I would appeal to those who avail of the councils service to make their voices heard. If you want the service to continue – contact your local public representative and contact the city council directly. The council management must exhaust all options before going for the nuclear option. This must involve consulting and engaging with its customers. Privatising the service is not inevitable and must not be seen as such by the city council management.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Regeneration – opportunities for growth

Today I attended a Waterford conference titled Regeneration – opportunities for growth. The conference discussed a diverse range of topics such as the power of collaboration, revitalising the city and looking at opportunities for growth with a clear focus on regeneration. We heard from speakers from Norwich in the UK and Derry City in the North.

  The synergies between Norwich, Derry and Waterford are interesting. They are all medieval walled cities with a strong heritage. The similarities between Derry and Waterford are striking. There is a real case to be made for Waterford to twin with Derry. The speaker from Derry was Dr. Aideen McGinley who has been hugely instrumental in the rejuvenation of Derry. She was part of a team who devised a comprehensive development plan for Derry titled One City – One Plan – One voice.

Waterford City is undergoing significant regeneration. The development of the Viking Triangle, the prominence of the House of Waterford Crystal and the rejuvenation of our quays are all wonderful propositions. The city has upped its game on festivals and as the recent harvest festival showed this is already paying dividends. The tourism product is being developed further and this will yield significant benefits to the city.

We now need to look at other key opportunities for growth. We still have over 14,500 people in Waterford out of work. We need to play to our strengths and plan for the jobs of tomorrow. If we fail to plan we will fail to deliver. Waterford has obvious strengths in the tourism, pharmaceutical, science and I.T. sectors. We need to develop these further. I also believe there are opportunities in eco-innovation, the Green economy, eco-tourism and the digital media sector. Interestingly these are sectors Derry has also earmarked as potential growth areas.

We need to ask ourselves – are we getting enough in these key areas? Is there potential for growth? Are we getting the desired outcomes from the significant investment made in research and development at Waterford Institute of Technology? Are we creating the enterprise opportunities our social, educational and physical infrastructure merit? These are important questions that we need to address.

We must also avoid putting all our eggs in one basket. The continued attraction of foreign direct investment is important but realistically growth will emerge in indigenous micro enterprises. The green economy and digital media sectors provide realistic opportunities here as does tourism (including eco-tourism) and food and crafts. Waterford has a lot to offer and a lot is happening. However we need to do more as we still have far too many people out of work.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Heroin - a deadly and destructive drug

Tonight I attended a meeting organised by a community based drug initiative in the city about the challenges of heroin use. The meeting was primarily about raising awareness and the auditorium at Waterford Institute of Technology was packed to the rafters.

The main speaker was Rachael Keogh. Rachael’s story made national news when in 2006 she escaped Garda custody after being arrested in connection with shoplifting and in a desperate plea for help allowed horrific photos of her arms to be published. This was the start of a remarkable journey and her story is one of bravery, courage and inspiration.

We watched a TV documentary of her long road to recovery. As she spoke elegantly and honestly about her own personal battle, what struck me most was her change in language as she shifted from one stage of her recovery to another. As she desperately posed for photographers and faced amputation of both arms she spoke of her fears, of not wanting to do drugs, of her morals going out the window and of being better off dead. She had reached rock bottom.

When she started on her road to recovery her language became more positive. She talked about taking one day at a time, of needing to keep herself safe, of choosing life or death and of not being able to do it on her own. Her first step was to be weaned off heroin through methadone. She received on-going treatment and counselling services. At the end she spoke about how looking back at the past was like looking at a different person. She now believes she can do anything she puts her mind to. And I have no doubt that she can.

The other interesting aspect of her story was how it all started. She began by smoking hash. At the start she saw it as a laugh and some harmless fun. She enjoyed it and she felt great. She progressed from hash, to acid to E’s to cocaine and eventually heroin. It is then she became secretive and began to beg, borrow and steal to fund her habit. Her friends told her she would end up a wasted junkie but she ignored their concerns. She felt in control but also driven by the drug. In the end she was crippled with anger and hated everyone. She was trapped and firmly in the grip of a deadly and destructive drug.

Her story is an inspiration. It is harrowing, emotive, challenging but at all times honest and truthful. It is also a wake up call. We need to learn from the experience of people like Rachael. The heroin battle is a complex one that requires multiples responses. It presents a whole new set of challenges to the user, their families and agencies. It also presents challenges to communities. One of the lessons we need to learn from Rachael’s experience is that the community also have a role to play. Communities need to be positive, constructive and open to ensuring services are available and accessible to users and that we are there to help. Rachael is a living example of this

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The show must go on...

I attended a regional conference organised by the Enterprise Boards in the South East today for women in Business. Some would say I was going into the lions den. I found it to be an enthralling conference full of enthusiasm and optimism. The panel of speakers included women who are proven entrepreneurs and the best at what they do. The contributions were of the highest quality with an excellent opening address by the Mayor of Waterford Cllr Mary Roche.

What was most impressive was the positive nature of the gathering and the energy and enthusiasm of the delegates. One of the main speakers was Sean Gallagher of Dragons Den fame. He gave a powerful speech about the future of the Irish economy and the opportunities open to us. He spoke about the need for positivity, confidence and leadership in business, communities and politics. He said now is the time for people to lead from the front. I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly. Now more than ever we need civic leaders stepping up to the plate, be they entrepreneurs, employee representatives or community leaders.

His speech got me thinking. We have a dearth of leadership at national level from our Government. They are hanging on to power by their fingertips, doing more damage to themselves and the country as they do. I think one of the biggest failures of this Government is their distance from where ordinary people are at. They have lost touch with reality and seem to live in a bubble. They see people as being there to serve them instead of them serving the people. They have forgotten what politics is really about – public service.

Most of the conference speakers spoke about the need to have a plan and a strategy. To succeed in business you have to have a plan and a strategy on how to get there. Hope is no substitute for a strategy. The same goes for running the country. Hoping the problems will go away is not good enough. We need a strategy out of recession and into recovery. We need real leadership.

On a visit to Waterford last week Martin McGuinness spoke about his optimism about the future and the ability of the people of this country. We are in the midst of a bad recession but as the Mayor of Waterford reminded us – there is no recession of the mind. If you could bottle the enthusiasm, energy and confidence of the women at today’s event and bring it into every boardroom and our national cabinet Ireland would no longer be in recession. As the theme of the conference proclaimed, despite our problems – the show must go on.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Are we missing the real scandal?

I did not hear live coverage of the now infamous Morning Ireland interview with Taoiseach Brian Cowen. As the morning progressed I listened to news bulletins on various radio stations talking about the interview. Simon Coveney’s tweet set the story on fire. Within minutes the news went viral and was carried around the world. Like it or not – the International story was one of a drunk leader in charge of a sinking country. Not a pretty picture.

I listened to a podcast of the interview several times. My first impression was that it was not as bad as it was made out to be. The Taoiseach was hoarse and probably a little hung over but in my opinion not drunk. He was certainly incoherent and exercised bad judgement in doing the interview. What was missed as the day progressed was the real story.

The real story had little to do with the state of the Taoiseach’s appearance and more to do with the state of the country. The Taoiseach spoke about savage cuts and the taking of €3billion from the real economy. He suggested cuts in expenditure and tax increases which will hurt low to middle income earners. He refused to answer a question about the holding of the by-elections and was evasive on banning corporate donations.

However it was what the Taoiseach did not say that troubled me most. He said nothing about a jobs plan and getting the unemployed back to work. He failed to inspire any confidence in the ability of the Government to help those out of work. He had no vision for the country’s future and offered no hope. His only promise was to continue with the failed slash and burn policies of the last few years.

While the media focus in the time ahead may be on Cowen’s rendition of the Lakes of Pontchartrain or his impersonation of Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh Government Ministers will be busy planning savage cuts that will further exacerbate the problems in the economy. Surely this is the real scandal.

Monday, September 13, 2010

No accountability in Irish Health Care system

At tonight’s monthly meeting of Waterford City Council we discussed the 2009 Annual Report of the South Regional Health Forum. I make no apologies for my robust criticism of the forum and the H.S.E. In my view the Forum is a talking shop at best and in no way holds the public health care providers to account. That is not to take from the good work of those councillors who sit on the forum and represents their respective councils and counties well. It is a reflection on a health system in which no one takes responsibility and everyone passes the buck.

Here is an example of this Pontius Pilate imitation at work. In July of this year Waterford City Council discussed the much needed 50 bed geriatric facility on the grounds of St. Patrick’s Hospital. Later that month the Minister for Health said she did not know when funding would be released for the proposed new unit. The unit was promised when the HSE closed St. Brigid’s ward at the hospital last October.

On the 13th of July Waterford City Council received correspondence from Minister Mary Harney and the Department of Health and Children acknowledging the questions raised by the council and stating that responsibility for service provision rests with the H.S.E. Note the buck passing. A day later the council receives a letter from the H.S.E. again acknowledging the issues raised and referring the matter to the regional director of health operations for the South. Note the buck passing again.

The H.S.E, the Minister for Health and the Department for Health and Children are incapable of providing basic answers to straight forward questions. Is it no wonder that the health service has seen so many scandals like the misdiagnosed miscarriages? The H.S.E. is a farce of an organisation that is unaccountable and desperately in need of reform.

HSE CEO Prof Brendan Drumm warned the HSE board last April that the beleaguered health executive was at a "tipping point" and faced a crisis, after the board vetoed key components of his plans for HSE reform. He also wrote to Department of Health Secretary General Michael Scanlan expressing frustration at the pace at which HSE reforms were being implemented.

I wish the new Chairperson of the H.S.E. Waterford’s Mr. Frank Dolphin the best of luck in his new appointment. He surely has his work cut out. A good start would be to replace the regional health forums with local community health partnerships which genuinely allow local politicians and others to hold health service providers to account.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

McGuinness impressed with new House of Waterford Crystal

Some time ago I invited Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to visit the South East region. Martin is part of an all Ireland trade delegation visiting the United States later this year. He will attend an important economic development conference organised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I am delighted Martin has accepted the invitation to visit Waterford and the new House of Waterford Crystal ahead of the U.S. trip.

Speaking today Mr. McGuinness said:

I am delighted to be here in the South East today meeting with business, trade union, community and civic leaders.

I thank the Mayor of Waterford City Councillor Mary Roche for hosting a reception. I commend the efforts of local people and civic leaders who are trying to create enterprise opportunities in Waterford.

I am thrilled to be visiting the house of Waterford Crystal. I was saddened when I first heard the Kilbarry plant was to close and Waterford and Ireland faced losing an iconic brand. It was a loss not to just to Waterford but to the island of Ireland.

My heart went out to all the workers and I was moved by their courage when I saw the images on Television of the workers engaged in a sit in.

Today we have a different situation. The new House of Waterford Crystal is a top class facility. I want to commend all of those who were part of this exciting venture. The people of Waterford should be very proud of this gem in the heart of the city.

It was a remarkable effort by a lot of people to make all of this possible. The collective effort of Waterford City Council, trade union and business leaders to back this plan is a shining example of what can be achieved through genuine partnership, good will and dare I say taking a risk.

I hope that those former workers who are without jobs and pensions are supported and find new employment.

I also want to support the campaign for University designation for Waterford Institute of Technology. The arguments for W.I.T. becoming a university are unassailable.

I visited W.I.T. on the last occasion I was in Waterford. I was hugely impressed by the facilities, the range of courses and the research and development capacity at the institute. University designation would lift the entire region economically, socially and culturally.
I was reminded by the Mayor of Waterford that today is the second anniversary of the sinking of the Irish Sail Training Ship, the STV Asgard II. The Tall Ships fleet visited Belfast in the past and will visit Waterford next year.

I think the island of Ireland should have a ship and a sail training programme. I will raise the idea of an all-Ireland venture at the executive of the assembly and at a future meeting of the north south Ministerial council.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Waterford today. I know we face tough times ahead but as the new Waterford Crystal venture shows, by working together people can make a difference.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Rosslare – Waterford rail service suspended on Green Party watch



The decision by the National Transport Authority to approve Iarnród Éireann plans to suspend the Rosslare to Waterford Rail service is regrettable. The Regional Authorities in the South-East and the Mid-West, together with their ten constituent local authorities, made a formal submission to the National Transport Authority (NTA) strenuously opposing the proposal of Iarnród Éireann to cease passenger services on the Rosslare to Waterford railway line. The two Regional Authorities, the city councils of Waterford and Limerick and the eight county councils in the regions joined together in a show of solidarity to strongly oppose the closure of the Rosslare-Waterford section of the railway line that links the Rosslare Europort with Waterford, Limerick and onwards to the South-West and the West.

The decision of the N.T.A. to ignore the collective weight of the regional and local authorities is mind boggling. That this has happened on the Green Party’s watch is unforgivable. This is a party which prides itself on promoting public transport and sustainable living. The irony of the Green Party being partly responsible for the loss of this service will not be lost on the electorate. This is not to ignore Fianna Fáil’s culpability but do we really expect anything better from them? There is no end to this Government’s bad mix of disastrous and ridiculous policies. The Greens have become a laughing stock. The quicker we have an election and get rid of them the better.

However it is the legacy that this Government will leave be behind that is the real tragedy. Losing a rail service at a time with local authorities are promoting greater use of public transport through green routes is incredible. The business community in the Southeast also voiced their concerns. A socio-economic and business case for the maintenance and promotion of the line has been prepared and submitted by the Regional Authorities on foot of wide ranging submissions. The proposals were submitted to the NTA supporting the argument for rejection of Irish Rail’s application to close the line and for its continued operation. A key recommendation is the establishment of a Community Rail Partnership, a concept that involves the rail operator partnering with the local authorities and local communities to operate, promote and market the railway and its services. This is an excellent proposal of which I fully support. It is a practical and common sense strategy that needs to be supported.

Last Wednesday I attended a protest at Plunkett Station Waterford. It was attended by dozens of local and regional politicians and community activists. The show of solidarity and strength was impressive. Sadly our views were ignored by the Government. Politicians and activists from the Green Party supported the protest. Senator Dan Boyle attended offering his support. I challenged him as to what his party was going to do to save the line. He said the Greens would raise it at cabinet level. It appears their appeal fell on deaf ears and one wonders what influence they really have in Government. It seems there is no end to this Government’s incompetence.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Forced emigration was wrong in the 80's and is wrong today

I have such nostalgic and happy memories of the 1980’s. I try to remember the happy stuff and block out the bad. The 80’s brought us UB40, Simply Red, REM, Sinead O Connor and the best of Queen and U2. It also brought us Wham, Frankie goes to Hollywood, Bananarama and let’s not forget Kajagoogoo. Decide for yourself the good and the bad. We had assassination attempts on the Pope and US President Ronald Reagan. E.T. was released as a movie, Michael Jackson released Thriller and Mikhail Gorbachev called for Glasnost and Perestroika. We also saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Maze Hunger Strikes and the emergence of the cabbage patch kids. A mixed bag indeed.

Sadly it also brought forced emigration and a flight of the brightest and the best from our shores. It was wrong in the 1980’s and it is wrong today. The latest ESRI quarterly economic commentary predicted that emigration in Ireland was set to hit 120,000 by the end of 2011. The latest live register figures show 452,500 nationally and 15,614 locally out of work. Mass emigration is back with a vengeance.

It seems the current Government’s answer to rising unemployment is to export it. They cut the dole for young people, did very little to provide new training and education opportunities and even less to stimulate the economy and create jobs. We are yet again seeing the brightest and the best leave this country due to the incompetence of its political leaders to provide a future. Unemployment is not a price worth paying for a negligent Government – it destroys lives and leaves permanent scars on our communities. What this Government fails to accept is that behind every statistic is a personal tragedy.

Fianna Fáil cannot claim any economic competence when they are complacently presiding over increasing unemployment. The government is determined to slash public services and put even more people on the dole. A bit like some of the music choices referred to earlier, forced emigration was not cool in the 1980’s and it is not cool today. We need real political change and we need it now.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Holding the line is not easy

The forced closure of TK Maxx outside the city last week caused an understandable stir. The retail outlet is popular and employs people locally. Although I support the court decision I do so understanding that shoppers are demanding more top end retail in the city and that people face losing their jobs. This is a sorry saga that should never have happened in the first place. It’s what happens when people play games with the planning process. It’s what happens when neighbouring authorities compete for retail space without having regard to proper and sustainable development. It’s what happens when one local authority tries to get ‘one over’ on another.

Competition and policy means nothing to the average shopper. They rightly demand the very best in retail whether inside our outside the city centre. They want choice and convenience and who would blame them. However the situation is more complex then this and policy is needed to regulate the market. The correct policy is one which strikes a balance between being overly protective on the one hand and allowing the market to go crazy on the other. And let’s face it, during the Celtic tiger years the market went crazy.

The retail policy of Waterford City Council is clear. It is a policy of sequential preference which protects the city centre first and foremost. However contrary to recent debate and commentary it does allow for what’s called ‘out of town’ shopping through a number of strategically placed District Centres. These include centres like the Hypermarket, Ardkeen, the Lisduggan Shopping centre, Poleberry and the Tesco Centre on the Dunmore Road. This is where the balance is achieved. However the failure to build a sufficient critical mass of retail in the city centre is the policy’s main fault line. The city centre is crying out for more top end retail and the council is desperate to see it happen. Site assembly is difficult but not impossible. The Brewery or New Street site would have worked if the developer had got it right from the beginning. The original proposal was so off the wall that it was always doomed to fail and played into the hands of those who would object to anything.

Holding the line on a worked out and sustainable policy is not easy. Overall the policy has not worked out as it intended due to site assembly and planning issues and over zealous developers. However there are a few tricks up the council’s sleeve. We may well see a scaled down but significant development in New Street yet. And we have the option of building out onto the river either side of the clock tower as part of the relocation of the House of Waterford Crystal. All is not perfect but all is not lost either.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A note from the canvass


It’s been a busy week. I started on Tuesday in Connolly Place in the City. The reaction was good but the issues were to be expected. People are worried about the economy, jobs, the next budget and generally making ends meet. Anti-social behaviour also featured with concerns raised regarding a number of boarded up houses. Several complaints were made about the quality of the remedial works in the area and having inspected the houses it is hard to disagree. Poor finishing and uncompleted works has left a sour taste in the mouths of many. In one house floor boards were used as skirting! I left feeling a little annoyed that the council had spent so much money and yet the works are not of the highest standard.

On Wednesday I visited Farron Park in the City and Portlaw in the county. The areas are different in many ways and yet the issues are the same. A lot of anger was vented towards the Government and people are genuinely worried about the future. I was struck by how many young people were out of work and how they felt they had no prospects for the future. Some talked about emigrating but I wondered how real an option it was for them. The monthly live register figures reinforced the magnitude of the problem – 452,000 people nationally out of work. So much for being out of recession!

Thursday brought me to Crook and Cheekpoint in Passage and Ballinroad in Dungarvan. In Crook and Cheekpoint the state of the roads and a decline in fishing dominated the doorstep conversations. I was completely taken aback as to how bad the roads actually are. On the entrance to one housing estate I counted seven potholes. An issue that emerged a lot was the need for a running water tap in the local graveyard and it puzzled me that local authorities often fall down on the small but important things.

In Ballinroad in Dungarvan residents living in An Grianan and Pairc na mBlath are furious with the county council regarding water quality. Residents complained of being unable to use showers, damage caused to electrical appliances, a discolouration problem and recently a contamination of the water supply. Several people complained that when taking showers they get scalded because the pressure is so low. Many are forced to visit family or friends nearby to use their shower facilities. Others complained of a bad smell coming from the water and of a need to constantly purchase bottled water. Parents with young children are particularly concerned as they cannot boil up bottled water for the children. A new community was built in the area without proper infrastructure provision such as footpaths, lighting, roads and water. I had hoped we had learned from the mistakes of the past, obviously not. I wonder what next week will bring..

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Unacceptable delays in Garda vetting process


In recent years we have seen improved and enhanced child protection legislation introduced in this state. I welcome this and it is vital that we have the highest standards in child care and protection. One of the areas which has improved greatly is in the area of Garda vetting and the establishment of the National Garda Vetting Unit. The Garda Vetting Unit provides employment vetting to a large number of organisations including community, sporting and child care services. The process extends to people who work in these areas whether on a paid or voluntary basis. There are approximately 18,000 organisations in receipt of vetting services from the Garda vetting unit for employment purposes, covering the wide range of health, educational, sporting and recreational sectors in Ireland.

As a consequence the number of vetting applications has increased from 137,000 nationally in 2006 to 250,000 in 2009. This is resulting in significant delays and many applicants are waiting months for their clearance certificate. I am aware of a number of long-term delays in clearing applicants who are waiting to start community employment schemes and training courses. I know of one woman who was offered a job as a C.E. worker months ago but is unable to take up the position as she is waiting for her Garda clearance application to be processed. I know of a number of other cases of people waiting to commence C.E. schemes and training courses but are unable to do so due to a delay in the vetting process.

This is unacceptable. We have 440,000 people nationally and 14,500 people locally out of work. It is difficult enough to get a job, a place on a C.E. scheme or access to a training course without further impediments put in the way. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform says the average waiting time is 5 weeks. This is simply not the case on the ground. Despite assurances from the Minister that extra personnel have been assigned to the National Vetting Unit I am not entirely satisfied that the unit is properly resourced and staffed. The massive increase in the number of organisations in receipt of vetting services is undoubtedly putting added pressure on the national vetting unit. I fully support the vetting process and I accept that stringent checks must be made to ensure the safety of children but it is unacceptable that people are unable to take up training and employment positions because of protracted delays in the vetting process.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Heroin use is complex and challenging but it is a challenge we must meet


There is no doubt that we have a very serious and worsening heroin problem in Waterford City. Recent H.S.E. reports have shown an increase in the numbers of people presenting for heroin addiction. Community based drug programmes are dealing with increased numbers of heroine addicts. All of the law enforcement figures point to a massive increase in heroin seizures and as a consequence heroin use.

In his presentation to the Joint Policing Committee meeting Chief Superintendent Pat Murphy said that heroin represented 20% of all drugs seized this year in Waterford. This figure points to an obvious shift away from other drugs to heroin by drug users. This is a regrettable situation but is the reality of where we are. Heroin use presents a whole new set of challenges to all agencies and drug users and their families. It is a very destructive drug. It deeply affects not just the user but their families and the wider community.

It is vital that we make people aware of the destructive nature of the drug. We need to ensure that people make the right choice and steer clear of heroin. We also need to ensure that all of the treatment and support services are in place to treat the user and support the family. The lifestyle and attitude of the user is important and they are most vulnerable post treatment as they become exposed to situations which can trigger a relapse. I have met many families whose sons, daugthers, brothers and sisters have suffered at the hands of heroin addiction. I know the issue of heroin use is complex and challenging but it is a challenge we must meet.

I acknowledge the huge amount of work being done by many agencies in combating the problem but we must re-double our efforts. I am pleased that my call for the holding of an inter-agency meeting has been accepted by the Mayor and will take place in September. We need to look at where the gaps in service provision exist and set priorities. This is a serious problem we cannot ignore or wish away.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

We need a jobs plan now

Last week the Government were quick to announce the end of the recession. In a game of smoke and mirrors the Government presented figures which suited their argument and ignored those which did not. Gross National Product was marginally up but crucially Gross Domestic Product was down. GDP focuses on Irish domestic economic activity which is still on a downward spiral. An OCED report last week provided an important backdrop to the real problem in the economy – 445,000 people are out of work. The report reinforced the need for the Government to bring forward a job creation strategy.

This state has lost 100,000 jobs a year or 2,000 jobs a week since this Fianna Fáil/Green coalition took office. The reality is that the nature of any modest economic recovery will be so weak that it is unlikely to absorb the growth in unemployment caused by the recession. The jobs crisis cannot be wished away.

There is understandable public anger at the antics of the Government. Last week the Government voted to take a three month holiday from the Dáil. I think that the 14,500 people in Waterford out of work will find this outrageous. I think the many businesses in Waterford who are struggling to stay afloat will be livid. It is yet another example of establishment politicians living in a different world from the rest of us.

Last week Sinn Féin held a demonstration in Dungravan, Co. Waterford demanding Government action on jobs. I spoke to an auctioneer who talked about businesses closing and the lack of effort and support from Government needed to save jobs. I spoke to a local restaurant owner who has let half his staff go and whose business is facing imminent closure. I spoke to countless people who are unemployed and who see no hope for the future.

The tragedy is that there are solutions and there are ideas. I have published comprehensive job creation proposals for Waterford. Sinn Féin has published comprehensive proposals nationally. In this difficult time we need to support entrepreneurs and encourage and enable new business start-ups. We need to be clear about where the jobs of tomorrow are and how we create them. We need the statutory authorities working together in a joined up way. There are tremendous opportunities in the areas of tourism, green technology, IT and digital sector and in the area of agri-business.

Young people especially must have a future in Waterford. Young people have a central role to play in changing Waterford and achieving political, social and economic change. Entrepreneurs need to be given the supports they need to create the jobs of tomorrow. We have the ability and the talent in Waterford but in many areas we are lacking in action.

Photo courtesy of Dungarvan Observer

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Like the birth of a new child

Friday 30th January 2009 is a date forever etched in my mind. At approximately 5.30pm I received several phone calls from former Waterford Crystal workers – the Kilbarry plant was to close and the workers had commenced a sit-in protest. Hundreds of workers subsequently lost their jobs and their pensions. The brand was sold and all seemed lost. It was inconceivable that a brand built on the back of the hard work, skill and ingenuity of generations of Waterford workers was to leave the city and the country.

As a result of a genuine partnership of local civic leaders, council members, union leaders and business representatives a plan was hatched to salvage something from the wreckage. The plan was to bring crystal manufacturing into the heart of the city centre through the formation of a new company producing high-end crystal products. The plan was ambitious and risky and involved a considerable investment from Waterford City Council, Fáilte Ireland and others. Some doubted it would happen at all.

On Tuesday 22nd June 2010 a vision became a reality. A fabulous new facility was opened in the heart of the city centre. The new House of Waterford Crystal boasts a state of the art showroom showcasing some of the most prestigious and treasured crystal in the world. It will attract tens of thousands of visitors in the years ahead and in turn will boost the local tourist industry and economy. It will be dovetailed nicely by the continued development of the Viking triangle with three different and unique museums charting a thousand years of history all within a stones throw of each other.

For many Waterford people Friday 30th January 2009 was like a death in the family. Conversely Tuesday 22nd June 2010 was like the birth of a new child. Yesterday as I stood on the Plaza outside the fabulous new House of Waterford Crystal I thought of what had gone before and the thousands of people who previously worked in ‘the Glass’. I recalled Jim Nolan’s award winning radio documentary which charted the history of the Kilbarry plant, warts and all. I hope those left fighting for their pensions succeed in their efforts. I also sensed a new determination, a focus and a unity I had not previously witnessed. This new venture has brought out the best in Waterford and its people. Those of us fortunate enough to be present toasted a new future in sparkling Waterford Crystal glasses that were half full and not half empty.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Waterford city is being transformed before our eyes


The newly named Menapia Building and home to the House of Waterford Crystal will be formally opened next week. The former ESB building has been transformed into something special. The ground floor is the entrance to the new Waterford Crystal building, provides access to the crystal manufacturing tour and a magnificent showroom which would not look out of place in Fifth Avenue Manhattan. The remaining floors will be utilised by the Roads and Environment Departments of Waterford City Council.

Today the new Viking Triangle Walking Tour commenced. It takes in the Plaza at Waterford Crystal, Reginalds Tower, Greyfriars, 13th Century Choristers Hall, the Medieval Mayors Wine Vault, Christchurch Cathedral, Bishops Palace, the recently revamped Theatre Royal, City Hall and the Thomas Francis Meagher Memorial. The 18th Century Bishops Palace building will be restored to its original state and will be one of three museums in the Viking triangle. A splendid 18th Century Garden will surround the Bishops Palace building.

What is so exciting is that this is only the beginning. The council intends to forge ahead with plans to build an iconic building on the quay. A 10,000 sq ft barge will be constructed out onto the river either side of the Clock Tower. This will become the permanent home of the House of Waterford Crystal. Parts of the Menapia building and its surrounding buildings will eventually become a craft village creating local employment.

The quay itself is to be transformed. The four lane system will be replaced with two lanes separated in sections by tree lined wedges. A new roundabout will be placed at the Kiezer Street entrance and another at the Gladstone Street entrance on the quay. The exciting new plans will also include bus and cycle lanes on stretches of the quay from Rice Bridge to the corner of Colebeck Street on the Mall. The new infrastructure provided under the Green Routes will hopefully be matched by investment in improved bus services. While Waterford faces many social problems and far too many of our citizens have no jobs the positive work of Waterford City Council and others must not go unnoticed. Our city is being transformed before our eyes and it is wonderful sight.